Sunday, July 26, 2009

The End of Kings

I watched the last episode of Kings last night, viewing what is likely the best drama series this season (perhaps for several seasons, honestly), a series that took more money to make than most and had abysmal ratings from the very beginning. I've blogged about it before, so my regular readers will not be surprised. Watching what I knew to be the last episode, though, was pretty depressing.

Eight episodes of Kings. That's all I got! And while glorified soap operas, predictably trumped-up reality TV, equally predictable (and not funny) sit-coms, and even vacuous shows about vacuous housewives with too much time on their hands receive huge ratings, my beloved show--featuring perhaps the most compelling story I've seen in a while, presented by phenomenal actors through a magnificently written script--never grabbed the attention of most viewers. Most people never even tuned in. Those who did, and there were only a few, likely found the dialogue too advanced for their comprehension. So the series failed. 

This is not like my eye-candy beefcake series of last season. This is no Crusoe, consisting of two harmlessly buff bodies involved in various pirate-caused adventures that have nothing to do with the original book. I never said that show was great film making. I just loved it despite my knowledge that it wouldn't last and didn't have much more than visual appeal to offer. But Kings had everything: suspense, drama, beefcake (there was a pretty girl in it, too--just ask my hubby), romance, mythic parallelism, depth, intriguing characters, politics... the list goes on.

More than anything, it had a great script. I would love some day to write a script like that one, or even half as good. Yet the series failed. Why, oh why, doesn't someone start the Smart Channel, a TV channel just for actually intelligent people who don't find reality series (or fictional series) about petty people with petty lives, petty ideas, and petty differences appealing, but who gravitate to films and shows which actually use a little brain matter?

Maybe that's it. There isn't such a channel. Perhaps that's why I watch so little TV in the first place... the "boob tube" is for boobs. 

Can you tell I'm bitter? I can't wait for the DVD of the eight episodes to come out. I'm buying it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Going, Going, Gone!

I know this is a short entry, but I just wanted to let all of you know that my posts would be few and far between (or entirely nonexistent) for the next few weeks. I'm off camping down the western coast... California, Oregon, and then back here, so I'll have limited Internet capabilities, and I'll hopefully fill my time with reading course textbooks and planning for classes. 

I'll be in Houston for the week after that, but since I am CERTAIN my sister has Internet access, I'll be able to work on my blog when I return. Maybe I'll post some pictures from the trip!

See you then!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Not Laughing

I believe, deep down, I have no sense of humor. 

Or at least, if I do have a sense of humor, it's vacuous and superficial, willing to laugh at a comedian, but not willing to dig deeply into what makes something funny, or to care about anything that brings a smile to my face. 

Don't get me wrong. By my very nature, I am overtly cheerful. I resemble Pollyanna more than any other person I know, despite my tendency to seek and tell truth. I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, living a life with little angst (and what angst I do have I put here). But my characteristics don't lead to a corresponding taste in literature. Certainly, I don't gravitate to the violent, or the sex-crazed star-crossed lovers sort of thing, but I also don't gravitate towards humor.

I'm reading through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince again (how many times has it been?), and I am struck by how little I value the humor of it the umpteenth time through. What do I love? The emotional impact. The seriousness of certain situations. Even in the film, the scene that left me coldest was the one in the Weasely twins' shop... and in the whole set of books, my favorite scenes are the serious ones... especially the dementor attack in Book #5. 

It isn't just Harry. It's every book I've ever read. I am drawn to the pathos, the weeping. I saw Gladiator three times in the theater--I even saw Titanic five times, and though the romance between Rose and Jack left me completely cold, I found the other "real" characters mesmerizing: the old couple snuggling together on their bed; the mother reading to her children below deck, knowing they would all die because she wasn't allowed to leave; the carpenter staring at the clock on the mantle, aware that it was all his fault the ship was sinking. The same events that make it certain my husband will never watch a film again are what drives me to see it. 

Maybe those films provide me with what I don't have in my real life. I have laughter. I have romance. I have all sorts of joy. I don't want real tragedy in my life, so I just enjoy it vicariously through film and books. I live through Harry, grateful that I don't have to live a life like his, yet fascinated by the trauma all the same. My writing does the same thing: it creates extraordinary events for me to involve myself in, fantasies that I would never want in real life but that are compelling for me (and hopefully, someday, for readers). 

What's missing in your life? What do you read/write for?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Doing Homework

My children are on summer break. They still have nearly two months of it, too (even though my classes start nearly a month before their school begins). Yet right now, as I compose this entry, what are they doing? Homework.

You probably figured that out from the title. 

And what am I doing? Homework. I wrote on my list of things to do today "Write Blog," so here I am, writing it. Next I put away the clothes I washed and folded yesterday, and after that it's dishes. And then dinner. 

Sounds like drudgery. And it sort of is, but it does come with rewards. Tonight, after I finish dinner and tidy up the house, I pick up a babysitter and traipse off to the movies with the hubby. 

Guess what I'm going to see (again). Yes, I saw it last week, but I can't get enough Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (or any of the previous ones, either). And now that the hubby's reminded himself of everything from movie #5, he wants to go to #6 (and I obliged, because I'm just that magnificently wonderful a wife). 

And when I come back, the dishes will be done, the kids in bed, the house clean, the clothes put away, my blog written... nothing more to do but bask in the memories from a darkened movie theatre. 

Bliss. Heaven. Perhaps even a bit of the spiritual. My kind of evening.

Well worth the homework... and a load of dishes. What will you reward yourself with, once your homework is done?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Linking to the Spirit

I know I discuss spirituality frequently, and I also know many of you are neither church-going nor religious (but still, this is my blog, and not yours, so sometimes I will write about things uninteresting to you). I do attend a church--a church whose members I like, and whose teachings are liberal enough to not offend me. 

HOWEVER, I realized, during church yesterday that I have gone a long time without feeling anything. The hymns have had no effect on me, the recitations just sounded bland, and everything felt lame, felt unfelt to me, like we were all going through the motions, but not the emotions.

I am not the kind of person to raise a hand and say "Hallelujah!" or "Amen!" to anything. In fact, when other people do this in front of me, I find myself looking to the exit to make sure I have a clear means of escape. Yet I also tend to find spiritual energy in a setting, such as the outdoors or even a building (like a church). One church building in Independence, Kansas, where I used to live, felt spiritually potent to me. It was modeled after the ruins of a cathedral in Scotland, and it may very well be the most beautiful church I have ever been inside. Sitting in the church, when the lights were off and sunlight streamed in through enormous stained glass windows, was a spiritual journey in itself, restful, comforting, powerful. Not so when people were there. The services at the church, like the ones at the church I now attend, left me cold, and it wasn't long before I stopped attending. 

Why does all this matter? In some ways it doesn't. The spiritual world cannot be contained within a building, nor can it be controlled by people worshipping within a building. But when I cannot find a spiritual link to my own belief system, and when I am forced to keep it entirely within myself for long periods of time, and when a system intended to broaden and feed my spiritual journey does nothing but stifle it, I start to lose contact with the very essence which feeds my soul each day... and that is not a good thing. 

I don't want to be in this alone. I don't want to feel as if I am the one person in the world who sees the world as I do. But I have no idea where to go, or what to do, to find what I need to keep going. 

Any ideas?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What the Hell Am I?

Because she does it so much to me, I'm taking an idea from Rocket Scientist. Several commenters on her blog lately have described either her or themselves as "introverts," defining, in some way or another, what an introvert is, what he/she likes and doesn't, etc. When I was a child, I was painfully introverted. I still have trouble opening up in front of more than one person at a time, and only a handful of people in my life know even 10% of the real me. 

