Fits and Spurts

The times, they are a-busy.

(Doesn’t that sound poetic? More poetic than, Sorry I haven’t written in awhile?)

I have many thoughts brewing and several essays started, but I can’t seem to get my thoughts out just right. And I don’t mean ‘just right’ in the drafting sense of writing, but ‘just right’ in the way you wake up from a vivid dream that comforts you in those first fuzzy moments of wakefulness, then suddenly in the clarity of morning you can’t quite make sense of it enough to retell the story.

So here it sits in my mind for awhile, and in the drafts folder of The Pile. And it’s possible I may hold these thoughts close until a Different Time.

But life is good. I am at peace. My soul floats above the stress as it should in times of deep reliance on His word.

Perhaps this is why there is no urgency to post – the post is not the source of my peace right now, and that’s a great place for a girl like me to be.

batting a thousand

I just noticed the stats in my WordPress dashboard this morning, indicating I’ve written 1,000 posts to this blog.


One Thousand.

1,000 shitty first drafts that didn’t exist several years ago.

1,000 times I sat down to write something, and did.

1,000 times I didn’t freeze while staring at a blank screen.

1,000 times I didn’t delete something because I thought it wasn’t perfect.

1,000 posts – the equivalent of 2 3/4 years if I assume one post written per day.

I’ve been writing for almost three years of my life. Literally.

I think that’s quite a milestone, don’t you?

In search of memoirs

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

These are some memoirs (and a couple fiction selections) I’ve read in the last few years – if you hover over the book my review or thoughts will pop up (if I’ve written any). I like to read other people’s stories, and am always curious about how or why they choose a certain style, how they recall memories from the past, and how they perceive events in comparison to how they really happened.

Many of these books helped shape my own vision for memoir writing.

If you’ve read a great memoir recently, please leave a comment and tell me why you liked it.

Have you read a great novel that reads like a memoir (see above notes on Secret Life of Bees & Davita’s Harp)? I’d like to hear about it!

Have a little help from my friends

This summer I saw Scott Berkun again at a party. I asked about his latest writing project, and writing in general. As we talked, I felt he was taking me seriously as a writer, and it empowered me. It was a simple conversation, but I was a writer talking to a writer.

When I asked him how much time he spent writing in a day, I was surprised at the answer – only an hour and a half (or so) of creating new material. There is always research and revising, he said, but an hour and a half is about all the time he could tolerate being in a creative head space.

I can do an hour and a half. I had a picture in my mind of something totally different, but this actually makes sense. I get a little antsy myself after a awhile. I remember this from when I had a babysitter come once a week for three hours so I could write at a local wine bar – I always seemed to get burned out before my time was done.

I’m also motivated by a conversation I had last week with a writing friend to get organized and set some goals for the coming year. The ideas swirl in my head, overwhelming me. I need to get them out, to make them tangible.

I was excited to hear my friend talk about submitting her work to publications she’d researched. I was encouraged to hear her ideas for organizing and sorting all my essays. I was grateful that our conversation propelled me out of a writing funk.

The following goals are the direct result of those two conversations.

photo.jpgMake writing a priority. Up to this point my creative times were written in pencil. I’d block out writing time on my calendar, but override it if I needed to make a dentist appointment or get the bookkeeping done. It’s as if I feel guilty for taking time to write, thinking I should be doing something more “productive.” This goal requires organization (to make sure there isn’t something else I should be doing), a mind shift (to take myself seriously), and support from Bryan (which I have).

Write a little every day. My schedule allows for this now, as long as I stay on top of my other responsibilities running the household. If I manage my time unwisely, I will not be able to accomplish this. Must. Stay. Disciplined.

Chart my writing projects. Most of the time I sit down at my computer and can’t remember why I’m here. I get stage fright. I stare and wrack my brain, and I can’t think of a single thing to work on. Then? While driving in the car or making dinner while the kids crawl up my leg it comes to me exactly what I should have been writing during that quiet two hours.

