Fall Break

Thursday, I was in my office trying to grade some literature essays after class. My head hurt. My eyes ached. I struggled to concentrate. I remembered a coupon I’d received for a free coffee, so I dug that out of a desk drawer and walked to the library for some caffeine. The sun outside was bright and hot. I was at the end of a difficult week, the last full week before fall break, and I was limping to the finish line.

The last couple weeks have been long, difficult, and stressful. I’ve been feeling frayed. Perpetually tired. On my way home from class Tuesday, I stopped to buy bubble bath and nail polish. A feeble attempt at helping myself make it to the end of the week.

But make it I did. The coffee Thursday afternoon perked me up enough to finish some grading before an Ann Hood lecture across campus.

And as I sat in the dim theater and listened to Ann talk about writing and reading and grief and knitting, I felt quiet and thoughtful. My eyes relaxed, and my headache eased away. The talk was inspiring and emotional and the perfect, perfect end to the week and beginning to my fall break.

After the talk, I chatted with some coworkers at a reception back at our building. I ate cheese and crackers. I felt lighter. Then I drove home, picking up a pizza on the way, and watched as the sun set over the river, lighting up the clouds in a blaze of orange and yellow.

My break so far has been restorative. Friday I did little other than read a novel, play tennis, and take a bubble bath. Jesse and I talked about our dreams. I watched A. and M. for a few hours, and we played outside in the balmy end-of-summer evening air. Yesterday, I had a nice long talk with one of the best human beings on the entire planet, Simona, and we too talked about our dreams. It’s so wonderful to talk to someone who understands how necessary it can be to have impossible dreams, and to be trying to make them come true. Everyone needs a Simona.

This weekend, Jesse and I have been painting our bedroom. It has been a bright orange–an exciting, happy color. But lately, it’s felt overstimulating, overpowering. We’re painting it gray. Neutral. Soothing. We’ve got a couple coats of primer on the walls, and we’re just about to start the color. It feels good to paint the walls. A new start. Exactly what a break should be, a time to rest and a time to recharge and a time to connect and a time to start over.

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The End of September

Last week was busy, busy, busy. The semester barrels onward. Book circle meetings, committee work, research, faculty meetings. Class prep. Quizzes to grade. Midterms to write. And last week was the first week of a memoir writing class I’m teaching for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute). That class. Let me tell you. I absolutely adore it. The writers are amazing, their work is amazing, the material we get to discuss is amazing. And we eat cookies.

By the end of last week, though, I was beat. Friday was the last official day of summer. We decided to celebrate fall’s arrival on Saturday by going to the beach. We got up and cleaned the house and then drove down to Oak Island. But first, food. We ate at a little barbeque restaurant–BBQ sandwiches with slaw and fries and hush puppies–and once we were sufficiently stuffed, we left and then sprawled ourselves on some sand.

We spent hours on the beach, staring out into the ocean, talking about life and art, playing Bocce. Up the beach a ways, a couple of men wrestled with some fishing poles. Watching them, we realized they were about to bring something in. A little knot of people came to watch. It seemed to be taking them quite a while to get the fish in. What was the trouble? We saw something in the water and realized that what they were bringing in was not a fish. It was a sting ray.

Jesse and I hopped up and jogged down the beach to watch. The men finally got the ray out of the waves, somehow managing to avoid its barb. They cut the line and removed the hook as the ray flapped on the sand. It was beautiful–its dark waving fins, its pale white belly, its whipping tail. The men moved the ray back to the water, and it swam away, much to our collective relief.

The rest of the afternoon was sleepy. There was just a little hint of a chill in the air, and at one point I used an extra beach towel as a blanket, shielding myself from the wind. Fall was, it appeared, actually on its way. This would probably be the last time we went to the beach until next summer.

Eventually, we bid the ocean goodbye and made our way back home. The rest of the weekend, we talked about and worked on creative projects. I edited my book. Jesse worked on a homemade musical instrument. Sunday afternoon, we walked around the mall and came up with story ideas, inventing a little relay-like game. I’d come up with an idea, and then Jesse would come up with one, and then we’d start over again. It was fun. It was silly. And we had a long list of characters and conflicts when we were done.

Now another week is under way. Jesse and I got up early this morning so we’d have time to work on our projects, and we both had a productive Monday. I hope this is a sign the week will be a good one, though I hope it’s at least a little less tiring than the one before it…

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I’m back!

So my July break became my July and August break, which very nearly became my July, August, and September break. But I’m back now. What a wild summer this one was. Lots of wonderful things, lots of sad things, lots of stressful things, lots of exciting things. A summer of highs and lows and not a great deal of rest in between.

But. The book is nearly done. I’m editing it now and have gotten feedback from the first group of readers. I’m nearly ready to send out the first batch of query letters, and begin the long, icky process of rejection and heartbreak that is looking for an agent. (Too negative? Sorry! Just being realistic.) I’m really pleased with this draft, though, and while the book may not be the Next Great American Novel, I’m happy with it. It’s the book I wanted to read. And can I really ask for any more than that?

Now that the novel is coming together, I’m starting the research phase of another book, totally unrelated. At first, starting a new project makes me feel a bit dizzy–the characters from the last novel are still so fresh and alive in my mind, the settings clear, the plot certain. Starting something new is anything but. The characters are impressionistic at best, the setting foggy, the plot all over the place. But I’ve got a premise, and a place to begin. And now that the metaphorical wheels are turning, I’ve got a fair amount of energy too. I forgot how thrilling it can be to start researching a new project!

The picture at the top of this post is a stack of books I checked out from the library, as part of the research phase for the new book. Can you guess where it’s set?

Ha. Jesse once said to me, “I think you come up with book ideas set in places where you want to travel, so you’ll have to go there for research.”

“Bingo,” I said.

These days, Jesse is playing along. We are clumsily trying to learn some Japanese. We know enough words to have the following conversation:

Hello!

Hello.

How are you?

I’m fine.

Good evening.

Good morning.

My name is Erin Bond.

My name is Jesse Bond.

I’m pleased to meet you.

See you tomorrow?

Yes, see you tomorrow.

Goodbye!

We also know the Japanese word for “cat” and “cute.” And there you go. Our entire Japanese vocabulary. Throughout the day, we practice. So, we’ll be pouring cereal for breakfast, and we’ll grin at one another and say, “Konnichiwa! Genki desu ka?” and “Dewa mata ashita!” We say these things in our best Japanese announcer voices, so we end up sounding a little like anime characters. Then, we dissolve into laughter.

So, the new book is off to a nice start.

The fall semester is also off to a nice start. I have four classes, two composition classes and two literature classes. They’re all wonderful. My students this year are particularly smart, eloquent, and talkative. I am pinching myself, I’m so lucky. In the literature classes, we just finished reading Life of Pi, my favorite book.

As I type this, Jesse is playing music on an instrument he made, a cross between a cello and a guitar, and I’m waiting for a phone call from one of my dearest friends, Simona, and the cats are both sleeping. The weekend is coming to a close. Summer is coming to a close. The semester is under way, but soon enough it will be wrapping up, and another will be beginning. One book is nearing completion, and another is just coming to life. Some things are changing, and some are staying the same, and I suppose that’s the whole of life right there.

Sayonara, for now.

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July Break

July has been fun so far, but I haven’t been able to write much about it because almost every waking moment has been devoted to writing the book. When I’m not writing the book, I want to be as far away from the computer as possible. And even then, I’m so absorbed in the story I’m trying to write that I mostly just walk around with a glazed look in my eyes. If you talk to me, I’ll probably say something about zombies. I can’t help it. Thank God Jesse is a patient man.

But, the glazed look doesn’t translate well online. So, I’m taking the rest of the month off from blogging.

If all goes well, I’ll be back in August, and I’ll tell you all about the rest of my July (which will hopefully include finishing a complete draft and first edit). Here’s hoping that whatever I manage to say will be coherent. And not about zombies.

Well, maybe a little about zombies.

Much love,
Erin

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Fourth

Yesterday didn’t really feel like a holiday until the evening. Jesse and I spent the day in our usual way: we played tennis in the morning. We drank coffee and ate things. I wrote. He worked on his computer doing computer-y things.

Last year, this time, we were in San Francisco. We watched the fireworks over the Bay, and we nearly froze to death. I had on two jackets and a scarf, and I was still freezing. We used an umbrella to try and block some of the wind. That day, we got sunburns (wind burns maybe?). We saw Coit Tower and lay on the soft green grass beneath a eucalyptus tree. We braved the crowds at Pier 39. We downed an enormous chocolate shake at Ghirardelli. Our most touristy day that whole vacation. And then we watched fireworks and nearly froze.

After the fireworks, we had to make our way back to the train station, where we could catch the N-Judah line back to our apartment. So, apparently, did about three million other people. It was a little unreal. The streets were packed with people, all streaming away from the water, deeper into the city. Cars stopped and waited. We were like a living organism, one large body moving away from the waterfront.

It was like the zombie apocalypse, I swear. Only, without zombies. (Also, no one was running and screaming. But still. Imagine city streets at night, crammed with people, all going away from something and toward something else.) The streetlights were orange, the sky black.

We finally found a bus and got on just in time. We were crammed into that bus. The doors barely closed. Everyone was touching everyone else, and there was nothing any of us could do about it, so we just accepted it. Listened to one another’s conversations. Shared body heat and breathed the same air. And, you know, we were all fine.

Jesse and I got home eventually–late, exhausted, but finally warm. And happy. So happy.

This year was different. We were feeling much more subdued. We were a little less celebratory in 2012 than we were in 2011.

But we ate dinner with the Kings and watched neighborhood fireworks with little S. (four this year? four? really?). She seemed a little scared and confused at our delight about exploding and burning things.

We played with sparklers in the warm, dark night. We set off a little fireworks display of our own on the back porch.

S. looked at us like we were crazy.

I could imagine what was going on in her head. Every day of her life, there’s something we tell her not to do or touch.

You can go outside, but don’t go near the grill.

Oven’s open! Don’t come in the kitchen!

Careful–blow on it. Still too hot to eat.

And then, for no apparent reason, we light little sticks on fire and hand them to her and say, “Look! A toy!”

Being four must be pretty confusing sometimes.

Life in general is pretty confusing sometimes.

Anyway, by the end of the evening, she’d warmed up to the fireworks just a bit, though I think her favorite was looking at them through the living room window.

And we felt a little more celebratory. Life is confusing, and scary, but it’s still beautiful.

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