Friday, June 20, 2008

Where Did the Week Go?: A Procrastination Journal

So it's Friday and I'm staring at my computer once again, wondering why I haven't even written one paragraph in Chap. 16 since last week. I have to get moving; I need to finish it for my lovely critique group to review on July 9, and I'm going to be away at TKD Nationals from June 30 to July 5. I should have been inspired after the writers' conference I attended this past weekend; so why am I stuck? In the same way that dieters keep a food journal to keep track of what they're actually eating, I thought I would detail what I did this week to see what I'm actually doing. Warning: this is not for the faint of heart. (Or easily ashamed—Oh, that would be me. Here goes anyway.)

7:00 am—Why am I up at 7 am? I could sleep in for another hour. Give up, do morning routine of shower, tea, breakfast, etc.
8:30—Take Boy to marching band practice.
9:00—I have been inspired by conference, but not to write, only to send in a picture book manuscript to one of the editors who attended. Spend morning tweaking cover letter, hoping that arrival of manuscript one week after conference signals "professional, organized writer" and not "delusional, overeager wannabe."
1:00—We still have houseguests; take them around town (including stop at post office to mail manuscript, yay!) and have nice chat.
3:00—Return to computer, open up Chap. 16, then give up (mailing manuscript counts as "real work"), and play solitaire. Help prepare dinner.
7:00—Attend mandatory meeting for Marching Band parents. Get free cookies and sign up for more ways to procrastinate volunteer events.

7:30 am—Seriously, why can't I sleep in until 8? Morning routine.
8:30—Take Boy to practice.
9:00—Finally finish reading Moby Dick. Yay!
9:30—Realize I neglected the blog yesterday. My mom will complain. Add Photo of the Week Entry and Review of Moby Dick. Celebrate with a couple of solitaire games.
11:30—I promised our British houseguest a shopping trip. Take her to the big mall I never go to because it's so big. (Sigh. It's a rough job, but someone has to do it.)
3:30—Return. Smile at new pair of sandals. Start load of laundry. Open Chap. 16. Look at it, find Solitaire game while I try to remember what happens next. Give up; fetch the mail; make dinner plans.

7:00 am—Something is wrong with my internal clock. Damn summer solstice. Morning routine ensues.
8:30—Take Boy to practice.
9:00—Take guests to airport.
10:00—Return home, check e-mail, look at blog to see if anyone's commented on my exciting prose. See "0 Comments"; look at Jacqui's blog for new entries. Add comment that's much more amusing than anything I write here. And at least someone else will read it.
11:00—Go to doctor for clicky knee; learn braces won't help and surgery doesn't work; given prescription to build muscles around joint and use ice and Advil. Pretty much what I already knew, except for the bit about the brace.
12:30—Since doctor's office is near the animal shelter, go do my weekly volunteer work as a Cat Comforter. There are 10 cages of kittens needing attention, plus an Abyssinian was just brought in as a stray so I have to check her out.
3:00—Do two more loads of laundry. Open up Chap. 16 again, review what little I've already written, then add a sentence or two. Play a game or two of solitaire, review new sentences, delete as unsuitable.
5:30—Realize I've forgotten to review this week's critique group submission. Start reading and making notes furiously.
7:30—Meet critique group. Stuff my face with tasty Whole Foods treats Talk about silly stuff and complain Make thoughtful, incisive comments about my fellow writers' work.

