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Month: January 2017

First Printing

I took a big step earlier this week, which was so big for me and which I doubted would mean anything to anyone else.

I printed my first manuscript for the first time.

It turns out that lots of people thought it was big and told me so on my social media platforms, which was affirming and very much appreciated.

Printing my manuscript for the first time involved a fair amount of deliberation mostly related to my feelings about printing and the environment (I prefer digital to save trees whenever possible) while also realizing that editing a hard copy is much more effective for me than editing on the screen, and worries that with a black toner cartridge down to 15% I wouldn’t have enough toner to complete the job and then that would just be a weird let-down to have a partial printing in addition to impatience while waiting for the new cartridge to be delivered. My mind is complicated, people.

I enlisted the help of my engineer husband, who is quite handy in situations like this. I asked, “How many pages do we have left on the existing black cartridge?” He went into full-on tech mode, pulling up supply status pages and researching statistics about how many average pages a cartridge can print, delving into information on both a regular cartridge (which we suspected was currently in the printer) and a high-capacity cartridge, including cost per page. God, I love this man.

I had resigned myself to waiting for a new cartridge to be delivered, or putting it off until the next day because procrastination was appealing since seeing my manuscript in print for the first time felt daunting. Is it even worth the paper? The ink? Who knows. “I’ll do it tomorrow” felt really good. Self-doubt was driving the bus. I realized that it wasn’t really about the environment and toner supply, after all. Ecology and supply issues were just speed bumps along the way to Shameville. Who do I think I am to print all those pages of my so-called manuscript? No, I don’t need to print today. I’ll wait until tomorrow, when I can come up with yet another reason to stall.

After M did all his research, he said what I needed to hear. “Print it.” To me, this wasn’t just a go-ahead because the toner supply was adequate. It was someone I trust telling me that it was okay to print my manuscript. I’m not saying I need external justification to proceed, just that it feels good when my best friend says, in so many words, “Yes. You can do this.” He says this a lot, which is one of the reasons he’s my best friend. Of course, he’s also tried to use this to his advantage in the past, trying to convince me that yes, I could change all the poopy diapers and yes, I was utterly brilliant with my use of the washer and dryer and way better than he was at doing laundry, and yes, I could cook dinner rather than go out. Still, what counts, when it comes down to it, is that he always says, “Yes, you can do this,” just when I need to hear it. He’s the Wizard of Oz to my Cowardly Lion, helping me to occasionally take my fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city. His yesses help me overcome my nos.

I re-stocked the paper tray and, before I could come up with any more excuses or chicken out, hit the “print” icon. 286 pages later, after feeding the printer more paper (oh my gosh, do we have enough paper?), my manuscript was complete. I held the 1 5/8” stack of printed paper to my chest and damn near cried. It’s pretty hefty, and I find it hard to believe that I thought of and typed all those words. It represents hours and hours of work, not just sitting down and banging it out, but the thought that went into the characters and the plot, the reading and attending workshops that gave me the tools I needed to craft a story that is (hopefully) compelling and interesting and has conflict and resolution. I have thought about this story at night while I’m trying to fall asleep, in the shower, in the car as I’m driving, waiting to pick up Zoe after school or sports, on my walks. I have thought about this story in cars, trains, and airplanes. I’ve worked on it mostly in Missouri, but also in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. I worked on it in every state on the Amtrak California Zephyr route, the Coast Starlight route, and the Empire Builder route. It’s a massive personal investment.

Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Although the man was a raging alcoholic, I take this also as a nod to writing being the easier part (as hard as it is), and editing being the long, hard slog. I have never edited a manuscript before so I have no idea if Hemingway is correct, but I adore editing so I’m actually looking forward to this. I do realize it’s a ton of work, but since I’ve actually written a book now, I think I might be up for the work.

Thank you to everyone who liked and/or posted celebration and encouragement on Facebook and Instagram. Ya’all are my field wizards, feeding my heart and pushing me down that yellow brick road to my dream. Thank you for helping me fight my own flying monkeys.

Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

On the face of it, 2016 stunk it up, and so many of us are happy to see it go. 2016 brought a torrent of cultural and political pain from which the country is still reeling. On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a banner year, either. As I reflected on the past year over the past week, I found myself scowling and angry, and frightened for what’s to come.

The year dealt multiple blows; we lost: Harper Lee, Bowie, Prince, George, Rickman, Wiesel, Cohen, Wilder, Ifill, Frey, Glenn, Ali, and more. The year dropped trou with a flourish by taking Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back-to-back at the end, an enormous hand gesture to America that’s too crude to type here. The political scene was chaos and pandemonium, and most of us sat horrified and watched it unroll before our eyes, not believing that what was happening was actually happening. I don’t know whom to blame for that. The media? Nah. Russia? Naw. I think we have only ourselves to blame. And I think recovery is impossible until we admit that.

Personally, this year brought turmoil, too. A lung cancer diagnosis for my father sent my family into a tailspin. In addition to the fear for his health, we were forced to face some hard truths about what it takes to care for my mother, whose posterior cortical atrophy/Alzheimer’s continues to wreak havoc. His recovery was hard and scary, and everyone was pushed to the limits in multiple ways.

The foundation of our three-year-old home cracked and water poured into our finished basement. We ripped out drywall and baseboards and the front porch and, eventually, the entire front yard. Jury is still out on whether it’s completely fixed, but needless to say this wasn’t something we expected to have to do in a three-year-old home.

A dear friend at work learned that instead of launching into a new and exciting academic year he had to instead start fighting leukemia three days before the school year began.

A beloved family member on M’s side was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

We lost our parish, a huge blow from which I’m not sure I will ever fully recover. Thankfully we did not lose the community we’ve built there.

2016 gave me, at the end, the awful cold/flu crud that’s been going around. I was down for almost three weeks and had fought my way back to 99% when it slammed in again two nights before Zoe’s already-much-delayed birthday party. I self-medicated with caffeine and DayQuil, and forged ahead. A visit to the ENT the morning of New Year’s Eve confirmed that I needed antibiotics, nasal spray, rest, and quarantine from everyone. This made me crabby and hate 2016 even more.

Clearly, I was happy to see 2016 come to a close. Even with the uncertainty 2017 promises, I was just ready for the year to end. I spent the last six months praying that nothing happens to Tom Petty before he gets to St. Louis on tour again, because even though he’s been here a thousand times I’ve always had a conflict. He’s coming May 12. Hold on, Tom!

While sleeping half the day on NYE and grousing that I felt so crummy when I was conscious, I realized that I needed to flip my thinking. 2016 wasn’t all terrible, despite the fact that with little prompting I can reel off a litany of crap. So I made myself find 16 things that didn’t suck in 2016. Here we go.

  1. Zoe applied to, was accepted, and started at a new school that is challenging her in so many ways that we are continually reminded that we made a good, if tough, decision. She transitioned beautifully, made new friends easily, and is excelling academically. I cry when I think of the new worlds opened to her with this move. We made new friends through her new school, too. Our horizons are widened by these unique experiences and backgrounds, and the perspective gained is invaluable.
  2. I launched a new book project, a non-fiction work that I am still so excited about even while feeling bummed that life got in the way this year. It’s still there, waiting for me, which gives me hope and motivation. I hope to re-tackle in 2017 and get it moving again.
  3. The three of us enjoyed a mega-vacation that involved sleeping multiple nights on a train (one of Zoe’s most ardent desires) and experiencing San Francisco and Seattle. It was an amazing trip that gave us time together and memories I will cherish forever. M did an incredible amount of work planning this trip (mad props to him), and we all had a wonderful time.
  4. I got off my butt and started walking. I walked and walked and walked – almost 300 miles starting in the fall – and left nearly 30 pounds behind. I feel better and have retired a significant part of my wardrobe (significant both in size and in quantity). Better health led me to sign up for two fun runs late this year: the Girl Scouts Run for the Cookies and the Hot Chocolate 5K. We ran these as a family, creating more memories.
  5. I became more active in a private Facebook group for writers. This amazing group of people from all around the world is inspiring and motivating and supportive. We are collaborating on an anthology and I committed to writing a piece. It was hard, but I wrote it and gave it to two friends to beta read and edited it and submitted it and am so glad I did. Now I have to work on my bio, which I think may actually be harder to write than the original piece. I’m toying with, “Amy Zlatic lives, writes, photographs, mothers, wifes, plays and works in St. Louis, Missouri. She owns a cat that sneezes constantly. She likes pickles.”
  6. Because M retired the Christmas display, we were able to do the fun runs and more together. We decorated our tree as a family. We spent a Saturday in St. Charles to support a friend’s book launch and enjoyed the kick-off for the holiday season on Main Street. We’ve done Wild Lights at the Zoo and Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows. Never in my marriage have I had so much access to my husband before and even during the holidays. When people ask if I miss the display I am honest. No, I do not miss it. I spent too many years missing my husband. I’ve fallen in love all over again, with him and with the season.
  7. I won my second NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this time finishing the middle grade novel I began last year. I haven’t brought myself to print the entire thing out yet to start editing (and oh boy does it need editing) but that’s on the 2017 to-do list. Word says it’s 323 pages. Not sure I’m ready to kill a tree yet, but I know it’s inevitable. It’s too hard to edit properly on-screen. I need hard copy and a red pen. And lots of coffee.
  8. I grew closer to two wonderful women who support me and love me and accept me and make me feel not so crazy. These women inspire me and motivate me every single day to try to be a better person. I love them and their families, and feel so grateful they have fully embraced me and my family. One of them actually happens to be extended family, which is just icing on the cake. (She can’t get rid of me, ever!) They taught me patience and the insanely valuable lesson of “Always respond in love.”
  9. We road-tripped to Cincinnati and enjoyed a jam-packed weekend full of fun and family. I don’t think we could have crammed more into that weekend, which included a Cardinals-Reds game, a big family bike ride, shopping, and a Labor Day party complete with fireworks and Boom! I love our Cincy family so much my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.
  10. Zoe participated in two piano competitions and earned highest marks in each. She continues to stun us with her talent, and I continue to marvel at the fact that I get to regularly cook dinner and clean the house to live piano music. At the second competition, she exited in tears, convinced that her errors had tanked her score. There was a lot of snuggling and reassurances and discussion over what to do to not feel that way ever again (more practice!). She was shocked to later learn she had received highest marks, and her teacher told her, “It’s not about the mistakes. It’s about how you recover, how you keep going.” What a great lesson for us all.
  11. I read so many good books. So, so many, including two books by writers of color which reshaped my world view. The last book I read in 2016 was “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ll be chewing on that one for a long, long time. I highly recommend, but offer this caveat if you are not a reader of color: you absolutely must go into it with an openness to accept that your point of view can be – and should be – challenged.
  12. My dad recovered from lung cancer and surgery. My colleague is in the final stages of chemo and has beaten leukemia. Our cousin had successful surgery and appears to be doing remarkably well. For all of this, I am grateful and relieved. They’re all staying on the daily prayer list, though. Just to be sure.
  13. For the first time in my life, I voted for a president who looks like me. Even though she didn’t win, I have a new sense of purpose and resolve. I never again want to feel like I felt on November 9, when I was overwhelmed with feelings of, “I could have done more.” I am now exploring involvement with She Should Run and EMILY’S List.
  14. When my work friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I volunteered to take his advisory until he recovered. I had no idea what I was getting into, taking on nine boys freshman through senior. It’s way more work than I anticipated, but the rewards far outstrip the work. I was also asked tasked with the position of faculty moderator for the yearbook, overseeing four seniors who are the editors. I have grown very fond of all of these students, and find myself worrying about them and championing them like a mother hen. It has been my privilege to take all of this on, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given. They make me laugh every day, and they challenge me in the best possible way. This has injected a new passion into my professional life.
  15. I rode a camel. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  16. When I couldn’t attend the big NYE family bash, I sent my family on without me. My husband, who shall be henceforth known as The Greatest Husband in the World, came back home to check on me and bring me food from the party. He sat and watched Parenthood with me while I sniffled and wheezed on the couch. When he was at the party, he texted and called me, so I didn’t feel quite so alone. And right before midnight, he and Zoe returned and made Sprite and orange juice mocktails so we could ring in the new year together. It was pretty damn special.

Come to think of it, there are a helluva lot more than 16 things to be grateful for last year. Happy New Year, my friends. Hang on, because I think 2017 will be a wild ride.