Category Archives: Me

15 Things About My Dad

15 Things About My Dad, for Father’s Day

He was in the year above (Sir) Billy Connelly at school, and only knew The Big Yin because his name was similar to that of one of my Dad’s best friends.

He and his friends, in the early 1960s, listened to a new Beatles song on (pirate) Radio Luxembourg, learned it, and played it for a Glasgow crowd before the single was officially released.

He met Neil Armstrong (several times) at the airport and told me his passport simply listed his occupation as “businessman”.

He remembers exactly where he was when he heard Kennedy was shot. It was that big a deal, for young folks in Scotland.

I am a better singer because he listened to me and said “That’s great, but how about…”

He taught me that phrasing is important.

He is a fabulous singer.

He is endlessly curious.

He married his first love, and still adores her.

I love Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, ELO, Mike Batt, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Lynne, Martin Taylor, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, because of him.

I believe I am writer because he read my stories, poems and lyrics, and told me they were good.

I am fascinated by scientific explanations for things because of him.

I believe it’s possible to have faith in things we can’t understand, because of him.

He taught me that stubbornly sticking to your values is so much more important than doing whatever will make you popular.

I believe I can do anything, because he believes it too.

What Kids Learn At the Middle School Drop-Off

I don’t often drive my kids to school but this week their dad was away and it rained a lot, so I took over that task.

Since I don’t do this often, I’m not as inured to the horror of the experience as their dad is. (Apparently he rants a lot less than he used to.)

As my blood pressure inched up, I tried to figure out just what was so infuriating to me about the casual flouting of the school’s rules that I witnessed every day.

Surely I wasn’t so intolerant that I couldn’t understand why someone might want to hold up the flow of traffic so they could let their precious angel go in the front door instead of the side door like they’re supposed to. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? I still have to wait behind you either way…

Here’s The Big Deal

I finally figured it out this morning.

Here’s the real reason I get so steamed up about people who ignore the principal’s repeated requests (and big, new signs) to go down THIS lane not that one, and stop at THIS point, not some random point that makes sense to you:

  • Every time you drive down the middle lane instead of going around, where we’ve been asked to drive, you show your child that the school’s principal is someone whose instructions can be ignored…by your family.
  • Every time you drop your kid off at the front door instead of the side door, you demonstrate that inconveniencing other people is ok, as long as it makes life a little more convenient...for your family.
  • Every time you double park at the gym doors and then pull out in front of me, you model to your kids that it’s OK to disregard the safety of others as long as it makes life easier...for your family.

And Here’s Why I Care

I care, because if you show your kid, day after day after day, that disobeying the school authority figures is OK for your family, that being selfish is OK for your family, that disregarding other people’s needs is OK for your family, how do you think your kid acts inside the building…with my kid?

When the teacher asks the class to be quiet, but you’ve shown your kid that the rules don’t apply to them, what do you think they do? Do you think about how that affects the education of my kid, who has trouble concentrating when the room is noisy? Does it matter if the teacher gets so frustrated that they assign them busy-work instead of teaching them the good stuff? Or if the teacher sends home a ton of homework because they couldn’t get through everything in class?

When your kid mocks my kid down for not wearing the right shoes, and upsets him, does your kid come home and worry about that? Or do they never give it a second thought, because you’ve demonstrated, day after day, that other people really don’t matter?

When your kids disobeys school rules and shoves my kid on the stairs, do they understand that the safety of others is important?Or do they complain to you about stupid rules and mean teachers and tattle-tale kids? And do you back them up?

Obey

We live in a society. Societies only work if we have rules that we all agree on and we follow them.

I’m not talking about slavish, stupid following-of-rules. If your kid is on crutches and you let them out at the front door, I’m not going to honk at you.

  • But if you just can’t wait and follow the rules because your whims are more important than the principal’s instructions, what message are you sending to your kids?
  • If you’re in such a hurry that everyone else can go hang, what behaviour are you modeling to your kids over and over again?
  • If you put others in danger to make your morning more convenient, what is wrong with you?

And, thanks to you, I am now demonstrating to my kids that it’s fine to judge people and call them names, as long as you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Sigh.

I guess we all have some work to do…

Early Morning Activism

Thing these little beauties out into the world this morning. Postcards by Marta Pelrine-Bacon.

Update: I hesitated to post this on Facebook, and I even hesitated to post it here, in my own virtual living room (knowing i would probably be allow it to be sucked into Facebook, but that fewer people would see it because: algorithms.)

But now, instead of cowering, I’m roaring.

During the election I felt things strongly and I posted them on Facebook because that is where I interact with people the most, now that I am at home, writing all day.

I was one of those people who prompted Facebook comments like “I can’t wait for the election to be over so we can get back to posting about the kids and cute kittens.”

But I can’t go back.

This is who I am.

This is why you rarely see me at neighborhood get-togethers. It’s why you don’t see me hanging out making small talk after church. It’s why I tend to turn down invitations to jewelry parties (that and the fact that I don’t wear it.)

It’s not that I don’t care about the people in my community. I do. I like a lot of them an awful lot.

But this is who I am. And this is what I want to talk about.

I very much appreciated my two years of being a bus-stop mum, after the kids switched to public school. I liked the comradeship and the forced socializing early in the morning (the requirement that I get dressed, for one, and maybe drag a comb through my hair), and the opportunity to share concerns and triumphs with other parents, maybe to help, maybe to be helped.

And I miss that.

But that’s not all I am. (It’s not all anyone is.)

I am passionate about Big Ideas. And I can’t not talk about them. 

I care a lot (head-‘splodingly) when the leaders of the richest nation on earth “decide”, in the face of scientific evidence, that climate change isn’t being affected by humanity, because it might slightly affect profits if they do.

It drives me insane when our so-called ‘leaders’ protect a broken status quo rather than looking for bold solutions to the problems we face.

It makes me want to punch things when I see people lying to support their ideology.

And I can’t shut up about it because they work for me.

My blood pressure goes through the roof every time I see a flier for pot-luck dinners and fundraisers when someone in my community gets sick.

And do you know what? I haven’t seen so many of those in recent years, since the Affordable Care Act raised premiums but required that all insurance covers stuff like, actually getting treatment when you get sick. The calls for help that I have seen, tend to be about ‘helping out with living expenses while the family deals with this’, which is still not utopia, but is better than the panicked “OMG, she’s going to be homeless and bankrupt if we don’t help right now”, like the ones I used to see.

(This is true in my physical community and even more so in my professional community of artists, who don’t have big corporations to sponsor their health-insurance for them. One house fire, one tumor, one car accident can mean DISASTER to the self-employed, underpaid writers and artists who provide all the entertainment we rely on so much to get us through the day.)

I care ALL THE TIME about war and international relations and small businesses and public transit and corporate welfare and the dignity of human life, the poor, the vulnerable, the prisoner, the refugee, the underemployed, the at-will contract worker, the person with mental health issues, the rich person who doesn’t know why they still aren’t happy, the unborn, the born, the entrepreneur; I care about how we treat our animals; truth in advertising; integrity in government; faith (yours, mine, and his right to lack it); philosophy, history, truth, truth, truth (subjective as it is, but pare away as much of the rubbish until we get as close as we can, clear-eyed about our own prejudices and privileges).

I cannot wash my hands of it all. I can’t shrug cynically and say nothing makes a difference. This doesn’t makes me better than someone who can. I’m simply stating who I am.

Are You There, Senator? It’s Me, Your Boss

Our voices ring in the ears of our elected representatives. I’ve been blessed with a mostly-tax-payer-subsidized and excellent education that trained me to research, gather information, compare and contrast, analyze and build an argument formed from the best available facts. It is a talent and a gift and I feel compelled to use it to spread truth, and battle misinformation.

I will continue to suck in information and share the best-researched, the most-thoughtful, most useful information I can. I will be eloquent when I can and pointed when I cannot. I will be opinionated and honest about my biases.

TL;DR: This executive action on the environment SUCKS and I will be screaming about it for a long time. This small-hearted, short-sighted government chaps my ass and I will be screaming about that for a long time, too. 

If you’re looking for kittens, move along.

Things That Made 2016 Great

  1. My previously-moody kid reverting to a normal kid 😃
  2. Hamilton
  3. My “Spark” Planner (now the Volt Planner)
  4. Notability App and the JotPro
  5. The Secret Weapon, Evernote and GTD integration
  6. Easter in Boston
  7. Our new bathroom
  8. Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem
  9. Finishing my YA Sci-Fi novel.
  10. Our trip to Scotland in June
  11. Hanging out with my nieces and nephew
  12. The Hamilton Mixtape
  13. Writer’s Digest Conference 2016
  14. Meeting LJ Cohen
  15. Meeting Kylie Quillinan
  16. Meeting Jo Eberhardt and Marta Pelrine-Bacon in real life.
  17. Texting with Linda about Deacon Blue
  18. Learning to love the Passion Cycle
  19. Using Anchor to break into podcasting during StoryADay May
  20. Taking a writing class from Mary Robinette-Kowal
  21. Interviewing Mary Robinette Kowal for an article
  22. Being approached by dream editor to write an article for her magazine
  23. Writing the article
  24. Having the article accepted
  25. Pitching my novel at WDC16 and getting 9 agents in 90 minutes to say ‘send me pages’
  26. Sending out the novel to agents
  27. Getting encouraging feedback from agents about my novel (even when they were declining to represent it)
  28. Sharing my novel with K
  29. Tracking things (time – Laura Vanderkaam, writing words, writing blocks, reading lists, workouts/weight)
  30. Rye Manhattans
  31. Port Royale (card game)
  32. Being on the DIYMFA podcast
  33. The Potties’ visit
  34. My critique group
  35. Going to Sarah’s book signing
  36. DIYMFA’s Storytelling Superpower Quiz
  37. Giving a talk at the Wilmington Writers’ Group
  38. Learning to play “Severus & Lily” on the piano
  39. Knitting preemie hats for the Kiwanis
  40. Watching the house across the street being rebuilt
  41. Connecting with Julie Jordan Scott over Periscope
  42. Doing a mini Burns Supper with Haggis towers and Atholl Brose
  43. Sending book proposal
  44. Meeting book editor at conference
  45. Interviewing Stuart Horwitz
  46. Seeing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by the Pennsylvania Philharmonic at our kids’ middle school
  47. Seeing The Musical Box
  48. G’s friendship with N
  49. Hanging out with N’s mom at the pool
  50. Going to see Bad Moms with B
  51. A, being a lector at mass
  52. Remembering that Catholics not-in-Philadelphia-Archdiocese can be cool (thank you Boston!)
  53. Running my StoryADay Warm Up Bootcamp in April!
  54. The Serious Writers’ Accountability Group at StoryADay
  55. Les Miserable at the high school (wow!)
  56. K getting me tickets to see Amy Schumer and letting me take B
  57. StoryADay Live! Presentation on Dialogue at Main Line Writers
  58. Massages with Kate
  59. Jake Simubukuru concerts at the Colonial
  60. Doing a 20kg Turkish get up
  61. Doing a 24 kg Turkish get up
  62. Facebook Live! on Creativity, from Hogwarts
  63. Voting
  64. G starting Middle School
  65. G drumming (and starting individual drum lessons)
  66. G’s band concerts
  67. A’s chorus concerts
  68. G joining the Middle school chorus
  69. A going to Hershey with the chorus
  70. Going to Broadway trip with A, his friends and a Republican campaign manager the week before the election
  71. GP coming here for local presentations
  72. Finishing F’s 50th Aran sweater (and the fact that it fitted beautifully!)
  73. Apple Pay
  74. Taking control of the master card bills
  75. Using AA miles to fly to Writer Unboxed Unconference for free!
  76. Freelance gig for BD
  77. City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
  78. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  79. Going to Glasgow Science Center with L&M
  80. Going to Horrible Histories Live show with my kids and parents.
  81. Killing the landline
  82. Getting G a phone
  83. A and K building a computer together
  84. Pokemon Symphonic at the Mann Center
  85. Pokemon Go
  86. Setting up a pocket money system for the boys
  87. Levothyroxine
  88. Speaking at Just Write
  89. The Just Write Story Jam in Spring City
  90. Octavia Butler
  91. Getting a ‘wow’ from critique partner when she read the end of my novel
  92. Braving the Surf Rider at GWL
  93. Posting a make-up-free selfie after waterpark fun with kids. Looking great.
  94. Open mike reading at Main Line Writers
  95. Running StoryADay September by recycling the May prompts (totally legit!)
  96. Reading lots of short stories and logging them
  97. Singing with the PREP kids. The K-4 kids are so cute
  98. Fran Wilde & Chuck Wendig’s book signing
  99. Watching Sherlock with G
  100. Taking my parents to Chanticleer House & Gardens
  101. Meeting with LD and talking about kindle fiction
  102. Outlining a series of cozy mysteries 😃
  103. Thanksgiving in Orlando with K & the boys
Inspiration for this list came from Austin Kleon: http://austinkleon.com/2016/01/01/top-100-2015/

19 Things Only Scots Say

I was researching some Scottish stuff for a new story and came across this fun reminder of how people talk where I grew up.

Normally these lists are full of things that people *think* Scottish people say, rather than anything I can actually ‘hear’ anyone saying. But this one’s spot on.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-18-32-am

 

The only one I’ve never said is “Braw”, but I know people who use it.

The Personal Cost of Sexual Assault Culture

I’m angry this morning.

I’ve been angry about having-voluntarily-become-a-citizen-of a-country-where-people-elected-Donald-Trump-as-candidate-for-President for a long time.

Today I’m specifically angry that someone I know, a ‘pillar of the community’ in my town, thinks it’s OK to dismiss Donald Trump’s 2005 chat about how he treats women, because “Bill did it too”.

OK, let’s go:

1. If We’d Had Proof About Bill

If we’d had this kind of iron-clad proof about Bill Clinton’s character would he have been elected president? Maybe.

1991 was a long time ago, even though it doesn’t feel like it to people my age—except when you think about how far we’ve come on issues like, uh, acknowledging unwanted sexual contact as the damaging assault that it truly is.

2. Bill Clinton is not running.

If you think Hillary is morally weak for staying with her husband after knowing what he was like, then you clearly will have no compassion for other complicated human emotions and situations.

Why do abused people stay with their abusers? Why don’t drug addicts just pull their socks up? Why do we have to pay all this money to put ramps in for the couple of disabled people who might conceivably want to enter our buildings? (Can’t they just wait outside until we send someone down to help them like the infants they are?)

3. When we had proof of Bill Clinton’s actions, he was impeached.

We didn’t invite him to stay on. We weren’t proud he was our leader. It’s not ‘going all Democratic” or “defending the Clintons” to demand that we don’t knowingly elect another man like him.

He is not “a dirty boy”. He is a grown, 70 year old man, who has shown us the content of his character in many and varied ways. This is only the latest.

And, at the risk of being accused of defending Bill Clinton (which I am not), he HAD some skills in the job he was doing. He trained for it his whole life. He qualified as a lawyer. He apprenticed as governor of a large state. Twice.

I disagreed with many of the policies he put in place, and think the fallout from them has been bad. But he understood government. He did not need on-the-job-training.

4. Contact Without Consent is Sexual Assault

People like me, your sister and your mother had to put up with Trumpian behaviour from the moment our periods started, because now we were women.

You had to smile and laugh and learn to brush off grown men in order to voice being called a bad sport or a ‘shrill harpy’ or frigid or worse, to avoid being physically intimidated or attacked.

We had to endure being touched and propositioned by strangers because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’.

5. Assault is Damaging

When someone decides they can be in your personal space, touch you however they like and demean you when you say no, it is a psychologically damaging assault that leaves an impression. It might make a dent, or it might crush someone, but, as with all interpersonal interactions, it has an impact.

Are we clear on that?

6. A Climate of Degradation Doesn’t Just Hurt The Target

Sexual predation doesn’t just hurt women. We have to stop saying “this language has to change ‘for our daughters and our wives”.

We have to change this language for our daughters and our sons and our wives and our brothers and for all human beings.

This culture hurts men too.

Decent men feel bad, and often powerless when the Dude-Bros let loose. Decent men have historically felt stressed and constrained by cultural norms and had to tamp down their natural decency so as not to look like a “fag” or a “pussy”or whatever demeaning name guys like this would throw their way; guys that might be their boss, or their partner on a project, or 243lbs of angry muscle.

7. How The Threat of Sexual Assault Affected Me

First, I’m fine.

I’m tall, and strong, and opinionated and I never once felt in danger from a man.

I did, however, learn to be careful about how I bent down to pick something up.

I learned to tug my skirt down.

I learned it was not OK to go out alone.

I learned to smile and deflect when men tried to chat me up on the train, when I was 13.

I spent the years when Bill Clinton was busy being elected, at university, with one hand on the rape alarm I kept in one pocket of my biker’s jacket and my other hand on my sharp housekeys as I speed-walked home with my head down. From. Studying. At. The. University. Library. I was 18.

It never occurred to me to get particularly angry that I had to do this. I had been conditioned to think that I might get attacked and that if I did, I needed to prove I had done everything possible to excuse myself from blame.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t expect to be attacked. BUT I learned to walk with my head down, not making eye contact, carrying a rape alarm, so nobody would blame me (much) if the unthinkable happened.

I internalized this at 18.

What did that do to my character? I don’t know, because whatever it did is part of me now and always will be.

Is this what we want for our children?

I wasn’t angry on my own behalf, but now that my kids are approaching their teens, I am mad as hell.

  • I’m angry that my boys will be viewed as predatory.
  • I’m super-angry that my friends’ tall, beautiful, bold, witty daughter will soon begin to duck her head and shorten her stride if she dares go out after dusk.

I’m angry that I, an adult human being, think twice about taking walks in quiet places lest something bad happen and I get blamed.

I thought we had moved past this. I was 19 when Bill Clinton was elected. I was 33 when Trump was recorded making these comments. I am 44 now and I have one question:

Can we stop?

Can we stop normalizing this behavior, please?

And while we’re at it,

  • Can we stop thinking it’s OK that African American mothers have to train their sons to be meek so they don’t get in harm’s way, sometimes by officials of the state?
  • Can we stop treating everyone who’s poor as if they’re weak?
  • Can we stop dismissing everyone with an accent as lazy because they ‘haven’t learned English properly’ when they’ve uprooted their lives and learned to live and work in a new culture, raising kids in a place where they don’t understand the school system, taking fewer benefits than they’re entitled to and paying more of their income in taxes than richer, native-born Americans?
  • Can we stop demonizing people because they love who they love and they just want to be treated equally?
  • Can we stop asking people to calm down, when we’re metaphorically punching them in the face?
  • Can we start respecting that my experience may not be the same as your experience and that two realities can be true at the same time?
  • Can we stop pretending we’re Christian or Pro-Life when we do not demonstrate it with our words or our actions, not to mention our policies?

Let’s Move Forwards, Not Backwards

We have proof of the kind of man Trump is and he’s not “a dirty boy”. He’s the kind of damaging, hateful man who wants to take us back to a time when wolf whistling was cool, and it was ok to not employ people because of their parents or which side of the tracks they came from.

I though we were making progress. I thought people like Donald Trump were figures of fun, who we reviled and kind of pitied.

I didn’t think we were ready to put them back in charge.

Pressing “Send”

So, I didn’t get any writing done yesterday. 

Lessons learned: Write First.

(I don’t know why I have to keep I learning this one over and over and over and over again,Maybe one day it’ll stick.)

Today wasn’t shaping up much better for the writing. Sometimes my job is to actually raise my children, not just make sure they don’t stick their fingers in sockets or run out into traffic. After an intense session of “talking a not-yet-teen off a ledge” and discussing what kinds of pictures we can and can’t take with our phones, it was a little difficult to immediately switch gears and throw myself into fiction. Especially when I hadn’t  done the thing I said I was going to do when is signed off here the other day: I did not go and sketch out the next scene I need to write. Which, of course meant I was left with the prospect of starting from scratch while emotionally riled up/elsewhere. 

Hmm. Not a four-star recipe for success.

But, as I keep saying, lesson learned. However  briefly.

In other news…

I sent off the book proposal to the publisher today. I had stalled and waited for an opportune moment, with the result that I’ve been sitting on this for almost four years now. The actual proposal went to an agent last November. She was very encouraging, but suggested some changes that stalled me almost completely, driving me into StoryADay May season, when I could think of nothing but that. Then I was  traveling and…

It occurred to me this week that this was the perfect moment. They don’t come along often, but I had banked on this being one, what with the boys being in camps, and me having nothing else pressing on my plate, (apart from, you know, finishing the novel…)

So I checked it over, made some changes, added new data about the growth rate of my list, and undoing some other changes I had made in Feb. Then I bypassed the agent, who had said I could, if I wanted to contact the publisher directly. I’ll pull her back in if there’s an offer of a contract and some actual money. If she wants to be involved. Otherwise I’m in trouble.

And yes, I had the telltale rush of adrenaline to the head and neck region as I contemplated hitting the send button. Checked it a couple more times and hit send anyway.

And now we wait.

To be honest I haven’t had the best luck contacting this person in the past, and I know I’m hitting them at a busy period, but we’ll see. If I get some kind of acknowledgment of receipt, that’d be nice.