Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

     There’s no better way to get me to read a book than to tell me a movie is getting made based on it. A movie co-starring my cousin, Bobby Daniel Rodriguez, with other names like Julianne Moore, and Ken Wantanabe, shot Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto to the top of my queue.  In fact, I was so excited I sprang for the audible edition so I could have the story narrated to me when I couldn’t actively sit and read.
Bel Canto is a literary symphony, told in the spirit of an opera. Set in 1997 Peru, it is based on the true story of a terrorist takeover of the Japanese Ambassador to Peru’s residence, during a birthday party thrown for the Vice President of Peru. Patchett takes her readers inside the home with the party goers turned hostages for the entire 126 day duration of their confinement.  Her readers discover the reality of captivity, the inevitable unlikely pairing of lovers, and a man’s love affair with his God,  set against an incredible score of classical opera like nothing you’ve experienced before.
I was so enchanted by the story that I never deviated from the audible version. It’s worth noting that the narrator, Anna Fields, performed as brilliantly as the prose, never degrading herself to produce silly “girl” voices, or mocking the lower registers to make stereotypical male ones.
Bel Canto is a lyrical joy that captivated me from the first line, and held me tightly through a roller coaster. Even with the knowledge of exactly how the hostage situation resolved, this novel wrenched my heart, and even managed to deliver an ending I didn’t see coming.
The movie version of Bel Canto is slated to be released in 2018.

That Time I Accepted Myself…

The day my husband told me that I should “become a writer” I got mad at him. A writer wasn’t something you woke up and decided to be. A writer was someone who spent a lifetime honing their talent, and crafting their story. It was most certainly not me.

At the time I was twenty-six, sixteen weeks pregnant, and recently laid off from my job. I was scared. Let’s be honest, no one is excited about hiring a pregnant woman, and we hadn’t even had the conversation about child care yet. We’d been married only a few months. I’d finished my first semester towards the Master Degree in English Education I was working towards. I didn’t know how I’d manage school, work, and a pregnancy, but now I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to school without having a job. This was an out-of-nowhere tangle I hadn’t even considered when we’d decided to get pregnant quickly. My reaction to his suggestion was badly directed, of course, but I didn’t know it at the time.

At the time I was reacting to the idea of “being a writer”, and how I had no idea how to even accomplish something like that, and, yes, I got mad. What I didn’t realize was that my fear wasn’t in becoming a writer, it was in having to learn how while also learning how to keep a tiny human being alive. I didn’t even consider the extra work hidden in there. Things like laundry, or washing walls, or after school activities. I didn’t think about baking cupcakes, or being Class Mom. Instead of realizing that I was scared to enter two worlds  as foreign as writing, and child-rearing. I just got mad. I got mad, and then I got busy. Eight years later, I am a writer. I am a writer who has written things. I am a writer who is currently writing a novel.

The journey to get here has been a difficult one. There’s been all kinds of reasons: life’s challenges, the need to teach myself about novel structure, software, time. The biggest problem, however, has been me.

There.  I said it.

Maybe you don’t think that’s big news, and maybe you agree with me, and maybe you knew it all along, but I only just made the connection.

I’ve been torturing myself for years, reading all the writing books I could get my hands on. They all say the same thing: Write. Write every day. Create a routine. Develop a habit.

Some books go as far as calling me an amateur for not following their advice. Others tell me I am giving in to my inner demons. All of them make me feel like a complete failure, because I simply could not find a way to write every single day.

I tried all kinds of things. Getting up early. Going to bed early. I’ve tried Bullet Journeling (which actually helps, but doesn’t solve the time problem). I’ve tried deleting social media, and games on my phone. No matter what I did, I couldn’t solve for the problem that ten AM on Tuesday was never the same as ten AM on Wednesday. Ever.

Three weeks ago,  I had an epiphany. “What if I just accept that I’ll never be able to do what those books tell me to do?” What if my life isn’t the kind where writing will ever have the chance to be a routine. What if I accepted that if I want to write, I have to fight for it?

I won’t say that some divine light shone down on me from above. It didn’t. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what acceptance would bring me. For a moment I considered that perhaps I couldn’t be a writer, right now. That didn’t sit very well with me either. The novel I’ve got trapped in my mind needs to be written. I owe that to the teenaged girl out there who thinks that she is defined by the choices being made for her, and to the boy who wants to be more than his small town can offer him. That girl is worth fitting twenty minutes of writing in between loads of laundry.That boy is worth using that free thirty minutes I have after I get home from the supermarket to work a scene. The story I’m writing is worth carving out some time, whenever I can find it, to put words to paper.

I’ve written almost every week day since.

