The importance of real pants

Social media memories are a blessing and a curse. I love looking back on times when my boys were cute and cuddly and my face had fewer wrinkles. But during a pandemic, it is heart wrenching to wake up, click memories, and be instantly reminded that we can’t do those things right now.

Three years ago today, the weather was beautiful, and we had a packed Saturday. I hung out with my family at our town’s annual Oktoberfest, where the boys participated (and ROCKED) a keg rolling contest, and then headed to our local library to celebrate the launch of my friend’s latest middle grade novel. We ate snacks from a communal table, sat next to each other, and hugged.

Hugged.

Now, I’m not much of a hugger to begin with, but I miss that human connection. I miss Wednesday night writing sessions at Wegmans and Friday afternoon gab sessions at Spot. I miss launch parties. My book releases next week, and I don’t have anything planned to help launch it into the world. Many of my writer friends continue to self-quarantine, and the thought of doing something virtual does not exactly thrill me. While I appreciate their ability to connect us safely, I am pretty burnt out on web-based social gatherings.

Our local writing group held its first meeting of the season (virtually of course) earlier this week. It was a craft session, which is always fun, 80’s themed – double bonus points, but I just couldn’t get into it. I missed the collective energy normally felt in a room full of writers. I stared at the blank page as it mocked me.

I had to finish a project in March/April due to a deadline, but since then? I’ve written once. And only because one of my Pennwriters friends organized a virtual write-in, and I felt like I had to write something in order to not be a complete fraud. I pulled out an old project, added about a page and a half, and that was it. The sum total of my writing output for the past six months.

There are projects. There are ideas. There is also a very tired mama who doesn’t wear real pants anymore. Who thinks, do my stories even matter? With so much hate and hurt in the world, what could I possibly add to the narrative? I keep waiting for the proverbial lightbulb to go off in my head. For the magical idea that will send my fingers tap-tapping again. Do you know how many blog posts I’ve drafted in my head these past several months? The sleepless nights I spent thinking, “This is what I have to say,” then instead of getting out of bed and writing it down, allowed my nay-saying brain to dismiss it all?

(A LOT.)

The world needs stories, especially now. Cheerful ones, sad ones, true ones, and fictional ones. We need to step away from social media, from the negative energy of everyone spewing their anger and ideals and also from the memories of all the things we can’t enjoy right now. I’m confident those days will return – the days of launch parties and writing/gab sessions. In the meantime, we need to keep doing the best we can, no matter how low the bar. This morning I put on real pants. They are uncomfortable. But I needed to send a message to my brain that this is serious. Life must move forward. Fingers must hit keys in order for words to get onto the page. They don’t do anyone any good swimming around in my brain like lost tourists.

So here we are. Doing that thing where the journey starts with a single step. Mask up and join me.

The New Normal

Today is Saturday, March 28, 2020.

Three weeks ago, I danced in a crowded club while a DJ spun songs from The Cure and The Smiths, two of my all-time favorite bands. I hung out with the mom who would be chaperoning my oldest son on his class trip to Washington DC, and we laughed about how crazy she was to spend the long weekend with 20 teenagers. We were all acutely aware of a virus that had been spreading through other parts of the world. I washed my hands several times during the night, as I always do. I drank from glasses that other people had touched, shook hands with strangers, breathed in communal air.

We had no idea what was coming.

Two weeks ago, my family went to two plays; Friday night at our local high school and Saturday afternoon at a community theater. People’s behavior had started to change. Restrictions against large gatherings. Hand sanitizer everywhere (but not a bottle to be found on store shelves). Ushers wearing gloves. When we went to the theater on Saturday, I washed my hands before and after the show, and then again before we ate poutine at a local restaurant across the street. I made sure my family followed suit. “This may be the last time we’re out in public for a while,” I said. And it was.

On Sunday of that week, the first case of COVID-19 hit our county, and a few hours later the schools were closed down for five weeks. My youngest was due to participate in his crossing over ceremony for scouts, an event we’d been planning for months. With a heavy heart, I sent out the cancellation notice.

“Crisis school” began Monday. (It is not homeschooling. Homeschooling is a choice.) Oldest had a meltdown the first day. Youngest on day two. Mom nearly every day. I went into work on Tuesday, where the air buzzed with fear, despite the industrial sized bottle of New York made hand sanitizer. I worried that I would be sent home without pay, or worse, lose my position entirely. I worried about our office plants and packed them into my van to bring home. I worried about my mother-in-law, who was recovering from pneumonia and refusing to stay home. I worried about my parents down in Florida, especially my mom, who has a heart condition and recently had her spleen removed after a terrible car accident.

I am an anxious person by nature, a worst-case scenario person, the sort of person who was already wiping down grocery carts and door handles, washing her hands frequently, and being leery of strangers. Who imagines her spouse in a ditch on the side of the road when he doesn’t return from work on time. Who can’t stop thinking about all the people in the world who are suffering and how we need to save the planet before it destroys us. That’s me on a normal day. Before I began to consume far too many news reports and articles on social media.

Late Tuesday night we got word that our jobs were deemed “non-essential”, which seems like it would be a disappointment but meant that we could work from home. I struggled the first few days to balance work with home/kids/school. School was slow to send over plans (understandably so seeing how quickly they were forced to improvise), and the boys balked at my attempts to teach them. There were fights and meltdowns as we adjusted to life together 24-7. My husband works for a plant that manufactures pumps for power generation, so he was deemed “essential”. Classifications became important as each day more and more businesses shut down. By the end of the week, the state declared only essential employees could go to work. (He is now working from home two days a week to minimize the number of employees on site.)

One week ago, oldest would have been on his DC trip, experiencing our nation’s capital for the first time. Instead we stayed home, played games, ate takeout, and watched movies. We tried to make the best of our new found family time, as weekends are typically spent running around to practices and other events. Now, the calendar is completely empty. It is a blessing and a curse, but it is a necessity for survival.

The only public place I have been in the past two weeks is a single trip to the grocery store on March 19. I wiped down the cart, as always, and washed my hands when I got home, as always, but in the store my behavior had changed. I avoided aisles with people in them, waited for the person before me at the register to clear before proceeding, and anything I picked up to examine went into the cart because I could be an unknowing carrier. I tried to be extra nice to the cashier, a high school senior who said she was bored because she was only allowed to go to work and nowhere else. My heart broke for her and all the other seniors missing out on their final year of high school.

Last week I consumed more and more media, the daily updates my safety net in these uncertain times. My anxiety continued to rise, and with it sleepless nights and a lack of desire to start each day. There were pockets of joy – virtual chats with my writing friends and my parents/siblings/nephews, laughing with my family as we invented new games to entertain ourselves, lots of extra cat snuggles. And I guess at the end of each day, I need to concentrate on the joyful moments and pray they will help me get through the anxious ones. Every time I reached out to a friend, they too expressed anxiety, worry, fear. We are all united in the unknown of what lies ahead. People have become more paranoid, yes, but also friendlier, at least from afar. We all want to get through this, to get to the other side and return to normal. We all want to survive.

Today is Saturday, March 28, 2020. It is raining outside. I am still wearing the same clothes I put on yesterday morning. It is almost noon. I am worrying about the doctors, the nurses, the patients who are dying. I am worrying about friends and family members who are struggling, emotionally and financially.

But my husband and children are here, and they are safe and healthy, and today we will play board games and make brownies. And maybe I’ll chat with a friend or two. And I will try to focus on those moments instead.

2020 Hindsight

Ah, the first day of a new year and a new decade. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media recently about what people have accomplished/gained/lost over the last ten years and what they hope to accomplish in the future. Cute side by side pictures of what they looked like in 2009/2019. I chose not to participate.

Instead I’ve reflected on how things have changed over the past ten years. In the final months of 2009, we received the referral for our youngest son and were in the throes of bureaucratic preparations. Oldest was three years old and so damn cute and precocious. I had no idea what sort of roller coaster ride I was in for.

Parenting has been amazing and heartbreaking, and I know there are many more heartbreaking moments to come. When I look back on the past ten years, I wish I had held their hands a little longer. Snuggled them harder. Taken more pictures before they started making ridiculous faces for the camera and had to be bribed with toilet humor. They are on their way to becoming independent beings, and it is really freaking scary. I can only hope the next ten years fare well and we survive teenage-dom.

Sometimes you need to let go and have faith.

My career has ended up in a completely different place from what I expected in 2010. Back then I was substitute teaching in the district I had attended as a kid, with dreams of landing a full time position. Life had other plans. After four years of subbing, I failed to get a renewed position and spent nearly a year unemployed and trying to figure out a plan B. During that time I started to write a book and volunteered at the elementary school. Those two things led me to my friend Dee, an amazing human being and writer, who led me to other writers and a whole new set of opportunities.

Some days I really miss teaching. But if I hadn’t been passed over, I never would have met Dee and written my first novel. I never would have joined BNCWI and met my editor, never would have published SECOND IN COMMAND. An entire network of friends who I love with all my heart would have remained strangers.

Sometimes you have to trade one dream for another.

While I was unemployed, I attended a networking class for out of work teachers and cast my net wider in hopes of finding something to help cover our bills. (I didn’t make any money from writing until this past year.) In May 2014, I received an invitation to interview for a local community college. Part time, barely above minimum wage, and totally out of my comfort zone, but I went for it.

Sometimes you have to take chances.

I got the job, which led to a promotion, and then another, and even though I’m still not back to full time and I’ll never have summers off or long holiday breaks, I love what I do, and I get to make a difference in the lives of others. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me.

These past ten years have been full of ups and downs, as everyone’s lives have I’m sure. People and animals have left my life and others have arrived, I’ve seen more of the world, gotten a bit wiser and a bit wrinklier, learned to not give a crap about what others think and revel in joy when I find it.

As for the next ten, who knows. I’ve learned to stop fighting with the universe. My boys will become adults, hubs and I will start planning the next phase of our lives, and my books will grace the shelves of libraries around the country. I will have lost friends and family members, endured physical and emotional pain. But I vow to take more pleasure in the little things and be the best human I can during my short time here.

My wish for everyone: may you find health and happiness in the new year, and when you face heartache and setbacks, may they lead to growth and new opportunities. Be grateful. Be present. Love when you can and ask for help when things get difficult.

Most importantly: take care of each other and the planet. Happy New Year!

Hold on to the feeling

Pardon me while I dust off the blog cobwebs. April was a busy month. I successfully completed Camp NaNoWriMo with over 20k words added to my manuscript! YAY! But don’t pop the champagne cork just yet, I may end up scrapping most of it and submitting an earlier version of the book. BUT, it felt good to stay focused on a goal and see it through to the (almost) end. One motivational note remains unopened on my cork board — the one I can open when I complete the draft. Which I haven’t done. Yet.

May has also been busy. I recently got back from the PennWriters conference (more on that in a bit), I’m working on a new freelance project, and I had my first author visit. Life has been, well, life. Let’s just say there’s never a dull moment when your spouse works two jobs (both of which require travel), your children are in multiple activities, and your cats don’t like it if you try to sleep past 5 am.

As much as I wish I could veg out in the sun (SUN! WE HAVE SUN!) with a good book, I’m happy to have a bit of chaos in my life keeping me on my toes. I know the day will come when the birdies leave the nest and I’ll have to find strange children to drive around town in my van.

Wait. That did not sound right at all.

So, yeah, PennWriters. It was incredibly fun, as always, and I loved being able to spend time with my writing tribe. I traveled down with a group of friends; we met up with other friends and had a blast.

Writers make the best storytellers (duh), and I laughed so hard my belly hurt. I pitched my manuscript (and got requests!), attended my first ever group book signing, met new people, and learned more about writing.

signing

Also, after acting as a reader for Read & Critique, where writers can submit their work anonymously and have it critiqued by industry professionals, an agent said she’d “listen to me read the phone book”. Stay tuned for my YouTube channel featuring: The White Pages, a Dramatic Reading.

Every year I’ve attended the conference has been a different level of awesome and always leaves me feeling inspired. Unfortunately, this year when I returned to “real life” several problems hit me in the face before I even had a chance to unpack. I wanted desperately to get back to the feeling I had jumping on the bed with my friends, the feeling that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Conferences give you a sense that you are a part of something, you belong, you are capable of reaching your dreams.

Despite the exhaustion and tears, I decided to face the next day with a returned sense of hope and positive energy. On Monday morning I went to a nearby high school for my first author visit. The teacher and librarian were incredibly kind (I am so thankful to John who connected us!) and they raved about my book. Said the students loved it and were eager to finish it and share it with their families. My heart burst with joy when I heard that. For me, writing is not about the money (HA!) or the fame, it’s about reaching an audience, about getting my words into the world in hopes they will affect someone in a positive way.

After I left the school I thought about the writing world and how it can be full of rejection and heartache. One of the students asked if writing was hard. I told her, yes (HELL YES), it can be difficult and lonely and you will want to give up a thousand times. But you search for people to stack in your corner, and you keep pushing ahead, and you find ways to fill your creative bucket.

There are things in my life right now trying to pull me under. But I choose to focus on what keeps me afloat: friendships, laughter, kind words, a sense of accomplishment, determination. Opportunities for growth.

And when I need an excuse to smile I watch this:

take two