Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unifying themes in the novel

I mentioned awhile back that I am working on a novel. I haven't said a lot about this novel, but interestingly enough, it is the one thing I haven't totally dropped the ball on during major deadlines in work.

I have reached a point in the writing process where I have 35 scenes lined up, some real characters, and some real themes developing. I know the next step is to work on the narrative, bringing the scenes, characters, and themes together in a plot. But I was struggling a little bit on the overall message, something at the tip of my tongue, but not quite out yet... until today.

Let me start by talking about three themes that I have been pursuing.

The first theme has been there since the beginning. I call it the tie-theme. There are three primary types of personalities that I am interested in pursuing: the person who wears the tie they are meant to wear, the person who wears the cool tie without even trying (the one you want to emulate), and the person who wears the wrong tie (let's say the awkward, eclectic type). Right now I have three characters, each one aligning with one of these personalities, but how that plays out internally and externally is somewhat 'grey'.

The 'grey' theme is based on the notion that we all have moments when we realize the world isn't black and white (I have been exploring this theme in the blog). We have to find a way to accept this. And if we are truly be happy, we have to find a way to embrace this. This is playing out through one of the main characters whom I have based on my perceptions of my young daugher's personality, and how she will begin to grow up in this world. As a young child, she and her mom have a moment at the end of each day (which I am planning on doing with my daugher) where we talk about five good things that happened and five not so good things that happened in the day. There is a point in the narrative (which may be very close to the start of the novel) where this young girl starts to genuinely struggle with the process of dividing the good and the bad. Things just don't seem to fall into these categories any more. And she feels a crumbling, a genuine struggle.

The third theme, the hardest of all, is the one that I knew I had to get right in order to be able to bring to the novel a message, an idea, something that I intrinsically feel to be true, and that I want to bring to my daughter's life as she gets older. I have known for awhile now, that I wanted to push against Virginia Woolf and her intense desire to seek the internal in her narrative, to move away from the external as the reflection of self, and see self as something far deeper than the surroundings. Virginia was, of course, pushing against writers like Henry James, who used surroundings to capture the internal essence of their characters.

You must know that I feel a serious connection to Woolf, one that is developing so much more as I transform into a writer of fiction. (For those of you wondering, I did get the Woolf tattoo which I will share with you in a separate account.) And I have been trying to come to terms with why I want to push against this writer that I feel such admiration for. But every part of me knows that it isn't liberating to be stuck in a room of one's own, alone with our thoughts for hours on end. It isn't empowering to be stuck in one's head, and particuarly dangerous to remove one's thoughts from the intensity of environment.

Perhaps it has come to me today, this beautiful thing, precisely because I have spent the last few weeks with my head deep in concentration, in a study in the back of my house, away from life, working intensely toward deadlines in work. And today, on this most glorious California spring day, I said feck this - I am going running, I am going to feel the sun, I am going to be outside of my head, I am going to experience the senses of the world around me.... Shebang!

The main character in her struggle to make sense out of the grey has these moments of being stuck in her head, and no matter how hard she tries to make life explainable in the binary sense, the more she is unable to do so. The more she tries to curb her senses, to try and think her way, to reason her way around the external spaces, the more she will be removed from self.

There will be moments when she is able to experience the world, when her memory and her ability to reason with herself will seem to make sense, literally, her physical and her mental will start to feel a sense of harmony with each other. And I can see something similar playing out for all three characters (just in a different way based on their personalities).

This is where it gets very technical. I wrote a paper awhile back on memory and the connection with fiction - the same part of the brain that is responsible for writing fiction is aligned with that part of the brain that is responsible for memory. The neurological memory theory is that the more senses one can attach to a memory, the more likely that memory is to be true... I will very much use this as my push against Virginia.

That in becoming self, this young woman will have this moment when she is feeling so much around her, when all her senses are heightened, and she realizes why she was able to make those lists as a child, and why she cannot seem to do it now - that as a child, what her senses perceived were absolutely aligned with the way she analyzed the world. But as she got older, there seemed to grow this disconnect, that sometimes she could feel good sensually about something, but not so good mentally. And yet, in this awesome moment of sensory perception of self (we have all had these amazing moments in our lives), she once again reconciles that which is inside with that which is out.

I am ready to name this character. She is Gracie.

Dad, how amazing is that?!

Monday, March 14, 2011

On feminism (please don't let the title put you off)

I have thought about writing an entry on feminism for awhile now, and I had all these sophisticated ideas on how to cover the subject, but couldn't narrow down my focus, or get enough time to express simply some of the ideas spinning in my head. But today it is a subject I feel compelled to write about, even if I do not have the time or focus to do it justice.

Two friends close to my heart are experiencing fundamental moments in their lives: one is in full labor as I write, induced with a pitocin drip; the other had her bandages taken off after her double-mastectomy. A third friend sent a long email about her pregnancy, the nervousness coming into the last trimester, and the almost comical preparations that we go through leading up to the big moment. On top of this, I am in still deadlines, my husband is traveling, and I have been coming to terms with the fact that I can't seem to get my head stuck back into work tonight.

I just got off the phone with my husband. He said that he was going to clear his plate after presentations on Wednesday so that I could have some much needed time to do the work that I need to do. I did not ask for this - he offered it. And there is something essential in this moment. Many people would read this and think that of course he should give me time on Thursday and Friday to do what I need to do. And since he will have finished his major presentations, he should not feel pressure to do so.

But there is something subtle at play here. Sometimes I know that he feels life would be easier if one of us was less determined in our profession, and that one of us could happily take a step back if it was feasible in our lives financially. He grapples with the fact that I had to make sauce for Nicki and Morgan tonight, in the same breadth I was pushing on work deadlines, in the same breadth he is traveling and our daughter needs to come first before all the other bits and pieces. He sees the tired in me, the lack of ability to get out for runs, to do my own writing, the novel, this blog, and all those other things that are quintessential me.

Tonight though, he processed what it is for me to be the person that I am, the one who is good at her job, who is good at being a mom, who wants so much to be a devoted wife, who is a loving friend, but who is also a person in and around all these things that make up the daily schedule. He recognized the meaning of feminism in my life - the need to be driven in all aspects of self at all times, rather than zoning in on one particular aspect, and making it of singular importance in a specific moment in time.

Feminism has changed so much that I almost think we need a new word for it. It is about pursuing excellence in all aspects of self, be it the physical aspects of woman in child bearing, child rearing, in exercising and having a body that isn't totally frumpy (which mine seems to be these days), the emotional aspects of supporting the ones we love when they need us the most, the social aspects of engaging with the community through a blog, volunteering, the mental aspects of problem solving, and communicating it in the simplest, clearest, effective way possible, and most of all, the spiritual aspects of self - being able to take a deep breath and be present with ourselves and our own passions with our partners and our family - taking time not just to experience life, but to embrace it. I am exhausted typing this, just as many women are exhausted living this.

For me, feminism is like a finely cut diamond, all the edges coming together in as perfectly a symmetrical way as possible. So I googled 'adjectives to describe diamonds' hoping that a term would emerge that better describes feminism, and I found 'dispersion', defined as 'the degree to which white light is split into its spectral colors within the stone' (thank-you wikipedia). Perhaps modern day feminism is better phrased as 'dispersionism'.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I want to talk about the spectrum of people's ability to cope with problems, myself included. I am coming to terms with something very interesting about myself - that I am very good at complaining, moaning, mostly about the small things (I tend not to moan as much about the big stuff). I complain about the increased workload in release mode, I complain about politics, I complain about the lack of sleep in my life, about missed exercise, not being able to go skiing last Sunday.

I have had this motto in my life for a long time - that it is better to complain and get things done than to never complain and never get things done. And this motto has worked for me... until recently.

I have been spending time with a friend who's had a lot of big stuff on her plate all at once. I am not going to list all of these things. She jokes and says that if she wrote a book, it would never get published because people would not believe it is the truth - it would be far to out of touch with the realistic. I joke that I wish Oprah was still around, as we might be able to dedicate a whole show to her life.

With all that she is going through, the most important thing to her is to fix it, to find normalcy. She often talks about other people's lives, dreams about how things could be better, asks me about my own life. And in discussion about her own situation, there are jokes, moments of frustration, sheer exhaustion, but never that moany-groany-complaining sense of life isn't fair.

What I have noticed in all this is that I want to be around her, I am not dragged down by her suffering. And I have realized that I could learn from this, that I could tone down my own moaning. My life is seriously good. There are so many blessings around me, I can't even count them. And yes, I do get tired, but that doesn't mean that I need to moan about it. If I can find a way in myself to push through it, to embrace that full life that I have rather than seeing the tired as a burden, it will not only make me happier, but also all those around me.

I am never going to be as strong as my friend. My husband who rarely comments on people says that she is the strongest person he has ever met which says a lot more than me saying it. But I for sure feel that I can embrace the grace with which she lives her life.