Saturday, June 27, 2015

As One Phase Ends, A New One Begins. By C.P. Stringham

Top to Bottom: First day of
school 2014-15 with her sister;
dressed up for the homecoming
dance; posing with Rep. Tina
Picket after receiving her honors
cord for Rho Kappa.
I’ve been totally absent for weeks—months even and I apologize. I’m normally quite good at multitasking, but found it impossible here late. The laundry list of excuses would only bore you so I’ll only share the biggest. My oldest graduated from high school. If any of our Broads of a Feather blog readers have been through this, you will completely understand. It seems like so many more events have been added to a high school senior’s social calendar than when I was in school. On top of things like National Honor Society stole presentations, senior awards night, prom, and banquets, Syd participated in our school’s drama club which required me to drive back and forth several nights a week for rehearsals for a few months—since she doesn’t have her driver’s license yet. The latter is being worked on as we speak. We’re too rural to be without a license. It requires being driven everywhere and I’m tired of playing chauffeur. When I was her age, and living here in Bradford County, I couldn’t wait to get my license. But she and I are two very different people. I guess she likes the “Driving Miss Daisy” feeling. I did not. At her age, I wanted my freedom and a part time job for spending money.
As many of you know, my daughter is my best friend. This transition from teen to adult has been the most difficult for me. Syd seems to be handling it in stride. She knows what she wants and is doing what she can to make it happen. She’ll be attending Elmira College in the fall. Yes, it’s local, but that didn’t play a large role in her decision process. She chose Elmira because she fell in love with the historic campus, the people, and the high amount of tradition the school holds. Syd is all about history and tradition. Freshman wear purple and gold beanie caps! How cool is that? All students, unless they live locally with their parents or are married, have to live in campus housing. The college loves symbolism. They have incorporated the school flower, the iris, and the school shape, the octagon, throughout the campus. Everything is purple as well—even the rock salt they use in the wintertime to prevent slips and falls. Samuel “Mark Twain” Clemens married an Elmira native and Elmira College graduate by the name of Olivia Langdon. The college was founded in 1855 as an all-womens college and was the first in the United States to award women with bachelor’s degrees equal to that of their male counterparts. For feminists like my daughter and me, this was a big hash mark in the pros column.

Top to bottom: At Elmira College where
dorms look like Hogwarts; before graduation
with her Best-Friend-Forever-Since- Kindergarten,
Graduation signified the end of childhood for my daughter and her father and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She wasn’t in the Top Ten of her class, but worked to graduate with honors. Her grades didn’t come easy for her. She’s had to work her tail off to catch up. Her elementary years could have been better, but our school always seemed to receive less attention than others in our district. By middle school, we hired a tutor to work with her to help bridge the gap. Miriam worked wonders while only meeting with her one day a week for one to two hours. In junior high, she began to shine. The level of commitment she showed was incredible. In all honesty, Syd has been our back burner child. Having a special needs sibling, who requires more attention, makes it harder for us to give as much time and financial help equally and, while we tried to be as supportive as possible, most of the time, Syd was at the helm of her own rudder as she steered towards her future.
As far as teens and their sometimes turbulent mood swings and behaviors go, my husband and I have been extremely fortunate. Syd has been very mature and level-headed. In fact, I tell people she is my mother. She’s been reining in my behaviors since she was eleven or twelve years old. “Mom, slow down. You’re driving too fast and I don’t like it.” “Mom, is that your third glass of wine?” I could go on and on. My friends find it amusing. They love teasing her. Especially Government Girl who cannot let a good quip pass her by. In the past, Michelle and I have tag-teamed her. One such time involved our New York City trip. Syd’s algebra teacher, Mr. Rogers, also offers a charter van service to supplement his teacher income. We hired him to take a group of us to the city for the day. I was researching for my book, Her Father’s Last Request. The others were along for pleasure. Prior to going on our trip, Syd made me promise not to embarrass her in front of her teacher. She made me promise Michelle would behave, too. So, naturally, I messaged Michelle about it. Syd would have been better off not saying anything to us because her plea came across as a challenge to Michelle and me and we don’t turn down a challenge. Thirty minutes into the trip, Michelle asked me how I managed to get permission from Syd’s probation officer for the trip. I told her we were able to get permission and they adjusted Syd’s ankle monitor to accommodate for the trip. Mr. Rogers enjoyed the teasing since Syd was known as a goody-two-shoes with the faculty. He knew it was all in good fun. An hour into the trip, I reminded Syd that Michelle was the LGBT program manager for the VA hospital and that her program existed to create awareness and promote acceptance. And that’s when Michelle told her that it was time for her to come out about her gender reassignment surgery. My poor daughter took it all in stride and learned a lesson about imposing rules for behavior on her mother and her mother’s friends.

