During my trip to London, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Tower while the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies was on display. Each of the 888,246 poppies that fills the moat represented a British military fatality during the WWI.
The view of the poppies pouring out of one of the Tower windows and filling the moat with bright red is inspiring, whether you know the meaning or not. It’s an installation to make passersby stop and take pause, and it’s no wonder that every walkway surrounding the Tower was thick with people doing just that.
The moat has since been emptied of the poppies and I am grateful for the lucky timing that allowed me to witness this spectacular remembrance of fallen soldiers.
As I was walking through the Tate Modern, I came upon “Untitled Painting” (1965) by Michael Baldwin, which is a work with a mirror attached to a canvas. The description noted that historically painting has often been referred to as window to the world, a perspective captured within the frame. However, the mirror in this piece shifts the gaze of the window, revealing the viewer in the act of viewing rather than an image the artist made themselves. In addition to being the viewer, you also become the subject of the painting as well.
As I stood observing myself, now the living and temporary subject of the painting, I started to think about the nature of art and the artists who create it. Since it’s been years since I’ve taken an art history class and I don’t tend to speak critically of art, bear with me as I may misinterpret some things.
When I walk through an art museum, I seek out works that move me, pieces of art that resonate in some way or in some way make me stop in my tracks and consider it further. The art that moves me is not always the most famous or most popular art. It may capture my imagination, sending me off into a story, or it may provide and emotional gut check.
I especially look for this in modern art museums, such as the Tate in London. I’m drawn more to modern art (much of the older art prior to the 18th century can sometimes all look the same to me no matter how beautiful), so local modern art museums are always a must when I travel .
The Tate has many great works of art in a variety of styles, from cubism to minimalism and everything in between. There are a few Picassos there among other well known artists.
Both artists are “paper architects” who created seemingly impossible designs out of paper. I plan to follow up and learn more about both of these artists and their work. But in the meantime, I think I’m going to have to go back to the Tate later this week and buy a print from their Projects series for my wall.
The National Gallery in London holds oodles of amazing paintings across many centuries, from the medieval religious works (including a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci) through to Renaissance to some expressionists (with some works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gough). But here are a few paintings I found amusing beyond the quality of the art. I admit that this post is partially inspired by Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History, which is far more hilarious than I am capable of being.
Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (1468), painted by Bartholomé Bermejo, in which Saint Michael comes off as something of a dick.
It’s been a busy day in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and the Tower of London (including just about everything but the armory exhibit in the White Tower); taking Thames River Cruise; walking by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, St. James Park, and the Buckingham Palace; and then finishing up at London Bridge Experience.
My Favorite Bit of the Day: The Globe.
The Globe is as close of a replica to the original Globe theater as possible, considering there is not much beyond the information provided except in the travelogues of visitors. This is actually the third Globe. The first burned down only fifteen years after being built due to the genius idea to fire a cannon out of the attic as part of a special effect, which causes some of the burning cotton to set the roof aflame, though no one died. The second was rebuilt and closed down about 30 years after it opened, when the Puritans finally succeeded in closing all of the theaters.
This, the third Globe was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker only 200 meters from where the original stood. Before starting the tour, an exhibition provides some background on the history of the Globe and how the replica was built, as well as including modern costumes designed to look like Elizabethan originals and recordings of famous monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.
Standing in front of the stage, learning about the tricks and understanding by being present really enhances how I feel about Shakespeare’s work. As the guide was speaking, just at her normal level, I could hear her voice reverberating off the rafters — the acoustics are amazing. Being there made me want to pick up and read some of his plays that I haven’t read before, or maybe just binge watch some of the movies.
The Globe is a working theater, too, putting on performances in (mostly) the old style with no electrical audio enhancement or special effects. The only lighting used is during evening performances, but it is used merely to allow the stage and audience to be lit to simulate the daytime experience, in which the audience and actors can see each other. In addition to Shakespeare’s plays, modern plays are also performed.
I would LOVE to have been able to see a performance at the Globe, but since it’s an outdoor theater, performances are only in the summer.
Fortunately, as an alternative, there is also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is designed to be like an indoor, candle-lit Elizabethan playhouse — where they will be playing John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Ford is a contemporary of Shakespeare and this is a play I read in college, which makes it doubly exciting. Tis a Pity is a story about incest between a brother and sister, which ends in a terrifically violent and bloody fashion in true Jacobean manner. Should be uncomfortably fun.
The next leg of my travel will be work involved in an industrial city nearby and, thus, in a sense, slightly more mellow. So, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up on my London posts.
I was un prepared for how crowded and busy London was going to be, but it was a good kind of crowed and only certain spots. I mean, I was a pain to maneuver a suitcase or an umbrella down the sidewalk sometimes, but it was also wonderful to be able to listen to the many different languages (French, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t name).
Tonight when I came out of the National Gallery, the rain was falling heavy. I pulled out my umbrella, but my shoes and pants were still getting wet. I was cold and could feel the water wanting to seep into my shoes, but I stopped worrying about it and just loved the rain. It felt like London blessed me (even though I know it rains here all the time).
Later, as I walked away down quieter streets to the hostel, with the lights reflecting off the wet streets, I was struck again by the absence of people after the earlier rushing crush of bodies.
And that’s about all I have the energy for in this post. I visited the National Gallery and the Tate Museum today, both of which had me thinking thoughts (one particular set of thoughts likely to turn into a very long post), but at the moment, the jet lag and exhaustion have caught up with me.
I am at the airport. Waiting for my flight to London via Chicago.
Will be boarding any second now. Any second.
Excitement is present beneath the tedium. I’ve never been to the UK (Well, actually, I spent three days in Ireland, so that’s not entirely true). First time in Britain.
Since this will be a work trip, I’ll have just a little time to visit and check things out. In the day and a half I have in London, I plan to visit:
– the National Gallery
– the Tate Modern
– Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
– a Thames River Cruise
– the Tower of London
– the Tower Bridge
– the London Bridge Experience (a horror history tour)
– and walk around a whole lot, seeing Buckingham Palace with the changing I the guard, Big Ben, and plenty of other stuff, I’m sure.
I’ll have another half day after the conference, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Expect many London posts over the next week.
So, yeah, still waiting.
I should pull out my laptop and Nano for a bit, because I promised myself I would use the waiting while traveling to write.
Out strolling, I learn how
the ocher yellow birch leaves tremble
against a robin-egg-blue sky. In a fairy tale,
a man finds a grove of trees
with leaves of gold, and here, now,
I believe it to be true. He could have plucked
these very leaves
as proof of the world’s wonder.
* * *
I have lived in Northern California most of my life. There are few birch trees, if any, and few trees that even bother changing color with the coming of Autumn. The seasons are less defined, blending one into the other with little differentiation. The first signs of Fall came only a few weeks ago with a noticeable chill to the morning air, a few sporadic grey-skied days with light rains lasting no longer than a day.
I remember piles of leaves, brown and yellow and golden, covering lawns. The rustle and crunch of them beneath my sneakered feet, sweeping huge piles into the air with one sweep of my feel. I imagine these memories attached to my younger years in Alaska, but more likely it would have been California — making my nostalgia misplaced. Perhaps this is in part due in part to my present longing for a true Autumn, a true Winter, at the very least a week of storms and rain.
* * *
I don’t much care for the hero in the story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“, who stalks the ladies down into the forests of gold leaves and silver leaves and then ruins the party.
Though to be honest, no one comes off well in this story. The king is sending men after his sleeping daughters and chopping heads off when they find nothing. The daughters blissfully drug the men, knowing they will die for their failure.
Still, I put my sympathy with the daughters, who seek adventure and dancing and joy. Though the hero brings them home and helps their father tether them to hope, I imagine each girl, one by one, shucking off the cords and wandering away for new adventures. The door to the magic lands may be closed, but their feet are strong and the world is wide. There is enough gold in the sun and silver in the clouds to give them joy, as they discover new shores and ensnare new friends into the freedom of dancing.
* * *
In fairy tales, everything — gifts, tests, friends — come in threes. They say that about deaths, too. When celebrities die, we count them in groups of three, create a grouping of deaths and call the curse down when the third falls. As though folk tale superstition can stop the flow of time, can hold back and make sense of the chaos of daily life. Summer becomes Autumn whether we like it or not, and we all must cross the threshold of Winter to reach the Spring.
* * *
Look what has become
of my heart, the husk of a brown leaf,
hold it in your hand, watch
it crumble to dust
and feed the earth,
in the cold, in the dark,
see the tender shoot
of its feeling
When I was 13ish, my cousin shared the movie My Girl with my younger sister and I. We had no idea what we were in for, the fun and funny coming of age story of a girl coming of age eventually left my sister and I completely destroyed, curled up in a balled weeping mess, hugging each other to hold back the feelings.* I remember it taking some time to calm us down, though my cousin claims innocence and no memory of this incident. Over the years, I’ve watched My Girl dozens of times and I’ve wept every time.
So, when My Girl 2 came out a few years later, I had to see it. It was… okay. Not nearly the amount of heart as I would have hoped.
But that’s not the point.
The point is there was one moment in the sequel I adored — when Veda finally sees a video of her mother and she sings the Charlie Chaplin tribute song “Smile” (the only available version of this scene is this really bad recording). I’m sure I cried, because I’m a big baby at movies. There was something about they way the actress who played Veda’s mom is so casual, singing it acapella, smiling to herself, an slightly embarrassed that captured me.
I loved the words, too. They are simple words, but sweet, speaking of holding to hope through hard times, something I could and still can relate to in the face of struggle. It places this among my favorite songs.
So, after finishing the movie, I immediately rewound the tape so that I could start memorizing it. I still know it by heart to this day.
I’m not a good singer (to be honest, I’m terrible), but if asked, I will sing “Smile,” mimicking the inflections of Veda’s mom. I can almost sound okay singing it, or so I’ve been told by my mom. 😉
The words, as I remember them:
Smile though your heart is aching,
smile even though it’s breaking,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that’s the time, you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just light up your face with gladness.
Hide any trace of sadness.
When there are clouds
in the sky, you’ll get by.
Smile through your fear and sorrow,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just smile.”
One of my personal flaws is my disinclination to engage more in politics. I suppose this is in part due to a sense of helplessness in the face of social and other issues I see within my country and in part due to laziness. Keeping up with politics is often disheartening, time consuming, hard work, and there are so many fun things I’d much rather be doing. Though I do read blogs and watch The Daily Show, I don’t often speak or write about politics.
But I feel I should be able to pull of a basic level of engagement: voting.
I tell myself every time that I miss a chance to vote that next time I will get my mail-in ballot, read up on the candidates and measures, and vote on time. And yet, here I am again. I’ve forgotten about the election, I’ve failed to get it together to vote, and promising myself to do better next time. I hope I can make that happen.
How often do you engage in politics? If you’re in the U.S., did you vote today?
Edited to Add: Just learned about headcount.org, which helps voters to register, find polling places, and provides other resources.
If you know of other such resources to make life easier for voters, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.
Saturday morning, I came to the sudden realization that I was doing Nanowrimo whether I liked it or not. After several hours of denial in which I instituted time-old delay tactics, such as twitter and tumblr, I decided on a story to work with — a novel in poems involving the interweaving and retelling of many fairy tales and myths — and began to dig in.
On Saturday, in between switching out laundry, I wrote. After going for a 4 mile run/walk, I wrote. In the few minutes before I had to leave for the awesome Dia de los Muertos party, hosted my fantastically awesome friend Lise, I wrote.
On Sunday, I woke up early and wrote, because I knew the majority of my day would be given over to helping my sister move from one apartment to another — both apartments were on the second floor. Well, one was on the second and a half floor, because there was a flight of stairs just to get to the second floor, which means my legs are all wibbly wobbly today. While my sister and mom were organizing all the moved-in things, I sat in the living room and wrote some more.
The result: 3,079 words written.
Already, with just that start, I feel better. The poems are more prosey than I’d like, but that’s for editing to fix. The months of feeling stuck and miserable from not writing has slid off my shoulders. This was exactly what I needed. I have a mountain of work ahead of me, but if I continue to be creative with my use of time, then I’m certain I can make it all work.
This is the mountain of things to be done during the rest of November:
1 — Trip to the U.K. for work. I’ll have a day and a half in London to tour the city, which will be action packed
3+ — Bridal party events to attend, including the bachlorette party, the rehearsal, and actual wedding itself.
2-3 — Thanksgiving dinners. The family dynamics are shifting this year and I’m not sure how it’s all going to fall into place.
27 — Blog posts left to be written as part of NaBloPoMo.
46,921 — Words left to be written for Nanowrimo.
Unknown Number — Of books to be read, runs to be run, and hang out time with friends and family have to be fit in.
Are you participating in any November challenges? Have you had a good kick off to the month?
Very short reviews from three months worth of movie watching. What have you seen lately?
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
3. Divergent (2014)
4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
5. The Bling Ring (2013)
6. A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
7. Prom Night (2008)
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
9. Captain America: The Winder Soldier (2014)
10. The Pact (2012)
11. The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
12. Horns (2014)
1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
2. Contact (audio book), by Carl Sagan
3. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
5. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio book) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Still reading at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will probably take me a long while.
Please share what you have been reading in the comments. Nothing better than discussing books!
It’s November 1st, and here I am not participating in National Novel Writing month, not even in a modified format. I love Nano and have participated more often than not over the past eight or so years. It’s helped me write words, a lot of words. And even though much of those words were set aside or trashed, I know those words have helped me complete other projects that I’m proud of. I also wouldn’t have many of the friends I have today.
So, I always feel a little sad on those rare Novembers when it participation won’t work for me, for whatever reason. This is one of those Novembers, because I will be traveling for work to the U.K. in a week and will have a slew of other events during the rest of the month.
Also, I’ve been feeling blocked with writing lately and have been trying to dig myself out. I would argue that feeling blocked is an excellent reason FOR doing Nano, rather than not doing it. Nothing to get past a slump like putting down words at a breakneck pace and racing past your inner critic…
freaking, fracking dammit! I can’t do Nano. I won’t.
But it’s occurring to me now — literally, right at this minute as I’m typing, seriously — that participating in Nano might be infinitely helpful to getting me back on tra— NO! I DON”T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!
But if I work on a new project, i.e., not the werewolf novel that has been hovering over my head like a great cloud of doom, then maybe, just maybe I can…
But I swear, I don’t have time for this. I mean, I’ll be traveling, loosing a WHOLE WEEK.
But I could write on the plane.
I swear, I started this post intending to make my excuses for Nanowrimo and announce my participation in NaBloPoMo. But, now, I guess…
I received this book as a reward for supporting the kickstarter project that made it possible. “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center,” the editors wrote in the project description. “People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.”
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History provides alternative narratives, presenting the stories of people that the history books usually ignore. A wide ranging variety of voices populate this excellent collection of stories, offered alongside an individual black and white illustrations, also in a variety of styles. The stories are anchored in time and place, with the date and setting noted at the top of each one, this connection with real-world history makes these stories of the fantastic more believable. There was not a single one in this collection that I didn’t like and, for me, the stories ranged from good to utterly fantastic. Below are a few of my personal favorites.
Zombies and survivors ran together during the Running with Zombies 5K fun run event in San Jose, which I participated in with my sister, both of us shambling out of bed bright and early Saturday, donned decaying flesh, and set out to run our brains out.
Despite some confusion as to where to park (the online directions were wrong), my sister and I had a rotting good time at the race. It kicked off with an air raid siren. The sky was grey and bleak with a slight mist, matching the tone of the event as we ran along the quite, closed off streets of San Jose, making it feel as though the city was a dead zone. The terrain then carried us through winding trails of a park where scattered zombies snarled at runners (some caged behind a chain link fence), past a abandoned and dilapidated building, and down a dirt, vacant feeling path where slow shuffling zombies wandered (one dragging the plastic corpse of a half eaten pig).
It was fun to see all the people who came, from young kids to wizened adults, many of whom came as zombies. Some got fairly creative with their costumes, including a zombie Star Trek officer.
As I haven’t been actively training as much as I would like, I felt a wee slow during the three-mile run and was definitely below my usual pace. But, hey, I was undead at the time, so I have an excuse and it was a shotgun blast of fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat (if I had one). I think I’ll rise to the occasion again next year.
“In the scant few decades in which humans have pursued radio astronomy, there has never been a real signal from the depths of space, something manufactured, something artificial, something contrived by an alien mind.
And yet the origin of life now seemed to be so easy — and there were so many billions of years available for biological evolution — that it was hard to believe the Galaxy was not teeming with life and intelligence.”
– from Contact by Carl Sagan
So many alien contact stories, especially those presented in movies, show a hostile force invading the Earth, forcing the human race to rally together in order to fight back. This is perspective is often driven by humanity’s history of violence and colonization, as well as human paranoia, such as with 1950s alien invasion movies as a metaphor for Cold War fears.
While I’ve enjoyed many an alien invasion stories (most recently, Falling Skies), I find myself drawn to and prefer first contact stories that are more positive or, at least, more ambiguous.
I think that is part of what made me love the movie Contact so much, when it was released in 1997, that story of ambiguous first contact with alien life based in scientific plausibility. It was a story not wholly built on paranoia and allowed for interesting perspectives to come through — How would people and government and religious groups react if an alien signal arrived from space? Plus it featured a complicated woman, heading the scientific investigation, played by the amazing Jodie Foster. I still get chills just rewatching the movie trailer.
“I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
— from Contact (movie version)
It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading the novel, but it’s been on my to-read list ever since I’ve seen the movie. I’m so glad I did.
October is my favorite time of year, or at least that’s what I’ve decided just now. The crisp, cold mornings allowing me to pull out my collection of scarves, the hope of future storms and rain so desperately needed after the long, dry California summer, and the coming of my favorite holiday, Halloween.
So, it was a delight to see that Monster, my niece who just turned two this summer, is delighted with the season as we walked around the pumpkin patch with her parents and her baby brother. Monster held shoulders back with an expression of smiling, princessy pride as she rode the pony. She sat (mostly) still as Minnie Mouse was painted on her cheek with glitter that made everything from her baby brother to my tee-shirt where she rested her head sparkle. She scampered through the pumpkins in her Minnie Mouse dress, pointing to each one and calling out, “Ha’oween!” All pumpkins are Halloweens to her.
I know she’ll love dressing up as Tinkerbell (though, honestly, she’d wear a sparkly dress every day of the week, if she could) and going out Trick or Treating (she’s already started practicing).
I’m so proud and happy to be an Aunty. Halloween this year is going to be so much fun.
The sun is setting in Quedlinburg as I step out of my hotel in search of an ATM and food. The ATM is easy. I have a clearly marked map and even in the fading light, the streets are easy to follow.
I turn toward where I think the city center is an start walking, figuring I find somewhere to eat along the way. It’s a tiny town after all.
A shouting, laugh conglomeration of teenagers ambles down the street. Two ride rattling skateboards on the sidewalk.
A man sags past alone and lonely.
Then, a family of three generations, grand parents, youths, children rolling forward in strollers.
Other than these few encounters, the streets are quiet. Empty. The cobblestone are black and shiny with reflected streetlights. I am beginning to think every shop and restaurant is closed in the entire tiny town, when the image of Frida Kahlo in a window stops me. I adore Frida and feel a warm glow at the sight of her.
This is coming to you rather late due to my recent two weeks in Germany, two weeks of hard work and very little play. I’m planning to get a short post up tomorrow with the highlights of the trip, but for now…
1. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
4. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
6. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
8. Locke & Key: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
• Contact by Carl Sagan, because the last CD of the audio book was too scratched to listen to and I’m still waiting to get the print edition from the library
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
• Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will take me a while to work through
It’s an awful, crappy (insert additional expletives) feeling when you’re in a creative slump, no matter what you’re working on, whether its writing, painting, or a new business proposal. Everyone goes through it — and yet it manages to be a terribly isolated feeling, like you’re trapped inside a dank, dark cave with no sign of rescue on the horizon.
Here are some things you can to do to help pull yourself out of the mire. Or, rather, I should say, here are a few things I’m currently doing to try to dig myself out of my own current slump. As with most bits of advice, your mileage may vary.
Seek Community Engagement
Go out and find fellow artists, writers, creators with which to interact. You can do this online, but if you’re really stuck, I recommend seeking a face-to-face experience. It provides a different level of osmosis. On a really good day, you can feel their excitement, their creativity energy coming off them. I don’t think of this as stealing, so much as basking in their sunlight. It’s great for gathering inspiration
My most recent foray was to attend Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco this weekend. Charlie Jane Anders is a live electrical wire on the stage and she always selects amazing writers to perform. It was a fantastic event and I felt energized by the end, excited to get some of my own words down.
This past couple of weeks have been of the beat-my-head-up-against-a-wall variety, particularly in regard to accomplishing the mountainous tasks that had piled up at my day job. So, I figured it would be nice to be able to share a few of the things that have made me smile lately (above and beyond my niece and nephew, that is, who always make me smile no matter what’s happening).
2. The Beyoncelogues – Actress Nina Millin takes Beyonce songs and performs them as dramatic monologues. The results are utterly fantastic. I particularly like her rendition of “Single Ladies,” but the whole five part series is great.
Seeing Millin perform and bring new depth to these songs is deeply inspiring to me. I love seeing popular works redefined in inventive ways and seeing her perform makes me want to try to write a short film script, or even a feature film script, for Millin to star in.
3. I’m currently reading Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (ETA: to include Older). These fantasy stories are exactly what I need right now. They’re not exactly lite, or not all of them, but they’re interesting and thought provoking and bite-sized. It’s good reading, which makes me happy.
5. Running with Zombies is a 5K fun run in San Jose, in which the zombies don’t chase the survivors, but run alongside them. It’s kind of like a zombie walk, but with running instead. And, while I tend to prefer walkers instead of runners at the cinema, I’m happy to say that my sister and I will be shifting into zombie mode this October in order to join the run – zombie make up, torn clothes, and all. I’m so excited!
Note that I avoided putting my recent download of Minecraft Pocket Edition on this list, because it’s not so much making me smile as it’s consuming my life. If this no sleeping, no eating thing keeps up I might be more of a zombie than I expected by the time the fun run roles around.
1. Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Echo
2. We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead, edited by Dawn Keetley
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. The Essential Edgar Allan Poe (audio book) by Edgar Allan Poe
5. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
6. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line: Veronica Mars #1, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham7.
7. The Science of Herself, Plus… by Karen Joy Fowler
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
• Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
• Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s hard to know how to explain the story of House of Leaves, which is deeply layered. I suppose one could start the explanation with what is essentially the core story, Navidson, an acclaimed photographer moves with his family into a country home in order to rebuild bonds and find a calmer, more cohesive life together, only to discover that the house is much more than it seems.
That explanation just barely scratches the surface of this book, however. The story begins with Johnny Truant, who learns of the death of a man named Zampanó and discovers a chaotic stack of papers in the man’s empty apartment. As he starts to put them together, his life starts to fall apart.
While my journeys in Corktown — the oldest neighborhood in Detroit — occurred over the course of two separate days, they really belong in a single post, since Corktown was so distinct compared to downtown Detroit. Corktown is where I started to see real signs of decay with many buildings and businesses nearby boarded up and dilapidated. But several great restaurants and a new brewery commingle, revealing signs of vibrant life.
Wednesday night, after day one of the conference I was attending for work, my new friend drove us out to Michigan Central Station, was built from 1912-1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad and was closed down in the ’80s. It’s been run down ever since and is currently surrounded by a chain-link fence with razor wire at the top to prevent anyone from going in. Through the open doorways, you can see signs of crumbling and decay, but it’s still such a beautiful building. There’s local debate as to whether it should be torn down or restored. I vote restored, though I know it’s never quite that simple.
Dinner that night was Slow’s Bar-B-Q, where we were served up some amazing, perfectly moist brisket and creamy, dreamy mac n cheese — so, so good. My second side was the green beens, which were perfectly cooked, but had a spicy sauce that I wasn’t digging. Just a bit to spicy for me, especially since I really like the taste of plain, lightly salted green beans.
* * *
On my second trip to Corktown (on Friday , my friend Lorie was driving through and she pointed out what looking like a bar inside a warehouse. “I drove past here last night and it was jumping,” she said. “Do you want to check it out?”
I said, “Absolutely.”
As we were walking in through the back, we were greeted by a young woman named Courtney. She said the place was a distillery, called Two James, and she was one of the partners.
She showed us through the tasting room, where the style expressed a sense of old and new all at once, to a door leading to the distillery. I thought she was just going to let us peer through the window, but she said, “We don’t normally let people back here, but since you’re so enthusiastic…” Then she opened the door and showed us in, where several men were working at the giant copper pot.
“They’re brewing gin right now,” said Courtney. “I always think it smells sticky.”
“Sticky” is the perfect way to describe the heavy sweet scent that hung in the air. I wouldn’t know how to describe it any other way.
She led us over to a barrel, where there was an unlabeled bottle and some small plastic shot glasses and gave us a taste of the gin that was brewing. I’m not normally a fan of gin — this was the smoothest gin I’ve ever tasted. I would even consider just having it over rocks and sipping it slowly.
I told Courtney as much. “Yeah,” she said. “Most gins have 4-5 botanicals. We use 12.”
In the tasting room, I ordered a Manhatten, which I knew was a whiskey forward drink. It was fantastic, one of those drinks in which you can taste the good liquor.
My second drink was the Corktown Mule, a mixture of Old Cockney Gin, lime juice, and ginger beer. The drink was sharp with the taste of ginger and refreshing, a great summer drink.
From the tasting menu: “Two James Spirits is proud to be the first licensed distillery in the city of Detroit since prohibition. Our 500 gallon American made copper pot still resides in an old red brick warehouse in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. At Two James, our passion lies in creating small, handcrafted batches of premium spirit, using locally sourced ingredients that highlight Michigan’s agricultural abundance and more importantly the people and city of Detroit.”
According to the bartenders, Two James is named after both of the partner’s fathers, each of whom are named James. The distillery was named in tribute to their fathers. It’s been open for only around a year and only sells the liquor they brew themselves. For me at least, Two James distillery is a must-go spot in Detroit.
A food truck, names Katoi, parks out behind the distillery and serves Thai food to hungry liquor tasters. But Lori and I were in the mood for burgers, so we walked down to the Mercury Bar, which is directly across the street from Slow’s.
We were running short on time when we arrived at the Mercury Bar, as I needed to be at the airport in under an hour or so to fly home. But Gino, a man with warm smiles, a pink-toned plaid shirt, bow tie, and thick-rimmed sunglasses assured us that he could get our burgers out in a hurry. The burgers came out in perfect timing and were big and juicy and good eating after all our liquor tasting.
Detroit was a delightful experience, not at all like the rumors would have led me to believe. I would definitely go back again and maybe next time, I’ll check out some more of the cultural sites as well as the good eats.
On my last day in Detroit (last Friday, Aug 22, as with previous night), we set out without much of plan, electing to wander around Greek Town and the surrounding areas. We checked out Saint Mary’s Church and had some eats at El Wood Bar & Grill.
While we were eating, we listed to the preparations for the Eminem and Rhianna concert going on across the street, including a sound check from Rhianna. At the gates, people were already lining up (it was only mid-morning).
Meanwhile, there were signs of people in jerseys, waiting for the football game that night. Since the arena is across the street from where the concert was being held, I can imagine how packed and chaotic the night would be — any restaurant and local workers were talked to just shook their head at what was about to enfold. Though Lori and I were well on our way out of there before the gauntlet fell.
The theme of the day seemed to be getting into places you wouldn’t normally be allowed, which started with our visit to Saint John’s Church. The door was locked as we were walking up, but as we were walking around the side of the building an old, young at heart woman came out a side door. We told her we were trying to see the church and she welcomed us in through the back offices, where she pointed out old photographs of the church whenit had been moved 60 feet back in order to allow a widening of the street out front. She also showed us portraits of the founder and his wife, let us into the original church chapel, and then let us explore the main church at our leisure.
My third night (last Thursday) in Detroit was dedicated to exploration. New friend Lori and I started out with the plan to walk around downtown Detroit and see what cool little spots we could discover in the area. To that end, we rode the Detroit People Mover (an elevated train) to Broadway station and just started walking.
Not far from the stop, we found ourselves at the Angelina Italian Bistro, across from the Opera House. Angelina’s featured a large marquee style front, which leads me to believe it might have been an old theatre — and since so much of Detroit has a history, I would not be surprised if it was. The bar and restaurant were virtually empty. Looking to try out a local brew, I ordered a Motor City Lager. The blonde beer was a little blander than I normally like, but it wasn’t bad. The appetizers, however, were excellent. The crab cakes were packed with flavorful herbs and the scallops were buttery melt in your mouth perfect.
On Eric’s recommendation, we walked a couple of blocks around the corner to Wright & Co. From the exterior, the only sign of a restaurant is a placard with the logo the phrase “Second Floor.” Inside and up a flight of stairs (or the elevator), which made me feel like we were discovering a secret, is the restaurant and bar, packed with people. The space is trendy with a great mix of old and new. I particularly liked the stamped tin ceiling.
It was a grey skied, muggy afternoon at the Detroit Riverwalk, but the river was beautiful and it was a perfect place for a run. The path was mostly empty when I started, but as the afternoon turned into early evening, more and more people filled the walkway, running, walking, chatting, hanging out, riding bikes, laughing. All around me people were out enjoying the evening.
As I ran along the trail, occasionally glancing out across the water, people would say, Hi, or offer encouragement. One young woman broke off from her crew of friends and ran along beside me, mimicking my movements with a big grin on her face. A younger me would have been embarrassed by the good-natured mockery — but today, I just smiled and fell into pace with her, exaggerating my own movements as she did, participating in the sillyness until she fell back, rejoining her group, all of them laughing and me laughing, too. The laughter invigorated me and I picked up my pace, feeling stronger and lighter.
I felt easy, like I could run for days — one of the rare times I feel this way on a run. The mileage tracker on my phone informed my that my pace was faster than it has ever been.
This was the first time I’ve gone running while traveling. The combined factors of packing the running shoes (extra weight), trying to figure out where to run, and a silly self-consciousness about the idea of being judged by the locals has kept me from trying it. Today I figured out that not only is running while traveling doable, but it can also be a rather pleasurable way to experience a new place.
The “write just 10 minute a day” goal worked well last week. It got me to write five out of seven days, and as I figured, I ended up writing for more than 10 minutes each time.
My word count was especially boosted when friend Yvette and I got together on Thursday for a writing session. I had some panic approaching the blank page, but pushed through and churned out 1800 words for the new opening Adam chapters for the werewolf novel that I swear will get written this year despite it all dagnabit.
So this week I’m keeping with the 10 minutes per day plan and adding send out a poetry submission to the list. Both totally doable.
Good Reads: Tom Pollock has a great guest post up on Chuck Wendig’s blog about Writing Around a Day Job, which is especially pertinent for me right now. Key advice: Make a time plan and stick to it. Yes, sir.
“Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” — Dr. Seuss
I’ve felt the weight of of time these last few weeks. I woke up this weekend amazed that July has passed me by, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. I had this flash of terrifying premonition that I would wake up tomorrow and I would be 90 with nothing written or completed, my life already vanished before my eyes in a great big “Where has it all gone?”
I’m probably being over dramatic.
Okay, I know I’m being over dramatic. But I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Life seems to fly by so fast sometimes, especially when you’re not actively engaging in the things you/re passionate about — as I’ve been doing these past few month. I have been actively avoiding writing any resembling my novel and most things resembling stories or poems, with a few exceptions.
That said, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about spending every available moment of the past week with my cousin, who is in town from Alaska. Hurrah for family love and laughing about our own strange families and drinking three bottles of wine in a single night!
In other news.
I have been upping my running as of late. After completing a 5K, I was all mentally geared up to go for a 10K, but fell off running for a while. I’m trying to run Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, strength train on Wednesday. If Life will let me fit in a Thursday run, then I’m trying to do that, too. One the whole, I’m feeling good about my progress — despite having to rebuild my endurance to 3 miles again — and I’m starting to look for a 10K to sign up for in November or December.
Though in the meantime, I’m stoked about the upcoming Run with Zombies, fun run 5K, which I’m planning to sign up for, if I can convince a family member or friend to join me (my usual race buddy hates horror and won’t touch the race with a ten foot machete).
Back to the time thing.
As a way to assuage my feeling of lost time, I’m setting a goal of writing for a minimum of 10 minutes per day. While that may seem low, it’s just about the right amount for how busy I am at the moment. Also, once I get started, it’s unlikely that I’ll actually stop at the 10 minute mark.
So that’s it, goals and such for the week.
How are you these days? Do you feel like the forward progress of time is against you? Or are you seizing the day?
1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
2. A Good Indian Wife, by Anne Cherian
3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy, by Carol Leifer
4. TEN (chapbook), by Val Dering Rojas
Still in progress at the end of the month: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Echo and We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley — these two books are the reason why it’s been such a slow reading month for me.
if he tried,
I would crumble
like the iridescent shell
of a beetle.
Val Dering Rojas’ TEN consists of ten long poems alongside ten mini-poems that explores the inner working of body and soul through the out workings of color and texture. The ten mini poems act as a form of chapter headings in between each of the longer pieces, providing a framework for the chapbook. Read together, all in one go, these mini-poems provide a poem of their own, which unveils a personal journey, from a place of a place of disconnecting from emotional wounding to a sense of inner calm, a spiritual awareness. As interjections, the mini-poems share thematic progression with the longer pieces.
In “An Instance of Affliction,” a medicine cabinet is contemplated, an “axis of obsolete / streets, old razors roads.” The medicine cabinet, the objects within, and the reflection in the mirror fade behind an deeper reflection. The material world itself becomes metaphor for personal experience.
“How To Leave” expresses the unpacking and dismantling of the meaning love with “its utopian tongue”, expressing both how love fails us and also all the things (objects and feelings) that must be left behind. “Love can’t be found / in these humble jars of honey, / in these everyday teaspoons.” At the same time, there is what remains in the leaving: “You are packing yourself up in bags, // stuffing yourself in boxes.” What do we have in the ending of a relationship, but ourselves? The objects (clothing, books, toiletries, towels, bedding), which gets stuffed into bags and boxes, become representative of the self. And yet, the poem, shows how the things we tell ourselves in leaving (“I hate love” or that “love / doesn’t know any truth at all”) are either lies or, at the least, half truths, because feeling, love, emotion lingers.
The progression of the poems eventually lead the reader to realize that the self is enough. In “While Alone at Topanga Thrift,” the narrator explores the feeling of space while discovering objects in a thrift store: “It occurs to me / that most things are made / to be filled; even now, / these old red dough-bowls / brim with sun.” As with the rest of the poems, it’s easy to relate the outer objects to the inner realm. The imagery of a tiny teacup or a ginger jar becomes moving and beautiful metaphor.
I can’t let you
see me cry,
but if you’d like,
I’ll tell you a sad story.
I’ve returned to these poems several times in the course of reading them, each time discovering something new — a turn of phrase to fall in love with, a deeper meaning to latch onto. Each poem is shown to be lovelier and more evocative each time I read it. All told, a lovely. wonderful collection and I hope to be able to read a full length book from Val in the near future.
Note: A review copy of TEN was provided by the author, whom i consider a friend. Take this review with as much of a grain of salt to taste.
1. Last Thursday (July 17), I rolled down to Iguana’s in San Jose to participate in an open mic with the same group of artists I joined previously. The open mic was filled with a variety of wonderful, creative, inspired performers. The Hella Famous Lindsey Leong was a damn good host, full of energy and joyful humor in the face of the struggle, and of course it was a delight to once again see my favorite dynamic duo Q&A — Alice and Quynh. As I hoped, I managed to finish my new poem in time to read at the open mic. It was a wonderful, supportive environment and such a delight to be a part of.
2. Progress on the novel! The Board spawned new post-its, which has helped me shape out more of the beginning of The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. I now know where I’m planning to start with Adam’s POV, which is a huge relief.
3. I just learned about #365feministselfie, in which women (and I’m sure some men) have been posting daily or weekly or whenever selfies. I love the idea of using the selfie as a form of personal empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. The challenge started at the beginning of the year (so I’m late to the party). Viva la Feminista is where the challenge started and it has a great explanation as to the why. I’ll be posting my selfies on instagram and tumblr.
4. This really should be number one, but the Monster (my niece) turned two on Monday. She has two new princess dresses and has paraded around shouting, “I’m a princess!” Love her so much!!
5. Tonight the Writing Gang reunited! Even though one of our members has transplanted herself to the East Coast (*sniff*), we will meet by skype to discuss our work.
Last Friday night was lovely. I attended Glowing with the Moon, an open mic hosted by my amazing, wonderful poet friend, Lorenz Dumuk. Lorenz is an amazing poet and one of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I know.
The night included a mix of featured poets and open mic participants with a variety of styles, including Yvette McDonald, Lindsey Leong, Scorpiana Xlynn, and others. The out pouring of words as the sky darkened into night was wonderful.
Q&A also performed a couple of sets. The musical duo is comprised of Quynh Nguyen and Alice D. Chen. They play a mixture of covers and original music in a style that is sweet and slightly eerie. They don’t have a website or facebook page that I can link to yet, but they have definitely made a groupie of me.
Lorenz presented several lovely counterparts to the mixture of spoken word and music:
He asked everyone to participate in a salt-art table, to draw out our dreams or what we’re looking to let go off in salt, then to sweep it into a bag, which he will later take and return to the ocean.
At another point, he asked everyone to stand up and greet a stranger, saying our name, what we hoped to call to ourselves, and what fears we wanted to let go of — the result was an opening up to someone new, perhaps letting in a little vulnerability along the way.
Since it was that kind of night, Lorenz also asked us to close our eyes and listen to the wind singing in hushed tones in the trees around us.
I don’t know that I can properly explain how grounding and wonderful a night Friday was and what a great community these artists and poets are. I find myself sometimes longing for community of this kind, a creatively charged group casting their words into the world (I do have my Writing Gang, though life has intervened making it hard for us to gather). Such kinds of communities makes me feel alive to words.
As I usually do after such an event, I went home and threw some words down on a poem I’ve been working on for a while. There’s going to be another open mic at Iguanas in San Jose on Thursday. My goal is to finish this poem in time to read it at the Thursday open mic, which is intimidating since this poem makes me feel vulnerable writing it, let alone reading it out loud to others.
I hope everyone is having a lovely week, full of creativity and joy.
1. The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, by Margaret Atwood and Naomie Alderman
2. Red, by E.J. Koh
3. The Complete Guide to Buying a Business, by Fred Steingold (DNF)
4. Hum, by Jamaal May
5. The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith
6. Fangirl (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell
7. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
8. Parasite, by Mira Grant
9. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Vol. 2
Volume 2 of The Arabian Nights begins with night 295 of tales and goes through night 719. The stories at the beginning of the book are all very short, some only around a page or two long, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the tales grew into longer epics once again, including the seven voyages of Sindbad. There’s a lot of risk of tedium when you binge read these books like I’m doing. The shorter tales all stacked on top of each other begin to blur together and longer tales can grow to such epic lengths as to be too long, and long or short there are repeated kinds of stories, themes, and phrases throughout. But if I had not read these books in the rapid way I’m going, I’m not sure that I would have figured out the genius of Shahrazad. Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 2”
As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.
It did just that.
Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.
44. [Fangirl] (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell (*****)
Category: Part Four – Just Because
Prepare for caplocks and lots of squee.
Cath and her twin sister Wren have loved Simon Snow since they were kids and avidly lived in the fandom, reading, discussing, and writing fanfic. But when go to college, they head for college, Wren wants her own life and to leave all that behind. Facing a new school with new social rules by herself, Cath retreats further into the fanfic worlds she’s created and that she refuses to leave behind.
I love, love, LOVE this book. Normally I only listen to audio books in the morning on my way to work, because after work I’m too mentally tired to pay attention. But with Fangirl, I couldn’t stop listening, using every available moment in the car that I could to keep listening.
Hum by Jamaal May
Publisher: Alice James Books
Date Published: November 2013
Description: “In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”
I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a “phobia” poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored”), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It’s an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there’s a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the “phobia” poems. For example, reading “Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored” on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.
Hum is dedicated to “to the inner lives of Detroiters.” When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalypticstates of decay. May’s poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. “Still Life” presents a “Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops” as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” a girl wanders in “the caverns of deserted houses,” performing “her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle.”
1. Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines
2. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, by Jim C. Hines
4. Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
5. Wormwood by G.P. Taylor
6. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
7. Saints by Gene Luen Yang
8. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Still in progress at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 2.
A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks since I last posted, so I’m going to sum things up in list format (in order of importance, rather than chronology) to make things easier on myself. I still have to do my book and movie round up for May, but that’ll come tomorrow probably.
– The biggest announcement by far is the birth of my nephew. The Monster (my niece) is being adorable around him, very gentle and loving so far. I can’t even express what a joy it is to welcome this tiny little person into the family.
– I also turned 34 years old in the past two weeks (on May 26 to be exact), and a Happy New Year to me. A gentleman recently told my friend that she should count her birthday as the true new year, since it announces another new year of her life. I love that, and it seems like a perfect time to reassess life, the universe, and everything. With all that’s been happening, I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I’m planning to think about taking a serious look at my goals this week. It so happened that my birthday was marked by…
– getting rather sick. Oh the joys of coughs and runny noses, just as I’m launching into…
– a two week work trip, involving two conferences and an industrial plant visit. Travels took me to Detroit, West Michigan, and Montreal. There was a lot of work and a lot of trying to rest in order to recover from being sick, so I didn’t do much touring, except for two beautiful days in Montreal. I let my feet carry me around the city to here and there, exploring Old Town and other areas of the city center. It was beautiful out and I’d like to have more time to explore Montreal properly in the future.
– Being in Montreal, I had to go see Cirque du Soleil. It was a bigger expense than I had planned, but Kurios is a steampunk inspired show, so I couldn’t resist. They did a marvelous job with the aesthetic and it fit really well into the acrobat sequences. The first half, in particular, was astounding in beauty and stunts. The second half had a few weird bits that I didn’t get, but it didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment. Kurios is my favorite of all the Soleil shows I’ve seen.
I don’t even know how to talk about this book with out flailing with joy.
I love the characters. After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting public school and finds herself lost and lonely in a crowd of people. I could feel that to the core. She has three brothers, each of whom is unique to themselves and make up part of her big family. It’s great to see them fight and laugh and be an imperfect, trying to be happy family. (Can I just say how great it is to see a main character who has relationships with her family?) Maggie also makes two friends, a punk-style brother and sister duo, both of whom are wonderful characters.
I love the art. It captures the unique personalities of the characters and expresses their emotions so well, often without needing dialog over-layering it. It’s just really beautiful.
I love the geekery. These characters have things they love and it’s clear they really, really love them. It fills me joy to see characters flailing with glee over something they love (much as I’m flailing over this book).
I love the story. It’s really funny and sweet, and it made me happy cry by the end.
Friends with Boys is practically perfect in every way and I will definitely be reading more by Faith Erin Hicks.
Spent a sunny Saturday at Boogie on the Bayou in Campbell with my Bestie, drinking several beers, eating giant sausages, shopping at the many booths, and getting sunburned. While out and about, we came across a rather awesome young woman, holding a “You are Awesome” sign. So, I had to take a picture.
And, Darling Readers, in case you didn’t know, you are awesome, too. (^_^)
“This is an auspicious day,” speaks the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, raising his palms to the passive crowd. The people squint up at the Alchemist as though staring into the sun, unaccustomed to looking directly at his grace. When his radiant smile falls upon them, a collective sigh whispers among the people. “For on this auspicious day, the people of the borderlands beyond the Seven Realms, who have been tried to the crime of sacrilege and been found guilty, will meet their punishment.”
The People of the Realms applaud with the polite respect due their Guardian.
The Alchemist lowers his hands, a light wind tugging at the edges of his robe. The robe, like the dais he stands on and towering walls of the temple behind him are laced with the luminescent weaving of centuries old magic. First planted as a protection and declaration of peace within the temple, the magic has since grown like a weed, swirling vine-like charms and enchantments into stone foundations, extending from the heart of the central city out into the Realms. The poetic pattern retains inertia, a soothing weight upon the People who do not struggle against the web. Even the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, no longer questions it omnipresence.
“You wish you had coined the word zaftig; that you were OK with abdomens that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”
Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”
Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36”, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.
“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.
In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.
Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.
At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.
Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.
While scrolling through my blog cue today, I noticed two very good blogs that talk about why stories work and why they don’t. Both posts look at how to approach plotting, coming to similar, but slightly different conclusions. Each has me thinking about my current stories and how I approach them. Hopefully, you find them helpful as well.
“While a story can have any number of events, for it to be interesting and complete, it must have three event points on its plot. Less than that, and the story is either incomplete (a vignette or character study) or it usually fails to be interesting. Often, a plot with fewer than three events is both incomplete and boring.”
“What I learned from working with the incredibly dedicated teachers, the curriculum, and the state mandated tests is that the “story is a bunch of big, eventful, unusual things that happen” idea is firmly planted in kindergarten and nourished from there on out — which is why it can be so damned hard to uproot. It’s at the foundation of how narrative writing is taught, and a major reason why so many kids (not to mention former kids) hate writing. And, for those of us former kids who love to write, it’s a major reason our manuscripts fail.”
Lisa Cron’s post also have me think about how the idea of plot/story being problems can also help writers in another area — creating dynamic characters. Often characters will be seen as too being too passive in stories. However, characters are likely to be less passive, if they have a problem that requires them to act in order to resolve it. So, thinking of story as problem provides a solution two two writer dilemmas — plot and character — with one stone. Very cool.
If you’re a writer, tell me what you’re writing these days? Did these articles help you?
If you’re a reader, what are you reading? Is it well plotted, or does it fall flat in the way these articles describe?
While the weekend was spent celebrating Mammas, both my own mom and my sister who is fantastic with the Little Monster, I somehow managed to be somewhat productive this week.
On Tuesday, fellow poet Lorenz Dumuk (@LorenzDumuk) and I visited a friend’s classroom to read our poetry as part of her English class. As I haven’t read in ages, I was feeling rather nervous and kind of rushed through my pieces, but as usual Lorenz was amazing. He is a powerhouse of spoken word and it’s always inspiring to watch him offer up words to an audience.
Afterward, I went home and started reading Jessie Carty’s new book of poetry, Practicing Disaster,* in order to hold on to the galvanizing feeling created with poetry.
As a result of all this hearing and reading of fantastic poetry, I poured out five poem drafts all in one go, one of which I posted up on wattpad, called “Kamikaze.”
The juiced writerly feeling didn’t fade away, and I ended up putting together a Friday Flash. The short short story, called “Four and Twenty” is a bit about baking pies and a bit about a murder of crows. I plan to make a habit of posting a Friday Flash at least once a month.
My goal for the week is to edit the poem drafts and put together a small submission to a journal. I also have one submission still out that I haven’t heard back from, which I need to send an inquiry on.
*Jessie Carty sent me a review copy of her book. I should have the review up middle of the week, which I plan to follow with an interview with the poet (something I have never done before, eek!).
The crows were in the trees again, crowding the branches with ruffled feathers. Mara watched them watching her. She plucked a blueberry from the unfinished pie filling in front of her and popped the berry in her mouth, then sucked the purple juice from her fingers.
After wiping her hands on her apron, she dusted flour over the rolling pin and cutting board and slammed a fresh ball of pie dough down. It flattened under her rolling pin, bit by bit. When became sticky and clung to the rolling pin, she breathed slowly and dusted the pin with more flour just as her mother had taught her. It had taken her twenty-four tries roll out the bottom layer of crust alone and fit it neatly into the pan. She thought if she screwed this one up, she might scream.
“The trick is in the crust,” Mara’s mother used to say. “Pie filling is great, but the crust is where the magic is.”
Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a brave, brash, funny, and tragic hue and cry on growing up female during the 1970s, “when everything was always so awash” that the speaker finds herself adrift among adults who act like children. The book moves from adolescence through a dry-eyed, poignant exploration of two marriages, motherhood, and the larger world, with the headlong perceptiveness and brio characteristic of Adrian Blevins’s work. This poetry is plainspoken and streetwise, brutal and beautiful, provocative and self-incriminating, with much musicality and a corrosive bravura, brilliantly complicated by bursts of vernacular language and flashes of compassion. Whether listening to Emmylou Harris while thinking she should be memorizing Tolstoy, reflecting on her “full-to-bursting motherliness,” aging body, the tensions and lurchings of a relationship, or “the cockamamie lovingness” of it all, the language flies fast and furious.
I’m stoked to read this. Poetry is joy afterall. (^_^)
1. The City & The City, China Miéville (one of the best I’ve read this year)
2. Creepers, by David Morrell
3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1
4. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
5. lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub
6. Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
7. The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
8. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
9. Hourglass Museum (poetry), by Kelli Russell Agodon
10. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Lethargy. It’s a word I know, because it’s in one of my father’s favorite expressions. Lethargy breeds lethargy. It means the more you lie around doing nothing, the more you want to lie around doing nothing. Your limbs and your mind feel so heavy that it becomes a major effort just to lift your arm to channel surf.”
― Neal Shusterman, Dread Locks
As I idled away the weekend, avoiding any opportunity or incentive to do anything, it started to become clear to me that I was in a lethargy cycle that I’m having a hard time escaping. I don’t even want to write out goals, because I know I won’t do them, but I also know that by not setting goals, I have no reason to accomplish anything. Gah.
I am reading quite a lot, which I consider a form of forward progress. But if it weren’t for the adorableness of the Little Monster, who’s parents invited me out to lunch, I might not have changed out of my pajamas or left the house all weekend. (While that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, I usually find I need to get out at least a little to feel healthy and balanced.)
So, in the absence of having any new about my personal goals to share with you, here are a couple of cool things on the interwebs:
The flash fiction, journal NaNo Fictionis celebrating National Short Story Month by posting flash stories with an accompanying prompt to get writers writing. I keep telling myself that I need to play with flash fiction more, since it’s close to poetry in terms of tightness of narrative.
“If you think you are the mermaid, think again.
You are the ocean holding the mermaid afloat,
trying to change the world one dolphin at a time.”
— from the poem “Souvenir Boxes”
Agodon’s poetry explores a variety of themes within Hourglass Museum. As the title suggests, art is an important source of inspiration here (as can also be seen in the long list of notes at the end of the book), with poems referencing great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. The idea of preservation, via canvass, poem, or as a collection in a museum, of moments captured and held in stasis through artifice and creation are a constant in these poems.
“Dark matter angels mingle over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
— from the poem “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful”
The outward inspiration of art and museums, is drawn into the personal scope of Agodon’s personal life, both her inner emotional realm and the outer realm of home and family and relationships. This connection between art and home works well, since as human being we often take memories and put them on the shelves of our minds, we collect pieces of anger and store them for later use, attach joy to simple objects, return to each of them again and again, revisit, and Agodon’s poetry reflects this.
“I place solitude in a frame on my desk
and call it, The one I love.”
— from the poem “Line Forms Here”
She explores a variety of emotional states, including depression and loneliness. The language beautifully expresses these emotions and allowed me to connect with them personally. I could see myself in these moments of darkness and in the ways a write approaches such moments, especially through pen. I think these feelings are approachable from a variety of perspectives, allowing many kinds readers to feel them.
“There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallow time. My mouth is full
of hands and numbers. I ask for seconds.”
— from the poem “Drowning Girl: A Waterlogged Ars Poetica”
And yet, there is a sense of humor throughout, too, a poking of fun at the supposed importance of depression, so that such darker subjects cannot drag down the reader and instead allow them to explore and transverse the state. It brings a lightness to the poems that makes them great to read.
“I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:
The past, present, and future walk into a bar — it was tense.”
— from the poem “Sketchbook with an Undercurrent of Grief”
All in all, this was a wonderful collection and, though I own it in digital format, I’m contemplating buying it again in print format as well, just so I can add the tactile sensation to my enjoyment of the book.
“Madness is a meaningful way to exist.”
— from the poem “Menacing Gods: An Abstract”
I did not exercise all last week, unless you count my playing with my niece, a.k.a. The Monster — following her as she ran around the park and rolling with her in the grass and spinning in circles and then hauling her over my shoulder to get her back to her parents at the picnic tables — which I totally do.
The Monster had a lovely Easter. She got to paint eggs and then “find” eggs during an Easter egg hunt (which was more us just tossing plastic eggs into the grass and playing pick up with a plastic bucket, because she’s not yet two).
Words Here and There
I haven’t been putting many expectations on myself in terms of writing lately, due to the many, many things going on in other arenas of my life. But I’ve managed to feel a few sparks of inspiration over the past couple of weeks, which is awesome.
I’m planning to close The Poetry Project to new prompts as of April 30th, so if you would like me to write you a poem, then please leave me a prompt in the comments either here or there.
I’ve put together an excel sheet of chapters of the werewolf novel, noting things that need to be added and major problems that need to be solved along the way. It’s not a complicated layout, but it was enough to start getting my thoughts in order and I’m also using the tabs to start trying to keep track of characters and places that are important. I still have NO IDEA to solve the one major problem I have at the moment. The most obvious solution is to cut out the problem entirely, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do.
I also met with the Writing Gang over the weekend, all of whom continue to be awesome. They gave me some feedback on some of the later chapters, which was valuable as always. I think I need to look at solving the big problems and work my way through edits from the beginning at this point. *le sigh*
Good Movie Watching
I saw The Host (Gwoemul) for the first time over the weekend and it was SO FREAKING AWESOME. The story involves a large genetically mutated creature that rises up out of Han River in Seoul, South Korea and begins to attach the population. A young school girl is taken by the creature during the initial attack, and amidst a virus scare and government lockdown, her family escapes quarantine to try to rescue her.
It sounds like just your typical monster movie, but the story is intelligent and the family is both charming and silly in their bungling attempts to save their daughter/niece. It offers fantastic action sequences with a spice of humor, alongside an interesting social commentary. The monster turns out to be the least terrifying aspect of the story. Instead it’s the failed efforts of the Korean and U.S. government to solve the contamination problem, as well as the cold calculating treatment toward the patients in quarantine by officials and doctors alike that becomes truly frightening.
This is one of those movies that was so cool, I want to now see everything done by the director, Joon-ho Bong. The director’s most recent movie is Snowpiercer, which I’ve heard is amazing. So, I that may be the next movie I seek out by him. If you want more evidence of Joon-ho Bong’s awesome, you can check out this post.
Things to Do This Week
Edit chapter one of werewolf novel and try to solve big plot problem
Find a publisher to submit chapbook manuscript to
Continue research/do homework on business thing that I can’t talk about yet
I have plenty of things I could-a, should-a, would-a written, but its Friday and Easter weekend. I will get to eat all the good food and watch my almost-two-year-old niece run around being the cutest little monster as she looks for Easter eggs without really understand why.
I rather love Kickstarter, because I love seeing interesting projects come to life and seeing my funds culminate in a tangible results. This may mean that I get to end up with a copy of the book, a print of the art, or a DVD of the film I supported, which is a nice gift in exchange for my money. Or, it may just mean that I get to see an artist who I respect and whose work I love get to complete a project that they’re passionate about. It’s awesome.
So, I was very curious to learn about Patreon, a new crowdfunding website based on the traditional patronage model, which used to involve kings, queens, and other royalty or the wealthy providing funds to allow artists to continue their work.
The website says, “Patreon was created to enable fans to support and engage with the artists and creators they love. Empowering a new generation of creators, Patreon is bringing patronage back to the 21st century.”
The site is similar to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms in the sense that it allows fans to directly interact and fund artists and creators they enjoy. However, rather than funding a single big project, Patreon allows fans to provide funding for an artist or authors ongoing work. Here’s a short video about how it works.
I love the idea, particularly for those artists and creators who may focusing on ongoing work and art, rather than the big idea/project model that Kickstarter supports. It could help to keep some artists working when they might not otherwise be able to.
This weekend was mostly lazy with lots of movie watching. It was mostly bad or so-so movies (with the exception of The Spectacular Now).
I’ve started reading The Three Musketeers and I’m rather enjoying the antics of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnon. There’s a lot of hot headed-ness, running off to get into sword fights, slinging of insults, intrigues with mysterious women, and so on. All quite fun.
The most exciting thing this weekend was the family visit to the 4D Ultrasound* clinic. I don’t know if I announced this to you all, but my sister’s due to have her second baby (a boy) in a couple of months (end of June), so I’ll get to have a second little person to read to. (^_^) Anyway, the technology these days is amazing. We could see the features of baby Colton so clearly and he’s adorable. Looks just like his big sister. It’s so exciting!
*I don’t know why they call it 4D, when it doesn’t actually transcend time. It’s more like an advanced 3D technology.
Since April is National Poetry Month, this is normally the time I would be wildly attempting to complete the 30 Day Poetry Challenge or reading poetry on youtube or in some other way trying to engage. That hasn’t happened this time around, because there’s still traces of a bunch of things going on. While I’m not going to try to pound out two dozen or more poems this month, I do want to get back into my Morning Poetry Ritual (in which I must write a poem each morning). I need some sort of spark to keep the words burning in me.
For those interested in Poetry Month goodies, here’s a couple:
Jessie Carty has started a Poetry Book Club! The first poetry club book is Hourglass Museum by Kelly Russell Agodon, which I’m currently reading and loving. Jessie has some great discussions going on at her blog as part of the club.
Haven’t run much since completing the 5k two weeks ago, and I need to get back to it. I’d like to move up to the next level and run a 10K this summer.
I’ll try to get a couple of workouts or runs in this week, although it might not happen on the weekend because of family events filling Saturday and Easter Sunday. I’ll have to take it easy, though, since I’ve somehow managed to straing my lower back over the weekend.
When King Shahriyar discovers his wife to be unfaithful, he begins to marry young women, only to behead them in the morning. In order to save the young women of the region, Shahrazad gives herself to the King Shahriyar. She is not expected to survive beyond dawn, but during the night she begins to tell tales, each night ending the story in the middle, leaving the king desperate to learn the ending and allowing Shahrazad to live another day.
One of my reading goals for this year is to read the complete version of A Thousand and One Nights. My aim was to find a translation that was as complete as possible, including “Aladdin” and “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves“, both of which were added in the 1700-1800s. Since there are many translations, I eventually settled in the Penguin Classics version, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, which comes in three giant volumes and claims to be as complete as possible. (Plus I really liked the covers.)
Volume 1 is 980 pages long. It includes the beginning of Shahrazad’s marriage to Shahriyar and provides up through night 294 of tales, as well as “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves” as an appendix.
Shahrazad’s tales range from adventure yarns with djinn to morality tales, love stories, fables, and war epics. Despite the variety of tales, there was also a great level of repetition, with similar descriptions of characters or expected outcomes. Though this should be expected due to how many stories there are, it can get burdensome for some readers, I’m sure.
The stories are also often nested, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just as Shahrazad saves herself through the telling of the tales, many of the characters within her stories also save themselves from death in a similar way. For example, kings are of ten saying, tell me story more wonderful than what has just happened or I’ll cut off your head. The nesting not only allows Shahrazad a longer tale to tell, which keeps her alive for more nights, but also shows how valuable the act of storytelling was thought to be. Sometimes the nesting becomes a bit too much, though, and there are so many stories within stories, it can be easy to forget the original story, until it’s finally returned many pages (and nights) later. Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1”
1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)
Both my sister and I were fans of the show and fell in love with it, even though our introduction was the not-great third season. Still, there was something about the witty, smart-ass, I-will-destroy-you-if-you-cross-me petite blonde that filled us both with glee.
Though the third season did kinda suck, we were still sad when the show was canceled (just as we fell in love with it, too). So, imagine our joy when we learned of the Veronica Mars movie.
From IMDB: “Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.”
A simple analysis: if you loved the TV show, then it’s highly likely you will love the movie. If you hated the TV show, then you’ll hate the movie. If you never knew anything about the show, then the experience will be hit or miss, you may hate it or fall in love with Veronica and find yourself obsessively watching all the episodes.
Kickstarter funded, the movie was clearly made for fans, bringing back well-loved characters to show them how they’ve changed in the past nine years and in some cases how they haven’t changed at all. There were hints and reminders of the show, both overt and subtle. One of my favorite such instances appeared near the beginning, when a street performer in the background played the theme song for the show. It was just subtle enough that my sister didn’t even notice until I pointed it out to her and we both giggled in gleeful joy.
I’d say the most awkward part of the movie was the voice over rehashing of information. It fits with the Veronica Mars style, in which she fills viewers in on what’s going on, but it didn’t really work here. It basically gave a general overview of the show, which was meant, I suppose to fill in those who were new to Veronica Mars as to who she is. However, for Veronica fans this was known information and for non-Veronica fans this information wasn’t pertinent to the storyline of the movie (for example, Lily’s murder, though important in the show has no bearing on the movie). I think it probably caused more confusion instead of helping, and it would have been better if, instead of summarizing the TV show, the narration introduced the plot of the movie and maybe provided some info on the past nine years.
As a fan, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for — a good, solid murder mystery and a revisiting of favorite characters. Veronica was the same queen of sass that she always is and she and Logan continue to smolder. (Their relationship is funny, because they are always drawn together in states of crisis and then fall apart when the reality of being together on a day to day basis comes into play, though maybe since they’ve both (hoefully) grown up some over the past nine years, they’ll work it out this time.) The story maintained the same dark noir and sharply humorous tone of the show. It could almost be called a two hour episode, especially since the ending made it feel like the pilot for a new TV show — and oh, the SQUEE I would have if that were to happen.
Walking out of the theater, I felt the Veronica Mars’ great big tada. My sister and I were both smiling, feeling as though we’d visited an old friend.
Also, one more gif, because I just can’t resist:
Yes, Veronica, even after a tasering, I would still love you.
Last Sunday (March 23*), I rolled out of bed at the unfortunate hour of 6 a.m., fell into my running gear, and drove into Santa Cruz with my sister to participate in the She is Beautiful run, an event that supports the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center. My sister planned to run the 10K and I would run the 5K.
The morning was foggy and chill as we parked our car and we rubbed at our arms as we hiked up the hill to check into the event. At least the cold woke us up; all sleepiness falling away in the face of the damp chill. There were complications with our bibs (which for a short while could not be found), but before long we were at the starting line with a multitude of women — many in pink — waiting to start the race.
Then we were off an running (well, it was walking at first, due to the crowds). We both fell into our own rhythm and my sister soon outpaced me, and I found myself running alone but not lonely among the throngs of women.
And what wonderful, beautiful women there were of all shapes, sizes, and ages, from elementary school kids to older women with wrinkles and greying hair. Women of amazing athletic skill and women power walking through the course. Thin women and round women. Mothers pushing strollers or with babies in packs strung across their chests. Disabled women in wheelchairs or using canes. And everyone cheering everyone else on.
At one point, a supporter on the sidelines, called out to the crowds, “You’re beautiful!”
I choked up and almost cried, because they really were and I was apart of that and it was an amazing feeling of love and community. I breathed and held back my happy tears and kept running.
I ran the entire way (minus the short bit of walking at the beginning and one short stretch of walking up the final hill). I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I did it. I accomplished my goal and that felt amazing.
As far as my first real running event goes, it was wonderful — such an empowering experience and it has me looking forward to the next one. Maybe next time, I’ll stretch myself further and god for a 10K.
*Yes, it’s taken me a whole week to write this post.
Sunday night discovered that San Jose Stage Company was doing a reading of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Neither of us had any idea what was meant by “reading” in this case, because it was at a theater rather than a book store. But we are both Austen lovers and couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing this.
It turned out that, inspired by her own love of the book, Halsey Varady (one of the actresses in the troupe) had written an adapted stage play for the novel and this was the first public reading of her newly written play.
The ensemble cast (about eight) was fantastic. The only staging was a set of chairs all in a row and a set of music stands in front of them and during the reading. When it was their turn to speak, they came up to a music stand, placed their script binder down, and read their part. They occasionally switched positions and used very minimal blocking to scene shifts clear, but otherwise that was it. The lack of stage set or costumes in no way detracted from the performance, and the actors proved that, with the right cast, such stage design is unnecessary.
Also, though the actors playing Elizabeth and Darcy stayed in the same character throughout, the rest of the ensemble played two, sometimes three different characters. It was amazing to see them just stand, step up to the music stand and disappear into a new character. A couple of times, I thought additional actors had magically appeared out of the thin air, they were that great.
One of the wonderful things about the performance was how Varady managed to bring out the humor from Pride and Prejudice. She chose her favorite lines and was able to utilize punchlines without loosing any of the linguistic flair of Austen’s linguistic style. It all worked well, and the tightened up the storytelling was hilariously entertaining. (I honestly never laughed so hard at Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dinner at Rosings.)
After the performance, Halsey Varady spoke to the audience and asked for feedback. There weren’t many critiques, because it was so polished.
The idea is for the play to be transitioned into a full stage play or a radio show (or both), any and all I’d love to see happen — because I’d love to go see it again.
Well, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.
The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.
On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.
When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.
The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.
*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.
I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.
Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.
In my fourth year of university, I journeyed into Mexico for a ten-week language study course. Not only was this my first trip out of the U.S., but it was also my first trip without any family (I can’t say alone, since I was traveling with a troupe of 24 fellow students).
Ten weeks – it seemed like forever to me. So, of course, I thought I would need a giant bag to haul the clothing and supplies needed for that great length of time. So, my parents bought me a suitcase 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet tall and about 1 foot thick. It was giant. It was monstrous. I didn’t even manage to fill the fu–, er, sucker; it was that big. Arriving at the airport and seeing my fellow classmates’ baggage, began to hint at the possibility of my mistake.
One classmate brought nothing more than a small, brown, standard-sized knapsack. That was it. For ten weeks. (I am still impressed with that feat.)
When you have to drag your over-sized bag down several blogs of cobble stones or haul that fu–, er, sucker up a flight or two of stairs, you learn real quick just how much it sucks to pack heavy.
Like Scarlet O’Hara, I pulled myself up and made a solemn oath — I would never over pack again.
Less is Less (and that’s a good thing)
I’ve done a lot of traveling since that first big trip to Mexico, for play, for work, and sometimes both at the same time.
These days, I can pack like a lightweight queen and can fit a week’s worth of professional work clothes and office supplies for conferences, along with a week’s worth of play clothes and accessories into a single bag (the play clothes and work clothes are not always compatible).
Being a HUGE fan of Shaun of the Dead (the hilarious spoof of the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead), I was über-excited to learn about Edgar Wright and Simon Peg’s most recent foray in to genre, The World’s End. Reality being reality and life being lifelike, I wasn’t able to see The World’s End in theaters and only managed to finally watch it this past weekend.
Short analysis: I loved it.
Longer analysis: This story of five friends meeting up in their hometown to perform the epic pubcrawl they failed to complete as younger men, only to find the town they knew invaded by replicant-style robots, hit all the right notes for me.
Like with Shaun of the Dead, this movie plays manages to lovingly spoof the genre while offering up characters to care about and just a bit of heart. It maybe didn’t pull off the relationships between the characters as well as Shaun of the Dead did, but it was still a fun movie, with lots of action and humor.
Plus booze — there was lots of beer drinking and drunkenness.*
One of the most impressive things, in terms of acting, was how well each of the characters portrayed being drunk. It’s apparently one of the hardest things to do in acting and each of them pulled it off just about perfectly. Watching the characters do the Slow Blink at about level 7 on the drunkeness scale reminded me of my own knights out drinking. I’ve been there.
*Actually, I wasn’t clear on how these drunken, untrained gents managed to fight as skillfully as they do in this movie — at some points it was almost too slick — but that didn’t stop from the entertainment value for one second.
Reality has been kicking my ass lately, but I’m managing to get a few swings in finally. Bits and pieces of life are starting to fall into place, resembling at least an amalgamation of order.
The sun dappled through the trees as I took my run this weekend, a little more warmly than I would normally like, but it was lovely out nonetheless. Since falling off my running habit a few weeks ago, I’m not quite back to where I was in terms of distance. I only have the rest of this week to train, because the She Is Beautiful 5k is on Sunday. I’m sure sure the adrenaline and energy from my fellow runners will help me get through race day with a smile.
Writing progress has been minimal at best. I opened up my laptop this weekend with the intent to write new chapters for The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter (formerly Under the Midday Moon), but couldn’t jump into the groove of words and sentences and paragraphs and all that lot.
So, instead I gathered all my printouts and started putting together a spreadsheet of chapters written and chapters yet to write and problems that still need to be addressed — which I consider to be good progress. I have more work to do on the spreadsheet and it’s helping me to wrap my head around what I need to get done and how I might approach things, which is a relief.
