Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Burnings, Technology, and Paying to Write


1. From our first long car trip, I've been packing books on "tape" for my kids. Yes, that's how long it's been. We started with tapes. Arthur the Aardvark, Magic Treehouse. They love them, and since I get carsick reading, it's a great way to pass the time and still get reading in.

This month, before heading out on 23 hour trip to the Keys, we stopped by the library and picked up a few books on CD - ones that were more grown up for my more grown-up kids, and ones I hoped I could also count towards my reading list for school. A double bonus!!

So we nabbed The Adventures of Huck Finn and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, classics that are both literary and kid friendly. (Well, Huck had some dialectical and time-driven language that made for interesting conversations...). But it turned out, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde had seen better days, and the CD was unplayable. So the return trip home had NO BOOKS!! Oh no!!!

Enter... technology. I have a phone. I have a library card. My library now has an electronic resource center. In a matter of minutes, I'd found a book and downloaded it onto my phone and played it over the speakers in the car.


The book... Fahrenheit 451. A classic I actually own but have never read. And one which, later, I was thankful my kids decided to not to listen to and instead put their own headphones on and read their own books, because they don't get carsick reading, and were currently engaged with Harry Potter (my youngest), Hunger Games (my middle), and John Grisham (my oldest).

So it was just the hubby and I who got to listen to Fahrenheit 451. And we both were totally taken in.

2. Have you read this book? It is FREAKY!! EERILY relevant. Crazy, absurd relevant. I felt the same I'd felt when I'd read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and realized Jules Verne wrote about submarines before there were submarines. Except this wasn't about machinery so much as society.

I've always thought of this book as "the book burning" book. That's what it's about, right? Book burning and censorship? But no. It's really not. In fact, as we listened to the afterward, Bradbury says that's not what it's about at all. It's about technology and media and how people want to be entertained and have no attention span, and how they get their news and knowledge from headlines and sound bites and pieces of information taken out of context and without context.

The characters walk around with earbuds in their ears, listening to radio and music all the time. They sit in their living rooms and watch wall-size TVs in which there is a false sense of interaction with the outside world. They only tune in to the things that please them, the things they agree with. They eliminate that which makes them uncomfortable or that which they don't fully understand.

Holy heck... this was written in 1953!!!! Blew my mind!!

If you haven't read this, you should. It is a book lover's book. A writer's book. If you want to fall in love again with the power of books, the power of the written word, with authors and imagination and knowledge, with what books leave to the world, read this book.

3. At the end, there's an afterward in which Ray Bradbury writes about the process of writing this book. This is essentially what he said:

I was a dad of two little kids. I had no place to write where they couldn't find me and bug me. I tried the house. I tried the garage. They still found me, pounding on the windows, begging me to play. I got nothing done.

So I discovered one day the library at UCLA had typewriters in the basement. For a dime, you could use the typewriter for 30 minutes. So I'd put my dime in the slot, and type like mad for 30 minutes. Then I'd take a break, and walk around the library, running my fingers over the spines of the books and drinking them in, and then I'd go back and put another dime in. 

(If you read the book, you'll see how the fact that he's in a library influences the story.)

It took $9.80 cents to write the first copy of that book.

I wonder, if we had to pay to sit at our computers, if every word cost us to write, would we be more efficient? Would we be producing more stories? Would we be more focused?

Just a thought.

So that was what I got out of Fahrenheit 451. Out of the vacation, I got some time away, a tan, a few pounds (courtesy of Key Lime pie), a new insulin pump, and a shaking away of the cobwebs.

Time to hit the keyboard again, and see if I can make it worth my dime.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Vacation of DOOM

Every year we spend a part of our summer at the beach. It's our family wind-down time. The only week, really, in the entire year that we get away from all the crazy schedules and activities and stress of our lives and just hunker down as a family together. Just us, a sandy beach, and the ocean.

This year we decided to venture away from our traditional beach and try out Key West. We had visions of it, the Hemingway-tropical-beachiness of it all. If there was anywhere to kick back and relax, surely Key West was it.

It wasn't until we started looking at hotels did we realize there really isn't much of a beach in the Florida keys. No, really, there isn't. It's a tropical island with no sand. How the heck does that happen?

But there are reefs! And we love to snorkel! So we set out on a 1250 mile car trip south with a stop in Savannah, Georgia, where my son and I discovered the TROLLEY OF DOOM. Yes. That's what they call it.

We walked around all night, saying in a spooky voice, "the trolley of DOOM! the trolley of DOOM!" and laughing our heads off.

And then he ate fish and got food poisoning and we spent all night up with him sick. :(

And thus began our VACATION of DOOM.

Once recovered, the family found a beach near Savannah to get our sand fix and headed out. We are used to calmer waters than Georgia, apparently, because my son decided to just wade into the shallow water a little, and along came a wave and BAM threw him to the ground, stealing his glasses and taking them out to sea. So we spent the next three and a half hours - nearly the entirety of our day - in a Lens Crafters trying to find a pair of glasses that fit him and get his prescription faxed and waiting for them to be made.

Goodbye Georgia.

Florida will be better, right? 

Well, the hotel... not exactly what the internet said.

Sure... the service was great, the place relatively clean, great breakfast, free wi-fi and parking, and a beautiful pool:

But the "hotel" was really a motel, and the rooms... well, let's just say that calling them a room was a euphemism for "closet." Which, by the way, the room didn't have. No closet, no floor space... just two full size beds, a sink for one, and a bathroom so small one had to stand on the toilet to the door shut behind you.

This was where 5 of us slept.

It was a miracle none of us killed each other. We had to sit on the beds to let someone pass, and to pass you had to crawl over suitcases. Fun times.

But there was still snorkeling, right?

Ahh... Peace.

