Archive for the ‘Reinventing Oneself’ Category

Whose Suffering Is It Anyway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

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In the final days of my cat, Natasha’s life, was human comfort or feline comfort my priority?

Already a spectral presence, frighteningly thin, weak, and silent, my dying cat took up residence under the bed exactly far enough from either side that she could not be reached. I lay on the floor, my arm outstretched towards her as far as possible, begging her to please come out where I could stroke her. Those great liquid eyes stared back from a place I couldn’t go, a place where pain and exhaustion took her when they became her new mistress. It was a contest I couldn’t win.

I cried to her to please not die under  my bed where I couldn’t touch her.  Again, those big, empty eyes turned towards me at the sound of her name: the end of her tail flicked. I still don’t know whether her tail registered happiness that I was near or annoyance. Like most of my species, I needed to believe my life made a profound difference to hers.

In the end it did. I chose to stop her suffering prematurely…and mine. Always the supposedly good human, I had to take control of her death as I’d always had control of her life.

I have to remind myself now of the times when I was sure I made a happy difference in Natasha’s 16 years, of the affectionate head butts, the late night snuggles, even the cold shoulders I received when I was away too long: the rejection that seemed to say Hey Human, pay more homage to your cat next time!

For the last two-and-a half years of Natasha’s life I measured every day in 100 ml dosages of the subcutaneous fluids I painstakingly administered to her, giving her failing kidneys another 24 hours of usefulness and another day of the pleasure of my company. Eventually the fluids strained her failing heart.

Did she want to live? Did she want to die? I’ll never really know, will I?

In the end the decision was a human one. The only feline input was the big void of her eyes staring back already near the other side of life, the place we humans have a really hard time with. I pleaded with her not to die under my bed, and finally when her weakened body couldn’t fight me off, I overpowered her and whisked her off to the vet for a professional analysis of what I already knew.

Did she want a quick release from her suffering, or was it human suffering I was more interested in ending?

I only know her suffering presence is gone from under the bed. For me now, imprinted in my mind’s eye is the slender, regal gray cat whose whole tail shuddered with joy, I’m certain, the moment I entered the room.

We humans  interpret the world so full of our own importance.

Health care reform: A poem

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I took a break this morning from writing a humorous novel. The story of a dying man, told to me last week by a member of his community, ironically insisted on being born as this poem.

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A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

Writers’ Block, or Fear?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

It was destined to happen sooner or later, that dreaded affliction of every writer–block!

Here I was, steaming along at a locomotive clip when I slowed down to see the track ahead better and eventually slammed on the brakes. Now I’m sitting on the rails reluctant to stoke the engine fire for fear (yes, there’s that word again–a definite clue to the problem) of what might be lurking up ahead and around the bend.

My protagonist is in a pickle–well, not literally, although being a wacky story that is a possibility–and my imagination has not yet found her a way out, but that’s not what I’m afraid of.

What I’m afraid of is not finding her the perfect and most hilarious resolution. I can’t be content to just chug along, continuing to make progress. I have to camp overnight in the middle of writer’s block land and lose faith in my ability to spin this yarn altogether.

It’s a trick my mind is playing out. Like my protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, I’m thwarted by menacing forces that are, in reality, my own inner obstacles, and like my “plucky” protagonist I have to just keep going with the flow, seeing where it takes me and making the most of where I end up.

I can’t wait to see what happens next, whatever it is!

Doin’ What I Love

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’ve always loved to write for 3 reasons: words flow easily for me, I love to entertain others, and I suffer from a need to express myself!

I started writing creatively when I was only 8 years old. Everyone told me I should be a writer, and I did write poetry, articles and essays over the years, some of which have been published. It didn’t occur to me to write a full-length novel until I discovered the NaNoWriMo challenge last November–to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Not even believing I could do it, I jumped in and amazed myself by creating a rough draft of a pretty good story (if I do say so myself.)

Now I’m hooked. I realized that I can express my need to entertain and amuse a wider audience than just my immediate friends if I can write, publish and market a humorous novel. So, last month I began writing a novel about a zany NY baby boomer gal with a bit of a body image issue (to put it mildly). On a road trip to visit her best friend Esther the Bod, she encounters some women with their own issues, and together they find out you may want to be careful what you wish for!

I’m 12,000 words into the book and having the time of my life writing it. I look forward to finishing, publishing and marketing so I can make all 3 of my reasons for writing a reality. And if I fall on my face? Well, that’s another comedy style altogether, but you know what happens next, right? I’ll pick myself up and get knocked down as many times as it takes to realize I can chase down whatever keeps hitting me!

Pushing words up the anthill

Monday, December 1st, 2008

After writing for 28 days, at least 3 hours every day, I am wrung out, but thrilled to have created a novel out of thin air.

As I think back over the story I see how each of the plot lines and characters contain elements of myself. All of the issues I’ve tackled are fragments of thoughts that have been busy little ants building hills for years in my head. Like the football-sized anthills forming a path across the dry lake bed I pass on my daily walks, these themes teeming with my own thoughts arrange themselves like giant footprints across the pages I have just written.

Once I sit down to read, analyze and ultimately revise my 52,000+ words, I will be looking at each anthill under a microscope, looking for the trails and the tunnels my thoughts have created and then followed line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page until the final words, The End.

My mind, like a community of industrious ants, has gathered and sorted and built from tiny grains of sand, and like those itty-bitty, but productive ants, I know now that I can start with the smallest idea, just a word really, and create a structure with purpose and direction.

What’s it like being a novelist after 18 days?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Around 15 years ago I met a cute guy who owned a small town newspaper. I admit, I wanted to impress him, and since I wasn’t the only woman vying for his attention, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to dust off my writing skills and submit an article he might find worthy of publishing. Much to my delight, he called me after reading the article and said, a little surprised I think, “You’re a writer!” He also published the article.

While my plan to win him over romantically didn’t succeed, I gained something far more valuable than an LTR. From that day on, after years of dabbling in writing creatively, I actually began to think of myself as a writer. When people would ask me what I did, even though I worked as a telemarketer or an administrative assistant, I would say, “I’m a writer.” I went to writers’ conferences, read my poetry in coffee houses, and participated in workshops and literary events with writers whom I respected.

When I recently found out after all these years that this gentleman was writing his first novel and already had an agent, I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer, too. Why aren’t I writing a novel?” I didn’t have a reason to impress him anymore, but because he was the first to acknowledge me as a writer, I felt compelled to show him if he could become a novelist at our age, I could certainly give it a try.

Enter NaNoWriMo. It was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to complete a rough draft without knowing a thing about actually writing a novel. It was such a hair-brained idea, I could not think of a reason not to do it!

Now it very well may turn out that he sells his novel and goes on to become rich and famous, or not. And it may turn out that all I ever accomplish is putting together a story of 50,000 or so words and never get it published, or maybe I’ll get published and become rich and famous. But the really important point here is that just as it was 15 years ago when I started thinking of myself as a writer, I am now thinking of myself as a novelist.

They say a habit takes 21 days to take root. I’ve been noveling for 18 days, so in just three more days, I will officially be a novelist. I dare anyone to tell me I’m not. I will never think of myself in quite the same way again.

Yes, I can do this!

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I am writing Chapter 8 of my 30-day novel and wondering why I haven’t written a word of dialogue yet. Being an essayist and poet, I don’t have much occasion to write dialogue, so I consult one of several books with which I’ve surrounded myself in the past couple of weeks to “teach” me how to write a novel. Remember, I’ve never attempted to write a novel before. I’ve read plenty of them in the past 50 years, particularly in the genre I’m trying to write, but I’ve never thought I could pull off the feat of writing one myself.

So now I’m drowning in self-doubts. Maybe I can’t (I know, I HATE that word, but it keeps creeping up on me) write dialogue. I need immediate remedial dialogue-writing help. I don’t have any novels I’m currently reading and I’m in temporary quarters so my library of favorites is on the other side of the country. I don’t have TIME to read anything right now, anyway. What to do?

There is only one thing to do. Just write it. And so, finally reaching a point in the narrative where I feel comfortable putting two characters in a place where they might actually speak to one another, I am forcing myself to write dialogue…by the seat of my pants.

And guess what? I CAN DO THIS THING! I can write dialogue, and it’s not pointless. It moves the scene and gives additional dimension to the characters and showcases their emotional state and their relationship…and…and…

I’m exhausted. I’m flying. I’m sailing down the hill on a sled or a two-wheeler for the first time. I’m walking on two feet instead of crawling on hands and knees. I’m doing it instinctively.

Surprise! I guess I’ve been able to do it all along. All I had to do was start.

Who knew novel-writing could be this much fun?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I admit it. I’m one of those people who has spent her whole life composing novels in her head and never writing one. I even try to live my life as if it were a novel. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do write. I’ve even been published (aside from these blogs), but the idea of spending months or even years working on a full-length novel (as many well-known authors have confessed to doing) really holds no appeal for a poet and essayist. I like something I can complete in one or two sittings. So when I heard about NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a complete rough draft of a novel during the month of November, my first reaction was to dismiss the idea of wanting to write a novel in the first place. After all, if I don’t want to write one, why consider writing one in 30 days? That’s 29 days and 22 hours more than it takes me to write anything else!

But I had to admit to myself that it was always a secret ambition of mine to compete with all those overachieving writer friends of mine who have at least one novel to their names. So finally, after all these years of wimping out in the novel department, I decided to give it a go, not having much training on how to write something as complex and important as a novel.  About all I knew was that I’d need to research characters and settings about which I knew little, and create a plot out of thin air. Well, NaNoWriMo makes all that seem like needless worry. As Chris Baty, the founder wrote, No Plot, No Problem.

I am now having a blast spinning gold (well, maybe not gold yet, but something) out of nothing. The characters and plot are evolving, talking their way out of my head to my finger tips, to the keys and onto the screen. I can’t wait to hit the computer every evening and type for 3 hours, just to see how it’s going to turn out. It’s like reading a book that hasn’t been written yet. Oh wait! I’m the one waving my wand and watching the paragraphs grow into chapters! I feel like a sorcerer!