Apr 30, 2014

I'm Not the Only Crazy One

People often ask me how I am a mother of eight children and also a writer.

Last weekend, I got to meet lots of writers. Lots of them women. I sat at a table with four people--the head editor at Covenant Communications, her husband, and two younger women who were (as yet unpublished, but clearly, talented and motivated) writers. I didn't know anybody in the room, at least, not personally (a few I have communicated with online) because I have never been to a writer conference. In my life.

This particular group, LDS Storymakers, is made up of those who write LDS fiction, but also those who are LDS who write general fiction. Brandon Sanderson was there.

I told these girls, who I had never met, that I'd never gone to a writer conference before because I keep having babies. And immediately they nodded, and one kind of rolled her eyes and said, "yeah, a lot of our sessions this conference were interrupted by crying babies." And the other said, "I mostly felt sorry for them, because they paid to go, and they're not getting anything out of it." And the first replied, "Yeah. Babies are more important. They should come first."

It was interesting... here I was, sitting at a table with them, holding my baby at this fancy dinner where I had won an award for my writing. And here they were saying things about how babies should come first and it made me think. Is my baby coming first?

Well, yeah. He was there with me. He was seeing everything I was seeing, enjoying everything I was enjoying (arguably even the food, since he gets that secondhand.) (Haha. Sorry if that grossed you out.)

Does being a writer mean I'm putting my children second?

Quite often, this is the sight I see while I am plugging away in the morning, trying to get 2000 words in.

Do you see the edge of my laptop, there?

My babies learn to nurse while I am also typing. My kids learn to wait about ten seconds after they ask a question for me to set the laptop aside (temporarily) and answer it. They learn to be quiet upstairs during a key two hours of the morning. They can be there, they just have to be quiet. Loud means go outside. Fresh air is good for kids.

I don't just type at the exclusion of my family. I will type, and answer a question, type and help with a math problem, type and take a break to change a baby's diaper. Type and take a moment to lean back, stretch, sigh and ask for a hug.

Then I finish, put the laptop away (unless I'm also writing a quick blog) (like right now) and focus on tasks like cleaning, cuddling with my toddlers, making meals. And driving people places.

At this particular conference, two mothers were honored. One came to the front leaning on a cane, hugely pregnant, clearly exhausted. She talked about how, after she signed a contract with Deseret Book for her second novel, her husband was immediately called as Bishop, and her kids were put in Year-Round school. She talked about how she struggled, and thought about the ramifications of breaking her contract. And how, in the end, she prayed, and asked for help. And Got it. Heavenly Father blessed her endeavor because it was worthy of blessing. Therefore, consecrated. Therefore, acceptable in His sight.

The other was Rachel Ann Nunes. You've heard of her, I'm sure. If you've read any LDS fiction at all you have. She has written dozens of books, and she stated, up at the pulpit, that many of them were written with a child on her lap. I am sure she's been criticized plenty of times in her life for putting her family "Second." In fact, she talked about it. I guess my question for those people (generally other women) who would criticize her would be, have you ever read a book by Julie Ann Nunes? Did you enjoy it? Did it contribute something to your life, or the life of your daughters?

One of the presenters talked about how many people (particularly mothers) might say, "I can do this later. I can do this when...." (the babies are older. The kids are in school. The kids are out of the house). But some just do it. And I think it is a personal choice... one that you pray about. I have often felt worried that I was sacrificing something I shouldn't be... that my books should be helping support our family, at least, if I am going to make this "sacrifice." I recieved some inspiration recently that has made me completely rethink that mindset... writing is a blessing. My writing blesses others, it blesses myself, and also blesses my family. My kids know who I am, and my daughters then form their own aspirations. They see me accomplishing goals and they know that they can do it, too.

And they are all writers. They see it as a normal part of life. My kids will sit down at a computer and spend hours typing stories. It amazes me to see, so directly, how my own example filters down into my kids.

I felt, watching these women speak, very proud to be able to count myself among those who have written novels with babies nursing and toddlers in their laps.

I am not the only crazy one. That picture above is my favorite sight in the world. Both of them.

The Journey of Rewrite

This is the manuscript (untouched since I got it back from Deseret Book and Covenant and Cedar Fort... see, the rubber band's still around it) I set aside about five years ago. It is titled Butterfly Years.

I wrote Lightning Tree right after that, and learned about how plots are important. But Jeffrey actually really loved this manuscript. It's probably his favorite.

I have a plan in my mind of what to write. I decided, three Chabert novels. But also rewrite all the manuscripts I'd already written, now that I know how to write. Zoommates, a novel about BYU and a group of roommates, became Mile 21, in a very, very loose sense. By Rewrite, I mean, change the story, change the characters, and retain a small piece of the original concept.

With Butterfly Years, I have changed the main character's gender, personality, situation and motive. I retained one character, with some minor adjustments, and completely revamped the plot and storyline, but not the trajectory.

This story required a whole lot of research. I had to re-do a majority of it, but I've gotten to a point in the story where I can re-use a lot. And it is a blessing. I pulled out the old manuscript this morning. ANd I realized, I really, really love this story. I loved it in its original form, too.

There's the old and the new.

Writing really is a wonderful journey.

Apr 29, 2014

On the Pain of Hope

I think that Heavenly Father is very merciful. Obviously, He is. But I mean this in a way that I don't often hear about preached over the pulpit. I think often Heavenly Father shows mercy by protecting us from ourselves. From our weaknesses, when we aren't yet capable of resolving them. I don't know about you, but it would be tortuous for me to know of a weakness I have, and to not be able to fix it. I think often Heavenly Father has kept me in check so that my weaknesses don't become destructive... until I am ready to resolve them, and then he allows them to become destructive so that I will want to resolve them.

I think that includes the wounds that come from things we don't cause ourselves... the hurts we carry because of the poor choices of those around us.

And... even deeper... the ways our own weaknesses contributed (however slightly) to the hurts.

In my case, it was a weakness of self-esteem. I felt something, with my first husband, when we started dating, that I had never felt before--acceptance. And a knowledge that (at least one person on this earth) thought I was a wonderful person. I latched on to that immediately and clung. It was such a better place than the one I was coming from, where (and this is not necessarily the fault of my family... in childhood and teenagerhood, your perception is often skewed. And often when there is trauma involved, you end up with a completely inaccurate picture of your life) I felt like I was a pretty terrible person--unattractive, unlikable, awkward, embarrassing. Gross.

Another weakness that contributed to the things that happened was my saving-people complex. My ex husband was lonely. He'd had personal tragedy. He got depressed about where his life was headed. And Nobody Else saw what a wonderful person he was and appreciated that... they all judged him as weird or awkward or unattractive (and thus the spiral of over-identification, leading to some unhealthy co-dependence, which lead me to impulsively ask for and agree to an engagement that kept me from dating my first year away at college, and kept me from examining the relationship too closely when I should have noticed several red flags.)

These weaknesses of mine are things I can apply to my current relationships. That's the nice thing. I know how they lead to my pain (very slightly, because it was still my ex husband's decisions that destroyed our marriage and cut through my life--codependence does not deserve unfaithfulness, deception and attempted murder)and to some bad decisions and some difficulty in my relationships.

But before I could see and acknowledge these things, I had to feel like I *didn't* cause what happened to me. And know that for a fact. And that took a lot of loving counsel (counsel that I had cut myself off from before, because bad experiences with priesthood leadership and therapists and husbands had made me distrustful and afraid).

Right now I have a good friend going through this. Going through the experience of trauma and difficulty and scary things happening that aren't his fault, and his bishop is, for whatever reason, unable to support him the way he needs. He has been blogging about it lately, and I have been reading his posts with a breaking heart.

Who knows why this bishop is unable to support my friend. It may be that the situation taps into some of the bishop's own traumas (as was the case with my difficult experience). It may be that this bishop is not meant to help my friend--he is meant to help the other person in the situation, and my friend (being spiritually strong, capable of emotional self-reflection, and also being supported by many others)is trusted by Heavenly Father to be OK and to be able to handle not being supported by his bishop for now. It may be that this bishop is not paying attention to some spiritual promptings he should be, and is just being a judgmental person who has already decided my friend is bad (and in that case, we still need to forgive. Because a bishop is like any other person--imperfect. And as members of the church we are expected to support and love imperfect leaders. And be that soft place to land in the face of others' imperfection.)

But what to tell my friend right now, while he is struggling with the terrible feelings that come when you struggle, but feel unsupported by those who you've always looked up to as a safe place to go--a place for compassion in times of trouble and turmoil, a place where you trust to be judged fairly, helped and loved.

I feel like I am watching him be put through everything I went through, and took ten years to recover from. And it hurts. Like watching someone pull wings off a butterfly. Sorry for the sappy analogy.

Heavenly Father has added another layer of recovery for me, right now, that apparently I am ready for (?) and that is the knowledge that what happened to me, happens. To people. It wasn't an isolated event, it happens sometimes and it will happen to those that I love.

And it is my job to use the empathy I have to help, instead of shrinking away and making it an addition to my own hurt and trauma. I need to have a strong heart about this and reach out. And be the example of someone who has healed from this sort of pain, and become stronger in my testimony and compassion because of it.

Lately, things have been hard for me at church. Whenever you're given a calling where you're supposed to coordinate the efforts of several people and coordinate those overall efforts with several different organizations, all coordinating the efforts of lots of people, you are going to end up making people upset. And one thing that has been very hard for me is trusting people I am not close to. For a while, I was trying (unconsciously) to resolve that by *becoming* close to people, but that wasn't the answer.

The answer is, Heavenly Father expects me to trust. As a default. Until I learn someone is untrustworthy, I am supposed to trust.

Which feels, after what I have experienced, kind of crazy and dangerous. But really, it's not. Really, it's the only way to heal.

I need to be willing to put myself out there, and be disappointed at times. I need to have hope, and deal with the pain that comes when that hope is disappointed, and then *continue* to hope and to be willing to be disappointed. Because nobody is perfect, and if we just shut people out because they show their lack of perfection, because they've hurt us, well then, that's *us* judging and causing others the same sort of pain we struggled so long to recover from.

In this church (and in this world), we can either all go around letting our rough edges cut each other to pieces, or we can be that willing, soft place to land, and provide safe, healing places for others.

We can either let our difficulties harden us, so that we blind ourselves to others' needs, using the excuse that they might (or have) hurt us to justify our blinders, or we can let our difficulties soften us... give us greater empathy, understanding, and a willingness to look inward so we can correct ourselves and resolve not to be a source of pain to others.

There's a scripture about that somewhere. I found it once, and haven't been able to find it again... if you know it, please post it in the comments.

Anyway. Hope can be the most painful thing. But without it, what do we have? If we shrink from the pain of hope, we end up putting ourselves in a place of darkness. We trap ourselves. We shut out everything that gives purpose to life... and I'd call that depression: that feeling of purposelessness. Lack of hope.

Apr 25, 2014

2000-Word goal (and general writing) update

I thought I'd write another update on how things are going with the 2000 word goal. I will say this: I have missed a few days. When our friends the Lovelesses came to visit, I did not write. And a couple days when DavyJones kept me up nearly all night with his cluster feeding, I did not write the next day.

And yeah. There were a couple days where I was feeling pretty cruddy and to comfort myself I just cleaned and hugged my babies. I'd say I've not written... maybe seven days or so, out of the three months since I started this regime. I am pleased to say that, at this point, three months in (almost exactly, I started on the 26th of january) I am 58,000 words into my epic fantasy manuscript and about 70,000 words into my LDS Contemporary manuscript.

I didn't realize until just now how much more of the Contemporary LDS I have written. I think it's because the way my days are set up, I'm supposed to write the fantasy on Saturday, and (predictably) I have missed more Saturdays.

I feel like I'm almost at the "race to the finish" stage with the contemporary fiction. I think, about 2/3 through. The fantasy... I feel like I may be nearing the halfway mark.

So overall, I'm kind of on target, and i can only attribute that to the fact that I tend to go over with word count each day. How does it feel to be doing a NaNoWriMo equivalent each month?

Well, I'm doing it, and my kids aren't dead, and I'm not yet insane.

No, actually... it has been wonderful. It feels wonderful to be pushing myself like this. I get more done, and my story flows better because I am writing it in bigger (and I think, more natural) chunks. About half a chapter per writing session, I think. That works well for the way scenes tend to shift/things tend to go for me. And I have a sense of power... I can do this. It's not that hard. WHen I'm done writing two at once, guess what? I could write one novel in a matter of months. It makes me feel so much more secure as a writer... this is a habit I can develop and it can make it so that I could meet rigorous deadlines. It is developing me as a writer.

The big piece of news for the week, however, is that tomorrow I will be headed to the Whitney Gala. I have never attended a writing conference, and here I am going to this fancy dinner thing where they give out awards, and the reason why I am going is because my novel Mile 21 is one of the Whitney Finalists, in the General Fiction category. I'm really not expecting to win, but I am going to the dinner just in case I do, because it would be kind of rude not to be there if I won. It's sort of like when I won first place the countywide poetry contest when I was a senior in high school, and happened to ditch class the day my Creative Writing teacher announced the winners. (I was ditching so I could finish reading Heart of Darkness for my AP English class that day.) (Yeah, I know it's no excuse.)

Anyway. I'm pretty nervous to go. I haven't actually met most of these writer people I interact with so frequently online. And I am not used to eating with fancy forks, or wearing fancy dresses... and I'm not sure what to expect. I'm trying to think of it as a big adventure, and a getaway for me and Jeff, and I'm focusing my mind on the food, which should be delicious.

It will be great.

Oh, and one of my poems was on Psaltery and Lyre today, and another was on there last month. I need to write more poetry. I don't make enough time for it. It really does help me write with more grace and spareness, though... and I love it. It is the center of my heart.

I'm behind on reviews. I still need to read the rest of Braden Bell's most recent, Luminescence, and then write up my usual combination of review and rambling essay about it for A Motley Vision blog.

Also, I need to finish helping my critique group friend, George, trim down his fantasy manuscript.

Now I'm starting to feel guilty...

Anyway. Yeah. Writing. Good stuff.

Apr 21, 2014

On Who We Are (and the fact that I occasionally accidentally or on purpose use words I should not)

I try hard to be a genuine person. But, like anyone else, I do tend to filter certain aspects of my personality/range of actions to what I believe will be comfortable to a certain audience, particularly when I am in the stage of getting to know someone and they are getting to know me. Also on social media, I don't talk about certain things, and I don't get as detailed when I do talk about things, and I also usually moderate my impulses.


I'm wondering this morning what makes a good person. Are you still a "good person" if you do things occasionally that you know are wrong? Or inadvisable? This is a thing in my family, I think.

I was having a conversation with my mother and sister the other day and we were discussing our family's tendency to worry our brains to death about loved ones making social faux-pas and how we feel even more embarrassed for those we love than we do for ourselves, when they do something embarrassing in public. For me, that translated to some difficulty when I was a kid.

Loli graduated from Primary recently and came in the Young Womens' program. I tend to watch Loli with a lot of joy and pride. But when she's making ill-advised decisions socially or doing things that I worry might embarrass her or give others the wrong impression, my giant, overwhelming impulse is to correct her. I am trying very hard to shove that impulse down into the depths of oblivion where it belongs. Because if I *weren't* a YW leader, what would happen in those situations? Her friends would help her moderate her behavior by telling her it's annoying or saying "that wasn't nice" or backing off emotionally and she would learn, like any other sometimes-annoying-still-learning-how-to-act Beehive, what is and isn't ok. My job, really, is to be emotional support and a place for advice, if she wants it, and yes, occasionally when I think she needs it but that needs to not be heavy-handed, in those situations. Now, active wrongdoing... that's another matter. If she ever did something actually wrong, on purpose, and repeated it or seemed unapologetic, then I believe that is my place to step in and correct her.

Not in front of everybody, privately.

Having said that. It's funny how we get into these states with our kids where we see every little mistake, on purpose or by accident, and freak out about it inside. At least, I do. I get into a "what does that mean? What will her life be like if she never ever learns not to do that? What will happen if she grows up thinking this is really ok when it's not?" state.

You know what, though? I'm not perfect either.

I swore on the internet the other day, for instance. What would I do if my twelve year old daughter did that? Oh, you'd better believe she'd be in trouble. No social media for a week or something. Yeah, some of you are like, "really? For swearing?" thing is, every family has different things they are trying to help their kids understand. They are related to values that are held dear in an individual family.

Well, guess what. My mother is a convert, and when I was little she struggled to keep from letting off bible swears, in particular. FOr instance, I had no idea that the word "dammit" was actually "damn it," that it involved the word "damn" until I said it in second grade and my friend was shocked and said she was going to tell the teacher. That's how I learned that some of the words my mother said were ones she'd taught me never to say.

By the time I was a teenager she was saying it a lot less. But the thing is. I learned, from that, that good people sometimes swear when they are upset. And so... on a very, VERY rare occasion, I am less motivated not to say swearwords like Damn and Hell than probably some of my LDS peers who never heard a parent say them ever in their life.

Also, I had some friends in high school and in the year after high school, when I worked and lived at home and went to community college, who were great people. Wonderful people. People who were working hard to be good people. Who spoke like the F word was an adjective, a noun, and a verb--a very versatile word, the F word apparently is. I would never say it, and yes it bothered me, but I never thought of it as something that *made* someone a bad person, the words they chose to use.

For me, when I think of language (and here we're getting into writing) I think the worst use of words, the most wicked, would be to manipulate someone or deceive someone. I'd much rather be around someone who liberally sprinkles their vocabulary with salty words than someone who lies. Or someone who gossips.

I think that the commandment about not taking the name of the Lord in Vain is the definition of swearing. I only use God's name when I am speaking directly to him. That is the one that makes me wince, that I would never use. That is the one that is covenant-breaking, I believe. As for the others? Anglo-Saxon. Quite crass, yes. Pretty rude. I'd not refer to feces in general, no matter which word we're talking about, in polite company and for no reason. Or use crude words to describe something sacred like sexuality--that taps into a lot of feelings and sadnesses for me. I'd not use those words for *that* reason.

Bible swears? Yeah, it's pretty rude and presumptuous and judgmental to damn someone or say they belong in hell. I might even be in danger of hellfire myself if I tell someone to go there, or say they're damned. So yeah, that might have spiritual repercussions, too. I should really avoid those words, just in case. I try to. Occasionally, very occasionally, like numbered on one hand, (maybe two) (ok, maybe fingers and toes) I have let one of those loose, and I feel bad if it offended people. But I don't feel bad if they judged me for it--that is their lack of perfection coming out. But I forgive them for it!

Sometimes, when you are working hard on difficult things, or you just have crud handed to you that you do not deserve (we all do!) We have a default bad behavior we are tempted to fall on. I am glad mine involves words and not other stuff I've seen people do. Of course, that does not excuse it. But guess what? You press someone hard enough, you load them down enough, and then put something in their path? They might stumble. On occasion.

Who am I? I am a not perfect person who sometimes makes mistakes. And sometimes gets sad and angry enough to lash out... at myself, not others. It has been a hard month. A hard, grinding few months. And I hope my friends forgive me my lack of perfection. And those who are not my friends? Yeah... I struggle to scrape together enough initiative to care.

Smiley face.

Apr 3, 2014

On Coming Out of One's Shell

I have always found that analogy disturbing, because what is a shelled creature like when it is out of its shell?

Yeah. Soft... unprotected... generally a bit ugly. And they're not *supposed* to come out of their shells all that often. It's a pretty lousy analogy.

I want to sort of think/write about two topics that seem related to this whole shell-shelling concept. The first is:

Why is it so hard?

I think my biggest motivation in trying to approach others is connection. And also, relationships. And also, to be more approachable myself, because I'd like people to feel safe coming to me in person, not just on the internet, if they need help. I'd like for people to feel safe talking to me if they need someone to talk to. I have been through a lot! It is comforting to me, that I can use what I have been through to help others. It gives the whole lame experience purpose. On the interface of the internet I am approached regularly by people who have gone through stuff. I share my thoughts about going through divorce, or tragedy, or a spouse's pornography addiction or struggles with priesthood or whatever. And, of course, about writing.

I was talking with a friend the other day about why it is so hard to approach people, or to feel like we've done a good job when approached by people for help. Why we tend to think back on conversations and rehash everything and beat ourselves up.... Why, even if we know someone in our acquaintance has gone through something difficult or could use some friendship, it is so hard to reach out. I think it's a few things combined.

First of all, Shyness. Shyness, I think, is partly a fear of rejection, and partly being easily overwhelmed in new, or confusing, or complicated social situations. Also worry about offending others. I think that last one is the biggest for me. I worry constantly that I have inadvertently offended or hurt people or made their lives harder because of my interactions with them.

The second is empathy. When you are capable of feeling for others, you want to help them. Partly because you are feeling for them, and partly because it's just important--people who are struggling need to be helped by people who feel for them. You are suffering with them (a much smaller degree than what they're suffering, but still.) It is very hard to watch someone I know struggle. At church especially.

I think that the combination of shyness and empathy KILLS. You want so badly to reach out, so you do, and then after you do, you beat yourself up over everything you did or said and basically come to the conclusion that you've made someone's life harder, not easier, by your interference. It's tough. And yes, I realize that this negative way of thinking needs to be ferociously challenged.

The second thing I wanted to address on the topic of newly-unshelledness:

Being hurt.

I have been pretty badly hurt. I can now freely admit that without feeling shame. Just because you've been hurt does not mean you brought it on yourself. Also, it's OK to talk about it. It's something to know about me, as a relationship develops deeper. It's sharing--it's OK. And one huge revelation I've had lately is...

ALMOST EVERYBODY has been hurt. At some point, by some thing. It really is true that we are all fighting invisible battles.

I have been thinking lately that a lot of the strife that occurs between people (who are nice and trying to do what is right) has to do with these hurts and nicks to our self worth, and how we interpret the world through the facets we are left with. Honestly. I think that people often think that they are the only ones who struggle. I know I get that way at times. And so they're struggling, and someone says something to them in a not-quite-perfect way, or accidentally forgets to do or say something exactly right, and because they're in that difficult place it's an extra painful thing.

When someone hurts us, how do we react?

In the past, it has been a struggle for me to even admit when I've been hurt, but boy have I reacted anyway :) with anger, accusations, sometimes giving someone the cold shoulder for a bit. I stew and stew and stew and wonder and cry and struggle. And yes, part of that is because I was significantly hurt, and it affected my trust in people to a severe degree. Part of it is also because, newly-deshelled, I have been extra sensitive and soft and injurable.

But I was thinking the other day. A phrase has been repeating in my mind and soul lately--being a soft place to land. We all make mistakes, every one of us. Usually by accident, but sometimes even on purpose. Some times we do things we know aren't perfect, that might hurt another person. What if, instead of reacting angrily and defensively to others' imperfect moments, we became a soft place for each other to land? What if we sought understanding, exercised empathy, and saw the other person's nicks and hurts, and recognized that the person who hurt us is most likely coming from a place of pain or confusion or worry just like our pains, confusions, and worries.

What if we all did that?

Wouldn't the world be so much easier to live in? What if people helped instead of calling the city? And if a person calls the city, what if I responded by thinking about how, to go through the trouble of calling the city, my weeds must have bothered someone quite a bit. And for some reason they felt unable to approach me about it. So maybe I should prioritize their removal and not stew over it. Maybe the person who called had a really bad day and my weeds were a last straw, and maybe they're regretting what they did right now. (Sorry to use a real life example, it's one I've spent a lot of unproductive time being hurt and angry about.)

What if, when someone *really* hurts you (and it's okay to feel pain, to retreat, and to remove some trust in those situations, but) what if you could come out of your pain and realize someone else's?

How would I feel about someone that I was really mean to, who immediately forgave me and was even nice to me, and acted like they were my friend anyway? I would trust them, that's how I would feel.

I want people to trust me. And I want to trust others.

I'm working on it.