I grew up a die-hard patriot. Be true to the red, white and blue. Let freedom ring. Be all that you can be. God bless America!
I maintained a relatively untarnished view of our country through Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Hostages. Inflation. Gulf War. Stain on a Dress.
September 11 found me riding the wave of refreshed national pride like most every other American. Bound by fear and anger and revulsion, United We Stood, singing Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA.
I liked the optimistic buoyancy of my youthful patriotism, and it still seems best to infuse my two daughters with it. As we decorated scooters yesterday, I thought of this, but still, even as opportunities arose to explain about national pride and history, I let them slide by. Sometimes it’s really really hard to love your country. This has been one of those times.
I need not have worried. Some things come with childhood–innocence, joy, believing in the good in things, and patriotism for patriotism’s sake. Today Elizabeth found a forgotten flag under a chair and said, “Mama, this one fell off my scooter!”
I told her, “No, it’s an extra. You can keep it.”
She ran to the front door and struggled to unlock it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I have to see if it still waves!”
“Waves?” I asked her, opening the door.
“Yes! Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
I watched her, standing framed by the entry and looking out in the street, holding up her flag to the blinding light of the noonday sun, the day after North Korea tested its long-range missiles, notably long enough to reach the US, on a national holiday, just to be provocative.
She doesn’t need to know that, not yet. Nor of her enemies, enemies of the state, who plan their terror or their futures as players in an international stage for power.
She just needs to know where she’s from, that it can get better, and no matter the problem, we can get rid of it in about four years because that is how democracy works. How America works.
In some years, the competition between moms has been fierce for high-profile prizes such as Best Decorated Stroller, Most Colorful Bicycle, and Most Patriotic Wagon. Some years we have won (BDS 2003); others we’ve suffered the agony of defeat.
My best friend and nemesis, Stephanie, usually takes multiple prizes and this year was no exception. She snagged MCB and also the tricycle category, although we think a toddler with a bow-bedecked trike got robbed as Steph’s daughter’s “tricycle” was actually a bike with big training wheels. We would have demanded a recount, hanging chads and all. But it was clearly a liberal ballot.
During the parade this year, the girls rode scooters, an edgy category as the slender frame of this mode of transport does not provide much room for creativity. We did the best we could with flag and ribbon. I think the coup de grace, however, was Emily shedding her unflagging tomboyishness and donning a skirt my mom made for me in the 1976 Bi-centennial. The 30 year old outfit attracts attention with its red, white, and blue panels and trim.
Emily wanted to dash ahead and exploit the long smooth street leading up to the Country Club with daring speed. Elizabeth lagged behind with her dad about a quarter mile back. I lamented the loss of the duo, as I felt their matching scooter set was an asset sure to bring in the win, but girls will be girls.
We walked the grounds of the Club, moonjumping and water dunk boothing and eating cookies. We all grew edgy as the band finished their number and the neighborhood president took the mike to announce the winners. This was mainly, however, because Elizabeth demanded a flamingo balloon and we had picked the wrong twister. “Jelly Bean does those,” the clown said, pointing to a woman across the field with a snaking line leading from her table.
And Elizabeth accepted her pink tangle without question.
We approached the stage and listened to categories. Emily was a bit tense, I noticed. She knew what was happening, and that she might win or lose. I wondered what would happen if one sister won and the other didn’t. I closed my eyes, sweat dripping between my shoulder blades. Howling, no doubt, would be involved.
What were the odds of that? They must have been chosen separately, and when the entry numbers compared to names, decided they should share the prize. The girls headed up to the bandstand without prodding and accepted their prizes.
There must have been a parent on that judging panel who understood sibling rivalry. Thank God for that.
Have a good holiday, everyone.
Through some strange shimmer in the space-time that governs the internet, an old Wired Magazine article that I was quoted in is apparently coming up high in the search engines for “stillborn photo.”
Women are emailing me suddenly, asking me to restore their images of babies, lifeless and dark, small errant angels out of place among the breathing grieving world of their parents, family, siblings, doctors, living beings.
I have not done this sort of work in years. When my miscarriage web site became too popular, averaging half a million hits a week, I had to take down the information about these services as I was too inundated with images. Every day, another ding of my inbox, another lost child’s picture affixed to another disconsolate message. I’d hardened myself after years of running the site, stories that could break down other people were common to me, it took something extraordinary to bring my well-worn tears. But the pictures. I kept looking at them, looking for something that might give me another clue, another small detail of what my baby would have looked like, had I the courage at 28 to see him face to face, to wail and push and painfully bring him into the world for an instant, to look at his features before they took him away.
But I chose instead an easier route, a surgery, and recovered in less than a day. No tiny blanket bloodied by his umbilical cord. No child weighing mere ounces yet still completely formed. No searing memory preserved on delicate paper, colored crystals on a page.
I stopped accepting the images completely when I was pregnant with Elizabeth. I had lost her twin and the arrival of a stillborn image at the same gestational week as she was then sent me into a terror. I couldn’t open my inbox. I couldn’t load the picture. I remember stumbling through rooms of the house, holding my belly, sobbing to the point of throwing up. The sonograms of my first baby as well as Emily hung on the wall, and seeing them brought me to my knees, to my side, head on the carpet. They could not ask this of me anymore, to bring their babies on screen so that I might fix the color, repair the skin, take away the bruises. I could not do it anymore. Death was too close, between my heart and my belly, my oxygen and my blood. I found two other people who did restorations and sent everyone to them.
I shudder now when my inbox dings. I am not as hard as I once was, reading those stories every day. I have not looked at such images in a long time. And I’m afraid, once I do, it will all rush back, the crying, the fear, the memories of blood sliding across white tile, trying to catch it with my hands as if to stuff it back inside, make it stop, make it not happen.
But the internet has spoken, and I cannot control that. I look at these emails, both saying the same thing–they found the article about me, and would I please work on their baby’s picture? What do I tell them now?
I remember that article well–the one where they said I used the word gruesome to describe these babies. I would sue them if I could. These babies are not that, not ever, and to say I used that word is to say that my baby, the one never photographed, never documented, never held, is also that. How dare they.
I will sit here, my two little girls sleeping in their beds, as space-time shifts, as other mothers cry over their losses, and think of other babies, other lives, and of the night, still and black, black and still.
In the meantime, my little one had a recital!
I have some behind the scenes footage as I was the “stage mom” and stayed backstage with the girls rather than actually see the performance.
And Emily is recovering well from her teeth incident. Lip swelling down. Tooth fairy did right by her.
An unfinished novel is like an interrupted dream.
I come to the end of this journey designated specifically for completing a second draft of Helena the Muse and see so much more work than I could have imagined in any waking state. I am still groggy, half asleep, and feel unsated, the vision incomplete, as though I had only begun the hard leg of my travels, with many bug stings and limb lashes and hard ground to sleep on still to go.
I regret, perhaps, traveling so far. I stayed primarily in the Ozarks, near Eureka Springs, revisiting my adolescent trip there and camping next to lakes and rivers. But the drive time was long and took up much time. Still, listening to Hawking was edifying if not distracting, Missouri can count me as a visitor thanks to my inability to navigate while learning about singularity in black holes. And on the long road back to Texas I listened to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which had an overstory punctuated by flashbacks like mine. I pulled over in the Ouachita National Forest to scratch out a diagram of her story structure, seeing its efficiency and lamenting the complexity of mine.
So I drove back to my old home town and parked myself at the public library, making outline after outline until I had a better handle on my overstory and the subplots within them. I think it is more streamlined now and hopefully works better.
And yet, still so much new writing to do, so much clean up.
My main goal now is to get the first 50 pages, the most an agent might ask for at the conference, as perfect as possible. This is a huge task, as each time I write a new version of the opening scenes, I hate them more. I want it to move; I must get background in. It’s frustrating and taxing and twice yesterday I wanted to hurl my laptop across the room but instead sat in a little study room, hiding on the floor behind the table and just cried instead.
It will get done. One way or another. It’s just a longer and harder road than I thought it would be. And as for dreaming, sleep is a luxury I can ill afford. Prepare yourself for the dark circle eyed Deanna, the pale wan version, until July.
If only a novel were like an uninterrupted dream, comfortable, languorous, and eternal.
The third campsite required 10 miles of driving down a dirt road to locate. And caretaker “Bob” was a flirt (despite grandfatherly age) so I spent a lot of time nodding at his endless stories and looking on longingly as my laptop battery slowly ebbed. He took the picture.
The book has undergone the re-org and now I work frantically to write new scenes and fix a kajillion consistency errors. I don’t think I’ll be done before I head back Wednesday. I mainly just try to keep going past lethargy, sick-of-the-bookness, and jolts of weird frenetic anxiety.
So, I think I’m going to escape the world and work on this book! Ha! Between driving, being chased by scary jaws-looking trucks (check out my side mirror–this guy drove beside me for 100 miles!), finding a campsite and surviving frightening nights alone in the dark, who has freaking time to write? I’m better off with a studio and two rugrats! I swear EVERYONE wants to talk to me. Do I look that friendly? Can I pass myself off as stuck up for a while?
I spent about four hours copying every plot point onto notecards last night and this morning. I can’t quite get a handle on what to do. I just keep working, letting the small problems occur to me–dropped characters, missing exposition, too-brief dialogue–and hope the big picture comes through eventually.
Yesterday I made friends with a squirrel (although if he ever confesses to being the scary little rodent who hurled himself between my rainfly and my inner tent wall last night, our affair is OVER) and this morning he hung out as I scribbled cards, often shaking his tail at me if I was not paying attention, as if to say, “Throw me a bone here, woman, I’m cute!” I took a hike along a trail that bordered the shore of the lake where I camped, and when I returned, there he was again. He seemed a bit sad when I packed up my tent, but alas, I had to get to the library, where I could have wireless and more distractions (like blogging) to keep me from figuring out what is wrong with my book.
Maybe I’ll just declare it healthy and go sightseeing.
Hope everyone back home is doing well. I’m in state #4, although #3 was visited solely due to navigational error. Big navigational error. Blame the scary truck. Oh, and Stephen Hawkings. I do not appear to have the brain power to listen to lectures on quantum mechanics and drive simultaneously (especially since I am texting Kurt every five minutes too.) And negotiating turns in the … mountains …
Hey. I know what’s missing. Red wine and coke. Surely that’s to be had somewhere around here.
It’s pushing midnight on the first night I have deserted everyone and everything in order to try to get a hold on this novel–reorganize it and form it and cut away anything non-essential.
It ain’t working.
Maybe it’s the traffic droning by in an unrelenting stream on the interstate. It makes me think of the Doppler Effect, and the bending of light into curved space, and the origin of the universe. I have been listening to Hawking in the car during drive time where I do not need to concentrate on directions (might account for how I got lost for two hours). I thought he might infuse my subconscious, stir up the connections, and assist me in some brilliant yet indefinable way.
Instead, I listen to the whine of automobiles, wheels on a wet road, the frequency of the pitch starting low, going high, then dropping low again, like the red-shifting of the color spectrum of stars as they endlessly move away from our eyes peering through telescopes. Nothing is static, Hawking insists, although this is a fundamental controversy in physics and astronomy, not even those fixed stars that seem constant, unchanging, certain enough to navigate by. Since the Big Bang, that finite point at which everything began, all that exists has done nothing but infinitely grow and spread.
I followed my book outline with tenacity until the very end, when the point of the book lit up like a neutron star. Now that the central premise of the book is finalized, where should the journey start? Where should this novel begin?
This is my essential question. It could be a travel flashback–Dinesen, Schubert, Botticelli, Sappho. Or one of Helena’s personal background segments–the naked closet, the guitar player, the sculptor. Or a dramatic mental ward scene–Paul and the cutting bit, or the Japanese bondage, or her time in solitary.
Nothing is clear. I just need to think. If only traffic would die down…
Okay. So the day began with mom’s doctor visit going poorly and long. Actually, scratch that, the day began with putting in my contacts, one of which hurt awfully and upon inspection, had somehow become square-ish, so was no longer usable. I had to toss it and get a new one.
Then a shower proved I had brought a travel bottle of hand lotion, not hair conditioner, which I fortunately figured out BEFORE I put in in my hair, but I had to yank tangles out without the benefit of lube–NO FUN.
The “check engine” light is now permanently on in my car although everyone assures me it is just an emissions thing and not to worry about it.
And, despite it being glowing and sunny and blue sky for the first few hours of my drive, now it is storming and lightning. So I am not at a campsite, which received some 10 inches of rain today, but at a hotel, proving everyone right (especially dad, who told me today in the waiting room at mom’s doc that I was “nuts” and mom agreed, saying they remembered what kind of girl I was since I arrived kicking and screaming onto this planet and apparently asking for a down pillow and Evian. )
At any rate, I found a hotel that was, inexplicably, almost the same price as the campsite and has free wireless internet. So I write here and look at the picture I took earlier in the day and think: boy I better work my tail off since I have a connection and a room and am NOT roughing it in any way (although, ICK, the room is, yes, a bit rough.)
I’ll post in the morning on my progress. The good news is that the weekend at my destination says 70s, and less than 10% chance of rain. Should be able to camp tomorrow night. I’ll be at a good place for that anyway. Wherever that is. 🙂
The book draft is done
I completed the first draft to Helena the Muse at 10:08 a.m. this morning. It finished out at 84,497 words.
And ended exactly the way it should have. Thanks to Nietzsche. And the song from Notting Hill. And my writing friends. All were instrumental in my figuring out what the story was about and how it should conclude.
Now I refuse to think about it any more until I leave town to do the reorganization of the first third of the manuscript, to get the action a bit more up front.
What a ride it’s been since Nov. 1 when I began the novel with NaNoWriMo. It has been amazing–meeting all the Java crew–especially Audrey and Ivy and Henry.
I can’t believe I finished it.