Emergency Salads, Tornadoes, and Permanent Cow Fixtures

As I drove to the store on December 30th, a woman in a fancy pickup (oxymoron on wheels) rode my bumper despite the fact that I was exceeding the speed limit by several mph. She passed me as soon as she saw the smallest gap, got one car ahead, and pulled into the same parking lot I pulled into seconds later. I daydreamed of asking her, as she picked through the produce section, if she had an emergency salad to get to. In my part of the world, however, such smart alek words can get you shot. I don’t say that lightly.

I decided at that moment that I wasn’t going to rush anywhere the rest of the day. I’ve never believed that there was any place I needed to go that was worth risking my life or someone else’s though I get impatient, too. The passage of time has weighed on me lately, but time on my mind doesn’t mean time to kill or be killed.

It’s true, the way we mark time is largely a human construct: days, weeks, hours, minutes. But months, seasons, lifetimes: Nature has foisted those on us. Since my mother’s death, the passage of days has been, well, a daily thought. An internal battle, even. It began during our time together in a tiny nursing home room those few days before she died.

We had some sweet, gentle moments: laughter, bad puns, a lot of hand holding. I’ve always been amazed by my mother’s hands. No matter the weather, the wrinkles, the dish loads, her hands were like the finest, lightest silk. Now they are ash and it is hard for me to grasp that. I sigh—she would have chuckled at that unintended pun. It’s what we do as a family: make bad jokes. It’s part of what makes us such a close family.

There were moments during which I allowed myself unpleasant thoughts. Cynical, I suppose. “Is this all there is? What did she get for all she did for us?” thoughts. Of course, that’s the angry view, the grieving view of the end. I had been grieving for much longer than the many months Momma had been suffering from dementia and a bad fall. I’d been grieving since she left Texas some seventeen years prior. I knew there was much more—more joy, adventure, choice—to her life than I was allowing. But in grief, those things look small while the hurts loom like dragons and disease. Thankfully, those thoughts were brief and mostly I reveled in my precious time with her.

I admit I’ve nursed those hurts all year. A digit change won’t fix that but perhaps Christmas Eve at Munger Place Church  and time with my daughter and her family has planted a seed.

I struggle with faith daily. Again, I don’t say that lightly. Each prayer, even “grace” before a meal, is an argument with this “creator” some people call God. At the same time, I can’t free myself form my belief that some sort of divinity has had major influences on my life that coincidence can’t explain.

Christmas Eve service at Munger was, no surprise, beautiful. Kate Miner’s love for her God poured out of her with each performance and I used up all my tissues dabbing my eyes. I know I seek that moment when in “O Holy Night” I will “fall on [my] knees, o hear the angels’ voices” and it was at this point in the service that I felt a weight lifted from me after almost a year of anger. Not because a divine presence came upon me. Not because I was suddenly healed. There was nothing magical there (except Kate’s voice). Instead, I realized I cannot stand up and be who and what I need to be without first kneeling and being humble to what I have been given. I must work with what the universe/life/God gives me rather than argue with those gifts, even when those gifts seem like curses.

What cemented this feeling was the remainder of the visit with my daughter and her family. After the service, we drove around to look at Christmas lights in the more affluent Dallas neighborhoods. In front of one house was a life-size, longhorn steer sculpture decked with holiday finery. Someone said, “I wonder where they store that in the off season.” My daughter said, “I think that’s a permanent cow fixture.”

It struck me as funny. Okay, adorable. At 32 years old, she’s still adorable. She’s always been beautiful and gentle like her grandmother. Time with her is so precious and like the rest of her family, she has the sharp and dark humor that binds us. I love every minute with her.

Two days later, December 26th, a horrific storm system struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We huddled in my daughter’s house where we lost power and listened to the tornado siren. Two major tornadoes struck and lives were lost while we had only some wind and scary lightning. Eventually, the power came back on, our adrenaline tapered, sadness set in, and we went to bed.

On the 28th, my husband and I returned to the bayou and a couple of days later, my daughter sent me a picture of the steer.

IMG_1427

I thought it rather sad—frippery and wealth completely unscathed while there was so much destruction in a small town of apartments, trailers, and tract homes not too many miles away. The events of this Christmas came as yet another reminder of the very lack of permanence, the randomness, the brevity, fragility, humor, unfairness, beauty, and preciousness of life.

Fall on your knees.

Here’s a link if you feel inclined to help the folks in North Texas: How to help.

