Thursday, March 29, 2012

Busy, fearful, me.

This past February, April 1st sounded a long way off.  I decided to be part of the A – Z blogging challenge.  26 posts.  One for every letter of the alphabet, submitting a post every day except Sundays.  Figuring it might be helpful to have a theme, I chose to blog my way through my childhood.   After all, it gave me familiar material and surely I could scratch out 600 words or so a day on something I’d lived through, right?  And of course, I had the WHOLE MONTH OF MARCH to start on some drafts.  Easy as pie, right? 

In a word - wrong. Things started out all right.  I made a list of general topics from A – Z.  Even managed to get a few pieces started. Then I stumbled across the Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russell Van Alstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  Seven novels in nine days.  They were captivating and before I knew it a little over a week was gone.  A few novels on the side and another couple of days were gone.  Then we had the most incredible week of unseasonably warm weather here in Grand Island ~ how could one resist the pull of being outside after a long winter?  How to resist taking walks, clearing the yard of a season of fallen branches and discarded pine cones from neighbors trees?  Can you say PROCRASTINATION?

Did I mention there was my 29th wedding anniversary to celebrate, a few “chat” dates with my two best girls, a dinner date in Geneseo with my son and a few social obligations?  Add to that a full time job, a little work at a small second job and here I sit on March 29th with nary one full blog post written and a big lump of fear in my throat. 

Now really, I could just as easily not do it and who would be the wiser?  Well, Elaine Kehoe, (writer of Tea Leaves) for one.  Many years ago I met Elaine in an online writing course.  We’ve kept in touch over the years, met up once for an awesome dinner in New York City with our families and unbeknownst to each other, each started a blog this past New Year’s Day.  She mentioned the A-Z blog to me and at first, I rejected the idea, but after mulling it over and deciding to sign up, she was the first person I told.  Then there are the few people closest to me – husband Steve, son Abram, sister Darcey and friend Ellen.  That makes it five - a whole handful of people who support me and my writing who would see me make an about face on the commitment of doing this challenge.  That would be tough. 

An oh, did I mention I’d have to look in the mirror?  How could I justify not following through?  Shouldn’t I be able to carve out a little time each day to write 600 words about something so close to me?  Maybe that’s the rub.  Who’s going to want to read what I have to write about myself? What could possibly be interesting enough about me to make someone want to give three minutes of their day, for 26 days in fact, for the month of April to read about it?  And shouldn’t that be the point?  I should, as a writer, be able to make it interesting, or funny, or sad.  Anything, as long as it’s engaging.  And if I can’t make it engaging, then I should just be writing for the sake of the discipline of writing every day, and the improvement that comes with that discipline. 

Just two days away to April 1st and I’m scared as hell.  Scared to fail.  Scared of being my own April Fool’s Day joke. 

And just now as I wrap up this post, Steve says to me across the living room.  “You are wicked awesome.”  “Oh really,” I reply.  “Why’s that?”  Because you blog,” he says.  If he believes it, I suppose I can too.  And all of a sudden, I’m not so afraid.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Upside of Chasing My Tail.

I like my solitude.  It’s a time to give freedom to my thoughts and daydreams and let them run wild.  But too much time, and I become a dog chasing my tail, dizzy and tired until I eventually flop down - useless to myself, much less anyone else.  So, color me lucky to have had a serious dose of reality time with my two best girls, Darcey and Ellen this past weekend.  They’re both avid dog lovers – maybe that’s why they’re able to rein me in so well!

Yes, we do a mean rendition of "Sisters" from White Christmas!
My sister Darcey came over Saturday evening.  Some homemade pizza, a salad, a couple of beers for her and a few glasses of wine for me and we were set!  We talked, we laughed, and we cried.  Then we laughed and cried some more until our sides hurt.  It’s always that way with us.  Picking up a thread from when we got together last, I finally talked her into buying a Kindle.  In return, she provided me with the elusive Z topic when I shared with her my plans (and fears) of participating in the A-Z blogging challenge in April.  We “mother-talked” about our kids, and “sister-talked” about our family.  We’re never at a loss for topics as we work our way through jobs, daily struggles, little successes and how much we miss our mom and dad.  Our time is like a soaking bath – indulgent and relaxing. Our dinners every six weeks or so aren’t just something that happen on their own.  It’s planned “sista-time”.

Daylight Savings brought me one hour quicker to Sunday morning and my breakfast date with Ellen.  Fortunate me, our husbands are Masons in the same lodge and I met Ellen at a lodge dinner many years ago.  We clicked like magnets.  There is nothing we can’t or don’t talk about.  We schedule our breakfast dates, sometimes weeks in advance – for a weekend morning at 8 am.  We have our favorite local diners and settle in for that morning’s special of an omelet, buttermilk pancakes, LA French toast or eggs benedict.  A couple cups of tea and we’re set for a good hour or more.  Luckily our server usually recognizes us and knows we’re there for the long haul.  We catch up on kids, husbands, work, and family.  Often we share the same topics that Darcey and I do, but the details are a world apart with different perspectives, life experiences and personalities.  For me, it’s another time to slow down and connect outside myself.   

So why is this time so special to me? Because even though I’m writing here in the public blogging world, I’m a mix of a loner and an introvert (a blog for another day).  I enjoy my alone time whether I’m writing, puttering around the house or yard, baking, taking a walk, reading or choosing some other solitary activity.  By choice, the community surrounding me is quite small.  If forced to define it, I’d say it’s my husband Steven, my son Abram, and of course, Darcey and Ellen.  Yes, I’m blessed to have more family and friends in my life and they are very important to me; they’re just not the core that I steadfastly rely on to keep me from chasing my solitary tail.  

The dates aren’t always easy to set.  Darcey and Ellen know I offer times when Steve is working.  Our schedules fluctuate and I value my time with him like gold.  The cool thing is that they respect how much I value my time with him as well as my time alone.  So they also know that I deliberately SEEK them out to spend time with them. Just for the sheer joy of being in their company.  Seeing them both in one weekend … Now THAT’s something worth chasing my tail over!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Salutations to Charlotte, My Best Girl Spider!

A dear friend of mine turns 60 this year.  On October 15, 1952, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was published and I have always admitted freely to it being my favorite book.  The one that started it all for me – the love of the written word and the ability to tell a story on the page. 

It is also the ONLY book I have ever seen portrayed in a movie or a play that has stayed true to form and dialogue to the book.  Somehow I must have just lucked out with the versions I saw.  But still……the book is the heart of it for me and will always be the best medium for the story.
A few years ago in a writer’s group, we were challenged to write a story that mentioned our favorite book.  Following is my story – and my vision of what the three (come to life) mediums of Film, Play and Book offer to The Writer.

To Vie for Charlotte’s Web

The Writer at the head of the table sighed. "We've been in this room for hours and we're not getting anywhere. I don't mind telling you all that I’m getting a little disheartened."

Film paced in front of the window, and glanced at the street far below. Without missing a step, he took a sip of coffee and a bite of a glazed donut. Mouth full, he replied, "Well now, we are talking a children's story here. How long can their attention span be? Best to just spit it all out for them I say."

"So they’re children! Give them a chance." said Play. He stood from the overstuffed chair in the corner. He continued with a step forward, arms rising above him and then slowly descending in a circle arc to his sides. "Imagination, my dear Film. Think of it. The oversized background painting of a barn with the door open. Here we see Charlotte, perched in the middle of her web looking down upon Wilbur, resting alone in the pen below. "Salutations!" she says to the little pig." With this, Play leaned forward and stared down at the floor as if he were Charlotte glancing down at Wilbur.  In a moment he rose. "I tell you Film, it was made for the theater."

The Writer observed the three collected before him. He looked at the quiet presence at the end of the conference table. "Have you nothing to say on your behalf?"

Book took a slow glance around the room.  Closing his eyes, he recited. "Poor Wilbur was dazed and frightened by the hullabaloo. He didn't like being the center of all this fuss. He tried to follow the instructions his friends were giving him, but he couldn't run downhill and uphill at the same time, and he couldn't turn and twist when he was jumping and dancing, and he was crying so hard he could barely see anything that was happening. After all, Wilbur was a very young pig – not much more than a baby, really. He wished Fern were there to take him in her arms and comfort him. When he looked up and saw Mr. Zuckerman standing quite close to him, holding a pail of warm slops, he felt relieved. He lifted his nose and sniffed. The smell was delicious – warm milk, potato skins, wheat middlings, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and a popover left from the Zuckerman's breakfast." He opened his eyes and spoke. "Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Which of you could portray the essence of the five senses in just one scene?"

"Not fair, I say, not fair at all." said Film. He got another cup of coffee adding three heaping teaspoons of sugar, the metal spoon clanking in the mug. "I may not read aloud the description of the rotten goose egg when Avery falls on Wilbur's trough and breaks it, but one look at Avery and Fern's face, awash with tears and holding their noses expresses quite adequately to anyone watching just how rancid it is. We ALL draw on our audiences collective senses old boy, whether it be implication, memory or association."

Interrupted only by the repetitive sound of the spoon in the mug, the room fell silent.

The Writer stared in Film’s direction.  "Do you mind Film? I find it hard to concentrate with that distraction."

With a sigh, Film stopped clinking, stood and returned to the window, swaying in stony silence.

"I'm sure we can all agree, that puts another feather in my cap,” said Play, rising again and coming to the table.  He rested his foot on the chair, placed his elbow against his knee, and looked directly at The Writer. "When the Tucker's find SOME PIG, the second message Charlotte writes in her web, and they decide to take Wilbur to the state fair, the anticipation is high and we have a delightful pause between acts. The audience is afforded the time to reflect on what is happening." He held up his hand as if to speak, held it in midair for a moment, then slowly returned to his seat. "The element is the HUMAN connection you see. There is nothing that can compete with that. As you all sit staring at me, I can honestly say I do command your total attention. There is no popcorn eating and drink slurping", this with a sideways glance to Film, and then redirecting his gaze to Book, "and no phone interruptions or laundry to change." This last line, delivered with a flourishing bow as he sat down.

Book chuckled out loud. "I'm quite sure there's been a candy or cough wrapper crinkled during one of your performances Play!" Sitting straight in his chair, he placed his hands under his chin in contemplation. "Focused attention is a problem for all of us. What we’re here for today is to decide the best medium for this particular story."

The Writer stood and walked slowly around the room. He stopped first at Film and laid a steady hand on his shoulder. "My friend of constant motion, there is no denying that I see you first as a highly visual medium. So much happens in your short span of audience attention, yet surely there is the opportunity for at least one or two defining and memorable moments. Whether it be the delicate, eager voice of Fern as she first tries to convince her father to not kill Wilbur the runt pig, or a particular visual image, you have the capacity to stay with someone for a lifetime."

Play stood as The Writer moved toward him. Gently The Writer guided him back down to the chair and crouched before him. "No need to put on airs here my friend. Save that for the audience. True, the connection is there. There is no mistaking the thread of human feelings that pass from one to another as they experience something together. There is a depth and rawness in living an experience as you watch it performed when the lights go down. Like film, there may only be one image that stays with the audience, yet remember, it is unavoidable that a small, personal piece of you goes away with each person as well." Play leaned forward and The Writer gave him a gentle hug before standing and returning to the table.

"And so Book, my dear friend, I find myself back to you." Book sat rigid and still as The Writer spoke. "Often times, I feel you are the most difficult. There is not the degree of easy manipulation available to you such as light, sound and music available to Film and Play. You must forge a direct line to your audience's imagination and mind. It is with great skill and craft that they be guided upon a journey. If they are a learned traveler, often the only chance that you will get is when they open the cover. If you stumble or fail, you will be closed and put down. Play and Film most always have the advantage of a plural audience as well as a captive one. Your lot in life is generally a solitary one."

The Writer stood and walked to the window before turning to face the table. "However, you do have the singular advantage of time and opportunity. Time to dwell and ponder, time to leave and come back to revisit a particular passage.  If you are fortunate your pages become tattered at the edges from constant turning. Particular passages that touch a soul will be read and reread, underlined or copied and shared. The permanence of black print upon white paper can be a proud yet humbling responsibility."

The Writer swept his hand to all three. "So hours after we’ve begun, this is where we find ourselves. Play, you come into a life briefly. There is but the memory of you to linger. Film, you come larger and quicker than real life. You can, of course, sometimes be viewed another day. Neither of you are available to everyone. This leaves you Book, as the physical keeper of the three. The tangible one available to all. Yet all three of you, tangible or not, are capable of touching an audience in a way that indelibly stays with them."

The Writer returned to his seat at the head of the table. "I think therefore that I will allow you all to tell the story of a little girl named Fern, who loved a pig named Wilbur, and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte, a beautiful large gray spider. Take to each audience's imaginations and soul all that you have and allow them to meld it with whom they are. Allow them to define for themselves what they gained from each of you. Ultimately it is their choice and what they bring to the relationship that will define for them who best tells the story."

The Writer walked to the door and opened it. As they filed out, Film, Play and Book shook his hand. They joked and walked together down the hallway, deciding where to go for dinner. He called after them, "Let's try again next week. Maybe we'll find the elusive story that one of you can claim as his very own."