paradigm.shift. (part one).

paradigm.shift. (part one).

There is nothing more terrifying than knowing you can’t follow someone you love into a new situation.

The first time it was brought to my attention that my cousin might decide not to need me anymore, I was six or seven years old. I remember it vividly, because it was such a defining moment in my life. I was jumping around in my grandparents’ living room during their Christmas Art Show and one of their frequent customers was watching me interact with my cousin Amber. I had just said something hurtful or insensitive and the stern lady looked at me and said, “Your cousin isn’t going to like you if you treat her like that.” My response was, “She has to love me because she’s my cousin!” And she looked at me and said, “She might love you but she doesn’t have to like you.”

I have no idea what six or seven year old me thought about that, but I know that decades later I still think about it, and wonder if I’m a good enough person to deserve having her in my life. After all, most of my favorite memories involve her in some way. Extensive shopping trips with my mom, arguing over who gets to open their Christmas presents first at Grandma and Grandpa’s, the memory book she made my daughter before she was born, the wedding and baby showers she threw me, the comical way she withheld or bestowed approval of my boyfriends. The list is endless.

When I was younger I had this idea in my head that we would kind of be like Roseanne and Jackie. We’d live in the same town, she’d come over and do her laundry and drink coffee with us every morning while we had hilarious conversations about how our significant others were pissing us off. Maybe we’d take a girls’ weekend to Vegas every year or get matching tattoos. I’d give her all kinds of sound life advice–since I’m older by a year and a half–and she’d do crazy single lady things and let me live through her vicariously. It was going to be great.

Then reality hit. And while I wasn’t expecting a prime-time sitcom special with problems which would be rounded off and tied up in thirty minute increments, I was not prepared for the swan-dive our lives took into an HBO drama series.

In 2004, I was a junior in college. I was also engaged to be married that summer. Amber was my maid of honor, of course and she and my mom had pretty much taken over the wedding planning since I had very little interest beyond cake flavors, menu options, and booze offerings. I was getting married. Amber approved and my soon-to-be husband adored her, too. We were halfway to becoming sitcom material! How exciting! My life was coming together, and I was happy. Then, three months before we were to say our I-do’s, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She needed surgery. I don’t remember much about that day, but I remember the surgeons coming out sooner than expected, talking to us in the hallway. “There is less than a one percent chance of her making it through this. She has two, three years tops.” That was what they said. I tried not to hate them. I knew they were just doing their job. I knew they must have to give bad news all the time and they were running out of tactful ways to do it. I stood there, with my dad and brothers, for an unknowable amount of time.

I don’t even remember how it happened, but in my mind I went from hugging my dad while my legs began to wobble, to sitting in a chair in the same hall staring down into Amber’s face as she knelt in front of me, her hands on my knees. It’s like in a dream, when you don’t remember the motions which precede each scene. I just remember her staring up at me saying, “It’s going to be ok,” while she tried not to cry. Over and over again. It’s going to be ok. Because that’s what people say when nothing else comes to mind.

I nodded at her because I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to tell her she could cry if she wanted to–not to pretend for my sake. I hoped this would be the only wobbly-kneed, hallway moment we’d ever have to have together, but of course it wasn’t. Amber would have her own moments in a few short years, and all I would be able to utter was a trite, “It’s going to be ok,” even though I had no idea what the hell I was talking about.

I had no idea how perpendicular our paths would become that April afternoon in 2004, but I hugged her and tried to believe it all really would turn out ok.

painting with grandpa.

paintsI started painting with my grandpa when I was two years old. I don’t remember it then, but that’s what my grandpa says. Of course, my grandpa also tells people he makes his paintings using popsicle sticks and toilet paper, and he even once told a lady at the ice rink that he was a retired Olympic ice skater. But, I believe him about the painting at two. I’ve seen some of my earliest works and I have to believe I was two when I created them for reasons of self-preservation.

Being brought up so closely to a master of a creative process as amazing as turning tubes of oil paint into epic stories for people to cherish for decades has taught me a lot about all creative processes. The most important thing I have learned, is that not everything works. Actually, that’s the second most important. The first, is that creative people are usually straddling the line between greatness and chaos–not me, I’m still hopping up and down, trying to get a glimpse over the line from my spot in Chaotic Corner, Apt. #256789.

My grandfather’s number one rule–the very first thing he always tells me to do–is to get as much of the canvas covered, as quickly as possible. Get the paint on there, but keep it thin, so you can scrape it off or add more layers later on. Seeing the canvas covered gives you a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief as the white disappears under your brushstrokes. Don’t worry about the details at first. Don’t be too scared to start. It took me a decade to realize this works the same with writing. Get the words on the page, keep writing, don’t stop until you have as much of the story stamped down as you can. But, don’t get too attached, in case you have to go back in with some thinner and erase an entire character.

One day, not too terribly long ago, I was trying to paint a portrait of my daughter. She was the subject, and I was slaving away trying to get her perfectly outlined. My grandpa came in after a few hours of this, took one look at it and said, “Now, don’t be afraid to wipe something out and start over.” Which brings me to my next Grandpa lesson: Sometimes what you do sucks, and you have to start over. Sometimes a canvas needs to be chucked out the window or burnt in the fireplace.  Getting upset or taking it personally isn’t going to make your creation any better, so just suck it up and start over.

Another trick about painting, is that it helps to look at your masterpiece in a mirror from far away. But, I actually haven’t figured out how that applies to writing, yet. You know what? We’ll come back to that one later.

The hardest part about painting or writing a scene is knowing when to leave it the hell alone. Sometimes you just keep telling yourself it can be better. Just one more finishing stroke, one more reflection, one more shadow… then before you know it, you’ve completely ruined the entire damn thing and no matter what you do, it’s never the same and you end up cussing and ripping your hair out. So, don’t do that.

Oh, and if you do manage to create something people love and cherish, and they want to know how you did it, make up something so ridiculous your grandkid eventually writes a blog post about it.

precaffeine.ramblings.

I had a whole idea for a new blog post. Something fresh and thought-provoking, something which touched on experiences I have had in real life, and sparked the little ideas that have now become the fictional story, What It Isn’t. But, you know what? Sometimes even though you’ve created an entire cast and world based on abstract truths you’ve learned over the years… it’s still uncomfortable to earnestly address those truths and how you came to discover them. So, maybe that blog post can wait until I’m a little braver.

Until then, let me tell you about how disgustingly cold it is right now and how my husband won’t go get me breakfast, so I’m sitting in bed whining, thinking about past friendships and relationships, and all the little forks in the roads where we had to decide what our relationships were, and what they absolutely weren’t. And you know? Deciding what they weren’t was usually more telling, helpful, and–in time–healing, than any of the Aha! moments telling us what we were.

no.idea.

no.idea.

Let me start this post by saying I have no idea what I’m doing.

I had this idea to start a blog about the whole process of writing a novel, but there are a ton of blogs about this and I do not want to bore my readers to tears. If you are here, I assume you either know me personally, or have a sympathetic heart-tug for struggling novelists. Either way, thanks for reading. Please share with your friends! You can caption with, “Hey, read this pathetic blog written by this crazy lady who thinks someday she’ll be a published novelist. (insert smug emoticon)”

If you haven’t already heard, I am currently in the (hopefully) final stages of finishing up my novel, What It Isn’t.

What is it about? Well, I can tell you What It Isn’t about (haha, see what I did there?). It isn’t about a happy, privileged, perfectly content college-aged woman who falls in love with her roommate and lives happily ever after. It also isn’t about falling in love at first sight, or being able to successfully repress substantial baggage from one’s past. It isn’t about mentally-stable people who make wise decisions. In fact, it isn’t about people you’d probably even really want to know in real life.

BUT (yes, there is a but), it is about real life, and how sometimes the past butts its way in between what we think we need and what we actually need. It’s about real relationships–raw, uncensored, unapologetic interactions between people who know each other too well. It is about weakness and strength, and how people totally misuse both.

So, if this sounds like the kind of novel you may be interested in reading, please stand-by… (and keep reading this blog for updates and invites to help me with your invaluable feedback)!

R.E.Marshall

childrearing.

Would it really be so terrible for people to hear how awful kids can be sometime before they are already pregnant? If you have ever been married without kids for longer than two days, you have been asked, “So, when are you going to have kids?” And if you hesitate for even one millisecond before answering that you hope you are already with child, your inquisitor bursts forth with a litany of reasons you should have 87 children. They sell you stories of beautiful little bundles of rosey-cheeked joy, chubby hands full of hand-picked flowers, lullabies sung by the light of the moon as you rock your precious little babe in an antique rocking chair as they silently and effortlessly fall asleep.

As soon as your morning sickness kicks in those same Snake Oil Salesmen start in with, “Oh, you think it is hard now?” (insert maniacal laugh here), “Just wait till the baby is HERE! You won’t sleep for months! Forget getting back into shape. Every waking minute will be spent cleaning up vomit, poop, spilled breastmilk, and your constant flow of tears!”

Back the truck up. Where did all those nice stories go? I want those back. Weren’t you the same nosey lunatic casting fertility spells over me four months ago and praying I would change my mind from wanting to be child-free, to suddenly deciding a baker’s dozen would be marvelous?!? Why would any sane person do that to another person, when they knew about all the puking and pooping and crying?

Well, because of course the reality is somewhere in the middle. Parenting is terrifying but it can have its good moments, too. It’s just that sometimes they are hard to remember when you are being pooped on or screamed at, or your kid is having a meltdown that puts Mariah Carey to shame in the middle of the hotel pool while you are on vacation.  But there really will be days when those chubby little fingers bring you flowers (that they yanked out of the neighbor’s yard, resulting in a stern talking-to from said neighbors), and there will be nights when maybe your baby won’t be screaming TOO loud while you are rocking them and you can pretend that it is a peaceful scene from some bedtime story featuring a fuzzy bunny and his momma. (Just make sure your husband takes a picture of it so you can gaze at it the next time you find yourself wondering if your roof is high enough off the ground to do serious damage should you jump from it).

Think about how much more supportive we would be if we all knew how awful we were at this parenting gig at the outset. No one would be worried about keeping up pretenses. Seriously, no one is perfect at it. And if everyone was really honest about how draining and frustrating it is, the world would be a better place. Instead of waiting until one of your mom friends is on the verge of a nervous breakdown or alcoholism to confide to her that you too had nights where you felt like a complete and utter failure and called someone to babysit as a last ditch effort to save your sanity, maybe there would be fewer moms driving their minivans into the Mississippi River.