Friday, September 28, 2012

Budding feminist rages about flat tires, crazy bigots and mustaches

That's right.
Women shouldn't get to vote because
 policies created by elected officials
affect their everyday lives.
They should be able to vote
because they give birth.
Baby steps.  
Yesterday I had to take my mom-mobile into Goodyear to get a tire repaired (somewhere around here is a screw-lined street, because this is the third or fourth one our cars have picked up in the past few months). After waiting a half hour the technician told me that the tire was unrepairable (he said the screw was too close to a patch they'd done previously) and that the other tires on the car were close to failing a state inspection -- so (surprise! surprise!) he recommended we get a new set of tires.

He told me they were putting the spare on the car so that I could go home and talk to my husband about what we wanted to do.

Because, you know, I am obviously incapable of making a decision about what to do with the car.

OK, so I would've wanted to talk to Brad either way about the car, but the technician could've at least asked me -- the driver of the vehicle -- what I wanted them to do before putting the spare on and sending me on my way. 

If Brad had come in, would he have told him that he should go home and discuss the options with his wife?

Brad says that since having the girls I might be a little more sensitive to sexism then I was before**. And I admit, these days I do feel more tuned into the gender wars. But I'm also guarded about talking about it too much because I feel like once a woman starts pointing out disparities, she's labeled a femi-nazi*, which then allows people to ignore anything else that comes out of her mouth.

Which brings me to another point -- how frustrating it is that the dialogue in our country has become one of extremes. Case in point -- a letter to the editor that ran in my paper this week:

"For the last month now I have been reading letters from people that think Obama should be re-elected and why. There were four letters that I have in mind, and they were from women, Vita Licari, Betty Healy, Judy Weaver and Cara Achterberg -- a so-called community columnist. 
I would like very much to know what planet these four women have been living on for the last 3 1/2 years. Under the Obama administration we have 23 million people unemployed, he has us $16 trillion in debt, we have a $4 trillion deficit, and household income, under his administration, has fallen more than $4,000 -- and yet these women think that he should be given another four years.
It makes a person stop and think that maybe giving the women the right to vote might have been the wrong thing to do."
The sad part about the writer's conclusion is how not shocking it is. When everyone is having to shout to make their point, they feel compelled to add little gems like revoking the 19th amendment in order to get people to listen. And because the bar has been lowered so much and so often, this one-upsmanship has almost become an accepted and expected form of discourse in our society.

But it's meaningless. And it distracts from any legitimate point the writer or speaker or blogger or whoever might have been trying to make. The only thing I took away from this letter is that the writer is a crazy bigot. And I'm not inclined to take advice on voting from crazy bigots. 

Oh, and since I know you were on the edge of your seat about the car (did she buy a full set of new tires? Did she fashion a patch for the flat using gum and Play-Doh? Did she march back into Goodyear full of righteous indignation and give them a piece of her mind?) I took it to Sears. They repaired the flat for 20 bucks.

His mustache
is acceptable.
*If I ever get around to writing that critique of female characters in "101 Dalmatians" then I'll really sound like a raging feminist. There's another cliche that should be banned. You know how Google finishes your search terms when you start typing something in the search bar? Raging feminists fills itself out. The word "raging" is so loaded -- it also allows people to dismiss whatever the "rager" might have to say. And you'll never see the phrase "raging masculanist" (or whatever the male equivalent is) because these days being unapologetically manly is endearing. Just look at Ron Swanson and the return of the mustache. For the record, I love Ron Swanson. Not so much the mustaches. Anyway, every time Perdita says "Oh Pongo, what'll we do?" I want to rip my ears off. So, if you ever hear a story about an earless raging feminist. You'll know what went down.

** For the record Brad was completely sympathetic about the Goodyear incident.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Squirrels, free words and silly string

It was exciting to learn that, despite food chain implications, my favorite stone squirrels are Nittany Lion fans.

