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Be This Turtle

This turtle right here is the reason you shouldn’t give up. Ever. He was bit by a shark, which took off a quarter of his body. He was picked up by the Virginia Aquarium after being hooked by a fisherman in Virginia Beach. He is eating and swimming completely on his own. He healed and survived. This turtle didn’t let the odds overwhelm him and neither should you.

Just keep swimming, indeed.

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Choo choo!

So last night I got back from a whirlwind, magical journey to New York City (where everyone’s your friend, according to They Might Be Giants). As I compile photos and narrative from this wonderful time – which I cannot wait to share with you – I wanted to tell you about a first for me: this trip marked the first time I took a train from one city to another in the United States (I took a bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima when visiting Japan in 2002). Amtrak was amazing and business class was worth every penny.

To document this awesomeness, I took hourly notes, which was very fun and kept me ‘in the moment’ throughout my trip. Enjoy!

Hour by Hour on the Pennsylvanian

(I saw this photo and was all, “Or what? The devil is going to get me?” Because that’s what I saw first…)

Hour 1: Breakfast! Bye, Pittsburgh!
Hour 2: iPod, you make me sad. Don’t lie about your age (battery life) when I forgot my charger.
Hour 3: Took a break from working to see the infamous historical Horseshoe Curve. Did you know it was targeted by the Nazis?
Hour 4: Mario 3, you are still just as fun 20 years later!
Hour 5: I think it’s nap time. Talk to me, Jenny Lawson. Ooo, cows!
Hour 6: Holy crap, giant eagle. Not the store. Like a big-ass bird. Freaking sweet.
Hour 7: There really is something to this whole work-on-trains thing.
Hour 8: I looked up and was all, “Man, this area looks crappy.” Realized we were coming into Philadelphia. Wah-waaaah.
Hour 9: We are now going in the opposite direction. I feel like I’m backing up really fast.
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5 Things I Learned About Writing (And Life) from my Mom

Your mom is the first person who gets to see you at your worst: naked, gross, kind of bloody, screaming. They look at you and for some reason, they don’t run away from that horror show. And they stick around and deal with years of crying and pooping and crying and bleeding and crying and…well, that was my experience anyway. Even though you may not realize it at the time, your mom teaches you things, and those things affect what you choose to do and make with the time you have.

These are just a few of the things my Mom taught me that I have found have impacted my writing. You might learn a thing or two as well.

1. Life is too short to do stuff you hate. Whenever I think that I’ve made the worst decision ever, Mom tends to tell me about how she almost became a nun. We talk about all the steps she took to reach that goal and how, once she was there, all she could think about was leaving. Never be satisfied with misery just because you think you owe it to yourself to wade through the muck. Come at writing and working from a place of joy. If that place can’t be found, time to look elsewhere.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Over the years since I moved to Pittsburgh, I have had to call my Mom and commiserate over bad times. I can call my Mom in tears, and usually before the end of the call, we’re laughing about whatever is going on. Nothing you’re doing – whether it’s a memoir about the worst time of your life or a set of poems about death and despair – is so bad that you can’t take a second, smile and realize that you’re alive.

3. Come at it a little at a time. The other day, I was talking to my Mom about how to organize my home. We are both packrats, and I always marvel at how everything seems to have a nook or home at my mother’s house (“That’s organized?” she asked me, laughing). However, she gave me this advice and it’s made a world of difference. It’s so easy to fall into being completed overwhelmed, but that’s only if you come to the mountain and immediately cry because you’re not at the top. One step at a time. One word. One sentence. That’s all it takes. You’ll get there.

4. You can’t always be in control. This one is always a doozy for me. I’ll be sweating and screaming about something – anything – and after minutes of sound advice, my Mom will finally say, “You have to give it over to God.” And I’ll make some inappropriate noise at that, and she will tolerate it, because she knows she’s right. You can’t always have your ducks in a row (look at Youtube; those things are always falling into holes and grates and getting blown over by fans, etc). Sometimes you have to sit down at the screen and say, “Okay, God/universe/Muse…I don’t know what’s happening, but let’s give it a go, huh?”

5. Live life with joy and spontaneity. Some of my fondest memories are of the random things my mother and I have done together: trips to the beach or to a bookstore or even to a fancy mall. You don’t need a crazy trip to Hawaii to get your creativity going or rejuvenate your energy. All you need is the willingness to step out of the normal day-in-day-out of your existence. Have a little adventure. You’ll be a better writer…hell, you’ll be a better person. I know I am.

Thanks, Mom.

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On Getting Bit (And Still Sticking Your Hand Back In)

It’s tough going from owning guinea pigs to owning mice.

Guinea pigs are sort of like big, furry bricks. You can pick them up, place them in your lap, pet them and then return them to their habitat. That’s the big draw to those big-lipped bundles: you can handle them with relative ease. Wanna cuddle and watch TV? Cool. Snuggle in bed? No problem.

Not so with mice. Even domesticated mice are running on 110% fleeing energy, operating under the fair assumption that anything and everything is trying to end their short lives. When I first got my two mice last year, I thought that I could at least enjoy their presence in the tank they shared. One day, I reached my hand down with a few pieces of food. Virginia – the more sociable of two at the time – was cool with that. Milk-and-cream-colored Sylvia, however?

“She freakin’ bit me,” I told my husband, showing him the red pinch mark on my hand.

“Yeah…what did you expect?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but I expected some White Fang shit. I expected some initial wildness that would melt to warm love between me and my tiny furry friends. But after a few more times, I got tired of the itty bitty bites, so I left them alone to their happy, mousey lives.

Fast-forward about fifteen months. After a brief bout with a dime-sized tumor, Virginia passed away. I struggled with the idea of getting Sylvia a friend (“You’re going to end up the crazy cat lady of mice if you get into this cycle,” I was warned) but she was mostly pleased with having the tank to herself. However, I didn’t want her to get depressed or bored, so I decided I would try once again to make our friendship work so she could stay stimulated.

Everything I read explained that to win the trust of a mouse, you have to make sure they have a strong sense of security. How do you do that? By slowly getting them used to you. How do you do that? Sticking your damn hand in the tank again.

“This isn’t going to work if you keep taking your hand away,” my husband explained as I pulled my doughy digits out of Sylvia’s line of bite. I hated the thought of the little bugger getting her teeth on me. Again.

I read a topic in a book on rats about using soft foods to keep the rat engaged as they become accustomed to your presence. I decided to give this a try. Why not? Turns out Sylvia loves peanut butter, and she quickly got to liking it being given to her on a spoon.

It took a lot of courage to get to the next step: putting peanut butter on the tip of a finger. Every voice in me was like, “This is not going to end well. You know that, right?”

But as that little mouse came up and happily started licking my finger without so much as a pinch, I can report that no bad happened.

How often do we pass up opportunities because we’re afraid of getting hurt again? It’s easy to just say, “I’ll find a better way to occupy my time.” The things that really matter, though – the things in life that bring real joy – may require taking a risk and defying everything that tells you it’s safer to stay back.

I’m glad I tried again. Wouldn’t you?

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Books!

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I can hear a voice in my head scoffing, but I’m going to ask this anyway: have you ever been in the process of reading a book (or two) for so long that once you’re done, you just feel…lost?

That is my problem currently.

I finally finished both “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” and “Water for Elephants.” Following up either of those will be difficult, I imagine, because they were both absolutely amazing.

So, dear readers, what is on your nightstand right now? Or in your purse? Or in your hands? What are you reading that I should be reading?