Monday, February 25, 2019

And still another wall (and still not THAT one)

I thought I would be done.

When I posted last week, I thought I would be done by now. My brief wall notwithstanding, I was pretty certain I would put a bow on it and be finished by the time this post rolled around. I was wrong. You see, I hit another wall.

After finishing my post last week, I had to work despite the holiday, co-leading a snowshoe walk at a state park in the afternoon. It was cold, in the upper teens, and though it wasn't windy, there was enough of a breeze that, when we stopped in an open area, you could really feel the breeze cutting in. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy it. That night, I managed to work through about eight manuscript pages, crossed the 300-page mark. At the end of the evening, I had under 90 pages remaining.

I made the mistake, perhaps, of staying up to watch the Bruins on Monday. They were in the midst of a 5-game road trip and played in San Jose, 10pm start. The wild game (a Bruins 6-5 overtime win) ended around 1am, leaving me with five-ish hours of sleep before going in to work the next day. In general, I am not one who believes that being cold and/or tired makes you sick--germs make you sick. Viruses make you sick. On the other hand, perhaps cold and tired can suppress your immune system and help you get sick. It certainly seems possible. It might explain what happened next.

On Tuesday night, after work, after dinner, I sat down, opened the manuscript, and...nothing. I picked at a paragraph, rearranged a couple of sentences, felt so tired I could not concentrate at all. Unlike the previous week, this was not a case of me being befuddled by what I had written. I literally could not summon the energy to think properly about what I was looking at. For the first time in I don't know how long, I went to bed before 11pm. Theoretically rested, I went to work the next day. By afternoon, my throat was sore, my back was sore, and I had to face the facts: I was sick. No Bruins for me on Wednesday (another late game, this one in Vegas), no editing work, no nothing. I might have actually been in bed before ten that night, I don't remember.

I stayed home on Thursday. While a sick day can sometimes be an opportunity to make some progress, I didn't even bother. Sometimes, the body knows best.

The good news for me is that I recovered fairly fast. On Friday I was back at work--both the job and the manuscript. And over the weekend, I steamed through the manuscript. Last night, though I tried to make the last push to finish, I had to call it a night, just 14 pages short of the end. Tantalizingly close.

It's important to listen to your body. As much as we want to push on, there are times when the thing to do is to shut it down, give in, and get some rest. There will be another day.


Love this song. The chorus kind of sums up how I felt in the middle of this week!

Monday, February 18, 2019

A wall, but not that wall

Way back in school--and I'm talking elementary school, mostly, so it was a long time ago--our teachers tried to impose a certain degree of structure on how we wrote. Whether it was an essay or a short story, we were introduced to the concept of writing and revision. We would write up a 'rough draft', get it back from the teacher with notes and corrections (a LOT of spelling and punctuation, and confusing of things like 'your' and 'you're', 'their' and 'there', and 'then' and 'than'), and then turn in the 'final copy'. At that level, I recall that 'final copy' was pretty much presented as 'copy your paper over but correct those mistakes when you do'.

Even back then, I was a bit of a wingman. I recall how I would sit at my desk, first draft to my left, fresh sheet of paper to my write. But instead of straight copying the first draft (with corrections, of course), I would rewrite almost straight out of my head. I was generally a pretty good speller back in elementary school, probably better than I am now, so I didn't make a lot of mistakes of that type. I did always have crummy handwriting, though, so maybe I had to write a second final copy to make sure it was legible, I don't know.

I can't say for sure why I did it that way. I guess it always felt write to just go from brain to page instead of from paper to paper. There's often a better way to say something than the way you just wrote it, right? It never really caused a problem. I don't remember getting any 'final copy' back from my teachers with the 1970s and 80s equivalent of 'WTF???' scrawled across it in bright red ink (we also used to have to staple our rough drafts to our final copy when we turned it in), so I presumably never changed things all that much, and maybe my teachers were just glad that I was embracing the concept of multiple drafts, I don't know.

I still do things this way. I'm on what is probably technically the fourth draft of my WiP. It went through two drafts before it went out to beta readers, then it went through another, and now it's going through a fourth and (hopefully) final revision before it meets the cold, cruel world of querying. It's gone well, and after a slow start, it's picked up speed. In the last week I've gotten through 95 pages and cut about 1800 words of excess verbiage. Yay, me.

Last Wednesday, I hit a wall. On opening the manuscript to where I had left off the day before, I encountered a 500-word section that brought me to a screeching halt. Unlike most of the rest of the manuscript, which has been through three revisions, this was something new, created by my head while I was supposed to be lightly revising the last time. In essence, I was looking at a 500-word 'rough draft' stuck in the middle of something that is third, fourth draft, maybe even 'final copy', and, like many 'rough draft' level items, it needed work. Badly. I know exactly what the passage is supposed to do, but after 30 minutes of trying to figure out how to make it do what I wanted it to do, I just cut the whole thing and called it a day. After close to a week of advancing 30 pages a day, I stopped on the same page I started on.*

I suspect this is what makes editing and revision so difficult for many people, including yours truly. There always something you can add, some better way to say something, some subtle alteration that can really make your writing pop. But every time you add something new to a manuscript, you're adding something raw, wild, unpolished, something that needs to be looked at again and fixed up to match its setting. I'd say one of these days, I'll figure out how to do this writing thing right, but I've been doing it this way since grade school. Seems like a bit of a habit.

*Oh, by the way, after dismantling the wall, I buzzed through 77 more pages that week, so it wasn't much of an obstacle once I decided it didn't need to be there.

Monday, February 11, 2019

One of those moments

My boss is smart.

She has a Ph.D. She's done research in aquatic biology, conducted wetland restoration work, taught at the university level, and now she's running the premier environmental organization in my region. She's got a quick mind, strong opinions, and makes friends easily. Because she works in a field that has been traditionally dominated by men, and because she worked in a hypermasculine environment (the Department of Defense) where she was not only "the only girl" but also younger by 20 years than most everyone, she developed a thick skin. She's not one to cry "sexism" or "misogyny" at ever turn.

But she has her limits.

Last year, she was asked by the director of one of our region's chambers of commerce to serve on a committee that would look at the energy needs of our county and try to come up with some solutions. She came back from her first meeting knowing she was up against it: most of the business leaders who were on the community have no love for environmental organizations, even one like ours, which is generally not a lawsuit-happy, jump up and down and scream, anti-progress, trees are more important than people kind of organization. Over the course of 50 years, my organization has been pretty good at being reasonable and finding ways to work with all sorts of people.

Anyway, she started coming back from these meetings increasingly frustrated. She was not being listened to. She was not being taken seriously. Her ideas were repeatedly shot down. She was being patronized. The committee chairman said, "You're like my crazy little sister." My boss, who is not one to see sexism everywhere and has worked in hypermasculine environments, takes it as a compliment. Meanwhile, the other women on the committee, including the chamber's executive director, sit back and say nothing and contribute little to the conversation.

After a series of increasingly frustrating interactions with this committee, my boss told our board last week that she wanted off. She was backed up by a 20-year-old intern of ours, who attended a couple of the meetings and said she couldn't believe the way my boss had been treated. One person on the board suggested it was because she's from an environmental organization, but it was pointed out, by the intern, that the committee several times accepted and applauded ideas that were put forward by a man on the committee (one who is actually working as a subcontractor....for us!) right after they shot down the same ideas. From my boss.

This young lady was shocked and outraged by the behavior she witnessed. Good for her, and I hope she keeps that outrage whenever she encounters it. My board? Not so much. "Welcome to our county," said more than one--including several women.

It was a real eye opening moment for me. Not to hear about the crap my boss has been taking--I've been hearing about it for the last eight months or so. No, it was the way it was shrugged off so casually by men and women on my board. Men and women who should know better. Men and women who should not accept this with a shrug and an easy comment. "That's the way it is," as Bruce Hornsby sang so many years ago.

It's funny how it hits home that much more when it's someone you know, isn't it? We can read all the stories we want about casual or institutional misogyny, sexism, racism, every -ism out there, but until we see it in action, until we see it bite someone we know, until we see how it is so casually embraced, I don't think it's possible for many men to really understand it on a gut level. Those of us who think we are enlightened, who wonder how this sort of thing gets perpetuated in modern times only have to look at that "Welcome to our county" comment to understand how it continues. I can only hope our young, outraged intern isn't having this same conversation with her board when she's my boss's age 25 years down the road.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A thought on my return from Washington, DC

This weekend, we visited family in Washington, DC. Aside from a few hours almost thirty years ago where my soon-to-be wife and I visited the National Zoo, I have never been there. On Saturday, we were fortunate to have good weather for our visit to the monuments. We started at Lincoln, worked our way through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to the Word War II Memorial, and circled the Washington Monument (it's closed for repairs, so you can't get closer than the path that encircles it). From there, we went over to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where we took a tour with a knowledgeable and personable docent (I recommend this; the museum is so big, it can be a bit overwhelming, as there's so much to see. What helped is we were the only people on the tour, so it was almost like a personal tour).

If you haven't toured the monuments before, I recommend it. DC is a funny place. To borrow a phrase from Jerry Garcia, "It's one of those places we've all been." (Though he was talking about Egypt) What I mean is that we see it on TV almost daily, as the backdrop to a talking head in the newsroom, in countless photo ops as Congresspeople stake their positions on issues. It's all over movies and TV shows. It's familiar, more so for me than places like Chicago or Seattle or Tucson. Those cities, I might recognize a landmark or two (well, maybe not from Tucson), but no city has been imprinted on my brain the way Washington, DC, has been.

What is most surprising to me is how big some of it is. Walking up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer size of it, and the number of people who were there to visit. And, in truth, I was nearly overwhelmed with emotion as I stepped through the columns and found myself in front of Lincoln in his massive chair. I wasn't the only one. Though there was a lot of cheerful voices and some goofy posing, there were also a number of people tearing up, looking somber, almost grim. I was one of them. What I thought was, "We could use you today, Mr. Lincoln."

Indeed, that was the thought that ran through my head multiple times as we visited the monuments and museums. I found myself wondering if there is anyone in American politics today -- certainly not the man residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- who could inspire and lead in the way of a Roosevelt, or Lincoln, or Washington. And I am, quite frankly, embarrassed at the way we are abdicating our role as the world's leader, abandoning our allies, and ceding pretty much any claim (even if it was always tenuous) to the moral high ground. We've done a lot wrong as a nation over the years, but we've also done an awful lot right. I hope it's not too late for us to really be great again.

Entry to WWII Memorial; photo by me