Category Archives: Writing

Moon

This morning, when we left the house, the crescent moon was bright in the sky. I pointed it out to Liam.

“Moon. That’s the moon. Look. Up.”

And he looked up. And he SAW it. And he stared and stared and stared.

He didn’t try to say “moon,” and he didn’t point. He just stared, absorbing the moonlight through his shining eyes. We stood there for a minute, faces to the sky, and he never moved except for blinking. Looking up. Up up up and so far away.

As I turned around with him to get him into the car, he turned his head so he wouldn’t lose the moon.

Morning Drive

Little bare feet. Five tiny toes on either side, flexing and wiggling to hold him upright as he bounces on the seat of the Fisher-Price ride-on toy. His diaper crinkles under his dinosaur jammies. Bounce bounce, crinkle. Glancing behind him, checking his blind spots like a teenager training for his license, he pushes off and moves backwards half an inch. And again. And again. Shove, shove, shove, one foot stronger than the other, bringing him in a wide circle. He looks up for approval as he inches away from me, and I smile. Good work! Keep going! He looks down at his feet and shoves again, and grins, and yells. He leans over the handlebar and pulls at the lid to the trunk, and I see he’s packed for his trip. Two plastic spoons and a wooden sheep.

The back bumper hits the baby gate and he can’t go further. He turns to grunt at the obstacle and he shoves again, feet skidding off the floor from the effort. He whines. His arms frantically flap “all done.”

I stand behind him and lean down. All the way down, almost to the floor. One arm on either side of him, my hands beside his on the handlebar, hugging him safely in place. Ready? Are you ready? His feet kick. He crinkles and bounces. One… two… threeeee! I draw the count into a wheeee as I scoot him forward across the hardwood, and he pulls up his feet, and both his eyes and his little mouth open wide in silent joy. I know this because he turns halfway back so he can see me while we zoom away. It doesn’t matter where we’re going. He’s with Mommy.

car

Why Do You Write?

Sometimes it takes a swift kick to get me moving again, and I can thank my friend Tasha over at Metacookbook for the boot to the backside this time. She’s taken on a challenge to write a post about writing, and I am going to follow her lead.

Why do I write? I write to get thoughts out of my head before they crumble. I write to inform, to rant, to record my family’s story. I write on this public blog, so I guess I write for recognition and attention, too. Look at me! Are you looking at me yet???!?!? Lately, I even write a little for money, and that’s kind of neat.

But it’s harder to explain why I don’t write. Because there are so many excuses.

My writing is an urge. An instinct. If you give a bird a string, she’s going to stuff it into a nest. It’s what birds are programmed to do with string. I’m the same with a good pen. When I hold a pen, I want to write with it, and if I don’t have anything TO write, I get anxious and uncomfortable. I feel like I should be writing, and I get mad at myself when I’m not. But I’m not good at managing my time (hello, parenting and full-time job), and I’m also weirdly hard on myself about what I write. It’s like I’m not allowed to write something until it’s all figured out, but I can’t usually figure something out properly until I can separate it from the hundred other things going through my head and pin it to a page. And if I wait too long for the thought to mature and straighten itself out, sometimes it fades away. I don’t know how many wonderful ideas I’ve lost to my perfectionism. It hurts to think about.

Like Tasha did (and, I suspect, like most others who write), I used to journal. But I wasn’t good enough at it. I’d judge myself for skipping too many days, and it felt odd to come back and have to explain to my journal or to my imagined future readers what had happened during my absence. “Dear journal: previously, on LOST…” I couldn’t commit. I felt like I had to catch up on every missed day, and the longer I waited to go back, the bigger the void. And then, of course, once I did go back, I had to start a new notebook from scratch. Because this one would be better. This one wouldn’t have any gaps. Except of course it did, because of life. Life is busy. Life doesn’t leave me time to write. I know I need to make time. Prioritize. But it’s hard.

