Momming, Writing, and Thanking #NeilGaiman

Momming is hard.  (I assume that Dadding is hard, too.  But, not being a Dad, I wouldn’t presume to know.  It just seems like it would be.)  Momming takes time and energy (so, so much energy).  It takes patience, and it requires a certain tacit agreement to go without sleep.  Momming means changing your child’s clothes a dozen times a day…on days when you may not even manage to change your own clothes even once.

Momming is especially hard when you try to pair it with something else that is hard like, you know, Arting.  Arting is hard by itself.  Arting takes time and inspiration time and dedication and time.  And…well, did I mention time?

Yeah…with one husband, three children, three cats, four chickens, and one beagle, time is at a premium.  I know, I know.  I’m not special.  What was it that Neil Gaiman said?

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Image Credit: AZ Quotes

“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime.”  ~Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

Smart man, that.

I really like Neil Gaiman a lot.[1]  I like his books.  I like how he talks about books.  I like that he appreciates librarians.  I even like how (for whatever reason) my beagle barks incessantly whenever I listen to Neil Gaiman’s audio books, as if she is convinced that a well-read Englishman has broken into our house and might decide to steal her kibble.

Not too long ago, I read a lovely response on Tumblr that Neil Gaiman had written about, well, writing.  In part, he said:

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable. 

 And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)

 You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)

Let me be the first to admit that I absolutely defer to Mr. Gaiman on the subject of writing.  He has done it longer.  He has done it better.  But I have Mommed longer than he has—what with him not being a Mom and all.  (Yes, yes, he has Dadded—his is Dadding–I know.  Hear me out.)

When I read Mr. Gaiman’s writing wisdom with a friend, I choked at the bit about picking how long a day your writing time was.  Seriously, an hourTwo?  Three?  *snort laugh*  I know of Zero mothers who have an hour to set aside without someone bellowing Mom?  Mama?  Mommy?

The Mom Version of this would be more like:

You get to pick how long you can ignore the crashes and whining coming from the other side of the door, or how long you can hide in the bathroom until your kids/spouse/co-workers find you. Ten Minutes? Fifteen? Until the person in the stall next to you asks if you have a roll to spare?  

Your call.

I understand that writers must write.  I do.  I get it.  And we do learn to steal our moments where we may.  For instance, in order to carve out about 30 minutes of writing time in the morning, I get up at 5:00 a.m.  I also write on my lunch hour.  I write at football practice.  I write in the stadium while waiting for color guard practice to end.  I write on my arm at stop lights.  I write on the back of envelopes.  I have even written out a particularly pleasing turn of phrase in the steam on the shower door, then attempted to fog up the room again to retrieve the snippet.  (Yes, it worked.)  But I honestly cannot tell you the last time that I had an uninterrupted three hour stretch of writing time.

With three kids, all of my vacation time and sick days are used tend to the needs of others.  Sick children.  Teacher conferences.  Rehearsals.  Recitals.  Dentist.  Asthma attack.  You pick.

Still, I do take his meaning.  And, honestly, I am grateful for the reminder.  It is the doing of The Thing that makes The Thing possible.  In other words: if I want to be a writer, I’d better write.  So, I do.  God help me, I do.  I set my alarm to an hour that even my chickens find deplorable.  I also linger in the bathroom longer than strictly necessary for bodily functions.  In between moments of Momming, I find time to do something else.  I write words.  I turn phrases.  I craft Art.  Perhaps the method is haphazard but, for now, it is the only method this mom can manage.

Life is short.  Kids grow up.  So, in the words of Neil Gaiman, I might as well write.

Thanks, Neil.

[1] I am especially fond of him because when my eldest child was eight years old, she decided to write to Mr. Gaiman and to send him a “book” she had written (and illustrated) entitled “Regina the One-Winged Owl.”  Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to very promptly send along a handwritten note of encouragement telling her how he liked the cliffhanger ending.  My daughter was thrilled.  She is now 14, and she still has the note.

His Name is Raif Badawi

When you are born into a freedom, it is easier to take it for granted.  The past week has reminded me that my ability to write is not a freedom that everyone enjoys.  The terrorist attacks in Paris were a call to arms, or rather pens, to many in the writing community.

