Archive for January 2011

The hopelessness of raising children

I wonder if I'm a good parent. I worry my kids feel they can't talk to me. I fear I'm too strict lenient strict.

I know how my childhood affected my behavior as an adult. I've seen the same path in others who were raised in very similar circumstances, and in those who were not. I'm wondering if anyone in the world actually grows up to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult, because I don't know many, and the ones I do know are in middle age and have worked through most of their issues. So what are the chances my kids will grow up healthy? Right now it seems like nothing I do will prevent teen pregnancy, alcoholism/drug abuse, and depression. It's all around me.

Right now the problems are manageable, but how do I know which grain of dysfunction will grow into the pearl of self-destruction?

At times the kids seem to doubt my love. (Well, the older two. The 7-year-old has confidence like I've never seen. So far.) On one level I don't understand how this is possible, with all the sacrifices I've made to be a SAHM and to keep the family together, though logically I know they don't see it because they are children. I try for just the right blend of understanding and stern, make every effort to let them be independent while still being involved, demonstrate that I'm a person of worth and so are they.

But some days it appears I've had that balance wrong this whole time. Or, more likely, there is no ideal balance and the whole thing is hopeless. They are children of the world, and the world chews up children and spits them out all the time. And there's nothing I can do about it.

Reading back over this, I sound a bit manic and controlling. That's not how I feel, I just feel frustrated and a bit lost. Another way to look at this whole situation is that I am doing a good job, and since I can't control how my kids see me, I can just relax.

Anyway, that's what's on my mind today. Anybody got any stories in this vein they'd like to share?

Monday, January 31, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

What does your creativity hide behind?

My creativity quietly began to assert itself this week. Several things happened to facilitate that, starting with the list from last Thursday’s post. Listing the possible stumbling blocks brought them to my attention, forced them out of the recesses of my mind where they lurked. Just admitting my fears took away a lot of their power. I knew they were there, but I need to be reminded from time to time.

Another thing that helped my creativity was rejection, believe it or not. I had two, one for a short story and one for a novel. They were both good rejections as far as rejections go, because they said what they liked about the manuscripts and what they didn’t, and both said they’d like to see something else from me. Often for writers, especially in the beginning stages, rejection is the only contact we have with publishers, so even a “no” can prod us into action and make us feel like part of the process. These reaffirmed my desire to write stories for others’ enjoyment, so I bought MS Word 2010 for my new computer as a symbol of my commitment.

The third thing was finding a folder full of old ideas I forgot about, probably twenty of them. Plot notes, beginnings, characters, scenes…lots of stuff. As I went through them I pulled out the ones that caught my interest. It’s a nebulous thing, interest, because I couldn’t tell you why I left the post-apocalyptic human “canary” in the pile but pulled out the futuristic  dreamless society. I think it’s because the second one fermented better. Who knows, maybe the first one will be the one I pull out the next time I find my idea folder.

And finally, I think I realized the real reason I’ve resisted writing in the past. Fear of failure, scattered focus, indecisiveness—all of these can be overcome since I know they’re there. But while those are the branches of the tree, there seems to be a trunk holding all those up. It’s something I’ve never explored logically, because it’s almost impossible to explain in a simple sentence.

I might call it fear of being alone, except when my family’s gone all day I love the solitude. Perhaps it’s a compulsion to be connected, because when the family’s home I find it hard to shut the door and do my own thing. But wait a minute, I don’t really disconnect during the day either, thanks to the Internet. I’m physically alone but I have conversations all day. Maybe I really am afraid of being alone! See my problem? Whatever it is, it makes me feel like I can’t work on something unless it includes someone else. And it’s not only writing, either. I think the items I listed last week are subconscious ways of taking the attention off the real problem.

What do you think? Have you figured out anything about your hidden motivations recently?


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Thursday, January 27, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

A question of aging

I guess I’ve been in a kind of shock over the past few months, but as I was looking in the mirror today, it struck me: I’m 40. How the hell did that happen? How in the world did I become a creature that a man in his 30s (always my benchmark for solid adulthood) would not look twice at? How did kids born when I was an adult get to be adults themselves? Why is my hair thinning, my skin sagging, my body aching?

And the biggest question of all: Why am I surprised?

I’ve been calling myself middle aged for a couple of years. The main thing I’ve noticed is I don’t get as many appreciative looks as I used to, but somehow the age thing never played a part in my understanding. I thought it was just because I don’t take care of myself, and that’s part of it of course, but also it’s because my place in society is shifting.* And I didn’t ask it to! I’m still talking to people the same way, but more and more I find myself confused by their responses. People of all ages seem to be connecting with me differently, and I’m just now putting two and two together.

People seem less interested in what I say, but more obliged to listen; the folks who are dismissive and those who are intimidated seem to have switched places; I'm surprised when others seem to be put off by my enthusiastic manner. I fear it makes me seem unstable and/or on drugs. Being compared to a puppy was cute when I was 16, but now it seems weird. However, I think I still look good in a ponytail, but who knows?

Like I said, I’m wondering how I got here without noticing things were changing. But it’s pretty clear now that I’ve arrived at a destination. When I figure out where that is, I’ll let you know. It just struck me, is all.

Oh, I just realized the biggest question of all: Why don’t I know what I’m doing by now? Sheesh.

*I first typed “shitting”, which is also fitting. My place in society is shitting. Indeed.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

What's holding you back?

I've really been avoiding writing this post. I came up with several different topics, wrote some on each, and decided to write about quitting. How you might decide whether it's worth your while to discard what you've worked toward and start fresh. But it appears I still suffer from the same performance anxiety I always have, because when I think of actually crafting a post and submitting it for your consumption, I clench. It's the same with novels, short stories, articles, and even my resume. The only way I can write is to sneak up on myself, like I'm doing now.

So I thought I would examine that this week. And maybe next week. Possibly until I figure it out.

I know some of my online friends have a similar problem. Lots of ideas, great ideas, scenes written in the safe space between the ears, characters developed as if we remember them from another life. I'm sure every one of us has different reasons for the disconnect between thinking and doing, and here's my list (which assumes a natural talent for putting words on the page, because if that's not there then none of these will matter):

  • Fear of failure

  • Fear of success

  • Fear of exposure

  • Scattered focus

  • Fatigue

  • Personal subject matter

  • Physical distractions

  • Feeling undeserving

  • Uncertainty of purpose

  • Indecisiveness

I could probably go on, but already a pattern has emerged. All of these things indicate an imbalance in the writer. And as I look at the list it seems very familiar, so I'm sure there is some internal reason these things came up. The fear of failure is probably universal, and there's tons of advice on how to overcome that particular fear. Fear of success might be more subtle, and in my case probably has to do with not knowing if I can sustain any success that comes my way. After all, I had what most would consider a huge success when I landed my agent, but the failure to get that first book published put me at my lowest point as a writer. Maybe that's something I can explore in the next post.

What would you add to this list? What holds you back?
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

What would make you change course?

I tried to blog yesterday, I really did. But the kids were home for MLK day, and… Well, that’s all I have. And that’s not even a real excuse, but if you see what I wrote yesterday, you’d be glad I didn’t post it. Borrring.

Or maybe you haven’t noticed that my schedule is now Mondays and Thursdays and so you weren’t waiting for my post. In that case, disregard the first paragraph. And this one. Oh hell, just stop reading right here.

Please don't go.

I’m still getting used to my new laptop. It’s a teensy bit annoying that the keyboard and mousepad are squished over to the left to make room for the 10-key pad, but it’s a small price to pay to have that. Plus when I had to get something off my old laptop, whose mousepad is firmly centered, I kept having to correct the alignment of my hands, so I guess I’m assimilating the new layout. I’m still having trouble with the ancillary keys like delete and pg up/down, and it looks like I’ll have to make a concerted effort to memorize those.

Like I said, people, small price to pay. Can I get an amen?

I bought this laptop for greater portability, as my old one is made for viewing movies and not for carrying. The inconvenience of the keyboard is worth the 4-lb difference in weight, especially since I have a fantastic wireless keyboard for any serious writing sessions. Which is ironic, since I think I may be done with the path of career novelist.

So that brings me to the topic of the first real You Are the Muse post planned for Thursday, and questions for you. No matter how we plan, there’s so much we can’t control anytime we reach for a goal. What if we’re so obsessed with that goal we refuse to see our true calling? How can we tell when we need to change paths? What would it take for you to abandon your current guiding star and navigate by another?
Monday, January 17, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

You Are the Muse—Take #2

I often don’t start ambitious projects because I’m afraid to fail, as many of us are, but also because I know how likely it is that I will lose interest in the project before it really takes off. I have huge temporary ambitions every day. Usually, if I ignore the urge to declare one, it will fade after only a day or two.

One idea has returned many times over the past year, when I declared it and then ran out of steam. My idea was to start a new blog focused on the spiritual side of writing, and I decided to call it You Are the Muse. I reserved the Wordpress address and made lists of possible topics…and then it faded away as I focused on casting off the stone around my neck—I mean, finishing my second book.

This was a good thing, as I needed to become more zen about the whole process. When I wrote the original post one year ago, I hadn’t finished the growth I felt was in play. Of course, one usually can’t tell when one is finished with a stage of life until one can look back on it and see the lines of demarcation. And I’m not finished with the big picture lesson of this time, but I think I’ve crossed one important line.

So here’s the deal. I don’t want to start a new blog, as I’d originally decided would be prudent. I know I won’t keep up with it if I do that, so what I’ll do is just start posting these things in a (hopefully) regular feature.

What I hope to do with these posts is to speak the truth of my heart as it pertains to writing, and to encourage others to do the same, regardless of what we think we “should” do. I’d love it to be a collaborative effort, starting with stories of personal processes—long or short, rambling or on point, any form you choose—so send me yours.

While inspiration can come from anywhere, I believe what we call the muse is actually the connection to the things which inspire us. I’d like to explore that with you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

Looking for an experience

I’ve had this feeling lately. You know, a feeling. A feeling that the world is going through a major shift in consciousness, but maybe it’s just me. I feel the need to be part of a group, working for something bigger than what I could do alone.

Also, I want to learn new things so I’ll have something to talk about at parties.

I’ve been closed off, physically, for some time because of marital dynamics and health issues, but I’m tired of it, darn it! I’m a social creature despite my sometimes crippling uncertainty, and I do my best work when helping others to do their best work. It’s something I’ve known about myself for a while, but I never knew what to do with it. Heck, I guess I still don’t. Listen, there’s a lot of information in my brain. Maybe too much, so I can’t sort it out into something useful. A jack of all trades, a master of none. Or mistress.

What I need is an experience that gives me some idea of how to use my accumulated information, something that boosts my confidence and gives me a direction. My first thought is that it should be a paying job, but I’m in a unique position where the money isn’t necessary right now. The experience alone might be worth it.

Now if I knew where to find such an experience, I’d be good to go. Universe? Any ideas?

Sunday, January 9, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

Just an unfocused hausfrau

The kids and husband are firmly back in the outside world, post-holidays, and I am still ensconced at home, relieved to have my quiet days back, but missing the family at the same time.

I’m learning just how hard it is to pick up a long-abandoned manuscript and care about it again. The synopsis I was supposed to do for the middle grade reader? Well it just isn’t coming along like I’d hoped, which is to say, at all. It’s about halfway done, and I think it’s a viable story and the writing isn’t bad at all, but I always feel faintly embarrassed reading my own writing, whether it’s good or not. Knowing I’ll have to read the book again to write the synopsis has caused me to put it off.

Plus, there’s a lot of pressure in being a hausfrau. And before you working women get all up in my face, let me say I’ve done that, too. I’ve worked all day long, picked up the kids from daycare, fixed dinner, and been so busy with kids and so tired from work that I didn’t lift a finger all week on the house, doing the bulk of the cleaning in a Saturday marathon, with little to no help. That was my life.

Here’s the difference: If I walked into the house above, I’d think, man, this lady is busy. If I walked into my house today, I’d think, man, this lady is lazy.

After all, a housewife with no kids during the day should have no problem keeping the house spotless and the kitchen stocked; a writer with all day to write should have no problem pounding out the pages; a handywoman with tools and time should have no problem fixing the leaky pipe in the wall/rotted siding/holes in the porch room walls; a woman with hours to care only for herself should have no problem exercising and exfoliating.

And each one of those on its own would be true. I feel like if I could focus on one thing I could do it really well. I’d be the best at *insert activity*. But that’s the track my mind goes through, and so though I still hit the high spots, I never feel I’ve done enough. I have so much time, you know? “I really should write today, but it can wait till the kids have something to wear. And what’s that? The toilet’s running again? Damn it, I fixed that already! I guess I could shower first, but I’ve already started this blog post…”

And so now I have one more thing to do, and that is to list my priorities. I’ll do it right after I load the dishwasher.

Thursday, January 6, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

That one unflattering photo

We all try to hide our ugliness on the web, where it will undoubtedly linger for thousands, if not millions, of years. One errant photo will come back to haunt us, or perhaps our mainframe-dwelling descendants.

We pose:


We laugh:


We ham it up:


And then fate conspires to capture us in all our exaggerated ugliness, such as when we are goofing off at Christmas, and we say to our mothers, “Don’t take a picture of me like this,” whereupon we slouch and pooch and make ourselves as hideous as possible for the sole purpose of humor, and then we see the flashes go off out of the corners of our eyes, and hear previously mentioned mothers say, “Oops, sorry, I got you anyway. I was trying to get Richard.” And of course it becomes the most hilarious thing ever, and how could we keep these ugly photos to ourselves?

We couldn’t:


And you know what? I think we should all show more of our warts/bellies/neckfat. It makes other people feel better about themselves.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Posted by Sherri Cornelius

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