EJ: Oooh, can I wear that pink scarf with the coins? How long is this class? Only thirty minutes? How come you don’t have any classes in the daytime? No instructors? I bet I could teach. I’ve had twenty years of Jazzercise and several years of ballroom dance. They were always after me to teach Jazzercise. How hard could Zumba be?
Zumba Instructor starts music. Class begins, one, two streches, then–boom!–fast moves. EJ is on wrong foot even though she is standing right in front of Zumba Instructor. Catches on, for a few moves. Instructor executes a grapevine. EJ doesn’t get it.
EJ: What kind of a grapevine is that?
ZI: Just keep moving!
EJ still can’t mirror grapevine move. Goes behind ZI to follow her. This throws off instructor.
ZI: March in place a minute.
EJ: (breathing too hard to read the clock) Is it over? Are we done?
ZI: Not even halfway! Ladies, this next segment is quick!
EJ: And the others weren’t?
ZI, staring at EJ: Is something wrong?
EJ: The coin scarf is pulling my pants down.
ZI: Roll those hips, ladies!
EJ: Some of us aren’t as well-oiled as you.
ZI: Three-step turn!
EJ, not getting it: Can I do a paddle-turn? How do you do that little step on the end?
Class is over, finally. Studio owner tells EJ if she qualifies for American Fitness Instructor, then Zumba instructor, she might be able to teach in January. But there’s a lot of anatomy to learn and lots of dancing.
EJ: About that . . . well. I have this job, you see.
I haven’t posted much this month because I was gone for a week at Bell House where I survived a flood and blistered through 77 pages in 7 days on my novel. And I keep waiting for my new blog to be up and running. It’s taking longer than I thought.
So I’m just checking in here to say I’m still alive and two-thirds finished with the new novel. I’m at the point of no return now but still leery of being on the right path. Is this the right book for me to be doing now? Am I doing it right? When I look at new books coming out, I think–panicked–my book is nothing like those books. What if it’s all wrong? What if I’ve wasted all this time?
But though the front of my brain plagues me with those questions before I go to sleep and when I first wake up, the back part of my brain, where all the real work gets done, says: Trust yourself. Trust the process. Trust your characters. Trust the story.
I didn’t set up an “alter” to this novel until last week. Melodye Shore sent me this gorgeous 1940s needle book (don’t you love women who sew wearing their hats?) and I immediately knew it belonged on my desk where I can see it while I work. The title reflects one of the themes in my book.
And this weekend I was in Hallmark buying birthday cards when my main character dragged me over to the ornament section and said, “I want that.” And so I got it for her. (It’s always a good idea to buy your book a present about halfway through, keeps the main character happy.) The 1970 El Camino plays an important role in my book as well (minus Christmas tree and loop on top).
Later this week I’ll be in Chesterfield County (south of Richmond) for a school visit. 1100 students! I’m taking my camera this time and hope to post pictures of happy smiling students.
I'm here at Bell House in Colonial Beach, Virginia, on the Potomac River. When I arrived Thursday (LJ was down, as usual, or I would have posted with a photo), it had been raining 40 days and 40 nights from tropical storm Lee. I had no idea what was in store.
About an hour after I got here, our regular rain turned in to an eight-hour thunderstorm. A foot of rain fell from Monday to Thursday, ten inches of it Thursday. I drove through flooded streets (the ground was already saturated from Hurricane Irene last weekend) and prayed I was actually on a street and not in the river!
The storm raged until midnight. I stay in the tower of Bell House, which was like living under a bucket.
But I'm at work on my novel, the book I call my kaleidoscope book–it changes every time I touch it.
I'll be back next Thursday. And–my new blog is almost finished!
Stay dry, everybody!
The Goodwill outfit that started it all. The Calvin Klein dress the Goodwill Goddess found for me. A vintage cropped satin jacket she also found. And a new but adorable pewter “reptile” box purse that was my birthday present.
The novel I’m working on is set in the margins of our society, the people we see almost every day but glance away from. At first I approached this notion as a spectator. I would do my “research” by hanging out where they hang out. Observing, taking notes, then going back to my regular life. However, I found out I couldn’t play Jane Goodall. I couldn’t just infiltrate, get the goods and leave. I had to become one of them.
It wasn’t that hard.
And–if you haven’t already been clued in by the title of this post–it took place in a thrift store. Close to the end of the Hollins term, Goodwill Goddess and I hit the Goodwill near the campus. Eating in cheap diners and browsing in thrift shops became my favorite pasttime this summer because I could leave my instructor and writer hat behind. Just hang out. In my “real” life at home, I do precious little of that. In the store, GG and I got a bad case of the giggles over a back massager. Punchy from work, we cut up and carried on something awful. Note: I never carry on in public. Most of the time people ignored us. Okay, there was that man who backed away from us and one old lady who quickly moved her cart to the other side of the store. Then we settled down, sort of, and got down to business.
I found a small metal table on casters, government issue from the look of it, probably from the late 50s or early 60s. It’s not beautiful but it was only $9 and I liked it. Another woman and I studied it, discussed what it might be. We determined it was a typing stand. I put it in my cart, knowing I had no room in my office for another stick of furniture but unable to pass it up. (Besides I had already bought another vintage typewriter at a flea market. In for a penny, in for a pound.) I liked talking to that stranger. For a few minutes, we shared an interest.
A man in the ladie’s shirt aisle held up a shirt and asked GG if small really meant small. He was buying women’s clothes, possibly for his daughter or wife. I thought that was sweet. A square-headed boy about five sang really loud, in the dressing room, around the store, on and on and on. He got on my nerves only a little.
In the jeans section, a heavy young girl wearing skimpy shorts pulled out a pair of Tinkerbell jeans from the rack. She had legs like a brontosaurus and the jeans were a size 4. “All my friends are size two or zero,” she said with a sigh. “These pants are too big for them.” She handed the pants to us. I couldn’t have gotten in those jeans dipped in Crisco but GG could. If I was that girl, I’d find new friends.
“I love anything Tinkerbell or Sponge Bob,” the girl went on, “and I’m twenty-three. I just had a baby. I got out of the hospital yesterday. I had two seizures and broke two ribs.” She pulled up her tee-shirt to show us the big elastic bandage over her loose stomach. GG and I congratulated her on her determination to go shopping after all that (women will go shopping still attached to an IV-pole). I told her that age don’t mean nothing when it comes to Tinkerbelle. She agreed, thanked us for our kind words, and told us to have a good one. When was the last time in Nordstrom’s a woman gave you something she couldn’t wear and told you to have a good one?
At the check-out line, a huge woman let GG go first because her cart was piled high with jeans and winter clothes. “You have to buy jeans now,” she said. “Cain’t wait till winter or they’ll all be gone.” The middle-aged woman in front of me bought nothing but purple dresses and tops. A great big pile of purple. She was wearing a purple and royal blue shift.
These people are on to something. They know when and how to shop, despite escalating prices. They have found a way to make it, keep their close-knit community, and still look just fine. They trust each other. There’s a strong sense of mutual respect and “us against them.” They work hard but they also know how to let it all hang out. They are comfortable in their skins. They wear purple.
I came out of Goodwill with more than the typing table. I felt something I never feel in Wegman’s or Macy’s or the mall. I felt the tension always coiled inside me melt away. I felt, as my sister is fond of saying, peace and chicken grease. I think I may have been saved.