Yesterday I was checking the stats for all my sites and I came across a whole bunch of people coming in from Variety.com, of all places. Variety is one of two big entertainment industry trade papers; I used to subscribe to it myself until I stopped caring who ran which studio and what scripts were hot.
When I tracked the referrals back, I found an article with the title, "Picture Postcard," subtitled "Photo blogs provide alternate view." Cool, I thought. My photoblog is mentioned in in a roundup of blogs showing the city.
Not quite. It's a short article, just a paragraph. And it only references one photoblog.
The writer (who has an interesting blog of his own) says, in part, "Take a break from the stereotypical Los Angeles visuals (exploding car chases, tan bikini lines, glitz, sunglasses and palm trees) and look at this daily photo blog of the City of Angels." And goes on to say, "The photographer here, Tamar, takes some marvelous and unconventional pictures of the city."
It's a funny thing. Photography is the only creative outlet I have that's purely for me, unrelated to a career, and I like that about it. But it's also unrelated to anything else, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing. I haven't become embedded in the photoblog community, I look at few other sites with any regularity. I do occasionally enter photos in memes like Photofriday (I like Photofriday), but not with any regularity or determination. It's been almost like a secret, my photography site. And yet. Back in July, Coolstop found my site and named it cool stop of the day. (I was too distracted to mention that anywhere, it was a private sort of pleasure.) And now this.
I'm not sure why I've shied away from being more public about it all. Fear that I'm not good enough to play with the big kids with their fancy cameras and professional experience? Does that matter if I enjoy it? This exposure is good for me, I think. I think I need to own this more. I'm not a photographer in the same sense that I'm a writer, but this too is part of me.
I don't know if you've noticed, but I haven't written anything lengthy here this week. There's a reason. I've been busy with my novel. I wrote -- well, I'm not sure exactly where I started on Monday, but I think I wrote something like four thousand words this week, maybe even five. Which is rare for me, since I usually grab my writing time between the time I drop Damian off at school (at noon, supposedly, but often later) and pick him up (at three) but then you have to factor in time to eat lunch (half an hour, usually) and drive to the library and then back to school (fifteen minutes) and time to wind up the courage to plunge back into the ongoing stream of words. So I have maybe an hour and a half of good writing time two or three times a week. Which is absurd since I do have some time to myself every day but I've been using it for other things. Like exercise, paying bills, running errands, responding to email. But you know what? I'm a writer. So what if we don't have enough food to last the week? We can make do. I have to write. So this week I did. I wrote every day.
This brought the total page count up to 304.
I'm buzzing with it. It would be a lie to say I never doubted I'd complete the novel. Of course I've doubted it, just like I've doubted that the result will be readable. But now it seems very much like I will in fact get to the end, and not too long from now. And that feels huge.
A novel. My first novel. Yes, I've written nearly a dozen screenplays. And yes, at the end of each one, I said "whew!" and flipped through the printed pages with a satisfied sigh: "I wrote that. All of that. Yes, me." But a novel, that's diving into the deep end of the pool. A tome. And this novel in particular is like writing a dream state, it's all about emotion and tone. It's realistic but yet not. It's a challenge.
My brain is tired. Tomorrow I want to do something to get out of my head. I think I'll paint the living room yellow.
Last night, I got up from the couch and said it was time for pajamas. Damian said "Okay, but first I have to go pee." Sure thing, kid. I gathered the necessary acoutrements (socks and whatnot) and walked to our bedroom, where he usually gets changed. But before I even entered the hall, Damian reappeared from the bathroom. Giggling.
"Guess what I did, Mommy? Mommy, I want to show you something funny!"
Then he emerged. Stark naked.
I agreed it was both funny and very clever, getting a jump on the process like that.
Then he grabbed the pile of clothing from where I'd put it down and ran off to his room. "Don't look, Mommy! Don't come in! I have something else funny for you!"
"Okay, Damian, I promise I won't come in."
But he closed the door to his room anyway, just in case I was tempted to peek. I suddenly felt like the parent of a teenager.
Fairly soon he emerged once more. Not surprisingly, he was fully clothed now. In his pajamas, of course. Also exceedingly pleased with himself. He thought it was the best joke, getting dressed without me. Me, I'm hoping it was funny enough to repeat sometime soon. Very soon.
I just started reading One Pill Makes You Smaller, by Lisa Dierbeck, a first novel by a high school friend of mine. We lost touch a long time ago, unfortunately. Reading this novel makes me realize I miss her, even after all these years.
But I digress. What I really wanted to note was that reading her prose reminds me of a truism of fiction: specificity is a very good thing. In the first chapter, she describes something the characters call the toy box that's really storage for recreational drugs. She spends some time with the box, giving it the full treatment. When I was done reading that passage, I not only could see the object in all its concrete detail, but I felt like I too was there in that room, listening to the desultory conversation as I examined the collage on the sides of the toy box. And that's what specificity can do for you.
I've been reading This Woman's Work for a while now, since Dawn linked to an essay of mine in Hidden Laughter. I've been moved by her eloquence and thoughtfulness as she journeys through the process of what I have no doubt will culminate in an emotionally satisfying open adoption. It's made me much more aware of the issues involved. So I was particularly struck by my mother's latest entry, an adoption story from a different perspective.
I know a number of families where one or more children are adopted. Sometimes I've wondered about how the parents see this child who is theirs by heart and nurturing but not body and blood. As my mom's story illustrates, this child has her own heritage, his own gene pool, and whatever comes to us by nature rather than nurture. But you know? Dan is not of my blood. And he's closest family, his face and mannerisms as familiar as my own, if not more (I don't generally have long conversations with my mirror). I think there can be something wonderful about bringing new bloodlines into a family. About the surprises that can bring.
I also like the idea of an open adoption. All else being equal, that child grown to a man or woman can have two heritages, a multiplicity of backgrounds to draw on and define him or herself. Maybe that's overly sentimental, but it would be nice if it were true, wouldn't it? And maybe sometimes it is.
(No, I'm not considering adoption. Or a second child, for that matter. I just find the topic fascinating.)
One of our vacation viewings, wherein we discovered the blended joy of TiVO with DirecTV plus Pay Per View, resulting in a movie that you pay for once and watch at your leisure with no late fees.
I started an entry about this one some days ago but I realized I didnít know what to say. You have to understand, I was immersed in screenwriting and film for much of my adult life and before that I was a History and Literature major. I know how to talk about movies, how to evaluate story, how to analyze text. But hereís the thing. The story of the movie? Been done. Rocky meets My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nothing terribly subtle about the telling, either. Fairly straight-ahead. And yet. Once the story got going, I liked it. A lot. Something about the performances, in part, but thatís also directing, a kind of offhand no-need-to-underline-everything attitude, a nice interplay between the two female friends (are Dan and I the only ones who expected a kiss?) (except of course that we knew the movie had been a breakout hit with no mention of lesbian content, so we knew not to expect it for real, but boy was the subtext there). Also an unexpectedly nice build of the (hetero) romantic relationship. I actually believed the growing bond between the two, that they shared something beyond a physical attraction. I also understood for the first time the social pressures on a family that lives so completely within an ethnic enclave, that itís not just fusty parochialism that makes parents disapprove of steps outside the known and familiar, there are repercussions. I appreciated all that. And the movie made sense to me, character sense, and itís rare that a fluffy movie does that.
