Sarah R. Callender

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Writing on September 29, 2010 at 7:21 am

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gestation periods, mostly because as of this morning, I (once again) have a complete, not-terrible, 281-page draft of my novel. That’s the good news.

The embarrassing news is that it has taken me EIGHT YEARS to birth a complete, not-terrible 281-page novel. 281 pages in eight years? Carp! That’s as depressing as the time when, teaching high school English, I did a similar, sad math calculation to learn that after seven years of teaching, my salary-to-hours ratio came out to $7.00/hour.

See, Dad? That’s why I wasn’t a math major. Math is depressing.

Of course, when it comes to long gestation periods, (whether it be birthing babies or books) I’m in good company.

African elephant moms, for example, carry their baby for nearly two years. 100 weeks of nausea and sleeping poorly and no sushi or blue cheese? Then, after 100 weeks of feeling bloated-er and having swollen-er ankles and not ever really being able to get comfortable on the savanna, she has to push out a 200-250 pound rug rat-elephant? Can you imagine the post-natal incontinence after giving birth to that?!?

There’s also the black alpine salamander, a species that, to me is weirdly cute (in the same way that Lyle Lovett is weirdly cute)

and which, depending on the altitude at which they live, can have gestation periods of three whole years!  Kudos, to you, little mamas. May all of your babies grow up to look just like cute little you and sing like Lyle Lovett.

But back to my book. I can honestly say that if someone had told me it would take me EIGHT YEARS to write book, I might have said, “Oh. You’re sure? Then maybe let’s just forget it. I’ll knit a sweater instead. Maybe just a sweater vest. Or maybe I’ll just knit a one-color scarf and call it good.”

OR (and this is more likely) I might have said, “Nope. It won’t take eight years. It might take others eight years, but not me. Nothing takes me EIGHT YEARS. Nothing. The only thing that ever took me eight years was reaching my eighth birthday, and that is the last time I ever do that.”

But here I am, EIGHT YEARS LATER, in the stages of very early labor. My dear and invaluable and life-saving writing partners, Janna and Sean and Midge and Linera, say the contractions are still a month apart, that yes, it’s probably good to do one last read-through before I send my 281 pages to agents. But that’s OK. I have waited this long, what’s another month or two?

I also know I should cherish this time, these days when I finally have a solid product, BUT I am not getting hurtful reviews on Amazon or luke-warm repsonses from well-intentioned friends. Before I have even one rejection from agents or publishers. It’s too bad there’s not some sort of epidural for that post-birth stage.

Because, after bringing two real babies into the world, I have learned a thing or twelve. At the top of the list: it’s all fine and good to want a baby, but that baby sticks around for a while. And during that sticking-around time, he or she gets bigger and more emotionally complex, and still that kid is yours til death do you part. And, in the case that one’s offspring turn out to be slightly shy of perfect, you still get to stick by his or her side. Through fights over curfews and Everyday Math math homework. Through guiding your child through his ADD or mental health issues or peer pressure or alcohol abuse. Or Prom. Or Driver’s Ed.

And what if your child does not love shooting hoops or watching Monday Night Football with you and wants instead to take ballet, which wouldn’t be a huge problem except your child’s a he, and it’s no cake-walk being a ballet-loving boy. Or what if your daughter lobs rocks at the neighbor’s BMW, or your son tells the school principal, “You know what? My Dad says you’re nuts!” And when the principal calls to ask if this is true, you have to decide whether to tell the truth. Because you did, in fact, say that. You just didn’t think your son was listening. And that’s when you realize, holy alpine salamanders! Having a baby is SO MUCH MORE than the act of having a baby.

I can only assume this lesson is true for book-babies too.

Right now, all I want is to get my story into the hands of an agent who will want to get it into the hands of a publisher who will want to get it into the hands of millions of readers. Right now, I care nothing about the nasty reviews I will surely get, the pressure of writing the second book, and then the third and when’s the fourth coming out? Whenwhenwhen? And what about marketing and promotion and book tours and meeting with book groups and how about your website and you’ve sold only 300 books this whole year? Wow. EIGHT YEARS and only 300 books sold?

See? That’s another very sad math equation.

But right now, I don’t care about that. I will care, but right now I’m just a glowing, naive, soon-to-be-mother who is filled with excitement and expectation and certainty.

Sometimes I see preggos and I think, in my smuggest thinking voice, “Sister, you have NO idea what’s coming your way.” Other times, I envy their naivety, their blind optimism. I imagine seasoned writers think the same of someone like me.

But I think that’s the reason people have kids and write books and make art and music and cancer cures: most humans are comprised of 40-60% Hope. Add to that, the compelling, congenital urge to Create . . . whether it’s books, kids, iphone apps, dance routines, medicine, houses, world peace, life-long readers, love. That’s gotta be a big chunk of our genetic make-up: the desire to create something.

I think that’s why we carry that kid or book or whatever around with us for months or, in the case of Lyle Salamander, three whole years. Three years to get one homely little salamander! EIGHT WHOLE YEARS to write 281 pages!

No, we don’t ever know how our child or our book or our iphone app will fare in the world, but we risk it anyway. We keep creating stuff, hoping the world will love it even half as much we do.



In General, Parenting on September 22, 2010 at 7:41 am

The other night, I was attempting to squeeze in a few minutes of writing while Sweetie and Buddy were upstairs brushing/flossing/squirting toothpaste all over the counter/dropping the toothpaste cap into the toilet/doing belly bumps with each other/shouting, “Nipple!”

Eventually Sweetie, having tired of the revelry, plodded downstairs and peeked her head into the computer room. “Mama? I have a present for you!”

I forced a smile, keeping my eyes on the screen of my laptop. “A present? For me?”

Nodding, she tiptoed up behind me, all sing-songy, “Mama. Close your eyes and hold out your hand and don’t peek until I tell you to!”

I sighed, closed my eyes and held out my hand, and I felt her lay something cold in my palm. “Ummm,” I said. “This sure feels like a special gift!”

“OK,” she said, “OPEN YOUR EYES!”

I looked down. Sitting in my hand was something that looked like a wet, wadded-up piece of toilet paper.

“It’s for you!” she said, doing that little jumping fairy dance she does whenever she gives someone a gift. “It’s toilet paper that I got really wet and then squeezed it reallyreallyreally tight like this!” She showed me, doing that face she does when she’s dribbling the soccer ball or trying to beat Buddy in a running race. Or, apparently, squeezing moisture from a wet, wadded-up piece  of toilet paper. “I made it just for YOU!”

I gave her a hug, but in my head, I was thinking about one of my favorite kids’ books: Traction Man is Here by Mini Grey. The protagonist, Traction Man, is the beloved, super-tough action figure of a little boy, a little boy with a well-intentioned Grandmother who knits him a jungle green unitard and matching beanie for Christmas.

Note the dismay on the boy’s face, Traction Man’s humiliation, even the concern on the face of Traction Man’s faithful sidekick.

Sweetie gives me and husbandio A LOT of gifts. Usually, a flower petal from the park or a piece of pink Styrofoam she finds wedged in the corner of the Safeway shopping cart. A mangy-looking crow feather. A pipe cleaner that she has bent into a circle.

For a wedding gift, my very dear and classy friend, Ann, received (from her in-laws) a glass-topped coffee table with little bear cubs, lying on their backs, holding up the glass with their little paws. Ann has always had an inordinate fear of bears. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if you’ve ever had a three-minute conversation with Ann about anything, you have somehow stumbled upon the topic of her Bear Fear. Ergo, bears holding up a coffee table? Not the perfect gift.

I have other friends who have received romantic gifts from their husbands (and these are real gifts, people; no bullshooting): a replacement glass screen for the fireplace, a turkey baster, entry in a running race in which my friend wasn’t even sure she wanted to run.

My friend Jodi received a book on computer programming and a vegetable roaster from her husband. To which she replied (for the book), “If I want a book about boring crap, I’ll buy it myself.” And the roaster: “Buy yourself your own damn veggie roaster if you want one.”

My friend Allison, an ESL teacher, receives some pretty hysterical gifts from her students. Once a student gave her a white plastic birdcage with a fake bird inside. From another student, Allison got this gift in the form of an Ode:

Allison is good
Allison is nice
Allison is teacher
Allison is happy
Allison is beautiful
Allison is NOT friend

As I told Allison, every great piece of literature has a twist or some cool surprise, as this Ode does in the very last line. Just as Alison is feeling loved, honored and appreciated, BAM!. There’s the reminder that even though Allison is pretty much the perfect woman, ALLISON IS NOT FRIEND!

So what to do with bad gifts? Well, you’ve come to the right blog post, ladies and gentlemen, because in writing this post, I stumbled upon a well-kept secret: The Bad Gift Emporium, a website that’s a cross between EBay and a Virtual White Elephant Gift exchange. Check it out people: let’s say you too are the recipient of a glass-topped, bear-bottomed (ha! my inner fifteen-year-old boy just laughed) coffee table, and you decide that either such an item doesn’t fit the decor of the rest of your house OR you happen to possess an Ann-sized fear of bears, you may post a photo of the table on this website, and, when someone who does have the decor that would support a bear-bottomed (I just giggled again) coffee table, that person can send you an email, requesting information on pricing and shipping and whatever else one with such tastes would want to know about such a purchase.


If you click on the website, you will see that Still Available is the following item: Belly Button Brush (“for getting fluff and other unwanted bits from your navel”). Bits? Bits of what?

NOT Still Available: a Bobble-head Jesus. The owner of the gift was selling it because, “I got it as a gift to add to my sports bobble-head collection. To my knowledge, Jesus never played any professional sports.”

Uh, yeah. Except that I’d call Loving Everyone No Matter What They Do or Say a heck of a lot more strenuous and challenging than putting on a little outfit and chasing after a ball for a few hours a week. But whatever.

Of course, when I pause to think about the concept of gifts, Sweetie’s gift of a clenched ball of wet toilet paper is not “just” a wet toilet paper ball. When Sweetie interrupts my writing time to give me a ball of t.p. or a germy crow feather or a wilted flower petal, she’s giving me a present, sure, but she’s also really reminding me, Mom, Just Be Present. Which is something I am SO bad at. So bad at. Bad at. At.

So where is that t.p. ball present? I admit that many, many of the Sweetie’s presents have found a home in the recycling or the yard waste or the garbaggio. That was where the t.p. was heading too. Except that, per Sweetie’s request, I put the t.p. ball in my pocket. And I forgot it was there and I washed those pants, then dried those pants, and here’s something that’s pretty exciting: if you leave a once-wet ball of toilet paper in your pocket and you wash your pants and dry them in the dryer, that present is totally unharmed, not a bit different than it looked before it was washed.

How practical!

Not as practical as a bit-removing belly button cleaner, of course, but pretty close. Pretty darn close.

And now, I’m going to google “belly button bits.” Just to make sure I don’t have them.


In General on September 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

A few nights ago, as the children were brushing their teeth, and I was loading the dishwasher, and el husbandio was eating his mug of Tillamook ice cream, this conversation took place:

“I wish life were a musical,” I said. “Everything would be better and happier and easier and certainly there would be more joy and less crime and fewer people wanting to blow up everything. Singing reminds us of our humanity, don’t you think?”

Husbandio narrowed his eyes. “OK. And what song would you be singing right now? To remind us of our humanity?”

“Hm,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I’d be singing about cat pee. A little something like this.”

Cat pee! Cat pee on my purse, (not Helene thank goodness, not Helene thank goodness). And not just my purrrrrrrse. But my Danskos toooooooo (the ones I got on EBay, the ones I got on EBay).

El husbandio (who does not love musicals) nodded. “Sounds a little dark and mournful. Like something from Fiddler on the Roof?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“And,” husbandio continued, “as you sang that song, would you be dancing like this?”

Husbandio set down his ice cream and proceeded to attempt that Russian squat-dance until, after only about eight seconds of dancing, he gave a grunt of pain and flopped over, holding his hamstring.

“That,” he said, breathing heavy, “is much harder than it looks.”

Indeed, husbandio, this take practice. Not to mention hip flexibility.

Not to mention snazzy red pants.

Now I’d imagine some of you share my fondness for the musical. While others, surely, share the opinion that musicals are weird and irritating. That musicals are creepy because (as my dear writer friend, Sean, says), “I just don’t get them. Think about it. The story is moving along nicely, and then, bam, everyone starts singing in key, in unison. I don’t know . . . that doesn’t happen in real life very often so I’m a little wary of it.”

True, Seano. I get that.

But then Sean continued, explaining the apparent exception to the rule: Julie Andrews. “I mean seriously,” he said. “Not only was Julie Andrews fairly hot, in a short-haired pixie, spunky sort of way, but she’s got pipes, in the singing sense, and when she’s doing that spinny thing on the top of the hill, yikes, it’s chilling.”

Also true.

As someone who attended the 2009 Sound of Music Sing-along, an event where Seattle’s entire 5th Avenue Theater was filled with TSOM fanatics, I started crying in the very first scene of the movie, where Maria was spinning, wide-armed on top of that mountain. It was chilling.

The event itself was also hysterical. Many were even dressed in nun-garb or lederhosen, while everyone (with the possible exception of husbandio) sang along with Maria and Captain von Trapp and the Von Trapp Family Singers, hissing when the Baroness came on the screen, booing Rolf, shouting joyfully when Maria and the Captain smooched. It was so joyful. And so funny. Really, when you have a theater full of pretend nuns, goofy things happen.

But the whole experience really made me think. Yes, there is certainly something a little weird about spontaneously launching into unspontaneous song and dance. However, I’ll let you in on a little Life Secret I’ve learned along the way:

Sometimes, if I am about to lose my cool or flip someone off or yell at my kids, if I can just keep my cool long enough to turn that incredibly stressful situation into a song, I’m so busy making up the lyrics and maybe even doing some complementary dancing that I forget I am flooded with rage.

Say for example, Sweetie says something like this: “Mom. Why did you put ham in my lunch? I wanted peanut butter.”

I have two choices. Actually, I have many choices, many of which will result in extreme mom-guilt and/or a visit from CPS. Rather, I make the choice to take a deep breath and start in on Parenting Small Ingrates, the Musical.

How dare you talk to me like that, Sweetie (I sing in some made-up tune to compliment my made-up lyrics.) Say that again, my darling daughter, and I’ll drive you to White Center or possibly the border of Mexico and California. Andleaveyoutheeeeeeeere.

A little impromptu song like that with very little musicality could really go on for another six or seven verses, depending on 1. my level of frustration and 2. Sweetie’s level of attention. The less she pays attention, the longer I will sing. The more frustrated I am, the longer I force myself to sing.

After my song is over, I inevitably feel better because no one has had to call CPS, Sweetie looks appropriately contrite, and I have forgotten that sometimes I really dislike being a parent.

The same tactic (impromptu, frustration-based songs) might work, of course, on telemarketers or Angry Freeway Drivers Who Cut You Off or the Cigna health insurance call center person who denies your mental health benefits claim. Or, even your cat who keeps peeing on your shoes and your purses (and no, it’s not a health issue; it’s “bad behavior.” We went to the vet.).

Just take any song, preferably picking one that’s got a simple tune, one that’s also comfortable for your vocal range. Do-re-mi, (AKA the Doe, a Deer song from The Sound of Music), for example:

Why, do you, pee on my shoes?

Your li-tter box is just right theeeeeere.

I, can’t take, much more of this.

The smell, of cat pee’s in the aiiiiiire.

I, thought cats were low maintenannnnce.

This, does not seem to be truuuuue.

I’m just eight steps from the loony bin.

But you are so cute and cu-uh-uh-dly.


All this leads, of course, to my The Sound of Music theory. I submit to you, lovely readers, that it is impossible not to feel joy after watching that particular musical. In fact, I have long since believed that the world would be a happier, more hope-filled place if all 6.7 billion of us could somehow sit down in front of one huge screen and watch The Sound of Music. Together.

Israelis and Palestinians. Hatfields and McCoys. Me and that Orthodox Jewish guy I almost ran over. Kim Jong Il and . . . I don’t know, Everyone Else? And I’d cordially invite the two soliciting people who came to my house and called me a white bitch after I politely declined their chocolate or magazine subscpriptions or whatever else they were selling.

OK, and if I’m being totally honest, I would prefer not to invite Sarah Palin, but I suppose it’s not nice to invite The Whole Wide World except for Sarah Palin. It’s like that whole “univited 13th fairy” thing in Sleeping Beauty. Plus, Sarah could use a little injection of Julie Andrews. I’d just seat Sarah and Kim (Jong Il) beside one another . . . you betcha.

Yeah, yeah. It’s more than a little Pollyanna of me to think Julie Andrews could bring the world together. But maybe there’s something to it . . . maybe world peace really does start with a little singing, a little reminder of our humanity.

And if you disagree, just watch this. Watch the joy on the passersbys’ faces. That’s some pretty cool humanity right there, if you ask me.

Oh, and should you happen to have a cat that pees on your Danskos, did you know you can just throw them into the washer? I know!

So step right up, ladies and gents! Step right up and buy your tickets for the 2010 Sound of Music Sing-along. A free pair of Danskos for the first one billion people.


In Parenting on September 7, 2010 at 6:03 am

Nearly six years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful, bouncing baby sloth. Of course, we didn’t realize she was a sloth, not at first. We saw just a normal looking human baby, all pink and squishy and drooly with folds of chub on her forearms and the middle of her thighs.

Some time around her eighteen-month milestone however, we started to realize Sweetie was in fact only part human. The other part, as it turned out, was pure sloth.

There are certainly far worse things to give birth to. Moray eels come to mind.

Or coconut crabs.

Or twin moray eels:

I’m just imagining a Moms of Multiple Morays meeting. Not pretty.

But back to MY sloth baby. I mean, just take a look at this particular cutie, so darn stationary and slow that yes, moss really does grow on her fur. I’m not bullshooting. She’s probably been in this same position since last Tuesday, maybe even since last month, so cute with that Muppet face and Silly Putty nose and those three little claw-toes that basically act as coat hangers as she dangles from a tree branch for weeks at a time, determined to win the Miss Moss 2010 competition.

Yep, there are far worse things to give birth to.

And yet.

While Sweetie really does move at the speed of sloth, I, her mother, am the exact opposite. I eat fast, I walk fast, I read fast, I make decisions quickly (and as a result, sometimes stupidly). I even (as little Jake Doe, Buddy’s buddy once pointed out) drive fast.

“Nope, Jake! I’m not driving fast. Everything just seems faster in a minivan. Right kids?”

Buddy and Sweetie nodded.

“See? I’m just going the speed limit! Not a mile above! No need to mention this to your mother!”

I am fast. Sometimes to a fault. Sweetie, in contrast, has two speeds: slow and Fairy. In Fairy speed, she’s actually light and fluttery and likes to do lots of twirls and (oddly enough) sing like Bob Dylan. Fairy speed is fine. It is Slow speed that’s problematic.

In Slow speed, Sweetie will stand in the bathroom, combing her wet hair for ten hours. She will sing a full Wagner opera while sitting on the potty. She will take roughly an hour and a half to answer a question. A simple question. Such as, “Would you like toast or Life cereal for breakfast?” If I ask her that simple question at 7:30, at 9:00 she’ll say, “Toast please. With butter.”

Even dear husbandio, who moves at a speed far closer to Sloth than Sarah, will look at me, wide-eyed, silent-screaming “OH MY GOSH!” when Sweetie has taken 23 minutes to find her socks. And don’t even get me started about playing Uno! with that girl.  In between each card she plays, she feels compelled to do at least three Vinyasa sun salutations. I wish I were kidding.

About 8% of the time, I can tolerate it, even indulge it. But the other 92% of the time, I find it very difficult to be patient. When, for a hypothetical example, Sweetie (at age 1.5) is making me and Buddy late for the first day of Church Camp where I am the lead teacher and really cannot be late, and she’s standing at the top of the stairs, watching a spider or watching air or whatever she’s doing, I might hypothetically yell (from the bottom of the stairs) something like, “PLEASE! GET IN THE EFFING CAR!”

After which, she eventually does get in the effing car, and off we go to church, (driving at what feels like just a little over the speed limit, but is, I am sure, actually just that deceptive fast minivan feeling) where I will be teaching children about kindness and patience and Jesus’ love and all the things I had none of when I was hypothetically screaming at my sloth baby.

Of course, this is just one reason Sweetie is good for me. As someone who has a hard time living in the moment, I can certainly learn from Sweetie, someone who likes to pause and pack a hundred moments of living into each single moment. Combing her hair. Staring at air. Doing downward dog in between Uno! turns.

Yes, I can learn from her. But do I want to? Not really. Because even some things that are Good for Me are not appealing. Like mammograms. And kale.

Sure, my brain knows that if I were a little more slothy, I might suck a bit more of the marrow out of life. I might notice more bugs and stars and pretty flowers. But I might also be late. WHICH I CANNOT STAND. I can’t stand being late or slow or last or mossy or any of those things that happen to sloths on a regular basis.

It makes me hearken back to an ex-boyfriend, one who was exceptionally slow. Not stupid-slow, but speed-slow. He ate slow. He processed feelings and emotions slowly. He was slow to learn Sarah-ish. But he could provide the brakes if I needed them. Because that’s just one problem with being me: sometimes, there’s no one manning the brakes.

But can a person change the pace that’s been programmed, like a metronome, into her DNA? I don’t think so. I can’t change permanently, not really. Nor do I want to change. Nor can Sweetie change. Nor should she change.

I believe the reason I have Sweetie is not so I can learn to stop and smell more roses, but so I will learn to slow down enough to allow her to do some rose-smelling. And then, as long as I slow to 15 m.p.h., maybe I’ll catch a whiff of the roses too. Which would be cool. I’m certainly not opposed to rose-smelling.

If I’m really honest, I think I must secretly crave and appreciate the sloth pace of Sweetie and husbandio and ex-boyfriendio.

I must appreciate a passenger who can slow me down, just in case I’m flying down that roller coaster hill, heading east on 55th, the one right before Met Market, going perhaps a little too fast while Buddy and Sweetie grip the armrests of their booster seats, their hands white-knuckled, their faces smiling a smile that’s half-way between fear and delight.