Battling Atrophy

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to get back in touch with a friend with whom I’d become estranged. At first our contact was tentative. Both of us were out of practice in talking to each other. You know how when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, your conversations have an easy rhythm, a cadence? I can often tell whom my husband is speaking with just by hearing his side of the conversation, because I recognize his speech pattern reflecting that of the other person.

So it’s difficult when you’ve been apart. Almost like navigating a new language. You’re rusty. And there is so much to say! Years have passed. Things have happened. What to choose first? And then you add in the emotional aspect: the guilt left from allowing the separation to go on for too long, the immense pressure you feel that those first words are just so gosh darn important. They can’t be just any words. They have to be momentous, they have to be vital. You have to choose them carefully.

Because of the difficulty in the task, you put it off. You can’t chat yet, you have to wait until everything is just right. You have to write it out, because this moment must be scripted to perfection.

So it never happens. And opportunities pass, thus ensuring even more guilt, more pressure.

That’s the way it was with this relationship. And this was in the olden days, before we older folks were on Facebook– I think it was still just a college campus thing. We did have e-mail, at least; it wasn’t quite the Stone Age. And rather than put all that pressure on us for that first phone conversation, I e-mailed her.

Let’s just chat. Let’s not make this a big thing. Start small: Tell me about your day. Tell me an anecdote about work today.

Tell me a story.

Which is harder: having not enough to say? Or having too much?

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Autism and Slow Processing Speed

As I’d mentioned the other day, I’m going to share our experiences at school in order to hopefully help someone else out there who may be going through the same thing. But first, some background.

My son was diagnosed with global developmental delays at age three. Cognitive, adaptive, speech, fine motor, gross motor, as well as sensory processing disorder. Quite the difficult time that was, as we’d been expecting just a speech delay. At the time, I’d asked about autism but they said not to think about it. And a year later he was diagnosed on the spectrum, too. He did great in his inclusion preschool program where he received all his services as well, and after a year he moved up to Kindergarten. I didn’t think he was ready, but in NYS if a child is in preschool special education they have to move up when they’re at the right age. And even though he was a boy and born in late October, it was time for K. After a year, his K teachers suggested repeating a year of that, and that’s what we did. And then every year since he’s moved up on time.

He’s done really well, eventually testing out of physical therapy and requiring less speech therapy and occupational therapy. He still struggles a lot, though, and the main thing he struggles with is attention. We saw it on every single report card, heard it at every parent/teacher conference and CSE (committee for special education) meeting (where we set his goals for the next year): if he could just focus, he could do so much better. It was on his evaluations since way back in Kindergarten: his processing speed and perceptual reasoning were very low, “but could be higher if he could pay attention.”

So over the years we’ve tried many interventions to address focus: behavioral, classroom modifications, home modifications, even a couple different ADHD meds (both abysmal failures). Beginning in his third grade, NYS adapted the common core state standards, my nemesis. Not for the same reason as so many other parents, because “what was wrong with the old way” yada yada yada, but because it introduced a gap that was never bridged and a pace that could never be met. He was falling further and further behind and I didn’t know how to help him. Every year when we went in for our CSE meeting, we expected to be told he needed to be held back again, because I *knew* he wasn’t learning.

Finally, at the end of fourth grade, they told us they couldn’t keep his attention for more than 30 seconds and it was time to seek help outside the school district. Up to then, he’d received all his services through the school. They were suggesting counseling, for anxiety or whatever was going on.

We were pretty heartbroken. And then we went to our local autism parenting Facebook group and put it to them: “This is what the school is saying. Have any of you experienced this with your kids?”

Some had, and referred us to an autism counselor who has been wonderful. He met with the teachers, did classroom observation, and came up with some classroom and homework suggestions that might help. He suggested getting rid of homework altogether. The way the autistic brain works, he explained, means homework is a frustrating waste of time. Either they get it, and need no practice, or they don’t get it, and just get upset. So they had no problems with that. We discussed some changes to be made to his sensory diet as well, but as it was the end of the year, we didn’t do too much. I began to look into homeschooling, because at that point, I thought it was going to be our only option.

The next fall, I met with his team immediately after school began. They’d already spoken to the teachers from the year before. His special ed teacher said the no homework thing was “not happening.” He instead assigned easy math sheets, which he hoped would help his self-esteem. (Note: that doesn’t work. The child knows you’re patronizing and it’s beneath him and again, it’s a waste of time). We tried some sensory modifications again.

