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Cathy: Writer’s Block in the extreme

How do I get from this:


To a complete final chapter?

This page has been staring me in the face for weeks now from the left side of my desk. Behind this page in my mind’s eye, I can see the movie version playing with all the characters I have introduced and their reactions to Felix as he begins his presentation.

I see the principal giving a very-pleased-to-have-this-young-man-in-our-midst introduction. I see his parents settling into the folding chairs proud as parents can be, I see row upon row of classes increasing in grade level to the back of the room, his friends toward the back, his sisters in the front row. I see his difficult sister coming around, and his shy sister, finally without her thumb in her mouth watching him with a grin from ear to ear. I see the school nurse/confidante and the gym teacher who broke up the fight cheering him on with thumbs up on the side lines. I hear Felix’s thoughts as he surveys the room before he begins to speak, moving from nervous exhilaration to knowing he’s had a lot of support all along, if he’d only recognized it, and now that he does, he knows he can do this presentation better than anyone. His solitary nerves disappear and by virtue of his feelings of support from so many he loves and who love him, he realizes anything is possible.

Really, this of all the chapters should be the easiest to write. All the difficulties he’s gone through are over, the good things are securely in place. So how is it I can’t write the words to put him on stage, in front of the audience for the chapter to occur and wrap up this book?

Everything I’ve said above and more I’ve been saying to myself for a very long time. I’ve been saying them through writing much of the rest of the book, through his trials and tribulations, I have had this scene in mind since the first page was written in 2004, maybe even 2003. All I know is the class I was working in at the time and that it was that class that inspired this idea. Sixth graders, gotta love them. Wow, must be graduating high school now. And I’m still hung up in this book!

Please, does anyone know how to put his feet on the steps up to the stage to start this ending? I’m killing myself here between knowing what I want to write, the lack of uninterrupted time and sleep that affect the work, and the sheer actual words that will put him on stage. The movie in my head seems to have come out before the advent talkies.

Thank you for allowing me to indulge in my inner dialogue. I figured if I wrote it down and put it ‘out there’ I might make actual progress — maybe tomorrow.

5/25 Weekly Creativity Challenge and New Prompt

Sorry for the delay in getting these up today!  Two tug-at-the-heart entries [check that, three, with a late entry from Miranda added!] this week for “graduate”, and Cathy Coley, the spotlight is yours; what a beautiful reflection. Well done, Mama Cathy!


I‘ve spent so much time thinking how odd it is that K will be starting high school next year, that the entire concept that he’s graduating middle school has completely by-passed any mental space I have leftover after S’s day-to-day functioning and Baby C’s needs. That’s what I get for having one independent kid.  Poor guy, I’m so busy handling the others and musing about his future that I completely miss his present.  We’ve been discussing college options since he was four, but I haven’t even bought a sport coat that’ll fit him for three weeks before his arms hang like ape arms out of the sleeves.  I just know the moment he walks across the stage to shake hands with the principal is going to hit me like an oncoming Mac truck.  I’m certain to burst into a blubbering sobs because I have given myself absolutely no emotional preparation for this.  It was just last week that his graduation even made an appearance on the horizon in my head.

This is going to be big – mondo!  This is my first child’s first graduation experience since preschool.  I hate to say it, but I can’t recall a preschool graduation per se.  I think I remember an end of year party.  I asked him, and he doesn’t remember it either. I don’t think there are any pictures.  What happened? That’s a real shame. I don’t think his class had one for kindergarten and I moved him from a K-6 school to a district with a middle school starting in 6th grade at the end of his 5th grade year.  He’s been ripped off.

I don’t know how he flies under my radar so much in an average day of our lives.  I am pre-occupied with finishing the manuscript, and with his younger brother and sister.  He’s pretty quiet and keeps to himself a lot.  Mostly he’s reached an age and gathered friends in the neighborhood so that his primary activity is the ubiquitous teen requisite: hanging out anywhere as long as it’s away from adults.  Sometimes, when he’s in my vicinity, it suddenly occurs to me that days or weeks have gone by with nary a hug.  When he was little, he was the biggest cuddle bunny, constantly against me in full body leans, and taking my face in his little hands to tell me he loves me.  Now I walk up to him in the kitchen, put my arms around his lanky frame, and usually have to take his limp arms and wrap them around me in a bit of tragicomedy.

The truth of the matter is that, while I feel like I’ve always been a parent, he is growing up faster than I could have imagined.  His milestones are more and more like adult milestones, and so my reaction isn’t what is for his thirteen month old sister. His milestones are normalized against his brother’s, which can seem monumental.  And because, even as a little kid, he’s had such a sense of adultness about him, that his milestones come off as givens rather than what they are, which should be remarkable.  Oh, he recognizes the need for common good.  Oh, he’s waxing poetic on the existential nature of God.  Oh, his feet have outgrown mine.  Oh, didn’t I just buy those high water pants last week?  Oh, wait, is that the first hint of a moustache?! Oh, he’s actually interacting with his baby sister.  Oh, he’s consciously choosing to not take this opportunity to fight with his brother.  I should be doing much more than having passing thoughts of his capacity to be a kind, to consider any question of spirituality, to grow like the Bermuda grass in my gardens beyond my control.

And maybe that’s it.  The idea that he is graduating from middle school has come on so suddenly and sharply, because I know the next handful of years will be spent just trying to balance between allowing him to experience the freedoms that come with self-sufficiency, and keeping him safe. Like his toddler sister running to and fro with not enough sleep bonking her head on furniture, I just want to hold him close, not let him fall on his face as he figures out the world of being a young man for himself.  Hopefully I have prepared him well to go at life with abandon, but not so much that he runs headlong into trouble.  And maybe, just a little bit, behind all this wondering about his independence, I’m a little fearful, that as he becomes a man, I know him less than I did when I could easily scoop him up in my arms; that there may be those in his friends, who may know him more.

From Miranda Hersey Helin:

The Graduate

I am sitting in the stylist’s chair
blabbing on about my graduating son
where he will go to college, and what he will study

I am millions of other mothers who have sat in their stylists’ chairs
blabbing on about their graduating sons
where their young men will go to college, and what they will study

I move through this well-worn choreography
a caricature, puppet-like, almost without will of my own

It is the centrifugal force of life experience
the very stuff that gives birth to cliché
And while it makes me squirm, these clichés exist
because they tell truths

And I am living one now.

My firstborn, my son, has finished his classes
and next week will wear a cap and gown
tassel flapping
and walk across the stage
as he walked across the years
to receive a paper that tells him—and the world—
that he has finished something, many things:

high school,
and childhood.

My boy, now nearly grown,
stares up at a wide bright circle of sky
full of promise and unknown
but he is well prepared,
steadfast and strong
present, principled
with an incisive mind and a loyal heart.
I know who he is.

I want to say “I am so proud of you”
but the cliché distracts;
those words are not original enough
to convey real meaning

What I want to say is:
I am proud that you are my son,
for who you are and the way you are
Not because you reflect me,
because you don’t
But you are something better than that;
You are yourself

I dance with the pride of a million mothers
for a million sons, stepping back
in wonder


From me (Kelly): I had thought about writing something witty and fun about the graduation of time in our Memorial Day weekend, but after reading Cathy’s poignant entry, it just didn’t seem to fit the bill. Instead, I’ll share a story I wrote last year about this time when my girls graduated from VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten).

girls_down_the_aisleMilestones…today was the girls’ last day of VPK. Their graduation program was last Thursday night but today was THE LAST DAY! My babies are growing up too quickly. This picture is from their graduation program. I’ve definitely developed “Gushing Emotional Mama Syndrome” over the last week. It started at graduation, watching them up there on stage doing their part in the program. The nine VPK classes were divided into three teams of three classes, each with a special role on the “VPK Graduation Express”. My girls were part of the “caboose”. They sang all the alphabet songs, identified vowels vs consonants, read a short story out loud and sang “Five Miles from Home!”. Before everything started I was a little worried about Livvie. Sarah’s a ham so I knew she’d be fine, but as they were all marching in, Livvie was looking around wide-eyed, thumb in mouth. They walked all the way around the church and then down the center aisle, right where DH and I were sitting, and I was afraid that as soon as she saw us, she’d dart out of line and over to us. But she did great! She didn’t even suck her thumb while they were on stage! I was so proud! Tears they were a-flowing! Yesterday they came home with the most wonderful scrapbooks that Ms. Tammy and Ms. Mary put together for us. The books documented their whole VPK year, including pictures of all their events as well as just general classroom and playground pictures, drawings, writing exercises, the whole shebang. And once again, I had the tears a-falling looking through both books. Ms. Tammy and Ms. Mary are incredible teachers.

This truly was a huge milestone for us, as the girls birth was a bit of a miracle in itself.  They were conceived after a second run of IVF, three years after we learned we lost our first set of twins, also conceived via IVF, two days after my mom died. My girls were born seven weeks early by emergency c-section. I had developed a severe case of pre-eclampsia called HELLP syndrome. I was already high-risk, pregnant with twins at 37, so I was on weekly hospital monitoring for three hours every Monday. That particular Monday my blood pressure was very high, so the nurses really didn’t want to let me go home after my monitoring. I had a regular doctor’s appointment scheduled for the next morning, so I convinced them to let me go home since I’d be seeing “my” doc the next morning. There’s the kicker. My doctor was out of town! When he told me he had to go out of town, I told him, “Don’t you go out of town on me! I’ll have these babies while you are gone!” And he said, “No, you’ll be fine, you’re still seven-eight weeks out!” He hooked me up with a colleague for monitoring while he was gone and that’s who I was scheduled to meet for the first time the next morning. Little Dr. Sunny Kim. Very sweet, tiny little Asian woman. When I went in to see her for the very first time that next morning, she took all my vitals, reviewed the nurse’s notes from the previous day’s monitoring and said she’d be right back. She was gone for what seemed like hours. When she came back in, she sat down in front of me, took my hands in hers, said she had conferred with Dr. Shaykh by phone, and then said, “You are very sick; we have to take these babies now,” and immediately sent me over to the ER for prep. In shock, I called DH and told him he better get there quickly. Then I called my dad. His response was, “You can’t have the babies now! I’m not there!” Typical father! He made it from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville in three and half hours. Apparently he was there by the time I woke up from the surgery, but I don’t remember much.

Sarah was delivered first and, through the miracles of modern medicine, I was still awake at the time. But then Livvie decided she wasn’t ready to face the world. She literally turned around and headed north, getting lodged up in my rib cage. This made it very hard for me to breathe, and I started panicking. All I remember from that point was the nurse anesthetist coming to telling me, “Okay, Kelly, we’re just going to put you to sleep right now; everything will be fine.” DH said things moved very quickly from that point. He probably should have been removed from the room, but I guess with everything happening so quickly, they just didn’t get to that and he got to watch what he now refers to as “Discovery Channel Live”. He said Dr. Kim had to stand up on a stool and press down with all her weight on my chest and upper abdomen to try to push Livvie down. That explained all the soreness and bruising I had in that area when I finally came back to reality. From pictures, I know that the girls were both wrapped up and shown to me before being whisked off to the NICU, but I have no memory of that. For the next two days, I was kept pretty drugged up and on a morphine drip to keep me in bed until they could get my blood-pressure stabilized.

hanging_loose_at_a_10_daysStrangely enough, the only memory I have of those first two and a half days was really wanting to brush my teeth and my dad bringing me the bed pan to brush my teeth in! Dad and DH said they were glad I didn’t see the girls those first two days as they were in pretty bad shape, Livvie in particular. When I was finally allowed out of bed and taken to see them late Thursday night, I felt such a strong mix of emotions: pure joy that they were here, mixed with sadness and fear that they were so very frail, mixed with the first dose of Mama guilt because I couldn’t carry them any longer. They were right at four pounds when they were born and dropped below four pounds for about a week before they finally started gaining a little weight. They are about 10 days old in this picture, and it’s always cracked me up. They seem to be saying to each other, “Oh, Sis, we shouldn’t have had that last bottle last night…I have one heck of a milk hangover”. Sarah was slow and steady with no real issues other than her very small size. Livvie struggled a bit more, undergoing a full blood transfusion at about a week old. I was sent home after five days but had DH or Pops drive me up there every day to sit with them in the NICU until they could come home.

coming_homeTwo steps forward, one step back. That was the nurses’ mantra until the girls could come home, about three weeks later; this picture was taken just before we left the NICU with them for the last time, Sarah on the left, Livvie on the right. I know our story is not unique. I have two very close friends who delivered twins even earlier than I did and spent more grueling weeks than we did in the NICU. That truly is the miracle of modern medicine. Like my girls, Luke and Dylan and Adrian and Christian are all now happy, healthy wonderful little blessings. So we do get to celebrate those milestones, every one of them. And we’re allowed to have “Gushing Emotional Mama Syndrome”, like all Mama’s are. My girls now amaze me every day, the little geniuses that they are (you knew that was coming, didn’t you :-). They’re so smart, and so brave, and so funny, and so sweet, and so beautiful that I often wonder why I was deemed lucky enough to call them mine. We are truly blessed.

This week’s prompt: “Sunday”
Use the prompt however you like – literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by midnight eastern time on Sunday, May 31, 2009.   Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly challenge, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 48 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

Open House: Seven Sisters

Seven sisters in a symphony of creative blogs to sit and sip your coffee by….

  1. Kate Hopper shares wise words from a reading event, even though she was sick as a dog and shouldn’t have gone.
  2. Liz Hum considers how unfair parenting can be from one child to the next and why.
  3. Jennifer Johnson shares the loveliest love poem to her husband, on their anniversary.
  4. Bethany Hiitola shares a delightful craft gift to give to friends.
  5. Mary Duquette’s faith in human nature is restored.
  6. Carmen Torbus waxes poetic over zucchini gardening and gets soupily creative.
  7. Karen Winters posts a painting experience including a shot of her on site at the easel, the yellows and greens of the painting smack dab in the scene itself.

Have a wonderful long weekend!

Kelly: Tweeting Here and There

My new photo boxes stained and ready for photo mounting

My new photo boxes stained and ready for photo mounting

I’m not thinking very clearly today (Monday). I finally gave in and started taking the new prescription my dizzy doc wanted me to try since she searched out an older generic version. With quite a bit of trepidation, I took my first one last night and within an hour, I felt a bit like a bobble-head doll. DH said I didn’t look like a bobble-head doll, and then said “Here, how many fingers am I holding up?” to which I responded, “Well first, you must move your hand farther away from my 43-year-old eyes….okay, three.” Nope, it was only one. I decided to go to bed at that point.

So back to today. I told my assistant when I came in this morning (about 45 minutes late since I had a heck of a time getting out of bed) that I started taking these new little pink pills so if she happened to walk back to my office and find me asleep on my desk, just make sure I’m still breathing, turn off the light and shut the door. Through a constant infusion of Diet Coke, I’ve managed to stay awake but can’t really concentrate on much (like that end of the academic year college-wide service learning and learning communities report I need to write), so what did I do? In my drug induced stupor, I joined Twitter! Sounded like a great idea for my even more shortened-attention-spanned self, right?!

I’ve been fighting jumping on the Twitter bandwagon for a while, figuring I didn’t need yet one more thing to keep up with. I recently took a free five-day online marketing course from Etsy guru Tim Adam, and the first day’s assignment was to (1) start a blog, (2) open a Facebook account, and (3) open a Twitter account. Since I already had two of the three done, I figured I was doing pretty well. The next three days’ lessons concentrated on each of those venues and how they can help you promote your art online. After Tim received much feedback on how much time the above three can suck out of your life, the fifth day’s lesson was changed from Google Analytics to Time Management. He has some great suggestions, and he’s been a very charitable mentor to many a struggling Etsy seller through the forums and through his Handmadeology site. He’s done very well with his own Etsy business, going from working two jobs and selling his art in galleries and fairs to dumping his day job and concentrating on his art full-time. Kudos to Tim.

However, what he doesn’t have, my dear friends, is children, and that is key! At the close of his five-day course, he asked for feedback on what else he could have included, and that was the point I mentioned to him. There is simply not enough time in the day for one woman to successfully work a full-time “day job”, parent small children AND spend all that time marketing herself on her blog, Facebook and Twitter. I’d be glued to the computer all day! Then, of course, there’s the actual creative time that must be taken to actually create the art that you are trying to market. And yes, I know, I know….you make time for what’s important…I’ve heard that many times. But there is wanting to make time for what’s important and then there’s the reality of life with small children (and the fact that I do actually need sleep).

This got me thinking more about my mission for my art, in whatever form it may take. I talked about this some at the end of this blog post. While I’d love to have more time to work on my art, I’m not willing to quit my day job (nor can we afford to financially even if I were willing). For the most part, I like my day job. I’ve built a great career at the college and I know that I’ve been a great positive influence on hundreds of students who’ve walked through my office door. Yet I still have that huge drive to create. And to get my creations out there to others. Is my art my “life’s work”? I know that I wouldn’t feel complete without it, but I also know it will probably never be my sole income…and I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that that’s just fine. I can create for me and if things sell, great; if they don’t, no biggee…I’ll find some place for them. Maybe that’s my subconscious telling me that my family needs health insurance, I need to build up my girls’ college fund, I need to have at least a little bit of stability in my life…who knows. Maybe I’m just not thinking clearly in my klonopin- and celexa-filled brain right now! 🙂 (And don’t even get me started on the topic of why I’m taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications for a balance disorder, as I haven’t figured that one out myself…I just listen to the good docs at my Mayo-clinic affiliated doctor’s office [and do my own research], but I digress). So I’ll Tweet here and there, and maybe I’ll develop a little Twitter following (with my humor and wit, how could they possibly resist, right?), and we’ll see what happens. If you are on Twitter, come join me here. We can juggle our crazy lives together!

Weekly Challenge Deadline Moved!

Just a quick reminder that the submission deadline day for the weekly creativity challenge is now midnight Sunday instead of Tuesday, so you still have five whole days!  Since I’ll be out of town this weekend, I actually won’t get to them until midday Monday, so you have even more time.  This week’s prompt is “graduate”.

Cathy: So I’m no John Updike

This is a crosspost from my new personal blog.

When John Updike passed away recently, Charlie Rose aired a great retrospective of his handful of interviews with Updike and I watched absorbed, as I have always loved Updike, and Charlie Rose fairly gushes when interviewing him. One stand out moment for a writer watching enraptured as I was — and I’m paraphrasing the wondrous Updike here — he said “If I’m not writing at least six hours a day, six days a week, I feel like I’m faking it, that I can’t call myself a writer.” He equated it with a carpenter and other professions showing up to the grind.

I caught the message, and while I do sit here for some extended hours of the day, I don’t write six hours worth of steady writing a day. My first thought when I was watching as he said it was: Yeah, well where was Mrs. Updike during those six hours, six days a week? For many years, I imagine, raising his kids, doing his laundry, making his meals, etc., while he got to wile away his time in front of his notebook and typewriter, blissfully alone with his thoughts in order to write them down.

I have a strong work ethic that plants my butt in this chair in front of this computer everyday. But it’s a highly interrupted work ethic as I still manage the household from my seat as well as watch the baby and the guys, and garden and laundry, and well, you get the idea. While I am writing, or not writing as the case may be, I am still managing S’s special needs with his school, which currently involves shooting emails to his teacher, but not much more, thankfully. It was a rough couple of years there. I’m still trying to figure out the better ways to manage his development positively at home and keep tabs on the teen and the toddler who is generally in my arms or getting into the wires underfoot.

In the meantime I’m constantly sketching scenes in my head when I’m away from the computer attending to life, and often find myself quite divided and making very slow progress on the manuscript. Never mind, being so close to its end that I’m leaping ahead mentally to other ideas… really can’t wait until I I finish this manuscript, so that when I am listening to my kids, I am present. When I hug them, that is all I am doing, not mentally writing a possible scene variation at the same time.

Is this ADD? Is it simply the limitations of a brain functioning on a minimum of sleep for several years now? Is it is just the thoughts at this stage of a manuscript for any writer who also happens to be a mother-wife-you name your hyphenation here. I have lots of them. I choose all of the above particularly that last bit. I am too busy having a life and managing so many others, that I can’t have the old Virginia Woolf Room of One’s Own experience. Neither can any of the other writer-mothers I know. I feel torn in many directions all the time, but mostly between the kids, my husband, and writing.

So I’m no John Updike. I do however really miss his articles in the New Yorker tremendously.

Kelly: The Things They Say About God


[Cross-post from my personal blog] The girls and I were eating breakfast Friday morning when Livvie noticed that the roses they gave me for Mother’s Day were dying. I told them that, yes, unfortunately flowers die; things here on Earth don’t live forever. Then out of the blue Sarah said, “I miss Kitty.” Admitting I missed her to, I asked her what she thought God did for us after Kitty died. “He sent us Tink.” Yep, he sent us Tink, the sweet little stray kitten that appeared under my van one day on campus. This turned into a longer conversation about God and angels and how Kitty is up in Heaven with Mommy’s Mommy and Daddy’s Mommy. Sarah said that we never really die; we just become angels (this out of the mouth of a soon to be six-year-old). And Livvie responded with “Will you still be our Mommy when we are angels?” Me? “I will always, always, always be your Mommy, even when we are angels.” Then Livvie looked outside and said, “Maybe when God made our river, he sat on our dock to rest. I think he sat in the pink chair.” Indeed, he probably did.

We are not a go-to-church-every-Sunday family, but we do believe in God and try to instill that faith and those values in our girls, and sometimes their clarity of it all truly astounds me. I know they say the two things you should never bring up in conversation are politics and religion. Oh well, here’s my two cents. 🙂 I don’t care much about politics, but I’m thankful my girls are finding their faith.

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