What I’m doing while I’m not doing the stuff I’m supposed to be doing

Happy February 1st.

OMG. It’s February 1st.

2016 has already gotten away from me. I’d like to say that it is because I’ve fallen so deep into a writing coma that I couldn’t come up for air because of all of the amazing sentences that I’m constructing… but that’d be bullshit.

I’d like to say that it’s because I’m swamped since I won the Powerball, too, but well… clearly, no.

Here at Casa Filak, things have been a bit hectic in 2016. Just before Christmas, our youngest daughter was diagnosed (finally) with Fibromyalgia. She’s eleven. That really, really sucks. She was, understandably, suffering from some pretty severe depression after having felt like crap for over a year, and we’re getting that under control, as well as learning new ways to help her cope with her pain and her new reality.

I don’t want to help her cope with a new reality.

I want to go back to the old reality, before she was in pain all the time. Before she felt nauseated. Every. Single. Day. I want to go back to the reality where she runs around and plays like a kid, where she doesn’t have to remember to do neck stretches to keep herself from getting headaches. I want her to be staring down the highway of life where the biggest worry she has is who’s going to be assigned to her cabin at 5th grade camp.

I’m kind of pissed.

But I can’t show her that, because I have to show her how to be strong. And I can’t show her that, because being angry isn’t going to do her one bit of good. And I can’t show her that, because this isn’t about me at all… it’s about her and I want her to know that she’s perfect, even though her muscles aren’t.

So… right now, a lot of the things that I’m supposed to be doing are slipping to the wayside. We have about 7 specialists appointments a week, right now, as we try to wrangle her symptoms under control and help her to learn coping strategies and warning signs. Right now, all the creative juices in my head have turned to sludge. Right now, the characters that are living in my head are a lot quieter than the kid that lives in my house… in my heart. And right now, I’m having a hard time remembering that I’m an author. That I’m a woman. That I’m anything other than mother.

I know that this will pass. Each day gets easier. Each day, she gets stronger and as she gets stronger, so do I. One day, soon, I’ll remember that I’m somebody else, besides just her mom.

But right now, I’m having a hard time remembering that, so I have to tell myself. Just as a reminder.

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Remembories

Tonight, I curled up on the couch with my two daughters, ages 15 and 9, and watched TITANIC. The younger has been fairly fixated on the disaster of the Titanic since she read several books about it, this past school year, and since Dad was out with his friends for the night, we decided we’d have some girl time. Let me be clear–while I think that TITANIC was a cinematic marvel, there is much in the film that could have been improved. I am not going to post a review of the film.

What I am struck by, tonight, once the obligatory “Jack” tears have been cried and Rose has gone on to die an old lady, warm in her bed, is how film can transport you back in time.

Not, in this instance, to 1912, but rather, to the cold, early-winter of 1997.

I was 21–almost a baby, myself–and I had, six weeks prior to the release of TITANIC, suffered a devastating miscarriage. I was not in a good place, barely leaving my bed, and I went to see TITANIC six times. Because it was a place that I could cry,  and no one would ask if I was alright. It was a safe zone–everyone was crying–and that made it all the more cathartic. Everyone in the theater, in my mind, wept for my lost baby.

Now, seventeen years removed from that theater, I realize how terribly depressed I was, and how lucky I was to find a way clear of it. That luck came in the form of my now fifteen year old daughter– who fell asleep before the end, tonight–because she’s seen it many times, and because she worked a long day, today, and because blessedly, she is not in that bad place, where you need an excuse to cry.

I spent a lot of time, in my early twenties, in that place. When the mother in steerage tucks her children into the bed and tells them the story of Tir Na Nog,  it hits me, every time.  That nostalgic feeling that my little girl used to call “remembories.” It’s a certain song on the radio, or a scene from a film. It’s certain smells, or places. It’s a gentle, beautiful reminder that I am whole, and healed, and I almost never slip back to that lonely, sad, broken place, any more.

I am grateful to TITANIC, for the safe place that it gave me, to loudly and publicly mourn for the baby I would never know. Watching it now, I realize what a gift it was, and while Jack’s death on the screen has long since stopped goading me to tears, I still choke up when I hear of Tir Na Nog, and the land of eternal youth and beauty. I like to imagine that it exists, even if it is just a memory.

Critical Mass

We’ve reached it, folks.

Today marks the end of another school year. (Well, for two of my kids. The other two have a half day on Monday, but still, we’re right there). Nine long months of homework and school programs, projects and reports, learning and doing and extra-curriculars and a million and one other things. The kids have learned a lot.

But, I’m an old pro at this. There isn’t anything I could possibly have still to learn about school, right?

WRONG.

For instance, I have–just this week–learned that when the silverware drawer seems strangely empty, you should probably check your daughter’s desk at school. I’m not kidding, guys. When she cleaned her desk out for the final time, she brought home six forks and eleven spoons. THAT IS SEVENTEEN PIECES OF SILVERWARE! Seriously?

Also, this week, I noticed that my twelve-year-old son has been putting the same two pairs of shorts in the washer, every other day, and keeps repeating them in his wardrobe. When asked why, I discovered that he has left ALL of his other shorts at school, in his gym locker. So he has nothing else to wear, and cannot be bothered to remember to bring his clothes home.

Littlest Little Man tried to smuggle 57 Pokemon cards to school, and my eldest daughter is convinced that she’s going to flunk her gym class exam.

That’s the game, parents. Some things change, but most things stay the same. Silverware and a child’s entire clothing collection = new. Anxiety and sneakiness and learning through osmosis and a little bit of luck = same old, same old.

We’re looking forward to a busy summer. One child will embark on her first job. The others have plans for visits with grandparents, summer camp, camping, and generally terrorizing the neighborhood with their gang of hard-core biking thugs. We’ll go to the beach, and the zoo, and we’ll try to squeeze in some reading and some math facts, so that we don’t revert completely to our sludge-like former state.

But the thing is that next year, on the last day of school, I’m going to write another post about the things I’ve learned “this” year. I’m going to be stunned at how the time has flown, and appalled at the fact that my son is still hoarding his clothes in his gym locker. I’m going to be staring at my daughter’s senior year, and college apps and all of that.

That’s the thing about being “The Mom.” I keep needing to be reminded that I’m still figuring it all out, one year at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time.

I’m pretty lucky, though. I’ve got great teachers.

Best Friends Forever

This is the title on the gift that my daughter is giving away, tomorrow, and it had me sobbing in my car, twenty minutes ago.

Tomorrow, two of my nine-year-old’s best friends–twin boys that live within shouting distance of us–are moving across the country.

She’s had time to get used to the idea, and she has some other amazing friends who will all work through the adjustment, together. They are all off, basking in their last few hours together, as we speak. And they are great kids.

And that is why I found myself driving down Centre Avenue with tears streaming down my face like I’d just watch the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars.  I’ve seen at least one of these boys on my front stoop, nearly every day for the past two years. I’ve cleaned up their blood and listened to their erupting laughter. I’ve watched them treat my daughter kindly, and with mutual respect.

I’m sure that they don’t remember, and maybe their mom doesn’t even recall, but these boys were on my daughter’s first sports team–a co-ed YMCA basketball team when they were four. And you know what I remember? I remember that the twins always tried to pass it to my girl, even though she was the only little girl on their team AND she was more worried about breaking a nail than she was about getting the ball. They cheered for her and included her. They were kind.

In the last two years, since they have become good friends, the boys have embraced my daughter’s half princess/half tomboy attitude. They ride bikes and scooters to “The Blackberry Patch” where they are detectives, solving garbage related mysteries. They have neighborhood wide scavenger hunts (I cannot even begin to say how amazing their mom is!) and they make crazy loom bracelets and ask my food allergy prone daughter over for dinner, often. They are thoughtful and polite–the kind of kids you want to have around.

They are exactly the kind of boys that you want your daughter to know, when she goes from being a little girl to a young woman–and that makes me both sad, and happy. I will miss them, and I know that she (and their other close friends) will miss them, and so I am sad that they won’t be right down the street. But I am also incredibly thankful and happy that when my daughter was just starting to figure out who she was, she knew some amazing, kind, sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, playful boys, who will inform the way she sees the opposite sex for the rest of her life. They couldn’t have given her a nicer gift.

