Tuesday, May 23, 2017

second novel

I haven't written in a few weeks. Ever since I finished my novel.

I mean, I wrote a short story and a couple of poems.

But I didn't write anything longer, bigger.

I've had this idea for a second novel for a few months now and last night, when I was trying to fall asleep, I kept thinking about this character and her backstory. Words were boiling over: my mind needed to think it through, my fingers type it out.

I used to worry that once I wrote a book, that I would be done. That I would pour all of myself into it and have nothing left to say afterward.

But that's not how it is. Different characters get into different situations, have different thoughts, and for every one of those, a writer finds something to say.

If you see me in real life, I probably won't have anything to say. I'm a terrible conversationalist. But if you give me a keyboard, a monitor, and some time alone, I will never shut up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cheryl Strayed

Once my sister recommended I watch the movie Wild, so I tried it. I mean, I started it. I'll be honest, I'm not a movie person. I'm not even really a TV person anymore. The only way I sit down in front of it is if I have a game to play or a book to read simultaneously. I get bored with TV. It doesn't do it for me. I like to laugh, I like to be entertained, and I love a good story, but those things are are more likely to happen from a book or in real life than from a screen.

So I sat down to watch Wild but I didn't get into it. It was hard to follow with the flashbacks. I just don't follow stories on screen that well. But if I can get my hands on it, see the words, feel them, flow with the tide of each sentence, I can get into a story. I said, "I'd rather read this." Of course, as most good stories are, it was a book. So I put it on hold at the library and in a few months, my name came up. I was captivated. Cheryl is the heroine of her own story, a real person, not a created character. She is flawed and not made to be likeable. But I found her likeable despite her flaws, or maybe because of them.

The book, in case you live under a rock, is about Cheryl's journey hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, 1100 miles of it, all alone one summer after losing her mom and losing herself in the hole that had created.

Then three weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed came to UNO. A friend in the MFA program got me a ticket without asking if I would want one, maybe just knowing I would want one because we're writers and very few things can excite us more than hearing another writer speak our language. It was in the Baxter Arena, so it wasn't like the casual readings I've been to in coffee shops or little rooms within a college.

She came out on stage and I strained to look at her, as though she was a rock god and I was a groupie. She spoke, a bit about her book, Wild, yes, but also just about living and how she managed to do it. About her two kids, one named Carver after Raymond Carver. I smiled, and daydreamed about meeting her and telling her my son's name is Holden after Holden Caulfield. Then I scribbled notes furiously, the way I always do in the presence of greatness I admire.

She said she is often asked what took her so long to write Wild. She replied: "The hike was in the summer of 1995. I wrote Wild at the moment that I had something to say about the hike. As a writer, until you know what you have to say that transcends your own life, you don't have a book."

At this time, three weeks ago, I was two days late turning in my final packet and was trying to write the ending to my own story. The next day, I finished it. My own novel is about an eighteen-year-old girl, which I haven't been for sixteen years. But I'm writing about it now, because now I have something to say about it. I will never know if it was coincidence that I finished my book the day after I saw Cheryl or if she--this hero of mine, this badass writer and woman and mother--pushed me toward it. If her bravery was contagious, even in that giant arena full of people.

Today, having something like free time, having finished my semester, finished my book, I sat outside in my new reading chair and read Cheryl Strayed's book of her own quotes that Amber sent me, Brave Enough. Let me leave you with what she left me:

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Well, he's done it. Steve has graduated with his MBA. 
I took the boys to the graduation.  I could get Holden in respectable attire, but I gave up on Brandon.
I did not graduate from a big university. I didn't know there would be traffic and a shuttle. I didn't know the ceremony would actually last three hours.
But the good thing about big schools is that they have graduation ceremonies in arenas with snack bars.

We sat in the very top back row at Brandon's request and I took the iPad and when daddy's name was called, we cheered and somehow he heard us from all the way in the back. 
We did leave a bit early, after dad's name, because it wouldn't end. We went to Target. Dad came and met us.  We broke into smiles, seeing him in his full graduation gear.
We went out for pizza which seems like a nothing celebration given that it took three years for this achievement. But when you have kids and they are quiet at restaurants, that is a celebration. 
I am proud of Steve's achievement, proud of the example he sets for our boys. About hard work and being a lifelong learner, of course, but mostly, about not giving up. Most people give up. Not us.
We are just two grad students trying to raise two kids and work two jobs without cracking.  Maybe we're getting there. The cap and gown and honor society tassels seem to prove it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

winding my spring

Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, ever morning I wind my own spring. I give it some 36 good twists by the time I've got up, brushed my teeth, shaved, eaten breakfast, changed my clothes, left the dorm, and arrived at the university. I tell myself, "OK, let's make this day another good one."

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood and the protagonist often talks about "winding his spring." He is referring to a watch, the old-fashioned kind you wind to keep it ticking. I love the metaphor. Our bodies perform routines and we keep going. We mentally prepare ourselves for what is ahead of us. Our gumption is our fuel.

Life can be hard. Relationships help us or distract us, fuel us or drain us. But despite our relationships, we all need our own gumption. We all wind our own springs. Some people just need a bit more winding than others.

How many Sundays - how many hundreds of Sundays like this - lay ahead of me? "Quiet, peaceful, and lonely," I said aloud to myself. On Sundays, I didn't wind my spring. 

Murakami also talks about taking a break from the winding. One day a week his protagonist allows this. It's a wallowing, a lying about without forcing forward progress. It's allowing yourself to be still. Just like I need to wind, I need to unwind (mixed metaphor, I know). I need to rest to have the energy to keep moving. And then, when I have it, I wind again. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

start of summer

 It's summer time. I finished school on Monday.
We're in full-on happy lazy summertime mode (note Holds in the background)
 Even though Brandon is still in school. For three more weeks. He's been a little late this week.
 We went to the zoo. We raided dad's Dolphins hat collection. Holden's ended up sideways which suits him perfectly.
 I love to see the boys together.
And I don't hate the zoo so much as long as I don't have to go to the aquarium, I realized.
Even Brandon fell asleep on the way home.
Found this on my camera roll. This year at the boys' doctor appointments they wore tiny robes which I thought were adorable.
 For Holden's birthday, I took them on the ferris wheel at Scheel's. I think they loved it.
Last week for Arbor Day, we went to Nebraska City, the home of Arbor Day. We went to the Lied Lodge, where I go to school. The boys love the pool there. And I love seeing them happy.
 Dad came with us this time.
I want to remember this about Holden: his signature move is his thumb in his mouth, his finger in nose.

Also, after looking at these pictures on my big computer screen, I've realized I need to take pictures with my real camera.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

my other baby

On Friday night I put the final period on my first novel. I have written a book. An entire book.

Three years in the making (but four months of highly concentrated working). This semester, I submitted fifty pages of my novel for each of my four packets. If you remember, last semester I only wrote eighty pages toward my novel. This semester, 200.

Part of what I'm paying for in pursuing my MFA is deadlines requiring me to write. I don't know how much I would've gotten done if I hadn't had to do it. And in not writing, thoughts I was having then would've been left out, things that were important to me. I would've written a different story, or never finished a story at all.

Steve has been calling me an author now which feels bizarre. A novelist. I think I can call myself either one, even if I'm not published (yet). I have put in the work. I have sweated my emotions and experience and thoughts out into words over many pages. I understand when people call things like this their "baby." There is a pride and joy in it, an I made that. 

With my final sentence, I finished the semester. I have a two month break from school that I will use to comb through this book, revise and edit it. Then I will have someone else do the same. And then I plan to start my second half of grad school with a story I am unwaveringly proud of. 

My thirties are teaching me that I am capable of more than I once believed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

whites in waves

All we do is hide away
All we do is chase the day
All we do is lie and wait
All we do is feel the fade

I can count on one hand the people I know who aren't fading. People who are vibrant: not resigning themselves hopelessly to roles and ruts, to pessimism.

In a longer video for this song, Oh Wonder asks filmmakers what it means to be human. One replies, "Find yourself, lose yourself, and then find others." I love that. That is what the story I'm writing is about. That's what I'm learning myself.

So I am trying to live the life I want, not the life I know. I am taking it one day at a time. I heard once acting brave is as good as being brave because in acting brave you actually become brave. So yesterday I lived a day as the person I want to be. And today I plan to live another like that. And in living days acting like the person I want to be, I will become that person.

All I wanna be is whites in waves

Thursday, April 20, 2017

oh hill

 Oops, I did it again.
That hill half marathon.

When I told my brother about it he said, "why did you do it again?"
I did it again because it is an amazing feat. An accomplishment. A real pushing-my-body-to-the-limit.

Steve did it with me this year. It was nice to have someone know the pain and agony but also the feat and the victory. 

And this year, although I was ten minutes slower, I placed third.
I'm a year older, I'm not training for a marathon.I'm more sleep-deprived. But I can still conquer that fucking hill. 24 times. But this year, I didn't go into work afterward. I took a bath and a nap.  Gotta know your limits. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

old mom

My little sister has birthed a baby.  
A little girl named Aviana Jaye. She is so tiny, so loud. 
 I never worried once about getting Baby Fever. Unless it is meant in the literal sense of a fever, accompanied by a headache and fatigue. Babies are not my jam. New moms have it really rough. Those first few weeks and months are pure hell. 
But being a relative is nice. A relative with her own house to retreat to, with a whole night to sleep through. 
My sister arranged a Sip n See--something like a viewing party of the new baby. It was a dry party, but somehow people still came. I don't know how moms manage without booze but apparently it is possible.
And even though I wasn't the focal point of this trip to Portland, I managed to still make it about me and drag everyone along with me to Powell's. I thought I was doing well, only carrying books: no cart, no basket. But I still managed to spend two bills. Me and bookstores don't mix. Or mix too well.
Amber and I walked around the mall and had puzzle races and played Sequence and got a little tipsy on screwdrivers made with the most disgusting ice cubes. So maybe moms can't actually manage without booze.
It was nice to be near my family again, these people who have always known me. From the airplane, I saw two rainbows. I told my sister it was my promise to never have a baby again. Literal Baby Fever and all that.
And I returned to my own two babies, bigger now, thankful that those baby days are behind us.
I am an old mom, not a new one.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Brandon Jude,

Somehow or another, five years have passed since the day you made me a mother. A different one this time: a mother with a child to care for.

You changed me, as I suppose everyone I know changes me, but in a different way. In a more intense, permanent way. You taught me sacrifice and patience (some - you're not a miracle worker). To love completely, to feel it back. To be stubborn, to give in. You reminded me of living in the moment, something I had lost. You replenished me.

Three years ago, when you became a brother, you showed me a new side of yourself. You are caring and kind and patient and helpful. You always pay attention to and take care of your brother, even when he hits or scratches you. You told me yesterday you will let me hug you until you become a daddy, but then I can't hug you anymore. You've always wanted to be a daddy. To take care of people.

On Sunday, we went to a birthday party for one of your preschool friends and Holden came along. You looked out for him, told everyone he was your brother. You danced with a girl, your girlfriend, you said. You are a popular boy with lots of friends and without an enemy. You are theatrical and happy, except when you're mopey and whiny. You feel intensely, not just with emotions, but with your senses too. Sometimes you can't stand the smell of your brother's sucker: you tell me your head will explode if I don't roll down the window.

You are a problem solver. Just today the doctor told you this monkey didn't work anymore, but you found the on switch and proved him wrong. You put together a complicated Lego dinosaur nearly all by yourself yesterday and you told me, "now that I'm five, I'm even smarter." You tell me how big your brain is getting inside your head. Your memory is uncanny. People marvel at all you know, even though they only know a sliver it. You help out around the house most of the time, but sometimes you say, "I just want to relax."

I feel you, kid: you and me both. I haven't relaxed since you were born, but I have hopes of it in the future. Because you are my oldest kid and you will help me out so I can relax. You will keep an eye on your brother and clean up messes and make me smile. You turned me into something I wasn't--a mother--and I know it is you that will allow me to slip back into myself along with this role I've never conquered.

