The Painful Truth of Fiction

About two months ago I began writing a short story about a woman who has recently run away from her established life to avoid facing a very traumatic loss. I’ve laid the foundation of the story, building up the aspects of her character. Some hints have been given as to the nature of her loss. Her character flaws are beginning to appear.

I spend a lot of time getting familiar with this character. Thinking about her as though she were someone who I’ve known for a while now. I love this character and I feel like she has something very important to discover. She’s about to experience some deep conflict. Her flaws are about to begin to disrupt her sense of safety. It’s hard to know that she has to crumble down her defenses in order to rebuild.

IMG_3930I don’t have a lot of experience writing fiction because I’ve always been a bit afraid to put myself out there. It’s easier for me as a non-fiction blogger to say, “I did this, it was hard, I learned this…” because I don’t have to write about it until it’s been tied up neatly on the other side of the conflict. But reading fiction, in particular the short stories of T.C. Boyle, Annie Dillard, Tim O’Brien and others has moved me to want to chance it myself. This blog post doesn’t get to be from the view-point of “I learned this… let me share it with you.” This blog post is from the middle of my own conflict.

I don’t want to bring my character through the pain this story has in store for her. I know how much she will hurt and how hard it will be to live it with her with honesty and integrity. It is the same emotional block that has prevented me from being a believable actor when I was younger, and from trying to write difficult fiction in college. To tell the truth you have to feel it. And to feel it you have to hurt. To write a real character you have to love her. And to love her, you have to suffer when she suffers.

Can I do that? Would someone out there give me the courage to try?

Alone time is for Extroverts too

A few weeks ago, just before Mother’s Day, Rob took the girls into work to do some computer programming for the Signal Conference Lemonade Stand. I know. That sounds amazing. And it was on a Saturday, which meant that I had nothing else planned for the day and could join in the fun. I’d probably learn something on top of hanging out with my favorite people on the planet.

But I also wanted to be alone. Kind of. Sort of. In my heart I knew I had been doing too much lately. How do I decide between doing fun stuff with my favorite people and doing fun stuff alone? Or heck, doing nothing at all alone?

Rob solved the problem by telling me to stay home. “There’s no reason you need to come, so don’t.”

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So I stayed home and it was awesome. I went on a run. I read. I knitted some. I caught up on some work and did some wonderful planning. I loved it. And then everyone came back and I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything.

So what did I learn? This mega-extrovert needs the people who live with me to lovingly tell me not to come sometimes. Super Extroverts like me are slaves to our own fear that something amazing is going to happen without us. Being a homeschooling mom means that I don’t even have those moments in my routine where I’m by myself by default because the kids are in school all day. These people are awesome, but these awesome people are ALWAYS with me. But we extroverts need our down time to recharge, just like introverts. I have an interior life which I continually neglect because I just love being around other people so much. I have to stop doing that, and I suspect your favorite extrovert does too. I’m on a mission to find time for me, every week and in the daylight. I think I can do it, and I probably won’t miss out on too much fun either.

Goodbye Sixth Grade, Third Grade and Kindergarten

Our third year of homeschooling will be logged in the books this afternoon when we meet with our Education Specialist and turn in our final report cards. The charter school system is funny, great, annoying and helpful, all wrapped up together. I am lucky to have a supportive credentialed teacher to help us out with curriculum decisions and roadblocks, but that comes packaged with the requirement that our kids third grade and up take the state standards test and turn in report cards.Report Cards

Filling out the end of the semester report cards is always such a revelatory experience. After weeks of wondering if we’ve made any progress at all, being blind to the forest for all the trees, I sit down with my calendar and curriculum to document everything we’ve done which counts as school. It’s a lot. And it’s all beautiful stuff. And I get to give everyone straight A’s because we don’t give up on our work until we get it right.

In a couple of weeks we will be attending homeschool graduation for our Kindergartener, just like her two older sisters did in their traditional school. I can’t wait to snap pictures of her little tiny face, with a cardboard graduation cap on top of her curly head.

As I say goodbye to my third year of homeschooling what do I have to say about this lifestyle? Well, it continues to be less stressful for our kids, and about the same amount of stressful for me. I have learned a lot about setting a schedule in place and counting on that to return to as I plan my weeks. This might be normal regular stuff for those of you out there who’ve been excelling at adulting for years, but I have always been a reluctant planner. It was a revelation that doing some work planning ahead can leave me space for more flexibility each day.

I’ve also made big strides in learning how my kids learn, and how I excel at teaching. We thrive listening to books together and discussing them. The skill my older two have in critiquing a work of literature or dissecting an argument or philosophy astounds me. It has grown simply because we spend up to an hour every day listening to literature from different genres and eras as we go about our day. If nothing else, my kids will grow up to be skilled editors.

Most amazingly, I’ve learned to love being a teacher who happens to be teaching her own kids. A couple weeks ago at the members meeting at church our head pastor stood up to give his 5 minute breakdown of what he feels our church’s mission should be for the next ten years. “More of the same,” he said. Knowing that he is an enneagram 7 (the Ethusiast) like myself, this was a powerful statement. Embarking on an adventure of sameness is hard for 7s to focus on, but it’s exactly the most adventurous thing you can do. Picking a trail and walking as far along it as you can gets you deeper into the woods than anyone has ever gone before. Walking the first 5 miles of every trail you see doesn’t ever bring you to the serious mountaineering of life.

Homeschooling lets my kids deeply explore their interests without the distractions of busy-work and superfluous grade requirements. It lets me relearn these topics with my adult brain and understand them so much more deeply. Yes, even long division. It also gives us time to become more interesting people, who go camping, rock climb, write movies, travel together, and serve our communities. As I say goodbye to this year of learning, I think I am saying hello to a committed homeschooling future. I’m saying hello to more of the same. And that’s something I have been striving to say for all of my life.