Monday, August 30, 2010

first grade!

Jabber started first grade today, and then came home with a fever up over 102.  He's now up in his bed shivering and moaning and fighting dreams in which "terrible things keep happening over and over and I'm afraid they'll become real."  Poor little guy.  He's so tough, even when he's basically miserable.

Friday, August 27, 2010

sucked into a black hole of work? check.

The first full week of work is now behind me (no students until next week!), and I know...I haven't checked in.  This is how my  life works around this time of year:  back-to-school.
  • gazing in a stupor at the four walls of my classroom as though I cannot picture them containing any sort of knowledge?  check.
  • back-to-back twelve hour workdays during which my children forget what I look like? check.
  • never-ending to-do list? check check check...(oh! that wasn't on my list, but I did it so I'm going to write it on my list so I can check it off! check!)
Summer vacation used to be this long stretch of lazy days and reading books and babysitting my little brother and slowly growing so bored that I actually looked forward to climbing on that yellow school bus with its bad shocks and its freckle-faced bullies and its inevitable arrival at school.

I liked wearing my new outfits and arranging my new school supplies.  I liked seeing who got their braces off and who got a bad permanent (um, me...) and who had grown six inches (um, not me...) and who had emerged from the cocoon of summer looking all sexy (um, no comment.)  After that, it was pretty much downhill in my eyes, but at least I was good at sneak-reading and had the ability to do my own thing while absorbing what I needed from the lesson with my spidey-senses.  (I know. I was rude and insolent and snarky and lazy.  I know it was obnoxious of me to still get straight A's.  Believe me, I pay penance for my middle school self every day.)

As an adult, though, summer seems to shrink every year.  I have big dreams that second week of June--all the wonderful things our family is going to do, all that lovely together-time.  We'll go camping; we'll go on amazing road trips.  We'll have fires on the beach and hang out with friends and read giant stacks of delicious books.  I'll paint a masterpiece to hang on my living room wall.  Hell, I'll paint my back deck before it rots right out from under me.  And then, about halfway through July, I realize that I'm only going to accomplish a tiny fraction of those dreams.  The camping/road trip money is spent replacing a dead clothes dryer, and then on replacing the washer, which dies shortly afterwards of a broken heart.  The husband has to go to work in the middle of the night and can't really stay awake for a bonfire or many nights out with friends.  The kids fight each other with tree limbs in the backyard while I wonder if the stain will even stick to the deck in 96% humidity.

So this year summer was simply not quite long enough for me to paint my masterpiece.  (Um, or even finish painting the deck...but before you judge, it's a HUGE deck, with all this underneath stuff and skinny rails that needed three coats and walls of lattice...and I've still got time before the snow flies!)

It was just exactly long enough for me to finish a first draft of my newest novel.

It was long enough (plus one day) to finish my first pass of edits on KISS THE MORNING STAR.  (YAY!)

It was nearly long enough for me to forget all my passwords at work.

It was enough time for me to read somewhere between 25 and 30 books (several of which were chapter books I read out loud to the boys--Oh, how we love Ramona and Beezus, Laura and Mary, Peter and Fudgie!)

And it was just about exactly enough time for me to be able to look out at a crowd of middle schoolers (which I would possibly have referred to as a horde of hoodlums mere weeks earlier!) and think, "Awwwww, look at how cute and shiny they all are!"

So happy back to school season, and I will try to squeeze a little blog post here in between the book reports. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

making a difference

There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them.  --Elie Wiesel

I'm fifty pages from the end of my first pass of edits for KISS THE MORNING STAR (and six days away from my personal deadline for finishing said first pass), and I thought I'd give you a glimpse into why I haven't been posting very coherent blog posts lately.  I looked up at my screen, and that's really what it looked like:  four documents all competing for my attention on my little monitor, a sixteen-foot-long banner of colorful notes taking over my keyboard, plus the eight tabs of firefox, my itunes, and three more documents minimized at the bottom.  (Document titles:  KTMS August 2010, July 14 melanie thoughts, answering melanie3, Hoole more revision notes, Editing KtMS3, scraps, kerouac quotes and sources.  Tabs open on firefox:  not telling.  :P)

This is exciting.  The yellow-highlighted notes on the document on the left of the side-by-side view (Editing KtMS3) are notes about scenes I've rewritten, progress I've made, additions, subtractions, successes, haphazard attempts, experiments, and in other words (as if that weren't enough words), STUFF I DID TO CHANGE THIS BOOK and, I hope, STUFF THAT MAKES IT BETTER. 

This next fifty pages, I'll admit, need the most work.  The world won't really end if I don't finish before school starts, but I know it would make me feel better overall.  I also know this is only the first pass--the first round of changes I've made for a real, live (and brilliant!) editor.  I know some of what I'm writing will never see the light of day, and in fact, some of it will never even make it through my next pass before going to Melanie. 

I've been approaching these edits with a very open mind, thinking of the whole book more from a "What if this would work?" or maybe a "Hey, maybe I should try that?" or possibly even a "Wouldn't it be sort of crazy if I went in this direction?" kind of mindset, knowing that if this doesn't work, or I really shouldn't have tried that, or yeah, this direction is really crazy and not in a good way...I can always go back a draft or two.  I have at least twenty to choose from, after all!

And now.  Yeah, you know it.  Back to work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

because someday soon he won't let me post these stories...

Monkey is upstairs on the potty.

Me: How you doin' up there, Monkey?


Me: What should I say?


Me: How are you doing up there?


Me: What should I say?


Me: How are you doooooing up there?


Me: Well, what should I say???


Me: I'm not going to call you a butthead.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

don't get a big head

Monkey: (grins) I'm growing!

Me: Yes, yes, you are.

Monkey:  (grins even wider) I'm going to be big as Daddy soon!

Me:  (grasps at good parenting opportunity)  Yes, someday...that is...if you go to bed nicely every night.

Monkey:  (grin fading)  But MOM.  Is my head going to grow, too?

Me:  Well, yes.  All of you will grow.  You'll be in proportion, don't worry.

Monkey:  (horrified look)  BUT I DON'T WANT MY HEAD TO GET BIGGER!

Me:  (pointing at David)  Look at Daddy, though.  Wouldn't he look silly if his head were little but the rest of him were big?

David:  It happens to some people, you know.

Me:  It won't happen to you, Monkey, don't worry.

Monkey: (wailing and pressing his hands to both sides of his head)  I DON'T WANT TO GET A BIG HEAD LIKE DADDY!  I DON'T WANT TO LOOK FUNNY.

(yes, this is a cheater post.  no, it has no point.  yes, I'm editing like crazy.  no, I'm not getting a whole lot done with these charming and hilarious children around.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

things you shouldn't really do in a skirt

I'm terrified of heights.  When my body is a certain distance above the ground, my blood pressure (non-scientific description) forces every molecule of blood into my hands and feet, making them feel simultaneously numb and somehow inflated, like all four of my limbs culminate in blown-up latex gloves.

This makes me clumsy on ladders, coupled with the fact that all that blood has also vacated my brain, leaving me a little lightheaded.

(Have I mentioned this also happens when I watch movies of people who climb mountains, drop out of  helicopters, scale the sides of skyscrapers or basically anything else David would like to watch?)

Despite this aversion to heights, I sometimes tend to seek them out, finding ways to face my fear.  Maybe I hope it will disappear altogether?  That its power will be diminished?  In any case, I've made it a point to go on roller coasters and ride chair lifts and even a little bit of mountain climbing.

And today I climbed a ladder to the very peak of my house, my inflatable hand struggling to clutch my camera, in order to face my fear and take a picture of D. working on the chimney.  (While D's brother and father joked about the awkwardness caused by me wearing a skirt...)  And I did it!  Up above you can see a picture of my house--the ladder was standing up on that deck, which is already one story up, and stretching up to the peak, which is outside the top frame of the photo (and you can also see a bit of my deck-painting project, though I'm farther than that right now!)  And you can see the photo I snapped with my hand all shaky and tingling--D.'s surprised smile when he realized it was me peering over the edge of the roof.

About halfway up the second story of the house (I looked down to roll my eyes at some comment of my father-in-law about my skirt and got a little dizzy...), I almost gave up, but then what would have been the point?  And it's sort of stupid--a lot of people climb ladders--but it made me feel so awesome to climb up there despite my fear.

And battle my fearful (but similarly exhilarating) edits!  *straps on parachute*

Saturday, August 7, 2010

picture this!

Having a husband who is a photographer means a lot of things.  It means that my children are charmingly documented in a parade of beautiful portraits capturing their every change and mood from birth to the present.

It means that when I need an author photo taken, I can count on him to help me out at a good price.  It means that even when there's nothing actually wrong with the photos that result from our first shoot, when I tell him, "These just...aren't quite me enough..." he smiles, looks more closely at the photos, and says, "Oh! Well, of course!  The problem here is..." and then he goes on to tell me a complicated explanation involving light temperature and bounce-flashes and white balances that have NOTHING to do with the fact that I'm squinting my eyes a little funny and tipping my head at that awkward angle that makes my chin multiply into the plural form.

It means that we can't go anywhere or do anything without a complicated packing process and six camera bags.  It also means that we're almost never caught in that, "If only we had a camera..." position.

It means that the bottom drawer of our refrigerator is full of high speed black and white film.

And it means that up until yesterday, the last time we had a family portrait that included David was actually three days before Monkey was born.  I'm so happy to finally have a photo of all four of us to hang on my wall!  Thanks to David, for taking all those wonderful pictures at our family gathering last night, and thanks to Mom for snapping this shot so he didn't have to sprint madly into place while everyone else tries desperately to remain in place and looking pretty.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Confession: I don't really play with my kids.

I almost never play with my kids.

I read to them all the time--it's our favorite thing to do.  We read picture books and chapter books and encyclopedias and I even read recipes on the rare occasion I can handle the mess and stress of cooking with them.

I sometimes give them a starter idea, like this morning when I handed them a cardboard tube full of plastic dinosaurs and suggested they create a prehistoric dino-land in the sandbox (and later have a dino-wash with soap and scrub brushes before the dinos are allowed back in the house), and I often set them up with supplies so that they can be creative (like the cardboard spaceship/doghouse that is on our front porch, complete with pink tissue paper and sparkly alphabet stickers), and OCCASIONALLY I may get talked into playing a board game or even a game of catch in the backyard.

But overall, I trust they will keep themselves occupied.  I even ignore them. tell the truth, I think it's good for them.  They know that I am always available for a hug or a kiss.  They know that I am frequently available for a "Wow! That sounds awesome!" and they know that sometimes I'm even available for a "Come see, Mama!"  They are always supervised, albeit sometimes through the window or even via the baby monitor that is still on in the hallway outside their bedroom.

So sometimes I worry that maybe they're not getting every kind of "enrichment" from me.  Like when I go to pick them up at their grandparents' house (the grandparents play with them and do projects and make them their special little helpers and all the things they can manage to do because they know we're coming to pick them up soon) and they wail that they never want to go back home with me.

But really, I remember when that grandma who devotes every moment to her little Jabber and her little Monkey told me to "go play outside" as she handed me a cup of Kool-Aid and locked the door behind me.  (It's hyperbole,, you didn't really lock the door.  At least, not when it was below zero.  Not when there was lightning.  Much.)  I remember playing board games with myself.  (I even played Stratego against myself, which, if you know the object of Stratego, is pretty lame.)  I read books, drew pictures, played elaborate games with my stuffed animals and My Little Ponies and taught myself to play guitar and basically turned out okay.  And I was all alone for the nine years I waited for my parents to get around to giving me a sibling.  My kids are so lucky--they have a built in tormenter friend! 

So yeah, I think they sometimes start acting crazy because they're tired of hearing the tapping of my fingers on the keys and tired of waiting for me "to just finish this scene".  And sometimes I really would probably have more fun if I put down my paintbrush and helped them dig a dinosaur bog.  But overall, I'm happy with the way they can occupy themselves.  And when I see Jabber ride by on his bicycle, with his superhero mask and his tool belt full of mysterious objects, funny voices emanating from his constantly flapping mouth...or when I see Monkey, stubbornly wearing his fireman boots and holding "a lava bomb" as he sits on top of his "rowing crusher"--I think about how the freedom to occupy themselves might help them cope with life better than if I'm constantly guiding them or providing them with activities. 

I admit, there are ways to have the best of both worlds, ways that I periodically flirt with but ultimately find myself too adult-busy for.  A long time ago when I read the book Playful Parenting, I was really impressed with the free play time, where parents are told to play with the kids but to let the kids have the reins.  I further admit that this is hard for me.  I know that my kids love it when we do some of the things I read about in this book, especially playing with puppets or dolls or whatever to work through problems, teach lessons, build empathy.  So I try some of that, telling stories using some puppets we have--stories about a big brother and a little brother who don't always get along.

But more often than not, I hand them a cup of Kool-Aid and send them out the door.

Monday, August 2, 2010

how I'm spending my summer vacation...

My summer feels a little bit like a swirling vortex of unfinished projects.  And it's okay...I think.  Summer is still in full swing, and I have to remember that it's not like my world will come crashing to a complete halt and snow will start falling the day school starts.  I mean, the snow thing is unlikely.  (Because undoubtedly, I will have to endure two or three weeks of sweltering heat in my classroom full of stagnant, sweat-laden air and floor-to-ceiling windows full of sun...)

BUT REALLY.  I'm editing a book.  This in itself is a vast, uncertain project that sometimes feels like going backwards.  So far this summer, I have spent at least five or six straight weeks reading my book, thinking about my book, talking about my book, ignoring my book, making color-coded plot and character notes on endless streams of dot-matrix paper for my book, writing TWELVE THOUSAND words of notes (so far) about my book, and...I have yet to change a word of the actual book.  The best part of all of this is that even though the process is overwhelming and...well, overwhelming is probably the best word I can use, actually...right now, at this moment, I actually feel eager to dive in and make this book better.  And possibly more importantly, I feel confident, like I might have the ability to do so!

I'm also painting my back deck.  This project is surprisingly similar to the editing project.  Both of them are bigger than they first appeared.  Both of them involve broad strokes that require courage and vision and tiny, fiddly little details that require patience and sustained attention.  Both projects are taking a lot longer than I anticipated and include hidden work that nobody will ever see but without which the end result will be less likely to stand the test of time.  Both projects have been delayed by rain, so to speak.  Both projects mix poorly with rambunctious children.  Both are about making steady improvements.

The nice part about the two projects is that they play well together.  I do some of my best editing while wielding a paintbrush.  Many times I have reached a mental obstacle in my editing process--or probably more accurately, I have found myself unable to focus my attention on editing (i.e. I fall asleep or find myself on the internet in the middle of a sentence), and I have left the desk and headed for the deck, only to return later with some of that obstacle chipped away by the brain I thought was fully occupied by brushing and belting out songs playing on my ipod.  Somewhat sadly, this doesn't seem to work in the other direction--my subconscious has so far not managed to paint anything while I'm on the computer.  (But psssst! Brain! If you should manage to start doing that, I encourage you to focus your attention on that damned lattice!)

In all likelihood, the deck will be finished well before the edits.  Luckily, I live in an old house, and there's always another project.  Likewise with writing.

In the meantime, we're off to play in the sandbox!