Archive for 2012

You wait six weeks for a new post…

…and all you get is this lousy poem.

(In which I showcase our true natures.)

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas in 2012,

Once more into poetry’s breach I shall delve.

Sure, laundry needs folding and cupboards are bare;

But dude! I’ve got people who still claim to care

About what we Gardners have shoved up our sleeve.

So here you go, readers. It’s time to believe:

 The kids rooms aren’t messy, their homework’s all done,

Their desks overflow now with trophies they’ve won.

Stanford and Harvard keep calling our home;

(Too bad I’m not here or I’d answer the phone.)

 Both dogs have stopped digging and puking and such;

They won Best in Show because we have the touch!

The guinea pig’s Gifted; he cleans his own cage,

Our house smells like rosemary, parsley and sage!

 Yes, all of my manuscripts finally have sold

And Bill has retired since our family struck gold!

(Or maybe it’s silver. I just can’t recall.

Achievements get blurry in bulk, after all.)

 And yet I can still pull my tongue from my cheek

To say such perfection is not what we seek.

No, we push for happiness; savor our time,

Togetherness, warmth, off-beat rhythm and rhyme.

 Before our walls echo with empty kids’ rooms,

We’re letting things slide while the family still blooms.

With teenagers, driving tests, high school and more,

We’re holding on tightly and locking the door.

(Not really. It’s thrilling to watch the kids grow.

It’s just that we wish that the pacing would slow.)

So speaking of wishes, this list is for you;

And though I was joking before, these are true:

Hope your steel is stainless, your dentistry painless,

And that your co-workers aren’t terribly brainless.

May your rugs be well-braided, your stains (mostly) faded,

Your heart bright and friendly toward others, not jaded.

Hope you’ve got corn for popping and whipped-creamy topping,

Plus carts that aren’t squeaky when you’re grocery shopping.

May your gifts all be nifty, your giving not thrifty,

Your greys come in shades that are better than fifty.

 Let’s try to give more and to judge a lot less;

To look at the artwork and not at the mess.

(I told you I had laundry to do.)

When asked for a sacrifice, let’s grin and bear it.

Good fortune’s made better when we can all share it.

 Be humble and grateful; keep fighting, be strong;

Hear notes in the music, the words in the song.

And while we are moving our Elves on their Shelves,

Let’s also remember to laugh at ourselves.

Remember that sunrises chase each sunset,

And here’s one more thing we should never forget:

Our world that seems giant is really quite small;

Let peace start with “me” and then spread to us all.

 If we were together I’d hug you and kiss you.

But since we are not, I’ll just sigh hard and miss you.

At least we share space on this big rolling sphere.

 I thank you.

I love you.

Each day.

Every year.

     Don’t blink, my friends. Just don’t.

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference

…or at least not wet your pants while you’re there.  (Probably.)

In case you didn’t hear (like most people on the planet) I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in Hollywood, California last weekend with the intention of learning about my craft and pitching a current project to as many agents as possible.

Having survived the experience, I’m now an expert. Naturally.

Okay. No, I’m not.

But I’m perhaps more valuable (shut up, I am) because an expert may forget crucial details after attending multitudes of conferences. I, however, offer the perspective of a new kid fresh from her first time with tips to ease your newbie mind. Or at least help you control your bladder. (Probably.)

Here’s a list to consult when YOU take the leap and attend your own writer’s conference:

1. Don’t worry about going alone. I attended the WDC with the wonderful Cheryl Rosenberg so I knew I wouldn’t be by myself (unless I peed my pants early and she ditched me). But most attendees arrived as singletons. They were friendly and willing to sit next to strangers or invite strangers to sit with them. A writer’s conference isn’t a social event so being alone isn’t the end of the world, it’s the norm.  If you can’t convince another writer-friend to attend with you, don’t let your solitary status hold you back.

2. Do your homework. Research which participating agents specialize in your genre. Find at least one fact/preference/detail about each agent to reference in your pitch to show you want to work with him or her specifically. I took notes on index cards and practiced answering the question, “Why is your project a good fit for my agency?” Narrow your list to agents you want to see most. Your time’s limited and so is theirs. Don’t waste a minute of it.

3. Don’t pitch an incomplete manuscript if you write fiction. When an agent is interested, he/she won’t want to wait six months for your finished project.  Non-fiction writers can pitch a book proposal rather than a completed work.  (See Nathan Brandsford’s site for tips on writing an effective proposal.) Some writers attended the WDC strictly for break-out sessions to hone their skills; but conferences are expensive and my main goal was to score agent interest.

4. Do memorize your pitch so when you forget it (or freeze, like I did) you can still deliver the key details of your story off the cuff. When I actually got in front of the agents, my super-rehearsed version sounded awkward so I strayed from my script because it felt more authentic than reciting a monologue.  Still, I NEVER could have done this if I hadn’t known my pitch cold.

5. Don’t worry about what to wear.  Clothing spanned the spectrum from casual jeans to flowing skirts (even a Benjamin Franklin costume!) so wear an outfit you’ve had on a million times and won’t think twice about, something that makes you feel comfortable or fabulous. Fashion is NOT the focus of a writer’s conference. Wear layers (because temperatures vary between rooms) and don’t worry about shoes (I beg you) because agents can’t see under the table.  No one will notice what you’re wearing. Unless you’re dressed like Ben Franklin.

6. Do bring a granola bar or small snack and a water bottle in your bag or briefcase along with paper, pens, cash for parking and coins for vending machines. I got hungry and thirsty in between meals (duh) but grumbling stomachs and parched tongues aren’t good for anyone.

7. Don’t forget to order business cards to give to those with whom you connect. They need not be fancy; simply include your name and contact information. You can use these to take notes on specific people you meet. Along the “nothing fancy” lines, I brought a Ziploc baggie to store mine, not a card-holder. No joke. No one cares. (Thanks, Joann Mannix!)

8. Do line up early for a pitch session without pre-established appointments. At our conference, we didn’t book ahead of time with a specific agent or two; ours was a PITCH SLAM: 250 writers in one room with 20 agents for 90 minutes switching up in three-minute intervals. It was speed-dating for the literary world. I may suck at math, but you do not want to be the 250th writer entering that room.

9. Don’t limit yourself to pitching your first-choice agent first. I went in with seven options and used as variables the length of their lines and how good a fit I thought we’d be. Some writers waited more than a half hour for one agent and ended up pitching to only one or two people while my strategy afforded me face-time with six.

10. Do write down the interested agent’s specific instructions immediately.  You think you’ll never forget the moment an agent says, “I’d like to hear more,” but your brain is on overdrive and you won’t remember when it’s over. Synopsis? Ten pages? Two chapters? Query in the body of an email? Trust me. Write it down. The back of their business card works great. (Thanks, Robin Bielman!)

11. Don’t forget these agents WANT to love your pitch. You’re a potential money-maker and they are mere mortals.  I didn’t pee my pants (probably) but I was uber-nervous during my first pitch. My voice cracked, my hands shook, my eyes watered and I blanked on words I’d practiced no less than a thousand times. And yet. The agent understood it was my first pitch of the day.  She nodded and smiled and I kept breathing and the next pitch became easier. And so on.  If an agent is harsh, do what Ben Franklin did – grab your kite and key and move along. Then forgive yourself for being scared and realize that everyone else is, too. You will survive. (Thanks, Gloria Gaynor!)

And so my spectacular writer-friends, if you take even one piece of encouragement with you to your own writer’s conference let it be this:

Be proud that you are putting yourself out there. EVERY new experience is an opportunity to learn. You’ll come away from the weekend knowing more than you did when you arrived.

Even if it’s simply about yourself.

Cheryl took this picture right before we entered the room for Pitch Slam. If I hadn’t been wearing a jacket, you would have seen my heart beating. Pretty sure. And Cheryl? Thank you. From the bottom of my sick and twisted heart.

p.s. In all seriousness, if you’re going to a conference and have a question, shoot me an email or DM me on twitter. I’d be happy to send you a virtual hug or words of advice if I can.

When a Teacup Is Not a Teacup

I disappeared again. I know.

The funny thing (although it’s not really funny so forget I said funny) is this:

When I was “gone” this summer, I was actually still writing posts. It’s just that my blog was “broken” so only a few people were reading.

And yet.

I kept posting. And reading other people’s blogs. Engaging in the time-sucking affairs of the blogging addict. Because it is like a drug, right? Complete with its own highs and lows:

A. The fear of losing readers B. The thrill of receiving comments. C. The heady rush of compliments bestowed upon you by strangers who become friends. D. All of the Above

Answer: D

And also, YES YES YES! I am wonderful! Someone notices me!

I soaked it up and worked hard at it, blogging. And – in the process – I neglected my fiction. My dream had long been to publish a novel. Someday.  But on the path of scattered success, I self-medicated. With By Any Other Name.

Oops.

So one day my blog was FIXED! and I published a post announcing I’m BACK! even though I’d never been GONE!

And then (because I’m an IDIOT!) I actually did stop blogging.

I was Gone Girl (which I’m reading now and damn, Gillian Flynn’s smart. Like, GENIUS!).

Then I decided not to post about not posting. Because it seemed oxymoronish; and I aim to be the regular kind of moron.

Plus who cares, really? I’m just Julie and you’re all BUSY! with probably too many unread posts in your own inboxes to worry about someone who’s gone.

To be honest, there were days that I wished for no new posts in my inbox. You see, I fail at moderation even when an endeavor becomes too much. So I kept on posting. And reading. And commenting. And replying. And sinking. And not working on my fiction.

Until suddenly I didn’t.  (Post, read, comment, reply, sink.) I worked on my fiction.

I hoped no one would notice. But they did. You did.

I received personal emails and messages, inquiries about my well-being. Your concerns were lovely and daunting and eye-opening. I couldn’t simply disappear.

Gone Girl is a novel not a life.

I wrote my first post two years ago (the anniversary passed without a BANG! or a whimper) and in it I said this:

“My work never feels done.  I could always write more.  Edit more. Research more. Promote myself via social-networking sites more.  So rather than navigating the waters of my career in a rowboat with at least one paddle, I am holding a teacup in front of an ocean, aware I’m supposed to do something, but not sure what.  So, yes, this morning I’m the tiniest bit adrift, wading into the tide.  But that’s okay.

It looks like a nice day for a swim.”

So I hope you *get* why I’m temporarily course-correcting back to my original goal. Because I sort of lost sight of the finish line while being loved by (perhaps) and loving you. (Not perhaps.)

I owe it to myself, my family – my children who are watching me – to finish what I started. And I’m trusting my friends to be patient in the interim.

Because I am not gone. I promise. I’m simply aiming my teacup at a different wave today.

With my head held high and my fingers crossed.

My heart still full of hope.

P.S. To Kill a Mockingbird rocks, right?

 

Dear Jack’s English Teacher,

Sorry for the generic nature of this greeting, but as of right now, I do not know your name. Or the names of any of Jack’s teachers. Not yet. You see, I’m dropping my son off for his first day of high school this morning and he won’t receive his schedule until after he arrives.

I assume this district policy seeks to minimize complaints or requests for schedule changes and I can appreciate the strategy since I also taught high school English for 16 years.

But wait! Don’t worry! This letter represents my official Parent’s Benefit of the Doubt – something else I appreciated throughout my tenure as a teacher.

Yes, I’m choosing to believe you are like I was:

Someone who pursued a career in education because she felt compelled to make a difference in kids’ lives; who tried every day (or at least most of them) to foster a welcoming environment. To inspire. To…wait for it…

teach.

My main goal wasn’t assigning vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, pages to read or study questions to answer; I wanted my students to know I cared about them, to trust I had their best interests in mind, to believe I could move them down a path of skill-sets regardless of where they started on that road.

