Saturday, December 25, 2010

Lucky Christmas Me

So it's nearly the end of the year and I'm thinking about possibly doing one of those end of the year-end "best of" post thingies, alternately thinking about stuff from 2010 - "Oh, that was brilliant" and "Frick, I can't remember what the hell that was."

But it's also Christmas Eve, and I'm in Hawaii visiting my parents.  And today I went to my favorite place in the world, ate my favorite cookies in the world, helped my mother make terrible cinnamon buns (for serious, the things were like lead paperweights covered in brown sugar), and had a delicious meal with my two beloved parents, who both gave me great advice and a few laughs.

OH, and did I mention that my favorite place in the world is a beach called Bellows here on Oahu where at the age of nine I learned to bodysurf?

(Insert unbelievably gorgeous shot of Bellows here.  No really, it's just spectacular.  You'll have to just take my word for it for now.)

Yes, about 1pm Hawaii time today I was lounging in 75 degree water of a color that falls somewhere between Paul Newman's eyes (when he was alive - duh) and the world's largest emerald I saw in Istanbul when I was seven.

I like to enter slowly, allowing the waves to wet me as I go, waiting for a swell that's just so so I can race up to it as it crests, then turn and leap forward, one stroke, two, then angling down and forward, dolphin-like (well, I hope so anyway) as the swell pitches me forward and the roar fills my ears and the white foam bubbles up and over and consumes me.

Today the waves were tiny, and the dozen people on the glowing golden beach with me were bobbing and waiting and not catching anything.  The sand there's like powder, sprinkled in spots with broken up bits of blue plastic something-or-others that the waves have beat on until they're almost beautiful and almost belong.  My mom has these bright pink beach towels that I borrow to sit on and dry myself off with.  They clash with my hair, but Bellows is the sort of place where you can't be bothered to care about things like that.  You don't care that the Christmas cookies have added an extra pound or two to your waist or that you haven't gotten very far on your latest writing project, or that your ancient cat is probably dreaming about killing you back in LA, or about anything, really, except the clear water fanning out over the smoothed beach like a caressing hand that withdraws just soon enough.

So it didn't matter that the waves were less than optimal, or that a large black cloud loomed over the mountains signalling it was all temporary.  In the water I lounged on my back and poked my toes with their silly purple nail polish up into the air.  I eyed the waves for any sort of surfing prospect and felt the full weight of the tropical sun on my right shoulder and cheekbone. (Thank Neptune for SPF.)

A woman in a baseball cap walked her daughter into the water behind me and encouraged her to try to catch a wave, holding her hands out, talking about when to jump, when to wait.  My father had done the same for me, umpteen gajillion years ago.  So I got fancy and caught a wave so I could zoom past them.  "See?" said the Mom.  Even redheaded, freckle-faced girls whose ancestors stole horses in the mists of Ireland can ride the waves at Bellows.

All of which is to say that instead of naming things that were the best this year, all I can think about tonight is how lucky I am to be here on Christmas, with the people I love, with a chance to be in a place that makes my soul burn bright.

Aloha and Merry Christmas, everyone.  I hope you're spending this time in whatever place and with whatever people do the same for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing - The Information Drip

To get myself going on a major rewrite, I tried to write a scene that wasn't at the beginning.  I wanted to plunge in at an interesting point and get to know the love interest right away rather than waiting.

But a problem emerged - how much information should I give out on the protag's backstory and current mission?  Part of what I'm trying to achieve is a bit of mystery at the beginning.  Who is this girl and what is she really up to?  I want to create a question in the reader's mind, then slowly answer it.

So in writing this scene near but not at the beginning, I let a bit of info trickle out, hoping to intrigue and begin answering, but not to reveal all.

It didn't work very well.  Sure, I was raising questions, but there were mostly of the WTF? variety.  Not the "oooh, cool, now I want to know more" type I was going for.

So I have to go back and start at the beginning.  This way I can better control the information.  (By information I mean character backstory, the protag's current state of mind, who's who and what's what, and what her goal is.)  I'll know what's been told and what hasn't and hopefully why.

And there's always rewriting if I make a mess of it this time too.  Thank you, universe, for rewriting.  This initial writing stuff is fricking hard!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Da Governor - of Hawaii

Hawaii is a small state, and my parents have lived there many years.  So they know a lot of people. 

So it's not boasting really when I say that we're friends with Hawaii's new governor, Neil Abercrombie.  The state may technically have a million residents, but in reality it's like a small town.  So Neil's friends with a lot of people.  But I went to the official site for Hawaii's state government today and saw his smiling face and just had to post - hurray!

This isn't a political blog, so I'm not going to go into details as to why Neil was definitely the best choice for governor in the recent election. (Although I will say that, unlike the other candidates, he's pro marriage equality, which warms my heart.)  But I happen to know Neil a little as a person, and so I think I'm entitled to a brief Huzzah! to celebrate his recent inauguration.

He's a good man.  One summer, when my mother, her then boyfriend, and I were between houses and unable to find something quickly that fit our limited budget, Neil and his wife Nancy offered to let us stay in their home for a few months. It was a typically generous move. 

The place wasn't huge, but we fit in just fine.  It was, however, a trifle eccentric.  The floors were uneven enough to give you an "I'm at sea" sensation as you crossed the living room, and on certain summer nights, the termites would swarm, letting you know they'd found themselves a home.  Termite swarms are not uncommmmon in Hawaii, so that's no reflection on Neil.  At another of our residences we were treated occasionally to cockroach swarms, so it could've been worse.  Termites are manini compared to that. 

