Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Voting and Things

November 8, election day 2016, also marks a full 2 months since my dad died. Is it really only such a short span of time? It seems at once to be forever ago and also impossible that it ever happened.

I so wish my dad was still here so he could cast his vote this election. He was a lifelong Republican, the old-school kind of conservative. But this year, he had planned to vote for Hillary. He and my mom both.

My parents took/take voting seriously. They never missed any election, even if it was a tiny county seat or school board position. And this is saying a lot, because during the years we lived at Wind Cave, they had to drive about 45 minutes to their polling place--one way. And if you remember the years before climate change took hold, it was often snowy and blustery this time of year. Not to mention that about half the trip was on a dirt road.

They set a great example of the importance of each person's vote. Ever since I have been old enough to vote, I, too, have never missed an opportunity to exercise my voice. I have it lucky--my polling place is the elementary school my kids attended, just a few blocks from my house. The lines are never long, it's easy to get to, and everyone is friendly and often people I know.

So this year, I'm dedicating my vote to my dad. He and I never agreed on politics, until this presidential election. (I can't say we really even agree on politics, but we do agree that Trump is a "jackass" and as my mom says, "I wouldn't vote for him for dog catcher.") And to my mom, whose entire life has changed by virtue of her husband of 67 years dying, her move to an entirely new place, and adjusting to living in an apartment building with other old people and having some of her freedoms and independence disappear. Still, on this election, she plans to board the assisted living shuttle that will take her to her new polling place and cast her vote for Hillary.

I hope everyone will vote. I live in Idaho, where my liberal democratic vote will never make a difference in the outcome of a national election. We are one of the reddest states in the nation. But who knows? Things change. We did once upon a time have a democrat for governor. I am proud to live in a state legislative district that is quite liberal. And Boise did have the largest democratic caucus on record this year. But I vote because my voice is important, even if it won't change the fact of Idaho's politics. I don't take it lightly, because every outcome is important.

No excuses, people. Honor the giants who have gone before us to secure our rights to choose our own government.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Memories of My Dad

My dad died on September 8, 2016. I have never known a world without him, so it will take some getting used to. I want to share some of my random memories.

Let's be honest right up front. My dad had a temper, and there were many times as a child that his big booming voice combined with his six-foot height looming over me had me quaking in my shoes. Which was probably the effect he hoped for. We had a tumultuous relationship at times, both of us prone to yelling and anger, while also staunchly stubborn in our belief in our own rightness. But that's not all there was to him, and I think the delightful memories outweigh the difficult ones.

I could tell stories all day long, just like my dad, so it seems apt to tell a few stories. I'll try to be brief.

When I was a kid, I got great delight out of hiding from my dad when he came home from the office and jumping out to scare him. I'm pretty sure he always knew exactly where I was, but he played along, and we'd laugh.

On Sunday afternoons, at least when there was no football or KU sporting event on tv, we would sit cross-legged on the living room floor playing the card game War, which can tend to last for hours, especially with just two players. We had a great time as the game tilted back and forth. He never once looked at his watch.

He used to tease me with a rhyme: "There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good. And when she was bad, she was horrid." It's not very nice, and I don't think it ever made me behave any better. I was not an easy child, and I'm pretty sure that he recited this rhyme the way some people count to ten--as a way of calming himself down instead of lashing out, which no doubt is what he really wanted to do. (I've had those moments as a parent, so I know.) What made me most mad about that rhyme was not the truth that I was horrid when I was bad. I knew that. But it referred to a girl having a curl, and my hair has always been as straight as a pine needle. I always wanted the mess of curls my brother Mike has, and dad knew it. I always got mad and yelled that I didn't have any curls. Good times.

There were other genuinely good times, like walking into his office when I got off the school bus each day, just to say hi and have a moment with him all to myself. Weekends when we'd hop in the pickup truck and head to the ranch. He fixed up a cushioned area for me in the back of the truck and I loved sitting back there as we bounced down the back roads. When he stepped up often to drive me across state for debate tournaments. When we went to Happy Joe's in Rapid City after seeing the movie American Graffiti and we laughed and laughed. He loved to laugh, and he had a great sense of humor. My dad was at every event any of his children ever did--whether it was sports, music, theater, debate. He was so proud of everything we did.

