100 days

P1030262Pop the corks and ignite the fireworks, cuz we just survived the Hundred Days of Darkness!

Okay, so the first three months of a new baby aren’t ALL bad, but it is definitely a special kind of abyss. Around-the-clock feedings, constant head support, and lots of bewildered crying as the baby learns how to fall asleep. I don’t mean sleep through the night. I mean fall asleep.

It isn’t sunshine and rainbows after three months, but there is a sudden and marked shift when you realize: oh hey, she’s paying attention to stuff. She’s smiling and trying to laugh. She’s sort of maybe kinda got a predictable nap thing going, and if you spot the cues fast enough there’s no meltdown on the way to bed. Unless you’re dad. Then there’s probably still a meltdown.

So! Time for an update! In fact, time for all the updates!

100 Days of Recovery

100 days ago, I was in agony! 90 days ago, I could still barely get in and out of bed! 80 days ago, I was acknowledging that I would, in fact, survive my c-section, but that I’ll see you all in hell before I do that again. Where am I now? Well, my scar is settling down to pink instead of purple. The flesh is tender/numb but not painful, and pretty itchy on one side as it heals and feeling comes back. Oh, and parts of my ass are still numb from the epidural. You hadn’t heard of that one before? Yeah you get numb ass.

100 Days of Infant

What are we at, then? I’ve put her to bed between 400 and 500 times, breastfed about 700 times (and changed a comparable number of diapers), oh and of course gotten up 1-3 times a night for well over 100 nights, since that bullshit starts when you’re still pregnant. AM I AWAKE OR ASLEEP RIGHT NOW? NOBODY KNOWS.

At first a baby is all work and no reward, but gradually they start noticing you exist and providing positive feedback in the form of smiles and coos, and then it’s all right. For the first month she did nothing but eat-cry-sleep, eat-cry-sleep, and even in her sleep she would make so much noise it’d keep me up the rest of the night. But now all of a sudden she’s a great baby. Easy to put to bed, entertained by all the little toys her brother disdained, and taking like a champ all the things that made him hysterical (changing tables, doctor visits, facing forward, and so on). Uh, good job, baby!

100 Days of Big Brother

I barely glanced away, and all of a sudden my 2-year-old is making conversation, counting (somewhat accurately!), singing songs, and building increasingly elaborate block monsters to re-enact episodes of Little Einsteins. Thank goodness he hasn’t exhibited any jealousy or resentment toward the baby (maybe just a little toward dad for finally working a day shift). After months of prepping him with a baby doll, he was excited to help take care of a real baby. FOR ONCE, MY PLAN WORKED! Now I just have to keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t “help” too hard.

100 Days of Reading

I had a hard time reading at first (shocking!) because with my first kid I’d just prop a book up while breastfeeding for 30-40 minutes at a go, but this time around I’ve got a talkative toddler at my elbow and a lightning-fast eater who only takes 10-15 minutes. But then! I reconfigured my approach. I started reading online SFF magazines for short reads while breastfeeding, and I started borrowing ebooks from the library to read on my phone while walking around or patting a baby to sleep. Now my physical books are for after kid-bedtime– a luxury. And it’s working! I’m powering through stuff, and it’s all so good! WHY IS THERE SO MUCH GOOD STUFF COMING OUT?

100 Days of Writing

I can be a little dramatic when I don’t get writing time. (I can sense my husband reading this, muttering, “A little?”) It was only a few weeks after giving birth that I would cry in sleep-deprived despair, “I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE AGAIN!!” And then a few weeks after that I adjusted to my new kid-load and started writing again. I won’t lie, it’s tougher, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve knocked out a few short stories to get back in the mental swing of things. I’ve agonized over my decision to wait a few months to start the agent submission process, but it’s the right one. Now I’ve got last spring’s rough draft manuscript glaring angrily at me, waiting for edits. Maybe it’ll be done within the next hundred days…

100 Days of Support Network

What…is…social life? I didn’t leave the house at all other than doctor’s appointments for a month. But I think it took longer the first time, so that’s an improvement! Anyway, big thanks to all my family and friends for patiently awaiting my return to society. I’ll almost definitely go to the next nighttime book club. There are also holidays coming, and I will be there. And maybe one day I’ll go out with my husband again, and it will be somewhere more exciting than Target.

