Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stories and Creation

It's about time I get back to writing. I actually have discovered that writing, for me, is an itch, and if I don't scratch it, I get grumpy. Very grumpy. Sometimes I'm not sure I even like it, but I am actually compelled to do it. The other day, I was editing a couple of investment commentaries and I realized the real satisfaction I have in playing with words, moving them around, trying new combinations to improve the style. As I have mentioned before, writing can be scary, and as with many things in life, if you don't believe you have talent or that you love it enough to try, you can be easily swayed. I once worked for a well-meaning person who I think believed that there was one way to write and if your writing didn't fit that mold, well, it was just wasn't "good." I allowed that tunnel vision to slowly erode my self-confidence. The one thing I always felt I could do well - writing- seemingly was not something I was actually good at. Perhaps I tie my self worth too closely to perceived abilities, but that was a huge blow, one I am finally starting to recover from.

Well, on to the real point of this post, which is the idea of where stories come from. One of my frustrations in writing is feeling like I need to have a plot completely mapped out from the beginning. I was working on one particular idea and couldn't get it to go anywhere. I truly ignored the fact that sometimes plots need to evolve on their own as you write, or that perhaps I'm just not that kind of plot-driven writer, and that's ok. No, the plot needed to be planned and if not, then the idea was rubbish and I had to scrap it. You can see where this is going. My story was not going anywhere and after months of fits and starts, I dropped it. I kind of pushed it into a dark closet (literally) and shut the door, another (perceived) failure. But yet....the story, or at least the germ of the story and some of the ideas I had continued to whisper in my ear. No matter how hard I tried, how hard I pushed and how hard I tried to keep busy with other things, they wouldn't go away. My lovely writer friend, Sara, who has written a memoir, has encouraged me and asked and generally kept me honest about it. She was the one who pointed out that I didn't need to have a plot determined from the get go, yet I stubbornly persisted in arguing this point. "Let him tell the story," she said.

Yesterday, as I was thinking a bit more about the evolution of a story and a plot, I realized that really and truly, a plot, a story can emerge bit by bit. As writers, aren't we, in fact, creating another world? Creating lives, allowing characters to form, change, grow? As with life, we're not plotted from the moment we're born. Moments strung together, interactions, relationships, events...woven together, this becomes our plot and sometimes it is better to let it emerge as it will. When we try to force, life resists. When we try to plan, God laughs. And so it is with stories. You write a word, and then a sentence, and then a paragraph. Somewhere in there, a voice emerges, and it begins. One foot in front of another.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Magic of Silence

It's 7:30. The kids are in bed, banished there early because they were off their respective rockers today. I'm going to go ahead and blame it on the full moon. There has to be a reason - why else would kids act crazy??? (insert huge sarcasm here). Ted is not home. There is no TV on. The house is SILENT. It is magical. I thought this would be a lovely topic for my neglected blog. For those of you without kids, silence is a state grossly taken for granted. Like so many aspects of autonomous adulthood, silence is gone once you have kids. As babies, they cry. As toddlers, they whine. As preschoolers, they talk. Incessantly. I haven't reached the older stages yet, but suffice it to say that I find the noise one of the most galling things about parenthood. When my oldest was a year old, I was eager for him to talk. Now he doesn't STOP talking. He says many funny things, which definitely help offset the effect of the really obnoxious things that come out of his mouth. Then add in a 3 and a 2 year old, and then din is deafening. Sometimes the decibels aren't even that high, sometimes it's like a constant hum or buzz that you can't escape. You lose your ability to think, reason and make simple decisions when there is so much noise. And believe me, that has effects on your patience, your stamina, and your ability to cope.

It's gotten to the point where I would absolutely go on one of those silent retreats. I think I would have absolutely NO PROBLEM not talking for a couple of days. You know what? I'll go and then let you know how it is - because by the time I can probably go to one, they will be teenagers and won't be talking at all.

I don't mean to sully such a wonderful state with my negative talk about parenthood - minor complaints. I sit with my tea (had a little night out last night and maybe feeling the effects of the wine today) and I can think. I can write. I can browse Amazon. And I can read a book which I think I will do. Right now. In silence.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thank you, Danielle

