Musings on Time in the Twenty-First Century . . . and Before

As of the end of May, we’ve spent 209 months in the 21st Century (I started my count in January 2000). So at the end of this month, we will be 17.4% into our new century. If time were the plot to a novel, we’d be almost finished with the first act and moving into the middle of the story.

Are we ready to declare we are in Act 2 of the 21st Century? I don’t think I am. When I quit working at the end of 2006, I felt like we were still on the cusp of the new century. I’ve continued to feel that way, despite my calculation that we are a sixth of the way through the 21st Century.

Maybe it’s because I write historical fiction that takes place in the 1840s. Maybe because my family stories seem so rooted in another time. Maybe because I’m a conservative at heart and don’t like change. Whatever the reason, I still feel like a 20th-century inhabitant, though I’m living firmly in the 21st Century. I find myself reflecting on 20th-century events. And sometimes I’m even pulled back into the 19th.

I remember figuring out as a child that I would be almost forty-four when the year 2000 arrived. Forty-four seemed so old. At the time, my parents were still in their thirties. And then it dawned on me that I might spend half of my lifetime in the century yet to come—that shocked me.

I recently calculated that my life expectancy isn’t quite that long. While it is possible I will live to be eight-eight—and I certainly hope to—the odds are that I will die before 2044. Still, it’s possible. And I will most likely spend many more years at least in the 21st Century. When will my perspective shift to seeing myself as a post-2000 being more than one of the 1900s?

Maybe I never will. Maybe I will continue to reflect on the past.

Granddad Hooker, Theresa & brother

Because of the recent anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the nation and my family were one-hundred years ago.

  • The one great-grandparent I knew, Thomas Hooker, was born in 1879, so he was an adult when the 20th Century began. By 1917, he worked in the Polk County Courthouse, where he served as Sheriff for decades.
  • My other great-grandparent alive during my childhood (I never met her), Lillie Smith Claudson, was born in 1885 and married in 1900. By 1917, she had four children. Act 1 of her 20th Century was certainly productive.
  • James Parks, my husband’s grandfather whom I knew, was born in 1899 and enlisted in the Army infantry at the tail end of World War I in 1917. His entire childhood passed in the first 17 years of the last century.

So that’s one perspective on what happens in one-sixth of a century. If I look at the last seventeen years of the 1900s, I see the passage of a sixth of a century from another angle.

  • My son, who began walking in May 1983, graduated from high school in May 2000, a time I remember well, but a time that feels long ago.
  • I hadn’t even used a personal computer as of 1983, though I was starting to teach myself how to operate a Wang word processor. When PCs first came to my company a year or so later, I knew as much about them as the IT department did. But by 2000, my knowledge had failed to keep up with the experts.
  • In 1983, Bill Clinton started his second stint as Governor of Arkansas. He was not yet a national figure. By 2000, he’d been President for two terms.

And then there are all the events that have happened since the start of this century, showing that time flows on whether we embrace it or not. Act 1 of this century has changed the world.

  • The job I took in 2000 has been held in a variety of iterations by several individuals in the last seventeen years. It is a changed role in a company that also has experienced great change.
  • As the last century ended, we worried about whether computers would survive the switch in dates to Y2K. People filled their bathtubs with water in case public utilities shut down, but those fears did not come to pass.
  • The tragedy of September 11 hadn’t yet occurred seventeen years ago. Remember the ease of traveling before long security lines? Some fears we had not expected did come to pass.

Time rolls on, whether we are keeping up with it or not. History happens.

Now I ponder what Act 2 in the 21st Century will bring. And I wonder what I will make of it. Whether coming events will strike me as odd as airplanes must have seemed to Great-Granddad Hooker in 1917. Whether I will ever seem as old to my descendants as he seemed to me.

What do you think the greatest surprises of the 21st Century will be?

Working Across Time and Across Generations

My husband and I recently were fortunate to have visits from our two adult children. Our son came for a few days at the end of April, and our daughter was here over Mother’s Day.

My parents and me on one of my solo visits

I remember my mother telling me one time how nice it was to have her children visit by themselves, without their siblings and without their spouses and children. She said she enjoyed being able to talk with each child by himself or herself. And now that my children are grown, I have the same feeling. It is nice to have a crowd around sometimes—over the holidays, in particular—but the one-on-one time is also special.

On these recent visits, it occurred to me how different my life is now than my children’s. And how different their lives are than my life was when I was their age (in my thirties). Each of them spent most of the weekdays they were here on their laptops working. My daughter has billable hour requirements she has to meet, and my son wanted to minimize the vacation days he had to take. Even when they are in their home cities, my children spend some days working from their homes (my son regularly, and my daughter occasionally), so their time in my house probably didn’t seem unusual to them.

