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    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    Self-Acceptance, Denial, and Dancing!

    I just turned down an invitation to a scrapbooking, stamping, card-making party. Here’s what I told my friend Becca.

    Thank you for the invite, but after prayer and counseling, I finally gave myself permission to be uncrafty. Now I’m a free woman! Thank-you, Jesus! And the only time I do crafts is when volunteering in my kids’ classrooms and even their teachers are learning that it’s best not to assign Mrs. Denmark to the craft table.

    It’s true. Well, ok, not the counseling part. But I did struggle with this for a long time. I have friends who create the most beautiful cards and scrapbooks. And when I see their work, I feel like my macaroni art is somehow less-than. But finally I realized that I don’t have to be crafty to be a valuable member of the party-planning committee for my second-grader’s class. Help is always needed at the games station or the food table.

    And when my boys graduate, get married, or hack the Pentagon, they will not expect a magnificent scrapbook detailing every step of the journey. Their wives or the FBI might ask for such documentation, but I will send them some version of the email I sent Becca.

    Now, you might be asking, and rightly so, when I plan to apply this same process of self-acceptance to my exercise endeavors. When am I going to come to the realization that I cannot and will never be able to Zumba?

    All I can tell you is that I’m still in that stage of wanting so badly to be like my friend Rebecca, who happens to be a Zumba instructor and happens to rock hardcore. I’m still hoping that if I keep going, keep trying, what I do in Zumba class will someday look a little like what Rebecca does. I know, I have some disastrously-executed scrapbook pages that should clue me in otherwise.

    In Zumba world, I’m still trying to be someone I’m not. Still lamenting, “Why, oh why, was I born without rhythm?”

    Recently my husband came home from a Boy Scout pack meeting where a Native American dance troop performed traditional dances.

    “You should have been there,” he teased, “You look more Native American than all of those dancers combined.”

    He’s right. All my family’s Native American heritage seemed to come out in me. Which is cool. I like my cheekbones and dark hair.

    Kory went on to complain about his headache. “Do they have to use the drum for every song?”

    “Yes,” I explained. “My people have no rhythm. Without the drum, it’s just random stomping and screaming.”

    Oh, to be Latin! To move like a flame! Like an exotic bird in flight! Like a river of melted chocolate! Heck, I’d even settle for dancing like a cucumber in a sombrero.

    But it’s not to be, and someday, with prayer and counseling, I will accept my rhythm-less state. I’ll stop asking God why he made me with these hips and this badonkadonk yet gave me the moves of a walrus. At that point, I will probably buy a curly, red wig and start clogging. Maybe I can tap my Irish roots for a little Riverdancing magic.

    So what about you? What have you given your self permission to stink at? What are you in denial about? And what are you going to keep working on just in case the term "a natural" is for the birds?

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    What do You Collect?


    To some they’re creepy. To some they’re cute. To some they’re Ordinary Wizarding Levels, exams every Hogwarts student must take.

    I find them fascinating.

    And sometimes creepy.

    And sometimes cute.

    In all honesty, I can’t explain their appeal to me. I’d like to say something clever about owl symbolism. But I don’t think wisdom had anything to do with my impulse purchase of owl towels, or the incessant begging that got me my owl PJs for Christmas.

    And I certainly can’t claim any sort of dignity in this picture. I showed it to my kids and when Monkey laughed, Chunky leaped to my defense. “Don’t laugh at Mommy,” he told his older brother.

    “It’s all right,” I said, “Mommy is wearing an owl hat. You can laugh at Mommy when she’s wearing an owl hat.”

    Sometimes there’s an explanation behind why we like certain things. I know several people who love butterflies because they represent metamorphosis. My friend and critique partner, Beth Vogt, who gave me the awesome owl hat, loves hummingbirds and has a lovely reason for doing so.

    She isn’t fond of owls, however, after a particularly nasty one sprang from my imagination into the pages of my novel and made her skin crawl. I think giving me the hat was her way of saying she accepts me despite the crazy things I make her read. Either that or she wanted to see if I'd wear it to the next writing conference I attend.

    Another friend, also named Beth, who made my awesome steampunk owl bag, is all about octopi. She doesn't exactly collect them, yet. But she is developing her own line of steampunk baby accessories called Kinder Kraken. I hope someday to write children's stories about the adorable baby kraken she's created.

    Speaking of writing, as I said before, owls have already made it into one of my books. Yes, Blood Beak the owl is horrifying and unnatural not cute and cuddly, but I’ve already thought of another character, Woot the owl, who might make an appearance in a children’s book someday. And he WILL be soft and downy and squishy in all the right ways.

    I also collect ornate keys and love clocks, and I have stories brewing that involve those items. Even if at first we struggle to explain why we like a certain thing, if we reflect a moment we often discover that the object ignites our imagination or connects with our emotions.

    So I’d love to know, what do you like? What draws you to a shop window? What do you collect? Is there a specific reason or does it simply capture your fancy?

    And how do YOU feel about owls? Creepy? Cute? Equivalent to the SATs? Please share.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Writing, Weaponry, and my 2012 Song of the Year

    Here we go with the New Year thing again. It seems like everyone is picking a special word for the year. A term that represents a goal to strive for. Dream. Reach. Scrub. A worthy discipline to inspire them. Love. Forgive. Sabotage.

    I like this new trend of picking one word instead of making an unkeepable New Year’s resolution. Really, I do. The problem is, I have trouble staying focused on one word. Still, I decided to give it a shot. I concentrated and tried to come up with a word for myself for 2012. This is what happened:


    Yeah, you see the problem. They’re all such great words! I couldn’t possibly pick one.

    After I gave myself a migraine trying to think about only one word for more than a nanosecond, I admitted defeat and decided to carry on my tradition of picking a song for the year.

    It took me all of two seconds to realize the obvious choice for 2012’s song of the year. Given my near constant state of career frustration, it could be none other than Vampire Weekend’s "Giving Up the Gun."

    Let me explain.

    On second thought, I think I’ll make you watch the video before I explain. That’ll be more fun.

    All I’m going to say is, I’m pretty sure this song is NOT about making a career as a novelist or meant to be any sort of commentary on the publishing industry. But it could be.

    I love it! So many good moments. Joe Jonas’ fancy footwork, disinterested handshake and disgusted shirt wipe. The samurai who hacks the ball in half. The fake blonde twins. The ambiguous guys in racing gear. Ahem, THE AMAZON! Overconfident Jake Gyllenhaal getting pinged on the butt. And, of course, Little Red Tights playing her way to the top only to face her toughest competitor—herself.

    I laugh every time I see that video, but it wasn’t in my thoughts when I adopted "Giving Up the Gun" as this year’s song. Really it was the title and lyrics that sprang into my mind when I anticipated the coming year. Apparently, the song refers to a period in Japanese history when the country extradited foreigners, cut off trade, and instead of using guns, reverted back to the sword. Sorta rocks, doesn't it? But it’s the weary tone that strikes me. There such a sense of loss, regret, longing, defeat, and, of course, flaming tennis balls.

    You see how I can relate?

    Just as I did at this time last year, I find myself discouraged, without a contract, without direction, in between projects and wondering why bother? Why pour myself into another 90,000 word manuscript that no one cares about? How can I do this to my family? Aren’t I depriving them of time and resources and balanced meals for my own selfish, unrealistic goals of being an author?

    My husband has heard all of this whiney mumbo jumbo about a thousand times, but, because he is awesome, he doesn’t tell me to give it up and go get a job. He probably should, but he doesn’t. Instead he is patient, understanding, and encouraging. Despite his crusty, logical exterior, he has an artist’s heart. After one of my recent rants he told me to put all the publishing stuff aside and just write because it’s what I love. Instead of trying harder to make money and advance my career, he encouraged me to let go of the stuff that weighs me down the most—my continued professional failure—and just do what I love.

    In the writing world there’s a collective joke about getting stuck somewhere in your plot. If you say, “Man enters with a gun,” around writers, they’ll chuckle and recognize that the author is trying to force action and excitement into a scene that has gone wandering off into La La Land. “Man enters with a gun” is a last ditch effort to save something probably not worth saving. Better to go back, rewrite, or start fresh.

    This year I am giving up the gun. I refuse to use force—to push and strive and cry and sweat in my attempt to achieve my goals. I am going to write for fun and for love and because I have the most awesome husband on the planet and because I can’t make myself think about one word at a time and because I love my writing community and because my brother wants me to blog more. I will accept and revel in any opportunities God places in my lap, but I will not enter into any professional encounters holding a gun.

    If you’re wondering if I intend to start carrying a rusty sword around, or a tennis racket for that matter, you can rest assured that I will be weapon-free for the next twelve months. I may have to get a pair of red tights, which, on certain legs (not mine), can be slightly intimidating. But I promise to use my crimson hosiery only for good.