Sunday, August 29, 2010

This road was paved by the winds of change

Two weeks of the new school year under our belt. I've kind of felt bad for Michael, because all the fuss has been about Joey starting high school and sorting out all the NEW! and UNFAMILIAR! that goes along with that. Michael's in 7th grade this year and no longer has the shadow of the brother hanging over him. Whenever I ask him how school's going, is it different since he's a big shot this year, does he like the new P.E. teacher, etc., I get an "Eh. It's OK," and a Michael-shrug. (He gets his talent for small talk from me, apparently.) But he has stepped up and settled with relative ease into the role of latchkey kid for the hour or so while I'm making the afternoon carpool run for the older kids.

Joe is a freshman at an entirely new school this year. It's a 30 minute drive, but luckily we can carpool, since a couple of his friends are also going there. When I pick them up in the afternoon and ask THEM how school's going, I get plenty of answer--usually all the way home. As I mentioned already, there has been a somewhat exhausting amount of NEW! and UNFAMILIAR! to deal with, and there have been bumps. I keep reassuring Joe that he (and I) will survive.

I made a fill-in-the-holes revision pass to the middle grade novel, complete with the usual bout of "OMG, this sucks, what makes you think you can write?" But if I force myself to be objective (or as objective as a writer can ever be about their own work), I think it's... Well, what I think currently depends on the reading I've been doing and how well my work (seems to) stack up against that, the content of industry blogs I've just read, and the price of tea in China.  In other words, I have no clue how viable it is right now. Which is why the ms is parked in a drawer for a much-needed objectivity rest.

I have spent more time fiddling with ideas for a middle school creative writing class that is a combination of online (for convenience, mine and the kids') and in-person (for increased motivation and fun). Honestly, I almost just let it slide. (The usual self-defeating voice in my head: "No one really cares if you do this or not. Won't it just be a lot of extra work?") But Joe has been hounding me about WHEN (not if) I'm starting a class, and a couple other former students have said they miss the class. (Although whether they miss the actual class or just the fact that we spent class time talking about books and movies and sometimes going out on the playground, I'm not sure.*) In any case, I had Joe do a test drive of a couple of pieces of the online portion this weekend. So there has been forward movement on that project, too.

And in my free time, I have... uh... I haven't had a ton of free time lately. Or rather, I've dumped what I've had into one of the above projects instead. But it balances out, since the ms is in a drawer now, and I'm not ready to start another creative project at the moment, so this week holds potential for other, non-writing things to happen. Who knows, maybe I'll actually get my laundry room cleaned out and new coat hooks put up before jacket season sets in.

*It was all in the interest of illustrating story structure and promoting inspiration, I swear. If your child was in my class, ask him/her to explain the purpose of the running "Squirrel!" joke in UP.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's time to clear the air, you better save your breath

It's been a while since I've done an actual update on my activities. In part this is because every time I make a plan and post it here, it winds up changing. Which leads me to fear either that I appear indecisive or that I am jinxing my plans by stating them "out loud." In the interest of avoiding both, I'll stick to telling you what I have done and leave out what I (think I) plan to do next.

Writing-wise, I spent the last two or so weeks writing the first draft of a middle grade novel. It still needs work, but I think I like it. Crowmaker has begun nibbling at me again, as well. And in the midst of all the first drafting, I've had some deep thoughtful spells regarding the craft side of my writing, which may have helped in the completion of the middle grade first draft. And may help in the completion of future projects. We shall see.

The creative writing elective had to give way in the middle school schedule for other classes this year, so I will not be teaching that after all--at least not as an elective. I have done some fiddling with other possibilities, including something more online-based. Specifically, I have been playing around with Moodle to see what I can come up with. My main concern is less "Can I set up a course?" and more "How strongly can I motivate kids to actually keep up with it?" I have some ideas about that, as well. The whole scheme needs a little more sleeping-on-it time.

And in my free time, I watched meteor showers and learned a few stars and constellations (and even convinced my boys to join me a couple of times). And played several hands of Euchre vs. the computer while trying to think up things to write or waiting for kids to get shoes on or other things that required something to click while killing time. And read a lot of books. And watched some movies. And for reasons I cannot entirely explain, I started learning how to read Biblical Hebrew. (Maybe it has something to do with getting a kick from the expressions of mingled awe and befuddlement my family gives me.)

School starts tomorrow. As a mother, I am of course obligated to be as nervous on my children's behalf as they are for themselves. Although less nervous than I have been in the past because, honestly, they are both growing into responsible, competent, independent young men. And I am very proud of both of them.

Friday, August 6, 2010

You hung the moon in a big empty sky

In partial response to one of yesterday's comments, I'd like to revisit the quote I used from Stephen King's short story, "The Body." Having been a King fan for something like 30 years, I tend to assume everyone realizes that this story was the basis for the movie Stand By Me.  If you didn't know that, you do now.  And if you haven't seen the movie, you may wish to do that also, because it is awesome whether you read the story or not. (The short story collection Different Seasons is where you'll find "The Body." You will find in that same collection "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," upon which the movie The Shawshank Redemption was based. Again, if you haven't seen the movie, you're missing out.)

The line I used yesterday is just a snippet from the opening paragraph of "The Body," which I quoted because that one tiny bit seemed most pertinent to what I had to say. What I have on my fridge, however, is the entire opening paragraph of the story:
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
The first time I read the story, that opening sentence paralyzed me. By the time I got to the end of the paragraph, I had tears in my eyes. I copied that paragraph word by word, longhand, into my journal*, like I was writing words of power into a magic spell book. It wasn't just the meaning of the words themselves that shook me, although King had put into words something I had, up until that moment, felt but found inexpressible. (I know you all know what I mean.) It was also the realization that at least one other human being understood how I felt, at least well enough to put it into words for a fictional character.

I could talk forever about the different layers of reasons this paragraph has meant so much to me over the years, because what I take from it has varied and continues to vary depending on what's on my mind or happening in my life. But the first thing it meant was that I wasn't alone. Back in those much younger days, that was huge.

The other huge thing was the crystallization of the understanding that words can be immensely powerful. And if I hadn't entirely realized yet that I wanted to be a writer, I did then.

I would love to hear if anyone else has a quote (or story or poem) that holds a similar place of importance in his or her life.

*I have been collecting quotes since before I had a refrigerator. Pre-refrigerator, I used a spiral notebook.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter

The writer's conundrum:  Why, when I really DO want to write this story, when I actually KNOW what I want to write next, do I still catch myself stalling when it's time to sit down and actually write the words into the ms?

Yesterday's post over at Magical Words touched on this topic, specifically as it regards writing the ending of a story.  But this happens to me off and on at every stage of a story.  After pondering the question (which, as I'm sure you've all figured out, is a version of cat vacuuming, and one at which I am particularly adept), I have reached the conclusion that it's all about fear.  (And ties fairly well into the linked post's item #3.) Or, to paraphrase a borrowed line from Field of Dreams:

If I write it, it might suck.

Which in turn ties back to one of my favorite refrigerator quotes*:

"...words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out."  (From Stephen King's "The Body")

And that is the unspoken fear that creeps in and makes me feel more inclined to do laundry than write. (The lack of logic alone should tip me off that something is wrong.)  Oddly enough, though, when I define and face down that fear, it turns into a reassurance:

If there is no humanly possible way for me to capture in words exactly what is in my head, then I am freed from the restrictions of trying to do so.  Perfection is not a requirement. 

And now I will take the reassurance reached via that convoluted line of reasoning and go finish my scene completion goals for the day.

*"Refrigerator quotes" being the slang used by family and at least one friend to refer to my habit of plastering clipped-out inspirational quotes all over my refrigerator.

Note:  I have this nagging sense of having written this post in some form or another in the past. If so, then it must be pretty important to me! I'm not going to take the time to look it up, though, although I am still feeling the procrastinating urge strongly enough to be tempted.