My teenage years were particularly hard for all involved, but he didn't hold that against me. In between all the yelling and crying and slamming of doors on my part, he still showed he loved and cared for me. I remember one time when my mom was in the hospital for surgery--back in those days you stayed in the hospital for several days. As I recall, our kitchen was in the middle of being remodeled, as well. But dad and I made some lame attempts at cooking. I decided to try sweet and sour meatballs, which is not a difficult recipe for an experienced cook, but for a 15 year old who had never done much more than bake cookies, and a middle aged man who could fry an egg, it was a challenge. It would have been easy for the ordeal to turn into another fit of anger and yelling, but it didn't. It turned into one of those moments where you can only laugh at your own absurdity, and boy did we bust a gut laughing that night.

By the time I got married just after college, I was delighted to have my dad walk me down the aisle.
And later when I had my first child Melissa, I have fond memories of him holding her tiny body and singing "Oh My Darling, Clementine."
                 He and my mom stayed at our house waiting for Emily to show up (ten days after her due date), but the death of his own mother called him away, the very day she was born. That was hard and bittersweet. He had no pride when it came to playing with the grandchildren, including tea parties with Peter. My parents visited us frequently--as they did my brothers and their families as well--and gave my children their own sets of memories.

And when we visited the Black Hills, there was the inevitable trip to Flintstones.  And fishing.

We started a family tradition of gathering every five years to celebrate Mom and Dad's anniversaries and their legacy of family. These were always full of fun and laughter, some alcohol for the adults, and my dad at the head of whatever table we were at.

I loved listening to my dad's stories. About his childhood and large extended family. About his Navy days. About his park service adventures. One year for a family reunion celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary, we were in north Idaho and we visited Farragut State Park, which was my dad's naval basic training base in 1944. He walked us around, showed us where he learned to swim, and delighted as his grandchildren found his photo among the many photo albums of sailors who had trained there.
A couple of years ago, when he and mom were here in Boise for a visit, we were at an exhibit on WWII. There was a big map of the Pacific, and dad proudly showed me all the places he had been during the war, answering all my questions happily.

At another anniversary reunion, their 60th, the whole group of us attempted to play Apples to Apples. What a riot that was. Most of us had had quite a few drinks in us, and my dad kept saying "This game is stupid," because he didn't really get the point of it. But he nevertheless kept playing. I hope he realized by the end that the point was to be silly and laugh a whole lot.

As I grew farther and farther into adulthood, my relationship with my dad changed and deepened. As a child, I had been afraid to stand up to him, because he belonged to the authoritarian school in which children were to obey their parents without question. (Something I never really managed to do.) But by the time I was a parent myself, I was brave enough to stand firm on a few things, and he was gracious enough to learn a new way to be my dad. There were even a few times when he humbly acknowledged that I was right and that he had actually learned something from me. The last 10-20 years of his life, my dad was a more mellow fellow, as often happens with age. Heart surgery, I think, gave him a second chance for more time with his family, and he took hold of that opportunity with an open heart.

This past summer, we came for a visit to the Black Hills for the Wind Cave reunion associated with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which was my dad's career. It was so fun to reunite with old friends, and I think he especially enjoyed sharing park service stories with old colleagues. I certainly enjoyed listening to his yarns.

When he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and told he did not have long, we stripped away any leftover veneers and had the blessed opportunity to share final weeks with him in utter honesty and love. We had hoped for more time, a few months for final goodbyes and making arrangements for my mom. We didn't get that extra time, but we did have those two weeks of time to make sure we said what we needed to say. I can't say for sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion that, knowing he was dying anyway, he was able to let go quickly and painlessly, knowing that his children would take care of his wife and that going now would lessen our agony in experiencing a protracted ordeal with much emotional pain. He was an independent guy who didn't really like asking for help, and wouldn't have wanted his family to suffer along with him. He made a clean break of it. (Just my theory.)

Before he started chemo, he had his hair shaved off, just because it was going to fall out anyway. He texted us this last photo of himself:
He said, "I haven't had hair this short since I went to boot camp in 1944!" And he laughed. His laugh was so big, boisterous, and frequent. I'll always be able to hear it in my heart.

I can imagine him now setting up a cribbage table with his old buddies Bruce, Bill, and Doug telling stories about the war and the parks, laughing it up, maybe a beer in hand. I hope that's what heaven has in store for him.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Dark Hole of My Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As someone with a mental illness, I feel qualified to talk about this subject. But, as I often do, let me start with a couple of disclaimers: First, everyone's mental illness or mental health is very personal and will likely be different from one person to another. When I talk about my mental illness, I don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself. Second, I prefer to use the phrase "living with depression" rather than "suffering" or "struggling with depression." While any illness is a struggle a lot of the time, I think life in general is a struggle a lot of the time. So why pretend that my struggle is somehow more than someone else's struggle. We're all trying to live as best we can, aren't we? Maybe I'm just nitpicking at semantics, but that's where I'm at.

Depression is a hard disease to describe to others, because all of us feel depressed at times, right? But for me, depression isn't like that feeling all the time--sad about specific things. It's more like being unglued from the rest of the world. I've described it before as living in a deep, dark hole, knowing that everyone else is out there in the light and you have no way to get out of the hole. I spent most of my life clawing to get out of that hole, scrambling, screaming, leaping, but to no avail. You cannot simply paste on a smile, do some self talk about how good you have it, and magically rise from the hole.

I'm sure it is different for everyone, but for me, medications and counseling were the first step out of the dark. But only the first step. They allowed me to function in my daily life, but did not erase my disease or the hole. They just provided a foothold on the wall.

People who meet me for the first time are surprised when they eventually learn I live with depression, because I seem happy most of the time. And I am happy. Happy is not the opposite of the disease known as depression. I have much that makes me happy--a great family, a supportive and patient husband, kids that do me proud, talents that I enjoy and share, three silly dogs, a miraculous natural world.

Depression is that invisible. Truly. You don't see the hole where I live. When you see me, you see a person actively engaged in the world around her. The hole is my reality, but not yours. If you know me, you know about the hole because I talk about it, but you never see it or experience it. It is my own personal hell. It's not a choice. It's a part of me that is permanently attached.

It took me a long time to realize this as a permanent state. It's hard to accept. I spent so much of my life wanting it to go away--and I think that might be a reason for the high rate of suicides in mentally ill people, the wish for it to go away. There is no other way to escape it. There is only living with it.

I have found living with depression to be worth it. While painful, it's not impossible. And this is a message I try to share as often as possible.

After all these years of treating my depression with an ever-increasing arsenal of knowledge about the disease and about myself, I don't feel like I am living in the dark hole anymore. It's still there, calling for me all the time, though. It tells me that everything is useless. All my efforts don't amount to anything being better. There is no point. The darkness of the world is so immense and powerful that no matter what I do, the world is doomed. Not only that, I have personally contributed to the problems, so I am to blame--I am guilty of hatred, waste, pollution, fear, apathy, and pride. I might as well jump back into the hole, wallow there at the bottom, and waste away.

I'm nothing if not a rebel, so I resist the call. Do you know how much energy that takes? I fight it every minute of the day. Even on meds, even after years of counseling. These have given me tools, but it still requires constant effort. So I have learned to give myself plenty of rest to combat this exhaustion. I sleep a lot, more than most people anyway. Not only does it help refresh me, it is also an escape; when I am asleep, I can't hear the dark hole's call.

Another escape for me is to be outside--my back yard is fine, but even better is to be out on the trails, or even better in the mountains and trees with no other humans around. Seeing the stars light up the night is, ironically, a balm of darkness and light mixed. Listening to the roar of a river does more than just drown out the call of the dark hole; it is the voice of a better place. A hawk's screech. A campfire's crackle. Waves lapping over rocks. These are voices of a different sort that speak of peace to a troubled mind.

