Friday, March 30, 2012

Time for a little Mega Millions dreaming...

So, have you purchased your Mega Millions ticket yet? There are only a few hours left to snag a chance at the record-breaking $640 million jackpot. Yep, $640 million. That’s over half a billion dollars, for anyone as mathematically challenged as myself. Half a billion. That’s a frighteningly enormous amount of money. According to a 2008 article in the Anchorage DailyNews, that would buy you “179 million Big Macs, 23 million toasters, 12 million tires, 200,000 flat screen TVs, 83,000 sets of diamond earrings or 1,500 houses.” Granted, it still wouldn’t put a dent in our national debt, but that’s a freaking lot of Big Macs.
I started buying Mega Millions tickets several months ago on a whim. Call it a low cost, non-guaranteed investment plan. I buy one ticket per drawing, which amounts to two per week, and I play the same set of numbers that my children selected months ago for every drawing. The dreamer in me hopes we’ll hit one day and be instantly and permanently freed from any and all financial stress in our lives. The pragmatist in me grumbles over the two fewer dollars I have available to add a biscotti to my coffee once a week. (I often wonder which would do me more good.)
So I bought my two tickets on my Monday grocery run not really paying any attention to the frenzy surrounding the climbing jackpot, and now I’m almost a little scared. Not that I’d actually win or anything—according to experts, I’m more likely to get struck by lightning, eaten by sharks, fatally stung by a bee and elected president all in the same day. But, seriously, could you imagine winning $640 million? What a massive responsibility that would be. The mere idea of it is almost crushing. You would have to remain anonymous to avoid being hounded day in and day out, not only by the press, but neighbors, Facebook friends, old roommates, your bridal party that you haven’t talked to in over a decade, the guy at the gym who only ever talks to the hot young chicks…(I know what you’re thinking—I’d never have that problem because I don’t actually exercise. Ever. You’re on to me.)
But how do you keep a $640 million secret? No matter how hard you try, someone at some point is going to notice that your faded, outdated wardrobe has somehow miraculously been entirely updated, that your tired-looking house is suddenly getting new siding, an addition, fresh landscaping, and has, for some reason, a Dumpster sitting in the driveway filled to the brim with household items that seemed acceptable only a week ago but are now deemed too trashy for human use. Oh, and next to the Dumpster are two shiny new sports cars to replace the rusted out, 100,000+ mile junkers that sat there only the day before. It would be somewhat obvious, I would think.
I’m not going to spend too much energy worrying about the anonymity strategies I would engage, or how I would convince the neighbors that our refinance proved slightly more profitable than we expected. Instead, I’m going to take a minute to dream of what I would do with all that cash. So here’s my top ten list, in no particular order:
1.      Pay off all debt.
2.      Secure funds for retirement, education, emergencies, etc., so that our family will never have to worry about money again.
3.      Get everyone in my and my husband’s family out of debt.
4.      Give gobs and gobs of it to charity.
5.      Take my and my husband’s entire families on an all-expense paid trip to Disney World for as long as everyone can get away.
6.      Replace both of our not-so-gently used vehicles.
7.      Hire a contractor to complete every home improvement project I have ever dreamed up.
8.      Hire a contractor to complete every home improvement project my parents have dreamed up for their house.
9.      Set up a fund that will pay for every vacation we can dream up forever.
10.  Live happily ever after J
How about you? What would you do?

Friday, March 9, 2012

How do you know when it’s time to let go?

I know many people struggle with this question on far bigger issues than the one I’m struggling with now; things like floundering marriages, destructive long-term friendships, or that 80’s haircut that’s just too rockin’ to lose (it’s not, but…well, you know). It’s easy to identify why these things are bad for (you’re fighting all the time, the person makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s likely to land you on What Not to Wear), and yet for any of a plethora of reasons, you hang on.

Often this is seen as a good thing. Tenacity. Perseverance. Stick-to-it-iveness. These are all hailed as admirable traits. Don’t be a quitter, we instruct our children. Never give up. Believe in yourself. Hang in there. But sometimes you do indeed have to let go. For your own sanity, heath, fashion sense, whatever. I think I may have reached that point with my first novel.
I started this tome back when my darling second-grader was just learning to talk. The idea came to me while driving past a cemetery one chilly fall night when numerous blue votive candles burned, commemorating loved ones now passed. I shivered at the idea of setting the first scene of a story there—a good, creepy, ghost-story shiver. The book grew from that point. But not in anything close to a linear direction. It branched and weaved, it morphed, expanded and regrouped. It changed direction at least twenty times.

I remember taking the first chapter (a mere 30 pages of the first draft) to a writer’s retreat, confident that my gift would wow the other attendees and leave them all wondering why they were even bothering with their craft when such natural talent exists in the world. I was informed (politely, but in no uncertain terms) that no middle-schooler would choose to read 30-page chapters rather than play the Wii. At first I felt affronted. Obviously they hadn’t grasped my vision. They hadn’t heard enough of the story. They couldn’t see the big picture. Didn’t they know how long Harry Potter was?
But after I stewed for a while, I felt stupid. Of course they were right. How could I not have seen it? What had I been thinking? And so I revised and rewrote, cut and pasted, reworked and reorganized. Feeling proud of the progress I’d made, I sent the manuscript to the editor from the retreat, who liked it, But…

And so I rewrote again. Feeling proud once again, I submitted again. But fourteen agents didn’t like it enough to request more.

And so, again, I’m revising. And yet, after almost seven years working with this story and these characters, I’m still getting feedback that says my characters aren’t well defined enough, that their story isn’t jumping off the page. I’m now wondering, is it time to let them go? Perhaps I’ve done all I can with this story, with these two middle-school boys and the ghosts that haunt them. Maybe this story is destined to be mine alone, and not one I’ll ever share with the world. Maybe it’s time to lay them to rest just like the many departed souls in the cemetery.

But, just like a bad relationship or a comfortable haircut, it’s so hard to let them go.