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AN UNPLANNED LIFE

The Writer’s March Challenge 2017–An Update
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Four Hands Joined TogetherOn March 31st, A Writer’s March 2017 ended. A guest blogger, Bob Sabatini, wrote the final post entitled, “It’s Over! (Whew!).” Bob’s post nicely sums up my feelings on this year’s writing challenge. You can read it here.

Afterwards, the founder of A Writer’s March, Samantha Tetangco Ocena, asked the participants how we did. She also asked what we learned during the month-long challenge.

Hmmm.

The first question was easier to answer. I had intended to work every day on my memoir, or at least write SOMETHING every day, and well, let’s just say that did not happen. Not even close. I doubt I even wrote every other day and that fact pains me. But I did write a lot more than I have in the recent past (which was almost nothing), so that alone is an accomplishment.

I suck. No, I don’t. Yes, I do. No, I don’t.

Sigh.

Hand-writing-with-penI was feeling kind of down about this, but then I remembered that I did write several new poems and revised several others. I entered one of those new poems into a contest (The City of Livermore’s Poetry in a Test Tube science contest) and it won first prize (and $100)!! Woohoo! I don’t suck!

I also wrote a bunch of blog posts. Less exciting, but it still counts as writing.

None of which had anything to do with my memoir, which was what I really wanted to be working on. But then, right at the end of the month, I finally dug out some notes for the next chapter I need to write and managed five or six pages. Plus a list of scenes for the rest of the chapter. And a revision. Not much, but it’s a start.

I’ve got some momentum now, which is exactly what I needed.

As for Sam’s second question, during the challenge I realized (once again) that when it comes to writing, a schedule is my friend. I hate this truth—HATE IT—but writing on a schedule keeps my butt in the chair and prevents procrastination. And last year my schedule was completely trampled due to my daughter’s school woes. So no wonder I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted! Who can write when their house is getting trashed?

And more importantly, why do I keep forgetting this fact? A schedule is my FRIEND!

time-273857_1920I now have an updated weekly schedule that sets aside time for writing. And I have the beginnings of a new writing group to hold me accountable and provide feedback. So the biggest thing that happened during A Writer’s March was structure. Never sexy, but essential (for me at least).

So maybe, just maybe, this year’s writing challenge wasn’t the epic fail that I’d originally thought.

I suck. No, I don’t. Yes, I do. No, I don’t.

In any case, I’m not giving up.

What have you learned (or relearned) about your creative process?

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Second Guest Post on A Writer’s March
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This year, in addition to participating in A Writer’s March, I contributed two guest posts. Here is the second of my posts: Fallow Fields

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The writers who have participated in A Writer’s March over the years are an amazing bunch. I’m honored to be a part of this inspiring crowd and grateful that I could help with the blog.  Go check it out!

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Turning the Corner
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change-948024_1920Recently it feels that my daughter and I have turned a corner, crossed some invisible line. Partly this is due to Katie’s placement at Open Mind School (OMS) and partly due to our use of the rapid prompting method (RPM). It’s also due to Melissa, Katie’s wonderful tutor/companion, who not only teaches Katie when she isn’t at OMS, but also facilitates communication and social skills with the help of her two adorable daughters. It’s also due to Katie’s newfound independence at Via Services’ respite weekends plus her increasing ability to regulate her sensory system using tools such as the Zones of Regulation. Not to mention her expanding verbal skills.

All in all, I feel that we are “connecting the dots” and filling in gaps. Katie’s skills are merging and expanding. It’s an exciting time, and I’m so proud of my daughter for the gains she has made.

I’m confident that OMS was the right choice, but that is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. After years of effort, the pieces are finally falling into place. A beautiful picture has begun to emerge. And we aren’t done yet.

This week Katie began track practice with the Tri-Valley Rockets, a Special Olympics team. We signed her up and bought a new pair of running shoes with violet laces. Katie was beyond excited. As soon as we arrived at practice, she joined her teammates and followed directions, stretching and warming up.

int@sog1Theresa, the coach/coordinator, approached and greeted me. Katie said, “Hi, Theresa.”

Theresa, surprised, said, “Hi. What’s your name?”

Katie stared off at the trees for a moment, “Hi, my name is Katie.”

Theresa smiled, “Katie, I’m so glad to meet you and welcome you to our team. Are you excited?”

Katie made eye contact with her and grinned. “I’m excited!”

Theresa high-fived her, “Me too! We’re going to have fun.”

Katie, practically dancing now, said, “Yes, please!”

This was probably the most sustained conversation that Katie has ever held. If we achieve nothing more than that and following directions without any negative behavior this season in track, I will be pleased. But I suspect Katie will surprise me once again.

Katie ran the 100 meter with one of the lovely young women from the high school who volunteer with Special Olympics. In addition to running, Katie practiced the long jump and threw the softball and turbo javelin.

My dad joined us at practice, and afterwards, he worked with Katie on her long jump skills. By the time they were done, Katie was so tired she no longer wanted him to join us for dinner!

I couldn’t have asked for a better first practice and I’m anxious to see how this experience unfolds.

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Meanwhile, OMS has launched a swim program with the neighboring swim club. Every Friday, Katie and her classmates receive swimming lessons adapted for kids on the spectrum. The OMS staff are also teaching Katie the basics of volleyball as well as piloting a physical literacy program taught by the Circus School of San Francisco. There will be a circus performance at the end of the school year!

Academically, Katie is working on multiplication and division as well listening to chapter books such as BFG and Charlotte’s Web and answering questions via RPM to demonstrate comprehension. She’s doing science and art projects and writing letters to a pen pal. The class recently learned about the Nobel Prize, the solar system, and the rules for writing haiku poems. And yes, Katie wrote some. I’m dying to read them.

On top of this, Katie will start soon with a new ABA provider. We were sad to lose Brad and Juan and the others at Autism Spectrum Therapies who had been a part of our lives for years, but so far I have been really impressed with the therapists I’ve met at ACES. It took more than a year to work my way through the maze of approvals and authorizations to start ABA therapy under new insurance, but I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We will be starting soon and I can’t wait to see what occurs.

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I’m feeling like we have finally turned the corner, and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Poetry in a Test Tube
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Isaac_NewtonKevin Gunn, the current Poet Laureate of Livermore, decided last month he wanted to celebrate science before his term expired. So he created a contest called Poetry in a Test Tube. It was open to any resident regardless of age. He wasn’t sure how many people would enter, and because I know how it feels to sit at an open mic with only a few people in attendance, I wrote a science poem and sent it in.

Originally I planned to do a poem about Albert Einstein because he was Swiss like my grandparents, but as I conducted my research, I was increasingly distracted by Sir Isaac Newton. Eventually I wrote a poem about him instead.

It turns out Newton many have suffered from bipolar disorder and also could have been on the autism spectrum. Yet he made countless scientific discoveries until his death at age 84. He developed calculus and didn’t consider it important! Just a convenient way for him to think numerically. In short, the man was pretty freaking amazing.

Here’s the poem I entered:

 SIR ISAAC NEWTON, 1642-1726

Calculus, optics, laws of motion,
the first estimate of the speed of sound.
So many discoveries buried like seeds
in a premature infant, waiting to root
in a mind’s fertile soil, waiting for
the spark that would ignite the world.

Prisms, physics, universal gravitation,
color spectrums and reflecting telescopes.
Did he know he was brilliant? Taste
the sweet mead of genius as he untangled
thorny knots? Or was it craving, an obsession
to discover what others never dreamed?

He marveled at the night sky, saw sequenced
equations sailing through stars, watched
an apple fall, and in its descent found gravity.
He calculated trajectories of comets, the push
and pull of tides, composed in furious formulae,
made melodies of math and motion.

For eight decades he swam in the ocean
of knowledge, rode tidal waves of euphoria,
fought undertows of despair, struggled with
conversation, never savored love nor friendship.
Some might call this failure, but I see imperfect
perfection, the most human trait of all.

The numbers sang arias as he crafted infinite
theories, ordering the universe with metered
precision. Was the music enough to fill
his life? Three hundred fifty years later,
its transcendent tune flows through ours—
a scientific refrain echoed around the globe.

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Kevin had over 30 entries in the first-ever science poetry contest. Last weekend, he held a reading and the poems were terrific. (There was a seven-year-old and a thirteen-year-old—both girls—who knocked it out of the park.) They announced the winners, and my poem was selected for first prize! I was grateful and pleased—who wouldn’t be?—and really, really surprised.

Nate, however, shrugged and said, “I knew you’d win.”

My daughter listened to the poem, then asked me to turn on the music.

I hope this contest becomes an annual tradition.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Guest Post on A Writer’s March
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This year, in addition to participating in A Writer’s March, I’m doing two guest posts. I’ve joked with friends for years that writing is much like online dating. Well, A Writer’s March founder Samantha Tetangco challenged me to prove it in an essay. So here’s my post: If At First You Don’t Succeed: How Writing Resembles Dating

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The writers who have contributed over the years to A Writer’s March are an amazing bunch. I’m honored to be a part of this inspiring group and thrilled to be helping with the blog.  Go check it out!

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Sometimes You Just Have to Surrender
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checkmate-1511866_1920I have always been strong-willed and stubborn. A fighter. Not with my fists, but with my intellect and my words. With my heart and soul. With my passion and conviction. With a strategic plan.

But sometimes, no matter how much or how well you fight, you just have to surrender.

My daughter and I caught a nasty bug shortly after Christmas. We had high fevers and could barely get out of bed. I can’t remember ever being that sick. It took at least two weeks to become more or less healthy and regain our energy and appetite. But in retrospect, we were never fully well.

Shortly after her birthday, Katie got sick again. It was a head cold this time, and while she didn’t seem as sick as the first time, the cold lingered. It lingered until I got sick as well, and then when I couldn’t shake it, I developed an ear infection. Yes, I developed an ear infection. For me at least, ear infections have not been limited to childhood. I visited the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics. My ear stopped throbbing with pain, but it remained plugged and my body ached. My nose ran. My sinuses felt raw. I was, in short, miserable.

As I tend to do, I fought my illness. I tried to conquer it with vitamin C and cough syrup, ibuprofen and Vicks vapor rub. Nothing helped. I was still sick.

Nate, my ex-boyfriend/friend, was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and Katie came down with a stomach flu. They began improving. I was still sick.

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Finally it dawned on me that if I wanted to get well, I needed to surrender. I needed to accept that I was ill and that pushing myself wasn’t working. I’ve said it before but it continues to ring true. Acceptance is a bitch.

I hate being sick, but that doesn’t matter. I’d been sick for what felt like forever, but again, that didn’t matter. Acceptance is key.

So I surrendered to the reality of my situation. I did less and slept more. Guess what? I am finally starting to feel better. Not well, but better.

It might be the new nasal spray, but I’m pretty sure acceptance is the reason I’m finally on the path to recovery.

What have you resisted lately? Did you fight or surrender?

Until next time,
Cynthia

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The Great Boot Debate
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STEVEMADDEN-BOOTIES_TROOPA_BROWN-LEATHERAll winter I searched for two pairs of flat boots: one in brown and one in black. I didn’t think it would be difficult, but everything I found that appealed to me had a heel. Or was knee-high, which I was trying to avoid. Or wasn’t leather. Or had too many buckles and straps. Or wasn’t available in my size. Sigh.

So I continued to search. Again and again I found myself admiring combat-style boots on other women, but I wasn’t sure if they would work for me.

Style is such an elusive thing. The older I get, the more I want my clothes to reflect my authentic self. Not only do I want them to be comfortable, elegant, and stylish, but I want them to say “me.” Nevertheless, my closet is littered with failed style experiments that I thought would work but … didn’t.

I definitely did not want to buy boots that languished in my closet. But it was also clear that on some level combat boots appealed to me. Would I wear them enough to justify the expense? And if so, were they age-appropriate? How could flat boots not be age-appropriate? More importantly, would they stay in style? I couldn’t decide.

I’m still debating what boots to purchase, but we all need clothes (and shoes!) that give us that extra dose of confidence. For example, I have a pair of black cowboy boots with a red lizard toe cap and red flames snaking up the shaft. Michael 1.0, my ex-husband, gave them to me for my 30th birthday, shortly before we were married. I had told him I wanted something impractical and memorable. Mission accomplished.

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I will admit that I was a little annoyed when Michael gave me the cowboy boots. Why didn’t he buy a more neutral brown? But the boots grew on me, and for more than 20 years, I’ve worn those boots whenever I needed to feel like a badass: coffee date with a guy I’d met online who told me I was “plain vanilla,” filing articles of incorporation, submitting my first essay to a major literary journal, launching an open mic and unsure if anyone would attend. It’s amazing how a single item of clothing can make such a difference in our attitude, demeanor, and self-esteem.

I’ve worn those cowboy boot so much that they will soon need to be re-soled. I don’t care what it costs, I’m doing it. A friend reminded me that re-soling probably isn’t cheap and I was, ahem, not 30 anymore.

I said, “Are you kidding? I’m going to wear those boots to my own funeral.”

I was serious. Sort of. I love the idea of wearing cowboy boots with red flames as I stride through the pearly gates to meet my Higher Power. Even if I’m not buried in them, I intend to wear those boots for as long as I can.

Because anything that makes us feel more confident is priceless.

What items of clothing give you the most self-esteem?

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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The Writer’s March Challenge 2017
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Four Hands Joined TogetherMaybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good challenge. So I’ve decided to particpate once again in A Writer’s March as a way to get myself back into a more consistent (i.e., daily) writing routine. A Writer’s March is the brilliant idea of Samantha Tetangco, a writing friend and former classmate of my writing friend Jennifer Simpson.

I guess you could say Sam is a writing friend once removed.

I participated in A Writer’s March back in 2013 and 2012, and both times it was a great way to help me generate writing momentum and make a little more progress on my memoir.

And it was fun. I’m all for anything that makes writing more fun and less isolating.

I can’t remember why I didn’t participate in the 2014 Writer’s March. Then A Writer’s March went on hiatus. It’s back this year, just when I need some encouragement to return to my memoir in progress. I can’t wait to see what happens this time around!

Hand-writing-with-penSo if any of you writers out there are in need of a little kick in the butt, come join us! The month has just begun.

Here’s the link:  A Writer’s March

Go check it out. It’ll be fun. I promise.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Sick, Sick, Sick…
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Katie and I are sick again! This has been a rough winter for us health-wise. We both caught a nasty bug in late December, and now we can’t seem to get 100% well.

I have reluctantly surrendered to this sorry state of affairs and will be taking a break from my blog for a week or two. I hate to do it, but feel I must or it will be months before I fully recover. In lieu of a post, I thought I would leave you will the following quote:

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Wishing you health.

I’ll see you in a week (or two) with more of my Unplanned Life….

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Hope Is a Funny Thing
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IMG_0832Hope is a funny thing.

Just when you think it’s gone, you find it in the most unlikely place.

I’ll give you an example.

Back on Election Day 2016, I squeezed into a white pantsuit. Normally I vote with an absentee ballot (you would too it you had to vote with an autistic child in tow), but I couldn’t do that this time. I wanted to vote in person. And for the first time, I wanted my daughter with me.

I wanted my grandmothers with me too.

So after great debate, I selected. an antique rose pin to represent my Great-Grandmother Rose. I wore a mother-of-pearl necklace that belonged to Grandma King. Both of these women were born in Switzerland, where women could not yet vote, and came to the United States just as women gained the right to vote. For this reason, among others, they took voting very seriously. I wore a second necklace that belonged to Grandma Patton, and carried a leather and ceramic “truth speaker” pendant from my Great Aunt Maxine in my pocket. But what earrings does one wear with such an eclectic assortment of jewelry?

My bored twelve-year-old daughter pushed things along by suggesting a tiny pair of earrings that resemble eidelweiss, the Swiss national flower. Somehow they coordinated with everything I had on. I took this as a good sign. Plus I liked the symbolism. I planned to remember this day for the rest of my life.

vote-1313063_1280We went to the polling place, and as I slid my absentee ballot into the slot, I told Katie, “Remember this day. Today we are voting for the first woman president.”

Katie was nonplussed. I, however, got a little teary. All the women I encountered were teary and excited, in equal measure. Then Katie and I went to the park to swing. For once we were both flying high.

Of course, you know how this ends. Except for one thing: when I arrived home, I realized I was missing an earring.

In the days that followed, it seemed strangely appropriate that I would lose an earring on the day a woman lost the presidency, the day our country lost its innocence, the day I lost faith in our political process and my fellow Americans. I searched my car. I searched the park. I even combed the parking lot at the polling place. I finally accepted that the earring was truly gone. Every time I saw its mate on my dresser, it was a reminder of all I had lost.

The Electoral College and the Inauguration came and went. Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. It rained and rained as if the sky wept. Then on the day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education (another heartbreak), a friend walked out my front door and bent down. “Did you lose an earring?”

She handed me my missing earring. It was tarnished, but otherwise unharmed. How it had survived three months of comings and goings, FedEx deliveries, freezing nights, and pouring rain, I will never know.

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But it survived, and so will we.

Like I said, hope is a funny thing.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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