Saturday, November 9, 2019

The School Pictures

When you're a teacher, you get a school picture packet like the kids do. You don't have to pay. The picture company just sends you an envelope with a 5x7 and several wallets.

Sometimes if the picture was good, I'd send a photo of myself to my mother. Because what else are you supposed to do with multiple school-style headshots when you're a full-fledged grown-up?

Also, most years, regardless of the quality of the photo and sometimes especially if it was bad, I would cut up the wallets, sign the backs ("Stay Super Sweet!" or "BFF!") and give them out to my friends. I did this in an ironic sort of way. Like, I knew it was funny to give out school photos when I was actually 27 or 33 or 41. People laughed. My school friends would cut up their own photos, give me 2x3s, and I'd put them on the bulletin board behind my desk.

I bring this up because it occurred to me the other night that handing people copies of my novel feels sort of like handing out school photos. Except unironically, but also uncomfortably. You hand a friend a book, and you're asking, Would you like a copy of something I did? Would you like to stare at it indefinitely? Would you like to spend eight hours with it and then have to pretend that you liked it? And, should I sign my name in the front? #BFF?

I'm looking forward to feeling less awkward about this. How long do you think it will take?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Input/Output

Mostly I want to remember this sweet little exchange, and I know if I don't write it down, it'll go. Now that I'm old and addled, I can barely remember which of my two children did what, said what, or when.

So, here's what happened:

I walk into Mac's room to say goodnight. Mac adheres to bedtime rules just barely, often hopping onto his mattress fully clothed at 9:30:59. Bedtime is 9:30 ("It's still 9:30!" he yells), so I'm usually irritated at this point in the evening. I'm irritated on this particular evening in question.

While Mac's teeth are technically brushed, I'm doubting he put in the full two minutes. There has definitely been no shower, even though I suggested it. He's wearing the same clothes he had on for P.E. at school that day. He's sitting up and all the lights are on.

I'm about to comment on this sad state of affairs when he says, "Mom, when's the Boston Marathon?"

"Well," I say, surprised, "it's in April." I pause then, wondering if he thinks we're going. I'd talked about maybe going to the Boston Marathon, but then I ran too slowly at the Twin Cities Marathon. Plus, the Boston in question would be 2021, but the details don't seem important just now. "But I didn't qualify," I remind him.

"You didn't?" He seems surprised. He shouldn't be that surprised--I was suffering so supremely by the time he saw me at mile 21 that I didn't even see him as he cheered not two feet from my face. "Was it close?" he asks, hopefully.

I give him a dramatic thumbs down accompanied by a pfffft sound. "No." I shrug. "Not that close. Four minutes or so." He looks a little defeated. "Remember, my marathon didn't go that well?" I ask. I'm calm about it; over it, if you will.

"Oh." He cocks his little head, his pink hair hanging over his ears, thinking. And then his eyes brighten a little bit. "But you did it, Mom. You finished the marathon."

"I did finish it," I agreed. "That was good." And, it's nice he knows it counts for something.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Celebrity Sightings

I wrote below about all of my book tour trip anxiety. And guess what? I was a nervous wreck for the whole stinkin' week, but none of the problems I worried about came to fruition. I had a magical time. The very worst thing that happened was that my shirt broke a little on the way to the event on Wednesday night.

Did I panic? No, I did not.

Did I fix it with a safety pin? Indeed, I did.

AND, I had some pretty big celebrity sightings. Or, to be fair, I had one celebrity sighting and was also present when other people had two more. Let's start with those two:

First, apparently I rode the elevator with Jim Belushi in Chicago. At dinner that night, one of the publishing bosses recounted the anecdote wherein she and I rode the elevator with Jim Belushi. I was very shocked to hear this. "I thought you knew," she said. No! I did not know! And she was too suave to even elbow me to clue me in!

Then, in NYC I was walking along Central Park South, when two of the publishing peeps stopped for a hurried and excited conversation. "What happened?" I asked.

Come to find out, we'd just passed Rachel Dratch from SNL.

Did I see her? No, I did not.

But do you know whom I did see and recognize in the Minneapolis airport Starbucks? Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach.

"Did you talk to them?" Dan asked on the phone when I called to brag about it.

"No," I said. "I didn't want to bother them. But I smiled really nicely, and I think that conveyed a lot."

He might have snorted at this point, but let's be honest. Between the time Glennon tweeted at me during the World Cup and the time I smiled at her in the MSP Airport Starbucks, I think it's fair to say we're best friends.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Business Trip

This week, I'm doing some traveling to promote my book! There are plenty of things to worry about, including but not limited to:

  • My life-long and nonsensical aversion to handbags might make me seem like a rube.
  • The tailor took in my Tuesday night skirt perhaps just a teensy bit too far. I can sit down and walk, and it looks good, though, so that's the most important? Eating is totally optional.
  • What if I lose my ID in Chicago, and then I can't go to Boston or NYC?
  • The other authors in the group are significantly younger than I am, and almost certainly cooler. 
  • Anything could happen when it's my turn to speak.
  • I'm meeting a lot of new people. Some of them know me from the phone, where I'm usually at my best. As Dan likes to say, "Are you going to be normal, or are you going to be yourself?" There's no telling in advance. Some version of me just pops out, and there's nothing I can do.
  • The usual things like deodorant failures, falling, and GPS snafus. And, also not understanding fashion, even though I've had expert coaching.
But, do you know what? I don't even care about all of these things because my elation about this trip is going to overpower all of my nerves. I wrote a book and some other people want to hear about it! And, it's my first business trip during which I will not either have to share a hotel room or hotel bed, so no matter what else happens, I'm already #winning.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Marathon Race Report

I've had a couple of magic marathons. My training was solid, I felt confident, and everything went amazingly on race day--strong finishes, even paces, big smiles.

I've also had a couple of just fine marathons. I ran within my fitness and felt pretty good.

And then, there have been a few really hard-fought marathons. My stomach got messed up, my legs dragged more than they should have. I ran through a dark night of the soul to get to the finish line.

This last weekend's marathon was one of the hard-fought ones. After 16 or 17 pretty good miles, I started cramping in my feet and legs. My stomach hurt. I narrowed my focus to one foot in front of the other. About three miles from the finish line, I reminded myself that if I dropped out, I'd have to go home and tell my children that I didn't finish the race because, in the end, I just didn't feel like it.

That's not really the message I've been trying to impart to my kids about sticking with the hard things. I've been more on the "try your best and accept your failures" train lately. I've ridden the "don't give up" car. So, one foot in front of the other, right? There really wasn't a choice.

Eventually, I got to the end and meandered through the finish area. Only one volunteer asked if I needed the medical tent. I made it to the light rail train, which I planned to ride back home. This was harrowing because of my stomach situation, but you'll be happy to know I held off the sickness. When I arrived at the homestead, I burst in the door. Shef stood to give me a hug, and I ducked under his arm and headed for the powder room. On the way, I accidentally yakked on the kitchen floor.

