I have a tendency to develop little routines. You could call them traditions – St. Matt calls them obsessions. But they’re just little habits that help me get stuff done.
For instance, I’ve listened to DMB’s “Dancing Nancies” on the first day of school for the past 13 years (since my sophomore year in HS). Before I serve in tennis, I have to bounce a few times in place – not the ball, mind you, I bounce me. Every night before I go to bed I have to check that the closet door is shut so I don’t get sucked into another dimension, Poltergeist-style.
Completely normal little routines.
With writing I have many of these. My latest one is Revision-Skittles. I’m not sure when it switched from being that’s-fun to that’s-necessary, but at some point between January and now I started the habit of allowing myself one Skittles Core per page revised.
Skittles really are the perfect candy for revision –besides being made of rainbows, creativity and inspiration – they’re small. Individually they don’t pack much of a calorie wallop, and if I ate enough to have a detrimental affect on my sugar-level, my worry was overshadowed by the thrill of knowing I’d had an excellent revision day. Plus, Revision-Skittle sugar-high carried me through a couple of extended elliptical hours.
Somewhere along the line Bruschi became a Revision-Skittle addict too, and now he will gladly curl up next to me during late-night revision sessions and wait semi-patiently for his loyalty to be rewarded with a circular piece of sugary goodness. And if I’m taking too long with any individual page, he’ll let me know this with a wet nose to my calf or an impatient paw on my arm.
Last week I finished up my second pass on my WIP (currently titled TBALMCSAP, but I seriously need to come up with something better soon). In a minor revision-miracle, not quite as impressive as Chanukah’s 8-days of light, my last bag of Skittles lasted to the final page of TBALMCSAP. I ate the last one as I pressed *SEND*
After church today we stopped at Wegmans to do our weekly shopping. I smiled through the Wonka-esque candy aisle and skipped over to the shelf where Revision-Skittles wait for happy lil’ people like me.
It was empty.
Panic didn’t set in immediately, but it didn’t take longer than 5 minutes either. There are many other revision passes that will need to be made on TBALMCSAP! What about the WIP I began outlining last night. I WILL need to revise again. Soon. The rainbowful flavors began to fade from my memory, my head began to spin…
Before we were even home from Wegmans I was Googling the number for other supermarkets and calling out the digits to an indulgent St. Matt.
As I whimpered, “What if they’ve stopped making them?” He patted my leg and tapped the numbers on his keypad.
“Hello, I was wondering if you had Revision-Skittles in stock?”
Panic = Gone!
Laughter = Extreme!
As I giggled and tee-hee’d St. Matt shot me you’re-in-trouble-looks, corrected himself and managed to ascertain that Giant did stock Skittles Cores but only in large bags. “Oh, that won’t be a problem. Thanks so much.”
My ability to differentiate between reality and imaginary has always been questionable. My childhood was a test of my parents’ patience and endurance, peppered with invisible friends, the She-ra incident*, and a fantasy life so vivid people never knew when I was telling the truth or my truth.
I haven’t really ever outgrown this, though now I write my invisible friends’ stories on paper and try not to flinch when I have to refer to it as fiction.
Sometimes the boundary line blurs a bit.
Last night was comprised of NOsleep and THUNDERstorms. The first can be blamed on finishing my first revision pass on my WIP. I’d done a little I-love-this-book dance, E-mailed it to my first reader, then panicked. I wanted it back. What if it wasn’t loved? What if I wanted to change something? But mostly I missed it.
I trudged up to bed feeling achy, not just because of the ear-infection-that-won’t-end, but because I’d sent my story out and it didn’t feel as much mine anymore. I couldn’t protect it.
That’s when the THUNDERstorms began.
I tried to ignore them. Three hours later I was still trying to ignore them, but now the corners of the room looked ominous and the slumbering-puggle-breath on my calf was making me twitchy.
I surrendered to 4:30 AM and decided to start my day with elliptical-hour and a new book.
Sleep-deprivation smears that real/imaginary boundary. I don’t think the ear-infection vertigo or the new antibiotics help either. And the book**…
It clung in my head all day, wisps of plot/characters floating up as I set about going through the motions of pretending to be rested and mentally present.
I came home and dove on it – spending the after work hours intermittently dozing and reading; finishing my nap and the book as the sky began to darken.
But I didn’t feel like I could completely wake or disengage. I was disoriented – the world was settling down as I was getting up and St. Matt wanted my attention while I wanted to retreat and contemplate.
“Too bad it’s dark and raining, I could use a run.”
“Tiffany, it’s not raining.”
“What?” I wandered out on the porch. He was right. It wasn’t raining. It hadn’t rained. Nothing was wet. Disorientation increased exponentially.
I took a reflection-walk in the non-rain. The book swirling in big arcs through my head, its themes mirroring my sense of disconnection. How much of our reality is imposed versus how much is created? Is one version right and another wrong? Who controls what we see, believe, perceive? And if we’re all experiencing things differently and in so many ways, is it possible to ever understand someone else? Yet we pass judgement on others’ realities all-the-time.
The woman approaching on the sidewalk startled me. I’d been absorbed in my envisioned vs. encountered debate about reality and hadn’t heard her– despite the fact that she was juggling two panting doggies and their corresponding *ahem* baggies.
“Hi,” I nodded and smiled and she mirrored my actions, passing by with a tug on the leashes.
If it weren’t for the slight twist of her head and the side of amused grin, I might have remained oblivious, but I caught her second glance and looked down.
I’m wearing pajamas. More specifically, bright blue pajama pants decorated with palm-sized cartoon reindeer.
Awareness rushed back in with a flood of blood to my cheeks. And riding on the tide of embarrassment came clarity too.
Reality is both envisioned AND encountered. Maybe in my case, the imaginary paints with a more dominant stroke, but I’m okay with it. As long as I keep a tangential grasp on the facts – i.e. we no longer set a place at the dinner table for Harvey – I’m okay with believing my world is how I create it. Believing that people are good, that happily ever after is achievable, and that miracles happen. I’m okay with ignoring the times that these beliefs have been proven wrong and believing that what lies ahead is as wondrous as the stories within my head.
And wearing pajamas for a stroll around the neighborhood? I’m okay with that too. Even if they’re Christmas ones and even if it’s June.
*This deserves a blog post of its own someday
** No, I’m not telling which book. But I hope you’re lucky enough to experience it someday soon.
We have a pickle tray in my family. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing or just a wacky my-family thing, but we do. It’s glass or crystal, I’m not sure which because I’ve never examined it too closely. My mother had learned the hard way to keep me away from breakables. While she scurried about cooking and cleaning for holiday parties, the task of filling this tray inevitably fell to five-year-old me. Possibly because the task took me an absurdly long time and kept me from being underfoot or in backyard mud puddles.
The pickle tray has sections: one for black olives, one for green olives, one for gherkins – which I believed were the shrunken warty fingers of witches, and the last section for dill pickle spears.
I would fill it using a method I mastered in the pick-your-own strawberry patch: one olive in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. One nasty gherkin in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. This method may take a little longer and may require two jars of dill pickles, but I never complained.
Until a half-hour later — usually right around the time the first guests showed up — I would get sick.
My mother would frantically shepherd me to the upstairs bathroom while gathering coats, accepting appetizer trays, and dispensing hugs. I’d boot, rally, and run downstairs to be admired by aunts and uncles and scamper off with my cousins.
Then came THE DAY. The day when my mom informed me that I couldn’t do the pickle tray. “I don’t want you touching it.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Because you’re allergic to pickles,” she answered. “Go set the table – fold the napkins into animals if you want.”
So the Thanksgiving table featured an assortment of origami napkins and the pickle tray was filled by my sister and kept out of my reach.
Thus began a saga of pickle-avoidance: Is there relish in that tuna? I can’t eat it. I need my hamburger without pickles, please. At restaurants I’d push the pickle spear off my plate with my sister’s fork and tear off any part of a sandwich role that’d been touched by the juices.
I was allergic. That’s what allergic people do, right?
This continued for years: No relish on my hotdog, please. I’ll pass on the deviled eggs…
Until one day I was at a deli with my family. By this point I was in high school and had the drill down: “No pickles on my plate, please.”
Yet when my cucumber sandwich was delivered, there was an electric green spear right beside it. “Man! They messed up my order, does anyone want my pickle?” I began my ritual of tearing off the pickle-juiced portions of the bread.
“You really do hate pickles, don’t you?” My mother said with a shake of her head. “That’s so funny, you used to love them.”
I put the roll down, “What are you talking about? I’m allergic to pickles.”
My mom’s mouth twitched in the way it does when she’s trying not to laugh because even though she thinks she’s about to be funny, she knows her audience won’t feel the same way. “Um, Tiff….”
“You’re not actually allergic to pickles.”
“You’re not actually allergic to pickles. That was just something I told you when you were little because you’d eat them until you got sick.” She shrugged. “So go ahead and enjoy.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” I was flabbergasted – all those pickle-free years and burgers.
“I guess I forgot. Oops.”
Oops? Oops? Was there any other part of my medical history she’d forgotten to tell me? I scowled like only a teenager can, ate my pickle, her pickle, and both my little brothers’ pickles. There was more than a ten-year pickle deficit in my diet, and I wanted to start fixing that immediately.
It is possible that I got sick afterward.
I still get like this. No, I don’t still gorge myself on pickles until I ralph. (Occasionally I overindulge in Swedish Fish and coffee, but that’s another story). I do, however, fixate on one task, item, whatever, until I’ve overdone it. With running this can result in over-training injuries. With reading I earn raccoon-like circles from too many late nights with books under the covers. With Twitter it becomes St. Matt threatening to hide Petunia. While writing I spend so much time IMH, that the line with reality becomes blurred.
And this April, it was BEDA. This post completes it; I’ve officially blogged each day this month. BEDA could not have come at a more chaotic time: there were roadtrips, crisis’s, parent-teacher conferences, and TBALMCSAP revisions, but not even the Easter bunny prevented me from posting.
I’m glad that April doesn’t have 31 days, and I’m glad BEDA’s over. It was fun and I’ve loved daily comments, but I’m starting to feel that ut-oh-I’ve-over-done-it feeling. It’s time to slowly back away from my blog and leave it be for a few days.
Except, back when I was a tiny-Tiffany, right after I booted, rallied, ran downstairs, and greeted the grown-ups, before I headed to the backyard to rumpus with my cousins– I’d make a stop at the pickle table to grab another spear or two.
In other words: I’ll see you soon.
Today’s been a day to survive and endure so that it can become tomorrow. I have to keep shrugging off the guilt-cloak that accompanies getting what you indiscriminately, casually wish for. I didn’t cause this – it’s just an awful coincidence. Why do I assume responsibility for things I can’t control?
Three years ago when we decided to get a second puggle, the breeder sent us eight photos and told us to choose the future-Bruschi-Schmidt.
St. Matt and I agonized over the pictures. I wanted them ALL; he wanted #512 or #514. I wanted a boy to balance Biscotti’s pink-collar’edness. He pointed to #’s 512 & 514.
In the end we chose 514 to become our Bru-pup, but what if 512 had become Bruschi Schmidt instead? We wouldn’t have ended up with a dog whose tail wags in his sleep, who Hoovers his dinner without chewing, and whose extreme underbite causes ‘Elvis lip;’ those characteristics are unique to 514.
And #514, what would’ve happened to him? I like to think he has the best possible life as a Schmidt puggle: full of tormenting Biscotti, Doggie Day Care, a garden to snitch green beans from, and two humans to snuggle each night.
But maybe that’s not true. Maybe 514 would’ve been better off named Otis Magee, living with a retired librarian in Wyoming or equally happy as Zeus Foster with a California family of four.
I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking 514’s happiness depended on me choosing him over 512, or assume that 512 is miserable because we didn’t pick him.
My hubris continues into teaching; I manage to convince myself that I’m the best one to teach ‘my’ kiddos – and I’ll come to school sick because I hate turning my kiddos over to a substitute.
I lose the perspective: I only get to borrow these little ones for nine months – same as the teachers before me, same as the ones they’ll have next year. They’re aren’t mine at all. If any of the ‘Schmidties’ had been placed in room 201 or 203 instead of my room, they would’ve been just fine. The fact that this group of kiddos is on my roster means I’ll love them and I’ll teach them to the best of my ability – but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have succeeded without me.
And as a writer, the things I scrawl on paper can’t cause things to happen – so amid all the other emotions I’m processing today, I shouldn’t add guilt.
But I have, because the irony’s too bitter not to leave me guilty.
In TBALMCSAP the protagonist deals with something awful, something I’ve luckily never had to experience, and that has required much research. Yet, even in my gratitude, I’ve often thought: God, it’s hard to put myself in that position and I have so many questions, if only…
Today I was handed a cursed opportunity to find answers because someone I love was dealt the same situation as my MC.
It’d be hubris to think I caused this, but the guilt lingers. I wish I’d never wanted a clearer ability to empathize and I half-wish I’d never written the MS. My first instinct on hearing the news was to barter: I’d scrap the writing project indefinitely if everything would work out fine in real life.
But life doesn’t work like that – my writing neither caused this, nor can it affect the outcome. I can tell myself this, I can write it, I can call it hubris, but there’s guilt nonetheless.
There’s also wisdom; in this case not mine. It came from a wise friend, who reminded me that my research for the book prepares me for what’s to come and equips me to be a support system. Rather than abandon TBALMCSAP, she pointed out that it’ll be richer for this experience and may someday be a resource for someone learning what I learned today and going through this terrible experience.
I know she’s right, and I’m tugging at the strings, but right now my guilt-cloak is terror-tightened and laden with research notes.
We had an addition put on our house this fall. They took the roof off our Victorian and turned our not-quite-walk-up attic into a third floor master suite. We did some rearranging of the second floor bedrooms during the process too. My one request during the whole ordeal (okay, I had more than one request, but the one thing I was truly adamant about) was that I get built-in bookshelves and a writing space.
Up until that point I wrote in our living room which, since there are people and puggles ‘living’ in it, is not a convenient place to write. I would also occasionally take Huey-the-Laptop and write in the dining room, or if it was nice out, write on the patio. Since most of my writing time occurs while other living things are sleeping, the living room was not the worst place to write – but it’s far from ideal.
So, bookshelves and a writing area. St. Matt agreed. The floor plans cooperated too; the front of the new bedroom has a dormer that’s 10 feet wide by 5 feet deep. It’s all windows and has an amazing view. If the blueprints were treasure maps (which St. Matt told me repeatedly they were not, despite all the X’s and dotted lines) then this would be the area pirates would be fighting over. St. Matt gave it to me. I set to work designing my desk – six feet long with room for a window seat on the end. He said sure. I added drawers and bins to my drawings. He said sure. I asked if we could make the surface out of one of the antique doors that had been removed during the process. He said sure. I asked if he was capable of building all this. He said sure. I got excited.
The contractors left and we moved into the addition on 12/23. St. Matt has been busy. I still have no desk. My bookshelves are framed and exciting, but the shelves aren’t in yet. (This has not, however, stopped me from piling books in them and having endless conversations about which books I’m going to select to come upstairs).
Have I been nag-y, pest-y, or whiney about this? Nope. I know, shocking isn’t it? Before you decide I’m lying, here’s why.
I have hijacked the room-that-will-be-a-nursery-if-we-ever-have-kids. Since that’s a long title, I’m just going to call it Nursery-to-be or NTB. Why this room? Because I had a brilliant idea while painting it post-construction.
Like most of my brilliant ideas, this one has an aspect of fortuitous accident. We were in Lowe’s (Home Depot?) AGAIN and St. Matt was doing something boring. So I did what I always do when I’m bored in a hardware store: go visit the paint guys. And that day someone was asking the paint guy about blackboard paint. I decided to eavesdrop. Having purchased his blackboard paint, the other customer left and I chimed in: “That’s pretty cool. If I didn’t hate blackboards with an unnatural degree of loathing, I’d get that.”
Paint Guy: “You hate blackboards?”
Me: “Yup, and I’m a teacher, go figure.”
PG: “So what do you use in your classroom?”
Me: “I have blackboards, I just won’t use them. I have the kiddos write the date and we stick stuff to them with magnets. I also have a Smartboard.”
PG: “Do you hate whiteboards too?”
Me: “Nope. Those I like.”
PG: “Well, they make Expo whiteboard paint too, you know.”
Me: mouth open.
We left with four containers of it.
St. Matt: What are you going to do with that?
Me: Paint, duh.
St. Matt: What are you going to paint?
Me: Don’t worry, I have a plan. (It should be pointed out these are the same words I used to reassure St.Matt when I dropped tweezers in the toilet, when I also did NOT actually have a plan. I wonder if he realizes when I say: Don’t worry, I have a plan, he should actually immediately become very, very worried).
Back to the NTB… In typical my typical insomnia productiveness, I painted it while St. Matt slept. Boy was he surprised in the morning! It has light green walls, a mini-mural in the closet, a blue clouded ceiling, and yes: the clouds climb down off the ceiling and become white boards on the walls. This is my childhood dream come true: walls I can write on without getting sent to the naughty chair.
These walls are where I storyboarded TBALMCSAP and this is now where I like to write, curled up on the bed in the NTB and facing my color-coded-by-character walls of awesomeness.
If we ever have a reason to use the NTB as an actual nursery, I’m in big trouble. Maybe we could put the not-yet-an-issue-baby in another bedroom. Or maybe, just maybe, St. Matt could finish my writing desk…
… And the still-in-the-distant-future-baby could sleep under that while I continue to hijack its room.
As I drove to work on Monday I slipped a new CD in the dashboard stereo – the car speakers haven’t played anything else since. For four days of commutes to and from the school, I listened to the song “Sunrise” from the In The Heights soundtrack. If St. Matt reads this he’s going to roll his eyes, and offer a prayer of thanks that we do NOT carpool.
I do this frequently. Find a song that embodies an aspect of my WIP and play it exhaustively until that scene is finished. The first time I listened to this song I wanted to pull over and shout: “Eureka!” The issue I’d been having with my ending – resolved by a show tunes duet.
Only, I couldn’t resolve it because I’ve been in my self-imposed WIP separation period. So instead of opening my writer’s notebook and scrawling or opening a computer file and going tappity-tappity-tappity, I’ve listened and listened and listened.
By the time I allowed my fingers to fly across the computer keys this morning, the scene was mentally written, revised and fairly polished. I listened to the song on loop as the words bled onto the screen, and then another five times for good measure once my fingers stilled. (Thank God I remembered to get the CD from my car, St. Matt took it today ‘cause I was out of gas). Now “Sunrise” can be retired until I reach that scene on my next sweep through TBALMCSAP.
Musically I’ve already moved on to my next TBALMCSAP theme: Thriving Ivory’s “Angels on the Moon.” This one doesn’t go with a particular scene; it embodies a relationship between two characters. As of right now, its play count on iTunes is 37 – and I only downloaded it Wednesday night.
Does this surprise me? A little. It probably shouldn’t since St. Matt turned to me with near frenzied eyes last night and begged: “Headphones, please, headphones. Or a new song.” And that was probably after only repetition 18 or so. (Wimp). It surprises me only because I stop noticing what’s playing around me. I’d notice if the music stopped or changed, but I don’t tire of or flinch away from monotony of my choosing. I love it.
Even better? Twenty days, weeks, or years from now, if I hear “Sunrise” or “Angels on the Moon,” I’ll be brought right back to that scene and how much I enjoyed writing it.