Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Long Haul

About three years ago, I walked into the Open Eye Café, hoping to find a writer's group. I knew I needed one if I was going to get back on the wagon after the baby hiatus.  I'm not self-motivated.  I need deadlines, expectations to fulfill. Otherwise my writing gets shuffled lower and lower on the huge to-do list I call my life.

So, I was hopeful.  And nervous. For lots of reasons.

First, we were in the Open Eye Café, one of those coffee shops that has a really loyal clientele, the kind that makes anyone new that walks through the door feel like a real intruder, and judges you by what kind of coffee concoction you order.  I didn't know if my potential writer's group friends were regulars, or if this was just neutral ground chosen for vetting new members. I am not a coffee connoisseur.  I always order a skinny raspberry mocha. Always. And drinking one makes me talk too fast.

Second, I hate meeting people. Those first impression moments fill me with tremendous dread (strangely, this doesn't apply in teaching situations--I like meeting new students). And I didn't know anyone in this room. My husband had found the group for me through one of those "make a group" sites--I can't remember if it was gather or meetup or craigslist or whatever.  (I've often teased my husband that I dated him because I didn't have to meet him.  I already knew him when my first marriage ended.)

And lastly, these women wrote NOVELS. And they were serious about it.

Novels are long.

I'd never written anything longer than 75 pages--and that was academic. I didn't have to make it up. There was a lot of quoting. I was pretty sure that novels are longer than 75 pages. And that you have make up every word. Everything good I ever wrote was short--an essay, a poem, a vignette (nice little word for unclassifiable prose too short to be publishable).

I was intimidated as hell.

I've worked with this group for three (or is it four?) years now.  I love them. I know about their novels and their lives.  And I'm still intimidated as hell.  Nearly every woman in the group has actually finished a novel.  Some of them have even published them.

But here, at the end of 2011, I think I may actually finish my novel!  The end is in sight. I think I even know how it ends (if the characters will stop changing things on me).  I'm so excited--and scared.  It's the biggest thing I've ever made that wasn't a human being (and those human beings I made aren't done yet--they're still growing).

But still, I've made it through the long haul (almost).  I, at least, can believe that I will make it through.

Then the real work begins: rewrites!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Problems of Three Little People

This may go without saying (has that ever stopped a blogger?), but Casablanca is a perfect movie.

I had occasion to notice this again, when my husband took me to see it at our art-house/university movie theater last night (see earlier post on my awesome husband). 

Most movies have a false moment.  Something that keeps it from perfection:  a less than stellar bit part performance, a song that doesn't quite fit the setting, a badly written line.  Even movies I love dearly will have a trip-up.  I love them in spite of their flaws.

If Casablanca has flaws, I can't find them.

There's Humphrey of course, amazing in nearly everything he ever made. But nowhere more than here.  He was able to convey so much with the smallest changes in his expression and voice.  No scenery chewing needed.  Sarcastic naivete: "Are my eyes really brown?" Deep wounds hidden beneath breezy banter: "The Germans wore gray. You wore blue."

Rick never says what he feels or feels what he says. Rick seems so straightforward and direct, yet his every line is full of layers and subtexts.  He is sincerity hiding behind a cynical veneer, his sincerity hidden even from himself. Victor Lazlo pegged it:  "You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart."  Rick tells us over and over again that he doesn't stick his neck out for anyone.  He protests so much that we know it can't be true.

But my celebrity crush on a man who died before I was born aside (remind to tell you about my thing for shoulders . . . and real hats), it's not just Humphrey.

What amazed me this time, my first time seeing it on the big screen, was the small parts.  Every character seems perfectly cast and perfectly performed:  from Sam-the-piano-player to the unnamed pickpocket, from the future American immigrants (What watch?) to Peter Lorre's Ugarte, from Rick's ex-lover Yvonne to the Spanish singer and guitarist.  Corinna Mura, the singer and guitarist, had a moment that struck me this time:  holding her performer's smile in place, tightly, when the German officers walked by her.  The tightness of that smile spoke volumes.

Those small moments are what make the movie for me.  It's not Gone With the Wind, with huge sweeping vistas and huge sweeping emotions.  It's not impressive special effects or innovative camera techniques.  It's not shocking plot twists or red herrings.  No tricks. No games. Just an excellent story about the problems of three little people.

It's perfect.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peace, Quiet and Other Disasters

            My husband and I just had a little vacation. Nearly three whole days of just me and just him. It’s the first time we’ve done that since our youngest was born, four and a half years ago. I know! When we tell people that, they look at us like we’re crazy. I’m not entirely sure that they’re wrong (see earlier post about fleetness of time).
            We had a lovely first day. Our friend Rebecca hooked us up with a friend of a friend benefit: a gorgeous vacation house we could never have afforded to rent, quite near a state park. The house had balconies and porches everywhere, windows looking every direction and all you could see were autumn-colored trees.
            It was quiet, a luxury that my quiet husband and his quiet wife nearly never get to enjoy: we have two quite loud children and a dog, you see. We couldn’t hear cars, neighbors or children . . .because none of them were there! We slept late, played board games, played other games you don’t write about in respectable blogs like this one, took naps, sat by the fire, ate curry (a favorite when the kids aren’t with us). Heaven. It would’ve been possible to go the whole weekend without seeing anyone else if not for the need to pick something up from the grocery that we’d forgotten. Heaven. Truly.
            Like all the best laid plans of mice and men, well, gang aft-a gley, or something like that. I got sick Friday night. Of course. Probably food poisoning, since it was short lived and didn’t affect T. Probably I gave it myself in the cooking process: handling the raw chicken. Cause we both ate it, but only I got sick.
But being the sunny-side people that we are, we thought, what a luxurious way to be sick! In a lovely setting, with an extra bed so T could still rest, with no children to keep away from Mommy and keep happy without her. No schedules to keep. When I nodded off on the couch for two hours, it just meant that T had to be quiet (see above: the luxury of quiet in a noisy life).
            Besides, we’ve never had a plan go without a hitch. Starting with our very first weekend away together, there was something to deal with each time: a UTI, upset stomachs, small injuries, broken down vehicles. We’ve always thought it showed our strength as a couple that we got through all these obstacles with so little contention between us. We’re a good team. I was feeling better by Saturday afternoon, so we took a Sunday drive a few hours early, happy that it wasn’t another Sunday drive to an Urgent Care Center.
            By the time it actually was Sunday, I was myself again, able to eat breakfast and stay awake and enjoy a short hike that included two waterfalls. Not a bad way to end our quiet weekend at all: holding hands next to a waterfall.
            So now that I’m back in the real world again, already running hard to keep up with groceries and girls, it’s good to remember the quiet.  Here’s to another quiet weekend, before another four and a half years have passed.