Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Joys (or is it horrors?) of Wasting Time

I feel irritable tonight, ready to snap at anyone who dares say a wrong word. My grumpiness comes from being angry with myself for having wasted time today. I look at what I accomplished, and I judge myself based on how much of what I expected to do (a lot) had actually been done (very little).

Today had not been productive. I am only now writing the blog which I intended to write earlier this morning. I did not find a way to become unstuck with the synopsis for my novel. And what about other things I wanted to do? Read blogs, look for more agents, send out more queries, write in my new book, spend some time with Dar. Nope, nothing, zilch, none.

Whenever I am aware of being mad at myself, I wonder why I need to judge myself so harshly. I mean, really, how does being critical serve me anyways? Then I realize that I am judging myself for being judgmental, and I laugh. But another day I catch myself doing it again.

After all, wasting time is sinful, right? At least, that is what I’ve been taught. My mother says that the more you do, the more time you have to do what you want to do. That sounds complicated, but think about it this way: On vacation, I lie on the beach, read a book in the sun and eat good food, right? Sunning, bathing, eating, reading equals a full and satisfying day. At home, I somehow manage to write, do homework with the kids, cook, wash dishes, walk the dogs, play with Eden, sit with Uri while he’s playing the violin and the clarinet, read to the kids, do the laundry, and read in bed and take a bath! How can that be? It’s because the more I do the more time I have to do what I want to do!

I get satisfaction from writing, but less from talking on the phone for two hours (which I did this morning), or from waiting for half an hour in front of the kids’ school and then for an hour and a half at the dentist with Uri. And even less from driving half an hour in each direction four times a day.

But as I write this, I wonder. Can’t I find satisfaction in these seemingly time-wasting activities? Can’t I find joy in sitting in traffic, or in spending an afternoon with my son at the dentist’s office?

Maybe it’s possible, but I’m not yet zen enough to remember this wisdom at the right time. I can see the ways I could have been more self-aware, compassionate, and mindful today while “wasting” my time. Smart after the fact, a friend aptly told me today. And yet it seems a transient smartness and goes away fast, before I can use it next time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Backpacking Bug

Ever since I first began toddling in my socks, I loved being in nature. With my family, we took trips all over Israel, and I learned the names of the wildflowers, the history of the archaeological places, and how to look safely under rocks.

As an adult, after successfully avoiding any form of exercise for the better part of fifteen years, it was clear to me that I could not walk for long, carry a backpack, or under any circumstances sleep in a tent. I limited myself to short, easy hikes and stays at dreary motels.

The desire to be in nature, however, burned in me, and finally, thanks to my friend Genevieve, I took the backpacking plunge. We purchases sleeping bags, a tent, backpacks, a cooking set and freeze-dried food, and we were ready for our first try. We chose our favorite place to hike: Henry Coe State Park. Genevieve picked a trail which she felt would be appropriate (eight miles the first day and five the next), set the length of the trip for two days, and off we went.

I remember us trudging on Springs Trail that April afternoon. I followed Genevieve, wondering at finding myself carrying a backpack. We arrived at China Hole which had risen with the rains and covered our trail. We took off our shoes and waded through, shivering at the chilly water. The path meandered uphill for several miles till it reached Mahoney Meadows and our last stretch into Lost Spring. Lost Spring, a lost cause indeed, was nothing but drippy muddy water. We felt lucky that we had brought enough water till we discovered that my water had entirely oozed out of my hydration bag.

We learned a lot that trip and continued to make mistakes in trips to come. There was the day we hiked fifteen miles in 110 degrees and run completely out of water because of a rattlesnake. There was the time we forgot to bring the pot and had to cook in one of our titanium bowls. There was the hike in which both of us ended quite ill after not bringing enough food.

Now I have a backpacking partner in my boyfriend Dar. We still make mistakes and try to learn from them if we can. We plan on hiking the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. We want to venture into the wild Kalalau Trail. Today, indoors, I look at the fog hanging over the world outside, and I close my eyes and imagine what it will be like to sleep under the stars again, to fight the mosquitos, miss fresh food, and dare to swim in a cold lake. How lucky I am to be healthy and strong! How lucky that I have the hiking bug! How lucky that I had been brave enough to challenge my beliefs about myself and discover that I can do so much more than I thought I can.

Monday, November 28, 2011


It occurred to me today that I am a writaholic, addicted to writing. Most people who are privy to my sporadic writing habits might raise their eyebrows at this idea. In fact, my own eyebrows rise at the very thought. But nonetheless I think it might be true.

My writaholic-ness is definitely not a workaholic-type obsession. I don’t write for long hours, neglecting both children and house work. Nor do I ever write into the wee hours of the night, leaning over my computer under the forlorn light of a solitary lamp. I rarely rush to my notebook in the middle of the night with a burning desire to write down an idea, though that did happen to me once fifteen years ago when I thought up a limerick dedication to my honor thesis advisor.

And yet I insist that I am a writaholic. The reason is this: when I write I am happy, content and relaxed. I feel confident and hopeful about the future. In contrast, when I don’t write I slowly become depressed, unhappy, and stressed.

Usually I feel that I need to be in the groove in order to write. If I feel depressed or my mind is busy then I can’t write. And yet, lately it has become clear to me that I need to write.

Take this weekend, for example. On Friday we celebrated my mother’s 70th birthday, and many members of my family came to spend the weekend with us. I appointed myself master of ceremonies. My sister and I cooked thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. My boyfriend organized a bus, and we took the whole group plus five to Point Lobos for a hike, then to Carmel for dinner. On Saturday we watched a movie about my mother that I had prepared with a friend’s talented son. We had brunch and ended the day with dinner and an opera. On Sunday we closed the ceremonies with a family zumba class and more food.

This full weekend left little time for writing. On Sunday, however, when we returned home the kids went to watch some television, and my boyfriend fell asleep on the sofa. More than anything else I wanted to write, but I felt too tired and not in the groove. Instead I idled by the ipad, played word games and filled out crossword puzzles in Hebrew. I slowly grew more tired and restless.

I think I would have been better able to relax and enjoy the festivities this weekend if I had used what free time I had for writing. This morning I woke up still tired, but now, with the keyboard under my fingers, my words springing on the screen and bringing my thoughts to life, I feel whole again. I hope that in the future, instead of waiting for the right mood to come, I will remember that I can rest in the writing. I will allow myself to "write" myself into the groove and become happy by doing what I love and do best. Which is exactly this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let's Have Some Fun, Kids!

I like to watch my friends and their parenting techniques, and I noticed there are different parenting schools with regard to one of my favorite subjects: are the kids or the adults in charge of fun?

Some of my friends are the kind of parents who believe that children should fit themselves to the schedule of the adults. They expect from the children a certain level of behavior. While the expectation sometimes results in crying and complaints, the outcome is usually that these friends sleep better at night, are able to finish a conversation without being interrupted, and are not slaves to their children.

There is another type of parents I recognize. This type is so excited to have kids, that they make the children, their schedule, needs and wishes a priority. They walk with babies all night singing to them, they nurse on demand, they let the kids sleep with them in bed, and they go to the playground even if they absolutely abhor it.

Guess to which group I belong?

Going to the playground might appear an innocent, charming activity which parents and children can engage in together, but I dread it. I have a hard time running around trying to get my children not to kill themselves or be killed by other kids on the play structure. I don’t know how to protect my clueless and far-too-innocent two (who must have inherited their helplessness from me) from playground thugs who take away toys from them or push them around in the sand box. Taking my kids to the playground is in my book an ordeal.

My favorite activity with the kids and what I have always loved loved loved doing with them is read together. No surprise there, I guess. I spent my childhood reading books to myself, and now I want to spend my kids’ childhood reading books to them.

Of course, there are many types of parents in between the two I mentioned, in all directions of the spectrum. And I hope that I don’t always belong to the door-mat kind. I rather hope that by thinking about all this, as I certainly did and do, there may have been slight changes in my behavior, possibly undetected by the naked eye, but which have made a difference in the quality of my life.

There is much to learn, and the kids are not waiting for me to learn it. They are growing up, developing, learning themselves. My daughter is now a pro in playground etiquette and is an expert on the monkey bars. My son controls the football field, even if he would prefer that less than forty kids would want to join his game. And me? Well, I’m still here, reading books, writing books, thinking about books, and eating while pondering books. That’s who I am. And I guess that’s all right.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Once a Witch -- Fun Read from Carolyn MacCullough

Last night I went to sleep at 10:30 because I wanted to finish reading Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough. I read the book on the kindle iPad app, and discovered, once again, how difficult it is for me to read a book when I can’t skip ahead to see what happens.

I suppose it is possible to do that on the app, but I haven’t quite mastered all the options, and anyways, it wouldn’t be the same. I like to skim through the book to find conversations, names and locations and learn more about the plot. On the app, turning the pages is very different from flipping through paper and letting luck lead me to an interesting page. Often I read the ending. Knowing the end does not interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I love seeing how an author works toward the resolution, and I love being surprised by the author’s choices in getting there.

