Friday, September 30, 2011

Showing my age

Today's 100 words:

I wonder if elementary school girls still pass around those homemade books made of lined paper and construction paper covers. I remember them from the eighties, when I was in the fourth grade. Someone would create one of these books and then fill them up with questions, leaving spaces for the girls to place their answers as the books traveled surreptitiously around the classroom. I remember one question was "What boy do you like?" and in my naivety--Who would really answer that?--I wrote "Mike," which was true, but it made me an enemy (for a time) of Edie.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Today's 100 words:

They say that everyone you know--everyone you see--is going through something, and if it's your friend or your sibling, your husband/wife or child, you probably know what that thing is, and because you know, you're able to acknowledge it and try to help, if that's what that person wants, or ignore it, if that seems to be what the person is doing, at least on the surface. For the other people, the ones you don't know, all you can do is speculate: smile at that cashier/teacher/company CEO and wish him or her a good day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Doing this for me

I spent a lot of time this afternoon thinking about writing and about how it hasn't been fun for me recently. I've been too wrapped up in worrying about what other people will think of my work, and as a result, I've become paralyzed, unable to write a single word without analyzing it and second-guessing it. I delete more words than I write, and my inner critic tells me that none of my ideas are interesting, that my prose is flat, that no one will ever want to read--much less publish--anything I write. This thinking has gone on for at least a couple of months now, bringing so much insecurity and fear with it.

Today I decided that I was no longer going to let these negative thoughts keep me from doing what I enjoy. I made the following declaration this afternoon, via Twitter:

Decided the only reason to write is because I love it. Worrying about who else will like it stifles me. I need to do this for me. #amwriting

Do this for me. For me.

I can't let worrying about not being good enough keep me from putting words on the page. I can't keep listening to my inner critic as she tells me that I'm no good and should just quit. If I love writing--and I do--then I have to do it for that reason: for the love of it. If other people like it, that will be a bonus. If I can get some of my fiction published someday, that will be wonderful, a very proud moment, I'm sure. But I learned today that writing with my eyes solely on publication--concerned only with what other people think--doesn't work for me. I'm happiest when I'm doing my 100-word exercises, which I once did as mere writing warm-ups but have recently been taking more time with and really contemplating what I want to say. I don't know what that means or where those little snippets can take me. I only know that I enjoy writing them, and I have to let that kind of enjoyment spill over into the projects I'm working on: the collection of short stories I'm planning; my young adult novel about Jed; my NaNoWriMo project, if I choose to do one this year... The bottom line is, I need to write because I want to. I have to do it for me and no one else.

I'm not giving up my dream of publication. That's still something I want very much. I just realize now that I can't place all my focus on that dream. I can't make it the only reason I write. First, I have to write for me, and as I realized today, that's really all that matters.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You live, you learn

Today's 100 words:
They say what goes around comes around, and I think there's some truth in that. Greg and I dated for six years, through high school and part of college. He was sweet, kind, and wanted to be with me, always talking about our future. For a time, I felt the same; I thought nothing would drive us apart. But then I met Rob--older, attractive, dangerous Rob--and I left Greg with no real explanation. But one reaps what one sows, I think. Not long after, Rob, who I loved like Greg had loved me, dumped me in the same abrupt way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On loving books and needing to eat

Today's 100 words:

I love my books and don't part with them easily. Even if I didn't particularly enjoy some of them, I still want to own them and often wish I had every book I'd ever read. What an amazing chronicle of my life that would be, to see all of my books from infancy through old age, all bearing testament to the kind of person I was at each stage: the things I enjoyed reading about, my favorite authors, the way my reading tastes changed...

(In graduate school, I sold The English Patient so I could buy lunch.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On ramen and memories

Today's 100 words:

I cooked Rice-A-Roni at the old, rust-colored stove in my first place. I was a poor graduate student, and rice was one of my staples--rice and ramen noodles and Carnation Instant Breakfast. Sometimes I would buy chicken, rolling it in mayonnaise, crackers, and spices, a recipe I can no longer remember and cringe to think of now, but back then I enjoyed it. It was strange and exhilarating to be on my own in that tiny wood-paneled A-frame house, scene of so many firsts, keeper of so many memories, blissful and painful at once.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Today's 100 words:

I slowed down as I walked past his office and glanced inside, as I always did. Even though we were no longer together, even though he had told me it was over, that he couldn't be with me, that he didn't see a future for us, I couldn't stop caring for him, loving him. I "stalked" him, I suppose, but never maliciously. I just wanted to know he was okay. But that day I looked into his office and saw him talking to her, their heads bent close together. I understood. I wasn't her. I could never be her.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On apples and envy

This morning's 100 words:

I think the most difficult thing about sending my son to preschool is knowing that I won't always be the one who will experience all of his firsts. I won't be the only one with funny or cute or sweet stories to tell about him. Yesterday his teacher had the class taste different kinds of apples, and when I picked up my son, she described for me how funny and joyous it was to watch him taste a Red Delicious apple--how his face lit up with surprise and delight. I'm envious that she saw it and I didn't.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tagged! Ten random facts about me.

A game of tag has been making its way throughout the blogging community, and today I was tagged by the lovely Carissa. To play, all you need to do is be tagged (see my list of "victims" below!), write a list of ten random facts about yourself, and then tag four more people. Fun!

Here are my completely random facts. Enjoy!

1. I'm a reality TV addict--and I make no apologies.

2. I love ginger ale, but I'm particular about the brand. It has to be Vernors.

3. I won a library poster contest when I was in the second grade. That was the high point of my art career.

4. Ozzy Osbourne is my favorite singer.

5. I have a crush on Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass (played by Ed Westwick). Don't judge.

6. When I was sixteen, I worked as a desk clerk in a Super 8. It was not my favorite job.

7. I worry about everything.

8. I've never dyed my hair.

9. I would rather talk face-to-face than call someone.

10. Dirty Dancing is my favorite movie, and the wonderful Patrick Swayze was my first celebrity crush.

I hope that was random enough! I'm tagging:
1. Tara
2. Charlotte
3. Scott
4. Tersia

Have fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My 'vision' and what it taught me

Last night as I lay in that hazy place between not really awake and not quite asleep, I saw a picture of myself behind my closed eyelids. I was sitting at a computer that had been placed on a long table, much like the kind one finds covered with paper or plastic tablecloths at church potluck dinners. My fingers were on the keyboard, but at that moment I wasn't typing. Instead I was looking over my shoulder at the people behind me, rows and rows of them, many sitting so closely to me that their knees jammed into my back.

One gentleman in particular caught my attention. He was an older man, tall and thin, with just a hint of a belly, on which he rested his folded arms. He was seated near the middle of the room, his long legs stretched out before him. His head, covered with thick, white hair, was bent toward his chest, and his eyes, hooded by fuzzy gray brows, were squeezed shut. As I watched him, his body started to list. One part of me--the human me, the compassionate me--was afraid he would fall off his chair and hurt himself. The other part of me--the writer me sitting at the computer--was afraid for myself, that my writing was boring him, putting him to sleep--and so I tried to type--something, anything--to wake him up, to make him interested. To make my work--my dream of writing--relevant.

The other people in the room were younger and eager. They sat at the edge of their chairs; they clutched notebooks and pens; they periodically glanced at their watches or at the gray clock that hung high on the wall. Some of them were the owners of the knees that pressed anxiously and painfully into my back. Like the old man, these people made me feel rushed, like I needed to hurry and write something brilliant and wonderful and unlike my usual work. They were writers just waiting for me to fail so they could step in and take my chair and my computer. And my dream.

The vividness of this waking dream was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. Before bed, I had been rereading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and in it she talks about the things that keep us from writing--those nagging voices that whisper in our ears, trying to convince us--oftentimes successfully--that what we're doing isn't valuable or important or worth anything in the grand scheme of things. I think the people I envisioned were probably my inner critics--the old man showing me through his actions that my work is boring and the others not so gently reminding me that I, sitting and accomplishing little, am lazy and need to step aside and allow the "real" writers to work.

I find it interesting that this "vision" occurred just as I'm getting ready to embark on a new project. I don't know if it bodes well or not. But what it has shown me is that I need to stop procrastinating and start doing: start working, start writing. And I need to stop second-guessing myself. It's so easy for me to believe the voice that says that my project is stupid, that my ideas are unworkable, that writing is too hard, that all I'm doing when I sit down to write is wasting my time, and that since few people in my life seem to take my writing seriously, why should I?

The answer is this: because I want to. And no matter what the critics say--no matter if the old man falls off his chair from boredom or the eager writers continue to try to shove me aside--they can't change that simple fact.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

But have I learned my lesson?

This morning's 100 words:
My hands are numb this morning, the way they always get when I haven't had enough sleep. It's a pins-and-needles feeling, and I don't know why it happens, but I wake up with it whenever I don't allow myself to rest. The stupid thing is that I know I need to get more sleep, but each night I go to bed well past the hour I should. I stay up late reading, usually, or writing, then finally turn off my light for my scant five hours of sleep, knowing I'll complain the next day about how tired I am.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Seldom a lightbulb moment

Today's 100 words:

Story ideas don't come easy to me. They never have. And nonfiction ideas arrive slowly as well. When it was time to write my thesis in graduate school, it took several long meetings with my thesis director before I could settle on a project. Some people are fortunate to see ideas in everything: they read an article, hear something on television, or have an unusual dream, and suddenly they're brainstorming their answers to the what-ifs. I envy them. Ideas come slowly to me, thick like molasses, and it takes a lot of shaping to form them into something viable.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall's kiss

This morning's 100 words:

I can feel fall's kiss in the air today, the sharp coldness stealing in through the open window, bringing with it that crisp smell only autumn can possess. Spring, as fall's opposite, its fraternal twin, doesn't exhibit the same crispness, that same sense of a cold sheet snapping on a line, that feeling of sharp electricity that seems to be in the air when the trees start to shed their leaves, the pleasant scent of decay rising around them. Spring's is a clean smell, a washed-earth smell, signifying a beginning, while fall, though lovely, takes us closer to the end.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The bad, the good, and NaNoWriMo

The bad news? I'm still in a writing slump. I don't know what it is*, but whenever I sit down to write, I find myself paralyzed by the blank page (screen). However, the other day, a very helpful Twitter friend, @noelle_clark, asked me if I had thought about doing NaNoWriMo this year, as she was sure that it would be just the thing to get me writing again. The good news? I think she may be right.

Most writers probably know that November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). According to the Web site, "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30." What's different about NaNoWriMo is that writers are encouraged to work on new projects and write without worrying about quality, reasoning that getting the words down is more important. After all, what "they" say is true: words can be edited later, but a blank page can't.

That blank page is a real issue for me. I think that part of my problem with writing is my desire for perfectionism. I want everything to be just right, so if, for example, the first line doesn't sing, I just can't get past it. (Hello, WIP.) It's okay to want perfectionism, but to expect to have it in the first draft just sets the writer (me) up for failure. (Somehow, though, I keep forgetting this.) Perhaps trying once again to abandon my inner critic and give myself permission to write--as the NaNo rules state--"crap" will help me to get over this hurdle.

I can't remember now how many times I've participated in NaNoWriMo, but I think a good guess would be about four. I "won" two of those years, which means that I made the 50,000-word goal before November 30. I did do what I call an unofficial NaNo last year--unofficial because I wrote a memoir rather than fiction. I ended the month with over 70,000 words on that project, so even though I didn't follow the rules to a tee, I definitely consider the effort much worth my time.

As of this moment, I'm leaning toward participating again this year, although I'm not sure what my project will be. I could do another unofficial NaNo and work on my Jed WIP, but I'm concerned that that particular project is the cause of my writing burnout. I think it might be better to work on something new--but what? Unlike most writers, I seem to have a problem with coming up with solid story ideas, but maybe by the time November rolls around, I'll be able to find a workable one.

What about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you participated in the past? And does writing with no goal other than hitting a specific word count work for you?

*On second thought, I do have an inkling. See paragraph 3.

Friday, September 16, 2011

One year ago

This morning's 100 words:
Today is the first anniversary of my grandma's death. It doesn't seem possible that she's been gone so long. She cared for me and my siblings often as we were growing up, and I have so many memories of the times we shared. I try to write them down so that my feeble mind never forgets them.

I wasn't able to attend her funeral, but I visited her grave when I went home this past summer. Seeing her name carved into stone--and touching it--was difficult, emotional. I sat and talked to her for a long time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Scary and exciting

It's been obvious lately that I have school on my mind, and watching my excited four-year-old go off to preschool this week has prompted me to think about my own feelings about school. I don't remember my earliest days sitting in a classroom, although my parents have told me that I was as eager to start kindergarten as my son was to start preschool. I do, however, remember the first days I experienced in later years, which became the subject of today's 100 words:

Other than posing on the front steps for my annual first-day picture, I don't really remember much about my first days of school--at least not until I was older. I do remember starting junior high. The kids in the seventh and eighth grades were in the same building as the much-bigger-seeming kids in grades nine through twelve, and I can remember feeling intimidated by everyone around me. They all seemed so confident, and I didn't know anything: where I was going, what teachers to avoid, how not to look like a lost young child...

I think I'm done with school talk now, at least for a little while! It's been an exciting, scary, teary, happy week. Thanks for hanging in there as I shared my thoughts. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No more slow-motion world

Today's 100 words:

It's nearly the middle of September, and I don't understand how the days and weeks speed by like this, so fast--zip, zoom--and then they're gone, and suddenly it's another month with its own zipping and zooming, days and weeks that come too fast and go too fast--out of control, really, and not at all like what they were when I was a child and the months used to crawl by, a day seeming like a week, a month like a year as I waited in eager anticipation for something--anything--to happen in my slow-motion world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Because I know you've all been holding your breath...

Well, not really. :)

But since I've been writing so frequently about how excited my son has been to start school, I thought I would update on his first day, which was today. The verdict?

He loved it!

Although today was his first official day, it was really parent/child day, an hour-long meet and greet in which the kids and parents took a tour of the locker room (this is a YMCA program, and one thing the teachers focus on is swimming), the kids played, and the parents and teachers visited. My son did really well. I think he was excited to have the opportunity to play with other little boys--finally. (Most of my friends have girls, so up until now, the majority of his  playdates have been all girls, plus him.) When I chatted with one of the teachers, I could hear my son screaming and laughing as he and some other boys played a game that might have been called "Get Away from the Monster." He was having so much fun!

I also enjoyed my hour in the classroom. It was fun watching the kids get to know each other, and it was hilarious to listen to some of the things they said. When the teacher, Miss Krista, asked the kids what the rules should be for walking down to the locker room, one little boy remarked that everyone should keep his hands to himself and not poke the other kids. Miss Krista agreed that that was a very good rule, and then another child piped up, asking, "But it's okay if we touch ourselves, right?" The adults (including the teachers) all burst out laughing, and Miss Krista dryly remarked that she thought it was time to let that discussion go. I love listening to the kids and wish I could be a fly on the wall. Think of all the great story ideas one could find in a room full of four-year-olds!

Thursday is my son's first day alone in class--and therefore the first day I have to deal with my anxiety about leaving him there. I'm still a little nervous and a lot sad about having to be away from my "baby" for six hours each week. I know I'll probably cry, but for his sake, I'll try to keep a smile on my face until I leave the building. Having my daughter to distract me will help, I'm sure, and I know the hours will pass quickly. Before I know it, it will be time to pick him up and listen to him chatter excitedly about all the wonderful things he learned.

And his excitement is worth any sadness I'll feel.

There's no doubt about that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tomorrow is the day

My four-year-old son starts preschool tomorrow. We went shopping this weekend to buy him his backpack--he chose a Spider-Man one--and a few other things that he'll need. He's been counting down the days for quite a while now, and when I told him today that tomorrow will be his first day, the look of excitement and joy on his face was priceless! I'm glad he's so excited.

Now I'm just crossing my fingers that I don't embarrass him when I burst into tears...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What right do I have?

I read a blog post this morning that was written by a woman who lost her husband in the attacks on September 11. He was in the Twin Towers when the planes hit, and his body wasn't found until November. The post was stark and heartbreaking, and it made me wonder if I, who lost no one in the attacks, have the right to claim a story about that horrible day.

What gives me the right, I thought, to talk about how my day stopped--about how I decided not to follow my teaching plan but instead discussed with my classes what had happened and what it could mean. What gives me the right to try to describe how sad I felt, how my stomach ached when I saw all those men and women leaping to their deaths. What gives me the right to remember that I picked up a pizza for dinner that night because the events of the day were so horrific, and I didn't feel up to cooking. What gives me the right?

But the more I thought about this all today, the more I realized that I do have the right. I am an American. An attack was made on my country, and it took the lives of my countrymen. When something happens to one, it happens to all.

By claiming my own story, I realize that I'm not diminishing the anguish, the pain, and the horror that so many people faced firsthand. Instead I'm taking my place next to them; I'm there with them, suffering with them, praying for them. We are they, and they are we.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Today's 100 words:
I've been told that I was quite the social butterfly when I was a child, always wanting to be the center of attention and never afraid to talk to anyone. My dad says that I used to climb out of the grocery cart and sit on the conveyor belt, then have conversations with Pearl the cashier. I was probably around two then.

These days, I've lost some of that childhood unselfconsciousness. Put me in front of a classroom with a subject I love, and I'm in my element. Bring me to a party, and I become shy.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Today's 100 words:
Outside my window, birds chirp and traffic roars, and I still find it strange that the two aren't mutually exclusive, as they were when I lived out of town, away from the noises of the city--the sirens, the pulsing beat of rock music blaring from car stereos, the sudden cacophony of car horns, the screech of brakes--all of those sounds that make up a life lived close to others: neighbors only feet away, listening through their open windows to the sounds that come through my open windows, always knowing everything although they may never say a word.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Uninspired. Any advice?

I'm feeling completely uninspired today. Nothing I attempt to write--blog posts, scene outlines, even Tweets--seems right. Everything is trite, dull. Uninspired.

So tell me: what do you do when you want to write but the words just aren't there? How do you get past the block?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

100 words on why I write

From September 5, 2011:
I'm sure that from time to time, most people look at their lives and wonder what they would have been like if something had been different: if they had been born on New York City's affluent Upper East Side or grown up on a dairy farm in Iowa or married a prince (or princess) in some tiny, rarely heard of country, for example. I wonder about these things too, which is one of the reasons that I write. It's the imagination, the what-if, that keeps me putting words to the page, dreaming about the possibilities, the what-might-bes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One more week...

until my son starts preschool. I'm nervous and anxious and scared. At the same time, I'm excited and happy for my little boy, who can't wait to start his new journey.

Preschool was one of the first things I thought of when I woke up this morning, so it became the subject of today's 100 words:

I'm getting more anxious about the fact that my little boy is starting preschool next week. He's so excited, and I'm glad for that. But I'm also nervous and sad: nervous because I've never had to let someone I don't know care for him, and sad because the start of preschool means the beginning of growing up--and growing away. I won't have him here with me anymore, at least not every day; he'll be taking his first steps on the road to independence. I know he'll love school, but the realization that I can't be near him every minute is so frightening.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A short break for some good WIP news!

After waking up today feeling completely dejected about the lack of progress I've made on my WIP, I sat down this afternoon and revamped the entire outline, breaking the story down scene by scene until I had something that seems much more cohesive and interesting than its predecessor. I'm very excited--and relieved!

And now--back to work!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It's 24-7; I'm exhausted. I still love it!

It's 3 p.m. I'm listening to my husband snore as he naps in the next room, and I suspect that more of the same will occur tomorrow: more napping, more snoring, more taking it easy. Now I don't begrudge my husband a rest: he works hard every day so that I can stay home with the kids, and I know he needs (and deserves) a break. But right this moment, in my current woe-is-me state, while I'm up to my ears in dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, and smelly diapers, I can't help but bemoan the fact that, as a stay-at-home mom, I don't get a Labor Day.

Despite it all, though, I wouldn't trade my life for anything.

Happy (early) Labor Day to all of you!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

That first big step

I'm sure I'll probably write more about this as the day gets closer, but for now, here's 100 words:

My four-year-old starts preschool in about two weeks, and the thought makes me want to cry. I'm not ready to let go of him. He and I have been together every day since he was born. Every day. We don't have family here, and I have a difficult time trusting babysitters, so we've never left the kids with anyone. My husband says I'm being ridiculous, but I don't think that's fair. He works outside the home; he's had practice being away from the kids. I haven't had that. This is going to be hard for me.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A progress report

I've been home for about a week now, and I'm still not back into the swing of things as far as my writing goes. Vacation always alters my life's "schedule," and even after it's over, I find myself feeling sort of off-kilter. Before we left for our trip, I had been working on my novel during the hours before the kids woke up, but since we got back, I've been using that time to catch up on laundry and all the other household tasks I had neglected to do before we left, and work on my WIP has been put on a back burner. As far as my novel goes, then, I'm giving myself a C for effort--and that's only because I'm grading on a curve! ;) Maybe next week I'll feel less tired and stressed and more inspired. Here's hoping!

I have been managing to keep up with my 100-word exercises, however. I enjoy them. They usually don't take long, which has been a bonus lately, and they allow me to get other thoughts out of my mind in order to make room for reflection about my projects. (Even though I haven't been writing my WIP, I have been thinking about it.) The exercises are also a good way for me to banish some of the doubts I have about myself as a writer. Through them, I let my inner critic speak. When she's done having her say, I feel like I can ignore her for the rest of the day, which helps my creative mind immensely. I generally don't post these 100-word "talks" with my inner critic, but maybe someday I'll share some of them here.

Enough about me: I feel like I'm so behind on all of your projects. How are they going? How would you grade your progress?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mr. Tree

Going home always takes me back to my childhood, reminding me of things I haven't thought about in years. I wrote the following brief memory on August 21 as I thought about some of the ways my sister and I used to pass the time while we were growing up:

When my sister and I were kids, a group of trees stood in our front yard, and my sister, for some reason known only to her, called the configuration "Mr. Tree." The trees were growing in a square, one at each corner, forming a room that we would use as our secret clubhouse--although I do recall my sister telling her classmate across the street about this supposedly secret place. Once we tried to use sticks and branches to build up Mr. Tree's walls, but the whole process was too tedious, and we gave up after only a short time.