Early Thanksgiving

My mother’s been calling more than usual. This morning she set aside her chirpy voice as she told me about another memory lapse, this time on the way to the Honda dealership. She’d started off in the right direction and then forgotten exactly where the dealership was located.

I’m thankful that she knew enough to turn around, go home, and call me. I tried to ease her anxiety by reminding her that she hadn’t taken the car to the dealership in years. Really, why would she remember that the dealership is located on the other side of the freeway?

Last week, I drove her to her CAT scan appointment. She hesitated with pen poised over the intake questionaire, her hand wavering as if she didn’t know how to fill in the blanks. She handed it over to me, and I walked her through the form. She couldn’t remember when she had her breast cancer lumpectomy, so I left a question mark.

I’m thankful her CAT scan returned normal for an 80-year-old woman. Whatever that means. Is there a bell curve for age-related brain atrophy?

After the CAT scan we went grocery shopping. She’d lost her appetite because of anxiety. In less than a week she gone from frail to barely there. “I go to the grocery store and just don’t know what to buy,” she said. So I walked the aisles with her. She forgot where to find the yogurt.

I’m thankful that with her usual depression-child obsessiveness, she nickeled and dimed every item she put in her grocery cart. For once, I wasn’t annoyed.

I’m also thankful that my mother doesn’t insist that she’s fine. She knows her mind is faltering. She can’t hide the desperation from her voice when she talks about it, which saddens me to no end. And scares me. But I’m glad she’s talking about it.

Most of all, I’m thankful for her sense of humor. On the way home from the grocery store, Mom mentioned a show she likes, “The Ghost Whisperer,” which is now rerunning over and over in syndication. “I think I’ve seen all the episodes,” she said. Pause. She laughed. “Well, with this short-term memory loss, I guess I’ll always enjoy them, won’t I?”

Tiny Blog Break

Just until next week. Not feeling chatty at the moment, plus busy Thanksgiving weekend coming up. I’m looking forward to the busy-ness, which will be people-oriented. This, I think, will do me good. Get outside myself, you know what I mean?

And, yum, turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and pie!

Not a Waste, After All

Maybe all that regrouping of the first 120 pages wasn’t a waste of time. It felt like it last week, yet right after I wrote the Growing Pains post I went to my favorite bakery cafe, Baker & Spice, with my novel journal to brainstorm yet further. A funny thing happened between sips of nonfat chai latte: I had an epiphany about the story! I suspect that clarifying my issues through the aforementioned blog post cleared out my head enough to allow an “a-ha” room to enter.

Goes to show that only while writing do I become clear. Whether about my current novel or more personal topics, the act of writing allows me to think. In fact, for an eloquent description of what it means to be a writer, I point you to my friend Elizabeth’s blog. Check out this post. She conveys what I mean perfectly so no need to regurgitate it here.

And my epiphany? I’m looking at words in my journal right this second: “I just thought of something! Their story actually starts when they’re confronting Liam. Yea-yea-yea!” I was jazzed to realize something that seems obvious now: I’d started the story of my sibling characters in the wrong spot. Seems simple, but it’s huge. This realization also clarified a few other issues. I’m so relieved!

Sometimes it’s hard to know where a story begins. In fact, you can probably find dozens of writing workshops on this topic. It’s a toughy.

At Thanksgiving dinner I tried to explain all this, and R- asked me if I ever simply follow the direction of the writing. I thought I heard hesitance in her voice, as if she wondered whether she was over-stepping a boundary. In fact, she wasn’t, because I often yield to the surprise turn, when the characters catch me out with something I couldn’t have thought of on my own. I get excited, so I know it’s a good direction. However, this was a different situation. I was no longer excited about the first 120 pages; I’d lost track of the story’s heart.

So I count this as a step forward in my progress as a writer: Something felt wrong, and I paid attention. I put on the brakes, which is incredibly hard for me when I’ve set my sights on finishing a first draft in so many months. The past few weeks may feel “wasted” but surely they’re not. I have to have faith (BigD, you reading this?) that these past few weeks have saved me many more weeks worth of revision later in the process. Fingers crossed!

Post Turkey Day Quickie

Last night I feasted at the home of two of my dearest friends. There were 12 of us plus children. I told my friends about this blog, mentioning that I focus on my life as a writer. I said, for example, that I wouldn’t write about our Thanksgiving dinner because we didn’t talk writing or literature or etcetera. Only, here I am doing just that because a disturbing phrase just popped into in my head:

Teabagging Osama

This said at the dinner table while eating turkey and yams (or sweet potatoes? What’s the difference anyhow?) and all good things. Context is everything, believe me. We are mostly sound of mind even if we often stray from the polite topics. I mention the phrase in my blog because my writer-self tagged it. Out of context, it’s unsettling, or funny, or simply yucky — and because of this, potential fodder for a story.

In truth, the phrase made me a little uncomfortable. Just a tad, mind you, because mostly it’s too funny in a yucky way. It reminded me that discomfort is a good thing for writers. We play it too safe with our stories, we fall flat.

That said, I doubt this phrase will make it into my fiction. So I pass it along. I’m thinking a pornographic spy thriller spoof.