I liked it. A lot. In the end, I guess despite its unsubtle approach, the film had its own kind of subtlety.
I'm forty two years old and I just drove on the freeway for the very first time.
Yeah, a milestone.
I grew up in Manhattan. I knew how to change from one subway line to another through long underground paths, how to ride standing up and not holding on, swaying to the rhythm of the cars rattling through the tunnel and aboveground, I knew how to jaywalk in the space between fast-moving cars and shoulder my way through rush hour crowds on the sidewalk, but I never learned to drive. Not until we moved out to LA. At age twenty seven, I think, maybe twenty eight. I wasn't ready for the speed and the fast lane changes and the pressure of a highway, so I got by using surface streets. Then I was ready but the car was old and Dan felt insecure about my trying and I happily agreed to wait.
Today, in a two-month old car with a powerful V6 engine, I accelerated up the on-ramp and merged with the seventy-mile-an-hour freeway traffic. All the way to Pasadena, which meant getting off one freeway and getting on another (it's not an interchange, you have to actually exit the freeway, drive a few blocks, and get on the new one). And my hands gripped the steering wheel just a bit and I could only listen to melodic music, nothing too jangly, my nerves were already tight, but I did it and it felt almost normal.
It's a funny thing. It's like learning to swim instead of walk. Or dive instead of wade into the pool. The action -- driving -- is the same, but the sensations are different. Cars zooming around you and you're in the midst of the swarm, cheek by jowl with the heavy spinning wheels, the pistons firing, the drivers with their hands on the steering wheels and their minds at least half on the road. It's very much like swimming in the middle of a group of fast-swimming fish, like the great current in Finding Nemo, the ones the turtles ride. It's like surfing, I guess. The powerful swell around you and you're riding it, staying with it, responding to it. It uses a different sense than stop-and-go city traffic. No stops to catch your breath, just an endless wave.
And I did it. I'm not ready to drive from here to San Francisco on my own, not quite yet. But from Hollywood to Pasadena is a start.
I love my new birthday iPod. It's smooth and slim and sleek and it clicks when you run your finger along the touch-wheel and it holds so very much music. I rip CDs into my computer a few at a time when I can. At this rate, it may take me the rest of the year to rip our collection. But then. Oh my. I'll fit my music collection into my denim jacket pocket, carry it around like a package of cigarettes, only this addiction doesn't cause cancer. Lovely. I listen on a headset in the library as I write, I walk back to the car listening, I plug the iPod into my car stereo (via a cassette adapter) and listen while I go pick Damian up. We discuss what to hear next (he's a Springsteen fan) and we listen on our way home. It makes traffic congestion more bearable. I listen at home, too, I bought myself an Altec Lansing speaker system with some birthday money (thank you, Marilyn and Fernando!) and now I have a stereo in my office. I mean in the kitchen. Wait, I mean in the bathroom.
Sometimes I look at this little rounded rectangle of a hard drive and I'm amazed. It rides around in my daypack with my cell phone and my Palm Pilot and usually my digital camera, and if I'll be in Santa Monica for the afternoon (driving Damian both to and fro that day), I take my PowerBook too. So much equipment. So many electronics. How did this happen? They creep into my life -- our lives -- they're not indispensible, but they're oh so nice.
I think sometimes about how I had none of this -- none of this even existed -- when I was in college. A young adult, even. I know that reeks of the old fart shaking her head at the advent of television, but things move faster now, especially technology, and the changes are small (pocket-sized) but profound. I carry around a way to communicate, a way to surround myself with my own taste in music, a way to keep track of my life, a way to record it and have instant playback (and instant delete) ability. And of course the computer, which sits on my lap right now as I type on the bed, reaching out to you -- and you -- and yes, you over there who I don't know and have never met but maybe sometime we will because of this here and now, this blog I write on my lap on this keyboard, we may meet sometime and like each other and wouldn't that be cool?
Small changes that slip into my bag. A portable life. Metal and plastic and bits and bytes. Impersonal and mass produced but they become so personal, so intimate a part of us as they record and transmit our lives. Talismans and tools both.
I finally figured out something that's been irritating me since I started this blog. The URL is supposed to be www.postcardsfromla.com/blog but always comes out www.postcardsfromla.com:16080/blog. My aesthetic sensibility is revulsed. To put it another way: yick.
However. It seems that if you simply add a "/" to the end, the original URL remains intact. In other words,
will turn into the nastiness seen above, but
I have a favor to ask those of you who have me blogrolled/Niebelung ringed/link-page listed: could you switch over, add the extra "/"? It would mean a lot to me. It means anyone coming through from your site will see and potentially bookmark the correct site.
Writing this latest short story has been revelatory. It feels like the first time I've nailed a story. First. Time. Ever. So of course I find myself trying to decipher what I did right.
I think part of the answer is the subject. It's inherently emotional, and that's key because it draws you through the story. But I've had that before, I think, and not been as successful. Dan thinks the biggest part is that I let go of plot. Or rather, de-emphasized plot. The story itself is simpler and so I can concentrate on what I'm best at, a kind of nearly-but-not-quite freeform prose that builds on itself.
When I write it out like that, it sounds like bragging, but I think it's important for any writer -- or anyone, really -- to know their strengths. Why hobble yourself trying to do something that doesn't fit you? Why not gear your work toward what you know you can do well? Okay, yes, it's good to stretch yourself. Trust me, writing stretches me. Even when it's easy it's not.
So now I'm thinking of ideas that will allow me to focus more on the telling and less on the story. An interesting side effect is that the ideas I'm coming up with make me squirm. ("I have to go there? Live that?") I think that's a good sign.
Why isnít it simple? Why canít we just find a school that fits Damian perfectly, apply, get him in, and fall asleep easily knowing heís covered for the next six years?
Maybe it will be that smooth, I donít know. Right now it doesnít feel that way. Last time I talked about this I covered private school (canít) and his home school (wonít) and homeschooling (Iím exhausted already) and touched on but didnít cover the other options. Which of course have been obsessing me for months. If you need your child in the public school system but abhor the school in your neighborhood (ie: his home school), that leaves charter, magnet, and open enrollment.
Charter schools are schools within the system that have some autonomy, thanks to the charter drawn up by each schoolís founders. Theoretically they each have a specific mandate, a thematic focus. So thereíd be one with an emphasis in science, one thatís more artsy and so on. In practice, though, the idea seems to mostly be ďwe can have a better school if we can have our own fiefdom here.Ē Iím all for better schools, but what I really want is a school whose philosophy matches my own. There are a handful of private schools (at least) that do, why not public? And yes, there are some. One is in the Valley, too far away even for me. One is in Santa Monica, and weíre in the wrong school district for that. Two are in the Los Angeles basin. One is a regular charter school, the other is a charter and a magnet school. Confused? Yeah. Youíre not the only one.
Magnet schools differ from charter schools mainly in how they gather students to enroll. Each charter school has a lottery. Completely random. Everyone has the same chance as everyone else. If youíve applied before, well, that doesnít matter. Your odds donít get better. Also, the two most respected charter schools (they donít have open houses till March) only have a few available slots because they mostly get kids from their home district. So the odds are worse than Vegas. Might as well forget it, but of course you canít forget it because itís your kid.
The theory behind the magnet system, on the other hand, is to give children a chance to get out of their overcrowded, underachieving home schools. Thereís a lottery for magnets too, but the lottery is weighted. You get a certain number of points if your home school is overcrowded, a certain number if itís more than 50% non-white, and a certain number if youíve been wait-listed before. After that they sort kids by ethnicity so each magnet school will have a nice diversity.
Iím applying to one magnet school and a few charter schools, but there are just two schools Iím serious about.
The magnet/charter school, School FarAway is, well, far away. A trek again. But thereís a bus. That would be okay. And if he got in, weíd probably move closer within a year or so. That would be more okay. And itís an amazing school. Thatís the best part.
I spent some time there Tuesday, touring the place with a gaggle of other hopeful parents. We were all drooling, I think. The place is Ė I want to hug it. Nearly everything is project-based and theme-based. One class has been learning about folk tales; theyíre reading a dozen versions of Cinderella and making charts comparing them (the teacherís favorite is the one where the glass slipper is a loafer). Another is learning about cities. Ecology, architecture, economy. It takes the whole year.
But thatís just the academics. What I like is how the kids break into small groups, how they sit or lie on the floor if they want to do their work that way (or sit at desks if they prefer), how the teachers pay attention to each childís strengths and interests and tailor assignments so that thereís more than one way to do the work (you can draw a comic, make up a story, or just list your spelling words). I love how they pay attention to social empathy and teach tolerance, how they know that thereís more to learning than academics, and how they make sure thereís no bullying. My kid would be safe there. Heíd be respected and allowed to be his adorably quirky self. Thatís more important than anything.
I like the teachers, too. I toured another highly respected school last year and I hated what I saw. The teachers seemed irritable. The kids were all grimly focused. It looked hard. This place looks like fun and the teachers are all relaxed and chatty. And thereís music (lots of rhythm and movement) and art (no details on this) and gardening (They mulch! They grow things! They layer plantings like the Native Americans!) and PE (only they call it ďCoachĒ) once a week each, and you can sign your kid up for drama after school twice a week. Which Damian would love. Oh, and they have several iMacs in every classroom. Under the desks, with clear panels so you can see through to the screen but still can use the desk as a desk. And the library is pleasant and open all the time, especially including recess. And they lay out board games during recess too, for the kids who donít want to play ball games. And itís public! With high test scores!
Yeah, okay, I fell in love. What are our chances of getting Damian in? Unknown. Weíre not the only people who think this school is the best around. Itís really just a question of how his home school scores; those numbers change every year. And yes, it will drive me crazy for the next few months, this huge question mark. Thanks for asking.
The other serious possibility, letís just call it School NotSoFar. Itís charter-only. Itís a new school, only a few years old. This means thereís a very small waiting list. Which means Damian can probably get in, at least in theory. It too is project-based. When I visited, the third graders were measuring a miniature terrier. Learning circumference, diameter, fractions. Also how cute a small dog is when you hold it aloft and wrap your tape measure around its torso. This too seems like a nurturing place with fun work instead of drudgery. I like the small class sizes (the other school doesnít have this) and the small school size (the other school is twice as big) and the compassionate, nonviolent philosophy.
I worry that itís too new, that itís got too many kinks yet to untangle. A typical child could go with the flow. My child? I want somewhere solid and streamlined for him. And I worry that they might not know what to make of my kid. The teachers are much less experienced. This can be a plus (theyíre not jaded) but also a minus (ďHigh functioning autism? How do I handle that?Ē). I worry also that the kids seemed to be from blue collar backgrounds, and I want Damian to be in the middle of a wide-ranging pack, neither the poorest in a rich school nor the richest in a poor school. Again, heís got enough making him different, he doesnít need more. I worry that their test scores are pretty bad. (Not as important as other factors, but I do after all want him to learn.)
But mostly Iím worried because I talked to the head of the school about our situation and she wanted to meet and look over Damianís IEP, make sure they can accommodate his needs. Which is reasonable, but when I emailed her as requested, she emailed back (weeks later) and said to call. When I called this morning, she was brusque, with no memory of me, and rushed off to help a kid having an asthma attack. I appreciate that the child needed an assist but werenít there any capable teachers around? Maybe this was her way of blowing me off because she wasnít comfortable with the idea of a special needs kid in her school. And that worries me. She never did call back today to schedule that meeting.
On the other hand, after I went on that tour last month, I got to the car and sat down and tears unexpectedly welled up. The place feels like a home, sweet and nurturing. I do think heíd be okay there. If theyíll let him in. And if School FarAway doesnít. Maybe I was reading too much into her tone.
In the meantime, Iím off to look at other schools. Other charter schools and other neighborhood schools we could apply to via open enrollment. I already know I wonít like them as much. Iím not into traditional sit-at-your-desk do-the-work-this-way schooling. I have a feeling Damian wouldnít like it much either. Heíd fidget and zone out and want to sprawl. He needs more interaction and flexibility and as much teacher-warmth as possible. But I canít put all my hopes in two places, thatís a recipe for lost sleep.
So on it goes. Wish us luck.
I think Weight Watchers has made a mistake. See, chocolate has points. A lot. And that's okay most of the time. I mean, sugar + fat = points. Sure. But they're leaving out one important issue.
Chocolate, when eaten just prior to or during a woman's period, has no calories. It's true.
So all that chocolate I want to eat today? I should. It's medicinally appropriate. And what's more? I shouldn't have to write any of it down in my food log. I mean, do you write down cough syrup?
So Diane just started a new fitness blog, called That Calvin Klein Skirt. I've seen the skirt. It exists. And I have no doubt Diane will fit into it again. Just like I'll fit into my wedding dress. I like these icons in our closets. I like her new blog, too.
I'm tempted to start my own fitness blog, but I think an occasional journal, a mostly-daily photoblog and this blog are enough, don't you? And I can (and do) write about fitness/weight loss issues here, after all. I consider this an issue blog of sorts, only I have multiple issues. Um, so to speak.
Speaking of which (which which? issues? blogs? fitness?), I've been meaning to link to a new forum. I quite like it so far. It's called Resolutions, founded by the smart and funny Kat, and the idea is probably self-evident: talk about whatever issues you resolve to work on. (See how I tied all those things together? Except maybe blogs and since the forum is populated by a fair number of blogger/journallers it fits there too. Heh. I amuse myself. I also overuse parentheticals. Perhaps I should go to bed early tonight, huh?)
Anyway. Resolutions is pretty cool and I'm moderating the Reading and Writing forum, so go over there and give me something to moderate, okay?
Today as we walked to the local park, Damian asked -- completely out of the blue -- what Dante's last name is. I told him it was the same as his.
"Oh, so I gave Dante my last name."
Well, no, actually, Dante was born before you were. Daddy gave him his last name.
"Oh, so Daddy gave Dante his last name and Dante gave it to me."
Um. Not exactly. Daddy gave Dante his last name and he also gave you yours.
"Why did Daddy give me his last name?"
Um. Er. Because in some places, like here, most people get their last names from their father.
(Leaving out the fact that if he'd been a girl, Damian would have gotten his -- her -- last name from me. Let's not confuse the issue. Yet. Maybe next year.)
"No, you're wrong. You're lying. I got my last name from Dante, not from Daddy!"
"You're wrong and I'm right." He ran ahead, crowing.
Apparently Damian was named by a red striped cat. Who knew?
When I was in college and after, my friends and I made mix tapes for each other. We also let our eyes wander through each other's record/tape/CD collections and made tapes to take home and enjoy. I don't think anyone thought of it as illegal even though technically it probably was. It was just what everyone did, and it was no big deal. It meant sampling things you'd never buy yourself. It meant learning something about each other. It was pretty damned cool.
How is it different now, when people can rip CDs right into their computers and then burn CDs filled with MP3s to give each other, when it's possible to go to the library and borrow CDs that you then rip and keep forever, when anyone with an internet hookup can go online, find a P2P network and "borrow" the music from anonymous friends? Yes, it's illegal and the music companies have made it crystal clear they consider it a horror. I'm not arguing the validity of it right now -- many have on each side and many more will -- I'm just contemplating the fact that this kind of music sharing has been part of life as long as I can remember, only now it's on a large scale and it's therefore considered Wrong. The definitions of our actions sometimes shift even if the actions themselves remain the same.
Thursday was Not A Good Day. It was one of those days when every lane of traffic you switch to immediately becomes the slow lane, when the question you ask when you drop off your kid's application in the magnet school office gets exactly the opposite answer you wanted (needed) to hear, when you have to drive past every tree trimming operation and construction zone from downtown to Santa Monica because youíre still too chickenshit to take the freeway (and on that kind of a day, better you donít try), when you scrape the still-new car up against the curb with an EEE! and a Ow! when you try and park in the teeny tiny straight-up-the-45-degree-angle-hill spot and sure enough, now the rear passenger side hubcap has a nice display of scratch marks, and most of all when you get the car door open to grab your backpack and computer bag only to find Ė no computer bag. No computer.
Yeah. I wasnít too pleased. I also discovered something interesting about myself. I can write longhand when necessity requires it, but I canít write longhand story notes in my little spiral bound notebook. I need room, you see. I need to be unfettered, I need sprawl.
Or maybe I just need something less pretty so I can tear the sheet off and crumple it up, Iím not really sure.
Anyway. Two hours in the cafť, no writing. Then off to pick Damian up at school, except that the floor time session Iíd thought was cancelled was actually on (the therapist now recovered from her prior high fever) and I had two more hours to fill. With, yes, thatís right, you got it. No computer.
Which is when I discovered the legal pad corollary. I can in fact write story notes in a legal pad. Maybe even easier than on the computer, which I tend to think of as an extension of my brain.
It may have turned out for the best (well, except for the endless drive, the hubcap scratches, and the oppressive magnet school system rules). Iím at a stage in my novel where Iím writing blind. And thatís uncomfortable. In my experience it leads to writing crap. Back in high school, I wrote a short story and got stuck because I had no idea where it was going. I ended up inserting a random act of senseless violence because my characters were bored and so was I and, well, it was there. What a sticky gluey morass of a story that was. Then in college I wrote some stories with a little more idea of plot, mostly a few vague phrases. And that was enough to get from A to Z in a sort of fumbling, ass-backward way though not without some alcohol-fueled liberation of inhibition. Which is when I stopped writing fiction and turned to screenwriting. Structure, that badly needed structure, became my best friend.
Now I always need at least some sort of knowledge of the terrain and definitely the ending. As Iíve said before, I donít have an exact map with this novel, no detailed outline delineating the story from prelude to inciting incident to midpoint to climax to tag and every scene and sequence in between. Iíve done that on scripts but this is a different beast altogether. Larger, for one thing. And more Ė well, for lack of a better word, more intuitive. I donít always know what Iím going to write. I take tangents that come back to the main action or that become the main action. Things evolve. And yet it still has a structure and I hope a fairly tight one. Contradictory? Yes, I know it is. Itís nevertheless the way this novel is working, and I like it but at the same time it feels very much like walking along a path where the scenery is fascinating and involving but at any moment I may find the dirt give way underfoot and Iíll be stepping out into nothing. Blank grey nothing.
Whenever that happens, I plot. I sort out what needs to happen in the next thirty to fifty pages, I lay out scenes and sequences I think would have impact and also bring the story the next step along, I take a peek at the freaky-scary everything-changes section coming up in the third act and write a few notes about it that probably contradict the notes I wrote last time and the time before. I may even take another gander at the ending, though I usually leave that alone since I know the flavor of it and thatís enough for now.
It works for me, this half-outline method. It gives me the confidence to continue, even if continuing means dumping what Iíve just plotted and writing blind after all. Because the very act of plotting means thinking about what needs to happen. Having that almost subterranean awareness gives my writing mind something to chew on as it creates the reality. And often enough I do use the outlined ideas and thatís even better.
That freaky-scary everything-changes section? Coming up soon. Extremely soon. And itís making me nervous. So Thursday, sitting there in the late afternoon in the school conference room, in the very seat the administrator proclaimed from at Damianís last two IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings, I scribbled on a yellow legal pad and scrubbed much of my previous tentative scratchings about that dark void of a section.
The problem with the section was always that it felt like a different novel to me. The setting changes, the dynamic changes, I thought Iíd therefore need to invent a new plot overlay to give the emotions some action. But how to do that without making the material feel grafted on as an afterthought when it should be the very heart of the book? This Thursday I had an answer. Maybe it was the air in that room, the molecules charged with people discussing and debating and deciding, but I saw the rest of my story and it works neatly and comfortably within the parameters Iíve already set up. I donít need to invent a new overlay, I donít really even need to move the action to a new city Ė at least, not entirely. People can buy plane tickets. They can go back and forth. This works. Modern technology is a wondrous thing. I can do what I need to do while keeping the current story very much intact. And thatís a tremendous relief. I may well ditch half of what I scribbled; I expect I will, but itís given me what I needed. A new structure to hang the rest of the story on.
Maybe I should leave my computer at home more often.
When we first moved out here, those first few years of sunshine, I felt a delicious sense of getting away with something. Iíd call people back home and listen sympathetically to their tales of snowed-in driveways and frozen noses while looking outside at the palm trees blowing in the light breeze. Iíd walk down the street later, in a light jacket or even shirtsleeves, past displays of orange birds of paradise and enormous cacti on peopleís front lawns, and Iíd keep expecting to wake up. What an odd, impossible thing, a place without winter. With the memory of cold still in my bones, I felt like Iíd stepped through the looking glass and nothing was real anymore.
After a few more years, I started to resent it. Thereís something wrong with a place that doesnít have real, intense seasonal changes. Nobody has to dig in and deal with the hard stuff. Besides, I missed the feeling of wind on my cheeks (thirty or forty degree weather, Iím talking here, not the current minus twenty thousand back East). I missed changing wardrobes, colorful winter sweaters, those soft furry earmuffs stuck in the back of my drawer, the way your body melts as your blood unfreezes when you get inside after a long walk in the frozen afternoon. The way the air is so clear and cold, like glass. The puffs of breath made tangible. The way the spring easing of seasons feels like a celebration. I would walk through LA in my light t-shirt in fucking January and curse the near-eternal preternatural pact-with-the-devil warmth. I wanted drama, damnit. I wanted to suffer but also to take that pleasure in the chill and in the smoke smell of autumn, the first taste of falling snow in December and the blanket of bluish white layering the countryside, crunching through it with my boots. I hated that I was here and real life was so far away.
Lately I think maybe I romanticized it a tad. Lately I talk to my mother about how sheís got the heat up full blast and itís still 58 degrees inside the house and I read the reports of the wind chill factor and temperature records broken and so many kids getting frostbite that schools are closed and one shocking story of a hiker who actually camped out overnight in the mountains in New Hampshire and not surprisingly died. I hear and read all that and I think, you know? This warm thing weíve got going here? This ďDo you want to go to the park this afternoon, Damian?Ē and ďWhat did you do outside at yard time?Ē and ďIím bringing my jacket along just in caseĒ thing? It still feels like cheating. Like I should be back there in the cold depths of hell too, itís my birthright and my blood, but you know? Itís kind of nice to be warm.
My apologies to those of you who are suffering right now. I do know what thatís like. I remember crying with the cold. Hell, I hope one day to move back there and I know if I do Iíll cry and curse again. Maybe thatís why I can appreciate this sunbaked California desert so much more right now. Because it may be ephemeral. Iíd better enjoy it while Iíve got it.
Movie Review #2 in an ongoing series. Minor spoilers abound. Consider yourself warned.
We rented the DVD to watch on my birthday night. I disliked Minority Report, Spielberg's last outing, but this I liked. A lot, in fact. Just goes to prove once again that the director is not the alpha and the omega when it comes to filmmaking. Everyone involved did good work, particularly DiCaprio (who apparently shepherded this to production) and the writer, who wrote a sharp, well constructed script, not easy to do with a biographical story. But the main character made the movie for me.
I think part of the allure of a story like this is the way we all identify with the protagonist. We imagine pulling off quick-thinking stunts like conning a pilot's uniform out of an airline or learning lawyerspeak from courtroom dramas on TV -- and then having the chutzpah to use it in front of a real judge. Most of all, we imagine that we too could pull off the cons with charm and Frank Abagnale's eager grace. Becoming someone else, someone with more power and prestige, stepping into larger shoes, in a way it's the American Dream on steroids and minus business/medical/law school. In this case the character was a teenager pretending adulthood, which added a kind of poignance to the make-believe. And the fact that there really was a Frank Abagnale Jr. and this was (more or less) his true story adds a level of fascination: this really happened (more or less). People really were this fooled (rather more than less).
But if that were it, this would be as forgettable as the Harry Potter movies. Instead it's lingered in my memory. Why? The ending. No, I won't give it away, but it did what all the best endings do -- it surprised and satisfied and and gave the entire preceding story a somewhat deeper meaning and rightness. And it too really happened.
We watched the DVD extras, curious to find out more about this Abagnale guy. Tom Hanks, I think it was, said Frank can sell you anything because he seems so earnest. I think that's exactly it: he doesn't appear as much a charmer as earnest and invested in what he's saying. It's this very investment, this conviction, that's so compelling. Something to remember and use, huh?
Damian and I walked into a waiting room filled with activity. Kids darting about, parents chatting with therapists. I said, naturally enough, "Wow, there sure are a lot of people here." (You have latitude to do this with a five year old, they're not about to roll their eyes at you and snark, "Well, duh, Mom.")
Damian hoisted himself up on the bench and said, "Yeah, there's a lot of --" and then he paused. "I left the word I was about to say at home." He glanced around. "Actually, I see the word!" He dug into the cushion, emerged with a grin. "I found the word! It was right here!" Then he paused again, one of those drama-filled pregnant pauses. "There sure are a lot of PEOPLE here."
About an encounter Saturday afternoon that led me to contemplate one of the differences between being a parent of a child with special needs and the other kind. Uncomfortable.
Well, it seems I was wrong. All author blogs are not in fact written by science fiction/fantasy writers or by people who started out writing online. I discovered two this past week via Pamie's blog: the very successful Meg Cabot of Princess Diaries fame and Caren Lissner, a newcomer whose first novel,Carrie Pilby, comes highly recommended.
I must admit, Cabot's site has mostly persuaded me that I'm too old to be her demographic (not a slam, just a fact -- she's good but I'm not her audience) but I'm a bit in love with Lissner's. Anyone who starts the first several weeks of her blog writing the same exact phrase every single day ("Woke up, put clothes on, went to work.") has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. And when she quotes a friend who wrote in to ask her to put more stuff in her blog, she answers: "No." Heh. Fortunately, though the beginning of her blog was a great piece of performance art, she has gradually included more snippets and bits over the months so it's now a site worth return visits. And honestly? That gimmick got me intrigued enough to do exactly what it was intended to: I'm going to buy her book and read it.
Both Lissner and Cabot say the same thing about their blog writing, though. Cabot said in her December 28th entry (no permalink, sorry) that she was discussing with Susan Juby (another non-sf writer with a blog!) how difficult it is to maintain a blog if you're a fiction writer
Because if youíre a novelist AND a blogger, youíre always like, ďWell, that funny thing that happened to me would make a great blog. But it would also make a great scene in a book.Ē So youíre always, ďDo I blog about it? Or put it in a book?Ē You canít use it for BOTH (although I know probably will, though I swear not on purpose).
And Lissner says (in her 7/27/03 entry) that:
The reason I don't do a full-fledged blog is that I'm doing too much other creative writing I don't want to take away from, and if I have an idea I want to use in a future book, I don't want to spoil it by putting it in more raw form here. But I may sometimes want to talk here anyway.
I know the feeling. When I was writing screenplays, this was no big deal. I was hardly about to insert a scene from my own life into my scripts, they were always larger than life. But now -- well, my current novel is far from my life (me, a trapeze artist? Not quite), but my stories are closer. Much closer. And who knows what my next novel will be? (Actually, I do know, and yes, it bears some passing resemblance to people I've met at least once or twice.) But that won't stop me from writing snippets of real life here. I like to believe I have more stories in me than that. But something does hold me back from writing more full autobiography in this space. I'm with Caren Lissner on this; I don't want to take away from my other creative writing. I never found personal essays took anything from my screenwriting, but they do tap into the same back-of-my-brain awake-dreaming source as my prose fiction. So yes, I think it's possible to blog and I hope blog enjoyably, but yet hold something back for the other work.
Interesting to consider.
I keep meaning to write about the movies Iíve seen. I want to record my thoughts before they disappear, but thereís always something else to talk about.
Not today. Today you get to hear about what I thought of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Catch Me If You Can, Bend it Like Beckham and X2. We donít see movies in the theater anymore, due to a small detail known as No Babysitter. (To be rectified this year. This is one of my New Yearís resolutions. To actually leave the house with my spouse and without my son. Shocking, I know.)
So. Harry Potter and the Bla Bla Bla.
(mild spoilers follow)
I like the books, though I have to admit Iím not in love with them. The first one enchanted me because of the world she created, that blend of English boarding school with structured, old fashioned magic, complete with wands and flying broomsticks. I also like her ability to plot a story that, spider-like, attaches its web to every surrounding branch and then tightens the strands into smaller and smaller concentric circles and in the end what seemed random comes together so neatly. I also like her main characters. How can you not? Theyíre endearing. Particularly Hagrid.
I dislike the way her world is divided into good and evil, black and white. The Malfoys are mean because theyíre Bad People. Voldemort wants to take over the world because, well, um, he just does. Harryís Muggle family are grotesque caricatures. Snape is a small grace note, seemingly evil but probably not. There are at least some shades of gray to his portrayal (though itíll probably turn out he was always a good guy and never bad, therefore obliterating all grays). The main trio of kids are human but Slytherin students are all without fail mean, nasty children. This gives me pause. Are we teaching children to divide the world into us and them, then? I realize the Slytherin way is to divide the world into those with Magical Lineage and mudbloods. But how is it better to say theyíre all bad because this belief of theirs is bad? Itís too easy. And very troubling.
I also dislike the way, in every single book (and therefore every movie), Dumbledore invite Harry to talk to him and Harry, for no reason at all, refuses to invite Dumbledore to help get him out of his hugely scary and nearly impossibly dangerous tangle. Once I'd accept. But youíd think heíd have learned by book four that itís safe to talk to Dumbledore, wouldnít you?
We watched the first movie when it came out on video. It doesnít stick with me. I agreed with the reviews that said Chris Columbus (not my favorite director) had taken the wonder out of the magical surroundings. He has this habit of saying ďLook! Here! Right here! Isnít this great? Arenít we clever?Ē Underlining any potential coolness with so many close-ups and musical trills and dark shadows that itís no longer all that cool. Like someone spoiling the punch line by telegraphing it. Sometimes the best part of a movie or book or show is the discovery. Rowling is splendid at this. Columbus? Not so much.
Aside from that (major) flaw, well, it was still mediocre. The main child actor trio were barely credible, though Rupert Grint (a/k/a Ron Weasley) was a cut above. The story wasÖ what was the story, again? Cerebus guarding something, right? Yeah, something like that. Anyway, like any action movie, the plot wasnít really the point. The ride was. And the ride was acceptable enough for us to watch the sequel when it showed up on HBO.
Not a bad movie. Not a great one. Better than the first by a bit, largely because Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, has grown into himself as an actor. He mugs less and has better reactions. He does best by doing little, and thatís absolutely fine. Rupert Grint has also grown as an actor, and is really very good. Emma Watson (Hermione) perhaps mugs a tad less than in the first movie. Sheís absent from the movie for a good long bit, so sheís certainly less noticeable. The adults are all wonderful in their parts, particularly Kenneth Branagh as the overblown self-aggrandizing windbag, Lockhart. I hated the guy on paper. Just another one-note characterization. But Branagh made his pomposity fun to watch. And I fell in love with Jason Isaacís evilness in Patriot (the best part of that movie), and he was equally delicious here in the small role of Malfoy Senior.
And the story? In the novel I loved the part where Harry interacts with the ostensibly blank book he finds. I found Tom Riddle compelling and even perhaps likeable. In the movie, this section is over very quickly, seems more like a plot device, and Riddle is flatter and less intriguing. In the last moment of that odd flashback, he seems positively menacing. Distrust your audience much, Mr. Columbus? But I like Moaning Myrtle and the snake talk and the slow build of tension and dread. The necessary set-up of the first movie out of the way, this one could concentrate more on the story it was telling. I enjoy watching that prep school world. It reminds me in its way of college, going about your business in and around beautiful historical buildings. And I like the ghosts and the teachers and even the plot twists, though theyíre necessarily less complex than in the book.
Iíll watch the next movie. Even maybe look forward to it. I like Prisoner of Azkaban the best of the novels and Iím very glad the series is switching directors. I wasnít crazy about y tu mama tambien (though the ending redeemed it), but it had a rough freshness and an honesty that this series could use.
I had more to say than I thought. I guess Iíll be writing these reviews one by one, not in a rush.
I'm in the midst of excavating my tiny office so I can consider painting it pretty colors, as opposed to its current lovely meld of institutional minty green and spackle-and-primer white with a coating of sparkly acoustic popcorn on the ceiling. Also so I can actually find important documents instead of constantly ordering new copies and feigning atrocious mail service. (ahem)
Therefore I won't post any of the half finished or partly considered highly intelligent entries I had planned. Instead I leave you with a link:
I'm not exactly a dog lover. I like them, and, okay, yeah, I'm specifically partial to Golden Retrievers in memory of my family's sweetheart of a dog, Miranda the Serene. But mostly I prefer cats. Or kids. But Jennie's site won me on the first page with a shot of the dog taking a bath with the caption, "Paul shrinks in water." Or maybe it was the image of a post-bath pup with the caption: "Is that a rat? No, it's Paul!" But my favorite is on the last page, when Paul is a naughty boy indeed. A veritable home wrecker.
After an enjoyable lunch today with StealthPunch, Kymm came back to my house for a few minutes (the restaurant is virtually around the corner from my place). While I was in the kitchen getting supplies for my daily trek across town, the cats found Kymm.
I think they like her.
Tonight I had the unusual pleasure of playing a game of Candyland with Damian and a small plastic frog named Ayoo. I've never played a board game with a frog before. The gingerbread man game piece was almost too big for him to carry from one spot on the board to the next.
Turns out, though? Ayoo is a very good, or at least very dramatic game player. He started out by pulling the gumdrop card and barrelling past our gingerbread guys. Later in the game, he got the candy cane card and was sent back practically to the beginning. He squeaked in dismay: "Oh no I was going to win but now I discovered Iím going to lose. Now what do I do?" Only it was more like "what do I do-oo-oo?" Very concerned small orange frog person.
He recovered, however, and soon he was belting out a rap song praising his choice of color card: "Whoís got the purple? Weíve got the purple! Who's got the purple? We've got the purple! You, I, Ayoo!"
Ayoo almost won, too. After getting sent back to the beginning, he recovered with another jaw-dropping doubletake (the snowflake card) and was thisclose to the end when Damian, quiet but methodical, slipped past him and crossed the finish line first.
I expected tears from the frog, but instead he informed me, "I need to sleep in a wet place, not a dry place, so I'm leaving now, I'm going back to Froggie Land. Goodbye!" And he was off, leaving an impression of orange and a drunken-looking green gingerbread man in his wake.
So yesterday I finished the first draft of my latest story. I was proud of the format. Iíd broken the story into four beats, each one precipitated by and built around a difficult phone call. I was happy with the way it came out. I cut the 4675 words down to around 3925, printed it out and handed it to Dan to read.
His comment? Start with the last beat. The first three read like set-up. Plot, not emotion. The meat of the story is that last long section.
Heís right, damnit. I hate him.
I think I had to write it that way even though it doesnít work for the reader. Iím writing about a difficult night, a night I remember all too well. Some people think itís easier to write from real life; you donít have to make things up. Itís actually much harder. You have to give yourself the freedom to reform the narrative, pulling away from the ďBut it really happened that way!Ē trap and creating something thatís an involving, evocative read even to people who have never met you.
This piece in particular has a lot of back story. Things that happened leading into the events of the night. Iíve tried writing this before, but ended up bogged down in details. But getting the exposition out of the way early (those previous three phone calls) helped me avoid all that in this iteration. It made the main action cleaner, I think. I didnít have to wonder, ďDo they know enough?Ē, I knew they did so I could just write.
Today I deleted all that lovely what-came-before action. And I don't miss it. Funny thing, I think itís going to be easy now to set up everything you actually need to know within the single sequence. Just a few sentences here and there and youíve got the whole picture. I just couldnít see how until Iíd written it the other way first. Ten pages gone, ten Ė or maybe two Ė sentences to add and my work is done.
Well, that part of it is done. Thereís still a matter of building the character more so sheís distinctly not me and so you the reader can see and feel like you know her, if only just a bite-sized taste of personality. And subtly underlining the themes I unearthed through the writing process. Now I can make them resonate, if I do it right. A word here, a fragment of a thought there, and the story becomes that much stronger. Thatís the tricky part with short stories. You donít have a novelís luxury of words and tangents. You have to be succinct but let your reader inside the storyís walls, give them enough to invest in. Itís like writing a haiku instead of a ballad. A flavor, not a meal.
Something else interesting I noticed today. When I deleted the first half of the story, the cuts I made yesterday no longer worked. I had to restore the passages Iíd thought of as writerly flourishes. Now theyíre necessary. Now they set the mood and allow us inside the narratorís head. When the story shrank, the flourishes took on meaning. I see that as a good sign.
Iím done hating Dan. Now Iím happy to have him. My own personal editor, insightful and analytical. And Iím excited to get back to the story, whip that puppy into shape.
Today in the car Damian was in a Bad Mood. Iím not sure why, though I think it has something to do with my saying we had to hurry and him therefore wanting to move at a turtleís waddle and my therefore saying really, we do, because otherwise we wonít be able to play with Kahuna, who will be waiting for us at home. And so he got into the car under duress and waited all of a millisecond to find something wrong.
His shirt wasnít pulled down all the way over his butt, apparently this was problematic. We solved that. Then he wanted a toy frog. Which I fished out of my pocket for him.
Then he said he wanted to listen to different music in the back seat than I had in front, only he liked the music I had on, therefore I needed to listen to something else. Then he couldnít find the remote for the rear audio system. When I glanced in back during a red light and found it right away (in the book basket next to his seat), he informed me that we couldnít let his friend Corey have the remote again because he didn't put it back where it belonged, and if Corey wanted to use the headset next Wednesday during carpool, I had to operate the remote and not let Corey do it at all.
Then he wanted milk. But he was upset, you see. And when heís upset, he wants to yell. So he screeched, ďMOMMY! I WANT MILK!Ē But I get deaf when he shouts, itís too loud and, I donít know, something happens to my eardrums, they vibrate or some such and, oddly enough, I simply canít hear him. So after a short bit of shouting, Damian said in a perfectly normal voice, ďMommy, give me milk.Ē Sure, Damian. When you can ask me politely, Iíll be happy to do so.
MOMMY! PLEASE GIVE ME MILK, PLEASE!Ē Ouch. Sorry, I canít hear you. The shouting, donít you know.
ďMommy, give me milk!Ē Sure, when you ask nicely. Nobody likes to be bossed around.
MOMMY! PLEASE GIVE ME MILK, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!Ē Iím sorry, Damian. What was that?
ďMommy. Give. Me. Milk.Ē
Is it wrong of me to admit that after the fifth iteration of this normal-voiced bossiness alternated with shouted niceness, I started to giggle? He laughed too, but then got stern. ďMommy, donít do that. I donít like when you do that. Promise you wonít ever do it again.Ē
A harsh taskmaster, my son. No laughter in the house of Damian.
Sometimes he needs this, I think. Needs to shout a little, blow off steam. Because he was a pussycat for the rest of the ride home, sweet and funny. He even flirted with me in the mirror. And never told me not to laugh.
Apple blew it. They had a great new trick up their sleeves, a cute new mini iPod, small enough to slip into your pocket and in an array of shiny new colors, and they blew it by overcharging. What were they thinking? Is Steve Jobs so out of touch with a normal sized bank account that he thinks everyone considers $250 pocket change, impulse spending money? What the hell?
If the point was to compete with the flash MP3 players (and according to his comments during the keynote, that was exactly the point) then why price the thing so much higher? If you offer iPod quality and a much bigger capacity (4 gig rather than 256 meg) but at a similar price point, you wipe the floor with your competition. And you stand strong even after your competition comes out with 4 gig models of their own (which sounds like it'll happen soon). But if you offer the cuteness that is a mini iPod but demand just $50 less than a full-on 15 gig model for ELEVEN GIG less room, well, your customer base suddenly shrank to the people who think a Hummer is a smart car to drive. People more interested in what looks macho than what's good.
I'm also dismayed for Apple that they upped the capacity of their low end model from 10 gig to 15 but didn't touch the middle model. Let's see, I want to buy an iPod. I can't afford/don't need a 40 gig at $500. I now have a choice. 15 gig at $300 or 20 gig at $400. Five gig difference for a hundred dollars? Um, why bother? I can think of other things to do with that hundred bucks, y'know? And I bet a whole lot of other people can too. What Apple just did was boost the sales of their low end model, losing themselves handfuls of those C-notes in the process.
I'm glad I bought that 30 gig iPod last week. Glad I didn't wait. I'm a Mac aficionado from, would you believe, my first Mac Plus, back in 1987, back when a hard drive was always external and was such a relief because it meant no more floppy swapping. I will probably always buy Apple products because they're elegant and intelligent. And the iPod is no exception. But what were they thinking when it came to price? I'm not happy that I have to pay for the iPhoto upgrade either, but that's different. It makes sense. Bundled with iDVD, iMovie, and GarageBand (also iTunes but that's still a free download), that's a lot of bang for your fifty bucks. That makes fiscal sense. Why give it away if you don't have to? But the mini iPods? Two hundred fifty dollars? Come on.
On an unrelated iPod note: does anyone know exactly what the advantage of the dock is? I've got one, comes with the 30 gig, but I can't figure out why it's any better than just using the firewire cable to go directly from my iPod to my PowerBook. Is it just for people with desktop computers who don't want to fiddle with the connections behind their computers all the time or is there something else I should know?
Melissa is shutting down her journal. This makes me sad, though I've seen it coming for a while. Melissa's was one of the very first online journals I read regularly. When she was invested in the writing, she wrote with passion, intelligence, and a touching vulnerability. I think it's that very vulnerability, which I found so moving, that she now finds too uncomfortable to continue. I understand that. I've been and am there too. My response has been to reframe my online presence. Melissa may end up doing that too, but it's also just as legitimate to step away altogether.
At the same time that Melissa has been pulling away from journalling, my mother has started one up. Watching my mother's joy at starting her blog, the lyrical way she shapes her entries, the obvious pleasure it's giving her, makes me remember that newness. That delight.
It's an odd thing, writing personal thoughts in a public forum. It was and will always be an odd thing. It can be intensely rewarding, which I see in my mother's reaction. But at a certain point it may start to feel dissonant, out of sync. Wrong. Which means it's time to stop. It's not that time for me, I'm having far too much fun with this new format, this new definition of online writing. But when it's no longer fun, I'll close up shop. I'll miss Melissa's writing but I understand her reasons for saying goodbye.
Okay, Iíll admit it. I was worried. Two weeks off the plan, two weeks without diarizing (my spell check thinks thatís a real word, should I go get my speller checked out?), two weeks without exercise, without low-points days, without paying overmuch attention to what I was putting into my mouth. I had a few Wasa crackers, some Asian pears, some broccoli and some kale, but I also had some amazing chocolate truffles and some greasy but wonderful dim sum and oh yes, that pate and pastries the night of my birthday. And champagne on New Years Eve and cashew nuts and toffee from Danís work gift stash and more pastries and scones and sparkling cider and more chocolate and I think there was some white chocolate in there somewhere, not to mention two iterations of pear almond tarts and those sweet potato latkes two weeks ago, plus brisket and a custardy fruit tart.
I had a holiday, in other words. A full-on ďDieting? Whatís that?Ē indulgent vacation. And it was wonderful and I was not even a little ashamed or guilty. But I was worried. I wondered, as I accepted compliments on my weight loss, if while I smiled and nodded, I was right then and there sabotaging myself, shooting myself in the foot or maybe the belly, tumbling into the terrible waters of self-indulgence and willful self-deception. When you read over and over that the way to lose weight is to eat so carefully, so healthfully, and to exercise so regularly, itís scary to chuck all that even for a few weeks. Iíve fallen off weight loss regimens before. It felt pretty much exactly like this, only it went on longer. But would this too? It could. It can. It might. And god, that would be awful.
Today I exercised for the first time since Dan and Damian got off work and school. I warmed up, stretched my arms this way and that, twisted at the waist, pulled my foot up behind my thigh and then extended it in front of me, then I got on the Nordic Track and swished my legs and pulled with my arms in the rhythmic forward-and-back that stretches and works and gets the heart rate up and opens the sweat glands. Thirty minutes of that, plus ab crunches (100 regular, 70 on each side, 70 times bicycling my legs Ė until everything aches and then a little more), plus two sets of twenty push-ups. Then I collapsed on the bed feeling the thump-thump-thud vibration through my torso as my heart gradually slowed and the endorphin glow flooded my body.
I missed this. I missed the feeling of a body working hard. I missed the emotional gratification. I missed knowing that this hour today plus another hour tomorrow and more hours later in the week, that all those hours add up. Cumulative sweat, shifting the body under my skin in a slow transformation. Iíve grown accustomed to this as Iíve grown accustomed to calculating my portion sizes and taking extra veggies and dipping my salad greens in dressing instead of dousing them. Iíve grown accustomed to the feeling that Iím doing something good for myself. Coming back to it feels like coming home after a long trip. A welcome familiarity.
If 2004 continues as it has begun, this year will involve tremendous amounts of socializing interspersed with home improvement projects.
The living room is now the blinding white of fresh primer. My hands are spackled with the same super-adhering paint. My nose is still filled with that particular plastic-and-kerosene scent. An old friend we haven't seen for five years is settling into the guest room with his girlfriend. We talked until way past all our bedtimes. Life is good.
Maybe I'm strange, but when brunch guests don't leave until after nine p.m., I consider that a successful party.
Okay, that's cheating a little. The last guests were Diane and Darin and their kids, and we have a tradition of letting afternoon turn into evening together. I was glad they had the time on this trip to do it again. But Mo and Kymm stayed until after seven, so that's still good, I think.
I know it's possible for people to outstay their welcome. That wasn't the case here. I would have been happy if Michele, Jill, Jay, and StealthPunch had all been able to stay as long. I like small gatherings. I like parties where people have common interests and interesting thoughts and can discuss interpersonal relationships and the way kids learn and also the merits of sports bras all in one day. I had fun.
Kymm tells me two years in a row make it a tradition. Sounds good to me.