My feet spending a week in San Francisco

Isn’t it amazing what work a writer can complete just by getting the hell out of Dodge and camping out in a cheap motel halfway across the country?

I’ve only been in San Francisco a few days and have edited (to some satisfaction) my next book, including linking the chapters to the table of contents.

I’ve written in my Hobonichi every day. Even filled up pages I missed when I was at home and too busy or too tired to write.

I’ve sorted through my early writings, which spent the last thirty years or so in the basements of various houses we’ve owned. The amazing thing (besides finding them at all, or that they’ve survived multiple minor basement floodings) is that some of this stuff is pretty good! Not fabulous, because my style was still in its infancy, but I’ll still be able to use some of the dialogue.

This is why I never delete (or in this case, discard type- or hand-written) old writing. There’s always the possibility of a gem in the coal.

I take daily walks on Ocean Beach, early in the morning, before the beach is overtaken with humanity. I love walking it at dawn, when it’s foggy and cold, quiet and still. A lot of thoughts come to mind as I walk, about my life, about the characters I’m writing about, about poetry and the world. The Real World is chaotic; there’s so much noise that it’s hard to calm your mind enough to catch the beautiful. Walking is a regulator, it measures the breathing and clears the head.

Granted, I walk/run at home, on my NordicTrack, but it’s not the same. I’ve got TV or headphones on, and I’m paying attention to the Google map screen. When I’m at the beach, I mute my phone and won’t answer unless it’s an emergency.

For me, Ocean Beach is therapeutic. It’s (dare I say it?) my muse, my source for inspiration. It calms me enough so that creative thoughts bob to the surface. (So many, I’m afraid I won’t catch them all, but I write them down as soon as I return to my room.) It’s no wonder that I’ve used Ocean Beach as a setting in my writing. As you might know, the photo I took of the Richmond District on my header looking east from the beach is framed over my bed. Sometimes when I wake up at home, I might think I’m back in San Francisco.

So while I’m here, I’ll make use of the time I have to get caught up, refreshed and motivated.

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Give love a chance.

If you think I’ve been strangely silent online, you would be right. I could blame it on Real Life (that’s a good scapegoat), or health problems, or logistical stress, but it’s more. Whether Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog, I’ve been slowly backing away from the screen, mainly because of the turmoil associated with the so-called “social” networks. It’s not that I’m not engaged or thinking or even investigating, because I’m all that and more. I see all sides, good, bad, in between. I’ve got a brain; I can process the world around me.

I love my online friends, which is why my heart hurts when I see the rancor being spewed or maybe quietly implied. But words are as weighty as they are diaphanous. As a writer, I see their value, and changing a sentence by replacing words or inserting punctuation changes the tone and meaning of the words. It changes the intent.

Ah, but the Internet. We are but tiny human blobs connected by a network we don’t quite understand. (I know I don’t!) We can’t see the facial expressions of our online friends. We can only imagine. Likewise, words are displayed and splayed and launched with abandon. If you don’t agree, you’re called names or disconnected from “friends.” We all fall in step or we’re discarded. (So much for the social experiment.)

Things I’ve Learned in the Last Few Weeks

My son has an expression he uses. “Too strong.” He’s feeling better in his life, and has a new-found awareness that if he thinks (and writes) the things off the top of his head, he can derive a little (or a lot) of shock value from the general public. And if I make a disapproving comment, he automatically comes back with “Too strong?”

A lot of words are “too strong.” Take “hate” for example. I used to use that term a lot, until my sister-in-law pointed out that I was using the word for everything. “I hate the school district.” “I hate that color.” “I hate when he/she/it does that.” “I hate that I can’t fit into a bikini anymore.”

My kids were little then. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t very successful, but I tried hard to limit my use of that term. Now the only thing I truly hate are liars and cheats, but they deserve to be hated in my world.

The Internet is chock full of words that are too strong. (The F word comes to mind. Why not find an equally strong word(s) that is thoughtful?) You might choose words you don’t really mean, but you use them to elicit emotion. You might even embellish on the words you’ve chosen in order to draw sympathy to your cause. (Believe me, I have done this myself when laying out my own arguments.)

You might even be like an anonymous someone who took a sentence a person (who I do know) said in the public forum and blew a simple opinion harming no one and turned it into an atomic mushroom cloud of despicable innuendo. I know the opposing views were passionate, but the tirade headed toward spite, the kind that threatened safety of family and employment. Had this person gone a bit farther, I might have had to resort to legal action. Just because you imagine something and say it’s so (especially regarding a person you don’t even know) does not make it so.

These are trying times.

One thing my daughter learned this past week: You can’t have an opinion. She’s young, she’s passionate, but last week she took all of her political stickers off her car for fear of “liability.” She did not want the harassment of people calling her loathsome names. (Why a 27 year old would think that, I don’t know. I was definitely not that advanced at that age.) I don’t agree with a lot of what she does and says. Really, now. She’s my daughter. But part of me, the heart of me, felt sick to my stomach when she told me this.

We are still (I hope) a free country. If you can’t have strong opinions, if you don’t feel safe expressing them, then damn it, we’ve lost a freedom. You get to have your opinions, as I get to have mine. As an artist, I need the freedom to think what I want, to put my thoughts into writing or art. Unfortunately, the trend has been heading toward intolerance for a long time – another reason why my stomach hurt. I used to write opinion. I purposely gave it up because some of my opinions weren’t being taken in the humorous light I had intended. I use my real name. I didn’t want to be hunted down and accused of things that aren’t true – or worse.

One happy spot in the last few weeks: Someone left me a Facebook message after reading Virtually Yours. (Talk about an Internet story that sounds so old and dated!) She loved it! If I can make one person happy with my words, it makes up for current buzz of negativity we are living through today.

The takeaway: Choose your words carefully. They’re not casual; they can hurt, even though there may be no intent to do so. And of course, watch what you  post on the Internet, because unlike ice cream and good times and puppy love, the Internet is forever.

Choose to be positive.

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This is the Duchess of Hayes. She cannot read, but she sleeps under my right armpit when I do.

This weekend I took a brief rest from my endeavors of slapping together my chap book (poetry, flash, and tiny essays). I’m not a whiz when it comes to book design, and choosing the perfect 24 or so pieces (and editing them) has turned into a colossal time suck. Not that I don’t mind, it’s exciting to uncover the long hidden and shine them up to make them fancy. It’s just this part of the creative process has less to do with art and more to do with mechanics. After weeks of struggle, I was soooo ready for a diversion.

My copy of Michelle Richmond’s The Marriage Pact arrived in the mail Friday. Yippee! Just in time for granddogsitting for the weekend! (If you’re ever asked to dog sit for two chihuahuas when you have your hands full with your own dog and cat – and life, which includes keeping the house clean for potential home buyers, think twice. Love my daughter, love the dogs, but I’m sure I’m a cartoon coming out of the house in the morning with two leashed dogs and one in a carrier.)

I know you’ve heard me ad nauseum, I love Michelle Richmond! I love her writing style, I love the plots, I love the subplots! I have all of her books! I’ve MET her! I’ve taken a couple of online classes with her! The Marriage Pact is perhaps different from her previous style, but yet delivers as a great read.

Why? Because I couldn’t stop turning the pages, that’s why! I had to find out what was going to happen next! I dragged this book (don’t usually buy hardcovers of anything, but there I go) all over town, along with the two chihuahuas and my nervous and unruly Boston terrier. I read it in snippets at the office and waiting at my daughter’s house for the home buyers to go away! I read it so intently, my husband kept asking me was I going to get dinner ready. (He was starving; I needed to finish a chapter.) Today I went home IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY and finished the last 50 pages.

What can I say? Very satisfying. 🙂 (I won’t spoil it for you. If you really want to know what happened, go buy your own copy!)

Now I’m ready to go back to the edits. I’ve got a cover designer on the job, and I will plug away like a good writer. I might even finish before my self-imposed deadline.

Sometimes, writers must read. I read all the time, but it’s truly exciting when you get to read something spectacular. Reading sparks the fire. Maybe it will result in a conflagration.

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One of my Facebook friends, a musician and all around raconteur who likes to toss things out there for the sake of lively conversation, recently posted a meme titled “What is the most beautiful song ever written?” People piped up with suggestions from all genres, including hard rock, blues.

Of course, I have opinions, and after much thought, I offered up “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. I know. So very sappy. It’s a song told from the point of view of the father, and of the son. It’s short, it’s sweet, maybe it’s even cliched. But even though I first heard the song over 40 years ago, my heart still hitches a bit when I hear it, dare I say I might even get teary-eyed? Even though I’m of the female persuasion, I have been on both sides of the generational divide. I was on the son’s side way back in the day. As a daughter, a young woman, I was headstrong (with those strong opinions once again) and did things my parents did not agree with. And now I listen to the song from the other side. As a mother, and old woman, I have decades of hindsight under my belt. It’s a natural tendency to want to make things easier for your children, to protect them from the evil in the world, even though in reality you can not.

That’s the main reason why “Father and Son” is a beautiful song to me. Songs from this era pull me back into the way I felt back then. Memories rush from their dark corners and into the fore. Plus, you know… Cat Stevens. From back in the day when he was up-and-coming. What’s not to like?

A good ANYTHING (book-movie-work of art – you fill in the blank) will do that. You experience a thing of beauty that touches your heart and leaves a lasting impression, something that can be drawn up again and again.

I suppose that’s what I strive to do in all my endeavors. As a writer, I’m telling a story, but I want to make sure that within the confines of those pages, what I reveal will be the best words I can find, used in the best way I can. It’s not just beginning – middle – denouement – The End. I’m searching for more to give you. As an artist, I try to make my designs wearable and beautiful. Yes, they are part of me, but I’m looking to touch something in you, too. When I cook (another of my loves), I don’t just cook for nourishment, I want my food to be a work of art as well. I want the people who join me in eating it to feel my passion.

There are many things in the mundane world we are told to worry about, most of which are petty nuisances that don’t amount to much once you strip away the outer shiny covering. What really matters is the heart, of your family and friends, of your readers, of the world at large. What really matters is the contributions we make from one heart to another.

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I have not been around much lately, as I have spent the last two-plus months cleaning and decluttering in preparation for possible (and yes, I did!) listing my house for sale. It’s a beautiful house and I love it, our master bedroom is to die for and the yard is park like with my many gardens. But let’s face it. We are not getting any younger. This is a HUGE house. We’ve lived here 13 years. I found more junk than I’d forgotten about. It’s a major pain working in the garden every year. (I should insert here that this year I performed a reverse flip whilst pulling a weed. Yes. Comical, and it hurt.) We are losing the battle with the weeds and the critters. When the things you love start weighing you down, it’s time to jettison the albatross.

Whatever disposable time I’m allotted I’d rather spend doing something enjoyable. Something creative. Which is why a smaller house is appealing. I can manage small.

So finally the house is clean – now I have to maintain a somewhat magazine lay-out freshness, so potential buyers aren’t scared off by my lifestyle (fairly free and easy and casual). This is not easy to do, but having a two-hour lead time for showings is helpful. I can’t get too out of control with that hanging over my head.

In the meantime, I haven’t just stopped writing. I’m working daily in my Hobonichi. Sometimes it’s character sketches, sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes I just draw, sometimes I write down something interesting I’ve encountered or heard.

I’m editing two entire books (!), one I’d forgotten, one I keep saying I will get to but never seem to find the time, and compiling a book of “shorts” – poems, flash, etc. I’m also collaborating (for the first time) on a piece I’d started and let fall to the wayside. (There’s a cautionary tale here, about poor time management, laziness, and a host of other “bad” habits a writer can pile up without thinking about it.)

All of the above excuses for not writing and not completing anything I’ve started, of course, are lame ones at best. A writer writes. When she doesn’t write she can’t blame anyone or anything except herself.

The busy-ness has finally come to a halt. It’s time to carve out a little time to get my writing as organized as my house. I plan to spend the rest of my summer coming to grips with the inside of my laptop.

(To kick start my plan, I designed a new logo for my books (see above), and I bought a BLOCK of ISBN numbers. I’d better have 100 books on the way. That’ll teach me. I hope.)

What are YOU doing this summer? Lounging by the pool and letting it all slip away? Not me. I’m down to the business of writing.

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I’ve always been a writer, starting before kindergarten when my mother gave me a pencil and a scrap of paper. Sometimes writing comes easily, when I can sit and spew forever and a day. Other times it would be the ultimate struggle: I knew I should be writing something, anything – but I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. Real life, stress, too many things to do, self doubt, laziness, sickness – you name it, I’ve used it for an excuse.

For the last month or so, I’ve been going through a MASSIVE housecleaning. (This is my current excuse for not writing.) It would have started out a huge undertaking anyway. We have three bedrooms that we never use and 2000 square feet of house that we don’t live in. Add to that 14 years of stuff accumulated by four humans and we are talking major decluttering. Thank goodness I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV. I’d just have to run away from home instead of clean.

The basement was one of my last jobs to tackle because it was the grossest. The attic wasn’t bad – it’s a walk up and dry, and my spare bedrooms aren’t bad because I clean them once a year (or before company comes to call). But the basement…yuck. Kind of damp, very spidery, and home to ancient centipedes. Plus it’s a HUGE mess, bigger than the rest of the house combined. And it’s dusty.

As I’m chucking out toys and enough Christmas accoutrements to open my own store, I found a box of my writing. Two novels that I knew I’d started but never made it past the first hundred typewritten pages. More than a few poems. Some other writing I didn’t recognize as my own, but I’m sure it was mine.

My mother had given me an antique (yes, in 1974 it as an antique) Remington manual typewriter for my high school graduation. She must have thought I was going to make a living with my words (ha ha…). I lugged it around from place to place for ten years, until I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had no finger strength to press the keys down. When I moved from St. Paul to Detroit, I gave it to my best friend at the time. I retired from typing, but still wrote poetry by hand, mostly to my husband. After the kids came twenty years of writing not much more than notes to teachers.

I’d also unearthed an enormous box of cards and letters from that period. Ah, pre-Internet, when the cheapest form of communication was via US Postal Service. Long distance phone calls were expensive! Trips out of town were too. There were tons of newsy missives from friends and relatives, years and years of back and forth. Many were mundane musings of daily life, sometimes the talk was deep. I found a letter from a truly nasty woman giving me 15 handwritten pages of what a terrible person I was. (I tossed that one, but I did keep some of the others. AND all of my fiction.)

Why did I keep that awful letter? or any of it?

Rereading my past was eye opening. These words brought back memories of myself as a young woman. My novels were mostly narrative (it took me 30 years to write dialogue!) but the voice was sassy and fresh. I’d never thought of myself as sassy and fresh at the time. My friends were interesting and led compelling lives, even though now none of us is where we thought we would be all of those long years ago.

As for me, I’m nearly finished with the Massive Purge of 2017. There might be one last garage sale in the future; I’ve given or thrown away everything else. Also in my future: old characters resurrected and given new life. Story lines I’d forgotten getting another chance. I’m starting right now.

Revive your past. It may pave the way to the future.

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We live in times where choices are made in black and white.

If you’re not a Democrat, you’re a Republican. If you question global warming, you must be a gas guzzling denier. If you love God and believe in him, you must be a bigot toward everyone who doesn’t believe. If you can’t see peace, love and understanding in everything, you must be shallow and stupid. Such contests of black and white make for interesting fireworks, but they also draw red lines of demarcation. Cross it, and you are dead to me.

Believe me, this has happened to me more lately than I’d care to think about. Make the wrong choice, and you lose friends, online and off.

The thing is, people are complex and flawed beings. We are more than black or white. A lot more.

I was thinking about this very thing this week as I completed the final modules of the short story course I’m taking online. (Have I mentioned before how much I love taking courses online?  🙂 Gets my brain in gear and thinking.) I learn so much from these courses. Thank you, Michelle Richmond.

Stories are much more than beginning, middle, and end. Once you get that concept into your head and begin branching away from stream of consciousness writing and into something that makes logical sense, you can begin to incorporate the other necessities of a good story, like dialogue, plots, themes – you know, the parts of a really good story.

I wrote a short story during this class, hardly original since I’d started something like it seven years ago and never finished it. (Maybe now I will.) But with a novel half-finished, some of the things I learned in the class I’ll now use in that work.

I thought about how I used to write my characters – the long-suffering female protagonist who at first comes off as too needy and without backbone. Or maybe she’s shallow and materialistic and not the brightest bulb. Or the antagonist who is a textbook slimy attorney, ruthless and mean. Bad guys without a vein of gold, or good girls who live the straight and narrow and never think beyond the box.

They were all black or all white.

They were also all boring. Re-writes change that, and add depth and interest. Characters are far more likeable if their layers are revealed slowly.

This is where I thought about black and white.

In my current WIP, I see where my main characters are coming out of worlds that are all black or all white, in their own way, of course. When we first meet, they are frozen, locked into course, as if they don’t choose black, they automatically choose white. They can’t see anything else. Real life isn’t like that, and as the story progresses, they each begin to see their lives as more than two choices, as black smears into white resulting in shades of gray. In my head I see them coming out of that monochromatic world and bursting into color, something with hope and promise at the end, like a rainbow.

Isn’t it great that humans are more than one thing or the other!

Remember this as we traverse the great wild Internet (especially) and the world at large. People are so much more than the public persona, of what shows on the surface.

I know. This is not very interesting and kinda preachy. But in developing characters, it might be something to think about.

 

🙂

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