In which a stupid little phrase helps me decide "Why not just do it?"
I haven’t blogged in a while because, well, life happens. Also, I’ve been bloated.
That last thing isn’t really important.
Life has been crazywonderfulpainfulbeautiful. Every day. I’m narrating great books (GOOD BOY by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy is coming up, books by Susan Mallery, and maybe/hopefully/pleasegodyes the new Rizzoli & Isles book by Tess Gerritsen). I’m writing a book, and gearing up to take Blunder Woman Productions all the way to 11.
And on Tuesday, I head out with my dear friend and colleague Amy McFadden for some Romantic Times. I mean, we’re GOING to the Romantic Times convention and meeting a bunch of narrators. I’m panicking, because, bloated.
I’d had mad plans not to be bloated. I started a diet again in January. I tried shakes and smoothies. They made me gag. Like that embarrassing kind of dry heaving. I’m really a sensitive flower, see.
Then I went gluten free. I lasted two weeks before I wanted to crush everyone’s dreams in between my palms and laugh.
If a diet is making you evil, it’s probably a sign it’s not a good fit.
Then I tried to count calories but I got so obsessed by it I ended up crying over an arugula salad that was sprinkled with pepitas. There were too many pepitas. I didn't have enough calories left to eat all the pepitas! Imagine me, sobbing, saying “Pepitas!” with a sense of loss over and over.
It wasn’t pretty.
Then I said “Fuck it” and ate enough pasta and bread that I started talking with an Italian accent. Not a pretty Italian accent. Oh noooooo. A MOB Italian accent.
Here’s the thing. I’ve got to get over this. I don’t look like I’m twenty anymore. When I was twenty I was super poor and unhappy and I also had bangs.
It wasn’t a good look for me.
Now, I look like who I am: a mom, a wife, a sometimes anxiety ridden goofball. I’ve got to just breathe through it and hope that when others look at me, they’ll see the parts that matter.
Not the person crying over pepitas.
The other person.
The narrator. The writer. The sometimes-enlightened-being who blushes when she drinks a glass of wine. The deep thinker and feeler. The sometimes whisperer because things sound creepy when you whisper.
I think, maybe, I’m not alone in this. If you see me at RT, give me a wink. I’ll know we’re kindred spirits in this march toward trying-to-be-okay-with-who-you-are-now, and not worry so much about who-you-thought-you’d-be.
I don’t actually know who-I-thought-I’d-be at this point. My Dream Tanya just wanted to eat fancy cheese and write poetry, so, I guess, I’m actually not too far from living the dream.
I thought I'd try something a little different with my blog. I want to highlight some of the wonderful authors I've had the opportunity to work with and narrate for. Today, I'm chatting with R. K. Thorne. She's created a wonderful fantasy series with strong female and male characters, a dimensional world, and a plot that sucks you in. I had the honor of narrating the first book in the series THE MAGE SLAVE, and will start work on MAGE STRIKE later next month.
R. K. Thorne
1) How did you get the idea for MAGE SLAVE and The Enslaved Chronicles?
I struggled for a long time to finish a novel, literally almost two decades across different projects. I had a lot of obstacles, but eventually I was sick of myself not finishing something. I went to a writing workshop Orson Scott Card ran for two days one summer. As part of the workshop, he made some key suggestions. The first was to just forget every writing rule you’d ever learned and just focus on a character and their struggle. That’s it. And the second suggestion was to get an index card and write a single sentence that would summarize the story you were going to tell. Which, as it turns out, was really hard for me. I wrote a lot of really bad ones. I’d say the only good one that came out of that exercise was the beginnings of what would become MAGE SLAVE. I started tackling the book in earnest that fall during Nanowrimo.
Between summer and fall, I worked on the characters and the world building. I read this random news article about a royal family, I think it was British but I’m not sure. The story talked about how isolating monarchy could be and described one historical prince actually listening through walls and floorboards, so that he could hear the normal conversations of normal people. That isolation was both bizarre and logical to me, and it also was an interesting and realistic side of royalty that isn’t a super common trope. (Except for maybe when princesses get locked in towers to safeguard their virginity, but I digress.) So I thought this idea of isolation could be an interesting thing to build a character around. What would it be like to be so isolated? How might you escape? Could you? Was the isolation even real or just in your head?
Those themes play a huge part in MAGE SLAVE, where my isolated and somewhat naïve prince gets kidnapped and actually finds that himself more free while an actual captive than he was in his own life. Some reader reviews have commented on this, and it makes me so happy to see people get it.
Themes of freedom in various forms play a central role in the story. Another idea I wanted to play with was how sometimes people use guilt to manipulate us, and how bizarre the results of that can be. In the world of the Enslaved Chronicles, significantly more powerful people have been enslaved by those less powerful but more corrupt than them, in part due to fear and in part due to their own guilt. (I’m working on a prequel of how it all went down.) And this is funny because sometimes people start to think or say, hey, that’s kind of implausible, why would they submit to that? But then we can look at the world around us and see examples of it every day.
2) In building this world, what challenges did you encounter? What about it was exciting?
I struggled with a lot of things from a craft and mindset perspective: perfectionism, a sloggy middle, endless revisions, a much too slow start. (About the first 2-3 chapters were cut from the first draft.) Ironically, while I was so focused on the ending, it was the only part of the rough draft that didn’t need serious work.
Because this is a secondary world fantasy (as in, a world that is not historically-based or supposed to be Earth) world-building is frankly a lot easier! I also think creating secondary worlds inspired by our world but different is more exciting. There’s more room to be creative. I study a lot of history to inform my worlds, but I don’t have to limit it to the history of one or two nations or just the Europe of the Middle Ages. In fact, ultimately, Akaria and the world of the Enslaved Chronicles are inspired by Viking and ancient Greek culture, with some dashes of 1400s - 1500s Hungary and Italy thrown in there. For example, it is not a feudalistic society, which I can’t get excited about writing about. Akaria more of a federation, technically. That is commonly thought of as a more modern governmental structure, but it did actually predate feudalism in a few places around the globe.
And now I’ve totally gone off an a history geek tangent. ^_^ But suffice to say – digging into all that nerdiness is at least 50% of what makes building this world exciting for me!
The other 50% is dropping the characters into the maelstrom and seeing the sparks fly. ;)
3) MAGE SLAVE is now available in audio, narrated by Tanya Eby. How was that process for you? Anything you’ve learned about your own writing by listening to the audio?
I analyzed to death what approach to take to get MAGE SLAVE to audio, and I am really satisfied with the route I chose. Working with Tanya has been amazing! I had heard from some people that independently publishing an audio book could take a lot of time, but I was pleasantly surprised that it took nowhere near as long as I thought it would. The mostly time-consuming thing was reviewing auditions and listening to the proof. Ultimately, as I am not an audio book reader, I enlisted the help of my awesome editor Elizabeth and one of my great writer friends Sherrie to listen to my top audition favorites. Luckily for me, they both picked my favorite (you – Tanya!). I was lucky to have their help because I was going crazy. ;)
I did learn some things about my writing, both good and bad. I actually found it very difficult to listen to my own work and was constantly blushing or yelling at myself aloud. =) But then I would get caught up in the story and think, oh, hey, this actually isn’t half bad. I am entertained. ;)
By the time, I was listening to MAGE SLAVE, I had already written and mostly edited its sequel MAGE STRIKE, and I could see how much I had grown as a writer in that short time, both fortunately and unfortunately. I found a few parts that killed me because I wanted to do them better, or I could see ways to improve them now. But ultimately it’s a good lesson in “the perfect is the enemy of the good” because I will never stop seeing places to improve. If we are growing, our taste always outpaces our ability, and that’s a good thing. A lot of people are really enjoying it, and that’s good enough for me. A friend likes to throw out the quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” and I think that’s really true.
More specifically, I discovered that I spent more time on romantic internal dialog than I had realized, especially in Aven’s point of view. I had worried if my bad guys were bad enough, but I actually got chills from your epically evil narration of their lines, so I guess they were bad enough in the end.
And it was also interesting to see when a line could be read with a different tone than I imagined it. That helps me understand the multiple experiences readers could be having as they read. For example, I think you brought out a wonderful vulnerability to both of the main characters at times that I hadn’t imagined. It was better than I imagined.
Also for some of the different voices, like that of Evana, the Mistress, the wolf, the dream voices…. Those transformed it from a rambling in my head in my own author voice to verging on 80s fantasy movie territory. Somehow it makes it all seem more real. That aspect has been awesome.
4) Your second book is out now (and will be available in audio this spring). What can you tell us about it?
My second book MAGE STRIKE is the sequel to MAGE SLAVE and continues the journey pretty much where Book 1 leaves us. It’s hard to describe it without including spoilers on the first book, so I’ll just say it continues the struggles of Book 1 while also introducing us to some pretty awesome new magic (if I must say so myself) and a whole new romance.
Personally, I love reading science fiction and fantasy, but I rarely read anything without a heavy side helping of romance. (Or sometimes it’s the main course with a side of magic and/or laser weapons.) And I personally always hate when the romance starts strong and then peters out as the series goes on. So I put a new couple in this book, and there’s another in Book 3. (Assuming everything goes as planned.)
5) How can people hear more about you and your work?
You can get to all my social media from my website at www.rkthorne.com. For new release news, the mailing list is the best bet: http://www.rkthorne.com/get-updates/ I’m pretty much a Pinterest addict, so that’s worth a look if you like pictures of swords and dragons and stuff like that. And Facebook is a common procrastination destination. Thanks!
Just enter in a comment and we will choose a winner (maybe more) to receive a free download of THE MAGE SLAVE from Audible! Drawing will take place January 31st.
And if you're a writer that Tanya has worked with, and you'd like to talk about it more, let Tanya know!
We finally got around to watching the opening episode of this season’s The Walking Dead. Not because we were putting it off intentionally, but because this was the first chance we had without the kids around. And we’d heard that it was particularly brutal.
It was. I was really emotional when I watched it, but not in the way I expected. I thought they’d kill off a character, and that I’d be sad, but, hey, it’s The Walking Dead. You don’t expect unicorns and rainbows during this. And the only flowers are ones you don’t want to look at.
My reaction though was different. I was angry.
I was angry not at the storyline, but the show.
The writers. How could they do this? How could they kill off Abraham and Glenn? And not just kill them off, but in such a brutal, needlessly violent way? And other questions: What’s the point of the show? Why would these characters even want to continue on in a world as bleak as this? Why should I, as a viewer, continue to watch?
After Glenn died, I went into the kitchen to clean up. I sorta watched, but mostly I just grumbled.
I thought about my reaction for two days.
Why was I so upset? It’s a TV show!
And then I figured it out.
Most horror shows and movies (of which I’m a BIG fan) serve as a catharsis for the viewer. It’s a way of safely confronting your fears, living through the worst that could happen, and walking away unscathed. The characters might not walk away unscathed, but you, as the viewer do. So maybe there’s stuff in your life that’s really hard. Really challenging, but in some ways, you’ve faced the worst already and lived. You’re stronger somehow. At least emotionally.
Here was what angered me about The Walking Dead: the timing of the episode.
Think about this:
This group you’ve been with for seven years, this family, lives in a time of constant threat and uncertainty. But they work together and they survive. There’s a structure and a strong leader and an order to it, even at the darkest times.
But no longer.
In this episode, Rick is usurped by a new leader. This leader has the following qualities:
· He’s a bully.
· You can’t reason with him.
· He operates under his own rules.
· Those rules are constantly changing.
· He targets the weak.
· He targets the strong, not just to get them to submit, but to break them utterly.
· He thinks he’s a god.
· His humor is twisted and cruel.
· He governs with fear and intimidation.
· He wants you to serve him, to work for him to bring him profit.
· He has a band of threatening bad boys watching him, silently cheering him on, and there may be many, many more out there. Waiting.
Do you see? This episode played at a time when our nation is facing the threat of a Negan type leader: a dictator who has no empathy. In fact, the only feelings he seems to have is disdain for anyone who doesn’t worship him or follow his complicated, ever-changing rules.
Rick’s family in this is helpless. There is no escape. There is no catharsis for them or the viewer. All that’s left is loss, and very little will to go on.
This was why I was angry.
I was angry that the show mirrors what’s happening in our country, but instead of leaving me with a catharsis and hope, it left me with a sense of inevitability and doom.
I’m telling you, Maggie better rise up soon and be the tough mofo I know she is…because the world needs more fierce women who are ready and willing to fight back.
The older I get, the more important female friendships in my life have become. I have a handful of good friends, and some stellar acquaintances that pop in and out of my life, seemingly when I need them the most.
What I love about the women that I’ve become friends with, the ones who have somehow managed to plow past my awkwardness and not give a damn, is the sheer honesty. It’s beyond that though. It’s a frank Take No Bullshit approach that is truly both terrifying and enlightening.
I had two conversations lately with different friends. One is a narrator friend of mine and we talked about how hard it is in the industry when you’re faced with constant rejection. When you’re low on work, you send out emails, and if you don’t hear back, it feels like a rejection. Or when you don’t have work, surely it’s because you’re terrible and no one wants to hire you. Ever. Again. Or you audition and you’re ‘not the right fit’. Rejection rejection rejection. And then we talked about some of the males in our industry and how confident they can be. Almost cocky. We talked about this kind of attitude with a sense of awe, like, I would love to be that confident but if I do, I’ll be called a bitch and even more people will dislike me.
Then I was having breakfast with a good friend, and I was lamenting my writing career. How I’ve enjoyed self-publishing but what I really want is a contract. An agent. A publishing house to believe in me. “But why?” She asked. I gave her a ‘why do you think’ look. “No. I’m fucking serious,” she said. “Why do you want that affirmation? You’ve published seven or eight books now. When is that affirmation enough?” I told her I didn’t know. Then she gave me that “Of course you fucking know, you’re just being a wuss” look. (That is, actually, a look.)
“Fine,” I said. “Everything stems from my relationship with my dad. How he never really wanted me. Never saw me. And ultimately chose another woman’s children to be a father to because somehow my brother and I weren’t good enough for him. And everything I try to do is to show him that I am worthy of being loved. So everything stems from the fear that I’m not good enough and people have finally figured out the truth.”
I actually did say that and she nodded and said “Good. I thought you knew. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
So even knowing that I have a HUGE inferiority complex and I struggle with believing in myself…how do women do it? How, when faced with rejection, do you manage to keep going, keep fighting, keep trying again?
I really mean this.
I’d love some input, so I’m asking you, directly…you who are reading this…When you feel like you are not enough (not pretty enough, young enough, smart enough, talented enough, strong enough, enough enough) how do you square your shoulders, lift your chin and keep going? What are the things you tell yourself?
I just keep plugging along, hammering through, but I’m constantly afraid of people finding out I’m a fraud. And maybe it really does stems back to my father. Or maybe it’s something in society. Maybe there is something systemic that a confident woman, regardless of her age, weight, talent, success, etc, is unlikable somehow.
How do we learn to let it go, to be proud of who we are, to march forward knowing there is something unique in each of us that we offer every day?
Please let me know. I believe in the power of listening to others’ stories, and I’d love to hear yours.
Christa Lewis, the actor giving voice to Tanya's new book IN THE GARDEN ROOM, was kind enough to step out of the studio and answer some questions. You can also visit her website: www.cglewis.com.
How long have you been narrating? How did you get your start?
I began narrating Audiobooks in 2012. I had just decided to stay in LA after a 17-year stint as a newsreader for an international television news broadcaster. I was phoning around town looking for a studio to record in and happened to call Deb Deyan by accident. She insisted I contact her then husband Bob and he auditioned me and put me on their roster of audiobook narrators. I did my demo shortly after.
What did you find enjoyable about voicing IN THE GARDEN ROOM?
The shifitng pov's. I love moving around in a story looking at it from different angles.
What did you find challenging?
Lilly's journey was excruciating to fulfill as an actress - each step further along was harder and harder to make with her. It was horrific and uncompromising. I had to gather up all my love and all my courage to keep going.
The book is set in 1909 and 1910. Are there any themes in the book that seem relevant today?
The throughline (for me) that dominates In The Garden Room is surviving impossible odds. It was shocking to realize that this story was really in many ways a true story - that this is our history as Americans, as women - that we all came up through these yards, through the stench, the desperation, and have evolved only incrementally - the greed, the sexual slavery and the grit - they are all still very much a part of life today. People are making hard and desperate choices in this country every day because there is no safety net of social services to catch them if they begin to slip for any reason, as Cora does. This system deals harshly with those who cannot or will not get up after a fall.
Which character did you particularly connect with? Why?
I think I connected most with Cora even though, of course I was horrified by her choices and I was rooting for Lilly. Still, I got under Cora's skin the most. My own mom was quite brutal to us growing up but later I came to understand she was crazed by her own childhood and faced lots of tough choices - it's easy to judge them now and say she chose poorly - but, at the time, she may have felt just as trapped and unhappy as Cora. She was unhinged in many ways and Cora's descent into darkness was painfully real to me.
What is one of your favorite things about narrating?
The end result is always a surprise. When I listen to the book after its finished I am always amazed at how the story emerged. It always takes me by surprise.
Any other new and interesting projects that are recently published or in the works?
I'm delighted that I've been asked by Hachette to narrate Blood For Bllood! It's the sequel to Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin that I was fortunate enough to narrate last year. Huffington Post called it one of the top 10 YA's of 2015 and the narration won an Earphones.
Anything else you’d like to share?
My thanks - it is an enormous honor to be cast and narrate for a well-loved and brilliant narrator like Tanya Eby. It was a bit daunting!!! and a gift. It felt like Christmas all over again when I found out I had been cast. Thank you so much for your faith in me.
Christa's interpretation of the novel is beautiful: nuanced, pained, and even at times funny. You can listen to a sample or download the book HERE
This is another blog I've struggled with posting. I've held onto it for months, but ultimately I decided I needed to. I think the more we talk about struggles with mental health, the more we can strip away the shame and embarrassment that have gone with it for so long. So, so many of us struggle with depression and anxiety, and a host of other issues. It's not something that just happens to adults either. It can happen to children. I decided to post this because I know there are other parents going through this. We should talk about it. We are stronger together.
LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
I have handed in my phone, purse, driver’s license, and car keys to the front desk and assured them that I’m not wearing a belt. I do not have on a hoodie or anything else with ties or long strings. My husband has done the same. We sit in the waiting room until a heavy metal door opens and the nurse tells us we can follow her.
We walk down long hallways, four of them, each ending with another locked door that the nurse opens. The final hallway is decorated with bright construction paper. They are drawings done by children like what you’d see at school, only when I read them I notice how different they are from the school’s artwork. The pictures say things like “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24” and “Parents, talk to your kids. Every day.”
I am holding it together. I am. I have to because we are walking into the adolescent ward for visiting hours so that we can see our son, and I need to be strong. For him. His behavior has been escalating, or rather descending, over this last year until we had a crisis on Friday. Our son hurt himself. Superficial, they say. It’s just superficial. I guess that’s supposed to be a relief. But our son says he wants to die. And so he’s here, getting help.
He is eleven years old.
I like to think of myself as a writer. It’s how I view the world, how I process it and understand it. There are not words for this, though. There aren’t words for how I feel about visiting my little boy here.
He is the youngest on the ward. All their beds are occupied. My heart breaks for every child here and every family. These children are just starting on their lives, just forming their independence and their spirits and it will be a long road ahead of them. I know, statistically, that not all of the children will make it to adulthood because of the effects of anorexia, drugs, abuse from others, or taking their own lives. And I wish I believed in God. I wish I could pray because then I could pray that my son will beat the odds and be comforted by the idea that someone, some mighty benevolent power, will hear my prayer and answer it. But I’m not a believer.
My son shuffles into the room and he hugs us and we talk. There is a girl in the corner with her family and we can hear her crying and we just talk over it. We’re a wave washing over her. I feel guilty about that, but I can’t focus on her. I’m here with my son. He is my focus. We say: How are you? How are things? How are the meals? Are you sleeping? Can we bring you anything? These are the questions we ask. But there are other questions I want to ask but I don’t. Why did this happen? What have I done wrong? How do I protect you? How do I make sure you are safe? What are we going to do when you’re thirteen or sixteen? What happens when your hormones kick in and we’re dealing with your depression but also your changing brain? How do I make sure you survive?
There are no guarantees in parenting, and there are even less for the road we are on now.
I am angry because I have been trying for over a year to get my son help. I’ve noticed his decline and his struggle and we’ve tried therapy and counselors. We have a plan at the school. He has support and love. But what he needed was medication…only everywhere I called there was no one to help. We don’t take children, they’d say. We don’t take children under sixteen. We take children but the calendar is full. We can’t add you to the waiting list because we’re not allowed to. Our appointments are booked for the next three months and we can’t add anyone new.
I am angry because there was no one to help us and we needed help. I don’t know if it’s because doctors don’t want the liability for dealing with children or if there’s still some kind of antiquated belief that children don’t suffer from mental illness. Who created the idea that mental illness only happens when people reach their twenties? It’s ludicrous. So I have been searching for help, and because I couldn’t find it, my son looked for answers on his own. Namely, a way out.
The last woman I talked to at a psychiatrist's office, I’d vowed to call her every week, and then I was going to call her every day until I bullied her into putting us a waiting list. I don't like being a bully but I was prepared to just so she would know how serious this was. That I wasn't just a hysterical woman, or an emotional mother, but this was real. I was ready and prepared, but then my son scratched up his wrists and his chest and wanted to die, so the hospital finally let him in.
It took that. It took my son doing that for someone to finally see him.
So this is where we are. My husband makes jokes and we all sort of laugh and the girl in the corner is moaning because of her pain and my son says he’s got to go because he wants to work on a project and I tell him that’s good, that’s progress, work on that and we will work on ways to support you when you come home.
And all the time I think I love you. I love you, my boy. Your tender spirit. Your bright mind. Your potential. You are a strong soul. A brave boy. You are beautiful. I think, IloveyouIloveyouIlovelovelovelovelove.
I don’t know. Maybe that is a kind of prayer. Maybe I repeat this over and over in my mind because, secretly, I think someone will hear me, and I hope that it is my son who hears me calling to him in the dark.
Be strong. You can fight this. We are with you. We love you. You. Are. Worth. Everything.
He goes to his room and we follow the nurse back down the corridors and through the locked doors and she says, “Wow. Your son is a deep thinker. Eleven years old and the things he says and how he views the world? It’s really amazing!”
We nod. We say thank you, because really, what else is there to say? Thank you.
We collect our things. We go to the car. We drive home. The house is empty and so, so quiet.
Are you okay, my husband asks. It is the first time all day where I say what is truly on my mind. Am I okay? No, I say. No, I am not.
We’ll get through this, he says. He’ll get through this.
I tell him okay. I believe him.
Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s just a hope or maybe it’s a prayer. I don’t know the difference anymore.
UPDATE: It has been months since this happened, and I have to say we've seen a remarkable change in our son. His anxiety and depression are controlled and he is showing a buoyancy in spirit I'd feared was lost forever. He has a team helping him and every day, he's a little bit stronger. A little bit brighter. We were able to find help for him. It shouldn't have been as hard as it was, but once you find help, healing is, indeed, possible.
I recently published my latest novel IN THE GARDEN ROOM and I think I did a disservice.
To myself? How is that possible?
Instead of being proud and proclaiming “Hey, everyone! I wrote a book and here it is!” I said, over and over, “I wrote this book and please check it out if you can but it’s really dark and I’m sorry about that.” Maybe that’s not a direct quote but it’s the sentiment behind it.
Why did I apologize about my own book? Then again, in general, why do I say sorry all the time?
I apologized, I think, out of fear. I worried that people would think poorly of me, or whatever colorful impression I made on them (tried to make on them) would twist. So it’s fear that makes me apologize. If I apologize, then I won’t be hurt. Then I don’t really own the piece, the idea, the feeling.
Here’s the thing. This novel was one of the scariest things I’ve ever written. I started with an idea of “What if I wrote something that was emotionally honest about mental illness? What if the heroine couldn’t be plucky and ahead of her time? What if she was truly trapped by her time and circumstance? What if I tried to show how brutal life can be when women don’t have the ability to be independent, when they’re valued for their bodies and not their spirits, when they have no real power at all?”
Those were big questions. Interesting ones. So I wrote as an act of discovery. When we published the piece, I didn’t say anything about my intentions. I apologized.
I’m not trying to sound all Self Help Aisle here. I’m trying to be very real. I wrote a book where I gave myself the freedom to confront head on the dark times I’ve lived through…if not in exact details, in the essence.
I’ve dealt with unchecked mental illness in my family my entire life. It’s been a constant dark companion and something I’ve been told over and over again not to talk about. That I needed to be more understanding and forgiving of my loved ones. That their actions weren’t their fault, and I needed to control my own emotions better because I was healthier than they were. But the thing that’s gotten to me over the years is the effect of mental illness not only on the one suffering, but on their caretakers and loved ones. And if there is no support, no therapy, no medication, there are very dark things that can, and sometimes do, happen.
Why would I want to write about that? Isn’t it better to write another comedy? That’s something people will want to buy. But something dark? Something scary in a real-world kind of way? Why do that?
Because that was the story I needed to tell.
I don’t make my living from writing. I make my living from narrating, so I have the unique freedom to tell the stories I need to tell.
My hope was to be emotionally honest. To go to those places I’ve been told to stay away from. And to create something that is a dark mirror to current problems. We’ve forgotten our own history. We’ve forgotten how far women have come and how, not too long ago, your only real power came if you had money or if you were beautiful. And actually, that’s not too different from today.
I’m still dealing with mental illness. With close family members, friends, extended family, and now with my own son who has debilitating anxiety and depression. I deal with anxiety and depression too. It’s something I’ve learned to live with and navigate with. All of this 'living with' and 'dealing with' makes me sad at times.
And here’s the thing…it is okay for me to be sad and angry and frustrated about this. I have family members in pain who have caused me pain because of whatever is misfiring in their brains. Sometimes I wonder ‘what if’ with them. What if they’d had therapy sooner? If we had day programs and even free stays at hospitals and medication and an openness to talk to one another about struggles with the psyche? What if we had a society that said: “We may not be able to fix this, but we can help you all manage and heal.”
So that’s why I wrote IN THE GARDEN ROOM. I’m not sorry about it or embarrassed or ashamed that I wrote it. It’s complicated and scary and beautiful all at once. That’s something I should be proud of.
And I am.
Oh, I have struggled with whether or not I should write this. The truth is, I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t get my brain and my emotions to stop churning it over and over. And in thinking about it, I realized this has probably happened to a lot of women, and it makes me sad. Deeply, deeply sad that still women are judged according to our appearance and not our character, and our appearance seems to be everyone else’s business.
This weekend I was mushroom hunting with my extended family and just happy to be with everyone. My mom brought a friend and in the woods they had a conversation about me, and the huge amount of weight I’ve gained. I guess my mom tried to defend me by saying I worked out and I wasn’t just lazy, but her friend wasn’t convinced. They said a lot of hurtful things about how I look. I guess that would’ve been fine, this conversation of theirs, everyone has their own thoughts…but they had the conversation in front of my eleven year old son. They’d seen him sitting in the car in front of them, windows down, but they just forgot he was there. My son listened, shocked, and came crying to me and asking me if I was fat and was I going to get diabetes. He wanted to know why his Nana was saying such terrible things about how I looked. “How can she do that?” he asked and I didn’t answer him because I didn’t know.
A few weeks ago, my ex sent me a vitriolic email saying that I needed to talk to our primary care physician because I obviously don’t understand healthy eating or nutrition and that I am actively trying to give our kids diabetes with the way that we must eat.
At conferences I attended, I had people approaching me with brainstorming ideas on healthy eating and how I could lose weight.
I didn’t ask for anyone’s help or opinion on my appearance. They offered it to me, complete with a heavy side of judgment. It’s as if my weight gain is some ticket for everyone to express disappointment in me as a person.
I weigh 173 pounds. I’m a size 12/14. This is average for a woman my age. I’m in my mid-forties and have two children. I have a sedentary job. And here’s the thing. I work out. I walk about 30 miles a week (12,000 steps a day). I eat lots of vegetables, lower carbs, healthy protein. I’m learning that as I enter pre-menopause, things are changing. I sometimes talk about lifestyle changes with people, but it’s as I learn that things I used to enjoy make me feel yucky. I don’t talk about diets. I’m not interested in dieting. I’m interested in learning to grow older with my body and to be okay with who I am as a person.
Funny thing is, I tried to lose weight this year…not because I felt bad about myself or was unhappy…but because of how other people have started to treat me. For three months and a few thousand dollars, I met with a personal trainer three times a week. I lost two pounds. But this wasn’t sustainable. I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t take off the time in the middle of the workday to work out for an hour and drive the twenty minutes there and back, not when I also needed to take time off to take my son to the therapist’s office, or to meet with my sister who is struggling, or to have yet another meandering conversation with my mother about her health. To lose the weight, I had to give up a glass of wine with dinner, an occasional dessert, and began focusing on everything I ate…and I felt guilty about everything I consumed. Every time I ate I felt like a failure. This is not the way to live.
In fact, the times in my life I’ve been the thinnest…are the times I’ve been the most unhappy. When I lived in New York and felt the kind of loneliness where I thought I could disappear and no one would notice. In my first marriage, where every day I disappeared a little more and was criticized for eating too much, not running enough, or wasting time writing when I should be focused solely on the kids. These were the times I was skinny. And you know what people said to me then? During those times I thought I could leave the planet and no one would care? “Tanya! You look so great! You’re so pretty!”
Looking at me now, you wouldn’t know the amount of stress that I’ve been shouldering this year. You also wouldn’t know that, somehow, I am happy in this body and in my life. I have a wonderful husband and two kids I love with every atom of my being. They help me carry the other things going on.
People don’t see that. They see someone who used to be skinny and has now ‘let herself go’. I haven’t let myself go. My body is changing. And you don’t have the right to comment on my appearance. No one comments on a man’s appearance with the kind of vitriol they use about women.
Here’s the thing: my body is not here for your pleasure. I am not an ornament. And while you may think these comments about my weight are offered from a good place in your heart, they’re not. They’re offered from a place of judgment and cruelty.
When did people lose the ability to filter or be kind to others? When did it become okay to say whatever you want to another human being? Has the Internet and trolling become so accepted that we can now look at someone else and let them know how much prettier they’d be if they could only Photoshop away all their flaws?
When did my body become a flaw?
Last week at school, my son was having a hard day. My son is an old soul, a deep thinker, possibly on the spectrum somewhere and there are days he is very sad. He doesn’t cover it up. He just IS. And a kid pointed at him in the lunch cafeteria and said: “Why don’t you just go kill yourself?”
I couldn’t believe this had happened, and then a part of me thought “Of course. It’s okay now to say whatever cruelty you want to another person.”
That night my son and I walked hand in hand around our beautiful neighborhood, the trees lush and green. He said, “Momma, people just don’t seem to know that words hurt. He hurt me. I feel bruised on the inside.”
“I know, baby,” I said. “Words can be sharp, can’t they?”
Words can cut.
Be aware of your power. Try to use it for good. When you have ugly thoughts about someone, instead of saying them, try to focus on something good. Take control back. Don’t assume that because someone weighs more than you think they should, that they should change. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they’re trying hard to but they can’t. Let them come to you if they want to. Otherwise, keep your judgment to yourself.
By writing this, I’m trying to take back control over my life. People can think what they want about me. I have no control over that. But I do have control of how I walk through this life…and I’m trying to do so with tenderness…and sometimes…an occasional sundae.
I've met some people lately who've read and/or listened to BLUNDER WOMAN and I can't tell you how grateful that's made me. Funny thing is, Chloe's been talking to me a bit lately. I think she waited until I finished writing my gothic historical novel. But I think...I think she's back. In fact, here's the opening to her new story. Tell me what you think. If you want to hear more. If you do, I'll keep listening to what she has to say:
It’s high noon. The sun quivers in the sky. A tumbleweed rolls past.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. This isn’t a showdown with Clint Eastwood or whatever. It’s actually like 9 or ten o’clock at night. And I’m drunk as pee.
I’m standing/slouching with a bunch of hot and sweaty females, everyone panting and focused, and everyone’s wearing shiny dresses in various hues of the rainbow. Everyone except me. I’m not in taffeta. Nope. Not me. Me? I’m in a mammoth and very hairy bigfoot costume that smells like hot horse. I lost the head to the costume ages ago (I see better without it and right now seeing is key) so my head looks all shrunken or something. Plus, it was so hot in that mask that my face melted off.
I mean that sort of literally.
The fake eyelashes are sort of swimming down my cheeks along with mascara streaks.
My lipstick is smudged.
And there’s a hickey on my neck.
But I don’t care. No. I don’t care because this monstrous weekend has all led up to this moment and I’m so incredibly focused I can’t even breathe. Everyone else smooshed up around me is breathing plenty. Like they’re some kind of giant taffeta lung or something.
Then we all gasp as Megan holds her bouquet in the air and a beam of light, I swear to the All Mighty, a beam of fucking light falls on it.
I adjust my costume at the neck. Stamp my hoof.
And when she tosses it in the air (and it’s in slow motion because of course it is) I do the only thing I can think. I take a flying leap. It’s a real thing and I do it.
And so do the twenty other single ladies, their manicured nails like sharp talons in the disco balled night.
I scream with everything inside of me “MUTTTTTHHHHHHEEER FUCKAAAAAAAAA!” because it is a war cry and at this wedding, I’m an Amazon. In a bigfoot costume.
There is a perfectly logically explanation for this.
I assure you.
If you’ll just bear with me, I can start from the beginning.
I just wrapped narration on a very sultry story by Vivian Arend called ONE WILD RIDE. Let’s just say, it’s not about a ride in a station wagon. Unless by station wagon, you mean cowboy. So let’s say my mind was in another place. I tell you this, because when the Orkin Man showed up to talk about the couple of ants I’ve noticed in the house, and he arrived wearing very tight pants, a belt, and his white shirt stretched taut against his bulging-man-muscles, and his tag said BED BUG EXPERT, I thought, Oh, I just bet you are. And I purred that thought. I did. Also, he was young and wearing a lot of cologne.
Now, I wasn’t attracted to him. Not really. But there was an awareness that this dude could be on the cover of a romance novel. Just unbutton a couple of those buttons and have him hold his bug sprayer ‘just so’ and blammo! Every housewife’s dream.
My friend showed up around that time and we let the Orkin Man do his stuff and I tried to ignore the inner romance writer in my mind. Though I did notice that there was a strange breeze ruffling his slight disheveled hair. As if a fan was blowing.
So my friend and I visited, and then the Orkin Man interrupted me. “I’ve got some rather important questions,” he said. And suddenly, he was like some hardboiled detective investigating a crime. “If you’ll follow me,” he said, and I did. My friend followed too and she shot me a look. I tried not to notice.
We stood in the hallway. Was it hot? I think his pectoral muscles flexed. He pointed to the bedroom. “Do you see any action in there?”
And I gasped. I did. “Uhmmm. What?”
“Action. With the ants. You said there were two ant sightings in the hallway, but have you seen any activity in your bedroom?”
Boy have I! I wanted to say, but we were still talking about ants.
“Oh. No. Nope. There has been no action or fatalities or whatever in my bedroom.”
He ignored me and went on a very lengthy explanation about carpet ants and how their bodies were big and swollen because THEY LIKED TO MUNCH. ON WOOD. And I just started giggling. I did. They were the tremor kind of giggles. I could feel my friend’s eyes burning into me. She knew. She knew what I was thinking!
I’m not sure if he mentioned a bush, but he did mention trimming and I laughburped. God, I hate when I laughburp. I apologized. He looked hurt. He looked…I think…like he felt like the housewives he visits, never take him seriously. They never listen to his knowledge of pests and their need for eradication, and how he knows how to do that. They just look at his tight pants.
I prayed for him to stop talking. Eventually he did. I thanked him for coming. Over. To my house. To deal with the ants.
I really should not talk to other people. It’s just not wise.
If you want, you can listen to the blog here:
For me, the hardest part about freelancing isn’t the constant hustle to get jobs, really, but a general feeling of being disliked or an annoyance. Every time I send out an email telling publishers “Hey! I’m available!” I feel like I’m saying “Hey! I’m desperate! Please like me! Be my friend! Think I’m funny!” Then again, I think this fear of being disliked is my main insecurity in life. Blame it on a tough childhood, an absent father, or the 6th grade class telling me, literally, that I wasn’t liked. (It happened on the playground. A group of girls called me over to tell me that they’d had a meeting and they all decided I wasn’t liked and they wouldn’t be speaking to me anymore.) It all adds up over the years to a major complex, enhanced by a career where if I’m not liked, I won’t get work.
Why did I choose this? I didn’t really. It wasn’t a choice, exactly, but an inevitably led by following my passion: words. I’ve always loved words, but particularly words out loud. They have a music when they’re said out loud, and I’m in love with that. Most of my own work sounds better out loud. And I love reading a new book, an author’s works, and bringing out that music.
These last few months have been particularly tough on my little tender spirit. I think it’s growing older, but also the complications my son has been having. I wrote a blog about that here, but since posting that, we’ve discovered that he’s probably on the Autistic spectrum. It makes sense. All his meltdowns, his awkwardness, his inability to connect. But as his symptoms have increased, I’ve had pull back on some of my career…travelling to jobs, seeking things out, and being available last minute. It’s been hard.
The industry ebbs and flows. I get that. I’m breathing through it and I’m not complaining. I love narrating. Passionately. But along with my son’s issues, I’ve been trying to find an agent for my new book. Every day I wake up to an inbox of rejections. I have faith that my work, my writing, is good…so if it’s not about my work…then it must be about me? So couple that with auditioning for titles that go to someone else, or reaching out to publishers and not being answered, and then add in the stress of the last few months of a huge move, some family issues, and those ten extra pounds that aren’t really extra anymore but seem to be part of me for the long haul…and what I really need (besides a gin & tonic and a girl’s weekend with Rachel and Kim), is a big old, heavy, ugly cry.
And then I need to pick myself up, dust myself off…and get back to it.
I get through it by continuing to do my best work, even with the swirl of chaos dancing around me.
This is life, isn’t it? It’s ugly and painful, and goddammit, it’s also beautiful.
This week, we moved out of our house on Philadelphia Avenue and into a new house. This wasn’t just any house we left. This was the house where I was able to start over. I purchased it on my own a year after my marriage ended. I knew I had to find a good house so that my kids would be safe and that my ex wouldn’t be able to start a custody battle for them. My heart needed a good house too. I was paying over a grand a month at an apartment, so it seemed smarter to buy a house. And my ex was already buying a home with his new soon-to-be wife. I still remember the humiliation I felt when I was trying to get approved for a mortgage. Because I was a stay-at-home mom for five years, the bank wouldn’t count my ex’s income as mine. According to their paperwork, I was unemployed for five years. My cheeks burned with shame. My ex could get a new car, a new house, with no trouble, but I couldn’t because we’d decided that I stay home with the kids. I remember shaking and crying that night and I thought: “How do women do it? How do they start over?” My answer in the quiet was a very loud: “They just DO.” So I did. I had a good job and narration gigs. And I pushed. I was fierce. I was tenacious. And the assistant to the president of the college where I worked, very kindly penned a brilliantly worded letter that stated that I would be employed for the foreseeable future. And the bank, eventually, gave me a mortgage.
And I got the house. On my own. For me, and my kids.
The day I got the keys, I walked in and looked around at the vast emptiness of the house on Philadelphia. But I didn’t SEE emptiness, I saw potential. I saw hope. I saw safety.
And for six years, that house became a home to me and my kids, and then my dear Kealoha. And we all grew together and laughed, and fought, and healed. Because that is what you do in a good house that is a home. You grow, together.
Still, it was my house. And I wanted something that would continue to grow with us, all of us, as a family. So we sold the house on Philadelphia and we’ve moved to a new house that we will make ours. I didn’t have to fight for this one. It just happened. And it felt like after a very long time of running, that I can finally stop. Be still. And breathe.
On the last day in the house on Philadelphia, my son ran from room to room, thanking it. I laughed at first, but then I started to cry a little. “Thank you living room! This is where we all hung out and had Christmas.” Runrunrun “Thank you kitchen! This is where mom cooked great food and only burned things sometimes.” Runrunrun “Thank you dining room. This is where we ate lots of good food and had family dinners most of the time even on days I didn’t want to but I liked it anyway.” Runrunrun “Thank you basement! Thank you bedroom! Thank you back yard!”
Later, alone again in the empty house, I breathed my own words of thanks. I didn’t need to say them out loud. I just felt it. With every beat of my strong, fierce heart.
I’ve been letting my hair go gray. Earth shattering and so important, right? I know. It’s ridiculous. At any rate, it’s going gray and a couple of days ago, my kids cornered me to ask what was going on. I was playing on my iPad, sitting in my comfy reading chair, when the two walked up to me. I’m pretty sure Moxie was smacking a bat against the palm of her hand, and Franz was chewing gum obnoxiously, looking all tough like.
FRANZ: Mom. Come on. What’s happening with your hair?
ME: What do you mean?
MOXIE: Mom! You know what we’re talking about. The hair.
(Then there was a dramatic pause here as the camera that wasn’t filming us but should’ve been did some dramatic close-ups of my graying bangs, my eyes, a twitch in my cheek.)
ME: Well, I’m getting older and I’m just tired of dyeing it and I thought, you know, I’d become my authentic self.
MOXIE: What are you talking about? Authentic self? That makes no sense. We hate it!
ME: * blink blink blink *
FRANZ: No. Wait. It’s okay. You’re still pretty. We’ll get use to it. I mean, now, I guess, you’re kinda shiny…and….that’s…good?
(I nodded. My daughter then put the bat down and immediately burst into tears.)
MOXIE: But you look older and every time I look at you I think how old you are and that you’re going to die and I don’t want you to die and be dead so can you just put your hair back the way it was???
I’ve felt guilty about a lot of my parenting choices, but this was a new one for me. The idea that my hair color was traumatizing my kids. I mean, sure, they’ll get used to it, but I don’t really have the energy right now to work through Teachable Moments. So I scheduled an appointment at the salon in two weeks.
What can I say? I’m weak.
It’s finally arrived! My last day of my daily blog posts. I’m rather proud of myself for being able to blog every day this month and I thank you for stopping by, reading, and sometimes even interacting by leaving comments or liking the posts.
I started this little one-month experiment as a way to reconnect not only with my blog, but, as cheesy as it sounds, to reconnect with myself. Blogging sometimes helps me figure out things in my life. Words and the act of writing can sometimes make order out of chaos. The very act of writing alone organizes as you think of what to write next, what word to use, what colors to paint your world with.
There were days I didn’t want to blog, but I blogged anyway. Sometimes I’d start to panic and think “What if I run out of things to say?” but then I’d sit down and some kind of topic presented itself, as if it was just sitting there waiting for me.
My only rule when sitting down to write was to be genuine. And allow myself to be vulnerable too. It allowed me to post in Lunch With Strangers about meeting my father for lunch and the sadness I feel about letting go of a relationship-that-isn’t.
I wrote about struggles with my son’s behavior in There’s Something Wrong With My Kid and the shame I felt for breaking a plate and screaming out of sheer frustration. And then I heard from dozens of people who wrote to me and said: “Yes. This is happening to me too. I’m part of the Broken Plate Club”, and I was comforted by the idea that maybe I’m not a monster.
I wrote about the things I love in I Love The Way, as an exercise to remember the good in the world when there is so much darkness.
I had days where I made myself laugh, even if no one else did. I loved my Love Poem To Ulgra by Hammertoh the Dwarf, and the idea that my stress level is indicated by my legs’ hair growth.
I re-posted my favorite blog about my difficulties with friendships, and my love for my girlfriends in To The Women I Have Loved And Lost. And I remembered both my worst and best Thanksgivings.
All in all, this month has been a journey, a bit of an adventure, a bit of a nightmare, all wrapped up in a wonderful life-burrito. And I thank you, truly, for reading.
For a long time, I’d given up on thinking of myself as a writer at all, or questioned the point of even trying, but your reading this, your comments, your kind words to me, gave me a little more faith in myself. A much-needed recharge of spirit. And I really mean Thank You.
The blog’s not done, but the daily posts are. I’m going to put my energy this month into rewriting my novel. I hope you’ll check in occasionally, and I’ll occasionally post when something happens where I feel moved to write about it.
I’m actually a little teary right now. It’s probably hormones, but maybe not. Maybe it’s that this has been a great experience. I’m proud of myself for doing it. And I’m astounded that so many of you followed along with me as I put words into order and posted them out in the world. I believe this is an act of magic. Magic does exist; it just doesn’t look the way we expected.
So thanks for the little bit of magic, too, and for helping me to believe.
This morning, while scrolling for my Facebook feed I saw a headline from The Elephant Journal that read “Top Ten Things That Turn A Mom On” and I thought WHAT? And then I realized what it actually said was “Top Ten Things That Turn A MAN On.” Oh. That made more sense. And then, imagining the two lists, I thought…I bet those lists would have very, very different things on it.
So here is my list of the
Top Ten Things That Turn A Mom On
1) Taking a bath without someone pounding on the door because they need to poop and/or they need you to set up the Xbox.
2) Having your husband say without your asking: “Don’t worry about dinner tonight. I got this.”
3) Having the kids actually listen to you and pick up their room/brush their hair/ take a shower.
4) A clean house, free of Lego Death Bombs on your feet.
5) Finding a nice place to get your hair done where the stylist doesn’t need to make small talk and you can just Be. Quiet. And get your head rubbed.
6) Having your head rubbed.
7) Being able to watch some of the programs you’ve recorded to the DVR while the kids play quietly upstairs and don’t try to strangle each other or shout things like “Stop looking at me!”
8) Taking out your winter clothes from last year and trying them on and having them STILL FIT.
9) A good, supportive bra that lifts your boobs and is sorta stylish and doesn’t make you look like you shop in the Granny section at Kmart.
10) A nice glass of wine, a good chocolate truffle, a slice of pizza (warm and gooey), a kiss from your husband on the side of your neck, having enough money in the bank for the essentials and some extras.
*Bonus Turn On*
11) All the male movie stars in England.
I had one of those ultimate bad-sleeping nights, the kind when you get up in the morning, it’s like trudging through knee-deep sand. The kind where Mr. Sandman has declared “No sleep for you!”
Last night, by 8:45, I was done. Done as in exhausted, and tired of my son’s meltdowns and the kids fighting and cooking food they didn’t want to eat and having to do laundry and clean the house and and and. I was just done. Sleep called to me like a satiny seductress.
I wanted to wake up at 4AM and get a little recording done. I have a couple of big, ‘important’ books due this week and any progress I can make will mean a less stressful week. So I told everyone I was going to bed. I immediately fell asleep. By 9:01, I startled awake, gasping, as my son thudded upstairs screaming for me. My husband quickly reminded him that I was sleeping, though it was already too late.
Hubby tucked the kids in and I fell asleep and then gasped awake again when my daughter started calling for us because she need Dream Dust to help her sleep. (Basically, we rub our hands together and then tickle the ‘dream dust’ on her. She knows we’re doing this, but it’s the routine, I guess that helps her sleep.) Hubby took care of her. Good man.
I fell back asleep and a few hours later, around midnight, hubby let out some snores so deep and disturbing that I thought he was demonically possessed. I nudged him a few times, but to no avail. That man was ASLEEP.
Fuck it, I said, and stumbled downstairs to sleep all contorted like on the couch. At 12:30, hubby let the dog out and he zombie-walked back upstairs. My dog sat in front of the couch. Whining. Whining. Whining. I got up to get her a bone, but evidently, she wanted to play so she attacked a pair of slippers while I floated in that haze of dear-god-just-let-me-sleep.
Finally, after about an hour of constant whining and running around, she jumped up to fall asleep with me where we slept, for a while, pretzel-like, and then I had a dream that I was on a boat and there was an enormous tsunami wave coming right at me and then my alarm went off at 4AM so I could narrate, which there was no way I could do because I’d sound drunk.
I gave up and made some coffee.
Now I’m grumpy and depressed and stressed out and I had turkey tetrazzini for breakfast and I need to workout but I have no energy and I’m just, generally, unlikeable right now.
Maybe I can wiggle in a nap. I might have no choice. I think it’s either nap or pass out in leftover stuffing swimming with gravy.