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Because there is unanimous consensus out there in the writing world that the only antidote for the waiting game surrounding all things publishing is writing and more writing, I am slowly but surely beginning another book. I have a loose sense of the story arc, and of three of the main characters, and some unformed “scenes” bouncing around in my head. I am planning on trying to be more of a “plotter” rather than a “pantser” this go-around, but we’ll see if I can pull that off. Back in August I downloaded Scrivener onto my laptop with some birthday money, so maybe that will help with the “plotter” end of things. I always start a book with a sense of where I want it to go — the book in its entirety hovers in my head, all shadowy and unformed, and it’s always so gratifying to watch it take on shape as I write. But I know there are parts of my craft that could use some work, and one of these areas is to be more deliberate about how I plan out the novel at the start, rather than just plunging in.

I’d also like to take more risks.

When I was in graduate school for my MA in creative writing, the wise poet Ruth Stone** told me after a workshop one day not to be afraid to let the edges show in my writing. I think she meant that everything doesn’t have to be neatly wrapped up; that a dose of the raw, and a glimpse of the ragged edges of life, of experience, and people, can be powerful things in writing. I have tried to take her words to heart, because I know that I like the ends to connect in my own life.

So as I prepare to immerse myself in another writing project, I am giving myself pep talks: take risks, expose rawness, be fearless.

** I’ve been thinking a lot about Ruth lately, I think probably because she really made me see myself as a writer, when I was a much younger, more insecure, more tentative, version of myself. I so admired her — her tenacity, her refusal to let the darker parts of life get hold of her or, if they did, her ability to confront them and spin them into words. This poem has always been one of my favorites:

Another Feeling


Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
Without thinking,
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.

I turned my revisions into my agent yesterday. Once I had attached the MS and hit send, I felt about a second or two of utter panic, and then it was all good. I actually felt lightened, relieved, unburdened. Not that working on the revisions had been a burden, but I worked so hard on them, and have been carrying the MS around in my head for weeks. Every day since my marathon Fall Break writing sessions, I’ve opened up the document and worked on it. I’ve re-worked scenes in my head while running, or while in the shower, while waiting in the carpool line. I’ve had moments of panic and moments of euphoria. So it’s nice to get a small break from all that, even if a part of me is, of course, still anxious about what she will think about my revisions. Will she love them? Just like them? Hate them? Will she think: Why the heck did I offer her representation in the first place?

This fall will definitely go down as one to be remembered — in very, very, most excellent ways. But I’ve also been insanely busy — juggling teaching 6 classes, revising and writing, working through some major editorial and publication changes at Literary Mama, meeting deadlines on freelance editing work, all while still being a mama, and a wife, and the chief supplier of tasty (or not-so-tasty as in the case of an experiment with a vegan mushroom stroganoff dish gone horribly wrong) meals to my family. My husband has stepped up and helped quite a bit, and the kids have been very supportive. I am so thankful that all this is happening when they are older and I am in such awe of writer mamas who are juggling it all AND tending to very small children and their very large needs.

My 1/2 marathon is also a smidgeon over two weeks away, and now I feel I’ve freed up a little mental space to think about that. I am feeling good about my training, despite the sloggy ten mile run last weekend. On Saturday I plan on getting up early and setting out to run 11-12 miles. That will be my last distance run until the 1/2,  because we will be in Maryland the weekend before the race. While I think I can pull off a ten miler that weekend, I may not be able to do 11 or 12 miles. I’m so looking forward to the race! I love the City of Oaks race, because it’s such a treat to run through the empty, downtown streets, and such a fun event in general. Do I have a goal for this year’s 1/2? Only to enjoy the race and to try and pace myself better so I can shave a couple of minutes off of last year’s time.

Apparently I’m having trouble keeping up this blog, too. For some reason–perhaps because I’m not sure anyone ever reads it, I don’t feel the same pressure I felt with the other one. My own personal writing has been suspended anyway, with the rush of the beginning of the new semester. The upheaval at home we’re going through as the fallout from the school issues L. is having have made it almost impossible to sit down and give my mind over to the creative processes.  I was thinking last night, as I lay in bed in the semi-dark, how like a pie chart my brain has become. It’s divided up into many wedges, some constant in their shape, some changing. As the years pass I find the wedge devoted to me and my writing–the writing that’s not for money but just for me–has expanded a little, but it is constantly overshadowed by the bigger wedges.

I have learned, too, that it does not always compute that as your kids get older, you have more time for these things. I think I have more brain for them, but not more time. It’s taken roughly six or seven years for the part of my mind that was cleaved in two when I became pregnant and was raising young ones to mend.

And now I have to use this precious window of time, on this gray and cold Sunday, to write my Family Education column for tomorrow. The kids are watching a show or two and in some alternative universe there’s the me I want to be right now. I steal away to my little windowed room, I flex my fingers over the computer keyboard, I take several deep breaths, like a diver preparing for the dive, and I plunge into my writing. The characters stretch and smile when they see me, happy that I’ve come at last.

We finished most of the Christmas shopping today, and I definitely feel pretty accomplished in getting that done. Yesterday we took L. to get his eyes examined, since according to the school nurse he’s outgrown his current prescription. Scott took T. off to the next-door toy store to keep her out of trouble, and I read magazines while L. looked through a Where’s Waldo book. Those books give me a headache, but kids seem to love them. A man rushed in, apparently 35 minutes late for his eye exam. The beltway had been backed up and traffic diverted because of a man who had tried to throw himself off the overpass bridge.

“We’ll be seeing more of that type of thing, mark my words,” the man said to the lady at the front desk. She hmmmmd some response.

“You know, because of the economy.” He really didn’t need to add that last part, because everyone in that waiting room knew exactly what he was talking about. Exactly. And even if I don’t know why that man wanted to end his life in so dramatic and tragic a way, I felt sad for him the rest of the day. I thought about George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, trying to take the plunge in almost the same way. He was saved by that  bumbling angel, of course. I wonder if that man from yesterday will look back on his own life and imagine what would have been if he hadn’t existed, or whether he’ll be able to see his way out of whatever it is that’s got him so backed into a corner.

After the appointment we finished some shopping and everywhere there were other shoppers, all carrying their own private secrets–sorrows and joys–around with them as they shopped. I suppose we were, too. And I felt that old superstitious fear I used to have when I was little when things were going too well–that breath holding, where you worry that any second now it will all shift.

I used to do my writing on an old Mac classic. When we first started graduate school, my office was in a sunroom in our frst apartment. There was a black, slightly dusty papasan chair to the right of my computer desk; a rabbit cage on the floor, and a litter box next to the cage. It wasn’t the most elegant environment for working, but it did force us to stay on top of the rabbit cage cleaning, and the litterbox emptying. The room had an interior window, so I could sit and see into the dining room from over the small square of the computer monitor. We were so proud of that first apartment, the first place we moved all our wedding gifts into, and squeezed out king-sized bed into the small main bedroom (no room on either side of the bed, we had to get out from the foot of the bed). But I think I was most proud of having that space of my own, a small sunlit room where my thoughts could settle, into the slices of light coming through the metal blinds, onto the papasan cushion where the black and white cat slept,  and out into the air around me, until they found a place to settle on my fingertips, and I could type, tap-tap, and make some magic of my own.

I traveled far from that sunlit room in the years between then and now. I became a mother of two kids, a boy and girl. we moved four times since then, the rabbit died, the cat, too. I moved from that writing room, to a large closet, to a desk in a guest room, to nowhere at all, to an office again–a shared one, but a room with a view nonetheless. The desk sits in front of a window again–a necessity, I think. Through the panes I can see the tops of the holly trees, and the trunks of pines taller than the house, taller than two of these houses put together. Somehow I have found myself sharing the space again with another rabbit, a brown-haired quiet fellow, and the dog sleeps behind me, on a soft brown bed. She’s black and white too, like the cat. Last night, when I sat here to check e-mail, I heard one of the huge barn owls that live in the neighborhood hooting out into the night, an intense, purposeful sound, cutting through the too-warm night air.

I am happy; the road from then to now hasn’t been straight or predictable, but I’m happy with where I find myself today, on this day, in this space.

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