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Archive for October, 2009

Let’s write a novel!

There are few things I love more than a good project. This site has served as a great one. It sustained me through the summer months when idleness threatened to descend. It provided a place for thoughts to materialize, for me to foster a writing habit. In short, this has been really fun so far.

In the last several weeks, though, I’ve hit a block. And it has left me feeling rather directionless. When we were in Missoula, I had a hard time bringing myself to write at all. I expended all energy on other things. Since we’ve returned, few thoughts have seemed worth writing, as I’ve been seeking some greater degree of truth in my subject matter. It sounds a little dramatic to write that, but I think that’s what I mean.

Now, granted, with all that’s happened in recent months, I’m not surprised to feel sad. I’ve also been sick  with what I’m pretty sure was the swine flu(!), and that has made me less energetic.  But this lack of project imbued me with laziness like I haven’t quite encountered before. I haven’t felt like going to dance class. At all. That, in itself, is pretty good indication as to my level of interest in leaving the house.

Fortunately (since nobody likes a complainer or a lazy bones), something came along to make everything just a little bit better. A few nights ago, Jake suggested we sign up for NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writing Month, and the NaNoWriMo website allows you to put your name in as kind of a risk-free committment to write a novel (minimum 50,000 words) by November 30th. So we signed up.

I don’t yet know what this will mean for this site, whether I will post excerpts of my progress on here, or wait for a finished product to reveal anything. I do know, however, that many of the better pieces I’ve written have been from fairly extensive  prompts, so I have an idea.

A few years ago, I had a professor of dance who did a very cool project, a dance that changed when it was performed in different places. Sadly, I cannot remember the title and there seems to be no documentation on either of Coco Loupe’s sites. The premise was this: Coco had a phrase that she entered and performed until an audience member felt compelled to participate. They then approached the stage and offered direction to alter the choreography. Coco had a list of acceptable changes, things like, “repeat,” “slow down,” “speed up,” “insert.” And the audience member would choose portions of the phrase where the dancer would apply this directive. One person changed the pathway so that a series of movements that originally faced one direction now moved in a circle. Another participant had Coco repeat a movement and incorporate a fall after each repetition. Coco kept dancing the whole time, and as an audience, we watched the choreography morph with each new alteration.

The idea I would like to suggest is slightly different, but I believe I’m drawing inspiration from Coco’s piece. In order to provide myself with some guidelines/inspiration for this novel, and avoid falling into a rut, I would like to invite you to help me develop prompts. If you are interested (and I certainly hope you are), please leave a comment (or email jgoodbur (at) gmail (dot) com) with a restriction, suggestion or addition. Below are some examples in a format I think will work well.

I haven’t decided on a plot yet–I imagine any responses I get will have some part in deciding it. So, while the restrictions will have to apply to any kind of genre, fairly specific is good. Things to do with introducing/changing setting, characters, diction, tone, imagery, etc. are all good.I think the possibilities are pretty endless. Let’s say we have 100 (single-spaced) pages to work with.

Pages 15-18: Include mention of a hat.

Pages 30-32: Introduce a new character. (you could also go more specific: “introduce a character who wears an article of clothing in an unusual way.”)

Pages 40-41: Incorporate a simile about someone’s hands.

Pages 53-56: Include the words: microphone, itchy, blunt, lacerate

Page 71: Describe something using its color.

Page 81: Use the sentence: “He couldn’t see inside the box.”

Page 89: Include 4 lines of dialogue.

Page 94-95: Describe something that is the consistency of soup.

Wow, I have so many ideas that if I don’t get any responses, I think I’ll write them myself. Of course, I’d rather have your help. Doesn’t this sound fun? Doesn’t it make you want to dance? Dance, and then write a comment?

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(not) moving (on)

When we were in Missoula for a few weeks to be with Scott and the rest of Jake’s family, we talked a lot about how different it felt to be with the people closest to the situation versus everyone in the outside world–not in an angsty way, it just felt very strange to be out in public. A major difference was the understanding surrounding the question, “how are you?” When I would come over in the morning, Jake’s grandpa would ask me this, and any answer–okay, fine, well–came with the automatic translation, “getting by, under the circumstances.”

For several days in Missoula, going out in public made me feel physically ill, and it was because of this question–because to answer, “good,” felt incredibly disingenuous, when what I really wanted to say was “really crappy, actually. My best friend feels like his world is falling apart.”