Forward march!

motherhood and creativity

breastfeeding

The daily struggle

This article by the Atlantic has been making the rounds recently, positing a lot of interesting questions about motherhood and creativity. Studies of rats (whose brain functions are very similar to humans) show that female rats become remarkably more creative, adaptable, and focused after giving birth, and that the benefits last long after their offspring grow up.

This, of course, raises the question about how humans’ brains are affected by giving birth and caring for children. And the article contrasts the potential benefits against the discouraging messages that women artists receive: namely, that having children is incompatible with maintaining a successful artistic career, that kids are a distraction, that you can’t pay attention to both. When in reality, for many women, the result is the opposite. The trouble, as with any second job, is time management.

Obviously there are plenty of creative people with and without children, and some mothers shift gears to childcare more than others, or find they hate childcare entirely, etc etc. But wow, yes, for me this is 100% true! I had a good number of ideas before, but after having my first baby I felt like I was suddenly exploding with them (plots, characters, structures, emotional story arcs, worldbuilding) in a way I wasn’t before. In particular, my best ideas now incorporate a better emotional climax into the plot/action climax. The frustrating part is not having nearly enough time in the world to write it all, so I have to pick and choose what to develop and then eke out chunks of time each week to plug away at whatever my current WIP is.

Part of it is life experience in general. I’m older. I’ve got a decade more reading and philosophizing and socializing and paying attention to current events under my belt than 21-year-old Sam did. I have more to say, so it’s easier to slip a theme or character arc into a story that previously was based entirely on explosions and banter (that said, you will pry my explosions and banter from my cold dead body).

But it’s also mommy brain, I’m convinced of it. I’ve had to learn how to multitask and focus like never before. If I want to write at all, I have to keep a story buzzing in my brain at all times so that when a 30-minute chunk of nap time becomes available I can jump right in and work like crazy till it’s over, and then immediately shift gears back to the baby. I wrote a book last year while I was massively sleep-deprived (my first kid took 13 months to sleep through the night!) and working a part-time day job. I wrote at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. and during 1 hour naps on the weekend. The first draft was feverish but fast, and I actually liked my stream of conscious prose better than when I used to agonize over every sentence and take all day to write a scene. Editing, of course, was a nightmare! But man it felt good to be working on something.

Anyway, I think the article is worth a read! Here are some of the bits that struck a chord with me, regarding creativity itself and the unique guilt/shame that comes with carving out time to write.

Regarding rat moms:

Even as her offspring grow and learn to fend for themselves, the neurological changes of motherhood persist. She will experience less memory decline in old age, and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes. She is more efficient, making fewer errors. She finds new and unusual ways to get tasks done—problem-solving approaches she had not considered before giving birth.

From artist Hein Koh, in response to another artist who insisted there is not enough energy in one person to split between art and children:

“Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist—I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ.”

Because yes, the multitasking is unreal, and the need to be efficient in all things at all times is all-encompassing. I gave up basically every other hobby and casual social events in order to make time for the things I wanted most: writing and spending enough time with the baby.

Regarding problem-solving:

Creativity requires making unusual connections. At its core, Jung said, creativity is original problem solving. This is an evolutionarily derived process that is important to survival. Humans who achieve high creativity usually have endurance and grit, Jung said. Creative people take risks, Jung said. They are bold, and adept at finding new and unusual ways to get tasks done.

There is enormous guilt in taking time away from your kids (I am sitting in my local library right now, during my once-a-week block of free time, and every week I feel the need to apologize 20 times while walking out the door). BUT, I am also so much better during the rest of the week when I take this break.

I am a better mother, a happier mother, when I am also able to carve out time to write. I am a better writer, a happier writer, when I am also an involved mom.

That is basically where I’m at right now. I’m trying not to feel guilty about splitting my time, but splitting my time is essential for my happiness. Sometimes I overdo it on both fronts and have a complete meltdown, but the weeks where I achieve a good balance are enormously rewarding.

Now let’s see how the dynamic changes as baby #2 gets bigger, and nap time ends. TWO TODDLERS COMPETING FOR ATTENTION? Get me the smelling salts, for I have collapsed.

“the little frog!! and the little girl!!”

Last week I sold my first short story to a professional SFF magazine! I’ll post more when it comes out in early 2018. For now, suffice to say: I’m super excited and want to get some momentum going! Since I’m in the baby dark zone and utterly failing to edit the novel I finished this spring, I’m churning out some short stories instead to join the other three I have on perpetual submission. The agent hunt is only temporarily on hold, till I’m getting just a BIT more sleep.

It’s time for another 7-year-old writer Sam flashback! I told you all about my first real narrative tale, “What Hapend March Ninth!!” Now let’s dip into the writing frenzy that followed as I became not just author, but illustrator as well. Here is one of my first staple-bound construction paper illustrated shorts. It’s pretty clear that I had only recently encountered commas and silent ‘e’s.  And, true to this day, nothing is worth saying if it isn’t worth saying with! an! exclamation mark!

Behold the adventures of a girl and her beloved pet frog, aptly titled:

frog1

The little frog!! and the little girl!!

frog2

There ones was a girle! the girle! ->

frog3

There ones was a girle frog!!! The frog!

frog4

The girl, met the frog. Hi! Hi!

frog5

The girl, took The frog home,

frog6

They played, and played, and played

frog7

The girle, got a pool for the frog! Yaa!

frog8

They swam together!

frog9

They did lots of fun things together, They were happy together, and They were happy They met, They were so, so, happy.

frog10

They were best friends, They told evry body that they noo, if they were not to far away. They went for trips together, They calked rocks together, big or little rocks.

frog11

One day it got cold so it was winter, togethe they made a snowman, withe the girles Mom!!!! Ice >

frog12

The End!

 

formative years

I was wandering around the house like a very helpful poltergeist in the wee hours of this morning, tucking a sick toddler back under his blanket, patting a baby, starting a pot of coffee. And I started thinking about those first five years of life before school creates a clearer timeline of memory and you just exist in a blur of Mom and Dad and Sibling(s) and Home, punctuated by the occasional birthday party or trip to the park.

Scan0008I’m the second of six kids, but until I was seven there were only three of us. I was pure, unadulterated Middle Child. Middle kids jonesing for attention have two options: act out, or become overachieving people-pleasers. Ding ding ding for option two! Though I’ll note that I largely grew out of the people-pleasing, and am now obnoxiously insistent on doing everything my own way. Except even that is a backlash against the early people-pleasing! See? There’s no escaping. And I’m definitely still a hopeless workaholic.

Those early years are SO FORMATIVE. And yet, you barely remember any of it. I have some faint, ghostly memories of jumping up whenever we were asked to do chores, or experiencing anxiety at doing something wrong, but it’s hard to tell if those are real memories or the secondhand memories you form when your mom repeatedly tells you what your childhood was like. Do I remember my fifth birthday party, or just the home video of my fifth birthday party?

So now I’m looking at my own kids and wondering what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. You can’t escape a bit of both. Am I raising them to be assertive but not bullies? Self-confident but not egotistical? Sensitive but not fragile? Appreciative? NICE? How much depends on their predispositions and innate potential, and how much is trying to push a boulder uphill?

And how does the sibling dynamic change things? What is the dynamic of raising one boy and one girl, as opposed to one boy and a boatload of girls? I’ve always been surrounded by sisters. My childhood was exceedingly loud. We’re still constantly up in each others’ business, and talk basically every single day via instant messenger. Will my kids be this close to each other? I hope so.

I don’t have a conclusion here, so I’ll turn the subject to writing. Any time that I’m grappling with a facet of my own life, I’m mentally filing it away for future character-building consideration. Writer friends, consider the sibling dynamic when building your characters’ backstories, even if it will never be explicitly mentioned in the main plot. What was this person like at five years old? Did life reinforce those personality traits, or dampen them, or strip them away? Why?

And don’t shy away from siblings. Fiction is chock-full of only children. I’m guilty of it, too. It simplifies the backstory and the choreography of plots that do involve family members, and let’s be honest, it’s hard to maintain the brooding allure of your anti-hero if his sister calls up and says, “Remember that time you pooped your pants at Jenny’s birthday party?” But he did. He totally did.

Big families lend themselves to comedy and sprawling epics, but they don’t have to be confined there. Maybe your brooding anti-hero was the oldest of eight and co-parented them through poverty. Or maybe he was the youngest and is trying to earn his way out of the shadow of many older siblings. Or maybe he was right in the middle and they all think he’s an asshole because he never calls home. Whether you mention the reason or not, he’s rooted in those core personality traits.

