Falling in Love AGAIN

The goal of my life has been to fall in love as much as possible. I used to laughingly say that when I was dating (but I meant it) and even now that I’m very-happily married (is there anything nicer?), I still say it because it’s still true.

I fall in love ALL the time. I fall in love with individuals (as friends, as crushes, as mentors). I fall in love with groups (my new mastermind writers’ group, IMPACT self-defense). I fall in love with people I see waiting at bus stops and sitting in cafes. And obviously, I fall in love with all of my characters. Those last, actually, are usually a slower burn, now that I think about it. Normally I write most of a first draft before I can see them clearly. I’m irritated with them until that moment, and then bam, I’m in mad-delirious love, even with the problem characters.

I fall in love with activities, too: square-foot gardening! Bread baking! Straw-bale gardening! Minimizing! Spinning! Running! Ukulele! Accordion!

I have two brand new loves, and they couldn’t be more different. One is physical and loud, one is introspective and quiet. Both are beautiful.

Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo is a Hawaiian hybrid mixed-martial art, made up of a mishmash of KArate, JUjitso, KENpo, and BOxing. It’s pretty high contact (meaning: hitting! kicking!) and very high intensity. It’s gorgeous, a blend of dancing and fighting, and the Oakland kwoon (school) is just as incredible: a mix of races, genders, and sexual orientations. It feels safe that way. It’s okay to have a girl tummy (big and squooshy and sexy) and fight, too.

The thing is: I’m bad at it. I love things that I’m automatically and quickly good at. The arts tend to come quickly to me. Anything physical is harder, and this is SO physical. Last Thursday night, I wanted to run away. My beginning class was with a substitute, and I wasn’t following her language as well as I did our normal teacher, and it was a millionty degrees in the room, and I just kept thinking, “I could leave. I know no one here. No one but Twitter knows I’m trying to do this. I won’t tell them I left! No one has to know!”

But I want to be someone who says, “I’m a martial artist,” instead of someone who says, “I’d love to be a martial artist.” So I stayed. And I’ll keep going. I’m stubborn, thankfully.

And I love the way I feel afterward. I have yoga-eyes when I get out, if that makes sense to you. All floppy and happy, top down on the car on the way home and even more in love with the overhead moon than I was before.

(I just remembered — I don’t know where it came from but when I was little, I had a serious phobia of substitute teachers. My first act of the school day was always to find the yard-monitor teacher and tug on her dress to ask her if my teacher was there that day. If she said no or that she wasn’t sure, I usually threw up. This is true. Apparently I still get nervous around substitutes. Luckily, I didn’t vomit, but it was touch and go there for a minute.)

Alabama Chanin 

I know I’m the last to this party, but PEOPLE. I’m in LOVE.

Clothes, made by hand (every little bit, every stitch), to fit, in jersey (because we all live in jersey, or want to). I went to hear Natalie Chanin speak at A Verb for Keeping Warm last week, and I tried on the clothes in the trunk show. Completely unembellished, those clothes fit me better and looked better than anything ever has. I felt like I’d finally found my true style. When your aforementioned soft belly feels like it’s wearing PJs but you know you could go from the office to the garden and then to a party and look great at all the places? Hello. Come to me, darling.

I was a bit worried, getting started. The only crafting thing I hate to do is sew by hand, so I’m not sure why I was so sure I’d love the reverse appliqué method. But I was pretty dang sure I would. Then I started, and I remembered that I’ve always loved embroidery, and that’s all this is. You’re using embroidery methods to hold fabric together. How cool is that?

This is the stencil I cut from felt (using the Blooomers stencil in her first book).

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I’m making a 4-gore skirt from thrifted XXXL T-shirts. I cut the eight pieces (two layers) and painted the top layer with fabric paint:

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This is an afternoon of Gilmore Girls, more than half a gore’s worth of stitching accomplished.

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Eventually, I’ll cut out the middles, like in this swatch:

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Ain’t she stunning?

Next week I expect I’ll be obsessed with deep-sea crabbing or ice surfing or something. (Never fear, I’m still in love with writing and knitting. Those remain constant. Hey, in case you missed it, A Life in Stitches* is currently $1.99 in most e-versions! Grab it while you can, if you haven’t read my memoir. Plenty of falling in love there, too. Send one to a friend! Cheaper than buying her a cup of coffee!)

What are you in love with right now?

*affil link

 

Knitting for Bethany

This is to mark my place.

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I’m knitting a sweater for my sister, Bethany. I thought it was such a clever idea. For her birthday, I presented her with a gift certificate for a Custom Fit sweater. It’s great — have you used it yet? You enter your exact sizes, put in the details from your swatch, and whammo. Sweater time. Amy Herzog is genius.

