Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Message to the Manhattan Moms Who See My Special Needs Child as a Disney Fast Pass


This is brilliant. I hope it goes viral.

Letters to Lila, Lawson, and Avett

(If you are new to our journey, click here to read my Lila’s birth story and be sure to check in on the beautiful and amazing life that has followed so far. Regardless of the sarcastic rant that follows, we are truly blessed!)

Dear poor, sad Manhattan mother who couldn’t bring herself to wait in line with the masses,

Navigating the exclusive and over-the-top world of New York City preschools and play dates must be too much to handle. Managing your household of nannies and maids and dog walkers along with your social calendar probably really gets you down by the end of the day. So why wouldn’t you want to hire a disabled tour guide to help you zip past the long lines at the happiest place on Earth?

Click here to read the New York Post’s Report on the Rich Manhattan moms who hire handicapped tour guides so…

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Three of A Kind


by Lillian Csernica on May 20, 2013

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 Today I play catch-up.  I spent the weekend at the San Jose Hilton where the 48th Annual Nebula Awards were held.  For those who don’t know, this is the annual award ceremony held by SFWA.  I am an Active Member, so it was a great pleasure to join my colleagues and hang out with some of the Big Names.  Came home with a brand-new SFWA tote bag (I am notorious in the family for acquiring tote bags) that was stuffed full of great science fiction and fantasy novels.  Now that’s my idea of some nice party favors!

 

Day 18: Tell a story from your childhood. Dig deep and try to be descriptive about what you remember and how you felt.

When I was five years old, my family lived in a three bedroom house not far from where I’d eventually go to kindergarten and elementary school.  We had not one but two back yards.  The first back yard had a big patio and then a grassy lawn with orange and lemon trees.  The second back yard was an empty dirt lot.  My father grew up on a farm in Ohio, so he knew how to turn that ground into a vegetable garden.  I remember being out there with Daddy, wearing sandals and a hat and sun glasses with a little summer dress.  I was carrying a plastic sand pail with the seed packages in it.  We’d move along the furrow with Daddy using a hand trowel to make deeper holes for the seeds, then I’d drop a seed into the hole.  The garden hose was involved at some point in this process, wetting the ground where we planted the seeds.  Spending time with Daddy on the weekends was special, because he worked the swing of graveyard shifts and slept during the day.  I never did get to know much about Daddy’s childhood, but this was like seeing some of what he did on Grandma’s farm.

I don’t remember much about weeding or harvesting the vegetables, but I do remember my mother sitting and the dinner table with a big bowl of peas in the pod.   She’d call me to help her shell the peas.   I had small hands, but that just made me faster than Mom.  I had to be careful, though, because if I slipped peas went bouncing everywhere.  There were other times when we’d be shucking ears of corn or snapping beans or peeling cucumbers.  Mom gave me cooking lessons when I was little, so growing our own vegetables and doing all the work to prepare them made cooking and eating them a lot more meaningful.  My sister had this nasty ability to make corn kernels squirt across the table at me.  She never got caught, either.

 

Day 19: Five of your favorite blogs and what you love about them.

Janice Heck: My Time to Write

Janice’s blog is a lot of fun.  Great nature photos, fun stories about her family, and always a final word from her cat.  The header with the maneki neko collection is pretty cool too.

Kristin Lamb’s Blog

Strong writing, well-informed opinions, inspirational commentary on the writing life.  My idea of what a mentor should be.

Three’s A Herd

It’s comforting to listen to the ups and downs of another mother who has more than one child with special needs.  Running such a household is more than just “a challenge.”  It’s a balancing act involving logistics, time management, awareness and support of various people’s various needs, and never losing sight of one’s own well-being.

Hunter’s Writing

A fabulous treasure trove of writing resources.  Easy on the eyes, full of items that make you want to stay a while.

Ruralspaceman

This fine gentleman’s tales of life in his household are told in such a wonderful, whimsical style.  I highly recommend the entry about the family dinner, rendered as the agenda of a meeting.

 

Day 20: Get real. Share something you’re struggling with right now.

 I’m trying to give up drinking Dr. Pepper and/or Coke.  Too much sugar, caffeine, carbolic acid, sodium, and chemicals.  This is very difficult, because we’re heading into hot weather and I have a terrible sweet tooth.  Also, I tend to eat spicy food, so if I don’t have some fizzy beverage, I end up feeling like an inflated balloon.  New York Seltzer is great, but I can’t find it anymore.  Hansen’s is all right, but I have trouble getting Mandarin Lime.  I can’t stand Cherry or Kiwi Strawberry.   There’s also a certain somatic component, like the one involved in smoking.  Sometimes it’s just nice to have the cold can and take that swig every so often.  The habit itself is no big deal as long as I find a replacement that gives me the fizz without the unwanted ingredients.

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Caption This!


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2013

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Day 17: A favorite photo of yourself and why

Yes, that’s me.  Yes, that is a giant stuffed toy frog dressed in white lingerie.

How did we meet, you ask?  Late one night at a BayCon long, long ago, I couldn’t sleep, so I went down to the hotel restaurant (which actually stayed open until 2 a.m. for us that year), got myself a snack, and then hit the party floor to see if anything was still happening.  I wandered into a room party held by Clan MacDude and there I discovered this frog.  If you look closely you’ll see there’s a notebook on a string around the frog’s neck.  Partygoers were invited to add to the ongoing narrative in the notebook.  I read what had already been written, which forced me to wonder just what chemical intoxicants had inspired those previous writers.  Me, I never touch the stuff.  I made my contribution and prepared to go on my way.  (Much later, the Patriarch of Clan MacDude insisted on having me join the Clan.  The men wore kilts made from Hawaiian print fabric.  As you can see, I am in full Hilo Hattie regalia, purchased on my one trip to Maui.)  This photo was taken the next day.  Let the record show that of all the scribblings in the notebook, mine was by far one of the most legible.  This is ironic, because when I was inducted into the Clan, I was given the name Scribbler MacDude.

Pen and pencil

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Gosh, Where Do I Start?


by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2013

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Day 16: Something difficult about your “lot in life” and how you’re working to overcome it

If you read yesterday’s entry, Controlled Chaos, you already know I have a long list of difficulties that I work to overcome every single day of my strange life.  Let me make a quick list of the particular difficulties that spring immediately to mind:

Getting my autistic fourteen year old son to stop being a total pig-headed brat about homework, chores, respecting his brother’s needs, and respecting the adults in the house.

Making enough time for my writing and then making myself actually do the work.

My marriage.  Don’t even get me started on that.

Given that I am besieged on a daily basis by a number of problems that most “normal” people never encounter, which of these shall I choose for public rumination?  I talked a lot about the boys yesterday, so today I’ll focus on writing.  Difficulty: completing my novel edit by the end of the month.

What do I need?  Motivation.  Self-discipline.  A strong sense of story.  A keen eye for what does not need to be there.  The ability to refuse distraction.

What it all comes down to is commitment.  Am I committed to the completion of this novel?  Am I committed to the larger goal of making career progress as a writer?

The answer is yes.  I’ll tell you what keeps me trying to make that commitment again and again every day.  I don’t want to be famous.  I want to be successful enough to make the kind of money I need to build a house where Michael can live for the rest of his life, even after I’m gone.  Janet Evanovich made something like eighteen million dollars last year.  Dan Brown made hundreds of millions.  I know we’re talking long odds, that only a few writers ever make it to that level, but that’s my goal.  My self-defense teacher, a female Sheriff’s Deputy, taught me to always aim three inches beyond the target.  That way the force of my energy does not stop at the target but pushes on through.

To be a successful novelist, to make the kind of money I need to finance a custom-built house for Michael, I must aim three inches beyond my target, and do that every day.

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Controlled Chaos


by Lillian Csernica on May 15, 2013

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Day 15: A Day in the Life

5:45 a.m.  Drag myself out of bed so I can get Michael ready for school.  This means a new bag of his liquid diet, a diaper change, getting him dressed, giving him the four medications he gets in the morning, and praying he doesn’t have a seizure, which he tends to do when he first wakes up.

6:30 a.m.  John gets up, feeds cats, feeds himself.

7:00 a.m.  Wait for the phone call that tells us Michael’s aide will be late.  (It’s even money that she will be.)

7:05 a.m.  Pray that the aide gets here ahead of the bus/before we’re done putting Michael on board.  If we miss the bus, Chris has to load Michael into our van and drive him and the aide to school, unload Michael, then drive home again.  Chris works the swing shift.  This is not a happy morning scenario.

7:30 a.m.  John leaves for school.

8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m:  Depending on the day of the week, I go back to bed, go to appointments, write, do laundry, clean house, continue the Battle of the Boxes with my unpacking, and sometimes have lunch with my mother or my sister.  I’ve taken to watching Netflix of DVDs while the boys are at school so I’m not so tempted to stay up late getting my entertainment fix.

2:30 p.m  Transportation claims they’ll drop John off at his bus stop.  Just after we moved, it was total madness making sure John’s aides were at the right bus stop at the right time.  Also, Michael’s R.N. du jour arrives.

2:40 to 3:20 p.m.  Anywhere in this window Michael’s bus will arrive.  Transportation brings him directly to our house.  (We keep trying to get them to let John and Michael ride the same bus, but they won’t do it.  Maybe next year, when the boys are at the same school again.)  We get Michael unloaded, his aide reports to his nurse, and the nurse takes over.

A typical weekday afternoon is spent prodding John through his chores and his homework, keeping up with my e-mail, novel work, and this blog, and making the phone calls on the endless list of what Michael needs.  This week his oxygen machine broke down.  Fortunately, that got fixed the next day.  The big item now is the wheelchair.  I’m in the middle of playing phone tag with all the people involved in figuring out the new design that will accommodate his orthopedic issues.

6:00 p.m. John brings all three cats in and feeds them.  We have foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and dogs in the neighborhood at night.

6:30 p.m. John makes his own dinner.  On Wednesdays, John bakes, usually chocolate chip cookies.  We eat them while we watch a movie during “Family Night.”

We have a very structured schedule for John because that’s what he needs.  We limit his Netflix/DVD/videogame time to an hour a day on school days.  Michael’s medical regimen of medication and breathing treatments and range of motion therapy tends to fill up the evening.  Michael is asleep by 9:30 p.m. and John is in bed by 10 p.m.

When I go to bed depends on how my novel work is going, when I’ve taken my insomnia medication, how high or low my anxiety level is, and whether or not I need to wait up for Chris to come home from work.  As late as that may be, it’s the best time for us to talk about doctor appointments and school issues and other “needs to be decided” topics.

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How Do You Spell H-A-P-P-Y?


by Lillian Csernica on May 14, 2013

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Day 14: Ten things that make you really happy

I considered organizing this list in order of importance, but that feels a little too left-brained.  The very impulse to prioritize what makes me happy suggests a certain rigidity of thinking.  Different things make me happy in different ways and at different times.  One of the many benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is learning how to reframe situations, to develop flexibility in one’s thinking and perceptions.  So!  Here’s my Happy List, in no particular order:

 Ice cream.  At the moment my favorite flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra, but I’ll take any good chocolate, Neapolitan, spumoni, or seasonal flavors such as eggnog.

 Kittens.  Love those little tiny paws, the itty bitty fangs, and the way they can doze off in a sitting position and just topple over.

 Writing success.  Selling a short story, pushing through a rewrite, looking over an old piece of writing and now having the knowledge to make it what it could be….  And then there’s that feeling summed up by Dorothy Parker‘s comment, “I hate to write but I love having written.”  The actual labor can be a real pain, but oh the pleasure of knowing I’ve churned out another two thousand words!

 Finding just the right gift for someone and seeing that person surprised and happy.

 Getting mail.  I’m talking about greeting cards and handwritten notes and Christmas newsletters and graduation invitations and birth announcements.  I love the physical act of writing.  Choosing a favorite pen and going through my stationery wardrobe for just the right notecard or paper so I can write to someone is an old-fashioned pleasure that I hope never goes out of style.

 Peace and quiet.  I tend to stay up late.  I’m a night owl by nature.  Given that I grew up as a de facto only child, I’m used to being alone and there are times when I really prefer it.

Sleeping late.  Need I say more?

 Really bad sword & sorcery movies.  Remember Miles O’Keefe, star of the “Tarzan” movie with Bo Derek as Jane?  Miles went on to star in a few of the worst sword & sorcery movies ever made, featuring the main character known as Ator.  Then there’s “Hawk the Slayer,” with its really terrible leading man and some of the most pathetic attempts at special effects I’ve ever witnessed.  Green Silly String as magic?  Last but not least, any time I need some serious belly laughs, I watch any of the “Deathstalker” movies.

 Knowing my mother is proud of me.  When I sold SHIP OF DREAMS, Mom gave me a fully constructed model of an actual brigantine, which is the pirate ship and key setting of my novel.  I promptly got some plastic pirate figures from the party store and put them all over the deck and in the rigging!  That’s a big example.  All through my life my mother has given me cards and gifts both large and small as tokens of her pride.  She’s the one who got me addicted to collecting unusual bookmarks.  When I was eight years old and decided I wanted to be a writer, I told my mother I would dedicate my first novel to her.  The day I gave her a fresh new copy of my novel and watched her face as she read the dedication page will remain one of the happiest days of my life.

 My sons.  I love my boys.  Every accomplishment, every victory, even the tiniest sign of progress, is a source of joy to me.  The other day we were talking about how Michael needed a hair cut.  He said, “Barber.”  You have no idea how huge a moment that was!  For Michael to enunciate a new word clearly enough for us to understand him is a real triumph.  And then there’s John, who argues about his homework and struggles with some Social Studies projects and still made the Honor Roll again.  My boys are fighters.  My boys are winners.

Please, tell me what makes you happy.  I take great pleasure in other people’s joy.

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It’s an Office, not a Closet


by Lillian Csernica on May 13, 2013

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Day 13: Issue a public apology. This can be as funny or as serious or as creative as you want it to be.

I’d like to apologize to my office.

I’m a very visual person.  Out of sight is out of mind with me.  That means I have lots of different kinds of items all over the place, because if I put them away I will forget where they are.

My sister helped me reorganize the office I had before we moved into this new house.  I took it one wall at a time and kept, gave away, “repurposed,” or threw out every item I came across.  It’s very difficult to  part with some of your clutter, especially when that clutter represents some person or event that still holds a great deal of emotional energy in your mind.  The good news is, once you weed things out, you reclaim that energy and can put it to new use.

So again, I apologize to my office.  I’m sorry for the boxes of family photos that need to be organized into albums.

I apologize to all the Post-It notes and little memos and used envelopes and whatever else I’ve scribbled ideas and phone number and directions and To Do lists on.

I apologize to all the magnets my mother keeps giving me because I just do not have the room on my filing cabinet or on my fridge.

I apologize to all the notebooks and hardback journals and personal dayrunner/timekeeper/nanny binders I own.

I apologize to all the books waiting in the garage for shelf space in my now-smaller office.

I apologize to the bulletin board and the white board that once helped me keep track of submissions and other business-related material.

I apologize to the floor.  We had a brief acquaintance, and now it’s largely hidden under boxes and stacks of books and the furniture.  Once I get the floor rug in here, I may never see the actual floor again until circumstances force me to excavate.

Clutter is not good for the writer’s mind.  Theosophy teaches that items such as books and magazines generate thought-forms, so you shouldn’t keep them near your bed because their energy will keep your mind awake and moving rather than quiet and asleep.  Clutter blocks the flow of chi.  Clutter stands between us and getting to the place, item, space that we want.  Clutter is congestion.  I apologize to my office for behaving in the manner of an allergen.  Time to get out the mental antihistamine and clear the way!

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My Father, Much Missed


by Lillian Csernica on May 12, 2013

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Day 12: What do you miss? (a person, a thing, a place, a time of your life…)

I miss my father.  Daddy took a fall in the snow and ended up in the hospital.  He’d been a long term smoker, so when he developed pneumonia and his lung collapsed, there wasn’t a lot the doctors could do to save him.  The worst part about this for me was being here in California while Daddy was in a hospital in the Midwest.  I was carrying Michael at the time.  It wasn’t a good idea for me to fly, so I couldn’t rush out there and be with Daddy.  Thank God I grabbed the chance during a phone call to tell Daddy we planned to name his grandson Michael Donald Csernica.  Donald was my father’s first name.

When I think about my childhood, and the time I spent with my father after my parents divorced (I was eleven), I’m pretty sure Daddy had no idea what to do with a daughter.  That’s OK.  He taught me to fish and play poker and go bowling and shoot pool.  This was back in the days when pinball machines were still only a quarter.  Oh, the contests we had to see who could win a free game!  Most of all, I miss going to the Tastee Freeze and getting one of those big soft-serve cones dipped in chocolate.  Daddy drove a stick shift.  He taught me how to shift gears so he could hold his ice cream cone with his free hand.  There were hot days when we ate our ice cream too fast and got the dreaded “brain burn.”  The expressions Daddy would get when that happened were hilarious.

My sister and I flew back to Ohio together for the funeral.  Later, when Michael was eight months old, Chris and I went to Ohio to visit my father’s family and make sure my grandmother got to see my father’s first grandchild.  All of my aunts and uncles gathered to meet Chris and Michael, along with my army of cousins.

I miss what Daddy would have said when I called him to tell him I’d sold my first novel, a pirate adventure with tall ships and sea battles.  My father was a twenty year Navy man.  We would have talked about sloops and schooners and frigates and galleons and brigantines for hours.

I miss knowing what Daddy would have said if I’d ever taken the time to ask him why he loved the ocean so much.  That was clear from more than just the Navy.  Daddy loved to go out on fishing charters, or just sit at the end of the wharf with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  I remember one day when I was eight years old, watching him sit on a stone jetty looking out at the waves.  With my adult mind, I see him looking like a monk in meditation.

I miss you, Daddy.  God willing, one day I’ll see you in Heaven.

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Me, In 10 Words Or Less


by Lillian Csernica on May 11

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Day 11: Sell yourself in 10 words or less

Now this is interesting.  I was in retail sales for ten years, and one of the first things I was taught was “Identify your target market.”  That’s also a good thing to do when you’re a writer.  So I ask the question, “Who am I selling myself to, that I need to do so in ten words or less?”  Sounds like a Hollywood pitch session, doesn’t it?  Which aspects of myself do I emphasize in order to have the best chance of closing the deal?  Questions, questions, questions.  Without having a more specific context to worth with, these are the ten words I’d choose:

I dream big, I work hard, I keep the faith.

Oddly enough, this makes me think of what I’d want written on my gravestone for my epitaph.  At this point in my life, my two top choices are:

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It could have been worse

Yeah, I know, I’m weird.  If you hadn’t figured that one out by now, you just haven’t been paying attention.

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Mood Swings


by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2013

Over the years I’ve discovered that I write the best when I’m in either a really high mood, or the absolute abyss.  Am I bi-polar?  No.  Does my mood vary like this on a daily basis?  The short answer to that one is no.  Most of the time I’m chugging right along in that combination of happy about some things/worried about other things/gonna kick somebody’s ass about that one thing.  This means I’m thinking about too many different things at once, which makes it hard to get my energy together in that mental space called the “creative trance.”

Am I advocating jacking up your mood or getting really depressed?  Of course not.  For centuries writers have tried doing that by artificial means, and while some of them produced some lasting pieces of really memorable writing, many of them destroyed their talent, their minds, and their lives.

(Yes, there’s a fine line between creativity and mental imbalance.  Sometimes they go hand in hand.  We’ll talk about that another time.)

There are some things you can do to get yourself in the mood for writing that are not dangerous to your physical or mental well-being.  Music is the first example that springs to mind.  When I was writing my very first novel, a fantasy novel where I alternated chapters between the two main characters, during the writing of the one character’s chapters I blasted “The Best of Berlin” over and over again.  When I was writing a section of SHIP OF DREAMS where Alexandre contemplates all the losses in his back story that made him turn pirate, I kept playing U2’s “With or Without You.”  And for those days when I’m feeling sluggish and don’t want to apply myself, I crank up Pat Benatar and in minutes I’m so wired I can’t type fast enough.

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned chocolate.  Oh yeah.  Please see What Fuels My Writing for my thoughts on chocolate as the writer’s friend.

What does it for you?  What puts you in the mood to write the sad standing-by-the-casket scenes?  What gets you all happy and jazzed so you can write that intense chase scene?  What helps you shut out all the tedious little daily distractions so you can be fully present in your writing mind?  Think about it.  Keep a mood journal.  There’s nothing like tracking habitual data in an empirical format that will show you patterns you didn’t know existed.  This could help you pinpoint your best times of day, noise levels, quality of light, all these details.  Figure out the environmental factors that support your creativity and productivity so you can recreate them at will!

Wannabes think, “Oh, I have to be in the mood to create.”  Serious writers and artists figure out how to put themselves in that mood and make the most of it.

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