Sunday, January 22, 2017

150,000 Strong! No, make that 175,000 Srong!

Washington, DC

Yesterday I became part of the Women's March in Boston.  
Like most days, yesterday had its trials, the first one being actually getting to the march.  I left from the suburbs, taking public transportation as advised.  Apparently the MBTA, the Boston area transit system, had expected  50,000 marchers.  Wow! Were they in epic fail. I was leaving early (I thought) but hundreds of people were stood in line for the train.  Which was coming.  I ran across the tracks and jumped on the last car, already jammed from the first stop! No one else could get on all the way into the city. And I  would have to stand, along with many others.    
I felt so bad for those we were leaving behind, because the prospect of boarding later trains looked grim.  On my train, we were a friendly bunch and I loved looking at all the pink hats and the protest signs.  After  twenty-five minutes my hand clutching the overhead bar began cramping up soon to be replaced by a worse problem.  At Kenmore Square, still some distance from the march, the train was "taken out of service."  An experienced Boston-area MBTA traveler learns to expect this, but not today, oh please, not today.  
Today.  We all scrambled off the train and I followed the huge crowd out of the station onto the street.  From Red Sox games, at least I knew where I was,  but still I followed the crowd. 
How would my bum knee and bad back get me through this unexpected second march? Looking up, on my left stood a huge sign:  BOSTON STRONG! So right away, pain be damned,  I knew I could do this.
Now we refugees from the subway had our own march,  on this warm, cloudy day with no wind, all the way down Commonwealth Avenue through Back Bay, seven double-long blocks (like fourteen) and that was only part of the hike.  
Now I would miss my friend whom I was supposed to meet up with a half hour earlier. While I trudged along, by myself but not alone, for this was the pre-march march, I thought back to my first ever event like this. 1969. On the morning of a huge Vietnam War protest in Chicago, I put on a good outfit, dressed my three year old son accordingly, and boarded a commuter train for downtown.  At the Civic Center in front of the new untitled Picasso statue, a huge crowd had massed. We chanted, "Peace Now!" and "Hell, no, we won't go!" Nothing I had to worry about being female and a mother. 

A young man heaved my son on his shoulders so he could see. We listened to the speeches and cheered.   Then some of the cast from Hair sang "Good Morning, Sunshine!"  We had tickets to Hair and this was beyond thrilling to leave my staid suburban neighborhood and be part of this event.
My first venture into marching for a cause was again, downtown Chicago,  maybe ten  years later, this time for the Equal Rights Amendment.  Summer.  A hot sunny day. I was with my friend Elaine, and all the women marching  wore white.  Again,  big crowd.  Very proud to be a part of this, although it failed, like the war protest. 
ERA March, Betty Frieden

In every failure is the germ of a later success. 
So here I was decades later, a grandmother, not a young mom, trekking through  Boston's Back Bay to meet up with 50,000 other like minded individuals.
Nearing the Public Garden, four brawny Boston cops marched down Commonwealth, shoulders touching, like maybe this peaceful crowd might attack them. I flashed the peace sign, and the African American cop nodded and grinned.  The white guys didn't.  Some young girls in the crowd had flowers to hand out.  The past came barrelling back. Shades of the summer of love! 
Summer of Love

When I reached Boston Common, where cattle used to graze, people filled the area, overflowing everywhere, and just like on the train, there was not enough room. In case anyone had ideas about driving a truck into this crowd, big trucks and snowplows blocked all the entrances.  I stood across the street at the entrance to the Public Garden, and I could hear the speakers over the mikes set up. I saw the American flag and the viewing stands and an ocean of people: women, men, kids, dogs.  People of all creeds and races, intent of making a statement that everyone should have equal rights and not face discrimination or harassment because of who they are: female, minority, immigrant, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.  I saw them all and I read the signs, many of which were clever puns, and they covered the spectrum of what was on out minds from the ACA  to free speech, a free press, and keeping government out of women's bodies.  And much more.  

Boston Women's March
Standing in the street waiting for the march to start, I smelled weed, and somehow that seemed right too, because if Jeff Sessions is confirmed, God only knows what will happen to the states who have voted to allow it.  We'll see how states rights count with the Southern Gentleman.  Surely he will have bigger fish to fry. Surely. 
 A few times I was moved to near tears, just thinking about all of us here and the people in Washington and Los Angeles.  I had no idea that Chicago and Austin drew such huge crowds along with Paris, Singapore, Amsterdam and Park City, Utah and other cities one did not imagine. Millions of people, all in solidarity, all with one goal:  to send a message to the man in the white house and all of congress that our concerns were real, that we must be heard.  
The speeches ended.  My back and my knees had tolerated being on my feet for over two hours, but my hip had not liked standing. Pain! I hobbled through a few blocks of the march, and the signs were so cool and the kids didn't cry, and the dogs didn't bark and I heard that with that many people, there was not a single arrest!     

The march (it seemed more of a shuffle in the early stages) turned into Arlington Street.  Still hobbling, I passed a church and the bells pealed "We Shall Overcome," and "Amazing Grace."  More tearing up. 
 I peeled off into the Arlington Street MBTA station. OMG!  Just like this morning!  Trains arrived, already too packed for anyone to board. Even with extra cars.  Did I mention there was NO WIFI at the speeches.  I think so many cell phone sucked it all up.  But underground, there was wifi, and I texted my husband to pick me up at the only stop where there was room on the trains:  Heath Street, not on our normal routes.  He finally arrived at the stop, and found me waiting at the bus stop at the VA hospital. 

I hope those naysayers, those not inclined to interest themselves in the rights of others,when they observed us, peaceful and sincere and not out to bust anyone's chops, reflected on what all this was about and the strength of our numbers, numbers multiplied in cities across the world.  
Women who manage jobs, families, housework, volunteer work, and endless complexities, are a force to be reckoned with when they come together in solidarity.  And we are on the move.  Don't let the pink hats and signs with cute puns fool you. Sisterhood is powerful.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Plant Butt in Chair

Even  with good intentions, it may be hard to concentrate.  Observe cat on desk.

How do you motivate yourself to write and finish that novel?
It isn't easy.  I have a friend with  five (!) 50,000 word unfinished novels from NaNoWriMo.  Maybe one of these days she will finish one.  Maybe not.
It takes a lot of time to get your plot laid out (no matter how rudimentary) and get to know your characters and nail your the salient details of your setting.  But, as Mary Poppins said, "well begun is half-done."
Perhaps.  We all start off like gangbusters and after a few chapters maybe you see how anemic the plot is, or your characters stop speaking to you, or you realize you need to take a little (or a long trip) to bring your setting to life.  It happens to every writer, but it's what you do after you reach this impasse that distinguishes the pros from the amateurs.
Plant butt in chair.  The truth is, we learn to know our characters by writing about them.  Develop.  Develop.  They'll surprise you.  Everyone has heard of a character taking over a book.  It does happen.  But not unless you are actively writing the book.
Plotting can be done in the shower, behind the wheel of your car, making dinner, falling asleep at night.  But you better get those great ideas on paper as soon as possible, or they'll disappear into the ether.  Sit down and write notes to yourself: ideas for a scene, fragments of dialogue.
Spend an evening researching your setting online.   I've "been" to both Cuba and Panama via online visits.  What you can ferret out and the great believable details you can discover are there for the taking.  You can find photos, blogs, discussion groups--I tapped into some sailors' listserve about sailing in Cuban waters and the Florida straights.  I found out about Hemingway Marina and the dos and don'ts on how to behave.  Saw photos of the taxis.  Found lists of gifts to take.  Googled the airport and imagined  how it would look just after take off.  Pretty soon, I felt like I had been there, walking along the Malecon and taking a carriage ride through the old city.  Same thing for Panama.  But remember:  my butt was right here in the chair.
The only rule is:  there are no rules.  If so, no one knows what they are.  Really.  There is no rule that you must write the book in sequence.  You can do the BIG scenes and then string them together.  You can write the ending and keep going back in time, always asking yourself, "what would have to happen to make this happen?"  You can write a  400 page outline and spend more time on it than the book.
Sometimes, the ending and the beginning will confound you and require a skidload of rewrites and much thought.  That's okay.  The book takes five years?  Thaat's okay, too.  You WROTE and FINISHED it.
Remember, it isn't easy.  Just don't stop after 50,000 words.  You're over half way there.  And the best advice I had as a beginning writer was:  almost anything can be fixed.  In mystery writing, there's a saying that if the plot bogs down, have a man with a gun come through the door.  This can be literal or it is can be figurative.  Make something happen.
Writers are always writing, whether in their heads on in their chairs, but to get the book written and finished you are going to have to PLANT BUTT IN CHAIR!
Good Luck!   

These fine writers will have plenty of good advice on the subject.  Take a look at what they have to say.

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Heather Haven
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun  Rachael Kosinski
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire
Rhobin Courtright