At the same time, I often come across as extroverted, especially in the classroom, where I use family stories, my dear husband, and other personal details to get my points across to students. For some reason, I feel safer in the classroom than anywhere else, as if my students would never do anything to betray me, while friends and relatives would (I may some day realize students will as well, but after 16 years of teaching they still haven't). 

So, am I an extrovert or an introvert? On the Myers-Briggs scale, I rank HIGHLY introverted, even more so than my own husband, who is most definitely an introvert. But what exactly does that mean? Does that mean I can't function in groups, or am socially inept? Not necessarily. A behavioral psychologist friend of mine--and an extreme extrovert--told me that it wasn't a matter of being able to function on one's own or in a group, it was where I received the most energy--what recharged my battery, so to speak. If I am energized by being in a group, I am an extrovert. If I recharge by being alone with myself, then I am an introvert. 

Honestly, though, such a definition might help all of you readers, but I find it still leaves me unsure. I most definitely recharge from being alone. Most of my favorite hobbies are solitary in nature: painting, drawing, writing, piano, sewing. Yet I also thrive off of several groups I am part of--whether this blog (and it's readers and fellow bloggers), or choir, or my fantastic playwright's group, or even my monthly book group made up of LDS women who read an extremely eclectic group of books. I look forward to entertaining in my home, enjoy girlfriend get-togethers, yet I would go insane if I didn't have some time to myself every single day. 

So, what does that make me? 

This reminds me of a film I saw in 10th grade... it covered right/left brain functions, and even included a test to see which side was your dominant lobe. Supposedly, if you put your thumb up in front of an object, stare at it, then close one eye, then do the same with the other, one eye will move less or not at all (meaning the vision from one of your eyes dominates your viewpoint when both eyes are open). The greater the difference between the two eyes, the more one side of your brain dominates over the other. Then the film claimed that geniuses are made up of those who are very left-lobed or very right-lobed. 

And guess what? I do not have a dominant eye. Both of my eyes create an even shift when I do the test, even after 22 years. I guess that makes me a non-genius, introvert/extrovert with no dominant brain lobe. 

Can you figure out where you stand on the spectrum? Even better, can you figure out what any of it means? 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hacking at Body Parts

I have been revising a play of mine recently--a kitchen sink drama, in reality, about a young woman who is trying to care for an elderly mother with dementia--and the first act was easy. Honestly, I was captivated by scene two--a scene which has been staged on its own, with a full production, in Kansas. But then Act 2 began, and I realized that what had been brilliant in the first act (okay, so maybe not brilliant, but pretty damned entertaining) had gone terribly wrong in every way imaginable. 

And I mean wrong. It wasn't a few bad lines. Characters did things they would never do. Situations were resolved through unrealistic means. Everything turned into a sit com. It was almost unreadable, and my stomach turned as I read the last few lines of the play and realized the whole act had to go.

I shut my computer and went upstairs to try to eat a bag of chips. After a handful, I realized that eating myself into oblivion was not going to change the fact that the whole second act was utter trash. If I tried to leave the scenes intact, but change what happened, I'd only steer awry again. I had no other choice but to get rid of everything. 

I trudged back to my computer, saved the play as "revised," and deleted all but the first three pages of Act Two--some 40 pages or so of play. Yes, they are still on the first draft, but the only way I will ever resurrect them is if someone steals my play and I have to produce proof that I wrote it years ago and even revised it significantly. Those scenes no longer belong to my play. I have cut them out for good.

Hopefully my description shows how difficult it is to cut out what doesn't work. I would think it might get easier over the years, but it doesn't (yes, I've scrapped huge chunks of work before--I even threw out the first two attempts at novel #3--changing the point of view, and then changing the main character--deleting 68 pages the first time, and over 150 the second). I felt, as I highlighted the offending scenes in this play, as if I were taking a hatchet to my legs, chopping them off right above the thigh bone. Would I be able to stop the bleeding? Would I end up infecting the whole thing--and thus destroying it? Would I ever be able to finish the play now? Would I figure out how to fix it so that it finally works? Would the cancer just grow back?

I don't know the answers. But now I have a much cleaner slate, and I'll know soon enough. Without the past words sitting in front of me, perhaps my cleared state of mind will show me where the characters need to go. I sure hope I figure it out. I hope it was worth the pain.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Which Character are You?

I finally saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday... and I couldn't get to sleep last night (or sleep past 6 this morning) from thinking about it. If you haven't seen it, though, don't worry. I'm adept at not spoiling the plot of movies. You won't find any clues in here about what goes on in the film.

I've always identified myself with Hermoine--book smart and loyal--yet I discovered while watching the film that I find links to many of the HP characters, even Dumbledore (perhaps it's the professor in me). The only character I consistently don't identify with is Ron Weasley. 

But this is not new. I find myself identifying with other characters in other books, too, in various ways. That is the magic of literature, a power writing has to create a fictive world which ties strongly to the real one we are living within, despite huge differences between worlds. I can feel, for a few hours, as if I am Harry Potter, undervalued, lonely, yet capable of great things. I can feel like Emma Bovary, unsatisfied with my world as it is, wondering how to make it better (even if I wouldn't make the choices she did in Flaubert's novel). It seems many readers identified themselves with Emma, and some claimed Flaubert wrote the novel based on them, yet when asked who Emma was, he said, "C'est moi." ("It is I.")

I may most identify with the main character of Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, for she seems utterly ordinary, yet finds herself drawn, inexplicably, to a world far different than her known world... and others see the potential in her long before she realizes it herself (rather like Harry Potter). I also identify with Spider Man (yes, yes, I said it!), mainly because my talents are hidden to most people--both by chance and by my own design.

With whom do you identify? What characters are most like you? Feel free to choose any book or film you like, or several characters from several books or films, but tell me what characters resemble you. Perhaps we have a few characters in common.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Holding Back

I've read hundreds of plays in my lifetime so far--and seen even more films. The one thing that links most plays, as well as plenty of films, together is that moment when some character can't take any more and loses his/her mind. To find an example most of you have probably seen, think of Steel Magnolias for a moment (which was first a play, but then was adapted for the screen).

Remember that scene after Julia Roberts is buried? Sally Field starts crying, screaming, losing her mind. I watched that in the movie theater, and I can still remember how uncomfortable I grew with each passing sob. And then Olympia Dukakis moved in and broke the tension with some brilliantly written humor (I still love the end of this scene for that very reason).

We may certainly see this as the climax of the film--the moment when emotions are at their highest, when the characters are most intimately involved in what is going on with each other, when a shift in the relationships is about to happen or a character is about to go through an epiphany. And such a scene can be very meaningful. However, if it becomes an expected pattern, it is just that--a pattern--and it may be neither appropriate nor effective anymore. And if the emotions are overplayed, the result is even worse.

I am reminded of Armageddon in this--and any of you regular readers already know this is a film I detest--when Bruce Willis is on the rock, about to sacrifice his life to save the earth from destruction (I'm already gagging), and he has an emotional moment with his daughter and the rest of his crew. I know I'm supposed to be sobbing. But I can't. It's so badly done it's annoying, not emotional at all. A scene played over the top can create the opposite effect to what is intended. Again, I think of another terrible movie, one even worse than Armageddon: an older film based on the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." I found it on the free movies on cable a few months ago, and my kids and I watched it. 

In this version the "beast" was a man who changed into a beast only at night, after the sun went down (sort of a cross between the old werewolf tradition and Swan Lake). Each time he changed--maybe five times through the course of the film (until I couldn't bear to watch anymore)--he went through horrible ranges of emotions, from yelling to crying, bemoaning his fate, calling for his own death, whining, etc. And all the while he was slowly transforming into a beast.

What did my kids do when this happened? Cower in fear? Cry? Nope. They both burst out laughing. They thought he was HILARIOUS. And he was. I had to admit that he produced the best gut laugh I had ever heard out of my son. My kids wanted to watch the film the next day, scanning through to the transforming parts so they could laugh at him some more (they found the rest of the film utterly boring, and for good reason). 

Had the beast held back more, had the emotions been more subtly conveyed, the film might have had a chance (okay, maybe not--the whole thing was terrible, not just the transformation scenes).

Now, imagine the scene in Steel Magnolias if Olympia Dukakis hadn't stepped in and stopped Sally Field's rant. It would have become excruciating... and the whole film would have faltered as a result. 

If you feel tempted to emote (or to have a character do so), consider writing the scene with less. Go Greek instead of Roman. Step back from the emotion a little. You might surprise your readers, and yourself, by the impact you can create if you don't overdo it.

Can you think of an example that fits? Or one that doesn't?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

I'm so busy, 
My head is spinnin'
Like a whirlpool
It never ends...

I just received official notification of my workload. Starting in mid-August, I'll begin FOUR (yes, I said four) online courses, all with new preparations (none that I've taught before), and I'll pick up another course (one I've taught MANY times at the same campus) in late September. Everything is a bit staggered once it gets going, though, for two of the online courses will end in late October, and the other two (plus the later face-to-face class) will end in December. 

Lots of work. But it's all good news, all of it. My kids will start school after Labor Day (yes, here in Washington schools actually wait until then), and I'll spend my days working on the classes so that I can spend my evenings working with them on homework, playing games, reading, and other fun stuff. I'm even considering waiting to do Zumba until the evenings so that my kiddoes can come with me and exercise, too. (This past year, I went to the YMCA in the mornings, after my daughter was in school, so she hardly ever got to go).

But, at last, my semester is defining itself. No more limbo for me! 

Now if I can just get one college to send me my textbooks, I will be ecstatic! I'm going to e-mail them again, right now!

Friday, July 10, 2009


Just as de-stressing can involve a massage to calm one down (and if you want the quick massage, go to my previous post, where you get to take a mini-staycation), another way to ease one's stress is to try the opposite. Systematically, take each part of your body and tense up all the muscles. Hold it for a few seconds, then release. Such a method helps to direct your attention to each area, concentrating on releasing the tension once you've gotten yourself good and balled up.

So here it is: imagine the worst possible life. Then look around you and realize how much better your real life is. It's not too hard. Just take your stressors and explode them exponentially, and add on a bunch of stuff you are fortunate enough not to have to deal with.

My worst life? It would involve a house full of children--maybe ten or so would be enough to drive me absolutely insane--and all of them would be making noise of some kind, screaming, yelling at each other, crying, calling from the bathroom that they needed to be wiped, fighting over toys, even laughing (one could be laughing, anyway). They would also be tugging at me, at my clothing, pulling pans out of the kitchen cupboards, pulling food out of the refrigerator and dumping it everywhere, dragging stuff across the floors, breaking windows and chair legs and dishes, ripping clothing, scratching and hitting each other, tearing the house apart. I couldn't walk two steps without stepping or slipping on something--including toys, pins, rotting cherries, and dried juice spills, and nothing I touched would be clean. The house would smell of diapers--lots of diapers--and diarrhea, throw up, unwashed clothing, mold, and trash. My hair would be unwashed and greasy, and I'd smell of sweat because I hadn't bathed in days, and everything would be turned over or upset. The phone would ring constantly (I hate phones!), with every call being a telemarketer (I hate telemarketers!) and I'd have seven televisions blaring in various rooms, stacks of ungraded papers for classes lying everywhere, gathering dust and food and little kid fingerprints. 

Okay, I got myself good and tense. Now I can return to the much more blissful life that is mine: My two kids and my husband are still sleeping, and the only others awake are my aunt and her son, and they are trying to be quiet until everyone else is up. My house doesn't smell at all, unless its the faint odor of Pine-Sol (one of my favorite smells), and the sink is even empty of dirty dishes. The floors are clean, the air is quiet, I am writing this blog without hurry, and we are planning a day in a cute town not an hour from here, a day of sunshine and shopping and ice cream cones and walking. I have no papers to grade--not one!--and none in the near future, since right now I am not teaching. Sunshine is pouring in through the windows, and the day promises to be beautiful--mid-70's. Tonight I look forward to an evening with a bunch of other ladies to discuss Beauty, one of my favorite books ever.

I feel better. I can feel the tension in my neck, which had been building over the last few days, dissipate slowly. Life is good. I only have two kids. My husband is fabulous (mostly). I'm a very lucky woman.

Now you try it. And if you say you don't have time, MAKE time, for you probably need it even more than I. And go back to the last blog and do that exercise, too. You deserve it, and together they shouldn't take more than ten minutes (surely you have ten minutes to spend on self-indulgence!).  

So go ahead... What's your nightmare?

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I know, it's Thursday. You have work. You have family to deal with. The kids aren't in school, and they are driving you nuts. But just sit back for a moment and close your eyes. Forget all your cares, forget the laundry (oops--you probably had forgotten about the laundry! Sorry!), forget all your obligations. Where do you really want to be? Can you put yourself there? Just for a moment? Can you have a mini-staycation for a moment?

Try it.

I'm trying it out right now. I'm in a tiny room filled with books and aged wood (just take a whiff), and the softest recliner is beckoning to me. My laptop sits there on the arm, also beckoning. Classical music drifts through the quaking aspens outside the open window, making their leaves sparkle as they flutter. I sit down, and the breeze slips around me. I start to write, with only the wind and leaves and soft music and smells of books and wood to remind me I'm not adrift in the clouds themselves. No kids, no pets, no noise but these... 

Okay, five minutes is up. Got to go make waffles for the kids. But it was nice. 

And now it's your turn. Spend five minutes, think it up, and write it down.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Using Myth

My sister, Rocket Scientist, spurred on this blog today by discussing the Bible, reminding me how much myth plays into what I enjoy reading and tend to write. If you wish to get into a deep discussion of whether the Bible is myth or not, go to my sister's page. If, however, you want to see how myth fits in with writing, read on.

Let me define myth, using Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

  • Main Entry: myth 
  • Pronunciation: \ˈmith\
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Greek mythos
  • Date: 1830

1 a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : parableallegory
2 a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society myth of individualism — Orde Coombs> b: an unfounded or false notion
3 : a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
4 : the whole body of myths

As you can tell from the definitions, myth can stem from real events--whether historically verifiable or not--and is also used to explain meaning, whether explaining natural events, human interactions, or beliefs. And because myth underlies the reality of our existence, it gives us more meaning than the events themselves have (without interpretation). Myth doesn't imply that we, as humans, truly know why something happens. To me, it says far more about us than it does about the world we are trying to make sense of. 

Whether you know it or not, your life is filled with myth, and if you read or watch movies, you fill it with even more. Many of my favorite books are filled with myth--from the Harry Potter series to the Fablehaven novels... magic is one attempt to create meaning out of the random events. But religion fits this as well, for it attempts to guide us, help us interpret what is happening to us and to others, and creates a system of meaning for us. 

How can we use this in writing? Perhaps the key is when we are "world-building," when we are setting up the world we will use in a work we are creating. What are the characters' mythic systems, whether religious or otherwise? What truths govern their world differently than ours?

In Shannon Hale's Princess Academy, the underlying mythic system involved the mountains--more specifically, the rock being mined from them. The miners and their families had lived there for generations, and the rock was in their blood, creating a sort of magical relationship between the mountain and the people who lived on it. In Robin McKinley's Beauty, magic held certain places more strongly than others, and people avoided magical areas, suspicious of its power when they couldn't control it. 

Look at what you are writing. What mythic assumptions do your characters live by? What guides their behavior, their relationships, and even their daily habits? What knowledge do they have to discover (in other words, what mythic systems exist within the world without their knowledge?). What will the discovery of such knowledge do to characters who discover it?

If you examine your work and find it lacks any such system, it may be you haven't looked closely enough. More than likely, though, it may be that you haven't developed this part of your world enough to make it meaningful. Can you add to this? Can you make the journey your characters are on mean more?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Worst Case Scenario

I woke with a quote from a movie in my head: "What's the worst that could happen?" -- a line spoken by a spiritual leader in a sort of fluffy movie called The Jewel of the Nile. Why the line? Perhaps it's because I have shifted towards my doomsayer's mentality again. When my life is in limbo--when I am unsure of the future, whether job prospects, financial situations, schooling, etc.--I tend to imagine all sorts of awful possibilities. And yesterday was no exception. 

I have several possible job prospects right now, but none are guaranteed except a single class in the fall. If that is all I teach, I will have lots of free time but very little income. However, if all the other job possibilities come through, I may be teaching upwards of seven classes (or even more!), work for FOUR different schools, and be too busy to pee more than twice a day (and for me, with my tiny bladder, that would be a frightening prospect). 

So, now the spiritual guide within me speaks: "What is the worst that could happen?" And I immediately settle down. The worst? I would be very busy. So busy I'd have to hire a housekeeper (hurray!). But this busy pattern would last, at most, a semester. By mid-December I would have planned out which schools I would keep, which I would drop, and I and my life would return to balance (and more frequent bathroom breaks). 

My kids would not have as much fun, and Richard would find himself having to make up for my deficiencies (something that would do him a lot of good). He'd have to make a few dinners a week, watch a little less football, and otherwise remain more attentive to the kids than usual. Then again, if I take the kids to the YMCA (a place they LOVE) I can still grade papers in the lobby... and they can still have fun while being safely monitored. All of us would enjoy that break.

My kids would have to become more independent. Crystal could put lunches together in the morning. Brandon would need to get himself dressed without nagging or he'd miss the bus entirely. They'd have more time for homework, with us all sitting at the dinner table working for a few hours (me included). 

Honestly, when I think it through and put it into precise images, it doesn't sound as bad as my nightmares. And that is what helps. If the worst isn't so bad, I think I can handle it. I have used this before with my writing. I consider what happens if I never become a published writer, if all this work I do on plays, novels, and other writings never brings in any money, or never reaches a wider audience. What's the worst that can happen? 

In fifty years, when I am old and bent over, I'll look back and see that I spent decades upon decades doing something I loved, and even if it never brought in much, it was fulfilling work nonetheless. I cherish the time I have spent writing. It has brought me joy, no matter whether it brings me anything else. The rest would only be gravy.

So, what do you fear? What's the worst that could happen? 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Knowing When It's Finished

Unlike many writers I know, I am addicted to revising. I've always told students that no writing is perfect... that "a paper is never finished--it's only due." And I find myself revising obsessively when I should be doing other things. 

I just completed a revision of one of my full-length plays a few days ago. I found a cozy coffee shop in Shelton, WA, and spent much of the day there, drinking coffee and revising (it's hard to revise with children underfoot--generating words is possible, but revising has to wait until they are occupied or asleep). And I finished the revision, or so I thought.

I woke up this morning with an awareness that the final scene of the play wasn't finished. It wasn't what I wanted it to be. And though the knowledge made me curse (in my mind, since my daughter was standing over me), I realized my instinct was right. The play isn't ready to send off yet. 

I don't always like that instinct to kick in. I'd love to write something and just know it was ready to send off. But that instinct also saves me from a world of embarrassment. The only time I send a work off to readers is when I know something isn't right, but I can't figure out what it is... and my lovely readers tell me what's not working. 

When do you know something's done? Perhaps I am a bit OCD about it, but I'd love to hear what lets you know something is as good as it gets. How do you know when something is finished?