Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Time Store by Christine Gunderson



I have a reoccurring fantasy. It’s not X-rated. It doesn’t even involve chocolate. My fantasy involves time.

I like to image there’s a place called The Time Store. In my fantasy, the Time Store is located in a strip mall near my house, right between CVS and the dry cleaner. A bell tinkles when I push open the door. I enter and squint into the dim light. Dust settles in my nose and I sneeze as I walk up to the counter in early January and place my order.

“I’d like three extra hours, every day, for the rest of the year, please.”

Father Time sits behind the counter. He runs his finger down a column of numbers on a sheet of yellowed paper taped to a mirror behind the cash register. “One hundred dollars, please. Time is precious, you know.”

I give him my money. He gives me more time. Suddenly, my days have extra hours. Hours to spend on the things I need to do, or better yet, on the things I want to do.

What would you do, if there really was a Time Store? Would you write a novel? Train for a marathon? Organize a decade worth of family pictures? Spend more time with the people you love? Or just sit a chair and do that one thing you never have time to do.

Nothing.

Doing nothing or doing something you love is more important than we realize. Play is essential to child development. Doctors say it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well- being of children. Kids need unstructured time to process the world around them.

And it’s important for adults too. Research has found that hobbies and vacations decrease stress in significant ways. Lower levels of stress make us happier. That makes us healthier, which allows us to live longer. And living longer is the ultimate definition of having more time.

This year my resolution is not to do more. It’s to do less. I resolve to make more time for the things I love.

I love reading to my kids. I don’t love driving around in my mini-van as I rush them off to yet another enriching afterschool activity. We’re going to regretfully say no to coding club and chess club and all the other fabulous things we could be doing with our time. These are great activities, but we can’t do less if we’re still doing more.

I love reading to myself, as well as reading to my kids. I have a stack of books by my bed that I’ve been dying to crack open, yet they remain unread. But I don’t love social media or the way it makes me feel. A wise person once said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I want to spend less time on Facebook, looking at the curated lives of others, and wondering why mine isn’t nearly as cool, and more time inside the pages of a book.

I love to write. I don’t love running errands or going to the grocery store when I could be creating another world on my laptop. So, I’m going to be smarter about taking advantage of all the time hacks we have available to us, like grocery delivery.

And I’m going to become ruthless about saying “no” to all the things that don’t serve my family, my writing or my peace of mind. This is so hard. My fragile self-esteem needs to be needed, because if I’m needed, I must be important. And who doesn’t want to be important?

But saying yes, just because you can’t say no, makes you resentful, tired and worst of all, it makes you insanely busy. And I resolve not to be busy this year. I resolve just to be.



###

Monday, January 22, 2018

Finding the Joy by Patty Blount

Happy 2018 to all!

I don't know about you, but time moves a lot faster for me these days. I know it's all relative, but I feel like life has sped up. I can't believe we're in 2018. Feels like yesterday when we were all buckling down to survive Y2K and somehow, it's eighteen years later. New Year's Eve tends to depress me. I find myself looking back with regret instead of ahead with eagerness.

As is common at this time of year, our attention turns to planning and organizing. There are sales on diet plans, fitness programs, and storage containers for everything from your holiday decorations to your cosmetics. There's this almost universal push to start the year off right. 

Define 'right'.

That's what I've been trying to determine. I don't set resolutions; they're made to be broken. But I do like goals.

I had a goal to write a novel once. I tried over and over and kept failing. Then I broke that goal into steps. And I finally finished an entire book. So that's what I do every year.

Last year, a friend encouraged me to choose a word. Just one word I could use to focus my energies on the coming year.

I chose CONFIDENCE. I spent 2017 doing things that built my confidence back up to normal levels. I'm proud of what I achieved last year so I'm doing it again this year.

In 2018, my word is SPARK.

I love this word. It's a noun - which helps me focus on results. And, it's a verb, which helps me decide which actions to take. I want to do things that spark creative joy and passion in my writing. I want to do the things that generate improved health because I have an autoimmune disease that's ruined my life long enough.

