In His Own Words

Generally I write about what’s going on in my life as a mother and writer and I’m pretty PG, but in honor of Memorial Day I wanted to share something with you.  I was e-mailing with a friend in Kuwait in 2011 and I asked what it was like, REALLY LIKE.  His response is so raw and honest that it burns.  The daily sacrifice.  And, is totally middle school potty humor.  I appreciate his sharing and I hope you will too.  I considered cleaning up the grammar, but left it in his own words.

 

No, actually i have never skydived i have always wanted to go but the conditions were never right or a training mission took over. but i am also scared because i have an addictive personality and adrenaline is my worst drug. it gets me in trouble all the time. i think my smart mouth is like the supplement my body puts out cause im waiting on someone else to get pissed off so i talk a lot of trash and i live on that high waiting to see what they will fire back with. ……so skydiving would only awaken that sleeping beast! i would also want to do the hole flying squirrel thing.

Lets see since im not on any kind of military duty and im a civilian i wake up about 7:30 in the morning to a bunch of dudes laughing about farting (it’s funny i laugh also) then i climb down out of the top bunk and onto a concrete floor which is actually cool on my feet covered in socks, i put on pants. pick up my shoes shake them out facing down hopefully no spiders or scorpions climbed in there during the night. once that is cleared i put on my shoes grab a bottle of water 16 oz swallow that down its room temperature about 75 maybe 78 degrees grab another water bottle grab my tooth brush and toothpaste and walk out side to the latrines (bathroom) from my tent that holds 14 dudes. (now walking outside is a little different from when you walk outside every morning. to get the full spectrum wait until 2-4 pm in maryland on a sunny day go and place a mirror on your door step that faces up and wait in total darkness then just run out side once you’ve been in the total darkness for at least 30 min maybe that will give you the full spectrum but i doubt it) but anyways when you walk outside and you’ve been in total darkness and you don’t have sunglasses on you will think god is calling you home it is so bright!!! so now your walking to the latrine and its about 116 give or take, like when you open the oven to remove a pizza and the heat hits you in a wave. its hot! the same thing is happening all day no humidity but just waves and waves of heat it sounds bad but as long as your not out there between 12-4 you’ll be fine ive gotten use to but i grew up in Alabama < notice i capitalized Alabama and not maryland. i also want to point out i tried to use as much grammar as i knew just for you! so now your at the sink in a trailer that just stinks of urine and poop but im immune thank god i grew up on the farm so now you ready to brush your teeth. Oops, wait a second there high speed, you can’t use the water. you dont want to get sick so you pull out that extra water bottle you grabbed in the tent yup you brush your teeth with bottled water cause the water here in kuwait yup a place we liberated! you cant even trust them to clean the water correctly in an area that’s surronded by desert! you can’t expect clean water so you finish with your teeth and head back out into the oven!! now go drop of your toothbrush and stuff back at the tent that smells of feet and ass!! that you slept in, meet your buddies who you meet due to the company being big as it is who also work on helicopters Chevy: retired army active infantry 4 yrs air assault and 4 years chinook and Patrick: 4 yrs kiowa crew chief,
now say a few jokes so they know your spirits are up cause they are. (your spirits) i mean your making really good money to do what you like anyways right so keep on trucking now walk maybe a foot ball field to chow (breakfast) that was cooked in the same water you just didn’t brush your teeth with, you smile and take your tray all the while thinking if i puke this food up ill kill you, you fucking dick because that means you have yup, you guessed it, an amoeba and yup you could die. you are very thank full while eating your food that you live in America where you are protected by regulations and penalties against poisioned food. eat chow yup its still not seating right stop thinking about bad food you’ll just get sick and plus if you are sick you’ll know cause you will be playing musical chairs trying to figure out if your gonna puke or poop or both at the same time.
you dont want to be the guy who got taken away a month ago cause the food and had his STOMACH CUT OPEN AND CLEANED OUT CAUSE HE WAS SO SICK!.
now you finish chow tell more jokes go back to the rack (combination of tent and your bunk bed) get some more sleep that you didnt get before cause of announcements not the bad ones with sirens but the ones saying so and so is needed at the front for his or her flight to bargrahm or kandahar Afghanistan
sleep
sleep

sleep!
and……
sleep some more!
something is poking me in the back!
oh whats up, Chevy!?
want to go to the green bean( star bucks)?
sure now i’m typing to you maybe ill finish this when and if we fly out to kandahar tonight also i want to point out this sounds bad
but im not a deployed soldier im a deployed civilian so those guys have it way way worse!!!
because i repot to no one right now not until i get to kandahar to work on chinooks.

i mean the heat sucks and luckily i can escape it to go into a tent or something my hat is off to the infantry who are in it every day

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Query Letters

Let me just put it out there…I stink at query letters.  Most of it is probably me and my admirable ability to over-think just about everything — but it’s also the nature of the challenge.

For my non-writer friends, once you’ve *finished* your novel you write a one-page letter to a literary agent.  (You are, of course, not finished, but it’s as good as you can get it before the agent and then publishing house editor take a go at it).  Then, the agent decides whether they want to represent you.  You can’t MAKE the agent.  You can’t BUY the agent.  You can’t (or you aren’t supposed to) DRIVE up to New York for an impromptu appointment.  You can’t just SEND your entire manuscript and hope it will be read.

You get to send one page.  Then, a partial (say, the first 50 pages).  Then, maybe the whole thing.  Then, the agent will say yes, no, needs work, send me your next one or something uselessly generic about how it isn’t the right book for their agency.  And, time passes between each step. And, just to be fun, some agents who are overwhelmed with the number of query letters he or she receives, will say, “I’ll only respond to your query if I want to see more.”  Right.  So, how do I know if you’ve even read my letter yet?  I don’t mean to bother you, but I’d like to know for my own query-tracking purposes.

A writer needs to take their 93,000 word novel and write about it in two paragraphs.  Followed by a short paragraph about personal experience or previous publication credits.  But, for the most part, the writer has never met the agents he or she is querying.  And how the heck do you entice a stranger?  You read their bios on the agency website, maybe you check out their twitter feed.  This takes more time.

Some agents want to know where you heard about them.  Others want you to jump into the pitch.  Some agents say they want a novel that crosses genre lines and others say, “Don’t you dare write that you have a thriller-romance-paranormal–horror book.”  Some say to compare your novel to a well-known author, some say, “It’s such a turn-off when a debut author compares themself to a published author.”  ARGGGG, I say in my best pirate voice.

Some general advice is to send out your queries in batches.  If you are turned down by all in the one batch then you know it is the QUERY letter that isn’t working.  The agents haven’t even gotten to your book yet.  Okay.  That makes sense.

So far I’ve sent out 18 query letters in four batches where each batch has a different query.

Current Total: 8 no, O request for partial or full.

This is a project in which I find it easy to become obsessive.  Seriously, I could spend (maybe have spent?) hours on whether to say, “I’d like you to read my dystopian novel.”  Because, in my novel, New Babylon is a military regime which plans to bring the survivors under a one-world governnment and, between you and me, the leaders of NB are CRAZY.

I could say (and have) that GOW (Garden of Wynterhall for those who don’t speak acronym) is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in the tradition of The Road and The Book of Eli.  But then I always worry that I spell post-apocalyptic wrong.  And some agents, apparently, are bored with end of the world scenarios.

My mind spins and spins about what I should change or say to get through this agent barrier, this meeting the right person, because it’s the gate to the next step of my dream to get “Garden of Wynterhall” traditionally published.

And then I hear about Oklahoma.  I see pictures of such fear and suffering.  I listen to the story my neighbor tells me about her daughter and goosebumps raise on my flesh.  Dreams are important.  So is the rest of life.  Hug your children.  I’ll hug mine.

Love,

Sherri

I’m TRYING to help here.

On Februrary 14th I took the twins to get their hair cut.  Evelyn’s hair was damaged at the end of her chemo treatment, but was finally growing out, so Mike and I wanted them to have the same length of hair.  That is, we wanted our identical girls to look the same again.  There’s a whole blog post about hair and cancer and appearance and psychology and twins, but I’ll try to stay on track.

We’re at the local haircut place and it’s around dinner time.  I’m flipping through a magazine and there’s one man sitting in a chair and another one comes in later.  ‘Cause it’s VALENTINE’S DAY and most people are doing heart-y type things.  My husband is on his way to Philadelphia to pick up our friend Izzy.  Anyway, the television is on and I’m aware of the evening news talking about Sandy Hook and 26 Days of Random Acts of Kindness.  But, I’m not really paying attention because Evelyn’s hair is finished (her hair is much thinner than Sylvia’s) and she’s climbing on my lap, concerned about the post-haircut dum dum pop sitting in a cansister by the register.  The bell tinkles over the door as one of the men leaves.

I dig out my wallet and the girl comes over to me, tears in her eyes, and says, “That man just paid for your daughter’s haircut.”  I blink, because that’s not what I was expecting her to say, and then run for the door.  Dude is driving away in his truck and I yell out, “Thank you.”  It’s dark out and all I see is his profile as he gives me a wave.  I know I’m a writer and supposed to be observant, but I can’t tell you what he looks like or if I’ve driven past him since then.

So, I come back to the register to pay for Sylvia and the girl tells me, “No, you don’t understand, he paid for both the girls.”

Well, now I’m just confused.  There’s no way he could know about Evelyn’s cancer or what these haircuts were supposed to represent.  Did he feel bad for a mom in a haircut place on Valentine’s Day?  Was he moved by the news program reporting on random acts of kindness?  Was it a Christmas elf from the Polar Express?  I DON’T KNOW.  The girls in the shop were all talking about it.  I came home and posted on FB about the whole thing because I was so touched by the unexpected generosity of a stranger.

But, I knew I had to pay it forward.  So, I put “random act of kindess” on my weekly to-do list.  The next morning I went to WaWa for coffee.  I called my husband and asked if I could buy him a cup.  That counts, I thought.  But, he was actually cutting down on his caffeine and today wasn’t his coffee day.  Okay, I said.  But now he wanted coffee.  Effectively, I’d sabotaged his healthy plan.  Ooops.

Inside the WaWa I had no cash so I paid for two cups of coffee with a credit card.  After I turned away, I had a brainstorm.  “I’ll pay for his stuff,” I said to the cashier and man behind me in line.  Too late.  Cashier was already making change and the man said he didn’t want to wait to void the transaction.  Okay, I’ll catch the next person.  So I lurked by the register until I noticed that patrons were actually AVOIDING my line.  I was freaking out the people at the WaWa.

Next day my Little Mommy comes over.  She really is little — my son is just about her height.  I make lunch and we sit down to talk about nothing and everything.  The twins are behaving wonderfully.  “This is a lovely soup,” she says and I’m proud.  “Lentil,” I say.  She gets to the end and has a funny look on her face.  “Is this…bacon,” she asks.  “Yup, my secret ingredient.”  She nods.  “It’s just that… I gave up meat for Lent.”  Crap, I think. “Sorry,” I say.

Then I have to run over to the local hospital.  Parking is free for the first 90 minutes.   As I’m getting ready to leave, I think, I WILL pay for parking for the person behind me.  I’m getting this be-nice-thing marked off if it kills me.  But, how do you pay for someone else if you don’t have their parking ticket?  In fact, I look at my watch, how do I pay for myself if it’s over 90 minutes because I STILL HAVEN’T BEEN TO THE BANK AND HAVE NO CASH.  I’m panicking in the elevator.  I see a sign for a cafe on the first floor.  Maybe I could give them my credit card and they could give me  cash.  Maybe, worst case, I could dash in and take a tip from a table.  (This shows you the breakdown of my thought process.  I’d gone from trying to pay for someone else to stealing tips and driving through the blockade if necessary.)  Check my watch again and book it to my car.  I had about two minutes left of free parking and I zipped through the garage and out.   I went to the bank next.

