#Creative #Children, #Writing #Friends, and a New #Publishing #Adventure

Let’s start with something sweet, shall we?

Matching shirt day!

Blondie finished the school year with a straight-A report card. She was particularly proud of her last story for writing class: “The Invention that Changed the Chicken World.” It’s a suspenseful tale of action and intrigue as Zach, a lowly chicken residing on a dairy farm on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, discovers that special rocks from the volcano will help him build a jet pack. He successfully builds a model only to be discovered by a nefarious squirrel…well here, you read it:

Little did Zach know that two sinister eyes were watching from the trees. Later Zach was walking back to the coop when suddenly, a squirrel jumped in the way! He was wearing an eyepatch on his right eye! Worst of all, he was pointing a GUN AT HIM!!!

“Gimme your rocks, sonny. Then you can have anything you want,” said the squirrel calmly.

“What do you want with MY rocks? Go get your own!” shouted Zach. The squirrel leaped at him, took the rocks, adn sprinted away. Chickens, you might say, aren’t very fast. Zach, however, was just the opposite. Zach ran like a lightning bolt and caught up with the squirrel and took the rocks.

Blondie, “The Invention that Changed the Chicken World”

The tale continues, but Blondie refuses to read it out loud for me, the stinker. 🙂 Her story was such a hit with Biff and Bash that Biff even started his own story:

“a chick who makes a space ship”

Blondie’s promised us all more stories about Zach the chicken this summer, and I’m excited to see Biff truly enjoy drawing and writing. Bash, meanwhile, is turning out some amazing creations with Lego; even we will set them apart so that no one else can wreck them.

The little droids meet Chopper and Orgo. Orco. Or-something.

Next week the boys will finish their school year with an end-of-year party at the carnival on the edge of town–the one that leaves its bones bare to the winter months, and where Biff fell from a platform and took a steel girder to the head.

You can imagine how excited I am for all of this.

GIF appropriately from Kindergarten Cop

But even though the kids are wrapping up their school year, my current term at the university has a ways to go. Plus, I’ve taken on a new job as substitute teaching aid at another town’s school district. It’ll help the family income, plus it gives me a chance to work with kids aged 4-18. If I want to write for these people, I should probably, you know, hang out with them’n’stuff…

(Side Question: Why the heck does anyone think four-year-olds can learn to walk on stilts? These kids can barely remember to use a kleenex, let alone tie shoes, and we trust them to walk with GIANT METAL RODS?!)

Ahem.

Anyway.

Let’s move on to the lousy news next.

In January of 2018 I announced Aionios Books would be publishing my novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen.

The plans had been to publish the entire series over the course of a few years, starting with Books 1 and 2 to come out pretty close to each other. We individually published six short stories over the summer and fall to help promote the first novel, and on October 31, 2018, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen hit the shelves.

Well. You might have noticed the second novel’s not out yet.

The folks at Aionios Books chose not to continue with my series.

Am I bummed? Of course I am. It feels like that moment in A Fistful of Dollars when Clint’s caught by the baddies after helping a girl escape. They beat him to a pulp, taking extra care to cripple his shooting hand. One look at him, and you’d think he’s a goner.

Only he’s not. He manages to escape despite his injuries and hides away in an old mine. Over the course of his recovery, he slowly, surely, tenaciously, teaches himself to shoot with his other hand.

Yeah, I may be down, but I’m a professional, dammit. It’s a wild world out there in indie publishing, and every fighter’s got to do what he/she can to survive. Aionios made the call they felt was best for them. So, we just need to do our own parts in helping Fallen Princeborn: Stolen stay alive while also adventuring off in our own directions.

In my case…well, first I’m learning to shoot with the other hand.

Publishing solo.

This means I’ve got to do a complete overhaul of my platform: website, social media, the whole kit’n’caboodle. Don’t be surprised if a link’s down one day and up the next–we’re talking years’ worth of posts to revise.

I intend to rework and re-release my six short stories of Tales in the River Vine.

I’m also excited to publish a new tale, a tale that hearkens to those wild days of territories stitched with railways and bounty hunters ready to kill for a few dollars more…

“Between you and me, I doubt they’ve got the know-how to outsmart Night’s Tooth.” Sheriff Jensen narrows his eyes at the poster like he could scare it. “No proper description of the man, and a modus operandi as bizarre as hell.”

“Why bizarre?” Sumac pulls the poster from its pin and stares thoughtfully at Night Tooth’s name.

Now the sheriff goes all quiet again, thinking. He’s really sizing Sumac up this time, like as not making sure Sumac’s not crazy as a loon. “Because they find bite marks in the rail cars’ walls, that’s why. This man’s got a wolf with him, somethin’ big as a bear and twice as smart.”

That’s a whap Sumac’s not expecting. No doubt his lady employer would have a good laugh over that one. “Well, as I see it, Sheriff, some creatures are born into killin’ like others are into dyin’. I reckon Night’s Tooth is of that first camp, wouldn’t you?”

“And yourself?”

The wind whistle-whines against the glass. Another train cries out from the rails beyond La Crosse’s commercial center.

Sumac smiles. He knows he doesn’t have to answer.

And, God-willing, before 2019 ends I’m going to publish the next installment of the Fallen Princeborn series.

“Charlie.”

The name sucks the air clean out of Charlotte’s mouth. Her lungs shrivel, her mind bleached like bones in the desert—

Someone stands out in the middle of the Wild Grasses. Pale arms hang perfectly still against a sparkly shirt. The breeze plays with red hair too bright to mistake. It carries the scent of bus and berries to Charlotte’s nose and stings her eyes to tears. A pink bubble inflates out of the mouth. Baby blues shine like search lights.

Pop. “I’m still waiting for you, Charlie.” Pop.

The Voice rushes to the bellows within Charlotte, brings air and feeling back to her lungs. One, two, don’t let Orna get to you.

Charlotte heaves a breath as deep as she can. Her legs don’t want to move, she can’t move, but she will move. She forces one foot forward, then another, commands her back to straighten, and she screams, “I know who you really are!” She chews the unsaid words “you bitch!” like gristle, wishing desperately to spit them out at The Lady wearing her sister’s shape like some Halloween costume. But even the shape of Anna forces the hateful speech to stick between Charlotte’s teeth. “Go back to your hole!”

“You should have died in the Pits, Charlie. She’s got something a lot worse planned for you now.”

“’She’?” It was just a tiny word, but its reference jabs the Voice in Charlotte’s heart good’n’hard.

Baby Blues grin like some damn playground secret.

“Don’t fuck with me, Orna.” Charlotte’s walking before she knows it, wading into the Wild Grasses, arms swaying fists, teeth clenched, “You’re the one never leaving this land alive, I swear!”

The berry and bubble gum stink to Charlotte’s nose now, all its pungent sour sweetness driving its way up into her sinuses and stinging behind her eyes.

More and more red hair blows over the Baby Blues, more hair than Anna ever had, and it grows longer, longer. She’s engulfed in hair like some Ginger-fied Cousin It.

Charlotte’s almost close enough to grab a lock and yank it off. “Take my sister off!” She lunges forward—

But Cairine’s teeth close upon Charlotte’s shirt, her nose a sharp chill on Charlotte’s neck. Cairine pulls Charlotte back as a bubble pops under all that impossible hair. A new voice grinds under Anna’s punctuated soprano:

“Let’s not rush. I’m still owed a sweetheart.”

Red hair spins round, tightens, stretches, into a giant red bubble. It floats above the wild grasses and pops to the echoes of girlish laughter.

In the meantime, I’m excited to spend June celebrating my dear friend Anne Clare–she’s releasing her debut novel this summer!

I’ve known Anne for decades, and like me, Anne’s been balancing teaching, family, and her writing life. For years she’s been researching and crafting a story that spans countless miles and years–just like our friendship. xxxxx

I am so, so proud of you, Anne!

I’ll be interviewing Anne and the impeccable James J. Cudney, who has another cozy mystery on its way to bookshelves next month.

What else lies in store? Oh, some world-building craft, methinks, and a study of the incredible Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. I shared one composition of his weeks ago, but it haunts me still. Let this song carry you on its magic into next week, where we sit, and listen, and imagine together.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 27

BEFORE THE KEYNOTE

I’m running around the house doing anything but prepare: laundry, readying kids for school, dishes–

Bo: “Know what you need?”

A sedative. A one-way ticket to Oslo. A chorus of Muppets performing a musical review of Animal Crackers.

“No. You need to go downstairs, breathe in those cinnamon pinecones on your desk, and pull out my copy of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul.”

But I can’t listen to it. It’s not Hot Clarified Butter Soul. Get it? Eeeeh? Get it? Whole30 humor!

Oh I’m going to fail on so many levels…

AFTER KEYNOTE

The opening slide of my keynote presentation! With, um, cover-ups. 🙂

Well…I spoke like a juiced driver on the Daytona track, but I didn’t flub my points or the snippets I read from Stolen and “The Stray.” Thank the Lord I could use my old–slogan?–“Writer of Fantasy and Adventure in Her Own Backyard” to be the theme of my talk. I delved into Wisconsin’s landscape and how it inspired my fiction from little on, and that any writer can create worlds unique to their stories with a little help from the everyday environment around them.

Building the extraordinary out of the ordinary, as it were.

Afterwards, I had many colleagues tell me they felt really excited to explore the favorite places from their own childhoods as I had with mine, and to take a crack at some fantasy fiction of their own.

Gotta admit: I felt proud of that. Relieved, but proud. x

Now I just need to read my nonfiction piece about Blondie without flubbing. Here we go!

AFTER NONFICTION READING

I cried.

No joke.

This moment with Blondie still pulls all those emotions of motherhood to the fore: guilt for writing instead of playing with her, pain for making her feel like work mattered more. Determination to make right, only to have my plans be too “scary” for her. Dammit, I’m going to cry again!

But the one good thing about tears while reading: it gets the listeners all teared up too. So never mind my editing snafus in the piece–I got the whole room cryin’.

Gotta admit, I’m proud of that. Of Blondie, of this day, of all of it, now. For once, I’m going to allow myself to be proud of myself.

Now I just need to survive that interview with the faculty panel tomorrow…

Oh! Before I forget: tomorrow is the LAST day my novel’s on sale for 99 cents. If you know anyone who loves fantasy, be sure to drop this title their way before March runs my sale out of town!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 26

I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be drinking this much orange juice, but if I can’t over drink the coffee and I’ve already burned my tongue on tea, then I’m having OJ, dammit.

This post is the equivalent of me scribbling a note in the lecture hall in the midst of a talk on world-building. Yup–the literary conference of my university is in full-swing. I’m trying to hit as many talks as possible before I have to get the kids, because taking kids into a lecture hall–even a virtual lecture hall–is a pain in the patoot. So far it’s been a nice day, and reminding me that I better practice what the heck I’m saying for an hour, and then making sure I’ve picked the right nonfiction piece to read later in the afternoon.

Noooo pressure, Jean, no pressure.

A little wish of good luck would be deeply appreciated!

In the meantime, I’m digging this post from 2018 out of my pocket because the Oscars had Queen perform, and I do so love that band. Click here and enjoy!

I had this poster hanging up in my dorm room for years. Yes, I was that much of a nerd.

After you read about Queen helping to inspire my novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, don’t forget you can grab the novel for less than a dollar! The short story collection Tales of the River Vine is still free, as is my short story shared exclusively with newsletter subscribers.

Yikes! The workshop ended. Time to find the next e-room. See you tomorrow, folks!

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 25

Ever have your garage door freeze shut? I have!

Luckily a few attempts to open and close it jarred the thing free so I could still get Biff and Bash to school on time.

That early smack of stress, though, got me hittin’ the chamomile-lavender tea before breakfast. It doesn’t help my keynote’s in…48 hours. My final interview for a full-time teaching position is the day after that.

But I’m not complaining about all that again, because I’ve found the right music for a far better, far more productive mood.

Bo put this song along with many others into CDs he’d make for me to play on those long drives between home and graduate school. Now that the kids are into the Blues Brothers, we’ve been tapping the Motown, Blues, and R&B for family drives. Out of all the artists, the Four Tops remain on top for me!

Part of it’s the rhythm, upbeat and steady. How can you not tap your feet to these numbers? Part of it’s the ability to sing along–an excellent sensory distraction to keep anxiety at bay while I grade and prep school stuff.

The biggest part of all? They’re damn good songs.

If you’re feeling a little down today, pick up some Four Tops. Hum and dance those downer thoughts away. Like I tell my students, any step taken forward is one more step completed on the academic journey. For us, it’s the writing journey, mental health journey, parenting journey.

The Life Journey. x

Before you sashay on out of here, don’t forget there’s some fantasy fiction FREE & ON SALE to take you on new roads to adventure! Click here for my Amazon Author Page for more.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 20

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Even though this day’s not even half over, I just had to write now because I ticked a victory against anxiety this morning!

Hmm. Maybe I should call this the “Climbing Anxiety.”

Anyway.

We woke up to another messy snow, but thankfully Dane County’s trying to keep all the kids in school. Whew! This winter’s already given us twice as much snow as the 2017-2018 winter season, so it’s nice to know that the schools aren’t going to shut down just because yet another couple powdery inches have fallen. Bo left before dawn at 6am, and I worked on getting the kids up and ready for school.

6:30 news: There are reports of an accident near the intersection of the interstate and highway___

Me: OH MY GOD IT’S BO HE’S DEAD

Hang on, Jean.

He’s an extremely careful driver.

He just had the car in for a tune-up.

He’s been driving this route for years now. He knows how the truckers behave.

He’s driven through worse snow than this, too.

If you don’t hear from him in 2 hours, check his work.

For now, focus on the kids.

I simmered down. Got the kids ready. Kept drinking water and muttering to myself about what I wanted to accomplish today, what I should discuss with the teachers at the PT conferences tomorrow. Made sure the phone was nearby at all times, just in case.

I did NOT have a panic attack.

My chest hurt, yes, and I had to do lots of deep breathing, but I didn’t get dizzy or develop tunnel vision or have a racing heart.

Ten minutes to eight: Bo’s at work, safe and sound. Roads were fine for most of the way.

I said a prayer of thanks and saw the boys off to school. I got ready to text him a quick grocery list, especially keen for him to find a tea I saw recommended for handling anxiety. But then I saw a winter weather advisory on my phone: freezing rain was coming through the county today starting at midday and going on and off into the evening.

Bo would be driving in that.

He shouldn’t be stopping at a store, Jean.

But every time I drive in snow–

Shut that noise. You CAN get there and back before the freezing rain comes.

You’ve driven in way worse crap and lived to tell the tale.

You have to face this, Jean.

It’s now or never.

(Sorry, that BOW BOW noise did actually enter my head at the moment. Better than “Final Countdown,” I suppose.)

I get in the car. There’s coffee, water, bad radio, old Christian rock I discovered in a binder from…college?…smelly lip balm.

Okay.

I go it slow and steady towards the interstate. Few cars both going around me, because the hilly country roads are just too damn risky for fast passes. Whatever accident had occurred had already been cleared. I get onto the interstate without sliding.

And fifteen miles later, I’m off the interstate into the hipster town with the hoidy toidy grocery store.

I made it!

It took smearing balm all over the skin under my nose, lots of talking at the radio, and interrogating myself if I actually stole that music from the Christian book store where I worked twenty years ago or legitimately bought it, but I got there.

The hoidy toidy grocery didn’t have the tea I was hoping for, but they did have another from the article that was strongly recommended. I grabbed it, another container of @#^!&$$ almond milk, and some grapes to reward myself for making it this far. I graciously accepted compliments from the cashiers for my Harry Potter hat, and returned to the car.

Time to do it all again.

Me: I got this far. I can do it again.

Damn right you can. You’re halfway there!

(Okay, I openly admit this song only came to me while writing right now and it was too perfect not to use. Who knew Bon Jovi would provide the soundtrack of my day?)

Not  one dizzy spell the whole drive home. The worst spell was actually just the last miles to town, where a semi decided to tail my ass on a road covered with windblown snow. But rather than freak out, my old-school driver-self took over, and I just kept it slow and avoided braking unless absolutely necessary.

And lo and behold, I’m home.

Driving’s always going to be a potential trigger for an attack. I accept that. But this morning I proved to myself that I CAN drive despite the weather and despite the fear.

That’s a win if I ever knew one.

FLAT FINDERS REALTY

Oh! Before I forget: for those of you who’ve read my novel, I’ve been asked to read an excerpt during my keynote. Any recommendations of a bit–ideally without too many cuss words?

And if you haven’t read my novel yet, you can snatch it up for 99 pennies. Or, you can just check out my free fiction here or here. It’s all good, I think. 🙂

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Write on, read on, and share on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 15

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Yowza, I nearly forgot to write today! It’s been a mess of school work and Blondie. For the first time in ages, the majority of my students actually give a cheese wedge about their work. For a teacher, this is both awesome and awful all at once.

Awesome: Yay, look at all this in-depth idea-sharing and topic-exploring!

LEARNING!

Awful: I gotta grade ALL this? Dammit.

So you know how on the 8th I wrote about the boys getting into a fight and pulling me away from Blondie’s parent visitation day? I made up for the time lost with Blondie by taking her to the local humane society this afternoon. We learned about being volunteers, and…yup, I signed up to volunteer with her.

I gripe so much here about stealing time from my kids, about trying to make time for them. It hit me watching her with the cats that I need to make time for her. If I don’t make it a thing, then months are going to pass before we have moments like this again.

Dammit, I will NOT let that happen. Come summer, we’re going to the humane society 1-2 times a week, and we’re going to work together to help these animals and clean up the place. She’s going to learn that caring for animals is more than playing with them, and I’m going to learn that my jobs do not have to dominate my life.

LEARNING!

We also learned some hopeful news about the boys from their school’s social worker. Turns out the fight they got into last week could have been prevented: last-minute scrambling for a substitute resulted in all sixty kindergarteners sharing a classroom at one point, where both Biff and Bash usually use the same seat, just one different days. Well both went to “his seat” and no teacher thought beforehand to get a second seat. Fists ensued.

The social worker apologized about that, and also informed me that after talking with some other peers in behavioral studies, she thinks Biff and Bash have what’s known as sensory integration disorder. Basically, it means that new stimuli in their regular environment or a new environment with lots of stimuli can basically overload them and they cannot process it decently. They don’t know how to function, sooooo they get out of control, or they break down, etc. It would take an official diagnosis to find out, but if this is the case, a diagnosis would help the boys get some extra help at school and protections from teachers eager to write up the “naughty” kids and send them home.

For the first time in years, it sounds like we might actually have an answer to what the heck is going on with these guys.

LEARNING!

Okay, back to grading for me. Thank you all for your continued support through this month of blogging, teaching, writing, mothering…and now the kids get to eat cheesy pizza and I can’t touch the crusts and I hate all food and why, WHYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!

Ahem.

See you tomorrow!

Oh, and check out my fiction if you’re bored. It’s around. The novel’s just 99p, the story on my site’s free, and the short stories are still free on Amazon and other platforms. It’s all good. 🙂

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

PS: I made it to the second round of interviews! I’m guessing the panel doesn’t know I used a Charlie Horse puppet to teach college students about research questions and thesis statements…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 13

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Working from home has lots of pros. I can prepare my non-sugar non-dairy non-gluten non-joyful lunch with anything handy here. I can run errands whenever. I can sit in the recliner with my dad’s ancient laptop and ice my back while writing. I can work with my students at 5am or 8pm, whenever’s convenient.

But I’m with my own thoughts aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the time.

And with depression always lurking on the edge, this isolation can get nasty.

Take this morning.

The heater goes wonky.

I’ve got fifty posts from students to sort through, not including their projects. This all needs to get graded in the next few days.

I have an interview for a full-time position to prepare for.

I have a novel that needs serious course correction.

Will the boys be sent home again?

How will we afford Bash’s ER visit from that damn lego up his nose?

What if the heater breaks?

What if the roof starts leaking from all that heavy snow?

Blondie so badly wants to spend time with animals. Where to do that, when to do that…

I have to go to choir tonight on these shitty roads and I HATE driving on slick roads, I’ll spin out, I’ll end up in the ditch and how will we afford that?

My heart starts going nuts.

My breathing rushes.

I get light-headed.

I KNOW WHAT THIS IS.

NOT A HEART ATTACK. A PANIC ATTACK.

I WON’T LET IT GET TO ME.

I stagger upstairs, call Bo. He talks about work, about the roads, about anything as I slowly get up, open a window. Breathe.

Breathe, Jean, breathe.

Panic attacks fucking suck. They have a strong ally in depression.

But you won’t beat this lady. I’ve faced postpartum depression twice without meds. I’ve battled my own body. I faced the Monster who abused me. I’ve overcome loss and pain and FUCK you, panic, you will NOT own me.

I’m gonna keep breathing. Fighting. Mothering. Writing.

Never give up, my friends. Never, ever, give up.

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

Oh, PS, the novel’s on sale, yadda yadda. 

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

 

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 12

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Another snow day.

Another frickin’– ARE YOU KIDDING ME, GOD?!

Once again, my writing time is limited. My grading time is limited. How am I supposed to get any work done when the kids are bickering over Lego and the library books about Ripley’s Believe it or Not? Even Bo has off due to bad roads. What about me? ME?

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE?!?

Ugh.

I sound like the Me-Monster comedian Brian Regan creates for one of his stand-up routines.

Stop complaining, Jean. At least with Bo home you were able to tackle a chunk of school stuff this morning. You got a little writing done–not a ton, but at least you know where you want to go next tomorrow.

You had help shoveling outside. Heck, you all went outside to shovel the several inches of heavy white stuff.

You got to have a snowball fight with your family.

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Biff and Bash defended their mountain…

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Bo and Blondie whitewashed each other’s faces repeatedly…

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The little Bs actually stood together long enough for you to take a picture…

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Bash evaded stepping in the neighbor’s dog poop…

 

It wasn’t such a bad snow day after all, really.

All it needed was a little love. x

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Don’t forget that my novel’s on sale all month for just 99 cents! You’re more than welcome to my short stories too, available for free here and here.

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#writerproblems: #technology #grief

Picture1

I stand in line at Geek Squad. Again.

The staff has grown accustomed to me over the past year, after my old workhorse of a Toshiba laptop died. Bo and I had just gotten a new desktop to replace the dead one; the budget for yet another technology expense was not there. But Bo couldn’t deny the need for a laptop–if I couldn’t, I couldn’t keep my job.

So when the staff, already astonished my Toshiba lived eight years, pointed to a Lenovo on sale for under 200 bucks, I bolted for a box and checked out. It’s not like I needed anything more than bare bones.

Silly me that “bare bones” meant a computer screen that turns off when I have more than four tabs open online. “Bare bones” meant a power cord port that breaks after six months. “Bare bones” meant a memory card that’s soldered onto the hard drive, so I couldn’t get a bigger memory card. “Bare bones” meant a memory that’s so shitty it couldn’t even function with Microsoft Office downloaded because Office is too big and I couldn’t delete the Office programs like OneNote or Access because Office is a UNIT. You want a taste of Word? Then you swallow Office whole and like it, bitches!

Barely a year owning the laptop–yes, just after the warranty expires–and I’m in line at Geek Squad because no power cord of any kind will work on the laptop now. It’s down to its last ten percent of battery. Windows 10 refuses to properly update due to lack of memory.

I put the Lenovo on the table. Again.

The Geek tries my cord. Goes into the back. Tries one of their cords. Then shrugs. “Yeah, you’re not gonna find anything. It’s a cheap computer. You need to spend at least five hundred to get a good one.”

End of service.

Fuuuuuck.

Just having the money to get the kids shoes is a problem. All three needed new sneakers this spring. That’s a hundred bucks right there.  The boys shredded half a dozen pairs of jeans this winter.

At least they’ll have cutoffs galore for summer.

I’m happy to wear stuff until the holes are so prominent I could be arrested for indecent exposure. I’ll eat what everyone else hates, what’s expired. Hell, I’m starting to give plasma to help cover the grocery bills.

Where the hell’s five hundred bucks going to come from?

~*~

If your only knowledge of pastors comes from the televised evangelists, you might assume pastors are quite the affluent folk.

If you know what a rural church is like, you know how that’s utter bullshit.

Every dollar counted at home. We lived on the hand-me-downs of relatives, on rummage sales, on gifts from farmers. Christmas meant presents from the elderly of our church, rarely from our parents.

So the useful going unused always stings me. All the more for my mother, as much of my father’s things still stand, sit, lay about. His books on doctrine. His comics. His carefully gathered Dr. Who canonized novels. His thousands of recorded sermons, bible studies, coloring pages for Sunday School. All just…sitting.

But today we’re not looking at those things. Today Mom’s pointing to a little Lego display Dad had in his study of Lex Luther in his robot fighting Superman and Wonder Woman. “Think Blondie would like this for her birthday?” she asks.

“Of course!” I say, happy every time Mom’s able to let something go without tears. I glance at Dad’s crown, wishing I could ask for it, but I know Mom still uses it with her own students.

I spot something else.

Dad’s computer backpack.

“I thought Pierce took Dad’s laptop.” Dad had bought a Sony Vaio the year before he died. Spent at least a thousand on a top model, knowing he’d need it for producing services for local broadcasts, bible study presentations, liturgy projections, the lot. Thankfully the church covered a chunk of the cost. That’s probably what kept Mom from going crazy about the price tag.

“He did. He tried to use it, but, you know. It’s hard for him.” Mom sighs and moves a few preschool assessments across the desk. Dad’s old desk.

Yeah, it’s hard.

But sometimes we don’t get to leave something untouched just because it’s hard.

“Are you using it?”

~*~

The first thing I do is change the picture: Dad and Mom outside their mission church in the Dakotas. That much I must do, because seeing him laughing there and knowing my kids have forgotten what his laugh sounds like turns the skin beneath my eyes hot.

Much of the software’s out of date, but Office still works, everything still works. The battery’s not much, but an hour of work time in the car is better than nothing.

I scroll through the files.

There’s so many.

Pictures. God, the pictures.

Pictures of my childhood, of his. I’m seeing more relations here on a dead man’s computer than I have since his funeral.

Hymns he wrote. Sermons. Notes for come-and-gone weddings and funerals.

A newsletter he was working on for Mom’s preschool to be handed out the month he died.

So many writings, begun.

Unfinished.

~*~

“Dad’s computer working okay for you?”

“Great. It’s really helped a lot.” I don’t tell Mom about the scraps of Dad I found in the backpack: post-it notes about contacting Grandma’s doctor. An old bulletin with bio stats and hospital info, all in Dad’s thin, clipped scrawl. I doubt Mom ever looked inside his backpack. I wonder if Pierce even made it so far as to open the laptop itself, with Dad’s highlighters and notes still jumbled up in the power cord.

“Good. It just seemed so wasteful, sitting here.”

I don’t tell Mom I still feel like I’m borrowing this technology with the intent to return it to Dad, say thanks. Share the struggles I’ve had with parenting, faith, maybe even writing.

But Dad’s heart broke a few months shy of his 60th birthday. Despite repair after repair to his throat, his stomach, his legs, one bad break rendered the whole lifeless.

End of service.

~*~

“Ooo, Mommy, you got a new computer!” Blondie peers over from her sketch of the Nautilus. After reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Bo, she’s fascinated with technology altered by fiction–especially if it involves a church organ. “What’s the sticker for?”

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I’ve put such a sticker on every laptop I own, A) because I love the coffee, and B) because it separates this one thing from all the other stuff in the house. I’m the only coffee drinker. Bo hates laptop-sized keyboards. Blondie wants a mouse when she plays computer games. Don’t ask what the boys do with a working piece of anything.

Now Dad’s good and faithful servant holds chunks of my own fiction, analyses, and interviews. It keeps me connected to my students. Right now it’s letting me type this post while “attending” a meeting about cornerstone projects in liberal arts education while also pulling Bash off of Biff in a fight over worms and dump trucks.

My words may not be poetic hymns or thoughtful sermons, but they are filled with study, feeling, and imagination. And now they share a space, however small, with the words of my father.

I think Dad would like that.

Conflict of Interest

“Don’t waste your time on something you don’t care about,” Michael Dellert warns as I pour through my old posts on Diana Wynne Jones. My presentation for N– University’s Literary Conference is in just a few days. The theme for 2017 is Lessons Learned–perfect, right? Half of what I do on this site is share lessons I learned from novels. Surely I’ve got SOMETHING to offer a literary conference. I want my colleagues to see that I give a damn about myself as a reader, and as a writer.

I receive notice of the conference schedule: my nonfiction reading is midday. My DWJ presentation is just after Blondie’s school gets out.

Four hours apart. I’m solo with the kids. Bo can’t get out of work. I can’t hire a babysitter for that long when the presentations themselves are barely twenty minutes each. My appeal for a schedule change is denied. If I’m going to do it, I have to do it with the kids, and trust them to not burn the house down.

~*~

I’ve written before about the rare gift that is time for writing, but I don’t think I’ve ever said how bloody hard it’s been to maintain a job while being a full-time parent, let alone a job like college adjunct. Maternity leave, vacation? Those words mean nothing for those paid only $1,700-3,000 for a semester’s worth of class. If you take a break, you are out of the loop for upcoming courses, and Lord knows when you can get another one. I graded student outlines hours after giving birth to my daughter. I hauled myself from the hospital room to a computer lab during the boys’ first day in the world to lead a discussion on critical reading. A term only lasts a few months, and you don’t know if you’re teaching the next term until it starts. As far as stable employment, it’s about as unstable as it gets.

The ability to teach from home made it tolerable, in its way. I could do schoolwork when kids slept. Audio classes only happen once a week, so I scheduled those for when Bo was home, or when the kids were in bed for the night.

But as the kids got older, they needed more of me. And more. And more. And the postpartum depression snicker-snacked through, and creative writing gave my soul strength…at the cost of more time.

Which, until that point, had been for school work. You know, the thing that earns the grocery money around here.

~*~

“Can we go to the library after school?”

“No, Mommy’s got a special presentation for her school today.”

“Let’s go to the park!”

“No, Mommy has to talk to other teachers today.”

“But I don’t wanna go home!”

None of them want to go home. It’s a beautiful day, Blondie just finished her first day of 2nd grade, but Mommy can’t care. She’s got to drive through construction while dodging the books flying in from the back seat because we’re not going to the park, we’re going to fight, we never want to go home….

“Here, watch Dragons,” I give Blondie a kiss on the head as I hop over a pile of wrecked cars to open the DVD player. “When my presentation’s done, I want to hear all about 2nd grade.” Because I do want to know, but that presentation just eats the forefront of all thoughts. Don’t forget to mention this, and note that book, and make this reference to that event, this thing about her father, that quote about Tolkien.

“Snack?” Biff throws himself at the rocking chair where his posse of Blanket, Grandpere, and Mel the Koala await. “Let’s have a snack. Fruit Loops!”

“Can I go outside?” Bash asks as he runs out the screen door.

“Bash get in here NOW! Fruit Loops and Dragons, come on, dude!” I say as I hoist him up and under one arm while thrusting the door open and I’ve got FUCK ONLY FIFTEEN MINUTES.

Cereal dumped in bowls. Dragons on. “I’ll be in my room. Just…please, sit nicely, and stay inside. We’ll go outside and talk about school stuff when I’m done,” I say as I back-run down the hall, trip into the Mother’s Day flower Blondie had taped to my door. I use tape from one of the fishy Father’s Day pictures to fix it (“We’re hooked on you, Daddy!”) and then frantically press computer buttons. My mic is a go, I’ve got my notes set, T-minus two minutes…

“Mommy I WANT to go outside!” Bash stamps in the doorway.

“Jean, everything okay?”

“Fine!” I say into the mic as I hiss at Bash. “When. Mommy’s. DONE.”

“No. NOW!”

“Bash, I am not doing this now. Go watch Dragons.”

He fights as I close the door. He bangs the door. Kicks the door. Screams into the door.

“Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Jean Lee as the next presenter of–“

Screaming triples. Blondie’s voice pierces: “Mommy, you have to open up! Open up NOW!”

Oh for fuck’s sake–

“Jean, is something wrong?”

“I am so sorry, just one moment while I deal with…” I have no word for what I’m dealing with. I’m too angry, nervous, frustrated–all the things I feel when the boys erupt and try to destroy something a family member’s done for them, or when they lash out at a complete stranger for coming too close. I rip open the door, where all three of them stand with tears streaming down their faces.

“Biff threw a toy at me. And Dragons is done.”

“And I am in my meeting right now, and you’re just going to have to handle it.”

“No I don’t, YOU have to!” Blondie says with all the authority a seven-year-old musters.

And I’m…I’m done. “No. You have to work it out with Biff. Bash, move.” And I close the door in their faces. Lock it.

The banging is downright thunderous. Comments have sprung up in the presentation: Uh oh, someone’s in trouble. Oh those poor little guys! Sounds like someone misses Mommy. Etc.

“Again, I apologize for that delay.” I can barely hear myself above their roar. I carry my books in one hand and the computer with the other into the bathroom, where I close the door.

This professional, literary conference. This chance to showcase research and criticism to colleagues. Me, presenting next to the toilet.

~*~

Twenty minutes later, I open the door. Screaming and fighting: over. Biff plays with cars in the boys’ room. Blondie’s door is shut, but I hear her talking to her “pet puppies.” Bash sits alone, sniffling, rubbing his eyes, legs and floor littered with shreds of construction paper.

“Bash, what did you…” My voice crumples. Tears.

The door is bare.

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