Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The End...

The ending of Secrets Between Sisters has been quite challenging for me, and that's no secret. The book's been done for months. It has six endings. Each time I write the ending, I've come back to the story, reading it, re-reading it, unsatisfied...

One thing I knew for sure about the ending was that Carmella and Howie had to stay together (thank God). Face it, I'm a hopeless romantic. Carmella and Howie had to "live happily ever-after". But what troubled me was the decision Carmella had to make about the secret. Should she reveal it? Should she not? It's such a moral issue and it became very personal to me, as though I was giving one of my children moral advice. So every day, I sat down and wrote it. Then the next day, I'd sit down and re-write it.

Finally, last night I was trying to fall asleep, going over and over in my head what Carmella should do and why the heck I couldn't find it in me to write the ending that I felt happy with. Then, it dawned on me what my problem was. It wasn't the ending that was bothering me it was....the end... that was troubling me.

By ending this book, I have to say good-bye to these characters. As nuts as it sounds, these people feel real to me. They're my....well...co-workers. They've been a part of my life for years. So, I sat up and decided that I don't have to necessarily say good-bye. I just have to finish telling this one story. This one aspect of their life. Just as it is in real life, sometimes it's easier to hide from the truth and believe that this is not good-bye forever. It's just "so long, see you next time" type of thing.

So today, I wrote the last words. It was satisfying. It made me feel good. And it made me a little sad. And isn't it ironic, that I write a book about hiding from the truth, when in fact I have to hide from the truth to truly end it? Whoa.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

To Critique or Not Critique, That Is the Question....

I recently attended a workshop that revolved around writing and finishing a novel. We had the option of signing up for a critique group during this weekend.  Much to my surprise it was a great experience.  Invaluable, in fact.  But even still, the topic of critiquing leaves me feeling like I want to rant.

Luckily, the people that I was in the critique group were all fantastic.  They gave criticism, but constructive to the point that I find some of their opinions have really helped my work.  In fact, they were nice enough NOT to say right out loud, to my face, "That's a stupid secret!"  When I unveiled the secret surrounding my story.  Instead, they gently offered their opinion that maybe I find something more....well...secretive...exciting...um...even interesting??  This feedback lead me to go back to the hotel, have a stiff drink and realize they were dead on right. My secret sucked.  Big time!  

In the car the next morning, while hubby was driving me to my workshop, I told him about the secret, about how the group politely said it sucked.  His response: When did you write that???? That's REALLY stupid!! You can think of something better than that!  (Did I mention that he's always brutally honest with me?)

Luckily, the secret is something that even I haven't known the truth of up until this point, so changing it only requires the rewrite of the last few chapters (drop in the bucket at this point).
So I went home and got to thinking up a brand new one. I went up to my bedroom and decided I was going to lie there, like a person on a psychiatrist couch and think of something really good! 

It took me all day Sunday, but I did it. 

(By the way, I ran it by hubby....he loved it.)

Now, don't get me wrong, this critique experience was not a walk in the park (I'm using a cliche..If I ran this blog posting by a critique group, they'd hang me by my toenails).  There were some suggestions that I flat out refuse to even entertain.  Nope.  I know it in my heart.  I change that, I change my character, I change the story, and I'm not doing it.  Let's be honest, comments like that as easy as they are to throw out of your mind, can irritate the living crap out of you.  

What's not easy to throw out of your mind (and still irritate) are the comments/suggestions that you're not really sure about.  Those were and will be tough to deal with.  These are the decisions that require a writer to dig deep and totally make a decision based on gut, inner voice.  

So of course with all this, I got to thinking philosophically about it.  What does it say about a person who is able to pour their deepest, innermost intimate thoughts and feelings out on paper and then be....criticized?    

I guess that's the nature of artists...

Or is it the nature of human beings?  

Maybe being critiqued is the only way we know how to learn?  School is like one big critique session, isn't it?   And then we graduate and get a job.  And what happens in our jobs:  We work hard, put forth a great amount of effort just to have a "boss"  give us a review, telling us what we do well and what we need to improve.  Sounds like a critique to me...

So maybe my rant isn't worth raving about.  Maybe I've just been feeling too sensitive, too impatient, too possessive of my work.  

Okay, I can live with that... 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All On A Plane Ride

There's no question that I'm not alone in having to face the fear of flying.  I've recently returned from a trip out to northern California to visit my brother and pay a brief visit to my cousin who just moved there.

