Sunday, December 30, 2012


One more day left in the Year of Being Brave.  Yesterday, I got out of bed and looked out the window and was shocked into full consciousness by the sight of a little red-breasted bird sitting on one of the crystalline branches right in front of me.  That little streak of red on an otherwise white, glittering world reminded me that so much of winter in Wyoming lies in brushstrokes: the planar snow, the dusky shadows of the trees, the days that lack dimension as layer of layer of snow fold down vs. the days that  are etched in true bluebird blue.  Those days dawn with an almost shocking clarity.  When I lived in Seattle, those skies -- so full of pigment -- were one of the main things I missed about home.  The dense, mysterious snowstorms have their own beauty, however, not least being the anticipation of skiing fresh powder...

It's time to set a goal for next year, but I'm not sure what it will be yet.  Last year, it came to me on a wan, sunny morning as I sat on a bench on Orcas Island, facing the water.  That's when The Year of Being Brave declared itself as the goal and the mission for 2012.  Like anything, the grandiose title was truly a product of incremental changes and decisions, as well as setbacks, because, well, that's life, isn't it?  This year has tested me in ways that I couldn't have imagined: some of it has led me to immense happiness and pride, and some to sadness and discouragement.  One of the oddest things that occurred was that life began to imitate art, the very art I'd set out to create.  It's a bit eerie.  Someday I'd love to share that story, but first things first: the book.

I tabulated today, and the first draft is very close to done.  Of course, after that there will be days and weeks and months (??!?) of polishing and reconfiguring and quilting together the two narratives.  But the actual writing part is definitely on the wane.  At this point, I am happy to report that I am as comfortable in the skin of my second character as I was with my first.  If anything, she has become my virtual stand-in -- the more neutral, dispassionate voice.  I wrote a love scene for her today and felt almost suspicious of myself.  Was I subconsciously writing it for myself?  Hard to say.  I have learned through this process that spending so much time with one work is often glorious rather than limiting.  So much expansion is possible, so many tangents (even if I need to edit them out later).  Overall, the process is more freeing than expected.  So, yay!  Onwards...

Friends, so many of you have accomplished amazing feats this year.  What are your goals and purposes for the coming year?  I'd love to hear.  In the meantime, I'll wait for that stroke of clarity that will hopefully arrive on the morning of January 1.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Ugly Truth About Writing, and Thank You

I am currently backing up my hard drive.  You mean, you've had a novel on your laptop, 6 years' worth of writing, photographs, music...and your laptop is from 2006 and incredibly slow...and you've never once backed it up?  Nope.  Haven't.  Stop looking at me weird.  Although, the novel has been living in Dropbox since the spring, and I have used one of those online back-up thingamabobs.  I remain a technology neophyte in many ways.

A task such as backing up one's laptop always leads to the most delightful writerly navel-gazing.  In succession, I opened languishing Word documents entitled "Dream Transcripts," "The Savage Dentist," and "Even the sound of cars driving by is hurtful after the end of a relationship."  Raw. Ouch.  Like the true hoarder I am, I suddenly felt pained to even transfer these long-forgotten and yet obviously beloved documents to the external hard drive in order to delete them from the laptop and thus free up much-needed memory.  I suppose, at heart, every hoarder feels a sense of psychological ease in knowing that something will stay and live where it has always lived, instead of the "banishment" of storage, deletion, or (unspeakable!) actually throwing it away.  This exact drama had a preview as I felt pangs thinking of storing even one box of books or papers in my parents' garage, despite the fact that I haven't yet scratched the surface of unpacking them.  I had bought that used copy of W.H. Auden's Selected Poems, and now, in the dead of winter, on CHRISTMAS DAY, a rat was probably going to chew through its center, and then I would have never really read Auden, and his Modernist words would be masticated and forever lost to me.  This line of thinking would occur with each book.

