Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cheating Grief... and Other Impossible Things

So, I was okay. Moving forward. Facing the future. Rallying around all the things I’m grateful for in my life. And then, this morning, the wheels fell off the scooter.

Did I really think I could cheat grief by being grateful, busy, and letting my brain be swallowed by all the challenges of self-publishing? If I did, I was really, really daft.

You see, a week ago Monday, I lost my Darby Dog. More than lost, I had to take the living, breathing (with some strain), bright-eyed, smiling dog to the vet, carry him into a special room, and preside over his end. I gave him a special treat with pink frosting from the Three Dog Bakery. I loved him up and then put my head against his head and told him how much I loved every day of the past twelve years we’d spent together. A passel of seconds later, my Darby Dog was gone. Still. Peaceful. Gone.

The rest of the week was an ultra-focused attempt to keep Darby’s soulmate, Lucy, busy so I don’t lose her too. She’s a ten-year-old Ridgeback. Thankfully, I have my puppy monster, Agatha Jayne (who was adopted last year for just this reason), who is so in love with Lucy, she flips up poor Lucy’s ear so she can lick it clean. That will distract from the grieving process for Lucy, no doubt.

I was supposed to lose Darby last March. That’s what everyone thought. My vet recently said that he would have lost a lot of money in Vegas on Darby’s expected lifespan and will to survive. Just before we commenced with the event, I asked my vet if I had done everything possible for Darby, and he gave me a slightly incredulous look. “What you did,” he said, “is the equivalent of a human cancer patient being given a few months and living ten years.” Darby is plucky that way.

And even in the end, he was still bright and happy to be alive. I had been waiting for him to show through not wagging his tail, fluttering his ears, and smiling at me that he was ready, but he never stopped doing those things. His body just became incredibly weak, while his feisty spirit remained in tact. The morning I took him, he was still eating, catching a ball, and sucking up to me for chicken and special treats.

Friends of mine have accused me in the past of not allowing myself to grieve. I don’t like grieving. There are so many people who have lost more. I had an extra year that I hadn’t expected to have. There is always so much to be grateful for. But grief is grief and must be given its due. That due came this morning.

I was going along just fine last night, working through some comments from a beta reader when I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to fix something she thinks would make the book better. I couldn’t even find a place to start, to make an inroad. When she gave me the feedback, she said, it might sound like I’m asking you to do a massive overhaul, but I’m really not. At the time she said it, her warning didn’t really hit me, but last night, looking at the comment, I felt like I was stuck in one of those awful math story problems: If a train is leaving the station traveling in a south-westerly direction and another train... blah, blah, blah. I was trapped and the only way I could think of to fix the problem was to start over (even though she clearly said that wasn’t necessary and loves the book).

This is a bit of a self-publishing lesson as well. People who are fortunate enough to get the traditional publishing deals have a team of people working to make their books ready for market, but when a writer self-publishes, it is all on them and the faith they put in beta readers. That ends up feeling like a truck’s worth of pressure on someone who never really imagined going this alone.

Anyway, this morning, all the frustration stemming from the story problem-esque conundrum caused a much-needed breakdown. I know this isn’t about the book (as much as I’m a bit high-strung about making it the best it can be before I send it out into the world), it isn’t about my irritation with everything in the universe this morning, and it isn’t about the fact that getting ready for work seemed like an overwhelming task. All of this is about me and my Darby Dog and twelve years of having his beautiful eyes watching over me (border collie style) every single day. It’s about grief that won’t be suppressed. And it’s about the fact that for the rest of my life, I will never get to smile at him only to watch his ears flutter, pretend to milk his very soft ears (one of our favorite games), or make him bark at me by telling him he looks like Kermit the Frog (he never saw the resemblance and didn’t take kindly to it).

It’s about loss that, like it or not, I am going to have to face.

Quote for the Day from Rumi

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Literary Haircut — Character Motivation

I’ve made the decision to simple my life up by getting a fairly drastic hair makeover. Yes, there is a countdown clock on the red locks seen at right. And sure, it’s just a hair cut, but after working for a long time to grow out my hair and taking ridiculously good care of it, it seems like a little something more than that. A person has to have a reason to cut really long hair, even if that reason is an impulse—which made me think about character motivation.

In fiction, a character with really long hair can’t cut her hair off without a motivation. In acting, if an actor wants to walk across the room, there has to be a character-based motivation. People don’t just walk across rooms in the middle of conversations without a reason. Maybe a shelf is showing off some dust in the mid-afternoon light. Maybe telepathic communication with the Mother Ship is better from there. Who knows? Or rather, you, the writer, have to know.

Why would your character get a drastic makeover? Did the guy of her dreams—who fawned over her hair—leave her for a less well-maned woman? Did she give birth to triplets and need a break from the work? Does she have back problems from working at a truck stop diner? Is she on the run from the law... or the mob... or political phone calls... or her mother-in-law? Is she being stalked and is trying to make herself more invisible? Is she starting to lose her hair from chemo and just wants to get it over with? Or does she just think she will be sassier with a trendy cut?

This is exactly what I love about fiction: there are so many different stories behind even the most mundane of life’s events. Next weekend, I’ll be posting my new look (I gave myself two weeks before D-Day to change my mind, but no wavering so far). Both in real life and in fiction, I’m ready for a new adventure. Cut the hair. Self-publish my book. Write more. Sounds like a wonderful 2012 to me.

Quote for the Day from a Chinese Prover

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”