Back to school

Trust me: I have a good explanation for my social media non-presence. A great explanation, really.

In Spring 2017, I started the first of six prereqs I needed to apply for the master’s in teaching English program at WGU. This past April, I finally finished.

April is also when I developed a persistent case of what I thought was vertigobut it didn’t respond to the same treatment that worked for me when I had BPPV three years ago. I went to a vestibular therapist, who took one look at my family history (two sisters diagnosed with MS) and sent me right back to my doctor for an MRI referral.

Meanwhile, as I made the rounds from the vestibular therapist to the primary care physician, then the radiologist, optometrist, allergist, otolaryngologist, and finally the neurologist, I spent a lot of time studying. Because it turned out one of the only activities that didn’t trigger my dizziness was sitting in front of my computer, working away at the first few classes in my master’s program.

The short story is that after a red flag on my MRI, it turned out I don’t have MS. Much to my everlasting relief. While the neurologist at Virginia Mason didn’t know what was causing the dizziness, he assured me that whatever it was, it wasn’t serious and sooner or later, it would pass.

Which it did—sooner, actually, once I figured out that the primary culprit was sleep deprivation. Because of all those late nights studying. While I worked to re-regulate my sleep habits, I kept studying (mostly during the day) and between April and the end of August, I finished eight classes. Ever since May, my program mentor has been urging me to accelerate. After months of being on the fence, I finally decided to take her advice when I got the opportunity to work with the host teacher of my dreams for my fieldwork. It’s been grueling, finishing the last five classes in four weeks, but I did it.

And this is what was waiting in my inbox this morning:


Tomorrow is the first day of school and also of the first stage of my fieldwork, preclinical observation. My host teacher teaches two sections of AP English, 12th grade language arts, mythology and journalism. Honestly, I had to work really hard to stay calm and not geek out when he told me, because the fieldwork handbook repeatedly admonishes teacher candidates to maintain a “professional disposition” and I knew that squeeing out loud would be unprofessional.

So, I geeked out on the inside.

If all goes well, I’m hoping this host teacher will also want to work with me during my demonstration teaching in January. Which means the social media presence will continue to be hit-or-miss, but for even better reasons.

Wish me luck!

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Imposter syndrome

If you’re a writer, you’re intimately acquainted with imposter syndrome.

If you’re not a writer, you still may have had nightmares about finding yourself in a situation where the people around you figure out you’re not as funny/smart/qualified/talented/(pick-an-adjective) as they previously supposed. Depending on the metaphorical quality of your dreams, you may or may not also be wearing only your underwear in this nightmare scenario.

That’s imposter syndrome.

The best way to avoid it is to never take any risks. To stay securely in your cocoon, hang out only with close friends or family, and avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible—which is my preferred m.o., introvert that I am. I could write a whole post about how to sidestep imposter syndrome because I’m a master of avoidance. So, if you’re looking for advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome, keep looking; this isn’t it.

However, despite my proclivity for isolating myself, in the last few years I’ve ventured more and more outside my comfort zone. I’ve participated in writing groups, developed relationships with CPs, and (horrors!) networked. It’s draining and requires significant down-time afterward, but I’m enjoying it in spite of the liabilities. This will be my second year in a row attending a large writers conference and I’m looking forward not just to the workshops, but making new friends and feeling like I’m part of a larger writing community.

A relationship I’ve cultivated for a while now is one with the librarians at my local public library. This started long before I wrote my first book. When I homeschooled my two older kids, we frequented the library to supplement our curriculum. The connections were easy to foster in a genuine way because the children’s librarians (one of whom is now the library director) were both delightful, down-to-earth people.

So, it was a bit of a shock when the library director reached out to me last November and asked if I’d be willing to be the featured author at the annual poetry month book club tea put on by the Friends of the Ellensburg Public Library.

My initial reaction?

Disbelief. Alarm. Imposter syndrome.

I took a couple deep breaths and reminded myself if I wanted to maintain the illusion of being professional, I had to avoid sounding as insecure as I felt. So I typed a quick email telling her I was “honored and delighted” to accept her invitation—all the while mentally hyperventilating at the prospect of my first paid speaking gig as an author.

I’ve put off writing my speech up until about a week ago, because I’ve had a hard time shaking the feeling of being a fraud and I don’t want any sense of self-doubt or desperation filtering into my talking points. Last week I read a brief excerpt from The Door to Yesterday to my writing group, looking for feedback on whether it was too long or too short, engaging or snooze-worthy. I was humbled and gratified by their encouragement. My writing group assured me that yes, the passage was a perfect choice to read. But it was even more comforting to feel their support because they understood my insecurities.

In addition to the excerpt from my novel, I selected two recently published poems to read, and then developed an outline around the readings, discussing my development as a poet and fiction writer, and my creative process. I timed it, tweaked the outline, and I’ve now entered the embarrassing stage where I practice in front of the bathroom mirror.

