And another hot minute passes…

Wild Horses Statue, Providence, RI

Right, so where was I? Ciaragh was back, I was done with GARF, and life was settling down so I could get ready for my inlaws to come for a visit.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Not even close.

For those that don’t know, my mom had some sort of major neurological event around the 3rd week of June, and she has not been able to recover completely. She is in hospice care now, and we really don’t know what the next step is there.

I’m updating right now from a hotel in Rhode Island because I am attending the RID conference. I had completely let this go to the wayside with everything going on at home. I happened to look at the webi

Nope, let’s start again.

This has been the weirdest summer of my entire 47.5 years of life. I sort of feel like I’m in the middle of that groovy statue I got to photograph in Providence – only the horses are real and in motion, and if I don’t watch out I’m going to get trampled.

Over the summer, I wasn’t watching out, and I was most certainly trampled. Ciaragh was back home, and I was settling into my regular summer routine of freelance interpreting, planning for upcoming faires, and writing as much as I could whenever I could. The final draft of the second Clobberpaws book was starting to sit up and pay attention. The first novel in the Forest Wars saga was being actively edited for the…I don’t know, umpteenth time, and was on track for publication at the end of July.

And then, my sister took my mother up to see my dad’s grave on what would have been his birthday. And then there was the night about four days later that I was talking to my mother on the phone and she was slurring her words and was very confused. I rang my sister who went over there, spent the night there, and then took Mom to Emory the next day to see the doctor.

From there, she was fast-tracked into the unit that treats stroke patients, only she hadn’t had a stroke. There was no evidence at all of a stroke. And then she had a seizure and slept for about five days – as one does when one is 86 and has a massive seizure. Her advance directive said no life-prolonging measures – no feeding tubes, etc. And then she was on the hospice unit for something like three weeks, so because nothing was happening, they discharged her to her home, where she died about two weeks-ish later.

Now, none of that is about me. It’s nothing to do with me. But the aftermath is everything to do with me, my sister, and our families. I spent a good day after Mom died wondering if I was an orphan now. Is that something that only applies to children? More time than was probably necessary was devoted to wondering what would happen to my sister and me – we had been texting all day almost every day since that fateful phone call because I am a state away from them. Now that the crisis time was over, would we fade back into our typical roles, only communicating now and then?

So here I am, a month and two days from waking up to a phone call from my sister that Mom had passed in her sleep, and I’m still wondering. Still waiting. Still an orphan – I decided I wanted to own that, so I did. Still struggling to find someone to talk to on long days at home or long car rides when I usually would call Mom. Still not quite able to listen to the stack of voice mails from her still on my phone – recordings that underscore what a neglectful daughter I am for not visiting her more often.

Here I am, with a book about to launch in a week’s time, a “First Page Critique” away to the folks running the writer’s conference in September that I will be attending (in the hopes that it will be chosen to be anonymously ripped to bits by a panel of literary agents), and a big signing event in the works for November.

Here I am, suddenly winning at being a writer for at least a few minutes, and the number one person I want to tell isn’t here. I hope she knows. I hope she is pleased. I hope she is proud.

On staves, poi, flow, and damaged elbows…

[The image here is the effect created by someone spinning fire poi. Poi, in this sense, is a Maori word meaning “ball on string,” and is combined with dance to make flow art. Before you grow concerned, none of my poi have ever been on fire, nor will they be anytime soon.]

Yesterday I attended a…skill share? Jam session? etc for people that are interested in flow arts/dancing with props. We worked with staves/staffs on various tricks that people knew. It was a great time – with the exception of my elbow.

To catch you up, I have tendonitis in my right elbow, most likely brought on by a semester of tactile interpreting in very odd classroom setups. While it is MUCH better than it was, I still have flare-ups of pain from my fingertips up to my elbow on that side – making my job SO MUCH FUN. I have an elbow brace that I wear and I take anti-inflammatory meds as needed. Easy. I was seeing improvement – until yesterday when I apparently forgot everything I know about taking it easy and carefully working my way back up to staff work.

Because the other likely culprit for my elbow issue is my age – the last time I spun a staff-like flag on a regular basis I was 17 years old. Apparently, your tendons become less stretchy after you pass the age of 40, which is seven years in my rearview at this point. Yesterday I didn’t stop until my shoulders and wrists and all in-between were making their presence known, and last night I think I slept about 2-3 hours all total due to waking up with a dull ache in my arm over and over.

