Writing Relay!

Tag! I’m it!  This post is part of a blog tour of writers, about writing. My talented, smart and funny friend Thelma Adams invited me to join the tour, and I’m grateful for the chance to reflect about my writing, and to share those reflections with others. One of the best things writing has done for me is to give me a wonderful circle of inspiring, sharp, funny and insightful friends. Thelma is one of them. Another is Scott Appel, who is the photographer who took the photo, below, during the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Scott and I have had an intertwined career path since he is, primarily, a publicist, and when I was at YM, he repped people like Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a boy band called LFO—among other awesome folks. Anyway, he took this photo of Thelma, me, and a Banksy original that has become a part of the Main Street cityscape in Park City, just before Thelma’s reading and book signing for Playdate, at Dolly’s Bookstore—one of the best independent booksellers in the country, if you ask me. 

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·        1) What am I working on? Fixing dinner, doing laundry, dishes, taxi-driving for my kids, Facebook posts about my kids, magazine stories for outlets such as Woman’s Day (look for two stories—a celebrity interview and a health piece—in the September issue) and Weight Watchers (get the latest on breast health in the Sept/Oct issue), my summer assignments for my blog at Deer Valley Resort, and a YA novel about a young girl from a small town who is wrestling with the conflict between her life as a famous actress and her desire to be a normal teen. In actual fact, I am working on trying to make that last project the first thing I do in the day. This, it turns out, is difficult, since the other projects provide, in varying measures, good health, a semi-orderly home, excellent activities, and income for my family. The YA novel could provide more of all of that, of course, if only I would sit down and work on it with more discipline.

·         2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? My magazine work is informed by 20 years on a unique, combined beat, in which I have learned to navigate the world where celebrity and healthy lifestyle intersect, or, just plain try to get important health information into the hands of a readership that needs it. In talking with so many celebrities and health experts over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of points of view. My novel-writing voice is, in part, informed by many years of writing “as-told-to” pieces by celebrities, and, as an editor, coaxing the writer’s voice in or out of the story, depending upon what the specific piece calls for. This means I am slavishly devoted to bringing out each character’s personality through dialogue. I am heavily influenced by film and TV dialogue—in fact, I used to place my old-school Sony tape recorder by the TV speaker, and record episodes of Facts of Life and Diffr’nt Strokes, and listen to them for entertainment on long car rides with my family. I remember the first time I watched the pilot episode of Dawson’s Creek, written by the awesome Kevin Williamson, ahead of the rest of the world, when I was the Entertainment Editor at YM. The dialogue had a common thread: rapid-fire and precocious. But the character’s voices were distinctive and carefully drawn. From a story perspective, I am drawn to the struggle between assimilation and difference, something I have navigated as a Jewish child growing up in Vermont, who also attended Jewish camps with kids who knew much more about religious matters than I did, who attended an all-girls’ boarding school, Emma Willard School, with students from a diverse set of backgrounds. I went to Brandeis University, a small, liberal arts college that attracts a lot of Jewish students, and studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, for my junior year. The result of all this moving through the world, and then realizing my dream of living in New York City—and ultimately, discovering a new dream of raising a family in Utah—means I became an adult who loves to meet people from all backgrounds. My social sense, I believe, is at the center of my writing.

·        3) Why do I write what I do? I write because it is how I make sense of the world, and in the magazine world, I am able to use that power to help others make sense of their problems—large and small. I write my Deer Valley blog because it is a way to share my love of my adopted hometown and my favorite sport with many, many people. I write fun Facebook posts because it is a way to connect with my wide, scattered, disparate circles of family and friends in a fun, thoughtful way. I write my barinan.com posts in my voice, and therefore, they are a lot of fun to write. I write fiction because I can act out fantasies from my childhood that I was too fill-in-the-blank to try myself. I write because it’s a giant game of What-If, which is, in essence, a way to harness my monkey brain. I write because I love nothing more than to draw pictures with words.

·        4) How does your writing process work? I’m no Einstein, but inspiration and perspiration figure heavily into my process. I heard Billy Joel say, recently, that he thinks that sleep is where a lot of creativity happens, that your conscious brain shuts off and then the elves get the real work done. This rang true for me. I dream detailed scenes for my novel, and the characters chase me around all day, until I can write them down. I sort out issues of reporting and packaging roadblocks in my magazine stories, or issues of voice in anything I’m doing, while I run, take a spin class, hike, or ski.

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This is the view from the trail where I run, hike and mountain bike, depending on my mood—is it any wonder I can think, clearly, here?

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I never feel more creative, or more challenged, than when I’m making fresh tracks through the trees at Deer Valley.

My process, in general, involves removing myself from the tasks that can be completed with little or no thought—and are, therefore, enormously appealing. So, I escape laundry and household tasks by taking my MacBook to hideouts around town—some are in plain sight, like the Park City Coffee Roaster, or Starbucks, and others, less so. And I could tell you where those are, but you’d find me, and I’d be excited to see you, and have a great conversation, and boom, there goes my quiet writing hour. I usually try to “warm up” with a blog post. When I open Scrivener, to work on the YA novel, I will often look at previous scenes, not to enhance them, but to pick which kind of writing mood I’m in—flashback? rapid-fire dialogue? action?—and then see how far I can take the characters in 45-60 minutes. When I’m working on a magazine story, I toy with display copy, first, to give myself a sense of how the central theme will come together. It’s not always the display copy I stick with—often, the theme shifts midway through the writing, and I have to revise. But I like forcing myself to summarize the story, off the bat, to figure out what the reader will most need and want from the piece. By this point, I’ve mentally worked through much of the piece, on a run, on the ski hill, or in a quick chat with a friend, who asks, “what are you working on, today?”

This last thing, the camaraderie that writing can evoke—among readers and among other writers—is probably my best, and least-used tool. I have two friends, Mark and Kristen, with whom I have met a few times, in effort to have a monthly, writer’s circle. Life gets in the way, our group is a little too small, and if one of us cancels, then the rest of us cancel. Writer’s Circle, Party of Two, does not a great workshop make. So, we need to reboot. I’m curious as to how many of you have writer’s groups—how many people are in your group, how often you meet, and what you get out of it? Leave those thoughts in the comments, please?

I’m inviting some other friends to post on June 30th—and I’ll update you as soon as I hear back from them!

 

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Reality? Check!

Twice a week, for the past seven, I have revisited an old fear—the fear that I have, somehow, messed up the transfer of the baseball schedule from the Basin Recreation Pee Wee Baseball League website to the iCal app in my phone.

This is a fear based in my very real lack of executive function. A fear based in the fact that, yes, I’ve messed up the times of games more than once in my kids’ Park City sporting careers. I’ve been known to miss the first day of ski school, to get the start time wrong for the karate class/piano lesson/tennis lesson that starts at the same time every week. Tonight, the fear became a reality again—and I reveled in the moment. Because, you see, we’d gotten almost to the end of the season and this was the first time I had screwed up. Yep, we claim the very smallest of victories, as they belong to us. This is my reality.

My first clue had been when I didn’t see any of the cars belonging to the parents of the Mets, which is Seth’s team this year. I saw, in fact, nary an orange jersey heading up the hillside to the baseball fields. It was three minutes to first pitch, and, well, usually there are more than a few of us straggling up the hill together. I articulated my concern to Steve, dad to one of Seth’s good buddies, who noted that he was substitute coaching for the Astros. “The regular coaches always seem to be out of town on the rainy days,” he quipped. Given that, this morning, the weather had looked like this….

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…it could have been a lot worse. 

My neighbor, Jenny from the Block, was there to witness my parenting foul ball. “Um, I think I just saw a bunch of Mets,” she said. “They were leaving.”

Seth got very upset—”But it’s my last game!!!” It isn’t. Potato, po-tah-toe. It might as well have been. The world looks very different to a seven year old at 6:30 PM, than it does earlier—like at 6:29, when we had discussed, in the car, that he would have one more game after this.

