Thursday, October 27, 2016

Finding Time to Write

When you have a full time job, long commute and demanding dog who likes multiple walks a night there is little time to write. Many writers advise writing first thing in the morning. I put these people in the same camp as those who awake early to exercise. I am not one of those people. My alarm is set to give me just enough time to brush my teeth, brush my hair, get dressed (usually doing all three simultaneously), pack my lunch and breakfast (breakfast is eaten at my desk at work), walk Robin Hood, and make it to train just as it is pulling into the station.

After work, my evenings are usually packed with walking Robin Hood (he prefers at least two long walks a night), making dinner, preparing my lunch and breakfast, exercising (if I am really lucky), reflecting on the day with David, showering (because I have no time to blow dry my hair in the morning) and going to bed.

So when do I find the time to write? I pack it into any break I can come across. Mostly I write on the train to and from work and during my lunch hour. To my boss who sits in the adjoining office, the mad typing sounds you hear resonating through the walls during the noon hour are not in connection with our work, sorry. If Robin Hood is not too demanding for a third walk or if dinner requires simmering I will write in the evenings, but that is not always easy to manage.

As a teenager and college student I found time to write during my jobs as a receptionist in a convent and working the check-out desk at my school’s library. I was so blessed. I miss those days. My muse was allowed to be with me for hours on end. Now, she is given restricted times to visit me. It has taken a lot of discipline, perseverance and tenacity to be creative on a schedule. But for over a year now I have managed a hectic schedule and demands of life and written several books. Sure, my house isn’t super clean and I may not work out everyday, but I have completed what I have set out to complete.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


I spent the first part of my life a homebody. I wrote the adventures of Lily in My Not So Normal Life, because I was too scared to travel. Then I heard of a trip in college, Literary London. I can’t say what drew me to the trip, maybe I was just ready to actually live an adventure.

I found myself in London. I learned how to stand up for myself, that I could survive away from my family, and met my best friend. Since returning from London I have traveled to Switzerland and Ireland and visited several more states in the United States.

Each time I go I discover something about myself, good and bad. In Roanoke, VA I learned I don’t like to travel alone; in Ireland I learned that with David by my side I could be braver than I knew; in Malibu, CA I learned that the sight and sound of the ocean was a great muse; in Switzerland I learned that fondue and wine lead to bad hangovers.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Climbing the Mountain

I am petrified of heights. Always have been. As a child, my dad rented a cherry picker to do some work on our two story house. My sisters rode it up over the house and touched the chimney. I got eye level with the top of the first floor windows and my knees buckled and I crouched down, trying to get closer to the ground.

This past March, David and I traveled to Ireland in celebration of my 30th birthday. Aside: David really enjoys that in lieu of birthday or Valentine’s Day presents we do something, since he doesn’t like shopping.
I knew that Ireland was full of greenery and castles. I didn’t know it had so many cliffs.

One day, as we drove and hiked along the Dingle Peninsula, we came upon a cliff. It probably only rose 50-75 feet in the air, nothing compared to the others cliffsides we’d visited earlier in our trip. But still formidable to me. David asked if we could climb up it. I said okay and willed my feet to move forward. As we climbed over the stone fence blocking off the highest part of the hill, I forced myself to keep going. David encouraged me and was patient, not going too fast and allowing my timid feet to move at their own slow pace. He joked about parts of the drop off being angled so I wouldn’t plunge to my death if I fell over, first I’d roll a bit.

I reached the summit proud of my accomplishment. David praised me for going as far as I did.

I wish I could say that conquered my fear of heights. Unfortunately, as the wind picked up and my scarf whipped against my face I felt the familiar buckle in my knees. My heart raced and I crouched close to the ground. Had it not been for all the sheep poop on the ground I may have been tempted to lay down on the clifftop. But David held me close and waited for my panic attack to subside before he led me back down the cliff.

My fear of heights is still there, but it doesn’t control me as much as it used to.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Coming From a Big Family

I am the oldest of five children, born in three different decades and two different millenia. When my youngest brother became a teenager two years back, it was the first time we didn’t have a child in my immediate family in 28 years. I love being part of a big family. Noise, chaos, and no personal space are natural to me. Maybe that’s how I have managed to survive almost a decade of commuting into Chicago from the suburbs, take a train a rush hour and you’ll experience all three. When I moved out on my own I had to deal with the quiet. I didn’t like it. I have picked up the bad habit of having noise on constantly. Even when I shower I bring my laptop into the bathroom and play episodes on Netflix. I can barely hear the show over the water, but I still need to hear some faint, indistinguishable background noise.

I am grateful that David also came from a big, boisterous family. It has made it easier for us to visit my family where you can expect two conversations to be occurring at the same time and expect a lot of movement as my brothers and sisters come and go.

Someone once asked me if I would like a big family too one day or if I had my fill and would like a small quiet family. I responded that if I were to have one well behaved child (think Rod or Todd Flanders) I wouldn’t know what to him or myself. As the oldest, I wasn’t born into a large family, unlike my youngest brother, but I was a part of one. I was bred to crave the noise and confusion. I was taught how to cook for small army. And now as an adult, I would like nothing more than to return to the daily life in a large family.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to Start Writing

Probably one of the first things I hear when I tell people I write books is that they have always wanted to write a book. David’s dad recently began writing his first book and I so proud of him. I am also proud of my sister who has several manuscripts saved on her computer.

Like any major project starting can be a huge step but I don’t think it’s the biggest step an author has to take. If I could give a prospective writer a piece of advice it would be to just start writing. Write. Just write anything. If you don’t know how to start the book no big deal. Write whatever portion you have more firmed up in your mind. Write down stuff about the characters or the setting. Get the ideas out of your head!

I have notebooks filled with pieces of stories I haven’t written yet. They are far from perfect. To anyone but me they would seem like ramblings of a crazy woman (which they are). But more importantly, they are a starting point. They are a way to think about the story I want to write. So when I do finally get the idea of how to start the book I know who my characters are or where the story takes place. Even better, having written later chapters out of sync makes getting over a writer’s block when I’m in the middle of writing a novel.

If you want to write a book, short story, poem, song, screenplay don’t put it off any longer. Start writing today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Northside vs. Southside

I was recently given this piece of advice about a Southwest suburban area in Chicago:

Outsiders pronounce it “Pay-los”. Everyone from this area pronounces it “Pay-less”.

To anyone unaware, there is a dividing line between the Northside and the Southside of Chicago. The teams we root for are different. Stereotypical team identity is Northside the Cubs and the Southside the White Sox. There are two different airports. Most Northsiders I know prefer to fly out of O’Hare while the Southsiders prefer Midway. Even the streets are different. Northsiders have named streets (Devon, Damen, Milwaukee) Southsiders have numbered streets (127th, 151st, 183rd). If you need more evidence of the divide there is a street that changes its name from Cumberland to First Avenue at the dividing line of North Avenue. Say “First Avenue” to a northsider and you may get a confused look.

I was raised in a Northwest side suburb of Chicago. David was raised on the Southwest side of Chicago. Having been in the same area all my life, with friends and family who lived within 5 miles of me I took a lot forgranted when speaking about my day. I could say “I was right by Superdawg” and everyone would know I was at the corner of Devon and Milwaukee. Around David’s family, the Northside landmarks are unknown. They may have heard of Superdawg, or the streets, Milwaukee and Devon, but they cannot immediately place the small hotdoog stand with the towering boy and girl hotdog statute on the roof on the narrow corner created by the angled Milwaukee bisecting Devon.

Luckily,  David helps to translate for me. When I tell his family I live North of Touhy Avenue, he says “That’s like 200th north” since they do not know readily where Touhy Avenue is. And I’ve learned to adapt my speaking too. I refer to that street with two names as “Cumberland” to my family and “First Avenue” to David’s family. Slowly, I am adjusting to the different landmarks and moving away from an expectation of familiarity; however, I do miss the days where I didn’t have to explain myself as much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Robin Hood

Two years ago I saw the above picture and fell instantly in love. I wanted that dog. The weekend before Thanksgiving I was able to take him home. I was worried the little guy wouldn’t be able to make it up stairs because of his tiny little legs. And except for an unfortunate incident where he didn’t follow the curve of the stairs and ran off David’s front stairs, he managed.

Many of my preconceived notions of dog ownership went out the window within the first month of owning Robin Hood. I was told he’d like to sleep in a cage. So I borrowed a very nice one from my aunts. He refused to go in it. I tried to keep him barricaded in my kitchen. The first time I left him I came home to stuck in between the vertical gate slats because he had tried to run through the gate. He now has full run of the house.

But some of my preconceived notions were right on. I got a dog who is ecstatic to see me when I get home. And I mean ecstatic. And I got a dog who was very loving and devoted (at least to me and David, with my sisters as runners-up).

Robin Hood brings a lot of stress toe my life, but I cannot even begin to describe how much joy he brings. I cannot imagine my life without him. Though I sometimes imagine what life was like without the constant barking.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Imaginary Friends and Why I Write

When I was five I had an imaginary friend, Bethie. I don’t remember much about Bethie, only  that she had a younger sister, looked similar to me, and moved to Hawaii. I didn’t talk with Bethie, I mostly talked about her. Looking back, she was the first character I invented. To me she was real, like all the characters I have imagined over the years. I knew Bethie’s personality, her likes, her dislikes, and knew how she’d react to certain situations. For example, I knew that when Bethie moved to Hawaii she’d be gone forever. Bethie was not the type to keep in touch.

When I began putting pen to paper and allowing the characters who have lived in my mind to live on the pages of my manuscripts I have enjoyed allowing my family and friends to know my inventions. Finally, I could talk about Lily, Nikki, and Rick and not get blank stares. Finally, these people I had created in my head were no longer imaginary. My sisters and I could laugh about a joke one of the characters cracked. David and I had long, late night discussions about the development of certain characters. Suddenly, they were no longer imaginary friends. They were not only known to me. They became known to others in my life.

I don’t write for the money or to share profound ideas with the world. I write so that my “imaginary friends” are no longer imaginary.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Chicago Cubs and My Great-Grandpa

My great-grandpa was born in 1905. He lived to be 100 years old and died in 2005. In her century of life the Chicago Cubs won the World Series once. Though as my grandpa was only 3 years old at the time I don’t think he was able to fully appreciate it. My grandpa loved baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. I can fondly remember the grainy sound of the announcers detailing the game over his silver, portable radio. I didn’t follow baseball so the words themselves were lost on me. But what I did get was the enthusiasm the announcers had for the game. I didn’t know the names of the players (except for Sammy Sosa) and only half listened to the commentary, but you knew something good happened because of the joy in the announcer’s voice.

I always think of my great-grandpa when the Chicago Cubs have a good year. On Tuesday night when they won the Division, I thought about how much I wished my great-grandpa was still alive to share in the euphoria.

As the Cubs play the LA Dodgers today, I can picture my Great-Grandpa looking down, cheering on his beloved team.