For the #1 spot in each week’s Quick Takes, I usually think back and pick out an interesting / funny / bizarre story that occurred within the past seven days. As I sit down to review this particular week, I realize just how nonexistent my life has been. One hundred percent of my energy has been divided between the following three things:
- Feverishly working on the book.
- Thinking about how infuriated I am going to be if I don’t hit this deadline and thus have to wait eight months until my schedule clears up so I can get back to it. (Notice I am beyond the point of even pretending that I might be able to prayerfully turn the timeline over to God. My “patiently accepting endless delays” capabilities ran out sometime between the second time I scrapped a completed draft and the 12 months I had to wait to work on it again.)
- Hanging out with the kids, unsuccessfully pitching a new pretend game called Tortured Artist, where one of us (mommy) sits and types furiously while everyone else stands around and makes comments like “That’s genius!” and “What a brilliant paragraph.”
Have I mentioned that I’m speaking at the Living the Faith conference in Denver? I can’t wait. You can read Julie Filby’s article about it here. I see that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be giving one of the keynotes. I guess that means that, since I am also a speaker, we’ll pretty much be hanging out the whole time. Justice Scalia (who will probably insist that I call him “Tony”) might have some questions about my blog, and will want to get my take on some of the cases he’s hearing right now. Another keynote speaker, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, will be excited to hear that my husband is coming. My husband established himself as a luminary in the worlds of both philosophy and astronomy after calling out every celestial body in the cosmos and issuing a standing challenge for any of them to go up against him on Jeopardy (as of yet unanswered, I note), so I’m sure that Brother Consolmagno will be anxious to meet him.
As I flail around with my own book project, the good news is that there are other bloggers out who have fancy things like completed books, and I can live vicariously through them. Steady Mom has a new eBook out that promises to be great, and The Bloggess’ first memoir is coming out in April. Prediction: The Bloggess’ book will be in the top 10 of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list within one week of its release. She has what publishers refer to as a “FREAKING HUGE PLATFORM,” meaning that she has tens of thousands of loyal readers who lie awake at night waiting to buy her book, so it’ll be very interesting to see how it does. (As a writing nerd who is also a web stats nerd who used to work in marketing, these sorts of things are fascinating to me.)
You may notice that I didn’t link to The Bloggess’ blog in that last take. I know. Bad etiquette. But I simply don’t have the vocabulary to craft a content warning that would be strong enough to give readers unfamiliar with her writing a proper idea of what they might find there. Ten f-bombs, to be sure. But also discussion of insane taxidermy experiments. Pictures of insane taxidermy experiments. Sexual references that would make Hugh Hefner blush. And that’s just in the first paragraph.
I was going to go ahead and link to it with an all caps warning that clicking through will fling you far, far outside of the Inspirational Christian Mommy blog world, but then I had the realization (that chills me every time I think about it) that some of my dear friends who are Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist occasionally check in on my blog. I had this vision of Sister Elizabeth Ann accidentally clicking on the link, unsure what just happened, and at that moment some of her sisters walk in behind her. Sister Maria Rosario faints, Sister Thomas Aquinas is crossing herself and saying Hail Mary’s. Someone is on the phone to Mother Assumpta. And Sister Elizabeth Ann is frantically closing browsers, crying, “JENNIFER FULWILER MADE ME DO IT!”
Now I feel the need to post something worthy of having deeply devout people read this blog. I have the perfect thing! Check out this super cute four-minute talk by Kimberly Hahn. It’s a really unique presentation that has stuck with me ever since I watched it.
The turning point came when one day I realized, I was a number-one bestselling author, I was rich and famous and I’d done all these things in my writing career that I couldn’t even dream of accomplishing when I’d started. All the things I thought I needed to do to make myself happy, I had done…I thought that would be more than enough to make me happy, and it wasn’t.
Want to hear something eerie? When I found this article I had just finished mentioning him in my memoir, which explores those exact themes. My husband and I used to get together with some friends occasionally to go bar hopping in a yellow school bus while dressed as clowns, and I talked about it because something significant to the main plot happened on one of those nights. Tucker happened to be with us, so I mentioned it. Anyway, it was odd to hear someone who was there that night publicly express the same opinion. I was like, What?? Clown Night didn’t bring you deep inner peace either?! So weird!
Good for you, Tucker, for searching for something more. I pray that your journey may also take you from the clown bus to God.
As I wrap up this edition of Quick Takes to get back to work on the book, I leave you with this fabulous quote that nancyo recently left in a comment:
“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
- Thomas Mann
This makes me think I might be a real Writer after all.
Yesterday afternoon, I thought I had found a one-two punch of improving our neighbors’ impressions of The Homeschoolers and getting some socialization for the kids. (Disclaimer: Socialization is not a problem for everyone who educates at home. Many such families have no problem whatsoever exposing their children to the company of other human beings. The stereotype comes from people like me, who were weird to begin with.) Anyway, yesterday I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and set them on a stand in our front yard as a lure for the kids who were playing outside after school.
It worked! The warm cookies were like a kid magnet, and within minutes a half dozen children were hanging around our front yard. I pretended to be very busy rearranging the two chairs on the front porch while I kept an eye on the interactions. Just when the older kids got past some awkward hellos and began to chat with potential new friends, my sugar-crazed toddler grabbed two cookies and stuffed them into her mouth with both hands, grunting and smearing chocolate all over her face, arms, and neck. I chirped a polite reminder for her not to eat all the cookies, hoping my calm and classy tone would balance out her behavior, and leave people with the overall impression that we were probably not mountain people who had come in from the hills to take up residence in this neighborhood. Upon hearing my admonishment, she opened her mouth, and let a chewed blob of cookies fall from her mouth and splat onto the middle of the plate. The kids scattered like cockroaches.
Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow.
This is kind of an odd juxtaposition, but here it goes anyway: I’ve been using the book Mornings With Fulton Sheen as meditation starters for my morning prayer time. It’s great stuff. Each page has a reflection from something the late Archbishop wrote, along with a corresponding Bible verse. An example from page 51:
“Man becomes like that which he loves. If he loves gold, he becomes like it — cold, hard and yellow. The more he acquires, the more he suffers at surrendering even the least of it, just as it hurts to have a single hair pulled out even thought your head is full of them.”
Wisdom is worth much more than gold, and understanding should be chosen over silver. (Proverbs 16:16)
There are a bunch of daily meditation books like this (Karen Edmisten’s Through the Year With Mary and Bert Ghezzi’s Breakfast with Benedict are also great). I always find them to be good ways to kickstart my prayer time, especially if I’ve been going through a spiritual dry spell.
I’ve continued my commitment to get up at 6:00 AM (by “continued” I mean “I sometimes get up when the first number on the clock still says 6“) and one of the most exciting parts of each morning is when I put on my slippers. I know what you’re thinking: Wow, that sounds thrilling. Putting on slippers? Tell me more. Can I also get a detailed list of what you eat for breakfast? But wait. This is actually a tension-filled moment of death-defying anticipation in this house, and here’s why:
It occurred to me the other day that these shoes, which are tall and poofy slipper-boots, are a perfect scorpion habitat. I mean, so perfect that the marketing department should throw out all this foot warming mumbo jumbo and just market them as arachnid condos. So when we combine the facts that scorpions like small, warm spaces and are also nocturnal, we see that it is a matter of when, not if, I will encounter one in my slipper-boots at 6 AM. I’ve been shaking the slippers out every morning, but there’s always a chance that one of the scorpion’s claws could get stuck in the furry fabric, in which case the result of my shaking would only be that I now have an extremely angry and alert scorpion waiting for me in my shoes.
I wouldn’t wear those slippers, someone just thought after reading my last take. Believe me, I am sympathetic to this line of thinking. But around here we have scorpions in our beds, our towels, our kitchens, our toy piles, our living rooms. Alas, even our toilets are not outside of the universe of possibilities of where one might encounter a scorpion. If I were to optimize my life on not being stung, I would stand on a stool in my living room and scream in despair all day (though not too close to the air vent, since scorpions fall out of there sometimes). As it is, even my most mundane tasks are packed with the tension of WILL I OR WILL I NOT BE STUNG BY A POISONOUS ARACHNID WHEN I DO THIS? Let it never be said that I don’t have an exciting life.
If you have young children, I think you need one of these. I got it for my two-year-old for Christmas after seeing the reviews on Amazon, which led me to beleive that it is specifically mentioned in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a glow bug thing that shoots lights from its shell. And it has buttons that change the colors. Okay. Obviously I am up too late to describe this very well, so let me put it this way: It does cool stuff that will get your children to beg you to turn out the lights at night.
I’m speaking at the Diocese of Venice Apologetics Conference on February 7, so if you’re in the area come on by! (That’s Venice, Florida, by the way. Though I am certainly open to the possibility should anyone want me to speak in Venice, Italy. I don’t know Italian, but I do offer a pantomimed version of my talks.)
In what should be a humbling turn of events, the weekend before I’ll be seeing Matthew Kelly speak at our parish. He’s arguably one of the best speakers in the world, and talks like this are why:
Book progress: I have about 48,000 words down. According to my writing schedule, I’m supposed to have about 57,000 by this point. I’m not too worried — if I keep focused and stay off of Twitter, I think I can make it up over the next few weeks.
Writing tip: I’ve tried everything under the sun to keep myself motivated to write, and nothing has worked as well as simple word count deadlines. When I’ve based my schedule on what topics I was going to cover when, I could come up with all sorts of elaborate rationalizations that made it seem like I was doing something, when really I was doing nothing (“I didn’t cover top X per se, but I did research topic Y, which is related…”). Word count deadlines keep you typing.
Yesterday I turned 35. To celebrate, let’s get all reflective!
- If you are older than 35, tell me about what you were doing at this age. How do you feel about that time of your life? Anything you’d do differently?
- If you are younger than 35, tell me about what you want your life to be like when you’re my age.
My husband and I ended up in a long conversation about ventriloquists the other day (still not sure how that happened). Anyway, the upshot of it was that we ended up rediscovering Señor Wences. I hadn’t seen this clip of him on The Muppet Show since I was a kid, and I was delighted to find that he is every bit as charming and talented as I remembered him being:
After all the drama, the proclamations, the descriptions of not wanting to eat or sleep, the excessive use of caps lock, I didn’t end up watching Downton Abbey this weekend. I was behind on my writing schedule, so I used the time I had carefully blocked out for throwing myself all over the television to write instead. THAT is how seriously I am about this February deadline. (Fellow Downton Abbey fans just gasped and started fanning themselves.)
As I’ve mentioned before, my agent doesn’t want to talk to publishers until we have an A+ draft, so I am not under contractual obligation to have it done by that date. However, I think I’m actually more dedicated to the deadline than I would be if my main pressure were a contract with a publisher. Since our family has made sacrifices for me to get the extra time I need to get this done, I want to make sure I don’t drag this out any longer than necessary. I hate the idea of having to go to my husband and mom and mother-in-law on February 21 and say, “Hey, you know how I made that big pitch about how I could use some extra help for a few weeks? And how any sacrifices would be worth it because it would allow me to wrap up this project by today? I have some bad news about that…” I feel like one way I can show my appreciation for their efforts is to take the deadline I promised them very seriously. And in this house, it does not get much more serious than skipping the first episode of Season 2 of Downton Abbey.
I recently stumbled across a heated discussion where people were asked to state their annual income and then say how rich or poor they felt. (The link is here, but there’s some strong language. To give you an idea: Some people wrote in and complained that they felt very poor despite making high-six-figure incomes. Others were allowed to respond anonymously, with no censoring. You can imagine what kind of commentary that elicited.) So anyway, I was surprised to hear people talking about making $350,000 a year and feeling “so, so, so poor”…but then I wondered if I’d really be as content as I think I would be at that income.
I once read that your desires adjust to your income level, and that “at all levels of income, the typical response is that one needs 20% more to be happy.” I’ve thought for a long time that I wouldn’t need any more income if we just had X amount…and I laughed when I did the math and realized it was 20% more. It made me realize that as long as I’m in the mode of “Coveting Things You Want that You Can’t Afford,” I’ll never feel like I have enough. If we did get more money, I would just buy those things I’d been pining over (larger house, newer car, etc.), and then our budget would be maxed out again and I’d come up with new things that I want but can’t afford.
I know, I know, this is an incredibly obvious concept. I think what shocked me was when I saw that I’m really not all that different than a millionaire who feels poor. I thought of myself as being in a totally different situation than someone who makes a zillion dollars and still wishes she had more…but really, we’re both people who can’t seem to get it through our heads that we have more than enough.
Election season is in full swing! And that’s the last you’ll hear about it from me. I remember back in the Fall of 2008, I would occasionally get comments like, “Umm, you do know that there’s a hotly contested presidential election going on, right? Just wondering since you haven’t mentioned it once.”
I’m naturally apolitical, and I don’t think that it’s within the scope of this blog to talk about politics anyway. So if you’ve been looking around for a blog that can enlighten you with nuanced analysis of the upcoming primary season and its implications for the November ballots, you will find this site to be deeply disappointing. But if you were just sitting there wondering, “What blog could I read in 2012 that will avoid the topic of the election entirely and focus on God and poop fates and scorpions instead?”, drop everything, subscribe to my RSS feed, and prepare yourself to be blessed.
My current read is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It had been on my wish list for a while, but I finally bought it after coming across this fascinating interview about Skloot’s process for writing the book. As a writing nerd, I was dying to see her finished product after reading all the details of how she weaved the different narrative threads together.
The book is wonderful. Very well done. It reminds me of Born to Run, which is also excellent and very similar in structure. It’s made me realize that I adore that particular genre, which I think of as “nonfiction that educates you about an interesting concept while weaving in colorful personal vignettes about the people involved, including the author’s own story of researching the book.” Is there a more concise term for that? It’s a combination of textbook-style info and memoir. Maybe “infoir”? “Memfo”? (Clearly I am up too late.) Anyway, if you come across any other books in that genre, let me know!
I leave you with this: an image of what happens when you’re the fifth baby, and three of your older siblings are little girls:
Have a great weekend!
You don’t even know the writer angst I spare you. I could have an entire blog where I wrote three posts per day transcribing the mercurial inner dialogue that runs through my head whenever I sit down to work on this book project.
I’ve been pondering the age-old question of why even the most basic creative pursuits tend to make people crazy. As Steve Pressfield would say, part of it is undoubtedly spiritual attack. But I think there’s also a natural frustration that comes with not being able to control your way into success. For example, if you have a vision of building a simple bridge across a small river, you can get it done. As long as you’re willing to learn and work hard, you’ll achieve your goal of having a way to get from one side of the river to another. But with anything involving the arts, it’s a different story. If a musician has a vision of creating a beautiful song, he may or may not be able to do it. Hard work and learning can certainly help, but they’re no guarantee that he’ll reach his goal of making something beautiful. I think it’s the unpredictable nature of alchemy behind creating decent art that makes it so maddening sometimes.
My toddler made me this sweet gift at our parish preschool. It’s one of those keepsake sheets where the teachers ask the kids about their parents and then record the funny answers. Her sister did one of these last year, and I noticed that there was something different about this one:
On the old form, there were questions about what Mommy likes to eat and drink. When I saw the line “My mommy likes to drink ______”, I was relieved to see the delightfully unremarkable beverage milk written down…but I kind of wondered how many tries it took to get that answer. The question is now off the sheet entirely, and I have this vision that it started with a staff meeting after the last time they did this project, the teachers complaining that the kids kept coming back with stuff like “scotch on the wocks.”
I met a new neighbor recently, and when I told her where we lived, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the homeschoolers!” It chills me to consider that we are the very embodiment of what it means to homeschool to the good people of our block. I tried to explain that there are all different types of homeschoolers, that we were already weird even before we took our kids out of elementary school, etc., but it had no effect. Subsequent comments have indicated that we are firmly entrenched in our neighbors’ minds as The Homeschoolers.
Yesterday I was sweeping ashes off the driveway from our testing different ways to start fires, Christmas lights still blinking behind me, a week after all the other houses have taken theirs down, when one of the neighbors asked if my son wanted to come out and play. I looked at the throng of children frolicking joyfully through the streets, then motioned toward my darkened house and said, “He might want to in a while, but I think he wants to finish something on Tux Paint first.” As I was explaining that Tux Paint is a free drawing game that comes with the Linux operating system, it occurred to me that we now looked not only like shut-ins, but nerd shut-ins who aren’t even cool enough to waste the afternoon on an Xbox or a Wii. I apologize to homeschoolers everywhere for perpetuating stereotypes.
DOWNTON ABBEY IS BACK!!!!!! The first episode of Season 2 airs Sunday, January 8, and you don’t even have to have cable to watch it! I don’t know what it is with me and this show, but it captivated me the way nothing on TV ever has before. I’m normally too distracted by writing projects to make much time for television or movies; even when my husband and I do put on a movie, I often end up going through email or organizing my Evernote files while it plays. But after I watched the first episode of the first season of Downton, I was ready to give up writing, eating, sleeping, bathing, and pretty much everything else until I finished it. The day I watched the last episode, I shuffled around the house in a daze, trying to wrap my mind around the awesomeness that I had just beheld, while simultaneously trying to figure out what to do with my life now that I’d watched the entire season.
I knew that I might have a slightly unhealthy relationship to the show by my reaction to this lukewarm review of Season 2 in the Huffington Post. Normally I am all about speaking respectfully and using my real identity when I comment on other people’s blogs, but this time I found myself overwhelmed with the urge to troll the post with anonymous comments from StopHatin saying stuff like “WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!?!? SHUT UP THAT SHOW IS AWESOME WHY CAN’T YOU JUST CHILL OUT AND APPRECIATE IT?!?!?!”…even though I have not actually seen Season 2 yet. Anyway, if anyone needs me on Sunday night at 8:00, you’ll find me drooling on myself in front of my television.
You guys have the best gift suggestions. When I asked what I should get for my cousin the hiphop DJ in Brooklyn, Melanie came up with the great idea of one of these bowls made out of a vintage record:
It’s interesting how natural it has become for me to do my planning around the liturgical year. For example, when I was trying to decide on an exact deadline for the book, my first thought was that it’d be ideal to have it finished by Mardi Gras, so that I could be more relaxed during Lent. Knowing that the last couple of weeks of getting it together will be a high-stress time, I’ve been very motivated by the goal of making the most of Lent as a time to unwind and refocus. When we’ve been putting dinners and get-togethers on the calender with family and friends, it’s now second nature to think, “I’ll have to look up a good vegetarian recipe since that’s on a Friday in Lent,” or “We’ll have to do something special since that’ll be on a Sunday during the Easter season.” I love how living by the Church calendar keeps me moving in unison with the Body of Christ, and puts elements of the life of Christ at the forefront of my mind, even when I’m doing something as mundane as planning a lunch.
Book lovers, I have a little New Year’s present for you: Over at the Register, I asked 19 bloggers to give me their top book recommendation for 2012. The result was a fantastic list (and don’t miss the comments!)