He wasn’t scheduled for retirement until the end of the universe, but he was just so damn tired.
The world was very different than when he’d started. Expectations had grown and grown and grown until he could no longer keep up with the demand placed upon him by his customers.
When he first noticed that his work was being supplemented by parents, he breathed a sigh of relief. But then they started doing more than supplementing. They started wearing his clothes and using his name, all without ever asking his permission — not to mention the thought of proper compensation.
He began pushing his employees to work longer hours and to increase their output, but eventually they began pushing back. And the worst part was he couldn’t even blame them. There were some lean years when strikes hurt what he could deliver, but he noticed the world didn’t seem to notice at all.
His wife had what could best be described as a conniption fit when he first broached the idea of early retirement. It was his purpose, his reason for existence! But he had been feeling more and more like it was his cross to bear instead, and he was ready to set it down.
She packed her bags and left, in an attempt to teach him a lesson, and while he missed the comfort of her warm embrace, at least it was one less set of expectations weighing upon his shoulders. He soon announced layoffs for all but one of his employees. He would keep his valet around as long as the funds were there to pay him.
The money ran out faster than he expected, but he could live frugally. All he needed was a sleeve of cookies and a gallon of milk, and he could get by for a week. His favorite red suit was reduced to threadbare tatters a few years ago, but he found he could blend in quite well in the thrift store clothing that his budget allowed.
Every once in a while, a child’s eye would land on him, and he would see the curiosity, the expectation, the hope. Every time, his heart swelled, wondering if it was time for his return. But every time, the parents pulled their children along, with no recognition, no memory of the magic they had once shared.
Another year had passed, and December 25th was so near he could quite literally feel it in his bones. Every year, he and his valet still surveyed the world, and every year everything changed, but never in their favor. The world simply grew more and more astute at meeting their own constantly growing expectations. And every year, his heart broke a little more, because Christmas looked less and less like him.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
SANTA DOESN’T SWEAT
The manager sighed as he watched the bead of sweat drip off the old man’s nose.
“Let’s get some air on him,” he hollered at the woman dressed as an elf.
She scurried over to the fan and pointed it at the bearded man in the red suit. Santa doesn’t sweat. He grimaced as he watched the old man take deep breaths, trying to suck in the wind from the fan.
“All right, next kid,” he said.
The fat man pasted on a pathetic smile as the next bouncing bundle of joy walked up and bounded onto his lap. A groan almost escaped, and a look of panic shot into the old man’s eyes, hoping his manager hadn’t seen. But he had. He always saw. He’d already burned through two Santas today, and it was only one o’clock.
After the kid had given his unbearably long wish list and been wished a Merry Christmas, the manager stepped in front of the long line of hopeful children. “Santa’s going to take a short break for some milk and cookies, and then he’ll be right back to hear your deepest Christmas wishes!”
There were groans and not a few tantrums, but they had stopped phasing the manager a long time ago. He walked over to the old man.
“Please,” he whispered, tears in his eyes.
“You’re done,” he said. “Let’s go. It’ll only be worse if you make a scene.”
The old man’s eyes traveled to the mass of children. His lower lip quivered. But then he steeled his face into one last, wonderful grin. “Ho, ho, ho!” he bellowed. “Merry Christmas!”
The manager rolled his eyes, and then he escorted the man in red off the platform and into the back room.
The old man took off his hat and handed it to the manager. There was a look of defiance in his eyes. There nearly always was in their last moments.
“You know where to go next,” the manager said.
The old man said nothing and simply walked bravely through the door with the exit sign blaring above it. A moment later, a scream, and then nothing.
The manager turned around. Behind the bars sat three other old, white-bearded men — enough to last through the day hopefully.
He pointed at the most robust-looking of the three.
“You’re up,” he said. He keyed open the door, and the new old man walked out. “Suit up.”
He handed over the hat. The old man took it, sparing a glance at the men he was leaving behind, and headed toward his last chance.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
JACK FROST’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT
People only think of wintry weather when they hear my name, but year by year, I’ve been expanding my reach.
I first had the thought back in the 1950s, but it took a decade or so to wrap my icy tendrils around the first few black hearts. The first Black Friday was a grand day for me, but each year I grow prouder and prouder.
After all, what greater cold snap is there than the one from the warmth of pervasive gratitude and gathered families to the stone cold greed and cha-ching of cash registers the day after? The whole country goes from nestling around their loved ones, gorging on warm turkey and pie, to pushing and shoving in the freezing temperatures to get the best deals before the sun even thinks of peeking out from behind its covers.
Sure, snow and icicles are my most obvious achievements — the ones everyone talks about. But more than Snowmageddon or Knickerbocker or even the Storm of the Century, Black Friday is my crowning glory. And I’m not stopping there.
My sights are set, and the next big thing is in my crosshairs.
Thanksgiving, I’m coming for you.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
Every 5 to 11 years, Thanksgiving falls on my birthday. It’s been a long stretch this time around, and I haven’t celebrated a Thanksgiving birthday since 2002, when I was 19 turning 20. So, in the past 11 years, my life has changed drastically, and so, so much for the better. Since then, I’ve gotten to write, to travel, to fall in love, to have adventures, to become a mother, and to evolve into someone that I actually like pretty well most of the time. I’ve become happy. Sure, there have been some hard spells during those years, but overall, they’ve been absolutely amazing, and I’m grateful to have lived them the way I have. This year in particular has obviously been quite the capstone to the stretch of years between Thanksgiving birthdays. I didn’t do any sort of thankfulness blogging this year because I was relearning how to have a daily writing habit with NaNoWriMo. Oh, speaking of which…
I’ve written before about what NaNoWriMo means to me, but this year it’s taken on a new significance. I really hadn’t written much since NaNoWriMo 2012, save a short story here and there. I just didn’t have the drive or the ideas or, especially after Pip was born, the energy. I thought about not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but the thought of sitting out after having “won” eight years consecutively just didn’t feel right. I figured it was better to try and fail than to not try at all.
But a funny thing happened. Turned out I actually did have plenty of time to write on a daily basis. It was just a matter of actually using the time I had productively instead of, you know, playing Candy Crush. It was the most delightful discovery to find that, if I put my mind to it, I really could power through 1,000 words in the 4 o’clock hour in the morning before work and another 1,000 words in the 7 or 8 o’clock hour at night after Pip went to bed. The hardest part was reigning in my brain and convincing it to do the job set before it.
Now don’t get me wrong. The 50,000 words I wrote? Pretty much all drivel. But the whole point for me this year was really just to prove to myself I could have a daily writing habit again. And so I did. And in the process, I think I actually ended up with enough to go back to at some point, which is a nice bonus.
And that’s really just the cap on a really amazing year. So, in no particular order, some things I’m thankful for.
The cat had wandered into her yard again. She had tried everything — coffee grounds, citrus peels, cayenne pepper, even moth balls. A spray bottle was no deterrent, and neither was the hose. Even her dog was no match for the mangy thing, and he now had a gash on his nose to prove it.
Every time she stepped outside, every time she came home, her eyes began to itch, her nose began to drain, and her anger began to swell.
Through her window, she watched as the cat sprayed her flowerbeds, soaking them in ammonia-scented urine. She thought of the hard work she’d put into planting those flowers, of the hard-earned money she’d spent to make her house a home, and of the excruciating back ache the next day.
She was done.
She bolted into the garage and grabbed her son’s BB gun, a gift from her ex-husband despite her insistence against it. She barrelled out the front door and met the cat right at the front stoop. It froze at the sight of her — nostrils flared, flyaways escaping from her ponytail.
For a second, as their eyes connected, she had second thoughts. But then the cat lifted its leg and sprayed the front step.
A loud POP. A louder screech. A trail of blood drops. Likely not enough to have killed it, but enough that the cat was gone and likely for good.
Her lips hardened into a line. She didn’t like resorting to violence, but it had left her no choice. She walked back inside and replaced the BB gun in the garage.
That night, long after her children were tucked into bed, she sat in a rocking chair by the window, as she often did when fighting insomnia. Normally she read, but tonight she felt distracted. Her gaze drifted out onto the dark lawn. The street lamp was out, and had been for weeks, despite her calls to the city and electric company.
So when she saw the two red slits appear in the blackness, she was confused. And then another set appeared. And finally a third. A low rumble sounded, at first nearly imperceptible, growing, deepening, finally working its way into her eardrums where it settled and reverberated in the space between her lungs.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark just enough to make out horns, fur, black pupils in a red sea. The creatures clawed the ground, paced back and forth, but did not approach, as if held back by an invisible line.
And then they saw her, and the rumble exploded into a shrieking growl. She scrambled away from the window and dove beneath the covers, shivering so hard that the bed creaked. A million thoughts ran through her mind, too fast for her to comprehend any of them save one: she would add cat food to her grocery list in the morning.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
I’ve thought long and hard about attempting NaNoWriMo this year. There are plenty of reasons not to do it, but let’s be honest — there are always plenty of reasons not to write 50,000 words in one month. This will be my 9th year, and in the end, I decided I would feel better about trying and failing than about having not tried at all.
I’ve been out of the daily writing habit for a long while now. In the midst of my pregnancy, I was saddled with an overarching lack of desire to write. Which really sucked a lot. And while I’ve churned out a few short stories since Pippin was born, harnessing the energy at the appropriate time has been a struggle. So, if for no other reason, NaNoWriMo contains the potential power to get me into a daily writing habit again.
My 10 Commandments for Surviving NaNoWriMo as a New Parent
Here are the strategies I’m hoping to put into place to get me through the month and to 50,000 words.
Commandment #1: Trade Off Parenting Duty
I’m very lucky that I have a super supportive partner, who has also participated in NaNoWriMo the past two years. This November, he’ll be starting a new adventure — returning to school to get a teaching degree — at the same time I’m buckling down for NaNoWriMo. We’re typically pretty good about taking shifts watching Pippin while the other one goes off to do whatever we need to do — work out, create something, sleep, etc. — and that will become even more important moving forward.
Commandment #2: Take the Writing on the Road (or the Kiddo Out of the House) At Least Once a Week
A subcategory of trading off, we’re going to try to ensure that we both get distraction-free time each week. We can drop into our local Starbucks, or one of us can take Pip out for an adventure at a play place or a trip to the grocery store.
Commandment #3: Stop Wasting Time on the Internets
I know, I know. This is old advice. I tend to have screen-induced ADD, to the point where I tell myself it actually helps my productivity to pop over to facebook or twitter or Candy Crush (Dear God, why did I ever download that awful, terrible, horrible game?!) every five minutes. Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? Well, there you go. If I have 15 minutes of downtime, I should use it to tap out a few hundred words instead of messing about on something useless.
Commandment #4: Get Some Exercise
My brain works best when I get my workouts in, so I need to continue making those a priority. I’ve already lowered my expectations for what I consider workouts these days, but if I can manage to fit in something active just about every day (a very brisk walk with Pip in the stroller, a 15- to 20-minute strength workout after he goes to bed, etc.), then I’ll be in good shape (both mentally and physically).
Commandment #5: Don’t Throw a Healthy Diet Out the Window
Our crockpot is going to see a lot of action this November. So are our freezer and our oven. It turns out babies and school are expensive, so ramping up the eating out isn’t really a great option for us — plus doing so generally tends to work against my previous strategy. But our budget can handle some frozen stuff we can just pop in the oven, like healthy fish, organic burritos, or pre-frozen casseroles from Costco.
Commandment #6: Write in the Morning; Write in the Evening
I get up at 4:15 a.m. in the morning to pump before I go to work, and during that pumping time, I am basically tethered to my computer. Same in the evening before bed. Those are also the times when Pippin is (usually) sleeping. If I can knock out 1,000 words at each go, I’ll be in very good shape.
Commandment #7: Jot Down Ideas All Day Long
Whether it’s scribbled on a piece of paper, hastily typed into my iPhone, or inarticulately blabbed as a voice memo, I will do my best to capture thoughts so I can incorporate them into writing later. No more ideas lost to the ether.
Commandment #8: Know What I’m Going to Write Next
I’m going to make an effort to plan the next bit I’m going to write whenever I’m getting ready to wrap up a writing session. I don’t think I need to go so far as stopping in the middle of a sentence, but knowing what I’m going to do next will enable me to jump in more quickly the next time I have a few minutes.
Commandment #9: Write Every Day
Even if I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form I can hit the 1,667-word quota, I can still write something. One hundred words are better than zero words.
Commandment #10: “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.”
In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how having a hobby and actively pursuing it in the midst of his other “real” projects improves his creativity. I think it’s important to stay engaged with the world in as many ways as possible, which is one reason why I take so many photographs. It helps me see things I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been looking for an interesting photo — and that in turn leads to interesting things popping out at me because my brain is trained to do that. And the hope is that that brain elasticity transfers to my writing. So I plan to keep taking photos during November (I participate in #fmsphotoaday every month, sometimes more fully than others), and I plan to take the time to make some physical art. I’m also going to hang out with my kid, watch some TV shows and go on a few dates hopefully. Because the best writing comes from what we discover while living life.
Join the Challenge — Sign Up for NaNoWriMo
The best and worst fact of NaNoWriMo is there’s always someone busier than you. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, stop making excuses and take the plunge. It’ll be a grand adventure and one you most certainly won’t regret. No time like the present, so go sign up! If you’re planning on participating, I’d love to hear (and potentially steal) your strategies for making it through the month — leave me a comment!
A FAMILIAR GIFT
When the man arrived at my doorstep, I barely glanced at him.
“Can I help you?” I asked. I wanted to be polite, but I was really quite busy. Three half-carved jack-o-lanterns sat on my kitchen counter along with a pot bubbling on the stove, not to mention the sewing project on the table waiting for my return.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. His voice felt like gravel being poured over my head. It made me pay attention.
He was thin and dressed all in black, and so it wasn’t until I heard the purring that I realized a black cat was lounging in his arms. I took a step back, but the man remained at the same distance from me. The cat kept purring.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, or at least tried to.
The man smiled a grin full of teeth, but I couldn’t tell if they were rotten or perfectly maintained. When I tried to look directly at him, it was as if I were in a house of mirrors lit with strobe lights.
“I had my initial doubts,” he said. “You were such a good girl growing up.”
The cat’s purrs were beginning to reverberate in my ears. I could barely hear his voice over the sound.
“But you’ve proven very worthy in the past few months.”
A chill ran up my spine, and then a burst of fire shot back down it.
“The effort you’ve put into your research is quite impressive. I don’t find many like you in this day and age, especially in mid-American suburbia.”
He looked around the subdivision in which my house resided and chuckled. I was reminded briefly of a grinning skeleton before he fixed his dark eyes back on mine.
“I’ve brought you a gift,” he said.
The purring quieted. He held out the black, furry creature to me, and without any intention to do so, I received her into my arms.
“She’ll help you in your efforts,” he said. “I’ll return for her after seven years. Look after her well, and you will be rewarded. If not, well…”
He stepped off the porch and back into my driveway. He looked back over his shoulder and grinned that ghastly, beautiful grin once again. “Happy Halloween.”
I don’t know how long I stood there or quite when he disappeared. I fear I might have stood there forever if not for the cat’s meow. I looked into the creature’s yellow eyes. It was as if she were encouraging me to get back to my to-do list. So I did.
As I wandered past the half-stitched doll and stick pins on the table, the smell of the concoction in the cast iron pot told me it was ready. I walked to the gas stove and turned up the flame with my free hand, and then retrieved the remaining ingredient from the cabinet. The cat jumped out of my arms and onto the counter, where she kept a watchful eye as I dropped the lock of hair into the cauldron.
As it bubbled, the cat began purring again, and I knew that we would soon become very familiar companions.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, I have finally been able to complete post-production on STILL. And this is wonderful because, while I am pleased with the final cut of the film, I am also so sick of looking at it. I’m definitely ready for others to be the ones watching instead of me. :-)
Unfortunately, the whole thing is a little anticlimactic because I can’t post it for public consumption until we’ve completed the festival submission process, which probably won’t be for some time. But hey, I can show you guys this little poster!
Right now, the film is on its way to several festivals. This is my first time submitting a film, so I’m sure there will be a big learning curve here as well. In any case, I’m excited to see what happens next.
Thanks again so much to my cast and crew.
- Michael Burgess, the best human statue Kansas City has ever seen
- Amy Elrod, my amazing and tireless director of photography
- Kate Dittmann, my disgustingly talented art director
- Meg Cloud, the most stunning statue bride
- Ross Bruns, the next big thing in composing
- Jon Arnold, my trusty, patient sound mixer
- and my lovely supporting cast: Scott Burgess, Lisa Hood, Jillian Hood, Danny Burns, Ashley Burns and the People of Kansas City
- (and a special thanks to T for encouraging/bugging me to get this thing done)
Obviously, this was a huge team effort, and I am so grateful to have so many talented people in my life. Stay tuned for (hopefully) more news in the coming months!
So, we’re right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week and right at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month. Everything I’ve seen so far basically feels like it’s “International Pretend to Be Supportive But Actually Silently Judge All the Moms Month/Week.” Like we need a specific week or month for that, right?
In any case, I’ve talked to a number of my mom friends, and I’ve heard the guilt about not breastfeeding, about how hard it is to pump once you go back to work, about the heartbreak of the choice to stop breastfeeding at or before 6 months because you just can’t keep up, etc., etc., etc.
Here’s my confession.
I Was Never in Love with the Idea of Breastfeeding
I know a good number of moms who adore breastfeeding their babies. It’s their time to connect and bond with their children, and they take great pride (and rightly so) in nourishing them.
But I never felt the romance of it. My own mother has told me I wasn’t a big fan of the breast as a baby, and after trying for a few months, eventually she gave me what I wanted, which was apparently a bottle. So perhaps it’s just something in my nature. And god bless my mom for trying.
My Kid Thought My Boobs Were Boring
But nonetheless, I was determined to make an effort at breastfeeding when the time came to feed Pip. I’d seen the research (and the discounting of the research), and I wanted to at least give it a shot. When people asked if I planned to breastfeed (and oh, did they ask), I told them, as long as everything went according to plan, I’d do it for a minimum 3 months. If it was going OK, I’d go for 6 months, and beyond that, we’d see.
A sub-confession: What I rarely expressed was that my major motivator in wanting to breastfeed was financial rather than maternal. Formula is expensive, and babies are expensive enough as is.
In the hours after Pippin was born, he latched like a pro, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can actually do this, and maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it like all those other moms.” But that was the high point of my breastfeeding experience. In the next two days, every time I tried to nurse, Pip would latch, take a couple of drinks, and then promptly fall asleep. The nurse who came for our home visit had told me I’d need to feed him for 20 minutes on each side — 20 minutes of active feeding. I was lucky to get 10 minutes total of active feeding within an hour. Coupled with the insistence that I feed him every two hours — starting from the beginning of each feeding — it didn’t take long for me to lose my effing mind.
By Day 3, I was a total mess, and I could tell Pippin wasn’t eating enough. His little lips were dry, and while he wasn’t unconscious, he wasn’t interested in really waking up for any length of time. In a panic, I started pumping and managed to get a few ounces of colostrum — plenty to fill a newborn’s marble-sized stomach, despite what hospital nurses sometimes tell new moms — which I promptly spoonfed to my barely-awake infant. Between bouts of crying, I managed to call the birth center, and they said to bring him on in. Tyler’s parents came to visit that morning to meet their grandson, but I couldn’t pull myself together enough to join in the happy experience. I was too worried about Pip and too weighed down by the guilt that I was failing at feeding my baby.
The Discovery of the “Third Option”
At the birth center, they confirmed what I knew — that Pippin was losing more weight than was ideal. He was just past the 10 percent threshold. They gave him an ounce of formula from a bottle, just to make sure his sucking reflex was working (it was). Instead of feeling guilt, I just felt relief that my tiny guy was getting some food finally. He didn’t have to work so hard to stay awake with the bottle; he could doze and eat much better than he could dose and nurse. That sealed the deal for me.
I tried to nurse him only once more (same result) and gave him half a bottle of formula to tide him over while I pumped enough for him to eat. My transitional milk came in quickly, and that started us down a new path: exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk.
It was GLORIOUS. Bottle-feeding meant the pressure was no longer solely on me to feed this little infant.
We could split the night shifts — and that meant I could SLEEP. And sleep meant I could stop crying for half of every hour of every day. (I still had to deal with the effects of post-partum depression, so there was still crying, but there was less.) My co-parent, who had felt sidelined by his inability to do much of anything to help, was thrilled to be able to do something (though probably less thrilled at no longer getting all the sleep). We were both able to get close to 8 hours of sleep a night (though I was still getting up every 3 to 4 hours to pump, in the beginning), and as new parents and probably especially new moms know, that is GOLD.
A Pair of Boobs Without a Home
There were some dark nights of the soul around 2 months, when I was dealing with clogged ducts (pretty sure a mammogram will be no big deal now, thanks to that) every single day. (Supplemental soy lecithin is what worked for me, if anyone else is dealing with that.) Pumping time became “research how expensive/nutritious/good/bad formula is” time. In the end, it was always the financial side of it that kept me pumping.
Now, about 4 and a half months in, I’m still exclusively pumping. And because my boobs were trained to respond to the pump, my supply is great despite only pumping 3 times most days. I’ve got more than 2,000 ounces of milk in a dedicated freezer, which would get my son just past 6 months if I stopped now. So it’s been a good solution for us.
And I think it’s a wonderful middle ground that rarely gets mentioned. Even at my incredibly supportive, wonderful birth center, I faced a tiny bit of resistance to my solution. “It’s not too late,” was the refrain even at my 6-week follow-up appointment.
So now I find myself without much of a home when it comes to solidarity about feeding my baby. I’m not breastfeeding, but I’m not formula-feeding. When we first started, it felt like we were cheating the system — in a good way. But a couple months down the line, I felt a little alone. While I probably could have gone to La Leche League meetings, I would have felt like a poser. And yet there wasn’t really much to discuss with formula-feeding moms either, since I couldn’t relate to the hassles of formula and they couldn’t relate to the annoyance of pumping, transferring milk from container to container (though I’m sure now we could definitely relate to feeling like we spend half our lives washing bottles).
The Most Important Thing is That Your Baby Gets Fed
But to be honest, I rarely give it much thought except when I encounter various breastfeeding internettery like I have the past week. And it’s not like any of this hoopla is meant to shame formula-feeding (or exclusively pumping) moms, but that’s the unintended side effect a lot of the time.
But here’s the thing: my kid is getting food that helps him grow and develop. So are breastfed babies. So are formula-fed babies. I know we’ve made the right choice (out of three right choices) because he’s growing like a weed (a much better saying that “sleeping like a baby,” I might add) and adding new skills every week. That’s what we really need to be caring about. While it would have been nice (and probably still would be nice) if there were more awareness of the “third option” or to have a support group for moms who made the same choice I did, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.
So, in celebration of this week and this month, let me just say to all the moms out there: