scene from ‘in the margins’

I’ve been working on a story for nearly seven years. It started because I was in a creative writing workshop taught by Brady Udall, and the story I kept reworking was crap. “You obviously have talent, but this story is boring and cliche.”

Ouch.

So I made a deal with him the day before my final project was due. I would write a new story and take whatever grade he gave me from that one piece. He agreed, and I drove away crying and freaking out. It was one of those moments in time when you decide something rash, like, “If I get anything but an A, I will give this shit up forever.” I would take his criticism and stop trying to be a writer.

On my way to get my daughter, there was an interview on NPR about a playwright that was inspired by the notes in old scripts. Before I even got home, the story about an almost-13-year-old was formed. In the Margins would center around Dani and what could either be the worst summer ever or the one that changes her life. What could she learn from the widow of her infamous great-grandfather, William Keller? What would the scribbled notes in the margins of his books tell her about life?

Her friendship with Eliza – The Fourth Wife – was what Brady loved most. He gave me an A, and I’ve been slowly turning that short story into a novel that I hope will finally be finished this year. In the meantime, I’ve been adding excerpts to Tablo where the comments of strangers keep me moving forward.

Here’s a peek:

“Can I ask you something? It might come out wrong.” Eliza and I were sitting out on the porch swing watching the dogs chew on bones.

“What is it, kid? Spit it out. Hopefully, you’re figuring out that I don’t care a lot about being careful with words.”

“Well, it seems like…. You know how my parents are kind of young?”

“Yeah,” her eyes looked like they did when she was laughing.

“Why are they so scared all the time? Why are they so careful with their words? Why don’t they just say what they want like you do? I mean, they’re grownups, too.”

“Huh. Well, I think people my age have gone through wars and separation and, well, we changed the world. Your parents inherited a world that was already moving so fast and they didn’t have to do as much work. They are afraid of change. We created it. We remember when there wasn’t a car in every garage. We remember when little Jimmy down the street left for war and never came back. We decided not to fuck around with being careful because we couldn’t be – we were too busy having to be different daily. My mom wanted me to be a lady. Fuck that. I was a widow at 25. A widow with lots of money, too. Do you know how many men proposed? I picked Bill because he was famous and important – two things I wasn’t. I never wanted to be cautious. I knew then that life can be cut short, because I’d seen it, so I was going to live huge.

“The worst thing that will ever happen to your mom will be your dad leaving her. Do you understand how lucky that makes her? She’s famous, too, do you know that? For those books and pictures. Every day some kid gets one of her books. Every day she gets closer to being immortal. She could sell calendars and cards and magazines probably, if she was just a risk-taker, but she won’t be. You will, though. I can see it already. There’s more Bill in you than there ever was in any of his kids or grandkids. There’s something like lightning in you. I hope to see it when you’re fully charged.”

“I don’t feel like lightning. I mean, most of the time I feel kind of lost.”

“Do you think lightning knows where it’s going to hit? It heads for the highest peak, but that’s not necessarily where it hits. It can’t help but look for somewhere to land, and when it does… Well, nothing is ever the same. You might not have the nasty streak Bill did, but you definitely have the electricity. You want to know everything; you want to feel it all. That’s what you got from him that no one else in the family did. That courage. Feeling lost…well, that’s only because you’re willing to go off-course. You don’t need a map. You’re going to trust that your heart and gut will lead you to where you need to be.”

I stared at my shoe for a bit and let Eliza finish one cigarette and then start a new one.

“I think I get scared more than he did. I think I might be like my mom and dad, too.”

She took a few more drags and then dumped the butt into an old beer can.

“Here’s the thing, Dani. Your great-grandfather was an arrogant asshole. The worst fucker out there, really. But when he put his attention on you, all that would fall away. Beyond his selfishness, he was golden. It took years for me to get past the ass – and I tried a lot. I know it’s not right that he finally noticed me when I was ready to leave, but once he realized what he had, I was the luckiest woman alive. We had amazing years together, and I will never doubt that he loved me.

“But he was scared a lot, too. He would sit at his typewriter silent for hours. I would wait outside the door, sitting in the hallway, wondering what to do to hear the keys as he typed. I learned the hard way to never interrupt, so I would sit and – believe me or don’t – but I would pray. I would beg God or St. Francis or whoever was listening to please bring him words, because I knew that he could sit there for days. I heard him gulp down tears. I heard him snoring. I heard him curse the heavens. And when I heard him typing, I could finally move.

“Fear is human,” she lit another cigarette and I watched as she inhaled with her eyes closed. As the smoke blew out, she opened them. She looked at me and smiled. “Bill tested his fear. He pushed it. He used to drive with the headlights off just to force that fear to the surface. He was crazy that way. He was constantly testing God. You’re smarter than that. You’re smarter than all of us, really. I knew that when you were three. Bill lifted you up when you were visiting and you looked at him, all stern, and said, ‘My mommy won’t let me fall.’ He had a great laugh over that.

“And your mom took you from Bill and said, ‘Not ever.’ You gave him such a look! He stared back with the same fierceness, and I saw at that moment that you were the one with the lightning.”

I was crying, not sure why, and she pointed her cigarette at me, “You are the product of greatness. No one in this world can drag you down. Never forget.”

All I could do was nod as she smoked. I would never forget

becoming

My daughter did her fourth commercial yesterday. This was a significant one, because it was the first time she had to audition to get hired AND she spoke. She was the lead of her vignette.

Everyone was amazed at her composure and maturity. They were sincerely impressed with her consistency and ability to be directed. They were extremely happy when, after four takes, the director said, “We’re good.”

He looked at me, surprised, and said, “She’s good.”

And she was good.

I’m always proud of her, but yesterday I felt something different. I could see her becoming. She’s becoming a professional. She’s becoming someone that adults know they can rely on. She’s becoming this person that is beyond me. I thought about that as everyone high-fived her. She’s at that point in time where she is creating her future, and my job is to support and step back until she asks for me. I felt a mix of happiness and longing.

The longing was its own mix. Part wanting to hold on to my little girl; part wanting to be at that phase of becoming again – this time with a mother like me. That sounds arrogant, but let me explain. When I was in the becoming phase, my mother, a schizophrenic, would get jealous. While she was proud of me, she would rage about her own missed opportunities. I would buy myself the perfect jeans, my mom would hear people compliment me, and I would come home from cheer practice or dress rehearsal and find that she had cut them to fit her. Her response? “They look better on me.” She would show up to football games overdressed in hopes people would see her, the mother of one of the cheerleaders, and say, “You look young enough to be her sister.” And she did. And she acted like it. And I felt both protective and pissed.

Rhiannon is smart, talented, and beautiful. There hasn’t been a day when I have looked at her and been angry about it. Because of my own childhood, I even look for that anger, like yesterday. What am I feeling right now? I wanted to check in with myself and see if that weird, almost mythological, jealousy had arrived. Nope. I watched her and the crew and felt that all was right in the world. Somehow I helped create this fantastic creature. What I felt was closer to awe.

She’s becoming.

And I realized I am becoming, too. I am the master of re-creation, and I am becoming, too…Becoming a mother who can really relax, knowing that the only addiction Rhiannon has is the need to do more film. Becoming a different type of business-owner, a different type of wife, a different type of step-parent, a different type of artist.

What I am not becoming is a version of my own mom, who is/was not well, and couldn’t see her daughter with awe. And I can feel sad that my mom and I will never have that. Sadness is okay. Because of that, I am a damn good mother myself. When I talk with Rhiannon, I’m saying what I wished my mother could have said to me, and it makes me greater. Because of that, Rhiannon’s star can rise as high as she wants it to go. She’s amazing, and I’m in awe.

art, art, ART

One of the reasons I love my shop is that I have a venue to sell my own art/jewelry/weird stuff. The countdown to Christmas is here and so many of my artists and craftsmen are selling at different places and events, and I’m so happy for them, but I’m also trying to bring in enough new items to sell. With everyone running around busy, I decided, “GiGi,

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So I’m working on Christmas ornaments and decorations to sell. It’s fun AND it’s getting me excited for the holidays.

craft

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Many people have said to me, “I’m not artistic.” I don’t buy it, though. Usually, these are the same people bringing me bread they make from scratch (wheat-free, too!) or posting photos onto Facebook that rival anything seen in magazines.

My theory? We’re all creative.

Don’t confuse creativity with the ability to quickly sketch your grandfather’s face, though. That would discourage 99 percent of the population from ever considering art. Maybe you’re the person who sets up a beautiful vegetable garden every year. Or maybe you’re the parent who always knows exactly what your kid’s class party needs. Or maybe you’re that person who always has the perfect outfit, down to your fingernails.

I work at the shop 8:00-3:30. I brighten up blondes and trim up necklines. It’s creative, but also very technical. I’ll be sharing some pictures and video of my work soon, too. You might get a little tutorial on what it takes to achieve a dutch braid on many types of hair – fine, thin, curly, thick – and I might get to show off how lucky I am to work in a field that is both artistic and scientific.

Today, I challenge you to make something – even if it’s just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

keep trying new things

While thrifting, I stumbled on to a large canvas for only $5. It had been painted on, but I bought it anyway because I wanted to try something new and didn’t want to spend a million dollars on a large canvas.

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So I got home, did all the normal things one has to do after work (plus extra), and finally got a chance to play.

With spray paint.

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I saw a blurb a while back about an artist who started experimenting with spray paint and the idea stayed with me. I’m still working on this piece, but it felt kind of thrilling to be doing something far different than anything I’ve done in a while.

So here’s my challenge for you: Try something new tomorrow. Take a different route to work. Try a different food for lunch. Wear something brighter than normal. Something. Let yourself experience a new sensation.

Life is too short to not live passionately. Be bold.

where did the time go? (or 15 reasons to ignore your blog)

I’ve been busy:

1. Goofing off with Pooka.
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2. Getting to know Soups…
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3. …while missing Cleo terribly.
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4. Back to school and all its expenses, er, new experiences
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5. Listening to great music
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6. Getting the BENCH going
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7. Meeting with artists and craftsmen
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8. And talking friends into making things (Thank you, Lisa!)
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9. Making stuff myself
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10. Doing some hair and finding an organic haircare line that lives up to the hype
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Neuma is fabulous!

11. Hanging with these goofballs…
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12.Spending time with friends…
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13. …and this handsome guy
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14. Drinking too much caffeine
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15. And celebrating love…
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…in all its forms!