But it wasn’t too long before the teacher called me (less than a month) to say they were in the same place: my son’s mind was drifting off after only about thirty seconds. No one could reach him. My bright, happy, engaged child was completely withdrawn in school. And on top of that, he’d come home completely burned out and spend the afternoon and evening in his room. Sunday nights he’d melt down, crying and begging not to go to school. Sunday nights after vacation days were even worse. The last one he had, he nearly threw himself down the stairs to get away from us, so he didn’t have to go to bed because going to bed meant going to school the next day. Homeschooling was looking more and more appealing. At the same time, I knew it wasn’t going to be our ideal arrangement.

So back to the counselor we went. He said it sounded a lot like anxiety was making our son shut down, and I made an appointment with our family doctor. She was a social worker before medical school, so she has experience in many areas. When I broached the subject of anxiety meds, she said she really didn’t like to go there first. Her suggestion was something I hadn’t even thought about: “I’d like to see him out of the classroom with a medical excuse. They’ll send you a tutor and he can learn at home.” In her opinion, today’s classrooms are sensory nightmares, with the colored posters and decorations, the noise of the Smartboard, the lack of discipline, etc. Giving him a break to learn at home would be great for his sensory system as well as his anxiety.

It sounded like a great compromise between a traditional classroom and homeschooling where I’d be responsible for the teaching. She said sometimes it is a transition to homeschooling, sometimes it’s temporary, and sometimes it continues for years. She wrote the note, we submitted the application, and waited. And waited. By this time it was November.

In the meantime, we continued to meet with the counselor. During one session, we were chatting about going to the movies, and how our son had discovered watching movies at home with the closed-captioning on helped him pay attention, so we’d recently begun asking for the special glasses when we go to the cinema and they worked great for him. He was better able to follow along with the story instead of just sitting there, eating popcorn. (Don’t get me wrong: his favorite thing about the movies is still getting popcorn). He laughed at jokes and stayed engaged throughout the movie. Before we’d started doing this, it would take him several tries to get through a movie. He’d pay attention for a while, then shut it off and go do something else. Then the next time, he’d make it a little further.

We’d also discovered he was learning about human behavior better, through movies. So of course now we have to be very careful about which ones he sees. Because being autistic and very literal-minded, he sometimes picks up the incorrect messages. Dear God, please let them pull “Uncle Grandpa” off the air. Thank you.

Anyway, this conversation led the counselor to dig out the old test results. And that phrase again jumped out: “His processing speed and perceptual reasoning are low, but could be higher if he could pay attention.” The counselor said he thought that reasoning was wrong. What if those test results were accurate, and that’s the exact reason why our son can’t pay attention?

Mind. Blown.

This has been a game changer (to mix metaphors and use another cliche) in our household, and led us down a path that finally gives us hope. In the next post, I’ll write about our research into processing speed and academics and how it has helped us at home.

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Inane Prattle, Indeed

I used to think blogs were the height of conceit. Who gives a shit about what I have to say? What anyone else has to say? How do you get to the point where you presume to think people will want to read what you write? It’s arrogant.

Then I decided to start blogging here and initially it was all about me. I was the arrogant one! Though I still spoke in a whisper, not sharing it much, just having the general attitude of “hey, I wrote this, if you want to read it you can go ahead but if not, that’s cool.”

I love that people read it, don’t get me wrong. But what I wrote was primarily for me. And I liked that.

I still like it. But as time has gone on and the words I’ve written have gone into Scrivener instead of here, I felt less of a need for the blog. And, um, that’s probably rather obvious.

What has changed? What prompted me to write today?

My friend Giovanni pointed out to me one day that the stuff we were going through with my son may be rare, but surely there were others out there going through the same thing. And finding the same lack of information I was. And he pointed out that I have this vehicle by which I can share the information I come across with others who may need the same thing.

Novel concept, really.

Still, I needed to figure out exactly what the hell we were doing first in order to determine just what it was I have to offer.

And I think we’re finally there. So I’m going to begin a series about our academic experiment this year. If you’re here because I write about writing, well, I still will. After all, if I’m back, I’m back. And I think (knock wood) I have a nice writing routine going and a plan to make my writing career happen.

But in addition, if there’s anyone else out there frantically Googling “slow processing speed” and “school” and “classroom accommodations,” as I’ve been for the past ten months, well–I’d like to think maybe I can help you out.

(How conceited.)

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Things, They Are A-Happening

Yeah, so…I may have forgotten for a while that I’m a writer. Shit happens. Life…happens. Good things, for the most part. Things that keep me busy, so that’s a plus.

But I think that bitch of a muse is finally showing her face around here again, so there’s something.

More will come. I promise. RIght now…I’m revising a short story so I can submit it.

