Monday, July 22, 2019

Anxiety Dreams for the Space Age

I don't have much time to write this morning.  Soon it will be time to leave to pick up the day old bread and baked goods from Publix and then the tumble of the week starts again.  The week-end zipped by.  Yesterday we had a long, philosophical conversation with the almost-grown son of friends.  I met his parents when we worked at the same school.  When I started there, she was hugely pregnant.  Our office space had a sofa, and I'd often see her catching a nap.  And now that child will be a senior in high school.

I didn't sleep well last night; I often don't as Sunday moves into Monday.  Last night I had a different kind of anxiety dream about needing to get to my spaceship before launch time--but my stuff was in a different building.  Was there time to make one last potty stop?  Did I really need all this stuff?  Would the space ship leave without me?

I woke up and fell back asleep to a more mundane dream about not being able to find the shirt I wanted in the piles of laundry--then I woke up and did something similar looking for workout shorts.

I did figure out how the husband character in my novel dies--or does he?  And I figured out the next chunk of the novel, which I plan to write tomorrow.  I am determined to hurry this to completion.  Could I get it published in the fall of 2020?  It would make a great election season novel.

I like the title of this blog post--would it work as a book title?  Should I start a new type of label?  Possible titles for books that may never be published.

All right, time to go--let all of this percolate until tomorrow, when there will be more time to write.

And let me remember that today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene--for a meditation on her relevance to the 21st century, see this post on my theology blog.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Graham Greene Meets Margaret Atwood Meets Octavia Butler

There was a moment last night when I said, "How could I have accomplished so little this week-end?"  It was after I watched the latest remake of A Star is Born, which so many people loved, but I did not, so I was ripe for feelings of regret.

This morning I tallied my word count for Saturday and Sunday:  2, 147 new words written on my apocalyptic thriller.  So why would I feel that I had accomplished nothing?

As I washed my grandmother's mixing bowl by hand (after making gluten free communion bread--there must be a poem here), it came to me.  What I really mean:  "Another week-end seems to be zipping by, and I still haven't sorted any of the boxes in the cottage."

Once, as long as I was getting the artistic work done, I wouldn't have cared, and I'm still not sure I do care.  It's interesting, though, how that socialization has taken root in me.  If I've had time to watch movies, I should have made time to get some real work done, the less pleasurable kind.

We also watched Blackkklansman, which I thought was profoundly interesting as a work of art.  If we had just stopped with that movie, would I have felt as much like a slacker?

I meant to get more wash done.  I did get some of the remaining stuff out of the cottage refrigerator, some cans of soda and a pitcher of tea that I had moved out there for the camp counselors.  Why doesn't that work feel important?

In terms of creating the world of the novel, I had an important insight at some point yesterday as I drove to the grocery store--wait, I grocery shopped--why doesn't my judgmental self see that as work? 

But I digress.  Back to the breakthrough.  I'd been thinking about the idea of the stakes of the novel.  What drives the characters?  What is at risk?

I'd been assuming that the husband in the novel is dead.  But what if he's not dead?

And this morning, I came up with another idea:  what if nobody knows for sure?  Later I thought, "Am I just writing a modern version of Missing?"  Not exactly, but it's another strand to weave into my elevator pitch.

Here's my novel right now.   a political thriller, a sort of Handmaid's Tale meets a modern underground railroad kind of narrative arc mixed in with some Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and the 1982 movie Missing.

Here's a fun party question:  would you rather be your generation's Graham Greene, Octavia Butler, or Margaret Atwood?

It's a fun party question for philosophers and English majors at least.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Morning Writing Process

--Wake up at 3 a.m. and try to remember when I fell asleep--9 p.m.  I've gotten 6 hours of sleep, but I try to get a bit more.

--At 3:20, I decide that I may as well get up.  I start a pot of coffee and power up the computer.

--I open my apocalyptic novel document.  I read back over it and try to remember what I thought I would write next.

--Sip coffee and scroll through Facebook while listening to some of yesterday's news wrap up NPR shows that often air on Fridays.  Get an idea for this morning's apocalyptic novel writing.  Wonder if it's the best idea.