Isn’t that amazing? For years I’ve beaten myself up for not being able to do the work of two women, despite the fact that I’m only one. I’ve criticized myself for not being able to balance raising children, running a household, and being a wife, with creating a universe out of nothing. We do so much damage to ourselves without even realizing it. I cursed myself for not achieving more, instead of realizing how much I actually do achieve every day. I engage in self-destructive behavior when I didn’t do it all, instead of feeling encourage by what I was doing.

All I had to do was accept myself.

I had to accept that I haven’t been writing full-time, because I have an actual full-time job. I had to accept that even though I don’t get paid for the laundry, the mopping, the bathing, the cooking, the planning, the coordinating, or any of the duties inherent in being the stay-at-home parent, it is still a job. In fact, it is more than a full-time job. It is a 24/7/365 job. I had to accept that the writing I do is work above and beyond the work that is expected of me.

Once I received this self-acceptance I suddenly was able to see myself as the juggernaut I really am. That I have almost a third of a novel written is now something I can say with pride, instead of shame. That I’m completing scenes as a faster rate than every before is a testament to my epiphany.

Maybe this blog isn’t going to get the attention it probably deserves. Maybe I don’t have the time to write an article a week, while still writing scenes in my manuscript. Maybe you’ll understand. Maybe you’ll get tired of waiting for me to write a new post. I’ve also accepted that I don’t have to know the future. That’s not a prerequisite for this job.

The only thing I have to remember to do is write whenever I can, because each one has been carved out of the time it takes to do the hardest job in the world.

Waking up Through the Looking Glass: A Letter to Friends & Family who Voted for Donald Trump,

Dear Friends & Family who voted for Donald Trump,

heartbroken-quotes-heart-broken-quotes-sad-love-quotes-found-on-polyvoreI know you probably won’t read this. I know you unfollowed me on Facebook a while back. It’s okay. I’m guilty too. I unfollowed you the day after the election. It was a knee-jerk, wholly emotional reaction, I admit. I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and sing “la-la-la” for a little while. I’m making my return though, and before I click the “follow friend” button again, I have some things that I’d like to say.

First and foremost, I don’t hate you. Yes, I’m angry, hurt, and betrayed. Yes, I’m feeling tremendous fear, but Confucius said, “It is easy to hate, and difficult to love.”, and I’m not afraid of working hard. We’ve gotten away pretty easy up until now, never having had our relationship truly tested. I want you to know, that I think we can get through this. I want you to know that I love you enough to try to make it work. I hope you love me that much too.

Those of you who know me should understand how personal this election was for me. It isn’t like the final score of a World Series, or the final game in the NFL play-offs. I don’t really care about sports much, but you know that. You’ve been watching for months, on Facebook, as I sacrificed weeks of writing to sew Suffragette costumes for my little and I. You know how we learned about the history of women’s rights in this country; how we watched Iron Jawed Angels over, and over again. You know, that for me, this wasn’t just any election. It was history. It was the chance to shatter the highest glass ceiling of all. You know that this is how I feel.

You know the colors that have been cast across my skin, too. You not only know, but some of you share the blood in my veins; have committed your own blood to it. You know about the life I’ve lived. The decisions I’ve made. The scandals. The thing is, I know yours too. I know the pitfalls, and the bad choices, the faults, and the low-times. Whether you’ve asked me to or not, I’ve been there, standing behind you, ready to help in anyway you need.  That’s what it means to be in the same circle. I thought it was safe to be in the same circle with you, because you have my back, and I have yours.

That’s why I’m so upset. Because I really thought being in the same circle meant we agreed on the same fundamental things. I thought it meant I had your back, and you had mine.

But on Wednesday I woke up through the looking glass, only to discover it was all a lie.

 

That Wednesdbroken-heart-quotes-to-share-your-pain15ay I woke up not just to an election result I never in a million years could have predicted, but to you:

 

 

 

  • telling me “you lost get over it”;
  • accusing me of whining;
  • mocking my fear, and that of others;
  • demanding I “give him a chance”.

I woke up to hate crimes that would never have happened in a country that didn’t just elect a man who’d run a campaign of hate. I’ve heard you tell me, with the most meaningful action an American citizen has, that you didn’t think my safety, or my child’s safety, was more important than “bucking a system”.

I’ve heard you cite President Obama’s failures for the last 8 years, but refuse to acknowledge his triumphs. Here’s what I’ve seen:

  • racists calling for Obama to prove his citizenship, Trump, not only among them, but the loudest of the calls;
  • his legalizing stem cell research is directly responsible for us being on the cusp of a cure for Alzheimer’s;
  • a lack of across the aisle cooperation so great that the government literally shut down;
  • a first family in the White House without scandal, without excuse, scrutinized under a microscope, and coming up with more class than any of their predecessors;
  • love in the White House for the first time in my life.

