Me and the Sorting Hat

hatty hat

Sorting Hat: Let’s see, Hufflepuffs are all about hard work, patience and fair play so that’s a no for you.

Me: Fair enough.

Sorting Hat: You’re basically a coward so let’s rule out Gryffindor too.

Me: Not gonna argue with you there.

Sorting Hat: You’ve already established that you’re willing to take down anyone who competes with you for the “smartest kid” title.

Me: Yep. So I’m clearly a Ravenclaw.

Sorting Hat: Yeah, about that…

Me: I’m all about learning. Seriously, I could be a student all my life and be perfectly happy.

Sorting Hat: Liar. You’re not happy until you use what you learn, preferably to show off.

Me: I’d like to point out that I write stories, which is one hundred percent a Ravenclaw thing to do.

Sorting Hat: And why do you write stories?

Me: mutters For external validation.

Sorting Hat: I’m going to read a list of traits to you and tell me if they sound familiar: Ambition, Resourcefulness, Self-Preservation, Determination, and not to be redundant, Ambition.

Long pause

Sorting Hat: Look, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

Me: Ravenclaw.

Sorting Hat: Are you sure?

Me: RAVENCLAW.

harry eyes shut

 

Because we get to choose. Harry chose Gryffindor and I choose Ravenclaw. Ambition is a worthy trait, but Slytherin isn’t the house for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the little girl who wants to be a lion tamer and lawyer and geneticist and comedian. There’s still the voice in my head that says “If you don’t personally save the Mountain Gorillas, they will all die because of your indifference.” Also, I’m still campaigning for the position of dictator-of-the-world. I think I’d do a bang up job.

But I chose happiness over ambition.  I did a little research about would bring me long term joy. The answer was relationships. Research, anecdotes about dying wishes, and basic observation all confirm it. So I live a quiet life without that shiny doctorate degree I once coveted. The Mountain Gorilla continues its march toward extinction, unsaved by me. The position of dictator-of-the-world goes unfilled, which is probably a good thing.

I theorized that I’d be happiest if I put people first: marriage, a kid, a community of people who share my interests. They all yield data pointing to an amazing life. Logic led me to love. I hypothesized my way to joy.

That’s very Ravenclaw indeed.

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Book Recommendations for Garbage Times

Every time I start a blog it warps into an outraged thought piece on Charlottesville. Each time I realize that I have nothing new or profound to add to the conversation. I’m angry, you’re angry, and I don’t have any fresh insights into racism in America.

However, I do have some book recommendations. When I feel like garbage, it helps to read something on the subject that’s bugging me. Maybe it’ll help you too.  I made a brief list from lightest to heaviest because some people want to get right into the thick of things while others don’t want  to read a depressing book that’s big enough to crush a chihuahua.

  1. When Dimple Met Rishi

dimple

It’s a #OwnVoices book but it’s not really about race; it’s more about heritage and balancing family with personal ambition. It’s a level-headed and charming love story involving arranged marriage and web development.

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Diary

I’ve recommended this one before. If you haven’t read it yet, then please pick up this story about a kid from the reservation who decides to go to the local white school. Hilarious, irreverent, and thought provoking.

  1. The Hate U Give

Hate

There’s a reason this book has topped the bestseller list for weeks and weeks. Imagine a cop shot your friend right in front of you. Everyone hears about it, everyone has an opinion, and almost no one knows that you’re the only witness. The book manages to be funny and fair even while dealing with heavy themes.

  1. Small Great Things

Small

This one hurts to read and it’s a major time commitment. It’s told from the point of view of a black nurse who has always smiled pretty and done what’s expected of her, a white supremacist trying to understand the loss of his son, and a lawyer who is basically the living embodiment of white guilt. This book has a way of making abstractions terribly and a believably real.

 

Happy reading! I hope that diving into problems in story form makes real life easier to digest. I know it does for me.

Gotta get this off my chest…with GRAPHS!

Last night I critiqued a fictional account of a retired prostitute explaining the world to a sexually abused pre-teen. The prostitute asserted that men are cruel and therefore successful predators. Then she explained that women are victims and have to be devious in order to survive. I didn’t dispute it because a prostitute could believably hold that opinion.

Smarter version of what I said:

“I can see why the character would say this, but the narrative voice doesn’t dispute her so it reads as if the author agrees. It’s like when a character says something racist the reader wants to be reassured that the book itself isn’t racist.”

