Sunday, November 8, 2015

NaNoWriMo Redux

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) once and get it out of their systems; and crazy people, like me, who vow to participate every year. I haven't done it in a while—not really, anyway. The last couple of Novembers I've made half-hearted attempts, but have given up pretty early on in the process.

So why do I think this year will be any different? I don't necessarily. But I do know that I haven't been doing much (read any) of my own writing for quite a long time. And that's a bad thing. Firstly, because I miss it. I think about writing all the time. I've a got million ideas, and at least 100,000 of them are pretty good.

And that's the thing. Writing ideas are a dime a dozen. You can have thousands of great ideas. It's the execution of the thing that matters. Until you put fingers to keyboard and try to translate that great idea into a story, you just don't know if it will pan out into something real.

Next, I feel like I'm in a different place in my writing. This year has taken a toll in a lot of ways, but it's also allowed me to let go of some things that I was holding onto for the wrong reasons. As I have absorbed these changes (some might call it growth, but that seems a little grandiose; others might call it giving up, but that seems a little pessimistic), I see some lessons that might apply to my writing.

Letting go is tough job. I think it's one of my worst things. I think my inability or failure to let go has held me back in my writing. So, it's time to see what happens when I really let go. When I stop trying to control everything and let the characters and the plot take over.

This is where I think NaNo can really help. There's just no time to be controlling. You have to meet your word count. To do that, you can't keep going over and over the things you already written, patting yourself on the back for your brilliance or agonizing over your complete lack of talent. All you can do is get in your 1,667 words a day and move on. Sometimes, that's all you can do in life—put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, that's all you can do in writing—put one word down after the other.

So, here we are. I'm already a bit behind (big shock), but I'm trudging along at 8,760 words instead of the 13,333 I would need to be on target as of this moment. But I like my idea; the words are not exactly pouring out of me, but they're coming. I know there are other things I should be doing. I know. So don't lecture me. I don't pretend that I'll have anything very good at the end of the month. But having anything at all is better than nothing. It's definitely something.

It's just too bad that I can't add the 535 words in this post to my word count. Hmm, that would bring me up to 9,295. Not bad.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Twi-night Double Headers

There are two kinds of people in the world: baseball fans and those who, like my daughter, think watching baseball is like watching grass grow. At this point, I'm not really a fan. Oh, sure, I root for the Cubbies because, you know … the Cubbies. The true age of miracles will have begun if the Chicago Cubs ever win the World Series, and I want the universe to know that I'm on the right side of that.

But I was a fan when I was a kid, mostly because of my dad. I'm sitting here with him now, not talking to him because he's sleeping, and thinking about baseball. We were Detroit Tigers fans and in the '60s, that was something. Many of my earliest memories have to do with Tiger baseball games. It was part of our family's DNA. My dad always says that he knew my mom was the girl for him when she sat through a double header on their first date. My mom goes back and forth on whether her fortitude on that first date was a good thing or not.

Willie Horton (the Tiger left fielder, not the felon of attack-ad fame) was my hero when I was a little girl, probably because I got a Willie Horton bat at Tiger Stadium on Bat Day in 1967. That summer, the Detroit Tigers came in second in the American League, and the excitement of a winning team was one of the few positives in a city that was was rocked by violent race riots.

I remember going to a Twi-night double header that lasted into the wee hours when the second game went into extra innings. I asked my brother, the walking-sports-record-book, whether he remembers it being the infamous June 17 games against the then-Kansas City A's, which still holds the American League record as the longest double header in history at nine hours and five minutes. The Tigers won Game 1, but lost Game 2 after 19 innings. I can't believe my brother doesn't remember if that was the double header we saw (although to be fair, he was only five), but I'm going with yes. I was most excited because we got to stay up so late.

The next year, the Tigers took the World Series in seven games against the Cardinals. I can still recite most of the roster from that team. We trick-or-treated at the home of series MVP pitcher Mickey Lolich. I remember being let out of third grade early one day that fall so we could all go home and watch the game on TV. I remember riding home on the handle bars of Jimmy Brown's bike, listening to the opening inning on his transistor radio. I remember listening to the games in the car on WJR AM, and growing into a cranky teenager who would much rather have been listening to rock and roll on FM stereo.

Mostly, though, I remember baseball and the Tigers being all about my dad. Every night, when he walked in the door after work, my dad would shout: "I'm home, sports fans!" I'm sitting here with my dad for an entirely different kind of twi-night double header and I'd give a lot to hear that kind of enthusiasm again. I'd give even more if I could take him home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I promised more posts. That was back in July. Clearly, I lied. Whether it was to you or to myself, I'm not quite sure. I do know that I have a whole bunch of posts written in my head. Good ones. Excellent reads. In the meantime, this amused me, as almost all "Two Kinds of People" things do. Enjoy. More soon. Promise. 

(I should probably have kept this image for my dance post. You might see it again.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wake Up

Not long ago, my friend Hey-It's Mike Anderson posted a visual two-kinds-of-people gag on my Facebook Wall. It may or may not have been the image above (I couldn't find it on my feed), but that's not important. What's important is the thing Mike wrote along with the image: "I miss the blog." Hundreds of Several A few other people "liked" his post.

Now, before you go getting all up in my face about how immodest it is for me to tell you this, let me just say that, as a writer, this is probably the best thing anyone has ever said to me. It means that someone READS MY STUFF. And misses it when I'm not writing. This is huge. HUGE, I tell you.

It's also motivating. Not motivating in the sense that I immediately wrote a new post or anything. But motivating enough that I'm finally getting around to it just a few short weeks (months? Mike?) after the gentle nudge. Again, in writer-procrastination time, that is immediate.

You see, half the reason I haven't been posting here is that I have a lot of other work that I'm supposed to be doing. So, I haven't been writing. Of course, that doesn't mean the other work is getting done, it just means that I was leaving open that window of opportunity to do it, you know, eventually.

But, I miss writing when I don't do it. I miss my legions dozens couple of readers, and was frankly thrilled to discover they actually exist.

So, today I'm posting. If you're one of the two (kinds of) people who read this blog, thank you. Leave a comment so I know you stopped by.

I also submitted two poems (I've been told I'll hear whether they've been accepted in two to six months, so don't hold your breath). Who knows. Maybe I'll even get some of that other work done. Thanks Mike. Now look what you've gotten me into.

Image credit: Bubble Gag. Nudge credit: Mike Anderson

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who stay on top of things and those who get way behind. Yeah, I'm way behind on almost everything these days, especially this blog. Keeping up will be my number one resolution in 2014. Maybe my only resolution.

I wish you all the very best in the coming new year. Celebrate the waning days of 2013 with joy and as much laughter as you can muster. See you on the flip side.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Need to Keep Wanting

"When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, 'Oh yes - I already have everything that I really need.'" — Dalai Lama
There are two kinds of people in the world: the "I Wants" and the "I Haves". I often wish I could "want" less. Certainly, my wants have changed over the years. Many of the things I used to want (even many of the things I have) seem frivolous, even ridiculous to now.

Like some of the things we registered for when we got married. Would I still register for fine china and crystal if I were to get married today? I don't know. I do know that I don't worry about breaking my glasses from Ikea or my nearly unbreakable-and-cheap-to-replace-even-if-they-do-break Corelle dinner dishes. I don't think I sold any of my wedding gifts in our yard sales, but someday I probably will. I know my parents did when the divested themselves of decades of stuff and moved to Florida.

I have had many tragic cases of the "I-Wants" in my life: that expensive SLR camera I wanted (and never got) as a teen; that 1972 convertible VW bug that I regretted buying almost the minute I pulled it into the driveway; countless fashion faux pas too numerous and embarrassing to list here.

There is certainly a level of peace in giving up many of the greedy "I-Wants" of youth and young adulthood. Aging parents, stiff joints, and vulnerable babies help us trade in some of the tangible things we wanted for the intangible and infinitely more important "I-Wants" of health and happiness. You kind of know that you've grown up when most of your "I-Wants" are for the people you love rather than for yourself.

But is the Dalai Lama right? Do we already have everything that we really need?

I used to think so. I used to think that not wanting was the key to happiness, but I'm not so sure anymore. I still want. Some of my wants are selfish (like a new kitchen, for which I have even created a Dream-Kitchen Pinterest Board). Career success is a big want. And I have all kinds of wants for my kids. There are things I wish I could give them, sure, but more important than things, I wish I could give them peace of mind from some of the stresses in our lives that are not of their doing.

I guess I think that it's not such a bad thing to want. Wanting keeps us busy. Wanting keeps us trying. Wanting keeps us doing the things we have to do, even if we don't necessarily want to do them. But most important, wanting keeps us alive.

My parents are not that old (mid-seventies)—I hope they have many good years ahead of them. Since they left Michigan about eight years ago, I can't tell you how many times I've heard them say "We don't need anything. We don't want anything." Sounds good, right? Not so much.

Some health issues have begun robbing them of the ability to experience joy in life that they used to find in little and big things alike. To enjoy life, you have to want—you have to want to go places and do things and see people. I never in my life struggled to find a gift for my mother that I knew she would like (until recently). She loved presents, and it was a blast to give them to her. Now, she doesn't want anything. For holidays to be fun, you have to want to shop for gifts that your children or grandchildren will love and to love the gifts they have bought or made for you. I see the want slipping away from them and it scares me.

So, I'm going to keep wanting. I want to get healthier and skinnier, so I'm going to keep walking. I want to be more financially secure, so I'm going to keep working. And I want my parents to rediscover that life is worth wanting, so I'm going to be patient, and continue to love them and the life they have given me.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Joy of Blooming Late

Welcome today's guest writer (and fellow late bloomer), Janice Deal, author of the new collection of short stories The Decline of Pigeons, released today by Queen's Ferry Press.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who bloom early, and those who bloom late. 

Conventional wisdom has it that truly creative works come from the energy, the hope, and the exuberance of youth. But conventional wisdom is wrong.

Youth Is Served 

It's easy to find examples of people who flourished at a relatively young age. We need look no further than Picasso, whose best work came when he was young. Just 20 when he painted “Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas,” Picasso went on to create many of the greatest works of his career by the time he was 26. Consider also T.S. Eliot, who wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when he was 23. John Lennon’s haunting “In My Life,” a paean to love and loss, was written at the ripe old age of 25.

The Glory of the Late Bloomer 

But for every John Lennon, there is an Alice Munro, publishing her first book at 37. And then there is Alfred Hitchcock, who directed classics “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho" between his 54th and 61st birthdays, as Malcolm Gladwell references in his 2008 New Yorker piece, "Late Bloomers.” Gladwell believes that youth doesn’t corner the market on incandescent work. He notes: “Some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. Forty-two per cent of [Robert] Frost’s anthologized poems were written after the age of fifty. For [William Carlos] Williams, it’s forty-four per cent. For [Wallace] Stevens, it’s forty-nine per cent.”

My Story

As a late bloomer myself, I appreciate and celebrate those artists who found their voices years after they hit drinking age. I am “young” in many ways: God help me, but my favorite store is Hot Topic, where my 11-year-old daughter and I buy the T-shirts (Walking Dead, Doctor Who) that make up the balance of our wardrobes. But according to the calendar, I’m getting long in the tooth: born the day Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, I’m looking 50 straight in the eye.

I do things…late. I married years after many of my college friends had already tied the knot; my husband David and I had our beloved daughter Marion well into our 30s; I went back to graduate school and pursued a degree in library science after years as an editor. And I didn’t start writing until I was in my 30s. In fact, I dropped out of a creative writing class in college (taught by a gifted poet and instructor), because I didn’t feel as though I had anything to say. It wasn’t until I took a continuing education class, as a lark, out of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, that something clicked for me: I had something to say. I was 30 years old. And then it took me almost two decades to define exactly what that was.


My instructor at Northwestern, Fred Shafer*, saw something in my work and invited me to join a writing workshop he held out of his home. And then I started writing in earnest: eking out stories after work, on weekends, at night. Stories started getting published; I won a grant; we had a child, and David and I decided we’d love it if I could stay home, and write, and hang out with our kid. More stories were written, and I kept sending them out. My pace is glacial: one story got 33 rejections before The Sun picked it up (thank you, Sy Safransky). But slowly, stubbornly, I started building up a backlog of short stories that worked together. The stories carried a common theme, loss; something we all experience if we live long enough.

Living and Losing

But why could Lennon write about loss when he was still in his mid-20s? It could be argued that he’d had a hard life, that he was an old soul. Lennon’s backstory hints that both those suppositions are likely true. But complementing them are theories such as the one posited by University of Chicago economist David Galenson, who believes early-blooming artists like Lennon are “conceptual” in nature: that is, they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they just do it.

Galenson, discussed in Gladwell's article, contrasts conceptual artists with what he calls experimental artists, who “build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods.” Lennon could write about loss when he was 25, but it seems I had to do some living before I could.

As I turn 50, I have faced some challenges—job loss, illness, death—that I couldn’t conceive of decades earlier. Loss can inform people, season them, and make them tough and compassionate. And it can lead to art: I was learning about the craft of writing even as I learned about life. As Gladwell notes, “Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods . . . Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

Who Is in Your Corner?

If you are a late bloomer, you need someone in your corner. As Gladwell says, “If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.” In my case, I had a gifted teacher, Fred Shafer, who encouraged me and helped me grow in my writing. I had friends, fellow writers, who were learning and growing along with me, and who encouraged me. And I had a life partner, my husband David, who believed in my writing—believed in me—even though it took me years to get more than a handful of stories published in literary journals.

I’m just shy of my 50th birthday and Queen’s Ferry Press is publishing my first collection of stories, The Decline of Pigeons, under the thoughtful guidance of publisher and editor Erin McKnight. Some artists are born mature: precocious “old souls” who possess insights and create beautiful, meaningful work at a young age. I admire that, but my path has been different. For me, for my writing, there has been no substitute for experimentation, and living.

What is your path?

(*ed. note: Fred Shafer will be teaching for four weeks at Off Campus Writing Workshop in Winnetka, Thursday mornings beginning September 12, 2013. Nonmembers welcome.)

Janice Deal is the author of The Decline of Pigeons, a short story collection to be released by Queen’s Ferry Press, July 16, 2013, and a finalist in the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Six of the nine stories, which detail the sometimes bitter, sometimes transcendent ways that people cope with the inevitability of loss, have appeared in literary magazines including The Sun, CutBank, the Ontario Review, The Carolina Quarterly, StoryQuarterly and New Letters. She is currently working on a novel, and is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship Award for prose. Janice lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, where she watches zombie movies with her husband and daughter.

Photo credits: Moon Flower by AshleyRandallDances via a Creative Commons License