Happy Happy Valentine’s Day

I’m feeling pretty good today. It was a good week. But typing that makes me nervous. I don’t want to jinx it. You’ll notice I still didn’t say, “I’m happy.” In my experience, that’s just asking for trouble, an invitation for emotional ruin.

Except I am mostly happy, and one of the things I’m working on is how to celebrate the good moments instead of disbelieving them, or feeling like I don’t deserve them, or waiting for the horrible thing to rain down and punish me for my small moment of joy. And I’m learning that the small moments–the pretty clouds in a blue sky, or a sweet gesture from W, a nice unexpected email from a friend–these are worth noting and remembering and absorbing.IMG_20130518_173402

I’m also learning that there can be light and dark–that they can coexist within my heart and mind–and to be less afraid. If I allow the good sink in and become a part of me, even if the bad thing comes, and the jaded part of me says it always will, it still can’t steal my big smile or little heart flutter or whatever tiny blip of happiness I experienced. That is mine if I want it , and I’ve finally decided that I want it more than I want to be prepared for the other shoe to drop.

So here I am, celebrating, validating this feeling of optimistic contentment.

This week, I was asked to judge a prominent literary competition, and I found out I am a semifinalist for a book competition that could seriously boost my career–one of 10-15 out of five hundred entries. I read a new book by a good friend that I loved.

Last month I married a man I love and we are better than ever.  After eleven years together we still spend so much time talking to each other when we’re both home that it’s hard to get our work done. We are going to spend today, our first married Valentine’s Day, outside since it’s supposed to be in the mid-80s here in LA, barbecuing with good friends and playing croquet in their beautiful yard. Flowers never stop blooming here. Southern California winter is the best summer.

Sometimes I’m still in awe that I live in this place. The weather is part of why we moved here, but LA has been good to me, to us, and I feel like there is more to come. Optimism, people. It’s like a face lift.

So, anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you spend it with people you love who make you laugh. And I hope you too can take a minute to absorb the good, capture it so you can keep it with you no matter what.

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Confession 11-18-13

Confession: Sometimes I write things on my To Do list that I’ve already done just so I can cross them off. Otherwise, the long line of uncrossed items makes me too depressed to look at the list at all.

Father’s Day

Growing up, I didn’t know a lot of good dads. My alcoholic father was either absent or impaired, many of my friend’s mothers were single or their husbands worked full time and weren’t around much. None of the women in my family had successful relationships so I had no good male role models, and men were mostly off stage, unseen except in the pain they left behind, and unnecessary in my world. Women seemed to operate without men, and most of them did just fine, or, in the case of my mother, better, without a man getting in the way. The good men were like happy bonuses, appearing in short bursts to take my friends somewhere cool or teach them to drive. Without a  proper father figure, I began to believe I didn’t need one. That maybe women really were better on our own.

But I have come to know some really great men over the years. Guys who are loyal and caring, who are open-minded and sensitive and fun and funny without being cruel and really good friends and husbands. Some of these guys have become fathers in the last few years, and already I know their little girls will not have a lack of positive male role models who encourage them to be strong females. My friends will be great fathers; they are great fathers. I’ve witnessed it myself, heard the pride and wonder in their voices as they talk about their kids as people, seen them encourage their independence and guide without smothering.

I know W will be a great father someday, too, and all of this gives me hope that women aren’t on our own the way it seemed to me as a child. Just because some of us had bad dads doesn’t mean we have to be attracted to the kind of man who is abusive or distant, too critical or controlling. There are good guys out there, and they are raising another generation of boys who will grow up to respect women and take responsibility for themselves. Those are the men who deserve to be fathers.

So, here’s  to you, dads. Your children, and wives, are lucky to have you.

Bright Lights and the Big City (I’m Moving to LA)

I was conceived in Los Angeles. My parents grew up there, and when my mom was just a few months from delivering me into this world, she and my dad moved up to Sacramento where I was born and mostly raised. I grew up with their stories of beach bonfires and friends with houseboats, and maybe that’s part of why I’ve always been drawn to LA. But on my first real visit as a kid, I fell in love hard.

I was eleven. It was January but it was seventy-five degrees and sunny, blue skies and tropical breezes. For someone who hibernates when the temp drops below sixty, this alone was heaven. But the ocean. Oh, the ocean—shades of blue from cerulean to teal, and even in winter, not so cold you couldn’t dip your feet while sinking into the sugary white sand beaches stretching for miles. It was still California, but it was different from the raging seas up north that I grew up visiting, the icy winds and freezing water, beaches carved into the cliffs so they are shorter and flanked by huge rocks. And the light. It’s different in So Cal. Brighter. It’s like the air itself sparkles.

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On that first visit, people seemed happier, lighter, artsy in a way that felt more free and less serious than I was used to. I was down there to perform in a huge conference with my choir, and my childhood dreams of acting and singing professionally were more than whispered hopes down there—they seemed like real possibilities, like warm winter winds, created by the right combination of timing and location. The whole city was wider, bigger, looser, shinier; all the things LA is supposed to be, but I didn’t know that. I just knew I wanted to come back.

W and I have moved five times in the last seven years. Each time that wasn’t for a job or school we’ve talked about moving to LA. But we didn’t know anyone there and it was too expensive and wouldn’t it be weird to just pick up and move somewhere because it seemed like a great place during visits? Fast forward four cities and still, nowhere has felt like home to both of us, and we don’t have kids or jobs that can’t be done from anywhere, and we know people in LA now and it’s still expensive, but we are a little less poor, so, why the hell not at least give it a try?

So after driving by close to eighty apartments and touring about twenty five (!) we have signed a lease. It’s a third floor unit with great western views of palm trees—and maybe even on clear days, the ocean—about four miles from the beach. We can walk to pretty much anything we will possibly need in just a few blocks—banks, gyms, restaurants, groceries, coffee shops, drug stores—and are a longer walk from a farmer’s market, bookstore, and more shops and restaurants. In fifteen minutes I can be at the ocean, and unlike up here where I’ve driven all the way to the beach and had it be too cold and windy for me to spend more than ten minutes out of the car, most of the year it will actually be warm enough to enjoy it.

Am I nervous? Sure. It’s a big city, a fast-paced change from our sleepy town now, but that is part of the draw. More restaurants, things to do, places to go, people to meet…I’ve spent the last two years sort of quietly and I’m ready to jump start a new phase.

And, still, every time I’m down there I fall in love again with the light and the palm trees, the ocean so close, the bright tropical flowers and vines hanging from everything, the succulents with their thick green spikes, the smell of sand, the endless blue sky…I can’t believe I’m finally going to live there. The eleven year old girl in me has her hand on her hips and is saying, “It’s about time.” My dreams of professional performing are history, but branching out into different writing forms sounds like it could be an appealing part of this new phase. Who knows? The possibilities down there are sparkling on the horizon, shimmering on ocean-blue waves of light. It’s time to dive in.

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Blog It

I never know what to blog about. Book stuff, sure, but what else? I don’t have adorable children or cats or dogs; I don’t go on crazy adventures or cook beautiful dishes. Pictures of my day would include a computer screen, some less-than-beautiful food, and a scattering of other mundane things: laundry, errands, maybe some pretty scenery from my walks.

But I do think a lot. About everything. And those are the things I often think to write about but then I think, who cares about what I think? Are people really going to take the time to read my thoughts on random things? And I’m always so worried about how everything I write has to be “good enough” to be published, and I worry about talking about my personal life publicly, on the internet, and not calling it fiction, and I worry that I will seem silly and self-indulgent, and I worry that I might offend readers, and I worry endlessly instead of writing.

I read this piece from Claire Bidwell Smith on blogging for ten years (!) and I realized that I love her blog, like so many others do, for her voice. It’s not just her thoughts, but the way she expresses them that keeps us reading. We respond to both the story and the way it’s told, the universal themes in the everyday. Thousands of people have responded to my voice in Hand Me Down, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that some of you might connect with my voice here on this blog if I were willing to put myself out there. Plus, this is a blog, it doesn’t have to be book-level writing, right?

So I’m going to try. Even though I’m intimidated by all the fantastic blogs already out there, even though I’m worried about, well, about everything (all the time), I’m going to attempt to write more confessional, personal essay-ish, write-about-my-experience kinds of posts. Because that’s what I love to read, and that is one of the things I do know for sure: it’s always more fun to write the thing you love to read rather than the thing you think others want to read.

Here’s to more writing and being less afraid.

Inbetween: The Limbo Before the Storm

I’m home. I’ve been traveling so much for book events over the last few months that after the Pacific Northwest leg that ended about a week ago, I was so looking forward to being home. No more readings for almost six weeks. Finally, a chance to rest.

But. (There is always a but, right?)

I’ve been feeling weird since we returned. Maybe it is a resistance to getting back to normal life, because I’m not sure what that means for me anymore. Maybe I need to decompress after all the socializing. Maybe I just need some time to digest the last few rollercoaster months of life-changing events. Yes. But it’s also more than that.

I feel lethargic and restless at the same time, like I want to get out and do something but am feeling too blah to get off my ass and go. I want to both start new things and curl in on myself and ignore the world. Limbo. A feeling of suspension. We are hovering over this big decision about possibly moving to a new city, again, and what I really want to do is decide so I can move forward. I’m the kind of person who needs to know what the next step is and then I’ll make it happen. There are so many important chunks of our lives up in the air right now—where we’ll live, what we’re going to do for income, if we can buy a house—I have a shaky panic in my chest all the time, a lack of grounding that makes me constantly off-balance. I feel lost and unstable and unable to commit to anything, so I just get stuck in this space of doing nothing except fantasizing about moving to LA, buying a house near the beach, and getting everything else I want.

I want to start a new business running private creative writing workshops. I want to start seriously selling my handmade cards. I want to own a home; to stop throwing money away on rentals that always have things wrong that the landlords don’t care about fixing and aren’t ours to improve. I want the ocean to be a part of my daily life. I want to live by an ocean that isn’t always freezing. I want to be around more young, smart, interesting people, and more writers. I want to be part of a literary community that isn’t subject to the transitory nature of graduate programs. Oh, and I want to work on my second book. And my third and fourth eventually. I want to settle into a stable and fulfilling and generally happy life—three things I’ve never had at the same time—and just be.

I know I need to work more on being present in the here and now, but I feel like these wants don’t stand a chance until I know where we’re going to be for the foreseeable future. We’ve been talking about moving again since we decided a few months ago that our small town wasn’t a place we wanted to live long-term. We’ve moved five times in the last six years—for jobs, for schools—and have yet to find a place that feels right. I want to be settled.

Each time we discuss where we might be happy, Los Angeles comes up, and I think it could be a really good fit for both of us. So I want to make a decision. Like, right now. If we are going to move to LA, I will make it happen, but I need to know. We are going down in the next few weeks to scout neighborhoods but I wish we could go tomorrow so I could start making plans. I feel like that limbo might be shifting, and I’m excited to see where we go as we move forward.

Not Done Yet

I’m supposed to be working on additional content for the paperback release of Hand Me Down and I’m having trouble writing. I’m not sure I can tell you what the bonus content is yet, but I will say it’s a little bit more from Liz after the current ending, and I think it will be a great extra for readers.

It’s mostly done since it’s something I wrote before I sold HMD. I just have a few more scenes to add, and I even have ideas for them, but I can’t sink back into Liz’s voice. It’s been nine months since the final final edits on this book were done and I’ve spent that time trying to get Liz’s voice out of my head so I could write a different book, get to know a new narrator. It was finally working—I’ve begun the very early phases of my second book, but now, just for a brief few scenes, I have to crawl back into Liz’s head, let her talk to me freely after months of telling her we needed to take a break. This is all very confusing for both of us, and I’m finding it’s much more difficult than I expected.