Submit. Submit. Submit. When I came home from BlogHer I was on fire to get my stuff out there, but I delayed too long and eventually lost my momentum. I feared rejection. I made excuses of time. Blah blah blah. I’ve targeted five organizations I want to submit essays to, and will devote some office time to researching them, finding out their submission requirements, and writing something suitable.

There it is. I’m very excited and starting to feel motivated again.

Dear Roo & Tug…

One of our goals as a family is to spend more time creating and less time consuming. We’ve recently backed that up by prioritizing our schedules to allow more time for us to create – Bryan, in particular, since I always seem to be able to squeeze a little in here and there.

Bryan’s newest writing project, and one we’ve been talking about for at least a year or more, is a series of notes to our kids describing what this crazy family is all about. I think the idea came after a long season of defending ourselves and declaring what we are not about. That grew tiresome, and I think I lost myself into bitterness for awhile.

As we healed from hurt and made our attempts at restoration, we discovered it was much more life-giving to ourselves and to others to tell stories about what we are for, and why we are for them. Thinking on these things, rather than on all the ways we fail in the eyes of others, turns my heart away from the bitterness to receive the joy God calls me into.

I never considered myself or my husband to be complicated people, but apparently we are in the eyes of some. I’m sure chances are high Ruthie and Thomas will also be seen as complicated souls. I feel the best gift we can give them in this respect, is the nuanced context of our worldview.

With each note Bryan writes – in his classic ease and familiarity and cadence – my head explodes with the knowledge I get to be married to him, that I get to be led by and pastored by him. He is an amazing dad, and amazing husband, and an amazing writer.

(I wish I could see his ears turning red as he reads this.)

So without further gushing, I give you…

A fail, a fall, and my moment of zen.

Wow. It’s Thursday, and my last post was the Friday Link Love. I guess that makes it pretty obvious I haven’t blogged in awhile.

My blog locked me out again over the weekend, not accepting my login and password. That’s always frustrating. It left me hanging in mid air with a digital photo of mozzarella medallions on garden tomatoes with fresh basil – our afternoon snack on Saturday – which you may not hear about now because the magic of the moment is gone.

Bryan fixed the lock-out issue for me on his way into work Monday which officially makes him Way Cool.

But then on Monday night I fell down the back steps, the slippery ones leading down to the trash cans. I set one foot down on the first step and before I knew it my pile of newspapers was flying through the air, and I landed with my right leg bent under my ass.

I thought I’d broken my ankle, given that my chubby ass smashed it against the step. Of course, this didn’t stop me from instantly jumping up and shouting “FUCK!” about 25 times while punching the trash cans.

I am the poster child for the Fight Response.

At any rate, this was a disappointing set back to my week because I was feeling pretty motivated to get some projects done around the house, and had already tackled one on Monday morning. Instead, I spent the day Tuesday laying on an ice pack and keeping myself filled with over the counter pain meds.

I love twitter, because it serves as the town crier. After I posted this, I had three In Real Life friends call or email to see if I needed a ride anywhere, or to take the kids, or to pick up Ruthie from school. The internet does not replace real communication with real friends, but it does come in handy when you need to send out a desperate 911 without dialing fourteen phone numbers to find out who is home.

Wednesday was more of the same. I felt much better, and was able to get to the gym for an easy run and lots of stretching, but my lower back still felts better when snuggling with an ice pack. So Wednesday unfolded in fifteen minute increments, like this:

  • Running.
  • Lay on ice pack, reading a magazine.
  • Make lunch.
  • Lay on ice pack, reading a magazine.
  • Sit at computer and pay bills.
  • Lay on ice pack, reading a magazine.
  • Pick up Ruthie at the bus.
  • Lay on ice pack, reading a magazine.
  • Make dinner.
  • Lay on ice pack, reading a magazine.

You get the idea.

(Ruthie would call this an A/B pattern. God bless kindergarten)

Yesterday when I finally sat down to write for a couple hours during Thomas’ nap, I was planning to bring down the home stretch a meaty essay I’ve been working on for a couple weeks. But I discovered none of Bryan’s editing notes saved, and of course I didn’t make a point of remembering what we talked about since I assumed I’d be able to refer to his notes.

