Postcards from Colorado: Adventures in Thin Air

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Greetings …

Today is post Tuesday and I haven’t had a chance to slow down enough to organize my thoughts and experiences into a cohesive narrative. But instead of missing post day I decided to bullet some of the highlights and share some scenic shots.

BACKGROUND: Colorado, the first week of our vacation is thanks to Calvin Theological Seminary, my husband’s alma mater. They offer a seminar to pastors, Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.

This opportunity is designed to allow said pastors to also have a family vacation i.e. sessions from 8-noon followed by time for family adventures.

The course hosted by Scott Hoezee and Neal Plantinga (author of Reading for Preaching), required my husband to do some serious reading:

  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • Enrique’s Journey – Sonia Nazario
  • Collected Poems – Jane Kenyon
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: Collected Poems – Robert Frost
  • The Wednesday Wars – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Okay for Now – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert Caro

Of course my reading list is a little longer now.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

We had the pleasure of staying at Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies, which is a beautiful place to stay. AND it has lots of activities for everyone.

From a parenting perspective, I have to say my dudes surprised me. In particular, our oldest tried many things that if you’d told me a week prior that he would do so I wouldn’t have believed it.

  • He went on the zip line, some 30 feet off the ground, as did my husband. They each used one word to describe it. Dude said, “Fast.” Hubby said, “Fun.”
  • He climbed the rock wall. Again some 30 feet off the ground, even though heights make him nervous.
  • He also tried roller-skating for the first time; counting the number of times he fell as we went along. It’s been at least 15 years since I was on skates and I loved sharing it with my dude.
  • He navigated the cafeteria like a camp veteran, helping his brother along the way, making us think he’s ready for an overnight camp experience without us.

Both boys tried their hand at archery, which isn’t as easy as our favorite quiver-wearing-bow-wielding-heroes make it look.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My youngest wasn’t as adventurous but he enjoyed:

  • Miniature golf
  • Volleyball for the first time. And,
  • Basketball, even though he told me, “I’m not ready for the NBA.” What a sweet boy!

Okay, I’d also like to say they wrote and mailed postcards to friends about our time in Colorado; giving a glimpse into our vacation. Yes, I am smiling for the handwritten correspondence, brief, as you have to be on a postcard. Their handwriting at 9 and 7 years old is priceless.

These moments made this momma proud.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My personal fave of our time was sitting in a small group around the fireplace listening Gary D. Schmidt and his editor daughter, Kathleen Kerr, as they talked about writing and publishing in today’s world. I didn’t say a word. Never asked a question. I was the weirdo in the back sporting the perma-grin.

My husband’s personal fave comes courtesy of Facebook. A friend posted that they were “camping in the Rockies” and the picture loaded the location of Winter Park, CO. Just 10 minutes down the road.

Hubby was able to catch up with three of his closest childhood friends and their families. Some we hadn’t visited in a couple of years, others in more than a decade. It was an unexpected and special surprise in our trip. Yay Facebook for bringing people together.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

LAST NOTES:

  • Check out Snow Mountain Ranch. You may want to plan a trip there. If you go there,
  • Visit The Foundry which is a great place: movie theater & bowling alley mashup. Order the caramel corn which is to die for; comfy leather seats, where we watched How to Train Your Dragon 2.
  • Stop by Dozens Restaurant if you make it to Denver. Oh how delicious the food. See my meal?
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Thanks to the altitude, my oldest son and I suffered from headaches and bloody noses despite drinking as much fluid as we could. And the hubby had trouble sleeping. It was still one of the best vacations to date.

In two weeks I’ll be back in Colorado for work but I am grateful I was able to experience it on vacation, otherwise I would have missed out on so much of this beautiful state.

Happy summer travels … be safe.

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Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint  Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint
The Golden Throne of Judgment

When I click “publish”, “post”, or “tweet”, I am essentially saying, “Criticize me, please!”

We have an open invitation to sit in judgment; whether we are consuming music, books, films, photos, meals, or even other people’s lives, from neighbors and friends to celebrities and strangers, and much more.

We are encouraged, almost expected, to give our opinion. We are prompted to share and often incentivized for it.

It’s a function made easier and easier every day:

  • Service surveys on receipts e.g. restaurants and retailers
  • Social media icons everywhere e.g. blogs and articles
  • Popup windows e.g. websites and apps

In one click, with little or no commentary we can tell the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our misadventures and mundane undertakings. We can be a cheerleader or a naysayer in another person’s story.

Some would consider lending a voice to our likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, a privilege. Others would call it a right. You know, freedom of speech? Or maybe a Public Service Announcement? We have something to say.

Regardless, our opinion matters to someone somewhere at some point in time. Possibly it will only matter to us.

We are like snowflakes. Individual and unique, falling from the sky with the power to collectively blanket the world with our thoughts.

Our voices shape the world we live in, its future; and so, some would also label it a responsibility as well as a privilege and right.

But is there a danger in our acknowledgement of the good events, bad events, and underwhelming events of our lives?

With a sense of immediacy, often while it’s happening, we become the real-time superstars of our own narratives. We begin to believe the artificial hype.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article. Now I ask again: Is it good for us?

One challenge I find is the lack of universal language or philosophy relative to the act of rating. It’s not regulated (nor am I suggesting it should be), but we need a shared language.

If we return to the snowflake analogy, we can comfortably say, we have differing definitions based on our personalities, preferences, and pasts which all act as filters.

There is one universal standard we could and should apply but don’t, at least not often enough. The Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like others to treat you.

Since opinion giving is pervasive today we sometimes forget the importance of reciprocity in relationships.

We tend to think it’s acceptable to use harsh words and accusatory or mocking tones, demean another person; especially because our sentiments often reside in cyber space. We tend to judge others without respecting the fact that on the other end of a post or comment is a real person with feelings.

I have to admit I’m on this reflective path because I was struggling with rating and writing a review on Goodreads for a children’s book I’d read. I agonized over it. Why? Who knows? After all, it’s just my opinion.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt was a story I enjoyed. However, there was a storyline that parents may be concerned about their children reading.

And I wondered if I needed to draw attention to the content in case other parents saw my rating and review and then deemed it appropriate for their kids. Would my review matter to the Goodreads community? Probably not. Would it matter to my personal circle of influence? Possibly.

I felt the responsibility tied to my privilege and right. The trifecta.

The whole experience had me questioning: “What does it ALL mean?”

What does a 5-star book rating mean to you on Amazon or Goodreads? Or the other extreme a 1-star book rating? Does it affect your decisions about what to read?

I am easily entertained. Therefore I tend to be generous in evaluating creative works.

Plus, I feel “bad” being critical of what an author or artist invested their time in. Again, generosity.

My ratings on Goodreads range from 3 to 5-stars with only one 2-star rating. Not everyone shares my view or operates as I do.

We have to wonder about the differences I referenced. Is our rating based on the merit of the writing, plot, and characters? Subject Matter? Reader enjoyment? Or something else entirely.

Maybe it’s not an issue for you, the idea of applying individualism to a collection. I actually considered editing my comments to address the storyline / parenting issue. I probably shouldn’t have allowed reading some of the other reviews to throw me.

Yet and still … How can we use the information that is so readily available, thanks to the opportunities we have to speak up, say what’s on our minds.

The irony of my blogging and asking you to engage in this conversation isn’t lost on me by the way! Now let’s see how many views and likes and comments I get on this post (I’m kidding … kind of).

Seriously, “Criticize me, please.”

What are your thoughts on rating? How does it impact your decision making, if at all? What can we all do to keep the process positive even if the feedback is constructive?

I Read White: The Issue of a Single Story

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

When I first started writing fiction I wanted to be intentional about representing a diverse cast of characters: race, culture, and socio-economic levels. For my first novel, which is still in process, my main character is black, her best friend is biracial and another central character is Latina.

Despite my desire to be intentional, I was also concerned about promulgating the stereotypes associated with race. This hope to handle well a people’s culture and race, a people’s story, has been one of the constant sources of writer’s block for me. What if I failed? What if I made a mockery of someone when I wanted to be honoring?

My reasons, of course, for being purposeful in character selection were well founded. I wanted to create a story that would have resonated with the eight year old me. A story that wasn’t accessible to my younger self but could fill the gap for another child.

I wanted to write a story where someone who looked like me, sounded like me, and acted like me, would take grand adventures and do amazing things in far off places. I wanted to write a book where main culture and lifestyle weren’t reserved for a single segment of the population but where anyone could take part in it. Such high hopes.

Every child deserves such a story.

My juvenile literary exploits were limited. Partly because of the topics that interested me and partly because of what was at my disposal More than anything, I had a fascination with white stories even though I wanted to see myself on the page.

Unfortunately, I read white. Regardless of how the characters are described, my mind generates Anglo images and I have to reframe what people should look like each time they appear in the story. It’s terribly annoying.

Sessions at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2014, like: It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing About Race, Culture, and Power with Mitali Perkins; The Power of Suspending Disbelief: Why I Read and Why I Write with Pam Munoz Ryan; and Issues Facing Writers of Color in Christian Publishing with Edward Gilbreath, Marlena Graves, Al Hsu, and Helen Lee; as well as the myriad of presenters, opened my eyes to a greater challenge …

As much as I encourage my dudes to read, I am guilty of raising another generation to read white. Looking at their bookshelves is a clear indication of how I’ve grossly neglected diversity in their literary lives.

How had I missed this?

I guess I could make excuses. I could say it’s because there isn’t enough diversity in their areas of interest. A sure sign that we as writers have work to do and we as readers need to support what is available.

How is it that I could be acutely aware of this injustice in my reading experience and miss the signs in the singular experience I am delivering to my dudes?

