Monday, November 28, 2011

Youth, Anticipating

Last week, I finished the first draft of a novel I’ve been writing, off and on (more off than on, obviously) for over ten years.  I started compiling notes, ideas for characters, little snippets of quotes or scenes, then I went to work on an outline (which changed quite a bit over time).  Last year during Nanowrimo, I wrote the first half of the book; this year during the same challenge, I finished the second.  It is an immense relief and a sense of emptiness all at once. 

Yesterday I took the kids to Mass, the first Sunday of Advent apparently, something I would have known if we attended more regularly.  The sermon was about this season of anticipation and how we should appreciate it, rather than hoping to rush straight to Christmas itself.  The priest compared it to a student waiting to go home for a holiday or a pregnant mother expecting her child.  In the current world, he said, we have lost this appreciation for things in their due course.

The novel I just finished is set in 1999.  Everyone talking about Y2K, cell phones just beginning to become widespread, emails not a substitute, yet, for written correspondence.  And now that I’ve finished the first draft and don’t imagine returning to that time period in my writing, I will have to face the ways technology has changed everything—particularly, the use of certain devices in fiction writing.  Hunting for a pay phone, waiting for a letter, searching for something at the library, being unable to reach someone because their answering machine keeps picking up—will our children understand any of these things?  There was something delicious about the waiting (okay, maybe not the hunting for a pay phone bit); these instances of delayed gratification intensified the eventual contact, the eventual result.

So maybe what I will miss the most is the anticipation of finishing this book, the long period of time where life and other projects got in the way and I wasn’t able to return to it as much as I would have liked, but the thought of it was a constant companion.  Of course, there will be tons of editing so there’s always that conciliation.  But I do wonder…in this immediate world, where news/facts/information are, quite literally, right at our fingertips, and communication has so many forms it’s almost impossible to think of an isolated life…for our kids, for young people, what do they anticipate?  Maybe it’s just what it’s always been—growing up.  The outside world may intrude into their current lives more than it did for our generation, but they still lack the power and freedom to grab it.  And yes, this all relates to my ideas for the next novel...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lovin' Humanity

“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”  -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

It occurs to me, Mr. Dostoyevsky sir, that maybe this is the reason writers lock themselves away, creating for endless hours a world of their own making, turning imagined universals into expressions of singularity by the creation of characters and specific events, through which readers, in their individuality, will recognize some of these features and thereby, tap into their own pretensions of universality and singing brotherhood.  And everyone can feel uniquely, wonderfully solitary and comfortingly connected to some grand scheme of human purpose and insight, all at the same time.  Something like that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Daisychains of Silence by Catherine MacLeod

Daisychains of Silence

I've finished a very special book this week, by one of the loveliest people I've met on this writer's journey.  I'm including my brief review below, which can't begin to describe her beautiful writing, and a link to Amazon, where you can purchase the electronic version for the meager amount of 99 cents.  It will be the best dollar you've spent in some time, I can assure you.

In Daisychains of Silence, Catherine MacLeod has sewn together a rich tapestry of images, emotions, memories—all the scraps that comprise a life.  In this case, the life is Daisy’s and we follow her from neglected childhood, to boarding school and adventurous youth, and to middle age, when a reunion with her mother forces her to reassess all that’s come before.  The relationship between Daisy and her mother is especially poignant, especially fraught with long-simmering betrayals and disappointments.  MacLeod has the eye of a photographer, a painter, an ability to draw our attention to details that matter:  a crocheted curtain, filthy from neglect, a beloved hand-made doll, cords of colored thread glistening on a well-used table, scars that form a smile.  The writing itself is evocative and poetic, at times absolutely mesmerizing as Daisy’s world is described.  Forced into an early self-reliance, Daisy learns to keep most things within and we follow her attempts to strike out and discover who she is and what she should do with herself.  But it’s a love story too, a believable love story accented with stops and starts, with mistakes made and loyalties reclaimed.  MacLeod’s characters will stay with you long after you’ve finished this lovely book, and you’ll find yourself rooting for them, each and every one, despite their flaws or maybe because of them.

Buy the book here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Adoption and "Real" Families

I was adopted as an infant, brought home when I was nine weeks old on a day full of vivid images—my mom’s nervousness, the drive down to Los Angeles, their first impressions of me—not my own memories, of course, but the story as it was told to me many times.  As a child, I thought the adoption agency was like a big grocery store, where my parents walked down the aisles, looking for just the right baby.  It never made me feel anything but special and this is entirely to their credit. 

November, aside from being National Novel Writing Month (go fellow nanowrimos! and yes, I’ve got my word count done for the day), is also National Adoption Month.  Here’s the official proclamation from the president.  I think it’s beautifully stated.

It’s an issue near and dear to my heart, and I thought I’d give some helpful advice as you navigate through the month. 

First, although it is indeed a special process, children procured through adoption aren’t, eventually, any different from any others.  They don’t have to be referred to at parties as “the Smith’s adopted daughter.”  If the Smiths have shown up with a previously unknown twelve-year-old, maybe some introductions are in order but really, otherwise it doesn’t matter.  And this applies, I would think, especially to cases where the child in question is obviously not a dropping from the family apple tree, genetically speaking.  If you are genuinely curious about the adoption, by all means—ask.  But after some time, not as an introduction. 

Another item:  someone’s “real” mother is the one who provided the clothing and food, the hugs and encouragement, the punishment and direction.  You know, the one who loves you no matter what an ass you can be at times.  If you have a relationship with your other mom, the one who was brave enough to offer you a better life than what she could offer at the time…well, that person is the “biological” mother.

These are just my opinions.  After all, it’s my blog.  Adoption has been an important aspect of my life.  I wrote my first novel based on my experiences of finding my biological family, and being chosen in this special way has given me an appreciation for all real families, built however people choose to build them.  If you’re an adoptee and curious, you can start here, as I did.  But there are countless online resources available now.  On the political side, you can learn about the efforts to unseal adoption records in California here
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka