Momiversary and other thoughts

Today is my anniversary of motherhood. Eleven years ago I drove through a torrential rainstorm, waited for hours in the JFK airport, and at around 11:30 pm I met my son. A happy moment (and also slightly terrifying) and one that we regularly reminisce.

But the moments leading up to it were painful. And this morning, as I sat in the waiting room of my gynecologist, I was reminded of that pain as pregnant women made a seemingly endless trek toward the exam rooms. Today happened to be the office’s outreach to at-risk expectant mothers. Not great timing.

I used to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, back in the days of fertility treatments. Waiting rooms that overflowed with pregnant women, many of whom were young, alone, and frustrated about their situation. You could see it in their eyes, and I used to wonder if they could read mine. Read the unhappiness and desperation. I would sit in the waiting room and keep myself together – keep my emotions steady – until I crossed the threshold into the exam room. Then I would break down and sob.

Thankfully, I am not in that place anymore. I have two amazing sons and have made peace with my path to motherhood. But there are moments when I can’t escape the rush of sadness that refuses to let go of my heart. Moments like this morning, as I watched each belly full of life and rested a hand on my own, full of scar tissue.

A few months ago we were guests at a church, and a couple had filmed their testimony. When the story began, I knew what would come next: Struggling to conceive, praying to God for a miracle – I spotted the trajectory right away, knew the meteor would land right in my gut. I left the room in time before tears came, and thankfully they never did. But I realized that I would never be able to fully let this go. The tears may no longer flow, but the ache creeps in, when I’m reminded of the painful journey that ended eleven years ago.

That’s the thing. Our pain never fully ends. Because no matter how much we heal, the scars remain a part of who we are. And that’s okay. The scars remind us of where we’ve been, of who we struggled to become, and the amazing things that came out on the other side.

Like my boy. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. It feels like yesterday I carried him in his little green sling and sang endless rounds of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Let somebody blow it out?

No way.  I’m gonna let it shine.

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October book report

October was a good month for reading. Oh who am I kidding? Every month is a good month for reading! I decided to let my most recent novel do a bit more marinating before I dive back into revisions and have been working on a YA book written in verse. A very fun project, but in an effort to do it well I have been reading a lot of verse books. Which take about a day or two to read depending on the amount of distractions in my life. The few I have read so far have managed to give me all the feels, which hopefully I’ll be able to do with my work as well.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My older son read Riding Freedom and Esperanza Rising in school and I read them too – I told him that anything he reads in school I will try to read as well. Loved them both. Echo was on his suggested summer reading list, and I hoped if I started listening to it in the car he would get hooked and want to read it on his own. He didn’t get hooked, but I did. The story follows three different children in three different parts of the world, all around the time of World War II. There is also a fourth story in the beginning that reads like a fairy tale and holds the stories together with a single object: A harmonica. So of course the audio version has harmonica music. Which was a lovely touch and made the book even more enjoyable. I recommend the audio version for that reason and think this a great story for young and old!

Right Here, Right Now edited by Jody Biehl
A few years ago I joined a book club that focuses on local authors. When possible, the author comes to our meeting (or joins us virtually) and it is a wonderful way to not only discuss great books but also gain insight into the writing process. This year started out with an anthology of Buffalo stories, and although I live in the suburbs, I’ve been here most of my life and found it fascinating to read each story and uncover the different perspectives.

Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
This book ended up on my TBR list when I applied for Pitch Wars in 2015 because it was written by one of the mentors. And of course because I love all things Lizzie Borden. When I taught high school English, we did a multi-genre project that involved researching a famous person in history and then writing various pieces based on their life. I used Lizzie as a model and wrote one of my favorite poems. Sweet Madness looks at the story from the point of view of the Bordens’ maid, Bridget and explores what may have happened and why. I can definitely appreciate all of the research that must have been involved.

Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is hands down my favorite children’s author. I’ve read many of his books multiple times and never tire of his off-beat humor and in-your-face-but-still-subtle life lessons. My youngest did not laugh quite as loud as his brother when I got to the dog’s droppings part, but he still enjoyed the book very much and it was the perfect thing to read as we prepared for Halloween. Such a good read aloud, as long as you can trill your “r’s”.

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
Sharon Creech is another favorite (stay tuned for the November book report to learn what I’ve been reading with my older son) so I naturally turned to her when starting to read verse books. Heartbeat is a sweet story about a girl who loves to run and the complicated bits that come with growing up. A wonderful weekend afternoon read.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
I found this gem online when I did a “writing books in verse” search. It tells the story of a young girl on the prairie sent to help out another family and subsequently abandoned just as winter sets in. She suffers from dyslexia (I assumed, it was not directly stated) and struggles to teach herself to read while figuring out how to get back home. Oh, the feels.

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder
More feels. As I said, these verse books are tearing me apart! I sat on the couch next to hubby and bawled. It’s about a teenage girl who has lost her mother to cancer and has a not so great relationship with stepmom and new baby sister, until they end up in a situation that changes everything. (Sorry, trying to stay vague to avoid spoilers.) The characters are so well fleshed out using sparse and beautiful language. I can only hope to do the same with my piece!

Phew! Always reading, always adding books to the piles (both the virtual one on Goodreads – come find me! and the physical stack on my nightstand). The cooler weather is sure to bring more nights curled up under the blanket, faithful kitty by my side, lost in a good book. Happy Reading!

Oh, Fall

How I love and hate thee.

Fall is my favorite season. I love the cooler temperatures, the abundance of vegetables in our farm share box, and most of all – the smell of decaying leaves. Yes, you read that right. Several years ago my husband and I were wandering around on a fall day when I inhaled deeply and remarked on how much I love the smell. So you like the smell of death and decay? Of rot? He said to me, in his way of bursting my bubble that he sometimes does. Yes, I guess I do. The leaves turn their most brilliant, and then they fall off and die, creating a wonderful aroma.

But here’s the problem. It’s also getting darker. And while I have never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder or anything, I know what is coming next. The pulling into myself, of not wanting to get up and start the day. In college, my worst episode with depression began in November, and every year since then I can feel the tug of sadness trying to take me under again.

There are things in my life going well right now, and things that are tearing my heart apart. And I stand sometimes at the crossroads and think how easy it would be to let go and get pulled under. But then I think about my family, and my friends, and the people whose lives I might affect someday. About how my co-worker calls me “Smiley” which is funny and ironic because my mother always tells me to “Smile more.” About the time we each get to spend on the planet and how we make the most of it.

So maybe I need to shift focus. Death and decay make room for rebirth. Darkness and isolation allow us to store our energy and recharge. Each trip around the Earth brings wisdom and experience.

Oh, fall. Let’s enjoy each other for another month, shall we?

September book report

Last month I discovered that middle grade audio books sometimes come with fun sound effects and musical accompaniment.  We took a small road trip over the holiday weekend and even though I did relent and allow the boys to watch videos part of the way, I made sure to get kid friendly audiobooks just in case. And now I think I’m kinda hooked.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
We started with this one, and I’m glad the boys switched over to movies because despite the case saying it was a family friendly audio, the themes and some of the language would have been a bit much for my youngest. Definitely a 12 and up read/listen. I enjoyed the story, and hubs said it was an accurate portrayal of how boys feel at that age – specifically in terms of how they think about their relationship with their father.

Pop by Gordon Korman
My son read No More Dead Dogs last year (and I did too, as I once promised to read everything he’d been assigned to read) and we both enjoyed it. Pop was a fun listen; it’s about a young football player who moves to a new town and connects with his older, somewhat quirky neighbor. There are some nice layers to the story, and the boys enjoyed listening on the drive home. Korman is an excellent (and prolific) MG writer – check his stuff out!

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Okay, so here’s where the audio books got really fun. Main character Alex narrates the story into a “golden” iPod that he plans to launch into space. Every time someone else spoke into the iPod, a different voice actor was used. And there were sound effects. My boys thought that part was awesome. They only listened to part of the story as post-summer life began and we all returned to our respective work/school lives. But they heard enough to become invested in the characters, especially Alex. Some elements were a bit unbelievable, but we definitely enjoyed joining him on the journey.

Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones
I’m working on a new piece – a novella written entirely in verse. One of my critique group ladies mentioned this book as a model, and oh, it’s good. Finished it in an afternoon. If you read it, but sure to read the backstory too (it was the afterward in the ebook version) about how the book came to be. I will definitely be checking out more of her work.

Tomorrow There Will be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
Sadly, I only finished one physical book this month. It has not been easy to carve out quiet time to read in the past few weeks. But on the nice days, if the boy behaved himself at school, I’d plop myself on a park bench and anti-socially drown myself in a book. I added this one to the list based on a “books you should read” article a few years back, and then noticed a good friend had enjoyed it. It is beautifully written. I loved the interwoven relationships and her unique similes and metaphors. I did struggle a little at time because of the adoption story line – there was negative language and difficult scenes which were a bit of a trigger for me. (For those who don’t know – my sons were both adopted.) But overall it was a lovely book that expertly dealt with the ideas of fueling passion, fitting in, and finding one’s purpose.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for next month’s reviews. Happy reading everyone!

 

 

How’s your book coming?

Ah, the ever present question in writing circles: How’s the current project coming along? Whether you’re working on an initial draft or revision number (enter ridiculous number here – in my case anyway), fellow writers and basically anyone to whom you’ve mentioned that you’re working on a book want to know how things are going. And that’s great. It helps keep the motivation up when it may be dragging, and can be a supportive part of an often desolate journey.

But when things aren’t going well, it’s a question that makes me want to bury my head in the sand. Or, as my son often does when he gets home from school, turn my thumb sideways and then point it down. Although truth be told, he often turns it back to sideways or up; he’s like the scales on a diet show – was it a good day or bad day? Stay tuned to find out!

Can you tell I’m avoiding the question? Really though, how is the current project going? It’s experiencing long periods of drought with the occasional burst of creative genius, followed abruptly by bouts of frustration and/or hours of staring into space, willing a solution to magically appear out of my fingertips.

Here’s the problem. My book tells two stories. One is mostly true (based on my grandmother’s memoirs) until it becomes completely not true. The other is not true, but loosely based on a real event. I had a million ideas and took this giant bowl, poured them all in, and hoped for the best. Then I spent many, many hours rearranging post-it notes that have long ago lost their stickiness and revising until the two stories more or less came together. They came together, I’m just not entirely happy with things yet. So, following some helpful feedback from my amazing critique group, I went in with a knife and sliced the poor thing up some more.

I have a tendency to start projects and not finish them. It’s kinda my M.O. Back when a popular drink was putting six word memoirs on the inside of its caps, one of my teacher friends decided to do that as a class activity: Write a six word memoir. And could I please write a sample for her to use? Hubs was quick to offer up this one: HAS BIG IDEAS, NO FOLLOW THROUGH

Yup. I’m working really, really hard at changing that, says the girl who stalled on revisions all summer. And I try not to dump the contents of some cabinet or other onto the floor and then decide partway through that I don’t feel like sorting through all of it. I mean, I totally packed up that box of memories after I… only… went… through… half. Crap.

Back to the WIP. When I see my writer friends, especially ones who have read through the story, they say encouraging things like how they thought it was good and that I should query the darn thing already. But then I have moments where I worry that I am not honoring my grandmother’s memory properly and maybe I shouldn’t fictionalize the second half of her life, but honestly she went on to have kids and they had kids and she baked a lot of cookies and pies and they were delicious. Not quite the page turner I’m hoping for.

So where do I go from here? Well, I ignore the curled up, note covered pages of the manuscript on my desk, the notebooks and scraps of paper with random ideas piled on top, the now neatly arranged sticky notes on the back table (after they spent several weeks on the floor, getting occasionally slept on by the cat), and this:

memoirs

A copy of Grandma’s memoirs, the ones she was working on when she died, edited and bound by yours truly in the days leading up to her funeral so that I could pass out copies to everyone in the family. And do you know what I found last month while cleaning out the basement? An original copy of the first section, with a note to me, date November 17, 2001 – right before Buffalo got hit with a terrible snow storm (I was living in South Carolina at the time – Grandma mentions that bad weather was predicted). A note that explains how excited she is to be writing down the story of her life.

And then there’s this:

grandma

That’s me and Grandma, in July 2001, looking over some pages while visiting her cottage. She counted on me to help her with the writing, to teach her how to use word processing. And even though she’s gone, I know she’s counting on me to get this right. But the problem is, I don’t know exactly what that means.

So I stall. Procrastinate. Work on other things. This story is my heart, and maybe part of it is that I don’t want to face the inevitable rejection that comes with querying, but it’s mostly that I am afraid of getting it wrong. Of somehow hurting her memory.

Now you know why, if you ask me how writing is going, I get a faraway look in my eye that is a mix of frustration, determination, and sadness. My grandmother was amazing, and however the story turns out, I want to make her proud.

Thanks for the memories

We’re gathered around the small backyard fire, fingers spread to absorb its warmth, and I watch as a woman’s childhood crinkles colorfully in the flames. Stick figure families, die cut snowmen, grade school report cards. One by one licked by fire and turned to ash that floats above our heads like burnt snow. What made her decide after thirty plus years to burn all of the papers so carefully horded? My sister in law snapped photos of half-burnt chalk drawings and texted them to her friend, the one who had offered up her memories as kindling. It’s not like you can take all of this with you when you die, someone reflected. And why would you want to pass it onto your children? What are they going to do with a poem about cows?

Still. I found it painful to watch all of the papers curl up and reduce to nothing. I’d never met the woman, had no connection to this pile of her past, but it left me thinking about my own. Back home, I’ve made yet another commitment to reduce the amount of crap in my house, this time inspired by a college friend who has decided to move into a tiny house. She’s letting go of her material possessions systematically until she is down to the bare essentials. I admire that. I picture myself in a tiny house someday, surrounded only by the things that give me immediate pleasure. A library book. An empty journal. A pen that writes in purple ink. A single mug, filled every morning with hot tea. A fuzzy blanket. I do not need five of everything, and I certainly don’t need a house full of things I never look at or use. But letting go isn’t easy, and for me the reason is often two fold. 1. Will I need/want this someday? and 2. Can I find a new home for this? Someplace where it sill get a second chance for use.

Following the phone call with my friend, I set out to make yet another schedule (which I stuck to for exactly one week) and started in on the basement. I made wonderful progress at first: Giant bag of old blankets and towels for the SPCA! Recycled several bins full of old gift boxes! Donations brought to the local Salvation Army! And then, the memories. Pandora’s Box, so labeled because it contains all of my journals and angsty teenage poetry, and once opened sucks several hours of my life reminiscing about the drama that once surrounded me like a storm cloud. How can I part with that? I managed to get rid of several, particularly cringe worthy journals I’d written in middle school and the folders containing my papers from the first two years of college. (It took me a while to discover that hey, maybe I do need help becoming a better writer.) But now, in classic Sandi fashion, the living room looks like the 80’s exploded (I found an honest to goodness trapper keeper in there) and I’m stuck trying to figure out what to do with the stack of my elementary school report cards and four shoe boxes full of letters.

Conversation with hubby:
Me: “I just don’t think I can get rid of all this.”
Him: “And where exactly are you going to put it when you move into your tiny house?”
Me: *contemplates* “One day, when I’m retired and have nothing to do but sit around and read all day, I’m going to build a fire, then read each of these letters one by one and burn them.”
I think this is brilliant. He scoffs and walks away.

We all struggle with this, some of us more than others. Some of us hold onto each and every childhood drawing until we reach our 40’s and then suddenly decide our friend should take it away and burn it all. Some of us admire a thing, then immediately find a new home for it (in the recycling bin hopefully, and not the landfill). Some of us bust it out every few years, get weirdly emotional about that past, then box it all up again. (Hey, there’s no judgement here.) I think, hm, I could use this particular turn of phrase in my writing someday, or, yeah, it feels good to read the comments of my rhetoric professor who said I had great potential as a writer. Or I find stuff like this, written in April 2000, four months before I got married and most likely after a long night of re-reading old journals.

I must always leave something behind… so on late nights, as this one, when nostalgia shakes in my skin, I can look back on the days of naivety and passionate ramblings. I must always write, even when the passion has seeped out of me and there are no more passing fancies to idolatrize; the ink must flow from the pen until it finds inspiration. I must always dream – of greater things, of unsolved mysteries, of unrequited love, and look to these dreams for the magical message they convey. I must always love and hate myself, nurture and challenge myself, rescue and abandon myself – with equal intensity; it keeps the spirit strong.

A little dramatic, perhaps a little cheesy, but the theme is clear. There are certain things that make us who we are, and although no, we cannot bring them with us when we die, if we connect with them on a level, no matter how strange it may seem to someone else, we should find a way to keep them in our lives. And yes, this is me justifying a bit of clutter. And yes, I do still want that tiny house someday and there won’t be room for all my crap unless I seriously get a grip and let go.

But not today. I’m not ready for the flames just yet.

August book report

Forgive my slight lateness, back to school and all that jazz. Which around here is two-fold as work has been slightly insane the past few weeks. I am in admissions, and you would think students would have that part already done, ya know, BEFORE classes started? Nope. First day was yesterday and there were still fall applications coming in. Insane, I tell you.

I had a little less reading time in August. Finished one book alone, one book with the kiddo, and a handful of audio books, most of which I listened to while processing applications as they do an excellent job of drowning out the chaos around me.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
The main character in my WIP is bisexual, and I put this book on my TBR list back in the planning stages. It is an excellent coming of age story about a girl in a conservative town trying to process her feelings towards other girls and ultimately getting sent to a conversion camp. It takes place in the 90s, but it left me thinking a lot about the way some parts of the country/religious groups are attempting to change who people are and how they feel. The book is beautifully written and heartbreaking. I’d love to see it as a film someday.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I love the movie, so when I found a copy of the book at a used book sale, I snatched it up and told the boy we should read it together. It’s always interesting to go backwards (movie to book) and I find that I usually end up preferring the movie. The book is a bit old school and my son and I had a hard time mustering up any sort of sympathy for Harriet. He kept saying, “I don’t like Harriet. She’s just so mean.” Oddly enough, I’ve started going through boxes in the basement and came across my middle school journals. I wasn’t especially nice either – in between my boy obsessed entries, I generally had petty things to say about my close friends. Guess it’s a good thing no one found those back in the day.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Listened to this one in the car, although I’d been wanting to read it for a while. I love Anderson’s writing – she totally nails the teenage experience. This one has a male main character and despite the fact that I have not ever been a teenage boy, it seemed to be spot on. My husband confirmed that yes, boys do spend a fair amount of time thinking about their relationship with their father and that whole “what it means to be a man” theme. Definitely worth the read/listen.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
My sister’s boyfriend recommended Bill Bryson, and this was a perfect audio book to keep me focused at work. It describes his journey along the Appalachian Trail and is interspersed with fun facts about everything from bears to hemlock tree devastation. Over the weekend we stopped at the Delaware Water Gap and I was excited to see one of the places that Bryson had described. Personally, I could never hike the AT, but I do enjoy hiking and being out in nature, and the book had several laugh out loud parts, which probably made my co-workers wonder what I was up to.

10% Happier by Dan Harris
Ah, self-help books. I’m such a sucker for them. Stumbled upon this on the library available audio books shelf, but after I posted that I had read it, a friend reminded me that she had talked about him a few weeks back. Harris is a newscaster who suffered from a panic attack on the air, which eventually led him to discover Buddhism and meditation. Ironically, I spent most of the book multi-tasking, which is the opposite of what someone who wishes to be more mindful is supposed to do. But I have put a few other recommended books on my TBR list and suggested to my children that we set aside time to meditate. Stay tuned, I’ll try to do a post in a bit about how that is going.

That’s it for August. No ARCs this month, but an ever growing list of books I want to read. Our local book club released it’s selections for the year (they meet October-May and feature local authors; one of my friends is on the list!) plus it seems like wherever I go someone is mentioning a great book they read. But please, send me suggestions if you have them, or if you’ve written a book and would like a read/review. Happy to help other writers out and link to your site!