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.