9/11, A Generation Later

So yesterday was 9/11. Anyone above a certain age in America, and in many countries around the world, knows what that means. A day of horror and grief as terrorists attacked America, flying commercial airliners filled with passengers into buildings. The day the Twin Towers of Manhattan became twisted rubble, the Pentagon lost a side, and a plane full of heroes plunged into a field.

That was 18 years ago. Almost a full generation. I remember it like it was yesterday. The horror, the pain, the tears, the rage, the grief. My daughter is 9 years old. She’s in 4th grade. This is the first year they really talked about it in school. Honestly, I don’t know how the teachers do it, as I know they all feel the same emotions I do when I think about it.

My daughter came home and started asking questions about my experience, but it soon turned to the events themselves. She was very impressed with the people on Flight 93. “They didn’t fight to save themselves, but to save other people.”

And we talked about why the Towers eventually fell, and why they didn’t right away. We talked about why the firefighters and other first responders kept going back in for more and more people even as the likelihood of structural collapse rose.

We discussed why the terrorists targeted the buildings they did (“Why didn’t they crash into the Statue of Liberty? That’s a symbol of America.”). The heart of our military and the heart of our business sector. And why they attacked America and not other Western countries.

For all that we talked, there were some things I did not tell her.

  • I did not tell her that people jumped from the Towers rather than burn to death.
  • I did not tell her there were babies on Flight 93, and likely on others.
  • I did not tell her that even today people who were at Ground Zero are dealing with the illnesses contracted from the toxic debris.

I did not tell her because she is only nine, and there are some things she doesn’t need to know yet.

Some things I wish I could un-know.

So instead, we talked about other parts of 9/11.

  • The rescue dogs that patrolled the debris searching for survivors.
  • The motley flotilla of boats that raced to Manhattan and ferried people to safety.
  • The generosity and compassion of Canada as they took in flights full of frightened and bewildered Americans.

We talked about those things, because that was the progression of the day: Horror. Grief. Pain.

Hope.

Hope for a better future—a future I see in the face of my daughter and all of the current generation. We will never be able to fully transmit to them the terror of that day.

But we can give them the hope.

Lady Liberty’s torch shines on, and they are the ones to carry it next.

Beginnings in Autumn

I have been thinking about beginnings lately. Which may seem strange in September, as summer comes to an end and the earth slowly goes inert throughout the fall and winter. But for many of us in the USA, September is also a beginning.

Yesterday I helped out at our school’s Kindergarten orientation. That is a beginning for so many. For some families it is their first child in school. For others their final child has finally flown the nest. For the kids themselves it is often the beginning of their schooling. Even if they had been to preschool it is a new school with new teachers and sometimes many new classmates. A world of beginnings.

We also “chalked the walk” yesterday for all the kids starting back to school today. Words of welcome and encouragement. A bit of beauty to brighten the morning. A new grade. New teachers. New challenges. For some kids it’s a new school, with new social pressures. Another beginning.

My daughter is back to school today, in a new wing because she is no longer with the “little kids”. It seems somehow more serious this year. She was still “little” last year. Third grade, still in the 1st-3rd hallway she’d been in for 3 years. She gets a locker this year. She’s been in this school for 5 years now, but this year seems transformative. New. A beginning.

For many adults, this is a time of beginning, too. Teachers and aides are back to school. Parents adjust to a new schedule now that the kids are back in school. I, too, am adjusting to the new schedule. It is a beginning. The beginning of my writing season. I hope I can make the most of it.

I expect many of you are experiencing a beginning, and if you aren’t, perhaps you can take this time to begin something new.

Rebirth in September. Who knew?

Summer’s End

This time next week my child will be back in school, and I will have 6 hours a day to get work done in peace.

Of course, it never ends up being 6 free hours. I do errands and sometimes chores, and other things that require concentrated time. And naps. I admit to naps.

However, it will be a relief to have some space to stretch, some flexibility. Summer is a time of squeezing writing into the nooks and crannies of life. While this may work well for some writers, my brain struggles to work that way, and it leaves me frazzled and exhausted.

I love the time I get with my daughter during the summer. I enjoy the family adventures when we travel. The slower pace of life is a welcome change from the often-hectic school year. But I confess to relief in getting my “me time” back.

