Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Long Road

This summer my family took a vacation much different than our others. Rather than spending a week in a specific place, we drove. We put 3,600 miles on our car, 4,800 in an airplane, seeing parts of the country my kids have never seen. We wanted to see Yellowstone, we wanted to hit Mount Rushmore, but more than anything, we just wanted to see the west. With the wide skies, the red rocks, the gentle hills, the open roads with no one on them for miles -- this is all so different than where we live with our forests and traffic jams and slivers of sky.

"Look at that!" we had to keep saying, nudging our kids out of their books and games. We had to constantly remind them, this isn't a destination vacation: the journey's the thing.

It's something I am realizing is true of my novel, as well. I harbor a sense of shame that it's been in the works so long. Three of the last four years have been wrapped up in this book. I should be done. Those are the words that whisper in my ear constantly. Why so long?

It's so easy to think that writing THE END, the destination of every novel, is the point.

And then I wonder, why am I so desperate to get to the end? I have no deadline. I have no agent tapping her toe, no publisher checking the mail.

I've done this before. I know what is at the end.

The end.

That's what's at the end. No more characters. No more chasing them through dark pages. No more laying at night wondering how they are going to survive, if they'll be okay. No more living in their world.

Right now, I'm on their journey with them. I have one chance to do this. One chance to travel this road, have my heart break with theirs, feel joy with them, wonder what is at the end. Not just the end of the writing, but the end of them. One chance to have them to myself before sending them out.

I know what it feels like to have the characters who have become like family to me arrive at their happy place, to be done with me, maybe before I am done with them. It's a moment filled with pride, and then days on end of missing them.

I am on the journey. And if that takes a little longer than I thought it would, a little longer than anyone else thinks it should, I'm going to savor every minute.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Memory

In 1993, my husband worked for Dean Witter and spent time in the New York offices in the World Trade Center. He was there when the terrorists set off a bomb in the basement, sitting in the restaurant on the 107th floor, the building swaying with the impact.

The power went out, and it took him hours to walk down the dark 107 flights of stairs, coming out into daylight with a thick layer of ash blackening him except for the small circle around his mouth where he'd held his handkerchief.

 It was serious, of course. It shook things up a bit. But the terrorist act was, on the whole, a colossal failure, and people seemed to move on without thinking too much about it. The ability for someone to hurt us, to really terrorize us, seemed remote.

Maybe that is why, in 2001, it both shocked us, and at the same time seemed like an inevitability we'd somehow missed.

We weren't in NY during the attacks on 9/11, and we are back in DC now, where I grew up, back where my father sat in his office overlooking the Pentagon and watched the plane barrel into the sides of it, into friends we hadn't yet made but soon would.

Not much is said outside DC about the Pentagon these days. There were not as many lives lost, of course, but also it seems there's a sense that it is less egregious to target the headquarters of national defense than it is to target a symbol of financial strength. Maybe that's not true, but it feels that way sometimes.

For a long time, there was a huge, gaping hole in New York City. We saw it once, on a trip with our kids. We stood at the chain link fence, peering through cracks in the plastic at that hole - how wide, how deep, how empty it was.

The Pentagon cleaned itself up. It patched the gaping black wound with marble white as a scar. There's now a memorial there, but it is as understated as it is solemn.

Everyone moves on.

There used to be a big memorial march. There were prayers held on the mall. There were walks that led from the Washington Memorial to the place of impact at the Pentagon. Each year, the things we do to memorialize have gotten smaller. This year, in DC, there was a moment of silence.

All we get now is a moment. And life moves on.

We can't keep ripping the wound open. I know this. We can't spend this day each year tearing at the rawness of that day.

But we should spend a little time remembering, and feeling a little less safe, each day a little less a given. Hug our kids. Call our friends. Say I love you. Say I missed you. Remember to laugh. Remember to pray. Remember to be a little more thankful for the little things that, were they to disappear, we'd realize are really the big things.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


 (I wrote this blog post sitting in the car waiting for my daughter just a little over a week ago. It seems fitting that I couldn't post it here until now... because things have been so chaotic.)

