Thursday, December 31, 2009

Predictable Blog Day

I love the idea of renewal. It's one of those collective human urges that we all share which is why we come together once a year and hope we are going to change. The hard part is, of course, admitting what we need to change because then we have to admit that our behavior is not always perfect. I am going to change things here a little.

I am going to publicly confess three imperfect things about me that I like and that I have no intention of ever changing.

Of course I'll have resolutions. But also only three. Three's a good number: it's one of the numbers of magic and it matches the amount of kids I have.

What Is Never Going to Change:

1. I use chocolate for stress relief. Probably way too often. It's kind of like legal Xanax for me. I carry it in my pocketbook, have some at work, in my car and all kinds of imported chocolate stashed in my desk. It makes me happy. It relaxes me. If I were in charge of primitive culture, I would probably make the cocoa bean a minor diety.

Maybe not so minor.

2. I stalk my kids. I sit in the living room when they are talking to their friends and I leaf through Bicycling magazine. I haven't been on a bicycle in about ten years, and I have no interest in gears or sprockets, but my husband reads it, so it's there for the leafing.

The kids view it as an anti-matter shield. They speak very openly, meaning they think the magazine is magical: it protects them from having Mom hear every word. I love listening to them, especially when their voices get low. It's probably wrong on some level, but since it provides vital information, I justify my behavior along the same lines as that government law that allows them to tap into your conversations to protect you from terrorism. I think there's kind of a parallel there.

3. I am streamlining my social obligations. I used to endure visits from and to people I couldn't stand because I thought, for some reason, the world would collapse if I didn't participate. I don't do certain parties and barbeques and holidays any more because I am a)really busy and usually desperate for time and b)past the age of caring whether or not people get miffed.

What will change in 2010?

1. I am going to write more. I have carved out almost four hours a week (I know, it's not a whole lot, but it's more than I've had recently) just to write. No laundry, no kid activities, nothing -- it's during school hours, and I had to really juggle my schedule, but it worked, and I can't wait.

2. I am going to stop applying mascara on the NJ Garden State Parkway while I am going about 75 mph. It's probably better to actually arrive to work than to arrive looking marginally better.

3. I am going to stop having Internet induced ADD. During those four hours, I am not going to go onto sites for twenty minutes just to say, "Wow, I didn't know whales could do that..." then go look up the history of the lighthouse I saw yesterday when I got lost on Long Beach Island.

And that's it. There you have it. They say publicly stating things enforces resolve, but the only image that comes to my mind is Hester from the Scarlet Letter walking around with the A emblazoned on her chest.

Anyway, Happy 2010!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another Meme

Ok, so this is one of those meme things, but I like it because it forces you to think about writing. Bish tagged me, and if you are reading this blog, consider yourself tagged. There are a lot of questions, and I would love to see Mary and K.C. answer them, but it's also Christmas, so I won't hold my breath if they don't get to it. Here then are the questions for all literary divas:

What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

The last thing I wrote is the seventeenth opening page of my current novel. (And I am not exaggerating; I actually kept track) I still have my diary from the year I was thirteen. It's scary; I was very, very disturbed.

2) Write poetry?

Not anymore, though I did when I walked around thinking I was Sylvia Plath.

3) Angsty poetry?

There's another kind?

4) Favorite genre of writing?

YA, with a smattering of MG.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

My children. I think of them as one force, like a character.

6) Best plot you've ever created?

Hmmm, I think my stuff is character driven. Maybe that's yet to come.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

In a novel that was "recycled" (self rejected because I grew to hate it) five years ago. An arsonist turns out to be a girl's illegimate half brother.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

Never. I have more ideas than time.

9) Write fan fiction?

I have never heard of fan fiction. Seriously. I don't go on many boards or to writing conferences so maybe someone could define that for me.

10) Do you type or write by hand?

I write things like: she knows where/give key/never needs to see the river/who does not get the ticket in the middle of the night by hand. Then I type it into English, and yeah, I know what it all means.

11) Do you save everything you write?

God no.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?


13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

My first novel. (This answer is open to change)

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

It better be my first novel.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Umm, that's like what I DO.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Nature-y places: woods, beaches, rivers.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Two: a YA, a sequel for an MG, and a novel for adults. That's three -- but the last two I have like a page of notes for and nothing else, so I'm counting them as one. (I have my own mathematical system, kind of an inverse of Newton's world)

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Wait - publishing isn't an award? I've been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, but they gave them to people like T.C. Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates.

19) What are your five favorite words?

moon, shimmer, sea, abandon, will

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

My daughter.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

They sort of talk to me and appear. In another century, I would either be highly esteemed or burned at the stake.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?

I wrote an entire MG novel about five years ago based on a dream. It was dreadful. Dream doesn't translate well, at least for me.

23) Do you favor happy endings?


24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes, compulsively so: I'm an English teacher.

25) Does music help you write?

It helps me when I'm out driving and I listen to U-2 or another favorite group, but no, when I'm writing, a car horn is irritating.

26) Quote something you've written.

