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Exactly a year ago I wrote a post Why I Don’t Write.

Today I’ve finished a novel that is in it’s fifth rewrite and which I am preparing to send out to agents. So what’s changed? That’s as much a mystery to me as why I wasn’t writing was a year ago. But I’m going to try to pinpoint some key changes that seemed to have made a difference.

First, I decided I wanted to be published. I’m a story teller. I don’t write for myself, never have. Before deciding to make being published my goal, my writing was simply too much of an abstract exercise. This simple shift in focus helped me go from having written the first forty pages of my novel in the beginning of August last year to a finished first draft of three hundred thirty odd pages by the middle of December. I’d been writing those first forty pages for over fifteen years.

Second, I told people I was writing a novel. I went to conferences and participated as someone with a work in progress, not someone considering writing. I had my first ten pages critiqued by an agent and by fellow writers.

Third, I joined a writer’s group. I’m lucky because there’s a fantastic writer’s group here in Miami, the Friday Night Writers, where thirty or more local writers of a wide range of works — novels, memoirs, poetry, short stories — gave me invaluable feedback on what was working and what wasn’t.

Fourth, I began looking at my writing as a business, not just an artistic endeavor. That included the less “creative” aspects such as what it would take to be published, how to get an agent, what I would need to do now and later to get my book into the hands of readers. In this endeavor I’ve been enormously helped by tapping into the resources of The Writers Digest. Most recently I attended their conference in New York City where I not only participated in a Pitch Slam (words cannot describe the terror) and a series of presentations on all the ways a writer can find an agent, be published and become their own best advocate.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, I now consider myself a writer. Not “someone who writes,” not “I’m trying to write,” and NOT “I hope to become a writer someday.” Difficult as it is for me to say out loud (that inner voice keeps crying “fraud, fraud, fraud”), now I’m a writer and I’m doing what writer’s do. I write.

Syria

Despite my best efforts to block out what is happening in Syria, the situation cries out for a response. And I just don’t see an answer. Oh, that I could emphatically say we should intervene militarily or absolutely we should not. But I can’t. Every scenario I can envision ends with devastation and years of enmity and continued conflict.

In scenario one, things just keep going the way they are. No one intervenes and the combatants continue down this path of mutual destruction. Finally, either the ‘opposition’ wins and new fighting begins between the factions who have vastly different views of what the ‘new’ Syria would be. Or, Bashar al-Assad manages to hold on and the subsequent political, social and religious repression guarantees continued suffering and almost inevitably a new civil war in the future.

Ok, so maybe the U.S. (and/or her European allies) step up to the plate. They provide material, air support and eventually even troops. Once the commitment is made, I doubt that al-Assad could survive. But now with the U.S. and/or other countries will be vested in who ends up running the country. And attempts to facilitate that outcome have proven singularly unproductive (see: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.)

Well, what about intervention by a more ‘international’ coalition that includes neighbors and interested states around the world? In a perfect world, that might have a chance of isolating whatever support Bashar al-Assad has and ending the current conflict most quickly. And if (a major IF) all coalition members then stuck to an agreement to back off once the fighting stops and an international peace keeping force could be put in place until such time as the local factions hammered out a power sharing arrangement, there might be hope for Syrians to begin to rebuild. But this isn’t a perfect world.

So, what happens in the end? Whoever wins celebrates a Pyrrhic victory and takes control of a country that is physically, economically, politically and socially all but dead. Religious and ethnic differences will have hardened into intractable enmities. Refugees will continue to pour into neighboring countries, causing economic and political destabilization to spread.

Syria has survived millennia and will probably survive this disaster too. The crumbled pieces of Bashar al-Assad’s empire will be added to those of the Romans, the Crusaders, the French and all the others Syria has seen come and go. But as in many other things, modern man will make this destruction more efficient and complete and more of Syria’s past is likely to disappear along with its future.

So what do I think should happen? I’m afraid that right now my best option is to hope for some divine or extraterrestrial intervention. Because the Syria and the Syrians I fell in love with when I visited just three years ago deserve so much more than to be drowned in a sea of blood.

Memories

What do we remember? Why do we remember it? And how real is what we remember?

These are just some of the questions that come up when I start trying to “remember” my childhood. My earliest memories are nothing more than snapshots or maybe short videos. The experience of an observer rather than participant.

