Thursday, February 28, 2013


This whole crazy journey I'm on started when I was about my daughter's age, and had no idea I was even on a journey. I wrote my first short story when I was 8 or 9, and never looked back. I wrote from then on, without even thinking about why. At first I just wrote stories for my sister and step-sister, made them characters in adventures, because while they were hogging the Atari controls, I had nothing better to do. They were experts at Pong and Combat, and I was figuring out the art of storytelling. It was no big deal. Except that it got into my bones somehow, the need to write, to make up stories, to move people with words. By high school I knew that I wanted to be a writer, without having any idea what that meant. Did writing even count as a job? I had plenty of naysayers to inform me that, no, it did not. Writing was a skill all adults needed. It was a fine hobby. It didn't count as a career. But one thing about me: I'm ridiculously stubborn. I mean, most of the time I'm easy-going. I don't care where we go for dinner or what movie you want to see. I'm flexible on that stuff. But when someone tells me I can't do something that I really want to do, that easy-going nature disappears. Give me something to prove or disprove, and you get a whole different girl.

So I went to college and got a degree in creative writing. I loved my program, my professors, my fellow aspiring-writer students. I loved everything except the way everyone kept saying "Yes, but what will you do for a living? A writing degree won't get you a job." So I got stubborn about that, too, and only applied for writing-related jobs. And got one. I started out as an assistant editor just after graduating college. By the time I decided to go to grad school to earn yet another writing degree I was an editor. By the time I finished my master's degree, I was a senior editor. A senior editor with an MFA in creative writing and a head full of epic dreams of publishing novels. But no idea how to make that dream come true.

I started with short stories. I wrote one after another until I felt like they weren't grappling with me for ultimate control anymore. I started sending them out, and got some award recognition, and then I started getting published. I crafted and recrafted them until I'd published almost all of them. I tried my hand at novels, fighting the unyielding beast until I'd figured out the form, the arc, the pacing, the character development, the heart. The first novel I ever dared show the world was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I figured I was on the right track. But as I sent that book out to literary agents, I knew something about it wasn't right yet. I started a new novel, with a better understanding of what worked and what didn't. I finished it in a few months, quickly revised it with the help of awesome beta readers, and sent it out to a handful of literary agents. And one of them loved it. A huge agent. One of the big dogs.

So here I am. We're in the revision stage now, where my agent, the amazing Harvey Klinger, sends me challenges for each section of the novel, to make it stronger, deeper, more compelling. He is helping me find the heart of this story, and he is an amazing mentor. I wake up in the middle of the night so excited to wake up and write that I can't go back to sleep. I get up each morning so thrilled with my life that it's ridiculous.

And then I get my girls up, make their breakfast and school lunches, drive them to school, volunteer in their classes, all before getting to tackle those pages that have been calling to me since the moment I woke up. And that is perfect. Because being a writer is my passion, no doubt. But being a mother is just as important. And my joy at being this close to seeing my lifelong dream come true is twice as meaningful because of my daughters. I want them to see this happen for me. I want them to remember back when I got my first story published and we celebrated with sparking cider and cookies. I want them to remember the early versions of my short stories that I read aloud as I worked out the kinks. I want them to remember a mom who had a ridiculously huge dream, the kind that is so big that it shouldn't be possible, and I want them to remember the moment when it came true. I want them to dream their own big, huge, ridiculously impossible dreams, and to know in their bones that with passion, persistence, discipline, and focus they can have it, whatever it is. I want them to be unaffected by naysayers, because they know better. I want this dream for myself, as I have always wanted it. But I want it even more for my daughters.

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Wellness Coach: Frances McDormand

So, one thing about being mid-divorce and, ahem, unemployed, is that money can be tight. Like: no we can't get a pizza tonight, but I can maybe make one with these bagels and pasta sauce tight. That's fine. I'm not a materialistic girl, and my kids aren't either. But while trying to find gainful employment, I have been on the lookout for quick and easy ways to make a buck, trying to resurrect my old freelance editing contacts, that kind of thing. When I came across an offer for a "wellness coach" through my health insurance, I jumped at it. Because it paid $75! The wellness coach would be calling me three times over the course of a couple of months, to help set some sort of health goal that I was sure I'd ignore as soon as I had my money in hand.

On our first appointment-call, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my wellness coach sounded exactly like the actress Frances McDormand a la Fargo. She was full of "you betchas" and "dontcha knows" and quirky midwest charm and she instantly made me feel at ease. So I rattled off my various health challenges (stress, divorce, lack of sleep, lack of money) and listened to her sympathize. She'd divorced when her children were young, and understood completely. Then came the coaching. "Ya know, the most important thing to remember in times of stress is to take care of yourself. Ya got kids. Ya got stress. Ya got endless demands. But if you don't take care of yourself first, you're no good to them." And the weird thing was, my Frances McDormand-sound-alike was exactly right. It was the same message I'd heard from my Reiki Master friend Heather. The same thing my doctor had said. The same thing my 8-year-old told me on occasion. But if the universe was sending me the message yet again, then maybe I still wasn't doing it.

Frances wanted me to do one thing: schedule a half-hour of "me" time every single day. She wanted me to tell my kids about it, so they'd (1) hold me accountable to myself, and (2) so they'd see me not just as mom, but also as a human being with actual human needs. She wanted me to set a reminder/alarm on my phone so I'd never forget. She wanted me to spend my half hour doing something that benefited no one but me. And with Frances' permission, I set my reminder. I had lofty notions of hiking and reading and taking yoga classes and doing things that involved not having children around, but that's just not my life. Due to their dad's travel schedule for work, I have my kids about 90% of the time. Daily alone time is a fairly distant memory. So instead, I settled for listening to half hour meditations in my room while the kids watched a half hour of TV and ate their after school snacks downstairs. A totally unproductive half hour for myself every day? Prescribed by someone my own health insurance sent to me? Such indulgence! Frances was my new favorite wellness coach, therapist, best friend, caller, and benefactor, all rolled into one.

About two weeks into it, my six year old came to me as I was working on my computer one afternoon and said, "Shouldn't you go upstairs and rest now?" Because here's the thing: not only is it a half hour of me time ensconced in my bedroom each day, it's also a half hour of kids-behaving-well-unsupervised time. It's a test for all of us. And somehow, we're passing. That's not to say that I never get a kid walking in during my half-hour meditation-time to ask me to open a stubborn package of snacks or wanting to know where her favorite headband is. I'm a single mom. That's the deal. But the fact that I can say to my girls: "Okay, I'm heading to my room for a half hour," and they give me hugs and settle down to do something quiet until I'm done? That's amazing. And the realization that it might not take them 40 years to realize they get to come first, for at least a half hour each day of their lives? That's the best part. Thank you, Frances.