Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Mind Chaos, Anxiety, and Time to Defragment

I realized that today marks one year since my last blog post. So much for making a comeback, and “done, not perfect”. What is wrong with me? I continue asking this question. Here I have this dream (since I was in second grade, or approximately 42 years) of becoming a published author and yet something inside me continues to block my path in moving forward. I know there are elements of fear, doubt, impostor syndrome, and anxiety--all of which might be one in the same. I’ve considered giving up writing. I even tried to give up the dream, but I continue to visualize myself at my readings sharing my newest picture book or excerpts from a middle grade novel, or even my memoir. I imagine the food I will serve, and the themes to accompany the books. I imagine finding my books on a shelf at a bookstore. I see myself traveling to schools to give readings and lead writing workshops. I imagine being chosen to speak at one of my former colleges because of my accomplishments. I cannot shut out the visions and the thoughts.

One year ago today, the first case of Covid-19 was lab-confirmed in the United States. This marked the beginning of a year that has changed millions of lives around the world physically, behaviorally toward ourselves and others, and emotionally. So, adding to my anxiety around my dream, was this Covid thing that led me to being a full-time stay-at-home mom, distance learning teacher (which came to an end when we returned to in-person live yesterday, January 19th, 2021). Now I have developed increased doubts about my parenting (it is really hard living with a child 24 hours as a single parent while trying to keep her on track with her schooling, and trying to work by creating lessons and videos and being available for regular tech support for students, families and colleagues). My mind is like a computer needing major defragmenting. 

I know that I’m not alone with this mind chaos. So many unknowns and inconsistencies this year, not only for adults, but for our children, too. Remembering that we’re not alone, when it’s so easy to feel alone, is key to managing, and I pray, to also moving forward.
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Small Things by Mel Tregonning © 2018 Pajama Press Inc. (Publisher)

How does one write a picture book about anxiety without the addition of words? Anxiety can reveal itself in symbols. For a boy in Small Things, flying, almost monster-like, spirits chase after him, taking bites out of the boy’s flesh with their sharp teeth. Not literally, but in reading this black and white wordless graphic-style picture book, readers or viewers can see a boy trying to fit in and be himself, but when other kids stop smiling at him or talking to him, the chomping spirit beings swarm around him. He tries to cover the missing chunks in his flesh to hide them from other peoples’ view as more of him gets eaten away, but this does not deter the creatures. The boy grapples with his school work, angers easily at home, and struggles to clear his head when he tries to sleep at night. At all of these times, the demons flow and swirl around him.

Not until the boy’s older sister recognizes his pain does he learn that the same types of demons plague her also. Only after this recognition and acknowledgement is he able to repel the demons. At first, the spirits still take bites, but with support of his sister, the boy bravely talks to his parents. Then is he able to sleep calmly. The story concludes with the reader seeing that the boy is not the only child at school being bitten in varying amounts by the demons. He later reaches out to a classmate who he lashed out at previously. A hand on her shoulder lets her know that she is not alone.

(Side note: Mel Tregonning, the creator of Small Things struggled with her own demons. She died before the book’s completion. Author and illustrator Shaun Tan, with the blessing of Tregonning’s family, was able to finish the story that Tregonning began through her powerful and beautiful artistry.)

This book, I believe, has value for both children and adults. It’s time to move forward, for all of us. 

(It’s getting late now, but I’m determined to post this before I go to sleep while it's still today, January 20, 2021. Something else happened that is symbolic of moving forward. Today was inauguration day. How many tears were shed out of pure joy and hope? It is time for our anxieties to cease. It’s a new year. We’re not alone, and now many of us are not so small anymore.)

To a new year,

Today, tomorrow, and always.

~Tamara

Monday, January 20, 2020

Making A Comeback: Done, Not Perfect!

For years I have tried to figure out what blocks me from writing--the activity that I wish to be doing more than any other. It’s certainly not about the lack of ideas. If I could transfer my thoughts to paper or a screen instantly, I would be set. 

While fear seems to be at least part of the problem, I’m still not clear if it’s the fear of failure or the fear of success. (I have BrenĂ© Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and am sure there is some connection here, but I still have to read the book.) I know that I am not at a place where it feels like enough to write only for me. I want to share my words, insights, and observations. I guess I need to know that others appreciate what I write. Self-doubts can have immense power over moments of confidence, and when it comes to a dream and a longing, self-doubts squash my focus and push me closer to the “why bother” side of my attempts at writing. 

Last April (2019), I started a new fitness and nutrition program. Before this, I disliked exercising as it bored me and felt like a task that got me nowhere--literally and figuratively. When it came to food, I felt like I was eating the same foods all the time. Then, an ad popped up online one March evening. Instead of ignoring it as I do most, I decided to watch the one-hour webinar. 

Sometimes I do believe we see things at the time we are ready for them. I wanted to find a program that included nutrition with real food (not proprietary shakes, bars, and other food), and fitness routines that didn’t require expensive equipment or for me to be watching happy fitness leaders and participants all perfectly in sync while smiling as they worked out. I needed, and still need, real. Human. People who don't stand on pedestals to teach me their celebrity fitness plan or latest trend. For me, it wasn’t about losing weight--which did happen--but rather it was about forming new habits and a new lifestyle. The program I found was the right one for me. I now have new habits, both with fitness and nutrition. I discovered that I enjoy meal prep and cooking, and it’s possible to actually like exercising. When so much of my life--jobs (yes, I have more than one currently), parenting, writing--are subjective, open-ended activities, finding something that is concrete and has a definite start and finish (such as preparing a cooking a meal or following an established timed fitness routine) keeps me grounded. 

I believe, for me, it’s harder not to write than it is to write. So, when I recently met with my Wellness Coach to discuss my progress on various goals, she introduced the idea of “done, not perfect”. I see this as not about doing something mediocre just to get it done, but rather about doing the activity and accepting that it may not be perfect. If the doer puts forth honest effort, the activity has value and is worth doing and finishing, even if it's not "perfect" in the end.

Now, as I try again, for the millionth and hopefully last time, to turn writing into a habit, I’m going to remind myself of “done, not perfect.” I need to do this. I can do this. Today’s post is my comeback. 


To new habits,

Today and tomorrow,

~Tamara

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Teamwork and Individual Stories

Sometimes when I meet a character in a realistic fiction story who accomplishes a major goal or succeeds at a great task that seemed daunting or impossible, I think how lucky I am to have met that person, and been an observer of their life (even though I know the author was the one who did the masterful job of creating the character and challenge and making it all seem real). Then, I often wonder, what about the other characters involved? I don't know if I would have been able to accomplish the same feat as the main character. Just because the protagonist is the star player of the championship team, and the story focused on her, and she has a great story, the other players on the team have a story, too, don't they? I have to tell myself this daily when I doubt my skills and abilities and think that maybe what I have to offer and the stories I write aren't "good enough" when compared to others. We don't know what happens behind someone else's front door.

You know what? My stories matter. And, I want to hear those other stories, too. They do have value. I think this is part of what I love about the character, Nikki, in the debut novel by Barbara Carroll Roberts.
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Nikki on the Line Written by Barbara Carroll Roberts; (c)2019 Little, Brown and Company (Publisher)

In Nikki on the Line, Roberts gives birth to a main character, Nikki, age 13, whose immediate family is comprised of her younger brother, Sam, and their single mom. Nikki lives for playing basketball, even though her mom apparently has no sports genes and seems to zone out when Nikki talks the sport. Readers also learn, when the science teacher assigns a project involving DNA and family, that both Nikki and her brother were conceived via anonymous sperm donors. To Nikki, this is initially the most embarrassing thing her mom could have done to her kids.

The story primarily revolves around Nikki's involvement playing on a club basketball team. After she makes the team, she must convince her mom how much it means to play at the club level. Nikki also must decide what she will sacrifice to make it feasible for her mom to afford the club fees on a single-parent salary. The story continues with Nikki figuring out where she fits on a team of players who each perform at a high level of skill, managing the changes she chose for her life so she can play at the club level, and finding her way with friendships. As the story progresses, Nikki struggles with belief in her own abilities and wondering if her choices are truly worth it.

I loved this book on several levels. First, I'm sure I've mentioned before that I am not a sports person. I watch basketball at times, but I do not know the rules of the game. Until reading Nikki on the Line, I also only saw basketball players from the outside, solely as players, which is also part of the reason watching team sports has not appealed to me. Roberts writes with a clarity that allowed me to see via Nikki's first person point-of-view and be in the game. I was on the floor, in Nikki's mind, seeing through her eyes. This was a perspective I've never had with basketball before. The plays started to make sense. The working together with team-mates and strategy from the coach came into focus. I could see it, and I liked it.

Second, being a mom who also conceived her daughter via a sperm donor, I found Nikki's embarrassment interesting. Each family is different, and I wonder when Nikki first started to have a problem with how she was conceived. I have considered how my daughter will think when she reaches age 13, but we have had conversations about it (at levels that are appropriate for her age). So far so good. My first picture book manuscript draft during grad school was a story I wrote for my daughter about a girl who struggled with making a family tree for school and trying to figure how how to fit in the person who brought her and her mom together. (If you want the actual terminology I used, I am looking for an agent and/or publisher for the now heavily revised manuscript that I included in my graduate creative thesis). In Nikki on the Line I appreciate how, as Nikki starts to learn about the man who she identifies as her "paper dad", she starts to acknowledge and welcome the traits she likely inherited from him.

Third, when looking at the book as a whole, the theme of teamwork comes to mind. Not only do the individual contributions of each player combine to make a dynamic team, everything in Nikki's life relates back to teamwork. Whether it is how she works with a friend and family to improve her basketball skills, how she works with her brother and her mom to make playing basketball a reality, or how all parts of her life come together, like a team, to make her hopes and goals a success.

Finally, I love how this book was not about a girl who single-handedly led a basketball team to a championship or won a super scholarship or was discovered and became a star. It was about a girl who makes up one important part of a greater whole. It was about a girl who understands the value of hard work, practice, family, friendships, and what it takes to be part of a team. I wonder what the story would be if any of the other players on Nikki's basketball team were the protagonists. Any one of them might have a story equally valuable. For now, though, in this story, Nikki is the winning character in my mind.

To discovery of many more perspectives, and individual stories.

Today and tomorrow,

~Tamara