The Earth Without the Moon

I am a writer.

I am also a mother.

Sometimes these two soulful, vast and difficult trades I have chosen for myself seem to be symbiotic; one job perfectly complements the other, lending strength and metaphorical beauty to each experience.

Other times, not so much.

The constant struggle for time, the slow, painful growing of patience, monotony’s strain on creativity, the constant fight to finish tasks and reach goals (i.e. finding self realization) seems to pit one purpose against the other almost indefinitely, and I am left wondering why on Earth any human would ever choose to be both.

And then one night, having driven myself crazy, and (literally….. I drove myself literally) far away from both of these trades, I figured out why.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

No, never mind, I don’t have time to go back to the beginning, I’m a mother. Let me summarize.

As a mother, there are certain days when it seems everything points to the fact that you just aren’t enough. You’re falling short. Not stacking up. You can’t be what anyone needs. Between your children’s constantly growing, changing list of needs and your own exhausted, (though well-intended) inability to possibly meet them all, sometimes a mother asks herself, inevitably:

“What is the point?”

This phenomenon is not unlike being a writer in many ways, but I’m going to leave it to you to draw your own parallels there. Let’s just say for all intents and purposes, I was having one of those days, in both regards. Whenever I have a day like that, whether it’s parenting-related, crazy-writer self-talk or both, I tend to naturally want to give myself some distance from the situation; an instinctive need for Perspective.

So I got in my car and I just drove. I passed the outlying farms and suburban communities, I passed the adjacent towns. I kept driving. I passed the further towns and suburbs and cities. I nearly took an exit, but I still didn’t really have answers or peace of mind, so I kept driving. Eventually I ended up nearly 50 miles from home, in the city. I took an exit and simply followed the path of least resistance, which led me up to a mountainside community of quaint, historic homes. It seemed to me like I had driven a thousand miles; the quiet neighborhoods a different realm.

I was beckoned to exist inside of it. I wanted to live there, if only for a couple hours. I pulled into a church parking lot and took out walking.

The annoying voice in my head was confused.

Why? You should be home tucking your kids into bed or folding laundry. You should be cranking out that new scene, or finishing up that review, or submitting that article. What do you think you’re doing, walking around in the city at night, so far away from your chosen responsibilities? 

I kept walking. The luminescent yellow glow of kitchen lights and living room lamps cast a lovely peach-colored light out onto the sidewalk, and a bone-colored Gibbous moon hung like a rounded spotlight in the early evening sky.

The moon.

I sat down on a patch of grass in a common area to consider it.

A hummingbird buzzed across my peripheral, pausing in mid-air to consider me.

hummingbirdA few weeks ago my daughters and I, faced with the long weeks of summer vacation ahead, decided to pick four subjects to learn about, every other week over the course of June and July. It gave us something to do together, some things to gather and plan, and a few activities and outings to look forward to. For our first subject, we chose to learn about the moon. In the days leading up to my strange excursion, we had learned together about the moon’s surface, how it was (theoretically) formed, its phases, and how it affects the ocean tides.

As I sat there gazing at it through a clearing in the tall trees lining the street, somewhere in the confines of my writerly, motherly heart, a strange connection was made.

I was the moon.

Mothers, everywhere are the moon.

We are quiet, radiating forces orbiting around these strange and precious spheres of life, we are transformations of other forces from long ago, held there by a strange gravitational pull. (Did you know scientists recently discovered both ice and evidence of volcanic activity on the moon? Yes, we did in fact exist as other forces before we were mothers.)

We have our influences over these strange slightly off-spinning entities. We illuminate their darkest nights. We bring forth life onto their shores and then quietly recede. We are a powerful, glowing force for our strange, beautiful, violent and perfect little globes.

The moon brings to Earth a quiet, powerful presence that the sun simply cannot.

And yet, we are limited in our affects on that which we orbit. Other things come into their atmospheres over which we have no control. For certain events, we can only hang stationary in their peripheral and offer our light when the darkness comes.

We are often frustrated because we can simply not meet all of our children’s needs.

But you see, sometimes, we simply aren’t meant to.

Thanks once again to my weirdly innate metaphorical thinking, I began to feel slightly better about my mothering ability. And then I thought about my other job. Why was I given (cursed with?) the strange, gravitational pull to write?

Earlier that week, before my feeling inadequate, before my literal drive for perspective, I knew there was something I wanted us to learn: What would the Earth be like without the moon?

Here’s what I found:

The moon helps keep the Earth balanced in a stable rotation. Without it, our axis would vary tremendously, sometimes wobbling in instability.

The ocean tides would rise and fall less than half of what they currently do. Much of tidepool life would likely cease to exist.

Days would be shorter.

Nights would be longer.

The sky would be darker.

Technically, one could exist without the other. But at what cost?

I could stay in this strange neighborhood and begin living out another life entirely. My children would survive, evolve even, without me in their orbit. But who would hold them steady in their axis? Who would bring strange and beauty onto their shores? Who would cast a soft light into their darkest nights?

I could also abandon writing for motherhood.

But then, what strange symbiotic presence would lead me back home on my darkest nights?

What other outside force would make me stop to consider my purpose, To ask of me what I can bring into my children’s world, simply by being what I am?

What gravitational pull would keep their orbit (and mine) in balance?

 

Earth and MoonThe Earth without the Moon. A strange and fascinating premise.

But I think I’ll keep them both.

 

Till next time,

-C

Just Wait

Do you ever get stuck in the middle of writing something? Pressed for time, stressed, frustrated and wish you could just summon the muse and order up an idea?

The following is kind of a follow up to a piece of flash fiction I wrote awhile back, Conversations With a Muse. This post spurred a train of thought that led to many things, but mostly the idea of what it would be like to have a muse to chat with, and after writing that one I had some distinct ideas about what mine would be like.

A few days ago I got stuck writing a critical turning point of my book, so I started thinking about what my muse would say if I tried to order up an idea. It went something like this…

***

“What good is hopen window snowaving a muse if inspiration is only ever random?” I wonder out loud, staring at the snow-capped row of houses in the distance. I’ve been sitting at my desk, not writing for an hour. The wintry air coming through the half-open window has turned my fingers to ice (I often write with the window open, even in winter. I have a theory that stale air leads to stale thoughts) and now typing at the keyboard is literally, physically painful.

I’m stuck in a critical scene of the book I’m working on. I know something crucial happens at this point, my main character sees a ghost- or something akin to a ghost, and those are the only details I know for certain. I seem to be missing the serendipitous knowing of details that will make the scene flow into the story. I’ve been listening to ethereal violin music and reading Poe and chapters from ghost stories all morning, no luck. It’s obvious this solution is not currently firing somewhere in the synapses inside my brain.

I need a muse.

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” a musical voice says, seeming to come from above and below and behind. “You don’t just call us up, order up an idea and that’s it. If that’s what you want go ask a human.”

“Christopher, you scared the hell out of me. I thought you only showed up at night. Where are you anyway?”

“I show up when I want to show up. I’m seen when I want to be seen.”

“Yeah,” I huff. “I know. But since you’re here maybe you could give it a whirl.”

“I’m not an accountant. You don’t just call me up, I provide the service you want and then we both go on our way.” I can’t see him but I can hear that his words are soaked in a smirk.

“Why not?”

“Well, if you want to get technical, if we…do business like humans do, you’d have to pay me. And believe me honey, you couldn’t afford it.”

“Yes, you’re very valuable. Also hilarious.” I try to mirror his sarcasm but mine only comes out half as effective. “So…if you can’t help me why are you here?”

“Listen. Art is born of inspiration. And inspiration can’t become art unless it’s pure.”

“Wait. What? What does that even mean?”

“Gaaahh, you humans can be so thick. Alright because I know there’s talent in that head of yours…somewhere, I’ll spell it out.” He clears his throat. “If you don’t have the answer yet, it’s for a reason.”

“But— I only have so much time to write. I have kids, remember?”

“Just be quiet. For an hour. For a day. A week even. Just be still and patient and wait. And hey, here’s something innovative: Listen.

“That’s it? That’s your answer? Just wait?”

“That’s it. Brilliant, no?”

The voice fades to a whisper and the room is quiet again. The only sound is the swooshing of an occasional car maneuvering the slush-soaked road behind my house. I sigh, close my laptop, climb into bed and close my eyes.

And I wait.

Eureka! My Story is an Infant…

I claim to be a writer of all things.

Sometimes, that feels like a lie.

It’s not as if I don’t have good reason to make this claim. In the past 15 years or so, I literally have written just about everything. From employee training manuals to web content, news articles to speeches. I covered events I had never been to and wrote multi-page news stories about them. I’ve cranked out literally hundreds of pages of web content about things so foreign to me I had to learn a new language to write it.

