Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Evening Walk

Since the onset of Spring, uncooperative weather, health issues and scheduling snafus have prevented R.J. and I from taking a walk in the early evening.  I miss that time each day when we can ignore our responsibilities for awhile, cover an unending list of pleasurable topics, and even get some need exercise  - although that isn't the main reason for the stroll.

It's a habit we began decades ago when we still lived in Florida.  In that tropical atmosphere, we would wait until sundown, and protect ourselves with insect repellent in order to ignore the humidity and the mosquitoes.  The years we spent in a Virginia valley afforded us views of mountain peaks, rippling creek beds and a neighborhood of classic architecture as we meandered the historic streets hand in hand.  And here in our Chicago suburb, we sometimes have to don a jacket, even in the summer, when cool winds come from the North.

The best thing about the evening walk is the opportunity to focus on what's all around us: trees that shade us and lean across the streets, gardens of flowers and shrubs that lend color to a background of green, bunnies hopping across the warm grass, birds flitting from tree to tree, and the activities and sounds of kids playing in their yards.  In the busyness of daytime, all this ordinary splendor is often unseen as I rush past in the car on the way to work or shopping or errands.  Taking it all in, and enjoying it with my best friend in life, forces me to pause and appreciate a simple joy.

Sometimes our dogs, Molly and Shayla, join us, straining at their leads at first until they realize that the purpose of this outing is a relaxing one.  Then, we have to pause numerous times as they investigate a patch of grass or a tree trunk that attracts their noses.  Those walks take longer, but we don't mind.

From my study window, I watch people passing during the day.  There are groups of children, loaded down with backpacks on their way to school, commuters hurrying to catch their train to the City, and others taking their dogs for their daily exercise.  It makes me sad to see most of them with cell phones in hand or headsets in their ears.  They can't seem to divorce themselves from technology and take in what's around them.

It's even more important to do that these days.  We all need moments of quiet contemplation, to just relax without any intrusion by all the devices that seek to demand our attention.  I wish I could urge everyone to schedule time for an evening walk.  I know my husband and I can't wait to get back at it.  Trust me, it redirects your priorities - for the better, I think.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Theatre Shadows

Recently, my writing group was critiquing a scene in a chapter of my novel involving my main character's preparation to take the stage in a play.  Two members of our group are actors, but the other three have no experience in the backstage world, so the questions and suggestions were varied, but all of them agreed that I needed to give the reader more.

I worked on the paragraphs for an entire afternoon and, thinking I'd done what they'd suggested, I asked one member - a fellow actor - to read the altered scene.  He said he thought I could still do more.  As I sat staring at the computer screen that presented the words I needed to make better, it suddenly hit me:  what I have taken for granted most of my life is alien to many people - the shadows of the theatre and what they mean to an actor.

Since I was first on the boards at the age of seven, and have hardly known a year of my life that hasn't involved acting, dancing, directing, managing or producing, everything about the world of theatre is as second nature to me as breathing.  That's what made writing the scene so hard - I needed to stand back from it and view it through a reader's eyes; a reader who understood nothing about the situation.  I had to not only give them a visualization of the scene, but put them in the character's head so they could relate to her actions.

Standing on a silent stage, in the shadow of a set, anticipating the moment when audience and actor connect is unique and difficult to express.  I was surprised by how those paragraphs slowed me down.  It was so obvious to me that I made the biggest mistake a writer can - telling, not showing - and losing my audience.

A writer has an obligation, if they want their work to engage the reader, to keep revising until they get it right.  So I kept at it and, just like those theatre shadows that can reward an actor for all their preparation, I'm now satisfied that my words have finally woven into the right pattern that will put the reader where I want them; feeling what my character feels in that theatre.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Dad

As a boy, he didn't go to church.  I'm not sure when he began to attend services, but I'm sure my mother had something to do with it.  He always said he didn't have a life until she was in it.  I remember attending church with my parents as I was growing up, but it wasn't an every Sunday kind of thing.  It wasn't until I had a family of my own that my parents became regular church goers.  That's what sparked my memory yesterday as I sat in church, listening to the choir and recalling the many Sundays in his later life that my dad's voice was lifted in their church choir.

He was very proud of his service to the church, and of my mother being elected an elder there.  He never missed a Sunday to don his robe and sing.  After my mother died, he continued that habit and, at his funeral service, I was touched that the choir he had been a part of for many years sang a tribute to him.

What made me think of this yesterday was because it was the anniversary of his death.  Twelve years he's been gone from this earth.  I look at the photo of my mother and father every day, and still miss them both with an aching that can only be understood by those who have experienced the loss of a beloved parent.  I miss his laugh, his arms around me in a bear hug, and his words of fatherly wisdom.  He was a difficult man to live with; quick-tempered and stubborn, but I never doubted that he loved me - he showed me how in a myriad of ways that still bring tears to my eyes.

As I offered up a prayer in church yesterday, I thanked God for giving my dad the gift of song.  It was such a special part of his life, and I still imagine him singing up above.  That's an image that serves his legacy well. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eye On The Prize

The title of this post might seem cliche but it fits me today because I've given myself a lecture on doing just that:  keeping my eye on the prize. 

It's so easy in this day of technological distractions to find myself filling days with tasks that do not lend themselves to my main creative focus.  I'm as guilty as the next person of checking my e-mail more often than necessary, logging on to Facebook with no particular objective or spending an hour playing online games.

I can also prioritize chores that do not really need my immediate attention.  The laundry, the errands, the house cleaning, the bills and office organization; all these keep me from my writing goals - goals I do want to reach.

Distractions can extend to the media as well.  Too much attention paid to the the latest political wrangling, the natural and human disasters that we face, or the dire economic chaos in our world can leave me beaten down and depressed.  Expending too much thought on those issues can lead to a negative outlook on everything, including my ability to succeed.

It takes a special kind of stamina to maintain a positive outlook, a proper focus and a schedule that results in results.  That's why the periodic self-lectures on positivity, focus and scheduling for results.  It helps me to have others - my family and my writing group are the main motivators - to push me onward in my creative quest.  But, most of all it's just me.

June 1 is looming.  It's my deadline to begin sending out agent queries on my novel.  To do that, the novel has to be complete to my satisfaction.  And I still have quite a bit of revision before that is accomplished, so there's never been a better time for one of my personal push lectures.  It renews my happy outlook on what can be - and that no one can make my dreams realities except me.  I love Laurence Olivier's outlook on it all.  He said, "I take a simple view of life: keep your eyes open and get on with it."  You see? - "eye on the prize" - it works.