Friday, November 3, 2017

Here we go #NaNoWriMo

Here we go again. Haven't posted here in ages. Haven't written (my stuff) in ages. November 1 crept up on me and I'm not at all ready to do this. But I'm doing it. And I've got to say, it feels really good to be writing. How long will it last this year? Who knows. But I'm over 5K words already. I like my idea. What more does one need.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The First Time I Felt Like an Adult*

There are two kinds of people in the world: adults and children, and these designations have nothing to do with age.

My world today, at this moment, is crowded with all things adult. I've been trying to suck up all the adultness I can muster to find rational, effective, and productive ways to fight all the new battles that have been launched by our new administration.

In the midst of all that, my best adult role model — my mom (who I am pretty sure was born an adult) — is lying helpless in an ICU hospital bed. There is nothing like a critically ill parent to make you have to adult-up.

Then along came Christine Wolf (an amazing writer), who shared a writing prompt from ChicagoNow: When was the first time you felt like an adult. Thank you for the prompt and the distraction, Christine. I've already paced every square inch of this hospital and you reminded me that writing is my way through things.

It's almost ubiquitous that having children suddenly makes you feel like an adult. My first high-risk pregnancy and my very preemie twins certainly started me down the path to adulthood, but the first time I really felt like an adult was a couple of years later, when the daily traumas of their premature birth were pretty well behind us.

It was an ordinary day with two toddlers (if there is such a thing). I was on the phone getting a fix of adult conversation when I heard a small crash in the kitchen. Upon investigation, I realized Molly had knocked over the trash. Not a big deal. I picked everything up while I continued my conversation.

Molly came up to me and put her arms around my neck and hugged me tight. I finished up my call and picked her up into a hug. She was not crying and didn't seem upset, but she wouldn't let go of me. I set her down and noticed that her fists were squeezed tight. A stream of red leaked from her right fist down her arm. I started hyperventilate. I wasn't great with blood.

You are the grownup, I reminded myself. "Sweetie, open your hand so Mama can see," I told my daughter. She did, and I saw more of the internal anatomy of a hand than I had ever hoped to see. I figured out later that she had picked up the sharp lid of a tuna can from the garbage and in transferring it from her dominate left hand into her right, she had sliced open her palm. Not good.

I grabbed a clean kitchen towel and told her to squeeze it tight. Then I called my husband at work. "Hi …" That's all he got out.

"Molly cut her hand. It's really bad. And I just realized you can't help me." And I hung up on him. Poor man.

About to panic, I once again reminded myself that I was the only adult in the house and that meant, well, that I had to be an adult.

I called my neighbors who had four kids. Ed tried to chitchat, but I told him what had happened. He, being a full-fledged adult, asked "What can I do?"

"Come get Isaac," I said. I grabbed Molly and one diaper bag, practically threw Isaac, his blanket, and the other diaper bag at Ed as soon as he got to the door, and buckled my wounded daughter into her carseat.

A wave of vertigo swept over me as I started the car. "Stop it," I said to myself. "You can do this. You must do this." So I rolled down the car window and spoke encouragingly to Molly all the way to the hospital where they had spent the first five months of their lives.

Molly and Isaac were practically legends at Evanston Hospital. Several people on staff (even in the ER) recognized us. We had to wait quite a while for a hand specialist to make sure there was no ligament damage before they could stitch her up. Molly was stoic. She still had not cried.

Once the x-rays and exams had been taken, a nurse in the room let me step down from being an adult during the most crucial moments of the night. "Look," she said. "You don't need to be here. You won't be able to hold her. We have to strap her down. If you stay, she's going to think you are a co-conspirator. Go take a break, check on Isaac, and when you come back, you can be the hero who rescues her from us monsters."

I wavered for a good 15 seconds before I took her advice and bailed. Some adult! I called to check on Isaac. He was sleeping peacefully at the neighbors. I called my husband to apologize for leaving him hanging and to update him on everything. I waited five more minutes and then I made my way, guiltily, back to the ER.

The nurse was right. Molly stopped crying and reached for me the second I came back into the room. She glared at the medical staff as if they were the devil's own and clung to me as we left to go home and pick up her brother. In her eyes, at least, I was the adult she could count on.

*Thanks again, Christine, for allowing me to escape being an adult for this hour while I played with my words.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Debate: Arguing Semantics

There are two kinds of people: those who think words matter, and those who don't. If you guessed that this blogger/grammar nerd believes in the power of words, you'd be right. Let's start with a disclaimer: I'm not really interested in having a political debate here. If you know me at all or read on, you'll probably be able to predict my vote today (please vote), but I'm not looking to stand on a political soap box or to incite a comment war—there are plenty of people doing that already.

While watching the debates this year, I also followed along on Twitter—at once an enlightening, inspiring, disheartening, and exhilarating experience. Among my favorite debate twitter feeds came, which posted about the trending word lookups during the debate. (Bestill my beating heart, people were looking up words in the dictionary! So proud.) Here's a sample (click the image to read more):

So, let's start with the word debate. There are many definitions, the two most common being:

(noun) a discussion in which people or groups state different opinions about a subject.
(verb) to argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner.

My favorite, however, is this: "to consider an action or situation carefully before you decide what to do." That's what our presidential debates should help us do. They should be part of what has been called civil discourse—the notion 
"that people can have very different values and political preferences, but can still discuss these differences in a civil manner (from the National Institute for Civil Discourse). Sadly, as I've said before, our public discourse is rarely civil these days. 

Earlier in the election cycle, I read a great article by the novelist Nicholas Delbanco who argues eloquently for the the importance of the liberal arts, particularly language and literary arts:
"I believe a culture does itself no damage by attending to its language, and the idea that every phrase should and must be scrutinized is central to democracy."
I feel that virtually all of our political discourse has mutated from civil to vitriolic, and that the language we use has sunk to the level of playground bullying. I don't like to engage in that kind of conversation—in virtual shouting matches where no one listens and everyone is angry. Frankly, it gives me a headache.

Not everyone is facile with words, or uses them precisely and with ease. My husband has often said: "English is my second language. I don't have a first." Funny, yes. But is it an explanation or an excuse. Early on, we had one of the marital "discussions" (read fights) that has defined virtually all discussions going forward. Somewhere along the line, he said something to this effect: "I'm not as good as you are with words. What I say and how I say it aren't important. You should know what I mean."

I disagreed. Vehemently. I said that it felt like I'm being made responsible for both sides of the conversation. I hear: "It doesn't matter what I say or how I say it, it's your responsibility to reinterpret it so that I sound good."

I, on the other hand, pride myself on my use of language. I have a strong vocabulary and try think about what I say before I say it. Which means, that when I say something rude or angry or mean, well, I probably mean it. At least at the time. I take no pride in that. Lately, some of my personal discourse has been less than civil, and it's something that concerns me. That's the main reason why I have avoided political discussion this election cycle. But it turns out, I do have just a few words to say about it.

One of our candidates for president doesn't believe in the power of words—"It's just words, folks." In fact, that entire campaign dismissed even its own candidate's words as inconsequential.

But as a writer, I believe that words do matter—that thinking about your words, practicing them, and stating them with passion and compassion, is vitally important.
"Words matter, my friends. And if you are running to be president, or are president of the United States, words can have a tremendous influence." — Hillary Rodham Clinton
 I've only got two more words to say about this election:

Please Vote

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Here We Go Again …

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who write blog posts and those who are trying NaNoWriMo … again. (If you don't know about NaNoWriMo, see my earlier posts about it.) See you on December 1.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

NaNoWriMo Redux

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) once and get it out of their systems; and crazy people, like me, who vow to participate every year. I haven't done it in a while—not really, anyway. The last couple of Novembers I've made half-hearted attempts, but have given up pretty early on in the process.

So why do I think this year will be any different? I don't necessarily. But I do know that I haven't been doing much (read any) of my own writing for quite a long time. And that's a bad thing. Firstly, because I miss it. I think about writing all the time. I've a got million ideas, and at least 100,000 of them are pretty good.

And that's the thing. Writing ideas are a dime a dozen. You can have thousands of great ideas. It's the execution of the thing that matters. Until you put fingers to keyboard and try to translate that great idea into a story, you just don't know if it will pan out into something real.

Next, I feel like I'm in a different place in my writing. This year has taken a toll in a lot of ways, but it's also allowed me to let go of some things that I was holding onto for the wrong reasons. As I have absorbed these changes (some might call it growth, but that seems a little grandiose; others might call it giving up, but that seems a little pessimistic), I see some lessons that might apply to my writing.

Letting go is tough job. I think it's one of my worst things. I think my inability or failure to let go has held me back in my writing. So, it's time to see what happens when I really let go. When I stop trying to control everything and let the characters and the plot take over.

This is where I think NaNo can really help. There's just no time to be controlling. You have to meet your word count. To do that, you can't keep going over and over the things you already written, patting yourself on the back for your brilliance or agonizing over your complete lack of talent. All you can do is get in your 1,667 words a day and move on. Sometimes, that's all you can do in life—put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, that's all you can do in writing—put one word down after the other.

So, here we are. I'm already a bit behind (big shock), but I'm trudging along at 8,760 words instead of the 13,333 I would need to be on target as of this moment. But I like my idea; the words are not exactly pouring out of me, but they're coming. I know there are other things I should be doing. I know. So don't lecture me. I don't pretend that I'll have anything very good at the end of the month. But having anything at all is better than nothing. It's definitely something.

It's just too bad that I can't add the 535 words in this post to my word count. Hmm, that would bring me up to 9,295. Not bad.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Twi-night Double Headers

There are two kinds of people in the world: baseball fans and those who, like my daughter, think watching baseball is like watching grass grow. At this point, I'm not really a fan. Oh, sure, I root for the Cubbies because, you know … the Cubbies. The true age of miracles will have begun if the Chicago Cubs ever win the World Series, and I want the universe to know that I'm on the right side of that.

But I was a fan when I was a kid, mostly because of my dad. I'm sitting here with him now, not talking to him because he's sleeping, and thinking about baseball. We were Detroit Tigers fans and in the '60s, that was something. Many of my earliest memories have to do with Tiger baseball games. It was part of our family's DNA. My dad always says that he knew my mom was the girl for him when she sat through a double header on their first date. My mom goes back and forth on whether her fortitude on that first date was a good thing or not.

Willie Horton (the Tiger left fielder, not the felon of attack-ad fame) was my hero when I was a little girl, probably because I got a Willie Horton bat at Tiger Stadium on Bat Day in 1967. That summer, the Detroit Tigers came in second in the American League, and the excitement of a winning team was one of the few positives in a city that was was rocked by violent race riots.

I remember going to a Twi-night double header that lasted into the wee hours when the second game went into extra innings. I asked my brother, the walking-sports-record-book, whether he remembers it being the infamous June 17 games against the then-Kansas City A's, which still holds the American League record as the longest double header in history at nine hours and five minutes. The Tigers won Game 1, but lost Game 2 after 19 innings. I can't believe my brother doesn't remember if that was the double header we saw (although to be fair, he was only five), but I'm going with yes. I was most excited because we got to stay up so late.

The next year, the Tigers took the World Series in seven games against the Cardinals. I can still recite most of the roster from that team. We trick-or-treated at the home of series MVP pitcher Mickey Lolich. I remember being let out of third grade early one day that fall so we could all go home and watch the game on TV. I remember riding home on the handle bars of Jimmy Brown's bike, listening to the opening inning on his transistor radio. I remember listening to the games in the car on WJR AM, and growing into a cranky teenager who would much rather have been listening to rock and roll on FM stereo.

Mostly, though, I remember baseball and the Tigers being all about my dad. Every night, when he walked in the door after work, my dad would shout: "I'm home, sports fans!" I'm sitting here with my dad for an entirely different kind of twi-night double header and I'd give a lot to hear that kind of enthusiasm again. I'd give even more if I could take him home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I promised more posts. That was back in July. Clearly, I lied. Whether it was to you or to myself, I'm not quite sure. I do know that I have a whole bunch of posts written in my head. Good ones. Excellent reads. In the meantime, this amused me, as almost all "Two Kinds of People" things do. Enjoy. More soon. Promise. 

(I should probably have kept this image for my dance post. You might see it again.)