I almost made writing my life. Every career aptitude test I ever took split me exactly down the middle, halfway between writing and science. I’ve always loved science, but I’ve also always been a “good” writer. Lots of gold stars on writing assignments, from stories to essays to poetry. Teachers told me I had a gift, and that kind of thing can get into your head and make you feel like you need to pursue it, or risk “wasting” the gift. I thought for a while I’d go into journalism, because journalism meant writing, and because I felt more personally attracted to writing as communication than as creativity. I’d be a reporter on a science beat, not a novelist or playwright. I even checked out an open house at a journalism program at one of the colleges in Montreal when it was getting close to application time. But after considering my options, it made more sense for me to pursue science as a primary career. I couldn’t teach myself about the lab, but I could probably improve my writing skills on my own eventually. Given what I’m seeing happening to the newspaper industry and the media as a whole, I think I made the right call. Except that I’m not writing enough, and I feel like I’m missing something.

I have thoughts bouncing through my head all day, every day, and when it gets overwhelming it can sometimes make me literally lightheaded. Like I’m carrying a huge balloon full of half-formed ideas instead of a head. But there’s only so much room in there for ideas, and new ones sometimes squish old ones before I’ve given them a chance. Or the thing I was going to yell about isn’t in the news anymore. Or my baby’s zoomed past a year and I never wrote a post to celebrate it and it’s too late now. All that makes me sad.

I’m not going to end this with a promise that I’m going to write more, because I don’t know if that’s a promise I can keep. But I want to promise it. I don’t want to keep starting new notebooks. I want to learn to accept the gaps and the disorganized mess of half-formed ideas without a real point. I’m happier when I write, and I like to think that sometimes another person somewhere is happier when I do, too.

And I just have so much to SAY.

Outrage and Manatees

I’ve been quiet lately.

Some of that was deliberate, as I chose to focus on myself for a while to get through what I expected to be a rough time. It turned out that my support group was wonderful, and I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’ve had a happy month.

I just haven’t really had anything to say. I’ve done plenty of things this month, many of which I’m sure would make for lovely posts, but I just wasn’t feeling the spark. Normally, when I can’t find a source of inspiration in my own life, I look elsewhere for that spark. Facebook, the news, Twitter. I follow fascinating people who link to fascinating articles and have many thoughtful things to say about them. But while most of my friends have been posting funny and wonderful things, I feel like the tone of my feeds has recently veered towards the negative.

There have been shootings, and the discussions about mental health resources and gun control that inevitably follow. There has been talk of censorship and intellectual property and plagiarism. Sexual harassment and discrimination and what consent and equality mean. Political corruption and incompetence and people on two sides of an issue who just refuse to aim for a middle ground. Food stamps and abortion and health care and a childish government shutdown that cost my household two weeks’ pay. I’ve read articles that surprised me about each one of these topics; articles that made me sad. And, of course, comment threads that made me angry.

These topics push buttons inside me and make me want to speak up. Scream, in some cases. But I can’t bring myself to add to the negativity. I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all, but didn’t realize that was a source of my “writer’s block” until a friend posted this on Twitter today:

manatee

There’s a term I see a lot online: Recreational Outrage. Getting upset for the sake of getting upset. I’m not saying that the writers and sharers of the things I’ve been reading are necessarily guilty of this, but I feel like anything I’d say on those topics would earn me that label. I get riled up too easily. I need to keep reading and absorbing and sorting out my opinions and thoughts. Right now, I have nothing constructive to say about any of it. I don’t want to fill my blog with rants. Not before I can make them clear and purposeful rants, anyway. I don’t want to feel angry right now. I don’t want to fight evil and injustice with my little blog today.

I’ll keep poking at the dusty crate of archived blog ideas in my brain until something pops up. Something happy, or something constructive. If that means I write about cookies and soup for a while, so be it. I miss writing. I miss sharing.

Until I figure out what’s next, please enjoy a calming manatee.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Eggs, and Spam

Blog spam is a weird world.

