Filed under: Life
Friday, January 2nd, 2015 • 2 Comments
The bracelet Jay got me for Christmas. It says: “She believed she could, so she did.”
I used to make goals for each new year. I never really called them resolutions, as that seems too formal (and formidable), but I always had a few things in mind that I wanted to work toward. Writing goals, health goals, general self-care and well-being goals. My success rate was about 50%, which pleased me– I like challenges, y’know? A 100% success rate would mean I wasn’t challenging myself. And so, that’s how I went for many years– establishing some general goals for the new year. And then… I had kids. And my New Year’s goals sort of evaporated because when you’re sleep deprived and dealing with a newborn/infant/toddler (and then a second one on top of the first), it’s hard to think about big, overreaching goals. Sometimes, the best you can do is make it from sunrise to midnight without losing your mind. And now, here I am, with two preschoolers who are potty trained and somewhat self-sufficent and I get a decent amount of sleep most nights. Life is a little easier, relatively speaking. I’m home with them full-time now, which makes being a writer/editor a lot more difficult, but still… I’m ready to welcome 2015 by putting down some goals.
In 2015, I want to…
1. Drink more water. This might seem like a silly goal, but I spend my days chasing kids and/or sitting at Starbucks drinking coffee. Which means not only do I not eat well, I don’t ever drink enough water. I feel better when I’m hydrated– my skin looks healthier, I get fewer headaches, I don’t feel as hungry (and therefore, don’t overeat) and it’s a step toward better general self-care.
2. Read more books. I read all the time, but I don’t read enough books. It’s easier to read six articles and essays on my iPhone (usually linked from Facebook) than it is to read a novel. Those bite-sized chunks of reading are easier to accomplish when the kids are awake and/or I’m tired and/or it’s late and I’m mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed. But they’re not nearly as satisfying as reading a novel and immersing myself in a story. I used to read three novels a week, on average. I don’t expect I’ll ever get back to that rate, but I’d really like to read at least two novels a month.
3. Ditch social media. Okay, not really. I love Facebook for a number of reasons, from connecting with friends to getting links to those interesting articles and essays. I also use Pinterest (in fact, my entire Christmas Eve dinner came from Pinterest recipes, and it was delicious!) and Instagram and, occasionally, Twitter. So I don’t intend to get rid of social media, but I want to use it a lot less. If I have a free hour, I want to spend it reading a book (or writing a book) not scrolling through endless news feeds with diminishing returns. The goal, I think, is to find other things to do than social media and give Facebook, etc., a smaller chunk of my precious time.
4. Entertain more. I love to entertain. Dinner parties, cookouts, holiday parties, whether it’s just a couple of people or a full house, I love to spend time with people I care about. Pre-kids, we used to entertain a lot more. And, like most things, that kind of went out the window for a few years when the boys were babies. The last couple of years, we’ve thrown a few more parties (granted, some of them were children’s birthday parties…), but I’d like to do it more often, in a more low key way. I was inspired last fall by the article Friday Night Meatballs by Sarah Grey to consider hosting a weekly dinner party for friends, neighbors and acquaintances we’d like to get to know better. I don’t know when we’ll start it, but it’s a concept I’d like to strive toward this year.
5. Write stuff I care about. I feel as if my writing career is at a turning point, though I don’t know yet which way it’s turning. I think this will be the year I figure out the direction I’m headed. I want to write novels and essays, I want to edit more books and write in new genres (mystery and horror are pulling at me right now), I want my words to entertain, excite and inspire. But most of all, I want to be passionate about what I’m writing, whatever I’m writing, because I’m a better writer when I’m invested in my words.
6. Ask for help. I am fiercely independent. If I can do it on my own, I will. Even if I can’t do it on my own, I will try to do it. Asking for advice, assistance or even an experienced opinion is contrary to my nature. And my nature makes life harder for myself than it needs to be. This year, I want to remind myself– as often as necessary– that I don’t have to thrash through the forest alone. I can ask for help. I can ask for directions. I can ask someone to show me a better (maybe even easier) path to where I want to go. I need to remember (because it’s what I would tell anyone else), there is no weakness or shame in asking for help. Sometimes it’s just the smart thing to do.
7. Adopt (or foster) a shelter dog. We adopted our dog Clementine two years ago from the local animal shelter. She was two years old at the time, a beagle/boxer mix (probably) with a sweet face and high energy who was dumped by her family because they were moving. She has been such a great dog for our family and I feel as if we might be ready for a second dog. I would want to adopt another adult dog for a shelter, but whatever dog we add to our family must be good with kids, dogs and our resident grumpy cat. It’s a tall order, especially for a dog whose background may not have been very good, but I know the right dog will cross our path. I’ve also thought it might be lovely to foster dogs, though that may have to wait until the boys are older.
8. Slow down, breathe, focus on the moment. This is one of those slippery goals that is easy to write and harder to remember in the moment. But that’s exactly what I want to do– focus, and enjoy, the moments. I am a planner, a list maker, a daydreamer, a thinker. I can be in a room with twenty people and my mind will be drifting to what I’m going to do a week from now or worrying away on some problem that I cannot solve. Living in the moment is a lovely Zen-like, hippie chick kind of goal, but I think it’s important to put it in writing. After all, it’s all the singular moments that add up to a year.
9. Spend more time outside. This includes walking more, because it’s not only good for my health, it’s good for Clementine, too, as well as taking the kids outside to explore their world. Being in nature is the closest I’ve ever come to a true spiritual connection. I always feel better for having spent time outside, whether it’s gardening in the backyard, walking the dog after dark or going to the park or beach with the family. It feels good to get outside and I want to do it more, through all seasons.
10. Connect with others. Yes, this includes entertaining, but it also means writing more letters, scheduling more dates (with and without kids), reaching out to people who may need help or support and just connecting with people I care about. More date nights with my husband, more events with friends, more one-on-one time with my kids, more meaningful and thoughtful contact with all the people in my life.
11. Say “yes” to the things that I really care about, that speak to my heart and my intellect, that enrich my life. There was a time when I would say “yes” to just about any opportunity or request, whether it was good for me or not. Often, it wasn’t good for me at all. It was a way to fill my time, avoid doing something that was more challenging (but would certainly be more rewarding) or to do a favor for someone else. And while it feels good to help people, I need to be aware of the times when helping someone else might actually be harmful to me– and then I need to say “no.”
So those are my goals for 2015. Some big, some little, all intended to make for a more happy, enriching and giving life. I expect I’ll succeed in some areas and fall short in others, but that’s what life is all about, right? And what a beautiful life it is.
Wishing you a new year filled with love and light. Happy 2015.
Saturday, October 4th, 2014 • 3 Comments
The past few years have been a whirlwind for me. Since 2009, I’ve had two kids, edited 19 anthologies and written I don’t know how many words. The writing and editing career has been sustained with part-time childcare, a lot of caffeine, a supportive spouse and a drive to prove myself to myself. It’s been an amazing ride– and it’s also been exhausting. I haven’t kept all the balls in the air as well as I would’ve liked. I gave up a few things here in there– like blogging. And sleep. Heh. But it’s been good. I found my rhythm, built my routine. Altered my routine as things changed along the way. Balance. I kept adjusting to find my balance. It seems like every time I think I’ve found it, I lose it again. Like now.
In mid-August, our babysitter (only the second one we’ve had since the boys came along) left us to focus on her education. After much discussion, we decided to put our oldest son, who will be 5 in December, in a part-time Montessori preschool program. Three days a week, four hours a day. It’s been wonderful for him in so many ways. And his little brother, who just turned 3 in September, has also benefitted from the one-on-one time with me while big brother is in school. They’re both gaining their independence, developing their confidence, growing up.
Of course, the other side of this exciting new transition is that I am now home full-time. I am something I’d never thought I’d be: a stay at home/work at home mom. Although, honestly, for the past six weeks I have done almost no work. No writing to speak of, and I was caught up on my anthology editing when our babysitter left so I’m simply maintaining the admin side of that in what few free moments I have. I essentially quit my job to stay home with my boys. This is a startling realization, even if it’s only temporary.
