Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farewell to the Grey Bullet on the Eve of Thanksgiving

We lost one of our cats yesterday. Annabel, our lovely 19-year old and perhaps the sweetest cat I've ever known, became suddenly ill and we learned to our dismay that it was a fast-moving cancer. It was a tremendously hard thing to do but for her sake and her comfort, my wife and I sat gently stroking her fur as she purred quietly and finally went to sleep for the last time in the vet's office.

The last 36 hours have been so strange. She's been a central part of my everyday life for more than 9 years and I first met her when she was just a kitten. For my wife, Annabel was a beloved companion since she was 4 weeks old, almost half my wife's life. I walk in the house expecting to see her. We still have her pill schedule on a white board in the kitchen and I can't bring myself to erase it. She was doing so well, perhaps a little arthritic, maybe suffering from a bit of kitty senility most notably when she'd forget where we were, but for a cat who was 19 years, 4 months old, she was in pretty good shape and we thought we had more time.

Sadly we didn't. It happened so fast that I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. I tried to put it in words earlier today on my other blog, on which I'm recording our progress toward the hoped-for adoption of a little girl. It didn't help with my grief. In fact, my efforts simply reinforced how important Annabel was in our life. Until we made the decision to try and adopt earlier this year, our cats and any future pets were our children. They were as close as we were going to get. The act of losing one creates a void and an aching feeling of incompleteness around the house and in my view of my world.

This has been, in many ways, a dreadful year. My grandmother passed away, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, my folks lost their wonderful dog Maggie to a fast-moving cancer, and now we said goodbye to Annabel.

In a matter of days, we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving and happily, my mother will be there bustling about my sister's kitchen helping with food prep, doting on her granddaughters, and mercifully cancer-free following her final radiation treatment in just 72 hours. My grandmother won't be there and we'll all feel her absence. But with my grandmother, Annabel, and Maggie, I'll be so thankful this Thursday to have had them in my life for as long as I did. They added color and humor and just a bit of slobber (Annabel and Maggie, not my grandmother) and won't be forgotten.

It doesn't make up for their loss but it's a start.

May you, your families, your friends, your pets, and all of your loved ones have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving next week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gotta get a move on

Already 15 days down in the National Novel Writing Month and I'm only at 16,440 words. I need to get cracking if I'm going to be at at least 50,000 by November 30th! I guess I need to not wait for the weekends to let my fingers fly over the keyboard.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not an eyewitness to history

So much history 20 years ago between the middle of October and the middle of November -- the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the Bay Area and disrupted the World Series and several weeks later, the Berlin Wall came down. Two major moments in U.S. and world history...

and I missed them both.

As it happened, I was at sea throughout that eventful fall on the R/V Westward along with 23 other students as we headed south as part of the Sea Semester program.

In both instances, we learned about events well after they occurred, making landfall first in Antigua where we got details about the earthquake and then later, as we headed farther south, discovering that the Berlin Wall had come down while we were gone.

In today's ultra-connected world, it's odd to think that you could be out of touch so completely that you would miss milestone events in history. One of the products made by the company I work for is an antenna system and global network of satellite communications that offers the equivalent of a cable modem experience at sea so even in the middle of the Atlantic the world is simply a mouse click or telephone call away.

Even 20 years ago, we at least had radio. Thinking about it, I believe we did get word of the earthquake while at sea -- one of the students was from the Bay Area and the SEA staff tracked down her family, confirmed that everyone was OK, and radioed the ship to let her know. But that was it. No other details. No television images. No text messages with "OMG wall is dwn" to keep us up to date.

Instead, we were in a bubble unconnected and seemingly untethered from the rest of the world and it was a wonderful thing.

Pretty much everywhere I go now, I carry my iPhone. I'm available by phone, by e-mail, by text message. I can get on the web, I can send and receive photos, I stay up to date with events as they happen, regardless of where I am. Today at work, I heard a few people reminiscing about watching the live footage of the events in Berlin -- the people on the Wall, the celebrations, all the things that come to mind when you're asked the question "Where were you when you were watching..."

I found myself smiling because I didn't really have an answer. I wasn't anywhere that I would have been able to watch and part of me thrills at the memory of how amazing it felt to set foot on a new island and be told that while I'd been at sea, the world had changed in some dramatic way.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Spur

OK, I realize that with regard to my writing, it's time to get back on the horse, back in the saddle, or whatever other equine reference you care to use. After the exhaustion of September and October -- two months during which the last thing I wanted to do after a day at work was come home and write -- I need to buckle down and force myself to get back into the habit and not just on my two blogs but on something big and challenging.

To help prod the creative writer in me to get off my ass, I decided I needed something to spur me along, to give me a target to shoot for when I sit down and look at my computer. And so, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month for the first time a few days ago.

The goal is to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30th. They don't necessarily have to be good words and in fact, the organizers advise against excessive editing, rewrites, or deletions. The goal is to get to 50,000 and then you can start worrying about whether or not it's any good, or as they say in the helpful tips section:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

I've had an idea I've wanted to work on for a long time but have been held up because I didn't really know where I want it to go. I'm the type of writer who feels like I need the details all planned out to ensure that I get where I want to go. I'm the same way with opening paragraphs -- in college I'd agonize over an opening paragraph for hours sometimes because that small bit of text provided the thematic hook for the entire paper. (I'm still that way though I don't agonize for quite as long now.) The idea of trying to write a novel without knowing exactly where I want to go with it makes me uncomfortable.

However, with this project, I know how I wanted to start it but honestly, my ideas for where it would end up just haven't felt quite right. It's not really writer's block...more like a writer lacking a map.

National Novel Writing Month gives me an excuse to ignore the wished-for map for a while and instead just write, let the ideas flow, and see where they take me.

I might not like where I end up but I'll have forced myself to plow on and push through, getting back into fighting trim as it were for the purposes of writing. Who knows? Maybe something will shake loose and I'll figure out how the story needs to end or, if nothing else, how to continue it. But one thing I won't do is stop writing or scrap what I've done because:
There's an old folk saying that goes: Whenever you delete a sentence in your NaNoWriMo novel, a NaNoWriMo angel loses its wings and plummets, screaming, to the ground.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Emerge into daylight

October is finally over, thank God -- 31 days long and it felt at least double that.

The weather was bizarre (cold, warm, rainy, sunny, monsoon), the Red Sox lost in the playoffs, and work was absolutely overwhelming in terms of the number of projects divided by the time available. I think I saw my parents at some point during the past month but in all honesty, it's a bit blurry. There were days when my wife and I only managed a mumbled "goodmorninghaveagoodday" as we passed each other on the way out the door followed by a shambling "hi, I'm really beat and am going to bed" when we arrived home at night. Most frustratingly was the dramatic slowdown in our adoption efforts (previously mused upon here). Generally, October was brutal.

What felt especially odd was that I couldn't summon the energy to do much writing at all -- only 10 entries on "Walks in the Marsh", 3 entries on "150 Steps", and absolutely no progress on my maybe-novel, which is stalled following a promising start. After a long series of months filled with writing, everything came screeching to a halt and it felt so weird. It's not that there weren't things to write about -- baseball, football, politics, adoption, movies, TV ("Castle" is our absolute favorite TV show by the way) -- but the idea of sitting down and writing simply lost its appeal after 12 hour days crammed with meetings, writing, and editing at my office or during a weekend otherwise full of work.

Believe me, I'm not complaining. Jennifer and I both have jobs, work with people we like and respect, and get paid for it, which is a damn sight more than other folks. October simply was one of those perfect storm situations where so many things came together that you just needed to focus on getting through the next task or project in the hope that when you emerge on the other side, you would be able to slow down and get your breath (aka "downshifting to impulse speed" as described by my delightfully geeky wife).

And now, at last, October is in the rear view mirror. The major projects that were underway are now done, and there's some breathing room to finish our adoption materials, to hopefully leave work in time for dinner at home with my wife, to relax just a bit, to start taking some of that accrued vacation time that is in danger of being lost come January 1, and hopefully to let some creativity flow and enjoy the feeling of tapping away on the keyboard or scribbling in my Moleskine notebook.

Welcome to November.

(cross-posted on "150 Steps...An Adoption Journey")