Saturday, November 14, 2015

I Remember Paris in the Springtime

When I was young, my father worked for United Airlines. He was friends with a man who started a travel agency for those employed in the airline business, taking advantage of the discounts and perks given to those 'in the industry'. It was an amazing opportunity and allowed me, my sister and our parents to travel in the 1970s, a time of relative peace in the world. One of those journeys was to France, in early 1973 (I think. My memory is a little shady these days.)

I need to back up a little here and explain that during World War II, Daddy was in the Army Air Corp, precursor of the Air Force. While I never got the same story twice when I asked what he did during that time, one consistent story was he learned French and spoke it like a native. Why. How. When. Those stories changed, but the bit about French, and being hit in the head with a propeller never wavered.

From the moment we landed at the airport, my father seemed taller, more relaxed than I had seen him previous. He gathered our little tour group together, found all our luggage, and made the connection with the person who would be our guide for the week. But they conversed in English, which I thought strange. We loaded onto our little bus and set off through the crowded streets of Paris toward the road to take us out into the Loire valley.

Even back then, the streets of Paris were crowded. And the cars were small. I sat by the window with my eyes wide with a combination of fright and amazement at the cacophony of little Tonka cars racing though the streets on their way to wherever. In no time at all, there was an incident involving the bus. Our driver's window was open and he and another driver were yelling at each other for all they were worth. Hand gestures, arms waving, full on screaming at each other such as one can see in any large city such as New York, London, or Paris.

Suddenly, my father began laughing, full on tears running down his face, laughing. After a moment, it dawned on the tour guide, as well as the driver, that my dad could understand every word that had transpired. The driver turned the deepest, brightest shade of red I'd ever seen. He abruptly shut his mouth, slid back around in his seat, faced forward and began to drive. I swear on my life, he never said another word in public the entire ten days we were together.

We toured wineries, and castles, and Mont St. Michel, which to this day is one of my favorite spots in the world. Every place we stopped my father would give me the tour brochures in Spanish, the language I was learning in school; he in turn would grab one in French while my mother took the English versions. He always told me it would help my comprehension to immerse myself into the language.

After four or five days we returned to Paris. The first days were spent doing the prerequisite French locations, the Eiffel Tower, Montmarte, the Bastille, Versailles, etc. However, the day the ladies of the tour went shopping, I stayed at the hotel with my dad. Once the others were gone, he looked at me with that familiar twinkle in his grey eyes and asked, "You want to go for a walk?"

We were out the door, down the ancient elevator, through the lobby and on our way before I could change my mind. He turned left and took my hand and we ambled down the sidewall to a small tourist shop. He asked for directions while I glanced at post cards, a favorite past time of mine at that age. Once he was sure of the way, we took off again.

I didn't ask where we were going, it was enough to just walk through the city watching the people, trying to read signs, looking at buildings older than anything I'd seen before, except in Israel, which we'd already visited. Before long we turned a corner and the river Seine lay before us. We were right in front of the Louvre. Turning left we headed up river, watching the boats passing by and looking at art strung along the river's sidewalk.

We ended up at Notre Dame. It was amazing, and we took our time wandering around the central nave of the cathedral, looking at the light through the rose stained glass, talking about the hunchback and other parts of French history.

He seemed so at ease, so sure of himself. Confident, eager to see more by exploring on his own through a town where he could move as easily as any American town. He showed me the other side of Paris, the people and their talents, the heart and the history of a place much older than Atlanta. After wandering the river bank around the cathedral, we sat down in a small cafe where he ordered us lunch and two cafe au laites. I felt so grown up and at peace, sitting by the river, watching the people, blending into the heartbeat of the city.

Though it has been 40 or so years since that magical day, I still feel that closeness with the city. My father has been dead since the early 90s, but I had more fun with him that day than I ever had before. It cemented a closeness with him that would last until his death. I still keenly miss the late night conversations we would have when we each returned home from work at midnight. But most of all, the miss the confident, quiet, quirky, musician/actor/engineer who was my father. The man who took a day to show his version of Paris and in doing so, awakened another dreamer's soul.

My heart goes out to the people of both Paris and those other countries who lost people in the senseless attacks of 11-13-15. My the vitality and love of country that carried you through two World Wars remind you that these attacks cannot divide us, they can only unite us in our resolve to crush terrorism, no matter what it calls itself.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My First NaNoWriMo; or (How I Lost Control of My Fictional Characters in Only 11 Days)

This is the first year I have participated in the annual novel writing event, the NaNoWriMo as it is commonly called. The goal of this endeavor is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Hundreds of thousands take part in this lofty assignment, and though I have known about this for several years I have declined to challenge myself. I write slowly, methodically, and the idea of pumping out that large of a story in only 30 days, frankly scared me crap less.

But this year I decided, what the heck, take the plunge, you can do this! First I took the characters from a book I just sold and sketched out where I wanted this book to take place, who the villains were going to be, and roughed out the first three chapters. By Halloween night I was ready.

Sunday morning, November 1st, dawned sad and gloomy just as the weather had been for days. I sat down in my favorite writing space, turned the television to mindless drivel and began clubbing my outline into real words. The first three days were amazing. The words flowed, the outline fleshed out into a story and for those three days I thought, "What was I so afraid of? This is no problem."

Then came day 4, where my progress slowed as I worked to grow the outline into a full length novel. Suddenly I was beset with insecurities. Did I like what I was writing? I wasn't sure. The action began to diverge from the direction I intended when I started this endeavor. Should I continue this vein or wrestle everyone into the niches I wanted them? The feel of my writing became soggy, as if I were forcing myself to run through red Georgia mud on a cold day in winter.

At last I found myself at over 15,000 words. I earned a badge. I was as proud of that day as any time I earned a merit badge as a Girl Scout. That one little circle on my NaNo dashboard re-inspired me. I took to the keyboard with a madness borne of word count. By the end of the first week I was flirting with 20,000 words and I had the beginnings of a real story. Success would be mine.

Entering this second week, I planned out my goals. I was shooting for 25,000, the next goal badge on the NaNo dashboard. I felt like Pavlov's dog motivated by the rise of the line on a graph. Unfortunately, my characters noticed the change in my work ethic and began to make decisions by themselves. Without my permission, the story began to veer from its pre-almost-determined plot line, into a quagmire of new decisions, strange action, and the completed abandonment of the project for an island in the South Pacific. Preferably one with all the amenities of home.

So here I am, at 31,000 words, with a villain who has decided to abscond with the money, two heroes who've decided to hide out until the whole thing blows over, and a hot mess to work them out of, in 20,000 words or less. Maybe I'll let the bad guys leave, maybe I'll make them stuck in Atlanta airport for flight delays (happens all the time in real life). That'll teach them to jump ship in the middle of a story.

My heroes however, are quite adamant about hiding out and drinking beer until the whole thing is over. I've yelled, I've pleaded, I've threatened to give them all impotency, but nothing. Damn Irish, always doing whatever takes them to the nearest pub.

As an exercise, I can see the appeal of an event like NaNoWriMo. It builds a community of writers who support each other as we struggle through our daily word counts, and moan through the endless hours where the page is blank and the clock is ticking. That alone is a mighty gift. Writers are by their very natures, introverted. We don't want to talk about what we're working on, as if by the very mention of it will bring on a jinx such as writer's block.

And I will soldier on, obediently updating my word count, chatting with others in my area as they type on with feverish abandon, content in the knowledge that, I have no idea where this novel will end up. But that's okay, because in the end it may build me into a better writer, who plans more before I sit down and let the lunatics out to roam. However, in the meanwhile, if you have any ideas on how to rope in drunk Irishmen, I would be most appreciative.