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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

teaching each other

Yesterday, I told my friend I haven't taught my kids anything. That everything they know is from a book or TV or the iPad or preschool or each other. But of course, although they have learned from other sources, it isn't true that I haven't taught them anything. Why, right saying after that, I taught them to trespass.
We packed up their water wings and swimsuits and went to a hotel pool. I never worried about not getting in. We would just stand there looking pool-ready until someone opened the door. And someone did. I am teaching them to take advantage of opportunities.
I have taught them to always have snacks, no matter what. No one wants to see us hangry.
 I have taught them to watch the sky. To look outside.
I am teaching them to find something they're interested in, even when they're somewhere that seems uninteresting (no offense, Pottery Barn Kids).
This sounds terrible, but by busying myself with things beside them while still around them, I have taught them to take care of themselves and each other.
 I have taught them to smile for photo ops.
I tell them each every day that his brother will always be his strongest ally.
 I taught them when they're riled up, they just need to chill the fuck out with a quiet activity. 
I have taught them to run around and live in the moment. 
And then to relax.
To get sun burnt in March because I teach spontaneity, not preparation.
I have taught them to also look down. To discover what there is all around.

While we drove home yesterday, Brandon pointed out the sunset.  He reminded me to watch the sky, to look up. Look up from looking down. 
These kids are the most spectacular thing. I'm glad I have them to teach. And I'm especially glad I have them to teach me.

Friday, March 17, 2017

in my veins

All that you rely on
And all that you can fake
Will leave you in the morning
But find you in the day

I haven't stopped binging on Andrew Belle yet. He's in my veins. Holden watched me intently today while I was driving, singing along. It was a moment, him and me, entranced in this song. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

for scott

I've been melancholy lately, realizing again how short life can be.

A friend of mine passed away suddenly. I got the call last Wednesday night and I sunk into the booth at work, feeling like this wasn't real. It was an out-of-body experience. I heard the words, and they made logical sense, but it was hard to believe.

I met Scott in 2009. We worked together at the same awful place. We started around the same time and bonded over being new, having no clue what we were doing and receiving no help. Then we started talking shit about people, the place co-workers eventually end up. We both left that job within the year.

I was sitting in my cubicle at PayPal when I got a call from Scott. They had an opening at his current employer, fighting unemployment claims like he and I had done previously at that awful place. PayPal had announced they would be moving their HR dept to Salt Lake City that year and I knew I had to make a move sooner or later so I did sooner.

Scott and I shared an office then. We talked shit about our new co-workers. We talked about what we were writing. He wrote, I worked. I did most of the work for the two of us, honestly.  But I didn't mind. He was one of the few men I have met in the workplace that didn't demean me for being a woman. In fact, he championed strong women. He was married to one, he said his mother was one, and he wrote about them. In fact, in everything of his I've read, a strong woman has been his central character. Scott was a male feminist. He would tell our bosses I was the brains of the operation, even when they ignored me and spoke only to him. He wrote a countdown on the whiteboard of how many more days until he put in his two weeks' notice. He would point at it anytime one of our chauvinist bosses came in and pestered us. 

I absorbed his job when he left and demanded a raise and the VP gave it to me, astounded and impressed, I like to think. I started presenting in the meetings, without them having a male option to choose. All the while, Scott and I stayed in touch. He would email me long narratives on his current projects (he always had quite a few - he was a person of many passions and talents). He would ask me about my writing. He would encourage me to finish something. For many years, he was the only person who did this for me - talked to me about my writing, made it feel to me like something more than a hobby.

When I applied for grad school, I asked Scott to be one of my references. He wrote terrific things about me, he said. And then he asked me to edit a book for him. I hemmed and hawed about it, not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't feel qualified without any past experience. He talked me into it, saying he knew I was the person for the job:

That is EXACTLY why I thought of you. I've been searching for a good editor and I know you would put your all into it because you're very detailed. I also want someone that will cut through the BS, but also make it constructive to make writers better in their craft. These are qualities that would make for a good editor. I also like the fact that you have a viable education behind you that lends credibility to the editing process.

So I agreed. I finished editing his book the first month of grad school. Completing that project gave me skills and confidence I needed for grad school. I was able to see my own work with a more critical eye. I was able to take criticism, now having given it. I knew the time involved in completing a novel (even if it was only as the editor), and resolved I could finally do it.

I have a folder in my hotmail dedicated to Scott and his long emails. He was my penpal. He was the only local writer I knew before grad school. He always encouraged me to keep writing, asked for samples, and read my blog. We met up twice at coffee shops to discuss his novel and the meetings spanned entire afternoons. We had a lot to say to each other, having shared two jobs, one passion, and one book.

Scott had been waiting for cover art on that book of his that I edited. He had just got it back on Sunday and was planning to release the book in April. But then he died on Tuesday, suddenly, unexpectedly. He was 49.

It's funny the way people come into your life when you need them most. Scott gave me something I needed: a belief in myself, a drive to pursue writing seriously. He saw my "no BS" attitude as a positive, not a negative and made me realize its advantages. He was an optimist that saw the best in people, believed in the good. He shared his opportunities, never hoarded. He believed in abundance theory rather than competing against people.

I am a better person for having known him. I'm also just a bit of a mess in realizing that just like that, our lives can end because his did.

Write or paint or dance or sing or do whatever it is you're passionate about.
Find yourself a cheerleader like Scott.
Don't quit. One day you won't have the choice anymore.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Still doing yoga each day, except the one I missed for Solitude Day. I am reaching the point of needing it now, craving it like I do writing. My body feels tense without it. I wasn't doing it enough before. Now it is becoming a discipline.
The boys are even hopping on this train. It is both tightening and loosening us up. We all need it, being a bit high-strung like we are.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

positive review

There is no greater compliment than being told my writing is something worthwhile. Writing is the one skill I have, this craft I have spent more time on than anything else. It is what I'm passionate about, what I can't imagine life without. I still remember once when I was a kid and my dad tousled my hair and said, "that's my little writer." That carried me for a long time.

In undergrad, a professor wrote on the back of an academic paper:

You're a kick. I laughed/chuckled numerous times. And your wit is trenchant [sharp, acute, incisive]!
Honestly, Holly, you need to WRITE [maybe books] in your future!! Listen up, F.S.*, this be yer teacher talkin'...TAKE CREATIVE WRITING!! 
 *F.S. stood for Favorite Student. I had got him to admit it.

That carried me for a long time, too. I ripped his note off the back of the paper and kept it in a notebook.

Then there were blog comments and those carried me.

And then today, I woke up to my best birthday present yet:

this last packet is amazing.

I am sending it back tomorrow.  there is one chapter that isn't quite as strong as the rest, and as usual, I did my nipping and tucking, but
Jesus girl, you can write.

I am delighted. And some of these critical papers should be sent out.

This will carry me for awhile.

But the beautiful thing is, I don't need these compliments anymore, as much as I want them. I have learned to believe them, without being told. I have learned who I am without being directed. Both as a writer and as a person. All the while, I had been writing through the rough draft and now I'm polishing myself into something more like a final version.

Monday, March 6, 2017

march love list

I am starting on the second half of my novel, writing toward an end now. And I don't know where to start. So I am distracting myself by writing this instead. Writers are fantastic at finding distractions. It might be our biggest skill, our most shared trait.

Currently listening to:
It's slow and chill and emotional. Perfect reading or writing music. 

Currently reading:
Many writers write books about how to write. But this one is short. Ron Carlson explains what he did to write his own story. He is full of useful insights, like don't let yourself get distracted. 😳

I heard this quote yesterday and wanted to keep it here, where I might see it again.
Favorite wine right now. It's become a Monday night tradition: to kill a bottle of this while watching The Bachelor.
For my birthday, I asked for a second monitor. You know, one for writing and one for distracting myself by surfing the internet. But our computer is the monogamous type, apparently. So at Target yesterday, I bought myself some other things instead. Steve looked in my cart and said, "god, you're so old." Because yes, I had put in this candle. Best smelling candle, by the way. My office smells heavenly.
I also put in these, because they're pens/markers. My favorite. Makes me feel like trying again on my penmanship. I don't, but at least the thought is there.
And I'm buying myself leather bracelets online. Lots of them. It'd be easier with a second monitor.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


For my birthday, I asked for a day alone.

I have always liked being alone, but I haven't always felt comfortable in it.

I remember being pregnant and going out to eat alone. I was shoved in a corner at one of those tiny tables, and I felt like a leper. I wondered what people were thinking about me: pregnant and alone at that tiny table by the kitchen. I worried about them rather than enjoying my own company.

But twelve years later, I have slipped into this skin of mine. I went out to eat at a restaurant I've always wanted to try. No one to share the decision with, it was all my own. I brought a book, put in a headphone and played my playlist. I propped my feet up on the booth, relishing in my comfortability.

The server didn't ask awkwardly if someone would be joining me, but even if he had, I don't think I would have minded.
Before lunch, I had been at the nail salon, getting a mani/pedi. The technician asked if I was a teacher. "No," I replied, "why would you think that?"
"Because," she said, "you are very calm."
It's true I wasn't drunk like the other hyper ladies in there. It's true I was just reading a book and thinking. But beyond that, I was calm: I was alone. 

After lunch, I walked around a bit, headphones in, shopping half-heartedly. I found this sign, which summed up my day:
 I love my kids, of course, but I needed a break, a breather, a reprieve.

I walked down the Keystone trail next. The sun was up and the breeze was perfect and birds were flying and landing on wires. I thought without interruption. I observed without distractions. I lived in the moment, in tranquility.

And then, for dinner, I met up with some friends from the MFA program, We talked about writing and nonsense.

It was the best day I've had in awhile. I think once a month Steve and I should grant each other a day of aloneness. To recharge for the real world, the life where we're not alone.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Having a busy mind is both a benefit and a liability. Our busy minds keep us from getting bored, they help us be creative, they are in many ways the essence of who we are. But sometimes the racket inside our heads is loud as a car alarm, interfering with our ability to connect with the world around us, to focus on the task at hand, or to get a good night's sleep. And our busy minds also can stress us out and make us unhappy. 

