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I start 100 words again, but feel pulled by too many ideas! Should I write about my son's upcoming 18th birthday, his surprise-but-expected announcement last week, "I have a girlfriend"? Eighteen years ago I was hugely pregnant, terrified of giving birth--now my baby is six-foot-five, college acceptance letter in hand, ready to create his own life. Should I list NaNoWriMo ideas, explore why my original idea no longer appeals? Should I write of bigger issues outside my little concerns--children being killed weekly in Chicago, and society's unhelpful too-facile response--"It's the parents' faults" or "Those killers are monsters."
"Why do you write children's books?" she asks, curious; we're interrupted before I can answer. Well, why do I? Did I ever made a conscious choice? Maybe, because of my dysfunctional home life, I never had the chance to be a child--so the child in me is still awake, wistful--"Let me out!" Or because Rachel, a red-haired gawky character I imagined in my first story-writing days of childhood, appeared again, this time chubby and being bullied--but befriended by a kind pair of cousins from an eccentric family, the aunt a health food nut, the grandma a cookie-holic?
Pumpkins and fluorescent witches decorate doorways--NaNoWriMo is approaching. Maybe I'll use a plot I devised for screenwriting class: "Homecoming" features siblings, opposite personalities who do not get along, traveling together to their abusive father's funeral. But won't it be incredibly gloomy? I feel unqualified to write adult fiction--have I ever really grown up? I've had few healthy romances--how can I write about my characters' love affairs? Can I inject the Jennifer-Peter story with humor? Can I use my imagination to write about romances? The Bronte sisters never married yet wrote classic romances; same goes for Jane Austen.
Back from A's; I put away margarine tub containers of homemade pasta sauce and lentils with rice. I call, let her know we're home safe, check the date for our next visit. I'm full--as usual she keeps ladling food, pushes more coffee and cookies. As usual she beams, “Aren't we having a nice day,” and we sit back and watch “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” and reminisce about J, the daughter who was my best friend who died eleven years ago. M, her daughter who lives next door, stops by late with pizza slices: “Eat!”
Monday evening and I'm downing Good Earth Sweet and Spicy tea plus Airborne so I don't catch whatever my son has. At the doctor's office, Dr. C. laughs to see my son's increased height--"You're big--did they take your height? C'mon, let's do it!" and I follow to the scale, where the nurse adds a section to the ruler to find out that my almost-seventeen-year-old son is six foot five-and-a-half. "Keep growing!" Dr. C encourages, as we leave; "No!" I say. Later, while CVS is filling my son's prescription, I go to Dunkin Donuts for a free we-didn't-get-the-Olympics-but-we-tried medium decaf coffee.
A perfect afternoon! T. and I head over to A.'s; she greets us in royal blue Cubs gear. “We don't match,” I say, grinning--T.'s in green Sox shirt, I wear my usual Sox hat.
“Do you see I'm not using my walker?” And at the Mexican restaurant, A. lightly punches Ty every time he teases me--just like old pre-cancer times.
Home, the neighbor woman is at our door--holding a very tiny baby! I'd left a little gift, addressed to “our newest neighbor”--she'd come to say thanks and show us her two-day-old son. Wow!
The blank page is a stage you walk onto and realize you've forgotten your lines--your only hope is to forget the audience and write to yourself or a friend who loves you. A choir director once said that when you're singing in church, you're not performing--you're worshiping, inviting others to sing, too. I like how Julia Cameron writes of the Great Creator. Inspiration is from God, but as Gran said, God helps those that help themselves. Today my son and I went to Bears Family Day, watched players do stretching exercises and drills; like athletes, writers must practice.
When I grab camera for family pictures, no one says, “Hey, D,, get in--I'll take this one.” My ex accused me of being super-sensitive; one friend said I took everything personally. Maybe. But I get tired of being written out. My father remarried without bothering to divorce my mother, had other children, didn't acknowledge me. When a best friend died, her husband wrote a book, not mentioning me despite daily phone calls. I still have her voicemail messages, comfort myself with her still-cheery “Hi D!” greetings. And perhaps my half-siblings just don't care that much about photos.
I don't know if the hockey player assaulted the cabdriver, if he's a rotten tipper, begrudging two dimes. But everybody should work a minimum-wage job sometime. Doing grueling work for little pay and less respect helps you empathize with McDonald's counter people, janitors mopping bathroom floors, and yes, cabdrivers.
An African American author once wrote of taking a cab, sure the white driver wouldn't believe she was a prominent writer going to a conference. But the driver, struggling poet himself, was excited. The writer recognized her prejudice--not thinking of a cabdriver as a potential writer. The two became friends.
My son's 18th-birthday gift is done--a photo album, organized by year, with lists of highlights and memories. All together, 75 pages of text, with cute titles: "1992: Liter Bottles, Pop Cans, and Eating Kittens." No, no, don't call PETA--no animals were abused and I'm a vegetarian. (In 1992, when his uncle brought over some kittens, my eight-months-old son started putting one in his mouth--it was the same size as his favorite rattle--but his vegetarian mom rescued the poor little feline.) That project behind me (which took much more time that expected)--time to plan for NaNoWriMo.
For NaNoWriMo 2009, I'd thought I'd transform a screenwriting class treatment into a novel--"Homecoming," the story of pollyanna-ish Jennifer and cynical Peter, estranged siblings, taking a road trip to their abusive dad's funeral. Lots of drama there--but won't it be too depressing? Plot details feel foggy. I don't drive--so how can I write about a road trip? Jennifer works in a day care center--sure, I worked in a day care center, but years and years ago. Peter is a lawyer--what do I know about being a lawyer, and what kind of lawyer is he, anyway?
Other NaNoWriMo ideas:
- boy's diary--historical fiction--Jane Addams era?
- fictionalized story of the illiterate deaf-blind man I taught to sign
- online dating service romance between two very different people in their forties
- fictionalized memoir
- a writing group
- coffeeshop friendships
- coffeeshop romances
- R, B, and D--grown up
- an eleven-year-old, evicted at the end of fifth grade with her family, but ending up in a nurturing school
- fictionalized memoir about starting college
Do any of these ideas grab me? I have to decide soon, as the October clock is ticking!
A year ago, I planned to be finished revising "R & C: 7th Grade" by now, so I could work on "R & C: 8th Grade" for NaNoWriMo 2009. What happened? A month revising "Bestfriend," after deciding to include letters J herself wrote. A month to write an 18th-birthday gift for my son--highlights of each year of his life. Did I get bogged down in 100words.com--is my blog too time consuming? Maybe allowing myself to write bits and pieces, figuring I'd plug 'em in later, wasn't the best method--the draft so unwieldy that I dread attacking it.
Today would have been M.'s 61st birthday--how I miss her! She's laugh if I told her I felt old at 54, worried that young un's at write-ins think, "Why are you here?" She'd echo Michael Jordan--"Limits, like fears, are often illusions," and she'd probably still be doing Ski for Light--her deaf-blindness no obstacle. Instead, cancer stole her.
After 7 years of grieving, her husband has recently remarried; I learned this through the grapevine, for I have no connection with any of M's friend's now, except C--M. was my best friend, but she had many best friends.
A Sun-Times article today focused on a company that fires people caught gossiping. No mention of freedom of speech, no discussion about workers' rights--nothing about these bosses having a huge window to fire people for non-work-related reasons. The only point--gossiping is bad, hurts productivity. Agreed. Still--have you ever met anyone in your life who doesn't occasionally gossip--and would you want to hang around with that saint? No, if companies want to curtail gossip, set an example. Treat workers nicely so they have little reason to gossip about the powers-that-be--then let that good feeling trickle down.
I love when a whole new order of Peapod arrives--fresh fruit--juicy plums and still-green bananas--and fresh whole grain bread--and lots of on-sale interesting yogurt--key lime and chocolate underground and lots of T's favorite--strawberry banana. Plus coffee, of course--decaf coffee beans, Eight O'Clock, or a ground can of decaf Stewarts, and flavored creamer, hazelnut or crème brule or amaretto. I love flavors and spices--anything to make the bland interesting. And yet I feel guilty, despite the five bucks I've donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository--I have too much, others too little.
Adamant pro-life headlines of the Catholic New World annoy me. Sure, it rattles me that my aunts wanted me aborted. But what do strident pro-lifers want? Jail time for moms? Enforced childbirth? What about abused unwanted children? Shouldn't we direct energy into helping kids? I remember a Sun-Times article, Dr. Laura advising people to ostracize an unmarried pregnant coworker. Bet you Dr. L isn't pro-choice. The baby's on his or her way--if you're against abortion, welcome the baby.
Today the New World rates movies "L" for "limited adult audiences"--problematic contact may be troubling. Isn't life problematic and troubling?
I drink hazelnut decaf and listen to Three Dog Night on Pandora, while one of my calicoes grooms herself atop my monitor and my son still sleeps. Today is my son's eighteenth birthday--a milestone in his life and mine. He's already picked a college, a major, a career path, and his first girlfriend. Time to focus on my goals, although I've never abandoned them. When I announced my pregnancy, one friend said, "Better kiss your writing goodbye!" Why not tell me to cut off my thumb? I've completed three books since then, collecting an awesome collection of rejection slips.
My son will be leaving tomorrow for a four-day retreat, no cell phone, nothing--I haven't been out of communication with him that long since he was born! Even when he went to Disneyworld last year with his uncle, we chatted at least once a day. Luckily, life has handed me unexpected busy-ness. The landlady's arranged for carpenters to be here at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning--while I'm working, they'll install a floorboard under my kitchen sink, put up new bathroom wall tiles. On Wednesday I'll interpret for J. all day. Evenings, I'll take refuge in coffee shops and write.
The Grant Park concert last night was amazing--to think it was free! Forty-five minutes before the first notes of Beethoven's Ninth vibrated through steamy August air, the lawn was packed with people at picnic tables, in lawn chairs, on blankets, sipping pop or wine from fluted glasses. I met C. and E.; we drank white wine with sandwiches. People in jeans, people in dockers, senior citizens and babies. The finale--the chorus's "Alle Menschen werden Bruder--"--united with singing string and wind instruments plus percussion--such power and beauty reflecting a God that must, must exist. Standing ovation!
I love patterns; I realize my life neatly divides into 18-year chapters. My first 18 years I spent surviving, mentally and emotionally, life in a dysfunctional home; my next 18 years I fumbled about, trying to find purpose. Next, I spent 18 years raising my son--and grew up myself.
My son will turn eighteen soon, will go off to college in a year. My next chapter begins.
I've laid groundwork, earning my MFA, networking with writers via NaNoWriMo and SCBWI. I've signed up for online dating--although I subscribe to the philosophy of the book "Men Are Just Dessert."
Am I too hung up on age? I glance at the NaNoWriMo forum for 50-plus; the intro calls us "geezers" who talk about "young people nowadays." I'm not a geezer: dictionary definition is "an old person, especially an eccentric old man"; if you look at the derivation, it gets worse: "a queer character, an strangely-acting person." No thank you. I don't badmouth young people; one of my favorite people is my 18-year-old son. My role-model is J, 92, deaf-blind, still teaching poetry, still on advocacy boards, always the sharpest person in the room--she avoids giving her age whenever possible.
"The only part people would consider me for would be Tiny Tim, evien if I am a girl," Cherie said.
"Who would you want to play?" Rachel asked as they walked slowly down the St. Francis corridor towards the lunchroom. She wished she had something better than PB&J today but Dad wouldn't get paid till tomorrow.
"Any part except Tiny Tim--I live Tiny Tim all my life, why would I want to be him when I have a chance to escape?"
Lupe chimed in. "Yes! that's it!"
Cherie looked at her. "Huh?"
"That's it, acting. Escape. I mean, what you said." Lupe flushed and looked down at her shoes.
L. and I play online Scrabble on Friday or Saturday nights; last Saturday my ten-year-old niece joined us, and even after the third game she didn't want to stop. "Nooooo! One more game! Please! Sob. Sniffle." I was so glad she enjoyed herself because, alas, we were beating her badly. Maybe we should have let her win--but when you have a "q" and can spell "queen," how can you just spell "cat"? I look forward to our game next week. I remember visiting my aunt and uncle when they lived in Minnesota; retired, they played Scrabble daily and fiercely.
Why do I let trifles bog me down, steal time away from writing? Last night, my coffee grinder died--so I need a new one, even though it's not in the budget. But what is in the budget? My son's Catholic education? My master's degree? Our three cats? So I've been browsing Amazon. com, seeking a model that'll grind twelve ounces at one time, where retrieving the finished product isn't too cumbersome--and that's not too expensive. I want it before NaNoWriMo begins! Sure, I'm supposed to avoid caffeine--but hey, I can pretend decaf is fully loaded, can't I?
What fun, playing Scrabble with my best email buddy L. and my goddaughter/niece G! First, we went through the sign-up process at Pogo.com and got our user names and found an online room, and then we played three games, at the end leaving my niece sending whimpering text messages: "Nooooo! Sob! Sniffle!" At first, I thought, maybe I'll let G. win--but when L. began using multisyllabic words with z's and q's in them, the competitive spirit in me arose. I'm glad G. was still wanting more! The Internet is wonderful--allowing connection when we can't physically be in the same room.
Last week my son attended a retreat for Catholic high school kids. For four days, no communication--in all his 18 years, that's the longest we've been out of touch. Even when my brother C. took him to Disneyworld, T. would call me frequently, telling me of rides they'd been on, the pageantry of parades, little stores frequented on their road trip.
Retreat over, we parents welcomed the students back in a Closing Ceremony, but our children really welcomed us--each standing up and saying what their moms or dads or families meant to them, most of the kids weeping.
I wish I liked my given name, but I dislike the harsh "die" sound in it. My mother always said, "Never let anybody call you 'Di,'" and I'd think--then why in the world did you give me this name? But I do like when friends call me "Di," because of the affectionate way they say the nickname. My mother finally explained that she named me after a fellow-patient in the mental hospital--my namesake jumped, committed suicide. My name feels tainted, even though I have a cousin who committed suicide, even though I know I should feel more compassionate.
In "Forest Gump," Jenny apologizes to Forest for being mean: "I was really messed up for a long time." She's in pink waitress uniform, just home from work, and the babysitter arrives with Jenny's little boy. I realize--that's why she's grown up. She has a child to support--no longer can she hitchhike with unsuitable long-haired guys and submit to excuses for black eyes. No, she has to work, arrange for child care, love her child. Just as I related to Jenny's impassioned rock-throwing---"How could you do this to me?"--I relate to maturing after having a child.
Swine flu. Does my son have it? Do I have it? My son's girlfriend and a friend stopped by with homework; I probably looked weird, slapping on antiseptic hand soap while they stood in the doorway--I was scared I'd contaminate them. Oh well, teens like to complain about parents, can't let my kid down, can I? I wish my son had seen his regular doctor who knows his medical history; this doctor wasn't sure if he had a cold or H1N1. So we're hibernating; I'm drinking tea, wondering if I'm feeling tired simply because I expect to feel sick.
What if a pen were magical, equipped with its story to write soon as it hit the page? But maybe each of us is a magical pen, with stories no one else can tell. The Story Studio instructor said, "No one can write your stories but you"--now in a eureka moment I realize--there's the antidote to jealousy I've been seeking. No matter how great the writer-- J.K. Rowlings, Joyce Carol Oates--no one can tell my stories but me. It's my job to write as best I can, being true to myself and the story. Envy is silly.
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