ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Mom Life Wins Again

Wow, I really haven’t posted since June?

Well, I can say that my summer has been eventful and tiring. I went on the band trip! The kids all had pants! Only one person had two left shoes, and I had a pair of marching shoes for them!

The day after the parade I had long talks with the band directors about the props for the marching show this year. I will be sewing and cutting things out and ordering stuff, but that should actually be finished well before the first competition. So they’ll be able to practice.

The exciting writing thing that’s happening is that my book is out to three Beta readers. I’ve never sent the whole thing out before, so this is a new experience. People like the individual chapters, but I don’t know what they will say about the arc as a whole. And finally, someone is going to talk to me about how the entire book fits together.

How mom life won: after the band trip, I took the kids on a brief road trip through Williamsburg to Duke and then to my mom’s house. Where my son’s mother board was fried, probably by the iffy electrics in my mom’s house. So, guess whose laptop has been commandeered?

That’s right…

Consequently I am very far behind on the draft of Book 2. I’m trying not to be a wreck about that.

And yes, I know I could just take the laptop back. But I’m using the time to do all those cleaning/organizing tasks no one ever does, like cleaning out the big freezer and the pantry and organizing the vast collection of food storage containers. And going to the movies. Watching TV with my kids.

I’m leaving the election alone at the moment. Well, one comment: REALLY????


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Why I’m Weird About Guns

I’ve been kicking around the idea of this post for a while. Yesterday I almost put it on Facebook, but then didn’t. It seems like a heavy story to carry though.

In April 1990, just before my college graduation, my now-husband’s brother was murdered with a handgun. Brother was a battered spouse who had recently left his wife. She had lured him to a wooded location, where she shot him a total of nine times, once point blank in the forehead, three times to his body, and, after reloading, five times in the back after he was on the ground.

Husband’s brother was 27 years old. He worked on the COBE project at NASA. He was a talented artist and cartoonist.

None of the measures being debated now would have saved his life.

The woman who shot him had never been diagnosed with a mental illness. She had never committed a crime before. The gun she used had been in their home for a long time (they had been married for 10 years) and when he left he didn’t want it, so she kept it. She was certainly not on a terrorist watch list. He had never even reported the domestic abuse. On one occasion she had slammed his head in a door, giving him a concussion. Another time she stabbed him with a screwdriver. And because he was a man, no one would have taken it seriously anyway.

I guess I have a couple of points here. I think that not allowing people on the no-fly or terror watch list to buy guns won’t solve any problems. Here we are, pretending to think the Orlando shooter was a Muslim terrorist when we all know that it isn’t true. He had no ties to any terrorist group; he’d been interviewed by the FBI because of the way he talked.

And being anti-gay isn’t going to get him put on the watch list. Even though maybe it should.

So what am I saying about the current issues?

I suppose what I’m saying is that keeping people on the terror watch list from buying guns isn’t a real solution. There’s no due process involved with being on the list or with being taken off of it. And it wouldn’t have kept the Orlando shooter from getting a gun. It wouldn’t have kept any of the rest of these guys from getting guns either.

This is the fake excuse for what happened in Orlando, the thing we can blame this time. Before, it was the Confederate flag. Now we’re talking about depriving Americans of rights because someone suspects them of wrongdoing.

But, it’s better than nothing?

I think it’s just an easy fix for a problem that is way more complicated. A band-aid when a quadruple bypass is needed.

I think I want meaningful gun reforms. I want there to be funding for studies on gun violence. I want to have actual solutions, choices, other ways to solve the problems of gun violence. If my would-be sister-in-law hadn’t had access to a gun, she might have mowed him down with her car or poisoned him or taken some other path to kill him. If we’re going to leave guns in people’s hands, we need to find ways to keep them from being used to take lives.

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Florida, Or Who You’re Supposed To Be

I don’t know why it is, but whenever there’s a big news week with lots of things to blog about I don’t. Maybe it’s just that I don’t want to jump in too quickly, before my thoughts are really formed. In any case, I have my knee-jerk reactions to things that when I’ve taken more time to really look at what happened, I quite often change my mind.

First, the shootings in Orlando broke my heart. Seeing the pictures, seeing the families, a crime scene, the horrific numbers. The shoes of the surgeon who worked on a lot of the victims. I do not pretend to have any kind of line into the mind of the shooter, but whether it was terrorism or a hate crime, or he felt like he wasn’t included enough in the Pulse family, this guy took revenge on these people because he thought they weren’t acting like they should.

Next, a little boy got dragged in by an alligator at Disney World. After the family saw this happen, they were vilified online. Because people think the parents aren’t careful enough, watchful enough; they aren’t who they should be.

I guess my theme is pretty obvious now.

The people attacking these parents online, the man with the weapon, both had one important thing in common: they were judging people for not acting the way other people think they “should” act. In the case of the people going after these parents, there’s a huge dose of Why This Will Never Happen To My Child. Of course I’m not inside the mind of the Pulse shooter, but whatever his reasoning at the base of it was They Don’t Act Right.

And the basis for both? Eventually, it’s I Am Better Than Them, So I Can Act Any Way I Want. They Deserve What I’m Going To Do To Them. Whether that’s by putting hateful words on the internet, or putting bullets into people who are already dead, it comes from the same place.

Eventually it doesn’t matter if the hateful words come from Franklin Graham or from ISIL or from the Huffington Post. Words are weapons; there’s no controlling who they wound. I still believe in telling our own truths, but pushing our own agendas onto other people is wrong, however we do it. Does telling people who they “should” be have any good outcomes? This is the definition of marginalizing; telling people they don’t belong, and they aren’t doing it right, is not what America is for.

These mass shootings, and mass shamings, are all eventually vigilante justice. When people think the law isn’t doing its job, they take it into their own hands. America is a nation of laws, laws made by the people who live here. Seeing the Senate filibuster this week, when elected legislators took gun control into their own hands? I got emotional, partly because I feel like someone is finally doing something (although that’s a subject for another post), and partly because I saw America working for change.

Incidentally, I’m calling him the shooter or “that guy” because I don’t remember his name and can’t be bothered to look it up. And I think we should skip all the media coverage and making him famous and speculating about motive and just call him Another Judgmental Bastard. They could even call them that on the evening news: “Today, Another Judgmental Bastard opened fire before turning the gun on himself…”

I think America is for personal fulfillment, whatever way we see that. For generations it was about financial gain. Religious freedom. Freedom from fear and persecution. Let’s not become the thing our people left the Old Country to get away from.

Don’t be Another Judgmental Bastard.

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About Opinions and Learning New Things

So, today I was so stressed by what was going on in my life that I posted something on Facebook. I hope that no one took it personally; I don’t do the passive-aggressive Facebook post. Although, if I did, I have collected some nice ones on Pinterest! I was having a lot of trouble expressing to myself why I was feeling so abraded. Why were so many things suddenly rubbing me the wrong way? And where did I go first? Well, to “people don’t get it.”

“There’s only one thing that I really wish more people understood about me. There are very few things in the whole world that I’m certain about. Otherwise, I am learning; I’m always open to real discussions and other people’s experiences but almost never to blanket statements. I don’t even make blanket statements.”

(A friend pointed out that it’s a blanket statement, to say that I don’t make them. And he’s right. I was trying to get to the way that whenever I express an opinion or ask a question, people seem to think I’m saying This Is The Truth. I didn’t want wimpy language and say “I try not to make blanket statements.” It’s more a statement of purpose.)

“An idea that sounded scary to me yesterday sounds like it could be a useful experience today. This is who I am, and who I’ve been my whole life.”

(And sometimes it’s still scary. A lot of the time, in fact. I still don’t like to confront people; I don’t like the idea of firing employees or telling people they’ve screwed up. My whole life I’ve been concentrating on fixing things, when maybe it would be better to throw them away. On the other hand, I went whitewater rafting for the first time two years ago. You’re never too old, etc.)

“This is why, whenever I am portrayed in a skit, character-me always starts with “I wonder….” or “What if?”, and everyone in the room knows who it’s supposed to be. (More times than I would like to admit, they are wondering something completely bizarre, like whether coyotes like celery. I don’t do that, probably.”

(Everyone knows coyotes don’t like celery! But in all seriousness, all my life I’ve had a reputation for non sequitur. I’ve sometimes wondered if I had ADHD or something. I don’t trust ideas I have that I haven’t tested myself.)

“Those of you who knew me when I was young might be surprised to hear that I’ve put away the anxiety I used to have about this truth; now I’m puzzled that others seem to put so much weight into my words when I’m still in the discussion phase, not the decision one.”

(I must sound very sure of myself when I speak, is all I can say.)

I think opinions are worthless without facts, and without your own truth to inform them. And sometimes you have to ask a lot of people to get to the facts, and it’s humbling but liberating to ask others for answers when you don’t know. And I think sticking to your guns even when you know you’re wrong is the biggest dishonesty you can commit against yourself.

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Other People’s Monkeys

I swear, these past few days have been so stressful I’m considering locking the door, pitching the phone out in the yard, shutting off the internet and throwing the router or modem or whatever the hell it is out there too, and putting a big sign on the door that says “SHUT UP AND GO AWAY.”

Yes, I took on a lot of tasks this year. Did I do them because I wanted to? Because I thought, gee, I really need the recognition/adulation/admiration people give you when you take on stuff nobody else wants to do? No. I did it because there was no one else. And it’s not that I think people owe me anything. It’s that I don’t know why so many people think they have to go out of their way to make life more difficult.

Yes, I’m happy you all have opinions. I’m happy you have ideas and suggestions. The job was open and you could have taken it. You could do it now, but you won’t.

No, I don’t want to listen to any more people tattling on each other. I don’t want to be chided for not publishing information that was common sense. There are things that you might be curious about that I CAN’T DISCUSS WITH YOU. Because there are rules.

And yes, I’m tired of putting my own, real work aside so that I can deal with the people bringing the stress.

What if, instead of being so concerned about your own wants, you considered the well-being of the organization? Would that really be so hard?

Sadly, yes.



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Say “Yes” To Defending Your Neighbor

A thoughtful post from a local pastor who I admire greatly.


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Tape flags, and more rewrites

I’m starting to think this book is NEVER going to be finished.

Maybe I’ll be one of those people with a really exquisitely edited book, with gorgeous prose and poetic comparisons, and I’ll never think it’s perfect.

Except I don’t think I’m really working on perfect. Also, I love to read other people’s gorgeous, poetic prose, but that’s not what I do. I think this is more of a “Oh my God, I have to fix that!” reaction. This is happening about every third chapter. I’ve realized that I start nearly every chapter with exposition, explaining, sometimes description, or skipping through time. I have to skip through time because the story is September to May. But it’s the same lesson I had to learn about the first chapter; trust the reader to figure out what’s going on.

I have to say my rewrites are improving the story vastly. I want to have this book finished in six months and I’m starting to wonder if that’s going to happen; whenever I identify a big chunk that needs to be rewritten like this it usually takes me a couple of days to stop pouting and do it.

The section I’m working on right now is a two or maybe three chapter chunk (last half of Act II B) in which the narrative line falls apart and I just realized that two of my sub-plots fell right out of it! It’s a choppy section and I didn’t even see it until this readthrough. I’ve been doing most of the rewrites by hand (I’m still working with the book in a three-ring binder) but there’s so much to tackle I’m going to type it out. It’s kind of discouraging, but at the same time I know it’s going to make the story work better.

Oh–I’m still using the bullet journal. Admittedly, sometimes I mark off things I haven’t finished but have worked on today. I think it would be too discouraging to migrate the entire list every single day. And I bought some new Washi tape (shades of blue and green). And I started a new list: “Songs I Hate By Bands I Usually Like.” The first song: “Wait for Me” by Theory of a Deadman. Really? Basically, she’s home waiting and he’s glad she’s doing it, putting her own dreams and needs on hold so he can have what he needs? There’s too much of this going around, is all I can say. I listened to the words while it was playing and at the end I actually said, “Screw you, Tyler.”

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The Dog Ate My Washi Tape

I couldn’t resist; this phrase went through my head today because, yes, the dog ate my washi tape.

I’m really not one for bandwagons, but I think I’ve just jumped on one: bullet journals. This is a type of planner invented by Ryder Carroll, a designer from New York. The idea is that it’s a planner but you can also take notes in it.

I don’t want to re-publish the entire description; those who are interested can read all about it at http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/ , which seems to be the designer’s own page about it. In any case, I had been edging toward doing something like this but kept getting stuck in the idea of subdividing the book. For instance, last summer I tried a plan with a five-subject notebook with one section for gym, one for the pool, one for VBS. The problem was there wasn’t a calendar that kept track of all five things on one page. In a bullet journal, you can write about anything on any page of your notebook.

The main thing I was doing that was working was an index. I’ve taken to indexing my research notebooks, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to index my planner.

The notebook I’m using cost $5 on clearance at Staples. It’s a C.R. Gibson 3-in-1 notebook, with one section of writing paper, one section of graph paper, and one section of blank paper. And I’m using tape flags (which I adore) to help me see today’s lists. And I did subdivide a little; Section A has the daily notes, Section B (the grid) has the housekeeping checklists and the editing checklist, and Section C (the blank pages) doesn’t include anything yet. But it’s fun to draw.

And, I outlined some of my lists with the Washi tape. And I used my fun South Korean markers, but I’m not color coding. I just thought they were pretty.

So far, so good. I did everything on my list that I HAD to do today, and some of the things I just ought to do. And today was busy enough that when I got through making the list I nearly gave up in despair. And I added a symbol; a heart shape means that it has something to do with writing.

I can’t decide if this is making me feel accomplished, or if it’s going to contribute to feeling overwhelmed. I guess when things migrate over multiple days I will find out. Maybe putting things to do for fun on the list will work? “Lie on the deck and take a nap” or “Silently judge next door neighbor”?

Now if only smallest child would stop leaving the hose running.

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How to Edit a Whole, Entire Book

Mom life continues to win, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. School is going to be out next week, and the concerts and parties and more activities and recitals and everything else is going to be done. Well, I’ll still be uniforming the band (nearly finished) and getting the pool open (next weekend), but the constant running around should end. I hope.

I’m deep in the edits on What You Stand For; I have printed it out and have taken to carrying it around with me. I’m also using tape flags to track the different subplots and to mark the scenes. This is turning out to be so helpful that I thought I would share the method here.

  1. Mark all the scenes with numbered Post-it notes on top of the pages. When I did this, I discovered that I have about 100 scenes and that some of them are only a paragraph long, so I have identified chapters that need to be rewritten.
  2. List sub-plots. This has changed so many times in this book that I really did have to think about it. What I came up with was the Kyle story, the Sara story, the wedding/family, JP and Brooks, and anything involving the case against the sorority. I also have a couple of running jokes I want to make sure I’m including often enough (but not too often).
  3. Mark first sub-plot (in this case, the Kyle story line) with blue tape flags on the sides of the page. Use a marker to underline mentions of this character or plotline. When I did this I learned that Kyle’s story completely drops out for three chapters after the middle.
  4. Mark second sub-plot. In this case, I used the Sara and addiction plotline and light green flags and marker. I’m in the middle of this one right now and have learned that this is the main subplot, but it also illustrates the main story line and the conflict between caring for people and smothering them. This one is pretty well-developed but when I get toward the end I will be looking at it as an independent story. It does come to an end at the beginning of Act III, although it continues to reverberate; what I will be looking for is this sub-plot’s three act structure.
  5. Keep going on marking the sub-plots. Continue to look for cohesion, weaving into main plot, and whether characters cross into different plots.

Having done this on paper now, I’m ready to try it with Scrivener next time. I kind of like doing it this way though. I’m finding satisfaction in seeing it on paper, and I’m just grabbing a pen and knocking out rewrites as needed. It’s also helping me to keep track of my progress instead of starting every session at the beginning, which I find myself bogged down in sometimes. I’m also learning what I would want to tell Scrivener to do for me in Book 2.

Also, I get to use markers.

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The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are. Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, …

Source: The Biggest To-Do List In The World

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