Thirteen going on Now

March 9, 2007

Wet N Wild
Originally uploaded by lindseyleavitt.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the day packing, an activity I do not recommend because it leads to backaches and heavy bouts of nostalgia. I mooned over pics of hubby and I in high school, back when we were young(er) and tan. Then I read through some old journals and came across this picture taken at my seventh grade water park trip.

Mom, I don’t know if you remember this, but I used to rip up pictures of myself in junior high and hide them in the couch. I don’t know why I thought the couch was a good hiding place and not the, oh I don’t know, garbage can. Maybe it was a cry for help. Maybe I was just too lazy to get up.

Somehow, this picture survived. I used to OBSESS about this picture–and it’s not because the neon green on my suit put Kelly Kapowski to shame. At the time, this picture was living proof to anyone that dared to argue that I was unquestionably hideous. If I ever started to believe for a moment this wasn’t true, one glimpse of this picture would prove me wrong.

I wasn’t an insecure kid. I was smart, did sports and other activities, and had friends. I enjoyed life. But this picture is part of what held me back from true confidence.

My thighs were huge. My chest was flat. I didn’t know how to get my bangs high enough. I didn’t know how to dress. My ears looked pokey, my nose too ski-jumpy and I could not figure out how to smile for a picture. In short, I believed I would never “get” a guy, unless he was visually impared or especially desperate.

I started to get over myself in high school when a guy friend of mine admitted he had a crush on me in junior high. He said he followed me around the day this picture was taken because he thought I looked so good in the suit. I wanted to pull it out and point out my obvious flaws, but I’d been taught you shouldn’t argue a compliment. Especially when it makes you look psycho.

I look at this girl now and wish she could have known how beautiful she was, not because of how she looks in a bathing suit, but because of who she is. I long to show her how lucky she is to have a fully functional and healthy body, and that boobs and butts aren’t ultimately what’s going to get the guy.

But I can’t go back. The closest thing I have to a time machine is my writing. When I write, I think of her. Of me. Of who I was then and who I am now. What will make my writing really worthwhile is if I can someday reach a girl like me and somehow help her to be stronger, smarter, and secure enough in herself to rip up her “ugly pic” and get on with her life. 

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Chautauqua Overview

July 31, 2006

I’ve been home for a little over a week now. I didn’t want to write about it because then it’s like officially over. The whole week was so important for me on so many levels, I don’t know if I can really articulate that. Spending a week with people that “get” me and encourage me to view myself as A Writer was enough to overwhelm me. During one session, I had to leave because I got choked up. Choked up because i was so happy and excited. And maybe a little hormonal.
It was also good timing for me to go because with baby number 2 popping out in around 7 weeks, I’m not going to get much writing time, let alone sleeping time or breathing time. So it was relaxing to do what I wanted to when I wanted to do it. I stayed up late with conference buddies, slept in one day, and ate food I didn’t have to cook. Of course, there was a four day long power outage at home while I was gone, so I did stress a bit about my poor family, but was also a teensy bit relieved I wasn’t there.
I literally have an entire legal pad filled with notes so I can’t get it all in here. So here are my notes on two speakers. Maybe I’ll add some more later if anyone cares, I think these are the most universal ideas. Everything Patti Gauch said was literary chocolate, so maybe I’ll go through my notes on her later.

Peter Jacobi– I can see why this guy is a legend. One of the best speakers I’ve heard, period. He used Handel’s surprise symphony to illustrate how important it is for the writer to eradicate the predictable. In the symphony, Handle builds us up with expected notes. When the “surprise” comes, in which the notes cause the listener to jump, the unexpected is more unexpected.
When a writer achieves this, they turn something on for the reader and create magic and an emotional reaction.
He went on to give qualities used to achieve QUALITY. I’m not going to list them because there are twelve and I’m lazy, but it’s mostly a balance of elements of craft and elements of virtuosity, meaning there are mechanical things to focus on and then the emotional impact the words provide. The whole talk made me view writing in an entirely different way and encouraged me to write to achieve greatness. What happens with the writing (publication, starred reviews, whatever) is only secondary to creating a worthwhile story.

Carolyn Coman– I attended two of her sessions. The first was on storyboarding, a simple concept that has already helped me restructure one of my stories. Fold paper into six squares. Draw the 6 big scenes of the story,including what details will need to pop out in the scene. Write the primary emotion felt on the top, and write in one sentence what is happening. Some stories may have one more/less scene, but basically you should be able to identify six. If not, the story may have too much character development and not enough action. Or, if there are ten scenes, focus on simplifying the plot and developing characters. Basic idea, but great activity.
Her revision workshop was also great. Just questions to ask to help the writer see their story from a more objective view. I’m not going to write the questions but the main thing to remember is ASK QUESTIONS.

