Editing Family

I went full-speed ahead with a yes when my sister asked me to look at her book-in-progress. Or, to say it more accurately, we did not ourselves settle on a specific word to describe what I would be doing. I figured I’d do what I usually do in these situations, some mix of proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and maybe rewriting a thing here or two (though at this stage, it was pointless, since she’ll be doing a lot of rewriting herself). It’s what I often do when I look at something for someone, depending on my relationship with the person, when we haven’t agreed upon exactly what I’m doing. Since it was my sister, I thought I’d try to just be as helpful as I could be.

So, without a definite mandate, I jumped into the document. I changed spelling errors. Ignored most of the things I felt might be grammatical problems because: 1) I’m not an English teacher and; 2) I don’t want to intrude too much on her voice. She has a strong, authoritative voice. She’s not pulling punches. I liked that. Besides, issues like that, she could fix herself once she read it out loud. They can be dealt with in a later draft.

She repeated herself in some areas and I pointed those out. Some things, I felt she hadn’t emphasized enough and could benefit the story. Some, I thought she’d lingered on or didn’t need. I told her those.

I finished in a couple of hours and I texted her.

Then, I got nervous.

Some of the possible usual worries, some not. Concern over whether I might have been too harsh. Should I have gone more general in my reading and not been as thorough? Was my own reading of it BS? I did my best to look at her and the people she discusses in the story as characters –not as people I know and have definite feelings about– and try to not impose my own perceptions or desires into her story.

That was the hardest.

For instance, I know my father, but not in the way she did. She grew up with him, in his house. I only spent one summer with her and my other sister and her mother, and while I remember a great deal of the events, I was just five. I probably misunderstood a bunch of things I did see, forget about the things I could have missed because I was five. She’s already told me about a lot that went down.

The rest of my time while my father was alive, I talked to him on the phone or saw him during his trips back home to Baltimore. Or, as technology progressed, via webcam whenever he felt like being bothered with firing up his computer (I wish he’d gotten himself an iPad before he passed; I tried).

I wanted to know more about the father who she said encouraged her to follow her passions. I never felt at ease having that conversation with him. We talked about what I was going to do, more than what I wanted to do. She says she received so many lessons and so much wisdom from him. I want to know what he told her. Life, being the way it was, he could have only told me so much.

I wanted to know more about her friends I only saw in passing as a kid. I remember them only as much as I remember the sherbet and the cake we ate on my birthday.

I wanted to know the adventures she went on before and after helping to watch after her younger siblings that summer in Diamond Bar. Some of these events are key in my own life. I’m writing about some of them.

The hope is that as much as I wanted to know more as myself, if she ends up following any of my suggestions, her eventual readers will benefit from knowing those things. That I, as a reader of a story with characters and events, have given suggestions that serve the story. More than I might ever serve myself and my curiosities. Or even my sister, for that matter. The story is bigger than the teller. Even in my own work. Especially in my own work. Even in what you’re reading right now.

According to Google Drive, by the time I’m finishing writing this post, she’s read at least some of the comments. Who knows if the suggestions will ever make it into the final product? If they’re helpful in making the story more successful, I hope they do. Otherwise, she should pitch them into traffic.

I am looking forward to the final product. And if there’s any value for her in what I’ve suggested and wants me to read it, the next draft.

Back in Stride Again

I’m back behind a text editor. For a long time now, my mantra has been “write every single, blessed day,” but I had to learn some new truths about writing. Sometimes, it’s good to step back for a while and get your head, get your feet back underneath yourself. With the relocation to Baltimore, the back and forth to NJ, figuring out work and a bunch of other things, I needed some time to think. Breathe some. But I’m back. It’s spring. It’s time to create again. So watch this space.

Still, I couldn’t tear myself completely from writing. While I was “away,” I beta tested a class meant to help writers do better with their submissions to literary magazines. It was a great course. I learned quite a bit more about the process, so hopefully, I’ll be able to do better in the coming days with sending my writing out to be published elsewhere.

I’ve also started a newsletter on TinyLetter. I have had folks interested in keeping up with my writing and other creative work. I plan on sending out updates every couple of weeks or so with what I’m working on and other things going on in my world, including my latest blog posts. You can subscribe here or below.

