Stay

windowI grew up in Seattle my entire life. I never moved away for college, but attended the University of Washington, a thirty minute bus ride from my house. I’ve kept many of my relationships and friendships for years and years, which might be why I’m not one to quickly make new friends, and also not one to quickly burn proverbial bridges when the going gets tough.

My husband and recently ran the numbers for what it would cost to move into a bigger “family” house in this neighborhood. *Gulp* In all likelihood, making some assumptions, we’d need to stay in our two bedroom townhome another four to five years before the finances worked out into our favor. So, unless one of us gets an unexpected chunk of money from somewhere (and yes, I’ve heard the advice that “Elise should write a bestseller” about a dozen times already), we’ll be in this place a fair bit longer. A lot longer.

I’ve been subjecting our house to organizing spurts recently, wracking my brain for better solutions to messy and half-hearted arrangements. And I feel powerful every time I conquer a few square feet of clutter. But am I content to stay? It’s going to get tighter if we have another baby. It’s going to get crazy as George is almost walking and will undoubtedly want to run over anything his feet can touch.

Am I content to stay? It feels like a deeper question. Staying and working with what we have is much harder than starting fresh, isn’t it? I know there are countless families all over the world who never leave their homes of birth, who stay in the same city their whole lives. There’s no shame in it.

I didn’t realize what an anchoring effect it is to give birth to a baby. He loves to stay. George loves the familiarity of his house. He doesn’t like sleeping somewhere new and different. When we unload him from the car and carry him past our neighbor’s yard, George barks at the fence because he’s used to hearing the neighbor’s dogs bark at him. He draws comfort from knowing where his home is, day after day.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around what our life will look like as we stay. I’d like to think it makes us a faithful, reliable refuge for friends and family as other friends move away for school or jobs or simply where they feel they need to be.

As for me, I’ll be right here where you left me.

Not to Brag but… {This Title is Sarcastic}

fountainI  made a strange resolution recently. I’m not sure I’ll be good at keeping it, but I’m going to post it publicly here to hold myself accountable.

I’ve decided to stop bragging on social media. That includes Twitter, Facebook, and this blog here.

There are moments throughout my life in which I have good news to share, but I’m now personally convicted that it’s not polite to shout this news from the internet mountaintops. I want to bend back toward something the resembles real, authentic life. That means, in order to share my good news, I’ll do it through personal communication with the people who matter.

This is the crux of the issue for me: So many times, when I’m logged onto social media, browsing my feeds, I’ve become deafened, drowned, and overwhelmed by pictures and posts that inspire depression or envy in the pit of my chest. “I wish I was there.” I’m never as lucky and successful as that.” “Why is my life so dull in comparison?” etc etc.

Is it ultimately my responsibility for how I react to these stimuli? Yes. Responsibility accepted. But then I realized I played my own part in the online bragfest.

So I’m pulling myself out.

I’ll still share good news. I know the difference between bragging and thankfully reflecting on something wonderful that has happened, and I know that everyone has to draw the line differently for what they feel is healthy to share. If I need to tell someone directly about my news, in a burst of excitement, I’ll tell friends and family. If they want to pass along the news, that is their freedom to do so. I’ll still be online. I’ll still be marketing my work. I’ll still share things. I just want to stop bragging. (And I’m not sure exactly what this balance looks like. Insight welcomed!)

This is what I know: there are unquestionably moments when I know that sharing a particular bit of news online would only be done to boast about how lucky or talented or special I am, essentially, to ride a boost of e-cheers that often come at the silent emotional expense of others.

I’m no the only one who’s found the news online difficult to endure. And I don’t want to just close the door on everything and walk away.

So I’ll just stop tooting my own horn.

I’ve tried this out unofficially for a few weeks now. My life feels less fake, which is strange to say. And, in a few surprising moments, I’ve felt more receptive to gestures of love from my friends.

Who would have thought?

