Archives for posts with tag: writing life

I’m doing that thing that I do. The thing that from the day I discovered my ability to make a list I’ve anticipated, longed for and agonized over. After 2010’s novel-writing debacle it’s the one thing I pinky swore with myself I’d never, ever do ever again. But here I sit, craving it the way a former four-pack-a-day woman of a certain age might crave a Virginia Slims.

It’s the last week of December. I want to write my resolutions. That’s right. ResolutionS. Because I’m never satisfied with one.

A symbol of Jainism consisting of a hand and a...

A symbol of Jainism consisting of a hand and a wheel reading “ahimsa”, the Jain vow of non-violence.

(Yet as I do this I’m thinking about ahimsa. Ahimsa is non-violence. Kindness and non-violence towards all living things. Wait a minute. I’m a living thing. It means me, too. Kindness and non-violence towards Mimm. Huh.)

So there you have it. With a flash of unanticipated insight complete with the cartoon lightbulb shining brightly above my head: as an act of kindness toward myself, I am not writing ANY resolutions this year. And I am definitely not going to drop any hints – that is, if I was going to write a list of resolutions – of what they might be. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Because when I write resolutions – which I’m not doing this year, by the way – I usually begin by breaking down the categories. What changes would I like to be a witness to in my life? What will I do to improve my health and fitness? My finances? My love life?

The categories are then broken down into sub-categories. There’s physical health, mental health and spiritual growth. There are bills to pay down and savings to build up. And the love life? Weeelllll…there are on-line sites to explore, real life avenues for meeting people, dates to arrange and not cancel at the last minute. Don’t forget about my intellectual life. There are books to read and graduate school papers to submit…ahead of schedule, of course.

After the categories and sub-categories are established, we begin creating a time line.

  • How soon do I want to lose fifteen pounds? In time for the opening of Samyama Yoga Studio at the end of the month? No problem. Two pounds a week. Any ninny could do that.
  • Oh? You’d like to run a 10-K in March? Easy-peasy. Haven’t run ten feet in ten months? Pishaw. No worries.
  • Meditating for an hour each day beginning January 1st? Consider it done.
  • Car paid off and retirement secured by April? Piece of cake. While you’re at it, have that down payment on a house saved by July.
  • Subscriptions to the dating sites Flirty at Fifty, Is it Hot in Here or am I Just Happy to See You and Trading Up established in time for Valentine’s Day…ok…that’s never going to happen.

In fact, it’s safe to wager that none of this will happen. Would I prefer that my life move in this direction? Of course. And I’d like all my classes overflowing with students, a beautifully furnished Craftsman home to call my own, an agent, a publishing contract – oh, and a recording contract while were at it (dream big I always say) – a swept-off-my-feet romance and a dog. Preferably a dog named Roscoe. Oh, and I’d like to sail through graduate school. And have financial security.

But isn’t setting a dozen bars impossibly out of reach an act of violence committed by me, towards me? Though perhaps it’s an act of kindness to choose the one bar that supports all the other hopes and dreams. And then to set that one, lone bar within reach.

Because, at the end of the day, despite all the whines and complaints and wishful thoughts I write about on this public forum – the truth is I’m a very happy woman. I live a simple life in a simple apartment. I have everything I need and very few things that I don’t need. I’m healthy and whole. There are friends who love me and friends I love. It’s a good life.

And yet…and yet….I’m human. I’m a human who does not write New Year’s Resolutions. Except maybe. Maybe this year I’ve the one resolution that will be the true catalyst for change. Maybe this year I’ve discovered the one idea, one habit, one way of walking on this path that has the potential to change the way I experience the entire journey? Do I have the strength and will power to see it through?

Of course I do. It’s just one resolution. And I’m not even going to wait for the New Year.

Beginning now, this moment, I resolve to be kind. I resolve to be kind to all living things. I resolve to be kind to me.

787 words in about an hour with a bit of revision.  My intention was to take twenty minutes each morning charge up my writing batteries with two-hundred words or so.  Ever the overachiever, this personal challenge is now eating up an hour.  Yes – I’ve written eleven posts in ten days.  But I have a real deadline for a real writing assignment and this is morphing from fun challenge to agent of procrastination.  Typical. To that end, I resolve to consider an end to this challenge.

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English: Bird on a Persimmon Tree. A Nuthatch ...

They arrived in a plastic bag. Five orange orbs hard as rocks.

“They’re from my tree. Aren’t they beautiful?”

They were beautiful. They are beautiful. Persimmons are beautiful.

And the most painful test of patience known to humankind.

Six weeks later and the five persimmons on my kitchen counter are settling in just fine. One or two yield slightly to my fingers. The others refuse to show any indication that they intend to ripen anytime this year. Or this century.

Still, if I can just hold on a few more weeks. If I can wait until January. Oh! What a treat I’ll have!

But I never do.

I am a woman of limited patience.

And I know that in a few days – in a weak moment on Sunday afternoon – I’ll cradle each persimmon and gently press. I’ll fool myself into believing they’ve given in to the decay that calls them and their beautiful fruit has turned into a sweet, gooey pudding. I’ll choose the one that I know – I just know – is ready, and I’ll slice its top off.

One look indicates that now is not the time. That my patience failed me again. But I’ll refuse to admit that this was a bad idea. I’ll take a spoon and scoop a bit of reluctant persimmon flesh into the spoon’s bowl. As it heads toward my mouth I plead to the Goddess of Goodness for the taste of sugar.

Anyone who has ever eaten a persimmon too early knows what happens next.

Instead of sweetness, my mouth puckers. The saliva that could help me complete the process of mastication has disappeared. Drawn up and away. It’s not sour, nor bitter. Just vile. I spit the fruit from my mouth.

Another year. Another wasted persimmon. Another tragic gastronomical moment. Because if I had waited, I would have tasted bliss. The effects of an unripe persimmon on the mouth’s mucosa are despicable. But a ripe persimmon? It’s like tasting heaven.

As I clean up the mess I promise myself and the four remaining persimmons that I will wait. I will wait. Because some things are worth waiting for.

And then it occurs to me. Persimmons are late bloomers. Just like me.

374 words, 15 minutes, very limited revision

Rice n' Shine with goat milk, toasted coconut flakes and banana...yummy!

Rice n’ Shine with goat milk, toasted coconut flakes and banana…yummy!

Over the past few months I discovered the joy of having sit down meals shared with a friend. Let’s face it. Meals taken in a cramped studio apartment aren’t ideal. Until I found two TV tables at a garage sale “Dinner at Mimm’s” meant one of us at my desk and the other with a plate of food balanced on their lap.

But I digress.

On our road to attempted good health (gluten free, organic, limited GMOs) my friend and I began to shop for our groceries together. Rather than split the bounty we kept everything at his house. His was the bigger kitchen – it even had counter space AND space for a table and four chairs.

And that’s why my alarm has been pulling me away from dreamland at 5:30 AM. If I want breakfast I need to make the three-mile journey down the road and up the hill to his house. Crazy? Maybe. I’ll confess: at first it was torture. But when I decided that I could sleep in sweats and a tee-shirt rather than my Nick & Nora Monkey Pajamas rolling out of bed and behind the wheel of my CRV became much easier.

Add a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey and a few blueberries....

Add a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey and a few blueberries….

Lunch and dinner meant coordinating strange schedules. But we managed. It was worth it. Preparing food, sharing meals and even sharing clean up with an open heart and mindful attitude is lovely. It temporarily changes the pace of life and offers us a chance to savor each moment and each morsel.

IMG_1667

Fresh pressed juice featuring beet root, carrot and ginger. A ruby glass of goodness!

My friend and I don’t always get along. We’re like family that way. But sitting down and slowing down to share home-cooked meals has been one of the highlights of this year. I kid you not.

And that’s why I better get my rear in gear. It’s ten minutes past six. If I don’t face this frosty morning soon I’m going to miss breakfast!

310 words, 14 minutes this morning and a bit of evening revision

 

If you’re a writer and don’t know about Glimmer Train, you should.  In particular, the three essays in this link regarding the writing life are wonderful.  Full of truth.  Honest.  Familiar.  They brought me hope and stoked a desire that over the past year had become nothing more than smoldering embers.

Whatever you do, keep writing.  A few words, a few paragraphs, a few pages.  Take notes.

Record ideas with the voice memo app on your iPhone.

Motivation slips into the ether but can always be found.  It hasn’t disappeared forever.

Keep writing.  It’s what you do.

Your Daily Prompt #1

I stopped writing for a while.

When it was time to begin again I thought for a while.  Then thought some more.

I took a walk with a friend this past Saturday through UC Berkeley’s beautiful campus.  On our way to Telegraph Avenue we passed an over flowing trashcan.  Next to it, crumpled and discarded, was a denim jacket.  Someone had set fire to it, or it had caught fire, and then was abandoned.  No longer useful.

“That would make a good writing prompt.”

“What?”  The beauty of the day and a raging case of indigestion distracted my friend.

“That denim jacket.  It would make a good writing prompt.  I should take a photo of it.”

But I didn’t.

Instead, I’ll post this photo.  Your daily writing prompt.

Now feel free to pick up a pen and write.

A few ground rules:

  • Timed writing – 15 to 30 minutes
  • 200 to 500 words
  • If you want to share, post your work as a comment

Here are my 263 words from Your Daily Prompt #1:

She admired the pattern of raindrops on the linen envelope and looked for the return address.  There was none, and the postmark had blurred from the rain and was now a red smeared remnant from a former destination.  But there was something familiar in a long ago way about the handwriting.

The freezing rain made her fingers ache.  Clare dropped the letter on the breakfast table next to the half finished porridge and cold tea.  Whatever it is, it can wait.  Her first spoken words of the day woke Jack.  The black tabby stretched down from his kitchen chair and rubber his body against her ankle.

Clare lifted the plate from the Stanley, took up the coal bucket next to the stove and spilled shining black chunks into its belly.  She made a second cup of tea – two teaspoons of sugar and a drop of milk – then sat down by the window.

She looked through the raindrops past the McSweeny kid’s swing set, past the arch of identical white bungalows that carved the green hill.  She looked all the way to Barnesmore Gap, all the way to the Atlantic and across.  She looked to a rocky shore, then cities, mountains, people, mad dreams and fields of wheat.

Jack reached his paws to her lap.  Come on then, she said, and Jack was in her lap.  She picked up the envelope and tore it open. Inside was a single sheet of ordinary paper, folded in quarters and on that folded piece of paper was taped a single Gingko leaf and the words “Remember me.”

She's hangin' on for dear life in gale force winds...sometimes that's what writing feels like.

I don’t even know if this is legal.  But here I go anyway.  I’m reading Philip Roth’s new book Nemesis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010), about a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey in the 1940’s.  And I’m learning to write.  Specifically, in my new work The Growing Season, I am trying to describe my characters in such a way that there is no doubt who they are, how they think, what they wear.  In Nemesis, Roth describes Bucky Cantor with perfect command of language and cadence.  By the end of the passage I feel as though I know Bucky – as though he’s the neighbor boy down the street I had a crush on in high school.  This is how I want to write.  This is how I want you to know my characters Wanda, Cora, Rose and Helen.  And this is how I want to know the characters you’re writing.

I could just say, “turn to page eleven”, but you wouldn’t.  So I’m going to stretch copyright laws a bit give you the passage right here:

…He stood slightly under five feet five inches tall, and though he was a superior athlete and strong competitor, his height, combined with his poor vision, had prevented him from playing college-level football, baseball, or basketball and restricted his intercollegiate sports activity to throwing the javelin and lifting weights.  Atop his compact body was a good-sized head formed of emphatically slanting and sloping components:  wide pronounced cheekbones, a steep forehead, an angular jaw, and a long straight nose with a prominent bridge that lent his profile the sharpness of a silhouette engraved on a coin.  His full lips were as well defined as his muscles, and his complexion was tawny year-round.  Since adolescence he had worn his hair in a military-style crewcut.  You particularly noticed his ears with that haircut, not because they were unduly large, which they were not, not necessarily because they were joined so closely to his head, but because, seen from the side, they were shaped much like the ace of spades in a pack of cards, or the wings on the winged feet of mythology…

Not ten pages later Roth describes the demise of a basement rat so completely I wanted to put the book down and wash my hands.  I’m not just reading this book – I’m drinking it, absorbing it.  If only I could write with such ease and fluidity.  Philip Roth does not waste one single word.  Sigh…must keep writing…must keep reading…must keep learning.

 

 

“I want to write,” said Chicken Mimm.  “I think I’m going to try to write.”

“Write?  Braawwwk…there’s no money in that, you know.”

“You won’t find an agent.”

“You’ll never be…brawk…published.”

“Sure, Mimmsy dear, don’t we all want to write? Trouble is not too many of us are any good at it.”

When they were finished explaining why writing could never work out for a chicken, the hens cocked their heads and looked at Chicken Mimm.  Naturally they were sympathetic. Every Chicken has big dreams.  But no one knew the world outside of the coop.  Chicken Mimm would be better off if she just forgot about writing.  She’d be better off doing what she’d done all her life:  waking up, preening her feathers and then running into the yard to wait for Mrs. Lubbick and her bucket of feed. After all, she was a chicken, wasn’t she?

I’m one of those people who always write.  I have a bookshelf of journals I began when I moved to California in 1980 and somewhere in Pennsylvania are the notebooks of childhood.

But I don’t think my heart considers writing a practical option. Writing flirts with me and I flirt right back but I’m beginning to wonder when we are going to have a serious relationship.

Oh, it’s not writing’s fault.  It’s me.  I have – ahem – issues.  Commitment issues.  Bravery issues.  I mean, what if I’m actually good at this?  What happens if I actually succeed?

I wonder how often the dreaded Fear of Success keeps people from their dreams?

I’ve been spending time organizing files.  I discovered unfinished and forgotten personal essays, short stories, a few poems and one or two ideas for children’s books – all tucked away in the dark recesses of my hard drive.  Guess what?  I liked them.  They were rough but a bit of polish…yep, they were good.  More importantly, they reminded me why I write.

Because I have to.

Mrs. Lubbick?  This chicken’s bustin’ outta her coop.

The title of this post will resonate with anyone who spent a few weeks at Summer Bible Camp when they were kids.  If the song stays trapped in your head just long enough for you to consider pulling your hair out, dial up some Patsy Cline on the ol’ iPod and you’ll be fine.

About ten years ago, a friend of mine decided to learn a musical instrument.  It’s something she had always wanted to do, and she was looking forward to the challenge.  A decade into it my friend continues to struggle, to push forward, to insist on learning – even though she may have peaked around 2002.  I asked her if the struggle brought her joy.  Her reply, which continued non-stop as we walked across town, included these snippets:

“It’s not about joy, it’s about satisfaction.”

“I’m f***ing tired of people telling me it takes a long time.”

“I want to learn how to do it right.  There’s no point if I’m not doing it right.”

As we reached Whole Foods and she stopped to take a breath I squeezed in some snippets of my own:

“I suck.  My goal is to suck less.  And maybe, one day, I won’t suck at all.”

That, of course, is the Mimm version of Beckett’s idea of ‘failing better’.

At first she interpreted my comment to mean I didn’t care. That I was going to write, no matter how bad I was, and give little thought to improving.

“No, that’s not it at all.”  I said.  “I want to be the best writer I can be.  It’s just that right now – I sorta suck.  I’m not that good.  But I can see the road ahead of me, I know what I have to do, and I’m happy to do it.  It brings me joy to do the work.”

Even when I’m ready to throw my laptop onto a bonfire I still love the process.  When I feel guilty for not meeting my word goal, when I feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to friends – underneath it all is joy.

I’m not certain my friend will ever understand what I was trying to tell her. Tempering the guilt, frustration, anger and struggle in the process is the giggling joy that bubbles up when words that I’ve selected fall together and create a meaningful sentence. There has to be some joy.

Speaking of Joyful Sucking…

Last week I mentioned the book Structuring Your Novel by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald.  When you research the book online, you’ll find a scathing review from a ‘successful screenwriter’ who insists he never would have tried had he listened to the advice of this book.  Good for him.  My experience with the book has been just the opposite.  It’s the anti-thesis of the ‘touchy-feely’ collection of books I was railing against last week.  It’s a book of clearly written, step-by-step advice for the new-ish writer.  I’ve been working through the questions that appear at the end of each chapter – just like homework.  I’ve stopped floundering and have begun to focus. I hate floundering.  Structuring Your Novel has moved me into the next phase of my Master Plan:  Sucking Less.  And that, no doubt, is a cause for joyful celebration.

Now that I know my characters live happily ever after (or not – you didn’t think I was going to give away the ending, did you?) it’s time to navigate the next step.

You should know, despite all the horror stories I’ve read about how difficult it is to find an agent, I still believe I can do this in my lifetime.  This is a step-by-step process requiring research, discipline, optimism and luck.  I can do this.

I read recently that it helps to set a goal for your writing.  What is it I want? To write a best seller?  To have books printed for family and friends?  To produce one book per year?  To meet Oprah? What is it?  What do I want?

I want to make money telling stories.  There.  I’ve said it.  There are “jobbing actors” who make a decent living delivering one line and a withering stare on CSI: Miami.  I want to be a “jobbing writer.”

From learning about my characters to learning about World War II, I have loved everything about the process.  Even the critiques that made me wince with pain.  Loved it.  Can’t wait to start the next one – it’s already chomping at the bit.

So – to make that goal a reality, what is the next step?

Polish, polish, polish.  When those agents ask for the first fifty pages, I will send the most perfect first fifty pages they’ve ever seen. The paper will be crisp, white and unstained. Once I get them reading, they’ll find no misspelled words, no misplaced commas, no syntax errors to distract them from Maggie’s story.

And while I’m polishing and taking critique from the brave souls who have volunteered to read the manuscript for me, I’ll begin work on the ‘business end’ of writing.  I need to do three things:

  • Compile a list of agents appropriate for my work
  • Find comparison titles
  • Learn how to write the best query letter
  • Write a chapter summary, a short synopsis and a long synopsis.

All right. Yes, technically. I have six things to do. But I can do this.  One step at a time.

The alarm rings at 6:00.  That’s no big deal.  I’m certain there are many writer’s whose alarms ring earlier.  They probably have children that need to be fed and readied for school.  I don’t.  They might have partners  searching for lost wallets and car keys.  I don’t.  I have me.  And my alarm rings at 6:00.

It rings at 6:00 and I hit the snooze button precisely 5 times.  During that half hour, I’m thinking about where I left off the night before and where I need to begin today.  Today, I need to begin with this blog.  This will get the creative brain cells firing.

I walk into the kitchen and put the kettle on and put two teabags (organic, green) into a medium-sized thermos.  I make my bed and then, just before the water boils, fill the thermos and pull my breakfast from the fridge.  It’s a mixture of whole grains that have soaked overnight in low-fat soy milk.  While they’re in the microwave I take the tea to my desk and open my laptop.

And that’s where I am now.  Taking spoonfuls of porridge in between sentences.  Wrapping my head around the day ahead, which will finish at 9:00 PM when I return home from my last yoga class and watch the latest episode of “House” freshly recorded on my DVR.

My writing life. As many words as I can each day.  Every day.  It isn’t such a bad one.

And now, with porridge eaten, I’ll pour my first cup of tea and find out where my protagonist Maggie is going to take me.

When last seen she and her friend Kit were about to move from their training center at Houston Municipal Airport to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.  They had just passed their second Army check in the AT-6.  The year was 1943….