Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Fat Chance

There are fewer things I look forward to than a good work out. Haha. Just kidding. I probably don't dread anything more than going to the gym. At forty-two I've managed to join many, and attend few. It was a good system and it worked for my needs. Until a few years ago when I realized my waist size was keeping up with my age. Admittedly, it was convenient to have a mechanism for remembering my age, and likewise my waist size, assuming I'd never forget both at the same time.

I'd been a skinny kid my whole life up until my late twenties when I left the scurried activity of retail for a job at a desk, surrounded by corporate American food. As my activity level decreased (unless you count dancing on Saturday nights and lifting alcoholic bevvies to my lips) and my eating increased, the chubbies slowly sneaked up on me. At six feet two inches it took a while for people--for me--to notice, or acknowledge, really. Would I consider myself "obese"? No, but as a pre-worrier, I could picture myself not doing anything about it and having a heart attack in the shower and suffer a fate worse than death by being seen in my fat nakedness by the paramedics.

So, in October I decided to make a change. The past year had been one of incredible change for my husband and me. We'd faced many challenges and no doubt had more to face. And I wanted to be able to face them all in better physical condition which would in turn (so I was told) also strengthen my emotional position and help me to better manage stress. It's been three months from my initial membership commitment and I have seen results--the biggest being that I feel good about going. In fact, there is nothing better than the feeling AFTER you've worked out. It's done. And I'm at the further possible point from the next session!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Next Entry

I knew before starting this blog that I should have stock piled them for years so I'd always have one to post. I'm sure had my brain not known I had a blog, I would have produced several blog-worthy pieces by now. Such as life and the ridiculous way my mind works.

I've keeping busy with work and prepping for the Christmas holiday. We have company coming to stay with us a few different times during the season, so there was some work to do in getting the "guest nook" ready. However, in spite of that, I have finally unstuck myself with my "NaNo Novel" and pushed just past 27k words, ending a writer's block that--let's face it--I just was too lazy to get past. In a rare event, I was up until 2 AM on Saturday night, working on it. Not sure if end of 2010 is still realistic, but will be less concerned about dates and more about writing and getting the first draft done. I'm determined to have one, as I've been known (to myself at least) to languish on a first draft. I'm looking forward to getting back to it later this evening.

Not the most enlightening of blogs, but at least I published one!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chicago and/or Bust

Though I describe my childhood growing up in a small farming town in Indiana as idyllic, that perspective enjoys the distance of many years and many life experiences since. I was a shy, quite kid who always stuck pretty close to home, and as I entered high school that really didn't change much. I was biding my time, knowing the bright lights of a big city were in my future and that college loomed after high school graduation. A college town would certainly offer more to the closeted gay kid who dreamed of being a writer. Though I spent a lot of my time alone, I hate to use the word "lonely" because I never minded being alone and always managed to entertain myself--sometimes preferring it that way.

The college experience helped to bring me out of my shell, though begrudgingly. The college I attended was only 40 minutes from my parents’ house and the first semester of my freshman year I asked to be picked up so I could come home most every weekend. It wasn't that I missed my life there as much as I was comforted by the familiarity of my surroundings there. As first semester drew to a close I remember one weekend, my mom sat down with me and told me I needed to stop coming home so often. She wasn't being mean-spirited, wanting some "off" from the last of her three kids to leave the nest. She never had the chance to go to college and she thought I was missing out on the social aspect of what college had to offer. And she was right. I recently reminisced with her about that conversation. And though she didn't remember ever having said that to me, it's always stuck with me particularly when facing new social situations. I thanked for her for it because it made a big difference in giving me the nudge I needed to meet people and try new things. Never being one to have lots of friends, I managed to make a few close friends throughout my tenure there, some of whom I still keep in touch with today.

I floundered after college--career-wise. Though I had a degree in Communication, I didn't have the faintest idea what I wanted to do for a living. Of course I wanted to write, but not for a newspaper. The idea of all-nighters, chasing stories and meeting deadlines was enough to make me want to invent Xanax. I wanted to be a novelist. But there wasn't a major in neither “Novel Writing” nor a guaranteed paycheck with benefits. I was also struggling personally, having come out to myself my senior year and to the few friends I had. I wasn't sure how my folks or family would take it. I kept things very compartmentalized, a trait I still possess but only in a much broader sense. I had several jobs at the time, working full-time as a restaurant manager in a hotel and working at a national video chain part-time. I ended up quitting the restaurant because it was going belly up and they were being shady about my salary, and began working at the video store full-time. Though my relationship with my family was strained at the time mostly due to my lack of communication with them, my social life was a personal high! The college town I lived in had its very own bona fide gay bar. I hung out there with friends and just marveled at the fact that I wasn't the only gay person on the face of the planet. I danced a lot and goofed around and flirted occasionally. It was like running a marathon I'd trained my whole life for. It was fun and felt so natural.

But after a year or so it got old. Though the city in which I lived was large, it was by no means a metropolis and opportunities there were limited. I had some great friends who I would miss, but something bigger was calling to me: Chicago. It was the nearest big city and I grew watching all the major broadcast channels, detailing big city news. At times I considered our tiny burg a suburb. I needed to get there. I didn't have any money saved in order to quit my job and move there to figure out what the hell I wanted to do and how the hell I could make money doing it. I was friendly with the owner of the video store (a franchise of the chain) and asked if they had any contacts in Chicago to see if there might be a chance for a transfer of sorts. And they did. I interviewed at another franchise there and got a call a couple of days later offering me the job. I think the pay was $17k with a chance for bonuses. And I leapt at it.

I was the assistant manager at a store in Hoffman Estates which when I accepted the job seemed close enough to Chicago. It was a haul. I found an advertisement for a roommate in Gay Chicago Magazine and drove up to meet him. He called me a few days later to okay the deal, pending all the appropriate deposits. It was a beautiful apartment in the Ukrainian Village and he was though intellectual, a very nice guy. I moved into my room with just a scant wardrobe, a few milk crates and my diary. For the first month or so I didn't have a bed but rather slept on three pillows the old roommate had left that lined up in a skinny row that at the time fit my skinny body perfectly. A futon was something I'd need to save up for. Funny how twenty-something resilience and naiveté can propel you through circumstances that would seem unacceptable to anyone else. But I was spellbound by Chicago. Or at least by the idea of Chicago. Not to say I didn't feel the depression of my circumstances. Having the money to do little else but sit in my room, my journal from that first year has an entry from almost every day. Reading through the entries can be a little painful. It's clear by my tone and multiple uses of the world "fabulous" that I was fooling myself in a good old college try of "fake it 'til you make it." One of the conditions of my moving is was to have my own phone line (years before cell phones were affordable or really even known to most people other than Jonathan and Jennifer Hart or J.R. Ewing.) I was so busy talking on the phone at every opportunity, telling my old friends back home how happy I was it shouldn't have surprised me that my first (and last) phone bill was $800. Good bye, phone. Hello, isolation.

(My first apartment in the Ukrainian Village. The upper left apartment, obscured by the tree, is where I spent 90% of my free time obscured in my room.)

I stumbled through my first year in Chicago only by the stark fact I couldn't afford to leave. Nothing had turned out at all like I'd imagined or hoped for. When it came time to renew my lease my roommate sat me down much like my mother had in college and suggested I move someplace closer to Boystown (as I went out to the bars there when my work schedule and my wallet permitted) rather than renew and stay with him, he being older and somewhat more settled. I wasn't the ideal roommate in my early twenties, but I think he was honestly trying to do me a favor--and no doubt himself as well. I've seen him in the intervening years and we have laughed about that and all the other antics I pulled.

At least looking for an apartment this time was easier since I was more familiar with the city. I found another ad in Gay Chicago for an apartment in Boystown. Though the roommate didn't impress me nor did the Pepto-Bismo colored bedroom, I thought it would be a good base of operations for whatever was next for me. In spite of the bedroom color, it had a huge "L" shaped closet that must have been a hallway at some point in its history. Ironically, I remember spending a lot of time in there, nestled among my growing wardroom and my reactivated phone line. The roommate turned out to be somewhat of a freak, but it could have been worse. I'd gotten a new job that was closer than the first one and though it was another dead-end retail job I grew to hate, something unforgettable happened there. Something that changed my life. (But that's a whole 'nother blog.)

(My second apartment on Diversey. Funny, it seemed smaller when I lived there.)

Chicago was where I belonged and with one year under my belt, I was confident about that. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. I remember going back to my college town for a weekend visit and ran into a friend of mine who asked me how I liked living in Chicago. I told him I loved it (and by that time I'd meant it.) He smiled, surprised, and said, "I really thought the big city would chew you up and spit you out."

Well it didn't, dick.

Friday, December 10, 2010

In the Shadow of NanoWriMo

I've considered participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) many times within the past few years. The "rules" indicate that you shouldn't start NaNoWriMo with a partially started or completed project, but rather with a bare outline or nothing at all. I had been languishing with a novel I started in 1999 and rather than setting it aside and moving on, I kept pushing and pulling it, trying to make it "work". Because I'm a rule follower, I kept dismissing NaNo until "next year."

2010 was different. I had indeed set my languishing project aside, and worse, since my husband's cancer diagnosis, subsequent surgery and treatment, I hadn't been writing much at all. I couldn't get my arms around any kind of project--which is pretty understandable. A writer friend of mine mentioned in passing that she had begun writing a young adult paranormal book as an escape from her medical school studies. I later read the work and I found it astoundingly good! Meanwhile I was still trying to figure out something to write about, but life and work took my attention and I settled for writing in my journal.

Her words kept echoing in my head as I contemplated some ideas, and I was intrigued by the genre she was pursuing, yet the ideas didn't ignite. As my husband began chemotherapy I decided NaNoWriMo was the perfect productive distraction to occupy my mind and give me an escape of my own. I had planned on writing a novel based on a TV pilot I'd written for Scriptapalooza TV a couple of years prior, but as the November 1 start date loomed closer, the "rule follower" in me changed my mind and began with absolutely no concept all. The muse kicked in and I just started writing scene by scene rather than thinking about the project as a whole. The idea of writing just for fun--rather than for a result--sounded wonderful. And it was! It reminded me it was the very reason I started writing in the first place back when I was thirteen.

In addition to a brand new idea, I decided to add some challenge to the fun in order to explore myself as a writer. Most of my previous works had all been told in first person. It's a voice and point of view that is easy for me and I think I'm pretty decent at. So I decided

  • to write in third person
  • to not write chronologically, but rather jump around, writing scenes that were interesting to me (the point being to end up with no scenes that are boring or pointless)
  • Don't title it until after the first draft is done!
  • to not worry what the book was about (in true NaNo fashion)
  • to tell people I was doing it--partly to overcome my "writing is private" sensibility and partly to help hold me accountable for finishing
November 30 came and went without yours truly completing the 50k word goal; rather it left me shrugging, scratching my head, and ultimately beating myself up for not making it more of a priority and eking out time each and every day no matter what was going on and no matter how many hours of sleep it deprived me of. I ended November at the halfway point. I'm still committed to the novel I started and not doing anything that would distract me from it like starting a blog or anything. Oh, wait. Anyway, with the holidays (holidays) approaching and bringing in-laws with them, I don't see how I can complete it by end of December, but at least I'm not making up excuses are anything. These excuses are real!

I am working to complete my first draft of "NaNoWriMo Novel" a title I'm happy with for now at steady pace of as many as 1k words per day (or night) as possible. I think most writers struggle once they're so far in they can't see the way back or the way forward, but it's still exciting to me when I sit down, clear my mind of daily clutter, and try to focus, mostly because of the rules I established above. Even though I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo, the reminder of writing for fun was prize enough.

Writers are writers because they write, right?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The First Entry

I have been toying with the idea for a blog for a long time and as an aspiring writer I've read innumerable articles about the "must" have having a writer's website. Problem is, I've struggled with being able to offer compelling content. When people I know read it, I wanted them to have something positive (and honest) to say about it. So, I decided the following:

        1.        to figure out my point of view which will reveal itself as we go and define it
        2.        figure out if/how I'm going to publicize my little piece of bandwidth
        3.        produce at least one blog per week

As mentioned in the "About Me" portion of the website, I started writing prolifically when I was about thirteen. Enthralled with the nighttime soaps of the 80s, I write a "Dallas" knock-of that was about a wealthy Oklahoma family. See? Not Texas. VERY different. With no outline or plan the book meandered aimlessly, but kept me occupied in the evenings for probably a year. Long before the age of affordable personal computers, I hand wrote the whole thing on ruled, three-hole punched paper and remember placing the stack of weary pages I was so proud of inside a Snoopy three-ring binder. Although I got bored over the years and did re-writes and overhauls, I remember a profound sense of accomplishment when I felt it was "done." I didn't discuss my writing with anyone and continue to be very private about it. I remember the summer before my sophomore year in high school my family was getting ready for a two-week road trip vacation to Texas to visit family, then dip into Mexico for a "foreign" experience. (My parents were relying far too much on my two semesters of freshman Spanish.) Photo of the trip below. I'm the hot one on the left.

I took my completed manuscript titled "The Monarchy", wrapped it in plastic wrap and hermetically sealed it with tape then hid it deep in the center of the area rug in my bedroom, that part of the floor concealed further by my bed. It was everything to me, and I couldn't bear the thought of criminals breaking in to our house while we were gone, selling it to a publisher, capitalizing on my hard work. I wouldn't have it!

That memory is demonstrative of the role writing has played in my life, and though life has taken some twists in turns in the intervening years, I write a lot--whether it's a current writing project, my journal, or a note card to a close friend. Of all the things I've written and all the times I've moved, I still have portions of "The Monarchy."

I guess there really is nothing like your first. (Oh, and you better believe this excerpt is SUPER copyrighted!)