Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Memory Exercise

All of the sudden, the new dog has settled into our home and is normal.  Housebreaking fixed, howling at night fixed.  It's almost too good to be true.  So I have to find something else to write about.

Because I promised myself I would write every day during Lent, I've had to come up with some themes to get me going.  One of the projects I decided to tackle was a recollection of my school years grade by grade.  My husband was surprised I could remember enough from my childhood to write about, but I think I've been able to pull up some good stuff. 

Here is an excerpt from my kindergarten-year entry:

"The thing I remember most about kindergarten was being jealous of another friend who read so well that she was shuffled off to 1st grade reading group every day. The two grades were connected by a small stairway in the corner of the room. The first grade teacher would emerge from the mysterious recesses of first grade, call her name, and whisk! she would disappear for an hour or so. I remember thinking, 'I’m a good reader, too! Why can’t I go?'"

Kindergarten was a foreshadowing of my school experience for the next 12 years. I always wanted to be at the top of the class.  I didn't feel that I had looks going for me, so I leaned on my smarts.  Coming in second was a bitter pill to swallow.  (Of course, in adulthood, I've learned many times over that you can't be best at everything, and life is lot better because of it!)

My goal in this writing exercise is to delve deeper into how I thought as a kid.  Most children's writers I have had the pleasure of talking to say that understanding your own childhood is just as important (if not more important) than understanding how kids today think.  My children give me boundless examples of "kidspeak" and point me to what is funny for a child, but I want to pull on my own experience as well.  And as I have found in the course of this writing project, there are things about myself I didn't even realize until I wrote them down and saw patterns develop in my distant experiences.  Now, on to first grade. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Forty Days of Discipline

I never fully got into the practice of giving up something for Lent.  It was my Baptist childhood, I think.  But this Lent, I decided to do something instead of giving up something.  I am going to write every day for 40 days.  Some of that may be book writing (better be!), but some of it will be blog writing.  It all counts!  So away we go...

My days lately have been filled with one thing mostly...the new dog.  Charlie is overall, a good dog.  I think he must have had a rough life.  He is quick to feel threatened and go slunk away in a corner.  He pees like a fire hydrant (submissive urination, it's called) if he feels I am angry at him (unless, of course, he is outside where he is supposed to pee.  Then he refuses to pee for fear it will start another cycle of me being grumpy at him.)  Patience is my mantra lately.  Did I mention he has a habit of howling at night when we put him to bed, too?

Anyway, all this trouble with the new dog made me think of my own dogs growing up.  In particular, I think of Heather.  She was my first "dog."  She was a beautiful Irish Setter.  I haven't seen an Irish Setter in a long time, and I remember her being unusual even then.  I say "dog" (in quotes), because she was a stray.  I don't remember actually having this dog live with us.  I think she just visited and claimed our yard as her own.  We might have fed her.  I remember playing with her and thinking she was just the coolest dog ever.  Except one day she disappeared and never came back.  I did not get a good explanation as to why, but I found out (much later) that my parents had  taken her to the pound. 

We parents see pets, and life overall, in a much different light than children see it.  I loved a dog that my parents obviously despised.  So much so that they lied to me about why she disappeared.  Is it the burden of responsibility that changes us as we age?  Or do we lose touch with something else inside ourselves?  I'm not sure.

But it helps to think that at least my children love Charlie, even when I want to ship him off to Mars.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Writing in the Headlights

I have a new favorite quote about writing:

"[Writing] is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."-E.L. Doctorow.

I experience this almost every time I write.  I sit down with a great idea in my head, thinking I know where the story is going, then as I sit down, the character does something, or says something and then bloop...I have a whole different story on my hands.  Sometimes I find this phenomenenon exhilirating.  Other times I find it exasperating.  Especially if I liked the first story better.  I guess an extremely gifted writer would wrangle the story back into submission and go with the original idea.  I, however, find it almost imperative to follow the new train of thought.  I've swerved to avoid a boulder in the darkness, and I want to follow the new path.

Take for instance my latest journey.  I sat down this week to write a story about gift-giving.  It was supposed to center around a young boy and a king.  Instead, I end up writing about a king who wears his clothes too big.  WHAAA?

Maybe I've got my headlights dimmed too low?