Field Notes from Boot Camp

GroupphotoI’m tougher, stronger, and better from my week in Greensboro, North Carolina.

It was hard, but good.

The five-hour flight into Atlanta followed by a five-hour drive up to Greensboro, NC was no picnic with my 11-month-old son in tow, but we survived! I managed to fold up my wallet into George’s stroller, and then shove the whole think in the trunk of my rental. What followed was, off course, a near panic attack as I realized my wallet was missing.

Hilary, George and I stop for gas

Hilary, George and I stop for gas

My friend, Hilary, who traveled this entire way just to help care for George, was and is a trooper and an angel. And after this whole trip had finished, she made it clear that she still loved both me and my son. Talk about a miracle!

Also, it was Hilary who found my wallet.

Lunch time for George

Lunch time for George

On our road trip north, each time we stopped it was a milestone and a small victory. *Trumpet blares* We made it to the grocery store! *Wild fanfare* We made it to the gas station!

Or, even better–*Standing Ovation* George fell asleep! Don’t stop driving till he opens his eyes!

We arrived at the Greensboro Sheraton around midnight local time and did our best to collapse and catch what sleep we could before the next day started. George couldn’t quite manage to do this, so we had short sleep interrupted by a distressed baby.

Dinner at OSC's house

Dinner at OSC’s house

He did not sleep well the entire trip. I remember, blearily, one evening when Hilary picked up George and calmed him by singing him the theme to Pan’s Labyrinth. I love that song. It soothed everyone in the room that night.

The first two days of boot camp were jammed with good information. Based on Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint, we spent two days understanding how to build characters, ask ourselves good questions while we design our stories, and create a believable and authentic point of view to use for our narrative. But, ahem, don’t let me geek out on you. It was intense.

Boot Campers 2014

Boot Campers 2014

After the first two days, Boot Camp officially began. We took this third day to write a brand new short story and turn it in to be critiqued by the rest of the group. Talk about nerve-wracking. No second-guessing, no musing, just get an idea and write it down! Orson Scott Card’s instructions: “These are the rules. Your story must have an end. Other than that, make it clear. Don’t make it beautiful or artistic. Make it clear.”

I enjoyed having this time limit and having to finish so quickly. I felt good about my piece. I researched motorcycles because I knew my character would be using one to take a road trip. I wrote and wrote and ate and nursed George and wrote and wrote and read it over only once and then the time was up. I sent it in. Oh yeah, and then I started reading homework for the next day.

View from my workshop seat

View from my workshop seat

We boot campers had eleven stories from the other writers to read and critique. We were in sessions all day together, working through the stories, discussing subjects that arose (and we covered everything from sex to politics to using cuss words in these discussions), and then in the evening we read the next batch of stories until our eyes nearly fell out of our heads.

Dinner with Boot Campers on our last night

Dinner with Boot Campers on our last night

I snatched a few breaks to have dinner with George and Hilary, and to swim in the hotel’s lovely pool. Orson Scott Card hosted us one night at his house for dinner. It was a huge honor to be there, to sit in his kitchen, to hug his wife as I left. He is a good, kind, humble and very talented man. I can’t say enough how happy I am to have been able to learn from him for a week.

One thing that real

George hanging out with the luggage

George hanging out with the luggage

ly struck me, is that even though he is a well-published author with books that have won awards and experienced fantastic sales, he still admits the mistakes he’s made–from beginner mistakes when he was just starting to publish to recent mistakes. He does not pose as someone who “always does it right” and this makes it so much easier to learn from and admire him. Because he shows us that he’s still growing as an author.

OSC and me!

OSC and me!

I can’t end this without saying more one more huge THANK YOU to the friends and family who helped send me on this adventure. You guys rock! Thank you for making this a reality!

 

If you have specific questions about my Literary Boot Camp experience, ask away!

Village of Friends

placesettingsIn almost all of the good stories about an adventurer on a quest, that adventurer is supported by a fellowship, a community, a village of those who love this quester and wish to see him or her succeed.

largetableLast weekend my village rallied together.

