Roberta Branca

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

What This Blog Is All About

In Private Musings Gone Public, Writing Practice on September 26, 2010 at 3:54 am

This blog is about being a writer. What it means to me, what my every day life is like, what I aspire to, and what I do about those aspirations.

I am not a full-time writer. I work full-time as a librarian, commute 45 minutes to and from work each day, and volunteer here and there when I can. I also participate in a bi-monthly writer’s group that meets on the second and fourth Saturday of every month. I’ve had a few stories published online,and I was a journalist for five years from 1990-1995.

For most of adulthood, though, I have fit writing around the other aspects of my life: work, social life, personal interests, graduate school. I can attest, therefore, that it can be hard to think of yourself as a “writer” when you are not able to make it the central part of your work life. None the less, I have been crafting stories on paper since the age of four and reading stories and making up my own stories even longer than that.

I believe very strongly that “being a writer” involves keeping an active mind whether or not you are actually committing words to paper. In this sense, I am writing all the time. I take note of conversations I overhear as well as the conversations I encounter personally. I commit to memory the unusual color of a particularly striking hat. I cannot look at a box of cereal without wondering, “I wonder what it is like to eat cereal on the other side of the world?” And the next thing you know, my mind is off and running on pure imagination about breakfast in China, and I am late for work if I don’t watch the clock.

Therefore, my posts might be about my experiences with pragmatic matters, such as sending work out. Or making time for writing every day. Maybe I’ll write a breezy review of how my week went: what were my goals, did I accomplish them, what did I accomplish that I didn’t expect? On the other hand, they may just as likely be Private Musings Made Public — wanderings of my mind that take me someplace surprising, a day-to-day experience that lends itself to rich descriptive language. Please see my post, Be the Guide You Want to Meet, as an example.

Perhaps I’ll share some particularly poignant show of support I received, or some advice that rang true. See Don’t Be A Writing Diva as an example along this vein.

I hope that other part-time writers will recognize themselves in my blog posts. I have an even greater hope that someone who has never considered picking up a pen before will stop and say, “Aha! I can do that!” Also, I hope fellow writers will identify with my experiences and share their own through commentary, cross-posting, etc. I hope to start a dialog about what it means to Be A Writer.

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Be The Guide You Hope to Meet

In Living in New Hampshire, Private Musings Gone Public on September 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I wrote this inner-thought-essay after a particularly grueling drive home one wintry night. I wrote a lot of these sorts of things that winter, with no real idea about what to do with them. They aren’t researched, so they’re not journalistic pieces. They’re not fully formed essays with a larger universal meaning, they’re just sort of private musings about the world outside my window.

So I’ve decided they are blog posts. Since my first blog post looks a little lonely, I decided to add this one.

December 2008. What a stormy, wild ending to a stormy, wild year.  An ice storm that brought 3 weeks of power outages to parts of New Hampshire. Two or three major snowstorms each week, including one or two Nor’easters.

Many times during this hard winter of driving in blinding snowstorms late at night, I asked myself, “Whose dumb idea was it to move to a coastal area any way?” The answer comes back to me in a whisper: “The decision was all yours, my dear. Yours and yours alone.” So I try to bear the burden as best I can. I try to take delight in the joys of snow tires, to rise above petty anger at motorists who think they are driving magic cars that won’t slam into others or rollover on a sharp turn taken at high speed. I try to remember they probably have children at home, or perhaps even in the car, and I pray they will not fall victim to the axiom, What goes around comes around.

Eventually I arrive home, the snow stops, and the roads get plowed. I make a point to drive to the shore on the weekends so I can gaze out at the ocean and think, “Moving to the coast was the smartest decision I’ve made in a decade.”

With the age of 41 just around the corner, it seems only right to assess decisions in terms of decades. In these trying times, I try to draw on my muse as I contemplate a plan to adjust to the newest chapter of collective history. I hope to retain strength and creativity in an age that will require practicality and hard choices. Lord knows I’ve faced hard times before – three recessions during 18 years in the workforce — and I hope to draw on my new maturity, given to me in an epiphany on the day I turned 39 and three quarters, for something approaching divine guidance. “Drive time” late at night is proving to be a peaceful to do this, even in a blinding snowstorm.

During those late night drives, I’ve taken to distracting myself by turning from one NPR station to another, comparing various news programs. Replays of Fresh Air, BBC World News, Diane Rheems, and some Canadian show that is folksy and smart. And I have to tell you; they are obsessed with The Economy. They all run an analytical feature about the same exact piece of economic news each night. Examples from include the housing bailout, the arrest of some sports-promoting financier, and the newest stock market crash.  How can something that’s already at rock bottom find room to crash over and over again? Ooh, it makes me wonder . . .

The NPR shows always include interviews with economists or public policy experts, and there is a definite theme developing: nobody knows the Exact Right Thing to do, but we are all in this together so we’d better just figure it out.

The Night of the Nor’easter was by far the most amusing Road Trip in the Snow. I spent 35 miles on the highway stuck behind a plow – I was several cars back so I couldn’t see it until it turned off – because I was not about to risk my neck in the “magic car lane” to my left. I exited the highway to confront a small snow bank created by a plow that decided to leave a swirly figure-8 path on the overpass.

The snow is fluffy and soft at this time of year and I drove through the “snow bank” with ease.  I negotiated familiar turns on the country highway I take every night until I saw blue flashing lights ahead, at the exact spot where the state police always pull over motorists who exit the highway and forget to slow down. I slowed to less than 5 mph, and drew just close enough to see this was a two-car accident, not a particularly bad one. Before I could redirect the car around the scene, a police officer with reflective yellow jacket and bright halogen flashlight ran out in front of my car, frantically motioning with his flashlight “go around, go around.” Which I was able to do once he took a few steps back from the middle of the road.

As I resumed my journey my attention was drawn again to the radio. Another analyst was again making the point that while savings was good for individuals, and entirely necessary at this time, the failure to spend was going to hurt our neighbors. He concluded his remarks with “We’re all going to need to find the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.”

This amused and delighted me to no end. God, grant me the serenity . . .

But my musings were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a school bus coming in the opposite direction. At 11 o’clock at night, in a snowstorm.

The trail of thought stuck with me, though, and this morning I followed it to its conclusion.

I offer this prayer for the Second Millennium:

Grant me the serenity to save my pennies when I can;

The courage to spend them when it is prudent;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Don’t Be A Writing Diva

In Procrastination, Support, Writer's Block, Writing Practice on September 18, 2010 at 11:18 pm

All writers face this scenario: You’ve made the time to write. Maybe you turn on soft music, make sure the dog/cat/other pet has their needs taken care of so they won’t bother you, etc. And you stare at the computer screen/blank page/chalkboard utterly unable to get going.

Or, you’re typing/writing away and you know it’s crap. Just utter blah. So you decide to call it a day until “The Muse” comes to you again.

Recently I was whining to my significant other about writer’s block, and he responded in his usual frank way.

“You don’t have enough publication credits yet to be a writing diva.”

We were in a lovely Greek restaurant so luckily I was in a receptive mood. Plus, there was a lot of truth to it so it seemed only right to take it in good humor. I have two short stories published online, and another published as an electronic book. I am already working on a mystery novel in spite of these thin credits.

For one thing, my production rate is not high enough to worry about whether I have anything to say or not; I have to write on a daily basis even if I have to unravel all the work later and start over. Everything I’ve ever read about writing from published writers says that you have to write nonsense every day just to stay in practice. Spit-and-polish comes later, after some more disciplined work with your editing hat on.

What I take away from this brief conversation is that my writing practice won’t happen in a vacuum. I need supportive yet honest people around me who have the right to share in my failures if I expect them to revel in my joys and empathize with my sorrows. Also, while it may be true that I have a sixth sense that I was born to be a writer, the act writing itself will only happen as an active, daily choice.

As Stephen King says in his book On Writing: Even Thoreau stopped staring at the pond and wrote a book.