And hey, speaking of short stories, here’s my shameless “buy my book” plug: or at least, buy the book in which my short story is published:

It’s Vampires Suck, an anthology of humorous vampire stories. I highly recommend checking it out.

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Tangible History

When I was a child, Memorial Day meant a trip to my grandparents’ house. It meant my uncles also returned home, my aunt came over, and the whole family was together. It meant badminton games in the backyard, shopping for my “summer sneakers,” going to Lupo’s for speidies, and Pat Mitchell’s ice cream dripping down my hands while I sat on the cemetery wall next to the ice cream shop, feet swinging far above the sidewalk. The evening would be topped off by my grandfather setting off fireworks. We wore red, white, and blue and at some point during the weekend we left flowers on the graves of family members who had passed. Over the years, those visits grew fewer and farther between, while the visits to gravesites only increased. Yes, it was a kick-off to summer, but we also used it as a weekend to be with family and to remember those who had gone before us.

I was fortunate that all my family members who’d been in the military made it home. One grandfather returned with a Purple Heart, but they both had the opportunity to marry and raise families. My father was in college during the last years of the Vietnam War, so he never served, and my uncles were all too young.

My father-in-law, however, served in the Marines, right in the thick of things. He was there only a few months before he was sent home with his own Purple Heart. Thank goodness for that, because he had the chance to marry his sweetheart, raise two great sons, and be an excellent grandfather. One of the lucky ones.

But for a long time, he couldn’t talk about it. His battle, as for so many of his brothers, didn’t end when he was back stateside. It’s only been in the last few years that he’s been able to talk about his time over there and reunite with the other men in his company. In fact, most recently he served on a committee to construct a monument to those who didn’t make it home. This past weekend, we all attended the unveiling and dedication of the monument. We also toured the US Marine Corps Museum.

Let me tell you, there was no more fitting way to celebrate the reason for Memorial Day than to see these men gather, now fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and remember their time in the war as if it were yesterday. To see the tears in their eyes as they read the names of each of the fallen but also recalled the few good times they had over there.

The museum itself brought home to me the distance we have today from such conflict. Walking through the galleries, seeing how the technology of warfare has changed the nature of battle over the years, made me realize how it’s all just “history.” All just stuff that happened in the past. Until we arrived at the last display, the September 11 monument, where we were confronted with the reminder that it’s all been too real.

For all our tuning in, for all our connectedness, for all the 24/7 coverage we have of our military heroes’ activity today, we are still far enough removed that it’s lost its impact. We saw the events of the Arab Spring beginning to unfold live on Twitter, we see images on the news and online every day. My Facebook feed was filled with sentimental memes this weekend: photos of today’s young war widows sprawled in front of their husband’s gravestones, photos of sons gifted with American flags at their fathers’ funerals, with the accompanying caption reminding us the reason for the holiday was not picnics and barbecues and three-day furniture sales.

All lip service. All abstract concepts to our jaded media-saturated brains. Sure, you take a moment to ponder it. You may think, “Huh, that’s right,” and then return to your cookout. You want to remember our fallen heroes? Next year, I recommend planning a trip. Visit Arlington. Visit the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall. Visit Gettysburg, or any of the Civil War battlefields. Pearl Harbor. Any one of the many September 11 memorials in communities all around our country. The ghosts are there. They’ll help you remember.

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Smart Bitches, Trashy Books | Romance Reviews

I thought this was a great article, particularly after my post last night.

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Happily Ever After

It’s the goal in a romance novel. It’s what differentiates a romance from women’s fiction or book club books. It’s the payoff in a romantic comedy. It’s the ending of the Disney-fied fairy tales (not, though, the Hans Christian Andersen or Grimm versions). It’s what I longed for in my single days.

And yet, I think this is what causes people to scoff at the romance genre. The predictability of knowing how the book will end. The knowledge that, despite all the obstacles the couple will encounter, everything will wind up just fine in the end.

But I don’t understand what’s wrong with that. What’s wrong with wanting everything to be all right in the end? Sure, in life as in fiction, if the road were easy, it would be a boring story.

Don’t get me wrong: I love angst. I love reading it, I love writing it, and at times I love reliving it. Listening to sappy love songs and wallowing in angst and having a good cry. Because it’s a feeling, an intense, deep, feeling, and it’s satisfying to feel a feeling so strong.

Here’s where I come out to you: I’m a closet Barry Manilow fan. It started when I was a child, listening to records with my parents on hot summer nights, the breeze blowing in through the open window. Barry Manilow, Simon and Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, the Woodstock soundtrack. And Seals and Crofts, of course; “Summer Breeze” will still take me back to those days when I was still an only child and to my child’s mind, everything was perfect.

So I was already a fan. Then, a few years ago, my mother and I took a road trip from New York to Delaware. I’d picked up a Barry CD I thought we could listen to. I was a few months pregnant with my son, and planned to indoctrinate his fetal brain with ’70s love songs. I was prepared to listen and just enjoy it from a nostalgia standpoint, but during one song my mother pointed out the lyrics. “Just listen to this,” she said. “How could you not want someone who feels this way about you?”

From “Could It Be Magic”

I could love you,
build my world around you,
Never leave you till my life is done

From “Even Now,” which brings on an ugly cry every time I hear it:

When I know it wasn’t right
And I found a better life than what we had
Even now I wakeup crying in the middle of the night
And I can’t believe it still could hurt so bad

Oh, feel the feels! Once my mother pointed it out to me, of course I got all sappy every time I listened to the album.

And now you’re all laughing at me.

Anyway, now I’m writing a second-chance love story. Naturally, my couple will eventually achieve their happily ever after. But there will be angst, as I’m writing their first time around along with the current story. I get to put them through the good times and bad.

For inspiration, I put together a playlist of sappy love songs. Listening to it the other day on a long car ride (alone–how wonderful!) I pretty much cried most of the way.

It was awesome.

But I’m extremely fortunate in that I have my happily ever after. And we’ve had a relatively easy road, considering. We’ve faced challenges along the way but we’ve faced them as a couple and have only become closer. Maybe that’s why I love reading and writing romance. I’m happy and I want everyone else to be, too. It’s not an unrealistic goal. At least it shouldn’t be. No one should have to settle for someone who doesn’t sweep her off her feet. Who doesn’t love her more than life itself.

So when someone scoffs at the genre, which happened a lot recently in coverage of the purchase of Harlequin by Harper Collins, it pisses me off. Why is this genre less important than any other? We still have to come up with multidimensional characters, who have goals, motivation and conflicts; with intriguing plot lines that keep the readers turning pages; with fresh ideas that tell the old “boy meets girl” story in new and interesting ways. We still have to tell the story in at least 50,000 words (something that stymies me on a regular basis). And if you write a sub-genre, like some of the romantic suspense stories I read and write, there are additional plots to think about. If you write historical romance, you had better do your research.

And then there are love scenes, which are so much more than a description of inserting tab A into slot B. They need to be done right, because frankly, I want to make my reader hot. I want her to finish the scene, put down the book, and attack her husband. This all takes thought, and work, and knowledge of the craft.

It’s important work. It’s an important genre. To create a world in which an unhappy person can live vicariously and maybe give her something to which she can aspire; to re-ignite the spark in an older relationship that may be in a rut; to allow someone to experience a cute meet and dark moment and happy ending over and over and over.

You can keep your angsty Oprah books involving dead children and unhappy marriages. I want my happily ever after.

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Scheduling Summer

For those of us in Upstate NY it’s hard to believe the long, frigid winter is finally behind us. Odd to think about, as we face high eighty degree temps later this week and I sit here and listen to thunder rolling. Whoops (pause to unplug laptop).

But summer is on my mind right now for a few reasons, all of which relate back to my writing career.

1. Training has begun again for my fifth Iron Girl triathlon. It still blows my freaking mind that five years ago I could barely dog paddle and hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. Sure, I’m still slow as hell, but I do it. This year I’m fueling my body better and am focusing my training on strength and speed, hoping to make some decent progress in my times. 

2. We are working with an autism consultant for my son. School has been horrible for him this year. Don’t even get me started on the Common Core; that’s bad enough, but we just learned that he’s essentially being ignored in school. Not out of any malicious intent, but because he’s just a quiet, well-behaved kid. Which is nice to hear, however, he is not the squeaky wheel he needs to be. So we have to be. We have some major decisions to make for next year which have the potential to affect our entire family. I’d always been vehemently anti-homeschooling, but seeing my son slowly shut down over the last couple of years has swayed me to considering it, albeit reluctantly. We have a little time; the decision doesn’t have to be made today, or even in August– we could give it a go in the fall and see how things go. If he gets the special education teacher I want him to, things could be just fine. If not, well…

3. Our summer weekends are filling up quickly, as they always do. My husband will soon have his annual panic attack that THE ENTIRE SUMMER IS OVER!!! in May because I’ve scheduled the weekends, leaving nothing free. Well, that’s kinda the way it works, sweetie. I have my race, he has his (Tough Mudder–my husband totally rocks), we’ll run a 5K or two for the hell of it (something else I never thought I’d do). Most remaining weekends will be spent at my in-laws’ cottage at the beach.

