To think that I am walking around in positivelypressed clothing is an absolute fallacy. Those who know me tend to ignore the fact that I am often quite wrinkled and showing signs of wear and tear. I iron once a season. The joke at work is that if I show up in a dress or skirt, my pants are just too embarrassingly haggard to be worn in public anymore. It’s that dreaded day of the season when I must get home, whip out the spray starch and burn some elbow grease. Hence, the title of this blog may be misleading to some who are hoping that it holds the key to proper steaming and pressing techniques.
The truth is that you are far more likely to find me positivelypressed into my favorite wicker rocker on our sun porch or deep in a bevy of pillows curled up with a good book or my ever-present laptop. My fingers press into pages of Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald (liking the classics these days) or onto keys (so often the @ button or .com).
I could also be pressing my fingers to my temples as I grade the homework and tests of my French students who are in the midst of conquering subject and verb conjugation. <<I is pressed?>> Mais non!
It’s fair to say that my husband and I are both in constant press mode. . . pedal to the metal, that is. “Mom, I need to be at practice in ten minutes!” “Can you take me to Walgreens? I need some index cards.” Press!
On Sundays I press my hands together, give thanks and ask for strength and patience. (Now that’s a holy press request. . . ) Thank goodness for summer or I just might become depressed. My friends know that I come up for air, press my toes in the sand my gym shoes to the pavement. . . breathe.
You see, when I am not pressing out the matters of marriage, family, work and friends, I am writing. . . constantly (whether in my head or on the keyboard). . . My life is about words. I love the way they sound and look. I even enjoy the way they feel rolling off my tongue or grinding in the back of my throat- English and French, spoken, written, sung and sometimes painted. For the past seven (at least documented) years I have been on somewhat of a secret adventure with words.
One morning, when my facial wrinkles were much fewer in number, I woke up with a story in my head- start to finish. It was bizarre. It wasn’t like a dream that fades away when the t.v. turns on and the orange juice goes down. It was a full-fledged novel with storyline, plot, characters and all. It was as if I had received a divine gift in the night and I didn’t know what to do with it. (Kind of like the dried fruit maker we got for our wedding?) So, I just began to tell the story to my husband.
I went on and on and on as he munched on his Wheaties and looked at me mystified. I don’t know about you but the experience of spitting out a novel in one sitting proved to be quite lengthy and as patient and polite as my husband is, he was going to miss his tee time. So, I released him of his listening duties and decided to put it down on paper.
Hah! Hah, hah, hah. . . three years later. . . hah, I finished putting the divine gift down on paper. My husband would have definitely never gotten that golf round in had he stayed and heard me out. That was the beginning or the prelude to my novel adventure.
I had something concrete. It was a bundle, a draft all wrapped up in white paper with a plastic binding, physical evidence of the gift I had received in my sleep. I had words and characters and a plot to share, but I was afraid to expose my creative exploit. It was like being pregnant and not wanting the general public to know.
I felt a little crazy, like I had befriended these imaginary people who lived at my fingertips. Alex, Mark, A.J., Chrissy, Janet, Cherry, Virgil and Jamal were becoming real people to me and at times I was choosing to spend time with them over my family and friends. So, I decided to intermingle. I shared them with a select few. . . people who would love me no matter what.
The first draft was handed out with sweaty palms and highlighting pens to four close friends. ”Take your time.” I said. ”Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I walked away. Well, I actually think I ran. We all need breaks from our friends and family at times. . . Absence makes the heart grow fonder, n’est-ce pas?
I waited and took time to read other authors. I enjoyed my husband, my kids, t.v., yoga and cooking (Can you say Seven Days with Rachel Ray over and over and over again? My kids can!) I took a true break but was always wondering? What do my living friends think of my printed friends? Then, after about a month, they called. Like a proud mama going to pick up her child after preschool, I couldn’t wait for a review. Anything! Feedback validated that I had done something and had something to work on. Boy did I get it!
Thank goodness my friends are honest, well-read people who know when to give a strong line or paragraph a shiny gold star but who also know when to point out a lack of tension or a run-on sentence. True friends want to see you grow. This is when I met Jackie.
Jackie is my dear friend Katie’s aunt who was in town visiting from California just as Katie finished reading draft one. Let’s just say, Jackie has lived quite a life. She is an actress, a director and now an experienced writer who is one of the most spiritually connected people I have ever met. She listens with her heart and Katie got her to agree to listen to me talk about my novel. We talked for hours about writing, reading, living, loving. She made me cry as I listened to her own beautiful love story and then she listened to mine. Afterward, she suggested something that changed my life.
“You need to study with Sol Stein.” She insisted. “His guidance and wisdom are revered in the world of writers.” I nodded and agreed that I needed some professional training. I purchased Stein on Writing an hour later.
Sol Stein’s words taught me the craft of writing. His exercises challenged me to think with imagery and passion, using my words to try to ignite the senses to create a memory. I devoured his book and then I wrote draft two of my novel which took another year but it was a year well spent. I enjoyed the ride, the dance so to speak with my characters as I wove their worlds around in my mind, on the page.
I gave draft three to my parents to read. It was a Christmas present of sorts, highlighter pen and all. Was it the best gift they ever received. . . probably not but surprisingly it turned around and became a special gift back to me.
As my parents read the novel, it became a source of discussion between us. We had creative dialogues that wove us in and out of imaginary situations and potential drama. It was fun to plot with them and listen to their reactions to the situations that I had created for my characters. My parents and I were bonding in a new way over a project of unknown properties. There are pieces of those special moments with my parents sprinkled throughout the story which endears it to me even more. At the end of their read, I got a beautiful note from my mother and a great phone call from my father encouraging me to stick with the novel and see it through. Then I ordered Sol Stein’s other fantastic book How to Grow a Novel and got to work on the next draft.
The draft writing and editing process went on for months until I started to feel like my story was in the final gestational phase. My forty-fifth birthday was also on the horizon and that was when I knew that the time had come to be positivelypressed.
This is where I leave you wondering until next weekend, “What happened to Katie’s novel?”. . . “Is she still wearing wrinkled pants to work?”. . . “Can her French students conjugate subjects and verbs?” . . . “Did her kids get to practice on time?” These pressing matters and other upbeat musings to be addressed in the next post of positivelypressed.com. Have a wonderful week!