Holding Pattern

At certain times of my life, I have felt like something was just around the corner. Like a big change was coming. Sort of like the atmosphere just before a thunderstorm breaks, when things are calm but there’s an electricity in the air.

I feel a bit like that now, except that I shouldn’t. I have, in fact, already had changes in my life recently, the largest being the loss of my aunt and my taking on my position on the Board of Education. Yet I still feel this sense of waiting.

Perhaps what I am waiting for is a feeling within myself that something profound has happened. For it all to sink in, as it were. There is a line from Glenn Frey’s song You Belong to the City that I always liked, “So much has happened, but nothing has changed.”

Because isn’t that how it often is? The minutia of life continues without heeding your internal changes, or the changes in your external life. When my best friend died, I so clearly remember feeling detached from everything, looking around me wondering how people could be going about their lives like nothing had happened. Marveling that the deepest shift in my life to that date left most of the world completely unmarked.

Now it’s the opposite. I am the one moving through my life as if nothing is different, yet things have changed. I suppose it is part of the process, of finding a new balance. I imagine I will look back in 6 months and see the changes clearly. But for now the changes are incremental, so I don’t see them. Like how you don’t notice how tall your kid has gotten until someone else says it, because you see them every day.

So even though I feel like I am in a holding pattern, things are shifting. It will be interesting to see where the changing course takes me.

Mental Shutdown

Ever have one of those days (or a few) where your brain just doesn’t seem to want to work? Where your focus goes on vacation?

Yeah, that was me today.

That doesn’t mean I got nothing done. I did the things I had to. Put out the fires. Spent way too much time on Facebook. But it all got done with as little brainpower as possible.

I suppose I understand my brain’s checking out this week. It’s been a long, taxing month. Traveling over the holiday. Being sick as well. Starting my new position on the local Board of Education. My aunt dying. Traveling to her funeral. Coming home to the news a friend is very ill. The tenants in our rental house broke a water pipe.

It’s been a stressful month.

But I know how this works. The fuzziness of grief and shock will pass. The exhaustion of stress and illness will fade. And I will be able to think clearly again, work efficiently and find my creativity.

I will need to, because I have to turn in my YA manuscript rewrite to my editor in February.

Hmm, maybe this next month won’t be as stress-free as I thought!

What stress-busters do you use to get your brain back on track?

RIP, Aunt Dolores

My Aunt Dolores passed away this week. While she had been in declining health for a few months, the end came rather abruptly. She leaves behind 6 children, 11 grandchildren, and 6 great-grands and counting. Also, she leaves behind my mother, her last remaining sibling.

My aunt was something of a grandmother figure to me. My Nana—her and my mother’s mom—died when I was only 4 years old. So I really have no memories of her. My aunt was 19 years older than my mother, almost a full generation, so the parallel worked out.

I remember spending time at her house in Norristown when I was young. I stayed there when my brother was born. It was there that I learned to love Skippy peanut butter, causing many a spat with my Jif-brand loving mother. My aunt’s house was large, given that she had 6 kids, and I loved exploring what to me seemed a huge, rambling building. It was full of interesting knick-knacks and objects, a few of which made their way back to my house (with her permission) and I still have today.

We did Thanksgiving there as well, so I have the memories of boisterous family feasts (which have only gotten larger and more boisterous as the years passed). As an introverted child with only one sibling, the energy of a large family was somewhat overwhelming, but the love and welcome and warmth could not be missed. My cousins inherited my aunt’s generous spirit, and they go out of their way to help and support each other and to contribute to the wider community. I want to be like them when I grow up.

I’ll be honest, my aunt kinda scared me when I was little. She seemed so stern and strict, but I guess when you’re raising 6 kids and your husband travels a great deal for work, you have to lay down the law or go crazy. As I got older and got to know her better, I learned of her wit, wisdom, and humor, and met the real woman behind the stern aunt.

My aunt could talk. And talk. And talk. You could be on the phone with her for 2 hours and only manage to say 5 words. For an introvert like me, she was a godsend. If you stood near her at a family gathering, you never had to say a word. I believe she inherited this superpower from my Nana, although I obviously do not know from personal experience.

All that talking, though, brought to the forefront another amazing ability: her memory. I have never known anyone who had such tremendous recall of people and events from decades ago. Granted, this often meant she talked to me about people I had no idea who they were, but I still found the stories of her life fascinating. And as I grew more interested in family history, her memory was often the key to figuring out people and events in the past. My mother was so much younger than my aunt that Aunt Dolores knew ancestors better and more personally, so she was often a valuable source of information.

My Aunt Dolores was a loquacious, vivacious, generous woman to whom family was everything. She faced her not always easy life with grace and strength, and nurtured a family I am proud to be a part of and who I see as an example of what a family should be. She was a woman of strong opinion, of courage, and of faith, and she will be missed by many.

My mother is now the last of her generation, and I cannot imagine how lonely that must feel. My aunt was a fixture in my life, my godmother as well, and I still have not processed that she is no longer sitting in her living room on Long Island, watching her late night TV shows and opining on the state of the world today. My aunt was 91, and she was content to go, but that does not make her loss any easier for those left behind.