--I decide to leap right in.  As I'm writing, I think about a scene that I included in a short story that would be perfect for this part of my new novel.  I go to my fiction file and try to remember what I named that story.  Wonder if the fact that several of the titles could go with the story is a problem.

--Find the story and transplant the chunk from that story into the novel.  Change the names.  Listen to thunder rumbling and wonder if we'll get rain.   Refill coffee mug.

--Look at weekly goal list and realize that I have yet to write 2 poems.  I write the title of one I have been writing in my head:  Climate Change Word Problem.  How was I going to start that poem?  I know how I will end it:  solve for x.

--Go back to novel and write a few more sentences.  One of the lines of the Climate Change Word Problem poem floats through my brain.  I switch documents and write the line.  Then I write another line.  Then I remember the rest, and I write those lines.

--My stomach rumbles.  When did we eat dinner?  What time is it now?  I had planned to make an apple crisp with apples that need to be used.  When should I start?

--I do a bit of Internet rambling while I try to think about the next part of the novel.  I decide to make the apple crisp.

--Notice that the vase of pink carnations has grown some interesting mold in whisps around the stems.  Think about taking a series of photos. Sternly tell myself to stay focused on the writing once the apple crisp goes into the oven.

--Sprinkle spices on top of the apple.  Inhale the scents of autumn.  Brew another pot of coffee.

--Drink coffee while listening to an NPR program on climate change and military readiness.  Watch the light bouncing around the storm clouds.  No rain yet.  Hope that it is raining in the west, where my butterfly plants could use a gentle soaking.

--Go back to the novel.  Write a bit about September 11.  Look up some information about the times that each plane hit.  Comforting to have my memory of that day's timeline confirmed.

--Think about the nature of memory.  That day so seared into my brain--and yet it fades a bit.

--Realize that the smell of apples baking in autumnal spices has filled the house.  Go to check on the crisp.

--Doesn't the oven light turn on when I open the oven door?  Not this morning it doesn't.  Has the oven always been this way?

--The crisp is ready.  I take it out to cool.

--Time to get back to the novel.  I write a few more sentences.  Why is this difficult?  Is it time to leave the past and get back to the present story of the novel?  The present is the past too--or maybe the novel will unwind differently than I first pictured it.  I return to the first day of the travel ban in the novel. 

--Decide to eat some apple crisp before it cools too much.  Do some Internet bopping around while eating.

--Look up to the sound of rain hitting the window.

--Time to get back to the novel.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thinking about Resistance on the 40th Anniversary of the Sandinista Success

Forty years ago today, the Sandinistas deposed the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza.  I have no memory of that particular moment in 1979.  When I think of 1979's most important historic moment, I think of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran.

Both of those events had profound influences in the 1980's and beyond.

I could make the argument that the events sparked by the Sandinista victory led us to where we are today with the humanitarian crisis on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.  I have distinct memories of President Reagan trying to make us all scared of Communists swarming up from the South and taking over Texas.  At the time, most of us assumed that Reagan envisioned an armed invasion, not the kind of movement that we see today of people looking to build new lives in the U.S.

I had no doubt that Texans could have taken care of that kind of armed attack.  I often wonder if the Sandinistas hadn't won, would Reagan have been able to manipulate our fears as easily?  I don't think so, but humans are easily manipulated by fear, so I could be wrong.

I've been thinking about our current moment of resistance and past time periods too.  I'm writing a dystopian novel that takes place not far in the future, but I have a vision of exploring past resistance movements too.

On Tuesday, I was delighted to come across this article in The Nation about the Pledge of Resistance in the 1980s (do an Internet search for Pledge of Resistance, and you'll discover that there have been several).  I remember signing the pledge, but would I have really followed through if Reagan had launched a military strike?  I was a college kid, so I might have; in many ways, college kids have less to lose and less of a sense of consequences, and in that, I was no different.

