What’s so hard about my life, anyway?

It’s a fair question. Many people talk about how they would love a life where they spend most of their time at home with their child. Writers often talk about how they’d love to not have a day job, to spend hours a day with nothing to do but write. So what could I – a mom, a freelancer, a college student, without a day job – have to complain about?

The fantasy of staying home only works when you have support. You need a way to pay the bills, a way to get a break from the childcare (if that’s part of your life), a group of people to share and interact with. What if you didn’t have that?

I live with my son in a small college town, on the opposite coast from where I grew up. I have one person in this town. He’s a wonderful person, he’s everything that I could want him to be, but he’s the only one I’ve got to lean on. I have no friends close by. I have no family. My mother lives in California, and not only is she raising my nephew, she was in an accident a few years ago that left her with multiple pins and plates in her leg. After pt and more surgeries, she’s starting to be able to walk again, but hasn’t yet been able to fly out to visit.

My son’s father’s family isn’t in his life. His father decided that he didn’t want a child with a disability, that having to visit on time or pay child support were too much trouble, and so he disappeared about five years ago. His parents, my son’s paternal grandparents, have other grandchildren they’d rather spend their time on. Grandkids that talk.

My son doesn’t, much. He has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, also known as Verbal Dyspraxia. It’s a bit like dyslexia for words. He understands a lot of what you say to him; he’s smart enough that even without language, he can operate computers, phones, video games. He’s pretty certain he knows how to drive a car. (No, I don’t let him.) He’s in the right math class for his grade. He can get by, with help, in mainstream class, with typical kids. But he’s got what we call “a Doctor Suess vocabulary”. He can regularly get out about as many words as a typical toddler. But he’s almost a teenager, with all the thoughts and interests of any 12 year old. Worse, he’s known since he was a little child that he has a speech disorder. He has so much he wants to say, but he can’t get it out.

Imagine how frustrating that would be.

When he has a bad day, I’m who he has. When his school isn’t giving him what he needs, I’m his advocate. When he’s sick, I’m who stays home with him. When he can’t be in school, I can’t be at work. When he’s angry at himself, which is every day, I’m there to help him calm down, take a breath, find the words he’s struggling to get out. I replace his shirts when he’s chewed through them – a bad habit he can’t seem to break, since it’s how he deals with the constant pressure of facial muscles that won’t do exactly what he needs them to do. I try to figure out how to teach him all of the little things you usually pick up from conversations he’s not yet capable to having.

He doesn’t spend the night at a friend’s house. He doesn’t go to grandma’s for the weekend. If I go to a convention, I have to hire a babysitter. (When I went to DragonCon, I had to hire three, so there would be enough coverage for the whole weekend.) I run errands when he’s at school, or in the middle of the night when he’s sleeping. I worry, all the time, about what his life will be when he’s 16, 18, 20, 30…

To have a real dayjob, I need to be able to hire someone to be with my son when I can’t. The kind of jobs I’ve been able to get so far don’t pay enough for that. Going to college for a degree in business – a field with much greater job opportunities – is my chance to be employed with a salary that will pay for the help I need to make certain my son has his best chance at life. My best chance at life, too.

I have this dream that one day, I’ll have a day job that pays the bills. I’ll be able to stop spending all of my “free time” chasing clients, and instead I’ll be able to write as much as I want, instead of stealing hours from sleep and studying. I’ll be able to go on a date with my person, instead of spending every night at home with my son. (We love him! But leaving the house sounds really nice, too.) I will be able to take my son to the waterpark he asked to go to all summer, or buy him new clothes each time he gets taller.

I’ll have a life that isn’t juggling expenses to figure out which I can pay and which I can ignore, paying my rent three weeks late (like I did this month), and being afraid, all the time, that something will happen I can’t fix.

To get there, I need to get through this semester. To do that, I need your help. I don’t have family to turn to you. I just have all of you.

You can access my GoFundMe page here.

Big Life Change: I’m going back to college (and how you can help)


It was a tough decision. Being laid off from my job last month means that I have the time now to finally finish up my degree, and to actually switch to a major which will make me much more employable than my previous work in Art History. But with no opportunity to get Pell Grants or loans for school, I’m not being paid to attend college — I’m just adding full time school to my regular life, and without a day job right now, I’m already struggling to make enough money. How do I decide to spend money on college when I don’t know whether I’m paying my rent in a few days? How do I not go to school when I have this opportunity now, it will make me more employable, a much better freelancer, and generally a more useful person?

Ultimately, I decided to do my best, and make this work.

I’ll be going for two semesters at community college for an AS in Business Management, and then two semesters at state for a BS in Business, Economics, and Management (with a minor in public administration). I still need to come up with part of the tuition so I can start school — asap! — but I’ve been awarded grants that will cover 80% of classes and books, maybe a little more. It’ll be tough, balancing work, kid, and full time college, but hopefully I can get to where being unemployed and in debt is somewhere I never have to be again.

That’s if I can find the rest of the money to get started. If any of you have ever wanted to take a workshop from me, hire me as an editor, proofer, book designer, anything — or even loan me money until after the semester starts, now would be the time that I really need it.

How you can help:

  • I’m happy to offer a discount to anyone who books me for editing this month. Take advantage of me!
  • My next workshop — Plotting the Short Story — begins on the 15th. If you’re interested in a low-cost online workshop, packed full of exercises and advice from me and your fellow students, please check out my upcoming workshops. With school and work, I’m not sure how many of these (if any) I’ll be able to offer next year. Now’s the time to join us!
  • Don’t need any work done now but you’d like to help me buy textbooks and school supplies? You can donate to me via PayPal.

If you’ve got other work you’d like to discuss with me, need a mailing address, or have questions, please feel free to contact me at cuinnedits at gmail.

Thank you.

* At some point I should probably also tell the story of I used up all of my federal grants and maxed out my student loans going to the University of Pennsylvania, only to have it run out one semester before graduation… But that story depresses me so much. Maybe next time.

Writing Advice: Shop at ALDI

Where I live, we have several options for buying food. In addition to the local grocery store chain, there’s a fancy yuppie market, a “whole foods” -style store that sells a lot of vegan/veggie foods, a farmer’s market (a couple of days of week through the summer), an Aldi, Walmart, an Asian market… even the Target has a grocery section. Usually, I do one or two big shopping trips to Aldi a month, and that covers everything except for what I get at the Asian market (lumpia wrappers, pancit noodles, etc), and a a trip to the chain store to get the few items I can’t get otherwise (or I’ll get them if I have to go to Target that month).

The last few weeks I’ve been so busy that instead of taking the time to shop at Aldi*, I’ve been picking up just what I need most, at the chain store. It’s much more expensive, and though it’s quick, it’s a time spent on lot of little trips. Plus, instead of having a fridge full of food to choose from, I end up stressed and annoyed that I don’t have choices; I don’t eat as healthily, and it’s tempting to get fast food or order delivery instead of yet another trip to the store to get dinner…
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My Secret Love Affair With Jazz

I could argue that Jazz is the most important musical style out there. The most groundbreaking, the most influential, the most responsible for shaping modern musical expression. I may not be able to prove it (though I’m happy to debate it), but I can say one thing definitively: it’s the biggest musical influence on my life.

And I don’t know why. It’s a question I don’t have an answer to yet.

I don’t listen to it every day. But I don’t have to. The music that I do listen to, and that I like, when it’s not Jazz, is probably created by musicians who were raised up on Jazz, taught it, loved it, and built something new out of it. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about foundations, about influence, about where our tastes come from. Just as I’ve been going back and re-reading (and reviewing) classic works of science fiction, so too have I been going back to my musical roots. I’ve been rereading some old music texts, listening to songs, studying where lines of style intersect and veer off. Did you know that Jazz in the Philippines, for example, didn’t start with the influx of American soldiers in the 40s, but most likely began earlier, with a group of Filipinos who’d fled the Spanish-ruled islands decades before and settled in New Orleans? (Before I left Penn I was writing a paper on it for my World Music class.)

Jazz is so interesting to me partly because I don’t remember why I like it. I grew up listening to rock with my mom. She woke up almost every morning, opened the doors to the deck, and turned on her sound system loud enough to wake the neighbors. Most days, this was on purpose. From her I get AC/DC, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull. From a close family friend I get Bluegrass, and from a couple of years when I was about 6 or 8, I think, I got my mom’s brief country influence – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson – and a vague memory of how to 2-step. This led to an understanding of the fundamentals of Heavy Metal when I got into high school in 1991, mixed with some hard rock: Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Guns N Roses. I spent some time with Foreigner, Def Leppard, Journey, Night Ranger, Aerosmith, and Chicago cassette tapes in my Walkman. By the end of high school I was into Nirvana and the Cure, got into Bauhaus and Psychedelic Furs in my first bout of college, did some time in the goth scene, got into chick/indie rock and 70s glam rock (hello Indigo Girls, Iggy Pop, David Bowie) …

But where does my love of Jazz come from? The thing I didn’t mention above is that at the same time I knew the words to every song on Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album, and GnR’s debut, I was hanging out with the jazz band at school. I was in band, too (yes, there was marching, and an outfit), going from flute in middle school to French horn, trumpet, and percussion in high school. I could sit and listen to the trumpet line for hours, I dated a few drummers, I befriended the jazz choir kids – I loved it all. I’ve asked my mom and she has no idea where I’d have heard Jazz outside of school. She says I just liked it because I liked it.

Maybe that’s it.

But like my spotty ability to play a musical instrument, my musical history knowledge has some gaps in it. I took a class in American Musical History in Sacramento, when I was finishing up my AA degrees, and like I said, I’ve read some books, but I don’t know as much as I’d like to. Music matters to me, and always has, and though I’ll never work in it, it’s like my art history studies – it helps me to understand the world and to understand myself. So this is me, educating myself. I am going back to the beginning and I am going to teach myself what I don’t know. It’s never too late to learn, after all.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.