NaNoWriMo Week 1 Check-In

Let’s just say…it’s going. 

I was doing so well, words just pouring from my fingers, then it happened: I began to question my plot. My premise. My characters. And the characters stopped doing things. I found myself writing a scene so boring, I fell asleep. 

Which then led to self-doubt. That isn’t hard; it’s always just under the surface, waiting for a moment of weakness when it can spring forth and attack. So today I’ve been jerking around, “researching”, falling into my old bad habit of deciding to learn how to be a better writer before I write.

Because *that* works so well.

Not for the first time, I found myself wishing I’d chosen an alternate career path. Or perhaps that I’d focused on writing more in my college days, rather than on the biology curriculum that led me, ultimately, nowhere. But no, I was too good for that; I’d taken AP English in High School and that was all the writing I would need, as a scientist, thank you very much. Screw the creative writing classes. Who needed them? Not I.

And thus I now find myself knowing the mechanics of grammar and with a vast vocabulary on which to draw and yet no idea how to put words together in an alluring way.

Although I do know how. Kind of. I’ve done it before. I can do it again. So what if this first draft sucks? That’s what NaNo is all about. 

I just read this post by Chuck Wendig and highly recommend it.

Permission to suck, granted.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

One year ago, I had yet to write a word. I had a conversation with my mother about a certain trilogy that had taken the world by storm. I won’t name it, because the reason we were discussing it was because of how much I hated it. And I know I said the words, “I could write better than that,” because my mother issued a challenge that would change my life.

“So? Do it.”

One year ago, I was finally preparing to begin my first National Novel Writing Month. I had never written a bit of fiction…well, that’s not true. Back in my days of tween years of hormonal mood swings I started a few stories that completely sucked. And some bad poetry. But last year…

OK. Last year I started a novel that completely sucked. I mean, it SUCKED. I read it now and am horrified at what I wrote, even though no one will ever seen it. I’ve learned so much in the past year. Thank God.

Writing was one of those things, like running half and full marathons, that I always thought of as something fictional people do. Not real people. Not people I might actually know. And then I met people who ran marathons and realized…hey, they are real people. And if they can do it, maybe I can too. So now I’m training to run a half marathon.

Which leads me back to writing. About five years ago I heard of something called NaNoWriMo. I found the website and signed up, and promptly stopped thinking about it. But the problem was I had these stories in my head. And the only way to get them out was to actually write them. 

The next several years I received the NaNo Prep emails every autumn, and thought, “One of these days…” Two years ago, I even bought a new laptop with the idea that someday, I might write something. 

And then last year, my mother threw down the gauntlet. So I picked it up and met the challenge– about 36,000 words of it, a tad short of the 50K required to “win”. Someday I will revise that book and move on with it, because I still think it’s a good story. But in the meantime, I’ve moved on, joined a critique group, taken a few online workshops, started another novel, written a few short stories. And the most important thing I’ve learned in the last year is that, damn, they’re right: you do get better simply by writing more. 

Now, a year after attempting my first NaNo project, I’m readying for my second. I’m better armed now; better prepared. I have a writing nook, and more knowledge of the craft of writing –but also more knowledge of myself and my own weaknesses and impediments to success. The number one thing I can do to improve is just to put my ass in the chair and type away at the keyboard like a demented monkey. Writing words, lots of words. Every day. All the reading and workshops the Internet has to offer can’t hold a candle to that experience.

And this is how I find myself, at 1:15 a.m. after a full day of cleaning, cooking, and entertaining, writing words. My ass isn’t isn’t the chair, though. I admit it, I’m in pajamas and sitting up in bed, with my husband downstairs so I’m not keeping him awake. I’m technically counting this as Saturday’s writing because I haven’t gone to sleep yet. Tomorrow (today) I will write more words. And again the day after that, until maybe someday I can produce something that makes sense and is something other people may actually want to read. 

Oh, but the eyelids, they are heavy…tomorrow, more words.

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The Good Old Days

I’m feeling nostalgic tonight, thanks to a glass of wine, and started going through old photos. I was looking for a fall-themed shot to use as my cover photo on Facebook. I wanted one of my two kids together, but, well, they’re the two least cooperative kids ever.

So instead I found myself perusing my photos and feeling maudlin over the days that have long since passed. The days before they lost their front teeth, when they had those adorable little baby teeth that were too small for their mouths.

Now they have the dreaded “second-grade smile.” The awkward one with the larger-than-necessary two front teeth. Well, my son’s not too bad. In fourth grade now, his mouth is catching up. I just wish he would smile more!

My daughter, on the other hand. Well, she’s freaking adorable even so, and a total ham for the camera. Probably always will be. But she’s lost one tooth, and the other front tooth shows no signs of loosening. I want to sneak into her room while she’s asleep and wiggle that thing. How freaking adorable would it be if she were missing both of those for Christmas? So cute I can’t stand it! You should hear her little lisp….

I’m obsessing about the teeth. But of course it’s more than that. It’s my daughter’s once-chubby little cheeks, that are thinning out as her arms and legs elongate and she grows into that kind of coltish young girl you see trying out halter tops and attempting to look older than she is. No, I say! Don’t do it! When she wants to wear pink from head to toe I’m all for that– the longer she looks like a little girl, the happier I am. Pink and sparkles and flounces and “clicky” shoes that are covered in more sparkles– Pinkalicious meets Fancy Nancy. Yes!

It’s my son’s fascination with Super Why, Toy Story, and Blue’s Clues. Which, OK, he still has at times. But now it’s interspersed with him catching a glimpse of the cute, young receptionist at the dentist office and giving her a Joey Tribbiani-like “How you doin’?” once-over that completely freaks me out. The early signs of puberty. The fact that he can almost look me in the eye when we stand face to face. His struggle with homework and the knowledge that we’re still facing eight years of that–with just him. Another two more with my daughter. The future, staring us down, as we prepare for whatever may come at the the both of them.

It’s the high school friend, with his once-smooth skin furrowed more deeply than I recall, and his hair streaked with grey, and thinner than it used to be, and we’re talking about children and spouses and jobs and houses but jammed in between that we’re hitting on books, talking about literature, just like the good old days, so that paradox is jarring.

Especially when I catch a glimpse of myself. And this is what the whole thing is really about, I suppose. A glance into the mirror, catching sight of my eyes without glasses, the crinkles at the corners when I smile, the light glinting off the gray at my temples. The tiny age spot that has shown up in recent weeks which I tell myself is just due to too much time spent outside in my athletic pursuit of youth. The skin on the backs of my hands, wrinkled because it’s still autumn and I haven’t yet gotten back into the habit of frequent application of hand cream, but they’re drying out nonetheless.

The hands that remind me of my mother’s.

Who, by the way, still looks young to my eyes.

As I imagine I still look to my children. So despite their aging, and my aging, I will continue to try to see myself through their eyes.

Because, I hope, I still look young to them.

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Revisiting My Inspiration

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’m in a local critique group. In addition to reviewing each other’s works in progress, we also take time periodically to stretch our writers’ wings, and engage in workshop activities. These workshops are short flash fiction assignments based on a given theme, and I’ve found that I really enjoy them. I get to explore new ideas without the time investment of a novel. And we vote on our favorites, the top few being posted on our blog as part of our “Friday Flash Fiction” series.

Two months ago our theme was “Apocalypse.” I was thrilled. I love post-apocalyptic fiction; not necessarily dystopian because hey, sometimes things work out for the best. But exploring how humans deal with the end, how they adapt, how they evolve is fascinating to me. Perhaps it goes back to my love of Biology, taxonomy, and Darwin.

And naturally, I had an idea floating around in my head. Years ago, we used to vacation in the Adirondacks, at a cabin owned by the family of my husband’s college friend. Secluded at the top of a mountain, we’d spend a week, drinking, eating, relaxing, sleeping, fishing, swimming. In the evenings, I’d sit by the campfire and look at the millions of stars, and think about how far away we were from civilization. I thought, anything could happen, and we’d never know. I mentioned this to my husband once, and he said, “Oh, like Red Dawn?”

Well, shit.

A few years later, our friends were honeymooning in Cape Cod, after tourist season had peaked. They spent one particular idyllic day without TV, phones, or computer. They thought perhaps it was rather quiet that day, but thought little of it.

Until they made a phone call that evening and learned what they had missed. The date was September 11, 2001.

And in my mind, a story was born.

It was posted here in July, but I recently realized I never shared it here on my own blog. So, if you’re interested, follow the linky and I hope you enjoy. 🙂

Now, the reason for the post is that this weekend I’ll be back in the ADK. As it is now, I have no idea what happens at the end of my story above. No clue. Not even an idea of what happens next.

I’m curious to see what effect, if any, revisiting the scene of my inspiration has on my muse. Perhaps questions will be answered. Perhaps more will be raised. Perhaps nothing at all will happen except a quick weekend trip and a little tourism.