Then we moved to Cuba. These memories were like those of high school or college. I couldn’t tell you what happened every single day but they form an integral part of my current consciousness.

Even so, I am chagrined to realize I can’t think of one ‘friend’ from Cuba. I remember Maria who conspired with me to make my favorite cubed steak, black beans and rice when my parents were out. I remember our dog escaping the house and running down the two blocks to my school. I can still hear her jangling tags in the hallway and feel myself cringe in embarrassment as she bound into the room (the doors were left open to allow for cross ventilation) and down the aisle to plop herself proudly at my feet. I remember when Castro reached Havana. I remember visiting the Hershey cocoa farm. I remember some of my likes (horses) and dislikes (practicing piano). I remember being me.

From Cuba on my memories become richer, more complex, more complete. I remember people, places, events,

There is, however, another ‘memory’ from my early life. When I was in my 30’s, my father dragged out old home movies. I watched as jerky images with no sound or color chronicled my life from infancy onward. We were just about through our stay in Guatemala (ages three through five) when there I was smiling happily into the camera holding a doll. I was sitting on the deck of the freighter that we were taking to move back to the U.S. I laughed as my mother remembered that the Guatemalan jacket I was wearing was a match for ones she and my father both had which I later ‘stole’. Suddenly I was overcome with the darkest, deepest despair I have ever experienced. A voice in my head said “That girl is so-o unhappy.” It took me a minute or two to come back to what was happening around me. I had no idea what to make of what had happened, but the sense of great sadness persisted.

Was this a memory? I honestly don’t ‘remember’ being on the boat. I don’t even remember Guatemala. But I feel this was a true recollection of something that I did experience. And I still grieve for that smiling child who was me yet oddly not me.

Why Don’t I Write?

 

Not WritingFor the last few days, weeks, months even, I have been struggling with the question of why I’m not writing.

I don’t have writer’s block. The truth is I have short stories, a novel, a couple of memoir pieces, some essays and even an idea for a play yammering at me to be written. So there are no blank pages staring at me waiting for inspiration.

And I find the act of writing enjoyable and, dare I say it, even easy. Easy the way a natural athlete runs or hits balls or swims. When I put pen to paper (or more precisely fingers to keyboard), words flow. They aren’t perfect but they get the job done. And I enjoy the process of revision and retooling.

I used to think it was fear of criticism. But I take classes and workshop those few pieces I have actually gotten past the cerebral stage. Even if my ego cringes a bit at the feedback, I find hearing how I can improve inspiring rather than discouraging.

So the questions remains: Why don’t I write? I may never know. But I do know what I can do about it.

I can write.

I can write posts, stories, exercises whatever it takes until whatever part of me that is playing the spoiler gives up and goes home.

Fighting%20chickenFighting%20chicken 2

After all one good thing about being your own worst enemy is that at least you know your adversary’s best moves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce again Art Basel’s satellite fairs are invading Midtown, Miami (where I live).

Last year there were three main fairs with tents covering about four city blocks.

This year there are at least six.  Every open area (with one exception where I suspect exhibitors will be parked) is covered by a tent.Scope Exhibit Tent

Even the large city block park that lies between the condos of Midtown and the Midtown shopping area has gone under.

Dog park exhibit

 

 

Yesterday they invaded the little bit of grass where my dogs could play.

Today they blocked off one road to create a tented walkthrough from one exhibit hall to another.

By Wednesday trucks and workers will be replaced by people and traffic.

I anticipate not being able to leave Midtown for five days, but what a glorious glut of art I’ll have on my doorstep.

And to rest my eyes I’ll sit on my balcony, drink my wine and just enjoy the Christmas-Salsa-Jazz-Rap that wafts up from the tent city below.

Acceptance

Much is made of the fact that dogs teach owners about unconditional love. But they also can teach us about unconditional self acceptance.

I have two dogs. Marlena is brown, young, strong, beautiful and timid. Charlie is a small, blond, funny looking, feisty and 14-years old

 

 


Marlena who is something of a galloping galoot doesn’t regret that she isn’t smaller, blonder, more agile. She revels in her strength, her speed, her energy. And she sees her inability to be a lapdog as my problem not hers.

 

 

 

While Charlie struts his long hair and interesting looks down the middle of the sidewalk confident that he is perfection, king of his universe, totally unfazed by his size and quite happy that he is able to commandeer any lap in the vicinity.

My dogs learn, change and grow, but they don’t compare themselves to other dogs.

I, on the other hand, have spent far too much of my life wishing I were as thin as, or as pretty as, or as organized as …. you get the picture.

Whose smarter?

 

The 2012 Miami Book Fair International

I love volunteering for the Miami Book Fair.

For one week I get to focus on reading and authors.  I meet authors I’ve long admired and learn about authors I’ve managed to miss.  And in the process I catch glimpses into the world of the writer and of the book publishing industry.

This year I attended a literary death match held at Bardot, a local trendy night spot.   Four new young, published authors read from their works and competed for the praise of the judges and the adoration of the assembled masses.  In the meantime, a pop-up book exchange allowed the crowd a chance to pick through older books to find unread treasures.  I ended up with a slim volume by Isaac Asimov and a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates.  Who says reading isn’t cool?

Couldn’t resist having my photo taken with Da Chen.

But my highlight was meeting Da Chen, a Chinese memoirist and novelist, currently living in the U.S.

Not only was I introduced to writing about China and Chinese cultural that is engaging and authentic,  but Da Chen himself is a delightful human being.  I am now savoring his latest novel, My Last Empress.  And enjoying the personal Chinese calligraphy he did for me in lieu of signing the book (which I managed to forget to have with me).

Miami is often dismissed as a city with “no culture” and a superficial, brainless population.   But in 1984 Mitch Kaplan, a local book store owner, started a modest book fair which with the support of the Miami-Dade Community College and the residents of Miami has been transformed into the largest book fair in the U.S.   Now authors and people come from all over to participate and enjoy what the Miami Book Fair has to offer.

The bad news is that it’s over for this year.  And like a child after Christmas, I hate that I’ll have to wait a whole year before it rolls around again.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with all the new reading I’ve lined up to do.

The Rewards of Teamwork

The king of the jungle didn’t earn his title just based on his good looks.

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The formidable reputation of lions rests on their superior hunting ability.  Lions have been known to take down wildebeests, hippos, even adult elephants.  They do this because they hunt as a team.  The pride makes the kill; the pride shares the kill.

But even the mighty lion is not the most efficient hunter in the jungle.   That honor goes to the painted dog (African wild dog).

The painted dog is not the largest, nor the fastest and clearly not the strongest animal out there.    But when the painted dog hunts it is more successful than all its competitors.  (Their success rate per hunt is 80% while the mighty lion succeeds only 30% of the time.)

Why?  Teamwork.

Painted dogs hunt in packs.  These packs can be large or small; they are persistent; and because of their numbers they have stamina.  The remains are shared among the hunters and those unable to hunt.

Amazing how often ‘survival of the fittest’ boils down to teamwork.

Yesterday my computer died.

RIP

It managed to turn on the fan, then just sat there.  It had been failing for several months, but I hadn’t wanted to let go.  Now I have.

The good news:  I have backups.  The bad news:  my only current alternative is a small netbook running Windows XP (and all my current programs were run on Windows 7).

Didn’t want to rush headlong into buying a new desktop, so the netbook came off the bench.

I upgraded the XP to Windows 8 (was actually 1/3 the price of upgrading to Windows 7), figured out how to use my monitor with it’s greater resolution as my screen, connected my mouse/keyboard and plugged my speakers into the headphone jack.

And thus the “Frankenetbook” was born.  Slow, awkward and not overly bright, but a real game changer.

On Voting

It took two hours.

As we voters waited, we all agreed the ballot was too long.  The amendments ridiculously difficult to understand.  But no one was upset or angry.

Children ran around the courtyard.  If asked, they would gleefully reveal whom “they” were voting for.    A couple of tables of men were sitting under the portico playing dominos.

We represented cultures from Europe, South America, South Asia and Africa.  Some of us were clearly from the shiny new condos to the east.  Others from the small modest homes surrounding the polling station.  But we felt as one.   We were all doing what we as Americans do.  We were voting.

Voting turned into a welcome two-hour respite from the tensions and stress of everyday life.