Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Academic Freedom and Catholic Character

Several days ago, I received an email from the Notre Dame Alumni President regarding a series of discussions that had recently occurred on the Notre Dame campus. The new president is considering instituting a policy that would limit student access to material that is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. One example of this policy already in place is that The Vagina Monologues, a theatrical piece that has been performed in a campus-wide setting for the past four years along with a publicity campaign and auction to end violence against women, has been relegated to a classroom setting only and the concurrent campaign and auction cancelled. The president's address to the faculty explained the reasoning and invited discourse as he begins the process of creating a broader policy on Notre Dame's Catholic character and how that relates to academic freedom. The following is my response.

I've debated how best to frame my response to the concern of academic freedom and Catholic character, how best to relate my position on these matters as a Notre Dame alumna, a Catholic, a wife, a new mother, and a woman. I can share my experiences of Catholicism both within and beyond the grounds of Notre Dame. I can share my difficult journey to accepting my own sexuality--a journey that might have been easier had there existed a forum anywhere in my life for frank and open discussion. I can express my profound grief at how matters of sexuality are handled by the Catholic church and at how such a remarkable institution as Notre Dame is continuing that mishandling.

Instead I'll pose three simple questions that should be considered before any long-term policies are made: Where does sponsorship end and censorship begin? Why deny a community of scholars and students such perfect forums for conversations about significant issues? Who does the University truly serve? I'll focus on The Vagina Monologues as I am familiar with it and was unsure of the exact trouble surrounding the Queer Film Festival and of its potential fate.

Several times in the faculty address the distinction was made between censorship and sponsorship. Censorship is the deletion of, among other things, morally objectionable material from media. Sponsorship is the vouching of an event, usually by monetary means. I can understand the need for the University not to be seen as supporting an event that is not compatible with its Catholic character. What I can't understand is when such a need turns into the deletion of such objectionable events from media. In other words, there are many ways to make it clear that Notre Dame does not endorse the elements of The Vagina Monologues that run counter to Catholic doctrine. Denying the broader venue of this performance and its surrounding publicity is the most dangerous and damaging of those ways. It shuts down public discourse about important issues. It sends the message, however unintentional, that a public, frank, and open discussion of sexuality is not allowed at Notre Dame. It leads to limitation of freedom as students, faculty, and even alumni are bound to wonder if elements of their next performance or publication will be found objectionable and thus be removed from its intended campus venue.

Setting aside discussions of slippery slopes and fine lines between censorship and sponsorship, the greater disservice of denying the public performance of The Vagina Monologues is to the soul of the University. If we are truly about maintaining Notre Dame as an intellectually rich and vibrant university and about forming students' character, then we should not hide things that we find objectionable but rather bring them fully into the light and examine publicly why they are objectionable. The Notre Dame student body is exceptionally bright, containing many future world leaders. They should be exposed to as much information as possible so that they can make their own decisions about the values they choose to incorporate into their lives. Quite simply, if Notre Dame chooses to limit what the student body is exposed to by removing from public view that which is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, Notre Dame is depriving its students of the necessary tools to reason in the world. I always understood faith and values as concepts to be exhaustively examined and actively chosen, not blindly followed and forcefully accepted. What sort of Catholic character are we instilling in the future if we do not trust young adults to determine what to accept and reject in a performance that contains both a positive message about sexuality and a graphic description of deviant behavior? I hope that The Vagina Monologues will be performed in a broader venue next year with the concurrent V-day publicity and auction. It is the perfect forum for initiating a conversation about societal expectations and views of sexuality and how that differs from Catholic doctrine. It is a remarkable way to allow the young adults of Notre Dame to respect their sexuality and make informed decisions about their bodies. This is something that should not be limited to the classroom.

Even should it be decided that The Vagina Monologues is too loaded a piece to ever again be performed in a campus-wide setting, Notre Dame's first obligation should be to its students, not to the perceptions of those outside the university. We cannot simplify, restrict, and otherwise limit the Notre Dame experience because some may not understand the distinctions between engendering a vital discussion of human sexuality and endorsing non-Catholic viewpoints.

