This is The Sign

Sign

This is the sign that hangs above the door on the way out of my classroom. It’s also the most important rule (to me) governing behavior in the tiny microcosm of controlled space which is my classroom.

I care that students learn about science. I hope that they find the world around them as fascinating and exciting as I do. But if they learn nothing from me all year except the importance of being kind….I would be okay with that too. Kind to others and kind to themselves.

Over the weekend we were again reminded of the violence of the world we live in. The violent actions of those with guns who seek to make their point by cutting down the lives of others. Not just in Paris, but in Lebanon and in Syria and too many places around the world.  I wrestle with the relative safety I feel in my every day life. Lucky? Guilty? Privileged? All of the above?

So what can I do? What can any of us do in our every day lives to resist, to feel less helpless, to inspire peace in others?

Here’s my short list:

  • Be kind to others
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Read a book to understand the perspective of another
  • Listen to someone else’s fears
  • Give your time to someone else
  • Find and do work that you love

Maybe it seems trite or cheesy but it helps me, and I do believe it matters. And that is the best I can do in the place that I am right now.

A Short List of Things I Do While Writing

Ha, ha, ha if you though the first thing was going to be writing or some such other glamorous author activity.

  • twitter
  • look up library books
  • update goodreads progress
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • read articles linked to twitter
  • read articles linked to facebook
  • consider entering online contests to win more books
  • write emails
  • write blog posts -sometimes about writing, sometimes about other ephemera
  • look up meaning of word ephemera or other somesuch to avoid looking like idiot
  • check craigslist for things I don’t really need
  • online browse for things I don’t really need
  • do consumer research for things I don’t really need
  • Watch occasional video of people or animals doing foolish things
  • twitter

Now this could be a wild rationalization but I do think that all this computer jiggery pokery does actually keep me in the seat -which keeps me writing longer. I think. Maybe. I’d write more about it but I have to go google myself.

Like an Unnatural Woman

I’ve been a food shopping human for long enough to know that the word “natural” means just about nothing on a food label. Everything is “natural” these days from Greek yogurt to gummy bears.  And I honestly don’t care that much about the perversion of the word to sell everything from cheese puffs to chicken nuggets. But there’s another place where the word does bother me and that’s when it’s used to describe childbirth.

I had my second child just about 4 months ago and following his birth I went to what I call “baby class” just as I did with his now almost 5 year old sister. This class is run by an incredible organization that facilitates new mom’s groups, breast-feeding groups, and childbirth classes.

As I sat in the first class and listened to each mom share a bit about her birth experience I realized for the first time what I would realize many times in subsequent classes; that my perspective as a second-time parent would change pretty much everything, including way I related to my classmates. I listened again and again as nearly every woman there (who didn’t require a c-section) stressed how great she felt about having a “natural” childbirth. And if she did have a c-section there was a lot of regret about having missed out on natural childbirth -I’ll drop the quotes at this point because I hope you get my point -the word means everything and nothing.

I had a natural childbirth when my first child was born. My daughter came into the world after 31 long hours of labor. I told myself all along that I was open to using whatever pain meds I felt were necessary. I’ve never been a martyr when it comes to pain. But through out the experience I just kept feeling like, well it’s not so bad now. I suppose I can take it a bit longer. And then I couldn’t. Then I was in the final hour sitting on the medieval torture device known as a birthing stool and explaining to my midwife (by screaming and growling) that there had to be another way to get this baby out. I think I actually told her she was going to have to “reach up there” and pull it out herself. I know I’m not the first, or last woman, to feel this way. That was my natural child birth experience.

And even though I nourished that same morsel of pride about the drugs/interventions I’d refused, childbirth, that time, was something I felt I only barely survived. I did not feel especially positive about the experience, nor empowered by it. It did not help matters that a week later I fell into the chemically imbalanced world of post partum depression –which I spent the next few months trying to claw my way out of. My brain and hormones went there completely naturally. And it would take the so-called unnatural world of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants to help pull me out.

Before post partum depression I never would have described myself as someone who lived with anxiety. Now I can’t imagine how I didn’t see it. My whole life I’ve managed my anxiety and I’ve managed pretty well. Most people who meet me or know me would not describe me as an anxious person (that’s how good I am at managing and that’s how little people really understand about anxiety). I know I spent a lot of time managing and strategizing around anxiety. That was living my life naturally.

I feel very lucky to live my life differently now. I guess I think that this line we draw between ourselves and the natural world is pretty fuzzy. We are of nature and a lot of our so called man-made products make life a lot better and easier for ourselves and even occasionally our fellow creatures. Don’t get me wrong we do a lot to foul up the planet for ourselves and our co-inhabitants but I’m pretty sure a sweet and powerful epidural isn’t high on that list.

So back to baby number two. After the hell I went through post partum I still ended up wanting another one. And the one thing I knew about this experience is that I wanted it to be different than the first. I did a lot of things differently. I front-loaded some of the meds that helped me after my daughter was born. I arranged to have my placenta encapsulated to I could eat it after my son was born (talk about natural!!!) And I arranged for my parents to help out for an entire month after the birth.