That’s okay.

Because when I’m up in front of the Friends of the Library next Monday night, I’ll check myself to make sure I’m not standing there in my underwear, and then I’ll look out and see the members of my writing group in the crowd. Those friendly faces will remind me I’m not alone in this.

So if there’s a takeaway here (other than that we all feel like frauds and imposters at least some of the time), it’s this: connections with other writers and creatives don’t prevent imposter syndrome, but they do provide reassurance and support—a way through, if not around. There’s safety in numbers.

Posted in creativity, libraries, poetry, The Door to Yesterday, writing, writing community | 2 Comments

Sitrep and NaNoWriMo wrap-up


Yep, yep. By writing this post, I’m ruining my chances as a serious contender for world’s least consistent blogger. So be it.

December starts tomorrow, which means it’s one month until 2018. My last post was a “happy new year 2017” post, but I had one saved draft from back in August, written and never posted, which started but never finished explaining why I’ve been too busy to write here. So I quickly hit publish and now I can logically move on with the most recent updates about my tragically-disorganized-but-still-heroically-perseverant attempts to get my first novel published, keep my kitchen clean, pursue a masters in teaching English, and write a second novel.

School: Over the spring and summer, I finished an online public speaking class (yes, I wondered how that would work, too, but I posted my speeches to YouTube to get them graded). Now I’m almost halfway through with another online class, this time linguistics. The word nerd in me is loving this class so much, geeking out on all the mechanics of how words are constructed and how speakers of any language intuitively know its rules without even knowing they know. I’m planning to complete the linguistics course by the end of the year, and then move on to an ethnic studies course in January.

My Kitchen: Load dishwasher. Run. Unload. Repeat. Floor needs mopping? Oh, better do that. Termites in the walls? Oh, time to call the exterminator. Hey, whoever left the peanut butter on the counter needs to put it away. And pick up all those goldfish crackers you spilled on the floor! Load dishwasher. Run. Unload. Repeat.

The Door to Yesterday: Queries sent—33. Partial requests—1. Full requests—2. Rejections received (including the partial and one of the fulls)—31. But one of those fulls is still out, and hope springs eternal!

Which brings me to…

NaNoWriMo: I’m pleased to report that 2017 was my most prolific NaNoWriMo yet, with a total of 26,661 words. This is my third year working on a sequel to TDTY, this time with a new working title: Return From Tomorrow. I’ve also made significant revisions to my  plan for the plot, as well as several characters in the previous two drafts. Another change is that I did all my writing longhand this year as an experiment in whether, as many authors assert, it positively stimulates creativity. The verdict? So far so good. I’m finding my characters showing up in unexpected ways and telling me what’s going to happen, so… yes. I’m going to stick with longhand for the rest of this new first draft.

Last but not least… here’s a preview, the first paragraph of chapter 1:

Darcy Malinger and I have a history. Sort of like the Montagues and Capulets. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Zombies and humans. I mean, I’d never actually stab Darcy with a sword or shoot her. I’d never eat her brain, even if I were a zombie. But I’d have no problem shooting zombie Darcy, because I know she wouldn’t think twice about eating my brain.

Posted in creativity, education, housework, life, NaNoWriMo, query, Return From Tomorrow, The Door to Yesterday, writing | 2 Comments

Wait…it’s August?!

That’s what happens when I decide to go back to school.

Yep, back in February, I casually mentioned to my husband that I’d like to get a job working as a para-educator when our youngest son is in first grade, so I can work part time and have the same school schedule as the kids. And he replied, just as casually, “Why don’t you go back to school, so you can teach?”

In the ensuing conversation, he told me he’d already done the cost/benefit analysis on my as-yet unearned master’s degree, and he figured I’d make back our investment within the first couple years.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and by mid-March, I’m pre-enrolled with Western Governor’s University, which offers an online masters in teaching English, from which I’d graduate qualified to teach at the middle or high school level.

Fast forward another month, and I’m enrolled in one of the six prerequisite classes I’ll need because my bachelors degree was in history and social sciences, and changing lanes means I need to do a few extra courses before I can start the coursework for my masters.


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happy 2017

I’ve been busy, notwithstanding my bad habit of neglecting my blog.

During the last half of September and the first part of October, I reworked my query letter before plunging into more revisions on the ms for The Door to Yesterday. At the end of October, I felt ready to send out another round of queries, this time to my top tier of agents.

In early November, when the rejections started rolling in—the first one from someone I’d always thought of as my “dream agent”—I felt like I’d died a little inside and began to wonder if my confidence had been misplaced.

Then, halfway through November, I got my first rejection containing constructive criticism about why an agent had passed. Finally, something I could use. Close on the heels of the helpful rejection, I received my first partial request. Sadly, that agent ultimately passed, saying five little words I’ve come to dread: “This is not for me.”

In spite of the disappointment (and I think in someways because of it), for the first time I began to internalize what I’d been hearing at SCBWI workshops and reading on writer and agent websites: this business is incredibly subjective and what “is not for” one agent may just be another’s cup of tea. I’m grateful for this shift in perspective, because through most of the querying process so far, I’ve tormented myself with thinking if I just tweaked this or that in my query or first pages, then I’d finally get some interest. My query was clearly doing its job if I’d gotten a partial request; I just needed to keep searching for the agent who clicked with my story.

So, I didn’t give up. Instead, I took a step back from revisions and queries to clear my head, and gave myself a creative break by working on poetry. I pitched a poem about fishing with my grandfather to a new zine on Medium called The Stories. I’d seen their call for submissions because I started following Sara Benincasa after reading her brilliant, sidesplittingly scathing take-down of a fat-shamer, “Why Am I So Fat?” (which hit a nerve with me because I’ve been shamed because of my weight, too, and only wish I’d had the backbone to respond as bluntly and directly as she did).

Christmas came a week and a half early when Sara emailed with a request to see my poem. Then on December 30th, she followed up by sending me a W9 to fill out. As in, yes, she wanted to give me money for my writing. Having this particular poem published—and being paid for it—was especially gratifying because I wrote it about my grandfather, who’s been my inspiration as I’ve pursued my writing career.

Just when I thought 2016 was already ending with the best possible bang…

On New Year’s Eve, I stood hunched over an ironing board down in my basement—because while folks around the world slept off their hangovers, I’d be in church on New Year’s day, wearing a dress. I’m not sure if that makes me overly pious or merely pathetic. Both, probably. Anyway, as I pressed out a sleeve, my phone beeped with an email notification.

My first full request.

In hindsight, the screams emanating from our basement probably inflicted unnecessary trauma on my poor children…but I really couldn’t help myself.

Meanwhile, my poem “Lac Des Roches, 1977” posted to The Stories first thing this morning. Please take a look and let me know if you like it.

Posted in holidays, Medium, poetry, query, revising, Sara Benincasa, SCBWI, The Door to Yesterday, The Stories, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

the value of a moment: why i journal


Theodor S. Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” In a nutshell, this is why I keep a journal.

I first began collecting my thoughts on paper almost 40 years ago. My third grade teacher Ms. Shadow assigned her students to keep a journal including both personal reflections and homework assignments. Since that elementary beginning, my journal has assumed many forms: several loose-leaf binders; a rainbow-hued Judy Blume diary; an old accounting ledger; a collection of letters to my sister while she was on a mission; two volumes of entries from my own mission; multiple blogs; two therapy journals (which I plan to burn at some point because no one needs to re-read those things—not even me); and most consistently, a collection of bound volumes dating off and on from middle school all the way through adulthood.

I’m not going to get into an esoteric discussion on the difference between diaries vs. journals. Here’s a thumbnail: diary=what I do in my life; journal=what I think about my life. For more details, Hubpages has a good comparative discussion here. Part of the beauty of keeping a journal is I’ve always been able to adapt it to whatever budget of time and/or money constrains me—even if I only have 15 or 20 minutes a day and a cheap spiral notebook.

Journaling has been invaluable in so many ways, like being able to look back at the past and gain perspective, articulating and clarifying reflections about personal challenges, recording important events, and (failing other avenues) availing myself of a judgment-free sounding board. Over the years (lately, more often than I’d care to admit), I’ve gone back to check names, dates, and events to trigger my memory. For me as a writer, though, the enduring value boils down to cultivating my craft. Practice makes, if not perfect, at least proficient. One entry at a time, I write a bit better, I become a little more attuned to my own voice, I learn how to listen and take dictation from life.

Don’t just accept my word for it, though; here are a few other advocates of the humble journal, some of whom include excellent ideas about why and how to get started:








Posted in creativity, journaling, life, writing | Leave a comment

keeping busy while querying

Thanks to a bout of insomnia at 4 a.m., this morning I put the finishing touches on my second text for a picture book (I finished the first one, Gooseberry Pie, last week). The ms for Kaleidoscope Girl is rewrite of a poem about my daughter, from back in 2011. I wrote the original poem in dactylic tetrameter. For the ms, I’ve tweaked the meter so the rhyme lands at the end of each line, and written several new lines to flesh out the middle of the poem.

In addition to taking my mind off the Sisyphean waiting game that is querying, this was a great exercise to flex my poetic muscles, which I haven’t done in months. Here’s a teaser:

“…now she paints the whole rainbow and rides on the moon
learns to dance brand-new steps while she hums her own tune
as the Milky Way curves in its arc through the sky
she writes poems, equations, the digits of pi…”

Posted in Gooseberry Pie, Kaleidoscope Girl, picture book, poetry, query | Leave a comment