Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On The Radio

Monday afternoon I am making Chicken Ala King for dinner, listening to NPR, when Judy Blume just happens to join me in the kitchen. I have tuned into Talk of the Nation in the middle of the segment, but when it dawns on me that the mild-mannered woman Neal Conan is interviewing is in fact Judy Blume, the room kind of spins around for a minute. It is the same kind of response I had when I discovered that Rhoald Dahl's daughter Ophelia runs a charity that aids Haiti, or, more recently, that Stalin had a daughter living in, of all places, Wisconsin. Dumbfounded, I listen as callers dial in and ask Mrs. Blume writing questions, as if she is actually a real person. In my mind, she is a work of fiction - like Sheila the Great or Superfudge. But, obviously, she's not - because she's politely answering questions and relaying the story of how, when she was starting out, she squeezed in a couple of hours of writing when her children were in school. Like me.

I listen as she tells about the time she went to the book section of a department store and was surprised to find that the clerk had shelved Are You There God? It's Me,Margaret next to the bibles. To me, it doesn't seem like such an error in judgment. I grew up reading Blume's books, It's Me, Margaret among them, back when the mysteries of maturation were too taboo and forbidden to actually talk about. At the time, those books served as a bible of sorts - before menstruation became a nuisance and I discovered that the exercise accompanying the chant "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" isn't as effective as I'd hoped.

The funny thing is, Monday in the kitchen, Judy Blume managed to assist me through my post-adolescent phase, too. She gave one of those callers some writing advice, and, for me, it rang true:

"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in — the first couple of times, anyway — and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going.

"You know what? The thing is that nobody writes unless they have to. So if you have to write because it's inside you, then you will."

Check out the whole interview here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

7 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

Last week, Stacy Henrie awarded me the Versatile Blogger award. I luckily discovered Stacy's blog a few months ago - and have been a devoted reader ever since. I also took my cue to blog every Wednesday from her - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right Stacy?

As a recipient of this very prestigious award, I am supposed to share 7 things about myself. Here goes:

1- I have, perhaps, the most awkward high-school dance pictures. Case in point:
                            Note the position of my date's right hand. And if this isn't enough, there's this one:

                                                        Note our, um, height disparity.

2 - I was eighteen years old and a high-school graduate before I received my first kiss. However, after viewing above pictures, this probably is not surprising.

3- I know all of the lyrics to Lisa Loeb's Stay by heart.

4 - When I worked at a family practice in South Bend, Digger Phelps insisted that I be fired after I attempted to collect his co-pay. Oh, you don't know who Digger Phelps is? Neither did I. Apparently, the former basketball coach of Notre Dame, and current ESPN commentator, thinks he's kind of a big deal.

5 - I am a runner. I ran track and cross-country in high-school and college. I still run, although my training now is much less rigorous.

6 - Once, on a date, the waiter brought by the dessert tray and stated that the slice of chocolate cake served 4 people. This was during my track star days, and I had something of an appetite. I asked the waiter if he had ever seen anyone finish the cake alone. He hadn't. I said I thought I could do it. He said, if I could, he wouldn't charge my date for the cake. Then, he plunked down a ginormous slice of chocolate cake in front of me. I, with some effort, polished it off. I don't think my date was as impressed with this accomplishment as I was.

7 - I am a terrible laundress. Washing, folding, and putting clothes away is too much for me. Matching socks is a lost cause. My current strategy is to store the socks in one of those recyclable cloth grocery bags. The low light of my day is watching my husband fish through the bag for two of a kind before he rushes off to work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Call of the Wild

When I tell my children that the wind can howl, they do not believe me. "Wolves howl," my son all but scoffs. "Wind blows." This is my literally-minded child; the boy who questions everything; the one whose first attempted written sentence was "My vanes are in my bode." His sister, of course, takes his side  - she is his shadow and echo. "Wolves howl," she reiterates, "like this." She then proceeds to treat me to her best wolf imitation, which, I have to concede, isn't bad.

We are in the kitchen, poring over the science kit we purchased at the school book fair. I am in the process of coiling a thin strand of copper wire around a nail, in an attempt to make an electromagnet. To me, howling wind is no less preposterous a concept than electromagnetism, but my son has no problem believing in electrical currents and magnetic poles. The proof of those concepts is before us, literally in the sharp black text of the science booklet, and physically, in hand.

The next day I bundle up my son and send him outside to play with the boy across the street. My daughter and I, sensibly, stay inside, and watch the boys join the whirlwind of swirling autumn leaves. And then, we hear it. The wind howls.

"Did you hear that?" I ask, vindicated. "The wind is howling."

This phenomenon clearly delights my daughter.

"Listen to that," I say, as the wind continues to howl. "The wind is talking to us."

"Mom, I need my coat," she says. "I need to go talk to the wind."

Her face is luminous with wonder. As I armor her with a puffy parka, her slight body nearly doubling in size, it is preposterous to me that, at times, I have considered motherhood a sacrifice. We stand together on the porch, and she hesitates for a moment. Glorious, golden October has given way to harsh November, but, in the end,the cold proves no deterrent for my daughter. She gallops down the porch stairs and the wind howls its welcome to her, but I can't hear her response, because she's already tripping down the sidewalk, crunching leaves under foot, racing toward her brother. Theirs is a world in which I no longer reside - a world where wind is a playmate. They are my own and yet, my children are what I am not - vessels of concentrated, endless energy. I stand on the front porch, hugging my arms around myself to shield off the cold, and wait until my daughter reaches the end of the walk and takes her place as her brother's shadow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

There's a line from a movie you may or may not have seen, that goes, "There's something you have to understand about art. It comes from somewhere."

Where does your art come from?

When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote poems and Christmas plays and stories for Reflections. However, when I reached college, somehow I became convinced that I couldn't write. Sure, I could turn out a mean essay for my Crit Lit class, but I couldn't write write. I wasn't creative enough. I wasn't blessed with a big enough imagination.

Then, a few years ago, I started a family blog, and I remembered how much I enjoyed writing. Like, writing writing. And so I took the plunge, clinging to the only real creative writing advice I had ever learned, which was "write what you know." I wrote a short story about a woman who's husband was in law school. Nearly everything in that story was from something I had experienced, heard, witnessed, or read. Since then, I've continued to write, but my strategy hasn't really changed. My stories are comprised of things I've begged, borrowed, and stolen. I'm not creative - I just have fast hands.

But it is something of a wonder how, when you decide to write, little bits and pieces you've filed away in your mind start to come together. Start to form something new. The spark for my current story came from a bumper sticker I happened to see one day on the freeway. Ideas had been swirling around in my mind, but that bumper sticker pulled them all together.

There is something dreamlike about the process of writing. In Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins writes, "How the average person dreams is pretty much how the average novelist puts a page together." We writers grasp for those fragmented, grainy thoughts and images, patch them into narrative, and hope it all means what we think it should.