Saturday, July 30, 2011

Family Reunion

At 5 A.M. on the day of the family reunion I wake up thinking about homonyms. I don't know why I am being assaulted by a grammatical phenomenon I haven't thought about since grade school. Still, rather than settling back to sleep, my mind obliges this random hook of thought and foggily fishes for words: lush, sound, mind. Vein and vane. Ferry and fairy.

I meet my sister at my parents' house and we caravan up to Idaho for the reunion. We are heading to a small town near Bear Lake where my aunt and uncle have recently moved, ostensibly because the fresh air is good for my ailing aunt. My sister and I discuss this as we drive, how this move reminds us of those old, flowery British novels where the feeble and sick are always relocating to the seaside. This remedy of fresh air seems improbable, although somewhat romantic. As we reach the lake, we roll the windows down and I rest my feet on the dashboard. There is something to say for fresh air.

We turn off the highway and follow a narrow dirt road for several miles. As we roll into the small town, the dust settles and we assess our surroundings. My sister confides that the thought of living here makes her feel "panicky." I agree. Somehow, the unbound landscape is oddly claustrophobic.

The family reunion is held at the town's one and only park. We arrive just as they are finishing the raffle. We have missed dinner. Our small delegation walks toward the pavilion, my sister and I trailing our parents and clutching weary children to our chests. "If you had made it on time, we would have had 107 for dinner," my aunt says by way of greeting. 107. A big number, but not big enough, considering that I have 66 first cousins and more than twice that many second cousins. Obviously, my dad's siblings have sent small delegations of their own. Too many of us are not here, most notably the two who started it all - Grandma passed away nearly a decade ago, and Grandpa is in a care center.

We exchange sideways hugs and polite conversation with cousins and aunts and uncles. My children gravitate to the whirling, riotous merry-go-round on the playground. They manage to climb aboard and wrap their slender, tanned arms around the bars and hold on tight. I watch them, remembering the summers of my childhood, when my dad's side of the family met at the park every Monday night for a potluck dinner. That was when my cousins and aunts and uncles were at the core of my world. We were a livelier bunch then, without the strained conversations and perfunctory hugs.

The sun starts to set, and as I look across the fields, I understand how a setting like this could be therapeutic. It really is lovely, but it's getting late and we still haven't had dinner. There's a Taco Time in Montpelier, someone says. Just before we leave, my dad notices his Acadia has a flat tire. We wait as he puts on the spare. The tire looks too small for such a big car. We say our goodbyes and drive into Montpelier, behind the lopsided Acadia that is still lumbering on, despite the small tire. Tire is a homonym, too, I think. It belongs to that tricky category of words that look alike but have more than one meaning. I think about the rather enervated family reunion we have just left, and how time has a way of making homonyms out of more than just words.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Write Life

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the League of Utah writers. I have to be honest, when I walked into the library's conference room and saw that most of the attendees were white-haired old ladies I almost turned and walked right back out. But, fortunately for me, I stayed, and listened to a presentation by the delightful Ann Cannon.

Ann Cannon talked about ways that each of us, published or not, professional or amateur, can have a "writing life." Some things she suggested are things I already do, like have a writing blog, attend writing conferences, or indulge in the tools of writing (stylish notepads from Target, anyone?). She suggested joining a critique group (but how?). She also suggested that, in order to possibly garner some good karma, to write a charming note to an author. I, personally, have never done this, but it may not be a bad idea... I could use some good karma.

I always complain that writing is an isolating endeavor. But she put a different spin on that for me. She said she likes to write to have a place to go... for solitude. I hadn't thought of writing in this way before, but I like it. It seems much more healthy to say you write, in part, for solitude, instead of isolation.

I've been thinking about why I write. Sometimes it seems I derive more pain than pleasure from it. There are a lot of reasons that I am drawn to writing. Lately, I think one of the primary reasons is because it gives me a way to organize the myriad thoughts and musings that cross my mind every day. I like finding these little tidbits of thought in the world, jotting them down on a lined notebook, and then figuring out a way to fit them all together.

So, how about you? What's your reason for seeking the "write life?"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poetry Schmoetry Blogfest

Today I am participating in a blogfest hosted by the wonderful Shelly Brown. Participants are to share their very own poetry. Since I haven't written any poetry worth sharing for a long, long time (read: never), I decided to write a meta-limerick about the blogfest. Enjoy!

Through countless fest entries we trudge

Poems tempt our emotions to budge

Are you first-place wishing

Or just comment fishing?

Of this Shelly Brown will be judge.

Looking forward to reading some great poetry... and if you haven't entered yet, there's still time! Check out Shelly's blog here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I can write, but can I edit?

So here's the thing. A few months ago I finished the first draft of a novel. I have to say, as I punched out the concluding period, I did have some sense that I had just completed something rather remarkable. But then, I started to read over what I had written. And I listened to feedback from those generous souls who read my manuscript. And slowly, my delusions of grandeur started to wash away, and it dawned on me: this thing needs a lot of work.

I am going to try to revise this novel-ish thing of mine. However, I know I can change my manuscript, but I'm wondering if I can actually improve it. I have ordered a few writing books from Amazon that will hopefully help me in this endeavor. But other than that, I am kind of at a loss. I know I can write, but, can I edit?

I am plagued with thoughts like, why am I even doing this? Is it worth putting effort into revising this work?

How have you approached the revision process? What strategies work for you? Please, please, clue me in. Because I'm feeling a little lost...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God Bless America

It is a quarter to two on Sunday, the third of July. My family and I are sweating on a pew, enduring the final stretch of a three hour block of church. It is Fast Sunday, which, in Mormon parlance, means my husband and I have (somewhat begrudgingly) skipped breakfast and lunch in an attempt to garner some spiritual strength. My children are blissfully immune to this sacrifice, and are snacking on crackers and sipping Strawberry milk. In celebration of his 5th birthday, my son has received a rather elaborate candy lei from his Primary leaders, a cellophane tube of Skittles and Starburst and Crunch bars. My kids have already devoured most of the candy, but my husband spies a lone purple Skittle resting on the bench beside him, and, somewhat tenderly, holds it between his thumb and forefinger and gives it a lingering look.

I look at the clock. Fifteen minutes left until Testimony meeting is over. Testimony meeting is kind of like open mike night at a comedy club, only here, when people get up and talk about Jesus, they aren't joking. So far, the meeting has been the usual mix of travelogues and health reports and sincere witnesses of faith. None of the congregants have approached the pulpit for a few minutes, and a familiar uneasiness fills the chapel. Finally, a man seated near the back makes the long walk up the aisle toward the podium. I notice he is holding a hymn book in one hand. My husband notices too, and he looks at me and raises an eyebrow.

The man takes his place behind the pulpit and begins to address the congregation. His favorite part of the Fourth of July service is the songs, he says. Only, today, we unfortunately aren't singing his favorite one. He begins to fumble through the pages of the hymn book. I start to feel uncomfortable. He is going to sing. I have been in Testimony meetings where people sing before, and they have all been disastrous. There was the woman who concluded a rather rambling testimony with all 7 verses of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. And the dramatic girl who choose the meeting as an opportunity to showcase an even more dramatic singing voice. The man settles on a page and rests the hymnal on the podium. He is going to sing. This will not end well.

"Oh say can you see," he begins. Thankfully, his voice is strong and on key. But still, he is singing the national anthem, acepella. He is singing the national anthem, that notoriously difficult song, that song that even seasoned performers somehow manage to mangle. Performers like Christina Aguilera. He continues to sing, and then, as he reaches "and the rockets red glare," his voice breaks with emotion. He is struggling to continue. For a brief moment, the singing stops, and the chapel is still. Then, miraculously, one of the congregants stands. A woman places a hand on her heart. The man at the pulpit is still plodding his way through the song, but then, a man in the audience starts to sing with him. And then, there is this wonderful rush of movement and voices, until all the congregants are standing and singing. My two year old daughter jumps up on the bench and bounces, tugging at my sleeve and exclaiming, "I'm standing, Mom, I'm standing."

I'm standing, too, and, if it weren't for the tears, I'd be singing as well.