Well, learned my lesson, didn’t I? Won’t be doing that again, right?

Poi class starts this week at 8:30 on Thursdays. Since I already have experience with poi I can take it more slowly than I did with the staff yesterday, and I am certain the weight of the staff was harder on my arm than the poi will be. And if it isn’t, I will sit out and watch for a while. But y’all, I am stooooopid excited about getting back to poi. It is meditative for me, and makes my heart happy.

Here’s hoping it will make my elbow happy as well.

And here y’all thought I was going to complain…

Not today.

Okay, earlier today, but not now, even though the sun is creeping up and into the window I’m sitting in front of and making it darned near impossible to work because I CAN’T SEE…

Nope, still not complaining. I am instead starting a new way of working – may or may not have asked permission or cleared it with the higherups but you know, sometimes, to quote Christine Kane, you have to “leap and the net will appear.” At least I hope there will be a net.

This is a time of change in my office. Great change. But only for me. After seven years of sitting at a certain desk in a certain office within our suite, I am being relocated. At first, I was angry. I have been here the longest! Why am I having to move? But now, I’m starting to look at this arrangement as a new way to work – semi-digital semi-nomad life, here I come.

So I was going to get myself all worked up over having to be out of my office today, but I’m not – I’m in my office now wherever I am. It’s a scary thing for someone that had needed the stability of a 9-5 job for most of my life, but it’s turning out to be more okay than I thought.

More time for writing when I’m not chained to a desk. More time to sit in a comfy chair and read my prep materials. More time to be me, rather than the poor team player that I always seem to end up being. More time, less office. Yeah. I think the net is appearing.

Hey, I just noticed the purple and orange in the photo up there. Huh. Coincidence?

New Year, New You? Nope.

So how many of you (admittedly, 5-6) Lettuce Readers have already given up on the New Year’s Resolutions that you made a few weeks ago? Yeah, me too. The difference is that my resolutions were actually achievable this time – set out your clothes for work the night before, make sure that the coffee pot is ready to go before you come stumbling in for some liquid courage at 6:55am (wow, that might have been a little more disclosure than I meant to have this early in a blog post), make time to write every day and the time in between lunch and class doesn’t count.
I’m writing this having just polished off two lovely vegetarian sliders with Palmetto Cheese on top, and I’ve come to work in a long sleeve t-shirt and jeans if that tells you anything.
Before the end of 2018, I started listening to a podcast by my sister-of-choice, Elizabeth Dunne. It’s called #FLAW3D and it is brilliant, insightful, and funny, just like she is in person. I swear. But as with everything that occurred after 12 April of 2018, I was going through the motions with her podcasts and other content under the #FLAW3D brand. In fact – I will admit this if you swear not to tell her I said so – I am embarrassed to say that while listening to her podcasts on the bus on the way to work, I fell asleep. Every time. That has more to do with my level of exhaustion and nothing to do with her content, I swear. My life for most of last year could be represented by the photo above – a long hard slog down a cobbled road devoid of all color.
I also listened to them out of order, because I had started doing that with another podcast I am addicted to listening to called And That’s Why We Drink, a Paranormal and True Crime Podcast. The personal information that MUST BE LISTENED TO IN THE ORDER IT WAS RELEASED SO THAT YOU CAN CREEP ON THE LIVES OF THE PODCASTERS is not the point of the podcast there. But with Elizabeth’s podcast, it is.
I mean not the creeping part. I would never. I’m having too much trouble remembering to call her Elizabeth rather than ‘liz, as I have known her since uni, so there’s no way I’ve got an ulterior motive here. Plus, she is the mother of my eldest niece, so I am versed in the real Elizabeth.
And y’all, if you will just listen to #FLAW3D you will hear the real Elizabeth. She is unabashedly open about everything that she chooses to share – and what she doesn’t.
Anyway! So I listened to the first episode of #FLAW3D today – the topic was becoming a digital nomad and working with your spouse – and it was terribly relevant to me not because Hubs is going to quit his job and we are going to open up THE NEXT BEST BIG THING anytime soon. It was terribly relevant because it was just the dose of, “You want to do that? Well, why not?” that I needed. Yesterday was a hard day in the universe of my day job – so bad, in fact, that I couldn’t even bring myself to escape to Orana like I normally do when the waters get rocky. I did manage to finish a chapter in the next Clobberpaws, but that was it. One chapter.
Did I mention that I started said chapter LAST NOVEMBER? Yeah. Not my best day as a writer.
But this morning’s listen left me with feelings. All the feelings. Why not give up my cushy 37.5 hr/week job where I know what I’m doing and how to do it…if others would just stay out of my lane and let me do it. Why not just keep writing as a hobby and sort-of side gig…even though seeing that three of my books sold all in one day makes me so happy that I literally cried for a few minutes. Why not do what I love, rather than working at a place that I don’t love as much as I used to do so that I can afford to do what I love? Things to ponder.
The best bit was probably when her guests, Erin Booth and Tannia Suarez (co-founders of efftheoffice.com) talked to Elizabeth about how for couples that both work jobs outside the home, they have only a few precious hours in the evening to spend time together. Then on weekends they are planning to spend time together but are either too exhausted or want to pursue things that make their individual souls happy – cue the entrance of guilt and resentment.
Hubs and I do that very thing. We get home late. We struggle over what to eat for our tea. We struggle over when to eat or to actually eat at all. We collapse on the sofas and watch an hour or two of television and then go to bed. That is not a life well lived.
So while I’m still processing episode one and moving on to episode two, let me again recommend that you go to FLAW3D.com and check out the podcast and Elizabeth. You won’t be sorry. Now if you will excuse me, I need to completely rethink my entire life. New Year, New Me? Nope. Just New Me – a work in forever ongoing progress.

