Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sunday Scribbling: Skin

My Sunday Scribblings contribution: A snapshot of a fictional subway ride to work in NYC.

"Give me some skin, man." I look up from my knitting and see a tall, bald white guy, talking to his short black friend. Tattoos dance up and down Tall's arms as the two slap hands. They stand above my seat, screaming over the rumble of the subway car snaking through the tunnel, as if they're the only one on the train. Or as if we all cared who got drunk last night and ended up sleeping on his front stoop in Brooklyn.

Knit, knit, purl, purl, I say to myself, but all I can really hear is Short describing the sex he had with his girlfriend the night before. I glance to the passenger next to me and she raises her eyebrows.

"You going to see Carla?" Tall asks. I imagine she must be the screamer from last night.
Short nods, and then smiles a smile that makes it clear he was still thinking about those screams.

"What you making?" my Dan Brown-reading neighbor asks.
"A hat," I say. "My best friend just had a baby."
"Sweet," she says.
As Short goes on to describe the sex he plans to have today, I say to the woman, a little too loudly, "Yeah, the best friend whose sex life I know less about than Carla's." Best Blogger Tips

Friday, September 29, 2006

Brainstorming, a vent, and a mighty cute hot dawg

I used to wonder: who are these people stupid enough to dress their dogs in Halloween costumes? Now I know. (You can also get a glimpse of our very fat cat in the background)

Now the vent: I had it in my head that my next MFA submission was due Oct. 4. But I also seemed to know that it wasn't due until after next weekend. So while in a yoga class tonight, the two incompatible ideas collided and I spent half of shavasana wondering how the F I would get everything done by the 4th. When I got home and checked, the deadline is really the 9th. Stupid bug!


And finally, some brainstorming on my new story idea.

I think the next line will be: "'You're so melodramatic,' I can hear my brother say. And maybe he's right.

  • I think the death he/she is talking about isn't literal. It has something to do with the archaic job he/she has, something like manually gluing and restringing library books and journals in a college library where everything is going digital.
  • I'm not sure when this will present itself to the reader. I think I just need to freewrite on it tomorrow.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

A new story


I finished a first draft of my pound story. Whoo-hoo! And the best part is that I actually like it. Yes, it needs work, but I'm happy for the moment.

Last night while I was knitting, a new character "spoke" to me. He/she said:

"I’m dying. I guess you could say everyone is. The mortality rate of this disease called living is 100%. It’s just that I’m dying sooner than most. And the worst part is that no one will believe me."

I'd like to create a short, short story out of this beginning. Not sure AT ALL where it's going, who this person is, what he/she is dying from, etc. But I wanted to get it out there so the universe can work its magic. (Could I get any more new-agey?)

Time for a much deserved relaxing bath with bubbles and a book. Best Blogger Tips

Lists

Inspired by two blogs, here are some fun lists:

Things I like, in no particular order:
(Thanks Repeater for the inspiration!)
The beach, being invited to do things, being outside, sushi, most ethnic cuisines, wine, knitting, yoga, reading, writing, witnessing random acts of kindness, the sky at sunset in the fall, the air in the fall, fall in general: aka weather that you can be comfy in flip-flops, jeans, and a sweater, being honest, snuggling, Bug, Chloe, BoomBoom, staying in, going out, getting gifts that you really love esp when you didn't ask for them, hugs, berries of all kinds, tea, watching dogs or kids play, gardening, journals, books, thoughtful people

And as I promised in my last post, here's the beginning of a list of My Life In Stories:
  • I went through a phase as a kid where I stole stuff, usually from my older brother. One time when I was maybe 4 I stole all of the little chachkas he stored in this mini-filing cabinet thing. I took every last stick, thumbtack, rubber band, and eraser. How I thought he wouldn't notice, I don't know. He came home and was furious! He searched my room and found everything in my dresser (not a good hiding place, FYI). The whole time he was searching my room, my grandparents (who were babysitting us) sat on my bed with me and hugged me. Talk about unconditional love.
  • We used to have a house on the Jersey shore where we'd spend lots of time during the summer. It was near Atlantic City, and we'd hang out there a lot. (This was before it was seedy, and before Trump was there.) There was a boardwalk, and a bunch of kids' casinos where you could play games for stuffed animals. I remember once I won this raccoon who I named Ricky. How I loved Ricky. We stopped at my great aunt and uncle's house on the way back from the trip, and I left my beloved Ricky there. Of course I realized this when we were about an hour away. Man, did I cry. And scream. And cry some more. And then my parents made what I consider a fatal flaw--they turned around and we drove to get Ricky. I know, it was awfully nice of them to do (though in reality it was probably more for their own sanity than my comfort). But from then on crying hysterically=getting my way. I just recently managed to get over that habit
OK, that's all the embarrassing memories I can dredge up for now.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I've got mail

I set up a yahoo email account to go with this site and posted it in my bio. I didn't think anyone would ever use it, though, so I forgot about it. Until today. I had some lovely messages from people whose blogs I had posted on. Thanks for the mail!

