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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Editing Mode

The cash I earned for the July article on the Boston Harbor Islands allowed me to afford unpaid time off from my part time job for the town.  As a result, this week, I am home dedicating as much time as I can to pulling my teeth out editing the old manuscript.  This means Middle Passages is once again getting the short end of the stick.

In the writing class I took last year, the teacher told us when editing, most people are either "putter inners," or a "taker outers."  Last time round, I took out...lots...like, the-first-25-pages lots.  This time, I see all the holes and I'm putting in, sounds and images and dialogue to flesh out scenes and make them real.  I had a goal of completing 30 pages a day this week.   I think I did something like twelve pages yesterday and fifteen today, but in the meantime, I've added over 5K to the manuscript.  Anyone who says writing is easy gets fifty lashes with a wet noodle.

I took a break around 1:00 this afternoon--had to get out of the chair and out of the house.  It was pouring.  I treated myself to a vacation sandwich at a favorite shop and planned to eat it in the car at the edge of the gray beach before returning to the computer.  Just as I headed east to the ocean, the rain and the clouds skedaddled, and I pulled up to this.

Please excuse my absence here.  My hope is to be back to some semblance of a regular posting schedule no later than  September 5th for the next IWSG.  Let's see how many words I've added by then and how many of those, I'll have to take out next  time.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

There and Back Again

For the last nine months, I’ve been in charge of developing activities for the non-profit where I work part time.  Key phrase: nonprofit.  Translation: we need programs for seniors but we don’t have any money.  Find a way.

As a result, I am working with the historical society to produce a “then and now” presentation featuring our town.  This involves sifting through overflowing files for old pictures, then driving around and taking current photographs of the same locations.  Once I pull it all together into a PowerPoint, we’ll show it.  It’s a proverbial win-win.  The town’s elders get some entertainment and the Historical Society (even more of a not-for-profit than Elder Affairs) gets a copy of the final product to do with as they see fit. The process has been educational for me and fun, but more than anything else, eye opening.

You see, our town is old—as in, discovered-by-John-Smith old.  Driving around in 2012, I think nothing of passing houses that have been standing for over two hundred and fifty years.  The area is a treasure of antique buildings and winding roads that began as cow paths, and for as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve had the sense the place hasn’t changed much since the beginning. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  After digging through the files, I am overwhelmed by all that no longer exists.  Three ornate Victorian hotels of the same name all burned to the ground.  Grandiose estates, torn down and replaced with suburban colonials, a catholic church, too small for the congregation, obliterated in favor of a vanilla (albeit larger) 1960’s version, a row of stores demolished by the town improvement society at the turn of the 20th century. I would have never suspected the quiet grove now housing a war memorial across from our town common was the former site of a dry goods store, a bakery and a “public market.” Gas stations, car dealerships and guest houses—all gone.

Even much of what endures, is barely recognizable.  The inn at the heart of town has undergone so much restoration, only its address offers a clue that it’s been in business since 1704.  The harbor, the home of a flourishing mackerel fleet and a healthy shipping-building industry, now supports a commercial base made up of a handful of lobster boats.  They bob at their moorings amidst an array of recreational vessels. 
Early history remains in the geography I pass daily, sure, but now I realize nothing is really the same.  I’ve learned, through this process, that growth cannot come without loss.  Back at home, as I listen to slick and desperate-sounding advertisements for the pen industry during back-to-school-season, I get that the personal computer has prompted the loss of handwriting, the private phone—the loss of the party line, email and texting, and video conferencing, the loss of letters—and through all these improvements, we’ve gained, right? 

Would I want to traverse muddy roads, while avoiding horse “deposits” along the way?  Probably not.  Would I want to wash my clothes via a washboard before lugging them out to dry?   Well gosh, I have a hard enough time doing laundry as it is.  Imagine having to heat water on the stove in order to take a bath?  Would I want to return to a time when I couldn’t vote? To live in an era when I’d be considered my husband’s property?   Are you kidding? 

And yet, I can’t help but be sad for that which no longer is.  For polished mahogany stair rails and carriage houses, for local butcher shops, blacksmiths and fish mongers, for neighborhood schools and linen dresses and long, slow cooked Sunday suppers enjoyed with extended family.  For barns and open fields and brick train stations, for wooden hotels peering over the sea and for fisherman delivering their catch to stores less than a mile away.  It was a way of life, and there’s no one left to tell us about it.  All that remains are the clues we find in old photos. 

The most I can hope for I guess, is that someone figures out how to time travel before my life is over.  If they do, I’m going back with whatever the digital camera equivalent is at that point in time —and I’m turning the setting to “video.”

If you could time travel, where and when would you visit?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Onward Editor

Lately, I feel like I’ve read my dratted story so many times, if I do it one more time, my eyeballs will bleed.  But during one of my insecure, lack of confidence, what-a-waste-of-time-when-this-thing-goes-nowhere editing days, something neat happened. 

Let me set the stage.  I’m a voracious re-reader.  If I like a book, I’ll read it again a few years later, and if it’s really good, there could be multiple repeats.  Of course, after the first time, the end is not a mystery, but during the time between reads I forget the details.  As a result, a good book can suck me in the second, or the fifth time as well as a book that’s new to me—to the point that little gets accomplished in my life until I’ve turned the last page.

So here I was last week, reading/editing my own darn work in progress for what feels for the millionth time, hating a lot of it to tell you the truth, when I arrived at a critical scene and got hooked.  Imagine that.  I mean, I wrote the thing, right?  Trust me, I knew what happened next.  But, yep, as I approached the climax of the story, I didn’t want to put it down.  And then I had to put it down, had to dash to the bedroom to change my clothes, to skedaddle to work— arriving at work late because I didn’t pull myself away soon enough.  For the rest of the day, while I sat in our crowded office editing a newsletter, I kept thinking about my own story— the one I’ve read so many times.  I couldn’t wait to see HOW I wrote what I knew was going to happen next.

When I got home and picked it up again, the story was as compelling as earlier in the day, the red pen saw very little action, and I learned something.

Regardless of what happens to this dear book of mine, it’s not a waste of time.  It’s hard work, and there is a whole lot more of that to come.  But I'm developing and growing as a writer. 

And now that I've managed to excite that nasty little second-guessing critic who dwells deep inside of me, I'll admit to a minor victory.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Call of the Loon

One of my bucket-list reveries features a waterfront dock in front of a humble cottage, where I can get up and drink coffee with my feet in the water while watching the sunrise.  Therefore, it’s no surprise when my husband’s brother called to invite us to spend the past weekend at a camp on a lake up in Maine he and his wife had use of; our answer was a resounding yes.  Sometimes, life lets you hook a snippet of a dream.   The first hint this would be one of those weekends, occurred when we left our house at 5:30 a.m. to make the trip up north.  We pulled over a few miles later to stop a rattle and caught the sun shimmering as it rose over Hingham harbor.

Two and a half hours later, we met our companions, drove the additional hour together, pulled up to our weekend retreat and disembarked into my fantasy.  The cottage was vintage 1950— frozen in time.  The houses all around were updated and embellished, but this little property had remained empty for years, enmeshed in title issues and liens. Surrounded by expansive manses with manicured lawns, it sits there, all 500 SF of it, along with a bare-bones outbuilding for sleeping extra guests, and a cluttered storage shed.  A pine paneled “everything” room framed the lake view through hand-cranked windows— the whole place a testament to the simplicity of a summer house, used for eating and sleeping—and perhaps for stumbling over family members when rain had the bad grace to arrive.

In this unassuming place, we let go of the real world, plunking ourselves into four Adirondack chairs overlooking the water, jumping off the dock to swim, kayaking to a freshwater lighthouse, and on to a huge rock deposited by a glacier in the middle of the 11-mile lake.  There we pulled up the boats and vaulted off the edge into green water so deep we couldn’t see the bottom.  Back at the cottage, we ate cheese and crackers on a picnic table at the water’s edge, feasted on steamed lobsters and toasted the sunset with S’mores made with marshmallows melted over an outdoor fire. 

Before the mosquitoes chased us in, the haunting sound of loons echoed over the quieting lake.  Two days later, I hear them still, their evocative call lifting over the water, a poignant testament to the minimalism of a perfect twenty-four hours— a time-out engineered to ensure we reacquainted ourselves with our spirits.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

IWSG August - Golden Patina

For more IWSG posts for August, click here.

Like many of you, I am in the midst of summer Olympic fever, staying up late at night to watch the divers, the swimmers, the gymnasts.  While I was thinking about a topic for this month’s post, my brain touched on how writers, like athletes, need to practice, practice, practice.  But of course, that theme has been done—to death.  We all know if we want to improve, we need to write.

That said, I am never NOT amazed by the dedication of these athletes—the focus of the sixteen-year-old competing in her first Olympics, the twenty-one-year-old (virtual antique) competing in his second.  Many of these contestants continue to compete on the world scene for a few more years, before they move on and develop entirely new careers.  After a point, I suppose, they have to.  Once they age, the synapses don’t fire fast enough, and before they know it, each former superstar is eclipsed by someone younger and faster.  No matter how hard they work, age will catch up.

That’s the good news from where I sit.  Because, while the writing muscle demands exercise, it doesn’t have to get old.  It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this that I am sitting solidly astride middle age.   Yet, when I look back at a blog post from three years ago, or an essay I wrote five years ago, it’s clear I am a better writer now, by far.  All my “practicing,” over the past several years has yielded measurable improvement.  I don’t have to retire due to age-related injuries.  As long as I can situate myself in front of a screen, I can keep going, optimistic that in spite of my wealth of grey hair, I am still going to get better.

A friend of mine posted a FaceBook tribute to his mother on her birthday last week.  It said something like: “My Mom turns 82 today.  She is strong and spends her days writing fiction, walking and keeping active.”  I tell you, I love watching all the Olympic medal winners.  But if I can manage a compliment like that when I turn 82, it will feel fourteen-karat enough to me.