Thursday, March 31, 2011

About last night

Last night was bizarre. I met a small group downtown to review a few pieces of writing. A couple of us planned to attend the spring workshop reading at Grubstreet afterward. A friend of mine dared me to read a flash fiction piece and after a few beers, both of us decided to go for it.

The reading went really well. It was amazing actually. Afterwards our instructor lavished us with praise and I experienced some sort of literary euphoria. Smiling, tingly, and a little sweaty. Like a first kiss. But before I could really soak that in, a man approached me.

I didn't quite put it together at first, but he was someone I'd met awhile back. He was trying to start a writing group near my house. He turned out to be a little aggressive, alienated the entire group (12 or so people dropped out, more than half before our first meeting), and had his meetup group officially removed, twice. Red flags all around. I was starting a new class at Grub, so I politely told him that I couldn't work it out.

Except he showed up at the reading. It felt like he hung out a while near the elevators, so I'd have to talk to him. It was weird because while the thing is technically open to the public, usually the event is just for people who've taken a class that session. He followed us outside and then proceeded to chat us up on the sidewalk for awhile. Puffing away, asking about the classes, commenting on the readings, etc. I urged him to take the novel class and extracted myself. He'd likely take the same train as me, so I left with a friend and waited it out at a nearby bar, we needed to go over some things anyway. He's probably a harmless enough guy, he owns a business near my house and has for many years. Still. Not sure if that will be the end of the story.

So finally I head for the trains and they are all late. I am waiting and waiting, texting the sitter. I get on a train and it stops twice. Lights out, no explanation. At one point the train expresses to the final stop and I have to get off and catch another train. By this time, my sitter is not going to make her train home, so I call her a cab before I even get there. Cab, sitter, killing time at the bar, I've spent a small fortune on this evening.

She leaves and texts me to say that the cab got pulled over. I stay up to wait for her and Little Guy wakes up with a nightmare. It is now past 1 AM and I am downstairs when I hear his feet hit the floor. He runs to my bedroom looking for me, but of course, I am still awake and in the kitchen. I head up there, walk him back to his bed and he says, "Mommy can you just be in your bed now?"

So it was one hell of a night, both awesome and weird, but he was right, at that point I really just needed to be in my bed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Girlie came home yesterday and mentioned that there had been a lockdown at her school. She told me this over lunch and only after I asked how her day had been, a good twenty minutes after she arrived.

Apparently, the bank down the street had been robbed and the guy escaped on foot into the neighborhood. While no one at the bank saw a weapon, the man said that he had one. The school is less than a mile from my house, and just a block from the bank, so the police contacted the school and the staff was told to issue a lockdown. The doors were locked, blinds pulled, and the kids had to sit along the wall, away from the doors.

I asked Girlie how it all went down. She said the principal made the announcement over the intercom system, stating that the request was not a drill. She said her teachers were very calm and the students had been quiet and orderly. She said she wasn't really scared.

At the end of the story she shrugged and said "It's not like anything could happen."

I ate my sandwich and let her believe that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


There is this little nook at the top of my stairs where I fantasize that my desk will be when I am a "real writer." You know, when both kids are in school all day and I sit down to write my second best selling novel. Right now, I have a dresser in that spot, because we need the extra storage and also because the nook is next to the bedrooms and I could never get any work done up there in the wee hours while the kids are sleeping.

I like to imagine that the kids really hold back my creativity, that I'd be such an amazing writer if they were a little older or I was a little younger.

The truth is, given an entire day with no interruptions, I'd probably squander it. As it stands, I get more passionate, more motivated, in some ways, because there is so little time to do it. I have to make it happen.

And because, let's face it, this is all I've got going on right now.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Need some A's and Z's

Starting the week exhausted. Had my dear friend in for the weekend and it looks like I might be too old to even get away with a few days of good clean (relatively) fun.

The laundry is sky high and my writing is in the ditch.

