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I am hooked on the Maisie Dobbs books. First of all, they're a series, and I love following the same characters, not having to say goodbye forever as with a typical book, never mind a short story, Lord help us. The mystery element offers escapism, and the historical setting--the aftermath of World War I--provides learning. And Maisie's resolve to look deeply, to resist easy stereotypes of good versus evil, provokes thought.
What ideas do her books give me for my own writing? I must not abandon Rachel but write her seventh grade adventures. What more can I learn about Rachel?
I feel antisocial and take forever to return calls, preferring to read Maisie Dobbs or write about maginary friends Rachel, Benjie, Cherie, and Brittany, putting words together like pieces of a puzzle that at the end must be beautiful. Is it that I no longer have much in common with these friends--C. who thinks I wouldn't be smart enough to write a course about physics--J. who delights in hearing my novel hasn't been published. Maybe I'm too sensitive--I don't know much about physics. C. probably doesn't realize how much research goes into writing a course; often I learn while writing.
The waters of the Y's pool are 80-degree warm and blue, and Sunday morning at 7 a.m. there's only a few of us. Everybody else swims full laps while I barely do half laps, finding it hard to hold my breath that long, or breathe the right way. When I turn my head, water enters my nostrils. But I had fun splashing around, sometimes holding onto the railing, laying on my back and kicking. Haven't been at a Y pool in more than twenty years, when I was still married; big T. and I would sit in the sauna after swimming.
Bobby runs away from home. Does he run at the end of a school day, after stewing about it all day at school? Or does he run out of his home in the midst of his parents yelling at each other or at one of his siblings, and does he go to David's house and ask for refuge--and they say no? So they feel guilty when later no one knows where he is? But where does he go? Is there a distant cousin so distant the family's forgotten about him--but Bobby remembers him and resourcefully kept a Christmas card address?
When i was in high school English class, someone brought up "Pollyanna" as something to mock, and everybody laughed. But I had read the book as a child and thought the "glad book" had merit. What in the world is wrong with always trying to find something to be glad about? Of course, I had a very different life than the other honors students--they came from comfortable middle or upper class homes, and I was living on welfare never knowing when we'd get evicted for not paying rent or for my mother's odd behaviors, like yelling unprovoked at other tenants.
She was born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day with the last name of Green; a nun once told me, admiringly, that my gran had a brogue you could cut with a knife. She went to Mass daily, but she never told me Who or What God was; when I started kindergarten, the nun implied you were bad if you didn't believe in God. I felt panicky guilt: Who or What was God? But Gran's hadn't had much life guidance; as the oldest of eight, she'd had to mind the store instead of going to school and learning to read.
The Romano table groaned with platters and bowls of food, and it wasn't at all like at Grandma Marie's, where every time Rachel took a bite she felt eyes on her, feeling as though she were getting fatter merely by breathing in the aroma. No, at Rosa's--Debbie's mom insisted she simply call her Rosa--she was urged to "Eat, eat, eat!" Or, rather, "mangia, mangia, mangia."
"Here, more." Rosa piled more scoops of mastacholli in Rachel's and her dad's plates. "Joseph, pass them the cheese."
"Really, I'm full," Rachel's dad protested. "It's delicious but--"
"You can't be full! Mangia!"
Lawmakers want to regulate how people spend food stamps--perish the thought of a sweet roll or can of pop bought with the Link card. Sure, we should all eat healthy--but regulating the lives of people down on their luck, even more than their finances already limit them, seems cruel. After a long hot day of job hunting, maybe a sweet roll is just what is needed. Lettuce is not comfort food. And where do those-who-have-money-and-know-best stop? Will they restrict salad dressing that isn't fat free? What about yogurt with added sugar? Must people on stamps be barred from red meat?
Parents' weekend. Great. Just like holidays, a day of not belonging. Of remembering parents who gave birth to me. A father who'd break my little sister's arm. A mother who'd let him.
I was just five but wished I could have saved her.
I don't know what happened after Annie was taken away in that ambulance. Part of me wants to hunt her down--but maybe she doesn't want to remember.
I still hear her screaming and the sirens.
What could I say? I'm your big brother. Sorry I couldn't have protected you the way big brothers should.
In "Messenger of Truth," Winspear writes of an artist who depicts the truth about war--truth that many can't bear. One picture showed a man, driven mad by war, tortured by fellow soldiers--they were all vulnerable to madness and their vulnerability enraged them, so they killed him, the reminder. I think of my relatives--my aunts knew they could have been mentally ill, so they shunned my mother, who was. And their children, heavens, could have been born to their sister and had my childhood--perish the thought. Better shun me, too. But I read a quote today--about forgiveness being the best revenge.
Last year I discovered the joy of writing outside on my front steps, with kids' running and adult neighbors chatting a natural background music. My thermos of flavored decaf (Traverse City cherry with sugar-free caramel syrup) sits nearby. It's like writing in a coffeeshop, with solitude for writing but also the companionship and inspiration of real live people. I don't enjoy write-ins at studios as much as simply sitting at a Starbucks or Caribou, or a McDonalds or KFC--being around other writers feels dry. I'd rather be around people engaged in living, folks enjoying friends, dads playing catch with sons.
Not sure if the bake sale warrants a chapter. A cute scene with Debbie and Rachel baking a weird dessert isn't that interesting, and it bores me to write about it. But not sure where else to go with 9/11. It happened, they felt sad and scared--then what? Maybe need to jump to meeting Debbie's family. That's critical. Rachel's dad proposes to Debbie, and they make wedding and new apartment plans. Adults are afraid--life is now painfully short. Best not to waste a moment. Not sure of Cherie's role in the novel--except Bobbie is intrigued with her and ignores Rachel.
I do something goofy that I haven't done since high school, maybe grade school--I paint my nails. But this time, instead of the white or super pale pink I used back then, I chose bright blue--mystery blue, the bottle says--hoping to match the bright blue of my toenails. Of course, my toenails were painted by a professional when my sister, sister-in-law, and nieces and I went for pedicures on our girls' weekend in D.C. I forgot, however, that I'm all thumbs. So not only are my fingernails bright blue, but I have blue botches on the skin around them. Argh.
Saturday morning, I sit at Starbucks waiting for inspiration and can barely put words together. I didn't have enough sleep last night or all last week, so creative gears turn slowly and I have trouble picturing characters or empathizing with their feelings--these imaginary people are stick figures who refuse to come to life.
But, I try, and I enjoy glancing down at my bright blue nails as I type on my Neo and savor decaf Americano with sugar-free vanilla and notice I'm the oldest person here. Many other patrons, young and with blonde toddlers, know each other and chat comfortably.
I go to Caribou for my after-pool treat, ordering a decaf Americano and cinnamon apple outmeal and enjoying the feel of newly washed and conditioned hair and my aloe-lotioned skin. I'm always nervous about actually getting into the pool--I sit on a shallow edge and jump in, making sure I'm in the slow lane--but once I'm in, the blue warmth is wonderful and I keep trying to do half-laps. I can do them when I get distracted and forget I'm doing half-laps--otherwise, I keep trying to get my feet on the pool floor so I can bob up for air.
"I don't know." How could Ms. Perez suggest that she, Rachel Reilly, could win a science fair project? Rachel was good at art, nothing else. She hated science; and the idea of coming up with a science fair project made the bottom of her stomach feel knotted.
"I can't think of anyone who could do this topic better. The best projects are always one where you feel passionate about the idea, and who's more passionate about art than you, Rachel?" Ms. Perez smiled at Rachel, and Rachel looked away, the way she did when summer sun was in her eyes.
Sometimes I walk past Uncle D's old house and remember playing there of a summer night, relishing getting together with what we called "the bunch," Uncle T. playing his accordion and letting me sip beer, Uncle D. giving me nonalcoholic eggnog, the cousins including me in all their play; here, I was not mocked and felt loved. Of course, sometimes my mother wouldn't let me come to these gatherings but would have one of her screaming fits and talk about how "they" were out to get her. I could never count on anything, learned to always ready myself for disappointment.
Envy. I am jealous of women who are beautiful, young people, published writers, married people, rich people, people with non-dysfunctional childhoods, people who had mentors, skinny people, people who can afford to travel, people who own their own homes, people with actual savings accounts, people with doctorates, people with "wow" jobs (like professors, doctors, lawyers), people who aren't klutzy, people who can eat nuts and seeds and imbibe caffeine, people who live in warm climates, people who aren't shy, people in touch with relatives who knew them as children, people who don't have tempers, people who don't get down.
A week ago I stayed up late to finish my essay about the impact of reading in my life, and tonight, after a full day--breakfast with a friend, high school reunion picnic, and dinner with a friend and her out-of-town buddy--I feel a bug overtaking me and have almost lost my voice. I drink Airborne and hot tea and take a decongestant and plan to go to bed early. But I'd really like to go to the reunion luncheon--especially after one of the organizers ran after me when I left, giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
The young man talks on his cell phone about considering being a doorman and not being ashamed of saying that--he sounds happy, free from the selfish striving that has always seemed beneath the human spirit, even though I am so prey to it. I remember a teacher writing in my yearbook that I was so ambitious that she was sure I'd go far. I'd winced. Ambition seemed to denote a kind of striving that pushed people out of the way, that was hungry for power and things. I always tried to do my best but didn't want to be ambitious.
So many times I've been told I wasn't good enough. Patty in 7th grade telling me her boyfriend didn't want her hanging around with me--I was uncool with old-fashioned thrift-store clothes. At my half-sister's wedding, my uncle's wife not wanting to admit that her daughters were my cousins. My father's mother signing greeting cards "Gertrude O," not "Grandma." Recently, though, my half-sister told me that our grandmother never forgot about me, always reminding our father--"You have another daughter." When he died and we cleaned his house, I saw cards she'd sent P., praising "all her A's"--did she know about my A's?
Oh, no, Rachel thought, taking one of the bags from Debbie and heading into the kitchen with her. Debbie was sometimes too creative.
Out came bowls and flour and baking soda and baking powder and imitation vanilla and cinnamon and nutmeg and loaf pans and cupcake pans and confectioner sugar. Rachel and Debbie poured over Debbie's recipe book and settled on carrot cake (with orange zest), chocolate cupcakes (with coconut), and fruit cake.
"People joke about fruit cake, but I like fruit cake," Debbie insisted. "What is wrong with them lasting forever? Isn't that a good thing? I ask you!"
Early morning swimming at the Y and then writing at Caribou is a nice weekend ritual; my skin stills smells gently of chlorine, and I still feel the smooth blueness of my arms pulling through water, still happy that the slow lane was empty, waiting for me. Now, at Caribou, people converse, leaning towards each other, read books, type into laptops while wearing earphones, enjoy the fireplace, joke with the barristas as they order lattes. Holiday cutout ornaments dangle from rafters, and lantern lights hang from chains. I type on Written Kitten on my Netbook, decaf Americano by my side.
I didn't swim as well this morning. The last couple of laps, I didn't make it all the way to the end but reached out for the wall and then float/swam on my back to the safe shallow end. I almost got to the end of the deep end--but not quite--and this time it wasn't that I felt out of breath or that my arms ached, but that my legs didn't feel like they were working properly. Which makes me wonder--is the PT/chiropractic treatment helping or hurting? Are there really no options to shots in the knee? Dear God, help!
My new life strategy? Enjoy today, and pray for the strength to handle tomorrow. That makes so much sense--I'm not sure why I never thought of it before. Not much we can do about tomorrow--sure, I may end up in a wheelchair in a stinking nursing home. But there's a zillion other negative and positive scenarios that could play out instead. War or global warming could demolish humanity--or, much more to the bright side, I could sell my novels or marry a rich guy! I'll work to make tomorrow better--swimming, taking care of my health, and working on my novels!
Witchy is a witch who thoroughly enjoys her wickedness. She doesn't love anybody except her cat Midnight. They enjoy broomstick rides together, and Midnight laughs at Witchy's pranks.
One day Midnight gets sick, and nothing Witchy does helps. Finally her brother Warlocky suggests taking Midnight to a human vet. Witchy is horrified but, desperate, she takes Midnight to see Dr. Jones.
Midnight gets well, and Witchy is so grateful that she takes a broomstick ride back to Dr. Jones's office to thank him. He suggests that she try being a good witch. Instead, she decides to become a mischievous witch.
"You're not still writing, are you?" my mother's old friend says, and it's more a statement than a question. My son hears my "Of course I'm still writing!" and immediately comes and gives me a hug, knowing that I'm fuming. Not sure why people feel free to throw insults about so casually--is it because they've given up on their dreams, and so they'd feel better to know you've abandoned yours, too? Except I haven't given up anything and plan to write and dream as long as God lets me. Do I need to wear a sign, "Yes I'm still writing"?
When I was at Northwestern I studied in the Management Library, which annexed off the regular library and had gleaming mahogany tables and chandelier lighting, not buzzing fluorescent rectangles. Mostly men studied there, men wearing slacks rather than jeans, and shirts that weren't T-shirts. I especially remember writing poems about pencils and the story of my first date for creative writing class here, and sitting on the hard wooden bench right outside of the library drinking strong vending machine coffee but feeling deliciously decadent nonetheless. Now I still write creatively but at Caribou with a latte and a fake fireplace.
Christmas. I give T. highlights of 2011-2012 and Nook books--the seven Harry Potter ebooks and collections of classics, and we watch basketball and order from an Arabic restaurant--hummus and smooothies and creamy lentil soup and Arabic coffee that I spill. My brother calls and asks advice about his disability claims but I have no idea how to help or whom to refer him to. It is unpleasant talking to him--his condescension is palpable as he asks about my writing almost to taunt me: "Your books haven't been published." My own mood is somber; the arthritis in my knees has worsened.
I hate when I'm sleepy and uninspired when I yearn to write! But it's been a pleasant long day. S and I swim at the Y this morning for a good 40 minutes, although my endurance disappointed me--instead of swimming full laps, I swam 3/4 laps. Ugh. Was it my endurance or my arthritic knees? Home, I watched football the rest of the day with T--fun, although Bears won't go to the playoffs. This evening I treated myself and watched the Christmas Downton Abbey episode on Channel 11, first letting A. know it was on. Can't wait for Season 3!
A little girl makes new year's resolutions but feels hopeless. Her dad is out of work and her parents are always fighting. Her teacher hates her, and her best friend just moved out of state. She has no hope for--what year should it be? 1968? Instead of history class focusing on boring past events, now you learn about current events, but these are confusing. Why does the catechism class teacher tell you killing is a mortal sin, but killing in war is OK? When Danny Roberts claims everybody who wants to work can work, she cringes, thinking of her dad.
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