Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote

I’m not sure what there is to say now that hasn’t already been said about the insanity of this election cycle, but if you haven’t heard about the site offering some respite from the misogyny and racism and putting forth powerful words of wisdom, please check out Dedicate Your No Trump Vote. Some of my thoughts are there, along with other authors, veterans, students, and others.

Started by author Julianna Baggott as a heartfelt Facebook post declaring her dedication of her No-Trump vote, the sentiment blossomed into a website dedicated to all the people Trump has belittled, threatened, and bullied speaking up and out and sharing their stories. It offers “a hopeful act in a perilous time,” a collection of essays and personal narratives about why the possibility of a Trump presidency is terrifying so many of us, and why love can win if we band together.

We will fight this wave of hate with our votes. And even if it’s unbelievable in the face of what he’s done, unimaginable that he even still stands a chance, we can’t give up yet. Every single vote matters next week. All of our voices are needed.

I hope you’ll read and share with anyone who still might be unsure of why we can’t let this man do further harm to this country. I hope you’ll get out and vote. And I hope you’ll remember that this is not about politics. This is about people’s lives.

#imwithher #lovetrumpshate #getoutandvote

 

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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.

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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Spring Is in the Air

For such a short month, February sure packs a wallop. There are so many application deadlines and events and holidays and birthdays (I guess lots of people have sex in May, huh?), and it feels like a generally busy time for all of us. February means business. Now that the Christmas trees are out of the house (though, I saw one on the curb just last week!) and we’ve stopped living on cheese and wine and chocolate and are ready to come out from under our blankets and away from cozy fireplaces, step out of our slippers into non-elastic-waist pants and leave the holidays behind, it’s time to get back to work. 

And I did. I did publicity outreach emails, wrote guest blog posts and answered interview questions, applied to two MFA programs and wrote a statement of purpose, entered seven novel contests, applied for two conference fellowships and wrote the corresponding personal essays, and applied for the NEA fellowship for the first time. (Man, that application is a hassle—but it’s free, so why not?). I accepted an invitation to be on a writers workshop panel in June and to teach a workshop in September. All this on top of my regular trying-to-write schedule and, you know, life.

I have also sort of met my goals of getting outside more and spending less time on social media. I am still not writing enough, but that feels like it’s getting closer. I’m getting to the point where I notice things I want to describe, scenes I witness seem to slow down so I can capture them in my memory and I write them down when I get home. I’ve been making lots of notes, and I’m pretty sure the writing will just pour out of me when the time is right. The fact that I am now feeling hopeful rather than terrified is a shift in itself that tells me I’m making progress, even if it’s not all on a conscious level. Writing is tricky that way.

I think the change in weather also makes me more positive. It’s staying light after 6 pm and the air smells like flowers and the cherry blossoms are blooming pink confetti all over my neighborhood and the sun is out more and the wind isn’t icy on my cheeks. I can open the car windows when I drive and when I’m working so I can hear the birds twittering their songs. I love spring.

This spring means a paperback release for Hand Me Down (I’d be so grateful if you preordered a copy!) and decisions about what to do for next year. I think February was just the primer and March is going to be all kinds of busy, but I also think I’m ready after my winter hibernation.

Change is in the air. I can feel it building. Shifts—in our location, our focus, our behaviors, our perceptions—can be hard, but the other side of the transformation seems promising right now. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Everything Is Fiction

I read an article this morning in The New Yorker that says all the things that I believe about fiction, that I believe about writing, better than I say them when I try to explain why fiction is so important. Keith Ridgway starts with, “I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living. Mind you, I don’t know how to live either.” (Me, too, buddy. Me, too.)

But the crux for me is this:

Everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events…You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.

Because everything IS fiction. Narrative is how we experience our lives, even within our own heads. It drives me crazy when people say they only read non-fiction because “it really happened.” Fiction tells truths clearer than the random chaos of real life, and real life can’t ever really be described anyway. Even non-fiction stories are narratives constructed and shaped into a digestible arc that makes sense out of “what really happened.”

I could go on and on, as it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for years and talking about a lot lately in relation to Hand Me Down: truth in fiction, getting at truth through fiction, and the choice between novel or memoir for a story that is mostly true. I’ll be posting more interviews where I discuss these issues, but for now, you should really just go read this piece, Everything Is Fiction. It’s short and brilliant. Enjoy.

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.

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

It seems like it’s been forever since we talked, Blog, and I feel bad about that. I’ve just been so busy and so much has happened! I’m sorry I don’t always remember to keep you posted on my life. I guess I’m still getting used to this relationship.

In the last few weeks, I did book events in both of my hometowns, Sacramento and Salt Lake City, and several other bookstores in my current home, the San Francisco Bay Area. I read to packed rooms full of new and familiar faces. I made people laugh. I was asked interesting questions. I got to talk about writing and my book and people listened and seemed interested. I did an interview on Capital Public Radio—live!—and managed not to sound like a bumbling idiot. I received a bouquet of tulips and three other beautiful flower arrangements in one day. Hand Me Down was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle three times, the Salt Lake Tribune and several other papers, a bunch of blogs, and People magazine! I hugged two ex-boyfriends’ mothers, my best friend from elementary school and her mom, my favorite high school teacher, people I’d only previously known online, and tons of other old friends and landlords and teachers and coworkers. People were so excited for me and I felt so supported.

I know you deserve more than a quick recap, Blog, and I will write more, soon, I swear, but I have to go now. I have guest blogs to write (I know how painful that must be to hear) and interview questions to answer and event pages to update and emails to respond to…you know. I told you in the beginning that life as a published author would be different, busier. You said you understood, and I hope you’ll stick with me for the slow patches. I promise I’ll always come back.

Yours,

Melanie

The Sun Will Come Out

Three weeks ago I was in Hawaii, Maui, tropical paradise, on the first vacation W and I have taken together without our families in five years, our reward to ourselves for the last two really difficult years, and we were having a horrible time.

For starters, we were violently ill. Not just I-have-a-cold-and-I-feel-kind-of-crappy ill. Seriously, disgustingly-so-I’ll-spare-you-the-details ill. We had one great beach day and then the clouds rolled in, literally and figuratively, and as the wind whipped palm fronds outside our condo window we lost four full days during weather that made it too cold and unpleasant to even sit on our lanai once we could move.

I’d hoped so much for this vacation to be a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. Instead, everything kept going wrong. Continue reading