That's the kind of day it was. I pointed at the vomit and told Dan, "I didn't make it." It's true I didn't make it in that one instance, but in the "finish the marathon" sense, I did make it. I just didn't make it look pretty.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Conference Calls

In my previous job, I never had an occasion to be on a conference call. In my new job, it happens rather frequently. That would be fine, except it turns out I'm really bad at conference calls. Here are some particular challenges:


  • First, I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'll get on the call at the right time. What if I have the time written down wrong? What if I've converted between time zones incorrectly? I'll probably have to check the time five or ten times before the appointed moment. I'll also have to google the time zone conversion three or four times. This will happen even though, so far, I've never actually missed a call.
  • Because of the above time problem, I often dial into the call a minute or two early. Then, I awkwardly wait around for the "host." I am never the host. Eventually, the host will get on and say, "Hello?" and I have to announce my presence. Whichever way I say my name always sounds wrong. Should I refer to myself in the third person, as in, "Kathleen is here!" Or, should I offer a cheery "Hello!" with no name? I usually go for the second option, and then inevitably someone else will talk when I'm trying to say my name. 
  • Talking at the same time as others is the next, and perhaps most troubling, problem. Whenever I want to say (or feel I should say) anything on a conference call, at least one other person starts to talk at the same time.  A long, "No you!" "No, you!" "I'm sorry!" "Excuse me!" chain follows. I wish I could just listen on all the calls, but sometimes, I'm supposed to weigh in.
  • When I do manage to ask a question or make a statement, the other people on the call don't seem to know who I'm talking to, even though it seems obvious to me. Most recently, someone had to yell at me: "WHO ARE YOU ASKING, KATHLEEN?" In these moments, I'm very glad we're not having a video chat because I'd be blushing and sweating on camera instead of just in private.
Every single time on hanging up from a conference call, I feel I've earned at best a 6/10 for my performance. I'll keep practicing. I'll let you know if I improve.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Taper

My marathon is in two weeks, and I did pretty much all the workouts in my training plan. Well, to be honest, I did have to skip one or two of the hard ones because I'm pretty sure the plan was written for a younger person with enhanced ability to recover. I'm older--a masters runner--and I can only do a maximum of one-and-a-half speed workouts per week.

But, with the exception of that one week where I took an extra day off because I'd tweaked my Achilles tendon (on that run with the turkeys I wrote about), I ran all the miles. Yay!

Last week, I really celebrated my efforts by completing both of the prescribed speed workouts and my final 20-miler. I did that last long run all alone without my headset (I drove to a route and forgot it, which annoyed me till no end). In the final portion of the effort, I kept telling myself, "This is the last mile of your last marathon training run." It was a motivational little mantra.

It was the next day that I realized the problem with my end-of-run, last-mile pep-talk. While it's true that I was in the last mile of that particular marathon training run, I still actually have to go out the door and log the taper miles. I have skipped the taper in many a marathon cycle because I've been too busy teaching, but this time I'm seeing it through. Therefore, I still had a hill workout this week. I did four up-tempo miles yesterday in the early-morning dark. I did them even though I've basically been feeling like my legs are dragging for an entire seven days.

My friend Jordan says that my blah feeling is exactly appropriate. I should be excited to be feeling awful because it means I did the training just right. In two weeks at marathon time, I'll be totally ready. We'll see! I hope so, and I'm looking forward to lightening my load even further after today. Today's my last run over 10 miles. I've got 12, and I'm going with friends. It'll be way better than 20 with no friends and no headset.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Weather App

Every once in awhile, I get obsessed with some dumb thing. There's ear wax, remember? And pedometers? Well, now I've added checking the weather app.

Four or five or twelve or seventeen times a day, I'll refresh the damn thing, especially if one of the kids has an outdoor sporting event. Today, for instance, Shef is supposed to have a running race. For the last ten days, the weather app has predicted rain. For the last five days or so, it's been a 90-100% chance of rain. The icon shows a cloud with a lightning bolt to indicate that there might be thunderstorms.

It's not like I can do anything about this forecast. It's not like it's going to change dramatically in 45 minutes. Clearly, the weather forecasters think it's going to rain. If it's not going to rain, they don't know about that fact. All signs point to rain! And yet, I continue to check to app.

Sometimes I look at the radar on the app, as if I'm trained in radar. I know the basics, which is green or yellow over the place where you live means it's raining. I know from unfortunate experience that you can't always tell what the blobs of rain are going to do in the run-up to your location on the radar. They split and reform in mysterious ways. Maybe I could spend less time thinking about it, but probably I can't.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Let's Discuss the Fruit Fly Adventure

They're gross, and yet recurring. I've had fruit flies on an annual basis, I'm pretty sure, for most of the time I've been a homeowner. I think it's because of the compost? Or at other times, because of the garbage disposal? In any case, I have some now, little fruit flies in my face while I type at the breakfast bar. I researched some solutions, and I'm happy to report I have made my own fruit fly traps with cider vinegar and a bit of dish soap.

Naturally, I've become obsessed with checking on the traps and counting the number of flies I've snared. It's been a day and a half now, and I'm up to fourteen. This is good, right? But still, I've seen other flies perching on the edges of my traps, not falling into the liquid and meeting their inevitable ends.

What can I do to entice them? What will finally draw this unfortunate infestation to a close? I'll probably spend time googling this after lunch. My writing really slows down in the afternoon.

And so closes the August Adventure Challenge, just a few days late.

Friday, August 30, 2019

One More Adventure Weekend

Adventure was a harder theme than I imagined it would be, but I'm determined to post seven entries because that's the arbitrary target I set for myself, and I'm nothing if not rigid.

My adventure today is sort of pedestrian, but I think people are going to want to know about it. I've ventured into the wide world of canned alcoholic beverages. I'm talking the aluminum cans of bubbly rosé you might have seen at the liquor store check out. I'm also talking about the single-serve pre-mixed cocktails in adorable little, fruit-cocktail sized packages.

These handy beverages seems a little spendy for a single serving (like 6 dollars, either for the 8 oz can or the teeny cocktail can), but also the whole concept is brilliant. Who needs two old fashioneds? On a weeknight? While watching Bachelor in Paradise?

No one, that's who. But many people need just the one old fashioned. They need it with no mixing required, poured over ice and crafted with, like, what I'm sure are bespoke ingredients.

Speaking of Bachelor in Paradise, I'd be remiss if I didn't say it's the best season ever. The contestants have thrown themselves into boundless adventure, and I salute them and their public and often-flighty and seemingly shallow quest for love. A canned cheers to those adventurers! I haven't missed a single episode, and I won't.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

A New Job

A new job is a big adventure!

But, I've thought a lot about it, and there's just not much to report about my new job as a novelist that would be thrilling and hold people's attention. But, never fear! Just because I'm guaranteed to be boring, that won't stop me.

Here are the details of what I do now that my job is to be writing a novel:

First, I get up really early, but not as early as before. Now that I don't have to go to school, the wake up is more like 5:30 or 5:45 instead of 4:45. Last week, my first order of business was beta reading. Beta reading is when you peruse and comment on someone's early draft. I have a few writing partners and critique groups, and I like to beta read for these people because it's fun and inspiring, and also because then my pals will feel compelled to beta read for me.

When in my family has left the building, I set my timer and make myself write or revise for a certain interval (30 or 35 minutes, usually), and then I take a short break. I might get some tea or a snack or fold a quick load of laundry. Then, I do that--the interval of work followed by the short break--again and again and again until I can stand it no longer.

Then, I go for a run and do other writing-related tasks like Instagram and Twitter and drafting my newsletter and answering and sending work-related emails.

And after that, I might go to Target and get a couple of ingredients for dinner. Finally, I drive carpool and cook and consult on homework and walk the dog.