Things I Want to Tell You

IMAG0691This was a letter that I planned to use as a blog post before Baby George arrived in the world. He decided to arrive 10 days before his due date, which might have been the reason it missed its original release date.

However, all the advice I had for him still applies. I think it’s funny that Relationships and Social Media seem equally important as categories in this letter. I hope someday George will read this and laugh and maybe even get something out of it. But until then, you get to enjoy it.

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Dear Little One,

With just weeks remaining before you’ll be born into the light, I have a few things to say—and I doubt you’ll understand any of them. Humor me. Mommy won’t be able to wait the years required for your language processor to be ready for this download.

Sometimes I just have to dump a lot of words out of my mouth. Your daddy is used to this, and he still loves me, so I know you’ll survive.

A few tips about life out here:

Communication -This might be the most important skill I’ll ever teach you. Find ways to explain how you’re feeling as fast as you possibly can. I’ll do my best to help you along, give you an emotions vocabulary, and listen carefully to you.

Understand Mommy’s Communication Style - I need lots of kind words and encouragement. Your mom gets depressed when she’s overwhelmed, so find a way to tell her what you appreciate. I’ll take any form of affection you want to give me.

About Relationships -You’re going to land smack in the middle of a complex web of giving and taking in this world. My best advice is to a) bring your communication skills out as often as you can, b) don’t assume anything, c) don’t take anything personally. Also, look for the very special friendships where you love the person so much, you can pour yourself into him/her and never feel like it’s too much. That’s called a “kindred spirit.” These friends are very rare and hard to find.

Don’t Fear Love - You’ll experience love in many forms. Your mommy and daddy are both hopeless romantics, so you’ll pick up some of this at home. My wisdom here: love people deeply, honestly, and carefully. Your feelings might seem at moments like an unstoppable wave that strangely evaporates a month or even a day later. Don’t throw away your life or happiness on a whim. Love is more dangerous and beautiful than fire, but you can’t live a full life without it.

Watch Out for Popular Media - Fake things can be made to look very real. Movies tell you that a glamorous life is normal, that successful people look perfect, and things will always work out in the end if you just believe in yourself. It’s bogus. Don’t look to Hollywood or Facebook or magazines or whatever is popular for people your age to get ideas on normal expectations. Don’t let people scare you away from going near any of it, either. Learn to sort beautiful truth from beautiful lies. Complicated? Yes. Your mom is still not an expert at this.

Keep Your Sense of Humor - Laugh a lot. Laugh at yourself as much as you can without being cruel. Go ahead and make mistakes, but don’t be afraid to start something, even if you’re not sure you can finish it. Failure is a lot less awful if you immediately get up and try again.

Seek God-There’s much you’ll have to learn and discover for yourself about Him, but I’ll tell you what my parents told me—He loves you even more than I will ever be able to. If you can understand this and grow from there, I will be glad.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Anxiously yours,

Mommy

New Story Published!

LostEyesCoverI have a special place in my heart for archaeology adventure stories like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and Romancing the Stone. While I was envisioning the universe of Forecast, and where it would be fun to explore more story history, I realized I needed to tell the tale of the Peruvian door, the first door Tobias Randolf encountered, the door that was the first domino in a chain of sweeping events.

Randolf has gained quite a reputation by the time he enters Forecast, but in this story, he is a young man searching for his destiny among ancient ruins and South American culture. He becomes entangled quickly in the myth and magic of Cuzco, Peru, and his most ardent helper is a beautiful woman who…I’ll stop myself before I give too much away!

My new short story THE LOST EYES is a prequel to FORECAST. You need not worry if you haven’t read FORECAST. It is its own story with a feeling of familiar danger and mystery that is found in the novel that follows it.

The cover was designed by the talented Daniel Ramer and the editing wisdom of Katie Flanagan helped make it even better!

Enjoy!

Click to Purchase The Lost Eyes on Amazon

(This is an e-book short story.)

You Want it in White?

Note: This is not my room.

Note: This is not my room.

Blasts from the past have something to tell us, even when that something is embarrassing.

I stumbled across at a photo taken at a party of mine from a few years ago. After bypassing the outrageous costumes we all were wearing, my current self cringed at the decorating choices of my past self as I studied the backdrop of the photo. To be fair, this particular picture documented a Twilight-themed party and we girls were all dressed as vampires and making ghastly grimaces at the camera. (If you’d like to judge me, now would be an excellent time.) Perhaps the house had been laid out in some party-inspired way. Regardless, I cringed.

I used to think dark wood and intense colors were my thing—whether on the walls of my house, or on the clothes I wore. Then I realized just how much light and brightness the color white brings to everything. There are moments when I feel I’m becoming a different being entirely, as evidenced by my house’s décor.

We braved IKEA recently. I was accompanied by a few close comrades (my mother and my son). George decided to skip his morning nap, but was cheerful the entire day in the store. My favorite antic of his was asking strangers for help freeing him from his high chair, after I refused to immediately remove him when he’d finished his lunch. He signed “all done” (we’ve taught him some sign language) to people as they passed him, hoping they would listen to his demands, even if his mother was a blind idiot.

IKEA activities: I supped on delicious Swedish meatballs, I danced with a paper IKEA measuring tape around my neck singing “Wonder of Wonders” from Fiddler on the Roof, I ran through the store hunting for the shortcuts to the exit after backtracking to check the size of something…all in a typical day, right?

I brought back a lovely black-and-white print of a bridge over waterway in Amsterdam. The sole color of the piece is a red bicycle leaning against the bridge railing. The print now hangs in front of our television and hides it.

Why is IKEA special to me? Because whoever designs all those cute rooms is demonstrating to me a reality that I could happily recreate. I’m able to see something and cry, “I love it!” without immediately then whimpering, “And I can’t afford it!”

Design, as a whole, usually strikes me as a state of mind where homes are beautiful sanctuaries and children are the unwanted tornadoes who eventually replace all gleaming order with scuffed chaos (See my post on interior design for the mildly depressed).

But IKEA knows you have kids. And they’re welcome.

Maybe my mom let me jump on too many IKEA beds in too many IKEA dream bedrooms when I was little. (And I always wanted to sleep in one. Too bad I don’t live in Sydney, or I’d have a chance at this…)

I just love this place. Not quite as much as Disneyland, but somewhere in that part of the brain. It awakens possibility in me. It encourages me to think big, to dream in a practical way that enhances, organizes, and simplifies my life.

I’m grateful for that.

Creativity is about…

boatI’m not one of those folks who believes that a painter on a desert island will go on painting canvases (or rather, banana leaves, as this may be the only available resource) if s/he is alone with no one else to see the art.

I honestly don’t think this sort of perpetual creative art would happen, and that’s not just my personal ego and need for appreciation talking.

Humans have been wired with a need for community. Even if we do our best work alone (and this is exactly true, according to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet), we do not serve ourselves best by remaining that way.

I can’t write at my desk in my little town house while my son sleeps and be happy in the completeness that I’ve laid out a few paragraphs of story. Sure, there are days when I’m certain I’ve made something good, but this all-too-soon fades without someone to share my work with.

I formed a critique group to get a dedicated bunch of readers to help me finish writing my first novel. I needed them desperately.

I paint so that my husband will smile and admire it. I smear pastels in vivid arrangements so that my dad’s eyes spark and he asks if he can hang it on his wall. I read my stories out loud on Friday nights because my listening friends keep me from stopping to write entirely. I dance so that my husband and I can connect together.

Creativity is about giving what you’ve made to other people.

I don’t create so that people will like me (heh, at least not always). But I also don’t create art for no one.

So if you think it’s a romantic notion to just lock yourself away for an endless, silent bliss in which you can focus on your creative endeavor, you should definitely follow this urging. Just don’t be surprised when you lose your steam. That is your signal to return. It means you need your community.

I’ll say it again:

Creativity is about giving what you’ve made to other people.

That loneliness for others is not weakness. It’s the voice of your village calling you back.

Birthdays and Milestones

image_4

Remember when I wrote that post about emerging from a dark Cave and discussed the process of cradling my newborn son while I groped my way back to the outside world?

That little son is almost one year old now.

And he’s teaching me all sorts of stuff. I’m learning how to be more patient, tender, and detailed in caring for him than I have ever had to be for another person.

20140717_123743To give you a flavor for George, he is happy, energetic, curious, mischievous and very affectionate. (And now that he crawls, he’s a moving tornado in the house.)

As his first birthday approaches, I realize it’s not just George who’s grown. His mama has, too.

I’ll be icing the cupcakes with little bumblebees with sliced almond wings and thinking over all the ways George has changed to become a self-moving, solid-food chewing, word-babbling, kiss-giving, hand-clapping, heart-melting little guy…

image_2While at the same time I’ve become a woman who’s surrendered her hold on perfection in her home and physical appearance (this is a very good thing!). I feel my compassion growing larger, too, I’m a woman who sees other mothers with their littles and celebrates the miracle of just getting out the door. My heart aches for little babies and sleep-deprived parents. I know the mercy of someone bringing you a meal when you can hardly find time enough to sleep. I know it because I’ve experienced it firsthand.

20140706_120627George turns 1 on August 1st (his first birthday will be his Golden!) and as he puts this milestone under his belt, I finally feel ready to accept the mantle of motherhood. I’m embracing the forgetfulness that has never quite left me since pregnancy. I’m at peace with the thirty minutes I need to leave the house. I’m relaxing as I sit with George at the splash pool in the sunshine, listening to him giggle and clap his hands because I’m learning to slow down.

This is my story. It’s simple, and sometimes that’s just how the real ones turn out to be.

Hot Tub

rsz_mistyhillsQuick! Get as busy as you can! It will fix things!

(This is a sure-fire sign that something is off)

After almost nine months, I think the gloom has hit me again.

I remember being depressed the first three or so months of George’s life because it was such a hard adjustment in lifestyle. And then, when I started to learn the ropes, I was so focused on being grateful for the little moments of being a mom—such as laughing with my baby and hearing his giggles or relishing the restfulness of *time to myself* during one of his naps, I was too thoroughly busy to be depressed.

Ah, so busyness is the key…?

Then I wonder, ‘Does this moodiness hit me only when I have the time to slow down?’ My knee-jerk reaction: ‘Well then, keep yourself busy so it never can catch up to you!’ But I know in my heart that isn’t the answer.

I’ve been moving very very quickly.

I had a huge fundraiser dinner event to throw before heading out to the east coast for a literary boot camp and then I returned and dissolved in a flurry of trying to get my life back into order and thanking all the people who helped send me on the trip and trying to stay connected to the other writers I’d just met and…you’d wonder how I remember to eat meals. It helps that my husband and son remind me because they’re hungry.

It’s been a strange past few days. I’m suddenly irritated by unfinished projects. I don’t have any desire to write because all writing is difficult and not fun because: I have too many questions to sort out. Too many plots to develop. Too many words that I’ve worked and re-worked so many times that I can’t honestly tell if they’re good anymore.

Fortunately my husband is patient and my son is good-natured. I’m not surrounded by outer ordeals. I just seem to be sitting inside the swirling center of my own internal funk.

I try to work harder. To press in deeper. To find something to throw myself at so that I can be productive. And then, a very dear friend of mine suggested I be spontaneous this week. She can tell that this depression is pointing at some kind of fragility in me. She knows the healthy thing is to be gentle with myself, not more iron-handed. Geeze, I don’t know when I’ll learn this stuff for myself. Why is self-care so damn hard?

My friend invited me and my husband up to her house to use her hot tub while she watches our baby. We’re going tonight.

I don’t think the complications of life’s roller coasters always need elaborate solutions. I don’t expect the hot tub to melt all my woes away.

But it will be a way to slow down and love myself.

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