Wish me luck. I’d rather like to know what happens to Jodi and Ben, myself.

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Things That Keep Me Awake at Night, Part II: Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

I don’t sleep well when my husband is away. Unfortunately, his prior job came with a lot of travel. His first year was the worst: he was gone all week, every week, for about nine months. I think the only way I survived that year was due to our having a dog. But I was sleepless anyway, because we had a baby, so I was already pretty much a zombie.

These days, you’d think I’d be able to sleep since the kids now (usually) sleep through the night, but no luck. When he’s gone, I hear everything. And I worry about everything. This winter was particularly cold and I was convinced nearly every night that our pipes would freeze and burst and flood our basement.

I did what I could to prevent this: I didn’t turn my heat down as low as I would have liked to, which of course kept me awake in itself because I was then too hot to sleep. I opened the doors beneath both bathroom sinks to make sure warm air got to those pipes. And I ran the faucet in the upstairs bath almost every night.

Don’t ask me about our water bills. I’m guilty enough that I wasted so much. The fact that we would have wasted much more if the pipes burst was little consolation.

Another worry, year round but more so in winter: fire. I’m terrified the house will catch on fire. Some nights I sleep fully clothed, ready to jump from the bed and grab the kids at a moment’s notice.

Yes, each night the accumulated sleeplessness worsens the paranoia. And I don’t know why I am less worried about fire when my husband is home. Now that I think about it, we’re probably in more danger those nights, because I sleep more deeply.

Well, crap, there’s something else to worry about.

Regardless, somehow I survived the winter. Now, in the warmer weather, my concern turns to foot traffic. We live in the city, and when he is gone I’m certain someone is going to break into our house.

My thought process most nights:

Hear a sound. Most likely from the parking lot at the apartment across our backyard, but at the time, I’m certain it’s someone loudly closing a door downstairs.

Sit straight up in bed, listening. Glance at the gun safe, wonder if I can find the bullets and load the gun, grab both kids and barricade ourselves in my bedroom in time.

Decide no one is in the house, lie back down, but lie awake for another half hour, just in case. Finally fall asleep.

Repeat about every 30 minutes throughout the night. Until about 5:30, when I finally fall asleep for my heaviest sleep of the night.

And the kids wake up at 6.

Now we have a kitten. He’s not all that helpful in the home protection category. But at least he perks up every time he hears a sound. Or every time he pretends to hear a sound. Come to think of it, he’s probably going to make things worse. But when I am awake, he strokes my arm lovingly with his paw and tries to make it all OK.

Before running through the house all batshit insane.

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Who Am I?

I attended my 20th high school reunion picnic the other day. The planning for this precipitated a near-breakdown of epic proportions, which only served to emphasize to me exactly how confident I do feel about myself on a regular basis. This sounds arrogant, perhaps, but exemplifies to me how far I’ve come. 

Regardless, I found myself reduced to the insecure kid I once was: second-, third-, fourth- and so on- guessing my outfit choices, whether I wanted to attend, tripping down memory lane (not in a good way) and coming close to backing out many times.

I am very happy with my life right now. But then I was looking at it in a new way: what can I brag about? What have I truly accomplished? Let’s evaluate:

1. I love my husband. He’s an amazing partner in everything, a fantastic father, an excellent provider, and my best friend. I couldn’t ask for more. But as far as accomplishments go, it’s not. I just got really, really lucky.

2. My kids are great. They’re bright, well-behaved (usually) and, I hope, happy. But I think I hit the lottery with them, too. OK, I will take some of the credit. So can my husband. But really, they’re just great all on their own.

3. My job: uh…I just quit. I’m primarily a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom for those not in the know), and this is both by choice and out of necessity, but used to be able to say I taught science classes at the Y. But I just resigned. So now…I got nothin’. I’m a SAHM to school-age kids, which means I pretty much do nothing all day. Some may consider this to be an accomplishment. OK, I admit, I’m pretty happy with it. But brag-worthy? Only if I were an obnoxious twit. Which I try really hard not to be. Usually.

4. The writing. Ah, the writing. Yes, I do write. Sometimes. Not lately. And I haven’t published anything. I’m afraid to tell people I’m a writer, because in my mind, the next question is “What have you published?” Uh…I’ve published a fertility treatment handbook and a drug monograph, and newsletters for horse-crazy teens, and am not credited with any of them. I’m listed as an author on a scientific paper from grad school, but fiction? Not yet. So I feel like I can’t call myself a writer. 

When I began running, it took me a while before I was comfortable calling myself a runner. Jogger, zombie-death-shuffler, OK. I think when I ran the entire 5K I may have come around. 

I asked friends what I should wear, and one suggested “Your four Irongirl medals.” Also obnoxious but damn tempting. Haha.

Eventually I settled on something comfortable to wear that wouldn’t have me yanking, pulling, or sucking it in, and went.

I had a great time. Exchanged gossip with someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years just as if I’d seen her yesterday, hugged a few people, wished I’d attended the event the night before when I may have seen more people. Someone mentioned she was in awe of my triathlete status, and OK, I preened a little. 🙂

Eventually, the subject came up: “What do you do?”

Me: “Oh, I’m a stay-at-home-mom.” Three sets of eyes glance toward my school-age children. “Yeah, the’yre in school, so I don’t really do much. It’s kind of a cushy gig.” I laughed it off so I hoped I didn’t sound too obnoxious.

One woman, a SAHM herself, trying to throw me a bone: “Oh, come on! You work very hard!”

Me: “Not from 9 to 3, I don’t.” Shrug from me. Awkward smiles all around. Then, my mouth opened on its own and out it came: “Actually, I’m a writer. I write during the day when they’re at school.” Then I prepared to hedge, to defend my unpublished status. But instead:

Them: “What do you write? How cool! I can’t wait to read it!” The woman wanted to read my romances, the man wanted to discuss my short SF stories.

Well, I admit it, that was pretty cool. 

So does it come down to semantics? I do write, now, in fact I’m writing this second. I’m constantly composing in my head. Every now and then I take notes, and since last November first when I began NaNoWriMo I’ve probably written 80-100,000 words of fiction and, now, 31 posts here. I suppose I can call myself an “author” when I’m published, but for now:

I am a writer.

That wasn’t so hard.

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Talking To Kids About Suicide

I know, it’s something we don’t want to discuss with our children. I hate that we have to. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and today I found myself researching how to bring up this topic of conversation. You know how you hear about something happening, and it’s horrible and tragic and, thank God, rare? And then a week or so later, it happens again? Two suicides in the families or friend circles of people I know in two weeks. And then today, the news that another young Hollywood actor took his own life.

It got me thinking: we talk a lot about children and teen suicide prevention, bullying prevention, but there is little time spent thinking about suicide in adults. It’s as though we stop thinking about it. And yet, over half of all suicides occur in adult men, 25-65. This website lists many more facts, every one more chilling than the last. 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year. There are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.

And then there’s the fact that brings me around to all this: children on the autism spectrum were recently shown to have suicidal thoughts more often than neurotypical kids.

My own son has said in the past, when very angry with us, “I hate my life.” What if he decides to end it someday, not understanding the consequences of that choice? He has cognitive delays, it’s entirely possible that he could decide that’s the way out and not “get” that it’s permanent. This terrifies me.

And so it’s a concept I’ve hidden from both the kids: that it’s possible to end your own life. They don’t know there is such a thing. I don’t want them to know. I don’t want them to ever think that’s an option. But how long can we hide it from them? I know it’s something we need to talk about, someday, before they learn it somewhere or make the connection in a moment of anger or depression or hopelessness that there is a way out besides just waiting for the pain to ease.

There’s the “It Gets Better” project for LGBT teens and it’s a wonderful thing, but the advice applies to everyone. And yet, what I want more than anything for my own kids is that they never feel the kind of pain that leads one to think about that.

Which isn’t possible, so back to the research I go. Except first, my son wants to enjoy a simple afternoon lounging in his kiddie pool in the late summer sunshine.

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Wouldn’t You Know It?

I was hurrying through my shower today at the gym, post-swim, because it was 12:10 when I hauled my aching body out of the pool and into the shower. And the childcare closes at 12:30. And I like to take my sweet time in a hot shower, even when I haven’t just abused my muscles.

So I had blindly stuck my hand into my shower bag and naturally, I sliced open my fingertip on my razor. I hate that moment of suspense when you do something like that: those few seconds of thinking, “Oh, shit,” before the nerves begin to sting and the blood beads up on your skin. 

And then I had to try to get dressed without making a mess of my clothes, brush my hair, and put on make-up (yeah, I know, but I really did), without a Band-Aid (cue the violins).

I do want to point out here that at no point was I worried about deadly infections. That is strictly an insomnia thing. 

Eventually I made it to pick up my kids, though admittedly it was after the annoyed voice came over the PA system that the childcare was now closed. To be fair, the clock in the locker room still said 12:28. Just saying. 

But then my children were horrified by my still-bleeding finger. So much so, that later at their annual checkups, they mentioned it to the doctor.

My point, and I do have one, is that I actually have the urge to write but I SLICED MY DAMNED FINGER! So it hurts to type (I hope you appreciate the pain I’ve gone through for the past five minutes), or hold a pen, so instead I spent the evening watching three episodes of Buffy.

And now my husband is home and it’s bedtime. So, g’night.

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Amoeba Death Watch: Still Alive

I may have overreacted the other night in my insomniac haze. The cold has me in its clutches, but I refuse to give in. Today I ran and biked despite the heat, despite my exhaustion, despite my cold.

I’m at the point in my training where I’m just ready for this race to be over. I can’t wait to be able to enjoy my workouts again, without worrying whether I’m ready for the race. Truly, I can’t wait for autumn, to bike at the park admiring the foliage, smelling that gorgeous sun-warmed leaf smell unique to October in Upstate NY. To not sweat through 85 degree heat and 50% humidity.

Sorry, too much whining.

I have a heavy training weekend ahead of me, and hope to feel better about my standing after a long swim, a long bike, and a long run. Then it’s only 2 weeks away. A week of speed workouts, a week of easy taper, and then I swim, bike, and run my way to my fourth IronGirl finisher’s medal.

And then it’s on to continuing my training for my first half marathon this fall.

Amid all this, I need to find time to write. Revisions right now on a couple of short stories, but at some point soon I need to wrap my hands around the throat of my novel and show it who’s boss.

It’s totally the book. Not me. But I like to pretend it’s me.

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Things That Keep Me Awake At Night: Brain-Eating Amoebae

I was going to entitle this “Things That Keep Me Awake At Night: Part 1”, because this happens often enough that I could make it a weekly thing. But what was keeping me up last night was the fear I wouldn’t be alive next week, so I thought that would be terribly presumptuous, not to mention, a jinx.

It began with a swim in Lake Ontario Saturday and Sunday. Mostly Sunday, because the water was warmer and I actually swam. Face-in-the-water, goggles up, swam. Showing off for the kids, somersaults and handstands, sinuses-full-of-lake-water swimming. Tuesday I swam again, this time laps in the pool at the Y. Supposedly cleaner, but still managed to inhale water as I always do. Shortly after my swim, I began coming down with a headache.

Naturally, NATURALLY, my first thought was not a cold, or sinus infection, but a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. Of course. Wouldn’t yours be? It was just a passing thought, at the time, enough that I Googled it and found this article. I was somewhat reassured by the fact that the amoeba likes warm water. Lake Ontario was pretty darn frigid this weekend. And the thought left my mind as quickly as it came, I popped some probiotics and vitamin D and Zicam, and went to bed.

Then I was awakened at 1:30 a.m. by a massive growl from my stomach. Which was not hunger to my middle-of-the-night, sleep-deprived mind. Oh, no. It was nausea, in combination with the headache that had come back, to be the initial symptoms of meningitis. Confusion is another one, and I very nearly woke up my husband to warn him that if I began to show neurological symptoms, he should take me to the hospital straightaway to be tested by our local infectious disease specialist. Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is almost always fatal, but if they were to catch it in time, perhaps I could be saved.

At the very least, I thought I should make sure our will, recently updated, is notarized before I am no longer of sound mind.

Then, Oh God, I realized my husband had been swimming with us. Also showing off and doing flips underwater. What if he inhaled it too? My brother and sister-in-law are lined up and willing to be guardians of our children in case something happens to us, but who expects that to occur, really? Perhaps I should warn them. I thought of fetching my cell phone, then realized a text at 3 a.m., for by this point a good 90 minutes had gone by, was ridiculous.

8 a.m. would be just fine.

Somehow I managed to fall back to sleep for a few minutes, but then the power went out. And we’re in the midst of a heat wave, so the thought occurred to me that now we might suffocate under the oppressive heat and humidity (I never claimed to be sane in the middle of the night; far from it). Fortunately, it was only out for a few minutes. But the damage was done. I lay awake until after 4:30. Since I was awake, it was apparently time to obsess again about the amoeba. Perhaps I should stop doing triathlons; it’s much more likely that I would encounter one of these in the stagnant water in which my annual Iron Girl race takes place.

I woke up in the morning feeling somewhat more sane. It’s amazing how my mind runs away from me when I can’t sleep. At the very least, I got a fun blog post out of it.

And please, if I don’t blog again in the next few days, contact my husband and tell him to bring me to an infectious disease specialist.

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