A Story About Princess Leia

A Story About Princess Leia

by Elizabeth Ditty

Tonight I read my son a story about Princess Leia.

I did not cry.

(Not really.)

My voice made its way around the lump in my throat

To tell my son

How to be brave

despite dismal odds

(I’ll never tell him the odds)

How to stand against evil

because you know who you are

(I’ll tell him where he comes from and believe it’s enough)

How to defiantly hold onto hope

And find it anew when you have to

(I’ll show him where to find it: in friends, in nature, in the unexpected).

Luke gets the glory,

And sure, he deserves some of it.

But Leia

Princess

Sister

Lover

Mother

General

Never stopped

Never stopped believing

Not even when all was lost

Because she must have known

That all is never lost

Not even when you’re drowning in moonlight

Strangled by your own bra

You can learn to breathe stardust

And travel beyond what you know

What anyone knows.

So now we study the map she left us

The holograms to guide us

Through words and moving images

To find the force already within us.

It’s a five-minute story,

And my son is yawning by the end of it.

The rebellion can wait until morning, I suppose.

I close the book and tuck him in.

After all, the rebellion has already begun.

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This is what it takes.

My poor little blog has been dormant for almost a year now, but I guess this is what it takes to wake up.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year, after my first failure in Year 11 last year.  I failed because I stopped writing after my seven-week-old daughter spiked a fever on Day 3, which meant I abandoned all my plans and spent the day in the ER, feeling helpless and terrified as they pierced her brand-new skin with needles to take her blood, held her down to X-ray her lungs, and stuck suction tubes down her nose.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, understandably.  Rose, we found out later, had caught parainfluenza virus, likely from her brother, which is common and not a big deal at all, as long as you’re not a seven-week-old newborn who hasn’t yet had any immunizations.  I spent the next week up every two hours, trying desperately to get my girl to drink milk or at least Pedialyte, to avoid dehydration.

Some things trump writing, but only for a time.

I didn’t work on my novel Tuesday evening.  I still had 1300 words to go to meet quota, but I just couldn’t write about this fantasy world where the biggest problems were two star-crossed lovers who desperately wanted to be with each other.

But I also couldn’t not write.  So I wrote a letter to my children.

8 November 2016

Dear Pippin & Rose,

I’m supposed to be working on my NaNoWriMo novel right now, but I just can’t. I don’t know how to write when the world seems so precarious.  I should say, I don’t know how to write anything other than how I’m feeling.  I think it’s important — vital even — to write and make art and find hope when the world seems like it might be crumbling.

I have to believe that everything will be OK, no matter how this election ends up.  But I do think it’s important for you both to know, for posterity, that your parents stood on the right side of history tonight.  We voted for hope and progress and empathy, and that’s what we’ll keep seeking.  No matter what.

But tomorrow isn’t here yet, and tonight I’m scared.  You’re both asleep and have no idea what’s going on in the world, and I’m thankful that you get to be innocent for a while longer.  I worry about a country that was a paragon of hope and optimism finding itself on the precipice of electing a demagogue, a fascist, a man who has built his empire on the backs of others who deserved better.  He is quite literally the opposite of everything I could ever ask for in a president, and I cannot understand how so many can stand behind him.  It is a wake-up call for us here: there is still so much work to do.

It’s always good to look for lessons, to find out what we can learn from a situation, whether it’s gone our way or not.  And here, I’ve seen ignorance, much of it willful, turn people’s eyes and even hearts to a demagogue.  History has shown us it can happen, but we did not know it could happen here.  So what do we take from that?

My loves, please think critically.  Always question your assumptions.  Always look for the other side.  Always try to find the story behind how something came to be.  Recognize propaganda for what it is, good or bad, and learn to see the facts through the emotions.  Propaganda is a tool, nothing more, but in the hands of the hateful or ill-informed, it is dangerous.

My loves, please find empathy.  Humans are multi-faceted.  Read broadly.  Reading cultivates empathy.  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Ask them how they came to where they are, and look for a glimmer of yourselves in their stories.  Offer grace and mercy, and accept them when they’re given to you.

My loves, do your best to stand on the right side of history.  Be kind.  Offer help.  Be generous when you can, and sometimes when you can’t.  Consider both the many and the few, and try to do the best you can for all.

My loves, take care of each other.  Protect each other.  Trust each other.  Never lose sight of each other.  Your mama and daddy love you, but you two also share a unique bond that only you can cultivate.  I see how you play with each other, how you get frustrated with each other, and how, ultimately, above all, you love each other.  Keep doing that.

I do not know what tomorrow holds, or what will come after that, but I know this: I love you both an unfathomable amount, and so does your daddy.  That means a lot in this world.  So whatever comes, we’ll be here with you, together, holding you close, and hoping for a better world for us all, but mostly for you.

Love always,

Mama

More than half the country’s voters vote against this, and yet here we are.  We have work to do, and it’s more important than ever that we do it.  Yesterday, after a night spent having panic attacks instead of sleeping, I let myself feel everything I needed to feel.  I let myself be depressed.  I managed to eat a piece of toast but mainly just drank tea all day.

Yesterday, when I went to bed at 6:45 p.m. (because self-care is important), I didn’t know if I would pick up my NaNoWriMo novel again.  I didn’t know if I could.

And then this morning, I woke up, and I felt the fire burning again.  I made coffee, and I WROTE.

I wrote about those star-crossed lovers because passion is important.  Love is important.  Art is important.  How we treat each other, even when — especially when — we disagree, is important.  Finding common ground is important, but also letting people feel how they need to goddamn feel for a moment is important.  Honest and earnest discourse is important.  Speaking is important, but so is listening.  These are things I’m writing about as well as living, as long as I have the opportunity.

The world has not ended.  It has challenged us to rise up and do better by one another.  Now more than ever, my friends, we have work to do.  Let’s go.

 

[Around Here] Getting Hitched & Gearing Up

First and foremost, top news in my life is that this happened:

Married Folk

And I mailed off the executed marriage license today, so now he’s officially stuck with me.

We had an afternoon wedding (and the weather, rather kindly, turned out absolutely perfect), and afterwards we took our kiddo to my parents’ house, put him to bed, and then headed out to a movie with our now-combined siblings.  And if that doesn’t say “made for each other,” then I don’t know what does.  (The movie, by the way, was Gone Girl, which is kind of hilarious, we know.)

The next day, we jetted off to New Orleans for a few days, where we ate way too much, and drank way too much, and heard a lot of amazing street musicians, and saw a lot of weird and/or beautiful things.

And now we’re back and trying to get back into the groove of everyday life, which is equal parts bummer because I have to go back to work on Wednesday and pretty great because we generally enjoy our everyday life.

I’ve been working on several pieces of fiction with the goal to submit to Fireside Mag and finally made my choice and sent off the one I liked best today.  (The first two issues of Year 3 are currently free to read online, by the way, and feature some great stories [not to mention accompanying artwork], so they’re definitely worth checking out [and supporting!] if you’re interested in good fiction written by authors that actually get paid for their efforts.)

One of my goals in the coming year is to submit to more anthologies/magazines/etc. and to maybe even (gasp!) get paid for some fiction.  It’s a funny thing to talk about trying to get paid for creative endeavors, but artists do have bills to pay, and while I’m lucky to have a day job that supports myself and my family, it’s nice to think about being able to live on one’s passions some day (or at least get help living on).

And that brings me to NaNoWriMo, an endeavor for which I never expect to receive a dime, which is OK because there are forms of credit beyond cold hard cash.  I’ve written before about why NaNoWriMo is so important to me, and this year, Year 10 as I mentioned in my last post, is no different.  As it turns out, I’ve decided I’m doing neither the story that haunts nor the new idea, but the NEW new idea that grabbed my attention about a week ago.  Creative energy is a weird thing, isn’t it?  And with something like NaNoWriMo, I really believe you’ve to go with whatever’s exciting to you in the moment.

So that’s what’s going on around here.  Settling back into life for a week before we jump on the rollercoaster of 1,667 words a day for a month.  Life is good.

 

A Creative Kick in the Pants

Oh, hi there.

You know how Woody Allen never watches his films once they’re completed because nothing ever lives up to the vision of the story he had in his head? Well, I get that. I was so excited to start on my current (not sure how apt that word is, given I haven’t worked on it at all since March) script. I’d watched the key scenes in my head, had even been brought to tears by some of them. But when I started placing words on the page, it all fell apart. Compared to what I’d envisioned, it was just… bad. Which, of course, is what first drafts typically are — bad.  But I think I was too in love with the story when I started, and seeing a lesser version of it was disheartening.  I’ll get back to it, maybe even sooner rather than later, but I’ve been in a funk for week because of it.  And continuing to grow my collection of nos for STILL hasn’t exactly helped.

I’ve still been writing, of course. Freelance work has been keeping me busy, and while that is great and awesome and I would happily welcome more of it, the dark clouds always loom closer when I’m not writing my own stories.  The artwork I’ve been producing has been keeping them at bay for the most part, but it’s time to get back on the wagon.

Be Violent & Original in Your Work Spatter Art Print by ShireFurnishings on Etsy

 

So I’m committing to writing every day in May.  Writing on my own stuff, that is.  It might be the script.  It might be a short story.  It might be another idea I’ve been tossing about in my head.  But whatever it is, on any given day, I’m going to write.

Do Scary Things Art Print by ShireFurnishings on Etsy

It’s not quite as scary as NaNoWriMo was back in November, but it’s still a little daunting given the lack of concrete ideas I’ve had lately. But NaNoWriMo was a creative kickstart for me, and I’m hoping my own personal Camp NaNoWriMo in May will have the same effect.  And when in doubt…

Never Underestimate Magic Beans - Coffee Art Print by ShireFurnishings on EtsyAnd now, for a shameless plug! If you like any of the images you’ve seen here, you can purchase prints or digital downloads at my etsy shop, which helps support my coffee habit among other things (like keeping my ever-growing kiddo clothed).

 

On NaNoWriMo, Birthdays and Thankfulness

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…

2013 NaNoWriMo Winner

That happened on Nov. 22. BOOM.

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.

My 10 Commandments of NaNoWriMo, New Parent Edition

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.

NaNoWriMo 2013 Participant Banner

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!