But say that to a clerk at Costco and all you gain is several long, awkward seconds as they silently scan your card, and the rather existential realization that this question, which begins the vast majority of conversations in this society, is really nothing more than an amicable grunt in another’s direction.

Of course we are not the first people to lose somebody. And truthfully, it doesn’t feel like we are. If anything, I am more aware than I ever have been of how many people have dealt with loss, can relate losing their parents, or friend, or cousin, or brother. That said, not being in the immediate family, I am at least one degree removed from the situation. So, I guess I can only hope I speak for more than myself when I say, I don’t really feel alone, but I still feel wounded.

Because it’s not okay that Scott won’t be there this Thanksgiving to roast the Hutterite Turkey and make jokes from the end of the table, or that he won’t be there Christmas Eve to read the Grinch by they fire place they built by hand this summer–that he won’t walk Jess down the aisle, or see Caleb graduate from high school, or meet his first grandchild, or all the grandchildren to follow.

It’s not okay that Jake (or anybody else) can’t call him on the phone late on a Saturday morning before he’s gotten out of bed and tell him what is growing in the garden, or how his week at work went, or that “oh, no, we’re not doing much today, but I might rearrange the utility closet and then play some guitar.”

Still, Scott being gone won’t stop Jake from getting up on Saturday morning, or stop Christmas from happening. We’ll still go to work as if things were normal, eat dinner, have completely unrelated conversations, laugh, lose perspective, get frustrated about things like being stuck in traffic, and complain about the deer eating the tops off all the green beans as if things were normal. It will become normal, but it won’t be the same, and it won’t ever really be okay. Or maybe it will finally be okay, but something about it won’t be right.

When I talked to Jake the morning Scott passed away, he said it was so weird, “because the sun was still shining,” the house was still there, time was still going, “but this earth shattering event just happened.” And that still disturbs me a little, the fact that now, only two and a half weeks after the fact, the outside eye could perceive things as perfectly normal.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that, despite the feeling of loss, we are left essentially unchanged. We are physically able to project an air of normalcy. Something about me hates that I can just do that. I want to wear it on my forehead and talk about it all the time.

But something makes us keep moving.

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I am a wee bit sick, friends–sick enough that I need to blow my nose every once in a while, and wear a warmer shirt, and around ten p.m., I start feeling a little worse, and decide I should probably go to bed. Sick enough, that I thought I might be feeling the onset of a headache the other night, and had a mini-panic attack, during which I called Jake demanding the symptoms of swine flu, because what if I realized I had H1N1 in the middle of the night? And no one was around to drive me to the hospital? And I couldn’t pay for urgent care because I spent my last money on dance classes?!? He assured me it would be alright and advised me to take a Tylenol.

I am so sick that, for the last two mornings, I have debated, as I passively pretended to get ready to go out, the ups and downs of going to dance class versus staying home—going and feeling marginally sickish for two hours versus staying and wasting the approximately three dollars that I paid for each class. The staying has won out once, but only by a little.

So in other words, I am not really very sick at all.

The one thing that clues me in to the fact that I really am under the weather, and am not just imagining the symptoms, is that I have been having dreams. I dream all the time, but I remember them best when I am stressed or sick and the dreams are somewhat scary. I imagine this is common, right?

When I was little, I often got earaches, and would have the most horrific dream. In it, my mom and dad are large, very, very large. And they are wearing sailor outfits, like the ones you’d find in our dress-up chest–heavy fabric with the wide angular collar and the bold stripe. I am tiny. I don’t know what I am wearing. It does’t matter, because I am about to meet my doom. This dream must have played over and over for me on nights when I woke up sweating and terrified, because the only action was this: Mama and Papa pick me up, holding me like an olive between their giant fingers, and dangle me over a piano the size of a house. And there I am staring down at the ivory. That is all. Their faces have no signs of menace. They are just picking me up as if this is something we always do.  It is excruciatingly scary.*

At some point in my preteen years, I told someone I had had nightmares about being chased by geese. This, at least seemed a warranted fear, as would similar dreams of being chased by any creature. But this story, sadly, was untrue. The above is my subconscious’ nightmare of choice–or it was–until last night.

In this new dream, I am picking berries, and putting them on a plate. (I picked a lot of berries this summer. I would venture to say a plate would not get you far in terms of containing them–Much of what is scary about this dream is my seeming ineptitude to deal with essential things like logic and common sense.) So, I am picking berries, and after passing up several very tart varieties, I come across what I quickly identify as the peachberry. Incidentally, it looks just like a peach. They are even the same size as peaches (too bad! a mini peach would be so cute!), and fuzzy like peaches, but they grow on a bush, hence making them a berry (?). I am trying to fit a fourth peachberry onto my plate when a wolf comes.

What we have here is a bit of a Red Ridinghood situation, only since I have the benefit of having read the story and not living it for the first time as poor Red did, I know not to talk to the wolf. I decide the best course of action will be to leave my plate of peachberries balanced precariously on the bush and to steal off toward the farmhouse, freezing in my tracks if ever the wolf seems to notice my prescence. I do this for several tension-filled moments. Then the wolf spots a pony.

Oh no! Not the pony!

See, now, I am faced with several critical dilemmas. Do I attempt to stop the wolf from stalking the pony? Do I sneak, unseen, toward the farmhouse? Dare I try to retrieve my peachberries?

In the end, I decide to just creep toward the farmhouse. Isn’t that nightmarish and distressing? I can tell you it was. I didn’t even try to seek help for the pony. It’s a bit of an identity nightmare more than anything else, I suppose. No courage. No heart. No, er, peachberries.

I am going to tell you about one more dream, just because it, too, was very scary, and there is a bit of discrepancy surrounding the issue of which ailment/sickness/worry I was actually enduring at the time.

In this dream, I am making something that calls for 14 eggs, and instead of breaking them into a bowl (my subconscious seems to be denying the existence of rounded vessels), I am breaking them onto a ping-pong table. The ping-pong table has a crack in it, so all of the eggs I am cracking seep onto my grandparents’ carpet. (I am at my grandparents house.) As the yolks slip one by one, gloppity-gloop, between the pieces of table, I think to myself “I am wasting so many eggs!” And indeed, I am, because the two cartons I had to make this recipe are gone–they are on the carpet.

So, I go to the store to get more eggs, and when I find them, I crack them into a very shallow Tupperware (if only there were a dish with steeper sides, why won’t someone invent a dish with steeper sides? Oh, wait . . .), and I’m running around the store, and the eggs are slipping and sliding up the sides of the dish kind of like a jell-o model of a cell I made in sixth grade which, on my walk home from school, ended up slipping off it’s plate into some poor person’s yard. In the dream, I make it to the public showers (public showers in a grocery store!?! I know it seems unsanitary doesn’t it!) and that’s where I lose the eggs. They just slip right out and down the drain.

This must have been some Friday night, because I related the dream to a Saturday morning Pilates class I was teaching that week. That particular day, there were only a few people there and we were more talkative than usual. When I told them about losing my eggs, all three concluded what I suppose is a natural analysis of the situation, but one that had not even crossed my mind. “Sounds like your biological clock,” they all three said. “I mean, are you thinking about trying to have a baby?”

Woah! W-O-W. Woa-hoh! I am not!

But, you see, you do not argue with Pilates clients, mostly because that is not what they are paying you $50 an hour to do. I took their idea, I gave it some consideration, and then I seriously doubted it.

Here’s the thing–I really honestly do not think my subconscious is smart enough to work up symbolic dreams, even with something as simple as comparing baking a cake with growing a baby. My subconscious doesn’t believe in bowls for goodness sake! It isn’t very smart. I mean, geez, bowl denial is like holocaust denial of the kitchen.

Only not at all, is it? Well, if it’s alright with you, I’m going to go ahead and blame that poor analogy on my subconscious. I am sick, you know.

At any rate, here is my mind-boggling evidence in this very scary debate wherein some people think my subconscious is telling me I should up and rear some children: I have not told you the end of the stressful egg dream. In the end, I realize I have five eggs, and I think, “Perfect, that’s exactly enough to make melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake! I’ll just make that.” (Although, actually, in the seven-plus trials of this cake I’ve made since July, you can even get away with four. You can also nearly double the half-pound of chocolate, which I seem to be pathologically incapable of not doing.)

In addition to this cake–the one I’ve made so many times, I could recite the recipe in my sleep–let me tell you what else I baked (often with help) in the last few months: 4 clafoutis, one yogurt cake, at least 6 batches of chocolate chip cookies, a batch of carrot cookies, 5 blackberry pies, 3 batches of brownies, 4 batches of scones, lemon curd, 4-5 loaves of zucchini bread and much, much more.

Oh yes, I am fairly certain that this third nightmare had much more to do with my constantly dwindling supply of eggs for baking than any plans for baby making. Now if I could just figure out how to get this baking illness back on track and get rid of my cold.