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Thank you for your interest and support and I’ll see you here again soon.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 16 (Tired, yet good)

Off and on during parts of the day, I would ask myself, “what do I want to write about when I get home?” In the auditorium after being talked at and shown PowerPoint slides with long blocks of text. When I felt fatigued and my irritation growing with the pain in my feet on the way back from lunch. At 4:30 when I literally had nothing else to say because I’m not an expert like the people I was with in the room.

Afterwards, I got back to Union Station and sat down in my seat, I thought, “when you get off, ask the conductor if they use Kawasaki trainsets on the Camden Line.” Then, I wondered what I’d write about.

I never decided what I felt like saying.

I did, however, pose my question to the conductor. After I climbed down the steps, I stood near him and waited, the other passengers filing around me to cross the tracks towards the parking lot.

The answer, once everyone else had disembarked: only sometimes, he said, readying to command the train towards Camden Station. The Kawasaki trainsets are used almost exclusively on the Penn Line. The Camden and Brunswick lines use the newer MARC IV Bombardier sets. I wish I had more reason to be on the train and ask railfan questions to the conductors. I wonder why I never did it more often in New Jersey.

This morning, I finally got a ride on a Kawasaki 7000-series Metro train. Much cleaner. Video screens showed news, like PATH trains. Digital message signs displayed the next and future stops like newer cars on the NYC Subway. Everything a subway car should be in 2016, even if they’re lacking the charm of 70’s chic, which some folks still like.

I didn’t get home until 8. And I have to be in bed already for tomorrow. But I got to write about trains before I went to sleep. It was a good day.

Tomorrow, I’ll be on the Penn Line. Maybe I’ll get a Kawasaki set. Tomorrow will be a good day, too.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 15 (The Old, the New, the Familiar)

I was back in D.C. For my job. The details of that aren’t of the greatest importance. Conference at a government building. Lots of exuberant participants. Surrounded by them in an auditorium, classroom style meeting space, a meeting space that looks more like a foyer. Somewhere you could stage skits, but not a play. Horrible acoustics. Then again, it wasn’t built like that.

My aunt reminded me, in response to the unexpected amount of fatigue I felt when I got home, that the last time I’d run around, commuting to D.C. and worked a full day there, I was 24. Fifteen years ago. No wonder I was bone tired.

It did all come back to me.

Passing Ivy City Shops, where Amtrak stores and repairs their trains. The station a little up the line at Laurel Race Course, the one place I remembered from my first time on the Camden Line. I was coming home from my first day at work at my very first internship in D.C. One of my high school friends had invited me to an O’s game and I hopped on the train after work. A freight train passed us at high speed and shook the train so much I thought it might tip over onto the platform.

The hard right after you walk down the platform at Union Station. It takes you straight into Metro. It can get clogged with commuters, so you instead make the right at Sbarro and the left at what’s now a clothing store, but used to be a bookstore, and down the escalator. Fewer people take that way. Easier to get down to the mezzanine and buy a Metrocard. Or reload your SmartTrip.

Red Line trains still oppressively crowded. The surprise at being able to get into the first train that comes. Having to usher someone into the train before me because I was only going one stop and I needed to be right near the door.

Masters of the Universe types eating lunch on Pennsylvania Avenue, the wonder at what they might be doing in their offices or in their cars. Maybe they’re like Raymond Reddington, running a worldwide operation, seemingly always from a moving vehicle. Sleeping in their suits or pants suits.

Protests. This time, school kids marching down Pennsylvania Ave, to register their own disdain for its soon-to-become landlord.

Still, there was room for surprise, discovery.

NoMa/Galludet Station really close to Union Station, closer than I thought. It’s almost like you could walk it, just like the short tunnel between Gallery Place and Metro Center. You can stand in one and look down the tunnel into the other. If not for the connections to other lines, they shouldn’t be spaced that way, I figure.

The new parking garage at Savage. It didn’t look like a bus stop this time. Perhaps a bus stop with a large parking garage, but still an improvement.

And yet, the thing that grabs and holds is this: Bombardier multilevel rail cars.

When I climbed aboard, it was like Jersey. I’ve lost track of the number of miles I’ve logged going to New York, Secaucus Junction, the occasional disembarking in Newark for the PATH. That equipment had become as familiar to me in some ways as the seat of my car. And more welcoming as I could sleep in them.

It was like a small reminder of one of the things I’ve missed. An echo from the part of me that feels as home there as the place where I grew up. From that space inside that misses the feeling of connection and awe from going into New York for an acting class, a writing workshop. To the burrito shop in the Village. Watching trains race by Hamilton.

The train back was Bombardier. The Penn Line train on the next track over was made up of the old Kawasaki bilevel cars that were being rolled out when I was commuting daily into the District.

I slept, as I had so many times on New Jersey Transit and MARC before then.

I’ve thought so much about home lately and what and where it is. I haven’t concluded anything yet. And maybe the whole point is to always be learning and creating and growing it. These glimpses of the joy up the line tell me I haven’t lost what I was trying to build there. Those dreams are still alive, waiting for me to get my ticket and come back. That’s comforting.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 2 (Blunt Force Politics)

I get it. The media is selling us an election as much as they’re covering one. It’s not as much that they’re putting time and energy into covering something in the public interest as they’re engaged in a race and a fight themselves for eyeballs and advertisers. That’s the news game and between the uncertainty of print and online, I get the push to make the most money, the quality of the information being disseminated — not always the most important consideration. It’s feed for the growing fetishization of politics in America.

Perhaps if the majority of information I see coming at me were about policy as much as pussy and who’s saying it and who’s grabbing it; if it were as much about ideas as ideology and not the same staid politics and talking points, it might not be as loathsome. It might not feel like I’m being constantly beaten over the head with the same talking points over and over.

My mentor emailed me the other day talking about the election and his thought that Trump might win. I replied because I’ve always enjoyed talking about a wide range of subjects with him, including politics, but a wave of gladness and gratitude washed over me when, after a while, it came to me he probably wasn’t going to reply about it. I’m just tired of it all. I was tired months ago when he’d come to my desk to offer his latest prognostication.

Next Tuesday can’t come soon enough. At least then, the commercials will be gone, even if the fallout from the election will be just starting, whatever form it takes. My mentor and I can get back to mostly discussing ideas, which are far more satisfying.

I’m looking forward to local elections, specifically the mayoral election in Baltimore. Sheila Dixon, still convinced she does or will have a mandate, regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary, is mounting a write-in campaign against Catherine Pugh (D), Joshua Harris (G), and Alan Walden (R). (I saw a huge setup for her over at Northern Parkway and Park Heights).

The next Mayor will be the first to deal with the long-term ramifications of Freddie Gray, the loss of the Red Line, and the acceptance of the Port Covington TIF, among many other issues facing the City. I know personality will enter into the election, but ultimately, the choices that we have aren’t being tainted and tarred by scandals and soundbites, but solely about which direction the City should move in. But here at the local level, there’s no large scale advertising to be sold, no race to the bottom for TV ratings. It’s truly a relief.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 1 (Hopefully, this will be different)

Doing NaNoWriMo again. Taking the rebel path, writing essays instead of a novel or memoir other long-form narrative. Some folks are writing poems just like the PAD contest over at Writers Digest. I think I even saw some folks planning on writing plays this month. I should do that, but I’m committed to this idea of writing a book. Perhaps next month.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve started, but I’ve completed the novel once. That year, I “blogged” the novel by posting it piece by piece on my then-website. Since I didn’t give much thought about whether I was participating until about 9:30 last night, I haven’t thought about whether I’d post the book-in-progress here.

Doing NaBloPoMo, too, which is why this post is showing up when I also need to be average 1,666 words per day to finish the “main” project. I figured, if anything, that I owed a blog post per day, I’d have to sit down and make sure I wrote enough words to reach 50,000 by the end of the month for the “main” project.

This year, I have a huge advantage that I didn’t have in previous years — I have a desk. An honest-to-God desk where I do nothing but writing. In previous years, I’d fire up my laptop at 12:00 A.M. and get to it. But I’d be sitting at the dining room table or on the sofa with my laptop on my lap desk.

I once read there’s some psychological advantage to having a dedicated writing space. That when you’re in your dining room, your mind goes into the space of it being time to eat. That when you’re sitting on your sofa, your mind gets ready to relax. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not, but I do know that for me, it was hard to be productive sitting on the sofa. The dining room table wasn’t comfortable aside from writing my morning pages.

Now that I have a dedicated desk and a comfortable office chair, I don’t have environment as an excuse to not make a go of NaNoWriMo and complete. I want to win this year. And even if I don’t finish a complete, more or less, unified work, I’ll have much material to send out to places. Having fewer and fewer excuses is a good thing. And if there’s anything I want to change from my previous attempts, it’s that. I don’t want excuses and other BS to stop me from making what will hopefully be, some big gains this November.

I did start last night, but not at 12:00. I started around 12:25, when I felt like I’d have enough energy to write at least half of the words I needed for the day. And after I got done watching a bunch of YouTube videos.

I got there by 1:45. I’m going to write the last 800 or so, in an essay I’m liking so far, in the next couple of hours after I write this.

One day almost down.

(Update: 2418 words)

Dispatch from Home

I sit in a plastic chair on the porch.

A sweet scent. Maybe sausage on a grill. Beef. I smell fries and my mind tricks me into believing I can also smell the gravy about to be doused over them. The whole concoction will go into a box, fried wings in the next. There’s now a new carryout where the old banquet hall used to be. The Chinese food store is still there. I have my stories. About the store and gravy fries and cheese fries and wings and chicken boxes. Salt, pepper, and ketchup on my wings and fries.

Ka-joom. Clack-a-lack.

A trailer banging, tripped by the imperfections in the asphalt. The truck’s motor growls, yanking the still reverberating metal box up the road. And then another, probably headed South this time, maybe to Washington or somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina, maybe even to Florida or even somewhere out West. The road jabs and pitches these hulks all day and night. They always have, same as the #36 bus that stops across the street. The cars whose drivers, free of Downtown’s one-way-street grid, take liberty to fly towards the County line, a few corners away.

There’s a soul food store at the gas station, now.

Someone once shot at that gas station from the block, then ran. Altogether both stupid and smart.

Kids run down the block. There’s a fight at the bus stop. I run in, open the back door and it’s spilled all the way across the parking lot. The alley between the shopping center and the apartments keeps the kids in their khakis and powder blue and navy blue uniforms from dribbling over to the #44 stop.

In my day, fights transferred from line to line, line to neighborhood, line to block. I even got myself caught up in one once. But there was never more than that. We didn’t wear uniforms, either.

As soon as it heated up, it died out. When the cheering stopped, I knew.

Any out-of-towners driving by, perhaps hoping for a Wire-esque performance, complete with blood and the wailing of an ambulance and another brown-skinned mother, would have gone home disappointed. The police didn’t even show up. At night, they drive through the parking lot with lights flashing to show they’re there. Perhaps they want to own the night and have ceded the day to the kids.

The two boys at the corner watch excitedly for a moment, then as they probably have more than once, leave.

They’ve replaced me.

The hide and seek places — the bushes and trees I’d try to hide my husky frame behind; the knoll on the side of the apartments around the corner where we played minimally organized football and baseball games, against other neighborhoods and each other, where we coached ourselves and each other, patted ourselves and each other on the back; the blocks in the street where we used to jump and bounce balls and throw water balloons, all belong to these kids now. They own the bus stop and the Chinese store.

This is their time.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever be back here. Not to live. Visit? For sure.

I had finally found some peace with used to being from here, with someone else’s son or daughter taking the story over. I’d gone on to adventures elsewhere. Made some plays. Toured Harlem on foot. Driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I’m not settled, yet. I’m still learning the new, like the Qdoba on York Road, the building on 33rd Street that replaced the frat house with the shoe tree in front; remembering the old like the Giant on York Road, how to get to White Marsh. Harry Little’s sub shop became a frozen yogurt store and now it’s about to become a juice bar.

It’s often slow going like when I first went to Jersey, but I learned it. Learned in some ways to love it.

Still, I don’t know if I can ever stake the same claim I had before. How much of this city, this area, can be mine like it was. While I’m figuring it out, I’ll watch the trucks from the porch. Eat a few coddies. This city made me who I was, but being away, letting go, helped make me who I am now.