01 November 2016

Taking Time

November first. It's hard to believe the calendar has once again spun round to this date and yet, ready or not, here we are.

For me the past seven years the month of November has been defined not by the anniversary of my birth or Thanksgiving, but by National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo). Every year that I have participated, I have come away a "winner," having written the required 50,000 words (and a grand total nearing 400,000!).

Each time I showed myself what pure magic transpires when you dedicate the time and space to stringing words together to tell a sustained story. These years of participation have taught me so many life altering lessons...about myself, my writing, about telling stories.

This year will be different. I will not be writing a novel this month.

I won't lie, there is a sadness that has intertwined itself with this decision and there were many moments when I asked myself, "Are you sure? I mean, are you really sure?"

But the answer I always fell back to was the same.

Not this year.

There are a handful of solid and rational whys, but the most important one has to do with the writing itself.

So while I won't be participating in the grand adventure that is NaNoWriMo, I will still be writing and working towards the goals I have set for myself.

I raise a glass to all of you who have taken on the challenge and wish you all the best. You're awesome and the world needs your story!

Godspeed, dear NaNoWriMos

15 May 2016

Farewell, my Prince

Growing up, I had two separate lives. There was my school life, with one set of friends and family, and then there was my summer life, with different friends, a different family, in a different part of the country. There were times I felt like two separate people, these lives were so at odds.

In one, we were poor and indulgences were few and far between. The other left me feeling spoiled, like I could have everything my heart desired, where fridges were full and there were weekly trips to the mall, where I was allowed to choose things to take home. I almost always got music or books, reading Anne of Green Gables, Sweet Valley High, listening to Madonna. In one world I was often left home alone, the apartment my domain. In the other I was surrounded by grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, the Morman family next door with their eight kids, including one of the best friends I would ever know. In that world I had the run of two towns, where I could cross state lines on my bike all day long.

It was my summer life in Minnesota that first introduced me to Prince. His Minnesota connection made the state embrace him in a way the rest of the world just couldn't. His songs were always on the radio. MTV played his videos all the time. When 1999 came out in 1982 I was at the age where I was beginning to discover music on my own terms. His voice, his music, became a part of the very person I would become. (Even if, at the time, the true meaning of the lyrics were completely missed by my young mind.)

When Doves Cry was the song I chose when I did karaoke for the first time. Prince's soundtrack to the 1989 Batman was the sole reason I was obsessed with the movie, (and possibly its best quality). To date, whenever I hear the opening notes to Raspberry Beret or Batdance I am instantly transported to the red house on 14th Street whose living room saw all my best dance moves.

Last month I was back in Minnesota, taking care of my grandmother who is fighting her battle with cancer. We were at the Roger Maris Cancer Center for appointments and treatments on April 21st. The infusion was going to take several hours and so while she rested I went for a walk to get some food. When I returned, Fox News was on and a few minutes later they broke in with the announcement of Prince's death.

At first I was stunned. In my mind he is forever the twenty-something talking about the girl who walked in through the out door. How could he possibly be dead? Wasn't he one of the few who would live forever?

And I guess, it is a truth that being an artist does make you an immortal. Even after the last breath, the body of work the artist leaves behind will continue living its own life.

I watched the news, already emotional because the appointment with the doctor had not gone as well as we'd hoped, grateful to have the camouflage for my tears.

On Facebook and Twitter I watched as the news began to spread through my friends and celebrities, all the artists and writers I follow. I was not the only one whose life had been influenced by Prince. His admirers were widespread and there were many responses and many tributes.

That night I sat by myself in the living room, the same living room in the red house where I'd watched countless Prince videos growing up. I watched as MTV played video after video, including live performances. I scrolled through social media, feeling less alone as I began to grieve the death of someone I had never met, knowing that the emotions inside me were twisted and tangled, about more than the loss of one great artist. I came across the following tweet by @ElusiveJ:
Thinking about how we mourn artists we've never met. We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.
What a profound truth in less than 140 characters.

It is no exaggeration that books and music have saved my life, have made me a better human being, have taught me empathy, have broadened my world view, have allowed me to experience things far beyond my own life. Music has pulled me out of what Anne (of Green Gables) would call "the depths of despair."

Even in a world without Prince, I know that in the dark days that are yet to come, that are forever haunting the horizon, I will still have his music and it will make me dance, it will make me smile, and it will remind me there is always hope and always inspiration.

"I've seen the future and it will be
I've seen the future and it works
And if there's life after, we will see
So I can't go like a jerk"

Watching MTV's tribute to Prince, April 21st, 2016

06 December 2015

A Brief Sort of Update

The last week has been a whirlwind of good, bad, and just about everything in between. One of those good things was "winning" NaNoWriMo 2015. As you might recollect, I started this year's endeavor promising myself I would simply try. If that didn't work out, I told told myself I could quit.

The good news is, I didn't. I wrote every day until the end and in the process created a delightfully complex and interesting character that I am sure I will come back to some day. Her name is Georgia and she was both fun and challenging to write for.

But the really good news is that I had loved doing the work. The other good news is that I re-instilled some necessary creative habits. I am going to do my damnedest to stick with them.

15 November 2015

Halfway Point

At the beginning of the year I started using stickers as a way to motivate and document my writing days. It was an idea I'd adopted from Laini Taylor (see here). Let's say the last few months have had more blank spaces than Taylor Swift.

But not November.

November has been exactly what I needed it to be.

It has been the kick in the pants I needed to do the work, to reestablish routines.

It has been fun.

It has been surprising.

It has been challenging.

I have been inspired and delighted. 

25,230 words in and I am so happy. I look forward to sitting down each day to see how this story progresses, to see what my characters have in store, what twists and turns they'll take me on.

This story is very much about music and love songs and how they shape and define our ideas about love, from the time we are small children to the time we fall in love for real and for the first time. There is a soundtrack I've been building to slowly accompany these words and each day I look forward to seeing what song will find its way to my story.

So far.

30 October 2015

To NaNo or Not To NaNo (that seems to be the question)

This past year my blogs have been few and far between. I've narrowed the cause to several likely culprits, some more serious than others. It's been a challenging year and one that has caused me to pause and focus inward, to withdraw from public view, to be quiet. Instead of sharing my life and my loves here, I've kicked it old school with a journal and the satisfying scratch of pen on paper. I've been writing selfishly, not publicly.

It's been a time filled with reading*, writing, traveling, listening to music. I've been to some amazing concerts and the happiest place on earth (Hogwarts, duh!). I've been inspired and challenged by some amazing writers. I've walked hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles. I've laughed to the point of tears and cried to the point where I felt hollow. It's been a year that has changed me.

Now, somehow, it is the very end of October with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) visible on the horizon. Months and months ago I had grand plans to be at a different point in the editing process with the project I've been working on. I wanted to have this version done by the end of September so I could spend October planning what I would work on in November.

But then, life. And this time it wasn't a question of time. I had time. I had more of it in some ways than I had been expecting. What I didn't have was the mental and emotional space to do the work. After much internal debate, I decided to give myself a break.

A few people have asked me if I was planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. My answer has been, "Probably not." I have said things about how I don't want to start something new when I still have so much work on my current project. I've talked about how I don't want to make the same mistakes I've made before when it comes to the issues of Story and Plot. I've said that I will use this time to edit.


What a wishy washy kind of word, lacking in conviction and commitment.

Last week, while I was writing in my journal and thinking about what it would be like not to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time since I started (2009), I came across an idea. It's one that I've imagined before, a kind of experimental type of piece and the more I wrote about it the more excited I became and the more I thought that maybe participating would be the best thing for me and my writing, the best way to get me back into my daily habits of writing/editing.

I told myself to give it a week and see if the idea grew any roots.

I reminded myself of this Ben Folds inspired post I wrote in 2012 when I was debating the very same should I/shouldn't I question.

Seven days have passed and there hasn't been a day I haven't thought about this idea and all the ways it might be exactly the project my writing life needs.

Here is an unsolicited truth about me: I don't give myself permission to fail.

That truth has been a double edged sword my entire life. It's held me back just as much as it's pushed me forward.

What does it mean for NaNoWriMo? In the past it has meant that if I start, I can't quit halfway through. I'm either in or I'm out. If I sign up, I'm going to find a way to finish, to hit 50k no matter what.

This year, I think I'm going to do something different. I'm going to try. And if that turns out to be a mistake, I'm giving myself permission to fail.

*A list of a few favorites from this year include: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, George by Alex Gino, Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, After You by Jojo Moyes (see this blog re: the first book), The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff, and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Yes, this list is YA heavy, but some of the most interesting story telling is definitely happening in this category.

Walking among the fallen.

04 July 2015

The Legend of Zelda

 My whole life I wanted a dog to call my own. But I grew up in apartment buildings until I was in high school and was never allowed to have one of my own. I had other pets (birds and hamsters), but never a dog. Then ten years ago we moved into our very first house and a handful of months later my husband and I found ourselves on a Sunday afternoon visiting the Oregon Humane Society, "just to look."

We wandered through the sanitized tiled hallways and chain metal gates, peeking in at the dogs held within. We noticed immediately there seemed to be two kinds of dogs. There were the kind who hid in the very back, quiet and somewhat scared, and the kind who ran right up to the door, demanding your attention. We saw plenty of nice looking dogs, but there wasn't one that called to us until we saw a third kind.

Zelda (or "Brandy" as she was previously named) was sitting towards the back of the kennel until we walked up. She looked at us, stood up, and slowly made her way to where we were standing. We held out our hands. She smelled them and then sat down, leaning into us. (Those who know Zelda know this to be a thing that she did, the leaning against you while she sat beside you.)

This was a dog we wanted to meet. Arrangements were made to bring the three of us into a meet-and-greet space where we could interact. There is supposed to be a person from the Humane Society who waits there with you, but ours left, saying she'd be right back. She never came back. We played with Zelda for a really long time. She was sweet, kind, chill, patient, and listened. All good things. Erik and I decided we wanted to see about adopting her.

We took her home that day and she became a part of our family, fitting in as if she was the last piece of a puzzle we'd been working on for a really long time. 

The day we brought her home.
It's been nearly three weeks since we lost our Zelda. As anyone who has loved a dog with their whole heart knows, it's been a really tough time. I've been at a complete loss for words. (Which is why, unless you've brought Zelda up in a recent conversation, it is unlikely that you've heard about her passing.) Even now, it's hard to write these words, to tell this story, without watering eyes and a lump in my throat.

At the end of April, I took Zelda in for her annual exam and the vet noticed a lump on her skull and told us it was likely an osteosarcoma. She told me it was hard to predict how it would progress and that there was very little that could be done to treat it. I went home and cried and then went to work.

And then I went on to cherish every walk, every snuggle, every kiss, every chin scratch, and every play bow. I appreciated the time I spent with her in a whole new way. I gave her all the love I could and then a little bit more.

Six and a half weeks later, she was gone. We took her to Dove Lewis when she wouldn't eat or get out of bed. They found tumors in her lungs, spleen, and probably other organs as well. It was time to let her go. She was in pain and there weren't options to make her better.

It was one of the toughest choices I've ever had to make and I am so grateful for Erik that I didn't have to make it alone.

I miss her every day in a thousand different ways. I miss her nose on the side of the bed after she's heard me stirring in the morning, silently begging for me to get up and start the day. I miss the sound of a tortilla chip in her mouth after I've "accidentally" dropped it on the floor. I miss snuggling with her after a tough day. I miss afternoons spent reading/sleeping in the sunshine. I miss the wagging tail, welcoming me home. I miss her persistent stare when she has deemed it is time for food/walking. I miss the sound of her heavy sighs and the sounds she'd make while she was sleeping.

Zelda was an awesome dog and I feel so lucky for the ten years we spent together. Some day I know we'll find another dog who will bring us great joy, but Zelda will always be my first, best dog, and will always hold that special place in my heart. 

Favorite bench for summertime naps.

Snow day!

Sometimes it's nice to hold paws.

I'm ready.

A tiny ball in the sun.

That nose!

Favorite toy. A gift from Uncle Ben.
What do you mean I'm not supposed to be here?

25 January 2015

Taking Flight

Magpie comes a calling
Drops a marble from the sky
Tin roof sounds alarming
"Wake up child."

"Let this be a warning,"
says the magpie to the morning,
"Don't let this fading summer pass you by.
Don't let this fading summer pass you by."
                  from Magpie to the Morning by Neko Case


While yesterday bathed in sunshine, this morning has slipped into a heavy coat of fog. Out the window the trees are hazy, distant, their lines are soft and blurred before they disappear into the endless gray of sky. What a difference a day can make.

Yesterday I walked and walked and walked. I listened to song after song, matching my footsteps to the kicked beats of bass drums. I let the winter sun tell me it was spring. I watched the black bird bounce from barren tree branch to barren tree branch. I sat on wooden benches. I stepped on soft, wet grass, concrete. I closed my eyes to dream.

I bought an hour glass, a symbol to remind me to sit in the chair, to put fingers on keys, to build words into stories.

It worked. I came home and lost several hours to the process of working. It was one of the most productive writing days I've had in ages.


Today I wake up compelled, inspired to try again.

*Months ago I went to social media to help me generate a list of songs about birds for my book. This was not one that came up, but yesterday it found me and knocked me flat. It is perfect in so many glorious ways.

Signs of life.