I'm particularly grateful for Shelly's email. I had happened upon her blog somehow, and emailed to ask about a post she wrote about a project she started called My Life in Stories. It's basically a list of stories of your life that you often tell or are important to you in some way. This sounded like a fun and inspirational idea, and now I have a link to Shelly's explanation of the project. I think I'll tackle the beginning of a list in my next post. Thanks Shelly! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Submissions


I submitted an essay to a small journal today. This is the first thing I've submitted in a long, long time, and it scared me silly. I put off proofreading it for 2 days, and when I stopped to wonder why, I realized it was because I was scared about letting the essay go. All of a sudden, it needed weeks and weeks of work. But the deadline is Oct. 1! Best not to submit it then... And then I realized: if I don't submit it, it won't get published. If I do submit it and it gets rejected, it won't get published. Same outcome, so I might as well take a chance.

Crossing the street to the mailbox, I thought it was a good omen that I got a "walk" sign. But then the mailbox didn't open properly because someone had jammed too many letter in it at once. Bad omen? I figured not, since my envelope managed to squeeze past the jam.

Now I'm going to make a list of alternative places to send the essay. So that way if (I first typed when, but I'm trying to be optimistic here) it gets rejected, I'll be all set to send it to another place. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another schedule

My third MFA submission is coming up on 10/4, so of course, I need another schedule.

By this weekend:
  • complete additional scenes needed for my short story
  • Be on my way to finishing annotation

This weekend

  • Edit writing in story. Check for language, redundancies, make sure each scene is needed, etc.
  • Edit annotation #1

Next week

  • Continue editing
  • Finalize interdisc project handouts and scripts
  • Finish annotation book

Next weekend

  • Write annotation on Fri or Sat.
  • Finalize story draft
  • Write letter to mentor

Early the week of the 4th

  • Proof story
  • Edit annotations

Somewhere in there, I would like to plant some bulbs as well.

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My name is bug, and I am a writer

This morning I skimmed the "Week 1" chapter of the Artist's Way. It's all about how to face and then banish your inner critic. One of the exercises it said to do was say aloud, "I, YOUR NAME, am a prolific [ARTIST, WRITER, PAINTER, etc.]. I read it and kind of scoffed. What would that do? So I said, "I Christine am a prolific writer."

Before I could get prolific out, my inner critic flared, prolific? Ha! (Even though TheRepeater so kindly called me just that on this here blog a little while back.) Then the nicer part of me said, I do write a lot--3 morning pages, blogging, short stories, and essays. Not to mention the journalistic writing I do for pay. And the critic countered, "Yeah, but you haven't published any of your so-called creative writing." He had me there. Yes, I know that getting published is not a prereq for calling oneself a prolific writer, but it sure would be a nice way to prove it to myself.

Needless to say, I will whole-heartedly be doing the exercises about writing down positive affirmations repeatedly. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, September 24, 2006

24 hour story contest, a recap

I just sent in my submission for the 24 hour short story contest. It was a really good experience. I didn't find the topic stimulating (it was a long paragraph about a girl who lost her prayer kapp and was called stupid by her Bishop), but I managed to get an idea and go with it. BostonErin and I met at the Wellesley library and wrote together (accompanied by the sound of the LOUDEST typer/sigher/fidgeter you can imagine). After we each had a draft, we took ourselves out to a lunch of greasy fries and sandwiches.

Here's what I learned from the experience:
  • Normally when I write I either have a really good sense of where the story's going or a really good sense of the character. I develop these things by spending time journaling about the idea or running it through my head a lot. 24 hours doesn't allow for that kind of thoughtfulness, so instead I forced myself to free write first about the character--her age, location, what she wanted out of life, etc. And then I tried to make an outline that included just the first few scenes. From there, I knew the others would flow.
  • Knitting really is the best thing to do when you're stuck on a story. At one point, I was hating my draft, so I picked up my yarn. Within a few stitches, I realized why I hated it, and once I changed that, I could move forward.
  • Writing friends are awesome. It is so much more fun and educational to share experiences like this and discuss them. Thanks BostonErin for suggesting the date!
  • The rules of the contest mention things that a lot of people do wrong. Unfortunately I didn't read these until after I wrote my story. One I broke was to go with the first idea that came into my head. According to the site, that often results in lots of people writing on the same topic. I hope that didn't happen, but we'll see... I do have hope--when we do exercises in my writer's group, I always go with my first idea and we all end up with completely different stories.

I'll hear back from them in a month, and I'll be sure to post here about it.

If you're interested in joining the next contest, click here to learn more: http://www.writersweekly.com/misc/contest.php

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Self portraits

Brian and I always end up taking pictures of ourselves because I hate to ask people to take my picture, but I like having pictures from when we go to special places. I finally uploaded a bunch of photos off our digital camera, so I thought I'd share some of our self portraits. As is usually the case in these types of pictures, one or both of us is making a silly face in these.

On the ferry from Bainebridge Island to Seattle on our vacation in May:


In Vancouver on the same trip:


And at our friend's wedding recently, which was extra special because it took place at the same place we got married, on a vineyard in New Hampshire:

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Sunday Scribblings: Instructions

This is an interesting Sunday Scribbling since the prompt is to write about instructions, but no instructions are given. I love irony!

I both love and hate instructions. If they're too long--say ones that come with putting a piece of furniture together--my attention wanders and I don't follow them and then my coffee table is forever slanted. If they're too demanding or precise (to be a real yogi, you must wake up at 5 am to do yoga), I rebel and lose interest in the project. But left without instructions, I complain that I don't have enough direction to get started. Yes, maybe there's just something about instructions that is inherently ironic.

All of a sudden, a lot of my friends are having babies. Of course it makes me think if or when I'll want my own. I'm still pretty unsure, though I imagine one day I will (but I really don't want to give birth after hearing all sorts of horror stories!) . If I had to give my kids instructions on life, I would paraphrase from something Li-Young said at a poetry reading attended and blogged about by poet mom: "More than anything else," I would say, "Strive to find the recipe that makes your individual life work." Best Blogger Tips

Friday, September 22, 2006

Things I'll do alone

This Artist's date thing has me thinking of dates I'd like to go on by myself. Some ideas:
  • Go to the North End and write in a cafe there (while eating Italian pasteries of course)
  • Walk around the outdoor food markets at Hay Market
  • Take a train somewhere for a day trip on my own
  • Go to a nice yarn store and browse
  • Walk in the Arboretum and look at the leaves
  • Go to a movie by myself. Maybe a French one that I always have trouble finding a "date" for anyway. :)

Just thinking about these fun activities is stressing me out right now because I don't know that I'll get to fit in any of the more time consuming artists dates for quite a while. October is getting busier and busier. I'm going to have to start saying no to things again, even things I want to do. :( I just canceled a gardening lecture I was going to go to. And I'll cancel a meditation class I was going to take. (I have been meditating on my own, though!)

The real problem is a work trip I'm taking to New Mexico. I am VERY excited about it, but it comes right before our final MFA submission is due, so I'm not sure how that's going to work out... And I ordered a bunch of bulbs that need to get into the ground in the next few weeks. I guess it just will come together somehow!

OK, I'm babbling. The real point I wanted to make with this post was to think about the things I won't do by myself, though I wish I would. One is kayak. Another is hike. All of this is thanks to my parents who instilled in me a fear of being a girl alone in the world. While I appreciate their desire to protect me, I don't appreciate the fact that I can never enjoy being alone in nature because there is always a rapist/kidnapper/murderer hiding behind the next tree.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Enough is enough?

This post is coming at you courtesy of an email conversation I had with The Repeater. And, like my post on sex, this discusses another taboo topic: money.

Brian and I are basically financially secure. We have a huge-ass mortgage, of course, but other than that, we have few debts. Some student loans and a small car loan, both of which we plan to pay off in the near future. No credit card debt. A decent cushion of savings for emergencies. We're able to say a chunk of our monthly income and contribute to retirement plans.

So why then do I feel this incredible tug toward making more money? My opportunities are in the form of freelance medical writing projects that come my way. Projects that I just don't have time for. Yet every time I say no, I feel guilty and wonder what purpose that money could serve. And mind you, we're not big shoppers. We buy more books than anything else, and spend a decent amount of money on entertainment and vacations, but we're definitely not extravagent. We share a car for Christ sake.

And I think Brian is worse than me. I can envision a time where, assuming we move somewhere cheaper, I would be more than happy to cut my income to be able to make a full time job out of writing (fiction and medical) and teaching. Though B supports my goal, he can't quite fathom the idea of it being OK not to make as much money or more than we make now. He wants to make tons, not so that we can drive a Lexus and have a gold plated house, but because he wants to feel secure, travel more often than we do now, and have plenty of money for kids (if we choose to have them... that's another post altogether!). And I hope he does too. Then I can write and not feel so guilty. :) (No pressure, B!)

I think this whole thing comes down to a societal pressure to always want more. I've managed to avoid the "stuff" aspect of wanting more, but I can't get around the money aspect. It's comforting to know it's there. But at some point I'm going to have to be OK with whatever amount it is and choose a life that balances monetary wealth with satisfaction and time. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Some questions

I'm in the revising stage, and I know there are plenty of questions to ask your manuscript to get more insight into what needs changing.

The one's I've come up with so far are:
  • What is this story about?
  • What's at stake?
  • What is missing to make both of those answers apparent to the reader?

Please, please, please share with me some more questions! This is the first time in a while that I've started from true scratch on a story, and I'm feeling a little rusty...

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Mama needs a new pair of shoes


I pitched a series of articles to the Boston Globe on some development that's going on in my neighborhood--and they accepted! Now, I'm not overly excited about it because this isn't the writing I really want to be doing, but it's something. And it will probably pay for the 3 new pairs of shoes I just ordered. :)

(I really did "need" them, though, as my winter shoes and boots are worn out.) Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Artist date

I started reading the Artist's Way last night. It was slightly overwhelming in that the "course" expects you to do morning pages (which I blogged about earlier), as well as 10 or so weekly exercises. Yikes. But I figure I'll just do what I can and be better for it.

Another interesting part of the course is that you have to take your artist on a date each week. You have to go alone, and do something that stimulates you/is fun, like go to a museum, see a movie, take a walk, etc. I love this idea. I used to do those things more often by myself, but now that I've been feeling time pressure I try to make things two-for-one, so that a museum outing is also a chance to catch up with a friend. Or a walk is really about getting my dog to pee. The book is a nice reminder to have some fun, adventurous alone time as a way to feed your creative spirit.

I think I'm going to officially start the "course" on Sunday, so my first date with myself will be next week. Not sure what I'll do yet... I'll keep you posted. :) Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 18, 2006

Good listening

I've discovered that web surfing is not a satisfying way to take a break from writing. Knitting, however, is. So, when I need to get away from my story or whatever for a while, I knit while listening to talk radio. The NPR website is my new best friend. But I thought I'd share some other interesting places to find inspiring talk radio:

Four stories is an amazing organization that puts on readings around Boston. And they recently started podcasting the events.

Greenstone Media is a new all-women, e-radio station supported by Gloria Steinham with interesting shows.

Art of the Song is a radio show produced in New Mexico that covers, among other things, how songs get written.

Enjoy! Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, September 17, 2006

First drafts

I finished a first draft of my story. This is a true first draft in that I'm not sure that any of it actually works. But it is something.

Some things I need to think about as I move forward (opinions welcome on any of these!):

  • Is it OK that the first-person narrator is not the character who goes through the biggest change? She does change, and she is the reason the other character changes. But I wonder if that's enough to warrant telling the story in her voice.
  • What's the time frame of the story? Unclear as of now. It seems to need to be a few weeks in order for the changes to be realistic and for the dog to physically heal. But now it's more like a few days.
  • How long has the narrator been living in Rhode Island? I thought 10+ years at first, but I want it to be realistic that she has very few personal connections in town, so it might be better to have her there for 3-5 years instead.
  • Make sure the voice is consistent throughout.

OK, I'm off to garden now. I'm already falling behind on my list. We hung out longer than we thought we would with B's family, so I missed getting to the yarn store. But they're open til 7 on Tuesday, so maybe I can walk Chloe there after work. I'm not sure how she'll do waiting for me outside, but we can try it out...

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another list

Everything's chuggin along. I've meditated for the last 3 days, and done my morning pages for the last two. And the odd thing is, for the first time, these things don't feel like a chore. I think the key for me was promising that I would not feel guilty if I didn't stick to it. That freed me up to try with no pressure, and, ironically, they seem to be sticking.

Here's my To Dos for the rest of the weekend and week:

Saturday night/Sunday

  • Write draft of Accidental Tourist Annotation
  • Get some kinda draft done of dog pound story
  • Plant plants from perrenial divide
  • Go to yarn store and get special needle for sewing my baby hat/mitts together
  • Email Globe about J.P story I'm pitching.

Next week (early)

  • Do freelance piece
  • Pick up next annotation book from library and start reading
  • Deposit condo checks
  • Start on interdisc project
  • Continue working on story
  • Start to figure out next semester's interdisc.

Next week (late)

  • Continue reading, writing, and working on interdisc

Next weekend

Friday I don't think we have plans. Maybe I'll take B to see Little Miss Sunshine if we have time. Or I can always continue working on the above. Also, I need to revise the essay I plan to submit to a journal with an Oct. 1 deadline. I'll be getting feedback from my writer's group on Thurs. (A big thanks to FC for already providing great feedback on it!)

Saturday is the start of that crazy write-a-story-in-a-day contest. That night I have a party to go to.

Sunday I'll probably just work on finishing that day story, and the rest of my projects.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Research

I gotta say that I was not too excited when I read this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt: research and write about a topic. This is what I do at my job, and as DJ said when discussing the topic, "This seems too much like work!"

But, it ended up being interesting (and, of course, no one is making me do the prompt! I decided to research dog pounds because that's the setting of the story I'm working on. I've been to Boston's MSPCA, but that's pretty much my only experience. My Chloe dog was adopted through Adoptalab, a great organization that ships labs from the south (where they are crazy over-bred and likely to be put in kill shelters if they're not bought) to homes around the country. So, here's what I learned:
  • In kill shelters, the only acceptable method of euthanasia is intravenous injection of a barbiturate solution by a veterinarian or a properly trained and certified technician. Not acceptable are: high altitude decompression chambers, electrocution, carbon monoxide (except under highly controlled conditions), strychnine poisoning, shooting, and intra-cardiac injections of alert animals. It boggles my mind that someone could think electrocuting a dog to death would be an OK thing to do.
  • "Humane society" and "SPCA" are generic terms for organizations that work to protect animals. The names don't mean the shelter is affiliated with anyone or accredited. Each shelter is independently operated, which means that the MSPCA in Boston can be totally different than the MSPCA in Newton.
  • Dogs often don't have water in their crates because they get knocked over so often. They also don't have food available all the time, just 2x a day.
  • 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year, only half are adopted. The other half are killed. (According to the Humane Society of the US)
  • 25% of dogs in shelters are purebreeds (same source)
  • There are between 4,000 and 6,000 shelters in the US (same source)
  • A fertile dog can produce 2 litters a year, each yielding 6-10 puppies. In 6 years, one female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs!!! (same source)
  • Black dogs are the least likely to be adopted and most often killed. Experts guess this is because they don't photograph as nicely as lighter dogs, they "look scarier," and they have negative/spooky connotations. Winston Churchill called his depression a black dog, for example. And the phantom dog in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of Baskervilles was black. Some people also have this odd idea that black dogs are more aggressive.
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Morning pages

On the advice of TI, I started doing morning pages yesterday. To briefly explain, it's 3 handwritten journal pages about whatever. Yesterday's writing started slowly, with a lot of "I don't know what to write about"s. But eventually I was flowing, and I finished 3 pages without realizing it. And I came up with an essay idea!

For the rest of the day yesterday, I was thinking about what I'd write in today's morning pages. I woke up earlier than usual and was so excited to get to my journal. And this is someone who hates writing longhand. I'm sloppy, and I can't write as fast as my thoughts come. But I didn't mind it, and it was kind of nice to get away from my computer for a change. Today, I wrote 4 pages because I didn't want to stop!

Next week, I'm going to try a new schedule at work: I'll come in at 9:30 and leave at 5:30/6. That way I can have time to do morning pages, do a writing exercise, and walk Chloe. I hope it works! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sick

I've decided to take a day off tomorrow. I am feeling a tad under the weather, and I need a mental health day. Here's my plan:

Sleep a tad later than normal
Do morning pages (Thanks TI!)
Walk Chloe
Go to Java Jo's and get breakfast (with decaf coffee--wah) and read the paper
Go to Molly's house and hang with her cat for a while (we're cat sitting). Read annotation book while there.
Finish setting up composter, weed, and plant a bit
2:00 phone call with Mentor
Write! My goal is to get up to the part of the story where a family adopts the dog that Chloe (the widow) loves.
Do small freelance project
After dinner, listen to book on tape and knit.

Have a good day, everyone! Best Blogger Tips

Time is on my side?

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday trying to figure out a way to make all the elements of my life work better, aka find time for everything. My first solution is that I've got to make writing a priority over everything else right now: socializing, going to see other writer's read, gardening, knitting, cleaning, my "day job", freelancing, etc. Above everything except my marriage (mushy, I know, but we do have to live with each other for the next 20,000 days or so). And I think this means that as much as I want to, I can't volunteer to teach ESL right now. I have to accept that this is just something I don't have time to do well right now, but something that I will go back to.

As these things go, a person in my writer's group sent me a link to a blog that will help fill one of the holes. I love seeing authors read and talk about writing. But it's very time consuming and probably not worth the investment. So I will be very picky about who I see, and constantly read this blog of author interviews instead: http://jenniferprado.blogspot.com/ Best Blogger Tips

Hi, Bug!


I just learned last night that my husband, Brian (aka Bug) has been reading my blog. So I thought I'd give him a shout out. Now all I have to do is convince him to leave comments...
(Thanks for making me lunch, B!) Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Write everyday??

OK, I need some help, writers. I got comments back from my advisor today (I'll post more on that later), and one thing she stressed was the importance of writing everyday (nothing new there) and she suggested some exercise books. So my question to you is: if you write every day, do you focus a little time on an exercise or two and then move onto the piece you're working on? Or does working on your piece count as your "write everyday" quota? I am thinking of doing some exercises in the morning before work and then working on my story or whatever after work. Just wondering how others do it. Best Blogger Tips

What we do for our craft

So, to get into the mood to write about my character tonight, I'm listening to country music. I'm that dedicated. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 11, 2006

Who's driving this thing?


"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole journey that way" (Or something like that, I'm quoting from memory here.)

I love this quote, from E.L. Doctrow, but I find it hard to trust in it. I have NO idea where this story about the dog pound is going. What if it's going nowhere? I'll have no submission for this month. And what will it say about me as a writer? That I'm crap? All washed up? That I'll never have another good idea? I know none of those is true, but it can certainly feel like that.

I guess I just have to let go and write, and see where the characters take me. But as you can see from my obsessive list making, I'm not exactly that type of person. :) Best Blogger Tips

Lists, how I love you

I just spent a large majority of a yoga class thinking about the many things I have to do. So me thinks it's time I make a list and get them off my mind.

Part of it is because I know I'm biting off a bit more than I can chew right now. I just signed up to be an English tutor to the employees at my work who don't speak English as a second language. I know it's a great thing to do, but there's a 3 hour training tonight, and another next Monday. And I need to winterize my garden and get ready for the perennial plant exchange that's going on in Boston's community garden this weekend. And I'm addicting to knitting (thanks a lot TI) so I want to finish the baby mittens I'm making and start in on some booties.

Tomorrow
Start reading annotation book (Accidental Tourist)
Free write for 1 hour on my dog pound story
Reply to Interdis advisor's comments
Maybe set up composter if I can figure it out and I'm in the mood

Wed.
Start reading annotation book (Accidental Tourist)
Free write for 1 hour on my dog pound story

Thurs.
I had planned on going to Rachel Kaddish's reading in Porter Sq., but we'll have to see if time allows. This weekend is pretty busy, so I might just want a night at home to knit and listen to books on tape, my new favorite activity to do while knitting. I swear, there's something about listening to someone's work that's so different than reading it.

Fri.
Take friend out for belated birthday drink

Sat.
Dig up mint and bring to the plant exhange, then head to the UMass Folk Festival. At night, maybe do more writing/knitting/tape listening unless Bri wants to do something more exciting.

Sun.
Apple picking with my in-laws during the day. Night time, writing.


Misc.
Deposit condo checks
Spend some quality time with the kitty I'm cat sitting for at a friend's house
Drop off thank you present for friend who dog-sat for me this weekend.

Next week:
Start new annotation book
Devote time to interdisc project
Cont. writing
Winterize garden and plant new plants
Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday Scribbling:What you wouldn't write about

One thing I would NEVER write about is sex, as in sex that I'm having or have had. Some friends of mine discuss and dissect everything that happens to them in bed. I always leave these conversations feeling judged because I won't contribute. It seems disrespectful to the other person involved. And I don't that will ever change about me. But maybe I could have some fun writing racey stuff about my characters. The thought of posting something like this is freaking me out, but I guess that's good--the Sunday Scribbling folks did say that if it's not hard, you're not doing the prompt right...

Here goes.

(FYI, this is from the POV of a character in my story, the one who found the dog and is going to have to abandon it. She's a new widow.)

I miss having sex with my husband more than I would've guessed. I mean, I knew I'd miss lying with him, hugging him with my full body as we dozed off to sleep. But I didn't think much about how I'd miss the physical acts--the sucking, the kissing, the grinding. Cuming. How much I'd miss that.

All the books I've read about grieving a husband's death tell you to buy a vibrator. To try to please yourself. So I did. Embarrassed as I was, I went into a sex shop that I had heard was run by women for women, and I bought the first vibrator I saw. It was bright blue, with a dolphin carved into the handle part. The sales woman--who was pierced in her nose, eyebrow, and lip--asked me if I needed any lubricant, maybe some condoms. I just shook my head and handed her the $40 in cash. No way I'd let this store name show up on my credit card.

When I got home, I read the directions and followed them, washing the thing with soap and water and letting it airdry before its first use. Then I put in the AAA batteries it called for. That's where the directions ended. Now what? I thought. Andrew had always made an act out of undressing me, taking off one piece of clothing at a time and licking and sucking the body parts that were newly exposed. Every time we had sex he did this, and it never lost its magic. By the time he got to my panties, I'd be dying to take him inside me.

I stripped naked and lay under the sheets on my bed. Then I thought that maybe music would help, so I got up and turned on the classical station on the radio on my dresser. The air felt cold against my naked skin. By the time I was back in bed, the music ended and a commercial for Oriental rugs came on. Not exactly erotic. I held the vibrator in my hands, feeling its rubber plastic exterior. I turned it on and was shocked by how powerful it was. When I closed my fist around it, the vibrations moved all the way into my wrist.

The music returned, and I closed my eyes. I slipped the vibrator down to a nipple, laughing when it made contact with the sensitive skin. Then I traced an invisible line down the center of my belly, until I hit my[Editor's note: what the hell do writers call the vagina? I'm all for Eve Ensler's fight to make vagina a more excepted word, but for now at least, that word is nothing if not un-erotic. I'll have to look into this question].

It felt mechanical at first, too exact in its vibrations. Not like a person, who's tempo shifts slightly every moment. But after a minute or two, the notes of a cello pulsed in my ears and my body pulsed along with it. I felt my face flush and my body quiver. It was quick and satisfying.

But afterwards, I lay there by myself, with a wet piece of plastic beside me. I thought about whether Andrew would've liked to experiement with this kind of thing, and figured he would have. If only we had had more time. And I realized that an orgasm, like the food and cigarettes I had given up consuming, would only leave me wanting more, wanting to share it with Andrew. Wanting what I knew I'd never have again. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, September 08, 2006

In my character's voice, part 2 (For you, FC)

Since FC asked for some interaction, here goes... (If you're curious, a scene of her saying her morning hellos to the dogs will come between my last post and this one)

I spun the lock and the metal clicked into place. Before I could even take my hand off the knob, a woman with a black dog in her arms pushed through. She just about knocked me down. She would've if I hadn't been standing with my knees slightly bent, a pose I usually rest in, having been toppled over by one too many dogs in my time.

Looking at the two, I couldn't tell who looked more ragged. The dog--a lab/pitbull mix, I'd guess--was 40 pounds too light, and his fur looked like it had gotten a bad perm. I was sure under it I'd find bruises and cuts. Just as heartbreaking was the look of the woman carrying the mutt. She had bags under her eyes the size of Texas, and she was wearing a man's plaid pajamas, at least 3 sizes too big. Her hair looked worse than the dog's. And one of them smelled. Not the perfume of regular, haggard dog that I had grown to love. This smell was more sour than that, and it made me crinkle my nose, even though I knew I shouldn't.

"Can I help you?" I said, fighting back the urge to wave my hand in front of my nose.

"I'm here to drop off this dog." The woman held out her arms as if I'd just take the dog while we stood in the hallway. I could see that, like the dog, her arms were also too skinny. Never a problem I'd had myself, and seeing the way her wrist bones stuck out of her flesh, for the first time I was grateful for my padding.

"I could've guessed that. Follow me." I turned around before she could foist the dog upon me. That thing looked scared, and mighty comfy in her arms.

I went behind the desk to get some paper work, and when I looked up, the woman was just staring at me, clutching the dog. I had known this was trouble.

"So..." I said, reading over the surrender form. As if I didn't have the whole thing memorized by now. I stood behind the counter, keeping my distance from the troubled pair.

"Why are you surrendering the animal?"

The woman looked down at the dog, meeting his eyes for the first time that I saw, and her thin, drawn face looked even sadder. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, September 07, 2006

In my character's voice, part 1

Here's the beginning of some ramblings in the voice of the character I described here.


I always know it's gonna be a bad day if I pull into the parking lot and there's a car there waiting for me. People who get up that early in the morning to come to the pound never have nothing nice to do.

I slammed the door to my beatup red Chevy convertible--a car I loved partly because everyone who sees tells me how impractical it is to have a car like that in New England, as if my Southern accent means I can't know anything about snow. I strolled in and locked the door behind me. We don't open til 9 and therefore I don't see customers until 9. I need 10 minutes with the dogs to say my hellos, see how they fared alone for the night. It breaks my heart to leave them here--which is why I've got four dogs living in my 1,400 square foot house. They may be messy, but they're easier to live with then men, I'll tell you that. My dogs love me no matter what I make or don't make for dinner, no matter how messy I keep the house, no matter if I sit in the same sweat pants without a shower for 3-days straight. Which I've been known to do. Hell, it's cold here in the winter. Too cold to get wet or get naked. Maybe I'd feel differently about the naked part if I had a partner to heat things up. But I haven't had one of those in 17 years. Thank heavens. As I said, dogs are much easier to live with. Best Blogger Tips

To caffeine or not to caffeine

I've gone back and forth on this one for years. Sometimes I don't mind being addicted to caffeine, other times the idea that I have to run out in a snow storm for milk because of my screaming caffeine headache drives me bonkers. (No black coffee for me!)

Add to that this little (read: big) problem my stomach has with dealing with the acids in caffeinated beverages (and alcohol for that matter, but there's only so much I'm willing to consider giving up) and I wonder if I should just quit for good. Now's a good time to try it, as I like iced coffee way better than hot coffee and the cool weather will make iced anything not so appealing.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the topic... If I do go caffeine free, I'm going to order a butt-load of the decaf version of my favorite chai, Bigelow. That's why this is a pressing decision. The decaf version isn't carried in most stores, so I'd need to order online, where the minimum order is 120 bags. That's a lotta decaf tea to have around if I decide to go back to caffeine after all... Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Looking back on month two of my MFA

I think it's helpful for me to think back over the last month after I send in each submission, so here goes...

Things I did well
+Didn't put too much pressure on myself to figure out my story completely
+Allowed myself to think (and blog) about it first before hitting the page
+Did my interdis project throughout the whole month instead of cramming

Things I'd like to improve
-I waited to do my readings until the last minute. I think I was feeling burnt out of close reading, and I also wanted to wait to hear from my advisor because I thought her comments would help me focus my annotations on aspects that would be more helpful to my work. That might have been true, but it also meant a lot of last minute reading and writing.

-I'm finding it difficult to reread each work in full. I always reread the section or story I'm writing about in my paper, but I don't reread the whole thing. Other MFAer, is that what you are doing?

Other goals for next submission
Write a lot in my character's voice before I try to figure out the plot. Best Blogger Tips

New Yorker Festival

I've been wanting to go to this New Yorker festival for years (lots of readings and fun events) but something has always gotten in the way--my wedding, a class, etc. But this year I think I'm going to go! Yipee. If any blog friends wants to join me, let me know! I'll most likely be crashing with friends and family. :) Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Need some pressure?

Just in case you're not feeling stressed enough, sign up for this contest! It's a call to write a short story in 24-hours. I signed up. Thanks to DJ for passing this on!

http://www.writersweekly.com/misc/contest.php
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Monday, September 04, 2006

Afraid of fall

I've been thinking about this post for a long time, and I'm really scared to post it. But I think I need to, and maybe it will help someone else going through a similar thing feel less alone.

Afraid of fall
For the last 8 years, I've loved this time of year. Brian and I started dating on Sept. 7, 1998, and since then the crispness of fall air and the taste of apples has brought me back to that magical place of falling in love. You know, that place where you can't imagine what your life was like before this person came into it, and where you walk down the street smiling for no good reason. Plus, as true New Englanders, his family is obsessed with anything fall-related, so every September is filled with apple picking and apple baking and apple cider-drinking. Another list of reasons to love this season.

But last year, around this time, I started to feel really anxious. Not anxious about anything in particular, just anxious. Anxiety runs in my family, and I've experienced it before, but this one was different. For the first time ever, it spiraled into depression--a state where I cried just about every day and couldn't think of much I'd rather do than sleep, or eat. I managed to get myself to work and fake my way through interactions with other people. And there were good days where I felt fine. I found that yoga helped a lot, as did journaling, and going out and talking to people about anything other than myself.

But sadly, this lasted for quite some time--finally abating at the end of June during my MFA residency. I think having something so meaningful to focus on, and interacting with a group of caring, smart people, did it.

Now that I feel that familiar chill in the air, and notice the daylight fading earlier and earlier, I can't help but be afraid that this monster will appear again. I'm going to blog like crazy these next few weeks, since I've found doing so really uplifting. I'm also going to do yoga a lot and try to plan some fun things for the winter months to give me something to look forward to. I'll plant bulbs that will bloom in early spring, plan a weekend yoga retreat in the Berkshires, and take on some challenging knitting projects. And of course, there's always my writing. When I get scared or frustrated about my writing progress, I try to focus on how much it's already brought to me--how it pulled me up from a place I hope to never return to. Even if I never publish another thing, I'm so grateful I discovered the joy of stringing words together. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Inspiration?

It's official--I'm sick of the short story I'm working on. I'm about to put it away for the day, hoping and praying that tomorrow will bring me the fresh eyes I need to really look at it.

When I was on vacation, I worked on the story a bit, and got to the point then when I felt I had done all I could. I wanted my brain to wrap around a new story. I swear, thinking about writing is the only thing that keeps me sane and not thinking about much less pleasant things. But I couldn't think of anything! I started to think about Susan's father's story (which I blogged about here), but realized I don't think it's actual story material. I think it's just what I needed to get done in order to write Susan's story.

I started to panic. I got cranky, and wasn't able to enjoy anything, not even walking Chloe on some of the most beautiful paths I've ever seen. I've always been a believer that more perspiration is needed to be a writer than inspiration, but I have to admit that some inspiration is necessary to get started. What if my well had run dry already? What would I do then? What could I be happy doing with my life?

And then, a new character spoke to me, and my world got much better. She's involved in the dog story that I wrote about here. She's the person who works at the kennel where the main character brings the dog that was abandoned at her house. I shouldn't say main character, though, cause I think this woman has an important story to tell, too.

Here's her deal, as I know it thus far.

  • She's originally from Tennessee, and still has a bit of a twang--in both attitude and accent.
  • She's married and divorced twice, both times she left the man for cheating on her. The first time, her husband was abusive, but she's embarrassed to admit that it was the cheating, not the hitting, that finally got her to leave. The second time, she married the opposite of the first man--gentle and caring, and unbeknownst to her until a few years into the marriage, gay. She leaves him when she finds out he's sleeping with a man.
  • She had moved to Rhode Island for his job, and she can't face going back home, where she'll be judged only on her inability to stay married. So she stays, getting a job cleaning cages at the pound. That was 17 years ago, and she's moved up to pretty much run the place. She has a boss who's not there a lot, and she refuses to follow his rules. He has certain criteria that people have to meet in order to adopt dogs, but she doesn't think they're important. A fenced in backyard? Not a deal-breaker if the person clearly connects with a particular dog. No job? Ditto. Not a single dog she's adopted out in this way has been returned, so boss looks the other way.
  • She has a special connection with dogs, where she can tell who belongs to what person.
  • She is NOT looking for love. but she still loves to get a man's attention. She wears very tight clothes, bright lipstick, and has big, curly red-ish hair.
  • She's happy living on her own, making her own rules. She has 4 dogs, and randomly takes other ones home from time to time if she feels they aren't ready to go out to other people's houses.
  • She drives a beat-up convertible, the most impractical car for New England winters, but one she loves.
  • The story will start with a bit of background on her, and then will open into the scene where she meets the woman who brings in the abandoned dog. I'm not sure what exactly will happen...
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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Things I did before vacation

Since some of you were amused by my pre-vacation cleaning, I thought I'd let you know that, alas, I didn't get to my whole list before I left. I did do most of it, though, and damn did it feel good. And, in fact, this is the first time I've come back from a vacation and not fallen into an immediate funk. So maybe there is a method to my madness...

So, my list for the rest of the weekend:
  1. First and foremost, I need to finish my MFA submission. That includes writing one annotation (eke! I do have notes on it, though), editing/proofing other annotation and interdisc submission. Do copyedits on story based on mentor's feedback and writers' group feedback. Make sure bigger edits already done are working.
  2. Work on baby hat for Mary (I want to say finish, but I don't want to put that much pressure on myself!)
  3. Bring car to Honda dealership (some random part fell off the bottom of the car on our drive home today!). Get car washed if it's not raining.
  4. Buy mop and clean kitchen floor (my old one broke right before I was about to start scrubbing the floor on Sat. morning before we left. Of course, I had to do a quick once over on my hands and knees sans mop. It was then I knew I was truly crazy.)
  5. Set up composter and plant flowers outside.
  6. If have time and will, hem pants.
  7. Get manicure and pedicure.
  8. Go to yoga class.
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I'm back with a Sunday Scribbing

We had a wonderful time in Maine. I'll post a pic or two once I get them downloaded. Acadia is truly breathtaking. There are so many beautiful trails to hike and bike, beautiful mountaintop sunsets, and stars, stars, stars. Lots of good food, too.

I started knitting a baby hat thanks to my friend Sara, and this helpful knitting site. Brian and I also got to see what it was like to be around Sara's 2-year-old, Nora, who is funny and beautiful--and quite a handful. It made us realize that parenthood is nowhere in the near future for us. Oh my god, she needed all of our attention all the time--she asked a bazillion questions and always wanted to show us everything she was doing (Watch me eat my breakfast, etc.) Very cute, but very tiring!

I missed blogging--I didn't realize how helpful it is to sit down once a day and journal in one form or another. So, I welcome myself back with a two-parted Sunday Scribblings:

Fortune Cookies
Part 1
I hate, hate, hate how fortune cookies now aren't so much about giving fortunes as giving advice. "Friends are the richest treasure." As if I needed a fortune cookie to explain that. I want a cookie note to tell me when I'll be rich, or when a random annoyance will befall me. Shoud I buy a lotto ticket tonight? Should I bring an umbrella tomorrow? These are the things I need a fortune cookie to tell me.

Part 2
I remember taping fortunes I liked to the inside of my locker in high school. They hung next to cut outs of Luke Perry (of 90210 fame) and other things that meant so much to be then but now I can't recall. It's been that long. Ten years, exactly. In fact, my 10-year reunion is coming up. I wasn't going to be able to go because it was originally schedule for next weekend, when I have a friend's wedding. But it got postponed to November, which I'm happy about. Though Brian won't be able to come because he's going to a mystery writer's conference. (I won't claim that I inspired him to take a shot at fiction, but I'm awfully proud of him for doing so!)

I haven't been very good at keeping in touch with high school friends. Staying up in Boston (where I went to college) is part of it, but more than that is the fact that by the end of high school I didn't feel all that connected to most of the 175 people sitting on stage with me at graduation. The one friend who I truly thought would be in my life forever isn't at the moment. Part of me hopes we'll talk things out before the reunion. Another part of me knows that we're very different people than we were back then. Maybe it's better to have a more Zen outlook and let people go out of your life when they need to.

But it does make me sad to think that someone who I once considered a sister could forget about me, could write me off as someone she once shared a life with and who now only warrants a (belated) birthday card every year. Best Blogger Tips
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