My fundraiser dinner went off like a sparkling firecracker. It was a beautiful success.

secondtableA huge number of people offered to help. They served wine. They laid out candles. They dragged tables and arranged chairs. They scrubbed dishes. They baked bread sticks. Every act showed me how much they cared about me and my dreams.

speechTalk about a love fest.

We were given the huge gift of the use of someone’s home for this. I wish I could throw parties like this more often!

My helpers

My helpers

The report: I have been able to raise all the funds needed to cover the tuition for Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp! What’s more, I raised a surplus, which I’ll use to hire a successfully published author to inspire, encourage, and instruct aspiring Seattle authors.

Thank you everyone who made all of this possible!

Love,

Elise

Is Someone Watching Me?

paintbrush“Mom! Look at this!”

I hold up my artwork.

Horses. Princesses. Flowers. Mermaids. Castles. Repeat.

I remember when I wanted to be a visual artist. Drawing after drawing of the above subjects, in just about every creative combination you could think of. I’d show these drawings to my mother, filled with delight and joy because I had made something that I deemed beautiful.

Then I grew up and somehow decided I had to impress the whole darn world before I could just anything I created ‘good.’ Jeeze. Way to raise the bar, Elise.

Nothing wrong with aspiring for excellence, folks. But I keep trying to remember that, by and large, excellence is objective, and will withstand the test of time, whether or not its instantly recognized for what it is.

I started out as a goody two-shoes who aimed to please her parents. In school, I strove for good grades. In writing, I strove for acceptance via publication, then for positive reviews, then for large sales. (Hint: trying to get the next big acceptance never really stops until you decide to make it stop).

I don’t want to live like a judge or crowd is watching me. It means I’ll second-guess every decision I make.

I want to create in the same way that I made my first drawings of princesses riding horses with flowers in their hair. And in case you were wondering, both the horses and the princesses were wearing flowers in their hair, because more flowers means more beauty. I made those drawings with pure delight.

Forget whether or not you can sell it. Make it for yourself. Make it for God. It’s the only way to make anything really good anyway, because this is the only way to keep it real.

Don’t know about you, but I forget the truth so easily.

What’s your earliest memory of creating for pure joy?

On Simplicity and Sunglasses

sunglasses“You’re too young to wear sunglasses.”

I’m having a conversation with a good friend, lamenting the currently unbearable distance is between where I am and where I want to be. She looks at me, smiles, and says, “You don’t really want to be famous yet. You’re too young to wear sunglasses.”

Remember those movies about the small-town singer who becomes a superstar or the little obscure shy person who becomes the big-time success? There are plenty of them out there. Just about everyone, including me, likes to watch those rags-to-riches stories. In my case, I enjoy it right up to the moment when I remember that the lucky twerp who has everything work out for them isn’t me.

I want to be famous and successful so badly it hurts. And sometimes that pain, (oh heck, most of the time) is in the form of jealousy, depression, and severe impatience. I’m crawling out of the hole of one more pity party, and I’m done. I hate the “hangovers,” and the pity party wasn’t so sweet to begin with.

I want to embrace being exactly who I am. I’m not a bestselling author. I’m not a world-class swing dancer. I’m not a jazz singer. All of these things I’ve dreamed of being at one time or other. *Clears throat* Well, the author one hasn’t left my bloodstream yet, to be honest.

My theme song of the season:

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.

‘Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.

And when we’ve found ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

It’s not just about stripping my schedule and commitments down to the essentials to give myself room to breathe. It’s about finding joy in where I am today.

I am: Wife to a man who loves me more tenderly and patiently than I deserve. Mother to a son is learning to (dawwww!) give the sweetest baby kisses. Author with the chance to work with talented and kind people on my literary projects. Friend among a generous community of friendships.

I may not be famous. I may never be famous. And I really don’t need to be.

In those movies about how stars were born, the plot makes it seem like the protégée makes it big because s/he never gave up. Newsflash: Hard work is not guaranteed to be the magic bullet. Determination does help. I know it does. But when your ambition has brought you to the point that you’re losing sleep at night, worrying over details and ideas for how to get ahead because you’re still not where you want to be…it’s a load of crap. It’s just not worth it.

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.

I want to relish the simplicity of now, and stand in that freedom. This doesn’t mean giving up my hopes in my future, but it does mean that I can’t let those hopes become an obsession.

Maybe one day I’ll wear sunglasses in public because I want to escape the fans. Maybe I’ll just wear them because it’s bright outside.

I’m just too damn tired of throwing inner tantrums because I haven’t “arrived” and I’m too impatient about getting there.

‘Tis a gift to come down where you out to be.

I’m here. I’m me. I’m okay with here. I’m grateful for *this*.

The Ask

flowersDo you remember the last time a friend asked you for help? I often find myself replying “Of course! I’d love to!” because I care about the person and want to help them reach their goals or find relief in a tight situation. But then when it’s my turn to ask for help, I want to do anything but ask for it. I’d rather stay up all night folding programs than ask for someone’s assistance. It’s ridiculous!

Some of you have heard the big news. I’ve been accepted into Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. At the end of June, I’ll be flying to the east coast with my little baby in tow and a dear friend who will help watch him, to take a week to study at the feet of a fiction-writing master, the author of Ender’s Game. I’m thrilled and scared-out-of-my-mind at rather regular intervals.

It costs a chunk of change to get out there. And it’s time for me to ask for help. For those of you in the Seattle area, I’ll be throwing a fundraiser dinner on June 21st, 2014. More details on this to come!

For those of you who want to help me out, I am grateful for any amount of donation. You’ll be investing in me, an artist, and the future of my writing. I am deeply thankful for the love and support of my friends, which goes well beyond monetary contributions. Whether you give generously, just a buck, or not at all, it is fine.

In this, I am learning to ask for help.

You can donate directly to me via PayPal by clicking the button below:




All money received will be used toward tuition for Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp. If surplus funds are received, I will use them to hire a local Seattle author to teach and inspire a group of aspiring Seattle writers.

Thank you so much!

Elise

Belly Flops

LadderWe got a huge bag of Belly Flops for Easter this year. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, Belly Flops are the misshapen jelly beans that didn’t pass the Jelly Belly perfection test. Some of them look a bit like runts, but seem fairly normal, others, how shall we put this nicely, resemble obscene amoeba.

I’ve been stressing this past week. (Oh and I’m totally chowing down on Belly Flops while I write this). I’m in the throes of planning my first fundraiser event, and I actually thought, when I dreamed it up, that it wouldn’t be very hard. Y’all have permission to laugh at me. I suddenly find my brain juggling thoughts of donation request letters, non-profit eligibility, and entertainment options.

Whenever I try something new, what ultimately makes me falter is the idea of messing up. Of failing. Of making a belly flop.

Back to the Belly Flops candies. These misshapen rejects are evidence of just how many mess ups are actually created in the day-to-day of life. I think we’d all prefer to crank out perfection from dawn to dusk, but that isn’t the reality of anything.

What are the Belly Flops I want to avoid? I hate paying postage to mail a donation request that might be turned down. I hate asking for event organizing help from friends as if I’m a beggar. I hate marketing myself and my goals while trying not to whine or sound needy.

Most of all, I hate making mistakes. I’m haunted (probably more than your average Jane), by “if only” statements. I want to pretend that Belly Flops (not the candies this time) do not exist. But they do. And it takes a lot of Belly Flops (yes, the candies this time) to make the good jelly beans. That means that these mistakes need to happen.

If they’re not happening, I’m not trying hard enough.

I’ll be rejected sometimes. I’ll have people refuse to help me. I’ll offend someone. I’ll get down on my knees and apologize to someone I’ve offended.

I’m going to belly flop so I can learn how to better perfect my dive.

{I always get seized up when I am going through the growing pains of challenging myself. This time it’s a fundraiser to pay for the tuition of attending a literary boot camp on the other side of the country.}

Where are you afraid to fail? Admitting it is the first step in reaching for it.

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Just Try

jumpEating cooked vegetables at three years old.

Me: It looks gross! I hate the smell.

Mom: Just try it.

Me: WAAAH!

Mom: One bite. You only have to try one bite.

Elise takes a bite and, years later, learns that she likes vegetables.

 

Learning to dive backwards in high school.

Me: Oh my gosh. I’m so scared I think I’m going to be sick.

Instructor: I’ll help you. Just lean back, squeeze your butt, and aim for the water.

Me: I’m about to pass out.

Instructor: I’m right here. Just try it.

Elise learns to dive backwards and feels the exuberance of facing her fear.

Now fast forward a few years. We’ve finished college and we’re in the “real” world. How is that we’ve stopped really “trying” for stuff? As little kids, we had parents prodding us forward. In school, we might have had a teacher or mentor who gave us the cheering-on that we needed to be brave. Then we started working a job and

BOOM.

It’s just us now. No one is daring us to “just try it” anymore.

When I read the book The Artist’s Way I had exercises that forced me to ask courageously for things freely and readily, believing it was possible to get them. I once sweet-talked my way into a supermarket giving me a beautiful poster with a stack of Ritter-Sport chocolate bars displayed on it. They asked me if I needed it for a project. No, I said. I just loved the picture. Could I have it? They gave it to me.

A month ago I applied for a creative writing class with a well-known writer who I highly respect as a person and an author. I felt sure that I would not be accepted, with the program’s limited number of student spaces and the renown of the author. I was shocked to receive an acceptance letter.

I don’t think that “trying” ever gets any easier, especially when we’re trying something for the first time. It was hard when I was three and it was hard when I was sixteen and ironically, it seems like it’s hardest of all now, when I’m an independent twenty-eight year old adult. And yet, every time I try for something I want, no matter whether I get the thing I’m reaching for or not, I’m happy that I tried.

Because trying validates those hopes and dreams that are flapping and squawking to be heard inside of me. I honor their existence by taking action.

So this one goes out to all of you who feel terrified of reaching for that thing you want. Take a little step this week. Ask for help. Smile as you do it. The worst thing that happens is you try. And trying in itself is a victory.

Just try.

Wild Stomping Grounds

meadowgrassA friend of mine posted on Twitter that some people are so excited to pursue creativity that they forget to also make sure they have the skills and training to support it.

Hmmm. While I think it foolish to chase a notion that you have no idea what you’ll do with once you catch it, I also think that the biggest challenge is often just valuing creativity enough to make space for it in your life.

Spring has arrived. The tiny leaves of my Japanese maple, so pale they are almost white, are unfurling beside my window. The evenings are being won over to the light. My son has slept through the night three times in row. Tis a season of hope and possibilities.

It recently whacked me upside the head and deep in the heart that if I’m going to aspire to make art, devour books, enjoy dinner with friends, and deeply connect with my husband, I have the time to do this if I would just pour the hours I spend on television and movies into these interests.

*gulp*

A long string of exhausted, drained days in my recent past made the choice of screen-based entertainment an easy choice.

But I need the rich times of raking through the mulch, tilling the proverbial soil, and no caliber of movie or show can replace the feeling of sticky fingertips and racing heart when I’m in the middle of collaging. Nothing substitutes for holding my husband’s hand in quiet conversation.

I do not intend to make a value judgment on better and worse forms of entertainment. You can do your research and decide what works for you. I know this: Humanity existed without screen-based entertainment for generations, so I’m confident I can handle myself for a few weeks, to start with.

I’m throwing wide the door for the novels I’ve had so little time to read, the brain-freeing and enchanting exercises from The Trickster’s Hat, strengthening my marriage through a relationship workbook with my husband, baking new desserts, listening to NPR evening radio, sewing, and painting.

I’m calling these evenings the wild stomping grounds. I will hold all work done here loosely so that it does not become more checkboxes on my to-do list.

I will want to change my mind. I will crave passive entertainment. I will try to justify why I deserve it. I will also do my darnedest to hold out by surrounding myself with enticing alternatives.

I will protect the fertile soil for my creativity and give it a field in which to run free.

My creative roadblock happens to be screen-based entertainment. What’s yours? Want to try joining me by kicking your roadblock from your schedule for a few weeks?

Awesome Non-Romantic Love Words

sunsetI found a funny, silly, but also serious article about romantic words in other languages. You can check it out here.

It made me do my own pondering about “romantic language” and how there is so much more to love with words that goes beyond expressions of love and affection. I don’t mean this in purely the romantic sense. This can apply to close friendships and family, too.

Words that strip us bare. I’m sorry. I hurt you. This admittance of wrong-doing and humbling refusing to defend ourselves is super hard and one of the best things we can do when we’re on the rocks with someone. We say this when we want to save the relationship more than we need to justify ourselves.

Words that guide us forward. I know you can do this. Let’s figure it out together. When the going is tough, I don’t want to hear “I love you” or “You’re amazing.” I want help figuring out the mess I’m in. I want someone who will cheer me on and take serious interest in my outcome.

Words that comfort us. I’ll hold your hand till it stops shaking. I will stay with you in this grief. The promise of faithfulness during the awful, gross, dark times is what makes us stronger together. It’s more comforting to say you’ll stick around and follow through on it than it is to try to soothe the situation with strings of hopeful words.

Words that point to truth. You’re believing lies right now and I won’t stand for it. Listen to the truth. This is the real truth about who you are: You are beloved by God, and everything else comes after that. I can’t tell you how many times I get lost in a fog of muddled thinking and need someone to point me in the direction of light and truth. This pointing takes courage and love.

All these kinds of words require love of the kind that endures and fights for what’s right, and doesn’t worry about itself.

So when I’m about to speak to someone I love dearly, I’m trying to remember these nuances because I want to include the parts that make love complex and real.

There have to be a million ways to show loved ones affection in non-stereotyped ways. What are some of yours? Do you use words? Gestures? Pictures? Something else?

In Which I Ponder the Notion of Being Both a Mama AND Something Else

treesandsunSome conversations change our lives.

Interactions with others make us take our path in a different directions. Some also encourage us to stay on our paths, but to walk with more confidence and courage.

I have been so discouraged whenever I catch wind of the implication I must let my dreams fall aside to make way for what my little baby needs me to be to him. As if I could exist completely and utterly for my son, with nothing else attached to me. There are times when this is necessary. His first three months of life demanded this. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I really honestly don’t think this, as a lifestyle, is possible for me. It may be something other mothers handle with beautiful grace and happiness. But not me. And I don’t think this means I’m doing something wrong.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about fighting for my life. I thought a breakthrough was on its way.

It’s happened.

There are some dreams and hopes so precious to me, so integral not only to who I am, but who I am supposed to actively be, that I can’t let them slip away. Writing is one of those things. In a conversation I had last week with a kindred spirit, I realized two things.

1. I can be a {good} mama and wife and still write {good} books. It is possible. Women all over the world are doing it. {I added the qualifiers in brackets to make sure it wasn’t implied that I’d be a mom but write distracted and shoddily-produced work).

2. I can’t do much more than be those three above things. I will have to let other commitments go until the time when being a mama isn’t this intense, wonderful and consuming journey that it is right now.

A letter comes to mind:

So here it is, my dear friends.

I’ve entered a season where I cannot be the {social, available, spontaneous, etc} person I used to be.This will affect us.

It does not mean I don’t love you. It does not mean that I would not like to spend time with you. It is simply that I don’t have much time to call my own and I am carefully prioritizing what I do have.

I need the periods while my son sleeps to use for my own work. This work is something that I will weep if I cannot do.

If we manage to see each other, it will likely be contingent on my child’s nap schedule. I can no longer say “I’ll meet you there at 10am.” Life has too many unforeseen delays! :) When the baby is awake, we can take walks outside while my son wiggles his feet in the wind and we’ll both get our exercise, but I can’t slip away to a coffee shop. We might meet in the evening. We might meet on the weekends. But I’ll be spending much of that time with my husband and son.

I have to do this. I have to guard my family and writing or I will lose my mind and my joy. I must be a friend and lover and confidante to my husband. I must cherish and adore my son. I must write my stories.

I am not vanishing, I am not being intentionally cold. I am simply being who I need to be.

If we see less of each other, I still love you. If I start to seem flaky in my scheduling, this is why. My heart is here, in the open. I hope you can understand.

All my love,

Elise

And now I will sit here and imagine those who will read this letter and be hurt, no matter what I say. I do not want that. But I know that I have to do this.

What ordeals have you faced when making tough decisions involving re-prioritizing? What encouragement can you offer?