the lowdown.

Last week, I was planning on writing about some sort of craft-related topic. And then I was side-swiped by a terrible mood. I’ve made it my goal to blog three times a week, so I felt obligated to write something, which is why I left a short explanation for my flakeout. And then I wondered if people actually might find it helpful to hear about one of my low moments — how it starts, how I (usually) manage to get through it, and how it eventually abates. So here goes.

It started with a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce.

Okay, wait. I take that back. Before the Tupperware, I overslept.

No, that’s not right. Let’s back up a bit more. And let me take this moment to mention two things about myself, which I’ve been reluctant to reveal. The first is that I’ve suffered from depression for a while now, a symptom of PMDD (pre menstrual dysphoric disorder). Basically, for about one or two days a month, I get really, really low…and then, it passes, and I’m fine. The other thing is that I have been going through peri-menopause for the past few years; it came a bit early for me, probably a side-effect of the chemo, according to my doctors. In any case, one of the symptoms of peri-menopause (along with fatigue and  hot flashes and migraines and monster cramps and junk food cravings and this weird thing where part of my hair gets really dry and part of it gets really greasy) is that it turns your regular hormonally-driven mood shifts up to eleven — not great for someone like me, who’s already having a rough time at that time of the month.

So…I woke up that morning at 5:45am when I’d set my alarm, and I turned my alarm off. I’ve been setting it for that time for a while now, because that’s when I have time to exercise. I want and need to work out, because it helps my overall physical and mental well-being (and is one of the recommended treatments for my PMDD). But I also want and need to sleep as much as possible, so I have the energy to do battle with my hormones and my currently-contentious toddler. Every morning, therefore, is a battle, and on this particular morning, sleep won. This meant that when I finally did get out of bed, I was feeling crappy because I felt tired and out of shape, and crappy because I felt guilty for not exercising. I also felt crappy because I slept so late, I had no time to take a shower, and my hair was doing that dry/greasy thing. So I was feeling crappy and grubby.

When I went to the kitchen, I opened the freezer to take out and defrost the blueberry muffin my son eats for breakfast, and a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce slid out, hit me in the face, and then shattered on the hardwood floor. Normally I would find a moment like this hilarious, but I was already in a sour state of mind. The added chore of cleaning up frozen sauce and shards of Tupperware from my kitchen floor did not help things, at all. Other things that did not help:

  1. My son refusing to eat the aforementioned muffin, despite repeated pleas from me and my husband
  2. My son refusing to “go potty” in a timely manner before we left to drop him off at school
  3. My inability to find something to wear

That last one was a huge red flag for me that a bad mood was rising. When I feel as if I have nothing to wear, as if I look terrible in every article of clothing I own, I know I’m going down the rabbit hole. I can’t remember what I did end up wearing, but I am sure it was some form of athleisurewear, a baggy t-shirt, and a hat.

And then it was off to preschool, hooray! As my son chattered in the back seat (“Who’s singing on the radio, Mommy?” “The clouds look like mashed potatoes!” “Can I watch videos on your phone when we get to school?”), I half-listened to the 80s radio station as I maneuvered my way around the terrible Rhode Island drivers and reminded myself about needing to write a blog entry. What was I going to write about? What would seem interesting, and useful?

When I got to my son’s preschool, I was so distracted by him and my blog-centric thoughts that I turned into the parking lot a little too sharply, and hit the curb. The however-light impact somehow made my car horn go off, and that singular HONK made two of my son’s teachers, who were crossing the parking lot at the time, turn their heads and look at me. It was probably just a glance, but it sent me over the edge. They must think I’m crazy, I thought. And right now, I feel crazy. Lazy and slovenly and crazy, to be exact. When I dropped off my son, I made sure not to make eye contact with any of the teaching staff, and left the parking lot before any of the other parents.

On the way home, I distracted myself from my embarrassment by thinking about my blog again. I started thinking about how futile it is to blog, anyway, since I have so few readers. Then I started thinking about the storytime I started doing at my local toy store a few weeks before, and how poorly attended it had been. Then I started thinking about some bad experiences I’ve had with poorly-attended bookstore events. Then I started thinking about the two new series I have coming out over the next few months, and worrying that no one will like them, or (even worse) no one will care, and that I won’t promote them enough or well, that I will miss out on this chance, what I perceive as my final chance at making this my career, and will sink back into my hovel of obscurity and humiliation.

I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got myself a coffee. By the time I got home, it was pretty clear that the blog wasn’t going to happen. And that made me feel worse; just like the exercising I’d eschewed that morning, I felt I’d broken another promise to myself by not posting. But then, I drank some coffee and stared at my computer screen, and thought, maybe I will post, just to say that I won’t be posting. That way I’ll still meet my goal. To my addled brain, that made some sense.

So, that’s what I did. Afterwards, I felt a little bit better (probably due to the coffee), so I had enough presence of mind to try to pull myself out of the funk I was in. Here are some things I did, which proved successful:

  1. Finished the coffee (always a good idea).
  2. Listened to my one of my favorite Wilco songs, their (and Billy Bragg’s) cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Airline to Heaven.” Do you have a song that immediately perks you up? This one is mine.
  3. Ate a strawberry – because sometimes, just leaning over the kitchen sink and eating a ripe, sweet strawberry helps.
  4. Read through the draft of my new middle-grade novel – it needs a lot of work, but reading through it reminded me of its potential, and of how much I love it, and how much I love writing, and how I’m pretty good at it, whether other people read my work or not.

Although all of these things helped, I wasn’t really out of the woods until I took a nap that afternoon, while my son took his nap. By the time my husband got home from work, I was able to tell him all about my day, and as I detailed every moment, it all just seemed ridiculous, like dreams do when you try to explain them too long after you’ve woken up. Even laying it all out for you now, all the trivial little moments and dumb thoughts I have,  just shows how incapacitating depression (and the hormones fueling that depression) can be.

Okay, that’s it. I have to admit, this was helpful for me; I know I will have many more of these low moments, but at least I have some insights into how and why they happen. I can only hope this was helpful for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and eat a strawberry over the kitchen sink.

 

 

Five for Friday

Hello all, and Happy Friday. And many thanks to those of you who responded with such kindness and support re: my last post. I’m starting to think it would be weirder to be a creative person who didn’t experience dark episodes — which is comforting, in a way. In any case, I am feeling a little better, and next week I am hoping to talk a bit more about my struggles, and how I (usually) manage in spite of them. In the meantime, check out these five:

  1. If you haven’t been following author Kate Messner’s harrowing experience this week, you’ll want to read this, and consider donating a copy of The Seventh Wish to the cause. (An update from Kate here, in which the censorship plot thickens. Sigh.)
  2. He dodges 21 punches in 10 seconds. But it’s that gleeful jiggle at the end that knocks me out.
  3. Cats that look like pin-up girls.
  4. If 70s moms had blogs.
  5. Cheers, dears.

Have a great weekend, everyone! xo

 

The Weekly Peek

Hello, all! I’m back from vacation and feeling particularly rejuvenated. What an amazing week we had on Nantucket, hanging out with good friends, eating amazing food, frolicking on the beach, and drinking a LOT of bubbly (that last one was all me). And we got back on Friday, so we had the whole weekend to reacclimate ourselves to mainland life.

While I was away, I avoided my work email, and I only took one work-related phone call. I also managed to finish The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, and I’m about a third of the way through the book I’m reading as research for the picture book biography I hope to write. And I jotted down a few notes and book ideas in my writing journal. So I was just productive enough to quell my work-related separation anxiety. I also took more than a few naps. Naps, you guys. Naps are everything.

A few things going on here this week:

Pretty soon, I’ll have THREE picture books out on submission! Two of the manuscripts are rhyming texts, which is new for me. And one of them might be potty-themed. Hey, they say “write what you know,” right? Fingers crossed that at least one of these babies lands somewhere.

I just finished reviewing the final interior and cover for The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina, and it’s truly seeworthy. (See what I did there?) I can’t wait for you all to give it a read — though you’ll have to wait until JANUARY for a finished copy. Perhaps a galley giveaway is in order? I’ll keep you posted as I work out the details…

Starting today, I’m revising a new novel. Well, it’s not exactly new. I drafted it a couple of summers ago, and then set it aside to work on something else. Printing it out yesterday was like catching up with an old friend — an old friend who needs a lot of help. Still, it feels good to roll up my sleeves and dig in.

What are you up to this week?

 

 

 

 

 

Five for Friday

  1. I just stumbled upon this little gem and was shocked to learn that it’s been around since 2013. If, like me, you find humor in the banal (and, dare I say, “bland”), Catherine will be your jam — or, more appropriately, your bread and butter sandwich.
  2. Quick dinner tip: Trader Joe’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup topped with a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and a pinch of pepper. Trust. (Also, a nice glass of wine on the side wouldn’t hurt.)
  3. If this really happened, I wouldn’t be able to see it, because I would immediately die. Of happiness.
  4. Introducing…The Undies, a new award dedicated to the art of the case cover! I love everything about this. These days, I take off the dust jackets off of our picture books right away (before they’re destroyed by certain toddler hands), so the case cover is front and center in our house — glad to know it’s getting much-deserved attention. Our current “undie” faves are Snappsy and Good Night Owl.
  5. Soon, I’ll be off to one of my favorite places in the world, Nantucket, so I’ll be taking a break from blogging this coming week. Hope you have some fun plans for the long weekend — and that we get a good stretch of summery weather!

So, what are you loving these days?

 

 

The Weekly Peek

Hello, and Happy Monday! Today is particularly happy for me, as it is my kiddo’s 3rd birthday! Hard to believe how time has flown and how much he’s grown. He’s also turning into quite the little performer…I wonder where he got that from?

Other stuff happening this week:

I’ll be rendezvousing with my friend (and former Bluebird Works client), Kristen Kittscher, author of the amazing middle grade mysteries The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace! Though we’ve worked together and known each other for years, we’ve never met in person before — looking forward to connecting and raising a glass (or three) of bubbly to our awesomeness.

I’m hoping to get some feedback on a few of my works-in-progress — I have a picture book out on submission, two picture books and a chapter book with my Trusted Readers, and I’m awaiting editorial notes on the next Bland Sisters story. Can’t wait to get some fresh perspective on these projects!

I’m getting ready to go on vacation. Because when your toddler turns three, you deserve a celebration (and some down time), too.

Have a great week, everyone!

BANG!

I’ve been putting off blogging (or anything that requires brain-power, really) until I’ve fully recovered from the flu, but I’m still sneezy and sniffly and it’s already 2015, so let’s do this.

To start the year off right, I have some pretty awesome news to share, which I’ve had to keep under my hat for some time. My upcoming chapter book series, The Infamous Ratsos, has found its artist, and it will be none other than…Matt Myers. You guys, I am so, so excited. I love Matt’s work and his sense of humor, and I can’t wait to see his vision for Louie and Ralphie Ratso and their world. Believe it or not, I’ve never had to go out looking for an illustrator before for my picture books; I’ve always been paired with someone pretty much from the get-go, so this whole illustrator search has been thrilling.

The first Ratsos book will pub in 2016 — spring, I think, though I may be (and have often been) wrong. In any case, I will keep you posted.

In other news, I have a project out on submission. Tom Petty was right — the waiting IS the hardest part. But I’ve been able to distract myself, thanks to the holidays, and my husband coming down with the flu just before Christmas and passing it along to me. I mean, talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Thankfully, our little one has remained healthy and symptom free, though that’s meant that he’s been as energetic and active as ever, to the delight of his fatigued and congested parents. But we persevere, as ever. I’m hoping to get some news about this new project in the next month or so. It’s a new jam for me — more of a reader, a la Frog and Toad — and it needs just the right home.

As for the new year, I face 2015 with the same list of resolutions — eat healthier, sleep and read and write and exercise more, be present and positive, refrain from stress and toxicity. Also, I hope to clean our upstairs landing, one place in our house (along with our scary dungeon/basement, which I CAN’T EVEN) that needs serious attention. Does everyone have a spot where all random junk and old toys and to-be-donated clothes seem to coalesce? Because our upstairs landing is that zone for us, our very own crash pad for crap. And it makes me feel bad. Really, really bad. I don’t even like thinking about it, much less actually going upstairs, because the messiness of it bums me out. I have to walk through it (okay, more like WADE through it) on the way to my office, which also houses my treadmill and my exercise stuff, which means I start and end every workout on a sour note, and I hardly ever use the office as my workspace anymore. All this because I want to avoid the mess. But as experience has taught me, the best way to avoid messes is to GET RID OF THEM. So that’s what I’m aiming to do.

And maybe, someday, I’ll even face that scary basement. There’s always 2016.

Do you have a (literal or figurative) mess you’ve been avoiding? Let’s commiserate — and face that cleanup together!

 

Thankful for You

Looking for a great holiday gift for a young reader? What better present is there than the gift of civility? If you buy a copy of my latest book, NO SLURPING, NO BURPING: A Tale of Table Manners, I’ll be happy to send you a signed, personalized bookplate! Just email me with your mailing address and to whom you’d like me to sign it.

I hope you’re all managing this pre-holiday mania, especially given the weather and the state of the world these days. It’s hard to me to feel thoroughly thankful, when so much lately seems hopeless and unfair — but I do find solace in the fact that I have so many good, smart, kind people in my life, who endeavor to make the world better through their deeds and words. You all not only make me keep going — you make me want to be a better person. Please know I will be raising a glass (or two…or three) to you tomorrow. xo

 

The Princess and the Pea (-sized mass)

A few months ago, while getting out of the shower, I felt a little lump in my upper left thigh. I tried to locate it again a short time later, and couldn’t, so I though it had disappeared. A few days later, I felt it again, and rationalized it as calcified blood, an after-effect of all the bruises I’ve been getting on my legs from my toddler bumping into me all the time. A few days after that, I couldn’t find it again, and convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing.

Then, about a month ago, I felt it again, and showed it to my husband. He could definitely feel something, too. We decided I should show this mysterious lump to my oncologist; it turned out the oncologist couldn’t make a definitive diagnosis, so I was scheduled for an ultrasound. The ultrasound couldn’t determine anything definitive, either, other than the size of the “mass” (that’s what we started calling it), which was 1cm x 1.3cm, about the size of a pea, so my oncologist suggested further, more invasive examination. A needle biopsy wasn’t recommended in this case (the mass was so small that the needle could possibly miss it), so I was referred to a surgeon.

This surgeon happened to be the one I was referred to almost four years ago, the one who initially evaluated the mass in my shoulder, which turned out to be cancer (namely synovial sarcoma, a malignancy of the soft tissue). Paying him another visit felt like the worst kind of deja vu. Though this surgeon was/is amazing, I just couldn’t help drawing uncomfortable parallels between my experience four years ago and the one I was having now. Again, I was having surgery to remove a mass of indeterminate nature, and I was being told that the surgery would be easy, with a quick recovery, and that the lump would probably turn out to be nothing. I had heard this all before, and last time, none of it came true. Four years ago, surgery revealed that the mass was wrapped around my C5 and C6 nerves, which had to be severed, rendering my arm partially paralyzed. I went through a second operation two days after the first, where a neurosurgeon removed an 8cm length of nerve from my lower leg and grafted it into the damaged area in my shoulder. So, on top of what later turned out to be a cancer diagnosis, followed by three months of radiation and four cycles of chemo, I had to deal with major trauma in one of my limbs, agonizing pain, a long, slow healing process, and intensive physical therapy. (P.S. My arm is okay now. Not perfect, but okay.)

I thought I had left this garbage behind four years ago, when I finished my last round of chemo. I don’t consider myself a sick person anymore, and I don’t want to be seen that way. I am a happy person, someone with a full, rich, healthy, authentic life, which now includes being a mom to a gregarious toddler. I am DONE with negativity and toxicity, misfortune and malady. So how could this be happening to me again? Pardon my French, but, really, WTF?

Thankfully, I managed to pass through the shock and anger phases of this journey by the time I had my surgery two weeks ago. I was not nervous at all in the hospital, and it turned out I had no reason to be. The surgery was a success, the mass was removed without complication, and there were only three crappy things about my experience:

1. I couldn’t eat or drink anything (including water) for more than twelve hours before the surgery. This sucked big-time, especially as the surgery was scheduled late in the day. I can go without food, but going without water is torture for me. I drink water ALL THE TIME, and I have a weird phobia about getting dehydrated, so this was pretty much my personal nightmare.
2. The insertion of the IV. I always hate this part. It’s a particular delight when you haven’t had anything to drink for twelve hours, so your veins are virtually non-existent.
3. Having to wait a week and a half for the biopsy results. This was a killer. Though my husband took great care of me, and I did what I could to distract myself: I hammered away at my WIP. I cooked and baked. I watched innumerable episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Peppa Pig with my happily-oblivious little one. I ate a LOT of Halloween candy.

And then, yesterday, I visited the surgeon at his office, with my husband and my son. I was anxious, but I didn’t have the opportunity to fully freak out in the exam room; my son was fussy, so my husband held him while I sang whatever came into my head, which turned out to be The Alphabet Song and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain and Close to You by the Carpenters. Honestly, I think the singing lulled me more than it did him. Then, there was a knock at the door, and the surgeon appeared. And he was smiling.

“Good news!” he said. “It was nothing! Just a lump of fatty tissue!”

At that, I lowered my head into my lap, and exhaled. Whew. WHEW.

So, it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Sometimes, surgery really is easy, recovery really is quick, and a lump really does turn out to be nothing. Sometimes, shit happens, but you just end up with a barely visible scar, a crazy story for your blog, and a life that will go on.

Sometimes, even I get lucky.

(PLEASE NOTE: While I don’t like to keep secrets, I won’t be sharing this story with my grandmother — and if you know her, I hope you won’t, either. She is 93 and in a very fragile mental state, and prone to anxiety, so this health scare is not something she needs to know. Thanks in advance for your understanding and discretion.)

 

Gargoyle

Summer’s gone by in the blink of an eye — well, maybe a few blinks towards the end of August, when my son poked me in the eye and I suffered a corneal abrasion. But it’s not like I really need my eyes for anything important, right?

I am all healed now, thanks to a very kind ER doctor and some antibiotic drops and a hot fudge sundae (my husband administered that last “treatment,” and I really think that’s what did the trick). And I’m rounding the bend on a draft of a novel I’ve been working on all summer. I think I have about fifty pages to go. Hold your applause, though, because this is a VERY ugly draft. It’s probably the loosest, roughest thing I’ve ever written. It’s so lumpy and bumpy, I’ve been calling it my gargoyle.

My gargoyle is very hard to love in this state. In most other cases, I have abandoned my longer work when it’s gotten ugly — and nowhere near as ugly as this. Even though I made a resolution this year that I would allow for more imperfection in my life and in my work, I keep having to convince myself not to give up. And I keep having to remind myself that while this story may be a gargoyle, it is MY gargoyle. And as its (reluctant) mama, I have a responsibility to stick around and straighten it out. So I am trying to stay strong, and patient, and open-minded. I am trying not to judge myself for my sloppiness, however temporary. I am trying to remain in love with this story, (innumerable) warts and all.

How do you other writers put up with your own early, unruly, fuggo drafts? Any helpful hints?

Happy Birthday to Moi

For most of my thirties, I hated my birthday. I suppose it’s because I wasn’t very happy with myself for most of that decade, so it’s not surprising that the one day a year that celebrates me specifically would send me into a depressive tailspin.

The worst, by far, was my thirty-ninth birthday. I’d just started my first round of chemo a few weeks before, and my body chose my birthday to be the day that my hair started falling out. I knew that day was coming (my oncologist predicted it with an eerie precision), and I thought I’d prepared for it, by having my husband shave my head pretty short. But I was still shocked when I found that first handful of stubble in my hands in the shower. The rest of the day went downhill from there.

Somewhere between my second and third chemo infusion, I started thinking about my upcoming fortieth birthday, and I realized I was really, really looking forward to it. I suppose I was looking forward to just about anything beyond the end of my chemo treatments, but in particular, I felt ready for my (big) birthday. After everything that had happened to me during my thirties, especially my late thirties, I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to that unfortunate era. I was ready to celebrate — and, in particular, I was ready to celebrate myself. Even though I was still in touch with friends through Facebook, chemo left me isolated from most in-person social interaction, so I started fantasizing about throwing an all-out bash for myself, and inviting EVERYONE: friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, doctors, nurses, etc etc. This hairless, pale, weak, immunocompromised girl was ready to par-TAY.

When my birthday did roll around, it turned out I didn’t have the means to throw myself the Gatsby-level soiree I’d imagined. But my loved ones did their very best. I went out to dinner with my family in Connecticut, then went to New York the next day with my husband, where he wined and dined me and surprised me with a relaxing spa treatment. And then we met all of my childhood friends for one of our old-school apartment parties. The next day, we went out for brunch, and when we got back to Providence, my husband took me out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, where it turned out my best friend and her husband were waiting to surprise me. It wasn’t the singular bash I’d imagined in my chemo haze, but it was a series of wonderful moments where I allowed myself to celebrate myself, and feel deserving of love.

I’ve let go of a lot of toxicity in my life over the past few years, and I suppose that’s allowed more positive energy to shine through, in both directions. Now, I feel so grateful to have the life I have, and be the person I am, and love the people I love, I can’t help celebrating EVERY DAY. My birthday is just the icing on the cake.

Thanks to everyone who made the past few days so special for me, including my husband, my son, my friends, and my family. I’d raise a glass of bubbly to you all, but I don’t think there’s any left, after all the damage I’ve done!