Tag Archives: writing

Voices in My Head

www.melindawentzel.comI’m a writer, which implies that I spend a sizeable chunk of my day staring off into space or glowering at my laptop, stabbing at its keys in hopes of crafting coherent sentences on occasion. For me, the process of putting words on the page, virtual or otherwise, is never easy—which, of course, fills me with dread much of the time and leads me to believe that the universe hates me. What’s more, the allure of social media shows no mercy, consuming me like the ruthless beast that it is. And despite the fact that I know it to be a ruthless beast, I find it impossible to resist its wily charms.

Out of sheer necessity, I’ve devised a handful of strategies to help me be more productive—to concentrate more and dawdle less. Further, I’ve learned to silence the rumblings of doubt, if only for one sentence at a time—which, I remind myself daily, is all it really takes to move forward.

Needless to say, the tedium of parking myself in a wooden chair for hours on end is enough to kill anyone’s muse. As a result, I find that a little fresh air and exercise help me generate new ideas and make connections that I might not otherwise make. Further, I try to limit my time on the Internet, often using it as a reward for progress. Translation: I am a kindergartener, only less disciplined, and I rely on positive reinforcement in order to accomplish anything noteworthy. Instead of receiving glittery stickers, I get to generate irreverent tweets and post pictures of my dogs on Facebook.IMG_6206

Also, I ensure that my environment isn’t too quiet. For whatever reason, listening to Neil Young helps me churn out more words, as does the early music of Candlebox, Collective Soul and the Black Crowes—at a barely perceptible decibel level, I might add. I’m guessing it’s because their lyrics melt seamlessly into instrumental riffs, failing to compete or interfere with the jumbled mass of words inside my head—the ones that struggle to escape in some semblance of order and clarity.

Oddly enough, I often don’t know how I feel about a topic until I actually sit down and type the words. So to invite other words inside my brain AT THE SAME TIME almost always ends poorly. Case in point: The yammering that emanates from a television set drives me fairly insane, as it’s photosomehow funneled to my ears no matter how many walls separate us. If it happens to be tuned to Fox News during an election year, it’s patently debilitating.

Likewise, being within earshot of my husband spells disaster for my writing, too. This, of course, is because the man has no filter and he talks incessantly—to me, to himself, to people on the phone, to our idiotic dogs and even to the houseplants, I assume. More specifically, he has an irksome habit of reading aloud Facebook posts, select emails, newspaper headlines as well as outrageous excerpts from letters to the editor. While it’s true, I am often entertained by the aforementioned, it seems reasonable to request that it could wait.

Similarly, if, in the course of his crazy-busy day, he happened to have stumbled into 17 people he knows, I can count on receiving a synopsis regarding each of the chance encounters the instant he walks in the door. If he is about to change the cat box, has trimmed his toenails recently or has walked to the street to retrieve the mail, I’ll assuredly receive a report. What’s more, if he has taxied our brood anywhere throughout the day, I’ll get a detailed accounting of the logistical nightmare involved, along with a verbal transcript of the teen-inspired diatribe to which he was undoubtedly subjected.

In all fairness, I’m quite sure he has no idea HOW BERSERK this makes me as I hunt-and-peck at the keyboard, attempting to string sentences together. Naturally, I stew in silence until I can’t stand it anymore—at which point I shout STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY HEAD. It’s as if he has crawled inside my cranium with a megaphone in order to more effectively deliver the soundtrack of my life—which would be fine if I weren’t wrestling with my own warped commentary. It’s crowded enough in there without his ramblings.

Then again, the man endures my ramblings, so I guess it balances out in the end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, trying (and often failing) to silence the voices in my head. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Captain Quirk, The Write Stuff

Worms Fail Me

www.melindawentzel.comThere is a routine by which my children leave the house each school day. It’s a fairly logical succession of events that usually culminates with a mad dash to the bus stop, backpacks and jackets flapping as they run, their unruly manes trailing behind them. Of all the memories of motherhood I’m sure to harvest, the one that features their early morning race across the lawn, a blur of gangly legs and unbridled enthusiasm, will be a favorite. It’s likely, too, that I’ll remember the many times they paused in the street, still blackened and slick from the unending rains of spring, to rescue untold numbers of earthworms from what would appear to be certain death.

Quickly, yet gingerly, they scoop them up and place them where it is safe, pleased to have made a difference in a small yet meaningful way. And as I witness this determined albeit futile effort to “…rescue them all, Mom,” morning after morning I am moved, inspired almost, to join in their worthy deeds. Of course, it would be cruel to utter the obvious truth: “You can’t possibly save them all.” So instead I bite my tongue and agree that worms, too, have a purpose. “They aerate and enrich the soil, Mom.” Again I am reminded of the exuberance of youth and of the remarkable capacity children have for storing data sure to wow me.

At any rate, it goes without saying that worms lack the ability to communicate their needs and desires—no matter how compelling or dire they might be. Granted, they couldn’t deliver any sort of message that anyone could ever hope to interpret. Crazy as it sounds, there are times that I can relate to such hapless creatures—especially as I struggle to connect with my brood via meaningful discourse. Indeed, sometimes words fail me—when weighty subjects arise, when reflective listening falls flat, when my children’s growing allegiance to privacy rears its ugly head. But I am determined to improve the way in which we connect over the stuff that matters—as well as the stuff that doesn’t particularly.

For starters, I’ve made a solemn pledge to engage my daughters in conversation each day—to stop whatever it is I happen to be doing and tune in to their respective worlds. To find out who has a crush on whom, which item on the lunch menu is to die for these days and just how many Pokémon cards it truly takes to be complete. For my oldest, my curiosities are more akin to: which D.C. restaurant is her new fave, what, exactly, does one do with a graphic design degree anyway and when (oh when!) will the boyfriend be getting a haircut. And although I make light of it here, I understand how important it is to have these conversations. Somehow over the past decade I’ve allowed life’s harried pace to take precedence over bonding in this manner—even over the seemingly insignificant happenings of life, which is precisely what I wish to change.

So aside from vowing to carve out more one-on-one “face time” with my co-ed daughter (who is still away at college), I plan to call more, and text more and I suspect I’ll even utilize Facebook’s messaging system on a more regular basis—a concept I never once imagined myself embracing.

As for my two youngest charges, I’ve taken a big step forward on the path to opening the lines of communication by purchasing each of them Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Mothers by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs (Chronicle Books). So in addition to the aforementioned “face time,” we now have this wonderfully interactive, perfectly confidential, writing prompt-infused means of communicating with one another—a tool that encourages us to “talk” about everything from boys and bands to wishes and worries, all within the confines of a tangible journal that we conveniently pass back and forth. Of course, it doesn’t replace or devalue our customary method of conversing, but instead offers another, perhaps deeper, layer of connecting. A good thing methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Kid-Speak

Dear Diary

Four years ago, when my youngest daughters turned seven, I gave them each a diary—a scrumptious chunk of blank space within which they would reveal their innermost hopes, fears and desires—to the world, or to no one. A place where thoughts could be poured onto paper without hesitation or shame. A 234-page sentinel-of-secrets, complete with its own tiny lock and key (a decidedly priceless feature I am told). A canvas upon which Thing One and Thing Two could portray Mommie Dearest in horrific detail.

Of course, I bought said diaries because I so greatly enjoy being maligned because I am perfectly incapable of resisting that which is certain to thrill my brood beyond all imagining. Translation: Anything thought to celebrate the notion of secrecy makes my kids drunk with joy. Further, I was shamed into buying them. That said, the silly things beckoned to me from the shelf where they sat, insisting that I act immediately—lest my dear progenies be robbed of happiness forever.

“Isn’t it about time you encouraged a little self-expression in your children?” whispered a diary infused with a beautiful medley of blue hues (Thing One’s favorite). As I wended my way through the stationary aisle, fumbling with calendars and whatnot, I heard more of the same—only a bit louder this time, seemingly emanating from an adorable little log that boasted a delicious shade of bubblegum-pink (Thing Two’s favorite). “Have you not thought about cultivating more introspection among your impressionable charges?” it probed with an air of haughtiness.

“Have you not felt the need to nurture your kids’ inner-Thoreau?!” both diaries chided in unison.

Slack mouthed and dumbfounded I just stood there, feeling slightly horrible about having deprived my children—staring back at the bookish entities that spoke the undeniable truth.

“Thoreau? Sweet Jesus, who’s Thoreau?” I muttered to myself.

“Put us in the stupid cart, you simpleton,” they ordered. And so I did. The medley of blue and bubblegum-pink. One for each child to voice all-that-is-deliciously-personal. One for each girl to revere more than Hello Kitty herself.

“This is so awesome! I get to keep secret stuff in here that no one else can see—even you, Mom,” I’ve been reminded again and again.

Indeed, everyone needs some sort of venue for chronicling life’s events, for reflecting upon everyday occurrences, for delving deep into the most intimate of affairs—like ensuring there’s a tangible record of current love interests as well as obscenely detailed accounts of classmates’ exceedingly annoying habits involving one’s nose (not that I’ve been privy to such information). It’s also a marvelous place to grouse about perceived injustices, to gather expletives by the bushel and to put into words how completely dreadful it is to be filled with angst. Even for grade schoolers. Perhaps especially for grade schoolers.

But said journal-ific wonders are also capable of capturing the essence of goodness—through sketches and prose filled with happiness, pride and gratitude for all that is right in one’s world. Keepers of diaries would be wise to dog-ear such pages and refer to them often. Even grade schoolers. Perhaps especially grade schoolers.

I, too, worshiped and glorified the notion of privacy, having stuffed a diary beneath my bed as a third grader and beyond. Better still, I had a top-secret clubhouse in the basement, a multitude of forts nestled deep in the woods and a cat with whom I shared classified information on a daily basis. Strange, but true. I hid notes in hollows, carved stuff in trees and scrawled upon rocks—although I’d be hard pressed to say whose initials were paired with mine and which particular grade school tragedy was spelled out in horrific detail on page 73 of my dear diary.

I suppose, it’s neither here nor there at this late date. The essential thing was having some sort of space within which I could voice what mattered to me at the time. As it should be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering where I hid my damn diary—even still). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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November’s Sweet Indulgence

I’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna Quindlen, Mitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material. Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where both books and Halloween candy beckon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Worms Fail Me

www.melindawentzel.comThere is a routine by which my children leave the house each school day. It is a fairly logical succession of events that usually culminates with a mad dash to the bus stop, backpacks and jackets flapping as they run, their unruly manes trailing behind them. Of all the memories of motherhood I am sure to harvest, the one that features their early morning race across the lawn, a blur of gangly legs and unbridled enthusiasm, will be a favorite. It is likely, too, that I will remember the many times they paused in the street, still blackened and slick from the unending rains of spring, to rescue untold numbers of earthworms from what would appear to be certain death (i.e. either from being drowned right there on the pavement or crushed by the bus that would soon round the bend).

Quickly, yet gingerly, they scoop them up and place them where it is safe, pleased to have made a difference in a small yet meaningful way. And as I witness this determined albeit futile effort to “…rescue them all, Mom,” morning after morning I am moved, inspired almost, to join in their worthy deeds. Of course, it would be cruel to utter the obvious truth: “You can’t possibly save them all.” So instead I bite my tongue and agree that worms, too, have a purpose. “They aerate and enrich the soil, Mom.” Again I am reminded of the exuberance of youth and of the remarkable capacity children have for storing data sure to wow me. A decade from now, if either of them announces a plan to become somehow involved in a lifelong pursuit to save beached whales, I will not be surprised. Nor will I be disappointed.

At any rate, it goes without saying that worms lack the ability to communicate their needs and desires—no matter how compelling or dire they might be. Granted, they couldn’t deliver any sort of message that anyone could ever hope to interpret. Crazy as it sounds, there are times that I can relate to such hapless creatures—especially as I struggle to connect with my brood via meaningful discourse. Indeed, sometimes words fail me—when weighty subjects arise, when unanswerable questions surface, when reflective listening falls flat, when my children’s growing allegiance to privacy begins to rear its ugly head. But since June is Effective Communications Month, I am determined to improve the way in which we connect over the stuff that matters—as well as the stuff that doesn’t particularly.

For starters (and as completely simplistic as it sounds), I’ve made a solemn pledge to find time on a daily basis to engage each of my daughters in conversation—to stop whatever it is I happen to be doing and tune in to their respective worlds. To find out who has a crush on whom, which item on the lunch menu is to die for these days and just how many Pokémon cards it truly takes to be complete. (The jury is still out on that one). For my oldest, my curiosities would be more akin to: which D.C. restaurant is her new fave, what, exactly, does one do with a graphic design degree anyway and when (oh when!) will the boyfriend be getting a haircut. And although I make light of it here, I understand how important it is to have these conversations with my children. Somehow over the last decade or so I’ve allowed life’s harried pace to take precedence over bonding in this manner—even over the seemingly insignificant happenings of life. That is precisely what I wish to change.

So aside from vowing to carve out more one-on-one “face time” with my co-ed daughter (who is still away at college), I plan to call more, and TEXT more, which the people at Verizon will undoubtedly be delighted to hear. Strangely enough, I suspect I’ll even utilize Facebook’s messaging system on a more regular basis—a concept I never once imagined myself embracing.

As for my two youngest charges, I’ve taken a big step forward on the path to opening the lines of communication by purchasing each of them Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Mothers by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs (Chronicle Books). So in addition to the aforementioned “face time,” we now have this wonderfully interactive, perfectly confidential, writing prompt-infused means of communicating with one another—a tool that encourages us to “talk” about everything from boys and bands to wishes and worries, all within the confines of a tangible journal that we conveniently pass back and forth. Of course, it doesn’t replace or devalue our customary method of conversing, but instead offers another, perhaps deeper, layer of connecting—which is a good thing, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where worms, I mean words sometimes fail me). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Dear Diary

Two years ago, when my youngest daughters turned seven, I gave them each a diary—a scrumptious chunk of blank space within which they would reveal their innermost hopes, fears and desires—to the world, or to no one. A place where thoughts could be poured onto paper without hesitation or shame. A 234-page sentinel-of-secrets, complete with its own tiny lock and key (a decidedly priceless feature I am told). A canvas upon which Thing One and Thing Two could portray Mommie Dearest in horrific detail.

Of course, I bought said diaries because I so greatly enjoy being maligned because I am perfectly incapable of resisting that which is certain to thrill my brood beyond all imagining. Translation: Anything thought to celebrate the notion of secrecy makes my kids drunk with joy. Further, I was shamed into buying them. That said, the silly things beckoned to me from the shelf where they sat, insisting that I act immediately—lest my dear progenies be robbed of happiness forever.

“Isn’t it about time you encouraged a little self-expression in your children?” whispered a diary infused with a beautiful medley of blue hues (Thing One’s favorite). As I wended my way through the stationary aisle, fumbling with calendars and whatnot, I heard more of the same—only a bit louder this time, seemingly emanating from an adorable little log that boasted a delicious shade of bubblegum-pink (Thing Two’s favorite). “Have you not thought about cultivating more introspection among your impressionable charges?” it probed with an air of haughtiness.

“Have you not felt the need to nurture your kids’ inner-Thoreau?!” both diaries chided in unison.

Slack mouthed and dumbfounded I just stood there, feeling slightly horrible about having deprived my children—staring back at the bookish entities that spoke the undeniable truth.

“Thoreau? Sweet Jesus, who’s Thoreau?” I muttered to myself.

“Put us in the stupid cart, you simpleton,” they ordered. And so I did. The medley of blue and bubblegum-pink. One for each child to voice all-that-is-deliciously-personal. One for each girl to revere more than Hello Kitty herself.

“This is so awesome! I get to keep secret stuff in here that no one else can see—even you, Mom,” I’ve been reminded again and again.

Indeed, everyone needs some sort of venue for chronicling life’s events, for reflecting upon everyday occurrences, for delving deep into the most intimate of affairs—like ensuring there’s a tangible record of current love interests as well as obscenely detailed accounts of classmates’ exceedingly annoying habits involving one’s nose (not that I’ve been privy to such information). It’s also a marvelous place to grouse about perceived injustices, to gather expletives by the bushel and to put into words how completely dreadful it is to be filled with angst. Even for third graders. Perhaps especially for third graders.

But said journal-ific wonders are also capable of capturing the essence of goodness—through sketches and prose filled with happiness, pride and gratitude for all that is right in one’s world. Keepers of diaries would be wise to dog-ear such pages and refer to them often. Even third graders. Perhaps especially third graders.

I, too, worshiped and glorified the notion of privacy, having stuffed a diary beneath my bed as a third grader and beyond. Better still, I had a top-secret clubhouse in the basement, a multitude of forts nestled deep in the woods and a cat with whom I shared classified information on a daily basis. Strange, but true. I hid notes in hollows, carved stuff in trees and scrawled upon rocks—although I’d be hard pressed to say whose initials were paired with mine and which particular grade school tragedy was spelled out in horrific detail on page 73 of my dear diary.

I suppose, it’s neither here nor there at this late date. The essential thing was having some sort of space within which I could voice what mattered to me at the time. As it should be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering where I hid my damn diary—even still).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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And the Deadline Looms…

It has become painfully apparent that someone didn’t want me to meet my writing deadlines last week, nor was I afforded ample time for the most basic of necessities: blog lurking. Oh, the horror!

Well, it certainly seemed that way—with every wretched creature or thing in this household serving as a colossal distraction. There were those with an unquenchable thirst for adult conversation, those who became obsessed with humming and singing some inane little jingle, those who crawled onto my lap to punch the keyboard with glee, those who needed help fishing nuggets of soggy cereal out of their orange juice and those who had fevers and sore throats and the urge to hurl into a big bucket every 10 minutes.

Further, whenever a window of peace and quiet happened upon me, the damn dog whimpered, demanding to be walked or fed. Worse yet, our newish hermit crabs felt compelled to seize each and every precious sliver of silence I witnessed, scuttling about like spiders, dragging their fiendish little bodies hither and yon and making my skin crawl with every scrape and scratch that emanated from that loathsome, stench-filled tank. Gak!

To top it off, I had to deal with a flooded bathroom one morning—which stemmed from owning a stupid pipe that decided to dissociate from its stupid tank—resulting in a stupid deluge that lapped at my heels until I wised up enough to throw down some stupid towels. Curious onlookers took impeccable notes of the tirade which ensued. Thankfully, no one could reach or operate the video camera.

Perhaps it’s just that I have issues with being distracted. Maybe it’s all in my silly head and I simply need to learn how to focus more effectively. Yeah. I’ll bet that’s it. Deadlines or no deadlines. Learn to focus.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in a highly distracted state).

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