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Rita Arens
My name is Rita Arens. I like to write. A lot. Many pages.
Recent Activity
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
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"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
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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
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What an amazing thing! If you're in New York and want to come, here's an evite for you. Feel free to forward, invite, spread the news. I'd love to see you. Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
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So, this happened last week: And then I died and went to heaven. The end. Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2016 at Surrender, Dorothy
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