Business things-
Cobblestone and Highlights both said they want anecdotal stories versus straight history. I’ve never written non-fiction, but I’m going to try. Soon. And submit. It was good to have motivation to submit again. Also, once you’re published in Highlights, they keep your name on file and are more inclined to look at work again. Even a puzzle or craft is a publication. Something to consider.

The biggest thing I got out of the whole week came from my manuscript critique with Rich Wallace. I heart Rich. He was great. His wife was great. Everything he said was… great. I wish I had it tape recorded so when I’m feeling crappy I can play it back and say “Rich Wallace said that. ABOUT ME!!” (I even kept my cool during compliments. Nodded and squinted my eyes like the big professional I am. I didn’t clap my hands and squeal until after he’d left.)
It’s crazy where an idea comes from. Rich read the beginning of my first manuscript and asked me some questions that made me reconsider the purpose of the story. Which made me re-evaluate my characters. Which made me cut a MAJOR character, thus changing the entire plot. Not that he said “You should do this”. It was some off hand comment like, “Now why is he important?” I thought about that all day and came to the startling conclusion– he wasn’t. And now I’m chopping up that story, the story I was so stressed wasn’t landing me an agent. Forget about an agent. This story, when I finish it, will be better. And I’ll be more confident in it.
Then, Rich was nice enough to look at my WIP and help me figure out where I’m going with it. And what my strengths are as a writer and how to hone in on those. If I would have gone for just the critique, it would have been worth it.
And of course I cried at the closing banquet, thinking how someone had made this possible for me. Something I financially could not have done on my own for a very long time. I want to give back when I can, to give another writer the chance I got to explore and learn and question.
So now I’m going to go write because that’s kind of the biggest part of being a writer. Writing. It was refreshing to be reminded of that.

My mid-twenties crisis

June 7, 2006

I had a mid-twenties crisis yesterday. Most people aren’t aware that such a crisis exists. It isn’t popularized in the media like a mid-life crisis, with it’s sports cars, affairs and bad hair pieces.
Some people are just finishing school at this time in their life so their crises may center around the age old "What the heck am I going to do now?" question. Or maybe they find they are ready to settle into an adult relationship and don’t have another adult to settle into that relationship with. Well, I’ve already jumped over those hurdles and am now dealing with all the wonders of the stay at home mom (SAHM). Ten years ago if you would have told me I would, at this age, be pregnant with my second child and through proxy of my husband, still living a student life, I would have scoffed. Or screamed. Maybe cried. But I love my life. Maybe the crisis even stems from that love.
Here it is. My daughter has been familiarizing herself with the potty for the last month or so. I use the word familiarizing because, although she sat on in and stuck her hands in it, she had yet to use it for it’s primary purpose. Until yesterday, when she told me she had to go potty, sat down on the toilet, and let it go. Can I just tell you how exciting it was? My voice got frighteningly shrill, I jumped up and down, and started clapping my hands. I stopped mid-clap for a few reasons…
1. I was applauding urination.
2. I realized that my life as a parent had just peaked. Seeing your child pee in the potty is the ultimate experience, one that can never be topped. Oh sure, there’s the first bike ride and tooth and dates and graduation… whatever. It all pales compared to our bathroom moment.
3. I am old. I have a freakin kid who is using a toilet! Where did my youth go?
And the main reason I had to stop clapping
4. Since it was her first urinal conquest on the porcelain god, she didn’t quite make it all in and I had a big mess to clean up. Also, my shrill acclamations had frightened my daughter, causing her to lose her grip on the seat, and now she was close to drowning in the toilet. I scooped her up, cleaned up her mess, dressed her in the promised princess pull-ups and sat down to reflect on the reflections I just shared.
Anyway, I’m dealing. I parted my hair differently today which is the twenty something equivalent of a comb-over. I’m not contemplating an affair, but I did have a dream last night I was taken hostage by Will Smith, who I’ve never thought was cute before but maybe it has something to do with that syndrome where you start to love your kidnapper. Also, contemplating driving five over in my SUV on the way to Target. And eating a batch of cookie dough, which isn’t really crisis-related. I’m just hungry.

A week in the life of a pregnant writer and mother of a possesed, er… sorry cute lil toddler.

February 9, 2006

Thanks for all the congrats and good wishes. As my husband would have said circa 1997 “You’re the bomb”

This isn’t my first time around with the pregnancy thing. I have a daughter who is about two months shy of being two. Let me just tell you what kind of week I’ve had with her. I better not get any calls from protective services after this post. I’m sharing so all parents, potential or current, can feel secure in their own parenting skills.

MONDAY: I decide is my D day for polishing up my YA and sending it out. I’ve had some good feedback on queries lately and I wanted to send out my mss before i had that weekly urge to burn it. So I turn on PBS, give my daughter a little “mommy’s life can be changed by what I produce today. So watch Sesame Street and don’t destroy anything” speech. I think she was so excited with all the responsibility I’d placed on her she missed the don’t destroy anything bit. Because I found her a bit later, lying on the ground, the entire contents of my purse around her. Oh, and she is covered in my lipstick and so is the carpet.
No worries. I throw her in the bath. I just bought her some great elmo bath toys and I thought hey, this is the stuff we’ll laugh at some day. I even thought I’d give the manuscript some time to sit and I should feed my kid. See? As of Monday, I was still a reasonably sane and smart mom. After the bath, I make lunch. There’s leftover spaghetti in the fridge, I nuke it, plop my daughter in her high chair and let her eat while I work on the paragraph in chapter 6 that’s been bugging me. About 5 minutes later, I hear insane laughter drifting from the kitchen. What’s so funny? Oh, my daughter has just thrown the spaghetti all around the kitchen, drenched herself in sauce, and placed the bowl on her head for good measure. I still have a sense of humor at this point. I even snap a pic. Bath number 2.

TUESDAY: Got another manuscript request and I’m freakin out a bit. Take my daughter to play group, bond with her all morning then get to work while she naps. For about ten minutes. Then I do my now daily ritual of worshipping the porcelin god and falling into a coma on my bed. We both wake up, I realize how much I still have to do, so I let her play by herself while I work. She comes in all smiles with a permanent marker in one hand and our taxes in the other. Sometimes, my husband will throw a pen on his desk and forget what we’re dealing with here. The damage wasn’t too bad, just some scribbling on furniture I don’t care about. Hubby comes home and takes daughter away so I can get to work. When we put her to bed that night, she screams more than usual so hubby takes her out. OF course, we forgot to close the bedroom door, she gets in, finds my NAIL POLISH (I SWEAR I KID PROOF! I DON”T EVEN KNOW WHERE SHE GOT IT!) Sits on our recliner, dumps the whole thing out on the chair and herself. To the bath, then to bed.

WEDNESDAY: Must, must must send out story today. Put crit buddy to action. We get through the whole things and send it out. In the mean time, my husband comes home to help but instead takes a (much deserved) nap. Daughter decides to reorganize room, unloading the contents of her bookshelf AND toy chest. I think for a second that this might be a cry for help, but only for a second because I’m too busy to think.

THURSDAY: Right now, you’re thinking, that poor kid! I want to steal her away! Give her a good home. I wish you had. Just for today. Because today I woke up REALLY sick, throwing up things I ate before I was even pregnant. I’m in a dinner group so I have to cook for 12 people. I haven’t cleaned my house, done dishes or laundry in a week. The house has a funky smell that continually makes me gag. I decide I’m actually going to put makeup on today. I put my daughter in her room with a video on. Everything is ok. Her room is completely kid-proof. So I’m applying mascara, and wondering when the last time I tweezed my eyebrows was, when I hear her making spitting noises. I find her with a half empty bottle of PERMANENT GLUE on her hand. The glue was in the top drawer of her dresser under her clothes. I put it there because I needed to fix the buckle of her shoe but hadn’t gotten to that yet. She’d climbed onto her toy chest, dumped out all her clothes, and found the glue. I spent the next half hour scraping the glue off both my child and dresser with small vomit and cry breaks inbetween. Oh, and I bathed her again and cut some of her beautiful curls.
Like, mini-mental breakdown.
We go to the store and post office, come home and nap before I make the big–but by no means fancy–dinner. My friends come over to pick up the food and we chat for a bit. In that time, my daughter gets into her diaper bin and rubs diaper ointment into her arms. Bath # 2

So now it is eight o’clock and I am in bed.

I love my daughter. I love being pregnant. I love being a writer. But how in the world I’m going to juggle it all is beyond me. Really, I hope I am sane enough someday to look at this post and laugh.

Every ocean has its sharks

December 20, 2005

Until recently, I had a fear of writing well. Writing was something I was good at in a get-a-good-grade-on-an-English-paper kind of way, but nothing I'd ever consider doing for a hobby or even a career. I never revised and always used my first draft, believing genius to be something sporadic, and if it wasn't perfect the first time, it never would be. I still kind of hold onto that when I wade through my rough drafts, thinking Harper Lee must have just flitted out all those perfect prose and I am a stink stink stinky excuse for a writer. But you've heard that before and that's not my point.

