Monday, August 12, 2019

The other day I scraped the backside of my car against a concrete post


I was backing out of my spot in a parking garage. A friend and I had driven to Dayton to give talk to our writers' group there. It had all gone well and I was telling my friend I thought it had gone well. The talk was about motivation and how it is important to have writing goals.

I had a cold all last week and I was kind of out of it, so I'd been worried about the talk. Add to that, we were in Dayton, two days after a mass shooting. I said to the writers in the group, We need to write now, more than ever!

Police and security guards were on every floor of the library. The place closed promptly at 8:30 and a security guard escorted us to the parking garage. Another stood behind my car, watching us as we got in. At the end of the writing talk I had told the group to write down their goals for the rest of the year.

Don't set a goal that's not in your control, I told them. Don't say, Be published by the end of the year. Say: Write a first draft. I did the exercise too and immediately ignored my own advice: Finish my revision and go on submission in the fall. 

I went through a bag of cough drops during the talk and had to keep stopping to blow my nose, but everyone acted like I was doing a good job. I hadn't given a talk like this one in a while. To be honest, I felt like a fraud. I haven't been writing since we moved. But even before that I was struggling.

I say we need to write now more than ever, but how do we do that exactly, when the world is falling apart around us? I wrote three books since my last book was published. Each one came close but ultimately did not break through.

Follow your dream, I told my writing group. Be persistent. Roll with the rejections. Keep writing. 

In May I finished a draft of a fourth book. I'd overhauled it completely and reworked it over a two year period. Why wouldn't an editor snap it up in the fall? 

Somehow I forgot there was a concrete post next to my car. I was looking at the security guard when I was backing out of the parking space. Drive slow, was what I was thinking. Be careful. The fourth book is not ready to go on submission in the fall. When I heard the deep grinding scrape noise, I was stunned. The concrete post was so big, and so suddenly and glaringly obvious.

The damage was bad, but luckily, only cosmetic. I tried to laugh it off with my friend, explained that I was usually a responsible driver. I'd had this car for over ten years and had never even gotten a scratch on it. But how did I overlook the concrete post? Was I distracted by the security guard? Had I eaten too many cough drops? 

Why do I keep writing books that come close but don't break through? 

Maybe it's time to try writing something different, my friend told me. The answer is so suddenly and glaringly obvious.

I will. 



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

One of my friends taught the young woman who died in the mass shooting in Dayton

She wrote a tribute on Facebook. The young woman was in her class at the Antioch Writers' Workshop. Her name was Megan Betts. She was twenty two years old, the same age as my daughter. Last week my son texted something about driving through Gilroy every time he visits Yosemite. I said, What's in Gilroy? I had already forgotten that there was a shooting there, the one at the garlic festival. A week ago.

I had to look it up. Three people shot and killed. Fifteen injured.

Maybe this will be the tipping point, I told my husband.
I don't think so, he whispered back. Newtown should have been the tipping point. We were holding candles on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse Sunday night. A candlelight vigil organized by Moms Demand Action. Three hundred people gathering just as it began to rain. We huddled together under the statehouse eaves. One of the speakers said:

It's hypocritical to pray for a problem you are unwilling to fix.

In Dayton there was a candlelight vigil too. The governor spoke about coming together. The crowd yelled back at him DO SOMETHING!

The governor seemed flustered. Maybe he forgot that before the shooting happened, he was eager to sign a new law in Ohio to allow Conceal Carry with no permit or training.

In El Paso a mom, on her way to pick up her daughter from the airport, stopped at Walmart to run a quick errand. A woman buying school supplies for her five year old was shot holding her infant child. Her husband died too, trying to shield both of them. The six year old boy who was shot in the back at the garlic festival loved Legoes and Batman.

The young woman who died in Dayton was a good writer. My friend kept one of the pieces she wrote and shared a fragment of it on Facebook:

She was a creature of space. Created in the heart of a supernova, her soul had formed from the dust of celestial bodies and the light of the stars that threw life to the edges of the galaxies. Her eyes had seen the eclipses of worlds, watched the formation of the solar systems and the placement of the planets . . . she painted supernovas across the event horizons . . . she knew the maps of the stars . . .

