Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A History of Words

In the beginning...

 I've been writing ever since I can remember.  My mother even wrote down poems that I created (on the highly original topics of "Red" "Blue" and "Colors") before I could write
Red

 
Red is a color
Blazy and bright
Red is feeling strong
With all your might

Fire-cracker
Fire-flicker
Fire-engine
Red

And when you get angry
Red is in your head
(Actually, I like "Red" which either goes to show that there was a spark of something there at four years old, or that my sensibilities have not improved by thirty-four.  You can see the poem, right.)

Curiously, though, I was a late reader.  From nursery school through second grade, I was in the slowest of all the reading groups - the sort that read See Jack Run when the other kids were reading War and Peace (or so it felt).  I remember in Kindergarten, other students were reading and so, to fit in, one day I grabbed Dr. Seuss' Hop on Pop which was a staple at the Snyder household, and which I had memorized down to the page-turn.  I announced that I would read it (aka perform it) out loud, which I did perfectly to nobody's interest...and besides which, I wasn't reading it at all.

Then, in second grade, while I was supposed to be working on a math problem (I remember I was something like the fourth row back from the teacher, second row in from the wall, near the end of the alphabet which hung suspended from the front door to the back door of the classroom), I overheard the story that the "smart group" was reading.  It was a fairy tale, along the lines of Cinderella meets the three fairy godmothers from Disney's Sleeping Beauty by way of the Norns, and it included a picture.  Now, I've always loved fairy tales and being denied the reading of one because I was in the See Jack Run group was tantamount to a crime.  I ditched math, snuck the reading textbook onto my desk, found the fairy tale and zipped through it.

I became a reading fiend.

When I got my superpower...

 In third grade, I was suddenly bumped up to a fourth grade reading level.  There were a few of us in a separate group, and we had not only our own table but a considerable number of privileges.  Our teacher, Mrs. Rombanus, was an awesomely crazy, red-haired, Ramona-Quimby-esque woman, who firmly believed not only in being outside of the box, but also scribbling on it.  I asked her if, instead of our usual morning writing prompt of "What I did over summer vacation" I could write whatever I felt like.

Sure, she said.

Could I write serialized fiction, a chapter a day?

Sure, she said.

Could I write poetry?

Sure, she said.

In the library, I began reading everything there was to read about dinosaurs - and became an expert.  (I wasn't.)  I found this book by this guy named Shakespeare, whose name sounded familiar and combined with some arcane honour, and read Romeo and Juliet because I had heard of it.  (More on this later.)  I read A Secret Garden and then proceeded to attempt to write my daily fiction entirely in dialect.  That came back with a ton of red correction marks because I'd faithfully dropped all my h's and ending g's from -ing's as well as writing words as phonetically as possible.  I was frustrated with Mrs. Rombanus for not realizing good dialect when she read it...but then noticed that she hadn't corrected any of my made-up proper nouns.

"Ah-ha!" thought I.  "If I make up the name of something...she can't correct it."

I began to write fantasy.

One of the projects that the super-duper league of third-grade readers were asked to do was to go down to the mentally challenged students (they weren't integrated into classrooms, then) and read to them books for about half an hour.  This was all very well, but after a day or two of this, I suggested to my classmates that it would be far superior (and less drool-y...I'm afraid my first day I'd been placed with a perfectly lovely fellow human being who, while I dutifully read Clifford, fell asleep on my shoulder and cheerfully wetted it) if we acted out the stories.

My fellow SDLTGRers were amenable to the idea, and I began organizing us as we would walk through the school to the classroom.  We never rehearsed before and we were all on book (and frankly, I feel as though I ended up taking most or at least the largest of the parts) but we'd (I'd?) enthusiastically assemble our audience and put on story-plays that were the envy of any one of Shakespeare's rude mechanicals.

Unfortunately, after about five performances, the SDLTGR players were told to stop and go back to being drooled on, because the special needs students were, "Becoming over-excited," which - to this day - bothers me as an excuse.  Because, honestly, isn't that the point of theatre and reading and school?  But the teachers wanted a soporific...and so our services were no longer required.

The importance of daydreaming...

 In fourth grade, I was put into the gifted program - which was essentially that one day a week a few of us from grades 4-8 would be pulled out of whatever our class was doing and allowed to pursue whatever we were interested in for about an hour.  It was homeschooling without the home.  I remember there was an eighth grader who was doing statistics - which mostly seemed to be about throwing dice around and making poster boards.  Our teacher, as it were, would occasionally call us all together to give us brain teasers along the lines of "The person with the strawberry has a blue shirt and is third in line from the person with a red shirt so who has the banana?"  I was only moderately good at them.

What I was good at was entertaining myself.  At our first meeting to meet each other and learn about the class and decide what we wanted to focus on, I announced that since I Knew Everything About Dinosaurs (having made that comprehensive study of looking at the pictures in the books in our small library), and since my maternal Grandmother had just given me my first journal with radishes on it, I Would Write Poetry.

My thought was that since Statistics Girl had a clear goal of throwing as many dice as possible in each session, I ought to write at least three to four poems per class as well.  However, I found that inspiration was considerably more elusive than statistics.  One day, sitting in the middle of the library, at a table by myself while several feet before me closer to the windows Statistics Girl was going great guns on her poster, I was surprised by the teacher coming up behind me and asking how I was doing.

Startled out of my reverie, I confessed that I had been daydreaming.  "That's wonderful," my teacher told me.  "That's what a poet is supposed to do."

At that moment, I decided that I had better be a writer.

Because I really like to daydream.

What a novel idea!...

 Writing helped keep me sane during our move from New Hampshire to New Jersey in the middle of fourth grade.  Reading Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (in the original - it turned out I'd gotten a "modernized" version in third grade - mumble grumble) gave me confidence.

In seventh grade, Ken Burns' The Civil War documentary aired, concurrent with having just read the unabridged Gone with the Wind, both of which inspired me so much that I went out and Learned Everything About the Civil War (I didn't), and started a truly atrocious novel about spies and southern belles in the Civil War...which was mostly about myself (as the heroine) and my current crush (as the Yankee spy) with our own names....  Needless to say, that book will not only remain deep beneath the bed, but deep within the trash bin.

It was important, though, because it was my first stab at a novel.  I never finished it, although I wrote maybe a hundred pages, because in freshman year I began writing a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamlin which by the second paragraph had become Elspeth.  This project took up much of my brain through my first year out of college, at which point I was caught up with Austenesque frenzy...and a dead-end day job.  (One of the best motivations to write, I think, is a cubicle.)  I wrote Presumption, Nachtsturm Castle and the basis for Letters of Love & Deception.

I also began having success with publication at this time.  In 2002-2003 I wrote and published Niamh and the Hermit, followed soon after by Charming the Moon....

And then I fell off the map.

What happened?  Theatre.

Where have all the novelists gone?...

As has been well-documented, in 2009 Margaret C. Sullivan and Laura MacDonald from Girlebooks.com both pulled me back into the fiction-writing world with Nachtsturm Castle.  The Austenesque community graciously pulled me in last June with the Austenesque Extravaganza.  And last June, I began a grand experiment to see if I could "give more attention to this writing thing" than I had been.

But it's tough.  And my hat's off to those women who are mothers, which is a more than full-time job, who also write.  Or to those authors who hold down full-time jobs, who also write.  Or to anyone, frankly, who finds the time to write.  My hat's off to those folk who are good at social networking, at maintaining blogs and all the details that go into running a successful on-line community, to twitterers and facebookers, promoters and independent publishers, to all those self-driven folk who are social despite a solitary craft.  I'm trying to keep up with you Jonses...but I'm having a tough time.

One of the reasons I haven't given "more attention to this writing thing" is because of my "theatre thing."  Something that's got me fully sewn up from now to August.  (And hopefully, beyond.  I haven't yet slated in my post-August season, but I need to get on that by March at the latest!)

As readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed, there have been long stints of non-writing in my life.  In point of fact, what I learnt simultaneously and which came to fruition in college, was that what I like even better than daydreaming alone is daydreaming with others: that is, the act of solitary creation in writing is less exciting to me than the act of collaborative creation in theatre.  Or, perhaps I should say, the act of collaborative creation is far more urgent than solitary creation.  A show date come hurtling at me, with all the decisions and indecisions, problems and perfections of any work of art...only there's no putting off the deadline.  And, as a director, there are a ton of choices to make - and everyone needs you to make them yesterday.  I'm not complaining (although I'm pretty close to putting up two shows, so maybe there's a little facedesking in there).  But I am explaining.

For me to write fiction, I find I have to be in the proper headspace: it has to be the right time of day, I need to be awake, a large cup of tea is helpful, earbuds, the proper musical playlist (I'll play one song on repeat if necessary to keep myself in a certain emotional landscape) - and then even once in that space, it takes a while for my soul to really rest there, to clear itself and let the juices flow.  If they flow.

The show must go on!...

As opposed to theatre where if I don't show up, ain't nobody doing theatre that day.  Hence, I've gone to dress tech the day before show with a stomach flu, having just thrown up half an hour before, because I was the sole vocalist and the show was half song and it was the day before show and the show must go on.

I broke my arm on the first day of Romeo and Juliet rehearsal, was dragged out of rehearsal and to the hospital by the efforts of my mother, my sister, and my three stage managers (I didn't want to go, despite the fact that wrists don't usually look like that), but left my sister and my three stage managers in charge.  I returned to rehearsal the next day and the next several weeks drugged down with pain killers that - if I were home - knocked me out almost immediately, but were no match for the rush of adrenaline I got as soon as my feet hit the rehearsal space.  What's even more impressive is that, despite being one-armed and drugged up for most of the rehearsal process, that's one of the shows that I feel I directed the best.

I spent one year pulling almost nothing but double rehearsals (two rehearsals in one day with just enough time to travel, and not always enough time to eat or prep for the second rehearsal), while holding down a full-time teaching job.  Fortunately, my father and sister were in the second show, so I'd get myself home, type up my blocking notes (which looked like war plans because it was choreography for The Pirates of Penzance), crawl into the family car, and fall asleep for the twenty minutes it took to get from here to there and be early.  My feet would hit the floor of the rehearsal room and I had better be good to go, because there were seventy people staring at me for direction.

There's no time to get into the right headspace for theatre.  Or, there is, but it's a matter of never quite leaving that headspace.  Even now, as I type this, my brain is full of Macbeth and some casting questions we still have (any young men near Concord want to be in a show?), and how awesome the final fight is, and how I have to do up the props list, and write e-mails, and revise the schedule, and a thousand other things for tonight.

And I'm still partially in The Light Princess world which goes up in two weeks (six more rehearsals), and which is starting to come together as a show, and which is still not fully costumed yet, and which still has forms which need to come back for when we take it on tour, and which helium balloon floated away yesterday for one of our tricks and so I'm thinking we'll scrap the helium balloon and just use a regular old one which might be easier anyway.   

And a weeeeeeee little part of me is thinking about Occupy Walmart which goes up post-Macbeth, and whatever we'll be doing for the Sophomore competitive play (also post-Macbeth), and Midsummer Night's Dream which begins post-Sophomore competitive play.

Phew!...

So, I'm still writing Strangeways, I'm still revising Presumption, and I'm still here.  I'm just also in Scotland, and Faery, and Walmart, and Athens, and wherever the Sophomore Class votes on going.  It'll be an adventure, and I'll meet you on the other side!

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