Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Library Purge


According to one reckoning the total number of lovers had by the Greek god, Zeus.

It also happens to be the number of library books that I brought back to the University this afternoon. I returned all the books that were not pertinent to the classes that I currently teach or to my dissertation project. Books accumulate in my presence, increasing like amorous leporids. I had books borrowed on account of old papers and old exams. Books written by speakers who visited the University several years ago, and who gave memorable talks. Books taken at a whim, for the pleasure of my reading them. Books, books, books. They filled a whole case in our living room, had grown like literary mushrooms upon the office floor, and were threatening to overtake my closet. Over the weekend, Fox and I decided that it was time to return these wayward volumes to their proper shelves. Library books, it could be argued, belong in a library, and I had kept far too many on my private shelves for far too long. Returning the books was not easy to do, as there were several that I'd barely cracked open. For some reason I had great cognitive difficulty with the idea of the library. My shelf or the University's the books would be there. When at last, and with much coaching from Fox, I broke the barriers, it was a simple matter to pile the texts into bags, drive the bags to the University, and deposit them in the large book receptacle. I did make a list of all the books that I returned, so that should I need reading material in the future, I'll know where to turn.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Traveling With Thorn and Kit

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My imaginings were terribly dismal. I envisioned hours trapped in a moving automobile with a screaming infant and a temperamental toddler. The four-hour drive to New York would last an eternity. I would live and die innumerable times before the New Jersey Turnpike released me.

It was not like that. Not at all. Well, there was a little screaming. But not as much as I feared. We made our first 'long' trip safely and securely, and it only took five hours.

My mother's birthday was Saturday, and as a gift, Fox and I decided to take the boys to New York for the festivities. Mom, Dad, and my grandmother had yet to meet little Kit face-to-face, owing to crazy schedules and my father's continued poor health. This was a wonderful opportunity, and so we took it. Fox and I had a bit of trepidation. We had mastered traveling with Thorn, or, rather, he had mastered traveling on his own, and we were the beneficiaries of his skills. Kit, on the other hand, is still in the stage where life revolves around naps and nipples. He is also not fond of the car seat, preferring warm arms and plenty of snuggling. Still, we wanted to do this, and determined we packed the car on Saturday morning and began the trip.

Kit did better than I could have imagined, and Thorn was perfect. He did not fuss. He did not complain or whine. He occupied himself with cars and trucks, and when automobiles lost their allure, he chatted with Fox and me. His conversational skill has improved dramatically. When he speaks of the cars he sees, or reads the letters on road signs, I am awestruck that less than a year ago his only words of note were 'dog' and 'dada'. So many words are spoken now, from simple things like 'book' to strange words like 'Narwhal'. And he gains more each day.

We had an excellent time in New York. Thorn enjoyed the cake that was made especially for him, and my mother seemed to have a marvelous birthday. Kit was adorable, and barely fussed at all. He traveled from one pair of loving hands to another, and was content in all. We left yesterday, and while the journey home was rougher than the journey to New York, I still have very little to complain about.

These boys were meant to travel. Next trip? Cincinnati.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Running Word Bowels

Most writers write a hell of a lot of crap before (and during, and after) they write something good. Regarding that crap: when I'm blocked, I often turn to my favorite exercise book, Brian Kiteley's The 3am Epiphany, and choose a page at random. Sometimes I work hard to make the exercise a creditable work, and sometimes I just write to get the thoughts flowing again. It works. Like Liquid Drano, it works. The words flow again. But there's still one issue to be conquered--probably the most pernicious. Perfectionism. I told myself I'd never post stuff here unless it was perfect. Well screw that. Here's my writing at its most unedited, slushiest form. About something trite and motivational. The exercise asked me to write 500 words using only imperatives. This is all I could come up with. A rushed loosening of the word bowels in my head.


Write. Take up the pencil and pad, or pen and parchment, or keyboard and screen, or lipstick and napkin. Make marks. Make a scribble, make a scrawl, make a right-slanted ladder with your southpaw. Don’t bother with calligraphy—that’s stalling. Turn the marks into your letters. Turn the letters into your words. Be an alchemist. See the paragraphs? Or avoid the paragraphs, but don’t avoid the kōan of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling. Don’t expect tomatoes without a trellis. And your tomatoes—your perky little red characters, scurrying around on your page, or your screen, or your napkin—make them your people, but also everyone’s people. Don’t leave your people eating the same soup and the same bread. Don’t give them the same trees, or the same bends in their moonlit paths. Don’t expect their adjectives to line up like ducks, waddling into padded cells. Forgive their individual preferences, and catalogue them. Make them suffer, make them die. Give them redemption. Suffer the purgatory of authorship. Cover the page: a blank place is an abomination, the writer’s hell. Follow Dante to your muse, but don’t expect bliss—this isn’t your Beatrice. Expect criticism. Better yet, welcome criticism. Encourage criticism. Practice ways of agreeing with criticism. Become the yogi of the critical. Get zen with your critics. Practice seeing the points of view from real people, and your imaginary people will become real.
Drop what you’re doing, but not the baby. Bounce the baby, if you must. Use its screams to enhance your frustration. Rock the frustration into the page. Lead your sentences with milk-sops. Give your wailing writing block an unwashed pacifier. Suckle your sweetest lines from the breast, before editors come with their five colors, their rice gruel, their cheap soy. Become sleepless, but don’t let your passage cry it out. Cradle your words: you can never give them enough attention. But don’t let the little mites walk over you—they’ll learn to do that, once they start walking. Behold your characters speaking on their own, doing their own blathering things, ruining your careful plots like self-important kittens in your yarn stash. Learn to twine red and green and find the compliment in it. Knit your characters socks for their oranges, their coal. Just don’t forget to fill them: an unfinished chapter is an empty Christmas indeed.
Watch how the lines begin to stretch thin, your hands and mind faltering. Continue shoveling fresh words onto your mound of slush, for surely an editor will leave you a few sentences, or a few words, untouched. Do not blame the editor, even though the public’s disdain of your writing is more her fault than yours. Go ahead and write what you feel, the blank page long forgotten—you’ve jumped from the ledge, and only a coward would waste time looking up or down or doing anything but experiencing the flight. Land eventually, and land on your feet. Let your editor decide if what you wrote will merit a trip to the hospital.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Work Stations

Kit has...paused. He needs some serious sleep, owing to the fact that he hasn't slept since he woke up this morning at 6:50am. Oh sure, maybe he has closed his eyes for a few minutes. That's it. He demanded constant motion on the partof mommy. I hope he sleeps for three hours. And Thorn, for that matter. I need the break.

A long morning. An impossible morning, in fact, if it hadn't been for two things: Sparrow's adoring notes in the office and dining room, and work stations.

I've come to the conclusion that work stations are essential for any stay-at-home parent. Like we keep toys in every room so as to amuse the boys, I keep some small bit of work in every room so as to make good use of time and limited energy. There are books in the bathroom, by the lamp in the living room, at my desk, and behind my pillow on the bed. My Christmas sock knitting project is on the coffee table. An ancient Greek textbook is currently at my desk, but it is usually at the dining room table by the omnipresent cup of tea. There are portable Greek flashcards to carry around with me. There's a handwritten journal near my daylight lamp. My story idea book follows me, but usually ends up in the office. And of course, the newly-minted sketchbook for character and map ideas. If I had all of these things at my desk, I'd never get any of them done. As it is, I can squeeze in an artistic-intellectual life around my toddler and baby. And that is the first step toward sanity, my friends.

Now to go and meditate until I feel normal again. And then to work on a problematic third chapter. I've playful thoughts in my mind that haven't had a chance to find paper. With mommy brain, it's quite possible they'll fly away before I capture them.

...or Kit could wake up. Arrrgh.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thorn's Story

Thorn told his first story this week. He has steadily increased his vocabulary since the middle of the summer, and his skills of articulation have developed rapidly in the last few weeks. On Monday, Labor Day, we spent one more day in the loving company of E and Pha (as Thorn calls them - E is my brother by other parents, and Pha his amazing wife). We decided to go to White Marsh, where Red Brick Station is still one of my favorite eateries. Dinner was good, despite the presence of plastic bag in my salad. The nachos were good, and the cranberry loaf was adequate, if a tad too sweet. Kit slept through our meal, and Thorn played happily in his high chair. After dinner we decided to walk over to the local Barnes & Noble, where tea and coffee could be had, and we could wait for E and Pha's bus back to New Jersey. The weather gods had other plans. While it had been raining a bit all day, as we left the restaurant, the water was coming down in sheets. We determined that we could duck beneath awnings for much of the walk. All was well, until we were just before the Barnes & Noble. There, in the street, Fox took a wrong step and fell to her knees in a flood of water. Little Kit was bound to her chest by our brown wrap. Blessedly both Fox and Kit were mostly unharmed -- Fox did sprain her ankle, though not terribly, and she has recovered quite a bit since Monday. The event must have been remarkable enough to Thorn, because he etched in his memory. This Wednesday, while I was teaching at UMBC, Thorn told Fox the story of her fall on Monday.

"Mommy go boom. Kit go boom. E help mommy up. Pha hold Ta." When asked what Daddy did, Thorn answered "Daddy working." Which, while not accurate, was cute.

And so our Thorn's bardic training has begun. He can begin his memoirs with this tale. His first story.