because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

When Writers Meltdown

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Not too long ago, I lost it.

I mean, I totally lost it.

Clay Morgan of Educlaytion posted a piece “3 Keys to Managing Your Life,” in which he wrote about how he works to achieve balance between his professional aspirations, his need for family time and sanity time, and how he squeezes works writing into his days.

And I felt my lip start to tremble because I had really been struggling with my juggling act. Balls and plates had been falling for days.

Clay instructed:

Get with someone who will both push and understand you, a big-hearted person with a pom-pom in one hand and metal ruler in the other.

I read his words and I went a little bit whacky-jacks. Because, sometimes, I don’t feel very supported. Sometimes, I feel like I am lost in The Sahara, caught in a sandstorm without a guide, alone with this writing thing. Here I am, working on a blog (alone) and a manuscript (alone) and a query letter (alone).

And I thought: Who do I have? Who’s my support person?

I posted a full blown vent, a rant – really – that ended with me wondering if I should just put down my pen and stop writing.

I said I felt like I was wandering around in the desert and that I was floundering.

Lord, I wrote, a little sign would be nice.

I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.

In grad school, I did a little stint as a back-up singer and — later — as a dancer on a hydraulic lift. In college, I was in some obscure shows. In high school, I had speaking roles in Mame and Hello Dolly! In middle school, I had a bit part in Cheaper By the Dozen. One August, at summer camp, I landed the lead role as Peter Pan after I sang “Happy Birthday To You” to the Drama Director. Another summer, I sang a bunch of cabaret songs including “I’ve got Steam Heat.” I was in plenty of plays in middle and high school. If you you want to go back to elementary school, I was Flower #6, Bird #3, and eventually I worked my way up to Glinda from The Wizard of Oz.

Why am I giving you my acting resume?

I don’t know?

Where was I going?

Oh yes, to Best Buy.

The day I posted that horrible post, I needed to find a new camera because Monkey was taking my old almost totally non-functional one to summer camp. Buying a little camera should have been a job done in under 30 minutes. And it should be noted, the people at Best Buy tried to help me decide between the Canon and the Nikon; I just kept crying.

It was one helluva performance.

Except it wasn’t a performance.

It. Was. Ridiculous.

Later that same day, Leanne Shirtliffe a.k.a Ironic Mom alerted me that my comment had brought a lot of support at Clay’s place. So I went back to peek. And then I really started weeping.

Because I had asked for a sign, and all day I had been receiving cosmic signs.

I just didn’t know.

One sign from the universe came in from Kelly K at Dances With Chaos when she showed up with a post at Red Dress Society about that terrible inner voice that tells you that you are not good enough to be a writer. And I started wondering, “Did she just whip that off for me?”

And Carl D’Agostino just so happened to call me that night. And Leanne emailed and offered to Skype. And Chase McFadden emailed. And Eric Rumsey from I Swear We’re Not Crazy sent me one of those little invisible awards where he said, “Without Renée, I wouldn’t be blogging.” And TamaraOutLoud said something similar. And a new friend, Clay Watkins, from Making The Days Count told me he was inspired by a few of my posts to write two of his own: this and this. And then I saw Kathy English had run a post on Mom Crusades inspired by something I had written, and I figured, well, sheesh, if this many people are digging my stuff, I have to be doing something right. Right? And then Jeff Goins showed up with a manifesto which offered me some major piece of mind.

That day could best be summed up in a scene from “A Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Only I was playing Sissy Spacek playing Loretta Lynn in the scene when Loretta is on tour, running around everywhere, trying to be everything to everyone. And there is a part where Ms. Loretta Lynn kind of looks blankly out at the lights and calls for her husband: “Doo…” she says, “Doo… Things is happenin’ way too fast…” and then she collapses right there on the stage in her fancy blue dress.

That’s how I felt that day.

Only I looked out and I didn’t see any Doo. (Okay, I know that doesn’t sound right, but you know what I mean.)

I read Clay’s blog and realized I have been so focused on writing writing writing that I have lost my balance. I have been on red-alert, code-red, mayday-mayday, “we’re-going-down-with-the ship” mode. Which is not like me. I’m the cheerleader. I’m the happy one. I’m the shimmy and shine girl.

Except on that day.

That day I was an old piece of crap computer that had gone into severe meltdown mode.

