Thankful for the Little Things

It's been kind of a weird week.

I'm down at my folks' in Tucson, where I'm working on faux-woodgraining their porch. Which is great, because then in the evenings, I can write, right?

Except, no. My dad's Internet provider apparently knows everyone in this retirement town of Green Valley goes to bed at 6:30pm. So by 9 pm, when my folks have retired and I have all the time in the world to write... suddenly pages take about 10 minutes to load-- if they load at all. Then in the morning, when I can't be on the computer because I need to be painting during daylight hours, everything is working just fiiiiine again.

It's as if they knew I needed to write about 20,000 words to catch up on my NaNo while I was down here, and are deliberately thwarting me.

I was feeling really crabby that I was so behind on word count, and frustrated at how much work I've gotten this month. When you have to write a dozen articles in one day, it really makes you less inclined to find an extra 1,667 words within you to contribute to a novel that will most likely never be published anyway.

This led to wondering just how much I have written this month. Outside of NaNo, I mean. So I added up all my assignments and my blog entries. (If I'd wanted to be super-accurate, I'd have included all my emails & reddit comments too. But I digress.)

Total? 33,105.


And this does not include any of the writing I do longhand. Which is also a fair amount.

So, you know... now I feel thankful.

I feel thankful I am writing every month. Even if it's boring stuff about how to buy a franchise or the process of getting a patent, and not the next bestselling YA novel.

Because it's a start.

It is so easy to be thankful for the huge things, the obvious things, but those little things, those teensy starts that hardly seem like starts at all... those are harder won. So here are a few more tiny things I'm thankful for this year.

  • That I will have written 50,000 original words by the end of this month, even if not all of it was for NaNo.
  • That I have a husband & daughter who both wake up cheerful. 
  • That my stepdaughter no longer leaves the room when I enter it.
  • Dogs and their snorty, snurfy, waggy happiness
  • That our house is painted. That the bathroom wall is finally finished. That there's a for-sale sign in the yard.
  • That by next Thanksgiving, Las Vegas will be permanently behind me. Finally. (Okay, this is not a little thing; it's a HUGE thing, but how could I leave it off the list?)
  • Yoga
  • That I can buy groceries sans panic attack this year.
  • That my car has a stereo which, while flaky, does allow me & the girls to sing along with the Glee soundtrack on long road trips. Which, by the way, is pure awesome.
  • Reddit
  • That I have finally found a deodorant I'm willing to commit to for life. 
  • That the new Zelda game is out! And that my family is willing to sit around and watch me play it this weekend.
  • Trader Joe's
  • Nature's Brew Outrageous Ginger Ale, which is the perfect ginger ale.
  • Burt's Bees chapstick, which is the perfect chapstick.
  • The way Sunwood smells. 
I like the little things in life, so this list could be quite a bit longer, but that's good for today. 

Be thankful, even for the little things. Maybe especially for those.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(PS, Now we're at 33,717)


Echoes (part 2)

Miss L is so much like her father, it hurts. Not because I don’t love him, but because I love him so much. He is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, and I’m thrilled that so many of his best qualities are being genetically continued in the world through her. If there’s one thing we could all use, it’s a little more Dannishness in the world. That’s why it’s so devastating to see those parts of her, at best, ignored and at worst-- actively weeded out.

Dan and Miss L share a love of the outdoors. They share a daydreamy distraction that’s equal parts endearing and exasperating. They share the same gentle spirit that loathes hurting other creatures, leaving them both confused and devastated if their cheerful oblivion inadvertently causes someone else pain. They both love working with their hands, whether repairing broken things or making something beautiful. Or maybe that’s the same skill, to them.

Miss L is an amazing writer. She lit up over the summer when she talked about the journalism class offered by her school. “We get to make our own newspaper!” But in August, when we saw her schedule, her elective was listed as Speech & Debate.

“Oh, bummer. Was Journalism full? That sucks,” I said.

“No... Mommy said Speech & Debate would be better for me.”

“But you were so excited about that other class!”

“Maybe I’ll take it next year.”

She rolls her eyes now when we plan to go climbing or hiking. She used to run out the door so fast we had to send her back inside for her forgotten shoes. Part of it is getting older, but part of it is that these are not Approved Activities. She’s been trained that these pastimes are beneath her. And, accordingly, so are we.

Outdoorsy and artsy things are only acceptable under certain conditions. Her new stepdad is really into mountain biking, so that’s on the Approved list. Her mom took piano, so piano lessons are in. Skiing is acceptable. Hiking? Nope. Writing? No way.