I have several projects I want to work on, so my ambitions are high, as they tend to be. Sometimes unrealistically high. But for the first time in several years, I feel like I might be up to the task. We shall see what the school year brings for me.

Does the end of summer bring you more or less time to write?

3 Reasons Sailing is like Reading

I have family up on Long Island, and we’ve been visiting them up there for most of life. And for much of that time, my cousin has had a sailboat. Yet, I have somehow never been sailing.

I’ve been out on motor boats, but this past weekend was the first time I have ever been sailing. The day started out cloudy, but once underway the day became delightful. Gradually, I have become aware of three ways sailing is like reading.

1. It is peaceful.

Out on the water, without a motor running, it’s quiet. Sure, you have the breeze and the waves against the boat, but these natural sounds are not grating like the cacophony of human noise that surrounds us each day. Reading is often similarly peaceful, as you find someplace quiet and secluded to curl up with your book.

2. It is intimate.

Unless you are quiet wealthy, a sailboat is rather small. The cabin is tight, and the outside seating area is cozy. This lends an intimacy to the excursion, as you are in each others’ pockets the entire time. When reading, you immerse yourself in a character’s POV, sometimes even privy to their thoughts. You can’t get much more intimate than that!

3. It is freeing

Skimming about on the water, with the breeze and sun on your skin lets the worries of daily life slip away. Reading is the same way. When you fall into a book, reality vanishes. Time vanishes. Just like our hour and a half boat ride became three.

Eventually, we docked the boat and clambered back onto land. The breeze died, and the relentless humidity weighed us down as we stood, blinking and disoriented, slowly coming back to the real world.

Exactly the same feeling as coming out of a good book.

Do you have any good sailing stories to share?

Celebrating Your Milestones

Writing a novel is a slog. It’s a marathon. It takes a great deal of perseverance and guts. It can feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture.

Because it’s such an arduous process, it’s a smart move to celebrate different milestones along the way. What you celebrate and how you celebrate, will be unique to you, and that’s fine, because it’s about motivating you to get to The End.

So, I finished Veritas a while ago. And I sent it around to agents. And got one who was interested, but wanted some edits done. After some soul searching, a lot of ice cream, and a chat with my friend Kathryn Craft, I saw a way forward with the edits that I could get behind.

My first step was reworking the main character’s POV. I chipped away at it and finally finished. But I still had 2 POVs to go, and I seemed unable to find the time I needed to dive into them.

The stars aligned this month. My daughter went to sleepaway camp and I was able to take off from my usual blogging duties thanks to fellow Author Chronicler J. Thomas Ross. So I threw myself into my work.

And I did it! All three POVs are finished. The breakdown went like this:
Jinx: original 30,200 words, new 38,700
Ace: original 39,900, new 30,400
Kit: original 9,700, new 4,100

It also dropped the total words from original 79,900 to now 73,300. That seems a touch short for YA scifi, but it’s very probable I will be adding things in as I go through the next few passes, so hopefully I will be closer to the golden 80,000 number by the time I am finished

As I mentioned above, I’m not finished with the rewrite. I need to go through it at least two more times for continuity and tone and see if I need to add in anything else to make the new version smooth.

While there is still more to do, I feel like the heavy lifting is done. So I am celebrating!

What are you celebrating today?

A Mother’s Lament

I am a liar.

I lie to my daughter every day.

I send her to school, knowing someday she might get shot there.

I take her to Walmart, knowing she might get shot there.

I allow her go to the movies, knowing she might get shot there.

I let her go to church, knowing she might get shot there.

I take her to festivals, knowing she might get shot there.

I send her to camp, knowing she might get shot there.

I let her go out into the world every day, knowing she might get shot there.

Because the alternative is living in our own armed compound.

I tell her she is safe, while all the while I carry the weight of the fear, and the anger, and the grief. A burden that grows heavier with each casualty.

I hide it from her and tell her she lives in a land where she has an inalienable right to LIFE, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, knowing there are people out there who believe her death in a shooting is simply the price we pay for freedom.

People to whom a hunk of metal means more than her precious blood.

So I carry the weight alone, and I lie to her every day.

I lie to her every day, because if I don’t, how is she supposed to have a life worth living?

Washington, D.C., 2019

I missed posting last week. For the first time in about 8 years. I think the reason why will be self-explanatory when you read this post.

So, my child started a light, dry cough July 15th. I got a cold Thursday, July 18th. On Saturday, July 20th, after a broiling hot swim meet in the morning, Husband, Young One, and I headed to Washington D.C. for our long-anticipated trip.

Young One was especially excited. We were going mainly because she had asked specifically to see many of the monuments. She spied a palm tree as we entered the city limits and exclaimed, “A palm tree! We’re not even there yet and this is already the coolest place I’ve been.”

We arrived at the hotel (where Young One declared the public bathroom “too fancy” to use), and got settled. Then we started to look for dinner. And that’s when Young One said she was cold.

 Mind you, it was 100+ degrees outside.

She had a fever.

Well, that immediately threw a wrench in the works. We had planned to go down to the Washington Monument and see the Apollo Landing presentation and the projection of the Apollo on the Monument. Clearly, we could not do that as a family. Luckily, we were only about 10 minutes walk from the Monument, and the presentation was repeated three times. So I went to the first one and my husband went to the last one, while our poor sick child slept in her luxurious king sized bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night was long for me. My own cough kept me awake, and then in the other bed Young One would start whimpering in her sleep. When that happened, I went to her bed and lay next to her feverish little body until she quieted.

At 8 AM Sunday, Young One woke us up and said she felt fine, so “Let’s go!”. A hurried breakfast, filling up water bottles, and off we went into the day that would eventually reach 100+ degrees. We passed the Washington Monument (closed for renovations), and stopped at the World War II Monument (where we put our feet in the cooling fountain pool), the Martin Luther King Memorial (and took refuge in the attached air-conditioned book store), the Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Washington Monument

WWII Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily many of the walkways are shaded, and there was a breeze. The walk back from the Lincoln Memorial past the Reflecting Pool was not bad, and we made another stop at the World War II Memorial to cool off our burning feet. Then we had a long, non-shaded trek back past the Washington Monument (with a glimpse of the White House) on our way to the American History Museum. Inside the cool building, we had lunch, and it was at that point that Young One’s fever came back. Luckily, I had fever meds with me, and she took it. Since we had time to kill before heading to our BnB, we “did” the museum, finding the two artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition that Young One especially wanted to see.

Reflecting Pool

WWII Memorial Pool

White House

 

 

We traveled to our BnB and got settled. A burning hot child curled up next to me on the sofa and slept until her fever broke. The rest of our family arrived a bit later. We had dinner and Young One seemed okay, and we hoped the worst had passed. Then I rubbed my eye and it exploded in pain, mucus, and redness. I had little time to wonder what the heck was going on because by bedtime Young One’s fever had returned.

Another night of me going to her multiple times between my own coughing bouts passed. Monday dawned and she slept late. Eventually she woke up and we gave her some fever meds. Soon she was feeling okay and we made our way to the Capitol Building for our scheduled tour time. Young One did well until the very end, when she was shaking with cold as her fever climbed again. More meds, a terribly long walk back to the Metro (wherein she asked to rest several times and we didn’t always say yes) and thence to Urgent Care—both for her and for me, because my eye was no better and my ear had begun hurting.

Capitol Building

 

 

 

Urgent Care gave us the news: Young One had bronchitis and pneumonia, and I had pink eye and an ear infection. As we emerged from Urgent Care, my daughter piled on the guilt, “I TOLD you I needed  to rest when walking today!” Urgent Care sent us to Children’s National Hospital ER to have them look at the pneumonia. We got antibiotics and went back to the BnB for another restless night.

Tuesday the others did things, but Young One and I stayed home and nursed our illnesses. My husband ran to get the prescriptions filled and we watched several movies as a family to pass the time. Tuesday night was another long night with a fever roller coaster for the child.

Wednesday morning we all started packing to leave. Young One helped by drinking water, having a coughing fit, and throwing the water back up. Finally, we were all packed and on the road. We arrived home mid-afternoon, and we unpacked. Then I, with my aching ear and laryngitis, went to a Freeholders meeting to give a speech to try to save my daughter’s pool. The meeting went long and I got home near ten o’clock. Then I put my sick Young One to bed and lay with her until she fell asleep.

And that’s why there was no post on Thursday.

We did see some neat things in Washington D.C., and we will certainly return to do the things we didn’t get to do this time around. Once the trauma of the illnesses fade into the background, I think we will have some good memories of this trip.

Have you ever been to Washington D.C.? What was your favorite place to see there?

Speak Up: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

I am one of those parents you see at the polls with their kid on election day. I have often taken my daughter with me to vote. I have brought her to visit a Congressman’s office. I have included her in my run for the Board of Education. I have let her read my letters to the editor. I have had her with me at a Freeholder’s meeting as we protested the closure of her pool.

It may seem silly to some people, to involve a 9 year old in events like this. How much, really, can she grasp of what’s going on? Someone said to me, “None of it will probably make a difference, so why bother?”

Why bother?

I bother so my daughter sees me participate in the most valuable of rights in America–the right to vote.

I bother so my daughter sees that our duty as citizens does not end in the voting booth, but requires us to hold those elected accountable, and remind them they serve us, we the people.

I bother so my daughter sees an average, every day woman running for office.

I bother so that my daughter sees how to use the freedom of the press to use her freedom of speech.

I bother so my daughter sees her mother standing up and speaking out in front of those in power.

I bother so that when her turn comes, she will remember. And she will speak out. And she will stand up. And she will teach her children to do the same.

I bother because democracy is not a spectator sport. I cannot ask others to fight for what I value while I sit back in silence.

So, yes, maybe my single voice won’t make a difference. But, sometimes, my voice, and your voice, and that person’s voice, and that one’s…sometimes all of our voices together, can make that difference.

And that is a wonderful lesson in democracy to teach my daughter.

Eating Away at Characters

As I sat in the dentist’s office as my daughter got her cavities filled, I thought about the types of things eating away at people, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Physically, disease eats away at people. Think cancer or dementia or autoimmune problems. Those things quietly gnaw away at the person, stealing pieces of them as they progress.

Emotionally, everyone has their demons. Jealousy or anger or fear. Sometimes these emotions run unseen, deep underground, eroding the person from within.

Spiritually, people wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, or frustration, or failure. They may feel stuck, or like their dreams are dead. This daily numbing of the spirit can lead to apathy and just going through the motions.

The hidden problems that eat away at people on a daily basis are interesting to apply to characters. We all try and give our characters at least one major flaw, usually one they have to overcome by the end of the story, but I know I don’t often think too deeply beyond that. A smaller, repressed undercurrent running through the whole book layers the character and makes them more authentic.

For instance, suppose your character has always resented how easily their sibling seems to accomplish anything they set out to do, while they struggle and get nowhere. This resentment explode at some inopportune moment in the plot. It’s an extra layer of tension bubbling away under the surface the entire story.

Examining the unseen elements eating away at our characters will add nuance and depth to the characters and the story. Hopefully the story events will clean out and fill these demons gnawing away at the character—just like with my daughter’s cavities.

Happy 4th of July 2019! Politicians and Patriotism

Leading up to this 4th of July, I have been involved in trying to save the pool where my daughter swims. In the course of that journey, we have spoken with all sorts of politicians–County Freeholders, State Assemblymen, and our federal Congressman.

I think it is amazing that we live in a country where we have access to our government officials. Too many people don’t take advantage of that openness to let officials know what they want, what issues are important to them.

We vote in our representatives, but our duty as citizens doesn’t end there. We should tell them what they are doing we like, and what we don’t like. If they are unapproachable in person in their offices, go to public meetings or call or email the offices. People think of doing this when the official is the opposite party from them, but it is perhaps as important to hold the official you voted for to his or her promises. Letters to the editor can also gain a politician’s attention, as they have people who check the media every day.

Democracy is not a passive form of government. We all must not only vote, but pay attention to what the politicians are doing once they are in office. Because (shocker!) some tell us what we want to hear to get elected, and then do the opposite once in power. If they break their promises, we need to let them know, and vote them out if needed.

The thought of speaking to a county or state or federal representative intimidates a lot of people. It’s understandable. We often have to meet them on their terms in their centers of power. But guess what? They are just people, no better than you and me. And guess what else? They work for us. If they don’t work to make things better for us, we can fire them at the ballot box.

So this 4th of July, I am thankful for living in a country where I can make my voice heard. I hope you all speak up and stand up for what you believe in, and remind our elected officials who their bosses really are.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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