Monday, November 17, 2008

How to write when distracted

Over the weekend my life was disrupted. There was fire on three sides of us and we had to evacuate. We did have a couple of hours to prepare, so we were able to do some packing. It is interesting what "things" really matter. First, of course, was my computer, my flash drive, and the paper copies of my dissertation. I figured all the library books could be replaced by insurance. Then I hit the cedar chest. Although the chest itself is an antique that belonged to my great grandmother, I knew it would never fit in my Honda Accord, so I took my wedding dress, my mom's baby quilt, my kids' baby shoes and other baby things, my father-in-law's letterman's jacket, the quilts my grandmother made for my kids, the afghans my mother-in-law made for my kids, and the quilt my grandmother did not finish for me that I have been trying to finish for about ten years.

Then we packed all the old photo albums, paintings I painted, drawings my mother-in-law did of my babies, and the framed photos dotting the walls of the house. My husband grabbed his most valuable baseball cards, went to his office (about a mile away) and grabbed the server. I packed the keepsake and most valuable jewelry, my daughter's laptop and a few clothes for her (she was at work) and the prescription medication we had for us and for our geriatric dog.

I then took digital photos of every inch of our house, in case we had to make an insurance claim and could not remember what we had. All the while, I was texting our relatives and trying to get a hold of our 22 year-old daughter who lives with us and who was working an outdoor PR event in San Clemente. She had no idea about the fire, but when I finally did talk with her, about a half hour before we were evacuated, she reminded me of the heirloom jewelry and her prized "Grover" stuffed animal which she has slept with since she was two.

That was it. When the squad car drove down the street with the bull horn telling us to leave, we were ready. Amazing what you take from your home of 21 years and what you can get into two mid-sized sedans. We took our smelly, aging 13 year-old "Sam" (a collie, golden retriever mix) and his equally smelly bed, and headed toward our son's rental home in Orange that he shares with 5 other college baseball players. We met our daughter there and spent the next few hours watching the news, trying to place the houses we saw on fire, and communicating with all of the friends we have acquired while living in Yorba Linda for the past two decades.

One of our daughter's high school friends thought her house had burned down, since her dad saw another house of the same model on the same street on the TV report. Her house was fine. Another friend watched her own car catch an ember and blow up. We had other friends in Pennsylvania for his mother's funeral. They left the mother-in-law at their home, which was then evacuated. We were worried about her, but found out later that another good friend of theirs came by and picked up "Nanny" on their way out. Amazing how important it is to have good relationships with neighbors and friends. We had offers from at least a dozen friends to come and stay with them, but we were able to find a nice hotel room with a good shower and two televisions.

For two days, it seems like all we did was watch the news, and then we spent a good portion of the second day trying to get back home, once we knew our house had been spared. We left the house at about 1:30 PM on Saturday, and arrived home about 4:00 PM on Sunday, but it felt like we were away for weeks.

All is well here, but I have a hard time finding the concentration to write about the predator Lucy Steele from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

I spent the morning answering emails, washing all the clothes and towels that smell like a BBQ, reading the newspapers (our Sunday papers arrived today along with the Monday papers), and repacking the memories back into the cedar chest. It is now almost 1:00 and I have not worked on the dissertation. Monday is a designated writing day, and my deadline to finish Lucy is Friday. I need to find my way back.

When Tara suggested I add to the blog, I figured I would indulge myself and write a bit of a personal journal. Perhaps if I worked through the trauma of almost losing my home in writing, I might just find my way back to Lucy.

I have no more excuses. I WILL write at least 3 more pages today.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Screw guilt, go to the movies!

On "busy"ness.... Paraphrases from the last workshop meeting:

"I used to feel guilty constantly whenever I was doing something that wasn't my dissertation. Like, I couldn't enjoy going to a movie because of the guilt that I wasn't writing. I mean, it's $10, lost time. Well, I've since decided, screw guilt, go to the movies!"

On getting / not getting job interviews: "Sometimes, luck matters."

On the annoying people in your program who always seem to have time for every meeting, every event, every lecture: "Ever notice they're doing everything but the dissertation?"

"It's okay to quit everything to finish the dissertation."

Unusual Motivation

I'm pretty sure, in the annuls of dissertation history, my latest motivator is one-of-a-kind.

I'm an extremely visual person. As an undergrad, I butcher-papered an entire wall of my bedroom just to be able to write quotes that I was thinking about for my senior honors thesis.

When studying for my qualifying exams, I created a timeline for my kitchen stairway that was over 20 feet (and 200 years) long.

I need to see things. And I need them in prominent places in my apartment to be constantly in mind while I'm doing everyday tasks (don't even ask about the ziplock baggie questions hanging from dental floss in my shower).

At the Claremont Village Venture, I met Michelle Caplan, a Los Angeles artist who creates incredible mixed media collages. I purchased one of Michelle's collages that reminds me so much of Sylvia Plath that I needed "her" to come home.

"Angela" by Michelle Caplan
Mixed media artwork and photography by Michelle Caplan

On the way home, I looked at Michelle's card and realized that she also does commission works.


What a great way to have beautiful art, a front-and-central visual reminder of my dissertation topic, and an inspiration for me to remember why I chose this person / topic in the first place!
I'm now in the process of exchanging photos, bits of texts, and ideas with Michelle to incorporate into the collage.

Sure beats butcher paper.

You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!