48 days, day 47: celebration

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.
We don't have a picture of us in the sixties. We met when our mutual friend, Jimmy Murphy, who lived down the street from me and drove me to school in his family's Corvair, asked me one morning at pick-up, "Can we go by and get my friend Jim?" and I said sure.

Turns out, Jimmy and Jim worked together (if you could call it that) at Biff Burger in Charleston, South Carolina. My Air Force dad had been transferred to Charleston in 1968. He spent two years mostly flying C-141s into and out of Vietnam while my mother held together a family of three kids and a dog and teenager-hood in the late sixties.

As Jim loped out of his house, trombone case under one arm, spiral notebook spilling papers out of the other, I knew my life was about to change. You can't define it that way at the time -- it's a feeling you understand only later, looking back. I got out of the passenger seat and crawled into the cramped back seat, not because I was a girl and that's what girls did, but because Jim was 6'6" tall and I knew he wouldn't fit in the back.

I don't know where the trombone went. Maybe there wasn't a trombone.

"Hi," was all I managed. "Hi," he said back. He had gigantic lips (good for kissing, it turned out). He smiled with his whole face, hiding nothing, including how amazing he thought I was, this creature who occupied the front seat of his friend Jimmy's car.

And that was the beginning. Things went very fast. I was a good girl. He was a Billy Graham good boy. But we were very good explorers, and we became inseparable, and such good friends, too. He was a good listener. I was a good talker. For the first time in my life, I had someone to really listen to me, to intently listen, looking me straight in the face, paying attention. It was heady stuff!

The music in his life became the music in mine, as I sat at football games in the bleachers in freezing November, watching the sousaphone player at halftime marching in the St. Andrews High School Marching Band. He loved band, he loved the piano (his strength, still today), he loved jazz, and he loved rock and roll.

My dad was transferred to the Philippines in 1970, and through a series of events too long to go into here, Jim and I lost touch for a few decades. When we reunited in our late forties, he still looked at me with that grin and those lips and those eyes so intent on my face, listening. I was so far gone before we even got started again. "I can't believe you never got married," I said, "that you never had kids..."

And do you know what he said? "I waited for you." Well. Here I am, me and my decades of living, my four children all grown now, who have been folded into Jim's heart, too, a heart that has room for anything Debbie loves. It's downright inspiring.

I am pouty, where he lets go. I am critical, where he is understanding. I am self-centered, where he is selfless. I could go on. Perhaps I have him on a pedestal. Perhaps he puts me there, too. Maybe that's as it should be.

We are two artists trying to make our way in a world that is not sympathetic to artistic temperaments and making a living. We manage just fine. We like being together and say that's what counts. We both like simple, silly adventures. He makes me laugh. He likes my faces. He likes my snoring. "I can't sleep until I hear you snore." He will go with me to France one day -- a dream I had even when I knew him in high school.

Is it all good? We both find brown sugar cinnamon frosted Pop Tarts hard to resist. There. Something not so good? Nah. It's all good.

Today is our 8th wedding anniversary. We'll spend it getting ready to leave on our trip that begins in tomorrow's wee hours.

This jazzy-rock brass-infused song was number 50 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1969. I'm listening to a lot of late sixties music in preparation for writing Book 3 of the sixties trilogy. I'm looking for anchor songs for scrapbooks, and for story inspiration. This song reminds me so much of that amazingly innocent and yet powerful Charleston time we had together in 1969. Here's to you, Sweet Jim, to the 14 years we've spent together again. I hope we get 14 more.
(the hair! the suits! the dancing while playing guitar! the lip sync! where are the trumpets? hahahahaha. oh, sixties, you are so weird. thank goodness.)

The Spiral Starecase
More Today Than Yesterday

I don't remember what day it was.
I didn't notice what time it was.
All I know is that I fell in love with you.
And if all my dreams come true,
I'll be spending time with you!

Every day's a new day in love with you.
With each day brings a new way of loving you --
Every time I kiss your lips my mind starts to wander...

I love you more today than yesterday
But not as much as tomorrow!

48 days, day 44-46: almost time

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

It's that no-man's place where I've got one foot in the work I'm trying to do, and one foot in my suitcase, trying to make sure I remember to pack everything I'll need in California this weekend... not very effective for doing anything requiring concentration, but it is always like this before travel. We leave Friday morning and return late Monday night. Then it is August. How did that happen?