I guess this is the part where I say it’s great and wonderful and I love it and I don’t miss writing at all. And it is great and wonderful and most of the time I love it. But I miss writing terribly. I came to it late, but I embrace this Mama gig whole heartedly, probably more so than a lot of my Facebook friends care to read about. I don’t post snarky things about wanting to get away from my kids because I genuinely like spending time with them (and their father, who still rocks my world after 24 years). It’s not as if I went from a full-time job outside the house to staying at home full-time. I went from working part-time five days a week to working part-time three days a week to staying at home. It’s been a gradual step-down process, but at most I was only away from them for 20-25 hours a week because I love being home with them and not feeling as if I have to miss out on anything. But though it might not seem like it, there is a big difference between being away from my children 20 hours a week and being home full-time. In that 20 hours a week (and a few evening and weekend hours), I was the writer I’ve been my entire life. That is the core of my identity and it runs deeper than any other aspect of who I am. I love that I’m home with them, able to spend alone time with my little one while his brother is in school. I love the days all three of us hang out together. I love our family weekends. It’s a really good, very happy life. I love this life I’ve made.
But I miss my writing. And because writing is such a big part of my identity, I am missing myself. A lot.
Fourteen hour days with two little boys is exhausting, absolutely. I never imagined myself being a stay-at-home mom and even though these years before they’re in school full-time are truly the toughest as a stay-at-home parent, I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest job in the world. But there are days… oh my, are there days… when I think about all of my education, all of my interests, all of my skills (okay, my handful of skills) and question the meaning of my life as I pour yet another cup of juice or say for the hundredth time, “You need to put on shoes if you want to go outside.” There are days when I don’t have an adult conversation until 5pm– and then it’s usually about children and interrupted by those children. It’s not so bad– really– and the fact that I feel like I have to keep saying that makes me cringe. It is a part of life, these changes, and though I struggle to maintain balance I am always aware of what a good life it is. And yet I want more.
I’ve never not had a job and/or gone to school and also been writing at least part-time. I’ve always done multiple things at once. Prior to having baby #1, I was writing full-time, editing anthologies and teaching three college classes a semester. Now, at this current moment in time, I’m a stay-at-home mother. Yeah, I’m a writer and editor, too, but those things are currently… inactive. And so I have to remind myself almost daily that I’m not lazy, I’m not a slug, I’m not wasting my life and that I am doing something important– raising little boys. That pep talk only goes so far. I wouldn’t call myself an A-type personality, but I’m a writer and a writer’s gotta write. And I’m not writing.
Over the past month and a half, I’ve tried here and there to write. Even with the long days of mediating ownership debates over Hot Wheels cars and Legos, making PB&J sandwiches and reinforcing good hygiene (“Wash your hands! Wash your hands! I don’t care if you washed your hands this morning, wash your hands again!”), I can put together a few hours to write. I can. I just don’t, at least not as often as I should And I figured out why: I don’t know what to work on. I don’t know what to write. I am paralyzed by my need to write ALL THE WORDS and my reality that I have very little time to write at all, so I must make it count.
It’s terrifying in a way I can’t explain.
I didn’t suddenly become stricken by the writing paralysis bug six weeks ago when I became a stay-at-home parent. It has been a recurring affliction for the past several years, one I combatted by editing more anthologies and starting many projects (mostly novels) that never got finished. I also took off on some side roads, writing outside my comfort zone in hopes of sparking a renewed passion for the craft. And it worked, for awhile. But I got overwhelmed by my own self-imposed deadlines and retreated to what was comfortable. And though, yes, being a parent to young kids is tough, exhausting work, I know I could be doing more. And while I may not be lazy and I don’t feel like I’m wasting my life, I know I can– and should– be doing more.
I don’t know what I should be writing now. I don’t know what I should be working on. I have all these files– so many files!– and I open them and read what I’ve written and some of it is really good, but I just don’t know what to focus on. And so the hour or three that I have to write is spent reading files of half-finished manuscripts (and, let’s be honest, “half-finished” is being generous in many instances) and then reading articles and websites to see if I can glean any ideas of what I should be working on. And the time goes by, what little time I have, and no words are written. Or not many. The ideas, they’re there… so many ideas. But what do I write now?
