Sunday, April 24, 2011

How I Spent My Spring Vacation

Generally, I don't talk a lot about my writing.  There's not a lot to tell, really.  I write, ideas flow (or they don't) and then I get distracted.  Or there's laundry to do.  Or I have to run to pick up the kids because I've been so lost in thought and words that the scant time I have alone has flown at an exponential speed. 

That being said, I still won't divulge much about my current project, except that I was utterly inspired by Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga.  Before you get all eye-rolly with me: No, it's not about vampires. Or werewolves.  I love that stuff as much as the next tween (or her mom) but those things aren't even on the periphery of my project.  

Instead, a few years ago I was told by a friend in my writing group (who was utterly, involuntarily gripped by the Twilight series for several weeks of her life) that she felt my writing voice when she read the books.  "I know it's not the same," she said as our group dispersed into the late Encino evening, scratching her head, amazed that we were two women in our, ahem, late 30s/early 40s discussing Twilight.  "But I keep hearing the way that you write in the words on the page.  It's not the same, naturally, but there's a... quality... to it that reminds me of your writing."  She shrugged, jingled her car keys. "I don't know.  What do you think?  You've read them, haven't you?"

And I hadn't.  All of my friends had already devoured them, but I just hadn't been interested.  I mean, sure, I love the movies.  Who wouldn't want to be a part of the debate Edward vs. Jacob?  It was all the rage among the women I knew.  I had even gone so far as to acquire all four of the books in the series, in hardback, because I was CERTAIN that I'd love them.

But each time I tried to read Twilight, the first book, I was so bored.  Edward, Edward, Edward.  Bella seemed like a spineless, lovesick twit.  I couldn't stand that girls everywhere were inspired by her graceless, hopelessly romantic character.  She was not the kind of female role model I wanted my own girls to emulate and, honestly, I had a hard time stomaching my time with her, even on the page.  I took the hefty book with me on countless trips, only to shove it to the bottom of my suitcase or backpack after just a page or two each time.  Instead, I chose to immerse myself in the craze of the Twilight movies, the behind-the-scenes footage, info about Stephenie Meyer, articles about the stars, a mild obsession with Taylor Lautner.  And, in the meantime, I began my own writing project.

As I packed for Palm Springs a few days ago, I realized that I had forgotten to buy People or Oprah Magazine.  scoured my waning bookshelf (I'm hoping to buy a Kindle soon, so I'm lightening my tangible book load) for something, anything to read.  There at the bottom, below my well-worn Harry Potter series and design books I love to skim, were the Twilight books, neatly stacked in order.  I ran my index finger along the spines and decided on the last book, Breaking Dawn, to get ready for the next movie this summer.  Not like I'll even finish two pages, I thought, smirking.  Whatever.

I tossed the 700+ page book in my backpack... then took it out... then put it back in... Ultimately, with no magazine or back-up paperback in hand, I decided to take it and absent-mindedly put it under my arm on the way to the pool on the 2nd morning in the desert.

Maybe it was the absence of Bella's hand-wringing or the magical descriptions of her wedding and honeymoon, or the clever use of Jacob's POV for the middle swath of the book, or the satisfaction of seeing that Edward was finally right about Bella being an extraordinary person (jeesh! finally!), but I was hooked... to the point of getting a sunburn on my knees because I didn't want to flip over on my chaise lounge in the middle of a chapter.  It's been three days and I am nearly done -- I would have devoured it, if it hadn't been for all that crazy family stuff (dyeing Easter eggs, laundry, sleep, feeding my kids, feigning interest in the sitcoms I usually love).  

I guess the most fascinating thing to me, at this point in my writing life, is my appreciation for how well-crafted the story is.  I know that there are so many people behind the scenes here, helping Ms. Meyer to present her vision in a fully accessible way -- readers, editors, agents, copyeditors, everyone giving copious feedback and support -- but the story, and the way it foreshadows each event and how each character is so fully realized, no matter how insignificant (s)he seems, is dazzling... and I know it comes from a pure place in the author's imagination.  Sure, it's not Hemingway or Pynchon or Steinbeck.  But I don't read those authors anyway.  And I doubt I'd inhale their words in the same way that I've inhaled Breaking Dawn.

Okay, so it's 4 o'clock in the afternoon on Easter Sunday and I'm still in my sweatpants.  I've eaten jelly beans and chocolate eggs for sustenance and my hair is unrecognizably unruly.  But I've read 250 pages since I woke up (and that's despite spending time on an egg hunt and a morning walk and a meaningful conversation over breakfast).  And that's maybe the most important lesson I've learned, as a fledgling writer: write what you love to write. Because when you do, when you've caressed each thought with love and attention, the right person will find it and will love it as much as you do. And I suppose that's what my writing friend was trying to tell me: just write what what you want, in the way that you want to write.  The right audience will find you.

Sigh.  Enough of this writing stuff.  Gotta get back to the book...

Destination Unknown

This was written a few days ago, on Thursday, April 21st.  Due to spotty WiFi at the hotel and piles of laundry upon my return home, I am just getting around to posting it...

I have been traveling a lot this year, more than in any other year of my life.  Every 4 to 6 weeks, it seems, I’m in another fabulous place wondering, “Well, how did I get here?”

This time, I’m in Palm Springs again.  It’s just past 7 am and the kids are still sleeping.  It’s just the girls and me in the room – a deluxe patio room on the 1st floor of the very centrally located Hotel Zoso – although we met up with friends for this short getaway.  The morning air in the desert is so alluring that, even though I could probably feign exhaustion or vacation and sleep another few minutes, I’m sitting on the covered patio and gaping at the majestic palm trees, soft pink mountain mounds rising up behind them. 

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that I grew up near Palm Springs.  Not as close as I’d like to believe, but about 60 miles up Hwy 60, in 29 Palms.  The interesting part is that, as hard as it is for me to visit the desert of my youth in 29 Palms – the dusty trail my brother and I walked to get to school, the hard plastic table-with-attached-bench at Foster’s Freeze that seemed to hold so much promise to a 7-year-old with serious ice cream lust, the cactus “garden” in our front yard, the fact that my childhood home became a meth house eventually – I love Palm Springs.  My car will travel the hours and distance until we arrive in Palm Springs, then stop and hover for a few days, then turn around and go back home, to MY home, the home of my choosing.

I’m digressing, however.  The occasion of this journey is one of a leap of faith.  Sure, it’s Spring Break and most people try to find at least one little getaway during the week, even if it’s to a nearby park or beach, something to take them out of the ordinary and into vacation mode.  Curiously, I hadn’t planned on any such trip for the week.  With all of the trips I’ve been taking, I guess I was just going to wait and see what happened, maybe let my kids sleep in every day, catch up on a little writing, organize a closet or two.  Here’s what happened instead…

On the very first day of school, I saw Marlowe sitting near another little girl, probably just two feet apart, and both of them were just watching the other kids play.  They were each smiling, quiet, observant.  It wasn’t sad, like they were being excluded or anything like that, but sort of sweet.  They had a nice, comfortable “being together” that I really loved.  And that girl, Bella, has become a very sweet friend of Marlowe’s. 

Okay, so you’re still with me… About a month ago, Bella’s mom and I were talking on the phone and she mentioned that she really wanted to go away during Spring Break, that she and another friend were hoping to just take their kids – no husbands – on a short trip.  A breath later, thinking aloud, she said, “Would you want to bring your girls along?  I know Bella would love having a friend there.”

Now, I don’t know Bella’s mom very well, but you know how you get a good sense about someone immediately?  Much like how I knew Bella would be a great friend for Marlowe, I just knew her mom would be a sweet, easy-to-get-along-with travel companion. I found myself saying yes, not with a question mark or a long pause, but with conviction and excitement.

Still, yesterday, as the girls and I drove from the overcast, chilly northern bits of Los Angeles to the windy Hwy 111 that leads from Interstate 10 to Palm Canyon Drive, I had a few moments of wondering, “What the heck am I doing?” 

I had to remind myself that I did the same thing – exactly – as I boarded the plane to Rome in February, and wound up having one of the best times of my entire life.  I thought about the Anais Nin quote (I’m paraphrasing here) about how the day came when it took more energy for the flower to remain tightly curled up in a bud than to bloom.  I decided to let myself bloom.  And I pointed my car and my kids toward the desert, MY desert, the desert of my choosing. 

(Postscript: By the way, it was a blast.  There was a friend for Bella’s twin brother, Bella & Marlowe were in friend heaven, and Emme & Serena enjoyed time together without a little sister tagging along every moment.  I don’t know about all of them, but this leap of faith seems to be going along fine…)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magic Horses

"Every horse has a bag of tricks."

Marlowe's riding teacher said this gem yesterday and I wrote it down.  Somehow it seemed like it meant more about the world and life in general than just about knowing your horse's personality.