Another thing I save with a hoarders' obsession are the drafts of stories that I wrote in grad school and submitted to workshops.  I save every single copy that was annotated by professors and fellow students: many covered with loopy script, and even personal, page-long comments sheets addressed as letters.  Same thing goes for the comments my writers' group of 3 years in Seattle was kind enough to bestow upon me.  The last time I really looked at some of these comments--some dating from the very first quarter of grad school--it struck me that in that period of my life, I received the most validation and well-wishing and good old-fashioned understanding of my writing than at any other time before or since.  I am aware of the flurry of critiques that surround MFA programs, and I have found myself on both sides of the debate.  Still, it is a special time: when you are a serious person in a serious city, writing late into the night, printing out multiple copies, receiving engaged attention, even when it is salted liberally with criticism.  For me, it was a time that made sense.  Not in every way.  But in one important way.  Each day, I do the thing I am best at doing.  Each day, others witness it.  Others care.  I cared about them, too.  Some of the writers I worked with at the University of Washington became my dearest friends (holla!) and through its hive of networking, I connected with the three fabulously talented women who traded work informally with me for several years.  Some of my colleagues wrote indelible stories and poems that I still think about, even if it has been years since I've seen them.

When I speak of the "ugly truth," what I mean is that, as any writer knows, the image of Hemingway and Fitzgerald drinking gin fizzes at a cafe table in Paris while also casually writing masterpieces on their napkins and/or moleskin journals is simply not a real thing that occurs.  Take me, for example--maybe not writing a masterpiece, but plugging away nevertheless.  Mostly, I am unglamorously dressed.  (The nice thing about living in a cold place is that you can wear a hat all the time).  I write on a Saturday night.  My dog seems confused by what I am doing.  I dream about my characters more than real people I know.  I set aside a day of unfettered writing and end up reading a book about the history of marriage until noon.  I queue up the novel and then hear the opening score to Downtown Abbey downstairs and spring from my bed in a second.  Truly Pavlovian.  I write.  And also, I don't write.  Or I write content for jobs, which are not novel-related.  The secret shame about working on a big project is that you've said "Goodbye!  I am off to make my fortune!" and you have been waved off and embraced and supported. And every day is a litmus test as to your commitment to the goal.  Some are banner days, and some are struggles--especially that old, beastly struggle of the will.

So, this is where I get to the "thank you" part.  Sometimes, I barely recognize myself.  Like an adolescent in limbo, I no longer live on my own (aka with the best roommate in the history of the world, ever); I no longer go out much; I no longer dress up (although I wear waaayyyy more hats); my evening calendar is often bare; I watch more television than I have in almost 10 years (unfortunate confession, but the fact that a show called "Duck Dynasty" exists has sadly not escaped my notice); I read about the same amount, but with a sense of guilt that I really ought to be writing my own words; I no longer report to the same office at the same time every day (give or take an hour); I no longer see the majority of the people that have provided my everything-or-close-to-it for the past seven years.  It's hard to know, without enough perspective, if all of these changes are bad or good, although certainly none of them have to be permanent.  I am not unhappy.  Sometimes, I feel happier than ever.  But, still.  Often I am confused and discouraged and demoralized, traded off equally with being ecstatic and purposeful and hopeful. I suppose there is no way to know what this time has meant until it is over, and the novel is done.  And even then, so much is uncertain.

So, thank you, friends from near and far.  And family, too (of course).  Every time you ask me how my novel is going, or we talk novel-shop, you comment on my blog, or you tell me that what I am doing is inspiring to you, it adds one more drop to the bucket of this is a time that makes sense.  Every time we talk in general, whatever it's about, my heart is gladdened and lightened.  The work is made real.  It seems less like the undertaking of an underemployed 29-year-old woman in her pajamas, and more like a valid project, and a dream that is worthwhile to pursue.  Obviously I wouldn't have come to Jackson if I didn't already believe that, but as obstacles rear themselves along the way, it is still heartening to remember.  I am so fortunate to have this time, to have the support to make it happen, and to have all of you.  Thank you.  Even though I am thousands of miles away, I could not do this without you.

P.S.  Miss you.  Love living vicariously through all of your news and adventures!