Usually I spend a good amount of beach time sitting on the sand reading. Especially this year, I needed this time to catch up on reading if I wasn't going to be writing. But there was almost no sand. Just woods and rocks and then, water. And it was hot. Africa hot. Hot with a humidity that beat even Virginia in August. There was no way I was NOT going to spend the entire day in the water.

I get in after I've gotten all three kids geared up in snorkels and fins and as I'm wading in, my youngest swims up and tugs at my swimsuit. She pops her head above water and says, "You're still wearing your pump."

AAARGH!!! I scrambled over the rocks like an idiot, trying to get out of the water. My insulin pump, which keeps me alive, is "dunk proof" but not water proof, and there were some scary moments there were I thought I'd killed it.

But I didn't. Phew.

Then, two days later, we went on a boat trip out to snorkel the third largest reef in the world.

I jumped off the boat. With my pump on.

And I killed it. My $4,000 pump that I need to wear all the time ... was dead.

I swear. You can't make this stuff up.

After getting back on dry land I called the pump manufacturer and they informed me they could have a replacement to my hotel by morning. All I had to do was give myself shots once an hour for the next 18 hours. That was fun. Especially the "during the night" part.

STILL  - They DID get a pump all the way from California to Key West in a matter of 16 hours (earlier than promised) and I was still alive. So yay!!

Friday we woke to head home and my husband's knee blew out. He's now walking like an 89 year old man with bad arthritis, and in a lot of pain. We stopped on the way home in Georgia to break up the trip, went to dinner and my youngest promptly threw up.

DOOM, I tell you. DOOM.

It seems logical that I'd be dying to get home. But right now I am tucked in a beautiful hotel, with more room than my family of 5 can use. There is carpet on the floor and big fluffy duvets on the three beds. My husband is drugged and pain-free for the moment, and asleep, along with my youngest. My two oldest are watching Pirates of the Caribbean and staying up way too late, and I've gotten on the computer for the first time in over a week. I've not thought about the story I'm working on in a week, and I'm hoping the time away has shaken loose the shackles that are keeping me from writing without fear.

We are safe, all five of us, together, having ended our day with a ton of laughing, a week's worth of memories we will never forget, and some great stories.

And really, can you ask more of a vacation than that?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Might Not Actually Be a Train

Wow! Where did the last month go? I am constantly shocked at how long I go between posts these days. It seems like I put my head into a story and when I look up my kids have grown a foot, the pantry is empty, and I've neglected the blog!

Today I have a story to tell you.

Once upon a time, I was at my first MFA residency. I was crazy-excited. I was high on everything. The people, the classes, the ocean, the workshops. I had in front of me two years to do nothing but read and write -  to read great books and write my novel, with the help and guidance from some brilliant authors.

One of the first nights I met a graduating student. As soon as I found out she was graduating, I got all teary. "Aren't you so sad?" I asked. I couldn't imagine why anyone would not be sobbing uncontrollably at the thought of leaving the program. This was my dream. Even at the start, I knew it could never be long enough.

Her answer: "No. I'm ready."

What???? How could that be? I would NEVER feel that way, I knew. Come my graduation, I would be the one sobbing and feeling as though with the end of the program came the end of the most perfect era of my life ever.

(Seriously. Have you seen my pictures of the wineries? The bonfires? The ocean-view workshop room? Have you read my updates on staying up all night drinking wine and diagramming sentences and discussing the Oxford comma and great literature? If that is not some sort of literary heaven I don't know what is.)

Fast forward to this semester. I now understand.

I realized today, trying to juggle my son's marching band schedule, two girls spewing craft supplies all over a house I was trying to clean for a guest tonight, sitting in a doctor's office hearing that something I worried about is indeed worth worrying about, getting my blood drawn, making appointments for radiology, stopping by one store to by snorkel gear for our trip to Florida and stopping by another to buy a birthday gift, making breakfast, then lunch, then dinner early for my son and the later for my daughters and even later for my husband, and eating my own dinner at nine o'clock on the way to pick up my son across town, all the while trying to figure out how to finish a story due the day after our planned vacation without me spending a week at the beach in my hotel room with a computer... I realized I wished I were a 50s housewife who could spend the day just cleaning and cooking and taking care of the kids.

When did it all become so stressful? I sometimes think life in the MFA must be no different than it was before. I read, I write. That's what I did before. How is this so different?

I know I wasn't this stressed before, though. If I needed to drop writing for a week to just be a mom, I could. Whatever I wanted to write, I could. Without the thought that I was writing something a very specific person with a very specific style would read, and critique. I wrote for myself, and now, to some degree, I am writing to please someone else.

That is the kicker. Trying to please someone else. Everything I write I end up viewing through my advisor's eyes, and then trashing it and starting over. Merging my voice with his advice... it's killing me.

There are people in this program who work full time outside the home. How they do this I have no idea. I'm in awe of them.

I love writing. I do. I love this program. I am so incredibly lucky that I get to do this.

But I am tired.

And every now and then I think, I'd like to be a full-time mom and wife again. Have a clean house, an organized schedule, cook good meals that take more than 10 minutes thought and 20 minutes throwing together. I'd like to give my full attention when someone is talking. I'd like to sit down and do crafts with my kids, teach my youngest how to knit, my oldest girl how to sew. Bake with them. Make bracelets with them. Play games with my son. Heck, I'd like to just keep them in underwear that fits. And maybe not make them go hunting for the clean ones in the dryer. A girl can dream, right?

Our family mantra right now is "In five months!" The kids are looking forward to that day. My husband is looking forward to that day. And honestly, sometimes, even I am looking forward to that day.

But before I get there... six more stories to write and rewrite and rewrite and revise and revise again, and then polish.

I'm sure there will still be sobbing, though. It is, after all, still me we're talking about.