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.

“The Learning Curve”

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Last week I picked apart Picka Pocketoni. So this week I’d like to pick apart—in a more positive way—another Sedaris essay: The Learning Curve (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 83-96).

This essay hit home for me (and I assume for many of you) in many ways, particularly as a writer, writing student and someone who would someday love to teach writing workshops. But also, I’m currently writing a novel and one of the main themes is how we all find ourselves faking it (or feeling as though we’re faking it) at one point or another. We don’t start out being experienced. It takes time but we all have to start somewhere. That’s simply how life works.

Thematically, this story speaks to anyone who has ever felt like a faker. When Sedaris gets his first teaching gig, he feels like an imposter. And in a way he is one. But I bet anyone who’s ever been in his shoes has felt the same way. Of course, while most of us might not admit it or write a whole essay shouting it to the world, personally, I love how honest he is about it.

Sedaris exposes so many parts of himself to us, including: Sedaris as writer, Sedaris as teacher, Sedaris as the child who just wants to be loved and, perhaps most notably in this essay Sedaris as self-proclaimed, self-deprecating, low self-esteem fraud. All of these elements somehow add up to expose Sedaris as a charming, humorous, honest and relatable human.

“Like branding steers or embalming the dead, teaching was a profession I had never seriously considered.” Ha! Me either! Until recently anyway. Workshops have turned me on to a whole new side of myself. I’ve always loved writing and my initial goal coming into the MFA program here was to get my writing to the next level, where I will hopefully get my novels published. My writing has certainly improved but another side of me, one I didn’t know existed, has been nurtured, too. I love reading my peers’ work and offering my feedback. That critiquing part of workshops that so many of us dislike? Yeah, I love that part. In eight grade I was voted “Most Likely to Become a Teacher” and I’ve always scoffed at the notion but now I’m looking at it and thinking maybe my classmates back in 1989 knew something I wasn’t yet able to see or willing to admit. I flashed back to that moment while reading The Learning Curve and as I read about Sedaris’s experiences, I thought about all of these things I’m learning about myself.

I could picture myself standing before a classroom frantically trying to say and do all the right things, trying to make an impact on these students who expect to learn something. Just like any other experience in life, Sedaris started out self-conscious and self-absorbed and once those things fell away, along with all the butterflies, that’s when everything came together for him.

All of this adds to the tone of the piece. I found the tone of this story as well as Sedaris himself as the story’s main character to be honest and sincere. While he, at times, borders on self-deprecation he does so humorously and that adds to the gritty, realistic feel of the piece. Plus, there’s just something sweet about it, too. While each of his essays affects me in different ways and while I don’t find all of them as relatable as this one, I could follow his tone anywhere.

Structurally speaking, this essay hits all the right notes. He grounds the setting for us in the classroom and allows us to picture everything from his perspective. He starts by showing and telling us about himself physically and even adds insight into his mind through sharing his thoughts and fears as well as comparing himself to his father. Then he introduces the rest of the cast of characters and simultaneously presents the main conflicts which will affect all of them. He lets us see the floor fall from beneath his feet as he stands clueless before this classroom for the very first time. We get to see him squirm and then watch as he tries and fails multiple times, continuously adding tension along the way, giving us the opportunity to root for him and care about what happens to him and his students so we feel satisfied when he figures it all out in the end. The work he does with characterization in general but also in particular with his set up and descriptions, are awesome, too, because if we as the reader cannot relate to him or even find him likeable in some way, then surely we can relate to one of his students instead. That’s brilliant!

There was a point when I felt bad for him and for his students, too. Sedaris somehow became the protagonist and the antagonist and his students played villains and victims. He gives us just the right amount of detail to picture him (right down to his briefcase) and enough detail, physically and emotionally, on each of his students to picture each of them staring back at him. In one way or another, through his characters, this story becomes relatable to just about everyone. Additionally, he pays close attention to his own arc in the story. He starts out a little cocky and then falls from grace. We see all of his insecurities and we can see and judge his mistakes and along the way he himself does the same. Eventually he figures it out and succeeds.

The only thing this was missing for me from his experience in the workshop was the actual critique portion and how that transpired in his classroom. He tells us his thoughts on critiquing (he says whoever designed the workshops “struck the perfect balance between sadism and masochism.”) but he never gets overly detailed about the process. But I can’t help but think that may simply be because Sedaris was more concerned with being critiqued and letting us know how he felt than in critiquing his students and/or in watching them critique each other. In a way, it was like he was saying that he only really knows and can speak honestly about how he feels about the situation and if we want to know how they felt, then we’d have to ask them.

In The Learning Curve, Sedaris invites us into a personal side of himself and he shows and tells us more than what “normal” people would dare show and tell. He sets aside any sort of pretense or shield one might have when discussing our views of ourselves, specifically our skills and abilities, and he puts all of his insecurities out on the table for everyone to see and judge.

I absolutely loved this story. I felt connected to it and to all of its characters, including Sedaris and his students. I felt like I was learning along with them and experiencing their trials and tribulations, as if I was actually one of the characters in the story. I felt invested in what happened. The story kept my attention and kept me laughing from start to finish, too.

Sedaris doesn’t seem to care what others might think or say about him; he just puts it all out there, blurting at times, and then lets the experience speak for itself. He lets us decide what’s weird, embarrassing and/or shameful. The fact that he’s not embarrassed to reveal such things makes him charming, I think, and his point of view personable and it’s what makes me feel connected to him and really love reading his essays. I want to know what else he’ll reveal and even more than the content I want to know how he’ll reveal it. It’s safe to say it’ll always be with some level of humor, but there are varying degrees of emotion and sentimentality there, too.

After reading The Learning Curve, I wonder how many new teachers feel like children playing teacher on that first day of school. Sedaris struck a chord here and it’s one that goes beyond the classroom. In truth, don’t we all feel like we’re faking it at one point or another?

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

Flea Diddy

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The other night I had a dream in which my husband, Jason, brought home a dog and we named him Flea Diddy. I told him about the dream when I woke up and we both laughed. I thought it was so randomly funny that I told a few friends in conversation and I even posted it on Facebook and a friend replied, “You dream in humor, nice.”

It was rather nice. Not all of them are. I have my fair share of nightmares but usually I’m quite fond of my dreams. They are such a wonderful part of life. Don’t you agree? In a completely relaxed state, we get to visualize ourselves being and doing and achieving all sorts of magnificent things.

Sometimes, my dreams are funny.  This time, yes. I laughed a long time over Flea Diddy. Awake, I even came up with a name for his kitty sidekick: Fluff Daddy.

But, like I said, I have a variety of different types of dreams…

Happy. Sad. Occasionally scary (especially if I eat pepperoni). Hyper.Playful. Exciting. Romantic. Sexy. Sexier. Pornographic. Weird. Supernatural. Fun. Futuristic. Adventurous. Childish. Black and white and/or color, depending on the genre. Just me or featuring friends, family, strangers—sometimes with feet and sometimes without. Vivid. Interesting. Musical. Informative. Inexplicable. Random. Not so random. Memories. De ja vue. Even predictive.

I believe dreams are a connection to our subconscious. At times, my subconscious can be pretty intense. It would have to be with so much fact and fiction being simultaneously digested in there. Awake, I can tell the difference between reality and one of my novels but I’m not sure my dreams can separate the two. So whether it’s real or make believe, if it’s floating round in my brain somewhere, chances are I have or I’m going to eventually dream about it.

I’ve even learned to use my dreams to help my writing. When I get writer’s block, I’ll often opt to take a nap to break through it. Usually this works. I have had numerous literary revelations while zonked out and slobbering on my pillow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night ready to write with enough detailed inspiration that I was able to do so for hours. I have instantaneously gone from a sound sleep in the dead of night to wide awake and was still typing away while watching the sun rise.

One bad part is that I talk in my sleep so even if I don’t remember a particular dream when I wake up, chances are my husband will. He can tell you stories! He has a few favorites—one about a “cantaloupe juggling machine,” for example. I have some pretty interesting, and at times crazy, dreams. Don’t we all? This has been going on for as long as I can remember. My college roommate has a few choice selections of her own that she would be happy to share. I’m sure my mom probably does, too.

Since I usually remember my dreams even without assistance, I try to get the most out of them as possible. I definitely refer to ideas from dreams in my writing and even in everyday conversation. I love talking about dreams, mine and yours, and especially the really juicy ones!  I’ve made it a point to write mine down whenever possible or jot notes here and there so that I don’t forget the really good ones.

Over time, my dreams have become clearer and crisper and, to me, more interesting and useful. I’ve even subscribed to a few dream sequels and a dream series or two. To get myself to continue a really good dream, I just focus on whatever it is I want to dream about while in bed and when I start to drift away, I visualize and try to control the topic. It’s like sleepy time meditation or setting my dream DVR.

While I can’t always control my dreams or my inspiration for my dreams, I can control what I do with them. I believe dreams are a special gift we all have been given to use however we wish. We can use them to dive deeper into our own minds and learn more about ourselves or we can use them for entertainment purposes only. Personally, I like to do a little of both.

