Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Diary

I've kept a diary off and on most of my adult life. (I also kept diaries as a teen but shortly before I left for college I lit a bonfire and burned them in a grand melodramatic style.) There are a number of reasons why people keep diaries, besides needing something to read on the train, but I've never been sure where I fall on that spectrum. A large part is blowing off steam, of course. The diary will never judge you, no matter how much you whine about traffic and stupid people and waiting at the doctor's office. There's also, on a more practical note for a writer, the art of description -- the opportunity for a word picture of the person sitting opposite you in the doctor's waiting room. When I lived in NYC I kept a "Street Diary," which was just descriptions of people and/or scenes I had witnessed on the streets and subways, scribbled down irregularly. This was great practice for writing and I recommend it to anyone but it's hard to keep it up in suburbs, where there is less public space.
The constantly true thing about any diary is that the important stuff never gets written down or gets written down too late. Big emotional issues are too large to grapple with on daily basis most of the time. Sometime things that become important start out very small and by the time they are important it's too late to describe them accurately. But I keep going, hoping I'm capturing at least part of myself at this particular stage of life.
I think writers fall into two categories -- internal and external. Some writers burn entirely off their own emotions and all their creations stem from their own central dramas. (Writers who live highly dramatic lives, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Patricia Highsmith, often fall into this first category.) Others don't look inside themselves much but feed off observing and analyzing people. I fall mostly into the second category. I'm fascinated by people. I think I'm going to try and re-orient my diary into less blowing off steam and more looking outward and observing daily life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lying to the blog

I think I've sort of been lying to/hiding from this blog for the past two weeks, which accounts for the disconnected posts. I guess I shy away from updates as they actually happen...I like to put things in perspective. When I got back from vacation I found an email in my in-box which was one of those rejections-with-feedback. I didn't want to revise How to See the Elephant again because every revision has bogged down and pushed me closer to the edge but I took a few days to think about it and then made some notes and outlines and then got started. And it really wasn't so bad -- I was just focusing on one chapter, not the whole thing, so maybe that limited the insanity. Then I emailed the agent who has been looking at the ms since May and it turned out she hasn't actually looked at it yet (agents, I conclude, go by God's time) so I asked it I could send her the revised revision and now that's accomplished.

Now I should go back to the WIP but the truth is that I've rewritten the first 50 pages of the WIP so many times I've lost count and I can't get beyond a certain point. I have a lot of good ideas but they're all scattered and I can't seem to get them into an appropriate structure. And I've been tempted by the idea of going back and revising a long-abandoned manuscript instead.

So that's where I am and there's not much more to say.

I do want to put a plug in, though. My 12 year old son has a blog, YE's Hurricane Tracker. Now, unless you are extremely interested in Eastern Pacific hurricanes, you may not want to follow it but I'm really proud of how he's taken off with it, putting up posts and changing the background design, adding in tables and widgets and all kinds of stuff. His obsession with hurricanes is long-standing but I take some comfort in the fact that the ones in the Eastern Pacific generally go out to sea and don't kill anyone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Going to see the sheep

This has become a late-summer tradition. The bighorns stay up in the mountains in the spring and early summer, but this time of year and then through the winter months they descend on a small park in Boulder City. There's kind of a interesting co-existence: kids play on the swings, people sit in the picnic shelters, and the sheep crop the grass all around. Last year we sat on a blanket and the sheep crept around us so close we could hear them breathing.
The co-existence ended this year when someone idiotically, but not intentionally I think, threw a Frisbee.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back to School: Ancient Languages

I don't know how a classical education survived into the 70s in a state not famed for its educational opportunities, but I do know the high school I went to offered Latin, and my mother -- I won't say made, but I will say "leaned on" -- me to take it.
The first phrase we learned was puella pulchra (beautiful girl.) Immediately there was a student who didn't understand how a word like silvia (woods) could be female. Or how any word could be male or female. He became known as First Declension Man because he never got any further. The rest of us translated sentences from our textbook, sentences like: " 'Let us cross the river and make camp there,' Caesar said to his troops" and "The men drank too much wine and danced around the house." By third year there were four of us left, sitting in the back of the second year class, reading the Aeneid, scribbling down our translations and asking Mrs. Harrod tangled grammar questions.
When I came out of it I knew what the pluperfect was. And the subjunctive mood. And an indirect object. (10 years of English and they still hadn't drilled that into me!) I had baked a placenta (cake) and taken it to to the Foreign Language Club and not suprisingly no one had eaten it. And I was motivated to take Ancient Greek in the first two semesters of college.
What did I get out of it all? Well, when I went to Rome I could read the inscriptions on the buildings. I could sort of read Italian, too. (I was tripped up by Domingo/Sunday on a train schedule but the Romans didn't have days of the week so how could I know?) I could decipher allusions in The Hunger Games. (Panem = bread as in bread and circuses.) But probably the best thing was that I hardly ever again have encountered a word in English I didn't know. Knowing Latin and Greek, even long after the grammar faded away, made words useful to me.
Looking back, Latin class is one of my better memories of high school. There was a sense of a world opening up. It seemed to be more about discovering something new, of acquiring autonomy, than boring memorization of vocabulary. The language came to us, flexible and mysterious, and we played with it. (I made Mrs. Harrod laugh once by translating Elvis Costello's "Every Day I Write the Book.")
So in this back to school season, I hope someone somewhere is taking Latin.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Interlude

When you live in the desert you look to the mountains for water, greenery and coolness. Sometimes you don't believe in these things until they're right in front of you. On the road to Angel Lake you circle round double twists and turns with a cliff and no guardrail on your right side. And then the road twists around again and you see this:

Follow the creek long enough and you find yourself singing, the hills are alive/with the sound of music...

Then there's the road up the canyon. One side dust and sagebrush. The other side, beyond the trees, an entirely green world: