Category Archives: Occasional Deep Thoughts

Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

My smile was genuine today when you told me how your son scored the best of all his class on his math exam. I was happy for him, and for you. My child forgot that today was the test, and wasn’t prepared. She got a C, even though she can do the problems in her head.

My congratulations were heartfelt today, when you stopped by my office to brag that your daughter had made Honor Roll for the fourth academic year and was on track to be awarded Student of the Year. My child has a locker filled with half-completed homework, a school bag filled with uneaten lunches because there wasn’t enough time, and a desk filled with beautiful drawings that have absolutely nothing to do with the assigned work.

I smiled a little less broadly today, when, in the course of catching up on our workload status, you casually mentioned the unprecedented internship with a major-name politico that your daughter landed, because your husband contributed heavily to his campaign. My daughter will be working at an entry level retail job this summer—I hope. If she remembers to submit her applications. And if not, I hope she cleans her room.

I forced my mouth upwards when I heard, yet again, about your prodigy, who has gotten a full-ride to a prestigious private school, made varsity letters on three sports teams, volunteers at a homeless shelter and fosters kittens and puppies while cooking gourmet meals for the family most evenings, because you are so busy at work.  My child is disorganized, insecure, depressed and crippled by anxiety because she is not your child.

On the other hand, my child can create music, or dance, or art, or poetry at the drop of a hat. She can soothe an agitated animal with a kind word, and she can argue her intellectual position with the eloquence of a trained barrister.

So, please. Stop telling me how perfect your child is. You don’t see that your child is a binge-drinker because it’s the only way she can get your voice out of her head, telling her she has to do better. You don’t see that the sports injuries he got, playing too hard, so he wins a tiny bit of your approval have gotten him hooked on oxycodone and that heroin isn’t far behind because it’s cheaper and that paid internship didn’t come through like he told you it did. You don’t see that my child is sober, and thoughtful and kind, creative and smart, but a little lost, trying to find her way in a world where your perfect child fits in and my perfect child doesn’t.

Or, please. Continue. Tell me how many job offers your child has gotten or that they passed their Series 7 on their first attempt. And then look in their medicine cabinet, or their liquor cabinet. Or wait 10 years. But please don’t look at me with pity when I tell you something that my child did that isn’t your idea of perfect. Because perfection comes at a price.

 

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Filed under General Interest, Occasional Deep Thoughts, Uncategorized

Up to My Knees in the Writing Waters

So many little bits and pieces of my journey into writing to write about today. There have been a few brief stops and side trips in my adventures as a reader/writer/lover-of-words over the past few months. In early December, I went to a one-day intensive workshop in Essay and Opinion writing at Gotham Writers in NYC. Great fun, very inspiring and I had my first experiences with writing to a prompt.

Writing to a prompt could take an entire blog post here. What amazed me, though, was how just a small handful of words could get my brain going on something that I hadn’t realized was in it. For example, the warm up prompt for the day was “I Am From” and I wrote this:

I am from a New York-centric world. I am not from New Jersey, even though I’ve lived there for nearly 25 years. It’s a distinction I make; mentally, emotionally and in conversation.

I am from a family that plays with words and ideas, a family that thinks. Some would say that we overthink.

These are qualities that have led me on the journey that has led me to this place. A writing workshop, in midtown Manhattan, where I hope, for the first time in my life, to focus my means of communicating. To focus my expression. And to take it into the bigger world.

I am from a privileged upbringing, but not as privileged as many of my peers. An interesting perspective, as it made me an observer of my own life. And I am from a therapists’ office, re-imagining myself until I created who I wanted to be.

I am not from the mainstream. My entertainment, my artistic expressions, my aesthetic, my way of seeing connections in seemingly unconnected ideas and events don’t take a typical or predictable path.

I am from my daughter. Becoming her mother crystalized so many of my qualities, and, it made me think more carefully about every decision, every action, every interaction I have. It provided a lens and a filter at the same time. A lense to focus my actions and a filter to screen out the noise of competing priorities and needs: of my husband, my work, my larger family and friends.

I am from a place of curiosity and fear, both in equal parts. I have to look at new ideas, new experiences, even when they frighten me. But, too often, I let the fear dictate my engagement with other people, with new adventures.

Using the phrase “I am from” in a way that is informative, not just about my history and geography challenges my status quo of what that phrase means.

I am from a world I want to find. A world where ideas, thinking and words come together and become magical connections.

Then, with the help of a writer friend, I edited, and it turned into this:

I am from a New York-centric world. I am not from New Jersey, even though I’ve lived there for nearly 25 years. It’s a distinction I make often; mentally, emotionally and in conversation.

I am from a family that plays with words and ideas, a family that thinks. Some would say that we overthink.

