Saturday, February 27, 2010

Perfect Games and Perfect Prose

Back in the day (oh yeah, we're going there) I played collegiate softball. Several times a week, for four of the best months of the year, I would walk into that chalk-rendered circle, pick up the ball and represent my school for seven innings - 90 pitches, give or take, depending how the drop ball was breaking. My stats were solid (an ERA that hovered around 1), but inevitably there were times when the girl at the plate would connect. And sometimes she would really connect. And I'd curse myself for not getting the pitch far enough off the plate, or for trying, for the zillionth time, to finish the at-bat with a rise ball, which I refused to acknowledge was a misnomer in my pitching repertoire. But, ultimately, it didn't matter if it was a home run or a dribbler down the line that my third baseman booted or even a passed ball on a strike out. I always blamed myself. I could have done better. I could have chosen a better pitch, I could have placed it better, I could have thrown more pitches in practice, I could have, I should have, I could have, I should have.

I'll speak collectively now about me and Laura and how we put a good deal of pressure on ourselves. As writers, as mothers, as wives, as lawyers. Pressure is a little generous, in fact. It might be more accurate here to invoke the DaVinci Code and its charming monk, Silas. And while I can't give you anecdotes from Laura's college days to prove my point (although I'm sure there's a college theatre story in there somewhere), I can say that the woman graduated with the grades and LSAT scores to land her at the best law school in the country.

So now here we are, time on the stage and time on the mound a mere speck in the rear view mirror of our lives, trying to make our way as writers. And old habits die hard. At least once a day, one of us self-flagellates about how much we've written, or not written, or how poorly we've written it, or how terrible our ideas have been, or how we're too metaphor happy, or that we don't so much have a plot. (That, as it turns out was true, and a good thing to note.) And the last time I saw my dear friend and writing partner, she noted something she'd read declaring that people who don't write everyday, can't call themselves writers. So, of course, we started imposing daily word counts and time lines and generally agreed that if we didn't meet them that, well, we sucked. And, more importantly, we weren't writers.

Several days later, I was writing Laura a 7 paragraph e-mail about, among other things, how much we sucked. And while I was writing, I realized that we didn't. That we are writers. We do write everyday. To one another. My day almost always begins with writing or receiving an electronic missive that's full of raw feeling, insightful observations, and humor, always humor. And its these missives that have now become our muse. Our inspiration. Sure, it might not be flowing prose with precisely crafted plot turns, but its writing. And every good ball player knows, you can't throw a perfect game every time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Girl Crush

This isn’t going to be one of those long, meandering posts in which I invite you to wander around my cranial cavity, viewing my memories, fantasies, and dreams through the prism of writing. (So, you know, it’s nothing like my usual posts.) You’re in luck, because it’s ugly up in there these days – memories like a child’s security blanket, worn thin from overuse; fantasies bleeding off the canvas, mixing with reality in unnatural ways; dreams recoiling and shrinking into the darkness at the mere glimpse of my outstretched hand. Oh yea, and melodrama abounds. It’s the techno-beat to which my brain dances. Like I said, you’re in luck.

Instead, I want to take a couple of moments to talk about Elizabeth Gilbert and her new book, Committed. When I read Eat, Pray, Love (and then reread it and then forced everyone I know to read it and then listened to it on CD and then read it again) I felt as if Liz was speaking directly to me. Like she’d come over for a cup of tea, which turned into an empty bottle of red, and by the time she left my eyes were puffy from crying and my stomach hurt from laughing and I felt, much like I do after a good yoga practice, complete. I put off Committed for a few weeks, because I was afraid I wouldn’t feel that way again; afraid it would disappoint in the way The Mermaid Chair bore not even a passing resemblance to The Secret Life of Bees.
But this was Lizzie G . . . I should have known better. My mom gave me the CD of Committed, with Liz reading, for Valentine’s Day. And, again, Liz speaks directly to me. Somehow, while weaving in marital statistics and history lessons on property acquisition and her views on same-sex marriage, Liz manages to sit right beside me, pull up her knees, and chat. She can do this because the book is, in effect, a conversation. She acknowledges as much in the forward, telling us she wrote the book for a group of specific women, whom she names. As a result, she has once again written something intimate. Words that are whispered tenderly. A book that feels less like an escape and more like an embrace. And an approach to writing that is both genuine and extraordinary.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Good Stuff

I've had one of those long weeks, involving trips to the hospital, on a plane, to the past, you name it. A good deal of wine has gone in and a good number of tears have come out. Some of it is just stage of life stuff, where you stop, look around, unsure of how you managed to get to this place, this unfamiliar place that is more properly inhabited by your parents. But then you do the math, look at your child, your mortgage statement, your wedding band, and realize you are your parents. There are people looking up for help and people looking down for help and they are all looking at you. And that's okay because you were once the person looking up and will soon enough be the person looking down and you love these people, but it doesn't mean its easy or fun. And doesn't mean you won't cry or feel like you might crumble under the weight of it all.

And just when you think your knees might actually give out, if you're blessed and loved and fortunate enough, the right person comes along and gives you a hug. The right kind of hug. And they make you laugh. And they make you remember what makes life worth living. They don't tell you its going to be okay or not to worry about it and they might not even indulge you in what are really the banal problems of your life, but their presence is enough to remind you of the good stuff. It may not look like what you expected, it may not present itself the way you want, but the good stuff is there in spades. I promise it is.

I'm trying desperately to end this blog without writing some kind of Hello Kitty or Blue Mountain greeting card-ish (see earlier post If You Love Something Set It Free and Other Bad Cliches) inanity about the benefits of hugging. But its hard. So instead I'll reference our book, The Pecking Order, where Abby talks about her best friend from college, saying "Racquel wraps her arms around me just as she did the first time we met. She gives me an extra squeeze, as if trying to leave a little piece of her with me, and the shaking subsides. " Never underestimate the right kind of hug.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nature and Nurture and Gratitude

My mom recently came upon one of my first stories, written when I was about six or seven. I’ve copied it here, complete with grammatical errors and misspellings(indulge me – it’s short, I promise):

Minnegan and her brother and her cousin.
Once upon a time there was a little white seal named Minnegan. One day a soft gray seal came along with a white seal by its side. The gray one was Minny’s brother and white one was Minny’s cousin. The’re names were Finny (short for Finnegan) and cutey. They dived together and slid on the ice. The had lots of fun
The end

So, there’s not really a plot, and my description leaves something to be desired, and what’s with the name Cutey? I mean, Minnegan and Finnegan, those are interesting names. But . . .Cutey? And the title is basically a rehash of the story. Let’s face it, if you added the word “playing” to the end of the title, you don’t even really need the story. (Although I wonder if the reiteration of “her brother and her cousin” had something to do with me being an only child?) But, that’s not the point. The point is, I wrote the story when I was missing my front teeth and could barely tie my shoes and brought potato bugs home in the pockets of my corduroys, and yet my mom saved it. She always encouraged me to write, save maybe for that unfortunate phase in high school when I wrote a collection of depressing suicide poetry titled My Wishing Well of Clear Blue Thoughts (and if the title isn’t enough to make you gag, nibble on this little sample: But will you mend my life/Or offer a quick stab/Maybe you’ll respect my name/When written on a marble slab. Oh yea, that’s the stuff.) For the most part, my mom has been incredibly supportive of my creative endeavors and, thus, I’ve always associated my writing, somewhat, with my mother.

Little did I know that my dad is a writer, too. He visited over Christmas, and brought me a box of blessings. A treasure. My dad was in the Navy from 1966-1970. He spend 2 ½ years of that time in Vietnam. You know those riverboats from Apocalypse Now? My dad was on one of those . . . when he was but a child. Turns out my dad, this boy, this boy at war, wrote home. And wrote home often. And my grandmother saved every letter. And now the letters are mine. These letters – they are witty and descriptive and full of subtext and emotion and powerful observation. They put Minnegan (and her brother and her cousin) to shame. He even wrote a poem. And it’s raw and real and good. It’s too long and too personal to post in its entirety, but these two stanzas capture the feel of the piece:

Someday military power will be nil
An “all volunteer force?” I wonder still.

Will love of country be enough to make it survive?
I think NO, not as long as personal freedom is alive.

I never knew my dad was a writer. A voracious reader, yes, but not a writer. And now I wonder – did his gift shape me in any way? Did he have a “writer’s view” of the world that, unbeknownst to the two of us, informed my world view? I like to think so. In that same way, I like to think that my devotion to the craft, the way I approach life, maybe my very blood, influenced this gem from my seven year old son:

Once upon a time there was a penguin. His name was Frosty . He was not like the other penguins . He is smaller and he is more shy than the other penguins. He eats minnows instead of salmon. Instead of jumping in the water he does cannonballs. He makes lots of splashes.

It’s a work in progress – he hasn’t titled it yet. Me, I’d go with Frosty the Penguin Who Was Not Like The Others.

I love writing. And I love my family. And I am blessed beyond measure to have the two intersect.