I don’t claim to be the best, I don’t even claim to be good. I just do what I am stirred to do. Writing is my bread and water. I breathe it in, it sustains me. I’ve done so much writing in so many different ways that none of it really intimidates me anymore. Except for one thing.

Which is why saying I’m a writer of all things sometimes feels like a farce.

I’ve been working on writing a fictional novel off and on for almost nine years. I’ve talked myself in and out of it a thousand times. I’ve (driven my writer’s group crazy) completely given up on it, and then the story comes lurking into my peripheral vision again, and I’m summoned to pull my butt out of bed at 3am to hammer out a new scene. The writer’s version of self-masochism.

Writing a novel is my biggest dream. It also scares the hell out of me.

Why? Because all that other writing, web content and news articles and speeches and such, that’s all small potatoes. If you ask me, fiction is the real McCoy. You’ve got to be a damn good writer to make a fictional story REAL.

This notion terrifies me.

You see, I have these wonderfully enchanting, beguiling stories in my head. (Trust me when I say that having an overzealous muse is both a blessing and a curse.) My characters are…beautiful. They are lovable and jaded and scarred and passionate and mysterious and utterly human. They have rich and complicated histories that bring them to perfectly fit into their place in the story. My book is full of intoxicating circumstances and exciting plot twists and turns that I know, if written well, will keep readers turning pages into the latest hours of the night.

Those are the things that I know, will sell my book. Those are also the things that keep me from writing it.

How will I do them justice?

How will I give my story the writing it deserves?

And so I start and stop and edit and rewrite and quit. I swear novel-writing off for good, go to work on other projects and am slowly drawn back into it. (Damn it.)

I go through it all again. And Again. And Again.It’s like that on-again, off-again boyfriend that you were both drawn to and repulsed by at the same time. (I now fully understand why all the literary greats were drinkers.)

Which brings me back to my book. Which I’m writing. For the hundred and seventy second time. Again.

This go-round has gone unexpectedly well. Last week I finished outlining the plot and chapter sequence and for a flash of a second, I felt like I might actually be able to kick this feeling of inadequacy and get this story written, once and for all.

Eureka!  I drove home from the coffee shop screaming out my car window: “I’m wriiiiiiting a noooveeeeell!” Several strange glances ensued. But I didn’t care. For the first time in maybe, EVER I actually felt like the real McCoy.

And then life happened. Work. Laundry. Kids. School. Tantrums. Grocery shopping. Sicknesses. Cleaning. Family dinners. I didn’t have an opportunity to write again for nearly a week.

And by then, of course I had over-thought the chapter sequence ten thousand times, to the point of convincing myself that all the holes in the story were going to be its downfall.

Aaaaaaaaaaghhhhh! Someone please make it stop!

But….

One night after the house was silent and all the family was long asleep, my muse awoke and beckoned me. I crept over to my desk and flipped open my laptop.

Go on, open it up love. Give it a read.

Read what?

Don’t be bloody ridiculous. You know what.

Since when are you British?

I have your attention, do I not?

Yes.

Ahhh, then no need for further discussion. So let’s have a look then shall we?

Go on love, read on.

I double-clicked the draft of my story on my desktop, and blindly started reading. The first chapter, along with some other passages, sections I had edited and rewritten half a dozen times, struck me as well-crafted. Others were not so hot, obviously slammed out in a twenty five minute increment between a laundry-folding marathon and pick up time at preschool. Some of the dialogue read like choking on cream cheese. And of course a whole hell of a lot of it what I had in my draft, I wanted to cut and paste into the recycle bin.

Keep going.

Why? Self torture?

Just do it.

So I read on. I read through the entire draft. Sure enough, I found more cheese and more garbage. But every so often, I’d uncover gem, glittering in the midst of telling-not-showing, cheesy dialogue and mindless narrative. In a few, fleeting passages I found pieces of the real, whole, perfect story. Characters, waiting for the story to morph and unfold them out of the confines of their pages, to come alive in the hearts and minds of readers. Waiting to be made real.

*Sigh*

I closed the document and sat quietly, my face illuminated by the glow of my laptop screen. I sunk my chin into the palm of my hand and stared into a picture of my two daughters, sitting on my desk.The voice appeared again, like a faint jingling of tiny bells  inside some quiet corner of my brain.

Your daughters. What lovely creatures they are.

They are a lot of time. And work. And patience. But they are lovely, aren’t they?

They are the very products of your life and your love.

Did you know how you were going to teach them things, when they were born?

No.

 When they were infants, did you ever fault them for not knowing how to smile?

