Sarah R. Callender

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Listen!

In General on May 31, 2011 at 6:11 am

I stumbled across this fabulous blog, Writer Unboxed, a few weeks ago, and the lovely Therese Walsh kindly allowed me to post a bit of writing. The essay I wrote, “Listen!” pertains to writing, but the idea of listening (and learning when not to listen) to one’s Inner Hums can be applied to everyone’s life.

Check it out, and if you’re a writer-type, subscribe to Writer Unboxed.

Mosey on over. Here’s the link: http://writerunboxed.com/2011/05/31/listen/#more-8770

Thanks, as always, for reading.

s

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Homework

In Writing on May 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Dear Readers,

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (just as I hate to be the wearer of bad shoes) BUT this blog comes with a homework assignment. For you.

As some of you know, my novel is with my agent, Rebecca, perhaps going to Fat Camp . . . probably getting Botox injections. . . . definitely spending a few afternoons with a fashion consultant before Rebecca tries to sell it to a publisher. It is a long process. I used to wonder why so many writers were mild-to-moderately nutters. Now I know.

Meanwhile, while I (try to) wait ever so patiently, I have been cleaning our garage, sorting through Buddy’s and Sweetie’s closets, plucking my chin whisker,  purchasing books like String Theory for Dummies and When It Gets Dark: an Enlightened Reflection on Life with Alzheimer’s (apparently one of the narrators of my next novel is a ten-year-old physics nut; his grandfather, who seems to want to co-narrate, has Alzheimer’s). In between feeling lame that I can’t understand a Dummies book AND feeling like I most certainly have early-onset Alzheimer’s, I have also been thinking about doing a book trailer for my book.

Which is where YOU and your HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT come in.

My friend Janna and my other friend, Midge (along with her husband John), have great book trailers. They also have fabulous, published books . . .

. . . which I do not.

BUT! As someone who was nutters enough to spend so long writing one book, I am also nutters enough to believe, suspect, hope, pray that it will get published. At which point, yes, I will need a book trailer.

The skinny nutshell of my novel:

Between the Sun and the Oranges is narrated by thirteen-year-old Lucy Bains, a precocious and socially awkward high school freshman. When Lucy is not working on creating the mathematical equation that will help her understand Love, or honing her original mime skits such as Climbing Mt. Everest! and Chased by My Own Shadow!, she focuses on her most daunting task: earning the affection of her emotionally distant mother.

And so on and so forth.

But here’s my plan. Because I don’t think I can get this guy to just talk about the plot of my book, I think it would be cool to have a book trailer that includes a bunch of LOVE EQUATIONS and LOVE THEORIES and LOVE DEFINITIONS.

Please? Will you help me? Some of you are writers, other of you are science and engineering and math people. There’s a lovely array of artists and musicians and Moms and teachers. A few of you are probably cats, so yes, you’ll bring an interesting perspective to the Love table. Some of you are my parents (Hi, Mom and Dad), and others are former students who, if you managed to sneak through my class without actually reading any novels OR if you perhaps didn’t work to your potential (and you know I know who you are), this is a good time to redeem yourself.

I don’t care if you’re not a “creative person” or a “smart-in-that-way” kind of person. That’s a load of carp. Everyone’s creative. Quit your whining and do the darn assignment.

Some of you recall that I floated this assignment a while back, via Facebook, and got some great ideas. Thank you! You are excused from this assignment.

For those of you who still need to complete the assignment, here are some suggestions. You might come up with a poem/limerick (as the lovely Audrey R. did). You might do what my teacher-friend, Laura, did when she asked her eighth graders to do her homework for her. Those kids had brilliant theories. You can create some sort of math or science equation, an acrostic poem, a visual symbol, a haiku, the name of a new Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor . . . anything that you think helps define, explain, elucidate, measure, calculate, clarify LOVE.

Feel free to ask your kids or your grandmother. The young and the no-longer-so-young are great, untapped wells of wisdom. Ask your teacher or your rabbi or your gardener. The more the merrier, the more the richer.

If you want to post your comment in a private way,Friend me on Facebook and send me a private message. Need some inspiration? Read this.

Many thanks to you all. I know I say this often, but it means so much to know you are reading.

Love, sarah

Monogamy

In General, Writing on May 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Writing a novel is a lot like staying married. Not getting married, but staying married.

At some point, you wake up and you realize that writing is light years from glamorous. You notice your novel has morning breath. Your novel farts a whole lot more than it ever did when you were dating. Your novel leaves its underwear on the bathroom floor or takes two sets of car keys to work, leaving you stranded at home, or washes your brand new silk sweater in the washing machine.

Likewise, your Cute Antics aren’t all that cute anymore. And your novel gets that thin-lipped look (understandably) when it notices those piles of papers and drafts of chapters and recipes torn from magazines you have been promising to clean up for months. Your novel questions why you pull into the garage so far to the left when there is so much room on the right. And that’s a valid question.

Even worse, you notice your novel is starting to act a little distant, Because of stress at work, it claims, that’s all.

But you wonder.

You wonder if maybe it’s distant not because of professional stress but because you’re 40-ish, and 40-ish brings all sorts of weird body changes that are not at all alluring. And it doesn’t help matters when you wear your Phineas and Ferb t-shirt to bed and in the morning you’re all puffy in your bathrobe with that crazy Heat Miser bed head hair and you’ve got that chin whisker.

You feel your novel staring at you (when you’re not looking) wondering how this happened. And sometimes (when you are looking) you see your novel watching you with that expression that makes you realize it has just realized that the stupidest thing it ever did was to trust you, of all people, you, to tell its story.

You, too, kind of wonder how all this happened. Why you think YOU could ever write a publishable novel. Why you are any different from one of these knuckleheads:

These are dark times for a writer.

During these times (you call them the Swampy Times), when getting words on the page is akin to summiting Mt. Rainier in concrete shoes and rusty chainmail, where your whole novel suddenly seems like the result of a dinner with way too much garlic, when just sitting in the chair and staring at your computer makes you want to stick crab forks up your nostrils, when doing something like helping Old Mrs. Lee (three doors down) clean her bathroom and her fridge would be much more fun than writing Chapter Seven, you sit your elbows on the desk.

You close your eyes.

You allow yourself to fantasize that you’re all dolled up in a cute dress and some mascara and sassy heels, setting out to find another Great American Lover to write.

But you don’t. You are so tempted. But you don’t.

Why?

You are not sure.

You think, though, it has something to do with faith. A whispery, cherry blossom of faith that flutters from tree to ground and gets stuck on the sole of your Danskos and after just a few steps becomes part of your shoe sole, traveling with you whether you like it or not.

That whisper of faith tells you to keep putting black on white, to keep sitting at your computer day after day, to hide the crab forks, to vow to help Mrs. Lee clean out her fridge only after your writing is finished for the day.

Because, as a life-saving marriage counselor once told you when your marriage was so swampy, (you’re paraphrasing here), there is nothing quite as beautiful as a good marriage (and yes, it does have to be a good marriage) that has stood the test of time. There is no other relationship like it. Best of all, there is great peace and deep satisfaction in the accomplishment of working at something every day, even when working at it just seems too tiring.

Likewise, you edit and revise and write and rearrange and extract main characters and revise and edit some more. Then you share chapters with your trusted writing group and writer friends, lifesaving, painfully honest, talented writers themselves, who urge you to keep honing it, who tell you to ignore the terrible-voiced voice that sits on your shoulder and tells you what a crap writer you are. And even though you suspect that these smart and talented writer friends are delusional and biased, you heave one of those dramatic sighs and sit back down at your computer and trust. Because there’s still that cherry blossom stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the blossom that just won’t go away no matter how many times you worry you’re just another knucklehead who thinks she’s got talent.

Months and years pass like this, until finally, the characters in the book (it’s their book; it was never really yours anyway) are real. As real as your real friends and family. And while you see it was never your story, you finally have a novel that feels like something on which you’d be proud to see your name.

But eight years? It took you eight years?

Yes. Yes it did.

And the fact that it took eight years makes the finishing even sweeter. Just like the staying married part gets sweeter and sweeter, the cheery cherry blossoms sticking to your feet, to your kids’ feet, to your Husbandio’s feet, as you track your faith all over the floors of your home, leaving faith blossoms in your path, following other faith blossoms that guide your way even when the way seems uncertain.

That’s how you keep working on the same novel for eight years.

At least that’s how I did.

Etiquette

In General, Parenting on May 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Buddy has been peeing in our backyard.

Just the other day, in fact, he was playing soccer, practicing the new moves he’s been learning in this very cool soccer clinic. If you can visualize Riverdance with a soccer ball, that’s what Buddy was doing. Until he suddenly stopped and took a whiz on the big pine tree in our yard, the one that will kill us if it ever falls on our house.

But the target of his aim is not my issue. My issue is Buddy’s choice to pee on the tree on a sunny weekend afternoon when there’s a regular, indoor toilet just twelve feet away (as the crow flies).

“Hey!” I said, clapping like a persnickity old lady claps when she’s sitting inside her house and she wants the hooligan kids on the block to stop whatever trouble-making, shananiganing nonsense they’re doing. “Hey!” I barked. “Stop that peeing!”

Actually, this is a lie. It was HUSBANDIO who saw Buddy peeing on the tree. He just told me about it when I got home from wherever I was. And I don’t think he clapped like a little old lady, but I can’t ask him what he did because he’s on an airplane right now, one without wifi. I do know that Husbandio was ticked off because he doesn’t want the peppers and tomatoes and cucs and onions that he has lovingly nurtured from seed to be watered with his son’s urine. Which I understand completely.

Regardless, I’m going to pretend it was I who witnessed the peeing. I am, after all, a fiction writing bullshooter so it shouldn’t be too hard. Unlike some writers, however, the ones who forget to tell you when their non-fiction is actually fiction, I will always let you know when I am lying. You have my solemn promise.

So there I am, standing inside, clapping and yelling, “Hey! Hey, YOU! Stop that peeing!” (remember, this is a lie) only Buddy doesn’t hear me because he’s probably humming the theme song to Riverdance. He just pulls his pants up and goes back to his ball juggling. So to speak.

Now, let me preface this by saying our backyard is about nine feet big. (Another lie, but again, I’m not trying to dupe you; that’s just a technique called “understatement.” Some writers use it for effect. I use it because I don’t feel like trudging outside with my tape measure, so it’s better to underestimate in an exaggerated way so you know I’m not going for accuracy).

Maybe I’d feel different about Buddy’s peeing if we lived, instead, on ten acres. Frankly, I’m pretty sure if we lived on ten acres, I might, on occasion, pee outside too. And that’s no lie. I also feel it’s fine to use nature’s loo while hiking or camping or during any elimination emergency when there’s no man-made loo in sight.

But we are fortunate to have a few loos on site and in sight. Nor do we live on ten acres.

So today, as I’m writing about Buddy peeing in the yard, I’m trying to figure out what bothers me so much about seeing (i.e. hearing Husbandio tell me about) Buddy’s public pee.

Of course, I know this is just a perfect example of an eight-year-old kid who doesn’t want to stop whatever fun he’s having, go inside, take off his shoes, take a tinkle, thoroughly clean up the errant pee drops that get all over the seat and floor*, wash his hands, dry his hands, carefully fold and replace the hand towel that he has pulled from the towel rack*, go put his shoes back on, then continue with Riverdance FC. (Those two asterisks do not denote a lie, nor is it a literary technique. They are purely and simply examples of a mother’s wish.)

BUT (I’m sure Buddy thinks) if he can just stop his soccer skills, pull down his pants, pee, pull up his pants, and carry on with soccer skills, he loses no momentum. Because it’s all about momentum. And flow. And not breaking the flow of a perfect soccer skills practice or the perfect game of Flyers or tag or Death Gun Blasters just because his bladder’s feeling a little taut.

But isn’t it a little icky to pee in broad daylight in one’s backyard, for all the world (potentially five neighbors, truth be told) to see? If I don’t teach him that peeing in the backyard is not OK, then might he not start peeing in the backyards of others? Might he not take a whiz under the monkey bars at recess? Out in center field during his next baseball game? On Skyline Express at Stevens Pass? Is public, outdoor urination not a slippery slope? Maybe that’s what I fear: a urine-soaked slippery slope.

Or perhaps my distaste for backyard urination is actually thickly veiled jealousy.

After all, Buddy can take a pee with the greatest of ease. It’s how his body’s built, unlike the female body that’s not overly-convenient in the Great Outdoors. Sometimes not so convenient in the Great Indoors either. Please don’t make me explain the inconvenience of my very own postpartum body every time I’m doing jumping jacks or “skaters” or jumpy things in my favorite class at the gym.

In fact, when that happens, and I have to stop and leave the class, and go sit on the toilet for what seems like ten minutes because for some reason NOW my bladder’s like, Hm. I’m not sure I really have to go anymore. And anyway, doesn’t it feel really good to be sitting? How’s about you and I just sit here for a while and catch our breath?, just like that, I lose all momentum.

So yeah, maybe I am a little jealous. But I also think peeing outside when there’s no emergent need is a little gross.

Just like I thought it was gross when, about six years ago, I was at a child’s backyard birthday party and I’m speaking to this woman I’ve never met before and she’s holding her six-month-old baby and suddenly she is unsnapping her baby’s onesie crotch snaps and the baby’s not wearing a diaper and then she’s holding him over the lovely potted annuals to my right (that’s a lie; she held him over some shrubby bushes to my left) making this hissing whispery angry-librarian sound like, psss, psss, psss, psss, and that apparently is the cue that her six-month-old son is supposed to pee in the host’s manicured flora.

OK. As someone who wrapped her children in “wearable toilets,” and yes, filled landfills with their elimination-soaked Pampers, I will behave myself and not comment on the diaperless baby movement, but I was more than a little disarmed. And grossed out. Even baby pee is pee, right? I suppose allowing your kid to pee in your own backyard is one thing. But in the middle of a birthday party? Did the host not feel a little, I don’t know, insulted?

Then of course, there’s the questionable etiquette of peeing while talking on one’s cell phone in a public restroom. My most favorite example of this happened whilst I myself was taking a little pre-movie tinkle at Metro Cinemas. Except that while I was sitting there, I realized I was listening to the tinkler on my left answer her cell phone and start AN OVER-THE-PHONE JOB INTERVIEW.

I know! I swear on my children’s lives that is neither lie nor hyperbole.

There I was, sitting there, muttering things like, “Seriously?” and “Are you KIDDING me?” to the interviewee.

Would there have been anything wrong with this woman just letting that call go to voicemail? Or, if she absolutely had to answer, couldn’t she have just said, “You know what, sir? I’m kind of in the middle of something. May I call you back in two minutes?”

Unless she was interviewing for some job that requires extreme multitasking . . . then I guess the interviewer likely hired her on the spot.

So what. Am I too prudish? Do I need to loosen right up, understanding that Boys will be Boys? That we live in an age where talking on a cell, in public, while peeing is OK? If you are part of the diaperless movement, is it OK to have your baby take a tinkle all over your host’s shrubs? If you are interviewing a potential client over the phone, and you hear the sound of toilets flushing in the background, does that bother you?

While I’m waiting for your responses, (and because I’ve been totally honest for at least two paragraphs), I’ll surrender to my inner bullshooter and show you the sign I made and hung on our chain link fenced back yard, just in case Buddy or Sweetie or any of their sweet hooligan friends feel the urge: