Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

I've just been texting good wishes to all of my friends. So, here also, I want to pause and reflect on 2012, wishing it a good bye. It was a good year, 2012, and I'm deeply grateful for its blessings

More on that later, and more on planning for the new year as well.

But, for now, Happy holidays and Happy 2013! May it bring nothing but blessings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Basking in the After Christmas Lull

I haven't abandonned this blog. I really haven't.

I've just had an unusually busy stretch of days, and since I haven't had any work or writing deadlines, my computer has been uncharacteristically shunted aside. For days on end.

It seems all of the energy pouring out of me of late has been directed towards other people. I've spent tons of time with friends and family alike, and even got all the busy errands of Christmas done a few days ahead of time. The holiday itself is a grueling marathon of fun for our family, starting early Christmas Eve morning and continuing until late that night with our traditions at my parents' house. Then it starts again early on Christmas with nonstop Santa loot, gifts, meals, gifts, snacks, gifts, a BIG formal dinner, gifts and then, finally, stupor on the couches at the very last hours of the day.

It's one way to do Christmas. Maybe not the only way, that's for sure, since it does take a lot of time and resources. I consider it an investment into our family memories, and don't plan to keep it at this pace forever.

We took a disastrous vacation last week to San Diego. It was supposed to be a break and a treat, but I was really sick and low in energy. We wound up staying in a Bed and Breakfast room so bad and terrifying in its comfort and decor horror that I could hardly sleep. There were like four plastic flower arrangements in each room, and I started making up stories about how we were visiting "crazy second cousin Darlene" and her love for plastic flowers and random artworks spaced every 18 inches on the walls. We made a plan to ditch her and head home early, so since then I've been reveling in the neatness and coziness of our own home.

Anyway, that's all. Really just more of the same that happens every December. It's a frantic merry-go-round, but the lights and music are pretty so I keep riding it. Hope your December has been what you'd like, and the gifts of the season bless you for 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mid-December, or One Week Til Christmas

December is just a really, really, really busy month.

So busy in fact, that I actually FORGOT to finish my writing course. I had a final project due last Friday. I was going to write something. I even had ideas. I kept thinking that I would find time.

And one night I was going to bed, quite late, when I suddenly realized with horror that I had been so very rushed from one thing to the next that I had completely forgotten to even start writing anything. Since I only had one hour til submission, it didn't seem worth it to get back up and even try. Besides I was tired.

So that's pretty much how it's been. Just lots and lots of errands, and full time Mom work. Our family had seven seperate social events to attend, and one to host, over the last four days. Shopping's done now. Tree's finally up. I'm catching up with the bills and such. I even hope to get back into some daily writing before the week's end. Sort of build up my habit before the New Year even arrives. A pre-resolution practice.

As for the 29 days of giving, I have been giving. Really, I have. I'm sure I've done something every day, even multiple things. I mean, it's the season. I've just completely lost track as far as writing them up. Sorry. It's been a lot of gifts. One thing I've realized anew this year is that our whole family has a lot of friends. Each of us gave to more than 10 people. Plus teachers and co-workers. And families. We've easily purchased more than 200 gifts this month. Well, not easily. That's why I had to pay the bills tonight. Yikes.

Alright, enough of that. I've got to get us off to bed so that we can get to auditions and dentist appointments tomorrow. Oooh, fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December is a Whirlwind Month

Boy, do I hear ya about being busy!

These last few weeks have been a blur for me, literally stretching from early morning to late nights. It really started when my daughter went on vacation the second week of November, carried on through travel and Thanksgiving, and has never really slowed down since.

In that time, we have Christmas shopped, wrapped a lot (but not all) of gifts, traveled north, hosted Thanksgiving, completely painted and remodeled my daughter's room, hosted a bridal shower, and attended multiple Christmas school performances. Additionally, I've been wrapping up a writing class (that has gone very well) and doing tons and tons of errands to prep for Christmas.

And my daughters' semesters and grades both end this week, so that has been a ton of time making sure the older one is caught up with everything. That's a whole set of stories right there!!

I think that after Friday all of this will ebb a bit. By then the shopping will be done and the decorating, school will end -yay!- and I think we can ease off and just enjoy the social parts of the holiday without so much running here and there. I am certainly looking forward to that!

I was just telling my husband that it hasn't felt at all like Christmas to me yet because I haven't managed to create any of those calm and peaceful moments to bask in the holiday warmth. I plan to address that now, mostly by trying to slow down and just BE.

I know I'm very behind on my blogging of Giving. I've kept giving but just haven't touched computer unless it's for homework help. I haven't done ANY grant work either for the longest time, so I am looking forward to actually working again this week as well.

Until later, good wishes for December.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Eleven

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remember how much I wanted to be a bridesmaid? A lifelong dream come true and all that jazz? Yeah, well, turns out there's a lot more to this bridesmaid gig then I had considered. First of all, the dress is cute, but not really me. It's strapless and a style I would never wear, so I think I'm going to feel very uncomfortable at the wedding.

Second, I never considered the expense of it. I mean, I knew had to buy the dress but I think I saw that as a hundred bucks or so. However, I insisted that my friend needed to have a bridal shower. She didn't want one at first because she was married briefly before, so she felt like she shouldn't have a fuss made. But I said nonsense, and so did her other two friends.

That means that for the last two months I've been planning this shower with two women I have never met in my life. Fortunately, they've both been very level-headed and organized, much like our mutual friend, the bride.

Still though, a simple shower for 20 guests is closing in on $900 of expense, split between the three of us -- and that's keeping things low-key!! When you add in the dress, shoes, jewelry, my hair, make-up and these costs, this wedding is going to cost between $600-$700. Yikes!! Not a good time of year for that!

So, my gift today is that I have spent another WHOLE day running errands, buying pink and purple fluffy things to decorate the room tomorrow, getting color-themed candies, flowers and all that yada-yada. I hope it's a good party, at least!

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Ten

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I bought my dad a very nice Hawaiian shirt for his birthday last month. Sadly, it was too small for him. So this week I went back to the store and picked out the larger size. I gave it to him today, and he seemed pleased.

One Way to Relax

You probably might be a busy mom if you find yourself deciding that, yes, indeed, 9:43 in the morning IS a good time to drink a small glass of red wine.

After all, I had already been up and working hard for hours. And red wine is just fortifying, isn't it? Doesn't it build up your red blood cells or something? I'm sure it does.

The extra-Mom proof is that you chose to drink your wine out of a plastic disposable cup, so that you wouldn't have to wash any more dishes, since you just finished the kitchen.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Eight

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today I gave the gift of writing. Instead of being drawn into a big, disruptive fight with my older daughter, I turned to my computer and expressed myself through words until both she and I had had the time to calm down.

Ultimately, when I didn't fight with her, she spent the rest of the evening working hard on her missing homework. We ended the day with her father, her and myself going over all her grades and assignments in a friendly, collaborative manner and with the good feelings of our family preserved.

Because I gave her the benefit of the doubt of being a good person, she and I were able to remember how very much we like each other, and stay in that place. She really is a joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Nine

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I took my time in JCP, wandering around and browsing, just enjoying the colorful displays and the jazzy Christmas tunes. The store was calm and fairly empty in the morning and I was enjoying trying to find presents for some of the last people on my shopping list.

My arms were full of shirts and when I approached a clerk to ask the price of a scarf, I could hear the elderly shopper complaining. "Well, I think it's just terrible," she said. "How am I supposed to shop if I can't have a cart?"

The salesgirl murmured her assent.

I had noticed the lack of carts. I figured they'd probably eliminated them in their continued make over. JCP has been determinedly changing their image all year long. I, for one, love the new look and style of their stores. I love everything about their changes, from their glossy, simple ads to their lack of troublesome coupons to their clean, open stores. I love the way they're bringing in a higher fashion look and new brands. I even hear a rumor that there will be a CBTL placed in the middle of some stores. Then I really will be shopping and working at the same time!

But not having a cart was kind of a pain.

Sensing an audience, the older woman went into full complaint mode. "Why did you get rid of the carts? Just look at this poor lady!" She pointed at me. "She's loaded down like a pack mule!"

Hey, I thought, hold on now. The salesgirl was squirming uncomfortably.

I smiled sweetly. "Oh, I don't mind at all," I interrupted. "Carrying stuff around is good for me. Builds muscles, you know. That way I'll live longer. Plus I just love the look of the store now. Look at these clean wide aisles. Don't you think it's great?"

I smiled at the complainer, and she melted away, still muttering to herself. The salesgirl shot me a look of relief. "It's not like you were the one who made the choice," I whispered, and she laughed.
********
Later my armful of gifts and I were waiting in line. Behind me, a grandmother was talking to her four year old granddaughter. "Only one more stop after this. I just need to get some tape and then we'll be done." The girl squirmed a bit. "How about we get a milkshake?"

"Yay," she cheered. "I want a chocolate milkshake!!"

I turned around and smiled at them. "Milkshakes are good aren't they?"

When it was my turn to pay, I let them go first. "You probably don't want to wait any longer than you have to!" I said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Aww, Shucks...

Ironically, after my heartfelt piece examining lessons of parenting last night, this afternoon found me bringing my daughter home from school and having her absolutely, categorically refuse to follow the rules for homework that I was reiterating. She feels that she should have her iPod for homework time. I want her to put it in my room until all her homework for each day is done.

And she completely refused.

Deep breath.

With the lessons for last night fresh in my mind, I didn't get drawn any further into the power struggle. I stayed calm but firm and said, "I think we both need to take a break for now, and come back to this later when we can be calm. However, it is important to me that you understand that you will absolutely follow any rules I create, and that you simply do not have the right to refuse."

Then I came into the house and purposely came into a separate room. I know, I thought, I'll check for comments on my latest exercise. That should distract me.

And here is what I found. I'm in a better mood now.
*********
I’ve said this before—your work is a pleasure to read. I’m generally not happy when someone has to drop out of a class, but in this case a dropout made room for you. That has made this class a real joy for me.


This piece has a lot to say about parenting, a lot to say about you, and a lot to say about life and how to handle things. Most readers will strongly identify with this piece, although those who are or have been parents are likely to respond the most. I recall moments in the past when my kids were still at home and I “lost it” when dealing with them. And you’re right—it’s always much better to handle things calmly but firmly. That’s a much better impression.

The incidents you share are presented clearly here, with a great deal of insight and honesty. Readers will absolutely like you for that. The connection between incidents is clear in the way you handled things, and it’s really a no-brainer to determine which approach worked best. These incidents were a lesson for you, and now also a lesson for anyone who reads this. You’ve given readers something to consider here, and that makes for very good memoir work.

The word choice is excellent, giving the narrative a nice, easy flow. This is good memoir, and you’re a strong, likable narrator. And you’ve used dialogue well to give the piece a nice balance. The short dialogue with the nurse is wonderful, and it shows the attitudes you were dealing with at the time. You hung in there without the meds, and I think that’s remarkable.

This is another exercise where I don’t have much to suggest. However, I did have a thought.

Once again, I’m happy you were a part of the class. I looked forward to reading your work each week, and I wasn’t disappointed. You’re a good writer, Marie.

Tueday Writing Quote

The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. –- William Saroyan


Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Seven

Monday, December 4, 2012

I had been promising my older daughter that we could go ice skating. But after we got done at the mall, the skating session had sold out. The next one didn't start until 8 pm, too late on a Sunday school night. She was so unhappy and disappointed -- it even started a big family conflict.

So I promised that I would take her and her friend today since Monday is their standing "playdate" (or whatever I'm supposed to call it for teenagers).

That's how Monday afternoon found me, with a car full of girls singing One Direction's You're Beautiful at the top of their lungs, hurtling down the freeway in search of ice. Not only did I take J and her friend, but also B and a friend of hers as well. And then one of the moms wanted to join us. So my plan for a quiet cafe table while the girls glided and I could write turned into a big evening event.

In the name of host, I paid for all of their admissions and also treated them to cocoa and funnel cake. It was lots of fun for them. That's where you make the memories.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Six

Sunday, December 2, 2012

We were the last ones to walk into the cafe before it closed, just barely beating the 5:00 pm deadline. Still our server was friendly and helpful and we enjoyed our late lunch together at the mall. As she bustled about cleaning and putting away chairs, preparing for the end of what she had called a long day, we chatted with our waitress.

She was telling us about her studies at UCR where she has almost completed her sociology degree and then her plans to go on to Law School. "I was really drifting for a while, and I even stopped college for a few years just to work here," she said. "Then I got pregnant with my son, and that changed everything."

When we finished, we left behind a $20 tip. She can buy a Christmas gift for her child.

Mid Day

Hooray, it's Tuesday. Always an easier day than Monday simply because I am warmed up a bit to weekly routine and because I do not have to go teach yoga so if I need to - like today - I can keep the whole morning unstructured and open to task after task.

I really was in a terrible mood yesterday and didn't feel up to teaching. But, as usual, the class went very well. I love yoga while I'm doing it, and it's a great privilege to bring its healing effects to others. Even I was soothed by the class, though I'm not able to participate as fully as my students since I also have to monitor and assist them.

Anyway, a good day here and hopefully everywhere. May all beings be happy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Deadline Even Closer Now

Well, it's 8:15 pm, and I still have no piece completed for my class.

I also still don't have a solid idea, which is kind of hampering the progress.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening supervising my daughters and their friends as they ice skated. Originally, I planned that I could be writing while I kept an eye on them. But one of the other moms came along, so that obligated me to chat with her and be friendly.

So...

My daughters are telling me to just lie and make something up. I'm like, No Way! It's Memoir; I'm not going to lie about my life.

It just wouldn't feel right for this assignment. Okay, my first idea of writing about a hotel I love completely flopped. I could tell from the first paragraph that it wasn't going to sing. I'm going to try writing about patience learned from parenting.

We'll see.

Here's all I had written earlier:

It is so beautiful here, with the lights beginning to turn on and twinkle, little bits of gold sparkled about in the trees and on the buildings.


*********

I come awake in the early morning light, with that sense of confused in-between that often accompanies waking. Trying to figure out where I am, I slowly open my eyes and take in the room. Shell pink walls end in wood molding. White curtains flutter in the breeze of the open window, ushering in the gentle hum and bustle of traffic noise from the street below.

***********
(Boring right? I mean, it's okay for a description of a very generic room, but hardly a hook-y opening.)


Monday Meltdown

Whoo-Whee... this motherhood/adulthood thing is kind of a slog, isn't it?

Goodness. Let's just say that it wasn't the best Monday morning in the world. After tears and conflict last night, there were more tears this morning, as the daughter who had shunned my every question about her performance outfit for dress rehearsal today realized five minutes after we should have been in the car headed to school that she did not actually know where her black shirt and shoes were.

Thus the crying and red face. Breaks my heart to have to let her go like that, but I also know that she needs to learn her own lessons from life and that if I shield her too much, she won't.

My friend and I were commiserating last week: in many ways, teens are much harder than toddlers. With toddlers, they cry and fall apart, but you have final say over what they do. With teens, it's a constant negotiation of limits and power as they try to find their own independence in life. I had no idea that it would still be so demanding, just in a different way.

Or as my friend said, "I thought I was just going to have to change poopy diapers in the middle of the night. I had no idea about all of the work for decades."

Still though, first thing this morning found me at Target, waving my credit card around like a magic emblem. I bought four different black shirts, socks and shoes just in case. I'll return whatever isn't needed, after I see the whole outfit -- at one time -- tonight. Yes, apparently, I do think that I can solve all of life's problems if I simply shop thoroughly enough.

Oh well. Hope all of you out there can at least find some patience within you to be kind to your offspring as needed, and those without parenting demands can find some peace and joy in life as well.

Monday Deadline

Hmm. It's already afternoon, and I barely have an idea for my assignment. All I have is the vaguest of thoughts about a place that I've been to several times. I'll have to write it out and see if it fits together and leads to some sort of life lesson.

Sometimes I don't like doing that because I don't always want to go where my writing takes me. Depends on my mood. I just want to get a block of time and work on it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing Joke

Horoscope says -- Enough of people who are serious. Stick to someone who can make you laugh. (It also says that if being around someone makes you feel bad about yourself, maybe that person isn't a true friend.)
So here's a joke:

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Five

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Every table in the B&N Cafe was taken. Some older guy behind me threw his drink away. But the mostly filled up trashcan knocked the lid off as he pushed the cup through. Ice scattered across the floor. Then he just wandered away.

So I got up and cleaned up all the ice, mopping up little puddles with napkins, so that nobody else would slip on it.

Think it Through

Here's another moment in my recent life where I used logic before emotion:

I exited Target to find a light rain falling on the grey parking lot mostly filled with cars. I made my way to my favorite parking section. I have a set of spaces where I almost always park, since repeated experience has taught me that those places are never filled, that it's a quick walk across the crosswalk to the door, and it's just generally hassle-free.

I pushed my cart along to where I had left my car. There was a stretch of empty stalls... and no car. Huh?? I know I parked here! Oh my gosh, where is my car? My car has been stolen!!

Then I looked around at the scene. Hold on there, Marie, a different part of my brain chimed in. It's raining. Look at all these other nice cars here. Do you really think someone picked your car to steal? Let's just think this through.

So, I looked one aisle over. Sure enough, there was my car, right where I had parked it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Great Gift from the Universe!

I got the best December First present this morning!

My husband and I were milling around the kitchen in our pajamas when we heard a knock on the door. Glanced outside and saw a sheriff's cruiser in front of the house. Hmm, that's usually not the best.

Also when law enforcement knocks, they generally don't want you to go change, fix your hair and tidy up real quick. So I opened the door as I was.

Turned out he was doing routine checks of our area. "Ah, yes," I said, "you won't need to check our street anymore. Come on. I've got paperwork in the car."

He was already being very nice to me, and told me that his partner had filled him in about talking to me before. When I handed over the form, his face broke into a big smile.

"Well, this is just great," he said. "Congratulations."

He took me over to his car to run the info. Because it hasn't had time to clear through the system yet, he gave me his card. "Give it another month and then call me, " he said. "I'll come back out and run everything again, and if it's not clear, I'll help you make phone calls to speed it up."

Yay. Another happy encounter with law enforcement. See, they used to show up randomly but often enough that I was always a little wary and on edge. I hated it whenever someone knocked on the door. Now that whole area of fear has just evaporated out of my life. It feels great!!

And I think the extra security of just being a "normal" person is what let me feel okay getting involved with finding that girl yesterday. It feels good to feel safe just to be my real self.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Four

Friday, November 30, 2012

I thought today's mindful giving would be a breeze. I figured I had it in the bag and wouldn't need to give it a second thought. Boy, was I wrong.

See, in my family, for no clear reason, December First is an extra-holiday that we celebrate. It started long ago in our childhoods and has since snowballed into an annual family tradition. We gather together, dine, and have a bout of giving gifts that prepare for the holiday season. So our typical December First presents are things like little decorations or candles. I give the girls games or holiday DVDs and CDs or craft activities. That kind of thing.

It's a day I really enjoy so it has grown year after year. I love to shop for December First gifts in the after-Christmas 70% and 80% discounts. I'll even buy the gifts, wrap and label them and then box them up to wait for the whole year to pass. It was fun last night to watch people open gifts that I had completely forgotten buying!

Now we often have 30 or more gifts to exchange among us, so it's very much like doing a whole Christmas on the first day of the month. Last night I roasted two chickens, made potatoes and butternut squash -- a whole festive meal.

Anyway, I figured that more than covered my day's giving. So imagine my surprise when I was called upon to be heroic. My most important gift yesterday was finding a lost little girl and returning her to her hysterical mother.

I picked my daughter up after school as usual. I stood around talking for a while with a friend, then went to ask one of the teachers about an audition packet for the spring musical. She took me into the office to find a copy, and as B and I were waiting, we noticed that a mom was standing in front of the school crying and talking on a cellphone.

"I can't find her anywhere," she was yelling. "She's gone!"

The office staff started buzzing around their desks in a very worried manner, calling up the substitute teacher and the afterschool duty aides and trying to figure out who saw this mom's daughter last. The principal strode out the door looking very worried as B and I grabbed our paperwork and decided to get out of everyone's way.

As we walked to the car, we could hear the mom sobbing and screaming, in a full hysterical panic. My daughter rubbed my arm, "That's really sad," she said.

"I know."

"Hey, Mom? I really love you."

"I know sweetie. I love you too. I'm glad you're here."

It bothered both of us as we drove away. You know, I thought, if that was my child I wouldn't be getting hysterical just yet. I would be looking for her.

"Hey, B? How about if we drive by the back of the school and just see if we notice a girl or anything going on? It doesn't seem like anyone's really checked that."

My daughter was in total agreement. So we turned away from our house and cruised slowly past the school. Nothing.

I didn't think it was very likely that the girl had been abducted. But I thought she might have tried to go home with a friend and not told her mom yet. So I turned into the nearest neighborhood, looking for kids.

And there she was. In a yard on the corner, playing with two boys.

After a short conversation, it turned out that she thought she was waiting for her grandmother to pick her up. She came right up to my car, even though she should know better. So I called the school and told them she was safe. Then my daughter and I walked her back to the back gate.

The principal was there by then, striding across the soccer field with a look of immense relief on his face. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," he called five times.

My daughter and I headed home feeling both relieved and rather proud of ourselves. Before you panic, take some time to think it through and work through the logical options. There will always be plenty of time to cry and scream later if it's still necessary.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Career

That's what's on my mind this morning.

Do I want to have a career someday, too?

Huh. Tough question. I had a career, and I was very good at it. Sometimes I miss it; sometimes I don't. Nowadays I feel a little too lazy to have another career. I've been spoiled by being able to do what I want with my time, whenever I want. I don't know if I'll ever be able to fit back into the schedule of the workaday world.

On the other hand, what I mostly have now is a vocation. I have motherhood. And, boy, is it a lot of work. I'm very good at that too, and I spend the majority of my hours on it. It doesn't pay well, but it's important anyway.

Like writing. Whether writing pays money or not, just the act of doing it matters. It's a practice worth having in life. It makes the world richer, and lets us taste life twice.

But I can only write for a few hours each day max. After that, my brain is fuzzy and my attention span is shot. So I have plenty of time for different work and still being a writer too.

Perhaps when I am not so busy with my vocation, I will have more energy and motivation for a career. I don't want to just sit alone in my house typing and doing errands for the next 50 years. In just a few brief years, when the girls are old enough to be independent, I will have much, much more time available to me. Even this morning, I realized anew that it takes about 2.5 - 3 hours EACH DAY just to drive offspring to and from schools. When they can drive themselves, I will have enough extra time right there to write three novels each year!

I am so very close to being a professional writer. My products are good; my output not very consistent. I'm too quick to do other things with my time. Although I'm writing now, not sleeping which I was going to do, so at least that's something. Do I want to kick it up that extra notch or two to where I write every day and really try to hit the markets? As soon as I have a few more manuscripts in hand, I could make the rounds of the writing conferences and find an agent, which I think would be the next essential step to a truly sustaining, enduring writing career.

Do I want to re-invest myself into my grant work? I do enjoy it, and I've had a refreshing hiatus for the last few months, the first real break I've taken in four or more years. I can start 2013 with a renewed focus and a devoted daily schedule. Is that the career I want?

Or do I want to go interview, maybe even train, to do something more daily and permanent? Gee. I just don't know. While I would like to earn more steady pay, part of the deal is that I'm pretty darn busy every single day right now. So I never really feel a gap where time weighs heavy on my hands. Au contraire, for me time flies by and I feel like I have to make tough decisions every hour between competing activities to do next.

No, it's the guilt that's getting to me. The feeling that maybe I should be spending my time differently. Or building more carefully towards a certain future. I don't even know what I want my future to be anymore. That's part of it. At least now I believe that I'm going to have a future. That's a step in the right direction! :)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Memoir Writing

Okay, so I was thinking this over this morning while I read the writing lesson for the week and waited for my friend. Writing for me falls into levels of difficulty. Among the genres I commonly write in, there's a clear heirarchy of challenge for me. Listed below, in order from most difficult to easiest:
Proposals and Applications
Nonfiction
Fiction
Memoir
Blog Posts

Probably, memoir is easy for me because most of my blog posts essentially ARE memoir. Just little outputs of words about my life and thoughts.

The assignment for this week is a bit tough. We have to practice writing Memoir based on Time Connections. So I have to think of two completly separate moments in my life - moments that changed me in some way - that are connected despite a big time gap between them. And then draw some reflective lesson from that.

So far, I am completely stumped. I can think of lots of moments. Lots and lots and lots of moments. So far, no two disparate moments are springing up on the slot machine of my mind as a MATCH. Ding ding. Somehow connected across time to give me a lesson. Hmmm.

See how tough that is?

I suppose I could take any two moments and create a connection between them. Obviously there will be some kind of Venn Diagram overlap. But I'm waiting for something to suggest itself.

Shinier

I got my hair cut an hour ago, and now it's all swingy and shiny and fabulous. I took a risk at my last appointment and gave up a good bit of length for a new style (which is actually back to my older style). After several years of having longer, straighter hair, I like the fluff and motion.

Yesterday, I paused after doing my makeup and before going out for my errands. I took a long look at myself in the mirror, and was quite pleased with what I saw. Even though I'm older, even though I have lovely wrinkles and have gained weight, I feel the most beautiful I've ever been in my entire life. I don't often look deeply into my own eyes, but when I do, the fire is still there. The spark of knowing that sets me apart from most of the others, the depth swirling below the amber-gold-green smoulder. The sum of my experiences shines out from me; that's where the beauty comes from.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Three

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I met my lovely friend for coffee this morning. Between the rain and a child-emergency that came up, she was running late. An accident snarled the freeway, and her texts got more frantic.

I called my hairstylist and pushed back my appointment. Then I told my friend to take her time, and waited patiently, writing happily in the warm cafe.

When she arrived, I gave her the untouched half of my breakfast sandwich, as well as my love and attention.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Two

Tuesday, November 28, 2012

We just spent four days with my brother, his wife, my 3 year old gorgeous neice, and my year old adorable nephew. Along with my parents, in an open rented house on farmland tucked away on a hill in Arroyo Grande.

I like my sister-in-law a lot, but she seems to struggle to find her balance in life. From my point of view, she has so many blessings, but she always appears to be overwhelmed, exhausted and unhappy. Caring for two children is a lot of work, so my heart goes out to her.

Since I know that I'll enjoy and benefit from giving for the next month, I thought perhaps a nudge towards generosity might help her as well. My gift today was that I ordered her a copy of the book that got me started: 29 Gifts - How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. I know this book probably won't resonate with her; it will probably be a seed falling on barren ground.

But you never know. Sometimes you just have to cast the seeds and tell yourself that at least you gave it a shot. You tried your hummingbird-best.

And really, that's all any of us can do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day One

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When I pulled into my favorite section of the Target parking lot, I noticed that I had parked next to my good friend's minivan. I scribbled a quick hello note and stuck it on her windshield, and sure enough, we crossed paths in the store as well.

Thirty minutes later, we were both at school, picking up our daughters. Her daughter wanted to come over so I agreed. I just had to go pick up the take-out Thai I had ordered for lunch. Then my friend said that she would come over too, and hang out until the next pick-up time. So I called the restaurant and ordered more food.

My friend took the girls to my house, while I scooped up the hot rice, soup and other goodies. Then, back in my kitchen, I spread it all out on the center island and we had a mini-Thai buffet. Our older daughters joined us after school and it was like a small party.

It wasn't my plan to have people over or to feed them, but it worked out to be a lot of fun.

Seems like I got a few nice gifts today as well.

Exercise 5 Comments

"Okay, no beating around the bush. I’ll just get right to it. This is, hands down, the best memoir piece in the group for this lesson...
Awesome work, Marie!  A huge “thumbs up.”  I’m really happy that you wound up being a part of this class."
*******

I'm not trying to brag here. What I'm doing is capturing my mentor's comments to remind myself to keep writing -- that I have both reasons and talent, and that if I make the space, I have things to say.

It never fails. If I take a class, I WILL sit down by Monday and type out something. No matter how reluctant I am, no matter how I wish to be otherwise engaged. With a deadline, I meet it. Without a deadline, I push it off and don't get to it.

And the stuff I produce under pressure, even with low motivation and not feeling particularly fired up, is usually pretty darn good.

The piece being commented on was a depiction of a family member and our interactions at various points in my life. I liked what I wrote about my aunt so much, and it brought back so many wonderful memories, that I'm thinking of expanding it out and sending it to her children for Christmas.

I guess this is today's gift to me.

Tuesday Quote

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.~ Anais Nin

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reflection on Happiness

On the whole lately, my life has been looking up. My great good news is still sinking in for me, and, wow, is that something to be thankful for!

It's funny to me how quickly and easily I've adjusted to "normal" life -- mostly, because my life was always mostly normal all along. Finding freedom has been like throwing off a huge, heavy, invisible cloak of sadness that was dragging around behind me and hampering my every move. I've had no qualms whatsoever about slipping that cloak off, folding it up, and leaving it laying alongside the road with not a glance backward. It's much lighter and freer without it.

Still... though... I've had some moments of real misery lately. Moments where I questioned everything in my life -- who am I, and what am I doing here, and is this the right place, and should I have chosen differently, and what will I do next, and what do I want to do/be/have/avoid -- all those sorts of existential questions.

I had a bit of insight this week, coming at the end of a vacation that was truly glorious in both its uncomplicated flow and its overall harmonious shift from the day to day dealings of my life. It was a true respite in that all my usual cares were gone, and I was able to think beyond daily survival matters to the big picture. I realized that I have become entirely too dependent on external factors to make me happy. I've fallen into the trap of thinking that if only I had such-and-such, or if my husband were more so-and-so, or if my kids were, or if my house were cleaner, or when I am thinner/healthier/shinier or when I make more money/work more/have fame, etc. etc. etc. THEN I will feel happy.

But that's not true is it?

Either I'm happy or I'm not. It comes from within me. Nothing outside can really create it, or take it away. So if I want to be happy, I simply choose to be so. And then perhaps those other things will follow from that. Or perhaps not. But in the meantime, I will be happy. Contented. Satisfied. Loved. Safe.

********************
In honor of that, and also because I really enjoyed the energy it created this summer, I am going to begin another cycle of giving. If I'm doing my math right, I'll start tomorrow and give every day for 29 days, ending at Christmas. This time I'm talking about it as well as writing, and inviting others to join along with me. Would you like to give for the next month, and see how it feels?

I'll be writing daily about my gifts (at least, I'll do my best).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Exercise 4 Comments

"You absolutely took the lesson ideas to heart, and this turned out well. It’s just what I was looking for in this exercise. But I think you can take it even further. I’m thinking you have a marketable idea for a nonfiction article here, since most readers won’t know much about rats."

Sigh.

Yep. That's what I was noticing too. It was an easy 2000 words, and I have plenty more to say. I guess I should take this advice and try to expand it out and sell it.

Seems vacation is ending, and it's back to writing for a living next week...

Tuesday Quote (a bit late)


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~ Scott Adams

Tuesday Quote (a bit late)


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~ Scott Adams

Monday, November 19, 2012

Checkmark

1700 words about Phoebe Blue in just over an hour. Yeah.

Monday - Family Travels and Writing Tasks

It's Monday, and we're on vacation.

For the first time in a year, I didn't teach yoga this morning. Feels a bit weird, and like today is still Saturday or Sunday. I suppose time always blurs somewhat when you're traveling around and staying in a new place.

It's been a busy few days. Mostly nice though. We made the drive in the fastest time ever, and I feel that this year is the most mellow vacation that our family of four has ever had. The girls are old enought to be self-responsible and able to travel well. My parents are aged and slower than before, and my brother's family is still all the wacky fun and drama of getting together with two toddlers. Case in point, the one year old threw up at lunch today, in the restaurant. Boy, I do not miss those days!!

So, pretty much par for the course.

It's surreal to do the same things year after year, and yet still do them differently as well. I don't even know what I feel this year. less exhausted and stressed out than in previous years, I suppose. I'm more calm and balanced. But I'm not as excited to be here either. Maybe just because I've done it before, or maybe because my own usual life is pretty much this fun. One more year we've cruised through every city along the coast. One more year of Santa Barbara and the tunnel, the vineyards, the hills rolling into the distance and dotted with cows. Betteravia Avenue again with the old, abandonned white house on the hill by the freeway and wondering what it's story is and if I want to try to write a story about it. Watching the girls play with their cousins, and watching the rain fall, the fog roll in, and today, the sun shine on the glinting, moving ocean.  This rented house is on a farm, and white board fences are sloping away all around the property while a breeze blows in, lifting the curtains of the room where everybody is napping or reading. My dad is snoring softly, which is cute, and the only other sounds are my fingers tapping at the keys, the occasional turning of a page in someone's novel, and some distant lawnmower noise from a few farms over.

I would be reading too, but I have a piece to write for my class, due tonight. So I'm taking advantage of the lull to get my thoughts going. I really don't want to be writing it at 11:00 pm when everyone else goes to bed, something I've done before.

Today's topic is Love. Any kind of love. Write about one of the stages of love (beginning, growth, challenges, end), how you felt, your life at the time, physical descriptions and dialogue, and your perspective now. I haven't decided yet what to write about. So I thought I'd just sit here and type while my unconscious mulled it out.

My family? My brother, since he's here with me? Who or what else do I truly love? My children, but that seems awfully obvious. Maybe a hobby or interest. Reading? yoga? Writing seems too cliche. SAme for work - I don't think I want to write about the past. I haven't loved many partners and I don't think I want to do anything with romantic love anyway. I could write about a pet? Or a friend? Usually I like my pets, and I'm fond of them, but I don't adore them and become inseperable. But I probably could do a good piece about Phoebe, my rat. She truly is adorable and I haven't written about her yet.

I don't know. Is that weird? I get some ideas there of how I could structure the piece. I'd start with the beginning, seeing her photo online from the breeder, adopting her, wanting to write about her. Talk about bringing her home. Yeah, I like it. It's fun, it's not heavy or depressing. It captures a part of my life, and it helps me to think about her to support my other stories. Okay, my pet it is.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just the Usual Tasks

I just don't have much to say lately.

I'm in one of those cycles where I'm super busy, so I'm literally ticking through 20 and 30 item to do lists each day. One daughter's on vacation all this week, so it's been fun to have her with me. She's a good, quick helper as I try to get errands done.

I've been working with the two other bridesmaids to pull together a quick shower for our friend. It's taken a lot of time to find the location, plan a theme and get invitations made. We're all caught up though and on a good track now. December is booking up fast. In addition to this shower, I'm invited to two others, plus a big dinner party, plus hosting a dinner party and that's just two of the weekends in the month.

We're traveling this weekend and I'm trying to get everything ready for the trip, as well as leave the house completely clean so that we can come back and move right into Thanksgiving. We're cooking for our families as usual, so I have to even grocery shop for everything before we leave.

I also take the Christmas presents for my brother's family, so I've been working to bring those out of storage and get them sorted out and wrapped, along with gifts for my father's birthday, and our small family celebration, all of which we'll do this weekend as well.

And I've been making sure the car is ready. Got it washed, fixed the alignment, rotated the tires, that kind of thing. There's a lot of errands in day-to-day life.

Also, I went through all our credit cards and got updated amounts, and figured out how to shift some balances around for optimal stability as we pay those down. And I had to find all the recent home sales in our section of town and send a report on that to the bank as part of our effort to refinance. The appraisal on our home came back surprisingly low, $50,000 below the actual October selling price of the identical house behind us, so I'm trying to see if they'll re-evaluate that. Otherwise, no refi.

Sometimes I'm really not sure if I work in writing or finance. Depends on the day I suppose.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Memoir - Exercise 3 Comments

" I really do enjoy your work, Marie. You’ve probably figured that out by now. This is an excellent exercise." -

Just the kind of validation that my mind particularly enjoys...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Yes, Yes, Yes!!!

I just got off the phone.

First of all, my longest term client said that they love working with me, that I'm a great value, and that they definitely plan to continue throughout 2013. Good!

Second, my old boss called. She has a massive new client coming on board and totally wants me back working with her. As long as all goes well with them, I GET MY JOB BACK! Yay. Double YAY!! It really sucked being laid off, and I was totally depressed. Plus I missed collaborating with M every week.

Looks like I'll be entering 2013 with viable employment and the ability to help support my family.

It ALWAYS turns out like this when I sign up for a writing class. It's like Magic. No sooner do I make the commitment to push my skills forward then new opportunities open up.

Hmm, I'm Not Sure if This is Helping...

So when I have a lot to do -- in other words, every day -- I like to make to do lists. It helps me relax and focus if I get all the items out of my mind and down onto paper. It's almost a way of releasing them from my thoughts.

On paper, I can see the scope and range of tasks, and I can sort items by priority, time-sensitivity, and ease of completion. I usually make a numbered list in three or four big categories, like Work, Home, Finances, Other, then go down each list in order getting stuff done.

Typical, right?

So this week, I've had so much on my mind, I just keep making to-do lists. I have five, yes five, separate lists sitting on my desk now. They all contain pretty much identical items, with maybe a few outlier tasks here or there.

It's so funny. I don't even know WHICH of the lists I'm supposed to be following.

So the first thing I have to do today? Make a new collated list that incorporates everything, and throw the others away. Hmm, no wonder I don't get stuff done.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Twist

An interesting day so far.

I went out with a good friend last night, more for the sake of putting the effort into nurturing the friendship than from a real need to be out. Since she lives 100 miles away, it meant driving 50 miles through the dark to meet for dinner, then 50 miles back later than my usual bedtime. I was tired, but glad to see her. But sad that her life isn't better. It felt weird to drive alone at night. I am hardly ever alone. It's odd for me to know that this is how some people's lives are all the time. I try to imagine that, but it's hard for me. I'm sure it gets tiresome and lonely, but sometimes it seems sort of restful from my point of view.

Anyway, because of the late night (no alcohol though), I was dragging this morning. I really didn't want to go to the Grant training I had signed up for. I wanted to go back to sleep. Or maybe do laundry. But I didn't. I got dressed up and then I drove 30 miles and found the location.

Then I sat in my car. And tried to convince myself to go in. A little voice in my head said, You could just turn around and go home. It's not too late!

A more sensible voice said, Well, if you were going to do that, you should have just stayed home. It's silly to waste an hour of driving time.

I sat there with my eyes closed. For a few more minutes, I breathed deeply and gathered my strength. Then I pushed myself forward and went into the class.

A turning point.

Experience has taught me that usually, even if I don't want to do things for my own good, they reap rewards and later I am glad that I made the effort. It's all part of my strategy for making my own luck. Creating opportunities in my life by showing up ready for them.

And I think I probably did. The training itself wasn't very good. The presenter was nice but disorganized. I picked up a few tips that made it worth my time. More important though, is that it gave me another opportunity to network. I volunteered to help write grants for a nonprofit that helps nonprofits. It will give me experience, exposure, more contacts. Also, with any luck and skill, it will lead to them paying me over the long run.

All part of making more business for myself. Like I said, usually you have to get out and make your luck.

I think I'll write about that moment in the car as a turning point for my memoir assignment this week. I have the feeling I will look back on it and know that it was yet another moment when my life slightly altered its course. The turning point that is still in progress.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Poison in the Candy

Halloween's come and gone again. And with it, a blizzard of corn syrup-based treats that no one really needs to be eating. We have bags and bags of the stuff crammed into our cupboards, but mostly we're ignoring it. I think intuitively your body knows that it doesn't really want to eat that much candy. Oh sure the incredible sweetness and the orchestrated flavors beckon to the tongue. But it's just crap. It literally poisons you.

Just like the Siren in the waters, or the fairy cavorting in Spencer's castle, the candy draws you near. You think you want it; you even think you need it. But it's just a disease that feeds other diseases. It just leaves you worse off than you started.

Fool's Game

The trap of wanting more and seeking more

Another of the Things I Am Free to Do

Good morning, world!! It's another beautiful day here, at my green writing desk.

Welcome to this little journey I like to call the ongoing saga of my life. Another day, and it continues forward. What will the next hours bring?

The election is behind us, and now we go forward in the direction chosen. While I am personally quite, quite pleased with the results, I am sensitive to that fact that half of my fellow Americans aren't. I think, more than who are leader is, the challenge before us is to come together in dialogue and understanding, to compromise and move together instead of to continue to demonize each other.

Sure, it hurts when others don't agree with us, or see things our way. But I think we can do a lot better than pointing fingers and calling names. And buying into so much fear. No matter what, we're going to be okay.

I am absolutely thrilled just to have voted and been a part of something so historic and interesting. It's nice to play a role, even a tiny one.

Wednesday here, how about for you? Just sitting here at my desk fills me simultaneously with peace and dread, so that's always a potent mix. It makes it hard not to opt for Target instead. Target trips are always easy for me; they're straightforward -- follow the list, get the stuff, enjoy the browsing, appreciate the clean, bright, colorful atmosphere, go home with a task satisfactorily completed. Writing and work is nothing like that. I'm never sure what I'm doing. I'm never sure that what I'm doing is what I'm supposed to be doing. I have no clear direction or target and it's hard to choose among equally good goals of blogging, storycrafting, proposing, and research. So I tend to fill a small swell of panic rise up, and I usually just want to run, run away, run away to something more comfortable.

But there's lots to be gained in simply sitting with discomfort. And, so, here I am.

My brain's been extra needy lately. Chemicals drained down by busyness, stress, and whatnot. I find myself looking for those quick boosts - a little sugar, a little online connection, exercise. Haven't actually been shopping much which is a usual mood booster for me. I must actually be concerned about our finances. Gasp.

One thing I've noticed is that my web habits are not really giving me the returns I'm looking for. I need to find a community of people where I can get a social boost by clicking to them. Or some consistently compelling sites to read. Something. It's been a letdown to look for something satisfying and not find it.

I think I'm pulling myself back together though. After a while of searching for answers outside of me, I'll turn inward. Find my own satisfactions. Write my own words to read, just for myself, readers aside. there's a lot of power in that, in being able to feed yourself when you're hungry. The trap of wanting more and seeking more is just a fool's game. (Note to self - story idea).

Today, though, today I am rebuilding my contentment. I am having peace and sunlight, dappled through the bush outside my window. I am counting my blessing, practicing gratitude. And next, I am reaching out to loved ones to make good energy. Time and time again in my life, I have made my luck, made my opportunity appear, by reaching forward in faith. It's happened again this week. No sooner did I start a writing class, simply committing my energy to improving, no sooner did I complete the first assignment, then I got an unexpected email from my old boss. The one who laid me off two months ago. She wants to phone conference on Friday, and she said she has good news. I'm hoping that means that work has picked back up and that she needs me back in some capacity!

Also on the good side, I'm busy planning the bridal shower for my friend whose wedding I will appear in during January. Her other two bridesmaids and I are in a flurry of research and emailing, trying to select a venue for 20 ladies to celebrate this joy. We hope to settle on plans by the weekend and get the invitations out for an event date of early December. Yay, yay. Plus potential new friends that I haven't met yet!!

I'm not even trying here. You know that right? I am simply being, simply being as honest as I can as I move from topic to topic. Trying would look really different. Trying would probably work. I don't want anything to work. On a related but different note, I was browsing the magic section of B&N (yes, they have one) and thumbed through a book of love spells. In my opinion, most love spells are wrong, wrong, wrong! Trying to compel someone to do or feel something, particularly by magic, is a misuse of energy and potentially harmful to all. Only through their own free will should people enter into love or other craziness, not because you ground something up and put it in their drink. Such a violation of physical and emotional boundaries!! Yuck. It's so distasteful to me.

When I write, I feel that my soul is slowly expanding. It is as if I were settling down into the calmest, most peaceful and contented part of myself. It's a powerful practice, even if I don't say much of anything in particular. I enjoy it, that's what matters. Maybe money will come; maybe not, but in the meantime, it makes me feel looser, happier, and more hopeful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exercise Comments

And the final sentences are:

"It’s so good to be reading your work again. Nice job with the lesson, Marie. Great narrative voice and a good look at an accomplishment."

Ahh. See that's not bad at all. I picked an accomplishment that didn't hold that much emotional power for me and so it was a bit of challenge to write about. Sometimes you're just not in the mood to share the Big Stuff. But I think I handled this competently, and that's what matters a lot. It's fairly easy to write the powerful stuff -- the mundane is much harder. (And it's what I need to do well as most proposals aren't particularly emotionally compelling to me.)

Flow

I feel impatient with my day today. It's 1:30 and I haven't yet started "to work."

And yet that's because I have been involved with things that are both important and involving. I've accomplished dozens of small tasks already today. I fear I'm not giving myself enough credit for them.

Among the tasks: breakfast, lunch, dishes, trash, drop off, pick up, drop off (again), check on polling place, clear daughter's absences, ortho appt, lunch date, texting sick friend, texting other friends, dinner plans for tomorrow, registered for grant training, called about refinance, and so on.

The best thing I've done by far today is pick my daughter up from school and take her to get her second and final set of braces. Another two years, another 22 payments, and our kids are done. The newer car we probably should have bought by nowis in their mouths, but I think it's worth it. A lifelong investment in beauty and health for their best interests matters more than daily transport. Also, even though I have tons of things to do, I made time to take her out for a special lunch before I took her back. You're only 11 once, and you only get braces once, and I will always, ALWAYS have a long list of things waiting for me to do them. That time together is precious and my first priority.

I've been feeling a bit blue lately, and confused. I know it's from having so much on my mind. It's become clear to me as I work with this refinance process - which is looking very dubious right now - that while I may have attained legal freedom, I still am not free financially. Au contraire, I am very, very expensive! (Get it, it's a finance pun. Ah hahahaha...) I meant, I am quite committed. We are in almost over our heads with costs and debts, and I will have to work very, very hard in the next few years if I want to turn that around. Ah well. One hurdle at a time. At least now I'm free to find better work options. And there are a few bright lights on the horizon...

My comments just came back from my writing teacher on yesterday's memoir submission. I think I'll read them and (hopefully) encourage myself. Good day.

Quote by Hart Crane

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them,
to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.
 ~ Hart Crane

Hi Blog!

I miss you, blog!!!! I had all these great posts in mind... and now I can't remember any of them. There's so much in my mind it feels like my ability to think has turned into a big bowl of mush. Sleepy mush.

Warm golden corn mush drizzled with honey and a pool of melting butter. Mmmm...

"Goodnight, mush. And goodnight to the old lady whispering hush..."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Speed Writing

I forget, when I'm not taking classes, just how quickly I can write when I AM taking a class. And have an assignment due.

I started my memory of an accomplishment last night and finished today. A cool 1000 words jotted down in between CBTL and lunch at the sandwich shop. Total time working - probably less than 90 minutes. And it came out pretty well too. Once I had my topic and got a good start, the rest of it came together with a nice focus.

It just surprises me that I can write several pages so quickly. I mean I know I write fast on this blog. But this is just a blog. It's top of my head, when I have something to say. The posts don't have to hang together or have any consistency, or even any point.

I got to thinking about that. If I wrote just 500 words per day, I'd have 150,000 words easily over the course of a single year. That's a good size novel or nonfiction work. Just one single hour of writing for the same goal each day and I would be churning out submissible items. Hmmm. When writing is really so accessible to those who know how to do it, you have to wonder what's holding the ones who could do it but don't back?

For the love of God, or at least the love of writing, we should all be nicely saying to ourselves: please, please write something more. Let those words out there into the world!

The Keeper of Cares

[Stream of Consciousness Post - Deleted]

Because...well...stream of consciousness often isn't that coherent. Nor is it necessary.

My problem is I've gotten very used to posting to this blog. To the point where I don't feel that I've processed something unless I've written and posted it. Usually that's just fine. But occasionally I have thoughts that are not public (shocking, I know) and that I want to express simply for my own good. Then I have a bit of an issue. I dance along the line of private-public expression anyway, on my best days.

But I particularly like the title of this post, so I want to keep it and remind myself to write something around it.

I've been immersed in fairy tales lately. I've always loved them and as a girl I read thousands of them, countless anthologies worth. Lately I've been reading some updated versions as well as netflixing Once Upon a Time with the family. There's something so elemental about fairy tales, something very basic in their narratives, their tropes, and in the broad human struggles that they depict in simple terms.

Often

By the time I get to my desk in the morning, and sit down and write a list of all the different things that are crowding around in my mind, calling out to me to take care of them today...

I am already tired out!

Sometimes the sheer amount of work that I have waiting for me to get to it is simply overwhelming. And lots of it isn't even what I consider my "real" job. The majority is little life tasks that I must do. Like on today's list, I have 10 items related to house, family or finances -- that will be five to ten hours of work today right there. Plus I teach on Mondays, another job that I don't really count as my "real" one, more of a low-paid indulgence for me. A good deal of the work I do is tasks that must be done over and over again. Cooking meals, doing laundry. Dusting. Sometimes it's like running around on a hamster wheel, just cycling back through the same places. But it matters. And that's pretty much a metaphor for life in general, so...

Oh well. I just tell myself to take it one task at a time, one step at a time, and to try to enjoy the process all along the way. I have a grant application that I've been stuck on for a looooonnnnggg while. Today I'm going to try to just answer one question at a time, one paragraph at a time, and then leave it and move on to something else. There's like 20 questions, so I should be able to have it done by Friday.

On an upbeat note, I think I'm going to enter into two consecutive energetic cycles. After the tremendous drain of October, I feel ready to devote some energy in an intentional way again. So I think from now to November 27, I will do 22 days of  cleaning and clearing out. Each day I'll get rid of some clutter or disorder that is weighing me down.

Then from November 27 to December 25, I want to celebrate all the blessings in our lives with another 29 days of giving cycle, with a focus towards Christmas charity and cheer.

(Is my math right on those? I counted them out this weekend, but I'm too lazy to go check a calendar right now.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Memoir One

I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again -- writing memoir is not as easy as I think it will be. Geez, there's a lot of work that goes into this!! I can see how the revision process is endless.

I always think memoir will be a piece of cake, because it's only my own experiences and memories but it's so hard to get the scope of the memories right. How much time to spend on each detail, what to put in and what to leave out -- it's just tricky.

I'm working right now on my first assignment, since I joined the class a week late. We have to write about an accomplishment. The teacher says to cover four steps in showing a reader something big or little accomplished by you:
1. Why did you have that goal?
2. Show the process
3. Disappointments and Surprises along the way
4. Achievement and how that changed you

I'm trying to write about learning to speak French, and eventually even earning French friends and a social group with my language skills.

But, again, it's not easy to get all the way from high school to my 40s and keep it narrative as well!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writing Support

One joy of having a bit less on my mind is that I find myself turning my focus back to my writing. I'm picking up the pace in my work routines; I'm enrolled for a class in Memoir, which should be a great fun trip over the next month; I'm plunging ahead with my new children's stories; and now, best of all, I can pull out all my previously written work and finally, finally!, get it into an aggressive submission cycle under my preferred pen name. Yay and double yay!

Don't know if you've noticed but I like to support my writing by keeping up with current trends and topics. So, the bloglist on the right was updated about a month ago, and now includes a nice smattering of sites with ideas and comments about living with writing as a lovely companion. Just if it interests you, reader. But I know that most of you do enjoy writing, or you wouldn't read this blog. : )

Carefully

With the hullabaloo of Halloween fading away, my mind can turn even more to my present and future hopes and plans. I awoke this morning overjoyed to be in November - although I loved October well - and found the world wrapped in cool, soft mist to carry in the season.

It is such a relief to wake up happy and not anxious or depressed. Just calm, and a bit curious to see how the day unfolds. I still have plenty of errands and such to occupy me, but work is pretty slow right now, which I think is a blessing, all things considered. I know I haven't had much dedication or focus lately, but I also haven't screwed up with any clients thanks to the lull.

My husband and I have found time for some good talks, as we work out what all my new-found freedom means. He's just slightly apprehensive, and understandably so. For the first time in 15 years, I do not HAVE to stay married to him! He asked me the other day, "So you're not going to run off and start a new relationship, are you?" in an only slightly joking manner.

"No, honey, I am not going to run away to a new life. I like this life - and you - and I'm going to stay here."

While the fanatasy of fleeing everything and all may sometimes be a comforting emotional concept, in real life, I have never seen that work well for anyone involved! Relationships have a way of holding on to people, and not being so easy to escape.

I went on to restate my preference. "All I want now is just a good friendship with D. I mean, in effect, we already are friends. But I'd prefer it that all three of us shared a friendship in a good, healthy way."

And my husband looked at me and said, "You keep talking about friendship. But you have to understand something. I have no idea what you mean by that. I mean, think about it Marie. I don't have any other friends -- all I have is you."

And that floored me. It is absolutely true. My husband really doesn't know how to have and keep a friend. Sure he has co-workers that he is friendly with, and he has my friends, and the girls' friends' parents. But the longer term people in his life -- his parents, his relatives, his old friends -- they have all faded away. Wow.

He continued, "Besides D and I really were friends. Once."

Poor guy. I forget that he's not me. Lost in my own head, it's easy to overlook that he is quite a different kind of person.

But friends. Friends are the seasoning that add flavor to life's meals. Friends are the people you can count on long term to care for you and to give and take with you. To be a friend is no small mark of honor and shows tremendous trust. In the past, for D and me, we could never figure out a way to be what the other wanted and needed, what the other deserved. Trying to do so was only crazy-making and painful. But a friendship celebrates the long term relationship between two people; it honors their care for each other. It recognizes that there are simply people in the world to whom you have entrusted a part of your heart, and that you believe that you hold some portion of theirs as well.

So you try to hold it carefully. And with good intent.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

It's a beautiful day so far...

Last night I could hardly sleep. Even though I was tired, I felt excited about today, and just the season in general. Light from the full moon poured silver through the open windows along with the melody of cool autumn night air and transformed our home into an extraordinary space.

With a little juggling this morning, we got two girls into costumes and to their schools on time, and I made it back for the start of the day costume parade. It's my last year as an elementary-school mom, and it was great to stand on the playground, snapping photos of B with her friends, chatting with my friends, and the moon still hovering in the morning sky.

Still to come today - pumpkin carving and putting on other costumes. Friends and family coming to share dinner with us and then trick or treat throughout our neighborhood. Lots of candy and flickering candlelight and the dark October sky. I always like October but I have to say that this is the best one ever.

The spirits move in autumn, along with the winds. This year, that energy has been extremely powerful again.

A good day to you and yours and wishes for all the transformations and regenerations that you desire.

From Truman Capote -

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music the words make. ~ Truman Capote

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Upbeat

Something has just occurred to me. It may be that you are in the habit of reading this blog to get a little dose of busyness and cheer. That's my usual MO, after all. With just a sprinkling of moodiness and a nod towards the literary to make it interesting.

So perhaps the last month, as I alternately sulked and ranted hasn't been the best reading experience. Sorry about that!

I know that I have a variety of sites I check in with during the day, when I just need a little mood lift or a bit of intellectual stimulation. (And apparently cute kittens are a thing?) So if I've let you down lately, I promise to reform.

The bottom line is this: for all my worrying and for all the struggle, things turned out OKAY. Things turned out great actually! In the end, everything does work out. Things get better; problems get resolved. Hope and love continue. Sure, maybe it doesn't all work out the way you planned, or even the way you hoped it would, but it does turn out pretty okay.

And the world continues. Often beautifully.

One of the lovely tasks on my to do list right now is sending out thank you emails and cards to my many friends. Throughout all my ups and downs, there were people who stood with me and gave support in a wide variety of ways. Even you, readers, by taking part of this journey with me. I count you among my dear friends. I even count this blog as a friend. It is there for me, unfailingly, and always provides a place to express, to consider, or to celebrate my life.

And that's a very good thing, isn't it? : )

All Joking Aside...

Last week, the girls and I were in Barnes and Noble. Despite their protests, I stopped at the seasonal display of picture books.

"I know you're too old," I said. "This is research. I have to keep up with what's out there!"

I picked up some horrible Halloween board book. The title thankfully escapes me, but I remember something about a lumpy pumpkin. Which sounds way cuter than the book was.

"How is this even a book?" I was disgusted. "It doesn't rhyme, there's no regular pattern. It's not even cute!"

"Hey, Mom," chimed in my oldest daughter. "How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"I don't know. How many?"

"Four. One to change the lightbulb, and three to stand around and say, 'I could have done that better.'"

Okay, okay. Point taken...

Writing Class

And while I'm thinking about writing...

I got other great news this week. I got into the online writing class I wanted! Someone had to drop out so I got first choice at the spot and gladly accepted. It's the Memoir class too which is absolutely perfect.

Just the night before I had been thinking that I had a lot of events to write my way through recently. Now I'll have some prompting and some accountability over the next seven weeks to make sure I stick with it.

That's good, cause I'm sure I've got a lot to say.

Day Before Halloween Calm

Good morning!

Tuesday today, and a good day to get a variety of things done. A friend texted this am to ask what I'm doing today, and I said, Making lists to split the hours between errands, yoga, and work. Yay.

After all the prep and the big party on Saturday, it almost feels to me like Halloween is already over. But it's not so there are a few more preparations to make today. I'm going to Target next to return the unused decorations and to lay in a few more bags of candy. Because it's a midweek holiday, I'm expecting more trick or treaters than normal. Usually if it falls on a weekend, people are more busy with parties and don't hit the neighborhoods as hard. We'll see.

Family friends and my parents are coming over to carve pumpkins with us, then share a meal and trick or treat. I probably should pick up some little gifts for our closest neighbors today.

I keep thinking of more and more things - both big and little - that I can actually do now! My informal list is up to five or six dozen things that I was inhibited from before. Even putting up decorations seems easier and less scary! Plus now I really do have to make some decisions about my professional writing name and platform.

Just got interrupted by a call from the Title company. He's trying to clear the title for our refinance. The appraiser was here yesterday. Assuming I can get motivated to pull all the docs and financial records together this week, we should be moving ahead pretty soon. The title guy needed to confirm our data. He also wanted to know about a 2008 judgment against me, which of course, isn't mine. That's the bad part of having such a common name. With this tough economy, so many people have defaulted on their bills that we get contacted ALL the time by creditors looking for people with names like ours. Sometimes it's nice having a common name and sometimes you need to stand out from the others!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The First Week of a New-Old Life

What a weird weekend! I am still trying to wrap my mind around everything. What I mainly feel now is a huge flood of relief and a sense of the surreal.

The friends I've told so far are all overjoyed for me and expect me to be celebrating. But I haven't even opened the champagne. All I'm doing so far is being very slow and deliberate, sticking to safe routines. Friday was really a draining, stress filled day. Although my mind knows that this is very, very good, my body had a whole panoply of fear-PTSD reaction just from being back in the same physical setting. The circularity of it all was eerie.

I keep thinking of things I am now able to do, just more and more little freedoms, and oddly, it just makes me realize how very oppressed and fearful I was on a daily basis. Like I said, it hasn't fully sunk in. I'm almost afraid to trust it too quickly.

I intentionally let my older daughter plan a Halloween party for Saturday night. Her first teen party, but girls only. Just gathering her peers for fun. I figured if I was depressed it would take my mind off of it, and if I was happy, then a party would be great. So as it was I had the wonderful, pressing needs of prepping a party to give me activiy and routine and social expectation while my body has sort of processed all of this.

I just got back from taking the court paperwork to the official agency, and I have to jump through a few more hoops and then there will be some delays in processing, etc. But I don't think that will matter much -- my life was able to move along pretty smoothly before -- and I have papers to carry with me to verify that I am indeed free!!

Again, thanks so much. In the end, the support I received did help quite a bit with my emotional stability. I'm probably going to wind up taking down all of my posts related to these issues - erase my own traces of my past  - although that's only a small percentage of this blog so it will be here. As I move forward. Slowly. And carefully.

But gladly! : )

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thankful!!!!!!!

Well, it happened! It was a challenging morning, but it could not have gone any better. After the airport-like process of beige waiting, we sat in the remodeled, wood-paneled county room to find out that my future is open to my own designs.

I am FREE!!!!!!

No more lists, no more past. No more recriminations, no more restrictions. No MORE LIMITS!!! I can go where I want, when I want. I can talk, I can help, I can travel. I can wander in the park, where I guarantee you I will be this week again after such a long absence!

My hard work and responsible behavior of the last decade has paid off. My youthful mistake is finally behind me, and from here, my future looks like a much more welcoming and possible place to live in. It's been an arduous path over the years, and slogging through it has been far from easy, but now, now I have reached the destination that I hardly dared to hope for.

Thank you for all of your support -- thank you to all who believed in me and gave me the chances and the hope I so needed!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Relief

Oh my heavens.

I'm actually working again. Actually able to put the words on the page, and send the pages off to clients. It's the first time I've been able to work in a month, and it's definitely helping me feel better by being engaged in something intellectual and outside of myself.

I have a new trick. Realizing that the intellectual focus of writing probably depletes or unbalances my brain chemistry, now when I get tired, I open up the files of our photos and look back at scenes of fun things I've done in my life. I read yesterday that even calling up a happy memory stimulates serotonin production.

Now I finally understand why so many workers spend time at their desks looking at videos of kittens playing. I mean, cats are cute and everything, I like them, but I never got that as an interest before. But it's probably recharging their wiring somehow, isn't it?

People, and life, are endlessly fascinating.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Life and Dreams

Here's something I've noticed about my schedule. If the slightest bump or extra task gets thrown like a monkey wrench into the running works of my daily routine, it grinds things to a halt in some area -- usually my computer work or my writing since those are the least time sensitive and daily survival based uses of my time.

So, I've had to add in visits to a sick friend, plus the girls' shortened day schedules for the last two weeks, plus some mood disorder, and I haven't kept up here.

It seems that the slightest stumble in my work path sends me reeling forward with such momentum that it is days before I completely regain my balance and get back to a routine. That happens time after time, and I really don't know what to do about it except keep stumbling forward and gaining my balance.

With altered schedules, babysitting help for a friend, cleaning around the house, getting my car into the shop, keeping up with my yoga teaching, and doing extra care with my own kids, I am shocked to see that it has been more than a week since I have even touched my computer. How can that be? I always feel that I am just about to get to it next, and then something else comes up and something else and then sleep and then wake up and get the day started... and...whisk!... days pass.

Even now, during my "work" time, I've had to spend almost two hours at my desk sorting through mail, paying bills and balancing out our accounts to be sure that we are on time with everything. It's a little bleak, too. Yikes.

The bad news about my car is that the transmission is leaking and the engine mounts all need to be replaced to the tune of about $800 or the engine will eventually dislodge. The good news is that the transmission is under warranty, and in removing it to repair it for free, it exposes the engine mounts and cuts the cost of labor so that repair is down from $1,200. Yay? I suppose it's more good than bad. At least my car should stop shaking when I drive it.

I've had odd dreams lately. For the last few weeks really. Vivid dreams, sometimes nightmares about fire or losing someone. My sleep has been restless. Then I wake up. Morning again.

I don't know. My brain sorting through general anxiety? Working through remnants from the past? Trying to make sense of the confusion of it all? Maybe wondering if things could have been different somehow. I'm tired of feeling confused.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Persevere, Just Persevere

It's really been an up and down month for me. Yesterday, I let a misunderstanding with a friend really throw me into the pit of swirling negative emotions. I'm not sure why it was such a trigger for me. Maybe I felt a bit blindsided -- or maybe I felt underappreciated.

She's not been the best of friends to me; usually the giving runs from me to her, and rarely the other way round, so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that she was willing to be critical of me.

What I was surprised by was the strength of the anxiety that hit me and how completely unmoored I felt. I had nightmares, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, worthlessness, obsessive thinking, self-doubt and defensiveness. All of this running through my head on the big day of the nonprofit conference, where I needed to be at the top of my game, project good energy, and network my way to future employment. I didn't like the way my thoughts felt at all; I tried my best to see them as only stories and to stop them or change them.

In the meanwhile, I did a surprisingly good job at the conference. While the ooey-gooey center of me just wanted to run home to bed and snivel below the covers, my polished exterior sat in trainings, took notes, smiled, asked questions, made jokes, chatted with complete strangers and handed out business cards. I even generated a list of pertinent topics to write articles about for my upcoming business website. So it was a hugely successful day. Mostly it was successful in that I didn't quit and I didn't cave in to the internal pressure.

Today, I took it easier. I had a nice visit with a true friend, and she was appropriately indignant on my behalf, validating, protective and loving. I feel ever so much better. I also see that I am still here, still going, and still working.

If she wants to take it back and be my friend, fine. And if not, fine for that too. I do have loads of other people in my life.

So, there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Friendship Trial

My friend just called. I answered because I thought it might be an urgent situation, some sort of emergency with her kids. It was an emergency but just that she had a free hour in middle of day and was feeling super depressed. She's been trying to get back in touch with her ex-boyfriend and start the crazy all over again.

It is really hard to love and support her through this. I'm like, You were miserable. You have to stop. I mean how many times can she create the same situation to suffer through? Even I, even I with my tendancy to hold on to the past and my obsessive brain, even I am moving my life forward and transforming the nature of an older past into something more healthy and different. You can't just keep going back to a situation that didn't work for anyone and trying to revive it -- you have to either drop it or change it, right?

So, my sympathy for her is tempered with impatience. Plus I really needed to get back to my work emails!! After 10 minutes or so of unloading, she thought to ask, Where are you?

When I said I was working at CBTL, she actually said, "Oh, okay, good. Then I'm not interrupting anything important."

Ugh!!

Amelioration

As always, giving the difficult feelings permission to be has helped them to abate. After a busy, but good, day yesterday, I awoke this morning to a simpler day, and finally, less of a sense of oppression and dread. It's the first morning in more than nine days where I didn't have somewhere to get to, where I wasn't committed to several tasks, and just the having the space of a few hours to be calm helped to lighten my heart. It's very unusual for me to feel down for a long stretch at a time; usually there's a little spark of hope, of lightheartedness that kicks in, and warms me up. The pilot light of resilence clicking back on and building up a little flame. Usually, I find some humor in the day, and something to enjoy, and then I'm fine. So it worried me a lot lately that while I wasn't extremely low, I was so flat for so long.

But now... now, today, I do feel much better. I have some clearly productive things to do, and that always cheers me. I've registered for an intensive nonprofit conference that will take all day tomorrow. While I know it will be tiring, I also expect to be inspired by spending hours in trainings with hundreds of people in the same field.

Also, just this morning I was thinking about my writing teacher and missing his critique voice. Then I got the email that two new writing courses are starting in a few weeks. Even though money and time are tight, I think I'll sign up for both. It's always true for me that I produce more writing if I am busier and have more to do, rather than the reverse.

And, I got a bit of cheerful news that has helped me to feel less anxious. It does seem to be okay to believe that overall things are going to be okay. And that's what I want to hold on to.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I Am Feeling So...

tied down
responsible
overworked
underachieving
confused
persistently discouraged
scared
sad
afraid to keep hoping
angry for not being better
impatient with myself
hungry for change
wish-filled
tired
sick of school/schedules/errands
domestic
taken for granted
loaded down with the details
unsure
insecure of my ability
determined to do better
afraid to stop striving
sick of money
sick of expense
sick of obligation
tired of feeling off target
wanting to relax
wanting to just be
so close to being/getting/having what I want
frustrated
lonely
untaken care of
weak
resistant
ahh- fuck it

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Whisk of Time

Usually, on Fridays the week is winding down. I feel a bit more spacious and slow as I move through my day. Often by Friday morning, my keyboard is simply calling me, and I plant myself before it and become lost in my own world of words.

But, today, I have made promises to a friend. She's had an unexpected medical crisis and is just home from the hospital with a long convalescence ahead. As a good friend should, I have offered food and support. So today I need to drive to the market, come home, assemble dinner offerings, and drive them to her house. I know it will take most of the day. It's a good thing to do. I'm so glad she's okay. And she's a delight -- I will be glad to see her.

But in the meantime, I have made the terrible, terrible mistake of not leaving my house right away. I have sunk down before this screen and opened my windows to the world and self. And now, I really don't want to go. How I long to simply stay here, to simply stay in place and write! How I resent the so many other errands and tasks that compete for my time every day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Still Scheming

I want to own my own life. I want freedom!

I'm tired of owing. I want to stand on my own two feet, to own what's around me, and not to owe any money to anybody.

I want to be debt free in five years. I'm willing to work hard and cut back and do what it takes. I'm willing to be patient. But I am serious, here. I want to own my house, not have outstanding debts, and be able to fund college for my children.

Five years.

Not that long really. I have lasted through longer stretches than that in my life already.

Okay, I'm forced to refinance our house right now because rates are so low. We lose money if we don't refinance. That has forced me to re-examine all this. I wish we had the money to just pay everything. But we don't. We haven't been saving. We have been living and thriving and enjoying. But that hasn't helped the bottom line of finances.

Soooo.... best strategy from here is to simply stick with all of our payments as currently scheduled. Yes, they are annoying and they are onerous and they take most of our money. But in about 4 and a half years they will be done. In the meanwhile, my income will increase dramatically as my businesses take off. And that needs to be earmarked for saving FIRST. As long as I do that, we'll be fine. Within five years, we can agressively save enough to pay for this house and get college started. Especially if we maximize the girls' educations by pushing into early community college classes and scoring on AP exams. They could potentially finish their first two years before high school ends.

It's a challenge to make this kind of commitment -- it's new territory for me, something I haven't traditionally been that great at. But I haven't been that awful either, so I'm encouraged that I can grow and change. The rewards are clear. Because, really, I really, really want to be free!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Contentment and Age

Today is devoted solely to doing things that I enjoy. Things that make me feel good about myself and life. I've continued my streak of planning and scheming. I find that the best antidote to feeling a bit blue is to shake yourself out, look around you at all the good things, and then make plans for something to enjoy about the future. That gives something to appreciate right now, and something to anticipate in the future.

Just like the best antidote to feeling sorry for yourself is to get out and help other people in need. It's a wonderful dose of perspective.

So far today I have shared toast and tea with my lovely hubby, helped the daughters on their way into the day, driven to schools, walked the labyrinth, watched a guilty snatch of Mad Men (I am up to Season 2 - only five years behind the cultural curve now!), read the paper, tidied the house, cleaned up the older girl's bedroom on the premise that I simply can't take it anymore, taken myself out for my favorite cafe breakfast, and worked in the sunshine on my writing. AND I have started a story.

I decided that I need to just get going with my children's writing. I've been musing and planning for a bit but now I think I need to just pour some words onto paper. Even though they're not quite right, if I get them down, it's something to work with. Then I can draft and revise. And it may be that the characters and plots sharpen up simply by writing them. The stories are so short that it's silly not to just write them and then write them again.

The rest of the day promises to be very pleasant as well. I've been very low key about the whole thing, and haven't really told my friends about my birthday. Some have remembered all on their own, and sent greetings which is very lovely. I just didn't want anyone to feel obliged.

I'll pick the girls up soon then we are booked in for pedicures. And I'm taking them to a silly Halloween movie. Then S is meeting us for a nice dinner out, and we'll take cake back home where a satisfying stack of gifts awaits. Thanks girl-children!! (B grabbed S by the hand and practically dragged him out of the house to go shopping on Monday evening.)

Goals for the Year - designed to create satisfaction and anticipation:

1. Transform and release 44 pounds of weight (and accumulated stresses) - Exercise every day with yoga, walking, or pilates - Bring all measurements under 44 inches.

2. Complete 44 stories or chapters - Write (mostly) daily.

3. Write at least 4 proposals, LOIs, or applications each week.  

4. Earn $44,000.