I can't do a Best Of roundup here; I haven't seen enough, read enough, or heard enough. Though I did love Paladin of Souls, the first half of Time Traveler's Wife and the first half of Love, Actually (saw it this year so it counts) and enjoyed Spiderman 2 and, um, a few other books and movies too, and am thoroughly addicted to Lost and Desperate Housewives and still sad that Sex and the City is no more. But I'm not going to give you my analysis of the year in pop culture and certainly not in politics (except: feh), so what's left? Me. My year.
Do you my reader care about the year's highlights as seen through one person's eyes, one person's life experience? This question, of course, comes down to a much more basic one: why read a personal blog? How universal is a person's life? The answer, I think, is that emotions are and specifics often aren't but that a tale well told can be especially satisfying if it's a true story. But a simple rundown of fact? Not so much, I think. The story there is between the lines, behind the facts.
A year is an odd construct anyway. Out with the old, in with the new, change the date marker and toot the horns. Just another second later, just a minute more, just an hour into the future and it's a new year. So what, right? But yes, we do define ourselves by the years we travel through. That was the year that was. 1973 was a mighty strange year for the child who was me. My parents split up, I was molested, my life changed. Oh, and Secretariat won the Triple Crown. 1991 was delicious but difficult for the young adult me, 1994 was dreadful. The whys are complicated and personal. (But this is a personal site, yes? Yes. But.) 2001 was pivotal, dark and terrible but also weighed down with great hope (Damian's autism diagnosis carried within it a prescription for growth, for example, and other events gave me a kick in the pants to switch from screenwriting to stories and novels).
So we do use years to define segments of time in our lives even though those swaths of months never exactly dovetail with the calendar. It nevertheless remains a useful frame. And so I'll use it today, the last day of 2004. I feel like it's a year the world has gone to shit or maybe just affirmed its general shittiness. But on the micro level, in my own life? Yes, good. Or rather, full of promise:
Damian is thriving in a regular kindergarten with the personnel there skeptical of his need for an aide (details on that soon). The fact that we FOUND a regular kindergarten that suits him and even nurtures him still amazes me. A school he likes. I mean, right there, those few sentences, they encompass and end months of sleepless nights and compulsive eating and general angst. Would he, would we, would it be okay? And it was and is and I hope will become ever more so.
Damian found drumming this autumn or maybe drumming found him; his teacher showed up on our doorstep and it's all good. And what a delight. And he learns and improves and also maybe learns how to handle discipline and how something that feels hard become easy after a while and then you move on to the next hard thing.
I finally finished my novel. Yes, oh yes, yes indeedy. And I even still like it. Honestly, I had no idea it would feel so good to write The End. Not an ounce of post-partum blues here. I just look at that pile of pages (549, to be exact) and I smile. The world is full of promise.
Then there's the promise of Toronto. Hope for the future. The election hit us like a steamroller grinding everything we care about into the muck, but maybe for us personally, it contained an answer instead of a wrenching question. We don't like LA, we didn't know how to escape. This may be our solution. A pleasant city, a livable city, an affordable city, a place we might find suitable. A potential new home. Escaping this purgatory of eternal sunshine, what a concept. Will it happen? Damned if I know. That's what promise is about, though. You don't know. Can't know. You just have to try and see.
Our house improves around us and because of us. We do it to raise the sale value, we're far more motivated as a result, but man is it nice to have a dishwasher. Man is it great to have pretty kitchen floors. Man is it a relief to sit in my tiny office with its walls striped salmon and cream rather than institutional green, and oh man was it wonderful to have central air this summer. We work for the promise of the future but in doing so we improve our lives in the present.
And that's the essence of my 2004. Few answers but some nice progress. And on we march.
Happy 2005, everyone!
People are saying the tsunami is the largest natural disaster in a lifetime. It still shocks me. I still find myself wondering how I can ingest it while knowing I can't. But today I started mulling another question: should we tell Damian about it? Do we have a moral obligation to do so? This is that kind of event, one with reverberations through the year and even decades. Should we give him some sense of what's going on now, whether in pictures or just words, so it can be part of his personal history and he has a frame of reference for it in the future? Is this part of being a responsible parent?
But I don't want to show him photographs of faces twisted in agonized mourning or walls of photographs of the dead. He's six years old, does he need to see that? And we live in earthquake country. A tsunami is just as possible here. His old preschool is just blocks from the beach. And if we talked about what happened around the other side of the world, we'd want to make it real for him, and that means talking about earthquakes under water and tidal waves devastating Santa Monica, doesn't it? And that may mean nightmares and inchoate fears and free floating anxiety as he stays away from the beach and worries about walking on the Third Street Promenade. When is real enough too real to a child with an acute imagination?
We don’t watch TV news, we don't get the physical newsprint delivered to our door every day. We read the paper online and so Damian isn't exposed to a daily image of carnage; instead, it's our choice. And because this is in fact on the other side of the world, people aren't talking much about it here; it doesn’t come up during daily chitchat in the grocery store, may not come up when his teacher greets the kids back to school in a week, may not even come up tomorrow over scones and bagels during our now-annual New Year's brunch. And there's no reason it should: it's not part of the fabric of our lives. We can mourn from afar, we can send money and imagine – or try to imagine – what it's like there, but it's not a reality here, is unlikely to personally affect anyone we know. And in that sense, we don't need to tell Damian about it. He doesn’t need that knowledge.
Or does he?
I have long felt that the way my birthday unfolds is a portent for the year to come. This is not necessarily a healthy superstition; if I see a bad movie that day or have a poor meal or a fight with my spouse, it takes on more and deeper meaning. I've tried hard to talk myself out of this mindset. It is, after all, just a day like any other day only I'm officially one year older at 1:33 p.m. But the part of my brain that made me hold my breath when passing cemeteries when I was a kid persists in this one and so I try always to craft a good day.
It has been a very good one, starting this year on the afternoon of the 28th and continuing as I write these words. The specifics don't matter but include good food, good movies and good conversation with good friends, both in the flesh and on the phone. I have therefore decided that the outlook for this coming year is not only good, but extremely and unusually social.
Works for me.
I wish I could say that I'm weeping over the images from the tsunami's aftermath. But the truth is, I avoided looking at them for the first day or so and then cautiously opened up the articles (I read the paper online) and just kind of stared, numb. Fifty six thousand dead, they're saying. Twelve countries affected. Countless people made homeless. Devastation and destruction everywhere. How can you wrap your mind around that?
As I sit here in my cozy bedroom with the sound of the rain dropping from the roof and Damian's little voice chirpy down the hall as he lies in bed with his daddy, I may be able to intellectually conceive of such a horror but viscerally I just can't. How does it feel, the shock of earthquake, 200 times the powerful jolt we felt here during the Northridge quake, and then a huge wave hurtling toward you, do you have time to think, to fear, to pray? And how does it feel now for the survivors and the ones who will die in the next several weeks of malnutrition and disease? And how can it be such a harsh, visceral every-waking-minute nightmare reality for them and so very far away for someone like me?
