Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I keep saying this isn't going to be a mommy blog, but then I keep posting about my son. Oh well, they say you should write about what you feel passionate about -- and this is definitely what I feel passionate about.

I am so happy this morning I feel like popping champagne corks or something. (Except that I didn't get to bed until late last night, so I'd probably doze off in my champagne. ) My son, a high school freshman, had a two-page personal narrative due in English yesterday morning, an oral presentation for Latin class that had to be ready by yesterday morning, and a five page research paper in Science due today.

In previous years, having three big projects due at the beginning of this one week would have been a sure recipe for disaster. This is exactly the kind of situation where his executive function issues usually trip him up. He can't seem to manage his time, he gets into a big approach/avoidance procrastination game, and eventually melts down. Extensions are requested and even then, it is like a torturous nightmare finally getting everything done and turned in.

So we did not approach this week with great eagerness. But I am delighted -- thrilled, even -- to say that Sam completed all three projects on time! When he left here Monday morning the personal narrative had already been turned in, via e-mail, the night before. (And by the way, though it was only required to be two pages, his turned out to be five or six pages long, and extremely compelling!) He was ready for his oral presentation, though he did not get called on to deliver his yesterday.

Last night my son was up until midnight, but when he went to bed the paper was done, with hard copy printed and in his binder and electronic copy already sent, as per this teacher's preferences. The research paper isn't wonderful, but it isn't bad, either. If I were grading it, I'd give it a B, probably. In light of the two other big projects and the fact that he met all deadlines, I'm actually more than OK with that!

I am so happy! He has shown so much progress this year, and meeting these three big deadlines just seems to me like the perfect illustration of how far he has come.

We leave tomorrow morning for a few days in Michigan, at the rural home of one of my husband's brothers and his family. It's a place we all enjoy, and I am so gratified to think that Sam can go and enjoy these few days of relaxation in the warm glow of success, rather than having some big thing hanging over his head. Right now, in this moment, I just feel like it doesn't get any better than this!

Friday, November 21, 2008

OK, I had sort of decided not to use this blog to write about my own writing efforts. But since I have exactly one follower so far, I still feel pretty free to change my mind. So I've decided to post here what I wrote in my journal this morning. Somehow, posting it in this more public way, where people might actually see it and read it, feels like I'm making a commitment.

Here goes:

OK, this morning I broke all my little self-imposed “rules.” I went back to bed for an hour after the guys left. Then after my shower, I sat down at the computer and started job-hunting right away, without doing my free-writing first.

But you know what? It’s OK, because I actually think I just had a flash of insight. I need to stop worrying so much about bringing in money, or I am never going to bring in any money by writing. Buried within me, underneath many years of accumulated suppression, there’s a lot of creativity. If I can just tap into it, and start writing things that are creative, I can sell some of them. I just know it. But instead, I spend most of my time at the computer looking for writing gigs that will generate a little short-term cash flow. Of course, I’m competing with every other unemployed, wannabe writer out there for those gigs. And there’s no money to speak of in the ones I see any way.

When I was a kid, I used to sit down and write stories. I did it for the fun of it, because it came naturally. And they were good. But I made a decision in college that I wanted a nine-to-five life with benefits and security, and I made a series of choices that took me that direction. Along the way, I worked hard to suppress the creativity and instead learned to be a translator. I’d take complex boring financial or technical concepts and translate them into understandable English. Creative flourishes were always discouraged.

Now, I need to spend some quality hours at my computer just writing made up stories for the fun of it. I need to know that they won’t all work out; some will have to be abandoned completely and others will have to be attempted many times before they turn into something. But I believe if I do this, I can eventually write something worth reading – and when I do that, I can sell it.

I also need to start churning out magazine queries. They take a long time to generate money, but the writing would be more enjoyable. I just need to let go and let God. I need to trust that somehow, he will provide the money we need.

It’s funny that I’m saying all this today, because just yesterday I sat and did a detailed cash flow analysis and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can’t afford to do what I’m doing beyond the end of March. Unless I start bringing in income, I mean. Living off the unemployment and savings will stretch me until the end of March, and when the April mortgage payment comes due, I won’t have it. Now, my husband is employed and with his help we can probably scrabble through a few more months, but I don’t want him and Sam to suffer for my choices. And I do believe the cuts we’d have to make at that point would involves some suffering.

So I guess here’s what I have to do. I have to keep applying for full-time jobs that look not-awful to me, in part because I have to do that anyway to stay eligible for unemployment. If one of those materializes, I will probably accept it and take that as a sign from God. I’ll keep building my writing business on the side, replenish my savings, and watch for a sign that it is the right time to go to writing full time.

I will focus more on generating proposals for magazine writing or any other writing that actually captures my imagination. I’ll set some kind of goals about sending out some number of query letters per week.

And then, most importantly of all, I think, I will set aside some time every day for creative writing. I will try to generate short stories and/or a novel. And marketable essays. But I will write things that give me joy, that use the talents God gave me and that make me feel like I am fulfilling my destiny. I will adjust my schedule so that a lot more of my daytime hours are spent actually sitting and WRITING!!

There you have it. Those are the thoughts I wrote in the privacy of my journal this morning, that I am now posting out on the web for all the world to see. I have committed!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It feels like I haven't written forever! I had to report to federal jury duty the past two days, so I've been offline.

I had rather dreaded jury duty, though my husband and some of my friends who have served on juries had tried to convince me it wasn't that bad. In a way they were right, but I am still grateful that I didn't actually get seated on a jury.

It's the bureacracy that makes it such a hassle. We were told to report by 7:45 promptly, but we didn't actually start the jury selection process until 3:30. In the end, it turned out our judge was hearing the federal elections case about allowing the provisional ballots, though we didn't find that out until much later. We just got a series of short delays. We watched a movie and a half, most of us shared pizza ordered in, and after what felt like forever, it got to be about 2:25. The woman who had mothered us all day came in and announced that we would all be released. The judge wanted to talk to us, and he said he would be down to the jury room at 2:30.

Of course, 2:30 came and went and around 2:45 she announced a change in plans. We were going up to the courtroom and he'd talk to us there. We filed in and sat down and waited a few minutes, and then they announced there had been a change and the case was, indeed, going to trial! (People felt way worse at that point. Hearing that we were going home and having it yanked back a few minutes later was very difficult!)

We were marched out of the courtroom, lined up by juror number, and marched back into the courtroom. The process of selecting jurors finally began at 3:30. At 5:25 it was obvious they could not complete the task that day, so we were sent home. Twelve jurors were released and the remaining 50 of us were told to come back the next morning. (A few had been released throughout the course of the day.) The process would begin at 8:30, we were told, but be there by 8:00.

We were actually ushered back into the courtroom about 9:30 the second morning. Finally, at 10:20, the judge announced that it would take them about 30 minutes to finalize the jury selection. We were to be gathered in the hall at 10:50 to hear the selection.

We were gathered at 10:50, and we had a lovely time to socialize, since they didn't come out to announce the jury until 11:30. After some last minute escape efforts by one of the selected and a thank you from the judge, we left for the day at about 11:50.

Citizens are compensated $40 a day for jury duty. While that doesn't cover what most people make in a day, it still seems like a lot of money to me when I consider that there were about 70 of us the first day and 50 the second. The federal court had around $4,800 invested before the jury was even seated! And that doesn't include reimbursements for mileage, parking and hotels!

I understand the importance of juries in maintaining the American justice system. And, I genuinely believe they did all they could to make us comfortable and to reduce the strain. Yet I think most of the people called on that jury panel would say it was not a very positive experience. It's a shame, really. Oh, and a federal jury draws from a 30-county area, so some of these people had driven far or were having to stay in hotels. I guess the second morning there were 3 inches of snow on the ground over in Eastern Ohio, and some jurors had to make the second drive in through that!

The jury room offered an interesting cross-section of the population, as well it should. I found it interesting how open and friendly most people were. I wonder if that would be true in a federal jury in another part of the country? I had chats with several fellow jurors where I came away with a pretty good understanding of that person's life. In all honesty, I didn't open up to them nearly as much.

OK, I hope this has purged the jury selection experience and that tomorrow, I'll feel free to write something that is less of a complaint!

Oh, one bright note on another subject. My friend's son was accepted at the special high school for kids with learning disabilities, and he was scheduled to start there yesterday. I so hope that he is able to recover and thrive there! He and his mom remain in my prayers. I just want to see the Matthew that we saw by the end of 8th grade -- a boy who interacts with friends and make jokes and is able to enjoy life. I want to see him fulfill his potential and get a college education and head out into the world with justified optimism. He deserves it. In fact, every kid does!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My son's grade card came and all things considered, we were pleased -- nothing lower than a B-. As I've indicated earlier, in terms of raw intellectual power he ought to be a straight A student. But he has learning issues that center around organization, and last year we saw more than our share of Cs and even lower. I hope that over time he is able to master compensating techniques for organizing and earn even higher grades, but for his first grading period of high school, that wasn't too shabby.

I had a conversation yesterday that made me stop and appreciate how good things really are with Sam. I called a friend I hadn't talked to in about four months. It is one of those friendships that grew out of the fact that our boys were classmates and involved in many activities together, but eventually took on a life of its own. I was way overdue to have checked in with her.

Her son has Asperger's Syndrome. I think most people are familiar with that term now, but in case you have never heard it, Asperger's is a special type of autism. Those with it are often very intelligent, as her son is, but they have a lot of trouble with normal human interaction. They don't usually make eye contact and they are unable to read non-verbal cues and facial expressions. When her son was in early elementary school, I didn't think he would be able to make it in society in any "normal" capacity -- he was that disabled. But he has had a lot of good therapy and by middle school, he was really blossoming. He had friends, he interacted with other kids in seemingly normal ways, he made jokes...It was really uplifting to see how far he had come.

For high school, he went to a private all-male college preparatory school and I had heard from another mother that it hadn't worked out well for him. He had transferred to a co-ed Catholic high school with a good reputation. I hadn't felt unduly alarmed by that -- the all-male school in question is pretty rigorous and pretty rigid, and lots of boys who start there find it's not the right place and transfer somewhere else successfully.

I'm sorry to say that was not the case for my friend's son. He found the new high school emotionally overwhelming. There were so many new teachers to try to connect with and understand, so many new kids to try to get acquainted with, the constant changing of classes and input of too many stimuli. She said he completely withdrew into himself to the point that he would sometimes go a whole day at school without speaking a word, or no more than monosyllables.

So yesterday he was off being evaluated at a special high school designed for kids with learning disabilities. She said that if they do not accept him, she feels her only option is some kind of home schooling. And she didn't sound any more excited about that option than I would be. This is a very, very intelligent boy, and the goal is to get him to college. It would be very, very difficult to provide him all that he needs in a homeschool setting. Yet I share her certainty that if he can get a college education, he can find a niche -- probably in the computer industry -- where he can apply the things he is good at and build a satisfying life for himself. Besides, he DID learn to relate to his classmates at the old school, eventually. Moving into an isolated setting where he gets no practice at that can't be good for him.

So today my heart and prayers are with her as she awaits the decision from the potential new school. And inside, I rage at the injustice of a world that can't accomodate a kid like this.

Oh -- and I hope this doesn't sound insensitive -- and I also breathe a little prayer of thanks that my son's transition to high school has been as overall positive as it has. This sad story is a huge reminder to me that while my son's road has a few bumps, his journey is progressing pretty well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Friday, I passed the one month milestone of losing my previous job. Maybe that's the underlying reason, but I find myself in the best spirits I've been in since that fateful day in October. As I look at it, I find several widely different reasons to feel so good.

On Friday, I spent much of the day seeking out ways to reactivate all my professional networks and to get the word out that I am looking for writing work. Even though it is too early to have seen any rewards from those efforts yet, I find that I do feel better just for having made the effort. It helps me begin to believe that I really will be able to generate some work this way.

Today, I did my weekly search for job opportunities to which I can apply in order to keep drawing unemployment compensation. Hey, the job market may be bleak, and I may have set my sights on this freelance path, but that weekly unemployment check is hugely helpful until I make the transition and I want to make sure I continue to qualify. So I had just resigned myself to applying for the least objectionable opportunities I see. After all, I rarely get a response even when I'm applying for a position for which I think I'd be perfect. I'm not in that much danger of getting hired for a job I know is not a good match.

But today, I actually found a couple of postings that were not objectionable. They were jobs I could actually envision myself doing. And I realized as I applied for them that I have a wonderful freedom right now. I have laid all my plans based on building my own freelance business and scrimping by on low income while I get there. But if I were offered a really decent full-time job, I would probably accept it and continue to build my freelance business on the side in a slower, safer environment. How's that for a can't lose situation?

Finally, and I'll admit this is a little silly perhaps, but I'm beginning to recognize some of the wonderful virtues of working from home. I was never a full-time mother or homemaker. I have spent my entire life driving through rush hour traffic to a workplace where I was expected to be for most of the day, and fitting my life around those constraints. On Friday, knowing the weather was predicted to turn bad as the day went on, I went to the grocery store at 8:00 a.m. I did my grocery shopping in lovely uncrowded aisles, and I was home before the rain and flurries came. It felt great -- like I was getting away with something! That's also how I feel when I choose not to put on any makeup some mornings, or when I take a break from the computer and sweep the floor or some like task.

Who knows, this positive turn of mood may not last. But while it does, I'm going to enjoy it!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I am in the interesting situation of having a teenager in the house during my midlife years, since we didn't have our only child until somewhat later than average. (If there is any "average" time to have babies any more!)

My son is wonderful and gifted and all those things you would expect me to say, but he is also a very different kid. Depending upon your mindset, you might describe him as eccentric or unique or just weird.

    •On one hand, he has a very high IQ. On the other, he has some ADHD-like issues with executive function, which means that he can't organize his way out of a paper bag, and often fails to turn assignements in on time, thus earning low grades.

    •On one hand, he is a classic math/science/chess nerd. On the other, he loves music and theatre and most of all musical theatre, and he is very talented in those areas. So he is alternately a loner and an exhibitionist.

    •On one hand, this is a kid who has been on anti-depressants since third grade. He can have a very dark world view. On the other, he has a sharp sense of humor and loves to make people laugh.

He went to a private Montessori school from age 3 through 8th grade, and is now a 9th grader at our public high school. We shopped around, but we were fortunate that our local public high school is a very, very good school. Given how different he is, I thought it would be to his advantage to be in a larger population, where he could more likely find a few like souls.

I guess it was a good decision, because there is no doubt that he is happier this year than I've ever seen him. But I continue to struggle, as I always have, with understanding what happiness means for him versus for me. He really hasn't made any friends yet, but I have to admit that this fact appears to bother me more than it bothers him.

Next week we will receive the first official grade card and have parent-teacher conferences, so I should get a lot better insight into how things are going then. I'll try to post something more when I've synthesized that!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My day job went away quite suddenly (and not of my own choosing) a month ago. My last two career jobs have left a bad taste in my mouth, so I’m feeling a little gunshy about jumping back into the traditional job market. I have worked as some form of a marketing professional for about 24 years, yet I feel very unsure about getting back on that horse. Times have changed, I have changed, I’m feeling a little scarred, and all other things being equal, I’d like to make a big change. I’d like to work independently as a freelance writer.

I’ve been doing a lot of research, and the way I see it, there are two key ways to make money as a freelance writer. Well, three, really, but the third one is a slow-build. That one is writing for magazines and such. It is work I think I would enjoy very much, but I know can’t build up to an adequate income level fast enough with it. (That is, fast enough to continue making mortgage payments after my meager savings are exhausted.)

The other two ways to make money as a freelancer are to do commercial copywriting and to aggressively “monetize” a blog. (This is the process of drawing advertisers and creating other things you can sell from your blogsite, like e-books or newsletters. When done well, it can be very effective.) Commercial copywriting ties most closely into what I’ve done for all these years, and would use skills I know I have, but I’m a little hazy on how to actually market myself and build a clientele. (Again, with an implied “fast enough” at the end of that sentence.)

The blogging thing appeals to me, except that to be successful you have to passionately state your opinions about something. I feel like I’ve spent most of my adult life getting trained to suppress my opinions, make peace, smooth the waters, not alienate anyone. I would definitely have been AWESOME at this when I was in my 20’s, because back then I had a strong opinion about everything and I was pretty sure I was right. Now, I am so accustomed to self-censoring that I don’t know if I can write passionate opinion.

Most experts would say, of course, that the trick is to blog on a subject you feel passionately about. So what do I feel passionately about? Well, I feel passionately about raising my son; I am passionately intrigued with the experience of mid-life; I am passionate about my beliefs as a Catholic Christian. Beyond that, I’m not so sure.

My son is 15 years old, so I don’t fit the general mommy-blogger stereotype. They are mostly stay-at-home mothers of pre-schoolers and early-elementary-age children. The parents-of-teenage sites I have found all seem like us-against-them battle stations. So perhaps there is a niche for me to explore here…..

I found a whole mid-life blogging community, so I can definitely think about targeting something there. Actually, I could probably blog about mid-life and raising a teenager and create my own niche-within-a-niche that way.

The Christian stuff is really important to me, but I’m pretty sure that if I want to do something with that, it should be on its own separate blog. And while I know I would enjoy the writing, I’m less confident about making money through it.

So I’m thinking that tomorrow, I’m going to try blogging on the experiences of raising a teen-age son and turning 50. I can see the potential for it to turn into boring navel-gazing, but I hope I can bring enough professional discipline to the project to keep it targeted to real readers.

And thus, a blog is born!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I know it's probably cliche, but I just can't help myself. I just returned from voting and I feel so good! Like most other people, I get very sick of the campaigns and I don't want to hear another political ad for -- well -- ever. But election day, when I get to go to the polling place and stand in line to cast my ballot, is one of the most inspiring events of the whole year.

I don't know if this is true for others, but I always see a bunch of my neighbors there. That adds to the general feeling of well-being that election day provides. Here I am, surrounded by my neighbors, exercising the great privilege and responsibility of living in a democracy. It's like all the cynicism created by my life experiences is just peeled away, and I'm that elementary school kid again, aglow in the excitement of patriotism.

I have a 15-year-old son, and I'm amazed how cynical he is already. He looks upon the electoral process with a surprisingly jaded eye and seems to believe our system is broken beyond repair. But I'm still hopeful that tonight when the returns are coming in and he's watching the pundits with us (which he has to do because it is required for a couple of his high school classes) that maybe in those moments he will see some glimmer of hope, get some sense of why we all invest so much in this process. Cliche or not, the concept that I can actually make a difference in the future of this country and of the world by taking the time to become informed and cast my ballot is pretty heady stuff. Surely that can overpower the cynicism of a teenager for one evening, can't it?

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm feeling a little nervous because I have to report for Federal jury duty later this week. After all, trying to start one's own business, dealing with a high school freshman with learning issues and just surviving election day 2008 isn't QUITE enough stress in one's life. It seems I needed one more item.

I have had a number of friends and people close to me who have served on juries and found it an uplifting and positive experience. In spite of that, I have always viewed the possibility with dread. I am a real "play-by-the-rules" kind of gal, and if I end up in a situation where I have to disregard evidence that has been presented or ignore some fact that we find out or something like that, it is going to be very tough for me. I would hate to have to believe in my heart that someone is guilty but let them off because without that piece of excluded evidence, I really wouldn't know they were guilty.

I also dread the opportunity for conflict. I am usually pretty decisive. I can make a decision and move on. The thought of being stuck hashing and rehashing evidence with a group of people I may or may not like or respect worries me. It seems to me that the third or fourth time through it, tempers would be likely to flare.

On a brighter note, I finally got my writing website up and running. It isn't yet all that I want it to be, but it is at least active and people can, in fact, visit it and see samples of my writing. I'm pleased with that as a start. (Feel free to check it out at www.EmersonWrites.com.)