23 April 2006

A Weekend Portrait: Avocation Exercised

It's dusk on Sunday. Cesar and Danni are over, Danni riding herd on the Boyos and Cesar mowing the lawn for us. The lovely, grounding smell of fresh-cut grass wafts through the open window. Inside, I am sitting crosslegged on the bed, balancing Darth Vaio on my lap. They do call this behemoth of a machine a laptop, but seriously, it's more like a desktop slightly crushed. But the 17" screen is fabulous, and worth the extra weight and heat. There's a cup of hot tea on the bedstead to my right. The cup, a Mara of Mexico mug, in the Pisces design, two swirling fishes blending into one earth-toned yin-yang shape. The mug is heavy, solid, deeply comforting. Full, at this moment, of agave-nectar-laced Sandman tea. The mug is symbolic on several levels; a reminder of what I'm here to do. It's a gift from AstroGirl, a thank you for editing a piece for her. And that's what I'm doing. Editing. And oddly enough, it feels really, really good. I'm about 1/3 of the way through Angela's novel. And I am enthralled. So enthralled that I keep getting pulled along by the story and forget to make comments where they're necessary. I do this when I do pleasure reading; my internal editor is usually perking along in my backbrain, making all the little tweaks it feels the editors at the big fiction houses were remiss in ignoring. I know I'm reading something really good when even my internal editor shuts up and gets swept away by narrative. There's nothing that remarkable about me editing; that's what I do in my day job, is turn articles on the Java programming language and Java technologies into marketable and readable english for Sun Microsystems. But that's technical editing. It's a very different bear than this is. In that editing world, it's about technical credibility, and reader engagement be damned. It's about imparting expertise, and writing only enough prose to glue the desired code samples together coherently. But fiction editing is a whole different kettle of, well, fish, actually. I find the two fish on my mug a lovely metaphor for the two priorities in writing; imparting information, and imparting narrative. The two swirl around, and it's pretty fruitless to argue about which should rightfully be on top, since they're equally slippery critters. The thing about imparting narrative, which is the perview of the fiction writer, is that it's far more emotionally bound up than informative writing. This is the fourth piece I've recently edited for someone I knew, and I am blown away by how much personal information shines through the "fiction". As Angela, in her wisdom, told me, "you have to own your own shit, cause it'll scream out of the words at you." And she's right. And I'm getting far more caught up in helping my friends with their issues than I am caught up in helping them maintain first-person point of view and active voice. Really is making me look at some famous authors a little differently. But as the sun creeps down, and the kids come inside, it's time to put the work away. But I am satisfied, and it's a good way to begin a week.

15 April 2006

Easter Every Year Thereafter

My father died at Easter time. There is something horribly crushing about being the only girl in the world mourning a death when everyone around you is celebrating a resurrection. The year of my father's death, I'd spent easter vacation (cause that's what it was called way back then, before it became the more politically-correct and religion-neutral "spring break") with my father. We both knew it was the end. I was 11. He was in his 40s. He couldn't stand, couldn't sit for long either. He tried gamely to eat my creations, and was very subtle about throwing them back up as soon as I'd leave the room. I read him stories. He usually fell asleep. So I'd finish them alone, in whispers, in his darkened room, and watch him breathe, wondering if he'd stop while I was sitting there with him. Some few of my father's friends and relations came by to visit during that week. None of them had any idea how to face a death such as his with dignity and humor, and most of them bungled it in some way. And they had even less an idea how to handle a child in the middle of that death. So mostly, I sat very still, and I listened to them babble, and promised myself I would cut out my own tongue rather than sound like that when I grew up. Only someone desperately selfish uses a dying man's energy to shore up his own grief. One relation, Great Aunt Nina, knew how to handle herself. She at least had the sense to realize that I needed out of that house of death. She took me out to lunch, for a run on the beach, and then she gave me $5, to go buy myself a toy for easter. She took me to a drugstore. I don't remember which one. But they had two whole aisles devoted to easter paraphenalia. The plastic baskets, the polyester bunnies, the polystyrene eggs. Pagan/Christian polyglot in pastel panoply. I bought my father an easter basket. Even at 11, I understood that there would be no resurrection. But I had to try, you know? I remember sitting in the middle of the aisle, making people walk around me, as I stuffed the wicker with clear green fake plastic grass, fuzzy little chicks, a stuffed bunny, and hollow plastic eggs. I remember leaving them hollow. Hollow like me, hollow like my father was becoming. I left the grass in the aisle for some clerk to sweep up, like I was having to sweep up the bits. Ugly, brutal symbolism. Even for 11. Aunt Nina took me back to my father's house. And was surprised when I handed my father his basket. She hadn't seen me put it in the car. We had a little Easter festivity, the three of us. A brief interlude of forced joy. Back in the living room, Nina looked at me. Total control of her voice, despite the tears rolling down her face. "You bought that for him with the money I gave you, didn't you?" "Yeah." She left. Hurriedly. And didn't ever know that I saw her pull over at the end of the block to cry before she tried to drive on. Every year, I challenge myself to go into a drugstore, and walk the aisle of easter paraphenalia. It's still as plastic, as pastel, as it was all those years ago. Some years, I can make it through the store OK. Some years, I sit right down next to the giant inflatable rabbits and sob like a kid, which never fails to irritate or embarass someone, who's just there to do their obligatory easter shopping. It's worse in years, like this one, where Easter falls between his birthday and his death day. I don't know why. It's been even harder this year, since I realized that my older son is the spitting image of my father at the same age, and that only two other people breathing air besides me even care. This year, at the easter egg hunt, when Rowan opened the hollow plastic egg, I cried with joy. It's taken this long, for me to see, that yes, as long as we live, and remember, there is indeed a resurrection.

Infidelity: A Polemic

Chatting with a friend the other day, the topic of marital infidelity came up. Apparently someone she knows is flirting on the razor edge of that particularly messy disaster, and so she and I were tossing the concept around. Talking about how the internet has lowered the threshold of infidelity to where even the most reasonable of souls are suddenly tempted beyond the edge of reason by some person a thousand miles and ten milliseconds on the other side of a keyboard away, into betraying someone in the next room. The fact is, infidelity is being duplicitous, and nothing sucks your soul out your sneakers faster than duplicity. One of the best definitions of marriage I ever read was, believe it or not, in this wacky pathological Christian broadside paper. Bathroom reading in one of the weirder homes I was ever invited to. But anyway... their definition was that marriage is a unity of purpose. Two souls pointed in the same direction for the mutual and exclusive benefit of each other and their progeny, above and beyond all else. When a person starts screwing around, whether it's bodily fluids or brainwaves that are being exchanged, your energy is no longer in unity of purpose with your spouse. And that is just dishonest. That is making the decision to take something away from your marriage (your exclusive energy) without telling them. They'll notice the drain, and just not know why. And the whole damn thing goes pear-shaped. And then no one's happy, and it's this long, agonizing thing. You've probably guessed that I am the sort of person that yanks band-aids off in one rip, and who leaps into the ocean without first checking the temperature. I knew that my relationship with my Ex was going to hell. But the day I caught myself seriously fantasizing about another man, I went home and ended it. Because my energy had already left the building, you know? And from thinking to doing is such a tiny step, hardly worth mentioning. And from there, all that's really left is the creation and cleanup of the inevitable wreckage. But then, there's this other thing. This other thing is honor. I am a big believer in the idea that if I can't do it in broad daylight in the middle of the street (modesty forgiving, obvee), I have no business doing it at all. I like to think that if any part of my life ended up on a billboard, I'd be OK with that. I have had people argue with me, about the need for secrets, the need for privacy, the need to not tell certain things to certain people. Whatever. I can smile at my reflection in the mirror, and I sleep easy at night. Most of those folks are on happy meds. My favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold (in "A Civil Campaign", which has got to be one of the finest novels in all human history), has written that reputation is what others know about you, but honor is what you know about yourself. And that nothing is more damning than when your reputation is sterling, but your honor is shattered. And that's what we're talking about. Something that you have to change your passwords over, that you have to burn when you're done writing it, that you have to choose who sees it because of the effect it would have... it corrodes you from the inside sure as Drano on the Rocks with a twist of lemon and salt on the rim. I'm certainly not saying stick it out in a miserable relationship, and I'm pretty sure that living your life based on the phrase "stay together for the children" gets you a front row seat on one of the rings of Dante's Hell, being serenaded for all eternity by Blink 182 (who may or may not be relegated to hell, but for sure make guest appearances there). All I'm saying is... maintain your integrity. And guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And don't get confused about which is which.

14 April 2006

Plastic Nature of Time

Every morning, I wake up, and promise myself I'll post something. Then I do a quick check of email, to see how my friends and loved ones are doing. Then I notice the unpaid bill on the desk next to me, and pay that. Then I go make my morning cuppa. Then the dog needs out. Or in. And the cats need in. Or out. And food. Whether it's already there in the bowl or not. Then the baby wakes up, ready for a day of play. Then the phone rings, the inbox fills up, and before I know it, it's time for dinner and another whole day has gotten away from me. There are times when I lean against the fridge, (cause it's cool against the forehead, and because I have a magnet with the picture of the Dalai Lama, with the words "Be Stoked" across the bottom, and I like the idea of pressing forehead with HH the DL when my day's disintegrated), and ponder the reality that we do not have, as the researcher says, equal epistemic access to both past and future. See, there is nothing about time, inherently, that should make it accessable going forward but not back. It is actually strange that by doing something now, we affect the future, but not the past. This fact makes quantum physicists a little crazy (or a little crazier than they already are). Some days, it's pretty powerful motivation to try to dip my toe into the river of time one more time to see if maybe it'll come out different than it has every other time before. In the meantime, The Little Boy needs breakfast.

01 April 2006

Just a favor for some friends...