"Elizah, sometimes it's good to leave the company of the dead." It's my favorite sentence from my second novel. I didn't realize I liked it that much until I read it over again during the proofing stage.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Character Study With YA Comments

The teenagers who come to our house spend a huge percentage of their time with the cats. That's probably because a) there are five cats to choose from and b) all our cats are crazy.

As you know,I find teen comments very amusing and if you are reading this blog, you probably do, too. (I also swipe their comments freely when I write)I thought I'd put them together to create a YA guide to our cats.

Of course, there are the kittens. Only about six and a half months old, they are the only ones that don't occasionally hide for a nap when the house is filled with teens.
But they are very different; Cami, the one to the right, is "completely emo" -- she nurses on nubby blankets, shatters the fragile peace with the dog by sticking her own nose into Mazy's nostril, and trying to steal food from Jade, the senior cat. She is very, very needy. They call her over by going, "Aww, where's the little emo kitty?"

Her sister, Coco, has been nicknamed Jazz because she's so mellow.

If you remember how BabyCat summered in the wicker basket, she has now found a new spot to hide in which is a little stranger. She jumps to the top of the kitchen cabinets and stares down at us:

She is always paranoid, twitchy and unsettled. The kids call her "Rehab" because she acts like someone who once had an addiction. When I asked to what, they all looked at me with that, "She-doesn't-know-anything-look" and said, "To meth."

Of course.

Then there's Sarah who will cuddle up to you, purr and nap for a few minutes. Without warning, she will hiss and scratch and run off as if you have just poured acid on her. She hisses as she runs. Here is a typical expression of Sarah's:

I think she's bipolar, but the kids call her "D Wing" -- I think every high school has a wing for kids who have broken through the not fitting in category. That's where poor Sarah would be if she were a teen...

Jade, the senior cat, the alpha cat, keeps the other cats in line. Once, when someone forgot to shut the sliding glass door to the deck, we found all five cats outside with Jade up on the railing keeping watch. The dark side of Jade is the reason BabyCat has to sleep in baskets and on top of high kitchen cabinets: Jade has rage issues. She takes most of them out on BabyCat who is half her size. This is Jade:

In fairness, Jade's sister died very young of heart failure. They had been just like the two kittens are now, so everyone gives Jade a lot of room. She's not particularly cuddly or accessible, but she is a favorite of the teens.

What did they nickname Jade?

Kurt Cobain.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Teens and Mood Swings

Most people who work with teens will complain mightily of mood swings, and what they mean is the mood swings of teens. My take on it is a little bit different; I think they cause mood swings in the adults around them. Or maybe that's just me. I do know I have stable moods when I am away from them. Once I am around them, I am as mercurial as any emo friend of theirs.

This weekend, we had our first bad weather. I discovered an infestation of teens in my living room and they were the kind that eat tubes of yogurt and leave the wrappers behind, take fresh glasses for a second glass of juice and open all three bags of crackers because they have to smell them first to see if they will like them. They are the kind that never go home.

Of course, while I was glowering at them, Mazy came up to me and did one of these:

which means she has to go do what dogs do in the wild. Except it was sleeting and freezing out and when I asked one of those healthy, young teens to take her, they all burrowed deeper into their couch blankets. I pulled out the one teen who was mine.

"Dude Mom," Philip protested, "it's too wet even for the dog."

"Think of something," I told him, "you have to do at least one chore around here if you want to keep doing nothing."

I walked away. Five minutes later, Philip came back with the one girl who drives. They had an idea. We would put Mazy in her van, take the extension leash to the bottom of the street, reel it out and let her poop.

I thought about it. It sounded like a no. The wind howled. Mazy howled. "We'll try it."

Yup, there we were, inside the van, letting the dog leash out like fish line. The kids remembered to bring a flashlight so we could witness the moment of truth. Once they were certain Mazy was done, they started singing, "Celebrate..."

I thought they did really well on that one. I picked up the wet socks, food wrappers and soda cans in a fine mood. That was Saturday.

Last night, Sunday, Christopher woke me up around 3 a.m. "Mom Dude, you know anything about MLA format for research? You'll like it. It's writing. Sort of."

I sat up. "Did you start it?"

Dumb question. And another mood change.

He had been playing Halo all day, and apparently all night. I was saying psychically sensitive things like, "So, have they ever done a study that correlates brain tumors with that headset?" and other things like, "You know, this is the kind of thing Howard Hughes would do if he were still alive. Remember, he's the guy who saved his urine?" Christopher kept putting his hand over the mic and whispering to his friends, "Wait. My MOM is here."

So yes, between 3 and 5 am this morning, I had to "help" research his MLA paper because he was involved in a Halo tournament of some kind. ("Help" means he sleeps while I find sources for research and document them) Around 5, Mazy gave her call of the wild again.

Philip woke up, rushed over to me at the computer and bear hugged me, "Remember when you used to call me Little Big Beluga?"

New mood change. Happy one. He walked the dog. I finished the research. I glowered at Christopher until I was at work, looking through some pictures on my phone. I knew I couldn't stay mad at him; he had taken this one of the kittens:

And I don't think anyone could look at that picture and not feel better.

Of course,they're due home any minute. With grades. I'll see how long that picture sustains me.