One of the reasons I started blogging was to keep myself writing as often as possible and assist in writing my novel. Well, here I am and it has been a month since I have posted. I realize that no one is waiting with baited breath for my latest entry but when my good friend Danielle wrote to me on Facebook last night and said she missed my posts, well, I was somewhat shamed into doing it. (Not that you shamed me, Danielle! You simply put out there what I had been thinking) Besides, I went to Catholic school and am from the most Irish Catholic family you can find - guilt, shame, and not talking about things are the way we roll. So, thank you Danielle!
Accountability is important in reaching a goal. I was at a training last night for my Stella & Dot business and one of the things we talked about was goal setting. Apparently, there have been studies done and people who have goals, write them down, and revisit those goals are more likely to achieve them (makes sense) and earn nine times more than people who don't. Absolutely - when you write it down it becomes concrete and not some random thought floating through your head. (I realize this writing is not my most eloquent and not even grammatically correct, but hey, sometimes if you wait for perfection, nothing happens, right? I'm all heart in this post :-) )
When you articulate a goal, you put it out there - and not only does it keep you accountable, but if you're smart enough to put it somewhere you can see it, it stays with you and you begin to think about that goal and how you can get there. And then you take steps to achieve it. One foot in front of the other - or one sentence in front of the other, in my case.
I have put my writing aside. I spent a good six months researching and trying to get a good start on my novel. Things weren't adding up and that was when I ran into a wall of fear. Maybe I really couldn't do this - maybe I should just forget it, it's not working. Or, even, what if I was successful? Fear can be a useful emotion if you recognize it for what it is - either that something is wrong and you need to change it - or, as I believe in my case, that I was on the verge of a breakthrough and got spooked. So unconsciously, I distracted myself. I started cooking a lot, trying to get back on an exercise routine, started Stella & Dot. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Stella & Dot and am so glad I did it. But I think my tricky little brain was trying to distract my from my original goal. Hey, knowing is half the battle, right?
I think my approach to my novel before was all or nothing. Perhaps I needed this break to get some perspective. I don't have to write a chapter a day. Or even 1,000 words. That would be nice, but at this stage, not possible. So, let's start with a sentence:

Today was the last day of Father McCauley's life, but he had not yet achieved his sacred contract.

Ok, so maybe that will go nowhere. Maybe it won't even fit in the story, but it is something. If you're a writer, you may know Anne Lamott's idea of shitty first drafts. Novels don't spring from our minds, fully formed and plotted. They often start with utterly crappy writing but sometimes from that pool of shit, you can pull out something usable. I wanted fully formed and plotted but it just wasn't happening. I'm not that kind of writer, although I would like to be.

I am amazed that my kids aren't up yet as the clock ticks toward 8:00 - this just doesn't happen. Usually I am up to my elbows in diapers and screaming kids by now - and since time is precious and I need a shower, I must end here. So there it is, my rambling somewhat incoherent post. It may be shit, but it's something. :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Skidding in Sideways

Since my last two posts were about food (and each began with "mmmmm" - I need to be more creative), I thought I would shift gears and talk a little bit about other things going on in my life. 'Cause it's my blog! And if no one reads it, so what! My first couple of posts were pretty personal and that goes against my whole modus operandi - I am a private person and I mostly keep to myself. However, the older I get, the more I realize that sure, you can insulate yourself from hurt and pain and embarrassment by huddling in a turtle shell, but that is a lonely existence and as a person, you don't grow. I honestly think that is one of the lessons I have taken away from my last few tumultuous years. No risk, no reward. (10 years in the investment services world taught me that!) I love this quote:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride!"

After those first couple of blog posts, I felt icky. And while those posts were hardly confessional, they were definitely more than I typically let on. However, I talked to a few people who read those posts and they said how they felt in much the same way, or that it resonated with them. Not only did that make me feel better, but it showed me what reaching out can do - forge connections with other people. Sounds totally elementary, but admitting how you really feel, not that everything's fine and dandy, can be a good thing.

A roundabout way to get to the next point, but it goes along with stepping out of my comfort zone. I am starting my own business as an Independent Stylist for Stella & Dot. They are a jewelry company out of San Francisco, specializing in direct selling via in-home trunk shows and online. I was invited to a trunk show a month ago and a light bulb went off in my head. Why don't I do something like this? It's flexible, you can work "off hours" (key with kids) and it can be as much or as little as you want it to be. I went to their website, watched the videos, read about the firm's founders, and was intrigued. It was more than just your average direct selling company. They jewelry is gorgeous, first of all, and the experience of the firm's founder, Jessica Herrin, was compelling. Add to that a $37 million investment by Seqouia Capital, and I was hooked. Could I do this? I'm a bit on the shy side, I'm not a fashionista, could I really get out there? Well, I definitely wanted to get out of the house, so that was a big motivating factor. Ultimately, I decided to take the plunge because of those very questions I raised above. Get over my shyness (it's not debilitating) and wear jewelry? Really, not too hard. I'm not a girly girl, but I'm not a total slouch, either. I viewed it as a way to earn money, get out of the house, and meet new people. And so far, it's fun. I actually want to go sit down and "work" although it doesn't feel like work. It feels like something I am doing for myself and selling a fun product that people love.