Today they're both clutching mini footballs and sporting (hehehe) Penn State neck warmers (it has been getting brisk at night).

We Are! Squirrels!
In my last squirrel-related post I asked for name suggestions and one loyal reader (hi mom!) inquired about the gender of the squirrels. As I am not sure that the squirrels are anatomically correct (and even if they were squirrel gender identification is not my area of expertise) I was thinking maybe we could use gender-neutral names. Or maybe one male and one female name. Or maybe names that have no concern with gender -- like Stony and Rocky (although I suppose those are kind of masculine).

In other walk-related news, this amusing sign for free words was posted on the doggy doodoo receptacle I visit often.

This poster kind of made my day.
Check out the awesome fuschia zebra-print duct tape. Also the fact that someone took a word. Leftover words include poncho and tablefork, which begs the question: what was the missing word?

I feel I'm being challenged to incorporate these words into a story. I did not take a word -- maybe I will tomorrow when I go back. I think I'll take tablefork (if it's still available, of course). 

Also, the other day I walked past the crazy kids' yard and it was covered in silly string. I swear -- their house looks like an endless party.

Friday, September 21, 2012

An evening with Flo

Two quick notes before I start:

1. I just finished another column. Check it out if you feel like it. Or don't. It's about being maimed by my children.
2. The squirrels are naked for the first time in months! 

Moving on. 

A month or two ago my sister Sarah and I were chatting about how much we loved Florence + the Machine (I believe I told Sarah I thought Flo spoke to my soul or somesuch excessive fawning). She mentioned she was going to see her at Merriweather Post Pavilion in September and invited me to tag along. The prospect of a kid- and reality-television-free night was too good to pass up -- not to mention the chance to find out if Florence's voice was just as powerful live.

So the concert was Wednesday night. And, as expected, she rocked my socks off (who came up with that one, anyway?).

Florence Welch - down there somewhere.
Even though I'm a grownup - I'm still sitting on the lawn. 
First off, I have to say just being able to drive my beloved lime green Beetle instead of the boring, silver mom-mobile was awesome. And not having to listen to "music from and inspired from 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse'" was even awesomer. I probably could've just driven around all night listening to my favorite music with my windows down and considered that the best night ever. 

But it got better!

It was the first concert Sarah and I had been to together since our first concert ever (Smashing Pumpkins during the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness tour in 1997 at what was the US Airways Arena and what is now the Capital Center ... way more information then needed). Anyway, at the time I'd say that Sarah and I were kind of at the start of our high school-era separation -- I don't think she was thrilled that her little sister was tagging along on her first concert (Sarah - you can correct me on this). But since having our first kids within months of each other have been closer than ever and coming to realize we have way more in common then we thought (including, of course, Flo.)

Being able to swap poop stories while getting some pre-show coffee amidst of sea of kid-free  20-something hipsters was fun and silly and only topped by dancing and singing along to our favorite songs.

And Florence was marvelous live. She floated out in a flowing, gauzy robe like a high priestess overseeing our musical experience (it is the Ceremonials" tour, so I suspect this was all on purpose).

The show had some of the best features of church: Music and fellowship (at one point she insisted everyone turn around and introduce themselves to their neighbors and then she had everyone leaping about together during the encore: "Dog Days Are Over").

She transported us to the mystical land of Merry-land (she's British and therefore everything she says sounds cool and/or adorable) where everyday life experiences just seemed more epic.     

Here's what she played if you're curious.

As expected, I got goosebumps during "Shake it Out" and "Cosmic Love" -- she just has this thundering, resonant voice. If my writing voice ever sounded half as powerful as her singing voice, I'd feel pretty good. But, I digress way too much, and she gets right to the point. I wonder what my singer equivalent would be? Plus, she's like the soundtrack for Middle Earth and my novel is definitely Regular-Earth based (is that High Earth? Low Earth? Probably Low Earth).

I'm rambling again.

In sum, Florence + Machine + Night Out + Sister = Superb. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The difference between telling what happened and telling a story

Thursdays are an exciting mail day in our household -- that's when Brad gets his Sports Illustrated and I get my Entertainment Weekly -- which I read cover to cover (hey, we all need our candy, right?).

I'm not much of a sports fanatic (this is a large understatement, I like to annoy Brad while he's watching football with innocent inquiries like, "So, who's winning the match?"), other than occasionally flipping through the Leading Off photos, I don't pick up the SI. After Brad's finished with it, it hangs out on the end table in the living room collecting dust and cat hair until I toss it into the recycling bin or Lily decides she wants to tear all the pages out of it. 

I really shouldn't let the images of be-helmeted men in skin-tight pants and ads for over-priced men's wristwatches (see below) turn me off though.

(If only I were passionate about "fine mechanisms"* ...) 

I am passionate about great writing -- and SI does have a lot that (despite it being on subjects I care little about). You might be wondering how I know about the writing in SI if I only look at the pictures (and then only the pictures at the beginning of the magazine). Well, every once and a while, Brad will flag me on a story he thinks crosses the sports fanatic - sports apathetic divide.

Last week, he suggested I'd like a story about the son of convicted murder and former NFL receiver Rae Carruth. I asked him what the story was about and he proceeded to outline it for me:

Carruth had conspired to kill his pregnant, girlfriend Cherica Adams, because he didn't want the financial responsibility of another child. (He already had a son from one woman that he only paid child support for after the court told him to and he'd threatened to kill another girlfriend if she didn't get an abortion). After being shot by an associate of Carruth's, Adams told the 911 dispatcher that Carruth was at the scene of the shooting. While she did not survive the shooting, her unborn child was saved in an emergency C-section and is now being raised by his grandmother. 

Brad described how devoted the grandmother has been to the boy -- who has cerebral palsy as a result of the shooting -- and about how Carruth has shown no remorse for what he did -- and in fact still denies his involvement and has said he wants a relationship with his son after he gets out of prison.

I told Brad that it sounded like an interesting story and that I'd check it out. 

He said I probably didn't need to now -- because he'd just told me what had happened.

I read the article anyway. Brad did a good job recounting the events -- but it's not the same as telling the story of just how unapologetic Carruth is and how, despite this, the grandmother raising her murdered daughter's son is able to forgive the murderer. 
"I'm not gonna have anything negative to say about him," she says. "I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson."
And -- not to knock Brad's storytelling ability (just ask him to tell you about his various haircutting experiences at Great Clips) -- he didn't really make much use of imagery like this:
"It's late afternoon now, the heavy air draped over the Piedmont like a blanket pulled too soon from the drier ..."
These days, with Twitter and Facebook and 24/7 news, you can find out what happened anywhere almost as soon as it's happened. But that doesn't mean you know the whole story. 

Anyway, I'll get off my "yay journalism" high horse (that's what I was on for those who didn't realize that "yay ice cream" and "John Mayer is a tool" aren't my only high horses). 

You should check out the story if you have a chance -- even if you're not a sports junkie. It's not about that anyway.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Last year's pumpkin is talking to me

Dead gourd, center.
Given the state of my kitchen floor nobody should be surprised to learn that the carcass of last year's pumpkin is still lying in my backyard next to the compost bin.

That's right, next to the compost bin. Not in the compost bin, where it might have eventually turned to compost. And by eventually, I mean within the next five years or so. I'm not the most responsible composter (periodically, I'll throw in fruit or vegetable scraps -- maybe a few dead leaves from the giant leaf pile also located next to the compost bin-- but it never gets turned or watered.) I know, someone who can't be trusted with regular kitchen floor maintainence should probably not attempt backyard conservancy. 

Where was I? Ah. Last year's pumpkin, rotting away next to the compost bin - a sickly shade of bone. You'll notice a giant hole in the right side of the pumpkin corpse - that would be where Brad kicked a hole in it when he discovered the pumpkin had become a favorite breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

But before becoming a bloodsucker love shack, last year's pumpkin gave us a gift. And that gift, of course, is more pumpkins. 
Lily investigates the progeny of last year's pumpkin.
We started noticing a trailing vine growing near the compost pile a couple months ago, and as has been the case with yard work in the summer of baby No. 2, we ignored it. For once our neglect has paid off! We now have three dark green pumpkins and a slew of gigantic gourd-geous leaves (hehehe. sorry. it could not be helped). Well, technically we only have one pumpkin. The other two pumpkins are growing in my neighbor's yard. They, too tend to neglect their yard, so I'm hoping they haven't discovered our free range gourds yet. 

Anyway, I feel like last year's pumpkin is trying to speak to me from the grave. It seems like I should be divining a life lesson (or at least a writing lesson) from the new life that has sprung forth (and I'm not talking about just a rehash of that whole circle of life crap). The pumpkin has something more in mind. And every time I go out to check on the status of my new pumpkins, I try to listen to the dead pumpkin. So far, the only thing I hear is the buzzing of mosquitoes, the subsequent smacking of my hand on my leg, and my own grown of disgust as I wipe smashed mosquito bits on the grass. 

Maybe some character down the road will figure out what I'm supposed to have learned from last year's pumpkin. 

In the meantime, I know exactly where this year's pumpkins will end up in November.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My floors are funky (and not in a good way)

Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think we all have something that we use as a reference point for the state of your life. When I worked full time, it was the level of clutter on my desk. 

Now that I'm home, it's the griminess of my kitchen floor.

The more cat hair, dog hair, baby spit-up, orange juice splatter, dirt and various and sundry debris that covers the floor, the more frustrated and less in control I feel about life. Every time I walk into the kitchen, which is about 8 billion times a day because it's at the center of my not-very-big house, I magnify its problem areas (like around the high chair or in front of the fridge) and magnify my own deficiencies as a mother and housewife.

Actual hairball discovered on my kitchen floor.
When I showed it to Brad he said, "That's not even a big one."

I know what you're going to say: Maybe I should consider cleaning the floor more often. 

And therein lies the problem. My kitchen floor is this giant expanse (and it becomes even giant-er in my brain at the prospect of having to scrub it) and it takes at least a half hour to tackle with a scrub brush and sponge (a Swiffer-esque mop is simply not tough enough to tackle the caked on grossness) and I know a half hour doesn't sound like much time, and I know, in reality, it is not that much time. But in my reality, when the girls rarely nap at the same time and the few minutes their sleep schedules do overlap has to be devoted to my freelancing duties, a half hour might as well be a day. (And you wonder why I don't think I'm every going to finish my novel. This is why. The damn kitchen floor.)

Eventually, when the floor funk begins taunting me (which is when the sticky patches start growing fur) I cave and find some scrubbing time.

Last week, in order to clean the floor, I was forced to cash in some highly valued currency: "101 Dalmatians."

Lily is obsessed with "Dalmatians! DALMATIANS! DALMATIANS!!!!" right now. So the other day when Jovie actually fell asleep in her crib, rather than attached to me in the sling, I ignored the guilt pangs of planting Lily in front of her precious dalmatians and succumbed to the guilt pangs of my kitchen floor.

And oh it was glorious. Gone were the splatters of regurgitated milk and pasta sauce, and muddy paw prints and cat phlegm (Bart the cat has snot-blob producing herpes which flares up when he is faced with stress. Things that cause Bart the cat stress include the two small children and one new cat we've acquired, meaning he's been perpetually snotty for the past two years. Yes, it's gross. But on the bright side, not contagious!)

Here's Bart the cat. Don't judge him by his herpes.
The vet says he got it from his mom. That's science.

Where was I? Oh right, a kitchen floor that doesn't turn my feet brown when I walk on it? It was really lovely. And probably remained clean about as long as my little "My cat has herpes" aside.