Well, there I go, again with the tears. I expect that these won’t be the last tears I shed for my girl, when it comes to boys, but I sure am thankful to have had the chance to cry these.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.

Books, Books, and More Books

So, for those of you that don’t have young children, you may not know that March is Reading Month. We kicked off the annual word-fest with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd, and both the Elementary kids and the Middle Schooler have their own special reading calendar that they are supposed to follow, with special school-wide activities and fun dress up days.

Around here, every month is reading month, but we’ve been spending some extra time on it, what with all of the extra assignments, and it is really quite exciting to watch the kids really start to get it. Our 6th grade son has a map of the U.S. with 50 different assignments to accomplish, throughout the month. Some are as straightforward as “Read a Fantasy Novel” or “Use no screens, except for homework, for one day.” Others are a little more in-depth, such as “Follow a recipe and bring in samples for the class” or “Memorize a poem and recite it to your teacher.” Yesterday, he had to write a fan letter to his favorite author and send it, after showing his teacher.  What was really cool? It has just come to my attention that his favorite author is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson. I love him for his Mistborn books, finishing The Wheel of Time series, and The Stormlight Archives (Words of Radiance just came out! Hooray! And it is 1100 pages long! Hooray!) My son loves him for Steelheart and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians and the Infinity Blade books, but I hear the things that he enjoys about them, and I know that someday soon, he’ll be reading the books that I love. He has never been much of a reader, up until recently, and I really love that he has found someone who speaks to him. It pleases me.

Our eldest has always been a big reader, and she has found an adoration for all things John Green. I can totally relate to this, as I think that he is a stunningly accurate, honest writer of teenagers. He gets them, and they love him for it. We are both dreading and looking forward to the release of The Fault in Our Stars when it hits theaters in June. Like so many others, we’ve both shed a few tears over that one. She’s reading An Abundance of Katherines right now, and I look forward to her review.

Our nine-year-old has just graduated from Magic Tree House books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Three times, today, I caught her reading when she was mid-painting on a project, in the middle of a t.v. show, and just now, when I checked on her in bed. I cannot begin to express the joy that finding them stealth reading gives to me.

Our youngest, a kindergartener, is just finding his way in the world of words. We are reading Redwall aloud, at night, and every once in a while, over my shoulder, he will find a sentence that he can read. Tonight, it was “Try to be brave like your mum and dad.” I wasn’t even to that point on the page, yet, but he was looking, finding meaning, and discovering, all on his own. And, I’m not going to lie–the fact that he is fully absorbed and engrossed in a book about sword wielding mice and badgers with cudgels pleases me like a kid on Christmas morning.

As for the grown-ups–my long-suffering husband is slogging his way through my second novel’s manuscript and doing his best to put up with my inability to accept criticism. I am reading Before They Were Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of The First Law series. I’m finding that I really, REALLY enjoy his books–mostly because they are such excellent character studies. You really come to understand the psyche of his characters, none of which are clearly in the good or bad category. He writes an ensemble of gray protagonists, often gritty, often brutal, but you really get to understand their motivations in a way that many books don’t give you. It isn’t rainbows-and-unicorns type fluffy fantasy, but it is fantastic in its ability to make you believe that the characters he writes are real, even if you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

Writing-wise, I finished the first, revised draft of Whirlwind and have since sent it off to my beta readers. This is the tough place, anxiety-wise, for me. While I wait for feedback, I definitely start to second guess myself and develop a pretty good case of Imposter Syndrome. All will be well, though. That’s what revisions are for, right? I’m also working on a re-write of A Sown Wind, as well as beginning the outlining, brainstorming stage for book three, which I am thinking of entitling, When Gods Toss Dice.

In non-wordy stuff, I cannot recommend “True Detective” and “Black Sails,” enough. Both shows have really drawn me in, and I was sad to see the season finale of “True Detective” come so soon. We are also cruising through the last four episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” and looking forward to the return of “Game of Thrones,” next month.

How about you? What are you reading? What are you watching? Where do you get your inspiration, and what stories speak to you? Enquiring minds want to know.

Epiphany

The last few days have been rough, around here.

Not true tragedy kind of rough… just a to-do list that is too long and days that are too short. A lot of pressure for everything to go smoothly and too many activities that have a tendency to muck up the works. It’s the kind of days when every hour of your day is mapped out, and if you don’t follow the schedule exactly, say by getting into a disagreement with your husband about the time it takes to accomplish said item on said to-do list, well, then you’re well and truly buggered.

It happens. I mean, I have four kids, with four different school schedules and four different extracurriculars. I have a husband and we own our own business and a big house that is never (well, maybe once a year) as clean as I would like it to be. I have a dream, which requires copious amounts of time spent in contemplation and endless hours spent writing. I have a dog (and two, fairly non-problematic cats). Life happens.

But last night, as I am lamenting the things on the list that didn’t get crossed off, I had an epiphany. The thing is, I spend all of this time doing these things that I think HAVE to be done. I mean, when I looked at the list yesterday morning, there were all of these things that I labeled as MUSTS, and one or two that were wants.

Yes… some of the MUSTS are actually MUSTS. I did have to help #2 kid do his tuba playing test. It was due by 9:00 p.m., and it had to be done. I did have to go to #1’s last show of The Crucible, because I hadn’t seen it, and I want to support her in her endeavors. I did have to make sure that #3 and #4 got their Valentines addressed and that #3 finished her Valentine Box project.

But you know what I didn’t have to do: I didn’t have to spend an hour looking for a library book that I already KNOW is lost. I haven’t seen it in months. I remember sending it to school, but heaven only knows what happened to it from there. The hour of my time spent looking for that, just so that I could say that I had, is worth more than the two dollars it will cost me to replace the book.

I didn’t HAVE to give the dog a bath. He is healthy, and well-fed. He is loved and played with. Yes… he had a little eau de pooch aroma, but if he didn’t get his bath until mid-week, no one would have died.

I didn’t HAVE to do the laundry. Everyone has plenty of clothes, and no one was going to be wearing dirty socks to school or to work. I shouldn’t be wasting time stressing out about the fact that I have a mountain of clean laundry on my living room couch. You know why… because it isn’t hurting anyone. It is not damaging anyone’s psyche or causing anyone harm. It isn’t a MUST.

I didn’t have to dust. I dusted on Wednesday. I didn’t have to wipe down the cupboards. I didn’t have to reorganize the game shelf. I didn’t have to refold the towels that were hidden away in the linen closet. I don’t have to do homemade-handmade-unprocessed-or organic, every minute of every day.

I don’t have to do these things, but I’ve convinced myself that I do. I’ve convinced myself that if my house isn’t perfect and my kids don’t look perfect, if every aspect of our lives doesn’t come off looking polished and planned, then I am a failure. That’s bullshit.

Our kids are happy and healthy. They are growing up to be well-educated, thoughtful and compassionate human beings. They are creative and charitable. They are funny. We eat dinner together, every night, even if sometimes it is hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. We sing songs together. We play games. We laugh and tell stories. My teenager still gives me hugs.

Our yard isn’t always perfectly manicured and when that mountain of snow melts, last year’s leaves are still going to buried under it. I have not been “caught up” on laundry since 1998. My kids’ bedrooms look like Hurricane Katrina paid them a visit, and often, my response to that is just to close the door.

A friend of mine, who has just recently had her first baby, posted an article on Facebook recently about kid filth, and said that she would never allow her house to be like that. My gut reaction was, “Good luck with that.” But that was wrong. If what you need to stay sane is a perfectly maintained home, more power to you. I honestly, truly wish you well in your endeavor. Who am I to judge? Because we do that to ourselves, enough. We constantly look at what we are doing as parents, as people, and think, “I am not doing enough. I am not working hard enough, I’m not paying my dues, I’m not perfect.”

Nobody is.

And that’s what I realized, last night. My car had to go into the shop for a wheel bearing replacement (Ugh.) and so my husband picked me up at the mechanic’s. I had just finished watching #1’s play, and he had been home with the two littlest. I didn’t feel like cooking (as I still had about half of my to-do list to conquer) and it has been so cold that the kids haven’t spent much time outside, so he suggested heading to McDonald’s for dinner and a little playland time. We almost never do this, because I have always hated the playland. It is loud and people bring their kids and then sit on their electronics, ignoring their children, while I sit there and judge them for it.

Yup. I hate the playland. But I sighed, and caved. We got out of the van, only for me to discover that my husband had told them they could come in their pj’s. My daughter’s hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a month. And my first thought was, “Oh, my God. We look like ‘those people,'” –meaning the people that I have always looked at with contempt. The people who don’t bother to look polished and perfect, who come to McDonald’s to ignore their kids.

And I nearly had a panic attack.

But my husband guided me gently inside. We ate our not-remotely-healthy meal with the kids, and then they played. They were ragamuffins. They looked like orphan hobos. But they played, and they laughed. They used their manners and treated the other children nicely. The world didn’t stop spinning and no one called CPS. My husband held my hand. We had a few moments of quiet conversation, probably while other parents looked at us like, “Good God, don’t they even know what a hairbrush looks like?”

I’m over it.

My name is Stacey, and I have a problem. I am addicted to the idea that I have to be perfect, that if I am not projecting the aura of someone who kills themselves, 18 hours a day, to make sure that everything is picture perfect, then I am a failure. I am addicted to beating myself up.

I cannot promise that I won’t fall off of the wagon, but I’m going to try. I’m going to try to remember that no one ever died because their laundry wasn’t folded. I’m going to try to remember that love and laughter and togetherness are vastly more important than perfectly coifed hair or bookshelves without dust on them. I’m going to try to remember that what makes a home isn’t the lack of dirt, but the way that you make your messes. I’m going to try to forgive myself for not being perfect. I’m going to try to stop trying so damned hard. I’m going to hold my husband’s hand more often, and sing in the kitchen, more often. I’m going to try to stop prioritizing things as MUSTS when they really aren’t. I’m going to try to stop judging other people, because in the end, we’re all just struggling to make sure we leave the world a better place than we found it. Who am I to say that untangled hair defines a good parent?

I’m going to try to remember that thirty years from now, my kids will be in my shoes. I will want them to know that shedding tears over dirty dishes in the sink, or getting short of breath because it snowed before you got the leaves raked is a waste of their time and energy. I will want them to know that they are perfect… no matter how chaotic their life seems. I will want them to remember their own dreams, and to make sure that they give themselves time and energy to accomplish them, and also the freedom to accept their own failings.

So I have to start by showing them.

I am going to try to stop trying, so damned hard. I MUST be happy, and I MUST raise happy, healthy kids. That’s it… the rest is gravy, and it is totally acceptable if it is gravy that comes from a jar.

Weekly Recap and Germs, Be Gone!

What I am Reading: Still working on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. I am still enjoying it, and it is reminding me of the in-depth world building of GRRM in Song of Ice and Fire. My favorite scenes center on Logen Ninefingers, right now, and I am interested to see how the separate groups of characters will come to interact.

What I am Reading to My Kids: We are still chugging through Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking, although I expect to finish both, this weekend. We plan to read Because of Winn Dixie and The Mouse and The Motorcycle, next.

What I’ve been watching: In order to force myself back onto the treadmill, I’ve guided myself back to my first season obsession with Once Upon a Time. Catching up on season 2 on Netflix… It’s not as good. BUT… it’s enough to get me onto the torture machine, so I guess it is worth it. My husband and I have just started watching True Detective (HBO) and Black Sails (Starz). Both are really good. True Detective has given me some honest respect for Matthew McConaughey’s acting chops, and Black Sails (while occasionally falling into the GoT gratuitous sex scene trap) has drawn me in, in two episodes, more than Agents of Shield has in half a season. I’m looking forward to these two shows’ next episodes more than I am the return of Walking Dead, for what that’s worth.

Where I am at, writing-wise: Alas, I am not much further along than I was, last Friday. The knights screwed everything up, and I had to do some edits to fix the paradoxes that they had created. Ugh. But I have done some other cool writing related stuff, this week (see below).

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I figure that if the best I can do is set aside the period between packing five lunches at 6:30 a.m. and driving the smallest heathens to school at 8:20 a.m., every Friday morning, for blogging– well, so be it. So here you have it, the second weekly recap. Ta-da! Aren’t you impressed? Thank you… thank you.

