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Weekly Wrap: How We Balance Our Time.

by Susan Henderson on December 15, 2006

There are so many things I get wrong about balancing work and family. I’m cranky about interruptions. It’s hard for me to put my work aside. And I’m not even terribly focussed or efficient once I shoo everyone out of my office (i.e., the kitchen).

This week’s guest, Patry Francis, keeps a wicker chair beside her desk so family can drop-in. I keep more of an invisible ring of fire near my desk. My characters and stories occupy such a large space in my head and my heart that it sometimes feels selfish and ultimately destructive, like an affair. Maybe when I finish this book. I’m in the homestretch, and maybe when this one’s done, my head will be clear and settled. That’s my hope. That something that was taking up space will be cleared out of me. Something that was unsettled in me will be settled. Sigh. My guilt.

Me and the boys at a film festival (after winning the audience choice award).

As I thought about this week and your comments, I realized there are a couple of things I do well. There are sacred times locked into every day. We always eat breakfast together – no racing around or hurrying or yelling. It’s slow and relaxed, and while the food is so-so and repetitive, the conversation is good. I pick up the boys every day at the bus stop and we have a nice walk back and we talk about the day while they have a snack and do homework at the dining room table. We eat dinner every night as a family. We read to the boys every night. And we still tuck them in and say prayers together before they go to sleep.

The other thing I realized I do well came after looking through photos to use to break up the text of this post. My kids are not hum-drum about one thing in their lives. They are passionate and adventurous, and I think they’ve gained something positive in seeing how much their parents love the work they do.

*

Thank you again to Patry and to tomorrow’s guest, Mikel K, who will put a nice finishing touch on this week’s topic. And as a thank you to those who answered the Question of the Week, keep scrolling. I can’t do this every week, but it seemed like your comments needed to have a second life.

Green-Hand making a sand castle in socks.

So here are your comments again, starting with my O. Henry Award-winning, Pacific Northwest bestselling author, awesome book designer, awesomer friend and webmaster, Terry Bain:

There is no legacy in “art.” Only in people. As a broken people, we tend to desire what we don’t have, and thus far too many of us believe that we don’t have “balance,” because the thing we “should be” doing is the thing we aren’t doing. But balance is an illusion. Whatever you do, do that thing for what it is. When writing, write to be writing. When carrying a child on your shoulders, do so to be carrying a child on your shoulders. I can’t picture my life on a precipice, or my life will be on a precipice. Picture my life in a valley. With words and people and sage brush. Fill that valley up.

Now that I’ve said all that, I must admit this is very difficult stuff to do. Easy for me to think, difficult to do. But both body and spirit follow mind, so I will continue to think this way. I am constantly looking outside the valley, when the truth is everything I need and want is right behind me. I have to say to myself, “Just turn around, stupid.”

It does not help, by the way, to call yourself stupid.

The boys about to go on stage for the opera, The Bartered Bride.

Humorous sci-fi author, founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and happy toast eater, Simon Haynes:

I’m sure my writing creates some resentment. I’m about two years behind on the home maintenance side of things (paving, painting, tiling, you-name-it) but as I work from home these days I find I’m a lot more relaxed about going out. When I was working 9-5, 5 days a week it felt like every night and every weekend was an opportunity to write and every social event was just an interruption.

Luckily, I regained perspective before inflicting permanent damage on those around me.

Editor, Pushcart-nominated short story writer, and Moorishgirl lit-mag reviewer, Katrina Denza:

I have found what works for me when I’m writing short stories is to cut out a section of time in each day to write without interruption. It may be only one hour or two; some days I’m lucky and I get three or four and if I’m smart I don’t squander them (I often do). But now that I’ve started a novel, this time division doesn’t work quite so well. Now when I’m with my family I find myself still back in the novel daydreaming about my characters. I wear a rubberband around my wrist to remind myself my husband’s name is Tom, not Steven, and that I actually do have children”¦

Bach-Boy snorkeling.