We miss you and love you, Aunt Dolores.

New Year 2020

Happy New Year to everyone out there! I sincerely hope that 2020 brings you all good things.

My own year is shaping up to be interesting. I was elected in November to the local school board, and I take office next week. I know I have much to learn, but I look forward to learning and helping our school thrive.

I also have some challenges on the writing front. This year I want to get my illustrated version of The Witch of Zal out. I also want to find homes for some of my other works. I have the first draft of The Witch of Zal’s sequel written, so I want to get to polishing that up, too.

I prefer to call them goals rather than resolutions. Psychological semantics, maybe, but I tend not to accomplish resolutions and usually accomplish my goals. Perhaps because when I think of them as goals I am more realistic and tend to choose goals that are mostly within my control. Resolutions I choose things I’m never going to achieve, even though I would like to—and I know this because my resolutions seemed to always be the same, which means I never actually accomplished them! So instead of setting myself up for failure, I am aiming for actual achievable targets.

I wish you success in 2020. I hope you find health, happiness, and satisfaction in this New Year.

The Goose’s Quill Top 10 Posts of 2019

I always like to see what my readers responded to in the past year. I found a mixed bag this year, from writing-related posts, to personal celebrations, to the on-going drama of my daughter’s fish tank. In case you missed any, here are the 10 most popular posts of 2019:

10. A Successful, Grateful Book Launch for The Witch of Zal

9. A Muddy Revision Slog

8. Three Benefits of Reading to Older Children

7. Revision Difficulty? Maybe It’s Your Theme

6. The Fish Saga Continues: RIP Gem

5. Celebrating 50 Years!

4. Considering a Social Media Break

3. On Being a Low-Energy Person in a High-Energy World

2. Book Fair Magic: Casting a Reading Spell

And my number one post of 2019:

1. Speak Up: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

I hope you all enjoyed this look back at 2019! May your holiday season be happy and safe, and I will see you all back here in 2020!

The Irony of Christmas Peace

The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. It’s not the gifts, it’s just something in the air. A joy, a residual magic that lingers from childhood.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was crawl in between the tree and our schrank and read by the lights of the tree. Secluded and bathed in the colored lights, it was a quiet time to bask in contentment.

An irony of the Christmas season is that while we wish peace on earth to everyone, we are often running around stressed, and peace is hard to find. As an adult, if we have a partner, we often juggle multiple family obligations, and if we are parents there’s a whole other level of Christmas crazy. If you are also a classic introvert, like me, the constant rounds of parties, dinners, and gatherings, while enjoyable, exhausts your inner resources.

So I hope this season you can find some peace, some time to relax and recharge.

I wish everyone peace and joy during this season and all year round. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

NJASL 2019

My last book event for 2019 is now behind me. It was the annual New Jersey Association of School Librarians conference, this year held in East Brunswick. I normally only go for one day of the event, but as it was relatively close to me, I decided to do both days.

I love hanging out with fellow authors and chatting with the many dedicated librarians who come to the conference. I always learn something and feel buoyed by being with people who love books as much as I do!

We share tables at this conference, and this year I had a different partner each day. On Monday I sat with Suzanne Morris, a debut picture book author, whose book A Trapezoid Is Not A Dinosaur! is both a book about shapes and an engaging story about trying to fit in and being accepted for who you are.

On Tuesday I sat with Laurie Morrison, middle grade author of Every Shiny Thing and her new book Up For Air. (As an aside, I have Morrisons in my recent ancestry, but I don’t think we are connected.) We spent the first few hours trying to figure out why we both thought the other one was familiar. Finally, the answer hit us—the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference! Laurie had stepped in to teach a seminar when another presenter had cancelled, and I had taken her 3-day seminar.

Although the days can feel long sometimes, my fellow authors always help fill the time. We discussed kids, business plans, publishing in general, editors, and school visits, among other topics. I never walk away empty-handed, as I have usually gleaned new ideas or information and have made some new contacts.

Thanks, NJASL for the opportunity to talk with your amazing librarian members! I will see you next year!

And Then There Were None…RIP MiniSeashell

It’s been a while since we checked in with the adventures of our fish. Unfortunately, our fish tank sits empty at the moment, the last of its denizens having expired Dec 1st.

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, Glimmer and MiniSeashell were together in their tank, having dispatched their tank mate Seashell3 after just a few days.

Glimmer did not have much time to enjoy life in our house. We bought him and Mini in March 2018, and Glimmer died on November 27, 2018, while we were in North Carolina (our apologies to our fish-sitter, who had to endure the trauma of finding him dead and give him the appropriate funeral). Before we’d left for North Carolina, he had taken to hanging more vertically than horizontally. Young Owner said Glimmer “wants to be a mermaid.” Unfortunately, this was the same sort of bizarre behavior the two fish that died of tumors exhibited prior to their tumors becoming obvious, so I suspect he was ill with something similar. It was not a large surprise that he expired when he did.