So. Who were you when you were five?

making it ironic (don’t you think)

Alanis_Morissette_-_Jagged_Little_Pill

Confession: I unabashedly love Alanis Morissette. My teenage self loved the angst (specifically the albums Jagged Little Pill, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and Under Rug Swept), and my adult self actually loves her more, because teenage me had no idea what she was really on about, but adult me Gets It. Add a layer of 90s nostalgia on there, and this shit is timeless. Those CDs will be in my car until they crack.

But this post isn’t about the angst! This post is about “Ironic.” Now, it’s been a popular pastime over the years to rag on this song, and the specific complaint is that none of the examples in the lyrics demonstrate irony. The commentary is so prevalent it’s even noted in the album’s Wikipedia page and there are theories that the entire song is a meta work, i.e., it is itself ironic due to the lack of irony. Well, I am about to posit a different theory in defense of my teenage angst heroine! I propose that every single lyric is indeed situational irony, if you add the right context. Though I will admit, some take a little more mental gymnastics than others…

So join me as I embark on a pointless literary exercise that nobody asked for, 20 years in the making!


Ironic

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day [in an accident at his post-retirement day job, which occurred when he threw down his safety helmet and announced he was quitting]
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay [at your new restaurant, which you opened after leaving your job as a health inspector]
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late [the convicted man, of course, was previously a lobbyist who helped limit the governor’s pardoning abilities]
Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day [after you changed the date due to the weather forecast; your previous date remained dry, naturally]
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid [wait, is this one already ironic? there’s a joke here about the inventor of Lyft Shuttle and public buses, I can feel it]
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take [from a psychic, to you, the psychic debunker]
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly [and switched to a later flight after chickening out the first time]
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well, isn’t this nice.” [because if it weren’t for his phobia, he would have stayed on the first flight and been okay]
And isn’t it ironic, l don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you’re already late [to protest a new freeway expansion at the city council meeting, since you don’t think congestion is a problem]
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break [at your job at the cigarette factory]
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife [you fired Barbara last time for ordering too many knives and not enough spoons]
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife [right after swearing off non-monogamous relationships for good]
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny way of helping you out
Helping you out.

into the abyss

Blue_Tentacles_(17569669855)

[image by Eric Kilby]

And lo did Samantha bear her second child into the waking world, that strange and too-bright earthy realm, and it came squalling and angry, in the manner of its kind. For a day and a night the creature spat clear fluids, furious and confused by the manner in which it was ripped from its mother’s womb–and neither was its mother any less wounded. But their recovery was swift, and both were released from the institution that coddled them.

They returned to the ancestral manor, bound together in a pattern old as humanity itself, the mother offering herself as food to that which she had spawned. There they found the father and brother eagerly waiting, and the cats slinking door to door, curious and yet disdainful, their ears pricked to new sounds and their backs arched for a missing touch.

Into the abyss she spiraled, day blending into night into day again, the creature growing at a rapid pace and her own body dwindling in thermodynamic remuneration. An unending cycle, a sleepless existence, the ebb and tide of a primal mission: the propagation of self.

She inhabited a living dreamworld, untethered from her initial aspirations, for what little time remained to her was claimed for sullen rest. Each time the creature slumbered, Samantha vowed to continue her work, but each time the creature slumbered, Samantha fell into a twilight existence somewhere between waking and sleep. In this walking twilight she saw wild and incoherent visions, each of which she feverishly marked down in a notebook set aside for just such record-keeping, each of which might one day inform her work, but which, for now, remained merely the ramblings of a strained mind.

Soon, she would return. Soon, she would emerge from the abyssal brink upon which teetered all her goals and wishes, and she would once again take on the mantle of ambition that fueled her literary scrawling. Till then: perpetual night and dreaming awaits.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

2017 reading update!

Last time I had a baby I powered through a ton of books during my maternity leave. Breastfeeding: it’s constant and it’s kinda boring!. This time around I prepped my TBR pile in advance, greedily envisioning the months of fiction absorption ahead of me. Remember the Christmas haul?

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sweet, sweeeeet Christmas haul

I’ve made progress! But not anything like last time! Granted, I’m only 2.5 weeks into these early baby months, but I can already tell that my time isn’t going to be spent in nearly the same way as it was before. That’s partly due to the presence of my toddler, who proooobably won’t tolerate me reading and dozing in a rocking chair for an hour at a time once his dad goes back to work. It’s partly due to my inability to stop buying new books (but… book club! new releases! all those damn recommendations from the Barnes & Noble scifi blog!). As of right now I’m up to number 27 on my Reading 2017 list and way too many of those titles are not from the Christmas haul.

But there is another, far more exhilarating factor, and it is this:

My brain. It isn’t 100% mush.

!!!!

Last time I power-watched the entirety of Parks and Recreation plus a bunch of Netflix shows (Daredevil! Sense8! Orange is the New Black! The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!) and still read a ton of books. Baby was asleep? I was vegging in front of a show. Baby woke up? I was reading while breastfeeding. My brain couldn’t handle anything more.

This time around the newborn transition hasn’t been nearly so debilitating. I’ve already adjusted my daily life around having a kid, so there’s no culture shock to my routine. And I’ve already been sleeping in cruddy, non-consecutive increments for the last two years, so I’m as tired as I ever was, but now I have two years of coping mechanisms in place!

[Ask me again how those coping mechanisms are working in a couple weeks, when my husband goes back to work. This could very well be the delirious optimism of a woman who gets to take mid-morning naps.]

All of which is a long way to say: I’m not just reading and watching TV this time. I’m actually writing again already. Not a mind-boggling amount, but I’m editing the book I finished this spring, and submitting some short stories, and brainstorming some new ideas (though lord knows when I’ll have time to work on them). I’m feeling really good! Except between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m., when this baby likes to groan continuously in her sleep, and the cats start fighting, and the sun rises way too early and perks me up…

This post was supposed to be a reading update, so let’s move along with the recommendations now.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A very humorously written prose retelling of some core Norse myths. I read the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda in college and loved them. They’re some of my favorite bizarre pre-modern stories. My only caveat would be that Gaiman captures the humor of Norse myth but not the fatalism. For me, part of the allure of Norse storytelling is its humor in the face of pending doom–Ragnarok is coming, nobody can stop it, and they’re all going to die. But hey in the meantime let’s laugh at Loki for getting impregnated by a horse.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: A book club pick. It was a little dry but very detailed, and I love reading about civil rights and people carving out spaces for themselves against the status quo, especially not in the 1960s. The 1960s had a lot going on, but according to Hollywood everything was perfectly stable through 1959 and then all of a sudden out of nowhere everything changed in the 1960s. That isn’t how history works! This stuff was brewing for decades! So anyway, you can imagine my discontent when the movie adaptation rearranged everything and shoehorned the women’s stories into the 1960s. And then made it seem like their coworkers were all racist assholes. Like, you’re actively denying these women recognition for earning the respect of their colleagues in the 1940s and 1950s, ignoring the legacy of WWII on the civil service workforce, and failing to give the scientific community credit for being more progressive than the society surrounding it, just to tell the same civil rights story you’ve told in a hundred other movies…

Moving on.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah: Another book club pick. Apparently, I didn’t know nearly as much about apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa as I thought I did! Also, it was really funny! Also, it made me cry! Also, I’m a sucker for stories about people who love their mothers!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: The final volume of the Divine Cities trilogy. It was just as good as the first two (City of Stairs and City of Blades). The end made me very sad. Anyway, that’s a terrible blurb but trust me, go read them.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells: The first novella of The Murderbot Diaries. I’m suddenly reading and loving novellas, after long considering them a weird useless length in between short story and novel. This one was very entertaining. A security bot has become self-aware but keeps going about its normal duties so as not to frighten the people on the science team it works for. Oh and other people are trying to kill them.

Grunt and Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: Extremely entertaining non-fiction by a popular science writer. The first is the science of warfare (everything but weaponry) and the second looks at the incredibly detailed planning of the space program. I was absolutely convinced I had read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and loved it, so I put these on my wishlist. Anyway, it’s a good thing these were great, because it turns out I never read Stiff! I read a different humorous book about death and cadavers: The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson, also highly recommended. Anyway I guess now I’ve got to buy Stiff.

The last two Fairyland books, The Refrigerator Monologues, and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: Just read everything by Catherynne M. Valente.