Promise of a new year

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

― Alfred Lord Tennyson

Christmas is not my thing.  I make no bones about it, and offer up no apology.  If I had my way, I would spend the entire month of December on a beach in the Caribbean – book in one hand, frozen concoction in the other, the grit of sand between my toes, the roar of surf in my ears.   No traffic, no clutter of decorations, no batshit crazy holiday-goers with blood in their eyes.

Of course, it’s not all about me.  Ever the humble conformist, I bow to social convention.  I put up a tree, battle the mall, send out Christmas cards. All the while, with an eye to the horizon.  The new year shining in the distance, a whispered promise drifting in on the wind.

Change is in the air.

As I write this, I am well aware that the new year has come and gone.  My January was a fantastic whirlwind.  But that is a blog for another day.  I’m only just beginning to collect my thoughts:  reflecting, evaluating, forging the plan ahead.  I’m not one to make resolutions. To me, they amount to nothing more than simplistic commitments bearing unrealistic expectations.  Having said that:  I do look upon the new year as a period of renewal. Redemptive, in a way.  A chance to build upon what works; adjust what doesn’t.

Last year was a period of transition for me.  The hip injury I suffered a few years ago progressed into something too significant to ignore.  I was forced to address it once and for all.  It was a frustrating process – slow and tedious with more setbacks, more pain, more tears than I care to remember.  It took almost a year, but I have finally put the “yoga class from hell” to bed.  It’s quite liberating to be out from beneath that beast.  Physically, I am in great shape – the best in five years.  I’ve slimmed down and toned up.  I feel fantastic.

With a look ahead to 2016 and in an effort to exploit this new found freedom, I began to explore an idea that has rolled around in my head for a while now – tennis.  I wanted to play tennis again.  I played when I was young, but haven’t in over twenty-five years. There are a lot of reasons for this – lack of opportunity, physical challenges, my social introversion.  Joining is difficult for me.  But if there is one thing I have learned over the last few years, it is that one cannot truly live within the construct of self-imposed isolation.  ‘I can’t’, ‘I don’t’, ‘I won’t’ are phrases born out of fear.  And fear is detrimental to our natural evolution and quest for a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Bearing that in mind, I signed up for tennis lessons last week.

I think 2016 is going to be a fantastic year.

Let’s see where it will take us.

 

 

The best-laid schemes…

I have spent the last few days ridding my house of nauseating Christmas cheer.  The holidays are all fun and games in the outset, but there comes a point where the scale is tipped, and all those decorations begin to call to mind a tinsel and glitter infused bordello – or at least, what I imagine such an establishment might resemble.  I’m not one to suffer clutter for long, so the purge was swift and exact.

Of course, now that the tree is gone, the nephews departed, and the NYE champagne hangover nursed, there is a question of what comes next.

I try to avoid New Year’s resolutions.   Rash promises made in the heat of a self-loathing pity party aren’t normally destined for fulfillment.  In my 41 years, I have only realized one true resolution – a weight loss of 50 lbs some seven years ago. I did keep it off, so maybe that should count double.  Hmm…I digress.  As I sit here on this cold January morning, sipping coffee and listening to Norah Jones shoot the moon, I have the itch to plot a path forward.

So, I asked myself this question:  What do I want to accomplish in 2014?

I had to make a list.

  • Write 2000 words per day, everyday.
  • Finish Retribution rewrite #7 (or is it #8 now?!?) by spring break.
  • Publish one kick ass blog entry per day.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Graduate.
  • Conquer fitness boot camp and run a 5 K.
  • Read two non-academic books per month.
  • Learn to kayak.
  • Take kick ass photographs from moving kayak without drowning.
  • Learn to speak Italian.
  • Attend the U.S. Open – it’ll be Federer’s come back season, I can feel it.
  • Complete an outline for Summer of ’87.
  • Complete a draft for Summer of ’87, and win NaNoWriMo doing it.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

Too ambitious?  Yeah.  Who am I kidding?  Federer isn’t going to stage a come back this season…or anything other season, for that matter.

As for the rest…well, as much as I’d like to say it’s doable, it’s obviously not.  I have a life – work, family, school, outside obligations, nagging phobias.  After a healthy dose of reality and little soul-searching, here is a more reasonable list:

  • Write four days per week.
  • Publish 3 blogs per week.
  • Post a daily “photo of the day” on the blog.
  • Complete a working draft of Retribution by summer.
  • Graduate.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Read one non-academic book per month.
  • Get within five feet of a kayak; take a kick ass photo of said kayak; post it on the blog.
  • Attend the U.S. Open; cheer for Djorkovic.
  • Consider validity of YA/coming of age concept novel Summer of ’87; participate in NaNoWriMo.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

A decent compromise, I think; and one that has potential.  It helps that for the first time since last spring, I am feeling creative and inspired – and open to interaction.  The latter is always difficult for me, especially in this particular forum.  I’m going to work on that.

Alright.  Let’s get ‘er done.

Write on.

