one year in the doldrums

Yikes, as of last Friday, I have been staying-at-home for ONE YEAR. Certain individual months took an eternity to pass, yet somehow the year zoomed by. My squalling infant is now climbing and crawling and aggressively hugging cats. My chatty toddler is even chattier and the size of a grown man, bless their tall dad genes.

UNTITLED

BEFORE and AFTER

In the past year I…had that second baby! Fed her approximately 2,000 times! Changed a comparable number of diapers! Made my first two professional short story sales! Saw the first one go live! Eagerly started chasing the third!

I edited my 2017 book! Then I spent a great deal of time making a query package for my 2016 book! Then I heavily edited my 2016 book again to tackle weaknesses made apparent by the query package! And I did it all with very little sleep!

Okay, so, after working for two years when my first child was tiny, and staying home for a year after my second, I conclude: BOTH WAYS ARE HARD AND I HAVE NO PATIENCE FOR ANYONE DISMISSING EITHER PARENTING MODE AS EASIER. Same for “natural” birth versus C-section. I am here to tell you I have done both and THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT.

I suspect there is a grass-is-greener tendency to pine after the good bits on the other side and ignore the bad bits. When I was working, my day ran 6am to 8pm with minimal breaks, my attention was fractured by multiple Sam modes, and I felt a lot of guilt for not seeing my kid enough. Once I was home, my day ran 6am to 8pm with minimal breaks, I became painfully cabin-feverishly bored by NOT having multiple Sam modes, and I felt a lot of guilt for not contributing to the finances the way I had before.

When I was working, I could actually relax a bit and take bathroom breaks by myself, I got positive reinforcement from grateful library patrons and colleagues, and there was so much quiet. Now that I’m home, I don’t have to put on customer service face after a sleepless night, I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas if I don’t want to, and I get to sprawl on my own couch during nap time.

This is obviously based on me having had a convenient morning day job that I enjoyed, and two fairly well-behaved kids that I also enjoy. If I had good kids and was still in the hellscape of retail shift work, I’d have fled to the home life as soon as financially possible. If I’d had a lucrative ladder-climbing career and colicky nightmare babies I’d have guiltily but steadfastly clung to the job longer.

I’m supremely lucky that after a couple years of scrimping we could afford to make this arrangement work. Most folks don’t have the option of weighing pros and cons, they just…do what they have to do. Sometimes you can’t afford to leave work–or, even more perversely, sometimes you can’t afford TO work because of childcare costs. Either way you’re penned in by circumstances, and that can be grueling.

So in conclusion again: everyone does what they need to do, if they’re lucky they get some choice in the matter, and everyone else just mind ya bizness and resist the backhanded compliments. You know the ones. “Ah ha, that must be nice [getting away to work / getting to stay home all day].” Yeah I see you.

Now. We’ll see how my opinion shifts when we enter…The School Years!

17 years

Is there a MeToo for school shootings? Because ours happened seventeen years ago, and I’m grappling with it in a very different way today than I did at the time.

Yesterday I took my kids to a birthday party. Then I spent all afternoon on the verge of tears looking up photos and statements about the March For Our Lives events all over the country, millions of people supporting the high school students who pushed this miserable debate into high gear.

I had an opportunity to join the march here but couldn’t finagle the time constraint to get to my other obligation (I’m sorry laaadiiiiies). The scheduling woe was real, but if I’m being absolutely honest, I also leaned into the problem as an excuse to chicken out of a high-emotion atmosphere. If Twitter could bring me to tears, going in person was gonna be a mess.

I should have just let myself be a mess.

Our school shooting happened in the early days of this nightmare, 2001, when it genuinely seemed (to us, at least) to be a fluke tragedy. Something wild and unpredictable and how-could-it-happen, but rare, at least. With two dead and thirteen wounded, for a little while we were called the second-worst to Columbine, and wow have those numbers become commonplace. Hardly even newsworthy.

Our shooter (I won’t even bother naming him, let’s just say Some Piece of Shit) ran with a group of bullies, so the media latched on to the theory that he was being bullied by them. But, uh, according to my classmates he ran with bullies because he was a little bully himself. Next theory, plz. (The Columbine shooters weren’t bullied either…but that story was bought into so heavily it has shaped twenty years of rhetoric on this.)

We didn’t do anything about it except try to move on. The adults were supposed to take care of it. Now we’re the adults, and we’re still not taking care of it. So oh my god, these kids are so brave. They weren’t even born when this started. This fear has been hanging over their heads their entire lives. And they’re right to be furious.

My feelings have always been a muddle. I was lucky–didn’t see anything, didn’t know anybody, though I would eventually see the toll it took on my friends who did. I was in a classroom on the opposite side of campus at the time, stayed in there during the lockdown, and evacuated via a route that prevented us from seeing where it happened.

I remember being very calm during the evacuation. They led us to a massive grocery store parking lot across the street, where the lines all immediately lost structure, and everyone bolted to search for their friends, and parents started showing up. I found my bestie pretty quick, but it took forever to find my older sister. I was just starting to panic when we spotted each other. That is my clearest memory of the whole thing.

I barely remember the aftermath, on the other hand, and that is just bizarre. Kids started getting cell phones (this was 2001, babyyy, teens didn’t automatically have them yet). They had us do weird art projects to express our feelings. We got a therapist on campus and a permanently stationed deputy (I interviewed him for the school newspaper, dweeb that I was).

But otherwise: big blank. I know there must have been huge amounts of emotion permeating the school, but either I walled it off at the time or I’ve walled it off since then. I do remember thinking I should reach out, friendship-wise, to a boy in my class who had been directly affected. We did eventually become friends, mostly because some of our friends became friends and our groups merged. Ten years later we got married. So add one more convoluted layer to this mess, because despite not touching me at all, this incident subtly shaped the course of my life anyway.

I’m always hesitant to mention it, because it never felt like my experience. It wasn’t “my” shooting. It was a Thing That Happened in my vicinity, a thing that hurt other people so badly it seems ghoulish or disingenuous to make any kind of emotional claim to it. It’s a disorienting mindset. I might never untangle it.

I didn’t even realize I had any remaining deep-seated feelings until I had babies, and now every news story has me reeling. I imagine my kids there, and I imagine myself driving like a maniac to reach the school like my mom did, and I break out in a cold sweat. I don’t want them to grow up with this fear. I cannot comprehend the mindset of people who think it’s worth the risk to keep their arsenals. I could rant all day about how there’s no such thing as responsible ownership.

I don’t have a good ending for this blog post. I just felt compelled to write something down. I’m mad that this is still part of the tapestry of our lives. No, I’m furious.

papa lindsey strikes again

I’ve mentioned Papa Lindsey before: the demented handyman haunting our property. He keeps tabs on what we’re doing through his army of spiders. No matter what we do, there are daddy long-legs on the ceiling, black widows in the sheds, some enormous hideous monstrosity we call Aragog in the mailbox. Clearly they are all reporting back to Papa Lindsey, warning him when we decide to replace one of his precious power outlets or mismatched light bulbs.

But it turns out, the spiders might be protectors more than spies.

It turns out, Papa Lindsey was worried about worse problems than the sufficient proliferation of power outlets. Perhaps my home is a sort of Southern Californian Winchester House, and Papa Lindsey had to keep hand-building crummy additions to keep other ghosts at bay.

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Seriously, this hell shack was going to be your un-permitted laundry room?

This month we finally took action on a crack in the foundation beneath our dining room (these tears I’m shedding are made of dollar bills). The entire room was carpeted when we moved in, so if the damage was already there, we missed it in the home inspection.

Upon peeling back the carpet, we discovered THIS in the concrete where the dining room was added to the main house:

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“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”

EXCUSE ME? This is far too insistent. Was my house the site of a religious cult? Or was this the work of a pious handyman trying to expel demons?

