My Love is an Act of Will

LoveIn case you missed my performance back in May, here is a video of my reading for Listen to Your Mother SFI’ve included the transcript of my piece after. Also, please do check out the entire line up for Listen to Your Mother SF 2016. They are hilarious and moving and fantastic women with wonderful stories. You will not regret!

“Mama,” said Gamera. “I love Daddy more-er. He’s the funnest.”

Twice a day, my 4 year old daughter, will inform me without fail that she loves my husband more than she loves me.

She has her reasons.

He was her first word. He’s way more fun. He plays with her (especially that awful Cooties game that I would rather stab my eyes out than play). He takes her to McDonald’s and indoor play spaces and to the park.

He calls her “Sweetness” and “Baby Girl” and cuddles with her at night and throws her onto his shoulders and plays Tickle Monster until she collapses into giggles on our bed.

He is the funnest.

And most of all – he rarely yells at her.

For the first eighteen months of my oldest son’s life, I never yelled or raised my voice in anger. I used to be so proud of myself.

Gamera never got to meet that person. She was six months in my belly and had another three months to go. By the time she showed up, I was tired and overwhelmed and had made yelling a way of life.

It was slow at first. A slow ramping up of fury until it broke over my small children in a consistent wave of screaming and yelling.

And later, at two and a half, she would defend herself and her older brother, holding her ground. “You don’t know what you talking about it!” she would stomp, face red with scowling, arms crossed in indignation. “Mama, you’re NOT kind!”

So I totally get why she loves my husband more-er. Who wouldn’t?

Before I had children, I thought love would be effortless, flowing through me as water from snow melt.

Who would have ever predicted it would be like squeezing blood from a stone?

Who knew love could be so hard – especially when it sent the dark corners of my heart into stark relief?

Of course, I knew that love was not always easy. I had plenty of experience of that in my romantic relationships. And I knew from growing up with an abusive father that love for our children could look much different than what I wanted for my own kids.

But I had thought – I had hoped – that I would be better. I would be different. I wouldn’t let my father win.

But I was broken still and my inner beast, the echo of my father – his script, his cadence, his very words – spilled hot and rushed through my trembling lips and clenched fists.

Of course, she loves her Baba more-er.

I accept that she may never know or understand that my loving her is an act of will.

Not because she is not lovable. She is. All my children are.

But I hope and pray that they will never understand firsthand how I clawed my way up from my despair, buried under decades of lies, denial, and self-protection.

That I love her when I ensure that the cycle of abuse will end with me and not be passed onto them.

I love her when in November 2014, I decided enough was enough and asked for help.

I love her when I choose to do the hard mental and emotional work when I go see my therapist every Friday and plonk down $150.

I love her when after a year and a half of weekly counseling, I have finally turned a corner and now rarely yell.

I love her when I get enough sleep.

I love her when I pay attention to what my body is telling me – and when I listen to my body.

I love her when I drop my armor of anger and apathy and allow myself to feel and process pain, fear, and anger.

I love her when I look at the hard truths of my growing up, my coping mechanisms, and their consequences.

I love her when I choose to walk away from her instead of scream.

I love her when I humble myself to apologize and ask her for forgiveness.

I love her when I let her feel what she feels and say what she thinks – even if it’s messy and dramatic and overblown and infuriates me to no end.

I love her when I model how to pursue healing.

I love her when I tell her that even if she loves Baba more-er than me, or is angry at me, or even hates me, that I will love her. That she can never lose my love.

I love her even though she loves her Baba more-er than me.

It doesn’t matter.

Because every day, my love for her is a hard won act of will. And that is enough.

Barf, Barf, Barf Everwhere

Sorry for the small break in posting. Our household got hit with a stomach bug and I’ve been neck deep in barf, diarrhea, and laundry (because of the barf and diarrhea). Delightful.

I don’t think our house has EVER been hit with so much illness (thank goodness!!) and several of us got hit twice. And by several of us, I mean me. Ok, fine. Cookie Monster, too.

It got so bad that last Wednesday, I barely took Gamera to school before being unable to do anything else for the rest of the day. I begged my mom to pick her up and I just let Cookie Monster and Glow Worm fend for themselves all day. And by fend for themselves, I mean they iPadded and iPhoned and Haloed to their hearts’ content. Then, my mom showed up with Gamera and lunch and they got semi-fed. Unfortunately, she had to leave so again, all three children under six were running amok in the house as I lay in bed in semicoherence.

