Delimmas: Run or Write

Delimmas: Run or Write

I’ve finally realized that I can’t do it all. I used to hate that saying, but dangit if it ain’t true. And really: All? I can’t even do half, it seems. I can hardly do the bare minimum required of my days lately. Yet, I have these darn things in my mind called goals.

My priorities in life are being a loving and supportive wife, a fabulous mom, a caring and appreciative daughter, a valued employee, and a great friend – all of those things while honoring God and being a devoted member of my church.

My GOALS, however, are what I want to attain personally for this particular year, and when I established them for myself, they seemed pretty simple.

1. Get my book published.
2. Write another book.
3. Run three half marathons.

I know how to be disciplined. I understand what it means to sacrifice, to be single-minded and dogged in pursuit of something. I’ve done so before. It’s what I had to do to finish a novel. It’s what I did in order to train for my first half marathon. But looking back, I reached these goals at the expense of my priorities.

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Whenever I’ve got my blinders on, racing head on towards my next goal, my so-called life priorities tend to get dumped and forgotten – usually, my husband is the first abandoned. In light of this, I’ve decided that my priorities this year must remain my priorities; and these goals of mine cannot interfere with the work I have to do in keeping these priorities. Which has left me quite anxious and, really, wondering if I will be able to manage my pursuits of keeping fit and writing stories. When the 9 to 5 is done, along with work from the part-time gig, and the family is fed and the house is clean, and the practices are over, there isn’t much time to write or run. What I’ve managed to do is take advantage of the hours when the family is asleep or when my youngest is at rehearsals, practices, and games to open the notebook or put on the Asics. Lately, it’s been the latter as I just finished my first half marathon. As great as that felt, I admit that I’ve had little or no energy to write. Running zaps me clean. Yet when I sit down to write, even if I’ve managed to put down a few hundred words, I’m left sad and guilty that I didn’t get a run in.

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Ahh, First World problems. But you creative/sporty types know what I mean. And then there are those of you out there who will still give me a pathetic smirk, arms crossed, asking me why can’t I put in four miles and crank out 500 words a day. Maybe I can. Or maybe there’s a balance there somewhere. I just haven’t been able to find it yet. But I will keep trying, all while not letting my family and friends down.

Okay, okay. Time to hop on that treadmill. Or the computer. Which one? I don’t know. Hey, maybe I should add another goal to my list.

4. Become an expert on wine.

Ah, yes. This one I can handle with no problem.

Boozy Book Club :: Life After Life

Boozy Book Club :: Life After Life

Boozy Book Club has been a reality for a couple of years, but this is my first time posting about it. It’s my same gang of peeps, one of us picking a book that only half of us will read but all show up for the club because drinks and food are sure to be involved. This month’s outing was no different, with BBC reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

Life After Life
Let there be lighted displays

There is definitely a spoiler element with this book. However, those of us who finished the book on time didn’t care about ruining it for the book clubbers who still had some reading ahead of them (though I won’t reveal anything important in this post). Having finished it or not, all of us were left with the question about the purpose of the main character’s (Ursala Todd) life? If you care to pick it up, you’ll quickly learn that Ursala is re-born over and over again, reliving certain events, changing the outcome of others. What little details, we asked ourselves, were altered or shaken to produce a significantly different outcome for Ursala and those that she loved? Why was this phenomenon happening to her?

Did he finish? His wine, yes - the book, no
Did he finish? His wine, yes – the book, no

The two of us who finished the book shared our theory about Ursala’s reincarnations, and why the book was finally able to come to an end (if one agrees that it eventually came to an end). Before coming up with this theory, I was left a bit unsatisfied with the book – kind of the way I felt about the Sopranos finale. But with time, and the space to give it my own understanding, I eventually came to appreciate and really be awed at the book’s ending (as I did with the Sopranos).

It’s a hearty, thick read, but dense with excellent writing – Atkinson is witty and nimble with her words. And the characters are rich and interesting and alive. She brings us in close to the atrocities of war, to family dysfunction, and to sibling love. I recommend it as a book club read as there is so much to dissect and to connect to and to wonder about.

Life After Life is Boozy Book Club Approved!

Club Location:
The Federal Bar, Downtown Long Beach

Sliders pair well with book club meetings
Sliders pair well with book club meetings
Fries and turkey burger to stimulate discussion
Fries and turkey burger to stimulate discussion

Past BBC Reads:

In One Person by John Irving
Rating: BBC Approved

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Rating: BBC Approved

Groovy Words :: mammothrept

Groovy Words :: mammothrept

One of my most beloved teachers, who has had much influence on my writing – the incomparable Janet Fitch – always challenged our class to write above par. That meant exercising a few things – banning the cliche, shaping characters who evolve, and using colorful words (check out her Rules for Writers – great list!).

Words. Bending them and stretching them and applying them in ways that hadn’t been done before.