In my thirties, I, too, was focused on my career, even though I had kids at that age and they do not. But it was easier in the 1980s and ’90s to separate work and family time. When I was at work, I worked. I didn’t have social media accounts to check, and I had almost no personal email in those days. When I was at home, I dealt with family and household issues. My thoughts might have sometimes been on what I needed to do at the office, but I didn’t have Internet connections and 24/7 smartphone access tethering me to the job. On vacations, I only checked voice mail occasionally.

I could get away from work, at least for a few days. My children do not have that luxury. They have separate work and home laptops, but they have access to everything everywhere.

And my time now? I no longer work solidly from 8:00am to 6:00pm on weekdays, plus several hours on the weekends. My time is flexible, and that flexibility is the primary reason I retired. But I still consider myself to be working. I work as a writer and blogger. I serve on committees for charitable organizations. I take on occasional paid mediation cases. But for the most part, my time is my own to schedule. When I am too busy, I have only myself to blame.

Moreover, I set annual objectives for myself—how much I will write, what marketing I will do, and what volunteer commitments I will make. I also set objectives for family activities. I mark my progress toward all my objectives twice a month, with a formal review about quarterly.

For example, I try to work on writing about 30 hours a week. But that time seems to dissipate in meetings and webinars and blog posts, instead of getting applied toward my novel. In the past two months, I added about 35,000 words to the novel. Not bad, but I wanted to be finished with this first draft by now, and I still have about 10,000 words to go. I will not meet my objective on my novel this quarter.

The result of all this monitoring is that I’m getting far more performance management than I ever got while employed. Even if now I’m managing myself.

I wrote in a recent journal entry, “Retirement life is harder than I thought.” I have to work to retain the flexibility I want while still feeling that I am productive and growing. “How do I find a sense of balance?” I wrote to myself. “Is it elusive in every life and at every stage of life?”

I suppose the answer to each part of this question is yes.

Still, I am glad I do not have a full-time job anymore. Flexibility in work—as in all things—is a benefit. Whether balance comes with it or not.

How has your life changed over the years?

 

Lessons from the 2017 OWFI Conference

I attended the 2017 Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. conference in Oklahoma City from May 4-6 this year. I’ve attended this conference in the past (though the last time was in 2014), and I always learn something. This year, I probably spent about two-thirds of my time in marketing sessions, with the rest devoted to aspects of the writing craft.

Here’s what I learned this year, with the presenter’s name following each major bullet point:

On Craft:

  • There is no one way to write a book. Every writer’s process is unique, and that process may change from book to book. (Sonia Gensler)
    • One possibility for plotting a novel is to use a 4-act structure, with 17 plot steps.  (Ally Robertson of Wild Rose Press)
    • Write scenes under each plot step—17 points x 3 scenes for each at about 1000 words/scene will give you a 48,000-word novella (because the opening hook and the final image will only have one scene)
    • For longer novels, weave in subplots to add to scene count and complexity.
  • Every book contains a problem, a cause, an effect, and a solution — both fiction & nonfiction books have these elements. Make sure your book does. (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
  • Agents and editors read page 1, then page 2, etc., and they’ll stop after each page. So each page needs to hook them through about the first ten pages, or you will lose them and they won’t take your book. (Kelly Armstrong)
    • The opening scene establishes what the book will be like—genre, voice, and narrative style. It makes a promise to readers that they’ll get more of this.
  • To tell a writer “I couldn’t put your book down” is the greatest compliment a reader can give (Kelly Armstrong)
  • For writers interested in learning about Scrivener, try watching Jason Hough’s YouTube video on Scrivener Boot Camp.

On Marketing:

