An observance of evil

Sixth Street

A few years ago, I was walking down Sixth Street in Austin at about 1 am on a Saturday night. Sixth Street is the main thoroughfare of bars in Austin. Sort of like Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. It is the place where people go to have a good time. At least that is the intention. What happens though (or what I observed) was at about 1 am, people start to get desperate. Their expectation of the good time is slipping away. They aren’t having fun. It’s loud. Their date seems to be looking elsewhere. They had such hopes for this evening. And now….

So they order another drink. They flirt more aggressively. They shove some guy who is standing a little too close. The night starts to spiral out of control. But wait, maybe this is fun. Maybe this is the good time we were promised. Maybe, yeah, maybe I’ll punch that guy, grab that girl…

What I observed was what Robert Schenkkan calls the greatest instigator of human misery: hope. Only in that alcohol sodden environment, it was expectation, not hope, that instigated a kind of misguided desire for excitement at any cost. As each person’s expectation began to deflate, they turned themselves inside out looking for fun. The alcohol made it easy.

I stood and watched it happen again and again, careful not to catch anyone’s eyes and be drawn into their desperation.

I am thinking about this night as today is New Year’s Eve–fun night central. It seems odd to say, set your expectations low on a night when we are supposed to go out and have a blast. But try it. Enjoy the small moments. A smile. Candle light. The sound of laughter. A guitar medley. Feast on them.

Happy New Year.

Writing in the Margin

Every year, after I put the leftover cranberry sauce in a plastic container and eat the last slice of pumpkin pie, I face the same same dilemma: How do I fit in writing with the planning and executing of my daughter’s December birthday, all the holiday gatherings, visitors coming to Austin as well as any unforeseen events like, say, a death in the family.

The answer: Not well.

Because I don’t do it well, I get grumpy and out of sorts. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I sing all the holiday songs loudly around the house (much to the dismay of the teen). But when I usually spend many days alone drifting around words and stories, I feel a bit off balance (read: grumpy) in the crush of the holidays.

What worse than a writer not writing? A grumpy writer writing.

So here’s my resolve for next year. (Remember, we are now approaching the season of making resolutions.)

As I eat that last piece of pie on November 28, 2011, I will read a book. And another book. And another. I will fill the month of December 2011 with reading books because reading is the perfect thing to do in the quiet spots of holiday merry making. And I will commit to writing for five minutes a day. The five minute commitment comes from Kathi Appelt. When she was a mom with young children, she made a commitment to write five minutes a day. “I could do that much,” she says. “I could make that commitment.” And so she did. Of course that five minutes led to more minutes. But she never gave up her five minute commitment. She could do that much. I can do that much.

So next year, I will be gentler with myself. I will read more books and be glad to write in  a five minute margin. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do as a writer: write in the margin.

Gratitude-Week Four

Sunday, December 19 I am thankful for Sundays. While I do not practice a particular religion, I am a spiritual person and I love the sanctity of Sunday, of Sabbath, of letting the buzz of commerce fade into the background so that I can hear the cat purr, the dog pant, the child laugh and my own heart beat.

Monday, December 20 I am thankful for jobs that support me, my family, my writing. Sometimes I even think of my employers as patrons because they really do support me in pursuing and having a much larger life.

Tuesday, December 21 I am grateful for my health. When someone goes down for the count in the family with a fever or a cold or a stomach bug, we all feel it. We pull in and contract around the ailing member feeding them soup, taking their temperature, loving them back to health. When they come back to wellness, it is like the balance has been set right and I feel so grateful.

Wednesday, December 22 Acceptance. We may not love someone’s grooming habits but we like them. We may tire of someone’s political tirades but we love them. We may not agree with someone’s parenting style but we respect them. I am grateful for my ability to accept and love people for their differences. I am grateful for being able to hold opposing views in my heart and not have to dismiss one of them as wrong.

Thursday, December 23 In the morning, often before the sunrise, I drink my tea and open up the RSS feeds that are delivered to my mailbox. What a world we live in that we can commune with friends, fellow writers, and like thinkers in India, Vermont, California. I am very grateful to be a part of this webby, interactive world

Friday, December 24 I am grateful for laughter–that breath which releases us from tension, from sadness, from awkward moments.

Saturday, December 25 I am so thankful for friends who join us around our table and tell stories and dream and play games and create memories with us.

Christmas Miracles (or why I would never commit suicide)

Okay so that’s sort of shocking. Christmas miracles and suicide.

I could riff for a bit about how putting odd juxtapositions in your writing makes for compelling storytelling (or titling). I could because it does but I’d rather talk about the stuff of miracles because it’s Christmas and I love the surprises (read: miracles) that are attendant during this time of year.

Like this morning Elizabeth Bluemle‘s blog at Publisher’s Weekly was delivered to my RSS feeds and, in it, she shares funny and beautiful moments happening around the world. Moments where people are touched by life’s extraordinary yet simple events. Like this moment where a chorus wraps a California food court in the Hallelujah chorus. Watch it and see if your heart doesn’t swell a bit.

Or this moment when the illustrious SIr Ian McKellan vists an elementary Shakespeare class and he says, “I always cry a bit when I come here.” Why? Because he is struck by how at home he feels in that room. He feels known.

Or this moment when the teacher of that elementary Shakespeare class, Rafe Esquith, speaks about the book he has written about teaching children.

What cracks my heart open and makes my eyes sting with tears is the surprise of these moments. We don’t expect when we wake up in the morning to be surprised or touched or moved. We may long for it but we go about our days, heads down, doing our tasks and then, whoosh, it happens. Suddenly we are reminded of all the possibilities that life holds for us as humans. Love. Beauty. Passion. How could we not well up? It is what we long for. We want to wake up every day and feel surprised and touched and alive.

I do.

That’s why I love Christmas so much. Oh I know, folks get all upset about the commercialism. But what I love is behind the curtain of commercialism: People buying a gift because they truly love someone; Or surprising them with that thing they mentioned back in July; Or filling their stockings with everything that delights them because you absolutely know what will delight them and it absolutely delights you to see that delight burst on their faces.

Christmas doesn’t corner the market on surprises. Beauty, passion, kindness happen every day. The trick is to be awake and alive so can have your heart opened a little wider.

Have a merry and sweet Christmas.

Standing Bow Pose and Writing

This is standing bow pose. This is not me doing it. I can not do it. I can not even put ‘yet’ at the end of that sentence. It is hard. I have made a little progress. But not much. During my last attempt, the teacher said, “Try to fall some place new.” Huh? “If you always wobble and fall in the same place, go past it and fall in a new place.”

I love this idea. It’s sort of like: “Go get stuck in a new place so that when you go back to that first stuck place, it will be gone.”

I think it’s true. When I get stuck in the revision of a manuscript, I try to move ahead to a different scene that needs work. When I go back to that first stuck scene, I can usually see what needs to happen.

Next time you’re stuck, try falling a new place.