Friday, February 2, 2018

Can People Truly Have it All?

A Resounding Moment 

Recently in the English college class I teach, I allowed students to choose a text from a chapter on gender. The idea was they'd discuss the readings as a group, then we would give each reading equal time to talk about as a class. Only in all four classes, they wanted to talk more about two particular readings centered on a specific topic: how men and women cannot have it all.

The concept of not being able to have it all is the problem that arose when the women joined the workforce and were at times forced to choose between a leg up in their career track or their family. Societal expectations dictated that women must work AND be the housewife/caregiver, so essentially having two jobs. In the more recent decades, economic struggles have forced most middle and lower class families to have both parents in a family working just to make ends meet. This means men are forced to take over some of the family rearing and home aspects, so they struggled to be the stereotypical provider AND the family man. So both men and women are stuck at an impasse that the current US economic structure cannot solve at this point: regardless of gender, people can't have it all. This is what the literature concludes (Don't shoot the messenger!). It is important to note that studies show men do not take care of the home nearly as much as women, but on average work more. When stats are measured for how much work (basically anything not for leisure) people do weekly, each gender does about the same, "clocking in" with roughly 58 hrs a week.

I found it daunting that so many young adults were realistically accepting that they would have to make sacrifices. They accepted they could not have the career they dreamed of while raising a family. They did not optimistically try to voice a solution. I think part of me admires that. Straddling the Gen X and Millennial line myself, I was raised in the 80's and 90's where we were taught to be utterly optimistic and our parents' generation grumbled about how we proclaimed we wanted to be happy, to do what we love for a living, not rich or stable as they preferred. So it was interesting as I begin to teach this generation. This instant acceptance and realistic attitude stunned me. And I wanted to give them a spark of hope. I wanted them to think of this not as the gospel truth, but a worse case scenario.

There are articles out there now proclaiming women and men can have it all and balance life completely and easily. However, reading the comments of people attacking the authors (and we know how insane some trolls get), there was a shred of truth in their sometimes angry and sometimes ignorant responses. They pointed out most these people who said they could have the career they always wanted and the family worked from home. Now in my head (and through my experience) the scene from Storks comes to mind where the little boy wants a sibling because his parents are always working despite being home. They tell him repeatedly something along the lines of 5 more minutes and we'll stop. I'm not bashing on these authors for trying to have an optimistic outlook and a desire to help others balance life, but let's be fully realistic. Anyone with kids (or pets even) who tries to work from home knows how little gets done when all the other demands occur. For five years I felt that when I was a good mother, I was a poor professor, and vice versa. It was a difficult struggle. But I learned to accept there would be a week here or there (grading) where I would be the parents in Storks, and there would be a week here or there where I'd be likened to Cameron Diaz's character in Bad Teacher (okay, maybe not that bad, but you get my point).

In the end, only one student out of almost eighty (or at least who cared enough and was confident enough to speak up) was dissatisfied with the prospect of not having it all. She wanted my opinion, which I usually don't give because I don't want to influence them. And she wanted more tangible solutions than the authors provided. I gave my opinion. I told them it was honestly a struggle, but I was able to move up the academic ladder (from an Adjunct Professor to a Lecturer) during the years while my child was at home full time. They were stressful years. But as soon as my son was in school, there was so much more time to get things done. Honestly, the stress and the juggling never stops, but I do feel like I have it all. How? They asked, as if they simply wanted a recipe to bake a cake, not demanding the answers to life. So I listed the ingredients to a balanced life and this turned into one of those teaching moments that is meaningful and powerful that sticks with you and them for a while. Now I share the recipe with you.

