Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tuesday is Belated Monday, and I am the Mother of Collies

Tybalt, watching over my Dad and me. 
Today's post was supposed to be yesterday's post, and it was supposed to be about my love for collies. I have two collies right now. My whole life I’ve had collies. My father desperately wanted his own Lassie puppy, back in the fifties, but he didn't get him until graduate school.  I was watched over by a collie from the time I was born. And so, here I am, in 2016, the Mother of Collies. 

It’s not as exciting, I suppose, as being the Mother of Dragons, but don’t let the Lassie-faee fool you, collies are characters.

I wanted to write about the joy they give me, the sheer sense of fun they bring to every day. I wanted to tell you how smart and clever they are, how they communicate like people, and manipulate like psychological masters. I thought I might mention their loyalty, their psychic understanding of the needs of all around them. Or, I thought, I’d talk about how individual they are, how no two are the same, and how my sweet Summer, now eleven months old, is constantly cracking me up with her feminine ways, the first of all my dogs to be female and to show me this side of the collie equation.

But, ultimately, all I can say is, they are essential to my life. I can’t live without them. 

I'm grieving hard this week. It's one year since we said goodbye to Data, the first of the collies who was mine

There’s a hole in my life. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there. 

Data was with me, always. And by, "with me," I mean literally by my side. He was on my feet when I washed dishes. He stood between my knees and the cabinets while I cooked. He slept in bed with me until he couldn't get up there anymore. He lay under my desk while I worked. He wanted to be as close to my body as he could, for most of his life. 

Data helping me watch tv
But once we brought home Bailey, Data had a playmate. And they would play and play, so he wasn't always next to me, just all the time he wasn't playing with Bailey or patrolling the large yard that was the gift of his golden years.
Bailey pouncing on Data's head. Data was so gentle with him.

Bailey, our now four-year-old, collie,  loved Data like a father and a brother. I’ve never seen a dog grieve before, but Bailey was three when Data died at age twelve and a half. Bailey aged. In just a few weeks, he was no longer our baby dog. We brought home Summer as soon as we did, mostly for Bailey. I could have waited, but Bailey couldn’t.

Bailey, now the old dog, and Summer, the new baby

And from May tenth to August tenth of 2015, Bailey went from being the baby, the goofball puppy, to being the canine patriarch. 

These dogs belong to what I think of as the line of Robertson dogs. They come after Magus, and Shane before him, and Cyrano, and first, Tybalt. But, their spiritual existence, in the minds of humans, goes back much farther. It goes back to Lassie, and before him (all the dog actors who played Lassie were male) to Lad, the dog king of The Place, as described in the stories and books of Albert Payson Terhune.

Lad died a hundred years ago, and yet, when it was time to sprinkle my dad’s ashes, in all the places that meant so much to him, we all knew we had to go to Sunnybank. We stood at Lad’s grave, and sprinkled a pinch of my dad (he would have found our ashes-based shenanigans hilarious), around the edges—and I read the passage about the death of Lad, from Lad a Dog. 

It’s hard to write about joy when I’m feeling so sad. But that’s how it is. The collies bring me so much love and joy and laughter and comfort; the pain of losing them is sharp and deep. Even a year later, there’s an ache in my heart for the space Data occupied in my life. Summer and Bailey are both asleep in my bedroom, and I love them both, but they occupy their own special place. 
Yes, collies bring me joy. But, today, I’m experiencing the flip-side—grief. 

                                                  I miss you, my steadfast, beautiful, boy. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Comfort in a Village of Mothers

The Comfort in a Village of Mothers

Facebook’s On This Day feature can feel like a blessing and a curse. 

I’ve been dreading today, because last year it was my last full day with my beloved collie, Data. 

I’m lucky in that this is as complicated as Mothers Day gets for me. I have a great mom, who loves our family so much, who always jumps in to help and support, who is always enthusiastic about my endeavors, and who desperately wants my brother and I to be happy. 

The Important Parents of Schuyler Drive
Not everyone is so lucky. One of my oldest friends lost her mother on Mothers Day. I grew up eating in her mother’s kitchen, making the most awesome forts out of her old saris, and knowing that their home was always open to me, a safe haven of refuge at that end of the street. 
When I think of the street where I grew up, I don’t think of the whole street. I think of the stretch from my friend Reeta’s house to my friend Priti’s house, with my house in between.  Reeta’s mom, my mom, and Priti’s mom were the pillars which marked my passage down that small community of houses. 

Once past Priti and Reeta’s houses, was “the rest of the neighborhood,” and a little less safety. 

There were other mothers there, too. I may not have been in their house as much, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Ben would have been available if I fell and got banged up. Our neighbor to the left, Mrs. Meisen, was always out on her bicycle, or walking, and would invite me in for “healthy snacks.” I remember hanging out with her one night, watching a variety show, with Dolly Parton singing in spangles and sparkles. 

Across the street, the old grandma, Rose, lived in her in-law apartment. She and her husband, built like Jack Sprat and his wife, were always in residence. Her husband didn’t speak English, as I recall, and Grandma Rose was always watching her shows, and I sometimes popped in just to sit with her. I don’t even remember why.  Or, when her great-granddaughter was visiting, Jessie and I played secretary, using her tv trays, with hot cocoa in mugs that we pretended was coffee. 

I was lucky. My safe spaces were all close together. I could move between them on my own feet, mostly without any supervision—or so it seemed. Now that I’m a mother, I realize that there was supervision, because all of these mothers were looking out for me. 

My children live differently, partly because of our having moved so many times, but also because the world is a little different. We spend more times in cars. More women work outside the home. We put nearly thirty kids on the bus in the morning at our bus stop. Only about half get off the bus in the afternoon. Aftercare is a large part of kids’ lives here. 

I recently started thinking about my children’s safe spaces, and I realized they’re spread across counties and states. We’re moving to a new house in our town this summer, and I’m looking forward to it, because the kids will be able to walk to their schools and to many friends’ houses. When we went looking for the new place, I rejected several that weren’t bad at all, but weren’t close to the schools. Today, I realize I wanted to make a space for my kids like the one I had growing up on Long Island.

So, happy Mothers Day, to the women of Schuyler Drive. Thank you for being my safe space. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Low Key Thursday

 It's going to be a quiet day today, a yoga pants and ponytail day, with laundry and research reading and puppy snuggling. 

And okay--maybe--I'm also going to order display stuff for my Stella & Dot business, because I got my first real paycheck yesterday, and it felt every kind of awesome.

I've had one paycheck, before this one, since my daughter was born. 

Thank you, BC Theater Department, aka Holly's UnGooglable husband, for enabling that little payday, and for the crazy fun of designing Macbeth in a day, with Walmart and JC Penney as our only resources. 

The amazing feeling of getting a paycheck, for having fun? Indescribable. 
And yes, both of my paychecks of the last twelve years were for doing something I love. 

Designing, styling, finding just the right look for a character or a person? 
I love that. 

Now that I think of it, maybe a little visual research is in order for today.  
Because there's another paycheck I want, too.
And it's time to find the joy in that again. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Manic Monday: My Favorite Things

The necklace I'm coveting to wear for #UVA games. 
I like pretty things. A lot. Like, really a lot. I'll always be a child of the 80's. Big hair, crazy makeup, bright colors, SO MANY LEGGINGS, and tons of jewelry were my earliest style influences after Disney.  (My wedding dress and hair was very Cinderella-at-the-ball.). The first time I got into costume storage at UVA, I was ready to prostrate myself before the giant, rotating, dry-cleaning-style rack, filled with costumes from every period.

Costume shops are also filled with baubles and hats and bags and things—even though there’s confusion about what is a PROP and what is a COSTUME. What it all is, however, is awesome. Actors love dress-up, and transitioning to behind the the stage, instead of on it was a natural progression for someone who had been drawing costume renderings on the sides of her notebooks since elementary school. 

Nowadays, the only people I get to dress up are my family. I adore shopping for them and trying to find just the right things, at just the right price, to fit their individual tastes and personalities. With Stella & Dot, I get to do that and get PAID for it. WIN-WIN! (Shhh--the store is HERE).

Also, jewelry, y’all. JEWELRY. Never underestimate the power of the luxurious bauble, my friends.

It’s a tale as old as time. 

But, seriously.

Dressing up and taking time to fully express myself through my choices in hair, makeup, and fashion, is one way I battle against depression, and the pain of my Fibromyalgia. A day where my hair is done, my makeup is perfect, my clothes feel fresh and fun, and my earrings are swinging away--well--that's a day I have a much better chance of finishing happy. 
Some days, I'm playing dress-up to act the part of a capable, healthy, vibrant woman. And it works. For me.

I can't do that every day. That's the reality of living with a chronic illness. But every day I do do it, feels like a punch in the face to the ever-present specter of depression and pain.

I have to be my own Fairy Godmother. My current writing project is so important to me. It's a labor of love. And I'm doing everything I can to make sure I am able to keep at it, moving to a cheaper house, selling a car, and starting a part-time business that I can manage at my own pace, while paying attention to my physical and emotional needs. 

I hope you'll tune in to hear more about my favorite things, and tell me about yours. What sparks joy in you? What lights you up? What keeps you going when the days are dark?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In Response to Mom: The Designated Worrier

The New York Times published an article entitled Mom: The Designated Worrier. I started to share it on Facebook and my response turned out to be way longer than a Facebook post. 

Yes. I am the designated worrier. But I'm pretty sure that's mostly on me.

I have said something to my husband, Chris, before about the sheer stress of being the one who keeps the tally of #ALLTHETHINGS in my head. Meanwhile, his response is that he never keeps things in his head. If he kept things in his head, he'd be too paralyzed to act. 

He follows the Getting Things Done method of time management and having stuff in your head is against all its precepts. Worrying is meant to be completely eliminated. There is only time taken for thinking and action. He is very deliberate in this way.

Meanwhile, I argue that that works fine for one person, but kids throw curveballs, like coming home in the midst of a crying hormonal meltdown after being the recipient of some good, old, girl-drama shunning. It only takes one sobbing child and one other child having a potty accident to derail an otherwise well-planned afternoon. I'm actually pretty good at micromanaging my time if there are no major emotional crises, but when the crises do hit, I'm the one with the household stuff in my head.

To be fair to my husband, Chris has the money in HIS head. He doesn't mean to. He tries to keep it within the system, but I promise you if I ask what day a certain bill gets paid, or how much the power bill was this month, he'll know. But, money is fairly easy to schedule (at this point in our lives. There was a time Chris keeping his eye on that ball took him two hours every day so we could stay on top of being broke and not be dead broke). Our bills don't usually have meltdowns. They don't contact us at the last minute to help with a class party because somebody got sick. They don't get ear infections on the one day you only have one driver and the other kid needs to be dropped off and picked up and and you need to run ear infection kid to the doctor but you don't really know enough people yet to call for help. On the other hand, if money is really tight, the bills need shuffling to deal with crises. I know there are lots of families where the moms handle the bills, too.

I'm lucky to be married to someone who appreciates just how much I have in my head. And the real truth is Chris functions beautifully when I go away, and I don't prep  for him. I used to get a lot of stuff ready for him. Now, I don't. I leave a list of what I do each day with the kids when he's not around so he doesn't get a ton of, "But MOMMY* does it this way." But he cooks, does laundry, plans lunches, and makes sure everybody is dressed and the house is picked up and the dog gets fed just fine.

I mean...it's not how I would do it, but it works. I don't worry about it when I'm gone. So, for my generation, I often think it's more about how much we take on and how much we hold tight to our power in the family, than it is about men's willingness or capability. I think the guys are willing to deal. But we women have to be willing to let things go, too.

The hardest thing for me to let go of is the fear of being judged by other women for my mothering, my decorating, my cooking, and my housekeeping. Apparently, I'm a child of the 70's and 80's with a 1950's Mrs. Cleaver living in my head. And that's not my husband's fault. It's my responsibility to kick Mrs. Cleaver out of our house. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go hot roll my hair and get out of this bathrobe before I pick up the kids from the bus.

* Mommy is always said in all caps. Always.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's New?

This website is a testament to something my mother is fond of saying.

"Life happens while you're making other plans."

Actually, until she spent time with my husband and I, I don't think that was a big phrase for her. But Chris and I are planners. We like lists and spreadsheets and calendars with automatic alerts. Eleven years ago, our plans went a wee bit astray. I became pregnant with our first child, and while we'd planned on her, she wasn't actually on the calendar for another year or so.

That's the first time mother told me about life and plans. She and my father weren't big on plans. Their plans tended to change in an instant. After almost fifteen years with my husband (and twelve and a half of them, married), we have finally started to accept that our plans are, well, nebulous. People ask us what we'll be doing in a few months.

"We don't know what we'll be doing next week."

I made a lot of plans for my writing career. I wrote two manuscripts. I did a small bit of querying. I joined RWA. I went to conferences. In 2013, I decided to go the self-publishing route. I made a business plan. I got excited. And then I got the agent call. So, I scrapped some of my plans.

2013 was a crazy year. We moved from Virginia to Texas. A year later, we moved from Texas back to Virginia, but to a different part. It was a hard, hard time for my family. My kids suffered, my marriage suffered. Hell, even my dogs suffered. Through it all, I wasn't just suffering emotionally, I was suffering physically. I wrote very little. I slept very little. I worked with a personal trainer. I changed medications. I found a fabulous therapist. And then I got a diagnosis.


It was both a massive relief and a terrible burden. This pain was never going away? Never?

I'm still working through that grief. But I'm trying things. I have a doctor who listens to me--for the first time in my entire life. The only other medical professional I ever trusted, because she listened, was one of the midwives at my old OB's office.

Now, I'm writing again. I'm trying something new. It's an adventure. I don't know how it will pan out. Maybe this is the thing I've been working towards for years.  Maybe it will be a disaster! I have a lot of varied interests. This book combines many of them, history, mystery, romance, perhaps a whiff of the paranormal. We'll see. I'm also hoping to try my hand at a different sort of blog, probably not on this page, but who knows? Maybe I'll find the courage to do it here.

The main point of this post is to answer the question, "So, Jenn? What have you been doing?"

The answer is both complicated and simple. Surviving. Taking each day as it comes. Living in the moment. Finding my way back through the thicketed woods. Making a new path.

Oh, and look, I wrote a blog post. So, I'm also writing.

It feels good.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thoughts after RWA 2013

The annual national conference of Romance Writers of America wrapped up this past weekend.

I can't stress this enough. If you weren't at RWA, you need to read the blogs about this year's conference. There is REVOLUTION happening in the publishing world, especially in romance and new adult.

Three major agents who are indie friendly all said they haven't sold a debut romance in nine months, that publishers are starting to want to see self-pub sales numbers before taking on a new author. Agent Deidre Knight said she is still selling but it is definitely changing and in flux. She is working with her clients to help them forge what is being called "the new hybrid career."

Folks who are self-publishing are sharing their knowledge and they are talking numbers. There is so much to know. Also, the people who know what they are doing are making a killing. Seriously.

The number one thing remains (and will hopefully always remain) WRITE A GOOD BOOK. THEN WRITE ANOTHER ONE.

When it comes to promo, the message was definitely BOOKS SELL BOOKS.

Your first book isn't doing well? WRITE THE NEXT BOOK.

What does traditional publishing have to offer the indie writer? Expanded distribution and readership. What does indie have to offer the traditionally published author? WAY MORE MONEY.

We're basically talking about the mid-list here. But even best-selling authors are jumping on the band wagon. New authors just starting out are starting to wise up and tell their agents to be especially careful in their contracts. Non-compete clauses could kill their future if they aren't done right.

The biggest missing piece right now are the editors. Sure, there are a lot of freelance editors out there and the the good indies are mining that gold. But what about the top-notch editors still working at traditional publishing houses--who, quite frankly, aren't paid anywhere near what they are worth?

I heard whispers that self-pub folks would love to lure them away with promises of royalty shares. Two years ago, the whispers were about self-publishing at all.

It's a whole new world. If you were at RWA and your mind wasn't blown? You weren't paying attention.