Once a Witch is fun to read. Tamsin, the main character, is the only one in her family who does not have a magical talent. Her father controls weather patterns. Her mother winks in and out of rooms. Her grandmother reads minds, and her sister can talk you into doing anything she wants. The other members of her family all have talents as well, but Tamsin, who was prophesied to be a “beacon” to the family, has no talent at all.

I tend to identify with characters who feel alienated from everyone around them. Tamsin is different twice: she is different from all the other teens (represented by her friend Agatha) because she belongs to a witchy family. But she also does not belong with her family, because she is the only one who is not really a witch. I thought that a great concept.

Tamsin is asked by a mysterious (and good looking) man who mistakes her for her sister to find a clock for him that has been lost a hundred years ago. She is enthusiastically assisted by her witchy friend Gabriel whose talent is for finding lost items and for traveling through time -- how convenient.

Finding the clock leads to a lot of trouble. Traveling through time has consequences, and Tamsin must leap to the rescue of her sweet-talking sister and her friend, Agatha, both of whom are bewitched by the mysterious villainous man.

The book flows, is easy to read, and already has a sequel out titled Always a Witch. I like that it shows that sometimes feeling different is more in our heads than in reality. Tamsin doesn’t even begin to know what being different means until she discovers the secret her entire family has been hiding from her, and the story build to an exciting end.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Am Watching You!

Sometimes I feel like there’s a cartoon giant standing above me, tall, big and ugly, his head bent down to within six inches of my ears. This giant has only one interest in life, to harass me with reminders about my chores. All day long, and sometimes all night (depending, I suppose, on whether he gets a nap), he shouts in my ears what I need to do.

My room slowly fills up with his speech bubbles, each of which starts with the words "you need." “You need to call the dentist! You need to write a synopsis! You need to wash the dishes! You need to walk the dogs! You need to take out the trash! You need to teach the dogs to use the doggie door! You need to paint again! You need to work on your novel! You need to organize your desk! You need to listen to what I say!”

This giant is my monitor, keeping me not just honest but also stressed and overwhelmed. I try to shut him up by writing to-do lists. I try to silence him by calling the dentist. But he continually finds new things for me to need to do. No matter how fast or how hard I work, the giant keeps ahead of me by hundreds of items of to-do.

The giant monitor hardly ever demands that I do something fun. He will shout at me to floss, but never to take a bath. He will command me to get up, but never to take a nap. He won’t say, “you need to watch a movie.” Never! His words would be: “What the heck do you think you’re doing watching a movie? You need to wash the car!”

The giant is different from my inner perfectionist. He doesn’t care whether the job gets done well. In fact, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care whether the job gets done at all. He blindly yells at me, coming up with more and more ideas all the time.

I wish I had his creativity. I wish I could harness his energy into my writing and have new words flowing onto the page with the speed at which his “you needs” fill up the space above my head. I wish that instead of getting buried under his demands I could float up above them to where the air is clear, the sun shines, and it’s freedom all around.

Perhaps I could remind the giant that sometimes it’s important to have fun, forget to pay a bill, or leave the dishes lying for the ants. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come into this world to chase a list of chores, though I suppose the to-do list must be attended to once in a while. So maybe if I changed perspective and considered the dentist and the dishes fun, the giant and his bubbles will fade away or pop to reveal the clear, blue sky of my uncluttered mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Whenever I had a bad day as a child, my mother would promise me that a good day would follow the bad one. She’d use the Arabic expression “yom assal, yom bassal,” meaning “honey day, onion day,” which to me, at least, always sounded as though it is predicting a bad day after a good one rather than the other way around. I won’t argue the point, however.

Yesterday I had a bad day. I woke up feeling irritable. I forgot Uri’s violin at home and had to add an extra trip to Portola Valley to retrieve it. I got too preoccupied ordering tickets to Israel and was almost late for my pilates class (I really don’t like driving stressed). I felt overwhelmed and over-excited, and though I kept appreciating little things that happened (like how well Eden read Hebrew or the beauty of the deer I saw on Arastradero Road), the general tenor of my day remained the same: off.

So I really hoped that I would get up feeling better this morning, more grateful, more appreciative, happier. I was quite disappointed when I woke up still feeling like I wanted to run away. The desire to flee only intensified when I checked my email and discovered another rejection letter. Reading it, I found my doubts returning: is my book good enough? Perhaps the agents know something I refuse to acknowledge: that kids are less interested in fairy tales nowadays. The weight of doom hang over my shoulders, and I knew if I ever wanted to fly again, I need to move, far and fast.

