Even My 8-year-old Suffers From Writer’s Block

WritersBlock

I got an email the other day from my son’s teacher. My initial reaction was “Uh-oh.” He’s a generally sweet boy and he’s super smart, so it’s rare that I get notes home. But, being a smart kid means that when he does get in “trouble,” it can be a doozie. So, it was a bit surprising and strangely relieving that this was in response to an academic issue. He, along with the rest of the class, had been given a writing prompt and asked to write for 30 minutes about a favorite memory. After 30 minutes, my son had written absolutely nothing.

While my son is like me in many ways, writing has never been one of his strong suits, especially under pressure. He’s got a fair imagination and can tell a pretty good story when he wants to, but putting words on the page has been an issue we’ve had to deal with in the past. The teacher was mainly concerned because this was a pre-test for the real thing, which was being administered for the state. So, yeah… kinda important. When I picked him up that evening, I asked him about it, which caused instant anxiety (another one of his father’s traits he, unfortunately, inherited). I tried to calm him by letting him know that I wasn’t angry. In fact, I knew exactly what he was going through. But, the fact remained that, next time, he had to show effort.

“You couldn’t think of a favorite memory?”

“I didn’t have enough time!”

“You had as much time as the other kids.”

[whimpers]

“Didn’t we just go to Disney? You couldn’t write about that?”

“I could have, but I just didn’t know how to start!”

And there it was. My son had just landed on the same problem millions of writers face every day. He didn’t know what words to put on the page, got upset by the fact that he couldn’t put words on the page, which then made it even harder to put words on the page.

“So, what are you going to do next time?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re going to write down the first thing that comes to your mind. Whatever it is. Just write it down. Then follow that with some more words. Just make an effort, ok? You have to show that you tried.”

And, it is both that easy and that hard, right? We come up with a ton of excuses to not write, but often the solution is just writing down what’s on our mind. What part of the story is teasing you? Write it down! Don’t worry about how you’re going to get there, just write down the part that’s in your head at this very moment. Make that effort every day and the story will eventually come out. You’ll figure out the bits in between. Whether you’re writing 100 or 1000 words a day, at least you’re trying and moving forward.

Have writer’s block? Have a great solution for writer’s block? Let us know in the comments section. Thanks for stopping by!

Don’t Get Comfortable

DontGetComfortable

It’s Tuesday afternoon, September 23rd as I write this. With vacation less than 48 hours away, I should be thinking about basking in the warmth and humidity of the fall Floridian sun (guaranteed I’m bitching about the humidity when this post goes live). Instead, I’m worried about my job and where my company is headed.

I’ve worked in offices for almost fifteen years now, mostly as an editor. Not a long time for some, but long enough to know that you should be afraid the moment you feel comfortable. At my very first desk job, back in 2001, the company was 250 strong. Four months later, we had a layoff. Four months after that, another layoff. Four months after that… you get the picture. In a matter of 3 years, they went through 5 layoffs and shed ~100 people from that office. I left that job willingly to complete my college degree.

When I found my way back into a large company again in 2005, I got comfortable. Four plus years at a place will do that. And just when it seemed like we’d reached a peak of performance (a small group of people working on medical journals that moved like well oiled machines and made money) the controlling conglomerate came in and changed what wasn’t broken. I tried to go with the change and found that I just wasn’t cut out for a characterless work environment. I like people. People are what makes a job fun. Remove all need to interact with people: remove all the fun.

Anyway, I landed at my current job just over 3 years ago. I loved it from day one. It had the kind of people I liked, the flexibility I needed, and the pay was good. Didn’t hurt that it was also a 10 minute drive from home. It was my first dip into the advertising industry. Be careful, some said. You can get burnout pretty quickly. I felt it, suffered a bit of it, but still found the desire to get up in the morning and go to work. Always a plus.

So, when I started feeling really comfortable, it was really just a matter of time before the bottom fell out, right? I just was hoping to get a little more time. That’s not to say that the bottom has fallen out… yet. It’s just not looking good. Working for a branch that’s part of a larger network helps in the sense that they try and place employees at other branches that have work. Trick is, the branch they’re sending me to requires a train ride into New York City.

I realize that, for some, this would be a dream come true. For me, it’s a hassle and costly. And, as much as I enjoy the bright lights and big city, I love nothing more than leaving it behind when I’m done visiting. Now, on my return from vacation, I have a 90-day stint in Chelsea, NY to look forward to. I’m not totally dreading the opportunity, but that’s partly because I can see an end. If it was indefinite, I’d be dusting off the resume once again (which might happen anyway). Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to still be employed. I just wish I could settle in where I wouldn’t be concerned with the fate of the company. I guess that’s just the age we live in. Don’t get comfortable. It could all change tomorrow.

I Remember 9/11

September 11, 2001 was one month to the day after my wedding day. We sailed out of NY harbor on 8/12/01 and took pictures of the towers on a cloudy, drizzly day. I couldn’t fathom that they would be gone a month later and our lives would be changed forever.

