Thursday, October 28, 2010

Something has to be different

Since I returned from France, I've written about 600 words on my novel and a 900+ word poem about Paris, not including a preliminary literature review I had to present for a research project and a narrative that is more or less a grant request for my local library.

School has hit the midterm, which means exams and projects are popping up every other day, even though I only have to classes. I started a new job at a major retail chain who has already scheduled me for more hours that I agreed to at hiring. (A trend I can hope is temporary, but I won't hold my breath.)

I spent a lot of time sick this summer, and it taught me a lot about myself. One major lesson involves the infamous cliché of taking care of myself. This does not mean make sure you eat the right foods and get enough sleep and exercise. I did all of those things and ended up sick because of neglecting myself emotionally. Or at least, that's what I believe.

Medically, at least for now, they might not be able to connect officially the severe anemia I had with the stress I had experienced over the last several years. But anemia and stress do have a link, and the doctors agree it could be possible that the stress caused the havoc in my body that led to anemia. They don't exactly have a test that says "Aha! Definitely! That's it!" because none of their tests for anything are that clear cut.

I've learned new techniques to stave off emotional upheaval from stress. One is designed for the manic, hyperactive me. When things get hectic, I ask myself: "What if this task took twice as long?" Then, I emotionally grant myself that long to get the job done. Maybe dinner ends up getting on the table at 5:30 instead of 5, but I've given myself permission to daydream while stirring the sauce and end up packing less into a day, alleviating that rushed intensity. Even when I'm at my busiest, I've employed this and so far, it hasn't bitten me in the butt.

The second technique involves my new mantra, "Something has to be different." It's about turning around moods that slide in an irritable direction. A wise therapist once told me, "I mean this is the kindest way possible, but when you're overextended, it makes you crazy." So, when I get irritable, I tell myself "Something has to be different." Then I set out to find what I can change.

So, now some of you are saying, "what does this have to do about writing?"

Well, for those of us who have a lot on our plates or a lot on our minds, sometimes, the easiest thing to change is our work. Our writing work. I didn't intend to write this morning. I planned laundry, errands, history chapters and work tonight, but no writing. The stress building in me vetoed that. I need something to be different. And I think the best change I could make today is to push aside the history book and hang out with my imaginary friends. I can take the history book to work tonight and finish reading about the 19th century at work.

For some of us, our hobbies provide an important escape from stress. Don't deny yourself that hobby time-- for writers, this is our writing time, our soul infusion-- or in the end, you'll wear yourself down.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trapped in poetry

I am still struggling with my Paris poem, painting her as both a whore and a presence who saved my soul. I am not a poet, yet the exercise of writing a poem, especially one this important to me on a personal level, is freeing. It's using a different part of my word brain. It's practicing an economy of words that I don't normally use.

I am a goddess when it comes to meeting word counts, but a poem demands even stricter guidelines. Every word comes under scrutiny. Why did you pick it? What does it say? How does it sound? What else could it mean? These questions all matter in poetry.

What's fun about poetry is the process of distillation. You must think of what you need to say, and compose it in your head, then keep rephrasing it until you hit the right mix. As a consequence, where writers can ponder a scene for an hour while vacuuming, they cannot truly put each exact word together until they sit at the screen or at paper.

A poet, on the other hand, will work those works over and over until perhaps a six-word phrase emerges. Then eventually, those words are recorded. And reworked. But so much of the actual creation can be honed without writing anything down. And that can be really freeing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Poetry of Paris

On October 6, I left for Paris. I went on a whirlwind trip that despite the calendar's claim that I returned a mere five days later rejuvenated my soul as if I spent a month in France.

I didn't set myself up with a major list of things to do, because merely needed to be in Paris. The photo at left is me in Étienne's neighborhood.

 I didn't waste time visiting his church, his exact address, his office, the house he grew up in or the boulangerie where he gets his bread.

I needed to live in the rhythm of Paris without any distraction before I could scope out these things. I still have a good idea where they are, but I don't need to decide today where they will be exactly.

I like my writing to have authenticity to it, as much as I can provide. So, while I could pick a place and do a surface description, I would rather wait until I could capture the underlying sense of life within a place. The narrow streets, the odors of urine, perspiration, dog poop, wine, perfume, bread and cigarette smoke that makes Paris memorable. The demi-tasse of coffee and the warm brioche or pain au chocolat. The way the vin du table pours perhaps a tad too easily. Cramming onto the subway closer to strangers than I would normally stand with my husband.

Before I return to my manuscript, I am writing a poem to Paris. Perhaps that is how an author should find a setting, by immersing oneself in the streets until poetry comes out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Off the cuff

I have fifteen minutes before I leave for class and I'm stuck here at the college library having finished some homework early and having no brain cells left for writing.

Last night, Étienne had his Spring 2011 ready-to-wear fashion show and I imagine he shocked the world by starting the show with the models in full burqas. A couple weeks ago, the French legislature passed a law banning burqas under the French policy of maintaining a "laïc" society. The separation of church and state has led to a severe type of absence of religion from everyday life in France, and there are very real reasons why these policies developed.

But, from a practical standpoint, and a cultural/societal one, the ideology in question is not going to work and the law will cause problems.

Although Étienne is not Muslim, he has friends that are. And he sent those models down the runway in burqas to make a statement. He did finally show the clothes, but even then, every model had a headpiece, i.e. a form of the veil, and he made a statement.

I started editing Chapter 21 of Courting Apparitions, and in that chapter, Étienne flies to France. In a few days, so am I, so this is exciting. Our lives overlap. In a good way.