Recipe for a balanced life "cake":
1 flexible job or schedule (I only have to be somewhere 18 hours/week, the rest is at home)
1 supportive spouse
equal division of duties (from providing to household/childcare)
1 dependable babysitter or family
3 outlets for stress (something for the brain, body, and spirit)
1 family day/week
limit extracurricular activities (for self and kids)

I'm sure there are more ingredients and that some of these aren't possible for people. And I'm genuinely lucky to be hyperactive and have the energy to be able to do it all. I'm lucky to have a flexible job, and a supportive family. However, the digital age allows much more online working time in a lot of jobs that could be remote or at least a hybrid of at work/online than ever before. And I did choose this career path partially for the flexibility--knowing I would not flourish in the 9-5 rat race--and that technology would allow some remote work.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I learned from trial and error what worked for me. More importantly, I hope I gave the next generation a less bleak outlook of their future struggles when it comes to fulfilling their life goals. If I did that for even one student, the lesson was a success. As women or men, let us have our cake and eat it too.



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Crowdsourcing: Something To Think About

It's been a long time since I've posted. To be honest a lot has been going on--mostly fabulous things--but they were time consuming, of course. Some writing happened as it always will, but absolutely no selling or attempts to sell my novels occurred much to my dismay. This very lack of focus on getting my writing out there is why I believe I'd make a terrible indie author.


I have five novels now that are ready to go, mainly just need a last copyedit. They have been revised and edited again and again until I'm tired of looking at them. I can write all the time; it just comes to me easily, this innate part of my brain that flows with ideas and imagination. I've named her my muse. The muse hates research, especially looking for agents and publishers and learning enough about each to write a semi-personal query letter.

I was looking back thinking about what I could write about for a blog entry when I came across my post almost a year ago about crowdsourcing. I had really though hard and long about trying it out, but each site I saw had a drawback for me: you upload an entire book, or was limited to genre specific or had limited books selected or a small audience. But on a recent search to see the lie of the land, I discovered Kindle Scout. I dove in to see what it was like, as a reader.

Reader
I love the idea. In a week, I read the beginnings (5000 words) of twenty something books--some great, most good, some a bit wanting--but all had potential to be published one day. Some of the authors were already published but trying a different genre and some were aspiring authors. Basically, the books are on there for thirty days and I get to nominate three at a time. If the book gets published, I get a free copy of the full length novel. It's a neat way to get some free books. The amount of readers is unclear, but when I started without points (they rank you to get competitive to gain points) I was ranked in the high 500's. And anyone with an amazon account can nominate through the website.

Writer

As a writer, you create a platform and "campaign" your book to gain popularity and to have people nominate your book. When things run "hot," meaning lots of people are checking it out and nominating it, Amazon will look at it and might publish it. The publishing perks are actually very competitive: $1,500 advance, and a 5-year contract where if you do not make $25K in that time frame, your rights go back to you. If the novel doesn't make anything--less than $200 the first year--you are let out of your contract. The 30-day window allows competition, but not too much (I saw maybe 50 books in each genre) and only holds up your novel for a month. They will legitimately publish your book and promote it. There really seems to be nothing to lose for the author. Every now and then they will give editorial advice for your sample as well.

It seems too good to be true, but the stats are showing hundreds of books being published a year with these books appearing all over the website (seems to crowd out some of the indie authors that still need revisions). This really seems like the beginning of a forum for publishing companies to scope out what used to be indie authors and separating great self-published authors (and making them published authors) from those who really struggle making a refined (or even copyedited) product. Since all authors are expected to sell their novels as well, this seems a great way to have a publisher and promote your book yourself. Since there is nothing to lose, I think I'm going to go for it. Stay tuned for when I post again about my campaign and nominate me please.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I will not cry when my kid goes to Kindergarten

I will not cry when my son goes to Kindergarten. It's not because I'm tougher than other parents or
that I'm cold-hearted. I love my child just as much as other mothers. I simply have a very different experience than some that makes me less likely to cling onto my child's image as my baby. I'm so used to wanting him to grow up and that hasn't changed for me yet.

