Category Archives: blogging

On doubt

I want to talk about doubt.

Last summer, we had to put one of our cats down. Otis was about 18 years old, and had been suffering from a thyroid disorder for a number of years, a disorder that left him just a few pounds in weight, dull-eyed and prone to peeing everywhere.

We loved Otis.

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Shortly before my birthday, we took Otis to the shelter where we’d adopted him 15 years before so they could help us put him to rest peacefully. We were taken into a room to spend his last few minutes with him before we had to let him go into the back for the injections with a volunteer who told us she would hold him the entire time. We cried like babies.

Doubt set in. It was no question that Otis had been ill for a long time, and was likely to continue to suffer if we kept him alive. He couldn’t control his bladder, and we couldn’t leave him alone for more than a few hours at a time without him peeing on everything in the house.

But, I thought, what if the people at the shelter took him into the exam room and decided we were too hasty? What if they didn’t give him the injections, and instead had decided to remove him from our custody and find him a better owner?

I started looking on the shelter website daily, searching through the “older cats” section for his scruffy face. I imagined the bio they would write: Handsome senior cat removed from a home that didn’t see good years left. Lots of love to give. I imagined finding him and rushing to the shelter to claim him back and them declaring me an unfit pet owner. I might have gone so far as to imagine a pet version of CPS coming and removing our other two cats and our dog.

It’s crazy. I’m aware. But even a year later, I still have this inkling of a fear that Otis is still out there, and I’m a horrible person.

Doubt is a hard thing to shake. I do believe it’s a beneficial feeling, and certainly, day to day, it probably keeps us from any number of disasters and missteps. Doubt, though, can trip you up and send you sprawling in the dirt if you allow it to accompany you for too long.

I like to think I don’t spend too much time doubting myself (outside obsessive cat kidnapping thoughts, naturally). There are moments when a second look or hesitation is necessary, but I tend to be maybe stupidly confident in a few areas, including my writing.

This is not a luck of the draw; I am not a naturally confident person. In fact, it could be argued that I have rather low self-esteem and tend to be self-crippling, denying myself even easy success because I’m quite sure I don’t deserve it.

How, then, do I manage to get out of bed at all, let alone sit and type and send out work and face an inbox full of rejection?

Effort. Sheer effort. It’s always struck me as funny that people think I’m naturally bubbly, cheerful, and outgoing. Effort, my friends. I wake up most mornings to some fashion of career rejection, either by low sales, silent agents, or canned rejections in my email. There are certainly days I’d rather curl up in a ball and give it all the hell up.

Effort. It’s always amazed me that people think anyone successful, or confident, lacks any doubt. It’s like it’s a superpower: DOUBTLESS GIRL, ABLE TO SMASH THROUGH FEAR AND ANXIETY IN A SINGLE SLASHING MOTION OF HER HAND AND BACK AGAIN (there’s a reason I don’t write catch phrases). There is no such thing as a person who does not doubt themselves, one time or another. Doubt is like a mosquito: it is there, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches.

I doubt myself a lot. I certainly doubted my cat’s death, my culpability in the whole thing. I doubt my worth often – what truly confident person worries their cat is resold?

Doubt is not a personality trait that is ingrained in us from birth. Doubt is not a birth mark, doubt is not a state of being. Doubt is transitory, and it is defeatable.

I don’t have any advice, though, on HOW to defeat it. My friend and I tend to throw around a phrase: Fake it till you make it. It means smile even when you want to scowl, it means getting up when you want to lay on the ground, it means believing you’re doing the right thing even when you think you aren’t. You fake it, and, when you fake it long enough, you, most times, start to believe it.

This doesn’t always work, of course. I have dark times, I have moments of desperately wanting to give up – on writing, on my career aspirations, on even getting up and washing my hair. Doubt crawls in when I let it. Doubt always looks for the opening.

I’ve managed. I will manage again. If you want to, you can manage just as well, too.


No place like home

This afternoon, I drove past the house I spent my first ten years living in. It’s not far from where we’ve moved, and since my job moved downtown, I can pass the end of the block on my commute. When I spied a dumpster out front, I had to do a swing by.

I’m not sure what’s being renovated, as I decided pulling a super creeper and stopping dead in the center of the street to analyze the contents of the dumpster was not how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. Suffice to say, the bin was full of wood, and so my mind has gone wild.

Is it the all-wood staircase with the carved banister? The hand-scraped hardwood floors from the basement? Could it be the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the study?

Those stairs are where I slipped and fell, biting through my lip, when I was four. I’d seen a Shirley Temple movie that morning and decided to try tapping my way up to my bedroom… in socks.

The basement is where I had my playroom, with the weird tree silhouette wallpaper, pot-belly stove, and stained-glass window. It was the scene of many My Little Pony debaucheries.

Those bookshelves are where my tree frogs lived, left over from a science presentation on the life cycle of frogs. I had three of them: Croaker, Croaker Junior, and The One Who Died Before I Could Name Him.

Don’t these people understand this is MY house?

It’s been noted that I have a certain romantic attachment to the house I grew up in. We moved when I was ten, just to the other side of town, but I remained attached to the first house in a way that bordered on fanatical for a number of years. My life’s ambition, besides being a writer (and actress, and singer, and doctor, and artist, and journalist and and and), was to move back into my childhood home at the soonest possible moment. The house changed hands twice since my parents sold it in 1989, and the neighborhood became rather coveted. Still, I insisted I would live there again some day.

Not everyone has the same attachment to a house they spent only the barest amount of cognizant time living in. I grew up with kids from military families, who lived in ten houses before they hit fifth grade. I held a deep resentment against my parents for years because they made me leave that beautiful house.

It was an angst that was hard to explain. The house, as it was, was lovely, but hardly any more remarkable than any other house. The kitchen was renovated in the height of the eighties, and so bore orange countertops and brown tiles. There were only two bathrooms, one upstairs where the bedrooms were, and one downstairs, off the kitchen. My closet was the size of a shoebox.

The house is absolutely not my style, either. Built in the early 1900’s, it is somewhat Victorian, crossed with Craftsman, with lots of wood and leaded glass windows. My husband and I bought a house built in the 50s, and our style leans towards Mid-Century, and contemporary. My credenza would stick out like a sore thumb in my childhood home.

I don’t know why, exactly, I love the house so much and cringe at the thought of it being gutted. I spent far more time, and had many more formative experiences, in the house my parents bought after it – I lived there from the age of ten until I was twenty, I spend hours there every week, I’ve been taking my children there weekly for the past ten years. I’ve known that home for nearly three-quarters of my life (I did the math!). Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be abnormally attached to it?

Memory is a funny thing, I’ve found. I can remember the feel of those wood steps under my feet as surely as I can the carpet that is currently under them, thirty years later. I’ve made a map of the house in my head, complete with furnishings, that hasn’t changed in decades. It’s perpetually 1988 in that old house.

At this point, if given the chance, would I even want the house again? I know it’s been remodeled – real estate photos from the last time it was sold show that – and the foyer that used to house our antique coat rack has been closed off and given a closet. The potbellied stoves that I so loved as a child were replaced with gas fireplaces. The vast garden plot my father fervently protected from squirrels was torn out to build a garage in the parking-competitive neighborhood. And now, of course, whatever they’re ripping out and dumping, unceremoniously, into the bin at the curb.

I suppose I’ll keep inhabiting the house that’s in my head, complete with the impressions of a very young child, keeping the height of light fixtures well above my head and the backyard endless up like a field. The memories are mine, and those can’t be renovated out my head.

I suppose, first, though, I really need to stop driving by and gawking. Baby steps.


On Reality vs. Realism

One of my favorite stories to tell about my childhood is about the night a cow ended up on our lawn.

I did not grow up in a rural area – I’m a city girl, and the closest I’ve ever really gotten to nature was the yearly overnight at the Girl Scout camp in elementary school, where I rode a horse named Snowflake. I’ve never been interested in country life: I need places that are open late and grocery stores minutes away. I’m spoiled. We don’t have cows.

Except one night when I was thirteen. It wasn’t really late, about 8:30, but the house was shut-down, all of us in bed reading. When the doorbell rang, my father jumped from bed and I followed from down the hall – we lived in the city, but it’s a pretty safe city. Excitement could easily come from a doorbell after dark.

On our porch was a man in his late thirties, breathless and holding a rope. “There’s a cow on your lawn,” he informed my father, who stared at him, stupefied. The man gestured in the direction of the bushes that lined the edge of our property; I squeezed up next to my father to look.

A cow. I am no expert, so I have no idea what kind, or if it was a large cow, impressive for anything besides being a cow on a city lawn. But, at any rate, it was a cow, on our lawn, that had never seen anything larger than the neighbor’s golden retriever.

“We saw it on the road,” the guy reported. “We followed it up here.” Out on the street behind him were two cars, with several other men standing beside them. These were not cowboys in the least: they wore jeans, but they all had the giddy look of people who were embarking on a random adventure.

My dad looked between the cow and the man. He grew up on a farm, knew from cows, but the whole thing was so out of place, so utterly out of context, he was speechless.

“Can you call Animal Control?” the man suggested, and my father nodded.

I listened in on the call. “A cow.” Pause. “Yes, a cow.” He rattled off our address and there was another pause. “A cow. On the lawn.”

Ultimately, the cow moved on. The majority of our neighbors were unaware of its presence as the cowboys in sedans followed it along our block, back in the direction from whence it had come. The next morning, I examined the lawn for any evidence of the cow visit the night before and found nothing; it was disappointing, in a way, until I realized I would always have this fantastic story to tell, about the cow on my lawn.

There is, of course, a ridiculousness that makes it sound like I’m full of it. Telling the tale of a squirrel launching out of the fireplace and my cat chasing it around the house sounds far more authentic: more people have experienced a wayward squirrel in their chimney, a cat who believes it is a greater hunter than, perhaps, it is. 

The point of the story, of course, is in the telling. A story that sounds untrue will jar you right out of it, out of a conversation, out of a novel. A cow on a lawn in metro Denver? I don’t downplay the best details: there were four men, two cars, all of them completely out of place with a rope that was clearly for tying a trunk closed when moving a bookcase or bicycle. The cow seemed utterly uninterested in the lot of us. My father was dumbfounded.

I love to tell this story because, coming from me, it’s weirdly plausible. Why would I lie about a cow on my lawn? Who cares where the cow came from, why she was roaming our neighborhood? THERE WAS A COW ON MY LAWN.

Realism in fiction is often strangled to death. There seems to be a fine line, in the eyes of critics, between representing life accurately and representing life in fiction. I’ve been surprised more than a few times to hear complaints about some of my favorite books not being “real enough.” 

What is real enough? No one’s life gets broken up by laugh tracks and act breaks. Something dramatics happens and… everything keeps going. A bomb is dropped, and you still have to feed the cat, do the laundry. Characters rarely go to the bathroom, fart, burp, shave their legs.

There is a difference between reality and realism. It’s in the depiction. In my story about the cow, there are elements left out because… it matters little to the telling of the story. No one cares that animal control never showed up or that we never did find out where the cow went off to, what happened to the intrepid Tuesday night cowboys. The story loses wind when I report my parents live a mile as the crow flies from a still-functional farm acting as a museum.

I worry when I hear people criticize dialogue as unbelievable, of situations being too dramatic. While there is a line that can be crossed, it rarely actually is. Reality is not the same as realism. Reality is our world, with its fits and starts, its long, boring interludes, its clogged toilets and cows that come and go. Realism gives the human emotion and condition without the lagging, half-hearted arguments over who forgot to buy coffee. 

Who doesn’t want a cow on their city lawn? Who doesn’t enjoy a dramatic end to a chapter and a start to the next where the heroes awake with the tension of the day before that ended so much earlier? Reality, it is said, is boring, and that is no truer than in fiction. Realism outlines reality in a sharper line, gives it boldness and shape, gives a viewer or reader a place to explore their perceptions and opinions. 

I miss the cow sometimes. I want to give her an ending, though I know hers was, ultimately, too realistically boring. In the telling, my hand shapes your view of her. I have always hoped to do the cow justice.

 


On how to decorate in an egalitarian household

Last week I bought a house.

No, really. I (and, I suppose, the husband) bought a house, on Thursday. I suppose it would be more accurate to say we bought 30% of a house, which, I think, means we own the bedroom, part of the hallway, and at least half of the staircase. Given that I’ve never owned more than a car, and a large number of Benihana mugs, I’m going to say that’s pretty impressive.

It was our ambition to own a house by the age of 36. We started poking at the idea this summer and, this fall, started reading a few house listings here and there, checking out neighborhoods we liked, looking into the price ranges we could afford.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that, naturally, the most we could afford was a place with a door. Most of a door. The NOTION of a door.

We’ve lived in the same house for 7 years now. My parents bought it as a sort of investment property: i.e. investment in us not paying some random stranger rent for a house entirely too small for 4 people. The house, as it is, has served us well, but it is not our ideal. Being a spoiled only child, and my parents having absolutely no intention of dying in the next few years, they offered to help out.

It totally looked like we could afford a whole door.

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No shit! A real door!

In the end, we found a lovely house, newly remodeled, in the neighborhood I’d spent my first ten years and to which I’d always vowed to return (the neighborhood, not my childhood though, at this rate, I’m going to say that would not be a poor idea, either). We put a bid on the house December 27th. Haggling commenced, and a contract was drafted New Year’s Eve. Inspection was January 9th, and we closed on January 30th. 

We do things fast in this family. The husband and I were dating a mere year before we moved in together, another year before we got married. I was knocked up before our first anniversary. Waiting is not our forte.

Owning a house seems like a massively grown-up thing to do. This is difficult, because the husband and I have a combined maturity age of 25 on our best days. On our worst, it’s also 25, but I account for something like only 6 of those years. I am completely untrustworthy. I like glitter too much.

Given the husband did the majority of the loan handling, and freaking out about said loan handling, our combined maturity age has been somewhere around 32, where I behave like a seven year old. I love packing, but I also love planning and plotting. I also have several large collections, including, but not limited to, the aforementioned Benihana cups, 80s Happy Meal toys, and knee socks. I am, in essence, an elementary school student with a broad vocabulary of curse words. 

As the husband’s maturity age is currently hovering in the very adult category of mid-twenties, he is hoping for an Adult House. I have repeated to him that owning a house does not change my personality. I planted my skeleton flamingos in the front yard the day we closed. I have plans for the arrangement of my Russian premiere nesting dolls. I named our house The Silver Devastation on Foursquare.

Yesterday found us with a hammer and nails for mounting artwork. I pointed at my favorite tile in our bathroom, a piece we bought in Taos years ago, of a skeleton on the john, reading a newspaper. I have a large collection of Day of the Dead artwork, in the range of “cute” to “outright tacky.”

The husband shifted uneasily. “Are you sure you want that in the upstairs bathroom? What about the kids’?”

I huffed. “You can’t shunt everything I like to the basement!” *cue foot stomp*

We bought a lovely, hand-woven rug. We bought a couch, and curtains. We put up shelves. Today, I carried around my tea cups from the 70s, emblazoned with stoned-looking animals. It hasn’t come to pass that my husband has broken my cherished items “on accident” to save himself from their presence, but I’m keeping an eye on him.

He will never lay hands on my glitter “ho” sign.

 


On Feminism

or, subtitled: The Radical Notion Why You (Yes, You), Should Shut the F Up.

Caution: I understand that you may come here for discussion of writing, reading, or humorous anecdotes. This is not any of those. This is your last warning of that fact: I value you, and love you as a reader, but, should the topic of feminism, and the complications of men and media therein, disinterest, or anger, you, then you should stop now. I’ll be back later with something more entertaining – I think about fictional murder.

Further: this is my blog, and, as such, is not a debate forum. While I abhor the use of the concept of “safe space,” this is, indeed, mine. If you have a differing opinion, I am not, currently, interested in hearing it. I’m happy to read something on a blog that might be linked, but comments that are not on-topic, or accusatory, defaming, or outright misogynistic, will be deleted without being read.

I’m not a cruel person. I am not the most intelligent person on earth. However, my views are mine, and I believe in them whole-heartedly. I welcome you to read, and engage, but will not tolerate anything approaching sexism, racism, or any other such prejudice in the name of “discourse.”

That said, read on.

Today, on two different topics, I was spoken down to, belittled, and reminded, oh so kindly, by a man. This was not, frankly, a surprise: quite unfortunately, it is somewhat of a daily occurrence. If you are a woman, I assume you are unshocked. If you are a man, you might have a myriad of thoughts about this fact, including, maybe, that I am an airhead.

You’re not far off-base. I am. But I am also not a moron. I might squeal over John Krasinski, and coo over babies, I am also an aware citizen of our world, politically astute, and quite engaged in many issues.

If you have met me, you are aware that I am the following:

  1. short
  2. glasses-wearing
  3. busty
  4. rather shy
  5. have a lisp
  6. tend towards a sort of dramatic hyperbole in my descriptions

I am easily intimidated, given I am a small female. It’s a fact of my life – I’ve never been tall, obviously, and have always identified as female. I developed early, and have never appeared as anything other than a biological female.

If you are a woman, you know where this is going. If you are a man, it’s likely you have no clue.

It’s not your fault. The thing that can be avoided, that can prevent any fault on your part, is found by the following:

Shut up.

I am married to a man, who I love very much. I have a fantastic father, and very good male friends. I, unlike many other, have had men in my life, all my life, who are great and good and kind men. 

It’s complicated, explaining to men what it is like to be a woman. It’s something, truly, we don’t think about on the daily, ourselves. It’s a way of being, of living, that you don’t really parse out until confronted with the need to.

Confronted with rape, with harassment, with denial of services or healthcare, revocation of rights. Confronted with a media that tells you you are too fat or thin, too short or too tall, too masculine or feminine, too flaky or too ambitious, too maternal or too businesslike. 

I’ve stood in my living room, suddenly faced with a news report that, indeed, I am a lesser woman because I do not have a full-time job. Articles on the internet inform me that because I don’t care to wear heels, I am not attractive to men. I wake in the morning and get dressed, take my kids to school, and am informed that I am not engaged as a parent because I didn’t attend last night’s PTA meeting.

As a woman, you rarely win.

It’s difficult to explain because: men don’t face this. There are give and take situations in everyone’s life, but, as it is, being is not something men have to worry about. They might, surely, if they are a man of conscientiousness, of emotion and thought, but, even then: they are not required. Missing a PTA meeting does not make a man a poor father. Not wearing a suit does not make a man unattractive to the opposite sex. 

I am not here to deny the struggles of men. I just need this space to say: YOU DON’T GET IT AND YOU NEED TO STOP TALKING.

There is a culture of minimizing experience, now. I don’t know if it’s new, or if it sprouted up in the wake of social media, of 140 character commentary, of soundbites that sound clever on Facebook. We post up memes of ten words, Impact font, to replace meaningful discussion. Gifs stand in place of emotion.

I am guilty of all of the above. I like a good, clever quip, a gif of Liz Lemon high-fiving herself rather than spelling out my feelings. This is a right of anyone with an internet connection: to be flippant.

Today, I was spoken down to in short soundbites. “Just sayin'” was uttered. “Why don’t you look again” was recommended.

Shut up.

There is no reason to baby me, but, guys: take an extra moment to think. Do you understand that we don’t have equal rights? Do you understand that, as it stands, we’re not sure we actually have a right to the condition and well-being of our own bodies? My bank demands, despite repeated signed paperwork, that I receive my husband’s approval for major transactions. His name comes first on checks, on bills, on loans. We are buying a house, and a lender waved off any information about me, despite my credit being much higher.

Mansplaining is funny, a joke, until you’re the focus of it. Today a man told me to stop and think. This is not new. It is still jarring, still appalling, and I am sitting, over an hour later, seething at my desk.

I have a degree. I have worked in multiple fields. I have actively participated in political groups, attended rallies and speeches, have combed resources and investigated.

I was told to stop and think, without a second thought on the part of a man.

I need you to shut up. I need you to spend another minute, two, thinking about who you are talking to, what a life that is unlike your own might be like. Where your intelligence is excused, where assumptions take place of facts – where your skirt asserts your fault when walking down a street, where your position begets a personality you have never displayed.

You won’t get it. It’s okay. But until you’re willing to make an attempt:

Shut up.

 

 

 


Ms. Writinglove or: How I learned to stop procrastinating and just write dammit

I write this with a sore wrist and a body rather severely lacking sleep. I am not sure where the former came from, but the latter seems to be my condition the older I get. It’s genetic, to a degree, but also the inability of my brain to just shut the F up and let me sleep already.

Being as it is the end of the year, sore wrist and sleepiness aside, I thought it appropriate to do a bit of a recap of the last year – or, at the very least, a bit of waxing on months past. I have a rather poor memory, so I may rely heavily on poetic license. I promise I’ll try to avoid claiming a close friendship with Beyonce.

I wrote a lot this year. Given the current status of my publication career (read: very small), I know it is difficult for people to see, let alone understand, the sheer amount of writing I’ve done this year. It’s a little frustrating to know the number (that’s right, I went and totaled it*) and have people still need to ask “Where have you been published?”

The truth is: this is my reality. I’m not going to claim that it hasn’t been a hard slog this year. I did not have the kind of success I would have liked (and maybe, in my wilder “interviewing myself while showering” fantasies) once I really buckled down and made an effort in my writing career. Submitting my work had mixed results, most negative. I have, for the first time in my life, earned some version of an income from my writing, as small as it is. I have seen my work in print, and had readers give me good reviews.

Still, it’s hard. This year alone, I’ve gotten around 50 rejections, most of them form, and completely unhelpful. The few times I (and often in conjunction with Laila) received a rejection that strayed even slightly from form, it was rarely anything concretely constructive – for the same manuscript, different reasons for rejection were given, and none of them were something necessarily fixable, like style, like setting. There is a sort of burning that comes with multiple rejections. You start to chafe a bit.

Still, I wrote. I had a spate, here and there, where I would double down, hide out, and refuse to write, like a child who thinks refusing to do homework will punish her teacher. I contemplated giving up, finding a career that involved leaving the house – or just moving to the mountains and becoming a goat herd. I pouted, I tantrumed, I berated myself.

I went back to writing. I say that it’s the only thing I’m good at, but it’s also the only thing I like doing. Writing is a joy, and writing is my job. It’s difficult to escape either, or give them up easily.

This year, I wrote collaboratively with Laila and, together, we wrote one novella, and three full-length manuscripts, including one that we are furiously editing as we speak, in order to release through independent press means next year. On my own, I wrote two full-length adult fiction novels, one young adult magical realism story, and nearly two dozen short stories, both mainstream and erotic: one, “Steps,” appeared in Anything She Wants; “Invincible” was included in The Dying Goose Fall edition. In the next year, I will be appearing in (among others not currently listed): Best Bondage Erotica 2014, Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers, and A Princess Bound: Naughty Fairy Tales for Women.

I suppose the biggest, most important lesson 2013 taught me was the thing I’ve been saying all along: write. You have to write. There is a success in writing despite all odds, and there is a success in believing in what you are doing, despite any concrete, sharable outcome.

And, really, when you do finally have that outcome, it is all the sweeter.

2014 is already setting up to present new challenges and opportunities alike. I’m excited, even as my more negative side already wants to hide under the desk. I’m setting myself some new goals, and looking forward to the many plans I’ve made.

I hope your last year was as bizarrely enriching as mine was. Or, at least, that you got to drink a lot during it. Peace out. I’ll see you next year.

*In totaling my word count for the year, I only included finished pieces. This excluded a half-finished novella, the start of two different sequels, an abandoned novel, and at least 6 unfinished short stories. Taking that hit into account, my finished work, this year, totaled 465,455 words. BOOYAH.