The Pledge of Resistance was different than past pledges.  The article says, "But the Central American Pledge of Resistance was unique in linking disobedience to an invasion that had not yet happened. By providing a threat of future action, the pledge bore resemblance to the strike votes taken by unions to show unity and demonstrate workers’ readiness to walk off the job. 'The innovation in the ’80s was that the pledge had a trigger event,' explained Jeremy Brecher, a social movement historian. 'It was a very creative way of establishing a nonviolent deterrent.'”

This social justice movement of the 1980's accomplished amazing things, which so few people remember.  It was peaceful and less heirarchal than movements of the 60's--and those two factor probably contributed to the success of the movement.

How do I define success?  After all, you could argue the fact that we have so many people fleeing those countries in 2019 is because of the failure of the 1980's.  I could point to any number of government policy failures that have led us to this moment; are social justice movement failures more to blame than the various governments that have failed in so many ways?  I would argue no.

In fact, I would argue that without the social justice movements of the 80's, our current situation would be worse.  We might be involved in a decades long hot war, the way we are in the Middle East, if the Pledge of Resistance and other movements hadn't convinced the Reagan administration to back off on threats to invade Central American countries.

As a student in the 1980's, I remember wondering if we made any sort of difference as we protested, as we resisted, as we supported those who did more, like Jubilee Partners who got Central American refugees safely to Canada where they were more likely to win their asylum claims.  When I moved to South Florida and had a chance to talk to some of those people who had fled Central America in the 1980's, people who had gone on to build better lives here, I concluded that we did make a difference.

Hopefully future generations will look back on these days of the Trump administration and be able to take courage from what we managed to accomplish.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Beginnings of My Next Writing Project

Twenty-five hours ago, I had an idea for a novel--the kind of novel I could see perfectly in my head.  Here's how I described it in a Facebook post: 


It will be a political thriller of sorts, a sort of "Handmaid's Tale" meets a modern underground railroad kind of narrative arc mixed in with some Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower." It may sound like I'm being sardonic, but I'm not.

Here's the first line: "When the president with despotic ambitions was sworn in, my dead husband accidentally started a meme: 'Who will be our Dietrich Boenhoeffer?'"


Last night, I did use that first line, and I kept going.  Before I shut down the computer for the night, I wrote this Facebook post:  "I have written 893 words of my apocalyptic/political thriller novel. A travel ban is in place, but instead of keeping people out, it restricts them to their houses. But the government has paid off their mortgages and insurance, so a grateful nation praised the Despot."

And this morning, I kept going.  I now have 1526 words.  My plan is to write a bit each day.  It will be too easy to lose the narrative thread and the momentum if I don't return to this project each day.

I have always thought of myself as being a not-good reviser, so I often want to have it all in my head before I start.  This time, I'm resisting this approach.  Let me write a rambling, sprawling, messy thing and figure out what to do with it later.

Here's my morning Facebook post:  "Morning word count: another 633 words for the apocalyptic political thriller that I'm writing. The main character is named Dorothy/Dori/Thea, and her spouse is named Will. Have fun, English majors!"


In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel that I need to admit that I decided to skip my morning walk to keep writing.  In some ways, that's delightful.  In other ways, it describes my life right now:  just not enough time to do everything I want/need to do.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure:  I had planned to write a poem this morning, but I didn't.  I thought I might not blog this morning because I had spent time writing fiction, but I did blog.

And now it's time for a long day--we've got graduation tonight.  But in between, lunch with my former student writer friend.  And since I won't eat dinner, I can eat what I want at the sushi/Chinese buffet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A "Sex and the City" Evening, if Written by a Writer Like Me

I am tired this morning--but it's the good kind of tired, the kind of tired that comes from making the effort to see friends I've had for a long time.  They are members of my (lapsed?) quilt group.  One has moved to Gainesville, which is about 5 hours away.  One has just moved to an upscale apartment in Delray Beach, which should be about 45 minutes away.

We were meeting in Delray Beach, and I thought that our 5:00 meeting time meant we'd miss the rush hour traffic--HA!  Maybe there is no way to avoid being stuck in traffic in South Florida.  That seems to be my experience lately.  A trip that should have taken me about 30 minutes last night took me 90 minutes.

Because I am a more evolved grown up than I used to be, I put aside my grumpiness about it all, and we had a lovely evening.  It was good to see the upscale apartment, and then we had a fun evening having dinner out in the trendy part of Delray Beach.  It was good to catch up with each other's lives.

From the outside, we might have looked like characters in a TV show--like Sex and the City, but without the high heels.  Or the sex talk.  Or the youth.  OK, maybe nothing like Sex and the City.  Or maybe like the kind of TV show I would write, but no one else seems to be writing--what is the yearning of women at midlife and beyond, and not just career yearnings or relationship yearnings, although those yearnings do impact the other yearnings.

I am now weary of the word yearning.

Of course, the parts of my life that have brought me the most joy in the past week, the most contentment, those parts would not make good TV.  I have loved listening to some great NPR in the wee, small hours of the morning--yesterday I listened to this episode of On Point about great summer reads, and then I submitted library requests for some of the ones that sounded most interesting.  On Saturday, I spent the morning looking through poetry notebooks and making revisions as I typed poems into the computer.  Not exactly jazzy TV.

On Sunday I wandered through a beautiful garden center to get more milkweed plants.  That could make good TV.  But there's not really a narrative arc to that.

Last night I drove home--drove and drove and drove--watching the moon rise and thinking about how long I've been friends with my female friends (my dinner companions and all the other ones) and how long I've lived in South Florida.  Some part of me is astonished at the twisty roads I've taken.  I thought about how long I have left on the planet and what I hope to accomplish.  My creative work is never far from my mind, and planetary destruction, and the current political situation--all these thoughts swirled around.

And now, for the day ahead:  review of the binders in advance of the Friday Corporate audit and a Come Out of Your Chrysalis party for students.  And then, tonight, a Mepkin Abbey Contemplative group meeting that happens online. 


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mid July, Already

I had gotten behind on my grading, so last night I went to sleep early, knowing that I'd be up early.  But there are advantages to being up early:

--I am now caught up on my grading.  Of course, that will last for only a few hours, as my class has work due today.  But it's good to be caught up.

--I was able to submit my poetry manuscript to a contest that was about to close in a different time zone.  Hurrah!

--I saw the beautiful moon. 

--I said a prayer for my Hindu writer friend who has major surgery today.

--I got a load of laundry done.  That shouldn't feel like such an accomplishment, but during the month of July (thus far), it does.

Let me also record some snippets from the past week that I don't want to lose:

--Yesterday, my spouse and I went to a new GP.  She saw us both at the same time, which I thought was interesting.  I think it's because she was running behind.  It was what felt like an old-fashioned physical to me:  she tested my reflexes and had me grip her fingers and push and pull.  She listened to me take deep breaths, looked into my ears, and had me say "Ahhh."  I bent over to touch my toes and then I held a yoga pose with my eyes closed.    She seemed impressed with what seemed to me like a basic set of abilities.  Am I better than she expects for people my age or does she usually see sicker people?  We're trying to get set up with a GP before we have a health crisis, if we must have a health crisis, so we didn't have a specific complaint.

--Our week of having camp counselors in the cottage went well.  They seemed happy with the accommodations.  I worried they would feel cramped, but then I thought about college dorm rooms and realized that our cottage, even crammed full of boxes, is more spacious than a dorm room--and it has cooking facilities!

--Last week was also a week when my spouse's sister was in town.  We had a good time visiting with family.

--On Saturday night, we went to a one year anniversary of the wine bar that some friends started.  It's a beautiful place, and I wish them many more years, if that's what makes them happy. 

It's no wonder we're feeling tired--we've had two weeks of lots of visitors, lots of social engagements, along with a candlelight vigil, a church service, and of course, work. 

How can it be the middle of July already?  This week will be hectic too, with graduation on Thursday night and a Corporate audit on Friday.  My spouse and I plan to hunker down in the house (or by the pool) this week-end to recover.  I'm looking forward to it.