Yes, Virginia Woolf, I am an author…

So, I was working on some prep for an upcoming class I have to interpret and I stumbled upon a passage in an essay that not only struck me but absolutely blindsided me in its perfection and appropriateness. In fact, this is going to be my go to now when people ask me what it means to be an author or, in her lovely parlance, a novelist – which sounds far more like the image I have of myself – sequestered in a lovely, seaside town with a leather chair, a fireplace, and my laptop, writing and writing and writing.

Of course, this image flies in the face of my reality – I’m usually on the sofa, holding off anywhere from one to three dogs who DESPERATELY  NEED MY ATTENTION RIGHT NOW and answering questions from my husband while trying to find the right way to describe a creature that heretofore exists only in my mind. That, of course, is luxury; there are also the harried moments of trying to get a sentence typed while simultaneously trying NOT to slide off the seat in a moving bus, or typing out THE BEST DIALOGUE I HAVE EVER CREATED with one hand at whatever desk I can find at work – as the other hand tries not to drop my lunch onto the keyboard.

Anyway, enjoy this passage from “How One Should Read a Book,” by Virginia Woolf. She is, as per usual, spot on. I will have some thoughts to share after you’re done.

The thirty-­‐two chapters of a novel—if we consider how to read a novel first—are an attempt to make something as formed and controlled as a building: but words are more impalpable than bricks; reading is a longer and more complicated process than seeing. Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties of words. Recall, then, some event that has left a distinct impression on you—how at the corner of the street, perhaps, you passed two people talking. A tree shook; an electric light danced; the tone of the talk was comic, but also tragic; a whole vision, an entire conception, seemed contained in that moment.

-Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read A Book

Right, so anyone that has written anything will tell you that this is one of the more challenging aspects of the craft – take what you have experienced that inspires you and turn it into words, with all their “dangers and difficulties.”  While I do agree that it is difficult, it occurs to me that I have an advantage that I hadn’t thought about until today – I am fluent in English, but also in American Sign Language (ASL).

I know, it’s a stretch, but stay with me.

ASL, like all other signed languages, is a visual and spatial language – English, and other spoken languages, are more linear in their approach to conveying a message. It is part of the language to describe things, to make the building that Woolf mentions in that passage. You can’t convey the meaning, TREE without conveying what the tree looks like. It is built into the language!

I haven’t gotten to the advantage yet, so if you’re still lost, that’s okay. Here we go.

In order to express TREE in ASL, I have to visualize the tree. Whereas in English I might say “the old oak tree with the outstretched branches” to describe the tree I’m picturing now, I would use one sign in ASL:

As you can see in this image by The Tree House, my arm would be the trunk and my fingers the leaves, so in a way, I’m expressing everything that took me eight words in English with one sign. But in my mind, I am visualizing the tree and hanging onto that visualization because I need it to correctly represent the tree.
That was the advantage – did you miss it? ASL requires me to hold onto images of things that I have seen and subsequently want to talk about later. That is such a useful skill for a writer, especially one like me born without an eidetic memory. Do I capture and store everything that I see/hear/experience? No, my internal hard drive that is my brain is far too limited for that. But part of what I do as an ASL user is to slow down for a second and consider the visual aspects of something that strikes me – and that helps me later describe it, sometimes first in ASL and then in English.
My life is weird – and wonderful, and I hope that this will make me a better interpreter AND novelist.

In which my inner language geek speaks…

GEEK spelled in British Sign Language.

People ask me all the time why I do what I do – lately, my answer is to carefully shrug my shoulders whilst trying NOT to reinjure my right elbow or smack my right hand against anything – but the answer, if I’m honest, is language, or languages. I did not go into interpreting because I have a need to help people. I did not go into interpreting out of some need for social justice or a desire to work in a disability-related field. I don’t see Deaf/HOH people as needing help or as a disability community – I see them as a language minority. I went into my current field because it means I get to work in my second language every day – to the point that I think, dream, and even speak verbally in ASL (take a moment and feel sorry for my husband, won’t you?).

Well, today I had a moment when I just got all giddy and, since interpreting tends to be solo work for the most part, I had no one to share it with that would understand it. I was watching some British Sign Language videos on YouTube in the name of professional development and I had just watched a video showing how to sign ‘meeting’ in BSL – and I got it. I don’t mean I could see and understand the sign and then reproduce it. I mean I looked at it and due to my knowledge of ASL, I could understand WHY that was the sign for ‘meeting.’

Last week, hubs and I had a discussion about why it is harder for some people to learn a second (and third and so on) language than it is for others. I likened it to the reason why it is hard, at times, for Deaf/HOH kids in school to learn English without a firm foundation in ASL first. If I had not had such a good education in not only vernacular spoken (American) English, I would not have been able to understand ASL to the point that I could then extrapolate that onto BSL and that video. You cannot learn a second language if your first language isn’t strong enough to form comparisons and, to use my favorite metaphor, hooks. You can’t learn ASL without a strong foundation in English, for example, to hook that new set of grammar rules and vocabulary to what you already know.

For people who say that isn’t true, and that as long as you have a rudimentary understanding of your native or first language you can always learn a second language through study and repetition, sure, you can I suppose. But think of it this way: I never had a good grasp of mathematics. Never. I mean I can’t even do the four basic functions without having to get a calculator to check my answers. I have no confidence in my own ability in that subject. I have no solid foundation in maths, so when I went to hook my new level of maths (Algebra and the like) into what I already knew, the hook fell. The foundation wasn’t solid enough to hold it.

But my borderline obsessive love for learning languages has come from the fact that growing up I not only knew that you say ‘I was going to the store’ but also that it is not acceptable to say ‘I were going to the store’ and why. Miss Pritchett and Madam Gring-Whitley would be proud to know that they were right – I hated those verb conjugation sheets, but they helped me understand why you must change the form of the verb in order for the time component of your message to make sense. It helps me now when I remember to add the sign that indicates when the verb is happening, has happened, or will happen – so that I am clearly understood.

So back to the BSL video – it was because I know the ASL signs/classifiers for a person, the concept of ‘meet’ and ‘meeting’ and because I know what the word meeting can mean in English, that this sign made perfect sense to me:


That is building on your foundation. That is what made my inner language geek so very happy. I love it when I come across things like that and often don’t make that connection until afterward but man. That is why I do what I do. THAT RIGHT THERE.

Impostor Syndrome, la maladie du jour.

What?!?

So with my last post, I covered some pretty heavy topics and unpleasant truth, and this time is no different, really. Last time I still had faith in my country and my senators to do the right thing. No, I didn’t, that’s a lie. Last time I still thought that maybe enough of the people elected to represent us would want to represent us and listen to us. No, again, that is a lie.

Let me start again. This time I’m going to talk a little bit about something that I face on a regular basis, in all facets of my life – sometimes with a bit of help from colleagues and co-workers that I am positive are not doing it on purpose. I didn’t cross that out, but it’s still not 100% true.
I found an email today with an excellent article on impostor syndrome in academia from the Chronicle of Higher Education, linked here. While this article specifically speaks to academia and even more specifically to the faculty that work in this field, I found some points that were salient to my own life, both my professional life (as a nationally certified sign language interpreter) and my avocation (a novelist or an author or whatever you want to call me – well, not whatever you want, that could get a little ugly). 
You see, I am really good friends with Impostor Syndrome. I’m sitting here right now – having finished working hard to get my software ready to provide real-time captioning in a class on campus and arrived at said class to find no one there and nothing in my email about why – worried that because I decided to use the time I should be typing 

