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!

Jumping in

I have officially reached the state of paralysis. You may have noticed there hasn’t been a blog entry since July. If you’ve seen me in person lately and asked what I’ve been working on, I weakly respond with a shoulder shrug and desperate rush to change the subject. There are a number of reasons for this. Life has a nasty tendency to get in the way of writing — family, job, house, volunteering — they all demand my time, my brain power, my creative energy. Also, guilt plays a pretty huge part of the equation. How do I strike a balance where I’m giving 100% of myself to personal responsibilities and still have something left for my creative pursuits?

Answer: I don’t. Instead of giving 100%, which is totally impossible, I give a lower percentage to each item at a decreasing rate dependent upon immediate need. Some examples: one of my co-workers recently retired at the cusp of our busiest season, which translated into extra hours at work. The kids started school, and I had to make sure they had what they needed. While I managed to keep everyone fed and in clean underwear, the layer of dirt in the house increased exponentially, and my laptop lay buried under piles of scout materials. No writing happened. For weeks.

But it’s not just that. There have been small chunks of time where I could have planted my butt in the chair and typed away at something… anything… but I didn’t. Why? you ask. I’ll tell you why. Doubt. Doubt is an ugly, ugly monster who has firmly planted himself in my brain. What if I never write anything worthwhile ever again? What if all my ideas are stupid? Does anyone really give a crap about what I have to say?

I have an amazing, supportive group of writing friends, who nod sympathetically as I describe the fears that stomp on my confidence like grapes in a barrel. They’ve all been there. They all balance life with writing, quietly shoving it into the corner when things get hectic, patiently searching for moments where they can settle into the salve that soothes us: the words falling onto the page from our fingertips, the release of ideas crowded in our brain. I need to write. When I don’t, I become this moody, unruly creature no one wants to be around.

Too many responsibilities, not enough time, pressure to perform — these are all things that can be overcome. But the longer I stand on the edge of the diving board, the harder it gets to jump. Every morning I promise to change, and every evening I go to bed without writing any words. Talk, talk, talk. No action. How do we push ourselves over the edge and into the pool?

I’ve been meaning to start a food blog, and a few weeks ago, it finally launched. It’s not much — a picture of what we ate for dinner with a short blurb about the daily challenges of being a plant eater in a house full of meat eaters. Follow along if you’d like. But it has helped get me out of my writing funk a little, and now that we are finally settling into the school year, hopefully I’ll get back into a writing routine. Which will at least address the first half of my difficulties.

As for the doubt, well, it may never fully go away. We all, at some point, feel inadequate about our skills and worry we aren’t accomplishing all we set out to accomplish. And you know what? That’s okay. We’re human. And as artists, we will never create the perfect thing everyone loves. So I guess my advice (to myself and anyone else who struggles with doubt) is this: Make time for the things that bring you happiness because they will make you a better person in the end. Focus on the process rather than the product, and stop worrying about what other people think. Easier said than done, I know, but if I can jump back into the water, so can you.

Waiting for the heavens to descend*

Moments of pure joy. We all have them. For me — my wedding day, the first time I met my kiddos, when I got to play tambourine onstage with the Nerds Gone Wild on my 40th birthday.

Last night.

Flashback to 1994… I break the cardinal rule of college dorm life and start dating the guy across the hall. He’s funny and sweet; we totally don’t work as a couple, but that’s okay because he has great taste in music. He plays CD’s from a band I’ve never heard of: James. It’s mellow yet energizing, incredibly lyrical, and lead singer Tim Booth’s voice burrows deep into my soul.

The music changes my life. I’m completely hooked, and when Tim Booth collaborates with composer Angelo Badalamenti a few years later, their CD plays on repeat and helps me through a dark, dark period. James maintains popularity in the United States in the early nineties, but I never get an opportunity to see them perform live, something I deeply regret.

Fast forward to 2019… my friend and fellow writer, Alyssa Palombo, interviews me on her blog  and one of the questions is what band is on my bucket list to see live. I of course mention James and whine about how they don’t tour in the US and even if they did my husband would never agree to go. And then a miracle happens. I’m wandering around Twitter one day and read a tweet that makes me fall out of my chair. James and The Psychedelic Furs are touring the US!! AND THEY ARE COMING TO BUFFALO!!

I tell hubby and HE AGREES TO GO WITH ME!!

Seriously. Sometimes you’ve just gotta put your dreams out to the universe, ya know?

Last night’s show was incredible. I watched from about five rows back, closer to Tim Booth than I ever thought possible. He is a remarkable entertainer with a genuine energy you could feel spilling out into the audience. The band has morphed and transitioned over the years, and they played with the intensity of true performers. The night was sticky and hot, and even though I was surrounded by sweaty fans who stepped on my toes and tried to block my view of the stage, I LOVED EVERY SECOND.

There are no photos for me to share on the blog because I decided to be in the moment. To soak it up the way I’ve soaked up other moments of pure joy. While others snapped and clicked, spinning their phones around to take in the crowd, I focused on the band. Watched their facial expressions and listened to the music they created. So, sorry about the lack of evidence — you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But wait. There’s more. I tweeted my appreciation last night on the car ride home (while hubby and I rocked out to some of the songs that weren’t played) and woke up to this:

tim

Tied for “most exciting tweet ever” with that time Ellen Hopkins congratulated me on my ARCs

Tim. Booth. Tweeted. Me. A. Wink-Kiss.

Yup, life made FOR SURE.

*partial lyrics from “Heavens”, my favorite James song

Summer camp is not punishment

I want my kiddos to try new things, to eagerly embrace the unexpected, the unknown, the new. I want them to venture forth without fear because I spend so much of my life buried under it. Fear keeps me from all sort of things — new opportunities, relationships, adventures, and frankly it sucks. I will openly admit to having social anxiety and laugh off my misfires in public, but the reality is I miss out on things all the time because I’m afraid to leave my comfort zone. And I don’t want the same thing to be true for my boys.

Youngest fears nothing. He waltzes into new situations full of confidence and spunk. People think he’s charming and funny and he makes friends everywhere we go. With him, I’m more worried he’s going to be lured into a dangerous situation and have to constantly remind him that no, he should not help a stranger find his lost dog, and no, it’s not okay to take treats from someone you don’t know (or pick up candy off the ground and eat it. True story.) Oldest is a mixed bag. He’s friendly and outgoing some of the time, and other times he builds an invisible wall around himself and refuses to let anyone in.

This morning I dropped them off at a camp they’d never attended before. Held at a local college, I thought it would be a fun opportunity for them try something new. Youngest was apprehensive at first and asked a million questions (as per his MO), but quickly joined a group of kids his age and began passing around a beach ball. Oldest stood, hunch-shouldered, earbuds in place, and alternated his gaze from his watch to a scowl directed at yours truly.

Actual conversations from this morning:

Him: This is stupid.
Me: Keep an open mind. Isn’t that [boy from school]?
Him: (eye roll). Great. And [two other boys from school he apparently hates]. Just great.

Him: I’m bored. Why did you make me wake up at 8 am and come here?
Me: I want you to try new things. Because I love you.
Him: (scoffs) That’s doubtful.

I drove away, and as I passed the group of campers waiting to get started, there was my boy, standing alone on the edge of the sidewalk like he hoped it would swallow him whole. And I started to worry that I’d forced him into something in order to satisfy my own fears — the fear of my children not fitting in, or being liked, or finding success in life. I used to think he was an extrovert. He loved being around other kids when he was little and enjoyed the attention from my large, loud family. Naturally I assumed he’d be fine in new situations, but it often backfired. He’d clung to me during library story hour and screamed the first time I took him to soccer practice.

And now? He loves going to the library and soccer fills up a huge part of his daily life. So how far do we push our kids, or ourselves, into the unknown? If we don’t take that first step we may never stumble upon something we come to love. If we don’t say, yes, I am anxious about this new situation but I am going to try it anyway, we may never meet the person who becomes a lifelong friend. We may never discover who we truly are.

I don’t expect this camp to be a life changing event for my boys, but I hope they at least come home today not completely mad at me for making them go.

Fingers crossed.