Saturday, October 31, 2009

World Building

I am in the thick of revising my second novel, but thoughts about my new one are creeping in anyway, and they are of a world I have not previously even considered: underwater.

Yes, I've seen Splash!, and I've adored Disney's The Little Mermaid for years. But Splash! wasn't about the underwater world, just about the mermaid's adaptation to land. Even at the end, when Tom Hanks follows her back into the sea, we don't really see the world they go to. And The Little Mermaid was far more concerned with the merpeople's distrust of humans because they eat fish, or a girl's desire to break the rules--oh, and the way Ariel's hair twirled around in the water (visually spectacular, but not something that will transfer well to a novel format). None of this will really speak to what I hope to write.

Uncharted territory. I like it. Even better, it's uncharted territory with rules, like writing a sonnet, for I have to obey the rules of undersea life at least to an extent so that nothing sticks out as stupid. 

It also means I can't just throw myself into writing. I need to figure out setting, create the lifestyle, and decide what rules I need, what rules I can break, and how everything is going to fit together. I need to do quite a bit of world building. 

I'm getting giddy just thinking about it! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Swear I am Writing... Just not Here!

I checked my blog page only to realize that, even though my life was not a whirlwind right now, I still hadn't posted a blog entry since Saturday (which has been my usual MO since I began teaching heavily in August). 

Believe me, I have been busy! And, despite what you might think, I haven't just filled my life with grading and kid homework this week--I've actually been working on my novel!!!!!

Yes, the second novel, the one that made it to the top 100 entries of the Breakthrough Novel contest, is getting its overhaul. I've been reading madly through the draft, working to find the bad parts, the very bad parts, and the downright horrid parts, and figure out ways to make them all into great parts (or at least replace the horrid parts with not so horrid parts).

Honestly, the first half of the novel is pretty great. I was caught up into every page, trapped by the suspense I myself created... it was magnificent!

And then I reached page, oh, 167, and the bottom dropped out through the floor. Pretty much as soon as it stopped pouring (the novel is based on a modern-day Noah's ark story), the whole novel faltered. Sunshine started beating down on the boat, on its characters, bleaching out everything, gumming up the machinery, and pretty much bringing anything exciting to an absolute standstill. 

I could be discouraged. Okay, I am a little. I'd love for the whole thing to be spectacular, and for it to be ready to send to agents. Still, the first half of the novel gives me hope that the second half can be much better, as long as I recognize what worked in the first half and carry that through in the second half. 

Giving myself the opportunity to toss out whole chapters is rather exciting, too. Why settle? I have the computer memory... why not create something a whole hell of a lot better? 

I'll let you know how it goes...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Living Now

The most wonderful thing has happened. Mom is dating again. 

She's been widowed for more than three years, and while she's managed to keep extremely busy all this while, and has grown even more confident and beautiful (can you tell I like her?), she's also spent much of the last few years alone. 

It isn't that I feel she needs a man in her life to be complete. Please do not reply with hate mail that women can get along perfectly well without a guy (especially a creep). No, she didn't join an Internet dating thing so that she could settle down really quickly and find somebody whose socks needed washing, who couldn't cook properly for himself, or who had just lost his wife. 

She joined for the best of reasons: to live. She is a very healthy, happy woman with lively blue eyes and a great personality. She has tons of interests and tons of hobbies, and she has amassed a tremendous number of skills over the years. But she has been, over the past few months, spending her days reading, resting, having her morning coffee, and pretty much just doing ordinary stuff all by herself. She hasn't been unhappy, she's just been sort of existing.

Remember, a few blog entries ago, when I talked about how much I loved change? I realized that much of the reason I read is that I want to experience something new. Sometimes the same old stuff seems... well... the same. The same can be happy, sort of, but it can also get pretty dull.

Mom just came to visit, and for the first time in years, I have seen her truly excited. She is flirting online with men, exchanging "winks" back and forth, reading through listings, going on coffee dates. Just today she left for home, her cheeks all flushed from excitement and nervousness because her favorite e-mail pal had sent his phone number and asked her to call him. 

Do I want to date? Nope. I'm very happily wedded to the ol' hubby here, and I think I'll stick with him for a long while. But I love to see Mom living. Living is the reason I won't be teaching online classes for an old employer--if I do, I know that for around 12 weeks my life will be on hold. I can't put my life on hold anymore. When should I live? Right now. 

When should you live? Right now. 

Don't tell me you have a cold. If living means snuggling into a comforter with a box of tissues and sleeping, then do it. If it means working on that novel (in my case), then work on it. If it means playing with your kids, petting your cat, jumping around to Irish dance music, or singing at the top of your lungs, then do that.

I know you can. Surely you have a few minutes. Live now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Classes are OVER!

My online class fiasco is finally (I hope) over! I turned in grades tonight, and barring several students suing me because I wouldn't let them plagiarize their entire essays for credit, I think I'm done. 

I won't say it was fun. It wasn't. There were brief moments of slight enjoyment, but mostly I hated every second of it. I loathed it more than pretty much anything I've done recently, apart from changing poopy diapers (not on my own kids, since they are long since trained). 

On the other hand, my two classes on campus are running along smoothly, and my students seem truly dedicated to their grade (if they aren't dedicated to writing), so I believe these classes will continue to go well. And my other two online classes look like they are going to be a whole lot of fun. They aren't going to take nearly the same time commitment, and though I also won't be paid the same for them, I really can't say I care. Even the worst tasks of these classes will be far above the poopy diaper scale of horror. 

It will take me several days to come down from the stress. I will need a lot of sleep, several good books, and even a few precious writing days to erase the stench from my brain.

And then I will send happy thoughts out to the universe--oh, I think I'm doing that already! Can you see my grin from here?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving Stuff Around

Besides my little cup of coffee in the morning, I am not a creature of habit. If you want to bore me to death, make tomorrow exactly like it was yesterday. Even if yesterday was fabulous, I probably wouldn't have fun with it the second time around.

This tendency of mine came to me when I was very young. Once a month, my bedroom grew boring, so I'd spend an afternoon moving around every single piece of furniture, changing out the blanket for a different colored one, even switching around the clothing in my closet so that I could feel like my room was a "hotel." I especially liked it if my head faced a different way while sleeping, so that I could wake up to find myself not where I was used to being. 

I can't say I move furniture around still, but I move everything around. I'm fortunate to be a college instructor, so that every semester brings a new schedule, a new set of students, some new subject or textbook, or a new way to approach the subject matter. I was working on this semester's syllabi, and a friend asked me why I didn't just plug new dates into the old syllabus. That's when I realized I had never, not once, taught a class the same way the second time around. Every semester shows me ways something doesn't work so well, or ways it might work better with a different textbook, a new set of requirements, or some other major modification.

Maybe that's why I'm so happy. Two classes have ended, and while I face a mound of final papers to grade, and I'll miss many of the students, I still smile at the thought that this pattern is over. And I'm beginning a new set of classes--and several of the enrolled students have yet to check in--but the newness is exciting, especially since these are courses I haven't taught formally, complete with new textbooks, new students, and a completely new online teaching system?

It's not just teaching, either. I love restaurant dining--but I order something new off the menu whenever possible. More than the seasons, I love the change in the seasons, when leaves glow and fall to the ground, when plants spring out of frost, when days of rain are succeeded by days of sunshine--or snow. I can pretty much love any kind of weather, as long as it's different than it was yesterday.

Will I ever get tired of the new? I don't think so. 

How about you? Are you a creature of habit? Or does newness invigorate you like a fall chill, like the leaves changing?

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Thanks to several blogs, including Rocket Scientist and AmyOops, I started this morning in a good mood. Right now my kids are laughing downstairs, my husband is just getting up out of bed, and the sun even looks like it's going to pop out a little today (that's rare for October in Seattle).

All in all, these things make me feel ready to take on the world. I graded two classes' worth of essays yesterday (yes, it took all day--finished at 12:30 this morning), and now I plan to focus on getting enough rest and writing. Yes, I'm actually going to writing again! I do have a few tasks to perform, like writing a quick essay assignment sheet, laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc., but overall I'm planning on writing, writing, and writing. I'm still too sick to go to my playwrights group meeting this afternoon, so my whole day should be only occasionally uninterrupted writing

Perhaps you think that writing and laughing are unconnected. Perhaps, at times, they are. Today, though, the laughing has put me in the right frame of mind to be happy, to relax, and to let some OCD things go that I would normally pay too much attention to. 

Oh, and now my kids have just turned on grunge band Christmas music, and they are dancing in the kitchen. This is going to be a great day!

(Now I'm off to join the dancing!)

Friday, October 16, 2009


It's Friday, less than an hour before my kiddos pop off the big yellow school bus, and I've had quite a week! I could stress about the illness, the lice maintenance (still nitpicking!), the incessant paper grading, prepping for two new classes while finishing up two old classes, blah, blah, blah...

But I've been doing that a little too much lately. Instead, I'll just give you a link to Roy's World so that you can feel soothed, too, letting the music and swimming aquatic fantasy melt you into your chair. I watched that video through twice already, and I'll likely go back and watch it through a few more times. 

I'll do this if you do: I will do all I physically and psychically can to relax this weekend--to let go of all the crap that I've been storing in my very bones--and you do the same. I have a lot of options to choose from to help me along the way:

1. Get my papers graded today, before the weekend starts.
2. Convince my hubby to give me a massage.
3.  Listen to some new age music.
4. Set up a candle-lit dinner with my kids (they LOVE that!).
5.  Daydream about this new mermaid novel I've been thinking--not brainstorm, not outline, just daydream (no stress, remember).
6.  Sleep in late or turn in early (or both!).
7.  (Let my husband) build a fire in the fireplace and roast marshmallows.
8. Pet my cat.
9.  Watch a good movie.
10.  Read to my children.

Ready to relax? I know I am. Let me know what you plan to do to relax this weekend, and I'll keep you posted on my own progress towards peace of mind.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Should We "Simplify"?

A few recent posts on Henry David Thoreau and his contemporaries have brought back memories for me--and not all of them good. First of all, I enjoyed Thoreau's Walden. I read it as a college freshman, along with other nature books like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I, admittedly, liked much better. (I still reread chapters of Dillard's book decades after the class ended, so it must be pretty good. The chapter on the Luna Moth still affects me deeply.)

Thoreau's quote, "Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" may very well be his most memorable, if only because it isn't as wordy as his other quotes. However, its admonition is only useful if you are like me--overwhelmed by numerous opportunities to pack your day with activity. If I didn't exercise any control over my life (and I admit sometimes I don't), I would be art docent for both of my kids' classes in school; active in the PTA; volunteering, playing piano, and serving as bookkeeper for the church; teaching eight classes this semester (I've decided six is plenty); writing on six different blogs every day; and getting about two hours of sleep each night, at the most. In other words, I would be so busy that I would be unable to enjoy one single second of my life.

Even at a lower extreme than this, I need to simplify. I need to teach even less. I've backed away from all church obligations. I should still hire a maid. I need to assess every obligation in my life and decide whether it's worth my time, what effect it has on my overall happiness (good or bad), and what I should do about it.

However, others in the world are not in this situation. I know of people who have so little to interest them in life that they spend their evenings attached to the television, not because they are actively interested in any show, but because they have nothing better to do. Time is their enemy, not because they don't have enough of it (my constant complaint), but because they have way too much of it. Saturday and Sunday are extra boring because they have all day to be bored. When they retire, they may flounder for years, unable to develop any interest in anything at all. 

Thoreau managed to do this without television. During the time he spent at Walden Pond, his days consisted of wandering around the shore, planting vegetables when the weather was good, but mostly just thinking from dawn until dusk. Many others of his age criticized him for being lazy, for choosing not to work, etc. Doesn't sound like my idea of happiness. 

So, where should we sit on the spectrum? Perhaps the phrase would be better this way: "Moderation! Moderation! Moderation!" Those of the overworked should pare their obligations down, allowing them to commit themselves fully to a few amazing things. Those who have too much time on their hands should pick up a few interests, involving themselves in something meaningful so that they have a reason to get up in the morning.

What do you think? Have you found your ideal level of moderation? I'm still seeking the perfect balance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Perfect Audience

I love to write.

I know, you're shocked! But I really do. I like teaching writing. I like writing poetry (even if it ends up stupid). I like writing stories. Plays. Shopping lists. Blog entries. Yeah, pretty much everything (except queries to publishers--I hate those). 

But often my audiences are not the best for the things I write. For instance, most of my serious poetry is written to someone. And that someone loves my poem, but the poem leaves pretty much everyone else cold. My husband loves the sonnets I wrote to him in college. My mother-in-law loves the poem I wrote her after her husband passed away. My aunt loves the poem I wrote her when she was going through a particular bad part of her life. But the poems don't seem to translate to anyone else. 

I have other audience problems, too. Sometimes readers of my novels aren't so impressed. Sometimes actors in my plays urge me to change serious dramas to farces--"the only way to save this material" is what they contend. Sometimes I've turned what I thought was a brilliant essay, only to have it picked apart. Oh yes, I'm used to it. I've learned, too, that audiences, even if they are pretty off base, do pick up on problems--audience analysis can be beneficial no matter what they think. 

But wouldn't it be nice if one audience--one perfect audience--knew exactly what you were getting at? Wouldn't it be great if my play reached an audience of women who just knew every word in my play was an authentic part of both myself and them, if by the end they were weeping with relief and joy that their deepest dreams were laid out before them, for them to embrace? What if my novel were like the best meal ever eaten, full of magic and mystery, juicy and satisfying, good enough to order over and over again. What if I had regular customers, who found themselves delighted with each new installment?

What would your ideal be? Who is your perfect audience?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dreaded Bugs

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Why is my life such a train wreck?!?

I was just about to put my kids to bed for the night, just about to settle in for an evening of grading my beloved essays (from all four classes I'm teaching), when my child shocked me out of my complacent plans. Leaning over the sink, she reached behind her head and scratched. Hard. Like she was really digging. Like it was really itchy.

My stomach could not have lurched more, but I tried to remain outwardly calm. I fiddled through her head one way, then the other. Little bits of...dandruff? Sugar? Oh, but they were stuck to her hair like sugar. I had to pull them off with my fingernails. 

Knowing the truth already (and if you've had this happen, you know the truth, too), I ventured further down, towards the neck. And I cursed (inwardly), for there were the creepy little almost unseeable bugs. Dammit! 

Now, don't get me wrong, there is not a time in my life when lice will be welcome. Not on my kids. Not on me. Not on my husband. Not on a flea in the front yard. If there is a creature that does not deserve to live, it's that one. But right now? I don't have the time! I have papers to grade! Rough drafts to scribble all over! Homework to help my kids with! Reading to do! Classes to plan for! Weekly grades to submit! I am OVERWHELMED with my life already!

Richard ran off to get the pesticide (and, yes, I realize I'm poisoning my kids--they'll probably die of brain cancer someday and it will be ALL MY FAULT), and I started washing bedding in hot water. We soaked all the brushes, cleaned all the stuff we could find, collected everything that couldn't be washed and vacuumed it (spraying it with some more pesticide, too, so that my kids could get cancer somewhere else), and washed everybody. I used the little nit comb and went through everyone's hair systematically. 

Everything seemed fine. Had it worked? I checked my daughter's hair this morning--the only person I'd seen signs of lice on--and she seemed good. Hair looked clean. Didn't see a single nit.

I should have been relieved. I did actually get some grading done. But then the nurse called. It seems all the bugs were gone (though she did tell me what I'd used was a pesticide, and it was not recommended, without telling me how else I was supposed to kill the creepy bugs), but she said my daughter's hair was "filled with nits," and to get rid of them, I was going to have to "go through Crystal's hair strand by strand, physically pulling off every one to get rid of them."

Great. Now, instead of grading papers, I'm FREAKING OUT! And tonight, instead of working on my classes as I should, I'm going to spend, oh, FOUR HOURS combing through people's hair! And my husband's going to have to spend the whole evening combing through mine once the kids go to bed. 

And I get to do it all with an itchy head, because whether I have them or not, even if I dosed myself with the cancer-causing pesticide last night and killed all the crawling ones, I'm itching from the mere idea of them. 

The nurse wished me luck. I don't think that's enough to pull me through this one. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two More Weeks!

I have only two more weeks of torture left--with a few days of furious grading to follow, so that I can turn grades in and be done with two classes. It wasn't the students--they were great, even if so many of them turned everything in late. It was just the school requirements, for these are online classes, and they are packed with so much work for the students to do--and for me to grade--that I could barely finish one grading project before I had to start another one (I'm sure the students have felt the same way--that as soon as they get one project done, they have another due). 

Overall, it's been pretty stressful, and not nearly as rewarding as I'd hoped. And I earned craptacular pay for it, too, a reality which makes it highly unlikely I will ever do such a thing again--ever. 

I soon start two more classes, also online, but with a completely different college. I am not sure, but I believe they will turn out well (especially in comparison). I'm prepping for those right now, and also madly grading for the other two courses, so I still may be in here sporadically for a few weeks, at least until the stress classes are over.

Have you ever noticed how the things you most love often come with corresponding thing you hate? For instance, I love teaching writing. I love teaching it almost as much as I love doing it. But I hate grading. Yup, detest it. I hate seeing a paper as "over," or "finished," and assigning a grade to it, like the student has no hope of ever doing better. Unfortunately, even with some modifications I've made to the paper-grading process, the grade must eventually be assigned. And I loath that part, and likely always will (unless I become some sort of maniacal old blue-haired English teacher who resents her students and loves giving F's).

It's the same with writing. I love to write. I love the whole process of it--writing down random ideas, outlining, planning, writing scenes, scrapping whole chapters, revising, adding details--but I absolutely detest sending my stuff off to publishers/contests/agents, etc. I cringe with every stamp I lick, shake my head as I write the SASE, fold it carefully, and take the whole mess to the post office. 

I suppose I'd be happier if I loved these parts, but I also wouldn't be me. It's the sensitive, creative side of me that hates these things, the part that says nothing should ever be finished, that we are always growing, and F's and rejection slips do nothing but stifle that growth. Then again, fear of F's and rejection slips may spur us on to work harder, try more, and revise again and again.

Perhaps they aren't so bad after all. What do you think?