“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
~ Annie Dillard
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Using specific descriptions when writing is akin to being specific when asking for what you want, or visualizing what you want and it is funny how everything comes full circle and lines up exactly when you want it to. I am learning how to ask for what I want and the results are usually good so tonight my request is for everyone in my family to always say “goodnight.”
The days are gone when my husband, my daughters and I inhabited the same home and could yell goodnight from room to room (remember The Waltons?) but the need is still there for me. I want to sleep well knowing that everyone in my family is safe and sound and in this age of technology this can be done without too much difficulty so at the risk of becoming an annoying mom, I will happily accept a text message, an email or Facebook message but my sleep is much more relaxed after I receive these messages of nightly good wishes. Of course the telephone call is the best, hearing the voices from far off, sometimes equally exhausted, sometimes wide awake and in the midst of studying, but always welcome. This is our tradition, our family tradition started by my mother. I rarely missed a good night phone call to my mother in my later teen years, early adulthood and the calls continued after I was married, sometimes to the puzzled look of my husband, who didn’t quite get my need for nightly closure. When my mother moved in our home with us, I could go to kiss her goodnight, which was the best way to end the day and begin my dreams. I can’t wait for the holidays to do that with my girls. Sometimes I just need to hold them for a few minutes taking them in with my senses, these girls who are part of me and of me. It doesn’t quite seem fair that we bring children into this world and spend so much of ourselves raising them and then lose them at 18 when they go off to college. In the grand scheme of things, 18 years of a life that can last into the 80s is just a small slice of time and we are so busy raising our children that we don’t realize that every day we move closer to losing them. That is why sometimes we need to see them in person, smell their sweet hair fresh from the shower, hear their voices-excited, happy, sad, and hold them in our arms.
It is just a small moment in time, to send a message or dial a phone, but it is a gift that is worth more than any other, and the only request I have.
If an author can watch a character can evolve easily or struggle bring a character to life based simply on a name, then what are the implications for us? I have put a lot of thought into names, not just my own name, but also the three names I selected for my daughters and the one male name I never had the opportunity to use. I have pondered each name and its variations selecting it for rhythm and flow and for impractical things such as how the name sounds when spoken in a variety of circumstances ranging from singing it in a lullaby to calling a child in for dinner. How would the name sound spoken by a teacher, a friend a lover? A name is a critical part of one’s identity and some people don’t like their names, electing to change them. I always liked my name, even though it is short and doesn’t offer much in the way of nicknames. I liked it because my mother used to sing “Once in Love With Amy” to me a lot when I was a little girl and because there was a song with my name in it, I figured it must be a pretty special name.
My mother went through several incarnations of her name, which was Marjorie only calling herself Marjorie when she was singing and being silly or giving her name in the legal sense, at the doctor’s perhaps. For years she was “Marg” with no “e” at the end, a rebellion of sorts and then she finally began adding the “e” when people pronounced her name incorrectly. To many of her friends, she was Margie, a spunkier, chummy version of her name.
I am driving my mother’s car now, with the license plate containing her initials, MK and I like that after a day at work, I walk to the car that is now mine, and smile, remembering my mother and in the morning the license greets me. We are given our name as a gift when we are born and we become our name though we sometimes change the spelling and later add, change or hyphenate our name when we marry, but we are who we were named at the start for that is the name our mother whispers to us, sings to us, calls to us. It is our bond with our mother. Forever.
“At such moments one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet gazing in amazement as the cold and yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable. Life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor eternity, only being.”
~ Albert Einstein
The idea of noting the gestures people use as a springboard for characterization makes me ponder the physical versus the mental world I find myself inhabiting, the world of thoughts, ideas and dreams. I often rub my head or run my fingers through my hair as I think as a way to stimulate my brain perhaps, through my scalp. I am spending many hours thinking now, planning, and problem solving, in my empty nest for the house is quiet and outside the rain is coming down more loudly, the fountain is trickling and occasionally the whir of the heater fills the room with sound. I am basking in silence and really don’t feel much need for noise from television or even music at this point. My thoughts are noise enough and the click of the keyboard as I type, the rhythm of my more solitary life.
People develop gestures early in life and the children in my class already have definitive gestures that make them unique, the twirling of hair, the sucking of fingers, playing with their shoelaces or those who are anxious to please, folding their hands and sitting at attention. I remember my mother’s gestures, the way she folded her hands, her tilt of the head as she thought about something, the gestures I knew and made me comfortable through familiarity and consistency.
How do I appear as a character? I imagine myself with a furrowed brown, thinking of a way out, my shoulders heavy but my eyes looking up, looking forward, ever hopeful and optimistic. I sit somewhat comfortably but feel the need to get up and move, as if my movement will allow the chi energy to move too. The energy needed to push things along, to move things forward, and to allow progress.
The thought of actually writing by hand, with a pen, is not one I relish for my hand cramps forcing the thoughts to get stuck waiting for my hand to move faster and dictating into a recording device is not my style. I like the computer, my laptop in particular. It is a comforting friend that has seen me through the tough times in my online graduate school program, the learning curve of “bill pay” and Google Documents, the excitement of learning to make movies on iMovie and iDVD, editing photos on iPhoto, exploring Facebook and iChat. I am connected, and feel like a technology wiz. All that at 80 words per minute, no wonder I am addicted. My computer is my pal and allows me to type just about as fast as I think, which means I can write with a flow that my hand no longer allows.
I understand the concept behind shaking things up to get new ideas flowing though. I do that regularly in my classroom and it is rare that I repeat my curriculum delivery two years in a row, which is how I keep it exciting and why after 30 (!) years- I still love teaching. I never know what will inspire me to veer off in a new direction but inevitably something strikes me, or serendipity presents a gift. This year, I happened to be eating lunch at one of my favorite little places The Baker, when I noticed a big thank you card posted in the restroom written by a class of kindergarten students after their field trip to bake bread. I inquired about the field trip, talked to the owner and happily arranged a trip for my class. I decided to focus on the community worker aspect and to make it a little spicier, the machines and tools of the baking business. I went in and took photos of the baking machines, ovens, scales and mixers and will develop a unit with our science teacher about simple machines to get the children excited in anticipation of their bakery visit. I have had offers from parents in my class to share other simple machines and tools with the children so they can have a first hand experience and come to their own conclusions about the importance and necessity of tools. This is a new unit for me and I love the adrenalin rush of creating something new and fun. This is the joy of teaching. This is how I “switch instruments.”
How does one focus on raising the stakes while writing, making a situation go from bad to worse, or creating a character that is in a situation that becomes more intense while focusing on positive energy and outcomes? I am emitting positive energy and thoughts with the belief that more of the same will return to me, so by changing the perspective, flipping the idea written on this card, I can raise the stakes to a higher more positive level. There is real drama in my life, no need for creative writing here. The way to raise the stakes is to finesse, argue, fight, convince, document, search, call, email and to expand my cast of characters. I am not too proud to plead for a chance, an opportunity to stay put. I am familiar with the names of my congressman, senator and government offices I hadn’t heard of before. My web searching skills have evolved to a new level and my tendency toward the obsessive is finally coming in handy and my scavenger hunt expands daily and the stakes grow higher, the deadlines closer and the attempt to stay on the positive, hopeful track, more challenging.