Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leave it All on the Court - Er, Page.

Andy Roddick is one of my role models. No, not because I have any outlandish dreams of becoming a professional tennis player. I’m thirty years old, with bad knees. And I’m not that good at tennis. He is one of my role models in my outlandish dream of becoming a published author.

Stay with me, here. Last night, I propped open my eyelids until two in the morning, riveted to a tennis match in Melbourne, Australia. Roddick played for a spot in the semi-finals of the year’s first major tournament. After the first set, which he lost in a tiebreak, Roddick called the trainer and took an injury time out. My stomach churned, because Andy isn’t prone to calling the trainer. He’s tough. Something had to be wrong.

He came back for a second set but his opponent trounced him. Roddick looked to be in a fair amount of discomfort – if not pain – and had trouble mustering energy. At the close of the second set, while the trainer worked on his shoulder again, it looked to be all but over. (For tennis newbies – men must win 3 out of 5 sets to secure a match.) The announcers wondered aloud whether or not Roddick would retire from the match because of the injury. Players do that. It’s allowed. Justine Henin, number one in the world a few years ago, retired in the middle of a Grand Slam FINAL because of a STOMACHACHE (she was losing). Last year, Novak Djokovic retired in a Quarterfinal because it was TOO HOT (he was losing). Last night, Rafa Nadal retired because of a nagging knee injury. He was down two sets and it “was impossible to win the match.” Yes, tennis players retire, give up, throw in the towel – but not Andy Roddick.

Then something happened. Roddick started to figure things out, bringing a tight game despite a half-empty arsenal. Evidence of the pain lined his face, but he pushed it aside. He won the third set. Then the fourth. His opponent made costly errors, staring across the net as though Roddick might be a specter come back from the dead. Maybe he expected Roddick to roll over and die, to give in to the pain and injury. If he did, then he doesn’t know Andy Roddick. Through the third and fourth sets, the announcers used words like, ‘fighter’, and ‘gutsy’ to describe Andy. Words like those are often thrown around when referring to the American.

Roddick lost in the fifth set, but not for lack of heart or spirit. He battled through the pain, even though he knew – we all knew – his chances of stealing the victory were slim. His spirit might be wounded after the loss, but his pride shouldn’t be. Andy has been down before, even considered retiring less than two years ago. His career is solid. Besides Roger Federer, he’s the only man on the tour to have remained in the top 10 since 2002. There are a couple of things he really wants though: another Grand Slam title, and a Wimbledon Championship. So he hired a new coach, dropped weight, adjusted his style, worked harder. 2009 was a great year and he looks to be on the right track. I know I’m rooting for the guy.

Andy has learned to handle rejection. Last night, a giant, gangly, 21 year old Croatian rejected him. Last July, Roger Federer dealt a crushing rejection in a Wimbledon final Roddick deserved to win. I only watched it, and the loss hurt me for hours after. It must have brought Andy to his knees, made him wonder if maybe he should quit. But he didn’t. He kept practicing, staying fit, and working on bolstering belief in himself. Roddick might never win another Grand Slam or hold that trophy at Wimbledon. Maybe everyone else is too good, or he’s too old, or his body will give out before he gets there. One thing I know for sure, though. If he fails, it won’t be because he didn’t fight. When Andy Roddick leaves a tennis court, win or lose, the surface is stained with his guts, pain, sweat, and tears.

As an aspiring writer, I see many parallels to my own travels along the path of dreams. Andy Roddick inspires me. I will take the rejections, change my approach, learn, work harder. I might never be a successful author – or even a published one. But if the day comes when I decide to walk away and try something new, no one will be able to say I didn’t fight. My keyboard will be stained with my guts, pain, sweat, and tears. So thank you, Andy, for reminding us that when it comes to our dreams, playing the game isn’t enough. You have to do it with heart.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Time Management - Or, Not Pissing Real Life People Off

I stink at moderation. When my mind is immersed in something, its all I can think about. My current WIP is demanding my full attention. I've written 25K this month. When I'm not writing it, I'm thinking about what comes next, plotting, and my characters. The real people (and dogs) in my life are getting sore.

This is when my time management skills are at their worst, when I'm really into a project. All I do is write, talk about writing, or want to write. And Twitter. Even when I'm not that into a project, like say, taking on a major editing job, I protect my writing time. I have a day job that uses up nearly 10 hours a day, all traveling, etc. included. I have a husband, a stepson, two dogs, a cat, my parents who live five minutes away, and a disabled sister. I have friends. At least, I used to have friends. Fun is currently relegated to Thursday nights for Grey's Anatomy. I have Twitter. I have my neglected blog and I write television and movie reviews for poptimal.com I don't have kids. I feel guilty enough about neglecting my dogs.

Basically, besides what writing I can squeeze in at work, I have an hour or so in the morning and a couple hours at night. Not nearly enough time to empty all the scenes and dialogue in my head onto paper. This frustrates me, so I spend hours on the weekends trying to write. Then I get complaints.

"When are we going to have some time together?

"Are we ever going to get in bed at the same time?"

"I haven't talked to you in two weeks."

"I haven't been on a walk in days"

"Squeak squeak...play with me!"

I'm still working on a balance, on some kind of schedule that sates the writing beast as well as the people who actually exist in my life. Its not easy. Sometimes I'm resentful, and I hate feeling that way. Other times I give up things I shouldn't - like eating something besides coffee, or showering. If you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear how you all moderate all the people and chores in your life with your writing time. If there's a way to stonewall the muse when she's in a mood like she is with me right now - screaming and impatient - please tell me your secret. Some of you have kids PLUS everything I've described and I'm particularly interested to know how your heads are still attached. Thanks for listening, dear readers and followers. Help me, if you feel so inclined.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I've Been Called a Tease Before...

After reading the awesomeness that is the teaser for Laurie's Blog, I felt inspired to share the beginning of my own WIP. Let me know what you think! PS. She also inspired me to revamp my blog, so look for those changes in the days to come.

Before I even crack my eyelids I know it has happened again. I’ve traveled. The oppressive, terrifying certainty that I no longer exist is a dead giveaway. The familiarity of the sensation does nothing to dull the roaring panic.
            “Breathe, Althea. You know you still exist.”
            I listen to myself a moment later, after my heart rate slows enough to ward off an attack. Daring to peer out between my lashes, I survey my surroundings. It’s early morning. It always is. I hear movement on the floor below and force my fists to unclench, releasing the garish orange comforter wrinkled inside them. The one I went to sleep under last night was green. Resigning myself to starting over, I swing my bare feet out from under the heavy down and settle them into the slippers waiting patiently beside the bed. Like I never left.
            Steeling myself, I creep across the carpet, kneel on the padded window seat, and peer out the clean glass. The trees are bright splotches against the brilliant blue sky, some crimson, others sunny yellow, with a few fiery oranges thrown into the mix for good measure. Autumn. I sigh and reassemble the rest of this life in my mind. Autumn means Connecticut and the Morgans. Althea Morgan. I chant the name in my head a few times and try and make it stick. It usually takes a few days before it does.
            “Thea, darling! Come and get some breakfast! You have to be at school in less than an hour!”
            Great. New school again. More kids who avoid me like the plague, a place where everything I say or do is wrong. Even when it’s right. Maybe especially when it’s right. Not ready to face the breakfast scene quite yet I head for the shower instead. I don’t find any more or less than I expect. The bathroom is stocked with the things that belong to me but aren’t mine. A robe, some makeup I’ll never wear, a toothbrush, towels…I’ll find similar provisions hanging in the closet and stuffed in the painted, white furniture. In my worse moments I want to rip everything to shreds. Today I can’t summon the energy.
            Stepping under the hot stream of water I pop open the bottle of homemade shampoo and take a deep breath. Jasmine. I can’t escape the scent no matter how hard I try. I’ve never smelled the flower in nature, of course. It only blooms in the summer. Shaking slightly and still battling the nagging fear of non-existence, I hide in the shower longer than I should. Throwing on a pair of jeans and a long sleeved, midnight blue t-shirt, I run a brush through my sopping blond hair and brush my teeth before closing my bedroom door.
            Flopping back onto the bed, I pull a necklace from underneath my shirt. It’s the only thing that travels with me, besides the clothes on my back. The gold chain is delicate, like I could snap it with no effort at all. A small, four-pointed star, no bigger than my thumb, dangles off the chain. It’s some sort of black jewel littered with gold flecks, and I handle it carefully as I pry it open and pull out of tiny, folded square of paper lodged inside. This is my ritual, on the day I travel.
            Unfolding the paper, rubbed soft by hundreds of handlings, my eyes caress the words I’ve read so many times before.
You feel different because you are Something Else. You are not alone, though. There are more, and you will find each other when it is necessary. In the meantime, trust no one.
            I have no idea who Koj is or why this note is scrunched inside my necklace. If it weren’t addressed to me I would assume it is a mistake. But my name is on it, and I do feel different. Sighing, I fold the paper up exactly like it was before, the only way it will settle back into the small space inside the locket. Reading it helps me feel less alone, even though that’s what I am. It also reminds me to hide the ways I am different, for they are obvious if I don’t work at concealing them.
            “Thea! Ten minute warning!”
            Gritting my teeth, I head down the stairs. Landing at the bottom, I turn left and walk through the doorway into the small, cold kitchen. I take my seat at the round, maple table across from Mr. Morgan. He smiles at me and I force myself to return it. There is nothing special about him, nothing that would never make you remember his face. His hair and eyes are exactly the same shade of brown, and a mustache sits on his upper lip.
            “Good morning, Thea. Have some pancakes. You’ll need to be out the door in eight minutes in order to make it to school on time.”
            Neither of them seems to notice that I’ve been away. I don’t know exactly when I was here last, but I think it has been a while. He just looks back down at his own plate, finishing off a stack of cranberry pancakes doused in honey. I have to admit, the cranberry pancakes are one of the better things about the Morgans. It’s one of their Markers. It could be worse. I scarf three pancakes, two pieces of turkey bacon, and down a glass of orange juice before standing up and carrying my plate to the sink. I’m not hungry. I eat because that’s what is expected. What’s normal.
Mrs. Morgan is washing dishes by hand, a white, frilly apron tied around her slender waist. I slide an arm around her and kiss her smooth, peachy cheek, a stray piece of graying hair tickling my neck. My lips smiles as my stomach heaves and the cranberry pancakes threaten to make a curtain call. I do the same to Mr. Morgan, and head out of the kitchen toward the front door. On the way I pass two shelves and a table full of family photos. All of the ones of me were taken in the fall. The Morgans never mention it. I guess they don’t think its weird. I don’t ask.
 My backpack waits on a hook next to the front door, worn and smelling slightly like stale sweat. I might have left it there when I got home last night. If I had been here last night. I grab it and slide it over my shoulders. It weighs nearly nothing, and I know it contains only identification and extra pencils. Everything else will be at the school.
Opening the front door, I breathe in the crisp, cooling air of the fall. The sun is out, but its rays are just lukewarm instead of hot, the way they were yesterday in the waning springtime. The temperature is pleasant in its own way, probably around sixty degrees. For me, it’s a bit chillier than I like and I wish I’d grabbed a sweater. I just can’t make myself turn around and go back in that house right now. Instead I turn down the sidewalk that will take me to the high school, where I suppose I’ll be a senior. Like it makes a difference. I have no friends at Danbury Prep School. I don’t have friends anywhere.