At the vigil one of the organizers asked us to please return the candles before we left. Sadly, she said, we will most likely need to use them again.




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On outhouse treasures and stolen ashes, aka: Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

In no particular order:

1. That antique store in Selma, North Carolina where they only sell old glass bottles and you ask the owner, Hey, where did you find all of these old glass bottles? And he goes into a very detailed explanation about examining old maps where there used to be neighborhoods with outhouses and how he sneaks into those areas at night and digs (because did you know that people dropped all kinds of things when they were going to the bathroom?) and you

very carefully sidle away from the shelves to keep from touching any of the bottles as he continues to describe his digging methods. Side note: he has a YouTube channel, Southern Searcher, in case you don't believe me.

2. At the Edgar Allan Poem museum in Richmond, Virginia there are two black cats, Pluto and you can't remember the name of the other one.

Pluto? Or the other one
3. There are 18,000 confederate soldiers buried in Richmond's Hollywood cemetery, including the traitor Jefferson Davis who may or may not have donned women's clothes to escape capture. Also, there may or may not be a vampire buried nearby.

4. Rules for falling out of a raft when whitewater rafting:

--Hold onto your paddle!
--Keep your head and feet up!
--Believe the guides when they joke about how your raft will never make it over a particular rapid without someone falling out.



5. In Wilson, North Carolina if you get to chatting with the artist at a downtown gallery about -- I don't know what led to this conversation!!-- you will learn that recently her house was broken into and the only thing stolen was a baggie filled with the ashes of her dead father and obviously the thief was a drug fiend and he snorted the ashes and now he's in jail.

6. Drinks are more fun with giant ice cubes.


Also, umbrellas


The end.






Friday, July 26, 2019

The River Wild

I didn't sign up for this

but my more adventurous friend, who is acting as the cruise director for our vacation, found the Level Three Whitewater Rafting Trip through an Urban Setting online, and cut to:

I am sweating it out on the shore of the James River in Richmond Virginia on a 100 degree day, listening to the river guide explain rowing directions as if my life depends on it. My life does, apparently, depend on it, because there's so much How-to-stay-in-the-boat and What-to-do-if-you-fly-out-of-the-boat directions, coupled with "Let's sign a waiver in case of Permanent Paralysis and/or Death" that even my adventurous friend is starting to get nervous.

But we all climb into the raft-- my husband (who has been whitewater rafting before and has fallen out of the boat and survived) my friend and her husband-- and our guide, twenty year old Kate, who I am skeptical about at first, but by the time this ride is over I will be singing her praises.

Kate is all business, shouting out when we should row forward and back, pointing out points of interest along the way. An old bridge that collapsed in a hurricane, the Hollywood cemetery on the hill where 18,000 confederate soldiers are buried, the Richmond skyline, the various rapids that we'll be rafting through.

The river is low and we immediately get stuck on a rock. Bounce up and down, Kate tells us, and we do, but it doesn't help in the slightest. Kate hops into the water, heaves us off the rock and then hops back in. She does that several times while the four of us bounce middle-aged-ly.

Do you ever feel like you're a sherpa? I ask her. You know, like one of those guides on Mount Everest who's paid to get people who should not be climbing Mount Everest up to the peak?

Kate just laughs, but I notice that she does not answer the question.

We slide and turn and bounce through rapids. We stop and eat trail mix on an island and talk about our bucket lists. Side note: whitewater rafting was not on my bucket list.

But I have to admit that I am enjoying this excursion until we get to the end and Kate asks us if we want to go back to the last section of churning water we'd just successfully made it through and do it again. There's this thing called surfing, which I still don't quite understand, where you row directly into the churning water until the front of your raft gets sucked down and then it's supposed to pop back up. My adventurous friend says no

and climbs out of the raft. Weirdly, I stay in. My husband and my friend's husband, with Kate's direction, row toward the churning water. The front of the boat gets sucked in. The two guys immediately flop out and the raft tilts straight up. It's a strange long moment watching them disappear into the foam, waiting for my turn to tumble out,

but I don't. As soon as the guys hit the water, the raft snaps back up and there's a few tense moments of looking for their heads in the spray and then a few more tense moments as my friend's husband swims to shore, but my husband loses his paddle and has to ride the next bit of rapids on his back. He makes it to the raft and Kate tells him that she's going to pull him in and I think, there's no way in hell this one hundred pound, twenty year old girl is going to be able to pull my husband onto the raft, but Boom,

she hauls him up.

We eat popsicles on the bus on the way back to our car. The next day we hike around the Hollywood cemetery and watch the white water from the shore. Would I do it again?

Nope. Am I glad I did it?

Absolutely.








Sunday, July 21, 2019

I can't find my sneakers

Or the Q-tips. The house is a maze of still-unpacked boxes. Books, mostly, because we have no built-in bookcases in this house. But also, bins of cooking supplies because we have a quarter of the kitchen cabinet space we used to have. The rolling pin. Muffin pans. The Insta-pot. Where do I store these?

For now, the dining room floor. The landing upstairs. The third bedroom--eventually, (hopefully!) my office-- is now a closet for extra furniture, pictures and Christmas ornaments, musical instruments, (why do we have three violas?) crates of my old manuscripts. I have more of these than I realized. I have more of everything than I realized. And here I thought we'd done such a good job purging.

Spoiler alert: we didn't. Apparently, when you lose 800 square feet of living space, you're going to end up with some clutter.

It's driving me nuts. For months, readying our house to sell, we lived in a pristine, monastery-like space. Now, at the snap of a finger, we've become candidates for the TV show Hoarders. 

And still figuring out the idiosyncrasies of a circa 1926 house. The dryer works! The air-conditioning vent in one of the bedrooms does not! There are no overhead lights in any of the bedrooms. Outside, a koi pond with we're not sure how many koi. An overgrown garden choked with weeds and... ugh is that bamboo?

But there's lovely glass on the front door. Rounded archways leading into the rooms. A front porch with a swing.

I sit here in the mornings to write, my dog at my feet. This is her first move, but already, she's settling in.






Thursday, July 11, 2019

Move Moving Moved

One day to Moving Day and I am writing for the last time on my back porch. The house is mostly boxed up, except for the kitchen. That's my job for the day. I know the drill. How to pack. How to say goodbye to a house. 

But for now I am delaying it. Listening to the cicadas. Watching the tree branches bob in the breeze, the hammock we set out for the summer. We're leaving it behind.

The last house we lived in I walked the empty rooms one final time, snapped a picture of the kids' heights we'd marked on the kitchen wall. Another house, I said goodbye to a nursery never used. We moved before the baby came and we had to scramble to fix up a room in the new house. That house we left behind the curtains my mother made. A rose bush in the backyard.

This house we're leaving an herb garden. An asparagus patch. Silver knobs on the cabinets. A bookcase. The metal bar our son used to do chin ups. Iris bulbs. Blackberry bushes.

Yesterday I cleaned the bathrooms for the last time. The new owners were coming for a final walk through and I ran around the house cleaning and straightening. Why? my husband asked me. They've already bought the place.

For the same reason he was mowing the lawn. For the same reason I was out there with him, weeding the front flower beds. Because for one more day it's still our home. Because we love this place,

even when it's time to let it go.



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top Secret Notes from a Movie Set

Two years ago I traveled to Prague with my friend Lisa Klein. Her book Ophelia was being made into a movie and they were filming at a studio in Prague and on location in the area. It was a last minute trip, to put it mildly, that came about mostly because I don't snore.  

Lisa's copy of her book, which the director, producers, and actors signed.

Day one, arriving on the set, and I was feeling like a reporter, all geared up to record my impressions of the studio and the filming, maybe snap a few photos of the actors (Daisy Ridley! Clive Owens! Naomi Watts!) but a publicist swooped over to say, No Pictures unless you absolutely promise not to share them on social media. 

And no writing about any of this until after the movie comes out.

I tried to explain that the things I wanted to write about (the props piled up on the set, the conversation I had with a Czech seamstress, a funny interaction with the cinematographer) were probably not going to mess up the publicity of the film. Also, I'm not writing gossip columns for Variety, just a humble little blog for my friends. 

Didn't matter. The answer was still no. 

I took notes anyway, with the thought that I would reveal all after the movie came out. Well, the movie came out. And now dear readers I am about to REVEAL ALL.

Or sorta all. 

Fun fact: the notes I wrote are packed away in a box who knows where because my husband and I are moving next week. So, bear with me as I piece together my two year old memories (with lots of help from the pictures I took). 

Castle in Krivoklat where they filmed many of the exterior shots of the movie

Barrandov studio where they filmed the interior scenes.
(This is the same studio where they filmed Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity.
Also, the Nazis made propaganda movies here.) 

Open a mild-mannered looking door in the studio, and Boom! You're inside the great hall of a castle. So castle-like, except there is no ceiling. I ask if I can take a picture of Lisa sitting in an Ophelia chair and I'm given permission. While I set up the shot--at a jaunty angle because I'm trying to be artsy-- a man leans over my shoulder and says, That's nice. 


Turns out, he's the cinematographer. He takes a picture of Lisa too and, no big shocker, it's nicer than mine.

Lisa and I wander onto the queen's bedroom set and get into a somewhat tense conversation with the set designer after I ask her where all the stuff goes after the movie's over. I get the feeling that she thinks I'm trying to steal her set-designer secrets, so I reassure her that I'm just nosy.

They made this bed for the movie. Super secret info I wheedled out of the set designer:
After the movie's over, it may end up in a prop warehouse
to possibly be used on a future movie set. 

The set designer's assistants hand-painted this lovely tapestry while we watched.
Fun factoid: the paint has gold glitter in it to attract the light. 

Oh look, this food on the banquet table looks so real! Because it is real, the prop guy tells me. And speaking of props, I can't get over how many candles they've been burning on this set. 

Boxes of candles in various stages of burning

Lisa and I stand in line to eat lunch. There's a huge crowd in the dining area. Actors in costume-- palace guards, ladies in waiting. Stagehands. A seamstress from the area who was called up for a few days to sew beads on dresses. The boy who plays young Hamlet and his mom. 

Clive Owens strides by with a make-up artist in tow trying to fix a chunk of bad wig-hair that keeps falling into his eyes. He's tall and he's CLIVE OWEN, but all I can think is: this guy doesn't look like a movie star... he looks like a middle-aged man playing dress-up.  

We meet Daisy Ridley! And she is radiant and lovely. We meet Tom Felton, who's sporting a very non-Malfoy-ish beard. We meet George MacKay, who plays Hamlet, and he's just eaten M&Ms, and I know this because after he gives me the British two-cheek kiss, my two cheeks smell like M&Ms. 

We sit in the producers' chairs and watch the same scene-- Clive Owen and a bunch of guards running down a hall and yelling at Daisy Ridley-- over and over again for the entire afternoon. (In the movie the sequence takes approximately 45 seconds.)

I drift over to a table covered with helmets.

table covered with helmets

Lisa and I eat ice cream with a palace guard. We watch the stand-ins for Hamlet and Ophelia stand in various places around the great hall so the camera people can get the lighting right. You can't see it in the picture but they're both wearing sneakers.


People are running around all over the place, make-up people and lighting people. Actors and their mothers. Lisa's sitting in the producer's chair watching, and it hits me suddenly that she wrote this book! And the actors are saying her words! And all of these hundreds of people are HERE, in service to something SHE created. (Well, William Shakespeare created it, Lisa keeps reminding me.) But whatever, Lisa. I mean, how awesome is this?

The next day we hop on a bus and head away from the touristy places. We find a park and walk along a windy trail, ending up in a garden where kids are playing and people are walking their dogs. We sit on a bench and take out the books we're reading. The book I'm reading is Ophelia, because I am embarrassed to say, I didn't start reading it until the plane ride over here and I still have a few chapters left.

I am finding this whole experience surreal. Sitting on a park bench next to the author at the same time I am reading her book. Being in the Czech Republic. On a movie set. Where actors greet me with M&M-flavored, two-cheek kisses.

But then, in no time at all, I disappear into the story.