Wednesday, August 31, 2022

In It

Continuing on with several milestone moments over here.

I'm writing this from the tiny but charming Burlington International Airport in Vermont. Dan and I are leaving our firstborn child in this lovely state while we jet home.

He's staying here for college, a fact I can't believe.

Here are some things that happened on this quick trip:

  • We discovered again that Shef's college campus is gorgeous and sprawling. There are mountains and valleys and lots of lush greenery. It's Middlebury College.
  • Kids from his new cross country team met us at the dorm and helped us carry his stuff to the second and top floor. Then, when we didn't have the code for entering the dorm room, they made multiple phone calls to figure it out and toured us around to kill the time while we waited. This was great because we visited Middlebury for the first (and only other) time during Covid and didn't get to see much of anything. 
  • Shef's dorm itself is in shocking disrepair. I'm not kidding. I mean, it's pretty much a shithole. There's a big brown water stain on the ceiling in his room, the hallways smell like mildew and urine, and the carpet is the very definition of threadbare. Dan remarked on entry, "Wow! It's like you're in prison!"
  • Despite the conditions, the board is still quite expensive.
  • Despite the conditions, Shef is happy and excited and all the cross country runners seemed awesome. Some of them had previously lived in that same dorm (which will be destroyed, perhaps by fire, next summer) and have lived to tell the tale.
  • We left him there about five hours ago, and he has not texted me. When will he text me?
When will he text me?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Some Pretty Decent News

I won't beat around the bush: I think I'm ready to write and rewrite the first act of my new book. I have a bunch of out-of-order vignettes of what I'm calling The One and Only Sadie Jones at the moment, but as of this morning, I also have an outline for the first act of the book.

It's important for everyone to know that the outline will change, and the beginning will change. It's an inevitability. 

But, I'm pretty excited to get to work on a chunk--50 pages-ish?--that people can actually read. I think I've got most of the pieces already drafted, which is even more thrilling. This means that I get to use Revision Color One (red, probably), and the differences between the first crappy version and the second will astound me and make me feel productive and worthy.

I know from my outline that there are a couple of few new scenes I know I have to draft. One or two of these involve rodents. I used to think the mice were just there and menacing and designed to make us feel like Sadie is in over her head in her new apartment, but now I think they're a neighbor's escaped pet rats. This makes it so she can have a friend who doesn't have her same name. And the neighbor will be quirky and confounding because she has rats.

Is that confusing? Well. Just wait. We'll write it, and then it will be clear.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

A Restful Summer

I've been working hard, but I've also been resting hard this summer. I think it's good. I'll confess: I've taken at least one nap on each day of the summer so far. I close my eyes, and most of the time, I fall asleep for 20-40 minutes.

Part of this is just a middle-aged willingness to accept my limitations. Part of it is that we finally got a new bed that I find to be irresistible. Part of it is that I have been running quite a lot, and then resting is a natural counterpart to that. I just like napping, as it turns out.

I hoping the naps have been reducing my cortisol. They've definitely been improving my mood, as I've been generally quite cheerful even though I've experienced a couple of setbacks.

I'm not sure that daily naps are sustainable all year long, but perhaps I can prioritize them in the school year. I'm already quite good at Saturday and Sunday afternoon naps. I'd give my napping ability at solid 10/10.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Status Report

Tour de France:

It's happening, and I've been watching it. It's weird to me that everyone in cycling, at least in the past, has just been a convicted doper, and now it's sort of just accepted and fine. I did watch that Lance Armstrong documentary during Covid, and I sort of felt like, well, if everyone is using drugs and Lance is still the best, then do we really care? If no one was doping, he might also still be the best. I did some cursory googling about this issue, and it seems like now the doping is just more on an individual and micro-dosing level, rather than team sponsored. I mean, okay.

Book Work:

I have written 10, 250 words of the Sophie Jones book since Mac has been at camp. I've also emailed a synopsis to my agent. We can agree this is excellent progress.

Running:

In a momentary lapse of judgment and self-preservation, I have agreed to race a mile on Sunday. Lucky for me, Shef volunteered to be my pace buddy, so now it won't be as bad as it might have been if he hadn't done that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Camp Departure

Today's the day Mac leaves us for three weeks at camp. He's very excited, can't wait to get on the bus, and claims he won't miss us at all. He resisted purchasing the required camp supply of stationery because he claims he won't be writing to us at all ever. I reminded him that the camp staff will require him to write once per week. We bought the stationery.

It's hard for me to imagine a better place for a fourteen-year-old boy than camp. He'll have a ton of autonomy in a youth-centered community. He'll have opportunities to create real and lasting relationships. There are wholesome mentors and thoughtful scaffolding for both physical and emotional growth.

I'm a camp enthusiast, and I'm happy for Mac. But I'd also like for him to write me some letters and pretend to miss me just a little bit.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

20k3

We're in the Salt Lake City airport returning from a very pleasant trip to Park City, Utah. While we were on vacation, we engaged in various mountain adventures.

One highlight was a tour of Utah Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Olympic Ski Jumping, Bobsledding, and Luge Competitions. Our guide was two-time Olympian Casey Larson. He told us he is 5'10 and 135 pounds. These stats were relevant to our tour because ski jumpers are better if they're very small. The minimum BMI for men is 18.5, which is not a very big BMI. I wanted to ask, but did not, about the prevalence of eating disorders among ski jumpers.

In addition to these facts about jumping, I discovered that luge is the most dangerous of the winter sports. Conversely, Casey claims that ski jumping has the lowest rate of injury. I specifically asked about regular cross country skiing, as I was skeptical of the safety of launching oneself off a ramp into the air. But Casey said that even though they're going fast down that very steep jumping ramp, they're not that high above the ground in their flying squirrel positions. He also said that the regular nordic skiiers are more prone to overuse injuries.

Later, I got to ride a tube down the ski jump hill (not the ramp part, but the part you land on out of the air). It was extremely steep and scary, and I screamed the whole way down. I had to wear a helmet to do that, so it seemed plenty dangerous to me.

Now that I'm finished with vacation, I'm committing to writing 20 thousand words in the next three weeks on my fourth novel. So, there will likely be a whole lot of blogging along with that.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Warming Up

Second week of summer, ready set go.

Time to get serious about all manner of things, including Sophie and George, the main characters of my fourth novel. I mean, I hope it's my fourth novel. It's iteration #3 of novel four, so this is manuscript 4.3, I guess.

Except that I wrote another partial book before Minor Dramas, so maybe it's 5.3? Whatever, I think it's best not to think too hard about the numbering system.

I have a good feeling about Sophie and George, anyway. I think they're going to have a good story and fall in love while solving a crime together. Doesn't that sound utterly delightful? There will be some bumps along the way and plenty of quirks.

One of the quirks is that Sophie strongly believes in fate and omens. I have a running list of omens that will appear in the book. I'm excited about those. I'm writing with my crystals by my side, after all.

To be honest, I wish we could fast forward a little bit to the part where I have most of the details worked out and I could just be cranking out chapters in some sort of more-or-less order, but we're not there. We're never going to get there. We just have do things organically as we always have and that's that.

Onward.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

I've Got a New Way

Everyone knows I've been enjoying running since I was eleven years old. I've always had unconventional running form, the kind that prompts comments like, "I could never mistake your gait!" or, "I guess you can't tell how fast someone is by looking!" 

Do I wish I had a gazelle-like stride? I mean, sure. But, we can't get too hung up about these things and let other people's judgments steal our joy. 

Or something. 

Anyway. I had an alarming running-related pain recently and visited a physical therapist named Betsy. She has fixes for most of my problems and last week she said what she'd really like to do is "tweak" my running form. It turns out that by "tweak," she means completely remake it, a process that requires constant thought and effort.

I have to think about leaning forward, increasing the frequency with which my feet hit the ground, changing the relative locations of the forefoot strikes, exaggerating the push off, tensing my abs, but not my superficial abs!

Whereas I used to think about all manner of exciting and important things while I ran, now I think about whether I'm adhering to Betsy's compex and multi-step directions. We'll see how this goes.

Monday, June 13, 2022

A New Leaf

 I'm always turning them over, but that seems okay, doesn't it? A sort of perpetual hope? 

Today's new leaf is about a summer routine. We buffered the school year schedule and the summer schedule with a period of intensity that has been perhaps unmatched in West family life. We did:

  • Section track meet, a two-day affair
  • Mac's 8th-grade graduation
  • My final grades and comments
  • Shef's graduation from high school
  • Shef's state track meet, a two-day affair where he won the two-mile and finished third in the mile. This was also his final high-school competition, and we all knew while we watched him race that he will no longer wear the blue and green.
  • Shef's graduation party
  • Mac's birthday! That kid is 14 and "celebrated" his milestone by watching Shef race and also going to a party for Shef and his friends. He was a good sport, but come on. That sucked a little.
  • Lots and lots of other graduation parties for kids I have taught and liked forever
  • A visit to a book club that read Are We There Yet? It was a little awkward because when I arrived, I thought they'd read Home or Away. Luckily, even in my near delirium, I managed to remember the names of the characters in my second novel.
So, now is the leaf-turning. I have a planner with checkboxes. I have a keyboard and a computer. I have coffee in a mug with a refill planned already. I have reasonable, habit-forming goals. I have a new jazzy focus playlist on Spotify. I spent ten hours in bed last night.

We're going to do this. I'm warmed up now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Warm Up

My grades are turned in and my senior mom moment is over for the day (We did the college athlete recognition this morning. Shef is about to be a college athlete), and now I'm supposed to be sitting here at the kitchen table doing my other job.

Which is to be a novelist.

Frankly, it seems virtually impossible at the moment that I could be capable of producing a novel-length work. It seems impossible that I could even make it through the day without tripping over myself and forgetting the name of the current vice president.

We're at approximately, "Man, woman, person, camera, TV" over here.

Nevertheless, I'm more than 400 days behind on my fourth novel. It's summer. I have to make myself work on it. There's simply no choice and no more wiggle room. This blog post is the warm-up. 

I'm going to tell you about the fight the dogs got into last night:

Generally, the three (3) dogs peacefully co-exist with some good-natured and energy-sapping rough housing mixed into their pleasant daily routine of lying on the couch in sunny spots.

But last night, something mysterious happened that upset the canine balance, and a spirited tussle turned frantic. Skip's yelps became screamish. I had to yank Ripper off of his neck. Teddy's toenails slid precariously on the wood floor. I might have kicked him.

The whole thing was slightly traumatizing, especially when we found chunks of Skip's hair on Ripper's jowls. Skip, we realized, was also bleeding in two places. He refused to leave my lap for the rest of the evening. We didn't know that a cockapoo could be so vicious, but I'm not sure that any of us were particularly surprised. Ripper does Ripper. And we named her that.

That's the whole story.

I'd prefer it's the end of this dog drama. I don't really need it in my life right now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Vicarious Stress

I'm in a bit of a surly mood today, and I'm making myself write, so it seems like a good time to explicate a pet peeve.

Here it is: lately, people have been saying to me, "I really liked your book, but man, it made me feel so nervous." Then they grit their teeth at me and act like it's my fault that they felt even an ounce of stress.

Okay, people. 

Stories have to have rising action and suspense. That's how stories work. A character has a problem. The problem gets worse. The problem gets EVEN worse until we reach a breaking point. I taught this structure to my third graders, and they totally understood it.

There are no published novels about fun families that never have to face any adversity beyond a tense game of Sorry or Catan. The fact that you feel feelings while reading my book means that I did a good job. I did my job as a writer by making you care about the people and their situations.

I don't really want to hear about how stressed you felt as if it's my job to make you feel happy. You can just say, "I liked your book." Or nothing. You can say nothing.


See? I told you I was in a surly mood.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The End

 It's Shef's last day of high school.

When I started this blog, Shef was six months old. I chronicled lots about our daily experiences together, and so many of our best and funniest stories are right here, searchable.

When he got older, I stopped being so detailed about things in my writing. I can't very well coopt his choices and adventures. This is my website, not his. It's his life, not mine.

But the funny stories kept happening, as did the winning conversations and random moments and track meets and school dances and Covid routines and just everything. It all kept happening.

It'll still keep happening, but we're on a long track to different. The track went in a circle, and now he's on a longer straightaway, I guess, if that metaphor could hold.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

What's Happening Right Now

 I'm feeling the glimmerest of glimmers of creativity.

Maybe that's too strong.

Maybe it's a glimmer of whatever the precursor is to creativity. Maybe it's the willingness to at least sit at my desk and let my eyes wander while I press the keys that will make the words that will become... something.

After all, we cannot deny that I just wrote that little paragraph right up there. And also this sentence and the one that came before. I am, in fact, writing at this very moment.

Also at this very moment, I'm the substitute teacher in a ninth-grade religion class at my school. They're taking a test on Jesus and the early church. From glancing at the assessment materials, I know they have to write about the Acts of the Apostles, New Testament letters, and the Book of Revelation. It seems hard, but the mood in here is calm. The girls seem to know their stuff.

I hope they do. I'm sure they do. I'm sure they can write about Ascension and Pentecost and heaven and hell.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

We're In the Countdown

I really need to fall back in love with writing. 

Or, what I need to do is just reclaim writing as something that I enjoy doing.

Or, I just need to sit down at my keyboard and make myself write something. 

Like these sentences right here.

Writers write, right? I'm not sure who I am anymore.

But:

Here's a status report:

School: Sad to say that with five lessons remaining over eight school days, my students and I have been limping to the finish line. Yesterday, two of my most dedicated told me they were "checked out" and "done," respectively. I heard and understood them, and yet, I made us discuss Chapter 19 of Zora Neale Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Topics of conversation included: God's love and our potential salvation, the role of suffering in our development as humans, the fallibility of romance, and the return of the prodigal son. So, we clearly gave it our all despite our collective attitudinal challenges.

Running: Running is my favorite lately. Thank god for being outside and having a plan to follow and trying hard at something that doesn't involve thinking up brilliant ideas.

Covid: I'm tired of Covid and tempted to become a Covid denyer. I mean, not really. I do believe in science. But, maybe enough Covid is enough Covid. Covid is bad and dumb.

The Future: I'm going to teach school again next year while I write my next book, and it'll be ninth grade. I have never taught ninth grade before, and I'm sure I'll like it. I'm staying here at the school where I work right now, where I've been teaching eleventh grade. I like it here, and I'm going to stay.

Friday, May 6, 2022

I Want to Get Better

I have had an off couple of weeks with sub-par work habits, including extra procrastination and rationalization.

I know the drill: that work breeds work, that discipline breeds discipline, that it's easier to keep going than to start.

But sometimes, even though you know what you should do, you still don't do it. I'm going to start soon. I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Vertigo

I've been tired, and the residual motion sickness/vertigo I've got going on is not helping.

I have had vertigo at least twice before, and I'm happy to report that this time, it's relatively minor.

The first time I succumbed to vertigo, it was among the last straws in a time of Very Bad Health (VBH). I was only 19 years old, and VBH was something I'd never really considered. But, I had mono that went undiagnosed forever. I had to drop out of school. I got many infections, and then, perhaps due to an inner ear pestilence, I got vertigo.

Every time I moved, every time I stood up, every time I turned my head, I vomited. What we say here in the West household is that I visited vom.com. It was probably the quintessential visit to that fictional, disgusting locale. After the vertigo hopped on the VBH train, I took to my bed and didn't get out until I was all the way better.

I also had vertigo just last year when Are We There Yet? came out, and I spent inordinate time on the computer and on my iPhone doing virtual events and trying to interact with readers and reviewers during lockdown. I didn't realize phone scrolling could cause vertigo, but it can. I googled it. I'm pretty sure I wrote about it. 

(I just checked, and I didn't write about it. But, I did write about a different bout of vertigo I had in 2006. I have no memory of that particular episode, probably because I was in graduate school and had a two-year-old, and hadn't slept in a million moons.)

Anyway, we've established that I've had vertigo before. I had it again beginning last week after several harrowing Uber rides and bumpy flight from Chicago to Minneapolis. I went right to work on it with less screen time and those wrist bands with accupressure thingies. Now, I'm no longer on the way to vom.com, but I've been taking Bonine from time to time for stubborn nausea. 

I don't care for vertigo, as it turns out, but who would?

Friday, April 15, 2022

This is a Story About

I was catching up with a friend recently on a run. This friend--a lifelong friend named Molly who often asks the question that everyone else shies away from--asked me why my brother Kevin died last year.

Why was he an addict?, she wanted to know. Was it his genes (we're each adopted from separate birth families)? Was it his choices? How did it happen? How did he die alone on his couch and stay there by himself for five whole days before anyone knew?

And, I can't remember how or if she asked me this, but I felt the question in the conversation: Was there anything you could have done? 

I have to say, I hadn't really thought about it. Was there anything I could have done? Who would want to open that ancient unlabeled tin can and stick a tongue in?

Days later, I was brainstorming in a notebook about my new fictional character, Sophie Jones, the potential subject of my fourth novel

I wrote, "Did Sophie had a sibling who died on her watch?"

I wrote that, and then I looked up at a display about the history of aviation in the Chicago Midway Airport and wondered with a pain just over my sternum, "Did I have a sibling who died on my watch?" And, then I wrote that question down, too.

On our run, I told Molly about how each of Kevin's birth parents struggled with substance abuse, how he was depressed and had a hard time taking care of his mental health, how living with our dad was harder on him than it was on me (I do wonder how much of that fact was my fault), how he lived in a family of people with whom he had so little in common, how he never made good choices about taking care of himself.

I don't know why these things were true. 

I didn't try all that hard to help, is the truth, too. There were reasons for that, and some of them are good.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Status Report

 The blog has once again been stagnant, but I think about it most every week,

Here's what's happening:

Writing Career: I have now had my third novel published. I can hardly believe it. Three books in three years, and I'm still standing upright most of the time, though I do need naps in the afternoons here and there. I pencil them in for myself religiously. 

I am writing a fourth book (the final one in my contract), but it won't be out next spring. I need to take my time and let the story gel. It's a different sort of story, and we can't rush these things.

Teaching Career: I am teaching English. It's fun and friendly, and I'm going to do it again next year. I know I'll be back at the same school, but I don't know exactly what my job will be. Maybe sixth grade, maybe ninth, maybe a section of eleventh like I'm doing now? Who knows. Whatever it is, I'm sure I can do it. This is the confidence that comes with age and experience.

Grief: I tried to pencil in some time for grieving around the one-year anniversary of Kevin's death, which was last week. But, it turns out, you can't really plan your feelings like you would a haircut or an eye exam. 

Last night at a book signing in Lake Forest, IL, a guy (a fan!) asked me about why I have three dogs, and I--

I found myself telling about how my brother died a year ago, and now I have his dog. And then, the bookseller told me that her sister died twenty years ago, and now she's lived half her life as someone with a dead sister. 

Someday, she said, that will be you, and I'm so sorry.

I cried a little as I rode the elevator up to the fifth floor of the Residence Inn in Mettawa, and then I was fine again. 

I'm fine again right now.

Frank Lloyd Wright: I visited his home in Oak Park, IL today. Turns out FLW was a bit of a cad and kind of an egomaniac. Geniuses can be like that, I suppose. But, wow, his studio space was rather breathtaking in its interlaced octagonalness.

That's it. It's fine. Everything's fine.