  • Writing is a business. Even if you want to pursue traditional publishing (through an agent), you should have a Plan B in mind—self-publishing or small presses (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
    • Writers must know how to market
  • Know your ideal reader before deciding how to market your book (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
  • You need to move people from simple awareness of your books to considering a purchase to actually buying your book to becoming an advocate for your books. (David Christopher)
    • Superfans who help you sell your work are your biggest asset.
  • Email marketing is the best book marketing tool because it puts everyone you know into one receptacle (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
    • Email newsletters are the most profitable marketing tool for writers. They are inexpensive, fast, efficient, and build a relationship with your readers.
    • Segment your email lists to send different content to different people on your list.
    • Newsletters should be targeted toward your ideal reader, and should contain interesting content that turns followers into fans and fans into superfans,
    • Be consistent, ethical, and NOT boring in your newsletters—like a letter from an old friend
  • Your Amazon ranking depends on searchability. (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • To make your book rise in the Amazon rankings, you need consistent sales over 30 days, so plan your launch to have some sales each of your 30 days after publication.
    • Then strive for some surges after that, with price promotions and other tools.
    • The more you touch your bio, description, keywords, the more you rise to the top—keep tweaking your Amazon listing to improve your search results.
  • Strive for lots of reviews—85 reviews is the current magic number on Amazon to move your book higher on its algorithm (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • Amazon changes something every month
  • Video is big — Google owns YouTube, so Google puts YouTube hits near the top of search results (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
  • Writers want to get into bookstores, but you need to ask yourself whether you belong there. Can you make money by getting your books into retail outlets? (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • Bookstores require returnable books. Other retail outlets require a lot of legwork.
    • Determine where your readers shop and sell your books there
    • You will need to spend 20 minutes/day, 5 days/week selling—or pay someone else to do it for you
    • Respect the store buyers’ time
    • Know how far you can go in offering discounts and promotions and still make a profit
    • Your job is to show how your book fits the need of the store, not vice versa
  • Writers can develop multiple income streams—speaking fees, serving as a spokesperson, royalties, direct book sales, consulting, publishing company income (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
  • Querying a publisher is like applying for a job—be professional, query letter like your résumé (Rhonda Penders, Wild Rose Press)
  • There are tax and estate planning advantages for writers to forming a Limited Liability Corporation. But it’s a myth that having an LCC means you can never be sued. (Marty Ludlum, University of Central Oklahoma)

Theresa Hupp at OWFI Banquet, May 2017

Oh, and I also received a little recognition for my writing at the OWFI conference.

Writers, what have you learned recently about the craft or about marketing?

A Mother-Daughter Brunch and Fashion Show

My daughter went to an all-girls high school. One of my favorite events of the year was the mother-daughter brunch held each spring. After the meal at a hotel downtown, the senior class put on a fashion show, with the styles selected from several major retailers in our area. Each clothing store offered a different theme—casual clothes, beach wear, formals, etc.

I loved the fashion shows, which were an opportunity for the seniors to have a bit of fun after four years of hard work. Not every girl in the senior class participated, but most did—even those who were shy or overweight or who never wore anything but the school uniform or jeans. The show was a rite of passage. Kudos always went to the seniors willing to wear a swimsuit in public.

I worked in a corporate environment largely populated by males, and there was more estrogen in that hotel dining room than I was accustomed to. These young women strutted their stuff down the runway, proclaiming themselves young adults now out of the schoolroom as campily as they could. They showed their potential as independent women of the world, whether in bikini or gown or business wear.

My daughter and I attended this brunch all four years. The first three times I watched the show, I looked forward to the year my daughter would be a senior. I anticipated her role. What clothes would she model? Would she enjoy it as much as most of the girls seemed to? What glimpse into her future would I see?

Her senior year finally came. She didn’t tell me much about what she would be modeling, other than that it would be in the business wear section.

When that portion of the show began, I watched the girls parade in skirts and slacks. I saw them as they would be not too long into the future, after their college years when they would—most of them—enter the professional world.

My daughter is in white. Though she’d never wear a tie like that these days.

And there came my daughter. My tall, beautiful, intelligent daughter, striding down the runway in a white pantsuit, looking like the successful attorney she wanted to be.

Like the successful attorney she has since become.

I was granted a vision of the future that spring morning, now fourteen years in the past. I loved it—and her—then. I love her more now. She has become a strong, independent woman—both book-smart and street-smart, athletic, attractive, and caring. I couldn’t have asked for more from a daughter than she has given her father and me over the years.

As I’ve written before, she was my Mother’s Day baby—she has a birthday this week. I look back on her runway day and smile at the past. I smile even more at the present. And I await the future, still smiling.

Happy birthday, daughter!

A Mother’s Speech to Her Son, With Compliments to Kipling

I mentioned in a post in March that I was looking for the speech I gave at my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony.  I’d found pictures of him at that event, but I didn’t know where the speech was.

In another monumental cleaning project a couple of weeks ago, I found the speech! He was sixteen at the time and is now more than twice that age. Re-reading the speech took me back to a turbulent time in our lives. I thought of trying to summarize the speech in this post, but I worked so hard on it at the time, that I think I will just reproduce it here:

I’m in a difficult position tonight—J____ asked me to make this speech personal, but not to embarrass him. That’s a fine line that I’m not sure a mother can walk. But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to give J____ some advice in the presence of so many witnesses. I have a lot to tell J____  because in this short month of February 1998, J has reached many milestones—he turned 16 . . . he got his driver’s license . . . he was confirmed in our church last weekend . . . and he has now received his Eagle award.

As I reflected on the place of Scouting in J____’s growth, I boiled down my advice to J____ into three themes—pride, prudence, and perseverance.

First, on pride. Many people are proud of you this evening, J____—your father and I, your grandparents, your Scout leaders, and many other friends and family members. Even your sister is probably proud of you tonight. But, as you recognized in the personal statement you wrote for the program, what is most important is whether you are proud of yourself.

When I speak of pride, I mean your own confidence that you have done a job well—and done the job through your own hard work. Your Scouting road has taken ten years from the time you started as a Tiger Cub, and you have achieved a lot during that time. Most of your achievements have been your own doing, and you are justified in taking pride in a job well done.

But along with pride should come a sense of humility. No matter how much energy you invest in yourself, other people invest in you as well. I look around this room at your family and friends and your Scouting leaders, and I am thankful for all they have contributed to your success. You would not be here without them, and they deserve your appreciation, along with mine. I was pleased that you recognized their contributions in your personal statement, and I hope that as you succeed in the future, you always remember to thank those who have helped you along the way. Pride, tempered with humility, will serve you well in life.

My second theme is prudence—by which I mean thinking through the problem before you start, and planning for how to overcome the obstacles. Scouting has enabled you to try many different things—such as camping, backpacking, climbing, and canoeing. Your Scout leaders have taught you to do these things safely—to plan ahead and to be prepared for what might happen.

As you know, I am an avid proponent of planning, and, like your Scout leaders, I try to make sure you think ahead. In the years to come, you won’t always have me to force you to plan. In fact, now that you are 16 and are driving without me, I already need to be able to rely on your good judgment and prudence. I hope that when I’m not there to give you my excellent and prudent advice, you will think back on the Scouting motto, and always “Be Prepared.” You’ve got a wonderful mind, and are capable of doing anything you want, if you exercise prudence and foresight.

My third theme is perseverance—keeping on when the going is hard. You have had to persevere to get here tonight—through times that were difficult, and through times when you didn’t want to continue with Scouts. You worried about getting your Lifesaving merit badge. You didn’t know whether you could get through the Order of the Arrow ordeal. You had other commitments like debate and dramatics—and thought you didn’t have time for Scouts. Despite these difficulties, you kept at it, and you have now achieved the pinnacle of success in Scouting.

You have many difficult goals ahead of you—such as doing well in college and building relationships with a spouse and children,  and being successful in the career you choose. The road to your dreams and ambitions will not be smooth. However much your father and I might want to make the road easier, we can’t. Your own perseverance is the only way to get there. The good news is that you can now reflect back on your Scouting experience to tell yourself that you have done it before, and can do it again.

I recently ran across a quote from poet and playwright W.A. Auden that explains what I mean by prudence and perseverance:

Those who will not reason perish in the act;
Those who will not act perish for that reason.

What this means is that you must think things through before you act—you must be prudent. But you also cannot stop with thinking; you must in the end make a decision, and follow through on that decision—you must persevere. Your Scouting experience has readied you for both reasoning and acting—for prudence and perseverance. Because of what you have learned in your life thus far—in large part through Scouting, I am confident that you will have many future successes in which you will take pride.

I want to end with another quote, this time from Rudyard Kipling. You might recall your father and me reading Kipling’s “Just So” stories to you about the time you started as a Tiger Cub. Kipling also wrote a poem entitled “If.” Every line in that poem has something to say about growing up, but the following lines seemed to match most closely what I have been trying to say about pride, prudence, and perseverance:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting, too; . . .
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same; . . .
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will that says to them: “Hold on!” . . .
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

And to those lines of Kipling’s, I add one more of my own:

Godspeed, J____ on the journey you’ve begun.

My son is much further along his journey now, though I hope he still has most of it ahead of him. He’s done well, and as Mother’s Day approaches, I hope that both he and my daughter realize that the thoughts I expressed in that speech almost twenty years ago still apply to both of them. Every day.

What advice have you given to your children?

Broken Bones: Which Ones Were They?

I’ve written before about the two times I broke my left foot (see here and here). Well, I broke another bone in that same foot many years earlier. During the winter of my 8th-grade year, I broke the fourth toe. The odd thing is that within a year, both of my parents broke that same toe in their left feet also.

I don’t recall how my parents broke their toes, but I vividly remember what happened to mine. I went barreling out of my bedroom into the hall on my way to take a shower. I wanted to watch a TV show, and I barely had time to squeeze in the shower before it started. Unfortunately, my baby brother was toddling along past my bedroom door just as I exited. I tripped over him and slammed my foot into the furnace return grate across the hall.

Ouch!

It swelled and turned black, so the next day one of my parents took me to the doctor. (It was usually my mother who had doctor duty, but as I recall, my father took me this time.) There was no treatment, the doctor said. “We could tape it to the other toes, but that won’t really make any difference.”

So I limped for a few weeks until it healed.

Within months, my parents broke their toes. We laughed about the coincidence—though there wasn’t much laughter until all our bones had healed.

The following year, when I was in the 9th grade, I took a Creative Writing class. One assignment was to write a story in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe—something sinister or scary. I decided to try to make something ominous out of three broken toes in one family—was it merely coincidence or was some evil striking that family?

My story wasn’t very good and has been lost to the trash bin. But I do remember drafting it. I took some literary license with the facts to “improve” the story. Writing repeatedly about the “fourth toe on the left foot” or “the piggy that got none” seemed awkward. So I decided the story should be about three broken “left little toes,” which had more alliteration, even if it didn’t match the facts exactly.

But memory is a tricky thing. Over the years, I often forgot whether my parents and I had all broken our left little toes or our fourth toes. My fictional story confused my reality.

It was only as I grew older and that fourth left toe began to ache that I could re-ground myself in the truth. If I walk too long in uncomfortable shoes, or if the weather is damp for days on end, I remember—it is my fourth toe that hurts. This past month has been rainy and dreary in Kansas City, and I have had it drummed into me that I broke my fourth left toe. The piggy that got none gets even these days.

What pains do you have now that make you remember earlier events in your life?

Not Wild About Wild Asparagus

The house we moved into when I was six and a half, in October 1962, was at the end of a block-long street. Next to us on the east was a vacant lot. That lot remained vacant until well after I no longer lived with my parents, though at some point the next block of the street was paved and houses built on it.

Richland house, with corner of vacant lot showing

The vacant lot was my childhood playground. The ground was sand and rounded rocks left when the nearby Columbia River receded in some eon past. My brother and I made forts out of tumbleweeds which we piled in a big hole in the lot. Sometimes we fought each other. Sometimes it was us against the pretend bad guys. We dug up ant’s nests, not to kill the critters but to watch them frantically rebuild. We got hot and sweaty and dirty, as children do on warm summer days. And when the autumn days turned cool, we got cold and our noses and fingers turned red.

The area had been a farm at some point, though it was probably part of the land that the Army evacuated in 1942 to build the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as part of the Manhattan Project. When my brother and I explored the acres around our house, we came across dilapidated shacks—old barns or farmhouses or other structures that survived from the pre-war era and had never been razed.

“Be careful,” our mother would caution. “Don’t step on a nail. And watch out for snakes.”

At the mention of snakes, I was far less eager to explore, but my brother convinced me we should. So we went, brushing sticks in front of us to scare any rattlesnakes or scorpions or other hazards. We rarely encountered anything more dangerous than a splintered board. Maybe a garter snake or two. No scorpions. Most of the black widow spiders we saw were near our home—they liked to sun themselves on webs near the warm brick.

One reason we knew that the neighborhood had once been a farm was that in the spring Mother found wild asparagus in the lot beside our house. Stalks sprouted between our yard and that big hole where we built our forts. They sprung up through the dead grass my father dumped when he mowed the lawn.

I was not a vegetable-loving child, and I did not like asparagus. And certainly not this asparagus. The stalks that grew in the vacant lot were not the thin bright green spears sold in the best restaurants. This asparagus consisted of thick, woody stalks that were mostly seed. It had to be boiled to a pulp before it could be chewed. And even then it was stringy.

But my mother thought it was wonderful. “Fresh asparagus!” she exclaimed when she found the spears. Asparagus in the grocery stores—then, as now—was expensive, and she rarely bought it. So for her, these volunteer plants were a treat.

I was an adult before I tasted good asparagus. Maybe my tastes have changed over the years, but I now think tender, blanched asparagus is an exquisite addition to steak and potatoes.

I even buy it to cook myself this time of year, though my husband prefers that I boil the color and texture out of it. (He might have enjoyed the wild asparagus along with my mother.) When only the two of us are eating it, I accede to his wishes. But when we have guests, I insist on only steaming it—no reason to inflict his plebeian predilections on a third party.

How have your tastes changed since you were young?