We are living in "Groundhog Day," a perpetual winter hell. Every morning the radio wakes us up with predictions of snow, accumulated snow, ice, sleet, and temperatures in the single digits. Schools have been closed so long, the kids will have to relearn their ABCs when they do go back. Next year. To keep from swilling wine vinegar as a numbing agent, I have devised a Survival List:
1. Maintain a Steady Level of Sugar and Carbs:
This is vital to one’s well-being. Yes, your waistline will grow but since you only slop around the house in one pair of sweatpants, who cares? Last night my husband needed lunch meat and I leaped at the chance to go to the grocery store (our neighborhood roads are still a mess). I crashed through the doors like a member of a home invasion crew and made a beeline for Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch (one pint left, hidden behind Coffee Heath Bar Crunch–why is every good thing in the world eventually ruined with coffee?), Cheetos, Sun Chips (original flavor), Cinnamon Toaster Strudel (for Elevenses), and Edward’s Single-Serve Hershey’s Pie. This will tide me over at least two days.
2. Don’t Look in the Mirror:
This goes along with maintaining a steady level of sugar and carbs. My face is bloated like a Macy’s parade balloon. Worse, my skin is a pale green color, making me resemble a creature found at the bottom of cave pools.
3. Don’t Wear White:
Not unless you want to disappear against the background of snowbanks and gray-white sky.
4. Watch Re-runs of "Designing Women":
And wonder why those gals are wearing coats in nearly every episode when they are supposed to be in Atlanta, one of the hottest cities on earth. Switch to a TV show where everybody sweats a lot, like "Miami Vice."
5. Start a New Book:
If you’re a reader, pick up something new to read. If you’re a writer, get busy on a new project, especially if you’ve just finished a book.
I am finally able to let my previous novel (finished two weeks ago) go play without worrying over it. Now I’m turning my attention to a new project. The idea for this book came about 6 months ago, while I was working on my previous novel. I have learned to handle Sexy Next Books (Heather Sellers‘ term for ideas that try to lure you away from your current project–Sexy Next Book usually arrives when Current Book is circling the drain). Sellers recommends ignoring the siren call but if you must answer, spend no more than a day taking notes. I add notes on Sexy Next Book in the notebook of Current Book as they come to me. A good new book idea will build in your head until you know it’s viable.
Today I’m going to transcribe those scribbled notebook-notes into a computer file. I’ll also begin a typed journal just for this book. Book journals are vital to my process, as important as Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs. In Beyond the Words, Bonni Goldberg talks about distillation, catching the spirit of the project. "The first phase of percolation," she writes, "ruminating internally, is about letting your idea build by containing it."
I use my journal to help contain the ideas of my book. Many writers keep a book-related journal. Goldberg says, "A writer’s journal isn’t the same thing as a traditional journal . . . [it’s] where you distill ideas. You use it to jot down scraps of conversation or a dream . . . jam for a few pages about a topic that sparks your heart and mind."
The journal I kept for Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (now slated to come out in summer 2012!) is about 20 single-spaced pages. The journal for the book I just finished is 50 single-spaced pages and is ongoing. I’ll add entries about the book’s progress and revision process. I’m learning to lean more on my book-journal than other tools.
Today I’ll also fine-tune the jacket copy for the new book. That’s right. The book I haven’t written. I attack new projects from all angles, even from the angle of the book being published. I write jacket copy, one page synopsis, and a longer synopsis from the voice of the main character. A lot of these tools get dropped once the book and I have clicked. But I keep the journal.
6. Set Your New Book in the Summer:
The best way to escape winter short of a Disney cruise. It may be dreary as an open grave outside, but inside my office, I’ll be swattin’ gnats and sippin’ sweet tea . . .
Okay, maybe a little. I’ve lost count of the snows here in Virginia (the South!) since December 4–at least 4 major snowfalls including the 18 incher right before Christmas and a few piddly ones between. When I left for Fort Myers, a foot of snow was on its way and when I came home Tuesday evening, it was snowing. And now . . . the Great Grandaddy of All Snows has folks here whipped into a frenzy. There are no eggs in any grocery stores. Ditto bread. No books on the shelves in the library. Ditto DVDs.
I was cruely sent to the grocery store yesterday and today. Yesterday at Wegman’s was like the last helicopter out of Saigon. Today when I went to the Giant to pick up the things I couldn’t find/reach/smack out of someone’s grubby paw in Wegman’s, it was like rats on a sinking ship. Apparently people here think they will be holed up for weeks on end and will have to break up the furniture for firewood and fix casseroles out of candle stubs and cat food. They say bad weather brings out the best in people. Clearly the person who said that was never in the produce section of Wegman’s duking it out for the last banana.
Predictions are running wildly from one foot to five or ten feet, depending on which station you listen to. Me? I’m paying no attention to this horrible weather. The last few weeks I’ve heard the winter birds (the ones who winter here) singing spring songs. They pay no attention to the weather either and use the lengthening days as their calendar. I’ve seen robins since January, though they had slightly panicked looks in their eyes. If they could speak English, I’m sure they’d say, "Whose idea was it to head north early?"
But no, I’m not talking about the snow that’s flying outside my window (I have my back to it). Instead I’ll talk about the few precious days I had in Florida and share some of my lousy photos. I was staying with a good friend, helping her with her novel. Coaching her was the best thing I could have done–I reinforced what I know (and seem to forget with each book). Her husband is an avid photographer. He had a very nice Nikon with a real (detachable) lens. I left my Nikon (with the non-detachable lens) and took my little Sony Cybershot. Her husband told me about a photo editing program he uses that looked much easier than Elements, but I can’t remember the name of it. And so my photos are unedited, as usual, and blurry because I was always either in a moving boat or hanging off the rail of the Corkscrew Audubon Refuge about to drop my camera in the swamp because I was trying to photograph a pair of raccoons or an anhinga diving for a minnow.
I have a red dot that’s a pileated woodpecker. A white dot that’s a white ibis. Another white dot that’s a snowy egret. A brown dot that’s a grumpy red-shouldered hawk. If I knew the name of this photo editing program, I might be able to blow those dots up into recognizable birds. That’s a little blue heron staring into water covered with zillions of teeny little leaves or plants. I added four birds to my Life List–anhinga, little blue heron, white ibis, black-crowned night heron. I began my life bird list when I was nine, scrawling "robin," "crow," "blue jay" in an old advertising address book (like many bird listers, I cheated–I still have that list and know I did not see a Baltimore oriole.)
Still, it was wonderful to walk outside in just a sweater and slip-on tennies. To eat grouper sandwiches outside at the marina. To taste Florida Pink shrimp fresh off the grill with grilled asparagus. To sample my first sea trout with lemon pepper (freshly caught and grilled). I came home with a strong desire to run out and buy a Weber grill and charcoal and drop a chicken neck off a pier to catch crabs for supper. But . . . here comes that darned snow I’m not going to talk about and all thoughts of grilling are fading like the sunset over the Gulf.
If I was a good sport, I’d shift my culinary tastes toward hot chocolate with marshmallows and chicken noodle soup. But I’m not. I’m sick of winter and already sick of the snow I’m not going to talk about.