We interrupt our regularly scheduled musings on motherhood, writing and rejection for a taste of summer living. We regret to inform you that this might be a common occurance until mid-September. Please bear with us and enjoy our dabblings into a new artistic format–the photo essay.
J. Robert Lennon nails The Truth About Writers in the LA Times.
A picture is worth a 1000 words (left unwritten).
Captain Daddy is professionally inclined to report on topics of disaster and death.
In our early years together I named this litany of unfortunate events the Trauma Tour. Everywhere we went he had a story to tell: car into tree, drug-addled assault, slow and lonely decay. I endured it, sometimes even with affection for the tragic contents of my loved one’s brain.
Until we had kids. Lately I’ve tried to press upon Captain Daddy that perhaps chickens ages two and four do not need to be told ghastly and terrifying true tales on a daily basis. And I can’t take it like I used to—the tender mother in me suffers everyone’s pain.
Nevertheless, the Trauma Tour continues. An average morning around here kind of goes like this:
Captain Daddy suddenly exclaims: “A drowning!” Chicken Little ambles over. “Where, Daddy?” He points to the newspaper, explaining a fall, a sweeping away, as if this conversation with his two-year-old is perfectly normal.
I gesture in exasperation. “If you must share,” I say, “Try to leave the chickens out of it. Just spell things.”
The next day, he tries. “A p-i-t-b-u-l-l attacked and mauled a three-year-old over in the valley.”
“Wrong words, Captain,” I advise. “Try the verbs.”
And God forbid anyone should ever ask him how his day at work was.
Today, after 14 years of listening to tales of tragedy, I finally have figured out something to do with them. Captain Daddy and I have a (chicken-free) lunch date to discuss the most horrifying, ugly, ghastly details of the worst car accident he’s ever seen.
Why? Research for my novel.
This just may be a turning point in our relationship.
When I started this blog six months ago, I didn’t put my name on it. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it. I didn’t announce it anywhere.
When it comes to new things, I tend to put a toe in the water completely privately. Or maybe even just a toenail. I try it out in secret, I don’t talk about it. This caution is true about new writing projects as well as other pursuits, like guitar playing or pie baking. By not calling attention to my endeavors (I seem to figure) if the whole thing explodes before takeoff no one will notice the massive detonating wreckage.
Oh, fear, fear—why must you stalk me so determinedly?
In an effort to be a little bit braver about my ambitions, I have an announcement to make.
I AM WRITING A NOVEL.
I began brainstorming it a couple of months ago, outlined it a few weeks ago, and started writing last week.
Yep. It’s true. I have never written even a paragraph of fiction in my entire writing life. I have always said that I could not write fiction. And here I am, doing so. I am acutely aware of the fact that I have no idea what I am doing, and yet, I am doing it.
What’s funny is I do actually seem to know what I am doing. Ten years of writing conferences and critique groups (not to mention over three decades of rabid reading) seems to have seeped the tenets of good fiction into my blood. That does not mean that I automatically know how to create it. But nevertheless, I am excited to try. As many of you know, I desperately needed a new project to attend to whilst percolating the memoir debacle (see Book Burning Take Two). This is it.
All of you novelists out there: advice for the first timer welcome here!
And in case anyone was wondering, I bake a mean pie.
Chicken Little is extraordinarily articulate for the recently-turned-two, as well as uncommonly considerate, which means that she asks permission in eloquent English before doing all of the fabulously experimental things that cross a small person’s mind. Take for example these recent questions:
Can I throw my cheese down the stairs?
Can I walk on the wall?
Can I poop on your yoga mat?
Can I bounce my playdough like a ball?
Can I fly like a birdie?
Can I eat my eggies off my shoe?
The fact that she actually listens to my answers and generally abides by them makes me think that she is the most magical creature on earth. Of course, I am biologically pre-programmed to think this, but it’s a wonderful sensation nonetheless.
I believe that two is the most unfairly maligned of the young years. Yes, there are tantrums. Yes, every time I turn around for two minutes she tries to launch herself off of the furniture or liberate some permanent markers from my pen jar. There are sleepless nights. There are power struggles. But two is when wonder and affection explode. Two is when communication really begins. Two is when absolute, delighted distraction can still be produced from a handful of rocks.
This photo is from Chicken Little’s recent experimentation with a tub of hand cream. In this instance she did not seek preauthorization, which likely bodes of things to come. But for now, I am laughing too hard to be mad. That’s another wonderful thing about two—as the child is fascinated by rocks, the mother is fascinated that she’s somehow created a child in possession of the innovation and ability to create a work of art with a few fistfuls of Eucerin.
I may not have landed my own column or a book deal from blogging yet (my fantasies) but I have accomplished something! I am extremely pleased to announce that thanks to my recent post (Welcome Home, Chester), Chester has found a new home.
Sometime this summer, our favorite dead caribou will be moving from my hallway to Bushwhackers Country Western Dance Hall and Saloon in Tualatin (www.bushwhackerssaloon.com
When the offer came in, I suspected immediately that Chester would be thrilled with the activity and companionship he would find at this lively home to footstompin’ music, couples’ dance classes, Thursday ladies night, and buzzard wings—much more so than he has been here, where he is treated as, well, a wall flower.
Somewhat surprising to me was the fact that Captain Daddy wholeheartedly agreed.
The email I received from Bushwhackers’ owner said, “We await Chester’s arrival at your convenience. I hope he doesn’t drool because he may be hanging over someone’s table. We may have to have a private coming out party.”
Stay tuned for Chester’s big move. It may have to be recorded in pictures, especially the part where Captain Daddy and I take country western dance lessons.
There I stood Friday night, hovering uncertainly in front of a microphone, way more nervous than I should be, and gripping a copy of the High Desert Journal. I’d selected and rehearsed part of my essay to read, waited and watched everyone mingle and sip wine, and now here it was—my fifteen minutes of fame.
I dove in. “We put on the Snake River just before Hells Canyon Dam on a steamy July afternoon.”
Two sentences later: “Ba-boom!”
No—not the sound of me, arriving. The sound of drums. Loud, exuberant drums from just down the hall. “Crash!” Oh yes; cymbals, too.
I read on, inserting sentences between a steady “Dum-ba-da-dum-ba-da-dum!”
Very quickly it became clear that a) the drums weren’t going to stop, b) none of my eight to ten pretending-to-be-rapt audience members were going to do anything about it and c) considering a and b, my reading selection was way too long.
I considered the (sensible and later wished for) idea of coming to a dead stop and instead opted for a “you-go-girl” determination.
The drumming got louder. “Boom-ba-ba-boom crash boom!”
I abandoned emphatic, meaningful interpretation, made drastic, haphazard edits mid-stream and raced through the part of the story where I almost drown.
Every now and then two or three drunk 20-year-olds in skimpy tank tops and three-foot heels—paying me no mind, as if I were a plant, or a hat rack—would skitter in front of me. Presumably in search of the drumming.
I sank into the absurdity, skidded through some lovely, deep thoughts about marriage and risk and fear, and closed to triumphant clapping from at least three people.
Two seconds after my flight from the stage, the drumming stopped. Of course it did.
But whatever—I simply basked in the relief of the whole affair being over and began desperately searching for a very large glass of wine to suck on.
When suddenly, a little fairy woman appeared by my side. “That was wonderful!” she gushed. I stared at her stupidly. “You are an amazing story teller.” Her blonde-grey hair flew in a halo around her head and her cheeks flushed pink with enthusiasm. “I love your work. I can’t wait until your next essay!”
I mumbled a baffled thank you and, after a cocktail, called it a night. As I headed home, I conjured in my head my consolation prize—the mileage I would get out of telling my story over the rest of the weekend.
Now for the multiple choice part of today’s post. The moral of this story is:
A) As an artist, one occasionally needs to be reminded not to take oneself too seriously.
B) One gushing fan is enough to justify any artistic endeavor.
C) Humiliating readings rack up as much PR as smashing-success readings.
D) If you are trying to choose a creative outlet and find yourself equally drawn to writing and drumming, choose drumming.
E) All of the above.
Please submit your answer by 5 p.m. tomorrow. The winner will be awarded the slightly crumpled issue of the Journal read from at this very famous and noteworthy event.
I will be reading from my essay “Passing Through a Green Room”, recently published in High Desert Journal (see Fame vs. Fortune), at the High Desert Journal/tbd advertising downtown Bend Art Walk event tomorrow night, June 5, approx. 6:45 p.m., 856 NW Bond Street Suite 2, Bend.
Would love to see some friendly faces! Because I get really nervous about these things! And will need someone to have a glass of wine with afterwards!
When I was in my 20s I used to say, “I write when an essay strikes me” or “I have to wait until it’s all there, inside me, ready to come out.”
What luxury. Possibility and time were abundant then; pure, delicious creativity the only motivator.
If I’d continued waiting for an essay to strike me (what did I think they were, electrical storms?), I’d never have been hired back by any editor I’ve worked with in the last decade. Nor have written all that I have. In my experience, the muse does not usually choose to strike conveniently during naptime, when I have an hour to meet a deadline if I am lucky.
There’s a lot to be said for inspiration. It’s nice when you can get it. But there’s also a lot to be said for good old fashioned butt-in-chair hard work.
My youthful muse has been trumped by responsibility and sleep deprivation. But that’s okay. I’d like to find my new, grown-up, battered-but-better muse—less whimsical but wiser, who I can access more or less whenever I need her. I know she’s in here under my wrinkles and yogurt-smeared pajamas.
Can one conjure creativity at will? I think so. By paying attention all of the time, and really focusing some of the time, I believe that magic can happen without impetus of thunder and lightning.