Welcome Back, Part Two: Cracks in the Wall

The strange thing about advice is how oddly it sometimes bears fruit. In other words: things never happen the way you think they should. Take my mom’s advice for example.

I set aside the novel (which was really a reframing of an old story idea, sort of a story within a story). There may or may not have been weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for years of work that would never see the light of day. The framing story had started in 2016…but the original story had begun in 2011.

I bought several eco-friendly notebooks. I bought pens. I started writing the new idea. I decided to start in a place I’d never started before: the beginning. I don’t mean page one, mind; I mean an outline. I wrote the outline…yes, I have an outline. (It’s complete, it’s beautiful and it’s laminated. Do you want to see it? It’s real!) Then, I started at page one. Starting things has always been easy for me…it’s finishing them I suck at. I wrote page one. Then I stared at page one. Then I took page one to Mom to see if she could spot the trouble. It took several minutes of de-tangling before we solved the problem of page one…and that wasn’t because of the simplicity of my mistake. No, it certainly wasn’t that.

I’d written in first person, mostly because I’d never written fiction in first person and I thought it’d be a nice break. The character was quite firm that this story wasn’t to be told in first person present tense. I agreed because my CNA Edge writing had all been first person present tense and past tense would be a nice distinction. But page one was about a woman who was reflecting back on her life. Double-past tense. Double reflection. In trying to figure out how to do that, I’d managed to insert every single verb form into the same paragraph…and a few more verb forms yet to be invented.

When we de-tangled all the verb forms, Mom and I had a good long laugh. It was either that, or burst into more weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I was rusty. I was really rusty. Out of practice, out of habit. I crumpled up the page and threw it away. (I wish now that I’d kept it and laminated it as well.)

The wall was still there. Oh, there were several large cracks in the wall, but it was still there, still looming between myself and my stories.

The next week was a Peter week. (At the nursing home, I have a two-week rotating schedule: week one I work four 12 hour shifts, week two I work two 12 hour shifts.  In addition, I work two days a week at the coffee shop. So one week I’ll just have one day off both jobs, the next I’ll have two days off both jobs. I call it my “robbing Peter to pay Paul” schedule.) Work left me little time to solve the problem of my own writing rustiness…although I had plenty of time to mull things over. I kept running into the same two thoughts.

One was how a visual artist would perceive the world, as opposed to a written word-artist. A couple months back, my best friend had suggested for our monthly adventure that we go painting and the experience stuck with me. The protagonist of the original story in the novel was an artist, but it wasn’t until that painting class that I realized how little I’d understood of how she perceived the world. Since that painting class, I’d begun to see where I’d gone wrong in that story. The second thought was the problem of the double past tense. I knew how other writers had done it…but how could I do it?

The two problems merged and morphed while, of all things, I had a resident up in the hoyer lift. I consider it a great testament to my professionalism and caregiver abilities that I finished taking care of her before I ripped my little notebook out of my pocket. Five minutes later I had the rough draft of two chapters. I also had the intense curiosity of a mystified old woman.

It was the original story, the first novel I’d set out to write. I hadn’t heard that character’s voice in five years. She’d changed, just as I had changed, but in the whole we both approved of the other. Character and writer were both well-content to interact with each other once again. The wall had collapsed, and now I could see each crack was a story waiting for me to learn how to tell it. Behind the wall was not one story, but five. The original novel, the frame set all by itself, the new story idea and its sequel, and the story of the wall itself.

I’ve writing steadily since then. The pace isn’t quick, but it’s balanced: not so fast I burn myself out, not so slowly the story burns out.

Welcome back, Part One: Well, This Is Awkward

15 months.

That’s how long I’ve gone since writing in this blog. To be honest, that’s how long I’ve gone without prioritizing my writing.

How did that happen? Why am I back? Well, it’s awkward, it’s painful, it’s messy. In other words: it’s human. (And no, I didn’t have a baby.) Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

I took what I intended to be a short break from bloging and writing because everything was coming out political. I wasn’t ashamed of my views, but the current political situation wasn’t what I wanted this to be about. So I took a break. It was an easy choice, because things had gotten pretty hectic in my work life. I’d decided that it was time to buckle down and get to work on some major bills. That meant pulling 50-60 hour work weeks every week.

Then, last June I had to leave my job unexpectedly, and I was unemployed for six weeks while a situation resolved itself. I’m not going to get into that situation here, but suffice it to say it was a fairly emotionally traumatic six weeks. Then, in mid July of 2017, I got another nursing home job. This time, I deliberately chose a nursing home that offered 3 days/12 hour shifts. I still loved nursing, but I needed not to be surrounded by it five days a week…not when those days were often double shifts.

Then, to both recover from the six weeks of unemployment and make progress on those bills, I picked up a second job at a coffee shop. Experience, they say, is what you get when you don’t get what you want. That certainly held true for me. My financial situation still requires me to work 50-60 hours a week, but I will never again put all those hours in one job. 36 hours at a nursing home and 15-20 at a coffee shop is MUCH less draining than 60 hours all at a nursing home. Plus, you meet different people at a coffee shop. It’s like mandatory socializing. After 7 years of strict health care only, being a barista was like being paid to have fun. (Even after a year, it still feels like being paid to have fun. It’s an odd feeling, to make mistakes at work that don’t harm or at least negatively impact another person.)

Except learning two new jobs and recovering from an emotional trauma takes a lot of energy. Stories…and words in general…came sporadically. The novel that I was so proud of in January 2017 became a source of constant frustration. Something wasn’t right in the story and something wasn’t right in me. It got to the point where opening up the writing apps would fill me with a deep disgust. I thought for several months that the stories would never come again. I thought that 2017 with all its assorted anguish, both political and personal, had broken the words inside me. That lasted until mid summer of 2018.

If 2017 had built a wall in my psyche, 2018 has been a series of small events chipping away at that wall. In June I started trying to write again. I tried working away at editing the novel. I wrote more on a fun story that’s been kicking around for years in my head. I tried writing a new story idea. Progress was slow and painful. I was out of practice, and out of patience with myself. Writing wasn’t bringing me joy, like I remembered it doing before. I wanted to write, and I didn’t want to write. I couldn’t quit either job to focus on writing, like some online writing blogs talked about…because I’m an adult with adult responsibilities, and that just wasn’t (and still isn’t) feasible.

That’s when I woke my mom up in the middle of the night with my writing woes, and asked her advice.

“Put the novel aside for good. Put the computer away. Write this new story on paper. Don’t write with an aim to get published; write to see if you still love it.”

Painful advice, but I took it.

 

Beauty and the Bully?

Wow, it’s been a while! It’s been a busy few months since I last wrote here and while I am meaning to do a catch-up post, this is not that post. Sorry?

Ever since I saw Emma Watson’s speech to at the UN launching He For She, I’ve been a fan of hers. She seems eloquent and invested in social justice causes…particularly those relating to gender equality. I was a bit surprised when it was announced that Watson would be playing Belle in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. She is so careful about the roles she chooses, I couldn’t help but wonder “Why this one?”

While I certainly enjoyed the original Disney movie, it did not stay a favorite as I grew up. However, I decided I would see the live-action movie because Watson was in it. When I heard that La Fou had been reimagined as gay, I was more than a bit leery. Many people I know were displeased because he was gay at all…I was worried that he would be a negative stereotype and not represented as a three-dimensional character. As movie critics and I often have wildly different impressions of a film, I decided to avoid spoilers and speculation and make my own judgement after watching.

I’m glad I did. While the original film is, as I’ve said, not a favorite of mine, I adore the new version. It fleshes out the characters, fills in the plot holes and is just a lovely movie that I felt promotes empathy and compassion. And, to my great satisfaction, La Fou is presented as a whole character, with a satisfying arc and (I felt) a positive, if understated, representation.

My opinion was hardly universal. I like to read a wide spectrum of thoughts on any given issue, to make sure that I don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias. In this case, I delayed my opinion sampling for a couple months, because I knew some were likely to be…fiery. After the digital download became available, I started my research.

“Fiery” is certainly a good way to describe the following blogger’s feelings regarding the movie and La Fou’s character.

Beauty and the Beast: A Review

Obviously, I disagree with them on many levels. Aside from simple disagreement, however, I thought their tone left much to be desired in the way of common courtesy. I left a comment detailing a few of my disagreements.

Three weeks later, my comment is still pending  moderation and, as they’ve posted since then, I must assume they have no intention of letting my thoughts see the light of day. So…here it is, on my own blog.