I see people on my side looking within themselves, wondering what we missed, searching for some way to understand it all. What have I seen on the Trump side of the fence? Not one Trump supporter speaking up as to why it was worth it to vote for a man who

  • campaigned under a promise to create Muslim registries;
  • demeaned POWs, and disabled people;
  • exhibited behavior we would ground our own children for;
  • joked about how he would date his daughter
    • This one is pretty hard for me to understand, because I can’t imagine how you could stomach such a statement from your own husband about your own daughter. Your silence about this makes me afraid.  It makes me think this is acceptable to you.  It makes me wonder if you would condone it. That you are willing to help a man who does think this way makes me nauseous.
  • was endorsed by the KKK.
    • I mean, what it is even like to vote for the same guy as David Duke voted for? Does it feel good? Does it make you feel like disinfecting your entire body? Do you realize the KKK comes after race mixing white people? Do you realize that you aren’t safe when they come to town?

Your silence about all of it, except to mock my fears, is most heartbreaking of all. It’s because I love you so much that I am so upset. I thought you’d care enough to see that this was so much more than an election.  This was the shattering–not of a glass ceiling, but of the illusion that this country could ever care about me.

Here’s what I have heard from you:

  • A Trump supporter told me, echoing Breitbart news rhetoric, “Systemic racism does not racism-text-straightexist, except for in the ways it applies to white men.”;
  • At Staples I overheard two women agree, after I’d passed the aisle they were in “I can’t wait until we can get rid of the Mexicans.”;
  • Hate crimes have reached 701 since the election;
  • The media is manipulating my perspective;
    • But when I press you for your sources, you give me ones that operate on a clear bias. When I ask you what liberal news you watch, you scoff at me, as if I am suggesting something I don’t already do. I watch Fox News. I read Breitbart. I compare my answers to CNN and the BBC, and then …only then, do I form an opinion. And yet, I am the one guilty of having my perspective manipulated?
  • Don’t lump me in with the racists, and the sexists.

I want to be very clear. I don’t want to lump you in with the loudest voices of Trump supporters. I don’t want to think of you as someone who thought the things he said were “no big deal”. I really don’t, but it’s not about what I want. It’s about what you want. If you don’t want to be confused with the hateful messages that were spread, you have to say that. If you don’t want to be collected with a group of people who threaten to legislate my body, you have to say that. If you don’t want to be represented by a hate group hiding behind the code name “alt-right”, then you have to say that…and it’s not enough to just say it to me. You have to say it to other supporters. You have to say it to our state representatives, because if you’re not speaking up and adding your voice to the conversation, then you are tacitly implicit in the decisions made as a consequence of your vote.

If you are one of those people who say, “I don’t really pay attention to politics, but…” and also voted for Trump, then, I’m sorry, but you have even more work to do, because what you’ve done is allowed yourself to be willfully ignorant, and then acted upon that ignorance in a way that puts me, mine, and yours in jeopardy.

I really do love you, and I want you to know that I am not going to be the first to bring this conversation up with you. I am going to respect your need for a safe space in all of this, but make no mistake– I do not intend to be quiet. I will fight for my rights, for the rights of my children, and for yours, because even if you do not understand me, or want to understand me, I still believe you are a valid, worthy, incredible human being who is entitled to feel safe and respected everywhere you go. I hope you feel the same for me.

 

Love,

T.R.

 

Ten Lifehacks to Balance Life, Depression, and Writing

My creative journey has been really taking off lately. I’m about to reach a milestone in my draft. A ten-minute version of a play I wrote, Sisters Fight, is about to get staged in New York City! (more details forthcoming. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter @TRPatmore for the most up to date info). I’m really feeling connected to my craft in a way I haven’t felt in years.

What’s the change? So many things! The biggest one, however, is going to sound oh-so-familiar, but here it is–I’m making time to write, and developing a habit. I’m setting goals. More importantly– I’m achieving them!

None of it is easy. Balancing domestic responsibilities, with the needs of my kids, the support role we wives play in our husband’s careers, along with writing is a tricky thing. You know what kind of thing it isn’t? An impossible one.  Here are a few hacks  I’ve discovered that are really helping me succeed. Hopefully, you might find a couple that help you too!bukowski

  1. Be desperate to write. Charles Bukowski said, “writers are desperate people and when they stop being desperate they stop being writers.”  I saw this while mindless scrolling through Instagram, and it hit me like a punch in the chest. I admit, I lost my desperation at some point along the way. I approached becoming a writer with too much skepticism in the past. I’m not sure I was convinced that I could actually do this thing. It was when I stopped to consider what would happen if I had to stop writing that I discovered how desperate I really was. What if all I could do was wait until my children went to bed and squeeze whatever words I had in? What would I do if I only had one hour to write? This one idea changed everything.
  2. Acknowledge weaknesses. There is this group of people in my life whose biggest criticism of me is that I’m “too perfect”. It’s probably one of the most ridiculous statements that I’d ever heard, but they’ve never seen the laundry area of my basement. The fact of the matter is that I am nowhere near perfect. I stink at repetitious tasks; I hate having to make creative decisions on the spot (like what to make for dinner); and I’m also dealing with depression–which makes having the energy to begin tasks damn near impossible. These are the things that make me who I am. Ignoring them doesn’t help me. Acknowledging my weaknesses, however, allows me to work with and around them.
  3. Find a writing partner, group, or creative tribe. I understand if this sounds insurmountable. It can sometimes be tricky to discover like minds. Just try to be open, and take a chance. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and they have great groups which meet-up both virtually, and locally. Reach out to your artist friend. I am extremely lucky to have a writing soulmate,  fellow writer, Erica Deel. We do our best to see each other whenever life allows, but we make sure to take advantage of phone calls, and even have our very own personal writing support group page on Facebook just for the two of us. It helps to have someone to be accountable to, but even more than that, it helps to have a person understand your plight. My creative tribe also includes my cousin, an actress (just one of a million other talents she has) and fellow creative. Together we have been able to create a support structure for our creative passions that is almost spiritual. It’s hard to describe. The point is that when my creative energy is lagging, or when I’m feeling stuck, the women in my tribe help to lift me up and get me back on track, as well as motivate me to succeed so I can return the favor in my own way.
  4. Take control of time. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s true. There’s nothing you can change about that. Find a way to make a visual representation of the time you spend on various tasks throughout the day. All it takes is a two day commitment to catalogue your activities to see that there is a lot of time wasted (I’m looking at you social media) that could be used to write. Trying to decide what to make for dinner each night, was a huge struggle. Trips to the grocery store were horrendous time sucks. I tried making lists, but even that took forever, because I wasn’t really sure what I needed to buy. The same held true for tedious repetitive tasks, which I have serious issues accomplishing. I wasted all kinds of time just trying to get up the energy to clean something, fold something, dust or vacuum something. Laundry is the absolute worst for me. Usually it takes one of the kids running out of socks to get it going, and I’m not going to pretend that hbujoas really been solved totally. I’m getting there.
  5. Find and commit to a method. There’s all kinds of organization methods out there just a Pinterest away. Pick one you like. Commit to it for two months. I chose Bullet Journeling (check out the post I wrote about it here), and I find that it is a really effective way to help me focus all of my thoughts, tasks, and to-dos in one place.
  6. Plan Ahead. The BuJo method is great for helping you to plan your time. The biggest change I made was weekly meal planning, and marathon meal prepping.  Because deciding what to cook for dinner often lead to take-out, I decided that the only way to ensure I was providing a healthier lifestyle for my kids was to decide what to cook ahead of time. This is where BuJo comes in handy. I have a few different notebooks with different functions that I’ve put into regular use in my life. My daily BuJo is the size of a pocket-sized Moleskine (it actually is one, right now), and is where I put both monthly and weekly calendars. I have a creative journal where more permanent things go, like my master meal list, and recipe cards, along with notes about my novel, and other creative expressions about my life. BuJo’s indexing makes it easy to find what I need, pretty quickly.    I use them both every Sunday to plan the meals I’ll cook for the week, and create a grocery list. I also tend to prepare double batches of things like lasagna, or meatloaf, that I freeze for use in upcoming weeks. This Fall I decided to stop letting my kids buy lunch at school, which was made so much easier since I’d already developed the meal planning habit. It just gets added onto prep day.
  7. Play to strengths. Since I’m much better at getting tasks I hate completing done in bursts I’ll buy all the groceries I need from the list I’ve made in one day, and then I meal prep all at once. What that means is that I do all the chopping, dicing, and spicing done at once. I separate things into ziplocks, and plastic containers (I’ve amassed quite the collection from the take-out days), and store according to when I’ll need them. Having everything pre-portioned, and prepped makes it super easy to throw dinner together, and cuts actual cooking time. By the time I’m finished I’ve got ready-to-eat breakfasts for my son (he gets up earlier in the morning than the rest of us), four days worth of lunches for both kids, and snacks for the little one too. Every dinner I’ll make that week will be broken down into easy to cook parts. This leaves me with more time in the school day to complete other difficult domestic tasks that would get pushed aside in favor of grocery store trips, and figuring out what to make for dinner.
  8. Set goals. This is another thing BuJo is great for. Creating trackers to help you meet your goals is an easy thing to do, and something you can get pretty creative with (yet another Pinterest away). My life can be unpredictable, between religious holidays, and whether or not my hubby is working from home, so instead of scheduling the bathroom to be cleaned on Wednesday, I’ll write it on a to-do list: bathroom, and floors; or dusting, and de-cluttering. I haven’t really found a way to make laundry work this way, but I’ll keep you posted when I do. This is where your writing life can get a chance to make your to-do list. With the domestic stuff scheduled, you’re free to put the writing time back into your life. Set goals. Some writers like to set word count goals, others prefer to track the time they spend. I like to set two scenes per week: one that I’ll definitely finish, the other that I will start if I finish the first one quickly. This gives me a way to structure my thinking ahead of time, the same way I make a grocery list for the meals I’m prepping for the week.  To keep myself focused I use this adorable iOS app called Forest, which lets me time 20 minute bursts of writing, and lets me earn adorable plants and trees for my daily focus forests. Don’t forget to set time to read! This is just as important as your writing habit.
  9. Reward yourself. In every other job you get rewarded for your work on a regular basis, in the form of a paycheck. Mom doesn’t come with that kind of validation, nor does domestic engineer, and guess what, writing doesn’t do it with any kind of regularity either. BuJo makes it easy to see the accomplishments you’re achieving from week to week, and crossing things off a list feels great! It’s important to acknowledge this success too. Reward yourself for your wins. Didn’t order take-out the entire week? Sweet, order a pizza on Saturday!  Met your writing goals for the week? Get some ice cream, take a bath, paint your nails. You know what your weaknesses are, indulge them when you’ve had a good run.
  10. Don’t give up. There’s going to be bad days. You’re going to catch colds. For me there is an acceptance that some days I’ll beat my depression back, and some days when I’m too paralyzed to move. I have accepted this, and know that the pile of laundry in my living room doesn’t make me a bad person, or a bad mom. Life obstacles are going to occur. You’ve got to roll with them, get through them, and get back to what is important. The habit that has been developed is going to be there when you’re ready for it. And when all else fails, remember number 1.

My Bullet Journal Journey

It happened one insomniac night, as I was browsing Pinterest absently searching for nothing. You guys, those of you who knew about this, have totally been holding out on me. Bullet Journals are the analog answer to all of those organizational apps I’ve downloaded and used for five minutes. The giant bonus is that I finally get to use all my absent doodling in a way that actually helps me get things done.

What the heck is a Bullet Journal?

“Bullet Journal was developed by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, NY. Through many years of trial and error, the system has evolved into the ideas presented here. He sees this as an evolving, adaptable platform meant to be shared and self curated as you determine what works best for you.” – Bulletjournal.com/about

The Bullet Journal is a notebook. Plain and simple. It’s a technique to use a notebook as an accounting of your life, be it a to-do list, a task list, a dream board, or a note taking system. You can use any notebook you wanbujot, and all the colors of the rainbow. It’s a completely customized DIY journal system, and all you really need is a notebook and pen.

I recommend it to almost anyone, but especially hands-on creatives, non-linear thinkers, and people who are interested in keeping themselves steeped in creativity. Students could definitely benefit from using this in place of the school supplied agenda, which is usually full of pages they never look at.

How does it work?index

The first thing you’re going to do is create an Index page. This is how you’ll keep track of important notes you’ve taken, lists you’ve made, pages that are different then your regular daily entries. As you can see I messed up with my index by adding my daily pages. Don’t do that. It’s redundant. Unless you want to. It’s your book. In my first Bullet Journal I left far too many pages blank for the index, the recommended amount is 4 pages. If you need more you can use the back. That’s the beauty of this system. It’s whatever you need it to be.

The main benefit of the BuJo technique is the organization of your writing through the use of signifier bullets. For the first few BuJos you might want to create a Legend of these symbols. I used a library card insert and pocket I’d had left from some crafting I’d done a while back, and glued it into the front cover. In the future BuJos I can just glue in a new pocket, and move the card.

A portable BuJo Legend makes it easy to migrate to new notebooks

A portable BuJo Legend makes it easy to migrate to new notebooks

I also like to leave a few pages in the front of every journal I use to add a few quotes I love. Warning, my doodling is amateur level at best.

quotes

 

 

 

 

 

As for the ensuing pages…well that’s up to you. I find layouts while browsing the web, and especially Pinterest. There is a universe of avid Bullet Journal Junkies, or BuJo-holics who love to share their new interesting layouts, and applications of the BuJo technique.  These usually fall into three categories:

  • Planner Pages:
    • monthly calendar

      favesongs

      A list page of favorite songs…can you pick your top five songs? That’s the hardest part for me.

    • weekly calendar
    • meal planner
    • workout planner
    • garden planner
  • Tracker Pages:
    • water consumption
    • mood
    • spending
    • saving
    • baby milestones
    • new habits
    • gratitude
    • holiday gift ideas
  • List Pages
    • recipes to try
    • movies to watch
    • favorite songs
    • books to read
    • books I read
    • birthdays
    • funny things my toddler said

I’ve been using this method since this beginning of the year, and it’s really working for me. In fact, I now use 3 different Bullet Journals. One for my writing/inspiration,

Just write the names of the books on their spines.

one for daily personal home/life/kids planning, and a small budget BuJo, to track expenses, spending, etc.