I hoped – perhaps selfishly – to be their favorite teacher. To make each hour interesting and invent new lessons. To modify my assessments while maintaining high expectations.

At the bare minimum, I hoped they wouldn’t hate English.

Did I succeed 100% of the time? Of course not. I saw at least 120 students each day and I couldn’t reach them all. But I swear that I tried to. I did.

It’s been four years since my leave of absence and I still dream about teaching Dante’s Inferno and Act V of Hamlet, about reciting poems by Emily Dickinson.

I presented my students with the words of others, then asked them to write their own words that applied. We had discussions. Arguments. They debated, proved, reconsidered.

They learned. I learned. And I freaking loved my job.

I was overworked, under-appreciated, inadequately paid. At times it was very, very hard. But it was also kind of an honor.

Kind of like being a mother.

Which brings me to the heart of my letter. The heart of my life.

Two decades ago, I began teaching other people’s kids; today I hand my son over to you.

I hope he believes you care. That he thinks you love your job and want to make a difference. I hope he understands you’re not perfect but that he knows you try your hardest every day.

You might find that he’ll try his hardest, too.

I realize it’s difficult. I do. These kids come with divergent needs and abilities, different languages and home lives. You juggle paperwork and websites, new laws and recertification; you manage kids and parents, administrators and coworkers.

It’s exhausting. I felt it, too.

I faced tables stacked with Hamlet essays, Inferno projects and poetry explications. I sometimes woke up frustrated, tired, sick or moody. I was, after all, a human being first. Then a teacher.

But above all other things, I am a mother.

So I’m trusting you to try your best this year. Plus every year after that. For my son. For my daughter who’s coming next fall. For all the children of all the parents who trust you to try.

And if you find that you’re arriving at school more often annoyed and burned-out than energized and fresh? Consider a new grade level. A change of curriculum or campus. Another career entirely.

(Easier said than done. I know.)

And yet.

You didn’t accept a position in an office or firm. You committed to a career teaching children. You owe it to them. To your hard-working colleagues. To yourself.

Please. Whoever you are.

Try your best. It’s what all our kids deserve.

With sincerest respect (I promise you),

Jack’s Mom

This is Jack at his preschool’s Mother’s Day party ten years ago. I left my classroom during my prep period to attend. 

In related news, I could use a hug today as he starts high school.

Maybe.

Today call me proud. Or cornered. Or just read my post.

As the title of this post indicates, I’ve been slightly scattered lately. Like goofy-happy one minute and teary-eyed the next.

Perhaps this is because my oldest is starting high school and my baby’s beginning her 8th grade year. And while I’m insanely proud of my children, I also feel cornered by the passage of time.

I can’t escape it. None of us can. Another hard truth from Captain Obvious.

(You’re so welcome.)

I still remember being an 8th-grader and freshman. I pretended to have confidence, strength, style. But in reality, I was a bundle of insecurities trying on personas that fit poorly.

(Like my jeans.)

My kids are different from me; and not because they don’t beg for Jordache or sing Journey’s “Open Arms” into the mirror all day long.

They don’t worry about following the crowd. They’re comfortable being themselves even when such authenticity diverges from the norm. Teenage Julie could’ve learned from Jack and Karly.

In fact, her 43-year-old self’s still learning. A lot.

So I’m at The Kir Corner sharing one of the first lessons from my children:

Let your heart – not someone else’s opinion – be your guide.

Kir is – quite simply – one of the kindest, most supportive friends I’ve had the pleasure to “meet” on twitter and Facebook and I hope one day to share a real-life cupcake with her.

You’re invited, too.

But first, please visit The Kir Corner to read this story. It’s one of my favorite proud moments as a mother.

Then afterward, if you want to meet up to sing Journey, I’m available.

(You’re so welcome.)

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Hands Down

“I love you.”

I say it all day long. No joke.

I tell my kids (who sometimes mumble it back and sometimes speak clearly).

I whisper it into my dogs’ ears while they lick my face and I try not to think about where their tongues have been.

I text it to Bill if he’s not home and I’ve made mistakes often enough that the phone now auto-corrects to I love youm.

I leave comments on posts of bloggers I adore:

I love the story of your failed potty-training efforts. And I love you. So let me know where to send the diapers and wine. (Not necessarily in that order.)

No one’s surprised to hear me admit I love my dogs and kids and husband. Of course I do.

And yes I love hilarious posts that remind me of the bright side to mothering teenagers (acne sucks but diapers suck harder); and indeed I love the bloggers who write these posts (enough to share my time, heart, words and wine with them).

I love my friends. A lot. My extended family. A lot. I love writing and reading and sleeping (holy crap do I love sleeping).

And running (when it’s not too hot). And eating food (even when it is).

I love the ocean waves and music. Evenness. Asymmetry. Peace. I love learning and also being mindless. I love working hard and succumbing to laziness. I love success and – as a hopelessly cock-eyed optimist – I try to love failure for the lessons it teaches me.

But I know – like many of us – I throw those three words around too lightly. I say them without thinking. When I’m not being purposeful.

And I don’t think that’s awful. Of course it’s not awful. I mean, who in her right mind doesn’t want more love?

A wise man – who wasn’t even Henry David Thoreau if Wikipedia is to be trusted – once said it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

(Forgive the ending preposition. It was Hal David’s idea.)

Still.

I think all of us (at least sometimes, or perhaps more often than that, even) should take a moment to truly mean what we say. To give as much thought and emotion and intention to   I LOVE YOU as we give breath.

I want every single person I love to know that’s how I feel. I hope they do. And to the one who promised to stick with me forever sixteen years ago today:

I hope I’ve succeeded in not just telling my love but showing it. And I hope you believe…

I meant it.

I mean it.

I do.

Today call me back

When something breaks, we have various options for handling the situation.

For the purposes of this post, I’m narrowing the field to three because

A. This is my blog and B. I’m bossy and C. One of those two statements is true. (Hint: A.)

Anyway.

When we realize something’s broken (let’s say an air mattress or a manuscript or a blog)

  1. We can fix it.
  2. We can seek a new one.
  3. We can live without it.

This compels me to mention a fourth option – to surrender our power and wait to see what happens – however, this choice is my least favorite because

A. I prefer duct tape. B. I’m proactive. C. One of those two statements is true. (Hint: A.)

Anyway.

In case you hadn’t noticed (I mean, we’re all busy these days) my blog wasn’t functioning.

Also, my manuscript – especially those pesky opening chapters – was less than perfect.

And finally, two of our family’s three air-mattresses (yes three shut up) had slow leaks.

So. I explored my options and divvied them up.

Instead of fixing our old air mattress or seeking a new one, I decided to live without it while camping. I prefer being low-maintenance (isn’t that the point) and let’s face it:

If I’m not going to shower or change my clothes, I can slide into a sleeping bag and greet the ground in its natural state.

My manuscript was/is a monumentally bigger issue (except perhaps at 2:00 am on Sunday when I discovered a rock under my spine). But instead of starting a new project or living without writing, I decided to fix my old one.

It seems that in the working and re-working of my YA novel, I have strayed too far from my original voice and intent; so I’m going back to basics because at the very least it is me.         My vision, words and goals.

And if it fails, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

As for the blog, I tried living without it; but if you scroll down through previous posts, you’ll see that aside from these past two weeks, I’ve kept up my blistering once-a-week pace throughout my blog’s temper tantrum.

This space also didn’t want to be fixed. No, it wanted to be upgraded to a newer version of WordPress).

So I got a new blog. (I know it looks the same but shut up it’s totally new and improved.)

Anyway.

In the interim – when my subscribers weren’t getting post notifications and I couldn’t reply to my comments and the summer filled up with sunshine and sandwiches and smiling kids –   I briefly surrendered to the brokenness.

