Saturday, February 29, 2020

A day with writers

starts first in a quiet house,

just me and my laptop, a cup of coffee, the dog snoozing beside me, the scene rolling out in front of me on my screen -- or who are we kidding here? -- it's all stops and starts, deleting the paragraphs I labored over yesterday (I don't really need them! Just cut to the chase!) a couple of new sparkly sentences, 

and then it's time to go. Today, it's a morning at the Thurber House,

where I'm teaching a writing workshop to 4th and 5th graders. The last several weeks we've worked on our characters and story arcs and how to build scenes. Now it's time to focus on sensory language. How do we make our stories come alive for our readers? 

Close your eyes, I tell them. Put your heads on your desk and listen.

I read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and even though I've read this book many times, many years ago to my own children, the world of the cold snowy forest comes alive again

the little girl and her father, bundled up and silent, crunching through snow under the dark trees, the bright moon, the sad train whistle, the long hoot of the owl before it lifts off from a branch and flies away.

The students open their eyes and we talk about what they heard and then they work on their own scenes. I pass out Hershey's kisses because it's a well known fact that a little bit of chocolate tastes best after a morning's writing. 

In the afternoon I head to the main library downtown for a writers' workshop. It's full swing when I get there-- a literary agent and two authors speaking to aspiring adult writers. How to write a book, how to sell it.

I'm no longer running this group and it's fun to sit back and listen. Take notes. Eat a sandwich that I didn't have to worry about ordering. Sample a cookie from one of the trays of cookies I didn't have to cart inside.

The authors talk about plot and I take notes on my phone. I am itching to get back to work on my book. The room is bright, the windows looking out into the sunny cold. Patrons drift by, library books under the arms.

A homeless man wanders into the room and asks what this thing is about. Writers, I tell him. Where? he says. I point to the front of the room. Them? he says. I wonder what he expected.

He asks if he can have a cookie. Sure, I tell him. I give him a sandwich too. Thanks, he says and he wanders back out of the room, smiling. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dog Days

She starts crying and shaking the minute I get her into the car. She knows what’s coming. Or she thinks she does.

The entire fifteen minute drive over and the shrieks only get louder. She does this for a normal vet visit and this one will be more than that. A couple of large skin tags under her forearms that keep snagging on her harness have to be removed today.

She shakes when we get into the exam room. When the vet and attendant come in, she pants and drools and backs up, her tail between her legs, until she's sitting on my feet. They’ll need to offer her a shot to make her woozy before they can do the procedure. Not anesthesia, they assure me. I freak out a little thinking about that. Two people I know lost dogs under general anesthesia and both for what was supposed to be a routine procedure. Teeth cleaning. Some kind of grooming.

I'm the one who has to put the muzzle on her. The attendant can’t find a vein in her leg so after much prodding and poking, she tries the other leg. Don't worry, they tell me. She’ll be sleepy right away. But she isn’t. She paces around the small room still panting. Her legs slide apart, but she rights herself. How will she ever forgive me for putting her through this?

Only a few weeks ago I held my dying cat in my arms while they injected her, her body slumping against me, and then going slack the moment the life went out of her.

Finally the dog stops panting and teeters over onto her side. The attendants carry her off and I wait alone in the small room, picking dog hair off my sweatshirt. I have been anxious all day. A dread that started when I read the headlines this morning about the growing fear of a pandemic, the stock market plummeting.

At my weekly grocery store visit I filled my cart with canned goods like people do when a storm’s coming. I am reading a book about a pandemic that kills most of the people in the world. Why would I read a book like this right now?

When my husband and I came home after putting our cat to sleep, the dog greeted us how she always does. Hops and licks and a wet touch of her nose against the back of our hands. If she was wondering where the cat was, she didn’t let on.

This morning when I unpacked the groceries, there wasn't enough room in the cabinets for all of the canned goods. The attendants carry the dog back to me. Groggy. Tongue lolling out of her mouth. She's okay, they tell me. Just sleepy.

Want to go home? I whisper, and her head jerks up. Even as out of it as she is, my voice is a voice she remembers and home is a word she knows. I carry her inside and help her onto the couch and then we both rest for a while.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Mid February and birds sing in the trees

I walk my dog in a loop around my neighborhood, pass the flowers coming up, the houses still decorated with Christmas tree lights. One day it is fifty degrees. The next it’s twenty. The news switches back and forth between viruses and criminals.

I decide to stop reading it again.

Instead, I listen to podcasts. How Facebook spreads disinformation. Why it's okay to be addicted to caffeine. An interview with a teacher eager to take part in the Iowa caucus so she can show her students democracy in action. Now, a few weeks after that caucus fell apart, I can still hear her excited voice.

I read gardening books. I have dinner with friends. I paint the trim in my bedroom. I write the break-up scene in my rom com and wallow for a while in my characters' misery. It's okay, I want to tell them. You're going to get back together soon.

The other day a regular patron came into my library and offered the staff slices of caramel-drizzled chocolate cake. In the afternoon we had our monthly Reading with Rover program and the dogs (darling, kid-friendly, trained-as-emotional-support dogs) trotted down to the story room, pausing to let patrons pet them along the way.

It occurs to me that over the past several years I have lost faith in every institution. Government, the Church, the Media, the Law, the Police, Education, the Military. Okay, I take that back. I do still have faith in a few.

Science, Medicine and Libraries.

I can't speak for the scientists and doctors, but let me tell you some of what I did at work today:

--recommended a graphic novel for a reluctant teen reader
--helped a young couple operate the scanner so they could scan documents to apply for citizenship
--showed a man how to use his phone to download audio books
--signed up a child for her first library card
--looked up the phone number for a hospital for a patron who didn't know how to use a computer.

Oh, and here is something wonderful: Ohio is starting an Imagination Library! It's modeled after Dolly Parton's program in Tennessee, where every child from birth to five years receives a free book each month. Our library is helping get the word out, so see here to sign your child up:.

In other news, our system now offers video games for checkout and vinyl records. We're teaming up with other libraries in Central Ohio to bring Margaret Atwood to speak in the fall. We will happily print off any tax form you need.

Also, we will not turn down free chocolate cake.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

On painting and powerpoints and psychopaths

The painting was of the master bedroom, a room I should have worked on first, because of how dark the paint was on the walls, a navy blue that might look okay in some rooms but only if there's a lot of light, and there isn't; never mind the peeling paint, the cracks.

I want something white, bright, pristine. Still, it takes a weekend just to gear myself up to start, move the furniture out, dust, vacuum. I have a million other things to do. Two school presentations to plan, five writing classes. My writing partner has a book due and she needs a last-minute proofread of her out-in-October novel Five Total Strangers, and that takes precedence over everything.

This book is good, like falling under a spell.

A page turner, but I try to read it slowly to catch mistakes. There aren't many, only a handful of typos, a dropped word here and there. The story, which I already know from numerous brainstorms and discussions, still surprises me and sucks me in. A teen girl is desperate to make it home to her mom, but a snowstorm grounds her plane. Her seatmate offers a ride and our MC pushes aside her doubts (she doesn't really know this girl; the weather is bad, there will be three others in the rental car--strangers-- and everyone is kind of weird... ) The trip goes downhill from there, everything that could ever go wrong on a car trip,

plus, a psychopathic stalker. I love books like this. Meanwhile my own book is stalling,

right on the verge of the climax. In a Rom Com, that's the break-up, and even though everything in this story has been leading to this point, now that I'm here, I'm hesitating, churning, rethinking the scene. These characters that I’ve grown to love over the past few months are about to turn on each other.

Suddenly, it all seems silly, what I’m doing, writing a book instead of painting my bedroom, instead of working on my school presentations, instead of marching in the streets. I don't know why we-- any of us-- do the things we do.

Because... it's what we do?

I send a corrected copy back to my friend, slap a second coat of paint on the bedroom walls, finish up a school presentation, take a moment to double check my voter registration, dive back into my book and watch the pretend people I love break each other's hearts.