Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Night Before the Day Before NaNoWriMo

Saturday night. We had a pot-luck at a friend's house today, and though the atmosphere was mostly convivial (except for Lillian playing "ghost" in the dark with the other Haverim kids and bonking herself on the forehead running into a table and getting a big goose-egg on her forehead) and happy, I was distracted, thinking of what the first of November would bring in terms of writing.

Ideas have chased each other through my mind for months. I toyed with the idea of finishing all the unfinished novels I have on the computer; I juggled strange dreams that could have proved fruitful in writing. I thought of spinelessly just using characters I know and love and have used to death and prodding those poor creatures on to new if not better adventures.

Tonight I re-read the last few chapters of  "Going Hungry" and decided for sure to run with a sequel to what I wrote in 2008. I wrote down the names of the characters and a title for Chapter One. THAT FELT GREAT!

New stories are deliriously entrancing. Old characters are comforting and fun. Sequels are just fine. The main thing is that the craziness that is NaNoWriMo erases all rules except one:

Write, dammit. Just look at that white screen and start slapping down words.
Are they goofy? Are they puerile? Are they profound? Yes, yes, yes, and no, no, no. They are just words. They are words that have some ideas. That's all. It's the playground, so go play in it. Make hills in the sandbox, and then kick them down and build a castle -- oh no, there's some cat poop! Leap out and try the swings, the seesaw, the trees -- an afternoon's play for a kid doesn't have to have an agenda to it, or a training regime, but every time a kid plays, his or her mind grows.

Every time a writer writes, his or her mind grows, too. Maybe it's just the discipline of getting out in the "open air" of a blank screen, or getting into the habit of "doing homework" by letting ideas flow without regard to future sellability (not a word, really, and not a thing to write for) -- each time we write we allow things in our heads to appear and be manipulated by our fingers on the screen. Good or ill, there they are, and if, at the end of November, those things are less than stellar, so what? The charging horses of the stampede of thoughts have run through our lives to the tune of 17k words a day, carrying our pecking along, leaving behind dust and tracks, tracks along which we can follow, knowing that writing CAN be done.

It's good to play.

It's good to see the tracks.

It's good to be jumping on one of those horses and riding the wave of words, crazy-running on the keyboard.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


It was a day of clouds, so I didn't want to get up this morning.

It was a rainy day, so I didn't want to fuss about in the studio in the damp air.

It was an NFL football day, so I was determined not to miss a game once I got home from church.

I got up. I checked the status of the upholstery job I'm doing in the studio. I watched football all day, glad that the Steelers won, but disappointed that Rothlisberger and his wayward wang didn't get sacked and crushed into the turf; I laughed hard at the incongruity of the Raiders' huge win against Denver.

But mostly, what I did was NOT WRITE. "Transitions" is finally as done as it's ever gonna be, so I don't have that habit to plague and placate me. The next writing exploit is going to be NaNoWriMo -- and the prospect is as paralyzing to writing as an anvil on my hands.

I have no idea what I'm going to write. I don't have a sure-fire well of extra words for word count.

But my goodness, I am champing at the bit to start.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Hunger Games: Sort of a Book Review

A message came up on my email, that said a book I had requested from the main library to our local branch had come in. I rubbed my hands together in fly-like manner, satisfaction radiating from my heart. I was about to have in my hands the sequel to Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris, entitled City of Veils. To my surprise and annoyance, the book that had come in was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

I was sure that they had made a mistake, that they had sent me the wrong book, but when I went to the "request" page, sure enough, "Suzanne Collins" came up through Firefox's brilliant memory of field completion. I have no idea why I would have requested it. I only request books recommended by Wendy's blog.  Indeed, when I looked at the book's flyleaf, I had a vague, vague memory of thinking, "Well, it's a book aimed at teens, maybe I won't be too offended by it."

We went fishing on Thursday, so I took the book along to read while I let my bait drift in the water. It was a shitty day for fishing -- no one we talked to had even one nibble, let alone a fish. So when I began to read The Hunger Games, not only was I annoyed to find that the whole book was written in first person, present  tense (which is good for a bar story, but not for a novel), but in the first few pages, I was tremendously annoyed to have the narrator claim that she and her companion went to a pond and caught a dozen fine fish before noon. Poking the pages, I told the author, "You have never been fishing in your entire #!!@! life!"

In the post-apocalyptic story, outlying "Districts" are basically company towns bled dry by the company -- The Capitol. The Districts are there to provide for the Capitol, and nothing else. An insurrection in the past resulted in the installation of humiliating "Hunger Games" -- a chosen pair of children from each district are pitted yearly against other districts in a battle to the death, a broadcast reality show in which the winner is promised wealth and sustenance for the rest of his or her life. Katniss, despising the Capitol and its stranglehold on her people, leaps to volunteer instead for the Games when her little sister is chosen by lot to participate.

Katniss is a hunter, a profession strictly forbidden by the Capitol. That's the skill she brings to the Games. That's the skill that keeps her alive -- that and a caring heart. The games begin, and Katniss runs into the forest to try to figure out not so much how to triumph, but how to survive.

The action is continual, the pace of the book quick. There are lots of deus ex machina spots, but they're explained  easily enough. The writing is colorful, though nothing I would envy as a writer.

The next annoying revelation is that I read the book in two days, and didn't want to put it down.

The final annoying aspect of this book is that as soon as I was finished reading, I requested the sequel from the library.

Will I own a copy of this book? No.

Will I read it again in the years remaining to me? No.

Will I switch my tail in annoyance at how long the library's copy of the sequel takes to get to me.


Get Back on the Horse

They say that if you get bucked off a horse, the thing you have to do is dust yourself off and get back on that horse and try again.

That's a great metaphor if you've just lost a computer game, or failed to make a date with the guy/girl you have a crush on, but it's a stupid one if you are actually trying to ride a horse.

Horses are big, dangerous animals. They can bite, they can kick, they can knock you down. If you have a horse that bucks you off, I'm inclined to say that it is no longer a horse, it is dog food on the hoof. A horse that bucks and unseats its rider is a horse that has learned that it can buck and unseat a rider. I don't think it's possible to re-teach a horse that it can't unseat a rider.

My riding buddy, Cathy the Mad Horsewoman, was thrown from her horse, shattering her left arm in the fall. The horse had become increasingly unstable and dangerous as he got older, and found his niche as an unridable horse in a horrible display in which he threw himself back and forth until the momentum flung Cathy from the saddle. The event signaled the end of her riding days. Even on her gentler, older horse, she was afraid of another such fall and injury. I don't blame her.

After nearly two months of not riding, I saddled The Stinky Dink yesterday morning. He was ambivalent about being caught; he was in the middle of breakfast, after all. While I groomed him, I watched for any sign of rebellion. Ditto while I saddled him.

He's a bit fat in the belly area, from lack of work, but when I put my foot in the stirrup, he was unconcerned. We rode out of the yard and down the road with no hesitation or twitch.

We didn't ride long, as I'm out of shape from a summer of riding the front passenger seat of the Vibe, but we had a nice one. Dink only stopped and stared once, at an eight-foot-high stand of grass growing by an irrigation outlet. I let him stand and observe it, and then told him, "You're fine, let's go." We went.

I'm pretty sure that Dink (Lord Duquesne is his real name) is the last horse I'll ever ride. I appreciate his steady golden years even as I head into mine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Simple Things, Incredible Things

Today I watched the rescue of the Chilean miners on the BBC, on their live broadcast.

Honestly, when I first heard of the disaster, I didn't think the miners had any chance of survival. So I didn't follow their story, didn't think about them beyond a  "God have mercy on their souls."

Then I heard they had a chance of rescue, but that might be four months in the future. Would they go mad? Would they die of hunger or thirst, or bad sanitation? I shut my eyes and didn't want to think about it.

Then there was the drilling, with the hope of getting them out through a hole and a specially-made capsule. I still kept aloof, not wanting to be disappointed in my wish for things to turn out well.

Today I was unable to keep away from my computer monitor, watching the miners being brought up, one by one. I was unable to leave the site alone, until all the miners were above ground. My soft heart made me leak tears as I watched each miner exit the escape device.

Thank God they are out, out of the tomb, and pray God that they learned something about Life in their trial.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Secretariat: Thoughts on the Movie

We went to see Secretariat today.

I've loved horses so long I don't remember the first time I knew I loved horses. I loved watching the Triple Crown races; in Central Pennsylvania in the mountains, those were the only races that were ever covered on television. In 1973, I was home from college on the weekends for those races, at least in part because no one in the dorms (or my boyfriend, who had a TV) would have been interested in watching anything so non-topical or uncool as horse races.

In 1973, when I saw the post parade for the Kentucky Derby, I fell in love with Secretariat. He was so big, so perfectly shaped that I was sure he'd be the winner. I gave my memories of watching Secretariat to my Uncle Edgar in this story so I needn't repeat them here. But I wanted to repeat feeling those feelings, so off to the movie, hoping it would be okay.

It was. It was a good movie, about a woman who had more faith in a horse and a heritage than in "common wisdom." And the horse was Secretariat. Some critics say that there wasn't enough about the horse himself, but I can't agree. To have more about the horse, you'd have to have a horse actor that was just as big and perfectly formed as Secretariat was. That horse doesn't exist. Most of the movie was about Penny Tweedy, Secretariat's owner, and how she finagled her colt into immortality, without the backing of her family, by and large, and in the face of a phenomenally male-dominated venue.

There was enough about the horse, and some nice staging of the races to bring tears to my eyes, remembering my own experience watching the events. Other things struck me, more deeply, however.

One was that the entire audience (and it was fairly full in the theater for a 1 pm show) were old people. All of them. No little kiddies, no young people. All old folks, maybe going to remember one of the highlights of their lives. Hell, that was why I was there. I knew when I saw the running of the 1973 Belmont Stakes I'd never see anything like it again in my life.

The second thing was that I thought the characters looked stilted, stylized -- all of them. Then it hit me that the actors were portraying a culture that has been dead for more than thirty years. Back then, I was part of the rebelling youth while I was on campus, wearing ratty jeans, running with a bad crowd, breaking all the rules that my parents had taught me. On the weekends, however, I was Miss Proper, wearing skirts or dresses to church -- I even still owned a pair of white cotton gloves. In the movie, Penny Tweedy wore dresses, was neatly hair-do'd, ladylike and polite. She had no sensational sex affairs, no vicious language blowouts, no dirty trade tactics. No cosmetic surgery, no multiple marriages, no strident television appearances. I remember that time.

Finally, Penny Tweedy not only defied the stereotype of being a housewife, but showed that being a housewife did not mean a woman had become a moron. She took control of an estate and her life, and forged success out of a very dicey situation. She should be held up as a role model for all young women, in how to fiercely and gracefully make a big difference in the world.

But that's not going to happen. Instead, the women who should be pointing to this story as example will sneer at it for being a Disney fantasy, and encourage girls to turn their attention to the importance of carrying condoms for when they want to have random sex, and laud the fashionistas who seek to dress 9-year-olds like little whores.

Chastity, modesty, and honesty? Courage and self-denial? Ooh, forget that. It's Disney crap.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Bug Up The Nose

I worked on the Press this morning, folded some laundry after lunch, and read an ugly submission to the Press this evening. And I was going to write, in the garage studio (so dark, so quiet, so cool) but then a gnat-bug flew up my nose and I was totally thrown off my groove.

This is a fact of reality. If a bug flies up your nose, it throws you off your life's plan.

Unless you are a writer of horror, in which case, you welcome the event and run with it.

That would not be me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

This Writing Thing, Part 4: The Jones

After my first creative writing effort, I found I couldn't stop. Two weeks after NaNoWriMo 2001, I knew what I wanted to write about in 2002. In fact there were a bunch of books I wanted to write.

But to wait a whole year to write again? What a horrible thought it was. Was my writing to become like my painting, done only in spurts, rarely finishing a work, without purpose? I still had the idea that I needed a reason to write -- or was it an excuse?

Alex created the Piker Press, and since then, I have never lacked a reason, or an excuse to write.

Over these nine years, however, I've discovered a new and delightful thing: I no longer need the reason to write, or the excuse. Like the silly series of photographs I've become enamored of ("Things On The Back of Trucks"), writing is just something I want to do, that I can do, and that I hunger to do just about every day.

There's this buzz in what feels like it ought to be my medulla oblongata, and a billowing through the rest of my brain. Jitters creep into my shoulders and an itch runs down my arms, and my fingers crave the touch and rhythm of typing, while my ears savor the soft clicking sound of the keys when I give in to this urge and let pour out strange words and new sentences.

Yes, I do this writing thing because I don't want to do without it for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

October, and Fish

In the early light of morning at this time of year, the lower branches of the hopseed are still dark, but the higher leaves of the eucalyptus are illuminated.

This is a time of year past swimming weather, but so very clement: highs in the low 80's, night time temperatures in the high 50's. Cool to warm, warm to cool. Windows can stand open all day. In the mornings, and late evenings, I wear my threadbare Big Dogs knit jacket; I've had it so long and worn it so often that it feels like a second skin.

This morning we took me fishing. Bernie says that whether or not he gets a fishing license is immaterial -- either way, he catches no fish. But I did get a fishing license this past summer, and today was my opportunity to use it.

There was plenty of room in the car for my fishing gear, a couple of folding chairs, and Howie. While Bernie let Howie go nuts investigating all the new bushes and grasses and shoreline at the reservoir, I struggled to re-learn how to cast, after so many years of Not Fishing.

There is a kind of throwing-stick on the market, in which one places a tennis ball into a cup on the far end of the stick, and then whales the stick for monumental flings of said tennis balls. We have one for the dogs, of course, since tennis ball throwing is the core of their lives. Bernie and I took it along, but before it was in use, Howie was puffing at me like a maniac, eyes on my fishing rod. He had made the association: the fishing rod was an implement for flinging something. He was a darling pain in the ass, and Bernie had to take him off on a walk by themselves to allow me to re-acquaint myself with my lovely fishing rod.

Later in the day, we moved to a different spot on the lake/reservoir. Howie was done for the day. (He didn't think so.) I began to cast and retrieve, a few splitshot weights on the line, and a small earthworm on the hook. Pow! I had a hit, a relatively big one!

Had I the fishing acumen I used to, I would have left the fish diddle with the worm a little longer, then set the hook, and we would have had fish for din. As it was, I tried to reel the creature in too quickly, and it flipped itself right off the hook.

Ah, well, I got a bite, got close. I'll take that over doing laundry at home any day.