Less and Less

leavesI’m doing less and less these days. (In quantity, I must add. I dare not say I’m doing less “in quality.”)

Do it well and keep it simple. It’s so much better than reaching too high and failing miserably.

I shall elucidate: Picture me with four pots on the stove, veggies in the colander in the sink, meat thawing in the microwave, bread warming in the oven, sauce burning on the stove…and then correctly deduce my emotional state as losing my mind because my son is getting fussy and ready for his bath, but I have fifteen more minutes of chopping left before I can put the main dish in the oven to bake–you get the idea. I’m trying to cook something fancy for dinner, but if I’m interrupted (likely) or James gets home late from work (a frequent occurrence when he’s in a busy season), then the meal is ruined or cold and my mood is, shall we say, a lot like the dinner?

Here’s another example: A have a dear group of friends who often trek down to a local pub on Friday nights to grab beers after reading out loud excerpts of their fiction projects together. I haven’t been able to join them in months because I have a darling little human alarm clock who goes off between 6:30-7am every morning, without fail. I am now a dedicated morning person, weekends not excepted. I climb into bed early in the evening and have real feelings of affection for my new down comforter. I don’t think I used to love my bed quite as fiercely.

A third illustration: Walking around Seattle’s Green Lake with my stroller and baby in front of me and a good friend beside me is one of my favorite things to do. But meeting up with anyone requires me to arrive in a physical location at a specific time, and I can seriously feel the new gray hairs when I struggle to get my son and myself out the door. Friend dates have made themselves impossible to accomplish on a daily basis. The pressure and anxiety isn’t worth it.

I feel I should clarify what I’m saying here: This isn’t settling. This isn’t accepting defeat. This isn’t setting my sights low. Anyone who knows me knows I hold myself to ridiculously high standards in my art and professional work, as well as my community relationships. After that, everything else must be simplified.

If I cook fancy dishes, I resent mealtimes. If I stay out late and disregard my sleep needs, I wind up a grumpy basket case. If I book myself tightly with social engagements, I have nothing left for my husband at the end of the day and I’m shorter-tempered with my son.

You might hear echoes here of my post on Simplicity and Sunglasses.

Here’s where I’ve come out on the other side: I love early mornings again. I’ve found freedom in dinner-prep by doing spurts of chopping in the morning or afternoon. I can cherish outings with my friends as a treat, not a mandatory way to fill time.

It’s not easy. Life simplification can quickly swing to under-stimulation. When when I find myself surprised on a Monday morning by a peaceful, calm heart, I know I’m treading new ground.

Peacefulness is a victory that cannot be overstated.

Pearl

pearlI was hardly prepared for the weekend that just passed. I have a habit of being revved up and excited before a writer’s conference (and grumpy, exhausted, and burned out, after one), but this excited pre-conference state is understandable, right? It’s like being a candy shop of learning that’s jam-packed with people who are just as crazy as I am about how to tell a good story.

I didn’t feel that way this year. I didn’t want to go.

I wanted to use all the time I had to just write on my projects. It struck me that, though there are always new things I can learn (and someone please slap me if I ever develop a different opinion), there are also periods of my life when it’s the time to work, not the time to fill my head with new suggestions and techniques. I’m currently in that place where it’s my time to work: I’m revising my Irish fantasy with dragons and magic. I have a short story selected for publication in a fantasy anthology that tells a love story of heartbreak and loss that I’ll soon be revising. I have a precocious 14-month-old baby boy who is almost walking, and living up to the name (Curious) George with flying colors.

I’m busy.

Thus, I approached this full weekend of classes with a bit of pessimism. I desperately needed another perspective. I was feeling alone and small and exhausted. I prayed and asked God to come with me to the conference. Then I set for myself the goal of connecting with people and refusing to allow myself to become overwhelmed by what I would learn.

You know what happened? On Saturday evening, I found myself talking to another author, a friend who I met through my publisher, about being a parent and finding time to write in the midst of raising a child. I confessed my fear that my window of writing opportunities was closing, that I’d have to give it up entirely for the very worthy task of parenting, and how sick with dread that thought made me.

Writing is part of who I am. It’s not just a hobby. It’s a deep part of me and what I was made to do.

This author friend looked me right in the eye and told me that I wouldn’t have to stop. Even if I wrote poetry on napkins. He told me that I was a real writer, and obstacles like this don’t stop the real ones from continuing to write. He shared his own stories of attending night school, raising two sons, having a full-time job, and skimping on sleep in order to still write. I cried and walked around the table to hug him. He’d seen me and understood.

This was the highlight of my writing conference: sharing a human fear with another writer and having that fear addressed and quieted with compassion. It’s a funny morsel to take back with me from a writer’s conference, yet it shimmers in my heart like a pearl.

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.