Monday, January 27, 2014

My Friends Are Awesome

...worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.
--Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

Parenting middle schoolers can be a depressing business. With a sixth grader and an eighth grader in the house, I find myself having a lot of conversations about the way people treat each other, as well as reprimanding the boys for random acts of dickishness to each other and their little brother. I have had long conversations with Son #1 about what motivates some of the worst of middle school behavior--insecurity, and the instinct to tear other people down so that you either feel bigger or don't become the next target yourself. I like to think that by giving the boys knowledge, I'm giving them a little bit of armor to get them through these awkward years. But I have to acknowledge, even to them, that it's flimsy protection.

This year Son #1 had to deal with his first full-fledged incident of mean-spirited middle-school teasing. He had gotten friendly with a girl (I'll call her Maria) who was in a couple of his classes. I think at the time he thought she was kind of cute, though since he's really just emerging out of the girls-have-cooties stage of development, that mostly meant answering any question I asked about her with a loud exasperated "Moooom! Please!" (I have told both middle school boys that girlfriends are totally out of the question for them right now. Them trying to get a girlfriend in middle school would be like a dog chasing a car; if they caught one, they wouldn't know what to do with it.)

Several of his classmates in the two classes Son #1 and Maria shared started teasing them both. Son #1 tried in his earnestly Aspergery way to try to convince them that there was nothing between him and Maria, but of course that just led to more taunts. I tried in vain to coach him to display a convincing level of indifference, but it probably would have required an Academy-award-winning performance to make a dent. Son #1, I'm proud to say, spoke to his teachers, counselors, and the magnet coordinator before I could even suggest it in order to stand up for himself and enlist their help. Finally, the whole sorry incident died out completely, due to the combination of school pressure, Son #1's continued professions of indifference, and the long winter break.

I hated middle school myself, and the vicarious walk down this particular stretch of memory lane is one I've been dreading for a while. I do feel my boys are having an easier time in middle school than I did, but the continual talk about the ungenerous ways people can behave to each other out of their own insecurities was making me feel pretty low. One day I posted a somewhat veiled status update on Facebook about Son #1's situation, and I was buoyed up by the response of my own friends, who sympathized, offered to kick some middle-school butt, and just generally showed me that I and Son #1 weren't alone.

Which brings me, in a sort of roundabout way, to the point of this post. A couple of weeks ago, two college friends of mine, Sree and Cameron, asked me if I would be willing to do a video chat interview with them for their new project. They invited me to look at the first video they had shot, of another friend from our college. My jaw dropped when I realized that the name of their site was I squashed down my first instinct, which was to tell them no, they really ought to go find someone who was actually awesome to interview. I feel pretty darn ordinary most days. But these are two people who have known me since I was eighteen, guys I consider dear friends, and they are each awesome in their own way. It would have been a cop-out to say no.

I had a great conversation with them last night. And I realized afterward that there's no reason to let middle school get me or my boys down. The true emotional antidote to jerky behavior or random dickishness is not pretending to be indifferent or psychoanalyzing your emotionally immature peers (though that can be amusing). It is choosing to spend your time with people you like and respect who think you're awesome, just the way you are. Whether they are friends who offer their support when you need it or who just want to talk to you because they enjoy it, they are the armor against the douchebaggery of the world.

So I invite anyone who's made it this far to check out Watch Cameron and Sree's interview with Mark Piane, or even mine. I may not have unlimited money; I may not be famous. But I am a rich woman, because I have friends, and my friends are awesome.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


It's a good thing I didn't make any New Year's resolutions this year. They would have run to the usual: exercise more, take more time to relax and take care of myself, write more often, say no to the things I don't truly want to do. By that measure, I might get half a point on the last one, because I'm getting a little better at distinguishing the categories of Things That Are My Responsibility from Things That Are Someone Else's Problem. I've even gotten better at keeping my sticky little fingers off of the things that fall into the second category, because I have found through oft-repeated experience that when one jumps in to help with such items, they then have a tendency to migrate permanently into the first category. But on the whole, except for starting the year with an unusually clean living room and dining room, I have failed to start 2014 on the right foot.

It hit me on a particularly busy day this week, when I had scarfed down my second Balance bar of the day as a poor substitute for lunch. The first had been a poor substitute for breakfast, consumed at my desk midmorning. That day I had worked my three hours, run home, finished a freelance proofreading project, taken it to FedEx/Kinko's to ship to the client (I passed my unusually long time in line making up a back story for man ahead of me, who sported a plethora of CCCP, hammer-and-sickle, and other Soviet-oriented tattoos), and then dashed back home. It was around this point, a few minutes before I had to head out again to pick the kids up from school, that I realized I hadn't put "lunch" on my to-do list, and therefore it hadn't happened.

So I downed the second bar, did the usual round of elementary and middle school pickups, dropped Sons #2 and 3 at home so I could take Son #1 to his therapy/social skills group in the equivalent of East Jesus Nowhere (seriously, it takes 45 minutes one way to get there in the carpool lane on the freeway), and headed out again. And it was on the road that it hit me I had, at least for one day, morphed into a human hamster--eat my pellet, run on my exercise wheel, eat another pellet, run on my wheel some more.
Actually, the minivan is my hamster wheel.

I spent a lot of time mouthing off toward the end of last year about all of the things I thought I should do this year--primarily grow my freelance business and finally edit at least one of my NaNoWriMo novels and get serious about trying to get published. I went around talking about these things as if I only needed to decide that now was the time, and somehow they would happen. But somewhere in the post-holiday letdown that accompanies taking down the decorations and realizing that you've got another couple of months of sunshine deprivation in your future, I started wishing some of those cocky things unsaid.

At some point, though, I have to stop dreaming of doing things and just do them. Honestly, after 5 successful years of doing NaNoWriMo, I think I've proved that I can pull a 50,000-word rough draft out of thin air (and I mean seriously thin air--I've never started a NaNoWriMo with more than a first scene and a vague concept of where the story is going). It's time to start the hard work of actually crafting a novel out of one of those drafts. Saying "I'm busy" just isn't enough of an excuse to avoid it. I have a college friend with young three daughters (the oldest is my youngest son's age) AND a full-time job whose second novel will be coming out this year, so I think it is safe to say that I've got something on the order of negative excuses on the "too busy to write" front. "Too busy" is a big fat euphemism for "too afraid no-one will want to read what I write" or "too afraid to admit I haven't got the first clue on where to start on getting published."

My fears for my freelance career take a different form: I pride myself on careful work, and I've never wanted to take on more than I could handle at that high standard. This caution made a lot of sense back in the days where mothering duties included diaper changing and keeping little fingers out of electrical sockets and the cat's ears. Nowadays, when the kids can get their own snacks and my job is generally training them not to be jerks, I have more time to devote to proofreading and editing, particularly since my husband's new business venture means he isn't gone 12 hours a day any more. But I approach each new client with a certain fear--am I really as good as I think I am? are they really going to like my work?--that makes me hesitant to seek out new work. Knowing it's irrational doesn't make it go away.

But there was a reason I was mouthing off so much about all of this stuff, and it's because after 41 years in my own company, I think I know myself reasonably well. I'm very good at inundating myself with things that "need" to be done because they make a plausible excuse for not facing the things that I am scared to try. And then when I commit, I need to follow through, because god forbid I flake out. (Mind you, having three kids has given me a fair number of necessary humility lessons on the subject of flaking out, but I still don't like doing it.) So talking often and loudly about my writing and work ambitions was my way of trying to push down my fears and commit to finding the time for those things.

However, while I'm frustrated, I'm also kind of glad. It took me less than a month into 2014 to realize that the path I'm on will not take me to where I ultimately want to be. That gives me the opportunity to step back from the wheel/pellet/wheel/pellet cycle of hamstermanity. I suspect that even if I don't succeed, I'll enjoy the view on my journey quite a bit more.
No excuses. Plus cool goggles.