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.

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

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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.

 

 

We’re All Jerks at Fifteen

Me: Hey Shane, what should I blog about?

Shane: What about that time on the bus? With that guy?

Me: I think we have enough stories about me being mean to boys.

Shane: Nah, they’re funny. They boys get what’s coming to them.

Me: I was still mean.

Shane: Yeah, but you were fifteen. Everyone’s a jerk at fifteen.


The story itself is simple. There was a boy on my bus who wouldn’t leave me alone. He sat too close to me, called me his girlfriend, and then bragged to me. His favorite topics were his family’s money, the car he wasn’t even old enough to drive, how tough his brothers were etc.

race car
Presumably, the car looked something like this.

He wasn’t big enough to be scary and he never bothered me at school. Frankly, he didn’t have many friends and I felt a little bad for him. I decided that I should just put up with him for one hour per day.

To understand this story you need to understand that this was in West Virginia. I told him to stop again and again but he wasn’t obligated to listen to me. Only a male relative or a boyfriend could speak for me with any real authority. That wasn’t true of everyone all the time, maybe not even most of the time, but it was true often enough.

It was a sun drenched spring afternoon—the first day of the year when the driver opened all the windows. I picked a spot in the back hoping that the boy would board late and sit near the front.

No such luck. He sauntered down the aisle wearing a leather jacket despite the heat and twirling his house key around his fingers. I avoided his gaze and focused on my book but a wave of Axe body spray grew stronger and stronger as he approached. He plopped into the empty space next to me and put his arm around my shoulders.

He gave me a smug grin and asked, “How’s my woman?”

He’d bugged me all year, but he’d never put his arm around me before and he’d certainly never called me his woman. This was officially the end of my patience.

volcano
The once-dormant volcano explodes, unleashing fiery death from above.

His keys swung idly around his fingertips. Without stopping to think, I snatched them out of his hand and tossed them through the window. By fate or coincidence, that was the moment the engine revved and the bus pulled out of the parking lot.

The boy stared at me, too flabbergasted to speak at first, then sputtering disjointed accusations. By the time he got it together enough to complain to the driver it was too late to turn around.

I think I really shocked that kid. Not because he lost his keys, but because it was probably the first time it occurred to him that I wanted him to leave me alone. Telling him again and again hadn’t done anything, but my retaliation wounded him. He avoided me after that. Though he occasionally gave me wounded looks as if I had really been his girlfriend and I had betrayed him for no reason.

The story could stop there. It would be a cheery little tale of girl power and coming of age awkwardness. But this tale has an even happier ending.

When my high school reunion made a facebook group I noticed this guy again and checked out his wall. It was one hundred percent devoted to his serious longtime girlfriend. And it wasn’t idiotic stuff like “check out how hot my woman is.” It was the sweet stuff, the real stuff that lets you know he cares about her. Pictures of the breakfast he made for her. Both of them smiling in a theater before a play. Praise for her brains, her career, her good taste, and her kindness.

too cute
Ugh. You guys, I get it. You’re in love or whatever. Stop.  (This is not the actual couple. I get all my photos legally through Unsplash)

It was over the top really. In any other circumstances it would have been cloying. But I grinned for an hour afterwards. He’d turned out ok.

He’d grown up. I’d grown up. I guess it true: everybody’s a jerk at fifteen.

Don’t Wait for Passion

People assume that I’m a passionate person. I write books. I get furious about politics. I have strong opinions on things as inconsequential as the proper use of exclamation marks. (You get one per e-mail. Just one!) But I’m not really a believer in the advice “follow your passion.” Here’s a few examples why:

  • Years ago my husband wished that he was passionate about a career path. He wanted something to point him to his calling in life.
  • Recently a librarian lamented to me that she liked writing but she didn’t have the passion to follow through with it.
  • A friend of mine once complained that she was only mildly interested in the men around her—not curious enough to pursue any of them.

Love at first sight is a rare thing, if it exists at all. If we waited for it we’d be unemployed, bored, and then we’d all die alone. Yet when it comes to being artistic people feel like you need an overwhelming drive just to get started. Nope, nope, and nope.

artist
Inspiration only comes at sunrise on the mountaintops overlooking the city. Obviously.

Here’s the trick: passion is something you pick up as you go along. It took me years of writing before I developed the need to write. The change from putzing around to serious craft was gradual. It was the same with martial arts, singing, and psychology. Heck, even my much-adored husband was an acquired taste.

fancy
I always knew I wanted a nerd with glasses, but I wasn’t sure he was the one until we dressed up together for a Harry Potter midnight premier.

Curiosity led me to the things I love the most; passion came later. So that thing you think you might enjoy? Schedule time for it. Write it in your calendar. Pay the thirty bucks just to take the first lesson even if you can’t afford the whole course. Showing up is the first step to doing out the impossible.

Me? I’m going to spend the week playing with new story ideas. Outlining and the rest of the serious writing work can wait. This week is one hundred percent mine to fill with words that are for me alone. I need to give myself time to fall in love with a new story.

space
I don’t know what I’m going to write, but it will definitely be in space.

My First Protest:Practical Guide

I once thought that protests were for angry weirdos, mostly because the best and most famous pictures are of protesters yelling at cops. When friends heard that I was attending a protest they voiced concerns about violence, groupthink, mob mentality etc. I understand their concern.

However, now that I’ve read a  few civil-rights biographies I’m much more open to the idea of loudly voicing my opinion with like-minded individuals. Heck, I’m even up for a little civil disobedience if I think it’ll help.

So I attended my first real protest last weekend, the Utah March for Refugees. I felt a mixture of earnest zeal and a touch of righteous fury. It was an unseasonably warm winter’s day in Salt Lake City and the march felt like a parade with plenty of baby strollers and dogs. Of course it was a parade full of people who also had a zeal/fury combo pumping through their veins.

march

Former refugees addressed us from the steps of the capitol through a megaphone. Organizers led us in chants. I yelled along and raised my sign at the appropriate times, feeling a touch self-conscious but the righteous fury kept me going.

So maybe refugees, immigration, and religious discrimination aren’t your area of concern. I get it; we can’t all be upset about everything at once. Maybe you’re more worried about scientific agencies being forced to get approval from political offices before publishing their facts (there’s a march for that.) Maybe it’s preserving federal land. Maybe it’s cabinet picks or executive overreach. Maybe it’s veteran’s benefits, or healthcare, or women’s rights or any number of issues currently under attack.

If a protest isn’t your thing please call your local reps. Encourage other people to do so as well. More than one senator has recently changed their position because of phone calls from people like you and me.

If you’re like me and you’re nervous to attend a protest/march/rally then let me share what I learned from my first time.

Preparation

I knew I’d feel plain silly without a sign so I made this.

poster
Staring into the sunlight, but you get the idea.

It was better than nothing, but next time I think I’ll rig up a smaller sign and attach it to a stick. That would be easier to carry and people can see it from a distance.

Bring a Friend

I still felt plain silly because I came alone. Most people came with small groups. Where do they find these groups?

However, being alone wasn’t a big deal once I got close enough to hear the speakers. The people on the fringes talk to one another but the people in the center were all listening just like I was.

Read the Details and Be On Time

I actually missed the march and had to walk alone all the way to the capitol. Awkward, but it gave me a chance to read lots of signs from the people leaving early.

Everyone is Ridiculously Nice

All of them. Even people holding aggressive or crude signs were pleasant and happy to give directions.

Except for When They’re Not

There were a handful of anti-protesters out to pick a fight but they stuck to the edges and skedaddled once someone tried to take a picture of them.

This is the Real America

The part that really got me was when a young man from Iran spoke. I’m paraphrasing but here’s what he said:

Thank you for coming out to support immigrants and refugees. I’ve lived in the US for seven years now.  Back home people hear so much about the violence and hate in this country. I wish they could see you instead because this is the America I know. This is the real America.

He’s right. Major change happens in our country when people get mad and stand up. Sometimes we dump tea in a harbor, sometimes we sit in whites-only restaurants, sometimes we get arrested for women’s suffrage. It’s messy and rude and loud and it is quintessentially American.

tiny-activist_edited
This boy would not give me back my sign. He knows what’s up.

 

I Would’ve Killed Him in 6th Grade

My husband is exactly the sort of boy I would have murdered in the sixth grade.

I moved around frequently as a kid and I had to stake my claim as “the smart kid” in each new school. I don’t know if it was ego or my need to find a place (it was ego,) but I had to make a name for myself everywhere I went.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a genius. I took an IQ test and I assure you that there’s nothing unusual in my brain. That didn’t matter, I had to have the title and I was willing to fight for it. In elementary school “smartest” is more a position than a measure of actual intelligence.

hermionehandup

If my new school already had a smart kid I fought them hard. I raised my hand so fast the teacher didn’t have time to finish his sentence. Math tests weren’t just about getting an A, but also racing the clock to turn it in first. Reading competitions were a gift from heaven because my conquests were literally hung up on the wall and illustrated with stickers.

Smart girls normally let me have the title. They had friends and social skills and their whole identity wasn’t wrapped up in it.

Smart boys…well…they were a mixed bag. Sometimes they fought back. Mostly they tried to help me–like they thought there was a separate category for smartest boy and smartest girl. They didn’t get that I had to be the absolute smartest person of all time anywhere.

They offered to team up with me in class projects. They tried to help me with my homework or show me their winning chess strategy. I didn’t want their help; it would only cheapen my victory.

I still haven’t forgiven that guy who beat me in four moves, even if he did let me borrow his Han Solo novel. The boy who tried to explain that foxes were actually brownish, not orange, he’s dead to me. And that guy who stole first trumpet chair in band class…you’re going down.

sorting-hat
I know. I KNOW. I’m such an orchestra cliche.

Sometimes I won these fights for dominance. Mostly I lost because (like I said) I’m not a genius. The big difference was that the other smart kids were open to learning new things while I pretended to already know everything. For a so-called “smart kid” that was pretty stupid.

I did relax eventually. By the time I entered high school I switched from “smart kid” to “literate eccentric.” College was good for me because it was chock-full of former smart kids, one of which was my husband.

leslie
The one time this strategy actually worked for me.

Our flirting always had an aggressive edge of “oh yeah?” We jumped from subject to subject, pulling the rug out from one another and fighting to win the conversation. I had to beat the smart boy. It was the same old competition, but this time it was exhilarating.

So to all the smart boys I tried to destroy: I apologize. I probably had a crush on you.

To the smart boy I love and adore: I still want to murder you sometimes. You’re entirely too clever for your own good.