Dec 7 2016

Culture Consumption: November 2016

Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.

Books

“If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, then, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness.” — from The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad — which has won a National Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction —  tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When a fellow slave Ceasar tells her about the Underground Railroad, she agrees to escape with him and begins a journey north, taking her through various states and cities — each one with its own unique culture, some welcoming her with open arms, others openly hostile. The story unfolds the landscape of the Unites States, unveiling the many shades of racism, both openly violent and disguised behind a seemingly friendly face. This is a powerful book, at times uncomfortable in its straightforward portrayal of the violence inflicted on Cora and her peers, but always beautifully written and challenging in all the best ways.

Continue reading


Dec 5 2016

Coming Home

For the past several weeks, I’ve been avoiding writing much of anything, either here on my blog or poetry and other projects. I’ve been overwhelmed following the election and also busy spending time with the family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend followed by jumping on a plane to Germany for a week long work trip.

Life is like that sometimes. But I’m back home and back writing. I will probably have a string of posts wrapping up the year over the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, here are a few pics from my time in Dusseldorf, Germany last week.

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What I’m Reading

Independent Ed by Edward Burns is a memoir describing the filmmaker’s passion for the process of directing movies and his focus on independent work, as well as some stories from his acting career. Rather interesting and enjoyable with a few useful tidbits of advice here and there.

I’m also working my way through Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu. The essays present some fascinating analyses of Burton’s movies. For example, one of the essays examines atypical bodies as presented in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What I’m Writing

I have not been writing much of anything lately — all a part of giving myself time to decompress. I tend to feel two ways whenever I’m not writing. The first is guilty, as I know in order to improve at writing and to develop my career, I need to put words on the page and send them out into the world in one manner or another. The second thing I tend to feel is acceptance, a kind of forgiveness mixed with relief, because I also know that there is no sense in beating myself up when I’m not in a place to deal with words directly.

This whole not-writing thing is going to shift, I’m sure — in part from necessity, as I had a meeting yesterday regarding an upcoming project that could be an amazing amount of fun. As the project is in its initial stages of discussion, I can’t really share what it is yet, but I may be able to do so over the coming months, assuming everything pans out.

I also have some writing assignments that I need to finish up this week.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finishing writing assignments
  • Type up and send out meeting notes regarding mystery project

Linky Goodness

“We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, the Brexiteers here, Le Pen in France and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever — and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.” — Terry Windling in Dark Beauty.

“The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems,” writes Megan Garber in Still, Poetry Will Rise.

Star Trek’s Feminist Statement: Believe Women


Nov 6 2016

Culture Consumption: October 2016

A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.

Books

I really enjoyed Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, even though it took a ridiculously long time to read. It was worth it, but it seriously took forever to read.

Miéville presents an ornately complex city, operating on a mixture of steampunk science and magic, layered with neighborhoods, districts, slums, and inhabited by numerous intelligent species from humans to khepri (insectile humanoids), Garuda (birdmen), cacti men, and other beings. Everywhere is slick and reeking with filth and squalor (although it’s noted that there are rich burroughs that are less so. It’s a fascinating place, although one I’m not sure I’d want to visit.

The story spends some time getting to know the main characters, alternating between their POVs and adding more characters as it goes along building to a catastrophic moment that unleashes danger and fear on the city. Those first 200 or so pages are necessary to making the novel work, but I had a hard time getting through them (almost too much information to be absorbed). When the action finally gets started things become gripping while still being richly detailed. A great novel, but it definitely took some work to get through.

I did a reread of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, which was a nostalgic experience that I talked about elsewhere.

Continue reading


Nov 2 2016

Returning to Bird by Bird

I returned to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life this month, although looking back I’m not really sure why. I knew I wanted to read a writing book and this was a book I loved once upon a time, but it had been years since I’ve read it and there were plenty of other as-yet-unread writing books on my selves that I could have picked up instead.

Maybe I was just drawn to it. Lamott’s words were as witty, intelligent, and compassionate as I remembered them, but I struggled through the first portion of the book, my mind distracted and unable to focus — a problem with my own headspace more than the words on the page.

I think I’ve been a bit mentally overwhelmed in recent weeks (or months), too many things in life and literature for me to process — which might be a reason I’ve been turning more to TV and movies as a form of relaxation, since they tend to require less engagement.

But as I read and continued reading, working my way through the my own mental blocks, the book slowly anchored me and I felt a little clearer. Lamott writes about her own challenges in writing and in life and the ways it can overwhelm and drive her into despair. Seeing to her imperfect journey was a comfort, providing a sense of I’m not alone in this mess as I approached mine.

At the moment, I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t seem to call up any of the specific pieces of advice that Lamott gives. So, I’ll point to Carina Bissett, who also did a reread of Bird by Bird recently and shared a lovely piece on the ways that this book has helped her through challenging times. In her post, she highlights the recommendations Lamott has for getting past perfectionism and moving into getting words on the page — shitty first drafts, short assignments, the picture frame technique.

As Carina notes in her post, “It can be a difficult pursuit to move past the desire for perfection in order to put the story on the page in its raw and garbled state. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover the places where a story might have missed its mark or characters whose voices might never be heard if you don’t get the words on the page.”

Once upon a time, I would have recommended Bird by Bird primarily to young writers, writers just learning to face the immensity of the page. But having reread it now, I can see that this is a book for writers of all ages and at many stages in their career, a book that teaches compassion for the self, even when struggling with the writing life and the universe, and everything.


Oct 31 2016

Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!

I’ve loved horror stories and costumes since I was a kid, so it’s no surprise that Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. I love the excuse to dress up as something imaginary and the call on the creepy and strange with spooky decorations.

As an adult, I haven’t indulged in my love of Halloween nearly as much as I would have liked. Although, having a niece and nephew has certainly brought some of the joy of the holiday back to me. Watching them pick our their costumes, take joy in carving pumpkins (I was ordered to design Nightmare Before Christmas pumpkins featuring Jack, Sally, Zero, and Oogie-Boogie), and run around delighted with the act of trick-or-treating makes me delightfully happy. I always make sure to wear some sort of a simple costume for them, since I know it makes them happy.

Once upon a time, I would have planned out my costume in advanced and would have tried to be more inventive. But since I have not been attending any parties or going out with friends in the last few years, my costumes have become more and more simple — just enough to go trick-or-treating with the niece and nephew. This — combined with the fact that I’ve had zero decorations at my home — has made me feel somewhat disconnected from the holiday I love.

So, at the last minute, I hit up the dollar store and other inexpensive stores, and I invested in some inexpensive Halloween decorations that make my heart swell with happy. Sometimes it’s the little things — like a few decorations — that make life all the better.

Now that I’ve started up a little collection, my plan is to add to it, bit-by-bit every year, gathering and growing my Halloween joy like I’ve always wanted.

A sampling of my #Halloween decorations. . . . #bird #skeleton #pumpkin #skull

A photo posted by Andrea Blythe (@andreablythe) on

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

Just in time for Halloween, my poem “Summer Hauntings” is up in The Ghosts Issue of Eye to the Telescope.

On a related note, Shannon Connor Winward, the editor of The Ghosts Issue, has been doing a series of blog posts highlighting each of the poems she selected for the issue and why she chose them. I’m really honored by the kind words she had to say about my poem.

What I’m Reading

In honor of the holiday, I’m starting A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. I’ve read and loved Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, so I’m fully expecting this one to be excellent. Also, I’m already in love with the dark, sketchy artwork which loosely reminds me of the wonderfully creepy artwork form one of my favorite books as a kid, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which is being adapted into a movie by Guillermo del Toro, news that makes me all kinds of happy).

What I’m Writing

THE POEMING 2016 — a 31 day found poetry challenge comes to an end today. I’ve finished up all of my daily poems, which you can read over at Tendrils of Leaves. I’ll probably be taking a few of these down here and there as I start sending stuff out on submission, but they’ll stay up for at least a day or two.

Nanowrimo starts tomorrow, but I will not be nano-ing. I will however be doing another challenge, an eclectic do-something-everyday challenge, which I’ll talk about later.

Goals for the Week:

  • November Challenge ahoy!

Linky Goodness

9 Horrifying Books That Aren’t Shelved as Horror

Icy Sedgwick has a great post on the history of spirit photography.

10 Essential Horror Movie Scores

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