I was fortunate to have an extremely smooth flight (not always my case, but that's another story altogether) coming back to Chicago and it was during that time I began to dig deep into the final chapters of my novel.  The final chapters that will rock poor Carmella to the core and force her to finally facer her life head-on and make some life-changing decisions.  While pondering all this I came to a conclusion:

You have to let go of who you are in order to discover who you can become.  

Not a small task.....

Especially not small for Carmalla, who is suddenly faced with an identity crisis.  What if everything you thought you were turned out to be false?  Everyone who was close to you wasn't really who you thought they were, and in the end, they emotionally deserted you, leaving you completely and utterly alone. What would you do?  Carmella will discover a family secret that will change how she sees everyone in her family and most importantly, how she sees herself. 

If she chooses to allow herself to change into who she wants to be, it will mean starting over with no one in her corner, and she'll have to find the strength and the guts to forge ahead - alone. This won't be easy for Carmella, as one of her big fears in life is loneliness and isolation.

And aren't we all a victim of our own fears in some way?  How many times do we make a decision based on fear of rejection or isolation?  And what about other fears, such as flying?  Do we face it and get our sorry self on that airplane?  Or run away from it, denying ourselves whatever lies ahead for us on the other end of that runway?  How many times does a fear of something or someone render us paralyzed? 

I'm glad I faced my fear of flying and in doing so felt as vulnerable as Carmella.  Facing the fear wasn't so great, but during the quiet moments where fear bubbled beneath me, I dug deep, hoping to find some questions, some answers and some insights into ever-perplexing notion of the human condition.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cross Training

So my hubby is about five weeks away from running the Chicago Marathon.  Big, huge challenge to say the least.  As he's been training for his huge challenge, I continue on with my own challenge of writing the greatest YA novel of all times (NO PRESSURE IN OUR HOUSE).

He spoke a few times about his "cross training" that he does, and it occurred to me a few days ago how important that concept might be in terms of being a good (okay fabulously great) writer.  Athletes cross-train all the time, and although I practice writing in various genres, I didn't really think about how vital it may be to get out there and do some other forms of art like painting or drawing, or dancing or music...you catch my drift.

I turned to one of my favorite experts on creativity, Julie Cameron who touches on this in one of the first chapters of her book, Artist's Way by suggesting that creatives have an "artist date", wherein you would block out some time once a week and do something to nurture your "inner artist" or "creative child".  In other words, go out and have some fun.  Then she goes on to explain how the artist brain "is the sensory brain:  sight and sound, smell, taste and touch."  I must admit, after baking a few pies from scratch and decorating sixteen batches of Christmas cookies, I tend to feel creatively rejuvenated.

This past week, although I didn't paint, draw, dance or sculpt anything, I did block off time on my calendar to walk the dog.  Depriving myself of this daily ritual over the summer (due to the kid factor) I've missed that routine, and realize how beneficial it is to my writing.  Walking the dog helps me reflect on the day's writing and see changes or what needs to come next in the story.   I've also added a tip this week from novelist, Les Edgerton to listen to music that fits into my novel's story and characters while I walk.  

This weekend, I've decided to block out some time and paint some antique milk jugs that I've been meaning to get at for about oh, nine or ten years.  If I don't get to that, for sure I'm going to the local Irish fest to soak up some good Irish music, dancing and fun. What are some things you do to creatively cross-train?  


Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Unoccupied Life

As summer winds down and my kids get ready to embark on a new year in school, new classes, new adventures and new growing and learning experiences, it brings me to examining my own life and what I'd like to do to renew and rejuvenate it.  And with that, I came upon the topic of purpose. 

I think life can be really tough when we've either lost - or are looking for - or even given up on finding some meaningful purpose in our lives.  I'm grateful that my (our) generation of parents understand how important it is for kids to have something outside of school to do that they're passionate about so in essence, they feel like they have a purpose in life.  (My 16 year-old character Carmella deals with finding a purpose in her life).

So what if we don't have a life of purpose and meaning?  What happens then?  Is our life considered unoccupied?  And how many people go through life without realizing they didn't have a purpose at all?  Or what if someone thinks they've found their purpose and then realizes when it's too late that the purpose they found isn't really a true purpose at all?   

And then there's the question of happiness?  Does having a purpose guarantee happiness?  Is happiness solely dependent on feeling like you have a purpose in life?  Or does true happiness lie in a love of self?  (Going back to the love topic which I have yet to figure out)  And does love of self help give someone a positive attitude?  Maybe everything boils down to one thing: attitude.

There are several books out there on all of this, and I think back to my early twenties when I discovered Norman Vincent Peale.  I wasn't all looking to find God or anything,but I liked his theory about constantly talking positively to yourself.  From what I understand, his whole theory on positive thinking stemmed from a desire to change is own attitude about himself and his life.  If you're familiar with him you'll remember his P.M.A. (Positive Mental Attitude) theory.    Here's a quote from him:  
"Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure."

And on the topic of attitude, we can't forget to look towards President Lincoln:
"Every man over 40 is responsible for his face.  Who you are and how you think can be read in your face."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The other day I was in the midst of digging deep into the minds of my characters, and with that, dug deeper into my own mind, my own soul.  Love was the topic at hand one mid morning, mid-way into one of my scenes.  I stopped for a second to reflect on such a common, simple subject and in doing so, realized how uncommon and complex it could be.  

In creating the love connection between Carmella and Jeremy, I want to  portray a really strong connection, a truly passionate real-life love story.  But, in knowing my characters and where they've evolved from, I wondered about the nature and nurture thing.  Can I have a character that hasn't really experienced love in her life be able to turn around and express it to another human being?   And what about Jeremy?  Well, he's experienced a higher quality of life so far and his father is supposed to be a psychiatrist, so I'm comfortable giving him the ability to love. But Carmella?  She's had some bad luck in her short sixteen years on earth.

Anyhow,  I got to thinking....what if  we're born with an small innate ability to love and the rest is learned?  Or is it all learned?  What if one is raised with a sense of love that may seem real to the parties involved but in effect, it's all just a bunch of hot air?  Does that person go through life unable to truly love or be loved?  And of course the question arises, what if a person doesn't love themselves?  Some theories suggest (The late, great Leo Buscaglia devotes a whole chapter on this) without a love of self, you cannot possible love another.

We've all heard the Corinthians' take on love:  "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited, or proud.....love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable...."  That haunts me when I'm having a bad day and I certainly have been ill-mannered and selfish and irritable.  Does that mean that for those moments, love has left the building??  

Or how about the movie Love Story where Ryan O'Neil says, "Love means never having to say your sorry."  Really?  Is that true?

Anyhow, at the very least, Mr. Buscaglia set my mind at ease by confirming my suspicions that love is not a simple  subject AT ALL.  Quite the contrary.  Apparently, it's even so out there in terms of trying to explain, that most psychologist and sociologists avoid the subject completely. Trying to explain it in relation to human behavior they say is impossible.   Good.  I'm off the hook.

True love.  When do we know we have it?  Is there true love and false love and something in between?  Is true love about being lucky enough to find it?  Does luck have anything to do with love?  Is there true love and then settling?  Is it possible to pass up a chance of experiencing true love?  How are we supposed to be logical about our emotions? Could we find the answer to these questions by polling couples married for a hundred years?  Is the answer buried in their lives, their experience?  

Where is the answer?

Stay tuned, Batman...

(FYI - I'm skipping over the love scene until I get this one straight in my head). 


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sometimes We've Got to Face It

There's a fine line between what we want to do and what we have to do.  As a writer, I've unconsciously been trying to avoid writing about a death in our family, and in turn, unable to come to the keyboard to work on my book or to post in this blog.  I made a promise to myself and my readers that this blog was to be a place where raw honesty and personal/professional growth was to take place.   So, last night as I dozed off, I realized that if my blog was to continue, if I was to continue as a writer, I had no choice.  I have to write about what's on my mind.  This is not what I want to do, but what I have to do.  

It was not a shocking unexpected loss, but tragic.  Cancer was the cause.  Suffering was the effect.  And it was the suffering that everyone who loved this person can't seem to comes to terms with because the magnitude of it was so great.  The experience rattled us all to the core, questioning our beliefs in a higher power, our beliefs in modern medicine, and our beliefs in ourselves and our very purpose on this earth. 

It's within our human condition that we expect severe torturous suffering only reserved for  the evil on this earth.  And when this is not the case, we can't help but constantly try to rationalize it. Why?  All day long, it rings in the ear.

As we witnessed the suffering, we also witnessed an example of undeniable strength of character.  In the face of death, in the face of suffering, in facing the worst possible last days that anyone could imagine, my uncle did it with grace and courage.  So much, that in between bouts of excruciating pain, he insisted that my husband take his business suits that he certainly won't be needing anymore.

One of the last conversations I had with my uncle was on Easter Sunday when he told be the truth about the dogs on the highway.  He kidded me about being "too damn sensitive".  He's right.  I am too sensitive.  

My heightened sense of sensitivity has fueled my emotional fires and in the past few weeks I've been completely consumed with feelings of loss, regret, grief, remembering other family members that have gone and that I miss on a daily basis.  

My routine, my sense of self, my life has been shattered to the point that my daughter commented on the fact that I was shopping.  (I hate shopping).  "What's up with that?"  She asked me.  "I don't know.  I can't write.  So I'm shopping."  was my reply with a shrug of my shoulders.

Sick of shopping, of avoiding myself and my thoughts, I've come back to the keyboard and as I feel a sense of normality returning, I know that what was normal a few months ago is gone.  A new normal is emerging, and it's time to face it.  

It's not what I want to do but what I have to do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Optimism vs. Realism

Is it possible to be an optimist and realist at the same time?  If you're too optimistic, does that mean that you've got your head in the clouds and your a dreamer? Where does optimism stop and "dreamer state" start?  

On the other side of the coin, can someone be too realistic?  Does that mean you can't possibly accept anything without any cold hard facts to support it?  And if that's the case, then where does love fit into all of this?  Isn't falling in love completely optimistic?  Even die-hard realists fall sometimes...

If you look up optimism in the Thesaurus, it says to be hopeful, Pollyannaish, positive, upbeat. 
The dictionary defines optimism as a tendency to expect favorable outcome, to believe that good must ultimately prevail over evil. 

The Thesaurus says other words for realistic are practical, pragmatic, rational, down-to-earth, businesslike, levelheaded, sober.   The definition of realism is to regard things in their true nature, to deal with things as they are.  A policy of dealing with life based on facts, not ideals.

Being creative, living a creative life and moving forward on a creative career path, I struggle with these two concepts every day.  On one hand, I need to be stupidly optimistic (or a dreamer). On the other hand, my life demands more realism now than it ever has.  And let's face it:  I'm a dreamer.  Always have been.  I believe that people need to dream.  Without dreams, there's no hope.  

My son came home the other day (dreamer that he is).  He told me that he saw a poster at school and it said, "A dream is just a dream without action."  

So maybe the answer is:
          First you dream, 
  Then you act,
 Stay optimistic, 
  While remaining realistic?  

Friday, April 10, 2009

"There's a Fine Line..."

Last week proved to be quite dramatic in our house, one marked by a constant reminder of how thin a line it is that we walk in all aspects of our lives.  The most obvious drama we experienced was one revolving around Holy week and one in which the Christian calendar and Jewish calendar overlapped. That became our first ultimate symbol of how fine a line there is between cultures and people, and after further examination of the two traditions, it became evident how truly similar we are.

Another fine line we witnessed was the one pertaining to truth. Although truth is what we always strive for, an explanation became necessary in order concerning the "little white lie" and how sometimes we tell "white lies" to spare someone's feelings.  

So then the fine line between "white lies" and the topic of holiday characters and are they real or not appeared.  "Is there really a tooth fairy?  Is there really an Easter bunny?  But Santa is real, right?"  Me and two sets of eyes staring at me.   In my head, I'm thinking,  "There's a fine line.." So of course, I did what every parent does when confronted with the truth about holiday characters:  I told the truth.    

Then ironically on Easter Sunday, I had to face a bit of truth from my own childhood.  My grandparents had two dogs that ran out of the yard and never returned.  As a child, I was told that they must have been picked up by someone.  The truth came out to me that they were both hit by cars and killed.  I had suspected the truth, but never heard it.  My family knew I was too sensitive, too emotional, and protected me from the truth because they knew I'd be devastated by it.  (They were right.  I was a kid that couldn't watch Lassie without being emotionally traumatized for weeks afterwards).  

And that's when I realized in my own moment of truth how fine a line there is between childhood and parenthood.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Yesterday, I ran across my son's infant cap hat that he wore home from the hospital.   I stood there in front of the closet, staring at this tiny thing in the palm of my hand and took a deep breath.  It's all gone so fast.  It feels like a week ago when we brought him home and we became parents. 

I brushed my hand across the cap, thinking about the day my son and daughter were born.   I may have brought my children into this world, but they brought life into me.  Through teaching them and nurturing them, I accidently nurtured myself.  I discovered who I was and what I needed, because of them.  I still remember the day at the park when my son was afraid to walk over the bridge.   

"Go on, it's okay.  Don't be afraid.  You can do it."  Over and over again I encouraged him to walk to the other side.  He looked up at me, trusting me.  I looked into his eyes and realized if I was going to be the best mother I could be, I better start walking towards my fears.  I better stop running.  

After I put him down for his nap, I dug through my file cabinet and pulled out all the writing I had done since I was eight years old.  Spirals, legal pads, plain white sheets of paper torn in half.  Cocktail napkins.  It was time I stopped being scared.  I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer so badly that I was terrified of it.  I could handle failing at being an administrative assistant, or dental assistant, or waitress or Mary Kay consultant.  But what if I failed at doing what means the most to me?  What if I failed at doing what God put me on the earth to do? What then?  And the biggest question of all hit me in the gut:  What will happen to me if I never try?  I would never want my kids to live a life not even trying at what they're passionate about.  

My kids don't know it, but every day I thank them as they walk onto the school bus and I head towards my desk, without fear, with only hope and determination to be the best I can be. I write for me, for my future readers, for the audience I've been writing to since I was eight. Someday I will tell my kids how they helped me find a part of myself that I buried at some point along the way.  Someday I will explain to them how their needing me, challenging me, and forcing me to be the best I can be, they brought me to where I am today, and where I'll go tomorrow.


Friday, March 13, 2009

What's Up with the Artichoke?

Since I've had several people (okay, just about everyone) ask me for the meaning behind the Artichoke reference in the title of the blog, I shall explain:

In my opinion, everything in life can be explained in terms of an artichoke. In the case of my title, the artichoke is referencing family (the Aristotle is painfully obvious, right?). The way I see it, family is like an artichoke. There's the heart of the artichoke (parents) and the leaves (kids). Now, you can separate the heart from the leaves. Sure, artichoke hearts are everywhere. But who eats the leaves without the heart? In order for an artichoke to truly be an artichoke at its best, it must be all connected.

Life in general is like an artichoke too. When you're a kid, you're hesitant at first, slowly plucking off the leaves as you go, figuring it out. Then you get more confident and anxious and start really going at the leaves, searching for the heart. Then, life gets more complicated and you tend to be more cautious with your life, avoiding the prickly parts. And then there's the point in your life when you're just about at the heart and you know what you're doing. (God knows I'm not there --some days I feel about as smart as my eight year old). You're done figuring this whole thing out and just savoring the good part.

And then there's the obvious cliche' type one: People are like artichokes...

Finally, being raised primarily Italian, artichokes were more than simply a food in my family, but an event in our house. (If you've ever sat down with a stuffed artichoke, you know what I mean!). I can still see my sister and I sitting around the Formica table, eating stuffed artichokes, plucking off the leaves, talking, plucking, talking.

Can't resist posting my Italian Grandmother's recipe for Stuffed Arichokes:

Stuffed Artichokes
1. Remove tiny low leaves.
2. Cut off stems.
3. Put the artichokes in a large pan, cover with salt water for 20-30 min.
4. Drain upside down.
5. Mix together:
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Olive oil

6. After draining, spread leaves apart and sprinkle mixture into leaves, then on top.
7. Place artichokes in a roasting pan, upright.
8. Put enough water on bottom to cover 1"
9. Drizzle with olive oil.
10. Cover and bake at 375 for one hour.

Artichokes anyone?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Go With Your Gut

On Monday, Lego Boy's (our son) eye specialist confirmed that his vision disorder is now successfully corrected. This made me feel the need to reprint an article I wrote for Chicago Parent in November of '07 (names are changed to protect the innocent) in order to spread the word about vision disorders. Through our experience, I've found out they are more common than people think. Also, I must add that the journey is not in any way over for us or most importantly, Lego Boy, but at least now we know what journey we're on. I asked him if he minded me talking about all this and he said confidently, no. He hopes other kids will be helped by his story. So, pass it on...

Misdiagnosis of ADHD

As a parent, our job is to fix whatever is broken in our kids and comfort them with answers and advice. I couldn’t do that for our son. I couldn’t tell him things would be OK because I didn’t know what was wrong.

When Lego Boy started struggling in kindergarten, we were surprised. By second grade, that surprise turned to horror as we watched him academically shut down in the classroom and emotionally shut down at home.