Posted in faith | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Talking Dog and Choppy Seas

How Saturdays would happen if the Big Blind Dog had language:

I awaken and get out of bed. My husband (hereafter known as Dad) is showering so I leave him in peace and head straight for the kitchen.

The kitchen is part of an open architecture, great room structure with a large portion dedicated to a den area. In the den sits a plump, oversized couch known as Dog’s Bed #1. As I cross the threshold from bedroom to great room, Big Blind Dog (BBD) lifts his blocky brown noggin, eases one front paw off the couch, then another and, bum still planted on the cushions, looks at me. Well, as much as he can be said to be looking. He is listening to find out who exactly has come through the magic portal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Who’s there?

“Good morning, baby boy,” I say, and close the door behind me.

“Oh. It’s you. I suppose you’re going to give me breakfast.” BBD heaves his wide load up, stretches with back legs tall on the couch, causing a whistling intake of air into his back end, and hops down onto the cold tile. “Do get on with it. It’s been two hours since my automatic feeder gave me kibble and I’m famished.”

“I love you, too,” I mumble and shuffle into the kitchen where I ladle one heaping tablespoon each of pumpkin and yogurt into his food bowl, but not quickly enough to prevent a puddle of dog drool on the floor.

“Where’s Dad?” he asks, as he licks yogurt off his nose.

“He’ll be out in a minute.”

“Not good enough. I must register a complaint.” BBD turns away from my loving pat on his back and bumps his pumpkin-yogurt mug against the wall on his way to the magic portal and where he begins to whimper. “Oh, Dad. Please come out. I’m so lonely. There’s no one here but the lunatic woman who curses loudly and often. Please. Please. Please.”

I start my coffee and ignore the doggy drama though it increases with the familiar sounds of my husband’s routine as it nears completion.

The portal swings open.

BBD leaps for joy, raising his rear end slightly off the ground with each bounce like an obese bunny. “Dad. Dad. I’ve missed you so. It’s been forever. I thought you were never coming out. Life without you is drab and empty. Let’s go to the kitchen where we can be happy and eat and dance and bark and drool together forever.”

Dad winds around drooling dog and bouncing dog and nibbling-at-the-fingers dog, the many-in-one dog. In the kitchen, BBD leads him to the biscuit jar. Dad does as he has been trained, picks out a large biscuit and gets to work in his front-room office.

I sit in the den with my coffee—or rather I try to.

BBD walks to the back door. “Mother. I must go out now. Let us not disturb Amazing Dad. He is far too busy and important. This is your job.”

Of course.

  1. I’m a writer who works* out of my home.
  2. I am always available to my dog, my husband, the Fed Ex driver, geckos that get stuck in the house. I try to be available to my grown daughter via telephone when she needs me.

With this availability, I didn’t expect my dog to be so much like a toddler and decide that I was just too danged available.

Every stay-at-home parent (SAHP) experiences it, that moment when the working parent comes home and the young child behaves as if they have been left ignored and unfed for ten hours by the hopeless and useless SAHP. But honestly, my dog?

Lately, it seems more and more the case, for BBD. Yes, I am more focused on writing now, but a lot of that focused time is on the couch, some part of BBD pressed up against me as I work. There are no fewer treats from the biscuit jar. Quite possibly there are more than when I was working on my MFA. There are no fewer walks. I pet and cuddle with him often, but I don’t crowd him. I am working on decreasing the cursing and if I do curse, I ask forgiveness with a treat. All it takes is a whispered profanity for him to act injured.

Yet, when Dad comes home from work, a new and grand world has opened up and life is wondrous again. While when I go out for morning errands and come back home, BBD herds me to the kitchen for a treat but that’s about the extent of it. No joyous bouncing or finger nibbling.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me in his canine fashion. Much of the time, when his initial excitement over my husband’s arrival has ebbed, he comes to sit with me. Like the toddler who adores the working parent but relies on the SAHP for lunch and dinner, BBD knows who fills the food bowl every night and sits on the patio with him every morning.

This sounds like just a whinge about the dog not appreciating me as if he were capable of understanding the concept. Of course, I know he isn’t. I don’t know why a dog or a child attaches such importance to the arrival of the away parent v. the available parent unless it is some reptilian-brain fear (perhaps more to the fore in the dog) of the away parent not returning.

This is simply the statement of a truth. I sit at home and write all day (well, much of the day) several days a week. I don’t have a “real” job because my body doesn’t allow that but also because, truly, writing is what I have always wanted to do. I’ve been blessed to be able to do this. I am thankful for this. I admit, in my darker moments, when the dog brushes me off in favor of the Dad, when the kids don’t have time for us, when the husband has to work late, when the latest rejection hits the inbox, when I simply look at the page and see tripe instead of the quality writing of which I think I am capable, in those bleak moments I experience complete despair. What value do I have? Is it my purpose in life solely to let the dog out to do his business? God knows, it’s a job I want to do because I adore his fuzzy little snoot. But is it all I’m good for? Well, that and washing dishes and laundry?

I keep telling myself that the raft of emotions I am floating on day to day is a result of the sea of grief still surrounding me since Momma died. That my sense of worthlessness, my fears of the future, my anger with my loved ones, my disgust with the world as a whole, is all a result of those battering waves. That it is not rational.

Believing my precious dog loves my husband more than he loves me (or vice versa) is not rational. He’s just a dog, for God’s sake. But grief is not rational.

*as much as writing and not making money off of it can be called “work”

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Infinite Loops: Depression, Stuckness, Grief, and Self-preservation.

do loop2

From Blue Star Publishing’s Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns

In the past six months or so I’ve done a good bit of coloring. I’ve found time for Hardanger embroidery. I’ve read a dozen or more books (I’m a slow reader), countless internet articles, and comics out the wazoo. I’ve developed a healthy daily yoga habit, learned to cook my lunch (actual cooking) almost every weekday, and while I don’t sleep well at night, I often make up the time the next day. I’ve critiqued the work of other writers (at their request, though I’m behind on that) and submitted (had rejected) two short stories. I’ve even attempted Zentangle—there was nothing Zen about it for me.

What I haven’t done is make any significant progress on my novel.

I don’t intend this post to be a whine fest – merely observation. Every effort to write a blog post, personal letter, notes on The Book, journal entry, etc., has been a lengthy probe into what part writerly fear, grief, clinical depression, and rage play in my lack of progress.

I am stuck in an “infinite while loop.” If you’re not familiar with computer programming terms, the infinite loop, or unproductive loop, is pretty simple. It’s a piece of code, usually an error but not always, in which the programmer set up an instruction up thusly:

If X is true, then do Y, where X is always true.

Here’s a simple DOS version.

:A
goto :A 

The code above will repeatedly follow its instructions. “I’m at :A. Oh look, I’m supposed to go to :A. I will now go to :A. I’m at :A. Now I must go to :A again.”

You get the drift.

When you are using software and it “hangs up” and you have to shut down your computer or give it the ol’ “three finger salute,” you have probably stumbled on an infinite loop.

So here I am at :A, where :A equals me relentlessly and ineffectually sorting out my lack of motivation.

I have, in the last few days, “set an intention” during my yoga sessions to be kind to myself. To stop beating myself up because of my perceived failures. It’s hard. I’ve been beating myself up since childhood. I’m an expert at emotional masochism. Yet somehow, I must find a way to both release myself from the stranglehold of obligation and revive my desire to write at the same time. I can only guess that not hating myself for what I haven’t done is at least one place to begin.

My title to this blog post is misleading in a way. I did not at all tackle the subjects of depression, stuckness, or even grief. I’ve mentioned them only because they exist here in this loop from which I am trying to break free. In acknowledging them, I hope to get to the self-preservation that my subconscious thinks the loop is providing but is, in fact, chipping away with each iteration. That self-preservation is, is it not, what the writing is for? Rather than letting the loop determine how I will conquer the depression, stuckness, and grief, the pen must rip through that loop and conquer them for me.

Sounds so bloody simple.

 :A
    goto WRITE

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Balloons and Blankets: Honoring My Mother

Sending it up to Momma.

Sending it up to Momma.

galveston83

Momma and Me (and my daughter). Galveston West Beach, 1983. Seeking and finding shark teeth.

My daughter had a lovely idea given that we were unable to have any kind of funeral or memorial for my mother. She suggested we have a memorial tribute to Momma in Galveston at the beach.

I let my daughter plan the event. She’s a great event planner. Not something she learned from her mother or her grandmother, mind you.

She purchased biodegradable balloons, made paper butterflies (Momma loved butterflies and hummingbirds), and wrote a beautiful remembrance for her grandmother which is not mine to share here.  What I can share is a couple of pictures relevant to the trip.

My mother also loved poetry. She loved my poetry, even though I am not a poet.* Not just in that “unconditional parent love” way. She genuinely connected with my writing in a way no one else did. She’d get excited and show my work to my dad and her appreciation fed my spirit.

To prepare for the memorial, I looked around my house and tried to reconnect with my mother in a house she’d never physically inhabited. I dug an old crocheted afghan blanket out of my closet, smelled mothballs and time, and sat down to talk to Mom about it.

The Purple Afghan

The Purple Afghan

I didn’t sit down to write a poem but to write a letter. As the image of her patiently, meditatively, lovingly creating this oversized blanket perched in the back of my mind, the letter transformed.

It’s not Charles Wright or Maya Angelou even on their worst days, but Momma would have liked it.

afghanpoemimg

*She had the same response to my brother’s poetry. He is a poet, whether he accepts the label or not.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great Imagery Hunt or Walk 1.8 miles in my Brooks Trainers.

In the search for the ultimate imagery for our work, writers dredge up memory and metaphor that surprise and thrill our readers, that surpass cliché. In particular, I struggle with the language of sound and smell because I tire of the common metaphors and descriptors of these senses.

An example: In my thesis, I wrote of a storm that “mumbled” and a note appeared next to it, “grumbled?”

Mumbled. That’s what I meant. I didn’t mean that it grumbled and growled like a beast overhead or an angry old man. I meant that it mumbled like an indiscernible conversation. I was trying to show that it was not imminent. Perhaps if I’d spelled it out that way, it would have worked, but I worry such labored metaphors detract and distract from the action at hand. “A distant storm mumbled, sounding like a conversation in another room.” Meh. I’ve just lost my focus on the fact that my character is lying on a hillside with possible broken bones. Do I worry about how the storm is mumbling by dragging out the metaphor? I changed it to avoid the problem, but I didn’t like going to “grumbled” because I’ve heard a hundred other writers (well, perhaps ten) use that same expression. I’m sure there are other options but at the time, I was just trying to finish a thesis. The point remains, when and how do we break free of what is expected of us in terms of imagery/description vs. what we are trying to communicate? And, of course, what are we willing to do for the critic who comes back and says, “Huh? What does this mean?” So, I keep searching for ways to express these ideas. If “mumbled” doesn’t work, what will? What gets across the idea that a storm is making noise far away without being cliché or common?

To find these ideas, we search in our everyday life, of course. For me, that can be a challenge. I am somewhat housebound. I hate to use that term. Let’s say, “restricted.” I can tolerate some sun, but not a lot. I am perfectly ambulatory; my husband and I walk a couple of miles a night. We fish early mornings and evenings when we take vacations. I’m not stuck in a bed 24/7. I just have some limitations. I can’t go jogging in a park or hiking in a canyon or the woods in midday. I can’t launch a canoe at 9 a.m. and return to shore at 3 p.m. (though I would love to do so). My ability to gather data then is limited to grabbing at bits and pieces as I move from one place to another or in the little two-hour swatches of the world fabric I get here and there.

I get a surprising amount of data from the nightly 1.8 mile walks with my husband. Often, the familiarity of it leads to a certain numbness, but now and then I awaken to the smells and sounds.

On windy nights, each street has a life of its own. This street with its oaks and north-south facing has a stiff breeze and sharp sound. The wind pours unimpeded over the rooflines and sends the odd oak leaf skittering down the street. On another street, the wind is raked fine and soft with the needles of huge loblollies. It’s a ghostly sound that takes me back to childhood every time. Along the creek, the song of the frogs and the power lines mingle with cool air even in the hottest months. And on one street, the houses seem to stack up somehow and form a barrier such that, no matter the direction of the wind, the street is always a stagnant, stifling cave. At best, the very tips of the tallest pines will sway.

On still, damp nights, neighborhood smells bloom. Gardens of sweet or sulfurous blossoms waft through privacy fencing. Hints of Indian, Korean, Filipino, Tex-Mex, BBQ, and other meals leak through kitchen windows. Perfumed laundry fresheners puff from dryer vents. Fresh mulch and lawn clippings scent the walkways. Sawdust and diesel fuel clouds drift from garages. Then there’s trash night. After all those wonderful meals, clusters of “Ew!” sit on the sidewalk every sixty feet or so.

We pass from five to twenty-five neighbors, most of whom have earned a badge for Southern Hospitality. My husband smiles, waves and says, “How are you?” to everyone he sees. He often says, “Happy Saturday!” (Or whatever day is appropriate. Be prepared for “Happy Monday!” and go with it.) His smile is contagious and his friendliness near impossible to ignore. We have won over the most hardcore grumble-and-scowl walkers in our neighborhood. While we know the names of maybe five of these good folk, I believe they think well of us (him) and we trust them in an emergency. Many have dogs and if you have a dog, you can’t be all bad, right?

In all this walking and smelling and greeting and smiling, I am writing. Not literally walking along with pen in hand and composing, of course. Not even rushing in the door to jot notes (though that’s a good idea). It’s all been stored (theoretically) so when I come back to those metaphors like the storm so distant that it sounds like an indistinct conversation, I will have more writing fuel. I will (I hope) prevent myself from slipping into the usual “grumbling storms” or “flashing eyes” or “burgeoning” whatever burgeons.

IMG_2331

Happy Tree!

It’s only a small piece of the collection process. I will always need more. Trips to the beach. Trips to the Hill Country, Las Cruces, Dallas, other parts of the state, the city, the bayou. Early mornings in my own backyard looking at my favorite tree (Happy Tree) and watching the hummingbirds drink from the lantanas while the blind dog tries to catch the fly that’s buzzing him. Still, it covers a lot of ground and for me, in my circumstances, I look for all the opportunities I can find.

Posted in composing, imagery, inspiration, language, metaphor, notes, writing | Leave a comment

For Momma – Letter

me&mom

It was when my daughter was in her most rebellious stage that I called you beyond tears, beyond rage, exhausted and hopeless. I apologized on behalf of myself and my siblings.

“For what, honey?” you asked.

“For all the crap we ever put you through–all four of us. Every stupid, selfish thing we ever did.”

You chuckled and told me there was no need to apologize. You said as you had said before, that you had always wanted to be a mother and you and Dad knew there were certain things that went with being parents.

I listened, shaking my head the whole time, and restated my feelings. “I know, Mom, but still…I’m sorry.”

You thanked me and assured me that the tough times would get better.

Of course, they did. Of course, none of the crap my child put me through changed how deeply I love her. In the years that have followed, she has matured into a woman of strength and compassion who mirrors her grandmother much more so than does her impatient and cynical mother. Apparently, certain genes really do skip a generation. It helps that my daughter spent a good deal of time in her formative years in the bright beam of her grandmother’s heart. She was exceptionally fortunate in that regard.

I don’t know why I didn’t benefit to the same degree that she did from your guidance except for the plain fact that you were, by necessity, tugged between four children and a spouse and all the stresses of modern life in mostly foreign lands. I did benefit nonetheless, such that when my child was born, nothing mattered more to me than protecting her. As she grew, I tried to follow your example where I could.

You left us on Thursday the 29th of January of this year. On Friday morning, I slept in as I often do. I dreamed one of my typically vivid dreams. In it, I drove the old ’78 Buick through flooding rains, narrowly missing several wrong-way drivers until I finally came to a safe stop at your house. I walked in to find you sitting up in bed, looking twenty years younger, healthier. You were singing to a young child who was both my daughter and my granddaughter. You waved your hands joyfully to the tempo of the girl-empowering Disney-esque song. You turned and grinned at me as I greeted you.

I awoke and felt held and loved and at peace.

So many times in my life you comforted me when I was in pain. When I was small and awkward and bullied. When I was struggling through my first marriage. When the Girl was in her I-know-everything-you-silly-parents stage. No small wonder you were there to comfort me Friday morning after you had to say goodbye.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Feed(back) Starvation or Finding a tool to fix a writing problem: Community.

There’s a phenomenon in fountain pen mechanics called feed starvation. Fountain pens work on the principal of capillary action (or flow) similar to the way our tiniest blood vessels work. Clean and simple explanation on this page: http://www.explainthatstuff.com/how-fountain-pens-work.html

The parts of the fountain pen that facilitate this capillary action from the ink reservoir to the writing tip (nib) are the section, tube, and feed. When something prevents the ink from getting to the feed, it is starved. A starved feed means your pen won’t write.

Can you see where this is going?

I’ve put out a few stories to contests (no wins) and journals (no responses) and I’ve asked a couple of people to read my work (no responses or limited responses). The reasonable me (she who is in control of 90% of my processor cycles, give or take) says of those family and friends, “They have their own lives. It’s hard to find time to read eight pages. You’re an unemployed hausfrau who has time for that stuff so don’t be hard on them.”

The petulant child who needs validation or at the very least, acknowledgment, says, “Damn! It’s eight bloody pages! At least nod in my direction.” The paranoid artist in me thinks, he or she read the eight pages, thought the they were awful and has decided it’s better not to say anything because he or she only has bad things to say. Of course, anything not acknowledged by contests or journals is obviously trash.

I write because I love writing, but I admit that I have a need for validation and every other writer I have met, save one, has had the same need. Not to say we need constant praise—just the acknowledgment that our work was read, considered, and perhaps some nugget of beauty or truth seen in it. Without validation, I suffer from feed(back) starvation. My pen won’t write.

So, recently I joined Scribophile and began contributing critiques. Last night I screwed up enough courage to submit something for critique. It was helpful to get some feedback. It remains to be seen if the critique environment will match that of my classes. I think, more important than the critique is a new sense of accountability. Knowing I was going to put something in front of people who could very well rip it to shreds, I chopped out some of the fluff. Not enough, apparently, but it’s a start.

Another benefit to a community like Scribophile is the process of critiquing others. In sizing up other works, I see my own flaws looking back at me. When I return to my stories, I can rework them more objectively and with keener vision. I’ve been tucked away in my cave with my red pen and my own work as a go-by for several months. Reading published works is important for learning what to work toward, but reading other works-in-progress reminds me of that we all have to edit and there are a variety of ways to do so.

I’d love to see some of my classmates find their way to the community. From what I can tell, quite a number of the workshopped pieces do get published. I’ll be happy if Scribophile can be my feedback supply but even if it isn’t, I think I’ll gain from it.

However, there are problems for someone like me. I am a slow reader and a verbose critic. This means that for every piece I want to post for critique, it takes me a great deal more time to earn the karma required than it likely takes others. I am ready to post a second chapter but I don’t have enough karma. It also means that I have to be careful not to make my writing life turn into my Scribophile life. I don’t need a Scribophile problem anymore than I need a Facebook problem. As with anything, it’s about discipline.

Hahahaha.

So, if you’re looking for feedback and your blog isn’t enough and your family and friends are sporadic at best, check it out and see what you think.

I do have a selfish motive in this. I’d like to see people I know show up there. I miss you guys and I always trusted your input. However, I also think it has the potential to help some writers. It’s not for everyone, I’m sure. I’m not even entirely sold on the idea for myself. Check back with me in six months.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Help! I Need More Conflict.

In my book, not my life.

The Book takes shape.

Each writing day (most days) I work on some part of the Book that I know I can fix: editing the next chapter, rewriting, or writing a new section needed to make it all fall together neatly instead of sitting like so many puzzle pieces half-joined here and there. Some days I work other projects, letting my conscious focus elsewhere. I hope at those times that whatever I do with the other project is instructional for the Book at a later date.

Latte and Grand Place

Latte & Grand Place

 

As much as I feel I’m making progress, I fear the end product, no matter how well-structured, no matter how keen the turn of phrase, will fall flat for lack of one crucial element: conflict.

It has been an issue from day one. I’ve tended toward Jamesian efforts—not so much in prose style but in the sense that I spent/spend a fair amount of time in dialog and thought, and in observing the characters. Recently Writers Write posted this on their blog and I went through each question. I was brutally honest with myself and while I didn’t score in the lowest ranking, I have to answer, “Why are you not making things more difficult for your characters?”

The Book moves back and forth through time and I am careful to make the analepsis both relevant and conflict-filled in my rewriting. However, the present action is still essentially a yes to #7. Not so much a heart-felt conversation as a yelling match, but I don’t see it as making things terribly difficult for my characters. More importantly, I don’t see my protagonist as active and this has been a concern for some time. I have brought some conflict into the present time for her by introducing a sore point between herself and her loving spouse. Still, she is not “trying to achieve something tangible” but is, instead, trying to achieve something emotional. It is a book of emotion. One MFA committee member referred to it as a “quiet little book.”

I suppose that isn’t all bad, but I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about it the closer I get to rewriting the denouement. I have set an arbitrary goal for completion by next summer (2015) if only because I’m not getting any younger. (Many thanks to my cardiologist for calculating my cardiac event risk yesterday and pointing out that lupies have cardiac inflammation that puts them at much higher risk than the general population and blah blah blah. Way to go, Doc.)

I fear that all those times when I stare into space in the middle of an otherwise productive writing session or doze off because the anxiety of failure overwhelms will sabotage my timeline. Of course, that fear sabotages me as well and the anxiety builds and…

Please, someone read this and tell me what you think about the conflict checklist. Here it is again: Conflict checklist. Suggestions for dealing with my problem would be appreciated. Or, if you think I’m overreacting to a fear, telling me that would be great. Any input short of “sod off, you moron,” would be appreciated.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with paper samples from Rhodia Drive

Recently, Rhodia Drive gave me the opportunity to play with papers by Clairefontaine and G. Lalo, two French stationers whose papers are imported by Exaclair, Inc.  Clairefontaine makes a variety of notebooks and notepads as well as “Triomphe” stationery. G. Lalo makes high quality stationery for correspondence.

GraF it sketch paper.

Smooth but matte texture. Disclaimer number one: I am not an artist. I’ve been playing around with sketching people, dogs, and trees but I won’t frighten you with the results here. Still, I’ve developed a little feel for how graphite feels on sketch paper v. writing paper so I think I can speak to this a little.

Clairefontaine designed GraF it to take both ink and pencil. It is less toothy than the Strathmore I used for comparison (my only other sketch paper) so it did feel as if it didn’t want to take the graphite as readily as the Strathmore.* There is some difference in the lead darkness on one v. the other (Graf it is lighter) although the paper is whiter than the Strathmore. However, the GraF it erased better and didn’t leave as much of a scar from repeated erasing compared to the Strathmore. Both smudged easily (intentionally) although it seemed to me GraF it smudged more uniformly. Whether this is an advantage or not, I don’t know. I’m sure it is because the paper is smoother overall.

It’s important how it handles ink, of course, and it does quite well. Disclaimer number two: I like smooth paper but I like toothy paper, too. What I care about with paper is, will it stand up to my ink and my way of writing?

Clairefontaine GraF it

GraF it paper showing pencil marks, erasure, and ink appearance.

The image above shows that I used several nib types and several ink brands on the GraF it. All performed very well with no bleed-through, no feathering, and minimal show-through. As I said, the paper is matte and slightly toothy for sketching purposes but it is still fairly smooth as opposed to something like laid paper (see G. Lalo below). You’ll feel it. Your pen won’t skate like it’s oiled, but it won’t be an unpleasant writing experience.

I don’t care for using pencil on the ultra-smooth paper of CF’s other notebooks (or similar papers). It’s messy and hard to control. But, I have wanted a journal I could draw in with graphite and colored pencil and fill with ink ramblings to my heart’s content. GraF it comes as blank and dot grid notepads. I was happy to learn that the same paper appears to be in their “Crok book” notebooks. On may way to find a seller, NOW!

*Below is the same test written on the Strathmore sketch paper (Recycled sketch paper 400 Series) and more of my hideous handwriting. Strathmore is not designed for fountain pen ink so you can see the ink spread and slight feathering. Not bad considering.

Strathmore sketch paper. Pencil, erasure, and ink test.

Strathmore sketch paper. Pencil, erasure, and ink test.

Clairefontaine Triomphe Blank 90g

This is CF’s correspondence paper. I’ve used the same paper but lined. It is wonderfully smooth, there’s no getting around that. I don’t know if it is exactly like their notebooks and notepads. To me, it seems a little more tolerant of my ultra-smooth nibs; they don’t seem to skate so easily. I could be imagining that. It also seems to show through a little but that could simply be that I’m not accustomed to using blank paper. Their standard notebooks are 90g just like the Triomphe paper. Whatever the case, if you want smooth paper for writing letters, this is an excellent choice and is one of my favorites. A lined version is available, as well. There is the one little problem with super-smooth paper like this: dry time. If you use a very wet pen, or a very goopy ballpoint (for shame!) you will get some ugly smearing if you don’t allow the ink to dry a few seconds. Well, in the case of the goopy ballpoint, you’re on your own. You’ll see at the end that I did smear tests for all three papers.

Clairefontaine Triomphe. Top quote in wet writing medium nib, bottom quote, dry XXXF nib. Some show-through visible from other side (wet writer, dark ink).

Clairefontaine Triomphe. Top quote in wet writing medium nib, bottom quote, dry XXXF nib. Some show-through visible from other side (wet writer, dark ink).

G. Lalo Verge de France

A lot of fountain pen users balk at laid paper but I’m not one of them. I love the stuff and I particularly love to use a very fine nib on it. Oddly enough, using a fat, smooth nib makes it feel more unpleasant. Better to tip toe through rocks than walk with flat bare feet on top of them. It’s more than that, however. I actually like the tactile feedback of the sharp nib on the laid lines (the narrow ridges on the paper). It’s part of the process. I equate it with the way many people prefer old mechanical keyboards over the membrane keyboards. I’ve tried to capture the lines in the picture here.

G. Lalo laid lines

Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de France. The vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.

Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de france. The Vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.

It’s entirely personal preference and if you know that your pens can only tolerate smooth or glassy surfaces, Verge de France isn’t for you.

From an inky point of view, this paper was tiny bit picky. I was sent “White” which looked distinctly “cream” to my eye. Nice color but I’d never call it white. You won’t be able to tell from the pictures that the Noodler’s Apache Sunset is fainter and shows less shading on the G. Lalo than on the other papers. The darker inks were fine. My Violet Vote ink, which tends to write rather wet, almost seemed to feather. It’s not as noticeable after the fact but was when I was writing.

I wrote at length on the back of the G. Lalo just to confirm my preference for fine nibs and the Violet Vote’s behavior. Yup.

G. Lalo Verge de France

G. Lalo Verge de France ink test. Inks used, top to bottom: Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Diamine Mediterranean, Iroshizuku Yama Budo, Noodler’s Bulletproof Violet Vote, Diamine Umber.

Last image. The smear test. They all did about the same. I was surprised that the Verge de France, with its texture, smeared as much as it did. But all were good at 20 seconds. The ink is Diamine Umber in a custom XXXF nib. Umber is not known for smearing. I consider it a middle-of-the-road ink, neither too saturated nor too weak.

Smear test of three papers.

Smear test of three papers.

So, wrapping up. European paper makers come through with great stuff. No big surprise there. Is this Big Box, grade-school priced stuff? No. They aren’t ridiculously expensive either. All three are worth giving a go if you love to write letters and/or draw.

Disclaimer number three: Other than three sheets of paper to play with and the fun time writing this, I get diddly squat from Rhodia Drive or Exaclair without paying for it. This little blog entry is uncompensated except by the sheer enjoyment of the process.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting Unstuck: Colorful Distraction

mandalamaroon

I tried to write about process in a succinct manner for a couple of weeks and I have failed. I tried to separate the discussion into two or three separate posts and failed there, as well. Perhaps that tells me it’s not time to write about it. Maybe I’m too new to or too close to my current process to talk about the psychology and methodology of it, even though I’ve been writing stories since third grade.

Instead, I’ll limit this to one small aspect of my process which is the meditation mandala.

I learned about mandala coloring in a book on contemplative prayer. I was intrigued that mandalas, much like walking labyrinths or Zen gardens, might be useful in prayer and similar spiritual endeavors. I sought a trick of sorts to help me find my way back to my faith. That’s another story but suffice to say, tricks don’t work.

However, I realized coloring served well to distract my inner editor when I was stuck. If I have a difficult paragraph or chapter, I pull out my colored pencils, gel pens, and coloring book, and start coloring. With the editor worrying about what shades of blue and green work well together or if I can throw some maroon in the mix, the writer can get to work on the story. This works all the better if I can talk aloud to myself and ask myself questions. It’s a little embarrassing if Husband is home, but it is the most effective way for me to think through a story problem.

There’s nothing new in this concept. You’ll find numerous links online about the many ways in which we come up with ideas or solve problems when we distract our minds with mundane tasks or white noise.

For myself, I do feel that often I am manacled by Analytical KC. Putting that self to work on a separate problem allows Creative KC to work without feeling judged. I’m sure there is more to it since I still have to analyze to a degree while I talk out the various ways I might fix something. I might say, “I could have Fred get angry and drive off in a huff and get in a wreck or I could have Fred lash out and knock Joe dead. Maybe Fred just leaves with his tail between his legs and has a wreck because he’s crying because he’s such a wuss.”  Meanwhile, I’ve chosen dark blue to fill in all the small triangles in the mandala and pale green for the ellipses and dark green for the circles, etc.

It’s not multiplexing/multitasking in the modern sense. It’s more like driving a car. One must keep a number of processes going to keep the car moving at a particular rate of speed, going a particular direction, and ready to respond to the road. With the mandalas and writing, coloring is operating the accelerator and brake of which I’m barely aware. Talking through options is using the steering wheel and turn signals. Writing is the destination. Dumb metaphor, I know. Still, it’s accurate and the fact that humans can operate machinery like cars is testimony to our ability to analyze and make decisions while performing other tasks. (NOT TEXTING! That requires sight. You need that to watch where you’re going.)

So, how do you get past those little stuck moments? Do you get up and go for a jog? Do you stop and get a fresh mug ‘o murk (coffee or tea, per my dad)? Do you switch projects? Wash dishes? Just power through? Never have stuck moments? I’d love to hear from you. Maybe what you do will be of value to me or others.

mandalafpalm

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment