Tag Archives: Britain

Lovely start to the weekend

A few days back the Liebster award was bestowed upon this blog by Cheryl Fassett, thanks so much Cheryl!  Blog awards come with rules, and I have to admit that while I try to comply to the utmost of my abilities, there is one spot where I always fall short.  Instead of choosing a set number of fellow bloggers to tag, I invite anyone who reads my blog to accept the award, in part that anyone who keep coming back for more of my ramblings deserves several medals.  Also I like to share the wealth.  So, if you feel so inclined, have a go with the questions Cheryl posed to me.  Now, onto answering those queries…

1. Are you a blogger at heart or do you dream of writing novels, plays, poetry? What are your writing goals?

I’ve been blogging longer than I have been writing fiction, and while I am a fairly prolific blogger, writing novels, and recently a few short stories, is truly my calling.  I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger, but full-length manuscripts were always what I truly ached to create.  Publishing my first novel with a small press was a thrill, but independent publishing has been the answer to my dreams.  Now the rest is gravy.

2. Where have you travelled? Where do you dream of travelling?

I always wanted to visit Great Britain, from as far back as high school, in part due to my love for singer Kate Bush.  Imagine my shock when at the age of twenty-eight, my husband called from work, asking what I thought about moving to England!  On my thirtieth birthday, we flew into Manchester, were picked up in a taxi, then whisked to Yorkshire, where I spent eleven magical years.  We didn’t do a lot of traveling on the continent, but I loved Barcelona and Brussels.  Our kids enjoyed Disneyland Paris, but we all missed out on seeing Paris itself due to a stomach bug.  Scotland and Wales were stunning, and I was thrilled to visit Ireland, staying in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, the last stop of Titanic before she left for sea.  In America, I’ve spent time in the Midwest, Florida, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado.  To be truthful, other than Yorkshire and my native California, no other place comes close to settling in my heart.  If I could return to Britain, I would, if for no other reason than endless cups of tea, and the lengthy, if not always warm, summer days.

3. What are your greatest pet peeves?

Oh goodness, bad drivers, or what I constitute as poor driving; not using one’s indicator is a HUGE annoyance.  Those who run lights very late, it’s so unsafe.  Drivers who use the motorway as a speed course, or those who doggedly refuse to even attempt the basic limit and aren’t in the furthest right lane, oi!  I love to drive, but few things spark my ire more than ill-manners behind the wheel.

4. Do you have pets? If so, names please! If not, do you wish you did?

No pets, other than the hummingbirds who have adopted us.  My daughter’s basset hound Buttercup is as close to pets as I wish to be.

She is very sweet, but I'm glad she's just a grand-basset.

She is very sweet, but I’m glad she belongs to my daughter and son-in-law.

5. What super power do you wish you had?

None really.  Well, being able to hear a little more clearly would be appreciated.

6. What are your favorite books?

I love this question!  My all-time fave novel is In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan.  It’s slim, surreal, stupendous.  Non-fiction leads me to And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts, the history of AIDS written as the epidemic was still raging.  Haywire by Brooke Hayward is a beloved memoir, while Dorothy Day, A Radical Devotion by Robert Coles is my preferred biography.  As for poetry, Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes.  A powerful and poignant travel through the lives of the former British poet laureate and his late wife, American poet Sylvia Plath, Birthday Letters is part confessional, part tribute, and part dissection of love celebrated, then gone so deeply wrong.

7. What are you reading now?

The Last Hero: A Life Of Henry Aaron.  It’s a good read, although tedious in some of the baseball details.  Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth in total home runs, initially all I knew of him.  Right now the Milwaukee Braves have just won the 1957 World Series, Aaron carted off the field by his mostly white teammates after securing the victory.  What amazes is at the same time within this nation, a mob of white students beat several black students attempting to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

8. What is your best childhood memory?

The most outstanding memory, but not overly notable at the time, was when I was five, splashing in a dip in our front yard, where a large almond tree used to stand.  It was removed before I was born, growing too close to the house, leaving a sizable indentation in the lawn.  Not far was the swamp cooler, resting on stilts, pouring cold air into the house.  A short hose led from under the cooler, usually flopped onto the dry grass.  My sister, then three, and I would set the hose into the dip, creating a small pond for ourselves, basically to cool our feet.  Summers were very hot, sometimes in triple digits, and that cold water was a little bit of heaven.

One day, while dousing my toes, I knew I needed to go inside to ask my mum something.  From where the sensation occurred is lost to me, but what I gained in that query has sustained me all my life, bringing me to where I am this very moment, typing up these answers; I wanted to ask Christ to be my saviour.  All I recall is getting up from the grass, stomping my bare wet feet along the rather hot concrete of the front porch, then running inside, only one thing on my mind.  I don’t remember anything else but that set-up.  Yet what happened afterwards still dwells in my heart, forty-one years later.

9. What were you afraid of when you were 10?

I honestly can’t recall anything specific.

10. What is your favorite way to spend a day off?

Walking along the ocean with my husband, then getting a sweet at one of our favourite places.  Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola springs to mind.

11. Do you have a day job? What do you do to pay the bills?

Writing is my day job.  I’m blessed that my husband’s career covers our expenses.

11 Random Facts About Me

1. Only recently have I come to embrace the joy that are post-it notes.

2. I know one crochet stitch, a double stitch, and have no desire to learn any others.

3. I can drink lattes luke-warm, but tea has to be hot.

4. The only jazz vocalist I listen to is Blossom Dearie. (But I adore a plethora of jazz musicians.)

5. I make bookmarks and coasters (for cups and saucers) using Aida cloth that has been decorated with some amount of cross-stitching.

6. I still have all the 45 singles that I listened to when I was a young teenager.

7. I stopped eating French fries in 1996.  I quit drinking soda then too.

8. For all our years in Britain (and all my adoration of sports), I never embraced cricket or rugby, darts or snooker.

9. Since I was sixteen, I’ve worn Birkenstocks, but not the same pair all that time.

10. In 2005, I grudgingly started using a digital camera, mostly to easily post pictures onto my family blog.  Once I got the hang of it, I never returned to my film camera.

11. My favourite colour is blue.

The inner workings of a writer’s soul

As far as the eye can see

It’s like a field of daffodils, and I just don’t know which to pick, which to leave.  I have more plots than sense, notebooks stuffed with ideas, and paper clips, stories scattered like clumps of flowers on a fine spring morning.  Some will be harvested, placed in vases, for all to see.

Some will wither where they emerged from the ground, forgotten.

That’s one part of it.  The other part of my authorial soul is why I feel so compelled to consider the drama (always drama, most often with a capital D).  That’s harder to qualify; demons I’m chasing, compassion for the world around me, endless curiosity.  An overactive imagination that cannot be quelled without putting fictional names to pretend faces.  What in the world inspires me to spin yarns?

Because for as much as I covet office supplies, that is only one aspect of writing.

I know WHY I write what I do; my brother’s life was wrecked by drugs and the infliction of bigotry.  Themes of love, clemency, and equality are a result of that loss.  But I’ve been pondering plots long before my brother died; what was the impetus back then?  I can only say I had a melodramatic streak that was exacerbated by all the music I listened to, and maybe the soap operas I watched with my dad and grandmother.  (Dad broke his leg in a motorcycle accident when he was sixteen, and during his convalescence got hooked on As The World Turns.  Subsequently, I was a fan from before I knew any better.)  I enjoyed English class as a kid, although diagramming sentences wasn’t much fun.  I didn’t watch MTV because we only had three channels.  Maybe I worked out my own stories to songs, maybe that was it.

The mechanics of writing are easily defined; what sort of schedule one prefers, employing a computer, typewriter, or pen and paper.  First or third person, maybe even second, genres and lengths of manuscripts, all that is pretty straightforward, choices one makes after having decided to walk this plank.  Sometimes it truly feels like being shoved down the wobbly end of a board, wondering what awaits in the abyss.  Not often is it a field of daffodils.

But even the darkest pit harbors relief.  The first book I ever completed was a memoir written after my brother shot himself.  It included song lyrics, journal entries, and memories of our childhood, which had led me on one path, him on a very different road.  I found the end on a visit to Scotland, my youngest then six years old, talking about the loch: Mummy, they call them lochs here, not lakes.  It had been nearly a year since he died, since my life became something else entirely.  When we returned from that short holiday, I wrapped up the manuscript, not that my sorrow had abated, but the book was done.  All my life I had wanted to write a book.  The first one I finished wasn’t what I had ever dreamed.

I didn’t start writing fiction for another eight years.  Then, from the fall of 2007, I haven’t stopped.  I learned a great deal from my brother’s death, about myself and that I could write, but non-fiction wasn’t my heart’s true desire.  I had to walk through many fields of daffodils to find just the right ones; I love those with orange centers.

March 2007, our last spring in England.

March 2007, our last spring in England.

As a mum, I can be a mean mama, a joke in our household.  But I cannot abide cruelty, am baffled by unkindness.  I am stymied at many life choices, but I am also driven to understanding them, aching to realize situations that are not mine, but for God’s grace could be.  I want to know what makes the heart tick, be it in love, aggravation, empathy.  I can’t put an exact finger on WHY I need to write, other than to communicate what I see, what I don’t comprehend.  I came up with a novel idea yesterday, well, I’m always coming up with something that bugs or intrigues me, but today I’m going to start writing it, because, well, because I just have to.  Some books require intense plotting.  Some ask only for the moment.  The book I wrote about my brother started on the morning I learned of his death, within a journal entry, just trying to note the minute beginnings of a new life.  His was gone, mine had restarted.

I didn’t know it then, in September of 1997, but I had become a writer in the most dire of circumstances, just by scribbling words on a page.  That endures right to today.  I must tell these stories, the ache in my soul too great to stay stilled.

Practicing the craft

So since around 1992, I had story ideas.  At the time, three small children took most of my focus, but even those adorable sprites couldn’t quiet my overactive imagination.  I even managed a script for Beauty College Blues, plunking out an homage to my 1985-86 stint in beauty school, complete with references to Blake and Krystal Carrington (let’s see who can identify those monikers).  But screenwriting wasn’t my forte, plus we were getting ready to move to Britain.  I set aside the fiction, concentrating on motherhood, Yorkshire, homeschooling.  But ideas continued to simmer.

1993; they were my life, but within the gray matter, other ideas were spinning.

1993; they were my life, but within the gray matter, other ideas were spinning.

It took a decade after we landed in the UK for me to start writing.  I will note that after my brother died, I spent a year chronicling that loss, which did end up as a book of sorts, but memoirs aren’t the same as learning to write fiction.  My path on this noveling road began in autumn of 2006 when my eldest mentioned NaNoWriMo.  But that was just a starting point.  The real work began in 2008, after another successful NaNo in November, 2007.  I pumped out over 150K in three stories during those thirty days.  Yes, I could write, but there is so much more to it.

Supposedly Stephen King said a million words were necessary for a writer to get a clue.  Maybe he didn’t say that, or not in that tenor.  But it’s a good rule of thumb; writing takes more than plots and characters.  It requires finesse, dedication, practice.  It needs continual engagement, whether in novels, short stories, essays, journal entries, blog entries; it’s the routine, in part.  It’s also stretching muscles in the brain and hands and heart.  Every writer has their own technique; I found that 50K or bust worked for me, as I’m prolific both with ideas and word counts.  But that’s just how I operate.  Thus, I’ve practiced via rough drafts; I have over forty in the can, but half of those will never see past my hard drive.  Life is short, only so much time to revise.  But the experience garnered from all those tales is immeasurable.  I’ve learned better sentence structure, cleaner prose, tighter plotting.  I still battle passive voice, probably will till the day I die.  I’ve not mastered a thing; writing, like motherhood, is forever a process.  That’s why revisions exist, and why kids grow up and move away.

1999; homeschooling wasn't just books and papers.  Kids home all the time was a gift, even if little writing took place.

1999; homeschooling wasn’t just books and papers. Kids home all the time was a gift, even if little writing took place. Only so many years to pull out the Easy Bake Oven.

Getting down to brass tacks; some of my novels benefit from complicated outlines.  Some aren’t more than characters’ names on a piece of paper.  Playlists are instrumental to every book I’ve written, but occasionally the songs alter during the writing.  I’m a morning person, so nearly all my writing occurs in the morning.  I have pounded out a short story at night, but my husband was gone, and I needed something to keep myself busy (those workaholic tendencies in full swing).  But I just don’t think clearly enough to sustain more than a few days past two or three in the afternoon.  Besides, when I write, I plop out a chapter, which can be anywhere from 2-6K.  Best to do that first thing off the bat, then the rest of my day is free.

For me, the most important technique was establishing the habit.  When I was oh-so-much-younger the idea of writing a book was to sit and toss off some gorgeous prose like I wasn’t doing more than watering the plants.  Hah!  One thing motherhood taught me was the essence of patience.  Homeschooling ingrained the notion of daily mental exercise (I learned maybe as much, if not more, than they did).  Living in the UK reminded me to appreciate what I possessed, be it rain or stunning sunshine.  All those, and many other elements, prepped me for that initial National Novel Writing Month, in which I realized a sweet dream.  But the one-off experience wasn’t enough.  It took well over another year to confirm my heart’s desire.  And to accept the mission, which hasn’t always been a walk in the park.  But like motherhood, homeschooling, and living in another country, I knew writing wasn’t going to be easy upon acceptance.

1999; field trips weren't garden variety.  England was a treasure all its own.

1999 at Byland Abbey; England was a treasure all its own, where the fiction got started.

Yet the rewards, oh my goodness, I wouldn’t trade a single day.  Writing requires great dedication, but the soul of a writer needs that sort of challenge, a fire churning from deep within. Plenty of folks want to write a book; it was my dream for ages.  Making it happen came down to prodding by my eldest, who knew me well enough after all those years of hanging out while education occurred.  It also was the result of that memoir which I finished a year after my brother’s death, a project completed on sheer love and no small amount of grief.  And of course a good butt-kicking from my Saviour who had plans all along.  Some might discount that last piece of the puzzle, but at times it takes something above and beyond the call to further change.  Whatever makes your engines go, use it.  Often writing is fueled not by routine or best intentions, but an inner desire that runs even when the tank is sputtering on fumes.  The resulting sense of accomplishment is euphoric, enough to make me want to do this one more time.

Which led me to indie publishing.  I’ll get to that last slice of the pie next week.

A Buttercup Christmas

So it’s starting to feel like Christmas; my husband is done with work, and while I’m not (writing and editing never really end), we did get the tree up over the weekend, decorations scattered about.  Not as many as in years past; this house is small, and I gave to my daughters the bulk of what had spruced our homes over the ages.  Time for them to start new traditions.

But a few pieces are precious; nativities (creches in the UK) and some ceramic geese from the first Christmas I was with my husband.  My brother Joe’s Christmas stocking from when he and my other brother Patrick visited our first year in Britain.  Candles from Marks & Spencer and some from Morrison’s, many pieces of Yorkshire following us all the way to California.  The M&S candles are frankincense and smell so wonderful.  I keep them in the kitchen, reminding me of mince pies, Radio 4, cold weather, and Boxing Day.

But as my girls are starting their own paths, we’ll have one here this year; Buttercup.  My eldest tried to get a shot of BC wearing a Santa hat.  This was the best she could manage.

Happy Christmas from Buttercup

Happy Christmas from Buttercup!

I suppose I can’t blame Buttercup; it is a wee bit embarrassing, or maybe she just doesn’t like hats.  Right now two small creches sit low, and my daughter has informed me they will need to be moved.  Buttercup might take a hankering for them when they arrive this weekend.

I received an early present, a lovely comment from Shelia, who has read all the Alvin’s Farm novels, and eagerly awaits the last book.  As I wrote recently, I have been getting my I am really tired of reading this manuscript feeling when picking up The Timeless Nature of Patience; not that it’s a bad book, in fact, it’s my very favourite novel write by, ahem, me.  But I’ve been so consumed by the WIP, Timeless Nature has been getting the short shrift.  But let me tell you, there is nothing like hearing how much a reader has enjoyed a book to get this writer back on the revision horse.  Over the next few days, I might not do any writing.  But the last read-through of Timeless Nature will be high on the at-home agenda, like getting the creches out of Buttercup’s reach.

She might look very cute in that hat, but I don’t trust her as far as I could throw her with ceramic sheep, cattle, angels, Mary, and Joseph.

The violence inherent in the system

I tried to write something yesterday, after absorbing what had happened in Connecticut.  Several times I sat with the Add New Post page staring at me, but I just didn’t know what to say, what I wanted to say.  What is there to say?  Guns are bad.  Guns kill people.  People kill people, the NRA would argue.

Guns sure make it a lot easier.

But that’s trite, it’s bullshit really, when yesterday is considered.  I can’t even really consider it.  It’s so damn sad.

This morning, I woke next to my warm, loving husband.  I didn’t think about Connecticut, or guns, or the bleeping NRA, until he mentioned football, wondering when his Packers play on Sunday.  Football, huh!  I stayed away from the news for most of last week because the NFL has been a bastion of stupid violence, either with guns or alcohol.  I was up to my eyeteeth with stupidity and violence, so much violence inherent in the system.  Monty Python made a joke ages ago, as King Arthur rides up to some peasants in a field.  He addresses one as old woman, but the peasant informs him that he is a man, Dennis, and he’s thirty-eight, not old (although really, in King Arthur’s time, thirty-eight was probably fairly aged for peasants or kings).  Quickly the action turns silly; King Arthur tries to assert his rights as ruler, yet Dennis notes this is a self-governing commune.  Arthur gets angry, hauling Dennis from the ground.  Dennis yells that he’s being repressed (See how he’s repressing me?), then notes the violence inherent in the system.

My nation, the United States of America, is dying from the violence inherent in the system.

I couldn’t read any more about yesterday other than the basic facts, then one article in the LA Times about if this will change gun laws.  Then I moved on, trying to consider other issues.  I didn’t get very far, reading one more article, about this very theme; America is a turbulent, unhappy country.  It’s not just guns that caused yesterday’s massacre (even if they did make it so much easier to achieve what the killer wanted); it’s America’s thirst for violence.  Football fans decry the way the game is being made safer.  Talk shows ratchet up the noise; attack attack attack.  I never realize how violent a nation I lived in until I moved to Britain.  Violence was kept off TV until after the watershed, nine p.m.  Sex wasn’t the issue there, Janet Jackson’s nipple of no concern.  When I came back, I was appalled at how rough were the commercials during my beloved football; if they weren’t trying to sell me beer, they were forcing fights and bloodshed down my throat.

Adults watch football, okay.  So do little kids.

Two nights ago my husband put on the Thursday night football game, mostly out of habit.  The teams, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, didn’t interest us, and I picked up my book, Lonesome Dove, and read as the gridiron was trod.  Then I said to my husband that the recent tragedies involving football players had really dampened my enthusiasm.  Plus it’s getting hard to reconcile serious head trauma with a sport that I have loved and followed for thirty-one years.  Baseball appeals more, and not just because my team won the World Series.  Baseball is a gentler sport, also more demanding; one hundred sixty-two games spread over six months requires more of players’ attention.  I was just getting sick and tired of all the injury and death.  I am sick to death of death!

I write plenty about death, I won’t deny it.  I also write a lot about love.  No matter how bleak my plots get (and they get pretty damn bleak), love triumphs, love always wins.  1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 is often read at weddings; it was read at my daughter’s just this past summer.  It is usually attributed as 1 Corinthians 13, but that last verse of the previous chapter really nails it: But eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way.

That’s LOVE!  Not violence, guns, hatred.  Yes, a writer needs drama.  Cain killed his brother Abel, conflict from the biblical beginning.  But good grief, can’t we have evolved some since King Arthur strong-armed Dennis the peasant?  My faith demands I remain optimistic, that two thousand years ago love conquered evil by dying on a cross.  But for God’s sake (and I mean that just as I wrote it), can’t we move past the blood lust and fury, the need to be number 1 no matter the cost.  All the firearms in the world won’t keep anyone safe; little children weren’t even safe yesterday at school!  When Kasandra Perkins was killed, the NRA said she might have survived if she’d had a gun.  Are they going to say that about the five to ten year-olds who died?

(Stupid NRA…)

This is an anti-gun rant (in case you missed it); it’s also an I am sick and tired of all this honk-honking vent.  In Britain, drivers rarely honk their horns; it’s impolite.  My husband and I used to joke that when it did happen (maybe once a year), what was it with all this honk-honking?  It’s Christmastime, believe it or not, which exacerbates yesterday’s catastrophe.  But maybe, oh please God maybe, that such awful wretched violence occurred so close to when many all over the world celebrate the birth of a baby, maybe someone will take life and love into consideration.

Yesterday, writing about the writing, I didn’t think so.  I was pessimistic, pissed off, weary.  I had not one iota of expectation that anything in this nation would ever, ever change when it comes to guns.  Today?  Well, I’ve had a night’s sleep.  I thought about Monty Python and The Holy Grail.  I lay beside my beloved, who erases all my earthly woes.  Then I took a shower, ate some Grape Nuts, the violence inherent in the system floating through my brain.

Many things have changed during my life.  Some will never alter.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have to have hope.  Miracles happen.  Maybe, one day, the violence will cease to be.

This author’s fuel…

The stash waiting to be packed for our return back in  2007; it probably lasted half the year.

The stash waiting to be packed for our return back in 2007; it probably lasted half the year.

A couple of days ago Jill Weatherholt inquired as to just exactly what gets me going; coffee, tea…  It’s tea, without question or even a moment’s hesitation   I’ve been drinking English tea since 1997.  I will never stop.

But of course, it’s not that simple.  Without English tea, I don’t know how I would manage writing, or much else.  Tea is the lifeblood, the Mother Country, what gets my brain in gear, one of the reasons for getting out of bed too.  I literally cannot fathom my morning without a milky cuppa, ahem, or more, at my left hand.

Tea represents the link to my Mr. Coffee childhood, a ten-cup pot brewing every morning for my parents.  I tried coffee as a kid, had to add so much milk and sugar, what was the point?  (My weekly latte in Los Gatos must have one sugar.)  As a teen, I didn’t like iced tea, never chased a caffeine rush with Mountain Dew.  Not until I was in my early thirties did I realize (and become slave to) a molecule that indeed stirs the blood, hastens the heartbeat.  But it arrived in the gentle, calming guise of a cuppa.

Have a cuppa tea, as Ray Davies sings; it does cure a multitude of ailments.  I first tried tea at a little cafe, sugar added.  But soon I weaned myself to just a splash of milk, and I have never gone back.  It needs to be HOT, or at least very warm.  I can swig a cool latte, but that’s due to the sugar.  Luke-warm tea, ick.  Thank goodness for microwaves.

And it has to be English tea.  Yes, I’m a snob; I prefer Taylor’s of Harrogate loose leaf teas, Yorkshire Gold as well.  For bagged tea, Typhoo is lovely.  Barry’s Gold, an Irish brand, is great too.  I’m not fond of PG Tips, but it will do in a pinch.  Recently we found the delicious Punjana, at Big Lots of all places!  The best place in Silicon Valley to buy English tea is Cross Winds Grocery, along the Palo Alto/Mountain View border, but Cost Plus import stores are handy too.  Living in Yorkshire, we had easy access to Bettys Cafes; I used to buy my teas from their shop, as loose leaf is really the best way to brew tea.

2006; having our own afternoon tea, courtesy of Betty's cake and jam, Morrison's clotted cream, Emma Bridgewater pottery, and of course, tea!

2006; having our own afternoon tea, courtesy of Betty’s cake and jam, Morrison’s clotted cream, Emma Bridgewater pottery, and of course, tea!

One of the things I miss most about Britain is buying tea.  Marks & Spencers always had lovely blends, their St. Michaels brand another top choice.  I was spoiled, oh my goodness, so very spoiled.

The real Betty's experience, summer 2006.  Betty's cafes were my second home in those days.

The real Betty’s experience, summer 2006. Betty’s cafes were my second home in those days.

But life in California continues, as does the writing, as long as I have the morning cuppa.  I drink decaf after lunchtime, and sometimes a cup of Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger is nice too.  But the real deal is Yorkshire Gold, South African Kwazulu, English Breakfast, Blue Sapphire, Assam, Ceylon.  But no Earl Gray.

Friends brought me some Yorkshire Decaf, which I cannot find in California.  Behind it is my collection of tins, all with some sort of tea in them.

Friends brought me some Yorkshire Decaf, which I cannot find in California. Behind it is my collection of tins, all with some sort of tea in them.

My husband and Jean-Luc Picard might love Bergamot, but not me.

The last days of November

It really looks like autumn now; my husband’s grapevine is a spindly vine crawling along our white back fence, a few golden leaves still clinging.  The apricot trees are mostly branches, bright yellow leaves in clumps on the green grass.  Sky is gray, air is heavy, but because this is California, oranges on our trees are nearly ripe.  It’s a strange combination as my seventh NaNoWriMo chugs into the station, a month-long experiment winds down; just how many words can fall onto a document (or two) amid birthdays, Thanksgiving, and the tightening National Football League picture.

Yes, November is a busy month, and has been since 1988; my husband had been celebrating his birthday long before that year, but our eldest was just days old on Thanksgiving ’88, and I didn’t have to lift a finger, other than to hoist her in my arms.  Eighteen years later, she mentioned a writing competition.  In 2006, another activity was thrown into the November maelstrom, and my life was never the same.

It was far cooler, and definitely more blustery, in Yorkshire for my first NaNo.  But today looks similar to those past moments, also to the day we took our firstborn home from hospital.  We were living in California at the time, where I grew up, where summers are scorching, winters colder than Silicon Valley, but not frigid like Britain.  At twenty-two, I was diving into motherhood with youth’s enthusiasm and energy.  At forty, when I was tackling my first NaNo, I was still flush with heady excitement; here I was, writing a novel, no way dude!

Six years, and six NaNo’s later, I’m a little weary.  I didn’t sleep so well last night, and woke to my youngest sick.  She’s twenty, but might as well be six, something she ate last night not settling well.  I’ve had two wordy days with the novel, wasn’t sure what today would bring.  I will finish it tomorrow, come heck or high water.  But instead of jumping right into it first thing this morning, I was pouring apple juice (don’t forget the bendy straw), making sure my little girl wasn’t dehydrated.  I think she’s asleep, no retching coming from her room, or texts asking for more juice.  (The magic of technology; she doesn’t even need to holler, just send an electronic message to mum.)  Things have changed drastically from 1988 to 2006 to 2012, but some haven’t altered one iota; I’m still someone’s mother.  Back in 1988, I probably wasn’t thinking about writing books, but I did want to write.  In 2006, with teenagers, my time was slowly becoming more my own, and novels started falling like English rain.  Now I’m in a funny place, California in autumn, where precipitation seems like a gift.  Where novels continue to percolate, but their purpose has moved into another gear.  I spent my twenties having kids, my thirties raising them.  My forties have been about books, motherhood a transitory job that gets dusted off for the big moments like weddings and puke-fests.  This morning, handing my sick child her juice, I was again Mommy, as if today wasn’t 2012, not quite 1988 either; maybe 1993, 1996, 1999.  Or maybe it is today, 29 November  2012, what the calendar on my monitor says, as well as the one hanging in the kitchen.  Some things change, some never do.

How many more Novembers will heave with birthdays, football, holidays, and National Novel Writing Month?  All of them, God willing.