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Rita Arens
My name is Rita Arens. I like to write. A lot. Many pages.
Recent Activity
I'm reading this book about willpower. Dan Wegner had read that a Russian writer bet his younger brother that he couldn't go five minutes without thinking about a white bear. The brother lost the bet. Trying not to think about something is exhausting. Riding the ridiculous adrenaline roller coaster of anxiety disorder is exhausting. Having a good reason makes the temptation to ruminate harder to resist. What I'm trying to use, this time, are positive role models. At my last mammogram, the doctor told me I have a cluster of something that needs to be biopsied. The consult is on Monday. I have no idea how long I'll have to wait to actually do the biopsy and get the results. I'm trying not to think about white bears, or as they're otherwise known, breast cancer. I think about them approximately five times an hour when I'm awake and once a dream when I'm asleep. I've been out of the financial/job woods fewer than 90 days. Back to the book: I have willpower fatigue. It is not in my nature to be upbeat and resilient. These are learned behaviors I am working on. Whenever you watch the show about the natural disaster, there's always the zen guy and the freaking out guy, and they're in the exact same situation. I'm trying to learn to be the zen guy, because if I do have cancer, freaking out will be totally counter-productive. I look to my two dear friends and one SIL who have successfully navigated this path to prop myself up against the fear. If it is, it is. I'll work my hardest to be the zen guy. I'm grateful this didn't happen when I was unemployed, because it took all my energy to just buoy myself from morning to night then.... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Surrender, Dorothy
Today I ate my lunch from a Tupperware-like-thing branded The Pioneer Woman. As I ate soup from this vessel, I mentioned to my new co- workers that I know Ree Drummond, have met her on a number of occasions and she is modest enough to introduce herself as someone who writes about cows, which is what I remember from the day when I sat beside her at BlogHer speaker training years ago, before the cookware line and TV show. It is so weird trying to reconcile those days to now. Trying to explain blogging in its heyday to nonbloggers who don't still get pitches for things I have no platform nor professional reason to cover. To explain that PR people still have me in some Guy Kawasaki list when I haven't covered Mother's Day in years. I hit unsubscribe and feel weird that this is no longer my beat after spending a decade covering just that. To read the MediaBistro headlines of another series of journalistic layoffs. To realize that time has passed. But it's okay. That was fun. It's time now to embrace AI, VR, a new generation of influence. I'm not primarily concerned with the bleeding edge now. I have a biopsy to schedule and a new job and a new career to manage. I'm not really your girl for Boppy technology. I'm more into YA novels and parenting a teenager. Please update your lists. I look now to the female leaders in their third act, as I approach it. Show me Sheryl With the Rich Hair. Show me how to be mentored and to mentor. Show me what is next, now. I'm only 43. I have a lot of career left. What do I focus on now? I'm beta shopping my next novel. if you want... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Surrender, Dorothy
There are so many conversations that have transpired since I've taken a "normal" job that I'd like to process here. But my girl ... she is 13. She gets to curate her online self. There are lines as parents we should not cross. Perhaps it'll work its way into a novel someday, as so many of my existential thoughts do. Suffice it to say, I always thought I'd use her real name at 13. Let her own her identity. But now I wonder if the world has moved on to the extent that who I am matters zero percent to who she is. My identity is different now. It's just not that important to make any sort of statement. I'm kind of glad. The world has moved on. I listen to short stories on my commute and I don't read Facebook because for some reason it always makes me sad and I have realized that my girl is her own person who has only by birth to do with me and that is a cause for celebration, not remorse. I'm changing, again. Not sure what happens next, but I know two things: I am her mother. I am a writer. I will find a way to safely reconcile those things. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Surrender, Dorothy