Then, he said, “Wait! Maybe I can play for Xander’s team!”

Jenny from the Block encouraged him. “Go ask.” Validation from Another Mom. Which, we all know, is better than validation from one’s actual mom. I love my village.

“They’re all always short a player or two,” she reminded me. In fact, the Mets had loaned the Astros a couple of players the previous Friday evening.

Seth jogged out to the spot where the boys were warming up, and asked Steve if he could play. “Sure! The more the merrier!”

 

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

I settled into my spot, next to Jenny, while she regaled me with tales of the Great Squirrel Takeover in her house, this week. You know, the week she’s home with three children under five, while her husband is on a business trip, and there turns out to be an invasive squirrel presence in her house. We giggled. She let me hold her baby. I watched mine gamely become an Astro in a Mets Jersey.

Earlier in the week, I had riffed on Facebook about a blog post I’d seen, touting Seven Days of Reality, reminding us all that parenting, in particular has fewer shiny, happy moments than Facebook posts—particularly those labeled #100happydays—would lead you to believe. My reality, tonight, seemed pretty good— I scored an evening holding a cuddly baby, I let my kid see he could solve the problem, himself, and achieve the goal of having fun learning to play baseball, regardless of what his jersey says on the front. A previous version of myself would have been really rattled by the whole thing, and gone the whole high-blood-pressure, self-flagellation route. This version of me? She giggled at the absurdity, and the dumb luck that she’d already, on this day, gotten to kids to two different camps, two miles apart, with simultaneous drop-off and pick-up times. She’d lucked into lunch with friends, run a writer’s workshop for five children at her dining room table, gotten her younger son to karate more or less on-time, fed both kids, and then gotten the kid to a baseball game. The fact that it wasn’t the correct baseball game? Minor detail.

Did I mention, though, that this game was a 6:30 start? PM. In the EVENING. For first-and-second-graders. (“I want the name of the MAN who set the Pee Wee baseball schedule,” I’d quipped, earlier. “Because nobody’s MAMA set a game for this hour!” I got an Amen from the other moms. Yes, I did.) So, it surprised me not at all when, following the insult of a pitch hitting his wrist during his last, reluctant, at-bat, the child came screaming off the field, howling in pain, and progressed from a happy, seven year-old playing ball with his pals, to a miserably major-league walking melting-down. It was soooo not his fault. We both knew it.

“This is all YOUR fault, mom!!!”

“Yep, you’re right, it is. It’s my fault you are having fun playing with Xander.”

“It is NOT FUN! It’s not my REAL TEAM. I want to play with the METS!”

“Think of it as the All-Star Break,” I suggested, silently patting myself on the back for this totally relevant sports reference. “Regular season resumes on Friday.”

“No! This is awful, and it’s all your fault.”

“Yes. Hey, look at the puppy!!!” (Silent thanks to the mom holding a puppy. Brief giggle break.)

“It’s all your fault. And I want to sit on the blanket. Will you get up? My WRIST HURRRRRRTS!!!”

“And it’s my fault. So, yes, I will get up.”

Another mom, who had zipped up to the game on a break from work, popped over to check on his injury. “Are you feeling better?”

“Noooooooooooo!” Other Mom and I giggled, silently, to each other, so as not to further offend the child. I complimented her shoes. She said, “My husband calls them my clown shoes.” I said, “My husband would call them that, too. I love them.” We smiled, our sisterhood of the clown shoes, of the miserable seven-year-old, of the Pee Wee Baseball Motherhood.

“Love the 6:30 game, don’t you?” I asked Jenny. “Never mind. I’m going to let him play on the playground for a minute to see if his wrist is really hurt.” We agreed this was a good plan. It was pushing 8pm, by now. I was, still, calling the evening a success.

As we left, I said goodbye to Steve. “Thanks for letting Seth play for the Astros!”

“Hey, this isn’t the pros—anything goes.” Man, oh, man, I love my village.

The wrist, for the record, is fine. Reality? It doesn’t bite.