Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Steak and "Seafood"

I just turned thirty-one years old.  It was painless.  But it still hurt.

I wanted the big Three-Oh to be the year I became a mother, or at least the year Ross got where he wanted to be at work.  I'm trying to take the good and the bad together; it's the year when I lost two of my three babies to miscarriage, got laid off work, and got stranded in West Virginia with an exploded radiator (the Neon has since recovered, thank you).  However, it's also the year that my little sis got married and I got to see my mom after almost three years!  It's the year that we adopted our adorable little Loki.  It's also the year an old friend reached out and sent us an unexpected blessing...

My pastor's parents, Fred and Diane, recently returned from a trip out east and couldn't stop talking about Jonah, the current production at Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster, PA.  After entertaining the idea that maybe Ross could use some vacation days and I could take advantage of my unexpected time off, I contacted my old fellow Clarionite Amy Bowers, who runs props for the show.  I asked if she had any suggestions as to where we should stay or shop while we were in her neck of the woods.  To my surpise, she offered us tickets and a backstage pass to see the show!  I literally cried when I read her message.  What a blessing after so many defeats!

Not one to settle for a show without a good meal, Ross spent $65 for a $100 gift card (yes, really) for Fogo de Chao - the Brazilian steahouse chain we first enjoyed on our honeymoon.  There was one located in Philadelphia, about an hour's drive from where we were planning on staying.  Another blessing: Ross's parents, concerned that my newly repaired car might not make the five-hour journey, lent us their Nissan.  We drove in comfort and style.  Alas, the car didn't have our Wyoming bumper sticker to make us even cooler, but that's okay.

Our dinner was wonderful - my favorite meat was the lamb chop, while Ross liked the filet wrapped in (what else?) bacon.  The servers were incredibly attentive and knowledgable, and they surprised me with a complimentary birthday dessert - vanilla bean and papaya sorbet.  Yum!  Apparently, Ross had informed them I was the birthday girl when I was in the restroom.  Enjoying a sweet treat was way better than having suffer through an off-key and half-hearted rendition of "Happy Birthday".

We stayed at a charming bed and breakfast in a tiny town called Bird-In-Hand (remember, we were in Amish country!)  The owners were pleasant and good-natured and their kids were too cute (breakfast was being served as their dad was walking them to the us stop).  We agreed that we would go back...even though I didn't get any sleep.  Apparently there was a mouse in the walls - and he had invited all his mousy friends for a dance party that lasted all night long.

The show itself, which we saw that afternoon, was pretty spectacular.  Although the book and lyrics were a little trite, the performance itself was beautiful, heartfelt, and moving.  The actors were all quite talented and I loved the costumes.  My favorites were the 300-inspired armor of the Ninevites - one of the actors was in what appeared to be six-inch platforms to make him more imposing!  Pastor Mark calls Sight & Sound the "Christian Broadway" and he's right.  The sets were breathtaking and yes - there was a whale, and yes - it was enormous.  The scriptwriters were bold in talking about faith - God is revealed as Jesus as the play ends, and an entreaty is made that unbelievers give Him a try.  There wasn't a lot of complicated dancing in the show, but it was so evident during the chorus numbers that the actors were genuinely worshiping God - not performing.  That gave me chills.

Seeing Amy again was the real treat, though.  I had worked with her in the costume shop in college and remembered two things in particular about her: she was one of the most sensible people I'd ever met, and I loved her perfume (Coco by Chanel).  Facebook being what it is, it was pretty easy to see that, since graduation, Amy had grown closer and closer to the Lord.  She posted pictures of mission trips.  Unlike many of our peers, her status updates were about joy, and excitement about God's plans for her.  Reading them began to give me hope about my future again, too.  Although I hadn't completely abandoned the idea that God had good in store for me, our recent trials had severely tested that belief.  Wondering if we were making any type of positive impact on the youth group...dealing with sorrow and pain over our lost children...unable to comprehend how losing my job fit into the Big Picture...these all weighed heavily on me.  But seeing someone I admired literally blossom with Christ's love restored my hope.   Although we don't keep in contact so much (after all, four hours is quite a drive for coffee and a chat), I am grateful not only for her generosity in providing me with a pretty sweet birthday gift, but that she is faithful in chasing after the Lord.  And it's my prayer that He does reward her with all the desires of her heart, whatever they may be.

Didn't hurt that we got to see her awesomely cute mom, too...even if she did remember what I looked like in Peter Pan!  :-/

The Freefall into Failure

Sorry, NaNoWriMo.

I know I have almost four days left.  But I don't think that even my brilliant wit and clever writing (note: sarcasm) can pummel through 30,000 words in half a week.

I have failed my task.

I was not able to complete a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.  I am disappointed in myself because I was really trying to make things different.  For years now, I've had the bad habit of adopting wonderful ideas, nurturing them for a few days or weeks, then leaving them starving on the side of the road.  I wanted this to be better.  Different.  I wanted to be able to keep my promise: to deliver a finished product (albeit one that needed major editing in the aftermath).

I couldn't.  Not this time.

Granted, I had a lot of setbacks and other obligations this month, some good and some bad: my car died when I was driving to see my mom in Kentucky...we held Thanksgiving at my house and spent Black Friday with my in-laws...I've been writing and directing several short plays and skits for church...my birthday was this month (which meant a wonderful road trip to Lancaster)...

Not that any of those things are excuses.  But they provided an easy way for me to make excuses.  I've learned that practicing self-discipline takes time and committment.  I can scoop a blog post out of my brain in a few minutes, a recipe in several minutes, and a short story in a few hours, but writing a novel is a much bigger project and it does require, for me, far more discipline.  A change of venue helps - sometimes.  More coffee doesn't help.  Two adoring cats who NEED TO BE EXACTLY WHERE I AM  AT ALL TIMES don't help, either. 

The good news is: I learned from my failure, which ultimately means it wasn't a failure at all.  I have a plan for next time!  I will hash out my plot in its entirey before the month begins.  Although I had a good general idea of where I was going, I found myself adding characters and doing a lot of rewriting of the ones that I had thought I'd established.  I also changed several major plot points.  Repeatedly.  Like I didn't trust my own instincts.  Not that novels-in-process are fixed in time and space.  Ideas come and go.  I'm really thrilled about one in particular, though, that struck me like lightning while I was thinking of something entirely different: I have planned that a character who seemed like an innocent pawn will end up as a co-conspirator.  I love what it adds to the story. 

But my second-guessing ended up being part of my downfall.  It was as though I had bought a decent house that needed nothing but a paint job and some redecorating, but I decided to rewire all the electricity, replace the carpet, and update the plumbing, too.  Wasted time and effort.

I will have a flow chart, pie chart, graphs, timelines, whatever I need to keep me more focused during next year's NaNoWriMo (and as I continue to work independently on this book).  I will be more strict with myself about keeping ahead of the game.  The first week, it was easy to do that.  But ideas flowed less freely after that.  The longer I waited to sit and write, the more nerve-wracking it became when I finally did so.  I panicked.  I didn't let the story unfold as it needed to.

It became like forcing myself to like someone for whom I had no feelings, but who needed me.

Ugh.  When I did that in real life, I ended up in unhealthy relationships with guys with criminal records. 

But I digress.

I guess that I'm making progress.  In  a way.  I am not giving up on my novel. I wrote 31 pages. That's more than I've ever written in one shot in my life.   I love my characters!   I love that they've taken me on an adventure these past few weeks, and I don't want to give that up. I love that they've come alive and surprised me with twists and turns I didn't expect.   I need to make time for them.

I guess they wanted more than a month out of me!  I'm willing to give that to them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mission Aborted!

I should be enjoying a nice, hot cup of tea with my mother in Kentucky right now.  Last night, I was going to show her pictures from my wedding, pictures of her grand-cats, and maybe read to her a bit of my novel-in-progress.

Instead, I am in the same fur-covered pajamas I have been wearing for the past three days, my hair unwashed, an empty coffee cup next to me and my (slightly) overweight cat passively trying to shove me out of my chair.

I had planned to visit my mom last week, the same day that Princess Sandy, Destroyer of the East Coast, came to call.  While Pittsburgh wasn't hit hard (we suffered only a leaky window), apparently my route was dumped with about two feet of snow.  Although I was dead-set on going, that news, paired with my Neon's lack of anti-lock brakes and my family's persistent pleas not to risk it, convinced me to stay home.

I don't know what put it in my head, but I decided that I'd try again this week, after I voted on Tuesday.  Something in me felt that I wasn't quite ready, but I convinced myself that if it was a good time for my mom (it was), it had to be a good time for me.  It was important that I see her.  I packed a bag for an overnight stay, filled me favorite mug with coffee, drove with Ross to cast our ballots, and ended up behind my dad on the road.  He had just dropped my step-mom off at work.  We pulled over, had a quick chat, then decided Ross shouldn't need to take the bus that day.  I dropped him off at work then popped the coordinated in the GPS and headed out of the city.

There was a certain thrill to the prospect of taking a road trip on my own.  The independence, the time to think, to laugh, to sing Mister Mister at the top of my lungs...I was excited.  Ross had (lovingly) forced me to have the oil changed before I visited my sister, and, since the tech is a friend of the family, we knew he did a quick once-over to make sure the car was doing well.  I was confident.

I had been driving for about an hour and a half when my delicious morning coffee began to rear its diuretic head.  I had just crossed the border into West Virginia, and I stopped at a Sheetz to fill up the car and empty my bladder.  I pulled back onto the road.  Up ahead was a traffic light and the turn-off to I-79.  I slowed to a stop at the red light.  I noticed in my rear-view mirror that there had been a minor accident several cars behind me.  The light turned green.

My car wouldn't move.

I quickly threw on my four-ways and put the car into neutral.  A few times before, on the  coldest days of winter, the car sometimes needed some gentle urging to shift into drive.  This time, however, when I  foot off the brake, the car began to slide backwards.  Frantic, I called my father (the former trucker) and screamed that I was in the middle of a highway and my car had died.  He gathered all his strength to keep me calm, and said that I needed to get out of the car right away.  Fortunately, there was a strip of pavement between the lanes, and I carefully fled there.  My car had died between two lanes, so at least people could drive around both sides, as long as they were careful.  One particularly persistant old woman waited for quite some time behind my car, apparently not realizing that the car was unoccupied.  I finally had to wave her past. 

Things happened quickly, I am happy to report, and in my favor.  The police had already been en route to the site of the accident behind me, so they arrived in minutes.  Two officers pushed my car to the side and made sure I had someone to call for help before they returned to get the statements of the drivers in the fender bender.  After going back and forth between my dad, my husband (who was on the phone with a student at the time) and AAA, a tow truck arrived.

The gentleman who stepped out was everything you would expect: tall, lanky, tattooed, his lip bulging with a plug of tobacco.  He lit his cigarette as he peered under my car.  "Tube's bin cut.  Looks like ye ran sumthin' over, er ye hit sumthin."  He gestured for me to see what he meant. 

I could have quoted Shakespeare and he would have looked at me with the same expresssion I gave him.  "Oh," I said. 

"Dun think yer transmissin's bad, tho."

I understood that!  That was a good thing!  Transmissions are expensive!  Yes, good!

I was transferred to another, equally tattooed gentleman, who drove me to our family's mechanic, in Bridgeville.  I must have been doing something wrong when I drove out, because it took me about seventy minutes.

We made it back in about forty.

I laughed a lot to myself the way, when I wasn't peeing my pants and frantically clutching at the "oh crap" bar in the bed of the truck.  And in my head I was writing this blog.  On the upside, the driver (who actually was a very nice gentleman, despite my less-than-flattering description), thought I was still in school.  Thanks for the perpetually-young genes, Mom!

Seriously, life?  What the heck is wrong with you?  In September, I lost my third baby.  In October, I lost my job.  Now this?  Screw you, life.  I am done being pooped on.  No more poop, life.  Only good things.  My birthday, for one.  It's next week.  Don't mess with it, okay?  Let me turn thirty-one in peace.  Or I swear, I will kick your butt.  If that isn't possible, since you're really kind of a personification anyway, then I will invent words for what I am going to do you you.

I have a degree in English; I'm allowed to do that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Writer's Pause

I slept in too late today.  The coffee isn't good.  I accidentally oversweetened it.  My church kids have Dean Martin's "Mambo Italiano" replaying through my head all hours of the day.  We served spaghetti to 90 people at our fundraiser yesterday.

I guess I've already hit that "pause".  I won't say "block" because that's just not true.  I still have dozens of ideas swerving around Dean Martin's catchy chorus in my head, and if they keep at this pace, they may just force him over a cliff somewhere up ahead and take the lead.

I am surprised that, even without a full-time job, it's difficult to make time to write 1,667 words per day (that's what the leaders of NaNoWriMo recommend to keep you on track for your 50,000 word goal).  I mean, the writing itself comes fast when you've got an idea in mind, but...otherwise...

I'm doing something I've never done before in regards to my writing.  I am writing from the beginning to the end, period.  They say that you can - even that you should - write your climax scenes first, or your character-building scenes, but that has never worked for me.  All that happens is I end up with these gorgeous, juicy, characterization-filled pages that go nowhere.  I mean it.  I have loads of unfinished work that is just clever exchange between characters.  Witty, informative, plot-driven, but...well...stunted.  This time, I am not allowing myself to "jump ahead" and work the "fun" stuff.  I am plodding along like a fat old unwieldy dinosaur, determined to get where I'm going and not skip steps along the way. 

Okay, the dinosaur image was a little strange, but that's what I am picturing.  A wobbly, ancient stegosaurus, great gnarled head down, whuffling along the dusty ground, single-mindedly putting one humongous foot in front of the other in the simple effort of walking forward.

I'm a dinosaur!  I'm a novel-writing dinosaur!  A curious and adorable, determined, novel-writing dinosaur!  Like this:

Yes.  Exactly.  Now what was I talking about?

And the Winner Is...

Earlier this week, I made it known via social media that I was participating in this year's NaNoWriMo...which means that I'm making it my goal to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of November.

'Cause what else does an unemployed, slightly loopy and extremely creative hausfrau have to do in the fall?

In order to help gather my thoughts and create an outline (which, according to the rules, is completely acceptable as long as I am not using previously-written prose), I asked my facebook friends to help me choose between two (in my humble opinon) pretty neat ideas.  The first is very contemporary: a superhero-style adventure that takes place, of course, in Pittsburgh.  The second is a little more epic in scope: a tale of a young woman who has to defy her king and the laws of the land in order to protect it.  It's a Christian allegory.

Both ideas are precious to me.  The first is fairly recent; it includes a plus-sized female role model and explores healthy relationships as much as it deals with super-powers and heroics.  The second idea is born of characters that I created (but never did anything with) in college.  Dear God, that was a long, long time ago.  These folks have been haunting me for a decade, at least.  Time to get the ghosts on paper, I guess.

Which is, ultimately, why I chose the second option.  Seriously, people, it was like Sophie's choice!  Yes, most of my friends chose it, too...but don't get me wrong.  The other idea has grown very quickly on me, and I hope to finish that story within the year as well.

But even before I had seen all the "votes", my head had turned towards the allegorical story.  I found myself, over the past few days, I was beginning to research names and other ideas.  Looks like my head knew before my heart did.

Below is part of my "wall of inspiration"...character prototypes that have been collecting dust in my portfolio for years.  I brushed them off, touched them up, and hung them.  Really helps.  Top one is Berengyr, a herald.  Bottom is my main character, Arnavet.  She is a court musican.

Thanks for your help!