Monday, January 20, 2014

Well, Why Not?

Being responsible for another human is, quite possibly, one of the most difficult things a person can do. The job is full of sweat, blood, tears, snot, and vomit. It’s full of stress, worry, heavy lifting, and sleepless nights.  I suspect that’s why some parents feel the need to be heavy handed disciplinarians or to indoctrinate their children in a specific, often monotheistic, belief system. Filling a child with the fear of punishment, eternal or fleeting and earthly, goes a long way in making a parent’s job a little easier.
As atheists, my husband and I don’t have religion to help us scare our child into behaving the way we want him to. And as rational people who completely eschew physical punishment, we don’t have the fear of physical threat to coerce him into acting or not acting in a certain way. What we do have is words. Lots and lots of words. We also employ logical consequences and are open and receptive to hearing our son’s point of view on any given topic.
Well, Why Not?All this sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s not always tulips and wine. There are times when I want so badly to cross my arms and say “Because I said so. Don’t argue.” It’s exhausting to have to rationalize every parenting decision I make.
Before I answer a question or refuse to grant permission, I ask myself “why not” and if I don’t have a solid reason, I don’t say no.  Sometimes I really have to dig deep to find out I don’t have a particular reason for him not to play on the computer, and sometimes I have work at it to get to the root of why I don’t want to extend his bedtime to 10:00. But in the end, all the digging and questioning I do in my own head serves to make me a very deliberate parent. It also helps pull emotion out of the equation, which is especially necessary if my son’s emotions are already running high.
The side effect of parenting him with “why not? instead of “no” is that sometimes he questions absolutely everything. But, since I say “yes” as often as I possibly can, he usually won’t push an issue if I’m sticking to my guns. He knows that I always have his best interests at heart and that if I take firm stance on a subject, it’s probably for a pretty damned good reason and fighting me on it won’t get him anywhere. He learned from any early age that some things I’ll bend on, and some things I absolutely won’t.
When he was a toddler, he hated his car seat and would do everything in his power to prevent us from buckling him in. Obviously, not being buckled in wasn’t not an option, so my husband and I told him that it was “non-negotiable.” By the time the kid was 20 months old, he was using the phrase “non-guh-gosh-able” For all sorts of things. Sometimes in the right context, sometimes not. With tears streaming down his face, he’d let me buckle him in and say “It’s non-guh-gosh-able” with such heart wrenching emotion that I wished we could just stay home. As the ice cream truck tinkled past our house, he’d run outside in nothing but his diaper and shout “Ice Cream Man! Stop! It’s non-guh-gosh-able!”
As he grew older and learned both the proper pronunciation and usage of the word, he was able to participate in discussions about why isn’t wise to go out in the snow without shoes or why it’s a good thing for him to clear his own place at the table. When he was about 9, he got his hands on a bunch of index cards and wrote up a little speech about why we should re-instate the allowance we had taken away. He made his case beautifully, and we re-instated allowance. Since forever, my husband and I have encouraged him to question authority, us included.
Now we have a full-fledged tween-ager on our hands, complete with occasional hormonal attitude and irrational thinking. But, even when he’s stomping around with a case of the Pre-Teen Grumpies, I can usually talk him through it, though it’s not always easy. Sometimes my wonderful, intelligent, intuitive boy pushes my patience to the very limits of human tolerance. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I overreact. I’m a parent, not a saint. But after we’ve both had time to calm down, I make a point of sitting down with him and talking. We talk about making good choices and about how our words and tone of voice can hurt others. We talk about our hard limits and our soft limits. We work together and negotiate.
Some things are negotiable, but giving my son the opportunities to speak and act on his own behalf will always be non-negotiable.

This blog was originally posted on GroundedParents.com where I am a contributing blogger.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mommy Has a Milk Mustache

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say in my first blog post for +Grounded Parents. After all, it’s my introduction to the world. In case you've never introduced yourself to the world, it’s a lot of pressure. That whole first impressions thing. I spent many long hours, walking my dog and ignoring my kid, trying to figure out exactly how I wanted to introduce myself. I could talk about so many deep and meaningful things. Things that might make readers nod sagely or widen their eyes in disbelief. Things that would make them clamp their sweaty palms over their mouths to stifle a guffaw. The possibilities were endless!
Here’s a thing about me, though. When I’m trying to think, I find myself embracing the most awful tasks in order to find guilt-free time in which to (avoid) come to a decision. I can only walk the dog for so long before he starts limping and whimpering to go back home for a drink of water.
After doing a bunch of laundry, I still didn't know what I wanted to write about, so I decided to clean the master bathroom. Maybe scrubbing soap scum would jog my creativity.
Go write your post now, Mama. No more laundry or walks.
Go write your post now, Mama. No more laundry or walks.
I armed myself with baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils and headed into the closet-sized room.
I got down on my knees, sprinkled a bunch of baking soda in the shower and started scrubbing. We recently moved into this house and I had no idea how often the people before me cleaned things out, so I popped off the drain cover and peered down into the slimy hole. It didn't look promising. Or maybe it did if you happen to be someone who embraces disgusting tasks in order to (get out of writing) think.
The shade of red that greeted me was horrific. It reminded me of what a mouth must look like if a deranged dentist yanked out someone’s teeth with a rusty trowel. Without anesthesia. A shiver ran through me as I contemplated the logistics of prying teeth out of a struggling victim who desires to keep all his teeth. But, ever the (procrastinator) diligent homemaker, I let out a deep breath and dumped about a cup of baking soda down the gaping maw. I followed that with a few drops of orange essential oil and I slowly added the vinegar. The bubbling was immediate and strong. A god-awful pink sludge oozed out of the hole and the bottom of the shower started to fill with gross gross-ness. It bubbled and filled and filled and bubbled...But it didn't drain.
Oh dear god, what did I do? I’d need to find something to stir the sludge with. Maybe that would break up the clog and allow the goop to drain. I stood up a bit too fast, fought off a dizzy spell, and went in search of a wire coat hanger. We don’t actually own wire hangers, but the house had about a dozen or so when we moved in. Maybe they had escaped the recycle bin.
Luck was with me and I found one hanging in my office closet. I grabbed it and took it back to the bathroom. The bubbling had stopped but the goo still wasn't draining. My eyes darted from goo to vinegar. I decided to go ahead and add more vinegar to the drain before sticking the hanger down there. Maybe more liquid would unclog the clog.
My vinegar container holds just under 1.5 gallons. I get it on the cheap at Costco and I use it for everything. This particular container had about half a gallon left, and the bottle made a deep glugging noise as I poured its contents into the drain. More bubbles rose and popped, and the goo went from pink to gray to almost black. And dear lord, the smell! It burned, it burned! The smell freaking burned! Like farts and rotten eggs and shit and death. Tears pricked my eyes, but I’m way too stubborn to let a smell make me cry.
The hanger waited in my hand, like some sort of awesome, hooked sword that would save the day. But first, I’d need something to stifle my gag reflex. I took my trusty weapon to the kitchen where I found the open bottle of crappy wine from the night before. Right next to the bottle was my wine glass, also from the previous night.  A classy mom would have opened a fresh bottle and gotten a clean glass, but I never claimed to have class. My thought process went something like this:
Death is bubbling up from my shower drain. Literally. I saw the freaking scythe. If death is gonna take me, he’ll take me whether or not the wine and glass are fresh.
I pulled the fancy stainless steel stopper (I don’t think I ever sent a thank-you card for those stoppers...what was that? Four years ago? Eight? Oh well. I bet whoever gave them to us has forgotten we forgot to send a thank-you card) and poured it right into the dirty glass. I carried it and my trusty sword back to the bathroom, where the smell hit me in the face like a million dirty diapers left rotting in the sun. I swallowed the entire glass of wine in two gulps and set the twice-dirty glass on the counter like a cowboy slams his mug of sarsaparilla on the bar.
