Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Life Sends You a Fruit Basket

We all know what to do with lemons, right?  When life hands us lemons, we make lemonade and add our libation of choice. Common sense, that. When we have only one choice, we make the best of it.
But what to do when life hands you a basket filled with mangoes, kiwi, and all manner of luscious fruits? I'm ridiculously blessed, and perhaps, sometimes, have too many choices. If I fill up on figs and strawberries, I won't have room for a peach, right? And I love peaches...

Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else. Saying no is hard for me. I spent years of my life so over-extended by commitments--okay, yes, I'm no longer talking fruit here, we're on time management, please stay with the group--that I was in need of an intervention and regular doses of that spiked lemonade.

But the need to make hard choices, embrace them, and not look back applies to so many things. (Leaving time management, on to life's all about the fruit...)

A few weeks ago, when I was explaining how Sugar and I are not cut out for subdivision living, I mentioned that we were working on a plot with our old neighbors--the ones we lived next door to for years in the house we loved, before I filled up on pears (decided we should live downtown, within walking distance to restaurants, etc)--to convince the interlopers who bought Barbie's Dream House that it was in fact haunted, and they must move to satisfy the spirits and whatnot.

Well, I guess it worked. I got a phone call a few days ago from said dear friends next door, who we'll call Wilson and Sandra, because those are their names. It seems the folks we sold our house to are interested in selling. Now, I have no evidence that Sandra or Wilson either one hid a tape player with a timer in the neighbors' attic that played "GET OOUUTTT" at 3:15 a.m. every morning, so we'll say no more about it.

Sugar and I have an appointment to see our old home and discuss details on Saturday morning. Right now, I so long to drive into OUR driveway when we get home from Indiana and be home again. Of course, there's the detail of selling the subdivision house...

But saying yes to Barbie's Dream House will mean saying no to some other things we really want to do. It will need new windows soon (two vacations we won't be able to take). And Sugar wants to replace the paneling in the den with sheet-rock. The master bath needs updating... Already we have a list of projects we're excitedly considering. The budget for all those projects would eat up a lot of travel.

And the time spent on all these projects could be spent enjoying family, volunteering, or taking up crop circle interpretation.

That house is special to us. We have so many wonderful memories there. It's home. But saying yes to it will mean making choices. It will mean fewer date nights out, fewer vacations, and less time and money for a long list of things we enjoy.

But I suspect if we can come to an agreement with the very nice folks who bought it, we will buy our home back. We'll eat the peaches with the juice dripping on our hands, having learned that pears are nice, but you simply can't eat all the fruit in the basket. You must choose.

And there's no place like home. (Clicking my heels together...)

Peace, out...


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Excel is Like Duct Tape

Sugar, like many men, can fix almost anything that breaks with a roll of duct tape. It has uses far beyond those originally envisioned by its designer--as does MS Excel.

Not so long ago, in another life, I was a project manager. This is one of those job descriptions like "consultant," that can mean many things depending on the context, and while I once toured the Adam & Eve warehouse in North Carolina (purely professional--they had distribution needs, I had distribution software--though they did offer me a free sample of my choice) most of my days were spent staring at Excel spreadsheets.

So, when Sugar gave me the green light to make things up and write them down full time, (thus securing his position as a patron of the, ahem…arts) at first I was adrift without my lines and columns. I tried story boards, which in my case were foam boards with elaborate charts and pictures of my characters cut out of catalogs and magazines. But large foam boards were difficult to transport, which was a problem since my life most resembles that of a gypsy. I tried making notes about each chapter on index cards, but since I can't read my own handwriting, this didn't work out either.

At this, my larval stage as a writer, I had not yet considered the profound question of whether I was a plotter or a pantser. I had no clue that I needed to be one or the other, as I had not yet read the hundred books on writing that now have their own shelf in my bookcase, nor had I attended the slew of conferences and workshops that would come over the next few years. I was winging it. Hey, I'd READ a lot of books. Surely I could write one... Yes, in fact, I was that ignorant.

After a few months of experimenting and suffering from depression as a result of spreadsheet withdrawal, I figured out that Excel worked great as a writing tool. I've learned so much in the last few years, and as with any craft, I know I need to continue learning. But the one thing I've hung onto from those early days is the use of spreadsheets for plotting. (I now know that--big surprise here--I'm schizophrenic. I'm a plotter who turns into a pantser at the drop of a hat. (Okay, if you're not a writer, and you've read this far, a pantser is one who writes by the seat of his/her pants--organically. Her characters tell her what happened and she transcribes their story.)

I have one Excel workbook per project. Within that workbook, I have one tab with a spreadsheet for characters. This tab typically has columns for not only biographical info and physical description, but quirks that define the character. Another spreadsheet has a plot outline. This starts simple, with a beginning, middle, and end, and expands as I add lines for each chapter as the story comes together. When my characters take over and tear off on a tangent--and I love those days; those days are magic--I simply open the spreadsheet and document where they've taken me when we get back.

There is one danger in using Excel as a plotting tool for a novel: a reader cannot keep in his/her head everything that you can keep track of in a spreadsheet. I learned this the hard way, and had to rip out my first novel at the seams and remove an entire subplot and several characters.

On the plus side, Excel is highly portable, and I can read what I type into my lines and columns. Excel helps me maintain order in my virtual universe. If only reality were so easily organized...

Many plotters and half-breeds like me struggle with how best to organize their work. Check out Julie Weathers' blog post from yesterday. She has a copy of J. K. Rowling's solution posted.

Peace, out...


Monday, October 11, 2010

Clearly, Something is Wrong With Me

Driving along several interstates this past weekend, we passed multiple outlet malls. All had billboards miles in advance to alert travelers to the shopping opportunities ahead. At least one of the malls had movie theaters, bowling alleys, and other entertainment venues attached. We drove past each with barely a glance.

Most women I know love to shop. For some, it's their drug of choice--a stress reliever. Not me. Nothing makes me want to crawl out of my skin quite so badly as going into a store--any store--to browse. If I don't have a specific purchase in mind, I have no desire to go into a store. In fact, I balk like a mule every time my sister or a friend tries to interest me in recreational shopping. I just don't get it.

To my mind, there are way more entertaining things to do--like, maybe, watch concrete harden. I've tried to explain this, but I get blank, sympathetic stares.

And another thing... If I'm driving along, minding my own business, and have no pressing need for say, a clever new set of cocktail napkins that say, "I'm a hybrid--I run on chocolate and wine," or  perhaps a new set of wine charms, or even a scented candle, why would I stop to browse a store filled with such things?

I'm sure the hypothetical store would smell nice and be filled with displays of artsy things pleasing to the eye. But here's the thing. This store is filled with things that I don't know I want as I drive by on the interstate. I am content in my car. But if I stop and go inside the store, once I'm over being cranky at having done so, I will see things I want. Things that are not currently in my budget. And then I will be unhappy if I do not purchase them.

It's best I stay in the car.

Peace, out,