Hope and Harmony

In January, I finally finished revisions on my second book, The Supper Club. It took longer than I would have liked, but last year was full of juggling: the Fuller Award for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, work on the comic book, the death of an old friend, and the decline and death of two of my grandparents. Mixed in were creative moments and misadventures with the kids, coffee and wine with friends, and time spent writing.

I vowed that I would finish the rewrite of The Supper Club by the end of 2012, and I did at 4am on January 1st,. I gave the draft to my readers for a quick read through, then I revised accordingly.

forelornhope
Forlorn Hope 2011 Ost-Intrigen (more information at: http://forlornhopewines.com/)

The night I finished The Supper Club, I opened this bottle of wine given to me by a friend and signed by the winemaker, Matthew Rorick. It seemed a fitting way to toast the trials and triumphs of the past year.

Trillian Stars with the kids. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Trillian Stars with the kids at Casa del Lobos. © 2013 Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

The new year continued with visits from some of my favorite people: Maura Henn, Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars, as well as a party in their honor  that included a house concert by Bittersweet Drive.

Bittersweet Drive plays at Chez Lindsay's. © 2013 Photo by 8 Eyes Photography
Bittersweet Drive plays at Chez Lindsay’s.
© 2013 Photo by 8 Eyes Photography

You can read Maura’s account of the wonderful weekend on her blog. A few of us also participated in the Chicago chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s all-day reading of Pride and Prejudice on the 20oth Anniversary of the novel’s publication (orchestrated by the amazing Debra Ann Miller). It was fun to read Mrs. Bennet for an hour and be a part of the event which included readers from the Jane Austen Society, Terra Mysterium, local writers Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Santoro, Victoria Noe, and others.

"Pride and Prejudice" Readers for Chapters 18-23: (left to right): Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Victoria Noe, Maura Henn, and Madeline C. Matz.
“Pride and Prejudice” Readers for Chapters 18-23: (left to right): Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Victoria Noe, Maura Henn, and Madeline C. Matz. © 2013 Photo by 8 Eyes Photography

So it’s 2013, and I am back to writing in earnest. As I try to carve out a routine that works, I keep thinking about the idea of “finding balance” in life. As I try to squeeze everything into my day (and night), it’s a recurring theme.

When most people today talk about balance, they use the metaphor of scales: life on one side of the scale and work on the other. The challenge lies in making the two sides balance.

Perhaps it’s the wrong metaphor for balance. It’s not the right one for me. I prefer the image of a mobile, like those of Alexander Calder, with many different parts of my life suspended and in motion, swinging around as I shift my position and my focus. That sounds a lot more like my day-to-day: elements swirling around, moving in and out of the foreground.

One person’s chaos is another’s harmony.

"Streetcar" by Alexander Calder
“Streetcar” by Alexander Calder at the Art Institute of Chicago

Words ripe and juicy

Words.

When I see light hit the tree branches during a December sunset on a particularly calm day, and it reminds me of the way life is fragile and hope is present even if for a fleeting moment, I try to translate it into words.

When my husband is lying on an ER table during a heart attack in the middle of the night, pale but joking with nurses, and at the same time asking to talk with our oldest daughter on the phone (“just in case”), I want to translate it into words.

Maybe it’s because words help me: to make sense, to share, to save any given moment. I know friends who do this with photography, “capturing” life.  For me it’s words. It has always been words.

A few years ago, I read an article about Love Languages in which the author, Dr. Gary Chapman discusses five different ways that people express their love:

Words
Time/attention
Gifts
Acts of service
Physical touch

It’s no surprise that for me, it’s touch and words.

If I give you a hug, I mean it. If I tell you I love you, I really mean it.

Words.

I surround myself with them. Collecting books like lost photographs in an ancestral album. Together they tell a story, even as they each have their own voice.  Separately, they are a gift to be treasured.

Words are like leaves at the bottom of particularly delicious cup of tea (for me, a cup of Fortnum & Mason’s Russian Caravan, black). If I love them, I look into them, trying to see beyond the story, beyond the living characters, beyond the beautiful sounds, into the poetry that lies at their heart: the magic of the words.

Children understand the poetry, the magic. I’ve watched my three as I read to them, cherished stories or new adventures. I love when we discover the magic together; it’s one of my favorite things in all the world. It’s the reason my next book was written for children.

So as we begin a new calendar year, I find the urge to look back with words. I am always aware of “how much has been written.” But this isn’t about “how much.” I’m not placing each word to be weighed on the Goddess Maat’s scale. The answer to that would be: not enough. There are always more words to be written.

The stories are there, the character clamoring for attention, but the last year, 2011, was heavier with life than written words. Some years are like that, and though I wish I had made time for more words, I understand that sometimes life happens. Sometimes new babies are born, heart attacks happen, blueberry girls must be blessed, family members in crisis happen, pillow forts occasionally need to be built, and towers of doom must be played with. There are times when we need to put the pen aside to be present.

And yet, there were still words. Here on the blog, on facebook, and on twitter, I have a way to record moments and share them. I still have my notebook for story fragments and plot ideas, but the internet has created a community that wasn’t possible for a writer who would likely spend much of her time in a room, or perhaps out walking, or maybe sipping coffee in a café…alone. Marvelously, the internet has brought many of us who would be solitary together, so that we can be alone and also connected.

So late one September evening, when my husband was in the hospital after a heart attack, I didn’t really want to talk, not even to my father who sat beside me in the waiting room, but I could send out a few tweets. I could shout out a moment of fear and heartache. The miracle of twitter and email and facebook, was that people responded. Friends offered to come by or call, but their messages of support were enough, those words across time and space were exactly what I needed. Thank you to everyone who sent prayers and energy.I thought about Twitter a lot after that, because it’s such a strange creature, something my generation did not grow up with and many have resisted. Some friends love facebook, others text constantly, or skype, or tumblr. We all seem to adopt different technological tools depending on our needs and personalities.

I still prefer the online journal because it allows me to meander, and I am coming to appreciate tumbler as it lets me collect different bits, but I like twitter best. I’ve come to the following conclusion: Tweets are like dehydrated fruit.

Rotten grapes make rotten raisins, but the best fruit—robust peaches, sweet apples, and other juicy delicacies make delicious dried fruits. Twitter can be like that. Much of it is forgettable, most of it is ordinary and that’s ok. Some of it is terrible, but occasionally it can be wonderful.

Words. Carefully chosen words:

Happy. New. Year.

Three words to hold so much, like a tiny tweet.

The year has begun. It’s a new page.

Happy? What makes it happy? What makes you happy?

Whatever it is, I hope you find it. I hope that you fill your new page with words ripe and juicy and bursting with potential.

Happy New Year.

A Month’s Time

My last entry was one month ago. I need to update more regularly because a month seems daunting when so much has happened. So I’ll be (relatively) brief.

In between a holiday in the desert (a landscape I love more and more) and wonderful visits from friends, I finished Book #2. Woo hoo! After some feedback I will soon begin a session of revision.

I like that part: revision–smoothing out the rough bits. The sculpture is there, it’s on the table. I know what it wants to be, but it need a little buffing, some chiseling, and polishing. Hard work, but I can see an end.

(And I am so excited to share it with you!)

During this last month I also took a class on comic writing with writer Michael Moreci at the Newberry Library (this glorious library deserves its own post, but for now I say, “Go there! Where else can you see collections that “span the history and culture of western Europe from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century and the Americas from the time of first contact between Europeans and Native Americans” for free? Truly a Chicago treasure. Go!)

I am inspired by folks like Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill and a handful of others who tell their stories the way their stories need to be told, whether that’s as a novel, a comic book, a poem, a film, a play, and so on. I believe there is a valuable lesson is recognizing that stories come in all shapes and sizes.

The class was wonderful for someone like me, unschooled in the craft of comic/graphic novel writing but eager to learn. Plus once a week I got to read books, do homework, and go to class  (I haven’t done that as a student in nearly 2 decades).

Clearly the others in the class had read much more than I; my experience is limited to comics of my youth and college forays into Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and a few others. I felt out of my league with these students who lived and breathed comics for the last few decades, throwing around issues and arcs in our discussions. But they were kind and allowed me to ask many (probably obvious to them) questions.

It was wonderful to break it all apart: read classics and new incarnations, learn about the process of crafting a series, a graphic novel, a re-imagined character. Joe Hill’s Locke & Key was terrific and Moore’s Swamp Thing blew me away, Wil Eisner’s instruction books are a great resource,  and Moreci is a patient, informed, and generous instructor.

Then I had to write a comic script.

My brain broke a bit, in a good way, because when it came back together, I learned things.

Writing is a joy for me, even when challenging, but this was new and didn’t come naturally for me. There were so many new things to think about: Panels! Perspective! Words in captions that cannot go on and on for pages! Ah brevity, we meet again, and I have more to learn. Descriptions that will only be read by an artist! Panels! Pages!

In the beginning I was paralyzed. How many panels? How do I choose? Which perspective? Closer or farther? How do I say something in the most concise way possible?

*Here I thank Twitter for recent 140 constraints that have helped to teach me about trimming down my natural tendency to be verbose. 😉 *

It was writing, but a bit like learning a sestina or villanelle for the first time: it was work.

But I LOVED it! I loved having to stretch outside my comfort zone and take risks. I know I made mistakes, but I look forward to learning from them. We discuss the pieces next week. I can’t wait to read the other students’ scripts. It’s fun to have something so complex to learn and explore.

I tried to explain why I found it challenging to a non-writer friend. When I write, it’s almost like uncovering a sculpture from the marble (a la Michelangelo):

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
-Michelangelo

But with comic writing, it’s like trying to create a human body, with all those interconnected systems. The script is like the skeleton, and even though I am not going to make the muscles, skin, etc., I need to have an idea of what they are going to look like and give instructions for their construction. There’s so much to consider. It’s not just the form, it’s all that stuff underneath. Comic writing is about guts.

Now, of course I know that good writing is also layered and complex. I love allusion more than most. I also know that not all comics are that complicated. However, the metaphor helped when I tried to explain the way the process felt to me. The closest thing I could compare it to is the surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse exercise (and we’re back to the body metaphor.)

Good things on the horizon: a few more trips, some fun parties, and then glorious Autumn with her cooler temperature and the natural inclination to turn inward as the Earth prepares to slumber. Nice to remember as the temperatures soar: it is only temporary.

Soon the wheel will turn again.

I hope to write more and often again before then.

Celebrating.