Most of my spam is trying to sell drugs. I like to imagine they’re only sharing insider information on cheap sources of prescription medications with everyone so they can undermine predatory Big Pharma and stick it to the man.

ambien

Notice how some of them look like they thought my blog comment section was a Google search box? The guy who was looking for help with his Thai Ambien-induced diarrhea must be so embarrassed right now.

Most of the spam consists of a short line of text with a link back to the spammer’s website. Sometimes, though, these guys really bring their best to the game and get a gold star for effort. They cut and paste a block of text from a news story and slip in their key words and links so smoothly that you hardly notice you’re being subliminally led to their pages. See if you can detect the subtle changes in the following text that turn it into a spam masterpiece:

tiffanyWho knows what these guys are trying to sell me.

It’s not all bad, though. Many of my comments make it look like English-as-a-sceond-language teachers are using blog commenting as a way for their students to improve their reading and writing skills. How else to explain all the praise I receive in confused English?

It’s hard to find educated people on this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks!

What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable experience regarding unpredicted feelings.

I think this is one of the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The site style is perfect, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

These are actually enormous ideas in regarding blogging. You have touched some nice points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

I know all this junk is fake. I know that none of these are real people who are actually reading my blog, let alone enjoying the content. I recently learned about how spammers come up with these comments and why they all read like a foreign student getting fancy with a thesaurus. It’s actually kind of a neat idea, except that it rarely works right. Still, it’s nice to hear that robots enjoy my work. At least, most of them do. Some robots don’t, and they’re mean about it:

mean

If it wasn’t for the plug at the end for Mitsubishi air conditioners (Mitsubishi makes air conditioners?), I’d think I had a passive-aggressive bully coming to abuse me on my blog. Maybe I do need a better spam filter after all, before the mean spam bots wreck my self-esteem.

Text and image Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. Read more about them here.

Mediocrity

A friend sent me a link to a contest. To enter, people write blog posts about their greatest fears and submit them to a published author, who will choose the best story and give the winning writer a trip to anywhere. How could I ever enter such a thing? My piece would be compared to hundreds of others. It would likely come up short.

I am afraid that my writing isn’t good enough. That I’m not good enough. That when I think I’m going to be a great writer someday, I’m wrong.

I am afraid that the voice inside my head that says I’m silly to want to be a writer, the voice that says I should give up and just keep a little journal for myself, might be right.

I am terrified of my own mediocrity.

I grew up nerdy, awkward, and quiet. I never had many friends, and my family didn’t have money for music lessons or sports teams. Instead of popularity, I comforted myself with my brain. I could read at three, write sentences at four, and I was so bored by the A-B-C of kindergarten that I was skipped through to second grade the next year. My parents praised my grades, so I kept bringing them quizzes adorned with gold stars and smiley faces. My teachers told me I was smart, told me I was talented, told me I should be a writer. Daily, I was praised for my brain. I was a very smart kid.

Then I got older, and I met more people. Smart people. People who were better than me at so many things, and so much more confident. People who inspired and intimidated me. I attended medical conferences and heard scientists speak excitedly about their work. After every conference, I wished I had gone on to grad school so that I could stand up there with those amazing people. But I doubt I’m smart enough to get through it. I went on a special cruise with hundreds of other geeks and was blown away by their guts and creativity. Singers, comics, writers and artists – I want so badly to be like them and to share myself with the world, but I don’t know how. Deep inside, I feel that my efforts would never compare to theirs, so I am afraid to try.

I am afraid that my brain has failed me. I used to feel so smart, and now I feel so… stupid. Is my pond bigger and more crowded now than it was when I was young, or has insecurity shrunk me into a smaller fish? I have grown into a woman who surrounds herself with intelligent and engaging people – why does this intimidate more than it inspires? In comparing myself to these people, my sense of self has begun to crack. If I’m not as smart as everyone’s been telling me I am, then what is left of me?

Here, on my blog, I feel safe. I write more for myself than for anyone else, and nobody is judging me. If readers don’t enjoy what they see, they don’t come back, and without a statistics counter embedded in my code, I’ll never know. It’s comfortable and isolated, and I can pretend here that I’m a wonderful writer who just hasn’t been discovered yet. Because, truth be told, I might not be all that good, and that’s a reality that I don’t want to face.