I’m not sure if Flea Diddy, the dog of my dreams, will work his way into one of my stories. But it was certainly nice dreaming about him and analyzing what he and the rest of my dreams mean to me.

“L” is for Lyla

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Every time we pass a big yellow school bus on the street, my 2-yr-old daughter, Lyla, gets thrilled and says, “Mommy, look a schoo bus!” Sometimes she even waves to it and says “hi, schoo bus!” or “bye, schoo bus!” She leaves off the “L” at the end and, to me, that makes it even cuter.

Lyla is my inspiration for going back to school to get my MFA in Creative Writing.

I want her to believe me when I tell her again and again that she can do whatever she sets her mind to and she can become anything she wants to be. That’s what my mom used to tell me. In fact, she still tells me that and I still have no reason to doubt her. So I will teach Lyla the same. I want her to be confident and proud of herself and of her talents, skills and achievements. I want her to understand that no challenge is too big when commitment and hard work are involved. I will tell her that when all else fails, it’s OK to try harder or to try something else. But never stop trying! And most importantly, never stop believing in yourself. We are only limited by our desire to dream and our willingness to believe in ourselves.

She is looking forward to someday being big enough to ride together with the other kids on the schoo bus to the big kids’ schoo where I’m sure she’ll probably learn all about that missing “L.” I’ve been warned that I might cry when that day comes. Maybe so but for now, I plan to simply cherish my time with her as I try my best to teach her whatever I can and help her learn and grow and believe in herself.

To do that effectively, I must continue to learn and grow and believe in myself, too.

So I’m back in schoo.

And even though I don’t get to ride the wondrous yellow bus, I couldn’t be more excited about the journey. So far I’m absolutely loving every second of it.

From time to time, I plan to post some of my projects here on the blog. That way we can share the experience and you can let me know your thoughts on how I’m doing! You can even grade me if you like. Now doesn’t that sound fun?

xoxo

My (Other) First Born

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In addition to several other projects I’m simultaneously working on at the moment, I’ve also been overhauling my first novel… again.

Let’s just say the third time wasn’t so charming but it’s getting there.

It’s a work in progress and while the progress keeps progressing, it also somehow keeps starting over at page one. I’m getting dizzy.

Still, I tell myself that every edit, revision, chopped sentence and tossed page brings me and my manuscript(s) closer to the ultimate goal but the process is challenging. I’m learning and growing so much and I know that that’s evident in my writing. It’s also evident that I’ve been working my ass off.

In the past month alone, I’ve cut over 30,000 words in this particular novel. Gone but not forgotten but buh-bye. I’ve replaced those words with 30,000 different words (there may have been a few repeats). Compared to the first draft (the one I finished writing, or thought I’d finished writing, four years ago), it’s a totally different story. My other novels have been changing, too, as have I.

I’ve killed characters, created new ones, changed the plot, the themes, the pace and the point. The term chop-chop means something entirely different to me these days. A close friend of mine who is also a writer recently asked me if all the chopping hurts. “Isn’t it painful?” she said. Nope, not any more. If it’s not right, then it’s not right. Every change brings me  another step closer. If I truly believe that, then time spent wallowing over chopped words is wasted time.

I’m so close… I can taste it.

And, yet, I’m only about halfway there… give or take a few thousand words.

At times, it has seemed like I’m in a foreign country, climbing a huge mountain without a guide. Will I ever get to appreciate the view from the top? I hope so but I won’t know for sure until I get there… if/when I get there. But one thing that I know for sure is that I can’t stop now. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I can feel it in every aspect of my being. This is my mountain to climb.

While I’ve never considered giving up, I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been moments when I’ve found myself procrastinating and making excuses to do anything else…

I’m a full time mom and writer. Believe me; I have plenty of other things to do and other projects to work on. But everything else leads me back.

I eat, sleep, breathe my writing and this one project in particular owns me… for now. It’s an all-consuming, mind altering, life changing, soul destroying beast that I love with all my heart. I have other manuscripts, both completed and in progress, but this one was/is my first. You know how that goes.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what drug addicts feel like.

People often compare writing a novel to giving birth. Having done both, I can certainly feel the correlation. So, going with the same analogy, the process of overhauling a novel must be like raising that child… over and over again…

Like I said, this is my fourth overhaul of my first manuscript. This time around has been the hardest but also the most rewarding.

Even though I’m in the heart of it now, I’m certain it’s my best writing thus far. The beginning and the end changed organically. All of it just flowed out of me, no epidural needed. But now I’m writing the middle and the middle has been like a toddler having a never-ending tantrum in a supermarket… the spine chilling, stomach curdling kind that tends to get passively blamed on the terrible twos when the culprit is far more likely three sixes and a pound of sugar.

I’m trying to juggle ideas and character nuances while keeping the story and timeline straight. I’m fighting the confusion, even though I’m easily on my fourth (or is it my fifth?) beginning and ending and the middle, well, this must be at least my tenth middle my now.

The word count goes up and down while my manuscript continues to transform and my brain vomits sentences into a pile of paragraphs which somehow manifest themselves into consecutive pages.

There are times when this feels like it’s taking forever and other times when I lament that my (other) first born is growing so fast. Where has the time gone?

I promise to hang in there and keep giving it my all but God help me if this one takes 18 years to move out of the house.

Check that. God help my husband.

Light and Love

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK, Jr.

This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, of which there are many. But this one, to me, transcends all issues, big and small.

Even though tomorrow is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the Unites States, today is his birthday. As a tribute to an amazing man who worked hard to teach us so many amazing lessons, let’s continue spreading his message of light and love. And just like you make resolutions at the turn of the New Year; why not resolve right now to be the change you want to see in the world? We’ve all heard that saying. Well, it’s time to live it.

What can I say about MLK, Jr. that hasn’t already been said? Arguably one of the most profound prophets the world has ever seen, his words are forever poignant. He was an amazing leader and teacher as well as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, implementers of positive change.

You may not agree. You might even say, “But, Val, there have been so many awesome implementers of positive change, how can you possibly pick a #1?” True. And while I’m sure there will eventually be a  VH1 Greatest Implementers of Positive Change Countdown, I’m not sure who’d make the #1 spot on the list, or if I’d even agree with whomever got picked (I sure as hell haven’t agreed with all their #1s), BUT there is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. made our world a better place. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

But we can’t simply rest on his laurels, no matter how awesome those laurels may have been. Our lives and our world are ever changing. And I believe (no pun intended) that if we keep King’s positive message in our minds and in our hearts, the changes we experience and implement will be positive, too.

While challenging at times, change is good. It’s healthy. It’s necessary. It teaches us that even though we are humans who make mistakes, we do not have to live and die by those mistakes or by the errors of our ancestors. We can always correct mistakes of the past, make adjustments to the present and fix our future.

Each of us, at times, fears change. And that’s natural, or so I’ve heard. But in order to succeed, whether that success is competitive or creative, some sort of change must take place to achieve it. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re changing, but we are. Other times, we have to work really hard to see even the slightest progress. But whenever we implement change or simply embrace the changes that are taking place in our lives and in the world around us, we become stronger and that, in and of itself, is progress.

We need to keep moving forward by actively seeking new ways to strengthen our minds, our bodies and our souls. The knowledge and strength we nurture now is the foundation on which we build our future. Positive change takes commitment, drive and determination. It takes work. Positive change promotes prosperity and we all want that. So look to the positive.

Even when that feels like an unbearable burden, when the weight of the world is pressing down upon our shoulders and we feel alone, there is still hope. We just need to open our eyes and be willing to see it and share it. When hope is not so easy to see, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In those times, we need to believe–in ourselves and in each other.

Maybe we’re not looking hard enough or in the right place. Maybe we need to alter our perspective or open our minds. Or maybe we need the love and support of a friend to help us see it. Or perhaps it is our destiny to create it.

We need to embrace change. Not only because it’s healthy and because it helps us to grow, but because it is necessary and inevitable. The world is going to continue to change with or without us. We might as well find our niche and be a part of it. Live. Love. Learn. Right?

You and I are the light and the love that Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about. We can promote hope and positive change by thinking with our hearts. We should be doing something every day to help those around us and lift each other up. It won’t take long for that positive energy to spread. We all know that even the smallest gesture can start a chain reaction. A smile. A hug. A kiss. A handshake. A kind word. These things may seem insignificant. But they’re not.

How often are you affected by such simple things? Unfortunately it works both ways, on the positive and negative sides of the spectrum. Just as a smile is contagious, so is a frown. A gesture of gratitude can make your morning, the same as an insult or rude remark can ruin your whole day.

Why not make a conscious effort to promote the positive?

Do something positive — big or small. But do something!

I can’t think of a better way to honor the life of a man who gave so much to the good of humanity. Our humanity. Even though he is gone, his legacy lives on and his words and actions continue to make a difference.

Your spirit, your words and your actions can make a difference, too. They already do – every day. Maybe you don’t see it. But it’s true. And just like hope and change, the world needs you. You are here for a reason. You may not have it all figured out yet. Then again, who does? But you and I are more than just cogs in a machine. We are crucial. Our purpose is palpable.

Let’s work together to change the world.

Light and love.