In fact, I embraced it. I gave myself permission to not read other blogs or write new posts of my own; I barely glanced at twitter and Facebook before slathering on another layer of sunblock to head out the door.

And I’m not gonna lie. It was lovely.

But another truth is that I also missed you all. (Maybe even more than I missed that air mattress at 2:00 am on Sunday morning.)

I missed the part of me that faces reality.

So today, call me back.

Hooray! Right?

(Don’t worry. I know that collective cheer’s merely an echo from the closing ceremony of the Olympics.)

Still, I’m back and prepared to hold your hand if you too need to address something that’s broken in your life.

If you want to fix it? I’ll share my duct tape. If you want to buy a new one? I’ll cross my fingers through your search.

If you decide to live without it? I’ll quote Thoreau for you. Again.

(Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. It never gets old.)

My optimism may be hanging by a thread. My determination to succeed is limping beside me. I might have to wrap myself in duct tape before this fight is over.

But I won’t give up.

Not on my new-ish blog. Or my fixable book.

As for the air mattress? It’s in the trash. Because, after all, I’m no Princess with a pea.

I am Julie C. Gardner.

And I’m back.

Today call me chaotic…

Today call me chaotic…which indeed I am, having just hosted my mother and father-in-law, two sisters-in-law, two nephews, two nieces and one dog-in-law for a wonderful week in honor of Bill’s mother’s birthday.

Together with my family of four and our two dogs, this made for a grand total of thirteen people and three dogs under one roof over a period of seven days.

Chaotic. Plus also awesome.

And I’m lucky beyond words to have married into such a wonderful family.

Still, the last of our guests are leaving today and I feel the need to keep the chaos going. Which is why I’m thrilled to be visiting Jamie Walker at Chosen Chaos today as a part of her If I Could Turn Back Time series where I have a “talk” to my 18-year-old self.

So please visit Old Julie talking to Young Julie, then stick around Jamie’s place and check out Facebook and twitter to learn more about her.

You won’t be sorry. She’s one of those people who feels like a lifelong friend after only a few email exchanges. She’s that cool.

She’s a wife, mother of four, a blogger and a runner with excellent taste in music and beverages.

In other words, I love her. And you will, too.

So go there. Now.

And embrace the chaos. I dare you.

Teenager

I will forever love the doctor who said this to me on the day of your birth:

“She’s a titch, but she’s perfect.”

All four pounds, fourteen ounces of you.

My last miracle.

My baby girl.

Who looks like this:

So can you forgive me for still seeing you like this?

And allow me to say (without exaggeration) that each day since your birth you’ve made me

smile.

Not just with my lips and eyes, but with my heart.

Therefore my wish for you today (and every other day for the rest of your life)

…is JOY.

Because my love (my Kaker Baker Candlestick Maker), you make me complete.

As long as I have you, no one can steal my sunshine.

And if I could, my girl, I’d give you every ray of mine.

This song played hourly the summer Karly was born and I haven’t stopped loving it since…

Today call me monstrous

Today call me monstrous, not only because I am visiting Mommy of  Monster and twins, but also because I’m there for her Mommy Moment feature - and the topic sometimes makes me feel inhuman.

Yep. I’m sharing a bit about my experiences with discipline which is probably my biggest challenge as a mother.

I’ve often felt like waving a white flag of surrender when it comes to disciplining my children, my weakness taking the form of that old monster: Consistency.

Still, that hasn’t stopped me from trying.

Over my fifteen years of parenting, I’ve read books, magazine articles, even enrolled in classes.

And sometimes I still believe I’m a failure.

But that’s what is so great about Natalie’s Mommy Moments, a feature she runs every Monday. It’s a safe space to share and commiserate about the times where you DON’T feel like you’ve knocked this whole parent gig out of the park.

Which for me is most days, if I’m being honest.

So please stop by to read my story and share your own in the comments.

Then stick around and check out Mommy of a Monster and follow Natalie on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

If you’re like me, you won’t leave her place without a smile…

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Meet Julie

Call me anything you like...as long as you like me.

Julie


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