Indie rock lover, born-comedienne, novelist, WEBLOG AWARDS FINALIST for Best Diarist of 2006, Robin Slick:

I thought it would be easier once my kids were older and totally self-sufficient but instead it’s worse because they actually want to do stuff with me and are always doing cool things themselves that I want to be a part of. Susan and I were in a competition to finish our mutual novels by the end of November. Ho ho ho. My kids were on tour then, and I was busy googling them every day and writing about their experiences and reviews of their shows in my blog. Now it’s Christmas season, and my son has a bunch of awesome gigs in NYC and my daughter wants to hang out there for the weekend … with me!; there’s cookie baking for all of our/their friends”¦a tree trimming event here tonight”¦arghh”¦it’s impossible. I used to be able to write novels when they were babies while I bounced them on my knee and fed them while simultaneously typing. What the hell happened? It was my most productive time. Now when I’m writing, I’d really rather be hanging with them; when I’m hanging with them, I’m busy writing chapters in my head.

I really thought when I quit my full-time job it would all change but I neglected to realize my kids were no longer in high school all day and would be home here right along with me and look at me not only as a potential daily lunch date but also be resentful that I’m on the “good” computer and not the laptop all day”¦and also not doing their wash or being a good little domestic goddess.

And still”¦I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. Assuming I’m still alive and don’t jump out any windows, I’ll have more than enough time to write once empty nest syndrome happens for real.

American in Paris and absolutely unique blogger, Amy:

I’m terrible about this … my husband works from home sometimes (as do I), and we’ll both use any excuse to chat with each other instead of doing our work.

And when I was living near my parents, they always felt I should be available for lunch, or shopping, or taking them to the airport”¦ since I don’t have a *real* job, you know. I found it hard to say no.

In general, I’m a very social person, so I almost always choose family and friends (and commenting on blogs) over writing. Unfortunately, this means my “final edits” on the book are currently progressing at a snail’s pace.

Boys getting eggs from chickens in South Africa. (This slowed us down through customs.)

Short-order cook turned author of God Is Dead, Ron Currie:

I don’t do a very good job of balancing. I’m not married and have no kids, and I still do a poor job of it. When I don’t write I get weird, and when I get weird I behave badly, especially toward people who I think rightly or wrongly are pinching my writing time. And not surprisingly, when I behave badly, people go away. It’s a cause-and-effect so simple even I can follow it.

Touring Y/A author of The Caretaker of Tree Palace, C. Dawn McCallum:

I’ve always written in 15 minute snatches of time which works out perfectly for having a family and all of the other committments of modern living. My trick is to write down what I want to work on the next time I can carve out the spare moments to write. The when I sit down to write, I know exactly where to start.

I don’t know what I’d do if I have a big block of time to write. One cup of coffee is the way I measure my writing time. I guess it’s kind of the Graham Greene approach”“write a little everyday.

These days, I’m finding marketing (which I quite enjoy) taking more of my time.

Writer and blogger from rural Michigan, Ric Marion:

When I’m in the zone, when it’s all going well, I’m a much happier person to be around. Is there some resentment for all those hours spent huddled in my office, away from the family? Probably. I have found, though, that you must keep some balance. If my son wants to watch a movie, or has something he wants me to see, or comment on, then I’ll take the time to do that.

Resentment can work both ways. Too much time writing – or too many demands from the family on your writing time. It is a balance we all must find.

The excitement of a new project, or a novel going well, creates a much happier mood throughout the house. They’ll put up with a lot to have those moments.

Green-Hand playing guitar on a street corner in West Hampton.

Political whiz, Bennington graduate, and award-winning writer with the most amazing hair, Gail Siegel:

I’m very bad at the balancing act. And since I’ve had a bunch of crises on the home front over the last few years (husband’s kidney failure and transplant, daughter’s problems with the world at large) AND work full time, I’ve gotten precious little writing done over the last 18 months. When it’s a crisis, as opposed to housework, I really can’t just choose my pen over my mop. But I’ve written a few short-shorts here and there, which at least keeps me thinking I’m a writer.

LitPark’s lovely Aimee:

Nothing really works for me at this point. I’m so focused on taking care of my two sons and my Grandmother, I don’t really get a chance to write anymore.

I’m in caregiver mode right now. So much, in fact, that I took a part time job outside the home to catch a break!

Beach lover and runner with novels available through Digital Pulp Publishing, Julie Ann Shapiro:

I don’t do a good job of balancing it. I always feed like I should be writing more, pursuing more story ideas. Most days I write for two hours.

