Dawn, Dusk, and Doves

Dawn

Dawn (Photo credit: Daveybot)

Simple questions trigger deep realizations and happy observations. Several Facebook pages and blogs that I follow have been brimming with questions that seem easy to answer, but once you do, you’re letting the genie out of the bottle. Or opening Pandora’s box.  A few of the questions I’ve seen this week:

  • What’s your favorite cereal of all time?  For me, Frosted Flakes. Hands down.
  • Old rock stars – cool, or should they hang it up? One person mentioned her son was taking a class at college about “oldies” music – and it’s music from the 70s and 80s. I almost cried. In my mind, Elvis is oldies. Prince is not! However, Paul McCartney can keep singing as long as he has a pulse and I will be thrilled.
  • Next week is Leap Day – what are you going to do with the extra 24 hours?  This, courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres. I feel a separate blog post coming on…

My favorite question this week, though, came from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.

Dawn or dusk?

Some people are not morning people, and miss the dawn. Some people work late, and come home under streetlights. Some people don’t care one way or the other, or have never thought about it.

Dawn and dusk inspired the name of my blog.

My favorite thing is being outdoors. I enjoy maintaining my garden – and other people’s gardens – and walking through the parks in our area. It’s still cold, but in the morning I take the time to watch the sky brighten and the clouds and vapor trails turn pink in the rising sun. As soon as it clears the roofs of nearby buildings, the light glitters on the frost on the fence and deck.

Last week, a pair of mourning doves began courting and sunning themselves on the deck railing in the early hours. I call them George and Gracie. One morning, they snuggled wing to wing, and from my vantage point by the back door, their heads and bodies formed a perfect heart.

Though the front of the house takes the nor’easters square in the face, the back of the house faces southwest. All year, the backyard basks in the sun. In the summer, I am up with the sun, and my coffee and I pull up a chair in the yard, facing east, and wait. Light and warmth inch over the rooftops and fence, find their way between the branches of trees, and starting with my feet, they wake me up and bring me to life.

I’m never alone at that hour. Robins, finches, and sparrows hop along the fences and sing in the trees. When the red bee balm and purple butterfly bushes bloom, hummingbirds swing by, sometimes pausing for a breather in the branches of the poplar over my head. All the birds dive for cover when the red tail hawk coasts through.

The sun’s color shifts from yellow-white to gold to peach to orange as it dips west. The sky darkens from bright blue to cobalt to purple to ink blue. The light makes the needles of the white pines shimmer as if dusted with gold.

A house on the next block has a massive, towering maple tree in its yard. Every autumn, I look at the very top of the tree, searching for a single leaf. The uppermost. The one that is first to see the sun rise and the last to see the sun set. I envy that leaf. It has a long way to fall at the end, but in the meantime, what a glorious view!

In the evening, I stand on the deck or sit in the yard and watch the sky darken and the first stars come out. Sometimes my youngest daughter will sit with me, and we’ll get stiff necks gazing into the cobalt blue overhead, and between the salmon and purple clouds, looking for the first star. We find constellations. Scorpius, with its red Antares heart, travels right past the yard all summer. When we can’t see it anymore, we know autumn is coming.

Winter sunsets happen right outside my back door. At certain times, the sun or moon settle in a nook between two distant trees, as if they are being held by the trees themselves. I could be fixated on a project or task, but the sun, before it sets, finds my eyes and my face and says:

“Over here. Look at this. You’re going to miss it.”

And for a few moments, nothing else matters.

And again, I am not alone.

In those still moments, at dawn and at dusk, even if they aren’t quiet, miracles become visible. Spirit is present and alive in simple, simple things. Earth breathes and begins again. At dawn, I give thanks for another chance and promise to do my best. At dusk, I put my burdens down and give thanks for everything good.

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24K – and I’m not talkin’ about gold

Nanowrimo

Image by shaylamyst via Flickr

Twenty-four-thousand words.  That’s what I need to generate in the next twelve hours (or less) if I’m going to hit the magic 50-thousand-word mark for National Novel Writing Month. Even if I ignore all else – laundry, children, groceries, errands, meals, choir practice – or happen across one of those Atanik armbands from Stargate SG-1 that give the wearer superhuman speed and dexterity, odds are 50K isn’t going to happen.

And I’m okay with that.

I’ll squeeze in another 4-5K before midnight, which will put me at around 30-thousand words. And that is 30-thousand more than I had 30 days ago.

Anyone else out there who is attempting NaNoWriMo and not feeling very optimistic about your chances for success tonight, do remember this:  if you consider yourself a writer, and you are writing, then you have won.

I’m not advising you to quit right now. Not at all. Do what you can before midnight. And then on December first, open the document, or pick up your pen, and keep going. Participating in NaNoWriMo is as much about building a writing habit as getting the start of a novel.

I’m willing to bet that if you believed in your idea enough to attempt NaNoWriMo in the first place, then your idea – your story – is important enough that you’re not going to let the turn of a calendar page or the ticking of a clock keep you from finishing it.

When I confessed to struggling with my own story, a friend said, “Well, does it have to be 50-thousand words? Maybe it’s really a novella and only needs to be about 30-thousand.”

In my case, no, the story isn’t a novella. It won’t be done at 50-thousand words either. I suspect closer to 75-thousand when all is said and done. But think about your story:  do you have a novella? Or could it even be a short story?  50K is the NaNo goal, but maybe you can say all that needs to be said in 15K.  So keep working on that first draft, and fine-tune it later.

(By the way – does anyone else find it ironic that we sometimes nickname this venture “NaNo” when there’s nothing small about it?)

