I was curious about the presidential debate tonight but too scared to watch. Well, no, not scared exactly. Bush makes me physically ill. I don't want to feel ill. I don't like feeling ill. I didn't want to watch. Nevertheless, curious. What to do? Why, load Atrios a dozen times, read his take as well as the bulging comment threads.
Are they too partisan, though? Seeing what they want to see? I have to check for myself. Turn on the TV. Can't stand Bush's fake bonhomie, though, don't want that voice in my ears. What to do? I've got TiVO. Rewind reality, go back half an hour, watch a bit of Kerry here and a bite of the moderator there and go one click faster to watch Bush speak without hearing a word. I even know enough to switch channels to go to a network that's got the split screen action happening. Fascinating to watch the candidates listening to each other.
Now I know what they're talking about on Atrios. Now I feel like I've seen the debate. Only took about ten minutes (I didn't actually listen to everything Kerry said, just enough to hear his voice and know his tone and a few select things he had to say). A summary. Painless. Kind of fun, even. Technology can be your friend.
I think I know how I'm going to spend the evening of November 2nd.
In her comment on yesterday's post, Rose says she disapproves of homework for elementary school kids unless the child wants to do it. I'm theoretically in agreement with her. A few weeks ago, I would have told you that the emphasis on academics in kindergarten is ridiculous and that children don't need to drown in homework at such young ages. I still believe this. And god knows, when Damian doesnít want to color in the alligator on his homework, the mom in me wants to say "Okay, then let's forget it" because childhood is too short and his life is too full and why not learn through fun and not through tedious or irritating tasks? Why expect a still-young child to act older than he is? He should have time to grow up later.
But I have a child who balks at these visual motor skills because they're hard for him. I have a son who refused to write his name on a friend's birthday card a month ago even though he's known how for a year or two. I have a six year old who almost never draws of his own accord and whose handwriting used to be so shaky you'd think he had Parkinson's. This child will never want to practice his letters, never want to improve. And he needs as much practice time as he can get. He's in a half day kindergarten, not that much class time to get up to speed. And if I ask him to do more at home without the "It needs to be turned in tomorrow" external pressure, he'll never go for it. I know. I've tried.
Children with Asperger's Syndrome often get special permission to bring their laptops into school because their fine motor or visual motor skills are so poor. If it comes to it later in Damian's academic career, we too can ask for this. But isn't it better if we can give him the extra time now so he won't be that different from his peers later on? I think so. And in the past week and a half, I've already seen improvements. His lines are stronger, more sure, his letters sized more proportionately. He's getting it. And I think part of the reason is his fifteen minutes of homework every night. Copying the same shape across an entire page gives him that repeated motion, that hand-confidence he needs. And doing it at home means he's generalizing. He's no longer just writing in the classroom, he can do it in real life too.
Does he like it? Nope. Do I? Not really. Do I think it's a good idea? Yes. Surprisingly, I do. Is it right for every child? Probably not. But I do believe it's right for mine. Will I continue to think homework is worth the time this entire year, next year, the year after? Up in the air. But right here, right now it's what he needs.
Now that Damian's had a week's worth of homework (homework in kindergarten! Life is different now, that's for sure), I find myself contemplating the life of a homeschooler with something approaching awe. It's hard enough to get this kid to sit down and practice his lettering on a single sheet of homework, how could I possibly get him to learn an entire day's work? Maybe it takes a different kind of child than mine or maybe a different kind of parent-child relationship, I don't know. But he procrastinates and dawdles and whines and this is the easy stuff. Well, yes, it's boring, I'll grant you that. And... well... maybe not so easy for this child who tends to avoid any drawing or writing unless you insist and even then turns into a miniature lawyer pleading his case for the defense. So maybe yes, it's this child with his specific deficits that make for more difficulty and therefore more procrastination. But still. Man.
On the other hand, I sometimes find myself watching him work so diligently (once he starts), head bent over his work, concentrating at the dining table. It's such a picture of a young student. It makes me feel more like a parent in that specific media-portrayed way, mother to a student, helping with his homework. We've got the minivan and the mortgage and now the homework too. It creeps up on you, this image becoming reality. I find I rather like it.
We went to The Grove yesterday to pick up my now-fixed computer at the Apple Store. (Which now has a new sound board and a new i/o something or other, take that, silly AppleCare dudes who thought I could just zap the firmware and fix the problem.) My mom came too, fresh off the plane from Nova Scotia via San Francisco. The Grove is a relatively new mall and somehow we'd never brought her there. I think she liked it. And why not? What's not to like? It's a carefully designed outdoor space with a grassy center park much like a town square, a circular dancing fountain a la the Bellagio in Vegas, a picturesque double-decker trolley that trundles through every few minutes, and shop facades designed to look like a small California town's homey architecture. A small town in a big city. Main Street USA, but calculated down to its cobblestones and streetlights.