I'm sorry I haven't been the best mother. It hasn't come natural for me. But as you say, "we can just try our best." That's what I've done. I've given you all I have to give. I know you will see that one day. You probably already do, with that big brain of yours. You are my sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

songs of Q117

When I write, read, run, or drive I listen to music. So basically all the time.  A song will always remind me of a slice of time in my life. These are my favorite songs in 2017:

Love on the Brain - Rihanna
When The Stars Come Out - Chris Stapleton
Southern Girl - Amos Lee
La Cienega Just Smiled - Ryan Adams
You Make Me Sick - Pink
If I Go - Gregory Alan Isakov
Let's Be Still - The Head and the Heart
Shelter You Through - Andrew Duhon
She Used to Be Mine - Sara Bareilles
Blue Ain't Your Color - Keith Urban
Prove It to You - Kris Allen
All the Wild Horses - Ray LaMontagne
Mixed Drinks about Feelings - Eric Church
In My Veins - Andrew Belle
Monster - Mumford & Sons
It Ain't the Whiskey - Gary Allan
Big Jet Plane - Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want - Kodaline
Born and Raised - John Mayer

I am thinking of a writing project with songs. Not sure what it is, but it's percolating. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

mixed drinks

Another song I play on repeat, wishing it was longer.

Country music tells a story. You can hear it here: first his story, then hers, then theirs. 

Need a little background noise
To drown out this little voice
Running circles 'round my brain
Screaming louder than the pain

My head is spinning
My resolve is reeling

Friday, March 24, 2017


For 1096 days, this one has been squirming and screaming. 
Smiling and snarling. 
Getting into things. 
Getting out of them. 
Talking non-stop every minute he's been awake. 
Being a best friend to his brother, being the best lover of me.
If you could hear the way he says, "I'm so excited!" you'd be excited too. 
His squinty-eyed smiles make my world.

On your third birthday, Holden, I want you to know that you are boisterous and imaginative, talkative and energetic. You barely ever sleep, but when you do, it's with me. You mostly eat sweets. You dance by galloping around in a circle. You say, "hold hands" when we cross the street or sometimes just at the dinner table when we're all somber. You refuse to sit in Brandon's car seat. You still sleep with blankies. You're afraid of nothing except flies and bees.

You hang out with the older kids: you think you're Brandon's age. But you occasionally poop on the floor to remind us of how young you actually are. You always want to swing. Or shovel dirt and toss it into the air and watch it scatter. You like Calico Critters and babies. If we go to a restaurant, you mix fruit or pepper into my water glass to make me soup. You're tough as nails but soft as your train blankie. You don't care much for tv but you love the iPad. You sing aloud anywhere, unashamed.

You want to be a chef when you grow up, at Red Robin specifically. But Brandon suggests you become a construction worker. I can see you in one of those tough professions, with tattoos on your arms one day. Or I could see you as a counselor or teacher or something softer.

You are a chameleon, adapting always to those around you, being for us what we need. You will hug me one minute and wrestle Brandon the next. You will help a girl up the stairs, then push down the boy who elbowed her.  From day one, you've been for us what we didn't know we needed, and still now, 1096 days later. And I imagine you always will be. Our youngest boy, the icing on this cake.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

bring joy

I rely on myself a lot. I pull myself out of funks. I self-medicate with yoga and running and writing until I can find myself again. 
I live in a place far from where I'm from. I don't have the camaraderie that comes with an 8-5 job. I make friends, but then the keeping part is hard. I don't have any free babysitters so I either lug my kids along to my friend dates or, more likely, just don't make them. 
I am constantly ensconced in the noise these boys emit, surrounded by the messes they create.
So sometimes I have to remind myself of joy, when I'm not feeling it. I must change my mood because no one else will do that for me. I have learned self-reliance in the most primitive of its meanings.
We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~Orson Welles

I believe this Orson Welles quote in the most lonely of interpretations. 
I am for myself what I wish I could delegate to someone else.
So I bought this book at Barnes and Noble, to remind myself of joy. 
And I bought these little signs to remind myself that what I'm doing isn't always what's most important. That I can chill out and calm down and be for myself what I need.