Saying Goodbye to Who We Used to Be

This weekend, my former writing instructor, Tod Goldberg, wrote a tribute to Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who passed away last Friday. Tod wrote eloquently about what The Beasties’ music meant to him. One line of his tribute really stuck with me:

…you begin to recognize that the sadness you feel isn’t just about the loss of that person’s life, but also the recognition that who you were when you met that person is long gone, too.

This simple truth helped me understand why we can be so overwhelmed with sadness at the passing of someone we’ve never even met. After all, while we might feel like we knew Adam Yauch or Clarence Clemons or Whitney Houston or any of the countless others who we’ve lost recently through their public personas, most of us have never met, much less been a part of these people’s lives. What is it then, that causes the heart-wrenching void we feel when a favorite musician, actor, novelist or other public person dies?

As Tod so perfectly articulates, it’s the knowledge that who we once were, at a certain place, in a certain time, is gone forever. The young child, sitting in a mother’s lap, listening to a beloved story, the awkward pre-teen dressed to impress at a first dance, the college student, cramming for finals in a dorm room, the young parents trying to quiet a restless newborn in the wee hours of the morning. We recognize in the passing of the people who formed the backdrop to our lives that we can never again be who we were then – that a certain part of us has disappeared forever. It’s bittersweet, the acknowledgement that we’ve matured and grown, left behind pieces of ourselves in the process that only seem more dear to us with the passage of time.  Through the faded lens of nostalgia, even the bad morphs into good and we long for the feeling of being in that place and time again.

The loss of who we were seems to hit especially hard at this time of year, with Spring turning into Summer, the time of graduations and moving on. At this time last year, I was planning my older daughter’s high school graduation. Amid the excitement of parties and celebrations and orientation for her new life on a university campus, came the sad acknowledgement that things in our house would never again be the same, that a special period in our lives was about to depart from us forever and that we would all be changed. Walking her new campus during orientation, I was struck with nostalgia for my own college days, so much so that even the tough times began to seem perfect and magical.  It wasn’t simply my youth that I missed. It was the person I was in those days – the person I was before launching headlong into adulthood and the working world and before becoming a wife and mother. It was a time when I wasn’t even aware of all the milestones I was checking off – milestones I now realize are all in my rear-view mirror.

Ahead of me lies one daughter’s middle school graduation, the other daughter’s completion of her freshman year in college, our first summer without two children at home, and at the end of the year, a significant birthday that marks the passage of way more time than I’d like to admit.  I don’t mean to seem so morose – I embrace the future and look forward to all that is new. But I can’t help missing those people, places and times now departed. Because after all, their loss means saying goodbye to who I was when I encountered them – a part of me that I have to let go.

Why Do We Procrastinate With the Things We Love?

Sunday morning admission: I am currently suffering from a bad case of procrastination. If my children read this, they will laugh and feel vindicated. I am not the family member who typically suffers from this condition. I’m the one who gets things done, who takes control and finishes what I start.  I do this at work, with the household chores, with activities that need to be scheduled and arrangements that must be made. Why then, do I find it so difficult to do that which I profess to love so much?  Why am I procrastinating with my writing?

Writing is the thing I’ve most wanted to do since I can remember. All of us have ideas about what we will be when we grow up, but then life happens and oftentimes, we don’t end up where we thought we’d be. I have no regrets about my educational and career paths, but about ten years ago I felt something was missing. Turns out it was the writing. As a kid, I spent countless hours penning stories and poems in my room. I kept detailed diaries and rarely missed a day’s entry. I wrote letters to friends and relatives and even to my girlhood celebrity crushes (David Cassidy, I apologize for the stalker-like notes I’m sure I sent to you). My best friend and I created “magazines” for our own amusement and when we temporarily lived in different cities, receiving her magazine in the mail and creating one to send back to her was often the highlight of my week (by the way, this friend, Ms. Caitlin Rother, is now a very successful writer…go figure!).

I went back to my creative writing roots several years ago by taking some courses through the UCLA Writer’s Program. I started with short stories – the first of which was dreadful, as I’m sure my former instructor would attest. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised and when it’s not, well, the results are less than stellar.  But with time and practice, I reconnected with my writing passion and finally had one of my stories published. Soon after, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel. I had an idea – I just needed the time and energy to execute it. At the time, I had several demanding clients in my technology PR practice, my kids were young and equally demanding, and life moved at a frantic pace. And yet, somehow, I was determined to write, and at the end of three years, produced a first draft.  I began pitching and querying agents, embarking on what I’d hoped would eventually be a new career. Of course, as any experienced writer will tell you, it’s just not that easy and, now, I realize that maybe the novel just wasn’t that ready. After many promising responses and requests to see more pages or the full manuscript, I ended up with a drawer full of rejection notes and a bad case of the writer’s blues. Things got busy on the work and home front and I put my novel aside.

But the writing bug didn’t disappear. Seven years later, I’m back in a writing class, trying to rewrite the novel.  It’s a painstaking process that often involves revising the same five pages fifteen times.  I know that the odds are against me and that perseverance is the main ingredient for success, and after all this time I have to ask myself if I truly want this as much as I’d thought when I was a ten-year old, scribbling stories in my room.  The answer may be no and if it is, I have to be willing to just enjoy the process for what it is. The good news is that there are now a myriad of other publishing options (self-publishing, ebooks and the like) and new, creative outlets for writing that never existed before, like this blog.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: procrastination. It’s easy to understand why humans procrastinate when it comes to mundane or dreaded tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or reorganizing a closet. But why do we procrastinate when it’s a task we presumably enjoy, an activity that is supposedly so close to our heart’s desire?  In the past two weeks, though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about my novel, I’ve yet to put more than a sentence on the page.  Even for this blog, I realized that my goal of a weekly post is two days overdue and getting myself to sit down and type this required two cups of coffee, a completely silent kitchen and more than a little self-bribery (i.e. trying to tell myself that I could look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds and the Sunday paper only after knocking off a full page of something – anything!).

At the end of the day, do we procrastinate on the activities we love out of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? For myself, I can only think that it’s a little of both. If I write and fail, I will wonder what the point was, why I spent so much time in pursuit of a dream that may not come to pass. If I succeed, I will wonder how I can possibly meet the expectations and requirements of the editing/publishing process, how I can ensure that my novel is not a one-hit wonder, and how I might balance my current, financially rewarding career with writing. Procrastination is my defense mechanism, the thing that makes me pause and question myself, the process of reminding myself that nothing is quite as perfect as we imagine it might be. Succeed or fail, there will still be good days and bad, things about writing I love and things about it that I hate.

For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that for a few moments this morning, I managed to conquer the procrastination monster and pen a few paragraphs for this blog.  I’ll reward myself by reading the Sunday paper and wasting some time on social media…until I realize that my writing class deadline for the next installment of my revised novel is due on Tuesday…and I go to battle with the procrastination monster all over again.

Let the Games Begin…The Hunger Games, That Is

I know, I can hear you sighing and see the rolling of your eyes already. If you’re the parent of a child who falls into the Young Adult novel demographic, you’re already tired of hearing about the latest blockbuster trilogy premiering this week in a theater near you. Hell, you’re probably recovering right now, giant cup of coffee in hand, promising yourself you’ll never give in to your child’s pleading to attend a midnight premier ever again.

If you don’t have a child of a certain age in your household, you’re wondering what the hype is all about and why you should care.

So, I’m here to tell you why: because The Hunger Games is a great story. Fans of War and Peace and The Corrections (I can see Franzen cringing at the notion of Suzanne Collins’ books sitting next to his on Oprah’s bookshelf) alike: I’m talking to you, too.  This is a damn good story.

Let me add that I also enjoyed all four Twilight books. You do not need to be a “young adult” to enjoy good YA fiction. And if you’re a parent whose children enjoyed these books, you have even more compelling reasons to pick them up yourself.

Here’s why you – and by you, I include PhDs in English literature, along with fans of People Magazine – should read The Hunger Games:

1)    Everyone loves a good story. As Lisa Cron, author of the forthcoming Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence explains so articulately in her recent NY Times op ed, it’s not the “exquisite sentences and breathtaking images” that grab us when we read a novel, but “a sense of urgency and the desire to know what happens next”.  It’s the story itself that hooks us, no matter how beautifully written or how advanced the vocabulary. I dare you to read the first page of The Hunger Games and not want to keep going.

2)    Connect with your kids and be a role model. We all want our kids to read, right? The best way to encourage your kids to read is to be a role model for reading yourself. I think we can all agree that the old “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t a stellar parenting strategy. Doctors will tell you that if you want your kids to eat right and exercise, you have to put down the potato chips and get off the couch yourself.  Let your kids see you reading and they’ll know it’s a priority for you, something you value and deem important. I would go one step further and say that it’s even better when you take an interest in what they’re reading and can discuss it with them. So if they’re devouring The Hunger Games series, maybe you should take a look, too, and see what all the fuss is about.

3)    Tackle important issues in a context kids can understand. The great thing about YA fiction is that the best of it can present important social and cultural topics in a way that kids find interesting and can relate to. It also gives parents a perfect opening to discuss important topics. The Hunger Games presents a dystopian world in which a big brother-like Capitol pits young “tributes” from districts of differing socio-economic levels against each other in a widely hyped and televised fight to the death. This fictional world raises so many relevant real-world issues from personal liberties to war and violence, from hunger and poverty to the role of the media and “image-making” in our lives. Furthermore, the hero of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, is a young female.  In a political realm where women’s rights are being increasingly threatened and young girls have to sift through a pop culture wasteland of Jersey Shore and The Kardashians, to seek real female role models, a heroine like Katniss is a welcome figure.

So tonight, I’ll be braving the crowds at our local theater with my 13-year old daughter and her friend and I’m honestly not sure who is more excited to see how Collins’ vision is translated to the big screen. Either way, I know we’ll have much to talk about on the car ride home.

Introducing Suburban Dirt

Welcome to Suburban Dirt, a blog about the trials, tribulations and perspectives of a working mom in suburbia. With this blog, I hope to share my unique views on a number of topics including the challenges of parenting in today’s modern, suburban world.

I’m a PR/marketing professional by trade, a writer and mother of two teen-aged girls, 19 and nearly 14. Though born and raised here in the U.S.,  I’ve been married to a Swede for more than 25 years and therefore, have developed a love of green marzipan frosting, Akvavit and free healthcare (although still not an Abba fan).

My day job for the past 20 years has involved developing corporate communications programs for technology companies like Cisco, IBM, Boeing and start-ups too numerous to count.  I like my day job and it certainly pays the bills — not to mention, keeps me up-to-date on the latest technological innovations – a very important factor in parenting today’s tech savvy kids. That said, my true passions are fiction writing, literature and music.  I was also a fitness instructor for 20+ years and if my poor, aging hips and back had cooperated, I might still be barking orders from a step or spin bike. Instead, I placate myself with weekly Pilates sessions and walking around my beautiful, Southern California suburb with our German Shepard puppy.

I’m a fan of college sports (UCLA and anyone playing USC), swimming (sport of choice for my girls), The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, movies and Dave Matthews Band concerts, and I’m a bit of a political junkie. So fair warning that all these topics and more may arise in my blog posts from time to time. I’m also a published short story author and an aspiring novelist, so this blog is definitely another outlet for a mind that has a bit more creativity than can be expressed in a standard product press release.

I hope you enjoy my perspectives, musings and, yes, occasional rants.