Thursday, January 28, 2010

For the Fat Lady and J.D. Salinger

My mom started college when I was in junior high. One of her first classes was on the short story. I remember finding Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger on the kitchen table one afternoon and dove in. This was my first “adult” book other than a few classics force fed on me at school. I fell in love with the stories and was hungry for more. So I read them—all four of Salinger’s published books.
Of course I liked Catcher in the Rye. Holden was the kind of character I wish I had known because I understood all too well what it was like to be in a world of people who don’t understand. If he had asked me to run off in the woods with him, I would have done so (even if in the real world the results would probably end in something tedious and unromantic). I named my son after him though my Holden is a lot more level-headed and abstract than Mr. Caulfield.
It was Franny, however, who I connected with. Franny had challenges—a boyfriend who didn’t have a clue and a crisis within her soul. Two brothers could have helped her, but one had committed suicide and the other lived as a recluse. It is her other big brother Zooey who throws her a lifeline by reminding her of something their brother Seymour used to say to them. Seymour reminded them to do kind things—like shine shoes—for the Fat Lady. The Fat Lady didn’t exist, but it was a reminder of kindness, of purpose; Franny needed purpose.
When I was twenty-one and going through my own sort of crisis and wondering what life meant anyway, I remembered Seymour’s fat lady.

This past month my goals seem futile and my meaning comes in question. Salinger’s death today reminded me of Franny, reminded me of myself. We do things for others even if we don’t know the person—even if the person doesn’t exist. We make up our purpose.

I will continue to shine my shoes for the fat lady.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dawn Dreaming

No, I'm not talking about a vampire book. I'm discussing the actual event, which is happening earlier and earlier each morning.

Dawn outside my window at seven.

Since I moved to Washington, I have been more aware of light and darkness. The extreme lighting shifts between summer and winter stun me more than I am willing to admit. This is the time of year every few weeks I feel, not a gentle nudge, but a jerk toward the sun. It's as though the planet earth readjusts itself in its path. Crocuses and daffodils push their green noses out of the soil, poppy seedlings dot the hillside. I keep my fingers crossed for continued mild weather from now until April.

This winter weather has been a blessing in many respects.

Just before dawn, I dreamed a story. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE dreaming plots. It's happened more than once to me, and I consider it a gift of some sort. I used to dream disasters when I was little. Then I dreamed things that would happen. Now I dream stories.

My plot is now in Word document awaiting expansion. It might be a few months, but I dreamed the book already.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hope Stronger than Bleak

Among the headlines almost lost this week in the stories about the devastating earthquake in Haiti was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the almost luckless pursuit of publishing through the slush pile. Of course, my writer friends passed it around through email and blogs. I will not post it here because I found it utterly depressing, yet I knew the truth already: Writing is hard. Very few people become successful. Even if you work hard, write well, and submit your work, you may not make it.

Yes, yes, I know all of this!

I often try to connect writing to something else in life. Writing is like gardening, writing is like raising children...I'm sure you've heard those sweet analogies. Writing is like having OCD, writing is like belonging to a cult, writing is an addiction...The more unpleasant analogies I've found.

Yet, I keep going. Why? Sometimes I'm not sure I know. I do know children need books. Children need places to go outside of their own world, children need to know someone knows what it feels like (even if that someone is a character in a book). Children need a connection.

I keep writing for them--and for me. I need those things too.

Take that slush pile!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to the Grind

I'm back with my nose to the computer screen this week earning a living with my day job. Today I graded a batch of narrative essays. Since I've been doing this for a few years now, I can see certain trends with writing. Narrative essays tend to carry weight--personal weight from the writer. Pain, suffering, or anger resurfaces as the writers relive things they probably wish they could forget.

I read these essays for hours. After many paragraphs about loss and despair, I start feeling it as well. I suppose I am giving these students a service. Not only are they building writing skills (I hope), but they also have the opportunity to unload their griefs (a phrase modified from Sylvia Plath poem). I am starting to feel like Sylvia as I experience the pain right along with the authors.

I am not being paid an therapist's wage, yet this seems my least for today.

I think I'll go and read "The Moon and the Yew Tree" now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Voice Dictate and a New Play

I got to test drive my voice dictation program for real yesterday. On a shopping trip to the mainland, I sat in my car on the ferry and turned on my laptop. Then, with my seat back, as I looked out at the passing islands, I dictated the play. At the end of the trip I had an eight page rough draft for the ten-minute playfest.

It's a strange process to use my voice to create; it's very different from tapping on the keyboard with my fingers. At times I felt a little strange saying things like, "but that's murder explanation point new line"

I also found I wanted to say things in the character's voices, but that was too difficult for the program to figure out.

I do like letting my mind drift and find the stories that swirl around. I'm optimistic this will help the drafting process.

Now, if I can just teach the computer to write "Michèle Griskey" instead of "Michelle Gretsky" when I say my name.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Decade

I spent most of my day cleaning out the basement. Not exactly a relaxing activity for a holiday, but for my task oriented brain, it was the right thing to do. It's always difficult for me to clean and organize things (though I love the results) because things take on meaning and significance.

I'm not a pack rat or a collector, but when I go through a box and find a picture colored by my son when he was five or tiny pair of baby socks, I get sentimental. I don't need to keep everything, but after a while, the items start tugging on my emotions. "Remember when," they call to me.

It hasn't been an easy decade. I tend to be hard on myself, so I probably cannot objectively judge what I did and didn't accomplish in the past ten years. I do know I haven't yet reached specific goals and this weighs on me.

The rain pounds on the skylights. The sky is already black outside though it's just after five. I look forward to spring and possibility, a new year, a new decade, a new book. It most certainly can be better.

I would like to go through boxes ten years from now and have the "remember when" voice remind me of how much better everything has become. I would love to look back and laugh.

Happy New Year.