Married Couple Abandons Parenting for 3 Months to Write Book

Potential headlines for this story:

Married couple writes book.

 Married couple writes book in only 3 months.

 Married couple abandons parenting for 3 months to write book (ultimate winner).

Married couple surprised by how little they come to hate one another while writing book in only 3 months.

Married couple, as side effect of co-writing book in 3 months, becomes those people at Starbucks with all their computers and cords and stuff and about whom you wonder Don’t they have a home?

Parents of infant and toddler who placed ad in search of parents found at local Starbucks, indexing.

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, Things that Have Happened Since the Last Time I Posted on My Blog, in which I singled out five things:

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

Things #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

In that last post, I went into more detail about Thing #1 and Thing #2. This is Part 2 of that post and will be about Thing #4, skipping Thing #3 for the time being, just because.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife

A full explanation of the book’s intent and the impetus behind it is explained here.

So we (Liz and I) had this idea for a book. We’re both high school English teachers, and it’s a book about teaching high school English.

The idea started out as a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five, the idea later expanding to a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five as well as half-a-dozen other books we like to teach.

We batted it around for six months or so, getting serious enough from time to time to draft some chapters and eventually reaching the point at which we began to think about the possibility of submitting it, at which point we learned about book proposals.

So we spent (spent should be precisely defined here as referring to no more than ten to fifteen minutes every few days scratched [into? out of?] an at-home schedule dominated by parenting and grading and Netflix) the next six piecing together a book proposal, which included a query letter and an overview and an annotated table of contents and market research (I say included market research not actually knowing by any degree what market research is and therefore whether or not what we did is it but anyway we analyzed who/what our market is and other books for which the market is the same and how our book was/was not similar and etc.) and a sample chapter.

We sent the proposal out to a handful of education publishers, from which we received rejections, some of which were non-form and encouraging, before finally hearing from a very nice acquisitions editor at Rowman and Littlefield named Sarah (in fact, R&L had been suggested to us by one of our previous non-form and encouraging rejecters).

Sarah asked for some additional materials and some revisions to the sample chapter and then needed to take the proposal to the editorial board. A few days later, she wrote back with an acceptance. We were delighted.

Here’s the said-sarcastically-fun part. Sarah’s acceptance came on July 23rd of 2015. In the same email, Sarah expressed that it would be an advantage for the book—though it would not yet be published—to have an ISBN number and be promotable at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference that November, and for that reason Sarah wanted to know if we could submit to her the final manuscript by early September (this would later be extended to the first of October).

Now, at that point (July 23rd), we had the sample chapter and a couple of other very rough and incomplete chapters, all amounting to less than fifty pages.

We also, at that point, had a nearly-three-year-old and a nearly-three-month-old, as well as full-time jobs: me teaching and Liz at home with the kids, Liz having taken leave from that upcoming school year. I also had a part-time teaching job some evenings and Liz also was working on her Master’s degree.

But I had this memory from grad school of one of the faculty members, a novelist who also wrote screenplays, giving the advice, said advice delivered within an anecdote about a screenplay, that the answer is always, Yes! Like, for example, if “they” ask you if you happen to have any stories/manuscripts/screenplays/whatever about bla bla bla, you always answer Yes, and then go write a story/manuscript/screenplay/whatever about bla bla bla, and it was with this anecdote with its embedded advice that I convinced Liz that despite the apparent impossibility of pulling it off we should just say Yes!

So we did.

For the several months that would later follow the book’s release, when people would ask something along the lines of How’d you do it, I would repeatedly give the same jokey answer: “We just quit parenting for 3 months and did it.”

But we didn’t really quit parenting or abandon our children–Liz in fact clutched our three-month-old and declared that we could not let this affect our time with the kids–though we did for a time parent them less.

We wrote early in the morning. We wrote at night after bedtime. And for a rather large chunk of each of about twelve consecutive Sundays we got a babysitter and went to our local Starbucks.

 

Things you notice when you spend 10 or more hours per month at your local Starbucks:

  • Much like Walmart, people will wear almost anything to Starbucks.
  • In any span of several hours at the local Starbucks, a lot of people come and a lot of people go, but the four or five people who remain through all of those hours are pretty much the same four or five people who are also there week after week.
  • If you are one of those four or five people, location is everything, and the ideal location depends upon your purpose. For some, it’s those comfy chairs. For us, it was a balance of table space and access to a power outlet.
  • Though you may not start out there, if you stay at the local Starbucks long enough and if you’re willing to repeatedly pack up all of your stuff and move, you will eventually get your ideal spot.
  • If there are two of you, and you each have a laptop and papers and books, you may very likely need to initially split up, but you will eventually (see above) reunite.
  • Starbucks food seems wholesome and even kind of high-end. And you get the impression that they (Starbucks) don’t even really see it as food people would regularly eat, like at McDonald’s, but food people get to go with their coffee or food people need because they’re starving after waiting in line so long for coffee. It seems more like premium food.

But it’s not. In reality, it’s food taken out of a plastic package and put in a microwave, which is what you get when you eat at a gas station (which I happen to know a lot about), except at the gas station you do the microwaving yourself, and when you eat enough re-heated Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbreads, they just start to taste like gas station food.

My first book took three years to write. All the same things happened with this book—frantic drafting with the recurrent thought that nothing that I am typing right now can ever be in a book in fact it’s so awful it can never ever be seen by anyone ever; never-ending laborious revisions such that one reads the same chapters and the same pages and the same paragraphs and sentences over and over and over again; that feeling that when this is over I never want to read or see or even think about this book ever ever again in fact I’m never going to do anything difficult with my free time again just Netflix and ice cream from now on. All the same stuff, just this time crammed into 3 months.

But it all worked out. We finished. On time. And the people we need to thank are: Sarah; our babysitter, Lizzie; our two readers, Susan and Ellen. And of course our kids, for getting along without us for a while.

 

 

I did not vote for Trump. Many of my friends will stop reading there. But I hope they don’t.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. Many of my friends will stop reading there. They will stop reading and possibly unfriend me and/or possibly compose a comment in response to that single sentence, all of which they have every right to do.

 

But I hope they don’t. I hope they continue to read.

 

I am a white male. I grew up in a rural area of Northern California. I was raised Catholic and went to private Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

 

I grew up in and around the horse industry. My maternal grandfather was a rancher and National Reined Cowhorse Association Hall of Famer. My father is a horse trainer and breeder. He bred and raised AQHA’s current all-time leading sire.

 

My stepfather is a team roper, and around the age of fourteen I also became a team roper. I signed up for high school rodeo, and my family began to supply me, as they would continue to do for the decade-and-a-half that followed, with horses and trailers and trucks and tack and all the other accoutrements necessary for a team roper.

 

I competed in high school rodeo for four years, college rodeo for four years, amateur rodeo for fourteen years, and professional rodeo for twelve years (the latter three overlapping).

 

The rodeo world is predominately Republican. I am a Democrat. I have “felt” like a Democrat since I was about twelve years old. I didn’t get it from my parents or from Catholic school or from anyone around me. For whatever reasons, I developed a worldview that more closely aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. This worldview developed with positive intent: it is based upon things that I believe in, not things that I hate.

 

For most of my life, I didn’t know many fellow Democrats. But that was never much of a problem. I got into spirited debates from time to time with some of my friends. These debates were always about issues. They were often fun.

 

More recently, it feels different.

 

On Tuesday, a close friend posted on Facebook about having voted for Hillary Clinton. She received multiple comments, one from a mutual acquaintance of ours from college who replied with, “Nice knowing you. I love my country.” Perhaps I’ll receive similar comments.

 

I suspect that my declaration that I did not vote for Donald Trump will lead some to the conclusion that I am therefore less American. That I love my country less. That I am less concerned about the threat of terrorism and about the lives of our military. That I am disqualified from descriptors such as patriot and family man and hard worker.

 

To this I take great offense. In fact, I will not tolerate it. I am American. I do love my country, I do care deeply about its safety and the safety and well-being of those who defend it, and I am a patriot and a family man and a hard worker, despite the fact that I exercised my right to vote for a different candidate than those who might claim otherwise.

 

Many of my friends may also view my vote as a sign of deficiency in my character. I admit it: I am deficient in character. As are we all. And I hope, as I assume we all do, that as each year passes those deficiencies decrease in number. But, in the end, we are all flawed characters, and some of us, who were friends before Facebook hijacked the word, know one another’s flaws all too well, and hopefully rejoice for one another as we shuffle them off.

 

Speaking of Facebook, the past two days of scrolling seems to be revealing a troubling trend in which, at the end of an election in which issues were less and less the issue and more and more the issue became the extent to which the other candidate was criminal/evil/treasonous/demonic, what is spilling out, there now being no candidates left to demonize, is the demonization of the supporters of each candidate by the supporters of the other.

 

At this point, I was going to write, “Both sides need to listen to one another.” But a major part of the problem is that we are being placed ever more permanently on sides.

 

We all need to listen to one another.

 

We also need to remember that information in service of a single point of view is propaganda, and it is in the best interests of each of our respective parties (or at least of elements of those parties) that we be divided.

 

Said parties seem to have been remarkably successful at said division, and certain particulars of our contemporary society—the multiple 24/7 news options, the echo chamber of the individualized social media feed, and the handheld devices that keep us constantly fed—have made the delivery of divisive propaganda more convenient and more effective than in previous generations.

 

We all need to listen to one another.

 

Said listening requires what F. Scott Fitzgerald sort-of-famously prescribed: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

 

We need to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time. It’s actually not that hard, and I don’t even have a first-rate intelligence. I do it every time I order three cheeseburgers on the way home from work while making plans for getting into shape.

 

We need to listen to one another, and we need to do this because our individual experiences are not all the same.

 

On Wednesday, after the election, at work, I sat in a meeting (or, more accurately, sat waiting for a meeting to begin) with two other white teachers. The population at our school is around 80% Hispanic. The two other white teachers mocked the fact that some of their students were demonstrably in a state of grief over the election of Donald Trump, mocking in particular a girl who had cried.

 

We must not dismiss or discredit the American experience of others because it is not our own American experience.

 

We can hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and continue to function. If you are opposed to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as a policy, you can hold that thought in mind while also recognizing that the tears of a seventeen year old girl who is months from graduation but who may lose her DACA status are legitimate and understandable and deserving of our sympathy, not our mockery.

 

It is also possible to hold in mind the two opposing thoughts that while her parents have committed a crime, they are not criminals, a paradox that is proven true by the fact that we unevenly extend (or withhold) it when that extension (or withholding) is convenient to our social, political, or religious points of view (see above definition of propaganda).

 

We all must listen to one another. We must listen with sympathy to the American experience of displaced factory workers or coal miners. You can hold that sympathy, and the desire that each and every one of their jobs comes back to them, in mind alongside the logic that because of automation and the simple fact that we now burn less coal, each and every job won’t be able to come back, and that a promise that each and every job will come back, though we may root for it, sounds like propaganda.

 

We must not dismiss or discredit the American experience of others because it is not our own American experience.

 

We must listen to the American experience of factory workers and coal miners and farmers and small business owners with as much sympathy as we listen to the American experience of those who feel threatened and unjustly treated by law enforcement or our justice system.

 

In the past year, several of my friends shared a meme (it might be a meme—I’m not entirely confident that I know what exactly makes a meme a meme, but it had a picture and words) that told the story of an African American man who was carrying a firearm when he was pulled over by the police. As a result of his courtesy and obedience, the man experienced no issues with the officer.

 

It’s an interesting story, though statistically insignificant (just as this man’s experience multiplied by a thousand would be statistically insignificant), and it does not dismiss or discredit those whose experiences are counter to it.

 

We can hold in our head respect and regard for the job that police officers perform alongside sympathy and concern for African Americans, for whom the American experience is filtered through government policies—slavery, Jim Crow, the Federal Housing Administration—that have discriminated against them (and empowered terrorism against them) since the country’s inception.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of African-Americans or other people of color because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of the white working class because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of women because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of Muslim Americans because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of the LGBTQ community because it differs from our own.

 

We all must listen to one another.

 

What we do not need to listen to—in any way, shape, or form—and what we must instead fight against in any way we can, is speech that categorically limits or dismisses the views, concerns, rights, or humanity of our fellow Americans—according to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other category.

 

We can hold in our mind hope for the economic renewal of our nation and the safety of our nation in a Trump presidency alongside an outright rejection of bigotry, racism, sexism, and xenophobia that may be emboldened by his election. In fact, it is our duty as Americans to reject, if not combat, those elements.

 

You can hold in your mind that you voted for Donald Trump out of a belief that he was the best choice for your country and your family. You can hold that thought right alongside the recognition that in his words and in his actions Donald Trump is not the embodiment of your moral, family, and Christian values. He is not the man you want your children to become.

 

During the campaign, the argument at this point would turn to “Well, she’s not any better.” But Hillary Clinton has been rejected, and is no longer a factor in this conversation.

 

Donald Trump no longer benefits from the comparison. He is now accountable to all of us. She is not.

 

 

THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST TIME I POSTED ON MY BLOG

The last time I posted anything on my blog was March 22, 2014. Two-and-a-half years ago.

 

Here are things that have happened since then. All these things are about me, which seems self-involved, but then it is my blog, so…

 

An increasingly regular responsibility in my capacity as a high school English teacher is convincing/encouraging/suggesting/urging teenagers not to end every statement with so…. Or so yeah…. Or just or

 

So, here are the things:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

 

Thing #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

Other things (in no particular order):

  • Read a lot of David Foster Wallace
  • Read Finnegans Wake (spellcheck understandably wants me to put an apostrophe on Finnegans but there’s no apostrophe)
  • Got a part time teaching job to go with my full time teaching job
  • Sold my horse, thereby becoming horse-less for the first time since I was 14 years old.
  • Wrote/compiled a story collection
  • Got said collection rejected
  • Started a novel
  • Started another novel within that novel
  • Built a patio

 

There are other things, of course.

 

Here’s more about the first two:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging

 

I started blogging in 2011 because I had a book coming out. It was one of the things you were supposed to do. For the same reason, I also opened a Twitter account and added like 2,000 strangers as friends on Facebook.

 

There’s no big reason as to why I quit blogging. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just much easier to stop than to continue. In that way, it’s like jogging (and blogging and jogging rhyme, so…). And like the opposite of smoking, or eating cookies. It’s like this thing you do that you know you should do more often—in fact, you’ve been told by people for whom it seems supernaturally easy that if you aren’t doing it blank many times per week then you may as well not be doing it at all. So then it becomes this thing that when you do do it you feel pretty good about it (Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing, I love having written.”) but mostly you just feel guilty all the time for not doing it or not doing it enough, hence it being much easier when you finally make the decision to just stop doing it altogether.

 

But it (blogging)’s not like jogging because it’s fun. Nothing about jogging is fun. It’s good to do but not fun. Writing, though, is fun. And it’s no-or-at-least-less-pressure writing, so there’s less of that ohmygodthisisallcrapi’mafraudihatemyself part.

 

But, anyway, I’m gonna give it another whirl, so we’ll see.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

The second kid’s name is Sam. Sam is eighteen months old. His older brother, by the way, is Tom. Tom is four.

 

Sam’s birth story is far less dramatic than Tom’s birth story. Because Tom’s birth story ended with a C-section, Sam’s birth story begins as a planned C-section, planned C-sections, as you can imagine, eliminating much of the apprehension and anticipation surrounding imminent birth because you make an appointment.

 

The wrinkle in this planned C-section, though, was that when we arrived for our appointment, come to find out, Liz was in labor. The very early part, but labor (and then Liz read the handwritten draft of the sentence currently being parentheticalled and shouted at me across the kitchen that it wasn’t the early part of labor it was labor labor then insisting that I add parenthetical reference to said shouting).

 

But other than that, it all went as planned and it all went fine, and Sam was born and he was healthy and, to be honest, he was much easier than Tom had been, which may very well have had a lot or mostly to do with the fact that this was our second rodeo, but, anyway, Sam screamed less and “latched” better (those two probably related) and, speaking of Tom, the most challenging part of the entire three days in the hospital came when Tom’s Grammy, with whom Tom had spent the last three days, brought Tom to the hospital to see the parents he had not seen for three days and also to see his new baby brother, Grammy and Tom happening to arrive at the hospital at the same time that Tom’s other grandma and Tom’s aunt and uncle were also visiting, such that the scene Tom walked into was just about half the people he knew on the planet all huddled in this strange room, plus this baby. He immediately lost his s-word. What followed can best be described as an existential meltdown—think Luke Skywalker after finding out Darth Vader is his father, but of longer duration and with more agony—the shrill screams of No No No prompting everyone but Mom and Dad to file out into the hall, the nurse shortly thereafter rushing in to retrieve the bassinet because apparently it’s against the maternity ward rules to carry a newborn into the hall, the screaming toddler evading both parents, dodging behind medical equipment, eventually taken against his will into the arms of Dad and held literally kicking and screaming for the what-seemed-like-much-longer-but-was-probably-like-five-minutes that it took Mom to coax him back from insanity.

 

Existential crisis if not resolved then at least silenced, consensus was reached to just send Tom back home with Grammy. But, in the hall, before leaving: a curious peek, on tippy toes, over the bassinet wall; a glance up at the adults; “Do you want to see your baby brother?”; a nod in the affirmative; a trip, for baby brother, around the ward, pushed ever-so-carefully by big brother; a reading, with considerable concentration, of I’m a Big Brother; a kiss for everyone, including Sam, before leaving.

 

Sam is now eighteen months old, and several of those months ago he ceased being Tom 2 and became his very own Sam.

 

He smiles a lot.

 

He roars a lot. He has various roars. A tiger roar, for example, and a dragon roar.

 

If the roars don’t work, he’s a pretty good screamer.

 

He climbs. Everything. Chairs must not be left adjacent to things taller than chair or Sam will be on top of that thing.

 

He runs. Walking seemed to take a while to get going and I guess we were worried at the time but that’s a distant memory because now he’s a runner.

 

He signs. He uses the signs for All done, More, and Please. More is the most often used sign and has evolved into the sign for More as well as for Do! Like, Hey one of you two tall people that does things, do something. Do something else. Do it now. Determine from my pointing and other wild gesticulations what it is I exactly want and do that thing. More. Please.

 

We were worried about having two brother—you know, because of Sam Shepard plays and the Book of Genesis—but so far they get along great. Sam will begin speaking in sentences soon, though, limiting Tom’s ability to say, “He said I could I have this” without protest. So we’ll see.