Sunday, August 18, 2019

Turkeys on the Trail

I'm not sure I've ever written about my formerly-crippling fear of birds. It developed sometime around middle school and plagued me well into adulthood. I ducked and covered and avoided and panicked, all related to birds. Other people laughed about this, not because they didn't care about me, but because who's afraid of a friendly little robin?

Happily, I've been able to logic my way out of this phobia as I've grown older. I no longer scream when encountering birds or refuse to dine al fresco because of the possible presence of chickadees. I'll refuse to dine outdoors for other reasons--heat, cold, wind, a general dislike of things that others find "fun"--but small and harmless birds are no longer on the list.

Large birds, though, those are still very, very scary. I'm talking geese, swans, turkeys, and other species that walk or waddle on land. Even ducks are too big for me, and I'd prefer never to encounter them at close range.

So, imagine my horror when I encountered flocks of turkeys while trail running alone in the early morning this past Friday. There I was, just plodding along on some singletrack, forest bathing and whatnot, and then all of a sudden six or seven turkeys blocked the path in front of me.

I'll be honest, I screamed a little the first time I saw them. That turned out to be quite a successful strategy as I startled the turkeys and they ran up a hill. I wished to God I didn't have to pass them while they stood there on that hill above the trail, ready to attack, but there was no other reasonable choice. My heart pounds now as I remember the terror of the ordeal, but I did it. I passed the turkeys and nothing happened.

Later, two other turkeys scuttled ahead of me in a similar fashion, blocking and then clearing my way. I was terrified, but I carried on. The whole thing was an adventure. On this same run, I took a hard fall unrelated to the turkeys and scraped up my legs and jammed my finger. Through it all, I persevered with an adventurous sort of spirit.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Adventure Status Update

Publishing: I'm working on something called "first pass pages," which is when you see your manuscript printed out exactly how it will look in the book with the right fonts and headers and page numbers. It's called "first pass," but really it means "last chance," because it's my very final opportunity to change anything. I'm not supposed to change much -- a word here or an error there. It feels a little nuts to be signing off on all of these sentences, all 96,000 words, or whatever, for the very last time. Many steps of writing Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes have felt like adventures. Reading the pages as other people will (I hope!) read them is one of those steps.

Trail Running: I've finished the Endless Summer Trail Series, an adventurous race series at area parks. I really enjoy these little forays, heading into the woods and trying to finish faster than other people in my age group. I wish I could say that I don't care about winning, but everyone knows I do care about it. At these races, after my kids and my brother and I try to beat as many people as possible, we eat Dominoes pizza and drink a Summit India Extra Pale Ale. Well, the kids don't drink the beer. That's just for me and for other people over the legal age of 21. The pizza and the beer (and the Coke for the children) are included in the race fee, and if that isn't the best model ever, I don't know what is. I'm already looking forward to next summer's trail running adventures.

Eating Out: There's a place in St. Paul that's getting all sorts of buzz, and Dan and I are heading there to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary tonight. When I thought to get the reservation, there were only two slots available: 5:15 and 8:00. I had to pick the earlier because, well, regardless of how capital-A adventurous our August is, we still have to be in bed by like 9.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Heat and Humidity

About 75% of the time when I sign up for an endurance sporting event, I find myself lying in bed the morning of the race, at the requisite early wake-up time, regretting it.

This was the case yesterday when it was time to head out to the MDRA 15k. Here's why I didn't want to go: It's a team circuit race, so the field would be fast and intimidating. None of my personal friends were going, so I'd be awkward and alone. The weather was sticky, heavy, and slow--not only would my time lag, but I'd also probably feel miserable.

Here are the reasons I went: I already paid the entry fee. I would probably feel righteous at the finish line. I would score points for my team, even though I never go to practice and no one on the team actually knows me. AND, we're blogging about ADVENTURE in August. A 9.3 mile race in the heat and humidity would qualify as adventurous.

Here are the highlights:

  • I met a nice woman in the early miles and we chatted about running, a decade apart, in the same Minnesota small-college athletic conference.
  • I met a nice guy who provided helpful hints about the locations of the mile-markers and the conditions of the course and also who called me a "beast" at the end, even though he beat me by at least 15 seconds.
  • I was in my team photo for the first time ever. The director of the team asked me my name, so now I know one person.
  • Although I felt woozy at the finish, I powered through by drinking water and eating a cookie. The cookie was delicious. Maybe eating a cookie isn't supremely adventurous, but given the questionable state of my stomach after heat running, I thought it kind of was.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Action and Adventure in August

Lee's blogging about Action and Adventure this month, so I'm doing it, too. It seems like it's going to be fun.

My big Saturday adventure is more of a quiet sort. I'm catching up on some reading. And yes, I'm beginning the ADVENTURE challenge with kind of a whisper, but I think we can all agree that reading surely qualifies. I've already learned about CAR-T cells today and a movie called The Farewell. And, I read a short story that might make the reader re-think what she knows about love and marriage. That same story also made me think about craft and literary elements and what a writer can get by with, depending on his aims.

All of these adventurous thoughts sprang from my reading of The New Yorker. Many times, I've thought about how I both love and loathe The New Yorker. I like being the sort of person who gets a paper copy of this iconic publication in the mail every week. My dad re-ups my subscription annually, so it's not even something I choose; it's just part of me.

Even so, I almost never actually read The New Yorker.  I've been able to let go of the guilt about this at various moments and stages, like when I'm a full-time teacher and parenting some crazy busy kids 24/7.

But, now I'm supposed to be a full-time writer, and I'm supposed to be literary AF. So, reading a couple of New Yorker articles--we're not even aiming for cover-to-cover--shouldn't be that big of a problem. Soon, the kids will be back in school and maybe I can make a magazine ritual. An article with my matcha on Tuesday mornings, for example, and another one in the late-afternoon lull on Fridays.

Adventures can be momentous and also sort of regular. I guess I'm starting with the latter.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Oh Snap

Right after I got done bragging about not having any back-to-school dreams, I had the worst one ever. I'll keep it short because dream retellings are not the best reading material, but here's the gist:

I showed up at school to teach even though before that very morning, I had no idea I'd be teaching anything at all. I didn't attend any of the teacher workshops. I had no lesson plans. I couldn't even find my classroom, even though it was my school and everyone had a familiar face. It was your run-of-the-mill nightmare scenario, me wandering the halls with my arms full, getting jostled by adolescents, and colleagues waving and smiling at me without providing any answers to my myriad questions.

And, so, I guess we can conclude that I'm feeling seasonal anxiety despite my adjusted career plans. Old habits die hard, I guess. And, you should probably not brag. These are the themes of this blog post.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Difference

My friends who are teachers have been having back-to-school dreams. I have an intimate familiarity with this type of dream. In your dream, you might forget to show up for your class or have 100 students instead of the usual 20 or 30. You might humiliate yourself by not zipping something or wearing something.

There are more and worse possibilities, of course.

This year, I'm not having any back-to-school dreams because I'm not going back to school. I'm also not having dreams about being a novelist; although, that reality carries its own anxiety.

Instead, I've been having dreams about my non-existent capacity to be a Russian spy. We've been binging The Americans, and the more I watch it, the more convinced I am that I have zero of the skills I might need to be successful in intelligence.

I am not particularly brave or observant or sneaky. I'm not quiet when I walk. I cannot speak any other languages except for English. I do not know how to use a handgun. I'm not prepared to use any powers of seduction to loosen up potential sources. I have no experience in living a double life. I keep secrets only when I really have to. I like having friends to whom I'm not lying.

Much like I'm not qualified to be a river raft guide, I'm also not qualified for spying. I did suggest to Dan that we practice spying, maybe on some neighbors, but Dan said, "We'd get caught, and that'd be super embarrassing."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Story Editor

Today, I want to tell you about my friend Chadd. He's a brilliant thinker and storyteller and teacher, and for a couple of magical years, he was my across-the-hall neighbor at school. Every teacher knows how important it is to have a like-minded partner in crime to help deal with the daily bullshit that comes with classroom teaching. Chadd ranks among the best of these confidants.

Another great thing about Chadd is that he's missed his calling as a book editor.

That sounds selfish. I mean, of course, I'm sad for him that he missed his calling. However, I'm really happy for me because it means his services are cheap and available. All I had to do this time was show up at the local brewery of his choosing and open a tab.

And this is what he does: First, he says, "Give me a five-minute synopsis of your story." That's super hard for me to do, but Chadd is positive and encouraging. "Well, then this'll be good practice!" After that, we start with the questions. I've listed them in advance, and he answers them. We bat ideas back and forth. I leave with scribbled notes about which scenes to write next. Here are some examples of problems he's solved for me:

  • Who left that threatening voicemail that we hear at the beginning of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes?
  • Who is the antagonist in this story?
  • What are these kids fighting about?
  • What happens when this kid investigates that thing?
  • I love this character, but does she have a place in this story?
  • Does the protagonist have to be fighting with her husband, or is the rest enough?
  • How can I connect these two, seemingly disparate storylines?
  • Is this theme big enough? Who delivers these tough truths?
  • Does this big moment happen in the middle of the story or at the end?
  • What happens at the close of all of this? (This question is really, What HAS to happen at the end of this in order for the story to have integrity?) 
You can see how useful this is. It's like my own personal writers' room. He finds the best parts of my ideas and amplifies them. Very often, when Chadd makes a suggestion, I find the threads of that idea already written into my draft. I didn't even know the seeds were there. He's never read a word of my writing, except for my Listen to Your Mother piece. Incidentally, Chadd nailed the ending of that thing by making me cut a sentence that used to come after the last, best one.

Other people need these services. I keep telling Chadd to monetize his consulting. When I offer my profuse thanks, he always says, "All I'm asking is a nice 5x7" photograph in the acknowledgments section." He's kidding, I think. I can't do that, but I am grateful. You'll find him in the real acknowledgments, and you won't even be able to tell that Dan always calls him "Chad-duh-duh" to account for the extra D, which we've embraced.