Between this blog and Stella & Dot, I'm trying to reach out, get connected again. Having small children can be an isolating experience - you don't have a ton of built-in opportunities to get out and meet people (you have to be proactive in that area) and if you have multiple small children, as I do, it can feel like a monumental task to take them anywhere. Plus, between short attention spans, naps, and all that, you're ready to go to bed when they are. So this is my attempt to get back into the world and try something new.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


This recipe was just so good and interesting that I had to post it. From Rachael Ray, Meat-Free BLT Spaghetti with Butter Lettuce, Leek, and Tomato. I have Rachael's latest cookbook, Look and Cook and it has a number of yummy recipes in it. Back in the days when I was snobby foodie, I thought I was too good for Rachael Ray. And then I had kids and I soon figured out that my days of planning menus, leisurely shopping at Whole Foods and then lovingly preparing the meal were OVER. OVER. If I still wanted to cook good food and try new recipes, I had to find a way to fit it into my life. And so I went over to the dark side. The Rachael side. And I discovered that her recipes are fun and really tasty. Not always easy on the waistline - there's lots of "EVOO" and cheese but really, who can go wrong with that? Just don't eat her portions - they are ginormous. She often does riffs on popular things like a spinach artichoke dip and makes it into a meal. For example, she makes a Spinach & Artichoke Mac and Cheese that is pretty darn good.  Anyway, I had spotted this recipe in the book and thought it was interesting but passed over it - Ted was the one who had pointed it out (he made the Chicken Ragu and that was awesome) and I included it in our little weekly menu plan. Now, the recipe has you make a pesto out of butter lettuce, basil, mint, parsley, pine nuts, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, and EVOO. I was a bit skeptical. A pesto recipe whose main ingredient was lettuce? Sounded grody (yes, yes, the 80s called and they want their word back) but heck, why not? Lachlan helped me make the pesto and before I knew it, he was dipping a bowl scraper in the food processor bowl and eating it. Turned out to be refreshing, light, and a perfect complement to the tomatoes and leeks that you saute and then toss with the pasta and pesto. Very summery, very flavorful and I recommend you give it a shot. The best part? The kids LOVED the pesto. Since they are not apt to consume vegetables, I was a happy mama. The proof is below. In fact, I almost DIDN'T post about this because it was so good I didn't want to run upstairs to get my camera. I wanted to keep shoveling it in my mouth.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mmmmm, bread

Ok, so maybe you don't necessarily want to hear about baking bread in the middle of summer, but this is how I roll. To give you a frame of reference, my dad was known to roast turkeys in July. Full on Thanksgiving dinner. Not sure why, but perhaps this will help you better understand my pathos: it's genetic. Anyhoo! So at the Borders liquidation sale, I found a book called (you can excuse the irony for linking to Amazon) Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The premise is that you make a huge amount of bread dough and then store it in your fridge for up to two weeks. From that large batch, you can pull off smaller bits for various loaves of bread. And what's even better is that the longer the dough sits in your fridge, the more it will begin to develop a sourdough-like taste. No need to make and feed and cultivate a sourdough starter, my friends! Last weekend, Ted made the ginormous amount of dough - he had to go to Target to get a bowl big enough to store it. For whatever reason, we just didn't get to baking the actual bread (probably because the ginormous bowl was in our fridge in the basement - out of sight, out of mind), so yesterday I gave it a whirl. All I can say is, impressive. It was insanely easy. You pull off a one pound ball, shape it (no kneading), and let it rest and rise at room temp for about 40 minutes. You do need a pizza stone to actually bake it, but they are pretty ubiquitous these days. 30 minutes of baking and out comes a gorgeous loaf that looks like it came from a bakery (without the $3.99 price tag). There are lots of recipes in this book, mostly variations on the master recipe, so I think I may be baking my own bread from now on! So long expensive peasant loaves! Buh-bye Pepperidge Farm!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Open Letter to my Chickens

Dear Chickens:

Well, we find ourselves here yet again. Some weeks ago, I chided you via Facebook for escaping and warned you that the consequences were life threatening. And they were - two of your sisters died, bringing the total loss to 3 chickens. Now we must have another come to Jesus - this on a different topic. Productivity. Yes, chickens, it is time to begin the process of cozying down in your Poulet Chalet or Chick'n Villa, whatever you call it, and laying some eggs. Since early May, we have housed you, fed you, and cleaned up your poop. (Never mind that I also do this for my children and I don't expect the same from them) We have also tried (operative word is tried) to keep you safe from the Wild Kingdom that is Mansfield. Alas, to no avail.

Yes, remaining five chickens, it is up to you to carry the torch for your lost brethren. Make them proud as they scratch and bawk up there in chicken heaven. Provide us with sustenance, show us how good farm fresh eggs can be. At this point, they better be. So get to laying. Ted is already making plans for Coq Au Vin. Get busy.