Category Archives: Me

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.

The Battle of the Somme, 100 Years Later

Ten years ago I posted this, back when my journal was still over at Livejournal.

The Battle of the Somme began 90 years ago today. By the end of the day 20,000  young British men were dead, 40,000 more were injured. By the end of the battle one million people had been killed or wounded.

These were the parents of my grandparents generation. Except they probably weren’t, because so many of them died. They called them The Lost Generation. Imagine what the world might have been like if we had not lost so many bright young men on that one day. What might they have achieved? What diseases would we be without? Would we have avoided other wars?

This was the defining moment for a generation that grew up to send their sons off to another horrendous war, one that would also come to their towns in the form of air raids.  Everyone must have lost someone they knew in the First World War—in mud and noise and horror—only to go through it again twenty years later.

Today we can watch bombs being dropped, exploding, in real time. But how many of us are really touched by the death and the awfulness?

Sorry.

But our history must not be forgotten. It is horrible and important.

90 years sounds like a long time, but my grandparents were born around this time, raised by people who went through the awful shock of The Somme and other WWI battles. My parents were raised by the children born during WWI and raised in the shadow of WWII. It’s not that long ago. These were real people, real families, all ruined by nation-building and the greed of the ‘great’.

Lest we forget.

I Didn’t Know How Busy I Was

Sometimes I get annoyed with myself for not getting more writing done. Then I look at my day. Here’s today:
– 6:30-wake up, pack bag for day.
– 6:45-make breakfast for G
– 7:00-shower
– 7:20-drive G to school, with his percussion kit
– 7:50-Settle in at coworking space. Critique 2 stories for writing buddies. Slurp a protein shake. Compose & publish writing prompt blog post; minimal promotion for post; critique 35 more pages for writing buddy.
– 11:40-Race out of coworking space. Drive 11 miles to writing group meeting. Eat chicken salad during meeting.
– 2:45-leave to pick up G and his percussion kit from school.
– 3:10-pick up groceries, unpack groceries, marinate chicken, empty dishwasher, wipe down surfaces.
– 5:00-sit down with coffee to read story A has been working on for weeks, while on hold with a business-related call (25 mins later, still on hold).

I still have to cook dinner, clean up, monitor homework time and, I hope, spend some quality time with the spouse.

Good thing I “don’t work”, isn’t it?

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.