Thursday, November 29, 2007


My mom, Evelyn Stevens Mical, died 26 years ago today. Here are some of my memories about her:

She went to college in the late 1930s when that was unusual for women. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in microbiology and did her graduate work at UCSF. She was a superb phlebotomist (person who draws blood). When she worked in a hospital lab, she was frequently called upon to draw blood from children and babies because she was not only quick and sucessful, she also had excellent rapport with kids. She was a thinker with the mind of a scientist and a particular interest in things medical.

She was a wonderful seamstress and did lots of handiwork like smocking on dresses. She loved to play games, especially cards and scrabble. She was a dynamite scrabble player, and she and Raymond used to go head-to-head to win, he with the strategy and she with the vocabulary. She read all the time and loved mysteries, especially Agatha Christie and John LeCarre.

She was very limber. I remember her standing on her head in the park and at the beach when we begged her to. She used to do the Canadian Air Force calisthenics in the front room with instructions from a record, and when my brother started doing yoga at 18, he taught her some asanas which she did every evening after work for years. Late in life, she took a walk every morning in Golden Gate Park. In the summer, she frequently took a swim across Twain Harte Lake doing the side-stroke.

She always sent Christmas cards. When we were kids, the card included a picture of us, but later the picture was of her or her house. She collected little boxes and kept them on display all over her house. She had a lovely old rocking chair that she rocked my little sister Ginger in and may have rocked the rest of us too. She liked a candy she called "turtles," which I think were chocolate covered peanuts. She ate Wheaties with banana for breakfast. She always took an afternoon nap and drank a glass of iced tea when she woke up.

She would be 86 years old if she was still living.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Done Deal

In case you didn't notice the word meter to the right, the clip art to the left says it all.
In the words of Anne Lamott, I wrote a "shitty first draft." Ta Da!
Now, I'm going to spend the morning in my alter ego as the pruning lady. In a week or so, I'll sneak a peak at Memo and decide if the whole mess is worth revision so "my novel" can make an appearance in the larger world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NaNo Blahs

According to everything I've read, I'm supposed to be racing to the end of this adventure with joy and exultation, but instead I'm bored and frequently head off on procrastinating side-trips. Yesterday I went to the library to write and spent an hour looking at books in the teen section using the excuse that my book might be for a youngish crowd and needed to do some research. There are some great books written for teens. I checked out three. Then I set up my computer and found a Columbia College catalog and read it for awhile and considered taking so many classes in the Spring that it would be like taking a full load. Then I realized I could get on the wireless hub for the Internet, so I checked my email and looked on Amazon for the investment books that Kenny had suggested and found a 3 for the price of 2 sale and started looking at the mysteries. In the midst of all this Cindy dropped by to say hello, and we visited for a while. I finally got back to Memo a half hour before it was time for me to leave.

Two things worked once I got home—advice that came in pep-talks sent by the NaNo folks. The first was to write a scene that I'd been imagining but which was not necessarily at the point I'd reached chronologically in the book. I leaped ahead and wrote about something I imagined would happen near the end of the book. That garnered close to a 1000 words. Next, I used Julianna Baggott's suggestion: "Polish your jealousy to a high shine---like the chrome of a well-loved Mustang." This was easy when I went to post my word count on the NaNo website and two of my long distance buddies had reached the 50,000 completion mark over the weekend, and Arlyn had pulled ahead of my by 3000 words, and Annie had more than doubled her count over the weekend. What the heck had I been doing?

Dinking around with my blog and all the other aforementioned activities. I dove back in and wrote another 1000 words before bedtime. I'm ready to be done with this. It's been fun, but I want to step into December with all the accompanying wonder and madness of the year's end.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Video Viewing

We spent yesterday catching up on NetFlix and Blockbuster DVDs and the recorded TV programs that are stacked on our entertainment center.

First, we watched three episodes of our favorite TV program ER. Poor Abby has fallen off the wagon, breaking out hearts because she is our favorite character and we too are on the wagon. Looks like the subplot or connecting thread for the entire season is going to be about her backsliding. Darn it Abby . . . Just go to a meeting. In a funny side story, Cindy and I admitted that we each had wanted to write Abby's name on a chit for the Boutros game on Thanksgiving, but we could remember her last name, probably because we were so far behind in our ER viewing. Abby Lockheart. How could we forget? Until partnering with Luca for the second time, Abby's MO on the show was her locked heart. DUH!

Next we watched Factotum. The film is based on Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Matt Dillon plays Herry Chinanski (the Bukowski character) and Lily Taylor (from Six Feet Under) plays his sometimes girlfriend. Taylor can sure play the weird chick well. Makes me wonder what she's like in real life. In the film, Dillon and Taylor are dynamite together, superbly underlining and playing off the frailties of each other's characters. You have to have an existential bent to enjoy this film, but for me the final scene was worth witnessing Chinanski's agonizing life for 90 minutes. I won't spoil the end should you see the film, but I'll tell you that I made Cindy rewind it so I could watch it a second time. The cinematography and the recitation of what is probably the end of Bukowski's book is an exquisite merger of film and writing. (Feminists BEWARE)

We both loved the second flick though it only got lukewarm reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But then Cindy and I adore a good love story and this movie, The Secret Life of Words, qualifies as that. Cindy picked it out on a solo trip to the video store which can be deadly for us. She picks a DVD by the picture on the cover and I pick them by reviews I've read which means we don't often land on the same page when we choose a movie alone, but it happened this time it. I'd read the review of this film and was thrilled when she brought it home (Yes, she did pick it because she liked the cover.)

We had intended to watch a 3rd movie, but after watching The Secret Life of Words, we wanted to hold the film's imagery in our minds and hearts for the rest of night, so we stopped there. I won't tell you about this story—read a review or just take a look at the cover and decide if you want to watch it.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dixon Day

When the Dixons lost eighteen-year old Ashley, the ties that bind them pulled more snuggly together.

I spent yesterday in Mariposa with this extended part of my family. A large contingent had come north from Southern California, so the welcoming hugs took a while when we arrived. The early indoctrination into the hugging practice was apparent when 18-month old William met us with arms spread wide followed by his knee-level hug. William milked the hugging for all he could get as he continued to seek a hug from each person that sat visiting in a big circle of couches and rockers on the porch.

After the initial hellos and check-ins, we all gathered on the porch steps where we were treated to a dog show by cousin Rhonda, whose three pups—Maddie, Hank, and Penny—wowed us with their patience and obedient performance. What's more, at the end of the show, 6-year old Christina got a turn to toss treats and the pups did their leaping tricks for her.

Next we gathered around the dining room table for a photo-slide show of the volleyball game we missed on Friday and the triumphant participation by Aunt Joanne. Two years ago at Thanksgiving, we all gathered at Joanne's thinking this might be her last since she was severely incapacitated by COPD. But after lung transplants last February, Aunt Joanne was able to play 3 games of volleyball on Friday and there were pictures to prove it. In a series of photos, we watched Joanne collide with sister Bonnie as both tried to reach an out-of-range ball. Joanne hit the ground and rolled but rose again, we were assured, to keep on playing. GO AUNT JOANNE!

Then Kenny arrived to collect the giant pile of chocolate chip cookies Aunt Cindy had baked for his return to New York next week. We had a great visit with him, hearing his new passion-- getting rich by investing smartly--while he dipped cookies into a big glass of milk as he ate them.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the disorderly confusion that generally accompanies a large family gathering, i.e. seven conversations going at once that get mixed and mingled until the threads are tangled and one person is answering a question that wasn't posed to him and another is missing the gist of an argument because of an interjection by someone asking for chip dip.

But things do get done, like the retrieval of a photo of Ashley from a cell phone that took no more than 5 minds at the computer and the creation of a huge and delicious pot of chicken noodle soup and dumplings made by many hands.

After consuming big bowls of soup, we piled into cars and drove in the Dixon fashion—a streaming caravan of vehicles-- to the high school to watch Kenny play in the alumni-varsity basketball game. What a hoot watching old and young Mariposa Grizzlies duke it out on the court. The Alumni won by one point. YEHAW Kenny!!

After the game, Dixons et al poured onto the court for hugs all around as we prepared to leave. Our holiday with the Dixons was over and we drove the curving Highway 49 full of familial good feeling.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Boutros-Boutros Ghali

With Andrea came the game of Boutros-Boutros Ghali. What I love about this game is that the playing field is flattened and all stops are pulled. Elders and youngsters can mix and match as can a post-modern sensibility with a 50s-antiquated intelligence. You can be book-learned or TV learned or street smart or not smart and you can still play Boutros. You simply have to be willing to play foolishly and without a need to win.

Here's the game in brief. Everyone playing gets 10 chits. On these chits, you write the names of people. They can be real (historical, friends, family or the famous) or imaginary, (characters in books, plays, movies, or cartoons). Fold your chit in half and place in the sturdy hat or can that is provided. Next comes partnering. Beans or tokens in pairs are the most playful way to match folks up, but you can also put pairs of numbers on slips of paper. Everyone blindly chooses one of these sets of pairs and your partner is the person who has the thing that matches the one you chose (for instance two pinto beans or two 5s). Partners sit side-by-side around a table or in a circle. Pairs can seem to be oddly matched, i.e. Lee with Adrian or pairs can appear doomed from the start like when Culley and Andrea were once partnered and were bickering from the start. In both of these cases, the unseemly pairs were the ultimate winners. That's the cool thing about Boutros. You never can tell who will win. Sometimes there is simply a brain wave connection between two people that causes one word to give the partner an immediate correct answer like last night when Sidney said to Shayley, "kissing" and she said, "Flogging Molly." (I think that's the name of a band which is not an acceptable chit but when you have made up the game you can also make exceptions which someone did in this case.) How Shayley got to Flogging Molly from kissing, I will never know, but it must be some generational thing that teens could grasp.

So back to how the game works: Each pair gets one minute. One partner takes a chit from the sturdy hat or can and tries to get his/her partner to guess the person listed on the chit. If guessed correctly, the other partner grabs a chit and starts giving clues. When one minute is up, you keep all correctly guessed chits and pass the hat to the next pair who takes a turn. Unless an immediate connection is made as when Lee said, "He was the President" and Adrian said "Bill Clinton," then the clues and/or the guessing becomes a comical scene of errors and silliness, and everyone watching is laughing and there is always someone whose turn it is NOT who knows the answer but can't say and hopes to get that chit when their turn comes around.

Boutros is the perfect accompaniment to turkey and stuffing. Laughter and good company is the best dessert I can think of. Thanks Andrea.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

From the inside out, I offer gratitude to:

  • My body for the ultimate in service and to my spiritual and physical care-takers, Nancy, Cherie, Christian, & Jay.
  • Cindy, partner extraordinaire, whose loving kindness is sheer joy every single day, whose dearness tickles my funny bone and whips my heart with happiness.
  • My children and their spouses and my grandkids, who fill me with immeasurable delight, generous dollops of play, and just the right sprinkling of challenge.
  • My brothers and sisters, who despite distant and infrequent contact, remind me so much of me and where I've been in this life time.
  • My extended family the Dixons whose huge arms hug me close and keep me ever so warm and safe.
  • My amazing network of friends with whom I play, work, meditate, exercise, write, garden, serve, laugh, cry, think, and grow.
  • My neighbors and community who are generous of spirit and helpful when I least expect it.
  • The bigger world which pulsates with the possibility of greater goodness. . .

To all of this, I offer the love that is expressed and experienced every where this day.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

WriMo Briefing

NaNoWriMo is past the mid-point, and I have this sorry novel in the making. As my word count goes up, the story gets FLATTER and FLATTER. The murdered girl is dumped on a sand spit beside New Melones, Memo is afflicted with a staph infection in a cave on the other end of the lake near Natural Bridges, and the main character is having meat loaf with Memo's grandmother. Where's the narrative arc, the suspense, the red herrings? I haven't a clue . . . I'm just writing toward 50,000.

There was another write-in at Starbucks last night with a newcomer, which means there were four of us, plus Miles who has this encyclopedic brain and is the artistic consultant of our newest member C. Ravenlocke, a fantasy writer and three-time NaNo winner. Miles popped out an answer to a question I had that turned out to be the only noteworthy thing I wrote last night. Well at least it had to do with death and was therefore remotely connected to the murdered girl on the spit of sand.

See how it's going?

Today is a writing day. The plan is a 6000 word day to get some words in the bank. Hopefully something goofy, unreal, disturbing, suspenseful, suspicious will fall out of my fingers instead of the meatloaf dinner I got hung up on last night.

Speaking of banks, the deal around here is that Cindy goes to the casino when I go to write-ins, and last night she hit a spade royal flush and won $1000. There is some WriMo math here for those of you who wish to calculate . . . I spent 2 hours writing 1670 words for zilch and Cindy spent 15 minutes and $20 to win a $1000. Is my math/writer friend Annie able to solve this word equation?

Write on ph

Monday, November 19, 2007


I've been away from home and blogging for 5 days and I have missed both a lot. Having done such a wild array of things of late, it's hard to remember way back to Wednesday when I was last home and blogged. Here is a selection of thoughts and activities that I might have written about had I been blogging daily:

  • Hanging out with a 93- year-old guy slowed me down considerably. I listened to stories and questions posed repeatedly but with complete sincerity, stayed on a strict schedule of meals, played Rummy after dinner every night, and took short leisurely walks. This is not a bad way to live.
  • One of my greatest teacher fears was realized at Little Red School House last week but not by me. The teacher wrote an entire lesson on the white board in permanent ink marker. OUCH!
  • A full day with Gianna allowed sufficient time to talk about horses, housekeeping, jello, and remote control convertibles.
  • My son's family was one of two of the original Hickman Charter School families in Tuolumne County, a brilliant move on my daughter-in-law's part as the kids have definitely gotten a rich and complete education in this context AND they were each perfectly cast in the school's fall drama production of "Cinderella."
  • I just had to buy Leon and Aliou boots that light up when they walk. I've wanted sandals like this for years and if can't have them, then two of my grandkids will.
  • My friend Linda Du and I ended up at Bon Appetite after speeding from restaurant to restaurant last Friday evening looking for one without a wait. What a lucky thing for us, for as Linda will tell you the Lobster bisque at this restaurant is "to-die-for."
  • After dinner we went to "Plaid Tidings." You can read my review of the play later this week in the Democrat, but suffice it to say I had the most fun writing this review of any to date. Maybe it was because Linda accompanied me to the opening night party at the Lickskillet--my first such party—where Doug B. complimented me on my reviews. Since I've wondered if anyone connected with the productions was reading what I wrote, I think his comment gave me a happy push to make this one shine.
  • Saturday at a co-ed baby shower that was accompanied by a poker game, I met a student from Sac State who was doing a research project on American folk traditions among which baby showers are included. Showers originated, I learned, between WWI and WWII and are directly connected with a move from agrarian economics to industrial-urban living. Go figure.
  • I'm absolutely certain the God was delighted to hear the giggles of Leon and Aliou as Father Fitzpatrick poured holy water over their heads while baptizing them on Sunday. I know the parishioners loved the music of their laughter, not to mention their stunning white embroidered Liberian costumes donned for the occasion.

I'm home now. I've had 2 zero count days in NaNo but plan a 6000 word day for Tuesday which should put me ahead of the game going into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Oh one last thing—a remarkable coincidence upon which I must remark. In my usual practice of reading one book and listening to another in the car while driving, I have encountered two major characters with the same name: Pete Kovacs. How weird is that? The authors are unconnected as far as I know and were probably writing their books at roughly the same time judging by the publication dates. I guess a noveling sprite was hop-scotching among authors having a lark with planting character names.

Now for more tea and plunging forth to increase my word count.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WriMo Math

My friend Annie, the math teacher, is cranking out words toward the 50,000 finish at the end of the month despite starting 5 days late because of work commitments. Here is a little WriMo math she passed along yesterday:

Today, I reached 12,500 words which is one quarter of the way but we are two fifths of the way through the month. This doesn't sound as far behind as 9,000 words in a 50,000 word race somehow. Funny how natural it is to manipulate the numbers to believe what we wish.

Don't you just love the way math shows up in a writing event. Most WriMos have reached the point of OCD behavior when it comes to word count now that we are closing the second week of NaNoWriMo. I, for one, can't quit checking the numbers. I make myself write for half hour blocks before I'm allowed to check.

Short blog today. I'm off to be pruning lady and I probably won't post again until Sunday as I'm going to hang out with my chiropractor's 93-year-old dad for the next few days. There isn't a decent Internet connection out that away. But I will be writing and of course checking my word count.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Poker Moves

NaNoWriMo has seriously inhibited our movie watching. We have a pile of movies from NetFlix and Blockbuster online that are languishing on the entertainment center, many of them from the list of movies every writer should see that I copied from The Writer magazine a month ago. We just don't seem to have time for movies right now.

BUT we did watch Lucky You the other night which is a fun poker flick. The romance it portrays is fairly predictable, but there's not one person in my family who could miss a movie in which the main character is named Huckleberry. Now, I'm not sure I want our Huckleberry to grow into the mold of this Huckleberry though it's not an impossibility growing up with Uncle John who resembles the character played by Robert Duvall. The movie is full of a lot of trippy poker playing, especially tournament poker like the Texas Hold Em game we play on Friday night. The players in the movie are REAL professional poker players and if you ever watch poker tournaments on TV you'll recognize these folks. (Yeah, I know that's not a niche most of my readers fall into.)

Not only was the movie an entertaining treat, it set my WriMo buddy Annie and her pal Robert off on a hilarious tangent. You see, Annie is writing her novel about our Friday night poker game, and I suggested that someday her book might be made into a movie like Lucky You which got Annie and Robert figuring out which famous actors would play which of the regulars who sit around their table. Annie wants to be played by Bette Midler with Jim Belushi playing Robert and Billy Bob Thornton for Peter. They couldn't figure out who would play Tommy, the antagonist but they will put the question before the poker players this Friday. I decided I wanted to be played by Ellen DeGeneres. (I'm not even close to funny but one can wish.) I wanted Cindy to be played by Lily Tomlin but she chose Mary Stuart Masterson instead.

Uncle John has to be played by Robert Duvall . . .


Monday, November 12, 2007

WriMo Happenings

You can see by the NaNoWriMo meter that I'm chugging along. The expected quota for day 11 (yesterday) was 18,337, so I'm 1000 words ahead. Today is the day I'll pass the 20K mark, which makes this endeavor seem quite real. Here is list of the good, the bad, and sluggly happenings of last week:

  • Arlyn and I met for 2 write-ins at upper Starbucks last week, Wednesday & Saturday. Write-ins work! We barely said a word to one another, we kept our bottoms in the chair and our fingers typing for two solid hours, and we accumulated words. We meet again tonight, and my friend Annie is going to join us.
  • Annie is the success story of the week. A total newbie writer who joined NaNoWriMo on a lark, Annie is hooked, writing the definitive poker novel and topping 10K words this weekend.
  • Another success story is Arlyn's mother, who is a potter turned writer and who is also sailing along, actually beating her daughter in word count.
  • Our knowledge of the local WriMo contingent grew last week when Arlyn discovered a WriMo while doing a routine job related visit and a young woman who works at Jack-in-the-Box approached us when we were at Starbucks on Saturday and asked if we were WriMo's. When we said, yes, she said, "Me too!" We have the makings for a celebration when this is over and maybe a Foothill Region for next year. (Who typed those words: next year?)
  • The part of me who didn't sign up for WriMo is perfecting procrastination. I'm starting later and later each day to accumulate the word count quota, even when I have time early in the day, and the words are coming at a sluggish pace. ("BUT," hollers the true WriMo, "They are still coming.")
  • A murder, or at least a suspected murder, has plopped onto the page easily without much fanfare and no blood.
  • Yesterday, I wrote the very last thing that my mind had pre-conceived, so today's writing starts on a bright, clean tabula rasa.

Send good juju!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beautiful day in the neighborhood

I love Mr. Rogers and I love my neighbors and friends. Yesterday, these wonderful people reminded me about goodness.

First, a couple in our mobile homepark came up a way to raise money for new playground equipment down at the clubhouse. They took orders for a hot meal of spaghetti, French bread, salad, and dessert which the gal cooked and the guy delivered on his golf cart. They charged $7.50 a person for the meal and delivery and asked for ingredient donations from park residents. What a treat to have a hot meal delivered. We tipped the delivery guy with extra cash and a couple of home baked cookies. Not only does it look like they raised plenty of money for the playground, everyone in the park has been buzzing all week in anticipation of getting their dinners.

We, however, had a double spaghetti dinner booking yesterday because a group of our dear friends had arranged a benefit for our friend Judy who was diagnosed three months ago with breast cancer. Judy, who has worked for non-profit organizations for many years, including WATCH and Mountain Women's Resource Center, is UNINSURED. I won't go into the dark hole of frustration I have about a country that can't/won't create a health system that takes care of people. Instead, I want to focus on how neighbors take care of one another.

This event was amazing. People from all over the county from all walks of life came in support of Judy. Tickets were $20. The spaghetti was delicious and even better was the dessert. Cindy spent all day yesterday baking brownies and chocolate chip cookies which were a huge hit and in my opinion crowned the meal gloriously. The music was terrific, and there was both a silent and live auction and a raffle. What a blast! Folks competed at the silent auction writing their bids for coveted prizes. A beautiful Native American rug went for over $300. Not only did people want the prizes, everyone knew that the money ultimately went to a noble cause. The live auction was even more lively with Mike Macon calling and folks laughing and cajoling each other to bid higher and higher.

I know a lot of money was raised to help Judy. But what's more important is that the organizers intend to make this an annual event to raise money for uninsured women who need expensive medical care.

I'm grateful to live in this generous community.


Friday, November 9, 2007

OUCH! Bingo

Here's my theory about why people who play Bingo smoke: They are gamblers who are also able to gamble with life. I said this to Cindy (who is a smoker) last night at Bingo and she smiled and said I was probably right.

