Saturday, February 27, 2016

Parenting: It ain't easy

I just dropped my kids off at my parents house for an overnight. It is great timing--we had planned to go to my husband's co-worker's  fiftieth birthday party but I'm suffering from a cold and so am going to stay home. The prospect of an evening reading in bed is glorious.

However, before getting home to the comforts of my bed, I had to navigate the who-sleeps-where fight the kids immediately fell into when we arrived at my parents.  There are four beds in their partially finished bedroom, which should easily accommodate three kids but, of course, they all wanted the same one. I was feeling poorly enough that I conducted the interaction mostly from a supine  position on my parents' living room floor. It would have been so nice to escape, but that would have meant my parents had to deal with the fall-out. And, probably, the youngest would have gotten her way simply because she was the most insistent on getting the favorite bed and my parents would have felt bad making her feel bad.

I'm appreciative enough of my parents' babysitting that I don't want them to have to deal with any more negativity than is necessary. And I know the little one's bad attitude about not getting what she wants is a sign that she gets what she wants too much of the time. So it was up to me, no matter how sick I felt, no matter how much I just wanted to leave, to make the decision (random drawing, which the littlest lost) and deal with the consequences.

It got me thinking of something I've learned about parenting, which sounds obvious: it ain't easy.  One of the unseen advantages to having twins as our first kids was that we expected it to be hard. Just because humans have been having babies for thousands of years doesn't mean it is easy to be a parent.

It's often most difficult right at the moment I'm least equipped to deal with it. But I believe those are the moments that count the most. If I took the easy way out (in this case, give the younger one the desired bed), what would she learn? Mom's sick + I throw a fit = I get my way. In the future, when I'm not sick, she'll probably be a good experimentalist and test if throwing a fit alone equals getting her way. So giving in this time will mean more fits to deal with. It might seem logical to say "I'll just deal with it then, when I have more energy" but I believe that giving in once will result in ten more tests: she'll throw ten more fits before she's convinced that it won't give her what she wants.

So, even though it was the last thing I felt like dealing with, standing up to her today is an investment in the future. Her future, obviously, because one of the most important skill a person has is dealing with disappointment. But also in my future: it ain't easy now, but if I stay strong, it will get better.

The other key is taking care of myself so that I have the strength to do what needs to be done. For me, this means daily exercise and predictable times to work on my hobbies. It is admittedly easier with financial resource but there are ways to do it with less: child care swaps with friends/neighbors (the kids call them playdates), gyms like the YMCA that offer two hours of free child care every day to members, and simply trading off with the other parent. Insisting on time for myself is one of the best ways to guarantee my kids will get the best parent I can be at the moments it matters the most.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Short Review of Good News by Edward Abbey

An interesting (and terrible) vision of the future of the American Southwest. The ending was surprising, given how the characters were clearly delineated as good and bad.

My review on Goodreads

Monday, February 22, 2016

Creativity in Motion

During my childhood, we drove to South Dakota at least once a year to visit my grandparents. It was a day-long drive, about four hundred miles from my Colorado home. On one trip in my teenage years, I was laying in the back of the van wishing I was traveling with a group of cool theater kids instead of my family. (Sorry, Mom, Dad and K). That was the inspiration for my first novel-length story (with characters oh-so-realistically named Sun, Earth, Moon, River, Star etc.)

The resurgance of writing in my adult life occurred on the California Zephyr, somewhere in western Colorado. As the train clacked through isolated mountains and sage-brush covered hills,  I felt the urge to move to this rural setting. Imagining how the actual experience would shock me out of my idealism, I started typing a story of a young, urban couple who attempt to take over a Western Slope orchard.

I haven't looked back on either of those stories in years but now I recognize that it was no coincidence both ideas came while traveling. There is something about moving through space that sprouts ideas in my mind. My latest theory is that scenery in motion is so information dense that it stimulates the brain to make unusual connections. However it works, I've started to use it to my advantage while writing.

Running, walking or riding my bike seem to produce similar results. In fact, the idea of the novel I'm working on now came while hiking up to work on a snowy day, as pictured below. (I know I have the worst commute in the world :/ ).  I use this to my advantage, schedule outdoor exercise at the beginning of my writing time or taking time to jot down notes directly afterward. If I remember to think about the story, I frequently figure how to make something work and I'm pleased with the efficiency of getting exercise while working on a story. It's double good!

Addendum: my husband pointed out that, since aerobic exercise is believed to immediately promote new brain cell growth in adults, there is even a positive impact during the post-exercise writing period.

And neuroscience research on how our brains get more creative during unfocused, downtime.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

'Wired for Story' tells us why friends aren't good at critiquing.

The first thing I did after completing the first draft of my novel was to give it to my husband and three of my best friends. In fact, the drive to share it with them is what motivated me to write every day. They all gave me feedback on what they liked or didn't, what they wished there was more and less of and what they thought could be improved. Overall, the feedback was positive and I figured, after a little polishing, the novel was ready.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I put the first ten pages in front a critique group and ninety percent of the participants didn't buy the basic premise of the story. I reworked the protagonist's relationship and brought it back, receiving about the same success rate. I started the story in a new place and still got the same response. I even considered throwing out the basic concept because it seemed to be so unbelievable to so many people. Finally, I got advice from a critique partner to re-balance the risk vs consequences of the character's actions, and that seems to be working.

It left me with the question, though, of why none of my friends had questioned the premise of the story. Perhaps they were just being too kind, but they were critical in other respects. So why did four college-or-more graduates with credentials as writers, scientists and readers, miss it?

I got the answer last week when I  went to a class exploring Wired for Story, a writing book by Lisa Cron. She apparently postulates (I haven't yet read the book) that we tell and listen to stories in order to gain experience. We want to put ourselves in the protagonist's place.  When my friends read a story they know I've written, there is no barrier to slipping into my skin and believing the character's motivations as written. For strangers in a critique group, though, there is an emotional gap that must be jumped between them and the story. If the premise doesn't build a bridge, they are left standing on the other side of the river.

So now I know: friends can tell you if the story has gone too extreme (one of my common problems) or gotten too mundane (another--leave out those day-to-day boring actions) or has typos. But in order to get a true perspective on how well the character interacts wit the plot, a critique group is the way to go.

It doesn't answer the question of what to do as you become better and better friends with your critique groups, though!

References: by Lisa Cron
Crafting a Page Turner with Michelle Theall  (exploring Wired for Story)