This is how mommies are wonderful: after a long day of meeting with clients, my mom came back to my house around 7:30pm, fed and bathed all three children, and then had them clean up the entire downstairs (which seriously, looked liked several natural disasters swept through). Then, she finally left for her home to take care of herself. (And my poor mother caught the stomach bug over the weekend.)

Where was Hapa Papa during this time, you might ask? On “vacation” in Texas. We didn’t leave him out, though. He joined our dubious club on the weekend, too. But before that, he was a big help while I malingered.

Anyhow, that is the current update of our peoples. Thank goodness I homeschool – we basically didn’t do any formal learning for about two weeks. But now, we are slowly getting back into the swing of things (including blogging).

Have a healthy and non-barfy Wednesday!

 

The Terrible Fear In Tenderness

“You know it’s okay to love your husband, right?” Dr. T asked me.

“Yeah, but you know, that would conflict with the image I’ve cultivated for myself,” I replied, only half-joking. “It runs counter to my inner narrative.”

There are few Facebook posts that grate on me more than the ones of folks gushing and humble-bragging about their “brides” or “smoking hot wives” or “hottest man in the world.” It always strikes me as insincere. (And before you get all huffy about it, I realize that people are are free to post whatever they want on Facebook and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to read it. I know it’s my problem and my personal preference. I’m not trying to tell people what or what not to post. Chill out.)

I don’t even like pretending Hapa Papa and I like each other let alone love. Personally, I find it more comforting and secure to pretend that we are together out of mutual laziness (eg: my lack of wanting to train a new partner and his lack of wanting to learn – and fail at – a new set of “rules”) than because we love and are devoted to each other.

I trust Inertia. Feelings? Not so much.

Over these past 6-8 months in counseling, I am realizing more and more just how little I actually feel on a daily basis. My close friends seem surprised since I am often angry or frustrated or laughing or disappointed – but I don’t actually feel anything deeply other than rage and frustration.

I rarely am present.

I am most often anesthetizing myself with food, Facebook, or texting. I kill time, waiting for my kids to sleep so I can actually “live” my life, only to feel such regret and shame when they are finally down because I wasted my day with them and I know these days are fleeting.

I am there but not there.

As if I’m an alcoholic but instead of vodka, the phone is my drug of choice.

I feel intense shame, guilt, and grief for I know all too well the slipperiness of time. I know the sting of abandonment and neglect. The worthlessness, the confusion, the self-blame left in its wake.

How much greater the insult if your mother is actually physically present but STILL doesn’t want to be with you? At least my father wasn’t actually there. It seems as if that detail makes all the difference.

Of course I love my children and my husband. Yet I rarely feel it. I rarely live it or embody it.

Dr. T says my anger is an armor, a way to protect myself from feeling my feelings. As a child, I was never really allowed to feel my feelings so I never learned to deal with them. My father would yell at me, “I know what you’re thinking! Don’t you dare!”

As if he could fore me to feel any differently just because he willed it so. As if I were not my own person. He had the audacity to forbid me even my own thoughts.

So I stuffed everything inside and out leaked anger. Rebellion. No hurt. No pain. Shove it all down.

I seethe.

In college and as a young adult, I was in relationships that were roiled in emotion. When it was good, I had SO MANY FEELINGS! When it was bad, I wanted to die. When Hapa Papa and I started dating, I sought solace in his evenness. His zen.

Though my relationship issues smoothed out, my rage didn’t go away. Like a gasket being popped or a pipe bursting, rage would arc out every now and then. Then things would be okay for awhile until the next incident.

When Cookie Monster was born, I vowed to never raise my voice at him and I held it for about eighteen months. It’s easy to love an infant and an only child. Not so much when they turn into defiant little humans with thoughts and feelings of their own. Especially when you’re pregnant again or have more than one child or pregnant when you already have more than one child.

Now, I catch myself screaming at Gamera to stop crying. That I don’t want to see or hear her cry. (There is something about Gamera’s crying, acting like a helpless little girl that triggers my inner Hulk Smash.) This unbearable weakness.

In my calmer moments, I weep.

I do not want Gamera (or my other two) to stuff their feelings until all they know is rage.

What a heartbreaking legacy.

I have been working on being present with my children and with my life. Truthfully, though Dr. T has been encouraging me to be mindful since day one, I am only just now starting to kinda maybe sorta understand what she is talking about.

It depends on the week.

But now that I am actively trying to make changes, I find that I am overcome with fear any time I start feeling any tenderness or love.

I will be playing with Glow Worm at night before his bedtime instead of waiting in his room for him to fall asleep while on my phone (as an unintended side affect, my vision may improve, too). Glow Worm will be laughing and chuckling in that glorious rasp of his and all I can think of as I am happy and glad and horsing around with my darling baby boy is, “If I die now, will Glow Worm even remember this?” (This is hard for me even in the writing. Fear’s fingers are long and far-reaching.)

If I die now, will Cookie Monster or Gamera remember me enough to tell Glow Worm how much I loved them? How I played with them or acted around them? How much joy he and they brought me? How can they tell him of our sweet before bed tickles and laughter if they aren’t here to witness it? How will he know the safety and security of my love and our moments if I’m the only one who will remember because he is too small? Will the truth of these formative experiences be enough to to carry over into his muscle memory so that when he thinks of me, though he may rely solely on the borrowed memories of Cookie Monster and Gamera, that at least he can have this “feeling” all for his own?

How could Hapa Papa possibly love Glow Worm as much as I do to pass it on to him? And even Cookie Monster and Gamera – they are all under six. If I were to die today, how much would they actually recall?

Would their memories of me fade and be lost? To be doubly robbed of my physical being as well as their memories?

Or worse yet – what if all they remember of me is my anger or absentee parenting? What if all they feel is my judgment, cold and harsh?

These are my thoughts when I actually allow myself to feel , even partially, my joy and love for my children. A gripping fear that all this happiness and sweetness and tenderness is fleeting; biding time until it will all be inevitably ripped away.

How much less painful then, to keep these feelings at arm’s length; at bay, a safe distance from my heart?

My fragile, fragile heart.

But now that I think about it, how much worse then, if it IS fleeting, to have been so afraid of joy and its inevitable loss, to have not felt it in full when I could have had it? How much worse, then, to preemptively rob myself and my children of my presence and memories?

My fears seem so cliché.

Well, clichés exist for a reason.

I suppose if I were braver, I would be existential about it. That if I am fated to lose my loves, I better get to holding them close. Especially if it turns out I am wrong. If I don’t end up losing my loves but then am not present, won’t I have lost them in the end anyway?

Prophecy is a paradox.

Perhaps it is like a muscle. Perhaps the more I exercise the “mindfulness” muscle, either my “fear” muscle will atrophy due to disuse or (the more likely scenario) my “joy” muscles become strong enough to cancel out and perhaps someday, even overpower my instinct of fear.

Who knew love required so much math?

The Right Philosophy Won’t Save You

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m sure many of you have realized by now, I am a Control Freak.

I know. It caught me unaware, too. (I kid, I kid!)

And I am this way, a grasping, clamoring, rigid, inflexible, unreasonable person because I am afraid. I try to control everything because I am controlled by fear.

I find it most prevalent in my parenting. I’m sure it shows up in other ways, as Hapa Papa has surely experienced personally, but I notice it most in my parenting because strangely enough, my children happen to be little humans and do not obediently truck with everything I demand of them. (For me, this is the single, most infuriating and crippling thing about parenthood.)

I think I would have far fewer full on nuclear standoffs with my children if I just saw my belief systems as what they truly are: a way to order and control my children. (In fact, I believe this to be true for all belief systems – whether they be religion, political affiliations, even science. They are our methods to order and control our worlds.)

Instead, I fool myself into believing that what I’m imposing on my children is a life or death battle – the key to them growing into upstanding citizens and good people. I draw these ridiculous lines in the sand wherein if they don’t finish their yogurt for breakfast I am going to let them starve to death and never feed them again or if they don’t put on their helmet I’m going to throw away their scooter and all their other fun ride on toys and never let them go to the park again.

I do so because deep down, I am convinced that if I just make my kids do XYZ, then they’ll get into Harvard (or UCLA) and then they’ll become a doctor or something and be successful and have a good and happy life. Yes. All this from eating their fucking yogurt.

Until I had children, I never realized just how superstitious I was as a person. After all, wasn’t I an enlightened and educated person? Didn’t I believe in a God who was bigger, more powerful, and more merciful than even my education and religion? Didn’t I also believe in science (albeit, less powerful but still pretty awesome)? (And no, I do not find God and science to be mutually exclusive.)

After I had Cookie Monster, I used to pray over him when I nursed him to sleep at night. I would start out praying for Cookie Monster to have one or two traits that I thought would be key to him being a good person – but then, I would just keep adding to the list – and then qualify the entries with other “must haves.”

I wanted him to be happy, but not too happy. Suffer, but not too much suffering. Just enough to give him character and compassion for others. Be smart. Work hard. Have enough money but love the poor. The list kept growing longer and longer and more and more qualified, until I realized several things:

1) My laundry list of things was indicative of my True beliefs – the REAL desires of my heart. They were the things that I thought made a good life and would make Cookie Monster happy.

2) I have NO idea what makes a person happy or have a good life. Plus, my prescription for what I thought a good life entailed may well have turned Cookie Monster into a horrible person.

3) Ultimately, I want Cookie Monster (and all my children) to become people whose desires are after God’s own heart. And to beg God to allow me to be unbroken enough to recognize it when I see it.

But let’s be real. That last prayer is terrifying. God is not safe. God takes who you are and changes you. And that change usually hurts. A lot.

It’s hard to admit that having the right philosophy about child rearing or race or sex or religion – all that good stuff and the stuff of contentious culture wars – all that stuff won’t save us.

No matter how great our theory, we still have to go through the messiness of life. Kids still get cancer. Spouses still cheat. We might lose everything. All sorts of shitty things still happen – and we have no control over any of it.

I am owed nothing. Tomorrow isn’t promised. It is not guaranteed. God isn’t obliged to me. Doesn’t need me. Doesn’t even maybe care about my elaborate prayers or rituals or must haves. I mean, he probably cares WHY I do these things – but the things themselves? May as well be empty gestures. Superstitions.

That is what I find the most maddening. Isn’t that why I subscribe to these various thoughts? These various dogmas? To guarantee my kids won’t be drug addicts, will get into Harvard, won’t be teenage parents, and won’t be sick or poor?

But what’s the worst that could happen? (Well death, I suppose. But if I truly believe in Heaven and the goodness of God and how this life is just a preview, then though I be grieving, is it really the WORST?)

I can’t even open myself up to these “worst” possibilities because my overactive brain will continue to spin out of control and next thing you know, I have barricaded my children inside of our home and only allowed Hapa Papa to go out to work because some risks are acceptable in order for me to keep the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed. (Jokes! Them be jokes!)

Times like these, when fear threatens to overwhelm, I can’t even turn to God.

Why? Because God doesn’t promise me that life I want. He doesn’t promise me that everything will be smooth sailing and easy. He just promises to be with me. And what’s the use in that if I didn’t get what I want? (Of course, I bury these thoughts deep, deep down. You know, as if it were actually a secret from God. Mercifully, God has done little to shatter my illusions thus far.)

No, instead, I turn to statistics. Cold, hard numbers. The odds are ever in my favor and that is enough to comfort me for a little while.

Here’s the thing about my small, fearful heart. I do not believe that God is really that good, let alone that God is actually enough. I don’t believe it and I NEVER want to be tested and taught that is so.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Truthfully, even if I had the “correct” theology, it won’t save me. No philosophy or religion will.

Or even in the narrow scope of parenting, no matter how perfect I am in my parenting (be it Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, I Don’t Give A Fuck Parenting), my kids could still end up a drug addict, in prison, homeless, or dead in a variety of ways.

All my tightly clenched fists have done is unravel me. I am falling apart. My words on paper seem together, but I am not. I am a hot mess right now.

I feel as if I’m coming apart at the seams. As if something inside me has shaken loose and won’t play ball and go back to its proper place: hidden.

Change is hard, my friends. I confess, since my last breakdown back in November/December, I’ve gotten into a more placid place and evened out a bit. I had deluded myself that 4-5 months of therapy was all I needed and BOOM! I am healed!

But, no. The things that drove me to therapy just got ably pushed down and buried after the first few weeks. I have been deflecting and skimming the surface of what I am now for the past few months, mistaking candor for vulnerability.

They are not the same. And I am not very vulnerable.

I feel cracked. And I fear I am cracking like a mirror to be shattered rather than an egg birthing something new.

I really want to be made anew.

 

Random Observations

Sometimes, I have snippets of thoughts that might not flesh out into full-fledged posts of their own and thus, I have nowhere to shelve them. Well, I”m shelving them here in a sort of catch-all for stunted ideas. Is it really the idea’s fault though? Surely their stunted state of being is more the problem with the ideator? And is that a word? If so, it’s a pretty handy yet utterly awful buzzy type word. It’s one of those words that sound entirely fabricated and make me want to punch someone in the throat. I hate it already.

Anyhow, why should my laziness and lack of follow-through deprive you lovely people of my pithy and, dare I say, profound (but not original), thoughts?

So, here they are, in no particular order:

1) The other day, someone asked me in all sincerity why I was so dressed up. I was wearing yoga pants. I may have reached a new sartorial low.

2) I had stopped posting Time Out pics of my kids for awhile on Facebook because I rarely put the older two kids in time out anymore. Thank goodness Glow Worm has stepped up to the plate in that regard and filled that niche in so timely a manner.

That pouty face!

That pouty face!

3) I despise silly putty.

4) Rubbing alcohol gets rid of silly putty and their incumbent stains. It also gets rid of permanent and/or non-washable marker stains.

5) I love rubbing alcohol. (In either noun or verb form.)

6) Why do I insist on taking pregnancy tests when it is too early to tell? It’s as if I enjoy starting the day out disappointed.

7) I feel churlish and ungrateful for being disappointed that I’m not pregnant yet. In part because I used to just think about getting pregnant and then, BAM! I’m pregnant. But mostly, so many of my friends have had actual difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant or both that it feels unseemly to complain.

I’m still complaining.

8) As vapid as I find Taylor Swift’s lyrics (although, no more so than your typical pop song), they are just so dang catchy!

9) Incidentally, I find 90% of current music unbearably bad. And even the tolerably good ones, I find the lyrics abysmal. At times, this state of affairs even makes me angry. Not just angry, FURIOUS. (This may turn into an actual post some day if I can actually get off my duff and write it.)

10) Now, get off my lawn.

11) I “like” too many things on Facebook. I admit, my likes are worthless. In my defense, what’s not to like about cute kid or pet pics? I desire people to like my pics. Why wouldn’t I return the favor? And really, I like a lot of things. You should be worried if I don’t like something of yours. Don’t you crave my good opinion? Oh. You mean you didn’t notice?

I hate you.

12) Getting stuff ready for Cookie Monster’s kindergarten registration makes me want to homeschool even more. (Yes. I would rather homeschool than fill out paperwork.) The only reason I’m even registering is to keep my options open next year. (We’re in an impacted area so there are too few spots for too many students. And isn’t it better to have a spot and not need it than to need a spot and not have it?)

You’ll be pleased to know that I somehow, successfully finished registration before the deadline. It was a near thing though since apparently, I gave the school the wrong birth certificate. Too many kids with the same starting letter to their names.

13) My handwriting is atrocious. I clearly rarely hand write anything anymore. It’s laughable. Let’s not even mention my Chinese handwriting. Cookie Monster puts me to shame. He is five.

14) Prepping for homeschooling seems overwhelming. Especially since Hapa Papa doesn’t think I can do it. Not because of any lack of ability on my part. More so that I’m so lazy and put in such minimal effort with my children. I’d be mad about his lack of support but I can’t say he’s off the mark.

15) I find myself no longer interested in movies. In part because so many seem to suck. But mostly because given my limited free time, I’d rather use it for reading. Or eating.

16) I find it so crazy that everyone out there, all those people driving in their cars, sharing the road with me on a daily basis, these are all PEOPLE. You know, with their own lives and wants and desires and hopes and dreams and jobs and families and kids and loves and pets and everything. And there are 7 billion more people out there. 7 BILLION.

I find that mind-boggling.

17) Cookie Monster now makes all these ridiculous poses for the camera like he’s Sailor Moon or some anime character powering up. It is ridiculous and awesome. I blame Taiwan.

Cookie Monster pose 1 Cookie Monster pose 2 Cookie Monster pose 3 Cookie Monster pose 4IMG_0263IMG_0248

18) Glow Worm now refuses to nap. He is so obviously tired but he is like, “FUCK NAPS. FUCK SLEEPING. EVERYONE IS HAVING FUN WITHOUT ME. FUCK YOU ALL!”

He’s literally hopping mad. Stomping his little feet and slamming his hands against the crib. I hope he doesn’t figure out that he can climb out his crib. (His siblings both did before 18 months.) Then I would have to gate the room because baby boy can open doors now. Little stinker!

19) And because I haven’t posted a pic of Gamera in awhile, here are some of her best over-the-shoulder looks when she was about Glow Worm’s age (and younger).

IMG_0821 IMG_0820 IMG_0819

20) And to round out the list to twenty, here’s a recent one of my pretty girl and I:

IMG_0758

 

Alright. Go enjoy your Wednesday and stuff. Be off with you all!

Longing For Grace

For those of you who know me in Real Life, you know that I freak the fuck out and go from 0 to 60 in a eye blink. One second, my MIL is asking Gamera if she has a boyfriend (FFS, she is three years old) and the next thing I know, Gamera will be a stripper who needs men for attention and will be a strung-out junkie with a pimp.

Totally within the realm of plausibility, folks. Totally.

It is possible, perhaps, that my reaction was not in keeping with reality. That my MIL’s one off-hand comment will not forever alter the course of Gamera’s life. But that’s the way my brain works, people. I never said it was pretty.

I blame this all on a sermon I heard once (I think, anyway) about how all the choices we make in life can either keep us on the path of righteousness or diverge and take us away from that same path. Minor bad choices are actually slippery slopes. Like how an acute angle in geometry starts off at a minor angle, with the lines minutely apart, but if we go further out in time, at some point, the lines will be infinitely apart. I am plagued by the idea our choices in life are like these two lines, and if we make the wrong choice, no matter how small in degree, at some point further in time, the distance between the Path of Righteousness and the Path of Ruin will be infinite and they will NEVER MEET AGAIN. One misstep and you will NEVER get back to the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

After all, the way of the Lord is narrow. And Hard. And difficult. And the way to Hell is broad and easy.

But what a terrifying way to live. What a stifling and constraining and graceless way to live.

I feel like this is my life. Graceless. Constant self-condemnation and judging. And fear. OMG, THE FEAR.

But the truth is, life is not an immutable straight line. There are infinite chances and opportunities. Infinite opportunities for “course correction.” And who is to say that there is only ONE correct way to live? I mean, just given the evidence based on 7 billion lives on this planet, and the 7 billion unique-ish situations these people find themselves in, I know that is not true.

Stated in a positive way, the idea that there is only ONE way to live, that it is the One Path to Rule Them All, is FALSE. A horrible, pernicious lie. (A lie that I hear often in churches, but let’s face it, comes in any and all directions. Just take your pick: organic, liberal, conservative, you name it, it’s got it.)

True love drives out fear. And if I truly believed that God offered perfect love, the kind of love that drives out fear and offers freedom, why do I buy into this pack of lies? (And it is a worthless pack of lies; a twist of the Truth to pervert and poison and obfuscate who God is.)

I long for freedom. I long for grace. I long to live a life as if it were okay to fail and to fail spectacularly.

I long for my kids to experience true freedom.

My heart breaks that even though Cookie Monster is so small and so young, (too small and too young, to be honest), he is already hampered by fear. He is already so afraid to fail. To look foolish. To be rejected.

I see it in the way he doesn’t want to try new things at preschool (mostly physical activities). I see it in the way he hovers on the edge of groups, the desire and yearning to join in on whatever activity the group is doing so painfully etched on his face, but him being too afraid to ask to play with the kids because they may say, “No.” I see it when he refuses to ask me for something he wants and instead makes a negative statement like, “I can’t play Halo” so that he has already rejected himself before I can dash his hopes.

I see it in the way Gamera will lie just to get my approval. And the way she cries and clings to me when she thinks that I disapprove of her.

It breaks my cold, dark heart.

I am devastated.

If only I could live my life the way I live my writing.

When I was in high school, I used to resent having to write first and second and final drafts. I found it the height of stupidity and a fucking waste of my time. I would literally have to “fake” a rough draft so that my final drafts looked sufficiently different and altered from the original. I mean, what was the point of writing a first draft? My first drafts were perfect. I would edit as I wrote so there really was no need to go back and change things. I mean, isn’t that what computers were for?

Then, in my twenties, I decided to write a book and that is where my perfect first drafts became my downfall. I would write a section and then edit. And then edit some more. And then edit some more. Then read my perfect words. Then edit some more. Which is great and all, to have a perfect set of 1,000 words, but 1,000 words does not a book make. Most books have about 65,000 words (a little more than your typical NaNoWriMo at 50,000 words), but either way, I was 64,000 words short.

So, I read about writing (because when writing, nothing is more useful and productive than reading about writing) and all the blogs and books I’ve read since then universally agree: you have to write. Just write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, utter shite. Nothing is harder than a blank page. You can’t do anything with it. Just write. Accept as a truism: You will write crap. A lot of crap. It doesn’t matter; that’s what editing is for. But you can’t edit what you don’t have, so you have to write.

That’s the beauty of writing: once you have stuff written down, you can delete it, you can write more stuff that is good/bad/meh, you can move entire paragraphs, you can do whatever you want when editing. Whole worlds are created and obliterated during editing. And then you can edit some more. But at some point, you will have to stop and move on. At some point, your writing will be good enough (or, sadly, as good as it will ever be).

Move on.

Accept that there may never be the perfect sentence. Just a bunch of good enough sentences.

And that, I find, is my perfect analogy for life. (If only I could buy into this theory in practice – and not just believe it only of my writing.)

You are never done until it’s done. (Even then, who is to say that is a permanent state of being – well, I suppose, for the sake of this argument, you are done in this plane of life.) There are few permanent mistakes (the laws of physics not withstanding) from which we cannot recover.

Most of life is a rough draft. We can edit and delete, but ultimately, we move on. We accept grace and forgiveness and try our best and we move on until we Move On.

So this morning, I wish you grace upon grace upon grace. Grace enough for parenting fails, for work fails, for life fails. Grace enough to cover a lifetime of sins, real and imagined.

My Love Affair With Romance Novels

As many of you may have surmised, I am an avid reader. I often go through periods where I tear through a book a day (sometimes more). Then I crash and burn because I have ignored my children for too many days in a row or my DVR is near to bursting or Hapa Papa can no longer stand my disappearing from the family anymore and last (and certainly least), I’m exhausted from lack of sleep.

People are often incredulous when they hear how much and how quickly I read. They ask, “How do you find the time?”

Well, the truth is, I’m a very fast reader (~80 pages/hr). However, the main reason I can read so much is because I make time. Any spare moment or second, I have my nose in a book or on my phone’s Kindle app. Of course, it is at the expense of other activities, (confer above) so every now and then, I have to resurface and take care of all the stuff I’ve pushed to the back burner in order to finish a particularly gripping series.

Now, long-time readers know from books I’ve recommended that I am a big fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasty and the YA genres (particularly SFF and the current dystopian craze). I’ve always loved fairy tales, myths and legends of King Arthur, and stories from 1,001 Arabian Nights so SFF was not really that big of a leap for me. I blame the gateway books of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. I mean, fairy tales have magic, good vs. evil, some type of quest, and lots of fantastical elements. I also loved the Chinese epic, Journey to the West and Chinese myths that my mother read to me.

Anyhow, I digress. What I meant to say is that though I often expound on my love for these genres, I rarely mention that I love Regency Romances. LOVE. They are my guilty pleasure. (Pun intended.) My Goodreads friends know I love romances because my updates are often flooded with them after I go through heavier series. When I’ve chewed through door-stopper books that are each part of a trilogy or heptalogy, I need a dose of fluff. (Heh.) Also, you can read out of order and most books are standalone and you always know how the book will end. Sometimes, all you want is a happy ending. (Heh.)

As a kid, especially in junior high, I was obsessed with romance novels. I was obsessed with sex and these novels were a gateway into understanding my body – that it was built with a capacity for physical pleasure and the romance sure didn’t hurt. When I look back on the novels I read, I wasn’t particularly discerning. In fact, the writing was quite bad. But I didn’t care. I was definitely ashamed, though. I would sneak the books out of the library versus check them out. I was afraid the librarians wouldn’t let me borrow the racy books. (For you young people, this was pre-self checkout stations.) One of the minor benefits to being an adult now, I guess.

Here’s the thing: I only like Regency romances. (I’ll allow for the occasional Georgian or Victorian period since they bookend the Regency period, but that’s just minor quibbling.) I abhor Medievals and can barely tolerate modern romances. Westerns are ok, but I really don’t find them enjoyable due to the spectre of slavery and genocide and sadly, I don’t like real history harshing my mellow. (Most often, the books don’t even allude to slavery – which is what annoys me. Or they have the hero or heroine be the one family with no slaves. In the South. You know, like Mel Gibson’s family in The Patriot. Like seriously? Please do NOT insult me or conveniently paper over an entire people’s suffering.)

Mostly, I just like Regencies because the time period is just close enough to ours such that the rumblings of women’s suffrage, industry, and class revolt are just beginning. But not so recent that sex on a first date (or dating at all) is possible. I particularly like marriages of convenience or “scandal” or spies. OKOK. I like spy stories in any time period.

Of course, the stories are 99% focused on the wealthy and peerage (ie: dukes and duchesses – you’d think they were a dime a dozen) but heck, it is a fantasy. I do find I enjoy glimpses into the lower classes as well, but as you can imagine, far fewer books on romances between the lower classes and if they’re mentioned at all, it’s a wealthy earl marrying the governess or something.

The irony is, now that I’m old enough to read these books with impunity, I don’t care about the sex scenes anymore. Incidentally, the love scenes have gotten steamier than I recall from when I was a kid. And now that I’m old enough to have sex, the sex scenes do not appeal nearly as much. In fact, I often skim the scenes or skip them entirely.

Don’t get me wrong. I still quite enjoy the love scenes. (They were quite helpful for the begetting of three children, after all.) But on the whole, I actually read the romances for the story. You know. Like you do with Playboy. 

Hey, I still enjoy PWP types (Plot, what Plot?) of books, but again, now that I can have sex, written porn has limited appeal. (Oh, come on. We all know that’s what romance novels are!)

Anyhow, this is just a long preamble to what I actually wanted to write about today: My Favorite Regency Romance Authors. So, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorites and some recommendations. (All links are affiliate links.)

My Favorite Regency Romance Authors

1) Mary Balogh – It is evident that Balogh is head and shoulders above all other romance writers. Balogh consistently writes romances that are deeply moving and I love her writing and her vividly portrayed characters. But most importantly, I love the truth that is present in her stories. Of course, all good writers tell truth via lies, (after all, isn’t that what fiction is?), but Balogh is vastly superior. Her stories are imbued with warmth, love, and sincerity. Dare I even say, even sweetness?

Bonus: Balogh has an extensive backlist. As a reader, there is nothing worse than finding a good author and then realizing they only have two books written. That makes readers have a sad.

Start With: Huxtable Quintet or Mistress TrilogyChoose anyone in any of these two series to start. No need to go in order. After all, we all know how the books end.

2) Julia Quinn – Most noted for her Bridgerton family series, Quinn is definitely the Nora Ephron of Regencies. Her books are hilarious, goofy, and a joy to read.

Bonus: Quinn quit Harvard Medical School to write romances. I heartily approve.

Start With: The Duke and I (the first of the Bridgerton series), When He Was Wicked (personal favorite of the series)

3) Eloisa James – Most known for her Desperate Duchesses series set in the Georgian period, James often has long, over-arching B-plots that span a series.

Bonus: James is a Shakespearian professor in her day job and it shows in her liberal use of Shakespeare and her excellent writing.

Start With: Once Upon A Tower (part of her fairy tale series)

4) Joanna Bourne – Bourne is the least prolific of my favorite writers and it is a crying shame. In particular, because she writes fantastic banter, sexy spies, and makes me love the French. She has a total of five books out (so consider yourself forewarned). Choose a random one and it will be excellent and funny and sly. I just finished her most recent one and I am already sad it’s over. As far as I know, Bourne was never a spy, but man, she makes you believe!

Start With: Oh, just pick a book of hers and it will be excellent. But if you must, why don’t we go in order of publication and start with The Spymaster’s Lady.

5) Courtney Milan – Milan is an author that only recently came (heh) to my attention via Bookbub (a great site for free or cheaply priced ebooks). It was a free ebook download and I’m all about free! I immediately exhausted my library and LinkPlus’s selection and broke down and spent actual money to buy her ebook novellas and the books I haven’t read. She does have a few clunkers, but for the  most part, her books are highly intelligent with a lot of detailed science that doesn’t sound dumbed down or fake.

Bonus: That’s because Milan has a graduate degree from UC Berkeley and went to law school at University of Michigan (summa cum laude). She also clerked for some SCOTUS judges and was a law professor. She quit to write romances full time. I also heartily approve of this decision.

I appreciate how Milan includes people we often don’t see included in Regencies. She also tends to have excellent stories without resorting to ridiculous tropes.

Start With: The Duchess War

Skip: Proof by Seduction (utterly abysmal)

Also, she has novellas in packs so you don’t have to buy them individually. Hey. You can save one whole dollar!

Ok. This was a super long (heh) post. I realize this may only attract a certain subset of my readers but whatever. I enjoy these authors. I hope you do, too.

What are some of your favorite romance authors?