I’d always been ashamed to admit picking up a thesaurus, as if this was the action of an amateur, someone who needed help with expressions. Janet, however, empowered its use, holding it up as an invaluable and irreplaceable tool for writers. Since school, I’ve embraced the thesaurus and other sources of less oft-employed words as a means to assist me with creating prose (I did want to say “and make it pop,” but how cliche would that be?).

No shame
No shame

With time, I’ve made it a goal to learn new words and integrate them into my writing. My “Groovy Word List” in its most rudimentary form exists in a mini spiral notebook that I keep in my purse, jotting down words I find exceptional, humorous, and unexampled. It excites me when I encounter words with very specific meanings (such as defenestration: the act of throwing something or someone out of a window) or ones that feel nifty when spoken (like cymotrichous: having wavy hair) or a word that replaces a regular old description of something (glaucous means light bluish-green or greenish-blue). How lovely it is when, after compiling words, an opportunity arrives during my writing when I am able to use one of my words. This is especially helpful when editing, when while re-working text, I can replace ordinary words (run, felt, make, sad, sure) with groovy words (dart, thumbed, dragoon, cheerless, inerrant) – even if it means readers have to look them up; even if it means I have to look the words up myself months later because I’ve forgotten the meaning. And this doesn’t mean overdoing it. Swapping out humdrum words for exciting ones is sort of an art form. When using my groovy words, there’s a balance so that the groovy words don’t create a clunkiness, making the writing difficult to read; but in a way to keep the prose from getting stale, the way jewelry can perk up an otherwise dull ensemble.

Therefore, I’ll be sharing some of my more invigorating finds here. Feel free to send any groovy words you come across my way.

mammothrept: n., a child raised by its grandmother; a spoiled child

Write On :: Diversifying

Write On :: Diversifying

For the first, oh, two or three months or so after submitting my manuscript to the agent with whom I worked several years ago (remember that post?), it was a habit of mine to check my phone for emails about every 8 seconds, hoping for that response from her saying: Yes – your work is fabulous and fresh – of course I’ll represent you – I’ve even got a few editors in mind who are seeking just this sort of book!

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With my first book – the one the aforementioned agent represented back in the day (which never found a publishing home) – she read it and set up an agent contract with me within about 5 or 6 weeks. So you could imagine my anxiety this time around with my latest submission to her when, after 5 or 6 months, I still hadn’t heard anything. I followed up with her at one point, and she was truly apologetic, telling me how swamped she was. Which I appreciated, understanding that her piles 8 years ago were likely not as huge; and she has a substantial list of current writers to manage. At least her response at the time was a ‘not yet’ instead of a ‘no’.

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So I decided to chill out; tried to stop thinking about her response every dang moment of night and day. Kind of like with a break-up. You’re all consumed with the ex the first few weeks to months, wondering what he’s doing, if he’s thought about you. If he’s seeing someone else. You’re obsessed with it and it drives you crazy until, one shining day, you’re not. You haven’t thought about him and it’s wonderful and you’re so cool and you’re a normal, sane person. I became that sane person. I even decided to see other people – I sent query letters out to a new list of agents, one of which requested the first 50 pages. And I kept busy with other activities, other projects, lots of wine, lots of food. It’s nice to get to the point when you’re not overwhelmed by the weight of that ex.

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Until he calls you out of the nowhere. That’s what happened to me. Working off site at an event in Pasadena, I assumed the short vibration of my phone was my daily Eater LA message or an email from Lululemon or Bev Mo. Instead, it was that response from the agent I’d been waiting for.

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Only, it wasn’t the response I’d been waiting for. I didn’t have to read the whole email to get the message. I only needed to glance a few key phrases: sorry to disappoint…but unfortunately…all the best.

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She did provide feedback, something I was grateful for, though I didn’t agree with some of her comments. And I realized then how subjective reading is; and how I’ve changed so much as a writer since that initial submission to her 8 years ago, before grad school; when chic lit was my thing. Nothing wrong with chic lit, but I do write much differently now. Not as funny, not as vulgar, not as quick. But that’s okay. And it’s also okay that my new story didn’t vibe with her. Not that my manuscript isn’t flawed or can’t be improved – but I can’t get all bent out of shape and become disheartened from this rejection.

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So on to a Plan B or a Plan C, D, E; to edits and trusted reader friends; on to new agents and new queries and book contests and, possibly, self-publication. It’s surely time to diversify – I’m not ready to give up on this story. Not just yet, even if it means becoming completely consumed and obsessed and insane during the process.

Write On :: When Life’s a Mess

Write On :: When Life’s a Mess

I’ve never been the most organized person. I’m a last minute gal. I don’t get gas until the light comes on. If you’ve invited me to a party, you’ll probably get a gift card that I’ve picked up at the Von’s around the corner from your home. I’m lucky when things happen away from home because, should the need arise, I have: funny socks, duct tape, scented lotion, light bulbs, fruit snacks, scissors, a cork screw – the list goes on – all in my car’s trunk, left from the time when I needed to bring said items to an outing and failed to take them back inside the house.

In short, I’m a mess. But there comes a time when self-intervention is necessary. Take Exhibit #1.

Time for a filing cabinet?
Time for a filing cabinet?