I had a plan: I would measure my sister, she would choose the yarn, and bam, she’d have a new sweater in next to no time. After all, I’m quite a fast knitter. *blows dust off invisible knitting badge*

She loved the idea. We even went to the yarn store to pick out some yarn (which I was going to buy later — the store didn’t have enough in stock). I was going to measure her really soon.

Then I forgot for a year and a half.

A YEAR AND A HALF. What a jerk.

I’ve ticked off way too many people with this forgetful brain of mine. Bethany loves me (and when I wailed, WHY DIDN’T YOU REMIND ME? she said something nice like I knew you were busy) and forgave me. I know she’s not even mad at me.

But I’m damn aware that it hurts when someone you love doesn’t make you feel special. I think I might owe her a couple of sweaters now. Man, I’ve been feeling so lucky in love and family and friends lately. I love that feeling. It kind of knocks my pins right out from under me–that I get such amazing people in my life, that they choose ME and I choose them right back.

I’d like to forget more things (laundry soap, paper towels, oil changes) and remember more people, my people, who are the reason for everything.

So this post serves to remind me that I have a sweater to knit. And socks to send to Linda. And books to mail to Diane. And marmalade to make for a couple of people (oops).

I have probably forgotten a lot, yes, but I haven’t forgotten you. 

Breathing is Great!

You know I like life-changing things, be they marathons or new jobs or wacky eating habits. But this one may take the cake for being most AWESOME.

Let’s back up to: I was having difficulty concentrating on writing. Like, a LOT of difficulty. It got to the point I went back to the psychologist to get re-diagnosed with ADHD so I could get some meds to help me focus. (I’m on hyperactive side of ADHD, if you hadn’t noticed. Diagnosed at about 5 years old, still running hyper these many years later.)

Ah, you say, life-changing. Sure, Ritalin. 

But that’s not it! (Ritalin is very helpful — it’s like aspirin, only used when needed, which is only when writing, and only on days when I just can’t stay in my seat long enough to get to the end of a single sentence without wiggling to the floor like a dancing squirrel.)

Here’s the zinger: The psychologist said, “Do you have apnea?”

“No, I have insomnia.”

“Is it caused by apnea?”

“No, I don’t snore. I just wake up every ten minutes all through the night, but not because I’m gasping for air or anything. It’s just simple insomnia, I think. That’s what the other doctors have told me.”

“Apnea and ADHD can be related sometimes. Might be where your migraines are coming from, too. Go get tested.”

So I did. And I have it. (Mild apnea — I stop breathing between 5 and 15 times an hour, for 10-30 seconds at a time.)

One month ago, I got a CPAP. Yep, one of those crazy mask thingies (only mine is only a nose pillow, very low-profile. I still feel like the dude in Mad Max with it on).

Honestly, I was surprised at how scared I was to try wearing it. See, it blows air into your nose. When you’re asleep and your palate falls, obstructing your breathing, the machine blows air harder to open it and you start breathing again, rather than what happens naturally (your heart beats faster and harder to make up for the lack of oxygen until you wake up with a gasp (or, in my case, no gasp) and start breathing again — this is, obviously, very bad for the heart and blood pressure over time).

But with the nasal mask, you have keep your mouth closed, or the air goes in your nose and RIGHT OUT YOUR MOUTH, none of it reaching your lungs. When I asked what would happen if I accidentally opened my mouth while I asleep, my too-cavalier respiratory tech said, “Well, you’ll suffocate. But that will wake you up.”

This did not inspire confidence.

But even though the first few minutes were stressful (I actually started hiccuping from fear, something I’ve never done before), it turns out that sleeping with a CPAP is AMAZING. The first night was all right — I slept a bit — and the next few nights were a bit rough as I trudged sleepily around the learning curves (wrapping the tube around my neck, waking to the mask blowing my eyeballs dry), but on the fifth night, I hit sleep nirvana.

I just slept and slept and slept. And slept some more. I slept without waking up for hours at a time. (Keep in mind, I usually sleep for ten or fewer minutes at a time. To wake up hours later? Oh, my god. The best.)

And THIS IS THE BIGGEST NEWS:

In the month of using the CPAP? I haven’t had one full-blown migraine.

Not one. 

I had the start of a migraine for two days, but both days I was able to fight it off with medication.

This is a bloody miracle. Lately I’ve been fighting migraines at least once every two or three days and losing the fight at least twice a month.

