3am In Acorn Ponds

3am In Acorn Ponds

The other night (in the middle of the night, as is usually the case) I was watching one of my favorite movies, Midnight in Paris. If you haven’t seen it, Owen Wilson plays a wealthy screenwriter who’s been selling out his entire career scribing schlocky, yet incredibly lucrative scripts. But all he really wants to be is a novelist.

A man conflicted between commerce and art, he tries to make sense of things by taking long walks through the streets of Paris. Then a magical thing happens. Every night at midnight, at a set location, a car comes and picks him up, and takes him back in time, to hang out with F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Zelda) and Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. It’s an amazing, soul-affirming experience for the character, who even manages to get some eye-opening literary criticism about his book (and his life) along the way.

Every time I watch this movie I think, wouldn’t that be awesome? And of course I know exactly whom I’d like to hang out with–Voltaire. Lewis Carroll. Dorothy Parker. The list is far too long for a blog. But great minds. Great wits. And living in cultures that revered their art. Or, perhaps more like it, could appreciate art for art’s sake–not just as commerce. (“Hey Dante, great concept, with this Inferno to Paradiso trilogy you got going on. But what’s your platform?”)

So then I start to wonder where where a “conflicted traveler” from 90, 100, 200 years from now might try and find just that in our world. Who are our shining stars? (Because Kim Kardashian has quite a “platform!”)

Have we become so obsessed pandering to our present that we’re losing sight of the concepts of “timeless” and “classic”?

What do you think people will still be reading in a hundred years? Is there anything we’re doing in the here and now that anyone will care about any more?

Tina Fey. Jon Stewart. Maybe Stephen King? I’d love to know what you think.

RITA and Reinvention: The Story Behind the Story

RITA and Reinvention: The Story Behind the Story

Writing a book is a process. Reinventing yourself is a process. Not many people know that Rita Hayworth’s Shoes was actually both for me. I was able to share my story in an awesome book by Barbara Machen and Jennifer Pate called The Mothers Of Reinvention, which just came out (and which I’m excerpting here). I helped Jen and Barb shape their thoughts and ideas into book form; they helped me by opening my eyes to the importance of having a place for ME in motherhood (there is one, you know, buried among the rest of the letters there). A true MUST for moms! (P.S. Their Webby-Award Winning web series Jen and Barb: Mom Life is also informative and fun!)

Mother of Reinvention: Francine
Best Advice:  No matter what seems like it’s holding you back, whether it’s time or money or lack of support, the only thing ever truly standing in your way is you. Get yourself moving in the right direction and miracles will happen.

I think like most women, I have reinvented in stages throughout my life. But the most significant one came when I became a mother. I had always wanted to be a mother, but I think like a lot of women, I didn’t have a realistic concept of how much my life would be affected by it—both times. I was literally thrown for a loop with each child. I love my children with all my heart, I love being their mother, but because I was dissatisfied with other situations in my life, namely my professional life, I felt dissatisfied across the board, and it infected my happiness at home.

While I have always wanted to be a novelist and screenwriter, I’ve done mostly nonfiction–mostly ghostwriting other people’s books. You don’t generally get paid unless you actually sell a complete work of fiction or script, so I always worked where the money was, and dabbled in the other world “when I had time.” So while I started writing Rita Hayworth’s Shoes before I met my husband, for many years all I had completed was the first two chapters. But it was in the throes of motherhood that I realized I had to get it done.

Especially after my second child came along, I felt like was operating like a machine, completing mindless task after mindless task, and churning out books that had nothing to do with me. On top of that, the recession hit us hard. Scarily hard. Clients stopped paying me on time and some stopped paying altogether. So I had to work twice as hard at a job I wasn’t loving to make half the money, whenever it came. It sucked. I internalized it all. I felt horrible about myself. I gained weight (30 pounds after giving birth) and stopped caring about it.

I knew I loved my husband and daughters, but I was so frustrated and bored and just felt trapped in my life. I was a fat, frumpy machine, just going through the motions and making everyone around me miserable–when I saw other people. My husband works crazy hours and travels most of the week.  I didn’t see friends because I had no money to pay a babysitter or to go out. And I didn’t want to see anyone anyway because I had nothing to talk about except what a loser I thought I was. Between taking care of my children and house and trying to corral impossible finances, combined with soulless, “pro bono” work, I had nothing for myself.  My husband always encouraged me to go and find something for myself, but I always found a way to talk myself out of it because, of course, I had no money and I had no time.

One Saturday morning, I was ghostwriting a sex manual and also drafting a book proposal on personal finance, plus working on copy for some random catalog, making the kids breakfast, doing laundry, and the getting the kids dressed for the day when my husband came downstairs and told me he was thinking about going out to shoot some hoops. Something switched on in me and I don’t know what it was about that exact moment, but out of nowhere I was just like, “No. You can’t. I’m taking a walk.” I grabbed my iPod, slipped on a pair of flip-flops, and took off. I walked for half an hour, listening to my own music, feeling free for the first time in years.

Then something remarkable clicked in my brain while I walked. I could feel the cobwebs starting to clear. It was like I had just stumbled upon an attic. In that attic was a trunk called “Rita Hayworth’s Shoes,” which just popped open. Plot lines started racing through my head.  Characters I hadn’t thought about in years starting speaking to me. I finally found a place where I wanted to be, where I felt alive, and I realized I had to go there again and again. I was addicted.

The next morning, I got up at 530am, put on a pair of sneakers this time, and walked again. Every day after that, I got up at 530 and walked more and more. My story started becoming more clear. Ideas were popping into my head I had never before imagined. My awesome husband came home from work one night with a new pair of special sneakers for me, which came with a special chip I could sync to my iPod and track my progress. I started walking one mile a day, then two, then three.  I started a Facebook group to get fans for a book that was only 2 chapters complete and I kept walking and writing in my head. I’ve never been a good sleeper, and now, instead of spending the hours I was up in the night watching TV and worrying, I started writing.

Within 6 weeks, I had completed a draft and dropped 20 pounds. I felt great for the first time in years. I really began to enjoy my family more because of it. I enjoyed going out in the world again because I felt I was a worthy part of it. I was the woman who wrote the book about the magic shoes! I was someone aside from my husband’s wife and my children’s mother.

This reinvention has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and on so many levels. Most importantly, because I am a better human being, more connected to my true self, I am a much better wife and mother. I am able to play with my kids and connect with my husband as the fun, happy person they deserve to be around, and that has made all the difference!

What It Means — “Clippings In The Shed”

What It Means — “Clippings In The Shed”

Probably you’ve seen the movie A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connolly? If you haven’t, probably you should. Though not just because it will help you understand what the hell the title of this blog means, but because it’s kind of a fantastic movie and it’s weird you haven’t seen it yet.

In any case, there’s a scene in this film in which Jennifer Connolly walks into Russell Crowe’s outdoor shed, where he’s doing what he believes is very impressive and important work. But what she sees are hundreds of scattered, senseless news clippings, taped up at random, all marked up in a madman’s furious scrawl… Clippings in the shed.

Here’s the thing: This is kind of what happens in writing. You can tap away for hours on your keyboard thinking you are composing a literary symphony with every stroke… And when you return to the “greatness” what you find is more akin to an insanely portrayed pile of doody.

Motherhood is kind of like that too. Though the doody is generally not your child(ren) themselves, but the mess you make of the process of raising them.

So that’s what this blog will be about. Random musings on writing and motherhood; the highs and the lows, the symphonies and the shits. So check back regularly. I promise you’ll laugh — at least sometimes. Sometimes with me, sometimes at me.

Welcome to my mad shed!

Wassup, Wednesday?! Stolen Moments!

Wassup, Wednesday?! Stolen Moments!

I woke up this morning to a great tweet from Anne Lamott:

“People explain why they have no time to write but NOW, 10:00 pm, you [could] write an hour OR watch 10:00 news & learn where the local fires are…”

It’s true. I’m certainly guilty of it. And I don’t even like the news. (Or manage to stay up past 10pm that often.) How about you? Do you feel desperate to write (or do anything else you feel you could be passionate about), but then find any other reason imaginable not to? It’s definitely one of the reasons I started this blog. That, and my publisher made me. But that’s another story.

Anyway, the point is, by putting something “out there” that I have to “keep current,” I force myself to do it. And here’s the other corner I’ve so cleverly decided to paint myself into: At least two days a week, there’s going to be a standing…uh…well gimmick I guess is the most honest if not eloquent way to express what I’m up to. Here in The Shed, we’ll have (try to have) Wassup Wednesday, where I’ll give some weekly advice on writing, publishing, or whatever. Maybe have a Q&A if I can get my act together. Maybe just crap out with a recipe–who knows. We’ll see! And then for Friday…. Well, you’ll just have to check back on Friday to see what I’m up to, won’t you. (Please come back on Friday?)

So here’s my writing advice for today: Find the stolen moments. It could be at 5 in the morning, before your kids wake up. It could be what you do instead of folding the laundry tonight. Heck, one of my best times is waiting in the car for the school bus to show in the afternoon. For my new novel, I just wrote a crazily emotional scene that left me shaking and crying when I pulled my daughter off the bus…and perhaps left her and the other mothers in my complex a little worried and confused. So it goes.

Look, if you want to be a writer, write. Carry a small notebook and a pencil or pen, and steal some time for yourself this Wednesday. Who knows what you’ll come up with–or how many people you can terrify in the doctor’s office when you do.

Good luck!