Monday, August 27, 2012

A Few Things I've Done While Dithering on my Revision

I'm supposed to be sitting here working on my revision of Underneath. Before actually doing so, however, I did the following:
  • Updated the Recent Reads column on Guys Lit Wire
  • Wandered throughout the house at least five times
  • Did a 10-minute breathing meditation
  • Futzed around on Facebook
  • Updated my Goodreads
  • Went in search of the perfect pen for taking revision notes
  • Made a halfhearted attempt to tidy up the mail area
  • Wrote this blog post
Damn, I am good...at procrastinating.

Monday, August 06, 2012

WFMAD Day 5: Pulled from the Headlines

Today’s Prompt: Go to the Washington Post or the newspaper of your choice and choose a story from the front page that, for whatever reason, really strikes a chord in your heart. Read the story through twice, then put it away. Don’t look at it again.

Write a scene connected to that article. Put your character in the middle of the action. The character can be someone who was actually mentioned in the article, or – more interesting! – make the character someone who has a strong emotional connection to the people in the article. Or insert yourself into the middle of the action and write a scene.

I really have no idea what's going on in this scene. I picked an article on the landing of the latest Mars rover Curiosity, so it's kind of a sci-fi piece, although any "science" is pretty much made up by me on the fly. The quote at the beginning is pulled from the end of the article.

***
“We’re going to nail it for Neil,” Grunsfeld said.“Curiosity will set us up for the day when men and women will land on the surface of Mars, and it might not be that far away.” 

The famous quote that got it all started. The quote from Chief NASA Scientist John Grunsfeld, back in the 2010s, the reason our team is called the Nailers. One reason, anyway. The other reason is simple and obvious: we're the building team, the first ones, the ones who leave the landing module every day, nail guns and riveters in hand.

We're the ones building the Neil Armstrong Memorial Research Laboratory. The first permanent structure on Mars. It's 2076 now and we know what tools and methods work in this Martian atmosphere, and we're almost done.

I lift my nail gun and quickly drive in the tenth and final nail attaching the plaque bearing the laboratory's slogan to the outer wall, just above the main doors.

Nail it for Neil, that's what it says. It's supposed to symbolize how we're all workers, scientists and builders alike, even those first poor bastards who died up here before we got the suits and equipment fully figured out. Each one of us is a cog in the machine, that's for damn sure.

Me more than most. I'm twenty years old, and I'd planned to be one of the scientists working in that shiny new lab. I was going to be a terraforming specialist. I was an artist, a designer, a creator, living things my media. One mistake, one little screwup, and instead I was sent into service, and now I'm the lowliest member of the construction crew. This job, this last humiliating job, is supposed to mark the end of my service sentence and put a shiny exclamation point on the monument to the glory of science.

It should have been my glory. But they'll remember me. They don't know it yet, but they will.

I finish attaching the sign, breathing heavily into my helmet. Then I get out my heat torch.

Under their quiet little machine-made plaque, the expanse of smooth metal doors is my canvas.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

WFMAD Day 4, A Little Late

Today’s Prompt: Quickly write a paragraph about what your days were like in second grade (around age 7).  Then choose a fairy tale from this list. Pull one of the elements from the fairy tale and write about who you would have reacted if it showed up in your life when you were in second grade. For example, what if your new babysitter had been Cinderella? Or the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk?

This one probably took a little longer than 15 minutes. The first two paragraphs are pure fact. The rest are mostly imagination with a few memories woven in for fun and verisimilitude. The story I chose was The Frog Prince.

***
When I was age 7, when most people were in second grade, I was starting my first day at public school as a fourth grader. I had just finished up at a rather strange ungraded private school, and we were getting ready to move to a new city, and I was taken to a psychologist to test me for grade level and for the gifted program. My mother reported, later, that he told her it was up to her how high to place me in my new elementary school. I didn't know that last part at the time, though. I just knew that I was going to be put in the 4th grade, in a 3rd/4th-grade combo class, and that I was going to be new in school.


I made friends. My best friends were in the 3rd grade, closer to my age. That year I got acquainted with a question I'd be asked over and over in varying forms over the years: "You're seven and in the FOURTH GRADE?" The answer to that one was easy. The question I hated was the frequent follow-up: "Are you smart?" I would generally answer along the lines of "I dunno. I guess so." Most of the time, though, I was a pretty normal kid and my classmates treated me as such. I loved my teacher, Mrs. Read. She was from Mexico, and she taught us a little Spanish. She read aloud to us every day, from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and from Kon-Tiki and from The Twenty-One Balloons.

That week, she'd been reading us fairy tales. The Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Anderson. World folk tales, too. My head was spinning with witches and magic beans, giants and elves. But ultimately, it wasn't any of these that I found...or that found me.

I was outside during recess, playing off by myself under the big pepper tree near the bars, the tree we sometimes pretended was a castle or a hideout, climbing its gnarled roots and throwing the pepper berries at each other. Nobody was around. I'd checked out a ball to play with and was bouncing it idly. It bounced toward the tree and disappeared between two of the giant roots.

I went to retrieve it. The tree seemed bigger than it had before, as if I could walk right into it. There was a hole I hadn't seen before, and I could just see the yellow rubber ball at the bottom of it. What was I going to do? The teacher on yard duty would yell at me. It was the mean one, Mrs. DiMarco, the one who told me not to hang upside down from the bars or I'd break my head open. Tears welled up in my eyes. I didn't want to get in trouble. I was the good kid.

Suddenly, I heard the strangest sound. It was a voice, or like a voice, but it sounded rough and wet, a voice that came from moist places and growled and grumbled alone in their depths. I trembled, and one of my tears spilled over.

"Why are you crying?" The voice said. It came from below me, but the only thing I could see was a rubbery little tree frog, clinging to one of the roots.

"M-my ball. It fell. I'll get in trouble!" More tears gushed out, even though I didn't want to cry like a little baby. I kept thinking about Mean Mrs. DiMarco and what she'd say to me if I told her I'd lost the ball. Would they call my mom?

The frog cocked its head at me. Was it really talking to me?

"I can help you," the frog seemed to say in its squishy voice. "But what will you do for me in return? Will you take me home with you, let me eat from your plate? I'll bet your mom makes a mean mac and cheese."

I thought again about the trouble I'd be in. Would I have to stay after school? Would my name go straight onto the board with two ticks next to it? I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to find out.

"You can have all the mac and cheese you want," I said desperately. Having a frog for a pet wouldn't be so bad, would it? It wasn't as great as a dog, but at least it would be something. Heck, the frog probably wouldn't even remember I'd made the promise. It was a frog. There were frogs everywhere. And kids all over the playground. I'd probably never see it again.

The frog plopped into the hole, and a moment later, the yellow ball flew out, bouncing harmlessly away and rolling to a stop next to the high bar. I quickly gathered it up, yelled "thanks!" at the frog, and ran to the equipment room just as the bell rang.

I barely heard the frog as it croaked back: "I'll be seeing you."

Friday, August 03, 2012

WFMAD Day 3: Not Quite Following Directions

Today’s Prompt: Yesterday you let rip with strong emotions as you fantasized and wrote about what you would love to say to the toxic person in your life. Today you are going to build on that dialog.
Craft a scene based on what you wrote yesterday. Fill in the setting and the narrative action. Remember to put in sounds and smells. What else – other people? Interruptions? If the scene feels dull, add a twist. Make yourself or the toxic person do something completely unexpected half-way through the scene.

I didn't quite follow the prompt directions today, although I did write for fifteen minutes. Thirty, actually. I woke up this morning with the beginning of a story taking shape in my head, and after I got dressed and brushed my teeth, it was definite enough for me to write some notes down. Later, I read the prompt, and decided to try to incorporate some of the emotions and details of what I wrote about yesterday into the new story. The story was so new that it needed some emotional complications, some tension to spur the main character along. I'm not going to reprint the whole story here, just a piece which was particularly inspired by yesterday's writing. Oh, yeah--the piece is spec fic, some kind of post-apocalyptic something I haven't quite settled on yet.

***

Tonight, like every Midsummer evening, there are the lights of nightfires scattered here and there across the Keepers' land, but, as always, Old Sella has the biggest crowd. Star used to sneak away from his family's fire to join ours, just every so often, but often enough for me to wonder and to hope. He began to sit next to me more often than he sat next to my sisters—Rosyn, the eldest, and Eos, two summers older than me. I used to blush when my father would clear his throat, watching us closely as we ate, leaning toward one another but not touching.

But this year, it has been different. Star has been different. He no longer favors me over my sisters. On the rare occasions he joins us, he spends time with all of us sisters, and he always makes excuses to go home early instead of sneaking off with me into the dark, up our special tree, to talk and dream. He scoffs at the things I like. When I make a silly joke, the kind that used to make him snort and rumple my hair, he only smirks, rolls his eyes knowingly, as if laughing at me along with some invisible companion. An invisible companion he likes more than me.

And I can't help wondering if it's because, the night before his test, exactly a year ago today, I kissed him. He'd leaned into me, clung to me and answered my kiss with more ardent ones. It was more than I'd ever thought possible. I was flying. And then, the next evening, when he and the other new adult Keepers had returned from their journey to the glass ocean, he acted like I didn't exist. When I asked him about our kiss, he grew angry and said never to bring it up again. 

***
So. There's about a page of writing before this section, and this is as far as I've gotten in the story. But I'm hoping to finish it this week. I'm not sure where it's ultimately going, although I have a vague idea of what happens next.  As usual, I'm hoping if I just keep writing, something will come to me and I'll figure out how to end the damn thing.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

WFMAD Day 2: Exorcising Old Demons

Today’s Prompt: You know that toxic relative or former friend who makes (or used to make) your life miserable? Write out dialog in which you finally tell that person what you think of her and why. Do not hold back. Do not edit yourself. Do not worry that anyone is ever going to see it. Just write!

Today's Write Fifteen Minutes A Day prompt is a huge challenge for me with respect to my decision to post my 15 minutes publicly, on this blog. It has to some degree affected my choice of person, and I will be keeping that person's name anonymous. The "do not edit yourself" is a tough edict, too. I hold back all the time. I edit myself all the time.

Enough justification and procrastination, I suppose. Here goes my imaginary dialogue with someone, a former friend, who devastated me emotionally a number of years ago. We will call this person Irving, since I don't actually know anyone of that name and I have no particular associations with it.

It's actually more of a monologue. Oh, well.

***
So much time has gone by, Irving, that it almost feels pointless to open this up and let my feelings back out. I was young, probably too young to realize what was going on and too inexperienced to make the right choices about our relationship. Too inexperienced to realize that things went too far and would ruin our friendship. So I accept some culpability for what happened, for not stopping things when maybe I should have known better. And I try to understand, from the perspective of years, why you acted the way you did, why you pushed me away when all I wanted to do was help and be there for you.

I was so angry with you for years. I was devastated, gutted, furious. I knew I'd done the right thing in ending the conversation, our last conversation, with the words "I guess that's all we have to say to each other, then." More or less those words, anyway. I didn't like the way you'd made me feel, were making me feel. Like it was my fault. Like I was, in a sense, the other woman and our friendship wasn't what I'd thought it was. I shouldn't have let you kiss me. I shouldn't have been so credulous, so willing to believe that it was okay to do what we did because I thought our relationship was something special and that this was just a part of that something special.

But how could I not believe? I was so confused that summer, so tentative and anxious and you reassured me, made me realize I had reason to feel good about myself, made me feel self-worth. You encouraged me. You made me feel stronger. And then you broke it all down, you stopped caring, you didn't want to hear about it when I was depressed and things started to get difficult to take and I needed my friend so badly. And I knew that you were having problems too, and I wanted to be there for you during that but you wouldn't let me. You said, "you won't hear from me for a couple of weeks, and don't try to call." But I was worried. I did call. And you got angry. You got pissed at me for caring.

Part of me, a loud part, is saying Who really gives a shit? It was 17 years ago. We were both basically still kids, barely into adulthood. I don't really know if that gives you a pass, though. Sometimes I have dreams about you where things are okay, where we're friends again, but a part of me is still angry. Not just angry at you, but angry at myself for letting me lose myself in someone so much. Angry at myself for believing some of the wild things you said because I trusted you too much. You made me want never to trust anyone to that extent again. From my perspective, it was a betrayal, no matter the extenuating circumstances. I wish we'd both done things differently.

***

Before I finish, I just want to note that my friend and fellow writing group member Yat-Yee is also doing the challenge. Yay! Go, us!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

WFMAD Day 1: Getting In My Own Way

Today’s Prompt:  What things do you allow to get in the way of your writing? Be specific, detailed, and brutally honest.

Today is the first day of the Write Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge. I'll be posting my fifteen minutes on this blog. I need to post here more (and I promised to do just that several weeks ago, after which I failed miserably to keep up with my promise). I need to do more regular writing and in order to both of these things I need to get over my fear of posting personal writing in public.

It's not just the normal fear of having other people read my writing. I always have that. You just get over it, more or less, or ignore it. It's the fear that nobody is going to care what I have to say. It's the fear that I'll regret having posted something too personal, that it will feel self-indulgent or too revealing. That I'll be boring. That not even my friends will care about what I write. That I compare unfavorably with other writers--I spend a lot of time comparing myself to others and coming up short. Hey, the prompt said to be brutally honest.

A lot of these same fears apply to my writing in general. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up planning to become a writer, didn't grow up knowing that was in my future, but I often feel like an impostor. I didn't think of myself as a writer, just someone who enjoyed writing stories on occasion.

So, yes, fear. Fear gets in the way of my writing--all kinds of fears. And really, when I think about all the other things that get in the way--procrastination, time management issues, failure to prioritize, not having time, not having energy--I begin to realize how many of the things that get in the way of my writing are related to fear, at least at some deep-down level. Fear that if I embrace being a writer, I'll cease to be an artist. Fear that my efforts will ultimately never live up to my expectations and hopes for myself. Fear that I'm not going to earn enough of a living simply by writing and making artwork. Fear that I don't have what it takes, that I'm not disciplined enough or devoted enough. Fear that I don't want this writing life enough, or that I want it too much.

I wish I were the type of person who could let go enough to embrace the artistic, creative life wholeheartedly. But I'm just not. I can't leave behind practical issues. Issues of money, of survival, of fairness in our household. There is a simple joy and relief at having a partner who understands what it is to be an artist at heart, because he also is one. But I also feel tension at the inherent inequity that results from one of us having the "real job," and I end up feeling like the opportunity to do my creative work is a luxury, rather than the gift that it is.

I need to give myself this gift once in a while.