Writing on the Road: Unsettledness

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…

Writing on the Road: Hardly Auspicious

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 is done!

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.

In love with Nietzsche

First I found this bit from The Gay Science, an aphorism that would change how I saw myself and others I admired:

Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water. (173)

GUILTY, I think, and am thus chastised. I vow to mend my ways.

But then as I absorb more, skipping around his books, jotting down my favorite quotes, I find this, from Mixed Opinions and Maxims (1879):

The worse readers are those who proceed like plundering soldiers: they pick up a few things they can use, soil and confuse the rest, and blaspheme the whole. (137)

BUSTED! Oh, that man. The funny thing about 137 is that it serves to explain anyone who might being Nietzsche down. The all-purpose excuse, “Well, they misquoted me! They didn’t read the whole thing!”

I felt the same, in my primitive and sophomoric way, when I got the judging results to my novel Helena the Muse. The critique said, “If the entire manuscript is told from Helena’s POV, I think it will become hard to want to stay with the story.” And, “Helena is about as well-developed as she can be, considering her circumstances.”

The judge had ten pages and a synopsis. I thought most people could make the leap from the summary that Helena was not going to be drugged the whole book, but the judging comments make it seem as though that is the impression.

FOUL! I want to cry. She’s not drugged much at all in the book! But the first few pages, well, they do sort of involve her shift from incoherence to lucidity.

And so I change it. I listen. And adjust.

I owe you one, Nietzsche, my dear Friedrich, my love. I’ll try not to muck you up too badly, but I am, unfortunately Human, All to Human.

Mother’s Daze

To kick off the Mother’s Day weekend, Elizabeth’s preschool class held a brunch for the moms. We all sat, perhaps 12 mothers and 3 grands, in the miniature chairs, cracking our knees on low tables. The children were instructed to serve us tea and we all managed to sip at it despite its strength, its oversweetness, an intense artificial lemon flavor.

The kids then lined up at the table of treats with empty plates, to pick out items to offer to mom.

Elizabeth selected a slice of pumpkin bread and three grapes. She brought them slowly and carefully, as all the children did, with exaggerated concentration. A couple kids tripped anyway, their offerings landing on the carpet and scooped up amidst tears. Elizabeth brought hers to me unscathed and plunked it on the table.

I eyed it with trepidation, as orange bread tends to come loaded with ginger, to which I am allergic, but Elizabeth tucked her hands behind her back and watched me with large blue eyes. I knew my duty. I pulled off a piece of the bread and thought, how much ginger could one slice have anyway? It’s probably half artificial as well.

“The bread’s from Great Harvest!” the teacher called over the heads of the kids.

Great, I thought. All natural and probably fresh ginger. I snatched a grape, hoping to avoid anymore of the bread.

“Mama! You’re not eating your bread!” Elizabeth said. “Don’t you like it? I got it just for you!”

I pulled another bite from the slice. Why hadn’t she picked the chocolate cookies, like the other children? The lemon bars? The marble cake?

“I like pumpkin bread,” she said.

Solution! “Here, I’ll share with you,” I said, sliding the plate closer to her. She picked up the slice and broke off a large chunk.

“Children!” the teacher called. “Time to go in the hall and practice our play!”

“Here mama, eat it fast!” She shoved the other half of the slice at me.


“Fast, Mama!”

“Okay.” I ate a large bite again and, in another role reversal for the day, hid the rest in my napkin like the kids often did when we served vegetables.

She scampered out with her class.

I chatted with a few mothers nearby, some of them still commenting on the Princess party. The familiar dizziness began then, and I drank the rest of my tea quickly to dilute the bread. The kids marched in and I leaned my elbow on the table. It would pass quickly, as little ginger as it had to be. I never get sick or anything, just a dizziness that would progress to feeling faint if I ingested too much.

The kids sang songs with motions and did a little cheer, “Two four six eight, who do we appreciate, mom, mom MOM!”

I felt somewhat better by the time it was done. Elizabeth asked me to play with her and I gladly sat on the floor by the doll houses. This was easier to manage than perching on a chair while the world spun. I watched as all the serving shifted back to the mothers, fetching apple juice and snacks for their kids, who clearly felt they had done enough for dear old mom.

We played until all the other mothers had left and I was well enough to walk without looking half drunk.

Happy Mom’s Day to all my mom friends!

Party Fit for a Princess

It’s over.

No more castle painting, skirt sewing, bead buying, crown hunting, jello jiggler making, no cakes no RSVPs no flower petals no more princess obsession!

We had 14 little princesses arrive on a rather glorious spring day. The overnight storms blew away and left everything green. The girls stuffed their tutus with flowers and petals and strung their beads. No one lost a crown. They all got roses and had their pictures taken with the castle.

I felt a little strange, immersed as I was in my old life. For those hours, I fit in again. Time drew back, shifted its red curtains, opened with the familiar overture.

But it’s done. And my baby is four!

A Mile and Then Some

Today, despite it being only hours before the big princess party (don’t even ASK how that happened), we ran the Family Mile, one of the races taking place in conjunction with the Health and Fitness Expo, a state-wide effort to get people to exercise.

The mile circled the Capitol Building. As we waited (we being me, the girls, and their dad–he organized this outing), I asked Emily if she wanted to run or walk the mile.

“Run!” she shouted. We looked down at Elizabeth, already jauntily tugging at her non-couture chicken t-shirt advertising the race, and wondered if this was a good idea.

The race started at 10:30 as we chased costumed figures depicting a giant chicken and a blue bear. The first quarter mile was extremely uphill. Eliza did all right for about 200 yards, huffing and shaking her blonde hair, then declared, “I feel the need for a drink of water.”

We assured her water was coming at the end, and I swung her up on my hip and we kept running. We passed some people; others passed us. About halfway through the mile I handed her over to her dad and Emily and I ran together. We decided to run fast and sprinted a good bit, passing all but the first kids who had dashed unencumbered the whole race. We slowed and let Dad and Elizabeth catch up and I carried Elizabeth for the rest of the race. No other parents were carrying their kids and also trying to actually run the race, so about a bazillion pictures were taking of me and my blonde baggage.

Despite lugging a 4-year old for almost the entire length of the race, the four of us finished in under ten minutes, coming in the top quarter. The girls got their medals and a hug from the big chicken, and we went on to the rest of our day.

Coming up: the princess party. Got another RSVP this morning! Nuts! Sewing one more tutu…cutting jello jigglers in the shape of hearts, and finalizing the castle. Whew!

Party Progress

So, my eldest daughter is a tomboy, and wears her hair pulled back and cries if she can’t stay in jeans and tennis shoes. She wanted mini-golf for a birthday and tends to hang with boys. She likes video games and math and to build things, especially elaborate structures from anything she can get her hands on, but mostly walls formed by stretching ropes between furniture and doorknobs, then covered with blankets. She can fill a living room with a “boat” or a “castle.” She likes to make what she calls “contraptions” with various bits of things–legos and rubber bands and hunks of playdough.

So then comes Elizabeth. The fluff of pink. The blonde babe. We all know about her princess-ness. This is culminating in her 4th birthday party, which is this Saturday.

Elizabeth suffers from second child-itis, so all her parties prior to this have been small family affairs, nothing like the crazy kid and clown fests of Emily’s toddlerhood, where balloon twisters, face painters, moonjumps, catered food, and bazillions of invitees ruled the day. (We hadn’t quite worked up to pony rides, but it was in the works. Oh, that and one of the little trains that can be set up to go around your house…)

But those were the old days.

This party is elaborate but primarily labor intensive rather than flashy. Ten little girls, ten pink tutus (still being sewn by mama), ten princess crowns, a whole lotta beads and string for jewelry, and well, the castle. My ex and his dad are both engineers. I knew they could pull off a castle. First I gave them a rough sketch.

They graphed the outline onto two sections of 8 foot plywood and cut it out. They added a hinge to the middle for stability and then hinged on two more sections of plywood for the sides to make it stand.

I came in and began painting, first the outline of the front of the castle, then outlining the towers and peaks to be filled in with other colors. When the base colors dried, I sponged on bricks and other details.

I still hope to add more detail and perspective, perhaps some windows, but for now I have to get back to the tutus. The castle is close enough for now, although we will add vines and flags to it before it goes to the park, a section of my old neighborhood that has a real forest feel.

The party is Saturday, so let’s hope for NO RAIN! (Any anti-rain dances you know, start boogeying.) Then little Eliza gets to be a princess, and I guess that makes me the QUEEN!

Sprout Man

This is what Elizabeth brought from preschool today. Her new best friend. Her prize possession.

She carried it home, tight in her little grip, upset if we made her walk too fast. “I might drop it!” she cried.

Now it’s home.

What the heck do I do with it?

Flower Power

Today I’ve been researching the history of Zilker park, and in particular, Zilker Botanical Gardens. Yesterday, while waiting for some clients to arrive, I spoke with one of the garden old-timers, an elderly man who is both an employee and a volunteer for the gardens. I have met him dozens of times over the seven years I’ve been taking portraits there, and he is one of the few hard-core garden advocates who does not actively dislike photographers who use the park. You’d be surprised at the animosity we encounter there by those who feel the gardens should be visited for their beauty alone and not commercial gain.

I naturally feel differently, as we photographers bring many visitors to the park, often creating devoted supporters. We also make the park eternal through our images taken there.

The man told me that a proposal is winding its way through the city to charge photographers $35 a day to use the gardens for portraits. “After all,” he said, “other cities do it.” He leaned against a stone pillar between the wood benches, tall and thin and white headed, but friendly, as if glad to bring me in on the secret.

“But didn’t the original deed state that the city could never charge for use of the gardens?” I asked.

“Yes, but they lost those deed rights a year or so back. They are trying to even kick the garden clubs out by charging upwards of $2,000 to rent the visitor center for flower shows.”

“Can they do that?”

“They are. Fortunately most of us are grandfathered in. But eventually, we’ll be out, I’d guess. They started charging for parking you know. Things change.”

His eyes were a startling clear gray in his relatively youthful face for a man I’d peg as nearing 80. “Oops, let me go help her,” he said, smiling broadly at a 60-something woman trying to load irises into her trunk. His stride embodied “spring in his step.” I laughed. Such a flirt.

At home I looked up the City Council agendas and minutes, but found no reference to the proposed fee. I decided to investigate the history of the gardens, and the deed, to see if if I could dredge up the original stipulations and how they might have been changed.

I came across this entry in the historical timeline.

April 1954: 14 white playgrounds and 3 colored playgrounds were opened for the spring season

I pictured white equipment and painted equipment for a moment, wondering why they designated that, then realized, “Oh!” And felt like an idiot. A moment documenting Austin’s intolerance, not quite the city then that it is today, liberal, progressive, although still with its blind spots.

I gave up on my quest for information on the fee. I assume it’s in subcommittee or just being tossed around by some director as a way to scrape up money. If they start charging, I’ll probably have to shoot elsewhere, as my fees would have to be jacked up beyond what my middle class families would pay.

Change, like any evolution, tends to head us toward improvement, but certainly there are glitches along the way, mutations in the structure that cause ill to some. Should this proposal pass, it seems innocuous, a few photogs make less money, a few more families return to JCPenney for pictures rather than face higher prices. But the cost to our perception of Austin, its parks, it openness, and its availability to all takes a pretty serious dive.