l stuck the hanger down the drain and swirled it around a bit, but the hooked end wasn't doing the job. I’d have to figure out how to straighten it out. My hands were covered in pink and grey funk and the needle nose pliers were who knows where. Probably still buried in a box. I picked up the nasty rag I was using to scrub the floor of the shower and unhooked the hanger. I could tell right away that it wouldn't be long enough. Well, a hanger is really just one long piece of wire that’s twisted into a funky shape. I had managed to unhook the hook, maybe I could untwist the twist. Slimy rag in hand, I set to transforming my trusty weapon into a misshapen, vaguely straight, poker thingy.
   Tools of the trade
The quickly guzzled stale wine was getting to my head, and my imagination was running, running, running. No longer was I an almost forty-year-old mother avoiding writing a blog post by unclogging a disgusting drain in a rental house. Nope. Now I was a hero. A she-knight. I was the castle’s only hope against an evil drain snake that was taking over the kingdom. I raised my sword above my head and plunge-twisted it right into the gaping mouth of the horrible beast. I can’t be certain, but I think I uttered the phrase “Die, you evil bastard!” under my breath.
It didn't want to die. I felt something deep inside give, and another blast of rotten egg farts hit me in the face. I reeled backward and sucked in a few breaths of the sweet air outside of the bathroom.
Screw this...I need more wine.
With tears still swimming in my eyes, I took a deep breath and dashed back into the toxic bathroom for my wine glass. I caught my reflection in the mirror and I noticed what seemed to be a little pimple or something in the corner of my mouth. I raised my hand to touch my face but realized I was covered in baking soda and death, so I brought my hand down without touching.
Back in the kitchen, I topped off my wine, sipped down half of it, and topped it off again, thereby killing what was left of the bottle. I eyed the crimson liquid in the glass and realized it was just a tad too full to carry back to the bathroom. Better just sip down a bit so it wouldn’t spill. Really, that was the only responsible thing to do. Looking back, I think drinking a glass of water would have been a bit more responsible. But you know, that whole hindsight is 20/20 thing.
The smell in the the bathroom had mostly dissipated by the time I made it back. I took one more small sip (gulp) of wine and set the nearly empty glass on the counter. The drain seemed to have stopped bubbling, which I took as good news. I picked up my weapon and jammed it down into the black pit of doom. I swirled and scraped it around and pulled out clump after clump...after clump of hair. Someone else’s hair. Someone’s long and tangled and slimy hair.
The nausea came on fast and my imagination was doing triple time. As a clump of hair dangled from the misshapen hanger, I was realized that it wasn't human hair at all. No. Surely there couldn't be so much hair down a drain. Somehow, a mouse had found its way down there and gotten stuck. That was the only thing that made any sense at all. That would explain the smell and the slime...Oh. My. God. I had been mutilating a mouse corpse and now I had to fish it out, piece by putrid piece. Half drunk. With a damned crooked hanger!
I grabbed the bathroom trash and flung the mouse remains into the can before fishing for more.  Two, three, four clumps later, I looked more closely and saw that I wasn't pulling out a mouse. It really was nothing but bunch of slimy hair. The relief was so intense, I could almost taste it.
It tasted like wine.
When I got all I could stand getting, I ran the shower to make sure the drain would, well, drain. Then I scrubbed down the floor and walls of the shower, rinsed everything again, put a few drops of orange and tea tree oils down the hole, replaced the cover and inhaled deeply. The shower was sparkling and the whole bathroom smelled clean and fresh. I squatted there a moment, taking pride in my June Cleaver-like domestic prowess.
I tied the the trash bag and went to the sink to wash my hands. My reflection revealed that I had a second little pimple type thingy on the opposite corner of my mouth. Weird.
I leaned in for a closer look and laughed at my reflection. I didn't have zits or weird blemishes at all! All I had was a red wine mustache.
And a decent introduction to the world.
This blog was originally posted on GroundedParents.com where I am a contributing blogger.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Long Break

A lot has happened in my life since my last post. The biggest thing is that my family and I relocated from Albuquerque to the Dallas, TX area. It was a rather sudden, but mostly welcome move. I'm glad that I finished Average Simon before the relocation, though. Since we came out here about two and a half months ago, all of my energy has been in getting settled. Or, rather, helping my son get settled. This move has been more difficult on him than anyone else, and he's needed an awful lot of love and reassurance. So, my days have been spent unpacking, exploring fun places in DFW, going to Six Flags, trying to make connections in the local homeschool community, generally doing everything I can possibly think of to help my eleven-year-old make friends. Every now and then, I will look longingly at my computer and wonder where I'll find the time to sit down and get back to writing.

I can't help but think, though, that this extended break has been good for my creativity.  Stephen King, in his awesomely awesome book On Writing, suggests taking a break and letting your manuscript marinate for a good long while before doing revisions. I didn't take much of a break between drafts of my novel, but my query letter and synopsis have been marinading for months.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been coming back to those two documents and reading them again and again. I can see room for improvement, but I can also see that they're both pretty strong. That's a far cry from how I felt before the move. When I packed them up in boxes in Albuquerque, I was completely convinced that they amounted to kindling. Honestly, I was  ready to light both on fire and spread the ashes somewhere in the desert.

I'm glad I didn't. If I had, I would have had to start both from scratch, which would have been so disheartening, I likely would have just built myself a permanent pillow fort under my desk. Instead, I read the query letter, assessed its strengths and weaknesses, and tweaked it. And tweaked and tweaked and tweaked until I came up with something that I believe is better than passable or decent. A break allowed me to re-work my query with fresh eyes and to *gasp* finish it.

My synopsis up for assessment and tweaking next. My gut is telling me I may need to scrap it and start that one all over again, but that I'm okay with that. Writing can be a lot like a science experiment. Sometimes you get the desired results, sometimes you don't. Just because the results are different than what you expect, that doesn't mean the experiment failed. It just means that you've ruled one thing out that stood in the way of success.

I could have never come to that conclusion without a long break.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Average Simon by Dannie M Olguin

Simon Hall doesn’t care about being a football star or an actor or a famous musician. All he wants is to keep his head down and avoid being noticed by the bullies who follow him home from school.

When tragedy strikes and Simon moves to a strange small town, he decides that he will do whatever it takes to transform himself from a bullied “freak-boy” to an ordinary, everyday, average kid. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when his super powers decide to show up. It doesn’t take him long to realize that reinventing himself will be impossible if things keep blowing up every time he claps his hands, so he does the only thing he can: he ignores them and hopes they’ll go away. But the more he ignores his powers, the more unpredictable they become. They need his attention, and he needs to learn how to rein them in if he’s ever going to fit in. With the annoying guidance of his new best friend, Simon starts on the path of learning to control and master his special abilities for the sole purpose of never using them. That is, until a mysterious stranger shows up and threatens everything Simon holds dear.

The only way he can save himself and everyone he loves is to embrace who he is and to accept that when you’re extraordinary, being average just isn’t an option.


Middle Grade Fiction


Lives in Plano, Texas with her husband, son, and bevy of pets.  Average Simon, her debut novel, was inspired by her extraordinary son.
www.dmolguin.com
972-802-5678

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Starting is the Hardest Part

I love writing. I love learning about my characters and where they live. I love following along as they go on adventures and deal with problems. I love the way they can infuriate me or make me laugh out loud. As a writer, I get to experience my stories in a way that nobody else ever can, and I love the private journey I take with my characters.

But as much as I love writing, I dislike starting a new project. Sure, I'm full of anticipation and hope, but at the same time, I'm filled with doubt and a touch of dread. Am I really up for the task of doing it all over again? Am I up for monopolizing lunchtime conversations with chatter about who said what to whom and how she deserved it? Am I prepared to feel the oscillating emotions that go along with writing a novel: The joy, the excitement, the ambivalence and the despair?

When I'm about to start a new project, I question both my sanity and my choice to become a writer. I could have been anything. I could have been a competitive skydiver, an accountant, a bounty hunter, a cake decorator. I could have been a chef, a gymnast, a surgeon, a dog trainer. There are so many things I could have chosen that wouldn't have been so emotionally and physically draining, and I'm sure I could have been happy enough doing any one of them. Why in the world didn't I choose a different path?

Easy. I don't love anything the way I love writing. I can't go anywhere without making up stories about everyone around me. I am prone to sudden fits of laughter in the grocery store because I had a vivid and absolutely hilarious (to me, anyway) scenario flit through my head. Notice how I didn't call them hallucinations? That's because I don't need medication, I need words. Or maybe words are my medication. I think about them all the time. I feel most myself when I'm putting them in nice little rows, building one upon another. Without that, I feel displaced, depressed, and just not right. I could have been a bounty hunter, but I don't think hunting down bad guys would make me feel as whole as writing about bad guys.

And so I come back to the place I started: putting off starting. That first word of a new book is so hard to write, but the first sentence is damn near impossible. What I know, though, is that if I can power through the first few sentences, I get pulled into the story and writing becomes easier. Adrenaline kicks in, and the words begin to flow from my fingertips with an ease that is almost disconcerting. Almost, but not quite. The relief and wonder overtake the fear, and I know that I'm doing exactly what I am meant to do.

Starting is the hardest part, but it's also the easiest to get over. Just one word. Then one more and one more. Just one sentence, followed by another and then another, and I'll be well on my way. I've had a good break, but now it's time to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Finding Inspiration As A Writer

Sometimes, when I'm supposed to be writing, I'm actually combing the interwebs for inspirational quotes about writing. There is a fortune cookie fortune taped to my monitor, and a quote by Somerset Maugham written on a sticky note and taped up to my wall. When I'm stuck, these slips of paper are enough to remind my fingers that they need to keep moving.

Now I have a new one to add to my wall. Actually, this quote is so perfect for me that I want to paint it, in big blue letters across one entire wall of my office:


Oh, Jon, I knew adolescent Dannie loved you for a reason. Clearly, you were speaking to the nearly forty year old writer that I would one day become.

I happen to be lucky enough to have the love and support of my family and friends, but when it comes right down to it, if I don't believe in myself, what good is it to have the belief and support of others? Nobody can sit down and write the stories, blog posts, or query letters for me. They can cheer me on and ply me with liquor and chocolate, but in the end, the dream is mine and only I can make it happen. Sometimes the negative voices in my head want to take over and tell me that there's no point in trying because I'll never succeed. Sometimes, I give those voices more authority over my actions than I should, and that is exactly why Jon's quote resonates so deeply with me.

Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, neither is a novel written in a day. But more than that, a novel can't be written, even in a hundred years, if you don't believe in yourself.

What inspires you?



Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Importance of Being Habitual

When you're a kid, it seems like adults drone on and on about developing good habits. They talk about how it's easier to create good habits than it is to break bad ones, about how kids with good study habits do better on tests and are less stressed out. When you're young, it's really rather hard to understand what's so great about a life of boring old structure when there's a whole world out there to be discovered.

I like to think that, as a writer who happens to be an adult, I've outgrown the desire to roll my eyes every time I hear the phrase "good habits." I like to think that I epitomize solid habits because I know that they are way more important that adults ever let on.

When I was in the process of writing Average Simon, I actually towed the line. I had a great schedule that I stuck with, and that schedule turned into a habit. Every day brought the same events until lunch time: Get up, have a cup of coffee and check emails and social media. Then I'd lock myself in the office, put on headphones, turn on Pandora and spend the next two hours ignoring everything that happened in the rest of the house. It was good. It got to the point that I just felt all wrong if something happened to interfere with my routine.

When my first draft was done, I rested for a little while before getting to work on my revisions. It felt good to get back into the swing of things, and I like to think I was productive.

Now my manuscript is in the hands of some very brave and much appreciated beta readers, and I feel like I'm in a sort of limbo. There are things I can do to get Average Simon one step closer to publication, but without feedback from my beta readers, it's hard to sketch out a synopsis or flesh out a query letter. I've used that as an excuse to let go of my routine. I find myself surprised by how much I miss my writing habits.

It's true what the adults say: Good habits are easier to break than to make, but once you make them, they sure do make life a lot easier. I think it's time for me to get back in the habit of writing every single day.

First thing tomorrow.