Latin and Memory

Chapters read in “The Son of Neptune” last night: 2

Latin etymology of words my kids are interested in: 0

Number of states in America: 50

While we were reading “The Son of Neptune” last night, Percy Jackson and his new friends return to the Roman camp to beat down some bad dudes and monsters. One of them picks up an “old Roman dagger, a pugio.” I excitedly tell my kids that the word comes from the Latin word, “fist,” and has to do with fighting, and maybe they’ve heard the words “pugilism” and “pugnacious?” I am unsure why they do not find this scintillating.

Sometimes I wonder why I can remember random Latin derivations and not a devilishly creative name for a hair-styling salon that I saw on a trip that would be just perfect for a scene I’m writing. Here’s one reason: I spent 1/6 of my weekdays in Latin class for an entire four years of high school. I could tell you where the word “gregarious” comes from and why, but I’m guessing you probably don’t want me to.

I can also sing, “50 Nifty United States,” a song we learned for fifth grade chorus. I even got into an argument about it with about five fellow wait staff while I was working at Chili’s after college. Not one person sided with me when I maintained there were 50 states. Seriously. I even knew a little song about it. And they didn’t want me to sing it.

Memory works in weird ways. I try to keep a notebook with me at all times, but I’m notoriously bad about writing things down in it. And even when I do, I may not remember exactly what the thought process was behind it when I run across it later: “bird on windshield,” “anti-choice,” “packed like sardines,” “Outback.” If you can decipher these, give me a call and please explain.

Last year, over Thanksgiving, my parents, my sister, my husband and I got into a minor disagreement about the sequence of events surrounding my daughter’s birth nine years ago. An ice storm was rolling in, my parents knew they needed to fly up early, my sister was here to watch our two-year-old son… but no one could agree on fairly major points. My brother-in-law, who had not met my sister at the time, watched the argument with a detached Wimbledon face. Kind of like, “Why does this matter?”

We put it aside temporarily and started remembering:

“Remember when Anne came home, and she was sitting on the couch holding the baby, crying?”

“Yeah, because there was no power in the house, newspaper up over all the windows, nothing for anyone to eat, and my two-year-old was dancing around the den wearing dirty pajamas, a coat, and a hat with flaps down over his ears? I was a little concerned.” They also kept saying I would laugh about it someday, and I still can’t.

But here’s the deal: I wrote it all down. I could resolve that particular argument, because it was all in my journal. The bottom line is, to a writer, it matters.

I always think I will remember things, in a “how could I forget?” kind of way. But then, inevitably, something is lost. When I was in college, I brought some photos of my suitemates over to show my grandparents.

“You better write on the back of this picture everyone’s first and last names,” my grandfather said.

“Oh no, I’m sure I’ll remember these guys,” I said, as only a stupid college student would say to someone who’s actually lived beyond age 19.

“Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But I’d write it down, just in case.”

I’m still learning. But there are certain lessons I probably need drilled into my head for about 1/6 of every weekday for four years. This is one I have to keep learning over and over.

Of Steve Jobs and ShotBloks

Pages read in Steve Jobs biography: 250

People interviewed for work this week: 5

ShotBloks consumed while running or otherwise: 0

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography and have been inspired to add two things to my Christmas list for next year: a reality distortion field and minions. Reading about someone so powerful and creative who was able to bend others to his will has gotten me thinking that in order to write productively, I need to fabricate both helpers and an optimistic, unrealistic view of deadlines to push me to do my best. Here is my new office protocol:

“Self, I need this novel written in five months.”

“Not gonna happen. It’s impossible.”

Fix self with cold, unblinking stare, charm and charisma.

“OK. Maybe I can do it in six, but I’ll need some help and a budget for extra provisions.”

More staring.

“Yes, Ms. Woodman, ma’am. I’m on it.”

And then, my minion self starts thinking about what provisions could possibly be helpful… something both legal and mind-stimulating. Jobs used LSD. I could use… ShotBloks?

ShotBloks and I have an intimate history. My eyes get somewhat misty when I think what we’ve been through together. I’m not sure why my BFF/running partner looks at me funny when I mention them.

I had never used substances to aid my running before last year… maybe I once tried a GU at a race, but a half-marathon doesn’t really require additional fueling. Me + a marathon? Fueling was a must. I picked up some gummi bear-like things at the local running store: a tube of goodness in the form of ShotBloks. Black Cherry. Equal to one shot of espresso.

I set a plan: run the 16-miler, then meet up with my hubby for a large, fattening lunch of lobster ravioli, including 10-days worth of fat and calories. Yum. Mid-run, I absent-mindedly chewed up the whole strip of ShotBloks. And let me tell you–that was the best second half of a run EVER. I was on fire! I tried to get my running partner to turn it into a 26-miler, but she made up some lame excuse about having to pick her kids up from school or something. Killjoy.

When I went to meet my husband, the conversation went like this:

Him: Hey, how’d it go?

Me: OMG. You-would-not-believe-it! This-squirrel?-Itjumpedoutinfrontofusonthetrail…andwescreamedanditwassofunny!Iwishyouhadbeenthere.Theskywassoblue.OMG.

Him: Are you OK? (touching my forehead)

Me: (nervous laughter) Heeeheehee. Idon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingabout!?Imean,IguessI’mjustjazzedfromthatawesomerun!

Him: Ooookaayyy.

Me: Oh. I-did-try-this-new-fueling-thingy, ShotBloks? They’re-so-amazing. They-taste-good, too, like, much-better-than-gummi-bears-ever-did.

Him: Ohhhhhh. I get it now.

See? That’s the kind of thing that my mind needs to go into super-speedy creativity mode. Santa, please bring me creativity minions, a reality distortion field and ShotBloks for a marathon writing session. Stat.


Rejections/no response(= rejections) to novel queries: 12

Months since last queried: 3

Pages written on second novel in January: 0

Hours spent perusing five-button henleys and boots on the clearance racks this week: 3

Feelings of inadequacy and guilt from perusing the clearance racks instead of writing: 5,342

Sometimes I wonder why I have chosen mostly solitary activities as an adult: writing, running, playing the piano, reading… I love being around other people, often to a fault. Someone asks me to lunch? Yes, I’m pulling on my shoes while still on the phone. Join a club? Yes, my friends tend to get them mixed up: book club, writing group, wine club. Interviewing community heroes and educators for my columns? I’m there. But the fact remains that the core of my day is alone time.

Last night, my 9-year-old daughter came home with news about her randomly chosen multiplication group at school: none of her friends, a wiggly boy. All of her concerns were mine in third grade: overcoming kids who didn’t care, carrying the group, keeping others on task. As I flipped cards with 9 x 5 and 12 x 11 on them, I thought about numbers. Numbers aren’t my thing. But (and this is difficult for me to admit) they keep you honest.

The fact remains that whether it’s your multiplication facts, the pages in your novel or the miles that you run, only you can be held accountable for what’s there. And what’s not.

A year and a half ago, a woman in my neighborhood asked if I wanted to run with her. I had been running for about 13 or 14 years, to varying degrees of success. If I had a busy week, I might only run three days instead of four. Looking back on my journals, there are ways I let myself off the hook: resting a knee, a little sniffle, writing that needed to be done.  I was fooling myself.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would mesh with a partner: with running, there are goals, paces, reliability issues to address. We started tentatively, in the broiling July temperatures, and it kind of worked. Most annoyingly, she didn’t take breaks. Or days off. Or think that being sick was a reason to skip. By November, she convinced me to sign up for a spring marathon. And something began to happen: I realized that by keeping to a rigid (Nazi/Jillian Michaels-like) schedule, my miles started to add up, my running journal had more numbers than white space, and I was accomplishing more than I had ever thought possible.

Writing, like running, is both solitary and quantifiable. Sure, it’s an art, it’s a craft, but not a thing accrues until you do something to make it happen. I finished both my first novel and my first marathon last year. Word by word, mile by mile, the numbers creeping in this petty pace from day to day.

You won’t catch me applying for any accounting jobs any time soon. But writing by the numbers is probably the only thing to do for this year. The numbers don’t lie: I need to see more multiplication than duplicity.