Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Writing and the Real Hoodie

I had this hoodie, see? And it was the only thing that would let me really write. Buried in its terry fleece depths, chewing on its strings, pushing my thumbs through the holes in its ragged cuffs, I could really let myself go into my novel like I never intended to come out. If you are a writer, you know how it goes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The writing, that is.

If you are not a writer, you may not realize how superstitious we writers can be about what makes it work.

Some things help you write. A smell (eucalyptus, but never flowers) or food (chicken shawarma, and always chocolate) or maybe even a particular shirt. Or hoodie. You develop favorites, and you surround yourself with them and say to your brain: "Go." In fact, these objects can become so significant to your process that you can't function without them. When this happens, then that object becomes not only helpful, not only nice to have, but "real." Like a specific perfume becomes your real perfume (West Indian Lime, Crabtree and Evelyn), a particular article of clothing, a pair of socks, a hair clip becomes your real hair clip. This happened to a t-shirt of Joshilyn's, which originated as a t-shirt of mine, many years ago. It said ROAD PONIES on the front. It became her "real" t-shirt and no other t-shirt would suffice. This is also what happened with the real hoodie. Am I getting to crazy for you? It's really not all that difficult to grasp -- it's like a uniform. It makes you feel like doing your job.

Let me put it a different way. My literary turn-ons...

In 1996: Cigarettes. Martinis. Solitude. The city.

In 2011: My real hoodie. My fantasy pants. Vicks. Limes. Sonic ice.

Things have changed. I had two kids. I can't wait on tequila and solitude. I no longer live in a big city and I no longer smoke. I needed new signals for my brain, preferably signals that do not preclude me from parenting my children when needed.

So this hoodie. It is a simple garment. A black hoodie with athletic stripes down the sides of the arms. It's not soft fleece; it's terry on the inside. I don't know when I started seeing it as my writing uniform but it happened. And then it happened so much that the thing began to deteriorate. Holes formed. Threads frayed. It was washed a zillion times and it faded. In spots. But it was still so perfect and so wonderful... I could not let it go, even though I looked absolutely insane while wearing it outside the house. A small part of my brain could see that I looked like a crazy homeless person staggering around town in this vile scrap of hoodie, but most of my brain was saying, It's fine, it's fine, it's totally fine! You need this hoodie, or else your novel is never going to be finished.

I did finish my novel (thank you, hoodie). And I happened to be in France when I finished. Maybe it was the wine, or the Seine, or the bicycles, but some perverse imp took over my brain, and I thought to myself, "If I throw out this hoodie in France, I will never be able to take it back. I won't be able to fish through the garbage or wonder about getting it back. It will be final, and I know it's the right thing to do." So I threw away the real hoodie in France. Because in the giddy aftermath of having torn the last page out of my typewriter (not really) to holler, "DONE!" I had forgotten that I would actually have to write more things, after this. For which the hoodie might come in handy. And I knew that throwing out the hoodie was the right thing to do because it was really, really awful.

Upon our return to the states, my cheerful fog parted and I realized that 1. I had to revise my novel and even write more novels and 2. I could do neither without the real hoodie.

Panic ensued. No amount of West Indian Lime or ice from Sonic or handknit socks or fantasy pants could help. I needed a replacement hoodie immediately.

I went to the store and bought half a dozen potential hoodie replacements. I knew I could not hope to find an exact duplicate, so I veered into cardigans. Maybe, I thought, I could actually find something to attach myself to that wouldn't look like shit in a week, and that I might actually be able to wear out of the house without shame. Now wouldn't that be strange?

Out of my potential hoodies, one ended up having snaps under fake buttons. Dumb, and it was also too hot. One was a very large brown sweater with shaggy snarles of yarn hanging off it all over the place, and it really seemed likely that it could become real, but no. The sleeves were too long. Not even Joshilyn could make it real, though she tried too. Maybe it was too brown. There were other failures. Too stiff, too formal, too bright, or maybe sleeves too short.

Then I found it. The magical hoodie replacement for which I had been searching. It was a cardigan, no buttons or snaps, with a foldy collar, and long sleeves but not too long. It's a thin knit, warm but not hot, and so nondescript it disappears. here I am wearing it. Can you see the cardigan? I think not:

Now the story gets really strange. This next part might make you believe in unicorns or else the sweet sweet magic of fairies. Recently I was at our summer place in Pennsylvania, and I was digging around on a seldom-used coat rack, lifting away layer after layer of old scarves, strange hats, and jackets. At the bottom of the hook, I saw something absolutely astonishing. A black hoodie, with stripes down the side. I'm not claiming that this hoodie, clearly placed here in Biblical times, was my hoodie, somehow transported back from the garbage can where I hurled it in France. I know it's not my real hoodie -- it's got no holes in it and the strings aren't chewed. In fact, it was almost pristine. A brand new, pristine, powerful writing hoodie which I now own in addition to the powerful writing cardigan that I had been cheerfully calling a hoodie for months.

So now when I go running around the house, shrieking at Dan, "WHERE IS MY REAL HOODIE? I NEED IT!" I know it's not a hoodie I'm looking for. It's the power. The power is in lime fizzy drinks, it's in pear deodorant, in bullet-shaped ice, in clumpy fur slippers. It's Dumbo's little feather. It's Mina Murray's garlic necklace in fleece terry. It's the one ring, Excalibur, and Zeus' aegis in soft, battleship grey polyester. And it's not going anywhere.

What's your talisman? Is limeade "real" for you? How about your favorite handknit socks?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another Dead Bird

My children found a dying bird in the yard today, an elderly robin that looked like it had been attacked by a hawk. It just fell down out of the sky, inches from my daughter. Of course they picked it up and made a bed for it and tried to feed it and give it what they call "care." Which... is great. Nothing says "you're going to have a lovely evening full of cheer with hardly any morbid conversations about death and the hereafter" like a dying bird on the porch. Here's the burial site:

What I like about this is that the bird's lifespan is listed as 1:00-5:00. That would be PM, as in the amount of time the bird was in my kids' possession. What came before that was not important enough to note.

Dear Cleverbot

Me: "How did you change, when you became a mother?"
Cleverbot: "A friend replaced my fake brain with a real one."

Chapter 28

I am in Pennsylvania, writing my new novel. Also looking at leaves on the ground, burning up an enormous amount of wood in our fireplace, and freezing.

Yesterday, I took a deep breath, after writing chapter 10, and bled out an outline for the rest of the book. I have a problem now. I know that this is a silly problem, but it is still a problem: there are 27 chapters. Which is like... three too few. In my mind, there should be 30. Or 20. Or some other number divisible by 10. Now, I can pull the prologue back out into a prologue, and then there are 28, which is the same number as Shine Shine Shine. But Shine had two too few.

Ah, mental illness. THERE you are! I was wondering when you'd stop by this weekend, to mess up my happy drafting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cold in Pennsylvania

Last night the children were tucked into bed with both the dogs, all under their new big electric blanket. When I went to bed they were slumbering away. Then starting at 2am, this happened: 1. Sadie wanted in with me (in my tiny bed). 2. Pork Chop realized Sadie was not there and began a house search, which she repeated, with clicking nails, until I got up and got her. 3. Sadie kicked her out of bed and I got up and got her. 4. Sadie kicked her out of bed and I got up and got her. 5. Sadie... you get the idea.

And that cat is currently trying to pound down the back door. It has already consumed two thingers of Meow Mix but it says it wants in.

Being here makes me feel immersed in my new novel, which is good but bad.