Things I’ve done to relieve my migraines over the years:

  • Full hysterectomy (found out afterward I was allergic to estrogen, so I hit full menopause at 39)
  • Botox (lost the use of an eyebrow for 3 months but had very young-looking shoulders!)
  • Alternos: Acupuncture, yoga, meditation
  • Triptans – all
  • Triptylines – all
  • Medications – all: opioids, barbiturates, caffeine, NSAIDs – if it exists, my doc has given it to me to try.
  • Supplements – all (including B2, butterbur, ginger, feverfew, magnesium, etc.)
  • Dietary changes – gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, paleo, no dairy, no sugar, no caffeine, no fun

It’s not possible that this whole time my migraines were triggered purely by sleep apnea. The cyclical migraines, for instance, stopped after my surgery. But the rest of them? Is it possible they’ve all been due to the fact that oxygen wasn’t reaching my brain and my brain was rebelling against that fact? (This would explain why I always got migraines after drinking—even a little bit of alcohol makes muscles relax even more than they normally would, exacerbating sleep apnea to a more dangerous level.)

Is it too early to get excited about this? Because if I could really get my life back… Check it out: usually when I get too tired, I get a migraine. Auto-trigger. But on Saturday, I worked eight hours, then flew to San Diego and went to the zoo all afternoon and evening, then went to see fireworks, and NO MIGRAINE.

I rate my headaches by level of pain. 10 is better-pick-out-a-casket. 1 is a lightly-stubbed toe. Most good days for the last few years have been 2 or 3.

Now I’m just zero, all the time. Lala keeps asking, “What are you at now?”

“STILL ZERO!”

And being zero means I’m running a hundred everywhere else. My energy is back. Instead of napping, I’ve been hiking in the afternoons. I’m writing my ass off, and not needing Ritalin to get it done. I’m just LIVING. And sleeping.

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Clementine, exhausted after big hike

It’s absolutely tremendous.

(I realize that writing about my migraines isn’t very exciting, but if someone in the future googles migraines and botox, for example, and comes up with possibly undiagnosed apnea and it helps them? Yay.)

PS – are you on my mailing list? I’ve been chatting about fun things on it, MUCH more exciting than migraine talk, I swear.

Why Saying “All Lives Matter” Sounds Racist

#BlackLivesMatter — that’s the conversation we’re having. The conversation is not #AllLivesMatter. I'm talking to you, my kind, liberal (and conservative!) friends who vote and eat college-educated meat and read the New York Times and believe gays should get married if they want to register at Target for a waffle iron they'll never use. You are against racism. I know. Let's talk about why #AllLivesMatter is just wrong. 

(If you left an “all lives matter” message on my Facebook, thank you, friend. I know what you meant by it, and I think you’re darling. Yes. We want all beings to be happy, safe, and well. People of all races, genders, and sexual orientations suffer harassment and deserve better. But we shouldn’t co-opt this particular message, and here’s why it can be dangerous and inherently racist to do so.)

The BlackLivesMatter movement was started by three queer black women. Their message was simple—

#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation…We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.

When we drop the word Black, we further the racist legacy of erasing black lives, something our country has always done. 

The conversation we are having this week is about the 9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emmanuel AME Church in a terrorist attack (defined as: the use of violence to intimidate a segment of a population in furtherance of a social objective). Edited to add: Even Fox news agrees

The conversation last week was about unarmed black children being held down forcefully when found to be in the wrong space. The conversation before that was about Tamir Rice. And before that, Michael Brown. And before that, Eric Garner. I won't go on, but of course, I could. 

“There are black people in America dying because of racism.” W. Kamau Bell, a comedian who lives in Oakland, said this six months ago. 

Kamau-Flour-face-good

In January, you may have heard, he was book shopping while his wife and child ate at a sidewalk cafe with some friends in Elmwood. He stopped by to show them the book he’d bought. He’s black. The women he was talking to were white. Let's make sure we understand this: 

He was a black man standing next to a table full of white women, talking to them. 

Then employees of the restaurant told him to scram. To git.

He was told to leave the property because he was a black man, harassing the white ladies. They tried to chase him away from his wife. 

He was recently on This American Life, talking about the community meeting he organized after this happened (worth a listen, or fascinating transcript here). 

At that meeting, UC Berkeley professor Nikki Jones asked everyone to think of the world in terms of black space and white space. She said that people have ideas about black space: that it’s poor, that it’s the ghetto. Just about everywhere else is white space.

And this: Black people have a special burden to bear when they are in white space—black people have to prove they are worthy of BEING in white space. 

How rare it is, she said, for white people to have that experience, of going into black space. 

