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They invite us to their block party but never check back with the time; too busy, probably, but the insecure part of me wonders if they really wanted us there. I give myself self-esteem pep talks, yet years of being in touch with no blood relation left scars; knowing aunts wanted me aborted; meeting an aunt-by-marriage at a wedding who didn't want to introduce me to her daughters, my cousins. "Are they my cousins?" I insisted. The aunt-by-marriage wouldn't meet my eyes--well---their father's your father's brother--I guess. What's a non-cliche way to say a chip definitely totters on my shoulder?
I am a true Gemini and find it hard to focus on only one book or story. (That's probably why I prefer the novel with its broad cast of characters to the narrow confines of a short story.) I want to revise R. and C. and also R. and C.: 7th Grade. Plus Journeys and Hexing the Ex, shorter works like The Transfer and Witchy, plus picture books I wrote last year for NaPiBoWriWee. Trouble is, no one work appeals more than any other. I guess I'll work on the R. and C. books, as friends are waiting for the sequel.
"Now you'll be an empty nester!" my friend says.
"Um, I don't like that term," I say.
"Oh, I'm sorry--"
I didn't want her to be sorry--it's a common term--I just don't like the label. Is it the emphasis on "emptiness"? If you've been doing a good job, your "birds" have already been venturing beyond the "nest." I consider my home a launching pad. Why not say, "Congratulations! You launched him! He's off, flying high! Bravo!"
I do fear loneliness--but as I said to L. yesterday, something would be wrong if I didn't miss my son after he left!
I procrastinate. Instead of writing, I send friends pictures from my son's prom and from his stint volunteering in dinosaur costume at the library. I contemplate responding to correspondence--and isn't there cleaning I should be doing? Procrastination, clear and simple. It's as though I don't know how to revise any more; I feel like I did when I first wrote RC. The words "real" writers use seem in another language--plot, conflict, setting, characterization, theme--especially plot and outlining. Ugh. I remember the old yearning I felt when I took my very first creative writing class--can't I just write what I feel?
Bach's double violin concerto plays--the piece I played when auditioning for NW's orchestra; thirty-plus years later I still feel shattered at the rejection.
"You probably practiced this piece again and again."
Well, yeah. I was a straight A student, but nothing ever came easy. What's wrong with that?
"You need to be able to sightread better--"
As consolation, he referred me to the reading orchestra--where you played a work one time but never again. Frustrating, because I never had the chance to truly learn a piece. An exercise in failure.
And the orchestra was a main reason I chose NW…
Red and black streamers still hang, scotch-taped, from ceilings and walls--Blackhawks theme despite St. B's maroon and gold colors. My son's graduation party, over--outside big-lettered "Congrats!" balloons still hang, chip bowls and platters in the sink awaiting washing. Leftover pizza and A's mostaccioli in the fridge. Celebration over--one stage of my son's life--and mine--complete. He did well--one of the kids selected to bring up the gifts during the baccalaureate Mass, a scholarship to RU. A good bunch of friends. I pray the next stage of his life, a freshman living in a college dorm in the heart of downtown--will be happy.
Yesterday, at my son's high school graduation party, my sister-in-law S. read through his 18-year-memory book--my present to my son for his 18th birthday, with highlights from each year of his life, plus pictures. Everything from his first friend to his first girlfriend, from bus rides to preschool to selecting a college, from Chuck-E-Cheese with his Uncle J. to becoming a Shrek-ie with his mom. This morning, streamers still hanging, my son still asleep, I read through the book myself and feel happy and grateful to God for letting my son have a good childhood and become a good man.
"How was your game today? Have fun?"
Rachel groaned. "The game was fine--I made a run. We won." She shrugged; she still didn't get all this winning and losing stuff. Who cared?
Debbie sat down on Rachel's bed. "Don't like sports, huh?"
"I'd quit except Benjie's my friend, I don't want her calling me a quitter. But she doesn't sign up for art stuff, stuff I like! Bet she'd quit if she had to draw people and animals and still lifes."
"I bet if you're like me, the winning and losing stuff makes it worse--for them it makes it more fun."
"Dark." We use this word in a negative sense--talking about going over to the "dark side" in Star Wars, talking about a book or movie being "dark," in other words, dealing with deep, negative topics rather than "light" cheerful ones. Is it racist to use the word "dark" this way, when some people have darker skin than others? Is using the word dark this way implying that people with dark skin are inferior to light-skinned ones, that if you have dark skin you aren't cheerful and light-hearted? Hm, there's the word "light" again, although here it means having little weight…
I peek in my son's room, past his curtain "door."
"Do you want your present now or on graduation day?"
He looks up from his playstation game. "Why?"
"Now or later!" I'm excited--the ereader (bought on credit) just arrived via Fed Ex, the delivery guy plopping it outside our door.
Pause. "I'll wait."
What happened to the son who couldn't wait for Christmas?
Later, before our lunchtime 7-11 walk, I ask, "Are you sure you don't want it now?"
Later, he says he thought I really wanted him to wait, like I usually do with special gifts.
I don't think I pierced Helenore's skin this morning; I found the fold, poked it with my finger, but I'm not sure the needle found it's way into Helenore's flesh so she could get life-giving insulin. I'm sorry, H.--mostly that I didn't catch your diabetes earlier, assuming your weight loss was normal.
Helenore is our cat, born Tax Day in 1998; her littermate Helinda lives with us as well. Helenore is shy, sensitive, formerly chubby; Helinda is slender, active, curious, on the alert for an open door so she can try to escape. Helenore's content to merely peer out windows.
Why am I blocked? Maybe it's that I feel overwhelmed with endless revisions; maybe I'm not letting myself be inspired to write new stuff.
But the book, "On Writer's Block," is helping. The author, Victoria Nelson, reminds me that if I feel blocked, there is a reason other than laziness, and that I need to discover it. Writing is connected with living a good life and being a good person; it's not something separate from life and who you are. And she speaks of the inner child, reminding me that writing is supposed to be play, to be fun!
Yesterday I volunteered at Ribfest pouring Bud Lite and Bud "Heavy" into plastic cups while the front line checked ID bracelets and took orange tickets. I was glad to retreat into the routine of pouring--learning the technique of tilting the cup as far as possible, then straightening it when half full. Easier than checking IDs, making sure no one bought more than two drinks at a time. As usual, although I'd lazily wanted to stay home, I enjoyed myself, hearing snippets of the band playing and the front line guy hawking to the crowd: "You want beer! You need beer!"
Technology hates me. Our 12-year-old TV died, so we bought a cheap one on eBay--today our cat knocked it over, killing it, a constant flower pattern now on its screen. Our MagicJack telephone began to have horrid sound quality, so we switched to Vonage, which also started to have bad sound quality--the tech had me unplugging this, unplugging that--somehow I unplugged my computer and it died. Bought a cheap one at Best Buy--and my Neo isn't compatible with it. I'm happy my son and I and our cats are healthy--but it would be nice if our technological devices were well, too!
How can I inject fun into my writing time? I think a structure or a routine would help. Maybe scribble first in the Penway notebook that I mark with blue, green, yello, and red paperclips, showing where I leave off certain thoughts or idea lists or scenes. Here, I feel free to write whatever pops in my head and make silly lists of words that begin with the same letter. Then--write my daily entry for 100words.com. Then attack my current novel or revision in progress--currently "R. and the Cousins" and "R. and the Cousins: 7th Grade." Goal: to have fun!
Today is my brother D.'s birthday, the one who, in his (our) grandmother's steps, refuses to believe I'm any relation whatsoever. "That's my step-sister," he pointed me out at our father's wake.
I'm close with my other siblings, am godmother to one brother's two children; another brother took my son to Disneyland two summers ago. I stopped using the "half" prefix long ago.
I told my sister-in-law S. that D. doesn't believe I'm one of them.
She shook her head decidedly. "You're an N. I'm not saying it's a good thing. Or a bad thing. You just are an N."
T. and I come to pick up our cat H., newly diagnosed with diabetes, and to learn how to inject insulin. Despite being our gentlest cat, who cuddles on my pillow nights, she has a bad reputation; her chart has a warning sticker.
"You don't like me, let's get this over with," an assistant once said before taking H. for blood drawing.
Today, the assistants offer to use their resident cat if H. proves recalcitrant.
But I tilt the carrier: H. emerges, submits to petting, and purrs and cuddles.
"She's good with you guys," one assistant says, surprised.
Hey, we're family.
I don't think like other readers and writers; I don't read for conflict and suspense, but to spend time with imaginary friends.
"D., this book is BORING," my high school friend M. said after reading a book I recommended about some fictional teacher Miss Dove whose stable, traditional class saved a bunch of small-town kids.
But growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, after countless moves and evictions, I craved stability. I hungered for friends, real or imaginary; routine dialogue did not bore me.
Now, as a writer, I am challenged; most readers demand exciting twists and turns.
I'm not meant to be fat; I look at bones of my hands, they are tiny; old grainy black-and-white photos show a slender little girl making First Communion in veil and white dress. When did weight gain start--after my mother had her bleeding ulcer when I was seven? She was fired and began to scream nonstop at imaginary people, carrying coffee can everywhere to make sure it wouldn't be poisoned. Childhood years were painful, lonely; eating was comfort, the goodness of ice cream you could depend on. With young adulthood, fat melted, only to come knocking at menopause: "Remember me?"
Character idea: Kelly, dark curling hair but chubby, warm and friendly and always getting hurt. Exuberant, a puppy dog eagerly wagging tail to greet a new friend, but at the same time, incongruously, feeling like an open wound because of her past. How old? I see her as middle-aged, fighting the defeatism that sometimes attacks at this life phase. What are her challenges? Married or single? Single; maybe she has had bad romantic luck and is trying Internet dating. What adventures will she have? What does she do for a living? Some social service job that doesn't pay a lot.
Two months before he died, my father gave me the best birthday present ever. He forgot to say happy birthday.
I didn't grow up with my father; I suspect his awkwardness stemmed from guilt. When we reconnected, he'd call on my birthday and hem and haw, ask about my husband or my son; there'd be these long pauses.
Things changed. In 2001, on my day, we chatted for an hour, with no mention of it being my day.
The next day, he said, "Boy do I feel stupid."
But that was the gift; we'd chatted for no reason at all.
R. and Cousins brainstorming:
What was Cherie's life like before St. F? (She is feisty but still probably was bullied.)
Her mom would like to hex an ex! C's father the stereotypical but too-common man who can't handle having a disabled kid so leaves.
Did Bobby's brother die? (the one he wants to live with) Or does the brother join the military, and does this anger Bobby's mom? Deep down she loves her kids…
Cherie falls, terrible pain, hospital--Rachel, Benjie, and Bobby visit her.
Main effect of 9/11 on kids: their parents act with urgency, R's dad proposing to Debbie.
"Writing strictly from the imagination is better," the workshop leader says.
What about Dickens? Every book he wrote had a poor child in it; working in the blacking factory at age 12 had scarred him. What of Mr. Micawber, based on Dickens' father? Little Dorrit, living in the poorhouse just as Dickens' family had?
What of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," that Betty Smith first wrote as a memoir? In a writing magazine, one contributor said he could never write of a setting unless he'd been there.
My writing is rooted in reality--and that's OK.
I first realized that yes, I could aim to be a writer when I realized I could use my life as raw material. I am in awe of any writer who can simply imagine a character with no relationship to herself or her family or friends or acquaintances or stray strangers she's met. Or book. My first story was a third-grade attempt to write another version of the Bobbsey Twins. Was it plagiarism? My Bringley Twins had different names and enjoyed different adventures. And in college, I realized I could write about my own life, dysfunctional as my family was.
Block. I used to think there was no such thing; you just sit down and scribble and have fun. Maybe I expect too much; I have so many projects that need revision--a middle-grade novel and its sequel and the play about hexing exes that L. and I wrote for Script Frenzy. I am not an octopus (are octopi are into creative writing anyway?) and I'm not ambidextrous--so I have to pick one project.
I yearn for that rewriting zone, where polishing and carving away excess words brings as much joy as seeing characters come alive the first time.
I rush to finish 100 words before the clock hits midnight and it's July and my imagination's coach becomes an undistinguished pumpkin, my worthy steeds only the kind of mouse my cats would terrorize and murder. I look back, I look forward. End of May, my son had just graduated high school, walked down the church aisle to Pomp and Circumstance while A.A. shot pictures; A.F. and J.F. slept over, a pajama party before the next day's party. A month from now, my son will be packing, ready to move to a college dorm and new friends, a new life.
Sometimes, not often enough, I stop to look at my life and say, wow, I've got it good. Working at home, being able to play with words until I get them right, able to drink my own flavored decaf coffee and pet a feline when I'm stuck for the right synonym. To listen to Beethoven, Bruce, and the Beatles on Pandora.com. A son who spontaneously and often says, "I love you." Family, godkids, a niece who texts me--when years ago, for a good decade I had no family. Living in a neighborhood with ancient-trunked trees and neighbors who say hi.
I hate the Fourth of July. No, it has nothing to do with my feelings about my country, my awareness of its flaws, from genocide against Native Americans to the sin of slavery. All true--but other countries aren't saintly either. No, my feelings about the Fourth are personal; I was married on the Fourth, walked down Michican Avenue with my groom in wedding finery and enjoyed the honking. But the marriage ended, ostensibly because of my ex's infidelity, but really because of emotional abuse I didn't recognize until later. You grow up with emotional abuse, it ends up feeling comfy.
My favorite things...
- the brown glow of my violin
- the calico fur of my felines
- the smell of praline-flavored coffee brewing
- hot bedtime Ovaltine
- computer keys
- a blue gel pen
- a new notebook
- downtown chocolate smell
- church incense
- a mystery package in the mail
- cookies baked by a friend
- a snail-mail letter
- the smell of strawberries
- electric Chicago skyline at night
- pictures of my son and my nieces and nephews
- NaNoWriMo "win" certificates
- Jergens lotion
- almond flavoring
2010 is half over; agencies begin a new fiscal year. What are my resolutions for the rest of the year?
- Cheerlead T. as he zooms off to college.
- Write more!
- Finish rewriting R. and the Cousins: 7th Grade.
- Rewrite R. and the Cousins.
- Rewrite Hexing the Ex.
- Play Red daily; consider lessons.
- Don't give up on love and keep up with the online dating.
- Keep up with friends.
- Keep up with family.
- Live healthy; might as well join H.'s Wellness Club.
- Be frugal.
- Buy Nook!
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