blairmacg: (Default)
Still getting used to Dreamwidth...

I did not intend to let our little corner here lapse into silence for nearly three months. The reasons are mostly boring–having to do on one hand with a job possibility that did not come to pass, and on the other hand with freelance projects that indeed came to pass (but on an uncomfortably tight deadline for even a fast writer) at the same time extensive home remodeling kicked into high gear.

I also did not intend for the first post in forever to be on the topic of grief. I would have preferred the Patreon re-launch, truly.

But I also made a commitment to be honest and open about grief because it so rarely is discussed once “the expected” period of mourning is over. So here I am, Memorial Day morning, typing despite an ocular migraine, because I spent half of yesterday weeping.

That… was unexpected. Yes, I’ve been immensely stressed all the way around, yet thinking the weekend would be fine regardless. Yesterday being race day, we had the whole family over. I had a drink, started showing off what we’ve been doing in the basement to my sister, then spotted the pictures my son had just unpacked.

And there was the framed show poster from when my late husband and I were dating, and the sole professional photo of the three of us when Dev wasn’t much more than a year old. And this one.

I lost it. I cried, then apologized for crying, then cried again, then assured everyone I was fine. I went into my half-finished bedroom to work on a few things once everyone else had left, then started crying again. At some point, for reasons I don’t know, I crawled into the closet to huddle up and cry some more. I pulled it together to get something to eat and act sociable for awhile, then made an excuse to go for a drive so I could cry again.

It’s been six years since my husband’s funeral. It’s been four years since my best friend’s memorial. Now another dear friend is starting chemo. I just… lost it.

Today, I’m feeling all cried out. I’m tired. Tired. Usually, I attend a service or ceremony to mark this day, but I am still under the bedcovers. I absolutely must work on the freelance project today. I’m thinking it’ll all happen in my pajamas.

So… There it is. That grief and loss thing, feeling bigger for a few hours yesterday than it has in a long, long time because–if I’m painfully honest–it is cranked up by the terror of losing my recently-diagnosed friend as well.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I wept.

My son and I spent an afternoon at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center located near Divide, Colorado. Their work and their goals are both simple and incredible and difficult: restore native wolves to their necessary role as a keystone species in the wild.

If you’d like a primer on why this is important, check out the remarkable changes–mostly unexpected benefits–that resulted from re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.

Part of our visit included a tour of the facility to “meet” the members of their pack. Mexican grey wolves, grey wolves, coyotes, red and swift fox… We had the opportunity to greet them all. While some creatures were of course more shy than others, it was obvious from the animals’ confident posture and, frankly, their willingness to walk away that they felt neither fearful of their human companions nor needful or dominating them.

Then Dev and I had the opportunity to meet some wolves up close and personal. We entered a two-acre enclosure with a pair of guides, took a seat among the trees, and waited to see if the wolves were interested in us.

Two of the three were. The third, I swear, snorted and rolled her eyes before trotting off to ignore us from a distant. She’s not all that interested in humans.

But her packmates, Kekoa and Keyni, are.

Wolves are big–not silly “big bad wolf” big, but big enough to make their wishes and presence known. They most certainly are not dogs in wild clothing; they are distinctly different in temperament and behavior. Sure, the wolf was happy to have a backscratch… but don’t try to ruffle the ears or snuggle closely. And when a domesticated pupper might come when called even if she doesn’t want to, a wolf is so extremely not interested in such human-centric niceties.

Kekoa gave me a few wolf kisses, but it was Keyni who nudged him aside to straddle my lap and nuzzle closer any moment I paused in my petting and scratching.  Kekoa did indeed love my son, and did not want to wander far from him.  And Keyni was more than happy to pose for final pictures once he scented the hunk of raw beef in my hand.

(Note: The pics can be seen here.  I've spent now 45 minutes attempting to upload pictures and links to LJ, and it's really not interested in them. I've decided my new rule is 15 minutes spent battling for basics before moving on.)

In the middle of all of it, we humans made an attempt at howling. The wolves obliged us with a response, with the coyotes joining in, and the calls and answers went on for minutes, echoing through the trees, and I stood there and wept knowing that I, for just a few moments, was part of it.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So the last couple weeks have been spent enacting the latest chapter of, "What Happens When Your Immune System Meets New Germs, Colorado Transplant Edition." I couldn't work at all for a week. I still have to monitor my screen time because of my eyes. Blargh.

This has not been a good year for me, healthwise. Or I suppose one could say it's been a great year, if the goal is to harden up the immune system. I guess we'll see how the second year in Colorado goes.

But there is good news!

I do believe I can meet the goal of launching Breath of Stone before 4th Street. There'll be far, far less pre-publication stuff than I wanted, but I'm more than willing to roll with that. The book itself is ready for readers, and that's what counts most!

Once Breath of Stone is in your hands, I'll be putting together the upcoming publication path. On a day to day basis, my schedule is unpredictable, but the overall time for writing is greater than at any time I lived in Indiana. That translates into more books! This is a good thing!

Thanks to a very generous patron, one of my two old and wounded cars will be repaired shortly after I return from 4th Street. That's more than a month ahead of what I'd be able to do otherwise, and the support and generosity is a most wonderful thing.

The next step will be to find a couple days for camping. 4th Street is its own celebration and retreat, but the need for solitude and silence is deep enough to make my teeth ache.

Have I mentioned here I'll be teaching karate, stage combat, and Shakespeare this autumn? I'll be working with a private arts enrichment youth organization, and I just couldn't be happier about that.

And, just in case I haven't mentioned it before, my son is awesome. How awesome? Well, I had to interrupt a conversation about his awesomeness when he came home early to bring me pepperoni and bacon pizza. That's how awesome.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

After taking care of my nephews all day, I intended to spend last Thursday night doing two things: finishing an article on worldbuilding and revising three more chapters of Breath of Stone.


Sometimes life goes sideways. And sometimes the unexpected sideways is the best damn thing you couldn't have planned.


My son Dev had bought tickets for himself, his friend, and his friend's fiancé to a night with Kevin Smith in Boulder, Colorado. He has been looking forward to this so much. But when I got home from nephew-care, Dev had just heard from his friend: the fiancé was throwing-up-sick so they wouldn't be going. I looked at the clock—it was just barely past six o'clock—and figured I could get him there on time. So I threw on clothes more acceptable than yoga pants and sweatshirt, made sure the pups were fed and cared for, and got us on the road before 6:15pm.


Now... understand I had but the most basic knowledge of Kevin Smith when I pulled out of the driveway that night. Yeah, I knew there was a comic book show (an unavoidable tidbit if one watches The Walking Dead), and I'd seen a couple films. But I wasn't going into this as a fan. I was instead going with my son because he'd already tried and failed to get another buddy to go on such short notice (we're still new to Colorado, so who we know is a rather small list), and I didn't want him to just go alone.


I mean, I figured the night wouldn't completely suck—if nothing else, my adult son and I would have some rare time together—but my expectations weren't much higher than that.

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
A word before the start: Y'all come here with your own religious and political beliefs, and I think that's marvelous. I ask you to remember, should you bring up or respond to something religious or political here, you're sitting in my living room with my guests, and I treat all my guests with equal respect in the expectation all my guests will do the same. :)



My son was almost five years old on September 11, 2001. Among the gazillion concerns and fears of the ensuing days was a very important one: how do I balance my need to know what's happening with the need to protect my son? And how do I teach my son about what's happening with scaring him or, on the flipside, leaving him ignorant?

"Balance" is the key here. Recently,  [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar shared her thoughts on how a sheltered childhood altered her view of the world in negative ways, and there is much there that applies to this discussion.

While I wanted to hide everything from my son—everything! Anything that would disrupt his joy and happiness!—it wasn't at all a realistic or responsible choice. At the same time, I needed to stay informed, especially in those first few days. Remember, it wasn't known if the attacks were isolated or, shall we say, introductory. And no one knew the extent to which our military would be mobilized, if there'd be a new draft, if the government was going to institute new restrictions, if survivors were going to be found...


Yesterday, I found myself in a vaguely similar situation with my nephews. I say, "vaguely" because the attacks in Lebanon and France happened on the other side of the ocean, so the level of reactive fear was much lower. But there remained my need to know what was happening, to stay in touch with a couple people, and so forth. It all tossed me back to parenting post-9/11.


I don't think there is an absolute and universal "right" choice because there are so many variables. The temperament and maturity of the child. The existing knowledge base. The willingness and ability of the parent to make age-appropriate explanations. The potential impact of the event on daily life. The importance of current events to the family. On and on and on.


So I'm not coming from the perspective of some childhood expert wanting to tell everyone the One True Way to communicate with all children in the aftermath of any and all terrible events. I'm just sharing what worked for me, to the best of my memory.


Images versus information: There was a lot of 9/11 footage, and it looped endlessly. You could scarcely hear relevant updates without the images flowing in the background. Learning new information via television was inseparable from watching planes fly into buildings, people covered in blood and dust fleeing the collapse, the smoldering Pentagon. And as we all know, images stick even when we don't understand the words that go with them.


So I shielded my son from those images, especially in the early days. If the news was on while he was in the room, I kept my finger on the remote for quick channel-changes. He caught a few images here and there at first, but says today he can't separate what he saw in real-time from documentaries he watched later.

Compared to 2001, the information outlets one can access via the internet are incredible in their scope, so television images are not as likely to be of concern, maybe? I know I found myself ducking into the next room with my tablet so I could get updates without putting them in front of my nephews.



Information versus ignorance: As much as I wished I didn't have to explain hard things to my child, I wished much more for my child to understand his world and the context of world events. That doesn't mean I sat my not-quite-five-year-old down to explain, with charts and maps and historical references, the details of current events. I taught him about it the same way we taught anything else—with age-appropriate language and concepts.


Really, that isn't as difficult as it sounds when you consider we do it all the time. We teach kids about the same events in history multiple times over the years. Done properly, the lessons come with greater depth, thinner layers, broader context, and wider understanding of motives and consequences as kids gain the maturity to consider and comprehend those things. Teaching current events is a little different, but many of the principles apply. If you're not certain how to apply that idea, take a look at how a certain historical event is taught to kids about the same age as your own. Use it as a guide, and adjust it accordingly.


And what makes teaching current events a little different? Immediacy and proximity. We adults haven't had time to process events, examine potential causes, and anticipate outcomes. Heck, most times we haven't even had the time to learn the most basic of facts before we must explain it to children. It's hard and it's stressful and it's awkward, and it's okay to not have all the answers.


Proximity impacts what we teach, too. There was a great deal Dev didn't need to learn about that kids living in New York did. We didn't lose our friends and neighbors, or access to parts of our city. I would have had to engage in more detailed tellings—along with more firm context—had that been an issue.


The other "proximity" of current events like the recent one is military in nature. Don't think for a moment deployments aren't on the minds of many military kids. Most of them don't get what we'd consider "age-appropriate" explanations. Their appropriateness must be tempered with the reality of parents who are absent for months and might not return, and the reasons behind the absence.