With the precedent set by the removal of the The Vagina Monologues from a public forum, I must ask what is next? Will Elton John and the Indigo Girls no longer be able to perform at the Joyce Center? Will this weekend's Student Union Board showing of the movie Rent be cancelled? And if these things don't come to pass, why not? What sort of message does it send to our students that it is acceptable for Notre Dame to seemingly sponsor a movie with strong homosexuality themes or a concert by artists openly living a lifestyle counter to Catholic teaching, but it is not acceptable for Notre Dame to seemingly sponsor a theatrical production designed to end violence against women and encourage women to accept and celebrate their sexuality? If the Notre Dame administration wishes to acknowledge its Catholic character by limiting student access to various viewpoints and denying avenues for public discourse about significant issues, then it must be prepared to take such a stance to its fullest interpretation or risk confusing the student body even more.

I have never agreed with the stereotypical alumni threat of withdrawing monetary support as a means to change university policies. I see no reason to engage in an action that would result in penalizing the student body for the actions of the administration. However, should the thinking that relegated The Vagina Monologues to a classroom setting be applied to a broader policy, I will no longer be able to serve as an advocate for my alma mater. I will no longer be able to encourage my son to attend the institution that helped shape my character. I do not support the view that, in order to create a Catholic value system, our young adults must be limited in exposure to secular media that may run counter to Catholic teaching, and I cannot in good conscience promote an institution that does support such a view.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


My body is fighting off some bug. I've been exhausted since I don't know when (not surprising, given Andrew), but add to that a mildly sore throat, a mildly bothersome ear ache, and general mind-body disconnect and I'm not the happiest of campers. I keep trying to get more sleep, and either Drew axes that plan, or my body needs even more than I'm giving it even with the naps and early bed times. I'm tolerating this for the moment as I haven't actually gotten miserable sick. And if this is what it takes to keep me from getting so, then I guess I'll deal. But so much for my evening writing times.... I get home, play with Andrew, eat, put The Boy to bed, then pretty much collapse into bed myself (and I can't quite go to sleep right then as I have to pump to make sure I don't wake up at 3AM with painfully engorged breasts). I'm going to try to work with my laptop tonight after Drew goes to sleep to see if I can comfortably rest in bed AND bang out a few words. Should be fun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Another Writing Resource

Lynn Viehl has written a book on improving your productivity. It's called Way of the Cheetah and it's available for download at HollyShop. I bought it on Monday, and the book is a great way to help you make the most of the time you have to write and the way you write. I doubt I'll ever come close to Lynn's stunning nine novels in a year output, but any improvement is a good thing. Check it out!

Friday, January 20, 2006

And Still More Organic Writing!

Tam's often talked about her inability to write to an outline. She's especially bemoaned it recently while she works on some proposals for future books. But in this post, she describes organic writing rather well.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Character Resource

Holly Lisle has been putting together an on-line shop for e-books by herself and by other authors. I've been helping to beta-test the shop, and it'll be going live tomorrow. Right now, you can buy Holly's Create a Character Clinic as part of the preview of the shop. And if you click the HollyShop link on my sidebar to get there and decide to buy the CCC, then I'll get a small commission. And if you like the shop and its concept, you can start earning a commission as well by becoming an affiliate.

The CCC is something I would've linked to and recommended anyway as Holly's writing advice as always been very helpful to me, but it's nice that she gave me and others a chance to make a buck of said recommendations. This shop looks like it has the potential to offer a lot of great writing resources and even some e-fiction. Check it out.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Whee! More organic writing!

John Scalzi's not into the outline thing either--for his fiction pieces, at least. And that's a great distinction that I haven't noted for myself. When it comes to nonfiction, I live by an outline. When it comes to fiction, I die by it. One interesting thing about what Scalzi reports: he's got the actual lines of the ending. I'm sure they're subject to the same revision as the rest of the book, but wow. Actual lines. For me, my endings are general ideas when I start writing. Sometimes I may have a few images that I know belong there, but generally no dialog.

By the way, the comments at the end of the post are interesting, particularly the one about serialized stories. One commenter thinks standalones are better, or at least wants better transitioned sequels, multi-volume stories, etc. This is something that concerns me, seeing as how all my projects are multi-volume series. (Well, not all, but the majority.) The good news is that I have story arcs for each book, as well as each trilogy and for the entire series. And my goal is to make each book have a satisfying arc so that I don't end up with the cliffhanger-out-of-nowhere syndrome you get in some TV shows.

It's Not Just Revisionist History...It's Notre Dame Revisionist History!

I love The Onion. Notre Dame Football Announces Improvements to Its Storied History. My personal favorite is the adjustment to what happened at the USC game this year, although perhaps killing Matt Leinert might have taken it too far. Maybe. :) And they should have done a bit more research for their 1943 entry and had the women of Saint Mary's College take up the football fight while the Notre Dame men were in the war, seeing as how women weren't admitted to ND until 1975-ish.

Friday, January 13, 2006

When Plot is Driving

Teresa Nielsen Hayden discusses inefficient writing when it comes to cool plot points and character motivations. Great advice, neat insight, and it really rung true for me as I recently read a book that was plot-driven rather than character-driven. This was a best-seller, a neat concept book that wasn't exactly bad, but every single plot "twist" could be anticipated because the scenes leading up to it only existed to make the twist happen. For example, you're reading a scene from a character's POV and you realize that this character has the Answers that everyone else needs to stop the crisis, save the day, live HEA. Then you look up at the page number and see that you're a third of the way through the book at best. You get the sneaking suspicion that this Character With All the Answers will soon die. Lo and behold, a spectacular accident (that is completely an accident, so there's not even the gripping idea that the Baddies offed this glorious character to prevent the answers from coming out) wipes Character With All the Answers off the face of the planet. Everybody loved the heroine not for any understandable reason (cute and competent will get you far, but not that far) but primarily because those characters later needed a motivation for their actions. The romantic subplot starts off with the characters supposedly no longer in love with each other (again, for no real reason that the reader can discern), and ends with them doing heroic things that risk life and limb because they actually love each other after all (and we've seen nothing to indicate why or how this happened, except that the plot needed it).

Again, it wasn't really a bad book, per se. It just wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. This is why, with every plot point that my muse reveals to me, my first question is always "Why does this happen?" followed quickly by "How does it happen? Why is this the only way it could happen?" and so on. A good book should not have you anticipating events because it's clear that Person A needs to get to Place Z in order for Plot Point 3 to occur. A good book should have you anticipating events because they're the inevitable outcome, and you know this, and yet you still find yourself cheering for the characters to figure it out and save their butts, even though you know they can't, and it's going to be awful, but the promise that they'll find their way out of it is there (you don't know how, but you know it will be good).

This seems somewhat off-topic from Teresa's post, but it's not really. Economy of plotting happens when the characters are the focus. If a writer only focuses on "what happens next", then we have that "I only remember the cool parts" effect. But if a writer constantly asks "why does this happen next" and "how do I believably make this inevitable", then the focus is on who's doing what in the story and why. The story's still there. The cool plot points are still there, but they aren't just little empty-calorie candybars floating in the ether of a poorly constructed universe. They're the high notes of a full-course meal where all the flavors are unique yet blend together perfectly to create a sublime gastronomical experience. Hmmm....candybars.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Another Organic Writer!

Tess Gerritsen discusses how she writes. I feel her pain. Strings of Discord started while I was camping in Grand Teton National Park the summer of 2002. It was sunset, and we were driving from Grand Teton to Yellowstone (they're connected by a little stretch of land). I just happened to glance to the right as we passed a meadow bordered on three sides by evergreens with a bunch of aspens clustered at the far edge of the meadow. The sun hit the trees just perfectly to cast the strangest shadows on the meadow and those aspens. I knew there was a story there. I could see in my mind a pale figure staring at me from across the meadow, beckoning me to follow her as she disappeared into those odd shadows. That was all I had for a couple months. Then we went on our honeymoon to various gorgeous national parks in Utah and Arizona, and a few other things shook out: I saw a woman with dark hair huddling in some of the vegetation that sprang up along a river on a road near Moab; that same figure struggled to climb the rocks opposite the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway while another figure looked down on her, waiting; a map of another world showed up in my mind and was quickly sketched on hotel stationary; and a quirky ghost named Elaynor rolled her eyes at a young man and said, "There's no heaven or hell, so just give up already." I teased a few more things out over the course of the next two and a half years, the basic beginnings of a plot.

Today, I have a sense of where things are going: Airen and Rayn have to get to Crae, which will be difficult; then they have to learn how to wield magic, which will be difficult in other ways; and then they have to stop the bad guys, which will be so difficult that they may not succeed, or if they do, they won't stop the bad guys permanently. I've got a few niggles about scenes that are telling me they belong at certain points in this book, and I've got a few characters who are telling me they're important, and that they've got something to do in the book(s), but they haven't told me what yet. One of those characters just revealed her past to me. I build a vague story around this and start writing, adjusting the plan as necessary as the characters and scenes start to make themselves known and flesh out. I've gotten better at anticipating the process, but that doesn't mean I can outline a plot or anything. Rather, my draft is better at providing a basic skeleton of what's going to happen, and as things are revealed, I can just go back and put in the necessary details, shed the vague internal and external dialog, and do some foreshadowing. Makes for a frustrating first draft to read as, by necessity, I tend to write obscure references all over the place. This is in part because I don't like to spend pages explaining everything at the beggining, but feed details to the reader as I go. But the bigger reason those details are obscure is because I don't know more about them myself.

Tess talks about how this method of writing is rather frustrating and prone to make one's hair gray. It can be that, sure. I bet it's even more difficult to write that way when you have a deadline to meet and the details just aren't coming fast enough. But for me, an aspiring writer with only self-imposed goals and deadlines, it's a ton of fun. I love to discover who these people are, what they're doing, and why as I write. And more often than not, I'll choose what seems to be a random name or location or situation as I start putting together the story, and find out later that it wasn't random, that it has a specific purpose. Those moments are so rewarding--and sometimes a bit creepy because I remember just pulling a name or something out of nowhere, I remember just tossing random letters together to get a name that sounded different, and later I'll realize that name has purpose and seemingly always has.

My muse does a lot more with my subconscious than she let's on. It's a love/hate thing, I guess.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Drew's Newest Cousin

My aunt DeeDee welcomed her son, Hayden Christopher, into the world last night at 7:35PM. He was 8lbs, 3oz and 20in long, and he was six days past-due. This is Drew's newest first cousin once removed. Hopefully they'll be able to meet in March when as much of the family as can make it congregates in Grand Forks to hang out with my Great-Grandmother.

I haven't heard the details of the birth as yet. Hopefully Hayden didn't follow his cousin's example.

In Which Feminine Troubles are Discussed

My poor body. I can hear it's confused mutterings: "OK, we're not pregnant anymore, so it's time to do that whole monthly cycle thing. But we're nursing, and that's telling us to delay the whole monthly cycle thing for a bit. But we're also getting these daily doses of progesterone, which is trying to trick us into thinking we're pregnant so we don't get pregnant, but still allows for that whole monthly cycle thing. Ah, hell. Let's just dump a ton of blood, cramp up like there's no tomorrow, and pump the short-fuse anger juice. Maybe then Kellie will straighten out the signals and make it clear what we're supposed to be doing here."

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this isn't a sign of more crazy health shenanigans, but rather just the normal process of my body trying to get back to its regular rythyms and patterns after pregnancy. But I'm not sure I'm going to survive another weekend like the one I just experienced. The cramps were similar to the god-awful pain of the uterine infection I had a few days after delivery (which was worse than any of the labor pain I went through), and the temper.... I just need to say again that Mark is a saint, especially as he had to juggle a fussy baby and an enraged wife on Sunday.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Adventures in Motherhood

Excerpted from SciFi Magazine's Fan Q&A, Stargate SG-1's Amanda Tapping has this to say about juggling a career and an infant:
It has been a lot more difficult than I thought. I am handling it well … I hope. But no one prepares you for the sleep deprivation. I find myself up at three in the morning breast-feeding and then running lines and then trying to pump more breast milk and then getting into the shower and then going to work. It's been a bit insane. Once there, I am unstrapping my gun and rushing to feed the baby between scenes. It's all a bit wacky. But the bottom line is that I love it. I walk off set and there's Olivia waiting in my trailer. It's been a real gift to be able to spend everyday with her and still be able to work.

While I don't have any stories of de-arming myself before breastfeeding, I did once pump breast milk at the command of Captain Malcolm Reynolds. And I have interrupted writing a magical attack to play the Binky Game with Drew (he spits it out, I put it back in, repeat ad nauseum).

Seriously, it's been rather inspiring watching Amanda Tapping continue her SG-1 role through motherhood, especially because she still had some pregnancy weight for some of the episodes, and they still played the "Sexy Samantha Carter" card without dropping a beat.

By the way, SciFi Friday returns tonight. Go. Watch. Bask in the TV's skiffy glow.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Goals for 2006

I have a slight problem preparing my goals for this year. The problem being that anytime between May and December, I could be able to quit the DDJ and I could be moving. Both will do interesting things to my free time and interrupt schedules and any plan I might try to conjure at this point. So, that being said, here are my goals for 2006, with a reassessment due in May or whenever we get a definite timeline on the job and move fronts.

Health: I need to lose 7 more pounds to get into the "healthy" weight range that doctors recommend for my height. I need to lose 15 more pounds to be at my pre-pregnancy weight, which is when all my pants will start fitting me again. And I need to lose 25 more pounds to be at the weight I had hoped to attain at this time last year. Of course, I want to lose the 25lbs, but I'll take the 15 so I'll at least be both healthy and stylin' again. Losing this weight requires healthy eating--something I'm OK at doing, but could stand to improve, especially while I'm nursing--and it also requires exercise--something I haven't even thought of doing until recently. Picking up Andrew and hauling him all over the place served me well enough while I was on maternity leave. But now that I'm back in my basically sedentary job, I need to start getting active again.

My apartment complex has a work-out room. I will start using that room for a half hour every week for starters and go from there. Since the boy's doing so well with sleeping, I will try to start getting up a half-hour early to do some of those Denise Austin workouts on Lifetime. I'll start with the goal of doing one of those a week as well and go from there. I'm also going to treat myself every Monday morning to a coffee or Einstein Bros bagel or somesuch. This will not only make going back to work after the weekend slightly more palatable, but will (hopefully) reduce unhealthy snacking and impulse food purchases throughout the week. If you treat yourself to something junky on a regular but very moderate basis, you should be able to cut the cravings. Which will also help with my finances. We hope. :)

Mental Health: I've actually been doing pretty good with this. And I obviously want to keep it that way. I want to get back into the habit of regular journaling (otherwise known as Morning Pages from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), but I just don't think it's going to happen daily. I should be able to hit every other day during the workweek. And then on the weekends, I should be able to foist Drew off on Mark for a half hour at least one day for some private journaling. And as much as I love my husband and my son, I need to start regularly giving myself some "me" time beyond the solo drive to and from work. That's also going to be a weekend thing. So, concrete goals: journal twice a week (once on a weekday, once on the weekend) and take a walk or veg alone with a book or in front of the TV for a half hour every weekend. For starters. And look at the countdown up top here more as "in X more days, I get more time to be with Drew and write" instead of "only X more days of this hell".

Writing: This is where I have to play fast and loose until we find out a more definite timeline for the rest of the year. Regardless of what happens by the end of the year, though, I should be able to finish a draft of SoD. That's the big, big goal. It's doable. My current wordcount is about 35k words, and I'm expecting the first draft to come in at 100,000 words or more. I'm able to write for three to four hours during the workweek and the same on the weekends. So, on the short-side, if I can write 500 words an hour, then I'll be able to reach 100,000 words in half a year. Factor in my tendency to "iron out the wrinkles" as I write instead of blazing a draft trail straight to the end, and add in the general insanity of raising an infant, and I think that 65k words by the end of the year is attainable. If I can get there faster, then I'll revise, have beta-readers check it out, revise some more, and start sending it out the door. That'll be icing, though. I just want to get the damn cake done. Once we have a better idea of how the latter half of the year is going to play out, I'll be able to provide more concrete goals for SoD.

As for the rest of my writing projects, all other novel drafts are on hold. I can do research when I have time or if I need a break from SoD. I can tinker around with some short story ideas (which are primarily backstory and worldbuilding for either SoD or The Masque). But the focus is SoD draft creation. In order to keep from burning out on SoD, though, I'm going to get back in the habit of doing regular writing exercises. The goal is to do fifteen minutes on a prompt daily, but I'll start with once on the weekend and once at work and see how I manage that. Reading back through some past exercises, I realized how much I just let loose with that writing, let it go where it would, or let myself experiment with a new style or voice or POV or setting or situation. And I've got the beginnings of a lot of neat stories from that. And it's only going to improve my overall writing skills. While I'm at work, I'm going to let myself continue to play with a writing exercise for as long as I have time during the day. That will be my writing play time, my break from SoD. And if I can get some short stories out of this, great.

I'm also going to devote a little bit of time to some narrative nonfiction. There are some great markets out there for it. The money would be nice, the exposure would be good, and the experience of the publishing world would be invaluable. I'm going to focus on writing some essays on what I endured and learned in 2005 and in some of the more...entertaining times of my life and try them in the woman's magazine market (Woman's Day, Family Circle, etc). I'll be happy to get a draft a month or every other month. This is extra, and I don't want to pressure myself too much with the potential to market it, but it would be nice to start developing a "backlist" of both short stories and narrative nonfiction that I can continually spruce up and submit to various markets and contests. That will help me feel like I'm doing something regularly to get published while I keep chipping away at those novels.

Thus my goals for 2006 are as follows: 1) Lose at least 15 pounds by exercising at least twice a week and limiting impulse snacking with scheduled treats; 2) Maintain good mental health by journaling at least twice a week and finding a half hour of "me" time every weekend; 3) Finish a draft of SoD; 4) Do writing exercises regularly to allow for writing play and learning and in order to develop a "backlist" of short stories and narrative nonfiction for routine submission.

Now I'm going to look at this week and next week and see about writing out the schedule to get this going. And I'll print out that short-and-sweet list and keep it in various places to remind me where I'm hoping to go this year. I will not look at that list as a guilt-inducing "don't fall off the wagon" sort of thing. Instead, it's going to be a motivator. I want to do this, and I know I can. Hour by hour, day by day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I've been meaning to write down my goals for 2006, but that focusing issue I mentioned in my last post made that difficult. I think arriving at the end of 2005 was just a tad overwhelming. It's hard to imagine that in the space of a year I've become a mother, celebrated three years of marriage and five years of a relationship, suffered through the first week away from my son, had my first root canal, my first moderate speed car accident, my first case of shingles, my first major surgery, my first complications from major surgery, my second MRI.... You know, I think I'll stop there lest I overwhelm myself again. Suffice to say, 2005 was a very busy, very challenging year, but it brought the best reward I've ever had.

About this time three years ago, I saw a lot of people on the internet celebrating that 2002, the year from hell, was over. 2002 was a bumpy year for a lot of folks in the writing blogoverse. I wasn't spared from the bumps: 2002 was the year that the identity I had built for myself for twelve years was torn away from me, and after six years of training for a career in academic research or teaching science at the very least, I found myself working as a secretary. My ego had been thoroughly whipped, my health had taken a severe beating, and my psyche was reeling from shock. But 2002 was the year Mark and I got married in a beautiful ceremony shared by our family and friends. And 2002 was also the year that my muse exploded out of the tiny box I had shoved her into a long time ago and tried to ignore. Given those two amazing experiences, I have never been able to look at 2002 in a negative light.

I find myself looking at 2005 in much the same way. Sure, I had to deal with a lot of annoying health issues--some more serious than others. Sure, I had to put up with a terrible job that managed to get worse not better. Sure, I had to reshuffle my writing goals and projects as my free time became less and less. But by the end of the year, I was healthy, happy, had a definite date for the end of the DDJ, and had a healthy, beautiful baby boy whose smiles make just about anything bearable. How can 2005 be a bad year?

And after surviving such a jam-packed year, I find myself looking at 2006 in a truly optimistic light. I mean, if I can come up on the flipside after all that I've been through in one year, then I can do it again. And again. And again. I've got Mark, I've got Andrew, and I've got my identity back.

2005 was a landmark year. Mark and I have been together for five years, married for three. We welcomed our first child into this world and have survived the insanity of the first three months with a newborn. We looked adversity in the face and said, "Game on." 2006 promises to be another big year. Mark will defend his doctoral thesis no later than July 14. He'll start his career, hopefully in a position that let's me stay at home and write. By the end of this year, Mark will have a couple more letters to add to his name, and he'll have finished a very long, amazing journey. By the end of the year, we could be living in our first home in Arizona. By the end of the year, I could have a revised novel completed and making the rounds to agents and editors. By the end of the year, Drew will be talking, walking, eating solid food, and who knows what else, knowing the way the little guy operates. By the end of the year, I may be thinking about getting pregnant again--afterall, I'd rather have Baby the Second before I'm 30, and I'll be turning 28 in June.

Looking back I see strength in the face of challenge, support when strength just wasn't there, tears, joy, smiles, accomplishment. Looking ahead, I see so many opportunities and, for the first time, knowing the next challenge is lurking to strike when I least expect it doesn't send my control-freak, perfectionist nature into a tizzy. There's nothing like motherhood to make you take life in more livable, lovable doses.