Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fooling Myself

I am the master of fooling myself, mostly because I am so easily fooled.  I set my clock five minutes ahead, and always forget.  The good news is that I am rarely late for anything. 
When I clean the house, I never even think for a moment, “I’ll clean every inch of this place today.”  Instead, I reassure myself, “I’ll just clean this one little area.  That is all.  No more.”  I know that once I clean that area, I’ll be in the mode and clean the rest, but I can’t tell myself that from the start or it will never happen.  I have to trick myself into doing it.

The same thing goes for my writing.  If I would look at how much I have to write, how far I have to go to finish a book, then I would probably never start.  Instead, I tell myself, “I’ll sit down and write for one hour.  That is all.  No more.”  Normally what happens is I’ll look at the clock and somehow two hours have passed before I even realized it, and I’m locked in writing mode for the rest of the day.

Some writers look for word count.  They plan on writing a certain number of words a day.  I’ve never really tried to do that.  I feel better finishing a chapter or a scene.  Different methods work for different people.  Find what works for you. 

I have heard it said that the most important thing you can do as a writer is plant your bottom in a chair.  That is the truth.  It doesn’t matter how much you research or read or learn, if you don’t put your bottom in a chair and write, you won’t get anywhere.  And the only way to get better as a writer is by writing, and writing, and then writing some more. 

I’m getting close to the end of the manuscript I’m working on, and it’s getting tricky.  When this happens, I use another method to fool myself.  I tell myself that I won’t plan to write anything new today.  I’ll just go back and reread the last few chapters to make sure I’m on the right track.  Ahhh.  That takes the pressure off.  It means I won’t have to think of something brilliant and new to write.  The funny thing is, as soon as I reread those chapters, I can suddenly see exactly where I want to go, and it makes me want to start writing more.  Before I know it, a new chapter is complete and my book is that much closer to being finished.

Do what you have to do to get your bottom in that chair and write.  It might be setting a time or a word count.  It might be something else.  But just thinking about writing will get you nowhere.  You have to commit yourself at least to starting, or you will never finish.  Just a few pages.  That is all.  No more. 
Try it.  It works.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

And I Ran - Because I Must.

I ran this morning.  I’m not a great runner, and I’m not very fast, but I felt like I had to run, today of all days.  After what happened yesterday, after the horrific photos I saw that will be forever burned into my brain, I slipped on my running shoes and headed to the park. 

I’ve been making every excuse I could not to run lately.  My hip was sore, my knee was wonky, my back has been bad, but none of those excuses could stop me today.  After seeing the people who lost limbs and loved ones and even their lives, I felt like I had to run, because I was still able to run.

It was a chance to escape from the news, from the ceaseless loop of the same tragic images being played over and over again.  It was a chance to escape from the internet and the constant barrage of racist and hate filled conspiracy theories and panic induced lies.  It was a chance to escape from my own thoughts, from imagining how it felt to be standing and cheering one minute and broken and bloody the next.  Running gives me clarity and peace, and it was something I needed today.

Yesterday, my twelve year old was trying to comprehend the scope of the tragedy.  We were at physical therapy when we heard the news.  He is recovering from a broken ankle.  There were four TV screens mounted on the wall in front of his exercise bike, each showing things that no twelve year old should ever have to see.  I tried to point out all of the brave and wonderful people who were rushing to help the injured.  I spoke about the policemen and the firemen and the ordinary people who stepped in to do what they could for the victims.  I told him this was what was beautiful about our country. 

As my son asked questions, I tried my best to both answer him honestly and yet comfort him.  I don’t know if I succeeded.  The truth was, these were questions no child should ever have to ask, and my answers were insufficient.  There are no good answers.  Such hatred and cruelty is simply incomprehensible to anyone except for the vile sort of animal who would perpetrate such a crime.

I looked around at the faces of the other people in the gym, as they watched in stunned silence.  They were all in various stages of recovery from different sorts of injuries.  All I could think about was the people who’d been injured in Boston, and what their recoveries would be like.  After the initial euphoria they would feel at surviving, soon the reality would set in.  They would spend countless weeks and months in a place like this before they could even begin living their new “normal.”  Their lives had changed forever in a single moment.

I carried this with me as I ran this morning.  I ignored my inconsequential aches and pains and ran further and faster than I have in a long time.  It felt good, and empowering, and I was grateful for my two strong legs that could carry me anywhere.  I’d lost appreciation for them somewhere along the line, but now I had it back.    

I will run again, and I will keep running.  I’ll never run a marathon.  I’ll probably never even run a 5 K.  But every time I run, I will think about those minutes in Boston, and remember the people who can’t run anymore.  And I will run - for them.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Always Feel Like, Somebody's Watching Me....

Every year in our town there is an annual spring ritual that takes place.  We see the buckets go up on the trees while it is still cold and snowy outside, and our excitement begins to build.  We know that good weather and plates full of pancakes are just around the corner.  Maple syrup time is upon us.

The Maple Syrup Festival is held every year at Brady’s Run Park.  It is a community tradition that started when I was small, and has now turned into a major event.  People wait in line for hours and hours for a plate full of pancakes loaded with syrup from our local trees.  The pancakes are great.  The syrup is even better.  But the best thing of all is watching the people in attendance.

I recently began watching the TV show “Duck Dynasty.” It was done under duress.  My sons thought it was hilarious, I was forced into watching a few episodes, and soon I had to agree with them.  The show was very interesting, mostly because the characters seemed so foreign to me, and sort of exotic.  I am from the north, they are from the south.  My idea of an outdoor adventure is, well, probably waiting in line for pancakes at the Maple Syrup Festival.  They seem to spend most of their time in the woods.  I don’t like guns, shooting, hunting, or camo, and that is all they do.  I’m not fond of facial hair.  But I am a linguist, and I love listening to the cadence of their speech.  I enjoy hearing their views on things, which are so different from my own.  And I love waiting in anticipation for Uncle Si to say something crazy, yet profound, and completely butcher the English language in the process.

Since I began watching this program, however, I have made a rather extraordinary discovery.  There are a whole lot of people in Beaver County, PA who look like (and dress like) the people on the show.  I might seem na├»ve, or maybe even snobby, but I think my eyes sort of brushed over these people before.  They blended into the whole patchwork of strangeness that makes up this part of Pennsylvania (called Pennsyltucky by some of our non-native neighbors).  Recently, I’ve been noticing these people, and some of the other rather interesting characters around here.  I watch them, I remember them, and I store them away for later to be used as potential characters in a book.  This is an important skill to have as a writer, and it is also extremely entertaining hobby (for me, at least).  The Maple Syrup Festival is the perfect opportunity for this kind of people watching. 

Everyone is strange.  Everyone is a potential character.  But the strangeness I saw yesterday almost reached epic proportions.  There were the "Duck Dynasty" people, and the Goth people.  The kids with Mohawks, and lots of people with chains attached to their wallets.  There were people who looked like they belonged in motorcycle gangs and others who looked like they were preparing for some sort of zombie apocalypse.  There were little old ladies in Keds, and little old ladies dressed as frontierswomen – with bonnets, long skirts and shawls.  Someone was randomly setting off cannon blasts.  It might have been the squadron of Civil War Union soldiers I saw marching past.  There were some jugglers who looked like escapees from a RenFair, and some hybrids – a "Duck Dynasty" guy wearing camo but with silver beads woven into his beard (very Johnny Depp/"Pirates of the Caribbean"). 

We were excited when it was time to eat our pancakes, and lucky because we didn’t have to wait in line.  My youngest son was part of the entertainment, so we jumped right on his celebrity bandwagon and got to eat in a special tent.  He’s in a rock academy that performed between a group of kids doing Broadway show tunes from the local performing arts school, and a barbershop choir made of people ranging in age from ten to close to ninety. 
The Broadway kids wore matching t-shirt, jean, and even matching sneakers.  The barbershop guys wore perfectly pressed white shirts, black vests, black pants, and bow ties.  And right smack between these two groups was the rock academy.  Our kids were not dressed alike.  Some looked like rock princesses.  Others looked like they had found whatever they were wearing on the floor that day and had thrown it on as they ran out the door.  And, in true rocker style, I suspect (in fact I know) that some of them had even slept in their clothes the night before.  Eclectic?  Yes.  Entertaining?  Definitely.   Even better, it shows the depth of community involvement in this and every event in our town.

In the very elite “Entertainers/Crafters/Volunteers/ Misc.” tent, I sat next to a guy dressed like a forest ranger.  He might have even been a real forest ranger.  I’m not sure.  My grasp of reality was a little skewed at this point after seeing so many people dressed in costumes.  He didn’t say a word, he just sort of growled as he held up his plate repeatedly for more pancakes.  It didn’t match the demeanor of the cheerful “Smokey the Bear” patch on his jacket. 

We also sat next to two very lovely and talkative teenaged girls, a pleasant and welcome change from Ranger Reclusive.  As we were eating, one of them turned to me and said, “Did you see all the people in costume?”  I told her about the Civil War soldiers, and we shared a laugh, so I knew she understood.  I asked if she noticed how many people here looked like they could be on “Duck Dynasty,” and her eyes got huge in her face.  “I swear I just saw Uncle Si a few minutes ago,” she said.  “My friends didn’t seem to understand how funny that was.”

Hmmm. She did get it.  I guess I’m not the only one who is watching.