How had I, one who’d been victim to single story, been negligent? How could I see the importance of raising readers as a response to my personal history described in a recent post, yet overlook this distinction in theirs?

I could make excuses, but I won’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it. The good news is there’s time to change their reading trajectory and mine. I need to apply the same intention to selecting books for my family’s reading life as I’ve attempted with my writing life.

And, there’s so much more to “diversity” beyond what I’ve previously stated, like: religion, sexuality, politics, gender; the possibilities of variety are endless.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie beautifully conveys the issue of a single story in literature in this Ted Talk, recommended during an FFW session. I encourage all of you as readers and writers to take the time to watch this video.

Ahh! Awareness!

During teacher appreciation week I usually buy books for my boys classrooms. Mrs. B. responded to my inquiry for what books she was hoping to add to her class library with, “Of course, any books with multicultural characters.”

A wonderful reminder to me for which I am grateful.

Since hearing this cry for diversity at FFW, I notice it everywhere. My Amazon trolling looks different, my search criteria for a good book is broader, but it’s only the beginning.

Another reminder I am thankful for is the #weneeddiversebooks campaign that is currently storming the social media world keeps the issue in front of me. This article is one of many that shows how important it is to tell every story.

I wish I could accurately express how I feel realizing that I’ve fallen short. I wish I could help you understand how far we’ve yet to go. But it starts with being aware. It starts with passing it on.

Help me change the way I read. What books would you recommend, for my dudes and me, to expand our horizons and build a richly diverse library? How have you battled this issue? Please share…

Best Beginnings

“There is no beginning too small.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Currently on my nightstand  ... some on loan from friends. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Currently on my nightstand … some on loan from friends.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My best beginning is steeped in words and was the best beginning twice: once as a little girl and once as a parent.

My reading journey began with trepidation … halting steps.

Picture an awkward first grader, uncomfortable in her skin early in life, already different because of the color of her skin and body type. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be “normal”.

The youngest child in my family who was replaced as such by a surprise baby sister, school was the environment where I could be myself and where I was most alive.

One challenge … academically I struggled. Often I was in the lowest levels of each subject: math, writing, reading. I didn’t care much about math but reading made an impression.

Life in the late 70s and early 80s wasn’t like today. Few people sent their kids to school knowing how to count to one hundred or read by sight. Back in those days reading went hand in hand with phonics.

It’s no wonder that I was “behind”.

There were lots of books in my home but they were mostly adult reads. Both my parents were insatiable readers but I don’t have memories of mom and dad reading to me, although they talk about doing so.

I was frustrated watching my friends and mortal enemies (as if that exists at 7) dive into more complex books than See Spot Run or Dick and Jane. They were growing their skills and vocabulary, sounding out words and counting syllables with fists striking tabletops. All my words were short single beats.

Devastated to find out I wasn’t equal, that I work to do, that I didn’t fit in, it was a heartbreaking time.

You’re wondering how this could possibly be the best beginning?

Well, it forced me to fight for written words. Envy drove me to become the best reader in my peer group instead of the worst. And in the process I fell in love with language, with literature.

Now I experience the world in words similar to conversation bubbles in comics and cartoons. (There’s a book, A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, that I am dying to read because the description of how Felicity views the world feels like how I see it.)

Words and stories and books are how I fit in.

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Round one of in my two part best beginning saga put me on the path of a life long love affair with great stories. Round two is less “hero’s journey” and more practical but no less tied for best.

Looking back at the initial trauma I lived through made me determined that my dudes would have a better tale to tell.

Their reading journey is my second trip to unlocking the wonder of words. It’s a personal mission. Even though it shares the title of best there is something sweeter about walking through it with my boys.

From board books to picture books and from comic books to chapter books and even eBooks to audio books, my boys have fallen in love with the power of stories. And it’s the only gift I felt qualified to give them.

What a rewarding opportunity to observe:

  • Stillness because they’re lost in another world.
  • Peels of laughter that is private joke between them and the pages.
  • Vocabulary beyond their ages and catches me off guard.
  • Expressions of sadness or anger that result in books being thrown down.
  • Conversations that start with “Mom you have to read this because…” Followed by a plot summary or character analysis (and they don’t know that’s what they’re doing).

At ages nine and seven, they own more books than I did when I was old enough to work full time and buy my own. Plus we take advantage of the local library and visit our local bookstores. Another joy is borrowing and loaning books to friends. This summer I hope to facilitate a “book club” experience for them and our small group buddies.

Readers surround them. They believe that readers are leaders.

How wonderful it is to have their reading origins shape their interests. My nine year old is planning a future as a comic book writer and illustrator. His seven-year-old little brother is a fledgling filmmaker.

I pray that this reading life is worthy of best beginning in their estimation. May storytelling stay in their blood. May they bring to words to life for others. May they continue the legacy of reading being the best beginning, twice.