Information AND images: Eventually, little by little after 9/11, we let the images from that day be seen by our son. We made that decision based on two things. First, news outlets grew more discerning in their choices of what sort of footage to show viewers and how often it should be shown. The more disturbing images were seen less and less often. Second, my son eventually learned a measure of context for those images. Rather than be the shocking thing we had to explain, the images became part of his existing knowledge base. They were not random and unexpected threats. They belonged to a narrative he was in the process of learning.


(For some reason, I was fiercely, adamantly against my son seeing footage of the planes striking the buildings. I can't tell you precisely why I thought that so important, but there ya go.)


Answering why: My job as a parent was to explain why a few people chose to kill many people, and do it an a way that did not engender general fear and prejudice, that did make clear judgements between right and wrong, and—just as importantly—introduce pathways for action.


When a kid is five, there isn't much room for nuance. Just as we do not explain the intricate personal, political, social, and aspirational motives that resulted in the Revolutionary War to young children, we do not delve into the international and historical foundations of current events. So we were clear that very bad people had done something evil, and that many people had been hurt or killed because of it.


We were specific about who was at fault. We didn't make generalizations about countries or regions, nor did we blame racial or religious groups. Conversations of how those factors were corrupted and used as excuses for evil came as he grew older. But as parents who had made a concerted effort to raise our son surrounded by diversity even though we lived where 9 of 10 people were white and 8 out 10 Christian, we weren't about to lay any groundwork for later prejudices. So Dev didn't learn that Muslims had killed people. He learned bad people had done it. Period.

(Later, we expanded on that to say people who called themselves Muslim did it, in the same way we'd explain that people who called themselves Christian murdered people of color. In other words, it wasn't about the religion. It was about whether the person used religion as Evil's front man.)
 


As for the fear... Well, I don't recall Dev being afraid, which was most likely a result of his young age combined with the fact his world was still very predictable. And even though I spent a great deal of those first days frightened myself, even though I invested in go-bags and food stores, and even though I later spent countless hours searching for information on military deployments and actions, I did my best to keep that out of my dealings with Dev. I was not going to indulge in terrifying him with my own fear. That, my darlings, is just plain wrong.


For older kids, the fear will depend on the child, and I don't think it's a matter of maturity. Most likely it's a combination of the ability to envision possibilities coupled with life experience. Some kids will envision the possibility of the terrible thing happening to them, their family, and their community while others will shrug secure in the knowledge it's happening elsewhere.


There's a fabulous Fred Rogers quote floating around lately: "When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" It's a wonderful piece of advice.


See, little kids know they're little kids. They know helplessness in the face of large events they can scarcely understand, let alone control. But when children see helpers—whether it's the professional first responders who pull people from burning buildings, or the stranger who opens the door to provide another stranger shelter—the world becomes less terrifying. It provides a modicum of predictability and stability. We can't predict or stop every bad thing, they learn, but we can choose to help each other no matter what.


That's why I truly believe the most constructive and right-affirming thing we can do as parents is model and involve our children in post-crisis action to help and serve others. If we're helping, we're not helpless. If we share our strength, we grow stronger. If we offer service, we become more secure in ourselves.


Sometimes we can be of direct help and service to the victims. Most times, though, our wishes in that regard exceed our reach, or our help is limited to monetary donations that, unless the kids raise the money themselves, won't provide much of a coping-supportive experience. That's when we open to what we can do close to home.


Does local charity help the victims in Beirut and France right now? No. There isn't much that can right now. But we can choose how we teach our children to react to evil, and we can show them the positive alternatives to the hatred. We can teach our children to be the helpers, and in doing so, give them a sense of control in the present and a vision for the future. And that, my darlings, is the most powerful opposition we can muster.

I asked Dev this morning what he remembers about 9/11. His first memories are of how dark and quiet his preschool seemed before I arrived to take him home, and of all the flags everyone was suddenly flying. He remembers sending care packages to deployed military (and did you know you can send care packages directly to military dogs, too?), and he remembers gathering up shoes to send to kids in Afghanistan... and that's about it.

His more firm memories of international events don't really begin until 2003, when Iraq was invaded, and he spent years determined to join the Army as soon as possible. His military goals faded after his father's death (and I truly don't know why those events were connected), but he still believes it's every person's responsibility to step in when needed to help and protect those who need it.


He had some cynical responses to the events of the last couple days ("Mom, how long do you think it'll take all the presidential candidates to use this in their ads? I'm thinking eight hours."), and some incredibly angry, profanity-filled reactions. And he said he didn't sleep well last night after having a nightmare he doesn't want to share.


But he also had empathetic responses, like tearing up when he heard of a man helping to pull people across rooftops to escape murder, and when he mentioned refugees who desperately need sanctuary facing even greater distrust and disdain. And he offered to help babysit his youngest nephew today, too, because, well, helping is what you do when the world slips sideways.


All of his responses as a young adult are products of his childhood experiences. From here on out, he has to make choices about not only how those responses will form his adult person, but how they will impact those around him—including, perhaps some day, his own children.


He's choosing now how he will shape the generation that comes after him.


...which is really what this entire post is about.


Still Here!

Aug. 1st, 2015 01:14 pm
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I haven't even attempted to start my poor last-legs laptop for a few days.

I have my Kindle, and am doing my best to keep up with everyone here. Commenting is at a minimum because I'm ridiculously fumble-fingered on this touch keyboard thingy. (Insert cane-shaking) But I am around -- Twitter is easiest -- and I so look forward to really catching up with folks by the end of August.

At the moment, I'm taking a little break from everything. Dev -- still on the edge of being sick -- asked if I'd drive him to Gen Con since he'd already paid for his ticket. I'm not sure if my doing so makes me a good mom or a bad mom, but there ya go. So while he's at Gen Con, I'm enjoying a little lunch on the Indiana State Museum terrace overlooking the canal and Medal of Honor memorial, wishing I'd brought something to take pictures with, and doing a bit of writing while breathing. That sounded much better to me than paying money to fight crowds and sit in conference rooms.

In the meantime, packing is progressing, revisions are being performed with old-fashioned pen and paper, and I have a mere eight teaching days remaining before I quite literally hand over the keys of my dojo.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

My son took me to see Age of Ultron last night, and I enjoyed it muchly!

I’m not very good at writing actual reviews, and Cheryl Morgan has already written here much of what I’d say anyway.  But I do want to add a couple of things:


SPOILERS AHEAD! Read more... )


Crossposted to Blair MacGregor Books.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
When I pulled Dev out of his Montessori school halfway through his third-grade year, I had no idea we'd still be homeschooling through high school.

Now, he's wrapping up his final classes: chemistry, Italian, composition, media literacy, and entrepreneurship. (His senior class schedule was way more impressive than mine: English, humanities, drama, teacher's aide, and study hall.)

I'm putting together the last of his high school transcript for his official graduation in July. His final school project will be a portfolio giving an overview of the academic and experiential learning he completed for each subject. As we discussed it tonight, he kept saying, "This is all I have left, really?" and "Wow, we did do all that!"

This is the joyful part of homeschooling. Helping my son look back on the last four years--the years without his father, coincidentally--to assess what he has done as a primarily self-directed learner, and be proud of what he has accomplished. He will have completed the core diploma requirements, of course, and can add to that coursework and experience in business and retail management as well as archeology and anthropology. He has even earned credit for costume design and construction (aka cosplay)!

We've decided to do an open-house type of celebration for his graduation, and it'll likely come sometime in June even though we won't quite finish before July. Unbeknownst to him, I bought him the cap and gown, so we will be all official. :) Also unbeknownst, I'll be having a conversation with our karate "family" about holding a celebration at karate camp.

And in the middle of it all, while trying to juggle everything else amidst seeing him through the final months, I sometimes just have to take a breath and realize that yes, indeed, we made it through to the end.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Motherhood and writing: a topic buried beneath mounds of advice columns, cries of frustration, and hurtful moral judgments on all sides.  Most of what I hear are concerns a child will stall/delay/derail a career, coupled with ways to work around the child.

But this is a different sort of article.  This is about the other side of motherhood and writing, the decision that opens the door for all those advice-guides and judgments, and the truth some writers fear to some degree or another.

It’s about accepting—choosing—slower career growth in exchange for raising children and caring for family.

It’s about putting motherhood first.

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More mothers do this than talk about it.  You won’t hear much about choosing to gaze into a baby’s eyes as she breastfeeds, but you’ll hear lots about one-handed typing to create a first draft while the baby eats.  You won’t read many tales about how much more satisfying it is to help your child master riding a bike than it is to complete a solid first draft.  And rarely will you see a writer claim that putting avid pursuit of a writing career on hold was the best damned decision of her life.  You’ll most often hear the frustrations instead.

Why?

The perspective is out-of-step with the mainstream notion that “strong work ethic” is synonymous with, “works at the expense family.” It’s far more acceptable to say your progress faltered because certain plot points were challenging than to say your wordcount was low because you took your child to the park.  Few would call a writer dealing with depression unprofessional if a book’s release date was delayed for mental wellness reasons.  Many would call it unprofessional if the delay came from tutoring your child through a difficult school year.  So mothers are more likely to publicly vent about their lack of progress than tell you how cool it is to instead what a tiny human grow and develop.

I can tell you all sorts of things I did to keep writing while adhering to the parental commitment I’d chosen, and I can expound at length on the number and diversity of complaints I made about never having enough time and brainpower.  But that’s only the most-expected part of the story, the part that’s professionally acceptable and expected.  There’s much more to it.

**

I offer this as a discussion of my own choices, not my moral judgment of the choices other mothers make, and as a perspective for new writers/new mothers to consider.

A little history so you know where I’m coming from…

My son was a surprise, showing up more than a year earlier than my husband and I had planned.  For familial and financial reasons, we soon left the west coast and landed in small-town Indiana.  I also left an unfinished university education, the lure of a teaching career, and a growing presence in regional theater.  Some warned I was sacrificing my youth, ambition, talents, and success for mere motherhood.  That by the time I returned to professional life, it would be too late to “catch up.”  But rather than play the crazy-making game of trying to be everything at once, I chose to do a couple things in succession.  Why not have everything I wanted in a sequence instead?  And why was contributing to the next generation seen as a lesser calling?

TyPuppy 001

When my son started school, I was jazzed to have more writing time (and the privilege of living in a situation that permitted me that time).  Then, for a slew of academic reasons, I started homeschooling him halfway through third grade and my time went away again.  In the almost-decade since, I’ve experienced poverty, the loss of my husband, and the low expectations of people who know me as “just a mom” living in Indiana.  Our financial life might have been easier had I stopped homeschooling (provided I landed a job in the middle of the horrible recession), but it wouldn’t have been best for my son.  Not by a long shot.

So… we kept up homeschooling, and gave up other things.  That’s when I fully embraced parenting as my primary, no-hesitation vocation.

But something gave me comfort in the years of stress and loss, brought me joy in the midst of darkness, and motivated me to pick vegetables from 5am to noon, scrub toilets, and deliver the same basic academic lesson for the umpteenth time while wondering in the back of my mind how I was going to afford enough heating oil to make it through the winter.

It was not writing.

It was my son.

**

Even though my son was a surprise, my parenting decisions were deliberate.  I believed my child would grow more willing to explore the world if he knew a parent was always available to back him up—not to keep him from falling, but to pick him up if he did.  I believed he’d continue to share his thoughts and fears if I remained available, open, and accepting when he spoke them.  I believed that, as he navigated adolescence—especially while grieving his father’s death—he’d need me to do fewer things for him and with him, but would need me to just be there more.

Growing up didn’t wait while I finished writing the next scene or revising the next book.  The writing waited on my son instead.  Whatever I lost by putting motherhood first was so much smaller than what I and my son gained.

And I knew he wouldn’t be a child forever.

I’ve reached the end of the child-raising part.  My son turned eighteen in December, and though we’re still wrapping up high school studies, he’s transitioned into a person who shares the house rather than someone who is only cared for within it.  He holds down a job and takes care of his own finances, helps with meals and chores, and talks with me every day.  He knows he doesn’t need to ask permission anymore, but discusses plans anyway.  At least a couple times a week, he asks to “run something by me.”  Every now and then, he’ll knock on my bedroom door in the wee morning hours, unable to sleep because of worries or memories or something that just can’t wait until morning.

And all those times over all those years I lost sleep, lost brain cells, and set aside my writing at a second’s notice—because he needed to talk, or couldn’t wait to show me something funny the dogs were doing, or hit maximum frustration with his reading, or just wanted to hug or cry or vent about life’s unfairness—all those stalled-out writing projects and unpublished stories have paid off.  He’s a good young man.

When I sit with a group of parents complaining about the rudeness, self-centeredness, rebellion, and distance of their teenagers, I have very little to contribute.  In fact, I usually walk away, tired of hearing parents say horrible things about their own children.  Their experience is not mine.

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**

Do I have regrets?  Oh, bright hells, of course I do!  Most of them are small, more like random musings, the kind of regret that comes from having too many good options rather than a bunch of bad ones.  Would I have found as much satisfaction teaching college-level courses as I have found teaching classes of my own making?  Would I have settled in London for half the year?  Would I have landed a few choice roles?  How many books would I have finished?  What would I have done had I not invested so much in motherhood?

The most painful regrets have nothing to do with lost writing time and professional opportunities delayed or gone.  They are instead about times I lost my temper, or the day I cancelled a camping trip, or my inability to provide financial opportunities even in the midst of the recession.

What about those people who told me I’d regret sidestepping career choices in favor of motherhood?  The corporate executives, college professors, and theater professionals?  For their professions, at that time, they were right that I’d never recover from taking a eighteen-ish year time-out.  Their success had depended upon a defined course, or the opportunities afforded younger women, or their ability to prove their careers came first.  Most every mother today grew up hearing that women who don’t put a career above family must not be serious about anything but family—and women serious about family can’t be considered for much of anything else.

But writing isn’t like all those other professions, and indie writing is even less like them.  No reader gives a flip how old or young we writers are, what our CV looks like, how many genre conventions we attend, or whether we’ve checked off the proper boxes of education and experience.  The reader cares if we tell good stories and present them professionally.

When we reach the age when we’re told we shouldn’t even bother trying to recover a career in other occupations, writing provides us the potential of decades ahead.  And the availability of indie publishing means the writer needn’t anticipate waiting years to receive form letters and more years to see her work available to readers.  In fact, age and experience and maturity become incredible assets.

We don’t need to worry about breaking out before aging out. 

And let’s be real: Were we discussing taking time out from a new or established writing career in order to earn a series of academic degrees, no one would be bombarding us with advice on how to churn out novels with a thesis on our hip.

**

So if you’re a new writer, and someone tells you you’ll lose writing years if you have a child, understand the perspective the claim is coming from.  Women have been trained to refer to the years spent with their children as lost years, as time away from the world that matters, as a professional sacrifice, as something given away that can never be regained.

That’s bullshit.

If I’d resented every moment taken from my writing, I’d have finished my motherhood years bitter and depressed.  I’d have tainted my ability to write in the future, and broken my relationship with my son.  (After all, children who constantly hear their parents complain about what they could be doing instead of parenting don’t gain much in the way of self-worth.)  Instead, I chose to make parenting my highest priority, learned to be patient with myself as well as with my child, and discovered “missing out” was, for me, the best thing that ever happened.

Don’t let expectation determine your experience.

Sure, I swallowed my frustration plenty of times.  Sure, I sometimes wonder what else I’d have accomplished if I’d had thousands and thousands of additional hours over almost two decades.  Sure, I took the occasional trip to immerse in the writing life that was elsewise a mere figment of supposition.

But when I’m ready to look back from the end of my life, I will not think to myself, “Gosh, I wish I’d spent less time raising my son.”  Because the absolute truth is this: I wanted to know my son better than I knew any business or craft because my son—and people, and family—are by far more important than the best damned story I could ever make up.

Devin-GenCon-2014

#SFWApro


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I wanted to post this the other day, but LJ had other plans, it seems...

Denver was spectacular.
Sure, there were annoying family-type things to deal with (primarily because, while I share basic beliefs about parenting with my sister and my own parents, our methods are wildly different), but the worst arguments crested and dissapaited quickly. We are the, "Oh, fuck it, who wants pie?" family in many ways.


But Denver! Whoo! I really enjoyed the downtown area—an important thing, considering how deeply I've fallen in love with Indy's downtown—and paid a repeat visit to Ali Baba's Grill. They have the second-best lamb kabobs I've ever had.* Their staff is smart and welcoming. I could eat there again and again and again...


The odd thing is... I fell in love with the prairie.


Really, that isn't odd. It's downright bizarre. All my life I've longed to live in the mountains and spent tons of time hiking mountains. Now when I have the chance to really live in the mountains, I find myself drawn to the land east of Denver, where you can see damned near forever. I could concoct some reasonable-sounding motivation for it—after all, my love of mountains does not extend to a love of winter driving in mountains, especially in areas that require tire chains—but the truth is my mother and I drove east to look at some property and the open expanse took my breath away.



But the most important thing is I left Indiana with a child and came home with an adult.


It didn't hit me until the day after Dev's eighteenth birthday. My folks live on Buckley Air Force Base outside Denver (and man, if I could live on base I would in a heartbeat!). Going on base requires guests be escorted by someone with a military ID at all times, but after 9pm, it also requires any guests to have their own base-issued pass that involves a brief background check for criminal history and the like. Since Dev and I wanted to take in a movie without fearing the 9pm cutoff, we applied for a three-day pass.


I got my pass, then stepped aside so Dev could get his pass. For the first time, Dev had an official document processed without needing a parent or guardian. There was no need for me to give permission, sign a paper, answer a question—nothing. And, yes, that's when I got a little teary-eyed.


We did go off to the Movie Tavern, a theater where every seat is a recliner with a personal table, the menu includes everything from standard popcorn and soda to mango habanero chicken tacos and Long Island iced tea, and the food and drink are brought to you at the press of a button. We saw Big Hero 6, which we both deemed wonderful (and you MUST stay through the credits).


But the best part was the Disney short that came before the movie. Feast, the story of one dog's experience of his human's love life through the sharing of food, had me and my eighteen-year-old son in tears within a couple minutes. I wish I could show you the whole thing right now.


"He's like Gambit!" Dev said, sniffling and smiling at the same time. "You have to make kibble special!" (And that makes perfect sense once you know Gambit, our rescue dog, will wait patiently by a full food bowl until something—anything!—is drizzled atop his food. Dev and I call this "making it special." When I went camping and forgot to bring most of my food, Gambit knocked his bowl over in the dirt because it was just plain pup food. The next day, when I sprinkled a tablespoon or two of coffee on his food to "make it special," he gobbled up the whole bowl.)


Our weeping might have been worse because we hadn't seen our dear pups in days and days. And mine might have been even worse because I kept thinking of my newly-adult son on his own, with his dog, and finding the love of his life.


Coming home this time wasn't as depression-inducing as last year, perhaps because we didn't come back to iced-over roads and painfully cold temperatures. Or, perhaps, because eventually joining our greater family seems finally to be within reach. Or perhaps, as Devin said, because we didn't attend a funeral for a close friend or family member this year. Whatever the reason, coming home felt better than last year, and we'll take that as a win.


And my son... Wow. A legal adult. How the hell did that happen so quickly?


Here's what I wrote on his birthday:

My son is eighteen today. He is compassionate. Strong. Intelligent. Gentle. Driven to see both mercy and justice. Amazing.


My son is eighteen today. He will sneak up on the world, step by quiet step, and join with others to see positive change come to pass.


My son is eighteen today. He and his peers will create a world we old folks will hardly recognize, and it will be good.


My son is eighteen today. Every day he spends with my changes my life. His gaze is set on tomorrow. I can't wait to see where he goes next.


*The best? Sameem in Saint Louis. When I again drive cross-country, I will plan it so I must stop in Saint Louis for the sole purpose of dining at Sameem again. No, I'm not joking. To say the Denver restaurant is second to them is no slight at all.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Is it a sign of aging that everything that happens in the present triggers memories of the past?

We held our last Black Belt Test of the year yesterday. It was a pretty clean test, and all 40-odd candidates passed. One adult man testing for Sandan (third degree) broke a finger during multiple attacker self-defense, alas, but taped it and iced it and finished the test anyway.

One of my adult students tested, and did a fabulous job all around. He started training with me over three years ago, around the same time he'd started college with little firm idea of what he wanted to do. Now, in the fall, he'll be heading off to law school. Double win!

Another candidate, a fifteen-year-old girl, started classes with me shortly after she'd turned four. She was hyperbolically girlie, complete with concerns for her mussed-up hair and the possibility of icky dirt on her bare feet. When upset about something, she'd press the back of her hand to her forehead and sigh. Her family moved when she was eight, and just returned to the area last year, when she resumed training. Now she's taller than I am--so tall, in fact, she did her self-defense against the adult men.

She. Rocked.

And as I watched her, I kept seeing that little red-haired girl who once curled up the mat to sob the first time she tried sparring, who squealed with joy and jumped up and down when she earned her first belt stripe, who used to hug me around my waist at the end of every class.

She went to karate camp last summer--a sort of junior-counselor-in-training--and met up with Dev. It took them three days to connect the dots and remember they used to play with Pokémon cards together. Now they're best buds again, and even spent half of GenCon hanging out with each other. Our families celebrated over dinner together after the test.

Then there's the young junior black belt, on the verge of getting his driver's license, who started classes with me when he was six. The nine-year-old boy who was a newborn when I first started training his mother. The two women who began training with me seven years ago who are now Nidan (second-degree) getting ready for Sandan next year. They've just started a women's-only class of their own at another dojo in our system, modeled after the one I'm running at my dojo.

By rank, I sit just a tad above the middle of our review board. To my right are people I've known and trained with for over a dozen years. To my left are people I've had a hand in training, some for a decade. And now in the junior ranks are the children of those higher-ranking folks on my right, two of whom were not even born when I started karate, and other almost-adults I've watched grow up.

Just... wow.

And on a humorous note...
Since my Sandan test was delayed last year due to the dislocated elbow problem (and is now delayed indefinitely because of the hip problem), I'd shared at the time with one of my test-mates that I'd always wanted to try something... different... during multiple-attacker self-defense. Just to see what the reaction would be. And I told him my idea.

He thought it was a marvelous one. I told him to go for it.

So when he came up to the line for his own test yesterday and gave me a nod, I knew what was coming. Five men lined up to attack him. He put up his fists. Shihan shouted out the order to begin. The moment the five men charged, my friend yelled, "Stop! Back off! Leave me alone!" The attackers hesitated in confusion, and my friend smacked them all before they figured out what was going on. My friend took a bow to laughter and applause.

For some reason, no one was surprised I was the one responsible for the idea. Your voice is a powerful weapon, I always say. :)
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Dev has his car again!  We are most pleased.  He also at last settled on Halloween plans.  He is still a little amazed he can simply plan to take off without needing to coordinate our schedules.

I plan to hide at home with a horror flick or three. We're far enough out in the country no one trick-or-treats, which I must say makes me a little sad. I loved Halloween when Dev was little, and when my nephews were around. Now it's just... meh. Maybe it'll be fun again next year.

***

Autumn has been lovely so far. It's the sort of weather I'd want year-round -- upper 60s to mid 70s by day, 40s and low 50s overnight. The cloudiness gets tiresome when it lasts more than a couple days, of course, but we've had enough sun to make me happy.

Speaking of sun, I've already started my Vitamin D supplements. I was very bad about it last winter, and am fairly certain the lack helped shove me into the most emotionally crappy winter I've ever experienced. (As I told a friend, I wasn't ready to blow my head off but I could see the roadmap that would take me there.) Thus the D is for me, every day from now to March. And if D wasn't the issue, I'll gladly accept a placebo effect.

***

Dev has started making purchases with the idea of "When I get my own place" in mind. He bought himself an entertainment center for his room, and purchased some cool art pieces at Awesome Con. The cleanliness of his room has become important enough to him that I no longer have to remind him of it. Total coolness, if you ask me.

***

I'm fairly certain my opinion on who "should" write and publish has at last exhausted the patience of those who perhaps assumed I'd soon come to my senses (or at least hush up more often).

For the record, my opinion is this: We don't tell musicians they should stop recording because there are already too many songs. We don't tell artists their work must be hidden away if it isn't hanging in the most exclusive galleries. We don't deride actors who eschew blockbuster films in favor of experimental theater. There is no way I'd tell writers there are already too many books, their writing must remain unread, and choosing to remain independent is indicative of failure.

But that's just me.

***

A couple years ago, Dev was given Dragon software to help him write his papers. It actually helped him transition to doing more writing, and he hasn't used it in ages. When his computer crashes awhile ago, he didn't even bother reloading it.

Me, I got all excited about the idea of trying it out. Y'see, this whole crappy hip thing is making it hard for me to sit or stand in a keyboard-friendly posture for a long time, and my desire to write is running into increasing physical discomfort. Alas, we cannot find the serial number thingy anywhere, and don't have access to any proof of purchase.

Now I must decide if experimenting with the software is worth purchasing the software. Anyone with other ideas is welcome to share them. :)
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Dev and I saw "The Judge" last night.  It's brilliant.  It pulls and pushes and stabs and hand-holds in all the right places.  I expected Robert Duvall to be wonderful, and he exceeded expectations.  Pride, humility, humiliation, complex love... he was incredible.

I don't know what I expected from Robert Downey, Jr., but it certainly wasn't anywhere near the fabulous performance he gave.  Too often, films of great emotion dip into melodrama.  Downey, even though he played a character striving to be larger than life, used whispers and asides and subtlety.

It was also one of the most difficult movie-watching experiences I've had in some time.  There are scenes that hit grief, regret, and longing for second chances.  Again and again, the film took hold of my heart, broke it, and refused to let go.  To be more specific would spoil the film, so...

Minor Spoilers Here... )

Go see it.  Then be kind to those you love.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Dev had a minor car incident last night, driving home from AwesomeCon.

He hit a pothole. The option was to swerve into oncoming traffic or into the ditch. I'm so thankful he had the skill to stay on the road (and so thankful my dad taught him how to drive your way out of an accident).

Hitting a pothole in a low profile car is a matter of major suckitude. It looks like it'll be Wednesday before the adjuster can come take a look. At first, I thought the damage was fairly minor. But now... well, I just don't know. We'll see.

Oh, and we will be filing a claim with the city. A little investigation today shows this stretch of road is a known, and unaddressed, problem.

Poor Dev felt awful about it. But really, from what he described, he was taking precautions and didn't really have any options. And I can't emphasize enough how grateful I am that my boy made it home.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
There is something wonderful about sharing things you love with your child.

My son, almost eighteen, has been bitten by the cosplay bug, and this is a most awesome thing.

I didn't know anything about cosplay when I was a kid and young adult. Heck, I didn't even see a masquerade at a convention until I was in my late twenties. But I worked in community and regional theater from age ten onward, and discovered Renaissance festivals in my late teens. Add in the fact my mother taught me to sew everything from simple Halloween costumes to gorgeous custom prom dresses, and you can understand how much I wish I'd had cosplay as a creative option.

So when my kid showed not just passing interest in wearing costumes to conventions, but a real interest in all aspects of construction, you can imagine my excitement!

He's working on Hans Solo right now. So far, he's learned how to use polymer clay, made stencils and painted fabric, used spray paint and a glue gun, and created patterns for a vest, boot covers, and a holster belt. We've done some of the sewing together--I do something while he watches, then he tries it on his own, then we correct anything we need to fix--and he'll be ready to do more of it on his own the next time.

What made me smile was how impressed he was to discover I not only knew how to put in grommets and use a soldering iron, but that I had the tools for those tasks.
We've a bit of problem-solving to do with the belt and holster rig tonight, and a few odds and ends to tie up before we goes to Awesome Con tomorrow. If he approves, I'll post a picture or two later.

Really, we had a blast working together, and I got to brush up on costuming skills I haven't used in mumble-mumble years. He's urging me to do one for myself, and I admit Fionna from Shrek sounds fun...
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I am home from a day at Gencon, and quite tired. But it was a good day!

I sat on a panel and actually spoke. I sounded like an idiot for only the first ten minutes, I think.

I saw some folks I haven't seen for awhile, and met new folks I hope to see again.

I saw my son have a blast touring the con and getting his picture taken as the Eleventh Doctor.

Coolest thing: spending about an hour chatting with a smart new and very excited young writer who needed answers to all those newbie question we all once had. Paying it forward is a happy-making thing.

Now off to catch a few hours before I roll out of bed, drive the hour to Indy, and have as much fun as I can.

Home!

Jul. 5th, 2014 03:04 am
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
One thousand five hundred sixteen miles driven in the space of (checks clock) forty-two hours.

Random thoughts:
My son is an awesome travel companion. He gets bonus points for helping navigate through weird highway configurations during a monsoon.

I swear the highway in western Pennsylvania is designed to kill you or make you turn around in terror.

If you have to pee after you drop off someone at JFK International, you're screwed. Ditto if you believed the online map's assertion that there is a gas station right there. Actually, the gas station is still there. It simply isn't operating.

OH YE GODS ROAD CONSTRUCTION

One favorite sign: CAUTION: NEW TRAFFIC PATTERNS. I was hoping for something more interesting than lane-shifts. Maybe a eighteen-wheeler tango.

Two favorite sign: BORO OF ALPHA. I suppose there must be BORO OF OMEGA on the West Coast.

Three favorite sign: LLAMAS FOR SALE. The billboard was huge. But there was also a cloth "For Rent" sign hanging on it. So which is, Llama Keeper? Are selling them, or renting them? If the latter, for what does one rent a llama? (Say it five times fast!)

If you think your windshield is clean, driving into the sunset will swiftly prove otherwise.

Little Gambit is a pretty good travel buddy, too, even though we made him do horrible things like climb stairs at a strange hotel and drink water while strangers were walking by. Worst of all, Ty wasn't there to demonstrate how anything should be done.

The saddest part of the whole trip was Gambit staring at the door Dev disappeared through, then whining as I drove away.

And I'd like to lodge a complaint. It simply isn't fair that my son's plane touched down in Pisa before I made it home to Indiana.

And now... *thud*
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
First: A very nice review of Sword and Chant from Marissa Lingen. After our conversation on this post on the visibility of women writers and reviews of self-published works, I queried her about reviewing Chant. I'm beyond delighted she had nice things to say about it. Really, there's always that voice in the back of my head telling me I should be grateful if I get feedback more enthusiastic than, "Well, it doesn't completely suck." And that voice natters at me even when I love a story and am confident others will, too. So the fact her review includes the word "recommended" without the word "not" in front of it had me singing. (Yes, I truly sang. No, you wouldn't want to hear it.)

The publisher side of me is just as jazzed about her acknowledgement of the good production values. Reviews of traditionally published books wouldn't make mention of such as thing unless it was truly awful, but it's so important for reviewers to include at least a passing mention of good production in self-published works. We all know there is crap out there. Reviewers do all professional writers a service by acknowledging decent work.

(And if you haven't read that post of women and reviews I referenced above, I recommend taking a look if for no other reason than it'll link you to Marissa's comments on her own review policies.)

Second: Revisions of Sand of Bone are still progressing despite the distractions of spring fever. There is still one plotting issue I'm not certain how to fix. I'm letting it simmer in the background while working on other sections in the hope a solution will reveal itself. If a solution doesn't spring from my brow fully formed, I'm not certain what I'll do.

Third: It's official! I am curating a fantasy bundle for StoryBundle.  I had such a positive experience with them on the author side, I'm excited to be working on the curating side as well.  We've talked about tentatively slating the bundle for a fall release, and I've already begun to screen submissions. If you're interested in submitting something, cool! Later today I'll put up an overview of what I'm looking for and how to go about submitting.

And a couple personal things:
One: I booked Dev's flight to and transportation in Italy yesterday. I'm grateful EarthWatch provides solid briefing material on what to expect every step of the way since I haven't been overseas in the last twenty years, and have never been to Italy. The next step is to coordinate his travel from Indy to JFK. We might opt to drive out together, if I can pull the time away from the dojo, and have him fly back at the end of the trip. Yesterday was the first time I felt nervous about sending him off -- which I don't think is unreasonable, even though he'll be less than six months from eighteen. If anyone has any additional do this/not that advice, I'd love to hear it. And I'll likely beg for it again as the date creeps closer!

Two: And yesterday I wanted to call my friend Patricia just to tell her how much I miss her. It was one of those weird moments of the grieving process. I didn't forget I couldn't really call her; I wanted to call her specifically because I couldn't.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Tonight is Prom Night. Dev just headed out to pick up his date for dinner before prom. I think he's most excited about the fact he gets to drive his own car.

Last year, he went to prom with a girl he'd known for years AND needed me to be the driver. This year he just... drove off. :) Thus I had to grab a few pictures before he headed out, and hope he gets at least one picture of him with his date!

Pictures! )


My handsome boy!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
My son has succeeded in fixing the refrigerator.

Total cost: $33 for the part, and a special meal (yet to be determined).

I am one proud and happy momma.

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