on writing

Spontaneous 1: Uncomfortaville

I am a writer. I have grand thoughts while grinding away on my upright bike. Admittedly, that’s because I’m listening to Les Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone yelling locker room halftime speeches on volume nine, accompanied by epic soundtracks.

I close my eyes, peddle faster at the crescendos. I apply football to writing, weightlifting to writing, boxing to writing, entrepreneurship to—you get it.

Here’s what happened. I decided I had to refresh my email. You know, in case that acceptance I’ve been waiting for is in there. Or the agent wanting to talk representation. More likely, it’s another online writing class advertisement (grrrrr).

If you were in my rec center, you’d see me take my hands off the handlebars, grab my phone, look at it, then sigh and peddle harder. Girl, can’t you even get through forty-six minutes of peddling without refreshing the inbox?!

I decided, before I’d check my inbox, I was going to force myself to do something outside my comfort zone. That’s what Les Brown said to do. I’m using my weakness in one area for good in another, yes?

I think yes.

As soon as I stepped off the upright, before the sweat even dried, before I could wimp out, I made a video. It’s short. It’s underwhelming. But it’s honest.

If you do something outside your comfort zone today, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Homeschool Life

First Day of School, First Triathlon, NO CEILINGS, & First Day of the Rest of Mom’s Life

Today is the first time I have ever watched one of my children get on a yellow school bus. When people were awed that I homeschooled four kids, I used to tell them homeschooling wasn’t much different than doing homework together.

I take that back.

It’s one thing to be a cog in the great machine of education; it’s another to be responsible for the entirety. I only realize that now, as I watch the bus pull away. With it goes a great weight I didn’t know was there.

Gabe is enrolled in almost all honors classes. His standardized tests put him in the top 97% year after year, so I feel pretty confident he’s where he belongs. Though he’s heard a few what-R-U?-nuts? over it. This is a theme in our family. This, U-nuts? 

Today I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia; I must lay down some words.

Months ago, I intended to post about how Gabe beat his Boston-Marathon-running dad in a 5K race. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, but it gets better. Gabe hadn’t run any significant distance for six months prior. Zero training. He’s a swimmer, sure, so he has good lungs. But I worried he’d hurt himself. My husband wasn’t the least bit worried.

What-R-U?-nuts? hasn’t concerned any of my children. Katae graduated college at age 20. Tory is a marathoner. Luke’s off to Cornell on a full academic scholarship, and Gabe…

…used the strategy his dad taught him: choose a fast runner and stick with him, just a few yards behind. Let him pace you, and then at the end, turn it on. Gabe blew by his dad in the last quarter mile. Thanks, Dad.

Gabe climbing someplace he shouldn’t…

How did Bob respond? By running an Olympic triathlon. Just kidding—only in that it was the response. The triathlon was a New Year’s Resolution. Bob bought a racing bike in February and began figuring it out. He learned all he could about triathlons.

Race day. Every time Bob mentioned it was his first triathlon, people asked, “Which distance?” He told them Olympic, and they gasped and looked at him like…U-nuts? After a few times of that, Bob began to wonder if he was, indeed, nuts.

Just before the race, a triathlete friend of Bob’s related how his son got into Harvard. The son was apprehensive, but his dad convinced him to reach crazy-high, like, U-nuts? high: Harvard and Stanford. You know what? The kid got into Harvard. Was he surprised? I’m betting yes.

A U-nuts? mentality doesn’t mean you don’t plan. Bob did his homework for the triathlon. He trained. At first, a few laps in the pool laid him low. But he kept at it and eventually could swim a mile without difficulty. He sought pointers from Gabe and other veteran swimmers and cyclists. The race was brutal, but he did it. And he got a time that pleased him, within his goal.

We all know the only regrets we have are the chances we don’t take and the mountains we’ve stared at wistfully but never climbed. The Harvard dad said something along the lines of nothing ventured… People bandy that phrase about, but we mostly don’t live it.

Live it, is what I’m thinking as Gabe goes to high school and Luke to Cornell. If people ask if you’re nuts, look at them like you’re Jack Nicolson from the Shining, just hacked his way through the hotel door. They’ll make way.

 

Today is the first day EVER that I have no child to teach. I guess this is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m already dreaming of things like scrubbing the kitchen floor and learning to cook like Gordon Ramsay.

And finish that second book and publish the first.

And I do get to teach other people’s kiddos, which I’m excited about. I have a class I teach to homeschooled students. Writing and reading. I show them ceilings are bull. They find college English easy in comparison. One has gone on to West Point—starting his second year, one to Germany for college and missionary training, several to Miami University. Lots to local and not-so-local colleges, doing great things. I feel nostalgic for them today. And proud.

Happy First Day of School, First Triathlon, & First Day of the Rest of My Life.

See that little figure? …Gabe.  We all inspire each other.

 

on writing

I Resolve, Therefore I Am

…going to get this life under complete control. That’s what I tell myself between Christmas and January, the only time I ever think about making a standard work list that includes a time slot specifically devoted to chopping vegetables and organizing the fridge.

Here’s how resolution delusion plays out: Starting January 2nd, I’m going to find myself suddenly shirking cake balls and Boursin cheese—and, desperate for snap peas, I’ll handily pluck some out of the sanitized cold box that has a method inside there. All because I resolved. I’ll be popping radishes and snacking on seaweed.

The way things work now is I go to the store after the obligatory quota of there’s-no-food-in-the-house! rants. My sons fry pepperoni, use up all the eggs, and when they’re really desperate they open the freezer and cook something. I know it’s almost time to go shopping when that happens. The actual time is the moment we run out of heavy cream or coffee.

2018. I honestly don’t even know how to frame it. I’ve been a student of calamity (I’ll thank you, March, for my brain tumor) and valedictorian of the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks (I’ll thank you for the querying process on my debut novel).

But heck, let’s remember the high points. I just went through my most recent notebook, in which I wrote goals and thoughts. In 2017 I had a story rejected by a local literary journal. That same (revised) story was published in a sci-fi anthology. And the local journal nominated a different piece for Best Small Fictions 2019. Progress! Two years ago a paying lit journal rejected one of my stories, and in 2018 accepted one. My work is presently knocking at the doors of two crazy-selective lit mags. This means I’m more likely to get rejected. Each time I get rejected, I re-examine the piece, edit if necessary (it always is), and send it out again. That’s the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks. You keep getting up. Keep submitting.

In November, I wrote a 50 paragraph “short” story for Owl Canyon’s Hackathon. They gave paragraphs 1 and 25 and asked writers to supply the rest (and match the tone of course). I thought it would be a fun, like a puzzle. Walt Whitman didn’t break that much of a sweat penning “Leaves of Grass.” As the hours in-craft stretched into double digits, I consoled myself I could win the prize because no one else was crazy enough to attempt such literary alchemy. Last year they had north of 900 entries—just found that out as I wrote this. Excuse me while I claw out my eyeballs.

Hope’s a funny thing. It’s not rational. But neither is thinking I’m going to get a handle on my veggies in 2019. Still, I’m resolving. You probably are too. Here’s to some of them sticking in 2019 and one piece of advice. Make resolutions you can control. Example: I will get either 100 rejections or an agent in 2019 vs. I will get an agent in 2019. I cannot control whether or not an agent signs me, but I can decide on how many attempts I’ll make. Likewise, I can’t control how organized the fridge is (I have teenage sons, after all), but I can decide to roll up my sleeves every six months or so and get in there and organize. Happy New Year!

 

Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share…Lion or Gazelle?

Sometimes I slug the coffee down. Sometimes I sip. Depends on what I’m trying to achieve.

What’s on my mind as I wrap my hands around a steaming mug of superhero? Lions and gazelles. I’ve got Africa fever lately. My sister lives there. My husband’s going there. I just put an Africa-shaped blood stain in one of my stories.

Lions and gazelles. They see each other and a chase begins. Both run as fast as they possibly can. They’re pushing their limits, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. One has to eat to survive. One has to survive, to survive. They have so much in common, the lion and the gazelle.

You’re wondering why I’m going all philosophical on you? I’ve no idea.

So which are you, a lion or a gazelle?* (Truthfully, there’s a third option, hyena. Hope you’re not one of those.)

Like so many people, I made some poor choices in my formative years. Doesn’t that sound benign? Poor choices, formative years. You can tell how old a person is by whom they blame for their imperfections. Under twenty, parents. Twenties and thirties, spouse. Forties, fifties, and beyond, the actual culprit.

For the longest time, I saw myself as a gazelle running to escape my failures. I was running from who-knows-what to who-knows-where, and it was exhausting. The shine of my accolades wore off too soon. My failures loomed like the HOLLYWOOD sign over the valley of my life.

When I mutated from a gazelle to a lion, I don’t know. But I did. Thank God, I did.

You know you’re a lion when the taste of gazelle is enough to get you to sprint. Any time, any day. The only reason the gazelle runs is because she’s being chased. The lion runs because she’s hungry. If you know me at all, you know what drives me, what my personal gazelle looks like.

The gazelle is running away from something and the lion is running toward something.

People who are running toward something can actually get there. People who are running away from something only live to see another anxious day. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. They die with their song still inside them.”

Sing before you die, Kelly. Or roar. I seriously tell myself these things.

Not that it’s easy street for Lions. 1 in 8 survive to adulthood. I wish the survival odds were that good for writers who want to publish.

The coffee is gone. It’s a chugging sort of day. Till next week, friends. 🙂

*I’m serious. I’d love to know. Lion or gazelle?

 

on writing, Personal Journey

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

2017. Crushed it. Really and truly. Those of you who know me know I beat myself up at regular intervals. I raise self-flagellation to an art form. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself. If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do me no harm. I like to think I have an Anne Lamott aren’t-I-funny? aren’t-I-endearing? eggshell personality. Or that it comes as a side-effect of being rejected on a regular basis. All this to say, I’m not accustomed to patting myself on the back. But for 2017, I’m making an exception.

With 2017 I am thrilled, even with the number of rejections. Because rejections mean I’ve been trying. Rejections mean I’ve been hit and I’m still in the ring. In fact, I stayed in the ring and completed my first novel.

RESOLUTE was my word for 2017, and I’m proud to say it matched my year.

There is so much more to writing than just writing well. Does that seem obvious? Or confusing. I thought if I just wrote well, I’d be well read. If you build it, they will come. But noooooo. They don’t come. They don’t. You have to build it, repair it, arrange it, repair it, raze it, re-build it. Then, you may commence begging…begging for them to come. I BUILT IT, PEOPLE! You say. (then you hear the echo) You get the bullhorn out and street-preach at them.

If you build it, they will not come. You must go gather them. In 2017 I committed to spending time each day reading and commenting on fellow bloggers. The more I read, the more inspired I became. What started out as a commitment to encourage others, ended up encouraging and growing me. And along the way I’ve met some cool writer-friends.

I’m not a planner-blogger. I post whatever is in my mind. If the mind is full of cobwebs, I don’t want to give you cobwebs. I just wait. This explains my large chunks of blog silence. A commitment to a regular posting schedule is one of those things that sounds good on a list of resolutions, but is not realistic for me. My goals for 2018 are to get Trespass represented, publish more shorts and flashes, and have less cobwebs.

My 2017 writing accomplishments.

  1. Finished my novel, Trespass. It’s out to beta readers now, and I hope to send it to agents in 2018.
  2. Four works accepted for publication.
  3. Several flash/shorts out to literary journals, awaiting news.
  4. Wrote/edited almost every day.
  5. Took part in writing contests whenever I needed a break from my novel.

It was a physical year as well.

  1. Hiked a volcano in February.
  2. Ran my first ten miler in April.
  3. Ran my first half marathon in October.
  4. Got slow and fat over Christmas.

My whole family had a sort of Rocky Balboa year. Perhaps this stuff is contagious. I credit my husband with getting the ball rolling. Each of my children worked hard, challenged themselves, and took giant strides out of their comfort zones—whether it was a work promotion, a new sport, or an ambitious school schedule.

This is how my kids inspire me: I’ll be jogging, feeling like someone scooped out the flesh of my quads and put led in there…wanting very badly to walk. Or fall over. Then I think of one of my kids and how they don’t stop when it gets hard…and I don’t stop either. I can’t give less than I ask of them. Competition at its finest. And the more I overcome in one area, it spills over onto others. I expect 2018 will have its challenges and blows. If it please God, I plan to stay in the ring.

Happy New Year!

 

on writing, Personal Journey

Writer Mind

I’m in the valley every writer goes through. I keep showing up day after day intending to make something amazing. If I were an artist, I’d be making stick people. If I were making dinner, it would be haggis. If I were conjuring up an animal, it would be a platypus. Sure, I just got petted last Friday. Won a contest. Got to judge. But without a steady stream of word-gold, I become convinced the well is dry.  I’ll ever write anything good ever again.

I worry the story I’ve been working on, bleeding onto the page for eternity squared, is a total waste of time. I worry I’m selfish. I AM selfish. I ask myself, what have you done for others? Surely not this writing gig. So I try to list out the selfless …act I’ve committed recently. It’s a short list.

So I’m writing and writing and every so often is the thought: Why don’t you do something eternal like laundry or weeding or deep cleaning? The grime is holding my home together, I tell myself. The weeds have feelings too. Things get dirty again. I wax certain I’m an undiscovered C.S. Lewis (the moment I won a little contest) and certain I’m a grub (most other times, beginning a few minutes after I won the contest).

To really keep things interesting, I sabotage myself by revealing my political leanings to people who would’ve liked me well enough had I just kept my mouth shut. If I had multiple personalities, they’d be Ann Coulter, Ann Lamott, and little orphan Annie. I’m the most liberal conservative in our family, the most confident insecure person I know. The nicest mean person you’ll ever meet. I don’t know why I feel the need to cough up my worldview every now and again. I hope it’s an involuntary trait of a writer. Like how the kidneys clean out your blood without you telling them to. My soul churns this stuff out against the advice of a meek little voice: are you sure you want to post that? I plunge ahead.

Today I read a lovely, worthwhile blogger writing from the mountaintop I can see from my valley, where he talks about writing “whatever the hell he wanted” for five years and he has no regrets and over a hundred thousand followers. He “likes” many posts, including mine. I emailed him to ask, does he really read the posts he likes? Because if so, does he sleep? Is he human? He has not answered my email. Oddly enough, I also have been blogging for five years.

This is what I say when I’m a  grub: He didn’t even read your post. Some days a rational being who’s just finished running a few miles and done vitality yoga– that person will tell me I’ve got something important to say, that to give up is the only failure. And, some really weird people like haggis. Days like today must be climbed over or crawled under or blasted through. On the horizon are days where I’ll come away thinking I’ve made something worthy– and had a great time doing it.

 

Book Reviews

Book Review: Outliers

3228917Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell
Non-fiction Hardcover, 309 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

I grabbed this off the classics section of my library on a whim. I’m not sure how it got shelved in the classics section, except to think that some brilliant educator realized Outliers should be required reading for anyone with a pulse.

 

Exaggeration? I’m known for it. But not this time.
The sort of books I take on vacation are strictly page-turners. I don’t want to feel like I’m working while I’m reading. I do enough of that at home.

 

Some people take worky books on vacation as a sort of counterbalance, like the man in the hot tub next to me reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. You could jack your car on The Fountainhead. Some people just can’t relax… but we had a nice discussion until the chlorine and heat had melted away several layers of my skin. Over the course of the week, I saw him in the same hot tub, and noted his steady progression through the literary behemoth.

 

Even on cruises, gossip abounds. Apparently, the Ayn Rand reader garnered a reputation. As in, people avoided his tub for fear he’d opine in their personal space for inordinate amounts of time, apparently bad taste on vacation. I thought he was nice enough.

 

Tangent, but ever-so-timely: sharing an opinion is dangerous business. At best, people will avoid you. Unconvinced? Wear a Make America Great Again hat through the streets of San Fransisco, I dare you. Dress in a rainbow-colored toga and stroll through any rural Texas town. Let me know if you don’t find yourself staring down the business end of a homemade AR-15. We’ve devolved. The idea of mutual respect in the face of differing opinions is not the status quo. How did this happen? Trump. He did it. Just ask anyone.

 

Alas, Outliers doesn’t solve the world’s problems, but it is a book anyone, of any political/religious/socioeconomic status could read, enjoy, and be better for the time spent.

 

The moment I began to read, the premise– what makes us successful, the supporting evidence, and the artful storytelling all conspired to suck me in. “Listen to this…” I’d say to my husband, and I’d quote whole swaths of text as we lounged by the pool. So intriguing were the connections Gladwell made, so sensible yet revelational. Smack your hand on your forehead revelational. Did I mention this was non-fiction? I did, but it bears repeating. A page-turner non-fiction book. Holy cow.

 

This is my first review ever, and I’m realizing I’ll probably only “review” books I want everyone on planet earth to read. I’m like a cheerleader for team Outliers, and I’m not even giving you substance. I’m like Donald Trump. It’s gonna be great. Believe me. Really great. Huge. 

 

But really– have you ever wondered what’s the difference between greatness and garbage? All things being equal, that is.

Take J. Robert Oppenheimer and The Radioactive Boy Scout. Both built dangerous nuclear devices. The boy scout at age 14 and Oppenheimer at age 38. One was arrested and the other commended by the governing bodies of their day. The Radioactive Boy Scout does not appear in Outliers (but it’s another must-read for scientifically minded young people or anyone interested in the lengths to which inspiration can take us); however, Outliers would show, systematically yet with flair, the reasons why one genius is stymied and another exalted. We don’t build our own stairways to heaven. Our thighs burn on the way up, but we climb stairs provided to us by a Las Vegas blend of social and cultural constructs. Personal grit, while important, is one of several factors to success.

…so Malcolm Gladwell effectively argues.

Readability: 5 out of 5
Merit: 5 out of 5