Somewhere in this theory also lies an explanation about why I spent over 3 hours in a cavernous (and cold) smoky hall playing Bingo to gather information for a novel that I'm trying to write in 30 days. Not only did I breathe smoke-filled air for longer than my poor asthmatic lungs could tolerate, I spent almost $50 on game cards, warm-ups, early birds, and specials and I didn't even come close to winning on the slew of cards that I spent all evening dobbing. However, I suspect my utter failure to have a card that was a potential winner is not nearly so bad as Cindy's near wins, for all night she was repeatedly one or two numbers away from the BINGO holler. Another dubious side effect of Bingo was my choice of snack food, purchased and gobbled no doubt to quell the rush of adrenaline that I get trying to keep up with the caller on my spread of 2 sheets that each have 6 Bingo cards. In a state of mild sustained anxiety, I sipped Pepsi and ate popcorn (pre-buttered) and M&Ms, all of which I'm sure fed the giant canker sore that is growing on the inside of my lower lip.

I didn't win, nor did I offer any assistance to my body which is valiantly trying to ward off the viruses that have been assaulting my mouth and throat since NaNoWriMo started. BUT I collected several pages of notes that I'm going to try to shove into my novel during the next few days. Goodness knows what it all has to do with Memo who is mysteriously missing in the novel.

Two related WriMo items:

  • Thanks to Ginger, Tuckova, and Lynn all of whom offered truly fine yet diverse suggestions regarding the murder-writing dilemma. I am taking these suggestions to heart and weaving them together to bluster into a non-murder mystery.
  • Did you notice the new and working word count gauge in the right corner of my blog? The NaNoWriMo website has provide widgets (whatever those are) to copy and paste to blogs or web pages so that participants can display their progress wherever they wish in the electronic world.

Now a walk to oxygenate my over-taxed lungs and then I'll let the muses try their turn at Bingo.


Thursday, November 8, 2007


One instruction often told to writers is: Write what you know. Since this instruction works well for me, I made of a list of places and activities to plumb this week for novel material:

  • The Precept Ceremony and Bodhisattva training class,
  • Working with August on taxonomy and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven,"
  • Time spent with Leon, Aliou, and Athan at a preschool child development screening,
  • Helping Cindy construct a standee for the film Atonement at the Regal Crown Cinema
  • Pruning roses at Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp,
  • Consulting with the chiropractor about my psoas injury and subsequent lower back spasm,
  • Visiting Little Red School House and observing a game of Red Rover and a writing lesson centered on the Declaration of Independence,
  • Yoga class with a closing chant—Deep Peace-- lead by Julie while I laid in savasana,
  • Meeting Arlyn for a 2 hour write-in at Starbucks, which incidentally offered the opportunity to eavesdrop on a gathering of teens who are the same age as some of the characters in my novel.

And tonight, Cindy and I are going to go play Bingo to help me write a scene that popped onto the page yesterday from goodness knows where . . .

My life is providing fodder for my fledgling novel. And though I still haven't inserted a murder, I'm pretty sure that I know how it's going to make its way in AND better yet, how my sleuth is going to accidently get involved in its solution.

Busy-ness is certainly a source for material though I'm looking forward to down time on the weekend when I can spend more time writing.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Murder She Wrote

My novel is a mystery but I've been struggling with putting a murder in it. It seems to me that committing murder on the page is too closely akin to committing it in real life. But the thing is murder is fairly central to plot in the mystery genre, so this was posing a problem in my novel. What kind of mystery was my sleuth going to solve if not a murder and how was I going to make it suspenseful enough to make someone want to keep reading? I wrote about my dilemma in an email message to my WriMo buddy Arlyn and her response was so cool that I have to share it here:

One day I sat down to 'murder' someone in a story, and it was awkward and not too cleanly done at first. I grazed a few people and a mule with bullets before I finally let an arrow hit a target, and even then, I just let someone find the body in a stream in the mountains and didn't go into any details. Somehow that helped me turn the corner, though that story is now scrap paper. Then I wrote another one and added suspense and some graphic, but no blood, and the story took off just fine. I'm happy with it. I had to come to place where it was not about the deed, but about sorting out what happened, who did it and chasing that killer down so they wouldn't get away with it. For me, it's now not about a violation of the sanctity of life, but about the quirks and weird stories people tell themselves to justify their actions –and then the integrity of the protagonist who finds the murderer and won't let them get away with it and forces them to face what they've done.

So today in my story I'm going to write about a body being found . . . and just see where it goes from there.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WriMo Bump

I was tempted to write a number 1 after the title of this post as I suspect I've just hit the first of several bumps in this journey, but I resisted the temptation in an obvious attempt to not jinx myself. The weekend was slow in terms of mounting word count. I purposely got myself ahead the first two days because I knew I had a busy weekend. By Monday morning, I was 300 words behind the daily quota and stalled.

Even though I wrote NaNoWriMo at the TOP of my To Do list, I did not start with writing in the morning as I promised myself I would do for the month of November. In fact, I did everything else on my rather long list and at 5:30pm, I still had not opened the word processing program. I was having a crisis. My cold, which keeps fading back, was rearing its head again. I had a sore throat and a headache. (Maybe I'm allergic to writing.) My pelvis, which has been acting up for a couple of weeks, was throbbing after a stint of leaf raking. I had left the novel on Sunday morning a few pages from the end of Chapter 1, and though I'd had an Ah Ha in the shower that morning about how to bring it to a close, I could not remember exactly what the Ah Ha was. The whole story was feeling dry and boring.

But I opened the document and read the last paragraph and started clicking away, first making a few cuts and additions to the last paragraph and then moving ever so slowly forward. I had to get 1967 words in before bedtime and I was already tired. The first 300 words were torture. Nothing was flowing. After an hour or more, I realized I was at the end of the Chapter 1 and it was an OK ending. I moved to a fresh page and typed Chapter 2. All of a sudden, it was 8:00pm and I'd passed the mark. I was at 8450 words. I'd found the groove.

WHEW! I guess that supports the theory about getting one's bottom in the seat (or on the cushion in the case of meditation) and IT will come, whatever IT is.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Vowing To

I've been a student of Buddhism for 20 years and yesterday I took a giant leap (for me) by participating in a formal ceremony in which I vowed to live my life by Buddhist principles. I've always been a sucker for ceremony and ritual which never fail to bring chills to my back and a tear or two to my eyes, but as my spiritual teacher Nancy said when she hugged me after the ceremony, "This step has been a long time in coming."

I know that I have been using the Buddhist precepts as a guide for living for many years, and Nancy was clear in reminding us 8 preceptors that this ceremony did not mean we had or needed to perfect their actualization. Our vow was simply to use them as a guide in our spiritual training.

In this way, I do most deeply vow to train myself.

In the days before the ceremony, I gave a lot of thought to the word "vow." It's a word that holds powerful sway over me. I have "vowed to . . ." several times in my life. I was baptized a Catholic and made my holy communion and was confirmed. I participated in the sacrament of marriage. Two years ago, I took the Bodhisattva vow which begins like this:

As earth and the other elements, together with space, eternally provide sustenance in many ways for the countless sentient beings, so may I become sustenance in every way for sentient beings to the limits of space . . .

In a nutshell, I vowed to live compassionately with a clear intention to assist, benefit, and nourish all sentient beings. It's a tall order, for sure, but studying the teachings that lend themselves to this vow keeps me paying attention to every action, if not exactly in the moment at least upon reflection.

But getting back to vows. The big question for me is how these vows work together. Does taking one vow negate a previous vow? I know that my relationship to and understanding of the vows I have taken has changed. Does that constitute fickleness or growth?

One thing is certain: It is terribly important that I feel a connectedness and inclusivity among spiritual practices. Perhaps that is why I always speak this line in the morning recitation a bit louder and with the deepest respect and commitment, "Homage to the devotees of this and all paths of self-purification."

The vows I have taken are all part of the fabric of my spiritual life, woven strands that make a peculiar but nevertheless inspiring pattern.

May all find simplicity the joyous and practical guide.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Have Laptop Will Travel

I took my laptop out on the road yesterday. The plan was to go to the library after yoga to write and wait out the time that the housekeeper was at the house. THWARTED! The library was closed for the day for some reason that was never quite clear to me because I didn't walk all the way up to the door to read the fine print. I could see the big CLOSED sign from the parking lot. I watched about 20 people walk up to the door and read the sign while I sat in my car munching an apple and trying to decide what to do. At first, I thought they might just be opening late, like on the half hour, but since no one sat down to wait, I finally realized that they were closed for the day. I didn't want to drive all the way out to college and walk half-way around the pond to go to that library though I will do that someday, so I knew I had to take the plunge:

I went to Starbucks! I bought a cup of coffee and set up my laptop. It wasn't too bad. I wrote almost uninterrupted for an hour and a half. One former student came over to say hi and I had a pee break. That was a bit of a dilemma. What do you do with your laptop and cell phone when you are working in Starbuks and need to go to the restroom? I waited until I was bursting before I decided to get up and go, leaving it all on the table. My rationale: No fool would steal a plugged in, up and running lap top in a busy coffee shop. So I clicked the SAVE button and went to pee.

When I got home, the housekeeper was still working, and she was cleaning my office, so I set up the lap top on the tiny table on the patio and plugged it into the power outlet for the fountain (which by the way is scummy from disuse and most likely breeding mosquitoes with West Nile virus—I need to do something about that). Writing outside was cool too. I turned on the drip system which in the back yard consists of a lot of those sprayers which made a lovely water sound and created a pleasant ambiance (this in lieu of dealing with the scummy fountain), and I typed away for about an hour.

I'm up to 5734 words which is well ahead of the daily quota. Good thing because I won't have much writing time the rest of this weekend. I'll be back on Monday with further WriMo news.


Friday, November 2, 2007

WriMo Rock & Roll

Rock: I have a full blown cold: sneezing, itchy watery eyes, runny nose, and two monstrous canker sores in my mouth.

Roll: I wrote 3669 word yesterday and added another 1000 this morning;

Rock: I have flaming tendinitis in my right wrist and it's only the 2nd day (probably due to doubling the daily word count yesterday)

Roll: the words are flowing, mostly laying out the background of the story that I've been thinking about constantly since signing up for WriMo started, but there have been a few happy surprises AND at least two dynamite sentences J

Rock: I have to go to a play tonight (White Christmas) and write the review by Monday and I'm scheduled for a 1 ½ day meditation retreat this weekend plus the daily WriMo commitment

Roll: I have a friend right here in Jamestown who is doing Wrimo too… and she dove in yesterday and made her daily quota +. Go Arlyn!!

Rock: I haven't a clue where this book is going once I finish the first chapter.

Roll: I'm going to the library with my laptop after yoga to work on the novel. I've never tried to write in public before but I'm game to try. Chris Baty says it ROCKS!


Thursday, November 1, 2007

WriMo Day 1

Yesterday, I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. Jittery and giddy and talkative and not exactly centered. I went to get my haircut at 11:15 but my appointment was for 2pm, so I went to thrift stores and I bought chiffon scarves. I'm not sure why but they seemed like they would be good writing totems. And I found this wonderful sheer blue shirt with gray whales on it. It is silky and flowing and falls to my knees and without a doubt it is the perfect shirt to inspire something. I also bought a pair of black pedal pushers with small green frogs embroidered on them. I went to Staples and bought a purple and pink plastic calculator and a bunch of half-sized colored gel pens and a package of 20 of my favorite pens. I don't need pens. I have drawers full of them and so does Cindy, but I do need a calculator so I don't have to walk to Cindy's office and get hers when I want to calculate something. Then I went home and washed the scarves and hung them to dry before going back to town for my haircut and yoga class.

After dinner, I called Rex for a list of hip-hop, rap, and alternative music. His list included Blink-182, Afroman, 2Pac, and about four others. I downloaded about 15 songs from ITunes and was listening to this stuff, trying to get into character with Memo and Curtis--two guys who star in my novel-- while Cindy wore her black cat hat and passed out candy to the trick-or-treaters. I listened to 2Pac sing "Dear Mama" and hung chiffon scarves around my office. After Cindy came and frowned at me because the music was so raucous, I turned it off and tidied my desk and got everything ready for morning. It was getting late but I wasn't sleepy, so I read my mystery and drank peppermint tea and ate toast, and it got to be 11:30 and though I wasn't sleepy yet I went to bed anyway. When Cindy came to bed at 1:30 and I still wasn't asleep, she said I could get up and start because it was Nov. 1. But I didn't.

I got up at 5:30 -- a half hour after I planned. I had a sore throat and felt hung-over. I washed my face, made tea, and put on my whale shirt. I opened a word doc and typed "Memo Goes Missing" at the top. And then I stared at the screen. In the past week, I have thought of at least 10 opening lines for my novel, but I stared at the screen and couldn't think of one word to start. A fly landed on the white screen. I watched it walk across the back lit page. At 5:48, I typed the first word. At 7:36, I had 1700 words (the daily quota being 1667) and I had to pee really bad.

I promise to not read one word of what I wrote when I get back to the page. GO AWAY Internal Editor. I don't want to see your scowling face for 29 more days!!!