star light, star bright

My default entertainment in the car is to listen to NPR, a habit I only dial away from if I’m tired and need a livelier beat, have heard the segment already, or during Christmas season when I can’t get enough of my favorite yule time carols. It isn’t my sole news source, but it’s safer than checking my twitter feed while driving, except, of course, when the tear-inducing StoryCorps airs. Now that can be hazardous.

Last week, I was en route to yoga when a piece came on about the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve in Ireland. I turned up the volume. What is a dark sky reserve? I learned it’s a place, public or private land of 173,000 acres or larger, possessing “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment.” There are three such designated places in the world, and the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve is the only one in the Northern Hemisphere.

I wanted to close my eyes and picture a place where stars are vivid, but that would have born a set of complications I decided best not to risk behind the wheel. As I listened to Ari Shapiro interview the local Irish woman who spearheaded the recent dark sky designation in Kerry, I felt the enthusiasm in her voice the same as I feel the passion of a radio broadcaster calling a baseball game. Sight unseen, I put a visit to the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve at the top of my dream travel list. I want to see the Milky Way, more shooting stars than I can count, a full moon unfettered by urban light pollution.

Once my car was safely in park, I googled images of the reserve. It’s even better than I imagined. While I know pictures don’t do it justice, I ogle them daily. I can’t explain why this reserve, why these stars, call to me. Nor do I know when the opportunity will arise to visit them, but I have to before their brilliance is diminished. After all, we’re melting the glaciers, clogging the oceans with plastic bottles, and confusing our own pineal glands with too much light, so it isn’t a stretch to presume some day we’ll ruin the last vestiges of dark sky too. I’m determined to get there before that happens.

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on 45

There’s nothing like Facebook to remind you it’s your birthday.

Who am I kidding? I never forget this day, nor do I let anyone else forget either. I blame my eagerness on being born in December and a lifetime of receiving Christmas cards (back when people used to do that sort of thing) that read “P.S. Happy Birthday.”

At a certain age, people dread turning older, but really, what’s the alternative? Gray hair I can handle, I mean, fix until it’s no longer graceful to do so. Fine lines add character (right?) and while my metabolism has slowed a little (okay, a lot) my energy levels haven’t. So I can’t look at food without gaining weight? I’m older, but stronger and hopefully wiser.

I started today off with a vinyasa flow class taught by one of my favorite teachers. It’s a warm day for December in the Mid Atlantic, and the sky is blue and clear. My friend Jane said I should ask for what I want today because who can say no on such a beautiful day. With that thought in mind, I’m going to make a few agent queries. The boys will be home from school soon, and we’ll eat celebratory ice cream sundaes before dinner because why not? I’ll cap off tonight with another yoga class from my other favorite teacher. After class, a nightcap with dear friends.

I plan to be up early tomorrow to embrace another day, another chance to do the things that bring me joy and surround myself with those I love.

Who needs presents?

a year in good reads

You can’t be a good writer without being a voracious reader, and I take the book stack on my bedside table seriously. I find there’s practically no better way to overcome writer’s block than to pick up a book and lose yourself in its pages. Love the book or hate it, there is inspiration to be found in other people’s words. In fact, I so disliked one recently read book (which I will not mention because I do not want to author-bash) that I just had to get back to the computer and write because if that book got published, surely mine stands a chance.

Anyway, 2014 was undeniably a good year for reading enthusiasts. My absolute favorite book of the year was ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. This book is an achingly beautiful interwoven tale of a blind French girl and young Nazi boy during World War II. I can’t even begin to do it justice with a plot description so just take my word for it and put it on your Christmas list now. And I mean, now now.

A close second was STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel. I picked a good time (shortly after the Ebola panic subsided) to read this novel about the end of most of humanity due to a highly contagious flu. Contrary to what you might think, there is nothing about this book that is hysteria-inducing. In fact, the death of ninety-nine percent of humans is very matter of fact; it’s how the remaining one percent connect to each other as they move on with life, love, religion and the arts that sucks you in and leaves you turning page after page, well past a reasonable bedtime hour.