But ultimately, the thing that really helped me have a completely different birth experience was that epidural.  The first five hours of my son’s birth were strikingly similar to my daughter’s -the contractions this time even faster and more intense. Once I had the epidural everything changed. I was able to laugh and joke and be myself. I was able to be present with what was going on in my body even though I wasn’t able to feel every ripple of every contraction. I asked my mom to join me in the room as he came into the world because I wasn’t worried about her worrying about me. And as I pushed -yes you still have to push and it’s trickier when you can’t feel as much of your body -him into the world, I sang. Yes, I sang a Johnny Cash tune. Because why the hell not? I felt good and powerful and present with my body. And those words are so much more important and meaningful to me -whether or not they are natural.

Happy Half Birthday to Me!

Holiday little

It’s January 7th. I have not been blogging lately. In fact my last post is from October 2nd. In my defense I’ve been busy. I had a kid -yup as in birthed one; Lucius Avi Gray on October 20th. Everything after that gets a little fuzzy as life with constantly interrupted sleep can be. I don’t believe in resolutions per say but I do hope to do more blogging in this new year. There’s a lot of grumbling about the importance (or lack of) and relevance (or lack of) of blogs these days but I have to say I still enjoy the form. Sometime when all other writing is stymied or stuck, a blog post is a good way to get some words and thoughts out.

In the new year I hope to write more about reading and how it informs my writing and also a bit about parenthood and how it affects my writing -and pretty much everything else I do. Don’t roll your eyes; his is not going to turn into a mommy blog where I extol the virtues of teething necklaces, coconut oil or the latest baby-sleep inducing gadgetry. If I do, I promise it will be purely for laughs.

So that being said, I’m also publishing a post I wrote, but never pubbed, a while ago about my reading of the Goldfinch. Enjoy.

The Best Things

CakeI love my birthday. And even on a more “low key” year (2 or 3 small celebratory events) I still rejoice in it.

Highlights from this year’s event include:

  • The most fabulous dark chocolate cake dessert courtesy of Fore St and David Lacy.
  • Cheese plate.
  • Hiking a modest mountain in my 6th month of pregnancy.*
  • Beautiful flowers from friends.
  • Warm windy beach days.

Ah, the sigh of contentment. In honor of my birthday I’m running a giveaway right now on goodreads where you could win one of 3 signed copies of my book. Because it’s really fun to give presents too. Which brings me to another “best thing”. On goodreads it’s possible to see how many people are currently “reading” your book in their status update. I can’t even tell you how this makes me feel. I don’t even know these people -mostly. And somewhere out there they have picked up my book and are reading it. THAT is the most incredible gift. It’s like I’ve sneaked into their house and I’m telling them one of my favorite stories. It is a treat and a privilege; one that I don’t take for granted.

*Apologies if this is how you are finding out we’re having a second kid 🙂 I’m not much for blasting these things on social media…so SURPRISE!!!

YA Movie Wish List

I love going to the movies. In my life pre-kid, Hubs and I went to a lot of movies. And YA makes for some good movies. Because YA tends to be plot focused, and moves more quickly then some “so-called” adult fiction I think it translates well to the cinematic form. The worst thing about the recent TFIOS (The Fault In Our Stars) movie, in my humble opinion, were the annoying teenagers who filled the movie theater. Oops, silly me, a teen movie is really marketed at teens. However, I did not think that this book or movie were really just for teens. Too bad they didn’t have a special showing for middle school and high school teachers, YA authors and other freak half-adult half adolescent creatures. Oh well. I was that lady shushing the kids behind me repeatedly. I did not threaten to get the management, but I would have.

But the movie got me thinking about other YA books that I think would make fantabulous movies. And I came up with the following list and potential pitch lines. Hollywood are you listening?

Scorpio Races

1. The Scorpio Races -young people with nothing to lose race mythic beasts to the death every November. (Maggie Stiefvater)

Feed

2. Feed – In a futuristic world dominated by implanted media chips 2 kids dare to defy the system and fall in love. (MT Andersen)

 

Jellicoe3. On the Jellicoe Road – At a boarding school in the Australian wilds every year an organized war breaks out between cliques. But will winning the war solve the mystery of a girl’s missing family? (Melina Marchetta)

Are you tempted? What YA novels would you like to see in cinematic form?

Without a Map

Ski woods Today, New Year’s Day, I took to the woods for some cross-country skiing.  I went to a local farm where you can pay a few bucks for “25 km of groomed terrain”. This my second time skiing there -the first time was only hours after a blizzard and their snowmobile/groomer had broken down -right mired in snow (as we say here in Maine). A friend and I managed to get hopelessly lost as we tried to follow the map and avoid stumbling in the 4 foot drifts.

This time as I set out on a bright cold morning, I was determined to follow the map and learn the trails. I like maps. My brother teases me about my excessive map-looking when we go hiking together. I can’t help it. There’s just something I like about having my path confirmed by a little piece of paper. Today it quickly became apparent that this was not entirely possible. Many trails were miss-labeled or unlabeled. Some were even labeled with two different names. A few trails were labeled with names that did not appear on the maps. It also seemed that whomever did the grooming enjoyed changing the trails at his/her whim.

My first reaction was annoyance. I was plotting exactly what I was going to say when I checked in at the warming hut at the end of my ski. But after a little while I realized that map or no map I was having a pretty good time. The woods were crusted with sparkling ice, the snow was dotted with animal tracks and there was little noise aside from the occasional overhead crack of a pine branch.

(I should add that this is a relatively small farm, bordered very clearly by roads and powerlines. There was very little chance of my getting lost in the wilds of Westbrook, Maine.) It didn’t really matter if I could follow the map. Instead, if a trail looked good, I followed it. If it looped back on itself, well then I chose another way to go. I had a great time and it was a good reminder that even for us type A map-followers, a little time off the grid can be good for us.

2013 has been a pretty damn good year. I look forward to 2014 as the year my first published book will arrive in the world. Along with that comes a lot of territory for which I do not have a map. In fact there are many experiences in life for which we do not have maps, or the ones we have provide, at best, a false sense of security. Sometimes it’s good to choose your way based on the best information you have on hand and a sense of play and adventure.

Me skiing

Be my frog and toad

True fans of this blog will note of course that this is my second Frog and Toad related post. But it’s hard not to think more about something when you’re listening to it almost constantly. (Days until Frog and Toad audio book goes back to the library – 2) All kvetching aside, I really do love Arnold Lobel’s stories of life and friendship that are the Frog and Toad books.

Husband and I like to joke that I am Toad (slightly anxious and pessimistic at times) and he is Frog (clear-headed and calm). But the truth is not so simple.  The truth of who is Frog and who is Toad is dependent on relationship and sometimes on the given moment. Sometimes I am the calming clear-headed Frog, and other times I am the wound up disaster-fearing Toad. In some friendships I am more one than the other. Ideally, we can all be both and need both in our lives.

So if you’re upset because the day holds more than you can handle, or your best friend just wants to be alone, or has made more cookies than either of you could possibly eat -remember you could be having a Frog and Toad moment!

Birthday Bonanza!

Those of you who know me, even just a little, know that I generally like to make a big ole stink out of my birthday. Rose petal parade, costume dance party, scavenger hunt, nothing is really off limits. This year, my hiking  (but please no camping) buddy declared June 30th-July 7th the week of the birthday! And it’s been a rather marvelous week. In fact, tonight when I went to blow out my candles, I realized that I didn’t have anything to wish for. Not for lack of imagination (still hoping for a silver pony) but because I think birthday wishes should be reserved for something truly special and my life is pretty full of wonderful right now.

So I thought I would share, in list form, a few of the things that made this week birthday-rific.

  • Swedish fish and junky magazines
  • Hiking Dorr Mountain and the crazy summit winds
  • Not passing up a swim in the “heated” pool
  • Beach time with my family
  • Writing and reading time
  • Seadogs biscuits (ice cream cookie sandwich at the ballpark -for you non-Portlanders) and friends at the ballpark
  • Tacos
  • My Little Free Library IOU (more on that later)
  • An email with the almost finalized version of the cover for my book!!

(Warning, cheesiness coming) So, because I couldn’t think of anything to wish for, I made my standard birthday wish -for peace in the world and peace within myself.  I know, I know, I should take this act to the Miss America pageant. Though I think technically once you’re married you have to enter Mrs. America which always makes me think of mom jeans and baking contests. And I do make a mean Pillsbury Crescent Roll!

Seriously though, inner peace is not something I take  for granted. Last summer was a challenging one for me and the months that followed, even more so. I am grateful to be where I am and feel how I feel on this day.

Here is a windy, grinning selfie  from the top of Dorr Mountain. (Sorry T.I. I know this wasn’t your best hair moment of the trip.)  Happy Birthday to me!

Windy selfie

 

 

Seize the Lady Balls

lady ball

As you might imagine I’ve been waiting for a while to title a post this way.  In Westbrook Maine there was a business establishment called Lady Ball’s Tea Room, as Dave Barry might say and the residents of Westbrook can attest to, I’m not making this up.  The full name was actually Lady Ball’s Victorian Boutique and Tea Room and for years I drove by thinking that I should really take a picture of the sign which can be partially viewed here. Alas one day it was gone, replaced by the Emerald Management company which is probably a perfectly reputable business with a much less interesting name and sign.

The point is simple, and frankly obvious. A.S. King who is one of my YA literary heroes wrote a great post about why you should write what you want. It’s part of a longer series, which I also recommend, called Writer’s middle finger and can be found here.  So write what you want and try and live the way you want, because life is too short to miss out on your chance to grab it by the Lady Ball’s. (I promise with only one or two crossed fingers behind my back to never say Lady Balls in a post again. That was the last time, I swear.)