A Final Good-bye

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr's Creative Commons

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr’s Creative Commons

Online life can be strange. We “meet” people, friends, and connect briefly…or permanently. We can connect superficially or deeply. Often it’s like our friends IRL—we aren’t really sure what draws us together. Something unknowable, intangible, fleeting. Right place at the right time? Maybe something serendipitous or simply a similar interest.

Like writing.

One such writer I’ve connected with is Tracy Seeley. She was one of my earliest writer friends in my online writing community. I don’t really remember exactly how we “met.” On a blog? Twitter? (Not Facebook, I know that, because we were never friends there.) I only know that we connected deeply over her memoir My Ruby Slippers about a roadtrip to explore her past in Kansas and Colorado, spurred on by a cancer diagnosis.

I wrote to Tracy after reading her memoir, first on email, then on paper…by snail mail. I told her how much I enjoyed her book, and I was honored she wrote back. We exchanged a handful of cards—talking about our shared interests in gardening, places we’d both lived (Colorado and San Francisco), and of course writing.

We also talked about her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

We stopped writing to one another a few years ago. It wasn’t anything in particular that stopped us—not even that we ran out of things we could say—it was just that we both got busy, as friends do.

So today, when quite by accident I stumbled upon Tracy’s obituary, I was caught short. She died last year, and I didn’t know. That’s perhaps one of the cruelest tricks of modern life: someone who you’ve never met in person, who you think you know, feel like you know, can be gone just as quickly as they appeared. And you don’t even know. It feels like Tracy could be alive because I never saw her at the grocery store or on my way around the block with the dog or every year at a family reunion or conference and I never even talked to her on the phone or Skyped or Google-chatted with her as I have with many of you.

From time to time I talk to MEH (My Engineer Husband) about what he should do if I die suddenly. How he will tell my online community…who he will tell who will then spread the word. We’ve never come up with a hard and fast plan. He doesn’t even remember where I keep my passwords. In truth, I keep them on my Macbook, on an electronic post-it, but of course he’d need my computer password to see them—that’s on the same post-it. I’m not sure it would be the first or second thing he’d think of; maybe he’d never think of it at all.

I do. And yet I don’t know what the answer is. For me. I imagine it’s different for each of us.

What I do know is that I wish I’d written to Tracy one more time. To say good-bye. To thank her for her lovely book—which I’ll treasure even more now. To say how much her cards and time meant to me; her acceptance and affection as a writer.

But mostly, I’d say this:

I’m so glad you were my friend, Tracy. You were a beautiful and wonderfully warm woman and lovely writer who I’m so happy to have shared time on Earth with, however briefly. Thank you for being my friend. I will miss you. Love, Julia

My love to you all,

Julia

 

The Big Reveal

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On the Half Continent: in Belize

I’m one day late posting this, but I thought that would heighten the drama. That’s a lie. I had a really busy day yesterday, and the only chance I would have had to write a blog post was in the car zooming to Boston to have dinner with MEH (My Engineer Husband) and our two kids for the first time since Christmas. That wasn’t going to happen. Dinner was wonderful. (Truth.)

Anyway, I’m ready for some big reveals: what’s true and what’s not from my last post but also some revelations from my life.

I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent. LIE.

Did you guess this as the lie? Congratulations! Especially because this was kind of a trick statement. The first part is kind of true, but the second part is false. The truth is, I’ve only lived on 3-1/2 continents. What does that even mean? I was born in France (Europe = 1). I lived in the United States for about three-quarter of my childhood (North America = 2). I lived in Africa for about one-quarter of my childhood (Africa = 3). And I lived for a little over a year in Belize (Central America = 1/2). I consider myself a TCK—third culture kid, which means I grew up (some of the time) outside of my parents’ culture—which has created both wonderful and difficult times in my life.

My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin. TRUE.

When I was in sixth grade, my family lived in Kenya. I never felt like I fit in after that (part of the TKC thing), so when I was a freshman in high school and senior Martin Radley invited me to a dance, I was over the moon. He was my first date…a senior! My parents were out of the country, and my grandmother was staying with my brothers and me, and I like to think that if my parents had been home, they’d have forbidden me from going out with an eighteen year old guy. After the dance, Martin drove me home, and he parked his car across the street from my house, away from the streetlight (and my grandmother’s line of sight). I remember my back pressed against his dark blue sedan when he leaned down to kiss me.

I felt very cool going on a date with a senior, but when he kissed me I felt nothing. (True story.) Later, when my parents came home, my dad teased me—for many years—about dating “Boo” Radley. My apologies, Martin, for admitting (after all these years) that I really wasn’t enamored with you but especially for you finding out that my dad called you Boo.

When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant. Also TRUE.

Seven years after the date with Martin, I met MEH. I was a squid cleaner and dishwasher at a restaurant near Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, California, and MEH Martin worked at another restaurant with my boyfiend (yeah, I know it was a train wreck, but the truth is I met MEH through my boyfriend). Anyway, MEH came in to have lunch at the restaurant, and I decided he’d be perfect for one of my friends and offered to set them up (I was the original Tinder, let’s face it). He accepted. I was unreasonably annoyed that he was willing to go along, and I had to admit to myself I was smitten. The blind date never materialized—MEH was too shy to call my friend.

A few months later I went to work at the restaurant where my boyfriend and MEH worked. (They as cooks, me as a waitress.) One morning I invited MEH out to breakfast on the pretense of helping me pick out a present for my boyfriend (I told you: train wreck). After breakfast we went to the beach, and that’s where we fell in love. The ensuing days were not fun, and I ended up moving from Santa Cruz to Berkeley. MEH followed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Were you right with your guess? Have you checked out Hallie’s reveals (she tagged me to play Two Truths and A Lie)? You should also check out my friend Jamie’s Two Truths and A Lie post about why she’s not blogging (I tagged Jamie in my last post).

 

 

Storybook Garden

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This year I want to have a storybook garden. You know, the kind the neighbors and passersby look at (and envy). The perfect kind you see in stories. I’m well on my way. Yesterday, we bought and planted “Hansel and Gretel” eggplants—the varieties named on the plant markers. I thought they were an apt addition to a storybook garden.

But—here’s the thing—the reason we are planting the eggplants is that the spinach seeds failed. They didn’t come up. The truth is that we have bad luck with spinach. There was that stand back in Colorado when our kids were young, the one that’s become a legend, but that’s been a few years, and subsequent years we’ve not had good luck.

Spinach isn’t the only crop that disappointed. I just got in from replanting bean seeds. There were gaps between the small plants: seeds that didn’t germinate or seedlings that came up with deformed or missing leaves. I looked this up on Google. Chances are the corn seed maggots got to them, apparently. Maybe thrips, too.

Also, not to be picky, but the rows of plants aren’t totally straight. This bothers me (maybe a little too much). This is an ongoing topic of conversation between MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me every year—we’ve had a lot of gardens together. MEH has deep agricultural roots. His grandfather worked for the California Extension Office and he grew oranges. Not for fun or storybooks, but for real. There was an orange named after him, the Gillette Navel. MEH grew up cultivating and irrigating orange groves. He gained serious weeding skills, an even more serious work ethic when it comes to gardening.

On the other hand, I’m what you might call a fair weather, storybook gardener. If it gets too hot, if my crocs get dirt in them, if I get too many mosquito or black fly bites, or if I want to write a blog, I bolt. (MEH’s still out weeding.)

The beans had gaps...

The beans had gaps…

That’s not to say MEH is perfect in the gardening department. He doesn’t sow seeds uniformly (or in straight rows), he’s a reluctant waterer (too many California drought cycles, I’m guessing), and he is gung ho at the beginning of the gardening cycle, but by the end not so much. And MEH doesn’t like weeding. This was a surprise to me because I always thought he did. This morning was the first time I asked him if he liked weeding, and he laughed before answering quickly, “Of course not. I felt like that was my punishment as a child.”

We talked about it for a few minutes. Our memories of childhood gardening chores and how they might have impacted our adult views of gardening—how they might have impacted our life. My backyard was tended mostly by my mother and, later, by a gardener. We might have had a tomato plant or two, a fruit tree or two. Up until I graduated from high school, we had family gardening hours on the weekend when we cleaned up. But we focused on the beauty of the outdoor space. MEH’s experience was more utilitarian: weeding, watering, mowing. MEH had a lot more chores than I had. And because of his family’s dynamics, MEH was often solitary when doing his outside (and inside) chores—he was alone a lot in general.

I’ll admit that the garden has caused some tension over the years. Particularly during planting, we seem to have different approaches: form over function for me. The opposite for MEH. Probably not surprising considering our gardening roots. We’ve been known to argue when planting (those crooked rows) and for other reasons surrounding my storybook expectations. This morning we didn’t have any disagreements. We were both quiet and contemplative—we went out early to beat the bugs and heat—before we talked about our families of origin.

I left MEH in the garden shortly after—to write this blog. I had a pebble in one of my crocs, I had muddy hands, but I’d also finished weeding my half of the garden. I’m faster but less patient and less thorough, and I often leave the weeds’ roots—which drives MEH crazy. MEH’s slower and more methodical; he is more thorough. My beds look better after weeding; MEH’s last longer.

As I walked up the porch steps, I heard “the Tweedles”—dubbed by my daughter when she was home last month—a sweet House Finch family that’s nesting in the eaves. The baby birds were cheeping, and I watched as Mr. Tweedles emerged from the nest and perched briefly on the string of Christmas lights before flying out for more food. Mr. Tweedles might be the more persistent gatherer, I mused, but maybe Mrs. Tweedles is in the nest tending and sprucing. I wondered if the Tweedles chirped about this together. If they ever squabbled.

Last year we didn’t have a vegetable garden—a combination of the weather and lack of gardening gumption. It was our son’s last summer in Maine, and he missed it he said. This year we cleared and planted the garden shortly before he and his girlfriend moved to the southeast. He expressed disappointment when he realized he wouldn’t be around for the bounty, then he said he was thinking about planting a vegetable garden at their new place—“There’s a space,” he said. “I like my agricultural roots.”

I thought about that—what stories my son might tell in his garden.

After I finished my blog, I went out to check on MEH’s progress—he was almost done. I watched him carefully rake out the soil between the rows, and I realized something. Turns out we do have a storybook garden, but not in the way I thought I wanted. Not the glossy cover shot—the story goes much deeper than that.

What’s your gardening style? Are there parts of your life you’d like to be storybook?

Cheers,

Julia

Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

Pushing Through

Happy trails, Fella, wish I could be there to watch you run one more time!

Happy trails, Fella. Wish I could be there to watch you run one more time…

I’m somewhere in the middle. 28,481 words down, 21,519 to go (for NaNoWriMo). Of course to reach a rough draft of the complete novel, I’ve got a lot more than that to write. 

If last week was the highpoint of this month-long intensive writing, this week I definitely hit a low. Because this week I remembered. Sometimes writing is hard. Really hard. I hit a patch that didn’t come easily and I wondered: is the story really going anywhere? Worse. Is it (any of it) really worth it? Even worse: writing this makes me too sad or I just can’t let go enough to “go there.”

This week I hit one of lowest points I can remember in my fiction writing experience. Partly because life got in the way. That’s a funny way to describe writing, isn’t it? Sometimes when things go easily and flow (and I’m loving the feeling), I think writing is my life, but it’s really not. This week I had some emotional turmoil (I won’t go into it), and it made me think about giving up. Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse, they did.

We said good-bye to our beloved Abby dog yesterday. She was my daughter’s puppy, but I spent a lot of time with her. Okay. All the time. As a writer, I spend long (sometimes lonely) hours at the dining room table. But I wasn’t. Abby was always there with me.

But lately, Abby slept all the time. She could barely make it across the kitchen without her legs buckling. Robbed of freedom of movement by crippling arthritis, doomed by genetics, Abby wasn’t the most active dog in the world for the past few years—she couldn’t be—but she soldiered on through the pain she lived with daily, never complaining, always ready for a run through her favorite dog park, Twin Brook, albeit more and more slowly. Always sweet and stalwart, steadfast and kind (can a dog be kind?). She was without a doubt the best dog I’d ever met. My soul dog I called her.

I thought about quitting NaNoWriMo after we had to have Abby put down (yes, it was our final decision, one more way we had to take care of her, to help her escape her failing body—which is the only way I could think of it). MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I were with her at the end, as was her beloved Dr. Renee (if you have a great veterinarian who’s also a good friend, you know how impossibly important that person becomes in your life). We all cried.

Abby leaves a hole in my heart the size of a galaxy, and this morning I feel like I’m in a black hole, but I’m writing. I will finish this book despite my crushing sadness. I will finish this book despite the many things that feel out of my control in my life right now that are struggling mightily to control my ability to write. I will finish this book because writing is my salvation. It’s what wakes me up in the morning, keeps me going in the middle of the day, and gives me dreams and hope at night.

I will push through.

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

9780451418869_large_It_Comes_In_WavesToday I’m beyond excited to be interviewing my author friend Erika Marks – here with her fourth novel It Comes In Waves. As with each of her novels, Erika has been kind enough to visit my blog. Thank you, my friend! Erika describes herself in her bio this way: “a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids.” Here’s what the bio doesn’t say: she’s one of the nicest and funniest and most-fun-to-talk-to writers I’ve had the good fortune to get to know online. But here’s the best part. Erika grew up very near where I live today, which we realized  after we met through our blogs, and so we can talk about all the places I go that she used to. So fun! I’ve also met her in person when she was home visiting!! Believe me that was one fun meeting and I have high hopes we’ll meet again next time she’s in her hometown here in Maine.

If you haven’t already read it, you should check out Erika’s new novel It Comes in WavesI loved it as I have all her wonderful novels: The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

It Comes in Waves addresses many kinds of relationships—romantic love, friendship between women, friendship between men, mother-child, father-child, even grandparent-grandchild. This Q&A will focus on those relationships…and I’ve learned through her four books that Erika is a pro at describing these relationships. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to focus this Q&A on just that.

I warned you I would ask this question! One of the things I really enjoy about your novels is that each of them has a (well, at least one) love triangle. It Comes In Waves is no different. I don’t want to give anything away but how could anyone not be in love with Foss? What is it about the “rule of three” that makes love relationships more interesting to write about than “just problems” and tension in a relationship? Where do you get your ideas for the love triangles…do they come from your real life, or…?

This IS a great question—and I know you will think I’m being coy, but the truth is the theme of love triangles is not born of my own experience but there’s no question I find the idea intriguing. Okay, maybe it had something to do with playing Helena in my high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and as anyone familiar with the play knows, there is no end to the drama (and humor!) when a love triangle (or square in the case of AMND!) ensues. However, I am always interested in exploring how we evolve in our relationships and how, as we grow, our attractions grow and change—which will often lead to having conflicting romantic feelings and not knowing how to express them, which is what I think happens to many of the characters in my novels. Dahlia from Little Gale Gumbo, and Foss from It Comes In Waves, are examples of that.

I’m not giving anything away (it’s on the back of the book) when I divulge that best friends Claire and Jill reunite after a long estrangement. Have you ever had a friendship that ended? If so, did you end up reuniting? If not, did you base the Jill/Claire story on other friendships you watched crumble? How did your own friendships make you more or less sympathetic to each woman?

Believe it or not, so often my fictional relationships come out of a lack of personal experience. I think of a situation that I may not have any context for, and it fascinates me to explore it through the novel. Sometimes pieces of my own life creep in (You’re a writer, Julia, so I know you know how can it not, right?), but from the outset, it is the unfamiliarity of the relationship that intrigues me and compels me to write about it.

Slight spoiler question… if you haven’t read the book you might want to skip this one. Am I the biggest sap in the world? I kept hoping that the third generation (Jill’s son and Claire’s daughter) might end up together. I was kind of surprised, in fact, that Claire’s daughter left Folly Beach. Did you consider this possibility? Claire and her daughter have a tense relationship with some serious trust issues. Is it strange that when I write about teenagers I always take their side (not the parents’), so I’m curious—are you the same way? Did you find yourself on one side or the other or are you more impartial than I am?

Such a great question because I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I will comment after watching a movie how you know you’re a parent when you identify more with the plight of the adult than the child. However, that said, when I write, I go back and forth, depending on the character. In the scenes of Claire as a teenager, I definitely took her side more but when it came time to show her present conflicts with her daughter, I wanted to be more balanced, as I hoped to be when showing Claire’s tensions with her own mother in the present. What interests me as a writer is seeing both sides and showing them because the older I get, the more I see the different perspectives and I think it makes for a more interesting and compelling story to reveal both sides—or at least, have the characters grow through understanding that the other side exists.

Re: Luke and Lizzie, it’s funny—when my mom started the book, she assumed Luke and Lizzie would end up together too—and honestly, I never considered it. But now, I can’t help but wonder What if…

I don’t know if you ever saw that old movie Romancing the Stone? At the beginning of the movie, the main character is crying as she’s writing…she always does. I’m that kind of writer. When I’m writing, I always cry…at emotional times in the story but especially if there’s heartbreak and always when I’m writing (or reading) the end. I’m curious, do you cry when you write? If so, what kinds of things make you cry? What parts of It Comes In Waves did you think were the most sad…that you thought, as you were writing, would make readers feel most sad?

You mean, have I seen it in the last two months??!! (It’s one of my very favorites—and was even before I became published!) I love that you cry as you write—very rarely do I, but sometimes when I’m at the very end of the process, maybe far enough away from all the edits and can see the story through fresh eyes again, I will definitely tear up. (And of course, I always hope I look even one quarter as adorable doing it as Kathleen Tuner does in Romancing the Stone!) In writing WAVES, I definitely teared up when Ivy spoke of needing a place to honor her son’s memory—and when Luke admits that he didn’t want to see the shop go because it might mean losing the only tie he had to his father.

I’m playing relationship therapist here a bit! Here’s a list of (some of) the relationships in It Comes in Waves… for each pair, can you give me a few words to describe the relationship and tell me which character in each pair you related to more or perhaps felt more sympathy for? Also (of all of them) which of was easiest to write, which was hardest to write? For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’ve noted the relationship…now you can see what I mean about Erika being the expert, right?!

Jill & Luke (mother-son)  I related to Jill more but I definitely felt for Luke. I have daughters but I think there is something different about sons—so possibly this was one of the harder relationships for me to write.

Claire & Lizzie (mother-daughter)  It went back and forth—I felt for Claire needing a closeness to her daughter and being so afraid of losing that bond but I also felt for Lizzie’s need for independence.

Claire & Jill  (estranged best friends)  Honestly, this one was challenging to write, but in a good way. As I wrote their scenes, I vacillated between who I felt more tenderly for, depending on the scene. I wanted the balance because I didn’t want one woman to come off as “the good one” and the other “the bad one” which might have been easy to do based on their history.

Foster & Shep  (best friends)   For whatever reason, maybe because I had so many male friends growing up, and was very observant of the way males relate to one another, I felt this relationship came together very naturally as I wrote it.

Jill & Foster  (love)   I loved writing their relationship because there was a purity to their growing feelings, a sense that they belonged together and they both knew it, even if they didn’t dare act on their feelings for a long time to spare the hearts of those they loved.

Claire & Foster  (love)   This one was tough because I knew as I wrote it that their love would eventually become unbalanced and I hurt for Claire’s longing for something Foster couldn’t give her. The mother in me came out, wanting to protect Claire from heartache but knowing she had to feel the blow before she would accept the truth.

Jill & Shep  (love)   This was a tougher relationship to unearth, because there is so much history, and because Shep takes Jill back after she leaves him for Foster. But it was the layers of that history that made it such an interesting relationship to explore.

Claire & Maura  (mother-daughter)   I felt more for Claire when she was young in this relationship but in the present, I definitely felt torn between the two. For better or for worse, Maura is who she is, and Claire is resistant to accepting that, as well as resistant to taking responsibility for her own choices and not blaming them on her parents.

Ivy & Claire (friends…and kind of MIL/DIL…well, it’s complicated)  There was such warmth there—the mother figure Claire never got to have with her own mother, and Ivy saw so much of herself in Claire.

Ivy & Jill   (MIL-DIL)  By contrast, Ivy and Jill were forever prickly, but their relationship was a fascinating one to write, because the tension was thick and I knew eventually it would boil over—but what would be the final straw?

Ivy & Luke  (grandmother-grandson)  Like Foster, Luke is Ivy’s everything and he validates her choices and her dreams—even if she knows deep down they are ill-fated. I loved writing their scenes.

Gus & Claire (new love)  Gus is such a dude and I couldn’t wait for him to swoop in and shake things up for Claire. The fact that he knew her from way-back-when and reminds her of her passion for surfing (and the fiercely independent young woman she once was) makes him so irresistible and lovable. And let’s not forget…

Margot & Gus (just joking but you still have to answer…dog-man)  A man who loves his dog and makes her as much a part of his world as anyone? Sign me up! I know this will come as a big shock to you, Julia, but I’m tempted to say this might have been the easiest relationship of all of them to write!

Thank you again, my friend! So happy you were able to take the time for this visit!

Bio: Erika Marks is a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids. She is also the author of THE GUEST HOUSE, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, and LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

 

The Lost Mittens

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The lost mittens

Sometime around Christmas, MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his mittens. Let me explain. I had given him a pair of brand-new super-warm dog-walking mittens a few days before Christmas, but they didn’t fit. It was a shame because I wasn’t supposed to buy them at all. MEH had given me strict instructions to not buy him any Christmas presents whatsoever—you may recall that MEH lost his job in September.

He didn’t want me to spend any money on him, but his mittens had holes in them and we had a super cold winter so I was worried about him and decided that since they were a necessity, the mittens should be an exception to the rule. But THEN I felt guilty right before Christmas and didn’t want him to feel like I broke the rule (especially since he wasn’t giving me anything either, that was the other part of the agreement) so I gave him the mittens before Christmas morning…before our kids got home for the holidays …

(By the way, MEH broke the rule, too. He gave me a book for Christmas which can hardly be called a necessity, although an argument could be made because it is the collected short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which really are kind of a necessity of life…)

Anyway, MEH tried the mittens on, and after ALL THAT, they didn’t even fit…so…he put them into a box…somewhere “we’d never forget” so we could return them right after the holidays. But…

Those Poor Little Kittens

You guessed it, we forgot where we put them. And we’ve been looking for those mittens ever since. Luckily we bought them somewhere that isn’t picky about returns (in fact, LL Bean is actually is a whole lot better than “not picky,” they have satisfaction guaranteed so you can pretty much return anything anytime, receipt or not).

I digress. MEH lost his mittens. And he’d never even worn them once. I felt pretty bad about it because he wouldn’t, WOULD NOT buy another pair. He wore a mismatching old pair of gloves (also too small) instead, the whole winter long.

Fast forward to a week ago and MEH’s trip to San Francisco: the one that I gave him for his birthday to see our daughter. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If he doesn’t want a pair of MITTENS then how can I possibly justify a trip to San Francisco? Good question. Answer: frequent flier miles. Phew, now I don’t need to feel guilty about that anymore either.

Anyway, the day before MEH left for San Francisco, he had a job interview. It went well, but you just never know (and we’ve had six months of “just never knowing”) so we (of course) just put it out of our minds, and MEH went and had a blast in San Francisco with our daughter. As an aside, let me tell you that our daughter really knows MEH… she had planned all his favorite things: they went on a boat ride (to Alcatraz), to the Science Academy, to the aquarium, and walked all over the city at all times of day and night. They even had whiskey. MEH said it was “the best birthday present ever”!

I digress (again).

So, Here’s The Rest of the Story

MEH came home and the very next day he got a call and was offered a JOB!!! Yes! A JOB!! We were of course elated and incredibly happy, but mostly we were just really, really relieved. And it kind of felt like someone pushed the play button again after we’d been in pause for a really long time—if you’ve never experienced being laid off or living with someone who has been, I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s exactly what it felt like. (And, by the way, I don’t advise ever going through it, so I’m very happy for you if you haven’t been through it and just have hear about it from me.) This is a good place to say that I wish we could’ve known it was coming, that someone could’ve told us that MEH would have six months off then he’d find a job… then he’d go back to work. Then we really could’ve enjoyed that six months a lot more. As it was, I’m sorry to say that sometimes it was tense and difficult and we even had an argument or two, MEH and I. Unemployment is not good… well, that’s an understatement, but that’s all I’ll say about it because it’s over (MEH started his job today, and I’m a little lonely, but I’m mostly very very happy).

But what on earth does all this have to do with those mittens??? I know that’s what you were thinking, right? It’s just this. Over the weekend, after we pressed the start button, we did some spring cleaning. Well, to be honest, we finally felt relaxed enough to enjoy doing something non-job-search related, and we decided it was time to do some cleaning up…in particular to look for those mittens because it was kind of driving us a little crazy. MEH was pretty sure the mittens were in a room that had gotten pretty junky over the winter, a place we were basically storing stuff, and that was the “somewhere we’d never forget,” but long story short, they weren’t in there…which we didn’t discover until we tore the place apart.

After we finished putting it back together, and as I was putting away the luggage from the San Francisco trip, I spotted a box in our closet that had some fabric in it that I’d used to make some Christmas gifts. I lifted the fabric to put it away, and lo and behold, there were those mittens!!

We had another (much smaller of course) celebration about finding the mittens. Afterwards, I said to MEH, said I: why is it that you always find something the last place you look? To which MEH agreed: mittens and jobs alike, it’s always that last place. After that, it’s like pressing the play button.

And life goes on.

Have you ever been driven crazy by losing something? Have you ever felt like your life was paused and something happened to press play again?

Cheers,

Julia

MEH’s Big Birthday Surprise!

surprise for meh

MEH at the mirror art installation in Terminal C of Logan Airport…always the curious MEH. (If you look closely you can see he’s wearing his MEH sweatshirt!)

Sometimes a surprise works out perfectly—if I do say so myself—and such was the case with the surprise birthday trip my daughter and I cooked up for MEH (My Engineer Husband). It all started when I discovered that I had just the perfect number of frequent flier miles to get a free trip to California, just where my daughter happens to live! What better way to spend the miles than for a trip for MEH to visit one of his kids? (In addition to being a wonderful MEH, he’s also the world’s best dad. This is not open to argument. He has the “world’s greatest dad” mug to prove it.)

Now, if MEH were like me, this idea just never would have worked. First, I hate to fly and would’ve been freaked out if I’d found out just two hours before a cross-country flight that I was going somewhere, let alone on a plane…let alone cross country. Second, I’m a naturally suspicious (and sneaky) person so I would’ve figured the whole thing out way before it ever got off the ground.

For MEH, however, it was the perfect gift. For one, he LOVES surprises! For another, he’s had a rough winter, still job hunting… and on top of that we’ve had over two feet more than the normal snowfall this winter (guess who never complains about shoveling the lion’s share?). Plus, MEH loves to fly. He’s a pilot and I knew that part of the fun for him would be a seat where he could watch the wing flaps go up and down (he called me from the plane and thanked me). But, mostly, I knew it was the perfect gift because he misses our daughter like crazy. We’re lucky enough to see our son a lot (he’s doing hospital rotations—for med school—very nearby), but our daughter lives clear across the country now (you can read about that here).

When we drove down to Logan Airport (in Boston) yesterday morning, I told him we were going to see my aunt at the airport. (Except he told me later that he knew that wasn’t true, and he really thought our daughter was flying home to surprise him!) When I handed him his bag in the parking lot and said “Happy Birthday,” MEH did what MEH always does when he talks about “our girl,” he teared up. To say he was surprised would be the understatement of the century, and after he regained his bearings, we went into the airport, had a cup of coffee together…he kissed me good-bye and he flew to California!

I came home to Maine to do all my regular things and all the MEH-y things, too. No small task because that man is a powerhouse. But I don’t want MEH to come home and have to do anything… What kind of gift is that? So far, I’ve put everything back in the pantry (we cleared it out for a repair), walked the dog a lot of times (she’s discombobulated having MEH gone), ran errands (don’t worry they included coffee), did a couple of loads of laundry, took stuff to recycling and the dump, took stuff to Goodwill, changed a couple of light bulbs, and shoveled a foot of snow (okay, that’s not true, but after I wrote the list it seemed pretty pathetic so I thought I’d throw snow in for good measure). Soon it will be time to walk the dog again.

Oh, and since we’re having our first real spring-like day, I also went to the beach.

beachMaine

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEH! We all love you and appreciate everything you do for our family…always with love in your heart and a smile on your face! You are the best (and so are you, Miss H, my partner in crime…we did it!). Sending love to one-half of the Martin family way out in California (touring Alcatraz Island as I write this), from the other half of the Martin family here in Maine.

Love,

Julia/Mom

 

 

 

Erika’s All About the Love

Guest House Final CoverI’m delighted to once again welcome my wonderful writer friend Erika Marks to my blog! Erika is one of the first writers I got to know in the Twitter-blogosphere, and we became fast friends over writing, birding, and Maine . . . Erika lives in North Carolina, but she grew up in Maine, very near where I live now. We met in person when she was here last summer, and it was a blast! Two years ago, when I first met Erika, she had just announced the release date of her debut novel LITTLE GALE GUMBOLast fall her second novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR came out. Today, Erika is here to talk about her third novel THE GUEST HOUSE.

Erika has generously offered to give one lucky commenter a signed copy of THE GUEST HOUSE! You will definitely want to read this book (I loved it and concur with Erika about Cooper!), so please leave a comment by midnight on Saturday (7/13), and I’ll let you know next Sunday if you win!

Please welcome Erika Marks!!

 

 

So what’s love got to do with it?

Well, for me, everything.

I know there are many, many life-shattering and world-changing issues that make for incredible stories. I’ve read those stories and I’ve bawled my eyes out and I’ve thought, time and time again, why couldn’t I explore one of those issues in my next novel?

Call me a one-trick pony, but for me, writing always comes back to one topic: love.

Recently, I was on a panel at a book festival and was asked why I had tried writing in so many different genres before finally settling on Women’s Fiction. I had explained that through the course of writing 14 unsold manuscripts (and believe me, there was very good reason they were never sold!), I had tried my hand at possibly every genre out there. You name it, I wrote a book for it. Sci-fi, horror, westerns, Viking romance, time travel, among others. And yet, as different as the genres were, every agent I queried them with always remarked that the strongest element was always the romantic subplot. By manuscript 11, I finally listened and began writing stories that featured romantic relationships as the driving force in the novel.

So what’s so great about writing about love?

What isn’t?

There’s a reason 9 out of 10 songs on the radio are about love*. We’ve all known about love, we’ve all searched for it, we’ve all lost it, and we’ve all, hopefully, found it again.

I’m happy to say that my newest novel, THE GUEST HOUSE, is my most romantic book yet. While there is a bit of mystery in its plot, the core of its story revolves around the love and enduring passion that ties together two rival families at a rambling cottage on Cape Cod, summer after summer.

What amazes me is how each time I sit down to write a novel, I still get that same excitement knowing that I will be creating a new love story with new characters. Even though the course of romance is often a road travelled many times before, I know that each romance will be different, each courtship fresh and unknown because the lovers are fresh and unknown to me before I flesh them out in the story. Sometimes they shock me, sometimes they frustrate me, sometimes they even make me swoon (I’m looking at YOU, Cooper)—and I can say with absolute certainty, that I will NEVER tire of writing love stories, in all their thrilling, confusing, heart-breaking glory.

I certainly hope readers will never tire of reading them.

 

*Please note: this is not an actual statistic derived from any real source except my own obsessive radio playing in the car. I’m just guessing here.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, carpenter, and cake decorator. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two daughters. THE GUEST HOUSE is her third novel.

Website: erikamarksauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ErikaMarksAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/erikamarksauthr

Blog: http://erikamarks.wordpress.com/

 

Anonymously Yours


From Wikimedia Commons by Friedrich Bohringer

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of anonymous comments to my blog. You know the kind. Highly personal, beautifully written, heartfelt notes like this:

Hello, after гeading thiѕ аwesome aгticle i am
as well glad tο share mу knowledge
hеre with сolleagues.CSI: New York Season X Episode XFeel free to visit my web-siteCSI: New York Season X Episode X

Don’t worry, to further protect Anonymous’s identity, I’ve removed all ultra personal information (like which episode of CSI and the link to the very personal website).

And I really enjoyed this comment, left on my post about my broken dishwasher (I think the Cyrillic letter “K” really adds a special touch, don’t you?):

Oκ, enοugh ѕaid. This wаs probably
the best article I havе read tοdaу аnd I
oftеn do rеsеаrch daily on the subjеct of оnline tarot rеading.Thanks for ѕharing with the world. Cheers!My web blog ; believe in psychic readings

Seriously, I’m so happy it was the best article you read today, but I don’t think a Tarot reading will help me fix my broken dishwasher.

More than anything, this spate of anonymous comments got me thinking about another anonymous missive I received a long time ago, way before the Internet was even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye (no, I really don’t believe that).

In high school I received a long love letter including a beautiful poem—a young man, too shy to approach me and pledge his undying love. I remember sitting in my family room with my brother and one of his friends (let’s call him Roberto), analyzing the note and its heartfelt poem …

Roses are red, violets are blue 

Sugar is sweet and so are you 

We howled until we cried. It wasn’t until ten years later I found out it was Roberto himself who sent the love note. It’s too bad he didn’t tell me in person because if he had he would’ve found out I always had a bit of a crush on him, too, especially at Christmas time when he sang The Christmas Song. He could really croon.

My anonymous blog commenters could learn a thing or two from this lesson—come forward and identify yourself. Maybe it’s a mutual thing and I really wouldwatch that favorite episode of CSI or have my Tarot cards read.

You never know.


Have you ever received an anonymous (truly heartfelt) letter? Are you, like me, experiencing a spike in anonymous blog comments?

Cheers,
Julia


The Tumble

It could have been so much worse. I know that.

“I’m not at work yet,” MEH (My Engineer Husband) said first thing when he called this morning. MEH rides his bike to work. He’s lucky—he works in the same small town we live in, and it takes him about ten minutes to ride to work.
“I took a tumble…my bike hit some black ice. And I landed on my back,” he said.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

“No. I’m fine. I was lucky.”

MEH didn’t want me to come. Even though his bike couldn’t be ridden, even though he landed on his back, even though (unbeknownst to him until I got there) he had a cut on the bridge of his nose where his glasses dug into it. But I had to go.

When I saw him in the bank parking lot he was hobbling. I wanted to take him to the doctor—his wrist hurt and his back hurt more—but he wouldn’t go. “Just take me to work.” Cheerfully.

I loaded the bike into the back of the car. He wanted to do it but I wouldn’t let him. He groaned as he got into the front seat. I asked if he had some Advil at work.

“I hope my bananas are okay.” MEH had taken two bananas in his pack for breakfast (what did you think I meant?). He opened his backpack to check. “And my pens.” Of course MEH would worry about his pens, he loves pens.

We drove the two blocks to where he works, and on the way, MEH examined his helmet. “I’ll tell you, I was glad I had this thing on—my head hit the pavement hard when I flipped over those handlebars.”

I shuddered.

After MEH painfully got out of the car, he tried to make me laugh by waving to me with his injured hand by holding it and shaking it with his uninjured one. MEH’s like that: he always says his day is better if he can make me laugh—even when he’s hurting.

As he limped into the building, I couldn’t help but think again—like I do every single day—that I’m the lucky one. It could have been so much worse.


Cheers,
Julia

This is Dedicated to the One(s) I Love

When you have a blog with a name like wordsxo you think a lot about love—roughly translated wordsxo means love of words.

So when I went to look for Valentine’s Day cards and saw a card with x’s and o’s on it, I started thinking about how xo signifies hugs and kisses. Wikipedia says x’s (as kisses) originated back in the Medieval Ages; o’s (as hugs) more recently, perhaps in North America. Even more recently xo has come to simply signify love and affection.

The truth is I’m a little in love with the whole concept of love. I always have been. Maybe it’s because “my family of origin” didn’t express love much. My mother said “I love you” to me only once, and my father has said it only occasionally since my mother died over ten years ago. We didn’t talk about feelings—ever—and to say it was discouraged would be perhaps the understatement of the millennium.

That’s probably why when I married, I married for love. My husband—who you know as MEH(My Engineer Husband)—is the love of my life, my soul mate, and I tell him I love him at least once a day. I sign every single note and email, large or small, with “I love you, xo J.” We end every phone call, no matter how short, with “I love you.”

And that extends to our two kids: every call ends with “I love you.” My son, a medical student, has called me back because he didn’t hear my “I love you” at the end of a call. Every note, every letter I write him is signed with a “heart” Mom. For my daughter, a college student, it’s “I love you xox times a trillion,” even at the end of a text message conversation.

These codes between us, small intimate gestures, let them know they are my number one priority and I love them absolutely unconditionally. They know without question this is so—it’s something we’ve talked about as a family.

Aside from our small nuclear family, this circle of love extends to our and our children’s close friends, our small extended family—and now to you, my blogging and Twitter friends.

One blogging friend, Hallie Sawyer, recently wrote in a card to me: “There are days when I shake my head and wonder ‘how did I get here?’—as a writer surrounded by all the love and support of people I have never met! It’s crazy, wacky, wonderful, priceless, and something I will be eternally grateful for.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Hallie.

A recent post by Hallie on handwritten notes inspired me to start writing more handwritten letters and cards, and since her post I’ve sent out 18 handwritten notes to family and friendsincluding some of you. Through the past year of blogging, I’ve been fortunate to exchange letters and even some packages with several blogging friends. In the past month I’ve written to others; in return I’ve received handwritten letters back, full of love and support, from people “I’ve never met,” as Hallie wrote.


I don’t know how I got here either, surrounded by the love and support of my blogging and tweeting friends, but it’s something I too will be eternally grateful for.
So please accept this Valentine…

With love from wordsxo,

xo Julia 

p.s. I would love to send you a handwritten note! If you would like one, please let me know in comments, and I’ll contact you for your address. 

Sharing a Landmark Day

Landmark days—often these are what we mothers remember and hold onto: the first birthday, first steps, starting kindergarten or high school, moving your child into their first dorm room….moments frozen in our minds.

At the beginning, these memories are shared memories: their firsts are our firsts. As they get older—high school, college, and beyond—we mothers become someone to share good news with, sometimes a sounding board, maybe a shoulder to cry on. Then finally, our children’s landmarks become their own.

They find their way, they make their lives—in short they grow up. As mothers, if we’re so lucky, we may still have a glimpse, hear the exciting news, share in the moments and the landmarks.

Last weekend was such a landmark day in our son’s life, his journey. We were invited to attend his “White Coat Ceremony,”the symbolic occasion in the early days of medical school when students receive their first white coat. We traveled out of state and met up with our son, his girlfriend, and our daughter—all of us living in different states. We did what families often do the night before an event: we gathered at a restaurant. We congratulated and toasted, reminisced and talked, with much of the conversation centering on science and medicine—passions close to both my children’s hearts.

My son—a talented writer, who wrote a novel for his college senior thesis and was urged by mentors to seek an MFA—has known since a “job shadow” at 16 that he wanted to be a doctor. This is not an easy road, and he has worked tirelessly to make his dream a reality.

Last month, as he left our home to head out of state for his first day of medical school, he came over and gave me a hug—I’m happy to say he’s a big hugger, my son—and said: “I’ll make you proud, Mom.” He knew my reply before I gave it: “You already have.”

Sunday morning we went together to the beautiful theater where the ceremony took place. My son joined his class of medical students, and we joined the proud families in the audience. We sat and watched as our son along with all the other sons and daughters received their white coats and took the Hippocratic Oath.

Watching my son, now a man, pursue his life goal and passion makes saying goodbye to my daily job of motherhood a lot easier. To attend this ceremony, be a tiny part, is icing on the cake.

My time, my memories, of every step and every landmark as a mother are just that: mine. His time, his memories, as he takes this momentous step, are a continuation of hislife journey. Sitting in that lovely place, watching my son be “cloaked” with his first white coat made me happy beyond words to be a part of my son’s, this wonderful man’s, life and landmark day. 

An Aegis of Peeps, Tweeps, and Bleeps!

Yesterday I had a bad day. If you read my blog, you know that. But here’s what you don’t know: in response to that bad day blog, I got amazing love and support!

One of the reasons I started blogging and tweeting was for the feeling of community. It’s a solitary life, this writing one, with usually just me and the dog. And sometimes that’s tough. Even for an introvert like me.

With some trepidation, about a month ago, I started blogging and tweeting—it’s hard to put myself out there. But I hoped for the best. And boy am I glad. You guys came through yesterday in spades: on Twitter and in comments. Much appreciated!

So this morning, in a much-improved mood (thank you so much!), when I saw the word of the day from wordsmith.org, aegis:

(noun) Protection, support, guidance, or sponsorship of a particular person or organization – A.Word.A.Day (today) from wordsmith.org

…I immediately thought of all of you. This blog is about, and for, all of you writers—my community—of bloggers and tweeters. Amazing one and all.

And while I know this may not be exactly the right way to use the word, here goes! I feel the love from the aegis of my fellow writers: my peers, peeps, tweeps, bleeps (BLogging peEEPs), one and all. And I hope you feel it from me too!

With love from wordsxo,

Julia

p.s. How has blogging and tweeting made a difference in your writing life? Do you, like me, feel like you’ve entered a community, under the protection of an aegis? I’d love to hear your stories of support, too!

Making Up with Mr. (Re-)Write


A few years ago I came as close as I ever have to having a book published. An editor at a major publishing house pulled my middle-grade novel—about one kid’s bad luck—out of the slush pile.


She “enjoyed reading it very much,” and although she continued with “you have a “knack for creating vivid characters and humorous situations…with good potential here for a book,” the end was disappointing. She continued the letter with some not-so-specific pointers about improving the manuscript.


But the very end of the letter was the best part, when she requested that I re-submit the manuscript once I had re-written it. I was simultaneously ecstatic and heartily disappointed. Is it possible to say something was well rejected?


In the weeks following the arrival of the letter, I thought not. But now I can honestly say yes.


This book was not the first I’d written, but it represented my heart and soul. More importantly, it most clearly represented my writing style and voice as a fiction writer for kids. Further, I really believed in the story, just as it was.


Still….somewhere deep down inside, I knew the editor was right—and that she was able to see the book in a way that I just couldn’t. So of course I tried to re-write. I sat down everyday for six weeks, tweaking and tugging every which way. But no matter what, I just couldn’t feel very good about anything I re-wrote. In the end, I sent something that even I was disappointed with.


A few weeks later I heard back. “I’m sorry to say this is not what I expected.” Of course I knew the letter would say these words before I even opened it.


Since I had already sent the manuscript to a pretty long list of publishers (and it was before self publishing had taken off), I opened my desk drawer and slipped the manuscript away… which is where it stayed…


Until a few weeks ago. When a series of events—involving a tails-up unlucky coin, 33 mice trapped in our old house, and a beautiful sunny day—made me remember that book. And suddenly, with the passage of time, and a new perspective, I knew what I needed to change to make the book work. I pulled out the editor’s letter, which now seemed a lot more specific, and opened the drawer.


Because for now, I’m giving love one more chance by dating Mr. (Re)Write and hoping for the best.


Cheers,


Julia xo


Encourage me…. have you re-written a book you wrote long ago and had success publishing it? Any suggestions? Or is it best to let bygones be bygones and move on to new projects? What do you think?

Today’s Word is Pressure, Believe You Me



(noun) the burden of physical or mental stress (as defined by Merriam Webster online)


One of the new realities of my life is sitting down every day to write a blog. No one asked me to do this. No one clamored at my door. I write a blog because I want to. As a quote-unquote-newbie, this is pressure enough. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So it takes time and thinking and more time.


Thinking. A common pitfall of mine. And, as such, in the what-was-I-thinking category, last week I proclaimed “Wednesday is Word(le) Day.” And it worked! So far, the most popular post on my blog is that one. Go figure. (Of course, I haven’t yet been named a Top Ten Blog for Writers, but who’s competing?) I’m guessing it was the quirky blog title that pulled readers in, but who knows.


It caused me a lot of pressure this week. What word will I pick? How will I decide? I went to site after site, finally deciding to write about the most common word in the English language. Kind of like starting at A. This led me to www.wordcount.org, a very cool website that presents “an interactive presentation of the 86800 most common words in the English language.” Here’s the thing. Every word is numbered! So, I could start with #1, find the most common word in the English language, and bingo, problem solved. Unfortunately the #1 word turned out to be the. Predictable. But not exactly what I’d been hoping for.


But, EUREKA! I had yet another random idea: what if I went to a random number generating site, generated a random number between 1 and 86800, and then used that number to go back and get a word from the numbered word list!? Perfect plan. Except this: my random number was 41,632. And when I typed that number into the word site, up popped cholecystokinin.


“a hormone secreted especially by the duodenal mucosa that regulates the emptying of the gallbladder and secretion of enzymes by the pancreas and that has been found in the brain.”


And since everything I ever wanted to learn about gallbladders was in the emergency room during a gallstone attack, I decided to move on and spare us all.


Back to the drawing board. Next, as I moved beyond Sunday, and realized it was Valentine’s Day, my week-long love theme jelled. Of love I know. But what word would I choose? Again, putting pressure on myself, I wrote in my blog on Monday, that my Wednesday Word would have something to do with love.


But the love words are all so common and well known. And everyone was blogging about them! Again the pressure, but by happenstance, I was reminded of anagrams on Twitter, a blog, a website about words, or somewhere else on another one of the zillions of blogs I’ve visited this week.


For love, there is only one anagram: vole. Which is very cool because the prairie vole is one of the only monogamous animals (besides—often—humans). I briefly considered writing about voles, but I think I just wrote everything I could that hasn’t already been written on wikipedia…so I crossed it off my list.


Ok. So. Wednesday Eve. My Engineer Husband (MEH) and I are watching the fourth movie in as many days. Again with the love theme. Last night Sideways. The night before Love Actually. But nothing really kept my attention because in the back of my mind was the pressure pressure pressure, pecking away at my mind. It was Wednesday Eve, for goodness sake, and I didn’t have a WORD.


After the movie, and way too late, MEH and I revisited my list of candidates:

Candidates 1a and 1b. #34,229 wilcoxon; #35,662 freebie. Number and word generating again. REJECTED. Although I actually liked both words, if I was going to use this proscribed method for choosing, I wanted a word on the first try. Otherwise I would be compelled to admit I used the second or third try and make up some elaborate story of why.


Candidate 2. Back again to the love theme: duprass. This is the “karass of two” from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. REJECTED. a) it’s a made up word from a made up language, and b) I never read the book (MEH did), but I may feel compelled to lie that I did.


Candidate 3. To demonstrate how really down on the whole word thing I was feeling, I turned to anti-love, and perhaps what could arguably be called the antithesis of love: unrequited. Like Cyrano’s great love of Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac and Pip’s of Estella in Great Expectations. REJECTED. I actually started writing about this one, but it just didn’t go anywhere.


I went to bed, unrequited. And woke up way too early. I usually do, but this time it was with the pressure in my mind. It’s Wednesday MORNING and I DON’T HAVE A WORD. Not quite the same pressure as not having a present to give on an anniversary or a birthday, but it felt bad.


And then it hit me. PRESSURE! And that, dear readers, is a small glimpse inside the mind of Julia Munroe Martin. Tomorrow, if you dare, please join me again as I return to the by now dreaded love theme and I blog about “Making up with Mr. (Re)Write.”


My question to you: what causes pressure in your writing life? Or life? Any ideas for words you’d like to see on Word Day? Please?


Cheers,

Julia

Breaking Up is Hard to Do


Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There’s something wrong here, there can be no denying

One of us is changing

Or maybe we
just stopped trying

And it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died

And I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it


– Carole King (music) & Toni Stern (lyrics)


Have you ever had a work in progress that just fizzled? Never got off the ground? Or maybe it was a forced break up? That old Carole King song really resonates when you end a relationship. And maybe when you end a writing project, too.


Here are 10 questions to consider when you are thinking of breaking up with a writing project (or a person).


1. Have you lost that lovin’ feelin’? Just like in love, maybe you don’t look forward to spending time together anymore. In fact, you may flat out hate their looks. No matter how you try, you just don’t feel it anymore. You dread seeing them. You avoid working on it.


2. Do you compare him/her/it to others? In the case of writing, maybe you are drawn to other things you’re working on. Maybe you look at everyone’s else’s writing and think it’s better. You are envious, maybe even jealous!


3. Do you constantly micromanage or criticize? You can’t turn off the inner critic we all have. You’re never happy with anything you write. It’s all bad. You’re never satisfied.


4. Did you find a new love? This is a toughie (in both relationships and writing). Before you choose to end it for this reason, consider all the advantages and history of what you have—is it really worth giving it up for the new person/project? Maybe you can have both? (Just to be clear, for me this would only be an option for writing; but, if it works for you in your relationships, as long as no one is getting hurt (see question 10) then who am I to judge?)


5. (Closely related to question 4.) Have you reconnected with old relationships/projects? Everyone and everything looks better than what you’re currently working on. Maybe it’s your old projects or maybe it’s friends and the distraction of online social networking. Here’s the thing: you want to cheat!


6. Do you find that he/she/it is no longer __________________ (fill in the blank: meaningful, life-altering, funny, cute, enchanting, serious, or…) enough? Maybe it’s just not ringing true to where you started from. You are BORED. And maybe your writing is BORING either you or others.


7. Are your friends are sick and tired of hearing you talk about it? I mean really sick. You can’t stop talking about it. And not in a good way. Pick, pick, pick.


8. Do you still feel good about it, yes or no? Or is it taking its toll? It’s all about them. You’re working way too hard for way too little reward. Maybe it’s not paying enough and you really need money? Your life has become absolutely consumed. Maybe it’s not worth it!


These next two questions are more serious. “Deal breakers,” as Dr. Phil calls them. Were you dumped? Or are you being abused? Just like in a relationship, sometimes we don’t really have a choice in whether or not we end a project.


9. Did you just flat out get dumped? The worst. A rejection letter. Maybe a lot of them. You didn’t get a job. They like someone more, or maybe even worse, you just aren’t the right person/project. The good news? It may be trite, but it’s true: we can’t control what others say or feel about us, but we can control how we react. Thank the person/publication, and file it away. Get back in the saddle. Send another query. Network more. Seek more feedback. Re-write.


10. Are you beyond stressed out? Is your health suffering? Are you in danger? Or being abused? Maybe what you’re working on is causing serious (real relationship) problems in your life, and it’s just not worth it. This could be in the form of an editor, co-writer, or client you’re working for/with. Or maybe someone you care about could be hurt by what you’re writing—like a family member if you’re writing a memoir. Or, worse, you’re personally threatened by a source or some dangerous information/material (we aren’t all cut out to be Karen Silkwood or Julian Assange).


If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you should consider: Is it time to break up with your current project? Or maybe at least a trial separation? And definitely, if you answered yes to questions 9 or 10, an immediate break up is in order!


On Thursday, come back to read “Making Up with Mr. (Re)Write.” And tomorrow, it’s my second Wednesday is Word Day. And yes, you can count on it having something to do with LOVE.


Happy Valentine’s Week!


Cheers,


Julia

Is Writing Like Love?


Are you all over the place with lots of ideas, with notebooks and folders full of starts? Are you so in love with a story that you eat, sleep, and breathe it? Or are you on task, committed to your writing project(s), working through thick and thin?

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, describes three stages of love: lust, attraction, and attachment. I suggest the same stages could be applied to writing.

Stage 1: Lust

Dr. Fisher describes the first stage of love as lust: “The sex drive or libido…evolved to encourage you to seek a wide range of partners.” On the prowl. Playing the field. Love the one you’re with.

In writing, this is when we have no idea where to start or maybe we have writer’s block and we’re all over the place, searching for any idea that will light a spark, get us going. We are going a million miles an hour, looking for that next great idea. Maybe it’s why some of us have a notebook with us all the time or the started-but-not-finished stories/books/articles/queries on our computer. Maybe it’s why some of us dabble in lots of writing styles and ideas. Or blog.

Stage 2: Romantic Attraction

You’re in love! Lovestruck. Lovesick. You can’t think about anyone or anything else. You feel great! Feel good chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin pump through your brain—dopamine triggers an intense rush of pleasure, the same chemical that is released in the brain by using addictive drugs.

In writing? You have the greatest idea you’ve ever had! Maybe the next great American Novel. Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of this?! If you’re like me, you get up early, go to bed late, let the housework go, and think about the story and its characters all day long. Maybe your family and friends are sick of hearing you talk about it.

Stage 3: Attachment

As described by Fisher, this is “deep feelings of attachment to a long term partner.” It’s what keeps relationships going. Settle down. Get hitched. Through thick and thin. Like the old song: “Love, love will keep us together,” it’s for keeps. You’re way past official on Facebook. Even your grandmother knows.

In writing, it’s butt in the chair time. You’re there, every day. Not just saying you’re a writer. But you’re putting in your 1000 words or five pages or six hours, whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good, but you’re sticking with it.

What stage(s) of writing are you in? Which stage do you like best and why? Tune in tomorrow for “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” about how sometimes—just like in a love—it’s time to give up on a writing project, too.

Postscript: While I was reading about Dr. Helen Fisher, I found the very cool relationship test that she (read more about Dr. Helen Fisher here) developed called Why Him? Why Her? It was interesting and a lot of fun, too. Check it out! Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cheers,

Julia