Sunday, March 18, 2012

Daughter Chronicles: Lessons Learned


I have learned a very important lesson in dealing with the wardrobe of a teenage girl. First, let me just say that with boys (who will someday be husbands and therefore must learn), I simply tell them that what they have on doesn't work. They ask me what does work. I tell them and they change into something that is somewhat acceptable. Won't they be great husbands? You're welcome girls. The training is free.

Oh to have a girl who would do the same.
Unfortunately, they don't exist. The sooner we come to terms with that and learn to deal with it, the better. There are two common situations with girls. One is bad. One is frighteningly good.

Scenario ONE:

It's Sunday morning and you have thirty minutes to get everyone ready. Teen girl stomps out of bedroom breathing fire and spreading gloom. She's dressed in ripped jeans and a shirt that is holey not HOLY. Let's pictures something off the shoulder and more 'I'm twenty-five and going to a bar' rather than "I'm a young teen going to church."
Let me just clarify that I try to buy modest clothing for said teen but she insists on 'restyling' with scissors. And when that happens, I insist on not buying new clothing so she has to save money to buy her own.

Mom's first reaction is to scream and threaten. This is never a good way to start a Sunday morning.

You have 3 choices on how to deal with this:
B. Tell her you'll pick her clothes and she'd better change right now.
C. Smile (probably not a real smile) and say: If that's really what you want to wear and if you don't mind what everyone thinks of you. I mean, yes, that's really disrespectful to the people in the church and to God. But okay, its your choice. We need to leave now.

At our house A and B result in major battles and with my blood pressure near the stroke level. Option C, I walk away with a smile and pretend I don't care. When I'm ready to leave for church, she has changed into something more respectful. If she doesn't, I've at least planted a seed and hopefully she feels really guilty the entire time we're at church.  Either way, I win!

This scenario can be almost as troubling and frightening as scene one. Maybe more so, because it takes us by surprise and leaves us vulnerable and unsure.

Sunday morning and teen girl walks out of her room smiling. Yes, smiling. You immediately wonder what alien planet has invaded. The unknown and smiling species asks a reasonable question: "What's the weather going to be like today and should I wear jeans or capris?"

You choke a little and wonder what's really going on. You calmly say, "I would wear capris." IN THIS SITUATION NEVER EVER TELL HER WHAT SHE SHOULD WEAR!

Teen returns a short time later in capris, a reasonable shirt and her hair brushed. Something is up but you don't know what. You aren't even sure how to react.

Now you have to make a critical choice. Your entire day is at stake so choose wisely.

A. Tell her she looks nice.
B. Question who she is and ask her what she's done with your real teenage daughter.
C. Head for the car as quickly as possible and once you are safely on the road, tell her she looks nice.

The answer is obviously C.
If you make the mistake of telling her she looks nice while you are still at home, she will immediately run back into her room and come out wearing something that starts a whole new argument and makes you thirty minutes late for church.

Accept the small blessings and enjoy what might be a peaceful Sunday. Even if she is an alien, you know they'll bring the real teenager back as soon as they try to dress her for church.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Writer's Block

Overcoming Writer's Block.

I'm always a little nervous when it comes time to talk writing. For me it's like giving marital or spiritual advice. Who am I to even think that I can give advice when I'm still trying to figure it all out? With each and every book I learn something, struggle with something, finally get it, and sometimes forget it before I start the next project. I will always be learning.

I've been married twenty-six years this year. I'm just now starting to think maybe I've got marriage figured out to the point that I can give someone advice. I definitely wouldn't have given advice the first few years. Or the first ten. And I still think I have a lot to learn.

With writing, as with marriage, we encounter problems or obstacles. With experience we learn how to overcome or get past those problems.

Today's writer's block problem:

Imagine yourself hiking along, enjoying the scenery, watching birds, and breathing in the fresh air of the forest. Suddenly the previously wide trail narrows. The birds stop singing. The forest grows dark. Ahead of you there are three paths to choose from. One seems like the obvious choice. You decide to meander down that path. As you walk you realize your mistake. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself this is the right path, it just isn't working.

What do you do?
Stay on that path, even if it feels wrong, and hope it comes out right in the end?
Take off through the brush and hope for the best? Swing your warms at spider's webs, avoid skunks and reptiles. Struggle against vines that snare and hold you back.
Go back to the path you were on and make a better choice for moving forward. Sometimes that means trying several paths until you get the right one.

Yes, I'm digging the analogies today.

Now, back to the real problem, writer's block brought on by taking the wrong path, the wrong scene, the wrong plot turn.

I've been dealing with this problem, fighting it, struggling against it. I had my story down. I knew my characters (for the most part, but that's a different blog post). Suddenly I found myself struggling, unable to get the scene the way I wanted. I couldn't figure out where to go next with the characters. I kept digging in, moving forward and hoping it would all work out. I just knew I'd eventually break free.

My very smart editor once told me to trust my instincts. And I constantly remind myself of her advice. Trust my instincts. I think if we're going the wrong direction, we usually know it. Sometimes we think we'll eventually find the right direction if we keep going the wrong direction. Or we want to wait a little while before we turn around because we might find the right way, maybe its just around the next bend. But the wrong path is the wrong path.

Accept it: If the scenes aren't working, if they aren't allowing you to move forward with strength and conviction, DELETE. Don't get stuck fighting what doesn't work. That's a sure ingredient for writer's block.

The wrong path shifts everything in the story. It changes voice, it changes the plot, the characters and it drags the story down.

When I hit 'wrong path writer's block' I have one option: I go back to the main path of my story, to the last scenes that  worked. From there I find a starting point that I know matters to the story and to my characters and that's the path I take. I have to find the scene that gets the characters back in the story. A scene that matters to the plot.

With the story that I'm working on, it took me a few tries to get it right. I started scenes, deleted scenes, started new ones. Finally I hit on the right scene for my characters, my plot and my story. The words started to flow.

There are times we have to just move forward, to keep writing because we need to get those words down and that's okay. But learn to recognize when writer's block is happening because you're on the wrong path or chasing the wrong thread. If your story has meandered off the beaten path it's up to you, the author, to get it back on track.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Driving Ms Crazy

It is a right of passage for children everywhere. Turn sixteen, get a driver's license. I remember getting my license. Barely. But being raised on a farm, it feels as if I've been driving forever. In my early teens I was helping my dad in the hay field--driving a truck and trailer. I could back a boat into the lake at an young age. I grew up driving.

I've somehow blocked from mind the times I sat in the truck and cried because my dad was yelling to ease off the clutch, ease off the clutch, and I didn't and the truck kept dying.

Now I have to let my children take this 'right of passage.' It isn't easy and for some reason, my kids don't like to drive with me in the passenger seat.

As my middle kid gets ready to take his driving test, I'd like to give you a little taste of what he gets in a five minute drive with Ms. Crazy. (me)

"Pull up, look both ways. Wait, there's a car coming. Don't pull out. Pull out. Hit the gas and go, don't dawdle. Slow down."

We ease on down the road. "Stay in the middle of the road. Stop swerving. You really have to control the wheel. I don't care what the speed limit is, you're not ready for it. Always watch for other cars. It's the other drivers that will kill you. See that big drop off next to the road. Stay between the lines or you'll end up down there."

Deep breath. Kid is turning a little green and shaking. I think I've done my job and scared him into being a safe driver.

Next intersection. "Look both ways. What are you doing? What, you're looking both ways. You need to pull up and be ready to go. What are you doing easing out like that. Hit the gas, go..."

Kid is thinking that he might need tranquilizers for himself or for me.

Pull into driveway. "That's a car. Don't hit that car. Always turn into your lane, don't ease into the other lane. You're going to hit a car. You're going to crash. What, you're going to park? With me in the car. I can't take this. I don't think you're ready."

He gets out of the car and walks away. I collapse.

Another day of Driving Ms Crazy.