Diversions, Wrong Turns, and Road Blocks

In which I examine the way life turns out …and not.

When I started college, I was a drama major. I have always loved to act. I put on plays as a kid, performed wherever I could (although I would take back that dance thing I did in junior high), and was even paid once for acting in a play in Los Angeles. Acting excited me. My professors in college told me I had real talent. So why didn’t I continue> I changed colleges more than once, and I had no real support from home. So I did the practical thing and became a German lit major. (Yes, I can hear your laughter from here.

I have always loved language–the way it works, the way you can play with it. It helps that I grew up bilingual–Hungarian and English. I took Latin in high school and won the foreign language award my senior year (and the drama award–see the first paragraph). German I started in college and spent my junior year in Göttingen. I started Japanese as a senior in college. My plan was to go to Japan to teach English there. Enter the love life.

Met my husband who asked me to go to grad school with him. So I did. Ended up getting a teaching German degree. He ended up with a PhD in robotics. So we moved to New Mexico where he could pursue his career. And since there is a high demand for German teachers in New Mexico (sarcasm font here) I stayed home with the twins.

But I needed to do something. That’s when I remembered stories. I have always loved reading and I’ve always had stories in my head. Now was the time to write them. So I did. Even was published by major NY publishing houses.

But now? The road has taken me somewhere I didn’t expect to be. Those “falling rock” signs? They’re true. The choice is either to backtrack a little and take the other way, or go around and see what’s ahead. Either way, it wasn’t what I expected and both paths are scary. But it’s also exciting, liberating, and freeing.You can’t see down the road, but you sure can get excited about it.

But stopping is not an option.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Writing tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (Okay, so I’m not learning anything new from it, but sometimes it just feels good to read something and say, “Yup, I’m doing that.”)

 

Unexpected Moments…

In which I look at the moments that touch us, reach us, or change us.

The other night I was lying in bed in the dark and letting my mind wander. I had just received my high school’s alumni bulletin, so naturally my mind went to special memories of that time. And then I was struck by the one-time-ness of the memories I recalled. What do I mean? For example, I was in a lot of plays during high school. While rehearsing for Cabaret (the high-school version), I was sitting in the day student break room (you know I went to boarding school, right?) with a group of fellow cast members when someone pulled out a guitar and we all improvised with the music. We harmonized, laughed, sang some more, hit wrong notes, hit amazing notes, soloed, dueted, etc. It was a special moment of no real significance, except that it was rare and unrelivable. We tried to recreate that moment again on a different day, but the same mood, attitude, atmosphere wasn’t there. So the one episode remains a special memory tucked away in my mind that I retrieve every now and again to prove to myself that I was once there and a singer and performer.

Sage Hall Dorm at FVS

For me, the same thing happens with people. I will on occasion have a conversation with someone and make a real connection for just one time, never to be repeated. I went to high school with a man who is now a famous actor. We also attended college together for one year. After a rehearsal of a play we were in together (yes, again, a play–The World is Round by Armand Salacrou), we were walking back to our dorms, when we started to talk. Now keep in mind I had known this guy for four years by this point, and while I had a crush on him for a short time in high school, I was never a close friend of his. Definitely acquaintances, but never close friends despite the small population of the school (everybody knew everybody), being in at least eight shows together and several classes. But that night we talked for about an hour, hour and a half, about life. How he was transferring colleges, how I was transferring college too, about dreams, hopes, goals, etc. I wonder if he remembers that night. Nothing happened. It was just a connection between two people who were fond of each other, but it makes me think of him in an entirely positive light to this day.

Just recently I met an author who is definitely up and coming. I expect to hear great things about him soon. We spent at least an hour and a half laughing, chatting, interrupting each other and generally just having a good time. It was a a very small writers’ retreat, but for that hour and a half, it was just two people making a connection. I will treasure that moment forever, and when he’s huge, and I truly believe he will be, I’ll have that moment to say, yeah, I once touched him.

These pearls are unique. I have copious memories of the people closest to me, but they are often conglomerations of several hours/days spent in one anothers’ company–my husband, my kids, my family. Other memories are mere moments, like the time my cousin slammed my grandmother’s hand in the door of our car in Hungary (I was four, and one of the two memories I have of my grandmother. The other one is the first time I ever saw her. It was that same summer in Hungary–her hair was covered by a scarf, she wore black, and I was scared because I thought she was a witch. She died before we visited Hungary again.)I expect to have and make memories with them. But the ones where I felt a real connection to someone unexpected, those are rare and fun to pull out every once in a while to assure ourselves that we existed.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted by Regina Berreca

Damn it. They were right.

In which I look at the sedentary world of writing and why you shouldn’t (Shouldn’t what? I’ll leave you to fill in that blank for yourself.)

If you know me, you know I play volleyball. I have since seventh grade, grumbledy-mumble years ago. My knees are shot. I went to an orthopedist who said I have a choice: play volleyball now or hike with my grandkids later (no grandkids on the way yet or even close, just so you know.) Robot Guy, who also plays volleyball, said definitely play volleyball now. “We’ll get you robot knees when you need them.” So I’m playing volleyball now. In fact I’m on two teams. which means a lot of volleyball on the weekends. And I’m loving it.

Yes, that is Robot Guy playing (Number 17).
Yes, that is Robot Guy playing (Number 17).

Now I’m a writer. We sit. We think. We write. Also the age thing has made me slower, and I’ve never been one to exercise, so I realized that I needed to do a little something extra so I wouldn’t be killing myself on the volleyball court. I started working out three times a week while Youngest is in her classes. It was convenient–the gym was right down the street from her classroom–and it was perfect timing. By the time I finished with my workout, I could whip out a notebook and write for the half an hour or so until she finished. And so far I’ve been pretty good at going.

Here’s the bad news. Although I haven’t lost a pound (eating right is a whole other story), I have noticed that my endurance on the court has gone way up. Damn it. It’s working, which means I can’t quit. I find exercise boring. At least on the volleyball court there’s competition. I thrive on competition, but on the elliptical it’s a fake competition with myself. Doesn’t work for me on a psychological level. Thank God the machines have TV. At least I can be distracted. A little. The day the cable went out at the gym was the worst.

So I’m off to work out. Yeah, yeah, don’t lecture me on how good it is for me. I’m not stupid. I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing it. But don’t expect me to stop grumbling about it either. (Razzaldy-hummbledy-brumble)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Gefangen von Azkaban by JK Rowling

The Power of Art

To roll off of what I posted a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss why I believe literature is not just important but also vital to our world. I taught eighth grade gifted language arts and literature for several years, and each year I would greet parents at Open House. I always enjoyed Open House because I enjoy performing, and talking in front of a crowd is like a performance. In addition to telling the parents about myself and my background (and always saying that I wrote romances that were not appropriate for eighth graders and that if anyone had a problem with that to please, please, please start a protest because I could use the publicity—never happened, but my students always offered to hold a book burning for me), I would give the parents my passionate and sincere beliefs about literature—all kinds of literature.

 

Technology progresses at a much faster rate than society. I love technology. I believe we can’t have enough engineers, physicists, and scientists in general in this world (My husband holds a PhD in robotics—yeah, I have a soft spot for the brainiacs). Robot Guy is an optimist; he believes technology can solve what ails the world. Unfortunately, technology moves too fast—too fast for the average person to assimilate it and understand it (by understand I mean use it with comfort—For example, we all drive cars now, but how many of us could actually put a car together? And you should read people’s reactions to automobiles when they first arrived. Hilarious. That and the use of electricity. The showy Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped usher in our dependence on electricity. Once people saw the spectacle, electricity became less frightening. Anyway…). So how does the average citizen become accustomed to new ideas and new advances?

