Friday, August 02, 2013

Rising to the Occasion

I'm afraid I'm now down on my word count because I only managed about 300 words yesterday, I was so drained and distracted after that funeral. My roommate my freshman year in college was a voice major, and I used to roll my eyes when she'd go on about how much more difficult that was than playing an instrument because your body was your instrument, so anything affecting you would affect your performance. Now, though, I kind of understand because my writing tools are my mind and my emotions, and when those are out of whack, even if I push myself to keep going, the outcome isn't good. As I learned when I soldiered on through the second half of the first draft of Damsel Under Stress after the death of a close friend. It took every trick I could think of to make myself write that book. Then my agent read the draft and was like, "Um, maybe you should re-think some of this." When I re-read it, it was utterly foreign to me. I had no idea where most of that came from and hadn't realized what a bad place I was in at that time until I was out of it and looking back. I had to just about completely rewrite the book. I think I can still see the dividing line of before/after in that book. There's a tonal shift I never managed to erase.

As a result, I didn't force myself to write when I realized what was happening yesterday. It turned out that I had a case of mistaken identity for one of the kids whose dad died. The boy I've worked with wasn't the son in this family, after all. He has the same first name, he took the girl's place helping with choir, and I could swear I've seen her playing "big sister" to him and him being around this mom, but that's the problem with adults who take the "it takes a village to raise a child" thing seriously and kids who run in a pack and act like one big family. It makes it hard to figure out who goes with whom. The boy in this family was actually older (late teens, I think), and I don't think I know him.

I realized during this funeral that not only does this town have an alarming death rate among teens, but it also has a relatively alarming death rate among men young enough to still have children at home. I've sung for way too many of those funerals, but I've noticed something interesting in doing so. It's been a way to see "coming of age" in action. You see the moment when a child becomes an adult, sometimes far earlier than any child should have to. In this case, the mom seemed utterly shellshocked. I can only imagine what she's going through, with not only grief but logistical and financial issues to deal with and then being on her own with three kids. But the older kids seemed to recognize this, and instead of them seeking comfort from their mom, they were the ones looking after her. The oldest boy seemed to have already stepped into the "dad" role and was not only looking after his mom but was comforting the younger siblings and holding them all together. And then he gave the eulogy, very calmly and eloquently. It was like someone had flipped the boy/man switch. You hate to see that happen to a real person because it means going through something awful (though I love seeing it happen to fictional characters), but at the same time it's a thing of beauty when someone has the strength to rise to an occasion like that. I generally try to avoid getting too emotional at these things because up in the choir loft I can be seen by everyone, and since I usually didn't actually know the deceased, me crying makes me feel like I'm being a drama queen and making it about me. This time, though, I was facing the family, and when that little girl's face crumpled up with tears, I lost it completely (okay, so she's going into high school, but I've known her since she was 11, so she's still a little girl to me).

I stopped by Sprouts on the way home because I did need to get some produce but also because that's where the dark chocolate-covered raisins live, and that was kind of urgent. Then I gave up on focusing and writing and spent the evening watching my recording of Blast Vegas, the movie they showed the week after the Sharknado frenzy. And, you know, I liked it better than Sharknado. Sharknado was just plain an all-around bad movie. No matter how high the production values, no matter how good the cast, it would be what it was. This one was borderline decent. With a couple more revision passes on the script and a production budget bigger than whatever the producer found between his sofa cushions, it might have made a "real" movie.

Basically, it's spring break, and all the frat boys and sorority girls are hitting Vegas for some serious party time. Among the frat boys is Malcolm in the Middle, the nerdy guy who only got into the fraternity because his dad used to be president and who was only included in this trip to play designated driver. Among the sorority girls is a Felicia Day clone Manic Nerdy Dream Girl, the cousin of one of the sorority girls who's only on the trip because sorority girl's dad wouldn't pay for the trip unless the cousin went along. The nerds meet and are smitten, and there's drunken debauchery among the others that has me asking the TV for the disaster to hit, already. Apparently the frat boys hear me because they come across an exhibit of artifacts at their Egyptian-themed casino and drunkenly think it would be a fun prank to take the sword from the display. That triggers an ancient Pharaoh's curse so that the city comes under attack by a giant sandstorm with a sand tornado taking the shape of a cobra (Cobrado? They may have missed an opportunity with the title here) that turns Vegas into a postapocalyptic wasteland and targets all the annoying people for death. Already, this has the makings for Best Movie Ever. Fortunately, Manic Nerdy Dream Girl is into Egyptian mythology (as nerd girls tend to be) and knows the legend of the sword and what to do, and just as fortunately, the casino tendency to collect stuff to give themselves cultural legitimacy means that everything they need to break the curse can be found in Vegas. So Manic Nerdy Dream Girl and Malcolm in the Middle end up on a casino scavenger hunt throughout Vegas, in this middle of Cobrado, guided by veteran lounge singer Barry Bostwick and a few frat boys and sorority girls (redshirts/cannon fodder) to get the stuff they need to break the curse and save what's left of the city.

And, you know, they probably had a lot more fun in Vegas than I ever have. I'll trade you the giant cobra sandstorm for a week working Comdex, across the aisle from the Motorola booth, whose gimmick was "The Device Girls" (it was 1999 and the Spice Girls were still a thing) who sang every half hour about Motorola products to the tune of something that sounded enough like the Spice Girls that you knew what it was supposed to be, but probably different enough to avoid paying royalties. Then after a day on my feet, running around after reporters, trying to grab people to do interviews, and making sure that someone in authority knew that Bill Gates was in our booth playing with our stuff, all while listening to the Device Girls tell us what gizmos they really, really wanted, I got to wait in line an hour to get on a shuttle bus back to my hotel. Fighting off the giant cobra sandstorm would have been a welcome break, especially if it targeted the Device Girls (actually, when they were off-duty they turned out to be very nice girls who were even sicker of that routine than we were).

I think that movie put me back on kilter, so I hope to make up some of the productivity loss today, and if I write even a bit on the days I wasn't planning to write, I'll be back on track. Tonight, though, I'm going out for a friend's birthday and eating German food. Then I'm taking a few days off, so I may not resume blogging until next Wednesday.

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