So much writing to do, so little time

Most of you probably know that I spent some time with my kids in Vietnam a few years ago, but if you don’t, you can see the brief recap in this little video (I made for a continuing education course):

I knew I wanted to write about it even before we left the country because what we were doing was different from most families, let alone single-parent families. I blogged it all and took copious notes then started writing the book in 2008.

I went for it with gusto, writing at night, forming a critique group. I really was going to write a book, I thought. Then life got a bit derailed and I  questioned my ability to write, my parenting choices, the audacity (not to mention hubris) to pen a memoir. I gave up completely.

But when I returned to Portland last summer, the writing group I’d started back when I first began writing the book was still plugging along and still encouraging me to get back in the saddle and finish this damn book. Several months later, I gave in and started editing the 60k+ words I’d managed to get onto paper.

I’d originally written it all in present tense and was absolutely sure that’s what I wanted. Then one reader after another mentioned that the tense bothered them, took them out of the story. Instead of making all the changes that would be required to put it in past tense, I simply quit working on it.

Now I’m back at it, spending weeknights at a local pub, making the edits my critique group encourages. Wondering how seven years have passed since I first began.

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This weekend I got the chance to really sink into it at a family friend’s cabin at the beach.  As of this morning, I have 28,662 words written, edited and ready for the To-Print file.  This makes me ridiculously happy. Happy enough to head down to the water, even amid the wind and rain, to catch a little break.

It’s so nice to be excited about the book once more and I’m ever grateful to Michele, Steve, Natalie, Jaymee and Prado for supporting this project since the beginning. XO.

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Sew Expo

I almost forgot to share the pics of Sew Expo–oops! Friday before last I got the chance to head up with the crowd of Fabric Depot customers to visit the Sewing and Stitchery Expo held each year in Puyallup.  The best part was that my mom was already up there and we got to spend most of the day together and I was able to introduce her to some of my industry friends.

I picked up some patterns, too. For only $5 each, I couldn’t pass up these two new dress patterns, especially the top one from Lisette. Liesl Gibson is one of my favorite designers/pattern writers and if you haven’t made up any of her patterns (she also does Oliver + S and Straight Stitch Society patterns), you really should. She knows what she is doing. 20150228-062509-23109505.jpg

I was able to finally meet Marcy Tilton and her sister Katherine Tilton thanks to Pati Palmer. So much design talent all together!

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My mom and I wandered around and happily ran into Luke‘s quilt at the Pendleton booth. Having done work with him, it makes me ridiculously happy and proud to see his quilts out in the wild.

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My friend Cheryl (of Paradiso Designs) was there and we got to catch up, chatting about bags, customers, industry shows and life in the Pacific Northwest. Then Amy Barickman came by and we  chatted more. I love her Indygo Junction patterns, too, and have made a handful of projects from her patterns. They’re well worth making, I promise!

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I picked up a few other things along the way…a little stamp to make 2.5″ pineapple  blocks, acrylic templates for 3.5″ drunkard’s path blocks, a new rotary cutter from Kai Scissors (and a pinking blade!), and the A Place for Everything bag from Patterns by Annie.

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It was a fun little jaunt for the day, but next year I’d really love to take a class or two.  And teach a class or two, as well, if I can convince the right people.

 

Christmas in SoCal

Finished exterior bottome of the bag

This was a weird Christmas for us: the first when our trio wasn’t together and our first as a duo in Southern California. So we did something new and different.

I’m lucky enough to have my sister live just down the street, so on Christmas Eve, we went to her (bigger and nicer) home and made goodies together. I used my trusty old Good Housekeeping cookbook for the ginger snaps and the recipe Grandma Coates used every Christmas to make butterhorns. 20131227-194426.jpg

Continue reading “Christmas in SoCal”

Sleeping in Seattle

It was supposed to be a birthday trip, but funds were too tight in November to make it happen, so we waited until we could do it right.  With only a few days notice, we decided to go last weekend for  weekend trip.

We caught the bus early to head to the train station downtown .20130227-194514.jpg

It was the first time we’ve ridden a train together in the States and we couldn’t help but compare it to the trains in Vietnam. I couldn’t help but wish we were paying Viet prices (the same trip there would have cost less than $5/each). 20130227-194742.jpg

Audrey wanted pasta carbonara, but the only Italian place we could find didn’t serve it. Instead she got lasagna that came without noodles. Weird. 20130227-194807.jpg

We took the underground tour, though I was obviously the only one really interested in it. Sigh. It was my second trip through and not nearly as interesting as the first time six years ago. 20130227-194958.jpg

The Gum Wall has been there forever, even in the early ’90s when their father and I used to frequent Seattle, but Audrey had never been. She got her first up-close experience. Ew. 20130227-195050.jpg

The light fixtures at Pike Place were amazing. So was the heavy stench of pot being smoked down below us.20130227-195126.jpg

Audrey and Stuart both got their fortunes over by the Big Wheel on the pier, but hers was mind-blowing in its appropriateness for the moment. 20130227-195159.jpg

Our other splurge was visiting the EMP with its leather jacket displays and video game exhibit. 20130227-193742.jpg

We picked up junk food on our second visit to Pike Place.20130227-193722.jpg

The Seattle Public Library was well worth the visit and I have no idea why it’s taken me two decades to venture inside. 20130227-193657.jpg

It’s an amazing library, really. 20130227-193609.jpg

A little call to home in Oregon from a vintage newspaper. 20130227-193638.jpg

Then a late dinner at Deli No More before catching the Bolt bus home. 20130227-193537.jpg

A happy birthday weekend, even if it was a little late.

Too Close for Comfort

Yes, I’m still plugging along at the memoir. It’s taken forever to get through the second draft, something I was sure would be faster than the first. Unfortunately it took me two months and four workshops to get Chapter One to a place I could call good enough.

Who knew it could be so hard to be truly honest in your writing? Anyone who’s published (or even written good) memoir knows that it’s all about being honest about your shortcomings, your emotional responses, your actions. And that’s hella hard.

The first draft I took readers through a leisurely stroll in Hanoi, around Hoan Kiem Lake, to a local grocery and through a classroom visit at an English school. Not once did I stop and tell (or show!) how overwhelmed I was in this huge metropolis, alone with two kids and a handful of borrowed money. Instead, I gave readers a travelogue, appropriate for their first trip to Vietnam’s capitol. But I am not trying to write a travel guide, I’m writing a family travel memoir. It’s just taking me a while to get it right.

As I struggled through the re-writes and edits of Chapter One and the bi-weekly therapy sessions that our writers’ group was turning into, I was forced to deal with my own actions (and more so my inaction). It was painful and ugly. The fact that this was only the first chapter has made me want to seek a new way to do it. Perhaps one that is a bit less of a time-suck.

Then a few days ago, I stumbled onto Salon’s Guide to Writing Memoir and Darin Strauss (author, Half a Life) gave some brilliant advice:

“[S]ince the details will be so persepective-wreckingly close, work hard to increase that distance. Here’s ho. Change your narrator from “i” to “she” (or “he”). Write the whole thing in that third-person voice, and then — after typing your final period — do a word-replace to get yourself back in there. You’ll be amazed at how freeing that is.”

I think I’m going to give it a try; I find myself bogged down by my own embarrassment at being me. Maybe this will give me an out, a way to talk about how it was that I could be so in love with someone I’d move 7000 miles even though I knew it was unrequited, a way to talk about it without being humiliated in the midst of writing.

 

 

Does the editing ever end?

I am fairly certain that the answer is no.

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It’s amazing how many times I have revised sections of the book. Now, in anticipation of having a professional editor read it, I am petrified that I am doing it all wrong.

The real struggle is keeping the voice, my voice consistent. I fall back into business writing sometimes–cold, but detailed. I can write scenes just fine (even Cheryl Strayed told me that when she read an excerpt) but getting the emotions in there is a different story.

That’s the thing about memoir; it’s all about admitting your weaknesses, your pain, your failings. Without them, it isn’t nearly as enjoyable to read. But putting them in is a constant struggle for me.

Rest assured, dear reader, you’ll know more about me and the things I have done, both right and wrong, by the end. You can thank the myriad writers and friends who have made me promise to edit and add and re-word until the pain shows through. I thank them profusely.

Weekend Away

One of the real perks for being with the GuyFriend is that he forces me to slow down sometimes. I tend to have twenty-plus irons in the fire at all times and rarely feel like I can take a breath, let alone a day off to do nothing. My to-do list isn’t getting any shorter that way, y’know.

But it’s amazing to me how great it is for my body and soul to just not worry about that list for a little while. We got home late Sunday afternoon from a three-day trip to Waldo Lake in central Oregon, a respite I needed.

It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized just how much sitting at a desk all day is impairing my healing from the rear-ending accidents. Despite walking for nearly 7 miles on Saturday, my neck didn’t hurt (though I’ll admit to a slight back ache). Even on Sunday, after two nights on the cold, hard ground, my neck could still move without pain. The two stiff bands of muscles that have failed to stop seizing for months, relaxed. There was none of the non-stop ache I’ve come to expect. There were no painful headaches that are a nearly-daily occurrence during the work-week.

I wanted to stay out there longer, avoid going back to the tasks that make me hurt, ache and rely on pain meds. But here I am, back at a keyboard and already my shoulders have tightened, the right side of my neck is aching and the headache is back. Luckily, I have pictures to remind me of the peace that comes with leaving a to-do list at home.

Telling the Story

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Three years since starting my memoir about our adventures in Vietnam, it’s time to get serious about finishing this enormous project. Today I pulled out the myriad versions of chapter after chapter, hoping to bring some order to it all. Seeing it all lying there made me realize just how much writing I have done and think slightly less about the amount of work left to do. Sometimes it feels like an overwhelming idea, compiling all of this, baring my soul in the process. But really, how can I quit after all of this?

Isn’t Life Just Weird

Well, we finally made it back to our house–Audrey and I spent two months with our friends and Stuart spent nearly three months away. The last bits of work (floor, priming, painting, trim) being done by us so we could finally just get him back in the house and living with us. So incredibly frustrating. But he’s back. Sort of.

The weekend after he moved back then he took off to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Luckily, I got to go along, too, to chaperone since it was a school trip. Four days of hanging out with high schoolers was plenty, though I can’t complain much. They’re great kids, some I’ve known for years. And I got to see top-notch plays, which I would have never had the chance to do otherwise. We saw “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Imaginary Invalid,” “Measure by Measure” and “The Language Archive.” I bailed on “Julius Caesar” one night thanks to just not feeling good. I think it was a mix of elevation and loneliness, neither of which I am used to. But the plays were marvelous. It was wonderful to hang out with my son again, it’s been a long three months without him around. Of course, he left again, two days after returning, to be an Outdoor School counselor yet again. I’ll see him again on Friday and this time he’s sticking around for a little while.

I’m still looking for work, but decided to put my skills to some use while I hunted for a “real” job. The results are at my new Etsy store: Crinkle Dreams. Crazy and fun and everything I really love to do. I hadn’t really thought about how the crafty movement had used to Internet to blossom and truthfully, I wish it had happened just a few years earlier when I’d had Girly Girl Aprons going. I’d worked so hard to make that a viable business. It did well, but I grew tired of trying to convince people to wear aprons. And now, six years later, everyone is wearing and selling them. Oh well. Now, it’s mixed fabric specialties, mostly. Purses, wallets and my time-consuming favorite: baby quilts. Two more are in process, one a custom order and the other, an overly pink one. Sweet.

Vietnam still calls my name, but I’ll be heading to Belize this summer with the GuyFriend instead. Vietnam for the long-term next year, I think. Audrey can start high school in Hanoi and it will make me so very happy.

And Stuart? He’ll be graduating in just two weeks. So strange. All of it.

another chapter down

You’d think I just wouldn’t want to stop writing about our travels in Vietnam, but truth be told it’s been almost a month since I went to task on it. The process is always a tad bittersweet for me. Vietnam was wonderful and it was hard. Some days I miss the place so much I can barely breathe for the ache of returning. But those are the days when life here is especially hard, when the money is scarce and the singleness turns to loneliness.

When I write about our travels, though, it always brings back the ache. I want to be on the train again. I want to eat bun cha at the Thanh Hoa market. I want to sit on the porch breaking open red watermelon seeds with friends.

So sometimes I avoid writing, like I have for all of September (the month I hate). But today I forced it. Did some editing, some writing and made a small amount of progress on a first draft I really must finish.

Here’s a blip from today’s output about how it really felt:

Through the dust-stained window of our train compartment, I watch as the sun breaks over the horizon. It casts a blue tint across the sodden rice fields that stretch as far as I can see. The bunk above me creaks with Stuart’s shifting weight. Audrey is still asleep in the bunk across from him, her bare feet poking out from under the woolen blanket. She faces the wall, hiding from the light as it floods in through our eastern-facing window.

We are due to arrive in Hanoi in only an hour, with sixteen hours and a handful of bunkmates already passed. The bottom bunk, across from mine, is empty again. When I’d fallen asleep it had been occupied by a grandfatherly fellow, white hair and sporadic beard, reading a local paper. Sometime during the night, as we’d tossed and swayed alongside Highway 1, I’d awoken to find a woman sleeping there; slack-jawed and breathing loudly. But as the sun rises, the bunk is empty and the blankets are tossed aside under the bed lamp.

It’s just the three of us here, bumping along the train tracks into Hanoi. We are truly on our own; no one to house us, feed us, drive us where we need to go. No one to set a schedule or make hotel reservations. It’s all up to me from here on out. And I can’t confess to anyone just how utterly overwhelmed I am by this.

I spent countless hours at the Internet cafe searching for houses and jobs and still couldn’t find anything that would work for us. Nothing. So here I am dragging my children northward to be homeless and unemployed with me in the overcrowded capitol city of this Third World Country because I’m too bullheaded to admit defeat. This move will surely seal my win for the 2007 Mother of the Year award.

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing this or why I’m so hellbent on staying here. I don’t even truly understand my determination to get here in the first place, besides the obvious win-him-back and show-the-kids-the-world reasons. But, really, what kind of mother makes her kids sell all their toys then moves them halfway around the world without any sort of back-up plan in place? A lousy one, like me.

It’s taken me eight weeks in-country to realize the magnitude of what we’re doing and it isn’t going to get any easier. We’ve managed to give up all we knew to experience this and I’m sure I could take the kids back to the States, fully satisfied with all they’ve done over the last two months. They’ve seen more of this big blue marble than most kids and the time with the orphans in Tam Ky has truly been priceless. It wouldn’t be a shame to go home. But it would feel like giving up.

I’ll give it a month. I have enough money in the bank from the recent tax refund to get us tickets back. If I haven’t found a job by the end of March, I promise to swallow my pride and take the kids home.