30 Things in My 30s

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I love birthdays. Mine. Yours. Anyone’s really.

In my opinion birthdays are yet another reason to celebrate and I especially love doing that.

I’ve never been one to dread getting older either. I know some folks truly despise their birthdays like each one is another step closer to death. I never thought about it like that. Rather, I’ve always thought of my birthday as exciting and fun and honestly not at all scary or intimidating.

Maybe it’s because I don’t really feel older or because age is just a number, blah blah blah, or maybe it’s the childlike enthusiasm that comes with looking forward to an upcoming birthday that makes each year feel more magical and important than the one before. Or maybe it’s the cards and gifts and all the special “happy birthday” messages and songs. I love all that stuff!

I’m not sure what it is entirely but like every other year I’m looking forward to my birthday and as I approach this one—the big 4-0—I’ve been thinking a lot about my life, about the person I’ve become and about all the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had along the way, and specifically the things that happened in my 30s, as well as my goals and accomplishments, too.

In addition to birthdays, I also love making lists so, to mark the occasion and as a sort of decade sendoff, I made a list of thirty things I accomplished in my 30s. I made a similar list about my 20s (with just twenty things) when I turned 30 but I didn’t blog back then, or I’d have probably posted it too. To keep with the theme, in another ten years, I guess I’ll probably have to come up with forty things for my next big milestone birthday. Looks like I’ll be pretty busy in my 40s!

I also made a list of goals for the year ahead when I turned 39 (my insanity isn’t strictly limited to whole decades) and as I reviewed it recently I came to realize just how much I snuck in during the previous ten (and still counting) months.

Truly, a whole lot has happened this year! A whole fucking lot in fact! But it makes sense since it has sort of been an overall theme to the entire decade. 39 (which isn’t quite yet over but will be soon enough) has indeed been—and continues to be—a proper climax to my 30s.

It’s been a dramatic year filled with many twists and turns and more highs and lows than you can shake a stick at (I’m not sure what that means but I like how it sounds). I might even consider revising my Things to Accomplish in my 40s list (yes, of course, I’ve already drafted that, too).

Anyway. Here’s my list.

30 Things I accomplished in my 30s

  1. Lived in three states: Texas, New York and Iowa (prior to my 30s I lived in PA and NJ, too)
  2. Directed numerous large scale international events and ran a department at a media company
  3. Traveled nationally and internationally to many places and met lots of interesting people
  4. Directed two celebrity golf tournaments (in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic)
  5. Married my soul mate, Jason. Awww!
  6. Took a huge risk in giving up my career as an event planner to write a novel!
  7. Lived at the beach!
  8. Started my own company and eventually realized it wasn’t for me (this is a 2 for 1 deal)
  9. Designed two websites all by myself
  10. Started blogging
  11. Gave birth to a beautiful girl named Lyla. Being her mom has been awesome!
  12. Got diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease – not exactly a traditional accomplishment but still
  13. Learned to live with PKD and battled and survived postpartum depression!
  14. Connected with my inner hippy through meditation and astrology (I even met Susan Miller!)
  15. Taught myself how to read Tarot (this comes in super handy at parties!)
  16. Saw Prince in concert (checked that one off my concert bucket list!)
  17. Made the decision to move to Iowa!
  18. Bought a house!
  19. Made lots of amazing new friends and became a part of an awesome little community
  20. Bought new carpet for the house (so far, this is the moment I felt the most grown up)
  21. Wrote a bunch of poems and two novels (and revised and rewrote both several times)
  22. Went back to school to acquire my MFA in Creative Writing
  23. Wrote an award winning screenplay!! Yay!
  24. Got to stay downtown in Philly and play tourist in my hometown with my family
  25. Lost 50 pounds (gained half back but who’s counting?)
  26. Finally completed my novel Private Mommies Society!
  27. Graduated with honors!! I officially have my MFA in Creative Writing!
  28. Queried literary agents and kept pushing forward and revising despite rejections
  29. Received an offer of representation and signed with my agent!
  30. Hmm… Looks like I have room for one more… I have a feeling it’ll be a good one.

Haiku and Haibun Fun

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As I wind down toward the light at the end of the tunnel of this eight week poetry class, which has been a wonderful experience all around, these have been my favorite forms so far!

Haiku was awesomely freeing. I loved writing haiku (even though I sort of hate that the plural form of haiku is haiku; it just seems so pretentious, doesn’t it? Just me? Oh.). Anyway, I feel like I could write haiku all day long. Not just the word “haiku” though that’s fun, too, but haiku themselves. In fact, yesterday when I wrote my haibun/haiku, my husband and I started randomly free styling haiku. The game got old (rather quickly, especially for him) but we both had fun.

Even though I read it’s not necessary to stick to the 5-7-5 format, I somehow found safety and comfort in counting syllables and always felt finished once I liked the poem itself and landed on the correct, so to speak, count.

I also really enjoyed the haibun aspect of this. It was different than my typical prose in that I felt it needed to sound more poetic, if that makes sense, so I worked to include images and descriptions. Still, I wanted to stay true to my style so I kept it as tight and concise as possible and I tried not to go overboard (for me) with the flowery descriptions which aren’t quite me. I went as far into the descriptions as my skin would currently let me. I’m comfortable writing prose though and I’m no stranger to present tense so for me this was natural and fun.

Content and form seemed to play equal roles in haiku/haibun. This week’s class activity was to wrote a haibun containing haiku (see my previous post for the product of said activity). For me, while the haiku portion was easier, for lack of a better word, to write, the haibun grew naturally out of the haiku. While the haiku is a sort of clever and mysterious little poem, the haibun was like the haiku’s helper. It broadened the message, added clarity and together, I found, they told a real story.

I really love where I ended up with this and I want to write more of these. The haiku (man, I really want to write/say “haikus”) just spilled out of my brain! On that note, what a wonderful way to rev the creative engine and get pumped up to write more? I think haiku would also work well to get the creative juices flowing and maybe even serve as a weapon against writer’s block.

Since I’m usually writing longer projects, like novels and screenplays, this was a refreshing break from the norm. While some of the longer poetic forms, like the sestina, frustrated me, there was nothing frustrating about haiku. It was simply nice to write something so small and yet still so meaningful and creatively fulfilling.

Of course, I can’t speak for the quality of my haiku since I’m so new to poetry in general and am learning as I go but I truly enjoyed the process of writing it and I’m happy with my results. I wonder if I could write a haiku a day… I bet I could!

This poetry class has been a great experience for me and this week was the icing on the cake. It’s hard to believe that in just one more week it will be over. These eight weeks truly flew.

Sestina: A Poetic Mountain

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This week I wrote (and posted) my first sestina.

In case you’re as unfamiliar as I was, here’s the definition of a sestina according to Merriam-Webster:

Ses-ti-na (noun): a lyrical fixed form consisting of six 6-line usually unrhymed stanzas in which the end words of the first stanza recur as end words of the following five stanzas in a successively rotating order and as the middle and end words of the three verses of the concluding tercet.

By nature, I tend to be sort of obsessive and competitive (especially with myself) and writing a sestina was extremely challenging for me. So it’s probably needless to say that ever since I learned I needed to write a sestina for class this has been a severe internal (and external) struggle for me.

Start, stop, start, stop. I counted (because I had to) and can you believe I started and stopped 16 different poems before finally writing one all the way through? Yes 16!

I definitely overthought it for weeks. I read all the sestinas in our reading materials, some over and over again, and I studied the process suggestions for writing one both in our course materials and online. I tried (and when I say tried I mean TRIED) the technique of choosing six words and ended up wildly frustrated every single time. Eventually I gave up.

I have to say that this time around, with my final attempt, procrastination played a big role in my process. I’m not typically a big procrastinator. As a former event planner, I thrive on checking things off my mental To Do list so having this sestina teasing and taunting me was no fun. But as this week approached and the deadline for our sestina assignment grew ever closer, I knew I had to eventually stop procrastinating, sit down and try again. So I inhaled, exhaled, cleared my mind and just started writing. The sestina I submitted this week was the product of that. It sort of just came to me.

I think in the end the answer to my sestina issues was simplification. Also, I needed to trust my instincts. My best writing usually comes from “just writing” so that’s what I did. That and once I stopped pressuring myself to write the best sestina ever written (I know I’m a mess), then the words started flowing and about ten minutes later I had my sestina. It’s not even close to what I originally intended to write but I’m okay with that. In a way, when I read it back, the rhythm of my sestina and the sort of circle effect it seems to portray reminds me of how I felt writing it. In some way I can’t quite put my finger on, to me, it feels like a round of “Row Your Boat” or like one of those songs that goes “second verse same as the first” but, again, maybe that’s just me.

It’s hard to say if it was the sestina’s strict rules which hindered me or more so the pressure I put on myself to follow those rules. I actually started to enjoy the nature of the form once I decided it was okay to relax and have fun with it. Midway through my final attempt, it became like a game or a riddle that needed to be figured out more so than this poetic mountain I had to climb.

That said; I’m glad I refused to let this sestina beat me and I learned a lot in the process of writing it. Similar to other challenges in life, I’m especially happy to be able to say I got through it and I’m even happier to say it’s over.

But now I’m compelled to go back and finish the other 16. 🙂

Trying Again

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Trying Again:

Oh, 4AM Breakthrough, why hast thou forsaken me? So many sleepless nights spent working, writing, caffeinating, counting. Finally done and now do over? Be kind, rewind? Definitely looks that way.

But Val Zane’s no quitter or towel thrower inner! She sticks with it like an overly obsessed addict slash hyper sensitive perfectionist through tears, pain, wind, rain, hurricane, bad hair days… sure, whatever. United States Postal Service has nothing on her!

Right?

Hell yeah!

Smooth Jazz. Yellow Submarines? Crying baby? Sorry, just procrastinating.

Inching ever closer. Progressing painfully. Slow. Steady. Still hanging!

Goal suddenly within reach. Feeling increasingly optimistic.

Skim. Scan. Examine. Snagged four smarmy stowaways!

Continue reading. Thoroughly searching for possible reiterations. Caught one blunder. Oops, two. Delete. Erase. Eradicate mistake after… ha, missed another landmine!

Repeat process. Found somewhat random echo. Die unwelcome redundancy!

Gaining confidence.

Spoke too soon?

Microsoft software should provide adequate assistance. Damn you, Bill Gates! Spellcheck was totally useless here. Find function worth only slightly more. Ugh.

Second verse same as the first? Shit.  Calculating words certainly sucks. Even worse? Math mixed into nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions—grammar arithmetic? God, what a mess.

Brain malfunctioning, shooting stinging synapses from senseless screen staring.

Classmates, (hello, Kevin?), please use your keen editorial eyes! Help! Check my work. Calculate all accidental doubles, triples, quadruples. Inspect, dissect, collect, highlight any potential errors made.

I can beat Kiteley’s game. Want to bet? Vegas odds? Friends, this time, say exercise #43 will not win!

Hopefully.

Maybe.

Who knows?

Word Count = 250

Lyla’s Shopping List

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I need to go to the supermarket today and do some pre-Thankgiving food shopping so this morning I decided to put together a list. While doing so, my 3-yr-old daughter, Lyla, approached and asked me what I was doing.

I told her I was making a list of food and groceries to get at the supermarket and she replied that she wanted to make one, too. So, mostly humoring her, I asked her what needed to be on the list, though I’m not sure why I bother humoring her when it’s becoming clear that she’s smarter than me.

Anyway, (without any prompting and in the order she mentioned each item) the following is exactly what she told me to put on her list:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Bologna
  • Milk
  • Apple Juicey
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Rectangle Crackers (AKA: Graham Crackers)
  • Sour Creamy
  • Colored Cereal
  • Charm Cereal
  • More veggies for dipping
  • Yo-grut (this is spelled incorrectly on purpose per her pronunciation)
  • Ranch Dressing

Not a bad list. I’ll need to add a few items of my own and maybe remove at least one (or perhaps both) of those sugary cereals she seems to love so much but all in all it’s a pretty decent shopping list… especially for a 3-yr-old.

I’m actually kind of surprised she didn’t include ice cream (Va-lil-la is her fave). I think I’ll go ahead and add that one in anyway!

 

 

 

Cantaloupe

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I’d like to credit the book 3AM Epiphany by Brian Kitely for the following writing exercise…

Looking Backwards. Write according to the following rigorous formula: Tell a story from a person’s childhood, using three sentences from deep inside the child’s POV(letting the adult mind interfere as little as possible) and then five sentences from the adult’s POV. Keep going back and forth this way. Show us both the very adult feelings of the narrator and the very childlike (and hence mystified or incompletely understood) feelings. Don’t let the child know more than the adult. The adult version of this self is always removed from the moment, always a bit more relaxed. 700 words.

As I read the various exercises in the book I selected this one because it immediately grabbed my attention and inspired me. It was a pleasure writing this memory from my own childhood. The following is a true story.

Miss O’Lenski told us there’d be a fire drill that day but I forgot. The alarm went off and it was so loud I got scared. We were supposed to walk in single file but I ran.

At eight years old, it’s my first memory of a fire drill but the day was a memorable one all around. It started with the evacuation but then I panicked and fell down a flight of steps, twisted my ankle and had to go to the nurse’s office. It was pretty swollen and appeared to be sprained so the nurse called my mother. I was a clumsy kid so my mom wasn’t at all shocked when she had to leave work and get me. She came right away, brought me home, laid me down and told me to elevate my leg.

When my brother got home from school, I was on the couch. He was being mean and wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t get him to stop it so I yelled, “Dad!”

When my father saw what my brother was doing, he shouted, “Franklin, I swear to God, if you drop that cantaloupe on your sister’s face, I’m going to kick your ass!” To which, my smart aleck brother scoffed and said, “I’m not gonna hit her with it, Dad. I’m just messin’ with her.” My father quietly sat, watched and waited as my brother continued to toss that cantaloupe from one hand to the other. Frank laughed every time I flinched which was every time he caught it within mere inches from my face.

He threw it like a million times. I was scared he’d miss. I kept telling him to stop but he called me a baby. 

Meanwhile, the phone rang and my mom answered it. It was an old rotary phone, beige and attached to the wall, and as she anxiously paced the room the cord stretched and twisted around her. My brother, father and I were far too busy with our cantaloupe drama to pay any attention to her or to the conversation she was having. But apparently it was a producer calling from one of those spin-the-wheel-and-then-answer-a-trivia-question game shows popular back in the 80s. She excitedly jumped up, switched on the television and then turned and shushed us.

Frankie was looking at Mom the last time he threw the cantaloupe. He missed. It hit me right in the face.

Over the years my mom must have told me a dozen times but for the life of me I cannot recall the question she was asked but she answered correctly and won $3000. She jumped up and screamed, and the next thing I remember is our neighbors rushing in to congratulate and hug her. I clutched my nose with both hands and cried hysterically while my dad shouted and chased my brother around the house. Suddenly I was invisible and not exactly happy about that. The worst part was that after being sent home from school one day with a sprained ankle I returned the next day with two black eyes.

My stupid brother broke my nose!  It hurt so bad I couldn’t stop crying. Nobody even cared.

That’s the story about how my brother broke my nose with a cantaloupe. Though our mom remembers it as the day she won the money that paid off our house. And oddly enough our dad hardly remembers it at all. I know Frank didn’t mean to actually hurt me; he was just being a kid and trying to be funny. And in retrospect it was funny and even though it really sucked I still laugh every time I think about it.

The next day at school everyone asked me what happened. I told the truth. They still called my mom.

Earlier this year, 28 years later, I finally went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. When the doctor asked me what happened I told him this story. He laughed and said he didn’t expect my reply. Then he scoped my nose and diagnosed me with a deviated septum. Afterwards, I called my brother and told him all about it. I even threatened to send him the bill.

A Creative Writing Activity

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Activity and Justification—Valerie Zane

Activity:

Part One: Taking no longer than five minutes and keeping your words to under a page in length, write your autobiography. Part Two: Next, using the same time and length limits as in Part One, write your biography from a parent or parental figure’s point of view.

The narrative can be fact or fiction and written in any genre or style of choice. Let your imagination lead the way. Be as descriptive and creative as possible while paying close attention to narrative and voice.

Justification:

The purpose of this exercise is to inspire creativity and flex writing muscles while focusing on narrative and voice and keeping to a tight deadline and length limits. 

I like this exercise because it forces the writer to step in and then out of his or her own head and immediately into someone else’s head but on the same topic. The students can approach this exercise in any way they wish—serious or comedic, fact or fiction, essay or poetry, for a few examples. Any way it is approached, the exercise will stretch the creative muscles much like a 10 minute warm-up loosens the legs before a long run.

Also, by focusing on voice and narrative from both the student’s own and someone else’s point of view, but someone close and familiar like a parent or parental figure, it allows the student to get deep quickly and in a short period of time and space. In the first part, the student tells his or her own story. In the second part, he or she tells basically that same story but from someone else’s point of view. The most important aspect of both parts is the narrative itself, including actions, descriptions and voice.  

In the lecture this week, we learned “Another thing that a master craftsperson shares is perspective. This is not only helping students see subjects from new angles, but also guiding them to useful ways of thinking about skills, tools, or processes. It is a way to encourage productive ideas and discourage unproductive ones.”  In many ways, this is an exercise in perspective. By telling a story from two different perspectives, the students are able to explore their creativity and thoroughly inspect and play around with these unique perspectives. It will be interesting to see the difference between what students will write about themselves versus what they think their parents would write.

Finally, much like King uses his close personal relationships, memories and experiences to weave his stories, this exercise allows the student to do the same. By getting personal, so to speak, in a similar way and also from someone else’s (in this case, a parent’s) point of view, while under tight time and length constraints, it gives the writer the freedom to be creative without being self-conscious.