Monday, January 14, 2019

The Change



A while ago, something big happened to change my writing life. Writing used to be my hobby. I worked on it diligently, and I didn't know if I'd ever be published. When I'd talk to my students about my book, they'd inevitably ask about the ultimate step, and my answer was always, "I hope so, but that part isn't in my control."

But the other parts -- learning, improving, risk-taking, putting my butt in the chair -- those parts I can control, and I do. Most weekdays, I write from 4:45-6:15am. I take classes. On weekdays, I make myself write at least 400 words. In the summer and on breaks it's usually 800, and sometimes for a random month during the school year, I raise the quota to reach an arbitrary goal. Like, I'll decide I'm writing 20,000 words in November or whatever.

But, if I failed in those word-count endeavors, it didn't matter to anyone, mostly not even to me. And, when things were extra crazy at school or home, I'd just take a little break. "I won't work on my book this week because I'm doing report cards," I might decide. Or, when school started, "I'm not going to worry about opening my manuscript until September 28th." And that was fine, obviously, because writing was my hobby.

This November, though, I accepted an offer from Berkley, an imprint at Penguin Random House, to publish my existing novel and the next one I write.

It's amazing! I feel as if I've won the lottery!

And now I have fewer choices about altering my writing schedule. I have to turn things in when I said I would. It goes beyond that, even. I don't get to say when I'll turn something in. So, it doesn't matter about report cards or a new math unit or a hockey tournament for Mac in an out-of-town locale. Writing is my job, too. It's thrilling!

The inflexibility provides an extra layer of challenge, but I'm not someone who shies away from that kind of thing. Historically, I've been more of a "bring it on" person. That's lucky, don't you think?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

This Is Not My Fave



On New Year's Day, I broke my wrist by slipping on some ice while walking into the ski chalet. I was wearing ski boots at the time, but was not skiing. I have the classic slip-and-fall break, the Colles' Fracture, which happens when you brace your fall with your arm.

I'll be honest and tell you, this highly common injury hurts to high heaven. I kept exclaiming to my very nice ER nurse how much it hurt. She nodded and said, "Well, look at it."

I think she was referring to the way the joint made an s-shape, a shape wrists are not supposed to take. After a little while in traction and some nerve blocking agent, the doctor attempted to set the bone, which couldn't be done because the fracture was of the comminuted variety. I've learned this means the bones were in a lot of pieces.

Later that night on January 1st, after my fingers swelled up and became numb, I had to take an Uber back to the ER. The doctors tried again to get it into alignment. More traction, more manipulation, and -- blessedly-- more nerve blocker. I was relieved when they achieved a better position, and I could once again feel my fingers.

Now, I've had surgery, and I have a new plate in my wrist, holding everything together. You can see the plate in the picture above. I can move all my fingers, and I can even almost type. Almost.

I'll be back to work, writing and teaching in no time. Although this broken wrist is a massive pain in more ways than one, I'm hoping in the long term, we'll think of it as a blip.

Let's repeat it together: BLIP.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Best of 2018: Favorite 10



I lowered my book quota this year from 52 books to 36. I did it because I felt very busy writing my novel. It was a good decision, but next year I'm headed back to 52 Books Plus, as I promise in my Twitter handle, @52BooksPlus.

As it turns out, I read 41 books in 2018. The majority of these (26) were works of fiction for adults, lots of them within my own genre of contemporary women's fiction. I added another 7 middle grade or young adult novels, and then I read 6 works of nonfiction. I usually read more evenly across genres, in part so I can provide reviews in several categories.

This year I just read the books without thinking too much. So instead of my usual series of best books posts, I'm just doing this one. 10 books I loved in 2018, in alphabetical order by author. I hope you'll tell me what you think of these books and/or whether you give them a try in 2019.



Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
In this installment of the Cormoran Strike series written under a pseudonym by J.K. Rowling, our heroes investigate the maybe-murder of a child in the countryside. They follow the tip of mentally ill and deeply sincere Billy Knight, who thinks he witnessed the killing when he himself was a child. Billy leads the detectives to a group of leftist activists who aim to take down the government Minister for Sport amidst the 2012 London Olympics. Robin and Strike handle the intersecting conflicts as well as their own personal lives, which appear particularly messy one year after Robin's ill-advised wedding to Matthew Cunliffe, whom we all hate. I love these books and read them immediately upon release. I've written about the echoes of Harry Potter before.



An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Oprah loved this book, President Obama loved this book, my friend Alison loved this book, and I also loved this book. It's the story of Roy and Celestial who embark on an imperfect, but loving marriage. Roy is falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of a violent crime, and suddenly what was once sure is now exceedingly fragile. Jones's novel works on the micro and macro levels--it's the story of Roy and Celestial, and it's also the story of mass incarceration and systemic racism.  



The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
I adored this historical mystery set in the 1920s and starring Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first woman solicitor. She's a winning heroine with a penchant for women's rights, and I plan to read every installment of this new series. In this first novel, Massey toggles between the predicament of the Widows, a group of Muslim women living in purdah whose husband has been murdered, and Perveen's own problematic past. The one person who can both threaten her career and her personal safety has reappeared in Bombay.



