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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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.

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.

Three More Things This Thursday

1. Top Chef Redemption!! Josie *finally* went home and Kristen beat the giant jackass CJ in Last Chance Kitchen. Yay! I hope Kristen makes it back in for the finale and that Brooke and Stephan last, too. I love Stephan. Top Chef is a show full of attractive bald men. Well, at least two of them.

2. Migraines are horrible. I don’t get them as often as I used to, but man, they kick my ass.

3. Today I had a wonderful call with my new publicist from Plume, the imprint of Penguin that will be releasing my paperback. (It comes out March 26! You can preorder here!) She had so many great ideas and she made me excited about the paperback again. I can’t wait to share with you the new final, final cover and more about the new bonus material. Stay tuned!