Purple all around at Elmira College!
There’s nothing like watching your child walk for their graduation processional. I was happy, sad, and proud. It made me recall her first day of kindergarten when she wouldn’t get in line willingly behind Mr. Gorman to check out her new classroom. Instead, I had to join her teacher and her class as she clamped around my leg and, with each dragging step I took, listening as she begged, “No, Mommy, don’t leave me!!” Mr. Gorman assured me she’d come around. She did. She got stronger with each passing day of the school year. One more step towards independence until her senior year and graduation. It was bittersweet. I looked out at familiar young faces. Some I’d known since kindergarten. Time had passed in the blink of an eye. Speeches were made. More awards and scholarships announced. Syd received a total of three that amounted to $10,780—and the reason she can now live on campus instead of commuting. Those scholarships were all her. Her hard work. I’m hoping the privilege of attending college means even more to her because she made it happen. I think it will. I also think she will excel at college. She’ll come into her own surrounded by like-minded people. Not necessarily people sharing the same exact opinions as hers, but ones open to academic debate. She will embrace the setting and grow beyond measure and I can’t wait to see the finished product. Throughout the ceremony, she kept leaning forward and making faces with her father. They can be silly like that at times. For me, I got her 150 watt smile that melted my heart. When her row stood to get in line for their diplomas, I waited for the tears to come. They didn’t. I thought for sure they would. They did the night she got her big scholarship. But not then. I watched my daughter in amazement. This awesome young adult, making her way around the seated teachers, one of which reached out and tugged my daughter’s sleeve as she passed by her, and saw the look of accomplishment on her face. She was ready. That was all I needed to see. By the time her principal called her name, I felt a new sense of calm come over me as I watched her make her way across the gymnasium to shake hands and accept her diploma from a school board member. And, just like that, her public school years ended.  
L to R: On April 12th, she made her official college decision; graduation night with the family; Lesley's present to her--a before and after picture. 

September 3rd will be here before her father and I know it. Moving her in to the dorms will be the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I’ll be letting go. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be the one dragging me away while offering words of encouragement this time around.   
Graduation night with a serious pose and pulling a
"Rory Gilmore" pose. 

Her grad party had an Elmira College
theme and she loved it!!!

L to R: Exciting things happened a week before graduation. First was the $10,000 scholarship she received which made it possible for her to live on campus. Then came a letter from the White House with a personalized letter of congratulations from President Obama--courtesy of Government Girl who works at the Department of State now.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Complexity of Writer's Block by Robin Janney

Curiosity - why cats need nine lives...
One of my strengths, which all too often doubles as a weakness, is my curiosity.

Especially when it comes to reading comments on a Facebook post.  There is so much unneeded negativity out there and people feel the need to share it.

There was one day at the end of January that I spotted a Facebook ad for 212 blog ideas for those people who get stumped coming up with an endless supply of ideas to blog about.  It was a download I had already gotten myself, and I was curious what other people were saying in the comments, what they thought of the bulky download which was prefaced by a long winded video we had to watch before we could actually get it.  This was actually a BIG mistake.

I'm not going to quote any of those nasty comments, but the general gist was that either Writer's Block doesn't exist, or if it does and you have/had it...then you're not a real writer.  And if you have trouble coming up with blog ideas, then you shouldn't have a blog.

And maybe if you don't have anything nice to say/comment...then keep your mouth shut?

See, the thing is - I know I'm a real writer, I've been writing one thing or another since the fourth grade.  And I've had my fair share of struggles with Writer's Block.  So yeah, I get a little pissy if you try telling me I'm not a real writer because I've struggled while looking at a blank page or computer screen.

I'm not an expert in any of this, I discover daily just how much of an amateur I am.  I can only tell you my story.  Because that's what I do, I'm a storyteller.

My writing largely started out in the area of fanfiction.  I remember trying to write an Airwolf story in fourth grade; talk about overly ambitious!  Although not nearly as ambitious as the Star Wars novel I wrote in high school!  Fanfiction writing continued all throughout middle school and high school, but I had tons of other story ideas that I would write down in notebooks for 'later'.  Lord only knows what happened to them!

I wrote my first novel, originally titled 'Dominions of Darkness' across the span of about six or seven years.  It took so long because in the early days I let a church friend read some of my draft and I got mixed reviews.  No one wants to hear, "It's good...BUT..."  She was right in saying I had to decide who my desired audience was, although that's not how she put it.  I eventually decided that writing for one genre was overrated, but at the time I was discouraged because I knew the story I had in my head wouldn't be considered "proper" Christian fiction, which is what I was being encouraged to write.  While I was discouraged and put it away, I worked on other projects that may yet see publication.  Obviously, I did finish my story, at least the first draft of it.  I remember writing furiously on the church computer trying to get it done before the service started.

What every writer does with the madness beating at their brains...
Even more the amateur then, I wrote "THE END" when I was done...and felt a door close.  What now?  I asked myself.  Do I submit it to publishing houses and start working on the sequel?  It needed a sequel since I had ended it as a cliffhanger.  Which one?  More than one?  As I began to look into who I could send it to, I tried working on the sequel...only to find that it wouldn't come together.  The harder I tried, the less it wanted to cooperate with me.  I even tried working on my Journey series, and that didn't help.  I just recently found those old drafts, although I haven't gone through them yet to see if there is anything I can use.

So I shelved it.  I emailed myself a copy of my draft for back up, which given how floppies are old news now it was a good thing I did.  I tried blogging, but as life distracted me more and more I did that less and less.  I ended up moving back home with my mother and company, which was interesting as I was working nigh shift and everyone else in the house was decidedly day shift.  I was tired all the time and had no interest in writing anything other than the odd poem.  And most of the time, I couldn't even whip one of those up.

There was nothing there.  No pictures.  No conversations with imaginary friends.  Not even piece of a jigsaw puzzle!  Apparently, I even wrote a poem about it, which you can read here.  Looking back now, I realize I needed to live a little and have different life experiences.  For all that I was writing my own story idea, in a sense, I was writing to please other people.  And I needed to lose that drive to please other people when it comes to my writing (although my mother's opinions still scares the living daylights outa me, but that's a different matter all together!)

I switched from part time jobs to a full time one, on night shift - which was only part of the 'always tired' problem I developed.  I had a failed romance, or what I thought was a romance at the time.  It was the most I had experienced at the time.  As I said above, I gave up my apartment and moved back in with my mother for a time.  I found true love and moved again.

Somewhere in the midst of that, I found the self confidence I needed to write without hindrances.   I'll be honest, a lot of it had to do with the unconditional acceptance I had found in the workplace and also from the man who would become my husband.  Because one day, when we had a good computer - well, good enough for me - I downloaded my story from long ago and gave it a read through.  And I thought, "You know, this is pretty good.  I don't like the ending, and some of it needs to be rewritten, but it's a good story just the same."

I sent the draft I had to a friend for a second opinion and while she was reading it, I thought, "I wonder what I can do differently...what if...???" and unwittingly reopened the dam in my head.  Images flooded my imagination like a movie on fast forward.  They were almost tripping over each other.  It was awesome, a runner's high, invincibility ran through my veins, I could write no wrong...I did, lots of typos but that's after...when the high leveled out and I had to edit.

Two books later and I find myself in a similar spot.  I have no desire to write, the images are faded at the moment anyway.  In part it it an overload of life stress...I'm only working part time, my husband not at all, both due to medical restrictions, which of course leads to financial strain (we've already had our car taken away, but not our truck because that's ours); no doctor wants to do surgery on me until I've lost weight and because I'm limited in my physical activity it has to be mainly through what I eat - which food is my drug, an addiction I have to get under control.  It's crazy I tell you!  And of course, this all contributes to depression, which in and of itself sucks creativity away like a hungry vampire.

I found several good pages of advice and quotes while searching this out.  This article with advice from other writers was a good one, with different advice from each one.  Because what works for one, might not work for another.  We are all different, unique individuals, no matter how much we all love to write.  And this article shows that we are in good company!  Fellow writers who've dealt with writer's block themselves.  While I can't always follow all this advice on "Blogger's Block", there are some good ones in here.  I mean, I can't drink coffee too late in the day anymore!  Another blogger I enjoy following and chatting with as allowed, MJ Bush did  her own article on it here.

I started this post months ago.  I started, stopped...started again, had to stop again.  Sometimes what you're writing is just being written at the wrong time.  You're brain needs to focus on something else, or it just needs to rest.  My advice, which I know from experience is hard to head, is; don't sweat it.  Writer's Block will break eventually.  Experiment with some of the advice in the articles above...go for a walk, drink a coffee, go to a party or a park and people watch...find what works for you even if it takes time.  Even Google "You should be writing" and pic an image of the actor that most inspires your romance writing!

Whatever it takes.

And never doubt that you're a real writer.  No matter what anyone tells you.