Friday, November 02, 2007

In Which I Start All Over and Am Still Not Happy

My word count is fine. I'm still ahead of the game. However, I am not happy with what I've written. After seven very brief chapters of my first novel I stopped, dropped, and rolled into a different story. Guess what? I haven't even finished the first chapter and I already hate it. So tomorrow I'll finish the first chapter and if I don't feel happier with what I've written . . . you guessed it, start all over all over again. Today's stuttering start (and yes, I know that unbreachable is not a word . . . but I like it and it should be a word):

Jack Allen moved to the city after his father committed suicide. Not immediately after. He had stayed to help his mother and four sisters make the necessary arrangements. Nobody in the town wanted to talk about what had happened, the scandal was too delicate to discuss, and Jack couldn’t stay. He had no reason to stay.

“I know you’re leaving because you think if you stay you’ll end up like your father.”

“I can’t stay, mom.”

“I know.” She looked so small, curled into the corner of the couch. Jack wanted to say something that would make it easier for them both but there were no words. The suicide had built an unbreachable wall between all of them and words seemed too small to break through. And Jack was an artist, uncomfortable with words, unable to draw on his feelings to explain himself or why he was leaving. Standing over his mother made her seem even more fragile. She hadn’t looked at him for weeks, not since she tried to tell him about what his father had done. Jack had to close his own eyes to remember the color of hers.

“I love you, Jack.”

“I know.”

“Go find your happiness.”

Thursday, November 01, 2007

In Which It's November and That Means I'm Writing Every year since 2002 I've been signing up for nanowrimo and this year is no different. The only difference is that this year I went into it not feeling well and not having had enough sleep. I I had insomnia again on Tuesday night so I took something last night to help me sleep. It helped. I slept. I even overslept. And still, I managed to get today's 2000 words typed and done. My goal is to type 2000 words per day because I know that there will be bad days, days when I will feel too sick to write or think. Rather than fall behind, I'm going to try to stay ahead. That said, there is a bit of my nanovel below.
Aries Horoscope for week of November 1, 2007 A top official at the European Robotics Research Network predicts that humans will "be having sex with robots" sooner than anyone expected -- probably within four years. I hope this little shocker will help motivate you to follow my astrological advice for the coming week, which is to flee in the opposite direction of that trend. Start by phasing out any robotic, machine-like behavior that may have crept into the way you make love. For that matter, deprogram yourself of any automatic, lifeless habits that are infecting your approach to expressing intimacy, tenderness, and togetherness.
I walk into the kitchen. “Waverly, we need to talk.” I open and close the refrigerator in one motion. “We’re moving to Georgia.” I’m standing with my keys in my hand. My mother is talking. “I’m transferring to an office in Marietta.” I can hear the words but they don’t make sense. I haven’t even had time to put down my keys. She’s sitting at the kitchen table. “I need to move closer to Walter.” My mouth is dry. “I’m pregnant.” The shaking starts somewhere inside. Soon I’m shaking all over. “I know you weren’t expecting this.” I am looking through her. I can’t see my mother. I can only hear her words. “I wasn’t planning any of this but now that it’s happened, I need to move so the baby can be closer to the father.” I am holding onto my keys. I am holding on. “Say something.” I say nothing. I walk out of the kitchen, go to my bedroom, slam the door behind me. I’m still shaking when I try to open my hands, fisted against my mother’s words, but my fingers are stiff and it hurts to let go. My keys have cut a line into my palm. Red. Angry. I drop my keys and then drop myself across my bed. I start to cry, trying to drown out the tentative knock on my door. I don’t say come in. Eventually my mother walks away. Eventually, I stop crying.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Which I Finish Another Memoir I grabbed Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate: A Memoir About Writing because it offered me the perfect reading material for while I was working out on my bike. This collection of random short essays, speeches, and articles is gathered together in this one book, a fragmented memoir about Tan’s experiences, how her life has influenced her art, and how being an author has influenced her life. Life begets art begets new life begets, one can only hope, new art. Most people are probably most familiar with Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. I had started reading it on a flight home from New Jersey but, when I got home, the book disappeared. It reappeared later and I always meant to start it over and read it cover to cover. Then my daughter read it for school and the book disappeared again. I still haven’t found it. After reading this memoir, however, I know I want to go back and read all of her books but not in the order in which she published them. I think I’ll start with The Kitchen God’s Wife. Something about her memoir made it sound as if this, her sophomore novel, was not her favorite. Perhaps it was the experience of writing it that made it difficult for her. However, the memoir quotes from the book often and I think I would prefer to read a book for which Tan feels a certain delicacy than one in which she seemed to have more confidence. Something that struck me while reading this memoir is a story she shares about her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s towards the end of her life. Tan talks about how her writing is very much influenced by the stories her mother told with a suggestion that perhaps these stories are meant not to be a retelling of the stories her mother told but rather the stories that fill in the many gaps that mothers naturally create when sharing themselves with their children. I don’t share my darkest experiences with my children because I want to protect them. So I’m sure I have left huge gaps in my own story-telling, holes my children will have to fill in with their own meaning. I know I have done this with my mother, coming to my own decisions about what experiences she still carries in her choices and body today. Having me rather than an abortion. The profession she chose and for which she went to school. And even how she relates to my children, her grandchildren, and how her parents have influenced that through her. Early in the book, there is the suggestion of a theme which is beautifully woven throughout the memoir and I need to quote it here:
A relative once scolded my mother, “Why do you tell your daughter these useless stories? She can’t change the past.” And my mother replied, “It can be changed. I tell her, so she can tell everyone, tell the whole world, so they know what my mother suffered. That’s how it can be changed.” (103)
And there it is—the power of writing, the meaning of words, the story behind storytelling. We tell these stories not to remember our personal histories but to change them. How is this possible when there are so many memoirs out there in which horrific stories of abusive childhoods are shared? How can I say that the stories are changed when I know that I’ve read a memoir by someone who didn’t change the details, who went to a great deal of trouble to prove that the “story” of her life was the truth? When I open a memoir written by a person whose life has been so painful as to merit being witnessed in words, when I share in that process of healing by reading another person’s pain, I do so knowing that I hold in my hands evidence of survival. No matter how fractured or broken the story teller may seem to be in the midst of the story, I know that somewhere along the person’s life they started finding themselves again, pulling those pieces back into a new wholeness, and, above all else, they found their voice. Even if the book doesn’t say a word about how the person got strong enough to share their story, I know it happened because the book is the evidence. So the story is changed even as I am reading it, even if every detail is item for item the truth, because I know that this person survived. Reading Anne Frank’s diary has a sweetness and a poignancy that comes from knowing she did not survive. Otherwise, in many ways, wouldn’t she have come off as a bit whiney and even pathetically naïve about the reality of their situation? Her diary would have lost some of its relevance although it might still have been published. Who knows? The question is moot. She did not survive and everyone knows this from the very minute they hold the book. With Tan’s memoir now finished, I have added it to the pile of things that I shall give to my daughter when she comes home for her next visit (probably on Thanksgiving). Maybe she’ll find some healing in the words, read herself into Tan’s struggles with learning how to love a mother who was often depressed and irrational. At least she’ll know one thing—Tan survived her mother’s craziness. Maybe my daughter will realize that she can do the same.

Monday, October 29, 2007

In Which My Daughter Proves Once Again She Has Great Taste
My daughter has been reading Terry Moore's brilliant graphic novel Strangers in Paradise for a while now. Just this year the final issue was released and we waited for the combined volume, Ever After, to be made available.
She moved out before that happened. Ironically, she moved out but the package for her pre-ordered copy arrived here. I was tempted to open the package and read it. After all, I am very easy on books and she would never have known. Okay. She would have seen the package was open. And if there was any shrink wrap involved then that would not have been there. I guess she would have known. Anyway, I managed to resist temptation, especially after I text messaged my confession to her that I was tempted and she clearly texted me back: Thou shalt not.
I am getting old. That is the only explanation for it. I rarely cried over books before. I could number the books on one hand for ages. The last story in The House at Pooh Corner. The Little Prince. And The Once and Future King. That was it. Not an impressive list at all. Then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had me bawling. More than once, no less! And now this . . . I'm crying over a graphic novel! It was bad enough to admit that a children's book made me cry but a graphic novel?
Yes. A graphic novel. A ridiculously unrealistic story about some beautifully created and realized characters. In the end, it is the characters with whom I fell in love--Francine, David, and, of course, Katchoo. But what Moore does is so brilliant. He weaves lyrics to songs into the story. He has panels of images that are clearly inspired by classic art masterpieces and artists. There are side stories that have nothing to do with the Strangers in Paradise plot and yet complement the theme of the main story brilliantly.
So my daughter happened to be reading these books and I asked her if I could read them because I am that mother. Annoyingly wanting to be a part of my children's lives. I watch their anime. I read the manga. And I hope to someday grow up to be as incredibly well rounded and fascinating as they are. In the meantime, I'll just have to hope that reading what they read and watching what they watch will help me be a better mother if not a better person.
Oh and please don't tell her that most of the time I was reading the books I kept humming the song Strangers in Paradise from the Broadway musical Kismet. I don't think she'd understand or appreciate knowing these things.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In Which I Am Canceled Due to Extenuating Circumstances

I have much about which I could be writing. But I won't do it. I'll probably be changing my idea for nanowrimo, chucking what I had thought I would do and do something else entirely. We'll see.

In the meantime, I am holding in a great deal of emotion right now which is why the horoscope seems doubley apropos--not only because I'd had a dream about the DMB firedancer logo the other day but because . . . well, yes. This horoscope resonates for me.

Aries Horoscope for week of October 25, 2007

For all we know, in your past life you were a virgin who was thrown into a volcano to appease a fire deity. But whether or not that's an actual fact, we can say this with certainty: At some time in your current life, you made a great sacrifice in an effort to pacify a person whose anger or violence or manipulativeness you were intimidated by. Now I say unto you, Aries, that it's an excellent time to fix any distortions that were unleashed in your life because of that sacrifice. You've got the personal power and insight you need to set the healing in motion. Halloween costume suggestions: the mythical phoenix; a virgin-turned-warrior carrying the severed head of the fire deity; a fireman, firewoman, or firedancer.