I think I will stick with the laundry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mother Writer

Yesterday I spent the afternoon making homemade spaghetti sauce. We planned to celebrate Girlie's 9th birthday with cupcakes and presents after dinner and she asked for spaghetti, so I wanted it to be special.

It had already been a busy day. It had also been one of those days. Little Guy was literally hanging on me every second. Laundry was getting washed but not folded. The dishwasher was full of clean dishes, but not unloaded, so the new dirties were stacking up. I had only just wrapped Girlie's presents minutes before she got home from school. Hubs texted me that he had to work late, so he'd only arrive just as dinner was ready. There were emails to answer, an assignment for a class I am taking that is still, even now, incomplete.

When Hubs came home and asked how my day had been, I almost said, "Fine, but there's some woman killing chickens in our basement."

What I meant was that my laptop was sitting down there, with a story half baked, one that had been burning in my head for the day. But it was one of those days. So the story sat half written, just at the part where the woman picked up the first chicken.

Such is the life of a mother-writer. Lots of stops and starts, and squeezing it in. Heaps of neglect of either the writing or the family. Or both.

So now I have to get back to that woman. I hope I can remember why she's killing the chickens. Maybe she was thinking about dinner?

Or maybe that was just me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nine is just fine!

My gal turns nine today. Nine!
Could I freeze her right here?

Monday, March 21, 2011

You gotta work

When I owned my store, at least once a week someone would approach me all starry eyed, and I knew it was coming.

"I've always wanted to own a store like this."

I got it, my position as a gift store owner looked like a fun job. And it was. Inevitably, they'd want to know how I did it, and for the most part I didn't mind sharing this information. I'd tell them about business licenses and tax ID's and how to become a buyer and find locations and negotiate leases.

But my number one advice? Before you do it, spend a year working for someone who has a business like the one you'd like to open. I did exactly that and it saved me from so many problems that a new business runs into. In fact, I actually made money my first year, likely because I'd learned so much from that experience.

That was usually the point when they'd start to look disappointed. Working for someone who had a business didn't sound like fun. It sounded like work.


Even the dream job involves a ton of work. Not just any work, but work you don't always want to do. It was true when I started a retail store, and it is true about becoming a published writer.
There is still so much I don't know about this writing gig. Let's pretend for the sake of this discussion, that I have talent. I have been so busy worrying about the how and the why and whether this is an art or a business that I have forgotten my own advice. Really, I just have to do the work.

Easy enough, no?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reduce Reuse Revise

I am getting to the point where I have a stack of writing in progress, various short stories and a few longer things that need to be sorted out for either the trash or the recycle bin. Within the recycle pile I've got writing, both glass and plastic, and I need to weed through and divide those too.

At a reading this week, one of the writers said that revision was his favorite part, that he loved taking something he'd done and tweaking it over and over, until someone (or something, usually a deadline) made him stop. I think this could be the case for me too, except I have to admit that I am a little afraid of it. What if I actually make the writing worse? Or what if the first stab is as good as it gets?

Either way, it doesn't matter I suppose because what I absolutely cannot do is let this stuff pile up and do nothing about it.

Because then I would be a hoarder. And crazy.

A crazy hoarder.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On being brave

One of the hardest things about writing for me has been the lack of something concrete to show for it. I don't mean that I am not producing anything, just that you can't exactly sit it on the coffee table and admire it. The biggest example of this is from my experience with NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words of mostly crap, taking space on my hard drive, never to be seen again.

But maybe not.

The other day I had dinner with a writer friend and she wondered aloud if there might be something to mine from that material. So I sent it to her.

Yes, I sent her my really awful writing, most of which will be more painful to read than my eighth grade diary. I sent it because she knows my other writing. I also sent it because I want to be brave.

Which brings me around to the knick knacks. What I have to show for my work in this case is a smidge of personal development, which I think probably comes, for me at least, in turquoise and red.

And looks perfect on my coffee table (if you just imagine it).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just don't make me wear the parachute pants again...

Lately everywhere I go there seems to be 80's music playing in the background. And I am not the only one who is noticing it. My neighbor, who is in her early 40's, mentioned that she heard a Cure song playing in a restaurant the other day.

Ah, I said, so we're now the target demographic.

Somehow it doesn't feel as exciting as I thought it would.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Prompt and also Right on Time

The class that I am currently taking focuses on flash fiction, usually 1000 words or less. We get a prompt or two to choose from each week, usually a particular writing technique to follow, like writing the story backwards or focusing on color, etc. along with an example of that style. I have written some pretty amazing things from a few of these prompts, things I would never have dreamt of writing without them.

As a newish writer I was previously under the impression that it was up to me to summon the magic completely from thin air. This is fine and dandy when you have a story idea in mind, but insurmountably depressing when you do not. So back then, I would sit at the keyboard and hope. Hope does not float. Hope sinks.

It turns out that writing prompts are commonly used within story writing circles, and having a place to start has been, for me, transformative. I've written shape shifters, stories that begin at the end, and the color red. I've written an old tale in a new way and even a love story. Best of all, the prompts have really helped me to be able to sit down and write, which is way more fun than sitting down and not writing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

From Trainspotting to Crockpotting

I've said it before. Though I can't be sure, I think I used to be cooler.

I'm not sure when it started, but I think a potato might have had something to do with it. We didn't have kids yet and an older woman that I was friends with mentioned that she was making potato soup from scratch. I thought to myself wow - this woman makes soup that doesn't come from a can. She gave me the recipe and I gave it a try and was pretty successful. Of course, the secret to making really good potato soup involves bacon. Sort of earth shattering to me at the time and also my first attempts at "home cooking".

So this soup incident happened in 1996. I'd been married about a year and we lived in downtown Atlanta where it seemed like everything that was anything was happening within a few blocks of our condo. We hosted dinner parties and I started to cook. The movie Trainspotting came out that year. It was uber cool at the time. I don't recall that films were edgy before that and it really stuck out. We saw it in the theater, fairly early, and of course we knew about "the scene." At our parties, we'd discuss things like "the scene" while we ate fancy party food.

So when did I become Queen of the Crockpot? A woman who can make a killer slow cooked pot roast. A woman who rarely sees an edgy film until it makes it to DVD, and even then, probably after it's been out for a year. And even then, only maybe. And even then, with the distinct possibility of falling asleep during the highly anticipated film, likely in a pot roast induced coma. A woman who hasn't hosted an actual dinner party in years, never mind mentioning "the scene" that I'd slept through.

That part is a bit fuzzy, but it seems to have cemented, solidified over the last few years. So here's the thing. I am mostly okay with it.

There I said it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some bacon to fry.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Luck o' the Irish

Boston has a fairly large Irish population, almost 20% I think. St. Patricks Day is next week and the celebration here draws a huge crowd. It has been raining a ton this week and the approaching holiday seems fitting since things have felt very Irish lately - a little gloomy, damp, and moody.

We Americans glom on to the idea of St. Patricks Day because there is a party involved, much the same way we celebrate Cinco De Mayo. But still, there is something to be said for the Irish mystique. I find myself so attracted to the idea of Ireland, the stark countryside and the people, a culture that seems to be all about the beauty in the bleak. Not to mention the beer drinking.

I have been listening to Mumford and Sons a good bit, and in particular the newly released The Cave. Their songs make me want to find myself a nice little cabin to hide out in. I'll chop my own wood and wear green knee high wellies and drink whiskey as soon as it's dark - which means all day when it is raining like this.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Money Money

As I ponder re-entering the workforce, I have been thinking a great deal about money lately. Hubs and I have always been fairly conservative spenders. We have no debt, with the exception of a car loan. In the past, we have bought our cars in cash, but with the rates so low, it made sense in this case to hang on to our savings in case we find a house.

Our spending habits are really important because we've been living on a single income for almost three years now. Before that, when I had my business, we spent some of the money I made, but we were careful to keep our main expenses covered with Hubs' salary.

The cost of living is high here and it is financially challenging to live in Boston. For the first time in years, it looks like we might need my income, especially if we buy a house. Still, some of the things I am considering may not pay very well or at the very least may have some ramp up time, so this issue isn't going to go away.

Luckily, I am the queen of the budget squeeze. Whether your goal is to freelance or try something new or be at home with the kids (or in my case, all three), and because you asked (you asked, right?) here are my top five ways to live with less:

1. Start where it doesn't hurt that much. For me, these were little things. I no longer buy paper towels. I use washcloths instead and then toss them in with my whites. Granted I am only saving around $10 a month, but that $10 didn't hurt a bit. I switched to single ply toilet paper because it is half as expensive, better for the environment, and works just as well (really). I buy generic whenever I can. For the most part, I don't notice any of these things. I still buy organic, but on the small things, I cut corners hard.

2. Reign in the convenience spending, like ordering a pizza or having dinner out just because of a busy evening. This one is really important. We certainly enjoy a delivered pizza, but if we're going to spend the money, it should be on a planned expense when we're going to enjoy it. This one takes a little thinking through, you'll need to take a look at your budget and find out where these things happen for you. I try to have extras on hand to prevent these "emergencies," and I I have found that this area is one where I can save quite a bit.

3. Pick your luxuries, but don't keep adding to them. I use a pricey brand of foundation. Instead of buying all of my makeup from that company, I pick the things that I must have, and substitute with cheapie lip gloss from Target. You have to be tough with yourself on this one. There are going to be things you have to live without, but it doesn't mean you can't still have a few of your favorites.

4. Speaking of Target, stay away from temptation. If you're like me, you can't make it out of certain stores without a few extras, so I only go shopping when I need something. For the most part, I stick to my list. And when I find myself picking up an entire set of acrylic outdoor wine glasses in the middle of winter, I stop and ask "do I really need these right now?" If the answer is no, I put them back. If I decide that I need them in the summer, they'll still be there. Buying ahead to save money makes sense, but don't be tricked into buying things you don't need because of "a good deal."

5. When you really need a fix, shop your own house. Or at the very least, hit a consignment store. Sometimes, you just want a little some thing new. When this happens to me, I rearrange things in my house. I move accessories or artwork. I swap the pictures that I have on display. If that still isn't doing it, I will hit a consignment shop. I am convinced that almost everything that I have ever wanted has already been purchased and tossed out by someone else. This one isn't as hard for me, because I love vintage items. But even if you aren't, you might be surprised what you can find at these places. I've snapped up brand new high end jeans for $8. When I looked them up, it turned out that they could only be purchased in London and usually retailed for around $145 a pair.

6. Oops, did I say 5? As for a budget, have one. You can't keep a close eye on it, if you really don't know where the money is going. It doesn't have to be complicated, a simple software program connected to your bank account will do. I use Quicken and it takes about 5 minutes every few days. After gathering the data for a few month, run some reports and get cracking.

Once you get going, it isn't really that hard. Because I still spend money on the things we really value, it doesn't feel like we are making huge sacrifices. And I have found that this lifestyle has helped me identify what is really important to me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What is "real"?

One of Little Guy's current favorite books is The Velveteen Rabbit. The story, in case you aren't familiar, follows a stuffed rabbit on his quest to discover how to become real. At the end of the story, the toy rabbit has been discarded but the playroom fairy finds him and turns him into a real live bunny. Although he is no longer needed by the little boy, she tells him that he can become real because the boy once loved him.

There are many discussions among my writer friends about what makes a "real" writer. Like the rabbit, we're all on a quest to define real, to understand real, and to get real. There are the diehards (cough, liars) who say they do it for the shear joy of it, but most of us agree that getting published is the ticket to becoming real.

So when I think about The Velveteen Rabbit story, and the message behind it, becoming real might be as easy as having one person who loves you, or in this case, one person who loves your story.

Unfortunately, that one person is an editor, just as elusive and mysterious as the fairy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Days Longer and Shorter

As we move out of winter, the days are starting to get longer. It has been a hard winter, but I can't say I am ready for spring just yet.

The extra sunshine is lovely, but it also means that Little Guy is starting to wake up earlier. He has always been one of those children that wakes at daybreak. We have blackout shades in his room and yet still it seems like his body knows when the sun is starting to come up. Today he woke at 5:45 and it was still just dark enough that I could send him back to bed for a few more minutes, but that will end soon too.

Every writer has an ideal time of day to write. I wish I was one of those evening people or the ones up until all hours, but I'm not. My best work happens before noon, but the mid morning hours are usually busy with the family, so to capture it, I have to get up before everyone else.

As spring approaches, the early waking means that there will be less of my best morning creativity. The days will get longer until finally it is summer when both kids are home and it seems I never get any decent work done. Though the turning point for daylight happens in late June, I never notice it until July, and even then, it will take much longer for me to make the shift. Hot, stagnant, marked by dull lack of progress, dog days indeed. By August I will barely be writing.

Now I am looking back on the time I've lost, the dark January mornings that I didn't get up. One day my children will be old enough to get out of bed on their own. Or they'll finally hit the phase where I am dragging them out of bed. Until then, I'll be looking forward to fall, and even now as the snow is still melting, I find myself thoroughly excited about next winter.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I swear

So my son dropped the f-bomb yesterday. I wish I could say it was the first time. I wish I could say that I have no idea where he heard it.

Yes. I swear.

It's the last of the vices. Since becoming a parent, I've given up the late nights, toned down the booze, and I always buckle up. I eat better. I'm on time. I barely watch TV. Gone are the gossip magazines, the massages, and the aimless afternoons of retail therapy. I wear comfortable shoes. My couch is neutral and scotch-guarded. I drive a mini-van.

But the swearing? I haven't been ready to give it up. And yet, it isn't enough for me to tell him not to do it, so it looks like I'm going to have to clean up my act.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Something you aren't (yet)

A writer friend and I have been kicking around whether or not to attend a local writing conference. The event will have a series of short lectures, a keynote, and, for an extra fee, a marketplace with agents and publishers. Neither one of us are even close to shopping a manuscript, but the rest of the conference might have something to offer. We've been debating the expense, whether the short lectures are worth the time, and most importantly, whether we're ready to mingle with the other writers.

It reminds me of something that happened early on in my business. Within a few weeks of opening my store, a guy came in. He was impressed with the store design and the lighting in particular. He asked if I could sell the lighting. Since I had ordered so much of it, technically, I could be a dealer. Because it was so early and I was so eager to make money in any way, I told him that yes, of course, I was a dealer. I went to the back to pull the catalogs, but realized too late that they only contained wholesale pricing, and worse, I didn't have a plan for pricing in place.

At that point, I should have gone back to the guy and told him that I'd need some time to get the catalogs together. Instead, I grabbed a sharpie marker, and started marking through the prices. Of course, the black ink wouldn't dry and I smeared marker on my hands. The rest of the book had pricing too and it would be impossible to mark every page, so I tore out the pages in question. Red faced, I handed the guy a few crumpled pages with smeared marker on them (and me). Needless to say, he didn't come back to order lighting from me.

There is something to be said for not trying to be something you aren't, yet. I am a fiction writer. I am writing fiction. But I am not a mature fiction writer. The writing isn't going to be as easy as the lighting could have been, yet I feel okay with the fact that I am right where I am supposed to be. I think the important part is that I am up front about it from the beginning.

So the big question is, will my friend and I attend the conference? Maybe. Either way, you can bet that I will definitely leave the sharpie markers at home.