At this point I lost all of my will to live.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I just didn’t feel like writing.

The good news is, as frustrating as it is to not have time to write, I’m feeling very Zen about it. This week was a total bust, but you know what? There’s always next week.

I know. I KNOW! Where’s all the writer’s angst and depression and inner turmoil over not having enough Time To Myself?! Well, folks, I guess that’s what you call progress.

“I wanted to write a story about a monster like me.”

Cyndere's MidnightTonight we were at Third Place Books attending the release party for our friend, Jeffrey Overstreet’s second fantasy fiction novel, Cyndere’s Midnight.

Before he read an excerpt, he talked of beasts, and the appetite that drives them, and the things that transform them. “When we don’t understand the monster in ourselves,” he said, “we don’t understand the monsters around us. I wanted to write a story about a monster like me.”

It was a year ago this very week we attended the release party for his first novel. And in that time, I closely followed the progress of Cyndere’s Midnight through twitter and gtalk – reading of late night editing sessions, approaching deadlines, and final submissions. It was like being a fly on the wall like we so often wish for, observing the process unnoticed.

Cyndere's Midnight _ inscriptionIt’s funny, because I’ve known Jeffrey for years, yet since the invention of twitter we’ve had many more “water cooler” conversations than ever before.

Tonight at the reading and book signing, even as we chatted about Over the Rhine and the virtues of a Mac over a PC, he signed the following inscription in our book: “For the Zugs, with great affection for your daily companionship (online).”

It is an awesome thing to share in the success of our friends. As we left the building we sighed with contentment, and I felt a warm pride as if I had something to do with Jeffrey’s career.

We also remembered our other author friends, how we can count on one hand the number of published authors we’ve had the privilege of knowing before they were known. Regular people pursuing their dream, using their gifts, seeing a vision to it’s completion.

This? This was an encouraging night for a writer like me.

The Writing Life

I had to throw last week in the scrap pile, as far as routine goes. I don’t know what I was thinking, jumping out of the gate like a race horse. Nothing was normal last week. Monday was a holiday, so I fell behind on Monday stuff. It was also the first week of the month, so I fell behind on first week of the month stuff. Ruthie started school, and her district likes to be all tricky right from the start, confusing me with delayed start times and no school on the second day.

Clearly there was no time to poor out my creative energy.

I ran from the shower once, dripping water all over the floor as I scrambled for my idea notebook – nothing but a towel between myself and the open windows. By the time I found it, the idea escaped my strainer brain and I shoved a chair in frustration.

I feel like a college frat boy who hasn’t had a lay since spring break at Daytona Beach – tense and jittery, on the prowl for opportunity, all filled up with something needing release.

I need a creative one night stand.

Better yet, I need a creative affair.

If I don’t rendezvous in a shady roadside motel soon to unload all this writing angst in my head, I think I may suffer a brain freeze.

The thing is, I can’t write at the dining room table anymore with the kids running around. I can’t steal an hour of writing while the kids nap. I mean I can, but you’ll get things like book reviews and recipes. I love writing those, but what I need to get out of my head are the trains of thought that are going somewhere. I need time and space to pick just the right word, to think straight, to connect tangible with transcendent.

I’m also learning it takes me a long time to crawl down into that well of concentration, to get into the mind space of creation. And once I’m down there, it takes me even longer to climb back out of the well again into real life. If someone pulls me out of the well before I’m ready, I’m grouchy and distracted, unable to check my mind back into reality.

(I read of this well of concentration on someone else’s blog, and it resonated with me. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember whose it was).

I don’t know where I’m going with this. It’s late, and I can’t afford the time it takes to wrap it up neatly with a bow. Maybe I’ll ask a question: how do you make time for the one thing you are passionate about, without neglecting all the “have to’s” in your week?

Book Review: Half-Assed, a weight-loss memoir

half-assed.JPGI met Jennette Fulda, author of Half-Assed, at the BlogHer conference in San Francisco. I attended a session titled Blog to Book, and she was one of the panelists, having converted her weight loss blog, Half of Me, into this memoir. She was lovely, and I was happy to buy a copy of her book, ask her a few questions, and have her sign it for me.

She mentioned during the panel discussion that she read back through her archives three or more times in the process of putting together the book. This was good for me to hear – daunting, but realistic. I can do this, I can read back through my archives and begin piecing together a train of thought. One of my writing friends also suggested printing out pages of my essays and laying them out on the floor, visually organizing them into the structure of a book. This I can do, and seems to fit right into my visual/spacial need for organizing.

I think these two pieces of information put together will surely lead to a national best seller by me, don’t you think?

Anyway, back to the book. This is not a “how to lose weight” book. It’s not really even a “how Jennette lost weight” book. She purposely doesn’t mention which diet plan she used, how many calories she ate, or how many miles she ran – she didn’t want it to be about a magic formula. I mean, obviously she talks about her weight, and how she lost it, but it’s really more about the mental game and the discipline of losing the weight (which took two years, by the way).

She writes about how she felt being fat, both mentally and physically, and how she felt as she got thinner. She writes about the struggle to remain on track, while at the same time allowing for flexibility, like eating cake at a wedding. She writes about how she changed more than just the numbers on the scale, how she became a different person altogether – a person she admired and respected.

She writes about plateaus and set-backs from a review mirror perspective, almost blowing them off as incidental. I appreciated this. It puts into perspective the blip on a two year process. I’m sure at the time she was discouraged, but looking at it in retrospect reminds me that it’s important to stay on goal, because in the end you get through it if you just don’t quit.

She writes about making the choice between weight-loss surgery versus diet change and exercise. She was not opposed to the former, but felt in good conscience she needed to exhaust all her effort before going that route. She doesn’t judge people who do have surgery, by the way. In fact, she poo-poos on people who tell her she lost the weight the “real” way, and maintains its just a matter of choice based on what you know about yourself.

I think Jennette is a very brave person. After a lifetime of eating fast food she learned how to cook, and once she got the hang of that she started experimenting and trying new things. After a lifetime of taking shortcuts, she began parking at the back of the lot, and even rented an apartment on an upper floor just so she could incorporate more exercise into her life. Jennette took on a new lifestyle, and stuck to it. It meant changing all her habits, her mindset, her comforts.

She is like the alcoholic who finally hits rock bottom, gets sober, and never looks back.

I’m proud to have met her, and proud to recommend this book. Even if you don’t need to lose weight, this book is a must read for anyone who loves a good story about persevering and overcoming ourselves.

p.s. here’s a sneak peak at her weight loss photos.

(For ratings and other reviews on books I’ve read, visit my Shelfari page and my books category.)

on staying the course

Recently a friend – author and movie critic, Jeffrey Overstreet – had the privilege of interviewing Andrew Stanton, writer and director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo. As these things usually go, the interviewer typically has only ten minutes to ask a series of question, sometimes even less.

In Jeffrey’s account of the interview, he says he was taken completely off guard when Stanton started out by saying he’d recently read and enjoyed Jeffrey’s memoir of “dangerous movie going,” Through a Screen Darkly. Jeffrey writes:

What a strange, small world we live in. I’m shaken at the idea of a magician like Stanton reading my fumbling attempts to express my appreciation for excellence and artistry like his. I’ll cherish that surprise for the rest of my life.

Bryan and I have known Jeffrey many years, long before his first book was published, and have shared in his love for music, movies, and the intersection of faith and culture. I was teary eyed at the book release party for his passion project, Auralia’s Colors, as I listened to him describe years of dreaming and honing his craft and wading through rejection.

Now, as Jeffrey is waiting for the release of his third book in the fall, Andrew Stanton says he likes his work, and it would seem as if he’s arrived.

I struggled with maintaining contentment this year. I found my inner voice justifying my lack of “success” by saying things like, If I had more time I could…, or When my kids are in school I will…. I watched other blogging friends find success in print or major national websites, excited for them, but at the same time feeling as if the train were leaving the station without me.

I think I sometimes mix up fame and craft. Sure, we all hope for that nudge of recognition from somebody we think matters, but what if that nudge never comes? Will I be content as a writer to just write? Are the people who read my blog today somehow less important than someone who reads my third published memoir?

When Blogher announced I’d be reading at the community keynote this Friday, I watched with elation as the stats on my Google Analytics soared. I crossed my fingers every day, hoping the numbers would stay up because someone who I thought matters gave me a nudge. Surely everyone will be amazed at my power over the English language, I thought, and want to subscribe to my blog feed.

Of course things settled back down to normal after two or three days, and it’s just you, me, and a glass of wine again. Surprisingly, though, I find peace in this. What I’ve enjoyed most about blogging over the years, is the practicing of my craft and becoming friends with some of my most faithful commenters. I’ve even convinced one of my readers-turned-friend to move in with us, and I couldn’t be more excited. I wish I could invite all of you to sit by my fire and roast marshmallows!

Some day I will tell you the story of how Bryan and I used to know Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and other books. I will tell you how we stayed with him on a trip to Portland when I was pregnant with Ruthie, how we slept on an air mattress on his floor, and listened to him talk about how uncertain his future was. Will he go bankrupt? Will he get published? Will he make it as a writer? Someday I will tell you how Bryan and I read an early draft of Blue Like Jazz as we sat outside Portland’s Rose Garden, waiting for the Bruce Springsteen concert to start, and how we were transfixed by every word.

Don Miller made it, for sure, but I will never forget those two or three visits to Portland before any of us knew he would. And I will never forget sitting cross-legged on the floor at Danny’s house, participating with Jeffrey Overstreet in a Dead Poet’s Society-like evening of sharing our art with one another before his name was ever in print. I remember these things to remind myself the goal is not to get somewhere, to gain an audience. The goal is to write well, to practice my craft, and to meet great people who can inspire me to fix my eyes on these things.

bed headIf you are going to Blogher, or if you are at Blogher and reading this, I would love the opportunity to meet you. (That’s me on the right, only I promise to look better than just out of bed and feeling slightly cranky about it). We all have dreams and goals and whisper wishes, and I would love to hear yours. I would also love to encourage you in those things, and give you something to remind you to stay on course. I’ll be giving away three books to people I meet at Blogher, so make sure I get a business card or a piece of paper with your email address on it, and when I get home I’ll randomly draw three names to win one of these books.

The first book I’ll give away is Through a Screen Darkly, by Jeffrey Overstreet, which challenges you to view movies and art thoughtfully. Secondly, I’ll give away Blue Like Jazz, by Don Miller, which is the series of essays he was writing during those years he struggled to make it as a writer. Thirdly, I’d like to send someone a copy of Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo. Ironically, a blogger I met at Blogher 2006 recommended this book to me, and it’s become one of those cornerstones of my craft.

In this review of the book I write:

The over-arching theme of the book is this: love what you do, because the rewards of writing won’t always come in typical or tangible success, so our reward must be IN the writing. This is not a step-by-step how-to of writing the great novel or screenplay. Rather, it is a therapeutic salve that encourages the writer to be himself, to write from his own experiences, and to find joy in the everyday mundane.

It’s late and I’m sleepy with wine, and words to end by are not coming easily. So I will let this end awkwardly and get a decent night’s sleep before the big trip. Hope to see you there.

Be careful what you wish for…

Two years ago I attended the BlogHer conference in San Jose thanks to a very generous friend, Ponzi, who had an extra sponsorship pass to give away. The whole trip worked out perfectly because Bryan was working down there that week, met me and the kids at the airport, and entertained them all weekend while I was busy. We even got to stay in the apartment of a friend who was out of town.

Last year I started out the weekend with a high level of social awkwardness. I’m not a great chit-chatter, so I mostly sat next to people and totally ignored them. Nice, huh? Way to make use of an awesome networking weekend. I did finally break through that social awkwardness on day two, and met some awesome friends that I’ve mostly kept in touch with, including the infamous Mommy Needs a Cocktail and Jen Lemen.

Ironically, in one of the posts I linked above I describe my social awkwardness like this:

It’s a funny thing about me – you could have put me in front of a microphone on stage to address all 400 people at Blogher today and I would have stunned you with my articulate genius. I commented freely and confidently in all the sessions I attended. But I couldn’t even manage to introduce myself to the gal I sat next to at lunch today.

As it turns out, when I head down to the Blogher conference next weekend I will be standing on a stage in front of everyone, holding a microphone. Only there won’t be 400 people, there will likely be close to 1,000. My essay submission was chosen to read during Friday’s Community Keynote, and I couldn’t be more excited. In fact, I screamed like a crazy woman on The Price Is Right when I read the email.

I’m sworn to secrecy on which post I’ll be reading, so if you already know or have a good guess, please keep it to yourself. I owe a great big thanks to Eden Kennedy of Fussy for this great opportunity, as she’s the brains behind the event. After reading her post on the excruciating selection process, I appreciate her desire to showcase bloggers like myself who are fairly unknown. Thank you, also, to the rest of the bloggers on the selection committees for taking the time to read so many posts.

So if you’re headed to Blogher ’08 next weekend, give me a holler. Would love to meet you, hand you one of my cards (below), and become fast friends.

business cards_frontbusiness cards_back


I’ve been on hiatus from my weekly dedicated writing time since March. I was feeling empty of words, stressed about certain projects around here that were undone, and the two put together added up to using my weekly time sans kids on maintenance of household projects. Meanwhile, I left you in the good hands of book reviews, recipes, and You Tube videos done by people who have a lot more free time than I do.

I’ve been completely satisfied with this arrangement until recently. I’m starting to get that itch again for for drawing deeper into my mind and into my soul. I’m craving that quiet space where my Voice moves my fingers across the keyboard.

Several conversations with writer friends lately have encouraged me. I’m beginning to put a book together in my mind – several books, actually. I’m thinking about themes and outlines. I’m working out how all the snippets of my thoughts fit together cohesively. I’m talking these things through with people as if they actually might materialize.

I don’t know how or if this will return me to more thoughtful posts here. But know that after a lengthy writing sabbath, I’m getting back to work again.

Happy New Year. In February.

So I’ve spent roughly the last month thinking about the New Year and its inevitable draw to set goals. I know these things are usually considered before the New Year so as to get a head start on accomplishing said goals, but we all know I’m not that kind of an overachiever.

Instead I’ve been lurking around the internet, wondering about what all of you are saying about the New Year, in hopes of drawing inspiration.

I loved the honesty of Beth Grigg making a Wild-Ass Guess Regarding 2008; Sarcastic Mom wants to lose Kevin and Leroy, the two rolls of back fat that have attached themselves to her (seriously, follow the link – there is a slightly disturbing, yet familiar picture of Kevin and Leroy. I think their close relatives have camped out on my body where my ass meets my thigh); Wicked Weaving’s aims, or attainable goals sounded a little less threatening than “resolutions.”

One that really stuck out to me though, is Mommy-Come-Lately’s “word” for 2008. Rather than choosing specific goals, she basically chooses a theme for the year. For instance, her theme for 2006 was “gratitude,” last year’s was “simplify,” and this year’s is “content,” as in being satisfied.

I thought this was a brilliant idea, and borrowed it for myself. You can read about my theme for the year on my updated About Page. Yes, I created a new About Page. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out.

Considering this year’s theme (seriously, go read about it), I believe 2008 will be a year in which I set the stage for my future writing career by brainstorming, collaborating, and networking with other writers. I hope to be a regular contributer to other web sites, and will look into submitting my essays into some print mediums. It’s difficult to set specific goals of who and how many since I really have no clue. The point is, I want to challenge myself outside of The Pile.

So there you have it. My very own wild-ass guesses.