I took 7 weeks this summer to write, just write, and to see what it might bring me to have no outside obligations or travel. I haven't read back through these entries, but I will at some point, and I bet I'll see a trajectory of some sort.. something that happens when we give ourselves the time it takes and aren't pushed by deadlines of any sort.

Life still happens, of course. This last few days it has been hard to concentrate on anything for long, so I sat with my work -- all these stories I've dragged out in this seven weeks -- and said, "what would just plain make me happy?"

A story about a little girl who is full of the joy of living -- that's what grabbed me. And so I began playing with her story. One morning when I woke at three, wide awake, I went through old mss and found her. It's been so long that I've been writing about her -- let's call her Cambria -- that I'd forgotten all the little vignettes and all the beginnings and all the possibilities I'd sketched out for her over the years.

I still love her. So much! And so she has been keeping me company today, while I write a while, pop up to put in a load of laundry; write a while, go get the dry cleaning; write a while, clean up this section of my office; write a while, go water the tomatoes.

The days are also somehow filled with Vaporwave music, bathing caps, goggles, and ear muffs and laughter. It's all good. We have beans, sweet peppers, tiny tomatoes, and new haircuts.

It's almost time to go. Almost. Almost... 

48 days, day 41-43, we are stories surrounded by stories

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Wesley, my granddog, hoping for scraps.

My friends at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi always wrap my books in brown paper. I love that.
I am surrounded by the stories behind the stories as well...
The past three days were full of good writing energy. And, as so often happens when you prime a pump, not only did I work on the two mss that were full drafts, I worked on Rachel and the ms that wasn't (isn't) finished and is made up from whole cloth (let's call it PAPER CHAIN, as I am getting confused on the blog, at this point), AND I worked on an old biography idea that was sketched out and abandoned (let's call it SONNY).

There was also brunch with my youngest girlie -- a treat -- and the first squash of the season in our yard, and the last of the beans, and the sunlight that filtered through the blinds and onto the dusty banjo in the corner, showing me how long it has been since I played it.

This last three days has felt like play -- go figure! And I want more play. I talked with a writer friend over the weekend about this very thing. Next month, I want to take two art classes (I mentioned them here), and I want to dust off my banjo, and I want to finish -- and submit -- some of these stories I've worked on in this 48 days. That's the plan.

We leave for Los Angeles on Friday. REVOLUTION has won The Golden Kite Award -- HOORAY! -- and I'm heading to L.A. to accept it, to teach a workshop on structuring your novel, and to soak up our peeps who live there... I am beginning to turn my energy and attentions to travel now. Here's a Q&A I did with Lee Wind and the lovely SCBWI folks about REVOLUTION.

My writing energy will be dissipated this week with the travel planning, but I can still work. I've just picked up my library's Emily Jenkins holdings. These are the books of hers I don't have on my shelves, and I want to study her work. I am captured by how she writes about everyday life, how she has a different illustrator for each picture book, and how she now has a picture book to go with the  TOYS GO OUT chapter books trilogy. I'm intrigued. What is she up to? What can I learn from her?
I could ask her, I guess. But I'm much more interested in studying the work on my own. I have learned that there is so much to discover when I immerse myself in the work. Mine and others.

Writing them, reading them, living them: I am surrounded by stories, and the stories behind the stories... we are each a living story -- you know that, right? Our job is to sing them, dance them, write them, draw them, paint them... to tell our stories and to listen to others tell theirs. As I tell kids in schools all the time: It's hard to hate someone when you know her story.

We are stories surrounded by stories. 

48 days, day 39-40: a welcoming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Ha! The joke is on me. I have two manuscripts, here in my enormous trove, that are finished, that are revised multiple times for different editors (editors I no longer work with and who have changed houses as well), that went to committee at two different publishing houses more than ten years ago, that still seem (to me) relevant (even more so!), and that I now understand, as I read through the many editorial letters and scratches on manuscript pages, what the heck they were talking about 15 years ago. I just couldn't see it then.

Why aren't I working on these?

So that's what I've been up to, yesterday and today, days 39 and 40. It took me over a month to realize that I've got two amazing stories sitting right here, complete stories, with notes from two fanastic editors all over them, with editorial letters suggesting changes, asking questions, championing me from a far-away desk in a long-ago time, but still -- there it is. The stuff of story-making.

What was I waiting for?

I think I needed the way to clear, the dust to settle, the noise to stop, the heavy (emotional) lifting to quiet, the movement to cease, the push-to-publication to give up and allow me to find what feeds me. I thought it was going to be some sort of rhythm or discipline or focus or habit or hours of having my head down and plowing through, creating brand-new. It's none of those things.

Instead, it's a welcoming. 

40 days in, I see that I needed the do-the-work train to come into the station and empty itself out. I don't have to push so hard. These two stories came twinkling down the steps -- they've been in plain sight all along, waving out the window -- as my engine stops gunning and quells the I have to get this done; I have to make this up; I have to find my way; I have to hurry;  I have to do do do do do from scratch; oh why can't I do it better and more and more, hurry up, there are only X days left.

I love these two stories so much.

Let it be about the work you love. 
Squash growing in the back yard where a maple tree (split by lightning) used to be. There are suddenly so many ladybugs on it! I like to think they are doing the work they love... or at least that they aren't trying so hard, they're just doing what they do...
We've been trying to identify this plant that has suddenly shown up. Guesses (on FB and IG) have been the obvious (ha!), hemp, castor bean, buckeye, and names I can't pronounce. We'll keep watching it. It's the only plant like this in the yard, a volunteer, and it is happy here. I think it got off some train...
A surprise present from my kids! An Appalachain pack basket, hand made, with I hope lots of love. It surely seems that way.

All the drains are working! We want to move water along on the property, not let it sit, so we've got drains installed that lead to the creek, but we also want to sink some water and let it recharge the ground. This will eventually be a little frog pond. We already hear the frogs at night and see dragonflies hovering nearby. Lovin' it.
flowing into the creek.... water doin' its thing...
doesn't look like much now, but this is a low point in the yard that we'll turn into a second small pond or wetland. we're listening to the land and doing what it asks us to do... doing what it loves. Okay, enough making a point! Off to do what I love.

48 days, day 37-38: the beating heart

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Taken at Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia mountains a few years ago... writing is kind of like this... looking for the best view to tackle the story.. or our writing lives.
Well, it rained again, and I slept again, and I got to work again, and I ate a PopTart. All good.

I'm back to Rachel Carson and also back to another picture book I've worked on, off and on, for about five years (maybe more). There's nothing to say I can't work on this new/old idea, too, is there? No, and honestly, it feels easier to me right now.

Easier meaning... doable. Totally made up out of whole cloth. The sky's the limit! This is an idea that came to me that I fiddled with, got some words down on paper, fiddled some more, left to simmer, came back to add a little, left to stew while I wrote other things, traveled, looked at it from time to time and felt that tingle... yes, I love this idea... keep it. With an idea that has no tie to a real person, place, or event, there are no borders, no boundaries, no stops. I miss that.

I have spent several years writing historical fiction, which has taught me so very much and has stretched me as a writer. I'm grateful for it. It occurs to me now, as I am able to be home and pay attention to my days, that I miss the relative ease of realistic fiction, of fantasy, poetry, essay, memoir, myth.

It's all hard, but there is an element of who cares what the history says, write whatever you want! in these mysterious genres, and whenever I'm working on this new/old book I feel the little thrill of discovery, the zing! of contentment, the lightening of the load, the giddyness of aiieeeeee! this is fun! I can go anywhere I want! It's like bumper cars! Bang! Oops! Back up! Bang! hahahaha!

Of course I can't go anywhere I want in the end, but in the mess-making phase, I certainly can. Oh how I have missed it!  ONE WIDE SKY is a book I wrote in rhymed couplets, 88 words, about the joys of the natural world, a counting book: one through ten and back again, morning-noon-night. My research was just outside my door. The Aurora County books were cut from the whole cloth of my childhood summers in Mississippi.

Maybe the "burden" of history/research (for Rachel has plenty of that and of course Book3 I'm avoiding for this very reason) was part of my malaise... it can feel burdensome to be tied to a timeline of years or events or facts or figures... or all four at once, and for such a long time. (There is also a very useful and helpful structure offered up when tied to those things -- another story for another time.) So I am working on Rachel, but I am largely letting her go when I stumble on research holes, and that's when I unburden myself, and give myself to this new/old manuscript where anything goes. Anything!

I love making this mess. I remind myself that this 48 days is for experimenting and discovery, so experiment all you want right now, Debbie -- you'll have to settle in soon enough, make a firm decision when you're back from California, and begin to plow forward. And it will be okay. You will have had your breathing space, I say. Right now: B-I-C. Butt In Chair. Put in some hours. Make a mess. GO.

That's where I've been for the past two days. It feels good. The rain has helped with the watering. I want to talk at some point about the ordering of energies and time and how much we have in a day to give to any one task in front of us. Another day, though. I'm going back to the page.

Let's call the new/old picture book "the Merton book." There is this line by Merton I have long loved and am working with: "There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Right there lies the beating heart of everything I write.

48 days, day 35-36: what helps, 10 things

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

Friday I realized: I've been wading through the sludge. Now I can make a plan.
What helps you through the sludge? I'm putting it here so I remember what helped me. Ten things this weekend:

1.  Time. Two days off to listen and rest and try to believe (I do) it's a good thing to do for myself. Staring at the wall in the quiet.

2.  Journaling. Writing about it. "I write because I don't understand what I think until I read what I say." - Flannery O'Connor

3.  Activity, half-mindless. Organizing the office on more than a surface level has been on my list for years. My office serves as overflow whenever someone spends the night (or visits, depending), and it catches EVERYTHING in between visits. It's a big space -- my living/dining room in this house. I've pulled everything out to look at it. I've piled the desk high and I've got boxes ready. Keep, toss, save for one day, give away, etc. It feels good. I couldn't do it until now, for some reason. And the going is slow. But it's going. It's like emptying out my mind to look at its contents and putting everything back in order... or letting things go.

4.  Podcasts, old movies I don't have to really pay attention to to enjoy, music -- depending on my mood. Usually while doing #3. Do y'all have podcasts you like and can recommend? I'm open to almost anything, when I'm not basking in the silence.

5.  Sleeping in. Napping.

6.  Connecting with people I love who love me right back. You can tell, can't you? You can feel it. That's good medicine.

7.  Eating good food. Eating bad food. Special thanks to frozen strawberry fruit bars and the beans from the garden (not at the same time) that are inspiring me.

8.  RAIN. We finally had some decent rain yesterday. Last night we went to bed listening to frogs. Frogs! The gardens are making me happy, and now they are happy, too.

9.  Not writing.

10.  Feeling like writing again.

So here I go. Thank you for all the mail of the past two days. I've tucked all your good wishes into my pocket, where I touch them like they are wishing stones.
crazy, amiright?
right down to the drawers and shelves (not shown) and closet (ditto)
The garden is coming in. These are our green beans. This is the first garden we've had in so many years... already making plans for next year.
I'm loving apple cider mixed with fizzy water over ice. Jim and I are using our old standby coasters: the back of the old Methodist hymnal for me, and the back of an old Dr. Seuss for him. It works.
I'd like to think I can go through the entire house with my box system. But I'm trying to stay in the present and hope I can finish the office. That would be a major coup.
Saturday breakfast. You should have seen it smothered in almond slices next. Because I could.
Our tomatoes are slow to come in. Next year we'll be here in May (so she says) and have more time to get the garden in. I have traveled for 15 years and not had a garden, and I have so missed it. I am determined...
Come on! You can do it! Grow, grow... this tomato is on a berm in the back (water management project) along with six or eight others, in an experiment to see if we get enough sun in the back now to grow tomatoes. I think not. The tomatoes in front yard are exponentially bigger. These guys got into the ground at about the same time, the first week in June... we'll see. They are scraggly... grown from seed and too long in their little cups, I fear...

48 days, day 34, integrating losses

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

So I thunked. I sent off the proposal, all 13 pages. I've already heard back from my trusted readers (it's a draft; how can I make it better?) and from my agent, who says, "let's talk." hahahahaha. You know, that's fine. We will meet in Los Angeles at the end of this month when my 48 days is up and the next travel starts, and we will hash it out. And this way, he has it in advance and can mull and stew, just like I will. I got good comments from my readers as well, and I have some ruminating to do on this project... it will be fine. I FINISHED SOMETHING. It only took me 33 days.

And that brings me to the next thing. My 48 days of chronicling my writing process ends in just 15 days. Gosh, I would have killed for 48 straight days ahead me to write when I had four kids swirling around my ankles, when I had a full time job, when I freelanced and went to school and had several part-time jobs, when I was writing and working/traveling like a maniac (which is the past 15 years, pretty much). So what gives? Why haven't I burped out War and Peace?

I'm thinking this morning (maybe because I'm operating on only a few sips of coffee) about what lies beyond our immediate consciousness when we make our decisions... why is it we can't seem to get going, or feel low, or bang our heads against the wall in frustration?

i.e. Why is my office such a mess? Why am I so reluctant to go buy the dirt, put in the window a/c unit, clean the kitchen, sweep the basement floor, fold the mounds of laundry (at least it is washed and dried), make an appointment to get my hair cut before L.A., pull weeds, cook supper... finish my Rachel revision, get Book3 off the ground, finish the essay, tackle the other writing projects that stare at me: you said you were going to pay attention to us!

Why does it take an act of congress to get me going these days?

I do believe (as we've discussed) fear is part of it. The canvas-wafting that comes with the fear is real, and I wrote about that here. I also think that sometimes we don't even know what's slowing us down until we really think about it some and examine what's going on. Sometimes it takes a friend or a partner to help us see. Sometimes it's helpful to acknowledge the sludge.

So what is it? A good friend and I had a ComeToJesus moment yesterday afternoon, after I thunked and felt so good to have SOMETHING off my plate, and then (immediately, because that's what we do) discounted how glorious that was and started talking about all that I haven't done in this 48 days and that I set out to do. There must be some sludge in there, I said.

Have you thought about the fact that you're dealing with a good deal of death and loss? she asked. Have you thought about how you've tried to be there for your children, through their loss, and you haven't really acknowledged how this loss has affected you? But that was two months ago, I said. She laughed. Two months! Two months! And you were married for how long? We weren't married for the past 15 years, I countered. You had how many children together?

I talked about that loss here, in a speech I gave at Vermont College in 2004. It's been not quite 15 years since I became so suddenly single (as I like to call it). I thought I had dealt with that. I have a wonderful life that I cherish, and I have watched my children come through the fire to claim their own good lives as well. But when someone dies... I don't know. It brings up all the ancient mariners.

I mentioned that loss here, on day 1 of the 48 days, in a perfunctory fashion, and I don't want to belabor it now, I just want to say that I am partly angry that this loss is slowing me down, and I partly feel like it's an excuse, and partly I want to be very nice to myself through this, because mostly I know I will integrate this loss and the malaise will pass.

And what about your therapist retiring? That was a real blow, wasn't it? It's only been six weeks since you said goodbye to her... someone you really came to love and do good work with. Well, yes, it is a real loss. I have felt it keenly. I cried more in her office, leading up to our last session together, than I cried in years and years. I know I was mourning All The Losses, I know that.

I have mostly tried to ignore that feeling of loss, because it saps energy and I'm trying to Get Stuff Done. But it creeps into the psyche, like any loss, asking for attention, sucking up more energy than it would if I would just acknowledge it. I didn't realize I was hiding it from myself. Now I do.

And earlier this year, there were great disappointments, remember them? And you have learned from them, worked with them... and remember all that travel from January through June? You were gone more than you were home. You went to HONG KONG for heaven's sake. And yeah, you loved it all, it was good work, it is allowing you to be home now, but be honest -- you must be exhausted! Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

It's enough to kill a horse! hahahahaha. She always says that after she makes her points. It always makes me laugh.

So I began to think about it all. Not to dwell on it (heaven forfend, because maudlin is the last thing I want to be right now -- it's hard enough as it is), but to acknowledge it. Sometimes acknowledging the sludge is the beginning of a path through it.

And not that I own these additional things, but they touch me (and should) in these 48 days: The Charleston Shootings. Claudia Rankine's NYTimes essay about same (it haunts me). Ta-Nehesi Coates's essay. Harper Lee's Watchman and the swirl accompanying it. Sometimes I think, the whole world is a mess. But it isn't. "Look for the helpers," as Fred Rogers' mother told him to do.

And it gets better. A story:

When I became so suddenly single, I didn't write another word for over two years, which is why there is a four-year gap between RUBY and LITTLE BIRD.  I called my editor, Liz Van Doren at Harcourt Brace, and told her that I couldn't write anymore, that I was too devastated to write, that I was going to have to go be a greeter at WalMart or something, because I was good at greeting but had few other marketable skills, and I needed a job.

Liz told me, "You are forgetting you are a writer. A writer writes. I want you to promise me that you will sit at your desk every day and ask yourself, what can I write? and write that." I promised. And what came of that promise was EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. I wrote it through the death of a long-years marriage, the death of my mother, the death of my father, the loss of my home of 25 years, and the loss of full-time motherhood as my youngest of four turned eighteen and graduated and we moved to Atlanta, just as I turned 50.