And now, I've spent 40 minutes writing about the kitchen floor, which is longer than I've spent cleaning it in the past month and I didn't even get to the point of this post, which was going to be about how much I hate how women are portrayed in "101 Dalmatians" and how I hoped to write better female characters to give a strong example for my daughters. 

I think my brain needs to be scrubbed of this clutter. Self-righteous feminists rants will have to wait for another day. Off to bed.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Today, the squirrels go golfing

My brother-in-law Lukas was very excited about the squirrels and insisted we take a walk to visit them in person today. And, as luck would have it, their outfits have changed again! Today they're wearing golf attire. 

Squirrel No. 1 in a neutral-toned khaki with
a pop of color in her yellow sunglasses.

Squirrel No. 2 goes for a bolder look with
cherry-red visor and matching scarf.
My sister Sarah and Brad were speculating about where the homeowners find the outfits and accessories for the squirrels. Do they make them? Are they doll's clothes? I really do need to have a conversation with the Squirrel Lady. 

Also, I feel the squirrels should have names. Any nominations?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The importance of eye contact in writing

When you have a crying 4-month-old there are a series of go-to techniques a parent has to calm them down: offer food, see if their diaper needs to be changed, or rock/sway/bounce/do your best impression of what a waltz might look like. But sometimes you do all that and the kid is still crying. 

I find that the times when I have the most trouble soothing Jovie are when I'm rushing to calm her down because I have something else I'd like to get done. It's as if she senses that I'm just trying to placate her in order to get on to more important things.

But Jovie knows that she is the most important thing. And she chooses to remind me of that by crying. I've found that in these moments of unsoothable crying, sometimes I'll I have to do is is take a breath and look down at her. And if she can blink back the tears, she'll look back up at me. And -- wonder of wonders -- stop crying.

Because all she really wanted after all that was just someone to acknowledge and connect with her.

I think, just like babies, that people crave connecting with other people. Since I've been staying at home with the girls, I'm all to aware the importance of connecting with people (well especially adult people). I find myself getting chatty with cashiers and strangers at the park just because I crave that interaction (Brad will say that I did that long before the kids ... which I suppose it's true. He'd probably be horrified to learn I do it a lot more now).

What does this have to do with writing? Well -- beyond enjoying the process of stringing together words, sentences, paragraphs into (hopefully) a novel -- I write with the hopes of connecting with people. 

You know those moments in your day when an emotion blindsides you? You're listening to a song, or reading a book or watching something on TV and there's a line or a scene that grabs you and causes a reaction or elicits and feeling you didn't even know was buried in you? (Like that supreme joy you get when the only thing it takes for your crying baby to calm down is just making eye contact with you.)

Beyond Eleanor and the dead guy I'd been struggling to figure out what I wanted to say with this novel. What message it should carry. OK -- let's be honest -- what it should be about. And then I was at the hospital awaiting treatment for rabies (long story) and I saw this quote posted on the wall of the ER:

“The ancient redwood trees, huge as they are, have a very shallow root system. Yet, they cannot be blown over by the strongest wind. The secret of their stability is the interweaving of each tree’s roots with those that stand by it. Thus, a vast network of support is formed just beneath the surface. In the wildest storms, these trees hold each other up.”--  Dawna Markova

And I had one of those moments that kinda made me throat swell (or was that the rabies?). And I also got some clarity on what I wanted to write about. The bigger picture.

But even if I don't give readers (or even just reader) a big revelatory moment, I'd settle for a quiet one. 

Say what you will about e-books -- but it is very cool to be able to highlight those quiet moments in the books your read and to see that other people have taken note of the same passages that speak to you. Connecting!

I recently finished the fantastic Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Known World" and had several passages highlighted, included this one -- a gift of clarity to me about someone I care about:

"He stood there for a very long time, and the longer he stood, the more he sank. All the heart tea had for living in the world began to leave him. He could feel the life running down his chest, his arms and his legs, doing something for the ground that it had never been able to do for him. If God had asked him if he was ready right then, there would have been only one answer. 'Just take me on home. Or spit me down to hell, I don't care anymore. Just take me away from this.' "
Of course, there are plenty of less morose things that hit me, too. Like when Signing Time: "In a House" comes on Nick Jr. and the sign language lady sings "I think that she'll be my best friend one day" with footage of sisters hugging each other and then I think about how blessed I am to have such wonderful sisters.

(As an aside - in looking for a link to this song, I discovered the woman behind it had been a folk singer who took up singing and signing when she discovered her 14-month-old daughter was deaf  - you just never know where life will take you, do you?)

As mentioned previously, Florence + the Machine gets me all the time, too ... although, I think she speaks more to my 23-year-old self. 

I've probably rambled long enough at this point. So I'll close with one last moment. the last line in this lovely song:

What's grabbed you lately?

Redwood courtesy of berneister1 on Flickr

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Daily walk is fuel for the writer's soul (sole?)

When I worked at the newspaper, one of my favorite parts of the job was coming up with story ideas. Like I said in my last post, I'm always on the lookout for weirdness in the world, and working as a journalist allowed me to put that weirdness to work.

Me, Jovie's hand,
Lily's skepticism and Snacks.
Since I was an editor, I worked in an office all day where weirdness abounded, but not so much story ideas. The one time of day I found inspiration was on my drive to work. Before moving to the 'burbs I lived on a farm and had a 25-minute commute down back roads full of people that my husband would say "have been left alone too long." These are the sorts of people and places that make the best characters and settings whether you're writing an article or a fictional story.

One of my favorite finds was a little old lady who decorated the wire fence alongside the road with old bottles, bows, cans and other various objects that the rest of the world might call trash. I later interviewed her neighbor for a story -- he was not as amused by her self expression.

Now that I work from home, my daily commute to the kitchen table doesn't offer much inspiration (the dirt-encrusted kitchen floor does inspire me to want to clean it ... someday). So I sort of invented a daily commute: The afternoon walk.

Of course, as pictured, it doesn't necessarily afford me much alone time.

Maneuvering a double stroller while a deceptively strong 35-pound beagle mix drags me down the street doesn't allow for a lot of meditation or introspection. Especially when I must also ensure that said dog doesn't leap in front of every. Single. Passing. Car. Seriously, the dog is pretty awful on the walks. So awful in fact that a neighborhood dog trainer turned his car around in order to stop us and hand me his business card ("I see your dog pulls a lot") True story. I also walk past said dog trainer's house every day. Also, a true story.

Simultaneously I get to be Lily's personal jukebox:

Sample conversation: 
Lily: "Doc! Doc" 
Me: "You want me to sing 'Doc McStuffins'?" 
Lily: "OK" 
Me: Sings the theme song to Doc McStuffins. 
Five minutes later: 
Lily: "Mama mama!"
Me: "Yes Lily?"
Lily: "Ferd?"
Me: Sings the theme song for "Phineas and Ferb"

In between the serenading and the cursing of the dog, I am allowed a few precious moments of thought and observation. 

I vow not to let Lily watch so much Disney Jr.

I game plan the rest of the evening and pray that the 5 o'clock witching hour goes by with little-to-no-witching (a girl can dream, right?)

I try to enjoy the fresh air and the breeze rustling the leaves of trees arching over the street. I covet my neighbors' well maintained, flower-ful and weed-free gardens. 

I often think about Eleanor because a walk very much like mine with a spirited dog that is eerily reminiscent of Snacks through a neighborhood that is remarkably similar to my own, is what lead her to the dead man.  

Stone squirrel in rain gear.
And I look around to see what's new or different. 

One of my favorite parts is walking by the house with the stone squirrel statues standing sentinel at the driveway. Why? Because the homeowners dress up the squirrels for various events and holidays. And I'm not just talking a mini Santa hat on Christmas and bunny ears on Easter. The squirrels' ensemble changes frequently. In the past week alone, they've worn backpacks and sunglasses (back-to-school); sunglasses and red, white and blue leis (Labor Day?); and today they were in rain slickers and hats (Hurricane Isaac?) 

I'm so impressed with the homeowner's devotion to these squirrels. I like to imagine a closet set aside with the squirrels' wardrobe hanging on miniature hangers and categorized by season. And I invent characteristics and habits for the woman who dresses up the squirrels (I've never talked to her ... I kind of like it better that way). She obviously has a sense of humor, but she's also probably fastidious -- given the care she uses for squirrel clothing choices and the "no dogs on the lawn" sign stuck in her front yard. I think she and her squirrels will show up in some story down the road.

A couple of blocks later is my other favorite spot: The house with the crazy kids. The crazy kids haven't been out a whole lot recently, which is sad -- because they rarely disappoint with the strange, potentially dangerous things they do. Their front yard is constantly covered in sports gear and various wheeled transportation - skateboards, bikes, scooters, etc. I often find the oldest boy practicing bike tricks in the middle of the busy street during what amounts to rush hour in my neighborhood, or balancing a sibling or friend carrying fishing poles on the back. One time I had to move out of the way as he attempted to push a barbecue grill down the sidewalk ("Someone was going to throw it away!" he told me). I'm sure his mother was thrilled. The girl is friendly and chatty and always says hi, scratches the dog and coos over the girls. They're the type of wily kids who define what childhood should be about: being outdoors, getting dirty, running around and making (a little) mischief. They're definitely showing up in the book.

And there are plenty of other characters: The sinewy guy in the lime-green shirt who runs laps and laps around the neighborhood; the old couple who walk back and forth down my street, always holding hands; the people who's Christmas decorations are still littering their lawn and fence; the woman who walks her two little dogs (Barney and Betty) and picks up trash along her route.

All the singing and barking and pulling and sweating are well worth the payoff. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On rainbows, acorns and inspiration

During a recent trip to the library Lily picked out this book:

It's a story about how Maisy the mouse falls asleep and has a dream that features all her friends adventuring off to Rainbowland - a magical place filled with walking tea pots, turtles with watermelon shells and several other characters and images reminiscent of "Alice and Wonderland" or what I assume a mushroom trip must be like.

It's a strange little book (actually, the book itself is gigantic - maybe part of its appeal for Lily) ... but I digress. As usual.

Anyway (spoiler alert) it turns out that all the wacky images in the dream are a compilation of all the things Maisy sees in her waking life. When she wakes up the next morning in her bedroom you see the bee that inspired the bee-panda chimera we read about on the page where "Maisy dreams about a green leaf" and the goldfish that makes Maisy become a Mer-mouse on the page "Maisy dreams about an orange fish."

It struck me around the 12th or 13th reading of the book that writing fiction is a lot like dreaming. Not in the sense that writing fiction is something that is unrealistic (although as I've mentioned at this juncture in life it feels unrealistic) but rather that, like Rainbowland, the universe in which your characters live is a compilation of the experiences and observations you have in your actual life. 

Often, when  I see something unusual or unique out and about in the world, I catalog it as something that could potentially be used in a story. The dunk tank I drove by on the highway a couple years ago. The guy buying a shopping-cart full of canned cat food. The people who owned my house years ago and left meticulous not about all the appliances. 

I get really excited when I come across something that makes me look twice, because I never know when I might be able to put it to use later. It's like when I obsessively collected Peanut M&M wrappers for a time with no real plan and eventually turned them into a lampshade. 

Lately I've been compulsively gathering acorns in the backyard -- this might be a ploy to get the squirrels to vacate the oak tree so that my dog won't bark at them so much -- but I keep thinking they could end up as some sort of art project for the girls down the road. 

Maybe I'm just not working on the novel now because I need more acorns.