My desk. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even use it, needing to push aside piles just to do any work. I could probably use a lesson in sifting & tossing. (BTW, that’s my girl Ava on the screen and her film distribution company: check out the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, AKA AAFRM at http://affrm.tumblr.com/ – support more films by her by voting for her at affinity.strutta.com/entries)

And it doesn’t end there. I swear it was just last night when I did the dishes (my LEAST favorite chore in the house – even ranking below toilet cleaning).

But look! Where did all these NEW dishes come from?

Looking for a human dishwasher
Looking for a human dishwasher

I try. I really, really try. But there are so many other things (sewing, cleaning my belly button, being hypnotized, having the wax washed out of my ears, getting a skin test for TB) I’d rather do than clean. Is that wrong? Does that make me a cave woman?

My husband would say “Yes! – Yes, indeed.” But he’s not a writer. He’s not a dreamer. A creator. A maker. That’s what I chose to do today instead of cleaning. I MADE stuff. I cleared up the clutter in my head.

Will I clean the kitchen? Eventually. Otherwise, I’ll run out of spoons and won’t be able to eat my bowl of Special K in the morning. Will I clean my desk? Likely, no. Not until I …

No. I probably won’t. But in the meantime, I’m going to be cranking out some sublime goodness. And hopefully, whoever reads my pages won’t be too bothered if they are smeared with peanut butter or nacho cheese. Happy writing!

Poet, Didn’t Know It :: Continental Drift

Poet, Didn’t Know It :: Continental Drift

stop
It’s a little too easy.
Soon, San Francisco will be one quick toll bridge away from Japan.
The mayor will dye the sky a proper blue.
My dog won’t require me.
We’ll find it difficult to stand, hard to find a hearty pee-in-your-pants laugh.

But still a cinch because we’ll laugh and not realize its potential.
That a laugh can both squeeze and relax things just right so that one of our buttons of control malfunctions.
There’ll be a cure for incontinence anyway. And for embarrassment and for anxiety so what does the laugh matter?

We’ll unsalt the water and find it bland.
Babies will stop crying. Maybe they’ll beep instead. Or vibrate or pulse or glow the faint brightness of day.
There’ll be no need for roller coasters.
You won’t meet your next husband waiting in line.
Every problem is solved.

So new trouble must be found:
Too high. Too golden. Not poisonous enough.
Until someone finally lets herself feel it. That itch under her skin. That skinned knee. That dead relationship. That hangover.
And submits to the living part of life.

Write On :: Finito

Write On :: Finito

The Desk of Life
The Desk of Life

I’ve done it. After nearly three years at it, I’ve found what once eluded Mick Jagger and friends in the mid-1960s: (Yes!) Satisfaction.

And the How? happens to be because I completed edits on my 116,185 word novel. Satisfaction is truly the word that best describes what I’m currently feeling. Elation and giddiness, too, have arrived. But more than those, I’m extraordinarily SATIATED and CONTENT (still have my thesaurus by my side) to have worked through this process. Though I’m done with this phase, part of me is sad that the grunt of the job has passed. This is why I know I’m a writer – not because I wanted to get to the end, but for the thrill of the course itself.

New adventures await. I spent about five bucks to ship off all 360 pages to New York to be read by the agent who shopped around my first book many, many years ago (which wasn’t awful, but could have used some tweaking – good ol’ hindsight). In the meantime, new writing will commence. Another novel, and an attempt at non-fiction. That will be tricky since I’m such a fantasy-land kind of girl. I can’t even tell you the last non-fiction book I’ve read. But again, the process is what matters. So I’m looking forward to more writing, and anything else that happens to follow.

Keep pushing, friends.

Post Script
So, perhaps it was the Laser Jet ink that had me so high last night, going on romantically about the process of writing being so beautiful, so virtuous [It’s now the next day. I was waiting for my cute little picture to upload via Photo Stream to iPhoto. Took so long that I went to bed]. Not that I’m not buying the lemonade from my own stand, but really? REALLY? Writing is insanely stressful. And lonely. Pushing out meaningful paragraphs every morning at 5:00 am for the last five months (yeah, I missed a few days here and there), trying to turn a 10-page workshop assignment into a weighty, intelligible, imaginative story? Ignoring chores, missing out on lunches with co-workers, irrationally scolding my husband or kid if interrupted? This business ain’t the easiest, particularly with a marriage, two jobs, four kids, friends who like Happy Hours, and television … TELEVISION!

But okay, okay. It was still a thrilling ride. Especially these last few months when I promised myself to complete what had been my thesis (120 large font pages submitted back in April 2011), attempting to do so without my work affecting my family and job (I have to admit, my house hasn’t been clean since November). So I stand by my Satisfied. But itching, I admit, to see something grand happen to my work. It’s not just the process. It’s also the will to reach others. To connect to others with my words. When that happens, I’ll have to pull out my thesaurus again to pick just the right way to describe my feeling then. I have no idea what that word will be, but there’s a good chance that I may find myself Satisfied once again.