These are qualities that have led me on the journey that has led me to this place: a writing workshop, in midtown Manhattan. Starting my discovery of how to focus my expressions. And start to learn how to take them into the larger world. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, but I need to. Every fiber of me is pulling me toward something I can’t see yet—a place where I can make words and ideas create magic.

I am from a privileged upbringing, but not as privileged as many of my peers. Being a have-not in a community of “haves” made me an outsider. An observer. But compared to so many in the world, I had and have so much. It makes a brew of guilt and gratitude that can be paralyzing. I am from a therapists’ office, re-imagining myself until I created who I wanted to be.

I am not from the mainstream. My entertainment, my artistic expressions, my aesthetic, my way of seeing connections in seemingly unconnected ideas and events don’t take a typical or predictable path.

I am from my daughter. She gave birth to the woman I am, as much as I gave birth to her entire being. Definitely not a mainstream way of looking at motherhood. But it’s true. I would not be the woman I am today were it not for her existence and her own kind of wisdom. She taught me that love and anger are compatible. She taught me about real, palpable fear. She taught me about the peaceful center that I have, that I discovered in the wee hours of the morning, nursing her back to sleep, and falling asleep myself with baby-smells in my nose. She is a lens that focuses my actions. She’s a filter to screen out the noise of competing priorities and needs: of my husband, my work, my larger family and friends.

I am from a place of curiosity and fear, both in equal parts. I have to look at new ideas, new experiences, even when they frighten me. But, too often, I let the fear dictate my engagement with other people, with new adventures. I shy back from those engagements before I really start.

Using the phrase “I am from” in a way that is informative, not just about my history and geography challenges my status quo of what that phrase means.

I am from a world I want to find. A world where ideas, thinking and words come together and become magic.

I was astonished that this came out. And further astonished that I could, with a little feedback and some tweaking, turn it into something I would be willing to share with whomever in the world reads this blog.

But I needed to go further. What happened on December 31, 2014 took me to the next step. On New Year’s Eve, 2014, my husband, daughter and I were rummaging around our family room and unearthed an old champagne bottle that he and I had bought over 20 years ago at an antique shop. While we’ve had the ensuing conversation (“What do you think happened? Why wasn’t it ever opened? Well, I guess WWII got in the way, it’s a 1937 vintage after all”) quite a few times over the years, the conversation did something different to me this time. It prompted me to write a story.

By New Year’s Day 2015, I had around 2500 words and a story was taking shape. And then, I checked my email. For the first time in my life, I had gotten an email soliciting “Short, Short Stories” of 1500 words or less, from Writers’ Digest. Due date: January 16, 2015. And I knew, deep in my bones, that my story was going to be my first ever submission to a contest. Two weeks would give me time to rework the rough spots, polish the almost-there spots and send it in. Not that I’d ever hear anything, but I’d send it in.

Then, a week into the new year, I attended a sample class at Gotham Writers for Creative Writing 101. I’d been given a gift certificate to Gotham Writers for Christmas. I’m not sure my husband and daughter knew how meaningful it would be when they bought it for me. But to me, it symbolizes their support and encouragement for my exploration of writing. At the sample class, the teacher provided a prompt and again something miraculous happened in my brain and something really good came out onto the paper. Good enough that the teacher and several students commented on its quality. And good enough that I am now certain I will take that class in the spring session so I can get regular exercise of my “writing muscles”.

During the two weeks between January 1st and 15th, I was fiddling with, and editing, and re-working, my story. I asked a number (4) people for critique and comments. And I learned when and how it made sense for me to listen to their critique and comments, and when and how I needed to listen to my own. Then, on January 15, 2015, I made my first ever submission to a writing contest. The story, A Champagne Bottle, is a 1500 word snapshot into some of the story of a 1937 bottle of Piper Heidseick champagne, discovered unopened in an antique shop in the early 1990s. Yeah, there’s a little similarity to my own story, but that’s where the similarity to my personal prompt ends. Because the couple that finds the bottle isn’t me and my husband. That was kind of tough for me to wrap my head around. As was the idea that the bottle that prompted my short-short didn’t have to be exactly as we’d found it. At any rate, as a result of writing this short-short, I’ve learned several important things:

1. I can write fiction, even if it’s short.

2. A story might start from a place in reality for me, but it doesn’t have to stay there.

3. There’s more to my story than what I submitted. Maybe it’s a true short story. Maybe a novella. And (hushed voice) maybe it’s a whole novel.

If there’s anything to hear from Writer’s Digest, it will be via email no later than February 27, 2015. I don’t think I’ll get an email, but the thought crosses my mind that it sure would be cool if I did!

How did your journey into writing start (if it ever did)? And if you’re not a writer, how did your love of reading come to be?

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Filed under Occasional Deep Thoughts

What comfort zone?

One of the most scary and wonderful aspects of starting to write book reviews, and beta reading manuscripts is that I am no longer sticking to my tried and true favorite genres, known authors or previously published authors. I started participating in a contest to read and review 15 Indie authors in 15 weeks. While I know I won’t get to that goal, I am using the contest guidelines to inform my reading choices. For the first time in my life, I’m predominantly reading self-, indie- and small-press authors, and discovering some amazing writers! I’m out of my literary comfort zone and it’s starting to feel a little like ziplining! It’s a terrifying thing, to have so many options and very few ways of weeding through them. It’s also something I’m deeply satisfied that I’m doing.

Recently, I read a first novel by an author who self-published on Amazon. Her book is If the Light Would Stay and she writes under the name of J.G. Lucas. I found her book through a discussion in a Facebook group we both belong to, where she introduced herself and was seeking help in promoting her book. I volunteered to read and review it after reading its synopsis on Amazon. I couldn’t put it down, and have since reviewed it on Amazon and here, at 1thoughtfulreader. I’ve also started corresponding with the author, and am looking forward to working with her as a beta team member for her second book (currently in process) and possibly some minor editorial changes to her first book.

In order to start that book, I actually put aside another book I’d started that I was finding disturbing and compelling, by turns. That book is by an established, award winning author, who also self-publishes on Amazon. That book is titled Maizy Baby, by Julie Frayn, and deals with the very difficult subject of domestic violence. I’m finding it hard to read, but also very well written and compelling.

I’ve also just picked up The Angry Women Suite by Lee Fulbright, which tells the story of a family through three different lenses, and time frames. It also includes domestic violence and child abuse, and I’ve only just finished the first few chapters. Each character telling the story has a different and distinct voice. This is a technique that seems to me incredibly difficult to master well, but Fulbright is doing a masterful job of it.

None of these books are typical subject matter for me to read, and all of them are extremely well written, and evoke their characters and locations with a great deal of skill. Which brings me (finally!!!) to the main point of this post. There are extraordinarily talented writers out there who are not going the traditional publishing route. They may ‘go it alone’ or find a curated self-publishing house, or a small independent press. But they are risk-takers, and entrepreneurs. Many of them have little experience with self-promotion. Many of them use someone they know and trust as an editor. Some put a hefty chunk of their own money into cover design and even audio-book recording. Their voices deserve attention. Their creativity is worth paying money for. And I’m getting quite an education on just how much talent, and stubbornness, exists in the world of independent publishing.

For additional insight into self-publishing and other “non-traditional” publishing outlets, take a look at http://indiereader.com/ and http://www.molly-greene.com/ , http://selfpubbookexpo.com/ (not even a small handful of some of the excellent web resources and blog sites out there dedicated to the indie and self-publishing world), or just google Indie Publishing or Self-publishing. There is so much information out there it’s mind-boggling; a sea of ostensibly helpful, but ultimately overwhelming and confusing advice for writers who are gifted at creating a written work, but may be not quite as gifted at self-editing, self-promotion and selling.

This is turning into a helluva ride.

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Filed under Occasional Deep Thoughts, Uncategorized

Focus

Several weeks ago, I started writing. Unfocused and without a particular goal in mind. I just wanted, no, needed to write. I wrote ten possible blog posts. And then, magically or devilishly, those posts all disappeared. Well, not exactly. I deleted my app and all my local drafts with it. However, it did give me a blank slate to start over with. Since I’d been considering how to focus my efforts, it seemed that maybe this was one of many recent signs from the Universe that I should pick a direction and start moving. This post begins my Book Blog, A Thoughtful Reader.

A Thoughtful Reader will be a source for book reviews of a variety of genres of fiction: Historical Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Women’s Fiction, Non-cheesy Romance, Young Adult and, most particularly fiction that crosses multiple genres or is not easily categorized (my personal favorite). I’m also going to start with several older books that stand out as really special (and lesser known) examples from well known authors. For example, my first review will be of a Philippa Gregory book that is generally less well known to her readers of Historical Fiction; a book called Zelda’s Cut. I received my copy from Abebooks.com (my favorite source for used copies of books that I took out of the library, loved and want a copy of, but don’t want to spend a fortune on). I’ve re-read it, and have started writing my review.

A Thoughtful Reader will also be a place for “occasional deep thoughts”. As I start thinking about the transitions in my life now, I may decide from time to time that my musings will resonate with others. When that happens, you will see a post in the Page called Deep Thoughts that you might find interesting, funny, thought-provoking or otherwise engaging. I hope you enjoy those posts.

Thanks for visiting.

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Filed under General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Suspense, Occasional Deep Thoughts, Paranormal Romance, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult