Category: awesome stuff

How writing is like mountain climbing…

…but not the way you would think that it’s like mountain climbing.

The other day, I posted this on Twitter:


Is that what happened? Yes. We did that. It was awesome.

Is that how it happened? Yes and no.

A few days before the mountain adventure, Josh and the boys and I were walking down by Medina Lake, throwing rocks and looking at the pretty water. Josh sees the mountain. Josh goes, “You see that mountain over there?” I go, “I can’t do this with you right now.” Undeterred Josh says, “One of these days, I’m gonna climb that mountainmountainountainountainountain…”

The next day, while it’s raining, we talk about how awesome it would be to kayak across the lake and climb the mountain. We could take a lunch! The boys would love it. Now if we just had some sunlight and less wind, that mountain would be ours. The forecast for Wednesday said it was going to be sunny and 75. We had our date with destiny.

Wednesday dawned even more beautiful than the weatherbots had claimed it would. We loaded up the boys and took the kayaks down to the water. Let me take a second here to explain something to you about kayaks: It’s nothing to get a kayak off a truck. You’re pumped. You’re ready to get in and paddle away. You just lift it down, throw your seat in, and pack it to the water with your kayak buddy, boom, done.

All life-vested and water-shoed up, we hopped in and paddled toward the face of that shining mount. Which at this point in the morning was in shadow, but you get the idea.

About fifteen minutes later, as often happens with distances over water, the adults in the expedition started to realize just how far away that shining mount was. Fifteen minutes paddling in low waves and we were still only about halfway there.

No problem! No problem! It’s always a little farther than it looks! We can do it and it’s totally going to be worth it. Just keep paddling! And so, to the sound of several more “You see that mountain over there?”s from Joshua and “Night Begins to Shine” singalongs with Bear, the intrepid family of gypsy pirates made their way across the last half of the lake. Whew! That was fun.

There were rocks and fallen trees washed up on the shore and all kinds of cool stuff to explore. We did that for a bit. Then it was time to start the climb to the top. Joshua grabbed the dry-bag full of lunch, Bear grabbed a spear he’d fashioned upon landing, Oak grabbed nothing, I grabbed the phone, and up we went.

Or up we started to go. From far away, the mountain looked like it had a pretty thick canopy of tree cover, but when you see it from a distance (and through the eyes of a Missourian or Arkansan), you think, “Trees? Hot dog! The more shade for the climb the merrier! It isn’t even a very big mountain!” But in Texas, trees on mountains are not trees like you and I think of trees. They are a nefarious mix of scrubby brush, brambles, squat little cedars, and fire ants. You don’t walk up the side of a mountain in Texas. You crawl up it.

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, a visual aid:

This was the biggest clearing all the way up the side of this mountain. I was almost able to stand up to take this picture.

We climbed and crawled and scratched and clawed our way through the underbrush (everyone in our luncheon party over three feet tall did, anyway). Thorns and cedar boughs snagged at our clothes and hair and skin. Ants attacked the boys. The warmth of the seventy-five degree day settled in. Josh picked a path through a cluster of trees and brambles I didn’t think I could squeeze through. I got hung up trying to get to the marginally-less-brushy other side. My clothes snagged. Thorns scratched me up. A bee roughly five times the size of a Missouri bee came at me, bro. I was being pushed and pulled and abraded and I did not like it.

I won’t lie to you, friend. I looked up the side of the mountain, completely unable to see the top or any other measure of progress and I considered telling Josh that we should either stop there and call it good enough or go back down and eat lunch on the shore. The shore was pretty nice. The brambles were not. The going got tough and the eden was like, “No way, dude. I quit.”

But then, as it often does when I’m caught in the middle of doing something I don’t care for, this other wheel started turning in my head. That wheel was thinking about stories and how they related to mountain climbing. Not from a reader’s perspective. Not your basic dramatic structure of rising action, climax, falling action. No, other-wheel was thinking about how much it sucked to be in the thick of it writing the rising action when you couldn’t even see the climax, let alone the resolution to the story you’re pouring your heart and soul into.

I feel like you’re going to think I’m making this up for the sake of a well-rounded blog post–Oh, adorable, a life lesson about never giving up that applies to writing, how quaint!–but I’m not. I wasn’t thinking about how you had to keep plugging away at the story so you could get to the climax where you would stand with your face in the sun, looking out over the gorgeous landscape of your creation, and for a second, just a moment in time, all that hardship would be worth it.

Nope, I was thinking about how I’ve spent almost four years writing about the people of Halo, and to be quite honest, I’m tired of it. Oh, I still love them. I still love their hometown. I always will. But some days I think, “I swear, Tough, if you screw one more thing up, I’m going to wring your scrawny neck!” I’m in the middle of the third book and some days–okay, a lot of the days–it’s a chore just to think about working on it. I’m tired of it. I want to work on something else, play something new, phone this one in and call that good enough. Where I’m at right now in Godkiller, I can’t see a climax or any sort of resolution. I can’t see any progress at all. The brush is too thick, I’m all tangled up, and something creepy-crawly is biting my leg.

If you’re a writer, or if you know any writers, you’ve probably heard that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The object of this game is to write 50,000 words in one month (the equivalent of a short novel). I’ve been really intent on keeping up with NaNo this year for a lot of reasons. One is now that we’re living on the road, I want to make sure I keep writing every day. Always be hustling, do work, etc, etc. Another is that I really want to have Godkiller out by the end of this year (a goal that’s looking admittedly ridiculous at the moment), and 50k more words sure wouldn’t hurt.

But one benefit of NaNoWriMo that I didn’t see coming was this: It’s fun. I’ve made the target word count exactly 1 time out of the last 20, but every single day I put my butt in a seat and I write. I write in laundromats, passenger seats of trucks, on couches, in booths, on beds, on floors, on porches, inside, outside, with kittens sleeping on my tummy, with little and big boys playing Super Smash Bros next to me, while I’m making supper or waiting for my turn to teach home school. I pour words out without worrying what the next scene is going to be or where the story is going or how they’re going to survive this. I stretch out descriptions and conversations and sentences until it feels like I’m padding a college English essay and then I laugh because I remember that terrible essay I turned in once about Enkidu and Gilgamesh and this is that kind of fun. I know it’s not good, but it’s not about being good. It’s a race. It’s a video game. It’s make-believe. It’s FUN.

I’d forgotten that writing was just plain fun.

Sometimes I get so bogged down in worrying about what will come next and how the story will end and whether it’s even worth telling that I forget how great it is to just sit down and play make-believe for a while. I wrap myself in the brambles of trying to Write Good and Satisfy Readers and Stay True to My Characters until I forget that this is just a first draft. First drafts are for the writer. We can play to our heart’s content, entertain ourselves, and laugh like nutcases at stuff no one’s even going to see. Second and subsequent drafts are for worrying about the audience and Good Writing and such. Later will come the editing. Later will come fixing. Later will come agonizing over every sentence until I can recite whole scenes back to you verbatim. Oh, and I will do that. I’ll do it for about a month before I publish and about a month afterward, while I’m lying in bed and supposed to be asleep, to make sure I’m paranoid enough about every potential typo or misplaced comma.

Right now, though, I’m just having fun, playing make-believe, and finding out what my characters are going to do next.

This is the stuff I was thinking about while clawing my way up that mountainside after Joshua and our sons–occasionally interrupted by violent thoughts about short people whenever someone yelled back down, “Why’s it taking you so long, Mama? Just go faster!”

Then, suddenly, we were standing on a rocky outcropping looking out over the tops of scrubby trees and cacti at a brilliant blue sky above and a shining lake below.

“I think this is the only clearing up here,” Josh said.
“Yeah, looks like it,” I puffed.
“Let’s eat.”
So we did. We we sat on rocks and we took off our sweaty shoes and we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gulped down lukewarm water.

We still had the trek down. We still had the much-longer-than-expected kayak ride back to the campsite. We still had to drain the kayaks and put them up on the truck’s racks–and let me take a minute to tell you about putting kayaks back. It’s no easy feat. You’re tired. You’re sunburned. Your arms feel like jelly. You’re ready to go back to the camper and lay on the couch without moving while your kids watch a cartoon until you convince your spouse that you should get Mexican for supper rather than cook.

We still had all that ahead of us. But right then we were just sitting on a mountain eating sandwiches. They were delicious.

Ultimate Road Trip FAQs

Moving is weird.

This is how weird moving is: Tonight is our last night in this house. Tomorrow morning we’ll sign it over to the new owner and put our check in the bank. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll start our search for a camper. The way our luck tends to work, we’ll probably be moving our junk into our new home on wheels by the day after tomorrow. We’ve lived here for six years. Joshua rebuilt this entire house from the basement up. We’ve had two children here, buried two cats here, written millions of words here. And in a couple days, we’re leaving here forever.

But this is also how weird moving is: Ten years ago almost to the day, Joshua asked me to marry him. A few weeks later, I loaded everything I owned into the back of my dad’s truck, and left for Brooklyn where I was pretty sure my future awaited.

Six years ago—again almost to the day—Joshua and I packed everything we owned into the back of, and on top of, our Explorer, loaded up our cats, and drove 18 hours back home to Missouri. We were homeless, jobless, $40,000 in debt, and expecting our first child.

In a few days, we’ll be homeless again, jobless again, with two little boys in tow. Except this time we’re up $40,000, with the highway stretching out ahead of us like a Welcome Home party that never ends.

When people find out that our plan is to sell our house, buy a camper, and bum around the country for the rest of our lives (or until we get bored of the US and decide to branch out to the international bumming circuit), they inevitably have questions. For the sake of convenience (mine, mostly), I’ve compiled our answers to the most Frequently Aed Qs here.

1. How’s this going to work?
My guess is pretty well. Josh and I both love traveling and the boys love “going on long trips.”

2. With kids, though?
I’ll assume from your tone that you’ve either met Oak and Bear or have two little boys of your own, and you’re wondering how Josh and I are going to keep from losing our minds on the days it’s too stormy to shove them out the door and tell them not to come back until they need a flashlight. Excellent question! Next.

3. What about money?
Money will figure itself out. It always does.

4. Seriously, trucks don’t run on dreams and gas doesn’t grow on trees. What are you going to do about money?
Let me take a moment to note that this question is most often asked by practical, plan-centric people or our parents—a.k.a. “people who worry too much.” But for the sake of argument, I’ll entertain it.

In theory, we’ll have the house money until that runs out. By the time the house money runs out, we’re hoping that my book sales will support us, with some help from Joshua’s cover design business and whatever else he cooks up. He’s pretty ingenious as providers go. If his family needs something, you can count on that guy figuring out a way to get it.

In practice, though, our money/living plan is a lot simpler. God takes care of His idiots, as my dad likes to say. He’s always taken care of me. Remember us leaving Brooklyn homeless, jobless, expecting, and $40k in debt? The Monday after we got back, Josh started work at the local cabinet shop. A couple weeks later, we’d bought this house. We haven’t wanted for anything since.

This money thing is where a lot of people get hung up. They’re willing to say that they believe God will take care of them, but in reality they won’t rest easy until the money’s actually in the bank. Me, I think worrying is stupid on every level, but worrying about money more so than the rest. I can look back on every place in my life where I needed help in monetary form, and then I can see where my help came from. My faith is grounded in a trust that was built over 28 years of being taken care of by God. Maybe I am one of His idiots, but I’m a well-protected one, so I’m fine with that.

5. What about the boys? They’re almost school age, so…
This question has a simple answer, but the carrying out of said answer is going to be a lot of work. The answer is road school. There are a lot of philosophies and curriculums and tedium you can get into if you actually want to (and take the word of someone who’s done the research—you can sink tons and tons of time into reading about the philosophies alone), but the simplest answer is that Josh and I will teach the boys.

Road schooling is something I’m simultaneously nervous and excited about. I’m afraid I won’t be good enough, won’t be able to explain well enough, won’t have enough patience—something, I’ll do something wrong and short-change my children. But I’m also really excited. Working outside the traditional curriculum leaves room for tons of cool stuff like studying local plants, geology, and history. Can you imagine how much more impact learning about the Civil War would’ve had if you’d been standing in the ruins of a plantation house burned by Sherman? How much more exciting astronomy might’ve been if you got to visit an observatory or use the stars to navigate your way back to your camper? What about that unit on plate tectonics? What if you could’ve gone to a fault line or a volcano and seen the metamorphosis of the planet for yourself? Here in Missouri, there’s nothing the boys would get to know as well as amber waves of grain. But what if I could show them the purple mountains’ majesty? Blinding miles of desert broken up by rocky canyons and the little spirit oases hidden in between? What if they could splash in the ocean, then spend a day searching tide pools for beach creatures?

The point is my excitement about teaching the boys far outweighs my fear of not being good enough. Josh feels the same way—except in addition to all the awesome hands-on history and science stuff, he’s geeking out about teaching the boys chess. What a nerd.

6. What about all your stuff?
To be honest, we don’t have much left. We got rid of all our furniture a few months ago, along with a ton of books we weren’t going to reread, dishes, appliances, and so on. Good thing, too. Packing made me see how much junk we still have. How in the world does a pack-rat move?

6a. Bullhockey! Where do you  sleep, then, genius?

On the floor. Duh.

The boys have been sleeping pretty much the same way in their room, but with a slight modification. 

Want to see our breakfast nook?

I think three is enough examples for this joke. Minimalist family is minimalist, etc, etc.

The point is that, as a family, we’re not really stuff-people. We’re more like experience-people. Don’t get me wrong, the boys have what seems like tons of toys, but they spend a lot more time outside climbing trees or riding bikes or making piles of walnuts from our neighbor’s tree than they do playing with those toys. Their parents are kind of the same way. We like doing, not having. This comes in handy when it’s time to pick up and go. We just pick up…and go.

So, to answer your original question—”What about your stuff?”—all of our earthly belongings fit comfortably into the front half of a 12-ft cargo trailer without even having to stack any boxes. Do you need some help moving a sectional or a baby grand piano this week? Because we’ve got plenty of room to spare.
7. That’s so cool! I wish I could move into a camper and travel around for as long as I wanted!
That’s not technically a question, but I’ll answer it anyway. You could. And you should. As a wise man once said, “These things are fun and fun is good.”

Let Me See Redemption Win

It feels like this song has been my prayer for the last four or five years. It got to the point where I didn’t think I had anything left to give—not for the people I loved, and definitely not for myself—but this summer God’s been revealing to me the ways He’s been working all along. It feels like someone was holding my soul underwater these last few years, trying to drown it, but God set it free; like I can breathe again, and I’m so thankful.

“Worn” by Tenth Avenue North
I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah, I’m worn