7:30 am—Morning routine.
8:30—Drop Boy off.
9:00—Do grocery shopping.
10:30—Realize I've forgotten to do my knee exercises. Learn that they take almost an hour to complete.
11:30—Realize I haven't done any real training since last week. Go for 6-mile bike ride, making stops at bank and library to run errands. Return Moby Dick and pick up House of the Seven Gables. Rejoice that Hawthorne's classic has only 300 pages, with probably no mention of whale heads in any of them.
12:30—Lunch, which includes tasty side dish of Advil and ice for my knee.
1:00—Open up Chap. 16. Get interrupted by Gigi; write post about mewing silly kitty.
2:30—Look at Chap 16 again. Wonder what editor I sent previous novel to is up to; check her blog. Check links to blogs of other agents/editors. Snicker at how they make fun of people who ask silly questions. Realize I shouldn't be snickering until I actually sell novel.
4:30—Go back to Chap. 16 again. Feel guilty that I haven't written anything all week; then feel stupid for feeling guilty when no one will probably ever publish it anyway. Turn off computer in frustration.
5:30—Boy forgot to pick up stuff from Band. Run out to pick it up. Make dinner.

8:00 am—Finally! I sleep in until 8! Unfortunately, I could have slept later, as marching band practice isn't until noon today. Morning routine.
9:00—Do knee exercises while catching up on six-month-old TIVO recording.
10:00—Oh, dear, I've neglected the accounts, too. Spend morning paying bills and balancing checkbook.
11:30—Take Boy to practice. Run a couple of errands. Eat lunch.
1:00—Detail sad history of procrastination on blog.

So instead of writing, I've sent a manuscript to an editor; done three loads of laundry; maintained the family finances; gone to the doctor; socialized over two dozen kittens; made four shopping trips; written four blog entries; finished reading a classic American novel I should have read in college; made half a dozen trips as chauffeur; looked up how to spell "chauffeur"; worked on building up my knee and my stamina; and played a few dozen games of solitaire.

Oh well, I still have the rest of the afternoon, write?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Feline Anti-Literacy Brigade, Part 3

I was going to write a post today about why I like writing for children—my inspirations and all that stuff—but then Gigi walked into the room, said "Mrrrow!," rubbed against my hand, and allowed me to pick her up and cut her claws. This is a rare honor, indeed, and is her way of telling me that it's her turn to be featured in this blog. And actually, I may write a version of Gigi's story for kids some day, so maybe it's not such a distraction after all. It's a rough draft, that's it!

This was Gigi when we first met her, five years ago. After we returned from London to our house in Michigan, we discovered that during the year it lay vacant, feral cats had discovered the deck was a nice, quiet, protected place to have kittens. The first litter we discovered managed to escape before we could trap them, but a few months later we did capture another mother and her older kitten (too wild, unfortunately, to be tamed). The next summer we saw yet another litter of three, and managed to trap them all. Not really knowing what I was in for, but determined to help the baby kitties, I stuck them in the bathroom and tried to tame them down. They freaked out whenever I came in, but they were small enough that I could catch them and handle them. I hoped I could get them used to human contact by feeding them and petting them.

As you can see from the photo, the Gray Growler (as she was first known) did not like that idea at all. She cowered with her siblings (a blond brother and a tortie sister) and growled and hissed every time I came near. She also made the other kitties growl and hiss, despite the tasty food my wondrous Opposable-Cat-Food-Can-Opening-Thumbs produced. You really don't want to know what she did to the tub to show her displeasure. (The tub, thankfully, has since been replaced.)

I was calling shelters and rescues all over the place, seeing if they could tame the kittens. They were all full up, but gave me lots of useful advice. The first was to separate the three kittens, as that way they would get lonely and tame down more quickly. After redecorating a couple of bedrooms with tarps and cages, we had each kitten in its own room. And lo! Blondie and Trixie (the tortie) were soon trotting up to me when I entered the room, eager for food and petting. After a few weeks they were ready for adoption, and found new homes within a week.

The Gray Growler, however, ran away from me when I entered her room. She would sit on my lap and eat from a dish on my knees, but she growled the whole time. (This produces a very amusing nyow nyow nyow sound.) And unlike her siblings, while I could pet her, I couldn't get her to purr. Finally my friend Barb (another feline devotee) suggested I purr at her first. So I tried it. I sat her on my lap, let her growl through dinner, and then petted her, making little purring noises with my throat. I felt silly, but after a couple of minutes I was rewarded with a return purr.

Over the next couple months our Gray Growler turned into a Gray Geiger (she has a very LOUD purr), and thus into GG aka Gigi. My other half graciously allowed that we could keep her, seeing as she was still way too skittish to easily find another home. We introduced her to Callie and Clio, she explored the whole house, and she discovered that it is fun to sit on research packets and prevent me from working!

So that is Gigi's story. I know you're not supposed to have favorites among your kids, but with cats it's probably okay. While all my kitties have their lovable sides, I have to admit Gigi is my favorite. She is so skittish that I feel really special when she decides to sit on the back of my chair or allow me to pick her up. Plus, she is the only one of my felines who actually sleeps on my bed—almost always awakening me upon arrival with her loud purring—and every night we play "milk ring hockey" on the staircase. Plus, she has a really great story.

[getting on soapbox] As much as I love my Gigi, stories like hers wouldn't be so common if people would spay and neuter their pets. Nowadays there are even Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs to deal with feral cat populations and prevent more litters of unwanted kittens from inundating shelters. So please take care of your animal friends by sterilizing them! [/soapbox]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moby Dick: The Official Haiku Review

Finally. Two weeks after this post about how I was floundering around in Moby Dick, I have finished reading! And here is my official Remedial Lit Project Haiku Review of Melville's masterpiece:

Melville and Ahab
Both obsessed with great sperm whales
In deadly detail.

Now, in fairness, I can see why this novel has the reputation of an American classic. The last 100 pages are splendid. Some lovely descriptions, a sense of foreboding and passion driving the plot, great action, a tragic conclusion. (Whoops. I hope I didn't spoil the ending for you. You were thinking Ahab and Moby made up their differences and sailed off into the sunset together, right?) And the first 100 pages were pretty entertaining, too, as Melville introduced some interesting characters and how they find themselves enlisted in the Pequod's doomed voyage.

However, I can also see how easy it would be to make one of those "Abridged Illustrated Classics" out of the novel. Simply cut out the many, many chapters with such scintillating titles: "Cetology"; "Monstrous Pictures of Whales"; "Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales"; "Of Whales in Paint, in Teeth, etc." (those last three were consecutive, ye gods!); "The Whale as a Dish"; "The Sperm Whale's Head"; "The Right Whale's Head"; "The Tail," and so on, and so on, and so on and on and on. Now, as I wrote before, I can understand the need for some of this detail. Melville's contemporaries truly would have had no idea what whales were like--the immensity and scale of them, the hard work of harvesting them (shudder), the dangers of life at sea. And at times Melville writes compellingly on these subjects. But too many times the details aren't so compelling--they're overwhelming. It's like the college lecturer who drones on and on for an hour, only to get to the really interesting and important stuff in the last ten minutes of class.

Still, through perseverance and pure stubbornness, I managed to finish. I can now say, Yes! I barely survived have read Moby Dick!

Now onto Hawthorne, to whom Meville dedicated MD, "in token of my admiration for his genius." Let's hope he didn't inspire that dogged devotion to detail.

Photo of the Week--6/9/08

Our very first vacation after our move to London in the summer of 1998 was up to Yorkshire. We visited York, the second oldest city in England, and various sites around the county. This is a photo of Fountains Abbey, which according to the guidebooks is the largest monastic ruin in England. It was founded in 1132 by the Cistercian order, right next to a river; you can't see from this shot, but the ruins spread out over acres, and you can see where the kitchens and living quarters were, in addition to the large cathedral that served as the center of worship. This is my favorite shot from that trip; I love the play of light and shadow (lovely northern summer light), as well as the shape of the ruined staircase that is in the center of the photo.

It's actually funny that I should be making this post about Yorkshire today; on that trip, 10 years ago, we had a nice visit with my other half's aunt and uncle, who live in Yorkshire. That very same aunt and uncle are having a nice visit here with us in Michigan this week.