Earlier this week, my publisher at Chicago Review Press called me. Hearing her voice reminded me of the thrill I felt ten years ago, standing in a conference room at H&R Block corporate HQ hearing my first book had just been bought. And I sold it all by myself. She was calling to say it was time. There were three boxes left, total. Did I want to buy them? I reveal this with the intention of giving aspiring authors a gift. Sometimes you hit the five reprint lottery, and sometimes you are lucky to help start a category but don't own it. Hey, them's the breaks. I can safely say I'm in a good mental health place because being asked if I want to buy the final physical copies of SIFTW didn't make me cry. I just bought them. I'm going to do a workshop on publishing of which they'll be part, but mostly I hold them to treasure the memory of the excitement and wonder and pride I felt in 2008 because I told myself when I was 12 I'd publish a book, and now I've done it twice. And I gave a copy of SIFTW to my new co-worker with twins and he said his first book had come out goddamn never. SIFTW lives on now only digitally. But it still happened. OMG, you guys, that was the best. I'm not even embarrassed to admit how excited I was at this thing blogging that would give normal people a platform from which to jump beyond themselves. Those were lovely days. I was lucky to participate. So I have 64 pounds of books in my library and my husband and daughter are rolling their eyes, but I've given up Rita the blogger and Rita the speaker. I don't care... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2017 at Surrender, Dorothy
And so, it begins. I've returned to corporate America after seven years in yoga pants. I have a cube. I'm fully dressed and in a car by 7:30 am. I force myself to bed, Arianna-style, by 11 pm, even when my girl goes to bed at 10. I'm fine with it. Six months of unemployment taught me patience and tolerance and gratitude. The problems I face now are normal-people problems. When will I exercise? Clean my house? Help my girl with teenagerdom? Work on my novel? I plan and I calendar, but mostly I just enjoy being back in the land of the living. Not waking up in a cold sweat. Doing work I know is solid with a cheerful attitude that is not even fake because I have tasted the alternative. I hope I never grow jaded again and I will always remember the alternative, which is staring down the face of uncertainty as your life savings quickly runs through your fingers for electricity and gas and groceries. And even these are First World problems. I am back. I am editing PARKER CLEAVES again. I will resume my author newsletter. I will do my best at home and at work. And mostly I will remember to focus on the glorious fact that right now, nothing is wrong. Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2017 at Surrender, Dorothy
I had an internal goal of getting a job offer by my birthday and having a salary coming in by the time my husband finished this leg of his business trip. He has two weeks to go. I start February 13. I am not the same person I was on August 23, 2016. I look at work and life differently now. In most ways, it's a good thing and change that needed to happen. I was 22 when I got my first real job, so I'm just starting the second trimester of my career now. If I want to demolish the metaphor, perhaps the queasiness and uncertainty will abate now so I can focus on what I know I can do and what I hope to learn next. Yesterday I bagged up about one-third of my wardrobe for donation. I've worked from home for seven years and so most of my clothes were procured through clothing swaps and Goodwill in good neighborhoods. I didn't buy or get as gifts as much as I bagged up, but the luxury of office-worthy clothes in my closet feels quite indulgent. I hope I never forget what that feels like, the gratitude for the chance to fulfill a road I once thought a master's degree would let me take for granted. This world is not that world. We all feel it. More and more I read that world, the one our parents had after WWII, wasn't actually real, either, but an anomaly in human history. Regardless, right now is the time to be thankful for a job and focus on the abundance that can be found in human relationships regardless of everything else. Dappled light through trees. The smell of living things. My daughter had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2017 at Surrender, Dorothy
I just watched the last episode of season 2 of The Man in the High Castle. At one point, a character is rightfully freaking the hell out, and as he leaves, her husband just says, "I love you." Everything's about to hit the fan. He really should explain himself. But he doesn't. All my life, I've been an over-explainer, a justifier. If I've learned anything in the past few months, it's that most people neither need nor want the whole story. If your story is bad or scary, it makes them uncomfortable, because if they respect you, what happened to you could happen to them. I've seen that fear on many faces in the past few months in my daily interactions. I don't care to scare people, only to survive my own challenges. Sometimes underexplaining is a gift to all parties. I came up in blogging in an era when raw truth was in fashion, and I am quite adept at that. As I've grown older, my taste has gone, perhaps, from raw to cooked. I now wish to see what will happen first, and as such I've felt less inclined to write anything but fiction. Because, well, fiction is really truth reframed and less personal, right? I'm at a point now at which I feel less sure of who I am than I have been since high school. I suppose it's my midlife shift. I choose not to view it as a crisis. However, I'm curious as to who this evolving me will be and what she'll care about. Certain things -- integrity, kindness -- have not changed. But others have. Onward. Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2017 at Surrender, Dorothy
