Monday, March 10, 2008

What's Your Thing?

Lately Emma has been asking people what their "thing" is. As in: Mommy, is writing stories your thing? Well, yes, I say to her. It is. If by "my thing" you mean that it's the thing that I inexplicably feel compelled to do even though it makes me want to tear my hair out with frustration and doubt and the realizations of my own shortcomings. Emma says that her thing is drawing pictures. And Charlie's thing is playing with cars. Somehow I don't think they're as tortured by their things as I am by mine.

I don't think I've mentioned the fact that I had to trash the novel I'd been working on off and on for the past four years. Yep. I haven't much wanted to talk about it because it sucks. I had been writing away on it happily, thinking things were just fine, imagining the movie stars that would play my characters in the movie version, the dress I would wear to the Oscars, etc., etc. (because everyone knows that writing a book is your ticket into the Oscars--at least it is in my fantasy) and then I looked up from what I was doing, printed the whole thing out, put it in a classy green notebook and realized something: The story really started on p. 135 or so and I had only written about, oh, 137 pages. It's like if I had been sewing a dress and I was so hung up on the details of the lace trim that I didn't realize I had accidentally sewn three-and-a-half arms and a tail.

So now I am working on a new story and it's pretty exciting (in that tedious, scary, staring-at-blank-screen way). I mourned my old story and my old characters for about a day or so and now I'm on to the new characters and their problems. For a little while there, this new story was like a rebound relationship and I was obsessed with it. I wanted to talk about it all the time to anyone who would listen (i.e., Brandon) and everything I encountered somehow related back to me and my story.

Now, I've been dating this story for a few months and I see it for what it is: a fun project that provides just enough angst to keep me interested. I guess that's the definition of what my "thing" is. So, what does that say about me?

Today Emma had an "Author's Tea" at her school. All the children read the books that they "wrote" and illustrated. It was hilarious to hear their stories. They were all variations on the same theme: Snow. Emma's story was great, but the pictures were amazing. Drawing pictures really is her thing. I hope her thing brings her a less complicated joy than my thing brings me. Some of the kids were too shy to sit in the chair at the front of the room while their story was being read, or they buried their face in their hands and twisted their body away from the small crowd of parents and students. Emma sat at the front of the room, enjoying every minute of the limelight. Could she be more different from me?

Brandon and I share many things in common and one of those is our love of mountain-climbing documentaries. Surprised? I can't get enough of the harrowing stories of people making their way to the summit. I have no desire to actually do this myself, but it is so exciting to watch others do it in the comfort of your living room while snuggling with your husband under a warm blanket. Somehow Tivo knew we loved mountain climbing shows even though we had never explicitly told him that we loved mountain climbing shows. Tivo kindly started recording Everest about a month ago and we have been hooked ever since. Everest is a reality show/documentary that follows a few teams of mountain climbers as they attempt to climb Mt. Everest (you probably could've figured that one out on your own). It is truly crazy what these men go through to get to the top of this mountain. One guy loses the tips of all his fingers and toes to frost bite; another guy attempts to climb on prosthetic legs. They make the final summit attempt in the middle of the night in 40-below temperatures. They cannot breathe on their own and the air is so thin it is known as the "death zone." When the sun finally comes up, the sky is the deep-blue hue that tells you they are close to leaving the earth's atmosphere. They are way up there. And when they get to the top, they're only allowed to be there for about 15 minutes or so because the climb down is even harder than the climb up and they're running out of oxygen. But when they are up there it must be like getting a taste of what Heaven is like. The camera pans the view from the top of the mountain and it is all mountains plunging through clouds as far as the eye can see; the extreme beauty of nature is almost scary it's so breathtaking. I imagine it is a moment where God feels like a tangible thing. Like you could just reach out and touch him. It is a view on the world that many are willing to die for. Now, to compare writing to climbing Mt. Everest is a little lame. The closest I come to the "death zone" when writing is getting low blood sugar in the middle of writing a pivotal scene. But, I do think that I share a little of the same neurosis with the Everest guys. I understand that some things are worth suffering for. As a writer I am constantly working and struggling to get to that perfect view...that version of the world that both reflects and exceeds my own. I am a long, long way from getting there. I am like below base camp. I'm still in the airport, with a huge backpack, my power bars and all my North Face gear. But, I'm excited to make the journey. I know it will be worth it. I guess that's what makes it my thing.


Anonymous said...

It's a good thing we don't all have to do the same "thing" to be happy. I could never do what you do so well!


Pam said...

I had a "flow" moment recently where I realized that something's my thing if the reward for doing it is the opportunity to do it more. I don't know if I'm saying it right, but I imagine that after the movie based on your new book wins all the Oscars (and it totally will, and I promise that I will stay up late that night and watch the Oscars for the first time ever), the best part will be that you'll then have the chance (i.e., the financial freedom and the guaranteed publication opportunities) to write more books.

Having our "things" is so important, and that's awesome that Emma and Charlie are identifying theirs as well. I'm not really sure what Talia's is--maybe changing her baby doll's diaper? (What does that say about her life if the ultimate reward for her will be the chance to change more diapers??) This morning, she asked, "Do you remember when I was a little baby and I wanted a diaper change?"

Thanks for all the food for thought!

Anonymous said...

I am going to mourn your (previous) novel, too, if that's OK. I loved hearing about it and feel like I would have been friends with all the characters. Heck, I feel like I AM one of the characers right now (the one having to move in with her mom). :) Love and best wishes and all the confidence in you in the world...


mdm said...

I'll have to trust your judgment on the novel dumping.

But one thing -- perchance one of the few things -- I've learned about writing of any kind is that the writer is not always in a position to be the best judge.

Most close friends and relatives will lie to you or don't really know. They rarely belie their true feelings by vomiting.

Evaluation from credible strangers is pretty much out of the question without a fee.

So if you're lucky, you have a close and knowledgeable friend or acquaintence you can count on for an honest reaction...someone who should know.

But then there's the do-I-really-WANT-to-know factor.

So, in the end, it usually comes back to the writer to decide.

By the time I've re-read something several times that I've written, it's lost its original luster from repetition alone, and I dump it.

In my case, it's probably a wise move. In your case, I doubt it. But...

I'll trust your judgment.

Suzanne said...

So I'm guessing the guy who lost the fingers and toes isn't as smart as the guy with the prosthetic leg. When I climb Everest, I'm going to wear as many prostheses as possible.


Elizabeth said...

Good point, Suzanne...although Brandon pointed out that the guy with the prosthetic legs lost them from frostbite (during a previous mountain climbing adventure). I think the smart thing to do is just watch Everest on Tivo. : )

Phillips Family said...

Too bad about novel number 1....hopefully novel number 2 will have a better outcome!

I, too, enjoy the films on Everest and other extreme places/locations. However, I like to visit them only from my couch!

Have you seen "Into the Wild" yet? Loved the book and the movie was great. (tragic..especially if you have a son...but great)

Elizabeth said...

I'm dying to see Into the Wild. I gave the book to Brandon for Christmas and he really liked it. I'd love to read the book...maybe after I get through Atonement. : )

Patty said...

I am soo happy to be back reading Mommytown. I took a hiatus when I first returned to work after my maternity leave. During that time I faithfully read this blog on a regular basis. This day I especially love because my husband and I watched Everest last year sometime before I had a newborn which makes it difficult to do anything but sleep when they sleep. : )

Anyway, just wanted to say I missed you and look forward to reading more of your mommy stories. So many times I can relate as probably most moms can. My daughter is 2 and my son is 4 months.

Keep up your funny stories.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for your comment and for reading, Patty. This makes my day! Congratulations on your baby boy! Someone once told me that having an older daughter and a younger son is called "The King's Choice" or something like that in France because it is considered the ideal combo. I definitely feel that way too. : )