But seriously… it has been madness around here. We are all at the point where we just want to throw the windows open to get rid of the germs and the winter blahs with a little fresh air, but the wind chill is -20, right now, so fresh air = frozen flesh. Not really what they’re depicting in the sales brochure. Our five-year-old was home sick with a cold for a couple of days this week, and every one has that drug out, sort of “winter overdose” look on their faces. The snow piles next to our driveway are taller than the minivan, though, so it’ll probably be June before it is all gone.

In Valentine’s Day preparations, we are busy putting together goodie bags and the 3rd grader has to design and assemble her own Valentine mailbox. Have I mentioned how the 3rd grader is my overachiever? This process has involved blueprints (yup… blueprints), two trips to the craft store, and use of the oven on two different occasions. I’ll post results, next week when it is finished, but this is clearly not an amateur project. (Meanwhile, the kindergartner could not care less about any of it. Go figure.)

The two big kids are in the midst of mid-winter chaos, too. Our 15-year-old is on the tech crew of The Crucible, which is showing this weekend, as well as preparing for the forensics team. I think she will be home for a total of about 12 hours, this weekend, hopefully some of which she’ll spend sleeping. Sixth grade son is busy with basketball, and he has spent a great deal of time figuring out EXACTLY how many games they can still lose and make the playoffs. Its high stake stuff, here.

Speaking of playoffs, let us never speak of that Super Bowl, again, shall we? It wasn’t just that the Broncos lost… it was how truly, disgustingly awful they played. That was the single most boring game of football I have ever watched, and frankly, I was just relieved by the time it was over.

In word related news, I am excited to be heading to Art Hop, tonight. My youngest daughter and I are planning a special date to go see a show of college artists who have illustrated some pieces by local writers (one or two of which *might* have been written by yours truly). It should be fun, and I haven’t seen the artwork, at all, so I am interested to see how they interpreted my pieces.

Also this week, I participated in my first Twitter pitch party. For those of you not on Twitter, or not familiar with the process of trying to get published, a brief explanation: Once an hour, you can post a “pitch” for your book. It has to fit in 140 characters (which is about as painful as childbirth, but without the drugs), and agents and editors will peruse the posts. If they are interested in seeing more of your project, they can “favorite” your pitch, which is sort of an invitation to query them, with the added bonus that you get to say, “You WANTED to see this… Like me! Like me!” It was a fun and interesting experience, and I received two requests from agents and two from editors, so we shall see where this goes. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience, figuring out how to describe my book in such a short space and how to hook the reader, with such limited word count. I’d love to think that an agent is on the horizon, but if not… I’ll definitely do another one of these. Reading other authors’ pitches was incredibly helpful, and there are a great many books out there that sound really interesting and fun. I wish all of those that participated in #adpit, good luck.

Beyond that, I am very excited to get back to our tradition of Saturdays spent playing RPG’s, which has been on hiatus since Christmas (Stupid winter.), a weekend full of art and time with my kiddos (Except for the big one. Soon, I’ll forget what she looks like.), and a full day, today, dedicated completely to working on Whirlwind. It is like my birthday and Christmas and the county fair, all rolled into one! Happy Friday!

Week in Recap — Happy Super Bowl and some fun, word related stuff

What I am reading to myself: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie — Dark, gritty fantasy with engaging, flawed characters. I’m not too far in, but it is keeping me up past my bedtime, so that speaks highly.

What I am reading to my kids:  Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte’s Web (see below for anecdotal awesomeness)

What I just finished: The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — I wrote up a review on Goodreads, which you can see below. This book is in my head. It’s hanging around, poking at the cerebral cortex. Jorg likes to stab things, and I think he’s checking out my hypothalamus. This is not a book for the faint of heart, BUT it is a really, excellent read.

Where I am at, writing-wise:  Finished a read-through and minor edit on A Sown Wind, this week, as well as churning out about 12,000 new words on Whirlwind. I’m feeling the end creeping closer, but those pesky knights keep spoiling the cream. See below for more on this, too.

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So, lately I haven’t been so faithful with the blogging, and I apologize. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten a lot of writing done on Whirlwind. If not, well… screw you. 😉

So I thought I would just do a recap of what’s been going on at Casa Filak, what is coming up, and that sort of jazz.

Firstly, I have to say, “Go Broncos!” I love the gladiatorial feel of football season, and I am usually sad to see it come to an end, but I am really happy for Peyton Manning. He isn’t a spring chicken, anymore (although, I am loathe to admit that he is only 3 and a half months older than I), and at this stage in his career, this may be his last dance. I think there is a pretty solid argument that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play in the league, and to be the first QB to ever win rings with two different teams would be a fitting swan song.

Second, I have to give a shout out to Worldbuilders. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the fantastic charity started by fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. This year, so far, in their annual fundraising drive, they have pulled in over $500,000 dollars in donations for Heifer International, from geeks, all over the world. They are giving away some pretty fantastic prizes to those who donate, in a lottery-type format, and there are still two days to donate. Check out Pat’s blog for more information, or to just feel the love, because… wow. It is pretty awe inspiring to see so many geeks doing good for the world.

Book-wise, I have gotten a lot written this week, and for the most part, I am feeling pretty good. CAVEAT –  I have these characters–a group of knights. They’re good men. Loyal, headstrong, opinionated men. AND THEY KEEP BUGGERING UP MY STORY! I kind of want to hold up a little sign that says, “Zephyrs, I am not your b*$#@!” Except, well, I am. Because without them, my story has a broken backbone. And, as I’ve said previously, I sort of enjoy the way that characters highjack the story line, on occasion, but seriously, boys, this is becoming an epidemic.

As everyone in the whole country knows, the weather has been a bit horrific, as of late. We had three snow days in a row, where we live, and even my hubby took a day off, because our road was impassable. But something cool happened, while the kids were off.

My five-year-old son LOVES to read and be read to, which is awesome, but until this week, we had stuck to picture books. He enjoys a trip to the library, where we stock up on good reads, and we read two, or three, or four, each night. His nine-year-old sister gets in on the act, too, although we are usually reading a chapter book aloud to her at bedtime, too, and she is always reading one to herself, as well. (The big kids read, too, but they’re way to cool for mom to read to them, these days.)

Anyway, so the little man wants to watch Charlotte’s Web on one of the snow days. After it was over, and we were talking about it, I said, “Did you know that Charlotte’s Web was a book, first?”

He gave me this amazed-stunned look and asked if we owned the book. We did, and I found it on the shelf. He flipped through it for a few minutes and said, “It only has a few pictures.”

I agreed, and I said that we could read it out loud, a chapter at a time, if he wanted, instead of the picture books that we usually read. He was hesitant, but his love of Wilbur got the best of him.

After the required argument between siblings (Big Sister: “I’ve already read Charlotte’s Web, can’t we read something else?” Little Brother: “Shut up! You stink like Templeton’s rotten egg!”), we decided to read BOTH Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking. So we read a chapter of each a night, and it is awesome.

But that isn’t the best part. The best part is watching Little Man find words that he knows on the page. It is watching him absorb the story and beg for more (I’m not going to lie, we’re up to two chapters of Charlotte’s Web, most nights). It is having him beg for more story, as he gets out of bed in the morning. It is recognizing that he is changing from an observer, to a reader.

This is the last time I will watch this transformation in one of my children. This is the last of my brood to move from mundane, to literate. This is monumental, and heart-rending. This is as good as it gets.

*sob* I have a book to write, just after I finish looking through baby albums and eating therapeutic chocolate. Have a great weekend, and “Go Bronco!”

Soulless Stick Figures Are Taking Over Our Family!

Good Saturday Morning! I am up way too early, due to the fact that I have a kindergartner who does not EVER want to get up early on school days, but is up before the sun on weekends, because, well… apparently he likes to torture his momma. This is a part of motherhood that, after fifteen years, I have embraced. Well, maybe not embraced, but I no longer loathe his wake-up pokes the way I loathe my alarm clock. So, I wake up early, I zombie-shuffle around the house with coffee in hand, and I write while he watches T.V. or plays. Believe it or not, my whole first novel was written before he started school, so I have learned how to write while Jake and the Neverland Pirates blasts in the other room, or he battles imaginary manticores under the table where I am typing. It’s all good.

But I digress. What I want to talk about this morning is something that I saw a couple of days ago that has been driving me crazy. I don’t know if this is a world or nationwide trend, but in our neck of the woods, a good half of all cars now have these stick-figure family window decals that show your family makeup. Some are zombies and some are storm troopers, but most are just stick people. There are mom and dad and their five kiddos, or husband and wife and a puppy.  I’ve seen single mom with a couple kids, and a few times, I’ve even seen two moms, or two dads, and their babies, which makes my heart feel happy. It wasn’t that long ago that such families would not have felt safe showing their true family makeup publicly, and I am glad to live on the planet when we are making forward progress, at least on this front.  

Anyway, the stickers. They’re cute, I guess, and I can see the appeal, but twice this week, I saw something that really bugged me.  A lot of the stick-figure families have their hobbies represented as well, which is cool. Be proud of what you love. (Wil Wheaton has an awesome bit about loving what you love, no matter how “geeky” it is, which is another post, entirely, but still…)

So the stick figure families that I saw:

Dad is a bowler, Daughter is a basketball player, Son is a baseball player, Mom is a… nothing?

I’ve seen it several times now. Dad has a hobby. Kids have hobbies. Mom is just… mom. And that’s alright, I mean, being mom is a pretty great job, but it makes me sad. Why do we, as moms, fail to recognize ourselves as something separate from being a mother? Moms have hobbies, don’t they? I mean, I am a mom. I read. I enjoy football, and a rousing tabletop RPG. And I know that other moms have hobbies, too, but somehow, we convince ourselves that what we like is trivial, which is, quite plainly, bullshit.

I doubt that many people out there would argue, being a mom is a pretty thankless job. Of course, the intrinsic rewards are amazing, but the pay is shit. And speaking of shit… being a mom is at least 21.4% actual poop for the first few years. Sure, there’s joy and overwhelming love and amazing stuff, too, but there is a lot of poop. 

As a mom, you do the same thing, everyday. You wash the dishes and the laundry, everyday. You pick up the dirty socks and hang up the coat, everyday. You cook and you chauffeur and you tutor and you do whatever it is at your house that falls under mom’s jurisdiction, everyday. (And you clean up the poop. Always, always the poop.) And a lot of us work elsewhere, too. It’s a lot to be responsible for, and even if you have the greatest kids in the world (Which we all do, don’t we?), they still aren’t going to appreciate the magnitude of the mountain you climb, everyday. And even if you are married to a sensitive, hardworking and effusive spouse, they still, probably have no idea how much work you do. It is a mom-fact, and by the time your firstborn is a month old, you’ve figured this out. This is normal, and this is acceptable.

What isn’t acceptable is that even though your kids and your partner don’t always see past the hard work to the person that you are, YOU STILL SHOULD! Yes, it is hard to be a mom and still have a life. Yes, it is difficult to separate yourself from mom-duties and responsibilities and that pile of clean laundry that has been on the couch for so long that the cat has now made it a den and you have to rewash it, just to get rid of the hair.  I get that. I have the same problem.

But are we really doing our kids a favor, especially our daughters, by donating our personalities with the bi-annual charitable bags of outgrown clothes?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if there is any advice that will be globally helpful, here. But every living soul deserves to love DOING something, whether it be crafting or reading or playing a sport or drinking wine. Yup, I’d rather I saw a pandemic of lush-mom stick-figures than the plethora of “I’m-just-happy-being-mom” Mom’s that I’ve seen, lately.

I think mothers tend to have an epidemic of guilt and too many feelings of inadequacy, as a species, and we believe that unless every moment of every day is dedicated to caring for our families in one way or another, we are failures. We aren’t failures, not by a long shot. Rather, we are becoming invisible, and the very first person who fails to see us, is ourselves.

We can do better than this, women. I mean, we are moms. We can make a castle out of a cardboard box and two tin cans. We can whip up cupcakes an hour before school because someone forgot to tell us that they volunteered to bring a treat. We can balance work and eighteen different schedules and a million other things, at once. We are superwomen. How hard is it to remember how awesome we really are?