While I was at residency, I wrote what about how it felt to be surrounded by like people, to no longer feel weird because I'm different. I have been learning things about myself, and in doing so, unlearning what I believed about myself only because other people said it. Me being different from the people I'm usually around does not mean I'm insane and they're normal. We're different. That's it.

I have a busy mind and at times it swells in my head, this cacophony of thoughts. That is when I retreat into writing or reading or running or yoga or anything where I can be away from people to think them through properly. However, for three years I have stayed home with my kids alone and there are times when I don't have that option. Those times when they are screaming on top of the cacophony are the worst times of all. We have a rule: no screaming in this house, which hasn't stuck. No screaming in the car has a slightly better record, only because we're in the car less than at home.

Those worst times of all, though, don't only belong to me. I have realized I'm not alone in the cacophony. That other people also hear this racket they need desperately to silence. Not being alone in something makes it feel manageable.

Technology makes this noise worse, probably. There are snippets everywhere and you can easily grab your phone and become inundated with information in three minutes. Information you then have to process on top of your already swirling thoughts.

But for two days, I have barely used my phone. Because without social media, what is there to do on it? (I have restricted myself from all games after an obsessive bout with Inside Out Thought Bubbles). I have been active in moments, engaged in what is going on around me. Yesterday, I played trains with the boys and I looked into Holden's beautiful brown eyes and in those moments I felt so peaceful, not being distracted with something else.

In one study, researchers used an iPhone app to check in on people at random points throughout the day and found that the more people were thinking about something other than what they were doing, the less happy they felt. Even when they weren't thinking about anything particularly bad. 

No cacophony, until there was, and then it was bedtime.

I'm working on cultivating mindfulness now: gathering and focusing my energy entirely on what I am doing at the moment.
And when I can't, I'll run.
And when I can't do that, I will rock myself in the fetal position and uselessly will it all to quiet itself down. Maybe if I'm mindful enough, it will work.

All italicized quotes are from The Introvert's Way: Living a Quite Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling

Thursday, March 2, 2017

non-dairy ice cream

First day of lent done. Oh my god, dairy is in everything. 

Except this, which a dairy-free girl at work told me about (I promptly ran to the store after finishing my shift).

I'm not even that into ice cream anymore. Sure, at one time it was my Achilles' heel, but now I associate ice cream with that time I was fat and uncomfortable and that makes it less desirable to me. But once I decided I wasn't going to have dairy, I craved it. You want what you can't have.

The no-social-media part is going better. I have gobs of time now. Little bits of time that I used to waste are now at my disposal. Yesterday I read and edited and practiced yoga, all before lunch. I was more involved with my kids. I even cleaned the bathrooms, which I rarely do. I hadn't realized how much my productivity had slipped until I had a day of it back.

45 more days. Not that anyone's counting. It's not like I'm already planning myself little concessions on this no-dairy thing, for my birthday meal, a cake for my boys' birthdays. Why is lent during our month of birthdays? It will all work out. I will get real familiar with almond milk.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Nonreligiously, I have decided to give something up for lent. I like cleansing: getting rid of excesses for a time. Realizing I can live without. Filling the void with something better.

So I have given up dairy. If you know me, you know I love lattes, ice cream, and cheese. Outside of pasta, sandwiches, and wine, those are my favorite things to consume. Oh, and baked goods. I love donuts and cupcakes and all sorts of treats that also have, yep, dairy. 40 days. I can do it for 40 days.
I think brownies are dairy-free.

And because I don't like the idea of giving something up without adding something, I have decided to add a daily habit. I will practice yoga every day for forty days. I have practiced yoga only sporadically, once or twice a week. But now, I will make it a daily discipline. Hopefully it gets my mind off lattes. And ice cream. And cheese and donutsandcupcakes.

So those are for my body. But I also have my mind to keep. I have been so overwhelmed lately with how much reading and writing I have to do for school in addition to working (I close now which adds a few hours a week, hours that I didn't realize were so important) and keeping the house and supervising (a better parent would call it "parenting") these boys. I get so overwhelmed that I say aloud, "I'm so overwhelmed" just to give voice to my exhaustion.

So I have given up social media. I have no reason to reach for my phone now, unless I am going to call someone (never) or text someone ("what's for dinner?"). My phone was something I used to fill time I could have used doing something else. I would scroll through posts that didn't interest me just to occupy myself. So now I will occupy myself with reading and writing.

In forty (OK, 46 but I don't want to think about that) days, I will be about done with this semester. So this lenten season, I will buckle down and focus so hard heads will spin. No more phone before bed or right when I wake up. Books. Remember those? I'm hitting them again. Frequently.

When Easter Sunday rolls around, I plan to have a tight body (tighter, I mean😉), a clearer mind, and a finished first draft of my novel. Lent, yous about to become my bitch.