The writer looked at the table for a moment before he met my eyes. “You know there’s a reason why men are more successful. I mean you look at the upper echelons of business and you see men. It’s hard wired into us. We succeed because testosterone makes us more competitive. You can’t dispute that.”

I could have.

My psychology degree touched on neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. For fun I read books on the science of attraction, the evolution of gender roles, why nine year old girls suddenly lose interest in math, and what differences actually exist between male and female brains.

math
Yes, there is a difference in SAT math scores. Is the gap so significant that you can guess my math skills based on my gender?  Most gender differences resemble this. There’s almost always some difference, but it’s never strong enough to mean much for individual cases.                    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201403/why-the-gender-difference-sat-math-doesnt-matter

I could have discussed testosterone at length. I could have told story after story to support my numbers. I could have cited studies, quoted experts, and asked him scorching rhetorical questions.

women in computers
So why did women suddenly lose interest in computers? Do we just hate making money?

But it wouldn’t have mattered. He wouldn’t have trusted my facts. He would have dismissed the scientists as “politically correct.” In the end, I sat there while he assured me that women have other skills. (The prostitute taught the little girl about fashion and how to manipulate men, presumably those are the “other skills” at which I naturally excel.)

I gave him a look, patted him on the shoulder, and left.

I want you to know that he is a sweetheart. I also suspect that he has reasons to believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world full of predators and prey.  If pressed, he would never say that women are unequal to men. Yet he cannot tell me that they I am a natural victim without insulting me. He cannot say that I lack the natural capacity to earn money and expect me not to take offense.

When someone goes on and on about how different women are, they are really saying less than.

Hit ‘Em Up Style Nostalgia

During my junior high/ high school years I was devoted body and soul to Evanescence and Metallica. I remember weightlifting to those CDs and feeling so hardcore. Yet my best memories are set to songs I never would have chosen for myself.

The first time a boy ever serenaded me he chose “Shorty you’re my Angel” and assured me that I was closer to him than his peeps. When I wanted to increase my vocal range I sang “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys in different keys until I could hit all the notes. Usher’s “U Got it Bad” was totally our song for me and boy who never actually knew about my crush.

CD
When my husband saw this picture he said “You can stop looking. This is the one. This is 2001.”

To this day it takes a supreme act of willpower not to sing along to “Ignition.”  I cannot say lines like “Crystal poppin’ in the stretch Navigator” in public. I mean, have you met me? I’m the most uptight-looking human being in existence. I radiate middle-age respectability and I’m not even thirty. People give me funny looks for using everyday slang like Salty or FOMO. Yet despite all that, I will always, always, sing the chorus to “Apple Bottom Jeans.”

One song stuck with me longer than all the others. It’s a petty, vindictive, regretful, breakup song. All of my breakups have been civil yet I adore breakup songs. It’s one of the few times when it’s socially acceptable for a woman to unleash righteous fury.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMOKlXfXn50

hit em up

Did you see that hat? That is the hat of a woman who doesn’t take crap from anybody. You mess with her you mess with a cast of dancing store clerks.  She possesses a level of cockiness that I can only aspire to. So while I would never hold a garage sale full of someone else’s stuff, it gives me a little swing in my step to hear about it.

As a parting gift, I present the same song as a bluegrass cover. Visually nothing much happens, but the sound is worth it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKTXJUYiAT4&list=RDwKTXJUYiAT4#t=288

carolina

Stuff I’m Doing Instead of Blogging

Stuff I’m doing instead of blogging

You may have noticed that the blog has been a bit sparse lately.  My calendar reminds me to write a blog every Monday, revise on Wednesday, and post on Friday. Every week I delete those reminders because shut up calendar, you’re not the boss of me.

So in lieu of a proper post with intelligent thoughts on Wonder Woman, toddlers, or writing, here’s a list of things that have recently taken over my life.

Refugee Action Network

I’m the new content creator for RAN. I write their YouTube scripts, monthly newsletters, and in the future I’ll contribute to their blog.  They’re a small nonprofit based in Provo UT and they’re run almost entirely by volunteers.  Instead of just plunking refugees into new communities, they have a fifteen month education program designed to help these families become self sufficient and feel thoroughly at home here in Utah.

I almost didn’t sign up to volunteer because I thought “I have zero time, limited mobility, and this toddler I have to carry around with me. Why sign up if I can’t follow through?” But I believe that thirty percent of success is just showing up so I gave them my info and they found a job for me. It’s a pretty good position because I can work from home in the short snatches of time that I find.

I can vouch for this charity. If you don’t have time, please consider donating money.  If you don’t have money, please select them as your charity on Amazon Smiles so that they get a small donation every time you buy something on Amazon.

Buying a New Car

Yep, that ’95 Toyota Camry finally died. It was young by Camry standards, not even 300k miles. Yet with the sagging ceiling, the dented back door, the peeling paint—let’s just say that she was past her prime. My husband and I have never bought a car before so the process is a bit daunting. It’s been two weeks but every time we bring a car to the mechanic he shakes his head and says “I don’t want to tell you what to do but…” followed by a long list of fatal engine flaws.

So we’re still looking for a fuel efficient four door reliable car. Cheap, boring, even ugly if the engine runs well. Cars were never a status symbol for me. That’s what book collections are for.

Utah Valley Writers

I’m stepping down as Vice President of the Utah Valley Writers. I’ve learned so much and met so many people because of this position. Hopefully I’ll be able to volunteer again in the future when a few things in my life settle down. It’s hard to walk away from this job but I know the people replacing me and they’re going to do amazing things. If you’re a writer, even if you’re just starting, I highly recommend this group.

Revision

All of my personalized rejection letters say the exact same thing. “I liked it but I didn’t love it enough. Could you fix (A) and (B) and then send it back?”  This is actually a good thing. If one agent told me to fix (C) and (D) while another agent told me to fix (E) and (F) then I would be at a loss. Instead, the clear advice makes this revision a relatively easy fix.

However, every revision is work. Once you fix one problem you run into consistency errors throughout the book such as characters referring to things that happened in a deleted scene. So I have to take the time to check the whole dang manuscript to make sure that everything fits just so before I can send it out all pretty and polished into the world.

Wrap Up

That’s my glamorous, glamorous life right now. Writing, car shopping, more writing. Ok, there are some exciting things too, like I’m writing this as I travel to Las Vegas but it’s not what you think. It’s basically a giant play date for my son and the other toddlers in my husband’s extended family. Imagine the tamest family vacation that just happens to occur in Las Vegas, subtract the booze and add some board games. That’s it, right on the money.

Sorry about the inconsistent updates. Please accept this picture of a baby elephant sucking its trunk like a human baby sucks its thumb.

baby-elephant-eating
Photo credit: Matembezi, Africa Geographic, https://africageographic.com/blog/baby-elephants-just-wanna-fun/

 

The Sticky Embodiment of Joy

I try not to blog too much about parenting in general or my son in particular. I’m not an expert. I’m not a mommy blogger. Often I’d rather discuss anything EXCEPT children just so I can have some variety in my life.

But this was special and I thought that posting it might contribute to the pile of good things on the internet. This is my little boy with his very first ice cream cone.

2017-05-22 19.06.51

He was being ridiculously well behaved but he refused to eat anything for six hours straight. Ice cream was the solution.

iceream

We walked on a trail for about an hour. Everyone with even a little bit of a soul smiled at him because a sticky toddler is the pure embodiment of joy.

icecream after

You’re welcome internet.

I Ain’t Getting Up for Nothing

Every now and then I read a blog about a mom who put down her phone and reconnected with her poor, neglected children and now her family is two thousand times better. Sure, we’d all be happier people if we spent less time on social media and more time talking to our kids. However, I resent the idea that whatever I’m doing on my phone is automatically inferior to watching my son move the same toy car back and forth for fifteen minutes straight.

bored

Kids are boring. They are deeply dull with blindingly bright flashes of joy and humor. We like to focus on the joy and humor but in between it’s all just using your peripheral vision to make sure he doesn’t stick a fork in the electrical socket. Nobody can be a Mary Poppins nanny/entertainer/playmate all the time. Sometimes you just want to sit down and mentally check out.

so tired

I read books on my phone dangit. I never feel guilty when I read a physical paper book, but as soon as I use any technology  newer than 1700 A.D. I become some kind of negligent parent. It doesn’t matter if I’m catching up on news or answering e-mails; if I’m on my phone then I am clearly wasting time.

my time to waste

No more! I refuse to feel bad about my time on my phone. I am completely done with the guilt. Don’t you dare judge me for scrolling twitter—I am a hostage trapped at a playground against my will.

kept waiting

I give up on the idea of constantly being at my son’s side and introducing him to the wonders of the world.  He can discover them on his own while I pull up a chair and sit the heck down.

bear

A Tourist in My Own Country

I asked my hairstylist how her trip to Missouri went. Her eyes went wide and she gave a nervous laugh. Not only did she have the stress of meeting her fiancé’s family for the first time, but this Utah native had her first taste of the Deep South: trailer parks, drug dealing teens, and chain smoking indoors while the babies run around outside naked. That is worlds away from the trim and tidy suburbs of the West.

Before anyone gets huffy, I know that the entire South isn’t like that, but that particular brand of poverty is unique.

My stylist handled it pretty well, peppering her sentences with phrases like “and that’s perfectly fine” or “it’s just a different culture.” She talked about how hard it was not to react to all the differences because she didn’t want people to think that she was judging. She came to the conclusion that she was visiting a different country but everyone still expected her to fit in.

she-doesnt-even-go-here

I didn’t handle it half so well when I moved from Nebraska to West Virginia. I remember some boy shoving another boy against the door, forearm against his victim’s throat, his other fist cocked and ready. Then he spotted timid little me trying to get through the door he was blocking . Immediately, he scooted the other boy off the door and onto the wall so that a lady could pass. He waited for me to move on before beating the other boy’s face in. His momma raised him right.

I’ve only lived in six different states, but they were spread far enough apart that each time it was like a different country. I’ll admit, I never understood West Virginia and their proud reverse-snobbery. Utah is an acceptable fit, though it’s sometimes too tidy and homogeneous. The DC suburbs were probably the best match for me if only because it attracts so many kinds of people that you can always find your tribe.

upinarms-map
Courtesty Tufts Magazine. Link to article

Can we offer cultural crash courses to newcomers? “Around here we say coke instead of soda and we stand about a foot and a half apart during casual conversation.”

America is huge. We’re like eleven countries trying to stick together, and for the most part we pull it off. We ignore Texas and their secessionist grumblings. We envy/ eyeroll at those cool Californians who never let us forget how cool they are. We romanticize and criticize the South. We mostly ignore the Midwest and they’re mostly ok with that. And those godless Yankees up North don’t care what we think because they already live at the center of the world.

Like I said, we’re keeping it together.

 

 

Rejection: A Story in GIFs

As many of you know I’m in the process of querying a few agents. That’s like sending out a résumé for my book. It’s a little daunting. However, I’ve heard so many stories about famous authors facing rejection only to find the one true agent who propels them to best-sellerdom. With that in mind, I felt prepared.

sunflower

And I was. When I got the first rejection I was like whatever.

whatever

They rejections trickled in, but I also got a few bites. The excitement vastly outweighed the disappointment.

shaq

And then a little time passed without any news. That’s normal. It’s fine. No really.

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So I took the next rejection kinda hard.

sad whatever.gif

Which would be fine, except the next rejection came that same afternoon.

janeway.gif

And then the next morning I got two rejections within three minutes of one another.

Dr.-Who

It’s not the quantity of rejections; it’s just the way they came all at once. Space them out people! I now have a one-rejection per day policy. If you wish to offer a second rejection then please form a single file line.

can' hear

So maybe I’m not as tough as I thought. In my head I knew that it was impossible for every single agent to love my book. Unfortunately, no one told that to my daydreams.

leo
My life after the book deal.

Still, the letters were all encouraging, even the form letters. That’s because agents are book champions, not dream-crushing monsters. I get it. My daydreams don’t, but I do. In the end it’s just business.

corleone

 

Besides, it only takes a smidgen of good news and all of the sudden I’m back on top.

winner

Own Voices: I Don’t Need an Invite to Every Party

The other day someone asked me what #OwnVoices is and if it was ok for her to apply to a contest for POC writers.

own_edited

I had a gut reaction that I’m not proud of.  “Aww, another contest I can’t enter because I’m white.” Then my White Girl Feminist voice spoke to me. She sounds a lot like Hermione Granger. She gave me the same speech I give men about correcting underrepresentation, the importance of seeing yourself in fiction, and the invisible barriers to success that marginalized people deal with while I breeze on by.

I understand why so many white writers get salty about contests they’re not invited to.  It can feel like a door that’s open for other people and closed to them.  But ultimately, success has always been open to white writers. It’s not as if a new POC contests mean fewer contests for everyone else.

pie

Plus, we overlook the ways that I benefit from #OwnVoices books like The Hate U Give or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Sure, they’re amazing stories all on their own. More than that, they’re amazing stories about someone who has had a radically different life while living in my own country.  They force me to deepen my empathy and think new and uncomfortable thoughts.