List of Approved Activities include getting her eyebrows professionally shaped, shopping for, and wearing, cleavage-baring shirts and skin-tight jeans, even though she’s not even 13 yet. Any future career that makes her lots of money is acceptable. Any future career that would land a lower, but still healthy, salary while also incorporating her creativity-- well, no one talks to her about that possible path. Creativity is not important. Her aesthetic side is just that-- a side dish. Not good enough for the main course.

It breaks my heart to see Miss L rejecting and denying such integral parts of herself. She says she wants to be a plastic surgeon, has herself all lined up for hard sciences and advanced math classes. Which would be fine, if that were her passion, but it’s so clearly not. I’m concerned for her future, not because I think she can’t handle that academic road-- she’s absolutely capable; she’s a brilliant student-- but because those aren’t the things that light her up inside. And ignoring those things has a way of exploding your life out later on.  

I don’t have the same concerns for my stepdaughter that I have for for my own daughter. I don’t worry she’ll self-destruct. Instead, I worry that her true self will drift away, dry and neglected, and she’ll be left wondering why she feels so lost. I worry she’ll want to drop out of college when she finds she hates life without all those things she shuns, those things she’s been taught are unnecessary or unacceptable. I worry that she’ll never be able to embrace that nature-loving, artistic, compassionate being that is her true nature, down under all the artificiality that’s slathered onto her these days. And as a result, she may never be whole.


Echoes (part 1)

Miss G is so much like her father, it hurts. Not because I miss him, or miss what we had together, or because I’m nostalgic for what could have been. It hurts because the similarity nauseates me. 

Her likeness to him, both physically and mentally, repels me. Even after over a decade apart from him, even though she is an entirely separate person, her inherent him-ness triggers my protective instincts into screaming get out, get out, GET OUT. The more him-like she gets, the more I feel myself withdraw.

It’s awful.

It’s even more awful because I am absolutely crazy about that kid. She is this amazing, bright spirit who I’m pretty sure will conquer the world. By some miracle, she seems to have gotten all of the good qualities from both her parents, and avoided the worst parts of us. 

In her, I see the gorgeous, untwisted potential of everything her father could have been and should have been and very nearly was staring out at me from my own brown eyes. In her, I also see the capacity for the self-destruction that haunts her father. It terrifies me. 

I see the total disregard for personal boundaries and insanely controlling personality that came close to swallowing me whole. I see his inability to commit mixed with his frightening capacity for single-minded obsession brewing within his daughter, the same elements that combined into the impossible, heady, terrible maelstrom that holds him captive still. I see his same brilliance and his same lack of focus snarling in her constantly. I see courage teetering dangerously close to foolhardiness, and pride edging toward alienating arrogance.

The whirlwind dichotomy isn’t tearing her apart like it did him. Not yet. On my good days I imagine that my hard-won understanding of her father’s true nature enabled me to parent her in ways that honor that legacy. Without knowing the worst possible outcome in advance, maybe I would have parented differently. Maybe I wouldn't have known how to avoid it. Maybe I would have inadvertently crammed all her amazingness into a self-cannibalizing pressure-cooker, doomed to explode someday, taking all of us down with it.

On my less-good days, I wonder if the monster will still get her in the end.


Happy Endings

Normally my thing is creative nonfiction, but for this year's NaNo I'm writing fiction. I don't know what compelled me. Literally the longest fiction piece I've ever written was a terrible sci-fi play called-- I am not making this up-- "A Slip of Tongue and Time." This was back in the fourth grade. My friends Brian Arnold and Andy Young and I recorded our LIVE premiere performance direct to cassette tape in my room one weekend afternoon. I'm pretty sure I still have the original script somewhere.

I can't blame that early effort for my fiction avoidance in the intervening couple dozen years. Meticulous journal-keeping led naturally into longer nonfiction pieces. My real life never lacked for interesting material (still not sure if this is a good or bad thing), so it never occurred to me to make stuff up.

With nonfiction, I strive for accuracy. I struggle to remember things as they happened, think hard about truthful dialog, attempt painting yesterday's story from today's perspective without giving away the ending. I comb my journals for reference, double-check photos and old emails for authenticity. It's a lot of freakin' work.

Fiction, though. There's no background check required. The characters can say whatever they want. Go where they please, kiss whomever they like, change their minds at the very last minute about-- well, everything, hijacking the entire plot in the process. And me? I'm just along for the ride.

In real life, we're stuck with the choices we make, good or bad. We spoke words that cannot be unsaid; heard others that we cannot unhear. We had complex childhoods, disastrous middle school fashion, amazing adventures, failed relationships, and incredible days that could not be described. We forget many of those; others haunt us. Our past tags along like little burrs on our socks-- mostly unnoticed, with occasional unexpected pain.

Real life cannot be un-lived. Done is done. But the future-- that's wide open. Instead of feeling trapped by the parts you've played in the past, set your plot on its ass. Write your own happy ending.