Of course not. Watching a smile cross their faces for the first time was magic.

Did you ever give up teaching them how to talk? How to walk?

No. The little one had some trouble. I took her to physical therapy… after that she was off and running in no time.

Will you stop giving them any less love, knowing they still have so far to go?

Not a chance.

I have loved them, adored them at every stage. Watching them grow and evolve, supple spring leaves sprouting, unfolding, fading into a thousand brilliant shades, a new hue and texture and purpose for every season. That has been the greatest joy of my life.

This is what your writing needs, love. Love.

Yeah, but what about the—

You have to love your story for what it is, at any given time. All of it. At every stage.

It is no less loveable now, in its infancy, than your toddler was when she learned to walk. Your 8 year old learning to sing, or when she is a teenager and gives her heart away for the first time…

As you give your time and your love and effort to it, it will grow. It will get bigger and better and stronger and more beautiful with every stroke of the keys on your keyboard.

Slowly, it will become whole.

 And when it is ready, you will know. And then you will let go.

I took a breath. The voice fell silent and I sat for awhile in the dark, thinking about my story, about  what I had written from a new perspective. With the love and hope that every parent carries in her heart.

I realized that at nearly a decade old, my story was still in its infancy. Newborn and pliable and naive and lovable, drool and spit-up and wobbly legs and all. Cheesy and awkward, a little broken in parts, not understanding yet what it means to be whole.

My story is an infant. Wishing for me to love it, waiting for me to help it grow.

*Eureka.*

Back to the keyboard, then, love.

Till next time,

~CindyImage

Top Ten Tuesday: Candles

candle-light

I have a young friend who is struggling. She is severely depressed and experiencing extreme loneliness.

I have been where she is.

I know the pain.

There are two great lies about depression. One is told by Depression herself; that it will never end.

As bad as that is, the other lie is just as damaging, although at first glance it doesn’t seem like it. We are lead to believe that depression is just temporary and if you change your circumstances it will get better.

The first lie causes hopelessness. When you’re wading through it, it doesn’t seem as though it will ever end. Life loses all of its reason, flavor and beauty. It seems like an endless dark cave with no hope of ever seeing the light again.

The second lie, that it is temporary, leaves room for hope. The danger is that it is often a false hope. True, real, deep depression is not temporary. It can last for years enduring the voices of those around you telling you, “Come on! It will get better!” is annoying and can cause you to sink deeper into depression. Because it can last; it can last for a very long time. People will try to change. They will change their living arrangements, marriages, jobs and anything else, but the depression stays.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Depression can last, but if you hang on, even in the darkness, there are bright moments. There are even bright days, months, and years when depression sleeps and you awaken to light and joy.

I believe that a person can live with depression, and I believe that it you can make it a good life. Part of the secret, for me, has been the choice to notice and reflect on beauty, goodness and hope. I cling to those things. I take them out of my memory and examine them again and again. They become a candle in the darkness, lighting the way for just a moment.

And so, my dear young friend, I give you the top ten beautiful things I’ve seen this week. I hope that maybe, just maybe, my words can penetrate the darkness around you and give you a glimpse of the other side.

10. It was a dank, dark, stormy day. The steel clouds hung in the sky threatening to rain. I looked at the clock on my dash and pushed the pedal down to the floor. I was late…again. The freeway seemed to stretch on forever. I came to the top of a hill. Suddenly, a narrow slit opened in the clouds and golden light poured into the valley making homes, streets and treetops gleam like part of a heavenly city set into earthly life.

9. My hair stuck to the back of my neck and sweat trickled down between my shoulder blades. It had been over a year since I had been hiking. My legs burned, and my lungs greedily sucked air into my body. I rounded a corner and peeked down a narrow path. Water! I scraped my way down to a fresh spring shooting out the side of a stony hill. I put my hands into the crystal water and washed the sweat from my face. Drinking in the nectar of life, I let it cool me to my very soul.

8. A woman, hands shaking, stood in the wings watching the play unfold. Her part was fast approaching. “I can’t do this,” her voice wavered. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Her cue echoed across the stage.

She took a deep breath and stepped into the spotlight discovering, for the first time, that she was capable of more than she knew.

7. An infant’s sleepy eyes drift to the face of his mother as she cuddles close to him on a large, cool bed. He gives her a peaceful grin and drifts into slumber, knowing that he will be safe, warm and loved as he sleeps.

6. Clouds sweep up the face of a rocky mountain on a cool autumn morning. Gray light settles in the valley, slightly shadowing the brilliant colors of fall. I smile, sip my lavender tea and sink back into my favorite novel.

5. The sun sets on an industrial building. Individuals for the next shift park their cars and are slowly swallowed up into the vast structure. Their faces are blank, and their steps slow. The stream of people finally ends and all is quiet once more.

Suddenly, an SUV comes screaming into the parking lot and stops just feet from the entrance. A woman leaps from the passenger side. All the windows come down and small faces appear with puckered lips. She walks around the vehicle reaching to kiss each child. She smiles, shouts, “I love you!” and runs through the door.

4. A dog sprawls across the floor. A small, feverish little girl leans into her softness as the child watches her favorite show on television, feeling the warmth of her fur between her fingers. They both drift into and out of sleep; each needing nothing but the company of the other.

3. A group of woman sit around a table at the coffee shop. They laugh until their faces hurt and tears stream down their cheeks. Each of them came to the meeting feeling lonely and weak. Each of them leave knowing that they are connected to each other in ways they don’t understand. Each renewed with strength.

2. A young girl stacks blocks between herself and her younger brother. She waits, holding her breath. He swings his arm and blocks go flying and bounce across the floor. Peals of laughter ring through the room as she gathers the blocks again.

1. Whispered prayers and silent hopes are answered every day. Miracles are present in the beating of our hearts, the friendships that we forge, the peace that we find in spite of our emotional challenges, the coming of autumn, warmth of spring, kindness at Christmas, good chocolate, warm beds, red roses, pumpkin pie, and emails from friends.

This is what Depression tries to hide from us, the beauty of everyday life.

We are children of a loving and giving God.

The Universe is ours to see it as we will.

This is what experience has taught me: There is a way through. There is hope for brighter days if we choose to hold to those moments which bring us joy. Yes, they can be short and distant, but holding on to them gives us hope and reminds us that there is light in the world.

These become our candles, tiny points of light, to get us through the deepest blackness of depression.

Your writing prompt for today is to write in 100 words or less about one of your candles. Write about something that you’ve found beautiful this week.

Superstitious, crazy, or just plain magical?

The OfficeCr

Happy F-13 Firefans,

Last night I noticed a fellow writer’s Facebook Post:

“I’m on 13,000 words and I have to go to bed soon. What do I do? What do I DO?!”

And then in the comments he explained:

“You don’t seem to understand the severity of this situation. I am on 13,000 words, in less than 3 hours it will officially be Friday the 13th, and I have to be in bed soon if I wanna be up in time for work. I. Am. Going. To. DIE.”

Part of me wanted to reassure him that superstition has only as much power as a person allows it to have. The other part wanted to say:  “What are you insane? You KNOW you have to keep writing, right? And stop talking about it here, you’re going to jinx yourself!”

Superstitions. Jinxes. Talismans. Lucky charms.  Odd traditions and rituals we think can ward off bad luck. Society’s creative-minded are synonymous with believing in some kind of other-worldly magic that can influence the course of our daily lives. Why is that? What is it about creating art that makes us…well frankly, paranoid?

For me it isn’t the notions widely believed in by society. Nope. Too cliché.  I tend to shy away from any idea that the general population accepts as truth. Things like black cats being cursed, four-leaf clovers bringing luck to the finder, that the Twilight series is actually good. You know, that kind of thing.

Nah, I tend to put serendipitous stock in my own self-established little rituals and idiosyncrasies. Let me illustrate.

For many years, I thought that if I didn’t wear matching bra and underwear, I’d encounter all kinds of mishaps during the day. (I think it’s important to note that I had to give this notion up after having kids, and start wearing whatever the hell was clean and within my sleep-deprived grasp.) But since I was a teenager, and to this day I will still wear specific pieces of jewelry when I’m going to be with certain people. I have a random assortment of items I keep in my desk drawer—(A smoothed river stone. A seashell.  A picture of my Grandpa. An antique key. A green candle.)  I keep them near my working space because there is a small part of me that believes they hold some kind of magic that gives me the power to think, and write creatively.

I once discussed some of my weird little superstitions with a therapist. Yep, I said the “T” word. Truly, if you know me, you can’t be all that surprised. (But ahhhh, therapy. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a writer of any kind. For all the useless BS you come out with, you’ll double that in writing material.)

Anyway, she smiled and told me that this, assigning meaning to random objects and rituals is very common. She said it was something called “Magical Thinking.”

I sat there and thought about it for a few seconds, and then said: “Yeah, I always knew I was magical.”

The fear in her eyes, combined with an overall look of resigned defeat was a moment I won’t forget. It was superb. True story. But that’s beside the point.

The point is, writers, artists, actors, musicians…most of us are just a tad superstitious, whether we choose to acknowledge it as that or not. Some pretty famous creative minds have had what my therapist so condescendingly dubbed “Magical Thinking.” Truman Capote felt his writing wasn’t true to form unless he was lying down puffing a cigarette and drinking a sherry. When T.S. Eliot was writing, he insisted visitors address him as “The Captain” and smeared his face with green tinted powder.

I could go on and on with evidence of crazy writers and artists in history.  But the point is not WHY most of us believe in all kinds of weird rituals and superstitions. The point is that they seem to work.

For whatever reasons, believing in these things allows us to capture and transform our creative thoughts into things that others can enjoy. And whether it’s because there are truly supernatural forces at work, or whether it’s simply us manifesting our own success with the power of believing, doesn’t really matter. It just is.

So I was thinking about all of this, earlier today while I did some housecleaning. I was on my way upstairs with a handful of hangers and tripped, fell up the steps, poked myself in the eye with one of the hangers, and landed with my chin dangerously close to my preschooler’s pee-soaked pull-up. (Yes. I have a preschooler that wears pull-ups at night. Don’t judge, believe me, it’s the least of my worries.) While lying there pondering my fate, my mind reeled off into that very artist-like weirdness.

This happened. It’s because it’s Friday the 13th. And tonight I’m going to a poetry awards banquet, during which it is a slight possibility that I will win an award and get called onstage and….Wait, or worse! There is a slight possibility that I won’t win anything and get called onstage at all, because it’s Friday the Freakin 13th!. What a horrible, horrible day to be attending the first writing contest awards ceremony I’ve ever taken part in! Aaaaah!

Then I pulled my chin out of the pee, tossed the hanger aside and thought. Nah. I don’t believe in Friday the 13th, anyway. I make my own fate, and I’m going to enjoy having entered my first writing contest whether or not I win.

And then I went and changed into green underwear.

Conversations with a Muse (Part 3 – Lori)

The alarm clock sounds. My eyes fly open and I search for the button to turn it off before it wakes the children sleeping down the hall.

“How do I forget where the stupid thing is every single morning?” The words escape through clenched teeth. I find the button and push it as hard as I can. “Please! Shut up!” I whisper to the intrusive time piece. Silence. I lie still for a few moments straining my ears. The children are still asleep. I hear only the water trickling in the stream beneath my open window. I slip out of my room and sneak down the hallway into the bathroom.

I open the window to a pale blue morning and start the bath water, watching as it fills the tub.  When it is ready, I step in and slide down so that the water covers my ears. I can only hear the sounds of my heartbeat and air as it rushes into and out of my lungs. I close my eyes and enjoy the simple magic of life. I smile as the words drift through my mind.

SpiderI open my eyes to look at the brightening morning sky through the unscreened window. A spider is weaving her web in the corner just below the casing. I watch her as steam from my bath pours across her handiwork leaving fragmented drops of dew on her silken threads. The words float across my brain, tickling my consciousness.

“You’re here,” I say.

I am. The friendly, comforting words dance into my thoughts.

I turn in time to see a soft white mist gather to form the shape of a woman. She sits on the side of the bathtub trailing her fingers through my bath water. I slowly become more aware of everything. I feel the coolness of the tile where I have propped my feet. I notice the chill air from the open window tingling across my exposed skin and the steam billowing around the lights above the mirror.

“How can you do that?”

Do what?

“Make me…notice things more.”

You feel for both of us. I’m a Muse. I can’t feel it, but I can experience it through you.

“That’s so sad.”

No. It’s just the way of things. I can do things that you can’t too.

“Like?”

Like this. How many humans do you know that communicate directly to your mind?

“Good point,” I say.

I can feel all of your emotions. I can know you more deeply than any other entity because I am your Muse and I love being your Muse. I take all of your hopes, fears, and desires and distil them down into words, fragments of sentences that bring you back to yourself…and you’ve been ignoring me. The voice in my head changes to one of slight chastisement.

“I’ve been busy! I have children. I’m working…” my voice rises in self-defense.

I know all that. I’m watching you every day. But it’s becoming more difficult to reach you. I’m worried that if you don’t start writing, and practice hearing me, there will come a time when I won’t be able to reach you at all.

I feel her sadness at the thought of being silenced, coupled with my own terror at the thought of losing my Muse.

“I can’t lose you! You’ve been with me my whole life! You’ve comforted me on my darkest days. You’ve shown me the beauty in my life I appreciate what I have because you’ve let me see it more clearly! I need you!” Tears begin to flow down my cheeks as I think about what life would be like without her.

Her hand leaves the water and touches my cheek. I don’t feel her hand, but the warmth of her touch. Don’t worry. It’s not too late. I’m still here. The answer is simple, very simple. Leave time for me every day. Focus on the feelings and messages I send to you. I won’t give you too much, just enough…so that we don’t lose what we have.

I wipe my tears with my wet hand. I look into her eyes and feel calm. I start to breathe again, noticing only then that I had stopped. I resolve within myself to listen, and to write daily.

She can feel my intention. Good. You know you were beginning to worry me. I’ve tried to share some lovely stories with you, but you are always preoccupied with other things.

“I know…and I’m sorry. I knew something was missing. I just haven’t felt like myself,” my voice catches. Tears are threatening to come again.

I know that we Muses can be demanding, but I’m trying not to be. You’ve promised to listen and I believe you. She straightens up and shines as the sun begins to creep though the window. And I…I will promise to help you in your everyday life. She gestures toward the door just before I hear a tiny knock.

“Mom?” A small, sleepy voice comes through the door.

I look at my Muse and she smiles. Let her come in…she needs you.

“Come in, hun. Is something wrong?”

My seven year old daughter walks into the room, tears in her eyes. I look at my Muse and see my daughters feelings reflected in her face.

Unaware of our visitor the child sits on the edge of the tub next to her. “Mom, the tooth fairy took my tooth and didn’t leave anything.”

Instantly, the events of the night before come back to memory. I took the tooth intending to return with a treat and a new toothbrush, but my plans got interrupted and I had forgotten. I sigh and struggle to think of something to say. The words

Tell her a brownie took the tooth.

“A brownie must have taken your tooth. They’re mischievous little creatures. They like to interfere with the work of fairies. It’s an ancient, but somewhat friendly war…” The words flow from me, telling my child how the fairies will get her tooth back, how they will bring her something once the battle is over and how the fairies will celebrate when it’s all over.

I begin to realize just how beneficial it is to have a Muse help me in everyday life and how easy it is to listen to someone who wants to tell beautiful stories.

My Sparkian Identity Crisis

Since last August when I really dove headfirst into writing fiction, I’ve sort of immersed myself in learning ways I can possibly do it better. I’ve read books by authors on writing from just about every angle that exists. I’ve been attending community writing classes, and I even managed a way to sit in on a Novel genre class at the local university.

I’ve learned some really great stuff. And I’ve even had chances to get chapters of my novel critiqued, edited and then revised. Because of this, parts of my story are now very close to publishable. Awesome.
But I’ve learned one giant lesson in the process. There is such a thing as too much advice.
A few nights ago I experienced what I’m going to refer to as a Sparkian identity crisis. And by Sparkian, I mean that I was in such a desperate and confused state about my writing (because of information overload) that I resigned myself to becoming a writer like Nicholas Sparks.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with him (where have you been living?) he’s a very famous romance novelist. He’s written something like 16 novels in the past 20 years, five of which have been made into major motion pictures- including The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, Dear John, and etc…

As much appreciation as I have for the guy and all his success, I truly cannot stomach his novels. Time and again, I pick up one of his books and find myself wanting to toss it across the room before I get to page 2. The characters feel bland and flat. The dialogue often seems pointless. I can’t make myself care about what happens to them after reading the first chapter, the second…the twentieth.

When I read his books I sorta feel like a walking corpse.

So why would I ever try to identify with an author I don’t respect?  Well, I didn’t really know at this point and so I’m going to keep telling the earlier part of my little story. Read: You’ll have to keep reading if you want to find out.

So- fully engaged for the first time in years in writing fiction, and wanting to make full use of the classes I’ve been taking, over the past few weeks, I’ve been revising the first two chapters of a story I’ve had in my head for seven years. Part of this meant that I had to sit quietly while a class full of writing majors critiqued my writing. Twice. Crazy stuff.

It’s been a really eye-opening experience. I truly recognized the weaknesses I have as a novice writer. For example, my characters say each others names too much. Cheesy. And from a third person perspective I tend to sort of overstate emotions. A quote from the novel class:
“Ok, we get it already. She’s sad.”
Oh, well.. yeah. I can see that now. Oops.
To be fair, many valuable things have come out of all this advice. My revisions are a much clearer picture of my story than what I started with.  I’ve learned a lot about what I do well, and well…what I need to do less of.
But at the same time the whole process has been one giant emotional roller coaster. I’m in a sort of shell-shocked state about my current book in particular, and I sort of flinch whenever I hear anyone talking about characterization or plot devices because it makes me go into a sort of auto-analyze mode about my book.
So last week, Natalie and I went to a community writing class. It’s taught by a published author, and honestly he’s full of great information. It’s been a great resource. But after the craziness of analyzing and revising my story for two months, I was a little on edge. I should have known better than to try to soak in even more writing advice.
Ironically, the class was about conflict. Near the end of the class, the instructor starts explaining a simple rule for writing conflict into scenes throughout a book.  He says to keep the reader interested, you use a certain tactic. He uses The Hunger Games as an example.  “At the end each scene, your main character should end up in a slightly worse position than when the scene started.”
Well friends, that one sentence pretty much negates the premise and format of the entire first half of my story.
So after the class I’m driving home, listening to All American Rejects full blast and trying to pretend I’m not bothered by it. I get home and watch Parenthood, finish some flat Spumante, tuck the kids in, and lie in bed thinking that I am really inept to write the story that seems to have chosen me to write it.
And then, for reasons I  didn’t really understand, I got out of bed and started searching my bookshelves for anything that resembled a Nicholas Sparks novel. I sort of knew there wasn’t one- I  donated (or burned) them all years ago.
 The next morning, I dropped my youngest off at preschool and headed over to the library. I stood outside waiting for the librarian to open the doors. Once inside, I checked out the first Nick Sparks novel I found on the shelf. And then I spent the next hour reading the damn Lucky One.

In reading the first paragraph, I remembered why I have a hard time reading any Sparks novel past chapter 3. (Ok, in the next few sentences I’m going to be blunt. This is only my opinion. If you love Nick Sparks and enjoy his stories, please don’t think this means we can’t be friends.)

The dude tries to be funny and is just not. He uses too many dashes and commas and extremely long sentences. His characters seem generic and kinda soulless. In this book, he tries to characterize an annoying dispatch lady (throw-away character) by saying that she eats doughnuts all day and “she probably weighed over 300 pounds.”

 Please Nick. Either make a genuine effort or simply spare us these pointless, generalized details.
 But mostly, I just can’t give a flying leap whether his characters never come back from the war or marry the wrong person or die of a terminal illness. They all seem like generic cardboard cutouts of the people they represent. And whether I have plot devices that leave my characters in progressively more desperate circumstances or not, I just can’t believe that it’s o.k. to write like that. At least, it’s not ok for me.
So then why am I reading his book now?  Self sabotage? The writer’s version of drinking something horrible and regretting it the next day? Possibly.  Trying to find other authors who don’t end every chapter with a more desperate hook?  Probably. Trying to convince myself that I don’t write like Nicholas Sparks? Yep.
Now. Let’s back up for a second. Would it be so bad if I did write like the Sparkster?
 His stories are about love and life and fate.  That’s what I write. The man is wildly successful. He’s published a ton of books, five of which have been made into movies. He’s a freakin’ famous author. That’s what I want.
 
And hey, there are always going to be critics. If I were rich and famous like him, it really wouldn’t matter that some people thought my writing was shallow.
But…I would care.  If my characters aren’t believable, if my story is predictable and formulized and cliché, I honestly would rather not write anything at all. I really want people NOT to feel like walking corpses when they read my book.
 I don’t write because I think it will make me rich and famous one day. (Though admittedly, that would be a nice perk.) I write because I want to connect with people, to make them feel and love my characters like they are them.  I want my stories to reach out, into people’s hearts and make them say: “Yes. This makes sense to me. I feel this. Someone out there understands.”
Well, there you go. I just solved my own problem.
Bottom line: I’m writing this story. And while there is a lot of valuable advice out there about how I can do it better, there is a limit to how much of it I should ingest. (Ironically this is something my writers group has been telling me all along. But I’m a little dense, a little stubborn and I like to try to learn things the hard way.)
 I’m the author. I know what’s best for my story. I know there are readers out there like myself who want a little more out of a book than a melodramatic plot or a sappy love story. This book is for me, and for them. When it comes down to it, I need to do what’s in my heart.
Sparkian Identity Crisis averted. It’s time to move on.
Until Next Time,
~Cindy