Archive for February, 2008

The Post – Extra!!! We Are Grandparents!!! Scarlett O’Hara Delivers

February 29, 2008

I came out of the gym and my cell phone went off – the vibrating beep to indicate a text message. It apparently came earlier, but given the facility is blocked I only just received it. My husband sent it – a few simple words: We’re grandparents!” I understood immediately – our pregnant fiddler crab, Scarlett O’Hara delivered her thousands of babies.

When I left this morning, she was wandering around, not really interested in eating. Just walking around. Ed noted the same thing before he went upstairs to do some work. When he came down, he said she was just sitting there eating a shrimp pellet … and she was skinny. He did a double-take and noticed the babies were gone from her abdomen, and all these little teeny really teeny black dots, floating around the tank!!!

As soon as I got the text, I raced to PetsMart to pick up the liquid baby fish food called “Small Fry” and raced home. Did you ever notice how many asleep drivers there are on the highway when you’re trying to get home fast?

I quickly got Scarlett out of the nursery tank as my husband reminded me, because at this point, Scarlett’s maternal instincts are probably done. In fact she may view them as floating “cheeseburgers” and start munching. So I moved her back into the main tank. It was like she never left. Not even a second to re-adjust for her. She just walked over to the live rock and started picking off algae and eating. Kind of like “Ahhhh – good to be home.” I don’t think Admiral Byrd has noticed her return yet. Not sure about Melanie Hamilton. She’s been in seclusion since Scarlett O’Hara left the main tank, probably hiding out from Admiral Byrd who has been waving his claw non-stop these days. I expect Melanie may be relieved to have Scarlett back.

Anyway, just had to let you all know she has successfully birthed. I will keep you posted on what happens from here. We’ll see how many, if any, of the babies survive!!! 🙂

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The Post – Can Surrender = Win?

February 29, 2008

Writers pay attention to words. It’s an occupational hazard, like a carpenter paying attention to what’s the best hammer or a painter finding the best brush. Words are the tools of the trade. So I’m always paying attention to things like “Does that word have the subtlety of meaning I need?” Or :”Does this word have a second meaning that might confuse?” Writers also think about overlooked possibilities with the words they choose. “Is there a meaning you can give this word that no one usually associates with it?”

Surrender. I was thinking about that word a lot lately. You hear that word and immediately thoughts of loss, failure, futility of effort, come up. It’s hard to see it any other way. Harder still is to get your head around the possibility that to surrender, could be to win.

Even as I say the word, the competitive part of me that wants to fight for my rights, get ahead, succeed in life, cringes. I can feel my stomach knot, an uncomfortable churning inside, the hair on the back of my neck raise up. My brain yells, “NO!” The thing about surrender, though, especially in our close relationships, is that if done well, both walk away with something, both end up feeling better.

When things are always viewed in terms of win or lose, there’ s no room for anything else. There’s no “other option” possible. No wiggle room for a place that might leave both parties feeling a bit more empowered and a bit less stomped on. If there is a winner, there’s always a loser. A loser is not going to be happy and when someone in an altercation isn’t happy, it’s going to stay alive and fester. Look at World War I. When Germany lost, the terms dictated to them were so onerous, so harsh, it bred the even worse horror known as World War II. Losers are more apt to pull back, regroup, plot the next battle, seek revenge.

It’s not always possible to seek “surrender.” Some situations just don’t give that option. Then the best option is to be a generous winner. But as much as possible, taking a step back, giving the situation “more room,” might yield a more satisfying result. Take something all knotted up, spread it out on the floor, and you often can spot the tangles. Spread the tangles out more, and you have room to pick them apart, unravel them, possibly even remove them completely.

It’s the law of physics. The more room given to particles in a closed container, the less pressure there is. They spread out evenly. Close things down and pressure builds. Tighten down the valves enough and things might explode.

Surrendering in a relationship to the possibility of a greater good, allows time and room. Spread out the mess, find the knots, pick out the tangles. It might be possible to save the whole ball of string. Even if not, it might be possible to salvage a good bit of it.

So, a new twist on “surrender” – see it as a win? Something for both the writer, and the human being inside the writer, to ponder.

The Gift

February 29, 2008

“Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it. .”

John Templeton

The Gift – Extra! Crab Breeding Site

February 28, 2008

The breeding of Red Clayed Mangrove Crabs. This gentleman succeeded in raising crabs from egg release from the female, right up to adult crabs. For information and pictures of this process, click here.

One thing of note – this gentleman said his female brooded her eggs three weeks before releasing them. We are just about at week #2 here with Scarlett O’Hara. So we shall see how long this takes. I may need to change the “baby food.” I have frozen freeze-dried mini-krill and some flake food. I figured I could grind up the krill into a power, and the flake food would dissolve and float, making both “accessible” to the tiny newborn crabs. He used a liquid “small fry” food, which I saw at Petsmart. I may try that.

The Gift

February 28, 2008

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The Post – My Husband, Alias Fiddler Crab Midwife

February 28, 2008

Again I will note, it is my husband who thought of something crucial. I’d finally gotten the new tank so the water is clear, the nitrites aren’t too high, Scarlett O’Hara is calm and exploring the tank. I got the main tank’s water changed, so it too is in great shape. Feeling satisfied with the world, I commented that now all we need to do is wait for the birth.

My husband turned and said: “I’ve been meaning to ask you something that bothered me. You have the water filter running in the nursery tank. When the microscopic babies are born, won’t they all get sucked into the filter material?”

“OH MY GOD.” The man is right. We’ll come down some morning and Scarlett will have delivered and there’ll be no babies in the tank – just this primal cry of the thousands emitting from the cloth and charcoal filter material – the crab baby equivalent of “Oh the humanity!!”

I first thought maybe I could just pull out the filter material and just leave the water pump running, but again, my engineer husband said, “Well that will be okay I guess while they’re microscopic. But what happens when they start to grow and get a little bigger? They’ll get sucked through the pump and won’t that grind them all up?”

“OH MY GOD again.” You know, for a person who started this whole thing out with “So, we’ve spent $4 on fiddler crabs and a $100 on support gear,” and laughed at the endeavor, he is the one the babies should thank if they make it because he is the one paying such close attention to their every need. When I hedged about spending yet another $30 on a tank heater, he was like, “But won’t they need heat?”

In any event, I ran to Petsmart to buy a tank bubbler. There’s all kinds – wands, rocks, bars, then there’s pumps – all kinds of those, not to mention you have to buy the right pump to handle the volume of your tank and the right sized wand to stretch across your tank, then there’s the check valve you have to install if the pump is going to be below the aquarium instead of above it – keeps the water from backflowing into the pump in case of power loss….you get the picture. I finally settled on a pump for aquariums up to 20 gallons instead of 10. Wanted something with more power to push air in there. And I selected a wand to extend across the back of the tank to create a curtain of bubbles. I thought that might circulate the oxgen better than a bubble rock. It won’t filter the water, but hopefully the huge live rock and the bacteria I’ve already seeded the tank with from the old filter backing, will be enough to jump-start the nitrogen cycle without the filter running. The bubbler will give them fresh air. So, keep your fingers crossed.

At least Scarlett O’Hara seems to like it. She climbs up on the wand and sits there with bubbles flowing up around her. I hope she thinks it’s “surf” and releases the babies soon. My husband wonders if she is scurrying around the tank so much because it’s getting close and she’s frantically trying to find that right spot to let them go and be carried out “into the open ocean.” Sigh.

Truly, those fiddler babies owe him a lot. He is the true fiddler dad. Admiral Byrd may be oblivious and not care, but my husband surely does. It’s that whole “Caring is Catchy,” thing.

The Gift

February 27, 2008

A love story of a different kind – a writer’s love story: 84 Charing Cross Road, with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

If you want the full story behind the movie, I recommend the two books:

84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff

The Post – Twenty Years of Marriage

February 27, 2008

A time out, today, from both my writing journey posts and my fiddler crab posts. No new info on the latter yet, by the way. It’s like pregnant women past their due date – you just wait and don’t ask if the contractions have started yet.

Today is a special day. It is our twentieth wedding anniversary. It is a milestone, and worth taking time out to honor. The years have gone quickly, sprinkled with child-raising, dogs, sick parents, near-death experiences, heart-ache, joy, aging. A good mix for life I’d say. As I’ve noted, we are both geeks in our own ways, and as such, we understand each other. I just wanted to take a moment today to honor my best friend, and I figured he would enjoy and understand the movie reference below. He and I speak in movie references – lines from movies that capture the emotion of a moment for us. Over the years we have accumulated a collection of lines from hundreds of movies. They have become a kind of coded communication between us.

This particular movie is called 84 Charing Cross Road. Anne Bancroft stars. Her husband, Mel Brooks, purchased the rights to produce it – his gift of love to her, knowing how much she loved the story.

It’s the true story of a New York City writer, Helene Hanff – a person kind of like me – no bullsh–, doesn’t mince words, very “unglamorous.” She has a sharp, but kind sense of humor and a great heart. Helene LOVED English literature, but in late 1940s New York City where the movie begins, she could not find any English literature books except at the library. Then she discovered Marks & Co. and began a decades-long correspondence with them. The story is told through her letters. From the opening of the movie:

“October 5, 1949, to Marks and Co., 84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2, England. Gentlemen, Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase “antiquarian bookseller” scares me somewhat as I equate antique with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions. I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have any clean second-hand copies of any of the books on the list for no more than $5 each, would you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?”

