Friday, December 31, 2010

So long 2010! I won't miss ya!

The end of the year creates an opportunity to look back and see what you've accomplished. I would rather look ahead than behind, but sometimes you need the behind to move ahead. So with only a few short hours left in 2010, I guess it’s time to take stock of the year.

I outlined this post before I started writing it, and I could see on paper what I already knew. Fall and winter are the hardest seasons for me. Some very practical concerns might explain this. Football season requires an enormous amount of energy, and my biggest work responsibilities fall during this time frame. However, I know a more fundamental, metaphysical reason exists. The cold gloomy weather of late fall and winter bring me down. Always have. The evidence would suggest I need to move to South Florida or a Caribbean Island.

While I’m waiting for the money fairy and the moving truck, I’ll keep on Jazzercising. I went to my first Jazzercise class January 25. Today’s class will be number 233 for the year. Jazzercise has been life-changing for me. The physical benefits are wonderful. My pants are a size smaller than they were 11 months ago. I don’t find myself breathing hard and sweating doing stupid things like carrying in groceries or climbing up and down the stairs. The real life changer, though, was in my mental and emotional health.

I weathered a particularly difficult personal storm last winter, and every time I thought I would fall into despair, I would go to Jazzercise and find the strength to get through another day. I had always heard about the endorphin high that comes with regular exercise, but I hated exercise so much, I’d never experienced it. I promise you, that high is real. I know because I’m addicted to it. I can actually identify the moment the extra oxygen hits my brain and those endorphins are released. And the benefits snowball. I can do actual push-ups now and hold a full plank. Feeling strong makes me feel confident which in turn makes me feel happy.

Beyond that, it’s just fun. I get to dance every day. This is how I feel when I dance.

Last winter was as cold and gloomy as winters get in Kentucky.

This pic was taken from my deck in January or February. I don’t remember exactly when, but there was a three-week stretch in which we only went to school for three days. Subsequently, we were in school until June 9th. You can read my philosophy on snow days here. Suffice it to say, I don’t love them.

The only positive thing about snow days is that I have more time to write. Last winter I finished my second novel, Crimson Crimes, during that long icy run with no school. It took me longer to write the second book than it did the first. I had cohesion problems with the second that have made me take a hard look at the way I approach plot. Sapphire Sins, my first, played out in my head like film rolling across a movie projector. The film broke midway through the sequel, and when I spliced it together, you could see the gap. The whole process was part of the learning experience. You have problems. You work through them. Your writing improves.

Of course, writing a sequel when you haven’t sold the first book is a mistake so common, it's a cliche. I know why writers do it…at least I know why I did it. It’s easier to keep writing characters you know than to invent new ones. I suppose if I was hell bent on making lots of writing mistakes, at least, they were all wrapped up in a book I feel quite confident will never sell. Only my beta reader has seen Crimson Crimes, and she was honest with me, thank goodness.

“It didn’t suck, but it didn’t keep me turning the pages like the first one did.”

Yeah, I know. That one will probably go in a box under the bed, never to see the light of day again. Unless…I sell Sapphire Sins, and then maybe I’ll rework the whole thing and who knows?

Spring brought exciting news on that front. I acquired a literary agent in March. Anyone who has queried knows it’s hard as hell to get an agent to even ask for pages, let alone offer representation. After 18 months of querying Sapphire Sins, I finally had both in one fell swoop. The day he called and offered was a glorious day. I was validated. I really could write. A professional in the shrinking publishing industry believed in my work.

I signed a contract. I made a few minor edits on his recommendation. I rewrote my synopsis, as well as a two paragraph back-cover blurb, and then he began submitting. Almost immediately, an editor at HarperCollins wanted to see it. That email ushered in another string of glorious days. I could already see the cover art in my head. I mentally ran my fingers across the raised letters of my name. I imagined the trip to Italy I would take with my fat advance. I dropped the new project I was working on and began tinkering with the broken sequel, thinking a two-book deal would really launch my career.

And then…the editor passed. The writing was good, but they were looking for the next big thing in paranormal romance. Vampires had seen their day and were on the way out. Honestly, this had been my problem in getting an agent. I was on the wrong side of the vampire curve. Timing is everything. We got several more bites, but traditional publishers didn’t want any more vampires, and the book is too long for most e-publishers. So it languished.

Then, in late October, my agent informed me he was getting out of the agenting business. Too hard to make money in a shrinking industry. Tomorrow, on January 1, all the rights to Sapphire Sins revert back to me. I’ve been thinking hard about what to do next, but I’m going to save those musings for another blog post.

Spring brought other happy occasions. I love spring. As the weather warms, I feel lighter. Even the end-of-the-school-year deadlines don’t stress me too much. Light and warmth and lots of natural vitamin D make all the difference in the world.

My brother married his soul mate on May Day in Nashville. If you live in Nashville, I’m certain you remember that weekend. It started raining in the wee hours of the morning Saturday and didn’t stop until the city was underwater. But many waters cannot quench love. It was a great day for my family in spite of the natural disaster.

Another glorious spring day brought my son’s high school graduation.

He’s handsome isn’t he? He’s starting college this January. He worked through the fall at UPS and realized maybe he could stand to go back to school. I have faith that he’ll find his way, but I’ll worry constantly until he does.

Summer brought my bff, Pam, home from Iraq. Oh Happy Day! Life is so much more fun with her around. If there is a party, she will find it. If there’s not, she’ll create it. The girls’ weekend I blogged about recently? Totally her brainchild. And if you need someone to have your back, no one will have it better than Pam. I’m putting the U.S. Army on notice. I know she’s a damn good soldier, but you may not deploy her overseas again. I forbid it.

Yeah, I’m sure that will work. Speaking of patriotism, I felt it over the July 4th weekend in Ocean City. You can read about that here.

July was memorable in all sorts of ways, not the least of which was my first national writing convention. I attended RWA in Orlando. It was supposed to be in Nashville, but the Opryland Hotel had water halfway up the second floor on May Day weekend, so we went to Disney World instead. The experience was awesome, and you can read about each day's adventure here, here, here, and here. My after-the-conference post is here. As I reread my post conference goals, I realize I haven't done everything I said I would. I've got six months to do better. The 2011 convention in New York is one of my most anticipated plans for the coming year.

August brought a new school year. I love being a teacher. It is my second career, and I’ve never once regretted leaving the business world for the classroom. Teaching is a calling for me. Every school year has its ups and downs, and standing at the halfway point of this year, I’ve experienced both. I have some of the brightest kids I’ve ever taught this year, and they never fail to make me feel optimistic about the future. I also have some challenging students. That’s part and parcel of the job. I hope when the school year is over, I can say I reached these kids and enriched their lives.

Somewhere in the middle of football season, fall happens. It’s summer, and I’m carting my youngest to camps and practices, saying hello and goodbye to Bruce like ships passing in the night, and suddenly I realize the leaves have turned and it’s not hot anymore. Football season rules our world in the fall. Bruce’s team plays on Saturday (this year on Thursday night several times…what’s up with that?), and my youngest plays on Friday night. Being a sophomore, he also played JV on Monday nights. I logged a lot of hours on metal bleachers this year.

I’m not complaining (at least most of the time). A long season means you’re winning, and having been married to a football coach for 21 years, I can say with authority that winning is better than losing. My son’s team went all the way to the final four in the state tournament this year, and Bruce’s team made the playoffs again after a four year dry spell. Nope…not complaining about that at all.

I guess if I had a complaint about the fall, it would be that my writing stalled. I should qualify…my blogging and novel writing stalled. I’ve written several short stories. One, I posted on the blog and you can read it here. Others were more personal and therapeutic and not for public consumption. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean.

Winter has rolled around again, and I’m focused on not letting it get me down. The weather has already been crappy, and it’s only December. I’m hoping that means the worst is out of the way, and it’s smooth sailing from here on out. (Yeah, I’m delusional sometimes, but it gets me through.) If not, my stepmom. Patricia, bought me a happy light for my desk at work. I’ll let you know if it works.

I know Jazzercise works, and I know spending time with my friends and family works. I know that putting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard works. So I plan on doing all three as frequently as possible in 2011. I’m a no resolutions person. Don’t resolve to do something. Just freakin’ do it.

So long 2010. I won’t miss ya.

Bring it on 2011! I’m ready.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In the eye of the beholder

My eldest son is an artist. The stack of sketchbooks on his desk show the progression of his art from imitation to innovation.

Some of his sketchbooks are thematic. One of my favorites is centered around William Ernst Henley's "Invictus." The images are surreal and grotesque and perfectly capture the juxtaposition of persecution and defiance in the poem. He's not ready to publicly share those images because they are intensely personal. I get that. I've written stories I'll probably never share because they are too personal.

Lately, my son has been playing with sound and images. Inspired by Dubstep (Go look it up. I couldn't begin to describe what it is.), he used a simple video editing program to combine still images and short sound clips to create what I like to think of as abstract video art.

The viewer brings their own experience to any work of art and uses that experience to create meaning, but abstract art allows even more room for interpretation than other forms. Impose whatever meaning you like on this, or none at all, but I thought it was cool.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Boys and Girls

Yesterday, I wrote about my girls' outing to The Connection. It was a night of many firsts, not the least of which was my introduction to the unisex bathroom. Sometimes, the smallest moments are the most memorable, so I thought I'd share.

My friends and I arrived at the club an hour and a half before the show started, so we chilled in the upstairs bar until it was time to go into the theater. For a while, we were the only people upstairs. This turned out to be a good thing for a couple of reasons. First, we had a great time with Justin, the bartender, who was bored by the lack of customers and hung out at our table with us. Good bartenders are also good conversationalists, and Justin was no exception. And second, we were introduced to the unisex bathrooms before we actually had to share them with members of the opposite sex.

Never have I been more grateful for the female mentality of going to the bathroom in packs. Three of us went in search of the bathroom. I was glad I had company. I might not have gone in by myself.

When we found it, I said, "Is it the men's or the women's?"

It had not previously occurred to me that a club hosting one of the premier drag shows in the country would not want to make gender distinctions. Amanda was more on the ball.

"It says boys and girls. I guess it's both."

"Huh? Really?"

We walked in wide-eyed, or at least I did. Amanda and Tammy perused the place like they were looking at exhibits in a museum. I ducked into the nearest stall, hoping to get in and out before a boy came in. I don't know why it freaked me out at first. I live in a house with three men, but I guess my conservative upbringing rears its head in unfamiliar situations.

When I went to sit down...or rather hover over...I was momentarily blinded. The stall contained a spotlight embedded in the floor right in front of the toilet.

"Oh my god! I'm blind!"

I could hear Amanda laughing. "I can see your silhouette on the wall."

This is where I have to pause and ask WHY?? I get the unisex bathrooms. Really, I do. But why do you need your giant urinating shadow splayed across the wall for everyone in the bathroom to see? If the locked door isn't enough of a clue that the stall is occupied, then install one of those latches that says "occupied." Don't display my hunkered down, slightly panicked crouch to the general public.

I peed as fast as humanly possible and got the hell out of the stall. Amanda was standing in front of the wall between the two stalls. It was tiled with a trench at the bottom.

"Do you think it's a urinal or just decorative?"

At this point, the ridiculousness of the whole thing hit me, and I doubled over. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to have to make another trip into the light fantastic to pee again.

We resolved to go to the bathroom in pairs and to wait until both parties were finished to leave. We borrowed a page from Pam's army book. Don't leave a man...or woman...behind. The rule was adhered to for a while, but after the show started, the bathrooms became crowded and the wait was longer. Going in pairs became inconvenient. Besides, the only lighting was in the floor in the stalls, so it was pretty dark. Half the time, I couldn't tell if the person in line beside me was a boy or a girl, and it just quit mattering very much anyway.

Pam talked to some boys in line for the stalls who told her they didn't like the urinal wall. It looked chic and trendy, but in reality was exactly like peeing on a wall, and they didn't like it. I don't want to stereotype, but I wonder if this is a gay thing. The straight men I live with have peed on a wall when necessity dictated and didn't seem particularly bothered by it. Maybe I just live with gross straight men. Cleaning up after my teenagers would suggest this is the case.

I'd like to say I'm all sophisticated and cosmopolitan now, that the next time I encounter a unisex bathroom, I'll be completely nonchalant. But in truth, a conservative upbringing is a hard thing to overcome. Unless the lighting is low and the gender lines blurred, I'll probably duck into the stall like I've committed a crime and hope my shadow doesn't give me away.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Have You Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?

I posted this as my status Saturday night on Facebook, and several of my friends responded, telling me about the random acts of kindness they had performed that day. The things they had done ranged from humorous to sweet, and I was reminded again why social networking is fun.

I had to chuckle, though, because when I posted it, I was watching the finale of my very first drag show. The evening had been a revelation, an adventure, inspirational even, and without a doubt the most fun I've had in a very long time.

Four of my good friends, all teachers, and I decided about a month ago that it had been a long stressful semester, and that we needed a girls' weekend to blow off steam. So we planned a shopping excursion to a large outlet mall in southern Indiana. Then Pam, who seems to have a nose for sniffing out a good time, suggested we hit a drag show in Louisville. None of us had ever been to one before, but The Connection's show came highly recommended by several of Pam's Louisville-based friends.

The five of us are all open-minded, but as soon as we told folks our plans, our motives came under fire. Were we going to laugh at the drag queens? To mock them?

When I told one friend that paying my money to see the show was actually a form of support, he said, "Kathy, you are not going to a drag show to make the world a better place."

I responded, "I'm on the front lines of making the world a better place EVERY DAY!"

Regardless of the questions, our motives were pure. We were admittedly curious, but we were going to be entertained, to have a good time. And oh holy cow! We were, and we did!

We shopped for seven hours, so when we arrived at our hotel in Louisville, we were already on a post-shopping high. We were actually giddy, like twelve year old girls having a slumber party. We had momentarily escaped the pressures and stress of our daily lives. Nothing seemed over the top, not even being carded at the front door. (A couple of us have kids old enough to get into the place.)

I'm not gonna lie, though. In spite of our spirit of adventure, my jaw dropped several times during the show. Then, since my mouth was already open, I screamed my approval. Seriously, is there anything more fun than the outrageous? My friends were right there with me. We might have been the loudest group at the show.

At one point, Hurricane Summers, the hostess of the show, invited all the birthdays and brides to the front. She interviewed one young bride-to-be who said she was in school, studying to be a teacher. Almost as if choreographed in advance, my friends and I yelled, "NOOOOOOO!" (I wasn't joking about the stressful Hurricane turned her attention our way and asked if we were all teachers. "Yes! High school teachers!"

Once we outed ourselves as educators, we had a steady stream of people stop by to talk to us, shake our hands, or hug us.

"Thank you so much for coming!"

"We really appreciate your support."

"High school sucked for me. I wish I had teachers like you guys who would've had my back."

Wow. Just wow. I hope I deserve that. I don't tolerate bullying of any kind in my classroom, but I hope I deserve that. When the gals did a rendition of Heather Small's "Proud," I felt compelled to post the lyrics.

We made a lot of new friends, danced our butts off, and laughed so hard I felt like I had done sit-ups the next day. I could write a whole blog post on the unisex bathrooms. The first time I used them, I was wide-eyed and a little uncomfortable. By the end of the night, I was standing in line chatting casually with both boys and girls.

Sunday morning, the five of us curled up in our pj's and shared pictures and stories...and laughed some more. Pam has photographic evidence that I literally danced all front of the stage, in my chair, with the waiter...and I apparently can't dance unless my arms are in the air. Linda was horrified to remember that she ate a whole Jimmie John's sub at 3:30 in the morning. Tammy was pleased that the boots she bought at the outlet mall received high praise in the unisex bathroom.

When the snow melts and we get back to school, I will be reinvigorated...ready to face the last crazy days until the winter break. Nothing like a girls' weekend to recharge the batteries. We're already planning the next one. I'm leaving you with Heather Small's song. Imagine a tall, leggy blonde pointing into the crowd and asking, "What have you done today to make you feel proud?"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fun with words...or another awesome Internet distraction

Do you need another awesome Internet distraction? Yeah, me neither, but this is waaay cool.

Tagxedo! (Thanks Criss for the link!)

Tagxedo is Wordle on steroids. I've played with Wordle and used it in my classroom. Last year, I had kids create a whole wall of Wordles out of their controversial issues papers. It stopped traffic in the hall for several days.

Oh, the possibilities I see with Tagxedo...

The following two clouds are made up of words from the first chapter of Sapphire Sins.

These were both created using Tagxedo's pre-loaded shapes, but you can upload any image and use it to create a word cloud. I've played with my face, my friends' faces, and my dog, and that was just messing around. Can you imagine what my students will create out of their papers on animal testing, gun control, smoking bans, urban sprawl, gay marriage, cloning, school uniforms, and drivers' licensing laws? I can't wait to find out, and I hope one or two of them will give me permission to share.

As a writer, the shaped word clouds made me stop and think about my first chapter in a different way. I haven't re-visited that manuscript in a while, and as I looked at the word cloud in a heart shape, I thought, "Wow, she really can't decide how to feel about the predicament in which she's found herself." The frequency and placement of the words highlighted my heroine's confusion.

I think I'm going to play with an abandoned manuscript. I stopped because I never could "hear" the characters in my head the way I did with Diana and Raphael. Maybe the word clouds will help me find them. If not, it'll still be a fun distraction on this snowy Sunday afternoon.