A few months ago I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The book’s premise is that a deadly flu sweeps the world, killing most of the population. The few people who survive must adapt to a new world without modern essentials like electricity, refrigeration, gasoline, antibiotics, computers, and so on. The book follows different characters as they react to a world they never expected to live in, and their stories intertwine in beautiful ways.
I find with a really good book like Station Eleven the scenes, characters, and ideas rattle around in my head long after I’ve finished it. I found myself thinking about what I would miss if I lived in the world of the book. Obviously I would miss my computer, my car, the Internet, modern medicine, etc. But what about the non-obvious, non-essential stuff of 21st century civilization? Here’s my list of unnecessary, trivial things that I would miss in the event of a global flu-pocalypse:
Brightly-colored drinks with fruit and decorations
Cupcakes with icing
Glitter glue pens
Big glossy magazines with aspirational content, like Martha Stewart Living
I tried doing some free writing on these topics, but felt like I still wasn’t really connecting with my character. Then I remembered mind mapping. I grabbed my journal and started with the character’s name in the middle of the page. Then I started writing things that I know about her– including the names of family and friends, as well as what she loves and hates. You can see the current map in the picture above. I’m still working on it– at a minimum I want to add needs and fears– but I feel like I’m getting a better idea of who she is and how she changes by the end of the book.
You’ll notice the map is kind of messy– not like some of the pretty mindmapexamples you can find online. I’m putting something messy out on purpose because while I like to look at pretty examples, I don’t think real idea generation looks like that, at least not when I do it. I find ideas don’t leap from my mind fully formatted with correct punctuation and spelling. The more I let go of the need to be tidy, the more I can generate ideas that make my writing interesting and real.
Today I’m thinking about the protagonist of the book I’m working on. Her name is Maddie and she’s eleven. She’s got a dog, an older sister, and a really big secret. But what does she want?
What did I want, when I was 11?
I remember wanting pretty hair. I tried growing it long but then got tired of it and got it all cut off with a cute little Dorothy Hamill-style wedge. (Don’t laugh! They were really popular.) I wanted a ten-speed bike, but I only had a three-speed. I wanted friends, and had some. I wanted to be the best at something.
It’s winter. My hands are dry and the skin near the top corners of my fingernails is starting to crack. My feet are cold. My back itches. I’m hungry and I don’t know what to eat for lunch. These are the profound thoughts that went through my mind this morning while I lay on my meditation cushion, trying to pay attention to the present moment.
When I took a meditation class, I asked the meditation teacher, “What if the present moment sucks?” She smiled and suggested I pay attention to it anyway. Continue reading →
You’re not even halfway through November, and you’re already falling behind on your Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) project. How did you think you’d have time for this stupid thing, anyway? It’s clear — something’s gotta give. But what?
Stop cleaning. Honestly, like you were anyway. And even if every surface in your home is clean enough to eat off, is a month without dusting going to kill you? I mean, OK, you might have some weird dust or mold allergy that will send you into a coughing, itchy death spiral. But wouldn’t that be more likely to affect you if you did clean?
Stop exercising. You can work off the Nano weight next month. OK, maybe after Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But then you can work it off. Well, maybe it’s actually best if you wait until after all that Valentine’s Day chocolate because you know, you…
Tomorrow is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month or nanowrimo, as it has come to be known. Don’t let the word “novel” throw you off, because all you need to do is write 50,000 words between Nov. 1st and Nov. 30th and you win. There’s no one judging the quality of what you write. Continue reading →
Make them readers when they are young and have no will to resist.
So I like to read books more than once. Apparently not everyone does this. I know this because my spouse will spot me re-reading a book and say, “So you’re reading that again?” Yes. Yes I am.
I’m not proud of my re-reading habits, especially since the library is full of books that I haven’t read. Shouldn’t I be improving my mind by encountering new ideas, characters, settings? Yes. But sometimes it’s not what my mind wants. My mind wants to slip into a familiar place. It’s like wearing an old sweatshirt. It feels good.
Here are some books that I’ve read more than once:
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
The Cracker Factory – Joyce Rebeta-Burditt
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J. R. R. Tolkien
Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Harry Potter 1 – 7 – J. K. Rowling
The Other Boleyn Girl – Phillipa Gregory
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
It’s kind of a weird hodge-podge of stuff, isn’t it?
Lately my brain metaphor has switched and I see all the randomness (or seeming randomness) as flotsam and jetsam. Is the brain a sea? Or maybe all our brains together are one big sea, a little bit like Jung’s collective unconscious, but wetter.
So the mind drifts here or there, and when I meditate I see how it goes from thing to thing to thing, but winds up so often at the same place: there is something wrong with me, or I did something wrong, or my feelings are wrong. I should be happier, sadder, more at ease, less judgmental. The list goes on. When I’m not busy castigating myself or trying to make myself get up and clean the house, I notice how certain ideas and things tend to show up again and again. These are the things my mind is stuck on. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order: Continue reading →