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Rita Arens
My name is Rita Arens. I like to write. A lot. Many pages.
Recent Activity
I spent the winter full of Library Tuesdays working on revising my second novel, THE BIRTHRIGHT OF PARKER CLEAVES, after realizing I hated it and it wasn't ready for query AT ALL. I ended up doing the usual cutting of 10,000 words and rearranged whole sections and considered dumping the entire thing because ohmygodIsuckatnovels. It's a little short right now, but I'm at that point where I don't know what it needs to edge it into recommended length. And then there's that part of me that wonders why those rules even apply when so many people read books digitally and word count was probably made up by someone more looking for the sweet spot in printing costs rather than pondering how many words it takes to tell a good story. Then my mind goes into an existential crisis about the relevance of anyone's words long-term and it's time for a snack. Last weekend while we were driving home from my MIL's house in Cedar Rapids, I elected to sit in the back seat, determined to make the final pass through my printed-out manuscript before I hand it off to a trusted reader. I didn't know what I'd find. Before I printed it, I moved so many sections around I wasn't sure if I'd need to write more connective tissue or what. It surprised me that so many scenes that I mushed together out of three or four little orphaned pieces chapters apart made any sense at all. Obviously I kept thinking she should really talk to her dad again more than once but didn't write enough in any one place to have a scene. This writing thing is stupid hard. I've spent the past three years working on this novel. There are parts I really like, and then I'm certain... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Today I'm over on SheKnows.com talking about tattoos and parenting. Please come on over! Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
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(Editor's Note: I met Bonnie years ago via the blogosphere and love her work. I hope you'll enjoy her post on body image and motherhood, and please check out her collaborative video project on The Shape of a Mother. - Rita) When my daughter was born almost fourteen years ago, I was utterly unprepared for the extent of physical changes that would come along with the pregnancy. Afterwards, I felt torn between the awe and pride I should have been feeling for what my body did, and the shame I actually felt for looking nothing like the pictures I saw in magazines. I assumed I was the only one dealing with this so I kept it to myself for a long time. And then one day, almost four years later, I happened to catch a glimpse of another mom’s belly and in that instant I knew this was actually a totally normal thing. It was such a relief to be able to let go of that self-hate I had spent so much time focused on and I wanted to make that knowledge available for women worldwide. I wanted everyone – mothers, women who aren’t mothers, and men – to know mama bodies are normal. So I started The Shape of a Mother. It’s been just about a decade now and I’ve published the stories of about 2,500 moms in that time. Here are the top five things I’ve learned working with women and body image. We’re harder on ourselves than on anyone else. Probably the most common comment people leave on the submissions that are posted is something like “Wow! You’re my body twin! But you look way better than I do!” Logically, if two people look that much alike, we can assume they probably both look equally lovely. And,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
October 17, 2015 - complete third half-marathon December 18, 2015 - 5:56 pm - complete hour-long cross-training workout at the gym December 18, 2015 - 11 pm - fall hard on ceramic tile in my kitchen December 19, 2015 - diagnosed with broken fibula January 6, 2016 - surgery to put plate and five screws February 11, 2016 - surgeon clears me to start transitioning to weight-bearing on injured leg February 12, 2016 - start physical therapy March 7, 2016 - cleared to use nonimpact cardio machines other than stationary bike March 11, 2016 - today As I spent countless hours this winter lying in my recliner with my leg propped up on three pillows and wrapped in ice, I discovered A&E's Fit to Fat to Fit show. I have never watched The Biggest Loser, because I don't like the format very much. I never miss an episode of Fit to Fat to Fit, though, because I need to watch those personal trainers who gained hella weight return to the gym. I myself am returning to the gym, and it's hard. I started working out when I was in high school and developing a pretty gnarly eating disorder. I've had to break the mental connection between calories in/calories out because if I do that I have a tendency to both overexercise and overeat. The brass ring that's so hard to catch is figuring out how to exercise the right amount without always tying it to weight loss. For all of my adult life, I've been terrified of breaking a leg because it renders exercise almost impossible. I always assumed I would blow up like a blimp if I couldn't exercise. And that didn't happen. I did gain probably five to eight pounds, but it's hard to tell if that's because... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
"That's what I miss ..." Once the pleasantries were over, that's what they kept returning to. My girl and I were sitting in the booth behind them at Panera for two hours. My daughter had her headphones in, her attention buried in homework. All I had to do was busywork, so I did what I suspect every novelist does: I eavesdropped. I couldn't see her and only the back of his head, his white hair carefully oiled and combed. They talked about what they liked to do (movies, yes, bars, no), their past careers (both looked to be past 65), their families. How loved ones had died. That's why she chose him on the dating website, she said. Because he'd been married a long time, and his wife had died. She thought that made him safer, that he's understand what she'd been through. This was her first online date. They both referred to "my husband" and "my wife" without irony or awkwardness. The part that crushed me and lifted me up was when they would be in the middle of a story and laugh and say, "You know, that's what I miss, laughing with someone." And the other would agree, and then they'd go on. They went on for two hours and I kept glancing at the back of his head and being so happy for both of them, especially in the end when she asked him to please contact her again. They stood, and I finally saw them: her, a cheery looking white woman with bright lipstick and him, a tall white man with a plaid button-down shirt and skin that spoke of outside work. They hugged. What courage it takes at any age to put ourselves out there, to meet someone new. With my husband traveling for work... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
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I went to see my doctors last Thursday. I was five weeksish post-surgery. The resident is more conservative. He came in and said to keep all weight off until six weeks post-surgery, then take 2-3 weeks to transition to full weight-bearing with the boot. He left. I cried. I am so tired of crutches. Then the surgeon came in. He said the X-ray looked fine, transition to full weight-bearing within a week, lose the boot after that, get some PT, come back in five weeks. In other words, he left it up to me. I love you, Dr. Surgeon. My husband is back to traveling for work 75%, so leaving it up to me gets very real very fast. Walking (or crutching) out of the doctor's office last week, I felt something I haven't felt since December: agency. I'm ready to make my own decisions. This broken leg has made me into a teenager again in all the worst ways. I can't choose when I leave the house. I have to ask someone to drive me somewhere. I can't go for a run or walk. I've found myself retreating to headphones and NIN. To have my current state of recovery in my own hands feels surreal. I decide when to stop using the crutches. When to transition to shoes. When to start physical therapy. These are important decisions if I want to run again, but to not feel infantilized is huge. Today I put about 50-70% weight on my right foot while using one crutch and cleaning my house. My ankle is sore but fine. My psyche is better than ever. I feel like an adult again. I can't stress enough how important that feels. Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
SHINGLES?! You poor thing!
Toggle Commented Feb 11, 2016 on So Mad We Are Getting Old at Surrender, Dorothy
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Oh, I am so not looking forward to that part. I just turned 42 and my girl is 11.
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2016 on So Mad We Are Getting Old at Surrender, Dorothy
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A girlfriend brought me lunch yesterday since I still can't drive. We've known each other since our kids were babies, I suppose almost twelve years now. Over soup we talked about everything from work to our health -- we both had a rough 2015. "You know," she said, "it's true. You don't realize how when you have your health, you have everything, until you don't." Yeah. We're young-old, both in our early forties, still running (when not sidelined by said health), still trying to eat healthy. Nobody's thrown in the aging towel or anything. But suddenly in the past few years, the conversations of our friend group have morphed from potty training to WTF did I really get tan lines on my forehead wrinkles? Initially, the talk was more that of shocked realization -- the first discovery of a gray hair, the first mammogram, the first night sweat. I think we're in the anger phase now. And I wish I were more tranquil about it. It's true I've been dying since I was born, that's the way it goes, circle of life. The problem is that now I realize it. My hands on the keyboard wear the same wedding ring but they aren't even remotely the hands my husband held at our wedding in 2001. I remember at the time looking down at my hands and wondering what they would look like when they started to age. And now I know. Last night I was trying to explain to my mother, who is here driving me to appointments while my husband is back to traveling for work, what I've learned about getting up off the floor with a broken leg. "You have to flip over like a bug, then you get on your knees and you can get up that... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Tomorrow I'll be 42. With a broken leg. Although I suspect it's not really broken anymore, just faking it so I'll slide up and down the stairs three times a day on my butt just so Fate can laugh her ass off. When I first reported my injury, my friend Stacy exclaimed, "Think of the books you'll read!" She was right. I have read great books. I've come back to the revision process on PARKER CLEAVES after hitting the surgery wall. I've learned to stand up from the ground on one leg. I've learned why people get addicted to Oxycontin because it's an amazing drug. And I'm so ready for this to be over. Yes, broken leg, you've taught me patience the hard way and that I can carry almost anything in a backpack. I get it. I learned my lesson. I look on 42 as the year I learn to walk and run again. Please? Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
You have time. You do. NORWAY 8K from Martin Heck | Timestorm Films on Vimeo. Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
"I don't feel funny anymore. I've started to wonder if I've changed," she said. She's one of the funniest people I know. I'm sure she hasn't lost her wicked talents. But grief is pain and pain is work and she's not done with the work yet. I don't doubt, though, that she's changed in a different way. Pain -- physical, mental, spiritual pain -- changes us. This winter I've lived in a physical house of pain. I broke my leg before Christmas and had surgery to put in a plate and five screws on January 6. The physical limitations of crutches also brought on a lot of emotional pain. They robbed me of my main anxiety coping mechanism, exercise, as well as my freedom of movement. I can't carry anything using my crutches, I have trouble with stairs and I can't drive. After my surgery, I had a nerve block for the first eighteen hours. The doctor told me to start taking the Oxycontin before I went to bed because the block would wear off during the night. It did, and not even the Oxy could touch the flames shooting up my calf. I ended up calling a pharmacist in the morning and asking if I could take anything else on top of it, something that blew my mind since normally I don't need much painkiller at all. Two Advil on top of Oxy later, I finally fell into restless sleep. That whole next day passed in wave after wave of red-hot burning pain where the plate was. It felt like labor contractions, only in one little 3"x2" area. I willed myself to just bear this part, because at least the surgery was over and the path to healing finally seemed clear. I'd get through this post-surgery week, then I'd... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
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When I write, I usually listen to headphones even if I'm alone so the music can go straight into my head without mingling. I remember when an old boss gave me an iPod shuffle as a Christmas bonus. It could hold 100 songs, which at the time seemed an insanity of musical abundance and variety. My current writing playlist has around 500 songs on it, and yet I still hear a lot from Bryan Adams. The last few times I heard "18 Until I Die" (a song most helpful when you're 41 and writing fiction for the 15-23 year-old set) I wondered if Bryan is yet 18 going on 55, like the song says. I just looked it up. He's 56. With the cultural and artistic icons we've lost this month, I (like everyone above a certain age) have become acutely aware of the mortality of my youth, of being a young old person on the shallow end of my forties. And yet I still listen mostly to the music of my youth. I still identify better with 18 than 55, even though I'll be 42 in about two weeks. Thirteen years from 55, 24 from 18. Holy shit. Better get out of this cast and get both feet in it. Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
33 days since I broke my fibula. 14 days since the surgeon put a plate and 5-6 screws in my leg to fix the unstable break. Yesterday I went for my surgery follow-up appointment. The PA and I talked about how putting screws in bones was pretty much like hanging a flat-screen TV -- you better put the screw all the way into the other side of the bone or you're not sinking it into the stud. I stared at my X-rays in horror and fascination. They took out the stitches. The skin puffed around them like flesh pie crust, rather inhuman. As I left with instructions to come back in three weeks and start moving my feet around three times a day, I both cursed another four weeks on crutches and thanked God once again this is injury and not illness. I view injury differently than illness, and I'm not alone in that. I'm reading THE UPSIDE OF IRRATIONALITY, by Dan Ariely, who at 18 was burned over 70 percent of his body in a military accident. His experience gave him an interest in people's ability to tolerate pain and the events preceding their tolerance. He hypothesized, for instance, that those who had bad injuries could tolerate pain longer because they would equate it with healing. He and another researcher set up a study in which they recruited folks to stick their arms in hot water for as long as they could stand it (they had to pull their arms out before they really hurt themselves). However, they forgot to exclude people with illnesses from recruiting and ended up with a few who had diseases. The ill people had a lower pain tolerance than the control group, while the injured group had a higher pain tolerance. He wrote: "I... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
(Editor's Note: Thanks for taking time to check out this guest post from my farming friend Diana Prichard of Righteous Bacon. I've known Diana for many years now, and I've always been impressed by her dedication to farming and agriculture and her moral compass. I know I recently enjoyed Making a Murderer on Netflix and believe documentaries are one of the easiest ways to educate a lot of people in a little bit of time about complicated issues like the American judicial system or how we get our food. Immigration is not a pet cause of mine, but I fully support the part all immigrants play in the success of small businesses and small farms. Beyond dollars and cents, I personally believe America should open its arms to immigrants and refugees.) From "The New Colossus," a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, which is mounted on the base of the Statue of Liberty: Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" I distinctly remember the first time it really hit me what was at stake in making a documentary about undocumented farmworkers. I had just finished filming and photographing the wedding of the couple featured in the documentary and was following the bride,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
I had never used crutches before I broke my leg, and I've learned a lot. I'm on quite a bit of Oxycodone at the moment, but I wanted to write this before I forgot the desperation someone might be feeling if they stumble upon this. Feel free to share! Three weeks ago, I broke my fibula (smaller bone in calf) and got crutches. On Wednesday, I had surgery to get a plate and some pins, maybe a screw, really not sure. Here are my tips for crutches and broken legs when your pain is low and when your pain is high. High Pain 1. When I first broke my leg, I was only in high pain for two days before I could stop taking Hydrocodone and just hit normal Advil. This surgery has been a game-changer. I am still in high pain, though I'm hoping it will start to ease this weekend. If you are in high pain, pay very close attention to taking your meds on time. I was shocked that 10 mg of Oxycodone was not enough, but I called the pharmacist and my doc and they all said it was fine to also take Tylenol or Advil. I'm not exceeding the max dose per day of either so I will need to sub in some Advil for Tylenol today. If you're in high pain, don't move. Keep the leg up way high, drink water, ice the back of your knee if you can't feel it through a splint or cast and sleep. You're just sucking resources right now. You can make up for it later. Low Pain 1. Be in decent shape to begin with. I'm no Olympic athlete, but I could raise myself from sitting to standing on one leg before I hurt myself. HUGE. As... Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Thanks, Alexandra! I may have to check in on the library thing. I put a ton on hold but I read fast.
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2016 on Unintended Bling at Surrender, Dorothy
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Good advice! I have used the scooters twice when I got yoo tired at the end of a say if errsnds. Definitely humbling!
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2016 on 2015 in Books at Surrender, Dorothy
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I have been reading anout learning to walk again, which is intimidating! So relieved to hear you are running. Thanks for the encouragement!
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2016 on Unintended Bling at Surrender, Dorothy
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It's been 17 days since I broke my right leg, and the healing clock starts over on Wednesday. That's the day they are going to put a plate and some pins in there! I'm really trying not to think about this surgery too much because I don't like the idea of having things screwed into my bones, even if it does mean they'll heal properly and I'll be able to run again ... someday. Right now that day feels very, very far away, my friends. Right now even being able to leave the house by myself in a car feels unattainable ever again, though that's dramatic and I know it. Still, one of the fun things about being an adult is being able to get the hell away from other human beings if you want to because no one is the boss of you. Except ice. And snow. And crutches. And an aircast on your driving leg. I spent the weekend vacillating between pity parties and rocketing myself around big-box stores on my crutches just because large, wide walkways are something I don't have in my house and they feel decadent. I never thought I would beg to be taken to Target just for fun without giving birth to another baby. It turns out if you want to recreate that longing for freedom breastfeeding induces, all you have to do is break your driving leg. Who knew? I've decided to take a hiatus from working on THE BIRTHRIGHT OF PARKER CLEAVES until after the good drugs wear off from my surgery. It's been nearly a month since I took a Library Tuesday, and I fully intend to demand someone drive me there for an hour coming up soon so I can continue to write. I was getting close to being... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
Haven't read that one yet. Thanks for stopping by-I got this widget from Goodreads.
Toggle Commented Jan 2, 2016 on 2015 in Books at Surrender, Dorothy
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(Editor's Note: Not sure why it keeps embedding "it was amazing" or how to make this prettier. But I like it anyway.) WHAT I READ IN 2015 it was amazing it was amazing it was amazing it was amazing it was amazing really liked it it was amazing it was amazing it was amazing really liked it Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
MWAH!
Toggle Commented Dec 29, 2015 on People of Walmart at Surrender, Dorothy
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I spent two hours yesterday like this. Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Compact, episodic dreams packaged neatly into before and after I wake up with my leg aching dully but purposefully: I am a violent sleeper, and my dreaming body doesn't know I broke my leg until my the pain reminds it. In the first dream, I'm wearing a silk fifties-style frock and I'm riding a train into a large city with an older man who is not my husband but in the dream I understand I will be ousting his current wife. We arrive in the city and walk a long way until we enter a building that looks abandoned on the outside but inside has been remodeled as a chic Hollywood agency. I am given a combination office/studio apartment and a new silk dress. The old wife's office/studio is next door. I have new earrings but there is a hall in the back of my studio that is dark and dank and I suspect it leads to a sewer. I wake up and wonder if I should stop watching reality television before bed. Take the Advil. Close my eyes. In the second dream, I'm part of a team tasked with standing upright for forty hours. We can walk around to make it less boring. I get in line to take a series of physical challenges in an old water park, and when I finish and towel off I'm elated to hear at eleven my forty hours will be up and as my prize I get to ride a dolphin. I've been awake now for six hours and still remember this, though beyond the water park the rest of the forty hours are now gone. I also forget whether or not I'm displaced by a third wife in the office building or what was in the tunnel. Continue reading
Posted Dec 26, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy