Grandma on her 90th birthday

When I was 12 years old, writing was my primary source of income. My Grandma paid me a penny per word for anything I wrote. In pursuit of this wealth I wrote thousands of words. Then I spent most of the money on Breyer horses. I still have the horses. I still have the essential belief that writing has value. I have my Grandma to thank for both of these things.

Grandma is smaller than she used to be. The years have shortened her stature even as they leached the color out of her hair. What used to be a rich brown is now gray and white. She is still brown haired in her mind though. She declares that she only has a little bit of gray. I touch the whisper soft locks and agree that her hair is still beautiful.

“Are you writing another book?” Grandma says to me with her upper Mississippi accent.
I look up from my laptop at her. “Yes. But this one won’t have pictures.”
“I get to read it when you’re done.”
“Of course you do.”
“I’ll let you get back to your typing.”
“No. That’s okay. Sit down and talk.” I shut my laptop. The writing will wait for me, but this visit with my Grandma is short. I’ll be here only a few days.

I had forgotten, or not known, what a humor-filled person my Grandma is. Every other sentence is a joke or a playful teasing. It is such a contrast to my childhood memories of her when she seemed sharp and strict. “You mind me!” was a frequent order. And I did mind, because I was a little afraid of her. I did the worksheets she put in front of me even though it was summer. I washed the dishes and pulled the weeds all at her command. But I forgave her orders, because of the food she supplied. Southern Fried Chicken, cornbread dressing, deviled eggs, and corn on the cob and that was just dinner.

I look at her now, and I can not imagine myself being afraid of her. She is so soft and cheerful. She is glad to have my kids and me here, I think. Her health complaints have slowed to a trickle and are replaced with stories. I sit quietly and listen when my mother and Grandma start story swapping. I try to catch the stories in my memory so that I will have them. Grandma will not always be here to tell them.

Today is Grandma’s 90th birthday. I think she has mixed feelings about her age. In one sentence she calls herself an old lady, but in the next she declares herself young. Both are true I think. She is old in body, but young at heart. She delights in flowers and small amusements. I watched her playing with the pile of magnetic toys that my dad put out for my kids to find. Grandma was so pleased with herself when she took one apart and put it back together. She is in no hurry, she has no agenda, she is free to enjoy each moment in which she participates.

Grandma counts the flower buds as they form and tracks their progress into blooms. I understood how deeply rooted my love of gardening is when I watched my Grandma with her flowers. My mother has not always had an easy relationship with my Grandma. There is always a careful dance between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. But long ago they decided that they were family no matter what. Now my mother buries flower bulbs in the yard so that Grandma can discover them as they sprout. It is a loving conspiracy to get Grandma outside and walking. Grandma loves flowers enough to go looking, even on the days when her whole body aches.

The other day my mother listened to me on the phone, talking long distance to help my teenage daughter through an emotional crisis. When I hung up, she said
“It’s really nice that it’s your job to manage all that. I can just enjoy them.”
Later, I listened to my mother making a doctor’s appointment for my Grandma. She will have to coax Grandma into attending the appointment. Then she will have to coax Grandma into taking the medication and doing the prescribed therapies. Grandma does not like nor trust doctors much. I watched my mother note the appointment on the calendar and thought how nice it is that I get to just enjoy Grandma. And she gets to just enjoy me and my kids.

I woke late this morning. Once I achieved consciousness I sought out my kids to see if they needed breakfast. “No.” They assured me. “Great-grandma fed us sausage.” My heart warms to think of my Grandma feeding my children as she once fed me.
“They ate four a piece!” Grandma declares when we ask her. She is pleased that they loved her cooking.

Later tonight we will have a party with cake and presents. Grandma will be the star of the show. Tomorrow will be my daughter’s turn to be the birthday girl. Grandma is 90 my daughter turns 9. I am glad they can be together for this weekend.

Sometimes Giving Up is the Right Thing To Do

Today I came across yet another not-yet-published writer who stated her personal manifesto that publishing is tough, but the people who succeed at it are the ones who stick to it. She ended by stating that not everyone has the will to make it in the publishing business. She is right. People who work persistently and consistently in pursuit of publication are likely to achieve their goals. I’ve seen many similar manifestos. I’ve even said the same thing myself a time or two. What has begun to bother me about these statements is the unintentional implication that a writer who stops pursuing publication is weak, a quitter.

There is a huge difference between the person who makes a reasoned decision to stop pursuit of a difficult goal and someone who gives up because they don’t want to work. Everything has an opportunity cost. Pursuing publication costs the writer in time and energy. Sometimes it impacts relationships or financial stability. Those costs need to be weighed. Also, life circumstances change. Altering dreams in response to a change in circumstance is a success, not a failure. In my life I’ve had times of poor health. I’ve had times when I had to put writing down in order to do other things. I wrote about that last April in an essay called Letting Go.

All the determination and sacrifice in the world can be completely undermined by things outside our control. Loss of employment, loss of health, needs of friends and family, these things happen to all of us at one time or another. They are all good reasons for giving up on writing either temporarily or permanently. Finding something else to do is also a valid reason for ending publication attempts. There is nothing wrong with choosing contentment over endless frustration and rejection. There is nothing wrong with deciding to chase a different dream.

At the moment I am pursuing publication. I am writing and compiling essays so that I can embark on the terrifying adventure of querying agents and editors. At this point in my life this is something I feel I must do. But my goal is not “getting published.” My goal is to get my stuff out there; to work as hard as I can; to learn as much as I can; to try. Whether or not publication is the reward of my effort, the effort itself is worthwhile. That said, I really want to hold my book in my hands. I want to be published.

But being published is not the only thing I want, and I am aware that somewhere down the road I may have to put the publication dream down for something else. I don’t want to, but I may have to. The ability to deliberately set aside a dream for something else is a measure of strength, not weakness.

Many thanks to my friend Janci. My thoughts on this subject were, and continue to be, refined by the fascinating conversations we have.

Seeing the good

At three hours into the holiday break, it was looking like a bust and I was ready to send kids back to school. I’d even written up an entertaining/complaining list comparing the number of hours on vacation to the number of tantrums. But then things got better. I finally got back to my blog entry and realized that the mood had passed. I no longer feel like complaining. Instead I feel all cozy and happy.

It is hard for people to see outside their current mood. This afternoon Kiki was furiously mad at the thoughtlessness of teenage boys. She was also mad at most of the rest of the world for daring to exist while she was angry. I knew that the mood would pass, but she could not believe me. Neither could Gleek who spend most of the time I was cooking dinner bemoaning the fact that I was not cooking something else. And then I could not see out of my mood where I wanted to complain about my kids.

But here we all are and life is much better. It usually gets better if we just try. I need to remember that before I write a blog entry which records the day as awful. The whole day was not awful, just a few hours of it. The rest has been good.

Projects in my head

Christmas–still needs some organizing and shopping and wrapping and shipping.

The Kids– The level of drama around here is lower than it was, but there is still plenty for me to figure out and manage. I’ve figured out the family structures to meet the needs, but I have to keep it all in place.

One Cobble– My brain is almost constantly collecting stuff for blog entries, or composing experiences into stories. Sometimes I can write as soon as I think of it. Other times I have to scribble notes to try to save it for later.

House cleaning — always. This project I often try to ignore out of existence, but it never works.

Family Photo book– This was shoved to the back burner when I realized I couldn’t get it done in time for Christmas. Instead I planned to have it done by my Grandmother’s birthday. Which is at the end of January. And I’ve done nothing on the project for nigh three weeks now.

Resident Mad Scientist book layout– The deadline on this has been pushed back, but that does not mean I can ignore it. We need to know where margin art is necessary.

My essay book– I’ve collected and revised about a third of the essays I estimate I’ll need. I have notes for a bunch more. I really want to get to the point where I can be sending out queries.

Cooking– I’ve recently discovered an interest in occasionally cooking things where I don’t start with a box or a can.

Birthday story– By the end of January I either need to write or revise a short story for posting on my birthday. I like the tradition and I want to keep it.

Short stories– My back brain has decided that writing Christmas stories would be really cool. This comes despite the fact that it is notoriously difficult to write a Christmas story without doing a re-write of The Grinch, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Fill-in-the-blank saves Santa Claus, or It’s a Wonderful Life. I don’t even have characters or plots in mind. I’m waiting patiently on this one and hoping that the mood subsides, because I honestly don’t have time at the moment.