Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday, a young mother and her son were sitting on the floor in the office waiting area and she was trying to encourage him to start walking. While seated, she would stand him up, let him go, and then encourage him to step forward. Although he was enjoying himself (at least, he was smiling as hugely as possible at those of us passing through waiting area), he tended to lean forward and fall toward her rather than walking. Each time he leaned and began to fall, she caught him. He was having fun falling forward.

I was reminded of him this morning in B&N, as I was poking through the new book shelves and came across an illustrated book about snowmen after dark. At a certain age, you could fall into a book like that and be caught every time by the artwork and the story. Living here in southern Texas, an illustrated book of snow and snowmen pretty much counts as fantasy literature, too.

Not that I imagine that there arms out there waiting to catch me, but I miss that sense of falling forward into wonder, the excitement of not-quite-able-to-catch-yourself that requires trust that something is there to catch you. Lately, I've lost this trust both as a writer and a person. This means that I'm not letting myself go with the stories that I'm working on. Years ago, I would have just slammed out whatever I was feeling. Jealous of a cousin's perceived good fortune? Blam! Short story about children fighting in the dirt hills of a local construction site.

Does this make for great literature? Sometimes, although not for me. What it does is connect me more thoroughly to my inner writer rather than my inner editor/pessimist. My inner writer...let's call her Betty, for the part of me who trusts herself. Betty is not willing to say that she's happy taking on something that makes her uncomfortable. Betty does not believe she's useless because she had another birthday or doesn't have kids. Betty believes that she's incredibly fortunate to be alive, to have a Frappucino and a few minutes to stare at all the people in the cafe and the freedom to reimagine them. She's not embarrassed by her lack of publishing credits. She believes you should be embarrassed because your tomato crop wasn't accepted by Whole Foods' supply chain last season. Betty can be bitchy.

I don't trust Betty. Lately, I'm not willing to give her than a few tiny sheets of notebook paper on which to scrap novel. She's trying to encourage me to fall back in with her (aaahhhh!!! metaphor torture!!!! stop with "falling"!) while there are others who are encouraging me to pack her away and stop stumbling around. To get over myself. I think I'd rather have a chorus line of snowmen. Even if they don't catch you, the snow angels will.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Books and Piles

Last night my brother popped into his son's room at my parent's house--they're just down the street and so their guest room becomes my nephew's default room unless someone kicks him out while visiting my parents, as I was that night--and grabbed a thin book out of the stack at the foot of the bed.

A bookshelf had been moved out of the room and piles of books lined the hallway. Mom had made a stab at separating the books that had belonged to each of us as kids and I'd added the book my brother was now holding to my stack. Of course, it had been in the house since I'd been in elementary school (quick quiz--can you name every teacher from kindergarten through fifth grade? Second grade drops out for me.) and I remembered reading it; however, he remembered buying it at a book fair and was determined to keep it there.

When it comes to a digital chunk of books that we've lost ownership of and stacks of old electronic devices, have we lost anything?

Neither of us had read the book under contention in years but last night I did read a couple of teen romances I think I might have borrowed (by now, permanently) from a friend. They were awful, full of the kind of syrup and rigid character roles you find in mediocre sitcoms. Compared to the stuff teens have today, these are middle-grade at best. I remember reading them and envying the lip-glossed/perfect hair heroines and trying to fit those crazy rigid structures over my own experiences. Silly as they are, I've brought them home to live on our bookshelves.

As we share the space where we used to live, the books where our imaginations used to live scatter. If this stacks end up somewhere like Half Price, who's going to read them? We're talking about teens who are waiting by phones that are attached to the wall. Is it better to have those experience dissolve into the past? These are farcical relics--the "historical documents" of Galaxy Quest.

Guess NaNo does this to me. As I scramble to fill up the 50k word quota this month, I start to think about whether my obsession with books makes me a writer, a hoarder, or just a Former English Lit Major. And why my normally not-much-of-a-reader brother is so obsessed with his old books.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Souls Day, NaNo Day 1

Food Court, Willowbrook Mall.

I'm hiding behind a giant styrofoam container of blackened chicken and rice. It's too early for coteries of tired shoppers; instead, a thin sprinkling of workmen, mall walkers, small families, and sales people rime the outer tables of the food court. Despite the background patter, the place seems quiet. I am cushioned in a crinkling bubble wrap of noise. It is too loud for desultory speech to carry, even that of the center fountain's linear falls of municipal water. Men are the predominant singletons.

Perhaps I have ordered the Polyglot Medley, summoning my surroundings like a dish from one of the ambiguously ethnic rice & meat places from which I have ordered my own lunch. This is the beginning of my daily 1700 words. For now they are coming at an orderly pace, like a stream of cars exiting a freeway. Some thoughts slip forward, connected to observations and memories that aren't related to this exit, to this place.

More people come to the court and the balance shifts toward women singletons. Perhaps to parity. I don't bother to count because the Day Crowd has begun to weave through the outer tables.

A few years ago, I noticed them. Constrained to constant unobserved motion, by age or custom, they will break out at night into the slow, glittery, loud clusters of chaos that mark the mall at dusk. The Day Crowd becomes the Evening Crowd. They are magic--which has both steady ritual and random flash. We call for it and wait upon it. Its answers pinch us or sting us or amaze us, according to whim.

At all times, this is their court.

For a place dedicated to food, little smell of food lingers. The predominant scent at this table is soap, mop water predominates at other, and fried starch is limited to those tables on which it rests. The Day Crowd--working their ritual--keep erasing the traces of what came before. Once a table is left, all the symbols etched in the air and on the surface are effaced.

Every set is removed as it is inscribed. This is Day, and everything must pass the test of the sun--it must be blank enough to give back the light. I slide the notebook closer to me, careful to keep my notes in my own shadow and the bright white pages that I am defacing with text away from the sun bars falling on nearby tables.

When the Evening Crowd arrives, the electric lights won't have the kingship sunlight possesses. They will laugh and shriek to each other, draw dark lines around their eyes and lips so that the shadows recognize them, and become careless of the marks they leave and the words they utter. They Day Crowd comes early to clear away the workings.

Who can hear the shadows under this rumble anyway? This sea of sound beneath the sun, this aquarium of discourse, is more than enough to pacify them. The light roils the words and drops dark images of the pale slats upon the tables and floor. Any leftover incisions or scrawls would disturb the crisp images. The Day Crowd will leave no such remnants.

Even now, a few of them wander past my table. One casually brushes someone's earlier leavings from beside me. I smother the writing with my forearm and shovel another forkful of rice into my mouth. The Evening Crowd forgets. All of the formality of the Day, the stories, the morals, the memories, are written in lines and marks on the Day Crowd. They cannot efface themselves until the sun sinks and the forgetfulness takes them. Until then, everything else must be cleaned away and rewritten, or overwritten, on their silence.

Each sliver of sound becomes something I must see. Schools of sound becomes songs or ads or family discussions and most flash past without breaking their rhythm. An old Simon and Garfunkel song whispers to me. The Day Crowd moves in silence, but they are drawing closer. Soon they will ask if I am done, signalling that I must move on. It is late in the year; the turn toward evening will take place this afternoon. I can feel the tide in the conversation, running higher toward a brightness just after noon.

Then something clear--a silver whisper from the double shadow of body and table beside me. I get up, lunch over, concentration broken.

It is only as I'm driving home that I look up and see at an intersection a cloud, then a dappled shadow, then a white van turning the corner that I remember the Day Crowd is part of who I am becoming. I have forgotten the evening for the pattern of my days. Was the whisper earlier a question? When will forget myself and answer?