My writing journal is part scrapbook, part diary, and part journal. I save mementos using adhesive pockets I’ve gotten at the craft store, journaling cards, washi tape, and stickers. I’ve even got a Fuji Instax to capture moments I want in my BuJo. It’s a bit of an addiction now, to tell you the truth. What I love, however, is how I’m wasting a lot less time endless scrolling social media–which is one of my biggest time sucks. I’ve got more lists in this one too, since I use list making, as a lead into writing, because it stimulates my memory recall. I like to put recipes in this journal, because my daily one is smaller in size, and I use them up faster. My master meal list won’t be too hard to migrate, as I write individual recipes on library cards. I use a monthly calendar layout in this journal, although my goal is to add weekly spreads soon. The idea is to track my writing, set goals, and have the ability to review what I’ve accomplished.

My daily BuJo is where I plan meals, keep track of events & activities, track my daily mood, and keep lists of books I want to read, as well as the ones I’ve finally gotten to. Shopping lists, appointments, and to-do lists are what makes up each individual day’s entry. I don’t always write in it each day, but I’m not losing out on pages because of it. Sometimes all I do is scribble the date along the top, and scratch out washipagessome bullets, but other days I’m inspired to get a little more creative.

One of my favorite BuJo hacks is to run a long slice of washi tape on the edge of the pages that are important to me. When I do this with different color washis, I can’t find the page more easily. Some people go as far as to index the color/pattern washi they use, which makes tons of sense, but I’m too lazy for that.

 

Drawbacks of BuJo

There are some cons, of course. For example, set-up is time consuming, and at the outset that seems pretty daunting, but I’ll confess that the more I see the awesome BuJos other people on social media are making, the more I enjoy the time I spend. In fact, just setting up my daily header has become part of my daily routine. I find that forcing myself into a creative endeavor, that is justifiably useful, helps warm up my brain. The more time I invest in the journal, the more committed I am to using it. So much so, that because I’m using a daily tracker for my reading, writing, an

IMG_4259

My daily header for May the Fourth…getting creative is fun.

d cooking I’ve tripled the amount of time I used to spend on each. I also like that the journal is always new, because I have a lot of trouble getting bored with a novelty. There’s also an issue of what to do with a notebook once it’s full. For me, my journalling, my writing, my notebooks are part of my identity. I keep a giant plastic storage container just for my old notebooks, and I’m not joking when I tell you that they are willed to my daughter. When I’m gone, they will be my legacy to her.

Another con is that it can become consumptive. I’ve definitely increased my store of washi tape and stencils since I’ve been doing this. I guess this is a balance you’ll need to find too. The way I see it, just the fact that it’s making me more effective, makes it worth a few bucks in washi tape.

I’ve got lots of plans for new Bullet Journals too. My next one will be filled with words of wisdom, memories, and lists to give my daughter when she moves out.

Do you Bullet Journal? Share your favorite BuJo hacks, tips, and tricks here!

 

 

Please stop comparing vacation time to Maternity Leave

toon877I heard about the Rachel Foyes interview before I read it. I’m not sure if I would have even cared if it hadn’t been for the fact that she didn’t even show up to plug her new book Me-ternity, a fictional tale about a woman who fakes a pregnancy in order to experience the “perks” of maternity leave, on Good Morning America.  I might have even been interested in the story if it hadn’t been for the New York Post article by Anna Davies.

In the article, Foyes tells Davies about why she took a year and a half me-ternity leave, which, to be fair was really a click-baitey way to describe a self-imposed sabbatical. According to Foyes, a Me-ternity leave is a “sabbatical-like break that allows women, and to a lesser degree men, to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs”. The female specificity is because Foyes claims women experience higher rates of burnout due to their home-based roles (i.e. wife, mother, domestic goddess etc.). While I resisted giving this any more attention than it already has been given, I simply see far too many problems with her assertions that are, in fact, damaging to working women, and working parents.

First of all, Rachel Foyes’ job sounds awesome! Not only does she get to “work on big stories, attend cool events, and meet famous celebs ALL THE TIME,” (emphasis mine), but she also seems to have an employer who encourages, as opposed to punishes, families to attend to their obligations, and won’t fire someone for taking 3 MONTHS of leave. Most places get a little twitchy after 3 weeks. Yes, I realize their are some legalities involved, but most of us know there’s plenty of leeway for employers to “let you go” for reasons technically not involved in maternity leave. That envy she claims, is all her, and believe me when I say that most of us would far rather be enjoying a margarita with her best friend than deal with the playground moms. Oh yeah, and the reason it sounds like picking up your child has more gravitas than meeting that friend for a post-ghost margarita, is because it does. Your friend is not a child. Getting stood up on a date is nothing like get abandoned at school by your Mother. Both sides are not valid. What is valid is that you’re talking about parents who are leaving “on time”, not early, and what other people do is really none of your business.

Rachel asserts that maternity leave offers the opportunity for self-reflection, which she claims is evident in the way women post-maternity leave are able to self-advocate more, are more confident, and even make life altering decisions. She cites friends of hers, one who started her own business, and another who changed industries, as examples of the benefit of maternity leave’s self-reflective nature. The reality is that maternity leave is about as self-reflective as boot camp, and any changes you’re seeing in your friends are as a result of a shift of priorities, not some crazy epiphany during a pedicure.

Second of all, while maternity leave has elements of self-reflection, it is nowhere near as zen as Rachel Foyes seems to believe it is. It’s much more about pushing your mental, physical, and emotional boundaries beyond what your previous conception of what those limits were. For example:

  1. Remember when pulling an all nighter involved booze, hallucinogens, deep conversations, or a paper due in the morning? Imagine writing that paper on the most boring subject imaginable without the use of any product designed to keep you awake, and you still don’t even remotely have an idea of what the first days home with a newborn are. Oh, and if you’ve had a c-section, you can add doing all this while recovering from having your abdominal muscles sliced open, when a sneeze makes you feel like your stitches will explode your guts all over the couch. Having a newborn pretty much assures you will forget what restful sleep feels like because those puny three hours you may get will be spent twilighting in something that seems like it could become sleep, and waking at least once to poke your child to make sure he/she is still alive.
  2. Bleeding nipples. I’m not sure what Rachel’s into in her private life, but I can bet that her Me-Ternity leave didn’t involve cracked bleeding nipples on the end of breasts that have gained ten pounds, spurt milk at inopportune moments, and feel like they have been invaded by a society of rock people.
  3. Maternity leave means diaper changes while battling self-doubt, usually in the form of “What the fuck did I just do to my life?”, the realization that the world is nowhere near as safe as you’d previously thought it was, and wondering what crazy hormonal imbalance made you do something like this to begin with.
  4. Bodily fluids…everywhere, and not the fun kind.CP_midyear_report

The truth is that the article, and ensuing justifications are harmful. So many people want to pretend that much ado is being made of nothing more than a simple play on words, and I, for one, wish that was true. Unfortunately, it just is not. The truth is that most jobs aren’t as accommodating as Rachel Foyes’, and most families can’t afford the unpaid leave they are legally entitled to. The truth is, we have laws that protect newborn puppies more than newborn humans, and women like Rachel Foyes who think it’s cute to draw comparisons between maternity leave and vacation time are simply adding fuel to the already out of control blaze of ignorance which forces women to make a choice between career and family. Yes, there is a need for more time away from the job, and, perhaps, our country needs to follow the lead of other countries who recognize that there is just as much need for mental health breaks, as there is for bonding between families. I just wish Rachel Foyes hadn’t taken the obvious jab, and had been a bit more creative in the way she decided to ask for, demand, or simply just take it. Her little play on words is destructive, and invalidates all of the parents, both male and female, who are struggling to make it in a world that puts so much emphasis on helping create childhoods children shouldn’t have to recover from without offering the support to achieve them.

5 Gifts Under $25 your Writer Friends Will Love

One of the hardest questions I have to answer every holiday season is, “So what do you want for Christmas?” To be honest, unless someone comes up with a way to download the rest of my manuscript from my brain, there really isn’t a whole lot that I need. In case you’re feeling just as stuck as I do this time of year, or you’re looking for a budget friendly find for your writer friend, I’ve complied a lovely list of gifts for writers.

  1. personal LibrarykitPersonal Library Kit: There’s one thing all writers have in common. We love books. We love libraries, and we all wish we had a version of Belle’s library in our house. The idea of having my very own cards to personalize my library gives me some hardcore warm fuzzies, and we’re not even going to discuss how I feel about being able to stamp my own books. This takes lending your books out to a whole other level. This could even inspire one of those amazing hidden neighborhood lending libraries hidden in a dollhouse near a park. Imagine all the magic that could be made!  This personal library kit comes with everything your favorite writer needs to indulge their bibliophile fantasies for under $15. Amazon
  2. Story Teas: cinderellaWhether your favorite writer friend is planning on meeting up with the Hatter, or just a long night with their favorite imaginary pals, a hot cup of tea can be a great companion for those long drawn out nights of staring at the screen. What could be better than a line of teas inspired by your favorite stories? They’ve got Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and even a special Katniss: Girl on Fire blend of tea. Pick one flavor for just $9, or an entire set for $29. Adiago Teas.
  3. Writing Resources: One can never have too many resources to help develop their writing. My personal favorites are the Descriptive Thesauruses. I own all three, and keep them close at hand while plotting, writing, or sometimes I just like to flip through. They are invaluable writerresourcesinexpensive, and a gift your writer buddy will thank you for endlessly. Amazon.
  4. COFFEE!!!: Writing and coffee go together like words and letters, and there is nothing more precious than the energy giving mana that comes from one of God’s greatest gifts to writer-kind–the coffee bean. For reals. Whoever  it was that came up with the idea to grind these guys up and add water is my hero. A five or ten dollar gift card to Dunkin, or Starbucks is a real treat, and if you want to splurge you can find Jamaican Blue Mountain (usually about $50/lb..but worth it!) coffee and be your writer friend’s biggest hero of all.
  5. The Map of Literature:mapoflit  ::confetti:: ::dancing in circles:: I know right! This map was created by Halcyon Maps–the same folks who created the Map of the Internet, or The Map of Stereotypes–and is brilliantly detailed. The only way to get it, right now, is as a fold-out in Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps, which means you get lots of other fun maps too including an over-sized version of the Map of Stereotypes. In fact, buy this book, and a couple of frames, and you might have a few gifts for some other pals too. Myself, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. I just had to get my hands on it as soon as possible, and I’m so glad I did. Just be sure to use an exacto knife to separate the map from the book, if you’re looking to frame it like I am. Amazon.

 

 

 

Even with a failure, we’ll call it a win– Summer Camp at Home

The Garden earlier this Spring.

The Garden earlier this Spring.

Gardening is pure magic. I’ve always thought so. You take this tiny little seed and stick it in the dirt, and in a few days a life erupts all green and wobbly. I imagine the hard work it had to do, fighting it’s way through the soil until it reaches the sun. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. I’ve killed almost every single houseplant I’ve ever owned. OK, OK every single one. That hasn’t stopped me from having a garden. Ever since the little was 2, we’ve had some kind of vegetable garden. It started with tomatoes and cucumbers, and has grown every year. This year we have three varieties of tomato, cucumbers, green peppers, snap peas, Kentucky green beans, black beans, broccoli and corn. There’s also a corner for the herbs: lavender, thyme, cilantro, basil, and sage. Oh yeah, there’s also an awesome fairy garden under the trellis. Last year’s crops went to pot after life got a little too crazy for me to have time to tend to them, but we have a saying around here. This family never quits.

Gardening is magic, especially when the fairies move in.

Gardening is magic, especially when the fairies move in.

What the heck does that have to do with our camp? Well, for one, today’s group exercise token was spent weeding the garden, but it’s also a pretty good analogy for not giving up when you have setbacks.

The little came down with a bit of a cold on Tuesday night, after we’d already shifted that day’s tokens to Wednesday so we could spend some time with cousins. That meant the little wasn’t in much of a mood for lessons, and I didn’t push. My body was clearly fighting something too, and the rainy weather was wreaking havoc on my headache situation. While we did catch up, for the most part, we still didn’t get it ALL done. Cleaning day never happened, and while I did get to move my blog writing token, my 1 hour reading, and my writing token are still up on the calendar. Oh yeah, and the whole Summer of Sonnets thing was a total bust. Finding a time to do it was tricky, and the first 17 sonnets have a similar theme, which got boring fast–for all of us.

Sometimes things just go wrong. That doesn't mean you flush the baby down with the toilet water.

Sometimes things just go wrong. That doesn’t mean you flush the baby down with the toilet water.

That’s OK.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is not the goal.

The goal is to give the kids some guidelines on how to spend time together. The goal is for me to help my kids’ brains stay active so they don’t lose everything they learned during the school year, and are prepared for the Fall. The goal is to help them develop good habits, and a positive attitude towards learning. Oh goodness, the goal is to teach them to love to learn.

Do you want to know how I know it’s working?

They finished all their lessons. The little did extra pages in her math workbook because she wanted to. The teenager wrote an incredible essay, and spent several hours working on it. Both kids are STILL excited about camp.

Earlier this week, after describing our camp to someone, she asked me, “That’s camp?”

I know kids are supposed to spend hours outside coming up with plans to get Boo Radley to come outside; raising a runt pig; or creating their own Terabithia, but my kids are allergic to almost everything that grows, and are much more contented with awesome indoor activities. Seriously, the teenager specifically requested NOT going to the beach because he hates sand so much. All that means is I have to get creative about our out of doors excursions…oh, and stock up on allergy meds.

Our Summer of Sonnets replacement book.

Our Summer of Sonnets replacement book.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if we hit every goal on the board. We had fun. I had some really great talks with the teenager, and most of all, the little and he are getting to spend their first summer together. So we’re tossing out the sonnets. No problem. Instead we’ll start on a book we can read out loud together starting with: Gone Away Lake.

What are you reading this summer?