What about you? What are your thoughts on beginnings? What is your BEST beginning?

 NOTE: This was a reflective journal exercise for me. Thanks to Lisa Sonora for sharing her 30-Day ROOT Journal Project with the world. And thank you to Stephanie at Visible and Real for writing the post that led me to Lisa.

World of Words: My Experience at Festival of Faith and Writing

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

I had the privilege of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing or #FFWGR on twitter hosted by Calvin College every two years. It’s THE literary event and it floods our city with artists, creative, wordsmiths, and readers.

Maybe I’ve mentioned before the power of community to inspire, motivate, and engage people. Well the #FFWGR community is a testament to that power. They are my people. What a sense of kindred spirit.

However, I have a confession and a regret. I’ve considered myself “well read” but even as a voracious reader I found that I had not read anything by any of the numerous speakers.

In the months leading up to the Festival I checked out the speakers and facilitators. Looking at their books and descriptions on Amazon. Visiting their author pages and websites. Hitting their social media sites. All to find, I knew a handful of names and their reputation in the writing world.

Despite having read zero of the represented presenters, I have to say what an awesome event. It was filled with great tips and advice; motivation and humility; and an energetic group of vibrant characters. Did I mention they are my peeps?

Mostly the Festival provoked in me a challenge and a desire to do what I love; to write. I learned that swimming in words surrounded by others who love words as much, is the place I am at my best.

At the end of each of the three days I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from all the interaction and knowledge. I am after all an introvert which means I get zapped by the social parts of life. And still, my mood was high. I didn’t yell at my kids like I do when I get home from working. I responded differently. They experienced a kinder, gentler mom.

Calvin Campus © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Calvin Campus
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Writing is many things. Speakers referred to writing as:

  • Higher calling
  • Stewardship
  • Self-Examination
  • Silence
  • Worship
  • Mirrors and Windows

For me, writing is all of that plus it is who I am. My sanity is tied to my writing. It relaxes me in the midst of hectic life. Writing helps me express what I feel, what I want to see in the world, and how I want to be remembered.

No matter how many times I quit, coming back to a world of words is like coming home. Every speaker and contributor, every participant, and every moment of the Festival was the jumpstart I desperately needed.

My favor quotes and the most tweet-able statements (please keep in mind that the speaker may have been quoting someone else and I didn’t do a good job of capturing that):

The cynics among you have a lot of blah, blah, blah to lay at your feet. Skepticism is good. Cynicism is the killer of dreams. ~James McBride

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

~Hugh Cook

We give language to longings that have yet to be articulated. ~Sharon Garlough Brown

If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will be my spokesman. ~Tracy Groot adapted from Jeremiah 15:19

When we choose the right word, it’s worth a thousand pictures.

~Richard Foster

I gave up pontificating for Lent. ~

Silence is writing. If you want to be a better writer, if you want to have things to say, you need to spend time in silence. ~Nathan Foster

Failure is an integral part of success … recognition is earned not bestowed … If I’ve never failed at anything in life, I am setting my goals to low. ~Pam Munoz Ryan

True objectivity is fiction. We all write from a specific social location. ~Valerie Weaver Zercher

What I know about anything applies to everything. ~Anne Lamott

You are so loved and preapproved. ~Anne Lamott

The sacrament of puttering … Laughter is carbonated holiness. ~Anne Lamott

It’s the business of the writer to tell what haunts us. ~Valerie Sayers

Talent is a God-given gift often squandered. ~Valerie Sayers

Writing fiction is like being in your underwear in front of the world.

~Suzanne Woods Fisher

I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing. ~Suzanne Woods Fisher adapted from 2 Samuel 24:24

All fantasy has a happy ending or at least a hopeful ending. ~G. Willow Wilson

Any belief system worth anything should tell an ethical message to all people. ~G. Willow Wilson

As writers of faith, we don’t have to operate with the scarcity principle because we serve at the pleasure of a generous Master.

~Rachel Held Evans

This is not a competition, it’s worship. ~Rachel Held Evans

Sitting in the sanctuary of his words. ~Rachel Held Evans

Amazing right? How can I not face writer’s block and rejection after hearing such statements of faith and writing? Bulletproof comes to mind.

I am still processing all of it. Ruminating.

I’ll tell you what though … since all of you are my peeps too, mark your calendars for the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing.

I hope to see you there!

Celebrating the Love of Reading …

I’ve been boasting to my dudes about how I used to stay up all night (2 or 3 in the morning and still getting up for school by 6AM) reading by flashlight under the covers.

Of course they thought that was cool and funny because I was breaking the rules.

My oldest expressed interest in doing the same thing. So I promised him a READ-A-THON. Maybe not the best name for our event. Still we pulled an all-nighter; complete with a carpet campout and picnic.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint Grasshopper Cookies, York Peppermint Patties, and Honey Mustard Pretzels

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  - Oreo Fudge Cookies and Cheetos Cheese Puffs

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – Oreo Fudge Cookies and Cheetos Cheese Puffs

I purchased both dudes favorite snacks and drinks, along with some of my favorites. I made sure we all had new books to start reading that night.

