Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chuck The Quilt

Imagine this:

It's a  mellow late afternoon, the worst of the summer heat gone, the first leaves drift on the lawn, stirred by a gentle breeze. Among the last roses a couple of butterflies dance, slowly, as if they are in a trance, as if the scent and color of the flowers has  hypnotized them. The sun is soft, yellow, milder than maple syrup, not as cloying as honey, and the sky that deep, brilliant blue of a very clear day just before the first frost hits.

There is not a lot of room on the porch for the quilting frame, let alone the quilt and the sewing basket.  We have to move the coffee table with the jar of ice tea, cake and bowl of Life Savers before we can sit down.

I put the quilt into the frame. This is a first for my publisher, and she watches as I stretch the material, but not too tightly, so we will have a good grip. The needles are tiny, the yarn relatively thick. I have to help her with the threading.

It's very peaceful on that porch. Across the front lawn, across the street, a school team is having a football training session. The boys are still young, about twelve, and they look a little lost in their helmets and gear, t-shirts flapping around thin, immature bodies. Their coach is making them run for the warm-up, quarterback in the lead as is proper.

"Tell me," she begins, "About yourself. Did you always want to be a writer?"

The quilting pattern is an easy one, a beginner's one. "Small stitches," I say, "Ten to an inch." She groans and puts on glasses.

"I remember writing my first story when I was eight," is my reply, "We were supposed to write an essay for school, about dinosaurs, and instead of writing something pseudo-scientific I made up a story about a fight between a T-Rex and some kind of flying reptile. They even shouted insults at each other. My Mom loved it, but my teacher was not so pleased. I think that was when I got hooked. Then in 6th grade I had a teacher who really loved my stories, and she used to read them out to the class. It was pretty mortifying, but also very cool. I was hooked."

The sound the needle makes as it passes through the layers of fabrics has always held a special satisfaction for me. Every stitch is a tiny step toward completion. It's like a mantra, one grain of sand after the next poured out.

A bumble bee comes to visit. He draws three circles around us, takes a dangerous dip toward the ice tea jar and bumbles away in the direction of the flower shrubs. From the football field, we can hear the shouts of the children, the sound of the ball being caught, cheering.

"If you were compared to another author, who would you like to be, and why?"

Who would I like to be? Now that's one I've never thought about. Never. "I want to be myself. The best writer I can be. I would like to have the scope of Vikram Seth, and the lyricism of John Galsworthy. But I would still like to be myself and write the way I have to write. I don't think any writer can be anyone else."

A short glance over the rim of glasses, and a small pursing of lips. Her thread is knotted, and I reach over to untangle it.

"How do manage not to stick yourself and bleed all over the quilt?" This is asked with a trace of impatience.

"I don't! I DO stick myself all the time. There is blood on every quilt I've made." And to prove it I point at several red spots, well hidden among the flower pattern.

"Your characters." The hand with the needle sinks onto the rim of the frame. "Do they tell you what to do, or do you tell THEM?"

This is interesting, and it has been on my mind for a while now. There was an insight a while ago that quite surprised me. I don't outline. My stories start with one idea, one scene, and then the rest falls into place. Only sometimes, and I don't know how to explain this, things happen in hindsight. I write one scene, and then much later, after having written several other chapters, it occurs to me that the scene I'm writing NOW is just that way because that other one happened way earlier... only I did not even think of it when writing the later one... oh, I give up. So, "I think," I answer, "My characters know their own story. In fact, I think by the time I start writing it, it has already happened for them and they are sitting in a cozy bar, with a sparkly drink and some nice snacks, and they tell me about it, and laugh in reminiscence."

She lays away the needle and picks up one of the pineapple life savers instead. "Why do you like these so much?"

I shrug. Dunno. I just do.

A slow smile, and then, "I told you to chuck the quilt. Why are we sitting here, quilting? Do you still quilt, at home? Or do you write all the time now?"

I put the needle and thimble away too. This is so easy. My life is so easy, now. I don't do anything else anymore. Writing, it is like flying. It is like a pebble skipping over a pond, a breeze rustling in the leaves, a gull soaring in the wind. Writing is freedom, and who does not want to be free all the time. The words flow from me, they are everywhere. The stories are everywhere, even in my dreams. It feels as if someone has opened a big wide door for me.

"I write all the time. All the time. If I'm not typing away on the laptop the stories are building in my head, and everything I see, everything I experience, goes into them. The stories are all out there. They only need to be visualized and then written down. Writing the first book was like stealing. Stealing time, strength, energy from my family. It was egotistical and single-minded, and I felt bad about it. And yet, despite feeling bad, I could not stop. Only once it was finished, to start another, I needed vindication."

A nod, in silent understanding. So I go on: "Getting signed by a publisher set me free. It gave me the license to write. I still can't believe I'm really allowed to write, and all the time, that someone actually wants me to do it, thinks I'm good enough. But.." I have a feeling the quilting session is over. There are better things to do here. "But getting signed by you was an incredible piece of good luck. So, let's chuck the quilt."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A New Tune, A New Dance

Home again. I'm home again, and it feels good to sleep in my own bed, and not alone anymore either. My cat welcomed me as if I had not been away at all, the house has not changed, and neither has my family. In a way it feels as if I've never been away at all.