Sometimes I feel like life is blowing up around me. I wake to the house rocking and shaking, the toiletry items falling off shelves. I walk through a maze of bricks and upheaved trees and mounds of red clay, the driveway under rubble. Our kitchen and stairs are tracked with a thick white layer of dust that won't go away, no matter how often I vacuum and mop.

I don't even live in California anymore. I live in a home being renovated. And while I knew it would be difficult, while I know what it will be is worth the what it is now, I can feel my heart clenching, my blood pounding under the stress of the chaos.

Everything is chaos now. Not just the house, which has parts of the roof ripped clean off so that you can stand in a room and stare up at the stars at night, but life in general is void of the order and routine I thrive on.

Summer is usually a bit lacking in constants, but this year has been worse. Three kids, three different schedules, three different sets of activities, and I find myself most often in the car, a hundred miles a day under my belt going no further than twelve miles from my house. Back and forth, pick one up, drop one off, trying to figure out where to fit buying more milk and eggs into the equation, nearly running out of gas because the gas station is not on the way to anywhere my kids go. And other people love this kind of craziness, but my stress levels are going up and the sight of more white cement dust and red mud tracked through the foyer is about to send my blood busting out the ends of my fingertips and tips of my hair, my face in a perpetual frozen state of The Scream.

I think part of my less-than-loving attitude about all of this is that I'm not involved anymore. Summers are usually are time to reconnect as a family. During the school year, the kids are out all day, home only long enough to do homework and drop into bed, exhausted. But the summer is OUR time. Time when we get to go hang out at the pool together, do crafts together, obsess over tv shows together, go explore DC and the zoo and museums, have picnics, go to restaurants and laze over milk shakes and burgers.

But now, I'm just the chauffeur and cheerleader. I'm the alarm clock in the morning, the laundrymat for their muddy, stinky, sunblock-smelling clothes. I buy the cases of water on one end of town and drop it off at camp at the other end. I fix breakfast and pack lunches and somehow try to squeeze in a homemade dinner that is well-balanced enough to replenish the kids' energy before they drop into bed.

I am with my kids in some form all day, but I miss them. I miss when summer meant you got to kick off the high-stress, packed days of the school year and sleep in, hike along the creek, lay in the sun reading books, stay up late and watch movies together and build forts in their rooms and watch the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling until they went dim.

I miss writing. I've hardly written at all this summer. This summer, when my novel was absolutely, positively, without excuses going to be finished. I haven't even read much. No time during the day, too tired at night, a few books started but not that made me want to finish them.

All the magic has leaked out.

And yet...

I watch my daughter from the car where I am waiting for her. Her head is thrown back in laughter, surrounded by a group of equally giggling girls she hadn't known three weeks ago. She's found her place in the high school before the year has even started, happier than she's been in ages.

My son bounds to the car, asking if he can go with the guys to buy balloons and back to a friend's to spend the next hour filling them because his drumline is totally going to demolish the brass section tomorrow at the afternoon battle. I agree, because percussion rules, and I know this.

Parents stop to ask if I'll be there for the football game, if my youngest is going to help this year, too. Yes, I say, pointing to my youngest in the back seat, already decked out in her band helper t-shirt, a week early. We wouldn't miss it for the world.

Summer will end and routine will come back. The house will eventually be finished, the dust settled, the multitude of cars cramming our drive gone on to another project. I'll find time to write again. I'll probably still be in the car too much. But that's okay. My kids are there with me - most of the time my oldest now driving. And we'll crank up the radio and we'll sing along, and we'll talk about books and kids at school and band and art and politics, and everyone will be talking all at the same time, and it will be chaotic, but I will love it. This is the kind of chaos I can love.

We will eat on the run again, but together, and we'll go separate ways one last time before the summer ends and school begins. But there's one weekend left - one glorious weekend where we all will be home, after the crazy summer schedules and before the still-crazy school schedules. Maybe we'll fire up the fire pit. Maybe we'll roast some s'mores. And as long as the garage has no roof, we might as well just lay out there and watch the stars. The real ones. And maybe, if we can find a sliver of time, we might just build a fort under them.