Please imagine my relief when, the next day at preschool, Mrs. Amber tells me that The Goddard School was running a pj drive for Casey Cares.  Yes, I said breathlessly, please let me help.  I’ll do anything to help.

Here was an opportunity for me to write a letter of testimony about how Casey Cares had helped while Evelyn was undergoing treatment (I posted it on here last month).  No one was hurt by my letter.  I didn’t have to steal any tips, I just had to join a project that was already in motion instead of trying to mark something off a list.

Casey Cares

572 pairs of new pajamas for children stuck in the hospital needing some encouragement, needing some distraction, needing to know that althought they are in isolation, they are NOT alone or forgotten.  572.  Wow!

Casey pj drive  Mrs. Amber and I drove down to the Casey Cares office with Sylvia and Evelyn and met with Dawn Weissman, other staff members, and some other Goddard School owners.  Then Dawn gave the twins each a bunny pillow pet and and a blue elephant to Blake, the little boy in the upper picture.

What a difference between serving to mark something off a list and serving because you sincerely want to help other people.

Love,

Sherri

But, I made sausage!

This morning I got up early to make sausage and blueberry pancakes for the kids before school.  I woke them up by opening curtains and gentle nudges.  Three out of four came down to the kitchen dressed, so that was solid.  I helped Diana and Chance wrap their teachers’ flowers (Teacher Appreciation week) in wet paper towels, handed them lunch bags, and watched them get on the bus.  Sylvia was all ready with brushed hair and teeth.  Time-wise we had two minutes to spare.  I sent Evelyn upstairs to get dressed while I labeled the water bottles for preschool, grabbed their lunch bags, and checked that their bookbags were filled with washed sheets for nap time.  Sylvia had her handmade card for her teacher and I shoved Evelyn’s card in my purse.  We were exactly on time and I felt like getting up early was totally worth it.

Evelyn came down dressed and I told her what a wonderful job she had done when I noticed that she was shoving her brother’s pokemon cards into her purse.

“Nope,” I said.  “You can’t go into Chance’s room and take something that doesn’t belong to you.”

Big tears, gulping sobs, total meltdown.  One minute late.

Sylvia called to me from outside.  I went to the garage and used the remote to open the minivan door.   It’s parked in the street because we’re having our driveway worked on, so I stand there to watch her get in safely.  Then I went back inside and find Evelyn scrunched under the bench in the play room.

“Just grab something else for naptime.” I tried to keep my tone chipper.  Seven minutes late.

“It’s in the basement,” she said from underneath the bench.

“Fine, just come on.  Hurry so Mommy’s not late.”  I run to the garage to make sure Sylvia is still in the minivan and not wandering in the street.  Construction workers are coming down my driveway.  Lots of them.  Trying to get the rock settled before the rain.

“EVELYN, COME ON!!!”

I walked outside so I can see both the garage door through which Evelyn needs to come and the minivan door that is opening and shutting as Sylvia played with the buttons.  I have zero control over this situation.

Evelyn finally comes outside carrying the whole plastic bin of My Little Ponies.  On top are two Barbie horses.

“You’re not allowed to take all that, Evelyn.”

“You said I could get something from the basement.”  She sat down in the wet grass, crying again.

Construction workers are huddled together watching us and talking.  My face turns red.

“I’ve got to get to work, come on.”  I look at my watch.

Now Sylvia is calling from the minivan asking if I’m coming or not.

“Let’s go,” I yell.  I pick up the bin of toys.  “We’ll figure this out at school.”  I feel the construction workers judging me, thinking I should get spinach and coal for mother’s day.

Evelyn followed me, sniffling.  She cried the whole way to school because I was so mean.  I didn’t look out the window at the construction workers as I drove by.  If I had, I would have rolled down the window and shouted, “I made sausage this morning.  And pancakes.”  I might have honked my horn, too.

At school the teacher tells Evelyn these toys are not allowed.  Evelyn shrugs like it’s no big deal and goes to play.  Both girls give the cards they made for their teachers.  I carry the bin back to the car.  I’m exactly on time because I didn’t take the sandwiches out of the twins’ lunch bags, label them, and put them in the preschool fridge like I was supposed to.

As I pulled out of the preschool parking lot the song “I Need a Miracle” by Third Day comes on.

Gentle reminder.

Love,

Sherri

Day of Rest

I’ve been sick since April 14th — almost three weeks now.  I finally went to the doctor and she told me I had walking pneumonia.   It felt like I was drowning in a tidal pool of phlegm as a golem sat on my chest so I couldn’t breathe.  I needed Miracle Max’s bellows from The Princess Bride.

I lost a little weight, had to rest after walking up the stairs, and announced my arrival from two rooms away with coughing fits.  Antibiotics, inhaler, prescription cough suppressant, and advice to drink a ton of liquids means that I’m finally feeling better.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that my husband is away in San Fran — I think he wanted a chance to sleep away from a coughing monster.  I DO think that it is a coincidence that my children are acting so much better now.  They were whiny and demanding and argumentative and really selfish when I was sick and trying to sleep.  Although they say I was really mean and whiny and demanding while I was sick.  Huh.  Guess that’s a mystery for the universe.

There’s so much to do — I have a Manuscript edit for a client, I’m trying to get bites on my novel, the exercise class I’m teaching started today so there was meetings with the rec council and fliers to make and signs to put up and such.  And the weekly schedule goes something like this:

Monday — Twins have gymnastics, Chance has lacrosse practice, Diana’s big homework day

Tuesday — Diana has lacrosse practice.  Everyone has homework.

Wednesday — Chance has lacrosse game, Diana has horseback riding lesson  (Isabel goes to boxing).

Thursday — Diana has lacrosse practice

Friday — Twins have ballet in a.m., followed by tap class, swim lesson in p.m.  Diana has swim lesson.  We stay for Family swim, come home, put twins to bed, make nachos and watch Survivor with Diana and Chance and Isabel.

Saturday — Chance lacrosse game.  Diana helps at stable.

Sunday — Church , Diana’s lacrosse game.

I think it is safe to say that we are busy.  There are reasons — my son is stuck in the middle of a bunch of girls and needs sports.  My oldest needs to work on her social skills through team work.  The twins didn’t have many activities while Evelyn was in the hospital so much and next year is full-day kindergarten and they won’t have time.

But, I got sick.  Really sick.  Because there was no time to rest.  It’s like there should be a schedule of days and a person should have to rest one day out of every…I don’t know….seven?  Like, once a week.  Like, keeping the Sabbath holy…..OHHHHHH.  Right.  4th commandment.

Everyone has different ways of resting, yes?  My husband works in an office all day, so going outside in the sunny weather to watch soccer games is a break.  My daughter finds it restful to be at the horse stable all day, even though she is physically working to clean the stalls and feed the horses.  There’s no homework, no pressure, she can just do what she enjoys.

If you are me, then resting means climbing into bed and reading a book after church.  Quiet — no yelling or emergencies.  Puttering around the house and yard.  Unstructured time.

I don’t know what your rest day looks like — feel free to share in the comments — but I encourage you to embrace your day of rest, hold it close, and don’t take it for granted.  I would hate for my golem to take up residence in your house.  Seriously, that tidal pool of phlegm is nasty.

Much love,

Sherri