I've got 22 days until I cross the Atlantic for adventures in writing on the Emerald Isle. And I've got full-on Camp Jitters. Because the Singing Over the Bones writing workshop--taking place at the postcard-perfect Anam Carar retreat--is going to include full-on legit writers. And I'm feeling nervous. I'm feeling anything but full-on legit.
I know I'm a writer in the most basic definition of the term. But (like most real writers, I can only assume), I am insecure about my work. My goal for this retreat is to come away with a half-way-decent rewrite of the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2014. I need to smooth out the rough edges. Buff up the story. Surgically connect all the pieces. Make it... well... a book.
I'm the Pinocchio of Communication majors. I just want to be a real writer. And that is why I have camp jitters. I'm sure you are familiar with this particular variety of jitters.
What if they don't like me?
What if I'm not good enough?
What if they steal my underwear and run it up the flagpole? No, wait. That was the summer camp after 6th grade.
Here are the tips they suggest to ease Camp Jitters. I will be replacing every instance of "your child" with "Elys" and "camp" with "workshop." Kind of like rhetorical psychology Mad Libs.
1) Let Elysfeel a sense of ownership over the workshop experience.
I'm gonna own this.... I'm gonna own this.... I'm gonna own this....
Maybe if I keep saying it. Just like Cam Newton. Oh, wait...
2) Help Elys get excited about camp.
I've been packed for a month. So, yeah, I'm excited.
3) Avoid focusing on
what makes Elys anxious.
This is a tricky one, because I am feeling most anxious about the very thing that is at the core of this whole trip. The writing. I am not a nervous flyer. I know how to find my way with a map. My phone will work to stay in touch with the Kiddo. I'm only nervous about one think. It just happens to be THE thing.
4) Don't trivialize Elys's concerns or offer glib reassurances.
Actually, all glib reassurances will be welcome at this point.
5) Focus on concrete
details in conversations leading up to and during the workshop.
Oh, the details. The beautiful, beautiful details.
6) Reflect on your
own formative experiences away from home and share positive aspects of them
One of the things I want to get out of this retreat is new perspectives on my writing. I keep finding myself driving my stories to a dead end. But instead of backing up and starting over, I think it's important for me to learn how to simply blow through those walls. I'm looking for that ammunition. I think I will find it in Ireland.
7) Go through
Pfft. I've been "rehearsing" my writing for years. I need to actually take it to the public at some point. Might as well be now.
8) Don't linger at
the bus stop.
I'm going to miss my Kiddo so much! But I know he is safe and happy with his dad.
communication easy and accessible.
Anam Cara has WiFi and Verizon has an international plan. So, done and done.
10) Have goals for
each letter or conversation, so Elys will come away focused on how she is
adjusting, rather than on how much she wants to come home.
But what if I never want to come home? That seems like the real danger. Especially in this election year.
11) Try not to
communicate your own anxiety.
I don't know about this one. Knowing other people are anxious about this retreat might actually help ease my own jitters.
12) Help Elys formulate realistic, goal-oriented plans for making friends or toasting the
perfect marshmallow or passing a swimming test.
I've already solved the friend issue by bringing my best friend with me. I highly recommend that approach. As far as other goals go, my main goal is to sculpt my Badlands book into a form that I can share with other people.
And then, share it with other people.
13) If Elys has psychiatric or learning issues, don't keep them a secret.
Oy. It has become more and more evident that I never do learn. But, most artists are crazy, right? Even if it is only a little bit crazy?
Stupid fucking camp jitters. What if they don't like me?What if I'm not good enough?
But what if... just what if... I find out I really am kind of a decent writer?
I think with that, I will sign off this blog for a while, and move over to my travel blog. Where I guarantee you will find lots more insecurity and nervousness. And a lot of pictures of wonderful Ireland. Follow along with my "camp" experience at TravelPod.
*Let's be honest. My mind is not childlike. But probably right at home in an institution.
The Space Shuttle program has an interesting place in my life.
In the late fall of 1982, one year before Sally Ride became the first woman astronaut, my dad took two of his girls (his youngest was just out of toddler-hood) to see the launch of STS-5, the fifth Space Shuttle mission.
And I remember it like it was yesterday. I was awestruck watching the Columbia accelerate to 17,500 miles per hour as it punched through the earth's atmosphere. After we could no longer see the rockets, we stood there, looking up, watching the steam and smoke and contrails dissipate. Then, we spent the rest of the day exploring the Kennedy Space Center.
Yes, I am the boy-like child on the left.
And, as we boarded the bus to return to the hotel, I made a decision. I wanted to be an astronaut.
Thirty years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff. I was watching that launch too.
For many people, they remember that day so vividly that they swear that they watched it happen. But, in 1986, cable television was in its infancy and hardly ubiquitous. The newly formed network CNN was the only station running a live feed of the launch. Hardly anyone actually saw it live. But, because of NASA's Teacher in Space program was taking Christa McAuliffe into orbit, NASA had arranged for the launch to be shown in thousands of schools across the nation. Most of the people that did actually watch the shuttle disintegrate were children.
And I was one of those children. I was in 8th grade and seated in our science classroom, watching the launch and listening to the audio from Launch Control. None of us had any sense of danger. No one yet knew what an O-ring was.
But even as barely-pubescent junior high kids, we did know something about those solid rocket boosters. We knew that they were built about 90 miles north of where we were sitting--in the small town of Brigham City--by a group of engineers from Morton Thiokol Inc.
Those same engineers that strongly recommended that the launch be scrubbed due to the unforeseen abnormality of extreme cold in Florida. They warned NASA administration that the Challenger might explode at launch.
It did not. It took a little over a minute to do that.
And, even after that day, I still wanted to be an astronaut.
Then, on February 1, 2003, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated upon reentry after a 16-day mission. I remember exactly where I was when I saw that the very shuttle I had seen launch 20 years prior was gone. I was in the post office, where the TV was showing the footage on CNN. The first Israeli astronaut died that day.
Two of the five Shuttles were gone. Fourteen of the 355 Shuttle astronauts have been killed. The odds of a catastrophic Shuttle launch is about 1 in 100. And if NASA had offered me a seat on the next trip to space, I would take it without a second thought.
Twelve years after the Columbia was scattered over Texas--34 years after I was first there--I found myself at the Kennedy Space Center with my dad. Again. Only this time, with my son and my nephew. And we were all so excited to be there. We wandered through the displays, took a tour up to the launch pad, and had lunch with an astronaut.
It was so amazing to see my boys (and that includes my dad) so excited about the exploration of space. We learned about the science of space. We learned about the challenges engineers face in their quest to rocket humans out of the atmosphere. We saw gigantic rockets and buildings with garage doors eight stories high. We found out really cool shit. (Did you know that all the "smoke" you see when a rocket launches? It's not smoke. It's steam from the water that is released at launch. And it serves a purpose. It absorbs the noise of the launch. A noise so great that--without the water--it would tear apart the launch pad.) We all came away knowing that the sky is no longer the limit.
And you know what? I still want to be an astronaut.
The end of the year is most often marked by lists. Here is one of my own. I present the 15 most important things I learned this year:
1. There is nothing more important than having the right job for you.
I can not recall another point in my life where I could honestly say that I love my job. I can say it now. This last year, I have worked on projects with powerhouse teams from eBay, HP, Clearlink, and Prudential. I have traveled for work to New York, San Jose, Charlotte, and Seattle. I've received awards and job offers because of my work. I've met some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with.
2. Art matters.
Take a moment to look around you. Find something of yours that you love. And take a minute to acknowledge that it would not exist unless some artist pulled it out of a creative brain.
3. But art is really hard sometimes.
I've been working on my book that started as a novel and has evolved into a series of linked short stories. And I am drawing from many of the experiences I have had in my life. It can be really, really painful. But, as I write, I can feel the poison of these hurts leaving me. I can feel these splinters of pain fester out of my body. Sometimes, as I write, it hurts like hell. I can only hope it makes for some good reading.
4. Always have something on your calendar that you are looking forward to.
At this point, my geekness has been very well established. So it will shock none of you that for the past couple months, I had been counting the days until the new Star Wars was released. (Worth the wait! I loved it!)
What's next? Ireland in March!
Life is just a little bit easier when you have something to look forward to.
5. The world is full of injustice.
Gun violence. Police brutality. Bill Cosby. It's been a hard year and a lot of feeling helpless. A lot of guilt for bringing a kid into this chaos.
6. But there really might be a thing to karma.
But then, at--almost literally--the 11th hour, Cosby gets indicted. That nudges at my belief that things really do come around.
7. Sharing something you love with your kid--and having him love it to--it one of the best things about being a parent.
8. And being an aunt is the best job in the world.
9. Lesions happen.
That new on on the right? I've named him Duane.
10. It's an illusion to think you are in control.
But you also can't throw your future into the false idea of predestination. I know, I know. I have no explanation of how both of these thoughts can co-exist. I'm working on it.
11. Beauty and wisdom can appear in surprising places.
This was a birthday card to my son, from his friend Theddus.
Happy birthday Nathan. Don't worry about your height. Worry about your heart and how kind it is and your brain and how smart you are. People that judge you about your height will be working for you. God only has things grow until they're perfect. You just got there before me.
I will never achieve that level of writing. Such purpose and heart.
12. Bad, bad shit happens and no one does much about it.
13. But, despite it all, there is some progress.
14. We are worth so much more than what we settle for.
Well, most of us, anyway.
15. It's important to believe in magic.
Here's to a 2016 filled with happiness, art, wisdom, and lessons. And maybe just a touch of magic.
NOTE: My head is swimming with the news from Paris. I have so much to say, and yet I cannot organize any of my thoughts. So, I will put off blogging about this crazy world we occupy. For now, I will fill my thoughts with the mundane.
NaNoWriMo is halfway over. And I am hovering around 30,000 words, which means I am on track for the writing goal and victory over NaNo. So, it is only natural that my writing has ground to a halt. Because I have found myself in the unlikely situation of planning a wedding.
Thankfully, it's not my own.
I've come to have a Pavlovian response to seeing a woman in an uncomfortable white dress. Hearing Mendelssohn sets my teeth on edge. If I see one more cake pop decorated to look like it is wearing a tuxedo...
Ugh. I hate weddings. And, as I am word vomiting my November writing quota, I have accidentally come to the precipice of just that. There simply needs to be a wedding to move my story forward. And I have no idea how I am going to write it.
I don't really have memories of good wedding memories to draw from. And no wedding on TV is ever a the joyous occasion it attempts to be. Weddings in movies are forever leveraging the common tropes of Americana storytelling. So I can't even steal from those.
I've hit a wedding wall.
Let's review the last few weddings of note that I have experienced. It might help you understand my aversion.
Total Douchebag Dumps Me at Denny's
While this one doesn't actually occur at a wedding, you will be able to see how it lays the groundwork for my wedding distaste. The story of how I became engaged to Denny's Dude is a pretty short one.
“I think we should get married,” I told him one day. And that was it. We were engaged.
A few months later, we were sitting in a diner, because I was craving pancakes. Breakfast for dinner has always been one of my favorites. I asked him if he wanted to wear a tuxedo or a suit for the wedding. He didn't reply. I told him I felt like he didn't want to help plan our wedding. He said that he guessed he didn't.
Then he said that he didn't want to get married. And as fast and unceremoniously as we were betrothed, we were broken up. Boy, can I pick 'em.
Total Douchebag Ruins My Reception
My wedding itself was quite lovely. And went off without a hitch. It wasn't until three weeks later--at the second reception in California--that Douchebaggery occurred. The night before this reception, I had a terrible fight with my newly-minted husband because he was incredibly rude to my father.
I was furious. I will put up with a lot in this life. But... Never. Disrespect. My. Father.
And we broke the cardinal rule of married folk and went to bed angry.The next morning, we hardly spoke. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that he would not speak to me. Not one word as I did my hair up like I had at our wedding. Nothing as I dressed in a semi-formal white gown that was perfect for a late-morning, second reception. I was holding it together because it had taken me forever to apply my mascara the way I wanted it for pictures. I put my wedding headpiece in my hair and we met my parents at the car.
Still not a word from the hubby.
I climbed in the back seat with my mom. My dad opened his car door and told me that I looked great. Still no words from the man I married. But my husband found another way to communicate. He proceeded to drive the streets and freeways of Los Angeles recklessly and at a frightening speed. When my mom reacted to a particularly harrowing moment by grabbing my leg, I told him to either stop driving like he was or to pull over and let us out.
I met his gaze in the rearview mirror. That was when I started crying. My eyes were red and swollen for the next three hours. And I’ve got the reception pictures to prove it.
Total Douchebag Takes Me to a Family Wedding.
The invitation to this wedding was huge for me. It meant so much to me. I was going to meet this DB's entire family. And, even better, they were going to meet me. I hate to brag, but moms love me. Moms love it if I am dating their son. And once the mom is on board, it doesn’t take much for the whole rest of the family to join Team Elys.
I was so excited that he invited me. I felt like it was a sign that our relationship was moving forward, that we were becoming closer. I was a great date. I was accommodating, and flexible. Helpful and delightful. When he and his brothers went golfing before the rehearsal dinner, I took the rental car and went out alone to explore the town. At dinner, I made an extra effort to overcome my occasional shyness and talk to the guests.
Before the wedding, I accompanied him to the country club, then sat alone for a couple hours while family pictures were taken and groomsmen duties were undertaken. When he complained of the oppressive Southern heat, I ran out to get slushies, to which I added a shot of Jack Daniels. It’s an old college trick, and I was happy to trot it out. When his brother complained of a headache, I dug ibuprofen out of my tiny, vintage bag. I held babies, purses, and drinks during pictures.
You know that scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone pulls Kay into the family picture at his sister’s wedding? Yeah. That did not happen with me.
But I was a goddamn great date. It was only later that I found out that I was his second choice.
As I was pulling myself out of the rubble of that particular relationship, I was contacted by another woman that had experienced the destructive effects of dating this guy. She was kind and wonderful. After talking to her, I felt better. Mostly. But I didn't escape without one more nail in my anti-wedding coffin.
She told me that he had begged her to go to the wedding with him . She said he wouldn't take no for an answer. She told me how he had sent her dozens and dozens of texts and pictures that weekend, and he kept telling her how he wished she were there.
That fucker. I was the second choice. I was so excited to meet his family. To be included in this wedding weekend. I thought that it meant that we were going to spend our lives traveling and making love and seeing symphonies and shopping for antiques.
And all that time, I was his second choice.
All of these stories are finding a place in my 50,000 November words. One way or another. Maybe I should change the title to Total Douchebag Chronicles. What do you think? Too cliche?
Here's the thing. I want my story's heroine to have a wonderful wedding and a wonderful--if fictional--life. I think I owe her that much.
I think it has been well established that I tend to learn lessons the hard way. And I've once again committed to write.
It's only a couple days until we start November. And I've signed up for NaNoWriMo, pledging to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
I did this last year. And I have to admit, it was effective. My word vomit (formatted to look like a novel) has begun to take shape. Instead of it becoming a novel in the truest sense of the word, it has become a short story collection, wrapped within the adventure of a road trip to see the Northern Lights.
I'm calling it Trapped in the Badlands & Other Natural Disasters.
It's not exactly memoir, though it is certainly rooted in my life and my experiences. And it will be the manuscript I will workshop during my March writer's retreat in Ireland. The retreat is called Singing Over the Bones, and it explores female myths and archetypes. I've got quite a few bones to sing over.
I've got a couple story ideas to chew on for the next month. But for the next four weeks, Badlands will sit and ferment. Which is good. It's helpful. It will show me the way through some subtly tricky plot points in a couple of the stories. Some personally painful stories.
But art should be hard. Writing should be emotional. What's the point if art's creation and consumption does not induce feelings?
Anyway, I'm off to write 50,000 words. I'll keep you all up to date about the progress.
Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was an officer in the Royal
Navy during the war against Napoleon, noted for his genius regarding battle
strategy and tactics. Before retiring to his cabin for the evening after a day of
battle, he would shout to his orderly, “What’s the butcher’s bill for today?” In other words, what is the casualty count?
A couple weeks ago, I was flying into Newark on an early
morning United flight. It was a beautiful September morning. And it did not
escape me that it was almost 14 years ago to the day that another United
airplane was flown into Lower Manhattan. Every other time I had been to New
York, I flew into either Kennedy or LaGuardia airport. I don’t remember those
flights ever offering up the view of the city nearly as beautiful as the one I
was getting onboard the flight to New Jersey. As we were turning for the final
approach, we were over the Hudson River. With an amazing view of the Statue of
Liberty. And the sun reflecting off the recently opened One World Trade Center.
There is really no better word for what I was feeling than
patriotic. I was thinking about how we are a nation of immigrants, whose first
glimpse of our country was that statue of a woman whose lamp would lead them
home. I was thinking about how we rose from the ashes of an unparalleled
terrorist attack with literal and figurative grace and beauty. Yeah, those were short-lived feelings. Because, soon after I
was thinking of the Syrian families risking their lives to flee their homes for
not much more than giving their children a chance at a better life. And Europe
is not doing enough. And the US is not doing enough.
Aside--Don’t you think that Europe owes a tremendous karmic
debt for what they allowed to happen during WWII? Just sayin’. Then I thought about the window dressing our country
displays in a ridiculous stage show of artificial safety. Just that morning, I
had to take off my shoes to walk in stocking feet to the body scanner. Which
didn’t effectively persuade the TSA that there was nothing on my knee other
than my kneecap. So before I was allowed the dignity of footwear, I got a pat
down of my legs.
Last week, there was another school shooting. Sadly, when I
first saw the footage on the break room television, my first thought was not,
“Oh no!” It was, “Now where?” So what’s the butcher’s bill? What’s the tipping point? At what point will our country cry
uncle and take a serious look at our problem we have with guns?
I understand that the Constitution gives us the right to
have guns. We have that freedom. And if I suggest that we, as a country, revise
our current gun accessibility, the first response I will hear is “It’s our 2nd
Amendment right!” Aside--It has only been very recently determined by the Supreme
Court that the 2nd Amendment applied to individual rights to own guns. All
previous interpretations (decades of interpretations) of the Court determined
that the 2nd Amendment was preserving the right of States to maintained
well-regulated militias. And note the wording of the Amendment. It says it right
So, OK. We have the freedom to have guns. But I think the
discussion needs to be this. What is the price of that freedom? Walking through a metal detector in order to see a movie?
Metal detectors are being installed in theaters across the country. Having your bag search when you go to a concert? A sporting
event? Disneyland? Apparently I waive my right to privacy if I want to ride
Space Mountain. But what about this one. Every morning, when you send your
child off to school, you have a fleeting thought, wondering if he will make it
home safely that night. Wondering if he will be shot.Is that freedom? Is that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
We need to--as a county--have a conversation about guns. On October 21,1805, during his final victory at the battle
of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson was shot and killed.