Thus begins her relationship with the very proper bookseller at Marks & Co., “FPD.” FPD, over letters and time becomes Frank Doel, then simply, “Frank.” It’s a love story, but not the usual kind. They live an ocean apart, have different lives, and he is married with daughters. Happily married. So no, there are no hot sex scenes, the crutch of most modern movies. Yet it is a love story, anyway, because true love at its deepest is about caring, generosity, and the connection of souls. It is not limited by the relationship but can be felt for spouses, friends, relatives, neighbors. Their friendship enlarges their lives, expanding to include his wife, neighbors, daughters, other workers at the bookshop, her friends. Their love is about adding something to each of their lives, not taking things away or destroying things. It is about understanding each other, and that is the quality of love that sustains it, whether in marriage or friendship, well into old age. And frankly, a marriage that lasts well into old age is as much about friendship, as anything else.

Throughout the movie, she revels in the old books she buys, books better for having been owned by someone else first. Again, it is a love of connection to others, even those she never met. She says: “I love inscriptions on fly-leafs and notes in margins. I like the camaraderie-sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.” She can’t get enough of the books. Frank finds them for her.

By the end of the movie, he is “Frankie” to her, and she tells him, “You’re the only soul alive who understands me.” It’s a sentiment that reflects a bond where you are known deeply, valued, and most importantly, accepted. Your truth is safe in the hands of another. Whether two people are the same or very different matters not if there is acceptance. When someone knows our deepest places, our vulnerabilities, and accepts us, they give us the best of gifts. The wish to be understood and accepted is one of the bonds that links us all. These are things I have felt for and from my husband.

At one point a friend of Helene’s made it to England and visited the book store. She wrote Helene with a description:

“It’s the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens. You would go absolutely out of your mind over it….It’s dim inside. You can smell the shop before you see it. It’s a lovely smell. I can’t articulate it easily but it combines must and dust and age and walls of wood and floors of wood…The shelves go on forever. They go up to the ceiling and they’re very old and kind of gray, like old oak that absorbed so much dust over the years they no longer are their true color.”

Such a visceral, sensual description. It was a description both my husband and I fell in love with immediately when we heard it. It is a place we hope yet, to be.

At one point in the movie Helene writes to Frank:

“I require a book of love poems with Spring coming on. No Keats or Shelley. Send me poets who can make love without slobbering. Wyatt or Johnson or somebody. Use your own judgment. Just a nice book, preferably small enough to stick in a slacks pocket and take to Central Park.”

Late in the movie, Frank is shown, reflecting on her as a Yeats love poem runs through his mind. The moment, and the poem, are my gifts to my husband, my best friend. Thank you for these last 20 years. They’ve gone so fast. I’d like 20 times 20 more, and if time allows, I’d like yet to walk into 84 Charing Cross Road with you.

So to “Eddie,” all my love, and to you and all romantics out there, a poet who can make love without slobbering:

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). The Wind Among the Reeds. 1899.

The Gift

February 26, 2008

“All serious daring starts within.”

Eudora Welty

The Post – Under the Pier: Next Step – Scaffolding

February 26, 2008

Okay. Besides sitting in the chair playing 20 questions with my stories, what else happened as Under the Pier took shape? I spent a lot of money at Office Depot and Staples. Let me back up.

In the early stages of the journaling and “assessing what did I have” it wasn’t obvious at first that I was combining all of these various stories into one big one. I am a stubborn person. I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reality I’m supposed to confront in life. I was still trying to “finish this story fast” so I could go to my to-do list and say “Yup! Finished a story, mailed it, waiting for the money, move on to story number two.” Yes, I told you I learn slowly. So I tried to make the animal story into a chapter book. I thought about making the Max-Jamie problem into a chapter book. Chapter books are longer than than the picture books I couldn’t write and shorter than the novels I didn’t want to write. It was just my last vestige of resistance and it didn’t last long. God finally hammered it into my head that 1) you have to write the story that’s meant to be written, not the one you can cross off your list fastest, and 2) if you’re not going to do it right, why bother? In any event, the bottom line – novel.

I think it was about this same point that it suddenly occurred to me I might have something bigger than a simple novel. That’s how I am. One minute I’m trying to get away with writing a sound bite, the next minute I decide to go for the other extreme – TWO novels intertwined. And that’s what this has become – the story of a girl and her world above the pier, the story of the hermit crab and his world below the pier. The two worlds intersect at points until they meet at the climax, then go off their separate ways. The two worlds reflect similar struggles, and mirror the question “will I reach out for connection or run away?”

Now that I’d finally gotten the message it had to be a novel AND figured out the one line premise, there was that whole HOW in God’s name do I combine all this and keep track of details? How do you remember who did what in the various chapters, never mind between two different worlds? For that matter how could I keep track of who was who? And then what about when the worlds intersected? Lots of places to drop the ball. Hence – I needed infrastructure. Scaffolding.

Some people can do all this in their head, or their computer. I need to “see it on a wall.” I need paper. Sorry, trees. And I had to tackle this like a business otherwise the brain says “hobby…play” and nothing gets done. Writing is a business. A novel is a project. When I worked at Glaxo, we had project planning – calendars, files, SOPs, to-do lists, wall charts. I had to manage multiple projects at once. If you don’t keep track of details, it all comes crashing down. So, manage two novels at once when I’d never even written ONE novel? Yup – go back to what I know. Organize.

That meant binders, index cards, binder section separators, page protectors with binder holes, stickies, markers, highlighters, cork boards, Styrofoam boards, push pins, a spare toner cartridge for the laser printer, pens, crayons, large sheets of paper to plan on…. Yes, I go to Staples a lot.

I set up binders for character bios – animal and human. I made short “at-a-glance lists” of characters for both sides of the story, so I could quickly know who was who, saving the binder bios for the complete facts. I also made an index card for every invertebrate, fish, algae, plant or mammal that might show up in the story, with scribbled references on the back to find more elsewhere. More on these in the research post.

There are binders for the settings above the water and binders for the places below. I had binders for all the research I did and the background info I created. Again, I’ll discuss this separately under the research post.

As I reviewed all the journaling I did on the story line, I established a “time-line” and figured out what times in the story would be covered and in what chapters. Once I had a rough idea of chapters, I took a cork board and huge sheet of paper. I drew a large box on the paper for each chapter/time point. Any idea, shred of paper, page of journaling that pertained to the events on a certain day, I tacked up in the appropriate box. Every time I thought of something new, another note got tacked up under that day. Some of those days had an inch thick stack of idea notes.

I made a wall chart that showed at a glance the chapters in the novel, human on the top half, alternating with the animal chapters on the bottom half, and listing on each, the chapter number, human or animal, exactly what day of the week each took place, and relevant plot points in each chapter. On this same chart in the middle between the human and animal chapters, I graphed the rise and fall of emotions and action for the plot. I wanted to see at a glance how the story tracked for rising and falling action, both in each chapter, and in the story overall. I knew the story needed to have balance – not all snoring nor all white-knuckle rides, but a mix of intensity with catching your breath. However, I did want to make sure that overall, the trend of emotion kept rising until the crisis/climax, and then dropped for the resolution. Hence my chapter graph.

I made a chart of the human world characters – their family trees and interrelatedness with the other characters and locations in the story. This was helpful actually, because I discovered a couple of characters who didn’t really connect to anyone and hence I cut them. If they don’t connect to anyone in the story, why have them?

I made a chart of all the chapter happenings on the animal side of the story- where the action happened underwater for that chapter, which critters were involved, what happened. I wanted to make sure that 1) I wasn’t having the same thing happening in 3 different chapters, 2) I had the right animals in the right place at the right time, and 3) if the animal appeared in both the human and animal chapters, I made sure the action matched up

I kept a running to-do list of things to check on, research, fact check, people to call. I have logs for each chapter in each draft of the novel and can tell you the dates I worked on a particular chapter in a particular draft. I made organizational charts to show the chapter numbering changes from draft one to draft two and there’s charts on foam boards of all the elements to check on when revising the stories – one board for the human story, one for the animal side, one for elements of revision applying to both worlds.

And calendars. Yes. I kept a calendar. I even set deadlines for finishing certain milestones. In business, you have deadlines. It’s the only way your product gets out the door. Now, most of the time I missed those deadlines because things always take longer than expected. Still, the thing about deadlines is that you set them. Even if you don’t meet them, you’re a hell of a lot closer to the end goal, than if you never set one.

So, lots of infrastructure. Other authors may be ripping their hair out. This may not be their way to work. I may not be this detailed for another story. This is not the only way to write a novel. It’s probably not the best way. It’s simply my way – what my brain needed. I’d never written a novel before. Also, given the complexity of this one, the level of technical, scientific, and real-life detail, and the fact that I was writing two stories at once that intertwined, infrastructure was the only way I could keep anything straight.

Next : The First Half of the Scientific Approach – Define Your Hypothesis, Assemble Your Gear, Do your research