Anti-bullying movie becomes the bully by presenting LGBT characters as 3-dimensional people? No.
“Bullying” is treating someone as less than human. Bullying is forcing them to hide for fear of being killed, tortured or shunned. Sorry, but these arguments sound just a bit too similar to ones that racists used. “Let’s not show the Arab as likable, because then our children won’t know to fear terrorists.” Yeah, no.
You say that children are going to come across a gay person eventually: very true. And that gay person is going to be first and foremost a PERSON, often a decent, compassionate human being.
Like the lesbian who brought me food after a tornado and stayed five hours to help clean out debris.
Like the gay man who paid for my groceries when my card was denied.
No matter what you believe about the spectrum of human sexuality, let’s not constrict any person to a single role just to make our lives easier.

As the sister of an autistic man, let’s just say I am leery of putting artificial binders on people and absolutely no patience for slanted portrayals that leave people with a false perspective. If you always show gay charactersas vile people, that is what you will expect to see in real life. If autistic people are always shown as weirdos, your  children will be more likely to discrimate against them.

And this is something I will never be okay with.

 

 

Jewelry Box Grief

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about death and grief, it’s that it lingers. Death has a way of haunting life, and not always in a bad way or even an extremely painful way. Grief can both wound and heal.

Take today, or instance. I’ve been wearing the same earrings for a couple weeks (simple sapphire studs) and I decided I wanted a change. I also felt like a necklace. That’s the way I am with jewelry…I wear what I feel. Most days it’s simple, practical and not likely to be ripped off me by an agitated resident. Other days it’s more eclectic: dangling earrings paired with a necklace that doesn’t quite match. Rings…only when I really feel like it. Or, more recently, when I’m really missing my Grandma.

That’s another thing about me and jewelry: it’s always been a connection with my Grandma. It’s from her that I get my love of jewelry, sweet wines and going to see movies. So now that she’s gone and I inherited a fair portion of her jewelry collection…every time I open that box, it’s like a blast of pure Grandma. Yeah, it still hurts and yeah, I still might sniffle a bit going through that jewelry box, but it’s also a healing kind of grief. It’s a vibrant kind of life, that can keep people chuckling at a fiery temper more than a year after her death. It’s a good woman whose memory can still provide comfort; and whose fantastic taste in jewelry still good…even when I pair up the pieces in ways she never would’ve thought of.

Salaam

Salaam, my friends.
This word means peace, or peace be unto you and yes, it’s a traditional Muslim greeting. No, I’m not Muslim, either by culture or religion. I’m an American Christian and I have never been more ashamed.
Salaam, my friends. Peace. You and I have it, right now in this country. Sure, we are a nation divided. Some of us are feeling triumphant, pleased with the way our society is going; some of are learning to live with the constant feeling of dread. Still others are scratching their heads in confusion, unsure about what the hell is going on and wishing life would go back to the way it was before. But we still have peace, fragile and thorny though it may be.

Salaam. Peace be unto you. It’s a greeting not unlike the one found at the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Salaam. Peace be unto you. Well, peace be unto you unless you’re a Muslim from anyone of the countries that our president has banned from our shores.
For them, for the refugees from war-torn areas and victims of horrors such as we cannot imagine here in the US…for them, no peace. No salaam. “But they might be terrorists!” I hear people say. I don’t know whether a small fragment of them might be or not. I don’t know how many might become terrorists now, out of anger and desperation. But I do know what they are, right now: people. People with kids and dreams, failings and gifts. People with nothing left and no place to go. Children who are huddled in airports, denied entry to a country that still dares to call itself foremost of the free world.

I can’t believe this is happening. I remember life in Turkey—I remember living among Muslims. I’ve loved Muslims. I have trusted my life to Muslims. And how many ordinary families like my friends are now sitting in airports right now, their dreams of life lying like shattered glass at their feet? How many will die, because the United States of America closed its border to them?
Maybe this seems like a political post on social media, just one of a million liberal snowflakes complaining about a policy she doesn’t like. But its not political. This is personal, like it is personal to every desperate person who now has nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.
So Salaam, my Muslim neighbors on this fragile planet. Peace be unto you. It’s poor comfort, but please know that there are Americans who are lying awake right now, hurting for the wrong their country has done to you. With all my heart and all my prayers, Salaam. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. This Christian’s prayer tonight is simple. May God bless you and bless those who are good to you. May God protect and keep you. For you my heart is broken.
I cannot believe our Vice President got up in front of a crowd yesterday and said that he valued the most vulnerable lives and then countenance this travesty of our beliefs? Forgive us.

Deadlines

So, it’s been a little while since I’ve blogged. There’s actually a really good reason for that.

Back at the end of October when I started my latest attempt to finish my novel, I set a deadline for the first draft and a word limit: 80,000 words by February 1st. I figured that gave me just a little over three months to finish. Since I have a job that is emotionally exhausting and often requires quite a lot of overtime, I thought this was a pretty reasonable goal. Usually, I set overly-optimistic goals and then scold myself for not exceeding them. For me, guilt is not a effective motivator. Better to allow for slow progress and avoid feelings of guilt altogether.

I did really well until Election Day…then I had to take a week off from the story to process my startlingly strong emotions. I limped through the rest of November, gamely determined not to quit this time. December was great, writing-wise. I also realized that my draft was not going to be 80,000 words; indeed, I’d be lucky to reach 70,000. So, feeling just a tiny bit cocky, I revised my deadline to January 1st and decreased my target word count. And on December 26th at 10:00pm, I realized that I could either close my iPad and go to sleep, or keep going and finish my first draft THAT NIGHT.

It took several cups of coffee to get me through the next day, but it was totally worth it. For the first time, I had a finished first draft of a novel…and before my deadline! Best feeling ever.

∞oOo∞

I’ve been trying to write this novel since 2012, with a variety of ill-success. At first, I was dealing the aftermath of the tornado. Then I switched jobs and then I took other writing responsiblities. One thing lead to the other and I just never finished. Each time I would go back to fix it up, I got frustrated with the fragmented state the story was in. Also, my writing style had matured so much since the days when I was first writing it…everytime I went to add new stuff, it looked like two different people had worked on it. That was extremely frustrating as I would have to rewrite the whole dang thing all over again, hopefully from start to finish this time! Then, in early October 2016, I had this great idea for a story. I mean, I just really loved it…but the problem was, it required scraps of another story to be woven into it. I didn’t want to start not one but TWO new stories when I couldn’t even finish the one I had. I hate to sound obtuse, but it literally took my mother saying “Um, Hannah, you already have scraps of another story, why don’t you just use that?” for me to see it.

On the one hand, I hate that I couldn’t finish my first story in a novel-length, cohesive style. It kind of feels like I failed that story in some way. It was the story that marked my coming-of-age, the story that helped me work through so many questions, doubts and “What do I actually believe?” moments. It’s also (in my not-as-humble-as-it-should-be opinion) a good story. On the other, I really like what I have right now…a cohesive narrative that is novel-length and, oh yes, FINISHED. I still need to edit it, and then edit it some more…but still, this is pretty awesome! It honors the original story and the person I was when I wrote it, while rising above the flaws that always kept me from finishing.

I’m trying to decide between traditional publishing and self publishing (leaning towards traditional, to be honest). Any thoughts or suggestions?

The Face Under the Mask

One of the most disturbing things I’ve seen is the bullying that happens all the time on the internet, from all corners. It’s frustrating and scary: the internet has given me so many opportunities for my writing and at the same time, it has exposed me to horrible and hateful things. In the course of my post-election online activity, I’ve come across this cyber-bullying infecting open discussions of politics. Sometimes it seems like everything is so polarized that I can’t laugh without being accused of having an agenda. And then having my perceived agenda attacked in graphic terms and my actual opinion dismissed out of hand.

Cyber-bullying is bullying and it hurts real people behind the online avatars. It’s easy to attack someone on the internet, to make fun of their deepest beliefs and mock their fears. It’s easy to laugh in triumph while others sob in fear.

But is this who we, all of us, liberals and conservatives alike…is this really who we want to be, a nation of bullies?
The problem, as I see it, is that respect and responsibility were allowed to become partisan issues. Preservation of the environment should not be a party issue. Respect for the dignity of all people should not be a party issue. All of our children will have to live the world we shape right now. They are the ones who will grow up absorbing the sound-bites we throw at each other. I would ask that all of us, Republican and Democrat and everything else between, try to see each other as human beings before we cover faces in masks and replace names with labels.

As a writer, this is both my hardest struggle and my deepest inspiration: who are we behind our masks? What are the names we choose for ourselves beneath the labels we have slapped upon us?