Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ladybug, Ladybug

I first saw her in the bathroom, seated on the bristles of my husband's toothbrush. We laughed about her choice of perch. She was coaxed with a fingertip onto the marble vanity, where she seemed content to remain for several days, exploring its surface from one side to the other.
The sighting of a ladybug in our house in the Fall is not unusual. Dozens of them appear inside the windows this time of year - and again in the Spring. They are harmless, and, because they have a good luck tradition attached to them, we tolerate the few days they inhabit.
But this one had stayed long after the others had disappeared to wherever ladybugs go for the winter. It became my habit to look for her whenever I was in there, greeting her like an old friend. There was something about seeing her there that was stabilizing.
I named her Lizzie. Silly to name a bug, but it seemed right, if I were going to talk to her, that I should be able to address her properly. Why "Lizzie"? The alliteration with "ladybug", I suppose, is obvious. My middle name is Elizabeth so it may have naturally stemmed from there as well. I didn't think much about it; it was just an
easy choice.
After about a week, she became a member of the family, so I was bothered when she wasn't in her accustomed place on the bathroom vanity one morning. I searched and discovered her on the glass brick window. She was crawling about and content. The next morning, she had returned to the vanity, but I had to hunt for her again a few days later. But this time I didn't find her.
I did a search of "ladybug" online to research their habitats and life cycles. I learned that they can live up to two years, so my fear that she had already played out a short life span were averted. I also noted that they like moist atmospheres which made sense of her bathroom home.
It was strange that I had become so attached to a tiny creature who eats aphids off my rosebushes in the warm months. I couldn't fathom why my inability to locate her was so disturbing. I only know that, when she turned up the next day on the kitchen counter (next to the coffeemaker), I was happy to see her and admonished her for worrying me.
It's been several weeks and Lizzie now explores all rooms of the house. This morning, when I awoke, she was on the wall next to my bed. I watched her explore all the way to the ceiling and around the room. As I lay there watching her, my mind searched again for the reason why this miniscule ball of red and black adds value to my life just now.
I do know that these scary economic times weigh on my mind far too much. My son's job layoff, my husband having jobs postponed because of clients' economic fears, the growing pile of bills that occupy my desk, and the constant media barrage about the world's financial woes make it almost impossible not to think about it all the time.
It occurred to me this morning that maybe Lizzie is my source of calm in an ever-gathering storm of uncertainty. She represents a constancy, a visible presence to remind me to stay focused on the things in my life that are most important, to persevere, to remain optimistic in a sea of dread.
I feel inclined to accept that answer. That's why Lizzie is in my life. It's working for me. So, "thanks little bug" for planting the seeds of hopefulness in my brain. Long after you're gone, I think they'll still be growing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Writing Group

As a writer always looking for ways to improve my skills, I would often read articles in writing magazines about the benefits of belonging to a writing group. It was an opportunity that intrigued me, but, in the small town I lived in for ten years, there were only two I ever found, and the members and their work were not the right fit for me.
Once I moved back to a big city (ten years in a small town was never the right fit for me, either), I hoped I might locate a group and I got lucky a few months ago. My husband and I were having a pleasant evening at home with a couple we knew, and he casually mentioned that he did some writing and was part of a group. I felt as though a prize had fallen into my lap. I asked if he thought the group might accept another member, and he promised to bring the subject up at their next meeting.
I waited impatiently to hear from him. I was delighted - and somewhat daunted - when I received an e-mail from him, inviting me to come and share a sample of my work with them at their next meeting. After that, they would vote on whether I would be accepted into the group.
It is common to hear a writer say, "I'm working on a novel." Well, I am one of them. My novel has been a work in progress for about twenty years now. The idea first came to me when I was working a full-time job and, other than getting a plotline down, I did very little work on it for some time. Once I did devote some serious time to it, it took several forms, would be abandoned for long periods in favor of paying work, and, once I had finally typed, "The End" at its finish, I wasn't satsfied with the results, so it languished for awhile in a drawer. Recently, I began a rewrite, so I felt this might be the perfect place to get some feedback on just what I needed to fix, and inspire me to finally start submitting it to agents.
I spent several days on the first chapter and, armed with copies for the other members of the group, I arrived at the writer's group meeting nervous, but excited. This was something I really felt I needed to push-start my work again. I just hoped they would think me worthy of inclusion into their midst.
I sat listening to several other members read the pages they had brought to be critiqued. They were a mixed lot, but all talented. My friend who had obtained this audition for me read a short story that had me fascinated with his imaginative plotline. An older gentleman read a section form his novel that spoke to me emotionally, and surprised me with its candor. A quiet-spoken woman, near my age, read an historical fiction piece complete with exciting twists and turns, and a young woman, also reading from a novel in progress, had a tight, no nonsense style of writing. After each person read their selection, the group would discuss the work, offering suggestions to strengthen, correct, or get the work back on track. There was praise given, if warranted, as well. I began to relax, listening to them. I chose not to participate too much, since I was a guest at this session, but, when it came time for me to read my pages, I felt positive that my work would be accepted seriously by these writiers.
The experience was singular for me. The only people who had ever read my novel before were friends or family members. Though I respected their opinions, I usually felt that they were telling me what I wanted to hear, rather than giving me an honest critique. But now I had people whose opinions would not be colored by their relationship with me. This was writing business. I was bolstered by the good things they had to say; the opening was strong, they liked my dialogue, and they were intrigued to read more were some of the comments. But I was more motivated by the criticisms because they were inciteful for me. I couldn't wait to get home and act on their advice.
A few days later, I was formally invited to join the group, and the sessions that have followed have spurred my novel to a whole new level. When I am working on it now, I am mindful of their counsel with each page I revise. Not that I take every suggestion to heart because I have learned to be true to my own sense of creativity. I make the work better while still making it mine. But this small group of fellow wordsmiths have given me a new perspective, new incentives and a venue of criticism that is invaluable. And, along the way, they are becoming colleagues whose friendship is important as well.
I was lucky to find the perfect match in a writing group at that first get-together. I'm sure it isn't always that easy. But I would advise every writer to find a writing group that works for them. I can guarantee that, if it is the right one, it will be worth its weight in words to your productivity.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Heroine" And "Hero"

When our children are young, we guide them as much as we can, hoping we're teaching them the right things that will serve them in their adult lives. We never think we do enough, and we always think we made lots of mistakes. Recently, I've had the opportunity to witness the results of it all.
Our daughter has been looking for a better job. She is a single mom who struggles to make ends meet. In addition to working a full-time, thankless job, she home schools her two sons, who are 13 and 11. Saying that she has full days is the understatement of all time. Worried about her job security and with no savings to fall back on, she is doing all she can to better her situation, pursuing every job opportunity and interviewing in the few hours she can spare each week. It pains me to see her constantly tired and stressed, and I never cease to be amazed at how she continues to be a good mother and provider. To me, she is a heroine.
Our son has a dream to be a working actor, theatre director and acting coach. It's a dream he's had since he was a kid, and he has successfully strived toward his goal for many years. He has always had "day jobs" to support himself, but, in recent years, those have become more important as he now has to support himself, his wife and their young son. At times, he has had to work two jobs, with no time left to pursue his dream. Well, last Tuesday, that dream was put on hold again. The job that allowed him to work on his computer from home, thus enabling him to be with his 22-month old son during the day, has been taken from him; a victim of the economic debacle. I have watched him immediately put a plan into gear to rein in their finances, to get his resume updated and out to prospective employers, and to struggle with the reality that he won't have as many luxury hours with his little boy anymore. He has admitted to disappointment and some fear, but he keeps looking ahead. To me, he is a hero.
I don't mean to imply that my children are perfect; and I certainly don't think that I am arrogant enough to believe my husband and I raised perfect children. But I do feel that we must have done pretty well with them, giving them the basic tenets of responsibility and caring. I also think that they have matured on their own, taking whatever might be given them and figuring out how to deal with it.
They both bring tears to me eyes when I'm worrying about them, but the tears say more about my acknowledgement of their struggles than about my fear for what they are experiencing right now. "Pride" is a word that hardly befits what I feel about their efforts. I certainly am proud of them both, but it goes beyond that. So "heroine" and "hero" are the descriptions I choose - and I believe no other terms could be more fitting.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Thoughts

I've just come back from casting my vote for President. This is not a political forum, so don't look for clues as to who I voted for. This post is just about my thoughts on the voting process.
I believe in voting. Whether you have issues with the candidates, think the electoral process is antiquated (agreed), use the excuse that you don't have time, or the oldest excuse - my one vote doesn't matter (wrong) - don't be fooled into thinking you can continue to live in a democracy and enjoy its privileges without taking on its responsibilities as well.
My late father, whose opinion I always respected (even when I didn't agree with him) used to silence political whiners by saying, "Do you vote?" If they answered in the negative, he would reply, "Then you don't get to complain". That is an opinion I share.
Everyone's vote is important. Especially now, when so many issues are being decided that will impact each and every one of us, as well as our children and their children. It is also important that we vote intelligently, not emotionally. Americans should invest the time to study the issues and to know how the candidates stand on those issues.
There was an excellent TV series in the 1980's called "The Senator" with the title role played by Hal Holbrook. In an episode about the importance of voting for what you believe in, Holbrook delivered a speech that stays with me still. He was citing a leading figure in the German government during the time of Hitler, and he quoted him: "They came after the Jews, and I was not a Jew so I did not protest. They came after the Catholics, and I was not a Catholic so I did not protest. Then they came after the Trade Unionists, and I was not a Trade Unionist so I did not protest. And then they came after me - and there was no one left to protest."
We should never be so patriotically arrogant to think, "it can't happen in America". If enough people neglect their civic duty to vote, anything is possible.
Walking away from that polling place this morning, I felt proud - and lucky. I knew that the time I had just spent would figure in the outcome of the presidential election. And I knew my dad would approve, too.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Hate Moving

The title of this post should explain my frustrations of the past several weeks. First of all, I hadn't planned to move; it was forced on my husband and I because of horrendous living conditions in the apartment building where we were residing. Luckily, we found a delightful bungalow and I was excited about moving in and making it our own.
What is hateful about the task is both obvious and not so obvious. Obviously, no one likes to pack, load a moving truck, unload a moving truck, unpack everything and find just the right place for it all. I've suffered all of that in spades and have vowed that, no matter what, I am not moving again.
The not so obvious to most people is that all of these tasks take me away from my writing. My blog, which I had just begun when the move took place, does not have near the number of entries I had hoped to post by now, my novel has only been approached when I had a writer's group session and wanted to present a chapter in progress to them, and the list of magazine articles I want to query and attempt to sell grows ever longer with no headway being made on any of them.
This morning, I walked through our new home and delighted in all we've done. It isn't finished by any means: there are still drapes to buy and hang, painting to do, etc., but it has reached the livable point, and that makes me a happy person.
So, my first act today was to sit down at my keyboard and get busy on the mountain of printed material I want to create and eventually (I hope!) publish. The best part about this blog is that I can start here because no one can say "yea" or "nay" about whether it gets published or not; I'm the one who decides what gets posted. It's a feeling of power for a writer. Better still, it gets the creative juices flowing. Now, I can move on to the next chapter in my novel.
Stay tuned; I think I'm "back at it" - finally. That makes me even happier than looking at my organized bungalow.