So Many Poppies (aka: Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

wicked witch of the west

I’d be all, “Why are you green?”

I would have made a terrible Dorothy Gale.

Let’s just say that if a giant twister had picked up me instead of her and transported me to the magical land of Oz, then we’d be looking at a whole ‘nother story.

For starters, I would have questioned everything. Was the tornado actually a wormhole to another dimension, or am I lying in a coma and experiencing all of this in my mind? Did the Munchkins relocate to Munchkinland on their own accord, like some sort of Little People Cult Compound, or were they segregated from the rest of Oz society and banished there like Native Americans to a reservation? Also – does Glinda the so-called Good Witch really expect me to hike for miles along a brick road while wearing uncomfortable, tacky pumps that had just been on the feet of a dead woman?

magic sneakers

Still tacky, but probably a lot more comfortable than the slippers.

I’ll just walk in my bare feet, thanks.

Then there’s that little issue of people. Er…or whatever one would call the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale was clearly not an INTJ. Would I have stopped to help the Scarecrow down from his stake or offered oil to the Tin Man? Well, maybe. But I doubt I’d start telling them all my business, the way naïve, trusting little Dorothy does. Because you never know who might be hiding beneath that friendly scarecrow mask.

True, they turn out to be good guys. And true – they discover that the four of them have a shared goal of reaching the Emerald City, and so help each other along the path. Kind of like Harry Potter and friends, supporting one another through their years at Hogwarts and beyond.

Huh. Guess that makes me like Voldemort. Only without the evil and horcruxes and megalomania.

The other problem I would have if I were in Dorothy’s place is the poppies. Those lovely poppies, blooming so innocently along the path. See, that is already an issue for me at times. The Emerald City always glows in the distance like a giant jewel. Maybe it is the goal of completing a novel and getting it published. Maybe it is finishing my second-time-around college education. Or some other huge life goal. And all I have to do is stay on the yellow brick road. See yellow bricks? Keep walking forward. Keep studying the things it will take to establish you in your new career field. Keep writing and editing your novel.

sleeping in the poppiesBut then, there are those damned poppies.

Other exciting things to study that are not related to my career. Brainless television shows and book candy. Writing countless stories and blog posts and poems that are not my novel. And okay, it’s not so bad to stop and gather a few every now and then. But sometimes, I lose sight of the bricks. Off I go, skipping across another field of poppies, until I am completely distracted and filled with the intoxicating fragrance, until yawn…I just want to take a nap and forget about responsibilities and goals and…what novel? Zzzzz…

Dorothy needed a nudge to wake her up and set her back on her path. Luckily, she had the watchful eye of Glinda the Good Witch, who sent down soft, cold snowflakes to revive her (and her apparently good-for-nothing friends, who fell asleep, too). And hooray! They were back on track, and on their way to the Emerald City.

Follow the yellow brick road

Sometimes, I need a random snowfall to shock me awake, too. Or maybe an alarm clock. Or hypnotherapy. Whatever it takes to make sure that I stop playing in the stupid poppies and get back on my merry way. Because the Emerald City awaits. And the only thing that’s going to get me there is the power of my own two feet – ruby slippers or no ruby slippers.

Facing the Mountain (aka: Writing vs. Editing)

Goooaaalll!  

Okay, well, I am not exactly talking about scoring a soccer goal here. But the sentiment is the same. I feel like throwing my hands up in victory, throwing back my head, and cheering. I have accomplished a gooooaaaaallll!

closeup of an typewriter with the words "CHAPTER 1"  in blue lightingYesterday, I completed a novel. To be fair, it is not the first novel I’ve completed. But it is the first young adult novel I have ever completed, and by far the longest. Possibly the best, too. I don’t know. It’s not always easy to judge your own work.

It is not an easy accomplishment to write a novel. In fact, I would rank it right behind weight loss in terms of how much daily effort and discipline it takes. Better yet, maybe it is like mountain climbing. You dig in and pull and scrabble your way up the face of the mountain. But when you at last reach the top and celebrate, wiping the sweat from your brow, the realization hits you.

climbing-a-mountain

You have not reached the summit. Just beyond your little peak looms a higher, more challenging part of the mountain. It is very daunting – filled with obstacles, like icy crevasses and loose rock. Climbing that section will likely take three times longer and require far more effort and focus.

And that, dear reader is editing.

writing rewriting

Every writer is passionate about creating a story. But few writers enjoy the editing process. Improve the spelling and grammar? No problem. But, what? Change the point-of-view of the entire story? Improve believability? Kill my beloved characters and storylines? Make the voice more active and consistent? Make the character arc more clear? Plant clues and foreshadowing earlier in the story? Make the plot less predictable?

Aaack! It’s like torture. I would rather discuss politics with my mother than edit a novel. I would rather be forced to listen to Nickelback or Bruno Mars all day than edit my novel. I would rather engage in hours of small talk with people I barely know than edit my novel.

But editing must be done. It is the thing that takes a crappy first draft that should never see the light of day and transforms it into a worthwhile novel that readers will actually want to read. Anyone can write stories. Anyone can climb the easy, first part of the mountain, pat themselves on the back, and then call it a day. But true writers know that the real victory awaits at the peak. And so, I will slip on my best climbing shoes, gather up my rope and carabiners, and face the mountain once again. I’ll bet the view will be incredible. Summit success

Famous Writer Quotes on Editing

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” ~  Arthur Plotnik

OCD Editing

Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Venturing Downtown (aka: Life Through the Train Window)

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Downtown used to be a place that I barely gave much thought to. It was just some mysterious collection of skyscrapers in the distance; an unknown place that I passed while traveling from one suburb to another. Only very occasionally did I venture downtown for an occasional outing with my children, or to run an errand, or the once-in-a-blue-moon volunteer mission to feed the homeless. But I never lingered — only slipped into the city and out again without much venturing.

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Recently, however, I have been commuting downtown by light rail train. And rather than read or study during the ride, I’ve been gazing out the windows, fascinated by the diverse architecture I pass each day. Crumbling red brick buildings from a long-gone era squat stubbornly between sleek modern structures of steel and glass. Thoughtless storefronts and rubbish-filled vacant lots give way to the graceful gothic curves of an old cathedral, which give way to the rows of modern giants, who touch the sky like the fingers of gods. 20140429-131755.jpg20140429-131859.jpg

In a way, it’s like being on a Disneyland ride. Only, instead of mischievous pirates or international choirs of children, my ride weaves through a 3-D museum collection of Gold Rush era artifacts and modern-day masterpieces. I admire the shapes, colors, and design of each building, and I’m filled with a sense of curiosity about their stories. What foods and drinks are people enjoying inside those dozens od restaurants and bars? What would it be like to attend a concert or comedy performance at the old theater? Who are those suit-wearing people walking briskly toward our state capitol building? (And what is inside the walls of our capitol?). Why are the windows of the glass store so ironically boarded up? How will the face of downtown change after the empty, ghost-town mall is demolished so that our city can build a new basketball arena?

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It was easy to ignore the city when I was not a part of the city. But now that I, too, belong to the downtown, I am taking it all in in the way that I typically take in life — through the windows of a moving train, filled with questions that may never be answered, observing and wondering. Sometimes I wish that I were brave enough to step off the train at a different stop. Perhaps I could walk inside the Capitol building and see what’s inside. Or eat at a restaurant I’ve never been to. Or see a concert at the old theater. Perhaps.

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Or perhaps, it is just as satisfying to write my own story about downtown life. Because surely, beyond the walls of the Capitol building hides an enormous time machine, and those people clad in business suits are secret time travelers on their way to explore ancient civilizations, hunt dinosaurs, or live on space colonies in the distant future…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Walter Mitty (aka: Life is But a Dream)

I am Walter Mitty. Okay, obviously not really. I mean for starters, I’m a woman, and I don’t work at Life Magazine. But that’s not the point. I just went to see the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I’d been looking forward to seeing it since I first saw the movie trailer a few weeks ago. It did not disappoint. 
Walter Mitty running

In the film, Ben Stiller plays a middle-aged man named Walter Mitty, who lives a small and not very interesting life. He is a daydreamer who often escapes into a world of fantasy and adventure in his own mind, though in real life, he is quiet and somewhat invisible, living an ordinary life void of adventure or romance.

The very first thing that struck me as the movie began was the symbolism, as Walter is so busy daydreaming that he does not see his train rushing by until it is too late, and he has missed it. This is a pattern for Walter, who often lets the real life and love slip away, because he is lost in his fantasies instead of being in the moment. 

Walter Mitty lost in a daydream

Walter Mitty lost in a daydream

But luckily for him, an opportunity comes his way to have a real adventure. All he has to do is get on train (or the plane, or the helicopter, or the ship, etc.).Naturally, I saw myself in Walter Mitty. I am an invisible person, living a quiet and dull life, just raising my children and trying to keep my head above water. I am too timid to make friends, and as for real romantic relationships – well, those are totally out of the question. But I, like Walter Mitty, live through a very rich imagination. When I lie in bed, wrapped in blankets and reading a good book, my imaginary partner is by my side, reading his own book and occasionally sharing the good parts, as our feet rub together. And when I out am shopping for clothes, my imaginary best friend is with me, telling me not to buy that sweater, because the color is awful on me. And when I took myself to the movies today, I was sitting with my group of imaginary friends, who were cracking jokes and laughing until the lights dimmed, and we all shared popcorn and diet Cokes as we rooted for Walter Mitty through his real and imagined adventures. 

Walter Mitty jumps on the helicopter

Walter Mitty jumps on the helicopter.

So yes, I am Walter Mitty. But he had more courage than I can even imagine. When he was presented with the opportunity to convert his dreams into reality, he faced his fears. He got on the plane. He jumped on the helicopter. He went to places he had only ever dreamed of. He learned to live in the moment, and to make his reality even better than the fantasy. And I wondered, is this only the illusion of fiction, or could someone like me do something like that? Will life always be just like this, with me hiding from the real world like a timid little mouse in her burrow? Or, should the opportunity arise, will I be able to find the inner strength and courage to jump on the helicopter?

 

The Traveler at Starbucks (aka: Wanderlust Strikes Again)

 The other morning, I stopped by a Starbucks, with the intention of splurging on a good cup of coffee. It was outside of my neighborhood, located near a rail yard, in an area with a high homeless population. And so it was of little surprise to me to see him sitting there — a young guy, maybe in his early twenties, sitting on the ground outside of the Starbucks. Beside him was an oversized backpack, filled with his possessions and coated in grime, much like his worn-out clothes. In his hands, he held a ragged cardboard sign, which read: Traveling. Any Assistance Will Help.

I had so many questions. How long had this guy been traveling? Where had he been? Where was he going next? My curiosity was so great, that I wanted to sit on the ground beside him and listen to his story. But oh! As always, I was much too timid to speak. Instead, I shuffled toward him, eyes trained on the sidewalk, and handed him a crumpled five dollar bill.

“Hey, thanks! That means a lot.” The young man smiled up at me, his eyes brightening. And then he picked up his pack and was on his way, off to see the world. And though I was the one with the money, and I was the one with the car to drive myself to a Starbucks for a fancy cup of coffee or chai, I was filled with a sense of longing and envy for the life of the traveler, for his opportunities to see the world beyond the matching rooftops of the suburbs where I live. What wouldn’t I give to taste such freedom, to strap on a backpack and hike the Pacific Coast Trail, or ride trains through Europe, or explore South America by bus.

But that is not my life. I have children, and work, and obligations. My place, for now, is here in the suburbs. But that does not have to mean a life completely void of adventure. I, too, am an explorer. I experience the world through literature, through films, and through music from different nations and cultures. I get to know the world through art, history, and photography. And I taste the world by experimenting with international recipes. I may not wear a backpack or ride the rails, but like the young man sitting outside of Starbucks that morning, I too am a traveler. And for the next few weeks, here on my blog, I will share my adventures with you.