So that left MiniSeashell. You may remember that he was called Mini because he was not much larger than the top part of my pinkie when we bought him. I tried my hardest to get Young Owner to pick a different fish, because I was sure he would die on the ride home. He didn’t, and eventually grew to normal guppy size, even though his tail fins remained so translucent that I often had to check very closely to make sure his tail was not succumbing to the fin rot that claimed another of our fish.

Mini was an odd fish from the start. Most fish, when you drop food in the tank, swarm it like they haven’t eaten in years, and hoover it up like a vacuum. Not Mini. He apparently thought he was a shark, because he stalked his food. He would hide under the plant leaves, then dart to the top and snag a piece, pulling it under like Jaws. Alternatively, he would wait for the flakes to drop lower and lower and grab the pieces when they fell to his level. Perhaps this odd way of eating (he did this even with tank mates present) explains why he was so small in the main fish tank at the pet store. There probably wasn’t much that escaped the school and got to him.

He was also an introvert. I know, I know, guppies are social fish, they like to have a school. And all our other ones did. When we got down to a single fish, that fish would sulk, not swimming around, just hanging out, clearly distressed. Not so with Mini. He seemed to enjoy having the tank to himself, swimming around happily, coming to the front of the tank to see what we were up to, and stalking his food with no competition. We decided that as long as he was acting happy, we would not get new tank mates for him, because we were afraid that new fish might bring a disease, which is what we think killed Seashell3 when we introduced Glimmer and Mini into the tank with him.

So he lived a happy life alone in his tank. The morning of December 1st, I noticed him acting odd. When I dropped in the food, he didn’t come out of hiding to take up his usual stalking positions. I wiggle the plant he had hidden in, and he popped out for a moment, then went right back in. My heart dropped, because his bright orange scales looked dimmer to me—which often happens right before a fish expires. Later that night, we went to get the Christmas decorations down, and I went to check on him. I couldn’t find him. We ended up taking most of the plants out before we found him, dead.

Young Owner cried a lot, which surprised me, as she took most of the other fish deaths (his was #8) in stride. But she said he was special, and she loved him, and that she would watch him in the morning and it would make her late for school. And that he was the only one who understood her. So I guess MiniSeashell had meant more to her than I had thought. Still, the guppy lifespan is about 18 months, and he lived with us for 19 months, so he had a full life, and a tranquil one.

MiniSeashell in September

RIP Glimmer and Mini.

Their story is ended, but I am sure the fish saga will continue…

NaNoWriMo 2019: Week 3

When I started this project, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to week 3. It’s a difficult thing, trying to write 1,667 words a day when you have multiple other responsibilities. But I surprised myself by managing to stay on top of things.

Until this week. This week killed me. I have been so busy with other obligations that I have had to schedule time to breathe. Write words? Forget it! I’ve lost 2 days to zeros and am likely to lose one more.

All is not lost, however. November 21st (today) is 3 weeks. If you wrote 1,667 words a day, you would have 35,007 words by the end of today. As of this writing, I stand at 37,007 words. So even with those 3 zero days this week, I am 2,000 words ahead. A little over a day’s work ahead. It just feels like I am falling behind because I am losing my cushion.

I should be able to keep up and hopefully forge further ahead in the coming days, as my schedule lightens considerably. Thanksgiving may well be another zero day, but hopefully I will be comfortably in the home stretch by then.

I’m also not trying for the 50,000, although if I do it will be icing on the cake. I am trying to get a first draft of this story. I figure I have about 8 more chapters at most, so that would put me short of the 50,000—maybe about 45,000. But as long as my last two words are THE END, I will count this as a success.

I will be writing over my holiday, as much as I can. I wish all my fellow authors some productive creative time, whether you are doing NaNo or not, and I wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving with friends and family.

NaNoWriMo 2019–hitting the wall

I told you all last week that I am unofficially doing National Novel Writing Month. Only I guess since I’ve announced it to all of you, it’s semi-official now. But I haven’t joined on their website, so it’s not official-official.

Anyway, I’m doing this thing. 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’m a bit shocked at how well I’ve been doing. I’m almost halfway there. As of Tuesday night, I was at 24,500 words. Cool, right? But then Wednesday I hit a wall. Kinda like a runner when they’re on that last few miles of a marathon.

I guess I should have expected a wall at some point. I am not an outliner, although I have a basic plan to follow for the book, and I’ll admit I am a tad unsure of where to go next. But I think my brain is also just tired. I mean, I just spewed 24,500 words out in 11 days.

That’s a lot of words.

It’s also cold as all get out here right now, so it’s perfect weather for curling up with a warm drink and a good book, not for pulling words out of your brain. On Wednesday I realized I wasn’t going to write. I scrolled Facebook, I fought with a webpage as I tried to make an appointment, and did other work–like this blog post and the links-roundup over on The Author Chronicles. So while I didn’t write any fiction words, it was overall a productive day.

Hopefully this “day off” will let me jump back into my manuscript today with some energy and push through that notoriously difficult middle of the story. They don’t call it the “sagging middle” or “muddy middle” for nothing, after all.

So that’s where I am in NaNoWriMo–a bit lost, a bit tired, but not giving up. Any other fellow NaNo writers out there? How are you doing? And if you’re not doing NaNo, what are you up to these days?

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