I’m married and have no kids. Writing often takes precident to everything, sometimes even work. I work at home. My husband most of the time is understanding because often when I’m writing, he’s working too. The two of us are like two islands with our computers and take breaks to visit with each other or go outside and exercise.

I can’t imagine having kids and trying to work on the novel, write new stories and find markets for them. As it is I see friends sporadically, but most of my friends are just as busy and understand.

Sometimes my husband and parents resent how much my writing means to me. But deep down they both understand it’s a part of me.

Bestselling (and more importantly, smokin’) author of I Am Not Myself These Days, Josh Kilmer-Purcell:

this may sound trite, but it actually took me a long time to master:

when i’m writing, i don’t think about ’real life’; and when i’m in ’real life,’ i don’t think about writing.

Cirque du Soleil worker, Boston Globe freelancer, and award-winning fiction writer, Myfanwy Collins:

This is a hard question to answer because when I’m not physically at my computer writing, I’m often writing in my head”“zoning out of conversations and such. At present I have a lot of alone time and time to focus and what suffers mostly is housework (but who cares about dust?). When I have children, I expect my answer will change entirely.

Former Andy Warhol dress-alike, current LitPark Wondertwin, and memoirist, Lance Reynald:

balancing? you’re suppose to balance? No wonder.

I tend to write from some deep dark places, when I go in I refer to it as “the cave”, moodswings abound, emotions get wrecked and I don’t think I’m all to charming from within the cave”¦ at best I’m an insufferable SOB.

I’m very lucky that the ones in my life that I love understand this; at times things get a bit dicey but those closest to my heart have become pretty patient as they see that I might just be on to something big when I’m in “the cave”.

I always think of Jack in The Shining when I go in”¦ and tend to remind those closest to me that at least it doesn’t look like that”¦

Bach-Boy spelunking.

LitPark’s riot-starter and author of the raw and exceptional Futureproof, Frank Daniels:

Looking at the pic you have at the top of the page, Susan, I can only think that the rock sitting precariously on top of that other rock is about to come down. Put it this way: I wouldn’t want to slowly meander past it. I’d run full-throttle every time.

That said, the balancing act of family and work is much the same. And sometimes it seems that sucker is coming down, an inevitability, like there isn’t enough sanity available in the world to maintain both. But one way or another we keep going. It’s the curse of all writers (and other artists?) with family. Guilt plays a big part, though, in pulling me away from the computer and tending to my kids. Which I need to do right now, actually. Fancy that! You gotta love ’em. There’s nothing worth doing without them. A delicate balance.

Book reviewer and AuthorStore blogger, Jamie:

Balance is something I used to strive for before I learned to be selfish.

Some writers I know hate it when I used that word, but when they examine it closely most agree writing is a very selfish act. It just doesn’t feel very good when you put that sort of label on it. However, once the label is firmly in place, you find that you don’t feel half a guilty about sneaking time away to work on that story (at least I do). I’ve also found that the balance in my life sort of naturally settled itself once I accepted the fact that my writing time was _mine_ (much kneading of hands and a bit of a cackle).

Now, I take my time and do my real work. I spend what is left more readily in the company of others (spouse, children, other family, friends, work) because I’m not thinking of when I’m going to get time to get back to the story. I know when I’m going to get back and I can breathe a little easier.

Writer, photographer, and California coast lover, Anneliese:

Being divorced, I get one week on, one week off. This shared parenting situation used to creep me out and make me feel like losermom on the social charts until other moms said, “You get a week off? I wish I had that.” I bake chocolate chip cookies and make world-famous dinners when my daughter’s here, and the alternate weeks I don’t do shit. (sorry, can I swear in this blog?)

Added to the every other parenting week, my boyfriend golfs, which means “Hasta la vista for at least five hours” of dear, sweet, precious alone time on the weekends. The boyfriend wishes I cooked even when the daughter isn’t with us, but he’s the only guy he knows who has a significant other who says, “Yes! Please go golf!”

Have I got it good or what? There are times when everyone’s here and my inspiration’s burning me up, so I hide in the bedroom or go to the library. It’s rare though, ’cuz I guess I’m used to one week all to myself, and one week “Donna Reed.”

Now, don’t let me make any excuses for getting my research and writing done over this next year, eh?

Pushcart-nominated writer and Shoddy First Draft blogger, Jim Simpson:

My wife and I both work full time, so I help clean up after dinner, wash or fold clothes and we tag-team our kids for story time. We’re both pretty exhaused after a full day, but I still try to squeeze in quality writing time at night between 10 and midnight, sometimes longer, but I pay for it the next day or so. I’m sure some of my co-workers often mistake my sleep deprived days for drinking or drug use.

I edit in my head all the time and keep a folded up copy of the current scene/chapter I’m working on in my pocket so I can write when I’m in the crapper at work … yes, too much information, sorry.

I try to strike a balance between hanging out with wife, kids, and friends, and finding that solitary time to write for a good 2-3 hours on any given weekend day. Nothing ever really goes as planned, I’ve learned, but I keep at it even if it’s at a snail’s pace.

Oh, and then there’s blogging”¦.

Anneliese:

oh, and topic suggestion, if I may make please, is the balance between writing and exercise!

because I can write-write-write and research-research-research, look at the clock and wonder how did the day fly by, and then be frustrated over weight gain. I should really forego the coffee in the a.m. and go out for a 45 min. walk instead.

Green-Hand finds a snake.

Bennington graduate, public radio host, and contributing editor to Writer’s Digest magazine, Jordan Rosenfeld:

I’m lucky beyond the pale. My husband couldn’t be more supportive. Because of him I work for myself full time and have for two years. He actually tells people, “She CAN’T work for other people”“it makes her cranky.” Heheh. It’s not entirely true, I do have a part time gig at a bookstore for fun”¦but he’s right, I’m a workadonna (like a primadonna, but only related to workplaces). Otherwise I’m kidless and live 2 hours from the nearest relative who might argue if they were foolish.

LitPark friend, Rachael:

What wonderful comments! I heartily agree with Amy and Julie Ann. I identify with what they say. I, too, work at home (actual pay-the-bills work, not my own writing, unfortunately), but family doesn’t quite understand what I do and thinks I have a lot of free time. I don’t have kids (I have a hard enough time balancing everything without them!) but I do have a husband. He’s not a writer, far from it, and sometimes I feel like that’s hard. It was great for a while, because there’s no competition like in some other writing couples I know, but now that I’m getting further and further along in my book I could use some writerly eyes and a writerly mind just to bounce ideas off. What I get now are a series of grunts or blank stares when I talk about my writing or ideas. I could use some more support in that area.

As far as exercise, Anneliese, you’re right … just do it! In my mind, even 20 minutes of activity is better than no minutes. Soon you’ll find yourself with no option; you’ll be scheduling in exercise time even before your writing time. For me, exercise time is not flexible; I put it into my calendar and follow through. I’d probably be done with my book by now if I had done a similar thing with my writing, but the peace of mind I get from exercising and feeling good about my body is non-negotiable and worth a slower book.

Bronx-born author of the very funny Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, Ellen Meister:

I have achieved a perfect balance in my life. I live with equal amounts of guilt and anxiety.

But perhaps that’s not what you meant?

I have no idea how to balance the many aspects of my life. I feel like a juggler who’s given up trying to keep the balls in the air. I just duck when they rain down on me. Sometimes they hit me in the head.

Fiesty and entertaining Bakersfield blogger and indie book publisher, N. L. Belardes:

Balance is good, routine is boring.

My favorite writer and author of the upcoming Famous Fathers, Pia Z. Ehrhardt:

During the starting out part I write best when I’m squeezing the time in, and getting to the core of what’s going on seems urgent. I’m kind of useless with too much time and quiet until I get caught up in the story’s trouble and momentum, and then I’m half listening to M and A, neglecting the house, the meal-making, so anxious am I to keep picking at the trouble until I screw things up pretty good. At which point I step away for a few days, or longer, (4-5 years?) and carry the story around in my head – a portable drama – so I can get some distance and figure out what’s going on here/there.

Former magazine editor and award-winning writer, Carolyn Burns Bass:

My best writing happens early in the morning when no one else is out of bed. I’m sitting in a recliner, my laptop in my lap, a cup of steaming hot coffee beside me, and my Jack Russell curled up on my outstretched legs. Once my family gets up my creative side shuts down, almost as if it requires secrecy for motion.

When a story is boiling inside me though, the steam escaping clatters the lid and I sometimes boil over. When I’m like this my family has to use potholders around me.

Perhaps this question would be best posed to the loved ones who inhabit our lives. I can just imagine what my husband would say. He loves my writing, but doesn’t love it when I’m writing. How’s that?

Canadian author of In Spite of All the Damage, Juliet deWal:

I seem to always be generating words in some secret compartment of my brain, and when I sit down to spill it on paper, I tend to write all night, while the rest of the world sleeps.

But the words are there all day, drawing my mind away from things I ought to be concentrating on. Fortunately, I manage to pull it all off.

PS Aimee, If I lived closer, I’d say to send your kids over to my house for a while so you can write again.

Tire swing.

Author of a whole bunch of awesome books, Lauren Baratz-Logsted:

I once wrote a novel while breastfeeding – ’nuff said.

Street poet, father, and tomorrow’s special guest, Mikel K Poet:

Art Opening
by mikel k

Each time he rides his bike away
he gets further down the street”¦
“Can I go see the twins?” he asks
and he’s off again.
“Can I knock on their door?” he asks.
I say, “no,” and explain that I’ll have to
leave soon and that he won’t be able to ride his bike
much longer.
He’s seven
and as he rides
away this time
I realize that
one day he may be
riding away to college
or to a job
and that I won’t see
him everyday,
and I think
well, maybe, I don’t
have to get
to that
art opening
on time.

Lit-Blog Co-Op “Read This!” finalist, author of Sideshow, and husband to Jennifer Paddock, Sidney Thompson:

My wife and I discovered a solution: we each married a writer, so there was no need to worry about balancing anything. It’s all one and the same. Pretty nice.

N. L. Belardes:

I’m tryin’ LaurenBaratz-Logsted’s method.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Myfanwy Collins December 15, 2006 at 12:58 pm

Love all the photos! You are fantastic, Susan–thank you for another great litpark week!

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Lance Reynald December 15, 2006 at 4:45 pm

great wrap wondertwin!

I think you’re balancing it all well.

xoxo-L.

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Julie Ann Shapiro December 15, 2006 at 5:10 pm

I love your wrap up. I think I’m balancing well this week. I had lunches with friends, dinners with my honey and exercise time too. I did research for work, wrote some new chapters in the novel in process, reviewed a couple of friends stories, worked on the YA project and wrote a new flash yesterday.

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Robin Slick December 15, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Aw, this was like an early Christmas present, Susan. What a terrific post.

I think I love Fridays best at Lit Park because it’s the one day you write about yourself and your awesome family and you are one of the most interesting people I know. And definitely the least self-absorbed…always the first to congratulate others and cheer them on without screaming LOOK AT ME, LOOK WHAT I’VE DONE, AREN’T I FANTASTIC?

Well, I’ll say it. You are fantastic.

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Julie Ann Shapiro December 15, 2006 at 6:18 pm

Sorry, I screamed about myself. I’ll scream about something else. Yesterday at the mall parking lot a homeless man approached me to buy his lunch. I picked up an extra copy of the paper I was getting and figured maybe he could read it and expand his horizons or find a job or something. He said he didn’t read. I’m still haunted by his admission. How could someone get through complete adulthood and never read? I feel so sad for him and wish I had done something more than just try and give him the stupid paper.

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Robin Slick December 15, 2006 at 6:39 pm

Julie, I hope you didn’t think my remark was directed at you! I was talking about Susan in general, how generous she is, how she lets all of us promote our work, talk about ourselves, and our lives at LitPark. She provides this amazing venue for fellow writers, and I was just thanking her.

And yeah, it’s impossible to believe there are adults who can’t read. Just like it’s impossible to believe there are homeless people in America, and that here in Philadelphia we’ve had close to 400 deaths this year via handguns. We are one screwed up country right now with a very skewed value system. What we need to do as writers is follow Frank Daniels’ lead and try and make a difference in peoples’ lives and step outside our own little worlds, you know?

