Sunday, September 14, 2008

Well! It's About Frickin' Time...

Stop reading if you've heard this one.

I won't mind.

But I promise: this story has a happy ending.


In the autumn of 2000 I was faced with having to finish college. Most people want to finish college, but I didn't. I was at the top of my happiness throughout most of college (a few history courses at the university had bad profs, but what can you do? Not a slam on history, btw, 'cause I still love it), and usually left every classroom every day with a heady high and clutching my books to my chest like talismen. I was a student in the morning and taught in the afternoon and evening. I had parents who loved me and who were looking forward to celebrating my graduation with me in December, but they understood that I didn't want to leave. Graduate school was an option, but instead I wanted to find a job in New York after graduation and start writing. I only had one class left for the fall semester, but because I loved college so much I took extra courses that I always wanted to dabble in but didn't necessarily mean a literature option in the degree, like Short Story Writing 101, and African History. It was a fantastic semester, made even more important by the controversial presidential election. I was writing like a house afire, I was teaching, and my profs loved me.

The semester had to end, though, and with the end of it came a huge ice storm--neither me nor my parents made it to my graduation. Still, I was feeling pretty good...I had six months until I had to start paying on student loans and the economy looked good and I was a college graduate with teaching experience. I wrote and searched for jobs all through the spring of 2001, finding one in April that wanted me to open call centers for raising money for arts programs (training to start at the World Trade Center in mid-August and to last for 6 weeks), and for some reason I turned that one down...just didn't feel right even though I had call center corporate training experience. Back to writing and job searching. In May I started a short story about a widower who talks to the new love of his life in presence of his visiting adult daughter--she thinking that the new love is a woman, when all along he is talking to and about a Danish wolfhound upstairs. I thought it was very ironic and funny and Thurber...and got the idea from my parents' first date. When my father went to pick up my mother for their date he could hear her talking to what sounded like another guy with a head cold in her apartment. He nearly turned around and left. 'Twas a good thing he didn' mother was talking to her roommate's parrot. It was wonderful, all "write what you know," even though it was really "writing what my parents' knew." I loved working on that story.

Just as I was finishing up the first draft of the story, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Suddenly, the writing seemed too close to home, as though I had predicted a life on accident, or, even more implausible, caused a life on accident. Since that diagnosis I have not finished any drafts of any stories--just journal and blog entries. My therapist has recommended that I try. So, every Tuesday night during Shut Up and Write Meetup I try. I talk about my characters, what the story would be if I actually wrote it. It's writing about a story that I want to write. What's worse, it's a story that I wrote that autumn of 2000 and my prof had told me to develop then, and I never did. I wasn't doing it now, either. I was just writing about it.

This morning I woke up and stared out the window...well, Jo, you need breakfast, and then you should DO something so that you can go about your life without feeling guilty that you live in San Francisco and didn't DO anything this weekend...I packed the bags. The weekend bags: purse for feminity and Timbuk2 bag with the writing/reading stuff for practicality. I went to get breakfast at a local bakery, and then went to Starbucks for coffee to go with them. Starbucks. I live in a city with a Philz and I ended up at Starbucks, of all places. What the hell...

I ended up spending two hours in Starbucks, writing nearly non-stop, trying to make magic happen. Nothing. Just whining about my pathetic life. Then I cleaned up my mess and hopped on the N--might as well go get REAL coffee. Walked around Mission Creek Park and stopped at benches and sat there like a lemming, silent. Went to Philz. Wrote there for another hour, still whining, so I took out my Kindle and read a book on writing a memoir by Natalie Goldberg. Wrote a little more. Read a little more. Wrote a little more. Switched from O.A.R. to Springsteen on the iPod. Read a little more. Wrote a little more...still whining...



The whole story gives me its POV, its plotline, its spelling, its placing, its premise, its purpose. All I needed was the urgency. Not, "write the story to break the spell," but "write the story because now my mind knows HOW." I went from not talking about the story but seeing the whole thing start in my head like a movie reel, knowing what to do now, not being afraid of my magic wand. I went from just whining in a journal to feel better, a process SEVEN YEARS OLD, to there it is! There it is! I found it, I found it, I found it!


A couple of quick notes:
  • The story I'm now REALLY working on is not, I repeat, NOT the widower story. The therapist wants me to write that one too, but it's not ready for that. I don't care if it ever is.
  • I now have something to write on Tuesday nights. ;)

Dearest reader and writers, I wish you moments of finding lost objects. The feeling is akin to remembering how to do something, or suddenly regaining eyesight.


THERE you are...