Multitasking Momma, Lay That Keyboard Down

Although, for some reason, no one has asked me, I’m going to reveal the secret of successful writing. I’m sure that many people read my books and wonder how I do it. How do I come up with books that are brimming with humor and interesting tidbits and still manage to raise two kids and work at home? What is the secret of my success, if success is the word I want? I’ll tell you in one word: focus.

For instance, yesterday, I sat down to write an essay about writing. Now, several things could have gotten in my way, but I didn’t let them. Laundry, squabbling kids, rodents, illegible bills that may be overdue by the time they dry out, cats in shopping bags, possibly dead woodpeckers, and a lack of information about Hanta Virus – it was all ganging up on me, but I managed to put it aside and write. Well, I started to write. I’m going to finish now.

To begin with, when I descended to my basement computer room, there was a definite pong of something other than the incense I use to inspire me. Eau de Souris Morte would be my guess. Sure enough, when I tracked the smell down to its source, I found a dead mouse lying under the sleeper couch that we use for guests. When I picked up the mouse with paper towels and threw it out into the woods behind the house, a thought occurred to me.

I believe it was my cyber-friend, Elisheva, who mentioned Hanta Virus, so I washed my hands and tottered over to her blog. I couldn’t seem to find the entry on Hanta, but I did have a lovely half hour reading her entry about auditory processing that, oddly enough, included the subject of mouse brains.Of course,  I had to take a quick look at an entry about New Mexico weather that features some beautiful photos that almost make me want to pack up and move out to the mountains.

I could have gone on reading all day, but, of course, I didn’t, because I needed to focus on writing. Writing this, as a matter of fact, which had started with a dead mouse but that wasn’t the focus of my essay. Hmm, what WAS the focus of my article? Oh yes, I was writing about the secret to successful writing, which is focus. Women who write, especially mothers who write, often have trouble staying on track because of all the little domestic problems that crop up over the course of a day.

Laundry, for instance, is a never-ending chore in our house, and I seem to be the one who does most of it. Of course, in part, that’s because the washer and dryer are in the basement, and that’s where I am when I’m writing. It’s not that much of a hassle for me to throw a load of clothes into the washer before I turn on the computer. But what is a hassle is taking them out of the dryer, folding them and stacking them on shelves so that family members can retrieve them later. As I heard the dryer stop while I was typing the third paragraph of this, I thought about whether it’s more annoying to get up in the middle of a thought or to wear wrinkled clothes. I don’t mind wrinkles, but Geekdaddy does have to interact with the public and his income mostly floats this boat, so I opted for the interruption.

When I got back to my desk, I noticed that there were little black particles on the rug under my chair. Further inspection revealed that they were mouse turds, which led my thoughts back to Hanta Virus again. I figured it would be a good idea to vacuum them just to be on the safe side, so I went upstairs and lugged the ancient Miele downstairs and plugged it in. It’s an excellent vacuum, with a long hose and a wand that reaches all the way to the ceiling corners for cobweb removal, which is what I’d been vacuuming the last time I used it.

That’s why, when I vigorously attacked the mouse droppings, the excess wand that stretched out behind me hit my coffee cup on the desk, next to a pile of bills I was planning to sort and file for future payment. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it until I turned off the vacuum, so the envelopes and the papers inside them were so saturated with coffee that I didn’t dare do any more than lay them next to the baseboard heater to dry.

Some people might have lost their focus right there and gotten involved in checking their records to make sure none of the bills were due right then, but I am not one of those people. I stayed firmly focused on whatever it was I was doing before the coffee spilled. Hmm, vacuuming? No, I wasn’t writing about vacuuming. I was writing about writing. That’s right. And I’m still writing about it and will continue to write about it until I’m finished with this. If it kills me.

Focus, is what separates professional writers from amateurs and what the heck was all that noise upstairs? Kids fighting was my guess, and I was right, so I went up and mediated and got them to keep it down so that I could write. The writing was coming along nicely until there was an enormous bang and Daughter came running downstairs to tell me that a woodpecker had hit the dining room window and was lying on the deck.

It was the one we call Mrs. Meep, mate to Mr. Meep, the mid-size woodpecker and she was lying there with her eyes open and her head at a very odd angle. I was sure she was dead, but daughter begged me to give her a chance to recover, so I did. That’s why only half my mind was on my writing as I typed several sentences about how to retain your focus on your writing no matter what’s going on in your environment. They were very pithy and helpful, and I wish I could show them to you, but Daughter came downstairs crying her eyes out, which took my attention off my writing, and I unwittingly deleted several paragraphs.

That’s why I had to start all over today, but it’s probably all to the good. Geekdaddy is home due to one of the snowstorms we have here in Maine, just to give us a change from blackflies, Mud Season and hurricanes, so he’s able to deal with anything that threatens to interrupt my thought processes and what the heck was that?

I don’t believe it. Son’s ancient (96 in cat years) but amazingly playful cat has managed to get her head stuck through the opening of a plastic shopping bag and is whizzing around the basement meowing. Son is thundering around after her, which is not likely to work, because he can’t fit under oil tanks and treadmills and behind laundry appliances and she can, even with a bag stuck on her neck.

However, I will let him handle it and keep on with my writing even though I can also hear Daughter yowling upstairs and Geekdaddy attempting to reason with her. I’ll just do a quick check to make sure nothing serious is happening and get myself another cup of coffee at the same time.

Good thing I checked, because – proving my brother’s old saying, “If it happens once, it’ll happen again” – Daughter had somehow managed to get her head through the sleeve of her t-shirt and was semi-hysterical and unable to follow Geekdaddy’s somewhat scientific instructions for getting out. That and the huge pair of scissors he was holding had her in a tizzy, and I can’t say I blame her.

I soothed her down, got her out and helped her make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to calm her nerves. She cheered up quite a bit when Mrs. Meep suddenly flew up and back to the suet, returned from the dead and proof, once again, that woodpeckers are a very hardheaded bunch. I shared a moment of joy with Daughter, but then went downstairs and continued writing because I was not about to lose my focus now that I was almost finished. Come to think of it, I guess it is finished. It’s not exactly what I had intended to write, but I believe you get the gist of what I’m trying to convey here.

If you want to be a successful author, you have to put your craft first. As you can see from this piece of writing, without focus, your writing career will be just another daydream and not a stepping stone to your goal. So, follow my example. Stay focused and stay on track and you’ll soon be churning out words like crazy, unless mice, cats, dead birds that spring back to life, kids, lethal viruses, coffee, laundry and life get in your way. Or you could go live in a cave and become a hermit, and it’d be nice and peaceful for writing. Of course, you wouldn’t have anything to write about, but there’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Why Is The Shortest Month So Long?

Around this time of year, I think we all get a little cranky. In Maine, we call it cabin fever and it leads to headlines like Woman Grabs Remote, Shatters Slider. (In more urban areas, it’d be Woman Grabs Ax, Slays Six.) What with the snow, the short days, the frost heaves, potholes, high heating costs and the pounds we’ve packed on since November, clinical depression is about one whoopie pie away for some of us.

If you find yourself googling Prozac and buying snack food in warehouse club-sized packages, maybe it’s time that you took a few steps to lift yourself out of this February funk. As usual, I have a few suggestions that have worked for me. While I can’t say that these changes have me frisking around the house like a spring lamb, they have moved me away from muttering “All is lost” and allowed me to unlock the sharp objects again.

First of all, I’d urge you to lose the news. If you have it on your homepage remove it. If your homepage is CNN, MSNBC or even the BBC, get outta there. Change your homepage to Pogo or PBS Kids or the site I use for a homepage now: Good News Network Earth News. You have no idea how much nicer it is to start the day by reading that it was a record year for the Blue Butterfly in England, even though it had disappeared back in the 70’s, rather than that 80 more people were blown up by a suicide bomber. Besides, I already know that people are blowing up people over religion and politics, but I had no idea that Blue Butterflies were back. I am SO chuffed.

I do a lot of research into environmental topics as part of my freelance work. Unfortunately, the news is often grim and discouraging. That we’re still arguing whether human activities are changing our planet’s ecosystem in bad ways is so ridiculous, it’s a wonder that suicide bombers don’t blow up more oil tycoons. Most days,  I spend hours sifting through news items about habitat loss, bees dying off, Teflon in rivers and greedy corporations prevailing against good people who are trying to get toxins out of our food and water. By the time I’m done, I’m daunted and ready to throw in my organic cotton, fair trade, sweatshop-free towel, I’ll tell you.

That’s when I turn to sites like Good News Network and Gimundo  until I’ve read enough to refuel for fighting the good fight. They have the stories that you hear at the very end of the major newscasts. You know, the heart-warming human interest stories that Faux News shows between videos of dismembered bodies and a commercial for drugs that are “okay” because they’re prescription. Only, instead of focusing on doom, gloom and stupid sheeple, these sites show another side of the human race, one which doesn’t get enough press.

Lest you think I’m an isolationist in denial, I assure you that I keep up with the news still. I know what’s going on in the world probably better than most people do, because knowing what’s going on is part of how I earn a living. (I’m incredibly curious and nosy too.) However, I’ve opted to stop having the news from the giant news corporations in my face every time I sign on or look up a bookmark. Instead, I go to a few sites like TruthDig, Open Secrets, Common Dreams and Alternet.

Then I call up my friend, Carolyn, our town’s version of Reuters, and she gives me the real news – like who the Carlin’s oldest daughter picked up in Portland last weekend when she was supposed to be picking up bargains at LL Bean’s outlet store. (Photos at 11, when Carolyn gets them loaded and emails me.) By the time I get done talking to Carolyn, reading emails from my feminist friends at FSN (pronounced fizzin) and my funny, interesting brother, I’m good to go for another 24 hours and even think that I might make it through ’til spring.

If you know of any websites that I should add to my list, let me know. Now, I’m off to read today’s edition of The Onion, see what the site of the day is at Humor at About.com and then put together a word search puzzle for Daughter. Cheers!

Life Without A Field Guide

This is an excerpt from “Funny You Should Ask”, Book 1 in the Life without a Field Guide Series which is available FREE at Amazon.  Book 1, Book 2 “Humor Me” and Book 3 “Seriously?” are also available at other eBook sellers including Apple, Kobo, and others.

Other homeschooling parents make me feel like such a slacker. Like Ava and her husband, Carl. She’s a translator. He’s a biologist who specializes in diseases of plants. This year, they’re educating their three kids in France via field trips to the Louvre and strolls along the Champs-Elysees. She’s translating books from Arabic to French and he’s fighting grape blight or blot or rot or something.

They’re both so intelligent that they have to drink three glasses of wine and take a Benadryl to talk to ordinary people like me. On Thanksgiving this year, while we ate our turkey and cranberry sauce, they digested their dinde rotie and sauce de myrtille. Then I assume they hit the Beaujolais before they composed a “what our kids are doing in homeschool” blog post. Sandwiched in between photos of French street scenes with tiny figures that might have been them or might have been almost anyone, including pigeons, were lists of what their kids were up to. I swear they only do it to make unschoolers like me feel inadequate.

My kids are very artistic, but they’ve never shown any interest in art history or anyone else’s art. Their kids are making a copy of Empress Theodora and her retinue, a mosaic that appears on the south wall of the apse at San Vitale. Life-sized. In their hotel room. With pieces, they manufacture themselves by breaking bottles, ashtrays, ceramic soap dishes and cough lozenges. (The picture of it is kind of dark, but I believe I can just make out the Smith Brothers logo on one of the red robes.)

My kids go to the library and get books about Pokémon, the latest fantasy novel, Barbie, and fairies. Their children write books like “Deforestation and its Impact on Biodiversity, Habitat Loss, Trade and Endangered Species.” With footnotes in Latin. I’m only up to page 568, but I can tell you, we won’t be getting any mahogany furniture anytime soon.

We visit museums and spend more time arguing about whether the blinds are made out of aluminum or plastic than we do looking at the exhibits. Their kids are docents at three museums and a private collection of Faberge Eggs. Imperial Eggs. The eight missing ones.

We have a Black Lab and three cats. They have a Giant Gambian Pouched Rat, a Komodo Dragon, several hedgehogs and a platypus. Laying eggs. It’s their science fair project at the homeschooler’s science fair. We don’t attend ours, ever since the unfortunate incident with the manure vs. chemical fertilizer experiment. (I still say they should have given us extra credit for demonstrating the explosive property of those chemicals).

We play Mario Tennis. They play polo with real ponies and several members of royalty. We spend hours wading in tide pools but never remember to bring our marine biology book, so all we can identify are crabs and those brown wiggly things with all the legs. Sandworms? Clamworms? Well, they’re ugly as sin and can give you a painful pinch, we know that. They often do research for the Cousteau Society. In a shark cage. With the door open.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little here, but honestly, this is what it feels like sometimes, when I read all the blog posts about museums toured, concerts attended, instruments mastered, classics read, projects completed, esoteric knowledge acquired and businesses in operation. Doesn’t anyone else just hang out with each other most of the time? Visit with friends? Read for pleasure? Make things just for the heck of it, not because they’re projects or educational? Consider Jeopardy or the History Channel or PBS specials highly informative? Doesn’t anyone take a walk without a field guide?

We do get a lot of non-fiction out of the library every week and my kids are both very creative, but we’re pikers compared to what seems to be the norm in the homeschooling blogosphere. I have this recurring nightmare that my kids are going to turn 18 and sue me for not making them learn more. Oh wait, didn’t I just read that a ten-year-old homeschooler did that? And represented himself? In a Class Action Suit? And won? Serves you right, Ava and Carl.