Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Tranquility (Or, Ingenious places to find inspiring photos)

I saw this photo on a Hallmark birthday card and just had to have it. I paid the $3.69 even though I have no one at the moment to send the card to, just so I could take the card home, scan the image, and have it for-e-ver. That's how much I love it. I knew I had to find a way to post about it because any writer worth her/his weight in journals would love this picture too, I figured.

I really have nothing remarkable to say, so I'll simply invite whoever is interested to sit down on this bench, lean against whichever pillow suits your taste, take a sip of the cup of Joe (or tea if you prefer), pick a journal from the pile, sit back, enjoy the sunshine, and start writing.

Happy journaling!

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Days Off (Or, Never too old to play hookie)

Can you ever be too old to play hookie? I think not. In truth, I had to talk myself into it, but that inner dialogue took all but ten seconds. What defines hookie in my world?

According to my W-2, I work part-time. But all of you part-time working moms know that's a bunch of crap. We work double time. Okay, men out there, relax. This isn't going to be a tirade on how underpaid mothers are. Chill out. (Or, chillax. I learned that from the TV show, iCarly. Yeah, I'm that hip.)

Getting back to the topic at hand...defining hookie.
I teach at the college two days a week this semester and spend the other three days taking care of my family life and trying to squeeze some personal accomplishments into those hours too. It's no joke when I tell my husband that my full teaching days are my "days off". The rest of the time feels hectic and often overwhelms me. No June Cleaver here. (And if you're wondering who June Cleaver was, go ask your mother...or your grandmother.)

So this morning, after dropping the kids off at school and then filling my shopping cart at the supermarket, I realized my day was virtually open. Sure, there are 22 student essays to grade, but I've got till Sunday night to make that happen. Still, the non-procrastinator in me said, while unloading the groceries, "Now get to work, Wen. You can shoot these babies out and have the grades posted online before the kids get home if you're diligent enough."

Then the strangest thing happened. I lay down on the sofa. (And yes, Missed Periods, I think that's the correct use of the past tense of "lie".)

Two hours later I woke up.

"Holy cow!" I shouted. (Actually, it sounded very different from that.) Now what? Realizing I was hungry, I prepared myself a salad. It was, after all, 11am, and having had breakfast at 6am made it spot on lunch hour. With my salad bowl on my lap, I sat back on the sofa and turned on the TV. "Just a bit of my favorite show, Ghost Whisperer, recorded on TiVo to keep me company while I eat," I told myself.

Three episodes later, I find myself wiping away tears and actually saying aloud, "That's an awesome show." And now it's 1pm. Holy cow, the morning is gone! I haven't cleaned house, graded any papers, unloaded the dishwasher, or made the beds. (Please don't tell my mother about that last one. Since Mom reads my blog, I'll claim temporary insanity.)

Anyway, since I have to leave to pick up my daughter in 45 minutes, the only logical thing to do is go online and write a blogpost, right? At least then I'll be able to say I did something productive with my day apart from providing food and sustenance for my family, which is not overrated, I tell you. So here I am, bragging about playing hookie. And believe you me, it feels marvelously decadent to steal a couple hours of sleep and then stare at the unmade beds while I do something for ME.

Oh yeah, and about that next book I'm supposed to be writing...don't ask. It's enough that I was able to talk myself out of hookie guilt for one morning. These days, finding time to write still seems so selfish. I need a muse to convince my over-developed sense of responsibility that it's okay to do the things I love most.

Until then, I'll revel in this morning of hookie. I've got 15 minutes left until I have to get my daughter. Let's see if I can find something soothing and non-productive to do. I think I'll go pet the cat.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Top of New York, Part II (Or, Virtual and Real Adventures)

Back in May, I posted On Top of New York (part I), and now it's time for the second installment with a few new adventures to report.

First off, fellow blogger Vicki Rocho of Rambles & Randomness was in New York City just days before me. As one of my dearest blog buddies, it broke my heart not to be able to have Iowa and Florida meet up in the Big Apple, so I found a way to make it virtually happen (our friendship is, after all, virtual). Vicki and I shared a meal at Brasserie Maison, just not at the same time. Here's Vicki:

And here am I. You can see that our virtual conversation was so engrossing that our meal started at night and lingered into the morning hours. That Vicki can talk up a storm, I tell ya.

After leaving Vicki at Maison, I headed off for NBC Studios at 30 Rock, where despite my small bust size and the fact that I'm well over 30, the network thought I'd make a good weathergirl. I had intended on posting the video clip, but the DVD I purchased freezes up my computer. So it looks like it ain't happening for now. Just as well, though. My performance wasn't grounds for quitting the day job.

Instead, I'll show you what it looks like when two childhood friends who grew up like sisters hit middle age and decide to travel together for the first time:

My oldest and dearest friend, Suzanne (on the right)

No fighting, no bickering, no faux sibling rivalry - just great times. I'll close by showing off the view from my brother's fabulous apartment, this time a Manhattan sunset:

All in all, another great New York adventure. I look forward to meeting more of my blog buddies either in the virtual world or in reality since some of you have grown dear to me (probably those of you actually reading this). Until that day, however, we will have to rely on our creativity to make these meetings happen. I mean, if NBC can make me a weathergirl, anything's possible!

P.S. Saw American Idiot on Broadway. Hated it. Felt like an American Idiot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Insomnia (Or, An ode to 4:00 AM)

Where are you, Sleep?
I'm waiting here
for you to whisper
in my ear.

I'm too alert,
it's monkey mind
as dreams allude me.
Please be kind

and let the Sandman
do his best
to sprinkle here
a dose of rest.

How will I do
in morning time
when rushing starts
but I must shine?

If you could bring
one taste of sleep,
I won't denounce
the waking beep.

No, no, instead
I'll stretch and sigh,
so grateful for
some brief shuteye.

So please, I beg,
(Have you no shame?)
or else I'll blog
and curse your name!

[5:00 AM note to self: threatening Sleep and writing angry odes do not bring slumber.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Originality (Or, It's all in the voice)

I've just finished reading a book that captivated me unexpectedly - The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. In it, one of the characters, Brett, quotes Pulitzer-prize winning author Wiilla Cather as saying:
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."
This got me thinking; what is it that makes one story more enticing than another?

I think about the stories I've written, all the great novels I've read so far, and all the fantastaic tales yet to be told. When you get down to brass tacks, there are a limited number of conflict themes in writing, and every story ever written can fit into one of them (or a combination of them): man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. himself, man vs. machine/technology, and man vs. fate. A writer often thinks her story is the most original and unique plot ever devised when, in reality, its themes are based on the same stories humans have been telling since antiquity, in times when oral story-telling was the only way to go.

Why do we keep telling the same tales over and over? Because for every person who has experienced one or more of the above-mentioned challenges (and who hasn't?), the experience is special, individualized, personal, and oftentimes incredibly fascinating and worth telling. It is that fierce desire mentioned by Cather that drives us to write it down, translate thoughts into words, and give voice to what was once simply an idea.

And that is the key, I think. In attempting to answer the question of what makes one story more enticing than another, it isn't the plot or the characters; it's the voice. Meg Waite Clayton's voice is unique, and it spoke to me clearly, without sounding like any other I'd read before. I envy her that. Her story is one of friendship, falling into the combined conflicts of woman vs. society, woman vs. herself, and woman vs. fate. Nothing particularly original, but the voice sure is. I feel that if I were to be fortunate enough to sit down to lunch with Ms. Clayton, I'd know exactly what she'd sound like even before she opened her mouth. It would be like meeting a pen-pal for the first time and having the sensation of familiarity, as if I could say, "I just knew you'd sound like that."

As we fiction writers delve into our latest projects (or search desperately for our misplaced muses, as am I), I encourage you all not to fret so much over how to make your story stand out in a saturated market of bestsellers. Instead, trust in your voice. If you listen carefully enough, you'll realize that no one can really sound like you, except for you. In closing, I will summon the words of one of my favorite animated characters and say, "Bee yourself." (Can you guess who it is?)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On the Bridge (Or, Finally time to tell the tale)

As I stand on this bridge, overlooking a vast river with hundreds of years of historical influence, I ask myself how many people have jumped off. It wouldn’t exactly be suicide since the water below does not flow with the turbulence of a bay, nor is it as frigid as that of the American Great Lakes. It would probably be fun, if one didn’t break a bone upon landing, to fall into these waters and be submerged into the bevy of stories it holds, tales of seafaring captains and crew with great dreams of sailing the ocean of a round planet to discover first the Indies and then, more knowingly, the New World.

Fast forward five hundred years and the ghosts of mariners, merchants, and fisherman surely haunt the winds that blow delicate ripples throughout the murky surface of water whose colors range from deep navy to moss green and even to violet gray, depending on the light in the sky. Along both this river’s shores and spanning this bridge, invisible spirits undoubtedly whisper tales of love lost or wishes fulfilled, to deaf ears.

But I hear them.

On a crisp Sunday in May, late in the morning, I stand on the Triana Bridge looking south over the Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain, and I listen. This is the land where religious tolerance once ruled supreme before dying a shameful death, and where Gypsies are a paradox to be looked down upon and romanticized at the same time. It is also a land where progress, both socially and morally, is always on the move. So I keep my heart and ears open. I hear voices in different languages, laughter of all ages, boat engines humming below, cars rushing by behind me, horse hooves clopping on pavement as they pull carriages of tourists behind them, my own thoughts colliding with each other, and the undecipherable cries of Spanish spirits begging me to stay.

It is said Christopher Columbus set sail from the mouth of this river, and as I visualize that mouth, I wonder what stories of adventure it will some day tell of me.

I must find out.

This is the opening to a memoir-type story I'm considering writing. I welcome your feedback, even the critical (but kindly-worded) kind.