Creative Physics

Perhaps physics would explain how this little guy can hang on to these bricks so handily. Will he fall? Will he change color? Stay tuned to the next installment of Mr. Lizard: This is Your Life.

Words written in my novel so far: 50,046

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Weird dreams I’ve had lately: 8

Apologies to all of those whose blogs I have not visited this week. I will be back in blog-reading form next week.

We were all at breakfast the other morning, my husband’s t-shirt on inside-out, my daughter’s hair full of crazy, bedhead curls.

“I had the strangest dream last night,” I said, trying to avoid pouring orange juice in the cereal bowl.

“Mmmph” came from three directions.

“I was talking to Brad Pitt’s kids, and then, all of a sudden, I was a detective, running into a room trying to ferret out a bad guy. I had a gun, but I was really scared, but I needed to wrangle him out of hiding. I was singing, ‘John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt’ at the top of my lungs, over and over.”

My husband crunched on some Honey Bunches of Oats. “Well, that would scare anyone.” He paused. “That explains why you were whimpering. I thought about waking you up, because I thought you were having a bad dream. But you were… singing.”

In my dream, I was yelling, but tomato, to-mah-to.

My waking life has actually taken on some bad dream characteristics, while I’m here filling in at a science office.

They do things differently here.

Like: writing 14:00 for 2 p.m. Why is it that I have to think really hard to come up with what time 16:00 is?

There are a lot of rules here.

Like always doing stuff the same way, over and over. Who knew they did stuff like that in science?

It’s reminding me of why I didn’t excel at chemistry. Or biology. Or physics, for that matter.

In high school, my friend and I sat on our high stools in the physics lab and wrote long creative writing samples to each other:

“Anne ______: This is Your Life. When last we saw Anne, she was riding away on an elephant, in search of the mysterious mousetrap. When she traveled deep into the jungle, who should she see but _____…”

Long, far-fetched stories about swashbuckling pirates, movie stars or love interests who closely resembled people in our class filled spiral notebooks.

Physics was an advanced class; I don’t know why I was in there. Physics applied to my life inasmuch as it related to my inability to wake up before 10 a.m. on a weekend (an object at rest tends to stay at rest).

But the boys in the class above us were in there, and all of their parents had conspired to name them with double initials. Our “This is Your Life” stories included DD, RR, SS and other double-named heroes. One of them liked to prop his large, bare feet on the foot rests of the stool beside him. We found this irresistible.

“When Anne saw the hero, RR, walking in the sand, she could tell it was him by his bare feet. ‘RR! I can’t believe you flew to Belize to have dinner with me!'”

We would always wrap up our stories with soap-opera-esque questions: “Why was RR at the beach? Are his shoes still lying by the side of the road? Will Anne convince our tall, dark and handsome hero to wear shoes with his tuxedo when he escorts her to prom? Stay tuned…”

I don’t know why we were never caught. Probably because our teacher was bored by our antics and positively scintillated by mousetrap cars.

Or maybe he felt sorry for us because our creative writing smacked of bottom-of-the-barrel romance novels. “Poor girls. I can’t confiscate their notebook; it’s all they have. These two clearly aren’t going to become astrophysicists.”

When we weren’t sitting on high stools, we were down on the floor, taking part in “hands-on activities.” I’m still not sure what we were supposed to learn by rolling things around in the hallways.

Now, 24 years later, I am taking careful notes about numbers and dates and times and using controls and rules. Karma, my friends. I could write a good “Twilight Zone” episode with my learning experiences this week alone.

The takeaways from this week:

1. ‘John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt’ is apparently a go-to comfort song for me. I did not know that.

2. If you are going to use the time in science class to write creatively, go ahead and start on your first novel. You could get way ahead of the curve.

3. The iPhone 5 is out. Did you hear?

Were there ever classes that you wish you’d tuned into? Or do you feel that activities like creative writing were better uses of your time?


Goodbye, Things.

What’s mine is yours, Bumblebee.

Miles run yesterday: 9

Words written in my novel so far: 47,585

Size of men’s running shoe that is too small for my 11-year-old: 10

Goodbye, Things

(an homage to Goodnight Moon)

In the great messy garage

There was a grown man’s bike

And some running shoes

And a picture of…

A mommy singing the blues

And there were wide and narrow ties-es

And t-shirts all sizes

And an old Blackberry

Lots of things to carry

Goodbye things.

Goodbye bike

Goodbye shoes

Goodbye mommy singing the blues

Goodbye ties-es

t-shirts, all sizes

Goodbye phones

Goodbye short bones

Goodbye things that used to be mine

Goodbye things for all time.

My parents like to laugh about my sister. She had a penchant for things that were theirs.

My dad still remembers the time he returned from a speaking engagement with a gift of a nice men’s watch. My teenage sister walked in and said, “Oh! I could use that.”

Watch: gone…

Along with some of my mom’s clothes, some furniture, jewelry and various and sundry items. Things always look more appealing at my parents’ house. With my sister being the younger child, my parents found her appropriation techniques charming.

My son seems to be following in his aunt’s footsteps. He has already appropriated my husband’s (adult men’s) road bike as well as borrowed my husband’s favorite ties for dressy functions.

“I try to point him towards my least favorite ties, but he likes the expensive ones,” my husband says, shaking his head.

Yesterday, I went to buy running shoes. I picked out some for me and scanned the clearance section for some low-priced ones for my 11-year-old son. We have poured SuperFastBoneGrow solution all over him, and he can’t seem to stay the same size for more than two minutes.

I dubiously handled a size 10 men’s Karhu pair, a glorious black-and-orange festival of happiness for your feet. “Size 10? I don’t know. He’s really only a 9 and a half.” The store manager assured me I could bring them back if they didn’t work.

My son tried them on when he got home; they were TOO SMALL.



When my husband got home, he held his head in his hands, then marched out to the garage.

He returned carrying some of his favorite running shoes, gently worn, that never worked for running but that he started wearing around town; a distinction only men might understand: dressy running shoes.

My son tried them on: they worked.

My husband is trying to make sense of what is happening to his carefully constructed life: he wonders if giving his children the shirt off of his back is actually necessary.

He really likes his shirts.

I am concerned that I will come home one day to find a lock on our closet door. Our son probably wouldn’t be able to get past it because it would lack high-tech functionality like a case-sensitive password.

My daughter is not far behind; she eyes my jewelry with an experienced eye. She pretends to sort my necklaces to “help me out.” But I know the tricks of the Goodbye Gang.

Parents, join with me:

Goodbye ring

Goodbye bling

Goodbye every little thing.

Do You Want a Shake With That?

I love the bright yellow of the Lady Banks Rose against the gray sky.

Words written in my novel so far: 46,650

Miles run in Saturday’s 5K: 3.1

Place in my age group: 1 (I told all of the other people to stay home.)

Two takeaways from today’s post:

1. Try not to shake your booty to “Now That We Found Love” by HeavyD & The Boyz. Crank it up and just try to stand still.

2. To inspire trust in others, shake your booty.

So my BFF and I were standing at the edge of the Tobacco Trail on Saturday morning, at a time when normal people are sleeping or watching the Today show or drinking their first cups of coffee.

It was a return to the scene of the crime: March 2011, our first (and only) marathon to date. The sun was coming up, the air was crisp, people were standing around with bib numbers pinned to their chests, and I was struggling with PTSD.

But then we walked over to the Start line, and HeavyD & The Boyz were telling me that we’d found love. What were we gonna do with it?

“Seriously. You can stop dancing now,” my BFF said under her breath.

But I couldn’t. Because they played every dance song from every club night I’d had during my college years: “100% Pure Love,” “What Is Love?,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “Groove Is In The Heart”…

How could I stand there and be cool, indifferent to the mind-bending lyrics: “Gonna make you sweat til you bleed/Is that dope enough? Indeed.”

So I shook it.

And I’m telling you: people trust someone who is shaking it.

People kept walking up, asking sheepishly, “Would you?,” handing me their iPhones and asking me to take their pictures. I mean, handing me their prized iPhones was akin to them letting me hold their ears or their extra appendages or something.

My mind might have been screaming “gormless,” (photo subjects kept explaining with very specific gestures, “THIS IS THE BUTTON YOU PRESS TO TAKE A PICTURE.” It was a camera. Who knew?)

But my body was screaming “trustworthy.”

Obviously, my dancing makes people want me to… stop.

Back in middle school, we had units of learning in P.E.: archery, softball, soccer, aerobics, square dancing… yes, square dancing.

You may get a complete picture of my super-cool middle school career by my telling you that I was on the winning square dancing team for all three years. Yep. It’s true.

The couple of weeks of square dancing usually took place in the winter, and we huddled in the gym in our shorts and t-shirts, anxiously anticipating the prospect of hand-holding with the opposite sex and acting goofy in front of half of the sixth grade class.

In sixth grade, I went into the square dancing set-up with a “stay cool” attitude, much like that of my peers. No cute boys ended up in my square dancing circle, but maybe that was for the best. I could concentrate on the cute boys in other groups as I spun and twirled with a nonchalant, sophisticated demeanor.

But it was a competition. And there was music.

So when “Red River Gal” incited us to get country-wild, our group decided to attack the competition with ironic abandon. Boys with sweaty hands swung and do-si-doed and twirled with me. They were definitely cuter when they were dancing. All that was missing was the cowboy boots.

At least, that was the idea.

It was nice to win, even something as uncool as square dancing. And honestly, I was uncool in so many other ways, I don’t think the square dancing counted against me in any significant way.

(Except that it was years before a boy wanted to hold my hand outside of square dancing. Years, people.)

In both running and dancing, I have learned:

1. You can love to do something, but it doesn’t always translate into insane ability.

2. A good beat goes a long way.

3. If you shake your booty, people will trust you, even with their valued appendage-extensions.

I am wondering how all of this will translate into a job interview situation. Thoughts?

Is there a song that implores you to shake your booty? Do people around you beg you to stop? Or do they ask you to demonstrate the latest dance moves?

Perception is Reality

One of my favorite places.

Miles run today: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 45,701

Kilometers my BFF is making me run tomorrow to benefit Haiti: 5

Perception is reality.

It’s one of those old PR phrases that has stuck with me through the years. When I was a teenager, I remember reading that simply swinging your arms when you walk gives the impression of confidence, making some stranger less likely to attack you.

So when I was home from college for New Year’s Eve one year, I remember going to a party with my good friend at one of her friend’s houses. The guy worked at Gap and had a fixation about my friend being a perfect size 6 classic fit jean. But I digress.

After the party, I walked with my friend back to her apartment along dark Atlanta streets. A car would drive by, and I would say, “Quick! Swing your arms!” I’m pretty sure that’s what kept us safe that night.

Back in middle school, the Age of Awkwardness and Vulnerability, I was introduced to a mean but interesting little game at a slumber party. It was exactly the sort of game that a.) would make men cringe, and b.) no middle school girl should ever play.

Today, they probably splash things like this all over Facebook. But back in the Dark Ages of Computers, we used pen and paper.

We were down in someone’s basement listening to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” over and over again. Each girl was given a piece of paper with a roughly-sketched table (now easily created on Excel), and at the top was a list of things like Face, Body, Personality. The list was passed around the room anonymously (Is any game amongst middle-school-aged girls truly anonymous? We knew each other’s handwriting like we knew every lyric to the latest Wham! song.).

Every detail of your outward being was scrutinized and critiqued. And then you got the paper to keep forever. Once seen, you can’t unsee things, people.

Just as I suspected, the old adage my mom kept chanting, “Everyone will be too worried about themselves to worry about what you look like/what you’re doing/what you’ve said” was wrong. Complete bunkum.

They noticed.

They recorded.

They reported their findings.

As I might have said before, it’s amazing that any of us survive our preteen years.

But I clung to the positives, the parts where they said I was kind and reminded them of Great Shape Barbie.

Years later, a.) I am very glad that no one has ever asked me to play that game again, and b.) I still try to focus on the positives.

Carrie Rubin, over at The Write Transition, wrote about the one word you would use to describe yourself and others. Do you project confidence? Kindness? Are you creative? Wild? Are you the dependable one? Or the cruise director?

How well does your own one word match up to how others view you? Would your family agree with the word you’ve chosen? Would your friends or co-workers?

Unlocking the Key to a Meaningful Life

What do you dream about?

Minutes spent in adventurous boot camp class today: 60

New arm and rib muscles located and made sore: 43

Words written in novel so far: 44,521

When I was in second or third grade, I used to dream I was flying.

I would be hanging out on the playground near the big, domed climbing thing, then I would start running. The liftoff was the best part: there would be a moment when I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Then, empty of the awkwardness of a jet plane takeoff, my body would lift into the air. I would survey the playground and leave for parts unknown. Especially parts where there was no math class or warm boxed milk.

I don’t have those dreams anymore.

Instead, I was particularly fond of a butterscotch-colored horse in one dream recently and was shopping in another. I end up in school a lot when I’m asleep, the very place I was trying to escape, even as early as second grade.

I went through a period when I tried to access those thoughts, the world beyond my ken.

My freshman year in college, one of the girls in my suite took out a Ouija Board before we headed out on the town.

I was wandering back and forth between my room and theirs, brushing my hair and becoming glamorous. Well, presentable.

And I lost my dorm key.

It was there, and then it was gone. It was on a Tarheel key chain. When I discovered it was missing, I realized maybe this was not the best plan: every student at the school had a Tarheel key chain.

Eight girls scoured the rooms, the beds, the bathroom, the floor. We spent 20 minutes looking. Nothing. No key.

I knew I couldn’t go out without it.

So two of the girls asked the Ouija Board. “Where is Anne’s key?”

It spelled out P-O-C-K-E-T.

It most definitely was not in my pocket. I didn’t have pockets. I was peeved and working my way to annoyed.

My suitemate yelled, “Okay, everyone empty out your pockets!”

Inside one of the girl’s pockets was my key.

When I went home that summer, my good friend and I would spend hours in a large, musty, wooden-floored, wooden-shelved bookstore in Atlanta. We read everything we could about numerology and astrology and dream analysis and life after death. I guess we kept hoping we would learn something about the mind-body-spirit connection that would help us in life. Or at least help us get men.

Then we would have coffee and huge slabs of cake at a local coffee shop.

We never unlocked the key to a meaningful life. But I can tell you a lot about why I shouldn’t date a Cancer.

What is the meaning of life? The older I get, I think it’s either lots of love, lots of time or lots of sleep.

For years, my kids would wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me their weird dreams. Then they would lie beside me in bed, and just as I was drifting off, they would stage-whisper:


There were whole weeks when I was not a very nice person.

Just last night, my 11-year-old woke me up to tell me he thought there was a snake in his room.

After I get some more sleep, maybe it’s time for me to head back to an old, musty bookstore to research the mind-body-spirit connection again. If I can’t figure out life, at least I can analyze all of our dreams.

Let’s Get Physical

Look at this gorgeous lily we saw at the zoo!

Miles run today: 5

Words written in my novel so far: 43,145

Temperature outside at 3 p.m.: 75!!!!! Wow.

When I was a teenager, boys did not rush up behind me and throw me over their shoulders like I was a cuddly little creature.

Of course, at age 15, this is exactly what I wanted them to do.

At 5’9″, I had no right to expect that kind of treatment, given that several of the boys wouldn’t top 5’9″ until their college years. And maybe it’s tough to project cuddliness when your body screams “Tall and Intimidating.”

Even today, I might see a precious jacket on display in a store. I approach the sleeve, check the tag, and an evil “Petite” label makes me jump back. I expect alarms to sound: “Please exit the Petite section immediately. Security: a Giant has breached the Petite borders.”

Physicality is something I think about quite a bit as I climb into my characters’ skins and walk around for a while.

As a writer, I think about all sorts of backstory: what makes a character the person he is today, why she hates olives, why he votes Republican, why she would get especially upset when told the grocery store was out of Clean Shower.

But from the very beginning of character creation, I think about what it feels like to physically be that person.

1. Size

One of our neighbors is 6’4″ and stands all day long for his job. Would he be intimidated when he walked around a university campus at 3 a.m.? Would students be afraid of him? Do his feet hurt all the time?

A friend of mine is 5’1″ with heels on, and her weight barely registers on a standard scale. I told her once that I’d like to participate in our local running store’s weekly group runs, but they run at a 6:30 pace. For six miles.

“Oh, you could do that, no problem! Don’t sell yourself short!” she said.

Um, no. They would have to scoop me up off the side of the road and carry me back. Oh, wait. I’m too big. They’d have to bring a car.

All I could think about was how light she must feel as she runs, how if she jumped into my body and tried to do even an 11:00 pace, she might cry with fatigue. “The weight of your legs is too much! Too much!” I pictured her moaning. “Please–anything but that!”

2. Skin color

Setting aside issues of culture, which are more complex, how do other characters react to your character based on something as basic as skin color?

A good friend of mine who is African American said that when she went shopping with her white friends as a teenager, she had more than one incident where the clerk followed her around to see if she would steal something. The white friend? Free to roam and shoplift at will.

Does this make your character bitter? Or does she have more empathy for other people who have experienced prejudice?

My friend had rather rowdy exchanges on Facebook recently with both black and white friends weighing in on whether or not Kathryn Stockett should have been so successful for writing a story about race relations, being white and all.

What would your character say if she had to respond on Facebook? Is she comfortable in her own skin?

3. Health

When someone complains of pain, do you ever wonder: how would that same pain register if I were feeling it?

My daughter shrieks like a banshee when I brush her hair. I’m surprised Child Protective Services hasn’t been called out for the way she carries on. “It hurrrrrrrts! Owwwwwww! EEeeeeeeeee!” She’s nine now, and it hasn’t changed.

I watch some kids fall on their heads and walk away bleeding, and it barely registers.

Is your character a hypochondriac? Does he have a chronic illness or even a condition he is not yet aware of? Have the years of living life dangerously affected her liver? When people ask her how she’s feeling for the sixtieth time, does it make her want to stomp on bubble wrap in a quiet library?

4. Beauty

It’s a simple fact: good looking people are more successful. They get better jobs, better partners, better treatment at the customer service desk. Sometimes, people give them free things. Just for existing.

Is your character beauty-challenged? Does she wear shapeless knit pants and gray t-shirts to avoid calling attention to herself?

Or is he so gorgeous that people stop and stare as he walks by? If so, has he always been so nice-looking, or did he go through a terribly awkward period when he was 14 and faced braces, glasses and bad skin?

What would it be like to walk around for a few days in your main character’s skin? How can you use her physical presence to make us understand what makes her tick? And what else do you take into consideration when you are writing or thinking about a character’s outward appearance? How can you show us what your character looks like through the reactions of the other characters?

The Acquisition of Accoutrements

You should see the accoutrements we require for a trip to the beach.

Miles run yesterday: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 41,412

Accoutrements my husband has acquired so far for the nifty new sport of triathlon-ing: 7

Never let it be said that my husband does things halfway. No sir.

So when he mentioned, back in the spring, that he was going to run a marathon, my first thought was, “I am going to know more about marathons than the entire staff of Runner’s World magazine, combined, by the end of the year.”

A veritable spreadsheet of numbers spilled out of his mouth each time he returned from a run, along with a laundry list of minor aches and pains.

“Well, today I went out hoping to take it slowly, at an 8:30 pace, but the weather was a balmy 65 degrees, so I picked up the pace near the main road, to about 7:26, then tried to take it down a notch to an 8:02 pace by the turnaround.”

I might have mentioned before that numbers are not really my thing.

He also expressed disbelief that his body hurt. At times, a lot. There were colorful descriptions, often peppered with bad words and rather pitiful expressions.

In the midst of all of the marathon prep, he decided he was going to start competing in triathlons. You might wonder: why start training for one’s first triathlon, nay, an Ironman triathlon, in the midst of one’s first marathon training?

I asked that very same question.

In the ’80s, my parents would have labeled this a mid-life crisis, speaking with friends in hushed tones reserved for cancer and mental illness.

But today, mid-life crises require accoutrements. Or at least, my husband’s mid-life crisis does.

So far, his mid-life crisis triathlon training has required the purchase of:

1 super bike

1 pair of tight, well-padded bike shorts

1 bike helmet

1 bike pump

1 (better) bike seat

1 pair of Daniel Craig-esque swim shorts (!)

1 kickboard

Still remaining to be purchased:

1 DVD to learn how to swim, total immersion-style

1 pair of flippers

1 swim cap

1 buoy to hold your legs up while you practice breathing

1 tight bike shirt to look like a real cyclist

I should report that he is a real cyclist already, becoming one with the bike in a way I have never and will never achieve. The bike’s moving parts would seem to me to be accoutrements aplenty, but then again, I am not a triathlete and have no intimate knowledge of the psyche of such an animal.

But he does look cute in the swim shorts.

And now, I must return to the accoutrements with which I am most familiar: pen, notebook, computer keyboard. Please note that these wonderful devices require no number-crunching and will never “rest” in the garage while my body recovers.

When Characters Whine

Keeping both the trees and the forest in mind.

Miles run yesterday: 5.5

Words written in my novel so far: 40,265

Interviews done about Santa Barbara last week: 2! Yippee!

Now that I’m right here in the middle of my novel’s first draft, I realize that a.) the first part of my novel is usually its weakest part and b.) this is a problem.

I’m in the meaty part, the part where my characters are doing things and saying things and not keeping their mouths shut like maybe they should. And I love it.

But here is my question: how do you keep the reader rooting for a somewhat unlikeable character? I’ve read many takes on this subject, many thoughts about the antihero as hero. And while my heroine is not an antihero exactly, she is not completely large and in charge of her life when the novel opens.

In fact, she has been described as whiny.

There is a reason for the whininess, of course. She has had to struggle, in a non-poverty, non-substance abuse, non-down-and-out kind of way. But struggled, nonetheless. She is the teensiest bit self-pitying.

I kind of liked that about Scarlett O’Hara, and I don’t mind it a bit in my own character. The reason: I know what she’s been through, and I know what’s coming.

But what if you don’t know? What if an agent, or eventually you, pick up my book and then put it down before her metamorphosis occurs?

I try to write truthfully, and in my experience, people do tend to whine and complain, at least to a degree. Being noble all the time gets a little tiresome.

One time, a few years ago, I wrote an essay to submit to a women’s (writing) magazine. The thrust of the magazine? Very feminist, very strong. The thrust of my essay? I’m not great at traveling, and while I still plan to do it, it’s not easy for me… and I haven’t completely overcome some of my fears.

The feedback I got was that they loved the voice but wanted the subject (me) to have conquered her fears. I could have written that, I suppose.

But the truth of the matter? We’re all works-in-progress. We don’t always overcome things in a noble manner, kicking all doubt to the curb and becoming a Better Person.

I’ll keep working on making my character more likeable, less whiny. But the truth is that I kind of like her that way. She’s not perfect; she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. She’s not noble.

What do you think? Have you ever struggled with making a character more likeable? How do you balance truth with what readers (and agents) expect?