NaNoWriMo Summer Camp Day 4

Today’s time/word count is the same as yesterday. – 110 minutes/words. The main issue I am facing as I try to revise the manuscript is the structure of the book and if I need to change it or not.

From 2008 to 2018, I wrote two hundred pages of the book with a chronological structure, starting in the late nineteenth century and intending to end it somewhere in the 21st. I eventually decided I disliked that structure because many of the stories became disjointed.

When I resumed writing in 2015, I envisioned a more thematic approach, with complete stories in individual chapters. I planned to have several “anchor” chapters that would provide a broader context for the various stories.

I did write one “anchor” chapter, which is currently the first chapter of the manuscript. I then abandoned that structure and continued to write the more thematically based chapters with complete stories.

I now realize the manuscript is a mish mash of the two different organizing principles. This is what I must resolve, and I am not finding it easy to do.

 

NaNoWriMo Summer Camp

As promised, here’s my post about my plans for July. I am going to give NaNoWriMo another try. This month is NaNoWriMo summer camp, and I have committed to working an hour a day on my book every day in July. Because each minute equals a word, if I do what I plan to do, at the end of the month I will have 1860 words.

Although the manuscript has some overall issues that I need to address, I find that too overwhelming to tackle immediately. I have been working on revising chapter one and that is what I am going to continue to do, using some of the craft tools that I have learned while attending the Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop eight-week revision class. Hopefully I can get complete the revision of chapter one and start working on chapter 2 within the month of July. My other hope is that by being so focused for 31 days the focus and concentration will carry over to the subsequent months and I will really make progress on the revision of my manuscript.

As far as blogging goes, I plan to do what I did in November when I was doing NaNoWriMo. I will have short posts every day of the month telling my loyal readership what I have accomplished for the day.

Before posting this, I completed 90 minutes of work on my book. That counts as 90 words.  I hope I have a very productive July and I wish the same for all of you.

 

Too Busy

On June 3, my first cousin died. She had been sick for a while and I had been planning to visit her a week later, I stuck to my plans and went to California from June 10 to June 14th. It was a very stressful and draining trip.

I returned late Tuesday night; on Thursday my son and his wife came  to stay. They bought a house in Worcester and needed to attend the closing and do other tasks connected to the sale of the house. My daughter-in-law went to Connecticut to attend a wedding  and see family on Saturday while my son stayed until Monday morning.

Because of my grief over my cousin and having company, I have been unable to get back into my  daily routine. Because I have been so busy the above explanation is all I can mange for a blog post this week. I will be back next week with a description of my plans for July. I am sure you all can’t wait. Have a nice week.

Teeth

When I was sixteen, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I fell off a bicycle. At that time, my family had a summer home in Lake Waubeeka, Danbury CT. Some of the roads were very hilly and riding down one of them I missed a turn, tumbled over, and fell. I lost several of my front teeth as well as breaking my jaw and compressing vertebrae.

This happened over 50 years ago but some of the consequences from that accident are still with me today. The lasting impact has been on my teeth. Prior to the accident I had decent looking teeth and didn’t even require braces. I did have a canine tooth that had never descended but I liked the way that looked. It was a little funky and, a teenager in the late 1960s, I thought it gave me some panache.

My memory is that I didn’t lose that tooth in the accident but sometime afterwards a dentist decided it needed to be removed. The first apparatus I got to deal with the loss of my front teeth was a removable partial. At the age of 16 I now had something in my mouth that I thought was only for old people.

I was a self-conscious teenager, maybe all teenagers are self-conscious, so it is amazing to me that I didn’t really let the accident and what it did to my appearance bother me that much. After I recovered, I just went on with my business.

Once I was in graduate school, about six years after the accident, I switched dentists. I then kept that dentist for 46 years even though I moved away from New York City 41 years ago. Dr. John was a conservative dentist and left my mouth and the partial alone for a few years. In 1986 or 1987 – at least sixteen years after the accident – I got a fixed bridge – false teeth that stay in your mouth. They are glued in.

Besides being conservative in his treatment approach, Dr. John was also a perfectionist. As a result, I had the best-looking false teeth one could imagine. After another ten years, he decided it was time for implants. When I first started seeing him, implants were a recent technology and Dr. John wasn’t sure I would have enough bone to support them.

Eventually, after refinancing our mortgage to afford the procedure, after surgery and bone grafts, and multiple attempts to get the teeth looking pristine, I had implants. I still have them. Last summer I went to New York and saw Dr. John who told me two things. The first was that the left canine tooth needed an implant, the first time since 1996, that I would need one. The other thing was that he was retiring.

It is hard to say which news was more devastating. It has been almost a year and I am still grieving that Dr. John is no longer my dentist. A surgeon in Amherst extracted the tooth and I began the protracted process of healing and waiting. In April, the Amherst surgeon told me I couldn’t get the implant. Although I didn’t say this to him, I have kept wondering why I had the tooth extracted if I can’t get an implant. I am going for a second opinion so the story isn’t over yet.

My recent troubles with this tooth and a potential implant have reminded me of the accident and the trauma that I suffered as a result. Although, thankfully I have been able to have a happy and fulfilled life despite the physical scars and disfigurement from it,  the accident remains a terrible thing that happened to me that I can’t completely escape or resolve.

 

 

Emails and Identity

As I have said in several earlier posts, I am trying to revise Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. Unfortunately, I have found it difficult to get into a consistent rhythm of working on the book.

The family members that I do a lot of caregiving for have taken up most of my time so that has been one limitation on how consistently I can work on the book. The other thing that happened more recently and pertains to my manuscript is that Hampshire College changed its email system. Essentially Hampshire email is now part of a college-based Google account.

Without getting too much in the weeds, I’ll just say that since I already had my own personal Gmail account, the first attempt at accessing the Hampshire Gmail did not go that well. Monday and Tuesday were involved with figuring out how I could make this new system work and occupied a lot of my time. Wednesday morning I finally figured it out and I think I have a workable process by which I can access all of my different emails in Thunderbird. At least I now have a working system.

The way this email trouble intersected with the topic of my book, faculty wives, and the fact that I am one, is that I have for many years had a Hampshire email account but the username indicates to anyone in the know that I am a guest and not a full functioning member of the Hampshire community. My actual Hampshire email address is amGU at hampshire dot edu. The GU stands for guest.

I’ve been aware of that classification for years, choosing to ignore how badly it made me feel. In this process of the transition from the old email system to the new Google based system I had to stare at amGU, my email address, repeatedly. Looking at it reminded me how precarious and constrained my position at Hampshire has been all these years. Most of the women I write about in my book were in a comparable situation. They were often part of elite families – being the wife of a Harvard college professor is nothing to sneeze about – yet their role, their identity, as a faculty wife mostly constrained them from having an independent autonomous life.

This week I realized, again, that my own life has consisted of constraints that I have endured for many years as a Hampshire faculty wife even though my husband’s position has allowed me to have a very comfortable lifestyle making me, as a white woman, among the more elite groups in American Society. Although triggering has become an overused word and the subject of ridicule by the American right by Republicans, having to stare at amGU at hampshire dot edu repeatedly this week was certainly triggering for me.

The net result of all of this is that I have decided to begin a process where I eventually will not have that Hampshire email address. My husband is retired. We don’t really have an active connection to Hampshire anymore although I did do over 20 oral histories for Hampshire and I’m still trying to get that to be an actual collection in the archives.

In general, we don’t really have anything to do with Hampshire, therefore I can be like everyone else, accept that Google now rules the world, and just have a Gmail account. Another possibility is to have two email address instead of three, keeping mail amymittelman dot com which is from my website where I post this blog. I think at this point in my life I can forget about existing within the constraints of being a faculty wife and try to have an identity that is just me,  Amy,  as I go through the world.

Recovery

For many years now I have attended twice a month meetings of a Friends and Family group sponsored by NAMI which is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Most of the attendees are dealing with an adult child who has psychological and emotional dis-ease. I attend because of a family member but luckily not my adult children.

Since I’ve been going for a long time, I have learned a lot about some of the other regular attendees’ issues with their loved ones. Several weeks ago, there was a special event at our regularly scheduled meeting. A speaker, one of the regulars’ adult children, described their experiences being psychotic and their process of recovery. It was an inspirational and moving talk.

The presenter described their recovery journey beginning with a psychotic break towards the end of college and ending now, over seven years later, as a successful professional with a fulfilling life.

My own family member never fully recovered; presently they are safe and well cared for which is ultimately more important. Reflecting on how the speaker’s parents dealt with them while they were in extreme distress, I wish that, at times I could have had more compassion and patience with my own loved one.

The presenter had some suggestions for friends and family who have a loved one in psychological distress. The ones that stand out to me dealt with compassion including “doing work with yourself so you can show up for or with your loved one in compassionate ways.”

Although I do have some regrets about my own behavior, I realize that caregivers must find a balance between helping their loved one and protecting themselves. I and others looking to alleviate the demanding situation of a family member have to remember that a person will only change when they are ready to. This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.

Life, Again

I recently completed a hectic ten days which is one reason I didn’t blog last week. Before this period of intense activity, I had blocked out several weeks’ worth of posts. Theoretically I have post topics for the next few weeks. Today’s topic was supposed to be about the show Stars on Ice.

On April 30th we spent the night in Boston so that I could see Stars on Ice. Everyone who was on the US Olympic team was in the cast as well as Mirai Nagasu who competed in the Olympics four years ago. Although our seats were high up, we were dead center and had a great view. I found it very exciting to see athletes such as Jason Brown and Mariah Bell.

We had a wonderful time but to be honest it feels like that was a year ago. A few days after we came home from Boston, we flew to Florida to spend time with my Aunt Ruth. She is the relative who had a bad accident last year fracturing her hip and wrist. My aunt is quite elderly and still has some chronic health problems which I am trying to help her with.

Although it was nice to be in Florida because it was at least 30 degrees warmer than it is here in western Massachusetts I wouldn’t call the five days we spent there a vacation. Although my aunt is 91, she is not ready to cede any of her authority or autonomy over her own life and there’s really no reason that she should. Her desire to remain as independent as possible does sometimes make caregiving for her more difficult. Therefore, the time in sunny Florida had a decent amount of stress attached to it.

My aunt’s current medical condition has made me think about my own health and what illnesses I fear getting. My mother had Alzheimer’s so any lapse in my memory makes me panicked about getting dementia. My father died of heart disease but somehow, I don’t worry as much about that. I can’t really explain why.

Both my brother and my first cousin died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I do worry some about that. My cousin did genetic testing that revealed a mutated gene that may have been responsible for his disease. My brother never did that kind of testing so whether he had a genetic component or not we will never know. I just don’t want to burden my family with either dementia or ALS. I also wouldn’t want my children or potential grandchildren to get Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Even though I worry sometimes about these diseases I realize that life is a crap shoot. A bus could hit me tomorrow and that would be it. I am going to focus on the beautiful skating I saw at Stars on Ice, the shiny warm sun I experienced in Florida, and the fully in bloom trees I returned to while continuing to lead my life.

Trees

A few weeks ago, in Nerissa’s writing group, she read a prompt about trees from a book by Richard Powers, Overstory. One of the participants then drafted a beautiful essay about her relationship to trees, both in her yard and in the world. J’s essay made me think about a song I have been trying to learn on the recorder.

Playing the recorder is one of my pandemic endeavors. I am not a musical person. I really didn’t even know how to read music before I started taking lessons. Studying a musical instrument has been a stretch for me. The song I have been trying to learn, “Where have all the green trees gone”  is Swedish with very evocative lyrics.

The essay made me ponder the wetness of our own yard. As I sit here writing, I am looking out at a wide swath of partly dry, partly wet, partly hardened clay in my backyard. This area has spread into an ever-larger mass over the 30 years that we have owned the house. As you might remember we had two floods in our basement within a six-week period. The floods made me acutely aware of climate change and its personal impact. I hope to plant some of the trees J mentioned including the American hornbeam and a river birch.

The lyrics of “Where Have All The Green Trees Gone” are as follows:

Where have all the green trees gone?

Why have they spoiled rivers?

Why do people do these things?

Takers, yes-not givers.

Each of us must do his share,

So our children know we care;

Will you help us save the earth?

Won’t you please be givers?

These lyrics sum up for me climate change in a way many other things have not. When I think about the meaning of the words, takers and givers, and the contrast the song illustrates, they evoke the responsibility we all have for helping other people. Because the song puts children front and center, it reinforces the imperative that we must avert climate change so that our children and grandchildren have an earth to inherit.

Ice Show

Last Sunday I skated in an adult group number, the chimney sweep song, Chim Chim Cher-ee, from Mary Poppins.

The number was part of the annual show of the Skating Club of Amherst. The club had planned to have a Disney themed show, Be Our Guest in 2020 but had had to cancel two weeks before the performance because of COVID. When that happened, I wrote this post.

My regular readers may remember that in October 2019 I competed in an ISI event, the 33rd Halloween Classic, Winterland Skating School, Rockland, Massachusetts. You can read more about that here and here.

When I was competing, I was extraordinarily nervous and didn’t perform the way I had expected to. My hope for the show was that I would be less nervous this time. I practiced extensively both with the eight other people in the number and on my own. I also tried to be mindful around the event including repeating a mantra that went something like:

I know how to do it.

I can do it.

I will do it.

I believe in myself.

Saturday was the dress rehearsal and as soon as I stepped on the ice once again my legs were like jelly. One of the coaches, perhaps concerned that I might hyperventilate, said I could take my mask off while we were practicing. Another one of the coaches, Kyla, said that I could skate with her and that really made all the difference.

Saturday, we ran through the program about four times and by the last time my legs felt a lot better, and my nervousness had decreased. The problem with the actual event on Sunday was that I didn’t think I would have any practice time. I did try to walk around the rink wearing my skating guards to warm up my muscles a bit. Since all the mindfulness that I did on Saturday hadn’t made any difference I didn’t do any on Sunday. I was able to do  warmup skating for a couple of minutes in an alley behind the curtain.

Once the music started, I was nervous but because I was holding on to Kyla, I was able to perform all the steps. A lot of people told me to try and have fun. I can’t say that I did. Mostly what I felt when the one minute of performing was over was significant relief. A deep sense of accomplishment came next.

Now that I have skated two separate times, in front of an audience, and had intense stage fright, I realize that stage fright is a physiological reaction and there isn’t that much you can do to control it. Given that, I am proud of myself that this time I did all the steps and did not let my fellow performers down.

I am not sure I will ever compete or perform again in front of a crowd but that is something I don’t have to decide at this moment. I can just revel in the fact that I did it on Sunday.

Sorry that I am late with this post. Yesterday just got away from me.

 

 

 

First Quarter Report, 2022

In the post I wrote saying goodbye to 2021 I wished for a more even keeled year with less difficulties. Now that three months of 2022 are gone, I’m not sure I can say that has happened. Several members of my extended family have been ill and that has consumed some of my time as well as the fact that our house renovations continued into the new year.

Most of the work for our new mud room and laundry room finished in February and we have now been spending time filling the new space and reorganizing the old spaces. Because I am a neat freak and more than a bit compulsive, this work has elated me.

When the new year started my plan was to begin revising the first draft of my manuscript, Dames, Dishes and Degrees, which I completed in November. I have had a couple of false starts and will honestly admit I haven’t gotten that much done yet. The university press that I had sent a couple of chapters to in the fall eventually said revise it and then send it back to us again without providing any concrete advice about how to do that. It felt like a less than completely enthusiastic response.

This was a little discouraging, but I rallied and then sent off the whole manuscript including a book proposal for a writing contest that an affiliate of Writer’s Digest is sponsoring. You can read more about the contest here.

I also sent a query letter to an agent who then asked to see my book proposal. Other than that, I haven’t really done much work on the manuscript itself. I did sign up for a revision class that Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop is offering, beginning in May, which will hopefully  jumpstart my revision process.

I have managed to continue to post every week even though sometimes it is hard to figure out what to write about. As far as tweeting goes, Wordle has transformed that process. I jumped on the Wordle bandwagon a few months ago before the New York Times bought it. Doing the game every day and then sharing it on Twitter has increased my tweeting output considerably. On the other hand, I am not sure figuring out the word every day is so great for my overall productivity and focus.

This is how the year has been going so far. I will keep you posted on any new developments in my revision and publishing endeavors.

 

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