But I have been, and very far, too, farther even in mind than in miles, and I think part of me got lost for good on this journey. Good riddance, I say. It was the sick, weak and depressive part that fell away, and I'm a new me, a happy, healthy and tanned me. I have the feeling I lost all the mental garbage somewhere on the road to Biggs Junction, and there it can stay, in the desert mountains of Washington State.

This blog is to say thank you to the many friends who hosted and feted me, who helped me heal and put me on the path to what I am now: no longer the sloppy German housewife, but a manicured author-lady with a lot of work ahead of me, and a very bright future. You all, my dears, are my landmarks on this road. You helped make me. Again, thank you.

Sue, Rich, Denise, Tara and Moniera in Vancouver.

Jane, Susan, Laura and Brian in Seattle and Ellensburg.

Leslie, Patti and Marianne in DC. (I'm not allowed to post a photo of Leslie, sadly)

Bunny, John and Jen in Lynchburg, VA.

Steve, Nancy, Carolyn and Alicia in Portland ME.

Adam and Julie in Boston. (Ok, that's Keith in the pic with Julie, not Adam)


Keith, Emily, Sylvia, Libby, Paul and Claudia and Denise in NY.

Sam in Edison. And MaryChris.

Thank you all. Miss you already.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's Up To You, NY.

While Denise is making Mint Juleps and Keith is playing Cole Porter on the piano...

Yes, life in Jersey City can be pretty classy. It can. With the right people. But then again, EVERY place can be pretty classy with the right people. Only in New Jersey, it takes a special effort.

Wow, this place has a fascination all of its own.

If I were a crime writer I would move here and use it as setting.

If I were a psychotic serial killer I would TOTALLY move here and make a game out of picking the most infernal spots to hide a body, and there are more infernal spots than possible murder victims in New Jersey.

New Jersey totally deserves a blog all of its own. I’ve been told there are pretty parts, and there simply have to be, it calls itself “Garden State” after all. Or is this a willful misnomer? A  marketing gimmick gone bad?

I mean, they have the grandest view of Manhattan from here. It’s right over THERE, on the other side of the river, shimmering in its glory, proud and beautiful, the heart of America, and (for me, that is) the center of the world. And here is Jersey City. The twin. The dark twin. The runt, the unloved, neglected sibling, the one who made, out of sheer desperation, a total mess of his life. The homeless, dirty drinker sleeping in the dark corner of an overpass. The sulking kid lurking on the top of the stairs while his big brother is being feted by the family.

Lately the unloving parents seemed to have noticed that there is this other child and have tried to clean him up, but I get a feeling it is half-hearted, and not done with passion.

Yes, Jersey City. It seems as if it is defeated by its neighborhood to New York, as if there is no sense in making an effort, as if it knows very well it can’t compete anyway. And so it just lets itself go.

We drove down from Maine on Sunday.

Our first stop was Boston, and I love Boston. Instant love, period. Being in Boston felt like being in London, and since I adore being in London... There you go. Here is Harvard. My kid made me go there to buy him a Harvard sweatshirt. Kiddo: I got your sweater. It cost me a million bucks.

And we met Julie for lunch! Isn't she the sweetest girl? Lunch with Julie and Adam, and here are Keith and Julie, chatting away.

We passed through New Haven so I could buy the promised Yale sweater for my kid ( he is a great Gilmore Girls fan), but New Haven is not as classy as Boston is, I have to say. Still, the campus is very pretty.

The best part of this day though was getting to New York in the evening.

Going down the highway toward Lincoln Tunnel, the towers of Manhattan glittering ahead, it felt like coming home to me. My heart wanted to cry. I wanted to stand on the roof of the car and spread out my arms and shout, “I’m back! See me, I’m here!”

Yesterday, after lunch at Katz’,

And here is Denise! Yes indeed, my very own Denise, THE D-POW! With us at Katz', having Pastramis Sammie!

we just drove around a bit, cruised through the heart of Manhattan, the window down to soak in the sounds and smells, and I was the happiest girl in the world.

I want an apartment on Times Square. I want to live right there, where you can feel the heartbeat of the city and where all the theaters are. Or maybe one with a view of Lincoln Center. But I want to be there, be a part of it.

You can have the houses with a view of Manhattan, I want to be in it.

Right now it’s early morning. I’m in a brownstone house in Jersey City, across the street is a little park with a very pretty playground, lots of trees and well-manicured lawns. It could almost be Brooklyn heights, it’s that civilized and groomed. Actually, it could very well be Paris! But then again not, because there would be no lawn in the park but concrete ground. Oh well.

Upstairs, people are moving. Denise is up. She had a long overnight flight yesterday, all the way from LA to meet me. Keith has a very bad cough, and I’m going to do my darnest to talk him out of the trip to Long Island we had planned for today.

The weather has been kind so far. It is warm, but not very humid, and in fact not that very hot at all.

Today, I’m meeting my publisher again. I love her. It is a great gift, not only finding a publisher you are really, really comfortable with, but also a new friend, and one that I can hardly bear to be parted from. Some people are like that, they are treasures, and once we have found them it is hard to live without them.

It rained all night, the air is fresh and crisp, and no one dare say it's always hot and humid in NY. It's not. Not when I am here.