When it opened, I loved it and hated myself for loving it. Twenty years ago? I would have laughed at the absurdity of this enclosed faux community filled with national chains like Crate & Barrel and Victoria's Secret and nothing else. It may put on airs but it's an ordinary mall in fancy dress. Just like the enormous Vegas hotel casinos that create cities inside their doors, ancient Rome, Venice and Cairo, an art deco New York, but beneath their intriguing production designed surface, they're just buildings with slot machines, baccarat tables and adjacent tourist trap shops.
The fact that I loved The Grove Ė and, honestly, still love it Ė means I've been in Los Angeles too long. This is a city without a center. It's got a lot of character but it sprawls so much, as if someone took all the tall buildings, shook them up and spread them out along the major boulevards, that it's impossible to walk around and soak up the flavor. You have to drive to the flavor, stroll along half a dozen streets, get back in your car and drive somewhere else. So a mall that encapsulates a community, no matter how manufactured that community may be, feels fresh and new and needed. People jam onto the main "streets" of this "town." A band plays on the "town square." We throw pennies in the fountain and watch the goldfish grow ever bigger. We enjoy this environment even though it's not the one we truly want. It's main street Disney-style and yet it works. And so every single time I go, I both love and hate it. I wish for a real walking city, one with architecture that holds history and truth and messiness and graffiti and shops that don't have to be pre-approved by Management. But this is the city where we live and this is the compromise we make.
And you know? When I watch a woman shake her hips to the band's music on a balmy night, when I watch a child peering over the bridge rail into the dark water below in utter fascination, when Damian pulls me by the hand, "Come see the dog, Mommy!" and I look at the miniature pup sitting patiently by a genial woman resting on a bench, when I go to The Grove and live it instead of contemplating it from a distance, I realize: sometimes the environment is not all. It's a fun backdrop, pleasant scenery, an excuse to gather. What people bring to the place is not ersatz, never manufactured. And ultimately that's why I love it there.
Pilot season. We're way behind already, thanks a young boy's currently messed up sleep schedule. But we can catch up, thanks to TiVO. So we watched the Jack & Bobby pilot tonight. The conceit, if you don't know, is that we're watching two present-day teenage boys, brothers, go about their lives but we know (through talking head-style interview footage from the future) that one of them will grow up to be president someday. Thankfully, we find out which one by the end of the episode, otherwise the entire series would be one long tease. And I think, too, it wouldn't be able to say what it wants to say about the stresses and factors that shape a person.
The implication in this concept is that this was a very good president and a great human being (which doesn't follow from the mere fact of the presidency, just look at the man now warming the seat). In the show, the boy is not yet great and I like that. In a sense, if you strip away the grandeur of the setup, what you have is a standard coming of age story, someone growing into himself. I like that too.
My only caveat so far is that it's very hard to show high school problems in a non-cliche way. We've seen it all too many times, lived it ourselves. The geeks vs. the cool kids. The bullies. The teases. Being called into the principal's office. Yeah, yeah, yawn. But what else is there? That's what it's about when you're a teenager. And there's a lot to like in this portrayal. Christine Lahti's mom character is a powerful, intelligent woman who learns by the end of the pilot that she has to let her sons grow up with a little more breathing room. This is not cliche. This is interesting. And the lead actors are good, particularly the younger boy.
We've got a season pass for now. I'll be curious to see if the theme can sustain itself.
My shiny new computer went on a trip north last weekend without me. Itís still there. I got an email from it Wednesday saying it missed me and would try to be home soon. I miss it too. Itís the first time itís been away overnight. I hope itís the last. It went away to fix a congenital defect, more than a blemish but less than cancer. Since week one, Iíve been on the phone with AppleCare techs, but theyíve been no better than your average HMO in diagnosing and solving this disease. At some point, you just have to take charge of your own Ė or your computerís Ė destiny and take it to the
emergency room computer store.
Okay, enough cuteness. Hereís the deal: my wonderful, stupendous, fast as lightening and twice as nice state of the art PowerBook had a flaw that was, if not fatal, a huge pain in the butt. At random, unexpected moments, it would suddenly emit a loud noise, not unlike the sound you hear when you pick up the phone when a fax is coming in. And it would continue to make the horrible, grating shriek from that moment on, until you shut it down or sometimes if you put it to sleep. This didnít happen every few weeks. No, it occurred daily. Practically hourly. And sometimes just for fun, instead of making its growly scream, it would simply distort the actual dings and chimes and mp3s. Sometimes from one speaker, sometimes both. Fun stuff. No amount of zapping p-ram and reinstalling the system and resetting the power manager helped, either. Weíre talking one seriously fucked up laptop. And no, it wasn't the fan or the hard drive. I know what those sound like. And yes, AppleCare dudes, I really do know what I'm talking about even though I'm a girl. At least the Genius Bar guys at the Apple Store treat me like a thinking human being who knows when her new computer is a lemon.
Bye-bye baby. Nice knowing you, however briefly. I hope when you come back home, you still remember me. Iíve tried to take good care of you, make you feel at home here. I hope when you come home from the Apple Repair Center, you havenít decided theyíre your new best friends just because they tickled your belly and fed you nice treats. I have sweet treats here too. Lots of words to crunch on, nice Photoshop files for you, too. Come back home. I miss you. But leave that nasty whine behind, okay?
Very tired (the blowback from staying up until three a.m. Tuesday night making hard decisions is a sleepy couple of days) so I'm going to throw a couple of links your way and go to bed.
First, you must read Toni's very funny and very true description of how a writer takes notes. As a writer, you need feedback like you need a fresh printer cartridge. That doesn't mean you have to like it.
Second, I've been meaning to link to a political site for a while. I have trouble reading newspaper articles about the election these days. Blog reading reveals that "fair and balanced" crap as transparently false. But I have trouble with a lot of blogs too, they're too blustery and make me scared and angry. And yet I have to get my election year fix somewhere. So I've been turning every morning to this site , which tallies the current electoral college polling. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes it's bad. The webmaster often has fascinating things to say about the polling process, which is far more inherently subjective than I ever realized. Between the polls and the papers, I wonder if it's ever possible to truly be unbiased and objective.
I should be getting ready to go. My mother is on a plane right now, flying from Nova Scotia into San Francisco. She has a one-woman show at a good gallery and the opening is tomorrow. I wanted to be there. I planned to be there. Iím not going to be there.
Sometimes you know whatís right even though itís wrong. Sometimes you canít choose what you want. Last night was one of those times for me. I stayed awake worrying, going over the plan, wide awake well after midnight. Damian would be coming with me on the plane tomorrow, Dan would join us Friday night. Sounds simple, sounds easy. But with a special needs child sometimes the simple isnít. Damian is doing well right now, yes. Weathering the huge change from special needs preschool to regular kindergarten better than expected. But that doesnít mean heís as flexible, as able to handle the chaos of travel, as another child might be. Not right now. Not in the midst of an emotional, bewildering time of change.
Dan and I talked it over. I got up to call my mom at two a.m. (six a.m. her time). She agreed. It makes sense. Itís the right decision.
This isnít the first time Iíve cancelled a trip on his account. I was going to go to New York to attend a good friendís wedding while I was pregnant. I was going to go to Montreal for the opening night of my brotherís play. I stayed home both times. The pregnancy was too fragile. Later, the baby was too fragile, then the child too sensitive, and we traveled less and for a couple of years we stopped altogether. I read Tiny Coconut describing how she left her seven year old daughter with her parents (Em's grandparents) for a week and I shake my head in wonder. I can't imagine Damian being okay with that. But we do travel with him now, and itís usually a success. Heís mostly a good companion, likes seeing new places and learning new things. But sometimes itís better for him if we stay home. Even if itís not what I want, itís what he needs. This is what it means to be a parent, at least to this child. Not quite the way I pictured it. Worth it, of course. But there it is.
Iíve been enjoying Tad Bitterís series of lessons on screenwriting. Heís doing a good job of it and even though Iím no longer writing scripts, I appreciate the recap. Story structure is story structure in every form. The script format is particularly unforgiving but by its spare nature it allows you to see the bones, the framework a good story needs.
I have a quibble with a recent entry, though. He says:
It helps to pick a character type that already exists in another film or book and go from there. Once you do that itís time to make him or her your own. Give them some depth. How do you do this? Flaws. Great characters have flaws. Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes. Robert Langdon of ďThe Da Vinci CodeĒ was afraid of heights. The book Iím reading now has a protagonist whoís a recovering alcoholic whoís already fallen off the wagon again in the first fifty pages. Heís a tragic hero of sorts. If you give them a few flaws, itís going to affect the way your character reacts to a given situation.
First, this may just be me, but I have a problem with the idea of taking a character from another book or film. Sure, you can find archetypes this way and yes, you can alter them to make them your own. But I think when you do that, youíre in danger of perpetuating the endlessly devolving filmic stereotypes that make us all wince when we watch movies. Why not bring something fresh to the mix? Why not look around you, use people you know, types youíve run across in your life? At the LA Times Book Fair this spring, Sherman Alexie spoke about how his story ideas sometimes spark from people he may see just for a few minutes, but their attitude, their demeanor and emotional affect imbue some spirit he wants to explore and thus a story is born. Me, I pluck characters from my life for short stories but in my scripts and long fiction, I donít take my model from either fiction or real life. The characters simply emerge and after a certain point I feel like I know them. They become real to me, maybe because Iíve known people like that or maybe because in some way I am people like that. Their pain is mine, their quirks are sometimes mine or maybe their strength is one Iíd like to borrow.
Second Ė and this was the main point I wanted to make Ė I hate the (extremely common) film writerís convention of giving the protagonist some specific, discrete fear or quirk, most especially a singular event from the past that shapes him or her. It feels so damned contrived. I know it can be a kind of shorthand in a foreshortened medium. But itís part of what makes movies flatter and less rich than they could be. When you can sum up a character in a single quirky fear, it diminishes him and I as a viewer stop believing in him as a person. I fall out of the movie.
I remember a screenwriter friend once telling me that the way to create character quickly was to find something external: a limp, a parrot on the shoulder, a shroud of smoke from a constantly lit pipe. Itís an instant visual and it can work, but you need more. Why the pipe, wherefore the limp, what relationship does this person have with said bird? Can we go deeper? Admittedly, sometimes itís better not to delve. Sometimes itís better to leave a quirk unexplored and simply let it add texture if itís one small part rather than all of your character work. But I still think a lifetime of alcoholism with a recent sobriety (Tadís other example) is a far better building block toward creating an interesting character than a fear of snakes. Itís bigger, meatier, brings with it more baggage. It simply means more. If youíre going for shorthand, why not choose something that can resonate? I once wrote a script with a character who was afraid of public speaking, afraid of crowds in general. It pays off in the story in various ways but you know? Itís pretty dumb. In retrospect, I could have done something more with it. For instance, if sheíd been on or near the autistic spectrum, if the sensory over-stimulation made her nerves stutter and misfire, that could have made the fear work as part of a larger picture. But as the center of a character in and of itself? Even with a backstory to explain it? Shallow is thy name. Contrivance is thy game.
It's hard to create a character with three dimensions using only word images. An actor breathes some life into that persona and of course in fiction, you've got more breathing room as well. But it's hard to capture someone on the page, which is why writers resort to contrivances.
If you think about it, it's hard to capture someone you know. Even yourself. I look in the mirror, I know me. But if I describe that woman I see, I know -- because I've experienced this -- that a close friend will turn around and say, "Nuh-uh, that's not you at all. You're underselling yourself" or "You're exaggerating that" or even "What the hell are you talking about?" Who's right? The Tamar that Toni would describe probably bears some resemblance but is not quite the person that Dan would describe or that Diane or my mom would describe. Or Damian, for that matter. I'd be very curious to hear his take on who Mommy is. A true knowledge of me, who I am, in a way can only be arrived at in pieces, a myriad of mirrors.
So how can we build a person from scratch, describe her in terse script form or even the more detailed novelistic impressionism? We can't. But we have to find our way through to enough detail and enough reality so that it seems that we do. It's so easy to fall back on crutches but I think they diminish that reality. They become less than fully human. The trick is to catch the right set of mirror images, catch that glimpse of humanity in your character, and jot it down before it slips away. Like catching a ghost in a jar. Except a whole lot easier. Because though we can't fully know each other or even ourselves, we do have this gut-level sense of what a person is, how it feels to go through certain experiences and how that might change you both in large ways and small ones. And if we can catch that essence, the quirks and odd fears and all the rest emerge naturally. Tricky but eminently doable.
Iím past page 350. Nearing the end of the novel (my goal is 425 pages, more or less). I know Iíll need to rewrite it, tweak it, maybe even tear it apart and put it back together in a vastly different pattern. In other words, I know thereís work ahead. And I still have a good chunk of first draft left to write. This is not past, this is still very much present, this book. And yet I canít seem to stop thinking about the next book.
Itís ridiculous, I donít even have the hours carved out of my new schedule yet to write my current novel and god knows itís been a slow not-even-steady marathon run, so how can I possibly be gearing up yet for Number Two? Itís kind of insane. And yet I am.
In a way, maybe itís eminently sane of me. After all, this one will require a certain amount of research and careful plotting. I tend to rush that part, wanting to dive into the actual writing because thatís where the fun lies. But this next book will suffer if I do. And so maybe I can eat my cake and have it, write the current book and sink into that sea of words while constructing the framework for the next odyssey.
Somewhere along the line Iíll need to find a cop or two to interview, learn the inside of a police station and a jail and maybe even a morgue. On the other hand, those are standard-issue thriller and mystery fodder and I live in a made-for-the-screen town. Iím sure I can find a way in. The LAPD probably has a whole division set aside for this purpose. But Iím nervous anyway. Iíve never done this, never gone to the source and asked the questions. Not for fiction. Iíve read books and visited locales but never interviewed people for this. Should beÖ wellÖ interesting.
Another part of this research-and-build-plot process will be learning more about the kind of plot to build. This is a mystery. Well, not exactly. Itís really a character study and a commentary on painful life issues. And yet itís a mystery too; the hook and the pull into the novel posit a problem and the main character cares a lot about the outcome. So even though itís not my main focus, it may well be hers and so I must craft this carefully to do both. Sheís also writing a mystery herself, which of course means I will write it her. And so I need to steep myself in the ways you build suspense, plot twists and revelations, the way you feed the reader information but only enough to intrigue and tantalize. Bits at a time and then more bits. Iíve looked at several how-to-write-a-mystery book but they donít really answer my questions. So Iím going to go straight to the source: mystery novels. I plan to read a book, take notes as I go, and then go back and analyze what each scene intends. Then read another. And another. Should be fun.
No wonder Iím antsy to start: I have a lot to do.
And if anyone has suggestions on mysteries with some depth of character and theme or mainstream/literary fiction with strong mystery elements, I'd love to hear about them. I know more of the former than the latter but I welcome all suggestions. I need a reading list! Work to do, books to read, thoughts to think.
Damian lies asleep right now with a small tooth in an envelope under his pillow. The front lower left, to be exact. I wish I'd taken better notes when he was a baby. I wonder if that was his first tooth to break through the skin such a long time ago.
With Damian happily ensconced in kindergarten, I find myself bemused. Aware of a prejudice I'd never before realized was a false construct. I've always assumed private school was better than public in some empirical, provable way. That people may choose public school for their children out of financial necessity or some idealistic belief that they should participate in the public education system but that everyone really knew in their heart of hearts that private was better. Not every private school, of course, some are no doubt very bad indeed. But in general, if you wanted excellence, you did not look toward the heavily bureaucratized, overly traditional, hide-bound unified school district.
Well. A week into this I can already see I was very wrong. I have no idea how the next several years will go, what the upper grades will teach Damian or how we'll find a good public middle school (which I understand is far more rare here than a good grade school), but damn. This is a really good class he's in. The teacher is warm and lively, she obviously keeps Damian's attention. She's got the kids doing yoga, playing telephone, drawing self portraits, decorating paper bags for their very first homework assignment (to find objects/pictures that illustrate five of your favorite things). She says she has them do a lot of singing, and she's folded phonics and math into the mix.
Tell me how a private school, even a very good one, can shine brighter than this. And this isn't even one of the top public elementary schools in LA, a city not known for its educational system. People move to Beverly Hills or Santa Monica or even Culver City to switch school systems. No, LA is not known for its excellence. Nor is Damian's school one parents whisper about in envy. Some people know about it, yes, but it's not on any Best Of list. Not yet, anyway. It's just your standard elementary school. And good.
I realize there are bad schools in the system. Hell, I know too much about the bad ones. There's one three blocks from here. The school Damian was supposed to attend before we looked into alternate routes. (Hint: childcare permits are your friends. Legal and perfectly legitimate, too.) But there are clearly also some excellent ones. How is it that I didn't know this? Why did I assume that if a school follows traditional teaching methods and has to conform to a rubberstamp set of rules created from above, that this automatically makes it bad? Is it a suspicion that you can't get something for nothing? A belief that any public entity is by nature corrupt and uncaring? I don't know where I got this notion, but it's clearly wrong. Or if not completely wrong (this is, after all, just kindergarten, not exactly a huge sampling here), then at least not right either.
Don't mistake my meaning; I still believe that certain alternative teaching philosophies make more sense than the prevailing public school so-called wisdom. In an ideal world, I'd like Damian to participate in some of that before he holds that high school or college diploma in his hands. But here and now, today and tomorrow and maybe even next week, I'm well content with the regular public school education he's getting. And that's more than I expected. My bottom line is that learning should be fun, should make you want to learn more. As long as school does that, school does just fine by my boy. Public or private, makes no difference at all.
So I did carve out a small slice of my afternoon (extremely small, unfortunately) to write. And it felt just as good/bad/good as it does. Hard and easy tangled up together in a writer's knot. I missed that. The hard part too, the part where you stare and ponder and fret and wonder and finally make it work in your head and on the page (you hope). Because it means that area of my brain was engaged again in a puzzle-solving way.
After I take a break from the novel, I always have to reread the last big chunk of words, both to get back into the flow of it and more concretely to know what's there so I have a handle on my characters' current moods and thoughts. Donít want to write a big happy scene between two people who have just been thinking dark thoughts about each other. Or maybe I still can, but with that undercurrent firmly in place, not blithely forgotten. So I reread.
I remember rereading my scripts in first draft form. I usually winced, smiled, winced some more, but I recognized the words, remembered the writing process. The interesting thing now with this is that I don't. I look at it and I'm kind of awed. Not that it's so amazingly wonderful Ė it is, after all, a first, raw draft Ė but there's something about a novel (this novel?) that feels so, well, there. It exists, it has texture and flavor and I'm not completely sure how that happened or who wrote it. Which is good, I think, except that every time I sit down to work, I worry. Because whoever it is that wrote that last bit? I don't know where she went and here I am, stuck with her Word file and not a clue how to copy her style.
This is why I stopped writing fiction in college. I was always afraid I'd forget how to sink into that dream; it drove me to drink (just enough to loosen up my inhibitions) and then ultimately to stopping altogether (because I am so not a drinker). I still have that fear. The difference now is that I also have more guts. What's the worst that'll happen? A bad writing session, a deleted set of pages. I can live with that. And at least this way I'm warming the chair for that other writer, right?
I've been so caught up in Damian's kindergarten transition (that stress, while not completely over, has subsided) as well as the enormous project I alluded to a few weeks ago, I've been so engulfed with all of that, I've had little to nothing left over for myself.
I need that time now. I need to organize my small home office post painting project. I need to get back into an exercise regimen, if not for my weight loss efforts, then for my sanity (oh, the endorphin rush) and my stamina (oh, the muscle tone, oh the blood rush).
But mostly I need to write. How I need to write. Not writing fiction feels like being deprived of REM sleep. No dream time. Something's wrong in my life, in my head, in my self. I'm not wholly me if I'm not awake-dreaming words and worlds. I crave that. Need it. Now.
Dan says I should multitask more. He's right. I have three solid hours every weekday now, plus a couple of extra hours once floor time services kick back in full-bore. Surely I can write, exercise, write, organize my office, write, make phone calls (too many calls, much coordinating still on the school front), write. Live.
We shall see. Time is elastic but not always the way you expect. But this is a new life, a new set of daily rituals. A short drive instead of a long one, yes, but a short day instead of a long one too. A more grown-up child. A different life, the kindergarten year. My schedule adjusts. More than adjusts, it alters. Shifts. My life no longer stretched across town, now foreshortened into afternoons alone. We shall see. I'm ready. Tomorrow, I write.
I tend to carry a wide array of things in a pack slung over one shoulder. Lately Damian has been coming up behind me as I walk and threading my arm through the other loop so the pack sits squarely on both shoulders. At first, I thought this was anal-retentive of him, wanting everything Ė including me Ė to be just so. In general he's not an obsessive-compulsive sort of kid, but it was the only explanation I could find. But then a couple of days ago, I was reclining on the couch with Damian standing over me, explaining or chatting about something or other, since forgotten. One of my bangs fell across my eye, obscuring my vision. Damian reached over and brushed it back. The movement was so tender, so reminiscent of how we straighten his clothes or smooth his hair, it made me realize: he's not being compulsive. Far from it. He's discovered a new, intimate kind of expression of love.
Here. About the first day of kindergarten.
Also a new one in the passworded blog. About the mediation aftermath.
I've been thinking about it all afternoon and evening. I want to say something meaningful about the date, about the anniversary, but I have nothing. Sometimes you feel and can't talk. Sometimes your words seem shallow. You weren't there, covered in ash. You weren't there with broken heart and broken life. You were only there in your mind and that's not really so much.
And so instead of my words I give you links to other, more eloquent speakers. First, this essay by Lizbeth, who was across the river that day, her husband in the city. Not in the inferno, but closer and far more tangible for her than for me, mourning my city from three thousand miles away, the smoke in my nostrils only echoed ghost tendrils.
Both made me cry. I don't have the words, but I'm grateful that they do.
I think it's rather brilliant assignment to give a group of brand new kindergarteners on their first day: here's a piece of paper, you can do it with your mommy or daddy or grownup friend who's here with you today, it's a scavenger hunt, you can check off each item on it and then go play in the yard.
Brilliant because the kids have something concrete to do right off, something that makes them feel industrious and successful. Brilliant also because that list includes items like: bathroom, snack tables, kindergarten gate. This gets them acquainted with the layout of their new classroom without boring them in the process.
I also like that one of the teachers' examples of said scavenger hunt was, "Where's the flag?" only, oops, the teachers had forgotten to put it up. So they said, "We forgot. Do your parents ever forget to do things? Yeah, everyone forgets sometimes." A nice little lesson. And then all the kids closed their eyes, no peeking (one of the teachers too) while a teacher got the flag and set it up.
Warmth. Intelligence. Good signs.
On the other hand, when asked tonight if he liked his new class, Damian said, "Not very much." Why? "I thought it was boring." Not what you want to hear, is it?
From a preschool perspective, the kindergarten class was boring. Few toys, not much to do during free play. The difference? No free play, or at least not much. This is a structured classroom for formal learning. Fun in the sense that learning and interaction can be fun, but it's not about the toys anymore.
I think I'll ask Damian again in a week or two, see if he still thinks it's boring.
Damian starts school the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we go to a one hour assembly to meet the teachers, administrators, other kindergarteners and their parents. This is real, this is here, this is now. I feel oddly calm. No, excited. Anxiety has transmuted to pride. My little guy in elementary school. A mainstream, regular elementary school classroom, and he's just one of the kids. I'm sure there'll be bumps and bobbles, but for now it's all idealized in my head; the vice principal tells me all the kindergarten teachers are great and I have the freedom to believe him. It's all fresh and new and full of promise. I'm not scared anymore.
This is so cool.
Mediation this morning. Went not so great. Still, my relief feels like a tangible thing. It's over, we know where we stand and have a sense of what to do next. If you want to know the specifics, you can read my passworded blog. It's all there.
Sometimes I think this blog should be a single-issue site. Maybe writing. The writing process, different genres and styles, the getting of an agent and publishing contract, the publishing industry all threaded through with books I read and books I hear about. But you know? Other people do that, and probably better.
Okay, maybe a cute kid blog. I have a cute kid, after all. Lots of fodder there. And people love to read cute stories, don't they? (Hey, where are you going? Come back here!) And I love to write about him. But even though Damian is of course the cutest child on the face of the planet, it might get dull after a while. And what happens if he doesnít do anything cute or even interesting for a whole day? Or even a week? Blog goes kaput.
Well, then, how about a weight loss blog? Whaddayamean I have to be actively losing weight or at least working on it? I'll get back to that, I swear. Tomorrow. Really. And I'll have a lot to say about it, too. At least once a week. What? Daily blog? Crap.
Ah, I have it! A sex blog. Sex gets hits. Lots and lots of hits. I'll get readers out the wazoo. And up the wahoo too. And out my ears. And piled high and deep. And who doesn't want that? Except, um, I'd have to write about it. Sex, that is. And. Well. In fiction, I can do that. Personal weblog? No thanks, I'll pass. A little too intimate for my taste.
Well, okay, forget the intimate. Forget the personal. It's all too personal, really, telling stories of my life. Why do I want to do that, am I a zoo animal on display in a cage? Am I a talking, walking stage show? I should write about something less personal. Oh, I know! Politics! I have lots of political opinions. I may not know much, but I know how I feel. Passionate. And it's really easy to write, too: "Bush sucks. Bush bites. Bush is evil incarnate. Vote Kerry. Kerry is my friend. My bestest friend in the whole wide world." I mean, who wouldn't hit "refresh" twenty times a day for that level of deep, insightful political discourse? (Hey, come back here!)
Nah, politics has been done. Done to death. Politics everywhere you look. And politics give me a stomach ache, anyway.
Well, how about a food blog? Yeah, but I don't cook enough different meals right now. But hey, it might empower me, if I have an audience. And I do love to cook. And eat. And eat. And shop for food. And caress food. Biting into juicy, dripping peaches and slurping up bowls of white, gelatinous but so sweet and creamy pudding. (Sounds like the sex blog, doesnít it?) (I think I just grossed myself out.) It could be fun. All that food. But I'd have to cook all the time, new things every day, experimenting with recipes and inventing new variants. Too much work.
What else is there? Maybe a blog about the weirdness that is Los Angeles, particularly Hollywood. God knows there's enough of that to last a lifetime. And enough to say about it as well as years of stockpiled stories. And I have an insider/outsider's view of it all. But I could get in hot water if I said the wrong thing about the wrong person, because after all, everyone ego surfs, yes? Besides, I'm not sure I could stand myself if I wrote wall to wall Hollywood snark. I don't want to ever get that bitter.
What does that leave? Okay, probably a lot. So many topics to explore, so many things to write about. But you know? That might gain me a more specific niche in someone's blogroll, might carve me a more particular name for myself, but it would bore me to tears. And the personal stuff? May feel odd sometimes, my life on display or at least some slivers thereof, but it's how I write, it's who I am and how I see the world, through my experiences, not just my thoughts.
I think I'll stick with the current format. At least for now.
I'm jittery tonight. Not much to say. Mediation tomorrow. I've never been to a mediation. Don't know what to expect, though someone told me today that it's like buying a car in that the other party leaves the room for long stretches, hoping to wear you down. Maybe that depends on what you're asking. I may bring a good book.
This is a big week. Damian starts kindergarten Thursday. I think I'm more nervous than he is. What I keep thinking is: what if it doesn't work out? What then? In preschool, we always had the option of switching to a different school. We did that twice. Shuffling things around. But here? It's a public elementary school. Not so easy to switch. I guess there's always homeschooling, but that's not an option I embrace for this child. So we hope it works out. Hope this next step is a good one.
We've been so careful, so protective. Is there a time we have to let go? Probably so, inevitably so, but not yet. No, not yet. So yes, this needs to be a good place for my little boy. Needs to be the proper next step. No way to know. I can't even picture his teacher in my head yet. I need that. Soon. This week.
I'm a little preoccupied tonight. Maybe all week. The beginning of a new phase. Nervous-making, this.
Why is it that when I want to sleep in, Damian comes racing through the bedroom, slamming first one door and then the other (because, you know, Mommy's asleep so we should keep the doors closed), not one but four times? Or he decides he too is tired and so clambers into bed Ė over my prone form, an elbow in my face and a foot in my side Ė and settles in beside me. For approximately one fifteenth of a second, after which he wiggles (not comfortable, this bed) and wriggles (no, that didn't feel right either) and squirms until he realizes, "Hey, I'm not tired after all," and shimmies off the bed. Over, what else, my prone form. Elbow back in face, foot back in side. And then thunk, off the bed, and stomp-stomp-stomp, off to the other room. Who knew a slender six year old boy could make such noise walking down the hall? And if neither of these ploys bring about the desired result, he carts in a few toys because of course my dark bedroom is The Best place to play this morning, a perfect place to chase the cat and zoom the froggie shadow ship and bang on the drum. Oops, no drum in the house? Oh well, guess I'll have to use Mommy as my drum. Oh, Mommy, you're awake? What a surprise, I was trying so hard to let you sleep.
Why is it that when Dan wants to sleep in, Damian curls up in the living room with me so very quietly?
Why is that?
New entry in my passworded kindergarten blog. Damian starts kindergarten Thursday (at a good school! yay!). Mediation is on Tuesday morning. We still do have some sticky problems to address at the meeting. I don't feel comfortable writing about it in a Google-searchable blog, thus the post there. If you don't remember the URL/password or if you haven't looked there and now want access, email me for the info. I'm fine with anyone reading -- as long as I know who is.
I was chatting with Tiny Coconut yesterday, and we started talking about the immense and absurd age bias in the film industry. She wondered why it exists. I wonder too. I have some thoughts, but no answers.
Partly, I think, it's a young industry because the conventional wisdom for the past few decades is that young people go to the movies. Who knows what a twentysomething will pay money to watch? Another twentysomething. False reasoning, of course. But pervasive.
Partly, too, actors have expiration dates. Past a certain age and they're relegated to playing the mom or the kindly neighbor. Well, okay, more true for women than men, but nevertheless, this is a town seeking new blood. Constantly. Vampires on the prowl, looking for fresh flesh to devour.
And partly as the people in power get younger and younger (see above), they're most comfortable with their compadres. I remember taking a meeting with a development executive at a high powered production company. Somehow we ended up talking about college. She seemed to assume I too had just graduated. I went along with it but I felt a little dirty afterwards. I suspect if a grizzled older man walked into her office, she would have squirmed right off her chair and cut the meeting short. Who gets the jobs, then? The one who can schmooze about keggers and the latest hot band or the one who has kids in college but who knows her way around the three act structure and then some?
It's a screwed up system, of course it is. We learn as we get older, we learn from experience, the school of hard knocks, whatever. We have more chops and more to say. If you toss all that out the window because you're scared of a few gray hairs? Well, it's no surprise movies have gotten so bad.