Overachiever

I’m in a play. (Midsummer Night’s Dream!With so many amazing and talented people!) Back onstage for a full production for the first time since my daughter was born. This would be enough all by itself, but I am an overachiever.

Getting my Amazon queen on!

TW: pregnancy loss, profanity, current state of the US

Not only am I a primary parenting a toddler and participating in a fully staged production, but at the start of it all, I found out I was pregnant again. Not only that, but a month or so later I found out the fetus had no heartbeat and I would (eventually, theoretically) miscarry.

Is there a word for that time in between when a fetus stops developing and the physical act of miscarriage happens?

It’s a strange sort of limbo and I was in it for a month. Because as if all this wasn’t enough, my body refused to evict the fetus on its own, resulting in surgery yesterday. Two days after my birthday, scant days before tech week, with all our backup childcare out of town.

Have I mentioned my overachiever tendencies?

Despite the frustration and uncertainty of the last month, I haven’t mourned. I don’t know what it says about me, but I can’t grieve something that had no potential for life. Miscarriages are so common that I wasn’t going to get fully excited about the pregnancy until I at least saw a heartbeat. We never saw a heartbeat.

But throughout all this, I am angry. I’m fucking furious that there are people in this world and in this country that choose to criminalize women and other uterus owners. In another state, I might have been forced to carry a dead thing (if something that was never alive can really be dead) and risk a dangerous infection, all the while panicking that I might be ripped away from my toddler, all because I am one of countless numbers who ends up carrying a bunch of misfiring cells.

Those atrocities dressed up as laws are more murder than any woman who exercises a fundamental right (permitted men and the deceased) not to donate her body to the purpose of anyone else’s life.

This bullshit is about power and control and misogyny. Fuck that.

So in case anyone has been wondering where I’ve disappeared to (again) online or why I’ve hedged on making commitments over the last couple months, know that all this has been taking up a ridiculous amount of brain-space. I will now endeavor to be a little less of an overachiever.

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‘Tis the season…for all the Help Wanted and Now Hiring signs. Welcome to tourist-land! Each sign and job posting I see makes me wonder: could I do it? Would I want to?

I’m approaching an entire year of this “full time mom and creative” gig life and while Western culture has a greater awareness now about the value of unpaid labor, that knowledge doesn’t alleviate the certainty that I should have a day job because I should be contributing an income to my family. (“Should” is a bad word!) Forget the fact that childcare would devour any paycheck I might get.

I’ve been thinking about Patreon for a while. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s essentially crowdfunded support where patrons get special rewards and access to creators. I planned to have my own Patreon page someday. Someday when I’m traditionally published or have a huge following or after I’ve launched that YouTube channel. So many excuses not to do it, most rooted in shame and fear.

The truth is, there is no shame in asking for help or support. With the combination of Patreon’s fee structure for creators about to change and my own (socially conditioned) need to financially justify my existence, I’ve launched my page. Patrons will see rough drafts and works in progress, have first access to my news and updates, hear me read stories, see videos discussing writing and creativity, and anything else we can think of.

I’m a millennial. I understand tight finances. But money isn’t the only way to support your favorite creators! Nothing helps creators (and beats unhelpful algorithms) like word-of-mouth and the social media equivalent: the share button. Liking, sharing, commenting on my Patreon page and social media posts and blog and stories? All priceless.

If I don’t ask, it will never happen. If not now, I may always find excuses to avoid it.

My first goal with Patreon is to let me move this blog away from the free WordPress and to my own site (especially now that customization seems permanently broken, among other issues). But most importantly, I want to build a community of people who are creating and inspiring each other. The accountability is just a bonus.

So again here’s the link to my Patreon. It would mean a lot to me if you’d check it out, leave me feedback or share it around. I’d love for you to join me!

Nostalgia Stories

Nostalgia can be good. But it can also be bad. Like cheap hot cocoa mix with the tiny dehydrated marshmallows: I want it for the nostalgia, but invariably the marshmallows either have the crunch of chalk or dissolve into air like the illusions they are.

My husband and I had this conversation tonight and it made him briefly wish for the marshmallow gun he gave my dad for Christmas the first year we were dating. At least, that wish had better be brief because I was Dad’s favorite target. I don’t remember anymore what happened to that gun, but I think one of my now-adult nieces or nephew claimed it.

That was a memorable Christmas. Mostly because Dad had an unfortunate-for-the-rest-of-us predilection for trick wrapping. He designed these things as absurd, inane tests. Mostly because Dad just liked to be a jackass.

That Christmas, Dad set a test for my then-boyfriend/now-husband. He took a box and wrapped it with an almost OCD precision, tape encasing every millimeter of seam.

Dad at least made it look nice. (Spoiler: it wasn’t nice.)

But within that box were other boxes wrapped in layers of duct tape over newspaper over packing tape and more duct tape and newspaper. Sometimes a box would reveal multiple boxes, each requiring a surgeon or super thief to break open, never knowing which would be the decoy. Sometimes he screwed blocks of wood together just to make you question your life choices. And you had to search through every scrap and flap with a fine toothed comb or else risk listening to his boasting forevermore.

Dad’s favorite gift to wrap this way? Gift cards. He never let my grandmother forget the time he taped a card to the underside of a flap on a box. The first box she opened in his labyrinthine wrapping. She, of course, didn’t see it and proceeded to work her way through each and every layer, cursing him soundly while he giggled like a kid.

So I warned my husband. We all knew his test was coming; Dad had pulled it on two other boyfriends. When Dad found out I’d warned him, he was pissed. So to retaliate, he pulled out all the stops. He outdid himself so thoroughly on this particular gifting torture that all future iterations were halfhearted attempts, at best.

Dad’s pièce de résistance was the heart of the gift: two blocks of wood, hiding a gift card. Screwed together with Robertson screws. Which aren’t much used here in the US.

But Dad underestimated a theatre tech going to university in Canada. Where Robertson screws aren’t so rare. My then-boyfriend/now-husband had the whole thing open in under ten minutes (or was it five? And yes, Dad had a literal stopwatch running) without borrowing a single tool.

If we’d announced then and there that we were getting married–after a single semester of long distance dating–I think Dad would have given his blessing. Dad never stopped bragging about it.

Weirdly, this all relates to an epiphany I had with my writing today. Not so much the test part or even illusory marshmallows, but the nostalgia trip.

I’ve been stalled on my current novel project and it’s taken me months to figure out why: I need to go back to drafting longhand. I stopped after my daughter was born because I just couldn’t concentrate or maintain the more sustained sort of focus I need to write longhand. Typing worked better with the way my mind jumped from one thing to another.

Back in December, I lost my connection to the story. Now I can see that typing outstripped my speed of composing–pulling the story together and shaping it in a coherent, functional way. Which is why I settled on drafting longhand in the first place, years ago.

So sometimes it’s good to revisit things from the past and reintroduce them to the present. Though if anyone wants to give me a present and mimic Dad’s puzzle wrapping torture, be prepared for a whole lot of laughter, tools, and waxing nostalgic on Dad-stories. Fair warning.

In the meantime, I have a novel to work on.

Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

‘Tis the season…for making resolutions and setting goals!

Once upon a time, I made new resolutions every new year and each one went the standard way of New Year’s resolutions: they quickly faded from memory. But over the last several years, I’ve become much better. Most of my tracking and public accountability is over at Anxiety Ink, but I’m dedicating more of my focus here this year.

Taking a moment to brag, I’m pretty damn good at setting and keeping my goals these days. The secret? Setting reasonable, incremental, definite goalposts that focus solely on the elements I control. This means that I don’t set a goal for the number of shows I act in; instead, I set a goal for the number of auditions I attend.

One New Year’s resolution, for example, is to buy fewer books and spend more time at the library, so my goal is twelve library visits for the year. Averaging one visit a month isn’t much of a stretch but it’s more than I’ve done since my Seattle days.

Ever notice how not making a goal–even one you know is a pie-in-the-sky stretch–can discourage you? Yeah, me too.

New Year’s resolution: get this writing career rolling on the path towards some kind of income. The goalposts to get there: polish my query letter and synopsis, solicit critique/feedback on the query letter and synopsis from beta readers, query at least three agents; investigate short story markets, revise and polish likely short stories, and complete at least three short story submissions.

Three may not seem like much, but I have serious issues when it comes to getting my work out there (though probably not for the reason you think, which is a whole other post).

Other goals include offering writing workshops, finishing the rough draft of at least one novel, starting a YouTube channel; home improvement projects, crafts and baking and playdates with my daughter, and sewing lessons with my grandmother. But perhaps the most important resolution I’m making this year is simply to create. Every day.

I’m calling this the #make365 project because I am a millennial and a product of my generation. Also, public accountability works.

Creating is already more than a habit for me; it’s a way of life. But it’s ridiculously easy to devalue your own accomplishments. Art–creative work–in general is pretty devalued in this society, in case you haven’t noticed, and it can be hard to escape that mindset. I also have a bad habit of only counting story writing and finished projects when I thinks of my creative accomplishments. So this project is more about recognizing and celebrating creativity, however that manifests each day.

Writing a single word (not counting things like texts or emails unless they’re explicitly writing-/creative-related? Coloring a single cell in a coloring book? Making cookies or trying a new recipe for dinner? All count.

This is about being kind to myself and making more art.

#badgingerbread

Making Christmas cookies with my daughter was on my bucket list for the year. I haven’t quite figured how to let her “help” in the kitchen because I don’t have a safe way to put her at counter height (she won’t tolerate high chair confinement long and doesn’t have enough coordination to trust the step stool), so I had to settle for making them for her instead.

Then enter the wonderful and amazing Carrie Jones who tweeted about a gingerbread house contest and such things not being a great strength. And you know how there can be such freedom in giving yourself permission to do something badly?

And the condemned gingerbread house competition was born!

Running for the rest of December (so take advantage of post-Christmas sales on kits!), make a terrible gingerbread house and tag it #badgingerbread on your favorite social media. The only prize is the hilarity of it all.

So me, being the overachiever that I am–and someone for whom making food fulfills a creative need–I decided to make my own gingerbread for the first time. The cookies themselves came out great! The little one doesn’t have much interest in sugar if it’s not in the form of fruit but she has only stopped eating them because they’re all gone now.

The house? Well, the house was another matter entirely.

Pro tip #1: figure out the shapes you need in advance if you’re making your own. Just cutting random rectangles, triangles, and trapezoids is not, shall we say, architecturally sound.

I eventually resorted to tin foil to keep the structure standing and still had to give up on the idea of the traditional sort of roof.

Pro tip #2: tentacles are relatively easy to mold out of gingerbread dough and can give the worst design flaws the illusion of planning.

The whole process was fun and silly (and tasty!) and I highly recommend making a gingerbread house terrible on purpose. Or mostly on purpose, anyway. (Confession: I was totally expecting to have something a lot more…houselike.)

So, six more days in December (this post initially started a week ago when it seemed like much more time). Will you accept the #badgingerbread challenge?

As Long As I’m Living, My Baby You’ll Be

My baby daughter is a toddler. Yes, I still call her my baby and she still is a baby in many ways, but she’s also a toddler. Each day, she looks more and more like the older child she’s growing into.

(Note: I initially wrote this on the eve of her first birthday as a musing ramble in my notebook. Though it’s late, the sentiment still holds true and I wanted to share it.)

Like all parents before me, this came way too fast for my peace of mind. I feel like I can’t keep up, and if I think about it too long I feel like I’m not doing enough–that for her, the time is interminable so I need to fill it with more and maybe then make my experience of time more synchronous with hers…

Except I know that approach is self-defeating. It would only make her even more aware of the time stretching between things, while I’d be so caught up in the things and making them happen that I’d only be less present with her.

Time is relative, and being present is the only way I’ve found to slow it. And maybe that’s the real secret to it all. Children, by the sheer fact that so much is new and different and never before experienced, are more present to their worlds and their times than adults. It’s something we lose by necessity, but in our ever-busier, ever-filling lives, we need the ability to slow down, to find that mindfulness. It’s all too easy to forget how to slow. Some people find their calling–and their living–by re-teaching that childlike state.

If I weren’t a writer, would I have ever noticed or just joined the chorus of voices bitching about the acceleration of time? Or should I thank that constantly scared little girl? The one who always felt the world might fall apart and come unraveled if she did or said the wrong thing, or if she stopped looking, or if she dared to forget the smallest detail.

Can you tell I was the shy quiet type?

Today, my husband took our daughter in the morning to let me wake up at my own pace. I laid in bed longer than I needed, listening to the thump thump thump of her racing around with the usual morning zeal. I smiled to listen to her busy-ness as she danced and sang, as she tap-thwacked toys against each other and the chairs, as she slapped the cupboards and tested them against the child-proof locks that she’ll figure out long before her next birthday.

Even with all the luck in the world, I have precious little time to hear such blissfully happy sounds. I want to listen to them–her–forever. These sounds keep the ugliness of the world at bay with its hate and rape apologists and other unnatural catastrophes. These sounds brighten my world and give me hope.

So may we make this world brighter and safer and more equitable and just than it ever was for us. (But still teach her what to say and where to aim if anyone dares to call her a ‘brood mare.’)

Happy birthday, my love

Alliteration is Overrated

Who had the bright idea to make November National Novel Writing Month? I mean, four months out of the year have 30 days. So. Why November?

No, this post will not explore the origins of NaNo. I just need to gripe.

And, you know, reassure you that I’m still here. (Still figuring out how all this works with a highly mobile, busy-busy baby.)

But seriously! A month typified (in the US) by significant travel and family obligations and theatre. At least around here, everyone seems to think November is a great show month, and ours is a theatre family and theatre home.

The idea of writing while traveling is great…unless you’re the one who always drives. I passengered a grand total of once this month–despite many hours on the road–and discovered that yes, writing in the car makes me (mildly) motion sick. Literally my only baby breaks have been the occasional shower and when she sleeps, which is a thing she seemingly needs less and less these days.

And I could bitch about the time and brain space that logistics and planning and Thanksgiving meal prep all consume, but I knew all that going into NaNo.

See, I never truly expected to hit the 50,000 word count goal. I knew better.

November last year, I just wanted to see how much I could write and simply how to write while tackling life with a newborn. Last year, I counted every word I wrote: not just story, but emails, social media and blog posts, even IM chats went in.

So I wrote 20,000 words last year in November.

This year, I’ve only counted story words, the baby spends less time asleep and all her waking time in motion (and requiring my attention and interaction), and I’ve been busier out-and-about than I cared to try with a newborn. Yet I will still be within 3,000 words of last year’s count.

Sometime during the course of writing this post, I’ve realized I have kicked some serious ass this November. Frustrations aside, what I’ve managed to accomplish is pretty damn impressive. Pardon me while this smugness carries me through the end of NaNo and the crushing disappointment of having written only a quarter of this novel instead of the half I daydreamed about.

Part of my frustration lies in imagining how much more I might have accomplished in a different month. Problematic, but that’s how I’m wired. Part comes from watching other’s word counts soar and envying their freedom to devote an unbroken hour or three to writing most every day. The rest comes from setting a goal I knew was unlikely (half a novel) with no concrete measure for my fundamental goal (relearning my process and limits with a toddler).

So my point still stands: November is a terrible month to attempt something like NaNo. (But I think I can keep this pace going and have a finished draft sometime in January!)

Here ends the gripe. Now back to writing.