This is where having a personal trainer can really come in handy. Janie took one look at me and said, “let’s run!”

Instead of running away we run to the Baylands. The sky stretched blue overhead, worry-free and open. A single egret stood with its back to us, resting within the tall grasses. Ducks floated in the quiet water of the bay. I let my mind rest on the line of the horizon, allowing the movements of my legs to become all of me, step, step, step, step. Deep inside I felt faith return. I am a novelist. This is who I am. There are many stories growing inside of me, complex, worthy of being told. Their boundaries are far beyond the limits of my body, my computer, my typing hands. These characters already exist, waiting not to be released but to be given a voice, a page to explore.

I am a novelist.

I have a long to-do list for today. First on it was this blog, but after it come other chores, less pleasant: make doctor appointments, answer emails, prep some stuff, cook food. But today, because I’m inspired by the beauty within and without, I am going to start by writing. Not just this blog, but my long-term stuff. I am a novelist. I have to write.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I don’t like to think of myself as a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist implies a need for striving, as though I’m not quite there yet.  And I definitely want to be there.

I woke up feeling off balance this morning, and I find it entirely impossible to rest in the awareness of feeling this way. I want to fix it, solve it, resolve it, change it, eradicate it. My thoughts revolve round and round the question: why am I feeling off today? And the answer: I’m afraid of not being enough.

Not being enough is, for me, the essence of perfectionism. I remember reading many years ago a parenting book promoting the concept of the “good enough mother,” the idea being that good enough is good enough. We don’t need to be perfect. But if I’m not good enough no matter how hard I try, reaching the “good enough mother” benchmark is impossible. My own perfectionist standard of what good enough is for me defeats any attempt to get there.

My son asked me this morning why I did not write a blog post yesterday. I answered that I had spent the entire day with them and had no time. I worked more than an hour with Eden on her Hebrew, read them more than fifty pages in Uri’s book from school, cooked goat stew for dinner, played rummikub with Eden, set up a new system of charting our responsibilities during the day, helped Uri with his violin practice and in setting up the clarinet, and more. Yet it was not enough. I did not write a blog, did not write a synopsis for the two agents I still want to query, and did not even look at my book.

I know perfectionism is more of an obstacle than an aid to almost everything I do, whether it is my parenting, writing, cooking or housekeeping. I aspire to grow as a human being, but sitting here today, it seems to me that despite my worthy goals, really what I’ve been pursuing is perfection. I have been struggling like mad with the need to be more and more and more.

Frightening thought, but sobering too. So I think today I’m going to try a new direction. After all, being off balance should make it easier to take a fork in my road. I’m not quite sure what that fork will be like, but it looks quite springy from here, with flowers growing by the side of the path and white clouds hanging like a herd of sheep in the clear blue sky. I think, strangely enough for how I felt this morning, that today is going to be a good day. An imperfectly sunny day. Partly because it’s such a busy day there’s no way I can make it perfect, and partly because, for a change, I will not!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wrong Saturday?

I don’t like watching television. Of course, I’ve watched my share of programs when I was a child. I loved the Friday afternoon British series that used to play on public TV in Israel, back when we had only one channel. I loved watching James Bond movies, the A Team, and the series about that guy who stole the fancy army helicopter. But nowadays TV holds very little attraction for me. I’d even go so far as to say that when I watch it, I get up off the sofa irritable and headachy.

This morning, therefore, when my daughter Eden asked me to watch a movie with her, I really wanted to say no. The thought passed through my mind, however, that I say “no” a lot. “No, you can’t watch a movie on a school night.” “No, you can’t have candy before dinner.” “No, we can’t go bowling right now.” I thought to myself, how many times is she going to want to watch a movie with me? Soon enough she will be grown up and have time only for her friends. So I said yes, and we watched a movie.

As expected, I ended up grumpy. Eden and I worked on her Hebrew for a while, and I struggled to remain patient. We then went out for some shopping, which I hoped would cheer me up. I tried to forget that I promised Eden I would also take her to see Puss in Boots with a friend at 5. But time, as we know, waits for no one, and at 3:30 my poor frayed nerves were getting more and more harassed, and I was thinking about the expected second movie of the day with anger and frustration. I was looking for a reason to cancel, any reason at all.

Two minutes of reading In Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion, however, and I am a new woman. As though she knows exactly how I feel, she reminds me: the past is but a memory, the future is a fantasy, but the present is a gift.

Funny what it does, remembering that there is nothing but the here and now. In the long run, in the grand scheme of things, how important is it that I “messed up” my day and watched more movies than I’m used to? How important is it that I missed writing the blog or didn’t send that query I wanted to send? Spending time with my daughter, quality or otherwise, is more important to me now, and I suspect will be more important to me in all the nows to come, than any other project. Being here with her now, on her terms, without having preconceived notions, expectations or agendas, is truly a gift for both of us. Just being here, together, now.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How I Missed Having Tea With Jerome K. Jerome

I read a quote by Jerome K. Jerome this morning which said: “It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one.” The quote appeared in Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion, in a section on interbeing, the idea that we are all interconnected, one with each other and the world

Today, after I read his compassion quote, I googled Jerome, wondering if he was still alive. Turns out he had died back in 1927, long before I was born. So I guess I missed my chance for having tea with him. I’m a little sad about that. I think he would have made an amazingly funny tea-mate.

My mother gave me Jerome K. Jerome’s wonderful Three Men in A Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) when I was still in elementary school. I loved it! I loved how immensely innocent Jerome pretends to be when he tells about his long-term liver disease which he diagnosed himself by his also long-term laziness (one knock on the head, he says, is a better cure for it than many pills). I loved his stories about Harris and George, how they got stuck in the maze (I will never forget them going in circles right by  the half-eaten roll again and again), how Harris was attacked by the swans, how all three were almost run over by a boat in the river, and how even an undertaker with a dead body did not want to sit in the same train car Jerome rode with a package of specially stinky cheeses.

One of my fondest memories is going with my mother to the library. My mother had somehow arranged so that we were able to borrow twice as many books as were generally allowed. We would move from shelf to shelf, looking at the books, and my mother would suggest ones she thought I might enjoy. A huge pile went home with us, and during the week I would quickly devour one book after another. Soon enough, I had run out of books in the children’s library, and my mother and I began the same ritual in the adult section. I read Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, The Red and the Black, The Winds of War, King Rat, and many, many others.

Growing up, these books were more real to me than many people. When it was difficult for me to feel interconnectedness with the world, whenever I felt too weird, I could identify with a character in a book and feel a little less sad. As I followed Jerome’s blundering passage up and down the Thames, laughing at himself, his friends, and anyone who dared brave the river with them, the world became a lighter, more humorous place also for me, and for that, Jerome K. Jerome, I am grateful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Searching for the Elusive Writing Flow Valve

My dream is that one day I will sit in front of the computer and the novels in my head will flow effortlessly onto the page. I know they are all ready to go in there. I’ve been cooking them, planning them, writing them in my head for years now. But for some reason their way out is convoluted, partial, snapped.

I wonder where it is that I get stuck. Is the block in my head? In my arms? Is it the critic sitting on my shoulder who has opinions about every word I write? Do I think too much about my ideas? Am I a perfectionist and think no word is good enough?

I really try not to be a perfectionist. I keep telling myself just to write, even if I don’t feel like writing. I tell myself the quality doesn’t matter because I can revise, delete, erase, reboot, even completely ignore what I wrote afterward. That is the wonder in writing on the computer. Anything can be done. But here I am, my usual me, with ideas overflowing to the stars, sitting before a blank page, or worse, a beginning which I then never continue for years at a time.

On my way to take the car to the garage for service this morning, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with a feeling that I’m trapped in my own life. I’m going to be forty in March. Half my life already has passed me by. And these novels, these wonderful creations which really ought to be shared with the rest of mankind, remain firmly locked up inside my head, and I cannot seem to find a way to let them out.

This is one reason why I am so excited about this blog. I’m not sure if it’s the instant gratification thing in seeing how many people have read each post, or if it’s that I’m limiting myself to no more than 500 words. I find myself glorying in the writing of each and every one. Yes, sometimes I get stuck. I may never post my first attempt yesterday at writing a blog about weirdness. Altogether, though, my enjoyment in writing it overrides all my blocks, and my thoughts flow onto the paper in a wish come true dream fulfillment fantasy that brings me even more joy.

What I really hope is that this fascination with blogging will influence the rest of my writing as well. Of course, if it’s really instant gratification which makes me enjoy my blog, then I will need to grow up a bit and learn patience with the rest of my writing. Or, alternatively, I could time-travel to nineteenth-century England and publish my novel one chapter at a time like Charles Dickens. Now there’s a thought that sounds grand! Or maybe another idea for a novel. Either way, I’m glad I’m writing, whether it’s a short post for the blog, or the next world best seller that will change everyone’s lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Solo In Comparison

My niece played with the Terman Band at Gunn High School tonight. She is eleven years old and started playing the saxophone this year. The concert began with the sixth graders, continued with the higher Terman grades and ended with Gunn’s upper-grades band.

I thought: I wish Uri had come. In the front, several kids played the clarinet, one of the two instruments he plays. Off to one side, two girls played the bass clarinet, the instrument he wished to study (his hands are still too small to reach the bottom notes). There were trumpets and trombones, a percussionist, flutists and even a few tuba players.

I thought: I wish Uri would want to join the Hausner band. I wish for him the experience of feeling his notes merging in with the music, melting in to create one harmony. Sitting in the audience this evening, I felt moved by the power this group of musicians generated as each freely gave his or her part for the whole.

I personally am not a good group player. As a singer, I have never been able to let my voice join in with other people’s. I feel off tune when I sing with anyone else. I feel that I cannot merge in, that everybody can hear me. I like to say that I’m a soloist at heart, but I think underneath is a double fear: the fear of not fitting in and the fear that if I tried to sing with other people, I would discover I was not as good as I thought.

Not trying allows me to stay with the dream of being best without having to prove myself either right or wrong. I refrain from putting myself in a position that might bring me into comparison with others, not just because I know it is bad to compare, but because I’m afraid I would still do it and come out missing. It’s a cycle I don’t quite know how to avoid. After all, even a soloist needs to work with an orchestra.

Perhaps it is not necessary to be as afraid of comparison as I am, as long as the knowledge that "I am who I am and that’s okay" balances out the wish to achieve perfection. Perhaps comparison is the path to improvement. If I do not see someone better than me, how would I get better? If no one is more creative, why be creative?

I think maybe it is a balanced comparison which ultimately inspires us. I may be found lacking if by chance you decide to size me up next to Ursula K. LeGuin or Orson Scott Card, but if of all the writers in the world, those two are the ones similar enough to be used as my measuring stick, I think I'll be feeling just fine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Can’t Handle the Truth!

I got another rejection for the query I sent to the “Yes, I can handle the truth” contest. And, as promised, I got an explanation why:

“If this is middle grade, your main character should be between the ages of 11 and 13. I personally am over fairytale esque stories or fairytale retellings. I've just read too many of them and they're all starting to sound the same. What makes this one different?”

I claimed I can handle the truth, but I actually feel pretty bummed. This is my baby, my creation we are talking about. It is not a retelling of a fairy tale! I worked very hard on that query! I even got my wonderful cousin Iris (who is a writing genius) to help.


Okay, I’m done whining, but I’m not handling anything yet!

Handling the truth is overrated. Just imagine if Dr. Seuss handled the truth and stopped writing after eight rejections! No Green Eggs and Ham! No Cat in the Hat! What would our lives be like???

Another argument I could make (I’m warming to my subject here), is that truth for agent one is not necessarily truth for agent two (or fifty two), and even better, might not be true for my audience!

By the way, last time I presented my novel as a young adult (YA) story and received an answer from an agent, she said my novel was too sweet and happy for YA. She said I need to bring in some more teenaged angst, sex, and anger. So I have a great idea how to revise my novel.

A fifteen year old girl lives in a dystopia where the government spies on everyone using a technological gadget too sophisticated for me to understand. She gets kidnapped by a super-engineer (and I’m too innocent to imagine what he does to her).

By now, the girl is having a really bad day. She is rescued by a not-so-nice guy (I’m thinking Marquis de Sade here), and only barely manages to escape from him only to fall into the hands of rebels. The rebels wish to cut her open so they can gain possession of their fifteenth super-techie gadget, after which they could topple the government and have their own dystopia. At this point, the sun goes dark in frustration over the evilness of mankind, and the girl needs to fight everyone all at once by herself in the darkness.

The story will end with the girl returning home only to discover that the government has decided she aided and abetted the evil people. She is put away forever in an empty windowless room where she spends the rest of her days spinning straw into gold.

That made me feel a little better. As long as I have my creativity, I can never be sad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Being Present Tense

All around me, there’s talk about being in the present. Ram Dass says: “be here now!” Eckhart Tolle revolutionizes the way we think with the Power of Now. My friend Rebecca, in her blog, recommends pausing in our pursuits to be happy now. Being in the present is a quality I seek, long for, and attempt to exercise on a daily basis. But there is one present that challenges me most. The present tense.

I don’t like novels written in the present tense. I have hard time feeling a connection to them. There are, of course, exceptions: novels in which the use of the present reinforces immediacy and tension. Mostly, however, I find myself wondering what the use of the present really added to the story line.

For example, Eden and I recently finished My Best Frenemy. While reading the book, I continually got the impression that the first person narrator there knew exactly what was going to happen and had a hard time pretending otherwise. She had peeked at the ending of her own told-while-it-was-happening book!

On the flight to Kauai I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. At first, I found the narrative tedious. The story did not grip me, but it was the only novel I had with me, so I kept reading, hoping for improvement.

Luckily, I soon dove into the story. The main character, Elisa, is a reluctant heroine who does not fear to say what’s on her mind and rarely forgives herself for not standing up for what she believes is right. She learns to accept herself, but is human enough to wish for the good will and liking of the people around her.

In Elisa’s case, the present is a powerful tool. As she tells her story, I clearly see the black wall of ignorance which blocks her (and the reader’s) view of the future. She, like the reader, does not know where the story leads, and because she doesn’t know, it matters to me more what will happen to her. I root for her success and the success of her friends. I care about her budding romance, and I wish her a good life after she triumphs over whichever challenge next lies on her path.

This is a well crafted, intelligent novel, with strong character and plot, both of which pull me along for a ride through their rich landscape. Halfway through the book, I forgot that it is in the present tense, and I hang on to the edge of my seat as I watched the adventures of Elisa unfold. It is, perhaps, yet another reminder not to make generalizations about what I like or don’t. For a change, I’m letting myself enjoy the tension of the present, and I’m not peeking to see what will happen in the end.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Support of Selfishness

On one of my visits to Israel, I had an important insight. The children and I have the most fun when we do what I enjoy rather than what I think they might enjoy. This insight came paired with another wise saying, this one from my mother: don’t give the children too many options about what you’re going to do.

These wonderful revelations, giving me selfish free reign to do whatever I want while in Israel (and elsewhere), came after many visits touched by dissatisfaction. There is nothing I find more irritating than taking the kids to the zoo, museum, playground, etc. and hearing from them nothing but complaints. I mean, really! What ingratitude!

Surprisingly, or maybe not, all three of us have much more fun when I am not harboring resentment. Our last two visits we went hiking in creeks, checked out the tank museum in Latrun, and got lost in the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem. We went on a tour of the tunnels under the Kotel and through the City of David. We had a blast.

In The Happiness Project, one of the resolutions Gretchen Rubin adopts is “do it for myself.” I was raised to be considerate and to think of others more than of myself (after all, selflessness is a virtue in a nation which believes that it is good to die for one’s country). “Do it for myself” sounds to me more like: “selfishness alert! Beware!”

Nonetheless, “do it for myself” is an important lesson for me to learn. Far too often I find myself exhausted by thinking about others more than of myself. In her section on friendships, Ms. Rubin says: “one of the most delightful of pleasures is to please another person.” For me, at least, the emphasis is on the word “please.” My happiness is sadly decreased if the beneficiary of my kindness does not appreciate it.

The ability to enjoy a kindness independent of the receiver’s reaction seems near sainthood to me. There might be a way to “do it for myself” while trying to please another. For now, however, I guess I’ll have to settle for being imperfect with good intentions. In Israel, selfishness gave happiness to me and the kids. Perhaps, exercised moderately, it can bring happiness also at home. Maybe on my next birthday they can surprise me. Who knows.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Spirit and Hawaiian Sky

I went jogging this morning, around the pool in the complex where we are staying, then up the street to the community center and back. Maybe one and a half miles round trip. Long grassy lawns stretched up to healthy-looking trees that touched the stormy skies. Somewhere, I am sure, a rainbow arched, though I did not see it from where I ran. The sun shone through gray-black clouds, making dew drops sparkle all over the grass.

No doubt about it, the view here makes the soul expand.

Yesterday, I jogged down to the ocean. Chickens crossed my path, clucking. I ran down the hill slowly, careful not to slip on the half-rotting leaves covering the muddy trail. Below, the trees nearly covered all view of the ocean, making me bend to see the blue meeting blue of the horizon. I felt shy but went swimming in the ocean in my underwear and sports bra.

The rain started almost immediately, small drops at first, then big fat ones. My clothes, which I had left safely where the soft waves could not reach them on the shore, were soaked, as were my shoes and socks. I put all on and ran up the steep hill slowly. The chickens were nowhere in view.

I felt exhilarated. The rain washed over me warm and effortless, making me feel as though I could run forever. This is not a feeling I normally get when I run. Usually my legs weigh me down, my tight achilles tendons scream with unhappiness and dislike, but worst of all my thoughts harass me, telling me, “you can’t do this, you’re too tired, running is not for you, you can’t run that much more.”

