Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Goals -- if we can see them, then we can do them, friends

I feel perhaps the most type A I have ever felt in my life.

Except for when I fold my underwear. I seldom do so, and it always makes me feel weird when I do. So I usually don't.

I did not fold any undergarments today, but I did just spend an hour writing up individual goals for each month of 2016.

How did this process go?


I began by listing my overarching goals for the year.

I followed with things that I will do all year long to achieve these goals. (No fast food, work out three times a week, etc.)

I then wrote up, month by month, what specialized item I would like to focus on, one at a time.

And then! I added bullet points of steps I will take to achieve each month's goal.

I even designated some "ramp up" tasks for December of this year -- so I can start getting in the mindset of my goals for next year.

What is happening to me? I am supposed to be a slob, a go-with-the-flow creative type, a person Martha Stewart would never be seen in public with.


That said, it feels pretty good to have drafted up that list.

If I'm being honest.

I can't wait to copy it down on a motivational, vision board-y poster -- in pretty rainbow marker, of course. (I may be turning into a type A adult, but I'm still a small child inside who loves to color whenever she gets the chance.)

Some of the months are fun. In September I'll be finishing up cross stitch projects that are nearly complete.

In August, I'll revise my book. Editing doesn't sound like fun to you? Well, to this nerd it's like Candyland.

Some months are zero fun:

No beer in July.

Moment of silence, please.

Gynecologist visit in May. Blegh.

Other months are purely productive. In April, I'm getting my car squared away -- oil change, new license plates, etc.

Throughout the year I'm focusing on getting healthy and making hearty progress in my book. I'm also going to try and get -- and REMAIN! -- organized.

Might I encourage you to make your own list?

I found this activity of making a list (of lists...of more lists) to be...freeing? It made me feel confident, let's say that. In breaking things down into separate goals, rather than telling myself: "You will do 12 different things every day, all day, January through December," I feel like I can achieve these things, one at a time. Reasonably.

So if I drink beer in September, I don't have to beat up on myself for it so long as I'm working on a cross stitch project that month.

As always, I will do my best to give myself grace throughout the year. If I entirely flub one month, then so be it.

I'm just hoping that, with this current plan, one month's struggle won't have me giving up for the rest of the year. Instead I'll just wipe the slate clean and begin with the new goal on the first of the following month.

So what are your goals? Start with your main things: what's bothering you the most right now? Your weight? Clutter? Unfinished projects? Want to get in touch with an old friend? Save for a vacation? Write these things down, then pinpoint further to realistic goals and steps to tackle them.

Wow, I really sound like a motivational speaker right now. I'm scaring myself. But I'm on a roll here, so I'll keep going:

Maybe do a quarter system. Pick four goals and switch up your focus every three months.

Or don't listen to me at all. I can only speak for myself. All I know is this exercise made me feel good, and I'm hoping for you to feel good, also. Many blessings to you next year, and the next and the next!

-- The Daily Bailey

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Some notes on writing fiction and writing for kids

"I think it'd be really funny if you became known for writing fiction," Alex told me Friday, as we lapped up our delicious Thai food, catching up after a week of busy schedules that had kept us apart.

He wasn't being mean, as if he had meant to say, "It would shock me if you became a famous writer."

He just knows how deep my love for nonfiction -- both reading and writing -- goes, and this recent turn in my writing goals has been a surprise to all of us, perhaps most of all to moi.

For those of you who are just joining us at the Daily Bailey, there are two things you should know:

1. I'm obsessed with memoirs, and have planned to write my own for quite some time.
2. I recently abandoned my memoir draft to work on a young adult novel instead.

If you're curious how the switch came about, I hope you're not on the edge of your seat expecting a dramatic tale of my change of heart. Here's what happened, in all it's glory:

I was driving to lunch.

I know. You were expecting more, weren't you? But that's all. I was driving to lunch, and it hit me. I should write a young adult novel.

It's a little more complicated than that, but mostly it's just that.

In addition to my memoir love, I do also quite enjoy young adult fiction, if for no other reason than it offers my brain a break. I love to think analytically, as memoirs and other adult books allow me to do, but sometimes I just want to sit back and read about why Amanda and Leo are fighting in 11 Birthdays (great book, check it out).

I also have known for a very long time that I want (need) to write about mental health.

So during my drive-to-lunch-for-a-tuna-sandwich epiphany, I suddenly put the two together: why not write a young adult novel about anxiety? Bam.

And from there, I'm happy to say it's been by and large a fun journey, and I am loving stitching together a life of my Morgan.

But why am I bringing this all up? Because I've had some thoughts about this fiction writing business, as well as writing for young people in particular, and I'd like to share them with you, get your thoughts in the comments, etc.

So let's move ahead, shall we?, with some things I've discovered in my fiction writing journey:

1. I used to think I couldn't create story out of thin air, and I'm realizing that's because it doesn't come from thin air. It comes from life.

Alex makes fun of me incessantly, because I'm all like, "I'm a writer I'm a writer I'm a writer!" but then I say things like, "I hate plot, and character, and setting."

What I mean when I say that is that books (and movies) like Lord of the Rings are not for me. I can't pay attention. In those stories, you're supposed to be so wrapped up in who the characters are, who their enemies are, what their environment looks and feels like, and, oh yeah, what happens in the story.

This is very hard to explain -- and in 11 months with Alex I haven't been able to successfully do so -- so bear with me here.

When I read a memoir, say, I could care less (usually) what the writer of the story looks like. I only care if she grew up in the Midwest if it affects her personality in a profound way. I only want to know about the people in her life who say key things to her at key moments. I don't care about every last night they spent together at the club throughout their twenties.

When I read fiction, I often think it's just a lot of filler. What the character is wearing, how the fly is buzzing around his head while he waits for his friend, where he sets his suitcase when he comes home from vacation.

Call me crass, but, um, I don't usually care about those details. Unless they're important.

There is an exception, and that's if the person writing the details is a freaking poet. In that case, I'm all ears (eyes?) for his well crafted words.

In a memoir, I feel like it's all about the analysis. The story is laid out for us in pages one through three, then the rest of the book is "This is how I felt about it, this is the wisdom I gained, etc. etc." This is more my style. When I see a movie, it's more about the little, poignant moments between characters for me than it is about the whole story itself.

I don't know if I'm making any sense, or just losing you here. Let's put it this way: I don't tend to care about what happens, I care about how everyone's feeling about it.

Now that I am reading more -- and writing! -- fiction, I am seeing the value in character and setting details in a story. I still struggle with plot. A friend asked me yesterday what the climax of my novel is, and I couldn't answer him. This might become a problem, but we will deal with that when publishers start rejecting me.


I used to think I just didn't have a good imagination, particularly for creating a story arc. I still think this is true of me. I think I'm better at telling you something that actually happened to me and how I processed it than I am at coming up with a bedtime story for my babysitting charges. And my novel has more to do with a girl fighting her emotions than it does her fighting with her environment, which I feel is (maybe?) uncommon.

What I am realizing, though, is that coming up with all those details that make a character who she is, is easier than I thought. Because it draws directly from life.

Whether it's something big (Morgan's brother draws from the personalities of my three brothers) or something small (her dad makes popcorn on the stove -- in real life, Alex does this), a lot of my narrative is coming from my life, past and present.

I consistently find myself surprised by the senses of humor that pop up in my characters -- they're an amalgamation of my humor, my dad's, my friends'.

Simply the way a parent puts a hand around a shoulder of Morgan is a drawing from how my parent would do the same.

Namely, I'm realizing I don't have to go to Morgan's school, live in her house, have her family, etc. to write her life about them. Because I have gone to a school, I have lived in a house, and I have a loving family to draw from for realistic and relatable inspiration.

2. Dialogue is easier than I thought it would be.

That said, I don't know yet if my dialogue's any good.

In the same vein as the discussion above, however, I'm finding that dialogue is easier to write than I previously thought.

I'm not a big dialogue person, as a writer or a reader.

As a talker, I'm big on dialogue. Real big.


In the same way that I can draw from my own life to craft Morgan's, I am finding that to write dialogue you simply have to do one of two things:

a) Think of what you would say in a particular moment, or
b) How you would expect someone to respond to what you've just said.

Again, I never [spoiler alert] went to a therapist during middle school, so I don't know what a therapist would say to me or I to her at that age.

But. I can remember how I felt in middle school. I can imagine what I would ask a middle schooler if one were plopped in front of me. I can imagine how my middle school self would reply: shy, but once opened up, excitable, fun. Honest.

That's the key. Honesty.

If you're -- hopefully -- crafting a book that tells the truth, just be true to the truth. Be true to the emotions you have felt in your life.

You've -- hopefully -- never been in a burning building, but you've been frightened.

You've never been the president faced with a global crisis, but you've been in situations where you didn't know what to do.

You've maybe never had an eating disorder, but you've looked in the mirror with a frown and wondered how you could change.

What I'm finding is it's all there inside of us, as cliché or nauseating that may sound.

Want to evoke rage in your reader? What would the character say to your protagonist to infuriate him? Need to evoke rage in a younger audience? What kind of phrases made your blood boil when you were a kid? (I bet we can each think of at least one choice phrase our parents used that to this day irks us).

You can write dialogue. Just take it slow and listen to your feelings. Again, cliché and nauseating, but true.

3. The line that determines what's appropriate for children and what's not is a tricky one.

Finally, I'm finding that perhaps the most difficult piece of writing this book (other than deciding what my climactic moment will be...) has been deciding where the Line of Appropriateness lies.

A recent op-ed by a Parisian brought up some interesting, varying viewpoints on what we should expose our children to and what we should shelter them from.

I don't have any easy answers to this conundrum, but I have noticed that a lot of children's books don't shy away from real struggle, real heartbreak, real muck. Divorce, death, illness -- I've seen it all in the last year or so that I've really dove into children's literature.

It seems children can -- or at least we think they can -- handle more than one might expect. And if we've been putting it on the pages of their books, then maybe it's not all bad; perhaps it's even beneficial to them in some way.

In seeing such grit on the pages of books meant for innocent eyes, I find myself sometimes giving myself a free pass. Why not expose Morgan to really tough emotions, since other writers are doing it?

But then I think: but she's young, and I don't want to scare my readers. I want this book to be a reprieve for them, not another thing to worry about. I'm exposing my protagonist to some major roadblocks, and she's going to have a challenging sixth grade year of school, for sure, but I want her to walk out stronger yet relatively unscathed.

So I have no advice for you on that topic, just sharing some thoughts I've had. Would love to hear your thoughts on any of this.

Thanks for reading through all this babble! Back to the book!


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Stamping my way out of a valley

Just some hours ago, I was cracking up with my roommate. We were on the Jurassic Park ride at the Universal Studios theme park, and we had a great moment in which we lost ourselves in laughter following some unexpected screams.

There was a dinosaur on my side of the ride's car/boat thing, and it both startled me with its sudden appearance and it spat water at me. Abby saw me scream and jump and pointed and laughed.

She then immediately became startled by an identical dinosaur on her side of the car/boat, screamed and jumped, at which I pointed and laughed, which then set us into shared hysterics.

Oh what a little time can do to our moods.

Time, and dehydration, and hunger and fatigue and...

We got home and I got on the computer to see who had responded to my messages sent earlier in the day requesting snail mail addresses so that I could send Christmas cards.

Mistake? Maybe.

I mean, I couldn't have known what I was walking into, but wow did it send me in a tailspin of anger, frustration, and isolated sadness.

What did I find (after getting off a phone call that irked me)?

Attacks in Paris.
Aggressive opinions about attacks in Paris.
Attack in Kenya.
Attack in Beirut.
Anger about Christmas decorations.
Anger in my own heart in response to all that I was seeing and my own hostile thoughts about certain issues.

Can I go back to the dinosaur ride? Back to the 3D Minion ride? Back to tall beers and sunshine and escaped reality?

But was it escaped reality? It felt real to me.

I was really interacting with real people, really enjoying ourselves, really having kind, polite conversation. Sharing laughs, sharing fries, sharing Chapstick.

I don't mean to sound crass, as if our time at an amusement park was superior to sharing intense opinions on social media.

I'm not saying that at all. AT ALL. I mean, have you read this blog? I have some opinions, and oh do I share them, very publicly.

What I am saying is I enjoyed today's reprieve. And that I was not prepared for the reality check I got this evening.

I almost posted to Facebook, "Tell me something good!" so that I could then stand by and wait for pictures of kittens and minions and Julie Andrews to show up on my feed. But I decided to take matters into my own hands and hammer out this emotion-laden blog post instead (since blogging is sort of how I cope sometimes).

I thought about writing a gratitude list, which would not have been a waste of time.

I am opting for some other options, however, tonight.

1. I talked with my roommate about how it felt to come down into a sudden valley. I told her she was making an appearance in the blog and she said, "Read me the part about me." I felt better.

2. I ate veggie soup, tipping the bowl to get the last of the vitamin-y broth.

3. I am considering going to an event tonight, though it is past my bedtime and I am not the happiest camper, because it would mean a lot to someone I love if I make an appearance.

4. I am counting my addresses.

I have a Christmas letter drafted, pictures of people (and cat) who I love printed, and holiday cards purchased. I am ready to send these supplies to people who have inspired, who have held up my weeping head, have caused me to cackle with delight, fed me, prayed for me, loved me.

I have envelopes that will head to both coasts and be peppered throughout the Heartland in between.

In light of current world events, in light of hatred, in light of death, I am considering these pieces of paper to be supplies for soldiers. Because it seems we are all fighting battles this season. I want to let some people know that their service in my life has not gone unnoticed in helping me fight mine.

I am pretending to be Martha Stewart, and while I am not, like some of my more impressive counterparts, making my cards from my own hands, I am reminding myself that this gesture, this keeping the Pony Express alive, may offer some hope. Not just to the people who will check their mailboxes in weeks to come, but for me as well.

73 addresses and counting. That's a lot of hope.

All I need are stamps.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The meal I eat too much (and some thoughts on working in food service)

Taste this with me:

Tomato soup, chewy croutons floating on top, dunked below the surface by the force of my spoon.

Creamy mac 'n cheese, scooped in (almost) drippy heaps to my mouth, where it slams my palate with vague yet contented memories of happy childhood, and autumn.

Not one, but two hunks of baguette, gently ripped in pieces and used for dipping mostly in the soup but occasionally in the cheese for a little bonus treat.

Iced tea, poured from a spigot over a hundred ice cubes, cubes that hunker atop no more and no less than four lemon wedges, pressed down in their harmonious igloo-y home at the bottom of the cup.


This is the meal I consume at least once, sometimes twice, a week.

My waistline is not diminishing.

Nor is my affection for Panera.


Truth be told, I have dreams of working for Panera. Not as a past, that-would-have-been-fun job to earn some spending money in college.

As my current, go-to-every-day job.

Not because I want to abandon my goals as a writer, or as if I don't want to work my current job anymore.

But because it's peaceful. And because I think that, aside from being hovered over my keyboard, food and coffee service jobs are maybe where I fit best as a member of the workforce.

I'm not actually being snarky.

I worked at Starbucks for nearly two years, before I began my journalism journey, and I still talk about it, with love.

I enjoyed it with genuine ease, and I was good at it. And with my living situation at the time, I got paid what I needed.

Isn't that what we all want in a job?

Now, sadly, I would not get paid what I would need in order to live the way I do now. Which is nothing overly luxurious, but it is comfortable, certainly. Instead of sleeping on a hide-a-bed in my parents' basement, I live 2,000 miles away in a city that makes me happy with a roommate who I love.

At the risk of sounding like a socialist, I do wish that food service jobs paid a living wage. Wait, maybe that doesn't make me sound like a socialist, maybe that just sounds fair.

Whoa, did I just get political on the Daily Bailey?

Hmm. Anyway.

If I could make what I currently earn busing tables and running credit cards and slicing bagels, I would do it. I wouldn't argue that I need to "actually use" my master's degree somehow else, more carefully, in a more targeted manner, more masterfully.

Because as I see it, I would be using my journalism degree if I worked at Panera.

Here's why.

I would get off the clock and I would get myself a steaming cup of tea, a crumbly cookie that sheds sugar crystals on a plate, and set up shop with my laptop and work on my book.

When I needed a break, I would shoot the breeze with a coworker walking by, picking up straw wrappers off a nearby table.

If writing a freelance article, I could conduct interviews there at my in-café office.

I would use my writing skills, I would use my creativity to craft artful sentences and plot out characters' lives, and I would use my other God-given talents -- people skills, namely -- during my midday shift at Panera. I would do it with a smile and I would not complain, because I would have nothing to complain about.

I loved working at Starbucks.

I found nothing tiresome or tedious about steaming milk, stirring chocolate powder into hot water to create a thick mocha sauce. About taking bills through a sliding window and flirting with babies in the backseats of their parent's car, on their way to daycare and then the office, or maybe just out taking a breather from their stay-at-home routine.

I enjoyed wiping counters with bleach, writing expiration dates on frozen pastry packages.

Whisking my apron strings into a knot behind my waist after each break, going back to the (coffee) grind.

I didn't even mind taking out the trash. I could be misremembering, but I really only recall one time, during which it was fuh-reezing outside, that I didn't exactly loooove visiting the dumpster.

But in general, there were a lot of good things about taking out the trash at Starbucks, a whole different experience than I have taking out the trash at home.

I'm not kidding.

There was a rhythm to it. A cycle, a start and a finish. Gather the trash from by the espresso bar, by the coffee filters, in the lobby, on the patio. 1, 2, 3, 4. Take out the full bag, tie it off, replace it with a fresh, empty one. Next!

There was a spirit of teamwork in it. Yes, in taking out the trash. My shift supervisor, who knew about my love life, my family, my cat, me, would ask me playfully to do him this favor, and because I respected and loved him I would hop to.

This may be the most romantic and only love letter you ever read regarding garbage, but I am just calling it as I experienced it.

There was something calming and reassuring, for me, about being a supposed cog in the machine. There was a rhythm not just in the task of trash removal, but in the whole thing, day in and out. The shop started out shiny and clean, fridges quietly whirring. Tea was made, machines switched on, money counted in. At the end of the day, it was all back to how it began.

When I sported the green apron, my life was, I would say, unstable. I had a routine -- work, exercise, read, time with friends -- but my brain was a terrified hamster on a wheel half the time. I was a slave to my anxiety, to my crippling irrational fears. But when I came to work I was strong. I was in my element. Perking people up with caffeine and compliments. Lending an ear to my coworkers, who were dealing with their own stuff. Sweeping that floor and making those counters shine.

For crying out loud, I was happy to take out the trash!

I don't look happy here, but I was just going for a snarky/sultry pose. How'd I do?

I hear many people complain about food service jobs, and hear others speak of them with disdain, as if it would be the most degrading job one could land in, or at least the biggest waste of a college degree, and a downright shame to the family name if one holds degrees, plural, and decided to call herself Barista instead of Barrister.

But when I ask around about this, I find I am not alone in warmly reminiscing about days of java dripping past. Not alone in wishing I could go back.

Maybe some of you are reading this and thinking of course I am not alone, I am just a more "practical" artist who is too afraid to walk away from her steady job with benefits, while there are thousands of people out there still slinging coffee, unwilling (or maybe on a deeply spiritual, emotional level, actually unable) to wrap their necks in ties and their waists in skirts and walk into an office building every day.

And if you're thinking that you may be right.

I just find it unfortunate, and disheartening, that the food service has to spend its time worrying about disgruntled employees who would rather be somewhere else, when there are people like me who would gladly jump in with a rag and wipe down counters if only it paid more.

I honestly think my novel might get written faster.

So when I'm in Panera slurping the soup that my stomach has come to expect, it's not just about the way the croutons perfectly soak up the creamy orange around them. It's about a sweet memory, and a wish for what could be.


Your turn: What do you think? Would you go back to your food service job, if you could? Why or why not? Let me know!

Thanks for reading. I hope you find that job that pays enough and makes you happy and uses your special Y-O-U skills, all rolled into one.