Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Morning, Noon, or Night?

 This post was written during a winter break four years ago. Although I'm a lot closer to coming to terms with my internal clock, I still waste a lot of time feeling a bit embarrassed that it more closely resembles that of a college student than that of a grown-up. Maybe it's the company I'm keeping :-) 


I've spent a lot of time during this break beating myself up about not being able to get started. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I get up early (a relative term if there ever was one) or much too late, even by my night owl standards. I don’t seem to be able to kick myself into gear until late morning.

And I do mean late morning.

I have applied all sorts of adjectives to this. Tired. Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Lazy. Procrastinator.

Do you hear that? The sound of judgment permeating this post? It’s ugly, isn’t it?

Needless to say, that didn’t help. And, if I'd laid finger pointing and blame out as a plan for myself (and a ridiculous one at that), I could have told you it wouldn’t work. I would never say those words to someone else (well, maybe tired and overwhelmed). In fact, if someone came to me with this "can't get started" concern, I would seek to analyze and create a plan -- a helpful one, not one based on hurtful criticism -- yet my first response to myself is to chide.

At 81, my dad is unapologetically not a morning person. Though he would help someone he loves at any hour of the day or night, he doesn’t schedule appointments until after lunch unless it’s completely unavoidable. His sleep schedule is more in line with the norm than mine is, but he still gets up hours later than my lark of a husband. And, for his part, my husband is asleep on the sofa before my dad turns in and long before I turn out the light and call it a day.

I share this not because one of us is right and the others are wrong, but because I want to be more like my dad -- unapologetically not a morning person. I’ve got 4/5 of that down pat. It’s the unapologetically part that I struggle with.

I don’t know why it took me so much time and mental anguish to figure it out but, even if my hours aren’t in sync with the regular business world, I put in a full day. So, besides the crushing guilt over being in bed too long after “everyone else” is up, why does it matter what time my day starts?

It doesn’t. At least not now. Now, I am still on break, yet still working, too -- on class prep, an online course and the writing it’s become so challenging to squeeze into the semester. Oh, and there are all those little things around the house that fall to the bottom of the list during fall and spring semesters. Some days, I work in spurts but, most days, I work consistently during the day and, often, again in the evening after some afternoon down time.

In two weeks, I will need to conform (slightly) again. I’ll need to set an alarm which, admittedly, will be for a time when most people are already up and at work. I’ll then need to show up on time and ready to teach. And I will do this willingly, in part because I have set a schedule that does not include early morning classes, but also because I enjoy my work and recognize that a schedule is necessary in order to make it happen

Meanwhile, as long  as my work day is flexible, you’re more likely to find me working on a syllabus or blog post at 11 pm than 8 am because that’s the way my body clock is set. I don’t jump into the day, I ease into it. And, at night, I don’t embrace the end of the day. I extend it, savoring the quiet time when I wind down much too slowly and go to bed much too late.

There it is again. That judgment, ever so sneakily stinking up the place. 

Image by Cristhian Adame from Pixabay
I am who I am, and, in the big picture, I get a LOT done. Some days I’m amazingly productive and
other days, I leave an imprint on the sofa -- y’know, kinda like everyone else. I wear many hats and, some days, I’m too tired to decide which one to put on first, so I take my time figuring it out.

My dad has the right idea. And, I’m learning that the only thing standing between me and that same unapologetic attitude is those judgy labels I stick to myself. And, I certainly don’t want to wait until I’m 81 to toss them in the trash, so maybe today is the day I shrug and say, 
“That’s just the way I am.”

And that’s okay.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Dressing My Characters

 Two days ago, I finished the first stage of the full revision of my latest novel. There is still polishing to do, but I'm inching closer and closer to getting ready to send it out, getting to know my characters better and better at each stage of the process.

For the most part, I don't launch into lengthy descriptions of my characters' outfits and wardrobes in my books. But that doesn't mean I don't have an idea of what they will and won't wear. In the past, I've done Pinterest boards with ideas for my characters' clothing, along with the occasional (okay, rare) post here. 

For this book, I took the process offline, pasting outfits to large pieces of paper to create a visual that inspired me to consider my characters from the outside in. It was a lot of fun.

The creative process is rarely linear, and is often influenced by a wide variety of factors. Some of these are surprising, and can even seem silly. But, as long as they spark new ideas or inspire a deeper understanding of something I'm working on, I have no intention of abandoning them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Who Are These People?

Writing about my characters' visits to the porch swing in yesterday's post made me want to feature them again, so today, I'm sharing a "who's who" of the major players in what I call "The MAC Books" (MAC = Marita, Angel and Charli). When I first shared this, I had no idea that Casting the First Stone would be only the first volume in their story. 

The Mercers:

Marita Mercer: At sixteen, a rebellious Marita and her best friend Bets crashed a fraternity party at a local college. Though neither the party nor the guy she hooked up with were memorable, the daughter that resulted from her encounter certainly is.

Charlotte Mercer Alessio ("Charli"): Daughter of Marita Mercer and former frat boy Jim Alessio, Charli is 12 at the start of these stories. Bright and well-adjusted, Charli has had a good upbringing thanks to her mother and her grandparents, and is happy with her life the way it is.  

Judge William Mercer: Marita's father. Conservative, in-charge and willing to provide help to Marita...with strings attached.

Rosemarie Mercer: Marita's father. Disapproving, dramatic and still punishing Marita for her indiscretions.

The Alessios:

Jim Alessio: No longer a nineteen-year-old frat boy, Charli's father is a successful businessman. Married and ready to be a father, Jim claims he is seeking full custody of Charli because he feels he and his wife will be better role models for his pre-teen daughter.

Angel Spencer Alessio: Jim's wife. Eight years Jim's junior, Angel is delighted to play the role of his wife, and is ready to have a child of her own. Angel loves Charli, and although she'd love to spend more time with her stepdaughter, she is unconvinced that taking Charli away from her mother is in anyone's best interests. She and Marita share their points of view in Casting the First Stone. Charli joins in the storytelling in Chasing a Second Chance and Courting Peace.

Carmella Alessio: Jim's mother. She maintains that there's no proof that Charli is Jim's daughter, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she thinks her son's pursuit of custody is a bad idea. She has never had anything to do with her granddaughter and doesn't plan to start now.

James Alessio Sr.: Jim's father. Owner of Alessio's Pizza, he taught Jim valuable lessons about business, but stands with Jim's mother when it comes to Charli. Like Carmella, he convinced Jim to walk away when Marita told Jim she was pregnant.

Other key players:

Bets: Marita's partner in crime since first grade. Marita is closer to her than she is to her own family, and she certainly likes her a whole lot more than she likes Jim. 

Gregory: Bets introduces Marita to Gregory, an attorney, in the hopes that he'll help Marita fight the custody battle Jim is waging.

Lukas: The youth minister at the church Marita's parents (and Jim and Angel) attend. The church is also affiliated with the school Marita and Bets attended, at least until Marita became pregnant with Charli.

Trevor: A bartender who takes a shine to Bets.

I think this summer might be a good time for me to invite a few of the ladies in the group for some "conversations." 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Still Swinging


One of my favorite off-shoots of this blog
 is this beautiful visual created by Rachel DeMasi.

Last week marked 21 years since I started this blog. My daughter was still small -- kindergarten or first grade -- and I think I remember sitting on the porch swing at my brother- and sister-in-law's house with her. I know that's where this idea was hatched, and named.

In those two decades, this blog has had multiple homes, multiple schedules, and multiple themes. It hatched an offshoot, Organizing by STYLE, after I realized that my posts here about organization weren't just a phase, and those posts became the foundation for my third non-fiction book.

In the early days, I was proud of myself for simply figuring out how to publish a post. I look back on those short, words-only entries and realize how far I've come. Not only did I not know how to create hyperlinks and add visuals, it never occurred to me to do so. Now, I can't imagine posting something without a visual, often one I've created on Canva to make a recurring feature recognizable at a glance.

My daughter grew up here, in a sense, as she was frequently the inspiration for my posts. My characters spent time here, too, with Marita, Bets, Angel, and Charli answering questions in the way I imagined they would. Their voices were -- and are -- so clear that it was like having a conversation among friends.

Sometimes, it was hard to know what to write about; sometimes it still is. Often, I wondered if anyone was reading anything I posted, or if I was simply shouting into cyberspace, my voice echoed back only  to me. Occasionally, I wondered if this little experiment had run its course but, Jersey girl that I am, I'm too stubborn to walk away.

This blog has taught me a lot. It has strengthened not just my tech skills, but my writing skills as well, enabling me to create content more quickly. It has made me think about what I want to share and what I don't. I I hope that what I've decided to shared has reached others who might be grappling with same things I am, whether that's parenting, kids, work, or life itself.

Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I'm now at an age where I refuse to do the math to see whether or not I have another 21 years in me, but the current plan is to stick around for the foreseeable future.

I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

What Day is It?

 This is my story -- the story of summer -- and I'm sticking to it! 

Even though Monday was a holiday, I remembered that yesterday was a blog day. But then we started out the day (yesterday) by going to the beach, leaving me with little awareness of what day it actually is.

By the time I realized I hadn't posted, it was too late to come up with a post that was anything but nonsensical.

So, here I am today, updating a post from three years ago that shared 13 things I like about summer. 

13. Being able to be blissfully unaware of what day it is. 

12. No papers to grade (after summer session is over)

11. Being able to legitimately ignore my work email (some of it, anyway)

10. Sleeping in (not a morning person)

9. Starting my days out slowly (tiptoeing into them, if possible)

8. Spending mornings in our sunroom (looking out on our new patio)

7. Listening to the bells (from a local church whose carillon plays hymns at noon) 

6. My birthday (even when I don't like the number)

5. Time to exercise my creativity (collages, sketchnoting, and crocheting, in particular)

4. Calendars with empty pages to fill (which is why I don't know what day it is!)

3. Trips to the beach (early this year)

2. Time to read for fun (actually finishing books!)

1. Writing! (revising one novel and brainstorming ideas for the next)

No complaints. None at all :-)

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


 I don't usually do back-to-back "Word of the Day" posts, but I wasn't feeling a Way Back Wednesday vibe today. :-)

On Monday, I had a photo session. I first met Kimberlyn (the photographer) when she was still a toddler and we purchased the house next door to her great-grandfather's home. She and my daughter grew up together and, today, Kimberlyn is growing her own business.

I reached out to her when I decided that my head shots should look more like I actually look today, a decision that gave me pause when I saw the photographic evidence. That, however, is a commentary on the subject, not the photographer. After I got over the fact that I no longer look like I did when I was 40 (duh) or even 50 (damn), I was able to step back and take in the entirety of the work she had done and see things a bit more clearly through her lens.

The day was warm and we zigagged across the campus where I teach, landing in several places I'd picked out as good backdrops, and improvising when one was not available because I'd neglected to bring my keys. She made it fun, and insisted on coaxing out the smile I rarely use in photographs because, in her eyes, it fit the person that she knew.

She was right.

Kimberlyn is also helping me with some of the behind-the-scenes tech work necessary to upgrade my website as I give my online presence a necessary facelift (yes, that metaphor was intentional) in what is, I hope, preparation for the release of a new book. When and by whom I don't yet know; those pieces are not entirely within my control, and are still down the road a bit. For now, all I can do is revise and prepare, all the while seeking to accept the things I cannot change, along with the wisdom to realize that some changes, though not as beautiful as I would hope, are not worth losing sleep over.

One change that you might have noticed is the header of this blog. I anticipate more changes ahead as I find the "just right" spot for the beautiful porch swing watercolor Rachel DeMasi created for me. 

Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024


 Grading for spring semester bled right into prepping my summer class. Now, even with the summer class up and running, I still feel a sense of “must do” looming over each day. 

And that is something I am trying to both harness and tame.

I’m tempted to power through, to keep productivity high, and to stick to a schedule, ticking off the tasks looming in the back of my mind. Grading. Revising. My summer to-do list.

But the time between semesters is supposed to be a break. In fact, it needs to be a break, not just for my well-being but, ironically, for my productivity as well. 

Flexible schedules are wonderful, but challenging and, for people like me who have seemingly endless pursuits, it can be tempting to confuse doing with living.

That’s where the taming comes in. 

The challenge for this early part of the summer is to not only blend doing with being, but to turn off the voice in the back of my head that keeps nudging me to the next thing, as though the present isn’t sufficient unto itself. 

And that requires me to pause. To assess. To decide what's important now, and what is just noise. 

Oddly enough, it's more difficult than it sounds, but I have no doubt the payoff will be worth it, as I decide what to prize and what to abandon during the gift of these summer months.

What will you focus on this summer? Will it check things off your list, or feed your soul?