Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Author Anne Lamott’s tips for living the life we want for our children June 1, 2010

I offer you a guest-post of sorts today in the form of excerpts from Time Lost and Found by author Anne Lamott which I just found in the always pleasing Sunset magazine.

As a mother who is a freelance writer and editor working from home, I often place my own needs (especially creative diversions) at the very bottom of my priority list. This is not say that I am a self-sacrificing martyr. If I were more proactive with my time, I could be living a more creative and prolific life–one that (fingers crossed) my children and spouse would admire, would bring greater career success, while also demonstrating to my children how to live a balanced life: one that includes focused industry INSPIRED by immersing in and savoring joyful meanders into creative expression.

Author Anne Lamott’s wise advice:

“I tell my [writing] students…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

Needless to say, this is very distressing for my writing students. They start to explain that they have two kids at home, or five, a stable of horses or a hive of bees, and 40-hour workweeks. Or, on the other hand, sometimes they are climbing the walls with boredom, own nearly nothing, and are looking for work full-time, which is why they can’t make time now to pursue their hearts’ desires. They often add that as soon as they retire, or their last child moves out, or they move to the country, or to the city, or sell the horses, they will. They are absolutely sincere, and they are delusional.”

Lamott recommends we each take, “half an hour, a few days a week. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book. No one else really cares if anyone else finally starts to write or volunteers with marine mammals. But how can [my students] not care and let life slip away? Can’t they give up the gym once a week and buy two hours’ worth of fresh, delectable moments?

They look at me bitterly now—they don’t think I understand. But I do—I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask them whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?

If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?

I ask them, is there a eucalyptus grove at the end of their street, or a new exhibit at the art museum? An upcoming minus tide at the beach where the agates and tidepools are, or a great poet coming to the library soon? A pond where you can see so many turtles? A journal to fill?”

Half-hour time-wasters to consider giving up:

  • the treadmill at the gym–take a walk in the park, a forest, on the beach, on an undiscovered (by you) path, to a different part of town, anywhere…
  • house cleaning–honestly, what’s with all the scrubbing? Are you competing for the shiniest floors? Does anybody really care?
  • TV–Lamott says “no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor.”
  • electronic connectivity: Lamott remarks that “cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life.”

Lamott’s books include Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies. Her new novel, Imperfect Birds (Riverhead Books; $26), will be published this month.

 

Life would be wonderful…if it weren’t for the imaginary hardships May 10, 2010

The following is a version of my column which appears in San Clemente Presbyterian’s NEWSBREAK magazine. Editors are welcome to use it as a FREE REPRINT.

Sometimes I don’t need a mirror to see my own reflection. My five-year-old son Joseph is a perfectly capable alternative.

Lately, when my answer to one of his requests is “no” (although I am often guilty of indulging my children), Joseph has begun whining, “You NEVER let me _____!” (Fill in blank with any number of things we DO let him do, but just not that moment.)

I’ve talked with him about it, and I believe he now understands that “not now” does not mean “never,” but in truth, he sees a bigger problem. Joseph perceives himself a victim; what he desires is withheld from him and therefore he is in pain.  I would like to guide him to realize that he’s not suffering imaginary hardships—in fact, his life is pretty sweet!

But is this God’s view of us? Is our Father watching over His children whining about our limitations, descrying ourselves as victims of wrongdoing or lacking in His abundance?

Why do we always feel like we’re getting the short end of the stick?

In many ways, we impose our own imaginary hardships on ourselves. We think we can’t do something because we don’t have the resources, talent, courage, opportunity… gifts God happens to have in abundance.

We must ask ourselves: What am I not letting myself do?

A friend of mine who is the mother of three advised me to practice using positive language with Joseph instead of dead-ending his hopes with the word no. “It makes a world of difference,” she assured me.

True enough. Sometimes the answer to my prayer is “Not now” or “It won’t happen how you imagine it.” But God never says “Never.” It will require repeated assurance to help my child accept that mom and dad are lovingly parenting with his best interests in mind–but how many of us trust our Lord to look out for ours?

We can’t use God’s gifts boldly until we’ve received them. We haven’t received them if we perceive ourselves lacking. My husband and I are responsible for raising a confident child who counts at least one blessing each day, encouraging gratitude for all he–we–have been given. If we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts if we ask him! (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13)

I’m going to demonstrate letting go of expectations, in an effort to better appreciate when good gifts appear. Blessings don’t always look like we think they should—until we learn to recognize them.

Other NewsBreak Columns:

Closing The Gap Of Longing For Closeness

The Gifts Of Loaves And Fishes

Moving From Worry To Wonder

NewsBreak Column: Losing The Weight Of The Past

 

Fiction Writing Chapter Two: Character name crisis! May 6, 2010

This post chronicles the ongoing saga of one work-from-home freelance writer determined to write her first fiction novel, while raising two rambunctious preschoolers.

As I mentioned in Fiction Novel Writing: Chapter Two Begins! my second chapter’s narration springs from the mind of Mike Hayden, Treva’s father and the owner of Hayden Autos, a Southern California used-car dealership boasting mediocre success at best. A man of heart and good intentions, Mike’s hard work over the years have fallen short of his dreams, and now that his beloved wife Camille has passed, he’s becoming just a little bitter. Orange County’s rich just keep getting richer, while Hayden Autos  continues to struggle. When will it be Mike’s turn to shine?

As I dove into the chapter, I introduced Lyle Langley, Mike’s hero, nemesis and competitor. For whatever reason–writer’s intuition?–I Googled the name “Lyle Langley” and was quickly deflated to learn the name Lyle Langley belongs to one rather memorable character from the enormously popular Simpsons show. Remember Marge Vs. the Monorail (1993), when Lyle Langley, played by Phil Hartman, convinces the town of Springfield to construct a monorail? Not coincidentally, there are similarities between The Simpson’s Lyle and mine, which just goes to show how certain traits can become attached to names in our brains.

As we writers and journalists know, resources on the web must be very carefully fact-checked. As I dug deeper, I learned from Wikipedia (not the most reliable source) that Lyle’s last name was in fact Lanley, On Phil Hartman’s IMDB page, the character’s name is listed as Lyle Lanely. TheSimpsons.com doesn’t even mention the character on its Characters page.  However, Google has the most references to Lanley, so I’m guessing that’s the real one.

Even though my character’s name is, after all, original, this event was a total turn-off and sent me back to the baby name origin sites to look for new name ideas. I created a short list of first names to go with Langley:

  • Leonard–“strong as the lion”
  • Logan–“hollow”
  • Lowell–“wolf”
  • Louis–“fame and war”

In order to avoid the same pitfall, I fact-checked all combinations and learned that Leonard Langley is a well-known boxer, and Logan Langley is a popular name for young American men who share a passion for athletics. Considering that my character is in his late 60s, the name Logan would be too youthful. But isn’t it interesting that among the Logan Langleys I found, most were mentioned in various team/sports rankings?

The winning combination and new name for Mike’s nemesis will be Lowell Langley, a name best fitting my character, and apparently the most free to use.

Now, join me in the hunt for the perfect title for my novel!

Vote for your favorite book title!

 

Writing and Blogging: “The Good Way” April 29, 2010

Today’s guest-post will inspire bloggers and writers seeking to sharpen skills, improve clarity and have more fun! It was written by Of Parchments and Inks, a blog authored by “Brown Eyed Mystic.” 

The Brown Eyed Mystic makes these observations, “You may have a reason to blog; and even if you have none, writing in a corner of your own will come to invent a reason on its own once you do it.” Personally, I think this is a true statement for all types of writers. When a first-grader writes her first story, it is this sense of achievement which plants the seed for a lifetime love of writing and story-telling.  Brown Eyed Mystic goes on to say, “You’d sure want your blog-place to be of value, even emotional value.” Maybe especially emotional value? In an effort to help us “blog the right way,” here are the suggested tips:

Ways to Blog the Good Way

  1. Become focused: This is the most said one by the better bloggers out there. Becoming focused will not only help you to write something of value and usage, but also will rejuvenate your mind when you look at your creation once you’ve finished. Seriously, nothing is more pleasurable than looking at something you wrote and getting the stings of joy. Pay respect to your blog when you are engaged with it and be involved in it like you’d do with a human.
  2. Write for the reader: When you write for the reader, you have a hit. People would come to you only if they sense that your writings have some inherent value. Say if you’re into crafts, you can put up your creations on your blog, and share how you did it with your readers. How-to’s are always great to read. Keep the reader in mind and then blog.
  3. Serve others with fresh comments: When you read someone’s blog and like something about it, make a point to leave a comment. Leaving your trail marks this way is like making the web realize you were there. As you know, links are beneficial for your own blog too; others reading your comments have an inclination to see who has actually put up the little nugget of comment. That said, don’t spam the blogger’s comment area; you may be blocked or you won’t throw a great impression on the readers and will be, at best, ignored. Ignorance is not what you want your blog to suffer from, so be courteous and intelligent while commenting. Along with this, try to keep a track of the blogs that have gone huge, and try to place a comment in the top 5-10 placeholders in their comment’s area. You get to have more visibility that way.
  4. Make commenting possible on your blog: Turn on the comments so that others can post in the area. Along with this, make sure you have a way for the readers to subscribe to new comments on your blog. This creates stickiness which allows traffic coming back to you.
  5. Link the right way: Look out for any links that are no more functional, or no more relevant to your blog. Remove links that throw the notorious 404 error. Your readers and the bots on search engines will be more than happy for this act.
  6. Read, and then read some more: Reading is a good habit, and it applies to blogging also. When you are planning to write a new post but lack an idea, just read others’ pieces. That doesn’t mean plagiarise, no. It means to get inspired and build up something else altogether on reading someone’s post. This happens to me a lot. Try it before your mind starts to hear the clunks of uncertainty and panic!
  7. Socialize virtually: Man is a social animal. Socializing online with other bloggers not only gives you exposure, but also makes you learn more about different niches out there and about other writers’ lives. Just as in the physical world you meet someone and exchange information about you, in the virtual world you give out your website or blog address which lets people know more about you.
  8. Give something away for free: Yep, an e-book is one great example. I know creating a product such as this needs time and commitment, but hey, didn’t we discuss before to keep the reader in mind? Write an e-book or make a video, give it away for free and make someone’s day
  9. Include details: Do not assume that your readers know all the basics about your niche. Now it may be tempting to assume so, with so many resources out there on so many niches, but what separates you from them in that case? Are you joining the rat race and hopping on the bandwagon too? Taking small introductory things for granted is a grave mistake and will send the innocent reader to another place thatbetter  understands their needs.
  10. Never say never!: Don’t get disheartened with your blog’s success. Know that you have a lot to do and to put in before expecting rainbow-colored results from your web’s corner. An upward moving traffic graph is what every writer wants, no doubt, but getting there takes time and effort investment. Don’t give up yet! Be committed to it. Make a relationship with it. Bond with it.
  11. If you write in English, please write in English: I get turned off on reading blogs that have “compressed” words to save on typing/time/effort or whatever. “Words” like u, plz, or wud make me cringe. No offense to anyone, but if you are targeting mature and educated public, please show them that you care by writing real words and decently correct grammar in your blog. I’d probably stop reading much further if there’s a lot of compression and bad grammar in even an otherwise content-rich post.
  12. Write in your own voice: One of Brown-eyed Mystic’s readers, Dr. Tom Bibey, commented succinctly: “About all I can add is to write in one’s own voice and not try to be anyone else. I love Mark Twain, but there was only one of him. All I can do is be the best Dr. B. I can be.” Well said.

Which one do you think is a way to blog the good way that’s missing here? Do you have a special tried and tested method to share?

 

Writing and blogging can improve your health! April 22, 2010

Last night, my husband and I were discussing the future of blogging. With so many social media outlets–most of which requiring only a sentence or less, did blogging have a future?

It’s easy to jump to “yes!”, especially if you are a writer who simply must write, or if you generate an income from your blog.

However, blogging and the web’s instant gratification has killed printed publication (but saved trees) and made what the public perceives to be bonafide journalism out of, well, the often unjournalistic, the implausible and the unresearched. We’ve actually reached a place where news can arrive in less that 140 characters–and we believe it.  Where does that leave the blogpost, with its (comparatively hefty) average of 450 characters or more?

John Khoury, CEO and founder of Liquic.com, a comprehensive online health and wellness resource encourages writers, amateur and professional alike to do it for good mental health; “Jotting down your thoughts on a daily basis will not only add some ‘me’ time to your schedule, but will unfold the writer and philosopher in you. From daily diaries to travel logs, journaling/blogging can help left and right brained people organize ideas, and boost their well-being.”  

For Khoury, these are some of the most rewarding aspects of maintaining a weblog:

  • Clarify your goals.  By logging your thoughts, you can examine your feelings and objectives with a different set of eyes.  Blogging gives you the unique opportunity to provide yourself with feedback from the person you trust most.
  • Meditate through your journal.  Believe it or not, blogging can be a form of meditation. It quiets your mind, and it is as soothing as turning off all lights and sounds around you to focus on what truly matters.
  • Make some time for you.  Think of your blog as your personal time, where you remember and analyze all portions of your life.  You’ll be setting aside time to reflect on the best parts of your day and all your actions and feelings. Making you will feel valued and refreshed.
  • Make a Decision Easier.  Expressing your doubts and anxieties allows you to weigh your options.  Should you change jobs?  Should you move to a new neighborhood? Listing the pros and cons of each choice will point you to the right direction.
  • Eliminate negative thoughts.  Scripting all negativity in your life feels as liberating as lifting a weight off your shoulders. Venting to your friends is a good idea, but having them “in print” can help you identify your fears and get rid of ideas that only bring you down.
  • Track each step of your life. Scribbling your actions keeps you aware of your mistakes and accomplishments.  It will also highlight the aspects of your life that you should be paying a bit more attention to.
  • Improve your relationships.   Writing will give you the opportunity to communicate your feelings towards others–and choose your words carefully.  The experience will let you value perspectives not understood before, and will provide you with patience and reasoning to deal with conflicts. You will also appreciate your family and friends more and recognize the essential role they play in your life.
  • Do what makes you happy.  With work and responsibilities, we end up spending most of our time pleasing others and performing mandatory tasks.  After a while, you may find it difficult to distinguish what part of the day was dedicated solely to you.  Through blogging, you will discover ways to include things you enjoy into your day: like something as simple as listening to your favorite song to grabbing lunch at your favorite spot.

What are your favorite aspects of blogging? What do you think will be the future of blogging?

 

Fiction novel–Vote for your favorite title! April 21, 2010

I am considering a handful of titles for my in-progress fiction novel. Your input is valued! Please vote or suggest your own title!

The story is about an Orange County (Southern California) based family. Beginning the day after the mother’s funeral, the first scene  occurs the family’s car dealership in Capistrano Beach. The father, Mike Hayden, has spent his life trying to make up for his own father’s mistakes, pouring his heart and countless hours into building the family business–without much success. For years, he looked forward to his oldest child, Liam, joining him. At age 25, Liam has made it abundantly clear he wants nothing to do with the dealership. Liam would rather go to culinary school and plan lavish parties, leaving Mike heart-broken. His young daughter Treva, on the other hand, is doing everything she can just to get a foot in the door. Mike knows his business hasn’t amounted to much, and tries to thwart her interest and involvement, but Treva has never taken ’no’ for an answer. She knows she can turn the business around, but more importantly, she wants to finally earn her father’s attention and admiration.

VOTE NOW! (Thank you!)

 

Fiction Novel Writing, Chapter Two begins! April 20, 2010

I am officially 676 words into Chapter Two. (See Fiction Novel Update… Eurphoric Uncertainty) I mention the word count because it seems like an impossibility. I have been working on, ruminating and procrastinating over this chapter for days, and I only have 676 words?! Sure, I’ve read and reread them, updating, finessing, editing and adding to them. But it seems like I should have more to show for it.

The joy of this chapter is that it is about my Impact character, Mike Hayden, father to Treva and Liam Hayden. The chapter is written like the first–one day after the funeral of Mike’s wife Camille. The entire novel is third person, however, the narrative voice complements the character in action.

Since Chapter Two introduces Mike’s journey (it is “his chapter” so to speak), the narrative is in his voice. I’m having so much fun with it! I love writing in Mike’ s voice because it helps me to more fully understand him,breathe life into him, and make his thoughts and actions realistic. To be sure, he isn’t very happy. He’s just lost the love of his life, his brilliant daughter wants to follow in his less-than-spectacular footsteps, and his attached-to-his-mother’s-apronstrings son wants nothing to do with him. To make matters worse, we find him engaged in his least favorite task–bidding on trade-ins at his rival dealership, Langley’s Mile of Cars.

My driving force of my story was originally going to be son Liam. I had chosen a title I was completely staisfied with…until I discovered that the story would be more dynamic from the perspective of Mike and Treva’s relationship. So, I’m left tossing about title ideas again. Here are my top choices–what do you prefer?

  • Leverage
  • Mileage
  • In Good Standing
  • The Family Business