Upon seeing the ominous inscription, it occurred to me that when we first moved in, there were nails driven into the walls above the windows and doors. Is it possible that these were not the World’s Worst Curtain Fixtures, but in fact iron spikes intended to repel faerie creatures??

Before you accuse me of overreacting, consider this:

Within days of demolishing this piece of concrete and its aggressively protective carving, my sister broke out in all-body hives, my husband threw out his back, and my toddler dislocated his elbow.

DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.

childhood bucket list

Previously I’ve written about matters of vital importance, those things that children take extremely seriously–you know, things like quicksand, favorite colors, and how to stop, drop, and roll.

Well, my childhood obsessions did not end there. I read books like crazy, including a bunch of monthly series like The Baby-Sitter’s Club. I also consumed enormous quantities of television (Thank Goodness It’s Friday!).

Long-running series tend to recycle scenarios, so the more you read/watch the more you begin to believe these scenarios are common occurrences. Well, maybe you don’t, but Baby Sam sure did. I was convinced that, at any moment, the following situations waited right around the corner.

And I aimed to be prepared.

Without further ado:

THINGS MY CHILDHOOD MEDIA CONVINCED ME I WOULD HAVE DONE BY NOW

More extremely specific first aid

In addition to previously mentioned catastrophes such as getting a pencil in your eye or catching on fire, Baby Sam was also convinced that people choke on large pieces of food practically every week, and therefore I must be prepared to do the Heimlich Maneuver. Did I have professional training? No. Did I have any practice? No. But I watched Mrs. Doubtfire a bunch of times so I was definitely ready to step up to the plate.

It was also extremely important that I know how to splint a broken leg or apply a tourniquet (I didn’t say all of my books and television were aimed at children). Also, I was vaguely aware that I should keep candy bars around at all times, just in case a diabetic person had a dangerous sugar drop. You can thank The Baby-Sitters Club for that one.

Survive on my own in the woods

Is every child obsessed with children-surviving-the-wilderness narratives? Island of the Blue Dolphins! Hatchet and it’s even shittier sequel, The River! My Side of the Mountain! The Swiss Family Robinson! Even Stephen King wrote one: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. She was really into baseball. And she had to fight a bear.

These books taught me that, despite the fact that I never left my quiet suburban neighborhood, I might, without warning, be stranded in the woods, on an island, or even on a distant mountain. In order to survive this scenario that was definitely going to happen one day, I needed to know how to start a fire with sticks, how to account for light refraction when spear fishing, how to build a shelter, and of course, how to splint a broken leg.

Nurse a baby bird back to health

According to my childhood media, everywhere you looked there were baby birds straight up dropping from trees. When this definitely happened to me one day, it was going to be impossible to simply return the baby bird to its nest. Either its mother was dead, or its mother would cruelly reject it for smelling like asphalt. I was going to have to build a nest in a box and feed it worms until it was big enough to fly away. And then, obviously, it would be my friend, because imprinting.

Call 9-1-1

Okay, this one is a little more feasible and I suppose I have been involved in a couple of 9-1-1 calls over the years. However, my real calls have been stressful welfare-check situations, and not the cool, dramatic, dare I say heroic 9-1-1 calls of my imagination. Nobody ever got trapped in a well, or a basement (we don’t even have basements in earthquake country), or broke a leg (in which case, obviously, you should devise your own splint instead of waiting for paramedics).

What a disappointment.

Win something at a carnival

Clearly, every kid in the country had fall festivals and traveling circuses and holiday carnivals EXCEPT ME. There would be hay rides and elephants and big top tents and also apple picking and also a freak show and an aisle of barkers exhorting you to throw horseshoes or something (I was confused and these were all one massive combo community event). In retrospect, these all totally existed and my parents just never took me, because they knew the truth: carnivals are money pits of ride tickets and game tokens, and you’re never going to win anything because the carnies have rigged the games.

HOWEVER. I’d have liked the chance to try!!

Sneak into a haunted house

Where the hell are the haunted houses, I ask you? Where is that one house that everyone in the neighborhood knows was a total murder house, and now nobody will buy it, so it is slowly moldering away, covered in creeping vines and padlocks, except that there’s a broken window in the back and the sociopaths in your best friend gang won’t respect you unless you sneak inside and bring back a token to prove you did it, except the token is also haunted so now you’re totally haunted.

Where is it?

Snow day

Winter was supposed to mean snow. Snowballs, snow angels, snowmen (snowwomen), sledding, Christmas cheer, snow shovels and snowplows, mittens that you attach to your coat, hats with ear flaps, rosy cheeks, diabetic babysitters trapped in cars during blizzards and desperately in need of a candy bar.

But Baby Sam, you grew up in San Diego. Not the mountainous bit. The bit bordering the desert. We don’t even get snow.

What an uneventful childhood.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

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I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

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I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.

2017 christmas card

Previous cards:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016

Every year I make 40 Christmas cards (~35 to send out, 1 to keep for myself, and a couple extra just in case I forget somebody or accidentally destroy some in the production process).

And every year I remember, too late, that every step the card requires must be completed 40 times. This year I remembered this pesky fact after I decided to put a cutout on the front in addition to pasting my usual Photoshop masterpiece inside. Cut out 40 cutouts, paste on 40 cutouts, paste in 40 inserts, sign 40 times, stuff 40 envelopes. ONE DAY I’LL LEARN MY LESSON.

But it was worth it. Because this year, LONG OVERDUE, I heralded the arrival of our (presumably) final family member with [drumroll pleaaaaase]… a Star Trek theme!

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why did I do this to myself

Hurk! I cut out 40 communicators for you people.

The finished product speaks for itself.

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And here is the insert, in all its glory:

card insert

Yes that is Mr. and Mrs. Claws, thank you

I’m well aware that I used a TOS communicator on the outside and Wrath of Khan uniforms on the inside, but I just can’t resist those maroons. Also, it would have made more sense to have Kirk’s chair on the front since he’s dictating the captain’s log, BUT I couldn’t find a good image of the Wrath of Khan era chair, and the TOS chair looked too bulky, so since I was mismatching my eras ANYWAY I went with something easier to cut out, i.e., a communicator.

Anyway anyway anyway.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM OUR SNAPE TREE TO YOURS!

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[*cough* that’s 15 family members worth of presents btw…the pile for my own kids won’t be coming close]

the adventures of young ham solo

I’ve explained the increasingly grand tradition of Sibling Thanksgiving before. In 2015 we leveled up our theme game with THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice, and in 2016 we went all in on Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks.

For 2017 it was time to head for the stars. Without further ado, I present The Adventures of Young Ham Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Only approved guests could get past the door guards.

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Nothing to see here, move along

Once admitted, you were free to help yourself to a drink at the Dagobar.

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There is no try. There is only drink or drink not.

Dinner was served beneath the shadow of the Empire, but never fear, a squadron of X-wing fighters were en route to do battle overhead.

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Let’s blow this thing and get dinner!

And for those inclined to join the Rebellion, there was an optional Jedi training piñata for just that purpose.

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Use the force, Luke!

There weren’t any themed dishes this year, although there WAS a round of blue milkshakes for the kids and blue milk (rumchata) for the adults afterward. We had our usual unnecessary flood of side dishes instead: cornbread, rice ball casserole, lumpia, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, obligatory turkey breast, stuffed jalepeños, stuffed mushrooms, stuffing, and French bread! *gasps for breath*

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Why do we do this?!

There were five kids toddling-and-up, but between the piñata candy, soda, dinner, and dessert, they vibrated so hard they achieved singularity and melted into the infrastructure of the house, only visible in blurs out of the corner of your eye.

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The rare candy-ghost caught on film.

Dinner, of course, was followed by kicking all the children from the room and playing a disgusting and curse-filled round of Loaded Questions.

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Almost anything can be answered “your mother’s vagina”

All in all, A ROLICKING SUCCESS!

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NEXT UP: CHRISTMAAAASS

And on a final note: it sure is nice to have professional help to clean up after a big party. Thanks, guys!

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.