Erotica, erotic romance… I’ve been doing it for over a decade. The market is flooded with Fifty Shades of Grey ripoffs and those of us who were writing kinky erotica and erotic romance before the big mainstream explosion, have tried to find our place in this new post-Fifty Shades world. It’s a cold, Grey world right now, I tell you. Or maybe it’s just me, feeling the need to challenge myself to do something new. Even the non-erotica projects I have started have an erotic edge to them. So maybe it’s not a matter of picking a new genre, but in pushing myself beyond the genre I’ve become very comfortable (too comfortable?) writing. I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go along.
I started this post by saying I was at a crossroads, then I went back and deleted that first line because it’s not quite true. The choice is not between parenting and writing. I will continue to be Mama and wipe snotty noses and find the missing shoes and brush the tangled hair. And I will continue to be the writer, even if I am on a temporary hiatus. It’s not a crossroads I’m at, it’s just that the path I’ve chosen has taken a slight upward turn the last few years. I imagine it’ll continue to feel like I’m climbing for awhile, so I might as well settle in and get used to it. Adapt. Find my balance.
I had the image of a streetlight in my mind, me sitting at a red light, waiting for the light to turn green. But that suggests someone else, something else, is in charge of saying when I get to go forward. And I know this is all me, all in my control (at least the part where I figure out what to write in the little time I do have to write). No, if anything, this is simply a stop sign on my path. The personal and professional circumstances of my life have converged to force me to a temporary, but necessary, stop. I have to evaluate my surroundings, oncoming traffic, the terrain ahead. And then I can proceed– when I’m ready. It’s my call, my decision. My success or my failure, it’s on me.
I’ve been stopped for a little while now, trying to figure it all out. Trying to formulate a plan without really knowing what’s coming up ahead. But maybe it’s time to just go. Just move forward. Maybe I already have, by letting go of the idea that I have to do so many things in order to validate my existence as a writer, a mother, a person. Honestly, I don’t know. I believe in signs, even stop signs. And I believe there are good things ahead, just around the bend.
Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 • 3 Comments
I put on my sneakers last week for the first time in over a year and started moving again. I haven’t really felt like my healthy self since I had gallbladder surgery in March 2013. Ironically, in the couple of months leading up to surgery, I was thinner than I’ve been since before I had kids. Not that I weigh myself or care about being skinny (I’m not, and never will be). But I felt good, in between gallbladder attacks, that is. I don’t know why I didn’t bounce back to that feeling good place after I recovered from surgery, but I didn’t. And now I’m tired of feeling… well, tired. Tired of my clothes not fitting properly, of feeling less-than-healthy. So the sneakers are out of the closet and I’m working on it. Slowly, but still… taking that first step, followed by a thousand more.
On the eve of my forty-seventh birthday, I’m not taking stock of my life so much as I’m considering how full my life in my forties has been– and how physically and emotionally challenging. Before my fortieth birthday in 2007, Jay asked me how I wanted to spend it and I’d said I wanted to wake up in London. And so that’s what we did. I spent my 40th in my favorite city– and I haven’t been back since. Life has been… busy.
I didn’t know what my forties would bring, but it’s been a whirlwind. From that trip to London to less than three months later, when I learned of my estranged mother’s death, I feel as if I’ve been in constant motion– with constantly changing emotions. I could spend days talking about my relationship with my mother and our lack of contact in the last decade of her life, but I won’t. Her absence from my life was necessary for my emotional health, but her absence from this world is something I am still coming to terms with. People who are gone from our lives still cast a shadow, that much I’ve learned. Some things take a long, long time to get over. And some things… well, there are some things I’ll never get over.
At the end of 2007, five months after my mother’s death, I threw out my birth control pills and decided to try to have a baby. I was forty years old and it felt like “now or never.” Or, more likely “never, but I have to at least try.” After two miscarriages (at 23 and 30), it was a long shot, but in July 2008, on a mid-deployment rendezvous in Florida, I got pregnant. Quick, easy. And less than 8 weeks later, I miscarried. Slowly, painfully. I was told by a Navy ob/gyn that, because of my age (41 at the time) and numerous fibroids, I had a 3-5% chance of carrying a pregnancy to term. The odds were not in my favor, I knew that. I also knew that I wouldn’t quit until I ran out of time. And we tried again.