Here’s where I puffed up with pride. I wanted to raise my hand, even though I was listening in my car. Me, call on me! I live in one of those so-called "bad" neighborhoods, a black neighborhood! When we moved here, people stared at us when we walked the dogs. They still do. I can count on two hands the times I’ve seen other white people walking in my neighborhood in the past nine years. 

That means I understood it more. By dint of where I live, I was—automatically—more sympathetic to the plight of black America because I saw more, witnessed more. 

But I was shaken to my core when Bell pointed out the obvious fact that I can leave whenever I want. 

I have a white passport. 

I had never thought this clearly about it. 

I live in a black neighborhood in Oakland, sure. This means precisely nothing. The fact remains that I can dive headfirst into white space (the grocery store, the sushi restaurant, the library) AT ANY MOMENT without anything to prove. I can go just about anywhere I want. Without being stopped, without being harassed, without being in danger. I belong. 

WHITE LIVES ALREADY MATTER. 

In our country, black people have to prove they deserve to exist in white space (and a hell of a lot of people don’t think they do).

If you’ve ever given a black man on the sidewalk an extra once-over just to make sure he’s not doing anything hinky, you’re guilty of this. I’m guilty of this. We’re guilty of this because, as Americans, racism is our legacy. 

I used to think I was better than most at understanding racism, at being sensitive to it, at not letting it anywhere near me. Let’s face it, we all tend to think we’re better than others—it’s a human failing, and maybe it’s what keeps us reaching to do better. But the real, painful truth is that I’m just accidentally privileged, by virtue of my skin color. 

Kadijah Means, an 18-year-old Oakland social activist said at Bell's community meeting: "Focus less on color blindness, because honestly, you're not going to get a gold star for that. Be more color competent."

That was my sin–thinking I could somehow become color blind if I just tried hard enough. Turns out I need more competence in the subject. So I implore you: Please think before you try to erase the word Black from this conversation. It NEEDS to be said.

BlackLivesMatter-AllLivesMatter

My mother was so proud she'd been witness to and a part of the Civil Rights movement. "We Shall Overcome" was, literally, one of the very first songs I ever learned from her. She would hate that I had to write this today, more than fifty years later. 

Black people are dying because of racism. Today. 

This has to change. We are the ones who have to effect that change. 

 

UPDATE:

I just watched a Ted talk by Jay Smooth, and I think he gets it right when he says that our own pockets of racism are not like tonsils, which you either have or don't have*. It's more like plaque on our teeth, something we all have to work on. We don't stop brushing our teeth because we're already clean. I HATE it when someone tells me I have spinach in my teeth, but I appreciate being told to go brush, you know? 

Video is here, in case anyone would like to watch him speak way more eloquently than I could.

 

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: 

Yeah, I do keep adding to this post. This update is because people are asking me what they can possibly do. Jon Stewart broke it down in a way that resonated so hard with me my whole body hurt:

"I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the…the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist." 

What can we do? I sure as hell don't know any better than anyone else, but ignoring it isn't working. Talking? Maybe that's what we have right now. Speaking with respect, but without fear. Speaking even when we're scared. Over on Facebook, I'm losing friends and readers. And you know what? For the first time ever, I paid to boost a post, because I'm not sure I'll ever write a blog as important as this one again. (I could only afford $30 from the budget. That'll probably get me somewhere into the Facebook algorithm, but not far. Share the post, if you'd like. That's a free boost, and a kind way for you to help.) 

  • Talk. When your coworker says something about mental illness and how we'll never know what really went through the shooter's mind, say the truth: That Dylann Roof was a grown-ass racist man who used lynch language ("they're raping our women")  in order to justify killing six black women and three black men.
  • Speak up. When your friend says something disparaging about Section 8 housing, say, "Wow. I bet you didn't know that sounded racist." (It's not about lower income families. It's about what those lower income families look like. Your friend will deny this. That's okay.) 
  • Speak up some more. When your mom says how she won't park in a certain area of town, say, "Wow. I bet you didn't know that sounded racist." (It's not about crime in that area. It's about how she feels being white with a nice car in that area. Your mom will deny this. That's okay.)
  • Be educated. Watch some more Jay Smooth. Start with this short video on Systemic Racism. (The median wealth for a single white women is $41,000. For a single black woman, it's $120. READ THAT AGAIN because you will think you read it wrong. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?)

  • Be ready to talk. Be ready do admit you might not know your ass from your elbow, but that you're willing to learn. Be willing to admit you were wrong.
  • Stand up for someone else. If you're in the restaurant where W. Kamau Bell is chased away from his white wife because of a "misunderstanding" about race, make it really freaking clear that it's not okay. 
  • Be ready to fight. The system we live in is wrong. As Jon Stewart pointed out, black people drive on streets named for confederate generals who died to keep black people from having the right to drive on those same streets. The confederate flag flies over the South Carolina State House and the state governor doesn't have the authority to change that. Our legacy, our heritage is wrong. (Update from Allison:  It USED to fly over the state house but we successfully fought to have it removed 15 years ago. At that time it was MOVED to a memorial located IN FRONT OF the state house. This is still unacceptable, of course, and many South Carolinians are working to have it completely removed from the state house grounds.)

Black people are dying because of racism. Today. 

This has to change. We are the ones who have to effect that change. 

PS – Comments welcome. Disagreements and conversations welcome. Rude language or a fists-flying attitude will get your comment/tweet/FB response whomp-blocked, so don't bother. 

* Some of  you might remember that my tonsils keep growing back every time I get them taken out. Sadly, the analogy doesn't stretch that far. 

Tic Tack Talk

Craft of Writing 

Dear Writer-Readers of the Blog,

I use a little trick for creating rounded characters that might come in handy to you at some point. This is not their inner motivation — that comes from the inside, way down deep. Crafting character arc is a whole different and much more complicated post (let me know if you'd like that one sometime — I draw most heavily from John Truby's and Michael Hague's techniques, which might give you a starting point).

This technique, on the other hand, is something that gets me a little deeper into my characters after I've worked out their character arcs and interior/exterior motivations. It's something that's super useful if I come up with it ahead of time, instead of being 75% into a first draft and realizing I still don't have a good handle on my people yet. (In that case, I go back and pepper this stuff in during edits.)

Tic Tack Talk

Tic: A repeated physical action used to show inner emotion.

Everyone has one. I've had characters that create made-up words under stress (phloobts! stamzik!) and characters who tap their teeth. Their tic can be pushing their glasses higher every minute or two or forgetting to say the last few words of their sentences. The tic should be both physical (observable) and unconscious, and it should say something about the character that she herself isn't keen on revealing to anyone else. 

Tack: A concrete object used as a place to store a character's emotion.

It's a touchstone. Let's call it a tack because it's just fun to say tic tack talk. It's normally (but not necessarily) small and it's always meaningful. It could totally be a tack (like, if the main character sat on a tack left on her seat by her annoying but adorable brother who died later that day from a random but wildly-vicious rabid-squirrel attack), but I bet it won't actually be a tack. That would be a pointy, possibly dangerous touchstone (ooh, now I want to use one in a book someday). I have used coins and pebbles and pieces of beach glass and knitting and jewelry. They're clutched and treasured until,  as the character's arc resolves, they are needed less. 

Talk: The character's diction, taken directly from his passion.

This one is super obvious but it took me a while to figure out how effective this shortcut to point-of-view voice is. Here's a grossly-exaggerated example: If your hero is a fisherman, he won't see pink and white clouds at sunset, he'll see a school of salmon and whitefish in the sky. His lover's skin won't be clammy after she's poisoned (go with me here), it'll feel like the inside of a wet wader. When he finds out he's going to jail for poisoning her, he'll feel like he's swallowing rusty fish hooks, one after another. And when he cries in his death-row cell, he can still taste the sea. 

As readers, we love these three things, all of them. We eat 'em up as long as they're not too overdone, something that's completely possible, see previous paragraph. Sure, we can see them for the devices they are, but something in our brains, that simple part that wants to sit around the campfire and listen to a good yarn, still loves them. 

Take your main characters (who are already rich and round, who are already going places in their arc) and give 'em each one of these. Let me know if it helps. 

The Magic of Travel

BAY AREA BOOK FESTIVAL

I'll be speaking this Sunday at 1pm on banishing your inner editor with Chris Baty and Grant Faulkner at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. Info here. (Free! You should come!) 

CATCHING UP

There's so much to say and catch you up on, and I've hit that overwhelmed point at which I don't know HOW to catch you up on anything at all, and so, very happily, I'm letting that go. I'll give you a few highlights. 

I went to Edinburgh to write. 

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Who gets to say that? I DO. *boggles and blinks*

Sometimes (more often than I ever would have thought) I get to say amazing wonderful sentences like that, and it feels–literally–magical. When I was a little girl, I'd dream about traveling the world, writing as I went. I didn't really think it would happen, though. Who thinks that? 

But now? I've written all over the world. While traveling, I like best to write in hotel breakfast rooms (after breakfast is done) because there's nothing interesting to look at and no one bothers you. The thing I've found, though, is usually I do much less writing that I hope to when I travel. I was on deadline during this last trip, and I did do quite a bit of writing. In Edinburgh, I was with four other writers, and we were there to write (we also wandered and ate and found castles, but mostly we were there to work). So we wrote. 

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Lisa, Gigi, Em and I writing at the Elephant House, where Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book

 

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But I had this one day slated as an all-day writing binge. It was on my schedule. It was my only full day in London, and I was by myself, and I had this romantic vision of myself moving slowly from cafe to cafe all day, working on my book as I went. 

Well. I woke up in London and thought to myself, SELF, YOU ARE IN LONDON. GO LOND. So I did. One never regrets wandering Camden Market, or people-watching, or finding a boat and just getting on it without knowing (or caring) where it was going after it cruised the canals (I hadn't even known London had canals! Or that the boat would let me off in Paddington! I was practically the bear!).

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I could have worked on my book that day. But I didn't. 

Usually, when you're traveling, your environs are new and sparkly. They're fascinating. You want to watch, to participate, to wander. What you do not want to do is put your head down and go back into the world that you made up. You know that world intimately. You can visit that anytime. Go be where you are. Take that home with you. 

I've found the magic is in coming home. It's not something you have to really think about. You don't have to write up your findings and assimilate your new knowledge about Bloomsbury walkways into your everyday life. You don't have to suddenly write a book about a ruined castle or the fighting couple who ran the pub or the gorgeous French barista who sang along with the classical music in the cafe. You don't have to use any of those things at all. That stuff is just in you, and you'll use it when you need it. It'll be there. 

*Y'all, my packing was a thing of beauty. One half-sized carryon, one purse.I kept coming up with things (need a charger? Here's an extra! Clothesline, here you go!) and Lisa kept saying, "WHERE? WHERE DID YOU PACK THAT?" and there is nothing more satisfying for an obsessed underpacker to hear, ever. 

 

 

Grey Water on the Cheap

So California's in a hell of a drought, and what's worse is that this water shortage is coming to 40 more states. We've been asked (and will soon be forced) to cut back by 25%. It's hard in our house, where we're already water conscious (we don't water the lawn, letting it go brown ever summer and green in the winter). Of course, I know that single-family residences like ours aren't the big problem in the state. But since I like projects and because I like helping the earth, I'm enjoying thinking of ways to save water simply. 

(What I really want is a laundry-to-landscape grey water system, but 1) it's daunting and 2) we have a creek below our house. You don't want to add (or risk adding) unfiltered grey water to a body of water which it might harm, and we also don't want to risk over-irrigating our back slope, which could lead to a landslide. I love me some Fleetwood Mac, but not that much.)

So while we try to figure out if a mulched grey water system would be safe and not send our house sliding down the hill into the creek, here are a couple of easy things we can all do to save water for under ten bucks: 

1. Get a bucket – Put it in the shower. Catch the cold water you don't stand under while you're waiting for the shower to warm up. Then let the same bucket catch some of your shower water behind you while you soap up, but don't stress about how much. If you fill the bucket, hooray! Don't worry about whether or not it's clean water. It doesn't matter. 

2. The next time you flush, use the bucket water. Don't pour it in the tank, that would be gross and would eventually grow things and clog other things up. Just pour it in the bowl. Every toilet is gravity-activated. Just pouring water in the bowl makes it flush (and you can control how much water you add, using even less than your toilet usually uses). Soapy water in the bowl! It evens helps keep it clean. Speaking of which: 

3. Mellow yellow. Yep, I hate the concept, too, but I was raised doing it that way, so it's okay at home (not at work – perish the thought). At home, just do it. Good article here.  Man, even typing those words just took me back to the 70s when we mellowed every yellow and my mom washed every kid in the same tub of water. I HATE sharing bath water. (Unless it's a jacuzzi bath tub, you know what I mean? I think you do.) 

5. Speaking of bath water – think about not taking a bath. If that's not possible because you need to soak the day off your skin with a Lush glitter bomb or your own awesome handmade bomb, use that bath water to perform Step 2, above.

6. Compost instead of using your garbage disposal. We put our kitchen waste in the green recycle bin right now, but I'm hoping to get back to composting in the yard at some point. It's a big project. (Speaking of big projects, I have the seeds in the straw bales! I set up the soaker hose to both that and our square foot garden! It went off using its timer this morning and scared the hell out of me! (The spigot is under the bedroom window.) It ran for a short ten minutes and things were wet! I won't forget to water! And more than that, I won't overwater!!)

7. Shower water. I'm not going to tell you to turn off the shower water while you lather. That's just crazy. I don't even mind being cold, and I wouldn't do that. (Maybe it's easier in one of those one-handle showers? Ours is two handles – you mix the hot and cold to get the right temperature and it's a delicate dance and what a pain in the ass it would be to get it right for the second time with shampoo in your eyes.) 

Updated to add this from reader StaceyK – a $5 piece of hardware* that attaches to your shower head allowing you to turn off, or lessen the flow of the water while you lather without adjusting the water temperature - we're going to get one! 

8. But do turn off the water while you brush your teeth. That's easy. It's just plain dumb not to do that. 

9. Dishes – sadly, we don't have a dishwasher yet (they save water, did you know that?) so I just bought a dishpan basin to rinse the dishes in. After rinsing them, I'll dump the basin in the garden (I know: not on leaves, no contact with humans, not on root vegetables. The lemon tree will love it). 

What are your easy (cheap) tips? 

*Affiliate link cuz Mama's got a water bill to pay. 

I Quit Drawing

Yep. I quit drawing. 

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And it feels so good. I sent out a whole tiny letter about how I wouldn't quit drawing every day, that I'd made that commitment and that's what I would do, because I finished things. 

But lord a'mighty, I didn't WANT to keep drawing for 365 days. I hit Day 188 and dug my heels in for the last time. I complained on Twitter, because what else is Twitter for? 

And several very smart people pointed this out to me: If drawing were an item in my house which I was holding in my hands, trying to figure out if it sparked joy (The KonMari method), I would answer no, it didn't. I liked drawing while I was doing it, sure. It was fun to move the pencil, to color things in, to see a completed 2D version of something that had come through my eyes and hand. 

But did the thought of having to draw spark joy in me? No way. It brought dread. God, another day to have to draw something. 

And this year is about letting go of things that don't spark joy like fireworks and cream cheese frosting.

I realized I was in it for the finish line. A year after starting the project, I'd be able to say I drew for 365 days in a row! THAT was all I was after. I wanted the right to say that. 

What?!

That–being able to say that single sentence, to myself or anyone else– was not enough. Not even close. 

I do things this way, sometimes. I'm impetuous (yes, I'm admitting it). I like to hit finish lines, even ones chosen rather arbitrarily. I ran a marathon once (twice). I love writing "The End" in my books. I adore meeting a challenge. 

But this wasn't my challenge. I'm not an artist. I don't actually want to be one. I do still like drawing, very much. I'll keep it up. But I won't require it of myself. It's good for me to require myself to meditate daily, to floss, to run (I signed up for a 5k! I'm doing Couch to 5k again!). Those are things that will help me daily, things that will bring joy because I'll have a healthier mind and body, so it's okay if I don't jump for joy thinking about buying floss sticks (although I sure do like a ramble through a drug store). 

Drawing daily wasn't for me. I thought I'd be embarrassed to tell you. Strangely, I'm not. I'm actually the opposite; I'm a little proud of myself for 'fessing up. (If you want to see the progress, you can look at the Flickr set here.)

This one of Virginia Woolf is my favorite, I think: 

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(Also, get this in regards to health: I just got off the phone with the doc – after testing, I've learned I have apnea! I didn't know you could have apnea without snoring! My biggest migraine trigger is lack of sleep and for years, I've woken at least three or four times an hour while sleeping. What if helping this helped my migraines? DUDE. I don't go in for a consult for another five weeks, though.) 

So. What habit are you trying to start (or dump)? 

(Winner of Haven Lake from last post is Kelli – you've been emailed!) 

 

Haven Lake

I'm SO pleased to tell you about my friend, Holly Robinson. She's a gorgeous writer and a fellow Penguin NAL writer. She wrote my favorite blurb for Splinters of Light. Because of that, I wrote to introduce myself and thank her for taking that time, and we fell immediately in friend-love, and now I'm keeping her for myself! (I swear this is true: I appropriated her as a friend before I learned she lives half-time in Prince Edward Island. I am SO crashing at her house someday.) 

BOOK GIVEAWAY – Penguin sent me a copy of the book that I'm going to send to some lucky commenter! Please ignore the fact that my terrible, awful mailman sailed it over the fence into a stand of weeds and the cover is a wee bit wrinkled. Damn his eyes. (I'll also be sending another copy (not mine or wrinkled- I'm keeping my precious signed one*) to someone subscribed to my email list next week, so make sure you're signed up there, too!)

Haven Lake_FC

 

Hi Holly!

You wonderful smart thing, you. I loved Haven Lake and I'm thrilled to ask you a few questions about it. You know me – I love that it incorporates SHEEP and KNITTING. (You even have a knitting male teen!) You say you're a beginning knitter – what's been your favorite part of learning so far? (I bet no one else has asked you this!)

 Thanks, Rachael—and thank you for having me on your wonderful site. What a treat! You're right: nobody has ever asked me this particular question, but it's an easy one to answer. I started knitting a few years ago, when a new friend invited me to her Wednesday night “Knit night.” The invitation came via a phone call, and because lice was rampant in our elementary school at that time, naturally I thought she meant “Nit night,” as in, we would check each other for nits! When we got through THAT little conversational hurdle, I told this new friend that I didn't know how to knit and would probably stab myself in the eye with a needle or something. She convinced me to come, finally, by saying, “We have lots of wine.” I've been knitting ever since. My favorite part of learning to knit is that it has given me opportunities to meet and chat with women of all ages. Our own knitting group has women ages thirty to sixty-five. I also go for extra help sessions (yes, I'm a slow learner) to our local library, where they have a Monday night knitting help session run by women in their seventies and eighties. Listening to other people's stories has always inspired me as a writer, and knitting brings so many great life stories my way.

I will seriously never think of Knit (Nit) Night the same way again.

Your main character Sydney is a therapist, and a good one. Did this require a lot of research? (I always put research off till the end. Are you a procrastinate-by-researching writer or a panicked-at-the-end kind, like me?)

 Thanks for that! Sydney's career is one I might have pursued if I hadn't become a writer. I started out wanting to be a doctor—picture me in a multi-pocketed Safari vest, trotting around villages in Africa with a miracle cure—and didn't discover my passion for writing fiction until I was about to graduate from college. (You can imagine my father's reaction when I said I wanted to forget medical school and be a writer.) Anyway, I've had five children to get through school, and along the way, I've occasionally needed help from therapists like Sydney to figure out what's going on with them. One of my best friends is actually an educational psychologist, and she was very generous in sharing stories with me, too, so the research was actually more like fun conversations over wine. (Do you detect a theme in my answers?) In general, the research I do for my books tends to be hands-on; for instance, in order to write the sections about raising sheep, I actually contacted a shepherdess in New Hampshire, the wonderful artist Wendy Ketchum, who let me come see her Icelandic herd and talk to her about what it takes to live that kind of life.

Catherine Friend! You mention her at the end of your book. Isn't she great? I adore her. That's not a question. I just thought I'd mention it. :)

Yes! I've read all of Catherine's books, and in my fantasy life, she calls me up to say she likes Haven Lake, and we become pals! (Over glasses of wine, naturally.)  An anecdote in her book Sheepish inspired one of the key early scenes with Hannah trying to retrieve an escaped lamb—if you've read that book, you'll know which one.

DUDE. I loved that book. I knew that scene reminded me of something, and now I know why! Ha! 

I'm flattering myself when I say that I think our writing voices are similar, that both of us go deeply into complex characters, and that both of us enjoy exploring all aspects of love. Whatcha think?

Absolutely. When I read Splinters of Light, I was brought to my knees emotionally several times throughout the story of Nora grappling with her illness and trying to imagine how her daughter Ellie will cope. What struck me most about your novel was how adeptly you managed the voices—and complex interior lives—of both mother and daughter. Plus, you never lost that spark of humor that saved the book from being maudlin. Your imagery was also stunning throughout—I often feel that novelists today rush their work and don't take the time to truly describe settings in a way that will transport readers. Oh, and I admire how you write about love: the love between mother and child, between sisters, between romantic partners. You do it all with tenderness and class in Splinters of Light. I'm flattered that you think our voices are similar. I think of my novels as “emotional family mysteries” because there is always some dark family secret (or several) that the characters need to discover and understand before they can resolve their emotional conflicts. Like you, I hope to create characters who are complex, imperfect people grappling with issues. I hope that, by the end of each of my novels, readers feel they have been both entertained and enlightened as they accompany my characters on their journeys of self-discovery and love.

NOW I FEEL REALLY FLATTERED. Thank you, friend.  

DSC_3748Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer's Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places. Find her at www.authorhollyrobinson.com and on Twitter @hollyrob1.

Leave a comment to enter the drawing, and I'll randomly draw a winner next week. Alternately, tweet or FB a link to this post and tag me to enter, as well, if that's more your style. And someone on my mailing list will win another copy, too!

(Winner of the Elizabeth Haynes thriller is the darling RedSilvia! I swear I'll get it into the mail tomorrow!) 

 * Holly sent me a signed copy. And get this: it was her first copy. Authors, if you ever think to do this, you should. Sending your very first copy to a writer friend? Tears will happen, I promise. We get it. 

** Amazon affiliate links provided in this post because MAMA JUST PAID OFF HER STUDENT LOAN DOING SHIT LIKE THIS, BAM.