SPARK also means arouse, generate, excite, animate, inspire, trigger.

I want to write stories that inspire readers to stand up for their beliefs. I want to meet new writers I can hopefully inspire to reach their goals.
I want to trigger a desire in my sons to make things happen in their lives instead of waiting passively by for opportunity to knock.
I want to provoke my body into moving more because my rheumatologist says "Motion is the lotion" for my pain-filled joints.

The truth is I probably have a lot more years behind me than I do in front of me. I want to make them all matter.




Sunday, January 21, 2018

POWER (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

I was searching for my word of the year when it came to me…

in the middle of a yoga practice.

The instructor was talking about “power.” One definition she gave was “having nothing to prove.”

I’d actually never heard the word “power” described this way. And I loved it.

Usually, I think of having nothing to prove as being a form of acceptance. And “acceptance” seems kind of…passive to me. But to think that having nothing to prove is an act of power?

As writers, it kind of feels like we’re constantly having to prove something—mostly, our own value. We have to find some way to prove to editors or agents that we’re someone worth investing in.

We also often attempt to prove ourselves to others who don’t really get what we do. Who don’t understand what an all-consuming job writing really is. We’ve all gotten those condescending, “Must be nice to hang around in your pjs all day” comments.

Or—even worse—the “Well, I’ve never heard of your books.”

Who doesn’t feel the urge to prove that book achieved its own level of success (was a finalist on a Master List, received a starred review, etc.)?

At times, I know I’ve felt as though I’m constantly striving to get to the next place, the next level. To prove I am a worthy writer. I am someone an editor should invest in. I do have a real career, not wads of play time.

But I suddenly realize how much I can reclaim in my own life by saying, “Actually, I don’t have to prove any of those things—all I have to do is simply be who I am, strive to be my best, and trust that the right people will recognize my worth; I won’t have to beg them to see it.”

Yes—I have nothing to prove.


There really is power in that.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

on controversy and avoiding it

This is my first post in a long time. Thank you, Holly, for your patience with me! Part of my absence stemmed from fear of talking about what has been on my mind.

Like a lot of writers, people-watching is a fave activity. Observing. Noticing. Commenting on the actions of others (to myself, of course). Watching someone have an experience can be more fun than the experience itself. But there is also true joy from diving in headfirst. The joy of doing.

That’s my word for 2018: Do-it.

The hyphen makes it one word, right?

Here goes. My work-in-progress, Swim with the Sharks, is my most personal project yet, the story of fraternal twins healing generational trauma. This is my two sentence synopsis:

A family trauma that has been long held secret still devastates the Kapaloas. Noe and Kalea, fifteen year-old twins, return to Hawaii to discover mystical talents, resolve a family feud, confront real ghosts, and break the cycle that puts their lives at stake.

A year ago, my editor and my agent gave me feedback on a draft, making suggestions that inspired me to revise. However one thing they said stopped me cold.

My editor:

I believe, in writing about mixed race characters, native Hawaiian culture, and by using dialogue where characters speak in both Hawaiian and Hawaiian pidgin, you are placing yourself squarely in the crossfire of current controversy.

My agent:

I agree. In the current environment a publisher won’t touch the manuscript.

These statements shook me up, weighed me down, and kept me from writing for a long time.



When my first novel, My Invented Life, launched in 2009, my editor told me that half the libraries in the country would not order it due to my lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters. This wasn’t exactly happy information, but not devastating. By then I understood that few writers support themselves by writing novels. I knew about attitudes toward LGBTQ people.

At that time, no one said I put myself in the crossfire of controversy for writing a bisexual, African American character (Jonathan), a lesbian, Latina character (Carmen), a boy attracted to lesbian girls (Nico). My second YA novel, Miss Fortune Cookie, is about a white girl living in SF Chinatown, who wants to be Chinese-American. Again, when it came out, not a peep.

Times have changed since then. Issues that have been simmering below the surface have come to the forefront. I am a white writer with all the advantages that entails. Writers of color haven’t gotten a fair shake from publishers, readers, and other writers. Some white writers exploit cultures, stereotype people, and write racist manuscripts that become best sellers.