A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Braideigh Godfrey raved about this one, which is how I knew to pick it up. Sure enough, I lay on my bed to finish the audiobook without distraction and wept. This is a deeply moving family portrait infused with empathy, forgiveness, and hope. A story told in memories, the novel has a dreamy quality, and yet each vignette crystalizes, the characters and settings heartbreakingly real. Mirza also manages a loving depiction of estrangement, as does Tara Westover, whose book I blurb below. I'm not sure I've ever read more touching and real descriptions of losing family.



Calypso by David Sedaris.
I've admired in the past the way Sedaris merges heartbreak and humor, and I think he might be at his best in this volume of essays. He explores the deaths of his mother and sister, and also discusses silly and harebrained plans like feeding tumors to turtles and reaching new FitBit heights. Plus, there's diarrhea, and no one who's taught middle school for a total of 12 years can resist a poop joke.



Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Stradal's narrative strings through intersecting stories centered on Eva Thorvold and her "once-in-a-generation" palate. I finished it nine months ago, and yet I can still feel the heat of Eva's chocolate habaneros, the sting of her mother's abandonment, the sweet and earnest cast of characters who love her, support her, or come under her unassuming spell. With bonus points for the novel's Minnesota setting, this one went straight to my favorites shelf, a slim selection I reserve for those books I find to be "life-changing." (I'm putting A Place for Us there, as well, just so you know.)



The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together by Twyla Tharp
I read this book last January, in the final months of a five-years-long collaboration with two exceptionally gifted teachers. I learned a lot during this tenure. I wasn't always an ideal collaborator, although I think I improved year-by-year. The truth is, I can be bossy, overbearing, and hyper-critical. Twyla Tharp is not these things, and I relished her stories of both synergetic and challenging collaborations. Overall, I came away impressed by Tharp's acceptance of others and tireless professionalism. Not only does she explain how she managed these relationships, she suggests ways in which we might all do the same.



Chemistry by Weike Wang
This is the story of a Ph.D. student in crisis, torn between her boyfriend, her parents, and her own flagging sense of self. In snippets of prose and efficient, surprising scenes, Wang reveals the genesis of the struggle and catalogs a bit-by-bit resolution. I loved the book's inventivess in form and style, the story infused with facts--scientific truths and concepts that both unmoor and ground the unnamed main character. It fits with other slim, unconventional novels I've loved in the past, including Grief Is a Thing With Feathers and Goodbye, Vitamin, which I listed as favorites last year.



The Book of Essie by Meghan McClean Weir
I was 100% addicted to this book about Esther-Ann Hicks, the youngest daughter in a fundamentalist Christian family. The Hicks star in the inordinately popular Six for Hicks reality television show. When Essie, age 16, announces her pregnancy, she occupies a strange and powerful position in the family, as suddenly their veracity depends on her dual machinations and cooperations. The author employs two additional narrators, in addition to Essie, both of whom feel real and compelling and, like Essie, face seemingly impossible problems.



Educated by Tara Westover
You can't find a 2018 best-of list without this book on it, and it absolutely deserves its many raves. In this memoir, Westover recounts her growing up in rural Idaho. Her parents distrust the government and all of its programs, including education and medicine. Tara doesn't start formal schooling until age 17. The Westover family's many farm and machinery accidents are treated with oils and herbalism. Tara's dad's mental illness rules the family, and the fear and desperation she feels in her relationship with him, alongside her love and devotion for all of her family, breaks my heart. This joins The Glass Castle and the Color of Water and Just Kids on my list of favorite memoirs.  I'll soon be adding Michelle Obama's Becoming to that list too, FYI, so watch for that one on next year's list.

And that's it for reading in 2018! You can see all the books I read here. If I finished the book, I liked it a lot. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Merry


Despite how they look in this photo, The cheer is flowing over here. We're ready for the big day. 

How do I know? 

Well, we've engaged in the usual traditions:
  • We put up the tree and all of the ornaments. All of them. Even though every year I remind the family that we don't need every single one. "We do," they say, even though there aren't enough spaces and not all of them are very attractive.
  • We planned a holiday outing. However talented the dancers in The Nutcracker undoubtedly were, it was not particularly enjoyable, as you can see above. All tippy-toes; no talking. Lots of leaps; loose storyline. I don't know. It just wasn't for us. Dan liked it okay.
  • I finished my shopping at the last minute, visiting the Mall of America, Target, and Dick's Sporting Goods on Christmas Eve Eve. I didn't even hyperventilate at any of these locations.
  • We baked cookies and decorated them. They taste good, and I ate lots of dough and broken pieces.
  • Teddy, for his part, ate 8 oz of dark chocolate and cheerfully vomited in the back room of the emergency vet's office to the tune of 227 dollars. He's so dumb, but it looks like he'll live for another Nativity.
Let's do this. I suggest we keep our expectations low, and then we can all exceed them.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Goalie Parenting

I just did a quick search, and it turns have written before about being the parent of a hockey goalie, but not lately.