I still believe in  my characters and their digitized lives, and they have a story to tell. I’m convinced that the scope of their story requires a little more patience and deliberate thought than I can give it in a mere 30 days.  But I’ve at least learned that.

During the course of November and telling my couple’s story,  I started to fear I’d grown too misogynistic to write romance…that I just don’t believe in it enough or maybe that I believe in it too much and anything I write doesn’t do it justice. As I wrote in a guest blog for my Northwest Ohio NaNo Buddy, Feliza Casano, I can’t wrap my writer’s head around certain kinds of romances – as much as I enjoy reading them and may desire to write them, I don’t seem to be wired correctly.

I like my heroes to be real. They have graying hair, labor-intensive non-romantic jobs (or no job), and genuine fears. The hero of my NaNo novel has a disability. At the moment, it’s the proverbial gun on the mantel that Anton Chekhov says you should use by Act III if you introduce it in Act I – I’m working on making it work. But my point is, Real isn’t always pretty…but when it works, it’s beautiful. It appeals to the hopeful romantic in all of us. It’s a very delicate balancing act. I have to use grains of sand – not bricks – to balance the scale that is Real on one side, and Romantic on the other.

Also, I know of some NaNoWriMo participants who take shortcuts or play “fast and loose” with the word count just to hit 50K.  For example, I might consider including any blogging about NaNo toward the word count. I know of people who have done it, and I thought about it too. But in my mind and for my intentions, it defeats the purpose. I’d rather fail to meet the benchmark honestly. And since I plan to keep the manuscript around and continue working on it, what is the point of adding ten-thousand words of “fake” content that I’d have to go back and cut out anyway?

When the clock switches over to 12:01 a.m. and it becomes December 1st, your manuscript will not vanish in a cloud of sparkly fairy dust. It will not cease to exist. You may be someone who took on NaNoWriMo as a dare or a lark and have no intention of pursuing writing beyond November. That’s all good. Congratulations on sticking it out this long! Seriously!  But if you are a Writer, believe in yourself and your abilities, not the clock and the calendar. Believe in your characters and listen to what they have to say. They won’t stop talking at 12:01 a.m. So don’t stop writing.

Kudos and a peppermint mocha salute to all of my NWO NaNites who hit 50K!

Inspired to Write about Inspiration

Old books

When your child asks, “Mom, where do babies come from?” there’s that sweaty moment of panic and, “Oh, God, how do I answer this?”  When a friend asks, “Where do you get your inspirations for writing?” or “How do you cultivate new stories to tell?” I kind of have that same reaction. Kind of appropriate, because to a writer, your story IS your baby.

I never thought I’d find myself writing a blog post about writing because I often feel like I have nothing to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said.

But I was inspired.

My friend Laura recently rediscovered a short story she’d written in college, and she said that while it wasn’t perfect, she still liked it, and it made her realize that it had been a long time since she felt like she had something to say.  On her Facebook page, she asked, “Writer friends, did you move away from and rediscover writing? How did you begin to cultivate new stories to tell?”

Knowing there was no short answer for me (there never is), I let it percolate for about twelve hours. Here’s what I came up with.

I’ve been writing since elementary school. I started writing stories for fun before NaNoWriMo even existed. My first shot at a novel looked a lot like what became the TV show Charmed. I loved my English classes and I was one of those twisted sisters who liked essay exams.

My teachers from my junior and senior years of high school – Ms. Gauvin and Ms. Strumbel – deserve platinum apples for grading my book reports and essays which were thrice as long as most of my classmates’. Some teachers would dock points. They didn’t, and I love them for that. For Advanced Placement English, I wrote a compare/contrast paper about Hamlet and MacBeth. It was about 25 pages. I think it needed to be ten.

In high school and college, I didn’t write for fun and pure creativity. Writing was and is fun, but I didn’t write off the top of my head. I wrote for specific reasons: papers, projects, finals. This continued in the work world too. I wrote a lot, but it was within parameters set by others, like clients and supervisors.  I wrote and used my creativity, but within a particular context.

So answering her first question, I never really left and then rediscovered writing. I’d been writing all along. But purely creative work? From my head and my gut and my heart?  That resumed around 1998 when my oldest was two years old and I no longer had the time or energy to audition for plays and memorize lines. Writing became my creative outlet.

I liked her turn of phrase – “cultivate new stories to tell.” It’s the sign of a writer!

You can be inspired, but stories do take cultivation, and I know I’m not the best gardener. In a real garden, if you get annoyed with maintaining the plants, you can choose to just let them run wild and it might look wonderful. With stories, if you don’t maintain them and care for them, they don’t do anything. They don’t die, but they don’t bloom either.

So to answer Laura’s second question – which I sort of did on her Facebook page – stories are everywhere. Anything that settles in your heart and won’t leave is a potential story.

I find inspiration in locked doors, broken butterflies, and century-old photos; in Bible verses and single sentences spoken by friends (or strangers) that moved me to tears; in music (I have a special playlist for NaNoWriMo 2011 that crosses about three decades) or photos; in anguish and joy and epic stupidity.

I do keep journals. I use them for emotion dumps, kind of like scrubbing the hard drive, or “defragging.” The journals are real life material, and the pages hold the white noise and heavy emotions so that I can get at the stories underneath. In the journal entries, I see patterns – beginnings, middles, and ends – that are stories in and of themselves.

Life provides the material. It would be a shame not to use it. How you use it – blogging, songwriting, painting, woodworking, fiction, nonfiction – is your call. Be inspired. Be the translator of a moment through your medium.