Being of Two Minds

Today is supposed to be my writing day,  or rather,  my writing afternoon,  and I’ve done a terrible job of it.

I had an idea for this post, wrote the title, and started writing. And the whole thing morphed on me. It turned into something else entirely than what I had planned, than what I had envisioned.

But that’s okay. I know that happens. While writing stories, I’ve had minor characters demand more attention. They really wanted the story to be about them. And usually they are right. Don’t argue too much with the flow. So, I changed the title and kept writing, letting the ideas take me where they may.

Unfortunately, where they took me today was down a dark alley where Lord Complaint and Lady Grouse waited for me with cudgels. Luckily, I had clicked “Save Draft” rather than “Publish.” When I got home and opened my computer to “put the finishing touches on,” I found a draft that whined about all the things I let get in the way of my own writing today. Because that is the crux of it: I let things get in the way of my writing today. It was me. Not any of the errors, errands, and complaints I enumerated in the now deleted post. It was me. I knew full well what I was doing with each choice I made. And I made them. Okay, maybe I’ll cut myself some slack on the delayed subway. That wasn’t really my fault. But, had I stuck to my original plan, I probably would not have been on that subway anyway, so…

Which leads me to what this post was supposed to be about in the first place: Being of Two Minds.

I had a really good writerly summer this year. I wrote, I revised, I submitted. I made writing my priority, and it was good.  The only thing wanting is the acceptance, but it will come. I have to believe that.

But now…

Oh, but now. It is September. And a new school year has begun with new classes added and familiar and favorite ones stripped away. But still, the girls are great, trying perhaps (!), but great, and the literature is rich and powerful. There is so much to be teach and to learn. I really do still love to teach and where I teach. But teaching requires a different set of skills from writing. Perhaps it is because I gave myself permission this summer to “be a writer” that transitioning back to “being a teacher” has been difficult. In the past, I think I have been a teacher who writes. Now, I am trying to be both a teacher and a writer, and as anyone who has taught, especially high school English, knows there is always a long “to do” list for the teacher: grade this, grade that, grade the other thing and the other thing and the other thing, create this test, create that project, photocopy this, photocopy that, make time for this student’s make-up quiz and that one’s, run this club, run that club… Need I go on?

This school year’s task (above and beyond the first one of serving our students well) is to learn a) how to grade smarter (actually, this is a perennial goal of mine) and b) how to let go of the teacher brain on writing days. The teacher brain plans, teaches, corrects, organizes, and frets. The writer brain needs more freedom to create and space to think and concentration to revise, not to mention time to research and submit.

I am of two minds which I think can coexist, if I let them. If I don’t allow the teacher brain to dominate simply because she is the one who makes the money (well…). And, as a bonus, giving the writer brain her time and exercise will ultimately help the teacher brain do what she needs to to: convince these young ladies that a life in literature, whether as a writer, or more likely, as a reader is worth it, is what makes us human and able to connect to those who are different from us.

Luckily at least, the teacher brain and the writer brain agree on a nice glass of wine.

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Rejuvenation 

I have come to love Central Park,  or at least my little corner of it. At the end of long day of teaching and grading, there it’s really nothing so rejuvenating for me as a walk through the park. The diversity of life there brings a smile to my face — and I’m not just talking about the flowers and trees!

Welcome to today’s episode of Belvedere Fountain:

Binge Watching, Creativity, and Murdoch

I have to be honest: I never really understood binge watching. Don’t get me wrong–I like TV and have shows I follow faithfully. Sometimes I do watch rerun upon rerun of Castle or Bones, so I guess that might qualify as binge watching, but as they are reruns and I have probably seen them at least once before, it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel free to move about the apartment to take care of whatever it is I need to do.  And if I miss something I had either forgotten or remembered as a particularly good moment, I can always rewind. If the story gets a little disjointed, it doesn’t matter; I have seen it before; I know what is going to happen. This is not what most people mean when they say they binge watched a show. When a friend says he binge watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or House of Cards, he means that he stayed home all weekend on the couch (or the bed) glued to the TV or computer. He didn’t open the mail, put in the laundry, or make himself lunch while the show was still running. And as much as I love a well-told tale, this feels like a hostage situation to me. I feel trapped and guilty; I should be doing something more productive with my time. No judgment here, by the way; I do not think this kind of relaxing is bad; it just has not been for me.

And then I met William Murdoch.

And I had a crochet deadline.

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Three things conspired to turn me into a binge watcher: 1. A friend’s baby shower was looming, and I needed to furiously crochet two blankets. Yes, she’s having twins. And yes, I didn’t leave myself enough time. I needed to devote my daytime hours to crochet, not just my night time, relaxing, TV watching time. 2. My husband caught a summer cold. We were supposed to go camping for three days, but the first day it rained and the second he came down with a cold. We didn’t go, but all my friends thought I was out of town, so my social calendar was quiet. Plus, it was good for him to have me home to make some soup and tea. 3. I remembered that a friend recommended Murdoch Mysteries to me.

I knew I had to buckle down to crochet these blankets, so I turned on the TV to find something to watch while I stitched. Being summer, nothing was on, so I flipped over to Netflix and started browsing. The name Murdoch Mysteries sounded familiar, though I really could not remember what my friend had said about it. “Eh,” I thought, “I trust his judgment.” And I turned it on. It is a little corny, a little predictable, and utterly charming. I was won over very quickly and started moving seamlessly from one episode to another. Murdoch, a detective in Victorian-era Toronto, turned me into a binge watcher. When the week was done, so were the blankets, and off I headed to the baby shower!

Now, vacation is over and real life has intruded. I have not quite finished the 7th season, and I think I’m going into withdrawal. And in googling Murdoch Mysteries for the picture above, I realize that while they are currently airing season 10, Netflix only has through season 7. What am I to do???

But in all seriousness, I do not think I could have finished the blankets without Murdoch. Binge watching kept my mind as busy as my hands.

Here are the two blankets: the same two colors,  reversing which is the main and which is the accent.  Though it took me nearly 45 minutes to choose the colors,  I am quite pleased with the result.  I can’t decide which one I like better! These little girls received many beautiful blankets before they have even been born. May they feel snuggled up with all the love that went into all those stitches.

No, No, No

Today was a banner day. I received not one, not two, but three rejections. Rather disheartening, especially for the short story that was only submitted four days ago. Rejection form letters, or as it’s done these days emails, assure us writers that each and every submission is read completely and with care, yet when a nearly 2,700 word story returns so quickly, one cannot help but wonder. And become dejected.

I received two of the rejections while I was still at art school this afternoon, but I kept the news to myself. One rejection was, dare I say it, expected. Each week Rattle publishes a poem based on that week’s news. I sometimes submit but have yet to be published there. Writing on the week’s news is an interesting exercise. The news these days certainly provides much fodder for contemplation and reaction. Yet, writing quickly for a weekly, Friday night deadline is tough. Sometimes, the poem is a bit raw. This week’s poem has promise but was not quite ready–particularly in finding a title. I was not surprised, yet still disappointed.

The second rejection was harder. It was another poem that had originally been written for Rattle’s Poet’s Respond, but this one was a week or so old, and therefore, I have had time to do some revising. I think it is a good poem. But, alas, this site I sent it to, only four days ago has (foolishly, in my opinion) decided it is not for them. This was disheartening for me because I debated with myself at length whether or not to even submit to this market as it is a non-paying market. Usually, I don’t submit to non-paying markets; if I’m not going to be paid for my poetry, I’ll publish it here. Yet, this particular site notes on their “About” page that the editors are volunteers. That swayed my opinion towards giving them a shot.

Then, there was the third rejection, the short story. As I was driving home, my phone chimed that a new message came in, but, of course, I did not look at it. Yet, then once I parked, I called my husband to help me with the packages, and while I waited for him, I succumbed to opening the email. Dismay.

I cannot say that I did not get discouraged. I did. For a fleeting moment, I thought, why do I do it? But that moment passed, and I got back on the horse, as they say. This evening, I did some revising and then sent out three new submissions: the short story, the poem from this week’s Poet’s Respond, and other poems. Back to crossing my fingers and wishing on a star. Send your good thoughts my way, and to my prospective editors!!

And now to a new story…

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Handwritten or Typed?

My adventures in novel writing continue. I finished reading through all I printed out and realized, to my dismay, that the point-of-view problem I thought I had solved for one section of the story, was in fact not solved. Back to the drawing board for that one. I scribbled in the first set of revisions. Now I can go at it again when I transfer those handwritten changes to the computer file.

I find that I prefer to write my first draft by hand, then type, then print out, then revise by hand, then type again. Yes, I do also revise by reading on screen and making changes to individual sections (or short stories), but I find for this longer work, printing out and reading it on paper makes a difference. It seems a bit old school, I know, but what I realized today is that by working on paper, I was not distracted by every other open (or available to be opened) tab on the computer. My focus remained on the story. In fact, when I did open the computer today to implement some of those changes, I was immediately distracted by a notification of a FB post. Which I had to check. Of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see

20170803_231352 with the caption: Too. Much. Catnip.

Okay, it’s my own photo, my own post. But who else liked it? I mean, he’s cute right? It is easy to get sucked into the seratonin producing checking of “likes.” But I digress. Again. That is the problem and the benefit of the Internet. There is so much to catch our attention and easy ways to find and convey information. (Here I am, writing this blog!) But the business of writing sometimes, most times, needs more concentrated focus. For me this means a messy desk of papers, notebooks, and print outs. It is not the most efficient or most ecological method, but for now, it works. I think it would work better if my filing system were better, but that goes for the electronic filing system as well. So, I ask once again for you, my readers, to share your thoughts. Don’t be shy! How do you like to write and revise? By hand? electronically? Do you have any suggestions for keeping track of your drafts? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh and by the way of full disclosure, I contradict myself when I write this blog. These entries I tend to write directly into (or is it onto? Gerri, what do you think?) the computer (or phone or tablet, depending on where I am when I write them) with the exception of some of the poetry. So perhaps you would like to comment on your exceptions as well. Do you approach some writing with one method and other writing with another? Is it genre that determines the mechanics or time and place? I think for myself, it is a combination of both. If you are generous enough to share some of your thoughts with me, I’ll follow up with another post highlighting your contributions. (And probably another photo of Lionel 🙂 )

Writing, Rambling, and a Cat

Today I managed what I consider a great feat: I got my printer to work again! Ever since my computer updated, I have not been able to print anything. And for the most part, that has been okay. But I have been writing for much of the summer, working on a novel that I have attacked in fits and starts for years now. I really wanted to make some headway this summer and see if it still has life to it. And I have. You see, since I have worked on and off for years on this and in different places, the bits and pieces have been all over the place. I wrote much of the story longhand at first in a couple of different notebooks. I have take much of that and revised and typed this summer to get a good idea of what I have, putting different chapters or sections in different files. Getting the printer going has allowed me to print it all out and read through it together–as one would a novel. Now I can get an idea of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing as I figure out if the parts make a whole.

So I am very happy with myself.

Then, I start reading.

Immediately, I realize that the whole beginning needs editing. I mean, of course it does; I am not shocked, but still. The beginning? The first line? It can be a little disheartening. But I get to it. I make some changes. It’s good, but there’s a question I am not sure about regarding the positions of mortician and coroner. Hmmm…(Did I mention that much of the novel takes place in a funeral home?) I’d better do some more research. Luckily, I have a friend who just finished her mortuary science degree, and I have been able to call on her for some detail verification, but today, I went to the Internet where I found some fascinating reading on the history of coroners and mortuary science as well as the incredibly varied systems around the country regarding the business of death. But, I digress. Time to click that tab shut, close the laptop, and return to the printout.  Which I do. And I find a way out of the dilemma that sent me to those articles in the first place. Another win!

Then, my assistant shows up:

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He has another opinion about writing.

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His opinion is that writing keeps me from petting him, and therefore all implements thereof must be destroyed. Luckily, he has not been successful in his attempts, but I do think a petting and feeding break is in order!

Wish me luck as I continue on my quest, especially as it seems there is one file missing. I may have to go back to the notebooks yet again to continue the revision and typing before I can attack the ending–as of yet unwritten in any form, but floating around my head looking for an anchor.

 

A Foolish Act?

Scaramucci, Scaramucci, can you do the fandango?

A lively three-step, him then you then him again,

The castanets tweet out the rhythm.

Will this couples dance take the spice

Out of the daily press briefings?

Only time will tell, but for now

Money talks.

 

I just read the article about Sean Spicer resigning as White House Press Secretary and Anthony Scaramucci, a financier, being named his replacement. (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/sean_spicer_resigns_as_white_house_press_secretary_20170721) The first thought that popped into my head was the first line of this poem. Then, there is that wonderful word fandango which means both a Spanish dance in triple metre, and a foolish or useless act or thing. Unfortunately, both apply to the position these days. I couldn’t resist the rest. Enjoy.

Damn! I’ve Gotta Rip It!

According to my husband, my mother-in-law used to say, “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it” when she made a mistake in her crocheting or knitting. First of all, let me say that she was such a good crafter that I can hardly imagine her making a mistake. On the other hand, I know how easy it is to drop a stitch. And it is frustrating. How frustrating depends on how quickly you realize it. Tonight, for example, I realized I had dropped a stitch in a very easy pattern about 12 rows back. Boy was I annoyed! “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it!”

20170715_232938Just as I thought I was making headway and  nearing last third of the project, I sent myself back to less than halfway. (The picture was taken after I had already rewound much of the yarn.) I am frustrated now. Yet, also strangely inspired. (Hence this late night blog)

Creativity does that to us doesn’t it? We are inspired by something and we forge ahead trying to get what is in our heads out in whatever form we are working in at the moment. We struggle with the words on the screen (or paper) or with drawing that picture that is so clear in the mind’s eye or in crocheting a perfect blanket. What is in our heads is so beautiful, so inspiring, so communicative. But what comes out at the end of the pencil, the brush, the hook, the needle, is often so knotted and gnarled that we go back again and again to smooth it out, leaving instead a muddied, crinkly wake in our trail.

But it does smooth out. The tough part is believing in the process again and again. Not letting the defeat of ripping out a dozen rows of a blanket get in the way of completing it nonetheless. Not letting the umpteenth rejection letter stop you from writing or submitting. Not letting the misshapened hand or disporportionate body lead you to putting down the charcoal or the brush. The mistakes we make show us what not to do in the future. They lead us to the another path and another perception. And sometimes, they lead us to an altogether new inspiration that we had missed in our single-minded pursuit of the original vision.