Things I learned during the holidays – and an award

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”

– George Carlin

I learned during the holidays…

…that snow on Christmas is nice.

Lingering snow the day after, is not.

I’m not a winter person.  If given a choice, I’d pick 105 degree summer heat over frozen precipitation any day of the week.  Unfortunately, the weather Gods don’t always take my preference into account when doling out snow days.   Such was the case on Christmas day.  It hit early in the afternoon, just as we were sitting down to lunch.  The flakes were big and fluffy, and set a pretty scene.  A bit of Christmas magic.  That’s never a bad thing.  However, I’m a big believer in the power of moderation.  A quick burst of snow, followed by a rapid melt is ideal.  That way by the time I have to get out – because it’s all about me – the white stuff is gone.  It’s not that I’m incapable of driving on it – I lived in Iowa one winter in the early 90s.  You learn to adapt or you don’t leave the house for 6 months.  No, I’m more concerned with the other guy’s driving ability.  Unfortunately, mother nature was not in a giving mood and the temperature the next day did not rise above freezing.  I left my house prepared to be overwhelmed by stupidity.  I was not disappointed.  Ten minutes into my commute some jackass in a super sized SUV swerved in front of me and slammed on his brakes just as we were about to pass over an ice-covered bridge.

These are the moments in life when I wish I had a real Bond car.

…that after whipping up nearly 25 dozen cookies, 50 mini pumpkin pies, and 6 batches of fudge I am so over baking.  Totally.  I may never bake again.  Ever.

On a bright note, I only gained back 3 of the 10 lbs I lost during the semester sampling all those baked goodies.

that Kim Kardashian has a little Kanye West cooking in the oven.  O.M.G.  Like, that is, like, so cool, you guys.

Oy.

I am always struck by the level of relevancy given to the K clan by mainstream media.  Call me a killjoy, but I think there are more important things going on in the world than what’s going on their collective uteri.

…that my daughter does not share my taste in Christmas music.  Most of my favorite songs were recorded during the early days of rock & roll, and it only makes sense that the holiday tunes I gravitate toward come from that era.  Number one on my list is Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby, please come home).  I like to crank it up and sing it proud – from the gut, as loud as I can.

My daughter is not impressed.

Me:  The snows comin’ doowwwnnn/Christmaaasss/I’m watchin’ it faaallll/Christmaaasss/Lots of people aroooooounndd…

Megan:  Ew, Mom.  What are you singing?

Me:  Darlene Love.  Don’t you just love it?

Megan:  Um, no.

Me:  How can you not like Darlene Love.  She’s the queen of Christmas.

Megan:  No, she’s not.  Rock & roll Christmas music is so lame.  The classics are so much better.

Me:  This is the classics, baby.

Megan: <shrug>  Whatever.

Brat.

…that I’m getting too old to stay up drinking until midnight on New Year’s Eve – and that’s okay.  I was in bed by 10:30 pm, up at 4:30 am on New Year’s Day, and at the gym by 7:30.  A fabulous way to begin the year, I think.  Much better than sporting a hangover all day.

…that I’ve been nominated for a blogger awards – well three actually, but I’m only going to address one today.

I love blogger awards.  They make me smile.  It’s an ego thing.

This one comes from jmmcdowell, an archaeologist turned novelist – I think that may be the coolest thing ever.  She was gracious enough to pass along the Booker Award to me as a new follower of her blog.   Thank you, jmmcdowell!   Go check out  some of her excerpts from Buried Deeds.

The Booker Award dictates that I list five of my favorite books.  I was nominated for this award once before, but never came back to it.  I must say, there are so many books I love it is really hard to pick just five.

Here goes:

1. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen.  I first read this novel in the ninth grade.  It was required, and I hated it.  I thought it was as tedious as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (which I also hated – and still do). When I was in my twenties, I picked it up again, and fell head over heels in love.  Since then, I’ve read it at least once a year.  My paperback copy is worn and faded, the pages dog-eared and water-logged from too many lazy summer days by the pool lost in Regency England.  Pride & Prejudice is a truly timeless love story whose colorful characters are as familiar to me as my own family.  And it is one of the few stories I love with a happy ending because there can be no other conclusion for Lizzy and Darcy.  I feel all warm and gooey just thinking about it.

2. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carre.  This is a new addition to my favorites list.  I only finished it a few weeks ago.  There are so many things that appeal to me in this book.  1. It’s a spy thriller; 2. It’s set during the early years of the Cold War when the wall was new and Khrushchev ruled the Soviets with an iron fist of oppression. 3. It is a tale of conflicting ideologies, and a race to outsmart a perceived enemy; 4. It has a complex main character – Alec Leamus – who struggles with his own morality and humanity while doing what he thinks is best for Queen and country; and 5.  There is no happy ending – because a man like Leamus can know no peace.  Brilliant.

3. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank – This classic was also required reading in the ninth grade.  But unlike Pride & Prejudice, I was sucked in by the story and the characters from the opening scene to the telling last lines:

“We won it. We really clobbered ’em!” Hart’s eyes lowered and his arms drooped.

He said, “Not that it really matters.”

The engine started and Randy turned away to face the thousand-year night.”

– Alas, Babylon

I’ve always been fascinated by the Cold War and what life might have been like had that conflict turned hot.  Alas, Babylon is a fascinating study of the human condition and explores the what ifs of life after a nuclear apocalypse.  The raw devastation of this story scared the hell out of me when I was 14.  I love that.

4.  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott.  In 1974, my Nana gave me the entire Alcott series.  Of course, I was only two and didn’t appreciate the gift – and wouldn’t until around the sixth grade.  I’ve read them all, but Little Women is my favorite.  I loved Meg’s quiet resiliency, Jo’s wild spirit, Beth’s gentle heart, and Amy – well…I’m not sure I ever really liked Amy, spoiled brat that she was.  I cried when Beth died; fumed when Jo chose the Professor over Laurie even though it was for her own good; and rejoiced at the lives the March sisters carved out for themselves during such trying times.  I lost most of that series of books, including Little Women, in the house fire six years ago.  My heart still aches.

5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck.  I love this novel.  I really do.  This was another required reading from early high school – sophomore year.  How do you describe Of Mice and Men?  Heartbreaking, disturbing, eye-opening.  Ultimately, it is a story of friendship and the deep love that comes with it.  No, there is no happy ending in this one either.  Yes, I like it that way.

Now to pay it forward.  I’m going to choose to pass this award onto a few writerly blogs I enjoy.  Of course, there is no obligation for any of my chosen recipients to participate.

Erin Elizabeth Long

Hot Pink Underwear

Be Not Afraid

4amWriter

that I have no awww moment of the week.  It’s been cold, maybe next week.

Just Write: Sunday Self-shaming Update

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to write about my writing process, or lack thereof.  I admire those who write blogs, documenting their failures and successes; giving advice to help ease the way for newbs like me.  I don’t feel that I can compete with those writers.  I don’t mean to imply that this is some sort of competition and that I am advocating my skills by screaming “hey, look over here!  I’m a better writer than so and so over at blahblah.com.”  No, my reluctance comes from the knowledge that I have nothing useful to add to the mix.  I’m still trying to find my way out of the fog and find my voice as a writer.

This lends to a personality trait that some might call a flaw.  I am a watcher, not a joiner.  I like to stand on the peripheral, and take it all in – learn from what is going on around me, and silently, walk away.  Not necessarily a bad thing, right?   Maybe not.  But in this realm of my life, I am discovering that this quirk is a clear disadvantage.

Recently, my creativity has hit a bit of a road block.  Well, if I’m to be completely honest, “road block” seems to be a bit of an understatement.  I have run headlong into a brick wall, spray painted with the words “You, a Writer?  Dream on.” in big bold letters.  Now, as I lie on the ground, thoroughly bitch slapped by self-doubt, and stare up at those mocking words, I am faced with a dilemma.  Get up and try it again;  or lie here, lick my wounds, and consider knitting as a safe alternative.

I will get up, of course.  I hate knitting.

But now the question is:  How do I prevent this sort of thing from happening again?

I need a platform that I can chronicle my failures and successes.  I am learning that even though I am not a seasoned writer, my process is important.  Even if only to me.  Surely, by whining about my writing/plot/character problems, and sharing my successes, I will find a way to cleanse my convoluted creativity and unburden my mind enough to actually make a dent in this novel – a manuscript that has plagued me for the last year.

The answer:  I will blog about it and torture my few followers.  Brilliant!  Misery loves company, right?

I am not one to make New Year’s Resolutions.  I think they are a recipe for failure.  I’ve only made one other in my life.  I succeeded in that – losing 50lbs.  However, I accomplished that feat, not by making an all-encompassing pledge, but by making small attainable goals for myself and then resetting them once they were met.  I will apply the same school of thought to my writing process.

DSC01542December 20, 2011:

Novel:                            Retribution

Current Word Count:      24,001

Number of Pages:               124

January 1, 2012:

Novel:                                Retribution

Current Word Count:       24,940

Number of Pages:                129

Not a lot of progress made in ten days time.  But, in reality, it is.  In that time, I dove in and did a lot of word purging.  A painful process, but a necessary one.  In all, I wrote and rewrote some three thousand words or so.  I also was able to realign some plot issues, create a new character conflict, and deepen a main character’s sense of purpose, clarifying her goals.  Of course, as often happens in these situations, my character spontaneously goaded me into alluding to a twist; one that will be difficult to incorporate, but you never know.  We’ll see where it goes.

Lesson of the week:   Accepting that sometimes a fresh scene is poorly written and perhaps lacks the precise tone of the flanking scenes, but, at least, it is out of my head and “on paper.”  I can fix it later – after I’ve typed those sweet words – The End.

New goal:

What:                        3000 words written; Including 2 new outlined scenes

Completed by:           Next Sunday – January 8, 2012