Thursday, March 2, 2017

Turning to Dust? Or Is It Just a Too Long Winter?

I just finished a wonderful, sad book called The Door, by Magda Szabo.  In the end, an old woman’s long-cached hoard of furniture disintegrates at a touch--worms had been eating at the wood for years.

So, when a week of negative events rolled out for me, all I could think was “Everything I touch is turning to dust.” I love the book. I do not feel the same way about this week. It began when I couldn’t make Word come up on my computer.  This was after I had tried to install an app and got the message that my computer was too old for what I was trying to do. I know about being too old, but I didn’t realize it also  happened to electronic devices like my Mac.

I called for help, and an accented, but understandable, young man listened and advised me to change to the most recent Mac version. “Free, Ma’am,” he said. I punched a few keys, and sat for many minutes while the new thing, Sierra Whatever, was being installed. The next day I sat for three hours while another young man in the Philippines wandered around with his cursor in my computer. Word came back but my desktop was a foreign territory. My folders looked as if I had thrown them across the computer, willy-nilly.  A list of “Help” items appeared for a short while, and somehow I erased it. I okayed a bill for $69.00 for something I cannot remember. I did not touch my Mac for a day, afraid what would crumble next.

In past weeks, in a spurt of creative energy, I had ordered four new pillows for our gray sofa, all patterned but all gray. I was going modern, mono-color, which was cheaper than buying a new sofa. They arrived separately, and I tore open the Fed Ex bags one at a time. Yes, they were all gray, but four different kinds of gray, none the right gray. “I guess maybe buyjng from catalogues is not the thing to do for pillows,” Don commented.  “T-shirts, maybe, but not gray pillows.” He said this as he walked out the door with the last bundle to be returned to the Fed Ex store down the street. He was trying to be kind. I was tearing up with frustration and he was close to laughing.

But he brought home a pizza, half-baked, and said he’d heat it up. When the ten minutes were up, he opened the oven door, tried to slip something under the pie, and swore.  The pizza had crumbled, like Szabos’ furniture, and was stuck onto three different very hot surfaces. This morning I tried using the cleaning button on the cheezy lumps in the oven, and fifteen minutes later the fire alarm beeped loudly and continuously until we opened windows and doors, which is not a good thing since we live in a condo with many neighbors within earshot and smellshot.

The smoke cleared. I went my revived computer, and two rejections for a novel I had hopes for waited for me. I don’t cry about rejections.  I swear, a habit I blame on the pizza destroyer.

The doors to the terrace were still open and I went to close them, the furnace going crazy trying to get to 70 degrees in the 40-degree sunless afternoon that had crept in under the smoke. My winter pots with their black, dissolving geraniums cringed at me from their posts along the metal railing. But in each pot, spikes and flops of green peeked out above dirt still wet from the latest rain storm. My bulbs, forgotten for a year, hiding under dead geraniums and the roots of fermenting annuals, greeted me, were telling me that I needed to take courage, stop swearing, smile. And to send out more queries, like hopeful green leaves.  “Spring is coming,” they assured me.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Well, I’ve done it again.  I believed I had finished the next book, even found a literary-sounding title for it:  The Hedge.  Even had a Manhattan to celebrate last night before my husband and I settled in to try to understand The Young Pope.  But that’s another story.

This morning I decided to look over the short list of words I had jotted down as I wrote.  I’m inclined to use the same word over and over again,. (It feels so right in the first draft) and I think this time the word will be “pull” as in “pull up a chair, pull out a hanky, pull up into a driveway.” Not “Pull out a gun,” like my last book.

I bring the 220 perfect pages (I have been revising for a week) to the screen and type  “pull” on the Search in Document function. The list that comes forward looks as if it is suffering from a plague, orange spots, fifty or more scattered on, seems like, every page. How many synonyms does “pull” have?  I try a few.  I can do this.  At about the tenth change, I realize I cannot just change all the “pulls” to another word.  Each has to be looked at in its verbal environment, individually assessed.  Okay.  I have time.  It’s snowing and icy outside.  I have two frozen meals in the fridge. 

About, maybe at “pull” # 40, I hit a wrong button or fill in the wrong space or something.  All of my “pulls” and any others that still linger in the next hundred pages have been transformed to “takes.” This change might make sense in some instances, does not in most others, and the result is definitely as bad too many “pulls.”

The plague has spread.

Now, four hours later, and not yet finished, I have gotten rid of sixty out of sixrt-five “takes.” (It seems that in the original draft, I had overused “take” as well as “pull”.)

The only thing, beside the glass of white wine I’ve finally poured, that makes me feel better about spending an entire day searching for two words is a memory I have of my first novel, Wednesday Club, a story of a counselor and her five counselees, as they all struggle through divorce, abuse, bullying, and really bad Teachers (and that’s only the counselor’s side of the story).  For some reason, I did the same search then as I did today, when one word that kept cropping up no matter what was happening on the page.  “Smile.”

One hundred and ten times in three hundred pages.  Little kids and their counselors smile a lot, if given the chance.  I left a lot of “smiles” in the manuscript (what other word fits?), and the book never got published, even by me. But it’s my favorite story.  Maybe when the ice and snow melts and I recover from today’s session, I can go out, get a little exercise, get the blood flowing once more, and I’ll look at and love Wednesday Club one more time.