The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

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Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

Magpie Meditation: Reset

I’ve been in an unmindful hurry in the last few months. rushing to be creative, introspective, helpful, attentive, and healthy.  With the best of intentions I  spread myself too thin. In hindsight I see how, in increments, I knocked myself right out of balance.

I work three days a week.  On those days it is my job to be there for people who are in difficult life situations. I provide a safe, accepting environment in which people can examine their thoughts ad feelings and make the changes they want  to make in their lives. It is an unbelievably  rewarding career. I have learned more from those who have walked through my office door than I could ever express in words.

On the four days I do not work one might think I  had   plenty of time  to break out of professional mode, put on my sweats and….read, write, cook, daydream, garden, blog, ….an organic, rejuvenating flow of energy.  On paper it works nicely. In reality, on my days off I still have to answer work calls, schedule doctor’s appointments, and wait for the cable man.  On some days off I may still be  so tired from the three long days I have  worked that it is a struggle to be as creative as  I would like to be.

Shouldn't you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

Shouldn’t you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

I was juggling it all flexibly enough until  late October 2013 when  I impulsively signed up for  my first NaNoWriMo challenge.  All of November I hunted and I pecked and I came up with the required number of words. I loved, loved, loved, participating in NaNoWriMo. And what do I have now? I have a teeny tiny little novel that needs big editing. I’m convinced that my characters deserve to be brought to life in print, where they will be loved and cherished by all.  With all the pride of a new mother, I think my baby book is  uncommonly beautiful.

Now, on my “off” days I am  trying to teach myself what we do after we write a draft of a novel. Do I know what I am doing? Not at all.  Do I have a writing group? Not at all. I spend my time reading books about writing books, searching on the internet for what to do with a book manuscript, and on the actual editing of the book. Also, for a person with the technical skills of the main character in The Gods Must Be Crazy, being gifted with a new computer for Christmas proved a mixed blessing. I can’t tell you what  all the problems have been because it will cause flashbacks of my having talked to every single Apple support employee, except to say that I did not have Pages ’09, and therefore  for a time could not open up my poor little book on the new laptop. Sigh.

On a more serious note, in  the middle of the frenetic NaNoWriMo month,  I learned that a very close friend, not a blogger, has  a life threatening illness. I spoke with her on a Tuesday while  she was getting ready for work. By Saturday of that same week, after an emergency room visit for severe pain, she had a diagnosis and was meeting with her treatment team. While she wasn’t looking, she left her old life and started a new one. The gods really MUST be crazy.

Even now when I say to myself that she is sick, part of me says, “No she’s not.” But she is. For now she is doing well, but still has a hard uncertain road ahead. Though her illness is not my story, my role as her friend has changed. I need to gather strength in order to be a person who to whom she can  say anything, especially those things she cannot say elsewhere. I need to pay attention in order to be a person who steps in when needed, and out when not. I need to be a person who does not always treat my friend as though she is a sick person.    I need to be honest with myself in order to  accept my powerlessness to change the progression or outcome of her illness.  I am honored to assume these roles, but of necessity I have had to learn them on the fly.

The realities of the last few months  left me feeling frantic on days when I was not working, longing to be alone, and to be needed by no one SO I COULD  GET SOME WORK DONE!!!!  Yet when  alone, I did not experience the peace I and contentment I sought. Fear that I would run out of time on this earth, that I would never be able  to learn and do all I want caused me to try to wring every productive moment out of every day. When was I going to get around to editing my book? Knitting? Working on my new scrapbook? What about that online photography class I needed so sorely? When would I research my trip to Paris? What about my blog post?   I began to feel overwhelmed with that dread that says “You should be _________ right now.”

  I do know better than to try to be a “human doing”. Because of my vulnerability  I must have deluded myself into thinking that because I enjoy learning, making, and doing, that it would be appropriate to do them all at a breakneck pace without savoring the individual moments.  I worked myself into ignoring the part where I was going ninety miles an hour. I’ve been here before.  But apparently  learning to just be is one of those life lessons  I am destined  to learn over and over again.

The funny thing is how I came to notice all of this. I knew I felt  unsettled, not right.  Good  detective work on my part. But guess what my solution was? I TRIED TO ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY SCHEDULE WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!!!!! That’s right folks; I decided that just a few minutes of scheduled meditation, along with study of same, would bring me back to a peaceful place. Part of the absurdity of this is that I purely cannot stand for my time to be  taken up, even if it is taken up by me. I want to do what I want to do WHEN I want to do it.

So when I tried to implement my ill conceived  plan, I heard the most distinct voice inside myself saying,”NO. NO. NO. This is the problem. YOU are the problem.” At least that time, if not for the preceding weeks, I did listen. And I knew I had to start back at the beginning. For me, that means with a notebook and pen. That means every day, not just some days. That means asking me what I want to do, and listening to the answer. It means that once I check in with myself, I have accomplished the most important task of the day. Whatever I do afterwards I will do  more mindfully by default. That’s what matters.

Where the rubber meets the road. Source: caps.umich.edy

Where the rubber meets the road.
Source: caps.umich.edy

I am a few days into my reset now. Once I attend to myself through my journal I find I am quite ready and willing to meditate. Though everyone’s experience is individual, I can report feeling less rushed and less anxious.  When I breathe I am aware of more  inner space. I am also aware of a deep weariness in my shoulders. What better way could my body tell me I need to let go?

I am still busy, but I am busy differently. Busy noticing. Busy being. Busy starting over and feeling more balanced.  I will never have time to do everything that interests me. I will never be able to control the passing of time.  But however I do spend my time, I want to feel alive and present in that moment, for it will never come again. It is comforting to know that if from time to time I veer off of the  course I  want to follow that I can simply reset.

What about you? Do you ever need a reset? And if so, what works for you?

Bon Voyage!

Dear 2013,

A  few nights ago I  navigated myself to your outer deck and from there leaped onto another vessel named 2014. I  hope she will be as hardy and productive as you were when I was with you. Having only been aboard for four days, I haven’t exactly gotten my bearings. I find myself looking out portholes, back to where I see your sturdy form  chugging away in the opposite direction, growing smaller in my vision with each passing day. I know it’s too late to turn back now.

Things don’t seem the same without you. It’s not that I’m pessimistic  about my trip aboard the 2014, but thus far we have no shared history. The sudden change has caused me to reflect on our time together, on moments of whimsy, creativity, tedium, frustration and exhilaration we shared. From my vantage point I would say we had a successful voyage together. To thank you for your loyal service I am sending you some remembrances to look over when you have the inclination. Here they are, in no particular order:

Istanbul:

A feast for the eyes and the spirit.

A feast for the eyes and the spirit.

The mild winter of 2013:
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A return to the meditative practice of knitting:

Luscious color ways.

Luscious color ways.

Embracing my ongoing remedial skill level in painting:
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Gardening – Some things came up; others didn’t.DSC_0273

Preserving – The famed laboratory kitchen. “Figging”, by the way, means something other than picking figs in the back yard. It has to do with punishing one’s female slaves. Who knew?DSC_0721

Writing – NaNoWriMo. I never dreamed you would navigate me through this, 2013. I would recommend the experience to anyone. And of course it is not over. So far I have had three people read my little book. Hopefully 2014 will bring more readers!

Daily Happiness:
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The Condo – I will be posting more about this but in June of 2013 we were finally able to begin to use it.DSC_0708

Family: 2013 helped me see my children wherever I could: San Francisco, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, and in my own home.

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Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

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Under the pergola

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In St. Louis, opening up “Breaking Bad” Christmas presents.

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In an enthusiastically decorated German restaurant in Manhattan, drinking mulled wine.

At the Space Needle

At the Space Needle

In St. Louis

In St. Louis

Not So Good Ideas: Of course no voyage is without some pratfalls, like flooding your bedroom and having to pull up the whole floor,IMG_2162IMG_2419Or  an imaginary ice storm which uprooted two cypress trees and knocked over my fence.IMG_2422I’m very grateful that the very nice fence man who came  the next day was not also imaginary.

2013 darling,  I could go on and on, but I just can’t include everything. You were a good companion for me; healthy but sassy, unpredictable but rarely actually harmful, full of surprises but also on a good path.We made some precious memories.  I’ll miss you, but it’s always good to leave when you are still a little reluctant to do so. Wish me luck with my voyage on the 2014; she has some large shoes to fill. Speaking of shoes, I’ve got to go now. It’s time to find my sea legs on the good ole 2014.

Happy Sailing!

It’s the Real Thing

Hi Everybody! The Magpie is BACK after spending November, the month of Thanksgiving, typing furiously as well as inaccurately, which I know how to do at the same time, on my NaNoWroMo novel. I seem to have come out the other side with few ill effects except for realizing that I had been washing my hair with conditioner and wearing my bedroom slippers with the cardboard inserts still inside. What will become of my little novel? Thanks so much for asking. At the moment I plan to correct the typos and save it as a PDF so that a few carefully selected persons can read it. After that, I don’t know.

Naturally the NaNoWriMo experience has changed me. I am flooded with gratitude to all the authors out there who have slaved throughout history to create imaginary worlds for me to inhabit. I cannot even begin to count how my life has been enriched from their efforts which have allowed me to   know unforgettable characters, to identify  with their struggles, and to become  a part of their lives. Do not  say their lives aren’t real. YES THEY ARE!  And how I have mourned when a beloved tale has ended, for I was not ready to say goodbye.

I have greedily taken in all these riches provided to me by hard working men and women of vision and perseverance just the way I imagine ancient Romans used to feast at their ….parties, as though there were no tomorrow. That is no problem in itself; I consider daily reading to be a necessity, not a luxury. Read, read, for tomorrow we may die, I believe the saying goes.

But where I find fault with myself is in my not having been able to  see what very hard work it is  for these authors to craft their collections of words and sentences. Previously, after polishing off a book, I would say with a dismissive sniff something like, ” This author has used the word magnificent five times already”, or, “I can see where this plot is going. Is this author trying to insult my prodigious intelligence with this elementary story?”  And here’s the most infamous one of all ,”I could have written this.” NOT!!!!!  Readers, I have  now seen the light. Even a so- so, run of the mill, no brainer story requires serious work!

My second big NaNoWriMo change is a renewed appreciation for those who read what I write. In today’s  WordPress forum, reading a post is even more work than ever because of all the buttons one must push to get to the original post, a procedure which, like a long line at the grocery store, gives one time to decide if he REALLY wants to read this post. I did not formerly take readers for granted; no, I have been thrilled to have anything of mine read. However,  while writing for NaNoWriMo I came to see how important it is for a writer to have some feedback from the audience. I found myself wondering how readers would react to the creative decisions I made. That is why I am so eager, even hungry, for someone to read my little NaNoWriMo and meet my characters. They’re real, you know.

When I finally hit the “validate” button on the NaNoWriMo site this year, I did not know what to do with myself. Suddenly it was December. It began to sink in with me that I am traveling a lot this December and that I actually just had one day to Christmas shop and had no ideas of what to shop for. My poor tortured spirit, so depleted after my monumental authorly marathon, rebelled. It demanded to connect to something more real, more authentic than chasing around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to purchase and give away material items to folks who don’t really need anything. Really, Christmas shopping is no substitute for the thrill of writing.

So of course, I grabbed for a very comforting something real: a book series that I have already read. I am sure you all have your favorite go-to, read-again books. But in the spirit of gratitude I am sharing one of mine. Who knows when you may need to take refuge from the unrealistic expectations and disgusting commercialism that make up the holiday season?

Unknown-2

Source:bookmarcsonline.com

You may be familiar with Louise Penny’s well written Inspector Gamache detective series which takes place mainly in a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines. Why do I love it so? The main draw for me is how the author draws me in and makes me long to jump in my car and drive without stopping the 36 or so hours it would take me to get to this ancient village, where all the inhabitants seem to be sitting by a warm fire, drinking hot chocolate and saying words in a sexy French accent.

Source:louisepenny.com

Source:louisepenny.com

If you were to join me in Three Pines we could stay at the Bed and Breakfast run by an engaging  gay couple, Gabrí and Olivier,  where we would be served gourmet meals while we discussed who could have committed the most recent murder. We might be interviewed by Inspector Gamache, the honorable, perceptive Head of the Sûreté de Quebec, who prizes above all the ability to listen in order to solve a crime. And his ability to quote poetry by heart is a definite plus. That evening we would be invited to the home of one of the local citizens, perhaps that of Myra Landers, the  caftan clad retired psychologist who runs a used bookstore. Other guests would include  foul mouthed Ruth Zardo, the eminent poet, and the artists Clara and Peter Morrow. Dinner would consist of a simple but hearty stew with a crusty French bread and local wine, followed by cheese, fruit, and coffee.

Source:wallpaperweb.com

Source:wallpaperweb.com

After all my NaNoWriMo frenzy,  nothing would have suited me better than to be taken into the arms of the Three Pines residents. Ah, how they would congratulate me for committing myself to the NaNoWriMo project; I would bask in their approval. After our dinner at Myra’s we would walk through the snowy white wonderland of the village, our boots crunching in the  silent snow. Gabrí, one of the Bed and  Breakfast proprietors, would be waiting up to serve us a snifter of brandy. Then it would be time to go upstairs to sleep in one of the antique beds with its crisp white linen. We would sleep soundly until awoken by the heady aroma of fresh baked croissants and maple cured Canadian bacon cooking on the stove.

Source;hdwallpaperstop.com

Source;hdwallpaperstop.com

I would love to say I would meet you in the town where my own novel takes place, but I don’t yet dare to have such lofty dreams. But if you are game, and want a cozy place to recuperate because of the holidays, or because you have taken the trouble to read my blog posts, I would love to meet you in Three PInes, Monsieur.( Or Mademoiselle, but Monsieur sounds so much more cosmopolitan.)  Come, let us begin to memorize some poetry to recite when we meet Inspector Gamache! Yes, he is real!