Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Big Decision: Writing Wednesday

Last Wednesday, I wrote about how some editors wanted me to turn my memoir into a novel. It seems that I first wrote a novel that reads like a memoir (more than once my hands came away red has been mistaken for my personal story, which has led to some awkward encounters with lovely old ladies who have patted me on the shoulder and told me that they’ve been praying for me as I recover from all that trauma). Now, instead, I’ve written a memoir that reads like a novel.

I decided not to fictionalize the memoir, which left me with two options. I could either wait – shelve this book and hope that it would get picked up by a publisher later – or I could self-publish it.

I’ve decided (drum roll, please)… to self-publish.

Despite the strident call to self-publishing arms and tales of riches and fame that are being peddled by folks like Joe Konrath and friends, I have no illusions that I’m incredibly likely to attain either riches or fame by self-publishing this book. That’s not why I want to self-publish.

I want to self-publish because I have spent three years working on this book, it’s important to me, I think it’s good, and I want to see it out there in the big wide world and move on to other projects.

It took me months to make this decision, but now that it’s made I’m excited. Self-publishing is brand new territory for me. To do it even halfway well I’ll have to learn a lot about cover design, marketing, publicity, independently copy-editing the text, etc. I’ll also have to give my website and my blog a makeover. All of this will teach me new things, and despite the fact that the to-do list I’ve been putting together is half a mile long, many of these things are medium-sized projects that I can tackle during baby nap time. I’ve already come up with an idea I love for a free spin-off e-book, and decided that I want to use some of any profits that I do earn from self-publishing to support a charity here in Laos that’s close to my heart.

More on all of that later.

For now, I’ll close with another writing-related quote that makes me laugh. And, tell me, if you’ve self-published a book or an e-guide recently, what’s one lesson you learned along the way?

 “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”
Jules Renard

Tough Love Take 1

I tried something new with Dominic on Friday – a little bit of tough love. Here is how that went:

"Daddy, let me tell you how it went. I, for one, was shocked."

Dominic wakes up from his afternoon nap after only thirty minutes of sleep.

I decide that he is still tired and that he needs to go back sleep. He doesn’t look like he stands a hope of doing that in his crib so I pick him up (can’t you already see how tough this love was?), bring him into the bedroom, lay him on the bed so that he can see me sitting at the desk, and tell him (nicely) to go back to sleep.

Dominic starts to yirp (this particular sound most closely resembles the offspring of a chirp and a yowl) in a way that let’s me know that he thinks this is not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I pet him and reinsert the pacifier (and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier… repeat times 100).

Dominic starts to get increasingly upset.

I determine that now is as good a time as any to let him try to cry it out. I lie down right beside him on the bed, stroke his cheek (again, how tough is this love?), and decide that I will let him cry for five minutes before I pick him up…

I lasted for four.

And in that four minutes Dominic had worked himself up into such a shrieking, thrashing, red-faced, sweating, howling screaming mess that it took him 29 more minutes of holding and walking and soothing (29!!!) for him to calm down enough to suck on his favorite object in the world – the one that delivers milk unto him. Every time I tried to offer him a nipple before that magical twenty ninth minute he would take one brief suck, throw back his head, and scream with renewed vigor. He didn’t glare at me, but that’s only because his eyes were firmly screwed shut in order to allow him to better concentrate on broadcasting his sadness and rage as loudly as possible.

“JULIUS CAESAR HAD NOTHING ON THIS!!!” he seemed to be howling.  “YOU DID NOT PICK ME UP THE INSTANT I LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WAS WHAT MY LITTLE HEART DESIRED. THIS IS TRUE BETRAYAL! THIS IS TRUE PAIN! THERE IS NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE SAD, BAD, WORLD WHO LOVES ME! NOOOOOOO OOOOONNNNNEEEEE!”

You would have thought that I covered him in honey, staked him out under a tropical sun and left him for the ants to find (stay tuned for Tough Love Take Five).

It’s a little funny now but it wasn’t at all funny on Friday. No matter how objectively ridiculous you think your baby is being, there’s no humour in watching them cry so hard for so long. I’ve only seen Dominic do that once or twice before, and then only ever because he was in physical pain.

