Thursday, August 28, 2008


I'm later with my anniversary post than everyone else. Last week was a real pisser for me. I was PMSing and didn't realize it. I wish it was just bloating and irritation. No, last week it was overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks. I was a mess. Thankfully, PMS passes and the day before I ran the bravo flag (color: red, meaning: hazardous cargo) up the old flag pole, I started to feel sane again.

But, I still feel down. We are still renovating the house we were trying to renovate last summer. We are getting close to finished, but we've run out of money. It's breaking us and I'm making choices like "car insurance or food." It does not help that I cannot work on the city house and work-work at the same time. There are not enough hours in the day and my health has declined such that I simply cannot do it.

And the only thing I could think last week, between my depression and anxiety over problems both real and bio-chemical, was that THIS was the year I became too sick to work. Not that I'll be able to get disability any time soon--if ever. Just that I've lost so much of my nerve, and so much of my brain power and energy, I feel like a shadow of myself.

I am not the woman I was. I don't write very much and when I do write, it can be like drowning in anxiety before I can so much as type a single word. I can't even contribute to a damned BLOG in a reasonable manner. I'm terrified that if I went and sought out a gig that I wouldn't be able to overcome the anxiety and meet the deadline.

Yet, this past year saw many high points. My second technical book was published last October and like it's ancestor, was a best-seller. I landed a HUGE contract with a software publisher in NY and tallied my biggest year ever dollar-wise--one reason why the house STILL isn't finished--I spent the winter working on the contract.

My kids adjusted to their new school and we found that we really loved farm life. I became a Girl Scout leader--ME, a Girl Scout Leader! And I went CAMPING! It was amazing. I have had such a blast with those girls (my AK included). "this was more fun than I thought it would be," said AK of having me as a leader. You can't get better than that.

But then the contract ended badly--and I lost a lot of confidence, because the reason it ended badly was the unbearable anxiety attacks I was having--now it turns out, maybe they were associated with the increased amount of pain medication I was taking. We ran through the money I had made and saved. I took the summer off to work on the city house. The price of gas shot up into the stratosphere making farm living much more expensive. And as the physical pain increased, and the financial pain increased, I started to spiral downward. Some days, I am hanging on my the nubs of my broken finger nails.

But, anyone who knows me from an email list has probably seen the Camus quote in my signature:

"In the midst of winter, I finally realized that deep within me there lay an invincible summer."

And lately, somewhere, deep inside, under the pain meds and the fear, I can feel that tiny., little, guttering season of hope--my own personal, invincible summer. And it's still warm. And I find an enthusiasm for working, for writing, that I didn't think I could muster. The city house WILL finally go on the market in a couple of weeks. And we will survive--maybe a bit dinged by slings and arrows of outrageous fortune--we WILL survive. And the anxiety will pass. And I will write again. And money won't be so tight. And I will write another technical book--may it be a best-seller too! I am not too sick to write. I WILL NOT BE TOO SICK TO WRITE! I refuse. I am every bit the woman I was.

I just have to hold on, bask in the glow of that inner summer, until the outter winter of late August is finally over.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Writing and Motherhood

I came across this article in The Age, an Australian web site and I thought, "how neat, an article about writing and motherhood!"

And it has some good comments, like ...

They wrote when they could, in fits and starts between chores, over the baby in the lap; and when they couldn't write on paper or the computer, they wrote in their heads. They sometimes found that chaos and urgency became important, even necessary, to their writing.

But there were a few comments that irritated me, like the one about some Mr. Hoity-Toit that thought you couldn't possibly be a mother AND an artist (read: "arteest") because you were supposed to give your soul to your art. Hogwash. No one tells doctors to hold off having kids so they can give their soul to their work. No one tells a teacher or a salesperson...

Personally, I feel as though motherhood has made me a better writer. (As someone else in the article also mentioned) I was always a writer, but I didn't think I had anything important to say until I was a mom.


Wow, has a year passed? Really? When Carolyn emailed us the other day to give us a friendly kick in the pants, I wondered how I'd missed it... oh yeah, my son turned seven on Aug 12 and my daughter turned 2 on Aug 17.

Really? Did I start this blog on my daughter's birthday? I'd forgotten... what's really weird is that I received my first book contract the day she was born. I was in the hospital and brought my BlackBerry with me. I wish someone had taken a picture of me trying to be supermama.

So what have I done in a year?

Written two books - both of which are scheduled for spring 2009 publication.

Gone back to work full-time, something that I didn't do by desire, but necessity.

Um... that's about it I think!

I've learned a lot about myself and the way I work. I've vowed to put off procrastination for good, I am such a miserable person when I'm on a big deadline and I know I have wasted hours of time. I've also learned that going back to work full-time wasn't the death of me. In fact it probably saved our family. It allowed us to stay afloat here in Canada long enough for my husband to find a job that fits him perfectly.

If I'd insisted on staying home then hubby would have likely headed to the US to find a job. We were minutes away from booking a flight for him to go to Chicago to a military job fair when I chose to go back to work. It was one path or another.

At the moment I'm finishing up a few things for my last book (an illustration list that was SUPPOSED to accompany the manuscript... whoops!!) and thinking about what comes next. Spring 2009 will involve lots of promotion, so I've started working on that.

The last year has been a lot of "learn by doing"... which I love. And looking back, there isn't much I'd change! (Ok, I might have eaten a little less... during the typing of this post I broke my cheap office chair... I guess I sit on the edge too often and I broke the flimsy seat in half. Awesome.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hippo Barfday MNABC!

A decorated birthday cakeImage via Wikipedia How do you feed a blog cake? aha ---->
In all seriousness, Carolyn emailed us a couple of days ago and reminded us about our anniversary. I thought it was next month, which shows how much I was paying attention, huh?

This time last year was a mad rush of slo-mo organisation. The kids were going back to school, my mom was down visiting, I was getting ready for Uni. I was not the happiest or most settled of bunnies on the planet - stressed out to my eyeballs, trying to work out if we could even AFFORD University for me. Working through, desperately, the forms and information everyone wanted to have me send in. Accepting a place at a wonderful Uni (Gloucestershire, Francis Close Hall, which, this year, I'll get some snaps of ;)) and then wondering if I'm really worthy.

I could tell you - month by month - how hard it was - how fun it was - how amazingly validating it was, but instead, I'll let you in on a little secret - I still don't feel worthy. I'm a second year, passed with a 2:1, and am desperate to get back - which isn't for another month.
I've also had other milestones this year. We discovered my youngest has some fairly serious problems with her mental health, which I've been on courses, and support groups to help her with. The prognosis is better than it was when she started up, but we've still got a long way to go. That's OK though, because she's my daughter and I truly believe that we just need to find the 'right' solution for her. Mostly, at the moment, it's lots of cognitive behaviour modification, which is hard work, but seems to be paying off.
We adopted an adorable, if a bit sneezy cat, who has more allergies than I do! She wakes us up every morning by singing (licking, treadling and headbutting too) and goes to sleep at the foot of our bed every night. She's been with me eight weeks and made such a huge difference to my life and my outlook.
Writing wise, I've accepted posts, I've left posts. I've looked at contracts, but haven't signed (many) this year. Mostly, this has been a year of settling into my new world.
And my other half asked me to marry him...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Did we totally miss our anniversary? Yes, we did.

Mama Needs a Book Contract started just over a year ago, on August 17, 2007.

Since our wee first post, lo, those many months ago, we've had FAMOUS guests, saw the Writer's Strike begin and end, joined the BlogHer network, noted happenings in the world, pointed out good resources, and blogged about life and writing as mothers.

With all that going on, no wonder we were so busy we forgot our anniversary.

Personally, we've reached a few milestones and blogged them in front of God and everybody. I'll let the other Mamas reflect on their own and tell you about one of mine.

I turned 40. That's generally considered a milestone. For me, it was only significant in that my 40th birthday had subconsciously become my mental deadline for everything I ever wanted to do. LOL.

What was I thinking? Did I think I was going to become shriveled and emaciated and utterly insignificant after that birthday? I suppose it's helpful to have goals and target dates. I did accomplish everything I set out to do, with the exception of the bulging-at-the-seams retirement account.

But I can only attribute my former attitude to the foolishness of youth... which I am now long past, being that I'm 40 and all.

So, now that I've garnered the wisdom of years, you should totally listen to any sage advice I impart. Like, it might be good to make plans for the second 40 years of your life too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to School Sales and Stuff

I do not see the appeal in shoe shopping. I do not get excited about shopping for clothes. But every year, starting in late July, you can find my excitement about shopping reach epic highs; it is no coincidence that this is also when the Back to School shopping sales begin.

Even after I quit going back to school and long before my own children were heading off in that bright yellow bus, I looked forward to BTS sales. I can spend hours wandering the aisles of the local office supply store. I seriously debate the attributes of various pen options.

I do not carry a purse, but I spent hours trying various laptop bags. At one point, I even requested a sales person remove a floor model of a laptop computer similar to my own, so I could be sure my 15.4 widescreen would fit smoothly in my top choice. At other times, I have been known to bring along my own laptop as I searched for the perfect bag. I was never interested in purses, but I have a "travel" laptop bag, a daily laptop bag, and then I have the laptop bags I rarely use or let the hubby/kids use.

When it comes to my choice in pens, I prefer blue ink. I also prefer a pen that glides across the paper. The way the ink flows is as important as the way the pen feels in my hand.

I have a well stocked office with a variety of paper available: printer (in various colors), notebooks (secretary and reporter sized), looseleaf (wide and college ruled), and various notepads and sticky notes. My well stocked office includes various staplers, tape dispensers, a wide assortment of writing utensils (including crayons, colored pencils, markers (wide, narrow and Sharpie), dry erase markers, blue ink, black ink, red and green ink too....

For folders, I prefer the two-pocket variety with the fastener in the middle for everyday use. I buy the plastic type OR I decorate the plain paper variety and seal it with clear contact paper to make it sturdier. I also use a lot of 3-ring binders to organize items for the long-term.

I haven't even started to mention my scrapbooking supplies....

My back to school shopping experience just keeps getting better. This year, in addition to the regular supplies, I am also carefully considering displays of jump drives, blank discs and storage cards (SD and compact flash).

If you'll excuse me, I hear there is a sale that I just can't miss....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

....and relax....

D&D uses polyhedral dice to resolve random eve...Image via Wikipedia It's been interesting this month.
I'm still - woefully - behind on every one of my plans - something I'm fairly sure anyone with children at home over the summer can relate to. But I've been doing a lot of nice things that recharge my batteries.
One of them is role playing.
I play in two games where a group of us narrate and add to stories that each of help create. One of us - a 'games master' gives a basic plot line, and the others ask questions, narrate their actions, and more. All of us puts parts of the story forward, though some of it is still based on chance - you have to roll one of various dice, depending on the rules of the system you're playing in. So you still have the chance to screw up and tell a funny, touching, sad, angry or moving story from that. I tend to botch my rolls - A LOT.
It's a great way to remain creative without actually working on a story - much like the sites that allow you to add to chapters of stories, except you do it with friends.
Another form of role play - the more 'traditional' kind, like Dungeons and Dragons, involves using a board and models, but the action of role playing can be the same.
I've always found that being able to play games - create a shared story with others, is incredibly important to me. Not just because I can allow others to help me shape the story, but because, in some ways I won't be judged for what I choose to do. I've been several mages, a TechnoMage, a futuristic soldier-nun, clad in armor, several superheros, a vampire, Werewolf, artist, master singer, thief....I've been any character that I've wanted to be - played with the party or at odds with them - and narrated huge, enjoyable story arcs. I've also learned a lot about story telling.
Between that and reading books, I'm just waiting for the urge to actually write to take me again.
I play in games that can, in some ways, trace their lineage back to roman times - with the 20 sided dice they used to play with.

Now that I've admitted that deep - dark - secret I'm wondering what you do to 'recharge' or build new stories to work with. What's your way of tapping and enticing your muse?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wisdom of a Mother, Unwise Me

My friend "Sally" is going through an awful divorce. She didn't get custody of her kids, mainly through the perfidy of her ex, who is a lawyer. He gets the automatic benefit of the doubt and respect as a fellow "officer of the court." As a result, he lies like a Persian rug. He has done the one thing that I think is unforgivable in a divorce: he makes the kids choose. If they love their mother and want to see her, then they cannot see him, OR their brothers who make the opposite choice. The man is a monster.

Anyway, today she calls me. She thought for a while that she and her oldest son were reaching some kind of detente. He was being nice. He was nice on a visit to her parents' home. He was nice when she saw him at the court ordered visits. He called when he went to visit his other grand parents. Then his birthday came, and he got his gifts from her and her parents. He hasn't called since. And you could look at it one of two ways. Either he was being nice just so he could get his birthday gifts, or this could be another example of XH not playing fair.

Middle son won't talk to her at all. He blames her for the divorce and for the ugliness created by XH. It's really sad, because this is the same man who demands that the boys not see their mother.

Youngest son, only 8, wants to go live with his mother. But he's been told by XH that if he does, he will never see his father or his brother again. And poor Youngest fears that. The only way he can go be with his mother is if he stands up to his 6'2", 180 lb father and takes the chance that he'll never see his brothers again. What 8 year old could do that?

So today, all this pain has been hitting her very hard. Sally was in tears on the phone. She said that she had applied for a job in London and just wanted to run away, make a new life... forget. Her father, a retired lawyer, was against the idea. He said she can't throw away what hope she has. But she's lost hope, today at least.

It didn't seem like a great idea to me either. She can't walk out on Youngest, even if he's not old enough or brave enough to stand up to his father--what child that age would be? Maybe there is no hope with Middlest and Oldest, I don't know. Nothing about this crazy situation has gone the way it ought to. Nothing. I do know that hope has an odd way of keeping you going until the weirdest things happen. Maybe one day, her sons will wake up and realize what has actually happened. Weirder things have occurred!

What I told her is probably one of the wisest things I have ever said. I try to give good advice, and you don't have to know me very long to know that I like giving advice. But I'm not sure that I'm terribly wise. But this was. I said, "This is a Bad Day(tm). Don't make any major decisions on a bad day."

I try not to make decisions on Bad Days(tm). I've had bunches of them lately. I have arthritis and Fibromyalgia, two progressive pain disorders that are, well, progressing and becoming more and more painful. I have IBS which is no fun at all. I'm always exhausted. Fatigue comes with Fibro, but I've been more tired than usual. And life in the objective has been very difficult and worrisome. I discovered recently that one medicine I take for IBS causes both fatigue and irritability. Have I been irritable lately? Can you be irritable and not know it? Apparently, yes.

Bad Days seem to out number the good these days. I try to keep my spirits up, but I yearn for change--to just be healthy again, not to be sick and hurting all the time. Would it help if I lost weight? Could I get back to writing if I stopped spending all my time on email? Could I manage to live in a house that doesn't look like a hurricane hit it?

I made a big decision last bad day... I dropped out. I can't decide yet, if it was a good decision or not. If by dropping out, I open up my time and what energy I have to write and sew, do stuff that I claim to want to do, then maybe it wasn't a bad choice. But maybe it was, I guess we'll just have to see.

But I really ought to put it on a plaque, right up there with "Let the editor decide." It should say, "Don't make big decisions on Bad Days(tm)."

Now if I could only take my own advice...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How Do You Blast Through Writer's Block?

I know that writers tend to fall into two camps: those that believe in writer's block, and those that do not. I've always fallen into the "not" category because normally I recognize that my block isn't really a block from outside of my mind... it's totally self-inflicted.

Someone (was it Linda? Joshilyn? Carolyn?) said that it's what happens when your inner critic is yelling and you can't shut her up. (Or him, I think my inner critic has a brother... I don't like him any more than I like his sister.) So the trick is to make your words (writing) louder and faster so that they can't keep up.

This is accomplished by just sitting your butt in the chair, putting your hands on the keyboard (BICHOK) and writing. It's not easy for those of us who want to write good well every time we sit down. But it's what Anne Lamott would call a "shitty first draft". Sometimes it's a draft that goes no where. There's a great internal sigh of relief when I write something truly gross and horrible and then I hit delete on the whole file. Somehow just writing it down and getting it out of my brain and onto my computer is like some new-age Pensieve.

Then hitting delete can just erase that horrible writing from my life... and free me up to write The Good Stuff.

Wordclay Writing Center offers five tips on breaking through that "block". I found the tips using StumbleUpon, a Firefox add-on that lets you pre-set some interests (writing, horses, parenting.. etc..) and then you can Stumble around the internet and it will bring you to sites that match your interests. If you see one you like, you can click the "I like it!" icon in your toolbar. Hey, if you use Stumble you could even "vote" for Mama Needs A Book Contract!