Monday, January 27, 2014

Observing People

One of my favorite things to do is observe people. 
One of my kids once called it stalking but I prefer to call it “character study.” It’s not like I follow them to their homes or anything.  I just watch people to capture a mannerism, how they dress or talk.
Years ago when I first decided to try this “writing thing,” I needed to create a character to play foil to my protagonist.  She needed to be an older, motherly type.  I tried picturing her but with no luck.  I didn’t want to use anyone around me for fear the person would recognize him/herself in my novel, so I had to create her from scratch. 
There I was.  At Penney’s looking at dresses.  My three kids in tow, one standing patiently by my side, the other two chasing each other inside the dress racks, when this little, dumpy woman and her younger companion whizzed past me on their way out onto the center court of the mall.
She. Was. Perfect.
I yelled to my kids to follow and took off after her.  I watched how she walked.  I noted how she was dressed.  I mimicked her stride so I would remember it later.  I sidled up next to her to listen in on her conversation with her companion. 
I shushed my son and leaned an ear toward my model/specimen. She looked at me, one eyebrow hiked.  (I loved that.  I was SO using that mannerism in Chapter Two.) She turned abruptly, went into the Hallmark Card Shop, and left me standing there out in the open.
My three kids looked at me like I was crazy. “What?”
“Were you stalking that lady?”

“I was not stalking her.  I was studying her. Big diff. One day when I am famous, you will understand.”  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Addicted to Christmas Movies!

Scrooge.  Grinch.  Charlie Brown.  Anything with Dean Cain.  I’m addicted to Christmas movies.

Everything I am I learned from them.

I love the simplicity of the genre.  It’s not rocket science; it’s not calculus.  It’s enchanting, harmless escapism.  Its childlike innocence and a cup of hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows all rolled into one happy ending.

What is there not to love?

Miracles happen in Christmas movies at an inversely proportional rate than at any other time of the year.  It reinforces our belief in humankind – the need for hearth and home, honor and fair play, humor and happiness. We get to laugh at ourselves.  We find redemption through a myriad of vicarious, familiar experiences. Everyone ends up happy. 

I identify with people who make fools of themselves but learn to laugh at their shortcomings.  People lose their way but rediscover their true selves and the right paths. Good always wins in fair play.  Loneliness hurts more than vulnerability and risk.

I love that they are an integral part of our culture. It’s the power of story, the Christmas genre we have come to expect. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the de rigueur Rudolph or Grinch, Scrooge or George Bailey.  Christmas without a Charlie Brown Special or two? How would Hallmark, Lifetime, or the UP Channels fill their lineups if they didn’t have the hundreds of catalogued Christmas Romances to show during November and December? 

Totally un-American.

We wrap up in our Snuggies and settle in every evening during the holiday months to watch all our old faves and the thousands of offshoots and variations that have borrowed their plots. Who cares that Scrooge has morphed into a woman, a child, or a dog?  What is important is that we know that in the end, everyone and everything will be resolved.

I watch Christmas movies for their magic, their enchantment, their subtle morality.  I love them, plain and simple, because they make me feel good

Monday, January 13, 2014

Learning to Date

The first time a boy asked me out on a date I was fourteen years old. My father allowed me to go to a dance with him only if my older brother went with us as a chaperone. The moment I discovered that the boy asked me out because he liked my best friend and he hoped that by hanging out with me, he could get close to her, I lost all interest in him. The date was a dud and I never saw him or heard from him again.  
I dated three more times during high school, but only because my mother forced me to go. They were with boys who worked with her and needed dates.  I went to an HEB Christmas party, a wedding, and on a double date because of her. The guys all acted nice around her, but HEB boy stared at my chest all night long, the wedding dude tried to attack me in the front seat of his car, and my half of the double date had sweaty palms and a right leg that shook every time he looked at the hem of my mini dress.
My parents were well intentioned but very old fashioned.  They thought who they chose could be trusted with their daughter, while I knew the boys put on one face with them and acted another with me. They should have let me handle my own love life; they should have let me be the judge.  
I found myself in the same predicament the two times I was divorced. I had to learn how to date again when I divorced in my early forties and then again in my early fifties. 
Dating sucks, regardless the age, so it is best to know what you want from it.
In the first place, it is best to know what you will and will not do. My children were young the first time I got divorced so I had to consider who I introduced  to them and who I dated. My kids were grown and gone the second time I found myself single but I still had to consider who I dated.
I only dated people I liked.  Isn’t that why you want to spend time with them? And the feeling should be mutual. Regardless what the world wants you to think dating doesn’t always have to lead to intimacy. I was clear about that and it cut down on who I dated, but sometimes all I needed was a companion or an escort/date and I wanted it to end that evening and not the next morning over coffee and breakfast.   
Right before I met HoneyBunch I went on a Speed Date.  I was writing a singles column for boomer–aged women and needed first-hand knowledge. The whole experience reminded me of my high school dating life. One man was recently widowed and was desperately lonely. Another was an aging Adonis with gold chains around his neck and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt.  A third one was an anti-Hispanic racist who told me straight out I wasn’t his type. There were some men and women who instantly connected with each other so interviewing them was a waste of time. There were two or three that seemed like legit prospects, but I wasn’t looking for a new beau.

I walked out of there that evening realizing I have always known how to date – you must respect yourself, value who you are, and make it very clear to the other person that is what you expect from them as well.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wishful Thinking # 1 for 2014 -

I wanted to be a teacher since I was eleven years old.  With that goal in mind I prepared and I studied hard. My family and the girls around me made fun that I preferred books to boys, but I had set my sights on a college education and a teaching degree, two things that no one in my family had ever before achieved.

I forced my brother and sister to play school with me.  I even coerced the neighborhood kids to pretend along. I knew what I wanted out of life and I was rehearsing how it would fit.

I started looking into colleges when I was in the eighth grade and applied to three or four by the end of my junior year. I got accepted by all of them, but only two offered me a substantial scholarship, so I accepted the one that paid more and I finished college in three and a half years. 
I was an educator for thirty-seven years, twenty-five in the classroom and twelve in an administrative position.  In total, I had spent forty-four years of my life pursuing one goal and I did well.

Now I am in pursuit of another goal.

I want to be an author, a published one. I don’t want to be mediocre.  I don’t want to be forgettable.  I want what I write to make a difference and have an impact on the reader.

My family and my friends wonder why I don’t sit back and enjoy my retirement. I understand their consternation.  Writing well and being a successful published author are difficult goals to achieve.  

I study the market, agents, and acquisition editors.  I force family and friends to read my scribbles and encourage them to give me advice.  I coerce any and all to take a peek at my writing and give me feedback.  I am rehearsing the writing life to see how it fits and how it feels.

Wishful Thinking # 1 for 2014 – I will submit a finished manuscript to an editor or an agent by December 2014.