I got pregnant in March 2009 and promptly found a civilian ob/gyn who would see me immediately and who prescribed progesterone as a precaution. Around that same time, I pitched some anthology ideas to Cleis Press, a publisher I was familiar with because I’d sold numerous stories to other anthologies they’d published. In the spring of 2009, I threw myself into writing, into pitching new ideas and challenging myself to do new things. The reason is obvious: I was waiting for another miscarriage to happen and needed distractions in place to combat the inevitable sadness and grief.
I contracted for my first Cleis Press anthology, Fairy Tale Lust, in May 2009– and I was still pregnant. I wrote my call for submissions, kept writing my own stories, stayed busy with friends, kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe did drop, but it wasn’t a miscarriage– it was Jay having to deploy in October 2009 to Dubai for eight months. I was panicked, depressed, scared to death. I was going to be alone through some of the most challenging months of my entire life– me, who had never so much as changed a diaper– and I didn’t know what to do except prepare as best I could. I kept writing, editing, pitching. I was far enough along in my pregnancy to believe everything would be okay, but I’d been through too much at that point. It seemed too good to be true and I wouldn’t believe it was real until I held a baby in my arms.
In December 2009, I gave birth to a healthy 8 lb. 10 oz. baby boy via Cesarean section and Jay got to be there for the birth of his son and for two weeks after. I was entirely alone with the baby for two months after that, then I hired a friend to babysit part-time so I could keep writing and maintain my sanity. In May 2010, right after my 43rd birthday and my first Mother’s Day, Jay came home from his last deployment. A few weeks later, Fairy Tale Lust was released. After a year of riding an emotional roller coaster, it seemed as if I’d found my balance. Jay was home, I had a babysitter, I was signing more contracts with Cleis Press, I was writing for other editors and publications, I had people I loved and who were there for me. Life was good.
Life was so good, in fact, that even in the midst of post-partum recovery, I’d considered having another baby. The odds were still not in my favor, but I’d done it once. Just eight short weeks after my baby was born, while my husband was still deployed, I told my ob/gyn that I was thinking about doing it again. He hugged me, for the first and only time. He said he’d been worried about me, but that if I could consider having another baby after all I was going through, then he knew I’d be okay. He also said it might not happen– those damned odds, after all.
I went back and forth over whether I wanted to try again– and when. We hadn’t given away any of the baby stuff, so clearly my heart was in it, I just didn’t know when I’d be ready. Mother Nature has a way of making things happen whether I’m ready or not, and in December 2010, exactly one week after Patrick turned one (and the very first time we weren’t careful), I got pregnant again. To be honest, I panicked when I did the math. Two babies under the age of two? Nooooo! And, of course, there was fear. The odds weren’t in my favor. One healthy pregnancy up against three miscarriages. I couldn’t let myself get too hopeful. I kept busy with the baby who was growing into a toddler, I threw myself into writing and pitching more anthology ideas, I saw the release of a couple of new books, I worked on my relationships and I held my breath. Would it work out this time, too?
In September 2011, I gave birth via C-section once again to a healthy 10 lb. 15 oz. baby boy. Jay was home, our babysitter was in place, I had friends I trusted to offer support. It was not a physically easy pregnancy, but it was emotionally peaceful. Where the first pregnancy and birth had felt almost apocalyptic, the second one felt like a celebration. We welcomed our second son into the world and life was good. So good.
And life continues to be good, so good I’ve even toyed with the idea of a third baby, though I’ve (mostly) decided that two is (probably) enough. And at my age, the odds are nil. But still, amidst all the goodness it has been an emotional roller coaster these past few years, going from a forty-something woman without children to a forty-something woman with two very young children. There was the gallbladder surgery in March 2013, making three surgeries on my poor body in four years. There is the ongoing quest to find and maintain the balance of family, writing, self. There was the brief panic in 2012 when we lost the only babysitter our boys had known and had to find a new one (who has been awesome and who is now getting ready to leave us… sigh). There was the loss of someone I considered family and thought would always be there, but turned out to be someone I could not trust and didn’t want in my life. There have been friends who have fallen off the grid (though, to be fair, they might feel as if I was the one who disappeared), there have been the friends who have been there in ways I never imagined needing anyone. There has been a shift in interests and priorities, a growing sense of richness and texture to life I didn’t have just a few years ago. There have been discoveries about who I can really count on– and the list is shorter than I once believed, but I’ve made my peace with the fact that some people will simply never be what I need them to be and those who are… well, I treasure them. I’ve been slapped in the face with reality more times than I can count, yet I’m still here, still believing in impossible things, still dreaming, still writing, still looking for balance. And I find it in Jay, who still remains my rock of unflagging support through everything. Twenty-four years and counting. The writing and the marriage– they keep me balanced, sane, brave.
My forties started with a trip to London, but I’ve traveled so much further than that. I’ve learned through grief and loss to appreciate the moments of pure joy. I’ve learned through betrayal to be careful where I place my loyalties– and my time. From being alone with a newborn, I learned I can do anything I have to do. I also learned I have the love and support I need so that I don’t have to do it all by myself, I just have to ask for help. I’ve learned that I can miss a dog as much as I miss a person– and that’s a lot more than I thought my heart could take. I’ve learned that getting a new dog “for the kids” won’t keep me from falling in love with that dog, too. I’ve learned that my patience may not be endless, but it runs deeper than I thought. I’ve learned to be at peace with myself and my life. I’ve learned that true love lasts and endures. I’ve learned to cherish my alone time and to appreciate the noisy times almost as much as the quiet moments. I’ve learned that being a forty-something wife and mother has done nothing to dampen or discourage my big, big dreams. Except now I dream big not only for myself, but for my children. I want to show them– need to show them– that the odds don’t have to be in their favor for life to turn out beautifully. A 3-5% chance means there’s still a chance. And as long as there’s a chance, there’s hope.
And now here I am, on the last day of being 46, looking forward. The rest of my forties beckon with promises of good things to come and things to learn, because I’m a long way from having it all figured out (though I’m a lot closer than I was at 40). There are decisions to be made: whether we’ll get a new babysitter, or I’ll stay home with the boys, or we’ll try Montessori school. After that, there’s the decision of whether we’ll home school, as I’ve been considering for the past year. There’s Jay’s impending retirement from the Navy in 2015, which means no more deployments ever, but leaves a big question mark as to what we’ll do post-military retirement. We talk about moving, but I don’t know if we will. We’re rooted here in Virginia, this is where my babies were born, where I discovered a new, and hopefully better, version of myself, where we’ve made a life that started with two and is now four. I have always been a nurturer, a caregiver, a protector. And now I’ve come into my own and discovered a wealth of inspiration in the experience of motherhood (as well as frustration and exhaustion, but let’s focus on the inspiration).
Then there are the books and stories that need to be written, the anthologies that need to be edited, the comfort zone that I need to keep pushing. I have an amazing publisher and while I basically fell into this editing gig by accident, it’s been a pleasure and a challenge to curate several anthologies a year. Cleis Press is moving into new territory with the Tempted romance imprint and I’m excited to be a part of something new. I’m also ready for new challenges and adventures in writing and I’m seeking a connection with other writers like I never have before. Balance, balance, it’s always about balance. There are so many words in me that need to come out– but first, there are flowers to pick and pictures to draw and moments to savor.
I won’t wake up in London on my 47th birthday, but I’ll be some place wonderful. I’ll be happy. A friend once told me that the hardest part about exercising is putting on your sneakers. I get it now. It’s all mental, an attitude of wanting it bad enough– whether it’s exercise or writing or relationships or finding the balance in my life. The hardest part about being happy is believing I can be, believing that it doesn’t have to be a short trip to someplace I might never return, that it can simply be my life. So I’ve put on my sneakers and I’m ready for a beautiful, adventurous, happy year. Goodbye, 46.