Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Day to Be Alive

It's a great day to be alive
The still shining when I close my eyes
There's some hard times in the neighborhood
But why can't every day be just this good.
--Travis Tritt

Don't bounce out of bed
The day isn't going to smack you
If you snuggle into sheets
And sleep a little longer

But this new day awaits you
With a grin

Like you felt the night of prom, all dressed up
Or the first day of a new job
The opening credits of a new film

The skills spread around you
Inside you
Your own private toolbox
Of talent, inspiration,
Needing only effort of one

For you alone
To make the day something destined
Something greater
More satisfying
Than it would have been without you

So get up
Pull off the covers
Pull on some clothes (or not!)
Greet the day with your own sly grin
Shake hands with it, like a sister
A partner
Make it what it could be
Not just the stuff of dreams.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Still Not Writing

I'm sorting through some personal stuff right now--filling my life with Zumba in hopes of finding myself happily satisfied with my own psyche, goals, body, etc.

I am also doing research--of the Oxford kind--to finish with a final library book so that I can return it several weeks after it has been due (yikes!)... once the research is done, will I actually work on my novel? No idea.

It's disheartening. I clean out the refrigerator to avoid writing. I Febreze the whole house. I weed. I cut out and sew a new dress (I'm on #3 in just a few weeks). I check my e-mail for the seventh time in a day (no new mail). I do everything I possibly can to avoid writing.

If I knew why I was avoiding it, I'd take steps to stop myself. I just don't know. So many negative voices are drifting around in my head--not just about writing, but about every aspect of my life--and though writing sounds fantastic, when I sit down to do it, I suddenly would rather polish the wood floors.

I hope this ends soon. It's not like me, and I only have two months before my teaching starts up again. I'd like to have something to show for it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Envy in a Zumba Classroom

She looks in the mirror
Sees the ashy hair
Like hay in a barn
(Her mama always says)
Wonders if her bony knees
Look bad in shorts
Wishes for the legs
On the third girl from the left...

Who's stepping to the side
And sees her stomach isn't what it was
(What it never was, but she wishes it could be)
Her hips show signs of babies
Doughnuts, and genetics
Why do they put this mirror up
So she can see how fat she is
When next to all these skinny people
Just like little miss Hot Pink...

Who shimmies, with futility
Seeing women's breasts
Full and shaking all around her
While her own boyish ones
Practically non-existent
Don't move at all
Babies didn't help, either,
A brief reprieve from flat
Not like the rock star in the front row...

Who always dances in the foreground
Not to see herself
(God forbid!)
But because the Amazon women crowd her out
And she can't see the leader
The one with the perfect legs
The perfect tan
The perfect clothes
The perfect hair

Who's grateful not to face the mirror
So that she doesn't see
Her own imperfections.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I've had quite the chance to reminisce lately. My husband recently met up with friends from way back in '95, and then just over the last few days we camped with Canadian friends we'd met even earlier, when we were both earning our masters degrees.

My husband loved it. He somehow remembered names of so many people in his program, certain classes, certain parties/days/events/words said. He had a smile on his face the whole time. The friends seemed to like it, too, mentioning certain people and times, smiling, sighing.

Me? Um... not so much. It's not that I hated it. I just find the present far more interesting. I'd rather enjoy the kids as they are now, not as they once were. I don't intentionally forget things, but they have less meaning once they are over. I guess I just don't live in the past.

Either that, or, more likely, these particular "pasts" simply didn't give me much that resonated in my soul, and if they didn't, I pretty much forgot them. I don't miss my life then, don't miss the way I looked or felt then... or at least the parts of my life these people reminded me of were not the parts I cared about that much.

I can't say I reminisce often. I don't go through all of my wedding photos all the time, oohing and ahhing over people's outfits (or my own dress). My kids' baby pictures are even pretty neglected. Perhaps that is why I've never taken up scrapbooking.

Some things do resonate with me, but they are not the kinds of things to share with others. (Perhaps this is where my introverted tendencies shine through.) They are moments when I felt something, moments that were likely only meaningful to me, and trying to share them with friends who were standing there but didn't feel what I felt simply wouldn't work.

After she watched the fourth Harry Potter film, Mom said she didn't like it as much as the previous ones because Harry was on his own so much. But I didn't mind, perhaps because, even if my journey is shared with others, my response to the journey is private. It's mine alone, and thus the experience is too.

Ten people going through the exact same event will see it differently. What recharges my battery--hiking in green forests, playing with my kids, painting, playing piano, writing--will not recharge my husband's, and his interests could not fail to drive me insane. We've been together over 21 years, sharing our lives, yet our life experience is radically different.

Ironically, reading (a primarily solitary activity) gives me the chance to share the inward experience of a person, or a select few (the fewer the better, as far as I'm concerned). It's probably the only chance I'll have to live through another person. Movies do the same, and my experience watching them is always best when I can forget that others are watching, too. Voice-overs allow us to hear thoughts of the characters, so see the world exactly as they do.

Life doesn't offer the same opportunity, for we can never truly share the most intimate world of those around us, even those we are very close to. My children, even when very young, had depths to them I realized I would not ever fathom, and the moment they could speak they also knew instinctively when to keep certain thoughts private. At nine, my daughter already has a seriousness that I cannot penetrate, and probably never will.

And though I seem pretty confessional in this venue, I have parts of myself that I simply haven't shared with anyone. I live around, among, alongside, and cooperatively with tons of people, but they will never truly know who I am. We are all on a shared journey, yet in part we all travel alone.

Your thoughts? What resonates with you from your past, if anything? Do you keep yourself to yourself, or do you share everything with someone? Do you have parts of yourself that you still keep hidden, even from those you love?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sources of Inspiration

Like most writers, I am never short on ideas. I do not sit at the computer, day after day, wondering what I want to write. Instead, like most writers I know, I have EIGHTEEN projects in the works (or mumbling to me at night), waiting for me to get my rear in gear, so to speak, and get back to working on them.

These projects have minds of their own, and perhaps I'll blog about these demented minds some day, but each one also comes from a particular source of information.

My first novel came from a dream, a recurring nightmare I had as a teenager. In fact, the dream came to me over the years, and has only ceased since I wrote the first draft of the novel. I dreamed I was a man (and I often dream I am male, for some reason), and a bunch of shadow men were chasing me through a cemetery. I found a white grave marker, a lying statue rather like those placed atop the wealthy dead in Europe for centuries, and the men surrounded me, stabbing me. Sometimes I was the statue, a girl, and I could sense the danger, feel the blood dripping on me, etc. Very frightening.

It became the climax to my first novel.

My second book was inspired by pictures a friend sent me of floods in SE Kansas, a place from which I had recently moved. The town just south of Independence had flooded completely, even leaking oil from its refinery, and the arial pictures she sent me sparked a question about a second flood of biblical proportions.

I told this story through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl, third child of Noah, an Oklahoma farmer.

My third novel came from a particular ghost I researched--Charley, a man who had died in a house fire--but I moved his location to Seattle, changed his age, and created a whole story around him.

My fourth novel idea? Well, it came from a student paper--and art analysis of a painting of a mermaid, shown here.
★★TOP handpaint  OIL  Painting★ A Mermaid ON CANVAS 36"

The research the student had done regarding mermaid history and major stories was fascinating, and I was inspired to create a novel using what I knew (or could find out) about mermaids, sylphs, and other mythical creatures. I hope to start this novel soon.

So, what is your own inspiration? What spark inspires your writing? I'd love to know

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Room of My Own

I've been feeling a bit introverted lately. I love having people over, and I love visiting other people, and I love my children, but the last week or so a little voice inside me has been piping up, saying, "Isn't there somewhere to go and close the door and be alone?" I was having my coffee with Mom this morning, and she said, "Sorry, but I'm still tired. I'm going back to bed."

I told her that was fine. I wouldn't mind at all if she left me alone and went back to sleep.

"I know you do mind, but thanks for saying it, anyway," was her reply, and she went back to bed.

And I had a golden half hour all to myself, before my kids woke up.

I don't find my kids stressful, mostly. I like their being around. I like shopping with them, especially when we hit garage sales, Goodwill, or other cheap places. I like playing games with them, talking to them, laughing, telling them stories...

But I also need alone time. And I haven't had that much lately. We're just about to go camping for a few days, and while I love camping and can't wait to see some friends of ours from Canada, I'm also wondering when I will next be able to get a few hours to myself. Not so that I can go to my playwrights meeting. Not so that I can meet a friend for coffee.

So that I can meet absolutely no one, say not a word to anybody, but just chill, all by myself, do whatever I would like to do, exist for a few hours in absolute, golden silence.

I have often envied people who had an office or study all of their own. People say things like, "I can come in here, shut the door, and just focus on my project without interruption." We created a workspace like this in our house in South Carolina so that I could work on my dissertation... but it didn't help. All it meant is that I had to leave it constantly to take care of my daughter, who was an infant at the time (she turned 2 three days after I graduated with my Ph.D). Instead, I set up my writing space in the living room, where I could leave it quickly and return quickly, writing ten furious pages while she napped in the carrier at my feet, printing only when she was awake (our printer was VERY noisy), and still keeping tabs on everything while I worked.

But now my kids can play on their own without my constant supervision. They play fantastically well with each other, but they still often choose to play directly near where I am writing. I love that they want to be near me (and I know that will likely change soon, as they grow older and more teenager-like), but there are times I'd like to have them one place, and me somewhere else, to hear the golden silence, to re-energize and truly focus on my pet projects.

Do you have a place on your own? Do you need one? What's your ideal creative situation?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Ruined Ending

My children and I spent a week without Daddy... and we were having such a good time (despite the missing Daddy, which was pretty much a constant)! Last Friday we made a list of "Fun Things To Do," and we did all but two of them (playing Twister and riding bikes). No tantrums, no real fights, lots of movies, cooking, shopping, etc. We went on all sorts of adventures, drove all over the area, I taught the kids how to play Uno, my daughter cooked her first dinner (lasagna), etc.

We were at dinner last night, only a few hours before we were to go pick up Daddy at the airport... and everything suddenly went south. My son, the moody one (gets that from me), decided his dinner isn't coming fast enough. He started to get mad every time some other table got food, and he didn't.

Trying to distract him, I asked, "So, what was your favorite part of this week?"

His answer: "Nothing. It was all boring."

Yes, he was just being moody and tired. Yes, I shouldn't take it to heart. But I do. I spent so much time playing around with my kids and doing goofy stuff--not writing, not sitting them in front of the television, but being a VERY active parent--and the mood thing hurt me.

Now I look at the big list, the one we've been checking off all week, even drawing smily faces where we really liked what we'd done, and I just don't feel happy about it.

It's like a book that is going well, going well, going well... and then its ending stinks. I read the last few paragraphs, my stomach sinks, and I wonder, What the hell was that? Is that the end? Really? It's not missing a chapter?

I believe Carl Jung suggested readers read to "practice," as if each fictional story is practice for their own life's ending. An ending is satisfying if it happens the way we wish our own lives would go--the hero winning, balance restored, happiness, or at least resolution. When it doesn't satisfy us, it does so because the outcome is absolutely not what we would want, or it leaves us hanging in some limbo, waiting until the next book comes out. The second one just ticks me off. The first reason, though, makes me wonder... what if my desired ending isn't someone else's?

What if my son's snide attitude was his way of not regretting the end of the fun week? What if he fears that the fun is over (now that Daddy's back), so he's negating the fun so that he doesn't miss it? And he doesn't understand the effect on his readers (i.e., me and my daughter) and doesn't realize the ending won't work for us?

We talked about the week again last night, and he made it very clear that he loved all sorts of parts... especially Uno and garage sale shopping (the second wasn't even on the list!). Perhaps a little sleep, and an assurance that the fun is not over yet, will help change the ending for us all.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Blessing

Today, may the sun seek you out
And warm you.

May you feel the breeze
Slip into your mind
Soften all the world
And calm you.

May you feel the turning of the universe around you
Pulling you to where you most
Would like to be.

And when we meet
Some day
May we recognize each other's souls
And know we have arrived.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Speed Writing--Update

Just as I promised, I tried out the Speed Writing last night. I had my six projects up and ready to go, a timer, a glass of water, my kids sleeping, etc. I was ready.

Round I: My first novel, one I have not even glanced at since January, 2009. Prologue... hmmm... just as I suspected, it sucked. But, amazingly, not one minute into the speed writing session, I knew exactly how to change it! It would solve my late-arriving villain, would introduce the Old English facet, and would set the creepy tone for the whole thing. Perfect! I started writing, modifying, filling the page with dialogue... the alarm went off, but I was almost finished with the scene! I couldn't stop now!

So, there it is. It took another 18 minutes to rough out the prologue, and as I started glancing through the first chapter, I knew exactly where I was going wrong. I have my project.

Yes, I set aside the five other projects. It's probably best for me to do this novel, anyway, for it is the roughest of the three, and once I rewrite it, I can set it aside while I revise #2 and #3, and hopefully have them all ready for publication soon. I am tired of having them languish on my laptop, though, so at least I'm moving on them actively.

Did the speed dating work? Yes, and no. I do have a project, but I also didn't really do the whole speed dating thing. I picked up the number of the first guy I met and walked out the door with him. That's me, not playing by the rules. I can certainly appreciate Jeff's knowledge that speed dating doesn't work for him. If I get in a bind again, I might try it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the outcome is the same.

Now to tackle that novel, and make it brilliant ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Speed Writing

Speed Dating is a relatively new phenomenon, consisting of a bunch of single(?) people getting together somewhere public and rapidly moving from prospective partner to prospective partner, talking to each other for somewhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes (I have no knowledge of what time limit is ideal, as I've been married longer than many of you have lived on the earth).

At the end of the Speed Dating "session," participants get to request numbers of those people who made an impression on them. If both participants request each other, then a connection is made. If both don't, there's no really uncomfortable moment when anyone has to reject the other, for no commitment has been made. Supposedly, it's a great way to meet lots of people and reject most of them in a very short amount of time.

As most of you know, I've been in writing limbo, drifting around without attaching myself to any of my writing projects. Do I want to write another veggie book for children? Revise one of my three novels? Work on my Oxford play? Write a ten-minute comedy? You see, it isn't that I don't have any ideas... it's like a filthy house: where does one start cleaning?

I've decided to play my own sort of game: Speed Writing. I'll set up six different writing projects on my computer--the three novels, the Oxford play, a blank screen for the ten-minute, and another document with several veggies listed (cabbage is next, I think)--and I'll spend ten minutes with each of them.

At the end of ten minutes, whether I enjoyed working on the project or not, I'll switch to the next. At the end of an hour, I'll have tried them all, and I might have discovered the one I want most to work on. More than likely I'll be down to two, and I'll spend a longer date--30 minutes--on each one to figure out which will be my "steady date" for a while.

I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow. I've never tried anything like this before. Have you? Do you have six (or more) projects that could use some doing? Might this work in other activities, like painting, sewing, etc.? What do you think?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stuck Inside the Box?

Two fabulous posts reflect some of the changes I've made over the last 24 hours. I was going through my methodical way, forcing myself to do stuff on my list while hating every minute of it. The advice from all of you, dear readers, was to step away from the drudgery and work on something that inspires me--in effect, to try something new.

And then I saw Neatorama's post showing Leroy Anderson's little composition entitled "The Typewriter." I was fortunate that my father liked classical music, and as a kid I was exposed to several of Anderson's compositions, and this one is a personal favorite. Who would have thought of making a typewriter into a musical instrument? It works beautifully, too. His "thinking outside the box," to use the modern cliche, turned into fun for my whole family this morning. I showed the video to my kids, then showed it again (at their request).

Another post, by one of my fashionista friends Ordinary Girl, showed a letter she'd written to herself, vowing to take better care of herself and not let stress take over her life. I could not agree more, but it reminded me that this was one of my faults, too, and this year it had really gotten out of hand.

My lists are my aid in life, helping me be far more productive than I would be without them. However, they are also a force to stifle me if I let them take over. Yes, I can get done what I must today, but, at least for the summer, I am going to do what I want every single day, even if it's for an hour. I'm starting to work on my novels, and making them into unique, fascinating manuscripts will be my goal. If that means the dishes start stinking in the sink, or the carpet get a little gross, so be it.

How are the rest of you stepping outside of your own boxes lately? Or do the sides seem too steep? Are you living without the box completely?

I admit to liking the box in the same way I like sonnet form and haiku as opposed to free verse. But a little free verse isn't a bad thing once in a while, is it?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Writer's Block

I worked very hard this academic year. I taught twelve classes, four of them completely new, and I have worn out my grading hand pretty thoroughly. I thought when summer came that I would want nothing more than to write.

I guess I was wrong.

Over the past four weeks (yes, FOUR), I've managed to do dishes, play piano, do laundry, go shopping, sweep, and even vacuum more than write. I think I have spent more time cleaning out the cat box than I have writing. I have used every excuse there is, but the truth is, I've had a bit of a block.

For perhaps the third time in my life, I have writer's block.

It doesn't feel good. My stomach squirms, I spend far too much time playing free games on Yahoo, I eat more, I'm bored, and I feel pretty foolish.

I have done writing-related activities. I just finished going through my fourth resource for the Oxford play I'm planning (discussed in an earlier blog). But research isn't writing, and my doctorate is no indication that I love research. The books on Oxford so far--barring one--have been pretty lame, too, filled with assumed information in much the same way that biographies of Shakespeare are filled with assumptions. Every author is snide, too. The Stratfordians sneer at the likelihood of Oxford (or anyone else) authoring a single word of the plays, and the Oxfordians sniff back. It isn't pretty, it isn't nice. Furthermore, it isn't me. That's why I'm not writing a stuffy textbook expounding to the world the "truth" that I have "discovered." I make no assumptions about what the truth is in this case, mainly because until I die and go talk to all of these people myself, I won't know what really happened. (It kind of reminds me of faith--I can't fault someone's beliefs just because they don't coincide with mine, for I can't know that I'm right.)

Anyhow, while I'm slogging through the research, I'm not loving it, and it's causing me to avoid the computer, the books, everything to do with writing.

Solutions? I'd love it if you have some. I certainly don't want to start teaching in late September only to realize that I didn't write a word all summer.

I've decided to skip the research for a week. I can renew the books indefinitely (it's not like anyone else wants to read them), so they can be waiting when I actually want to "work" on writing. For now, I'm going to play. I'm going to plan out adventures, revise my novels until they are bright and shiny and ready for publication. And if I get in a rut, I won't let it last. I'll just switch gears and find something I want to write instead.

What do you do when you get stuck? How do you resolve writer's block?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From Book to Video

Wow, did I ever get some fantastic news! My little book has moved into video!

Some resourceful guys (plus a girl and a dog) have made actual videos of a few of the places I wrote about in my book Ghosts of Southeast Kansas. The main producer seems to be Alexm141, and in both of the videos I found, the intrepid investigators risk life and limb to venture into restricted and/or dangerous territory to find signs of what the stories in my book discuss. Here's one of the videos:

My photographer friend Cherilyn, who also took the fantastic photo for the book's front cover, found this video on YouTube and its counterpart. Thanks Cherilyn, and thanks to Alexm141, too, for the publicity. My book is shown at the beginning of each video, and I could not be more pleased! They even rescue a turtle off the highway in the video about Lover's Leap. So brave!

Who knew others besides myself would find the history and hauntings of such a rural area so compelling? I'm kind of sad I don't live in Kansas anymore, after seeing the two videos. I really adored researching that book, meeting all the eyewitnesses, investigating all over the countryside...

I'm so glad I found this! I hope Alexm141 produces some more videos just like it, too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What are You Afraid of?

A recent incident of paranoia left me shaken. I was at the YMCA, doing my hours of Zumba, and I came across a person who looked remarkably like someone I knew--and mistrusted. Within moments I had constructed a scenario whereby this person and others had checked my kids out from the childcare area and taken them away. At the end of my exercise class, I would find my children gone, and I would never see them again.

Frightening stuff. Paranoid, yes, but frightening enough that I left the class and had a long discussion with the childcare staff about other people trying to check my kids out. I found out that my own husband would not be allowed to check them out without prior notification by me.

I felt relieved. I also felt stupid. And paranoid. But I just couldn't help it. I have one huge fear in my life, and that is losing my children.

When my oldest was an infant, I drove two hours a day with her to work, dropping her off in a daycare right across the street from where I taught (so that I could nurse her in between classes). I'd wake up from nightmares about trucks slamming into my car and killing her, and I drove stiff with tension, certain that if I lost my concentration for a second, my daughter would suffer for it.

Once I became pregnant with my second, the nightmares turned to drowning, where I would put my daughter in a floatation device, only to have someone steal it from her, and find her body drowned under the water. I cannot tell you how many times I woke up screaming from that one.

Now the nightmares mostly consist of losing my kids in public places, or having someone come into my house to take them. Each one makes it impossible to go back to sleep, for I know of nothing in the world so horrible as losing one of my kids.

I am not sure how to turn that fear into writing, but looking back at what I have written, much of my plays and novels deal with lesser fears, and fictionalizing them has helped me handle the fear more effectively. Fear provides a serious risk for the characters, one that readers will find compelling.

But are some fears too hard to face? I read a YA book about a month ago that shivered me to my bones, a book told from the POV of a girl who had been kidnapped, raped, and dominated by a man for nearly six years. It was too painful, too scary, and for the first time in my life I skipped to its end, just to make sure she got out of the situation. Had I not been a mother, I might have been able to read the book in its entirety. My children--and my greatest fear--made that impossible.

What minor fears work on you? What major fears are too much for you to handle? When do books go too far, or not far enough for you to care?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Needing to Write

I did splendidly well on my weekly list. Only the hem of my dress needs to be sewn, and then it will be finished. Even better, all of the exercising I've done so far this week (after zumba this morning, I will have exercised a total of 17.5 hours!) have made it possible for the dress to fit me fantastically. I'll be wearing it July 4.

Only my "want-to" list wasn't quite completed, so I am taking some Oxford books with me to Mom's house for the 4th weekend, along with the piano books (thank goodness she now has a piano!) so that I can practice and keep the kids' lessons going. I'll be taking my computer, too, so I might even get to that ten-minute play.

I'm really itching to write, not edit. Perhaps in this coming week I'll need to put some actual generation on the docket. I'll likely sew something, too.

Because I'll be gone, though, I will likely not post again until Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. Happy fourth, you Americans, and I hope the rest of you enjoy laughing at us as we shoot off fireworks. Then it will be back to work on Tuesday for me. Oxford is waiting!