Wednesday, October 28, 2009
If we don’t count the paperback teddy bear journal I bought in the third grade where my entries were, borderline incoherent sentences written in bulbous cursive then abandoned after a couple entries, I started keeping a journal in 1993. I can’t remember why I did. Just that I had gotten a journal as a birthday gift…from whom I couldn’t tell you. One of those thin hardcover blank books with lines, and an oil painting of a girl holding a cat on the cover…the kinds of blank books that were popular before the stores took notice of the market and cranked out wider varieties of blank books with lots more expensive options.
This summer I dug all of my journals out of my trunk (another blog entry on it later) and stacked them up on the dining room table. A coworker had mentioned that her daughter had begun her first journal so I wanted to see what they looked like all together.
I needed a couple journals a year during my junior and senior years of high school (which sounds just about right) but since have averaged about one a year. My entries these days are further apart but longer.
My journals are not going to help any aliens in the future decipher what it was like to be living in this time period, in this area. It’s the most mundane of things. The journals are not for an audience of hypothetical great grand children, or for a university library after I’ve won the Nobel in literature. It’s not to help me think things through either…usually when I am stressed or working on a problem, I wait until it’s resolved before I commit it to paper.
As I look at the journals I can see how my tastes have changed over the years. I started out using only journals given as gifts…getting 3 or 4 more after the first gifted journal from various relatives like clockwork around the holidays. The gifts weren’t given with the knowledge that I’d actually use them, and I find that interesting that several friends and family thought of a journal as a gift for a teenaged girl.
After a while I’d buy them, and went through a spiral bound phase. But I always waited to buy one until I was near the end of the current one. This worked well enough until graduate school when I got to the end and couldn’t find anything I liked in the stores. I went to every book store in the city and had to settle. I’ve had a policy ever since to buy a journal I like on the spot, and now have enough squirreled away until…oh, 45. But it’s nice to finish one journal and browse my collection of them, weighing them in my hands, looking at the lines (although I do ones without lines too) deciding about the color. I like all of them, but I choose each one at the time based on my mood.
I wrote at my desk in high school, college, graduate school, and got away from that once I was in the real world. I started writing in bed before reading but lately have switched back to writing on my table in the guest room, where I do all my fiction writing.
Pens? Pencils? Some of my early ones were in pencil, some were done in with pens that had some significance to me, a gift, a souvenir from a trip, etc. I’ve done black, but mostly stick to shades of blue. Very often the color and feel of the journal from covers to paper will influence the choice of pen and color. I’m so obsessive that when my pilot precise v5 ran out, and I tried to make do with the uniball blue roller (that I’m using in one of my writing projects.) I had to break down after a couple of entries and buy some more pilots at the store. That’s how weird I am…in case the huge collection of blank books I’ve already bought wasn’t a tip off for you.
Pens and pencils will have to be another blog. Prepare to be riveted.
I don’t know why I do it, it may be the simple reason that when I’m not working on something, I can always write in my journal and the movement of pen against paper, the ordering of the daily life things and sometimes what I think about them, feels calming. Like tidying up the kitchen or crawling into clean sheets. Since all my old journals are in the trunk, I rarely back track through them—and didn’t even do that when I drug them out for this picture. Every now and then when I do, some entries make me grimace, not so much at the language of my recordings but the priorities of what I recorded and my thoughts on them. Some make me smile to myself or laugh out loud and others bring a flood of things I had forgotten.
As I write this blog, I picture something I’ve never imagined before, me an old woman, tottering around the house, or bed-ridden in a nursing home, surrounded not bylarge print word finds, or tabloid magazines, but three score of these journals, reading them slowly from the beginning to the end, a review of my life as I told it in the narrowest of lenses before moving onto my great perhaps.*
*Directly stolen from my Teen Read Week experience from John Green, the last words of Simon Rabelay and I'm sure I am not spelling Rabelay right but am too lazy to look it up.
Posted by Julie & Andrew at 7:17 AM
Monday, October 19, 2009
Well, it’s back to blogging. I haven’t in a year not for lack of topics. I could have been blogging about our trip to Los Angeles in the spring or our vacation to Wisconsin this past summer. I could have blogged about the lavender I planted in the backyard, or the black lab puppies my Dad raised this summer. I could have blogged about how Governor Strickland’s off the cuff decision to gut public library funding kept me at some level of internal turmoil during the cool weeks of summer. I could have blogged about making chocolate chip cookies or the few photos I took this summer.
But I didn’t.
And I didn’t blog from lack of inspiration. I’ve been following www.madeinatreehouse.com and www.alainnotebook.com and more recently www.herlandnotebook.com
I didn’t blog because I didn’t feel like it. The idea of blogging and posting a picture was too much effort.
And now I blog not so much from inspiration, guilt or any internal drive. I’m blogging because eventually, if I am very, very lucky (or unlucky time will tell how I feel about publishing) I may have a book to promote.
I read on a blog in the publishing ring of the web, that writers often reflect the culture of their times and the JD Salinger couldn’t get away with being the “secluded writer types” in this decade like he could 40, 50 years ago…because at that time the secluded writer type was what was expected…take the drunken writers of the 20s and 30s as another example.
And these days the name of the game is promotion. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, blah blah blah.
Part of deciding to share my writing with the world, means making peace with the fact that art becomes product. Passion becomes business. Revisions, promotion, all of it.
So I figure I might as well get in the habit of blogging, and start reviving and building my following from friends and colleagues.
I will try to post once a week. I’ll be talking about all the things I didn’t talk about this summer, don’t expect the blog to be blah blah blah my book etc. Not for a while and never entirely.
So what should I rattle off today? I suppose the recent sad news. My heart is still cracked over it, and I try not to think about it much.
As you have read in an earlier post, orange cats are magic and I have a history of them. The latest chapter, I am sad to report, is that we had to put our precious little tweek to sleep October 2nd.
It was unexpected and I’m still shocked really. I’m used to being philosophical about a pet’s death, chalking it up to old age like Chubby, or prolonged illness like Kitten. This past spring Tweek had developed, a sniffle, or a snuffle. No snot or anything, just snorting, snoring sounds. Antibiotics didn’t work but prednisone did and Tweek happily ate his ground up pill in a treat of canned food. The sniffling/snuffling went away.
Around Labor Day it started up again. I called in for some prednisone but it did not go away. The substitute vet at our place, gave him a high powered shot of prednisone and extended the prescription. He suggested Tweeker may have feline asthma as Tweek was the perfect age and it was the perfect time of year to show these asthmatic symptoms. By the last week of September though, Tweek was showing no improvement and the snorting snuffling was growing worse. Another trip to the vet, another medication. Our vet, a good country vet, I’ve known since a child told us if it didn’t work we’d need to do an x ray.
Two days later Tweek wasn’t eating, only getting in three doses of the new medication. His manner began to change. He was lethargic. We could not let him in the bedroom as we could not sleep from his snorting breathing.
I took him in Friday morning, dropped him off and gave the vet my Dad’s number as I was on the way to work but before I could get halfway to work Dad called me. The news was bad. Andrew had just gotten off work and Dad called him. Andrew met me at the house to go back to the vet together to say good-bye.
Tweeker did not have asthma, but a tumor, in the cruelest of places. The x-ray showed a mass in his trachea, that had probably been growing since spring, repressed by the prednisone and quietly growing all summer. Because of it’s placement in Tweeker’s throat, it would be impossible to remove without cutting into his major arteries, and nerves. He could no longer eat. His breathing would only grow more and more labored through a passageway slowly being choked off.
Our vet is a good country vet, which does not mean the suggestion is always “put ‘em down.” He looked at us and said, “there is a lot that I can do, and a lot that I have done, but I can’t do this.”
The brought him in and I held him so Andrew and I could pet him and say good bye. He kept trying to scramble out of my arms, stressed and scared by being at the vet’s his snorting breathing, a cause for worry sounded like a death knell. His eyes wide and bright and all I wanted was to fix him. But sometimes fixing means letting go. It takes two shots, one that’s used like before an animal surgery, then the final one, the vet gives behind closed doors.
I stroked his long soft fur, trying so desperately to memorize the feel of it beneath my fingers. The transition from him breathing that horrible rasping to silence. One last look at his little face, frozen in an open stare, and back to the reception desk to make small talk, about library funding no less, until the vet came back with a cardboard box and said he was sorry. And I know that he was. What kind of job is that to have? Saving and ending lives…ending suffering either way. How many creatures does a veterinarian put to sleep in their career on average? And how lucky are we to have someone to do it?
Dad and Andrew made a box and now Tweek rests in the orchard with Kitten. How can we be in this house less than 4 years and have buried two cats? I know Tweek had a great life, and every day he had two people who loved him, cuddled him, and gave him anything he could need. But at four years old, the consolation rings hollow, as I suppose it does for anyone losing a loved one too early. But it’s always too early isn’t it?
Of all the pets I’ve had, Tweek had the most habits, quirks, and little things he did around the house. I see his little ghost all around the house, in every room. All the little things he’ll never do again. I wrote over twenty things in my journal.
Molly’s behavior has changed drastically. From the first night she’s slept with me, not as close as Tweeker did, but close all the same. She’s taken to stealing bran flakes off my cereal bowl when my back is turned…something Tweeker did. She greets me at the door now, and this afternoon, she laid on my lap and we took a nap in the recliner. She cries more and wants more attention.
An internet site said that sometimes one cat is repressed by the older one, or the cat that was in the house first. It makes sense but it’s still eerie.
We’ll probably get another cat, a little boy kitten most likely in the spring if Molly continues to act lonely. And odds are, we’ll get an orange one.
But my story isn’t over yet, because less than 24 hours after putting Tweek to sleep I found myself in a hotel near OSU campus for a children’s writing conference. I could not have wanted to be there any less. I won’t prop any illusion that I’m less needy or neurotic than the next writer…I’m not. But being surrounded by 103 people needy and desperate for that love for their work as writers are was too much, it really was.
I overheard things that made me groan inwardly. I got so bored at one session I began to write a short story in my main character’s voice about the things I overheard and saw.
I had paid extra to have my query letter critiqued by a reputable and well known agent and the first ten pages of the book critiqued by an author. I had taken the first 19 pages of the book to our Wisconsin vacation, desperate to cut enough to bring the second main character in under the ten pages. I did, I drafted the query using advice from Query Shark and a book a colleague gave me.
So I was marking time until I could get my material back.
At the query workshop, the agent passed out our letters. My heart did race a little as she handed mine back to me, but it was heavy even as it raced. I read it. I flipped it face down on the table and leaned back in my chair. I read it again.
The agent would like to see a couple of chapters. She said other positive things, and some constructive things.
At the end of the workshop I approached her. My voice was not my own. I can speak in front of people no problem, American Library Association, a public library staff day, meetings at the library. Whatever. It’s easy I can do it on the fly. But talking to this agent. About my book. Five years of work. Characters I love so much. I felt so ashamed of my meekness but there it was. This was something that really counted in my heart.
The agents said send it anytime. No expiration date. Do a major revision. Try to bring the word count out of the sky. Take it seriously and don’t send it too soon in a rush of excitement.
So okay then.
I had to stay through the very end, to get the 10 pages back. A couple of dozen people crowded around the conference organizer with the ten pages, little bombs of hope, I thought.
I got mine and moved through the mob of people rooted on the spot to read their critique. I managed to turn two corners and go towards the lobby before reading mine. My heart sank at first as the critique started out saying they were just one reader. “Well, one out of two isn’t too bad.” I said to myself. But then I kept reading. This author who has written several books and one a nice selection of awards had lots of good things to say. Things that made my heavy heart life high enough to survey possibility. Comments written in the margin of the pages made me smile. I might be able to get these kids’ story out afterall.
I saw other writers comparing notes on their critiques, many with low voices and subdued faces. I wondered to myself what kind of world I live in where I can lose Tweek and get such substantial positive feedback on my book in the same 24 hour period. Was that the trade-off in the universe? Would it had happened even if Tweek was well and trotting around our house?
So how is that for my first blog entry in months and months?
I need your help. I need the motivation to blog, and I need to build a following for future possibilities of promotion.
Will you become a follower instead of just checking in occasionally?
Will you forward my blog to one person you think might like it?
I would like to have twenty five followers by the end of October. I will post two more blogs between now and the first weekend of November.
Posted by Julie & Andrew at 8:07 AM