The ability to convey emotion, to rally people, to create a community with a stroke of the pen, with a collection of words, is a powerful thing.  And that power is scary to some.  As a writer, I know that a good book can aspire, motivate, and create stirrings within the soul that last a lifetime.  Great books, well, they can change lives.

There are different books that have spoken to me over the years, books that have taken root in my soul.  My family teases me that I can relate anything to Outlander.  Diana Gabaldon should be proud, because my family is quite right.  And the reading of the books has changed me.  It reawakened in me my love of all things herbal, it made me want to start learning the Gàidhlig, it made me want to be a better Catholic, and to delve deeper into history and heritage.

So, strange as it may sound, when I first heard of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi I realized that apparently the books had also provided a tiny glimpse into the horror of the punishment which has been (and will continue to be) inflicted on him.  Raif Badawi is one of the co-founders of the Free Saudi Liberals website (which has since been shut down).  In 2012 Badawi was arrested and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and a decade in prison.  His crime?  Insulting Islam on his online forum.

After Friday prayers, Badawi was the Al-Juffali mosque in Jiddah (which has been dubbed ‘Chop Chop Square’ due to its use as the site of executions).  The first fifty lashes was carried out Friday, and he will receive another fifty lashes each week for the next twenty weeks.

Because I had no other mental point of reference, nothing else with which to provide a visual framework for the horrors which this man must endure, my mind went to the only point of context available.  James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.  Readers of the book will know perfectly well which scene was called to mind.  I didn’t need to remind them.

The idea of this punishment being inflicted, week in and week out, fresh injury on top of unhealed wounds, was unimaginable.  Or rather, it might have been.

I cried when I read the scene in Outlander where Dougal MacKenzie describes in graphic detail what happened to Jamie at the hands of Black Jack Randall.  I cried even more when I saw Sam Heughan’s agonizing portrayal.  Without this, I would have had no point of reference for the horror facing Badawi.  My mind simply would not know how to frame it.  Of course, as Dougal points out, “Imagination is all verra well, but it isn’t equal to the sight of a man having his back laid open.  A verra nasty thing–it’s meant to break a man, and most often it succeeds.”  I have no true knowledge or experience, just my imagination and the framework provided by a book.  Admittedly, that makes me ignorant…and also quite lucky.

At the second flogging, Dougal notes, “A pitiful sight, it was, too–still raw, no more than half-healed, wi’ the weals turned black and the rest yellow wi’ bruises.  The thought of a whip comin’ down on that soreness was enough to make be blench, along wi’ most of those watching.”

And, to think, Badawi will endure this every week, for twenty weeks.

Claire asks Dougal why he told her the horrible and very graphic depiction of what happened to Jamie.  He replies, “I thought it might serve as what ye may call a character illustration.” At first Claire thinks that Dougal means of Black Jack, but he clarifies.  “Of Randall,” he agrees, “and Jamie too.”

I read that Badawi (like our hero Jamie) endured the first fifty lashes in silence, his eyes closed, stoic.  And again, I wept.

My ten daughter saw me reading on my phone yesterday and rolled her eyes.  “Are you reading Outlander again?” she asked with a tolerant grin.  “Those books always make you cry.  And the television show.  You cry during it, too.”  I shook my head.  No, this wasn’t Outlander, this was real life.

“Honey, do you remember the part where they flogged Jamie?” I asked.  “Well, that really happened to someone yesterday.  In real life. Someone really had to go through that.  And he’ll have to go through it every week for the next twenty weeks.  And it makes me sad.  It hurts me to think about it.”

“Don’t read it then,” she said, looking at my phone like she would not tolerate its part in making her mommy cry.

“Even if I don’t read it, honey.  It still happens, and I can’t pretend it doesn’t.  The man who was flogged wrote a blog.  Just like me.  That’s what he was flogged for.  What if I were flogged because someone didn’t like what I wrote?” I asked.

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Raif Badawi with his children in a picture supplied to Amnesty. Photograph: Amnesty

Her eyes grew big.  “What’s his name?” she whispered.

“His name is Raif Badawi.  He lives in Saudi Arabia, and he has three kids…just like I do,” I told her.  “And there is nothing I can do about it.  On Friday, it will happen all over again.  Every Friday.”

“We can pray for him,” she offered, searching her ten year old mind for something helpful.  “And…you could write about him.  In your blog.”

And so we did.  And I am.

And it seems so painfully, horribly inadequate.

As Real as it Gets

I spent my summer writing.  (Big surprise!)  I was writing a novel that I had every intention of publishing under a pseudonym.  It was different from what I had written before.  It was still a bit strange, and quirky, but it was…different.  And different can be scary.

So I came up with a pen name and spent all summer creating a blog for Ms. Fakey Pants (a/k/a Terri 2.0).  I built her a Twitter following and secured her email accounts and did all of those things that one does when creating a fakity-fake-fake.  The problem was, I didn’t want to be fake.

I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, and damn if I want to hide behind some persona.  I really love this book, and the characters, and the quirkiness, and the paranomality (is that a word) of it.  I also like the sexy bits.  Sexy bits are good.  So…why?

Maybe because for as long as there have been writers there have been people throwing in their unsolicited opinions about what we should write.  Whether it is well-meaning relatives or nosy co-workers or fans who desire The-Series-Which-Never-Ends, there is always someone telling us “You know what you should write?”

Um, actually, yeah.  I do.  I should write whatever the &%$#@*^ I feel like writing.

So I am.

And I am going to own it.  No pen name, no persona…just me.

So, in the spirit of going au natural, I am posting a picture of myself sans make-up and glasses.  Just me and my naked face.  (No make-up?  No problem.  No glasses?  Well, yeah…that makes me feel naked.  And blind. Reeeaaaalllly blind)

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The best part of not wearing my glasses is I can’t see any snarky comments!

These People I Meet…

I attract weird people.  There, I have said it out loud.  If there is an oddball in a room, he/she will find me.  Every strange, creepy character will undoubtedly seek me out.  Some might call it my curse.  As a writer, though, it has been more like a blessing.

If I want to write about a crazy ex-boyfriend who broke into a teenage girl’s house in the wee hours of Mother’s Day for God-only-knows what reason, only to throw himself through a glass door in an effort to escape once discovered…yeah, I’ve got this.

I am well prepared if I need to describe the  look of quiet resignation when a man flags you down on a deserted downtown street in the early hours of a crisp spring morning, and then asks you if you can spare a moment–he wants a witness in case the man who is approaching him tries to kill him,

I will have no problem describing the gooseflesh that rises and the cold sweat that flows when you find yet another angry, scrawled note on your car after a late night college course accusing you of leading him on by smiling at him, cursing you for daring to speak to someone else, and promising to keep watching you to make sure you are “safe.”

But the blessing run much deeper than the disturbances that shake the surface.

I have met plenty of people of the “good strange” variety.  I have been blessed with a friend who nourishes my creativity and impulsiveness, and who writes with me in comfortable silence as we tap on our keyboards and eat peanut butter sandwiches in the office break room. 

I have connected with a talented and generous writer who weaves stories from old wounds and teaches me to persevere with his tales of courage, and strength, and fortitude.

I have received musical nourishment in moments of sadness, endless wise counsel, and a willing ear from some I have never really laid eyes on, but who has seen the pain and doubt that comes with birthing a story and who has selflessly helped me in my labor.

I have encountered a soft soul who taught me the bittersweet joy of shared troubles– and who reminded me of the restorative power of a tale that, once read (and reread), can serve as an anchor in the storm.

And I have crossed paths with a writer whose stories shine with humor, and longing, and promise.  A woman whose strength and goodness are as evident as her grace and beauty.

I have known the comfort of being encircled by a few choice souls who allow me to vent, to dream, to try, and to fail–and who love me unceasingly.

I have a long history with one who doesn’t see his own greatness, but who is quick to point out my own promise–never seeing that he is my rock…my touchstone.  Nevertheless, he walks forever by my side…never questioning the journey. 

I have know the outcasts, the odd fellows, and the outliers.  We are bound by our strangeness.

Autumn, Back to School, and Thanksgiving

Autumn is coming...
Autumn is coming…

The minions will be going back to school soon.  This means that all of their activities and extracurricular activities become my own.  The chaos commences tomorrow.  I must go exchange the 1/2 size violin for a 3/4.  There are school supplies to be purchased, lunch boxes to be bought (gluten free lunches anyone?), shoes to be picked out, and organizing to do.

I have to confess, though:  Growing up, I always adored Back to School time.  I loved the new supplies, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils.  I could not get enough plaid skirts.  (Well, plaid anything, really.)  I loved the anticipation of autumn just around the corner. 

I would wear sweaters long before it was legitimately cool enough to justify it.  (I will happily wear a sweater at 70 or 75 degrees, but 55 degrees is officially “mandatory sweater weather!”)  In case you were not aware:  I.  LOVE.  AUTUMN. 

Seriously.  It is my favorite time of year.  I love the smell in the air, the crunch of dry leaves underfoot, the shift in flavors from the lighter fare of summer to the heartier meals of autumn.  I love new boots and jackets and scarves.  Suddenly, I want to knit, to sew, to cook!  Heck, I even got married in autumn, because who wants to have an outdoor wedding in sweaty June?  Give me October!!!  Yep, I’m an autumn girl.

And the best part is…it is nearly here.  Once September arrives, I will start prepping in earnest.  There is a wood pile to stack high, a chimney to get cleaned, a pantry to stock, and clothes to sort.  And I am so ready!

But, in the meantime, other things must take priority.  I have a new “side project” which will be ready soon.  It is a drastically different genre, and will be published under a pen name.  But I am very excited about it.  I am days away from finishing the first draft.  Then there is editing to be done before it is offered to beta readers.  (It should launch in late August or early September.)  And there are still a couple of weeks of summer before the kids all head off to the bus stop, ready to take on another year of learning, and messing up, and growing up.  So, while I am eager for fall, I want to make sure that I don’t miss a moment of it!

Maybe this weekend we will rent a movie, pop some popcorn, and drag out a pile of blankets to cuddle up on while we watch, and talk, and laugh.  Perhaps we will make slushies with the machine that their Grandma Z gave us.  And we’ll have an anniversary dinner for my parents, too.  Fifty years!  Yep, there is a lot to be thankful for.  A lot I should slow down and enjoy. 

What are you thankful for this time of year?

 

A Trilogy of Mondays

Monday was particularly Mondayish.  Monday was the day that I found out that my book was pirated.  After a hectic lunch hour of preparing a DMCA compliance letter, and lots of stress, the button offering a free download of my copyrighted work was removed from the offending website.

Tuesday resulted in a bit of a Twitter-war with the offending website.  A search of their Twitter feed showed that nearly every tweet from them was an apology to a writer or a publisher, along with a recommendation that the (justifiably) angry individual click the “report copyright violation” button and report the it.  The offending website claimed that (even though there is a big “DOWNLOAD” button and even though the search result clearing proclaims that the downloads are free) the download button does not actually download free content. 

Today has offered a continuation of the Twitter-war, and also a sick child.  My eldest woke up with her ear swollen shut and painful.  I suspect swimmer’s ear, but she has a doctor appointment to confirm.  Since I had to arrange for doctor-stuff, I was late to work, which means that I have to take a short lunch hour, which means my writing time gets cut in half.  It also means more doctor bills and prescriptions in my world…a world which is currently overrun by medical costs.   

Fortunately, I have a lot of blessings to help even out this trilogy of Mondays.  Faith, family, friends…these are the things that sustain me.  It’s a good thing trouble is not the only thing that seems to come in threes. 

  

A Monday of Pirates

Yesterday I found out that my short story “The Collector” had been pirated.  I spent my lunch hour drafting a DMCA compliance letter informing the offending website that they were violating my copyright.  Fortunately, they promptly took it down.  I have no way of knowing how many people downloaded the pirated copy.  Honestly, it makes me sad more than it makes me angry. 

I try to make my work available to readers for FREE several times per year.  I like the idea of free books.  This is one reason I love Amazon, and I love my Kindle, and I love libraries.

And I love readers.  I love their voracious appetite for stories.  I love it when they share their enthusiasm with other readers, or write a review, or pick up another copy of a book to give to a friend.   

I also love writers…and I understand that they need to eat, and that their writing is their livelihood.  So I buy books, I recommend books, and I download free stories that they sometimes make available on Amazon.  If I enjoy it, I buy more books.  I write reviews.  I try to support the writers I enjoy…because I want them to keep writing!

I try to balance my passions:  I write and hope that my stories will find readers who care enough about the characters to invest in them and buy my stories.  For those whose paychecks cannot keep up with their desire for more stories, I make my stories available for free several times a year.  Seems fair to me.

SPOILER:  I will have a FREE STORY available on Amazon this month!  More details will be coming soon.