 

Through Art. (Yes, with a capital A)

 

Art of all sorts exposes us and makes us comfortable with new ideas. We explore our fears through this safe venue and learn from it, so when reality confronts us, it isn’t as frightening. Ideas are often met with fear. Take robots for example. Stories and novels have explored all aspects of robotics in a way that a lay person can understand. From killer robots to helpful robots (Dr. Who to Isaac Asimov). My husband can tell you that there isn’t a robot that doesn’t have a huge red kill switch beside it (we’re not talking Roomba here), and the kill switch isn’t to kill the human operator. In any case, we’ve become so accustomed to the idea of robots that we hardly notice them in our lives. I don’t know about you, but Google’s self-driving car is something I want (although Robot Guy says there is still a long way to go. Robot vision is a particularly nasty problem.) And yes, I feel safer knowing a computer does most of the flying on an airplane.

 

But it isn’t just technological ideas that Art helps with. Cultural change happens through the examination of ideas in Art. Between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more recently The Help, we’ve seen racism through various lenses. Without realizing it, the ideas become a part of us and how we respond to those ideas shapes us (I don’t want to debate the validity of the arguments represented in such works—that would be a whole book by itself. What I’m saying is the ideas are there and we’re exposed to them, which affects us, however greatly or minutely). The rapid switch (rapid being relative to the time from when it actually came into our collective consciousness as opposed to the history of mankind) to the acceptance of same sex couples (which the majority of us now do) I believe was helped along by TV shows, books, and movies that featured LGBT characters. Once we saw they are simply like the rest of us, acceptance followed. (And if you’re not in this group and want to leave some sort of screed as a comment, just don’t. This is my page. Make your own page for your own screed.)

 

Whatever we read touches us, changes us, teaches us. We can agree with, disagree with, argue against, stand for, or dismiss those ideas, but in whatever way, those ideas have affected us. This is why books can be dangerous. This is why governments use propaganda. This is why dictators fear freethinking. This is why education is so important. This is why a great swath of people can be convinced to vote against their own self-interest. This is why debate is so important.

 

Right. I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re a former student, you’ve heard all this before.

–Gabi

 

P.S. I’ve focused mostly books, but I truly believe all forms of Art has this power. I just know books best.

 

Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Little Signs

I don’t believe in omens or magical portents or prophecies (although I love to read and write about them), but sometimes little signs do exist that one should pay attention to. I quit my job last year for two reasons: one, so I would have more time and energy to write (I was a teacher, know); and two, my youngest was starting a new community transition program through the schools to give her job and life training, so she could have more independence. She doesn’t drive and this program is all over the city. There is a bus service that we could sign her up for, but I’ve heard horror stories about it (hyperbole, but things like having to spend four hours on the bus to get to and from the classes—two hours there, two hours home) So basically I left my job to become a glorified chauffeur. I know, I know; I need to let my daughter learn how to get around, but not yet, okay?

Yesterday as I was driving my daughter home from her morning session, and we had a wonderful conversation. She opened up to me about not being ready for a lot of things. Yes, we believe in pushing her, but she was honest and told me she wasn’t ready. It was at that moment I realized that I had done the right thing by not working (and thank the stars that I have the luxury of that decision). Until yesterday I’ve been feeling guilty about earning no money (let’s face it, the writing isn’t making me rich), but today I’m quite happy to be typing while I’m waiting for her to finish her class. And yes, it does help that I drop her off, then go to a café for a breakfast and hours of uninterrupted writing. Once a week her class is too far for me to drive back and forth so I just stick around. I am so productive those days.

So the little signs are important to pay attention to and I believe are more reliable that those big ones people want to believe in (2012 anyone?). Like the sign that’s telling my to cut my bangs to make my hair easier to manage. That’s being taken care of this afternoon.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Dating a Cougar by Donna McDonald
The Cuckoo’s Calling By Robert Gilbraith
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis