Tag Archives: writing

Carpe Diem and Other Plans

It is no secret that I love quotes.  Every so often, one hits you right in the gut.  That is what happened one morning in church.  Before church truly begins, our ley leader normally shares a funny inspirational story or quote.  That particular week, she shared the quote shown above.  It works on so many levels.

First, I have so many ideas for stories, books, and series that I don’t know where to begin half of the time.  There are always fresh ideas competing with the old and written projects badly in need of editing, not to mention conferences and workshops to attend.  How do I keep track of it all or know where to start?

Second, this is one of my biggest fears:  I will never get around to writing what I need to write.  If I didn’t do anything else in my life, I would still have enough experiences, memories, and ideas to keep me writing for the rest of my days.  This is where my perfectionist nature rears its ugly head.  It is the best stories that keep me up at night.  How do I get them down correctly the first time?  Well, writing doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.  Intellectually I understand, and yet, I can never quit shake the feeling I left something important out, no matter how well-intentioned my first draft.

Finally, this quote gets to the heart of how I would like to live my life.  At the end of my life, I don’t want to wonder “what if …,” but it may be inevitable.  I doubt anyone dies without regrets.  It is possible to minimize them, however.  It is time to get busy.

Dreams

I don’t talk about my mom nearly enough.  If you would have asked me five years ago if we were close, I would have told you no, we aren’t particularly close.  I’m not exactly sure when that changed, but it did change, for the better.  As an undergrad at Michigan State University, I used to marvel at the girls who called their moms every day.  It confused me.  On one hand, I wanted that type of relationship with my mom; on the other, I loved my independence too much.  However, if I didn’t call every Sunday, I would be tracked down.

Now that I am older, I am grateful for that independence, although I can’t imagine it today.  I do talk to my mom almost every day now.  My parents were more concerned when I was commuting and taking classes at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) a few years ago than they ever were during my years at Michigan State.  I find it funny and fascinating.  I think I understand it though.  My parents still had my sister and brother at home.  They were still dealing with sports activities and whatever trouble my brother decided to get into that particular week.  Still, I would never go as far as to say that I had a difficult relationship with my parents, even when we didn’t talk all that often.  They just let me get on with having fun in college – and I did.

As a teenager, it was common for my dad, brother, and sister to watch TV together in the living room.  My mom and I would watch something else in my parents’ bedroom.  I would lounge on my parents’ bed while mom would get her clothes ready for the next day, etc.  One of our favorites happened to be Ally McBeal.  At times, we would have some great conversations too.

During one weekend home during my sophomore year at MSU, such a scenario took place when I needed my mom’s advice most.  At the time, I felt as though I had to choose between semester long Spanish programs in Spain or Ecuador.  How was I supposed to choose between the two?  I didn’t want to have to make that decision.  I wanted to do both.  I asked my mom what she thought.  All she asked is that I be home for Christmas.  It worked.  I found a way to make it work without delaying graduation.  I never forgot my parents’ support of that decision.  I also learned to be flexible and find a way to do what I wanted to do – on my terms.

Shortly before my mom retired in 2010, I learned she dreamed of writing children’s books in retirement.  Considering her career as an elementary school teacher, it isn’t surprising.  What surprised me most is:  1.  I never knew that my mom wanted to write at all.  I thought it was my dream alone, and one I didn’t share with many people at the time.  2.  I didn’t learn this from my mom, I learned it through a mutual friend.  Shocked, surprised, and happy, we began working on her children’s books together.  She wanted my input and help polishing them.

Here’s the problem:  I am way too close to my mom’s books.  I love them.  I know exactly where she is going with them, and I love the fact her books are based on part of a writing curriculum she used in her kindergarten classroom.  We both need to get writing again and finish getting those books ready to submit.  Every time we work on them, I fall in love with her books all over again.

I love the process that we have working together.  It is fun working with her and bouncing ideas off one another.  We can usually come to some sort of agreement or even come to the same conclusions.  I hope we can eventually get to the point where we are comfortable submitting them for publication.  It is time.

The funny thing is that I can just hear my mom reading her books to groups of kids.  As a child, there was nothing better than her versions of Sesame Street books.  She is great at making all of the different voices necessary to make a children’s book come alive.  Grover and the Count are still favorites with her grandchildren.  I can’t wait to hear her reading her own books in front of a crowd eager for more.

Book Review: Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin

I enjoyed reading Marlena.  While it contains components of a YA (young adult) novel, I would classify it as emerging adult.  Fair warning:  Lots of drugs and sex involved.  The good news is that the drugs, and to a lesser extent, sex, drive the plot.  They are necessary to the plot, and fortunately, do not glamorize the consequences of either.  By the way, when I mention drugs here, I am including alcohol.

I didn’t read Marlena with a set purpose in mind.  It wasn’t a book club pick or anything.  In fact, I discovered it by browsing a selection of online books available through my library’s website.  It just sounded good.  It is ultimately a tale of two best friends growing up in a dull northern Michigan town.  It took a while for me to get into the book.  The protagonist, Cat, isn’t the easiest person to get to know.  Also, in the beginning, I didn’t get the fixation on drugs.  She clearly understands right from wrong, but she is fixated on her new best friend Marlena and making the worst possible choices for her life.  By approximately a quarter of the way through the book, I was hooked and found it difficult to put down.

Cat, at least the older, wiser version in the novel, nails what it is like to grow up, to love and lose.  There are so many powerful lines I found myself highlighting them in my Kindle copy, forgetting that it is a library book.  Below are a few of what I consider to be the most powerful lines in the novel.

Close enough to being a writer, isn’t it, working at a library? – Page 45

As an aspiring writer, I loved this quote.  Ultimately, Cat is a writer, but it took her a while to find her voice.  Her empathy for other young women is clearly demonstrated later in the novel in her approach to difficult young library patrons.

For so many women, the process of becoming requires two.  It’s not hard to make out the marks the other one left. – Page 96

This passage really made me think.  I thought of the friends, male and female, in both high school and college, who helped to shape the woman I became.  It made me think of what I wrote about W.M here in particular.  There is something to be said for reconnecting with old friends after years apart and seemingly nothing (and everything) has changed.

I think it’s pretty common for teenagers to fantasize about dying young.  We knew that time would force us into sacrifices – we wanted to flame out before making the choices that would determine who we became.  When you were an adult, all the promise of your life was foreclosed upon, every day just a series of compromises mitigated by little pleasures that distracted you from your former wildness, from your truth. – Pages 129-130

This struck a nerve with me as well.  First, I vividly remember being terrified of dying young as a teenager.  Both of my parents lost close relatives as teenagers, and those stories stayed with me.  Second, the fact that “time would force us into sacrifices” continues to be at the forefront of my mind.  I have always tried to find a way to leave as many doors open as possible.  There is just too much I want to do in life.

I was always aware, in some buried place, that girls my age had just entered their peak prettiness, and that once my pretty years were spent my value would begin leaking away.  I saw it on TV and in magazines, in the faces of my teachers and women in the grocery store, women who were no longer looked at … – Page 143

I so desperately want this not to be true, but it is true.  I loathe this fact about our culture.  Hopefully I will live long enough to see it change, permanently.

Before that year I was nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be. – Page 250

Thinking back to what I was like at ages 15-16, I like to think I was somehow stronger than Cat.  Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case; I could closely identify with Cat in the novel.  It makes the novel much darker.  There is a fine line between the successful teenage Cat and the degenerate.

I would recommend the book, especially if you love to write or like reading about love and loss (or even friendship in general).  Is the story sad?  Yes, but it is also full of hope.  It does seem that Cat is at least trying to deal with her loss, with varying degrees of success.

I know I have talked about this before, but I am convinced the right books find me at exactly the right time.  While I certainly wouldn’t call Marlena great literature, it addresses certain topics I would like to cover in my own writing.  I will be rereading this novel.

Perfectionism, Procrastination, and Perseverance

The Heavy Link – Perfectionism and Procrastination

The Most Important Thing a Writer Needs

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I am a perfectionist to a fault.  There is a link to perfectionism and procrastination, and frankly, I am not sure what to do about it.  Several years ago, my boss, who through a strange set of circumstances has known me most of my life, once labeled me as a perfectionist.  I bristled.  I didn’t want to admit it.  I would admit that I was a perfectionist at one time.  At the time, I did not believe the label still applied to me.  Well, it does.  It always will.  I may have let a few things go, but I still strive for perfection in everything I do.

Procrastination is what’s wrong with perfectionism.  Procrastination keeps me from doing what I need to do, especially when it comes to my writing and my personal life.  Trying not to procrastinate led me to make one of the biggest mistakes of my life:  my ex.  I should have listened to my intuition and realized that it wasn’t going to work from the beginning, but I committed myself to making it work.  Unfortunately, it was one sided, and I was too stubborn to realize it.  Procrastination is behind my most egregious mistakes.  When will I learn not to question myself too much and just do what I need to do?

Fortunately, perseverance is part of the equation as well.  I will succeed.  It isn’t too late to go back to do what I need to do.  I am thankful that I am stubborn enough to stick with it until the end.  It may take me decades, but I will persevere as a writer.  I must stop comparing myself to anyone else.  How many times do I tell myself that before I begin to believe it?

Ghost Stories

W.M and I – Puebla, Mexico. March 2004.

As a writer, I am struggling with how to properly tell the story of my friendship with W.M. throughout my college years.  Even though we never really dated, there was something more than friendship there.  If writing from my perspective, the story would have to include themes of romance and unrequited love.  How do I tell the story fairly?  I have no clue what really happened in the end, why he kept seeking me out, but it never went further than friendship.  When I did try to write the story, the men in my writing group all appeared to come to the same conclusion:  He must be gay.  I don’t believe that to be the case.  If that were the case, I would like to think that we were good enough friends that he could have told me.  I did find it telling that they came to that conclusion after reading the story from my perspective.

I wish I knew what to do with the story.  It is the reason why people study abroad and learn foreign languages.  It is at least part of the reason why Spanish continues to play such a major role in my life.

W.M. and I had a major falling out several years ago now to the point where I haven’t thought about him in years.  Yet, our friendship has been on my mind lately.  The truth is that Michigan State wouldn’t have been the same without him.  Alternative Spring Break and study abroad wouldn’t have been the same without him.  My experiences in Mexico and Spain wouldn’t have been the same without him.  Maybe it is fitting that he must have been on my mind as I am trying to figure out exactly what it is that I want in my personal life.