I want to be a good ally. Good allies promote their author of color friends. They stay out of the fray themselves. But I’m not sure what that means, exactly.

I asked one of my Asian-American writing colleagues: should I continue or scrap the project?
She asked me back: Is this your story to tell?

I spent a few months thinking about this.

Pidgin is a second language for me. Even after much study, I’m not fluent. It was an easy (though painful) first step to remove the Pidgin from the manuscript.

Except for being crypto-Jewish (thank you Ancestry.com), I’m not mixed race, either. Does that mean I should change my main character from mixed race to white?

I was steeped in Hawaiian culture for twelve formative years of my life, but wasn’t born there. Should I take out the references to Hawaiian culture?

This can of worms is HUGE. It involves the rights of writers of color to have the space and the support in sharing their personal stories. It involves the rights of all people to have their stories told with sensitivity. It involves the sum of my life experiences, who I am at my core, and how I came to write books about diverse characters in the first place. And that’s just the beginning.

Is this my story to tell?
I think so.
But some will disagree.


Though, controversy terrifies me, I hope to engage in civilized discourse on the topic through writing a series of blogs. Hello, 2018!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Focusing on the Author Thing (Alissa Grosso)

I've been a published author since 2011, when my first YA novel Popular came out from Flux, but I've been an author for far longer, at least as far back as second grade, as I recall. Maybe that's the reason I've had a hard time seeing writing as something more than a hobby, something to do when all my other chores and duties were done. Well, that and the fact that I don't exactly make a lot of money from my writing, but all of that is going to change in 2018.
In 2018 my goals is to focus more on this whole Author Thing. It's a combination of shifting my own mindset, taking concrete actions to publish some books and figuring out a way to actual make a buck or two from my writing.

One thing that's going to change is that writing is going to become one of my regular scheduled work tasks. No more of this writing as a guilty pleasure thing. I enjoy writing, true, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't take it seriously.

Then, I need to take some action. I've got semi-concrete plans to self publish at least two books this year including my first adult novel. To that end, I've been studying and educating myself about indie publishing and marketing. There's a lot to learn and a lot to take in.

Although I would probably still write even if it didn't bring in a dime, I have some long term goals about actually earning an income from my books. Certainly, if they are a money-making venture for me, it will be harder to dismiss writing as nothing more than a hobby.

In 2018 I'm going to do this author thing for real, and I'll report back to you in about a year to let you know how it all went.

Alissa Grosso is the author of the YA novels Popular, Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond. Watch her author vlog Awkward Author on YouTube and get a free copy of her book Popular at alissagrosso.com.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

On Being Present by Jody Casella

Presence

as in, BEING PRESENT

It is my daily goal. And nearly every day it is a goal I promptly forget, sometimes within seconds of waking up as I stumble in a foggy cloud down to my kitchen to make coffee and feed the animals and make breakfast for the people and pack lunches, all while listening to the news, immediately

plunging into the day's outrage, rehearsing the angry message I'll leave on my cowardly-complicit-never-answering-his-phone senator's voicemail or the conversation I'll have with the aide who does answer the phone at my cowardly-complicit congressman's office, the aide that I always vow to be kind to because she's just a twenty-something stuck in a crappy job, and it's not her fault her boss is cowardly and complicit, the aide I somehow always end up berating, once making her cry

like those crappy customers I waited on did to me when I was a twenty-something working at Ponderosa and Perkins and TGI Fridays who'd yell at me because the cook had burned their T-bone steak or because I'd forgotten to bring them the sour cream they'd asked for because I was running around trying to balance four burning hot dishes on my arm or holding four glasses in one hand,

a trick I am proud to say I can still do. The secret is to keep your hand completely flat and all of the glasses must be the same size--

But what was I saying about presence?

Wait. Let me tell you this first:

Last year when I was working on a book about childhood trauma, I did a lot of research about what it does to the body and to the mind, the surge of adrenaline that courses through you when you are terrified, the adrenaline that keeps coursing through you when you are living in a constant state of terror.

Something I came upon in my research was the fight or flight idea, which most people have heard of, where a child, let's say, is being attacked, and the mind's response is to immediately go primal, no longer thinking logically, but simply doing what it must to survive, and

how you survive is you Fight or you Flee and let the mind sort the mess out later, but here's the thing you might not know,

there's a third response called Freeze, where your mind instinctively knows there is no way you can fight and win, and it's too late to flee, and anyway, where will you go? you are a child and this person who is about to hurt you is coming from inside the house, as they say,

so you freeze, and your mind switches off and it's a beautiful brilliant amazing trick, don't you think? how the mind protects that child, how the child is no longer there, and so remains hidden and safe

and we can sort all of that mess out later.

Another word for this, according to my research, is Dissociation, and something you may not know about dissociation is that it is a trick you can keep performing (like balancing four glasses on your perfectly flattened hand) a trick you can do every day, without realizing it, even though it is no longer necessary for survival-- this trick, dissociation, which, come to think of it, is the very opposite of

Presence

My goal this year

To be present. To exist in the moment, savoring it, experiencing it, appreciating it, looking my loved ones in the eyes when I am listening to them, cherishing them when they are with me, and when I am alone, cherishing that time

inhabiting the space with my body, breathing in and out

slowly,

both feet on the floor, my fingers on the keyboard keys, tapping, the dark window, the outline of tree branches outside, because this moment, this moment, this moment

is the only moment

and not the terrifying past and not the potentially terrifying future, but Now.

It is a goal worth striving for, even as I fail daily, don't you think?



Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Time To CONNECT (Jodi Moore)


I love words. It’s part of the job description. So choosing “a” word to inspire me for the year wasn’t an easy task. I started thinking about it in December and seemed to change it on a daily basis. There are so many splendiferous words out there.

It seemed that every time I’d decide, “Yes! That’s the one!”,  I’d hear or read about someone else’s word and think, “Oh, but that one is so good too…”



How would I choose? It was quite a conundrum. (See? So many lovely words!)

One morning, my husband and I had breakfast at a diner on our way back from traveling. I couldn’t help but notice (awareness is part of the job description too) the family sitting in the booth across from us. Admittedly, I’m making some assumptions about their actual positions/roles as I didn’t know them, but it appeared to be a mother with her two young children (perhaps 7 and 5?) and possibly the grandmother. The adults sat directly across from one another, each one with a child at their side.

There was a short burst of discussion over breakfast options. But as soon as the server took their order, the children’s laptops made their appearance. And the conversation ceased.

I thought perhaps the adults had “grownup things” to discuss and they needed something to entertain the children for a bit. Stuff happens. We’ve all been there.

But, sadly, that wasn’t the case. When I say the conversation ceased, I mean all of it. The two women ate in silence as the children breakfasted with Moana.

Larry and I looked at each other and sighed. Such a missed opportunity. Such a disconnect. Our hearts broke a little bit for them. (It’s almost been ten years since our little chicks flew the coop and we’re still in the throes of Empty Nest.)

But then, a mom and her son came in and sat in the booth behind this other family.

“It’s just you and me this morning," the woman said to the boy as they picked up their menus.

You could have read in the dead of night during a power outage by the light of that child’s smile.

And though their food may have gotten a bit cold as they talked, the warmth radiating off that table could not have been more delicious.

Nor more nutritious…for both.

“Turn around!” I wanted to shout at the other family. “Look, learn. See what you’re missing before it’s too late!”

And that’s when I decided on my word: CONNECT.

I wanted to write it in big syrupy letters on their pancakes…but that may have wound up as a different blog post.



Because life really is all about connecting.

This year, I want to be more proactive with talking to and connecting with my family and friends.

I want to reconnect on a deeper level with my inner child so that I may write stories from that voice of innocence. As honestly as I can.

I want to connect the dots in order to try and make sense of the world, and help others make sense of it too.

And I want to connect with those who feel they might not have a voice, and let them know someone is listening. That someone cares. And that the world needs to hear THEIR stories.

For me, the time to connect is NOW. How will you connect this year?



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Definitely Not a Resolution Post (Maryanne Fantalis)

I am not a big fan of resolutions, goals, plans, or other such things.

I resolve to reach a goal, and it takes a million times longer, or a thousand times more effort, than I expected.

I make lists, and for each item I cross off, ten more take its place.

The joy of starting, the excitement of trying, all the fun, gets sucked out of it along the way.

I get that there's no learning without failure -- believe me, after twenty years in publishing, I GET THAT -- but failing all the time is exhausting and discouraging.

Why set yourself up for that? I mean, January 1st should be a good day: you can sleep in, the whole year stretches out before you full of promise, you haven't screwed anything up yet... Why start the year knowing you're going to fail?

So I don't make new year's resolutions. Ever.

However, after 2017, in which I floundered and felt lost in many ways, I will undertake a few tweaks to the way I approach things.

1)     The first one is an easy one. I'm going to start keeping track of the books I read again. For a couple of years, I kept a spreadsheet of all the books I read -- off line, not public, not for anyone to see. Then I stopped, although I don't remember why. I want to do it again, but my way. With a private list, I don't have to worry about Goodreads publishing everything I do if I forget to check one of their stupid tiny boxes. When I'm doing it my way, I don't have to fret about the dates that Goodreads forces me to keep track of. Keeping a list of what I read is interesting, and as my brain fills up with other things, it helps to have an external resource to remind me of what I've read. Because, let's face it, reading is one of the major accomplishments of any year. And if I'm rereading a certain childhood favorite for the eleventy-millionth time before the movie comes out in March, well, no one needs to know but me.

2)     This next one will be harder, for lots of reasons, but I know it's the right thing to do. I'm going to step back from social media. I won't stop entirely, partly because I have many friends and family who live far away and Facebook is how I keep in touch with them, partly because Twitter is a source of amusement and inspiration for me, and partly because the editors and writers of my incredibly supportive publishing house all hang out on social media together. But social media is a big work-avoidance toy for me, a way in which I can pretend to be busy when I should be writing, and I need to remove that excuse. It's also, in this stressful political environment, incredibly distracting and disheartening. I need to get that out of my life for a while. I need to focus on the writing.

3)     And that leads to the most important one. I'm going to write again. Every day. Whatever that means. If it's five minutes while dinner is simmering or fifteen minutes on my lunch break or an hour when the house is quiet... whatever I can get. I need to get back into the habit, the practice, of writing. Not just because I have a book I need to finish, but because I need to feel good about writing again. I need to stop feeling guilty about not writing and guilty when I do take the time for writing. I need to remember that I enjoy this work.

I'm going to spend 2018 focusing on me. What I can do. What I can achieve. What makes me feel fulfilled and inspired and happy.

What are you doing to bring you peace and feel fulfilled this year?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Change (Sydney Salter)

I usually love resolving. Often over-resolving - like the year I naively set the goal to write, publish and win awards for a manuscript in the same year.

But I hesitate to get all goal-ie in 2018.

I know that it will be a year of changes for me - my youngest daughter is headed off to college in the fall. No longer will my days be bookended by school schedules, soccer games, and impromptu talks. I will have much more free time. But will I miss her to the point of feeling nauseous for weeks, like I did when her big sister headed off four years ago? Or will having so few shoes scattered in my entryway console me? Bottom line: I'm not going to expect much from myself in August and September.

My mother-in-law is on hospice care for small vessel dementia. A big dip in her health put my writing on the back burner for nearly four months last year. Sometimes it's not just the time something takes, like stopping by assisted living most afternoons to eat cookies and watch Dr. Phil, but the toll it takes emotionally. I have no idea what 2018 will bring.

I will try my best to revise my WIP so it's ready to submit by the end of 2018, but I will expect change. And change will mess up my plans.


Monday, January 8, 2018

LESS in 2018--By Kimberly Sabatini


I've heard of more and more people moving away from resolutions and instead, starting their new year focusing on a single word that would sum up their intentions for the coming year. 

I love the idea and for 2018 my word is LESS.

I was tempted to participate in a study for Cal Newport for the month of January where I would attempt to "take a break from optional digital technologies"  and then report back my findings. I really wanted to do this, but it didn't feel right. Coming off the holidays I didn't trust I had adequate time to prepare for HOW I would do this--considering how I use technology as a writer and in my writing community. But the concept of LESS online distractions resonated with me. So, for the year I'm going to actively be looking for ways that I can scale back the online static and only participate in what serves my writing the best. To some degree I've done this already, but I think I have a clear view of where I need to go and I'm excited to give it a try. 

I was again reminded that I was finding the word LESS intriguing when a friend of mine posted about how she added up the hours of her life, that she lost to politics this past year, and was horrified. It was significant. That felt all too familiar. Part of my problem is that I have a tendency to equate my silence with apathy. I want to have a voice and I desperately want to be brave enough to speak up. But--I think I would rather talk to someone face-to-face than post about them. I'm not sure how effective my social media is in unraveling the damage in our country and I fear we are losing the skill of personal interaction. Additionally, I'm not sure I want to continue to give up all those hours of my life to the follow-up discussions that come with speaking up on social media. But it's a puzzle, because I still believe that sharing information is important. So, for now, my goal is to talk less on social media in general. And to keep my more political posts restricted to things that feel very important to share rather than important to debate. It's not a perfect goal--but I will consider it a work in progress.

I could probably write a list of ten more things that I intend to do LESS of in order to get more, but I think these two are the trunk of the tree and the other issues are smaller branches off the main idea. And besides--now might be a good time to begin doing LESS.

If you could do LESS of any one thing in 2018, what would it be? 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Keeping Track ( Joy Preble)

I know exactly when I began writing yearly goals for myself. It was the New Year's Day Eve of 2004 and I had begun to treat writing seriously -- not as something I did sometimes but as something I wanted to do in a professional, published way, with books on shelves. Beyond that, I don't remember why I decided to type a small paragraph size set of goals for myself except that it was New Year's Eve and it felt not exactly like resolutions but more like an accounting, a way to keep myself honest. So I typed them up-- a list of five things, a couple of them more frivolous sounding but all of them focused on changes and transitions and keeping focused on the goal which at that time was to finish the novel I was writing, find an agent, and move on from there.

As I've written about and talked about now and then, I was having a rotten school year. The kind where you either change course or drink a lot or maybe both.  (just to clarify, I was teaching English!) But I don't think that was it entirely. I think I just knew that there was change possible and the moment was here and I had to embrace it now or lose it and so I typed my list.

Not to get too precious about all this, but I do believe what Elizabeth Gilbert writes about in BIG MAGIC (a book I think all creatives should at least skim. Personally I've read it twice.): Ideas come to us and if we don't grab them and do the right thing with them, they slip away and go to someone else. The trick is to be aware enough to know yes, this is the moment. And pull it to you and get to work.

That book I was furiously finishing ended up being Dreaming Anastasia. It did indeed get me an agent and everything (good, bad, and in the middle) that has happened since then.

And I have kept on making my goal lists, expanding to include an accounting of the year just finishing-- actually typing out the things that happened, a brief accounting of books and life and travel and family and world events. I have never met every single goal. But I've always met at least one and usually more than that. In years like the past two where life has felt a bit more upside down, and writing has been painfully slow for a variety of reasons and I have felt invisible far too many days, it helps to be able to both write it down at the end of the year and to read it over now and then during the months to come.

Keeping track in this way makes me accountable. Aware that this is how it goes-- a hilly journey that doesn't always end up where you think you're headed, but if you don't check that internal GPS first and plot a course, you'll just stay where you are.

Was that a good metaphor? I think it probably wasn't, since sometimes we wander without purpose and end up somewhere anyway, but I hope you see my point. Success doesn't happen for most of us 'just because.' We have to pursue it doggedly. And also celebrate the road there.

And so. I keep track.