But there is more to living with depression that trying to escape it. I want to be part of the world outside of the dark hole, which is even more difficult to me than being in the hole. See what a battle of the mind this is? There is always a niggling sensation that I'm doing it all wrong, that I will be revealed any minute as a horrible hypocrite and fake, that life is nothing but a wobbly house of cards and it is about to crumble any minute now.

And why do I tell you all this? It's not because I want your sympathy. I don't need you to pity me, console me, or try to fix me. This is my disease and I can handle it. However, I do want your understanding. This quest for understanding is reciprocal--my wish to be understood motivates me to try to understand others, and compels me to help others, because of our shared humanity and pain. As introverted as I am, I cannot manage without this human connection. My efforts are an expression of love and peace, which, while aimed at others, also finds its way back to me. And I guess that's where this all circles back to--loving and honoring myself through this expression of my truth.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Learning Curve, Part I

I just returned from the Independent Book Publishers Association conference entitled Publishing University. I learned a lot, mostly about all the stuff I have yet to learn. Isn't that often how learning is?

It might surprise people who know me to hear that I went to this conference. My biases are usually pretty clear, and for most of my life, my bias has been in favor of the traditional NYC publishing houses. If an author can't make it there, they can't make it anywhere. In the course of my work as a freelance editor, SCBWI volunteer, and book store maniac, I have seen my fair share of not-so-great (and some really bad) self-published books, and that informed my bias. However, as I have experienced many times in my life, biases are there to be exploded so that a person can grow and prosper.

Here's how it has evolved so far for me. I've been writing young adult (YA) novels for going on two decades. The first ten years of that was learning just how to write a novel and how my art form worked. Since then, I have attended conferences, workshops, retreats, webinars, and had individual critiques with agents and editors. I've worked in mentorships with some of the best authors and editors in the kid lit world. And I have been submitting those novels that seemed ready to agents for a number of years.

Throughout this time, I have continued to hone my art, revised countless times, and tried to keep the rejection from discouraging me. After all, anyone who spends some time in the publishing crowd knows that rejection is just part of the job. Many rejections came with glowing words about the quality of my writing, the love of the characters, and even sometimes referrals to others who might want to represent me, but no offers of representation. Because of my bias toward traditional publishing, I vehemently avoided any suggestion or contact with self-publishing as a viable alternative.

But sometime last year, my year of expansion, I started to wonder if I was closing myself off to a valid avenue of publishing my books. I'm not getting any younger, and the traditional publishers aren't inclined to be more open to submissions--quite the opposite it seems most of the time.

Still, my bias against self-publishing was strong. On top of that, the idea of doing all the work on my own does not appeal to me. I want to be able to spend most of my effort focused on writing good stuff. An idea took root and blossomed: what about starting a publishing company made of up entirely of its own authors, and those authors work for and with each other? A blend of self-publishing with many of the collaborative benefits of traditional publishing. Authors would have creative authority while also getting editorial, design, distribution, and publicity from a team.

That's what drew me to attend this conference, and my bias has been dashed into the dust. I used to think that anyone who couldn't make it in the Big 5 just wasn't worthy or professional. I had an image that authors who took a non-traditional path were amateurs, intent on putting their book out despite bad writing and no editing. That may be the case for some, but the folks at this conference were amazing. They are committed to great books, from good writing to good design and good production. Contrary to what I had assumed, most of those present were not authors publishing their own material. Most companies started out of frustration at the myopic approach of traditional publishing who wanted to be more creative.

Some of these publishers (like Little Pickle Press) are breaking ground in producing books using green/environmentally friendly materials such as recycled papers and soy inks. Some are offering publication based on how many readers you can get to vote on your project based on samples you provide (like Inkshares). Some are truly niche markets. Some want to promote high literary quality that sometimes doesn't get noticed in trade publishing. Some are corporate publishers, using their expertise to produce books that promote what they are doing corporately (like Patagonia Books). It was astounding, really, to see all the variety of niches and approaches. And diversity of ages, ethnicity, gender, and subject matter.

Kwame Alexander gave a keynote about his years before winning the Newberry in which he self-published his own poetry as well as books by other authors. I attended sessions where I learned about dozens of apps a publisher can use, personal branding, hiring support services, and, possibly my favorite session, hybrid publishing.

I spent two days pondering how I want to structure my cooperative publishing venture and whether it might be better to try going with one of these many small presses that are already in business. I keep coming back to my original idea: a group of authors who contract to work together to help one another publish our books with the highest standards of writing, design, and book production that we can. Not to avoid the hard and difficult process of editing, marketing, etc, but to avoid the many years of submitting to indifferent others and instead using those years to do the work. Because I know already that my writing is good and my stories are good. I don't need affirmation. I, of course, want my book edited and revised over and over until it is great. And I also want the same for other authors like me who are doing great writing but not getting anywhere in the maze that is traditional publishing. I'd rather seek out a life beyond the maze, one that it more of a mountain range with summits to explore and heights to reach instead of prescribed turns and dead ends. Instead of trying so hard to do it "right" by someone else's definition and worrying that I'm not doing it right, I am drawn to this idea that there are many ways to create wonderful books, and no editor or agent has any more knowledge about it than I and my fellow authors do. (I have worked and played in the publishing world in various ways for 30 years; I might even know things these 25 year old editors just out of school don't know.)

Part II of this blog will describe my idea for anyone who might be interested. And here's to all your biases exploding in your face.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I Don't Do New Year's Resolutions

So now that January is coming to an end, I can talk about my goals for the year. Last year a friend of mine asked people to select a word that would be their intention for the year. I chose "Expand."

And 2015 was a great year to expand my horizons, physically and emotionally. I traveled to new places within Idaho, which was lovely. I traveled to Wales, very lovely. I took a camping trip with Melissa and we saw some new parts of Washington and Oregon together. I tried a few new things, like sea kayaking, and took a jet boat ride on the Snake River. I got arrested for civil disobedience for a cause I am passionate about. I made some new friends.

I had to expand my life by letting go of the youngest child of mine as he started out on his journey beyond home. It makes life at home a lot different, but also gives me a chance to focus on other things besides what the kids are doing.

I expanded the number of dogs in our home by one cute little golden retriever, Gryff.

So what about 2016? I am choosing the word "DREAM." I have a couple of dreams I'd like to work on this year.

It's always a little scary to talk about dreams, because sometimes they sound silly to others, or unrealistic, or just plain ridiculous. But I guess that's the nature of dreams.

So my two primary personal dreams of this year are:

1. Start a publishing company that will be an authors' cooperative, owned and operated by its authors. I'm just in the beginning stages of dreaming this dream, so there are not a ton of specifics to spell out just yet. Suffice it to say that I hope to gather several other children's authors who want to publish really great, high quality books together in our own endeavor on our own terms. If it gets off the ground, it's going to be a big adventure, a risk, and a lot of work. But no more risky than sending off endless queries to agents/editors who don't reply and no more work than researching and writing the books.

2. Help create a tiny house village to house Boise's unhoused. There are some groups already working on this, and I aim to add my dreams to theirs and see what we can do to help some motivated people create a new kind of housing situation for themselves. It won't end homelessness, I am well aware of that. But for a certain portion of people, it might be the stepping stone to transition out of living on streets or in shelters and work toward having a permanent home. Serving the homeless has been a passion of mine my entire adult life. Recently, however, I began to feel that it's not enough to offer meals and shelters. I am moved and called to help people find true homes and get help as they make their own dreams come true.

I am sure these dreams might not be everyone's dreams. But here I go, chasing them in my head-on way. People are fond of telling dreamers all the reasons their dreams are not possible, and I know there are many obstacles. But I also know that problems can be overcome. Obstacles can be knocked down. Some of the events I experienced in the expansive living of 2015 have helped me to dare to dream these dreams for 2016. Thank you to those who inspire the dreaming and encourage the journey.

What are your dreams? Why are you not pursuing them? Let's do it.