It's a Jewish tradition to go to the movies on Christmas day. Instead, my mother and I went to the beach Saturday afternoon. It was surprisingly crowded, especially on the pier. But it was a glorious, clear day and it felt wonderful to be there, taking picture after picture. She put some up on her blog, and here are some of mine:
At dinner the other night I was talking to a distant relative about our still-so-tentative plans to move to Toronto. Her comment? Move to Austin. There's a bourgeoning film community there, real estate is cheap compared to here, it's a hip town.
Well, yeah, but. First off, it's still in the US and part of the point of this move is the exodus from said country. Second, and more pertinent to this entry, it's in Texas. I do not want to live in Texas. If I don't feel a simpatico with California, what are the odds I'm going to feel one with a conservative state where people wear cowboy hats without irony? Where winters lack bite and summers scorch the inside of your mouth? I want seasons and I want camaraderie.
I’m sure Austin is indeed a good place to live, and this is not a slam on the town. At all. But I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a place compatible with a person – or is it vice versa? And though I don’t have any conclusions, I do know that I don't want to live in a town that may be hip and fun and cool but where the surrounding countryside feels out of sync with me. It does matter. The first time we drove to the outskirts of LA, the first time we got out of the car somewhere on the long stretch of I-5 through farming country, and the first time we drove due east toward the desert, I felt so odd walking around in these small desert towns. Redneck country, or so it felt then. The truth is of course more complicated but nevertheless out of sync with me, a New Yorker, a city kid who wore her radical opinions on her sleeve and usually dressed all in black.
I asked my relative what it's like living in her small East Coast city. She shrugged and said she mostly socializes with people from her work community. And isn't that the way it always works? You develop a small circle of friends and acquaintances, building your own community in the larger setting. So why does it matter where you are? You can always do that, right? Especially in a large city. Lots of different kinds of people here. And it's true. As far as it goes.
But as I said to her then, the where matters in ways you might not expect. For instance, everyone here assumes I changed my last name when I got married. Even progressive women who didn't change theirs. Because nearly every woman does. At Damian's school they have the hardest time, not knowing whether to call me Mrs. V or Mrs. B. It never seems to cross their minds that I'm Ms. B. My own person, not labeled as Miss or Missus, not identified by marital status. It's like a time warp, I swear. If I were still in New York? I'll bet you anything everyone would assume I hadn't changed my last name. And nearly every woman here dyes her hair. It's a given. Not in New York, certainly not in Boston (my aunt has lovely gray hair), probably not in Toronto. But in Los Angeles, image conscious capital of the universe? You betcha. And here when I bring up our potential move, most everyone squirms and either changes the subject or talks about what a nice city Toronto is. And these are avowed liberals, people who probably feel dreadful about the political climate in this country. In New York, Laura tells me, they dive into the political rationale behind the move. Different cultures. Different styles.
Where you live does matter. The street, the neighborhood, the town, the state, the country. It permeates everything even when you think it doesn't.
When I woke up this morning at 5:40 to the insistent chirrup of a tiny alarm clock in the guest room, I wondered if my mother was already gone. But no, she was just in the living room, preparing to leave. She and I reached the guest room and the off switch at the same time. Time for a (very) early morning hug, the last hug, the hug to last. Right now, as I write, she's on a plane somewhere over North America. It's probably past sunset there even though it's still light here. Right now, as you read, she's probably already landed. Already home. Her home, not mine. Four thousand miles away, give or take. Too far.
When Dan and I first moved out here, we were in our twenties. Distance seemed easy. Hop on a plane every year, wave to the folks back home, settle in your new abode. When you're in your twenties, just out of college, your sense of place is like everything else in your life: fluid and still unknown. And maybe, too, it's nice to be far from family. You can redefine yourself without them. It becomes a way of staking out your own turf, literally as well as emotionally. But I'm not in my twenties. And I don't like this. Not at all. I want community. Community can mean close friends, of course it can. But that's been hard in this city too, a discussion for another time. I do, finally, have people I care about here, though it took forever and a day. But it's still not the same. Nobody here changed my diaper, you know? Nobody knows what my family's apartment on the Upper West Side looked like except from my second hand descriptions. Nobody knew me the first time I fell in love, or helped me pick up the pieces the first time a boy broke my heart. Dan and Damian are my only family here, unless you count a few step uncles and second cousins once removed who we hardly ever see; even though we like them, we're not entangled in each other's lives.
I miss family. I miss a true sense of community and connection and that intimate knowledge of each other. I don’t long to move back to New York the way I did, but I do want to move east. Move closer. Be a car ride away instead of a long plane flight.
I miss my mom. I'm glad we got that last hug in, though. One more for the road.
Caught on their way through Beverly Hills. The only snow hereabouts is fake.
Damian kept running around the house today, "I'm so excited, tomorrow's Christmas!" He's half Jewish, should I feel bad that I'm inculcating him in the majority rule cultural expectations? We did light Hanukkah candles, though we forgot a few nights. And we don't do anything relating to a particular child in a long-ago manger, though a few days ago Damian asked me why they call it Christmas. I explained that there was once a very good man who did and said a lot of wise things and that some people think he's god or related to god but other people think he was just a good man, and anyway, it's a celebration of his birthday, which is where the Christ part comes from. (Didn't go into the mass part, though I suppose he'd be just as curious about that. Maybe next year.)
The thing is, we all know it's not really Christ's birthday, that he was born in April and that the early believers moved it up to blend with and ultimately dominate the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. And we all know that Hanukkah wouldn't be the giving-each-other-presents big deal holiday it sort of is – it's a relatively minor Jewish holy day, no? – if it weren't for American Jews wanting to have a fun kid celebration of their own to coincide with the surrounding in-your-face day of the dominant religious brigade. And we all know, don't we, that Santa and reindeer and north poles and fir trees decorated with twinkling lights, that none of them are truly related to the little Jewish boy allegedly born two thousand years ago in a stable.
I am a secular Jew raised to celebrate the secular Christmas holiday. I enjoy it. I love the tree and the pretty lights. I love Damian's excitement and the excuse to get him things we want him to have. I love that it means people I love have a chunk of time off from work and we can gather together.
I don't love the religious overtones. They make me feel downright squirmy. But I also don't love the religious overtones of Hanukkah, nor the celebration of a battle fought so long ago. I love Passover with its themes of freedom and self-rule. And in a way, I suppose, Hanukkah is similar. But I can't get all worked up over the desecration of a temple to a god I'm skeptical even exists. And I can't get all worked up over a baby who turned into a man who preached a lot of valuable lessons but whose words were later perverted to mean that some people are worth more than others. A lot of blood has been wasted and continues to be wasted in the name of various gods.
So why celebrate if I don't believe? Because the celebration itself is worthwhile, is about community and twinkly lights and fables of red noses and chimneys and ideally, love. For a few years in my early 20's, I stopped celebrating. I found I missed it. Why should I take the fun away from my son and from me, myself, just because I don't believe in a separable part of the proceedings? So when someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas!" I wish them one right back. Because I hope it is. Merry. For all of us. Even those who choose to celebrate a winter holiday on a different day or days. We each celebrate in a different way, don't we?
I tend to think that when I travel a long distance or someone comes a long way to see me (ie: my mom coming 4000 miles from Nova Scotia), every minute has to count. Has to be full to brimming with delicious conversation and meaningful events. But tonight before dinner, I was doing some busy work, Dan was curled up on the couch nestled in a comforter being sick and also reading my newborn novel, and my mother and Damian were sitting at the dining table playing on their recorders. My mom was practicing, Damian was noodling. Not a huge, intense moment chock full of meaning, but a small one. Companionable.
And in a way this is just as important, this peaceable coexisting, people together in the same house, circling around and among each other. It doesn't always have to be verbal or even larger than life to be memorable. Sometimes daily life itself is enough. Someone comes into your house, fits into your world, fits your world into her psyche, and when she leaves, you feel the gap where she was. That, really, is why we travel so far. Not just for the conversation, which we can have by phone, but so we can fuel up on moment-by-moment proximity. Cooking, playing, listening, reading, being.
Something has changed in recent months. I thought – so naïvely – that the election itself, no matter who won, would mean a kind of healing of interpersonal rifts between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Not that Bush or his minions would do anything to help that process; on the contrary, it's been clear that they believe they only need to talk to their own kind and we liberals are Other and Bad. Evil, isn't that what Ann C0ulter calls us?
Anyway, I digress. Or maybe not. The point is, I thought that with the election behind us, we could go back to not talking about politics and pretending we didn't care, at least when we're around people who don't believe what we do. I thought that it wasn't personal, you know? But it is. And it's become only more so since November 2nd. It's so personal we're seriously looking into moving to Canada. So personal I feel gut-punched at the thought of what BushCo is doing to this country. So personal. I feel so strongly about all of this. I may not talk about it much in my blog, but that's because I read blogs that say it much better, not that I have no feelings on the subject. It's become a kind of low-level constant stress. I feel like I’m waiting for things to get worse, knowing they will. Knowing I live in a country where the ruling class want to take away everything I believe is important and do it all in the name of patriotism.
I've always believed that you can be friends with people who live different lives, have different skin colors, have different values. That we can inform and enlighten each other, open each other's eyes and minds, maybe by tiny increments, but that it's very worthwhile. Also that people on the other side of the political fence can be – and many are – good people, with good hearts and minds. I hate prejudice against Republicans as much as I hate any other kind of prejudice. And yet.
We had a wonderful time over Thanksgiving at Tiny Coconut's house. A crucial part of it was the sense that we were among people who felt the way we do. Who understood the impetus to move, who took that seriously and were willing to not only hear it but talk about the things we all see going wrong and how it feels to be living in these times, to be a liberal under a hostile neo-conservative regime.
I imagine socializing with people who voted for Bush, who truly believe he's the right man for the job and that what he's doing is righteous, and I hesitate. I want to say yes, I want to say of course. But right now the wounds are too raw, my anger and pain and that of the people around me too, it's too fresh and harsh and difficult to be here right now as it is. Normally opposing views are good and even necessary, but right now they feel hostile. Sometimes, I think, you do have to close ranks. To be comforted and to comfort rather than opening yourself up to an argument you can't win in times that are so very scary.
I've been waiting – no, hoping – for this for a long time. A year and a half, to be exact. We acquired Cocoa in June '03. Dante hissed at him and stalked away, shocked at this little black fuzzy thing that followed him from room to room and stole all his favorite cat toys.
Then Cocoa wanted to play. Dante hissed some more, smacked him, and ran off, growling. Then Cocoa wanted to play some more. And more. Cocoa is a very persistent fellow. After a while, Dante realized that this was actually fun, this smacking-the-kitten game. After a while, he even started instigating the fun. I knew Cocoa had won Dante over one day when I first saw Dante streak across the living room and on into the kitchen, chased by the black furball and then a few minutes later witnessed them heading back across the room, ninety miles an hour, only this time Dante was chasing Cocoa.
So Cocoa and Dante were play mates. Which was wonderful. I know cats who coexist and never get that close to pleasurable interaction. But Cocoa wanted more. And have I mentioned? Cocoa is persistent. Irresistible force wearing down immovable object. Cocoa wanted more than a boxing partner, he wanted a buddy.
First step: grooming. If he walked up to Dante and licked his fur, Dante would bolt. So he did it more casually; they'd be having a boxing match, thwap, bop, smack, and Cocoa'd have Dante pinned for a moment. What did he do? Go in for the kill? Not exactly. He'd lick Dante's fur, vigorously grooming him. And poor pinned-down irritable Dante would lie there, passive to his antagonist's ministrations. Once I saw Dante bat at Cocoa after Cocoa stopped, cat language for "Hey! Keep going!"
Next step: being groomed. And after a while, Dante did. He'd casually, as if by accident, happen to have his tongue out and happen to want to brush it against something that happened to be black fur and hey, if it cleans a fellow cat, well, why not?
Things have lasted at this plateau for several months now. They play, they groom, they drink from the same bowl at the same time. The one final boundary: they sleep near each other but never closer than that. I once had a pair of Siamese cats, sisters. They used to sleep on top of each other, piled like clean laundry in a basket, flopped over each other. So sweet. Cat love. I've wanted this for our two guys. I think Cocoa does too.
This week he succeeded.
They slept like this all afternoon. At one point, Cocoa put his arm around Dante: "You're my buddy, guy." I was ridiculously pleased. I took far too many photos and walked around grinning. Why do I care? I don't know exactly, but I do.
I think it's partly that I've come to realize since we got a second cat that cats are by nature tribal creatures. They're not the loners everyone thinks they are. They really do thrive on each other's company and form a different kind of relationship with other cats than they do with humans. Stands to reason, right? But I never considered it before. I had a single cat mindset for many years and never knew what my kitty was missing. Now I do and I want all of it for them. I want them to have each other, a community of two. I want them to roughhouse, grouch, get jealous (you petted him, now pet me!), race each other for the food bowl, learn from each other, talk to each other in yowls and chirrups, and yes, curl up and bask in the warmth and comfort of another feline body. We tend to think of cats as companions for us. I mean, isn't that the definition of pet? But they're also animals with their own complex set of needs and instincts. They like human companionship (ours do, anyway) but everyone, even cats, need someone their own size to hang out with. Like minded souls. Tribe.
Okay, now I can celebrate. I've finally finished the first draft of my novel. Yes indeedy, yes I have. And it feels so, so good. And I’m so so proud. And I finished, yes I did, and I'm happy, yes I am and it's good, yes it is. (And I'm not drunk, no I'm not.)
The difference? I rewrote that last ten pages last night. It may not be perfect but it fits now and I can call the manuscript whole now. Because yes, things before the end can be screwy and uneven and oh-my-god-you-have-to-fix-that! messy and I – and my first readers – can accept that. But if the end bumps, well, I think you end up responding to the entire story based on that, even if you don't mean to. I want my readers to close the book with a sigh, feeling that emotional conclusion, that sense of completion. A sense of wholeness, it comes back to that. And I think if the last ten pages yank you out of the story because of their not-rightness, you will end up feeling like you ate only half your meal. And so I considered the novel incomplete even though the draft was technically finished.
It's a funny thing, too. The rewrite was pretty small, a matter of shifting emphasis. All the actions happened in the right order, they just felt wrong. The why was wrong. And at the end of the story, that matters. A lot.
So I rewrote last night, printed the pages this morning, and gave them to my mother, who had already read from page 175 through page 538 in the last three days. She read the new pages before lunch. We sat down to talk about the novel. In depth. For the first time, I can discuss the whole thing with someone and get feedback. Did this work for you, were you surprised by that, did that feel like the right emotional tone there? And she did and it was and she liked it and said she'd recommend it to someone else even if the author were a stranger. She even said that she was in tears reading the last hundred pages. That means more to me than anything. My mother is a highly critical reader and she mostly reads the kind of fiction I aspire to write. If she liked it, I've done okay.
Maybe that's why it feels okay to say it's done now. My mom likes it! Someone who isn't me has seen it, has experienced it as a pure read without knowing what comes next, and has enjoyed that read. That's a powerful feeing for me as a writer. More so than I expected, given the number of screenplays I've written (and shown to readers). This book has lived inside of me for a long time, slowly coming to the surface to emerge in tangible form. For someone else to read and see and understand, well, it makes it real. And so now I can rejoice.
Friday Dan got out of work early. My mom was (and is) here. We needed to go shopping for house-related goods. All of this came together and lo, we went to the mall. We warned Damian about holidays and shopping and insane crowds, braced ourselves for chaos, and drove over. This is a mall where, as soon as December hits, we have to avoid the parking lot and head about five blocks away to find a spot far enough away from the madding crowd, and then hold our collective breath and dive into the mass of humanity.
The place was empty. I mean, EMPTY. Far more parking available than on a regular Friday night. We got a table at the restaurant IMMEDIATELY. On a Friday night a week before Christmas. What gives?
Yesterday (Saturday) we went to Target so Dan could buy his Secret Santa gift. Again, bracing ourselves. Talking about calm thoughts, talking about Zen breathing and creeping around a parking lot at half a mile per hour, talking about hand-to-hand combat for the last available parking spot.
It was empty too.
Today we decided to be touristy and take my mom to Watts Towers. We hopped on the freeway heading through downtown to points south (ie: Watts). Midday Sunday, downtown will be a ghost town, the warm wind whistling through the empty skyscraper canyons.
The freeway was a parking lot. Bumper to bumper. Rush hour style. On a Sunday at two p.m. What gives?
I'm still trying to parse it out. Nobody at the malls a week before Christmas. Everyone on the road. Where are they going? What does it mean? Is this local to Southern California or is it nationwide (or international, even)? Are people going out of town instead of shopping? Has everyone placed their Amazon order already? Are they boycotting Christmas or just too strapped for cash? Is it the advent of online shopping or middle and lower class economic woes? It's so striking, it's not like the frenzy of holiday shopping has been dialed down, it's simply disappeared.
I suspect it's about poverty and that worries me. I heard somewhere that the rich are buying like mad, yachts and $15,000 massage chairs and who knows what else, but everyone else? Not so much. Trickle down my ass.
On the one hand, I think the crass commercialism of the season is bizarre, to say the least. Everyone flooding the malls in a mad dash to check off items on a list, too often out of a sense of obligation rather than love. So it's good that people are staying home, right? On the other hand, an awful lot of businesses need a green Christmas to stay afloat. And of course it's the little guys, the mom and pop shops, who are hurt the most. The huge corporate box stores will just float on by. So it hurries the demise of individuality in commerce. Incredibly sad if true.
But really, beyond all that, it's just plain spooky. Is this a local phenomenon that I’m reading too much into or are my suspicions right and this is happening in every city in the US?
It feels funny doing this, an all out brag. But this is partly a record for me, for the future, to look back and remember (or rediscover) and this is one I definitely want to record. So.
A couple of days ago, Dan came in the door, home from work, looking bemused. "I just met a man outside."
He'd just gotten out of his car in the driveway as this man, mid-thirties, probably Russian, was walking by. The man saw him and stopped. "Do you play the drums?"
"No, I don't."
"I hear drumming coming from your house. It sounds good. I was a drummer myself."
"Oh, that's my son. He started playing recently."
"He's very good. How old is he?"
Apparently the guy was absolutely floored when he found out the drummer he was complimenting was a six year old boy. A veritable prodigy.
I told Damian's drum teacher the story. He smiled and nodded as we watched Damian look at a brand new page of drum beats: sixteenth note grooves. Damian examined the next exercise, frowning over it, making little noises, and then started playing. Just like that. He got it. Just plain got it. When he looked at the second exercise on the page, he said, "This one is easy!" And it was. For him.
I don't know how to explain this. Not the musical ability, that's genetic and personality and inclination and the way his brain works and who knows what else. But how it feels to watch him. To see this talent. I don't have the breadth of knowledge to judge what I'm seeing, to compare to others learning the same thing, though the teacher tells me Damian is much more adept, picking things up more easily. Then again, we do sit with him when he practices. And it's not always perfect, not always easy for him. (The third sixteenth note groove exercise yesterday was tricky, for example.) He's not some kind of freak. He's just very good. It's thrilling. How many people unearth a gift like this at age six? I love being part of it, love helping him discover himself.
So last night I was sitting on the bed, computer on my lap, typing away on my novel. Writing so fast these past couple of weeks, averaging ten pages a day. Writing every day. Writing and writing, oh yes. Time to finish my novel. Just two more weeks until my birthday, a firm and not so arbitrary deadline. I knew I'd be depressed on my birthday if I couldn't point to something big, something solid and real, that I'd accomplished this year. I needed that, needed to be done with the first draft of my first novel. To have that sense of completion.
Well. I do now. Last night my writing session ended not because I ran out of steam but because I ran out of story. Finis. The End. Chapter thirty and goodbye. 114,000 words. 549 pages. I printed it today. It's one hell of a thick tome.
I think I'm still in shock. I've been working on this sucker for so long now, writing so slowly in the cracks between the rest of my life. The first year I wrote 77 pages. I think I wrote that much this last week.
Elation is the wrong word, the wrong emotion. I should be celebrating, I know. I mean, it's an accomplishment, right? But I feel – well, a lot of things. A little sad. This has been my big huge always-present project for so long now. The characters live on in my brain, the texture of the story, the problems to solve in the upcoming set of pages, the sometimes-amazing flat-out joy as I write. I'll never create this particular first draft again, won't feel that pleasure as this particular world unfolds both with and without my conscious volition. I expect to write another novel, and that will be a similar pleasure, but I also know that each manuscript will have its own flavor, it's own joys, and the specific stream of consciousness tone and deeply bittersweet romance of this one will likely be a singular experience. And so yes, that's sad.
I also feel relieved. I made it all the way to the end. I wasn't sure at some points along the way, had no idea how I was going to get from point A to point Z and build the character arcs I wanted in the process. Some big sequences were daunting before I tackled them. Not anymore. Now they're written. To be rewritten, yes, but that's an utterly distinct kind of brain work. I did it. Got all the way through, told the story I wanted to tell.
But I also feel like I'm leaving something unfinished. Just because you write The End doesn’t make it so. I'm not happy with the last ten pages, for example. Maybe I rushed or maybe it's just a tricky passage, but it doesn't feel right and that nags at me. Not a satisfying way to end, y'know? And the whole second half of the book is pretty much the way it first came out of my head onto the screen. It's probably pretty raw stuff, with sentences that don't flow as well as they should, dialogue that says too much, emotional beats that got left behind in the flush of writing. It needs editing. It needs me. It's not ready to go running off on its own yet. Not all grown up yet. I’m not done yet. And so The End can be deceiving. It's an entire document, but it's not a complete one.
But yes, mingled in among all those other emotions, I do have a kind of deep pleasure in the thought: I wrote a novel. It's got a beginning, a middle, an end. I did that. And that part does feel mighty good.
I tend to think of weight issues, overeating, that whole arena, as being emotionally linked. As in: I'm depressed, therefore I crave comfort food. I'm anxious, therefore I jitter and mutter and grab food off the shelf to put in my mouth as if somehow it will magically also stuff my brain so full it'll quiet the worry. And to some extent, I think that's all true. But knowing it doesn't seem to stop the urge, doesn't seem to solve the problem.
I've been exercising a lot lately. Well, a good amount. Working those muscles, pushing and pulling on the Nordic Track, feeling those endorphins. I've even developed calluses on my fingers where the rope pulls through my hands. And yet I haven't – or hadn't – lost any weight. Gained a little, even. Disturbing. What was happening?
Well. Um. You see.
This is embarrassing.
I'm going to jump right to the conclusion here, okay? Maybe that'll make the confession easier.
I realized that food can equal comfort, yes, can equal mood stabilizers, yes. It can also equal money. A cornucopia, richness, the bounty of the harvest. Think about the words, their connotations. Rich food, a sense of luxury. I've been feeling poor lately, feeling frustrated and stymied with it. I can strategize, organize, plan ways to start bringing in a real (or even semi-real) income, but it's all in the future. I can't do much right now, not while Damian's still in school part time. Thus the frustration. Thus the emptiness. Leaving me wanting. Leaving me feeling greedy.
Chocolate, wrapped in gold foil, symbolizes money at Hanukkah. Traditional for the kids. Well, I've been eating my own kind of gelt. Valhrona chocolate, Scharffen Berger, small medallions made by a company called Lake Champlain. The good stuff. Rich, dark, spreads on your tongue like liquid gold. Just a little bit won't affect my weight, right?
But the urge for a little now, a little an hour later, a little after that, it does. Adds up like expenditures on a credit card. Time to pay the bill and oh damn, that hurts.
I don't know how to create true non-monetary richness in my life, not yet, but I'm thinking about it. But I can tell you this: it's not about the chocolate.
I've lost three pounds this week. My secret? No more chocolate. Sad but true.
Oddly, I feel richer for it.
Something you don't see every day: a wall with three colors.
This is called experimenting when you're not sure what color really works with your blue-green tile.
None of these colors passed the "um, no" test.
This one did.
There is, of course, a longer story behind this. But I think it's enough to see the evidence and imagine the details.
Today is the anniversary of my first date with Dan. We met outside the movie theater on 57th and Lexington, stood shivering on line making awkward small talk, and saw The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford playing the idealistic back-to-nature father of a large brood. We had a late dinner at an Italian restaurant in a narrow space, ate very little and talked a lot. Then he drove me home, back to my tiny apartment in a Park Slope brownstone. He stayed the night and never really left.
That was eighteen years ago. Hard to believe. That encompasses the lifetime of some bloggers out there. It feels like a lifetime to me, too. Feels hard to remember a time before we were together. I find myself trying to inject him into my memories from high school, college, childhood events. How could I not have known him then? How could I have been in the dark about the boy I was to spend my life with?
I just finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, an excellent book. We recently saw The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on pay-per-view. Also quite good. Both movie and book play with the same themes, in a way, or at least complimentary ones: Are people meant for each other? How much free will do we have? Are we drawn to each other because we're meant to be together? Can we veer off course? What is love, anyway?
What if Dan and I had never met? Or maybe we met but he decided he wasn't really over his last girlfriend after all? Or maybe I pushed too hard the first few weeks and he retreated, scared? Or maybe we went to a different movie that night, had a different conversation, didn't get past the awkward small talk stage? What if we'd never clicked? What if?
My life would obviously be radically different. I might not have moved to Los Angeles, might not have had the courage to do it alone. Might not have left editing without the emotional and financial support. My child (assuming I found that life-mate yes! click with someone else) would have had a different genetic makeup, he wouldn't have been the boy I know and love but would have been someone I'll never now know. Different life paths, different identities.
I'll never know. I don't want to know. I may have made mistakes with this life – I know I have – but meeting and choosing to be with Dan wasn't one of them. He's shaped me, I've shaped him, I've grown into myself in large part because of him, and I cherish all of that and more. But still I wonder. Do those alternate lives exist out there somewhere? If I could go back in one of Damian's beloved time machines, what – and who – would I see? Could I alter my life path? Would I want to? If I can't, if I was meant to be with Dan, meant to mother Damian, meant to try my hand at screenwriting and fall flat on my face and then turn to other writing with the outcome so far unknown, if all that was meant to be, was my destiny, then why do the choices in the here and now seem so fraught? Is there ever one right answer?
In retrospect it all seems so inevitable. This leads to that, this is your life. But is it? Does it need to be? If it isn't, then it's all random and that's scary too, in a different way. If I think about it too hard, I start to drown in it. But one thing I do know. Eighteen years ago, Dan and I made a choice without realizing it. We chose each other. The rest is a profound mystery.
This has been a loooonnnnngggg time coming.
A brief historical sketch:
We moved to this house three and half years ago. The kitchen was so dreadful the seller's realtor started suggesting remodel ideas.
We hired a handyman to seal off a doorway and an ironing board closet, also to tear out a horribly placed kitchen island and built-in oven from the 40's (if not before) and the most ominous, block-like overhead THING meant to surround a vent. He left huge gouges in the vinyl floor and strips of exposed plywood where the horrors had been excised, like petrified footprints embedded in rock.
That was March 2003. Nearly two years ago. (You'll find a pictorial of that job here.) We worked hard the next month or so to eradicate the dreary, caked-on paint job (institutional green, in layers) (we stripped and painted, it was a nightmare) (we should have ripped the cabinets out but we didn't have the money). We succeeded, I think.
Except for the floor. Which remained. Torn-up cheap vinyl. Ugly as sin. What to do? Tile? Expensive. Labor-intensive if we do it ourselves, probably rendering the kitchen unusable for weeks. Linoleum? Not as cheap as you'd think for the good stuff. And. Y'know. Linoleum. Oh, and by the way? The lino under the vinyl? Asbestos-laden. 30%, I think it was. That's a lot. So we'd have to hire abatement folk to tear up the stuff. Except the abatement guy? Said if they couldn't get it off the plywood they'd just take up the floor. Yeah. The whole floor. Boards too. And then when Dan called him back to ask another question (ie: what exactly is left if you do that?), the man never returned the call. As in, not ever.
Hmm. What to do?
I'm not a huge fan of laminate. I don't think Pergo looks like wood, I truly don't. But it's far better than lino and half the price of tile. And you don’t have to remove the toxic stuff, just set it right on top. Simple.
And Dan found an Alloc faux tile laminate that looked pretty damned good.
So. Friday. Eight fifteen a.m. Ding-dong, workmen here.
They get right to work:
Laying down the flooring:
And the results:
I realize I misspoke in last night's entry. It's not so much that Damian's reading everything he sees. It's that he's back in question everything mode, only this time he's not asking why the sky is blue or how food turns into poop, he's asking more relational questions. "Mommy, what are you talking about on the phone?" And if I say it's too complicated to sum up, "Mommy, tell me about that." Also lots of "Mommy, what are you doing? Why are you doing that? What are you reading? Can you read it to me?" He wants to know all about me, wants to see the world through my eyes and thereby expand his own awareness and understanding. It's a real pain, explaining myself constantly to an inquisitive child.
I love it.
Tonight as Damian was working very hard at not getting into his pajamas (ie: procrastinating like mad), he gazed curiously at my computer screen. "Mommy, those words say Bad Mother. Why does it say that?"
"Well, um," (and how do I explain blogs to a six year old?) "This woman writes about her life, just like I write about my life. I call mine Postscript. She calls hers Bad Mother even though she's not really a bad mother. She's being sarcastic."
He contemplates this. "Then she should change it so it says Good Mother."
"I'll tell her." (Ayelet? Don’t worry about what my six year old son thinks of your title. Personally, I love it. And I’m not six so I'm your more likely demographic.)
Damian's got his pajama pants on now, his arms through the top like a straightjacket and his narrow chest exposed to the not-so-harsh elements. His gaze strays again. "Mommy, what's that? It looks like a drawing of a person with a T in the middle."
"Yeah, that's just what it is."
"Why is there a T there?"
(How do I explain DES? I don’t.)
"Well, you know how babies grow in their mommies' uteruses?" (A nod.) "Well, a uterus usually looks like this." (I make a very rough approximation with my hands, probably rougher than necessary given that I suddenly can't remember the shape at ALL.) "But some women have uteruses with other shapes and then it's hard to keep a baby inside them. This woman has a uterus shaped like a T." (I know how to make a T with my hands, this I'm much more confident about.) "That's why she has that drawing there."
He accepts this. Which is good, because I’m not quite ready for the explanation of how Getupgrrl's eggs are currently growing into glorious little fetuses in another woman's body. He'd probably find it fascinating, but he still needs to finish pulling his pajamas over his head.
I got off easy tonight. Now that he can read, I have to be excruciatingly careful. We've been dancing around the A word for a while now when we're in his vicinity. The kid has ears. But now he has eyes too. I'd hate for him to find out he's on the autistic spectrum by reading it online first and coming to me with that wide-eyed simple curiosity: "Mommy, what's that word mean next to my name?"
I'm not ready for that conversation yet. That one's going to be harder than the birds and the bees speech (which we had in the aisles of a pharmacy about a month ago and woo was that interesting). I want to have a little more time before that conversation. Guess I should hide all the autism-related books, huh?
Reading is supposed to be such a great thing for kids. And it is. It's also dangerous. For their parents.
My husband works as an editor on a well known dramatic series. It's a good gig, creative in the first cut, collaborative in the later passes when you sit with the director or producer and make changes. At least in theory. The reality can be different depending on the show. Some producers are nitpicking monsters who prefer their editors to be hands attached to tape recorders in lieu of brains. But Dan is lucky; the showrunner on this series is talented, intelligent, and reasonably willing to set his own ego aside and listen to his creative team.
After the producer's cut, though, it's time for studio and network notes. Usually delivered via speakerphone; editor present and accounted for. A few episodes ago, Dan was in the room listening to the executives give notes. When they got to a particular scene, they complimented the musical choice (an extremely apropos pop song). Kudos all around, everyone loved it. The showrunner commented that the editor fought hard for that song.
Silence on the other end.
Nobody – not one single executive – said "Good for him" or "Give him a raise" (ha) or the most natural of all, "Good call." Nobody acknowledged the showrunner's classy referral of credit. Why? Because if the showrunner chose the song, it was worthy of praise. If a lowly below-the-line editor made the call rather than a high-paid, high profile producer? Embarrassing to even mention. What a faux pas, oops, sorry we noticed.
I swear, when Dan told me, I wanted to march over to the network and slap them all down. This industry is one of the most horrendously hierarchical businesses I've ever witnessed. If you're not Somebody, you're dirt.
Bullshit. People are people, people are not great-fabulous-loved-your-last-movie kiss-kiss luv-ya call-ya or, on the other hand, dirt. People are people. I've met movie stars, I've met the people who empty their garbage. Sometimes I like the latter more than the former. People are people. This business, because of the aura of fame and fortune, the glory seeking Entertainment Tonight glitzy surface of it and the disgustingly enormous salaries of the folk at the top, because of all of that, it breeds contempt. But people are people. And the people on the other end of that phone line all deserve spankings. I don't believe in corporal punishment but I'll make an exception here. Nothing less will get through to them.
You'd think with all this writing I've been doing (nineteen thousand words since last Monday, a/k/a 92 pages in EIGHT DAYS) (yes, I'm still in shock), I'd be exhausted. That I'd sleep well, smug and content with myself and my voluminous output.
Not so much. I've been sleeping very badly indeed, in fact. Turns out writing flat-out like this? Not good for your composure. I lie down and my brain turns on. What did I write today? Was it good, did it work? Maybe this part did, but what about that part? What's up next? What shape will it have? What tone? What emotion? Where are my main characters now, after what I put them through today? How do they feel? Where do they go? Does my mental sketch of the next set of pages still work? What do I do if it doesn't? Do I keep going and risk derailing, skidding into the nearest embankment, taking my entire novel with me, or do I slow down and reconsider, rewrite, rethink?
I think as a writer I need time to digest, to dream the story, to feel it deep in myself. And if I’m not giving myself time in between writing sessions, my brain insists on taking it. Late at night. When I'm trying to fall asleep.
Two days ago, I wrote a scene. Not a bad scene, I thought, but afterwards, I was in a terrible mood. I ended up printing it out and showing it to Dan. Verdict: too on the nose, tells us emotional beats we already know. Solution: rewrite. Instead of having the character talk about how he feels about his father, have him give an anecdote that illustrates it in a more oblique way. Simple, obvious even. I think if I hadn't been writing so fast, I'd have seen it myself. But sometimes when you're rushing to keep up with a train, your surroundings blur. You know something wasn't quite right back there at the last crossing, but you didn't get a good enough glimpse to know what.
I rewrote. I liked it much better. I felt much better. My emotional equilibrium is apparently dependent on the quality of my output, a perilous state of affairs.
Yesterday I wrote a scene. A very hard scene. One of those pivotal, center-of-the-emotional-narrative scenes. One of those scenes I usually avoid for days, cleaning out my cabinets and doing lots of extraneous "research" instead of writing. (And you wonder why it takes so long for me to finish a novel!) Now, though, I have a deadline (I want a complete manuscript by my birthday on the 29th and I'm still, oh, 30 to 50 pages away). No avoiding. So I wrote yesterday. Slowly at first. Smoothly at first. Some of the best writing I've done, I think. But partway through it shifted. I kept writing anyway, hoping I'd catch the mood or maybe I was wrong, maybe this was strong after all and I was just too close to it to know.
This may explain why I was awake half the night. It may not. But I was. Up and fretting. I know it's not a big deal, I do know that. So what if I delete and rewrite, so what if it takes a few tries to shape what I want? But somehow it mattered at two a.m. that what I'd written wasn't resonant, wasn't evocative, wasn't what it should be.
It probably doesn't help that I'm currently immersed in an amazing book, The Time Traveler's Wife. It's brilliant so far. It's also written in a style very unlike my own. Spare. Understated. Poetic, yes, but in a vastly different way. My book is more, well, dreamlike. Hallucinogenic at times. I try to keep it somewhat grounded, but I go far inside my characters' minds. And when you're reading something that feels nearly perfect but is so radically different from what you're creating, it makes you question every word, every phrase, every choice. And then you write something that doesn't ring true and ugh. Just ugh.
Bad night last night. Took the day off from writing today. Reread what I had. Cut a bit. I'll go back to it tonight after Damian's in bed and see if I can add the emotional beats that feel missing and alter the ones that feel untrue. I don't want to write forward tonight, I just want to fix what I have. I want to calm my insane writer self down so she lets me get some sleep tonight.
One of the facets of this experience, writing in a rush after having worked on the book such a long time, is that I'm living the novel as I go. It's becoming me or I'm becoming it, I'm not sure which. And so when something's off and wrong, it feels like part of my anatomy's twisted. I need a cast but I have to make do with a rewrite. A kinder sort of surgery, I suppose, though it doesn't feel like it at the moment.
Wish me luck. My sleep depends on it.
I yelled at Damian today. I'm not proud of it but there it is. Yes, it happens sometimes, parents yell at their kids, but this was a particularly egregious instance because I was theoretically trying to encourage (note the word, connoting warmth and nurturing) him to practice his drumming.
We do this every day; I sit on his bed with the book of practice rhythms all written out in musical notations. He sits at his drums wearing red headphones, the kind that block out sound rather than transmitting it, saving his eardrums for old age. I too wear earplugs, but the kind that fit in your ear canal. I am, after all, a grownup. Or at least, I'm supposed to be. Though grownups keep their tempers when trying to teach children to learn patience. So maybe I don't qualify. Maybe I too should wear red earmuffs signifying my lapse in maturity.
Here's the thing. Damian is very good at the drums. For a six year old, he's phenomenal. He has a natural sense of rhythm, he picks things up amazingly fast, he looks at a bar written out and then sort of spaces out for a moment, looking dreamy, hearing it in his head. Then he just plays it, nearly perfectly. He loves it, too. He's told me he no longer wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. Now he wants to be a drummer. Not just any old drummer, either. The best in the whole world, with his picture on the front page of the paper. No, I don't know where this notion came from. I was amused and slightly appalled. It's great to aim high as long as you don't mind the arduous climb.
Which brings me back to where I began. Because yes, he is very good at the drums. Natural talent, great ear, good memory, all that, yes, yes and yes. But that doesn't mean he's superhuman. Doesn't mean he can just magically achieve all the complex changes in beat and notes that he needs in order to progress. He has to actually, y'know, LEARN this stuff. But if something feels a little tricky, he says, "Let's do it tomorrow," or "I want to do it one time only." He whines, he fidgets with his drumsticks, he tries to argue and negotiate and cajole me into letting him do only the easiest grooves.
Part of me says hell yes, he's only six years old, this is not work, this should be fun, give the kid a break. And I would, but this is not just about the drums. This is about Damian. He never wants to do anything if it feels hard. If he can't do it easily and well right off the bat, he won't do it at all. Or at least not without a whole lot of coaxing (or, ahem, yelling). I could blame it on the remnants of autism, I know that a lot of skills have been harder for him to acquire than most children could ever comprehend. Like, say, talking. And going down slides. And walking across a jungle gym without panicking. But his friend Corey is also borderline maybe-no-longer autistic, and Corey's the opposite of Damian. If Corey can't do something, he'll keep trying and trying and lo, he's got it mastered. Damian, not so much. Some of this may just be his nature, this unwillingness to stick his neck out, to fail, to be less than perfect. But it's a deadly trait. Because you can't achieve anything much in your life if you're not willing to fall flat on your face a dozen times, to brush off the dirt, put band-aids on the cuts, and do it again. And again.
So I see this drum practice as a challenge. Not just for him but for me. I have to learn to teach him. I have to show him that it's not only okay to make mistakes, it's important. Crucial, even. And I do tell him all of this. I even point out that he balked at trying the paradiddle at first (right-left-right-right, left-right-left-left) and now it's so easy he can do multiple iterations while carrying on a conversation and pulling up his sock in between beats. I thought he got it. I thought he understood from experience, that he could feel it in his body, how much easier a groove gets when you keep at it. And he did for a while, he'd dive into the hard stuff and smile with his eyes alight and happy when he finally nailed it. But he's been slipping lately, he's been in a recalcitrant mood. And I didn't expect it this morning. Wasn't prepared. Responded badly. I too need to remind myself it's okay if I make mistakes, I don’t always get it right every time. I too need practice.
Tomorrow. I will be calm, I will be proud of him (which I am), I will coax gently and warmly and talk about all of this with him, that drum practice is practice for life. I will be a better mom tomorrow.
Hi. How are you? Been a few days, huh? I miss you too. What have I been up to? Oh, not much. Just cranking out a few thousand words a day, y'know, your average everyday sort of life. Other than that, not much. And you?
Ahem. Yeah, I'm back. In fact, I did something foolish. I signed up for Holidailies. Yup, I'm going to finish my novel AND post an entry every single day from December 7th through January 6th. Yup. Because those words, I just can't get enough of them. Well, also because I did it last year and enjoyed it. Also because I tried Blog Explosion and hated the endless surf-through ick-this-blog-bites-I-hope-the-next-one's-good accumulation of points. It made me depressed, actually. So many mediocre blogs out there. Also some good ones (I blogmarked some, will go back and get acquainted real soon and may in fact surf some more, too, but in limited doses). But just so many. A veritable ocean of blogs. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of humanity. Blogging can be a statement of individuality, I think that's what appeals to us as writers and as readers. But en masse it becomes a blur, the sky full of too many stars and it becomes a vague pulsating headache-inducing light.
I like Holidailies. I like the manageable size. I like the fact that many of the bloggers and journallers are drawn from a community that already know each other (hi, guys). It feels far less anonymous as a result. I also like that it's a portal, that you can read the teaser for an entry and choose to click or not click. You choose whether to read my words. Much more pleasant than forced surfing through endless smiley-faced sweet mom and angry conservative sports fan blogs.
Besides, I do miss writing here. Whenever I stop for a bit, half a dozen entries pop into my head and crowd out more important thoughts. The only cure, apparently, is to keep the blog up to date and clear the debris out of my brain. Anyway, I figure I'm on a roll now with the novel. And writing begets writing. And besides, why not? So I signed up.
See you Tuesday, if not before.
Oh, and while I'm being meta, go pre-order Erin's book, okay? Now that she's listed contributors, I can tell you that I'm one of them. I'm delighted to be part of it and look forward to reading the book as a whole. It's a wonderful concept and a juicy set of writers.
I seem to have taken an inadvertent leave of absence from this blog. Also possibly from my sanity. And certainly from my social responsibilities (Email? What's that? I'm sorry, did you write me? I'll write back, I will. At some point. Maybe even soon. I swear.)
I'm not quite sure, though. It may in fact be the opposite. I seem, at any rate, to have discovered a secret, a well of extra time in my day or, okay, maybe just more efficient use of the time I had always so casually, thoughtlessly discarded while bitterly complaining that there was never enough.
All of which is to say that I've been writing like a turbocharged demon on the lam from the law.
It started with the realization that my birthday's coming up (the 29th of this month, if anyone's paying attention to dates) and that I still haven't finished this damned novel, nor have I published, nor have I done much else of note in the past few years (excluding the whole parenting deal). I may not have a huge degree of control over the publishing part, but you know? Can't publish what doesn't exist. And I can at least take control of that part. Finish the first draft by my birthday? Why not?
At the time – roughly five days ago – I had a little more than 400 pages written, about 80,000 words. My goal is simply to get to the end of the book, wherever that may fall, but I expected it would come somewhere between page 450 and 500, somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 words. So fifty to one hundred pages in a month. Doable, though I've probably never written quite that much in one sustained drive. But Diane was zipping through her NaNoWriMo novel, writing 2000 to 3500 words per day. Surely I could apply backside to seat cushion, fingers to keyboard, and tap out 1000 words a day (approximately five pages). Twenty five pages a week, one hundred pages in four weeks, The End a done deal in a month.
But this is December. Month of extracurricular activities. Holiday shopping, celebrating, school vacation (starts the 18th), mother visiting (starts the 16th). Not only that, but we're mid-bathroom spruce-up, which entails a lot of painting. Which is primarily my department. And did I mention some people are coming next week to put new flooring in the kitchen and someone else is coming to hollow out the cabinet next to the sink for a dishwasher and someone else will come to hook up the plumbing and someone else the electricity, a veritable parade of worker bees? Hard to get sustained writing in with all that commotion.
But why not try?
This week I've been trying. And a funny thing happened. Once I decided I could, I did. Ten pages (2000 words) Monday, fifteen pages (3000 words) Tuesday, another ten pages yesterday and eight pages so far today, rapidly closing in on ten. I'm on page 450 at this moment but by the time I go to bed, that landmark too will be past history.
There's probably nothing more boring than hearing a writer talk about page count. I realize this. But you have to understand. I have never, no not ever done this before. It's like flying, like skimming along the surface of water in a motorboat that turns into a glider plane and you're soaring and everything's moving so fast it's a blur, and you're dizzy and laughing and giddy with it all.
More important to me, I don't think my writing has suffered for it. I’m not just filling space, writing randomly, hoping to somehow tap dance my way to the end. I can tell. If I look back at the pages I wrote so painstakingly, a page one day and half a page another, they're the same in tone, in style, in content. It's of a piece. And that makes me happy too.
I don't know if I could do this earlier in the novel. In fact, I know I couldn't have done it in the first chapters. I had to find the tone, find the voice, set up the story. Too much to do. Too hard. Impossible to barrel through that and do a good job. But this? If I've done my job, I've set everything in motion already, built and built the story threads up until it's all ready to topple over. The ending is a matter of giving it the push and helping it all cascade down. Or something. I'm not sure. I'm still in the midst of it.
But there's something else at work here. The fact of deciding to write more every day, to push past that "this is HARD!" whine that says stop, frees me up. I feel it every day. The first page is tough. I'm finding my stride and I keep slipping. But then? If I say, "Okay, big deal, it'll pass," it does. The muscle cramps, the brain stutter, the myriad excuses for stopping, they fade away and leave me alone to write. And that's good to know. That I can do this.
This week I write in the morning while Dan's getting Damian dressed. I write in the afternoon while Damian's at school. I write in the later afternoon if Damian's got a floor timer in the house. I write at night on my bed, listening to Damian's sleep-snuffle and occasional sleep-commentary (he talks in his sleep but we rarely understand what he says). Words pour out of me with every sigh, with every exhale. Out my ears, my pores, my fingertips. And I’m happy. So so happy.