My Pathological Fear of Creating A Scene

Project Write is going slowly.  And that’s putting it nicely.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of writing yet.  But there has been some reading of books on writing including one called The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter.  I love me some good subtext, I really do.  Today’s chapter was titled “Creating A Scene”.  And, living up to the theme of the book, Mr. Baxter means that in more than one way, of course.  Because to write a good “scene” in a story or novel, one needs to have characters capable of creating a scene.

Fiction, a dramatic medium, asks writers to unlearn the habits of conflict-avoidance for the sake of revelation.

People who have practiced good manners and conflict-avoidance all their lives have to remember to leave those habits of mind at the door when they enter the theater of fiction.  Stories thrive on bad behavior, bad manners, confrontations, and unpalatable characters who by wish or compulsion make their desires visible by creating scenes.

Well crap.  That sure explains a lot.  I have literally spent the last twenty-five years striving to be a woman who can Keep Everything Calm and Everybody Happy!!  I have failed miserably, but not for lack of trying.  I am all about scoring approval points from people I do not know and who I will never see again.  Also, I am extremely uncomfortable with non–positive feelings and attitudes as well as all things Awkward.  (I literally can not watch The Office for more than one minute.  The Awkward makes me soooo uncomfortable!)  If a friend or a family member shares a problem or a concern with me, I make it my personal responsibility to solve it as soon as possible.  I do this because I care, but also because I can’t stand for there to be any unhappiness in the world.  Which, on its very face, is completely ridiculous.  There is so very much unhappiness in the world at any given moment.  “In this world you will have trouble” Jesus said.  Not “you might” – but “you WILL” – it’s a given.  He also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” – making the very clear implication that we are going to have trouble pretty much every day.  And yet here I am, getting all bunched up because people I care about have troubles!

So is it any wonder then that I have a terrible habit of writing awful bland characters who either have no problems or only have problems because of outside forces?  And I literally can’t even think of a compelling start to a story because that would mean introducing trouble into my imaginary universe?  GOOD GRIEF.

Well, unlike most of the problems I struggle with, this one is NOT unsolvable!  (For some reason, that sentence was followed by near-maniacal level laughter in my head.  Let’s not spend too much time analyzing that.)  I am surrounded by drama.  I myself can be quite the drama queen, at times.  Creating imaginary drama for imaginary people should not be out of the realm of my abilities.  I can do this.  I can let go of my need to control, fix and solve.  I can let happy people be unhappy.  I can even CAUSE some unhappiness. (fictionally!!  of course!)  (Why did I feel the need to clarify that?!)  I can let my characters be Awkward and Uncomfortable and sloppy and sad and hurt and maybe even mean.  And maybe we’ll all be better off for it.  (“We” being me and my characters.  I can’t speak for the rest of you, though a girl can dream…)


Gotta Start Somewhere

2018.  I honestly have no idea how on earth it can be 2018 but it’s an accepted fact around these parts that I am Very Old and on the rare occasion when I write a paper check I still have to consciously tell myself to start the date with a 20 instead of a 19 so obviously the fact that we are almost two full decades into this new century is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Nevertheless, I welcome this New Year with open arms, hopeful anticipation, and maybe a smidge of mid-life angst.

It turns out the truth under the pile of diagnoses and drama was Autism – or Aspergers if that makes it easier to picture – and it also turns out that while the word is somewhat scary at first, it’s a lot less scary than the unknown.  It’s also a lot less scary when you’ve got the right supports in place, which I think maybe we finally do.  Leah is going to a school where she fits and the teachers know her and accept her and even understand (!!!) her which translates to her not hating school for the first time in like ten years and being willing to actually go for the first time in at least four years.  It’s a HUGE weight off my shoulders.  Writing the word huge in all caps doesn’t even do it justice, but take my word for it, it’s literally life-changing, for both of us.

As a result of this massive answer to prayer, I find myself in a place I’d almost given up finding again.  For a few hours each day, I am alone in a quiet house.  It is bliss.  And it is daunting.  Do I fill the day with chores and errands?  Spend it chatting on the phone, flipping through FB and exercising?  (Answer to both: yes.)  Or… do I return, once again, to that void that follows me everywhere, that gaping question that hounds me, taunts me, terrifies me: Am I ever going to be a writer, For Real?

I’m reading this book, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson and he talks about how to know if our desires are God-directed desires.  He says we need to lay our desires down because sometimes they become idols and we need to know God is directing us and we’re not just going off on our own.  And then he says that often what happens is that God will give them back to us – and it is when a desire does not go away no matter how much we set it down, that we see God working in it.  (This is obviously an imperfect science and we’re not talking about unhealthy addictions here.)  Given that criteria, I’m realizing that it may actually be disobedience for me not to write.  Or at least try to write.  So here I am, again.  New Year, old resolution.  And in case you’d hadn’t guessed by the appearance of this blog post after months of internet silence, this is me taking a tiny baby step.

I want to do this.  And I’m afraid.

Biblical Tangent:  I’m reading the Bible in a year (she says on the 2nd day of the year) and I was in Genesis chapter 3 today.  Check this out, this is right after Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

… And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Genesis 3: 8-9, 21

Key points salient to the topic at hand…  Adam and Eve were always naked.  Like since ever.  It was only after they ate the fruit and put themselves in the place of God that they felt shame and fear.  And they hid.  And it’s God who calls to them, goes and brings them out of hiding and makes clothes for them to cover their shame.  He does that.  Time and time again.

I am afraid.  I feel worthless, useless and unimportant, apart from what I can contribute in the role of Mom.  Without that title, I feel naked.  Can I trust Him enough to step out from behind that moniker?  Maybe it’s time I find out.


In Which I Stubbornly Cling To My Optimism

Ah September. The days are getting crisper (and soggier), the school routines are getting in place, and all seems possible and exciting again.

We went to Leah’s school curriculum night last night. Aside from the terrible parking and the boring repetitiveness of going to six classes each ten minutes long and how badly I wanted to be home on my couch, it was good. Mostly because I think she has really good teachers this year. Every one of her core subject teachers is completely on board with using the online service for communicating with students and parents, including posting all assignments and handouts online. Nice! I’ve been waiting years for her to get to this point. I do not understand why younger students are expected to remember everything and older students have the convenience of checking their classes online, but I’m super happy we’ve finally hit that point with her. On top of that, her teachers are all seasoned but yet enthused, a combination that I’ve discovered is hard to come by. So – fingers crossed! – this looks to be a very good year for her. Considering her last really good school year was third grade, I think we’ve earned this. (Also, I’m sure it won’t hurt that we’ve got this ADHD meds thing figured out with what seems to be just the right dose.) (Part of me hates that my 12 year old is on a daily dose of a controlled substance. The rest of me is just happy that it works.)

Meanwhile, I’m still in transition-land. Quinn is home for another week or so (the uncertainty of her moving date is only making me a tiny bit tense) and right about the time she goes to school, my next writing class starts.

Yep, I signed up for another one! “Putting the Horse Before the Cart: A Character Workshop”. I have a problem writing characters – I tend to make my protagonist into a total Mary Sue , or make them so bland and generic that even I couldn’t care less what happens to them. I’m hoping as my characters improve, my plots will too. Also, I need the push to write. The minute my last class ended, so did my daily writing habit. (Which goes to show that adage about doing something for x number of weeks will make it an ingrained habit. Not for me!)

The good news is, this year I’ll have even more time alone to write because Luke is signed up for before school activities four mornings a week. I swear I didn’t plan it, it just happened! He’s taking Karate two mornings a week – which is awesome because last time I signed him up for Tai Kwon Do he liked it but it was three evenings a week and totally consumed the schedule and we quit after the introductory six weeks. Before school, at his school, I just drop him and he heads off to class afterwards is SO much better. The other two mornings he’s taking band. I didn’t even know they’d let fourth graders in band, and then I learned it was at the middle school and I was like “no way am I driving over there in rush hour traffic before school” but then they said “elementary kids can ride the middle school bus” which means Luke can just ride to the school with Leah and seriously I think Someone Up There really likes me this year*. I’m only a smidge worried about how much longer this will make Luke’s day. Reality is he’s up pretty early on an average day anyway, sitting in front of the TV watching PBS kids for 30-40 minutes because he’s bored and ready to go. He’ll be happier with something to do and I’ll be happier with that extra hour to write! {I won’t go back to bed. I won’t go back to bed. I won’t go back to bed.}

Aside from all the school-related optimism, I’m also hopeful this fall because I’m finally taking Peri head on. “Peri who?” you ask? Peri-the-Menopause! (Said in the voice of Dr. Doofenshmirtz upon discovering his nemesis has arrived on the scene. “Peri! How good to see you. And by that I mean how very not good it is to see you.”) After like four years of feeling like I’m a freaking poster child for the mid-life crisis, it finally dawned on me “Maybe I should try to do something about this?” And by something I mean go to a hippie doctor (aka naturopath) and get some bio-identical hormones. So I did. After I first checked out a few books from the library (my personal fave: Female Brain Gone Insane: An Emergency Guide For Women Who Feel Like They Are Falling Apart ) and realized that such a thing as natural plant-based bio-identical hormones even existed. What can I say, I live a sheltered life. So I went to the hippie doc and got my blood tested and starting in just a couple of weeks I will be tricking my body into thinking I’m 25 again. {cue evil laugh}. And that is a very brief explanation. I intended to write a long and wordy post all about My Battle With Peri but I’m never in the mood, or never have time when I am in the mood, so that’s all you’re getting for now.

Holy cow. I did it. I blogged the whole time Quinn was gone picking up Drew! And now they’re home and so I have to go. Bye!

*Kidding! I know Someone Up There likes me … he sent His Son to die for me, after all. But I do appreciate the fantastic way my kid’s schedule came together.

In Which I Embrace The Cliche Wholeheartedly

I love my writing class. I love everything about it.

I love going to Blackboard to look at my assignments – Mine! – not my kids, MINE. I love the readings. Some of them are weird or even a little profane and totally different from anything I’d ever read by choice and sometimes I sit there thinking “What am I doing?” and then I read everyone else’s reactions to the readings in the online discussion and suddenly I see things there I didn’t see before and I just love that.

I love the assignments. Even when I hate them. Like on Sunday when I had to quickly – without thinking – fill in 15 off the wall metaphors and then take them and weave them into a surreal style story and it was just not working at all. I mean it was terrible. The metaphors I’d written were horrid and the “story” that sprang from them was lame and ridiculous and terrible and it didn’t matter because we always have the option to use one of our daily prompt writings in place of the assignment if we want. And one of the prompts “Let me be your Virgil to…” was really fun and easy to flow with and for once my problem was I had too much and had to edit it down! (Mind you, before I even started the prompt I first had to go online and find out what it meant to be a “Virgil” to someone, wherein I disovered, “Virgil’s work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably the Divine Comedy of Dante, in which Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.” OHHH. Gotcha. Being someone’s Virgil means telling them about a hellish experience. (In our case, erring on the side of humor. Which, I love. Did I mention I love everything about my class?)

I love my binder. Other people in the class have sophisticated apps and programs in which to organize everything and they know tricks to quickly scan the discussion forum. Not me. I have to carefully scroll down looking for the ones in bold because I can’t figure out that trick. And I need actual tangible papers in front of me. So I printed out all the readings and all the assignments (thus far) and put them in my very own bright pink binder with brand spankin new dividers. I didn’t go out and buy them because that would be decadent – they were left over from the beginning of the school year when we always end up buying far more than the kids ever need or use. But they are new and now they are mine. My binder is organized and pretty and I love it.

Know what else I love? I’m writing. Sure, most of it is crap that will never see the light of day, but so what? I wrote a poem. An honest to God poem and I think it’s even pretty good. It’s about hail, if you must know. No schmaltzy romance poetry for me! (Or at least, not this one, not now. Who knows? Maybe next week I will get schmaltzy! You never can tell!)

I seriously don’t know why I waited so long to do this. It’s awesome! And because I love you all so, I’ll share one of our assigned “texts” with you… which is actually a Ted Talk. And yeah, it’s the woman who wrote Eat Pray Love and I have all kinds of attitudes and biases about that, but the talk? Is really good. So if you have the tiniest inkling of wanting to write, or if you’re just in the mood for a motivational and interesting Ted Talk, check it out:

Life, Encapsulated

So I did it. Summed up my entire existence in 150 words or less. Now there’s a humbling thing to do. Also surprisingly revealing. Think about it, if you have to use that few words, you are more or less forced to choose one aspect of your life to accentuate. And if you just start writing without really thinking and purposely choosing an aspect, it’s only when you step back and read what you’ve read that you see what matters most to you. Or, in my case, when you send the first attempt to your 17 year old daughter and she writes back, “You are way more of a family-oriented person than me, so it’s not what I’d write but it seems true to you.”

(First two thoughts that popped out at me: 1. How perceptive! 2. Why isn’t my daughter as family-oriented as me? Have I done something wrong?)

Oh and as even more of an aside, in my first draft, I said I had two “homegrown” kids and two adopted from SE Asia. This was Quinn’s reaction to the word “homegrown”:

homegrown? That’s pretty much the most weirdly graphic term for pregnancy I’ve ever heard, and makes us sound like Chia pets or meth or organic vegetables. I don’t know if that’s a normal word in the adoption community but it seemed weird.

Yeah, don’t think I’ll be using that word again! LOL. (btw… have I mentioned lately how much my daughter cracks me up? Seriously, sometimes I just want to walk around writing down everything she says, but I’d look a little odd following her around campus with a baby book in one hand, and a pen in the other.)

So I took that feedback from the first draft and thought “Am I limiting myself? Let me try again.” And I cranked out… gobbledygook. A whole lot of it. I’d try going in other directions, using other aspects to frame my life around, and either fail to tie it all together, or run out of words way before I was done.

And then I saw this humorous take on the Meyers-Briggs personality typing thing…

prayers for m-b personality types

And that got me curious about my own personality type. I took the test years and years ago, the first time during pre-marriage counseling, the second time when my oldest was a baby and our church was doing a thing to help you find your “gifts”. I’ve changed since then. Or at least, I was pretty sure I had. So I took the test. (My daughter sent me that link. There may be better, more accurate versions of the test. But she’s quite adept at finding online tests that allow one to be introspective and procrastinate at the very same time! Handy when one is having a very hard time encapsulating one’s life in 150 words or less.)

So I was right, I have changed. Where once I was something like an ENFJ, now I’m an ISFJ. Which means like two whole letters in my personality changed. ( Click here for the descriptions of each type, if you’re curious.)

That link is not the same as the description I got when I took the test (I’d have to take the test over again to get to that explanation. And I’m too lazy)… the test’s description specifically said that for an ISFJ family is the first priority.

Given that even the personality test gods said so, I figured there was no fighting it. I decided to just stick with “family” as the core of my life story and go with it. So I did. (Also, why was it a surprise to me, a SAHM, that family is important to me? Isn’t that like a total DUH? Sometimes, I swear, I exasperate myself.)

Are you thinking that now I’ll show you what I wrote? ‘Cause I’m kind of thinking I won’t. I mean, I was going to, but then I realized no matter how many times I rewrote and edited, I still rather hated the stupid thing. I got to a point of just saying, “It’s good enough for my instructor and 16 strangers, but that is it! No one else!” Because I also figured out that my grade in this class is based on “effort”… meaning, I just have to turn things IN, they don’t have to be GOOD. Which is somewhat backwards and upside down from how school used to be for me, but is also very freeing, especially in regards to writing.

Aw heck. Okay, I’ll do it. But promise not to laugh. Or at least, not “OL”. And try to hide the sneer of derision while you’re at it. It won’t be easy, but do your best.

Mine is a story of family. I am the youngest of four. First came my sisters, both adopted as babies. My brother was born a couple years later, and I less than two years after that. My parents divorced when I was six. My mother moved with three of us to Seattle. Dad and one sister stayed on the East Coast. At 19, I took a break from college and moved back East to help care for my baby nephew. That same year, I met the man who only three years later would be my husband. After graduation we moved back to Seattle and started our family. Our first two children were born nineteen months apart. Four years later, we adopted our daughter from Cambodia. Five more years and we brought home a three year old boy from Vietnam. Mine is also a story of restoration.

Anyway, it’s done now. Done and behind me and I am moving on! Already completed two writing prompts this week. (Write for 15 minutes, on a topic given by the instructor, no thinking, no editing. And then put it away and don’t look at it again for a while. I think it’s my favorite part of the class, thus far.) And I had to respond to three Discussion Questions which I didn’t realize were technically due by noon today so I was late. But I got over it. I’m such a slacker! Check out my “devil may care” attitude! Ha. ha.

Meanwhile, as I sat here telling you how important family is to me, I’ve been brushing my kids aside and saying “go play!” to them. Which seems just a squidge ironic. So I’ll close the lid to my computer now and go upstairs and turn my words into actions. TTFN!