Somehow, each time I visit the Hawaiian islands, I feel my better self. Happiness overflows me. I am energetic, sunny, adventurous, willing to try new things. Each time I try to take this wondrous me home. Perhaps, each time, I succeed a little more. I’d like to think so, at least. Of course, I know it is easier to be my better self on vacation than it is at home with bills, chores, puppies, and kids. Here, after all, no one expects me to do otherwise than have fun. But I’d like to take with me this feeling of happiness, of taking care of myself, working out, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish just out of the ocean, and drinking water that came down at least one waterfall on its way to the faucet.

And I want to remember the expansive sky, the ocean on all four sides, the feeling that I may perhaps be limited by land, but all around the world is open for me to fly as far and wide as I can.

And I can.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mother Power

The last few days I've been reflecting on my role in my family. Sometimes I feel like I am the engine which sparks most of what we do, pushing the kids along with me. Being sick allowed me to watch the kids and see the difference in how they function when I am less able to keep our usual schedule and activities.

I think partly the children feel overwhelmed and unhappy when I am sick. I suppose that could be a reason for the low rate of homework preparation and music practice and the high rate of junk food consumption that has been going on. But what if my high energy is indeed the driving force behind a lot of what they do, and because I’m so pushy, they never learn to find that motivation within themselves?

My mother always tells me that the love, effort and thought I put into raising the kids will bear fruit many times over. When I told her about my fears, she seemed to think that the high energy I invest in the children will in time bring about the result that I am hoping for -- that they will learn to practice and do homework by themselves, growing on the path to methodical, conscientious and responsible adulthood.

Her faith in my way turns my question back onto myself. What if my fears that the children run on my “Mother Power” originate not in fears for them but in fears for me, that they will deplete my energy? Is “Mother Power” a renewable energy source?

The answer that immediately comes to my mind is that of course, yes, “Mother Power” is renewable, though perhaps it needs to be manually renewed and is easier renewed before it is depleted. I have many activities during the day which have the potential to fill me with the love, faith, enthusiasm and patience that I need in order to raise the children. I go to exercise classes and on hikes in nature. My writing is certainly a source of satisfaction and pleasure. The support of my parents and my friends. Eating well and healthy and sleeping enough are a big part of my “Mother Power.”

Sometimes, however, it seems not enough. Sometimes I wish I had an external power outlet, that I could plug into and which would fill me up with energy and love. I haven’t found an outlet like that which could give 100% refilling. Instead, I think renewing the “Mother Power” comes in small increments which need to be noticed to be used: a surprise hug from my daughter, my son’s way of leaning on me and putting his head on my shoulder, my boyfriend thinking about me in many wonderful ways, mother’s day gifts which the kids bring from school, the kids sharing a story. All of these are sources for renewing that important energy so I can give it back again.

Was it Einstein who said that energy is inexhaustible, simply converted from one form to another? In parenting I think it is true. There is an abundance of love shared between us, and all I need to do to become replete is to tap in.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Making an Uneasy Peace with Dystopia

I am not a fan of dystopian novels. This February, at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference, everybody was talking about The Hunger Games. As a curious human being, I rushed to buy the first book in the trilogy and read it. It took me two weeks to be able to sleep without nightmares.

It seems like every other novel recommended to me lately is a dystopia. On my list right now, I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and am starting Obsession by Elana Johnson. Divergent is the story of a girl living in a society where people are categorized into distinct character traits. Yet she is divergent, able to fit in more than one category, which makes her resistant to mind control and thus dangerous.

I could identify with some of the concepts raised in the novel. I like the idea that classifying us misses some important aspect of who we are. I love how we are all made up of different facets, of good and bad, of kindness, bravery, inquisitiveness, love. But I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around why people would want to read about horrible, terrible, awful, violent stuff....

Dystopia is defined in the online dictionary as “a society characterized by human misery.” Wikipedia has an entry for dystopia, explaining that it is a “utopia with at least one fatal flaw.” Apparently, we humans have been interested in dystopia for over 150 years. There are dystopian novels and movies, comics and even computer games.

If a Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, then our imperfect world surely is one as well. But what about the world of my novel, where every being is grouped as either good or evil, and where distinct rules exist as to a person’s level of importance? That sounds pretty dystopian to me.... Of course, considering my distaste for anything violent, those rules also make sure everyone stays safe even in the midst of a fiery dragon battle. Cooking anyone in boiling water is strictly not allowed!

So, a dystopian fairy tale? Ha! I’m unlikely to present Anna Mara as such in my next query letter. However, perhaps because a grain of dystopianism is in all of us, I can come to an uneasy peace with it. But I still think I’d be dead body number one if I ever had to participate in the hunger games.