Rhymes With Smash!

The musings of Megan Paasch, and other stuff.

Christmas Lights

Tonight the boys were great at dinner, trying new foods enthusiastically without complaining, staying in their seats, remembering their table manners. This was a shining moment in a week of epically bad behavior, so as a reward, we did something spontaneous. We stuck them in their pajamas, put coats and shoes on them, and piled into the car to go tour the neighborhoods of our town looking for neat Christmas light displays.

We don’t have a lot of Christmas traditions. Generally, we try to keep things relaxed and low key. We of course put up a tree. We usually bake some cookies at some point. We read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on Christmas Eve. But I think my favorite tradition is driving the kids around to see the lights.

There’s this one neighborhood—we call it the McMansion neighborhood—that REALLY gets into it. I almost wonder if it’s mandated by their HOA or something, because nearly every house is practically Griswoldian. I’d have pictures for you, but my phone camera’s focusing mechanism couldn’t keep up with the glorious brightness.

And it is, indeed, glorious. We snaked through the cul-de-sacs to the accompaniment of “oohs” and “ahs” coming from the back seat. The 4yo actually stayed awake the entire time, so you know he had to be excited. And the 7yo, who was grumpy when we started out because he thought we were going to a pajama party or something, not just driving around looking at stupid lights, quickly surpassed the rest of us with his enthusiasm.

“Aren’t you glad we did this now?” I asked him.

“Yes! These lights! They’re making me so…so SPECTACUMALARLY JOYFUL!” 

And that? Hearing that right there? That made up for the entire rest of the week.

Stuff and Things

Hey! Well look at you! *squints through the screen* It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

My blog posts have been kind of sparse as of late, but there’s a reason for that. You see, I spent the bulk of the summer working on revisions (more revisions, always revisions, constant revisions, argh) for my contemporary fantasy, “Charlotte Elemental,” so that I could enter it in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars. If you don’t know what that is, you can read all about it here.

And I did it! I finished! And you know what else? Julie Sondra Decker chose me to be her mentee! And all the !!!!!!

No really. This was my tweet when I saw my name on the list:

(Umm…”Slaash” was my Halloween Twitter handle. Don’t judge.) And everything after that was just one exciting blur. Within a few days though, I calmed down, and together, Julie and I got to work. For the last two months I’ve been going through more revisions. And more revisions. And polishing up my pitch. And my query. And, and, and soon–as in, a week soon–my pitch and excerpt will go up on Brenda’s blog for all the participating agents to take a look at and decide whether they’d like to request more material.

No, I’m not nervous or anything. Why would I be nervous? *twitch* Nope, perfect picture of tranquility here. Heh. Eheh. Eheheh. ANYWAY, carrying on. . . .

I may be less busy soon, or even if I’m not, I want to be sure to set aside more time to blog. I want to make blogging a regular habit. It may be once a week or once a month–we’ll have to see what ends up working. But I definitely don’t want to let another three months go by with nothing here for you to read. No, don’t tell me it’s ok. You want to read my things. Yes you do.

That’s right. You’re welcome.

Oh hey, and before you go, take a look at the bar at the top of this blog. See how there are new page linky thingies up there? “Shorts” sends you to a list of (surprise!) my short stories and flash fiction, and “Interviews” sends you to . . . okay, you get it. I also updated my bio. But you don’t need to look at that. (You should go look at that too. I mean, if you want to.)

Bubbles

First Time Bubble – Serge Melki https://flic.kr/p/8bXLT6

Do you like bubbles? I do.

But they’re fragile little things, aren’t they? Tap them too hard and they pop. Usually. But sometimes one will land on something and instead of bursting, it will sit there, and you poke at it, and it wobbles but still sits there…and sits…and sits… A ticking time bomb. And then the breeze hits it just right, or you blow on it, or maybe you just go right out and smack it, or maybe…maybe you don’t do anything at all, and suddenly – pop! – it’s gone.

The last year or so, I’ve felt like a bubble. The kind that doesn’t pop but probably will any minute. I’ve been reluctant to talk about it much because nothing bad has happened. I know a lot of people who have really huge stressors in their lives right now, and I feel I have no right to complain. But you know what? I’m stressed. I’m really, really stressed. It’s the little stressors, you know? Just one thing after another. And they add up.

Most of it I bring upon myself. I have a penchant for freaking out over things that I don’t need to. And I’m a procrastinator – I’m easily overwhelmed and I deal with that by ignoring things until the last minute, and then OH MY GOD I HAVE TO DO THIS THING RIGHT NOW AND IT’S SO HARD AND I CAN’T EVEN THINK! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?! This may be something as big as prepping for a vacation, or something as tiny as making a phone call. It doesn’t matter. I will have ALL the anxiety.

So here’s the thing about stress. When you’re stressed much of the time, it tends to put you in a bad mood. And when you’re in a bad mood much of the time, you tend to think of things in a negative light, which stresses you out, which puts you in a bad mood, which causes you to think negatively about things, and so on, and so on.

I used to be a super positive person. I always saw the glass as half full and I always felt that I was a very lucky person. I still feel like a very lucky person. Heck, I know I’m a very lucky person. I’ve just been forgetting to remember that lately.

This next bit is going to sound whiny, but bear with me:

Today was yet another day where it seemed like all the little things that could go wrong, did. I didn’t get enough sleep even though this time, I actually made it a point to go to bed at a decent hour. The kids were hyper-active and cranky. I was cranky. My husband was sick – still. The sky was gray, the cat puked, I forgot to throw wet clothes in the dryer last night, the three year old peed through several pairs of pants, we were out of spoons, etc, etc. Little things. Normal little things. But I woke up in a negative mindset and I kept at it all day, through tantrums and time-outs, and through finding that freaking spider in the laundry basket. Holy crap that spider.

And yet again, I forgot to plan dinner and was too tired and grouchy to cook anyway. So I told everyone I’d go pick up something delicious and asked what everyone wanted. We decided on Thai food for the adults and McDonalds for the kids because the two restaurants are right next to each other. Boom. Easy-peasy.

On the way to pick up food, I stopped to get gas. I put the nozzle in the gas tank, hit the button, and stood there for a few minutes before I realized no gas was actually being pumped, then hoped no one noticed I’d just been standing there looking stupid and tried again, this time with success. I got back on the road, and was about halfway to the restaurant when a pick-up truck crossed the center line on a very steep, very curvy bit of road that also happens to butt up against a cliff, and nearly hit me head-on. I was lucky – I happened to be at one of the few sections of road with room to swerve, and I did so while rattling off a string of profanities that would make a sailor blush.

In other words, my day was still not going well.

But then on the way back home, driving along, angry music blaring, I saw a bubble. That’s right, a bubble, just like the kind the kids make by blowing soapy water through a wand. It was floating along by itself, no houses or kids in sight. On either side of the road was forest, so the bubble must have traveled quite a ways, and all that time without popping.

It made me smile. And oddly, it made me feel calm. And for some reason that I really can’t explain, that one little thing, that small pocket of air trapped within a film of soap, made me rethink my attitude.

I was almost in a horrible car accident. Almost. But I wasn’t. I was lucky. I almost folded a spider into my seven year old’s pajamas, but I saw it at the last minute and relocated it outside. That was also lucky. My potty training three year old went through a few pairs of pants today, but he also made it to the bathroom several times as well. That’s progress. And all the chores I’ve been stressing out over? They’re in preparation for a visit from family members that we haven’t seen in over a year. That? That’s awesome.

And being in just the right place at just the right time to see that bubble in the middle of nowhere? That’s amazing.

More stuff happened. There was plastic in my food and a piece of blue chicken (yes you read that right) in my husband’s. The kids fought bedtime as usual. I didn’t get three-quarters of the things done that I wanted to do today. But I didn’t choke on the plastic, my husband didn’t eat the chicken (and the fresh rolls were delicious and had nothing strange or dangerous about them as far as I could tell), the kids calmed down and went to sleep, and I…well I still didn’t get stuff done, but I’m ok with it. I was reminded today that yes, I’m busy and I’m stressed, but I’m also very lucky and I need to make it a point to remind myself of that more often.

And you know what else? The forecast tomorrow calls for sun. I think I’ll go outside and blow some bubbles. Maybe one of mine will be carried off on the breeze and go on an adventure like the one I saw today. And maybe it in turn will make someone else’s day. I’d like to think so. Wouldn’t you?

I’m Ba-ack…Early

I’m writing this late at night, awake due to a nasty cold, and feeling pretty darn discouraged. So if this post is a bit rambly, that’s why.

I’m ending my social media hiatus* a week early. And it’s not because I’m done revising. Because I’m not. Not even close.

Don’t get me wrong, I got a TON of work done these last few weeks – way more than I probably would have otherwise.

But…..

As I’ve been tackling these revisions, I’ve realized that this is turning into much, much more than smoothing sentences and changing a few things here and there. I mean, I knew that, but for some reason the magnitude of it still hadn’t sunk in until today. I have a bunch of new scenes that I still need to add. I’m also still not solid with how I want to fix my ending. I have several chapters that are so messed up they’re going to need to be completely overhauled. In other words, this is going to take a heck of a lot more time than I thought**, and I’ve been working on it pretty much constantly throughout the day, everyday, and today my brain hit a wall and I couldn’t do more than a paragraph, and I realized I’m really close to burning out. And that’s a lot of “ands.”

When my revision notes turn into a string of curses (yeah, that happened today. I’m not proud of it, but it felt good), it’s probably time to slow down a bit.

That’s the beauty of self-imposed deadlines. I’m the only one depending on me to finish, so I can push that deadline back without it affecting anyone else. This is my first book. It’s a HUGE learning curve. This is the book where I figure out how I work. It’s where I learn my lessons. It’s where… ok, you get it.

And you know what else? I want to ENJOY this time. I want to have FUN with these revisions. Because someday, hopefully, if I’m lucky, I’ll have REAL deadlines hanging over my head and THAT will be the appropriate time to stress. Right now, I can choose my stress level, and I choose to turn that knob to low again.

So what I’m saying is, I could finish out this last week of my sort-of-kind-of social media hiatus – I know I could because I’ve done it for two weeks already – but what would be the point? I miss everyone. I miss getting support and giving it. So yes, I could do it. But I don’t want to.

I’m back. Hi! I missed you!

* OK, I did pop on Twitter and Facebook a few times – just a few. And I’ve been on Tumblr (initially for writing inspiration, but let’s face it, who can resist a funny Sherlock gif or two…or three…or, hey look, some Dr. Who stuff, and…..ANYWAY, it still wasn’t TOO distracting and I still got a lot done. Mostly I’ve been pretty good.

** I’ve said this before, haven’t I? Yup, several times, I think. Maybe I can learn something from this?

Drastic Measures

I have a big red tile on my phone with a big white number on it that gets smaller every day. It’s counting down to the day I want to be finished with my first revisions pass. Today, that number is a glaring 25. Twenty-five. Less than four weeks.

At the rate things are going, there’s absolutely no way. But I’m going to continue trying. I’m not going to call it a failure until I’ve hit Day -1, because until I haven’t made it, there’s always a chance that I can.

Here’s the thing though: I think it’s going to take something drastic. I think…wow, I’m even having trouble typing it…I think I’m…

*deep breath*

OK. I think I’m going to have to go into full on hermit mode until I’m finished. That means no social media. Let me emphasize that: NO TWITTER OR FACEBOOK FOR TWENTY FIVE DAYS.

None.

Nada.

Oh man, I just don’t know. I mean, I LOVE you guys. Really, really a lot. I love your camaraderie, your encouragement, your capacity for outright hilarity. You’re all amazing, and you’re all what keeps me checking in when I should be hyper-focused on my work. And that’s why I’m going to have to go into this little anti-social cave here for a bit if I’m going to finish what I need to do before the holiday season begins.

I’ll try to write a blog post once a week (I said try, no promises) to update my progress and hold myself accountable. And of course I’ll keep up with email. You might see me on Pinterest now and again too because, let’s face it, I have to do something while I wake up with my morning coffee.

Then, on Halloween, I’ll be back to PARTAY because hopefully I’ll be all finished! And also because it will be Halloween and you know, Halloween = PARTAY. It’s like a law or something.

I’ll give myself tomorrow to wind things down (but I won’t be on much), and then Tuesday I’ll go *poof* until the 31st.

Do you think I can do it? We’ll see!

…But It’s OK Because I Like Your Stuff!

Hello everyone!

Want to hear me go off on a little rant? You DO? Well good, because something I saw this morning really hit a nerve, and…*deep sigh*… I have to share my feelings.

So here’s the thing. I’m not against letting my kids, 6.5 and almost 3, watch TV. I do, however, try to be careful about what I let them watch. Maybe I’m a little too careful sometimes, but I know my kids and the kinds of things they will imitate, and yeah…they’re little mimics. Generally, I find the early morning animated shows on The Disney Channel to be fine. Most of them are pretty good about teaching social skills: how to be a good friend, how to be polite, how not to be a sore loser, etc. Good stuff to know! I have a tendency to zone out during these shows while I drink my coffee and try to wake my groggy self up for the day. Besides, I’ve seen most of them many times, and come on! They’re Disney! Not much to worry about there, right?

Henry Hugglemonster is a newer show. It’s cute and centers around a town full of colorful monsters who are nice to each other and get along, and there’s harmony, and fun, and roaring – but cute roaring – and blah, blah, blah, you get it. Pretty innocuous. But I’m glad I was paying closer attention this morning, because today’s episode basically said this:

“Hey everybody! Don’t worry about it when someone copies your work, because copying is totally fine.”

Wait. Whaaaaat?

So here’s how it all goes down:

Henry Hugglemonster builds a race car out of spare parts for his scouting group’s race so he can earn his racing badge. Another monster scout watches him, and you know what he does? He makes his own car exactly like Henry’s. He even gives it the same name. Understandably, Henry gets angry. He goes storming off. But then he thinks about it for a minute. He realizes that the other monster did what he did because he really likes Henry’s car.

Now at this point in the story, the writers have the perfect opportunity to teach the audience that, despite the saying “imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” (Charles Caleb Colton), it’s 1) wrong to copy, and 2) we are all creative individuals, and it’s much more satisfying to come up with your own work.

Unfortunately, the writers of the show went a different direction. Henry tells himself that he is a nice monster, and he should therefore be nice to the monster that copied him (ok yes, true, we should always strive to be nice). So he tells Monsieur Copycat that, you know what? It’s ok, and it actually makes him feel really good and, hey! They should both paint the same color stripes on their cars as well so they can still look exactly the same! I’ll give it to the writers of the show that they did, at least, have the other monster decide to use a different color than Henry for his stripes… but still.

Then they all cheerfully take their cars on the race and (spoilers!) Henry wins. Woohoo!

So why did I find this episode so irritating? Is it really a big deal? Yes. Yes it is. Because it’s basically dismissing plagiarism. It’s saying that a person who is plagiarized should be flattered, because it means their work is really good. I’ve also heard this argument used in defense of pirating: “Why you mad, bro? I stole your stuff because I LIKE it! This should make you HAPPY!”

The other part about this episode that really gets to me is how it’s also sending the message that, by being angry about his work being copied, Henry Hugglemonster isn’t being nice. He shouldn’t be angry, even when he’s been wronged, because that would mean he’s not a nice kid …er, monster.

What?!

It’s not wrong to get angry, kids. It’s wrong when you express your anger inappropriately. Big difference.

Am I reading too much into a children’s program? I don’t think so. I mean, I’m sure the delivered message was not the one intended. I’m sure the show wasn’t written with the purpose of teaching kids that plagiarism is ok. But that’s the message that comes through. Kids pick up on these things so easily.

And that’s why mine will no longer be watching this show.

End Rant.

Summer Break

I’ve been having a lot of trouble focusing lately – focusing on writing, focusing on reading, focusing on life’s daily tasks – my brain is just one big, tired, frenetic, jumbled up mess these days.

And now my “schedule,” for lack of a better term, has been thrown into turmoil with the arrival of summer break. The one time in the afternoon where I was guaranteed (unless the toddler didn’t nap) to get a couple hours of quiet where I could concentrate on a task has – Poof! – disappeared for a few months. I spent the first week of this break stressed and irritable because I couldn’t find the time to write during the day, and by evening I was too tired to think straight.

When I caught myself unnecessarily grouching at my family, I took a step back and reassessed my priorities. What’s more important this summer? Finishing my revisions, or spending lots of quality time with my husband and kids, especially my oldest before he starts full day school in the Fall? Happy, quality time with my family, of course! I will never get these years back.

So I’m taking a summer break too. I’ll be spending my time playing, and cuddling, and discussing things like why robots are awesome and why Pirates say “Arr!” I’ll be catching up on all the chores and clutter I’ve allowed to accumulate during the school year, and getting the boys involved in helping to clean it up. (They still think that’s fun at this age. Ha!) I’ll be reading a LOT, and drawing, and maybe I’ll pick up my knitting needles again. I’ll be planning fun day hikes (when it’s not pouring down rain as it has been the last several days), and getting ready for our first family camping trip, and arranging play dates and group outings. And maybe, if I have a spare moment and/or the inclination, I’ll write down a paragraph or two, or smooth out a few lines in my draft, or write a short story…but ONLY if I have the extra time and wish to do so.

And then when September arrives, and my big six year old goes off to first grade all day and my almost three year old naps (if he still does at that point), I’ll get back to work with a vengeance. Because surely after such a long, refreshing break I’ll be in good form. Right?

By the way, when I logged into WordPress to write this blog, I was greeted by a notification informing me that today is my one year Blogiversary! So a big celebratory WOOT for that! IMAGINARY CAKE FOR EVERYONE! WOOOO!

Also, an announcement: I’m pleased as punch to be a part of Carey Torgesen’s upcoming short story blog series, “The Memory Project,” which goes live tomorrow (Friday, June 28)! Read all about it here, and then revisit her blog every other day for a brand new story from a great group of writers.

Here’s Where I Do Something Scary…I Sing.

Eleanor Roosevelt said you should “do one thing everyday that scares you.” Well I do. I write everyday, (well almost) and that’s pretty scary, isn’t it? The fear that your story won’t pan out, that no one will like it, that you’ll send something out into the world and people will read it and might think it’s awful. That’s terrifying. But I do it anyway. I choke back that fear and damn it, I do it anyway. Because I have to. I have no choice.

No, no one’s pointing a gun at my head and telling me I’d better tap on that keyboard everyday or else. That’s not what I mean. What I’m saying is, writing is no longer a hobby for me. It’s an innate need. So I write, and I try not to think about the frightening parts.

But right now, I’m about to do something else. Something that I don’t have to do. Something that I enjoy doing all the time on my own, when no one else is listening. Something that I occasionally do in front of close friends and family – and maybe a few more people if I’ve had an encouraging beverage (ahem).

Basically, something that scares the CRAP out of me, and yet I’m going to do it. Why? Because Eleanor Roosevelt, that’s why! And because a few of you have seen me tweet about playing my ukulele and have asked if you’ll ever get to hear it. And also because someone must have gassed me with courage vapors in my sleep last night.  But mostly because I’ve always deeply wished that singing in front of others didn’t scare me as much as it does.

Yesterday I got the notion in my head that I could probably figure out the chords for “Java Jive” if I fiddled around enough. And I did! And I was so proud of myself that today, after lots of practice, I recorded it. I recorded it about twenty times, in fact, until I got a version that I was happy with. It’s audio only because I’m not brave enough to do video yet.

So ….(deep breath)….. here it is.

And now I will go run away and hide and breathe into a paper bag.

Thanks for listening!

Five Year Old Live Tweets, Episode 1: Thor

My five year old is notorious for movie commentary. He also loves the movie Thor. This afternoon, I had the notion that I ought to share his magnificent musings about this movie on Twitter for all to see. People seemed to think it was pretty funny, so I thought I’d put them up here for those of you who missed the show. I suppose I should say that there are spoilers, huh? Fine, there are spoilers. There. Now you can’t get mad at me. Also, yes, there are typos. I was typing very quickly to keep up.

Enjoy!

Yes. My five year old is pretty awesome.

Memories of Indonesia, Part 1: Sound

When I was eleven, my family moved from the Seattle area where I was born, to Bandung, Indonesia. My dad took on a contract job through the UN working with a fledgling airline company in the area. My parents love to travel, especially my dad, and for him, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was terrified. I’d been outside of the country only twice before. Once was Canada, as we lived right near the border, and the other was a trip to England when I was nine – both English-speaking countries, both relatively similar to our own. My knowledge of geography at the time was limited, and so I’d never even heard of Indonesia; and we were going to be living there for at least a year, maybe more (two, as it turned out).

It was an amazing experience. I think it’s one of the best things my dad could have done for me. It introduced me to, not just one new culture, but many, as I attended an international school there with students from all corners of the world. I learned tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. I saw so many aspects of humanity, both ugly and beautiful. Those two short years shaped much of who I am today, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

But it’s funny, I don’t talk about it much except in passing. I’ve never written about it at all. Whenever it’s brought up, whoever I happen to be talking to is interested, but I don’t really know what to say. My family’s lifestyle there was so different. Where does one even begin to explain?

My school had a reunion a couple of weeks ago. I was unable to attend, but I saw all of the talk about it on Facebook, and the pictures, old and new. It stirred up so many memories. It’s been twenty years now since we returned to the U.S., and I know I’ve already forgotten so much. So this year, I’m going to start writing it all down: just random memories, snippets of time, sights and smells, and little details. And although it makes me incredibly nervous (why, I can’t explain), I’ll occasionally share some of them here. The following is the first. It’s a bit disjointed, but that’s how memories often are, aren’t they?

***

Our house was built on the side of a steep hill. Across the dirt road, below the houses on the other side, was a vast valley filled with lush, green rice paddies. After that, another hill covered in trees. The towers of a University poked out above them, and sometimes we could hear music from the occasional celebration that took place there.

Noises traveled all up and down the hills and valley. Five times a day, we were treated to the hauntingly beautiful sound of five or six calls to prayer, emanating from minarets scattered throughout the area. The first would start up, a lone voice singing loud and clear – the closest. A moment later, another, and then another, all out of sync and melting together. It was comforting somehow, and one of the things I miss the most.

We had a small covered porch at the front of the house, where we would often sit in rattan rocking chairs and chat, or read, or just look. The best time was in the early evening, just before the sun went down and the mosquitos came out. It was fun to watch the fruit bats swooping around, darting after insects.

Another preferred time was during the rainstorms that occurred every afternoon for half of the year – the monsoons. We just called it the rainy season. It was a different kind of rain than what we usually experienced in Seattle – warm, thick, and pelting – but it reminded us of home just the same. And it cleansed and cooled the air, ever so slightly. So nice.

The dirt road that we lived on was called Cisitu Indah (the “c” is pronounced like a “ch”), which means “beautiful lake.” There was no lake around that we knew of, but there was a huge pothole in front of our driveway that would flood, all brown and muddy, during the rainy season. We often joked that this must be the lake the road was named after. There was a narrow walking space around it, so the occasional pedestrian or food cart owner – shouting out their dish at regular intervals, “Saté! Saté!” – could still get by. Cars and buses splashed on through without a second thought.

It sounds like we were on a high traffic road, and indeed, many people passed by, but it was just a neighborhood. A strange neighborhood, where each house was surrounded by high walls with barbed wire on the top, and a metal gate at the base of each driveway. Each household had a night guard too – a Jaga – because gangs of bandits were a rare, but real threat. And the police? Well, one would prefer not to have to deal with the police, no matter which side of the law one was on. So we had jagas, and all of the jagas in the neighborhood got to know one another, and shared reports of suspicious activity or encounters with the others. As a result, the “bandeets” mostly stayed away.

Our jaga, Y—, not only kept watch on the house all night, but also helped my dad get the neighbor’s horde of mangy guard dogs to stop barking – no small feat. But that, my friends, is a story for another time, and a strange one at that…

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