Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Humble Pen

I don't think I am unique among writers as a chronic sufferer of writer's block. In fact, show me a writer who feels inspired about what they are writing every time they write, and I, in turn, will produce a mythical white elephant. On occasion, words really do just flow out "like endless rain into a paper cup," but most of the time--for me, at least--it is a constant struggle to render the story I see in my head into words.

Now, I am a computer person. I have been typing, NOT handwriting, school notes on a computer since my sophomore year of college. Likewise, I have written almost every word of fiction first on this...

...then this...
...then this...
...and now this:

And you know what? I like typing, I do. It's fast; it is easily editable. Quickly made, quickly undone. 

BUT--and as Pee Wee Herman would say, we all have a big BUT, so let's talk about my big BUT--I have discovered that by transferring my thoughts directly from brain to computer, I lose an important aspect in the process of Creation: Chaos.

I get in these ruts where I'm not quite sure what happens next. I know the overall arc of the story, but in the meantime a lot of little things have to happen, and a lot of minute details have to flesh out these happenings. People have to live in houses. (What kind?) Occasionally, they have to eat food. (Where? When? What?) They speak a certain way. (How?) They want things. They hate things. They love things... (What, what, what things?) It is in all of this minutiae that I begin to lose interest in a story, and the dreaded Block sets in. Last week, after a couple weeks of not working on a story I had previously been REALLY excited about, I recognized the warning signs of Block: that feeling of "I have this great story, and I have the plot all mapped out, but I would gladly pay someone to just fill in all of the stupid little details so I could get to the important plot points. And I don't want to sit and braindump into the manuscript on my computer because it will just CLUTTER IT UP..."

And that's when it hit me. I have a pretty impressive collection of mostly empty notebooks that have been given to me or I have bought thinking I will take them with me wherever I go and record all my observations. I don't do this. Ever. So these notebooks just pile up, gathering dust and waiting around to be useful. Last week as I pondered what to do about not wanting to clutter up my MS with notes, I picked up one of these notebooks--a simple, blue, spiral-bound affair--and simply began free-writing, not worrying about form, language, structure, narrative, penmanship, etc....  Just freewriting. Letting my pen echo the images in my brain. No editing. No pressure. Just...creation. 

It was so. so. liberating! I discovered that I do not suffer writer's block for lack of material: the details wrote themselves almost before I could even process them. No, I suffer from fear of mediocrity. I want to put my thoughts into something perfect, or nearly so, right from their inception in my brain to the MS on my computer. Truthfully, it is a bit like trying to put a puzzle together by pulling only one piece out of the bag at a time and trying to guess where it goes. To do so is to skip that crucial, chaotic moment where you dump ALL of the pieces onto the table, sift through them, see what they are, and THEN begin to bring some order to them. You have to see them all first. 

In a writerly sense, this sometimes requires closing my computer, and pulling out pen and paper and just letting things spin as they will.

--Paul Simon

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Night on the Town

...Or, In Which a Potentially Bad Idea Turns into a Really Good One

So, we live in Vegas, right? Blah blah blah, The Strip, yadda yadda. "The Strip," for those who may not precisely know, is a relatively short stretch of Las Vegas Blvd that houses some of the world's most expensive hotels (certainly some of its most ridiculous) as well as providing a venue for the world's most obnoxious tourists. I'm not kidding. It's a playground for otherwise sane people to come and be total a**h****s for a weekend. It should come as no surprise, then, that we do not make our way over to Le Strip very often, preferring to stay in our nice, quiet suburbs. In fact, even to cross over it to get to the other side is a royal nightmare.

Here's a joke for you: Why did the chicken cross The Strip? He didn't. He knew better than to try. He either took 215 around the south end or 515 around the north. He certainly didn't try to cross at Flamingo Road because he didn't want to get stuck between Caesar's Palace and the Bellagio waiting for a hundred clueless pedestrians to stop crossing against traffic.

I digress.

It had been a few months since we'd been to the Strip. The last two times, respectively, were trips to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay on the extreme south end--which in terms of the Strip barely amounts to dipping one's toes. But this time we really set out to do some exploring deep into the heart of darkness. For those of you throwing up your hands, asking, "Why?! Why sell out? Why go at all?" Let me tell you what happens when you live in a tourist town: People come to visit. People want to see what the place is famous for. People want the insider's scoop on where to go and when, what to eat, how much to spend, what to see, etc. It may not be important for some, but for me, it is important to be able to answer these questions. Also, it can be fun to go on recon missions, which is essentially what our night out on the town was. Friday night's destination was the MGM Grand* and M&Ms World.

Once inside, we began to look for somewhere to eat. Eating on the Strip is tricky, especially if you're poor. (We're poor.) There are plenty of delicious places to eat, but they almost uniformly charge through the nose. So we thought we'd look out for something mid-price or hit up one of the many food courts. Minutes later, we stumbled upon this neapolitan pizza place that looked good. It was a little pricy, but not exorbitant, and we were really hungry. After we both got our pizzas and got to the cashier, the guy informed us that our pizzas--and drinks, if we wanted them--were on the house. Whaaaaa....?

After gathering our jaws off the floor, we took our free $30 meal and began eating in exhilarated silence. I couldn't take it anymore, though. I had to know why it was free. In fact, I couldn't believe how many people were getting free food! When I asked, they told me they hadn't officially opened as a restaurant and were training their employees. Mystery solved. But what an incredible case of being in the right place at the right time! The pizza was good, too! Needless to say, Project Pie (for thus it was called) has earned another visit from the Mumfords, and we will happily pay for our meal next time. When we have the money. Ahem.

M&Ms World is a landmark on the Strip. It is four stories of wall-to-wall M&M merchandise, which is fun if you're a tourist, I guess, and are dying to spend your money on kitsch. We were quite charmed, though. It was fun to look around and see all the clever ways M&Ms tries to inject its product into everyday American life. My favorite things were the M&M-shaped beach towels. Oh yeah. I totally want one of those. What we DID end up spending money on was a 1 1/2 pound $20 bag of mixed M's from this Wall O' Deliciousness.

Oh, I'm sorry. Let's try that again. 

THIS Wall O' Deliciousness! ^^

My dad is just a little bit crazy about M&Ms. I think he would have died and gone to Chocolate Heaven if he had been there. Totally worth it. And the best part is, it's 100% kid-friendly, which is a bonafide rarity on the Strip. Riding the high of our success with dinner and the heady rush of a frivolous $20 spent on candy, we even stepped in to watch their little 10-minute 3D movie, which was annoying in all the ways that 3D stuff is annoying, and totally charming at the same time. It was a delight to be surrounded by children and families.

All in all, we had us a grand ol' time. We also went to Coke world. Didn't get anything there. But we want to go back when friends are in town and get the $7 sample tray of sodas from all over the world. We're learning about our town, people! 50%, if not 100%, of people who come to visit us already know more about what to do here in Vegas. But we are learning!

*Had I known Madonna was performing at MGM that night, I would not perhaps have chosen to park there, but all's well that ends well; we did score a spot.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hair 2.0

Got my hair cut back in July and just recently had it trimmed. Here's the latest.

I probably will have to stop blondifying it after this time. It's just too expensive. But I am loving short hair. Here's one where I look a little happier.

Ok, self-portraits are awkward on so many levels. I'm done.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Turn

Sunday afternoon, there came a soft knock at our door. I looked out the peephole and saw a stranger waiting patiently on our owl doormat with an orange paper plate of cookies. I opened the door, smiling expectantly. We didn't know each other. But she knew of me. She had my name and address on a piece of paper.

I apologized for taking so long to get to the door. We talked for a minute. She asked me if we had any family in Nevada. I shook my head. Neither did she. We commiserated. My smile was genuine. My cheerfulness real.

She didn't know that five minutes ago--two minutes ago, actually--I had been curled up on the bed, sobbing into my husband's shoulder. That it had taken me a minute or two to compose myself before opening the door.

She didn't know of the depression that I have felt with the onset of fall--the fall that hasn't come yet. The days shorten, yet there remains the monotonous luster and still-hot weather of summer. All I long for is crisp air, the smell of apples and rotting leaves. More than that, familiar voices and faces. How could she know any of this? She didn't.

Yet, there she was on my porch with an offering of cookies and friendship and the promise of another visit. It was a small thing, but after I closed the the door, I was overwhelmed--I was speechless--which is appropriate when one has been attended to so manifestly and palpably by their God.

And, let me be clear that these sorts of things never rarely happen to me. I guess it was my turn.