Sunday Soup

Sunday Soup
I’m so happy that soup weather is here again!

After several weeks of unseasonably warm weather; late last week I felt that distinctive shift in the way the air feels. I feel it every time the seasons change, and I’m always amazed at how closely it follows the calendar. It’s not quite September 21st, but the leaves are changing, the nights are cold, and fall is here.

The kids and I went to Prescott this weekend to visit my parents and we had a fun and relaxing time riding bikes, playing in the dirt, and going to Peter Piper Pizza. It was a quick visit, just one day and two nights, because I am still plowed under by the avalanche of work that accompanies the beginning the semester.

Here are some pics from the weekend:

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DIRT!

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This kid is growing so fast.

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Oscar shows off his ticket bounty at Peter Piper

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Aria prepares fake pizza in a skirt and heels, as one does.

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#amwriting: Process & Projects

My hopeful attempts at regular blog updates are always derailed by real life, this time I’ve been hopelessly sidetracked by summer (when teaching ends and I become a full-time mom for three months) and moving (twenty-one years of STUFF) to a new house. Now that we’re finally getting settled in and it’s almost time for everyone to go back to school (but it’s only July!), I’ve decided to start going forward with some writing projects.

There are three, to be precise, because three is the magic number, right? I’ve also heard from some time management experts that it’s good to have more than one project active (so that you can work on ones that require different levels of time and energy as needed), but that more than 3-5 projects at a time is a bad idea.

The projects:

An academic research paper, which I’m submitting for funding in a few weeks and then trying to turn into an article. This is simply to keep my career afloat, but I do like the process and I’m interested in what I’m writing about, so I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky in this day and age to like my job.

My novel. This hairball has been building for almost a decade and I’m ready to cough it up and spit it out. I’ll soon be looking for beta readers for this one, so keep your ears open if you’re interested.

Finally, I’m working a project called Timekeeper Stories, an interactive storytelling project/alternate reality game that I’ve been working on since last year (the idea came to me the day after the election-HA HA). For those of you not familiar with the genre, typically the PM (puppetmaster) stays hidden and anonymous, and the game is played is if it’s not really a game, but taking place in real life (“this is not a game”). However, this time around I’m experimenting with the genre a bit and trying some new and different things, so the frame story itself will be somewhat unconventional in that it will be autobiographical, and I will provide different different entry points to each story over time (trailheads), which will allow varied levels of participation and immersion. People will have the option to just read the story installments as they are posted, OR they can also interact with story characters and work to solve mysteries and puzzles which appear in the stories.

My motivation for this project is to include a broader audience for the stories (typically ARG audiences are a a very small, select group of people), and to play around with the potential for using this genre for educational purposes.

Why share and discuss these projects before they are completed? I recently read a book called Jay Lake’s Process of Writing, which is a distillation of his blog posts on writing. I found his blog and was sad to learn that he passed away from cancer a few years ago, but his blog is still there and I was captivated by how completely and honestly he shared his writing process: the ups and downs, the good with the bad.

There is little discussion of the writing process itself, and I think this kind of transparency not only helps writers, but students as well. There is certainly no transparency in academic writing, which is something I have struggled mightily to do and have failed at miserably, filling me with a sense of shame and isolation in my career. However, I’m determined to learn the craft and plan to share what I’ve learned here, in the hopes that it might help someone in the future.

Finally, I need the discipline of a daily writing practice, and I like the idea of creating a small amount of public accountability. Already I’ve had some feedback on social media which has greatly boosted my motivation and resulted in an extra long writing session this morning.

I’m off now, to write.

I’m with you…and her

My father and I have two rules for talking about politics: 1. He gets to call President Obama my boyfriend. 2. I have to agree with everything he says. Oh, and he’s voting for Donald Trump. Here he is holding a baby. My baby. But in all seriousness, my father, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, and me, […]

2014: Toddlers, Tornadoes, and Tremors…OH MY!

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2014 was the year Oscar turned five and Aria turned two. It was the year Oscar went to school and fell in love with Legos and Letterbots, the year I didn’t write my novel or run a marathon, and the year I realized that life really gets better with age, despite the wrinkles and gray hair, because you realize what truly matters and learn to shrug off the rest.

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The changes came fast this year. Oscar learned how to swim and ride a bike, how to read, how to write, and how to count to 160. If you have a moment, he would like to count to 160 for you. Over and over and over again.

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Aria stopped nursing and starting talking up a storm. Her favorite things to say are “I did it!” and “I do it!” and “Alone!” but she still loves to be picked up and cuddled like a baby. She still wants her mama more than anything. She still smells delicious. She wants what she wants and she is hell bent on getting it.

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She is a fireball of passionate fury.  I remember when Oscar was two, I thought, “Terrible twos? Not this kid! Must be a myth.” With Aria, the twos are terrible and crazy-making in every way. I am flat-out exhausted at the end of each day, but that’s when the battle is just getting warmed up. Despite being weaned, Aria still wants me to wake up many times throughout the night. I will be drifting into sleep when suddenly I hear, “Mama? Mommy? Mama! MAMAAA!!!” This is the year I came to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture mechanism.

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Don’t get me wrong, there is so much sweetness and joy. My daughter is beautiful, funny, smart, and expressive; but parenting  her has been and will continue to be one of my biggest challenges.

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This is the year Oscar learned about his own mortality, and therefore became obsessed with all things disaster-related: tornadoes and volcanoes and bad guys and big dogs and bears. And speaking of natural disasters, we experienced our first real earthquake in Flagstaff when I was shook awake at 11:00 P.M. one night a few weeks ago with a 4.7 quake centered just a few miles south of our neighborhood.

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After that little tremor I read some stuff about earthquakes, and found it interesting that although geologists can measure earthquake activity, they can’t predict it. The earth can move and adjust and crack open anytime without warning. An earthquake can be minor or disastrous. The occurrence of one can mean that another is close behind, or that another won’t come again for 1,000 years.

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For some reason geology reminds me of parenting. Before I had children I used to think, foolishly, that I could guide my children and shape them, that I could somehow predict what they might become.

I have since learned that they will shape me, bit by bit, one seismic event at a time.

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Dusting off the novel…

During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2013 I wrote about 70,000 words of a novel that I’ve been kicking around in my head for over ten years. I was proud of myself for “winning” NaNoWriMo, but knew that what I had written was a huge, lumpy mess. Not only is the novel not finished (I’m guessing that because of the pace at which the story is unfolding that the novel will ultimately be 100,000-150,000 words), but I also wrote myself into a few corners. In keeping with the NaNoWriMo philosophy, I plowed through and got my word count. I put the novel away for a month and tried doing a bit of revising in January, but I was overwhelmed by the task that I put it away again. After a busy semester and several strange dreams involving my persistent characters, I pulled the thing out, braced myself with a cup of coffee, and decided to take a close look at what I was dealing with. Could this hulking mass be saved?

It turns out that it’s not as bad as I thought. As I read through the opening scenes I found myself getting caught up in the story. I realized that it’s time to get this thing done, once and for all.

The first thing I did was read through it completely and cut a bunch of utter crap. Repetition, out-of-order scenes that have no place, and some useless stream-of-consciousness stuff that is incomprehensible to me. After chopping away gleefully, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still have a solid 60,000 words to work with.

The next thing I did was print it out. 222 pages! Not only is this a LOT of writing for me, but oddly the number 22 has significance in my story. I don’t attach much significance to this, but it’s kind of a neat coincidence.

Stuffed all 222 pages in a binder and now I’ve begun the sometimes fun, sometimes painful task of re-reading it again. I’m taking notes as I read. Once I’m done I’ll read it again and make an outline, then I will rewrite the novel from scratch. This may seem extreme, but it’s actually a pretty common process among the writers I know and those who write about their process in articles, books, or blogs.

My goal is to have a complete and coherent first draft that I can send out to beta readers by August 25th, which is the first day of classes.

I plan to write about the whole process here, including logging my daily work and word count on the novel.

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Web Logging: A Personal History

The original term for a blog was a web log, coined in 1997. The word blog started being used regularly in 1999. I discovered blogging in 2005 at the age of 34 and started my on-again, off-again relationship with reading and writing blogs. A few of my early attempts at blogging were lost in transition from one blogging client to another, so this blog only goes back to early 2009 and the birth of my son, Oscar.

I got really into blogging when Oscar was born and I discovered “mommy blogs.” Back then, blogging was very different, and mommy blogs contained daily stories, tirades, and confessions about parenting. Twitter was used for actual conversation instead of people throwing off pithy one-liners in a desperate attempt to get retweets. I wasn’t on Facebook back then, and Instagram didn’t exist.

However, over time things changed, and I abandoned most of the blogs I read. Many of my favorite bloggers because popular, and once that happened, their blogs were riddled with ads and most annoying of all, click-through posts. Click-throughs are what you do when you rely on ad revenue, because they generate more page views. As a reader, they are annoying as hell. Basically, they give you a line or two of a post (or just at title) and make you click through to read the rest. The popular mommy blogger Dooce took this to a whole new level of douchery by making even her photos click-throughs. That’s when I stopped reading her blog.

The next two things that happened to blogging were Facebook and Instagram. Unfortunately, I found myself a bit besotted by the high level of interaction in Facebook. When I post a blog post, I get about 5-10 views and on rare occasion, a comment. When I post a comment or photo on Facebook I get hundreds of views, sometimes as many as 50 likes, and quite a few comments.

Personally, I haven’t been able to get into Instagram, although I know many people love it.

I feel that blogging, at least, what I used to love about blogging and reading blogs, has changed to personal branding. Now it’s all about product placement, sponsored posts, and mostly staged Instagram photos of people’s fabulous lives and fabulous shoes.

I find it all very boring.

Thankfully, there are a few blogs that I still read and love. None of these are mommy bloggers. Most of them are writers, none of whom are famous. My favorite blogs do the following:

1. tell stories

2. make me laugh

3. make me excited when I see a new post

4. don’t have ads

5. aren’t on Instagram

6. don’t have click-throughs

7. generate quality content on a regular basis

My new goal with blogging is to emulate these blogs. Not to go viral. Not to get famous. Not to increase page views. Not to generate ad revenue. But simply to give people something I love: good writing and storytelling.