Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hanging on Dreams

I am a daydream believer. I busy myself in work-related minutia, but even in the midst of my most ultra-focused days, there are small spaces where my mind takes a small unaccounted for journey. I've always been this way. And thankfully now, I know I'm so not alone. Writers and storytellers, artists of all kinds are just like me. We live half our lives with our heads somewhere in the clouds.

If you tracked my random lapses back to my early classroom years, Mrs. Pastorini and Mrs. O'Grady and all the rest...they all had the same thing to say, 'Lacks focus...a hopeless daydreamer. Hard to keep her on track.' My poor dad always had to listen to that. But no matter what, he always believed in me. He encouraged me with his words and pointed me in the direction of my dreams.

At night, I'd race upstairs, hop into a warm bath and slip into my flannel jammies and wait. Sometimes I'd wait a good half hour lost in my little girl thoughts. My dad and his nighttime stories was what I was waiting for. When the waiting grew long, I'd hop out of bed, kneel up on my low window sill. I'd stare out at the moon and the stars and listen to the crickets below.

I'd think about how when I grew up I would have a little girl, and that little girl would have a horse she could ride every day. I'd think about making her grilled cheese sandwiches and pink lemonade. And I'd think about how some day I'd be a teacher, and I'd stand in front of a class and tell kids all kinds of stories, and how I'd teach them to paint and draw and write letters and words in their books.

And then, my waiting would end...and I'd hear my daddy's uneven footsteps on the stairs. My heart would just about beat outside of my chest. When he got to the landing, he'd say, "Is there a little girl waiting in there?"

I'd scurry under the covers, and bury myself deep underneath. I'd stifle the giggles and keep myself as quiet as a bug. My dad would come in and feel around on top of the covers...and then I'd just burst. There was no way I could keep it all in. He'd sit down on the bed and tell me his stories...of horses and fairies and places far, far away. He'd let me kneel up and feel his starchy collar and sniff his sharp-smelling cologne. I'd pull the pens out of his pocket and click the points in and then out. And when our  time was up and the storytelling was done, he'd tuck me in and pull the covers up under my chin. And I'd look into his eyes and wait. He'd get this little sideways half-serious grin on his face.

"So let me see now...who is the prettiest girl this side of the moon tonight?" My dad's brogue was thick...but hardly noticeable at that time to me.

"Just this side of the moon?" I'd say.
And of course, he'd rub his chin and uncross his leg. He'd shake his head and string me along.

"Well," he'd say, "I guess...I'd have to say the other side of the moon to be fair."

And then I'd play my part, "Well, me, of course!"

He'd wrap his arms around me and pull me in, and say..."Well, we knew that all along."

And then he'd be gone, down the stairs, taking them one at a time, until I couldn't hear him anymore, and I was left in the dark with my dreams...the horses and lemonade and pictures and notebooks filled with letters and words.

And today? There are no horses, but there have been babies and grilled cheese and lemonade. I've been telling my stories and teaching kids to understand the letters and words inside books. I've filled up notebooks upon notebooks with my own words and stories, too. And I've just about finished another manuscript. And I still have so, so many hopes and dreams.

I may not be the prettiest girl this side of the moon for real...my dad, after all, had a very prejudiced eye! But I do love to tell stories just like him. And because his belief in me was so very strong...I've held onto those well-imagined dreams!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If You Give a Mouse a Fribble...

Friendly's and Fribbles. Oh my gosh, the memories that conjures up inside my head. But when I think about Fribbles (mine were vanilla), I can't help but see the small squared sandwich, the hamburger too. That burger, to me, was something to die for with it's slightly red middle encased in a warm grilled cheese. Who thought of that anyhow? Marrying my two faves: the grilled cheese and the burger in one little warm house. Yum.

Today...MacDonald reigns. And honestly, it did back then when it was just emerging too. We had no burger joints, no shakes, there really was no fast food. It was all slow and freshly prepared and without a doubt much better for you. But then Friendly's came along, and the high school crowd jumped right in. Friendly's had booths, and you could linger over a shake, and that was exactly what we needed back then.

I think about all the high school dances and our trips to Friendly's and the Knotty Pine (Diner) too, and my friends, Debbie and Diane talking late into the night. I remember recapping the evening and almost never wanting to go home. I think about our mini-skirts and boots and our bell bottomed blue jeans, the music, the strobe lights and how giggly and fancy-free we were. In one short year, we'd be off at college and what an enormous shift that would bring.

The point of it all, though, for me as a writer, is the transition of thought to idea, of idea to emotion, of emotion to time travel and how the clear and authentic details resonnate in me. Emotion drives scenes, but details live in the underlayers beneath. Drilling for those strong, authentic details and tapping into the emotions that live there is always the hardest part for me!

I guess the lesson here, lies in the Fribble...not just any milkshake, because mine had a very wide straw. It was frothy and smooth with just the barest lump of vanilla cream (icemilk actually, I think). That Fribble, in its wide clear glass sat on the table...waiting between many long sips, while Deb and Diane and I pieced together all those moments of our life. And once that long, laughable slurp was taken, once we'd picked up our keys and headed home, we'd forged a formidable alliance that no boy, no other group of gossippy girls would ever want to deal with!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another New Dawning: Keeping the Writing on Track

This morning, I sit here with my cup of hot coffee and I look out the window to see a fresh blanket of snow has covered the ground. I hear the plows out there scraping the roads, paving the way for the morning commute, but I'm not worried about that right now. I know I have an extra ninety minutes to write. Some mornings I journal, mostly to get anything that's playing in my head out there on the page. I want no distractions to defeat me in my work.

But this morning, I'm free of distractions...pretty much anyway. I did check in on school closings, and so I was aware of the morning headlines too. But I didn't linger. I had my assignment in mind.

Setting a deadline has been a great thing for me. It's given me a purpose and forced me to look at things I'd never looked at before: word and page count specifically. I never wanted to be so glossy, so caught up in the specifics of pushing forward like that with my book. One of my writing partners has been nudging me along, though. She's given me a deadline for the first time with this book. Last time we sat down together, I told her I didn't think our deadline was realistic. I mean really...the end of February? C'mon. I have a full time job to do.

She stood firm. I objected...you have this book almost written, I said. You know all your plotlines, your writing comes out perfect from the start. She laughed at me. Yeah, right, she said. Who has it all figured out, really?

I was thinking about that today...as I approached my own work. I realize the pitfall I'd taken and stayed in for years. The US and THEM theory. Others look so great, so polished, so complete. It's been my critic living large and well-inhabited in my brain. I haven't been working, really working on a regular basis, producing pages...I'd been back-tracking again, trying to polish and perfect. So today, as the dawn was breaking, I was pushing my seven not-so perfect pages out there. And I found, just like  I always have, that a lot of gifts come when characters are placed in an uncomfortable situation and allowed the time to interact. Tonight, I may change it up a bit...but tomorrow, I know, I've still got to push forward if I want to make some kind of reasonable point of completion on this.

Life, writing...go figure; an actual deadline would be the thing to get me unstuck! Progress, not perfection is just what I need.


Monday, January 2, 2012

A Welcome Stranger in the Woods


What will inspire you in 2012? Notice...I say 'will.' Are you thinking ahead, standing still or living in the moment like me? I like to live my life in minutes and hours, but sometimes even I have to plan ahead, pack a bag, take a leap and prepare for what's to come.

I've been told writing is like driving in a snowstorm. Sometimes you can only see as far as your headlights will allow. But more often, we can see inklings beyond the headlight's rays, and that is what we are called to do.

If I were to hold up the mirror to myself as a writer, I'd have to say, I've been forging ahead and standing still at the same time. Writing requires a deep well of unrelenting thought. Characters have to be wrestled to the floor, shook out and torn apart almost until they bleed. Sounds graphic and torturous, right? Well...the process itself is. I am haunted and enthused, delighted and annoyed and most often plagued by that awful gnawing doubt that keeps me paralyzed in procrastination, stuck in the quicksand of thought.

Right now, I'm forging ahead. I'm inspired because I've forced myself to revisit and remap my characters' goals, motivations and desires. Instead of writing into a snowstorm, tangible images and ideas have begun to emerge again. And unlike this beautiful stranger in the woods, the patterns and ideas are no longer a big surprise to me. So, just for today, I'm grabbing on...and letting that little bit of inspiration carry me!
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