Finding myself over the last couple of months unable to bear the prospect of leaving my child to cry himself to sleep has surprised me. I honestly thought he’d be sleeping in his own room within two weeks of birth and that we’d be putting him to bed alone and letting him howl himself to sleep on a nightly basis by now. Yet here I am still happily placing him in a travel cot beside my bed every night, holding him to sleep on those nights (about 30% of the time) that he doesn’t drift off without fussing, reaching down when he stirs and whimpers at 2AM to hand him back his dummy, getting up at 5AM to feed him well before he gets to the actively crying stage.

This issue of how to “best” help children sleep can be a contentious one in parenting circles. Emma Tom summarizes this well in The Australian:

“Like the other great baby debates of our time… controlled crying attracts extreme detractors and supporters whose polarised views leave little room for a sensible, midground approach. Critics claim these sorts of sleep regimes break babies’ spirits and cause irreparable long-term damage. Hardline advocates, on the other hand, have the disturbing habit of framing babies as deliberately manipulative, saying tough love is necessary to get the better of the calculating little buggers.”

I know the day may come when I decide that I want or need to be slightly less responsive to Dominic’s every cheep, but after yesterday’s performance I’m dreading that day. There was nothing controlled about Friday’s misery extravaganza. I don’t think he would have stopped without comforting before he screamed himself into a hoarse and desolate sort of exhausted.

So, parents, I’m interested in hearing about your approach to getting your kids to sleep. I’m not particularly interested in hearing your advice on the subject (no “shoulds” on this topic, please) but I am very interested in hearing your stories. What worked for your kids when they were young babies? What works now?

Writing Wednesday: To fictionalize or not to fictionalize, that is the question

It’s Writing Wednesday. It has been, in fact, since I woke for the first time last night at 12:30 to put a soothing hand on a stirring baby, and since I fed him at 4:30, and since our wretched dog starting whining outside the bedroom door at 5:00, and since Dominic decided morning had indeed broken at 5:45am.

I do hope no one is expecting anything too profound from me today.

I also hope one of these days soon I’ll stop expecting anything too profound from myself during this particularly fatigue-fogged season of life.

So let me tell you a little more about the story of the book baby that hasn’t found a publishing home. If I were to cast this as a children’s story (of which I’ve been reading no small number out loud recently) it would go something like this.

When the agent overseeing book baby adoptions organized for publishing families to have a look at book baby, many of them said very nice things. Indeed, they said the writing was fabulous. Just like the bear’s porridge though, book baby never seemed quite right to them. Some of the publishers wished book baby talked more about Lisa’s faith and some wished it talked less. Some wished that book baby talked more about Lisa’s work and less about Lisa’s love life, some wanted exactly the opposite. Several wished book baby were not a memoir at all but a novel. And so, eventually, book baby arrived back to the book orphanage without having found a home…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to quit my day job to take up writing children’s stories (although when you read some of the crappier ones that actually get published you have to wonder how hard it could be to kick ass in this genre).

But back to my homeless book baby…

It seemed there were several editors who were seriously interested in the prospect of this book as a novel, and I spent weeks mulling over whether I wanted to rewrite the entire thing.

It felt weird to me. I’d spent three years working hard to make sure this story conveyed emotional and factual truth and here I was being asked to turn it into a novel. Where would I even start with that? By spicing up the details of my past, or adding a serious addiction or abusive parents?

In the end, I’ve decided not to do it. There are multiple reasons for this but here are just a couple.

Rewriting it as a novel doesn’t stay true to my original vision for the book. I realize that in saying this I’m running the risk of coming off as precious. I don’t mean to be. It’s just that the book I wanted to write to tell this story was a memoir. Three years down the track, after I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to carve an actual story out of the therapeutic mind-dump of my first draft, that hasn’t changed. I don’t get all that excited at the thought of taking this story and fictionalizing it, and at this stage I don’t want to see it published by an establishing publishing house badly enough to make that effort.

There is also the other baby.

Yes, that one. And the presence of this other baby means that right now I don’t feel that I have the time or the energy I’d need to embark upon a massive creative re-write. Freelancing, I can do. Essays, blog, even some consulting, I can do (on a good day). But I’m genuinely unsure as to whether I could stretch to writing a novel at the moment. At least, not one I’d be completely proud of.

So what to do about homeless book baby?

That has, indeed, been the question of my life this last three months – right alongside: Is Dominic hungry/wet/tired? If not, why is he crying??? And, what on earth am I going to do to entertain him today?

There are only so many afternoons you can spend gyrating to ABBA’s Dancing Queen in front of the baby bouncer, you know.

Come back next week for more news about the fate of homeless book baby, and if you have good suggestions for entertaining a three-month-old baby, leave them below! I guess you could leave a comment or question related to writing, too, or let me know what you think about the topic of fictionalizing memoirs. It is after all, Writing Wednesday.

I’ll leave you with this quote by John Berryman because it made me laugh. Here’s to a happy Thursday all round the globe. Thanks for stopping by.

“The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.”

The baby has hijacked my brain

Last night Mike asked me a work-related question during dinner.

“I can’t think about that right now,” I said, “I’m eating.”

There was silence. I figured that Mike was probably thinking that during the almost three years of our marriage I had heretofore shown myself capable of having a conversation over the dinner table and thus, presumably, thinking and eating at the same time.

“The baby is awake,” I said, taking a brief break from shoveling takeaway Indian food into my mouth as fast as possible to point to Dominic with my fork. Dominic was sitting in his stroller beside the dinner table, happily engaged trying to bat the purple toy cow I had strategically dangled beside him. I figured that he would be happily engaged for another 57 seconds, maybe 59 if we were lucky.

“The baby takes up 80% of my brain power,” I explained. “I can monitor the baby and focus on eating with that other 20%, but I can’t monitor the baby, eat, and think about your question all at the same time. When I’m finished eating I’ll use that leftover 20% to think.”

Mike may have been tempted to ask why I felt compelled to spend 80% of my brain-power monitoring a perfectly content baby when said baby was clearly in my line of sight and his other parent was sitting right beside him. If Mike was tempted to ask this, he didn’t. Wise man.

If, however, Mike had asked me this, I would have had two answers for him. The first would have been (cue slightly snarky tone here) that when your spouse is gone 30% of the time and you’re single parenting in a foreign country it gets to be a habit that is awfully hard to break. After I got done with this passive aggressive piece of venting, my second answer might have been a simple statement.

I don’t know.

I don’t know why my brain short circuits at his merest squeak, why I will immediately lose my ability to pay attention to any conversation I might have been having before that little lip pouted out and those doleful yelps began to mount. Why I will tense up when I am lying in bed and hear that faint and terrifying clink of plastic upon plastic that signals a pacifier falling out. Why I sometimes wake up thrashing in the middle of the night, still tangled up in a dream that I’m feeding or holding him, reaching out to find that small body and panicking when it’s not there.

I don’t know.

I was going to do all this online research about what pregnancy and new motherhood does to brain chemistry and weave that into this blog post so that: (a) we could all learn something new, and (b) (much more importantly) I had scientific proof that I’m not completely crazy.

But it’s 8pm. Mike’s been upstairs trying to settle Dominic for 45 minutes now and I can hear him crying (Dominic, that is, not Mike, though for all I know Mike’s up there crying as well). This means I have no brain space left for research or even a graceful wrap up. It means that I’m going to draw this to a close the way that I end a goodly number of my skype calls at the moment – with a hurried: “Baby’s crying. Gotta go.”

Catch you tomorrow for Writing Wednesday.

Oh, and other parents, did you experience a similar phenomenon when your first child was born (or should I be checking out what sort of anxiolytics I can buy over the counter here in Laos)?

What? Me? Needy? Never!

Tug Of War Over My Underwear

This post is for everyone who has ever been jealous of the fact that I can trot down to the Lao Red Cross and get one hour of massage for five dollars. You may be both entertained and a tiny bit gratified to know that these adventures in massage can sometimes go quite wrong.

Down a road about a four-minute walk from our gate there is a sign pointing up a dirt alley to an old wooden house. The sign advertises traditional massage, and the other day Mike told me that these massages were provided by blind men.

This sounded perfect to me. Blind men, I figured, may have compensated for their lack of sight by developing extra-perceptive hands. I imagined oil, a masseuse who could almost “see” my sore muscles with his talented touch, and no possibility of being ogled while I was relaxing into the experience.

It was a lovely vision, and Saturday afternoon I handed the baby to Mike and went chasing this vision.

The first hint I had that all might not play out according to the spa script in my mind came when I followed my fumbling masseuse into the back room to see three mattresses lying on a cement floor, no privacy curtains, and a tall, half-naked, white man being enthusiastically pummeled.

I was momentarily taken aback.

But then I thought about how, after giving birth, stripping down to my underwear in front of some old man I’d never see again was a walk in the park. So I took off most of my clothes and lay down on the threadbare sheet my masseuse had spread out for me.

It quickly became apparent that whatever other skills this man had developed to help compensate for his lack of vision, good massage technique was not among them. There were no sensitive, skilled hands. There were no smooth, tension-taming, muscle-stretching strokes. There was no oil. What there was was a lot of deep-pressure pressing with thumbs. I’d just resigned myself to a wasted hour when I became aware of small faces peering in the window above me – the neighborhood kids coming to check me out.

My blind masseuse must have realized what was going on, because after yelling at them a few times to go away, he got up, felt his way to the window, and closed it.

That shut out the faces and the giggles, but it also shut out all of the light. As the window swung closed I suddenly became aware that I was mostly naked and in a dark, locked room with three strange men.

I had just reminded myself that it was highly unlikely that two blind Lao men and some random tourist would take it into their heads to gang up on me for the purposes of assault, when the man massaging me put a hand somewhere south of the equatorial bellybutton border. Somewhere that, in all my years of being massaged in various countries around the world, no masseuse has ever before ventured to approach.

I was rendered immobile by the shock of it all until he grasped the waistband of my underwear and tried to pull them off.

I put my hand on his and said “bo dai” [cannot] at the same time he said “dai” [can].

He gave another experimental tug.

“Dai?” he said again.

“Bo dai,” I said firmly. “Khop jai.” [Thank you].

I remain puzzled even now as to what I was trying to communicate with this thank you. I would like to think that it was something along the lines of, “I am so in control of this situation that I can still afford to be polite.” However, deep in my conflict-hating heart I suspect I was also trying to shrug it off to put him at ease. Even as I said it I wondered whether I’d gone too far, whether what I had actually inadvertently communicated was something more along the lines of: “Please don’t feel at all awkward about the fact that I’m telling you not to take off my underwear. It’s not that what you’re doing is making me very uncomfortable. It’s more that I’m not in the mood.

After this exchange I perhaps should have been expecting it when, fifteen minutes later after working his way up my arms, the masseuse reached out and gave one of my breasts an experimental squeeze through the tee shirt I had draped over my front.

“Dee?” [good?] he asked.

“Bo dee,” [not good] I said, putting a stop to that immediately.

I have a baby, I explained in my broken Lao. The baby eats a lot. That makes a lot of pain.

This last bit was a total lie as breastfeeding no longer hurts, and you might wonder why I didn’t just get up and leave instead of going to all the trouble of inventing and then trying to communicate an actual reason why I wasn’t interested in having my breasts massaged, before enduring the last five minutes of an experience I was not enjoying in the slightest.

Yes, well. In retrospect I wonder this, too.

I think, though, that I didn’t leave because I couldn’t figure out what was really going on. Was he coping a feel for kicks or was this a standard part of his massage routine? Had I somehow inadvertently signaled a desire to be fondled in such a manner?

If this had occurred in a Western context I would have known that nothing I had done justified his behavior, but here I don’t live in a western context. I live in Laos. And men in Laos typically treat women with great respect, even deference. A Lao man usually won’t even presume to shake my hand upon meeting unless I offer it first. This is a gentle, conservative culture, and for all I knew, I realized as I lay there last Saturday, locals don’t typically undress for traditional massage. The masseuse may initially have been just as confronted by my actions in casting aside my jeans and tee shirt as I was by his suggestion that I ditch the underwear as well.

This small seed of doubt in my mind was enough to keep me on the mattress for those remaining few minutes. If he wasn’t putting sleazy sightless moves on me and I got up and walked out without being able to communicate why, I’d leave him wondering where he went wrong. I’d hurt his feelings. And only a loser hurts the feelings of a blind person if they can help it.

Or should that be, instead: Only a loser endures unwanted physical contact to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

I’m still not sure. I am, however, sure that from now on I won’t be exploring any traditional massage parlors I find down dusty side streets. At least, not alone.

What’s the worst massage misadventure you’ve ever had? And, have you ever been unsure as to whether you were being taken advantage of or whether you were just hopelessly mired in an unfortunate cross-cultural miscommunication?

Writing Wednesday: On editing and rewrites

It’s 8:30am. My child has been lying in his crib, smiling and gurgling at the ceiling for the last ten minutes. Now he’s gazing at me across the room while his eyes drift shut. I lovelovelove these parental moments.

Huh. Now trying to think of parental moment from the last two days that I have loveloveloved that did not involve a content child safely contained in bed while I was on my laptop. You know, one where I was actually interacting with him.

I’ll have to get back to you on that, because I’m not here today to write about him. Nor am I here to write about me – though let me pause for a minute and say thank you for the caring comments and emails sparked by yesterday’s blog. Someone whose phone number I don’t recognize even sent me a lovely text saying “thinking of you”.

(At least, it’s lovely if that came from someone I know. Otherwise it’s sort of creepy. For the time being I’m choosing to assume that it came from someone I know. How’s that for glass half full and not being unduly paranoid? Yeah.)

On a more serious note, I do not think I’m immune to post-natal depression (no woman is) but I also don’t think things are quite that dire yet. The weekend felt pretty awful but things have brightened up a bit since then. I will keep you posted.

Now, on to writing about writing, cuz it’s Wednesday.  Let’s talk editing.

Michael Crichton is reported to have said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

The official number of times I rewrote my latest book is three, but that doesn’t take into account all the false starts I had before I even managed to pull the first draft together.

I finished that first draft in November 2009, the day before Mike got back from a month long consultancy in Indonesia. Pretty much the minute he got home I thrust the manuscript into his hands. In retrospect, perhaps I should have waited until he was out of the jet lag zone before demanding feedback. Or perhaps I just don’t take feedback well from my nearest and dearest on my first drafts.

Mike gave me lots of useful feedback, including telling me that he didn’t have a great deal of empathy for the main character (me) because I hadn’t made myself vulnerable enough and taken him on an emotional journey.

“You come across as an interesting person,” he said. “But that is not enough to command my attention for a whole book and make me wonder, intrigued, what you’re going to do next. You need more depth. You need to take me on an emotional journey.”

I believe my graceful response to this feedback was, “You want a journey? Well you can just get back on a plane to Indonesia then.”

He was, however, right. And during the next two years and two drafts I worked hard to identify a clearer story arc, strengthen my themes, and take people on a journey. In other words, I worked to tell a story instead of just letting people in on a 70,000 word, occasionally humorous, occasionally moving, monologue.

Feedback from other people was invaluable in helping me think through these rewrites. Before attempting a third draft I farmed the book out to about ten friends and sifted through their commentary. Then I took it to the next level and had two professionals look at it (thank you Joslyne Decker and Amy Lyles Wilson – check out their websites if you’re interested in writing workshops or editorial services).

All of these external eyes helped me spot things I just couldn’t see on my own. They not only said nice things about my work (always good to hear when you’re so sick of your own book you’re in danger of starting to believe the whole thing is just a terrible waste of everyone’s time). They also pointed out where I was losing or boring the reader, indulging in narrative tangents, and where they were left wanting more or less.

It’s always a delicate balance, I find, to be open enough to editorial feedback to benefit from it without being so open that you feel compelled to rewrite your work to suit the tastes and whims of everyone who comments on it. I didn’t act on all of the comments and recommendations I received but every one of them made me think deeply, and there’s no greater gift to an author than being challenged to see their manuscript through fresh eyes.

Over to you: What do you find particularly helpful when you’re trying to take a first draft to the next level? What’s your editing process like?

 “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”
~ Geoffrey Gaberino ~

Want to read more about editing, particularly in the context of self-publishing? Check out the following articles over on Writer Unboxed:

On feeling joy-less

It is an unhappy sort of irony that ever since I switched the theme of my fruits of the spirit blog series to joy, joy has felt in rather short supply.

On Sunday Mike bundled baby bear and me into the car and took us on a surprise adventure for the afternoon – a trip to Zen, a resort on the Khan River, about half an hour from where we live.

It was a gorgeous spot on a relaxing Sunday afternoon and (despite the smile I have on my face in the photo above) how did I mostly feel? I mostly felt like this:

The neighbors behind the house have been using electric power tools to sand wood for hours every day for three weeks, which is about the same amount of time as I’ve been struggling with chronic neck pain. Mike’s away a third of the time at the moment. I’ve been worried about my milk supply. Ants keep mounting exploratory expeditions into our closet and underwear drawers and hiding places you wouldn’t expect, like cracks in the chair I routinely sit down to feed Dominic in. And Dominic, he can go most of the night without needing to eat now, but that doesn’t mean he stays asleep that whole time. Also, he seems to think 4 or 5am is the official start to the day. I can’t imagine where he got that idea from, Michael.

To make matters worse, as I’ve felt more and more depressed this last week I’ve also found myself increasingly tripping over my own inner shoulds.

I should not feel this way when I have a healthy child who smiles at me every day with the whole of his little face.

I should not feel this way when I am married to a man who means it when he tells me to wake him up if I need help in the middle of the night (when he’s in town, that is).

I should not feel this way while I live in a world where other women comb through my trash to collect empty tonic water cans – tonic water, incidentally, that I consumed with gin while sitting on the deck with Mike after he’d arrived home from work.

I should be able to hang onto a broader sense of joy, even on days when moment-by-moment happiness seems in short supply.

My inner shoulds can be useful in helping me effectively corral negative emotions, but this week they have compounded my problems. I have not only felt depressed, I have also felt weak. I have felt like a failure. I have looked out upon views like the one below and felt numb.

Do your inner shoulds help or hurt you? What inner shoulds do you find yourself tripping over?

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is joy  (which, despite the week I’ve just lived through, I do expect to return to my life one day soon).

Writing Wednesday: Making hard choices about priorities

Wow, this week is so turning out to be zero steps forward and five steps backwards. What happened to my relatively content child who, when sleepy, was usually happy to be placed in his crib with his stuffed rabbit? Who is this little being who refuses to be put down, who wants to be walked and sung to sleep instead? Who wakes up jumpy ten minutes into a nap? Who stays awake long past his bedtime and seems perpetually hungry? And why did his father decide that this was the perfect week to take a two-day trip up to remote villages in the north??

It’s Wednesday though, so here goes with a few thoughts about the process of writing my other baby – the book – while baby number one squeaks, mumbles, and sighs his way through what will hopefully be at least a 45 minute nap.

When I started writing the memoir more than three years ago, I had a choice to make. I could continue as I had been – working full time as Director of Training for the Headington Institute and writing only on planes, in the evenings, and on the weekend – or I could make a change that would allow me to more evenly balance my passion for my job, my passion for writing, and my burgeoning relationship with Mike.

In the end I decided to take the leap and drop down to working only four days a week at the Institute.

I took a 20% pay cut to be able to claim Fridays as my own every week, but it turned out to be worth every penny that I didn’t earn. Being able to invest at least one full day a week in my writing meant that I made progress on the book without stealing too much time from Mike. It also meant that I was happier to show up at the office, 100% focused, Monday through Thursday.