Of course, everything about publishing this book has been nothing like I expected. And things keep changing and shifting and I’m trying to find a balance in this new life as a published author while still trying to write like no one’s watching or waiting, but sometimes it’s difficult. More so than I expected. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

So, why am I writing a blog post? I’m trying to assuage my guilt over not writing the work that is due soon, and also trying to tell myself I’m not superwoman. I can’t do it all. I get so mad at myself when I can’t complete a task by the deadline, even a self-imposed deadline. I feel like a failure; like I’m letting everyone down. Like I’m not good enough.

If you’ve read HMD, you might have some insight into how deeply this triggers a panic response in my chest, makes my heart flutter with fear. If I’m not good enough, I expect my world to collapse in on me again.

It doesn’t matter that it’s been fifteen years since the events that inspired Hand Me Down took place and I was forced to leave my home. It doesn’t matter how many people have loved my book, how many good reviews I’ve received, how far I’ve come or how hard I’ve worked. It doesn’t matter if I felt loved or safe or fearless for any amount of time before right now. If I can’t do this one thing—this week that means write a scene, but this fear applies to so many other tasks—it proves my success was a fluke, that the love and safety I felt were lies. That I’m not good enough and never will be.

The trick is remembering that the voice in my head that says I’m a failure is the same voice that spurred me to work my ass off, to push as hard as I could to get this point where I even need to write new content for a book that is already published; a book people have really responded to. It wasn’t a fluke. The good things in my life are not lies; the true lie is that I don’t deserve them, because I do. And so does Liz.

Maybe that’s part of why these new scenes are harder for me to write. Liz’s story—my story, too—isn’t over yet, but overall it’s headed into a lighter place and after so many years of darkness, it’s a bit difficult to accept, more so than we expected. That negative voice is hard to ignore, especially when it disguises itself as a protector, but I know we’ll make it through. We always do.

Year of the Dragon

Last Monday began the new lunar year for 2012, the Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology. Dragon years are supposed to be full of prosperity, enthusiasm, optimism, and good changes.

This feels appropriate as I move into a 2012 chock-full of transformation. My book, this thing I worked on, doubted, stressed about, loved, hated, and loved (and hated) again for years, is going to be released out into the world where it can be attacked and ridiculed and misinterpreted. When I’m being optimistic, I know this little piece of me could also be appreciated, enjoyed, related to, and maybe even praised. My agent and editor know what they’re doing, so I’m trusting that the positive will overwhelm the negative, which is the opposite of what my insecurities often want me to believe, but I’m working on reversing that attitude.

I will also get married in 2012, something I never thought I’d do. I did not dream about my wedding or look at bride magazines or create elaborate Barbie ceremonies like other girls I knew. The farthest I delved into marriage fantasy was in elementary school when I was learning cursive and hoped whoever I married someday would have a last name that began with K so I could write the pretty capital cursive letter often. (Incidentally, W does, though I am not planning to change my name.) I’m still not fantasizing about a wedding, but I am excited about the after, about not having to call W my boyfriend when we’ve been together for eight years, about not worrying that if something happens to one of us, doctors or police or whoever wouldn’t tell us what was going on, about being officially in it for the long haul, about us, together, for the rest of our lives.

I’m working on a lot of personal transformations as well—letting go, worrying less, enjoying life more, easing up on myself, not focusing on the tiny flaws and seeing the larger, pretty-damn-good overall picture. I’m trying to shift my reactions so I can allow myself to be proud, to be happy. I’ve worked my ass off to get to this place where I have the things I want and can see a good life materializing before my eyes, and the work now is less about cultivating the drive and determination I needed to get here and more about slowing down and treasuring the things I love no matter how terrified I am of losing them.

So, here we are, one week into the Year of the Dragon, and I am gearing up for the monumental months ahead. Dragons represent power and deliver good fortune, and I already feel that energy building. I don’t know exactly what changes are on the horizon, or how I will handle the ups and downs, the stress and jubilation, and whatever else this year of the dragon brings me. What I do know is that I am full of enthusiasm, optimism, and hope, ready to grow, and thrilled about the changes around the corner.