Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Anatomy of A Murder

There were no witnesses. The house was empty, except for the cat and dog, and they're not talking.

I called up the chapter all innocent like. I even read it through one last time. The rest was painless.

With quick, clean clicks, I highlighted and deleted the 20-plus pages. Before they realized they'd been hanging in cyberspace far longer than usual, I renamed the file. And the necessary deed was done.

I've been working on the new chapter since then. The one that will connect the quilt pieces of my story, allowing me to stitch together the best of the many drafts I completed during my two years at Vermont College.

Will there be any regrets? I'm thinking not. The deed needed doing. Besides, I can always go back to the earlier version if I change my mind. Not that I expect to. Like the crate that houses the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie, I never seem to need to revive my "saved" versions, after I dispatch them.

Dead Darling Walking

A couple of posts ago, I announced plans to murder my darling. Well, today's the day.

Last words before I press delete:

Oh, my darling. She's an exciting, heart-stopping chapter--a caving expedition gone wrong--ripe with action, danger, snappy dialogue, and likeable characters struggling to survive. Unfortunately, the chapter's no longer appropriate. Not given the current draft.

Eight months ago (while completing my creative thesis), the scene made sense. Six months ago, none of my work sounded right in the light of the news about E's new aneurysm; so, I wasn't about to do anything rash. Three months ago, my muse knew the scene no longer worked, but I wasn't ready to sacrifice it.

Today, I'm ready. Dead darling walking.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

It's Away!

Pressed send today on my SCBWI contest entry. And experienced a plethora of unexpected emotions. Most notable: elation at having submitted something, followed by panic that I'd sent the wrong version, followed by cackling and snide remarks courtesy of my inner critic.

The comment that stuck: the not-so-subtle suggestion that maybe sending no version at all would have been the best choice.

Wallowed in self-doubt until I managed to muzzle my inner critic. Not entirely certain how this happened, but I know some of the things that helped. For one, this month's contest excited my muse. For another, the exercise helped me discover a viable story idea I have to explore soon. And, like Luke Skywalker's one shot on the Death Star, it's away.

Friday, February 24, 2006

In Flux and Murdering My Darling

I don't think I'll ever get used to transitioning from hospital time to real time. The closest analogy I can make to the real world is comparing the switch to changing the course of an aircraft carrier.

It ain't easy.

Appetite for writing: Munchy.

Current project: Final revisions to my entry for the current SCBWI writing contest. I don't usually submit to the contest because I often learn about it too late. But the timing was right this month, and something about the prompt (and the 75-word limit) inspired and challenged me.

On deck: crits for various writing buddies, followed by the ritual killing of my darling in KM, my current work-in-progress. *Shivers slightly* Ugh. Just announcing my plans for my darling leaves me feeling a bit sickish. And yet, if I want to quilt the pieces of my novel together in an aesthetic way, it has to go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Getting Back to Normal, The Nexus, and Controlling Belief

One thing I've noticed about the process of getting back to normal is how difficult it is to focus on any one task completely.

Every time I start a project, my brain wanders off in E's direction. I worry. About E getting bumped in the hallway by one of her towering classmates. About E losing her balance while navigating the classroom. About E being too tired to tell her aide that something hurts.

It's an odd place to find myself--wanting to reclaim a sense of normal, needing to reclaim it. And yet, not being able to.

In a Twilight Zone-y kind of way, it's almost as if a dark part of me--the part that's read too many thriller novels and watched too many scary movies--is waiting for the director to cue the off-key background music.

While trying to find the Pooh moment in all of this, I've realized something. It's an aha sort of moment. One I believe will finally allow me the focus I need to write E's story.

I'll have many points of view to choose from. Each with a unique controlling belief. Take mine, for example. Last summer, I finally let myself believe E was on a good road, and that our family could enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, my controlling belief was challenged in August after we learned about E's new aneurysm. Events over the last six months collided with my core belief, moving my story forward, bringing me to this place.

This place. It's unproductive, isolated, and, in the end, very personal. But as uncomfortable as it is, this nexus is also a place of beginnings.

I must sit here. I must sit and endure it, and, hopefully, be Pooh about what happens next. I must hope that when my controlling belief finally arises, tempered by the events of the last six months, it will be changed for the better.

And stronger because of E's story.

Monday, February 20, 2006

School, Life Lessons, and Taking Stock

The sun's shining, daytime highs have finally risen above zero, and E's doing so well, she's starting back to school tomorrow.

Tomorrow! Can you believe it? Less than two weeks after brain surgery, and she's good to go.

The plan is to send E to class part-time for the rest of the week. We're targeting mornings, probably only a couple or three hours at a stretch since she tires easily these days. Next week, we'll ease into longer days.

In anticipation of E's return to school, I've been doing my part to reclaim a regular writing schedule. This blog's been a lifesaver of sorts by forcing me to focus, and giving me permission to exercise my brain cells on a regular basis. I've also been taking stock of the notes I've made in the last six months on new and existing projects, prioritizing what to work on next.

First up, prepping for my March SCBWI presentation about endowed objects and their ability to reveal heart on the stage of a story. The topic's dear to my heart, based on my Vermont College critical thesis, and graduate lecture.

My bag of props is good to go, but my notecards need to be reordered and edited. Thank goodness I have a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Indiana Jones' Last Crusade, Writing, and Other Leaps of Faith

Before Indiana Jones can retrieve the cup that will save his father from a mortal wound in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he must pass a series of tests. His physical and mental fortitude are tested. So is his faith.

No matter how many times I watch the scene, I am gripped by the leap of faith Jones is called to make in order to achieve his goal. Not only must he cross a bottomless chasm, he must face his fears and risk death.

Though I know all ends well, I root for Jones every time. One reason I suspect the scene grips me so deeply is that I take hope from the choices he makes in the face of adversity.

Isn't this why readers embrace Kate DiCamillo's little mouse Despereaux in his quest to save the princess in The Tale of Despereaux? And why we root for Frodo as he carries the one ring closer to Mount Doom? Don't we hope our readers will follow our own characters through thick and thin as they seek light in the darkness?

I can't yet fully articulate where or how I found the strength to embrace my fears about E's health these last six months rather than let them consume me. But I know where I found my solace during my darkest days. In my own writing, with my favorite characters and books, and in the company of friends and family.

Here's to Indie, Frodo, Despereaux, and all the heroes and heroines that bring us light in the darkness.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Report from the Writer's Place...the Doorstep Anyway

Now that E's on the upside of recovery--and looks to be staying that way, my muse is beginning to feel lighter and more carefree.

This is a good sign because that means my muse is probably only bruised by the latest health crisis with E, not broken like it was after the aneurysm rupture in 2001.

Took me a long time to repair my muse the last time. For longer than I'd like to admit, I thought I'd lost it for good.

Membership in SCBWI coaxed it out of hiding. An online Writer's Digest course in children's writing confirmed it had a voice worth listening to. The Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children program restored it.

News of E's latest health crisis left it gasping.

Now that E's home after her latest surgery (and doing great, knock on wood and thank the Powers That Be), my muse is sending me hopeful signs. Though still skittish whenever E complains of a headache, my muse appears ready return to the hard work required of all writers who hope to succeed in this business. Or at least to consider it.

So, today, at the risk of sending my muse packing, I opened the door to the Writer's Place, and peeked inside. If you're a writer, you probably know the place. It's where we sit butt in chair, and do the business of writing. (Or should if we want an audience bigger than our family, friends and crit group.)

This is good. This is progress. I stood in the doorway of the Writer's Place, thinking about submissions, networking, and opening a dialogue with several editors. And my muse didn't run.

E doesn't appear to be the only one healing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

We're Home!

We arrived home late yesterday afternoon, excited, exhausted, and glad to be home. E visited with her sisters, took a much-needed shower, visited some more, then burrowed under her covers, a big smile on her face.

She slept through the night, and awoke perky and hungry. Breakfast included eight buttered saltines, and an entire kiwi fruit. That's my girl.

The incision looks great, though it's rather Frankensteinish. Beginning at the top of her forehead, it curves off to the left, following the outer edge of her face, and ending just below the left ear.

E looks at the incision in the mirror after each bathroom break. I figure it must freak her out a bit. So, when I find her looking, I give her the chance to talk about it. So far so good.

I still can't believe E's home so soon, and doing so well. I said it before and will say it again. I'm awed and humbled.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We've Got the Power

Woohoo to the power of prayer.

Word went out on various listserves yesterday, and LOTs of people must be praying, meditating, and sending positive thoughts E's way because she had a great night. What's more, she woke up chipper and cheerful with a hearty appetite.

She's so much on the upside of healing now, docs say today's goal is to graduate from peds ICU to the observation floor and from there to a regular room.

Here's the best news: E is on schedule to be released early next week. Maybe even Monday. Wow. In and out of the hospital in less than a week after brain surgery. I am awed and humbled.

P.S. Keep sending the positive thoughts for healing. We'll take what we need and pass on an extra to the nurses and docs and other patients on the floor.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dateline: Children's Hospital...Report from the Trenches

Wednesday's surgery went well, though recovery's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Amazingly, E was up and talking that night, responsive, even cracking jokes. Yesterday, however, she awoke from a nap groggy and disoriented.

An angiogram had been planned for the afternoon to confirm proper positioning of the anerysm clips. Physicians used the test as a diagnostic tool instead to see if new bleeding had erupted. If so, this might be a cause of E's disorientation.

Since the procedure would take a couple hours at least, we hung out at Ronald McDonald House with P's folks and S, trying to keep busy until someone called us from the hospital. Took till 6 before she rolled back into the room.

We called the shuttle and raced back. We paced the room, waiting for E to wake up, not knowing whether she would recognize us when she did.

The wait felt like days. Little by little, as the anesthesia wore off, E emerged. She was lucid and on task. And most importantly, her sense of humor was intact.

Today has been a MUCH better day. E slept well last night. This morning, she ate crackers and sipped Sprite. She had a good lunch and kept it down. She's napping now after sitting up and kneading Play Doh for an hour or so.

God is good.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Here's the Game Plan...We're Taking Along an Umbrella

Of course, everything's subject to change, but here's our game plan for now:

E's already downtown with P doing last-minute tests and scans. Then they're off to Ronald McDonald House. After dinner, they can unpack, relax, and read a few chapters of Mr. Popper's Penguins before P douses E with antibacterial soap per the physician's instructions.

P's folks are headed to Lockport tonight with plans to stay as long as a month if needs be. If a month sounds excessive, it's not. Not given our experience. After E's aneurysm bleed four years ago, she was hospitalized for two months straight, followed by another month of inpatient rehab.

We're hoping E's not in the hospital that long. In fact, we're told told E could be released as soon as Monday or Tuesday. Can you believe it? Released that soon after brain surgery? A release that soon would be great. Really it would.

But we have to be realistic. E has never been a typical case. While a regular kid might be sick one day with a cold, E gets a fever and misses school for a week. Making long-term visit plans with Phil's folks makes sense, and is a bit like taking along an umbrella to ward off the rain.

I'm sticking around the house tonight. Doing last-minute laundry. Packing. Writing bills (because who knows when I'll get to them next). Helping my youngest with homework (and debriefing her about what to expect the next few days.) Packing our groceries for Ronald McDonald House. And making notes for P's folks about the things we take for granted (like where we keep Buffy's food and where we keep the extra TP).

Tomorrow, I head downtown after the girls leave for school. By the time I get to Children's, my sister-in-law and dad will be there, and E will have been in the OR nearly two hours. But that means P should have had two updates by then. The updates are a perk we weren't expecting. Much better than wearing the tiles outside the OR doors.

E should be done with surgery by 2 p.m., and out of recovery an hour and half, or two hours after that.

God bless the surgeons, and E's medical team. Keep their hands steady, and their heads clear. Keep Elena in the palm of your hand.

Looks Like Surgery's A Go

So far so good.

P and E are downtown at Children's waiting to be called in for last-minute X-rays and labs. After they're done, they head to Ronald McDonald House for the night. P says the room is quite comfy. E loves the fact that the kitchen is brimming with bagels.

Check in is tomorrow at 6 a.m. sharp. As long as the blood work-up looks good, E rolls into surgery at at 7:45. Then we wait.

Light a candle for us.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Coming Down to the Wire

P and I haven't decided yet who'll be taking E downtown tomorrow. We do want one of us to stay home with E and S, and get them off to school before the other drives to the hospital.

Both girls say they want to go to school Wednesday, which is fine by us. The routine will help keep them busy during the six-hour surgery.

Wow. I wish we had something useful to do during that time. An artic chill has replaced the balmy weather we've been having lately. So, I'm afraid it'll be too cold to walk to Lincoln Park Zoo. We'll probably hang at Ronald McDonald House, chat with the family members who're coming down to sit with us, play mindless cards games, and channel surf. Anything to keep our minds out of the OR.

The docs have told us not to bring the girls up to see E until Thursday or Friday, probably because she'll be out of it the first 24 hours. Me? I'll be thrilled if E does what the doc promises--regains consciousness the same day of surgery.

Leaving Tomorrow

The lead surgeon's office suggested we stay downtown tomorrow night prior to surgery. The idea makes sense on several different levels.

1. Staying at Ronald McDonald House the night before surgery will allow us to do the last-minute blood work on site, avoiding the inevitable delays getting results from an outside lab.
2. We won't have to get up at o-dark thirty to beat the morning rush into the city in order to get to the hospital on time for the 6 o'clock check in.
3. E will be able to get a good night's sleep.
4. Everyone will feel less rushed.

We're to call Ronald McDonald House at 9 a.m. tomorrow to see if they have room for us. We're on the list but there's no guarantee. My fingers are crossed they'll have something. I much prefer a real bed to the 24/7 bells, alarms, and commotion of Peds ICU.

Nothing like a Good Book to Cheer You Up...

Music and books played big roles in E's recovery from her aneurysm rupture in 2001.

So, today, in addition to stocking up on supplies to keep on hand at Ronald McDonald House while E's recovering from this Wednesday's aneurysm clipping, my errands include finding a copy of the music from the latest Disney Channel movie, High School Musical.

We've also begun gathering books to take along because the all-kids-all-the-time TV channels at Children's will likely pale after awhile. And besides, when given a choice, E prefers being read to.

Books on deck include On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rosa Sola by Carmela Martino, and E's current read, Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Party Poem

Too busy rolling up sleeping bags and chasing lost socks to give a full report on last night's sleepover. Here's a Cliff Notes version:





Appetite for writing: Satisfied.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Party Prep Frenzy

Since surgery's scheduled for the 8th--the day before E's 14th birthday, we're celebrating early. Tonight, we host a sleepover for a handful of E's closest friends.

E's been in such a good place lately, she's been fully involved in the party planning. For cake, she insists on chocolate with white buttercream frosting and red roses. For drinks, she wants the teeny tiny cans of soda I refuse to pay for on any other occasion. For dinner, there'll be pizza, and mini hot dogs drenched in bbq sauce.

We've still plenty left to do before we're ready. Dishes. Clutter clean-up. Bakery stop. Added to the frenzy is the fact that E must leave school early today for yet another pre-surgery doctor's visit.

Doctor's visits. Blech. I'm tired of doctors. And if I'm tired, E must be sick and tired. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever put the surgery behind us. Problem is the docs keep finding something else to "clear" before the team's allowed to operate.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for the careful planning. After all, it increases the chances of the surgery's success. Yet, here's the thing. Shouldn't there be a point when someone steps up, takes ownership, and says, "Okay, that's enough prep. Let's just do it?"

Sounds cynical, I know. But here's the thing. The docs have known about this aneurysm since June. June! It's still counter-intuitive for me to get why they consider the surgery elective. I know the operation comes with a lot of risk. But June?

Come on, Powers That Be. Let surgery be a go next week. Let it go without complications. Make tonight's b-day celebration one to remember, and one to top with a bang-up party for E once she's on the upside of recovery.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Deadlines, Nesting, and Going Hungry

E's upcoming neurosurgery has added extra push to our lives. Our latest project has been relocating S upstairs. Until recently, S refused to consider leaving E's side. But something happened to warm her to the idea of her own room.

I'm grateful for the change of heart. Once E returns from the hospital, it'll be easier to check in on her at night, and give her the meds she needs without worrying about disturbing S.

All in all, the change has been an exciting one. Not only have we discarded years of clutter, we've reclaimed another upstairs room. Four and half years ago the room was E's. When she came home after the aneurysm unable to navigate stairs, it ended up as storage.

The move hasn't been painless. Our 17-year old, L, was less than thrilled when we first started rearranging furniture. Can't really blame her. After all, she's had the entire second floor to herself since E moved out. Took a few days of retraining, but L's finally remembering to close doors when multitasking on the computer, or blow-drying her hair.

Another downside: my office is lined with boxes again. Oh well. Decluttering will have to wait until after E's on the recovery side of surgery. Until then I'll have an incentive to work on creative, because once I'm inside my story, the clutter disappears.

Appetite for writing: Hungry, but unable to satisfy my muse. Spent the majority of my uninterrupted time today trapped in insurance hell, and making last-minute health clearance appointments for E.