Fall fast-forward

Snow during Halloween weekend?  Seriously?  Where’s our fall, eh?  Huh?  Huh?

Fortunately fall will be making a comeback tomorrow, just in time to sit out on the stoop with Halloween candy for all the adorable Park Slope kiddies.  That is, assuming we manage to resist the siren call of the trick o’ treat bowl and have anything left to hand out.

Halloween is a popular holiday around Casa Suri.  Sid, having grown up in New Orleans with its Mardi Gras costume traditions, loves to dress up (this year we went as Clark Kent and Lois Lane; Clive Bixby and Julianna — Phil and Claire’s alter-egos on Modern Family — were discussed, but there was no way I was wearing nothing but a trench coat in the middle of a blizzard).

I, having grown up on a farm in a very food-oriented family, love, love, love to carve pumpkins–primarily as an excuse to extract and roast the delicious seeds.

This year’s seed flavor combo: olive oil, salt, and a cayenne-curry spice blend.

They’ll be gone by tomorrow, no question.  In fact, I can think of no better snack to munch on while spending the afternoon working on revisions to the novel.

The sun’s back out, the snow is melting, and life is good.  Happy All Hallows Eve!

Managing our expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about managing my expectations lately, and not just in relation to my writing but in many aspects of life.

I find that if I hope for something too hard, it can drive me beyond distraction, making it impossible to focus on anything else…and, if my hopes go unmet, it can be utterly crushing.   On the other hand, when I temper my expectations with too big a dose of pragmatism, I fear ending up with enervated dreams lying limp and lifeless on the floor.

What’s a girl to do, then?  How do we find that middle ground?  Where is the space between weeping inconsolably every time we receive bad news and shrugging with a practiced indifference that feels a bit more genuine every time we reach for it?

Coming from academia, I’ve literally been trained in the art of expecting rejection.  In fact, I know very few people who’ve escaped graduate school without a nigh-on ingrained expectation of constant criticism, failure, and stymied hopes.  Oddly, though, most of these people are also some of the least likely to give up.  It’s as if feeling constantly “not good enough” liberates us from the fear of failure and thus the fear of continuing to try.

This is a good thing, but it comes with some bad potential side effects, such as resignation.  We keep putting ourselves out there while holding on to conflicting and equally powerful beliefs:  that we’ll get where we’re headed someday, if only we work hard enough, and that we are most likely to always be told “no” to everything we strive for.

It’s numbing, honestly.  And while numbness is good when it comes to dealing with rejection, it’s terrible for cultivating hope.

Maybe there’s no good way to deal with rejection and dashed hopes, no satisfying means of managing our expectations.  Maybe it’s just all part of the ride: hope, fear, anticipation, dejection, panic, self-hatred, and, finally, the return of a rising sweep of hope.

Contemplating these things always makes me think of that wonderful scene from the original Parenthood film, in which Steve Martin, in the midst of a terrible panic attack, suddenly feels the clattering wheels of a roller coaster dragging him inexorably towards the precipice and, just as he imagines his car tipping down into oblivion, his gagging fear gives way to the elated thrill of speeding downward, hurtling towards the next, unknowable turn on the track.

Life is like that sometimes.

Weekend Update

This week, by the numbers:

Words written on the novel: 1,160

Short story rejections received: 1

Short stories on sub: 5

Slides prepared for lecture: 70

Exams graded: 80

Calories burned by staying on diet: 2,650

Days of exercise: 1 😦

Degree of crankiness (on a scale of 1-10): 2 (with occasional spikes of 6-7, mostly while waiting for the Q64 bus)

Today will be devoted entirely to relaxing around the house, preparing for my husband’s birthday party, and getting my weekly novel word count pushed a bit higher.  Tomorrow it’s all about getting next week’s lectures finished.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print.

Miranda out.

Writer’s Workspace: 10/19

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  forward motion on the second draft of my archaeological time-travel novel, ABSENT, is the order of the day (well, that and endlessly making slides for my class lectures).  I hope to squeeze in at least 1K words this morning.  In the scene below, the protagonist, Emily, attends a dinner party.

Snippet from the screen:  “Down the table, Kelly’s husband, James, a real estate agent, expounded to no one in particular about Park Slope housing prices.  His cheeks were flushed and his voice over-loud.  Kelly must have squeezed his leg under the table because he turned an even deeper shade of scarlet and subsided.  Mark was refilling the wine glasses and paused a moment to offer James an affectionate smile.  Emily had always loved that about him; he could find warmth in his heart even for the biggest of jackasses.”

On the iTunes: I’m on an Afro-Cuban Jazz kick these days.  Mongo Santamaria is playing right now.

In the mug: Numi Chinese Breakfast – I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Out the window: it’s fall at its saddest out there — dark and gloomy, like someone milled children’s tears into a grey film and draped it across the sky.

Keeping me company: his Royal Furriness, Mr. Ramses, King of Cats, is seated on his throne.  Now that I have a Nook, there’s some free room on the bookshelf.  As with any free space in the apartment, Ramses has interpreted this as being his rightful domain.  Perhaps he is correct.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: First, in the “end-is-nigh, the publishing industry will go up in fire and flames” genre, there’s this from the New York Times re: Amazon starting up their own publishing fiefdom.  Second, if your bent is more scientific, check out the latest on DARPA research into long-term space travel.  And, for a lark, John Scalzi challenges us with some rather amusing writing prompts drawn from Scifi/Fantasy movies.

Alrighty, folks!  Back to work.

Please share your goals for the day, what you’re working on, and any juicy links in the comments.

Book Review: all these things i’ve done

all these things i’ve done by Gabrielle Zevin (2011, Young Adult, 368 pages)

Set in a dystopian New York City, “all these things i’ve done” tells the story of Anya Balanchine, the 16 year old daughter of the city’s most famous, deceased mob boss.  In this future world, though, it isn’t booze or drugs that Anya’s Family runs, but another now-illegal commodity:  chocolate.  Anya’s story is part of coming of age, part mystery, part romance, and 100% made of awesome.

What makes the book tick (and work) so very effectively is Zevin’s excellent portrayal of Anya.  From the very first paragraph, this girl literally reaches off the page, grabs you by the lapels, and pulls you into her world.  The story is told in the first person, and Anya’s voice and worldview are fresh, distinctive, and endearing.  I found her an incredibly well-written protagonist – funny, loyal, pragmatic (but not without the occasional flair for the dramatic), and flawed.

Nominally under the guardianship of her ailing grandmother, Anya has been left to care for her younger sister and older brother (who is mentally unfit after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt that killed their mother).  Thus, the stakes in this story feel real and weighty.  The plot kicks into gear when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned by (you guessed it) chocolate he got from Anya.  Sent away to a chillingly horrid future-New York version of juvie, Anya must prove her innocence and protect her siblings.  All of which means getting drawn back into the Family’s illegal affairs.  Mixed into the intrigue is a budding and forbidden romance with the new DA’s son.

Zevin takes a number of fairly familiar YA elements (dystopia, youth in peril, young love…also in peril) and manages to create something fresh and gripping.  This is partly due to a very authentically realized down-at-the-heels future New York, in which water is a vanishingly scarce resource — and one that is rationed along with most other natural resources (fabric, paper, food, etc.).  The success of “all these things i’ve done”, however, rests most squarely on the shoulders of its delightful heroine and her ferocious desire to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.

Gabrielle Zevin, please give me more.

Update from the salt mines – send help!

Okay, so I know this is all my fault…after all, I’ve been aware that I’d be teaching a new class this fall for months (and months, and months).  I really could have gotten a head start on the lectures at any time.  I even had very good intentions to do so.

But I did not.

And now…oh, now.  I’m barely keeping my head above water over here, folks.  It’s 6pm and I just put the finishing touches on a (frankly) pretty sloppy lecture on Maya rituals for class tomorrow.  There’s a pile of exams to grade.  They are quite literally leering at me.  I’ve got nothing (zilch, zero) prepared for next week.  Heck, I’m not even sure what’s on the syllabus for next week.

And writing, you ask?  Writing?  What’s that?  I think I got a few hundred words in over the weekend, but who the hell even remembers the weekend anymore?  That was months ago.  Or so it seems.

I have been told by pretty much everyone that I do much, much better (as a human being in general) when I’m busy.  It’s true, of course.  A little structure in one’s life goes a long way towards shaping action productively (or, at least, preventing entire afternoons spent on the sofa watching back episodes of Dancing with the Moderately Famous People), but the last few weeks have thrown me a little more structure than I can handle.

This too shall pass, I know.  But in the meantime, I’d welcome suggestions for ways to find time to write.  I know a lot of you out there juggle full time jobs, kids, and so on and still manage to squeeze in those precious writing hours.  Where do you excavate them from?  How do you get your brain to ignore the huge piles of Other Stuff you need to do and focus in on writing?

I’d welcome suggestions, as I currently seem unable to prioritize even 30 minutes a day for my writing.  Tricks?  Tips?

Send help!