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NaNoWriMo over--now unstructured writing time nudges me--what to write first? What to revise first? What about 100words.com? What about my blog? But posting on Internet sites still scares me a bit, despite my pseudonym--though I strive to write positive stuff about other people and myself, negativity (and truth) creep in. I reread my first novel and my flat prose bores me. How can I resuscitate it? I'll start with the trick I learned at National: seaching for passive verbs and replacing them with active ones; I'll look at old copies to see if revision killed any of the original spirit.
Why is it hard to appreciate today? Why do I worry about the future, regret the past? I think "I love my apartment and my neighborhood" but worry, "What if J. sells this building?" I applaud myself for writing a good chapter, but sigh, "Should have had a book published years ago." I bask in dream job--writing for a school serving people with disabilities--but bemoan "Ah, but no 'wow' factor--not like when you're a doctor, lawyer, or professor." Time to activate my "think positive" switch! To think of myself as a beautiful writer, despite number of birthdays or rejections.
I am too conscious of my age, but isn't that the first thing you notice? And I hate stupid assumptions. The man at the convenience store where I buy my lunch-break coffee laughs, "Don't work too hard"; I overhear him tell the next customers that I'm retired, he's just kidding. Retired??? Couldn't mean me. I replay the scene in my head; yup, he meant me. I work full time, work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines; I submit writing monthly and consider that a part-time job. Never mind being a single parent. Never mind earning my MFA last year. Retired?
I'm embarrassed, but I have to put the sex chapter back in RC. The chapter, spurred by an actual college assignment, when N. wakes up after having sex with B.--her first time ever. I think without them having sex at least once, the relationship doesn't work. Although I'm not putting in all the drama I wrote before, where N. gets pregnant and has a miscarriage--instead she's late three days for her period and she freaks. That adds quite enough drama, as any woman who's been late will tell you, agreeing the period should be called a blessing not a curse!
Yesterday I was Scrooge hanging out with the Ghost of Christmas Past. At the deaf-blind social club, my name was read and an excited murmur erupted from members and interpreters, "D is here?!" Later, I saw the Nutcracker at the theater by St. A's, the same theater I'd watched "Three Stooges" films during sixth grade Saturdays. I attended St. A's one year, the happiest year of my childhood. I passed the street the nuns blocked off for us to play jumprope; I stopped in the church and prayed, remembering pure joy, hanging out with my first and only childhood friends.
What are my 2010 resolutions?
-Write great Chicago novel.
-Defy living life of quiet desperation.
-Launch my son off to college.
-Find and attract appropriate soul mate.
-Put music (violin or singing) back into my life.
-Make writing a priority!
-Excavate feelings: live and write passionately.
-Think of self as beautiful, healthy writer.
-Nurture healthy friendships.
-Participate in writing conferences, workshops, and networking events.
-Treat self to good coffee.
-Volunteer at Open Book.
-Consider joining parish book club.
-Ignore stereotypes about age.
-Volunteer more with deaf-blind social club.
-Every day: write, music, and exercise!
If Nelson Mandela could forgive the people who jailed him in a barred cell for thirty years, surely I can forgive relatives who abandoned me to abuse, relatives who don't acknowledge the blood tie. If Mandela could walk out on a rugby field with a Springbok cap on, I can work on forgetting personal grievances, can reach out and send a card to a long-lost relation; if Mandela, alone in that barren cell, could fortify him with a poem, remind himself that he is the master of his fate and thank God for his unconquerable soul, I can find strength.
My 2010 resolutions:
- Think of each day as an unexpected gift.
- Help launch my son off to R. University.
- Stop using credit cards!!!
- Nurture healthy friendships.
- Write with passion.
- Do 100 words daily--especially when revising.
- Play red daily!
- Maybe volunteer at Open Books.
- Maybe join choir.
- Maybe join parish book club.
- Do NaNoWriMo 2010.
- Do Write a Damn Novel in June.
- Do National Picture Book Writing Week.
- Revise my picture books.
- Think of myself as a beautiful healthy writer.
- Reject stereotypes--of self and of others.
- Enjoy living alone again when son zooms off to college.
- Transform righteous anger into love.
I never watched "As the World Turns," never planned to, but I feel nostalgic nonetheless to learn that Proctor and Gamble's last soap opera is ending; no more daytime dramas with any connection to actual soap. Fifty-four years old--same age as me. I remember having the TV on to soap operas when I was little; no afternoon kids programs existed back then--no Sesame Street or Arthur or Dragon Tales--and I was shy, myopically terrified of going outside to play with anonymous other kids on the sidewalk below our third floor apartment, my grandmother too busy to play with me.
-My son turned 18!
-T. chose college, was accepted, won merit scholarship.
-I have a writing buddy and joined an editing club.
-I revised Bestfriend again.
-I've received "good" rejections.
-My son has a girlfriend, M.
-I "won" NaPiBoWriWee and NaNoWriMo.
-My six-word memoir will be published!
-I was on TV, interpreting for J., and Harry Porterfield interviewed me too!
-I enjoyed Ozzie Plan with my son.
-I finished writing Literature Nonfiction for work.
-I practiced sign language daily.
-L.'s baby was born!
-College road trips with E. and V.
-T. given honor of carrying candle at Leadership Mass.
-T. began tutoring second grader--who has same teacher T. had ten years ago!
There's something about a Friday December night, outside sky black, ground bumpy with snow, houses all along the block decorated with garlands and red bows, strings of lights illuminating banisters, yards happy with Santas and raindeers and manger scenes; some windows allow glimpses of fir trees, boughs strung with red, green, and gold lights. My fingers crack red from cold--but that lets me enjoy the smooth comfort of lotion, the nurturing scent of Jergen's original cherry almond, the peach of my Avon sample tube. Inside, I appreciate the heat of fresh brewed coffee, the Christmas carols on my Pandora station.
In the last Harry Potter book, "The Deathly Hallows," Harry urges his nemesis Voldemort to consider remorse: "I've seen what you'll become otherwise," thinking of the wailing stunted baby he'd seen in that room of his mind during his missed-death experience. Voldemort scoffs at Harry's advice and continues on his evil ways until death vanquishes him. But what if Voldemort had actually seen his future? In "A Christmas Carol," the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come shows Scrooge what he'll become--so unmourned in death that his very bedclothes are stolen out from under him. What if those helpful spirits had visited Voldemort?
Back from 8 a.m. Mass; it was a Father B. Mass, meaning it was over quickly; he's not long-winded but makes his point succinctly. Today's point: you can't excuse your sins just because you live in a sinful society; he quoted today's gospel, where John the Baptist advised, "If you have two coats, give one to someone who has none." One thing I've always appreciated about the Christian ethics--I remember thinking this as I sat listening to S'ter back in first grade--is that it gives you a sense of control. Maybe you can't change the world--but you can change yourself.
What do I feel strongly about? Children should be nurtured, read fairy tales and Dr. Seuss, not beaten with belts as in my ex-husband's family. People should be encouraged to blossom, play the piano or go back to school--no discrimination because of disability, age, ethnicity, family dysfunction. War--solving problems by playing a murderous game--whichever side kills the most people wins--is idiotic. Believing you are better--or worse--than others is ridiculous. We are created equal--if we don't end up at the same finish line, how much is due to our efforts, how much to oppression?
I am sick of revising "Roll Call by the Elephants." I first began writing about Nora and friends in 1982, completed a very rough first draft in 1989, finished a publishable draft in 2000, and began submitting it in 2001. Every couple of years I drag it out and tweak. I'm a different person since 1982--I've married, become a mom, got divorced. I've gone from being a museum cashier to working at various social service agencies serving persons with disabilities. I've earned my MFA and learned more about writing; I want to strengthen verbs while keeping 1982 inspiration and passion.
Revising Chapter 1, I ponder putting Gorgeous Larry, a garrulous janitor who greets all women, "Hey Gorgeous," back in the opening scene as it would add to the mysterious atmosphere. Who is this man calling Nora gorgeous? But then I remember why I probably pulled him out before--he isn't all that important to the novel, and I don't want to hint that he'll have a major part to play later when he won't. I probably made that decision before because it "felt right"; now that I have my MFA, I write no differently, maybe, but know the reasons for my choices.
One 2010 resolution--limit credit card use. Enough of this carrying a card at all times, buying paper towels at Walgreen's via Mastercard--no! Wait till payday! This will be my version of a credit counseling plan--without giving up the safety net.
I remember leaving the credit counseling office ten years ago, heading to the bank to close my safe deposit box, retrieving my rough draft of "Roll Call," typed on backs of old fliers and special ed laws. Ten years ago. Time again for discipline. Yet I don't regret some extravagances--Sox games shine amidst gray doing-laundry days.
I hate nagging--don't listen to my son. (When he was little, he thought I enjoyed vacuuming and dusting.) But he needs to finish scholarship essays so he won't end up paying half his salary to some bank. He needs to finish the honors program application; I want him to challenge himself, pick harder classes and projects.
Being smart is a blessing and curse--people expect you to take a certain track, become a doctor or lawyer--but what if that's not your dream? You have a responsibility to rise to your potential--but the right to choose your path.
Resolutions aren't the same as dreams--what are my 2010 fairy tale longings, real as any more cut-and-dry "Don't use credit card" resolves? I'd love to meet my romantic soul mate, not live the rest of my life alone until I end up in some smelly nursing home warehouse for people who've lived too long. I'd love to meet some literary success--one of my novels or memoir published. I read of that 94-year-old artist, finally recognized--will it take me that long? Still at C. I was published, twice in one year--but since then, nothing; my earlier successes seem to mock me.
How does Bart affect Nora? Why is he in this novel? Of course, the real reason that I cannot confess for fear of public humiliation is "that's what happened." Won't work in fiction--we're to be above unvarnished fact and reach for higher truth, elusive as it is in real life. So, why Bart? His attentions build up Nora's self-esteem, which has been shattered by her sister's criticism. But Bart doesn't want a relationship, and Nora does, so he dumps her. And because Bart's first love is art, Nora wonders what will happen if she becomes absorbed in her music again.
My favorite book is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"; I read it when I was fourteen for a school book report--it was just laying around our house--and I've never stopped loving it, and the characters are as real to me as old high school friends or long-lost relatives. Francie, the determined young writer. Neely, her popular brother who's a little wild. Her mom, who angers them both by saying Neely's the one who must stay in school, and bookworm Francie go to work for the family. When I first read "Tree," I sided with Francie; now, I'm with the mom.
Favorite books in my life (many choices sentimental rather than aesthetic):
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Anne of Green Gables
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A Tale of Two Cities
Queen, by Alex Haley
Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi
Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchy
Shakespeare plays except Titus
Pride and Prejudice
To Kill a Mockingbird
Agatha Christie mysteries
Janet Evanovitch mysteries
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
any James Herriot book
Range of Motion, by Elizabeth Berg
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
My Several Worlds, by Pearl Buck
-My son thrived at St. B.'s.
-We moved to H. Avenue--a cozy apartment in a real neighborhood.
-My father died.
-M. and I became good friends; cancer took her.
-Jack born; I'm his godmother.
-I became close to A., who introduces me as her daughter.
-I left the LH, started at H.--earning my living as a writer!
-L. and I became daily email buddies.
-I began working from home.
-MG and I became cousins and friends.
-I turned fifty.
-T. graduated eighth grade, started high school.
-I went back to school, earned my MFA in Creative Writing.
-A. was diagnosed with malignant brain tumor and survived.
-My son turned 18.
Christmas traditions: We put the tree up on Thanksgiving, in memory of the one and only Thanksgiving I spent with my father. Our tree is small, artificial, and we tie it with leftover garland to a wooden chair. I send out cards and eagerly await cards that I hang up on door frames. I read "A Christmas Carol" for the umpteenth time. I invite my Illinois siblings over for Christmas Eve and make pasta and desserts. I bake a birthday cake for Jesus; my son and I sing Happy Birthday before we open presents and head to 8 a.m. Mass.
A perfect Christmas! My son and I sing happy birthday to Jesus over cake, then go to 8 a.m. Mass. Afterwards, we head to the Davis to see "Sherlock Holmes," then eat pizza and vodka-sauce pasta at an Italian restaurant, then go see "Invictus," possibly the best movie I've ever seen. As we leave the theater, it's snowing; we walk the mile home enthused, discussing how each character was worthy of his or her own movie, how Mandela's spirit, surviving thirty years of imprisonment yet rejecting bitterness and embracing forgiveness, inspires. I feel grateful for my life and my son.
My 2010 Resolutions:
-Welcome each day as an unexpected gift.
-Help launch my son off to college.
-Stop using credit cards!
-Nurture healthy friendships.
-Write with passion.
-Do 100 words daily--especially when revising.
-Play Red daily!
-Do NaNoWriMo, National Picture Book Writing Week, and Write a Damn Novel in June.
-Participate in writing events.
-Volunteer at Open Book.
-Volunteer with deaf-blind social club.
-Think of self as a beautiful, healthy writer.
-Reject stereotypes--of self and of others.
-Enjoy living alone again when son zooms off to college.
-Transform righteous anger into love.
-Defy living life of quiet desperation.
-discovering a vegan coffeeshop walking distance from my home
-writing in a coffeeshop, using a virtually unbreakable Neo that automatically saves my writing
-Christmas decorations--red and green tinsel, glass ornament spheres, white lights on tree branches
-bright December sun
-Christmas songs that were ancient when I was little: "Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"
-knowing people of different faiths--my Jewish sister-in-law, my oldest high school friend who's Buddhist, the Muslim owners of our neighborhood 7-11, A's best friend who's Muslim
-a Christmas card from my brother and sister-in-law thanking me for hosting the family gathering
"New Year's Eve is a holiday for white yuppies," my son says. "It's just another day."
"I don't think it's just for yuppies," I protest, but of course I'm a sentimental holiday lover who watched "Sound of Music" last Sunday despite having seen it scores of times, who makes New Year's resolutions about appreciating family and friends, who stays up till midnight every December 31, planning to play "Auld Lang Syne" on my violin no matter how rusty my bowing. Sure, December 31 and January 1 are no different in any concrete way--but why pass up an excuse to celebrate?
Today is the two-year anniversary of Daisy invading our home. My brother drove us to the shelter; I was crabby, hoping he could just pick us out a kitten, but no, he wanted to follow shelter rules and have us be interviewed. Sometimes I think cats have a better shot at a good family that babies do, but I digress. Daisy was a tiger-striped, cuddly and curious; our other felines went into hiding for days; for weeks Daisy dominated the food. Toleration now reigns, and Daisy has become my son's cat, sprawling across his chest while they watch football.
When I take my niece to the Art Institute, our visits follow a comfortable routine. We start with the Thorne Miniature Rooms, admiring the intricate handiwork of the historical settings--Japan in the 1800s, California in the 1930s, Massachusetts in the 1600s. A kitchen with an iron pot over a fireplace, other pots hanging from wall nails; a more modern living room with glass tables, and outside windows, lit buildings against black sky.
Then, "I'm hungry!" G. proclaims. In the cafeteria, she gets pizza and a chocolate parfait. "Now I get to eat dessert first!" Auntie D. enjoys spoiling her.
I hate feeling sleepy when I have two-weeks worth of 100words.com entries to write, 2010 calendars to find for the ritual hanging on walls, a writing calendar ready for goals. I've decided to focus on 100words.com this year when I'm revising as a way to continually write new stuff while revising the old. I know what they say--just throw out the first novel--but I'm not throwing out Roll Call. MK loved it, MDLT loved it, and I've even had "good" rejections. It just needs heavy-duty tweaking--adding an additional chapter or two, going back over original versions and undeleting certain lines.
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