Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar

Yahoo! Avatars

No, not THAT one.

Though we did see the movie the other night and I get why everyone is raving. The story is stirring as any great fable should be. But the visual imagery is what gets you, sweeps you up and rolls you over. All night phosphorescent blue giants strode through my dreams and I find myself with a slight jones to see them again.

Pandora seduced us all.

I think I'm spoiling nothing here, but if you're one who wants to know nothing about a movie before you see it, stop reading now. The reason why it's called "Avatar" is because humans have their consciousness downloaded to an empty alien body, so they can move around on the alien planet and mingle with them as nearly the same creature.

I remember the first time I encountered this particular use of the word "avatar." It was when Yahoo Instant Messenger first came on big. I use Yahoo IM extensively. My work team is scattered all over the country. We use Yahoo IM as a way of shouting over the cubicle wall, as it were. I also use it to communicate with friends family. From early on, Yahoo allowed you to design an "avatar," an online representation of yourself, which you could make accurate or not, as you chose.

Okay, okay -- for all you gamers out there. I know the usage came from that first. I just had no experience with it.

The thing is, "avatar" is a Sanskrit word that specifically refers to the descent of a deity to earth in an incarnate form. It's from Hindu mythology, but really every mythology and religion has a form of this concept. Even Jesus Christ is an example of this: god made into man.

So, you can see why this makes me squirm a bit.

Sure, the analogy is a good one. A human from a spaceship descends into an alien body and uses it like a puppet. A gamer manipulates her online character, controls her destiny.

Godlike, indeed.

People make fun of the Mormons for this kind of thinking. That they, okay, the men, get a whole planet to be god of when they die. To populate with their wives and children. Sounds like a little much to some.

There's an idea that when god "made man in his image" that this is a way of conveying that we all have a piece of divinity in us. Christ, Prana, what have you. This is what raises us up from the animal. That this is what we must strive to nuture and bring to full flower. Some think of it as trying to reach Enlightenment, Nirvana, to become one with god.

Of course, what no one can agree on is how to get there.

I'm thinking though, that taking on godlike qualities can get one in trouble. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

So even as I fantasize about walking a world like Pandora, with a beautiful blue Amazonian body, I can help thinking about the thoughtful sequel. In which we discover we're not gods, after all.

Which is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Joyous Hogmanay

I'm working this week.

Which is significant, because many of you are not and I'm beginning to feel like it's against nature to be working now.

And no, it's not a Christian thing. It's a pagan thing, really.

When we visited Scotland a few years ago, we discovered the joy of hogmanay. We left the US on Christmas day and arrived on the morning after in Scotland. Boxing Day in the UK. Because we'd entered the zone that is Hogmanay, we discovered that many shops, galleries and what have you, were not open for most of our ten-day visit. Because Scotland pretty much shuts down business and parties through the dark days of the turning of the year.

"It's Hogmanay," people would say with a shrug, then offer us another drink.

When I asked what it meant, people would inevitably reply "New Year," which was clearly not the case. They used it to mean the whole stretch of time from before Christmas to just after the New Year. And when I pressed them for which languague "hogmanay" came from and how it meant "New Year," they couldn't say.

So I looked it up.


There are many theories about the derivation of the word "Hogmanay". The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was "Hoggo-nott" while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) "hoog min dag" means "great love day". Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was "aguillaneuf" while in Normandy presents given at that time were "hoguignetes". Take your pick! (From the Rampant Scotland website, which is really great.)


What it really means? "The time of year when you don't work, you hang at home and eat and drink a whole bunch." There's an unabashed laziness to Hogmanay in Scotland that becomes joyous.

And more than a little pagan.

We stumbled upon the torchlight parade in Ediborough. Enthusiastic marchers thrust torches into our hands and we walked from Edinborough castle all the way to the Burns monument where they, I kid you not, set fire to wicker effigies of what appeared to be a Viking ship and a bear/dragon. (If you scroll down on the link above, you'll see another pic of the parade, much like ours.) This site at least freely acknowledges that these are pagan festivities, though the Scots we asked tended to fob it off or deny it.

Scotland is dark this time of year. This is sunrise at 9am precisely. If you're looking at, say ruins, you'll want to wrap that up by 3pm or so, or you won't see a damn thing.

Fortunately, there's always a warm and cheerful pub nearby, with someone to hand you a drink and a cheerful urging to just enjoy Hogmanay.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Supplies


I've gone on record as saying I believe that New Year's resolutions are doomed to failure by their very nature.

Occasionally I launch projects in the new year, but I do think the pressure and the expectations make keeping the resolve more difficult. Besides, January often feels like a bad time to start stuff. The holidays are all over, so you feel kind of let down. The light and seasons may be turning around, but it's still a dead time of year, with a ways to go until actual rebirth.

I'm more likely to start -- and stick with -- new projects in the Fall. This is probably because I've spent most of my life either part of, or living in a town shaped by, the academic calendar. I met David in January, which ended up being a very successful project. It might be a good time to start a new book, since there's not much else to do. Otherwise?

For Christmas, David received a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited, which really is a wonderful franchise, and our local store is particularly pleasant. They encouraged David to get one of these jay wreaths, which you fill with peanuts. Jays eat peanuts -- who knew?? Plus it keeps them off the other feeders, so the smaller birds have a shot.

You wouldn't believe the jay party that resulted here. You can see one jay below, waiting on the yucca, while another proudly brandishes his newly acquired peanut. They were returning so quickly, it didn't seem possible that they were taking time to eat them.

They had the entire wreath emptied inside of an hour.

David refilled it and it's partially full still this morning, though they've been working at it. Either they were seriously hungry and now are eating more slowly, or they've realized that the peanut supply is here to stay and they don't have to pack it all off to wherever they put all those peanuts.

That's the trick, I think, to sticking with new projects: finding a way to make them a part of your life, rather than a big New Thing. The way you treat the New Thing is not how you treat a daily habit. I think that's why I'm reluctant to do things like writing challenges or fast drafts or what have you. Every writer has to find a way to make writing a part of her daily life. And by that I don't necessarily mean writing every day, though some swear by it.

It's more like knowing where the peanuts are when you need them.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas



I'm glad it's not just me.

This morning the family left again and tonight I caught up on the interwebs. My favorite blogs? All posted last on December 22. (Of course, my last was December 19, but Sunday is usually my day off and then Monday was crazyish. Then my routine went to hell with all the rest of us unfashionable types who still celebrate Christmas.)

Amusingly enough, even a Jewish blogger I like, who last posted to the 'net a reminder of the things she hates to hear during Christmas, last blogged on December 22.

When I was a little girl, I totally bought the Christmas schtick.

Of course, I also believed in fairies and unicorns and, really, on certain levels, still do. Look, here I am writing novels about them. I believed that Christmas was a magical night. A night of peace an joy. It's a sign of my naivete, perhaps, or just of my blissful upbringing, that I was thoroughly and completely shocked to discover that, not only did not everyone in the world experience peace and joy on Christmas, that even bad things could happen on that day.

And, no, it had nothing to do with Jesus for me. Really.

My Jewish blogger says that it's nonsense to say that Christmas isn't a religious holiday, because only Christians celebrate it.

Full disclosure: Yes, I come from an Irish Catholic family. I consider this part of my racial heritage. I know those ideas shape me. I also know that my ancestry is full of pagan witches who reconfigured their celebrations to fall under the Church's radar. I know what I believe in, my spiritual convictions and my private rituals. I've studied Catholicism. Along with Judaism, Islam, Taoism, many and varied other philosophies, mystical and shamanic practices.

Please: do not tell me what my religion is.

Yes. I celebrate Christmas. Unfashionably, I love Christmas. I'm sorry that so many people feel it's foisted upon them. That it's not their holiday. That it's materialistic, shallow, meaningless, creates unrealizable expectations and grinds down everyone who can't possibly meet some ideal.

I hate that the Christmas season becomes that to anyone.

I suppose, in my idealistic heart, in that place that still has room for unicorns and fairies, that I wish there could be one night that we all celebrate joy and love.

I know -- it sounds stupid.

That's what it is for me. For the days around Christmas, I drop it all. I decorate. Anything that's bright and sparkly is good. I make food for feasting. I buy gifts for the people I love. For me, it's all about finding something special for them. Something to show I know who they are and what they enjoy.

This year, it was all about the table. Laurie and I spotted the concept in Princeton; I took a photo; she sent me some of the basics. The table was truly beautiful.

If I could make it beautiful for everyone, I would.

I know I can't.

All I ask? Just let me love it a little longer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Broken Wings























I have a collection of fairies that hang over my desk.

I like fairies, so some of these I've had for a long time. And I write about them recently, so I've begun to gather more.

One of my favorites is a glass fairy Dave, my stepfather, gave me a couple of years ago. I even used pictures of her on my website.

Before I even got her home from Christmas in Tucson, one of her wings had broken. I couldn't get it glued back on, so I took her to a jeweler and he fixed her.

During the move, though, the same wing came off again. I was able to glue it but, before I got her hung up, it came off again.

Last night I tried again with the gluing. In the process the other wing came off.

Now she's a pitiful flightless creature and I find myself wondering why I keep trying. It comes down to that I like her and I want her the way she's supposed to be.

It's one of my great beefs with the universe, that things break.

Fie on you entropy!

I suppose I've chosen to be one of those who won't go gently into the dark night of entropy. I rage against the breakage, the loss.

And, what happened to all of those little glassblower booths that used to fill the malls?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Art of Keena

Please welcome one of my favorite people, Keena Kincaid, with a little Guest Blog. She has a new book out -- her third! -- maybe too late for Hanukkah, but there's several December gift-giving occasions left!


If you write Romance inevitably you hear: “Why do you write that fluff? It’s all happy endings. You could do better.”

I always laugh it off and say, “Well, I started out writing a murder mystery, but then my hero met the heroine.”

Despite my cheerful reply, though, the implication that writing happy endings somehow requires less effort or less talent grates on me like stop-and-go traffic. I can’t speak for every author, but sometimes finding a HEA that is believable and true to the characters is a huge, exciting challenge.

For example, my current book TIES THAT BIND could just as easily been a tragedy.

The hero, AEDAN ap OWEN, idles at angry, tends to act-out rather than think through his actions, and misuses his magical abilities for his own gain. Each time he fails to think through his actions, the reactions pull him deeper into a quagmire of treason and murder. I wasn’t sure that even I—the author—had the ability to save him.

My heroine, TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, also makes choices that put her on the divide between gain and loss, happiness and heartache.

And it’s this divide—the knowledge that the story could go either way—that makes writing romance such a challenge and so much fun. Because the Happy Ever After has to make sense, it must come from the characters and the plot in a natural, logical way. Otherwise, readers hurl the book against the wall.

The happy ever after in TIES THAT BIND happened because my characters managed to grow and change. The story’s tension is created by mistakes, thoughtless actions and genuine personality differences. It’s not obvious how the conflict will be resolved—and it shouldn’t be.

The tension, conflict and unknown are what make a good book good.

So with each book, I set myself a challenge. Make the conflict deeper, the stakes higher, the HEA more impossible—and then find a way to get my characters there in a natural, logical way that makes everyone happy.


Back of book blurb:
A druid who denies himself nothing desires the only woman who believes magic and love don't mix.

Out of place in the Plantagenet court, minstrel AEDAN ap OWEN misuses his Sidhe gifts for the king's dark business. Sent north to investigate rumors of treason and dispatch the troublemakers, Aedan discovers someone is murdering monks and stealing saints’ relics. And all clues point to Carlisle.

TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, refuses to rekindle her relationship with Aedan. She knows his reputation as a secret stealer—and she has a secret that must be kept. But her resolve falters when her uncle promises her hand to a man she despises and Aedan hounds her steps.

A would-be king uses the stolen relics to amplify his power, wielding it like a weapon. Meeting the traitor's magic with magic will prevent war, but it will also destroy Aedan’s chance to show Tess he has at last mastered the temptation of the ancient wisdom. Can Aedan renounce his magic to win Tess' heart anew or will he choose magic over love?


Excerpt:


“Tess.”
It was a single word, four letters, yet Aedan somehow imbued her name with the importance of a royal decree. He knows words, she reminded herself, quickening her steps. Life in the king's court had no doubt honed to perfection his raw talent for finding the phrase to start a quarrel or arouse passion. By now, he could likely start a war -- or stop one -- with a single syllable.
Chilled by the thought, she turned into a niche in the wall and discovered escape ended at an oak door as wide as she was tall. She fumbled for a latch. Finding only smooth boards beneath her hand, she pressed her palm against the door, prayed it would miraculously open. The steps behind her stopped. She closed her eyes. He had bathed. He smelled of Saracen soap, spicy and exotic, mixed with the brisk, earthy scent of old trees that had clung to her for days after he’d left.
“Tess.”
A tremor ran down her spine. Saints, she still loved the way he said her name. Rather than giving it a shortened, clipped feel like everyone else, he elongated it, adding depth and weight as if it were her true name.
“Tess, look at me.”
Unable to move forward or backward, she pressed her forehead against the door. Go away. Just go away, she prayed, and then hands, warm and steady, settled on her shoulders.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Deck the Halls With... What Exactly?


You know, I'm such a creature of habit.

Perhaps, a believer in ritual. Which sounds ever so much better.

But, I've discovered, just tonight, that part of my blockage on Christmas decoration stems from not knowing where stuff GOES. My friend, amazing author Keena Kincaid, who will be guest blogging here tomorrow, is a gypsy. She forever moves from place to place, so getting out her Christmas decorations becomes a common thread.

For me, I find myself paralyzed that I can't hang the stockings on the kiva. What do I do?? Perhaps if I had less OTHER stuff to do, I'd feel more creative.

What it comes to is, I can't do the decorating by rote.

I can't simply recreate what I've done before and have done. Some of the things just flat out don't match. At least I've made piles now, of what does match and what doesn't.

I know, I know -- it sounds nuts and you wonder why I care.

I can't explain why I care. It has to do with blending. With art. With being part of the landscape and the season and the feeling. I have something in me that wants to become part of a place. That longs to be in harmony, perhaps.

Speaking of which, I've learned that "luminarias" are little bonfires and the candles in bags are "farolitas." If you have the fake-y farolitas, with electricity like we do, they're "electrolitas." Which I feel certain is not a traditional word.

I'm getting there. The poinsettia lights look lovely over the kiva mantle. I've a pile of outside lights in amber and gold, to match the farolitas.

I have an idea for hanging the stockings, too.

Hmm. Is that the stirrings of creativity I feel? Welcome! Welcome and, dare I say, gods bless us, every one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Kennedy Lending Library


Did I mention?

I spent the last couple of weekends finishing going through the moving boxes and bins. Oh yes, I totally mentioned this, in light of my darling man's bin o'bullets.

So, it was really last Sunday, this Saturday and part of this Sunday. That I spent dealing with the garage and all in it. But I've now been through every box and bin, extracted what I wanted, bookshelved the books that need to be out in the world and re-stored the rest.

Thus I restored the deserving to the shelves and re-stored the rest.

Hey, at least I amuse myself.

Why, you ask, was this so important, what with Christmas shopping, decorating, tree-trimming, menu-planning and baking to conduct?

I was tired of empty bookshelves.

It's a whole-house thing. People are coming to stay for Christmas and my house wasn't yet totally together. Right: because my bookshelves were empty.

So I got them all out. Sorted all my books into piles. By priority of love. By author. And I decided who I needed to have out, readily available and who could live in boxes in the garage. Yes, for those of you who like to give me grief about my lists, I'm making a database, with box numbers, for the books in storage. Just a few short, sweet steps away.

See, in the old house, I had a full wall of built-in bookshelves. Plus a bookshelf in my office, one in David's office and one in the basement. The Annex, doncha know. I also kept a literal wooden chest in the dressing room that was my TBR pile. It was my TBR treasure chest.

Did I mention the new house has no storage?

No basement. No attic. Just an oversized two-car garage with shelves. We have one "small" built-in bookshelf and three portable bookshelves we moved, including the annex bookshelf. They absorbed more than I thought.

At a guesstimate, two-thirds of our books are "out." Which isn't bad.

How I chose ended up being like love. Oh yes, I first I tried to be methodical: which books do I regularly reference? Which topics will I be writing about, mulling over, nostagically wanting to revisit in the near future?

And what about the vistor/vanity aspect? I found myself evaluating which books might be on the shelves that would say something about me. Which led to which books might I mention, over dinner, say, that someone would want to borrow?

In the end, as love always does, it came down to what I like having near. I don't care what anyone else might think. Even though I might not re-read Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight series in the near future (make no mistake: I'm now seriously contemplating it), I have it on the shelf. As I have had since I was, oh, twelve, thirteen, something like that. And because I couldn't let any of her other books feel bad, they're all out, too.

Yes, I have everything she's ever written.

Which is also true of my other great loves. A.S. Byatt, Ann Patchett. Orson Scott Card, Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, Margaret Atwood. They all have their space on my limited shelves.

It's a kind of homage, really.

And maybe that's what I realized, in doing this. That the likelihood of my opening and referencing the book has nothing to do with it. I like seeing them there. Just like I like to see the art on the walls, hear the music on the cd player and watch the sun set outside.

It's enough to set my juices humming.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Magic Bunny Ears of Fire


When I saw the contrails light up with sunset fire the other night, I knew then what I would call the blog post for it.

Various things (read: deadlines, phone calls and meetings) conspired to keep me from posting this for a couple of days. But I'd been turning the phrase over in my head. Magic bunny ears of fire. I don't know why. I liked the cadence of it and the image. The whimsy. It entertained me to wind the words around.

This, more than anything else, is the way in which writers are crazy.

When a writer has that far-off fuzzy look? Never ask what she's thinking, because she'll say something like: I'm thinking about the phrase "magic bunny ears of fire." Which I suspect would be a conversation-killer.

Of course, if we're in a sensible frame of mind, we won't answer that way. My standard is something like: oh, I'm just noodling over what I'm going to write on my blog.

Magic bunny ears of fire!

And, in another way that I suspect most writers do, this phrase matched up in my head with a song lyric from They Might Be Giants: Sapphire bullets of pure love.

I'm thinking of a story now, surreal and whimsical, where sapphire bullets of pure love rain through the magic bunny ears of fire.

And THIS, my friends, is why so many of us are incapable of writing to market. Can you imagine pitching this image to an agent or editor?

No no no.

But I might write it anyway.

Otherwise the Magic Bunny Ears of Fire will never leave me alone...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Every Quail Is Sacred


I've been trying to explain social media to people lately.

Yeah, you laugh.

And you should, because I am more often the luddite than the gal in the know. And I'm so not the generation of social media -- though I notice that mine, the Generation Jones, if you will, has cheerfully glommed onto the concept. Perhaps because we're all so determined not to become technologically obsolete before we absolutely CANNOT keep up any more. After all, we learned computers when you had to do everything in DOS, dammit. The younger people don't know what it was like, creating graphics designating the color for each pixel, uphill, through six feet of snow.

Okay, I'm over it now.

I do, however, go to writing conferences where they talk about online marketing. And I go to those sessions, because I'm hopeful of one day having a new book to market. And do a better job of it this time. Though, granted, I used the tools I had at the time.

So, folks in the generations before mine, the Boomers and the Silents, (They all want to be Silent Generation now, have you noticed? No one wants to be a Boomer.) ask me to explain what social media is.

I tell them, it's about creating networks of people, primarily online, and you share information about the things you like and use. And they say, oh, advertising and I say, no, because this isn't controlled and it isn't full of tricks. It's about honest communication. Stuff you happen to buy is just one part of that.

They don't get it.

I'm probably not explaining it well.

Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers (for the record, she does not pay me to say that; she barely knows I exist), does a better job of explaining it, though I can't find the exact post I'm thinking of. She says the younger folks, the Ys, don't even think about this. It's just how they are.

What I suspect is, everyone heard in the early days of social marketing how people were paid to talk to their friends about products. Doing the Oh! I'll have a Beerweiser! I lurv the Beerweiser, don't you? Maybe this still goes on and I just don't know about it.

Of course, we all thought this was really icky. Like stealth advertising.

But the thing is, we all do this all the time anyway; we're just not paid to do it. Which makes it honest. My aunt says she wants to pick my brain on MP3 players -- I'll tell what kind I bought and why. My mom asks which brand of vitamins is the most trustworthy; David has researched it and we can tell her. They don't know it, but it's social media.

All of this comes to mind because on yesterday's post, I mentioned that my internet was slow and carelessly cast blame on either Qwest or Google. (Relax Qwest social media team -- you already contacted me!) And, as you can see from my parenthetical comment, someone from the Qwest social media team commented on my blog post offering to check my internet line for problems.

Totally cracked me up.

And then I thought, very cool of them, that they have a team that picks up on mentions of their services and responds. How smart of them to pay attention to honest, if flip, assessments of their service.

I took them up on the offer, too. The 'net has been slow at our abode lately. I would love for them to fix it. I like Qwest's service either way and I don't mind saying so. No, they don't pay me either.

What's more interesting to me? Both my mom and aunt reacted to the comment from Qwest as a corporate intrusion. A Big Brotherish "they're watching you" kind of thing. My mom even said to me (on Yahoo IM, if we're quoting brands) "Now even I have to watch what I tell you. God only knows who is listening!"

I say, hey, I threw myself, my words and opinions out there. I made my thoughts accessible to the web crawlers. They're smart to listen. In fact, I think they'd be fools not to.

The best part of social media is it's FUN. It's like a big party. Those Gen Y kids knew what they were doing when they started MySpacing and Chatting and FaceBooking and we, the grown-ups, all thought they were nuts.

David asked me how the photo of our Christmas quail figured into my theme tonight and I said it hadn't come together yet. But you know, if the quail had a way to post "found a great feeder tonight -- they've got the BEST seed!" -- wouldn't they do it, too?

Hell, maybe they do!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Puny, Inexhaustible Voices


I have a thing about acceptance speeches from the literature laureates.

Okay, granted, I have a thing about a lot of things. Sue me.

And don't blame me for fantasizing about what my own laureate speech would be. We all have our little daydreams, right? Never mind that genre isn't the way to go, if one wants enduring awards.

In fact, I have a little faux-scroll in my writing studio of William Faulkner's acceptance speech. (Okay, I used to have it up, then, when we moved, it seemed to garpy to put up again, but now I'm reconsidering. Not the least of which because I've now had to Google it, so I can share it with you, and the interwebs are running slow and cobwebby just now.Google is apparently afflicted by blizzards. Or Qwest is. We'll never know.)

Minutes and minutes later -- oh, the lack of instant gratification! -- here is the bit I wanted to share:


It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
I know, it's ironic this means so much to me. Words from a man who would undoubtedly not include womens fiction, speculative fiction or sex/magic fiction as emblematic of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.

And yet, aren't these the traditional female qualities?

Faulkner is all about the man. That was his era. We can forgive him and understand that women were meant to be included in this umbrella term.

We were. Meant to be. Right?