If you're curious, this fact remains: of all of my identities -- teacher, reader, runner, writer, minivan driver, etc. -- hockey goalie parent may be my least favorite one. Mac is the hockey goalie, and I am his parent.

What happens when I'm watching is this: First, I try to convince myself up to be normal and calm during the hockey game. This is difficult given my naturally high-strung temperament. I'm like a Border Collie in mundane situations, so you can imagine what I'm like under stress.

Still, sometimes, I can remain calm for an entire period of hockey. It helps if the period lasts fewer than 15 minutes and if there are fewer than ten shots during the period. It also helps if I'm chit-chatting with someone or engaged in texting. But, sometimes, instead of remaining calm, tension starts to paralyze my limbs, filling them as if they were PVC pipes. The pucks start sailing at Mac, and suddenly I'm hyperventilating.

Later, I get up a lot to walk laps of the arena or get a drink or visit the bathroom even though I don't have to go. These are coping strategies, and other parents seem to understand. They understand even though Dan is able to watch the whole games like a normal person. Of course in real life, he's like a Great Dane, a couch dog with boundless objectivity and powers of reason. I'm the Border Collie, remember? The one who needs ten hours of exercise and a shock collar?

My ability to sit still dissipates depending on the frequency of the hockey games. If I have at least 48 hours between games to reset and refuel, there's a good chance I can endure in the stands for another full period of hockey. If it's been, say, a tournament weekend with four games in 36 hours, I'm back to pacing and visiting the concession stand within seconds of the puck drop and with increasing frequency in direct proportion to the number of shots on goal.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Pre-Holiday Status Report

How are things going? Well, let's take stock:

Clean Eating: Oh, as if. It's December. Report cards are due, holiday shopping has barely begun, the faculty lounge, which is perpetually stocked with baked goods, is mere steps from my classroom. In fact, there is literally not a closer classroom to the fully-stocked faculty lounge than mine. Plus, I'm just not really trying that hard. Bring on the toffee!

Exercise: An eyebrow raise seems appropriate here. I'm hanging on to fitness like a mom hangs onto a wild toddler in Disney World. That's the best synonym I can think of at this very moment. Still, I ran a 5k yesterday. To be honest, if I didn't have a date with a friend at that 5k, I totally would have bailed.

Report Cards: This isn't easy, people. The report cards are massively time-consuming. I'm trying my best to have the report cards accurately reflect each child's progress, as well as my adoration for each child. That's a tall order. I'll probably get it done by the deadline because, for better or for worse, meeting deadlines is how I roll. However, there might be some crying on the way. Sadly, crying is also how I roll.

Christmas Cheer: Believe it or not, I'd give myself a 5 on a scale of 10 for Christmas cheer. That's high for me, as I'm certifiably Grinchy. But, self-improvement is a worthy aim, and I'm nothing if not a life-long learner.

That's how things are going. And that's five weeks in a row of weekly blog posts. #goldstar

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Story about Quarter-Zip Pull-Overs

Here's an unfortunate fact about me: I'm not a very good gift-giver. Every once in a while, I'll straight-up steal a half-decent idea from someone else about what to buy for someone I dearly love. Most of the time, though, I walk into one of the same half-dozen stores I always go to and pick something that the recipient might think is just fine. Just fine, but not usually delightful.

I wish I were better at this, but I'm just not.

This year, Dan has some specific requests for Christmas gifts. One of them is a quarter-zip pull-over. Before I go any further, I want you to know that Dan has about fourteen quarter-zip pullovers already in his closet. I pointed this out.

"I'd like one that isn't blue," he said. It's true that at least six of the pull-overs--the only ones he actually wears--are blue.

"But I've purchased you purple and green ones, and you never wear them," I argued.

"On the green one, the sleeves are too short."

"What about the purple one?"

Dan went to his closet and pulled out the purple. "Well, the collar is just outrageous. It's too tall! And, plus, it's boxy." I asked for proof of these assertions, so he modeled the sweater for me. To be honest, I could see what he was saying, but I disagreed that those two points made the sweater unwearable.

"It's okay if you can't find the perfect quarter-zip," Dan said. I think he began to realize that he was sounding a little Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. "I could also use some, like, regular sweaters. Maybe a cable knit."

First of all, I don't think he has any idea what cable-knit is. He definitely doesn't like it. He only likes tight stitches.

"I liked those v-necks you got me that one year," he went on, "but, I didn't like how deep the Vs were. Like, I don't like it when any part of the second button of my shirt shows in the V."

I raised my eyebrow here, I'm pretty sure, and Dan started to look sheepish. He might have giggled. "And also," he added, "those were a little too short." There's another black quarter-zip that he has, incidentally, that's a little too long.

 I think all readers can see my predicament.

"Just get me a sweater," Dan said, finally.

I wrote this directive down in my bullet journal. "I'll do my best to get you a sweater. But not a crew neck, not a deep V, and if it's a quarter-zip, I'll be sure it's neither too short, too long, and also doesn't have a tall collar or a boxy fit."

Should be easy. Luckily I'm such a good gift-giver.