Posting was light this week because, well, I was in a state of frenzy for several days. But I’m starting to wind down, though it’s still not quite over. Still, I got a chance to put together a little recap of my crazy week at Alt Summit.
In less than a month, we’ll have a big transition. A big, wonderful transition I’ve been waiting for FOREVER. I’ve been waiting for it for so long and been so focused on the logistics that I haven’t really thought much about everything else that goes along with it.
In a month, Tessa starts school.
Her IEP was in December and it was an exercise in anxiety. In the world of special needs parenting, every time your child makes progress you have the thrill of victory along with a deep fear that now they’ll lose the supports that have helped them make that progress. I knew Tessa’s formal Autism diagnosis made the odds of getting her into a classroom pretty high, but I worried. And sitting through that meeting did not help.
Graham displays a lot more of the classic signs of Autism than Tessa does. In many ways he was ahead of Tessa, but his difficulties are easier to see. Tessa, we learned from her evals, has an ability to focus that goes well beyond what you’d expect from a child of her age.
I knew this already, of course. I put her to bed the other night screaming because I didn’t let her finish cleaning up the game she was playing. She’d taken a good half hour to take every piece out and put it nicely on the board, and now she was putting them away one by one. I wasn’t waiting another half hour before putting her to bed. She can seriously focus on one little activity like this for an hour. I wasn’t sure it would extend into an evaluation situation, but it did.
Hearing people say great things about your kid in an IEP makes you proud and nervous. I didn’t breathe easy until we reached the end and finally everyone agreed that she’d be placed in an early childhood class. Then there was another month of waiting to find out if she’d be placed in Graham’s school. And now it’s time to get ready.
I’ve been excited because of the prospect of ONE drop-off and ONE pick-up. I’m sure any parent with more than one child understands that. Taking Tessa to daycare adds at least a half hour to my morning commute and again to my evening commute. And, of course, daycare costs money even when you find one that’s relatively affordable. The difference in my budget isn’t enough to make a huge difference in my life, but it will mean less worry and less times when things are really dicey. And the time. The time! I’ve been working from home two days a week and not getting into the office until noon. I’m excited to be able to get in at a more reasonable hour and not feel so rushed on the days I work and have the kids.
I can’t even express the madness that is my Monday through Wednesday each week. This is huge.
But this set of new beginnings is about transitions. It means Tessa leaves the daycare she’s been going to for a year and a half. It’s been amazing for her and she’s been really happy there. It means Tessa gets a whole new set of routines and people and everything and I know that’ll be a bumpy transition.
And it means figuring out the gaps in time before and after school, since Tessa is too young to go to the programs provided at school.
Oh, and then summer will come and we have to figure out camp for TWO kids and the cost of childcare will go way up for 3 months.
So hey, things are about to change. Hopefully it will be for the better. And then they’ll change again. And again. And again.
All I can do is hope for the best.
January is a great month to be a reader. November and December are full of bookish fun with Best of the Year lists and books to gift, but there’s very few new releases in those months so you go through a bit of a drought. But January everything comes back in full swing and there’s a lot of exciting books showing up on your local bookstore’s shelves. In particular, this January is a wealth of new suspenseful novels so I’m devoting this post to my picks.
Let’s start with the book that’s getting the most buzz, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. You’ve probably noticed how a lot of books lately have been trying to jump on the If You Liked Gone Girl You Should Read This marketing train. This is another one of those books and in some ways it’s kinda similar. It features mostly domestic drama, prickly female protagonists, and the frenzy around a young wife’s disappearance. But despite those commonalities it’s a very different kind of book. Gone Girl had those elements but was really a twisty, turny, joyride of a book. The Girl on the Train is less playful and more bleak. It’s also more traditional in its style, with constant little bursts of plot twists followed by a slow racheting up of the tension.
With all that said, it’s probably helpful if I tell you what it’s ABOUT. Rachel is an alcoholic who’s getting pretty close to hitting rock bottom. She’s been fired from her job, but she still takes the train into the city everyday and pretends she’s going to work so she doesn’t have to confess the truth to her roommate. Every day on the train she passes the neighborhood where she used to live before her messy divorce, and every day she looks at one house in particular. She imagines the couple there, who she’s called Jess and Jason, are living the perfect life. Until the day she sees something that’s definitely not perfect. Within days the perfect wife is missing and Rachel becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Her obsession might have something to do with the fact that she was in the neighborhood that night but remembers nothing thanks to a drunken blackout. What did she see? Can she piece apart the fragments of memory to find out what happened? It’s a book that moves very fast with plenty of twists along the way.
If you like your suspense in a proper literary package, you should definitely pick up Descent by Tim Johnston. Descent begins with teenage siblings Caitlin and Sean on an early morning run during their Rocky Mountain vacation. Hours later, Sean is found badly injured and Caitlin has disappeared. Caitlin’s family begins to fall apart as the weeks and months pass with no sign of her, all of them responding in different ways. Her father refuses to return home, takes up residence in the town where his daughter was lost. Her mother shows signs of a nervous breakdown. Her brother steals his father’s truck and drives off for a solitary life on the road.
If this sounds a bit too meditative for you, take heart. Johnston isn’t going to let it lie there. In the midst of showing us how Caitlin’s family flounders without her, he also shows us what has happened to Caitlin and her fight to stay alive and free herself. The threads of the story come together for a final third that is as taut and thrilling as anything else you’ll read this year.
Before He Finds Her by Michael Kardos is a book with a strong hook that also has the kind of strong, satisfying writing that can please literary tastes. (The cover makes it look very pulpy but it’s really not.) Melanie has spent almost her whole life in the Witness Protection Program after her father killed her mother and tried to kill her. She’s spent almost her whole life in hiding in a small town being raised by her aunt and uncle. After spending a life trying not to be noticed, Melanie knows something have to change and when she finds herself pregnant and in charge of another life, she decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands. Melanie returns to the town where the terrible crime happened hoping to find out what happened to her father.
Melanie’s story goes back and forth with the story of her father, Ramsey, a man everyone said was a nice and normal guy, to retrace the story of how the crime came to be and what really happened. Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that Melanie, unlike most amateur detectives, is often unsuccessful. People don’t just tell her what she wants to know the way they do in other books. She often makes a mess of it and can’t convince people of her cover story. This only makes Melanie’s journey more interesting and her story more believable when those unexpected twists occur. A very well-plotted book with an ending that’s unexpected and totally fitting.
Last but not least, there’s a sizeable overlap between Suspense and Horror, so I must include The Deep by Nick Cutter in this roundup. This is his second horror novel after the well-reviewed The Troop from last year. I was a total sucker for The Deep from page 1 and it’s yet another on this list that has surprising literary chops in the midst of its thrills. I was a sucker because The Deep resembles above all other books Sphere by Michael Crichton, and I had more than a mild obsession with Sphere as a teenager. I must have read it ten times at least. I picked it apart over and over again, impressed at the way Crichton pushed the typical sci-fi into something that felt very new to me. The Deep takes advantage of the inherent scares that exist under the sea just like Sphere did. There’s so much potential there, it has the same kind of solitary, cold danger that space does.
Cutter sets his novel in the near-future where humanity is suffering from an outbreak of a disease called The ‘Gets where people’s brains slowly start forgetting things. It starts with harmless slips and ends with the body shutting down entirely. No one knows what it is or how it works or how you stop it and the frenzy to push forward drives the mission to the bottom of the ocean that the novel takes as its center. There is something down there and no one knows exactly what. Luke is an unlikely candidate to go down to the depths but he’s been sent for because his brother is one of the scientists with a lab in the underwater station and he refuses to return to the surface. Luke’s a fish-out-of-water (heh) without the military toughness or the scientific smarts that the other characters have, but that’s what makes him a great protagonist. Luke has demons. A lot of them. And his voyage to the bottom of the ocean is going to bring every single one of them back.
I’m not joking when I say every single one. Cutter takes the kitchen-sink approach to his horror here. I can’t think of a trope that didn’t show up. There are even clowns. I kid you not. This is a more-is-more book, but I can’t deny that it was scary as hell and definitely for more of the hardcore thrillseeker than the casual browser.
This post is 701 words long. It originally clocked in at 1258 words and made its points very well. I’ve trimmed it down for reasons that will become clear and many of my points are now rather crude.
Normally word counts are something I deal with only in my freelance work. I am usually given a firm 700 word limit and it’s often impossible to write something really good in so little space.
This blog is a place where I don’t care about word count. Here I tell my story and I tell it however it works best.
This online writing thing is a bit of a thankless job. You write in the hopes that what you write will mean something to somebody.
But if I aspire to anything it has been to one thing: to write something good enough to be a BlogHer Voice of the Year. BlogHer is a conference that happens every summer for women in blogging. It’s a huge event that can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of people and sponsors and things and events.
I went to BlogHer in 2012 and that experience was about just one thing for me and that was Voices of the Year. 15 people stood up and read their stories and it meant more to me than I can possibly express. It inspired me to up my game as a writer. It showed me the potential in every single post. It changed everything.
Those stories were what inspired me to write my own story and audition for Listen To Your Mother. Now helping people tell an important story in front of people they’ve never met takes up half of my year.
I’ve been honored for the last two years to have a post selected as a Voice of the Year. I wasn’t chosen as a reader, but seeing my name on that list the first time jolted me. I set out to do it and I did it. That meant a lot to me.
So why am I writing about this right now? Nominations have opened for Voices of the Year 2015. This year I’m planning to attend and that means I could finally have that dream of being a reader. But it won’t happen.
Here’s what they want:
We’re asking you to help us find the most memorable, heart-stopping, brilliant, hilarious, impactful works of the past twelve months … works that deserve to be heard, seen and read.
But this year they’ve decided that they will limit blog posts to 700 words. (There is an exception to the rule if you have a “viral” post. But we all know most posts aren’t “viral” enough to count.)
700 words. I’m nearing that right now in my initial draft and I’ve just started to make my point.
The posts by last year’s readers, on average, clocked in at over 1255 words. The longest was over 2,400 words. The shortest was the only one that would be eligible now, at 700 words. Go figure.
This is VOTY deciding that the writing they have previously valued is not the writing they will value this year. If you have a post you want to submit and it’s over 700 words, you must re-write it. So basically, that thing you wrote that was so powerful, make it shorter. Which, of course, makes it an entirely different post with its power stripped out in bits and pieces.
The stories that are shared on that stage are personal and real and incredibly moving. They’re also usually people you haven’t heard of, posts you didn’t read, stories that didn’t go viral. It’s a moment to remind ourselves that stories are everywhere, they’re all around you and you don’t even know it.
This year there are a few I wrote I’d submit. But the shortest one is 1077 words. I refuse to go back to these posts and change them. They are just as I intended them to be and I’m not going to change something I love to get a prize.
I can’t say that this year’s Voices of the Year won’t be worthwhile. But I know I won’t be in it. Most of the posts other people wrote this year that I loved won’t be in it. That feels wrong.
Last year I had the great pleasure of bringing Listen To Your Mother to Boston. I spent several weeks listening to people’s stories of love and loss and joy and heartbreak and family. I sat down with a set of index cards and decided how I would take some of these amazing stories and turn them into one wonderful whole. I met with a group of talented people to prepare our show. And finally we all came together to do something none of us will ever forget.
There was only one thing missing for me that day that we gave our show to our city: my story.
I was proud to have brought this show into existence and felt kind of like a mother to every story that was shared.
As the director I could’ve told my own story but for whatever reason, last year my story wasn’t ready. After auditions I knew that I needed to let these other stories come first while I took the time to figure out the next story I wanted to tell. But I knew that this year I would do it.
I’m getting ready for the show just like I did when I prepared for my audition in 2013. I’m trying out a few different stories, some I’ve written before, some I’m still figuring out. Some of these stories are about where I am right now and others are about places I’ve been before. I’m going to take some time, tweak them, read them out loud, and then have a nice long think. Because I want my story to be as good as it can be. And I want to know which story I have that needs to be told.
Deciding to audition for Listen To Your Mother isn’t easy, I know that. But sometimes you know you have a story that needs to be told. If you do, and your story involves mothers or motherhood, you should think about auditioning.
If you’re in Massachusetts we’d love to have you at our show. (If you’re in other parts of New England, you’re welcome to audition for us or the shows in Providence or Bangor.) But most of the US has a Listen To Your Mother show close by.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional writer or if you haven’t written anything since your high school English class. It doesn’t matter if you are a mother or not. And, of course, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. We all have these stories and for a Listen To Your Mother show to be what it really should be, it needs all kinds of stories.
In Boston auditions are open and we’d love to hear your stories.