Then there was the time that the phone rang.  I picked it up and said in my fourteen-year-old girl voice: "Hello?" 

A man on the other end said, "Neil??"

Well, no.  Sorry to disappoint.  He's letting us live in his home until we find our feet.  He's a man of integrity and compassion.  I'll be sure to let him know you called.

So congratulations, Neil, on your governorship.  And congrats too, to Hawaii, for making a fine choice.  Huzzah!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Back in the Writing Groove damned hard.  I took a semi-writing-vacation for most of November thanks to a two-week trip to Italy followed by a bad cold followed by Thanksgiving.  I'm not one of those people who can write when their sinuses are on fire.

So I'm out of practice.  And before me lies a vast rewrite that should be fun.  Instead it's, well, it's tough.  I'm changing POV.  I'm changing plot.  I'm making up new characters...

I've got an outline, halleluya.  And I know my main character very well.  These things help. But many factors lie like massive walls and mud pits in an obstacle course before me.

The only way forward is to... write.  Isn't it always the way?  Write write write until you get your groove back.  Write scenes that intrigue you rather than starting at the beginning if you like.  Write character sketches and character interviews and rework your outline and then just fricking write some damned prose, for crying out loud.

Don't procrastinate by writing blog posts.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Goodbye, Zenyatta

Clouds threatened rain all afternoon, but they didn't dare let loose until the Queen of Horse Racing, Zenyatta, said goodbye to Hollywood Park and to her life as a race horse today. Tomorrow she flies off to Kentucky to begin her next phase, as a mother.

Hollywood Park is a strange place these days.  Once the site of huge crowds and visits from movie stars, it's now ninety percent empty, melancholy, and downtrodden.  Birds still fly over the infield pond, and the track announcer still lends urgency as the horses pound down the stretch at forty miles per hour.  But even on a big day like today, the stands were over half empty.  I visited the enormous, echoing ladies' room and found myself utterly alone amongst the broken soap dispensers and peeling paint.

What a contrast then to see Zenyatta striding into the paddock to say goodbye to the thousands gathered there today.  She is larger than most other horses by an order of magnitude, but graceful as a gazelle, with endless, delicate legs that move with an athlete's ease, and a shiny, dappled bay coat that glows with health.  She is the picture of strength and spirit, calm, yet vibrant with energy.  She is the greatest mare in horse racing history, one of the greatest race horses of all time.  She's magnificent, an LA lady, a dancer, an inspiration, a friend.  And she's here to say goodbye.

Airplanes roar toward LAX a few hundred feet overhead as her beloved groom, Mario Espinoza, guides her around the paddock.  The fans, ten deep in some places, ignore the growling engines and the call for the sixth race as she circles past them, stopping to pose, to eye them, to lift her head, then to lower it against Mario's arm and side, as if to say, "We are here, together," and "Let's play."

Three times around the paddock then, as fans, some with signs that say "Thank You" and children climb the rails between her and them to chant, "Zen-yat-ta."  A woman in a wheelchair stares at her, weeping silently.

Even here she emanates a power that makes you believe her record is 19-1.  As she walks from the paddock and out onto the track, the giant video screen behind her plays her great victory and one of the most exciting races ever seen - the Breeder's Cup Classic 2009.  As Mario circles her and the crowd roars, her virtual image hits the top of the stretch, weaving between her competitors with sylph-like grace, moves to the outside and takes off.  Her long legs reach out further than any other horse on record, eating the ground, swallowing the distance between herself and the leaders.  The announcer's voice rises to a disbelieving crescendo as she shoots forward, past the best male horses of her time, past those who thought she was overrated, past all doubt, to cross the finish line.

The crowd erupts in applause.  Watching that race, even today when I know that she wins, I worry for her. I think "there's no way she's going to make it... come on, girl!  Please."  And when she wins, I feel vindicated, relieved, almost tearful.  Why am I so invested in her, why do her victories, her prancing pre-race steps, her proud stance after the race - why do they touch me?  I want to race that way myself, past my self-doubt, to strive, to put it all out there, to invest every last ounce, and to win.  Just once.  If she can do it 19 out of 20 times, maybe I can too.

I'm taking pictures, and climbing onto seats, and listening to the crowd sigh with disappointment as they show her last race, a great race, the Breeders Cup Classic 2010, where she came in second by a nose after perhaps the greatest stretch run in history.  The connection between her and the crowd is something I get at a primal level.  We don't often get close to such perfection, such grace, strength, and spirit.  If we get close enough, maybe some of it will rub off on us.

Her jockey, Mike Smith, leads her one last time around the track, and I have to turn away and disconnect.  I have to be done saying goodbye now.  I can't take any more.  My friend Mike and I watch the next few races and talk about our lives, and Zenyatta.

The lights come on as the sun heads west, and suddenly the old track is beautiful.  Clouds part to show off rosy sunset hues, and twilight birds wing over the green and grassy infield.  A filly named Cocktails at Seven parading before the ninth throws her rider, dodges a steward on horseback, and gallops the wrong way around the track, free for a few moments.  She is scratched from the race, but we make a note - the girl's got heart and nice moves.  Maybe we'll see more of her next year.

As we leave the empty track now, the rain finally begins to fall.