That's it. That's the whole of the new job. Is it as glamorous and adventurous as you imagined?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Turkeys on the Trail

I'm not sure I've ever written about my formerly-crippling fear of birds. It developed sometime around middle school and plagued me well into adulthood. I ducked and covered and avoided and panicked, all related to birds. Other people laughed about this, not because they didn't care about me, but because who's afraid of a friendly little robin?

Happily, I've been able to logic my way out of this phobia as I've grown older. I no longer scream when encountering birds or refuse to dine al fresco because of the possible presence of chickadees. I'll refuse to dine outdoors for other reasons--heat, cold, wind, a general dislike of things that others find "fun"--but small and harmless birds are no longer on the list.

Large birds, though, those are still very, very scary. I'm talking geese, swans, turkeys, and other species that walk or waddle on land. Even ducks are too big for me, and I'd prefer never to encounter them at close range.

So, imagine my horror when I encountered flocks of turkeys while trail running alone in the early morning this past Friday. There I was, just plodding along on some singletrack, forest bathing and whatnot, and then all of a sudden six or seven turkeys blocked the path in front of me.

I'll be honest, I screamed a little the first time I saw them. That turned out to be quite a successful strategy as I startled the turkeys and they ran up a hill. I wished to God I didn't have to pass them while they stood there on that hill above the trail, ready to attack, but there was no other reasonable choice. My heart pounds now as I remember the terror of the ordeal, but I did it. I passed the turkeys and nothing happened.

Later, two other turkeys scuttled ahead of me in a similar fashion, blocking and then clearing my way. I was terrified, but I carried on. The whole thing was an adventure. On this same run, I took a hard fall unrelated to the turkeys and scraped up my legs and jammed my finger. Through it all, I persevered with an adventurous sort of spirit.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Adventure Status Update

Publishing: I'm working on something called "first pass pages," which is when you see your manuscript printed out exactly how it will look in the book with the right fonts and headers and page numbers. It's called "first pass," but really it means "last chance," because it's my very final opportunity to change anything. I'm not supposed to change much -- a word here or an error there. It feels a little nuts to be signing off on all of these sentences, all 96,000 words, or whatever, for the very last time. Many steps of writing Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes have felt like adventures. Reading the pages as other people will (I hope!) read them is one of those steps.

Trail Running: I've finished the Endless Summer Trail Series, an adventurous race series at area parks. I really enjoy these little forays, heading into the woods and trying to finish faster than other people in my age group. I wish I could say that I don't care about winning, but everyone knows I do care about it. At these races, after my kids and my brother and I try to beat as many people as possible, we eat Dominoes pizza and drink a Summit India Extra Pale Ale. Well, the kids don't drink the beer. That's just for me and for other people over the legal age of 21. The pizza and the beer (and the Coke for the children) are included in the race fee, and if that isn't the best model ever, I don't know what is. I'm already looking forward to next summer's trail running adventures.

Eating Out: There's a place in St. Paul that's getting all sorts of buzz, and Dan and I are heading there to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary tonight. When I thought to get the reservation, there were only two slots available: 5:15 and 8:00. I had to pick the earlier because, well, regardless of how capital-A adventurous our August is, we still have to be in bed by like 9.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Heat and Humidity

About 75% of the time when I sign up for an endurance sporting event, I find myself lying in bed the morning of the race, at the requisite early wake-up time, regretting it.

This was the case yesterday when it was time to head out to the MDRA 15k. Here's why I didn't want to go: It's a team circuit race, so the field would be fast and intimidating. None of my personal friends were going, so I'd be awkward and alone. The weather was sticky, heavy, and slow--not only would my time lag, but I'd also probably feel miserable.

Here are the reasons I went: I already paid the entry fee. I would probably feel righteous at the finish line. I would score points for my team, even though I never go to practice and no one on the team actually knows me. AND, we're blogging about ADVENTURE in August. A 9.3 mile race in the heat and humidity would qualify as adventurous.

Here are the highlights:

  • I met a nice woman in the early miles and we chatted about running, a decade apart, in the same Minnesota small-college athletic conference.
  • I met a nice guy who provided helpful hints about the locations of the mile-markers and the conditions of the course and also who called me a "beast" at the end, even though he beat me by at least 15 seconds.
  • I was in my team photo for the first time ever. The director of the team asked me my name, so now I know one person.
  • Although I felt woozy at the finish, I powered through by drinking water and eating a cookie. The cookie was delicious. Maybe eating a cookie isn't supremely adventurous, but given the questionable state of my stomach after heat running, I thought it kind of was.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Action and Adventure in August

Lee's blogging about Action and Adventure this month, so I'm doing it, too. It seems like it's going to be fun.

My big Saturday adventure is more of a quiet sort. I'm catching up on some reading. And yes, I'm beginning the ADVENTURE challenge with kind of a whisper, but I think we can all agree that reading surely qualifies. I've already learned about CAR-T cells today and a movie called The Farewell. And, I read a short story that might make the reader re-think what she knows about love and marriage. That same story also made me think about craft and literary elements and what a writer can get by with, depending on his aims.

All of these adventurous thoughts sprang from my reading of The New Yorker. Many times, I've thought about how I both love and loathe The New Yorker. I like being the sort of person who gets a paper copy of this iconic publication in the mail every week. My dad re-ups my subscription annually, so it's not even something I choose; it's just part of me.

Even so, I almost never actually read The New Yorker.  I've been able to let go of the guilt about this at various moments and stages, like when I'm a full-time teacher and parenting some crazy busy kids 24/7.

But, now I'm supposed to be a full-time writer, and I'm supposed to be literary AF. So, reading a couple of New Yorker articles--we're not even aiming for cover-to-cover--shouldn't be that big of a problem. Soon, the kids will be back in school and maybe I can make a magazine ritual. An article with my matcha on Tuesday mornings, for example, and another one in the late-afternoon lull on Fridays.

Adventures can be momentous and also sort of regular. I guess I'm starting with the latter.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Oh Snap

Right after I got done bragging about not having any back-to-school dreams, I had the worst one ever. I'll keep it short because dream retellings are not the best reading material, but here's the gist:

I showed up at school to teach even though before that very morning, I had no idea I'd be teaching anything at all. I didn't attend any of the teacher workshops. I had no lesson plans. I couldn't even find my classroom, even though it was my school and everyone had a familiar face. It was your run-of-the-mill nightmare scenario, me wandering the halls with my arms full, getting jostled by adolescents, and colleagues waving and smiling at me without providing any answers to my myriad questions.

And, so, I guess we can conclude that I'm feeling seasonal anxiety despite my adjusted career plans. Old habits die hard, I guess. And, you should probably not brag. These are the themes of this blog post.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Difference

My friends who are teachers have been having back-to-school dreams. I have an intimate familiarity with this type of dream. In your dream, you might forget to show up for your class or have 100 students instead of the usual 20 or 30. You might humiliate yourself by not zipping something or wearing something.

There are more and worse possibilities, of course.

This year, I'm not having any back-to-school dreams because I'm not going back to school. I'm also not having dreams about being a novelist; although, that reality carries its own anxiety.

Instead, I've been having dreams about my non-existent capacity to be a Russian spy. We've been binging The Americans, and the more I watch it, the more convinced I am that I have zero of the skills I might need to be successful in intelligence.

I am not particularly brave or observant or sneaky. I'm not quiet when I walk. I cannot speak any other languages except for English. I do not know how to use a handgun. I'm not prepared to use any powers of seduction to loosen up potential sources. I have no experience in living a double life. I keep secrets only when I really have to. I like having friends to whom I'm not lying.

Much like I'm not qualified to be a river raft guide, I'm also not qualified for spying. I did suggest to Dan that we practice spying, maybe on some neighbors, but Dan said, "We'd get caught, and that'd be super embarrassing."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Story Editor

Today, I want to tell you about my friend Chadd. He's a brilliant thinker and storyteller and teacher, and for a couple of magical years, he was my across-the-hall neighbor at school. Every teacher knows how important it is to have a like-minded partner in crime to help deal with the daily bullshit that comes with classroom teaching. Chadd ranks among the best of these confidants.

Another great thing about Chadd is that he's missed his calling as a book editor.

That sounds selfish. I mean, of course, I'm sad for him that he missed his calling. However, I'm really happy for me because it means his services are cheap and available. All I had to do this time was show up at the local brewery of his choosing and open a tab.

And this is what he does: First, he says, "Give me a five-minute synopsis of your story." That's super hard for me to do, but Chadd is positive and encouraging. "Well, then this'll be good practice!" After that, we start with the questions. I've listed them in advance, and he answers them. We bat ideas back and forth. I leave with scribbled notes about which scenes to write next. Here are some examples of problems he's solved for me:

  • Who left that threatening voicemail that we hear at the beginning of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes?
  • Who is the antagonist in this story?
  • What are these kids fighting about?
  • What happens when this kid investigates that thing?
  • I love this character, but does she have a place in this story?
  • Does the protagonist have to be fighting with her husband, or is the rest enough?
  • How can I connect these two, seemingly disparate storylines?
  • Is this theme big enough? Who delivers these tough truths?
  • Does this big moment happen in the middle of the story or at the end?
  • What happens at the close of all of this? (This question is really, What HAS to happen at the end of this in order for the story to have integrity?) 
You can see how useful this is. It's like my own personal writers' room. He finds the best parts of my ideas and amplifies them. Very often, when Chadd makes a suggestion, I find the threads of that idea already written into my draft. I didn't even know the seeds were there. He's never read a word of my writing, except for my Listen to Your Mother piece. Incidentally, Chadd nailed the ending of that thing by making me cut a sentence that used to come after the last, best one.

Other people need these services. I keep telling Chadd to monetize his consulting. When I offer my profuse thanks, he always says, "All I'm asking is a nice 5x7" photograph in the acknowledgments section." He's kidding, I think. I can't do that, but I am grateful. You'll find him in the real acknowledgments, and you won't even be able to tell that Dan always calls him "Chad-duh-duh" to account for the extra D, which we've embraced.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer Status Report

Summer-End Panic
It's nearing the end of July, and I have to say I'm feeling much different than I normally do at this point in the summer. Most significantly, I'm void of panic, and I haven't been crying. To be fair, most summers I don't cry that much. But last summer, I had to get my rewritten book to my agent by August 7th, or I'd never, ever get it to her. The crush of the school year would descend, and I wouldn't have the long hours I needed to complete my revision. Tears leaked out, and I wondered whether I could make the book as good as she wanted me to. Now, that book has sold and is almost totally edited. Instead of weeping about my next project, I can simply extend my arbitrary writing deadline to September 1st and carry on. I'll be crushed by just one job, not two.

Dan's Retina
On Monday, his doctor lowered the boom: he needed an extra week of on-his-right-side bedrest to cement that detached retina back into place. No one has been happy about this, but we've been stalwart in our adherence to the guidelines. We all prefer that Dan not be blind. Of course, if Dan were writing this paragraph, he might include an expletive or two to illustrate what it's been like to stay in bed with his right cheek on a very thin pillow for 12 days straight. He might include the descriptors, "crazy-making" or "awful" or "utterly depressing." We can all imagine it. It's not the best.

The Teen Driver
Shef has been diligently practicing his driving, and in my estimation, he's quite good. Sure enough, yesterday his behind the wheel instructor confirmed that he's doing well and that he's extremely amenable to coaching. I agree, and so far we haven't crashed even a little bit. When I told my friend Jordan that I've been the primary driving instructor in our household, she laughed. "You shouldn't be teaching anyone to park," she said. That's obvious. I'm a terrible parker. I'm not even that good of a driver. But, I'm a good teacher, and that's been carrying me along.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Curveballs

A few things have happened. First, I forgot to remind myself that I'm not free in the summers, but rather that I'm "doing a different job." I remembered this important distinction in advance last year, and I was the happier for it. This year, when I was running down the clock on the school year, I imagined myself in summer mode, making amazing progress on my second novel, cranking out impressive word counts and revising like a boss. I forgot about the minivan taxi service and the million hopes and dreams of everyone else in my household that rest of my very shoulders.

The bottom line: summer is always good, but it's not a vacation.

A second, quite significant curveball arrived on our home plate last Monday. Dan had emergency surgery for a detached retina. I didn't know much about this, but the deal is, if your retina detaches, you need to get it surgically reattached to the surrounding tissues right away. And then you need to hold it in place while it heals. This is the tricky part. Depending on where the tear is, that determines the position in which you must hold your head for a significant period of time to let the gas bubble the doctor puts in there apply pressure to the reattachment site. I might be explaining this wrong, but you get the gist.

Here's the bottom line: Dan has to lie still on his right side for at least seven days with very few breaks. He's deeply unhappy, as any of us in this situation would be. But one has to do it. If you don't do it, you might lose your vision. So, the whole thing has wicked high stakes.

The third curveball is that I just discovered I might be double-paying for my NYTimes subscription. That's probably the least significant of the three. It probably doesn't require any more explanation.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Age-Group Record

Nothing quite delights me like a track meet, and this week Mac ran in a USATF all-comers meet in the 3000. It was his first track race, and he ran it well, finishing in twelve minutes and thirty seconds.

That would be exciting enough all on its own, but as a bonus, there was a record set in the same race. A guy named Sherwood Sagedahl, age 80, ran faster than any 80-84-year-old American ever has at the distance. His time was 13:40.42. He seemed to suffer a bit with the effort, but he finished strong, soaking in the modest applause from the incredulous crowd.

We just weren't expecting this kind of excitement at a small meet in regular suburb with little fanfare. What a surprise delight, and also, kind of an inspiration. Anyone who's running at 80 gets an A in my book. You don't even have to set records for being the best 80-year-old of all time.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Summer Reading

It's no shocker that I'm loving my summer reading. I generally love all of my reading in every season, but things are a little slower in the summer. I have more time to go to the library, to place holds, to flip through multiple volumes at the same time.

Right now, I'm reading some essays on writing by one of my faves, Richard Russo. Have you read Nobody's Fool? Empire Falls? Straight Man? I really admire this guy. In fact, there was a time when I was 100% caught up on Richard Russo novels. I've now missed several, but the possibilities of summer are endless. I could get right back up to speed.

Of course, there are other demands on my time. I'm also reading On the Come Up, Angie Thomas's second novel. It's a propulsive story, and I'll likely be finished in a day or so. Bri, the main character, lives in the same world, the same neighborhood, as Starr and Seven and Sekani from The Hate U Give. As I've been making my way through this new book, I've been thinking about how hard it is to write second novels. Angie Thomas tweeted about the difficulties while she was working on this one, and I'm quite familiar because I'm also currently writing a second novel. That process is only intermittently delightful. Still, Thomas's sophomore effort is solid, and it seems to have come out on time. #Winning.

Also on my nightstand, I've got two library holds I'd really like to finish by the time they're due, including The Travelers by Chris Pavone. If I complete it, I'll be 100% caught up on Chris Pavone novels. 100% delights me every time.  Also, I've got Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I didn't know that Kate Atkinson had detective novels, but then I found out. I love detective novels, and I was utterly wowed by her book, Life After Life.

There are more books, of course, but those are the ones I'm thinking about on this day.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

This isn't MMMbop

I've decided to delight myself by branching out in my music choices, like beyond Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" and "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by the Proclaimers. So, right now I'm streaming a playlist on Spotify by the NPR Music team that claims to be the best songs of 2018.

The songs are different and fun. Some of them are in other languages, which makes sense. Probably not all of the best songs of 2018 were written and recorded by English speakers. How ethnocentric of me to be surprised by the Spanish and French I'm hearing, amirite?

Although I'm enjoying by the music, I'm also feeling a little bit like a faker. I'm not cool enough for these tunes. I'm pretty basic in most of my aesthetic choices. Just check out my olive green Bermuda shorts, my grey t-shirt, my Apple watch. I didn't even wear any mascara today.

The person who listens to this NPR playlist has perhaps a different, more vibrant sensibility. She probably either does her hair on the regular, or she DOESN'T do it, but with a sense of irony.

I just haven't done my hair this summer because I'm lazy. I haven't worn mascara for the same reason. It might be delightful to be the person who has actually heard these songs before and nods along while wearing perfect eyeliner, like, yeah, this is definitely one of the best songs of 2018. But it's also fine to just carry on and listen to the music if it pleases me, which I think it does.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Meditation. Again.

I've had a meditation practice going at various times in my life, and I'll admit, it's super helpful in reducing my stress, making me feel more deliberate, and--this is according to science--lengthening my life and generally maximizing my health. What happens, though, is that just when I need mediation the most, when I feel the most frazzled and out of control, I break the habit.

But now my life is changing, and I'm hopeful that I can just make regular meditation a thing. How hard can it be? I'm especially motivated because I'm reading a delightful book entitled The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. The author is a science journalist and has compiled copious evidence that certain practices (meditation, yoga, and acupuncture) can reverse damage to the brain and immune system caused by stress and its attendant chemicals.

This is one of those books where I stop frequently and subject my family to nuggets of fascination.

"Did you know that the number-one predictor in whether or not you'll have a repeat heart-attack is pessimism?"

"People who meditate have no decline in attention and concentration as they age. It's proven by brain imaging!"

"Hey, listen to this -- this is incredible. People who have had adverse childhood experiences actually have smaller hippocampuses. Like, the area of the brain is smaller and makes it harder for people to process emotions and manage stress forever."

No one at home seems all that interested in these little tidbits, but I am. I've recommended the book to like 20 people already. I'm going to recommend it to you, as well, especially if you have an autoimmune disease or other chronic health problem. If you have one of those, you should get this book immediately. And you should start meditating. It can't be all that hard. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Delight and Dread. Both. A Duo.

We're writing about delight this month, so I'll admit today's topic is a stretch: Shef is taking driver's ed.

Ok, so on the one hand, I can't wait for him to procure his driver's license. I've spent the last several years of my life driving him hither and yon, to and fro, near and far. I'll be delighted to just send him on his way to wherever he's going and not spend my prime mid-life years in the goddamn car.

On the other hand, driving is terrifying. On Monday, I went to a required parent education class at the triple-A that confirmed that operating motor vehicles is too dangerous for teens.  During the 90-minute hell-fest, the state-mandated instructor showed me crash statistics, videos of people whose lives have been ruined by teen drivers, and information on organ donation. My big takeaway from the seminar is that no teen should, in fact, be driving.

And yet. We cannot deny that our quality of life will improve once our teen can drive, at least during daylight hours, off the highway, and with his cellphone in the trunk. I have days of delight ahead of me when I don't criss-cross the metro area, shuttling him to various commitments. I'll be happy in the future, as long as he doesn't die from driving.

Monday, June 10, 2019

On the Irrelevancy Gold Stars

The other night, Shef woke us up at 11:05pm, roundabouts, to tell us that he'd qualified for a prestigious track meet. We thought he'd missed the time standard by a measly six-hundredths of a second over the course of a whole mile run, so we were all delighted to find out that New Balance Nationals accepted his time. Woot!

On hearing this news, I rose from my bed to help him register immediately as a midnight deadline approached. After we'd completed the paperwork, I tried to go back to blissful slumber and failed.

Lucky for me, I was in the middle of a delightful collection of essays by Mary Laura Philpott. It's called I Miss You When I Blink, and while I hate it when I can't sleep, I quite enjoyed the 90 minutes during which I read Philpott's musings on parenting, perfectionism, and the infernal PTA before drifting off again. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and recommend this book, especially if you're in the minivan stage of life, as I am. Today, my minivan and I are headed to no fewer than five destinations, dropping off and picking up like bosses.

I think Philpott would encourage me in this kid-wrangling. "I see you with your organized calendar," she'd say. And, she would likely give me a gold star if I saw her in person and she happened to be carrying a sheet of gold stars.

Since that scenario is unlikely, I think I'll just imagine my gold star. I'm imagining a big one right now.

Friday, June 7, 2019

IntenseTrackMom.Com

I love the sport of running. I've been doing it since I was eleven years old, and in fact, it's the only sport I've ever done on a competitive level.

Well, to be fair, I did also play slo-pitch softball when I was seven or nine or so. As I'm not good at throwing or catching, it was a tough go; but I distinctly remember giving it my all.

In any case, because running is literally the only sport I know anything about, it's lucky for me that my oldest child has fallen in love with it. Or, maybe it's unlucky because it turns out I'm highly invested. We have a joke in our house that I run a website called IntenseTrackMom.Com. I don't really have that website, but wouldn't it be a delightful place to hang?

"Mom, are you the only intense track mom?" Shef asked me recently.

"No," I said, thinking about the other moms of kids on the team. "There's Kelly. She's pretty intense." Shef nodded. It's true that Kelly is pretty intense. I've even seen her on her feet cheering for her kid in the final stretch. She'll even stand up if she's in the middle of the bleachers with people behind her. "And Alice is intense," I continued. Alice's kid is like a ten-time state champion, and she seems pretty into track, as it turns out. "And Josie." Shef and I were agreeing about Josie's intensity when Dan broke in.

"But none of them are quite as intense as you," Dan said.

Is that true? I'm not sure I buy it. Indeed, I'm a highly-knowledgeable track fan, but I never harass coaches or officials. I'm extremely well-behaved. Delightful, if you will.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

My New Headphones

I few days ago, I wrote a short story on Instagram about the death of my old headset. I know the headset looked completely ridiculous, and yet, I felt attached to it.

Although the headset served me well, when I went to replace it, I decided to go in a different direction. I went with something a little less conspicuous than giant, over-the-ear, air-traffic-controller style. I got some sleekish Bluetooth earbuds without thinking too hard about it. I didn't make the change because I care about other people making fun of me, which they did all the time for wearing that giant accessory. I made the change for me, because I was ready.

I'm happy to report that my first run with the new equipment was delightful. It took a little finagling, but I figured out how to fit the buds in my ears and get them to stay there. Then, I just tucked the wire that hangs around your neck into my ponytail. The instructions didn't say to do that part, but it's a smart move. That way, my neck was unencumbered.

And, I'll tell you something: although the buds were not as comfortable as the old headset, they were cooler. Both in terms of temperature and in terms of looks.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Always Be My Maybe

I've been super into the delightful Netflix movie, Always Be My Maybe with Ali Wong and Randall Park. I've already seen it twice, and I love it a lot.

Here's what I find especially appealing about this wonderful film:

  • It's in my favorite genre, romantic comedy. In this type of film, you don't have to worry about horrible, heartbreaking endings or things like dismemberment, serial killing, or getting run over by tractor-trailers. There will be some unfortunate misunderstandings in the romantic comedy, of course. Main characters will make bad choices, and you might feel distressed by a supporting character's peril. But in the end, you're going to be delighted by a warm, big-hearted finale. That's just the best.
  • Randall Park does nerd rapping about tennis balls and Keanu Reeves.
  • Keanu Reeves is so funny and huge in this movie. Totally extra. And who doesn't like Keanu? I'll admit I used to be a little snobby about his performance in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, but I'm now totally over that.

To be honest, Dan doesn't like Always Be My Maybe as much as I do, but I think we can chalk it up to his questionable taste. He likes Goon and Starship Troopers, after all. His problem with this particular film is that Park and Wong are "ambiguously aged." Take a chill pill and suspend disbelief, Dan. That's my advice.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Days of Delight

It's June, which everyone knows is a delightful month. Lee suggested we all write about things that do, in fact, delight us and that we do it with frequency.

I will now try to engage in this splendid activity. Here's a story of extreme delight:

On Friday, I had my last day of working at my fabulous school. There's an assembly every year at which we honor employees who have enjoyed long tenures. At the end of that gathering, the head of school reads a list of people who have either been fired from the school or who have decided not to return. After she says each name, everyone gives one clap.

It's a one-clap salute, if you will.

Before the gathering started, I told my friends I wanted my one clap to be quite robust. I'm delighted to say it was! The clap felt suitably momentous for quitting my job.

Then, there's a picnic, but I decided to skip it because Shef and I had plans. Dan knew about these plans, and while we were out, he came home from work and left a congratulations banner, helium balloons, flowers, and a necklace with an inspirational phrase. All of this was to send me off on my new adventure as a professional writer, which begins tomorrow.

Let the delight continue!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Status Report

Report Card Writing: Finished! I spent time thinking about each student and what I so appreciate about her or him. I wrote that stuff, as well as some suggestions for the future. I simply cannot believe that I have no plans to write report cards next semester, or the semester after that. I can't really picture what my life outside the classroom will look like. We may fear the unknown, but we must venture ever forward. Someone famous must have said that, and that's my plan. But, in addition to the unknown, I think I'll also do something familiar...

Marathon Training: I haven't run 26.2 in five years, but I feel confident that I can do it again. I signed up for our hometown marquee event, the Twin Cities Marathon. In part, I chose this race because it's in the fall, and fall marathons are usually problematic for me because of my day job as a classroom teacher. Now that I do not have that particular day job, it should be easier to keep running come August, and the marathon in early October can be a celebration of my new gig. Maybe it will be my best marathon ever? Or, maybe I'll just cover the distance. Either way is good, and my sister-in-law, Steph, also signed up. Last time I ran a marathon with Steph, it was a total blast.

Writing: I've been telling myself it's fine to not be writing my book or my blog while I do my report cards. Unfortunately (and, of course, THANK GOD), I have now submitted my reports. I have no choice but to go back to my other work. I'm warming up right now, preparing to type some words of my god-awful first draft. I'm dying to return to the beginning of that novel, to make the story make sense and to make some of the chapters not suck; but I think it might be smarter to go push through the end and then have a whole manuscript to revise.

At the very least, I think I should write 10,000 new words before I go back. Let it be so. Ugh.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

7 for April

I'm compelled to write this morning because a while ago, I said I'd blog seven times in April, and today is April 30th. This is my seventh post this month, and so after I hit publish, I will have met my completely arbitrary goal.

This activity--writing here even though I don't feel like it--highlights my best and worst quality. On the best days, my drive to do everything I said I would do AND everything anyone else thought or imagined I might do, looks just great.

I'm highly productive, put together, and accomplished! Wow! How impressive and gold star!

On my worst days? I'm competitive and obsessed. Also unforgiving, rigid, and judgmental. I might be wearing a pedometer hooked to my underwear or fretting at my desk over not writing the best social studies lessons of all time.

Other people are like this, right? Or, is there a way to not be like this?

Anyway, that's the April Blogging Challenge in the bag! Let's do this again soon.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Travel Report: Savannah, Georgia

I've recently returned from a lovely city called Savannah, a place made famous by the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. One thing I was happy to know about Savannah is that it's among the top 5 most haunted cities in the world according to an official research site about paranormal activity at Duke University.

To celebrate Savannah's ghostliness, my friends and I went on something called the Zombie Tour. We learned that the city is built on the graves of its dead, including the orphans who succumbed to yellow fever during one or two outbreaks. These orphans wore hooded cloaks when they were alive, and now that they're not, they sometimes haunt a creepy playground next to a cemetery.

In addition to visiting the orphans' playground under the cover of darkness, we wandered about the grounds of houses in which people have experienced terrible deaths. These poor souls have been seen in mysterious photographs snapped by guests on tours. While on the tour myself, I looked at iPad pictures of unexplainable phenomena like faces in mirrors and apparitions in doorways. I snapped away on my iPhone and have scoured my pictures for any irregularities, but I don't believe I've captured any paranormal activity.

Shoot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Playing it Cool

The other night, I had dinner with an author I admire and a mutual friend of ours. The meeting was a thrilling proposition, as I've read everything this author has written, and I love her so, so much.

My family tried to pretend to be excited when I told them about the opportunity, even though none of them had heard of the person I was so keen to meet. This is not super surprising, as at least one of them thinks "reading is trash."
Thanks, Shef.

"Is it like when I got to meet Cizzorz?" Mac asked, referring to a YouTuber he loves.
"Yes," I said, emphatically, at which point he nodded in a way that communicated he had my back. Thanks, Mac.

In fact, I could imagine myself losing it at the dinner -- gushing my head off and crying from happiness. But this behavior wouldn't be cool. I felt it was important to be cool. After all, I'm a professional writer now, and who wants to have dinner with someone who's gushing and crying?

"I'm just going to be myself," I told Dan, when I'd decided.
"Oh no," he said. "Definitely don't be yourself. She'll hate you."
Thanks, Dan.

I'll have you know that I'm pretty sure I behaved reasonably at the dinner. I casually mentioned that I'd read several of her books, but I didn't recount the details I remember from each and every one of them. I only choked one time on a red pepper flake, and I prudently excused myself to the restroom to cough violently. I was sweaty, but I wore multiple layers so you couldn't tell. I tried to balance speaking and listening. I don't think either of my dinner companions realized how hard I was working to look and act like a normal person.

When I got home, Dan appraised me and asked, "Were you normal, or were you yourself?" I'm not sure any of us will ever know. And thanks, Dan.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Marvel Universe

I don't know how you feel about it, but for me, there's sort of a limit to the number of Marvel movies I can see.

For instance, I've seen a couple of the Iron Men, a Captain America, an Ant Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and at least two Avengers. Oh, and Captain Marvel and Spiderman: Homecoming. And also Guardians of the Galaxy.

I've seen at least all of these Marvel movies and maybe one or two more.

For some reason, I'd drawn the line at Infinity War, mostly because Mac told me that half of the people disintegrate at the end. That sounded sort of sad and less satisfying than, say, the usual epic and improbable victory you get in all those other movies I mentioned.

But now Avengers: Endgame is coming out this week, and it's like, a ginormous media and pop culture phenomenon, and I probably have to be a part of it. This is true both because I enjoy pop culture phenomena and also because of the peer pressure I'll experience within my own home.

Given my plans, then, to see Endgame in the theater, I'll probably first watch a YouTube video (or seven) to collect all the information I need to enjoy this film without whispering to Dan or the kids for clarification about who's who and/or what's happening.

It was tricky during Infinity War because I didn't recognize the Winter Soldier or Falcon, and I had only the vaguest memories of Scarlet Witch. Even though I first mistook Thanos for Hellboy, I did then thoroughly enjoy Josh Brolin with that giant chin. Who doesn't enjoy a little Brolin?

Bring it on, Endgame. I'll be ready for you.




Monday, April 15, 2019

The Weeks

I've had a rough couple of weeks with the writing. You know how sometimes things just flow, and then how other times it feels like a massive grind just to type a sentence or two?

I've been in a grind phase now for a couple of weeks, the exact weeks, as it happens, that I've been back in school from spring break. Luckily, there are a few strategies that we can use to press ever onward:

First of all, we can remember that almost all writers hate writing from time to time. You can find any number of quotes from famous and lauded writers about how awful it can be to write. I just found one from Anne Tyler, who is inarguably brilliant and has written 22 novels: "If I waited till I felt like writing, I'd never write at all." See? Even she just has to make herself do it.

Second of all, we can set a timer and just promise to work for a very short interval. I recommend something less than twenty minutes. I go for 15 first in the morning, and then I switch to 10. In between the intervals, I can do something else like make tea or do the New York Times mini crossword. Incidentally, if you like the NYTIMES mini crossword, could you let me know? We could be leaderboard friends. You know how I love a good leaderboard.

Third of all, we can remember that the first draft is always just objectively terrible. Write the worst thing you can possibly think of. That's how it's supposed to be. Jodi Picoult, author of 25 novels, says, "I may write garbage, but you can always edit garbage. You can't edit a blank page."

I literally repeat these things to myself every morning. Things like, "Just do it," and "Write badly!" Someday soon, I hope the writing comes more smoothly again. It probably will, and then it will inevitably get worse again. Oh well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Anti-Thrill List

Well, we're having a winter storm event. It's mid-April and these things happen here in Minnesota, but I'll admit I'm not thrilled. Other things that don't thrill me:


  • Kids kicking other kids. I did tell the kicked kid that there is some danger in crawling under tables pretending to be a cat, but still, we all know we shouldn't kick.
  • Delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. This condition causes water retention and discomfort. It's tough being an athlete in one's forties.
  • Homework. One of my kids sometimes requires vigilance and assistance in homework completion. Let's just all skip it, shall we?
  • Rhubarb. There was a rhubarb-based dessert in the cafeteria the other day, and while I enjoy most foods, I just don't care for rhubarb. Next time, let's hit the fruit-based dessert with a little apple flavor. Maybe some peach.
Thanks for carefully considering this list.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Water Club

The other day, Lee wrote about conflicts in third grade.

I'd also like to tell you about something that's happening in third grade. That something is called Water Club. If you're in Water Club, what you do is, every time you walk past a water fountain, you try to put as much water from the fountain as you can on top of your head.

How stupid, right?

A couple of people have taken Water Club to the max by going into the bathroom and getting drenched in the sink. I think we can all agree that this Club doesn't maximize learning. I think we can all see that making a different choice besides the one to be in Water Club might be preferable. I think we can all understand why I'm going to have to ban Water Club. That's right. Water Club is going the way of Rolling Around on the Rug Club and Scream in the Hallway Club.

I'm putting my foot down.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Mostly for Writers: The Timeline



A year ago, I signed with my agent, a super smart woman named Joanna MacKenzie who works at Nelson Literary Agency. And next year at about this time, my first novel will be out from Penguin Random House and available for purchase in numerous venues.

It feels crazy and surreal.

Way back when I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Hollenbeck, said I was the most likely in her class to publish a novel. I was flattered by this praise, and, in fact, I planned on writing several novels. I'd already begun one or two, and my mom said they were quite good.

I'm sure that as a fifth-grader, I didn't think it'd take me 30 or so years to actually put a book in the publishing pipeline. Other things got in the way, of course--exciting and important life and career events. But now, I'm happy to be living out the destiny prescribed to me by my teacher, Mrs. H.

Since I announced my book deal in December, lots of people have expressed surprise about just how long it takes to get a book into actual stores. "Spring Twenty-TWENTY?!" they exclaim when I mention the release date. I agree that it seems like an insanely long process, but by publishing standards, my path has been pretty short and straightforward.

Sometimes people like to know these things, and so I'm going to write it out. Here's the "when" of the path to publication for Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes so far:

Fall 2004: I started writing this blog after writing nothing but academic papers for at least 10 years. The reason the earliest posts aren't here is that I first used a now-defunct platform, the name of which I can no longer remember. I wrote like crazy on this website, usually posting more than a hundred short pieces per year. I worked on dialogue and humor and crafting stupid little life experiences into things I felt were worth saving. I interacted with other writers and felt like a real writer myself. Basically, the blog changed my life, and though I wished it were more popular, it didn't really matter that almost no one read it.

January 2014: I decided to "reclaim my reader identity" (I'm sure I got this phrase from Lee) by resolving to read 52 books per year. Best resolution ever. I read lots of books I wished I'd written.

January 2015: Since I liked my new reader identity so much, I decided to work on my "writer identity" (again, stolen, I'm sure), and I started drafting a way-too-ambitious family saga that spanned generations. Beginning that book was an important step, but it wasn't really meant to be.

December 2015: Over winter break, I started writing a different thing about a woman who ran through a crowd of kids at her son's school, checking the drama bulletin board to see which part he'd gotten and injuring a teenaged girl in the process. KK and I had dreamed up this scenario between classes at the middle school where we taught. We thought it was hilarious.

Spring 2016-Fall 2017: I took several online courses about how to write a book, met a fabulous critique group, worked with a developmental editor, and coerced several people into reading my manuscript about the theater mom and (of course) a beleaguered English teacher. Finally, I felt the book was finished enough to query in early 2018.

January 2018: I sent out an initial five query letters to literary agents, none of which resulted in manuscript requests.

February 2018: I finaled in a contest called Sun vs. Snow that helps writers get their work in front of agents. I got my first two manuscript requests this way, and I felt more confident about the whole process of trying to get an agent. My submission materials were better after working with a mentor through the contest. I also hired an editor to help me polish them.

February-March 2018: I sent an additional seven queries to agents I thought might like my book. Two of these people asked to read the whole thing and then offered to represent me. I picked Joanna.

May 2018: Joanna and Angie, the in-house editor at Nelson, sent me an eleven-page editorial letter along with line edits. As gently as they could, they told me I'd need to rewrite the book to fix character and conflict problems before we tried to sell it.

May-August 2018: I wrote and rewrote and cried and had panic attacks. But, even as I suffered, I realized Joanna and Angie were right about all eleven pages of their feedback. The book would be way better after the rewrite. Elated and exhausted, I turned it back into Joanna in the first week of August.

September 2018: Joanna wrote me a much shorter editorial letter in which she detailed about three-weeks' worth of further revisions. When I first got the email, I freaked. I couldn't even open it, feeling like I was in for another ten weeks of tortured self-doubt; but my writer friend Alison read the suggestions first and talked me down.

October 2018: I did a few more clean-up edits, and then, by the last week of the month, Joanna blessedly said it was ready to send to a list of about twelve editors whom she'd contacted.

November 2018: The book sold to Kerry Donovan an editor at Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in what's called a preempt, which means they paid a little more so other people couldn't also look at it. Berkley announced that the pub date would be "Spring twenty-TWENTY," and away we go.

There's a whole new timeline about what happens next. It's exciting, right? But, I don't want to be boring about the whole thing. I'll be back to amusing anecdotes about daily life in no time.





Sunday, March 10, 2019

Status Report

Television: After a long and frustrating search, Dan and I have landed on The Americans as our new joint show. I think we can all agree that The Americans is superior to the Bachelor Franchise, which has, unfortunately, provided most of our entertainment in the last several years.

Last night while we watched the first three episodes of The Americans, in which the leads are married KGB agents, we started suspecting one another of being spies. While it's still possible that Dan is a spy, he did finally come around to the realization that while I have many gifts, I'm not really suited to covert operations. The reasons include the fact I already work at two verified jobs, I go to sleep between 9 and 10 every night, and most damning, I can only understand people with midwestern accents. I'm not proud of this last fact, but it's undeniable.

Books: Yesterday, I finished a round of developmental edits on my first book and sent them back to my editor. Although I did beef up the arc of a teenaged character in a satisfying way, there wasn't a whole ton to do this time, I think because of the Massive Rewrite of the Summer of 2018. That rewrite was incredibly painful, but many times I've been grateful that I did it. I was grateful once again yesterday while I danced maniacally around my living room, celebrating "The End" for yet another time. We're close to the last "The End" now, and I can't believe it.

Daylight Savings Time: I've never been a huge fan of this day or program; however, I will persevere. It's better now that the children are older and unaffected. Yes, I'm disappointed that I have one fewer hour in which to finish my lesson plans. I could try to stay up later, but it turns out I'm quite rigid on bedtime. As I mentioned before, that limits my potential as a spy. On reflection, I'm realizing it might limit my potential in other areas, as well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Head Cold

I have a head cold. I know it's irrational, but I generally view any viral illness--really any infirmity, bacterial, viral, or musculoskeletal--as a personal failing. I don't view other people's health problems this way. It's just me.

Did I fall down in my handwashing?

Did I eat inflammatory foods?

Did I otherwise fail to most valiantly battle against prevalent airborne infections?

Certainly, there's something I could have done, and so I've been beating myself up about the cold for several days now. I've also been inhaling steam infused with oil of oregano. I've slathered the area between my nose and my mouth with Aquaphor so as not to look like an eight-year-old who can't manage her Kleenex. I've been taking ibuprofen to manage my headache. I've avoided juicy coughing in public whenever possible.

I felt a little better today. Tomorrow, I'll feel even better. I can feel righteous about my relatively short viral illness. I can try harder to avoid the next one. I can never give up.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Looking Forward

Next year, I'm not planning to be a teacher. Instead, I'm going to be a full-time writer. This decision, while not necessarily permanent, seems relatively life-changing in all kinds of big and small ways.

For instance, I'll be able to get my haircut on a weekday. Also, I can stay home if a repair person needs to make a service call. If I get sick, it won't require hours of work and worry to miss a day of school. Dan won't have to leave his job if there's an ortho appointment or the dog needs to go to the vet. We can do our Costco run on Monday mornings instead of during the apocalyptic weekend hours. It won't be hard to make dinner or exercise.

Perhaps most importantly, I have a fighting chance at finishing my second book by the deadline of January 1, 2020. That's the real reason why I'm making this change, but the whole family is kind of fantasizing about the aforementioned other benefits. Shef raised his arms in victory when I told him the plan, and I don't think he was necessarily thinking of my glorious hours in a sunny co-working space, writing snappy dialogue and clever plot twists.

Of course, there are downsides to the pivot, as well. Most notable is the fact that I like my job. Teaching is more of an identity than a profession. I've done it for nearly 20 years, for basically all of my working life. And, I recently changed jobs from secondary to elementary teaching. The switch has revitalized me and turned me into a learner all over again. I'm sorry to leave it just as I'm getting started, especially because searching for another new teacher so soon will inconvenience my colleagues.

But, being a full-time novelist for a year or two or maybe longer? That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, don't you think? I've got to give it shot.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Greetings From the Polar Vortex

I just had that familiar feeling that comes near February 1st in teaching, the feeling that you're not sure how you'll ever make it through the dark and dismal winter with its indoor recesses and increased crankiness. And then this year we got an extra shot: dark, dismal, and colder than it's been in decades! The windchills are supposed to get down to -50 or -60 degrees Fahrenheit; the actual air temps are supposed to be as low as -25.

So, the miserable, triple-threat winter actually offered us a reprieve: we can't go to school for a few days. We'll rest and recharge and not suffer frostbite within five minutes of being outside. That's what the weather service said, btw. Frostbite will begin within five minutes of exposing any skin to the elements. Can't do bus stops in those conditions.

I'm using the time on these three days to make some strides on my second book. In fact, yesterday, I wrote more than 2,000 words! Today, I'm planning to set a more reasonable, and yet still impressive, goal of 1,000 words. Who knows? Maybe I'll surpass it.

I'll also do my hand exercises. And, I'll read.

There are other people for whom these days won't be so pleasant--people with jobs that can't be canceled, people with toddlers who morph into living terrors outside of routine, people who don't have a warm place to be that's all their own. I wish I could make this vortex more enjoyable for these folks. I wish I could get them a warm cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Tub

At long last, we're gutting the master bathroom in our home. It'll be nice to have an update also nice not to have a dark and leaky shower.

Still, we face some challenges. One of them is that I have very little design sense. I don't know what the options are, what looks good together, and sometimes even what I like. So, that makes remodeling hard. Remodeling seems to go better when people have confidence in their decision-making.

It also seems to go better when the HGTV vans come in and just fix everything in 48 hours or so for half of what I'm going to have to pay. I asked the woman at the plumbing fixture showroom why it seems so cheap when Chip and Joanna Gaines do it, and she said it's because they don't include labor costs--just, like, wholesale prices for the materials.

So, the lesson here is that HGTV is a big fat lie. Just FYI.

In any case, one component we needed to choose for our new bathroom was the tub. We selected one, a nice clawfoot job, but then it turned out that according to codes, we needed one with the drain on the right side, not in the center. If you want a clawfoot with a drain like that, it's got to be an oblong shape or a slipper style, neither of which we thought would look nice in the space.

Not that we know anything. But who needs a lifetime of doubt surrounding a seldom-used bathtub?

So the plumbing showroom gal gave us the option of a rectangular tub with some detailing in the toe kick area. This choice will also save us some cash because we won't need the fancy faucet that comes out of the floor and loops the edge of the clawfoot. When it came time to choose the faucet we will actually have, I deferred almost completely to the plumbing showroom professional. The faucet looked a-ok to me, and I just couldn't think about it anymore.

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.