Saturday, July 30, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

This is my entry for Courtney Miller-Callihan's super fun contest challenging folks to share their craziest re-imagining of their summer vacations.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation
A Haiku re-imagining by this inadvertent yogini

Conquered Voldemort!
Vanquished bridesmaids, Smurfs, bad boss!
Sigh. Just saw movies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Editing: Don't Overwork the Dough, But Don't Turn in a Half-Baked Product

I'm not much of a baker. The few times I've attempted it, my (fewer) successes have been the result of mishap, mis-measurement, and flat-out disasters that have been narrowly resurrected through a random combination of desperation, prayer, and frantically throwing in more ingredients in an attempt to re-balance the batter.

However, one thing even I know is that when you're baking (be it bread, cake, or pastry) you don't want to overwork the dough. Over-kneading, over-stirring, over-beating, over-whatevering, leads to tough baked goods. And nobody likes gnawing their way through tough baked goods.

At the same time, you don't want to turn in an under-done, not well-mixed product. Nobody likes a half-baked cake or a mouthful of flour. So how do you know when it's done enough (the batter's fully mixed, the dough's well-kneaded) but not over-done?

The reason I am pondering these random philosophical baking questions today is because secretly, I am really pondering their analogous writing counterparts.

Writing Update: I'm still mired in the editing process. It feels like it will be the endless editing process. I've gotten some excellent feedback from an independent film producer friend (he was amazingly adept at reading my work and immediately finding the structural issues, then suggesting solid, strategic solutions). I've also gotten tremendous support and thoughtful suggestions from my critique partner. Friends, family, and spouse have also weighed in.

Only the spouse led to a screaming match. (Kidding.) (Sort of.)

(Note to self: do not ask spouse for editing help if you want your relationship to last.)

The point is, that all this editing/re-writing/re-organizing could drive a lass to drink! I'm up to my eyeballs in minute (and some large-scale) changes and it's combined into a brain-melting sensation that can only be described as standing too close to a Monet. You can't make out shapes, structure, or reason anymore. It's all just a blur.

So how do you know when the dough's ready (aka not raw) but not overworked?

To be honest, I don't have a solid answer. My immediate coping mechanisms will be getting a little space from the project (space = perspective). Turning to a mind-stilling practice like, ahem, yoga. And relying on my gut instinct, my vision for the project, and the unbiased advice of my crit partner, who hopefully still has some semblance of perspective left. (It's somehow easier to stay objective about someone else's work.)

Hey, just one more reason that a CP is an absolutely, non-negotiable necessity. But that's a post for another day. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dog Park Etiquette: Another Brush with Crazy

You may remember that I'm a bit of a crazy-magnet. I accept that as my lot in life. Sometimes, however, I forget that it's my lot in life. Well, this morning, I was reminded. Le sigh.

I took Pelu for an early-morning outing to the dog park before an editing session with my crit partner. For those unfamiliar with dogs, dog parks, and dog park etiquette, it goes something like this. There's a "any-size/big dog" area for the...(wait for it)...big dogs or any brave little dogs that don't mind mixed big-dog company. And a separate "little dog" area for...little dogs. Each one is fenced in with three-foot tall fences, intentionally separate, and gated.

Lest there be any confusion, there is a painted sign of a little dog with "<#25"spelled out for the little dog portion.

Pelu--all ten pounds of her--was in the little dog park alone when a monster-sized, garantuan, astoundingly huge, mind-blowingly large dog leapt--yes, leapt--over the three-foot-tall fence into the little dog area. This alone was kind of amazing.

What was more amazing, however, was that the owner simply stood there and watched as little dogs began running around in terror and little-dog owners began scooping them protectively. It was practically akin to a post-bomb scene in a movie with people running for cover, screaming.

Meanwhile, the giant dog--let's call him Brutus--then began relieving himself all around our area. And in case you're thinking it was only "number one," well, you'd be wrong. After he left three separate piles around the little dog sanctuary, he then began tearing around in victorious loops. (I imagine this is the doggie equivilent of "Take that, b^tches! Your park is mine now!")

Still in the general/big dog area, Brutus's owner, let's call him Oblivious A-hole Owner (OAHO for short), yelled, "You got the sh^ts or something?" as he continued to simply stand, stare, and do absolutely nothing.

Yeah, he's got 'the sh^ts' from the little dog he ate on his walk here, I thought sarcastically.

Finally, one small-dog owner approached him and asked if he needed an extra bag to pick up after Brutus (aka hint-hint).

OAHO stared angrily, silently before finally pushing off the fence he'd been leaning on and ambling over, snapping "I've GOT it."

Walking past me, he said (as though we were having a conversation), "So, let me get this straight, my dog can't come in the little dog park but little dogs can come over to general area."

"Yep--those are the rules alright," I agreed cheerily. "Because big dogs can really hurt little dogs, so it's at the little dog owner's discretion if they want to take that risk."

"Oh that's it, is it?" He taunted, his voice a nasty sneer. "Well how am I supposed to know?"

I pointed to the sign.

"Yeah...too bad my dog can't read," he sneered derisively.

"Good thing his owner can...and that's the owner's responsibility, to control the dog and stick to the rules." I volleyed back.

Sensing that he wasn't going to win this one, he decided to make it personal. "Wow. You're a real happy person, aren't you? You're just in a GREAT mood today, huh?" The sarcasm in his voice could've peeled paint off walls.

"I was," I agreed, "until about 5 minutes ago."

By this point, my tiny Pelu broke free of her frozen state of fear and ran to the gate, pawing frantically to get out.

As we walked home, I remembered again that I have a bit of a crazy-magnet and that next time I need to resist engaging with crazy. Perhaps this sign on the pick-up bag dispenser said it best.

Thoughts? Etiquette violations (dog-park or otherwise)?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

So Much to Do, So Little to Blog

Lately, I've been struggling to come up with blog topics. Yes--even once a week.  

I keep wondering, "Why is this?" It feels like I'm doing a lot, and therefore should theoretically have lots to talk about. But noooooo...instead, silenzio.

As I was mulling this over and cursing my lack of enlightening/witty/fabulous comments, it occurred to me that the reason is that the process of editing--where I currently am, and have been for an entire year --is a deeply internal one. 

Writing is showy. It can be fast and furious. Frustrating. Too Easy. Plentiful. Stubbornly elusive. But in the end, it's tangible. You can say, "Yup, wrote 3,000 words today!" or, "Wrote two chapters today!" or even, "Dude! Could not get that %*& part right!" But at least you're talking about something measurable.

Editing? Not so much. It's more like, "Yeah...spent 8 hours today and still not sure what I accomplished, but holy shiza, my brain's mush and I feel tired."

I find it impossible to convey how I'm paring back or beefing up or cutting down or reworking the minutiae of any given part. And even if I can manage to describe it, it never sounds like it should've taken 8 hours...or 2 days...or a week. Or however long it took.

And yet it did take that long. Even without quantifiable results, or results so subtle as to seem unimpressive, change is taking place. Transformation is happening. Growth is in the works.

And in that way, editing is like the practice of yoga. It's internal and in that way, invisible. No visible progress is made daily or weekly or even monthly.

Until one day, it is. You have a different practice. You're a bit stronger. A bit more flexible. You can do something you couldn't do before.

And in that same vein, so too is your book one day better, stronger, something that it wasn't before.

Lesson learned: Just keep plugging away and keep faith that transformation is happening, even if we can't see it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Legitimacy of being a Writer

My friend, fellow blogger, and extraordinary cook Patti wrote a brave and beautiful post about how scary it is to actually say aloud that you want to write, that you're going to write, let alone to sit down and start writing.

Like Patti, I knew since I was old to enough to write that writing was what I wanted to do, but I wasted years being too afraid to say it aloud--or even to silently admit it to myself. It seemed too frivolous and somehow illegitimate...not a "real job" and certainly not something that I could do. So instead, like Patti and my critique partner and fellow blogger Allan Petersen, I went straight from college into the soul-sucking financial services industry. Despite the fact that I actively despised what I did and the fact that the financial services industry is morally questionable at best, I frittered away nearly a decade working in that arena.

Doing PR, marketing, and communications somehow seemed more realistic and legitimate than pursuing the abstract concept of being a writer. Working in financial services was, after all, so very tangible. So neat and tidy. Familiar. Safe. Common.

Even Emily Giffen, the New York Times bestselling author of five books, went to law school and entered the soul-sucking large law firm culture, because, as she says on her website's FAQ, "I think I had the sense that I had to get a “real” job first—that I couldn’t graduate and promptly sit down to write a novel...If I’m completely honest, I also think I went to school because it felt safer—a more certain path to measurable success. I think it always feels riskier and scarier to go after something you really love and want because the rejection and failure hurts more."

So what IS it about writing that is so scary? Is it, as Giffen says, the undeniable fact that it's scarier to pursue something you actually care about? Is it that our society deems science- and math-oriented jobs more admirable/legitimate/respectable? Or is it, perhaps, the undeniably daunting statistics that writers face? You don't have to look far to hear things like less than 1% of people that set out to write a book actually complete their books. And for that less-than-1% minority, the agent-securing process is even more improbable. Each literary agent receives between 5,000-20,000 queries from hopeful writers each year. Out that overwhelming number of approaches, they sign only a handful of new clients each year (2? 5? none?)

Facing stats like these, it's no wonder that so many of us scurry away to the mindless safety of a steady paycheck and 6'x6' cubicle.

And it would've been easy to loll away another decade or three, buoyed up by small corporate "wins" and distracted by the sheer busyness of life. But after nine years, I was finally fed up, worn down, miserable enough ready to make a change. Maybe it's something to do with the confidence that comes from being thirty (or therabouts). Allan bailed the year before and Patti the year after me. Emily Giffen apparently fled about seven years in. (And now that we're finally free from our corporate shackles, may we also follow in the amazing Ms. Giffen's writing footsteps someday!) 

Maybe we won't be successful in our writing pursuits. But at this point, I'd rather try and fail at something I really care about than never try, or worse, wither away at something I don't care about at all. If we don't go for it now, then when?