And I really appreciated everyone’s kind words because they did help me to feel less alone.

I had asked for a sign, and my Blogosphere Inner Sanctum delivered. I was blessed to have:

8 cyber-friends on one blog offering support

4 different cyber-friends contacted me via email

1 phone call from Florida

1 phone call from Calgary

3 private messages on Facebook

A heckuva lot of tweets

And I would be remiss if I did not mention:

1 best friend in real life reminding me to breathe

1 Monkey who made me a homemade ICEE and let me use the rest of the blue-raspberry syrup, which everyone knows is the best flavor

1 Hubby who brought home an extra large pizza for dinner that night.

That day I learned there is a voice that a lot of us writers have that sometimes is still and sometimes cannot seem to be silenced. It’s a critical voice that whispers in our ears. It’s the voice of judgment and self-doubt. It’s the voice that makes us consider giving up.

But we won’t.

We can’t.

Writing is the closest thing I come to having an addiction.

I can’t not do it. And, as Monkey pointed out, “Even if you stopped blogging or stopped working on your book, you’d still keep scribbling in journals, so why not just keep the blog since you have met so many nice friends there?” (Monkey was careful to emphasize “friends” with air quotes.)

Since that day, I’ve had time to reboot myself. Resurrect myself.

Let me introduce you to the new and slightly improved rasjacobson 2.0.

I now come with state-of-the art anti-virus software that can better detect struggling-juggling and critical inner voices.

So the next time that voice starts tapping at my noggin, I will try to smoke it out. I know now how well-supported I am. Kelly K. was kind enough to let me borrow her duct tape so I can hog-tie The Terrible Voice and bury its dark, invisible carcass once and for all.

That’s one murder I wouldn’t fret about.

And I guess if a person is going to meltdown — at least — summer is the right time.

What do you do when you feel yourself melting down?

A Twit Learns To Tweet

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Way back on Monday, April 25, 2011 at precisely 8:07 AM, I emailed Clay Morgan from EduClaytion.com. He and I had established an “easy, breezy, beautiful” rapport; we’d talked on the phone a few times, and for a while, we were on the same cyber-page. But suddenly, Clay had a Twitter icon on his page. And I didn’t.

What the deuce? I thought. So I tapped out a quick note.

Dude, I seriously need to understand Twitter. I either need a 15 year-old girl. Or you. Can you call me?

Clay responded like a firefighter would to a burning building. He emailed me and assured me Twitter was “pretty intuitive” and that I could probably figure it out. He said he had faith in me.

Whaaaat? Twitter? Intuitive? To whom?

Clearly, he did not read this article.

We set up a time to talk.

Then I lost his phone number.

Still, I had every intention of making Twitter priority #1 on my list of Things To Do. (You know, after I got back from Florida. And all the grocery shopping was done. And I had unpacked and put the suitcases away and done all the laundry and scrubbed the baseboards and taken out the garbage and fed the animals.

(Note: We have no pets. Not even a goldfish. Not even an ant.)

I was a little bit horrified that I had so easily morphed into one of the typical student-types: the kid who pretends the deadline hasn’t come and gone, but never goes to talk to the teacher about it.

But Professor Morgan was onto me.

Clearly I was delaying. We set up a time to conference around noon.

After my massage.

(What? I have a long-standing back injury, people.)

On the day of our exciting teleconference, we started with the simple stuff.

Clay explained that, for a writer, the purpose of Twitter is to help network with other writers, to acquire followers, and to spread one’s writing around to other interested readers. He said Twitter can be a place to gather with my fellow writers, where I can find people to hold me accountable to achieve my writing goals, and where I can find people willing to critique my work.

That all sounded good.

He explained it also meant supporting and promoting the people whose writing I adore.

I heard “cheerleader.” I was a cheerleader in high school. I may have lost my splits, but I can still cheer. And if tweeting and re-tweeting my favorite writers’ stuff was going to help them, I could drink that Kool-Aid.

So Clay taught me the basics. About the Timeline. And how to check my Direct Message Box — to see if anyone has sent me a private message.

“How do I know that?”

Clay patiently explained.

He also told me I should always check Mentions to see if anyone has tweeted any of my posts and, if they have, that I should be absolutely certain to send that person a short thank-you.

“It’s Twit-tiquette,” Clay explained.

He taught me about how to set up a list of my most favorite bloggers. And while we were on the phone, I understood everything perfectly.

Clay was extremely patient and gracious. And then, like any good therapist smart person with outstanding time management skills, after one hour, he announced our session was up.

Whaaaat?

“I haven’t mastered this yet!” I whined.

He assured me that I’d figure it out if I played around with it a bit.

I thanked Clay for “eduClayting” me, and I messed around on Twitter for a while.

I tried to send messages to the people I knew best.

Eventually, I got a response from Clay himself.

Whaaaaat? I was sending messages to myself? Awk.Ward.

I tried to figure out that mess. And I set out again.

This time I heard back from Leanne Shirtliffe aka: Ironic Mom.

After a few weeks, I saw I got my first retweet! And then I got a RT from Mark Kaplowitz, someone whose writing I really like:

And then that started to happen more and more.

Eventually, I figured out the secret language of hashtags: the weird letters that come after the numbers’ symbol (#). Like #MyWana. Or #IYKWIM. For a while, I felt like I sitting alone at a table in the middle school cafeteria, and everyone knew everyone else and everyone knew what they were doing – everyone except me. But then I learned that you can Google these letters after the number symbol and find out the inside joke. And boom, I was instantly sitting at the cool kids’ table because I was speaking the same language.

And guess what, writer tweeps are a lot nicer than the mean girls in middle school.

The big moment came when author Kristen Lamb sent me a tweet. I would post it, but it’s kind of like looking into the sun. Too much truth. Your pupils might burn, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

These days, I have myself on a strict Twitter diet. I check in three times a week,  spend 15 minutes responding to people, sending thank-yous, and trying to connect with one new person. I literally set a timer. It is really easy for Twitter to become a time suck.

Alas, now that all this time has passed, I don’t remember how to add people to that list Clay helped me to create. Also, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that list. I think it was supposed to save me time somehow. I’m not really sure. So that’s not great.

I told Clay that I was going to write a blog about how much he helped me.

I estimated that I would have that post written by late August.

So I’m a little ahead of schedule.

But I really need to work on my fall curriculum. And my book.

You remember, my book?

The thing that started all of this…

Yeah.

It’s calling me.

Gotta run.

Do you use Twitter? If so, who taught you? And what do you get out of it? Any funny stories about stuff that has happened to you while you were learning to tweet? What are your Twitter woes?

Tweet This Twit @RASJacobson

Posts That Shimmy & Shake: Tamara Lunardo & Ricky Anderson

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It’s time for my favorite blogs of the week! As usual, I try to get one from the ladies and from the dudes.

Pick #1: I’m starting off my favorite reads-of-the-week with Tamara Lunardo from Tamara Out Loud. This week, Tamara wrote a piece called  Tamara, Literally Out Loud in which she explains how much she dislikes it when people mispronounce her name. And she explains how everyone has mispronounced it for her entire life.

I could totally feel Tamara’s pain.

Pick #2: I’m new to Ricky Anderson‘s blog. Because I just started stalking following him, I can tell you that he is a self-proclaimed computer geek who is married and has at least one young’um. Also, he likes to eat cereal. I came to Ricky’s hilarious post Who Is The Frank Sinatra of Our Generation? via Knox McCoy‘s blog and it got me thinking “Huh. Who is the sweet rebel crooner that is doing this his way?” Do you agree with Ricky’s analysis? Gotta read to find out.

But first, what do you think that guy up there so mad about?

Tweet This Twit @ RASJacobson

Now About That Winner

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I am thrilled to announce that the fabulous Julie C. Gardner author of the blog By Any Other Name was the person who posted closest to my one year blogoversary! And because of this she has been deemed thelucky winner. Because I know Julie prefers real books to electronic ones, I offered to buy her any book she wants – (under $20. What? You think I’m made of money?). And while I offered to send her the book of her choice, the fabulous and always considerate Julie Gardner opted to do the shopping herself! All I had to do was send her a check for twenty smackers. (It’s in the mail, baby!) How much to I love Julie? Let me count the ways.

1. I love Julie for allowing me to avoid the devil’s happy place mall. I’d only end up in J.Crew or Anthropolgie and nothing good could come of that.

2. As a result of her no-nonsense approach, I don’t have to stand in the always-long line at my local US Postal Office to ship a book.

3. I love her because she has not only agreed but sounds enthusiastic about sharing her mad skills on my blog.

4. She had me at julienancy.

5. And she sanctified my love with call me embarrassed.

I could go on. But instead, I will interrupt this unadulterated love fest to remind you that – as I have learned from my mother – sometimes when one receives a gift, there definitely are area few strings attached. (This time it’s more like spider webs.) But now that Julie’s agreed, she’s stuck. Here is the way it works.

1) Julie will receive my check and be really pissed when it bounces go to her local bookstore.

2) She will spend the money on cupcakes for her kids buy a fabulous book and read it.

3) Then, because she feels so quilty happy and inspired, she is going to write a mind-blowingly awesome short post for my blog that is in some way connected to the book she selected. In essence, Julie will be using the book as a writing prompt.

All I can say is I’m thrilled and honored that Julie Gardner reads my blog. At all. Ever. But I’m extra excited that she has agreed to play nice and write a little something in honor of my blogoversary. So get psyched to read Julie’s fabulous post here later in June. I know I can’t wait to sleep in.

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

The Day After My One Year Blogoversary!

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Wow, I am hungover.

I’ve been partying hard all day.

Why? Well, yesterday was my blogoversary!

Yes, I started this thing up on May 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm.

And a certain someone posted yesterday at 5:21 pm.

Yes, some people posted after that time, but like they do it on The Price is Right, I went for the person who got the closest without going over.

So that certain someone is going to win a new car something kinda cool.

There are, of course, strings attached.

So I just have to make sure that this person is cool with strings.

And yes it involves writing.

Thanks to all of you for helping to encourage me with my writing.

Love your favorite teacher and twit,

xoxorasjacobson

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

A Literary Interview With You

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Cover of "Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel B...
Cover of Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book)

A couple of weeks ago, Clay at EduClaytion put together an “Interview with You” Post. Then Leanne at Ironic Mom borrowed his idea and applied it to music from the ’80s. I’m flat out borrowing (read: stealing) their idea and applying the interview concept to books.

Here’s how A Literary Memoir works. In the comments section below, please cut and paste these 9 questions, then fill in your answers. Feel free to elaborate as much or as little as you like.

But first, here is my literary memoir:

  1. First book I remember being read: Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. How I loved those soft and shiny and sandpaper pages.
  2. First book I remember reading all by myself: The Cat & The Hat by Dr. Seuss
  3. Favorite Young Adult Book: Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. In fact, everything by Judy Blume. I read them one after the other. Ate them up like caramels. They. Were. Delicious.
  4. Favorite book of all time: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I think I refer to this book on a daily basis. Every student I have ever taught can vouch; I talk about it. A lot.
  5. Book I hated so much I could not finish Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulker. This is the only book that kicked my ass. I simply could not get through it. Don’t get me wrong: I loved As I Lay Dying and plenty of other Faulkner, too. But this one just stunk. Like a skunk. In a trunk.
  6. Book I will always keep: A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Poor, poor Holden. Plus, I have taught from this particular copy so many times that it is all marked up inside. It has sticky notes and stars all over it; all the important stuff is underlined. Despite the fact that some of the pages keep falling out, this one will go with me wherever I go. It will be loved to death.
  7. Last Book I Read: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Holy crap. This book scared the bejesus out of me. I simply cannot say anything about it. It will ruin everything. I will, however, take a moment to thank my friend Gina for recommending it to me. She recommends the best books. Her last three recommendations have been hits. This one, however, freaked me out.
  8. Book I am reading now: The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Lucette Lagnado. Book club. Lots of pressure to finish.
  9. Book I plan to read next: Why do you think I’m having you do this? 😉

To play along, cut and past these questions into the comments section and fill in. Here’s a blank set of the questions:

  1. First book I remember being read:
  2. First book I remember reading alone:
  3. Favorite Young Adult book:
  4. Favorite book of all time:
  5. Book I hated and could not finish: 
  6. Book I will always keep:
  7. Last book I read:
  8. Book I am reading now:
  9. Book I plan to read next:

Have fun. Can wait to read your responses! 🙂

Who Me? Stylish?

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" You read me? You really read me?!"

I said I was taking a break from blogging to work on my book.

I must not have been very convincing because the next thing I know, I received this message from Clay Morgan over at Educlaytion: “I have something for you over at my blog.” Well, for the love of Pete, that’s like crack. I mean, how can anyone resist that? You would have to have to be one cold-blooded bitch not to heed the call of a fellow blogger.

So I popped over to Clay’s blog and found an honor bestowed.

Clay has passed along the esteemed Stylish Blogger Award.

I’m told that in order to accept The Stylish Blogger Award, nominees must do the following:

  1. Write seven things about yourself.
  2. Present the award to six bloggers.
  3. Contact those people.
  4. Create a link back to the person who did this to for you.

I started looking around the blogosphere, and I have to say I’ve seen many variations of this theme. I’ve seen folks asked to name ten things about themselves (Can you say overkill?) and name fifteen other bloggers (Glurg!). So I decided that with this shiny, happy, and slightly imaginary award comes a little lee-way, so I’m going with the six-pack.

I’m giving you all six things about me that are mildly titillating and then I’m passing the torch to six people whose stuff I love to read. In fact, some of them may have already have received this award, but I’m throwing some traffic back at them. Because they are THAT good.

Okay, so six things about myself:

1. SK sat behind me in fourth grade. On the first day of school, I said I had a pair of blue flip-flops at home, and he said they were actually called “thongs.” From then on, we disagreed about everything. These days, I have a lot of thongs at home, but I don’t wear them on my feet.

2. In 3rd grade, I had a mad crush on a kid named Savallas. He could turn his eyelids inside out. He called me on Saturday mornings and we sang K.C. and The Sunshine Band songs together.

3. My first kiss was with a girl. And she liked it so much she became a lesbian. True story.

4. Somebody wrote in my high school yearbook: “May your tail fall off and your hair shrivel into snakes. I’ll never forget you.” His handwriting is completely illegible so I can’t read the name. I’m pretty sure he (or she) has forgotten me.

5. I am extremely competitive, and I have never “let my child win” at anything. Not chess or tennis or Crazy-Eights. This might be why he has taken up fencing; I do not own a sword.

6. I am not afraid of anything, except contracting lice and not getting my manuscript published. Either of those things would totally suck.

• • • • • •

Now for my six nominees to be forever immortalized should they accept this honor (and by honor, I mean, homework assignment disguised as an honor).

Chase McFadden of Some Species Eat Their Young – I will have to fight Clay over who discovered Chase first. (I swear it was me.) Chase is pee-in-your-pants funny. Seriously, I think I’ve actually had to change my pants after reading some of his posts. A must-read for dads who blog.

Valerie Stone Hawthorne of Mompetition – This chick is a hoot. She makes parenting a competition. And when it comes down to it? Isn’t it? Really? Check out her photographs. She manages to capture a whole blog’s worth in a picture and one snarky caption. (Damn her!) Plus her electronic videos are a hoot.

Worst Professor Ever – She won’t reveal her name. And after a while, you don’t want her to. I love WorPro. She is my hero. She came, she taught, and she got out alive. She is hot as a blister in the sun, sharp as a whip, tough as nails, and smart as a Bermuda bag in The Preppy Handbook circa 1982.

Zach Sparer of Faux Outrage – One of my former students, Zach is a hot, young, Jewish lawyer. He is funny and smart. He is also single and living in the D.C. area. What? This isn’t J-Date? Fine. Strangely, Zach and I have a lot in common. We both attended the same summer camp – though we missed each other by about 20 years. We also share a disdain for the man who subbed for me while I was out on bed-rest during pregnancy. (That man destroyed The Great Gatsby for over 125 students. Unforgivable.) Zach sees the world through sassy glasses – literally. Except he doesn’t wear glasses.

Kasey Matthews is an old comrade of mine from high school. I think we double dated for Senior prom. (Didn’t we Kasey? Shall I look for pictures?) Anyway, she has just started blogging, and her stuff is the stuff that moms wrestle with all the time. She has a new book coming out called Premature Journey: Lessons in Love, Life and Motherhood, and I can’t wait to read it.

Kathy English of Mom Crusades – What else can you say? Kathy is consistently funny, on topic, and spot on. She is incredibly prolific. I don’t know how (or when) she does it. All I can say is that her house had better be really, really messy!

So there you have it. It was lovely to come up for a little air. Clay, you know me so well. I needed a little watering and light. Thank you for thinking of me and putting me up there with so many great writers. Because there are so many great writers!

Now back to the trenches.