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Brittany: It All Starts With the First Line

*parts cross-posted from my personal blog*

Last week I took my How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage manuscript up to the attic and stuck it in a box with other things I don’t want cluttering up my life right now. Lately, I’ve been in a very foul mood toward my novel and my inability to get anywhere with it, and I decided it just wasn’t worthy of my continued devotion anymore.

My novel is flawed. Profoundly and maddeningly flawed. The beginning lacks momentum. It lacks bite. Alex, the narrator, doesn’t sound like anybody I’d want to hang out with for 200 plus pages. Partly that is due to point of entry problems. The beginning of my book was once funny as hell, with snappy dialogue galore, but that was before I realized that while it was highly entertaining writing, the plot was languishing under all that talking. So I cut, and I cut, and I cut some more. And I reached what I thought was the perfect point of entry. But no matter what I did, the book could just not pick up any steam at that point. It went mwah mwah mwaaaaah from the get go. And then there was the counter plot. I’ve never been particularly happy with how much of the novel is taken up by Alex’s job woes. It was one of those cases where I let the book meander into psychotic acid-trip craziness and hoped the reader was game to read absurdist fiction. But still, with all the lunacy going on in the plot, the story just sat there, staring at me, willing me to do something new with it.

When I hauled my gigantic white binder full of rough-draft novel up the attic stairs, dumped it unceremoniously in a Rubbermaid container full of books, and jammed the lid on it, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the action it had in mind. But as I resolutely turned off the attic light, I thought to myself, “This is an appropriate metaphor for how I feel about you. You suck. It was nice while it lasted, but good-bye forever.”

And I had not made it down even two rungs of the attic ladder before I was hearing Alex’s voice (muffled by the Rubbermaid container lid, but clearly Alex, nonetheless) and she said, “You want to put an offer on this house?” I asked my husband Will, who up til now had always seemed like a perfectly rational individual. And suddenly, my whole novel was re-organizing itself in my head. Here was the perfect point of entry. Here was the set up for funny dialogue. Here was a girl I could spend an afternoon with.

“You bitch,” I cursed, as I climbed down into the laundry room. “Where the hell have you been? It might have occurred to you to tell me this nine months ago when I was begging for your help.”

“I just thought of it,” said Alex.

Now she’s absolutely full of suggestions.

“You know what your problem is?” she asked me this weekend while I was cleaning the bathrooms. “You’ve got two different novels spliced together into some kind of weird Franken-fiction. Take out all the stuff about my teaching woes and stick to stories about the house.”

“That’s all fine and good,” I grumbled, “but I don’t have any more stories about the house.”

“Yes, you do,” she said.

“I do?” I asked.

And she proceeded to point out that I watch a bazillion home improvement reality shows on tv, and said, “What if Alex applied to be on one of them so they could afford to make the repairs on their new house?”

At this point, I was sprinting to my office for a notebook.

“The  reality show will pay for all the repairs,” she continued, “but the catch is that they have to do all the work themselves, with no outside help whatsoever, they have no clue what they’re doing, Alex is still messy and laissez faire, Will’s still an obsessive-compulsive neatfreak. and now there’s a film crew following their every move…”

And then the heavens parted, and a choir of angels appeared, singing in triumphant chorus…

I really feel like I’m on to something here — that this is a huge breakthrough for me — and it is going to take my book off in a new, and better, direction. And I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here about patience, and always remaining open to trying new things, and letting energy flow and ebb naturally, but it all gets so spiritual and metaphysical that it’s not easily described.

But the universe has worked her magic, and I’m here and I’m writing again.

WOW! Women on Writing

wowWOW! (Women on Writing) is a useful website and complementary blog that the writers among us may enjoy browsing. The website hosts a flash fiction contest and a collection of useful articles, including:

From the site’s About page:

WOW! is a global magazine, designed to support women’s creativity, energy, blood, sweat and tears, throughout all stages of the writing process. We envision Wow! being a favorite watering hole for professionals, the up-and-coming, and the recipients of our labors — the avid readers.

Our concept is unique, as it fills in the missing gap between writing websites and women’s magazines. We are dedicated to raising the overall standards within the writing community, and devote an active profile within writing industry associations, organizations and websites.

Ultimately, WOW! hopes to contribute to the love, enjoyment and excitement of producing quality writing — so that the reader in all of us will never want for good material, in any form.

Cathy: Not selling myself short

Crosspost from musings in mayhem.

The question of balancing motherhood and creativity arises constantly. The other day, I read a very interesting wake-up call over on and her head popped off. I loved the photograph of the mom going ahead with painting whilst her toddler hung upside down, squiggling on her lap. The mom in the photo is continuing her creative work regardless of being a mom as is the photographer and author. The essence of what Terri wrote was just shut up and do it. If you really want it, you’ll make it happen.

I think that’s why a lot of us mother-writers blog. It’s a piece of writing, that while it may not necessarily change the world or be the next Great American Novel, keeps us going. We can do it in the snatches of time during naps, or a bit of quiet while school aged kids are out of the house, in between loads of laundry and sinkfuls of dishes. We can focus for a few minutes, while our Big Project waits sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently for a chance to be the focus. We can do it while a wiggling toddler cuddles in for a snuggle while our fingers click away on a keyboard, like at this very moment that I write.

My old photography self of eons past has been relegated to largely okay pics of the kids and whatever catches my eye, with a little automatic easy camera rather than one I could make adjustments on, given the time and the perogative. The old dancer self still throws down in the kitchen periodically, albeit stiffly and ungainly. The old performer self regales at the dinner table in silly voices and fake opera, when I can get a word in edgewise among the constant stream of noise from all three kids. The old drawing self, will doodle now and then, and more often pretend large invisible canvases in sweeping gestures with my arms while I sit vegging out in front of the tv of an evening, too exhausted to do anything more. Honey must wonder what I’m doing over there, but is too polite or exhausted himself. Other times, I am making chi pottery, sitting with my hands balled around or manipulating invisible clay.

And I blog. I post something every weekday since I started this with the exception of when I took a summer excursion.

I know I have a manuscript that really wants to be finished and shopped. Believe me, if I could focus on that right now, I would. But when it comes to the big writing, I need more mental energy than I currently have. I also have three horizontal file drawers of poems and short stories that could use editing, compiling, submitting, as well as how many on the hard drive that need the same, and the three journals in my bedside drawer, dog-eared where good ideas are languishing. And then there’s that screenplay idea from about eight years ago that still won’t die, and I’ve lost the outline for ages ago.

But, for right now, This is what I can write, while I chase C away from the dog food again when things have gotten a bit too quiet. I’m doing a pretty fair job of it. And yes, I just wrote another very self-referential blog about blogging. But I’m doing it. I am writing.

Brittany: Standing in Place

For three nights in a row, I have woken up between 1 and 2 am, and haven’t been able to go back to sleep. This usually starts happening in the fall when I go into “planning the next project” mode and I usually use these nocturnal awakenings to write whatever it is that is threatening to burst forth. But this time, my project in the works doesn’t seem that close by. Or pressing. This time, when I wake up, my mind is a complete and total blank.

My one consuming thought (though, ironically, it isn’t consuming enough) is “I have to get this weight off.”

My weight has not changed in over a year. And you can’t call it baby weight when your baby is no longer a baby. I am despondent. I went on Atkins and lost 16 lbs before my brother-in-law’s wedding, started cheating here and there and slowly gained a few lbs back, and then my mother came to visit and I packed on 10 lbs in just over a week (Hello Cortisol!). Now the fat sits like a flabby innertube right around my middle, preventing me from looking good in anything I wear.

And I want to lose weight. Very much. But I also want to eat. I’ve talked about my issues with food on here and on my personal blog before. I am definitely an emotional eater and this summer, while blissful in many ways, has also been highly stressful and frustrating. I just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. My creative life is at a standstill. All my big goals and aspirations are at a standstill. But my flab, is, unfortunately not at a standstill. I can feel it jiggling slightly as I type this.

Tom is trying to be helpful when he repeats the well-worn dieting mantra: work out more, eat less. But it makes me want to bash his head in a little. I don’t want to eat less. I already eat far less than I want to. I almost never get to indulge in truly naughty foods. I don’t bake. We never have dessert. Plus, I’m limited to budget cuisine that appeals to Mr. Picky and the Rug Rats. And I’m a steak with a blue cheese cream sauce/salad/artichoke hearts in mayonnaise/rich chocolate mousse kind of girl.

And I don’t want to work out more. I already wake up at the crack of dawn, carry two children hither and yon all day, and am frequently used as a jungle gym for their entertainment. That’s besides the fact that I’m not a hamster and I don’t find it particularly fun or gratifying to run in place for an hour at a time, at the gym, surrounded by skinny mothers, who have rock hard abs despite giving birth to five children.

I know some of you on here (Miranda, for example) are runners. There’s a part of me that longs to be out there with you, feeling the wind in my hair, and the road beneath my feet. But I was not built for high impact/endurance sports, and with every stride, I feel my arches and my pelvis screaming “STOP! STOP! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! STOP!” And I do.

But I went to the gym twice this week anyway, and on Wednesday I discovered the elliptical machine. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it didn’t make me feel happy either.

When I start down a path in the process of a creative undertaking, I can quickly assess, right off the bat, if I’m on the right track or not. With exercise, I just don’t know. I know I’m burning calories and improving my cardiovascular fitness. But I just don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. Literally and figuratively. And considering the fact that I’m feeling so stuck creatively, I feel like I spend my days slogging through a never-ending quagmire of minutiae.

I am sick of the tedium of grocery shopping and buying the same groceries week after week after week. I’m sick of preparing meals every day. Of changing diapers every day. Of dressing and undressing children every day. Picking up the same toys. Of filling and re-filling sippies. Repeating the same requests. Getting the same responses.

I had a vague feeling that my life had become Prufrockian, and went back and read T.S. Eliot’s poem again, and sure enough, my subconscious was on to something. Especially this part:

For I have known them all already, known them all —
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all —
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

I know I sound very melancholy, but it’s hard to convey tone online. I’ve come to accept that I’m just not going to get to do what I want to be doing right now. To paraphrase Kelly and her latest blog, now is the time for standing in place, and the future is for moving forward.

Kelly: A Girl’s Gotta Dream…

Cross-posted from my personal blog…

journal 5a

Catching my breath quite a bit here lately so I haven’t had much happening on the art front. Here’s another spread from my art journal I’ve been working on. I’ve actually even started writing in it now!!! I was in Tampa Friday and Saturday facilitating some leadership programs and came home with a nasty cold virus. Slept pretty much all day Sunday and most of the day Monday. I guess I needed some rest! Made it back into work today but still feeling way under par. When I got back in town Saturday afternoon, I picked the girls up over at the football party DH and they were attending and told DH I needed to work on simplifying my life. He quickly agreed! Trick is, how do you do that?

Over dinner one night last week, we were talking about work stuff and he asked me where I saw myself in 10 years.  I had to respond, “Like, for real or for dreaming?” Pretty telling question, huh? Where the realist in me sees me is vastly different from where the dreamer in me sees me. I’m working on coming to terms with the fact that turning your dreams into reality is one of the biggest challenges you’ll ever face….when you add in paying the mortgage; raising wonderful, caring, thoughtful children; saving for their college education; planning for retirement….all that real life stuff, the choices are hard! That’s where the simplification of life to make it all work towards that dream meets the challenges of real life! Does that make sense? For example, I have nearly 17 years in with the state of Florida retirement system. Just for giggles, I checked out the retirement calculator recently. I looked at what the state would send me per month starting at age 62 if I were to retire tomorrow. Then I looked at what the state would send me per month starting at age 62 if I worked 13 more years to earn my full 30. Boy was that a shock of realism! The stick it out for 13 more years figure was more than 30 times that of the retire tomorrow figure.

journal 5b

So, how do I answer that “Where do you see yourself in 10 years” question then? Realistically, still working for the college, preferably by that point in a somewhat lower-paying, but much more free-time friendly faculty position.  In the short run, I’m still working towards a new step up position (first interview next week!). Now the dreamer, the dreamer in me sees myself and the family in a much different position…closer to that Purple Cottage I told you about. My Purple Cottage post generated quite a bit of discussion and some great ideas surfaced, an expansion of the purple cottage so to speak. That’s the dream I’m keeping stoked (so maybe it’ll be for 13 years instead of 10..what’s three years in the big scheme of things?). There’s a piece of property I’ve been familiar with since I was in college….and it hasn’t changed since I was in college. The location shall remain right here in my little brain. 🙂  It’s on the coast and has ten little concrete bungalows on it. Those cottages could easily been renovated…a few of them for lodging, a few of them for art studios, one of them for a kids’ playroom, one of them for a kitchen and dining area. You catchin’ what I’m layin’ down here? Sounding anything like that Mothers’ Studio Miranda tossed out there? Of course, this would involve selling our house and moving to a small town, but we plan to do that in the next ten years anyways. I’ve been keeping my eye on that property. Next time I’m over in that area, I’m gonna do me a little research… A girl’s gotta dream, right?

On Being a Vessel

A beautiful and interesting post on motherhood and creativity at WishStudio from guest blogger Suzanne Sperl. An excerpt:

i believe somewhere i read a quote from goldie hawn in which she referred to motherhood as being a vessel for your children to pass through — both literally and figuratively. being on the cusp of the birth of our second child, i can see the wisdom in her words. our children are separate of us the moment they greet this world. our job as mothers is to nurture, guide, teach, listen, and expose them to the beauty and wonders of this world — but they will always experience this in their own unique and individual ways.

as i started thinking about this, i realized creativity too passes through us in much the very same way. some seedling of an idea, a thought, a poem, photograph or painting begins within us but quickly becomes much bigger than us and we must ‘birth’ those ideas into reality — but they are never truly our own nor do we control them. they are born from us, contain pieces of us, but they are separate of us — and greet the world this way.

so in thinking about all of this, i wondered why it is that creative people (more personally, this creative person) tend to fear the creation of their ideas? when i started to think about creativity in the same way that i have come to view motherhood — i was reminded that we truly control so little in our lives. and some of the most successful moments we face are those when we are brave enough to step out of our own way, let go of the invisible leash of control, and just allow the moments to pass through us without resistance. in doing so, we seem to find strength, wisdom, and creative courage.

Read the full post here.

Jenn: Rotten Orange

Apologies for dropping off the face of Earth. My first book, a textbook called “Natural Disasters and Catastrophes” is done (in quotes) and I’m now going through the mind numbing editorial process of getting all the figures, figure legends, tables, appendices, copyright permissions, etc. in order.  Though it is time intensive, it is so boring and dreadful, I haven’t wanted to live through it the first time, let alone relive it on this page and bore Miranda’s readers to tears.

But now I’m in the process of pitching another book, tentatively titled “Rotten Orange” about the Syracuse University Football Program.  I know NOTHING about football and I despise spectator sports, but I tutored the football players at SU for five years and in that time I was intimately acquainted with what the guys went through.  It was not fair that they were asked to do two very difficult full time jobs (athlete, scholar), accept no compensation, and handle fame and stardom like few other schools (Syracuse has no pro teams in the NFL or NBA or whatever, so the entire community was pro college sports like crazy).  I also saw what the coaches and academic support staff went through.

I’m mulling over how this book will go, but my rough idea is it will be marketed as the seedy underbelly of the SU program, but end up being a feel-good story about triumphing in the face of adversity, where the guys are now (many went pro, more did not), and reflecting on what a precious, special time it was for them. I’ll include race relations, politics of NCAA, romance, academics, and will have help with the sports side of things from my dear friend Dave who was an Earth Sciences major and starting defensive tackle.

I also plan to interview many of the guys, who are eager to have their stories told. But I’m going to take a sort of mother hen approach. My friends used to call my apartment “The Jenn Rivers Home for Wayward Football Players” because they would come to my apartment to feel safe and to not be treated based on their performance on the field (I gave then, and still give now, a flying eff about football games), just on the quality of their character and their academic performance.

I know this sounds scatterbrained right now, and it is. But I’m so excited to have another project, and would love to hear any feedback on this blog on what kinds of things you all think people would be interested in as I put the proposal together and start shopping it around. My friend at Wiley also said it would be a good idea to submit a few articles to newspapers and include them in a proposal. And then maybe flesh out the articles into chapters.

I hope you all have been thriving this past year, I’ve lurked and followed your creative efforts often.  I’m most impressed by the collective efforts of Creative Construction’s participants!

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