Female Student: [cannot hear him/her] 

into my software I am blogging, I will be seen as a fraud and fired. Rational Adult Nancy thinks that is ridiculous. But there is another me living in my mind that not only does not share that opinion but spends a great part of our conscious hours working on plans B-Q for what we will do when we are found out to be the fraud we are.
On any given day, I know that what I do for a living isn’t easy.  It doesn’t matter that I have been actively thinking in and about a visual and spatial language since I was about 12 years old. It doesn’t matter that I love languages so much that I fell in love with the process of working between two languages and can’t crawl back out. It doesn’t matter that I have a Bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language/English interpreting from a top university in that field of study – the first one to offer said degree, if I am not mistaken (Hello Maryville College! Go Scots!) – and I was nationally certified as a transliterator (spoken English to a signed form of English) and interpreter (spoken English to ASL) by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. in 1997 and 1999, respectively. It doesn’t matter that I have interpreted for celebrities, politicians, authors, Broadways shows, and for students attending Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.
None of that seems to be enough to make me feel confident about who I am and what I do. Currently, I’m sure that the fact that I am the only one in my family of origin without an advanced degree (my father had two of them!) doesn’t help. When you’re surrounded by grad students and people with all sorts of alphabet soup following their names and all you have is BA, CI/CT to show for it, you can feel pretty less than. But the author of the article I linked above had a great bit of insight into that part of the syndrome:

Learn to see yourself in context. If you feel like an impostor because you don’t know or can’t do a particular thing, think about that thing. Is that skill or content crucial? If so, can you acquire it? Not because you want to belong but because it may make you more effective or productive. And if it doesn’t actually matter, think about why it is that others have it and you don’t (assuming you really don’t and aren’t just being hard on yourself or inflating other people’s capabilities). Maybe there are real and good reasons why that wasn’t part of your background or education.

I don’t want a master’s in interpreting. I don’t see the point in it, to be honest. I learn on the job, every day. I go to workshops. I study other signed languages. But then I see someone sign something so perfectly, so succinctly, with so much meaning packed into such an economy of movement and handshape and I just want to turn in my letter of resignation and go home.

But I don’t do that. Of course I don’t. Not even when – on various occasions, from the beginning of my career to present – colleagues that either don’t sign at all or don’t sign well enough to interpret or aren’t really even sure what it is I do try to make decisions for me about my work. I should be incensed! I should be furious! I should stand up for me and what I know!

Instead, I scuttle back into my place in the universe and wait for the inevitable revealing of me as a fraud. Writing has done nothing to help this syndrome, either – if anything, it has made it so much worse. I give my manuscripts to my beta readers, breath held, heart rate on par with a disco beat – and I fully expect that they will look at what I have done and know that I am not a real author. My sentences are run-ons and full of too many ellipses and dashes. My characters are stock, storylines/plot so ridden with outdated tropes that you almost don’t have to read them to know where they are going. My dialogue swings madly from stilted to entirely too much in the vernacular of both South Carolina and West Yorkshire that it makes no sense to anyone.

And while we’re at it – international expat? Ha. You lived there two years, and you let the death of your pets in the first two months color the entirety of your life in the UK. You’re no expat. You’re just a frightened child. You’re a fraud.

WOW, who let her out? The author of the article goes on to mention a specific piece of advice that I am trying to follow in my daily life – something that would be hard even without the aforementioned voice screaming in the back of my head. (Interesting side note: to those that have read my fantasy series, this is where the idea for how Ben communicates with Gin came from: THIS RIGHT HERE.)

Stay concrete. Impostor syndrome feeds off vagaries and generalities. “I’m not good/smart/charismatic/funny/self-assured enough.” What’s enough? Who is all of those things? What is “good” anyway?

What happened politically in the US this weekend has cranked up the volume on the impostor syndrome, let me tell you. Remember the woman I mentioned last week? All of those feelings, all of those experiences – they not only lead to a strapping case of this syndrome but they help feed it and make it worse. Everything from why would you think anyone would listen to you to the ever present you must be remembering it wrong because why would anyone want to do that to YOU?

All this to say I don’t have an answer for this yet. I haven’t found a magic pill that will take these feelings away and silence that inner voice that delights in waiting until I’m about to fall asleep to remind me of all the reasons I’m going to be found out very soon. But I’m still looking, and in the mean time I’m trying to keep her as far as I can in the background.