WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!!

It’s fine if you politely decline to answer that question. If you know me in real life, you probably have an entire list. It’s cool with me if you keep it to yourself. No, I insist. Seriously, STOP TALKING!

So here’s my problem. I am home alone. Okay, that right there is not the problem. Home alone means getting stuff done. Or it should. I had a list of wanna-do kinds of things. I want to write some, do a bit of NaNo prep, work on my digital scrapbook, get some exercise, make a pizza, do some dishes. You know, nothing much.

But here I sit, bound, tied, gagged by anxiety. The worst part if it is, I don’t even know WHY. There is no single, logical thought that has become my tripping hazard. So in an effort to contain this prickly beast that feels like electricity in my chest, I blog. It’s a Sunday, it’s beautiful weather, people are busy with Halloween parties and their own NaNo prep, so I don’t even have the pressure of having people read this post. So it’s good.

If you have never experienced inexplicable anxiety, this is kind of what it looks like.

Why am I anxious? It could be because…

  • I haven’t processed the Padawan’s new diagnosis and made my peace with it
  • The Girl-Child is on a camping trip
  • The Girl-Child seemed ill-prepared for this camping trip
  • The Girl-Child may get eaten by a bear
  • If Girl-Child isn’t eaten by a bear, I have to drive her to Chattanooga when she gets home
  • The boys are on a hike without me to try to complete their 100 mile challenge
  • Their dad may poop out early and call it quits and they won’t get their 100 miles
  • I will be forced to rally the troops next Sunday and lead them to the finish line myself
  • If I am forced to lead them across the finish line, I will be missing valuable NaNo writing time
  • This is the first NaNoWriMo in which I have absolutely zero ideas speaking to me
  • What if I start NaNo and can’t finish for the first time ever?
  • What if I start NaNo and I struggle every, single night to get the words down?
  • I have not managed to stay awake past 9pm for the last 3 months. How will I complete NaNo?
  • I should be working on my mom’s scrapbook, but it means I have to upload photos
  • Once the photos are uploaded, I have to arrange them on the page
  • After the photos are arranged on the page, I have to CAPTION them
  • What if I die during the scrapbooking/NaNoWriMo/Hiking challenge?
  • Can I arrange to be eaten by a bear?
  • What if the baby kitties get fat?
  • Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

    Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

  • What if my cinnamon tree cutting dies?
  • Can I order cinnamon trees online?
  • What if it gets too cold and dies in transit and the company I bought it from refuses to refund me because I should have known better?
  • Can I grow cinnamon from seed?
  • If I grow cinnamon from seed, I’m supposed to plant them immediately because they have limited viability. But they aren’t supposed to be planted until Spring. And then it takes a month or more for them to sprout
  • What if the seeds are all dead and it’s too late to complain and leave feedback on Ebay?
  • What if I never own the Charlie Brown Funko figure where he’s dressed as a ghost?
  • Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can't have you!

    Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can’t have you!

  • What if I spend all day worrying and never get anything done?
  • What if I don’t get good pictures of the new Radiata hatchlings at the zoo?
  • Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

    Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

  • Speaking of new hatchlings, that reminds me I’m supposed to scrapbook for the department. I need to compile photos into a concise album to make that process easier. Easier? Suddenly it feels the very opposite of easy
  • Also speaking of new hatchlings… My new baby Neon Day Gecko – what if the parents eat it?Are there two new ones? What if they are eaten by spiders?
  • Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

    Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

  • What if we are ALL EATEN BY SPIDERS?
  • What if one day while I am hanging upside down to do water changes in the big exhibit, the driftwood becomes so weak that it collapses and everyone sees me fall into the water?
  • What if NO ONE sees me and I drown and my face gets eaten by the turtles?
  • What if I can’t find all the fun photos I want to add to this post?
  • What if I do find them, but my storage is all eaten up and I can’t post them?
  • What if I have to wash my hair again tonight?
  • What if I am out of shampoo and CAN’T wash my hair tonight?
  • What if my ENTIRE family is eaten by bears? It’s bear season, and maybe my whole family put on their best acorn underwear for their big hiking/camping trips?
  • What if Sonic runs out of dark chocolate/potato chip/pretzel Blasts?
  • What if I eat the Blast and it goes straight to my bum and none of my pants fit me anymore?
  • What if it never gets cold again?
  • What if it gets cold and I am very, very sorry that it is cold because I wear shorts all winter and end up with chilblains?
  • What if I never learn what chilblains are? But spellcheck does, so I know it’s a thing
  • What if my headache/anxiety/neuropathy/memory loss never go away?
  • What if I never get an idea for NaNo and the muse has left me and I never got to write again and my new computer sits on my writing table sad and dejected?
  • What if I go outside to go for a walk and a walnut falls out of the tree, hits me on the head, and renders me unconscious in the middle of the road?
  • What if I go to the gym to work out because walnuts typically don’t fall in the gym, but the bean burrito I ate last night makes its presence known and all the other members die of methane poisoning and I go to jail for premeditated foofing?
  • What if I don’t make it to Target in time for the post-Halloween 90% off sale and all the pet costumes are gone and Ravenclaw and Pandora are stuck being naked for the rest of their lives?
  • Okay, so maybe they won't be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    Okay, so maybe they won’t be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    pandora_the_bat

  • What if I can’t figure out a super-cool Halloween costume?
  • What if we go trick-or-treating and kids come by our house and no one is home, so they egg the place?
  • What if we buy a million bags of candy and we have no trick-or-treaters, so I am forced to eat the candy myself because I take one for the team, and then I get fat?
  • What if the MRI costs $10,000 and insurance doesn’t cover it and we are stuck in debt again?
  • What if my chest actually bursts apart with the electricity that is building in it?

Is it too late to sign up to get eaten by a bear? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about a costume because I would be Winnie’s Poo. Also, now I want a hermit crab.

 

 

The Gifts of NaNoWriMo: Part II (The BEST Part)

I know. I posted twice in a week. How’s that for erratic and unpredictable behavior? I’m not sure I know myself anymore. But last time I left with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t leave you hanging. Nah, truthfully, I couldn’t wait to share.

Lots of people know that I am a zookeeper. Not as many know that in my second job, I am a computer teacher. I teach grades K-8, and I love it. I want my students to be prepared for the tech-driven world they live in, so we do all kinds of things. Tomorrow we’re jumping in on the Hour of Code event. We also look at digital citizenship and current tech events. This year we took our second foray into National Novel Writing Month. We go through the affiliated Young Writers Program because YWP allows the kids to set their own word goal. My class only meets once per week, so 50,000 words is way more than I would ever expect of them.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It's a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It’s a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

The kids love writing as much as I do. We do lots of prep work with writing prompts, and most of them had their ideas in place before November began, but there are a few who are dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, and more power to them. Every kid in grades 2-8 participates. Their word goals are their own, based on their typing speed (that’s how I justify doing NaNo in computer class. They are learning Google docs and typing) and how many words they typically write following a word prompt. I give prizes for everyone who meets their word goal. Can I tell you a secret? EVERYBODY meets their goal. All of them. They also get an additional prize if the group as a whole writes more than I do in the class period. They always win. We have so much fun.

This year, I had six finishers. Six students who met the big word goal that I set for any student who wanted to get published. That meant a LOT of writing outside of class. They want to be writers, and they did what they had to do to make it happen. You can follow all of those adventures on the school’s Facebook page if you like. If you like a picture, you can even “like” that picture. It helps our algorithms. Those are some happy kids. But there’s more to NaNo than finishing. Finishing is incredible, don’t get me wrong. It’s great, but all of the wonder if it is not tied up in a mandatory word goal. Let me share some of the magic.

A child whose goal last year was to write 20 words per class period had to have the word goal changed this year. How many words? 200. This student set the goal for ten times higher than last year.  And blew past it every, single week. And not only that, this child who has avoided reading because large blocks of text are hard to decipher spent hours a week reading to parents, teachers, anyone who would listen. In the car on the way home, after dinner, whenever. Why? Because who doesn’t want to share something they wrote themselves? And now this child reads other things, too. Because a writer has to read, you know.

Another child who often every, single thing they write, be it spelling test, math assignment, or creative writing, because of fear of making a mistake? The first two weeks, the backspace button and delete keys were covered. Once this student figured out that there was no judgement,  I received pages of written work. It’s easy to write when you don’t have to wonder if you are good enough.

A student who despised writing assignments now loves writing SO much that it’s a bargaining chip that parents can use. “Want computer time to work on your blog? Do your homework without arguing.”

We’re seeing changes in so many students. Class journals used to be a chore for some of the kids. After NaNoing, they BEG their teacher for just a little more time to write. “Just a few more sentences, please? PLEASE?!” Because they love expressing themselves. They are excited to write. They cannot wait to sit down and create worlds of their own. And they’re good at it. Because they are writing for themselves, the kids have freedom to show who they are and what they love, and that always makes for a good story.

So this Spring Break, I’ll be spending my work time editing and formatting and getting some incredible students ready for publication. If anyone is interested in purchasing student writing, I’ll be happy to share the links. One of last year’s winners is still in awe of the $25 they made through NaNo novel sales. It’s heady stuff when you can publish your first book before high school.

So this is why I NaNo. Why do you NaNo?

The Gifts of NaNoWriMo, Part I

It hurt a little when I fell off the face of the earth, I’m not gonna lie. I face-planted somewhere around Jupiter. Or was it Venus?  All I know is it was cold, and I got rocks in my teeth. Come to think of it, it might have been the playground.

It happens every November without fail. I get sucked into National Novel Writing Month, and the rest of my life gets to go hang for a little while. I’m not apologizing, mostly because I’ve been around the blogging block long enough to realize I’m the only one who suffers if I don’t blog. But also because this November was made of magic. Magic. I can’t apologize for magic.

I sign up for NaNo every year. My first year, I stumbled upon it the day before, and I jumped in with both feet. I love it. I get caught up in the madness, the late nights, the caffeine-addled reckless abandon that helps me pound out a delightfully awful first draft. This year, I met some milestones.

NaNo is a program that offers several opportunities a year to produce a novel in a month. In November, the *official* month, the goal is 50,000 words. I hit that goal in 8 days, a personal best. I ended the month at 106K, another personal best for a work of straight fiction. I didn’t find “The End” for another few days after NaNo ended, but I found it last night. I typed those words in giant, bold letters, 30 point type.  A third personal best. Usually I’m hiking the Cliffs of Insanity in February in a desperate hunt for the elusive “The End,” but I nailed it down before Squish’s birthday.

I would say "Winner, winner, chicken dinner," but I keep getting mixed up and trying to say "Neener-neener, chicken wiener," and that embarrasses my children.

I would say “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” but I keep getting mixed up and trying to say “Neener-neener, chicken wiener,” and that embarrasses my children.

This November was a gift, wrapped up in scratch-and-sniff Strawberry Shortcake paper and tied up with a bow. Here are some of my favorite things about it.

  • I learned that I can push my limits. I learned that I have the ability to dig deep when I really need to, when I decide to. November is busy, and I knew I had to get the majority of my 100K goal written before the week of Thanksgiving. Sometimes that meant getting out 5,000 words between Squish’s bed time and mine. And I did it. I could sit down at 9pm, ready to give up and just crash, and end up with my five big ones before 11. Because I decided I wanted to do something big rather than watch another episode of Frasier.
  • I learned that rewrites won’t kill me. And maybe they’re something to look forward to. I started a story I loved, but the idea shifted within about the first ten thousand words and became something even more fascinating. And complex. Turns out, I couldn’t finish THAT draft in 30 days. I wrote 50K on that piece, and then I switched over to a project I’ve had cooking for a year to finish the 100K. But the idea I left behind isn’t abandoned. It’s stewing. Because all of a sudden, I see what I need to do to make that first story line great, and I can’t wait to do it!
  • I learned that I suck at titles. No, wait. I already knew that.
  • The super coolest part about NaNo? When I was a kid, I had a best friend. We were inseparable. Every, single weekend, she was at my house, or I was at her house. What did we do? We wrote. On her frankensteined home computer that her dad build (in the 80s! Anyone remember C-prompts?), on pads of paper, any time, anywhere. We wrote together. This year? She’s in grad school. Where I live. And we got together for some write-ins. Once, we even ended up at her dad’s, the house where she grew up, and the site of about a million sleepovers. I was ready to bake cookies and make suicides out of Coca Cola and lemon juice (no, it didn’t taste good then, either) and stay up late to watch Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live. She has published a lot of stuff. Maybe you’ve heard of her, or maybe you’re just now hearing of your new favorite author. She’s nagging me about query letters. She’s pushing me on to my next big adventure: publishing.

These are all great things, of course. But I’m holding out on you. There’s no way a single blog post can contain all of this November’s allotment of awesome. I have more things to share, and one of them is even better than winning NaNo. Way better. Immeasurably better.

Until next time.

 

Did you participate in NaNoWrimo this year? How did it go?

 

The Art of Negotiation

It’s almost November, and you know what that means? It’s almost time for National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo! For those not familiar with the program, it means writing a novel of at least 50 thousand words between November 1-30.  I could not be more excited. I’ve got my plot lined out, my characters in development, and I’m looking for some writing pals. Anyone? Anyone?

Writing can be an all-consuming process under even normal circumstances. Add to that  the high word-count, combined with a tight deadline and family life can really suffer without some forethought. As a three year veteran of the event, my family and I have spent the last few weeks in deep discussion to assure that my needs will be in balance with theirs. In hopes that our work can be of benefit to others, I will share our negotiations here.

Writing time. This is the trickiest balancing act. While I may want to write every waking moment, my family still needs me. Or they say they do. Whatever. We have talked the most extensively on this subject and have implemented an important policy:

Unless your pants are on fire, leave Mom alone. If your pants ARE on fire, go see Dad. In the event your pants are on fire and you ARE Dad, go drag your bum down the hallway like the dog does. It works a treat.”

Personal hygiene. While my once-a-week shower schedule worked just fine for me the last three years, my family tended to disagree. In addition, I have a full-time job this year, and I work with some large tortoises who are in the habit of covering me with their feces. Our agreement is that this year, if I will clean myself daily, my husband stand by while I’m in the shower and scribble all my great ideas in the steam on the bathroom mirror. And leg-shaving is out the window for a month, even if it means that come December I chirp like a cricket when my calves rub together.

I can play Christmas carols. And then Santa can put razors in my stocking. Photo credit:fcps.edu

I can play Christmas carols. And then Santa can put razors in my stocking. Photo credit:fcps.edu

Laundry. This task is truly a time-suck. Between gathering, sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, hours a day can be lost. To facilitate reaching my word-goal, this year I will wear my clothes in the shower. So much time and water saved!

Cooking. The kids have been told they will love Annie’s mac and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches or learn to cook for themselves.

Participation in family life. It’s important to stay involved in the kids’ lives. So they don’t forget what I look like, I have glued a picture of my face to my life-size cut out of Severus Snape. This solution works well for us, as the cut out is lightweight and very portable. It can be set up anywhere from the dinner table to a 6th grade band concert, and no one is likely to look close enough to know the difference.

Work. During the month of November, I’m calling in dead.

 

How do you balance family life and NaNo?

And for something totally different, be sure to visit my guest post over at Below the Salt News. Weird things happen at the fair. Things we don’t talk about in polite company.