Work in Progress

Pressure and The College Hamster Wheel

Posted Feb 20 2018

Ah, it’s Spring!

Know what that means? Time to amp up the worrying about college.

I hear the little hamster wheel in my brain squeaking all night. Giant letters spelling FASFA and CSS Profile and Common App stalk me in my dreams like scary clowns, laughing at me, telling me I’m behind, my child is behind, life is passing us all by. 

Wait. What?

No it’s not.

But it’s hard not to get caught up in the college stress. It’s everywhere once your child starts high school. Actually, I’ve heard of parents who hired college consultants when their children were in kindergarten. Of course, they live in Manhattan where if your child is not in an immersion Mandarin school by the age of three they’re considered learning impaired.

Yet even in my tiny neck of the woods, parents and students are feeling the pressure. I’ve had parents of 8th graders ask me how to start preparing for college and I want to say, Relax. They’ll be fine. But I’d be a hypocrite. We hired a college consultant when my oldest was a junior (way late!). Because I had no idea what was involved and I was terrified. It doesn’t help that my senior (still) has no idea where she will go and that she says things like “College is dumb.” There really isn’t an emoji that fully expresses what my face looked like after that last comment. 

I’m as guilty as the next parent when it comes to college stress. I’m on the hamster wheel, exhausting myself and getting nowhere. Some days I wonder if I’m the one going to college. My daughter and I spent three days finishing the Common App. She cried twice. I cried once. We yelled and pulled our hair and said things like, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Have you filled out the Common App? There’s an “activities” section that allows for 8 activities to be entered. 8? And these kids know if they don’t come up with eight, woe is you. Is eating popcorn and chocolate chip cookies while watching The Bachelor an activity? If so, my daughter is golden!

But this is also my daughter who’s never made a B. All As. All the time. And instead of jumping up and down about that, I find myself wringing my hands and biting my lip. Because she will make a B or, yes, a C in college. How will she handle it? The A sits at the top of the food chain, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

But it ain’t all that. Look where the T-Rex is now.

I have a feeling it will be quite different with my youngest. She doesn’t make all As. She attended one AP class this year (her junior year)…for one day. The next day I was in her counselor’s office yanking her out of that class and demoting her to honors history. I also downgraded her from honors math to enriched. Yes, honors and enriched are downgrades. While I was sending my child to the “dumb” classes that morning, I over heard a father next door in the Freshman counselor’s office. He was complaining that his child’s class rank was at risk because her P.E class was not AP! There are children at my kids’ high school who’ve made 32’s on their ACTs and they’re still taking it again. Anything below a 36 is unacceptable. 

When did this madness start?

I certainly didn’t live it. But then again, I didn’t have access to comparisons. When I was in high school the only way to find out anything was to turn on one of the three news channels, wait your turn for the phone with the extra long cord, or write a letter. Now, within six seconds, our children have access to everything and everyone. They (and their parents) can compare all day long. Ouch.

I knew plenty of parents who left Montessori school because there were no grades. They had no letters to designate to their children. How would they know if, gasp, their child was average? I have a friend who is a child psychologist and she’s told me it’s harder to tell parents their child is average than it is to tell them their child is on a spectrum. Parents now need a reason why their child makes C’s. They need a diagnosis. The diagnosis is -we’ve all lost our minds!

From a December 2017 Wall Street Journal article titled “The Right Way for Parents to Help Anxious Children”:

Anxiety disorders are remarkably common among children in the U.S.: Nearly one-third of them will have an anxiety disorder by age 18, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—and girls are more at risk.

One-third? What in the world?

The pressure on our children is outrageous. Some say pressure creates diamonds. Well, I say it does to a point but, if the pressure never lets up, eventually that diamond will crack. Did you know there’s a 2010 article in the Huffington Post titled: “How to Prevent Your Ivy League Child from Becoming Suicidal”? And those are our creme de la creme. Those are our diamonds. I’ll take cubic zirconia any day.

Just look at the opposite – Ester Ledecka.

Who? you say. Exactly. She’s the snowboarder who beat Lindsey Vonn and every other competitor for a gold medal in the downhill super-G last week…on borrowed skis. In her post run interview she said she was the only one on the mountain who wasn’t under any pressure. She won a gold medal with no pressure.

The New York Times reported in its July 2015 article “Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection” that 

Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

No! College is supposed to be a time to grow up and explore and learn. A time to order Dominos pizza at one o’clock in the morning. A time to laugh with friends and feel wild and free. Not a time to spiral into depression.

It’s time to get off the wheel!

Time to take a giant step back and breath deep and trust our kids will be okay. 

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Enough Is Enough

Posted Feb 15 2018

The news rips me open some days, most days. Tears into me like a rabid dog. Today’s wound is especially painful. Crimes against children scald me.

I’m sitting in an airport terminal. It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ve been on vacation with an amazing group of women, laughing (mostly at ourselves!) and skiing and sipping cocktails and telling stories of our children. Looking out from snow-capped mountains remarking on how lucky we are.

Then I land for my layover, walk to my gate, and CNN assaults me. Reminds me the world can be a hideous and unfair place. Too many reminders. I’m watching the silent television but the visuals are enough. Forty-five days into a new year and already eighteen school shootings. Today’s, one of the worst.

The man next to me is talking on his phone on speaker. The woman he’s speaking with is (volume on 10) explaining how she spent $400 on new towels at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I know all about her selection, including ten hand towels. And I find myself drifting into their world and wondering how those towels are going to work out. Is she ever really going to use ten hand towels? That’s what I want to worry about. He’s now telling her he’s going to call her when he lands. She’s going to show him the new towels.

And CNN keeps showing images of frantic parents grabbing even more frantic children. It’s cruel how quickly a coin can flip. It’s got me off-kilter, like trying to walk after a ride at the fair. And now my flight is boarding. I’m going home.

I allow myself to watch the news the next morning. Today. The day after. I cry. I’m gutted. And, yes, I’m about to get political. Something I strive to avoid. Not today though. Another AR-15 mass shooting has me boiling. There was Newton, Connecticut, Orlando, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, and now Parkland, Florida.

I come from the Sportmans Paradise. Born and raised. Guns are as much a part of the homes here as Tabasco. I grew up around guns. I learned to shoot guns at a very young age. Guns have been a part of my vocabulary my entire life. And yet I still believe assault rifles and their magazines should be, if not illegal, heavily monitored.

I know we can’t always predict and plan for crazy. I know there will always be a maniac whose answer to his “problem” is violence. But what would happen if that maniac didn’t have legal access to a weapon that can shoot high-velocity rounds that shatter inside a victim’s body? What would happen if he didn’t have legal access to as many magazines as he wanted? I know legality won’t deter all the lunatics but it might deter one. It might make it that much harder to kill so many in such a short amount of time. 

It’s a blistering debate with heated discussions on both sides. Many believe if the AR-15 is illegal, gunmen will find an even worse weapon. Many believe it’s the mental health of the shooter that must be more closely monitored. I believe it’s easier to control something tangible. Crazy is hard to control. 

Whether it’s a gun problem or a shooter problem, something has to change. Maybe both things have to change. 

Enough. Is. Enough.

Just like after Las Vegas, we are going to get out of bed today and continue to live our lives. We will pray for the victims of yet another tragedy. And pray that our children, as they tumble out of our houses in a whirlwind of backpacks and papers, are kept safe. 

I hope we can all find a place, even if just in our heads, to take a deep breath this week. To fill our lungs and our heads and our hearts with something other than poison. To clear out the rubble of worry and make room for laughter and love. We have to hold on to hope. We just have to.

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Winter Break

Posted Feb 14 2018

So sorry. No blog this week. Too busy trying to imitate Suzy Chapstick!

 

 

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Oops

Posted Feb 8 2018

I’m trying to add a page to my website and accidentally sent it as a blog post. Oops. No idea what I did. 100% chance I’ll do it again. Delete accordingly!

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Coping With Those Pesky, Little First World Problems

Posted Feb 7 2018 in , , ,

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve got first world problems. (People with third world problems don’t have computers…or electricity.) Sometimes we get so caught up in these problems, our worlds shrink to the size of a pin head. We forget to see the big picture. Believe me, I know.

Now, I realize there are problems in our lives that are big and scary and deserve the attention we give them. These are not those problems. These are the problems that make you say, “Is it really that bad?” Like when my 16-year-old says at breakfast (in a disgusted tone), “This waffle is too crunchy!” Moments like that shine a light on my family’s first world problems (among other things.)

This week I work to recognize those problems for the luxuries they are. Flip them over to find something positive on the other side. There’s a little picture and there’s a big picture. Time to acknowledge the big picture.

Someone who has a true handle on the big picture is astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson who said in a 2007 National History Magazine article:

The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us.

Amen Neil.

So here’s a short list of first world problems I’m working to switch from Little Picture to Big Picture:

  1. Being rejected by a literary agent – A first world problem indeed. A painful, gut wrenching luxury that, if done correctly, will happen over and over and over again. BIG PICTURE: I have electricity.
  2. Running out of coffee creamer – There’s nothing worse than tipping that creamer container over to find only a few drops, not even enough to lighten the first cup of coffee. I have certain specifics for coffee. I like sugar-sweetened creamers. No artificial stuff. Sugar. (Yes, my dentist benefits greatly from this need.) And when that creamer runs out and, gasp, I have to use plain creamer or (God forbid) milk…well, it’s not good. BIG PICTURE: I have constant access to clean water.
  3. Reply All – Do I really need to say anything about this? Reply All should be erased from the planet. No good can come from Reply All. Ever. It is something the internet/email gurus invented to torture us while they sit back in Silicon Valley laughing as we’re forced to read seventy-five replies about why people can’t volunteer at {insert school function here}, excuses ranging from vomiting kids to dogs with explosive diarrhea. BIG PICTURE: I have indoor plumbing.
  4. Leaving a bag of groceries at the store – Is there anything worse than finally convincing yourself to go to the grocery store only to come home and realize you’ve left an entire bag of groceries at the check out? And then you have to figure out what exactly was in that bag and if it’s worth going back for. I mean, really, how badly do you need those Cheetos and NutriGrain bars? It’s cold outside. You’re already home. A true dilemna. BIG PICTURE: I have access to transportation…in my garage.
  5. Having to wait 45 minutes for a table at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas night – Even though we’ve gorged ourselves on cornbread stuffing and mashed potatoes and even though our refrigerators are overflowing with leftovers, we have to have something different for dinner. We can’t take it anymore. We couldn’t possibly eat another slice of turkey. But when we go out, we realize every person in the known first world universe feels the same way. And the only other option is Ihop. BIG PICTURE: I have access to food on a daily/hourly/minute by minute basis. 
  6. Discovering the UPS box containing the Girl Scout cookies I order from my niece in CA is ripped open – Of course a ripped box is not a problem. Please. It’s when you look inside and discover half the order is missing and, of the three remaining boxes, two are opened. And of the two opened boxes, one is empty! At least they left me a box of Thin Mints. I swear I heard the UPS driver laughing as he skidded from my driveway. BIG PICTURE: I’m not living in a war zone.
  7. When your freshly groomed Goldendoodle rolls in goose poop on his walk – I don’t know if any of you have had up close and personal experience with goose poop but I’m hear to tell you, it’s the nastiest, foulest, most rotten stuff on the planet. And my dogs love it. For some ungodly reason it calls to them like the Sirens from mythology. And it doesn’t help that we have a flock of geese who reside in the lake behind our house. BIG PICTURE: I’m surrounded by clean air.

This list will keep growing. Today, something will happen that will make me stop and shake my head. But I better remember to look up, look around, and in the words of another brilliant person, Taylor Swift, shake it off. Those first world problems are a privilege. Keep ’em coming.

What’s on your list?

 

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My Blog

Posted Jan 31 2018 in ,

My blog today is about my blog. It’s all over the place. Which shouldn’t surprise me because that’s how I am at the moment. A little of this, a little of that. I write on topics that present themselves to me. Things I’m working out. Things I’m dealing with. Things I want to share. But the more I read, the more I realize streamlining my blog would be a good thing for all involved.

As much as I love winding trails, it’s time for this blog to find its straight path. So this week I’m working on gathering data, looking at my posts, finding my theme. The fix could be as simple as only changing the title. We’ll see. Wish me luck. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to chime in and pass along any suggestions or opinions on what you enjoy reading in blogs.

And the writing journey continues…

 

 

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Nothing…It’s What’s For Dinner

Posted Jan 24 2018 in , , ,

Switching gears this week away from writing and back to that other thing I do during the day…mothering. Being a mother has so many delicate layers I couldn’t possibly begin to peal them all back. But one layer I’d like to touch on today is the providing-food-for-your-children layer. Specifically…dinner. 

Dinner is supposed to be a time when your loving family comes together to share a home-cooked meal and commiserate about their day. A time to unplug. A time to…oh who am I kidding? This scenario has never been the case for my family. I don’t recall it being the case when I was kid either. My family did gather around the table but we had a television in the kitchen that was always on and, during our meal, my sister and I would have to take turns getting up and changing the channel for my dad. So my dinner idea is a little skewed. It also doesn’t help that I’ve never been great at cooking. All of which leads me to dinner anxiety!

The first thing I think when I wake up: What are we going to eat for dinner?!

My husband and I made a grave mistake as parents. We gave our children entirely too much control over dinner. We accommodated them to no end and feared our precious angel babies would starve if we didn’t offer them something besides steamed vegetables and lean proteins. We’d serve them dinner, they’d turn their (very cute) noses up, and we’d promptly offer them another healthy option macaroni and cheese. We created dinner monsters! And dinner became my kryptonite.

Now that my children are teenagers, it’s gotten even harder. They have sports practices and study groups and homework and fundraisers at fast food restaurants. So I not only don’t know what to cook for dinner, I don’t know when to cook dinner.

Allow me give you a glimpse into my life. A text exchange:

Me: Are you eating dinner at home tonight?

Teen 1: dunno

Teen 2: maybe

Me: If so, what would you like to eat?

Teen 1: eh

Teen 2: don’t care

Me: Any suggestions would be helpful.

Teen 1: whatever

Teen 2: don’t care

We order out a lot.

Some days, though, I watch the The Pioneer Woman or Rachel Ray and get inspired and think, “Yes, I can cook for my family.” So I go to the store and buy ingredients like Turmeric and parmesean rind and chard and make a meal. Guaranteed this is the night I turn from the oven with cute oven mitts on my hands holding a steaming casserole dish, and my daughters come in and say, in no particular order:

“I’m off to watch a soccer game. By the way, I’m taking the dog with me.”

“I’m leaving. My practice got moved up.”

“It smells gross in here.”

And the nights when the kitchen is dark, the cute oven mitts are in a drawer, and I’m sipping wine, the teens come in and say, “What’s for dinner?” and I say, “Nothing.” and they say, in no particular order:

“We never have any food!”

“I’m starving!”

“So and So’s mom always cooks dinner!”

And the vicious circle starts again.

Soon enough, though, both girls will be off at college and this problem will no longer exist. In its place, a new problem will arise: missing the problem of what to cook my daughters for dinner.

What’s on your dinner table tonight?

And the life journey continues…

 

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4 1/2 Things I’ve Learned From My (Unpublished) First Novel

Posted Jan 17 2018 in , , , ,

 

Two weeks ago I laid bare all the gory details of my year querying agents. This week, after a lovely lunch with my writing tribe, I’m taking a closer look at my first novel. And I’m realizing Book One can teach you quite a bit. Mine has taught me plenty. All related to sayings I’ve heard a thousand times…and didn’t believe. Until I spent a year sending it to agents.

  1. Writing The Book Is The Easy Part: Yes, I’ve heard this said many times. But I didn’t actually believe it. Especially when I was ripping my hair out during the hundredth rewrite. I remember days when I’d stare at the page and wonder how I was going to type even one word. Days of elation followed by days of deleting the very words I’d been elated about. But after a year of querying agents, I realize those were the good old days. And this realization has given me a new appreciation for my writing time. Seriously writers go query, then come back to your writing. You’ll jump up and down with glee when you do.
  2. Know When To Stop Editing: Oh boy. This is a tricky one. Writing is good rewriting, right? To a point. We writers want those “final” drafts to be as clean and sharp as a steel blade, but voice lives in the grit. And if all the grit is swept away, you’re left with a lovely, neat page of boring words. And no voice. Which will leave agents saying, “I didn’t connect with the voice.” Trust me, I know! I chopped, polished, and pasted my novel into so many different versions, I’m not even sure which one I sent to agents. I have a sinking feeling I edited myself in a circle and ended up back at the first draft. 
  3. Start Another Book: This one could be the most important. When Book One is out on submission to agents, get Book Two going, STAT. My Book Two saved me during the tedious query process. It kept me distracted and entertained. It prevented me from rocking in a corner while poking a stick in my eye. It gave me something to focus on besides vacuuming the dog hair off my furniture every five minutes. And when Book One ends its run in the gauntlet, Book Two will be there, waiting in the wings. Chances are, it’s a better book anyway
  4. Your Book Is Not Your Baby: Um, okay. I practically swaddled my first book and gave it a bottle. Bad move. Not smart. Detachment is good. If you have the chance, listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audible. It’s life changing. And when she spoke on this very topic, I almost swerved my car into a ditch. I’d been treating my book like a baby. I’d coddled and spoiled it beyond belief. And now I’m considering locking it in a drawer. 

1/2: Let It Be: I think The Beatles may have been onto something. A writer’s Book One is a delicate little bird we hold so close to our hearts, it’s hard to release. But sometimes, we must let go. Even if it’s just temporary. Maybe Book One needs a break. Maybe Book One will have its shining moment another time. Maybe the agents who never responded will respond tomorrow with a resounding yes! Maybe not. Let it be. (In case you’re wondering why it’s a 1/2…I’m still learning this one.)

And the writing journey continues…

 

 

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Winter Book Reviews – 3 Books to Curl Up With

Posted Jan 10 2018 in , , , , ,

It’s that time of year. Days are short and fires are crackling. What better time to discover a new book? Below are three books I’ve read this winter that left a mark on me. Hope you too find that book!

 

I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, read a few pages, and put it down. Then at lunch recently, a friend asked if I’d read it and when I told her only a few pages, she informed me I was to pick it right back up and finish it. I’m so glad I did! Otherwise, I would have missed knowing Eleanor Oliphant, a beautifully flawed, deliciously quirky character whose journey of self discovery kept me reading late into the night. Eleanor is both socially awkward (to say the least) and completely endearing. The layers of her past unfold during her conversations with Mummy. And, although tragic, her story is told with wonderful humor. I laughed out loud several times. There’s a reason Reese Witherspoon chose this novel for her book club AND bought the movie rights. I say give this one a shot. And keep reading. It only gets better!

 

 

The Likeness is book two in the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French (with whom I’m completely obsessed.) French’s written style is sublime. And The Likeness is my favorite of the three I’ve read so far. Set in rural Ireland, this mystery follows Det. Cassie Maddox, a former undercover officer who finds herself undercover once again when a woman’s body is discovered. A woman who looks identical to Cassie and is carrying an ID with the name, Alexandra Madison, Cassie’s old alias. Intrigued and a little frightened, Cassie goes undercover to not only find the killer but also the woman’s true identity. There is one caveat. This story requires the reader to have suspension of disbelief. Could this plot ever really happen? Uh, no. But if you can’t let go of “that would never happen” then this isn’t the book for you. The Likeness requires you to just go with it. To enjoy the “what if” along with Tana French’s beautiful world building and intricate character development. If you allow yourself to get lost in this book, you won’t regret it.

 

 

Wendy Walker’s book Emma in the Night is just about the yummiest book I’ve read in a long time. I devoured it! It is an engrossing psychological suspense with effortless prose and (my fav) flawed characters. This story is told from two points of view: Cass, a young girl who returns home one night after disappearing with her sister three years ago at the age of fifteen and Dr. Abby Winter, the forensic psychiatrist who is trying to make sense of Cass’s wild story of where she’s been and why Emma, Cass’s sister, is still missing. Dr. Winter must look deep into Cass’s dysfunctional family which was ruled by a narcissistic parent to find the truth. Wendy Walker hides the mysterious pieces to this puzzle beautifully in her writing. She knows when to give to the reader and when to take away. She makes it look easy which means she must have toiled greatly over it. You will not want to put this book down, even when you’re done!
 

 

 

Happy reading, everyone!

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A Year in the Query Trenches

Posted Jan 3 2018 in , , , , , ,

Well, here we are again. A new year. A time to look back and say…wait, what?

Some years float in nice and easy like the egrets that glide over the lake in my backyard and some skid in hot and reckless like my 16-year-old when she’s late for school. I’m feeling more of the latter this new year…between college essays and Thanksgiving dinners and wrapping presents and ignoring my writing…here it is, 2018. Now what?

Like so many others out there, my new year means new goals. Some say resolutions. I say goals. I like setting goals. Unfortunately, I don’t always like keeping them. Maybe my new goal should be to meet my goals!

And this year I have a roll-over goal. It wasn’t accomplished last year so I’m packing it up and bringing it with me into 2018. Get an agent/ work to traditionally publish a novel. But that’s a daunting task when you think about the numbers. Most literary agents receive around 500 queries a month. And most agents take on anywhere from 3 to 10 new clients a year. The math ain’t pretty.

Self-publish, one might say. Well, in 2016, Amazon reported over 4 million titles in their Kindle store. How does your self-published book rise above water in that sea of eBooks? Answer: most times it doesn’t. Your uploaded book can easily drown under 1) beautifully written eBooks by well known authors and 2) horrendously unedited eBooks by no-name authors. A cold reality indeed. 

I commented last week on how I spoke recently about my journey to traditionally publish. I can add speaking about the process is WAY more fun than going through the process. As a writer who’s been querying agents for, drum roll please, almost one year…I know a lot about No. No has waltzed into my home via my laptop and snuggled on my lap next to my dog. It’s made itself quite at home. If you don’t like No, for the love of all that is holy, do not query agents.

Here’s an idea of my stats after a year of querying:

  • 84 queries sent out-total over the year (1st set of 10 queries sent out Feb. 2017)
  • 44 rejections
  • 10 full requests for the whole manuscript (8 of those have come back no and, believe me, those 8 have my attention; 2 are still out)
  • 24 agents never responded
  • 6 queries are still outstanding – probably to be filed in the above category

That’s where I am. I’ve read a writer shouldn’t stop querying until 80-100 rejections. That’s a lot of queries. That’s a lot of Nos. And for those writers out there in the trenches with me, you know querying a novel should be added as the 10th circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, Treachery, and…Querying

So why do I keep writing knowing all these fun facts?

I love writing…and you have to love it to attempt such madness as to publish. Because writing is the easy part. Writing is where the joy is. It’s when you decide to share your writing with others that the chisel of reality starts chip, chip, chipping away. So we writers must have tough exteriors. We must shield our joy from the chisel. Keep it safe, protected, as we belly crawl under the barbed wire and hail of bullets, dive into the trenches, and send out another damn query. 

Happy New Year, everyone. Happy writing!

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