I woke up this morning feeling bad about splatting my negative feelings all over, so now I'm going to end 2016 with the good stuff. I made a full recovery after breaking my leg and went on to get a personal best time in a 10k this fall. So far, no arthritis, no pain at the surgery site. The little black cat made a full recovery after the freak blockage that was not supposed to be possible after his surgery and has been doing really well on all prescription wet food. He is still alive, and he's nearly died so many times every day that feels like a blessing. We spent much of this summer in the lake, much more than we have in the past. I have memories of a lot of Sunday afternoons floating on rafts and in life jackets just making up stories about the ducks swimming around us. After my car got totaled, my parents graciously gave us their old CRV. With new tires it has been very reliable so far and I didn't have to make a big car purchase right before a lay-off, which has been a huge relief. The barn where my girl takes riding lessons let us go down to half-time so she was able to continue to ride for several months before we took the winter off. We look forward to going back to full time once things resolve themselves. We paid off the credit cards right as things got tough, so we don't have any credit card debt hanging over our heads right now. That has made cutting back that much easier. My family is all in relatively good health. The weather this year has been quite lovely. I've had a lot more time to be out in it, so... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
My phone is telling me Typepad needs to update its currently unavailable app. So apt. A friend asked me recently if I was participating in something all the bloggers do, and I recoiled in surprise because it's been almost a decade since I really identified as a blogger. I'm talking to myself at this point. I started 2016 by getting a plate and six screws put surgically in my leg. By March, I could run again. In July, my cat almost died for the fifth time. In August, my convertible got T-boned and I got laid off from what was once my dream job. I finished paying for the cat's emergency vet about the same time unemployment kicked in. It maxes out at $288/week after taxes and lasts about 20 weeks, if you've ever wondered. I'll run mine out in 8 more weeks. Then, Trump. Friends, 2016 has been the biggest test of my life. I'm scared. I'm frustrated. I'm so pissed off. This is what you realize after you survive double maternal cancer, an eating disorder, being valedictorian, bungee jumping, graduating early Phi Beta Kappa, moving to Chicago, flying to Australia, moving to your parents' basement, long months of loneliness in Kansas City, falling in love with your husband, grad school writer's workshop fever dream, Internet bubble, bubble bursting, husband lay-off #1, marriage, downstairs neighbor found dead, house purchase, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum depression, start up #2 falling apart, vacations, vasectomy, move before housing collapse, husband lay-off #2, massive credit card debt, cats, trips, I'm an author!, dream job, another acquisition, lay-off, five months of low-level terror. And I am pissed. And I am scared. And I am still here. Please, 2017, be better. Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
This song was created with sound therapists in order to reduce anxiety. I took my pulse while listening and it did actually slow. Try it. Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
When my husband was unemployed, he regaled me with tales of the unemployment office. When my letter arrived last week instructing me to report today, I envisioned long lines of people (some smellier than others) based on his experience. Some things must have changed in the past three years, because when I arrived, hardly anyone was there except the employees. I was immediately directed to a group of chairs facing a wall. I sat and read my library book for about fifteen minutes until I was joined by another woman about my age who would snurfle every few minutes in that way that indicates she got something up. I was busy being annoyed by that noise when the world's most enthusiastic job center employee burst upon the scene and invited us into a small room full of more chairs and a white board listing available seminars and recommended hot industries, such as healthcare and coding. The man proceeded to act out everything he was saying with special voices, gestures and wild facial expressions while maintaining steely eye contact with me. Describing people who had worked for the same company for 25 years before they got laid off and didn't know how to interview? Looking at me. Discussing blind people who also have bills to pay and need jobs, too? Looking at me. Sharing about the two full-time representatives who are there specifically to help veterans? Looking at me. And every two or three minutes, the woman next to me would snurfle. She spoke up once to say she forgot her job sheet, which was the entire reason we were there. To show them the job sheets. It was a little surreal. Like at one point during the presentation, I actually felt high from the combination of the room temperature, the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Thanks. I really needed that. I jinxed myself by posting this and have had a very low self-esteem weekend!
Toggle Commented Oct 3, 2016 on The Softness of a Blanket at Surrender, Dorothy
1 reply
When I was in my early twenties, my paternal grandparents died. It was the first time I suffered a great loss far away from my nuclear family. I lived in Chicago and received the news over the phone with no shoulder nearby to lean on. I remember quite clearly sitting on my bed the night I learned about my grandfather, wrapped in a blanket they'd given me. It was a soft blanket. As I stroked it, I remember thinking I was off the hook from my usual worries, because not even I could hold myself to my schedule when this thing had just happened. Back then only the death of a family member could make me give myself a break, let me live in the moment and admire the softness of a blanket. Since turning forty two years ago, I've finally begun to let myself feel the blanket without first extracting a pound of flesh. This period since my lay-off (8/23/2016, FTW!) has introduced that thing I've always assumed would be the beginning of the end: losing my job. I've been steadily employed except for 12 weeks of maternity leave since 1996. Normally my mind would go straight from lay-off to bankruptcy to eviction. But somehow, because of the softness of a blanket, there have been three freelance projects and ten interviews and an upcoming reading and conference panel appearance. I haven't nailed my next step yet, but I haven't felt like a failure. And it's because of the blanket. Mindfulness is a buzzword, for sure, but it is shockingly effective. My only regret now is that I suffered through so many years thinking if I stopped listening to my repetitive thoughts I'd somehow forget to breathe. I feel bad for the me of then. That time totally sucked. And... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Since I last posted, I've had a lot of tumultuous change. Suffice it to say my car was totaled, among other things. I'm fine, though, and will continue to be fine, because I'm the protagonist in my own story, and protagonists with no obstacles are boring and nobody likes them. I'm so not boring this month! Here's one of the reasons! I was chosen as the Missouri chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI)'s September featured author. This is a huge deal for me, as I love everything SCBWI does and so appreciate their efforts to provide education, networking and exposure for their members. Here's an excerpt of the interview: Where and when do you write? There are two bits to writing – the actual writing and the thinking about the writing. When I’m really stuck somewhere in the physical writing, it becomes difficult for me not to think about it incessantly. I do my actual writing in my local library one night a week after my day job. I usually bring my daughter along so she can do her homework while I write. I’ve tried writing late at night, in the early morning, on road trips, in cafes on Saturday afternoons, and I can’t focus unless I’m in the library and still relatively fresh mentally. This means I don’t get very far very fast, but thinking about writing a lot when I’m not actually in the library helps me to be very ready when the opportunity finally arises. To read the rest, go to Missouri's chapter page. Another reason! I'll be speaking at KidLitCon in Wichita, Kansas, in October. And I'm bringing my daughter to a conference for the first time. Moments. Come and see me if you're in the area -- I've seen the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
In my last post, I talked about how my cat Kizzy has been a dick lately. Shortly after I wrote that post, I took Kizzy to the hospital for a week. Last year he had PU surgery because he kept getting blocked -- he couldn't pee -- which can be fatal within 48 hours. After the surgery, I thought he couldn't get blocked again. I was wrong. So we took him in last Monday and he was blocked and they catheterized him and kept him for an entire week in the hopes that he would heal after being unblocked and flushed before the catheter was removed and thus would not form so much scar tissue. I went and picked him up this Monday after we got back from #BlogHer16. He's on a completely wet food diet, he has a new water fountain he won't drink out of, he's offered only bottled water out of various containers. We are trying everything we can. I'm trying not to be pessimistic, but I'm not feeling like he's out of the woods yet. I'm feeling like all I can do at this point is try to manage my fear and anxiety about my cat, and I'm struggling. If he blocks again, even on the bottled water and the wet food diet and after the surgery, there's nothing more to be done. It's only been a few years since the epic struggle of Sir Charles Buttonsworth with megacolon, another fatal and impossible condition that we couldn't do anything about. This is weighing heavily on me. Also weighing heavily: I thought he was just being a dick instead of trying to tell me in the only way possible he didn't feel well. So I take this away: When people or animals are assholes, consider first whether... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
So lately Kizzy has been a bit of a feline asshole. I think it's because we're almost out of his expensive prescription cat food and normally he has his bowl refreshed several times a day. Due to present circumstances, he is eating leftovers. It just goes to show: Anyone can develop First World problems. Even a pound cat. So today he tried to show me his vampire teeth, which is what we call the face he does when he's ready to fuck your shit up and he kind of half opens his mouth so just his bottom canines show like he thinks he's Jack Nicholson. I was all, "No, cat, I worked all day and ran five miles and rode a horse and you can kiss my big white ass if you think you're going to bite me, but he honed in like I was Buttonsworth and this was the Sumo Olympics of catdom. So I blew in his face and put him in time out, because that is what adults do. Although I may have yelled, "I am the alpha," at the same time because I have too many damn people in my life right now who seem to forget I am the boss of me. Including my little black cat. So. Did you have a shitty day? Take a deep breath and fill your lungs, then scream, "I am the alpha!" You'll feel better. Trust me. Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
anytime, baby
Toggle Commented Jul 20, 2016 on Maybe I'm the Asshole at Surrender, Dorothy
1 reply
When I was younger, I was always positive I was right. The older I get, I realize all our politics are the same. Only the hero is different. My father has a saying: "Sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug." That echoes in my mind almost daily. I don't relish being either, but I get we are all both, depending on the situation. With the national events of the past few weeks and my own usual tendency to absorb emotion wherever I find it, I've grown agitated. It primes me to be the asshole. That's not a great feeling, to realize you actually want to turn people away at the door, just because you're mad. That's where I've been, though. Even though that's not how I see myself. It's disconcerting to realize you could be the stone stuck in a craw, the branch across a road. But we all believe we are heroes of our own stories, and that's important to remember as we move through the world. Everyone thinks he or she is right. And therein lies the rub. Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
"Mama," she said, "eventually I suppose I'll have to get SnapChat and Instagram because it would be weird if I didn't have it. But I'm waiting, because I'm afraid I'll get caught up in it." I looked guiltily at my phone. "You're wise," I said, wishing I were as smart as she is at twelve. "There's a lot of danger in caring too much whether strangers like you." Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Sometimes, I feel like a goat. Bleating. Because I am so useless. Last year at BlogHer, I went to a panel about white privilege, among other things. I was one of the fewer than 10 white people there, and I was ashamed. Not to be there, but that more white people weren't. I should've written about it then. I don't blog so much anymore. But that's not an excuse. It's not intentional, not to write. It's that with all the bullshit that's gone on in the past two years (the past 1,000 years), I'm starting to wonder what people think of me. I haven't been able to achieve any change. Not that I have delusions of grandeur. It's just ... am I just a goat? It is even privileged to wonder such a thing, to think my voice should matter. I want to speak, to show solidarity. But I also recognize that to speak is to interrupt, at this point. I don't want to interrupt. I don't want to bleat. I don't want to be silent, lest that be seen as acceptance. I sit in audiences, listening to my friends speak of racial inequality. I sit to bear witness and show my face. I'm not sure how my friends interpret my presence. I hope they see me as supporting them, not inserting myself. I find it hard to believe we haven't come farther. I find it hard to believe we've come this far. I still can't fathom any person ever thought it was okay to "own" another person. Sentient beings can't be owned. I won't let my daughter ever forget that. We, white people, we screwed up so bad for so long. But we are all human beings. Damn. Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
No way! Nice to meet you. :)
Toggle Commented Jun 23, 2016 on Twenty Minutes Ago at Surrender, Dorothy
1 reply
"So you're turning 21 tomorrow?" I asked. The kid had high color in his cheeks and a scar on his arm. He threw the rope with the strength of the young. "Yeah," he said. He was from up East staying in his folks' Florida condo for the summer, mating on the parasail boat. "So that makes me exactly twice your age," I said, toeing the dock. "I feel old." Sometimes I fool cashiers if I have my hat on, but only until they look into my eyes and see the years and the learning and the lines. "But in twenty minutes, he'll be where you are," said the other mate, the older mate who hailed from Kansas City, too. We'd parasailed with him twice before. I liked him. He felt like home, even in the boat. I glanced at him, confused. "Remember, twenty minutes ago, when you were 21?" And I did. I glanced at my 12-year-old daughter. Twenty minutes ago. Yeah. "In twenty minutes, he'll be your age," the mate from KC said. "Twenty years goes by in a flash." I wrapped that up and put it aside in my head, because it was so true. Battened down the hatches for twenty minutes more. Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Recently someone from Quotes Rain contacted me so I set up a profile. It has a tool that makes creating quotes more top-of-mind. (There are lots of ways to put text on pictures, and I know a lot of them, but it's reminding myself to do such things that is the kicker.) Anyway, I created two quotes. I will probably keep updating these from time to time, but if you have a favorite quote and would like your name mentioned in the quoteboard (submitted by, etc.), please leave info in the comments! I leave tomorrow for New York for Spine Out. So nervous! Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Last week I met with my trusted reader, my former thesis advisor, or the guy who I can hear say, "I liked parts of it" without wanting to kill him, about PARKER CLEAVES. The nice thing about having a good reader is you have someone to draw out of you what you were trying to say (and failing to say) in the first place. Sometimes I feel like it's pointless to try to write novels with a full-time job and a family, but really, it's the same task whether there are other things in your life or not. At this juncture, I only really write once a week for an hourish on this novel. I write for work, I'm writing NOW, for God's sake, but that's different. This doesn't even make sense and I'm typing it on an obsolete app that for some reason is still on my phone. However, I pointed out to my reader and to myself, I think about my books all the time. Tonight I tried something new. I wrote out the 5-6 problems we identified. I numbered them. I picked (my energy being low) what I thought would be easiest to attack and started going through the ms dribbling sentences here and there like melted popsicles with the corresponding number. (Aided by visuals -- it was an already marked-up draft, so I had to highlight the dribble sentences literally in pink.) I wrote until the iPhone duck quacked that the little angel's riding lesson was over and it was time to regroup at home for dinner. I think I wrote maybe 300 words tonight. I'm sure this lame post is at least as long as what I wrote. This is how it goes sometimes. You fight for the feedback, then you fight for the writing... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy