Saturday, January 31, 2009
I got in my 1K again today (yay! horns, confetti, ect!), but now I don't feel like writing my blog. Alas.
Sometimes I think it's just discipline. Halle made an interesting comment on the Ritual & Madness post that she's come to believe that ritual is all about discipline, and that the emotional response to disruption is simply knowing how hard it is to regain the discipline. I think she's got a great point there. I've read about authors who write in hugely disciplined ways. The beyond-prolific Nora Roberts says she writes eight hours a day. (Some out there will claim this is because she's doing factory-genre writing, rather than true Art, but that's neither here nor there.) And many novelists started out as journalists; they often cite that kind of disciplined, churn-out-articles-every-day writing as what built their ability to write consistently.
For myself, I find I don't seem to write -- to compose -- for more than a couple of hours at a time. I have a whole day to write, and I find myself composing for two hours or so, and revising the rest. That and doing business, like queries, submissions, etc.
What with my dream of being a full-time writer, I wonder if that means I'll still write about two hours a day and dork around for the rest...
That's what dreams are all about!
Friday, January 30, 2009
I have to let it sit there on its own line, because it looks so good to me. It's one of those celebrations that belongs to me and me alone. Well, and to Isabel, who's been sitting here offering silent support. Though I suspect she's just waiting for me to stop typing and start petting.
This is significant to me because I haven't written my self-required one-thousand words a day since I started this blog. That was my greatest fear -- that writing this would suck away my energy from working on my novel, or the sorority book or some of the essays I've promised to anthologies.
I knew going in that it would be a challenge. That I was changing my rituals and patterns. I gave myself the first week just to get used to writing the blog. Then I started phasing in my other writing again. And it just wasn't working. I'd blog, then add my posts to Facebook and MySpace, but not open my email. Sometimes I couldn't resist and would open my email, which is the kiss of death, the end of all further creative writing in favor of email replies. But, as I actually gained some friends on Facebook, that became the death knell to further writing.
So, today, I finally reversed the order. I did my 1K first, then wrote this. It's my own personal 1K Day, and the best part is I can have it every day!
Yes, I know you don't really care. You don't feel my rush. If you're not a writer, you probably think I'm nuts. But I know the writers out there understand.
Ten years ago, when we put on a Writers Summit for our region, we made a t-shirt. (Gotta have the shirt!) On the back we put this quote from Mark Rutherford:
"There is in each of us an upswelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp."
That's why it feels good to get my words in. I've cut a course today and the swamp is draining. New life springs up in its wake. It's a good day.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
You'd think I'd risen from the dead.
I dragged myself into the kitchen and they bolted for their food dishes -- which had still some dry food in them, mind you -- portraying desperate starvation the way only a cat can. I mentioned it when I visited David taking his bath, to say good morning. Oh yes, he said, both cats had been coming in to stare at him accusingly. I wondered why, since they normally don't get fed until about this time anyway, when we get back from working out.
It's the wrong pattern of activity, he said; a disruption of their routine.
If you read yesterday's post, you know this comment hit home for me. The creative gurus are all about ritual and routine. Write every day. Write at the same time every day. Play the same music while you write. All meant to coax the subconscious into performing, like a well-trained pet. They compare the subconscious to an animal. Our unthinking animal side.
What happens when it falls apart? When I can't access my current novel in progress because I haven't yet reinstalled Word. When I can't listen to my writing playlist because I haven't reinstalled Sonic Stage. When the getting up and getting breakfast isn't timed the usual way and the yummy canned food doesn't fall in the bowl as expected. Frantic behavior, is what.
I have a friend whose mother every morning goes for a walk and then has her nonfat, sugar-free latte. I know about this because this woman's husband, my friend's stepfather, called my friend for advice. Apparently if she for some reason is made to miss her walk and latte, she becomes nearly hysterical. He wondered how to deal with it. And maybe was asking a slightly deeper question: is she a little crazy?
Maybe insanity isn't just doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Maybe it's becoming paralyzed if you can't do the same thing over and over. Ritual may feed the animal in us, but the higher being in us must remain flexible. Overcome and move on. Whether it's a computer malfunction, sickness, losing a job, losing everything -- the trick is being able to rise above the ritual and cope anyway.
In the end, ritual is a luxury.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
All the photos. I love the ones from this Christmas in particular. What if the back-up didn't get them all? It was acting funny too.
My finances. I'd have to reconstruct at least the last few weeks to figure out where we're at. Oh God -- I'd have to reconstruct all of 2008 for my taxes. When will I do that?
My novel. Does Liz have the most recent version? If the back-up won't work (it still won't run), when did I last throw the novel on the jump drive?
The emails. Ohhh...all the emails I've saved but haven't quite dealt with yet. Our house sale, the move, correspondence with editors, agents, friends. The hundreds of little tasks predicated on information in those emails.
See, I ended up reinstalling Windows Vista, because I had corrupted files and it was getting worse and worse and ... that's what the online stuff said to do and that I wouldn't lose my files. But I did lose my files. Nowhere to be seen last night. And I couldn't restore without reinstalling my backup software, which took time.
Finally, exerting heroic self-control, I went to bed, to deal another day. And in the night it came to me. A folder called "Old Windows" was promised at some point. I looked this morning and there it is. There is everything. My world is restored, the light pours through the clouds, the birds spiral in wheeling delight.
Now I just have to figure out how to get the programs to run again...
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
But now things have come around and the Superbowl is this Sunday. I don't know which we'll observe, tonight or Sunday. We never seem to come up with all that much to do to celebrate, which is okay, too.
For many years we talked about reprising our first date. The problem there? It was a terrible first date. It was cold, it was late. There had been a huge going away party on Friday night, I'd gone on a long ski excursion Saturday, chili and beer all afternoon hadn't perked me up, I wasn't sure of him, the movie was terrible, he asked if he made me nervous and dropped me off. We didn't kiss until our third date. And no, I don't know that date at all, except that it was well after Valentine's Day. Long story. Suffice to say, it took us a while to recover from the first date.
"Your anniversary of what??" a friend once asked scathingly. I notice that people (read: other women) with wedding anniversaries get upset when I mention our first-date anniversary. They'll often trot out their own dating history and tell me what their cumulative count would be, if they counted from the first date and not the wedding. They almost dare me to argue, which I never do. The beginning is the beginning, no matter how inauspicious. I've come to believe that a bad beginning holds all the luck in the world.
Happy Anniversary, My Dear!
Monday, January 26, 2009
So, when it snows, we don't get a whole lot and it's seldom very wet. I don't mind shoveling it.
I didn't shovel at all yesterday. I just let the snow fall, piling up in heaves and pillows. Even when it cleared a bit in the afternoon and the neighbors all headed out to clear the walks, I stayed in my armchairl, papers all around me. With dusk, the snowfall resumed and by this morning all their little tunnels were filled again, fluffy and smooth.
But I did shovel this morning, after the rec center. Sunday is over, so the snow can no longer rest. It must be cleared away so business can resume. People trudge by in their Monday morning boots.
I stay inside and watch them go.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Dorchester editors picked seven entries from contest submissions and posted them online. For round one, readers voted (by sending an email with the book's title in the subject line) for the best first line. One contestant was eliminated. In the second round, readers voted for the best hero and heroine, from short descriptions; another contestant was eliminated. We're now at round three, voting on the best story summary and two of the five remaining contestants will be eliminated. Oh, the winner gets a publishing contract. No mean stakes.
So, because it's all about reader votes, M-C has been out there engaged in promoting herself and her book, Ancient Whispers, like an unknown Senator pushing for President. A little frenetically so at times (she really, really wants this and who can blame her?), and her friends and family have had to tell her to chill.
At first I wondered if it was fair, to campaign for votes. Shouldn't it be left entirely up to the reader to decide? But then, do any of us believe that the books that sell well do so entirely on their own merit? Marketing is a fact of American life. And as authors, we're all learning that we can't just sit in our garrets and drop our pages out the window, hoping they'll be seized upon with gusto and celebration. Well... we can, if we don't mind starving up there.
And would an unknown Senator expect to be elected just because he's the best and everyone should recognize his merit?
In many ways, M-C is learning how to do what she'll need to do once she is published: let everyone know about her and her book. I guess I'd better start learning lessons from her.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
It's all a tolerance thing. If I don't drink anything for a couple of weeks, then one glass of wine is enough. It'll be delicious and satisfying, and perhaps even give me a little warm buzz. Maybe it's the dark January evenings, but I haven't done a ruthless, no alcohol diet yet this year. Instead I'm sipping red wine all evening long. It doesn't help that Barefoot came out with the biggie bottle of red zin -- it's the wine version of hot chocolate. A pretty glass, a sparkling fire and that spicey bloody wine makes the winter evenings worthwhile.
And though I rarely get drunk, and haven't made myself sick from booze in probably ten years (though we were all dragging rear Christmas morning this year from some really excellent champagne), I am so compelled by Pink's Sober video.
I've been into Pink's angry white chick music since her I'm Not Dead Yet album. Before that I'd written her off as a frothy hip-hopper, confused in my mind with Lil Kim and her ilk. I've since picked up her earlier stuff, too, and while there is some hip-hoppy stuff (apparently she was pushed that way by her early producers), a lot of it is raw and real and moving to me.
While I, even in my most dedicated Gamma Phi Beta college days, was never the party girl Pink depicts in her video, there's a part of her I know. Perhaps it's that ever-present fear that you could slip that far. Fall over the edge into an oblivion where you no longer recognize yourself. Pink's plaintive cry "why do I feel this party's over?" echoes the somber realization of the over-40 woman. I'm having to realize that the days of perfect resilience are over. I no longer blithely burn everything I eat and drink.
A friend of mine is an adrenaline junkie. He's made a career of it. A fabulous career of doing amazing things like climbing unclimable mountains and kayaking through ice floes and writing about it all. Just after New Year's he went ice climbing with a friend. An avalanche roared over them and the friend died. I saw my friend yesterday and I almost didn't recognize him, he looked so unaccountably aged. Perhaps it's the grief dragging him down and he'll recover. But I wonder what the over-50 adventure athlete does when the activities he's defined himself with are too much for him to recover from. Not all of them face this moment -- many get themselves killed before that. I suppose the one who survives redefines himself. Fortunately my friend is a great writer and a man of many talents.
It's easy to feel like the party's over when you hit the realization that second two-thirds of your life aren't going to be quite as on fire as the first third. Or second half vs. first half. But maybe it's just that it's a different party. A party in which I can be satisfied with a single glass of wine.
Friday, January 23, 2009
What's funny is, at the bottom there's a blank where you can fill in "Labels for this post." And then they offer "e.g. scooter, vacation, fall." Every day, when I fill in my labels, I look at "scooter, vacation, fall" and think about using them. I've considered starting some kind of special Blogspot Commemoration Day, where we all blog about scooters, vacation and fall. Probably I'm the only one entertained by the idea.
Last Fall we went on vacation to Italy, and we all rented scooters. It was really fun.
We went on vacation to Italy and were having a great time on our rented scooters until my mom took a bad fall.
The preponderance of "Scooters" in the Bush administration made us all want to go on vacation, until last Fall when Obama was elected and we felt much better about everything.
Okay, it's out of my system now.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
for the group:
Last Thursday I had a doctors appointment at [ ]. I expected to discuss new treatments. Instead she told me there was nothing more they could do for me. She estimates I have about 3 months. I'm totally at peace with pending death. I've enjoyed this group.
I found myself near tears at this. Heartbroken and unutterably moved at her grace in sending this out, as if it's just another thank-you note. I picture her like that: the kind of woman who sends you a thank-you note for the lovely lunch and mentions again how pretty your blouse looked. I've changed her name here, because I feel certain she's not the sort of woman who would want her business all over the internet.
And yet, I felt compelled to share it. Perhaps how we face our deaths is the final measure of how we approach our lives. My great-aunt had little cards prepared -- stamped and pre-addressed -- to send after her death that said, "you've received this card because I've died." She went on to tell us special things and asked us to remember her in happiness. My favorite professor declined extreme treatment for his cancer so he could spend his remaining days in the classroom.
So here's to your "adios," Grace. May your last months be filled with love and art and beauty. And may you be remembered in happiness.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Scarlett Johansson beamed at me, all sultry eyes and milky skin. Kate Hudson sparkled with a saucy wink. For an instant I longed to be them. I thought, how wonderful to have Scarlett's life, with her beauty and those gorgeous clothes.
Yes, yes -- I know. Silly.
In my defense, the emotion washed away quickly. I know perfectly well that the conference calls today won't be anything I can't get through. And there are much worse things in life than suffering a little stress for the money I earn, that allows me to lead a very pleasant life. I know, also, that Scarlett's life is also full of stress and meetings and working out at the gym. She might not have to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but that's about it. And Kate Hudson has done several things that I suspect makes her emotional life not all that rewarding.
The thing is, I didn't really long in that moment be THEM, to live their lives. What I wanted was to be those pictures. I wanted to feel what the glossy women seemed to feel. Which is what they're selling after all.
At least I didn't buy it.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I like this idea of the muse. More of an avenging angel or tricky demon, than the sprightly Olivia Newton-John roller girl. The artist who calls in the muse should be on her guard, ready for the swipe to the gut she didn't see coming. The artist who baits the muse... well, be careful what you wish for.
Monday, January 19, 2009
I'm picturing these people, coming home from their jobs and hunkering down over the computer. A dark room lit by only a single desk lamp. Or possibly only the blue glow of the computer screen. On and on they send, lining up appeals for financial exchanges, offers of penis-enhancement products and enticing work-at-home opportunities -- presumably like the one they have. Apparently many of them go out on Saturday night, instead of working.
Or is this related to prison schedules? More computer time allowed, an extra perk for the weekend. Maybe all the spam (spams?) arrive overnight because of all the Africans, Europeans and Asians working while I'm sleeping to advise me of their gold mines, my lost inheritance, my lottery win.
I wonder if they communicate with one another, a community of spammers. I'll notice that one will come up with something new that manages to snag my attention. What? A photo of me doing something stupid? Not that this is beyond the realm of possibility, but... and as the thought completes, I realize the scam and delete. Then for weeks afterwards I'm deluged with stupid photo subject lines, many that gradually evolve to add new elements. But it's too late, I recognize the breed now, no matter how it's redecorated. Perhaps they spam one another. There's my late-night spammer, home from his job. He sees the email. A photo of him doing something stupid? He clicks. Oh! he grunts. So clever. I should do this, too.
Or maybe it's just a pull-down list from Spammer Central: select from package delivery, dear friend, private and confidential. All pre-formatted, just add random email addresses.
No matter: it's still the guy on the corner with the raincoat full of watches. The flapping flyer on the telephone pole urging you to work from home sealing envelopes. The eternal hope that, no matter how familiar and tattered the bait, some fish may bite.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
It's a funny thing, being out of touch. Normally I wouldn't have yet talked to her, early on a Sunday morning. In many ways, she's no more distant from me now than she was in Tucson yesterday. And yet, there she is, out in a desert I've never seen, my mind shrouding her in an outfit she never wears. I find myself missing her.
When she called from JFK before boarding the flight to Cairo, I asked, "so, do you have any plans for communication at all -- or is this goodbye for three weeks?" She paused, conferred with Dave, my stepfather, and replied with surprise that no, they hadn't thought of it. The surprise is because Dave, also a former Air Force guy, and so level-headed with it, usually thinks of everything. (I'm saying also, as in along with Sullenberger, our new hero.) They speculated about Internet cafes, phone cards that could be purchased, that the Egyptian hotels might have Internet themselves now. They said they'd figure something out. I said not to worry about it.
Just a few days ago, my mom was lamenting her hard drive crash that prevented her from being on Instant Messenger. She had to call me on the phone to make contact, which seemed onerous. We laughed, wondering what we did before we had email or the Internet at all. When our phones were tied to the wall at home.
Our lack of contact now is only an illusion. For the right price, I could call her. She'll find Internet access, most likely. And yet, in my heart, she's as distant as a Victorian Egyptologist, white parasol in hand, admiring the Great Sphinx under the sun.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
By now you have the details: taking off from LaGuardia, the US Air jet sucked birds into two engines. The birds were big enough to cause immediate, devastating damage, knocking the spinning turbines off enough that one engine burst into flames. The pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, reported the double bird strike, requested permission to return to LaGuardia, then said "unable," and asked permission to land at a New Jersey suburban airport, again came back with "unable." He then told the passengers to brace themselves because the plane was going down, and he landed the plane in the river. Hence the "splashdown."
What's remarkable here to me, is that Sullenberger kept his head so well that he not only navigated a spectacular landing, but he kept communicating the whole time.
Those of you who know me know that I have a consuming interest in plane crashes. In many ways the plane crash is both a seminal incident in my life and an ongoing metaphor for me. Sullenberger trained first as an Air Force Academy pilot, like my father. And where many cockpit recordings from plane crashes yield only frantic babbling, this one shows a pilot so well trained that he continued to let everyone know what was going on, even as he dropped an Airbus loaded with people into the Hudson River.
They're calling him a hero, and that's probably appropriate. The kind of hero who coolly walks through the plane twice to ensure all the passengers were off. The kind who smiles and nods graciously when people thank him for their lives.
But I think what really captures us here is that this is different than the usual metaphor. If a plane crash symbolizes how everything can go abruptly wrong, snipping threads in an instant of impact, then this is the reverse. The threads that weren't snipped; how it almost happened, but didn't. How someone who keeps his head can avert disaster. That a disaster can be magically converted to a splashdown.
Friday, January 16, 2009
And yes, I realize I'm now complicit by using their phrases here. Alas.
Their "verbal superseed" -- they don't give a definition that I see, but I'm inferring that by adding "super," they mean to convey it's their favorite or most powerful -- is "TK Day." This is the day that you are 10,000 days old. You're meant to celebrate it as more meaningful than arbitrary governmental birthdays that allow you rights such as driving a car, drinking, voting, going to war. And renting a car, in which you can presumably do all of these things. For those of you whipping out your calculators, your 10,000th day occurs sometime when you're 27.
See? We knew it was silly.
Today, I am 15,488 days old. (If you want an easy way to figure this out, go to Excel, type in today's date in one cell and your birthday in another. Go to Format>Cells and select "number" from the general tab. Subtract your birthday from today's date and there you have it.) So I missed both my 10,000th and 15,000th day anniversaries. At 20,000 days, I'll be nearly 55.
It's sounding grimmer all the time -- I can't see this catching on like wildfire with anyone but a silly twenty-something.
They also push for returning the venerable "hello" when answering the phone to "are you there?" Apparently they haven't realized that the cell phone sea change has already changed this to the universally used "where are you?"
Speaking of which, "sea change" is a bit of Shakespeare's verbal seeding. It's wrong of me to trivialize his phrase, especially to describe a society that largely believes "wherefore art thou Romeo?" means "where are you Romeo?" not "why are you Romeo?" Of course, with the sea change (sorry), Juliet could be staged on her balcony, with her cell.
"Where are you, Romeo? What? Can you hear me now?"
Thursday, January 15, 2009
And in school, our teachers simplified the rules for us as we learned to parse correct sentences. Never start a sentence with a conjunction they said. (Oh look, and here I already broke it.) Starting sentences with conjunctions tends to lead to sentence fragments, just as starting the day with a bottle of wine can pretty much trash the rest of the day. This doesn't mean there's anything wrong with drinking a bottle of wine in the morning. Wine is a lovely thing, drinking it can be wonderful and depending on what you were planning to do with the rest of the day, drinking a bottle of wine in the morning can be just fine. Say, for lolling on the beach. Not so much for working.
I remember when I found out that is wasn't really a "rule" that you can't start a sentence with a conjunction. It's like not being able to ride the roller coaster when you're little. Once you get mature enough, you can wrangle the grammar all you like. I felt such a sense of freedom. No longer was I confined by 3rd composition principles. The world of wordsmithing opened up, vast and full of possibility.
It reminds me of my favorite religious studies professor in college, Professor Hadas, who described himself as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. (A fine joke, for those who don't know.) Professor Hadas said that most people have a kindergartner's understanding of their religion. Meaning that, most of us retain the stories we're told as children -- Jesus on the cross, Mary & Joseph in the stable, Mohammed and the mountain, Esther, the destruction of the temple, etc. -- and don't ever break out of that child's mindset to really explore the adult spiritual concepts.
A contest judge recently marked me down-- WAY down -- for starting sentences with conjunctions. And for using sentence fragments. In fact, she recommended I go take a course in grammar. It was beyond her world to see that the rules can be broken. That for art, for example, to create a certain cadence, the rules should be broken. Many so-called rules of writing are like this. Don't use ellipses. Don't use adverbs. In fact, in the otherwise wonderful Georgia Review article on my essay collection, the reviewer's only complaint was that I used adverbs. Every one has their pet peeves, but the point is, these "rules" are really guidelines; markers to guide your way to better writing. Ellipses are okay. Adverbs are okay. Deliberate sentence fragments are okay, too. Just don't overuse them. Just like you shouldn't overuse the word egregious. A little goes a long way.
Now, where's the wine?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I tried it again. Nothing. Went back to blogger page, tried a few potential passwords. Nope. Tried my “forgot my password” routine again. Spin spin spin. Only this time the page won’t load at all – I can’t try to enter new passwords because the spaces won’t even come up.
With my amazing reasoning abilities, I deduce that Something Is Wrong with Blogspot.
The logical thing to do is wait, come back later and see if they’ve sorted it out. After all, nothing on my end has changed since I logged on last night. But. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.
I have to keep rechecking the pages, reclicking the links, to once again discover that nothing is working. Spin spin spin.
There’s an old saw that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or whoever else seems a likely source of pithy remarks. (Wikiquote says it’s actually from Rita Mae Brown – but that doesn’t give the same caché.) It’s one of those bits of common wisdom that gets circulated and recirculated like a salient bit of gossip at a cocktail party. It arouses our interest because we recognize our own behavior in it. In fact, if you Google that exact phrase, you’ll get in the neighborhood of 17,000 hits.
The prospect of insanity worries us all. And somehow, the user/computer relationship exacerbates the fear. Perhaps because, often, on the computer if you keep doing the same thing over and over, you DO get different results. Perhaps this indicates that the universe is not a fundamentally rational place at all.
So, I broke my little spin spin spin cycle and opened Word to write this out. Akin to working on paper – heaven forfend – should the power go out.
At least I feel good about having a different result.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Now, my schedule is pretty tight: I get up much earlier than I like; I go work out; I hit this blog (new activity); write for another hour and a half or two. Then I shower up, practice harp, work my day job. At night I have meetings sometimes or I hang with David, which I believe in as relationship investment time. So I think I have my time pretty well accounted for. But I thought it would be interesting to check.
I made a spreadsheet (it's the Virgo in me -- can't resist a spreadsheet) with my day listed in 15 minute increments, from 5:30 am to 11 pm. When my mom asked Sunday evening what I'd done that day, I sent her my 15 minute blow by blow list. Every mother should have such a responsive daughter. After she asked why on earth I'd done this, she remarked, "right off, I'd say less computer time."
No shocker there. Though I defended it as an unusually heavy computer day because I'd been at the workshop the day before and had lots of catch-up to do. But even tracking my work day yesterday, which admittedly involves being on the computer all day, a huge chunk of my day is spent on emailing, instant messaging and looking stuff up on the internet. No, not surfing so much as deliberately going from link to link, reading the daily stuff on my list.
Okay, so there's networking which, just like relationship investment, takes time. No way around that. And even Renee, like many others before her, exhorts reading blogs if you're trying to market work as a writer.
The upshot is: what's dropping out is my reading time. Even though I'm in the middle of a fascinating book (Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer) and had time scheduled to read it, that time decreased, wedged up against my looming bed time hour, and I spent more time on the computer. Working on stuff to market my work, so I can sell books to people who have less time to read them.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Kevin and Linda were the first among our group to marry. The first to have a baby -- who's now a senior in high school herself, planning to launch out to the east coast come fall, ivy league schools willing.
Nothing about this is new. The world turns, times change. Turn around and you're four, turn around and you're grown. Sunrise, sunset, seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers. So many songs about it. The last from Fiddler on the Roof, which we staged in high school, Kev playing Tevye. Now Gwen Stefani sings "If I Were a Rich Girl," in a ragga remix.
There are rumors of a reunion tour for us: a cruise next January to celebrate 20 years. Unless the ivy league schools come through with acceptances only and no scholarships. And who knows who would make it? Our diaspora is entrenched now, our lives have traveled so far down the diverging pathways that we haven't communicated in years.
But, hey, the unicorns made it.
(Happy anniversary, Kev & Linda)
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The CRW folks welcomed me graciously and with great enthusiasm. Renee Hagar, who writes as Renee Knowles, and both writes and is an editor for Wild Rose Press, gave a workshop. Wild Rose Press is interesting because it's an e-publisher. I confirmed with Renee that they have no bricks and mortar offices. The editors work out of their homes, books are published either electronically or via a print-on-demand service, probably through Amazon.
Wild Rose Press is an up and coming publisher for romance, which continues to be the hottest selling genre. And they have my full manuscript right now. It makes a writer like me feel torn. If Wild Rose Press will have me, how could I turn them down? Yet, electronic publishing still carries a stigma. RWA will not allow ebooks for consideration in the industry's most prestigous award, the Rita -- the romance equivalent of the Hugo or the Nebula. RWA's stance is that the writer is not valued enough in e-publishing. When few writers make more than $1,000 on an e-book, RWA has a point. Those are hardly professional wages. To provide a contrast, ten years ago Redbook magazine paid me $3,000 for one essay, which was right about the "industry standard rate" of $1 per word.
E-publishing is clearly the future. As the big publishing houses tighten their belts -- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editors were recently told not to acquire new books -- as printing materials grow more expensive and less acceptable in the Green Era, shipping and distribution grow more problematic, e-publishing is the answer to so many problems. E-book readers are becoming popular and affordable. And a younger generation is coming up without the resistance so many of us feel to reading electrons on a screen. I think there's no denying that e-books will eventually lose their stigma and will be the primary, if not exclusive medium, for reading in the future.
And yet, the advent of the internet has clearly devalued the written word. Blogs such as this one, where I write for free, abound. Anyone can pay to have a book published. E-publishers can take risks on new authors because it costs them little investment -- a double-edge sword for the writing world as it's easier for a new author to get published and yet, it implies that the standards have lowered.
And the writing itself? Is inarguably cheaper. Never mind a writer being paid $1/word. From an e-publisher, she may be getting less than 50 cents per book. Which, of course, is better than no book at all.
What a brave new world, and what shall we make of it?
Friday, January 9, 2009
This is the third winter she and her new husband have spent down there. "New" being a relative term, since they married two years ago this May. They've had to consciously build friendships in Tucson, since their lifelong social circles were in Denver. So they invite neighbors for dinner, sign up for charities and various events -- sifting through the people they meet looking for compatible couples and potential friends.
Through a strange coincidence, several of the gals in the couples they like most are named Nancy. There's Jack & Nancy, Bill & Nancy, Jim & Nancy, John & Nancy. It's so pervasive that, if they can't remember the name of the distaff side of one of couples -- which can happen, lots of new people, on top of the lifetime of names already filed away in their "friends" memory banks -- they simply refer to her as "Nancy." And they're usually right.
They've never mentioned if there's a standard man's name they use. But it makes me wonder if, someday, when David and I are living in some senescent community, will we call all the women Jennifer?
Thursday, January 8, 2009
This morning, David was running next to me on the treadmill at a steady pace, when he snagged his hand in the cord running from his MP3 player to his headphones. The MP3 fell, hit the belt, which zinged the little box like a bullet. I heard the SNAP crack through my own music and looked over to meet the equally startled gaze of the guy on the elliptical on the other side of David. Between us, David also looked around for his player, and promptly zinged off the back of the treadmill himself.
I'd done it once, too. One of the first times I went to the rec center, back when my lack of fitness and excess body fat confined me to walking the treadmill. I walked slowly, steadily. It was pretty dull, really. When I decided to pull off my sweatshirt, I didn't give it a second thought. Of course I can keep walking at a normal pace, especially one regulated for me, while pulling off a shirt.
But as soon as my eyes were muffled -- I zinged off the end of the treadmill. Nearly into the laps of some innocent people walking around the track. I flailed a bit, still caught in my sweatshirt. A bit confused about what happened, but still pretty much on my feet. Behind me, the treadmill softly chuckled to itself.
I suppose it's a lesson in attention. That even the most dull and reliable features of our lives can suddenly throw us to the side in a heap. Perhaps it's the most dull and reliable that bear the most watching. Those things that become so familiar we cease to pay attention to them. We get comfortable, trust them to pace along at exactly the settings we've previously designated and turn our attention to other things.
One of these days, we'll know better.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
High Wind Warning in effect until midnight MST tonight...
Mostly cloudy. Strong winds. Highs around 40. West winds 35 to 55 mph with gusts to 70 mph. Chance of precipitation 20 percent.
January in Wyoming is for wind. In point of fact, every season here is for wind. I have a Wyoming Wind Festival shirt showing the dates January 1 - December 31.
But it's worse in January. Maybe because January is so dark and bleak anyway. Little fresh snow, the old ices over, turning grayer and browner as the wind howls over it. Much of our snow here actually sublimates -- that's when a solid skips the liquid phase and goes straight to the third phase of existence, gas. Our snow goes from condensed ice, skips being water and evaporates into the dry air. Sweeping away and leaving us dry, cold and windblown.
You wake to the train-roar of it in the morning, listen to it howl around the chimney in the evening. And on the weather they remind you "high wind warning." Thanks for the update. But the tractor-trailer rigs upended on the interstate remind us that not everyone respects the wind. The snow-mobile trailer dumped on its side, the contents scattered and abandoned, bear testament. Advise no light trailers. Motorists planning to travel along Interstate 80 between Rawlins and the Summit driving lightweight or high profile vehicles may want to delay travel until later in the week.
See? they tell us. The wind won't always blow like this.
What's funny is, when the wind blows really hard like this, our electronic doorbell rings. Don't ask me why -- it's a mystery of electronics and physics. Static charge? Ions building up? I have no idea. But as I wrote this, the doorbell rang, so I went to disconnect it. Once it starts, it'll repeat indefinitely. But there was a young woman at the door -- very unusual in general, let alone this early in the morning.
She carried a baby in a sling against her breast and a bag of phone books, the wind howling at her back. She asked if this was the site of the company I work for, which it is. My home office is our Wyoming branch. She took my name in exchange for the phone book and declined stepping into the vestibule to note it down.
"Not a very nice day to be doing this," I said to her. The baby's dark eyes watched me in solemn wonder. Tucked up against her mother's breast, under a partially zipped parka, the wind wasn't tugging at her at all.
"It's not so bad!" the mother replied cheerfully. And she bounced down the steps, the wind tugging her hair with wild glee.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
For Going Green, Pritchett has gathered the work of more than twenty writers to tell their personal stories of Dumpster diving, eating road kill, salvaging plastic from the beach, and forgoing another trip to the mall for the thrill of bargain hunting at yard sales and flea markets. These stories look not just at the many ways people glean but also at the larger, thornier issues dealing with what re-using—or not—says about our culture and priorities.
The essayists speak to the joys of going beyond the norm to save old houses, old dishwater, old cultures, old Popsicle sticks, and old friendships—and turning them into something new. Some write about gleaning as a means of survival, while others see the practice as a rejection of consumerism or as a way of treading lightly on the earth.
Brimming with practical and creative new ways to think about recycling, this collection invites you to dive in and find your own way of going green.
Monday, January 5, 2009
But, just as every new venture is built on what came before, so is the past relevant here. So, I’m posting this one week later.
Last Monday, the 29th, my mother reminded me via instant messenger from Tucson that it was my father’s 70th birthday. No, I’m not a negligent daughter who forgot to send a card, failed to find a gift, or needed to be reminded to make that birthday phone call. My father, John Theodore Mize – Ted, to absolutely everyone – died in 1969, when I was three years old. Next October will be the 40 year anniversary of the F-4 plane crash that took his life. 2011 will be his 50th Air Force Academy class reunion. But Ted is forever 30, knowing nothing of these things.
In an interesting parallel, the following day Misty Evans, the writer, mentioned to me that her 10 year-old son announced at dinner that he wanted to be a fighter pilot. So she told him the story of my dad. (The first essay in Wyo Trucks is “Inheritances,” which tells this story.) About the great responsibility someone like that takes on. The grave and terrible risk of it all.
I wonder, if my father could have a do-over, what he’d choose? He wanted to fly. He wanted to leave his small town in North Carolina and be something more. More than his mother who finished 5th grade and raised her younger sister and then her sons and a passel of nieces and nephews. More than his father who finished 7th grade and worked in the furniture factory. The Air Force Academy lifted him up and out, into the sky. And dashed him to the ground again. Would he have traded that time in the sky for all the birthdays and anniversaries?
Somehow, though I never knew him, I think he’d say he got the better deal.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
She’s a virtual friend, which speaks to our burgeoning electronic society today. It’s not just for adolescents anymore! I met Lise because she coordinated a contest for a chapter of the Romance Writers of America. For those who aren’t familiar, RWA is an enormous international organization, subdivided into smaller chapters. Some of these chapters are regional and involve bricks & mortar meetings, while others are organized by topic and exist only on the internet. And many of these chapters conduct writing contests. These contests are extraordinary in my experience in the world of writing, because they almost all offer putting your manuscript in front of an agent or editor, either as the prize or as the final round of judging. There are a lot of contests and you can choose by which agent or editor’s desk you’d really love to sprawl across. Manuscriptually speaking, of course.
Lise is an amazing gal because she read EVERY ENTRY for the contest she coordinated. And, though I didn’t final in that contest, in the “so sorry” email she wrote to me, she told me her impressions of my manuscript, which were really complimentary. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I bill my book, Obsidian, as paranormal romance. Again, this is an RWA thing, but it means a story with sci fi/fantasy elements that’s also built around a love story. Only in my story, the heroine doesn’t meet the hero right away (she’s too busy with being unexpectedly dumped in fairyland) and he’s more of an antihero anyway, being a mercurial and manipulative fae, and the love relationship is more of a love/hate thing (c/f: mercurial and manipulative). At any rate, Lise gave me much-needed words of encouragement that, though my book doesn’t fit the mold, there is a place for it in the world.
Now, I don’t know how many contest coordinators read every entry. Lise said she did it because she felt a responsibility to have a sense of the manuscripts, so she’d know something about them to make sure the judging was fair. I thought it was a spectacular assumption of responsibility.
Plus, Lise has such interesting things to say about the alpha – and, lest we forget, the beta – males. She’s right: romance is escapist entertainment. And so the fantasy of the man who can take control of a chaotic world and make it perfect for us is the ultimate escape. Yes, dress me in designer clothes, plop me at a resort and make sure nothing unpleasant ever happens to me. It’s not reality. It’s not even what we really want. But for escape? Sign me up!
Saturday, January 3, 2009
They were having a swim meet at the Rec Center this morning. Always a bad omen: yellow school buses in the parking lot. They cheerfully list the counties across Wyoming. Sweetwater. Fremont. Campbell. Former Governor Mike Sullivan called Wyoming a small town with very long streets. To have a sporting event, schools must compete against schools from across the state, not from across the city. Only a couple of towns have more than one high school. School buses in the parking lot mean kids swarming the weight machines, the walking/running track, traveling in packs to look cool on a visit to the "big city."
On Saturdays, the Rec Center opens at 8:00 am. We sleep in and head over there around eight o'clock. Saturdays is our treadmill workout. David and I like the side-by-side treadmills that overlook the pool through tall glass windows. During my twenty minute run, I watched the families assemble, settle into the bleachers and the steamy warmth. Not a bad place to be on a sere winter day.
Bleachers are the natural habitat of teenagers. While the adults perch uneasily on the hard plastic benches, the young men -- this meet seemed to be all young men -- sprawled. The accepted pose required at least three tiers: Feet on one, butt on the middle and elbows on the highest. An elegant laid-back pose, especially well adapted to being shirtless, which they all were. Little kings, they surveyed their territory with cocky athleticism, reclining so that all might admire them.
But I felt no admiration. I've never quite gotten the stories of the older woman and the teenage lover. These high school boys are no more attractive to me now than they were when I was in school myself. I think that for me it’s because attraction to a person is all about the personality and character, which are not yet formed in most of these guys. Sure we can talk about a man with nice hands or strong shoulders or intense eyes. But in the end, it’s about his presence. His manliness.
The romance authors talk about the alpha male. As the genre dabbles in other areas, growing and drifting into science fiction, mystery, thriller, even mainstream fiction, those who work in the field struggle to define the genre. One particular I see most often is there must be an alpha male. That and an “emotionally satisfying ending.” The Happily Ever After (HEA) is no longer a prerequisite. But the alpha male: a must.
Which is interesting because, biologically speaking, alpha males are the exception, not the rule. There is only one alpha male wolf in the pack. There is only one alpha stag in the herd. As females, is that our biological imperative – to seek out the alpha male and ignore all of the secondary bachelor males? Is that what romance is about, the animal drive and nothing else?
Perhaps there’s something else to look for in the man of our romantic dreams: someone between the unformed boy and the elusive alpha male. After all, in nature, the alpha leads for only a short time before he’s taken down by the young males waiting restlessly in the wings for their turn at the females.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Following my mother’s tradition, and her mother before her, I take all Christmas decorations down on New Year’s Day. By New Year’s Night, everything is dark. Almost severe in its starkness. And I find I like it, just as much as I liked the garlands, lights and ribbons. My home is a blank slate for the coming year. (Yes, those of you who’ve seen my home are chortling away at the idea that I’d call my wild collection of art and tchotchkes a blank slate, but you get the idea.)
So today is January 2 and it’s all down. I turn the year around, from what was to what will be. Which reminds me of a piece I wrote for a compilation with my writers group, the Silver Sage Writers Alliance, now defunct. There were twelve of us and we collaborated with an artist who created books at the university. We each took the month of our birth and wrote a piece about it. He created images to go with what we wrote. However, two of us were born in August and no one in December. Since the other August gal said she couldn’t possibly imagine writing about any other month, I took dark December and wrote this:
I drape my house liberally with white lights to stave off the dark nights. My celebration of Christmas takes root less from Catholic breeding than from pagan solstice ghosts. At the nadir of the year, I turn my eyes from the morning gloom and the afternoon dark and festoon my home with swathes of gold, ribbons of light, splashes of color. Giving gifts echoes that thrill. Each surprise a nest of potential pleasure. Boxes burst open and release something new. A quiver for my man. A bow for my son. Choosing well, I draw the sweet grey recurve, standing firmly rooted. The string singing beneath my fingers, I am Diana. Huntress, moon lover. Wild and free. Arrows of light fly from my hands. I reach out and turn the year around, back into light, back into life.
The pages of the book were made from the paper the artist’s students created. I saw many of them, hanging on lines to dry. But the grant also dried up and the project was never completed. There is no art book. Of the twelve of us, two are dead – and not the oldest either – six have moved, and one has not been heard from in years.
Auld lange syne. Raise a cup to the old. Turn it around and toast the new.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
I was out in California – Fresno, I’m thinking – for my day job, having this conversation with a young woman (read: far more technically savvy and hip than I) who, upon hearing my convoluted description of my shiny, new, published-by-a-prestigious-university-press book exclaimed: “Oh! It’s like a blog!”
Okay, yes, I was insulted. I knew what a blog was (hey, I’m not THAT unhip), but I thought they were, well, less than literary. A passing fad. Nothing compared to the vast realm of real published work.
When my friend, a former Little, Brown assistant editor, said I should blog with my stories about promoting my book, I said no, I didn’t have time for that. When my mother, who has a jobette with Linkshare and sees every blog in the known universe, said I should blog, I patiently explained that blogging was a waste of energy for serious writers.
Five years later: here I am.
I concede. I capitulate. I jump on the proverbial band wagon (onto which, I’m reliably informed, 10,000 other people A DAY are also jumping – egad). Daily musings about collisions with the world. About love and power, and all that goes with them.
Hopefully there will be a happy ending.