I have never regretted this decision, despite the fact that I haven’t yet made a cent on this book and possibly never will. I was an all-around happier person during the two years this system was in place, and how do you put a price tag on that?

Now, of course, things have changed. We live in Laos. I’m not juggling a full time day job and a life-job (for I suspect that’s what writing is for me, a good old-fashioned vocation). I am, however, juggling that vocation, a baby, and consulting work. Not to mention a marriage. Oh, and friends. I am coming to suspect that finding time to devote to writing will always be an exercise in making some tough choices about what to prioritize.

One tough choice I face daily at the moment is usually whether I should sacrifice some extra sleep to spend these quiet windows of baby-nap-time with my laptop. Another one is whether I should say yes to consulting work that would mean that even those nap times would need to be invested elsewhere.

What about you? How do you prioritize your writing? How do you make and guard the time to create? How do you defend that to yourself even if it doesn’t seem to make financial sense?  

Want to read more about making tough choices around priorities and creating the life you want to lead? Head on over to Alexis Grant’s excellent blog. And, finally, here’s the quote of the week:

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.
(Niyi Osundare)

All’s well that ends well

Yesterday one of my good friends, Abi, left this comment on my post about joy: “the sight of mini-Mike grinning as he leans back in the safe nook of maxi-Mike’s knee definitely came as a welcome joy-boost.”

Today I have for you a one minute video, in two acts, of Dominic in that “safe nook”. The first time Mike showed it to me I said it wasn’t funny. Then I had to admit that it would have been a bit funny… had it been someone else’s child.

Without further ado, here are the adventures of Mike and Dominic at 6am.

From love to joy

Last Wednesday I talked about how the arrival of one baby coincided with the death of a dream (at least temporarily) for another.

During the first six weeks of Dominic’s life, doors with traditional publishers continued to close one after another. I received a lot of positive feedback from editors about my writing and the book, but no one was willing to take a risk on it in the current publishing climate.

It was difficult not to let this disappointment dominate my thinking or taint the joys that other areas of my life were handing me. When it comes to compliments and criticism, most people seem to be hardwired to pay attention to the negative – good marriage counselors will often tell you that it takes about five positive comments to counterbalance a single negative comment in a marriage. For me, this dynamic can come into play in other ways as well. A single negative can sometimes seem to overshadow a whole fistful of joys.

I’ve been thinking about this anew this last two weeks. Life in Laos can dish out both intensely good experiences and intensely frustrating ones and some days it’s a struggle not to let the frustrations (circular saws screeching right behind the house all day, ant bites in unmentionable places, sore neck and back, no ingredients or oven to make chocolate chip cookies when the mood strikes, crying baby) overshadow the good things in life.

So as we transition from love to joy in this series, it seems fitting to catalog some of the things that have helped fill my joy cup this past week.

  1. The cool weather appears to have arrived to stay for the next couple of months!!
  2. A husband who took the baby in the 5’s on Saturday and Sunday so that I could sleep.
  3. Two hours of uninterrupted writing time on Saturday.
  4. Walking down by the river in the cool dark of evening with Mike, pushing the pram and chatting.
  5. Celebrating Halloween with friends here with a perfectly behaved baby, the charming movie Stardust, and big bowls of kettle corn (how have I reached this age and never before experienced the deliciousness that is kettle corn??).
  6. Mike arriving home by bicycle for lunch every day this past week.
  7. Friends here announcing their engagement.
  8. Not having to do the many loads of laundry Dominic generates (how is it possible that one small being can triple an entire household’s weekly laundry??)
  9. Cointreau, tonic water, lime, and ice.
  10. Eliciting Dominic’s first real laugh (it took about 200 repetitions of peekaboo, but let’s not dwell on that).
  11. Watching Dollhouse episodes while breastfeeding.
  12. Chocolate ice cream at AB bakery.
  13. Lime green walls and passionfruit sorbet.
  14. Coming to a decision about the future of book baby (come back on Writing Wednesday for the next installment in that tale)…

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is joy.

Over to you: Do you find that the negative in life disproportionately influences your mood and thinking? And what has helped fill your joy cup lately?