Dec 28 2010

Holiday Slow-Down

I went for a run today.  As I went through my pre-run stretching routine, I mentally patted myself on the back for squeezing in a workout during my vacation.  And in freezing-cold temperatures in Massachusetts, no less!

Sadly, my holiday diet of seasonal beer and peppermint stick ice cream pretty much set me up for failure.  My body just wouldn’t cooperate.  So as I felt the cramp growing in my stomach, I decided to make the most of it.  If I couldn’t get my heart rate pumping as hard as I’d like, I could at least enjoy the fresh air and the quiet time.

I always look forward to being at home with my family, but it is also inevitably overwhelming.  Sleeping in a different bed, without any independent transportation, no alone time…Needless to say, no matter how much a person loves family time, family time can also feel like a prison after a while.  So I began to see my run/walk as an opportunity to do some writing in my head; to gaze longingly at the New England houses in my old neighborhood; to reflect on the visits with friends; to admire the snow and holiday decorations; to check in with how I’m feeling about…well, everything.

There were no great epiphanies, and I didn’t feel a figurative light bulb grow bright over my head.  But I listened to my body enough to slow down.  I realized that the workout wasn’t as important as the experience.  Maybe I wasn’t meant to go for a run after all.  Burning calories wasn’t as important as claiming some “me” time.  Something that I didn’t even know that I needed until I got it.

Dec 23 2010

Friends of Christmas Past

I’m spending my holiday at my parents’ this year, which means that I have an extended vacation in my hometown.  I’m lucky enough to have remained close to several very old friends, despite all of us scattering across the country in our adult lives.  During my stay at “home,” I’ve visited with some of them, and others I’ve visited with online.  This Christmas, I’m going to remember three important lessons that I’ve learned from a few old friends. 

  1. I’ve known C* since we were in pre-school together.  We call her “Elfin,” because she’s adorably petite, kind, quirky and whip-smart.  But one of the things that I love most about C is the way that she puts things in perspective.  She is comfortable with almost anyone, and in turn makes others feel at ease around her.  She carries herself with a self-aware confidence, and though she has occasionally expressed frustration that she hasn’t found her “calling” yet, I really appreciate the way that she listens to her heart in life.  She knows that it’s not about the destination, but the journey, and she relaxes into that journey.  Being Type-A, anal-retentive, and high-anxiety, I’m so grateful to have such a calming influence in my life.  She teaches me to chill out and take my time–two things that I have a very difficult time doing!
  2. S* and I met in kindergarten, and we were softball teammates for roughly eight years by the time we’d graduated from high school.  Though we don’t frequently see each other, I do hear from her regularly online.  Recently, she wrote on my Facebook wall, indicating that she’d dreamt about me two nights in a row.  “Thanks for giving me some good advice,” she said.  I’m sure that I was just a place-holder; a substitute teacher; a voice; a conduit.  Our brains are tricky things, and sometimes they need tricky ways to convey important information.  But the point is clear (to me, anyway):  Listen to your dreams.  And I don’t mean “follow your dreams” in that cheesy, pie-in-the-sky kind of way.  I mean, literally, listen to yourself.  S’s subconscious was telling her something.  My guest-appearance in her dreams enabled her to hear a message; and whatever that message was, it sounds like she’s listening. 
  3. T* is one of those people who is so impressive that you brag about just knowing her.  Our parents were friends and co-workers, so they introduced us when we were babies, and we’ve remained friends.  She was an All-American gymnast at the University of Georgia in college, and got married this past spring.  T came over for breakfast this week, and I was reminded yet again of how strong she is.  (And I don’t only mean because she could crush me with her bare hands.)  T was diagnosed with breast cancer at 23 years old.  After a considerable battle with the disease, she is now cancer-free and absolutely loving life.  She is consistently upbeat, positive, healthy, and quick to laugh.  T teaches me the importance of appreciating every day that we have in this life; she reminds me never to take anything for granted; to be happy with all that you have.  And really—at this time of year, what could be more important than that? 

Dec 12 2010

I’m (Finally) Listening

I like things to be perfect.  I mean, like, really perfect.  The papers on my desk at work are all at right-angles.  I make lists for my lists.  I worry that I’ll forget to pack something for a trip that’s a month away.

Yeah, that kind of perfect.

So, needless to say, I have control issues.  And I’m learning that sometimes, absolute control in my writing isn’t a good thing.  Sometimes my characters are trying to tell me something, but I’m not listening because I want to impose a plotline or a trait on to them. 

It’s become clear to me that I need to relinquish control and listen more openly.  Writing with an agenda isn’t usually productive.  I carry my soapbox around with me too often as it is; I should leave it at home (in the trash?) when I write. 

As I blogged recently, I am currently energizing my manuscript with a major curve ball.  I joked at the SCBWI holiday party on Thursday that there’s a solid 10% that needs a injection of caffeine, and others suggested that heroine or crack may actually be more effective.  (Yikes.)  While I plan to stay far away from the street drugs, I do have something very scary planned.  I’m going to kill one of my darlings.

I was reluctant to do so, because I had an agenda without even realizing it.  I wanted to maintain control over what my characters did, and over every choice that they made.  I wanted my readers to view them in a particular way, and every carefully-planned and orchestrated decision was based on this desire to manage my readers’ reactions.  But come one—how realistic is that? 

As soon as I surrendered to the terrifying, alarming prospect of the Uncomfortable and the Unknown, my mind un-blocked.  I found the direction and energy and momentum that I was missing.

My characters were (and are) trying to tell me something.  Hell, my novel was speaking to me.  Shouting, even!  It was screaming for change, but I was heavy-handing my way through a critical section like a pit boss.  And feeling almost as violent and unfulfilled about it.

So, okay, kiddos.  I hear you.  And I’m listening.

Dec 6 2010

My Mid-Novel Slump

One of the biggest challenges of teaching and writing at the same time is, well, doing them at the same time.  Between lesson-planning, grading, and being in the classroom, it’s hard to squeeze in some quality time with my laptop. 

I’ve noticed that this has been especially hard lately.  But, in all honestly, I don’t think this is strictly due to time constraints.  I’ve hit a rut. 

I’ve been working on one particular section of my current manuscript, but it simply isn’t working for me.  It needs some life.  I’ve tried several things:  Writing prompts, working briefly on other small projects, forging through in the hope that I can go back and edit out the sucky parts.  But, again, when I’m honest with myself…it’s not working.

So it isn’t just the fact that I have another job.  I’m not committing enough time to that project because I’m in a slump.  Two friends inquired about it last night, and I wasn’t sure how to respond.  So I just told them the truth.

Interestingly enough, they both had the same suggestion:  Go big.  Stir s**t up.

So now I think I have a plan.  I’m going to throw a major wrench in my narrative.  I’m going to do something that I hadn’t originally planned (which is always against the grain for me); something unexpected; something uncomfortable.  (Yes, I know what that change will be.  But no, I’m not going to say here.)  I’m going to up the stakes and see what my characters do with it. 

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.  Maybe I’ll cut and paste my way through it.  Or maybe it will be just the thing to reinvigorate this mid-novel lull. 

Keep your fingers crossed.