Friday, October 21, 2011

I Don’t Know

I don’t know if I’m supposed to spend my days in pursuit of my manuscript or my happiness.

I don’t know if my friend’s professor who warned “beware of getting too happy; you’ll never finish your book,” was right or wrong but I know as the mouse I’m hard wired to search out the cheese and to bite and to chew and to search out the cheese again- even if it’s secured in the steel jaws of a trap.

I don’t know if the words I have to say are louder than the voice I have to say them with.

I don’t know which currency I hold.

I don’t know if I can exchange the credit of my writing for the cold hard cash of the spoken word, contracts, whispers, demands.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to spend so much time thinking about tense, point of view, perspective, if I’m allowed to love even the things that I'm sure to edit out.

I don’t know if I should jump off cliffs just to write cliffhangers. I don’t know if I should make major life decisions based on their affect on the arc of my story. I don’t know if I should create stories based on their influence on the arc of my life.

I don’t know if I need someone to fatten me up or to pare me down, to say “eat this child, eat that,” or if I need to lay my cabinets bare, pitching the curd, the chaff, the spoilt, the stale, the last crumbs that I’ve been holding onto, like a hoarder of scraps and words, made fat by leftovers.

I don’t know if I can make linear progress with chapter titles and word counts and page numbers and outlines or if one day the sum total of my jumbled contents will assemble themselves neatly onto the page, like a tidy house that I could actually move into and live.

I don’t know if I can exchange my internal editor for someone’s else’s, a kinder, gentler, slightly more organized, totally balanced internal editor, the way some people borrow each other’s Gods, just to get through.

I don’t know if I’m supposed to know or if it's to ask, to let it unfold, whether answers ever come or just a new line of questions.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Love Is a Vehicle Like Any Other

My husband is more tempted to look at cars than women. Which is good, except when it isn’t. Cars are so hot and heavy on his mind that all you’d have to do is spread one with butter and he’d eat it for dinner. I, on the other hand, know nothing about what I’m driving, other than the color. My current car is orange. In my defense, I can drive stick, and for that matter a horse. I also know my way around a riding lawn mower- with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. And I’m no snob about public transportation either. Some of my most formative hours were spent on Greyhound or Amtrak making my way from one coast to the other. It’s not that I don’t like cars—I just don’t understand them.

When I met Stan, he manhandled ten tons of tires every Friday at an auto repair shop. I, at the time, was driving a '79 Volvo station wagon— white-- that I’d bought from my Aunt Barbara for $400. She tried to talk me out of it but I argued with her and won. Having just gotten off a boat in Alaska, it fit my price range and my life style. That big white Volvo was a huge, sinking ship. I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t want to drive anything fancier than me.

But when it started dragging its underbelly along the road in a very uncomely way, Stan offered to have look at it for me. I refused. I would take care of it myself. I think that’s when he considered asking me to marry him. I wasn’t the stereotypical needy girl who would count on a man to fix her car-- or her life. Yet.

Things have changed. When a man moves into your house and you give birth to his child, that tends to happen. I now count on him to fix everything— from the broken floor furnace to the pipes that have cracked open in the crawl space under our house. A few nights ago when he took a wrench to the valves behind the wall of the bathtub after rewiring the hot water heater allowing me to take a bath with more than a teaspoon of tepid water, I decided we could renew our vows-- at least for the next ten years. I no longer want to do everything myself. I don’t have time. I have books to read, classes to teach, important metaphysical questions to ponder. And I’m Ok with that. I still have a secret fantasy of being a tough pioneer woman who shoots her own dinner and builds her own house but this life doesn't seem to be heading in that direction. I may not know a single damn thing about home or auto repair, but I’ve gotten a lot better at asking for— and accepting help. And Stan’s gotten better at negotiating.

When my front headlight bulb went out a few weeks ago, I explained to him in great detail exactly how things would go down were I to take matters into my own hands. He eventually conceded, and in the parking lot of Advanced Auto Parts, he had the pleasure of not only changing my bulb but another lady’s as well. And from how he described her car, it sounded like it was just his type.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

JRW Conference 2011

Friday, Saturday, Oct. 7-8
The Library of Virginia
Workshops on Thursday, Oct. 6

Authors. Agents. Insiders.

And you.

Join us in Richmond to pitch your project, learn how to improve your craft and meet fellow writers. Among featured speakers are Robert Goolrick, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Reliable Wife, Tayari Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta, Karl Marlantes, author of the New York Times bestseller Matterhorn, and Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor Award-winning author of The Underneath. Other noteworthy conference events include these:

Pitchapalooza - Sharpen your pitching skills with national book
marketing experts David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut
Hands-on workshops on query letters, poetry, and pitching an agent
One-on-one meetings with distinguished literary agents
Panels led by national and regional leaders in publishing
New sessions on using Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Find out more and register online at:!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Ancient Art of Camping: Reluctantly Claiming My Birthright

Camping should be in my blood. It should be my birthright.

After all, I was conceived in a tent on my mother’s birthday in the middle of October above the valley that would become my namesake. As a girl, my dad took me on many long trips into the mountains where, between campfires, my friends and I were allowed to run wild, shooting bows and arrows, creating our own battle cries and imaginary worlds. We ate hotdogs and marshmallows, running through the woods in our nightgowns like feral cats. Even when we were miserable, we were happy. I remember cracking my eyes open in the pre-dawn light surprised I hadn’t frozen to death, and on weekends at home directing the AC vents into my face to recreate the feeling.

I was no Girl Scout (unless you count being a Brownie for a year in hopes of getting s special rate on the cookies) but my Dad taught me how to pitch a tent, gather kindling, build a campfire and hold onto the rails in the back of the pick up while he sped down the mountain. My mother too had a taste for nature, giving me a grand tour of KOAs from here to Wyoming, stashing a certain yellow “Homemade Soup” grocery bucket in our tent for after-hours emergencies.

In my early twenties I roughed it with the best of them. I knew how to wash my whole body in one small sink and thoroughly enjoy a meal of half-cooked rice and crunchy beans. Chain-smoking while hiking without coughing was a point of pride. Camping, back then, was cool. And, hiking boots over long johns beneath beaded, ratty dresses, I was the height of cool.

So I’m not sure when exactly I started connecting more deeply with my mouse than other woodland creatures. Or when Netflix, Tivo and Xbox became easier to operate than an oil lamp or a Sterno. Or when G-Mail and Facebook began to offer more lifeblood than sunsets and gargling brooks. Or why my husband is more prone to hunting aliens and zombies than our dinner.

In our most recent power outage (AKA: Armageddon) when I was sent reeling back to my nature-baby-with-no-status update-roots I had a come to Jewish-Jesus moment. I’d been out scavenging like a cockroach for WiFi through the crumbs of Krispy Kreme and coffee grounds. “Why, oh WHY don’t I have a Smart Phone?” I’d keened, feeling dumb indeed. But my son had a different reaction. “Let’s go camping!” he said.

“OK,” I said, because although this sounded about as fun as eating steel wool, my hair had already started to dread, making me nostalgic for the olden days. “If we’re going to be this gross we might as well go camping!” I said. My husband pulled his truck into the yard and we started to throw stuff from the inside out, including the Incredible Hulk sleeping bag that had given me nightmares as a child. We packed everything but the kitchen sink—or anything else that might need to be plugged in.

Even without power, something switched on as soon as we got to our campsite. Instead of feeling dirtier, I felt like a swath of static electricity had suddenly been stripped away. We went skinny dipping in the river and made our own pit for a fire. Although we ate food from wrappers, it tasted better- like we’d earned it. When we finally lay down in our bags, it wasn’t quiet and dark—the moon was bright and the crickets were loud. There was a lot going on in those woods--- a whole lot more than I had remembered. I was glad I’d gotten unplugged long enough to let it soak back in.

And I’m proud to say that I not only survived sixteen full hours away from civilization, but my son, who will turn seven the week of Halloween, now knows how to do everything the Pope knows how to do--- in the woods. It’s his birthright, too.