Before and After

This summer, I’m trying to buckle down and get through a complete rewrite of my fantasy novel, Immortal Bond. It’s been slow going, not just because of our upcoming bundle of joy, but because of the growth I’ve experienced as a writer since last summer.

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I started my rewrite by analyzing my characters in each scene, noticing that I didn’t know some of them as well as I ought. This has made for countless hours of me just pondering them, their individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, and any desires driving the current scene. I was forced to reconsider things I’d made them do before. The outcome of this exercise was twofold. First, I realized some of their previous actions and behaviors were too dramatic or extreme to be believable which forced me to cut countless lines of dialogue and whole chapters I used to think essential to the story. Second, characters that weren’t my favorite are beginning to feel more real and likable to me.

But all the cutting necessary to evoke this change hasn’t dropped my word count. My next task was to expand my scenes by adding more detailed descriptions of people’s actions and trying to utilize the environment to evoke character emotions instead of expositioning everything to death.

After meticulously implementing these changes in one particular key scene, I went back and compared my before and afters. The difference is dynamic. So much so that it’s embarrassing to look back at the writer I used to be. I keep thinking of all the manuscripts I handed out to people, hoping for feedback that never came, and wondering if I should just call them up and offer to pay them to burn it.

 

Yet, there are really no downsides to realizing this. Even those six or so query letters I fruitlessly sent out were not a waste.

For one, I needed to start somewhere. My inexperience with querying and the life of a writer couldn’t forever keep to my home. Each step forward was a step of learning, even if it required me to trip and fall.

Two, I knew in my heart back then that my novel wasn’t really good enough to be anything to anyone but me. I read too much not to see the difference between solid writing and someone who, though trying hard, is not exactly Random House material. (The difference I am now seeing makes me think I was barely brand-new-small-time-desperate-for-anything indie press.) That was one of the reasons I was such so nervous about handing out manuscripts to friends and family. I knew it wasn’t great, but I also knew I needed all the help I could get. I needed someone to help expose me to my blind spots. Most of those helpers ended up being my professors and classmates. I guess everyone else was too embarrassed to give it to me straight.

I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal of finishing the rewrite before school restarts. (I’ve spent too much of my summer staring vacantly into the void with narrowed eyes, wondering why or if a character would do or not do the thing.) What’s nice is that I no longer care. It doesn’t matter to me anymore how long this process takes, so long as the end product is something I’m truly proud of. Considering my growing love for my characters, and how impressed I am with the difference between my first drafts and my latest, I think I’m a lot closer to that end goal today than I was when I started this journey four years ago.

That, I think, is something to be proud of. ūüôā

It’s the Five Week Countdoooown!!

Unless I go late *crosses fingers and looks pleadingly towards heaven*

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35 weeks #photobombed

Things I can no longer do:

  1. Bend over (but squatting is good practice for labor, right?)
  2. go up or down a flight of stairs without feeling incredibly out of control and off balance (I was a consistent stair tripper BEFORE I was 8 months pregnant)
  3. Write (my vocabulary is more or less…uhh…well I…I lose words sometimes)
  4. walk without waddling
  5. get through a week without having a serious OHMYGOSHWEARENOTREADYFORTHISBABYATALL breakdown

Things that make me laugh:

  1. my complete 180 from a severe butter aversion in the first trimester to a now two week butter craving
  2. the way my belly rocks and rolls with Little Baby’s attempts to stretch more space out of me
  3. my strangely affectionate feelings for each new tiny stretch mark on my lower abdomen (which are all happening below the horizon of my bump so that only a mirror or my husband can reveal their presence)
  4. along with that, the nightly stretch mark count (*rolls up shirt over belly and says excitedly* Buppy! How many are there now?)
  5. The sounds that come out of my mouth when I try to roll over in bed at night

Things I hate:

  1. The sounds that come out of my mouth when I try to roll over in bed at night
  2. Trying to obey the midwives advice to avoid eating excess sugar and carbs while simultaneously craving funfetti cake, sugar cones with scoops of vanilla ice cream, and warm bagels with thick gobs cream cheese

    the 18 week doughnut versus the 32 week jug of water
  3. The insomnia induced loss of vocabulary (“Honey, I left that thing I need by the thing in that room. Can you get it for me? Thanks, Babe.”)
  4. The need to invoke an I-can-cry-for-no-reason-if-I-want-to rule
  5. the weird warnings I just discovered on the back of my prenatal vitamins which tell me not to take them if I’m pregnant or nursing
should I return these?

Things I love:

  1. My husband’s tireless devotion
  2. My family’s boundless patience
  3. My husband’s increasing giddy smiles with every installed car seat, erected bassinet, and load of fresh baby laundry
  4. The generosity of friends and family at our baby shower
  5. The prayers and love of so many people

Things I’m excited for:

  1. The look on my husband’s face when he first sees her
  2. Life on the other side of pregnancy and labor
  3. Little yawns, toes, fingers, lips, and wide curious eyes
  4. Finding out what her name will be
  5. Filling my aching empty arms with a little soul to nurture

Thing I’m most excited for:

  1. She’ll be here soon ‚̧

Open and Honest

One area in my life that I’ve been pushing myself to improve is my total lack of social skills. I am an introvert almost to the extreme, and often find myself content with no other company than my few closest friends. Building new relationships is excessively difficult for me.

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I think one of the reasons I find it so hard is that I kind of hate myself. I see myself as a whiney and annoying person with nothing intelligent to add to a conversation and a waste of space in the room. I labor under the assumption that pretty much everyone else secretly agrees with my self assessment, but are too kind to tell me they’d rather I left. So I leave without being asked. I slip away to be by myself where I’ll read or write or knit or whatever.

Most of this self abasement was encouraged in my upbringing by the way the household was run, and during the darkest periods of my struggle with Depression have led me to some very ugly thoughts. Today, the people closest to me often tell me that I hate myself more than anyone else in the room. I question the complete validity of this statement, but I see what they mean anyway. It would seriously be hard for anyone to dislike me more than I do.

Building relationships with the mental handicaps of Anxiety and Depression, along with my severe introversion, is a steep upward climb, but I recently had a breakthrough that I hope will become a new pattern.

My husband and I have changed churches. Again. These past two years have been the most up, down and unsettled period of my life. Though Timothy keeps telling me that now it’s safe to settle for at least the next three years, I haven’t seen enough in writing to convince me to unpack my emotional suitcase. So when kind and friendly faces in our new church body opened their arms to welcome me, I wanted to walk into them, but also wondered what was going to happen to their presence in my life come September. How much do I open up to these people? How much do I fight against my fears of rejection, only to meet with loss on the other end? Because one thing I’ve noticed in the last few churches we’ve gone to, is that once you’re no longer a member, the people who seemed to care don’t care anymore. It’s like you’ve switched from the goth click to the cheerleaders and you’re dead to all that’s past. All the trying, all the fighting against myself to get close to strangers becomes another example of people not actually caring about me, another example of my not being worth anyone’s time.

But what I’m now realizing is that I’m half the problem, maybe even more than half. My fear of rejection keeps my relationships shallow. Why should anyone miss me when I leave the room? They don’t know me, because I fear being known.

And here I am, standing in front of a woman who wants to get to know me, and I’m stuck. Yes, I’d love to go for coffee with you. It would be good for me in so many ways, and you’re being so loving and kind, but how do I tell you that, despite my being an adult, I don’t often drive places on my own? How do I tell you that I have such crippling anxiety disorder, that I’m afraid to schedule coffee with you on a day when I can’t rely on my husband to be around to prevent me coming home to an empty house?

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My new solution. I just do. I just say it, and hope that, if you really want to get to know me, you’ll help me think of another way. So instead of just telling her the easy bit about not having access to a car, I hear myself admit to her, “I have anxiety disorder, and driving is one of my triggers. I don’t really drive more than 20 minutes by myself right now.” And she says, “I’ll pick you up.” And she says, “I can drive you to the church where your husband is.”

Another falsehood I was taught as a child was that I was never supposed to talk about my mental health issues. It’s a secret that I’m ill, meant for just me and my doctors. So the worse my condition got, the more my relationships withered, the less I wanted to try. People don’t understand, I thought. I’m in the way. They must hate me. I’m such a nuisance. I wish I wasn’t me.

The thing I’m learning, a lesson I can take with me even if we do switch to another church in six months, is that a lot people are willing to help and want to understand, but they can’t do either if I’m not willing to be honest.

Honesty. It makes sense, really. Isn’t honesty a foundational pillar of any lasting relationship?

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It’s the Third Trimester, Little Baby!

And hip hip HURRAY for that!

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Us at 28 weeks

On the whole, I’m still not in love with this pregnancy thing. I have fatigue issues, mood swings, and a weird stress induced on and off again appetite. Though oddly enough, I have this wacky feeling I had all of those issues BEFORE I got pregnant. *tilts head and squints thoughtfully*¬†

On the positive side, she’s a healthy little monster, if her constant kicks and squiggles are any indicator. Timothy and I call her Squirmy Wormy. I love her so much it makes my whole heart ache.

After losing Little Baby number one, it was initially difficult¬†to let myself love her the way I wanted to. At times I just would try not to think about her. I was afraid to hope that she’d stay. I was afraid to repeat what happened before, that my still childless arms would just forever dream of holding my baby. I would choke up with every attempt to sing her a lullaby, scared that I’d mar another song in my memory, so that every time it plays all I can think of is the¬†little angel forever out of my reach.

This lessened after our 9 week ultrasound. After I saw Little Baby dancing on the screen, I let my heart go, but slowly, like a kite testing the currents in the wind. Once it caught the updraft, I began to soar and tears became part of the flight, along with a daily prayer of God please let me keep this one.

“I love her so much,” I say to Tim.

“I know you do. I do too.”

“Do you ever feel like there’s no more room? Like, I’m afraid when I see her, that I’ll just shatter.”

“You won’t,” he says. “You’ll just get bigger.”

On the days when the fear is bigger than the¬†hope, I’ll hold onto Tim and cry.

“You really believe we’ll meet her,” I ask.

“Yes, I do.”

“How can you be sure though? Weren’t you sure with our first one? God took him anyway.”

He¬†said, “I don’t doubt the sun will rise every morning. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the natural order for her to come out and meet us. That’s what I believe will happen.”

So I sing to her. Every day, at least one song. I try to wait until I feel her moving, hoping that she’s awake to hear. Sometimes she rolls to the sound, like she’s dancing along. Other times, she goes still, and I’ll wonder if she’s asleep. But as soon as I stop she’ll give me a few good thumps. Applause? Or maybe she’s learned that the music¬†starts up again once she¬†moves.

I like to think she likes listening to me sing. I like to think she’ll remember the sound in August when they finally lay her against my skin and I sing to her softly.¬†I like to think she’ll stop crying, that she’ll know the sound of my heartbeat, and¬†in that moment she’ll understand what I¬†mean when I say, “I love you, Peanut.”

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Curtain Close. Take a Bow. Spring Semester’s over now!

Done. And considering my sweet little complication this semester, I think I did a pretty good job.

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Not that I’m taking sole credit for that. My husband ran me back and forth to every class, my mother-in-law encouraged me and proofread my writing, most of my professors were sweet and sympathetic to the challenges I had this year, and God held me up and gave me just enough strength to get through it.

But it’s over! *sighs long relieved sigh of relief*¬†Next is the part where I chill, read, and write while I¬†prepare for…THE ORDEAL! *DUN DUN DUUUUUUUNNNNN*

In all honesty, I try not to think too much about labor. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally laying awake at night, thinking to myself that, one way or another, this little person has to come out of me. I have a few girlfriends with children who have been super encouraging, but they are the few. Can anyone tell me the rationale behind the many and the bold¬†negativity freaks who sneak attack you with horror stories about childbirth?

They lurk behind soup cans in the supermarket: *cans clatter to the floor as they shove their red faces forward* OHMYGWALLYMOSES! I just read about this woman who gave birth in her car! IN HER CAR! Can you believe it? Never even MADE it to the hospital.

They hover beside you in the library:¬†*in a stage whisper* Oh! I thought you were due in June. Well, August is nice too.¬†*snorts¬†prematurely at the hilarity of their next comment*¬†Only you’ll have to go through the heat of the summer. The WHOLE THING.

They spontaneously pop into being, uncaused, from nothing while you’re clipping your toenails: You’re due when? How can you BE so YUUUUUGE?¬†*sees husband working at computer* Is THAT the father? Oooooooh!¬†*nods knowingly with a wry smile* That’s why you’re so big. That baby is going to be a 12 pounder.¬†*pats my belly* Good luck pushing that monstrosity¬†out of your…

Don’t they think about the fact that I might already be concerned about some of these things? I mean, am I the only pregnant woman who wonders what she’ll do if she wakes up to find out she’s one of those wacko’s that sleeps through labor only to meet her¬†baby, blinking up at her¬†between the sheets. Or that labor will be the excruciating horror that all these lurkers warn me about, and my heart will just give out entirely during it. And yes, I also worry that my husband’s hearty¬†viking ancestry has placed the heir of Thor into my womb, complete with pink Mj√∂lnir.¬†It’s my first. It’s all unknown. That’s¬†freaky on it’s own. And most lurkers appear¬†to be¬†women with children. If they’ve already been there, don’t they know to shut up?

Lurkers aside, I’m just trying to enjoy this for what it is. Labor is inevitable now, but in a way, I’m looking forward to it too. I mean, after THE ORDEAL¬†I get to kiss my little girl’s face. I also get to watch my husband kiss her face. I’m pretty sure both those things will make it worth it.

*lurker pokes head in through bedroom window, waggling a finger*¬†Not if you’re…¬†*sound of flamethrower and terrified screams drown out the rest of¬†their¬†sentence*

So, if you need me for the next few months, I intend to be curled up with my growing baby belly. We will be reading lots of books, drinking gallons of water, and trying to do a complete rewrite of Immortal Bond  before tiny persons and William Paterson eat up all my leisure time.

*weak voice floats from garden below broken window*¬†Yeah, and you’ll never sleep again either.

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NOTE TO READERS: This blog has a zero tolerance policy on pregnancy lurkers and their snarky negativity. Any and all pregnancy lurker comments found in the comment section will be moderated by the delete button and a flamethrower. You have been thusly warned.

Halfway There

Tah-Dah! We are twenty weeks people (twenty-one by the time this posts), and therefore halfway through this thing called pregnancy!

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Us at 20 weeks

My morning sickness is almost completely gone! I’m finally starting to gain weight. I stuff my face with spinach, eggs, and avocados. I still¬†have an aversion to butter (most dairy actually), toast, and¬†white flour tortillas.

Last Monday, Timothy and I went for the BIG ultrasound. They call it an Anatomy Scan, and they measured and checked out our baby from her adorable head to her sweet little toes. She’s healthy and beautiful and I’m on target for my due date of August 18th.

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Daddy’s favorite picture of his baby girl

Even before I met Timmy, whenever I pictured my future family there was always a little girl there. I pictured boys too, sometimes lots of them, but even in a family with 6 kids, there was always at least one little girl. Sometimes she was fair, sometimes dark, sometimes with blonde curls, sometimes with two brown plaits laying against her shoulders. She was sporty. She was a fairy princess. Her nails were dirty from digging up worms. She hated mud and slime. No matter what form she took, she refused to leave my imagination.

I had a laundry list of worries walking into that ultrasound, but the one that upset me the most was, “what if it’s not a girl.” Yes, it mattered more to me that the heart and brain and feet and hands were all looking healthy and strong. I say “upset me,” because I didn’t want the baby’s gender to matter to me at all. I prayed so many times, “God, just let me not care. Please, give me peace.”

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possible early evidence of thumb sucking?

Looking back, I think he answered that prayer the first time around. I think he was telling me, “Rachel, stop worrying, because I’m giving you your girl,” but I was too scared to believe that it was His voice speaking and not just my own desires. My mother-in-law later said to me, “Maybe God gave you that desire, because he wanted you to have it.” God didn’t have to give me my little girl. He chose to. He has control over the whole cosmos, and knew¬†which soul to put in my womb because he has a purpose for her¬†life.

One of the wacky theological teachings¬†I heard a lot growing up was a kind of “be careful what you ask God for,” strain of belief. Ask God for patience, He’ll give you trials. Ask God for contentment, He’ll burn your house to the ground. But the HUGE thing always missing from these sermons was the truth¬†that God isn’t sitting on his throne rubbing his hands together with glee because you’ve asked for the wrong thing, like a cosmic genie who grants your wish for a million dollars by handing you your loved one’s life insurance policy. True, ugly things will happen to us, but as I learned through my miscarriage, by His grace those ugly moments are never too much to bear.

Whatever he takes, he replaces. Sometimes materially, sometimes with more of Himself. Either way, he will satisfy.

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I prayed for God to take away my desire for a girl¬†or to change my desire to meet his plans for my life. He answered my prayer. He kept my desire there, strong as ever, and waited for me to take hold of the peace he offered me because of the ernest nature of my prayers. I never took that peace, but at least now I’ve got the lesson.

And a baby girl. ūüėČ