Towers_8-12-01

Anyone who was old enough to remember, knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York City. I had just walked into the office, barely nine months into my first desk job. A coworker stuck her head out of her cube and told me the news. “Really?” My reaction was one of innocent disbelief. “A small plane?” That made sense to me. A small plane getting lost or disabled and hitting a tower. That made sense. Not an airliner… and certainly not an airliner hijacked by religious zealots. “No, an airliner.”

By the time I logged onto my computer, Flight 175 had crashed into the South tower at 9:03 AM. The Internet slowed to a crawl (remember, this was 2001), but for some reason, my computer is able to refresh images on MSNBC.com. It’s one of the few media feeds we are able to get. A crowd develops in the confines of my small cube. We chatter about the events. At 9:43, flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. “We’re under attack!” someone says. It’s a statement that sounds absurd, but appears more and more real as the minutes tick by.

We discover that a coworker’s sister works in the North Tower. She cannot be reached by phone.

At 10:05 AM, the unthinkable happens. I refreshed my internet feed to see a new picture of the South Tower coming down in a cloud of dust and smoke. “No way it totally collapsed,” says a coworker. “No way the whole thing came down. The top probably just fell off.” If only that were true.

At 10:10 AM, Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.

At 10:28 AM, the second tower collapses.

The coworker’s sister would not survive the day.

Around 1 PM, my company announces that employees may go home at their discretion. I leave immediately. I want to see my wife. I want to go home and feel safe again.

At the time, we lived in an efficiency and were so broke, we didn’t have cable. When my wife got home, we sat in her car and listened to the radio at intervals before going to bed. I stayed home the next day and listened to the radio on and off. We went grocery shopping that night. Living in Northwestern NJ at the time, we were in the direct path of flights coming into the East coast. You were used to seeing planes in the sky. That night, the sky was empty and unsettling. It was as quiet as I have ever known it.

The following weeks were quietly chaotic. I worked in a haze as I dealt with my own feelings about the tragedy. Being so close, the stories of loss and close calls were numerous. “I was supposed to be in the North Tower that morning, but I was running late.” “I lost my uncle.” “There were dozens of cars at the train station left behind by commuters who hadn’t made it back that day.”

A week later, my boss (a woman in her late 70s at the time) makes a point of declaring she doesn’t know what the fuss is about. “More people were killed at Pearl Harbor.” I’m 26 at the time. I have no argument. Now, I would say, “But Pearl Harbor wasn’t in our back yard. And that was a war with clearly defined sides. And there was a military objective behind that attack.” And someone who knows anything could probably come up with a dozen other arguments against that statement. But, that was the defence she had chosen to put up. Otherwise, you had to admit that it had scared the hell out of you. Which it had.

Whether you like to believe it or not, the events of 9/11 changed everyone. It became this generation’s Pearl Harbor, in a war few can define. The experience has made me who I am today, for good or bad. I hope that my son will never have to see an event transpire like that one. I hope he can grow up in a more tolerant world that isn’t driven by greed and power. But, that’s wishful thinking.

At this point, I have the urge to run off into a diatribe about money being the root of all evil, which means I should probably just stop while I’m ahead. A peaceful Patriot Day to you all.
Event times referenced from: http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/chronology.attack/

Differing Opportunities

We met up with some old friends this last weekend. Late in the day, I found myself having a conversation with someone I didn’t remember sharing much of a past with. We’d moved in very different circles in high school, but we’d shared the commonality of singing in the boy’s choir group. He brought it up with some fondness and waxed reminiscent of days when the ladies of the larger choir basked in our jocular glow. He said all this with a wink and nudge as if I must have had a similar experience to the one he described. Imagine his surprise when I contradicted his assumption. “Well, it was happening. You just didn’t let it happen,” he said. Not being one to argue (have I ever mentioned that I’m awefully passive-aggressive?), I simply nodded and breathed a sigh of relief when the waitress interrupted to take our order.

But I couldn’t forget the moment. This insinuation that life was happening around me and, if I had just taken the leap, I would have had the same experience, is an awful thing to consider. Had I really been that blind? It wouldn’t surprise me entirely. I led a very sheltered childhood and was prone to conservatism. But, as someone who was always looking for inclusion in the right crowd (and often not finding it), it’s hard for me to believe it was right under my nose all along.

I didn’t date in high school. This is a statement that has surprised more than one person in my life. “Seriously? You didn’t date?” It’s not like it was an active choice! Tall, skinny, red-haired, geeky, self conscious to a fault. It was a poor combination. Looking back now, I also went through periods of depression and suffered situational anxiety. Heck, I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 19. Then I married the next girl I kissed and she’s still a pretty damn good kisser. But I digress.

None of us like to miss out. But, there’s missing out on a free lunch, or that 50% off sale at Target, and there’s missing out on life. Not everyone has the same opportunities, whether it is in life or love or money. Each situation, no matter how similar, is unique. Have I missed opportunities in lfe? Sure, we all have, but, in my eyes, this wasn’t one of them. Yes, I was in the same place and time and situation as you, but I wasn’t blind to something. It just didn’t happen to me that way and that’s just how life is sometimes.

Summer’s End

As a resident of the northeast, the end of summer always comes too quickly. This year is no different. The nights were noticably shorter a few weeks ago (it’s really cruel that they start getting shorter at the beginning of summer) and the new school year is right around the corner (my son doesn’t start until September 4th).

I used to wonder why so many people fled to the south to retire. Sure, it’s warmer, but I always thought I’d miss snow and the cooler weather. Being a redhead, I’m also not a big beach goer or sun bather. More like sun avoider. *Raises weary fist to the sky and curses large shiny yellow glob* SPF 50 and swim shirts are my summer buddies… and I hate sunblock. Unfortunately, skin cancer runs in the family. So, yeah…it’s a love/hate kinda thing. Glad you save me from skin cancer… wish you didn’t make me feel like a hot mess before leaving the house.

Now, though, as the big 4-0 nears, my tune is slowly changing. Yeah, I might miss real fall weather and the changing leaves (it’s my favorite time of year), but I could do without the snow and ice. And we’re not even far enough north to get the really bad weather. I mean, I’m not sure how people even live in Canada year round. I kid, but seriously! I guess your blood just gets used to it. And, home is where your heart is…even if it’s frozen solid.

Here in temperate NJ, we get teased with just enough sun and warmth to last us through the other 6 to 7 months of cold. The water at the shore (yes, we all call it that…if you don’t, you’re not from Jersey) is just reaching a point where you don’t get hypothermia after five minutes. The beaches are packed, even when the weather isn’t that great, because it’s not going to get any better. This is it. Summer’s end is approaching with as much rapidity as it always does, one day at a time. The Labor Day weekend will mark the unofficial end, but it may as well mark the real end. Schools will all be back in, traffic will be back to its ridiculous awefulness, and the boardwalks will close for the season. The hopes and dreams that only summer can bring that didn’t come to fruition this year will have to wait until next when hope will spring eternal once more. 😉

We’re all just looking for our Guardians of the Galaxy teammates

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy on Sunday and I really enjoyed it. It was fun, unpretentious, and had some of the qualities that made the original Star Wars trilogy awesome. Go see it if you haven’t already. It’s totally worth it.

As I perused the interwebs yesterday morning, I found that there was almost a sense of giddiness about the movie. Like something special had touched a lot of people. I thought on it a bit and I think Star Lord’s line sums it up perfectly, “I look around me and I see a bunch of losers!”

Guardians is about a rag-tag bunch of beings who bond over a shared experience. What they eventaully realize is that they also share a sense of loss. And, to me, that says a lot about real life. We gravitate to folks like us, even people who may not seem, from the outside, to be on the same wavelength. We all have that one friend that we look at and say, “How the hell did we ever become friends?” But at the same time, you know exactly why… and you wouldn’t give them up for the world.

You’ve shared that common thread. You’ve gone into (figurative or literal) battle together. Whether it was school, a job, or basic training. You sat in the trenches together and laughed in the face of fate. It didn’t matter that he’s a tree and you’re a very literal-minded homicidal maniac (you saw the movie, right?!). I imagine it’s why we keep certain friends from childhood throughout our lives. You may not remain in the same circles, but you’ll always have that shared experience.

And, over the years, we gather our team of misfits around us. Some of them get along. Others would rather not be on the same team, but they rally around you as you rally around others. You have your team of guardians and you are part of someone else’s team. They are the team we want to stand next to in the final battle. And, you love them, warts, furry tails, and all.

Strange dreams are made of Burger King

Alright, so this is random, but I had to jot it down somewhere because it was just so vivid. Had a long day yesterday and, on our drive home, we stopped at the rest area on the Turnpike and grabbed a bite to eat. I chose a bacon double cheeseburger because I am weak. Anyway, my dream/nightmare this morning consisted of an amalgam of three things in my life: my gym, my job, and the house I grew up in.

The dream began with me looking out of the window (of the house I grew up in) and seeing that my gym (which was never there) across the street had been completely renovated overnight into a gym equipment sales floor. Now, when I went to go check it out there also happened to be a pizza delivery guy in the driveway who I didn’t have enough cash for. Anyway, I became even more upset when I realized that this gym/neighborhood monstrosity was also my current place of employment (because advertising and gym equipment really go hand-in-hand). It was all very confusing, but I was more concerned with just keeping my job and my past (way past) years of retail experience might come in handy while selling gym equipment (hey, I never said this dream was rational).

Then it occurred to me that this had all been done without my knowledge and that the guys who were now on the show floor were the folks they had decided to keep on. I wasn’t good enough to be a gym equipment salesperson. Luckily, I woke up before it got much more upsetting.

Dream

Late night plus cheeseburger equals creepy dreams (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946, Dali)

So, yeah…if you choose to have your late-night snack with the King, just be prepared for what he’ll dig out of your subconscious and toss together.  Some dreams can lead to books. This was not one of those dreams. 😉