When my son was born, it was far from your average situation. Every time the little 4 1/2 pound nugget gained an ounce, he was closer to coming home from the hospital. Every pound he gained or inch he grew meant he was leaving preemiehood behind. Only after we escaped physical preemiehood, did I realize that neurological preemiehood is more lasting. Life for us was full of setbacks followed by celebrations

As a baby, my son hit every milestone at an adjusted age, but then at around the 2 1/2 to 3 year old phase we started to notice he was developing a bit different from other toddlers--nothing profound, but just small things that added up. Oh, yeah, and he was hyper as all Hell and easily overexcited. We
were growing concerned. He obviously wasn't "normal" in the broad sense of the word. Looks from other mothers and whispers about autism freaked me out enough to go to the doctor and specialist. Repeated visits and testing yielded in a diagnosis of developmental delay in social skills and language. This would be something he may outgrow or the diagnosis may turn into something else. Only time would tell.

Then there was preschool at 3. I wasn't excited; I was scared of rejection for my son. And despite the multiple warnings I gave the preschool director about his delay, he was rejected, kicked out, and not because he hurt anyone or himself, or did anything "wrong." He was too hyper and she was convinced (although not certified to diagnose) he was autistic (he's be cleared by 5 professionals) and couldn't go to a normal school (read about it here).These are when my tears came: when someone judged my son (after 1 day!) and wrote him off as an unsolvable enigma. Friends consoled me that she was just one person, but it wasn't just one person. The judgments and offhand comments came more often than smiles or compliments.

So I worried, researched, took him to professionals, and together we realized he also has a few sensory issues. He cannot sit still and gets over excited for a legitimate reason. He attended a special needs Pre-K with access to therapists. He worked hard. We worked hard. We learned to say he was special needs with pride. His language caught up and he proved he should be in a typical kindergarten. We adapt. We make it work. We are prevailing.

Throughout all these struggles, I recognized how good we have it.  Some kids have disabilities beyond what we will ever have to face. The number one thing that breaks special needs parents, as discussed in group meetings, is not their child's lack of skills, not the fact their children may never grow into autonomous adults, but the fact other people judge them and their children. It is an awful feeling of utter helplessness that description cannot give justice.

Throughout these conversations, I also saw a trend in that none of us would exchange our child for a "normal" one. Sure, it would be easier to have a neurotypical child, and yet I resent the idea. I'm so used to the socially unsure, intelligent, creative, hyperactive, mature little man I'm raising that I wouldn't change him for the world. Every milestone he hits, is a celebration. Every new thing he says or does that shows social skills or a life skill, I celebrate. He celebrates.

My son starts kindergarten in a week but I will not cry. I will celebrate that all our hard work and his has paid off so he can go to school. I will rejoice in how he is growing up and not cling onto the idea of keeping him my baby forever. And for those who stand and cry the first day because your child is too grown up for your liking, just remember how great you have it and celebrate milestones rather than mourn them; think of those parents who are desperate for that to happen, for those who it may never happen for, and you'll realize you have so much to be thankful for. If you cry, let them be tears of joy, of celebration, of thankfulness for being given such a precious gift.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dear Pinterest Moms...

Dear Pinterest Moms,

I want to share this story with you. Our nation is divided at the moment, but this will not a heavy political debate dressing women's rights or the President or whatever ills create a debate between your friends and yourself. It will, however, address how we women treat each other in this unsure climate.

It the not so distant past, I was with a group of ladies who rolled their eyes at a "Pinterest mom" and her social media posts--you know someone who uses the app to create all kinds of  crafts, great recipes, and so on. As I listened in, they were scoffing at the woman's need to look perfect to everyone, as in this was the only reason she--or any other woman they insinuated--might enjoy cooking or making crafts for the kids. At the time I held my tongue for the most part, perhaps weakly defending with how I liked cooking and crafting. I am a feminist, so discussing how I still enjoy certain gender roles often gets unfairly dismissed.


 
Then I became a Pinterest Mom. My son is hyperactive and cannot even sit still. So to save my sanity I Googled crafts for us to make pretty much on a daily basis, so converting to Pinterism only took a matter of time. With the pride of a mom who thoroughly enjoyed crafting with her son, I posted our works on SnapChat and sometimes on Facebook for our foreign friends and family to feel a part of our world. Then I remembered that day with the sassy critics of the Pinterest Mom. I was now her. Somewhere out there woman were most likely laughing at how I wanted to look good and how I want to seem perfect, which never crossed my mind or would ever be my ambition. I simply love to share. When I see a mother sharing a craft, I take a screenshot so I can give it a try too.
 
I came to a realization: if praise and perfection was not my end goal, it probably isn't for other women either. So why would these critics tear someone down who is making something nice for her family, who simply wants to share the experience? Because we're insecure. I've noticed a lot of people, when they feel as if they should be doing something--like craft time with their kids--and they don't have the time, inclination, or energy, they lash out. They pick on the person who makes them see their own shortcomings. And this is all done unconsciously.

Recently, I went Pinterest crazy for my son's birthday; I actually halted a few projects to keep in more simple. I didn't do it to get praise or to seem perfect. I did it because I like to do these things. I did it because, like my son, I have trouble sitting still and relaxing. But the main reason I did it was to see the smile of utter joy on my son's five-year-old face when he saw I brought to life the party he envisioned and asked for. And I would do anything to see that smile again and again.

So I will use Pinterst. I will craft with my child and try from-scratch recipes. And most importantly I will stick up for those who want to be great parents and to make their kids happy. I will try to make others see that we don't do things because we want everyone to think we're supermom; we do them so one child (or however many kids) thinks we are. Each child only has one childhood, and I want my child to look back at it and say it was amazing, not because all the toys he got and places he got to go, but because of all the time his parents spent with him simply creating something together.

So Pinterest Moms, I applaud you. I'm in your ranks now. Post your successes and your failures. Make your kids happy through these projects. And own it next time someone has the audacity to criticize.

Peace and Love,

Fellow Pinerest Mom

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hyperactive Procrastination

As I sit down here to write this, I'm realizing I'm performing another type of procrastination. I'm not doing what I should be doing, but instead taking on something else to occupy my time. Instead of focusing on my task, I do everything and anything possible to avoid my task. This, in a sense, is what I call hyperactive procrastination. This may just sound like your regular ole procrastination, basically avoiding or delaying a task, or if you get into psychological jargon it's really a self-control issue without the forethought of repercussions. And what I'm talking about is just that, but it's a bit more...well, hyper.

Right now, I should be sending out query letters to attempt to publish a novel. For those not in the writing industry, they're letters sent to gain representation in hopes to get published; in a sense, you sell your novel and yourself to agents. I'm not going to lie, my procrastination is out of control. I have three novels that have been completed, revised, and at least edited once. I have researched a list of thirty agents that are accepting submissions for each book's genre. I have crafted these query letters. All that is left is to personalize the letter for each agent by doing a little more research and emailing it. Yet, it has not been done. It is safe to say I had most of this completed over a year ago for the first novel.

Instead of doing what I should, I wrote two more. Not only that, I also continued the storyline of one into a second book of the series, then a third. In fact, when this blog is completed, I probably will attempt to finish the last couple chapters of book 3--without ever attempting to sell the first one. The writing comes easily and I love to write. At times I have to write or my imagination plagues me and I can't sleep. So whenever I can--even if I shouldn't--I write.

Right, so this might just sounds like ADHD, not procrastination. However, if I didn't feel like writing, I'd devour a book, detail my house, take my son onto another adventure; I will do any and everything to avoid something I dread doing. It's not really a lack of focus; I can easily focus when I want to.  This is where the hyperactivity part comes in. I never stop. I cannot sit down and simply relax or even watch TV without something else occupying my time. The only two exceptions to sitting still are if I'm reading or writing. I'm always moving, always doing something all the time. My day is consistently plotted out with things to do. Therefore, when you constantly do things on a frantic basis to avoid a particular task, I think we should call this hyperactive procrastination.

This oxymoron makes sense if you think about it. Now, how does one attempt to correct it? I wish I knew because I might have rounds of query letters out by now if I could avoid my hyperactive procrastination.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Embrace the Weirdness: What is "Normal"?

The word "normal" is used to describe people on a daily basis or the fact they lack the attributes to the definition. Anyone who is not society's definition of normal is considered weird, awkward, uncanny, and so on. Yet, this begs the question of what actually is normal since it is such a subjective term?

The word is defined by merriam-webster.com as "usual or ordinary, not strange" and "mentally and physically healthy."  The latter definition makes sense, but in comparison to the first, this leaves a lot of gray areas, especially in comparison to human behavior. Basically, we are only handed the antonyms of normal, what it is not, not actually what it is. Human behavior varies so far that someone's behavior may seem normal to some but eccentric to others. People of sound mind and body have been called abnormal before. This whole normal aspect affected me as a child, so much so worrying about being normal took part in shaping me into who I am today. No matter how much we fight it, society's judgement affects our everyday decisions and who we are. For me, I was shorter than everyone else, smart, had glasses, then braces, and these all led to bullying. This is not an anti-bullying plug in, just a fact. I also was  a very picky eater, hyperactive, and refused to talk much to others until I was about eight (after that, you'd hardly hear me silent).

Childhood
Children lack tact. They say whatever they feel or think not worrying about how it could be taken because they do not understand the world judges us based on the things we say. It is annoying, yet refreshing to hear children talk. One of the first occurrences as a child that might negatively affect someone is the first time someone points out an "oddity" in his/her behavior. Children are put down for not being or doing something normal.

One of the first things I remember was being picked on for my physical appearance. I averaged negative 2% on the growth charts. Although nothing was wrong with me, others had to point out how I was shorter than everyone else (and some imaginary growth chart children), some observations simply done dryly as kids will do but most were scathing and cruel. I let it shape me and stayed in a quiet, shy, anxious bubble for years.

Out of many of my quirks, the other that stuck out was my daydreaming, storytelling brain. I made up stories, sometimes aloud but mostly in my notebooks and had to hide this eccentricity because no one else did it. I was weird and different, so I hid them. I saved writing for bedtime and stashed them in my nightstand as if writing were a sin. This was the beginning of trying to be normal, trying not to get picked on because my stature already made me a target and that couldn't change. So I hid my smarts, my creativity, my actual personality not to be popular but to save myself from sticking out and being a target. It was an unconscious defensive tactic.


Adolescence
Slowly I came out of my shell. I talked more to more people. There were other kids who were less "normal" than me that proved a larger target. In middle school tracking courses started and there were a lot of smart kids all around me, people with likeminded interests and personalities. I even had friends who liked to write as well and even more friends in high school who read my stories with the addictive enthusiasm one gives soap operas. 

One thing I realized in high school was that there is no such thing as normal and I embraced my weirdness with confidence and without self-consciousness. I realized we are all unique and that makes us interestingly human. Normal is only the second definition answering to our sanity, not lacking personality "defects." This should be the end of the story, but it's not.

Parenthood
When I became a parent, the situation wasn't normal. Pregnancy complications and a premature child made my son stick out as abnormal. From the way he was growing to his behavior--more than a few people felt it necessary to point out the fact he's not this elusive and subjective "normal." This created anxious bouts several times and is still going on four years later. As a mother I was struggling with this ridiculous term "normal." I tried comparing him to milestone and growth charts, listened to well meaning but unqualified people who tried to give advice and their opinions on what was "wrong" with him; I did tons of research from scholarly articles and child development books to the oh-so-dependable internet Doctor-God. None of this helped my anxiety, of course, and the school system proved worse. They slapped the "not normal" sticker right on him and wanted me to get him labeled officially with some recognized "defect" or as science deems a disorder or disability--all before entering the school system. Grasping for some grounding in this sea of normalcy for my child has been more heartbreaking than my own struggles or since they mirror my own it brings them all hauntingly back.

I realized when I compared my past with my present, they were similar. If they are similar, I must place the same mindset that saved me onto my son. I must embrace the weirdness that is him. So I started to and what I noticed was weird is cute and in comparison to his friends--no offense my parent-friends--those kids aren't normal either. In fact, every kid I meet under the age of ten--since they aren't worried about conformity yet--are weird in some way. Whether it is at a playground, a party, or in a store, kids do weird things, things adults do not see as normal.



I might need to slap a ridiculous label on my child for him to go to school, but it will only be a tiny part of his weirdness. And that weirdness is awesome. It is who he is and will be, just like all of our weirdness makes us who we are. Our own idiosyncratic quirks make us fun, make us interesting, make us human. Throughout my life, I've learned one of the most important life lessons: you've got to embrace the weirdness.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Crowdsourcing--a new way to get published?


There's this new edgy way to get published these days and I was excited at the prospect: crowd-sourcing. I decided to scope it out before I'd ever try it myself. After all, I understood the term "crowdsourcing," but what did it really mean for the publishing world? I did what I do best--research.



Macmillan publishing powerhouse has started Swoon Reads (https://www.swoonreads.com/and it seems to be a win-win situation. Readers and writers simply create a free account. Readers have access to hundreds of Young Adult (YA) romance novels of all sub-genres free of charge (which can be catered to his/her tastes). As for authors, they upload their unpublished novel and readers read, comment, and rate it. Within six months, the editors of Macmillian will view it, and you can guess the rest--the better the ratings, the more likely they will notice and consider publishing it. The masses are given the power to influence publishing companies to market what they want to read. Ingenuous! Macmillian does publish many from this line, so there is a chance an author can "make it" this way. It sounded interesting, so I signed up.


As a reader of everything I can get my hands on, I do enjoy fluffy, sweet YA romances from time to time, and it is the genre in which I'm trying to publish. The best research is to read, read, read, so I did. I will say what Swoon Reads proclaims is true: they immediately weed out and remove novels not up to their standards. Out of the five I read so far, the grammar was polished, a couple not perfect, but at least proofread well. Most novels I read were good, entertaining, and interesting. They could use some revision in characterization and/or pacing, but overall very promising. The novels were exceedingly better than some of the self-published ones you see on Amazon, not to mention the new scams that slip through on Amazon's site (although they now have a crowdsourcing program too I need to further research). Swoon Reads had no scams but only decent novels that are free! For readers, this is a dream come true. And the best part is you can help authors. I cannot recommend it more if you lean towards reading YA romance.

 

For authors, there is a catch of course, but one they freely post so you understand their process. When an author submits a novel, it is on lockdown legally for six months while it is being considered. You cannot send it anywhere else. If you aren't eager to get published right away or incessantly tried and could not get a book published, this may be the way to go. The other criticism I have is the reader pool. They all just want to please the authors and tell them how wonderful the book is instead of giving constructive criticism. This could be very frustrating for someone who has tried to get published and has failed as in he/she still isn't getting the feedback needed to become successful. When I gave didactic, constructive, and very detailed criticism, I was thanked for giving real feedback and even asked more questions for additional help by one author. These are serious people who want to do what it takes to get published. Swoon Reads does try to get readers to give constructive feedback like I did with very leading questions, but people tend to overlook them and give very little useful feedback. I think if the website had one of their editors set the stage with a great and detailed example, the authors might get what they need from their readers. 

Overall, this is an interesting platform for publication, one I'm not ready to delve into until I see its success rate, but one that definitely weeds out those who can write from those that only have good ideas. You never know though, Swoon Reads could be the forrunner that will save self-publishing's reputation as well as being successful for publishing powerhouses and conglomerates.