Monday, October 31, 2005

November thanks and giving

Glanced over the November dates on the family calendar yesterday, unprepared for the fist of anxiety that lodged itself in my chest. Shouldn't have been surprised.

Nestled amidst the coming month's activities, seemingly so casual alongside the reminders about L's school production of Midsummer Night's Dream, S's girl scout meetings, and the Illinois SCBWI writer's conference, is E's surgery date.

Bleh. Three weeks and few days from now, everything will change. Hopefully for the better. Please, God, for the better. The mom part of me wants to believe the surgeon's assurances. Going in ahead of time to clip an aneurysm, he says, is so very different from treating it after it ruptures. My writer's brain wrestles with the what-ifs, revisiting all the dark roads we've traveled with E since 2001, and then some.

And then there's the whole calendar thing. Like I often do at the end of the month, I planned to write the 31st on the November page and flip it over this am so during the rush of all the trick or treaters tonight, I wouldn't have to remember to change it. Decided against it. As if not doing so will change the date for E's surgery, or hold back God's plans for the outcome.

Appetite for writing today: Mixed. Have no taste for my novel. It's too big a project for my brain to grok right now. Though ideas for shorter pieces keep coming, especially for non-fiction. In the rare case that I leave home without my trusty notebook, I jot down ideas on whatever scrap of paper I can find. Later, I tape them into my book, making notes about where I was when the ideas occurred to me, and thinking more about what my muse might be trying to say.

Listening to my muse in this way feels very much like writing behind my back. I've yet to make sense of it all, but don't expect to do so. Not in the near future, anyway. I'm too close to this situation, too deep within the heart of the forest to see anything but the trees.

Current read: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Amazing. Poignant. Multiple points of view. I hope someday to tell E's story with such power and grace.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Channeling, two pages a day, and then some

So many ideas have come forth since making Monday's commitment to tackle two pages a day--just two pages no matter what--I had to tell someone.

It all started after I sat butt in chair Tuesday and dusted off my most recent version of Keeper's Song. Hours later, I discovered I'd written through lunch. Decided I had better set the alarm, or risk forgetting to pick up the girls early enough from school to make E's therapy on time.

To say my butt-in-chair time went well is an understatement. Ended up tweaking and rewriting and finding myself SO excited all over again about the story and the characters and the world I've created. Spent Tuesday reassessing the shape of the novel. Next on deck: rereading all my advisors' notes from my various novel drafts, then deciding whose arcs to follow, and whose to set aside for the sake of the story.

To be honest, communing with my story after being away from it for so long was enough to end my day contented. Little did I know my muse was just ramping up. While fixing my belated lunch, a 12-year-old boy started rambling on in my head about all sorts of things, but mostly conversing about the downsides of getting what he wished for. Since he wouldn't shut up, I exited my novel, found my notebook, and started scribbling down notes.

Snippets of scenes came to me all day yesterday. About his adventure, the day it began, and the people involved. Ended up taking my notebook everywhere. Even pulled over to the side of the road one time because he was so insistent I not forget anything. Talk about channeling.

Page count since Monday: 16-plus hand-written pages!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Do your work

In the hours since my last post, I've come to a decision. Incoming storm or not, I'm done ranting. What is it that Jane Resh Thomas is fond of telling her Vermont College students?

Do your work.

Lowers head. Allows a small smile. Okay, Jane, I hear you.

What else did you say at our first mentor meeting? Set a writing goal for yourself. Two pages a day. Just two pages, and you're done. I'm beginning to understand the wisdom of this practice.

No matter how life conspires, two pages a day is achievable. Most anyone can handle two pages. What's more, the pages don't have to be publisher ready. They can be pure crap.

What matters is that I put butt in chair. What matters is that two pages a day will add up a lot quicker if I channel my energies into actual work, instead of worrying about how little I'm doing, or how fundamentally our lives might change a month from now. Breathes deep cleansing breath, then smiles as she calculates the numbers. A week from now I'll have 14 pages of creative. Two weeks from now 28. By the Monday before E's surgery, in excess of 50.

It's a plan. Butt in chair. Two pages a day.

Thanks, Jane.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

One big happy?

Went to L's Fall choir concert Thursday. All of us.

Probably doesn't sound like a big deal to most people reading this post, the idea of spending family time together attending ball games and parties as one big happy. Most people probably just get up and go, barely giving the all part a second thought.

The all part is big for our family. The all part rarely happened last year or the year before that or the year before that.

More often than not when we headed to this function or that, we did so as a subset. Because more often than not, E was sick. Take last school year, for example. By the end of October, E had missed at least a month of school. She wasn't mental-health-day sick. I'm talking actively sick with a bad cough and fever for a week or 10 days at a shot before it started all over again. The cycle never seemed to end. By the end of the school year, we lost count of her sick days.

Contrast last year to this. So far E's missed only two days. Is this run of luck a sign of things to come? Testimony to the rightness of the meds she's been on since late last Spring? A shift of the universe in her favor? I mentally knock on wood as I write this, pray this trend continues, try not to look over my shoulder...

And muse about how I survived the rigors of the Vermont College MFA program.

Two critical essays, twenty pages new creative, and twenty revised due each month for two years. How did I make all my deadlines? How did I carve out the time to write my critical thesis, and rewrite my novel multiple times while juggling meds, and countless doctor's visits, and holding the barf bucket? How, in the end, did I manage to graduate on time?

Certainly, part of my drive came from what Debby Dahl Edwardson observed on our class listserve--the fact that the VC program provides students with the permission to say no to PTO fund-raisers and yes to writing. And then there's the cheerleading and support I received from my program advisors Ellen Levine, Sharon Darrow, Jane Resh Thomas, and Tim Wynne-Jones. But while their mentoring was transforming, it was not the sole reason I kept going. Something else spurred me on. Something I can't quite articulate.

As E embraces this school year with gusto, I long to embrace whatever it was that kept me writing through the dark times. For the first time since the aneurysm, E's in such a good place. She's finally well enough to attend art club, Scouts, Sunday school...and her sister's choir concerts. I'm thrilled for her. And frustrated for me.

Here I sit. Free to embrace "Life After the MFA" to its fullest. I've got a book to finish, two editors who want to see it as soon as it's done, two classes to teach as soon as I give the word, a non-fiction book proposal an editor wants me to write. So much I want to do. So much potential.

Yet, in the distance, E's upcoming surgery rumbles like a rising storm. How do I write through this?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Where do you rate on the Cosmo Stress Test?

Growing up in the 70s, a bunch of us loved paging through Cosmopolitan Magazine. A rather racy read for high schoolers back then, but at the time it was the only up-to-date info we could find that didn't sugar coat the facts about boys, dating, and sex.

The quizzes were a favorite of ours, especially the Cosmo stress test. The exact wording of the questions isn't as important as some of the topics they covered. Anything from: Have you been divorced in the last six months? Did you move recently? Have you ended a relationship recently or are you starting a new one? Are you pregnant or a new mom? Did you change jobs recently?

Each yes or no answer earned a point value. A low score meant your stress was in a healthy range. A high score meant you should call 9-1-1.

Thinking back on it now, I realize the test had little in common with high schoolers who'd been raised in single-family homes along tree-lined streets in a quiet bedroom community outside Chicago. Maybe that's why we liked the test in the first place. No matter how we ran the numbers, the score always came up peachy.

Over the years, a running joke with select friends has been to report how we've been doing based on where we'd rate on the Cosmo stress test. These days my score's off the charts. No surprise, those results. Not with what's been happening in our lives.

The last four years have been a non-stop roller coaster ride, ever since our middle daughter E took ill in July 2001, nearly dying in my husband's arms from a ruptured aneurysm. Since then E's relearned how to walk and talk again while we've reshaped our family life to a new sense of normal.

Family, friendship, faith, and a writing community that is second to none. Without all four, this journey would be unbearable.

Though we long to exit the ride, docs say it isn't over yet. A week or so before school started, we learned another aneurysm lurks inside E's head. The only thing keeping us sane is the belief that we've been graced with this knowledge now because we have the time to fix the offending blood vessel before it ruptures.

Surgery is scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Light a candle for us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lunch Bunch

Lunched yesterday at Basai Thai restaurant in Oakbrook with three of our six critique group members. We check in daily online, but hadn’t ever gathered in the same place because we hail from all over the country—San Francisco, New Hampshire, Georgia, and the Chicago area. It was a rare treat to visit face to face and hear each other's voices and enjoy conversation that ranged from process to Vermont College to the trials of teens and dating.

Someone, maybe R, suggested we get together more often. I agree. Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love the convenience of meeting online. Doing so allows the freedom to crit in my pjs at midnight sans make-up if I want to. But our coming together...coming together was good. Not only did it get this isolated writer out of the house and away from my keyboard, it connected me with other writers who understand the creative process so well there’s no need to explain what I do or why I do it. And there's no need to justify why I’m still working on the same book.

Yes, we need to get together more often. Ideally, we can find a way for all of us to gather each year. Perhaps an SCBWI national conference? Until then, I'm thrilled to have a face and voice to place with the names on the screen. Happy writing!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Banana cake, aneurysms, and sweet-sad memories

Made banana cake yesterday from scratch. Used to make it all the time because bananas have a way of going brown quickly in our house. In a way I didn't quite understand at the time, the sweet scent wafting through the house reminded me of family and laughter and simpler times, maybe because the last time I made this particular cake was before E's aneurysm in 2001.

While sampling a piece still warm from the oven, I thought how odd that something so sweet can taste so sad as well. Then I remembered the Littmus Lozenges from Kate DiCamillo's book Because of Winn-Dixie. Their effect on the characters of Kate's story is so powerful and poignant that I suspect she drew on her own sweet-sad memories to develop the concept. Hmmm. Whatever she did it's working.

Edited to add: Worth thinking about more...the connectedness of our experiences to our writing, and the power that connectedness can bring to our prose. If we're willing to open ourselves to the emotions.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Welcome to Kat's Eye

Welcome to Kat’s Eye. Don’t know how long this blog experiment will last. Not even sure where it’s going. But I do know my starting point. Dateline: here and now from my own little corner of cyberspace in Lockport, Illinois. What you can expect: Musings, rants, and raves on writing, balancing work and family, and keeping the glass half full when life insists it’s not. My hope is that writers, artists, and others juggling work, family, and life's challenges will pull up a keyboard and chime in, creating a dialogue, and finding and sharing inspiration.