Warm-up Exercise: Your Life in One Page

I don’t write poetry often, and there’s a good reason. It’s not my gift. But I’m tackling my 165,000 word sixth novel with the goal of slimming it down to a less prosy 125,000. I really want to do this. I decided a warm up exercise was in order.

I’ll never know quite how I got the idea of writing a one page poem that managed to encapsulate my life story, but it’s where I landed. Two hours later, I had this. Turns out it takes a LONG time to say things in a few words.

I’m not considering switching careers and becoming a poet, but I am pleased with the result, for me. Plus, my big project is down to 147,000 already and its getting easier all the time.

Happy When

I’ll be so happy when I get out of my parents house and can do whatever I want. I’ll stay out late. Not have to tell anyone where I am.

I’ll be happy once I’m out of college. These papers and tests are killing me. A few more months. I’ll have a job and money to do whatever I want. Then I’ll be happy.

I’ll be happy once I meet someone. You know. The one. He’ll hold me and love me. We’ll have fun together. How can you be happy alone?

I’ll be happy once this project at work is done. Once I get a raise. Once my boss leaves town. I’ll be happy if I just get a window office. How can you be happy without sunshine?

I’ll be happy once the baby comes. I want my body back. I’ll be happy once he talks. Is out of diapers. How can anyone be happy changing twelve diapers a day.

I’ll be happy if this second pregnancy goes well. If this third one does. Once my husband gets that vasectomy. Once he buys me flowers again.

I’ll be happy when these kids are done with sports. Every Saturday. I just want to sleep in. Read a book. I love them but, do other mom’s find time to enjoy themselves? How?

I’ll be happy once the house is built. Our dream home. Everything has cost so much.  I’ll be happy once we get back on track financially. Once it’s spring. Once it’s summer. Once we go on vacation. Once we get home.

I’ll be happy if dad recovers. If mom lives through this. If my son gets into that college. If my daughter gets that job. If the package I ordered comes in time. If it doesn’t rain. If it does.

I sit on my porch and remember my career. Think of my children; busy lives far away. My husband, inside watching TV. Too much of it these days, but he’s here. Still loves me.

What now, I ask? What will make me happy? If one of the kids calls? If the garden grows? If he gets up off the couch and kisses me? If the sun shines?

A little voice inside speaks. Silly girl. You are happy. You have been all along.

 

My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

No, I actually don’t want to spend time with you

word porn 1One of the many themes of z2 is that time is a precious commodity, and needs to be used well. A good bit of my time and probably yours is committed to health (eating, sleeping) hygiene (bathing, cleaning) and supporting ourselves. In fact, when we get done with all of that there isn’t much left over. But there is some, and for me at least it is the most precious resource that I have.

So what to do when someone announces that they want some of it? If it’s a person I care about, they generally get my ear, my help moving, a ride somewhere, whatever.  The time I give them may or may not bring me joy, but they do, and so I share willingly.

The more difficult situation is the social event that I have no desire to attend. I’m a strong introvert, and I get my full daily allowance of people just from going to work and filling gas. However, some social functions aren’t really optional. If it’s work mandated, or important to someone I care about, I go. Of course. If it’s a chance to try something new or learn about something that interests me, I sometimes give it a try. One can be surprised.

raising11But if it’s an old acquaintance I haven’t heard from in a long time and didn’t particularly enjoy back when, then I have finally learned to say no. Some people just bring me down. They may complain a lot, or talk about others, or make little jokes that insult me or people I know or whole groups of people. The net result is that whenever I spend time with them I feel sadder, smaller, and weaker than I did before. So why would anyone do that?

Yet for years if somebody invited me somewhere I felt obligated to go, if I was available. At best I’d make up a lie about having other plans and I’m a really bad liar. Recently, I have managed, instead, to say to such people “my life’s just too full right now, but thanks for thinking of me.” No suggestion of a another time, no saying I’m sorry I can’t make it. At most I have added “I hope the rest of you have fun.” And I do, I wish no one ill. I just don’t want to be there, and I’m finally old enough to recognize that I don’t have to be.

It’s tremendously liberating!

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