Well, if only it were so hard! I believe banana bread was on my horizon, head-cold intervention or not.

* Please note:

a dream’s scare-factor = heart-rate (bpm upon waking) x sweat (mL upon waking)

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A note of appreciation

When I first emerged as a vegetarian, I was in fifth grade. It was an idea I’d toyed with over a period of time, a time involving a few teary chicken dinners, and even a trial period during which I allowed myself to eat hot dogs because “they couldn’t really be meat.” When I announced my new life style choice to the unsuspecting world, I was at an extended family vacation in North Carolina.

It was taco night, and I sat with my cousins at a long rectangular table. Since we were all younger, Uncle Chuck brought the pan of ground beef around the table to serve us individually. As he came toward my plate with the heaping spoon, I shook my head and said “no meat, please.”

There was silence as my cousins stopped their conversations and turned to stare at me. Then the chatter began. My cousins were shocked, incredulous, disbelieving: “You don’t eat any meat?” “I just couldn’t do that.”   They called me “veggie” for years, each new visit dancing some meaty specimen in front of my face, making lip-smacking noises as if to tempt me and then concluding, “so you’re still not eating meat?”

Being a vegetarian was never the big deal for me that me being one was for my cousins. A lot of my decision stemmed from the simple fact that I just didn’t like meat that much. When the hot dog and balogna are the most likely to challenge your will power (ewww, yes, but I was ten and these were novelties at my house), you have to believe you’re better off just nixing the meat altogether. For me, it was comparable to swearing off tomatoes, only my dislike happened to be a staple ingredient in the majority of American homes.

When Jake and I started dating, his family followed this model. They ate meat almost every night. Jake’s dad did most of the cooking, but instead of stressing over what to feed a vegetarian (if he was worried I never knew), he seemed to take my eating habits as a new challenge.

Early on, he made eggplant parmesan. Later, he served spaghetti sauce with lentils instead of meat. Sometimes he would ask for ideas before the meal, sometimes the dish he sat before me was a complete surprise. I realize that such accommodation for your son’s new girlfriend is rather special to begin with, but Scott took it to the next level–he showed interest in my opinion.

As everyone ate, he would always take some of the meatless dish for himself, asking “what do you think of this, Jess?” and then offering his own thoughts. This didn’t occur to me as important at the time, but it was. I’ve never been a fan of meat or meat substitutes. I eat vegetarian food because I like how it tastes, because it has its own thing going. Maybe Scott helped me realized this; if not, I think I can credit him anyway.

In the world before college, where the vegetarian is an anomaly, one becomes accustomed to defending one’s motives. I feel there were vegetarians who adopted the title simply for the conviction aspect. I was not one of those. How refreshing it was to not be questioned, but to just think about the food and the company, to leave the dogma completely out. Certainly, I had my reasons in the beginning, but the longer I’ve been a vegetarian, the more it’s just what I do. With Scott, I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered; he enjoyed cooking and eating, and we related in that way.

One of our laments since Scott received his diagnosis this summer was that he couldn’t eat the garden tomatoes, which he declared in July to be his favorite fresh produce. When he was allowed to eat them again this fall, the chemo had left him with no taste for their flavor. It is disheartening to not be able to nourish someone with something you know they loved so much, to return the favor. Next year, I thought, when he’s better, we can grow so many tomatoes.

Many of the shirts Scott owned featured some acerbic statement, such as “Do I look like a frickin’ people person?” or “Why is it called tourist season if you can’t hunt them?” Upon first meeting him, he carried an air of dry humor that mimicked the words on the shirts. I admit, it took me a while to recognize any disparity between the sarcasm and his personality. As we walked up the front steps after what ended up being the last day at the cancer treatment center, Jake turned to his dad before opening the door. “You know, you have all those sarcastic shirts,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, “but you’re one of the most caring people I know.”

Had I not eaten dozens of personally prepared dinners over the past four and a half years, or been consulted time and again by Scott on what knowledge I have of gardening and food, or felt extreme gratitude toward this man when, without batting an eye, he politely declined the Mexican fisherman’s offer of the bloody fish I accidentally caught (and then made a teary, embarrassing scene over as the fisherman bludgeoned it to death), I might have been able to disagree. As it is, I can only concur whole-heartedly, and add that anyone who takes the time to not only meet the needs of a new person in their home, but to indulge in them, develop them, even try to learn something from doing so,  is, indeed, a people person–in the most admirable sense of the term.

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