resolutions, and free books!

December 30th, 2009

Part of my cultural heritage as a Jew demands that I spend at least part of the Christmas season going to the movies. Having young children gets in the way of this mandate, but I did manage to sneak out for one movie so far—two if you count seeing Up In The Air with my husband on a date during Hanukkah a few weeks ago, which I don’t. On Monday, I saw Invictus, the Clint Eastwood-directed, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon-starring movie about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team. That might sound like an odd choice for the one film I get to see, but I’ll see anything about Nelson Mandela. The man is my personal hero and this particular story, about how Mandela embraced the losing Sprinboks—a mostly white team, which had been the symbol of apartheid—and got the entire country to rally around them is truly amazing. Here’s the trailer:

Early on in the film, Mandela, who, after being imprisoned for 30 years by the apartheid regime, becomes free South Africa’s first president, makes a point of including white Afriakaner men on his security detail who may well have been the same men who tortured, imprisoned and even killed liberation fighters only a few years before. When his longtime comrades object, Mandela basically says something along the lines that forgiveness is the most powerful tool you have over your enemy. I’m not sure whether Mandela actually said this, or whether it’s just a screenwriter flourish but he said, espoused and believed many such things and you can read all about it in his incredible autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. Anyhow, I cannot count how many times I cried during this rugby movie. Like I said, me, Mandela, it’s a pretty easy mark.

The title of the film refers to a poem that Mandela drew inspiration from by William Ernest Henley. You can read the whole thing here but it’s basically about how even in the darkest of times, you are the driver of your life. (The last lines of the poem are: “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.) I don’t find this poem all that inspiring except that Mandela drew such inspiration from it, hearing him talk about needing to be a better person in the face of difficulty. I mean, he truly is the most inspirational person in the world. I’m a Jew, so I’m sort of treading on foreign soil here, but talk about Christian values incarnate.

Anyhow, the point of all this—and I’ll get to the free books part in a second—is that I’ve been thinking about Mandela and about the movie and about how you become a better person. And at some point, at the base of it, the deal is, you become a better person by deciding to be one. By committing to be a better person. And how you’re a better person means different things at different times in your life. Sometimes it might mean being more active in your community. Or being a better friend. Or, in my case right now, being a better parent.

Cause I’ve been kind of preoccupied lately. With books. With the Internet. With keeping up on Facebook and blogs and email. And it makes me a bit of a divided person and sort of a bitch. My head is constantly in two places and part of me understands this. There are baby people and then there aren’t. I am not. I would rather be having meandering conversations with my five-year-old or working or reading Elizabeth Scott’s fantastic blog than playing Play-Doh with my two-year-old (which really means playing with Play-Doh for 10 minutes and cleaning it up for 25 minutes) or singing the Bananas song for the 287th or refereeing the screaming matches between the two-year-old and the five-year-old. The truth of it is, two-year-olds kinda suck. It’s not called the Terrific Twos. Or the Tremendous Twos. It’s the Terrible Twos. But in a weird way, when you’re only half committed to your little terrorists, it’s even worse. You’ve to to embrace the tedium. Being one foot in, one foot out, it’s like tippy-toeing into a cold lake. Painful. You have to dive in. Then it’s actually kind of exhilarating.

It’s sort of the same thing with writing. When your head is only half in the game, writing, I find, can be like pulling teeth. Very painful. Difficult. Torturous even. But when you commit to planting your ass in that chair every day (or every Monday-Thursday in my case), it becomes something else. Something mostly thrilling. At least for me.

So, a conundrum. I cannot cut the writing out of my life, though the preoccupation phase should abate because, people, I TURNED IN MY NEW NOVEL TO MY EDITOR!!!!! (And once she says something vaguely reassuring, I will tell you what the dang thing is). But I’ll have to live with balancing my inner life with my family and my characters, who become my other family when they inhabit my brain because writing is what I do. It’s my job. And sometimes I have to jump up from the dinner table or out of the shower to write a scene because inspiration comes when it comes and when it does, sometimes it’s like having to pee really bad. You just can’t hold it.

But my dependence on the Interwebs is something else altogether. That’s not about inspiration. It’s about boredom and loneliness but also ego and narcissism. I can cut the incessant checking in online. Because I’ve become one of those people, one of those addicts. I partially blame my apartment, with its open layout and computers in the living room; I want an office, but as I tell Willa when she requests something unrealistic, I want a pony, too. Ain’t gonna happen. Or not yet.

So though I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, I resolve, first with my husband and now with the bloggy world, Internet off hours, daily from after school until bedtime for the kids (which, let’s face it, is often bedtime for me). I will not keep up on Facebook. I may lapse even further on the blog. Email response time will slow. Whatever. I know this will make me a better parent, more attentive, head more in the game. I suspect this will make me a happier, less bifurcated person. I know that when I go on vacation and don’t check the Interwebs or email for a week, I feel a slowness and a calm from the disconnect. I need some more of that in my life. It’s just a little thing, but I think it can help me become the better person I need to be right now. And it’s fully in my power. I am the master of my fate. The captain of my web connection.

So, that’s my resolution. Now, free books. It’s a new year. And I figure, while I’m clearing some mental shelf space, why not clear some literal shelf space by giving away some of the YA books that I have read and loved. I’ve got quite a stack. Not all of these are 2009 books. But the following books are up for grabs, and there may be more as I continue the purge. In no particular order:
Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
Paper Towns by John Green (and Advanced Reading Copy, no less, now that I have a signed hardcover)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (also an ARC)
Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Peace, Love and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
Flash, Burnout by LK Madigan (which I just finished and LOVED and will be blogging about soon)
The Everafter by Amy Huntley

The contest—you need to tell us your New Years resolutions and why. I’m not sure if I’m going to pick the best one or just have Willa pick names out of a hat. TBD. They needn’t be resolutions perse. Inspirations count as well. That’s what the movie Invictus was all about. Indeed, for me, that’s what Nelson Mandela is all about.

Happy 2010, everyone.

  1. Wew, another book! Congrats Gayle :)

  2. I just love your analogies.

    My husband is Jewish, but I grew up with mainly Pennsylvania Dutch/German heritage, so he’s stuck helping me decorate a tree and hiding the glass pickle.

    He is a Russian immigrant and in Russia, Christian, Jew or other had a new year tree. So it really isn’t that much of a change for him. We just put it up earlier than he did back home. Neither of us are religious, but we both feel that our cultures and traditions need to be passed on to our tiny people. My kids sing Rudolf while lighting the menorah.

    My new year resolution really isn’t that much different than yours, Gayle. I am an aspiring novelist, and for those who are unaware, just publicizing yourself and your work is a full time job. On top of managing my personal blog, facebook myspace and twitter, I also run those pages for my critique group. I have help with the crits blog posts from two of my three members, but most of the design and promotion comes from me.

    I am also a full time(stay at home all day, every day with my toddler)mother of 2 and 5 year old girls and a wife as I mentioned above. Writing can be as you said, like pulling teeth if you don’t have the time set aside that you need to write. I usually write sitting at my kitchen table with my two year old shouting nursery rhymes at me, or asking me to draw her a jellyfish for the umpteenth time. I am one of those moms who has one foot in and one foot out.

    In the coming year, I want to set a writing goal and a family goal. I want to polish the manuscript I have worked on every spare second for the last year and start submitting it by the end of 2010. And I want to spend less time online and more time with my kids. Instead of playing toys with her with one hand, while I torture my main character in my manuscript with the other, I vow to give her my full attention. I will make the dinosaur eat her puppy dog as many times as she asks. On specified afternoons, of course.

    I honestly do not know how I will devote myself to polishing the manuscript and being a better mom, but by-gummit, I’m gonna try!

  3. And congrats on sending in the second book! Can’t wait to hear more about it.

  4. I am resolving to listen to more music from a wider variety of genres. It’s a great feeling to know what song your friend is talking about and even greater to be able to talk about it with him. I also want to be able to stop asking “who sings this song?” everytime I turn on the radio. wish me luck :)

  5. Kudos on the second book :)

    My resolutions? STOP procrastinating. It’s such a bad habit. Procrastination = bad grades, bad grades = mad parents, mad parents = no internet, and no internet = me going crazy. Enough said.

    Wish me luck on the VERY small chance that I may win! =]

  6. Yeah, a second book!! Can’t wait for it.

    Resolutions? I never give myself resolutions because I always end nnot doing them, but I will for the contest :)

    My resolution for the year of 2010 is to stop being obsessed with little things, having good grades, start playing guitat and be totally good at it, go to the gym etc.

    Hope it is enough =)

  7. Congrats on the 2nd book!

    My new years resolution is to be more active and eat better. I know lots of people have new years resolutions like this but I chose it because I used to play sports and dance a lot – and now i quit both and I jusut don’t feel as healthy lately so I want to change that.

  8. my priority this year in resolutions is to get up 30 minutes early every day and read scripture! i figure I can use the spiritual boost to energize me for the day. but me and mornings do not get along. i tried it out this week and have not done so well. but this will change starting friday. promise!

    also, to stick to my budget. why is that so hard? my goal is to end next year in a more financially secure place then I ended this year.

    thanks for the post! perfect and uplifting for the new year. i’m going to go see Invictus now, too

  9. I’m sure your editor will be very reassuring. =)

    Hmmmmm. My resolution is to stop telling lies so I can get my friends off the phone. Sometimes I really get bored of them, so I say that I have something to do. Then I just hang up and watch tv or something. Now, I’m not a bad person, I love my friends. But sometimes I just don’t feel like talking to them.

    But I’m going to work on making myself more talkative and attentive so I wont be bored. =]

  10. Easy one to state – hard one to complete! Finish the novel I started. Get the rough draft down and along with revisions so this time next year it’s ready to send out.

  11. My New Year’s Resolution is to get back on top of school again. Taking high school classes online is hard, especially since I’m not especially of the classes I’m taking. Math and Science have never been my strong points. Since I don’t like them, it’s easy to ignore them, and it’s going to catch up with me if I don’t get a move on it.

    However, I know I can do it if I focus on it, so that’s my plan. Focus, focus, focus.

  12. My New Year’s Resolution is no more resolutions, which my brother told me means I’ve already broken my resolution, but anyway, that’s it. For years I’ve resolved to be a better wife, better mother, better teacher, and, of course, to lose weight :-). This year I decided no more resolving. Instead, much like you said, I’m just doing. Except for losing weight. I’m done with that one forever.
    Goals are a whole different story. I have lots of goals and plans in place to see them happen, at least as much as I can control.
    I’ve recommended your book to our school’s book committee. Thanks for writing a book with so much depth that students will definitely relate to. Have an awesome new year!

  13. I usually have a list of resolutions. This year I started before January 1st. If I get a head start on my resolutions, I’m hoping it will bode well for the year. :)

    Here they are, in no particular order:

    1. Go to Bikram Yoga at least 3 times per week, reclaiming the pre-kid body that is hiding beneath layers of mommy weight.

    2. Finish my novel. No excuses.

    3. Be grateful for what I have, including two smart, funny and healthy but sometimes VERY whiny kids and a husband who loves me but does not grasp the concept of multi-tasking.

    4. Actually set and follow a budget.

    5. Focus on what is right, not what is wrong. (Should I go back and rewrite number three?)

    6. Declutter my house and my life.

    7. Update my blog (about my kids which I will eventually print as a book) at least once per week and give myself permission to release the guilt about never ever scrapbooking.

    And that’s it. Piece of cake, right?


  14. I want to start off saying that I absolutely LOVE your writing, whether it be books or you blog! Thank you for writing If I Stay, it inspired me very much and opened my eyes to what is good in my life! It is definitely up there on my list of favorite books!
    So now on to my New Years Resolutions, some years I make them and some years I don’t. Currently I have a few resolutions and here they are:

    2: Appreciate what I have in front of me, life goes by to quickly to worry about what I don’t have..take nothing for granted..
    3: Read more books, including The Story (a book about the bible, written in novel form)
    4: And finally to be the best me I can be (I know this sounds cheesy but I’m 22, a mother and a fiance and I’m questioning what life is about and trying to figure out who I am)

    Thank you for offering free books and have a great New Year!
    Peace and Love, Kimberly

  15. There’s not really much thats in my control at the moment with the economy and being out of work and such, but my resolution this year is to do the best I can with whatever I have, wherever and whenever I am.

    That’s it, really.

  16. Okay, I could not narrow it down to one winner and the pile of books is enormous so I’m choosing two winners, at random (closing my eyes and pointing to my computer screen; very technical over here at Chez Forman) and the winners are:
    So send me your mailing addres ladies to and a stack of books will be coming your way!
    Thanks for all your thoughtful posts, people!

  17. I’m so thrilled! I sent the email out and Thank you so very much!!!


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