When I was in eighth grade, I went through a brief stint in between my dream of being a stand up comedian and a hand model with a crooked pinky where I wanted to be a writer. This dream was fed by my weekly journal assignments, where my teacher always wrote back encouraging words on all my papers. Like most junior high kids, I thought I knew everything and everything I went through was the highest of drama and no one could feel or understand anything as I did. The only time that belief was chipped away was when I read. So, like RL Stine and Christopher Pike and Francine Pascal and the other entire ghost writing literary geniuses of my time, I set out to write a story that would make teens FEEL. Feel what precisely I didn't know but I knew I needed some emotion in there, and the more it could get someone to cry, the better it must be.

Now, I'm still fortunate to say, I've felt very few extreme negative emotions in my life. Sure, loss, loneliness, regret, insecurity, that kind of thing. But real sorrow or pain—no. So I had to go outside of myself to find those things. I had just seen Radio Flyer with my family the night before for family night. The main theme of the story is abuse with a metaphor mixed in about the wagon which I didn’t know was a metaphor at the time and when my mom told me that years later and that the story did not end happily, I was pretty mad Hollywood had fooled me once again. But at the time, I quite liked the movie because one or both of my parents had cried in it; obviously indicating it addressed a Very Serious Topic that only a very serious writer like myself could explore.

Problem was I knew absolutely nothing about the topic. My older brother and I had our share of brawls as kids, but nothing worthy of an angst-riddled story. So I thought I’d take the Radio Flyer angle and imagine what I would feel like if my little brother died and my dad was the one to do it.

As Napoleon Dynamite would say, it was probably my best story written ever. I remember one line was “Dad had eyes as clear as the ocean. But every ocean has its sharks.” I’m sure I probably plagiarized that line from something else, but I was really proud of it when I turned in my weekly assignment. I fantasized about all the comments I’d get from my teacher, how she’d probably read it to the class because that’s what happens to kick butt writers like myself.

I got called to the office the next day. Now I was your average over-achieving brown noser, so I always figured I was getting some kind of award when I got called down. Maybe there was some special literary award I was unaware of. Maybe they’d made one special just for me.
The counselor was waiting for me in the lobby. I was surprised to see it was her and not the principal, but it was a big school and good news is good news no matter the bearer. She led me into her office, her expression soft and unreadable and sat me down in a plush chair next to the window.
Our conversation went something like this…

Counselor (C) “How are you doing, Lindsey?”
Me (M) “Good, thank you.”
C: “I want you to know I am your friend. That whatever you tell me does not have to leave this room, unless you tell me you are being hurt in anyway and I need to help you in anyway.”
M: “Uhh.. ok.”
C: “What does your father do, Lindsey?”
M: blank stare “My Dad? What does he do?”
C: “What is his job?
M: “He’s a lawyer. For so and so law firm. He’s the so in the so and so (On top of being a brown noser, I was horrible name dropper as well)
C: “Being a lawyer can be a very stressful job..”
M: “Yep. Why, do you need him to come in for career day or something?”
C: “No, I just want to get feel for what your life is like.”
M: “My life is great.”
C: “How is your relationship with your father?”
M: “Still great. I’m sorry, but WHY are you asking me this?”
C: Rustle of papers on desk. My story is pulled out. “Your teacher shared this story with me. It’s a great story, with some lovely metaphors. I especially like the line about oceans and sharks.”
M: Gulp. “Thanks.”
C: “It just seemed so real, that we think it may be a cry for help. Lindsey, we’re here to help you. Is there anything else you need to tell me.”
M: “So that’s why I’m here? You think I’m writing about my dad? Can’t I write a story just to write a story. I mean, I’ve never even been to a funeral but I wrote about it. It doesn’t make it true. Isn’t that, like what fiction is?” Pause. “Am I in trouble now?”
C: Maternal pat on hand. “No. Just checking that everything is all right.”

So no literary awards. Just some psycho-analysis. Consequently, I stopped trying to write down to the bones and stuck with humor. For the most part, it’s what I’ve written ever since. And now, I see that I need to go deeper into it, to make it more than what it is. But I can’t. I’m scared to write characters that do things differently than me personally because people might think it’s who I am. So, like the kid in the Six Sense who says he stopped drawing the pictures that scared people, I’m still drawing the sunshine in one corner, the tree nearby, and people smiling with a rainbow in the back. Is that bad? I can’t say. Is it what needs to be shown? That’s what I’m still trying to figure out.