11.16.2012

pebbles and sand

One of my dear friends and I were talking a few weeks ago about ambition, and busy-ness, and our relentless drive to fill our days with goals that need to be met and lists of items that need to be checked off.  We're both pretty motivated ladies, successful, educated, eager.  One of the reasons we so appreciate one another's company, I think, is that we don't have to apologize for striving.  We know we're going to work hard to get what we want.  We know we're busy.  We expect it from one another.

She was telling me about a friend, someone I've never met.  "You ask him what he's been up to, and he says things like, 'Well, I ate some really delicious ice cream the other day.  And then I found an amazing swimming hole.'  Everyone else answers that question by telling you how busy they've been and how stressed out they are.  There aren't very many people who focus on the deliciousness of ice cream."

No, no there aren't.

There's a story, about a philosophy professor who stood up in front of his class holding a glass jar.  He filled it to the top with several bulky rocks and asked, "Is the jar full?"  The class answered that yes, of course it was - obviously, there was no room inside for more rocks.  Then the professor pulled out a bag of pebbles and poured it in.  The small stones filled the nooks left by the rocks, and the professor asked again, "Is the jar full?"  Oh, yes, it's definitely full now, the class answered.  Then the professor pulled out a bag of sand and shook it into the jar.  The sand wound its way into the tiny spaces between the pebbles.  "How about now?"  This time, certainly, the jar was full, the class responded.  Then the professor cracked open a can of beer, and poured it into the jar.

The jar represents our lives, the professor explained.  The rocks are the most important things - our families, our friendships, our health, the things that, if all else were lost, would still leave us feeling
fulfilled.  The pebbles are other, less important things - our jobs, our cars, our houses.  The sand is everything else - whether the kitchen is clean at the end of the night, whether you remembered to
buy shampoo, whether your lawn looks as nice as the neighbors'.  The little things.

If you put the sand in the jar first, you might be able to layer some pebbles on top, but you'll never fit the rocks inside, he explained.  And the same goes for your life.  If you spend your days focusing on
the thousand tiny annoyances on your checklist, you've got no room left for the things that really
matter. 
 
Pay attention to the rocks, he advised.  Everything else is just so much sand.

(Then, of course, one of his students asked what the beer represented.   "Oh, well," the professor replied, "that just goes to show that no matter how full your life might seem, there's always room for a beer or two."  Ba-doom SHA!)

This moment, when I'm questioning the validity of my own striving, seems as good a time as any to also question what, exactly, I'm striving toward.  The thing is, I've achieved a lot of the goals that people my age are "supposed" to be aiming for - I have two degrees, a good job, an awesome spouse.  I own my own home.  There are kids on the horizon.*  I'm doing the things I'm supposed to be doing, and I should be happy, but that feeling of not quite being there - wherever there is - is ever-present.  It just doesn't let up.  I should be more successful! the voice in my head says.  I should be published by now!  I should make more money!  We should start saving for a bigger house!  And nicer stuff!  And I should be a more productive person!  Why is my living room so messy?  Why do I watch so much TV?  Why aren't I more responsible with my time?  Why don't I exercise more, eat better, call my friends and family more often, use more of my free time for writing, keep to a chore schedule, answer emails promptly?  Why don't I blog more often???

Suffice to say, when people ask what I've been up to, my answer doesn't involve the taste of ice cream.

The truth is, I'm afraid to let up on myself.  I'm afraid that if I stop pushing, all of my goals will fall away and my life will feel... meaningless.  There's a big black hole of fear - fear of failure, of disappointment, of inadequacy - that sits right there in the middle of me, and it's easy to fill that hole with pebbles and sand, because there's no shortage of pebbles and sand.  It feels good to feel busy.  It feels useful.

But the true purpose of my life is not to fill that sucking black hole.  I know what I have to do, which is turn away from it, to resist the pull.  Because of this much, at least, I am sure: I cannot expect a life built on a foundation of sand and pebbles to carry the weight of me and everything I am and
everything I want to be and do and see and feel in the course of this small but incredible existence I have been granted.

What would my world look like if I used all of my ambition, all of my crazy type-A motivation, to point myself in the direction of a life that would make me truly happy, instead of prioritizing all the trillion little pointless things that I'm told are supposed to make me happy?

What would it look like to push myself, hard, to find joy?

What would a life built on a foundation of rock feel like?

I don't know.  But I'd like to find out.

Stay tuned.



*Blog post for another day, but no, nobody's pregnant or anything.  Farther horizon than that.  :)

11.03.2012

look!

The lovely and talented Suze over at Subliminal Coffee just tagged me in a blogging game, wherein I'm to take my current manuscript, search for the word "look," and post the surrounding excerpt.  Except I'm breaking the rules a bit, because I'm not really ready to post something from my current WIP.  Instead, I thought I'd follow Suze's lead and take a lil trip down memory lane.  So... here's an excerpt from my very first attempt at writing a novel.  This thing wasn't sure what it wanted to be - YA?  MG?  Something with a coherent storyline?  (Okay, definitely not that last one.)  It veered around a lot, and did a lot of crazy things.  In any case, this is a little scrap of that rambling behemoth. 

For context, our teenaged hero, Declan, has just been released from a jail cell where he was being held for shoplifting; a strange man in a top hat claimed to be the owner of the store and declined to press charges.  Declan is confused (because he most certainly was shoplifting) but he's also grateful.  Until they head outside and the man starts saying some weird things to him...





"Are you feeling it yet?”

“Feeling… what?” Declan asked.  He was definitely regretting his impulse to speak to the man.

“The yearning.”  The man peered at Declan, studying him.  “The calling must have started by now.  We have to move.”

He remembered the flash of longing he’d felt a moment before.  “Hang on —”

"I’ll explain later.  We don’t have much time," the man said.  He grasped Declan's arm with his narrow fingers and beginning to pull him away.

"Whoa, dude - let me go!"  He jerked his arm out of the old man’s grasp.  I should get out of here, he thought.  This guy was obviously crazy, and besides, he had to make it home before his dad noticed he was gone.  He didn’t have time to play guessing games with a lunatic in a top hat. 

But something was happening.  As soon as the man had named the feeling - yearning, he had called it - it had roused something in Declan, something that had until that moment been napping, fitfully, but quiet.  But the moment the man  uttered the word, Declan felt it roar to life, growing in his stomach like an ache.  He had good, logical reasons for walking away, he knew that, but the yearning… there it was, stirred to wakefulness swift and sudden, mushrooming in him like a cloud, swelling in his lungs, plunging into his limbs, holding him fast.  He wanted… he wanted to stay.  He had to stay.  He couldn’t explain it, but it was a truth that infused every part of him.
 
Or almost every part of him.  There remained the smallest fragment of his mind not yet inundated with longing, and that part began to buzz with panic.  That part of him, the part that suddenly realized something was very wrong, flashed like a neon sign: run.  RUN!   For the briefest second the impulse to flee overrode everything else, and he turned, gathering his strength, but it was no use: the longing gripped his heart with fingers like ice, and his body refused cooperate.  He tried to take a step and his feet tangled beneath him.  He crashed to the ground, breathing heavily.

"Oh dear," the man tutted, towering over Declan as he lay splayed across the asphalt.  His eyes darted around, searching.  “Oh dear, oh dear.  Well, don’t just lie there - get up.  Get up!”

“What’s happening?” Declan asked, pulling himself to his feet. 

“The calling,” the man said.  “They've started.”

Declan noticed that the fog had been growing steadily thicker in the past few minutes.  It was dense as brick now; the whole world had shrunk down to a distinct sphere just large enough for the two of them to stand in.  An eerie silence fell, punctuated only by their own ragged breathing.
And then a whisper, from somewhere outside their circle. 

Declan jerked his head around, looking for the source of the sound. 

“Did you hear that?”

The old man's voice cracked.  "Don't listen to it.”  His long fingers worried at his throat, and for a moment he seemed unable to speak.  But then:  “You have to run.”

Declan was vaguely aware of the man tugging on his arm, trying to get him to move, but he swatted him away.  The yearning had finished its job; there was no more panic.  He was rooted to the spot.
"No," he told the man authoritatively. "I have to wait here."

He sat down on the asphalt, jaw set.  He had never felt more certain of anything in his life.  The thing he was waiting for - it was on its way.

The old man hovered over Declan, wringing his hands and tugging at him, trying to coax him into standing, but Declan ignored him. 

“You don’t understand… it’s your blood they’re after, Declan, your blood - you have to run…”

But Declan wasn’t listening.  All around him, he could feel the swirling fog that carried the voice of someone calling his name, carried it to him in a sickly sweet voice.  The fog brought him his name, and it sounded like molasses.

Declannnnnnnnnnnnnnn...

10.07.2012

dispatches from a quiet place

 I'm on a writing retreat.  At a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere.  For a week.


 my backyard this week.

I can count on one hand the number of words I've said out loud today.  I can NOT count on one hand the number of words I've written.  As I, ahem, may have mentioned once or twice, this hasn't exactly been my pattern as of late, so I'm a pretty happy girl right now.

There are gorgeous red-and-yellow trees outside my window.  A squeaky bed.  A desk, a table lamp.  I came armed with 12 pens, 500 notecards, 3 legal pads, and Scrivener.  I've gotten more done in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 6 months.

I need to put this quiet space in a bottle and take it home with me.

Also this view.

yeah.

10.01.2012

this is what it feels like

Law school didn't actually teach me all that much about the law.  The basics, sure.  But the thing about lawyering is that you mostly learn by doing - it's the procedural stuff that people pay you for, really, the ability to navigate unnecessarily difficult waters without drowning.  (I mean, don't tell anyone, but... the actual law?  It's all right there, written down in books.  IIIII KNOW.)  It isn't that statutes and regulations are even all that hard to understand - they're just frequently complicated in their interpretation, their execution.  Hence: the lawyers.

So while the law itself was ostensibly the focus of my education, I didn't walk away having memorized, y'know, every case ever.  What I really learned in law school was how to think in a very particular way.  How to contextualize; how to identify and exploit ambiguity; how to anticipate and preempt counterarguments.  I learned to read closely, and then even more closely, to parse every clause with care, because a single word can mean the difference between winning and losing an argument.  (Really: I cringe to think of the number of trees that have given their lives to heated debates over the statutory distinction between "may" and "shall").  I wasn't aware of it happening at the time, but as I look back, I can see it so clearly - the way my brain shifted.  I started out a liberal arts grad who was used to making impassioned arguments that appealed to emotion, goodness, righteousness.  I graduated with the ability to search and destroy, to identify loopholes and widen them until they took on the shape of valid arguments, to craft theories out of something as mundane as comma placement.  This is what it felt like: that law school changed the landscape of my mind.

Something like that is happening again.

Last April my anxiety disorder got so out of control that I finally started therapy.  It was something I had been thinking about for a while, but when my panic and fear reached the point that I was seriously considering never leaving my house again, I finally made the call.  I was incredibly lucky to end up with an amazing therapist on my first try.  She's quite good at appealing to (and out-arguing) my lawyer brain when I'm in stubborn logic mode, which is vital - but she's also right there with me when I talk about signs from the universe or whether or not there's a Grand Plan or people's "energy" or what happens to our souls after we die.  She cites scientific study and Buddhist theology with equal ease.  It's a good combination for me.  But mostly - and this is the crux of her job, really, I suppose - she challenges so many things I have unquestionably believed to be true, and in that questioning an empty space opens wide.  I stare into the darkness of that place.  And slowly, slowly, I begin to shine light into it. 

This is what it feels like: like I'm expanding, unearthing, pushing apart and coming together all at once, amplifying, releasing, drawing my first breath.  Like I'm constructing galaxies in my heart.  For so long I was living in a tiny airless room, concrete walls pressing against my chest, fluorescent lights buzzing in my eyes.  And now, suddenly, there is air.  There is sunlight.  Suddenly I am infinite.

It's a little bit awesome.  No, actually, it's truly awesome - and I mean that in the literal sense, in that I am filled with awe, I am awed.  The world looked one way, and now it looks completely different, and nothing changed but me.  It's exhilarating.  It's also some of the hardest work I've ever done, exhausting, mind-razing work.  There are THINGS in that darkness, things that inhabit darkness for a reason, things that hiss at the light and glare at you with sunken sun-starved eyes and glittering teeth, things that threaten to devour you whole.  Sitting with those things is hard.  Banishing them is harder.  Loving them, taking them into your arms, showing them compassion - that's the hardest thing of all.

(Isn't it always?)

"I feel like I don't have the words for this," I said to my therapist a few weeks ago.  I was frustrated, unable to articulate a feeling, unable to move past it.  "It's like... it's like I'm having to learn a new language to talk to you."  I was grasping, literally, my hands opening and closing around nothing.

She nodded.  "Yes.  I know," she said.  "You're finding your voice." 

She watched as the words sunk in, as my hands finally stilled.

Oh, I thought. 

This is what it feels like.

9.18.2012

S.O.S.

Oh, hello there.

*dusts off cobwebs*  *sneezes*

Bet you're wondering what super exciting things I've been up to when I haven't been here, yes?  Glad you asked, because here's a handy list:
  • Celebrating my wife's birthday
  • Going to a wedding in Pittsburgh
  • Helping form a critique group
  • Working working working
  • Chopping all my hair off
  • Hanging out with my mom, who's visiting for a week or so
  • Redecorating my house - more painting!  Buying of a new couch!  Searching for accessories!
  • Preparing to NOT die during the 10k I'll be running this weekend
  • Taking ridiculous pictures of my cats
  • Reading reading reading
  • Planning a writer's retreat for myself

(There may have been some TV, naps, and other time-wasters interspersed in there as well, but I prefer to gloss over those for posterity's sake.)

Notice what's not on that list?  Yeah, writing.  Hence the radio silence on the blog - this is supposed to be a sort of record of my writing journey, and, well, checking in to say, "Hey, I've been slacking/uninspired/frustrated/blah/*vomits*" does not make for great reading.  I try to blog when I have something to say, and apparently I don't have much to say lately.

I'd like to blame being busy or overworked or whatever, but the truth is I've just been lazy.  I have time to write - I'm making the choice not to.  (I hate seeing those words, but they're true.)

And now of course I'm facing the inevitable writerly dread, which is to say, it is SO MUCH HARDER to get back into writing when you haven't been doing it regularly.  I want to make writing a daily practice, like some people meditate or pray.  Or that's what I think I want, anyway... my actions would seem to indicate otherwise.

Frustrated/blah/*vomits*

(Fun to read, right?)  :)

Okay, so this is where you come in.  HALP.  I need encouragement, or wisdom, or tips and tricks, or anything you might have to offer.  How do you incorporate writing into your daily life?  How do you ease back in?  How do you stay motivated? 

All thoughts appreciated.  Thank you!!

8.14.2012

freedom

First day in a lot lot lot of days that writing has felt appealing and not like pulling teeth.  First day I've gotten to the end of a chapter and wanted to keep going.

I said to myself last night, "Alright lady.  I'm letting you off the hook.  If you don't want to write anymore, you don't have to."  It was a bit of a turning point, in part because I never thought I'd say those words to myself.  In my moving and unpacking and corralling painters and electricians and roofers and exterminators and anyone else who wanted to wander into my house in the last few months, writing became just another thing on my to do list.  And let me tell you, there is very little happiness on a to do list.  They are, by nature, chores.

Writing didn't always feel like a chore.  But for a while, for me, it's been heading in that direction.  Long before the move, to be honest.  Something about the combination of my relentless perfectionism and the pressure brought to bear by reading too many blogs about writing/publishing and just feeling generally dissatisfied with my own lack of progress - I was hammering away at something large and impenetrable.  And when my hammer broke I started using my hands, and when my hands were useless I just started banging my head against it.  And after a while writing just meant twisted guts and heavy lifting and the pounding of a very bruised brain.

Until last night, when I finally let myself stop.  No more pressure.  No more self-imposed deadlines or mandatory word counts.  No more berating myself for not drafting faster or better.  There is no one way I am supposed to be doing this thing.  There's no "supposed to" at all.  No one is making me do this except me, and I write - allegedly - because I want to.

I'm trying to learn again how to want to.

I'm cutting way back on the blogs I read.  A lot of the bigger writing- and publishing-oriented blogs were so, so helpful when I was starting out, but I feel like I have the lay of the land now, and those constant reminders - commerce, commerce, commerce - just feel a little like drinking poison.  (Note: I will, of course, continue to read and love and snuggle up with the blogs of my writerly buds.  In other words, if you're reading this - YOURS IS NOT THE BLOG I AM NOT READING.  Heh.)

I'm sitting out on my sunporch right now, surrounded by trees and listening to crickets, and the truth is at some point, this is just it.  Me, and the quiet, and my story.  Things got complicated for a while, but there's not a whole lot more than this.

No more poison.  No more self-sabotage.  I write toward joy, or I don't write at all.

7.08.2012

30 Before 30

So.  I turned 29 on the 4th of July.  (You may have seen or heard the fireworks - I hope it wasn't too alarming.  People get kind of excited about my birthday.  I try and tell everyone not to make such a big deal, but...)

;)

Anywho - I guess these 30 Before 30 lists may be kind of overdone, but you know I can't resist a good list.  Particularly a list of goals! 

So here's what I'd like to accomplish in the next year:

1. Run a 10k
2. Finish my WIP
3. Buy a kayak and paddle 3 different rivers
4. Get CPR certified
5. Take a class in something I've never tried before
6. Take a trip to a state I've never visited
7. Go see a play or musical
8. Have our wedding pictures made into an album
9. Reorganize/update filing cabinet
10. Make an emergency kit (in case of zombie attacks, etc.)
11. Pay off one student loan
12. Call or write my little sister at least twice a month
13. Purchase one piece of original art
14. Talk to both my grandmothers about their life story and take notes
15. Climb a mountain - any mountain - to the top
16. Go to 10 yoga classes
17. Do something fun in Boston that I've never done before
18. Save $5,000
19. Learn to use a sewing machine
20. Frame my diplomas before they get lost or waterstained or something
21. Make my bedroom my favorite room - cozy, simple, light
22. Make my office an inspiring space
23. Take myself out on a really lovely date
24. Find "my style" and begin to create a coherent wardrobe
25. Pay it forward to a stranger
26. Go TV-free for a week
27. Send 5 people gifts just because
28. Read 50 books
29. Hang art in every room in the house
30. Do something very, very cool for my 30th birthday


Well, if nothing else, I don't think I'll be bored this year.  :)  What's on your life list?

Happy belated 4th!!

xxoo

6.13.2012

opening wide the doors

Well.  It's official. 

Not writing is definitely worse than writing.

I've given myself permission not to stress about all the Not Writing I've been doing lately, seeing as how I'm currently spending most of my free time dealing with mortgage brokers and whatnot.  I'm also taking 8 hours/week of (required for life-things, but non-writing-related) classes during the evenings this month, which is basically all my writing time.

But giving myself permission not to stress doesn't mean I'm not missing it.  And yeah, I'm sure I could eek out a paragraph or two here and there, but that's not really my style.  I'm kind of all-or-nothing when it comes to committing to a WIP.  Plus, I know those paragraphs would (a) suck, because I won't have given myself enough time to get back into the story, and (b) make me miss working on it that much more.  Like taking a bite of dessert and then pushing your plate away - not so much me.

Me: A Metaphor

But!  I had an idea last night, as I was tossing and turning and wishing for more hours in the day and wondering why my brain was refusing to take advantage of the ones I managed to set aside for sleeping.  Why not work on something else?  Something short and silly, something that can be set aside for days or weeks at a time, something that can be worked on in small pieces because I'm not expecting it to actually go anywhere?

Do you know how long it has been since I've let myself write something like that?  Answer: so very, very long.  And that's possibly a sign that I've been taking myself and my writing a leeetle too seriously. 

So, instead of continuing the wah wahhhh of Not Writing sadness, I'm going to use this time to play.  I'm going to indulge the scenes that have no place in any actual story in my brain.  I'm going to write a ghost story for some of my favorite little boys.  Maybe I'll try flash fiction.  Maybe I'll write hundreds of little sentences that don't fit anywhere but just sound pretty.

I'm opening wide the doors.  And I'm kind of looking forward to discovering what walks out.

And one more thing before I sidle off: I just want to acknowledge that I have been an awful, awful blog commenter lately.  As in, I've basically completely disappeared.  I think I've sufficiently addressed the why, but I did want to just say for the record that I am reading!  Just failing epically on the commenting front, for which I'm quite sorry.  I look forward to life settling down a bit - hitting the ebb to this flow.  In the meantime, please mentally append this comment to all of your posts: "Hi!  I'm here!  I miss you!  Great post!  I think you're brilliant!" 

Because I do. 

xxoo

5.28.2012

&etc.

SEEKING WORDS OF WISDOM FROM THE SUBURBAN ILLUMINATI

House stuff is still on track (!!) but I keep oscillating between being incredibly excited and out-of-my-mind terrified.  So maybe I'll do some crowdsourcing here: for those of you who own, what's one thing you wished people had told you before you became a homeowner?  What's the stuff you HAVE to have, or do, or remember that it seems like no one ever talks about?  Are there any super secret tips that you had to figure out the hard way?  All horror stories with implicit lessons welcome!

 READING!  AND... THINGS

I just finished reading Ready Player One, which I devoured in about two days.  If you are nerdy, a gamer, or feel at all nostalgic for the 80s, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  If you're not any of those things... y'know, I'd still recommend it.  Hell, I barely remember the 80s, and I'm not much of a gamer, and I still loved every second of it.

Other fun things the internet has shown me lately:

- Since my whole life is in upheaval, I'm currently obsessed with Adulting and The Storage Geek.  Adulting, in particular.  Just... genius.

- Janice Hardy passed along the best plotting advice she's ever heard.  The advice from Cheryl Kline  stopped me in my tracks when I read it on her own blog, and then again when Janice mentioned it, so apparently it's good stuff.  Also, I have the memory of a goldfish.

- I stumbled across David Foster Wallace's 2005 Commencement Address to Kenyon College (excerpted nicely here).  I've always been a sucker for a good speech, but he said some things that resonated with me in that way that things tend to do when they hit you at exactly the right moment.  He was so clearly struggling, as I suppose he had been, and obviously continued to be, and the speech itself is raw with that struggle. The whole thing basically screams, "WAKE UP!"  And I love it.

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
That is real freedom.

Yes.

YOU CAN'T SEE IT, BUT I'M TEBOWING

Chris over at A Writer's Expanding and Slightly Warped Universe is regularly and deservedly lavished with awards from other bloggers, and he has been kind enough to pass along two of them to me.  (What he doesn't realize is that I'm mere seconds away from breaking out my Oscar speech.  What... you don't have one of those?)

First was the Liebster Award.



As Chris noted, "this is a blogging award that has been around for quite a while, and is passed on to 'new and upcoming' bloggers (those who have less than 200 followers), in order to give them more exposure."  The "rules" dictate that upon acceptance I pass this award along to 5 other blogs, which I'm thrilled to do.  So, some delightful people I think you should check out:

  1. Stephanie Scott over at A Girl and Her Diary, who blogs about writing and YA and TV and other fun things
  2. Lost Star at Many Steps Sideways, who writes about life and transitions and punctuates it all with lovely pictures
  3. Kern Windwraith at The Odd Particle [Re]View, who rocked A to Z even with a concussion, and, when she had to bow out toward the end, got by with a little help from her friends (one of my fave A to Z moments, actually)
  4. Amalie Berlin, who tells some of the funniest stories I've ever heard
  5. And finally, Iliad Fan at Story Gush, who blogs about the books you really should be reading

After that, Chris was sweet enough to grace me with the Kreativ Blogger Award.


The rules are: 
 
1. Thank and link back to the person who presented you with the award.

2. Answer the ten questions below.

3. Share ten random facts/thoughts about yourself.

4. Nominate seven worthy blogs for the Kreativ Blogger Award
 
As for number one, it's not difficult to encourage you all to head over to Chris' blog - not only is he one of the nicest guys on the block, but I'm always excited to see that he's posted.  His blog is just a fun place to hang out, y'know?  So go!  Go I say!  Go see for yourself!
 
 And now for the ten questions:

1. What is your favorite song?
 
Sha-whaaaaa?  I have no idea how to even begin to answer that question.
 
Okay.  Okay.  
 
After some serious iTunes perusing and some deep thinking about what songs I've come back to over and over and over again in my life, I think Ani DiFranco's Joyful Girl is probably my favorite song of all time.  It's quiet, gorgeous, and "The world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world" was my senior quote.  It makes me think of all the people I love, and it has a lot of good reminders tucked away inside.  So there you have it.


(This actually isn't the version I was thinking of - this is the live version, but still beautiful.  Just scroll in about 35 seconds if you don't want to hear pre-song-chatter.)

2. What is your favorite dessert?

Chocolate.  Anything chocolate.  Preferably dark.

3. What ticks you off?

Stubbornness and an unwillingness to grow.  Pretentiousness.  Cruelty.  People who honk in traffic like it's going to make any of us move any faster.

4. When you're upset, what do you do?

Shut down, process alone, regroup, and try to respond thoughtfully once I've calmed down.  (I've found this is the only way I'm able to incorporate love and empathy into my response, which is my goal when I'm upset but trying to repair and move on.)

5. Which is/was your favorite pet?

Well, that question's just wrong.  I will say this: I have owned, in my lifetime, several cats, dogs, and fish, a ferret, a hedgehog, and a chameleon.  So, favorite?  Come on.  Apples and oranges, my friend.  Apples and oranges.

6. Which do you prefer to wear, black or white?

Black.  Mostly for the disguising of the spills.

7. What is your biggest fear?
 
The death of any of my family members.  And natural disasters/plagues that wipe out civilization as we know it.  (Uh huh.)

8. What is your attitude mostly?

Introverted, friendly, and loyal, with a dash of type-A OCD anxiety thrown in for good measure.

9. What is perfection?
 
Impossible.

10. What is your guilty pleasure?

Oh boy.  That would be, uh... *hangs head* Grey's Anatomy.  I just... I just love it.  (Go ahead and judge, but that show has colorblind casting, queer characters, and a whole lotta well-scripted twists, which is more than can be said for most everything else on TV.)  (Did that sound too defensive?  I just love it.)
 
Okay, now for 10 random things about me:
 
1. My Meyers-Briggs test puts me at an INFJ, and wow is it spot-on.
2. I'm kind of obsessed with the Neti Pot right now.  Allergies be gone!  (Yes, yes, brain-eating amoebas: use filtered water, folks.)
3. I can't draw.  Like, really.  Even my stick-figures are lopsided and misshapen.
4. I've never been out of the country.  I need to fix this soon.
5. I own a pair of these (and yes, people do give you weird looks).
6. I can recite all of the states in alphabetical order, really fast.  (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas...)  It's my go-to talent show talent.  Shout out to my 9th grade civics teacher!
7. I wrote a poem in kindergarten about the headless horseman that ended "For he got away with a bat... for he got away with a bat." In the margins surrounding the poem, I drew a picture of a baseball bat as well as a flying-animal-bat. To this day, I have no idea what the hell my 5-year-old self was talking about.
8. I once fell forward onto a cactus, and had to pull out close to 50 long, thick needles from my legs. Also, I had gotten a terrible sunburn on my back earlier in the day, so… yea, it was a pretty bad day.
9.  I have never served on a jury, and now that I’m a lawyer, I’ll probably never be chosen for one. 
10.  I had to start wearing glasses in the 3rd grade.  I remember putting them on for the first time and being just so absolutely filled with wonder that trees had leaves, and grass was made of individual stems, and brick walls weren't just giant red slabs.  Everything was sharp, and in-focus.  Everything was new again.  I try and remember that moment every time I write.


Alright, now I'm supposed to nominate 7 people for this award.  But that's kind of a tall order at the moment, since my brain is melting.  So I'll just say this: chances are, if you read my blog (and comment, so I know you exist), I read your blog.  And I love all the blogs I read.  I could nominate every one of you.  SO, that's exactly what I'm doing.  I'm nominating you.  Thaaaat's right: YOU, there, reading this, right now.  Congrats!  You really do deserve it.  Now get to answering those questions!  :)

5.08.2012

we interrupt this silence

Things have not. stopped. moving. post-A to Z! Really though, not for a moment.  Work got busy and I spent last weekend at the Muse & the Marketplace conference (which was amazing and really needs a post all its own...) and it's possible that I just BOUGHT A HOUSE.  So... that's where I've been.  Running around like a crazy person, pretending to be a grown up, scheduling inspections, attending workshops, doing laundry, intermittently freaking out about the enormity of homeownership, having no time to write, etc.

So!  This is me, dropping a quick line to say hello there, yes, I AM still alive... and to give all kinds of celebratory high-fives to those of you who are also in A to Z recovery.  To those of you who are just stopping by now that all the blogging madness has died down: high-fives AND fist-bumps.  (Which is apparently my way of saying, so nice to meet you!)

Super special thanks and love to Chris over at A Writer's Expanding and Slightly Warped Universe for bestowing upon me the Liebster Award, which I will gratefully accept in a blog post that is less off-the-cuff, as it deserves proper recognition.  (If you're a writer and you didn't check out his blog during A to Z, you should go peruse - his theme was fundamentals of writing that we all ought to include in our work, and it's a pretty fantastic list!  Also, he's one of the nicest bloggers you'll ever meet.)

More super special love and thanks to Suze at Analog Breakfast, for consistently blowing my mind with her A to Z posts, and for following that up with a shout-out in her roundup post that made me all blushy.  Hers catapulted very quickly to one of my very favorite blogs (ever), so it meant a lot to know that she would send people this way.  Go check her out, if you don't know her.  You won't regret it.

And now I'm off to cross a few more things off my list.  But what about you all?  How're you keeping busy?  (I miss not getting daily posts from everyone!)

4.30.2012

A to Z: Zed



WE MADE IT!!!!!

HAPPY END OF A TO Z EVERYBODY!
:D

Celebratory GIF time!!!





 
To those of you I met during the challenge: I am so thrilled to have gotten to know you, and I look forward to keeping up with your blogs!

I had a blast, and when I'm back in computer-land I will most certainly be doing a bit of a wrap-up post.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear: what was your favorite part of A to Z?  What amazing blog did you discover that I may have missed?  And what are you going to do with all this newfound free time now that it's over???  :D


[Please note that I'll be out of town, with little-if-any internet access, for the next few days.  I hate to miss the homestretch of A to Z, but if I don't stop by your blog this weekend, please know I'm planning on getting there ASAP!]

4.28.2012

A to Z: You

Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write?
RAINER MARIA RILKE



[Please note that I'll be out of town, with little-if-any internet access, for the next few days.  I hate to miss the homestretch of A to Z, but if I don't stop by your blog this weekend, please know I'm planning on getting there ASAP!]

One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.27.2012

A to Z: the X factor

Please note that I'll be out of town, with little-if-any internet access, for the next few days.  I hate to miss the homestretch of A to Z, but if I don't stop by your blog this weekend, please know I'm planning on getting there ASAP!

Some books are brilliant and amazing and have wide appeal, and they go on to become NY Times bestsellers.  Some books are brilliant and amazing and have wide appeal, and they barely register as a blip on the radar screen.

What is it that causes some books to become huge hits, and others to disappear into the abyss?  What is the x-factor here?

I know, I know.  If there was a clear answer to that then everyone reading this would be writing bestsellers and we'd all quit our jobs to become rich and happy doing what we love.  (Actually, that sounds amazing.  Could someone get on that please?)

It seems to be some odd combination of luck and timing and publicity and a character or world or concept that hits a large group of people in a very specific (and clearly unpredictable) way.  Who knew that the entire world wanted to escape into a magical world of witches and wizards alongside an 11-year-old boy?  Who could have predicted that we would all follow a teenage girl into a war zone orchestrated by a corrupt government?

We have anxieties; we want escape.  Sometimes a book manages to stoke those anxieties and then provide an answer that resonates, I suppose.

Other thoughts?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.26.2012

A to Z: Works in Progress

There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.
ANNIE DILLARD


This is something I try to remind myself.  Every day.

If you think what you're writing sucks, the answer is to keep going.  If you think it's amazing, the answer is to keep going. The truth is, you can't know what it is.  It's a work in progress.  The only answer is to keep going. 

One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.25.2012

A to Z: Voice

Voice is one of those things that's hard to pin down.  It's rather like obscenity, I suppose: we know it when we see it.  Good voice can carry a story, situate us in time and place and feeling so solidly that we are utterly transported.

Finding your own voice as a writer is hard; I know I certainly haven't mastered it.  It's so easy to read something brilliant or moving or quirky and think, "Yes.  That voice is perfect.  That's what I want to do.  That's how I want to write!"

And then I spend a few days trying to write like... whoever... before reverting back to the voice that just comes out naturally when I write.  It changes, sure, from story to story and as I grow as a writer.  But it's always the one that comes out in the end.

Okay, so I may not have a Margaret Atwood in me.  I may not have a Neil Gaiman, or a Sarah Waters, or a Franny Billingsley (all writers who have, I think, distinct and interesting voices).  I have me, when it comes down to it: just me.

I could spend years trying to hone my writing style so that I sound like Margaret Atwood, and you know what I would sound like?  An imitation of Margaret Atwood.  But I'm pretty sure she's got that covered.  The Voice of Margaret Atwood is a void that was filled by... the voice of Margaret Atwood.

I have my own voice.  That's the one the world has room for.  That's the one I want to spend my time on.

Do you ever find yourself changing your voice to sound like someone else?  What has your experience been?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.24.2012

A to Z: Universes

Once a day I try to remember to look up at the sky.  I look up and say to myself, each time, "That goes on forever."  Wait for the word to sink in.  When it doesn't, I supplement with other words: ever-expanding.  Vast.  Endless.  Farther than we are capable of understanding. 

I think of the light that has taken years to reach me, the light I'd miss if I wasn't looking for it right now, in this moment.  I don't mean I would miss it in that yearning way, not the way I miss my family over miles and miles.  I mean I would miss it the way I missed knowing my grandfather, missed breathing even one breath during his lifetime, missed sharing so much as a sentence with the man who gave me, they say, my love of words.  He put bookplates in his books and I trace them with my fingers, wondering if the ink rubbed off on my hands whether the print of his name could seep into my blood and I could come to know him that way.

It is good to remember that this light traveled years to shine down on me and I looked up at exactly the right time, and I saw it.

I stand under the sky and think of this: of myself, so small, of you, us, here, today, still.  Still here.  It is a fundamental property that energy is never lost, neither created nor destroyed, but conserved, converted.  We breathe the dust of stars and dinosaur bones.  Nothing is lost.  No one.  Not really.  In a closed system, everything is only... timing.

We were never meant to see the edges of the universe.  So I stand there, neck craned.  I close my eyes and imagine for a moment what is impossible to imagine, and then I open them again. 

I keep them wide.

I do not want to miss the light; it has come so far to be seen.


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.23.2012

A to Z: Talent

I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.
GORDON LISH




One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.21.2012

A to Z: Someday

Someday I want to:

Finish this WIP.
Edit it 'til it shines.
Query.
Get agented.
Write and re-write.
Get published.
Do it all over again.
And again.
And again.


Today I can:

Sit down, no excuses, and put the words on the page.



One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.20.2012

A to Z: Running

When I was in 5th grade, I started telling everyone that I wanted to be a runner for the US Olympic team.  Why?  I have no idea.  But I guess if you're gonna aim, aim big, right?

Fast forward to 2010, when I hadn't even thought about running in years.  I wasn't a sports girl, though I had grown up playing sports.  I wasn't a gym girl, though I thought of myself as relatively healthy.  What I was was a fairly-out-of-shape girl in her mid-20s with a family history of people keeling over unexpectedly and far too young of heart attacks, who spent most of her day hunched over a computer and who desperately needed a plan to get active.

Enter Couch to 5k.  I started in the summer of 2010, and did the program in starts and stops.  By spring of 2011 I could run a 5k without much effort.  I even got my mom into it, and she's running a half marathon next month.  (She is, um, WAY more motivated than me.  And in WAY better shape, it goes without saying).


I stopped running for a few months at the beginning of this year, and I'm just getting into it again.  Right now, I hate it, because I'm at that place where my body feels like it's working against me and it's a challenge to make it 2 miles.  But I know I'll get there.

What do you do to stay active?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.19.2012

A to Z: Quickly, Quietly

I used to need complete silence to write.  No music, no TV, no chatty neighbors in the apartment upstairs.  Just me, and the air, and the words.

Then I started trying to fast-draft, to move through my first draft at the rate of 1000+ words a day, which was an unheard-of pace for me.  In order to do that, I had to get out of my head a little bit.  Find a way to turn my inner editor off and just let the words come, judgment-free.

Two things helped me do that: a timer, and NOISE.

If I'm listening to music when I'm writing, it takes me everso slightly out of my critical brain - apparently I can't concentrate both on writing and self-editing and listening to the music.  Combine that with a timer and a word count goal and I'm good to go.

Is it great writing?  Nope, but it's certainly edit-able.  When I wrote with my critical brain on high alert, my writing was definitely better the first time out.  It was also taking FOR.EV.ER.  And I'd spend hours agonizing over scenes that might not even make it to the final cut.  Good writing, but completely inefficient process.

So I've traded quiet for quick, and it works for me.  What about you?  What's your process look like?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.18.2012

A to Z: Paring down

As those of you who're participating in the A to Z challenge this month must also have realized: this challenge is no joke.  Keeping up with blogging, answering comments, reading others' blogs, commenting on them, work, family, etc. is a lot to fit into a day!

That's not, of course, to say that I'm not enjoying the experience quite a bit.  I've gotten to meet and interact with so many fantastic people, and I've discovered so many blogs that I expect to keep reading long after A to Z is over.  These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of awesome.

But.

But I have family coming into town to visit starting tomorrow, and then a few frantic days at work after they leave, and then a long-awaited trip with yet more family... and I'm not sure how I'm going to get it all done.  So this post is my announcement that the paring down of the posts has officially begun.  I hope you'll bear with me; I still have so much to say, I'm just going to try and keep it brief.  (Not my strong suit, clearly, as this several-paragraphs-long "paring down" post demonstrates, heh).

All I'm saying is, I'm pretty jealous of those people who decided to post 5 word poems or something.  In retrospect, I think they're geniuses.

So.  Shorter posts from me, starting now.  But the same amount of joy to see you all stop by, and to read your blogs.  :)

Happy Wednesday!


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.17.2012

A to Z: Ode to the Dictionary by Pablo Neruda

I discovered Pablo Neruda in the 8th grade, when my English teacher had us read several of his odes to what seemed to be fairly random things, and then compose our own ode to an everyday object.  (I chose notebook paper.)  I don't think I could properly appreciate it at the time, but his Ode to the Dictionary never fails to make me take a deep breath and smile.

Ode to the Dictionary

Ox shoulder, heavy
loader, systematic
thick book:
As a young man
I didn't know you, I was dressed up
to sufficiency
and I believed myself full up,
and puffed up like a
melancholy toad
I declared "I receive
the words
directly
from a roaring Mount Sinai.
I will reduce
their forms by alchemy.
I'm a wizard."
The great wizard was silent.

The Dictionary,
old and heavy, with its binding
of worn leather,
remained silent
without showing its testing.

But one day
after having used
and disused it,
after declaring it
a useless and anachronistic camel,
when for long months without protest,
it served me as an armchair
and as a pillow,
it rebelled and planting itself
in my door
it grew, it moved its leaves
and its nests,
it moved the elevation of its foliage
the tree
was,
a natural,
generous
apple tree, apple grove or apple-like
and the words
shone in its bottomless cup
dull or sonorous
fertile in the fronds of language,
loaded with truth and sound.

I select only
one of
its
pages:
Caporal (foreman)
capuchón (monk's hood)
what a marvel
to pronounce these syllables
with air,
and further down
Cápsula (capsule)
hollow, waiting for olive oil or nectar
and next to them
Captura, Capucete, Capuchino
Caprario, Captatorio
words
which flake off like smooth birds
or which explode in the light
like blind germs which waited
in the storerooms of vocabulary
and live again and give life:
once more the heart sets them afire.

Dictionary, you're not
a tomb, sepulcher, casket,
burial mound, mausoleum,
but a preserver,
hidden fire,
the planting of rubies,
living perpetuity
of the essence,
granary of the language.
And it is beautiful
to pluck in your columns
the word
in its lineage,
the severe
and forgotten
sentence,
daughter of Spain,
enduring
like the blade of a plow,
fixed in its limit
of antiquated iron-work,
preserved
with its exact beauty
and its metallic hardness.
Or the other word
which we saw lost there
out in dialect regions
and which quickly
became tasty and smooth in our mouth.

Dictionary, one hand
of your thousand hands, one
of your thousand emeralds,
one
single
drop
of your virginal elements
one grain
from
your
generous granaries
on the tip of my pen,
in my inkwell.
From your thick, sonorous
depth of your forest,
give me,
when I need it,
one single trill, the luxury
of a bee,
a fallen fragment
from your ancient wood
perfumed by an eternity of jasmine beds,
one
syllable
all earthquake, a sound:
from the earth I am and with words I sing.



One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.16.2012

A to Z: Not Writing

Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. 
Lawrence Kasdan 
 
Ohhhh, the guilt of Not Writing. It would be one thing if writing was my actual job, but unfortunately, it isn't. I have to make time for it; I have to fit it in where I can. But sometimes... life gets in the way. (Or, y'know, you join a month-long blog challenge that takes a lot more time than you expected.) :) And that's when the guilt sets in.

But today I'm thinking about what Not Writing is, and why maybe it's not so bad.

You don’t always have to give up things you enjoy—even mundane things, even things that you’re reluctant to admit you take enjoyment in—to make time to write. You don’t have to feel guilty about everything you do that isn’t writing.
JESSICA STRAWSER

I can't write if I'm completely braindead after a 10-hour day at work. On those days, I'd rather just spend time with my wife, or talk to my parents on the phone, or take a jog around the pond near my house, or watch guilty-pleasure TV and not think a single thought if I can help it. It's all Not Writing, but sometimes it's all I can muster - and it means I can come back to my writing refreshed, with a functioning brain that's ready to be creative. I'm not a robot. I'm a person, with friends and relationships and hobbies and the desire to do more than simply work and write and rinse and repeat. What will I have to write about, if I never leave the house? What can I know of the world - what will I have to say?

There are days I don't write. Sometimes, there are weeks. The trick is to figure out how to keep the story alive while you're out doing other things.

So. I'm just going to leave this right here, because I like it a lot and I want to remember it:

It doesn't matter what time of day you work, but you have to work every day because creation, like life, is always slipping away from you. You must write every day, but there's no time limit on how long you have to write.

One day you might read over what you've done and think about it. You pick up the pencil or turn on the computer, but no new words come.  
That's fine. 
Sometimes you can't go further. 
Correct a misspelling, reread a perplexing paragraph, and then let it go. You have re-entered the dream of the work, and that's enough to keep the story alive for another 24 hours.

The next day you might write for hours; there's no way to tell.

The goal is not a number of words or hours spent writing. All you need to do is to keep your heart and mind open to the work.

WALTER MOSLEY


Now THAT I can do.  Every day.
 
Do you write every day?  What do you do when you're Not Writing?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)
 

4.14.2012

A to Z: Music

Happy weekend everyone!  Here are a few of my favorite earworms to see you through 'til Monday...

Imogen Heap - Loose Ends



Gotye - Somebody That I Used to Know



Call it Off - Tegan & Sara



Down Home Girl - Old Crow Medicine Show



Hey Ya - Obadiah Parker 




Lovesong - Adele




Flight of the Conchords - Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros



What's stuck in your head right now?  :)


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.13.2012

A to Z: Leaving Something Behind

It is the deepest desire of every writer, the one we never admit or even dare to speak of: to write a book we can leave as a legacy. And although it is sometimes easy to forget, wanting to be a writer is not about reviews or advances or how many copies are printed or sold. It is much simpler than that, and much more passionate. If you do it right, and if they publish it, you may actually leave something behind that can last forever.

ALICE HOFFMAN



Opening a book and reading the words of someone who is speaking to you across years and continents is... well, I can think of no better word than magic.  It's telepathy.  It's communicating with a person you may never see, or meet, or touch.  A person who may not have taken even a breath during your lifetime.  Writers have a chance to achieve immortality; they can go on speaking forever, waiting patiently behind bookcovers for the next curious mind to engage.

It's a tiny kind of miracle, to leave something of yourself behind like that.  The idea is huge, and heavy, and leaves me feeling small and eager.

Magic, I tell ya.



One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.12.2012

A to Z: Keeping Secrets

It took me a long time to begin thinking of myself as a writer.

It has taken me much longer to start to tell other people.

In fact, there are plenty of people in my life who don't know I write at all.  There are a lot of reasons I keep it to myself: they're acquaintances and it just hasn't come up.  They're work-friends and we don't talk that much about our personal lives.  They're people I don't speak to all that often, and when we play periodic "catch up," mentioning that I spend all my free time writing gets lost under all the "Oh, and I got married!" updates.

Then there are the people I don't tell because I dread the inevitable next question: "What do you write?"

I don't mind answering, "A novel."  Or even, "A young adult novel."  It's the people who press beyond that, who want to know the details, that trip me up.  It's not that I can't talk about what I'm writing, it's just that... I kind of don't want to.  I feel conflicted about that - shouldn't I want to be shouting it from the rooftops?  Gauging people's interest?  Getting my elevator speech ready?  But until the words on the page at least come close to approximating the ideas in my head, my instinct is to play things pretty close to the vest.

Here's the thing: the more I talk about what I'm writing, the less I want to write it.  It feels like a little bit of the magic seeps away each time.  And - particularly when it's in first draft form - my stories feel so fragile.  I don't want to breathe too hard around them for fear of jostling the perfect picture I have in my brain.  So I keep quiet and tread lightly.

How about you?  Secret keeper?  Rooftop shouter?  Something in between?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.11.2012

A to Z: Joy

One of my best friends and I do this thing where every day we tell or text or email to one another a list of three things that are making us happy that day.  I know that sounds super cheesy (and it is, I guess - very Oprah's gratitude journal) but I have to say, it has really changed my day-to-day mood.  I wasn't expecting much when we started, to be honest.  It's just three things.  Takes maybe a minute or two of my day.  But that's why I'm evangelizing about it now: it's so easy.  And it's kind of awesome.

What it means is that every day, the following are guaranteed:

  • I will take at least a few moments to think about the ways in which I am lucky and blessed
  • I will take at least a few moments to celebrate with my friend the ways she is lucky and blessed
  • I will have at least one conversation that is centered around joy, and not around complaints/to do lists/work/stress/etc.

Before I did this, those things were not guaranteed.   Okay, it was highly likely I'd have conversations that weren't about complaints or work or stress.  But it definitely wasn't likely that I would set aside time to think about the good things in my life, and to celebrate the good things in someone else's.  Unless I'm mindful about it, I find that I don't do those things often enough.  So this is my way of being mindful.

Cheesy or not.  :)


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.10.2012

A to Z: "I" (or, Writing in the First Person)

I'm really drawn to first person narratives, in that way that a lot of YA writers tend to be.  There's something about the immediacy of being dropped into someone's brain that coincides really well with the immediacy of the teenage experience.  Everything is so here and now and me and my life when you're a teenager that sometimes third person can feel too distant.  You need to be there, with the character, thinking her thoughts right alongside her.  You need that rush of emotion that comes with standing on the edge of the world at fourteen or fifteen or sixteen and believing that you are as vast as an ocean and that everything is possible and that there is nothing you will not do in your life.  First person puts you right there, eyes wide and lungs filled, blood pumping hard.

That isn't to say that there's anything wrong with third person.  (Although - slight digression - have you ever thought about how strange third person is as a storytelling device?  It's so common that we take it for granted, but really, think about it: someone is telling you a story about other people, and dipping into their heads at will to tell you what they're thinking, and - in the case of omniscient narration - jumping from place to place to report back about what's going on in other places and in other people's heads.  I mean - WHO IS THIS NARRATOR??  Is he magic?  Is he telepathic?  How does he know so much about what all these different people are thinking?  It's quite rare that books answer that question - typically third person narrators aren't identified.  I'm just saying.  It's strange.)

Ahem.  But as I was saying: there's nothing wrong with third person.  I've actually been writing so much in first that I'm starting to crave writing third just to do something different.  But I understand the YA love for first.  "I" is the embodiment of the teenage experience.

How about you - do you find yourself writing in one POV more frequently than another?  Anyone want to make an impassioned case for third?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.09.2012

A to Z: Heroes

When I was a junior in high school, my U.S. History teacher made us go around the room on the first day of class and tell everyone who our hero was.  I still remember wracking my brain trying to come up with someone who was cool enough to be socially-acceptable, but hip enough to make me stand out from the crowd.

In the end, I lamed out and announced that I didn't have a hero because I was too young; I hadn't decided who or what I wanted to be yet, so I didn't have anyone in mind to emulate.

Yeah, total cop out.

Today I would name:

My mother, for giving up a LOT to raise my siblings and I, for doing what I (humbly) consider to be a damn good job of it, and for deciding at age 50 that she was going to take up running as a hobby.  She texted me the other day that she had just finished running 13 miles.  I couldn't run 13 miles if I tried.  She's a badass.

My father, for going to work every single day for 30+ years without a single word of complaint.  Having officially worked for about 1/10 of that time now, it's the not-complaining that I find most impressive.  He just did it, because it had to be done.  And then he played baseball with us in the front yard after work.  He is also a badass.

Margaret Atwood, for writing books that make me so jealous I could tear my hair out, and so inspired that I usually have to stop reading, mark my page, jot down a paragraph or two, and then continue reading.

Badass.


It's good to have heroes.  Who are yours?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.07.2012

A to Z: Going with your Gut

I'm planning on doing a whole post about my convoluted and ever-evolving writing process, but one thing that I've found that always trips me up is going with my gut.  On the one hand, I've found that really, your feelings shouldn't get a vote when it comes to sitting down to write.  Your gut can tell you all sorts of things: that you're too tired, too blocked, that maybe tomorrow you'll be inspired so yes, you should definitely wait until then to begin.  But I don't believe in the muse, I don't believe in waiting to be inspired.  I believe that inspiration shows up when you sit down and write, and not the other way around.  Real artists don't talk about art.  They talk about work.

On the other hand, when my gut recently told me to stop working on my WIP and start something new, I hesitated, hemmed and hawed, kept hacking away at what I was doing - and was smacked upside the head with the concept of joy.  There's no point in writing if it's joyless.  I don't mean that every day will be puppy dogs and sunshine, of course (see above re: work) but, as my wife says, there's a difference between pain and suffering.  It might be painful, it might be hard and time-consuming and arduous work to sit down and write, but pain can be productive.  Sometimes a good writing session hurts your brain the way a good workout hurts your muscles.  There's still joy in that.

But if you're suffering, that's a different story.  Suffering is pain without purpose - it's joyless.  It's spinning your wheels.  And when you're a writer, it's totally self-inflicted.  Because you can choose to put the pen down.  You can walk away from the crazy-making thing.

The problem is, it's not always easy to tell whether you've reached the point where you should stop something, or whether you're just procrastinating/uninspired/blocked.  We're encouraged to keep pushing through... but sometimes you shouldn't.  Sometimes you should put it down and walk away.  The trick is knowing when.

If you're stuck, try and figure out why.  Is it a plot problem, a procrastination problem, a perseverance problem?  Those can usually be solved by pushing through.  But are you no longer feeling joy when you come away from working on your project?  If you aren't, maybe it's time to walk away.

I don't know.  I don't have the answers.  You have to go with your gut.


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.06.2012

A to Z: Fear

I'm a pretty anxious person in general.  Like a lot of things I guess, anxiety is about control, and the fear of not having it.  In my case, I have a pretty constant apprehension about things that are out of my control.  The stuff that hasn't happened yet.  The things that I don't get to decide.

I worry about the Yellowstone Caldera.  I worry about cancer.  I worry about global warming and terrorist attacks and whether gay marriage will ever finally be legalized and kids like Treyvon Martin and house fires and glass ceilings and whether the world will be completely screwed up for my children.  If I thought too hard about things, I'd never leave the house.  And sometimes I don't.

Anxiety is living in the future.  There is a Buddhist saying: "The past is past and the future does not exist."  I realize that I expend an enormous amount of energy ruminating on and coming up with a contingency plan for a future that does not exist.  The truth is, even if I covered every possible outcome, it wouldn't help.  If someone I love dies, no amount of sadness before-the-fact will make it any less devastating.  You can't pre-shed your tears.

So today I'm working on releasing that anxiety.  Letting go of that fear.  Putting myself firmly in the present, where I belong.

Note to self: stick around.  Things are pretty damn good here.


 One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.05.2012

A to Z: Expectations versus Reality

Feeling a little silly today, heh.  I could try and relate this to writing somehow, but really, this one is mostly just about my life.  :)


Going For a Jog
Expectation:

Reality:

Walking Into a Room

Expectation:
image

Reality:

Going Bowling

Expectation:

Reality:


Strutting Around Like a Badass
Expectation:

Reality:

Going Out Dancing

            Expectation:



Reality:


Leaving Your House on the First Day of Spring

Expectation:

Reality:

Trying to Figure Out if You Have Superpowers

Expectation:

Reality:


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.04.2012

A to Z: Daring


Be daring, 
take on anything.  
Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, 
but only content will stay in his mind.
- Joyce Carol Oates

S.E. Sinkhorn over at Maybe Genius had a great post recently about Experimentation in Juvenile Literature.  The gist was that adults have certain set notions about what literature looks like, and if the thing they're reading doesn't fit into that mold, it's generally scoffed at as pretentious or strange.  But kids don't have these preconceived notions yet.  They're open to varied fonts, made up words, pictures, verse.  Writing YA gives you a bit more room to be a weirdo.  Which is great.

So I've been thinking about that in the context of Joyce Carol Oates' advice to be daring, to focus less on technique and more on content in one's writing.  I've been pondering ways I can stretch myself and my content.  Am I really reaching, taking full advantage of all that YA (and my brain) have to offer?  Or am I content to simply rehash the same old story with a few tweaks here and there?

So today I'm going to try and be more daring, to unleash my full creative energy into my work.  To push myself past the obvious and into the content that would really stick in someone's mind. 

Any good examples of this in things you've read?

One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

4.03.2012

A to Z: Callings

I am married to a midwife.  If that isn't a calling, I don't know what is.  She works harder than almost anyone I know - her hours are long and unpredictable, and she is always on call.  She is quite literally responsible for people's lives, and so the work is stressful, hard on her body, hard on her mind.  Sometimes she goes days without sleep.  I don't know how she does it; I never could.

But it is so clearly her calling.  She catches babies.  She ushers other human beings into the world.  With her hands.  I am in awe of her every time I think about it.

Frederick Buechner describes a calling as "the place where your deepest gladness meets the world's deepest need."

I tell stories.  It is my deepest gladness.  And I believe the world needs stories.  Stories teach us how to live; they insert us into complex moral situations and help us think our way out.  They act as an escape valve.  They allow us to imagine, and reason, and reflect, and change.  They have existed for all recorded time, and they persist.  They fill something in us that can't be filled in any other way.  We need them.


And so storytelling is my calling.  It is not quite so impressive as helping new life into the world, admittedly, but I think it reaches toward the same primal instinct: to live.  To carry forth.


I feel called.  Do you?



One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)