Where I write

Where I write

August 17, 2015

The Long and Winding Road

"If you see your path laid out in front of you -- Step One,Step two, Step three -- you only know one thing..it is not your path. Your path is created in the moment of action. If you can see it laid out in front of you, you can be sure it is someone else's path. That is why you see it so clearly." 

When the writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote these words, I wonder if he had attempted a novel? It would be so much easier to have the path of my novel clearly carved out for me word for word, a yellow brick road to writing success. Minus the munchkins. 

Searching for just the right word, devising a clever plot, creating believable characters and genuine dialogue is time consuming work.  There are those writers who claim a novel wrote itself. I dislike those writers as much as I dislike people who eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day and stay thin. I am convinced they are actually aliens.

 A clear path, like the one in the desert near my house shown above, where when I hike I can see far ahead to where the path leads, requires less thinking. Less scary, too. When I write, I always feel somewhat lost and wish someone had left at least some bread crumbs for me to follow. And if they lead to a ugly witch's house, that's okay. I think I can take the mean old hag, as well as snap off a candy cane or two.

Today's coloring books are elaborate, but it still requires coloring between the lines of someone else's bunny and porcupine. I think that's a porcupine on the right. Not sure. Cute, but too structured for me. 

I contradict myself. I know.  I groaned when teachers made us do outlines in school BEFORE writing the paper. Remember? 1. a. b. c. and so on. Often, a sentence was  required that would summarize the paper. Some teachers even made students show the outline after writing the paper.  That is like living your life and then, before you die, being asked to show the outline you drafted, say when you were 13, to see if it matches what actually happened. That would be interesting to see how many people's lives turned out as they had envisioned as teenagers.  Sure there might be some things that worked out as planned, but I betcha there would be a slew of surprises. Often we don't know what to do next until we get there. Same with writing.

My novel feel more like this photo I took in the Costa Rican jungle last spring. No clear path.  I didn't attempt to walk through this jungle, and I often don't attempt my novel as it often feels daunting to even begin. But I bet if I had started walking in this jungle, with a lot of bug repellent slathered on me, a path would have shown itself. I would have seen rushing rivers, flocks of exotic birds in flight and lush plant life of the kind I'd never before seen.  The sights! The smells! The exclamation points possibilites.

Writing a novel is the same. A lot of unexpected beautiful things can arise once I begin. It's not easy forging a path alone, and that is why so many writers give up along the trail. 

There are so many books and classes and blogs and newsletters and workshops about how to write. A lot of people are making money telling other people how to write. To learn how to walk through a dense jungle, one must starting walking. Same with writing. Writing classes are beneficial, as are meeting with other writers, but to write one must sit and sit and sit alone for hours forging a path with words. For someone like myself who likes to check things off her to do list, and have a clear set of each day's purpose, meandering without a path feels often futile and foolish. 

I must remember that even if I feel I'm walking in circles , like this labyrinth in Oregon that I visited,  it doesn't mean I'm not making progress. Now if I was still there months later walking around in circles that would be a problem. I hope someone would step in and help me. And sometimes we do need help from our friends. I'm blessed with wise writer friends who help me edit, and also friends who listen and tell me to get moving with my life, to stop going in circles and walk a new direction, but they can't do writing or life for me. My lazy side says oh darn.  

Some paths are gorgeous, and seem wide and safe, but even this one in the Oregon forest veers to the left. Just like Dorothy's yellow brick road that looked  so clearly laid out for her, there were wild surprises. Dorothy met evil witches, and flying monkeys and almost took a forever sleep in a field of pretty poppies that looked deceptively safe. Just shows you that even though the yellow brick  path looked clear, it was still full of pitfalls. 
 When I was little I used to imagine staying in bed all day long and that way nothing bad would ever happen to me. My next thought was how bored I was going to get.  So I got out of bed. 
"If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one," said  my hero Dolly Parton. 

What?  It's not right to include a quote by the esteemed scholar Joseph Campbell in the same blog as Dolly, the singer with the blonde wigs and long finger nails? That's the beauty of no outline.  I can do whatever I want. (No English teacher, either, to scold me.) And she's right. Whether in life or writing, if we need to revise, edit or start a entirely new story, it's okay. I just have to remind myself that even if I feel lost in my novel, and I make a bunch of mistakes, I just have to keep moving.

Make it up as I go along, like life, and hopefully get wiser and a better writer and a person  along the way. That's all part of the adventure. I wouldn't want someone else to write the novel, or live my life for me. 
  I'm sure both Joseph and Dolly would agree. 

July 28, 2015

Christmas in July

    I've been seeing a lot of Christmas in July sales around Phoenix.  Try as I might, I just can't get in the holiday spirit when the thermometer reads 108 day after day after day.  In Phoenix in the summer everyone blames laziness on the heat. Not exercising,  eating only take out food from a greasy Chinese restaurant instead of cooking, never wanting to get dressed and leave the house,  can all be explained by "it's too hot." As can the extra twenty pounds you have around your waist by October. Still,  I don't  want to blame my inability to imagine Christmas on the 100 plus temperatures. Science fiction writers haven't actually traveled to say, Mars, but that doesn't prevent them from  writing as if they have. 

     Besides, I could be taking advantage of some great sales.  My friend, Penny, would have all her Christmas shopping done by July. Presents wrapped and in the closet. That always seemed so very smart to me. 

     And isn't being a writer all about playing make believe? Aren't I suppose to create imaginary people, places and things with words? Which sounds just the tiniest bit crazy, or maybe that's what keeps writers  sane. Even so, when I tried to be enthusiastic about Christmas-themed sales in July, my creative thinking was no match for the desert.  
     I know that other parts of the country are toasty right now, but the Arizona desert and it's months of intense heat make the idea of drinking cocoa and singing Christmas carols, and everything else that goes with Christmas shopping, seem as impossible to me as singing an opera. Even my dog leaves the room when I start singing. 
     Christmas in July was featured on a television station last week. I hoped watching A Christmas Carol yet again might get me in the spirit. Here is Christmas Present with mean old Scrooge in an old black and white film version of Charles Dicken's classic book. As I watched this same movie in my air conditioned house wearing shorts in front of a fan while eating sherbert,  I found myself getting bored. I didn't even care when  Scrooge turned generous and helped Tiny Tim. I felt like a terrible uncaring person. I blamed it on the heat. 

    After seeing yet another Christmas in July sale, I had it.  Christmas belongs in December, not July. I don't care if my job as a writer is to have an active imagination. I don't want to think of shopping for anyone when stepping outside makes me feel I might burst into flames.
    What I do find myself enjoying is any photos or movies with snow. Just looking at this little red cabin makes me feel cozy inside and gives me hope. Also joy because I don't have to do any shoveling of the white stuff. The air is chilly, the presents are wrapped beneath an evergreen tree, and the people are inside having a glass of wine beside a fire. Wait. No fire. I don't want to imagine anything hot. 

    I trust when December comes so will the beautiful Arizona weather.  The temperature in winter dips to a brisk 60 degrees. Brrrr....  I will be in the spirit to decorate a tree and eat too much fattening food at parties and shop. The chilly weather, the lights, even the crowds at the mall make for the holiday in season.  Christmas in July is lonely. 

     I know Santa will return. I know he exists because we took our photo together when he visited Phoenix. Right now he is busy with his elves making toys at the North Pole. I know he will remember me in December. ( See I still have an imagination.)

    I know this blog about July is late. I blame my tardiness on the heat. Soon it will be August, the month kids and teachers dread and parents cheer.  
    Where was this book when I was a kid? I wonder if there is a version for parents of children returning to school. The title might be Free at Last. The one for teachers could be titled How Many Days Until Christmas Break? 

July 6, 2015

The Wicked and Wild Bowling Alley

             Once upon a time, in a small village called Hoffman Estates, there was a bowling alley where wicked and wild things happened. Or so thought the little girl who lived at 121 Alpine Lane just a few blocks from the bowling alley. She wished her parents bowled and would take her to the bowling alley where she knew exciting things happened. She felt uncertain about exactly what excitement occurred behind the bowling alley doors but she knew it was opened late at night and that alone was fascinating. Once, she dared to peek inside and learned the bowling alley was dark and loud and it smelled of cigarette smoke. In fact just opening the door was like inhaling my first cigarette. Wonderfully wicked. 
     People were laughing a lot in there. She quickly shut the door, knowing a little girl would never be allowed to go inside alone, and went on her way to  Grants Department Store to buy candy necklaces that she made her neck sticky and sweet.
   The little girl wished she had parents who bowled. Parents who bowled looked like they lived life to the hilt and were modern. They let their children eat cold shrimp with cocktail sauce and stay up past 10 p.m. to watch the Johnny Carson show.  Her parents put her to bed early and the only seafood her mom served was tuna casserole with potato chips baked on the top.

       Alas, her parents had no interest in bowling and were able to drive past the busy Hoffman Lanes Bowling Alley without saying, "That place looks hopping. Maybe we should take the kids bowling one day."  Oh, sure, the little girl's parents had parties with friends, played Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass on the record player and even did the twist to Chubby Checkers while drinking screw drivers and bourbon and Seven Up. They didn't leave the living room to party much less enroll their little girl in the children's bowling leagues during the hot and humid Illinois summers. Instead she had to go swimming in her backyard pool. It was dreadful. How mean of them. She knew for certain that other children were having much more fun in the air conditioned bowling alley, sipping tall cokes purchased from the Hoffman Lanes lounge.  
    The little girl had heard Hoffman Lanes had a cocktail lounge and she felt certain it must be a magical place where she could see how adults acted in real life as they sometimes did on the Perry Mason show. She also heard that there was a pool table. The wonders continued.
    Her parents weren't prudes, but they weren't playing pool at the bowling alley, either. Cool parents only did that. Those bowling parents, and those bowling children, led lives of great adventure thought the little girl. They knew how to live. If nothing else she could have learned to play pool and when she was broke made some money on her skill. Alas, her parents liked to sit at the dining room table and play pinochle for pennies.  Dullsville.   
   Years passed, and the little girl became a teenager and went to Conant High School. She once dared to walk through the bowling alley with another brave non-bowling friend. To her surprise she saw her Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Senters, having a beer. (She's the lady with the blonde hair in the second row on the far left with the cat glasses.) Mrs. Senters who lectured this very same teenage girl about wearing too short of mini skirts, was guzzling beer at, of all places, Hoffman Lanes. The teenager was shocked to know the woman who taught such skills as  flouring a cake pan or hemming a skirt was cavorting at Hoffman lanes with a beer in her hand. This only proved to the girl there was so much she had missed by not going to the bowling alley as a little girl. Bowling at Hoffman Lanes might have opened new worlds for her or at least gave her insight into who liked to drink beer in her village. 
    The teenager became a young woman and moved away from her village when she was 20 year's old. Perhaps in an attempt to make up for lost time, she secured a job as a bartender at Sonesta Lanes, a bowling alley in Colorado.  Sonesta Lanes had a pool table, and cigarette smoke, and even live music played by sext men. She once thought that was sexy when men wore zebra headbands and spandex. Oh sure she worked there a short time and had fun, but it fell short of what she imagined Hoffman Lanes. Besides, she didn't enjoy bowling. She'd rather swim. 


    Forty Years passed and the girl returned home for her high school reunion. She was so busy seeing friends in her former village, she never visited the bowling alley.  She returned to her new village of Phoenix and was angry. She could have gone by herself to Hoffman Lanes, ordered a martini and maybe even shot a game of pool. Perhaps even Mrs. Senters would be there and she would no longer judge her former teacher for being a floozy for hanging out at the bowling alley, and even had a glass of wine with her. Mrs. Senters could order beer, but just one as she probably lived at a retirement home by now crocheting and making cookies and didn't hang out drinking at bowling alleys anymore.

hen she learned that Hoffman Lanes closed. Kaput. Gone. 
    After some thought, the now mature woman realized that you could go home again, but that didn't mean it would be unchanged. Chapters of our lives at times close without warning. As do bowling alleys.

     She heard the news  of the closure and went bowling at the bowling alley near her house in Phoenix. The place was dark, and loud and there was a lounge with cheap drinks and three pool tables. She felt bored and bowling hurt her shoulder. 
    Then she realized Hoffman Lanes will live forever in her imagination as a magical place where wild adventures that she could only dream of happened. Fantasy was way better than the real world. And she forgave her parents for not being bowlers as  she tried shrimp cocktail and liked it just about as much as bowling. Not at all. And she lived happily after after, or at least came to terms with her non bowling childhood.

    Still, if she could get one more chance to go back in time...she might just pick Hoffman Lanes 1968. Just to truly know what she missed.  Until then it will reside forever more in her imagination. 

May 29, 2015

The Perfect Place to Write

      My first thought when  I saw this antique desk in a historic hotel last weekend in Prescott, Arizona was that if I owned this desk I would surely become a successful writer. The stained glass lamp, heavy chair, solid wood, would all conspire to help me write better and smarter and maybe even faster This looks like the desk where the great writers such as Mark Twain or Virginia Wolf would write.The words written at such a desk would change the world. 

     My desk and office lacks the same perfection and brilliance. Mine looks much less serious and important, much like my writing feels at times. My office doesn't look like where I imagine a book would be written that would be remembered through the ages. Or win any groovy monetary prizes, either. 
     Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for my office, but on days when I'm having a particularly difficult time writing, when each word is like pulling out a tooth, I would like to change where I write. Not just my desk, but my entire office. I want to move it to a place where I would be more brilliant and successful.
   Maybe if I wrote in a room like this surrounded by books. This was the library of the retreat center I visited last fall in Oregon. All those books would be inspiring and perhaps through osmosis I would be able to channel all those wise and witty writers into my own work. On the other hand, I might never get any writing done because I would plop myself into that chair and just read, forget about writing entirely.
    Maybe when I looked out the window of my office and saw this rainforest scene I would be inspired. This was the view of the jungle from my hotel room in Costa Rica. Surely I would write lovely stories with this out my window rather than what I have today.
    This is my non inspiring view That mobile does make a pretty sound when the fan hits the bells, but it's not like the gorgeous symphony of sounds the  birds sang in the rainforest. However, the rain forest has a lot of bugs, some big enough to feel snug in my size 10 shoe. As much as I was in awe of the jungle, the desert where I live has way less bugs and that's okay with me.
   Sure there are times I think if I lived in a bright yellow house with pristine white curtains all by myself by the ocean, like this hotel in Costa Rica where we stayed, I would write and write and write and never be tempted to clean out my closet. Eventually, I would have to do laundry and sweep so that is unrealistic, too. Life always interrupts writing, but is up to us to decide how much we will let it intrude. 

  There's no perfect place to write. Wherever I go there I am. It's my butt in the chair, whether the chair is rickety or solid. I could be looking at a brick wall or a volcano. What matters is what happens between my mind and my fingers on the keyboard. As pretty as this shot of a volcano was that I photographed, it wasn't perfect for long. The next day it was pouring rain and foggy. Life is perfectly imperfect. 

   The following saying has nothing to do with writing, but I saw it in Nosara Costa Rica on a wall and had to share.  Wait. Maybe it does have something to do with writing. If I expect good things for my writing and I desire to write...I will write and respect myself. I admire people who write. All of you. Wherever you write. Just write. I will mirror you.