I hardly remember the publication of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER and FREEDOM SUMMER in 2001, because I was too busy trying to wrap my head around what had just happened to us as a family, and to me as the one abandoned.

That loss and grief fueled the writing of LITTLE BIRD, which ended up on so many state book award lists, ended up winning the Bank Street Fiction Award and the E.B. White Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2005... none of which I even thought about as I wrote. I wrote about my grief and loss. I sent the book to Liz in chunks. She sent it back with revision notes, in chunks.

The book took a year to write -- that's all. It poured and poured out and Liz helped me shape it. And so I know I can write through my pain. I know I can write through my loss. I was concerned with my very survival in those LITTLE BIRD years, and I focused on the welfare of my children and what would happen to us.

So what to do about sludge, or malaise, which seems to rise up from a different place? It's not a place of survival. It's a place of relative safety, with a sheen of sadness over it. I don't know. I've started swimming again. Last summer I swam almost every day, and it helped in more ways than I can list. Maybe that's a help with the malaise that hangs over every project I look at this morning.

My mother would tell me I'm just feeling sorry for myself. Years ago I would have believed her and honestly, maybe there is some of that. But I don't think so. I am just a tad lost in the thicket of sadness. It will pass. I have learned that. It's hard to trust it, but it will pass.

So I am doing little things to nurture myself. I'm going to lunch with my eldest son today. Thai food! Son! Love! Lovely.

All to say that, if you are sad, if you feel as if you're walking through the sludge sometimes, come sit by me. You are not alone.

48 days, day 32-33, fried okra focus

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Well, the new project won out. Doesn't it always? It's actually an old project that I have been batting around with my agent for at least a year and a half, saying I'm going to propose, and that I have shied away from tackling because it will take dedicated time and focus.

But it's new in that this proposal must be written from the ground up, a structure figured out for it, and a persuasive argument made for it, cogently and smartly. It's a professional document that must include all pertinent facts, history, goals, sales information, curriculum connections, and arguments for.

And it was doable yesterday because I understand what it entails, and because it's finite. Sometimes, when you are stuck, trying to create art out of whole cloth, it helps to tackle something concrete.

Writing the proposal required me to make decisions after all the "what-if" I chewed on for so long with my agent and with trusted friends. It's a relief to make decisions and close doors, even for this eternal processor. Putting words to paper and understanding my motivations better helped me clarify just what it is I want to do with this project, and what it is I want to offer, and what it is I want to write.

I spent many hours intensely focused on this yesterday, and frustrated, too, because I am so disorganized that it's hard to find the photos I want, the statistics I want, the comparisons and the sources I need. But I got it half-done, maybe 3/4, and I could see the shape of the proposal and how it could be effective, before I knocked off for supper with friends.

I had to MAKE MYSELF GO TO SUPPER, which is a clear sign for me that I'm on to something. Whether somebody else thinks so or not, well, we'll see. I was excited to get back to it this morning, and I've been working all day on finishing. I took a break for okra fried by Jim (I loooooove fried okra), and will spend the rest of the afternoon on this proposal, then go swimming (a story for later).

My goal is to have this proposal off my plate and onto my agent's by the end of the week. Which is tomorrow. I can do it. I am almost there. By the end of the day I will have it in shape enough to go swim on it, work in the garden and then sleep on it, and then -- VOILA -- I will be able to say I have FINISHED something. Halleluia, Mississippi! (That is a hint!)
It's mostly spinach. But some days you just really need some fried okra.

48 days, day 31-32, rabbit holes, dreaming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

For the past two or three weeks, I have had dreams that involve a whole lot of people in my life doing a whole lot of weird things. I've been doing some intense therapy work for four and a half years now, and I know what's going on: an integration of the many parts of myself. This is good news.

It doesn't surprise me that these dreams are coming -- every night, now -- in part because I am bringing up ancient stuff in working on a family essay that takes me into dark territory. But I must go there. I've been saying for years that I'm going to write a memoir. And now it's asking for attention. But working on this essay has shown me that I'm not ready for that rabbit hole to consume me, but that I might be able to break it into tiny bites... a poem here, a list there, a vignette or essay at some point.

This is maybe more than anyone wants to know... I just want to mark it here, as I'm the only person who will read through these entries many years from now and say, "oh... I remember that... that was the time that..." etc. So here you go.

In writing news, it's butt-my-head-against-the-wall time. I rush to the page to scribble a line that's in my head as I wake, as I shower, as I pull weeds or pick beans. I now have pages of these lines, and I see what project of the many I'm trying to work on here (experimenting) they relate to, but I don't have a way to connect them yet. The fascia is missing... something like that.

So I wander (because that's what it feels like -- arrrrgggghhh!) between the essay, the picture book, the start of the novel, the research, the new project I'm excited about (naturally), the biography I want to write, and I feel as if I'm wafting from palette to palette, brushstroking and sighing on. It's frustrating. Nothing is finished.

The alternative is to put all but one project away (my usual way of working) and focus on that one project to the exclusion of everything else. And I've been afraid to do that because of the rabbit-hole effect I mentioned here (well, hmmm... I didn't mention it there, just mentioned the project/essay possibility... but I felt it). And here (wow, way back in 2008). And here (in the very wise comments). And here (about Countdown). And here, about tracking down sources. I am wary of the rabbit holes, even though I know I survive them. We all do. Right? Still.

I am wary because... what? I am wrung out at the end? I focus to the exclusion of everything else in my life? I am afraid of what I will discover? My wee heart/mind/psyche doesn't want to go there? I know the time it takes? The toll it exacts? Yes. To all of it.

So I wander from canvas to canvas. And I dream.

48 days, day 29-30: time off

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Instead of another field trip, I took the weekend off while Jim gigged. The only time he had off was Sunday morning, and he used it to hang with granddaughter Abby, who came to spend the night on Saturday night, after a comedy-of-errors family movie date we put together for Saturday.

We did end up seeing INSIDE OUT with Abigail, complete with snacks smuggled in by Grandma and chicken tenders, quesadillas, pretzel bites and french fries ordered and eaten during the show, something I would never normally do. Heck, I've never even been to a theater experience with tables and a restaurant, but it's what we could find on Saturday, and in the end, I was glad we went.

By the time we had worked out all the strategic details for people in three different towns and zoomed around between three counties -- found we were at a sold-out show, then piled in one car and bought tickets for another show while zooming to it, only to find out we'd bought tickets for the wrong venue, sneaked in anyway (my specialty), and then cooler heads prevailed (not mine) and we realized this show was going to be sold out, too, and there were assigned seats, so we fixed it at the ticket counter and got the last available seats --- well, by then we were starving and exhausted and hanging with a very patient but insistent four-year-old.

I hardly remember the movie. hahahahaha.

Still, after the movie and the long trek back to Aunt Hannah's car, we went to Aunt Hannah's house to chill. A walk to the Chattahootchie, a walk through the nearby forest, a dog to romp with for a few... it was perfect. Water, woods, air, earth.

I didn't write a word. It was all glorious.You?

A few more thoughts in the captions below. Here's to a good writing week! xoxo

Makes me want to put my canoe in the river. I brought it down here from Maryland when we moved 11 years ago, and it hasn't been in water since. I miss those days on the Potomac...

... but these are good days, too.
Visiting the sunflowers that she planted with Grandpa by the mailbox a month ago -- they are taller than she is now.
What the bathtub looked like... after.
The green beans are exploding! There a cucumber plant in there, too, and some marigolds and cosmos. Finally we have sun in our yard...
This is how she sat with him in the morning, waiting for breakfast and telling him everything we'd done the day before without him.
"Warm toast with a great deal of butter." Abigail forgets nothing. I hate to admit to All This Butter...  but it was good. Now it's a morning tradition here, ever since reading Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.
...and then you can read me books, and...
One of Abby's favorites, by our friend Lita Judge. Red Sled.
I was crushed that Lilly didn't make a fair impression on Abby. Maybe she's too young. She and Grandpa didn't finish this book. Maybe another day. I listened and thought about how languid the opening is (which I love), and which might not fly today... unless you are Kevin Henkes. The PB Intensive I did in May is giving me new ways to look at PBs.

I've collected buttons for years. Abby wanted to make ornaments with my mother's buttons from her button box, but I don't want to use those -- they stay in the button box. So we came up with an alternate, acceptable plan.

Seven button ornaments made for this year's Christmas tree. Project cooked up by Abby, way to make it happen cooked up by Grandma. I happened to have large safety pins, and we spent a happy hour selecting buttons and making ornaments, then packed them away for Abby to take home.

This week's writing plate is full. That's where my attentions are going... right now, Monday morning, day 31. One month in. More later --