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Julie Ann Shapiro December 15, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Robin,
You just reminded me to look around me and not appear like I’m so narcistic. I didn’t take offense.

Holy shit – 400 handgun deaths in one city. That sounds like a war zone.

There are a lot of homeless people in San Diego. Yesterday, I was running erands and they were out in droves in the parking lot and street corners with their signs. Sometimes if I have food in the car I’ll unroll the window and give it to them. But not yesterday, I felt so selfish and like crying every time I saw them. I mean my life isn’t perfect, funds go up and down with clients and things, but I have a roof over my head and hope and happiness. These homeless people just made me want to cry. I feel their pain and hopelessness so much on their sleaves. Not that we writers don’t hurt, it’s just so much in your face with the homeless. How can it not be when their life is in the street?

Julie

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Julie Ann Shapiro December 15, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Robin,
You just reminded me to look around me and not appear like I’m so narcistic. I didn’t take offense.

Holy shit – 400 handgun deaths in one city. That sounds like a war zone.

There are a lot of homeless people in San Diego. Yesterday, I was running erands and they were out in droves in the parking lot and street corners with their signs. Sometimes if I have food in the car I’ll unroll the window and give it to them. But not yesterday, I felt so selfish and like crying every time I saw them. I mean my life isn’t perfect, funds go up and down with clients and things, but I have a roof over my head and hope and happiness. These homeless people just made me want to cry. I feel their pain and hopelessness so much on their sleaves. Not that we writers don’t hurt, it’s just so much in your face with the homeless. How can it not be when their life is in the street?

Julie

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Terry December 15, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Nicely wrapped.

I feel the least ‘balanced,’ by the way, the closer we come to December 25. Odd. Because it feels like the time I should be most at peace. And it takes a lot of work just to focus on not flying off the freaking nut. Peace will come. Come, peace, come.

Reply

LaurenBaratz-Logsted December 15, 2006 at 8:41 pm

Sue, in an industry that sometimes can make a person – OK, me – feel no bigger than a bug, you make us all feel like Kings and Queens, and yet you never lose the common touch.

Reply

Carolyn Burns Bass December 15, 2006 at 9:21 pm

For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt very stretched between writing and my personal business where I’ve been planning a two-day holiday event for a group of colleagues in the travel industry. The event had $260,000 worth of travel packages for auction and raffle, all of the proceeds tagged for three SoCal children’s charities. This year one of the directors of the charities won an amazing trip to Hawaii with his raffle ticket. I spoke with him afterward and he told me he and his wife had not taken a vacation for 14 years. This, and that we raised $150,000 for these grass-roots charities, recalibrated my humanity meter.

Once again, I must ditto Robin in applause for Susan. I haven’t touched my book for a couple of weeks, but I always make time to stop by LitPark.

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Anneliese December 16, 2006 at 12:04 am

Susan:
How fun was this!? I had a great time reading everyone’s responses this week. You have really created a wonderful sense of community for writers here and I thank you for that.

I also thank you for my handle: “Writer, photographer, and California coast lover.” 🙂 I’ve been filling out the book proposal requirements of a university press and am at a loss as to what to write for About The Author. I’m copying/pasting in your description and will build on that. 🙂 Thanks for the help!

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Susan Henderson December 18, 2006 at 12:47 pm

Myf, Lance, Julie, Robin, Terry, Lauren, Carolyn, Anneliese – Thanks so much for the sweet notes. I’ve been working like a maniac on my novel, and I think it’s about two weeks from being done. It feels good to see the light at the end of a long long long long tunnel.

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vg December 18, 2006 at 2:39 pm

hey , your thoughts are interesting .
I blog about worklife balanace , mumbai marathon & finding great place to work at ; http://www.vgoel.blogspot.com/ & http://www.justforchange.blogspot.com/

Reply

Susan Henderson December 18, 2006 at 5:11 pm

vg – CMU?

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n.l. belardes December 18, 2006 at 11:55 pm

Stay tuned, there’s going to be a controversial image sometime this week on Paperback Writer inspired by and just for Lauren Baratz-Logsted, whose Victorianesque book “Vertigo” I started a few days ago… -n.l.

Reply

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