Okay, well, this really started with the speech from 2009's Nobel Prize Winner for Litachur: Herta Mueller. What she said that struck me:


Can we say that it is precisely the smallest objects—be they trumpets,
accordions, or handkerchiefs—which connect the most disparate things in life?
That the objects are in orbit and that their deviations reveal a pattern of
repetition—a vicious circle, or what we call in German a devil's circle. We can
believe this, but not say it. Still, what can't be said can be written. Because
writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.
I feel like she's speaking to me. To my small objects.

There's this long, old debate about the things men write about versus what women write about. You can see it here, though you can blame it on era, if you like. The last worthless rock on the last red and dying evening compared to the handkerchief one's mother mentions.

I would argue it's not a matter of scale so much as a matter of perspective.

In the end, writing is, indeed, a silent act. That's a profound thing, since it's an echo of speech. It's interesting to me that both laureates, sixty years removed, with gulfs of gender and culture between them, focus on voice.

Which, for those paying attention at home, is a spoken thing.

Sometimes I wonder.

Maybe it's not what we have to say, so much as how we say it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Simple Pleasures

I think it was Alexandra Sokoloff who said in a writing workshop "if you're not writing down your dreams, you're working way too hard."

If someone knows this to be true or untrue, please let me know. That she's the one who said it, not whether writing down your dreams saves work. Or, actually, you can tell me that, too. At any rate, it seems I heard this third- or fourth-hand, but I liked it, so it stuck.

Many of my dreams have been written down, in various fragments, waiting to be stories. Obsidian started from a dream. From a series of dreams, really. I had another good one the other night and wrote several pages about it. Could be fun to see where it goes.

I have disturbing dreams from time to time, also. Rarely full-fledged nightmares, but things that prey on me.

I dreamed one the other night. That David's mother told me I was a bad influence. She asked me to leave their house in the middle of the night. I was heartbroken, but I wasn't surprised. I knew how she felt already.

Isabel goes outside, despite the snow.

She loves to crouch behind the plants and watch the quail feed. Once they collect, she springs into their feathery cluster, sending shooting stars of birds in all directions. It's her favorite thing to do, even though she never catches any.

Frankly, I think she doesn't try very hard. They're big birds, after all. She just loves the game. Snow collecting on her fur isn't enough to ruin her fun.

When she gets cold and damp enough, she comes back in and curls up near where I'm working to snooze. If I get up, she takes possession of my desk chair, the best place to be.

And when she sleeps, she dreams of catching quail.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

True Love


"Well, Sundance, at least we have enough ammo to hold off the Bolivian Army."

This is what I was planning to say to David when I came back into the house after organizing the garage. I had the words all picked out, amused myself terribly as I worked, but then I couldn't quite tease him about it.

Contrary to some opinion, I do hold my tongue now and then.

However, I did tell David that I thought he was the worst packer on the face of the Earth. This is after I suggested throwing his old suitcase into the BB/BS donation pile for tomorrow morning, and he said there was stuff in it and I said, no, I checked and PUT AWAY the collection of BULLETS, CARTRIDGES, NAILS and SCREWS.

I kid you not. The suitcase was full of this stuff.

He says, "I had no choice about that."

Which makes me laugh, because he totally means it. He means that, faced with drawers of random hardware condiments and ammunition, on a short timeline -- and, oh my god, our timeline was short -- that throwing a chunk of it into his broken old suitcase would seem inevitable.

In a month, we'll have been together for 19 years. So, this is all stuff I know about him. One of my first published essays was called "Bullets," and was about dating a man who had shotgun cartridges rolling around in his truck.

Of course, even though he doesn't hunt anymore, we have plenty of ammo.

Which I packed away, in my organized fashion, into the plastic bin labelled "hunting supplies." If/when he asks me where it all is, I can tell him. Because, you know, he will ask. Though I must grant that he remembered which broken suitcase he'd stowed it in. And I'm pretty sure that was late on the last Thursday, just before we closed the truck and left the house forever. Right after I asked him if he'd packed the stuff in his drawers in the basement. An ingenuous question on my part, because I knew perfectly well he hadn't.

Which is why he had no choice and why I shouldn't be surprised to find it.

All I can say is, if we move to Bolivia?

We're taking nothing and starting fresh.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Salute to Healthy Living!

I made chocolate-chip cookies tonight.

Which is totally out of character.

Were I a character in a novel, some reader would tag me immediately and say, no, she's into into low-fat diet, exercise and healthy living -- it's totally unrealistic for her to suddenly bake chocolate-chip cookies. Even if it was just a half-recipe, from the one her friend read her over the phone in 9th grade, because they liked the Nestle recipe best and she didn't have Nestle-brand chips.

They'd put it down to sloppy writing. Bad characterization.

Because, in many ways, characters in books are trimmed down to a few facets. So there's no room for change that's not relevant to the plot. My 9th-grade sweet-tooth self can't play into healthy-living modern-day character. Not without complex layers.

Including layers of fat.

Which is why I no longer do things like baking cookies. But, one friend, who shall remain nameless but who David has named an evil influence, baked chocolate-chip cookies last night and I've been jonesing for them ever since. I'ma slave to peer pressure. Except most of the time. More of those layers.

So I set out the butter to soften, just in case. Sometimes it helps, to see the stick of butter and imagine that much more on my ass. Which is a direct proportion for the over-40 woman, if you didn't know.

(As an aside, I recently learned that the woman in her 40s should have an orgasm at least every 16 days to be healthy and the 6os woman every 30 days -- I don't know about you, but I have that aspect of healthy living So, SO handled!)

I digress. To continue the story, David spotted the butter, I used to bake all the time, he knows what it means. I say I was thinking of making... but we don't need ... and he interrupts me with the mmmmmm noise.

Made it a done deal.

After all, who loves living with Healthy Living Woman? (Except for the orgasm part, natch.)

So, it's cold tonight. There's a fire in the fireplace and wine in my glass.

And warm chocolate-chip cookies.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moonset at Sunrise


The moon has been so bright the last few nights that it shines in our west-facing bedroom like a spotlight.

Every night, the moon rises one hour later. So the time the moon shines in our window has gotten progressively later. The last few nights, we've awakened when the moon hit the window at just after midnight, then 1:30 and so on. Last night I woke up at 3:45 and got up to pee, which is fairly usual for me. When I came back to bed, David was sitting on the side of the bed, which is very unusual. He gave me a bright-eyed look and said "time to get up?"

Um no, I told him. I realized the room was so bright from the moon it could look like sunrise. It's not even four o'clock yet.

Oh good, he says, lays down and promptly goes back to sleep. If he was ever really awake at all.

I was awake for a while, watching the mooon shine in. I inherited the family gene for fretting in the middle of the night. Fortunately I don't do it often, or for very long.

Having the moon there comforted me.

When we got up to the alarm call at six, the moon still hung there, just setting as the sun rose.

Soon it was gone and the day belonged entirely to the sun.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pearls Before Swine


So. The news from the agent isn't good.

It's sad. Not so terrible. But heartfelt and sad.

Dear Jeffe,

Well, this is an unpleasant letter to write. I really do feel that OBSIDIAN is hugely improved with your revisions. You've done an enormous amount of work, and I felt that, especially with the ending, the changes were dramatically clear. However, I still have significant reservations about the manuscript, and I honestly don't know if they can be addressed in yet another edit. Some of this just has to do with your natural way of telling a story, the way that it feels right for you to be telling it. The prose problems that I had in the draft of last spring have persisted. It's your writing style, and though I know you worked hard on nailing down the nuanced edits I had suggested, you ultimately need to be the writer that you ARE. And who am I to change that in you? Unfortunately, agents tend to have that effect and it's not always a good thing, certainly isn't a fair thing. The fact is that we're just not connecting as reader and writer, you and I, and it's not something you can change any further from here, I think. Objectively, I can tell you that the manuscript is 200% better now with your revisions-- you haven't wasted time, and I think you can agree with me there. Do you feel that it's greatly improved? I do believe that. But I'm sorry, I don't feel confident enough to offer you representation. I don't personally connect to it enough to think I could sell it effectively. I need that deep passion before I take something on. I do hope that you find it in another agent, and I hope that if and when our paths cross in the future, I will be able to congratulate you on landing a terrific agent
elsewhere.

Yeah, I wept a few tears. And I think I'm over it. She's right: I believe the book is MUCH better and that I likely can't change my prose style, even if I wanted to.

There it is.

So, Allison is all about me switching to the sci fi/fantasy agents instead of the romancey ones. The great irony will be that she's signed (pretty much) with a quintessential paranormal romance agent and she doesn't really read romance. She digs that my book is full-on fantasy (with big dollops of sex). At least she says so, because she's sweet to me. ;-)

I threw Pearl on here, in tribute to that side of me. That I was the sci fi/fantasy girl from way back. The girl who read Dragonflight long before she read Indigo Nights.

Can I help it that I long for Indigo Dragon Nights?

Pearl, for those who don't know (which is a lot of people) is my first pubbed speculative fiction story. From Aeon Magazine, Spring 2008. I loved the image they came up with for the story. I like her wistfulness, the hope for something more than her world currently holds. It's very her.

And yes, it's very sci fi -- with great dollops of sex.

December 1. Never a lucky day for me, the first of the month. Or rather, it's a day of change.

Which also means opportunity, right?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Such a Lonely Word

People talk a lot about honesty and wanting it.

I'm persuaded to think that they're lying about this.

Perhaps they lie only to themselves and, since that's as human as pretending that alcohol has no calories, it's commonplace. Oh wait. That's the same thing.

At any rate, a friend of mine from long ago posted on Facebook that a girl he liked who said she "wasn't dating" turned out just not to be dating him. He lamented that he hadn't learned this line in 40 years. I attempted to defend my gender saying that we don't want to hurt a guy's feelings with the honest answer, which could be "ick." Another commenter said he'd want the honest "ick" so he could learn what to improve on.

The thing is, I think he got the honest "ick" to begin with and didn't want to hear it.

There's "ick" on many levels in life, from the color of a shirt, to the taste of avocados, to your best friend's new boyfriend. And often there's absolutely no reason for it. Maybe you got sick on bad avocadoes once, maybe it's just a texture thing. Maybe you secretly think it makes you interesting not to eat avocadoes, gallantly passing on the tableside guacamole with a wry smile.

I'm not sure there really is an honest reason for rejection.

Writers lament that agents and editors don't give good reasons for rejections. There's the nearly universal "full client list," which is really not far off the "I'm not dating right now" response. If the perfect manuscript came along, of course there would be room. More often you get the "not for me," which is the nicest way they've found for saying "ick." Just I don't like avocadoes ick, not I wouldn't rep you if you were the last author on the planet ick.

One hopes, anyway.

That's the beauty of a little fudging, a gentle dishonesty: you don't have to elucidate the level of ick. Believe me, I've been rejected, too, both as a writer and as a female. The honesty of some of those male rejections left me bruised for years. I didn't need to know how deep the ick ran.

Because, in the end, it didn't matter. "Not for me" is really the most honest explanation there is.

(And no, I haven't heard back from the agent yet. Here I am, sitting by the phone, hoping she meant it when she said she'd call...)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks for All the Fish


I had this vague Idea that I would write a Thanksgiving post.

I mean, I didn't do the whole Facebook thing of daily posting what I was thankful for, because, hey I have a blog and would write all about that. In my own time.

Which turns out to be days later.

I did post that I was considering just reverting to childhood at my mother's house, which would consist of lying about reading and generally being a parasite.

The beauty of the adult version of this is, you get to drink beer, too!

So, yes, this is what happened to my Thanksgiving post. I was sitting in the sun on the patio, drinking beer that my wonderful Stepfather Dave stocked in his special Corona cooler, reading and being a parasite. Here is my list of thankfuls for that:

To my mom, for making sure I got to relax;
To Dave, for being a great host and for putting up with HER side of the family;
To David, my love, for being the kind of guy who loves to sit and read on the patio with me;
To the sun, for shining.

I wasn't a complete loser, but I came quite close. Somewhere around the Monday of Thanksgiving week, between emails and phone calls, it occurred to me that my mother hadn't even mentioned the dinner menu, much less asked me for input.

This is what's known in the business as a Bad Sign.

When I asked my mom about the plans for the holiday meal, she replied that Thanksgiving is a slam dunk, she and Hope had it handled. So, while I did make my cranberry/pear chutney on Thanksgiving Day, it was an afterthought. Here's me, in my desultory cooking, laptop at the ready. And no, my mother's kitchen is never that cluttered. That's my fault, too. Thus I am thankful:

To Hope, best stepsister anyone could ask for, for stepping up when I didn't;
To my mom, who never once bugged me about the dinner menu and who just wanted me to relax.

So, while I managed to make chutney, consult on the stuffing and set the table -- yes, I was totally 13 again -- I was worthless this Thanksgiving. Even for giving thanks.

In the end? Hands-down winner: I'm thankful for my mom. Who promises that I get to make it all up by hosting Christmas. And she won't do anything, especially not scrubbing my stove top in the middle of the night.

I love you Mom!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Girl Stuff



So, we were kind of dorks yesterday.

Which Hope says is okay, because the guys already know we're dorks.

What happened was, my mom, Hope and I indulged in the great American tradition of shopping. We had fun and all was reasonably predictable, until we hit Ann Taylor.

Where we pretty much lost our minds.

So, yes, we all bought the same shirt in a slightly different shade, and all wore them out for Mexican food last night. Mexican food is the Beck family tradition for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Brett, Hope and Galan's older son, decided that the girls wearing the same shirts should also be part of the tradition now, which might be kind of difficult to sustain in the long run.

That, and tales of Xerodeupopods.

My mom's camera was accidentally set to video for the photo of the boys, so you get the full photo-taking experience here, complete with Mariachi music in the background.

I know. Doesn't get better than this.

video

Monday, November 23, 2009

If I'm a Prick, Do I Not Still Bleed?


David is studying acupuncture and oriental medicine, as some of you may or may not know.

The upshot of this is, there's all these diagrams around the house for identifying various characteristics or the location of acupuncture points and meridians, etc. What's funny is they all have this look that I find particularly creepy. It's kind of like attack of the zombie patients.

I think it's because the drawings are meant to represent people realistically, but without ethnic characteristics or any kind of emotional color.

Which, of course, isn't realistic at all.

So you get this curious combination of something meant to look human, that isn't human at all.

People have been sending me notes, concerned that my blog posts show that I'm under pressure or overloaded. And I start to think about how can I edit them so as not to put that so much on display. I suppose that's my first instinct -- to try to gloss that over. Then I wonder why I feel like no one knows when I need support. Therefore, I'm making a concerted effort not to gloss and to ask for support when I need it.

After all, it's the human thing to do.

(Today is the official last day for the label "Ruthless Revision" -- it is DONE! I'm lousy at keeping secrets.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Flesh


So, the last few days turned out to be crazy.

Par for the course in my life, you say? Yeah yeah yeah.

There's this idea that the more something is worth doing, the more difficult it is. That the universe makes you pay for what you want, in sweat and pain. The old idea of blood sacrifice: if you truly want something you have to sacrifice your life blood to it. Sacrifice, of course, derived partially from the word for blood, for you word whores out there.

The idea is that if you are trying to do something, the universe will throw obstacles in your path, to see if you can be distracted.

If you can be? Alas, you are unworthy.

I'm not sure I believe this. But I'm so close to finishing the Ruthless Revision. Within ten pages, I think. And every time I think I'm there something happens to stop me.

So Jeffe, you ask, why are you writing this blog post instead of those ten pages?

Because I've got to be at full power to wind everything up in the elegant way I envision and the meter is running low today.

After a few days in New Jersey and another day downtown working with new clients, I thought I was in striking distance of finishing. And then a big DC muckety-muck had to call a state muckety-muck and I had to be called in. All very exciting and now people are sending glowing emails about how admirable I am.

It's great to have the career validation. It truly is. And I'm not just saying that because I know my boss reads this blog.

The invidious thing is, nobody asks if I've finished the book yet. At least, not because they need it and are anxiously waiting for me to deliver it.

I'm really the only one who cares that I haven't.

I've talked about this before, haven't I?

At any rate, Allison has had a crazy few days also, with an offer of a book contract and four agents now circling her juicy self. It's a great problem to have, no doubt, but she's overwhelmed, sorting details and doing her best to make the best decision, not just for now, but for her foreseeable career.

Which brings me back to something I've also said before, that the most rewarding part of writing really occurs between you and your work. That's the most uncomplicated thrill. It's intimate and lovely.

Maybe I'll finish tomorrow and keep it a secret.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who the Hell Cares What Posterity Thinks, Anyway?


Those who check in for the "Where Is Jeffe?" updates know I was in New Jersey last week.

Land of mullets and IROC, I'm reliably informed by Allison, who spent the 80s growing up in that state. I had to ask what IROC meant. "Camaros," she replied, while someone else said International Race of Champions. No dissent over the meaning of mullets.

Though neither was particularly in evidence.

Of course, evidence to the contrary, the 80s are well and truly over. Ann Taylor might be showing decidedly Madonna-wanna-be fashions --it's true! think frothy lace and big bangles, possibly fingerless gloves -- but theoretically mullets and camaros will just never be hip again.

We had dinner at a great place in Princeton, Mediterra, which was lovely and festive. Just the right amount of shine for early onset holiday season. For a Westerner like me, Princeton is old. The whole quaint colonial thing. Gives me a thrill every time. Cobblestones, narrow buildings, boutiques and bright Ann Taylor windows, with 80s-feel outfits. The eras blend.

We went into the bar at Nashua Inn, famous for the carvings in the wood tables of famous people. On the wall hang black and white framed yearbook photos of notable Princeton alums. It's amusing to peruse the long wall, to see the politicians and movie stars. Yes, Brooke Shields is there. And Donald Rumsfeld.

Then, below and to the left of Donald -- no significance there, I'm sure -- was Michelle Obama

Class of '85. With big 80s hair.

I remember my own youth in the 80s and how we'd have 50s day at school. Apparently 30 years is the magic number, for fashion nostalgia. My mom dressed me in what she wore in the 50s. All the other girls were in bright felt poodle skirts and ankle socks. They turned up their noses at my pencil skirt and white button-down, but all the teachers said I had the look nailed. Through no effort of my own of course.

But I remember thinking at the time, that it would be hard to do 80s dress-up day, because we didn't really havea fashion. It seemed like non-fashion to me. It's so difficult to have perspective on a thing, when you're immersed in it.



Michelle's hair screamed 80s at me. I would have known in a glance, even without the '85 identifier. This isn't exactly the one they had, but it gives you the idea. I wondered if she'd been back to the bar at the Nashua Inn, to see she's now on the wall. And I wonder if she regrets the hair. Not so much that she had it, but that it's now part of her definition. She's leapt to the world stage and this is the moment crystallized from her college days

The sad thing is, my hair was even bigger than hers and I had to perm it to get it that way.

I suppose we don't get to pick these things, what images end up defining us. Just like you don't get to pick what will be the defining moments of your life. Small choices resonate it ways we can't predict. What seems like a good idea at the time becomes a regret later.

I make a lot of choices in order to avoid regret.

I learned early on about loss and missed chances -- and drew a lesson from that. So I slept with men I might not have slept with, just in case I might regret bypassing the opportunity. I've tried to appreciate every moment of my life, every person in it, so I wouldn't regret later that I didn't.

But the thing is: immersion makes it impossible to know what you might regret. You simply can't see it in the moment. Hindsight makes it crystal clear.

In the end, I suppose all one can do is foresake regret altogether. We make choices. We hope they're good ones. Whether it's the person you choose for a life partner or a hairstyle.

Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Snowy Sunday in Santa Fe


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Life, Art and Imitation



There's something to be said for waking up to this kind of view.

It's like having a Georgia O'Keeffe painting on your wall. Only it's real and ever-changing. I see now, what she saw here.

Of course, I can't quite capture the image like she could.

I remember a story I read in her biography (autobiography?). The book is still packed, so I'm pulling this out of memory.

When Georgia was a young woman, she drew and painted. She wanted to be an artist. At one point a teacher told her she didn't have what it took. That her skills and talent were adequate, but that she lacked that something extra that would make her a great artist.

And really, you have to be great if you want to make a living at it. The Pro-Football player analogy.

Georgia went back to her room -- she was living at a boarding school, though I don't recall now if she was still a student or teaching there. And she took all of her work and hung it on the walls. She papered the walls with it and sat there and looked at all of it.

She saw her teacher was right.

None of it had that extra something that would transform it from image into art.

So, she destroyed it all. Burned it, maybe? Or something less dramatic -- perhaps she just stuffed it all in the trash can.

I can't recall the sequence after that, except that she discarded all she knew and started over. She might have not painted for a while. And when she began again: it was there. The thing that makes Georgia O'Keeffe art instantly recognizable.

Sometimes someone would bemoan the art she'd destroyed. She would reply that it was no loss.

Maybe I'm leaving out the important part of the story here, the "how she did it" part. But I don't think so. Clearly that's not the part that stuck with me. The part that did is the image of her, standing in the center of her room, with everything she'd done stuck all over the walls. And what it took for her to see that it wasn't good. To destroy it for that reason.

Every time I see her art now, I think of that moment. It magnifies my admiration.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Those Dear Old Golden Rule Days



With any luck, this photo of me will get picked up as a current pic and everyone will think of me as 27 forever.

This was taken at the party for my Master's defense.

I was beyond happy to be done, but it was bittersweet because I was supposed to have gotten a PhD. I spent six years, did all of the course work and all of the research for a PhD. And left with a Masters.

The same degree another guy in my department got for one year of histological work.

I'm pretty much over it now.

We watched "Dark Matter" last night, which has multiple resonances for me.

The movie (spoiler alert) is loosely based on what happened at the University of Iowa when Gang Lu, a Chinese grad student in Physics, lost his nut in 1991 and went on a shooting spree that included his graduate advisor. I'd been a grad student in Neurophysiology for three years at that point and had been shut down on my Masters bypass. Many were the jokes told that day about what we'd like to imitate.

By 1994, I'd made the decision that research wasn't for me. They'd beaten it out of me. I cut bait, snagged a Masters for my trouble and worked on being a writer. At least the Masters got me a job with a decent salary. In 1996, I published my first essays and was part of a writers group, which included a gal who'd graduated from the famed Writers Circle MFA program at Iowa. Her good friend, Jo Ann Beard, wrote an essay in 1997 that was published in the New Yorker and then in her collection, Boys of My Youth, about Gang Lu and what happened. Jo Ann had been an administrative assistant in the Physics group and only missed being killed because she called in sick that day.

Dark Matter isn't exactly that story. The way Jo Ann told it, Gang Lu was always a difficult, even scary, personality. Liu Xing, in the movie, is brilliant and misunderstood. Some critics have complained that the movie took the story in a different direction, because one of the writers drew on his own grad school experiences to show the other side of this kind of story.

The whole bit about how they beat it out of you. Liu Xing is not a team player and most grad advisors really hate that.

Looking back, I can see that my advisor and I were a bad match. From the begining, he didn't like the way I worked. He had particular rules for how everything must be done. He was a manic/depressive Hungarian, so those rules changed. I was his first grad student and not a good rule-follower. He set out to prove that I could not succeed doing things the way I did and he ultimately proved his point.

Looking back, I could have done a few things. I could have recognized that I could never shine in that situation. I could have left. But I didn't meet David until 1991. So I can't wish that one away. At one point, a female professor on my committee tried to intercede. She got my advisor to agree to giving me a "Plan B" PhD, where I'd write a paper and go.

I was stubborn.

This is a theme with me and one my advisor and I frequently tangled on. I didn't want Plan B because I thought I'd be doing a half-assed job. He retorted that I already was doing a half-assed job. Which only stiffened my resolve to see it through and do it right. Which didn't happen.

So, I don't have an actual PhD. But I never went on a shooting spree.

I try not to regret what I invested in those years, because I deeply believe all our efforts are for a reason. The lessons all feed into something. Even if it seems impossible to discern what that might be.

Looking back at this picture, I see I was young. I had been full of ambition and hope. Like Liu Xing, I fancied I'd win the Nobel Prize. It's probably the slap all young, hopeful and ambitious people must take. A slap that academia and graduate committees feel duty-bound to deliver.

Maybe the trick is to find a way to keep the hope and ambition, even after they beat it out of you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Joy and Other Indoor Sports

I love this image.

One day I'd like to journey to the remote part of China where this cliff-carving is, just to see it for real.

What I love is how the sculptor(s) capture the sense of movement and joy. The Bodhisattvas, though captured in stone, are dancing.

To me, that's what life and enlightenment are about: being so filled with joy that it moves you to dance.

Lately I've been feeling sensitive to anger. Maybe it's just a symptom of bad economic times, but I'm noticing so many harsh responses on a variety of fronts.

I've been noticing writers criticizing other writers in mean ways. Or making lists of things they think writers shouldn't do.

One of my favorite bloggers, Heather Armstrong, finally listed with ads all the hateful comments she receives, figuring that if people are goling to pour out that kind of hate, she could at least get revenue from it. I notice she's taken the page down now. I read a bit and felt so soiled by the things people said that I couldn't bear to keep going.

A colleague sent a "funny" email to me that was a collection of pics of office refrigerator notes. Again, the parade of passive/agressive rage at people who took or molested food from the communal fridge only left me feeling sad.

Granted, I'm not good with anger. I'm one of those people whose parents never fought in front of her, so she doesn't like to see people fight. When I hear people yell in anger, I physically flinch. I feel emotionally slapped, even if it's not directed at me. I'm a big believer that you don't talk when you're mad, because once something is said, it can't be unsaid, regardless of apologies.

In short, I'm a total pansy about conflict.

I know that conflict is part of life and one must deal as it arises. And yet, I think there's nothing wrong with focusing on the positive. In fact, I think it's crucial to find the joy and not the rage. I suspect there are very few exceptions to the old rule, that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

It's hard for me to imagine the dancing Bodhisattva's leaving hate comments on someone's blog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Old Wyoming Home


Assumptions are a funny thing.

Never mind the old saw about "assume" makes an ass of u and me. What assuming does is blind you to what's really there. When a person assumes they know something, it stops them from considering any other options.

So, it was a funny thing: David's previous boss asked him to spend a few days in Laramie over Christmas break to train a new guy in David's old job. David and I cogitated on this -- because of the holiday pattern this year, the first week of January would be best. But for David to fly up there -- driving would really suck that time of year -- stay in a hotel for a week, including meals out, would be pretty expensive. We wondered what she was thinking. And no, I didn't want to go with him. A week in Laramie at the beginning of January? To bring out another old saw: been there, done that. Hope to never do it again.

Turns out, she was assuming we'd be driving up to David's hometown of Buffalo for Christmas and could just stop in Laramie for a few days. Never mind that this would be an 11-12 hour drive for us now. On nasty winter roads. And that my family isn't there. She thinks we'd do that because that's what she would do. I think it's hard for people back in Wyoming to understand that we don't miss it at all.

I think sometimes that David's family believes our move is my influence. That I've finally, after nearly 19 years together, wrested him away. I think they make an assumption about who I am and what I want. David's family is large and very tight. In many ways, even after so many years, I remain an outsider. I don't think they know that it's been me who's pushed him to maintain close contact with his family all this time.

And that, because I love him and want the very best for him, that I helped him find a way to get some distance.

I love this picture of David and me, because it captures so much of what we are together. David picked me because I would be this to him: someone who wanted to journey also. And we're having a wonderful time on this new adventure of ours.

I'm sure we'll touch base back in ol'Wyo sometime. Just not quite yet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deadlines and Lifelines


So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.


There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!' (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.



Of course you all know that's from the opening of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It's a great set-up. Alice, the human, is feeling sleepy, stupid and lazy. The bucolic wildlife is racing around with important appointments.

It's clearly unnatural, a rabbit with a watch, running late. That's how we know the world is turning upside-down. If the rabbit was chewing on daisies and Alice running late, that's perfectly natural.

Or is it?

Allison posted an interesting blog the other day about the struggling writer and spousal support. Not necessarily financial support, though that's part of it. More the whole "does he support your writing" question.

And, yes, this is going to be totally about women writers and their male companions.

One thing Allison mentioned is the spousal deadline. This is surprisingly common. I can think of five women offhand whose men have "allowed" them to try the writing thing for a given amount of time, after which, if they haven't succeeded, they must stop.

No, not all of these women are writing instead of working, though some are.

No, not all of these women are unpublished; they just aren't necessarily raking in the money.

I suspect this comes from a number of things. Our culture and the male members of it, in particular, are heavily fixed on goals and deadlines. It's possible these guys think they are being supportive, by helping to create an outside deadline, a framework for measuring success. I think there's also an element of the husbands feeling like they need to curb the frivolous activities of their wives. Don't tell me that's not true: I've heard men say it.

We do it to ourselves, of course, too. One gal I know gave herself a year to become a successful writer. Yes, that's from typing her first word. When she didn't make her goal, in a fit of despondency she asked me how long I'd given myself.

As long as it takes," I told her.

As I've mentioned, everyone right now is about NaNoWriMo. A writing friend asked me if I was participating and I told her I don't need more pressure in my life. She said she does -- she needs the motivation. She is also one who's published with an epress, has two young children and whose husband has asked her to stop. A big craze right now is a program called Write or Die. It's a program that monitors how fast you're typing and buzzes you if you slow down. If you stop, it will actually start deleting your text.

It all comes down to the eternal question of how you measure success, I suppose.

It was funny to me, the friend who asked how long I'd given myself, because I've already acheived some writing success by several measures. Not ones that she thought were relevant, but ones that are important to me.

I live my life by deadlines. As most Americans do. My work deadlines are the kind that, if I don't make them, I can jeopardize a $24 million contract. For me, writing is a different world from that. I can see a day when, if I'm making approximately my salary by delivering a book on time, then that deadline will matter.

Until then, I'm a fan of write and live.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Paint by Numbers


Someone called me a fashion plate last week.

Of course, I've also been called a trophy wife, which is even farther from the truth.

An actual "fashion plate" was the illustration placed in catalogs, newspapers or magazines, from the days when pictures were carved into metal plates and the image transferred with ink to paper. These then were the ads for clothing -- the example of how something could look.

It's easiest, when you first start trying to dress nicely, or more stylishly, to simply copy the images. Look at how the pros assemble an outfit and show your sincere admiration by imitating away. This can be daunting, however, unless you have an unlimited budget. That's when you have to get creative. Not necessarily Molly Ringwald, I-can-sew-a-gorgeous-prom-dress-out-of-this-cheap-nasty-one-and-that-vintage-one creative, but being willing to play with clothes.

It's really about being willing to try stuff out, being willing to take a risk. Combine separates and accessories in way that comes from your own head and not from a picture. And the thing about taking risks is that sometimes other people won't approve. Much like being perceived as a trophy wife.

It was an older woman who called me that -- in her late 50s/early 60s and frumpy with it. I mentioned that David is older than I am (by seven years) and that my stepchildren are now grown and I skipped the having babies part (but I helped raise them since they were five and seven years old). She looked at me -- and I was dressed up for the conference, with my eye-catching dress and black wide-brimmed hat -- and declared: "You are a trophy wife!"

Arm candy. Oh yeah.

The thing is, people are going to apply their labels regardless. For all that, maybe "fashion plate" is a decent one to get.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Twixt Thee and Me

It's always interesting to me which posts get people's attention.

Or their responses, at least. Which I tend to assume is the same thing and that may not be necessarily so.

But my last post stimulated quite a few reactions. Several people commented. More sent me IM or email notes. The general consensus among my support network is that I was grumpy and had been on the road too long. Reading back over it, I suspect it was my tone that came across grumpy more than the content.

Be that as it may.

It was funny to me yesterday, as I took my three plane flights home, wending my way back west, that the messages and comments on my blog post (including one from my mom showing that Barbara Kingsolver took seven years to write her latest) were comingled with a discussion thread on one of my writers' loops regarding this article which trashes Dan Brown's new book. And someone else contributed the Wikipedia link to Literary Criticism of The Da Vinci Code that trashes Dan Brown in general. And an address by Stephen King where he implies that Dan Brown is the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Stephen King has been cutting a bit of a wide swath lately, as I've mentioned before. It's ironic to me that he feels comfortable making pronouncements on who writes well and who doesn't, when I've often heard King's success held up as the perverted triumph of genre over literature.

I know you'll be shocked, but I don't have much of an opinion there.

I've read a bit of King and didn't love it, but then, I don't really read much horror. I have never read Dan Brown, but I liked the movie fine. I liked Meyer's Twilight books -- I thought she did interesting things with the stories and she kept me hooked.

What I see happening is the "win by putting others down" trend. Also known as, for those of us who labored under grading curves, "it's not so much that you succeed, but that others fail." We've all known people like this. People who attempt to pump themselves up by putting others down. If King can sneer at Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer, then he's clearly not part of their club. I remember a while back when Anne Rice was big on letting people know that her books were being taught in schools, as a way of legitimizing them.

Keena commented on my last post that it's the genre writers who become literary giants in later generations and she has a point there. Think Jane Austen, Tolkein and Arthur Conan Doyle.

And we're witnessing a battle now: the literary writers facing precipitously declining sales, fighting to assert that THEY are the true writers, and the genre writers, fighting amongst themselves for the best seat at the mad tea party, all the while pretending they don't care what the literary types think, yet secretly wishing to have that level of validation.

In the end, I don't think it matters if you take one month or ten years to write a book. Your process is your process. What matters is what you're trying to do. If you want to bring in the money, ten years is a stretch unless you're living on decent royalties. If you're going for art, maybe you don't believe a few months is enough for that to occur.

But I'm pretty sure you won't sell more books by trashing other writers. Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NaNoNoMo



Three things.

Mary Karr, who used to be one of my writing heroes, until I wrote to her, sent her MY memoir/essay collection shortly to be published, and asked her for a blurb, and she didn't bother to answer. Of ALL the people I asked for blurbs, she was the only one to totally blow me off.

Not that I'm bitter.

At any rate, I felt special because I loved "Cherry" as much as "The Liar's Club" -- and I think I'm about the only person on the planet who did. But did Mary care?

No no no.

So, here I am, five days longer than I wanted to be in a Hampton Inn under renovation in Lansing, Michigan, where I get a USA Today that I don't want, every day outside my door. And here's an article on Mary, and her new book "Lit." Where she says, and I quote: "There are too many books. Most writing is mediocre. Most memoirs are mediocre. Quality is rare."

Wow.

Thanks Professor Karr. Way to attempt to perpetuate the rule of academia. I won't mention how EVERYONE ELSE thought "Cherry" fell short of mediocre. Perhaps that was yet another book too many.

(I could point out here that her last book was pubbed ten years ago, in 2000, but that might be petty, so I won't.)

So, I read that this morning. And thought about it off an on all day.



Not that I'm brooding.

Then, this evening, one of my old friends posts on Facebook "Howcum I just lost interest in my own book? O. Could it be because I've been writing it for EIGHT years?" Old literary-type friend. From my writing group of many moons ago.

Meanwhile...

All of my genre-writing-buddies, both pubbed and unpubbed, are heavy into NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to take the month of November and write 50,000 words. Which is really novella length, but who's counting?

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I'm participating. There are buddies. And groups of buddies. Word count scales, twittering and lashing one another on. The genre writers welcome the opportunity to churn out another manuscript in a month's time or so.

I've said no.

Mainly, because I tried it last year and, while I got 36,000 words that I mostly like, I don't need the additional pressure. And I've been telling them that I like my process.

Which is the truth. I do like my process. Which I've spent the better part of a decade refining. For better or worse.

As usual: I fall somewhere in the middle.

I wish to spend neither eight years nor one month writing a novel.

Sometimes I feel like a pariah from both sides of the camp, neither of which acknowledge the other. I think Mary Karr is pretentious and full of shit for saying such a thing. I also don't believe the fast-draft process, novel in one month thing, works very well.

And someone save me from spending eight years on one book. Or worse, ten, and being snooty about it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Coincidences and Concatenations

Two things.

We have these big windows that reflect the sky. I've thought about putting those silhouette dealies on the glass, so birds won't run into the glass. But so far, only a couple of birds have hit a window and then only glancingly.

One little sparrow decided to battle his image for part of an afternoon, but I figure he has his own issues.

But Halloween morning, I was sitting at my desk behind one of these big windows, when a bird flew straight at my face and slammed into the glass. I yelped at the shock, then sat stunned as the Cooper's hawk that had clearly been on the bird's tail drew up and landed on the bird feeder with a few hops to adjust. He assessed the situation, then flew off. Below me, the little bird twitched. I hoped it might recover, but the arrow of liquid where it's bowels had released pointed to a different ending.

It had broken its neck instantly, panicked to escape the hawk.

The irony to me is that it died anyway. And the hawk didn't get its meal either.

When we picked up our rental car in California, the week before last, I commented to my colleague that, since our car was in slot B-17, that now the song would be stuck in my head.

She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.

So I had to sing it for her. "Please, Mr., please... don't play B-17, it was our song, it was his song, now it's oohhhhhh-ver." She'd never heard it. I had no idea when I'd heard it last.

Then, tonight, on my third week of business travel in a row, I'm in the grocery store at 10 o'clock at night for a pit stop with my other colleague (okay, we were buying wine) in our journey from the Lansing airport to the Hampton Inn that will be our home for the week. Guess what song comes on the background music. And I knew what it was from the opening measures.

"I don't ehhhh-vah want to hear that song again...."

It was just too bizarre.

What does it all mean? Nothing, no doubt. We flee one thing, only to crash into another. We remember an old song and it chases us to another place and finds us again.

So be it.

Blessed All Saints Day

No trick-or-treaters for us last night. Nary a one.

Which was as we predicted, actually.

And surprisingly, it didn't make me sad at all. Now, I'm the girl who has dreams about missing Halloween. That suddenly it's upon us and I've failed to decorate. Or that it happened and I missed the event entirely. Of course, I also dream about missing Christmas and forgetting to buy presents, etc. I've already told you about my dreams of leaving cats to starve and die of neglect in hotel rooms. It's easy to see where I live.

Regardless, I love the whole trick-or-treating gig.

But the new house is in the countryside where there are no streetlights. It's dark and a bit wild, with the houses spaced far apart. I didn't really expect any costumed visitors and wasn't surprised when they didn't show.

We did go hiking in the afternoon, though. A gorgeous sunny day. The pic above is of our valley. You could even spot our house, if you knew where to look. What a fabulous treat to go on a short hike up a hill, a fifteen-minute walk from our home, on Halloween.

It makes up for the year I had to wear a parka over my hula girl costume. It truly does.
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