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.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer Status Report

Summer-End Panic
It's nearing the end of July, and I have to say I'm feeling much different than I normally do at this point in the summer. Most significantly, I'm void of panic, and I haven't been crying. To be fair, most summers I don't cry that much. But last summer, I had to get my rewritten book to my agent by August 7th, or I'd never, ever get it to her. The crush of the school year would descend, and I wouldn't have the long hours I needed to complete my revision. Tears leaked out, and I wondered whether I could make the book as good as she wanted me to. Now, that book has sold and is almost totally edited. Instead of weeping about my next project, I can simply extend my arbitrary writing deadline to September 1st and carry on. I'll be crushed by just one job, not two.

Dan's Retina
On Monday, his doctor lowered the boom: he needed an extra week of on-his-right-side bedrest to cement that detached retina back into place. No one has been happy about this, but we've been stalwart in our adherence to the guidelines. We all prefer that Dan not be blind. Of course, if Dan were writing this paragraph, he might include an expletive or two to illustrate what it's been like to stay in bed with his right cheek on a very thin pillow for 12 days straight. He might include the descriptors, "crazy-making" or "awful" or "utterly depressing." We can all imagine it. It's not the best.

The Teen Driver
Shef has been diligently practicing his driving, and in my estimation, he's quite good. Sure enough, yesterday his behind the wheel instructor confirmed that he's doing well and that he's extremely amenable to coaching. I agree, and so far we haven't crashed even a little bit. When I told my friend Jordan that I've been the primary driving instructor in our household, she laughed. "You shouldn't be teaching anyone to park," she said. That's obvious. I'm a terrible parker. I'm not even that good of a driver. But, I'm a good teacher, and that's been carrying me along.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Curveballs

A few things have happened. First, I forgot to remind myself that I'm not free in the summers, but rather that I'm "doing a different job." I remembered this important distinction in advance last year, and I was the happier for it. This year, when I was running down the clock on the school year, I imagined myself in summer mode, making amazing progress on my second novel, cranking out impressive word counts and revising like a boss. I forgot about the minivan taxi service and the million hopes and dreams of everyone else in my household that rest of my very shoulders.

The bottom line: summer is always good, but it's not a vacation.

A second, quite significant curveball arrived on our home plate last Monday. Dan had emergency surgery for a detached retina. I didn't know much about this, but the deal is, if your retina detaches, you need to get it surgically reattached to the surrounding tissues right away. And then you need to hold it in place while it heals. This is the tricky part. Depending on where the tear is, that determines the position in which you must hold your head for a significant period of time to let the gas bubble the doctor puts in there apply pressure to the reattachment site. I might be explaining this wrong, but you get the gist.

Here's the bottom line: Dan has to lie still on his right side for at least seven days with very few breaks. He's deeply unhappy, as any of us in this situation would be. But one has to do it. If you don't do it, you might lose your vision. So, the whole thing has wicked high stakes.

The third curveball is that I just discovered I might be double-paying for my NYTimes subscription. That's probably the least significant of the three. It probably doesn't require any more explanation.