I am afraid to expose myself to criticism. I know it’s the only way to grow, but doing so may force me to admit I’m mediocre, and not the writer I wish I were. I fear that rejection will break me. It will reinforce the negative voices that whisper to me at night and prompt my retreat.

By entering this contest, I am choosing to face that fear. I’m handing in my assignment for some very talented and intimidating people to read and criticize. The little girl in me hopes desperately for a gold star. The insecure adult in me worries that putting my post in a pile with those of better writers than me is a mistake, and I shouldn’t try. They’re both wrong. What I need is not empty praise to puff my ego. I need to improve, both in skill and in guts, and the only way to do that is to take a deep breath and ask for criticism from people who are qualified to hand it out.

 

 


Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press

“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com

“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail

Find out more…


Change is scary

Well, here goes. I went and got my very own domain and I’m going to blog with the big kids. Dropping the “blogger.com” from my online writing is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Most of my favorite bloggers have their own sites – even the amateurs – and I feel like if I want to be taken seriously, I need to have my own site, with its own distinctive look, to share my writing.

It’s going to take me a while to get used to using WordPress, but I’m excited to be doing something new and different. I hope you’ll be patient through my growing pains, and enjoy the ride with me.

Do I look more legitimate yet?

We’re on a break

I’m not likely to be updating the blog for a few weeks due to a family emergency. I’ll be back soon with news, but right now I’ve got other critical priorities overshadowing even my own basic needs. 
Hopefully I’ll be back here dishing out great posts and linking them up with my new blogging buddies in a few weeks. I just need some time to focus on family right now.
Jen

Discombobulated

Last week, a post on a message board made me angry.
That’s not unusual. But this post didn’t involve my usual trigger subjects of homeopathy, Ryan Seacrest, or teen paranormal romance. The post was about words. I love me some words.
This guy, this… troll, claimed that some words are “unnecessary”. The words he chose to accuse of superfluity: copacetic and discombobulated. His argument: they’re hard to pronounce, “sound stupid”, and other words can easily be used in their place.
Okay. Come on. First of all, they sound fantastic. Saying “discombobulated” out loud just now is the most fun I’ve had all day. Give it a shot, you’ll enjoy it. Secondly, if you think “copacetic” is hard to pronounce, try some of the easy beginner words on for size, like “lamb” and “knife”.
As for those other words that could be used in their place: forgive me, but isn’t that the entire point of synonyms? Having slightly different ways to say the same thing? If you kill off synonyms and antonyms, you end up in a world of emotionless Orwellian Newspeak, devoid of nuance and tone. That’s a boring damn world and I don’t want to live there. We’re talking doubleplus ungood here, folks.
Yes, I could use “bewildered”, “taken aback”, or “rattled” in the place of “discombolulated” and the meaning wouldn’t change. The words all have a very similar denotation in that they all mean “confused and upset”. But they’ve each got their own connotation, which is the connections your mind makes to other words and feelings when you read them. When I’m writing a silly story and a character is approached by a wizard who hands him a magic hat and tells him he’s destined to save the world, I may say he’s discombobulated by the encounter. If I’m writing a serious story and someone’s being told that the man she’s been married to for a decade has a secret life and a second family overseas, I may say she’s rattled by the news. I know I would be!
I will grant that sometimes fancy-pants words get used unnecessarily in the place of simpler ones. Not everyone in every novel needs to have creamy alabaster skin, and sometimes the sky is just blue. Not cerulean or aquamarine or azure. Sometimes blue will do. Simplicity is generally the best rule. That’s not to say that fancy words don’t have their place. I use many a highfalutin word when the mood strikes and I feel like it conveys what I want it to. Sometimes you need to break out some discombobulation, and that’s just copacetic with me.
But people who utilize “utilize” when they could totally be using “use”? Beatings. Beatings for all.