EUPHORIA by Lily King and A LIFE IN MEN by Gina Frangello (both profiled in my summer reading list) rank in my top five, and rounding out the top is REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS by debut novelist Bret Anthony Johnson. This heart wrenching account of the upheaval a family endures after their kidnapped son is found and returned to them left me sleepless and teary. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make you want to run out and grab a copy, but you should.

As the last days of December tick down, I’m sad there are still so many books on my TBR list that I won’t get to before 2015 and its slate of offerings. EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng, THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan, and THE PAYING GUESTS by Sarah Waters would all be great finds under my Christmas tree and would quickly jump to the top of the pile of books currently awaiting my eyes.

 

 

whoops, I wrote a second novel

So this funny thing happened as I was pitching my first novel to literary agents… One day over the summer, exhausted yet unfulfilled after sending out a round of queries, all of which take time to research and must be personalized to suit the requirements of the agent being pursued, I thought to myself, “I need to write something more creative than a letter.”

Two days later, the idea for a second novel was born.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I fired off a quick 25,000 words. But then I stalled. I was away for much of August, and while I wrote a little while I was gone, I was not as prolific as I hoped to be.

In September, I began working with the Virtual Writer Workshop, a small online community of writers who embraced me into their fold. Every two weeks, my group shared up to 7,000 words which the other members of the group critiqued. I don’t know about you, but I find my writing improves when I’m critiquing others. It’s easier to see your own weaknesses through the lens of another writer’s good prose. Under the pressure of deadlines and encouragement from my group members, I wrote above and beyond the workshop goals. Through this process, I figured out how I wanted to end the novel, and then I wrote the heart of the story with that ending in mind.

Two weeks ago, I sent the completed first draft of novel #2 out to a small group of beta readers, kind volunteers who will provide feedback on everything from misplaced commas to structural flaws with the plot. One of those beta readers is a writer I met through the workshop. She got “hooked” (her words) on my story, and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks after reading it beginning to end.

In the meantime, waiting for feedback is hard (I’m impatient) so I’ve taken a break from the story to work on other projects. I plan to pick it back up with fresh eyes and new perspective once the critiques are in. My ultimate goal is to have an agent-ready manuscript by the end of January. Ambitious, but doable.

“Has she given up on novel #1?” I can feeling you asking. Never. But I’ve heard from more than one author that often the first book you write isn’t the first published. In my humble opinion, the super secret plot structure of novel #2 is more unique than the love triangle at the core of novel #1. So I’ll shift my focus to the second book, and if an agent nibbles, guess what? I have a second manuscript (novel #1) waiting in the wings. The second book also lends itself to a sequel. Hey, writing novel #3  may well be to pitching novel #2 what writing novel #2 was to pitching novel #1.

What am I waiting for? Maybe I’ll just start writing now.

 

the midlife crisis

Shifting gears, I have a story. Maybe more of a mission. But first the story.

The other day, I was catching up with a friend. He asked what I’d been up to lately, and I started to tick off my list of ventures: I started my own one-woman consulting firm, wrote two novels, and am in the middle of a yoga teacher training program.

“Oh, right,” he said. “Yoga teacher training. That’s like a respectable midlife crisis for professional women these days.”

I laughed, but then I started to think about his words. I guess when you look at it on paper, my life the last year does contain the classic symptoms of a midlife crisis. But I’ve been so happy, fulfilled and mostly grounded; I haven’t for one minute felt any sense of crisis. (Except the fives days between finding out my COBRA coverage had been terminated and when it was reinstated. But that was more emergency than crisis.)

I digress.

Hours after this coffee-yoga-midlife conversation, I started to wonder: why do we call a change in the direction of one’s life a crisis? I made a mental list of the actions I have been guilty of attributing to midlife angst and honestly, I think we have it all wrong. The man who buys a high performance sports car? Maybe he’s been driving a grocery getter for twenty years, a vehicle that fit his three kids plus all their requisite accoutrements. And now he has not only the freedom to buy a smaller car, but the income. Changing jobs? Why not explore a profession that ignites your passion instead of sticking doggedly to the one you chose in your (perhaps) misguided youth? Getting in shape? Seems like a pragmatic thing to do as one ages and the body needs more attention. Divorce? Okay, it’s sad when a couple breaks up, but maybe the marriage had been eroding for years. Maybe the couple was waiting for their children to finish college. Maybe they fell out of love.

What I’m trying to say is that while in some cases, midlife can be scary and compel people to make bold moves, in a number of instances, the crisis is an exploration of one’s untapped talent or long-held dreams. The crisis is a realization you were meant for something else. The crisis is grounded in the wisdom of age and experience. Perhaps it’s a crisis because those on the outside are uncomfortable with change. Or they wish they had the guts to do the same.

Whatever the case, I propose the midlife crisis needs a rebrand. Maybe we call it a midlife awakening or midlife exploration. In fact, screw the “midlife” modifier all together. None of us knows how long we’ll live, thus it’s impossible to designate a midlife point accurately anyway.

Yes, I started a consulting firm, wrote two novels and am on a journey toward becoming a yoga teacher. These actions reflect who I am inside and out. If I add a convertible or a young boyfriend to the mix, don’t whisper about my crises but celebrate my ability to navigate life so that I’m on the right path for me in the present moment. And I will do the same for you, no matter the make and model of car you purchase.

on rape

I never thought I’d use the word ‘rape’ in a blog title, but all other attempts to name this post rang false.

Like others, I was horrified when I read the Rolling Stone article on sexual abuse allegations at the University of Virginia. I wanted to throw up. Instead, I cried. The next day I had a conversation with my thirteen-year old son about the importance of sexual consent even though in his esteem, girls just recently stopped having cooties.

I was dismayed when it was revealed last week that the “heart” of the Rolling Stone story, the very personal account of one woman who alleged to be gang raped by seven fraternity brothers, turned out to have discrepancies. My first thought was, “here society goes again, doubting the victim.” After all, it seems perfectly understandable that time stood still for her. She blacked out on certain details. Maybe she got the night of the party wrong. Or the fraternity in question tried to save its own skin by denying a party was registered for that night. Whether she was gang raped or not, the Rolling Stone fact checkers should be fired, and whether she was gang raped or not, now few will believe her story. Lost in the fallout of shoddy journalism is that the University of Virginia was already under investigation before the story ran for alleged violations of federal laws governing how the school receives and handles sexual violence and harassment charges. Lost in the fallout is that a young woman was most likely assaulted, though we may never know how, by whom and to what extent.

Sadly she doesn’t stand alone.

How many cases go unreported because no one wants the scrutiny of recounting a horrible story? When I was in college, I was date raped, though really, what does this term mean? Does knowing your attacker make it a lesser crime? Are those who are taken by force by someone they are “dating” less traumatized? Twenty-three years later, I still remember his saying to me after as his sweaty body collapsed on top of mine: “Thank God you didn’t mean it when you said no.” In the years that followed, I questioned myself. Had I sent the wrong signal? Did I not reject his advances forcefully enough? Was it my fault for having too much to drink? For making out with him? Flirting? Was my dress too short? I tortured myself with these questions; it took me years to accept that nothing I did gave him permission to take what he took.

The point is, crimes of a sexual nature are horrific, hard to prove and more widespread than we think. Only the victim can truly speak to what happened, and yet who wants to say anything when absent a rape kit, it’s her word against his? I didn’t bear the bruises of struggle. If the police had questioned my friends, they would have delivered a very different account of what happened because in the immediate aftermath, I was embarrassed to admit the truth. Even my best friend didn’t know the full story until years later.

Offenders walk among us, and it’s a helpless feeling. It’s too late for me to accuse my attacker, but I can teach my boys how to respect others and impart on them that sex should not only be consensual, but pleasurable for their future, long time from now partners. And journalists reporting on this sensitive subject can and must do a better job at reporting full and accurate stories.