Jane's table

I've been reading At Home with Jane Austen recently. Well, mostly looking at the pictures, but they are lovely pictures. One of them stood out. It's the picture of the table where Jane Austen wrote most of her novels, or so we are told. It's such a small, simple table and chair in such a small, simple room - a hallway really.

Supposedly she sat at this little table, squeezing in moments of writing here and there as she could, often hiding her work from passersby in the house, who didn't even know she was writing novels, but thought she was writing letters instead.  She was a secretive novelist.

She had no laptop, no Scrivener, no writer's group, no writers conference, no blog, no Twitter, no Facebook. It was just her, and paper and ink, and a table.

And the thought of this cheers me, the sight of this little table. Because before Jane, those stories did not exist. The idea that a humble, unimportant little human being made these incredible stories that people have now enjoyed for hundreds of years - that she sat at this little table writing them, completely unaware of their future reception and her future glory, which she would never experience personally - it's awe inspiring.

Because sometimes as a writer I just feel so dang small. I wonder why I am doing this. I wonder if anyone will ever read what I wrote. And I wonder if anyone will ever enjoy it, much less love it. I wonder if it will ever matter.  Sometimes the daunting nature of it all, the possible soul smashing rejection of it all, makes me want to give up.

And then I think of Jane at that little table. What if she had just given up? She had every logical reason to give up. But she wrote on because of passion, because of love, some inner drive. And millions of people have gotten to enjoy the fruit of that labor.

I'm not saying I'll be the next Jane. But Jane's table reminds me that I have no idea what I will be and it's not really my job to know - it's just my job to follow the muse and enjoy the journey.


Early morning walks and comfort movies

For some reason I woke up this morning before seven. I decided to roll with it, made coffee and went for a walk. The sky was pink, the breeze was cool, the birds were singing and I felt like Keira Knightley in this scene from Pride and Prejudice, in spite of the distant hum of traffic on the highway and the suburban scenery.

I just re-watched that movie this week and it made me wish I could take long walks everyday over the British countryside.

I have to re-watch it every couple of years. It’s one of my comfort movies. Sometimes I need the familiar, something I know I’ll love. But I’ve forgotten just how much I love that movie.

It’s a great story, I mean hello. I have a shamefully documented love of Jane Austen. But for me, this movie transcends that. It’s a piece of art.

It’s an impressionist painting made up of emotion. Every scene is so deliberate - the angles, the costumes, the light, the music. It’s a compressed version of the story. A haiku. Watching the movie feels almost as if you are looking into a tiny dollhouse that’s come to life. And the cast, the cast is amazing too. So many seasoned actors and so many who've blown up since!

I would love to sit down with Joe Wright for a few hours and just talk about how he made the movie and his artistic choices. I have questions, you know?

And I want to go to England.

And of course every time I watch the movie again, it makes me want to read the book again! Ha!

Do you have any movies like this in your life? Comfort movies you turn to again and again?

p.s. It’s now 4:30 in the afternoon and I feel more like this:


Why self-publishing?

So today I've finished editing 8 out of 18 chapters in my novel. More than halfway there. Cause for celebration, don't you think?

Maybe I shouldn’t be celebrating, because I’m nowhere near my original timeline, but I’m moving. Crawling, walking or running - movement is movement.

I still have the same excited energy I’ve had since I started working towards my audacious goal, but I’m starting to get nervous.

The editing and writing part is easy for me. Not so easy are the steps that follow - finding beta readers, creating an author web site, finding a professional editor and proofreader, figuring out how the heck to market this thing. I will admit, I’m a little scared. But I’m still moving!

So I thought I’d address a question… Why self-publishing?

This could be a very long answer, but I'm going to just share a key moment.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time - to go the traditional publishing house route with an agent, or to self-publish an ebook. I’ve heard all sorts of arguments, pro and con on each side. The voices are deafening, the choices confusing. I’ve been debating with myself for YEARS. I’ve been uncertain. I’ve been afraid.

It seems as if it’s lots of hard work and risk and there are no guarantees of any level of success, no matter which road you take.

I was sitting on a Valentine’s Date with my husband, enjoying steak and a glass of red wine, pouring my little heart out, telling him all of my thoughts on the subject when I had a breakthrough.

I realized that I’ve been hoping for an easy, obvious answer - a series of steps I could take that would result in guaranteed success. (Can you hear me laughing at myself? Really. I’m so ridiculous.) But this, of course, does not exist. The fact is the odds of success are against me, no matter what I do. So it doesn’t really matter which path I choose - what matters is that I do something.

And suddenly… I felt free. Free to choose. I don’t have to have the perfect answer, because the perfect answer doesn’t exist.

I chose self-publishing because I don’t want to spend the next two years just trying to find an agent. Ugh. Did I just say that? Yes, I did.

I want to put my work out there. I want people to read it. That’s my dream. I hope it comes true.

I still have doubts. I’m still scared. But I’m moving!


Favorites lately

It's spring! And I'm ready for new things!

Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love. This lovely cookbook just arrived on my doorstep yesterday and I can’t wait to cook from it. Their first cookbook is one of my absolute forever favorites that I always turn to when I want something to be delicious.

As I was searching for a picture of the book cover, I actually stumbled across the designer of the book  cover's web site. Her name is Emily Isabella (what a lovely name, btw) and her work is lovely too.

I've been thinking about book covers lately (shocker!) and thinking how little we know about the actual people who design the art for books. So many books are so enjoyable due to their ingenuity, and yet we know so little about them.

I've stumbled across two other visual artists this week that I love too:

Abstract art by Mark Lovejoy. It’s spring, and I love the riot of color! I just can't resist abstract art.

And I am now obsessed with Emma Block.  I stumbled across her work on Pinterest. So quirky and  evocative. All the things she puts in her work are things I love: bicycles, cafes, baths, Paris, flowers, books, pastries, and feminine romantic sensibilities.

On a deeper note, this is the thing I've read online this week that impacted me the most:
Negativity online: An essay inspired by over 200,000 comments on Design Sponge

This is just such a fascinating topic to me - so many layers here. I’ve struggled with feeling envy, inferiority, confusing what I really value in my own life - from what I see online.

I love beauty, beauty, beauty - in art, in homes, in food, in fashion, in parties, in words - and I love to see it online.

But I also love contentment. I love being happy, right where I am, right now! Being bombarded with visual perfection and high aspiring beauty on a daily basis gives me a bad case of “I-want-itis” and the dreaded blue “lesser-thans”.

I have my OWN triggers online - things that will send me into a spiral of intertwined rage and envy.  If I have to see just ONE more blog or web site talking about “cool moms” or “hip moms” - who seem to be women who are young, beautiful, effortlessly slim, wealthy, NY or LA stylish, designers, or owners of boutiques, etc. who are always doing something in the photo like jumping on a bed in their OH SO killer hiply decorated kids room, having a pillow fight with their adorable and super stylishly dressed child, while being dressed themselves in vintage Pucci, with their perfectly blown out beach waves bouncing in the air - well, I will just scream. (I’m looking at you, The Glow.)

I mean don’t we moms have enough to deal with, without saying “these moms are cool” leaving the implication that if you don’t meet up to their level, well, you’re not. Okay, okay. I’m 40 and I’m still worried about being cool. Pretty lame, huh? I am laughing (blackly) at myself.

Based on this rant, you might notice I might know a little something about the emotions that inspire people to leave negative comments on web sites. But I don’t. Not my thing. But it affects me in my own way. Emotional crap bombs I step into the moment I open up Bloglovin or Pinterest.

It’s getting me thinking, how do I get a little more space from all this, how do I guard my mind from the crap bomb? How do I build contentment, instead of dreaded discontent? (Maybe stop looking at The Glow, I don’t know!)

So much I could say on this, but I just love how thoughtful this article is.

p.s. Looking at The Glow, I want to judge, I want to envy, I feel my bile spilling over.  I think the photographs here are a little like boudoir portraits for motherhood - not really really real, more of a highly crafted and edited view. But with a little distance I could also say it's a portrait of one moment in time, of the beauty of motherhood, of that little golden fading moment that will not last forever, of a mother's love.


Chaos, curves and flow

Dear Writer's Diary,
A progress update...

So, I’ve set my audacious goal, to self publish my novel by June 1. And I’ve been working, I definitely have.

But I'm laughing at myself already. I thought I could do any necessary re-writes and edits on my ENTIRE novel by March 14. (What was I thinking?)

Well, it is now March 12. And I have only worked through Chapter Two. Chapter Two, my friends, Chapter Two. Ahem.

But I’m so pleased with what I’ve done with it - things I can see clearly now after several years of distance - that it’s impossible for me to be upset with how behind I am.

It takes the time it takes. It is what it is. What matters is that progress is happening.

Recently I started reading this book that I so wanted to like. It shall remain unnamed. But by the first chapter I knew I wasn’t liking it. It was a nice premise with a Jane Austen related twist to it, that made me want to like it. But the writing style was just so workmanlike. So dry. Dry bones. No juice. No zest. No quirk. No emotional tug, tug, tugging.

I flipped through the pages, reading a page here and there, hoping to find the words that would pull me in. No dice. I put the book down. I couldn’t bring myself to read any more. Not a word.

But what got me was the fear that I write just the same. All straight lines and no curves.  All “and then he did this and then she said that and then he said this” and no heart-breaking, soul-aching poetry.

It’s hard, because I hear all this advice as a writer to cut, cut, cut, edit, edit, edit, make your work as minimalist as possible, as sleek as a seal, and so I cut and I trim and soon my writing glides through the water frictionlessly, because it has not an ounce of fat on it’s body, but the fat is what makes it juicy, what makes the difference between a humorless, artless, bore and the un-put-downable, unforgettable, underlinable book.

So I’m back, working again, working at the balance between athletic minimalism and chaotic beauty, wanting to find my voice, somewhere in the middle, beckoning my voice to surface, to be brave, be indomitable in the face of literary rules and cliches.

I’ve enjoyed spending time writing again. I wanted my mojo back and I feel like I have it. It is so much easier to find time to write now, here, there and everywhere. Everyday I set a goal to write for 45 minutes, even if it’s only 3 sets of 15 minutes, but I’m finding myself doing much more (when I can).

I’ve forgotten how good it feels when my fingers are on fire, when I’m in the flow, lost in time. I’ve also forgotten how bad it feels to neglect other areas of my life. But everything is a trade off.

On to Chapter Three.


Looking back, looking forward

I haven't written about this in awhile. Motherhood. And my little guy. He's about to turn three. Oh. My. Goodness. We've turned the corner, the baby period is solidly over, the little boy period is fully underway.

Gone are the worries of early days - breastfeeding, slings, swings, blow outs, sleep problems. All of that seems so far away. My heart still aches at the preciousness of those cuddly baby days, but I'm glad to be moving forward. In the past year we've had overnight dates, we were able to travel and take real vacations. He's in Mother's Day Out now and these little breaks mean the world for me.

But it's still hard in totally new ways. He doesn't cry all the time - but he whines, oh, how he whines.  He's very melodramatic - about everything. When he wants something, he WANTS it, and stays on it until he gets it or just wears out. Sometimes he gets worked up, sassy, defiant, aggressive. Sometimes he brims over with little boy energy. The toddler emotions can be intense. I do my best to stay calm in the midst of the storm, but at the end of the day I often feel spent.

There are beautiful parts of this phase too. It's so fun to watch him grow - to watch his vocabulary expand, to listen to him talk about his world with growing sophistication. He's becoming more independent in his play and can spend long stretches of time just playing with his cars and trucks. Speaking of which, he is OBSESSED with Cars, Lightnin McQueen, Mater, etc. It's kind of adorable.

He has grown so big and tall - he's still big for his age. But he has those cute round cheeks, and he loves to snuggle, especially in the morning and at night, and he still demands to be picked up, and he says "I wuv you, mommy," and melts my heart. I look at him sleeping and hold my breath, seeing the relaxed expression on his face, his pale, almost translucent skin, the long light brown fringe of eyelashes. I can't resist taking pictures of him when I find him asleep. He's so beautiful. I love him so much sometimes that it hurts.

I don't know what the future holds, what the next few years will be like as the mother of a preschooler and then a first grader. I do know, that each new phase has new joys and new challenges. I do know, that whatever it is, it won't last forever. It will change, again.

So what have I learned in three years of motherhood? A LOT. Here's a random list:

  • Everything will change, so don't get too attached to anything. Don't ever think I have it totally figured out now. Don't think I ever will figure it out, or reach some stable point where it's not challenging anymore.
  • It is so important to ask for help, to ask for what I need and what I want. Yeah, I'm still working on this one. I don't know why, but it's hard for me.
  • I gotta take care of myself the best I can and not feel guilty about it. I've had to figure out what makes me feel good, what works for me, what my minimum requirements are. What is it that keeps me ticking, what is it that is worth investing in, that will pay me back with energy and endurance? In my case it is sleep, exercise, reading, journaling, date nights and time with friends.
  • The days of long stretches of time to myself are OVER, but I can still fit in little things that I love like audiobooks, a quick visit to a coffee shop or to the library. 
  • It's worth the effort to pull myself together and spend the time styling my hair, putting on makeup, and dress up more.  For the first two years I got pretty frumpy. I've figured out that it's worth it to spend a little time on appearances. It's not a waste of time. I feel the difference. 
  • Motherhood of small children is a season. It will not last forever. But while I'm in it, I have to accept it for what it is, with all of the limitations. This is not a season of aggressive goals. This is not a season of being superwoman. This is a season of long hours, long hauls, and what's needed is patience, flexibility, and most often letting go of unreasonable goals and expectations. 
  • Don't compare myself to other moms. I've had to come to grips with who I am as a person - that my capacity, my gifts, my skills, my needs are not the same as someone else's. I have spent so long feeling inferior because some other mom can have five kids and homeschool them and keep a blog and make homemade bread and handmade gifts for Christmas and who knows what else. I've realized I am not that mom. Not even close. I am in awe of those moms. But I am not one of them. I'm just not built that way. That's not my gift. 
  • Watch my sleep. I've come to realize that sleep has a huge effect on me. For me sleep deprivation can show up as almost depression, a heaviness, an inability to cope. I will wonder why I'm feeling that way until I remember "Oh yeah, Will was up twice last night and I'm missing a few hours of sleep".  I've struggled with "tired and wired" syndrome - where I need sleep, but can't relax. The more sleep deprived I am, the more pressure I feel, and thus the more anxious and frustrated that I can't just flip the switch and make it happen. I've had to learn how to wind myself down, just like a baby, with dim lights and a bedtime story! I can't always control how much sleep I get, but to just be aware helps. It also helps to regulate my caffeine.  I'm super caffeine sensitive and while I love the jolt of energy it can make me edgy and bring on insomnia.
  • Loosen up the reigns. Don't try to control everything. In the early days of motherhood I wanted to figure everything out. I wanted everything to be controlled and systematic and predictable. I was always googling something on sleep, feeding, development, etc. Since I've figured out that figuring everything out and controlling everything is impossible I've relaxed into flowing with life with a small child instead of trying to systematize it.
  • Make some "mom friends" - for me a first time moms playgroup, and now MOPS have been lifesavers - just to know I'm not alone, just to know that so much of what I experience is straight up normal. But I try to have some deeper friendships too, too connect on things that aren't just about sleep schedules and ear infections and potty training, to talk about hobbies and books I love and heart stuff too. 
  • Get out of the house. On a regular basis. Find parks, pools, kid friendly restaurants, libraries, story times, whatever. Just get out. 
  • Be grateful for the little things. On a daily basis. Whatever I can be grateful for - my child, my house, my supportive husband, my favorite tv show (haha), chocolate. Yeah. Hang on to the good stuff instead of focusing on all the little annoyances. It's easy to get focused on all the things going wrong (the pancake mix on the floor, the play dough in my coffee beans, the whining, the infinite to do list) and just think life is horrible. It isn't. Remembering how much good there is brings me back to center.
  • Let go of the dream. Whatever kind of mom I thought I would be, whatever perfectionistic standards I've had for myself (the "development" activities I would do, the DIYs, the holidays, the nutritionally perfect diet for my child, etc) - I've had to let all that crap go. Just let it go. 
  • Live the dream. Love my kiddo. And be grateful. This is it. This is the golden moment. Right here. Right now. This is the golden moment I will someday look back on with joy and sorrow that it's gone. I don't want to miss it.


Time travel and other awkward topics

So there is time travel in my novel.

There. I said it.

I mean, there is not just time travel in my novel - but my novel is all about time travel. My novel would fall apart if you took the time travel out.

And here's the thing. I get embarrassed whenever I tell anyone that.

People say "What's your novel about?" And if I have to mention time travel I really squirm.

I know people - personally, intimately  - my husband, several friends, and an agent or two I've spoken to at writing conferences - who just hate time travel story lines and are immediately turned off.

I get it. Time travel is so illogical, so impossible, so ridiculous, and 9 times out of 10 the story lines violate their own internal logic and it's just one tangled big fat mess.

And you know what? I love it. Because I'm one of those people that loves time travel. I'll eat it up with a spoon thank you. With hot fudge sauce on top.

So it's time to own up. Time to come out of the closet. Time to stop blushing and squirming. To hold my head high and say it again "There is time travel in my novel."

I'm pretty much convinced that the world falls into two categories of people: those who love time travel stories and those who don't.

I think it has something to do with being able to completely (mindlessly) surrender yourself to a story - even if it doesn't "make sense". It's about being swept away with characters, with adventure, with improbability, even impossibility - it doesn't matter - it's about a glorious story that makes your toes tingle. It is suspension of disbelief.

So me - I can hack a good toe tingler, time travel included. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. That's probably why I love fantasy and sci fi (as well as Jane Austen, mysteries, thrillers, steam punk, and the occasional magical literary fiction).

How about you? Are you in or out on time travel?

I also squirm when I admit my novel is centered around time travel because it sounds like a cheesy paperback, something with a dingy cover that you'd find in Half Price books, you know? And I am still not comfortable thinking of myself as a writer of a cheesy paperback.

I think I've given up imagining myself as a literary fiction writer. I think. But hey, even Margaret Atwood has written sci fi, speculative fiction and the like. And she's Margaret Atwood, okay? (I love her).

In fact you could argue Margaret Atwood is a time traveler herself. Have you heard she's putting a novel into a time capsule, not to be opened until 2114? Not that I even want myself or my writing put anywhere near the genius of Margaret Atwood, inviting comparison that would make me cry, and pack away my pen forever.

Anyway... do we HAVE to put everything in precise buckets? Literary fiction. Genre fiction. Sci fi. Fantasy. Romance. Or can you write beautiful words that also happen to be science fiction with a swizzle of romance in there too?

Sigh. Rambling rant over.

So you? Would you read a book that included time travel or drop it like a hot rock?