One week in grade school, Em scored victories for short girls everywhere.
First, her grade had been preparing for around two months for the Greek and Roman festival. They learned history stuff, made Greek gods trading cards, had an Olympics and finally a festival where they made costumes and everything.
So, Em had been stressed right before this about being a short, curvy girl.
“Everyone else has Paris Hilton bodies,” she said nightly. “And they are so tall, and so incredibly skinny, and, and, and … they wear thongs.”
I tried not to hyper-fixate on that part. I failed a bit.
“You have a Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce body. That’s cool,” I told her because it was true. She was skinny but fit with adorable muscles. “You have a strong, healthy, thin body. Plus, you are much more huggable. Plus, thongs are silly in seventh grade unless, you know . . . free will, let people have their choices, blah, blah, blah.”
And so on.
I had done all the good mommy things of applauding other achievements, saying she has a beautiful, strong, healthy body, a perfect Em body.
She still complained.
So, she was really stressed about the Olympic events.
“I’m so short I’ll never win anything, especially not the standing long jump. I want the standing long jump.”
So, first on the day of the event, she trounced everyone at the knowledge bowl, which is set up like Jeopardy, but with Greek/Roman categories like: He played his fiddle when Rome burned.
The working class of Rome was called this.
Then came the Olympic events. The events she was worried about.
Em the Short came in second for the discus, and shot put and she WON the standing long jump with a massive leap of almost 80 inches, which is a big deal when you figure she was only 40-something inches and she was competing with tall, thong-wearing girls of 5-8 or 5-7.
Whoo-hoo, another short girl victory! Brains and jumping ability. Yay Em!
This was the look of the victor:
It pretty much still encapsulates her personality.
And yes, Em grew taller and wiser and ended up studying classics at Harvard and winning an award for her thesis on Alexander the Great, becoming a field artillery officer in the Army, and now is in graduate school at Dartmouth (Tuck Business) and Harvard (Kennedy School for Public Policy), and she is of average height, and I feel super lucky to be her mom.
Maybe because she was blonde everyone at Harvard thinks/thought she was a legacy, but she wasn’t/isn’t. She was/is just a smart kid from rural Maine who didn’t give up and tried hard, always.
I always want to be more like her.
My little, creepy book baby is out in the world because who doesn’t want sad, quirky, horror with some romantic bits for the holiday season?
That’s not as big a deal as you would think it was. Yes, it was Maine, but I had a really furry dog who was warm and cuddly.
Nobody knew I did this. Not my friends. Not the people I worked with. Not even my own family.
And I realized one morning as I was rolling up my sleeping bag and hiding the evidence, “Do I want to define myself as the woman who sleeps in a car with her dog?”
And the answer was no. Beds are warmer and cozier and they don’t give you a crick in your back.
Yesterday, I was at a Rotary International District Conference in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. There were these beautiful people all around me. Every one of them volunteers, defining themselves as people of action, people who make change in their community and all around the world.
While they were voting on their budgets, the man next to me gave me a save-the-date card. He was unassuming, thin and over 60, I think.
But this man? This man was a secret superhero. volunteering countless hours to help his community and the world. And then I realized – everyone in this room was the same – they were all changing the world, saving the world, pretty quietly, one teaspoon at a time.
The card the secret superhero man gave me was for a Rotary conference. I have seen a million Rotary International cards, but this one was different.
It had a hashtag on top, which is such a big deal for Rotarians because they aren’t hashtag people. But it was the content of the hashtag that mattered to me:
“Oh,” I think I may have made a sharp inhale.
“Look at the back. There are quotes on the back.”
“I love this,” I told him.
As writers and humans we cling to our definitions of who we are.
The first questions people usually ask me when we meet (and it’s not on book tour) is what I do and where I am from as if my job and location define me. It’s kind of them to ask. I do the same thing. But who we are isn’t our location and our occupation. It’s so much more. It’s what we decide it to be.
So become what you want to become. Let go of the things that define you. Easier said than done, right?
But you have to try. Let go of the labels that keep you in place and grab the ones you want to own, the ones that will expand you (not in a gassy way, but a uplifting way).
The first step?
Find your passion.
The second step?
Go after it.
When I started writing novels, I was a full-time editor for a small local newspaper sleeping in my car a lot. I wrote on notecards in my car while I waited to pick my daughter up from school. I wrote on the backs of state high school basketball programs during halftime when I was taking photos of a game. I wrote on a laptop balanced on my knee as I covered a planning board meeting. I wrote everywhere. That first story became this.
Time Stopper Series
Time Stoppers Front and Back Covers – US versions
I just got the first pass proof pages this week for the last book in the series. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for publishing it.
When I was writing these books back in 2006, I realized that I loved making up stories. So I thought, how can I do this well enough to do this for a living?
I sent a piece of that story and applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts. I got in. I freaked out. I worked ridiculously hard, producing three times the normal amount of work the other students produced.
Because I felt so lucky to be there, I didn’t want to screw it up.
Here’s the key though: I wanted to do it so much that my fear of failing? It wasn’t as strong as my want. I was willing to work tirelessly and becoming something.
That something wasn’t necessarily being a writer.
That something was becoming better.
I wanted to evolve, to become, to learn, to grow, to be better.
So, that’s the first step, defining your want, your passion, your need and going for it.
So, I’m asking you: What do you want to become?
It’s okay to take a moment to think about that. Sometimes we get so busy fulfilling our obligations and helping family and friends and just surviving, that we forget what we’re surviving for, what we’re aiming to become. And we even feel guilty for taking three extra minutes to actually think about our own selves and who we are.
It’s okay to spend a minute to think. You’ve got this.
To find out more about my books, there are links in the header. And if you buy one? Thank you so much. Let me know if you want me to send you a bookplate.
The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. If you want to help us out, please subscribe to it, share it, or tell us that you like it.
COOKING WITH A WRITER
I’ve started a tongue-in-spoon subgroup in my blog all about cooking vegetarian recipes as a writer. It is silly. The recipes still work though. Check it out here.
THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN
The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn classthat they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support!is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.
TIME STOPPERS THE MIDDLE GRADE SERIES OF AWESOME
Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.
Time Stoppers Front and Back Covers – US versions
Time Stopper Series
FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
These books are out there in the world thanks to Tor.
What books? Well, cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.
This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action–School Library Journal
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!