The Big Stupid Smile

photo by Rhett Maxwell
photo by Rhett Maxwell

It’s interesting to note how people react to the idea of me writing a novel.

I don’t talk about my writing unless someone asks, and then, my answer is often colored by what I think that person wants to hear.

If the individual is a friend who’s a writer, reader, or an artist of any kind (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a professional artist, but have a love for creativity), I willingly talk, share, and listen for hours. And when this friend and I part, I inevitably feel changed – deepened – by my friend’s personal pursuit for a meaningful existence.

I also have acquaintances who almost always begin a conversation with, “How’s the book coming?” I think they mean well, but I’m learning that those folks are really just using the topic of the book as a conversation opener, much like talking about that day’s weather or how bad construction is on Pima Road. The novel is what I’m identified with, which, as long as I restrict my answer to something like, “Good,” or “Fine,” is kind of nice.

Then, there’s the person who’s a Challenger.

I met one of my Challengers the other day as I walked the dogs. She’s a woman I’ve known for a few years. When I’d last seen her during the holidays, I’d mentioned that I’d finished the first draft of the novel.

“How’s the book coming?” she now asked as I stood there with the dogs.

“Fine,” I replied. “I’m now moving forward, inch by inch, on revisions.”

She looked at me with a stupefied expression on her face. She was almost angry.

“What do you mean? Wasn’t the first time good enough?

There was a time, not so long ago, when her remark would have cut through to the bone. Anxiety would have tightened its steely grip around my heart. I would have felt extremely guilty for not having achieved more, and for not having done it perfectly the first time around.

Instead, what I experienced was a deep sense of joy within myself. I began to smile, and I couldn’t stop. It was a smile so big and so stupid that I fought the urge to jump up and down and point it out to her.

I tried to explain my process by creating an analogy to painting, where the first draft is a sketch, and revisions are where things like color, texture, and emotion are added. It is, I said, all about depth of story.

I don’t think she understood a single thing I said, but that’s okay. It’s not my job to convert her, or teach her, or persuade her to think in any other way. Right now, my job is to go deeper within myself and take all the time I need, to tell my story the best way I know how, without forgetting to take joy from every minute of creating.

Each day, I live more and more for the big, stupid smile.

Snapshots: The Greatest Show On Earth

photo by Jason Hargrove

Good morning, Mirror!

It’s a beautiful day and WE are beautiful!

Look at those blue, blue eyes, that American Beauty nose.


We are going to make it the best day ever!

We are EXTRA-ordinary and we do EXTRA-ordinary things!

Here are our Post-Its for today, Mirror, which I wrote last night and am sticking here as reminders because we both know if I don’t write them down before going to sleep, my mind just buzzes and buzzes with everything I need to do and everything I THINK I need to do, which includes making a LIST of to-dos, which I did and can already cross several things off before I’ve even put on my makeup, like, empty Mr. Whisker’s litter box (check!) and call pharmacy to renew prescription (check!).

(New Post-It: Add “Xanax” to tonight’s bedtime thankful list, because GRATITUDE.)

Okay, Mirror, let’s remember to pick up bagels for Ann Marie’s birthday surprise at the office (is that a zit on my chin?) and whatever you do, do NOT get poppy seed. Ann Marie did nothing but bitch after Jason’s birthday surprise last month about finding poppy seeds stuck in her teeth for two days afterward. She always HAS to have something to be negative about, like last week when we rode with her to the bank. She pointed at the building and said, “You know, I hate that color of brick.” YEESH.

(Add “Glad I’m not Ann Marie” underneath “Xanax” on thankful list…)

Today, we MUST get that email out to the announcer for the Broadway channel on satellite radio to suggest (once again!) that they really need to be playing more Gershwin. Also, demand that they increase their Sondheim rotation. Not NEARLY enough Porgy or Sweeney, as far as we’re concerned.

That reminds me… we need to find a pianist for this Saturday at the Best Western lobby bar, so we can make sure our rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me” is in perfect form when our blind date walks through the door. (Create new Post-It!)

Before I forget, Mirror (am I imagining things, or is my right boob sagging lower than my left?): Don’t forget to pull together the contracts for Mr. Berenson so he can take them (once again!) to Legal for review. As if you and I haven’t already had it UP TO HERE with attorneys (and boyfriends!) this month, thanks to Mr. I’m-Banging-Chloe-The-Barista, and the unfortunate incident that followed with the bagel and venti Americano.

(New Post-It: Do web search for Liebeck vs. McDonalds, to give to lawyer. Look up how hot coffee has to actually be to qualify as “scalding,” especially in pelvic region.)

Finally, be sure to pick up some flowers and a package of Hello Kitty stickers for Mr. Lubovitch’s cast, even though we’re really NOT sorry we hit him with our car because, for God’s sake, how can we be expected to see a pedestrian in our rearview mirror when we’re busy backing out of our parking spot AND singing along to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Hey, come to think of it, maybe we can practice “Someone To Watch Over Me” on Mr. Lubovitch. He’d probably appreciate a bit of entertainment in his hospital room, being stuck in traction and all.

(New Post-It: Buy batteries for boombox; record pianist playing accompaniment for use in hospital karaoke.)

Yes, Mirror, this is going to be the best day ever!

Gorgeous, that’s what we are!

What’s NOT to love? MMMWAH!

Curtain up! Light the lights!

We’re ready for our close-up!


© Michele Miller Nelson 2014

Snapshots: The Chairs

Every night since the Dream came to visit, the old man has been helping the children get ready.

He began by painting the chairs the colors of a summertime carnival, arranging them in a circle around the trunk of the sycamore tree.

After that, the children began to play.


He has watched through the broken window of the garage as neighborhood parents gather each evening at the edge of the front yard, discussing things like mortgage rates and food allergies while their children play tag around the chairs or blindfold each other in a game they call Guess the Color.

The parents pay no attention, but the old man knows why the children never fail to guess the correct color of their particular chair: One night, after the families had gone, he sat in a purple chair and the unmistakable flavor of grape lingered on his tongue for an hour.

A few nights ago, he placed red plastic party cups upside-down on the metal seats of the chairs.

After that, the children began to listen.

They walk around the inside of the circle, pressing their ears to the bottom of each cup. As the parents stand around complaining to each other about taxes and road construction, the children run over to them, presenting dazzling, solemn pronouncements of what they’ve heard.

Bees, buzzing inside a can.

Marching bands, fighting with each other.

Dinosaurs, roaring for their babies.

The parents pay little mind. But the old man knows it won’t be long now, because the children are describing the vision that came to him in the Dream.

The ships will appear as a humming hive of ancient galleons, silver and brilliant against the sun. They will float in a dead calm over the city, blasting their brassy, dissonant chords each morning at daybreak.

And then, the children will be gone.

It makes the old man a little sad to know that the parents will pound on his door, seeking their children, searching for answers.

He, too, will be gone but vows to do the best he can for them.

He will leave the lone, pink chair under the sycamore tree so that the parents can whisper into its red cup and listen for a reply.

If they are lucky, he thinks, if they have even the smallest drop of imagination left in their dried-up souls, their ears may catch the slightest shimmer of their children’s laughter wafting down from above.


© Michele Miller Nelson 2014

Making The Right Choice

I recently watched Jon Stewart’s interview with Oscar Isaac, the star of Inside Llweyn Davis.

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Stewart asked Isaac what it is that makes up the genius of the Coen Brothers, and I loved his answer:

“Their instincts always take them to the choice with the most history in it.”

Take the choice with the most history in it. This could be a mantra for writing. If you focused on the writing of each sentence, each paragraph, with this in mind, you’d be well on your way to writing a compelling story of great depth and detail.