Archive for April 2009
All 96 pages are stuttering out of my printer as I type this. I’ve sat here for the last 4 hours looking through the whole thing one last time, making final adjustments and tweaks. My final piece of research: The official school colors of Franklin Central High School, the team Goshen defeated in the 1988 state football championship.
In a few minutes, I’m going to zip over to the post office with my sunroof open and Bob Dylan blasting out of my CD player. I’ll overnight the manuscript to my 2nd reader, then forget about it all for a few weeks until I meet with him to finalize things. He will tell me all he can about all I’ve written, sign off on some official university papers, and that will be it. But I’m done.
I’ve spoken a few times now about how the conclusion has been falling together piece by piece. I had to fight with it over the last two weeks, though, because it started falling apart piece by piece. What I ended up doing was interviewing my father Wednesday night to get some information about my family’s background. I saw potential with a certain angle I could play as I wrapped things up, and the angle played out beautifully. It came together at about midnight last night, and then I slept on it.
This isn’t the end of Thesis Blues. I plan on doing more with my story, and I’ll find out more about what I can and should do within a few weeks. Regardless, I know I’ll be caught in the wake of it for quite a while now, so it will keep popping up on my blog. Stay tuned.
It’s a gorgeous day. I have a bottle of El Dorado 15 in my liquor cabinet, the Cubs are on the radio, the sky is blue, the air is warm, and the afternoon sun is drenching my balcony. I think I’ll go out there and sit for a while.
I can walk away. Right now. I can be done with it. I met with Sandi yesterday at Prentice Women’s Hospital, right across the street from the NU downtown campus. We talked, analyzed, and debated a few things for 2 hours, and she ended by saying I had met standards and I can send it to my second reader. The second reader is essentially a formality at this point and for my purposes, and I spoke to him last night for a few minutes about sending it his way. So I can walk away. Right now. I can be done with it.
But I won’t. I have higher expectations for myself, and the second reader is the lynchpin to me. I won’t send him something that I know can be better. He’s been the biggest influence on me as a writer; his demanding standards are mostly what have pushed me to grow so much as a writer in the last three years. I feel like I would be taking advantage of the situation if I didn’t work on things for the next week before sending it to him, like I would be checking something off the list, just saying, “Okay, got that done… finally.” Plus, he’ll see right through me if I don’t do all I know how to do. I can’t roll like that. The goal all along has been to produce the best product I can, to grow and stretch and reach beyond and all that, to emerge as a significantly altered beast than what I was last June. If I know I can still go further, then that’s what I need to do. Perfection is a bitch.
I had planned on working for another week anyhow. I know the conclusion is still limp, and I have a new set of ideas for it that are going to address that situation. I also have dozens of line edits to do that I will tighten things up a bit. I have a week; it can get done.
Sandi and I debated about subtext yesterday. There are a couple of episodes in the story where I let what is said stand for itself without my authorial influence. One is a handshake episode between Jim and me that refers to a previous episode in the story; another is a toss-away line by Jim that speaks volumes about his financial situation. I feel that by putting my reactions in, I’m being too heavy-handed. She wants my reactions. I’m leaning toward letting the reader infer the significance of the episodes. I like the impact an inference can have, and want to have more of that in the story. This will be one of those issues I bring up with the second reader when we meet and finally put this thing to bed.
I could name a thousand times since 1995 that I’ve been thankful to be a teacher. You can probably guess the myriad of reasons for the most part, at least the shallow ones that most people point out: the excellent vacation package, no weekend work, tenure, summer pay… but there’s other stuff, too, like the educated, intelligent coworkers, the feeling of satsifaction at the end of the day, students you’re still in contact with 13 years later, job security in this rough economy. The list goes on. Yesterday, I was thankful all over again for a different reason.
I was camped out at Panera in Libertyville, working on some writing I’ve been trying to get wrapped up for some time now. The place was empty except for about ten customers. I was focused, intent, and getting some good things done. It seems, though, that a Regional Manager of sorts was at the store for whatever reason. He chose the table right next to mine to conduct a conference with two Panerans who seemed to be store managers or assistant managers. I’ll never know why he thought it was a good idea to camp out so close to me in an otherwise empty store, but what I figured out in the end was that this dude has no cognitive filter. By the time he was done with his business, I had the impression that he probably thinks every idea that comes to his mind is a great idea.
He and the two ladies started talking about the food setup, what was going where and what was selling. I could barely hear them over the music in my headphones; I had tuned in to the Cinematic Scores channel on Comcast Rhapsody a half hour earlier specifically to tune out distractions.
There was a change in the direction of the conversation a few minutes later. I could hear the tones moreso than the words, and they were decidedly more tense; the volume of my music wasn’t quite loud enough to cover the shift. The Regional Manager started throwing out some corporate cliches about how he wants to empower the two lady managers: “I want you guys to hire who you want to hire, and fire who you want to fire. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You need that power. Do what you have to do. Take care of business.” I gathered there had been some recent unpleasantness with an unnamed employee.
I started to cringe. His speech was something we frequently make fun of in my office: cliche-riddled oratory that is meant to sound intelligent and insightful but that means nothing. All too often, the shovelers of such drivel are unaware of how empty their communication is. They end up looking foolish and incompetent. After Regional Manager’s first round of vapid expression, I wished I could catch the eyes of the two lady managers to throw out a signal that they had my moral support as they had a sit-down with that creep. Unfortunately, they’re backs were to me.
A few minutes later, the volume of the conversation increased. One lady manager left to take a phone call. The other, who appeared to be in charge of the cash registers, furrowed her brow, gently shook her head side to side, and shifted in her seat. I heard her say something about being unhappy in regard to something that happened on the morning shift when the store was rather busy. RM had a scolding tone to his voice. I started to think about how damn inconsiderate he was to be dressing this woman down in public, right next to a customer. Whatever he said, she responded emphatically, “I did what I thought needed to be done.”
RM defaulted into cliches: “I need you to be with me on this one. I know you’re not expecting the regional manager to come waltzing in here every morning. But I did this morning. Now here’s what I need you to understand about this morning: It was the big game. There was two minutes left on the clock. Every second counted.”
By now, I could hear almost every word clearly over my music. I soon wished I couldn’t, though, because my focus was soon shot. I took my headphones off, glanced at RM over the shoulder of the cash register lady, and made sure we had eye contact. He halfway nodded at me. Her head was cocked to the side. He continued: “All I’m saying is that it’s not your job at that time to do what you think the manager needs to do when she’s swamped like that. Do what you got to do. You need to check and see what everybody else needs and do that for those people. But do what you got to do.” Huh?
I sighed loud enough for both of them to hear me. I couldn’t believe the phenomenal stream of crap spewing from the mouth of RM. Furthermore, I still couldn’t believe that this was happening right next to me. How could that twit not have any consideration for the privacy of his employees? How could that twit think it was a good idea to disturb customers? And he knew he was disturbing me!
Their conversation ended. I was surprised he didn’t throw out some classic parting platitudes: “Now let’s get out there and really try to win this one… Let’s get out there and make a difference… Now go have fun and show people you love working at Panera… .” The cash register lady returned to her station. I sat back in my seat. RM called in my direction, “Sorry if we disturbed you.” I nodded to him.
Behind the counter, the two manager ladies paced, whispered, and bobbed thier heads back and forth. They raised their hands, palms up, and dropped them against their sides. RM packed up some papers, put on a windbreaker, zipped a satchel, and walked behind the counter. He started a conversation with the other manager lady about something; I tried again to drown everything out with music from my laptop. I could hear words all the way across the restaurant, but nothing distinct. She had her hand on her forehead and gestered toward him with her hand. He leaned against a pillar with his arms crossed, nodded his head, and tried to look like he was listening.
I shook my head and thought about how thankful I am that I don’t have a job that hinges on managing a restaurant for some corporate clod who doesn’t possess the common courtesy to talk in private and without stitching a conversation together with so many cliches that it was at risk of bursting at the seams.
I finally tuned out the ugliness and focused on my writing. Two minutes later, RM stopped to talk to me. He placed three coupons on my table, and said, “Just a little token; sorry again for disturbing you.” I half-smiled at him and nodded my head; not as a sign of approval, but that I understood what he said.
I watched him as he walked to his car. I was grateful for his consideration, and thought maybe I was cranky and too severe in my judgment of him. I’m sure he has a difficult job. I felt optimistic that his consideration for a customer could some day lead to him being be as considerate to his employees. I picked up the coupons and saw that each one was for a free cup of coffee. I flipped the top one over and read the fine print on the back: “Offer expires February 12, 2009.”
This is way overdue, and I bribed myself to write this before I go and watch whatever free movie I can find on comcast.
It looks like things are going to wrap up on time. I’ve had a couple of intense weeks of writing, but things are in hand. I conducted two follow-up interviews, one with Jim and one with his mother Patricia. I mostly needed to ask a series of questions to each to fill in a few cracks in the story, or to provide the most complete information possible. For example, why did Patricia’s family move to the house at 5th and Middlebury in Goshen in 1965? Where did they live before that, and how did they get there? Little things like that make a big difference at this stage. Things like that end up providing the depth I need and want for the story.
I got crazy Monday night, working on the story until 5AM before crashing on the living room couch at my dad’s house. I knew I was going to do it, and after the first four hours of late-night work, I decided to push and write for as long as I could physically and emotionally stand it. It’s a good thing I’m on spring break this week, otherwise my stunt would have created some serious issues at work the next day (I do not teach well when I’m very, very tired). But it was good to set myself up that way, to again do something out of the normal, keep myself off balance, and push my limits. I had a helluva time getting started around 9:30 Monday night, but kept forcing it until things started to flow. Now that I think about it, I could have done some things to warm myself up instead of starting cold and pushing hard until I got in flow.
It’s all in hand, but I can’t let up right now. I have a several more hours of work to do on my current draft before getting it to Sandi, and then I have to wrap it all up and send it to my second reader. Right now, the conclusion is becoming an issue. Sandi poked holes right through the first draft (as she should have… it was crap…). I have a second draft that she hasn’t seen and that I can’t fully remember the content of, so I have to take another look at things and see what else needs to be done.
Ray Bradbury once advised writers to have fun writing the first draft, because drafts 9-10 are going to be hellish. I’d agree with that right now.