Nature vs. Nurture

Photo courtesy of Volume One http://volumeone.org/

As an adoptive parent, I often ponder the role my husband and I play in who our son is as a person. How much is genetic? How much is our influence—the environment we’ve created? These are certainly not new ideas. The nature-nurture debate has raged for centuries, and I have no delusions about bringing anything new to the discussion, but it is a topic brought to the forefront of my mind a few nights ago while attending a concert.

We’re big fans of the Celtic band Gaelic Storm (check them out! http://www.gaelicstorm.com/), and see them whenever we can. This past summer, we took our son to his first show, and he was hooked. This week took him to show number two. We were front row, center, which gave kiddo the chance to really ham it up, which he did with great gusto. He spent the evening dancing right up by the stage, and by the end of the night, was completely wiped out. It was well past bedtime, and as they were playing their final song of the set, he finally sat down with me. My husband and I were sure he would fall asleep. Snuggled up to me, his sleepy voice asked, “Mommy, can we go home now?”

I told him they would play one more song, the encore, and then it would be all done and we could go home. He was agreeable to staying until the end.

After raucous applause, the band came back for their encore, and played “What’s the Rumpus?” Hearing the familiar song begin, a reenergized kiddo jumped up and started to dance again, joining the rest of the crowd which was on its feet. As the song went on, he began to run out of steam, so I picked him up so we could finish out the night dancing together.

Patrick Murphy, singer, musician, and all around cool guy, came to the front of the stage and motioned to me. He looked down at kiddo and held his hands out. With only a slight feeling of trepidation, I handed him over and watched as our little man was lifted on stage. I looked at my husband, knowing we shared the same thought. This would either be a smashing success, or a colossal failure. Our kid is not shy, but he was tired. And when he’s tired, watch out.

Fortunately, he was thrilled. He was handed a mallet, and given free rein to bash away at a cymbal. He embraced the task with great gusto, and the crowd went wild, cheering with each crash, egging him on. He looked from band member to band member, as if suspecting it was all too good to be true, but they smiled and encouraged him, seeming to enjoy the moment every bit as much as he.

After this went on for a bit, I went to the steps of the stage, figuring he would see me and come running.

Not even close.

I found myself onstage, standing next to a gleeful child still bashing away at that magical cymbal. When I finally got him off stage, he asked, “Can I have the violin next?”

After the show, he hammed it up some more with the band, and Pat expressed his admiration, telling us on the occasions when they do take a kid on stage, they usually stand there, frozen.

Not our kid. He was fearless and grabbed the moment with both hands, which got me thinking. I was the same way when I was a kid: a bold people person who would have done the exact same thing, begging the question: where does he get it? Is it our influence over him, teaching him never to be afraid of being himself? Do his observations of our interactions with the world shape the outgoing personality he’s developed? Or is it just who he is? Is it in his DNA?

We may never know, but it sure is fun to think about.

I’m Going Slightly Mad…

Join me in a journey into madness…mwahahahaha!

*ahem*

Sorry about that. What I meant to say was, today I feel like discussing the process of querying agents, as I am in a swirling vortex of query-induced crazy right now. Hopefully you feel like reading about it, otherwise you’ve picked the wrong day to visit my blog (although I do have some other lovely posts which might be of interest to you).

Based on my—albeit very limited—experience, this is a process which can turn the most sane and rational person (like me, for example. Stop laughing. I said stop it!) into an obsessive, paranoid, irrational, impatient mess.

And I blame the internet.

For those who don’t know, let me give you a little set-up on what it is to query. Let’s say I have toiled for many long years (months, days) and have in my hands the most perfect, brilliant manuscript, destined to be the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Percy Jackson. What do I do next? Well, after many, many rewrites (at least one) and lots of peer critiques (grandma loves it), my next step is to find an agent who will a) see what a super-genius I am, b) help me polish my manuscript until it shines and c) find my work a home with a publisher, thus making me the next sparkly vampire sensation, and making us both gazillions of dollars. There are about a thousand other things agents do, but I’m just knocking it down to the basics, here.

So how do I get an agent to recognize what a brilliant writer I am? First off, I write a query letter, summing up my novel in a neat little package. Some agents wish to see a sample chapter or two, some want a synopsis—essentially a slightly longer query, which hits the story’s high-points from beginning to end.

As you can imagine, agents get a lot of queries.

A LOT.

Some get over 100 per day. So, in addition to all the stuff they do for their clients, meetings with editors, and so on, they sift through this daily deluge, known as the “slush pile,” searching for the next great writer.

We aspiring novelists, all absolutely certain we are that next great writer, send off our queries and quickly descend into needy, demanding shells of our former selves (Excuse me while I go check my inbox. No, really…). And this is where I blame the internet.

You see, it used to be a writer would type up their query, sample pages and synopsis and mail it off with a SASE to said agent. And repeat.

And then wait.

*crickets*

Months later, the writer would receive their submission back with a postcard saying “Thanks, but no thanks,” or words to that effect. Or, if they were supersupersuperduper lucky, they might get a request for a partial or full manuscript to review, and the mailing/waiting process would begin again. In this sort of process, I have to imagine you can’t obsess that much. I mean, you kind of have to let it go. It’s out of your hands, and there’s no way to really follow the process along.

In the age of the interwebz, however, most agents allow (and many prefer) e-queries, which can often result in near-immediate responses. Within hours, or days, you can get that rejection sling-shotted back to your inbox.

But here’s the problem. The refresh button.

No reply yet? WHAT? It’s been two days!

*refresh*

Huh. I wonder if something’s wrong with my email. Or theirs. What if they didn’t get it?? What if I’m in their spam folder with all the Nigerian Princes??

This is not a healthy way to live.

Another problem? Social media. We now have access to celebrities, CEOs, and yes, agents, like never before. Most agents are on Twitter, which can be really handy for the aspiring writer. Tweets like “I am now caught up with all submissions through January 24th” give the submitter an idea of how long they may have to wait. But for an obsessive narcissist, you could find yourself doing this:

Why are they tweeting about kittens when they haven’t responded to my query yet??? Hey! Nachos aren’t THAT important, especially while I’m waiting for a reply!!

Whoa. Take a step back there, sister.

We’re not always the precious snowflake we think we are.

I’d love to keep chatting, but I really have to go check my inbox. It’s been at least five minutes…

A Sucker Born Every Minute

Boy do I suck at keeping up with my blog. I’m just going to blame my kid, and his protestations of “STOP TYPING, MOMMY!” That and the evil (but admittedly quite necessary) process of query and synopsis writing.

So, no surprise, it’s cold here. Not as cold as it probably should be—this is Wisconsin, after all—but cold, nonetheless. This got me thinking back to my childhood, and a very embarrassing truth I will now admit publicly. All for your amusement, dear reader.

I used to believe my dad, and my dad alone, could control the weather.

That’s right.

I know, lots of kids believe crazy things their parents tell them, but I believed. Far too long. Much longer than I should have. We’re talking late elementary school, here.

And why would I believe such a thing? Quite simple: he told me it was so. Not a smirk, not a chuckle—straight faced, determined certainty. As sure as telling someone his name.

In my defense, he had developed quite the elaborate mythology around his weather-controlling abilities.

It goes something like this:

During his service in the Air Force, while stationed at a NATO base in Germany, he was part of a secret government project to develop the Benson-Drive Unit, a high-tech machine that could control the weather. It was the cold war, after all, and as you can see from THIS post, I was indoctrinated with some pretty strong evidence on the possibilities of scientific breakthroughs—and government experiments gone awry.

Eventually, the project was de-funded, and my dad was chosen as caretaker of the only fully-functioning unit. He brought it home with him, sworn to utmost secrecy (yet, he told his kids—a detail I couldn’t be bothered with). He and my mom bought an old house in the country on land that had once been a farm, and he built a secret room in one of the outbuildings where he safeguarded the secret, and did his best to give the locals a nice climate.

When it would rain on a day we’d been planning something outdoorsy, he’d apologize as he’d look out the window toward the garage, shaking his head. “Sorry, kids, I guess the Benson-Drive’s on the fritz again. I’ll go work on it, see what I can do.” And off he’d go, devoted citizen that he was.

This went on for YEARS, even as my tales at school stopped eliciting oohs and aahs (kindergarten) and began getting me strange looks and scorn (around third grade or so). I was a true believer.

Long after the jig was up, we’d still joke about it. In fact, the day before my wedding, I asked him, “You sure the Benson-Drive’s in tip-top shape? I don’t want it to rain tomorrow.”

It was beautiful and sunny; the perfect day.

Thanks, dad.