As I looked into his eyes, which were filled with anger, frustration and sadness, I made him a promise. I promised to find answers—answers to why he wasn’t able to keep up with the work at school like his friends and why he wasn’t able to focus in the classroom and reap any rewards from his efforts.

We decided to consult with a private neuropsychologist along with the school specialists. The amount of help and caring given to Lego Boy, my husband and me overwhelmed us. Everyone in Lego Boy's school banded together to help him, from his classroom aide and teacher all the way up to the principal. I was amazed at how much effort a school could put into helping one child.

After 15 hours of testing by the neuropsychologist and three hours of testing at school, the diagnosis came back. "Lego Boy has ADHD."

Lego Boy has ADHD? My gut told me no. My son, my artist, my inventor, my "Leonardo Da Vinci" as I call him, has ADHD? And I need to medicate him? Make a quiet introspective boy even quieter? What will that do to him?

The medication made Lego Boy sick and stole his personality. Each medication we tried seemed to turn a calm, focused boy into a hyper, withdrawn, angry one. I felt like my heart was getting ripped out of my chest each time I gave him a pill. I knew I was going to make him sick for the day and unable to enjoy anything, especially the one thing he always loved, playing with his friends.

So we stopped.

Back at square one.

But none of us gave up.

One Saturday morning, Lego Boy saw a commercial on TV for Sylvan Learning Centers and came running up to me, grabbing my arm, "Mommy! Mommy! Can I go there? Can I? Please? They say they can help me do better in school!"

I reassured him with a hug.

As I continued a new quest for answers, I heard about developmental optometrists from a friend. My neighbor recommended two doctors in Arlington Heights, IL who are supposed to be the best in their field, specializing in treating children like our son who are having difficulties in school and no one knows why.

In August of '07, Lego Boy underwent extensive testing of his eyes.

One of the tests is a 3-D puzzle. He couldn’t do it. I bit my lip and put my hand over my mouth, trying hard to hold back tears as I watched my son struggle to fit in a giant puzzle piece—something that should come automatically to an 8 year old.

Then came his diagnosis: Occular Motor Dysfunction and Saccadic Dysfunction, two visual disorders silently plaguing Lego Boy with blurred vision, lack of depth perception, eyestrain and headaches.

The doctor said Lego Boy's vision problems could very well inhibit him from functioning normally at school, in sports and in life. These types of vision problems can make reading and doing math virtually impossible because kids with eye disorders can’t learn by sight. And because Lego Boy doesn’t have any depth perception, he can’t judge where a ball is in relationship to him, which would explain his frustration with any kind of sports involving a ball.

Children with eye disorders can’t see normally, no matter how hard they try to focus. They have 20/20 vision, but things are blurry and they use an enormous amount of energy trying to keep their eyes from hopping and jumping around while they read. Their head aches. Their eyes hurt.

So instead of learning concepts all day in school, Lego Boy has been trying hard to just focus. The doctor told me many children with vision disorders exhibit behaviors that mimic ADHD and very often get misdiagnosed.

Who wouldn’t fidget in their seat and sharpen their pencil for 20 minutes instead of doing work that requires the use of their eyes?

The doctor explained Lego Boy's treatment plan for the next year or so that he would oversee. It consisted of visits at his office with a therapist along with at-home exercises 20 minutes a day, four days a week. He would be monitored after treatment indefinitely. As I listened I felt like I finally got my solution, my answers, my hope.

And then the skeptic in me took over. "So, after a year of doing all this, what percent chance does he have of seeing results, no pun intended?"

The doctor smiled and said 100 percent—depending on Lego Boy. He could guarantee that when Lego Boy's done with therapy, his frustration level will diminish and he will see direct results from his academic efforts.

One thing the doctor said he can’t fix completely is Lego Boy's handwriting.

"That’s OK," I told him. "So he’ll have handwriting like a doctor."

Is it a vision problem?
One in four kids in a classroom has vision problems and 60 percent of "problem learners" have undetected vision problems.

The College of Optometrists in Vision Development in Aurora, Ohio, has developed a list of signs to watch for in your child:

Physical symptoms
• Frequent headaches or eye strain
• Blurring of distance or near vision, particularly after reading or other close work
• Avoidance of close work or other visually demanding tasks
• Poor judgment of depth
• Turning of an eye in or out, up or down
• Tendency to cover or close one eye or favor the vision in one eye
• Double vision
• Poor hand-eye coordination
• Difficulty following a moving target
• Dizziness or motion sickness

Performance problems
• Poor reading comprehension
• Difficulty copying from one place to another
• Loss of place, repetition and/or omission of words while reading
• Difficulty changing focus from distance to near and back
• Poor posture when reading or writing
• Poor handwriting
• Can respond orally but can’t get the same information down on paper
• Letter and word reversals
• Difficulty judging sizes and shapes

For more information, go to www.covd.org.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I'll Have a Shot of Confidence, Please!

Launching my blog in February is significant to me, as I made a decision in February a few years ago to write a teen novel. (I'm using the term "few" loosely. The honest term is SEVERAL, since this marks year FOUR.)

This week, I realized something about myself and my book project that could be grounds to go back to the shrink for. (Yes, I said GO BACK. I'm a writer. I'm supposed to be tortured, right?)

As my hubby would say, in sales you always want to "sandwich" the conversation. Start with the positive, put the negative in the middle and end on a positive note. Okay, here goes: On the positive side, I have finished one and a half drafts of my novel, 80,000 words each. That's the positive. Perseverance has always been my strength. If I want something, I will not quit until I get it. End of story (pun intended).

Here's the negative (It's a bigger part of the sandwich). I have been agonizing since November over the realization that something has been missing from my book. I have taken the story and rewritten it three times over. Correction: four times over. Change the plot. Change the characters. Reverse the order. The sister dying comes first. NO, it comes last. NO, it comes in the middle. The climax is the best place for it, no maybe the beginning is. Maybe I should take it out altogether. URGH!

In a desperate moment, when recovering from Pneumonia,I shot an e-mail off to Sara Zarr. I have read and re-read her teen novel, STORY OF A GIRL, twice. What is it that makes her book so moving, so clear, so clean, so precise, such a work of art? I asked her about training. How did she know how to write so well? How did she figure it out? She replied the next day with simple words of encouragement to me: Keep writing and get qualified immediate feedback. Join a critique group.

I have not had immediate feedback. I have chosen the difficult path to figuring out how to write a novel (is there an easy path, maybe?). This isn't surprising for me to choose the most difficult path, as I have chosen the most difficult path throughout my entire life. (Why change now?) I have now realized what's missing in my 179,000 pages (I added a few more because...I can). One word. One thing. One critical element that I THOUGHT was on every page but wasn't: Emotion.

So, these years of writing my novel, I've been reporting, commenting on a story. I've spent two drafts "reporting" my story when I thought I was putting my heart and soul onto the page. (Here's another positive: I think I'm a really good reporter-or do I?). But, if I'm writing a novel for God's sake, I haven't done my job. I'm not supposed to report, I'm supposed to tell a story! In fact, I just completed a yearly performance review on myself (once you've worked in the corporate world, you never EVER get it out of your DNA) and I realize I have to fire myself and rehire myself only on the condition that this time lady, give us some emotion. Stop doing a half-ass job. Get to the meat of your problem and yourself and write something that people can feel, that moves them that makes them laugh and makes them cry. BUT, don't tell the reader how they're supposed to feel. You have to use words that "provoke" emotion. Put yourself on the page, but don't write a story about yourself. Dig deep into the demons of your soul and put that on the page, but don't write about you. WHAT???

So, I know now, it's a character issue (regressing back to corporate lingo). It's about confidence. Is having confidence nature or nurture? What do you do when you either have either lost all your confidence or never had any to begin with?

All my life it's been a confidence issue with me. And now, here I am, faced with the reality that my writing, the thing that makes me feel alive, the thing that I know I'm put on this earth to do, the thing that keeps me sane and able to face whatever life hands me, is dependent on it. My writing will only be good and meaningful if I get over my lack of confidence and put the raw emotions on the page. Do they have confidence pills? They have pills for everything else: get rid of your anxiety, be more focused, stop your feet from falling asleep. Do they have one now to stop dating toxic men? I wouldn't know, because-you guessed it-I had to figure that one out the HARD way. I wish I could belly up to the bar and ask for a shot of confidence, straight up! Well, I used to before kids, but that's another story, which always leads to the toxic dating thing...

So, today I start confident, emotional writing and it starts here. As the title suggests (or doesn't), my life is about family and writing. My hope and plan is to provoke emotion in the readers who come here, and by revealing my raw honesty, somehow that will help others deal with their dilemmas, demons and most of all, desires. Happiness is the ultimate goal.