The premise of the event was to see who could stay up the latest reading. We spent a couple of weeks throwing down the gauntlet. Each of us claiming the win, which just meant we’d earn the right brag.

At one point the oldest dude said, “I’m going to win because you need your rest and I don’t. You’re old and I’m not.”

Thanks for that! I am definitely older. My days of hiding under the sheets reading till the wee hours of the morning have long since expired.

But the most important part of doing this event was celebrating the new found love of independent reading that my dudes have discovered. They’ve always loved Momma reading to them at bedtime, but now they each ask for 5 minutes or more to read quietly before lights out.

Yes, I’m grinning from ear to ear.

My husband and I wanted to make a big deal out of their summer reading accomplishments, by awarding certificates of achievement. Also, we took the time to write each of the dudes a personalized note expressing our pride and joy.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  - Lots of book options

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – Lots of book options

Our oldest dude read 10 books since school ended with the shortest being 192 pages. Many of the books he read within 48 hours of getting them. He also read lots of comics.

The sitter said he would lay on the floor while the smaller children crawled all over him. And still he read, unhindered by the fact that he was a human jungle gym.

Our youngest dude read 12 books within his reading ability. He’s great at sounding out words and remembers words that you’ve only helped him with once.

He also delved into the world of comic books, Sonic the Hedgehog being his favorite. At first I thought he was just looking at the pictures but when I asked him to tell me the story, he could.

I’m telling you these are the happy Momma moments. When something you’ve desired for your children manifests itself you can’t help but throw a party.

You may have noticed I get a little obsessive about my boys being readers. Leaders are readers, right? 

There are other things I need to be obsessive about for their sake. But this is the one that bubbles up most often, the one I feel most equipped to tackle, and it’s one they can carry with them everywhere they go.

More than once during our READ-A-THON event, I heard my 6 year old say, “You’re the best Momma ever,” primarily due to the junk food feast.

It was a special night. Great fun even though I conceded at 1:15AM to my 9 year old. He won the bragging rights but decided not to exercise them because he “didn’t feel right about it.” So sweet and naïve.

I don’t know that I would have been as generous to him. I would have bragged it up. I guess there’s always next year because guess what? They asked if we could make it an annual event. Yay!

Thankfully, there were a lot of people who knew about the event. I updated Facebook every 20 minutes or so, which means he’s received kudos from people in our circles of influence. I appreciate their acknowledgement because it reinforces his love of reading, his championship title, and his good sportsmanship.

To keep dudes going during the school year we have a new incentive which we kicked off the night of the READ-A-THON. I call it READ RACING.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – What you measure is what gets done.

Nothing fancy … just reading goals outside their school work for the first semester.

  • 6 year old = 500 pages within his reading level
  • 9 year old = 1000 pages within his reading level
  • Me – 3000 pages

Part of the new challenge: I get to pick one of their reads and they each get to pick one for me. So we’ll be forced into trying something we wouldn’t necessarily choose on our own.

If they complete their race, I will give them each a $20 gift card for Amazon (which I believe they’ll use for buying toys because they know Momma will buy their books).

I am encouraged and hopeful and inspired. See what good stories can do for you. Good stories move us!

What has inspired you or made you grin from ear to ear this summer? What can we celebrate together?

excuses! Excuses! EXCUSES!

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  New Journals

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint
New Journals

This post has been simmering in the creative juices of my stewpot brain for weeks.

I’ve been unwilling to let it come to a boil and bemoan (yet again) my lack of writing. I know this is the writer’s journey. The cycle of highs and lows. Triumphs and defeats.

But I wonder should I keep talking about the journey? Especially when said journey is at a standstill?

Apparently, the answer is yes because here I am, telling you (yet again) that I have writer’s block. Or better yet, as Jerry Cleaver, author of my go to resource, Immediate Fiction, puts it: “Page Fright”.

Last time I talked about writing, it was on the heels of a recommendation to take a sabbatical. To which I publicly said no, only to traverse that path anyway …

Confession: It’s been months since I’ve opened Scrivener. It’s been weeks since I made a note in my journal relative to the novel in progress. It’s been days since I’ve thought about my characters and what’s going on in their lives. Truly, I am embarrassed at my lack of concern for them.

So you’re probably wondering what has me blocked this time. What’s the trigger for my “page fright”?

  • Excuses
  • Self-loathing
  • Emotions
  • Self-doubt
  • Oh yeah and did I mention?
  • Excuses

Tell me my creative friends … have you ever said any of these things:

I’m too tired …

It’s an excuse. I have the energy to stay up all hours of the night and day watching TV or surfing the web (especially for books on Amazon) or playing games on my iPhone. So I’ll take the hit for this one. It’s really just laziness on my part.

I’m too busy …

And I am. I’m a wife and mom who works outside of the home. Needless to say in the last six months my day job workload has more than tripled; leaving no room for anything else. Except maybe: baby blankets? Remember all my friends who are expecting or adopting? Wait. That’s another excuse. If I’m being honest it just means I procrastinate and writing is first thing to go.

I don’t have time …

Okay, is this the same as being too busy? Maybe. What I know is in a high time in my writer cycle I would say something like: “It’s about making time,” which is a truthful declaration. And I would. I just don’t know what to do in the low times like right now.

Writers should read widely … inside and outside their genre

So, I’ve immersed myself in books. Isn’t that what the Goodreads 2013 Challenge is for? I need to read more before I can write well. Reading a well written novel should teach me tips and tricks. Unfortunately, all the great writing I’ve been reading is discouraging me … paralyzing me. Plus all the bad writing I’ve been reading is discouraging me. This losing myself in other people’s stories instead of my own is a distraction.

Who am I kidding … Nobody’s going to want to read this

The word drivel comes to mind which is why good writing and bad writing is discouraging. It all depends on the day I peruse my darlings. Sometimes I find gold and it makes me smile. Other times, I lay my head on my desk and weep because only rewriting can fix it. Ever been here?

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

“Put all excuses aside and remember this: YOU are capable.” ~Zig Ziglar

I’m not good enough because writing is hard …

Haha … this is Who-Am-I-Kidding’s kissing cousin. Writing is hard despite my love for words and the thrill of a story. Thanks to I-Don’t-Have-Time and I’m-Too-Tired, the last thing I want to do is invest my time in learning “the craft” of writing. I know … another play at laziness.

I need to build a platform …

Do I really? I mean, yes, I get it. I do. But having a platform and nothing meaningful or substantial as in finished to give those who would join “my tribe” is just social media fun not platform building. Distraction at its finest, right? Tweet. Friend. Post. Like. Sigh.

What is the cure for the excuse-itis I am experiencing? I’ve self-diagnosed the symptoms:

  • Distraction?
  • Procrastination?
  • Laziness?
  • Stress?

Truth be told, all my excuses boil down to good old fashioned FEAR.

  • Fear of finishing.
  • Fear of not finishing.
  • Fear that it’ll be bad.
  • Fear that it’ll be great.
  • The list is endless.

We are just a couple of months away from my self-imposed August deadline. WIP started in August 2011. I can look in my journal and tell you the day I penned the idea. I gave myself a year for completing. Ambitious for a first time novelist. Then I extended it to August 2012 and again to August 2013.

It’s fast approaching and I have little to show for it. I should cut myself some slack. August 2014 anyone?

Some of the podcasts I listen to have recently referenced authors who worked on a book for 10, 20, 30+ years before finishing.

Again I wonder … what’s the cure for excuses? Especially when the first words to form are my handy little phrases … there seems to be a shortage of the words I crave most. You know …

  • Clever words
  • Witty words
  • Rambling words
  • Story picture words
  • Pithy words
  • Words with friends (oh wait … no … strike this one)

I should be making word soup in my stewpot brain … not excuses …

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  New Ink

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint
New Ink

And yet during this unexpected hiatus I’ve found it easier to tell people who ask what I do: 

“I am a writer.”

And to respond to the question: “What do you write?” with “I write YA fiction.”

Now like the sign off from the podcast Writing Excuses: “This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.”

Today, I’ll take that advice. I’m off to write in my stacks of beautifully blank journals; fighting “page fright” with ink. But before I go, tell me:

What self-talk keeps you from your creative pursuits? What’s on your list that isn’t on mine? And most important, how do you combat the excuse mill?

Summer Reading 2013

The first Captain Underpants book.

The first Captain Underpants book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best gift my dudes gave me for Mother’s Day was cuddling up on the sofa at Grandma’s, cracking open the newest Big Nate book: Big Nate Flips Out.

It does my heart good that my dudes have reached the point where they’ll choose Momma reading to them at bedtime over anything else (including screen time).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what our reading plan will look like this summer. Last year we transitioned from reading picture books to chapter books; which was met with opposition. This year will be easier. I hope.

We’ve overcome the qualms of our oldest not wanting to read independently. As a matter of fact on our road trip to Grandma’s for Mother’s Day weekend, he spent two of the three hours’ drive reading. Woot!

And we’ve moved our youngest past sight words to reading with confidence. He’s good at sounding out words he doesn’t know. His teacher tells us: “Wow is he a reader.” Yay!

With less than four weeks left of school it’s that time again … and my list is already started thanks to soliciting titles from friends and family via Facebook.

The stories or series they fell in love with since summer 2012:

  • Captain Underpants – We’ve read all 10 and now have to wait for the next one to be published.
  • Sweetfarts – Anything with bodily functions appeal to 8 & 6 year old dudes. We’ll tackle books 2 & 3 in this series.
  • Big Nate – As I said we’ve just started the most current novel.
  • Roscoe Riley Rules – The first 5 books were a Christmas gift. There are more for us to finish.
  • George Brown Class Clown – Received 2 for Christmas. Again there are more to read which makes us happy.
  • Origami Yoda – We’ve only read book 1 (they were reluctant at first, now they’re hooked)

 

The books that fell short since last summer:

  • Geronimo Stilton – Surprisingly, they didn’t like the bright colors and font treatments as much as I did.
  • Magic Tree House – Our oldest loved them when his teacher read them to him in school but lost the love when I read them at home.

So here’s what’s on the horizon for summer 2013 (in addition to the different series we need to finish):

  • Jigsaw Jones Series
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Paddington Bear
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Because of Winn Dixie

For my youngest we will invest in the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. He loves the snarky and indignant pigeon. Plus he can read them on his own.

And, there are always more to come, like the books we stumble upon during bookstore visits.

For me … I have more 20 unread books on my Kindle to work through and the list is ever growing. I can’t help myself. I download at least one book a day.

Then, in a sneak attack mom move, I’ve told my oldest I will be reading the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch; which I will because they sound like a load of fun; but I will buy physical copies just in case someone wants to dive in too.

He said, “You should read it to us because we like mysteries.” Right! The idea of it being something for me and not for him has piqued his interest. Oh the reverse psychology!

I didn’t offer it to him because his primary response to my book recommendations is rejection. We’ll see if he makes it to reading these.

LOTS of options. A good book is only a click away for us. And amazon.com has a summer reading adventure map. Plus you don’t know where to begin they have recommendations by age group (including adult) for summer reading.

Happy Reading! What’s on your book list? What will you read this summer? What will your little people read?

Previous the Jotter’s Joint reading posts:

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/05/10/summer-reading/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2013/03/25/reading-for-screen-time/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/07/23/unplugged-turned-off-and-tuned-out/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2012/06/05/joint-venture-summer-reading-tips-from-raymond-bean-award-winning-author/

https://thejottersjoint.com/2013/04/04/how-to-commit-identity-theft-without-breaking-the-law/

Photo image from Zemanta via WordPress.com

How to Commit Identity Theft without Breaking the Law

Alachia GoodReads

Alachia GoodReads (Photo credit: alachia)I don’t usually do “how to” blog posts … but thought this was a worthy topic.

 

I don’t usually do “how to” blog posts … but thought this was a worthy topic.

It’s simple really. I do it all the time … this identity theft thing … but never thought much about it.

Have you ever considered it? That’s a rhetorical question, so please don’t answer out loud.

I will attempt to share my steps with you as an experiment to determine if it’s really as simple as I think it is.

Step 1 – Go to the bookstore or library
Step 2 – Select a book
Step 3 – Purchase or check out selected book
Step 4 – Go home
Step 5 – Get comfortable
Step 6 – Start reading
Step 7 – Lose yourself in the story

When you lose yourself in a story you are “experience taking”. You put on the life of the protagonist or main character. You get to feel what they feel; see what they see; and live through what they live through. For a brief moment in time you are that person.

As a reader, I love that moment when I’m whisked away to another time and place. I get to be someone else without the risk of committing a crime.

As a writer, it’s my dream that someone would connect so deeply with my characters. It’s my desire to create worlds that people will want to inhabit; stories where people never want them to end. That’s my writer’s utopia.

Sorry if you feel misled by the title but this really is the only way I know to steal someone’s identity. Writers actually would encourage you to do so … so I guess it’s not theft at all.

I was listening to a podcast called The Psych Files when this came to me. The title of the episode (#190) was Why Do You Get So Absorbed in that Book (or Movie)?

The host, Michael Britt, talked about a study that was done to determine what causes us to be engrossed in stories we read and watch. The first half of the podcast was most interesting to me but the second half he unpacks the study (a little too technical for me).

He explained the idea of “experience taking” and how being caught up in someone else’s story allows us to test our social identities or try things we wouldn’t otherwise try.

It was very reassuring. It validated one of the reasons #whyiwrite (check out other writers’ reasons for writing on twitter). Also, it reinforced one of the reasons I read: escapism. I love putting on someone else’s life.

Along with this podcast prompting, blogger buddy, Jordana East posted some thoughts on book selection … Which lead me to think about how I choose titles and make decisions about what to read, whether or not I should ditch books mid-read. Be sure to check out her “won’t read” list. 

How do I select an identity to assume (a book to read)?

  • I tend to gravitate towards books written by women. I don’t know why. In recent years I’ve been broadening my scope to include male authors. I guess I used to think that I couldn’t relate to things a man would write. Thankfully I’ve matured.
  • Likewise I tend to choose books with female protagonists. Probably for the same reason as above.
  • My #bookconfession (again check out this hashtag on twitter) is that I worry about cost per page. It started out when I was poorer in life, when I worked full time in my early 20s but survived by eating a lot of Raman noodles while barely making rent. It seemed to matter more how I spent my entertainment dollars. But I am still grappling this thought process and as a writer I am mortified that this exists within me. My budget is bigger now and I love hardcover books so I want to pay what a writer is worth. Surprisingly when it comes to buying books for the dudes this never enters my mind. Anyway … I am working on it.
  • I typically enjoy books with a “meet cute” element. One of my favorite “experience taking” moments. So you are likely to see romance or chick lit titles on my Goodreads page.
  • I like books that appeal to young readers. So I ask the young people in my life what they are reading and get to see them be excited about immersing themselves in a good book. Which is also why I probably like and write YA fiction.

I am sure there are other ~isms that lead to the identities will take on.

Anyway, a long post to ultimately say:

Goodreads Avatar

Goodreads Avatar (Photo credit: minifig)

GETTING CAUGHT UP IN A GOOD STORY IS LIKE COMMITTING IDENTITY THEFT.

This has been a public service announcement for literacy … read more … it could keep you out of jail … unless you choose a book on the topic.

What stories are on your list? What identities will you try on this week? Who are your favorite authors when it comes to creating great lives to steal? 

Images from Zemanta care of WordPress.

Reading for Screen Time

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

We’ve entered a new phase of parenting. My husband and I have decided that screen time isn’t free. We are instituting a minute for minute trade off. For every minute our dudes read, write or craft, they get a minute of screen time.

Some of you are thinking, “Duh, of course”. Others are thinking, “Novel idea,” kind of like we were when some friends mentioned it.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. But, it’s hard to practice. As I write this post it hasn’t even been 24 hours since we communicated and introduced the change to our dudes. I already want to give in.

My dudes are mourning the loss of what has been freely given. It’s always been available to them. No questions asked. They’ve never had to earn it. This is a shift they weren’t expecting.

How did we end up here?

You may recall a post I did this summer: Unplugged, Turned Off and Tuned Out. And unplug we did. Less gadget time helped. I am sad to report that it’s creeped back up to unnecessary levels because we keep getting busier and busier. My hubby and I accept responsibility for this. It’s our fault not our dudes.

We’ve noticed increased tiredness; aggressive behavior and language; and their brotherly friendship is deteriorating. Sometimes their interactions end in a physically volatile manner.

They’ve forgotten about respect and acceptance and love. Oh yeah and did I mention respect. Not just for one another but for themselves. This can not continue to happen.

What’s their response?

8 Year Old Reads© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

8 Year Old Reads
© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

My oldest dude is mopey and mad. My youngest isn’t happy but spent 10 minutes this morning reading when they would usually watch TV. He’s on the path; already earned his first screen time. It may be harder at the end of the day for him. We’ll see.

Needless to say they are very angry. I’ve already heard the “B” word out of their little mouths. No. Not that one. This one: “I’m bored and I don’t have anything to read.”

Tragic right?

In my day, TV shows and movies weren’t so accessible. I mean you had to wait a whole week for the next episode. Now you can wait a day and see it on Hulu. And if you missed episodes you had to watch the reruns in the summer. Now you can wait for the next season to start and see the previous one on Netflix.

Oh and don’t forget the beauty of DVR. My kids have the luxury of instant gratification. It’s way too easy for them to watch what they want when they want; which can be a challenge for parents.

We were sent outside to play and couldn’t come back till the streetlights came on. We didn’t have all this fancy gadgetry. We didn’t have VHS till I was in high school. We didn’t have a computer in my childhood home. DVDs didn’t exist nor did the Internet or Apps. We had what we had and we were happy.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

We didn’t get to buy books, we went to the library. My boys have their own personal libraries and are running out of room on their bookshelves. We had chores that we didn’t get paid for, it was how we contributed to the household. Our little guys get an allowance for their contributions i.e. cleaning up and folding laundry.

I digress. Our boys have so many advantages.

The oldest is struggling the most. He said, as I dropped him off at school, “I hate reading and writing now.”

I truly hope this isn’t the case. It isn’t the desired effect.

Our goal isn’t to make them perceive reading as a punishment. Rather we want screen time to be perceived as a privilege and not a right. That it is a level of reward or an added benefit. For me reading is its own reward and I want my boys to think the same way.

Maybe there’s another approach and we haven’t come across it yet.

Of course, as parents, we receive the right to gift screen time to our boys on occasion but it’s not the rule of thumb. I know that there will be modifications along the way. In the end I anticipate that their moods will improve.

6 Year Old Reads© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

6 Year Old Reads
© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

For those of you thinking that it may not be the type of content they experience or the amount of it … we did a week long trial limiting their screen time and the content. We saw positive change.

So here we go. It’s time for drastic measures. Wish us luck … send up a prayer … We purchased new reads!

Parents, what have you done to balance out screen time in the lives of your little people?