This news just in! Well, it isn’t exactly news and it’s not scientific. But each and every one of the following mini-epiphanies I’ve come to this week started with my own inability to fit into any of my favorite pairs of pants comfortably. It seems I’ve taken too many liberties with the carpool snacks I provide for the girls and the stash of Theo Chocolate I have in the cupboard. Add to that the crazy schedule I’ve had over the past few months that makes it difficult to get to yoga regularly, and more often than not in the past week I have found myself almost resorting to lying on my back to zip my jeans up. Not acceptable.

So I have decided to conquer this latest bulge with mindfulness. I am not very mindful about food as I’m putting it into my mouth. I am terrifically conscientious about planning and cooking meals, making sure they are healthy and well-balanced (and gluten-free), but once it comes to the eating stage, all of my thoughtfulness goes out the window. And snacks are my kryptonite. This week, I have resolved to stop and think before anything gets consumed by me. Do I need this? Do I even really want it? Why am I eating right now? Will ten of them necessarily taste ten times as heavenly as one?

Seems that mindfulness regarding food consumption is contagious to other parts of my life. Here is what I’ve discovered this week so far:
  • The things that my girls do that make me gnash my teeth the most? It turns out that they know those things make me batsh*t crazy. But even more profound is the fact that, when I examine the issue, those are the things I most despise about myself. Hmmm. Ick. Am I trying to change them so I don’t have to see them reflecting me back to me?
  • For several months at the end of last year I began wondering whether I was having early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and that’s not a joke. Both of my grandmothers had it and it is truly frightening. I was having difficulty recalling things from my short-term memory and took to bringing a notebook with me wherever I went so that I could write down tasks I needed to remember, things I needed at the store, and writing prompts for later. Mostly I talked myself out of panicking, saying that it was normal aging, but I really was worried. Then I went off of my anti-depressants and now, four weeks off of them, my short-term memory is greatly improved. They say writers need to have some angst and while I’m doing fine off of my meds for now, I wonder if they made me a better writer or a worse one. On the meds, I didn’t begin every day wondering when the depression was going to smack me upside the head, but I had difficulty recalling simple things. Off the meds, I’m a little more nervous about impending doom, but I can at least keep track of what I wanted to write about.
  • Success (mine, anyway) can only be had one moment at a time. All I have is this, right now. I can beat myself up for the handful of dark chocolate raisins I ate last night without being mindful at all, and use that as an excuse to eat another handful or think poorly of myself. I can worry that there are more in a bag in the pantry and I will surely want them again later. Or I can sit in this moment right now and acknowledge that I don’t want them right now. This moment, right here, where I am doing what feels good to me (writing, listening to the clothes tumble around in the dryer, furry dog on my bare feet) is a success.
I don’t know if all of this is going to help me fit into my jeans better next week or next month, but I do know that each baby step I take toward living in this moment and being honest with myself about what I’m doing and why can only help.

When I was a child, I looked forward to the day when I could stop “learning” and just be secure in my knowledge of, well, everything. For a while during my teenage years I put on a good show that I already knew everything, but to that girl in the mirror I admitted I was frightened that I only had a few years left to learn so much more.

Lucky me! Turns out there is no “all” to know. Fully present in my fourth decade on this planet (yes, I don’t turn 40 until October), I often feel as though my learning has accelerated in the past five years. I’m not exactly sure why, or what is to come, but I do know that I am much more open to new experiences and perspectives than I ever have been before in my life. I am genuinely curious about a vast range of things and somewhat frustrated that my brain isn’t nearly as absorbent as it was when I was eight or nine or ten.
More than the actual collection of data, though, is the way in which I understand things as an adult. Thanks to the knowledge have gained from a variety of sources about many disparate things, I am often able to put together pieces I wouldn’t have in the past.
This realization has come to me recently as both a fascination and a curse. When I completed the rewrite of my manuscript a little over a year ago, I took off my “Writer” badge and replaced it with a “Salesperson” one. I had polished the book thanks to help from an editor and was ready to find an agent and publisher. In the meantime, I’ve donned the “Writer” badge for other projects – blog posts, essays to submit to various publications and contests, and a new nonfiction book project – but haven’t really revisited the first manuscript except to update the introduction to reflect relevant changing political issues.
For the last couple of weeks, I have felt a tugging on the “Salesperson” badge. I have found myself wondering if I ought to look over the manuscript again and give it some more attention. After several agent rejections, I thought maybe there was something they were seeing that I hadn’t. Then last week, I spoke with someone who might be able to help me find an agent (it’s not what you know, but who you know…) and I found myself describing my project in a much different light for some reason. By the time we hung up, I realized that my personal evolution in the months since I completed the edits might do well to be reflected in my writing. Before submitting the first two chapters, I decided to take a good, hard look at them.
I was appalled. The chapters read like a newspaper story – facts squarely at the forefront, devoid of most emotion, and completely lacking in any communal human, spiritual (not religious) context. I spent most of the weekend rewriting these two chapters to express the deepening knowledge I have come to have about what it means to be a woman, a human being fearful of consequences and repercussions, and how emotional isolation compounds that fear. I know that these chapters are much more powerful and meaningful because of this new perspective and, while I know I have much work ahead of me to weave those threads through the rest of the manuscript, I am grateful to have had this past year or so to stretch my awareness and understanding. Of course, this all leads me to wonder whether twenty years from now I’ll pick up my own book somewhere and laugh at the naive almost-40-year-old who wrote it.

I have two new book reviews up on the Elevate Difference site and will have two more before we’re all done there. The founder, Mandy Van Deven, recently took her “dream job” with a nonprofit agency in New York and decided she doesn’t have the energy and time it will take to continue to maintain the site as well. If you’ve been to Elevate Difference, you’ve seen the terrific book, product, music, and movie reviews posted there, all with an eye toward celebrating uniqueness and differences and raising awareness of women’s issues. I am deeply indebted to Mandy, both for creating this site and for taking a chance on me as a reviewer. Review 1 and Review 2

When I left my paying job last summer, I had no idea what was in store for me as a writer, and the regular deadlines I had for book reviews gave me the structure I needed to write every day, not to mention the luxury of two free books a month. I love having the regular editorial feedback and the instant gratification of publishing book reviews online and reading comments from visitors to the site. More than all of those things, though, writing reviews for Elevate Difference gave me permission to call myself a “Writer.” Despite spending over five years researching, writing and rewriting my manuscript, without a physical book to present to anyone, I resisted giving myself the title of writer. Seeing my name attached to book reviews opened that door a crack and, shoving my way through it before anyone could cry, “Foul!” I began work on my second book and have started submitting work to magazines and anthologies. I am still seeking an agent for my book-length projects, but Elevate Difference has afforded me validation in my own mind and that is something more valuable than any book deal. Not that I’m going to turn one down if it comes my way, mind you.

I am working on two final reviews for the site and will be sad when they are complete, but I hope you’ll come by and check them out along with all of the other great work that exists at Elevate Difference. Thanks for your vision and dedication, Mandy!

While searching for a place to submit essays, I stumbled across this handy website that produces newsletters for writers listing anthologies seeking submissions and other places to send your work. Needless to say, I signed up at Poets & Writers instantly. And I found an editor looking for submissions similar to the piece I started writing just for the hell of it (well, more because I couldn’t keep it in my head for all it’s incessant leaping against the inside of my skull). The only problem is that the deadline is next Tuesday which means I’ll be working hard to tweak the essay into submission-worthy form before then.

And speaking of freelance writing, for those of you who don’t already know of her, Jenny Rough is a terrific writer who blows me away with the trajectory of her writing career thus far. She was an attorney in LA who discovered that she was not spending her days the way she wanted to, and she is way too young to be doing that, so she decided to make a change and jumped into writing with both feet. When I first met her, she admitted (and not even sheepishly) to a room full of writers who were working on book length projects that she had no interest in doing that. She just wanted to freelance. Jenny is a prime example of “ask and you shall receive,” because not only does she freelance, she teaches others how to do it, too these days. Check out her blog and her body of work. If you aren’t impressed, I’ve underestimated your need for adrenaline!

My latest book review can be found here, along with many other book, music, and movie reviews. This book was a total hoot and one that is so fun to share with others. Please check it out and, if you are so inclined, leave comments at the site (there’s no ‘joining’ or ‘signing up’) to let the editors know that people are reading my work.

Sorry, not sausage links. But I think these two are better than pork bits, although pork bits are tasty. Don’t get me wrong…

A Link for Writers

Mira Bartok’s memoir “The Memory Palace” is one of the first books I downloaded to my new iPad. While I wasn’t certain how I would feel about reading without the feel of paper in my hands, there is no doubt about this book. It is lovely, well-written, engaging, and enlightening: everything a memoir ought to be, IMHO. In any case, at the end of the book, I discovered that Mira has a website where she highlights writing opportunities (grants, fellowships, residencies, etc.). Anyone who is looking for a leg up ought to check it out.
A Link for Girls (and those who care about them growing up to be strong and independent)

Yesterday I had some time to kill before a doctor appointment so I wandered into (where else?) a bookstore. One book appeared to be surrounded by that surreal Heavenly light that sucked me in like a vacuum and hollered, “Look at me!” so I did. In my current search for ways to empower women and girls a book entitled “Girls Speak Out” with a foreward written by none other than her majesty Gloria Steinem, it’s no wonder I was drawn to this book. Also in its favor was the fact that it is a used paperback and, thus, inexpensive. (I’m certain Bubba wishes my New Year’s resolution had had something to do with spending less money on books. Poor guy.)
Anyway, this book is several years old and was written as a guidebook for girls ages 9-15ish who are seeking ways to discover and honor themselves as they try to navigate the murky depths of adolescence in a consumer-driven society. I was glowing before I finished reading the introduction and foreward. And then I found their website. If you go, make sure you give yourself enough time to stay a while and marvel at all of the wondrous things Gloria and the author, Andrea Johnston, have inspired girls AROUND THE WORLD to do since this movement began. You won’t be sorry.

“People who are serious about pursuing their vocation look for purchase, not for a map of the future or a guided way up the cliff. They try not to cling too closely to what seems to bar their way, but look for where the present point of contact actually resides. No matter what it looks like.” David Whyte in Three Marriages

It’s the end of my class with Lisa Romeo. It is fitting that outside all is frigid temperatures and solid white landscape. I feel bound by the walls of my house and my mind.
The more I read the more I wish I could write in the way that books light me up, stoke the pilot light inside me and blow that steady breeze that ignites the roaring flame. Today I laid on the couch under my new red blanket, scraping my bottom lip between my teeth, flaring my nostrils, consumed by Emma Rathbone’s lighter-fluid prose:
“Mrs. Dandridge is a pile of a person who smells like someone’s weird house….She makes a big deal out of getting up and sitting down….She is also in the business of making me want to punch things. The way she says my name, all smug and unwinding, as if she has me summed up and pinned down like a display beetle, makes me want to punch the sky. And then punch the sun for crowding the sky. And then punch a door and maybe a stepmom.”
Lisa has taught me much this past four weeks and I have absolutely devoured her knowledge. Every time my inbox alerts me that she has returned some of my work with her notes, I first breathe and remind myself that I need this feedback and it serves to make me a better writer. Generally, then, I concoct some reason to be busy checking my Facebook status or asking my children if they need a snack or transferring laundry from the washer to the dryer before I can come back and actually read her critiques. Because I know that I don’t live up to my own standards. I am not yet the writer I want to be.
And now that the class is over and I feel stuck, not able to busy myself with my regular routine of taking the girls to school and making lunches and walking the dog, I have found the David Whyte quote I squirreled away months ago. And I am reminded to just find the spot where I am right now and use that.

Or maybe it’s just frustration. I’m not certain. What I do know is that researching and writing my book has so far been a damn sight easier than trying to get it published. I had suspicions that the marketing bit wasn’t going to be fun, but I am in need of some mojo to get it going again.

I’ve had some small successes meeting agents who were interested in the basic notion of my book – two of whom even asked for the entire manuscript. One came back a few weeks later with an email basically stating that “they can’t represent me at this time, regretfully.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, so I responded asking for more feedback, either on the manuscript itself or how to make myself more marketable as the author. That was six weeks ago and I’ve had no response.
The other agent has yet to send me anything at all, despite a follow-up email from me just checking in after six weeks of no response.
I had one book publisher to whom I sent my unsolicited manuscript tell me that they would love to talk to me about my book, but as they are a small press, they don’t have the bandwidth and are fully booked with projects through the end of 2011. The editor was kind enough to point me in the direction of another press that might be interested so three weeks ago I sent off another package, this time via the postal service.
I’ve spent time researching agents and publishing houses, really working on posting to the blog regularly, and picking the brains of people I know in the publishing industry (which are, admittedly, few and far between). Every person who asks for a description of the book gets an earful from me and I have had such great responses (“Wow! I’d buy that book! What a great idea!) that it is frustrating to feel like I’m speaking a different language than the folks who have the power to put it out there.
I’ve talked to some people about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but I’m not sure I have the marketing skills to really do it justice. As one person put it, “Your book is what we call a ‘long-tail’ book – it will be relevant for generations to come and will probably sell books for decades. Most publishers want to make their money in the first 90 days which is why they want celebrities or controversial politicians as their clients.”
I know that this takes perseverance and dedication and I’m willing to do the work because I have such passion for my book, but I feel like I’m stuck right now. It is hard to know where to turn and really frustrating to listen to authors being interviewed on NPR when that’s where I want to be!

This week, the book I have spent five years researching and writing got a little closer to being published. For any readers who are new to my blog, this project is very close to my heart for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it spent over a decade percolating in my brain before I decided to set it loose.

The book is a series of fifteen stories that detail a woman’s journey through the most difficult decision she may ever make – whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. My interviews were focused on the process of making the decision more than the actual choice they made. I was interested in how each individual approaches the process of deliberation; do you ask yourself moral, practical, religious questions? Whom do you share the information with? How did issues of age and marital status factor in for you? The women were incredibly different in so many ways – age, background, socioeconomic status, marital/relationship status, whether or not the pregnancy was planned – but bonded together in their isolation. Regardless of their differences, each of these women was faced with trying to make a decision in a finite amount of time that they could live with for the rest of their lives. Each of these women was ultimately the sole decision-maker.

I had to force myself to stop interviewing after three years. I was so touched by the response that I got when I put the word out that I was looking for women to talk to. I was even more touched by the trust each of these women placed in me when she agreed to tell me her story. I was fascinated and appalled, saddened and proud to listen to their stories and I honestly could have gone on forever, but for the compulsion inside me that reminded me these stories needed to be heard by others as well. I chose the fifteen most compelling stories. Stories of planned and unplanned pregnancies, adoptions, abortions, fertility treatments and genetic anomalies. Stories of women who are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts and co-workers of some of us. Women who could be any of us. I hope that the stories educate and inspire and touch some center of compassion inside each of us that transcends politics or religion or laws and allows us to simply read the stories and acknowledge the difficulty each of these women faced and perhaps enlarge our capacity for understanding other individuals around us.

I offered my manuscript to five agents at a writer’s conference last week. One of them wasn’t terribly excited, but the others all seemed intrigued. Each of them asked me some variation of the question, “Who is your audience?” and, I must admit, the question sincerely baffled me. Knowing that the vast majority of book readers in America are women, and that women love to share their stories with each other, whether they involve difficult subjects or simply how our children misbehave when we get on the phone, I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t be interested in this book. So I began talking to other people at the conference. Perhaps the sample was skewed because these were other writers, but I got a tremendous reception from everyone I talked to, men and women alike. Because of the apolitical nature of the book and perhaps because of the popularity of memoir-type books, an idea for a book of stories such as this was very well-received.

When I got home, I was determined to find statistics to back up my intuition. I learned, via a quick internet search, that there are roughly 60 million women of “childbearing age” (14-40) in the US and, at any given time, fully six million of them are pregnant. One point two million of those pregnancies end in abortion each year, and half a million babies are born to teenagers each year. Adoption statistics are difficult to come by because many of them are privately handled, as are fertility treatment statistics, but I would think it’s safe to say that there are millions of people in this country every year whose lives are touched by the issue of pregnancy in general and who either have to make tough decisions about it or know someone who has.

I am hoping that the agents to whom I submitted my manuscript will come to this conclusion as well. For now, I’ll wait for them to read it and see what happens.