Saturday, February 28, 2009

Getting Older and Cheetos and Kings of Leon

I'm 41. Forteeeeee-waaaahhhhhnnnn! My birthday was back in November, so don't go wishing me happy birthday. But, my husband's bday was Friday and that got me to thinking. Thinking about getting older. It's a weird, weird thing. Kinda like Cheetos - they taste so good, with their bright orange cheese-a-liscious powder, crunchy puffs of...well, I'm not exactly sure what those crunchy puffs are. A pure, American junk food complete with residual orange finger tips. Glorious Side A.

Side A of getting older is also glorious because you're GETTING OLDER. You know the alternative - not so glorious. Being alive is a good thing. You get to be present with the ones you love and hug them and kiss them and hear their voice and see them. All really good things. Being alive means you get to eat warm brownies and build a snowman with your boys and crank the Kings of Leon in your car and feel sand beneath your feet and laugh till tears come from your eyes and write books. Again, all really, really good things ~ all as yummy as the cheesy-goodness of a freshly opened bag of Cheetos.

Ah, but if we have Side A, we must have Side B.

Side B sucks.

Back to the Cheetos. Side B of Cheetos is fairly simple. They are filled with ingredients I can't pronounce which make them toxic and oh so bad for the human body. And speaking of human bodies, that is my Side B of getting older. I long for my 21 year old physique...my pre babies body. The body that could eat crap like Cheetos & ice cream & cheeseburgers and still be a size 6. Another Side B of getting older is when 21 year olds look at me as 'old'. It is such a strange experience because I remember being 21 and thinking 40 year olds were, like, so old. And now I am the 40+year old and I so want to politely explain, "I'm really not that old. You'll see. I swear." But I don't want to scare the nice 21 year olds.

I guess the moral of the story is:

Just eat the freakin' Cheetos because you're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dancing in the Dining Room ~ An Essay on Sisterhood & Sadness

If you didn't read my last post - go ahead and read that before you read below. It'll make a lot more sense if you do. I promise. Really.


Dancing in the Dining Room
By: K.M. Walton
Written Summer 2006

Sometimes I cry at television commercials. You know the one where the little girl runs in the screen door to her daddy and runs out a bride, it’s about financial planning but it is still jerks a tear from my eyes. I’m sitting at my dining room table having lunch, television on in the background, when the Southwest Airlines tag line “You are now free to move about the country,” brings me to tears.

Lately airline commercials get to me. Any commercial with an airplane will do… straight to waterworks. They remind me that I’m about to lose my sister Christina and her husband Iain to an airplane. Airplanes usually make people excited because an adventure waits. This time I’m not going on the adventure. I’m staying at home, waiting for things to go back to normal and yet

I know deep down that they never will.

Normal. I’m not sure if that word works here - even “regular” falls short. Was it normal to dance in your dining room? Who dances in their dining room? Aren’t dining rooms for china and linen and being proper? My dining room was typical in appearance. Six chairs, dining table, china cabinet and chandelier helped to make it an ordinary American dining room. Thanksgiving dinner had been passed across my table many times. Birthday cakes cut and wishes made, all normal. It had windows and walls, artwork and curtains, normal, normal, normal.

Don’t let its typical appearance fool you though, this room has a soul. My dining room’s transformation was slow and subtle. It always started with an invitation; it helped move things along and got things going. We called Christina and Iain, the catalysts for fun. They arrived with bags and hellos and so began the changes.

Music was always part of the room’s transformation. The band Coldplay’s song “Trouble,” a main component. It could be Damien Rice or Badly Drawn Boy it really didn’t matter as long as there was music. Music acted like water to a seed and the room thirsted for it to make its transformation. Slow and easy quickly progressed to Madonna or the Chili Peppers. A chair got moved out of the way, then another was moved, space was needed. Usually I’d turn down the lights adding to the metamorphosis. The darkness helped the dining room fall asleep; the dance floor was about to open.

“How can you sit down?” I’d say, actually forcing, the last final touch, the dancing. My husband Todd would then join me and the night would really begin. Judgment never happened, allowing new dance moves to make appearances, adding to the power of the room, each new move fed the magic. There has been a soundtrack to the past three years of dancing in my dining room. Certain songs needed to be played or the night wasn’t right or satisfying. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” joined the soundtrack this past year.

“I’m just beginning, the pen in my hand, ending unplanned…” she’d sing. That song would be played at least once during the dancing sessions. I used to love that song for the music, Natasha’s voice, when the church choir joins her at the end – all great reasons.

Now the song has changed for me, evolved into something more personal. When she sings, “Reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it, release your inner visions, feel the rain on your skin, no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in,” I can’t help but think of my sister and how much I’m going to miss her.

I usually love change; in fact I embrace it at every opportunity. Moving, new jobs, having children, none of it unwelcome. Change excites me and keeps me moving forward. But those are changes I have invited into my life. When Christina and Iain delivered the news of their move to Australia it was like being rear ended while you patiently wait your turn at the stop sign.

It stole my breath and left me with damages, my “ending unplanned.”

I am not without sympathy; I mean Iain is from Australia. His family is there awaiting his return. It was always the plan to go live there for a few years. A few years here however is all it took for Iain to become my husband’s best friend. My youngest sister Christina and I on the other hand have been best friends since she was born. Even though she is eight years my junior, our sisterhood began with immediate love. I loved being her older sister.

I proudly pushed her around in the Acme shopping cart believing people would think she was my baby. My arms were the ones outstretched when she took her first steps in our front yard. Our lives and milestones continued and we shared them together.

She is a very easy person to love, always smiling, so approachable and funny. One night in the dining room her curly hair bounced as she imitated me doing the 90’s dance phenomenon – the Running Man. She included every exaggerated body motion possible as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” blared from the speakers: the pursed lips, the flailing arms, her head jerking backwards and of course the legs running. We laughed hard, at her and with her. Her sense of humor is goofy and easy to appreciate.

I can’t remember ever arguing with her, no need, we see eye to eye on the big things. Christina doesn’t like to argue, she’s too emotional, too kind. Her big brown eyes fill easily with tears if someone else is upset or crying. I can always count on Christina for real empathy like the feel of your mom’s gentle hand as she took yours before crossing the street; you could count on it, it felt right and natural. Empathy comes naturally for her, which is a gift when you need someone who really understands you.

She is a gift, one I don’t want to let go of just yet. My letting go started this past November at her wedding. The pride I felt at the Acme all those years ago resurfaced as I proudly watched her walk up the aisle to marry Iain. Now my arms outstretch to hug her each time she comes over for a weekend of fun in the dining room. Those moments, those discussions, those slices of magic are precious to me. Moments when I can’t catch my breath from laughing as tears roll down my cheeks are moments of family, but they are memories now.

I know a lot of dining rooms provide families with a place to come together and make memories. But my dining room just might be the most fun dining room ever. My dining room goes further, providing the space for happiness. Breathing life into those moments is a gift I’ll treasure from my dining room. I love what’s been created there. Those dining room weekends are the most fun I’ve had in my whole life.

Without Christina and Iain my dining room will feel empty. They are two of the main ingredients; the cake won’t rise without them. We have new webcams, special phones and promises. We have promises of them coming home in a few years. We have promises of trips to visit down under. I’m not sure I believe any of it.

I know that an era is coming to a close. My dining room is going to be quiet for a while. It needs to sleep. I need to sleep. I can’t wake it up because it’s too sad, no fun anymore.

I don’t want to dance in my dining room without Christina and Iain, it won’t be right and the dining room would know it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sisters in Australia

My youngest sister Christina married a wickedly cool guy, Iain, and he's an Aussie. So, they moved there summer of '06. Christina - the adventurer - went willingly. We sent them off drenched in tears and squeezed them as tightly as we could. Good news though, they're happy, they're surrounded by his wonderful family and friends, they're going to have their first baby.


Super exciting times. But, it gets sooooooooo much better my blogtastic friends. Sooooo much better.

I knew I was going to get to Oz this summer to celebrate the birth of their first child. Come hell or high water. I was going. Then my husband wanted in. Then my two sons got wind and wanted to go back. The four of us went the summer of '07 and holy mother of god it was incredible.

I started watching airline ticket prices - and they were slowly coming down. Once they reached a ridiculously low amount I sent an email out to my other two sisters trying to get them to jump in and get there too. The four sisters in Australia. WILD.

One sister said she couldn't get off of work. The other said money was too tight. Dammit. No sisters in Australia.

But then, and this is the goooooood part, then, my sister Nikole swooped in and offered to lend my other sister the ticket money so she and my nephew could go. How cool is that move? And then she got off from work - so she could go as well. We were back to the four sisters in Australia. WILD.

All of us got our tickets the end of this week. Done deal. We're all going.

We are going to have the best time being together.
P.S. my next post, I'll share the piece I wrote right before Chrissy and Iain moved to Australia. It's called Dancing in the Dining Room.
Christina, Nikole, Meghan & Me
On the Ocean City Board Walk - Summer 2008

Friday, February 13, 2009

NOT Your Standard Valentine's Post

This ain't gonna be a peppy, red-heart and glitter post. You see, thinking of love makes me think of my dad, who died at the age of 50 in 1997, from cancer. And I think of how much I miss him...how much I love him. I told you this won't be the standard, run o' the mill, love post.

Another thing, this is the first time I'm ever sharing anything I've written. I know, the blog is writing. I get that. But, I mean, something other than my blog entries.

I wrote this piece the summer after he died while I was in a Pennsylvania Writing Project graduate class called, Teacher as Writer - hands down, it was my favorite grad class ever. I have definitely grown as a writer, hopefully gotten better. However, I can't seem to bring myself to revise this piece. It stands as written.

Alright, it's gonna be a loooooong post. I'd say grab a drink, a coffee, whatever. Hope you like it. And long live love and dads. Even flawed ones.

SECRET LESSON

My attic is not empty on the contrary it is full of my past, boxes and crates full of my past. I keep a lot of ridiculously important things. No one else understands the importance of saving the pebble I nervously played with during my first “real” kiss. That meaningful peace of stone lives with my cream polyester eighth grade graduation dress and my Yoda pencil box. Reminiscing as I hold my crunchy soph hop corsage in one hand and my It’s a GIRL cigar from when I was born in the other I spy a box of eight teeth I had pulled before my braces went on in 1978. Opening the small plastic box reveals another piece of my past. My braid I proudly wore as the ever popular “tail” in the 80’s, still braided and looking like all it needs is a little superglue and a neck to call home again also lives in that plastic box. Odd I know, but I just can’t seem to part with what I mistily call “my life’s memorabilia” and my husband simply calls JUNK.

Going through my keepsakes forced something amazing to occur to me, the reason I have the peculiar desire to save all of life’s trinkets can be blamed on my father. As a little girl I vividly remember playing with my father’s memorabilia. I naively thought of it as “daddy’s stuff” – the miniature camera that really used to work, the small worn out box filled with boy scout pins and patches and the little guy made out of a roll of lifesavers – but they were my father’s memories, his treasures tucked neatly into his night table drawer.

Being little also meant that my daddy still communicated with me, on my level by being silly and playing “pile on the tickle monster” – my three sisters and I would pile every loose table cloth, bed covering and towel on top of my father – you name it, if it wasn’t in the safety of a closet or a drawer it was fair game for the pile. He would lay perfectly still on the living room floor buried under what in my memory seemed like Mt. Everest, and then slowly he would emerge unleashing the ferocious tickle creature. We screamed and carried on as the beast from the pile used his paws of laughter on each of us. That was my daddy – and I loved him.

As my body rebelled against me growing unfamiliar oddities all over it, I secretly played with my father’s night table treasures, spreading them out on his bedroom carpet enjoying their “oldness.” I would try to imagine my father playing with his tiny camera, wondering what kind of pictures he took as a child. Those thoughts always left me feeling safe.

It would be nice and flowery to tell you that we had the perfect father/daughter relationship but the reality was that we did not. I now had a training bra and opinions and my father shut down. I no longer squealed “DADDEEEEEEE IS HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” while running and doing a perfect 10.0 spring board jump into his arms. My teenage voice would nonchalantly mutter, “Hi dad” sometimes an hour after he’d been home. He no longer connected emotionally with me. My choice of conversation was either an argument or a stale verbal exchange like, “Where are my scissors?!” or “Unpack the dishwasher please.” My mom would always say, “He does love you in his own weird way.” Those words of intended encouragement confused my teenage mind. The confusion led to frustration and I began to construct the brick wall – the one that separated my father and me.

I blamed him for the father he wasn’t. I wanted to spend hours talking to him about who I was and what my dreams were. I wanted his advice, from a guy’s point of view, to help me as I skipped through the landmines of adolescence. I wanted tight hugs to reassure me and silence my self doubts. I wanted compliments forcing me to feel beautiful even with my frizzy hair and braces. I wanted the dad from Sixteen Candles.
As I grew into an adult I needed more, I wanted phone calls filled with deep connecting discussion and short little “just checking on you” calls too. I wanted
invitations to visit and go places with him. Basically, I wanted all that he wasn’t. However, strangely enough, I think that silent teenage ritual of inspecting his night table treasures fulfilled one of my needs, the need to be connected to him and I unknowingly followed in his footsteps.

I still vividly remember saving my first piece of personal history. My thirteen year old hand, excited with sweat, clutched the one end of a neon green light stick as my red headed freckle faced dream boy held onto the other. We clumsily skated round and round Skate Odyssey to Springsteen’s Hungry Heart. How in the world could I have tossed that glowing wand from my passionately romantic “couples skate”? That was only the beginning of my collection. I began to gather and store, slowly amassing, slowly living, slowly growing up.

In retrospect there was nothing slow about growing up, my childhood quickly escaped me, my life pushed forward. We were moving into our first house and my husband threatened to “go through” my boxes of memorabilia to help me get rid of the junk. I sweetly informed him that I would “go through” my boxes and crates, secretly never expecting to do anything but go through them.

Spreading out my life onto the bedroom floor I reluctantly made one painful decision after another. Should I keep the label from my first beer with the words, “drank with Sue while mom and dad were away” scrawled on the back by my ninth grade hand, or the Empire Strikes Back movie ticket stub from my twenty seventh time? These were tough questions.

My mounds gradually evolved into “husband approved” piles. I have to admit, some of the things I tossed were just objects – I couldn’t even remember what they were,
who they came from or why I had saved them. However, I still cringed as they were lovingly placed in the tall kitchen garbage bag; why I don’t know. Possibly, because to me, it was like throwing out one of your ears just because it got in the way of your new headband - crazy and unnecessary. I began to wonder if my dad ever had to go through this living hell, this ungodly torture, this emotional tidal wave, this rip your heart out and stomp on it with high heels kind of pain, this, this, this overwhelming feeling of loss. I wondered if he had had to make choices and consolidate his life into two neat boxes.

Soon after the move my life took a turn. The kind of , “Dukes of Hazzard” turn where the car has two wheels firmly on the ground while the other two wheels are dangerously up in the air. Sickness, birth and death all arrived simultaneously – oh the joys of life. The birth of my first child and my father’s diagnosis of cancer occurred within two weeks of each other. I shed more tears than Tammy Fay on a bad day; tears of joy, tears of fear, tears of anger and tears of happiness.

Close to the end, my father gave me his night table treasures, one of them being my birth announcement cigar. He fought for eight grueling months and slowly lost the battle on October 25, 1997. These events forced me to take a deep look at my father. What had I learned from him? What I realized was that I had spent years being angry with my dad for all that he wasn’t, this of course blinded me to all that he was.

He was a sentimental man who took countless photographs and movies of my family, because he wanted to. He was a man who could fix, build, design and repair anything, a true gift. He loved to read Steven King or Tom Clancy and he passed that love onto me. He was a man who did love me but didn’t know how to love me. He was a man whose deep feelings lived in what he saved. He was a man who moved slowly through his life weighing his choices with precision.

Everything in today’s world is so fast, so use it now and get rid of it, disposable this, disposable that. I long for the days when memories lived in the safety of a night table drawer or the warmth of an attic. Do we even have attics today? Is it so wrong to keep the junk that makes up our past? Doesn’t it keep us all connected to who we once were and what our dreams were as children? These things are the proof we need that we were cool, we did dance, and make out, and have a mowhawk, and aspire to be an archaeologist who sings opera in here spare time.

Unknowingly I learned that life’s trinkets are for the keeping from a man I did love. My father taught me to save the sweet little things for the future when life gets challenging. His miniature camera no longer took photographs, its job was promoted to touchable memory, a memory forced to take up space and be – not just live in the fragile mind. By saving my birth announcement cigar he saved a living snapshot for himself, to pull out and enjoy whenever he needed it.

You know what dad – I do the same exact thing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Querying Stats

84 queries sent to date

8 new queries sent today (my son is home sick & I needed something to fill the time)

45 official rejections (the rejections on the fulls hurt worse than a high-school break-up)

4 partials still out

1 full still out

74 = times I've re-visited, revised, re-written my opening chapter

3 = boxes of band-aids blown-through to cover fingers while writing/querying

7,999 = times I've checked my email for agent responses

3 = times I've felt really, really, really hopeful that things were going to end well for me

3 = times I've had that really, really, really hopeful feeling squashed like a bug

329 = times I told myself it just would take time, but inside I'd tell myself it was never gonna happen. My self is a double-personality bitch.

100,000+ = times people I love told me to be patient and it would happen for me (I love the people I love)

*note, except for query stats, all other numbers are a dramatic guestimation and are in full compliance with my disorder, overlydramatosis.

Friday, February 6, 2009

SCBWI Writer's Conference Day 3. The End

Day three started with a speech from middle grade author, Bruce Hale. He was cheeky, entertaining and chock full of stories and tips. And he sang. For real.

He said, "Hit it maestro!" and then sang Nature Boy. A jazzy, peppy version, but full-on, real-deal singing. Entertaining.

Then...

Dun...dun...dun...

THE AGENTS PANEL

Four agents, Michael Bourret, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Edward Necarsulmer IV and Michael Stearns sat up on that blue draped, man-made stage and had 1,056 writers and illustrators hanging on their ever word, breath, laugh and sigh. Oh the power. I could feel the unmitigated longing. The whole room seemed to lean forward when they spoke. Me included.

They regaled us with their incredible accomplishments and tales of their histories, their agencies, their wants, desires...

I listened and learned and desired each of them, in a purely writerly way.

Someday. Someday. Someday. I WILL have an agent. Someday. Someday. Someday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

SCBWI Writer's Conference Day 2...

DAY 2

Saturday started out great. The lovely woman from Switzerland, Sandra, sought me out during the coffee and bagels and said the nicest things about my writing. We ended up sitting together for the opening of the day. We learned some stats about the size of the conference.

Astounding:
1,056 attended
890 women
166 men
15 countries were represented
47 states were represented

The opening speaker was a really talented, really energetic, really funny, new, young writer. His name was Jarrett Krosoczka and he's written some wildly popular picture books (Punk Farm, and others). HE WAS HYSTERICAL. When you click on his name, watch the short movie he wrote and directed - tears were coming from my eyes.

After laughing my head off I went through my three break-out sessions with three various publishing editors. Each editor filled my head with tons of new knowledge and industry information. Took tons and tons of notes.

All 1,056 of us ate together in the enormous ballroom and our table shared the gory details from our break-out sessions. Would they let us submit? Till when? How much? What were they looking for? What did they hate? Love? etc...

After lunch we had another guest speaker, Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why. He shared his unbelievable journey to publication. The man worked his tail off since 1994! He is finally experiencing a tremendous amount of success and holy crap does he deserve it. What a dedicated and driven and talented man.

Walked to McDonalds and got a salad. Lame-o, I know. But the salad was good. I had beautiful, grandiose plans of writing all weekend till the wee hours of the morn. Finishing my current WIP. Using my kid-free nights to create and write and write and write.

I was in bed and asleep by 8:00 p.m. Again, lame-o, I know.

Day 3...