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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Am Not a Novelist

This year, I am a proud NaNoWriMo loser.

I don't think the great people at the Office of Letters and Light want those of us who don't finish our novels in the thirty days of November to call ourselves losers. Those who finish are winners, but those who don't are still participants. Some of us participated more than others (and less). My idea was good but my motivation on 27 of the days was pretty terrible. Sometimes it was because I was legitimately busy with raising three kids, trying to run a household, work a couple of part-time jobs (including retail with holiday hours that start in November). Sometimes it was because I chose to spend time with my spouse over time developing and writing my store. Sometimes it was because I had the flu (that was horrendous).

And sometimes I just didn't want to write. At all.

I had plenty to say (anyone who knows me knows I have plenty to say, and most of it is stuff no one but me cares about). I was proud of my story idea and was developing two characters I loved and admired. The original idea had morphed from a kind of quirky romance into something that asked deeper questions about how we fall in love, who we fall in love with, and the permanence of the human body and the human spirit. I plan to keep writing my story long after November ends. I don't know if it will ever become a novel. Sadly, fewer people read short stories than read novels, but I feel my story may be better told and explored as a short story.

What did I get most out of trying to participate in NaNo this year? I learned more about myself as a writer than ever before. I studied creative writing in high school for two years, then writing and literature for four years in college. The years since then have been peppered with attempts, some noble and some foolish and some just stupid (which is much worse than foolish). But none of it taught me what NaNoWriMo 2012 did:

1. I need space of my own to write. I need to be able to have music or silence, to have no human or domestic distractions, and to be able to be fully dressed or the opposite of fully dressed.

2. I need dedicated writing days. Making myself write every day is counterproductive. I can do Facebook statuses, text messages, and Tweets every day. But writing for writing's sake just frustrates me. The two days I set aside for writing at home I KILLED IT. Tens of thousands of words.

3. Dialogue is not my strength. I need to find good examples of dialogue and study those writers if I ever want my characters to have decent conversations. Right now, my narrative is like the Italian countryside in spring and my dialogue is like a Swedish fishing village in winter.

Just those first two discoveries were really enough for me. I realized I still like writing (I wasn't sure), and so that makes me more likely to want to make the first two on the list happen. I told my spouse that if I were to become a "serious writer," I would need a place, like a teeny tiny office where no one could find me, and I would have to go there a couple of days a week. It would be like my job on my off days from my real job.

The prospect of finishing the story is very exciting. I don't know when it will happen, or if any story is ever really finished (I have unfinished poems from 1993). But I'm sure I will tell everyone!

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year, or any years prior? Did you finish? Under what conditions do you do your best work?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. The trans community is close to my heart. Read about it at the HRC's website.

Also, the Transgender Day of Remembrance site has a memorial listing on their page. Read and learn and be moved.

And for those who feel lonely or alone, who grieve for life or relationships lost, there's this:

It's been three months since my dad died. And yet the world continues spinning! Unbelievable! I remember thinking when it happened that a world without my father in it seemed like a crueler place than I wanted to live. Now, as time moves the way it is known to move, I see the mark he left on it, but also that it's just as important and good a place as before. This Thanksgiving, I will be ever grateful for the time I had with my dad and for all the good he did for others.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I'm married to someone who loves shopping, including grocery shopping. For years I thought I only liked grocery shopping alone. That's because I had never been grocery shopping with an adult who loved doing it as much as I do. I get so much satisfaction from going to the store with a goal, meeting (and often exceeding!) the goal, and then coming home to see that my family has food to keep us going for a while. So my spouse and I spent a couple of hours today filling up the grocery cart and goofing off.

We have quite a few "back of pantry" mixes that look interesting in the store but we usually don't eat them until the rest of the pantry is empty except for olive oil, honey, and powdered drink mixes. But today we found a rice mix that we are going to put front and center. It's Nueva Cocina's coconut raisin rice mix and looks fabulous. For a long time, we would drive to Whole Foods in Mountain Brook to buy a lot of our specialty items (our household has some special dietary needs and the variety in a place like Whole foods, EarthFare, and the locally-owned Organic Harvest is much broader than in a Publix or Winn-Dixie). When EarthFare opened just a few miles from home, we decided to try shopping there since it's closer. I couldn't be happier with the friendly staff and the selection in the store. While I always had good experiences with Whole Foods, and do go back now and then when I'm nearby, I'm so grateful that a store that meets our needs is so close.

Canned vegetables seem to be another "staple" that live in the pantry. We like having them on hand just in case, but really prefer fresh or frozen to canned. Other things I found in the pantry today included Booberry and Count Chocula cereals that are only half-eaten (and most likely shoved to the back because they taste awful!) and a peanut butter brownie mix I'd forgotten we had. Looks like we'll have brownies when the kids get back from their dad's after Thanksgiving!

Do you like to shop for groceries alone or with a friend or spouse? What's your favorite "guilt" item when you're shopping for food? (I bought fudge-covered Ritz crackers today!) What is the thing that seems to sit in your pantry or freezer FOREVER? I'd love to know!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In My Father's House

Today my preacher talked about having "an acquaintance with grief." I have it. Grief and i may become good friends, and that's fine. I do fit in the stereotype of "sad: it's happy for deep people." And I'm fine with that.

I still can't walk into what is now just "my mom's house" without expecting my dad to be standing at the kitchen counter munching on almonds and exuberantly greeting my kids and I.

I didn't cry this time, not even when my brother and his family had left and all my kids were asleep and Mom and I were sorting through endless boxes of Dad's books so I could take the ones I've wanted. Not even when my mom cried.

But now the house is quiet and in front of me is a picture of my dad in his Air Force uniform, and I'm crying. Not because he's dead, but only because I miss him.

It's a step.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Day My Dog Died

My dog died last Friday. She was to turn fourteen in December and had taken some serious downward spirals in health recently after bouncing back from a near-death experience in 2007.

Audrey was a Weimaraner, known among enthusiasts and Weim lovers sometimes as a grey ghost. She was beautiful. In January 1999, we drove home with her in a shoebox. She did all kinds of terrible things over the years, including eat wedding photos, a pair of Dansko clogs, a loveseat, and lots of food and trash (including two bags of candy corn that had her hospitalized when my daughter was in kindergarten). She ate my thigh-high stockings and panties. When we adopted a Goldendoodle puppy when she was about ten, she was sure to lead her little doggie brother into the same life of crime.

I had a lot of really big emotions surrounding this, but the worst of my feelings was the guilt of having left her behind when I divorced and moved into another house. I left her with the human dad and the kids who loved her dearly, so I wasn't abandoning her. But for years she had been my constant companion, always around when my ex-husband was out of town or out of the house, and when the kids were asleep. She would listen to me sing loudly and not complain. Eventually, as her health deteriorated, she would wake me several times in the night to walk around the block because she couldn't sleep.

I loved Audrey in a way a person can only love a dog. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows what this means.

My ex and I had been discussing Audrey's health and what we knew was her inevitable death for a while. Our son, twelve, already knew what was going to happen because he asked his dad (for the record, we are both pretty terrible liars, and while we weren't upfront about it, we would have also been honest with our daughters if they'd asked). Friday morning, I drove the kids to school (early morning devotional for the girls, jazz band for the boy) then to McDonald's to wait for my dear friend who has been with me through every life change since 2005 to come pick me up (thank God she was there for me, because I wouldn't have been able to drive myself afterward).

The vet and vet tech who had treated Audrey since 1999 met us in an exam room to look her over. She was pitiful. Her kidneys had basically shut down and so her body was using her muscle for protein. This beautiful beast who had once weighed close to 90 pounds was now under 55 pounds and could barely stand on her own.

The tech laid out some soft purple towels for Audrey and we moved her to them. Dr. P had already explained the entire process of euthanizing a dog. He had loved on her and let her kiss all over his face. We were all crying, not just because it was the end of her life, but also because her life had been pretty remarkable (she'd survived several unusual illnesses that should have been terminal).

With Audrey resting on the cozy bed they'd made for her, Dr. P injected a sedative into one of her front legs. I have never seen an animal so relieved to relax. She gave us a few sleepy looks, let us stroke her ears and back and snout one last time, and then we left the room.

Telling my children that day was the most awful thing I'd ever had to do (I was not the one to tell them about my father dying because I had already driven to Montgomery). It was a wailing only heard of in Irish folk songs and war films. These babies have never known a life without Audrey. She was born before I even realized I wanted to have human children. They have another dog there to keep them company, Murray, who is sweet as heaven but dumb as rocks.

By Saturday they had already talked their dad into going to look at rescue dogs. Not to replace Audrey, really, but to fill that space. They've learned at such young ages that people and pets can't be replaced, but those needs for companionship and friendship can be met in other ways.

I think I'll always miss Audrey, but I am choosing to remember her young and strong.