September 30, 2011

On "finishing" for the second time

Every so often, I look back to November 2, 2010, the day I started writing my first novel.  

"There's no way I can do this," I'd thought when my friend Jen challenged me to write for NaNoWriMo.  "My fiction sucks, I've never written anything longer than a couple thousand words, and...my fiction sucks."  But I started anyway, and a couple days later Charles accidentally gave me the hook that would get me into my own story. Zombies.  Yeah, man. I can write about zombies. 

By mid-November my story was flowing and I harbored Grand Plans for what would happen to my epic novel when I completed it.  Publication! Awards! A movie deal! An Oscar? Hell, why not, right? Dream big!

So I started following agent blogs and researching query letters and the whole "how to sign an agent" process.  Because clearly, this novel would be ready to go by springtime at the very latest, so I needed to be ready to dazzle all the agents who would beat each other down on the race to get to my front door.

And throughout all of my dreaming and scheming, Charles's voice was in my ear. The Realist, as ever.  "You know, baby...people spend years on one novel.  It could take you years to write this."

But I wasn't willing to listen. For I was different, you see. I was special. Every word I wrote was gold. And I could have this done in six months or less.

This dream carried me through the first phase of writing: the quick and dirty rough draft of about 65,000 words.  I knew I had reached the end of my story line one night  in January as I wrote upstairs in my bed.  As I typed the last words, I was literally giddy.  I got up and bounced around the room a little, then ran downstairs to tell Charles (who'd fallen asleep on the couch earlier that evening).  "I'm done! I'm done!" I squealed.

Bleary and confused, he reminded me.  "Baby, people spend years on one novel. You're probably not done yet."

Oh, poo. I thought. Don't rain on my parade. 

I figured I had about a month of editing ahead of me, and then I could start sending it out.  That's all it would take...clearly.

By early February, I had a draft ready to go to my early readers. My Alphas.  The first two to read it were my brothers.  Jonathan was proud, exuberant. He could see it being made into a movie, and the only flaws he found were inconsistencies in my plot, points where I contradicted myself. That's the kind of thing that drives him crazy when he reads, so those were the things I had to fix. 

Daniel was a bit more....realistic? Critical? He sent me two pages of notes of characters with whom he struggled, plot-points which were too far-fetched, and other areas of concern.

Both brothers gave me exactly what I needed...a burst of confidence, and a reality check.  

So I sat back down to edit more, still thinking it was just a couple more months.

Finally, by the end of June, I started sending it out into the world, and you already know what happened when I did that. A whole lot of nothing. No agents beating my door down. Not even any helpful feedback.  Just...nothing.  Because really, I'm not special, and neither was my novel. And I wasn't even all that proud of my work, because I knew it needed something...else. Something more.  I just didn't know what.

And it was a little hard not to give up.

But then there was Charles's voice in my ear again. "Don't give up, baby. You know it takes people years to write a novel."

And so I started on my additional story lines, and it's taken me two months to write them.  I love where I've taken the story, to this whole other, darker place, and even though it's all really rough, I'm proud of what I've done this time.

Last night I wrote the final words for my final story line of this book.  This time, I was on the couch, and Charles was watching TV beside me.  This time, there was no giddiness, no squealing.  Instead, I shut down my computer for the night and went upstairs to read.

Because this time, I know exactly how much work I have ahead of me. The outline I have to write to help me merge my three stories. The ink I'll get all over my hands and even my face (I'm messy!!!) when I edit on paper.  The tedious nights of inputting my manual edits into my computer files.    

It's gonna be a while before I have a draft ready for my next set of readers.

But you know what? It's ok. Because it takes people years to write a novel, and I'm ok with that.  

September 27, 2011

A thoughts collective

I don't have any one particular thing on my mind tonight, but I do have a few small items to note (With links! How exciting!).  There's literally neither rhyme nor reason, but I hope you find something to enjoy.

  • I've seen numerous bloggers posting lately about what they're reading. I'll admit, I'd love to do that and list all kinds of cool books. However, I have been reading the same book since....um....July? Mid-July? Yep, that sounds about right. It's George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, and it's a TOME, I tell you! And since I have been so focused on writing lately, it's hard to find time to actually read for more than 30 minutes a day, so I'm slowly plodding through, much to the dismay of my oldest brother, Jonathan. He's BURSTING at the seams, having finished it about two weeks ago, and I know he's struggling to not spoil the story for me.  We've both read all the books, and secretly it's sort of killing me that he finished first, but still...I'm focused more on writing.  And I will trust you, Jon, to not ruin any surprises for me, your beloved (ahem) little sister.
    • That said, I am taking the time to read a little more to my Zoe these days.  We've just started reading one of my old favorites, The Cricket in Times Square, and it's FABULOUS! We read a chapter a night, and so far, I think she's enjoying it too! And then today, Charles surprised us with copies of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, as well as his newest collection (published posthumously) Every Thing On It.  I love the little poems and illustrations, and I have a feeling Zoe will, too.  I foresee many days curled up on the couch together reading random poems and laughing.
  • Charles and I LOVE the show CBS Sunday Morning.  We record it weekly and scour it for cool, interesting or bizarre content.  Charles told me about this Bill Geist piece today, and we watched it together tonight.  It...made me cry. Like a baby.  All about Bill Geist's daughter's wedding, it was sweet and beautiful.  But it also made me realize (again) how much MORE human interest stories get to me now that I have a Zoe in my life.  Man, show me anything about kids growing up or dad's giving their daughter's away at their wedding, and I'm going to cry. End of story. It's embarrassing, but I guess it's who I am now?  Still, watch it, and let me know if you cry, too.
  • Finally, I have to say...I'm a little excited tonight! I'm getting close to the final chapter of my book, and then I get to edit again!  And over the past two days, I've gotten some fun and positive feedback on various chapters or versions that I've shared with people.  And holy cow, that feels good!  I've been delving into darker aspects of the story, and one friend told me my new stuff is...compelling! w00t! I wanted to throw a party.  Another friend is reading my last draft (prior to all my major additions), and he told me he's enjoying it!  So I know I still have a ton to do, but I finally feel like I'm on the right track, and maybe I'm writing something of which I can be really proud someday. 

September 25, 2011

Talker's block...

Long ago and far away, my brother and I sat in our mother's Ford Escort while she drove us to a local mall.  

We went to malls a lot; it's what you do when you're a teenager in New Jersey.  This time, though, Mom was coming into the mall with us to do some shopping, so instead of dropping us off at the doors, she circled the lot for a parking spot.  Mom drove up and down the crowded aisles that we'd seen a million times before, searching for somewhere, anywhere to park. 

When a spot opened up right in front of us, Mom rolled the car to a stop and flipped on her blinker, the universal sign for "Hey, everyone! I got here first! This spot is mine!"  But the car pulled out in such a way that we couldn't pull right in, and as we watched in dismay, another car zipped into the spot. Our spot.  Mom was furious.

So she pulled the car over and hopped out.  As the offending driver exited his car, Mom walked behind him and called out, "Excuse me, excuse me, sir!" He turned around.  She was purple, my Mom, and the was no telling what would happen next. My brother and I braced ourselves for a four-letter-word diatribe, but it was not to be.  As soon as the man stopped and turned, Mom got in his face and said...

"Excuse me, but I just wanted to tell you that you are a rude dude, sir."

Yep.  You got it.  A single, embarrassing rhyme. A rude dude.

I have no idea what happened next, as the utterly black world of humiliated teen angst opened up and swallowed me whole.  

Rude dude? Really, Mom? That was the best you had?

(Please note: I'm sure I over-reacted, and it wasn't that embarrassing...but still...we tease her about it to this day.)

****************

But then...

Today, it was hot in Charleston. And ohmigosh, I am SO sick of the heat. It's September, people! Time to cool the heck off!  But no. The thermometers crept way too close to 90 today, and I was mad about it. And I had to go grocery shopping in the heat. Ugh.

One coping mechanism I've developed for hot-day-grocery-shopping is to always park near the little cart-drop-off areas, because I hate to unload groceries into a baking car and then close them in to walk halfway across the lot to return my cart. And God forbid I not return a cart! I am such a goodie-two-shoes rules follower! I hate to get yelled at, and some little part of me is terrified that the Grocery Store Gods will strike me down and YELL AT ME if I don't return my cart.

So, I always look for those spots near a cart return. They're not typically hard to find, so long as you don't mind the long walk into and out of the store.

But today, lightning struck, and even though it was a Sunday afternoon when everyone and their mother goes to the grocery, as I pulled into the lot I spied two spots that were both near the cart return AND close to the actual store!  Score!

However, both spots were down an aisle that only allowed traffic in one direction; I had to circle around to go down the aisle in the appropriate direction to get to the spots.  So I carefully turned on my blinker and started my loop.  (See above re: goodie-two-shoes rules follower...)

To my surprise, a car that was behind me cut across the empty spots to zip in front of me to get to the spots! And then, another car went the WRONG WAY down the aisle to get to the other one!

Burned!!!

That moment with my mother at the mall came back to me, and for a moment I imagined all the non-rhyming things I would say to these to bastards who stole BOTH of my spots.  I yanked my car into the nearest spot, got out, slammed my door, and started storming towards the offending drivers.

And then...I got talker's block. I had nothing to say. I was purple, I was angry, I had been wronged, but I could say NOTHING. 

Instead, I walked sheepishly past the bastards and did my grocery shopping in sullen silence.

So...maybe there's something to be said for rhymes? I mean, at least Mom said SOMETHING, right? 

Me? The writer? I had nothing.

********************

Later on I remembered this link a friend of mine sent me last week, all about writer's block vs. the idea of "talker's block." (Since I clearly had talker's block at the store today...)  It's great advice, and only made me wonder for a minute if my friend wasn't saying I write poorly... Give it a glance if you have a sec.  It's better than my silly story above. 

September 20, 2011

It's a celebration day!!

I don't think I've been too soap-boxy here lately, and I also don't think I've ever been soap-boxy about this topic on this particular blog. But if you know me, you probably know that I'm quite "liberal" (in quotes because even I struggle to understand the definition of that oft-inflammatory word, and because I hesitate to label myself). I firmly believe in equal rights for everyone, regardless of race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. (I will admit, though, I'm starting to question equal rights for all political parties...you Tea Partiers are wearing on my nerves! But whatever - that's another post for another time.)

So that's what makes today such an awesome day!  Because today marks the end of a terrible, 18-year-old policy of military discrimination called Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  As of today, openly gay men and women are allowed to serve our country without fear of dishonorable discharge.

To me, this is amazing.  I'm so happy to see this day come!  If you think about it, there are entire non-drinking adults for whom DADT was their life-long norm. If they were gay and wanted to serve, they knew they had to live a lie.  But now they don't have to!

Isn't that great? Hooray for President Obama for working so hard last year to get this DONE!

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I'm kind of in a crap mood today (call it hormones, exhaustion, tormented-writer-itis, whatever, I'm grumpy), so in a totally selfish effort to make myself feel better, I'll spend the rest of my internet-perusal time today looking for lovely, happy stories about celebrations of the DADT repeal, and I'll post them here tonight.  It will be beautiful and sweet and it will make me celebrate along with them.

Here's the first, from my favorite newspaper, the New York Times.  Go ahead and read it - I dare you not to cry.

The New Yorker also has a nice piece here

OK, this is the official video from the White House, but at least I pulled it from YouTube and not the campaign pages. So I'm a little less partisan, no?

To round out the list with a slightly more conservative publication, here's a nice piece at The Washington Post.

Update: I had to add this one more link, regarding Dan Choi, an early activist for the repeal of DADT. He's re-enlisting! That's amazing!

September 19, 2011

A picture of a tortured writer

Saturday night, I got into it.

Really, really into it.

I was writing a scene for the latest character with whom I've been working lately, and...it went downhill.  The scene, I mean, not the writing. I gave my character a little leeway and played around, trying to figure out as I wrote what was going to happen next. There were no preconceived notions.  

So I just kept writing.  At some point, Charles gave up on me and went to bed.  At another point, I realized the windows were still open and I was freezing.

And then, I got mad. 

Really, really mad. 

Because the scene I was writing took on a life of its own, and another character was being disgusting and despicable, and I felt powerless to stop him.  He hurt a kid, a really little kid, and it made me so sad and angry I could hardly take it.

So I kept on writing. Really, really writing.  

Because I knew, at that point, that I knew how to finish the scene and the chapter, and I knew that if I didn't finish it in that sitting, it was just going to keep me up all night anyway.  It made sense to give in and let the bad guy win for the night, so I did.  

When I was done, I checked my word count, just for fun.  I expected maybe 2,000 words. But no. 3,656 words had come out while I worked in my sweatshirt and my shorts and the open windows and the breeze and the dark.

It was pretty cool, I have to say.  Call it my sick face, call it me feeling a little tortured, call it a regular productive night.  Doesn't matter.  All that matters is that I'm that much closer to finishing telling my story, and I'm that much more confident in the story I've been telling. 

So it was a good night.  A really, really good night.

********************

To reward myself, tonight I'm finally purchasing Microsoft Office for my little netbook. I hope my machine can handle it! But it's time, really.  I've been doing all my writing on Google Docs, which is great because I can access my pages anywhere I go. But to submit things, you need Microsoft Word-formatted documents, so when I've compiled my chapters it's been on other people's computers, which never quite feels right.

So yay! Word!  And the best part? One of the perks of my job is that we get a great deal on Microsoft products.  So I'm getting software I need at a price I love, and as long as my little pink computer is up for it, I'll be even more in business by this time tomorrow!

Hooray!

September 15, 2011

Happiness is a kind word and a baseball bat

In the past year I've learned that the life of a writer, or at least the life of this writer, is one of constant insecurity. What I'm writing isn't good enough.  My ideas are cliche. I'm unoriginal. I'm boring.

Seriously. These thoughts plague me! They drive me nuts!  Even Charles says I've been more emotional since I began working on my book last November.

However, I've persevered, despite all my fear and uncertainty, because I am a writer. I am! It's what I do, every night, from now till forever.  At least until I can quit my job and write during the day instead...when I'm all rich and famous....HA!!

Anyway, it's hard, and I do get frustrated and sad sometimes. I worry that I'm the only writer who's ever felt like it's all so overwhelming, this quest to write and publish a book. I know it's silly, but I worry that no one has faith in me, and sometimes I just want someone to be proud of me.

But this week has been so exciting! Want to hear why? Good, because I was going to tell you anyway.

Earlier this week, an agent I follow on the Internets recommended a writing/publishing class that's being offered this month in Manhattan.  Taught by a bona fide, published suspense author, it sounded so great I wished really hard that I could take it.  However, living in South Carolina, I realized the commute was too long.

But in the comments section of the blog post, I noticed another non-local had asked about online courses, and the teacher had already responded and said, "email me if you have any suggestions."  Well, I work for a global software company, right? We do all sorts of online meetings and teleconferences! I wondered if I could help, even a little.

So I emailed the teacher and told her how much I wished I could take her class, and that if she did something online I'd love to participate.  I mentioned in passing that I missed living in tri-state area, particularly now that I know I'm a writer.

And would you believe, she emailed me back within about 20 minutes.  And in addition to asking about what ideas I had for online classes, she said something so simple and profound.  "Congratulations," she said, "On that transition into being a real writer."  I'm paraphrasing, but wow. No one ever congratulated me for calling myself a writer.

We emailed back and forth, and I couldn't believe how nice she was, how supportive, how generous with advice and anecdotes.  So then of course I had to google her, not quite believing a "real writer" could be this nice.  I found out...she is!  Her blog is partially devoted to posting mystery writers' "made it moments," when they realized they were finally "real writers".  I've read a few already, and they're amazing.  Turns out, I'm not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I'm not alone in wondering if I'm good enough, and feeling intoxicated by the idea of someday succeeding at this crazy scheme.  I'm not alone in being scared.

It is damn inspirational, realizing I'm not alone.

So. In case you need a pick-me-up, I suggest you check out the web site of this fabulous woman, Jenny Milchman. And Jenny, if you read this, thank you SO much for your kind words this week!

*************

And in case that wasn't enough to cheer me up, there was icing on the cake!  

Yesterday, I was in the backyard working out while Zoe played on her swings. I saw the UPS truck stop at my house, and I wondered what they were delivering; usually I know what Charles has ordered.  

Moments later, the back door opened, and Charles told me to close my eyes. He sounded giddy. I closed my eyes, held out my hands, and into them he placed....a Louisville Slugger! It was gorgeous! I squealed! I bounced and hugged him and showed it off to Zoe.

Sort of random? Not really.  You see, the main character in my book happens to be a super-cool zombie killer, and her weapon of choice? A Louisville Slugger!!  

It felt soooooo good in my hands, even when it gave me a splinter.  So solid! So heavy! So...deadly!! It made me feel like I'd made a great decision.

And by buying that for me, Charles let me know he gets it. He supports me and my crazy writing. He might...even be a little bit proud.  

And I love that.  Thank you, honey. You're awesome.


September 13, 2011

On productive weeks, and why I'll never win Mother of the Year

Two entirely different topics, neither enough to merit its own post, so....mash-up!

**********

Last week was one of my most productive writing weeks in a while, which is weird considering I was fighting a terrible case of writer's block.  (The block stems, I think, because I'm trying to write from a guy's point of view for the first time, and even though I know how I want him to sound, I can't get the words quite right.)

Anyway, I'm not focused on numbers as much as I was during the challenge, but still, I pay attention.

Most of my word count came from my 9/11 posts.  I literally sat down one evening and, determined to write something, I suddenly banged out well over 3,000 words worth of memories in under an hour and a half.  Literally, I wrote and wrote furiously, and when I was done, I had this mass of words that needed editing but that I was dying to post. I liked it.

So then I edited and edited furiously, and came up with two posts that I thought were pretty good.  And then, the post that I wrote last, the one that came at 3:00 in the morning between September 10th and 11th and barely edited and was strictly my reflections on the day, was by far the best thing I've written in ages.

So maybe I'm an narcissist? I write best and most when I'm writing about myself? Sigh.

************

I've also decided that I am an unsympathetic mother when it comes to childhood fears.

OK, that sounds even worse on my computer screen than it does in my head.  But hear me out here.

I grew up on some of the scariest movies ever made. I remember the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I was maybe five, and we had borrowed a VCR from my dad's friend, and I watched the whole movie with a slack jaw and my hand intertwined with my father's.  At the end, when the Nazi's face melted, an indelible image was imprinted on my brain. I've never been able to forget it, and I've had nightmares about it ever since. 

I don't remember the first time I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street or the original Dracula and The Mummy. Those were just a part of me. But I do remember a nightmare in which my dog was a vampire, standing at an altar while my friend Alicia, wearing mummy-like rags, officiated at his funeral.  Plus, I remember feeling relieved that if Freddy Krueger came down through the ceiling to attack me in my room, he'd reach my brother first. He had the top bunk.

So, when Zoe, who has seen nothing worse than some pirate skulls in The Goonies, tells me she's afraid to go into her room alone in the middle of a sunny day, I find it pretty hard to believe.  I wind up incredulous and unsympathetic.  "Oh come on," I say.  "For real? You're just pretending."

It's almost like I want to say, "You're afraid of your room? Come on, I can give you something to be scared of!"  (Let me give you something to cry about!)

Because with my infinite knowledge of horror movies, clearly I can scare the pants off her. 

Don't worry, I won't do that. And I'll keep trying to not dismiss her fears.

But really? Come ON.  It was sunny in there!!  Nothing bad happens in the sunshine, right?  (Or does it? Bwaaa haaa haaa...) 

************

So that's me. A narcissistic, unsympathetic horror movie fan.  Yeah. 

September 11, 2011

Scattered thoughts

Part 3

Last night, right after I turned off my light to go to sleep, an unbidden prayer flew through my head.

Dear God, please keep everyone safe tomorrow, and please protect the families and loved ones who have lost so much. Help them through the anniversary. They'll need your help.

This is significant for a number of reasons.  For one, I don't pray. I'm about as secular a girl as they come.  And for two, it felt so natural to ask for help on such a big night. It's scary to think about negotiating it all on our own.

This morning, when I left to go running, I thought, 

Dear God, the sky's right.  It's so blue again.

Dear God took on another context there.

Then I noticed there were no airplanes in the sky, no contrails slicing and dicing the blue.  It was eerie, to see such an uninterrupted swath of bright blue sky.  Did they ground all airplanes this morning? Or did no one purchase seats on the Sunday morning flights? I know I wouldn't have wanted to fly this morning.

***********

My day today is jam-packed full of unrelated activities: a long run; a play-date with a good friend and her son; a book signing by the husband of another good friend; football; dinner with my parents.

I'm not sure if I did this intentionally, but probably I did, at least on some level.

************

I was thinking all week of how much the world has changed since September 11th, 2001.

We've been at war ever since, in two countries, sometimes three.

When I was in high school, searching for the One Thing that would mean something to me, I used to lament living in such a calm era.  I wished to have lived during WWII, when it meant so much to contribute to the war effort. I wished to have lived during the Vietnam War, when it meant so much to defy and protest the war effort. Either way, I just wanted to feel something.

But now I lament the chaotic time in which I've reached adulthood, where a tiny percentage of our population has fought for and died for our country without the rest of us being even remotely effected. It's like there are ghost-wars going on, so far away, depleting our military and our government's budget. If I didn't want to think about the wars, I wouldn't have to, and that's crazy to me.  How is that possible?

I don't know the right answer. I only know it's not right.

***********

I wonder sometimes if anything good came out of September 11th. For a long time, particularly under the Bush administration when our global reputation was so tainted and embarrassing, I would have said absolutely not.

But if nothing else, there is certainly a new global awareness that may not have existed without September 11th.  Books like Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Kite Runner became bestsellers, perhaps due to much of this country wanting to learn, in some innocuous fashion, about the other cultures out there.  Would those books have been so popular if those few other cultures hadn't been thrust into the limelight ten years ago?

************

I didn't celebrate when Osama Bin Laden was killed.

There, I said it.

I was glad he could no longer hurt others, and I was proud of President Obama for accomplishing what President Bush was never able to.

But I will never be comfortable celebrating a person's death, no matter who he was.  Because something made Osama Bin Laden a bad guy; something took him and morphed him into a cold-blooded killer. Whatever that something was, it still exists, and is creating more killers today.  

Plus there's something to be said for the devil you know, right?

Evil doesn't exist only in a vacuum, but in a vacuum, new evil always arises. 

*****************

I hurried home from my run so I could watch the memorial services at Ground Zero. Zoe played with Legos while Charles and I tried to focus on the television, but she kept asking questions.  

"Who are those men, Mommy?"
"Those are the bagpipers. They'll play pretty music in a minute."
"Bagpires? Are they bad, like vampires?"

The Brooklyn Youth Choir sang the national anthem.  Zoe listened, then grew excited towards the end.
"Mommy, that's the song we sing at baseball games!"
"Yep, that's called our national anthem."
"When will they get to the part about Cracker Jacks?"

Then finally, we tried to explain why we were watching the memorial, what it was honoring.  I explained about the towers falling, and Charles explained about the airplanes.  Then the camera panned across the new Freedom Towers, and she squealed.
"Mommy, I see the towers!"
"Yes, baby.  Those are the new towers."
"But when will the airplanes come?"


Ten years ago, there was no Charles in my life. There was no Zoe. Life has changed incredibly in ten years, and I'm so grateful for all the world has given me. Moving forward, I'll make sure that Zoe does understand what happened that day, but maybe not till she's a little older.  I'd like her to live in peace a while longer. 

I'd like us all to live in peace.

September 10, 2011

Kaddish


Part 2

In the days that followed September 11th, I was terrified still.  The stories which came from the towers were horrifying at their most benign.  People had jumped. Family members had stood powerless while their loved ones literally crashed or burned, all while connected via cell phones. Then came the anthrax attacks, and suddenly it was dangerous to open the mail.

I started having panic attacks, usually in the middle of the night. I’d wake up feeling like there was a thousand pound weight on my chest. I couldn’t draw in a breath, but neither could I let one out. I would feel each heartbeat crash through my chest, and each one was equally painful. One night it was so bad I considered asking the fiance to take me to a hospital, but even as terrified as I was I had enough presence of mind to know what was happening to me.  I got out of bed and started pacing, trying to breathe deeply enough to calm my body.  It eventually worked.

But as anxious as I was, I still wasn’t mourning.

We’d compared notes at the bakery. Customers who used to come in regularly now weren’t, but that didn’t mean they were dead.  Many people were in hibernation in those days.  Montclair, a commuter town, had lost its share of citizens, but I still had no faces for the names which were starting to show up online.

One night about a week after the attacks, I went back to my hometown to meet two friends for coffee and dessert at our favorite diner.  I got my usual (hot chocolate and streussel toast), and sat there with DM  and MT.  MT had returned from the West Coast several days before September 11th, en route to Europe for an extended vacation.  He was grounded, though, as the airports still hadn’t opened back up, so he’d been tooling around our town since the attacks.

We chatted about everything that had gone on, and towards the end of the evening, I said, “I’m just so happy I didn’t know anyone who died.” DM nodded her head.

MT stared at me, he mouth hanging open for a second.  “Yes, you did,” he said, and then he changed everything.  “Bobby died.  He worked there. He got out, but he went back in to try to help people. He was in when the tower collapsed.”

Bobby.  I’ve been using nicknames in these posts, but Bobby gets his real name. He deserves his real name. And in that second, I could picture nothing but his face.

MT was my lone, real high school boyfriend, so I knew he and Bobby had been best friends when they were kids.  MT’s heart had to be slightly broken.

I hadn’t met Bobby until Spanish class during my freshman year of high school. He was a sophomore, and was one of the cooler kids in the high school caste system. Even so, he was always nice to me. Red-hair, freckles and a really pretty smile...even back then, when I was afraid of my own shadow, I’d thought he was cool.

We were never good friends, but when we wound up at the same college years later he was as nice as ever.  I remember seeing him for the first time in the gym when, again, I was a freshman and he a sophomore.  His face lit up when he saw me and he came over and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Our paths crossed many times throughout my first couple years of college. We went to a lot of the same parties, knew a lot of the same people.  And it was always the same. A hug and a kiss and an introduction to whoever he was with that night.  So sweet, so welcoming, so lovely.

Bobby was a good guy, and of course he went back in to try to help other people.  That was the kind of guy he was.

That night at the diner, I ferociously hugged MT and DM goodbye.  Then I barely made it to my car before I started to cry. Bobby’s face was in my head, and he was gone.

I finally mourned.

And I mean, really mourned.  I cried the whole 45-minute drive home.  And not just a couple tears here and there.  We’re talking sobbing, choking, probably-should-have-pulled-over-as-I-clearly-wasn’t-driving-safely crying.  I just kept picturing Bobby’s smile.  Even today, I can still see it, you know? Idealized, I’m sure, by the passage of time and the desire to memorialize him, with hazy corners like an old-timey photo, but still. It’s him. He’s there.

************************

I made it home that night, my face all puffed-up redness, and I walked inside to find the fiance and the roommate drinking beer on the futon couch in our living room.  I didn’t want them to see me that way, so I ran straight to my room.

The fiance followed. I was barely able to tell him why I was crying, but when I did, he patted my back, then left and let me cry it out alone. It was all he could do, I’m sure, and it took hours for me to calm down.

When I mourn, I really mourn. It’s a full body experience.

************************

I’ve never felt like it’s my place to write about Bobby. I wasn’t close enough.  He had a family, a girlfriend, and who was I but a random girl he hugged from time to time?  But now, maybe, it makes sense. Because ten years have passed but I still remember his face and his voice and how kind he was to me. They meant a lot, those hugs and kisses, when I was far from home and negotiating the early days of college.  That familiar smile. The freckles.  Maybe the very fact that I can still think of him and smile, but still be a little sad, maybe that means I am allowed to write.

Whether or not I’m allowed, I just did. And I’ll think of him Sunday, and I’ll mourn. But just a little bit this time.  Because time does heal some sadness.

September 9, 2011

Memories



I read a lot of history books. I watch a lot of documentaries. Mostly I focus on World War II and all that goes with it (translate: Holocaust), and I’m always surprised at how emotional people get when talking about the events that shaped them, regardless of the passage of time.  I’m always a little incredulous when I see people struggle to speak; it’s almost like, Really, haven’t you moved on yet?  That makes me sound insensitive; I don’t think I am. I just never had real access to understanding history.

Until recently, anyway.  Until people started gearing up for the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  My “favorite” piece so far is a small encyclopedia in New York Magazine, and I’ve been reading through it for the past few days, typically with a glass of wine in hand.  I’ve been surprised at how many times I’ve gotten choked up.

Because, c’mon! This was ten years ago! It’s not like the buildings fell yesterday.

But still. The memories burn.  Who knew how much they could still?

I’ve wondered what to do to commemorate this strange anniversary. I know the Internets will be full of memorials, stories, memoirs, you name it.

I briefly considered ignoring it all together.  But that would be like ignoring a little part of me.

So I decided  to do what I  do best. Write about it.  I’m going to get down on paper my memories of September 11th and the days following.   There will be three parts. Two, as of this posting, are done, and those are my memories.  On Sunday I plan to write something, but I have no idea what yet. I just know I will want to write on the actual anniversary.  So we’ll see what a run in the morning and some reflection in the evening will bring.

This is not my way of saying my memories are special. They’re not. Nor are they important, nor different from anyone else who was touched by that day. But they are my memories, and if one day someone is collecting 9/11 memories the way historians are frantically collecting the memories of WWII survivors now, I’d like to have some sort of document to simply hand over. Here, I’d say. One person’s account, as written ten years after the fact.

This is also a little selfish. I’m a better writer than a talker.  I  bet that one day Zoe will come to me and say, “Mom, you were in New Jersey on September 11th.  What was it like?”   Chances are, I still won’t be able to talk about it without getting worked up, so I can hand over this document.  Here, I’ll say. My account, as written ten years after the fact.

So...without further ado...Here.  My account, as written ten years later.

************************

Part 1

On the days leading up to September 11, 2001, I was 22 and starting my final year of college at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey.  I was engaged to a boy who was not Charles, and we’d just moved into an apartment in Bloomfield with a mutual friend.  We were all  adjusting to our new place and our new landlord, who we called “Jerry da Butcher,” on account of the fact that he was a butcher and, we swore, a secret member of the mafia.   I had a job working at a small bakery in downtown Montclair.

That morning, I had the opening shift and had to be at the bakery by 6:00 a.m. to bang on the back door for the Baker (and co-owner) to let me in.  I drove my little green Mustang into work that morning, all bleary-eyed sleepiness, and set out bread on the shelves and brewed coffee in semi-darkness.  It was peaceful. I helped myself to some strong Italian coffee and a roll with butter and raspberry jam, by far the best perks of the opening shift.

Around 7:00 a.m. the Baker left and the other co-owner, RL arrived.  RL and I chatted for a few minutes, then she ran out to pick up some supplies or to the bank, I’m not sure.  Then the Pastry Chef arrived, and we sat down and chatted, mutually surprised by a lack of customers.  I don’t remember any of our regulars showing up even that early that day; I have no memory of anything other than sitting at a cafe table with the Pastry Chef, chatting about how beautiful of a day it was going to be, and how I had my first ever drawing class later that day.  The stereo was playing some silly Italian pop music that we both hated, but since the Baker loved it, we left it on, lest he come back and fuss at us for changing it.

Soon, RL came back from her errands. She burst into the front of the store, and all our lives changed.

“Turn on the radio,” she cried.  “A plane crashed into the World Trade Centers!”

“What the fuck,” I whispered as I flew behind the counter and flipped on 1010 Wins, the local AM news station.  It had to be some kind of crazy accident, right?  The Pastry Chef, always pale, was now a ghostly white, and we three listened in frightened silence.

The news went from bad to worse.  As we listened to reporters give dispatches from a scene which sat less than 20 miles away from our store, another plane struck.  One of us was the first to say out loud, “This isn’t an accident,” but I don’t know who it was. The Pastry Chef started to cry soft, quiet tears.

I started accounting for friends and family in my head.  Daniel lived in Queens and worked in Manhattan, in the Empire State Building, and I was momentarily unable to breathe. “They’ll evacuate the Empire State, right? He’ll be ok?” I asked, but then I looked at the clock and breathed a sigh of relief.  It was barely past 8 a.m., and my night-owl brother would still be in bed. I crossed him off my list of people to worry about.

Then I remembered.  The family for whom I babysat near daily lived close, and they’d become like family to me, sort of like a sister and brother, niece and nephew.  The dad, SB, worked in the city. Sometimes, he took the Path train through the World Trade Center stations.

I dove for the phone.  Like everyone else on the East Coast that day.  There were no available phone connections; I’d have to wait for news.

We all turned back to the radio, staring at the speakers, waiting for them to tell us something new.  I started to wonder if this wasn’t all some crazy play, like when Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds to an all-too-gullible public in 1938.  I mean, this couldn’t have been real, right?  Nothing like this had ever happened before.

Then the first tower fell, and the radio broadcaster whispered, “Oh my God.”

And I knew it wasn’t a prank.

The towers which had stood for my entire life fell in what felt like immediate succession, even though in reality it took a little while.  I still hadn’t looked outside, even though I knew from where the bakery sat it only took a little bit of climbing (like onto the roof of my car) and craning of the neck to see where the smoke would rise.

I sat in silence, unsure of what to do.

****************************

An hour or so later, a  good friend who also worked at the bakery walked in with the three children for whom she was babysitting that morning.  We’d had no other customers.

She bounced in, smiled, and said, “Why the long faces, guys?”

And we stared.  She knew, but was trying to be light for the children.  But we weren’t ready for light yet.

***************************

Around noon, RL finally sent me home. My shift was over anyway, and she was finally convinced (I found out later) that I wouldn’t crash my car by speeding somewhere frantically.

So I sped frantically to the house of the family for whom I babysat, and when SB opened the door, without even thinking I threw my arms around him, so thrilled was I that he was alive.  Then I hugged his wife, and we both cried a little. I have no idea what we all said to each other, but I did find out that SB had left for work that morning in his cute little Saab convertible, instead of taking the train. When the first plane hit, he hadn’t even reached the edge of town, and he turned immediately around. Slightly comforted, I left soon after I arrived.

I sped frantically back to my apartment, where the fiance was barely out of bed.  The roommate had just gotten home from work; they'd closed his office early due to the attacks.  The fiance didn’t even know what had happened yet, so I had to tell him.  Shocked, he turned on the news, and then all three of us sat on our futon couch and watched as the planes hit again and again and again, on that continuous loop that seemed to run for days, interrupted only by images of people hurtling themselves from hundred story windows, and the towers ultimately crumbling.

We lived in the flight path for Newark Airport. There were always airplanes flying overhead; we were numb to the sound of them. But on that morning, the lack of airplane noise was eerie.

Then, when we did suddenly hear the thrum of a jet engine, we bolted outside, terrified. The whole street was out there, staring up into that incredible blue sky that was smelled of smoke and ash.

It was a military plane, running a protective route above the city.  I’d never seen a military plane in active duty before. It was terrifying.

****************************

The fiance was a runner, and he was in the midst of training for a marathon that month.  He left shortly thereafter to go for a long run, which never took less than two hours. I begged and pleaded with him to not go, to not leave me alone on that day. I was so scared.  But he left anyway.

I guess we all deal with fear in our own ways.  Me? I held the roommate’s hand instead as we continued watching the endless news loop.

*****************************

At some point I got through to my mother on the phone, or she got through to me.  All the family members and friends we could think of were accounted for, although she worked for a financial firm that had offices in the city that were effected by the crash. She wasn’t sure yet how many co-workers she’d lost.

*****************************

That night, at my insistence, the fiance and I drove to Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange.  Set into the side of a mountain, it’s an overlook with an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline, and I loved to go there on clear nights.

But,instead of the usual city lights, the sky was black but for two surprisingly bright plumes of grey, solid-looking smoke that rose high into the night, obliterating the stars that would otherwise have been there. The air quality was terrible, smoky, and smelled almost like barbecue charcoal.  I tried not to remember how many people had cooked in the towers that day.

The overlook was already filled with flowers, pictures, names. Little memorials to those who were already among the known dead.  I scanned the hundreds of offerings, holding my breath, afraid to find a known name. I didn’t.  As scary as the day had been, I didn’t have to mourn.

September 7, 2011

A little bit of an update

Ohmigosh, the challenge ended and I stopped writing about anything except heinous experiences with roaches!! What is wrong with me!!

Ok, not true, but I haven't posted much this week. There are a few reasons, including:
  • The weather is suddenly amazing and I love it and I'd rather be outside than just about anywhere else;
  • I'm immersed in zombies.  After a great afternoon of writing last week I've been stuck in my story most days, having a fun time coming up with new and exciting ways to dispatch the undead, and also realizing that my story is about a LOT more than just killing some zombies.  I also just learned that if you bazombi is how my brain wanted to type the word zombie a moment ago. I think that sounds dirty.
  • I also got caught up in wondering what to do about September 11th this year. I felt like it should be commemorated here, but I wasn't sure how, or what was appropriate. So one night I sat down and started writing, and didn't stop until two hours later.  It's in desperate need of editing, but I plan to post it here, in three parts, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  
Anyway, that about brings you up to date. I promise to be more on a routine next week.

September 4, 2011

Fodder

I could've taken Zoe to the beach today.  We would have had a great time. But I decided not to as I'm still recovering from a cold and the thought of the long drive there and back was a deterrent. But since I'm easily bored and don't like sitting around, I decided to work outside with Charles and Zoe.

Now, I've lived in Charleston for eight years now, six of which have been in this house.  My dog Quentin has been an "outside dog" for that entire time. He has a little fenced off area in the back of our yard with a tarp-roof and an igloo-shaped doghouse (the dog-a-loo). He gets locked up there at night, when we're away and when there are thunderstorms. The rest of the time, he has full run of the yard.

So. Six years with this setup.  And every six months or so I pull out the dog-a-loo to clean it up for him.  So, let's say I've done this twelve times...that might be an over-estimate, but I've done it a lot.

Every time I do this, I encounter spiders. I'm used to that.  Webs and egg sacs line the bottom of the dog-a-loo. I spray them off with a hose, wrinkling my nose in disgust every time, but I figure it's part of life.  Quentin is outside all the time; he's used to the creepy-crawlies.  And anyway, he's protected. He has Advantix!

And there's never been anything worse than a few spiders.

So today I wandered back to the dog pen and carelessly yanked on the dog-a-loo to start pulling it out. It's heavy and bulky so it always takes me a few minutes to get it out of the pen.  So I yanked and pulled and pulled and yanked...and then...

Eeeeeeeeek!

There were thousands of roaches scurrying out from underneath!

Holy crap, I almost cried!!!  They were everywhere, crawling over everything. There were big ones, little ones and every size in between.  Some were decapitated or otherwise mutilated by the sliding of the dog-a-loo. Others remained intact but were flipped over onto their backs and thus temporarily stuck with their legs wriggling frantically in the air.  

I jumped back, cursed loudly (I believe I said the dreaded M-F word), and ran danced around in a little "I'm so grossed out I don't know what to do next" kind of way.  I ran to the front to tell Charles what I'd found...he was neither surprised nor horrified....and then I decided it was time for battle.

I pulled out a broom, a rake, another broom and I carried them all to the dog pen.  I grabbed the trash can and the hose. I put on a surgical mask (because who the hell wants to breathe in roach-poop, right??) and gloves.  I was ready for action.

Until the next time I moved the dog-a-loo, when another monster-roach flew directly at my face.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkk!

But still, I was undeterred.  

Every time I moved the dog-a-loo, more roaches scurried away.  Every time I swept the broom or the rake, something else flew towards me. I was getting desensitized very quickly.

Until, that is, I raked at the collected leaves and dirt again, and this time something HUGE and SCARY hopped out of the pile.  

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkk!

This time, it was a full-blown Michael-Meyers-is-on-my-ass horror-movie scream.  Charles poked his head out back.

"Will you please stop screaming? The neighbors are going to call the cops."

It was just a toad. He's been cohabitating with Quentin for quite some time, but I'd forgotten he existed until that very moment.  Now that I think about it, no wonder he's been living there! He must be eating like a KING!

That was pretty much the final scare for me. Nothing else could compare to the toad.  I managed to clean up most of the mess, but Charles came to the rescue and sprayed out the entire pen.  I washed out the dog-a-loo (There were spiders! And egg sacs! But these didn't even come close to bothering me in my post-roach world!), but Charles moved everything back into the pen later on.

And I? Hours later? Even after a shower? Ew! I still have the creepy-crawlies/heebie-jeebies/grossed-out nastiness about me! 

UGH.

But this is going to be a GREAT scene in my book!

September 2, 2011

first. world. problems.

I totally just caught myself in the middle of a massive, self-pitying whine. Ugh. I hate it when I do that.

Here's what I said to Charles (yes, I said this out loud):

It's just that I don't feel well, and Zoe's ear hurts, and Quen's foot is bleeding, and I have to go take care of Moses, too. It's too much.

So, before I start on the stupidity of everything in the above statement, let me give you a little recap, just so you can judge me a little less harshly. Here are the items:

1. I have a cold. Not a bad one, just...a cold. Stuffy head, swollen face, you know, the usual annoying cold.
2. Zoe woke up from her nap today with a sudden (or not so sudden...) ear infection, and for the first time ever it's hurting her enough that she's having a hard time sleeping, even AFTER I gave her Tylenol. It sucks when the best answer you can give is, "Just keep trying to sleep, honey. You have to tough this one out a bit."
3. My dog (Quentin) has an open sore on his foot that won't seem to heal. Tonight, it was bloody. I got blood on my bare hand. Yuck.
4. I am dog-sitting for my neighbor's yellow Lab, Moses. Not a problem at all - he's really low-maintenance - but right now it's that one more thing. The proverbial straw, so to speak.

Anyway, that about sums up my troubles, and therein lies the problem with my whine. Because really, all those things? They're temporary, and they're barely even annoyances. Sure, stacked together they can feel a little overwhelming, but so can just about any four items in any circumstance.

The good things in my life far outweigh the bad. I live in a cozy little neighborhood in the 'burbs. I have a house and a husband and a healthy (ear infection notwithstanding), amazingly smart and precocious child. I have a job, as does my husband. We can go to the grocery at any time and buy any food our stomachs desire. There is little to no danger in my everyday life.

Need I go on? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Basically, when compared to the millions (billions?) of people in this world who have no food, little water, and who live in dangerous countries amid war and squalor, I have it SO EFFING EASY I COULD THROW UP.

So I should just shut the heck up, right?

But as I was busily guilt-tripping myself for my lapse into whining, I remembered the Awesome Book Idea I had a while back. I decided I need to start thinking about it again, and once I finish my silly little zombie tale (which I LOVE again, by the way...I've been having fun with it), I may have to focus on this.

Wanna hear it? 'k, great, then I'll tell you. Here goes.

I feel like wars and hardships have been covered from hundreds of different angles. There are memoirs of soldiers; biographies of leaders; diaries of prisoners; letters from all of the above. But what I'm interested in are the stories of the mothers. I'd like answers to questions I have.

Like: how, when you are trying to care for your children, do you weigh your choices and make rational decisions that could mean life or death for you or them? How do you get food on the table when there's no food to be found? How do you decide where to go, whether to hide, whether to send your child away? What do you say to your child when you've lost all hope? I mean, I'm feeling sad Zoe has to sleep with an earache; what do you do when your child goes to bed hungry every night, or when your child has malaria and there's nothing you can do but wait to see if he lives or dies?

This stuff happens, and families survive even in the harshest of circumstances. I have a feeling stories from these mothers would be incredible....educational...inspirational.

I'd love to start talking to women around the world who have lived through hard times. Interview them, record their stories, and compile them into a book. They deserve to be honored, don't you think?

I could do it, for sure. I'd just need time. Funding. Lots more stamps on my passport. Some kind of knowledge about interviewing and researching. Ugh, the list of needs here is overwhelming.

But I could do a great job at it. I'd owe it to the women I'd meet.

So anyway, I'm going to NOT whine about my own troubles tonight, and I'm instead going to take a Benadryl and try to get some sleep. Things always look better in the light of the morning.