The weekdays fill quickly, too. Up until last year, the kids were busy in the summer. My son doesn’t qualify for summer programming, so they went to a camp for a couple of years that was run by the school. Then the administration of that camp changed, and I had to pull them partway through the summer.

Last year I was still working part time at the Y, which took up some of our time, but I resigned in August. So we have the entire summer yawning ahead of us. We need some structure, sure. My husband works at home which is super helpful– except when it’s not. When I have a seven and ten year old upstairs playing, someone gets offended, and the screeching begins. Not all of it by my kids, I confess. Then my poor husband, who is trying to work or talk on the phone with customers, storms out of his office.

Yeah, vacation weekdays are rough. 

My challenge: I like to pants our vacations, just as I like to pants my writing. However, both my writing and my schedule benefit from some structure, some guidance. I need to balance my need for alone time, my need for writing time, my need for training time, my need for time to keep the house clean, with my need to keep the kids out of the house or quiet so my husband can work, with my kids’ needs to stay busy and see friends, with my kids’ needs to also NOT be busy, to just chill out at home and do nothing and just…be…kids.

I will have to schedule every day and it’s going to give me hives. But something has to work better than last summer, when I rarely wrote. Right now I’m on a pretty good roll thanks to this Fast Draft class and I’d like to keep it up. Maintain that momentum. I actually feel like I may be able to finish this novel in May which is HUGE for me. And a little scary. 

But the best part of following a schedule will be that everyone gets their own time. And we might actually accomplish all of our goals, which will be a a beautiful thing.

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Permission to Suck, Granted

When I began writing, eighteen-ish months ago, one of the bits of advice I read was that you need to allow yourself to just write without fear of how bad it’s going to be. Because it is going to be bad.

Or put it other ways: you can’t revise a blank page. Just write the damn book. Writing is rewriting. Vomit out the words. The more you write, the more you learn.

I ignored all that, and continued to be horrified by the words I put on the page. Or I’d stop writing altogether and read instead. Read books on the craft of writing, read books I thought were well-written, examining them for technique and form and trying to learn from the “masters.” In that intervening year, when I did write, I constantly edited as I went. Tweaking this and that, concerning myself with that opening sentence, studiously avoiding adverbs and cliches like the plague. Agonizing over every word. All the while ignoring what I should have been doing. Getting words on the page, allowing myself to suck.

It was probably a year before I truly understood what that that meant. But last fall during NaNoWriMo, it finally clicked. Embrace the suck. The words flowed, adverbs and all. I wrote and wrote and even though the novel wound up making very little sense because I had no idea where it was going, I still managed to get 30K words written. Someday I’ll revisit that story.

Anyway, faced with another several months of being hamstrung and unable to write or get out of my own head long enough to get a story on the page, I enrolled in an online class, Candace Havens’ Fast Draft class. Two weeks solid, writing every day. The goal is to write five thousand words a day, eventually. I will admit it’s difficult to get up there with everything else I have going on. But, I have written every day since I began this class and it’s a great feeling. I’m making progress, solving problems, and embracing the suck.

I mean, this thing totally sucks. No one is seeing this anytime soon. I’m looking forward to revisions, but in the meantime, I’m just plugging away and for the first time, I actually feel as though I might finish a novel.

It’s going to be terrible, but it will be done. Someday.

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One of my favorite parts about being a writer is the sense of community and (for the most part) lack of competitiveness among writers. Every day I’m amazed at the generosity and helpfulness of the writing community, from those who offer free or low-cost workshops, to authors who engage in some inventive collaborative marketing, to pulling together in times of crisis as with Pamela Clare’s breast cancer diagnosis and my friend at Blithely Bookish requesting that people wear pink today and Thursday to support Pamela.

And the new Facebook book launch parties– oh my goodness! They’re so much fun, and I have found so many new-to-me authors that way. I love seeing the way authors flock to those parties to support each other and gain exposure for themselves. It’s a great relationship.

Twitter is full of writers. Adding followers, retweeting, joining in on #FastDraft, NaNo word sprints or #1k1hr parties is incredibly helpful. 

My local RWA chapter is wonderfully supportive; I’m coming up on a year of membership and am finally settling in and not quite feeling like a newbie. If only I could finish a book.

Those of you who follow me here, or just occasionally read my posts. I appreciate your visits and comments so much.

And then there’s my critique group. Without them my prose would still be full of “then” and adverbs and a ton of description.

Just a sappy, mushy post late at night to say a big thank you to all the writers out there.


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