To Do This Week
Finish the novel spreadsheet
Edit “The Shadow’s Flight” short story to meet flash fic markets and send it out
EDC = Every Day Carry, or the things you always take with you no matter what.
“The things a person always has on them tells you what kind of person they are. A sentimentalist? A minimalist? A survivalist? All those people will have different things.”
This immediately had me thinking about the characters in my novel and what they always carry with them. Claire, for example, always carries the keys to her dad’s cage around her neck, even though she only needs them at home. So far, I’ve only referenced the keys a few times in the story, the times when she’s needed them. But since she always wears them, even when she doesn’t need them, I can see her wearing them as a kind of charm, a comforting talisman when things are going wrong.
Now I’m going to have to think about other characters and what they carry around and what it means to them, even if they’re not conscious of it.
I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:
It was fabulous.
The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.
FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.
In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.
Also, I picked up some lovely books.
Book grab include:
The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy
The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.
The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.
FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.
Trigger Warning: General mention and discussion of rape.
When I pulled into the hotel parking lot this evening, all I wanted to do was sneak up to my room and hide. I knew there were still FOGcon panels and such going on
It happens. Sometimes the idea of being social is just too much and I just need to be alone in a quiet room disengaging until I’ve recharged.
So, I spent the first hour just relaxing and looking through the panels to see what I wanted to do tomorrow. Along the way, I learned that there was a late night panel, called “When is Your Heroine Finally Going to be Raped?” with Seanan McGuire, Sasha Pixlee, and Karen Williams, with Alison Moon as the moderator.
The panel was inspired by this blog post by Seanan McGuire, in which she describes her reaction to one of her fans asking the above question — her answer: never.
I remembered reading that blog post when she first put it up (I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of rape culture) and I was curious about the discussion.
Also, it was based on the desire to see and possible meet Seanan McGuire that I gathered myself up to come to FOGcon in the first place this year, so it seemed like such a shame to sit in my room. So, I found myself finding the energy to get out of my pajamas and back into real clothes, so I could go to the panel.
It was a heavy topic for my introduction to this year’s con, but it was fascinating and everyone on the panel was great.
Welp, I’m off to FOGcon, a small-scale scif/fantasy convention, where I will listen to panels on all the geeky things I love and chatting with some of my writerly friends and other good things. It’ll be nice to escape reality for a while.
Anyway, I hope everyone has a lovely, lovely weekend!
1. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys by Gilbert King
2. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
3. Tinkers (audio book), by Paul Harding
4. The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Struggle is the word of the…, well, I guess it’s the word of the month at this point. Nothing has been going easy for at least the last couple of weeks and all I’ve wanted to do is crawl into a hole and hibernate, safe and alone in the dark, until everything troublesome goes away. (This is partly why my weekly update is on Wednesday instead of Monday.)
I received my first rejection of the year from Daily Science Fiction.
Most of last week was spent feeling completely unfocused. I would pick up my laptop or a notebook, poised to write, then put it down again feeling frustrated.
As always, meeting with my Writing Gang, left me feeling inspired, so on Sunday night, though, I managed to hand write some thoughts on a scene for my Fay Fairburn story, which felt good. Though I still have yet to make much (or any) progress on my main writing project this year, Under the Midday Moon.
This week, I’ve been trying to break the “blocked” pattern by hand writing an idea for a chapter (for a different book) out in one of my journals. I have some preliminary thoughts down and it’s very disjointed, but it feels like it will come together into the right thing. So, I’m slowly starting to feel better about that.
I had two great workouts with my trainer last week, though the Wednesday workout was so hard, it was almost too much. I was almost to the point where I thought I might throw up. I know some people are into that level of training, but that’s not where I want to be and I don’t think it’s actually healthy.
Saturday I attempted a run and managed a mile, but got mentally blocked (amazing how much of running is mental). I know I could have run those three miles — I’d don it before, after all — but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I very quickly started getting frustrated, and the more frustrated I became, the harder it was for me to run.
Because of this, I added a run on Tuesday. Again, I walked at the one mile mark, but almost made it through the second mile once I started up again. It wasn’t an ideal run, but it was an improvement, so I was feeling okay at that point.
I’m just going to have to build up my running again until I’m back at three miles, and then I’ll probably add in some different running routes, because boredom might be a factory in my resistance to run.
To Do in the Coming Week – the Usual
Work on my mental state and try to find equilibrium
The Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars. For several years now, I’ve been attending the Best Picture Showcase, presented by the AMC movie theaters, which allows me to catch up on all the nominated movies in a couple of weekends. I’m in the habit at this point of posting the movies and my thoughts on them before the awards.
Since I haven’t seen ANY of the movies nominated, these thoughts are based on synopsis and trailers alone.
My movie watching habits have changed significantly over the past several months. It used to be that I would go to the theaters about 2-4 times a month to see new movies. Now I’m lucky if I go once a month, mostly due to financial reasons. Also, when I get access to Netflix (while housesitting), I tend to not want to watch new-to-me movies and go for TV shows instead.
For example, last month I watched significant amounts of Doctor Who (season three and most of four) and The X-Files (rewatched all of season one). So I’m thinking I might start posting my TV watching thoughts more often, though I’m not how I want to approach that yet. In the meantime…,
1. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
2. Among Others, Jo Walton
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (audio book), by Junot Diaz
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
5. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Interesting Reading Fact: All three of my first three reads heavily referenced science fiction and fantasy literature, which was expected with Redshirts, but was more of a surprise with Among Others and Oscar Wao. I always find it interesting when the books I read are thematically connected in some unexpected way.
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (riveting!) and The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1 (wonderful, readable stories).
I don’t generally watch sports, though I enjoy going to Sharks hockey games and I almost always join family or friends for Superbowl, because of good food and good company and beer.
All I knew about the game going in was that it was supposed to be a good one, since Seahawks have great offense and Broncos have great defense, and everyone I knew was rooting for the Broncos. My family and I decided to go for the Seahawks since they were closest to us geographically.
Twelve seconds into the game, when the Seahawks scored their first touchdown, it was clear how things were going to go, and my family spent the rest of the game marveling at how the Broncos were pretty much destroyed. By the second half, we considered rooting for the Broncos, simply because they looked so downtrodden.
However the game went, it was fun hanging with the fam and eating buffalo wings and watching my niece run around the living room causing chaos like the delightful little monster she it. All in all it was a good Sunday.
Accomplished Last Week
Since I started off the week feeling rather ill and stressed out, I just let it be an easy week. I even took Thursday off work and spent the day marathonning episodes of Doctor Who and X-Files while I let myself recover from being sick.
I did manage a bit of exercise with a 4 mile walk with my sisters and my niece on Saturday and a run on Sunday (though I didn’t manage my full three miles).
To Do in the Coming Week – the Usual
Write a minimum of 2,000 words on Under the Midday Moon
My weekend was lovely. Spent Saturday night out with a good friend, having a tasty meal at Johnny Garlic’s.
Sunday I met up with another good friend in San Francisco, where we discovered a street fair in preparation for Chinese New Year. We had szechuan food for lunch, checked out City Lights Bookstore (which is amazing! can’t believe I’ve never been!), and then closed out the day with a tea tasting. So much fun. (^_^)
Accomplished in Writing
In one of those moments where an idea just clicks into place, I realized the dynamics of one of the relationships in the story, which allowed me to rewrite a recent chapter and move forward on a stronger footing. Previously this chapter had almost zero conflict, or at least zero conflict based on anything solid. Now it’s much stronger and it creates a nice ripple for conflict in upcoming chapters. Has me excited to get back to making progress on Under the Midday Moon (the title of which I might change).
Two submissions sent out this week, containing one short story to a paying market and three poems to a non-paying market that I think is cool.
I did my three miles on Saturday using the Zombies, Run! app, which was fun and forced me to do sprints to escape the zombies. Though my pace turned out to be slower, because I think the sprints slowed me down afterward as I tried to even out my breathing.
Sunday’s run was skipped, however, because I decided to let myself take it easy before heading to SF.
To Do in the Coming Week
I’ve been feeling off today, bit of a scratchy throat and, well, just generally off. Also, I’m in the midst of going to press at the day job, which means added stress. So, I’m taking it easy on myself by not actually making a list. If I get some writing done or stuffsomething submitted out, great. If not, well it’s important that I rest.
Over the weekend, I finally reached one of the goals I set for 2013. I ran three miles.
It’s not the fastest three miles, but it’s not the slowest either. I average about a 12 minute mile, and I’ve noticed that every time I run, I do that first mile just a little bit faster (this weekend, I did that first mile in 11 minutes), which is also awesome.
I have now signed up for the She is Beautiful 5K in Santa Cruz, which will be my first official race in the sense that it’s the first that I plan to run straight through (I’ve done two others that I mostly walked). I’m quite excited.
To make my weekend runs a little more fun and interesting, I have also bought the Zombies, Run! app, which has you as a runner in the zombie apocalypse. It has a whole storyline and you can set it to zombie chases, which force you to run faster to escape the zombies. Along the way you collect various gear, which you can then use to upgrade the camp. It seems like a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to doing runs and playing the game, being the zombie lover that I am. 🙂
My next running goal is to build up to six miles and potentially run in the Wharf to Wharf run in July. I think it’s doable.
Last night I transferred files over from my old computer to my new(er) one, thanks to a coworker. I was so excited when I did this, I could barely breathe, let alone speak. To go with the cliche, I was electrified.
This sounds on the outside like no big deal, so let me give you a little back story.
I love the new year, if for no other reason than I get to create my giant list of goals. As a whole, it’s not entirely sensible and is partly wrapped up in my love for list making as it is for actually getting anything done — but I can’t help myself.
Goal making in general is a good thing, I believe. Though what works best, in terms of what kind of goals and how they are approached, really depends on the individual. Massive lists like I make don’t work for everyone (and sometimes it doesn’t entirely work for me).
Figuring out what works best is experimental, a process of testing the goal-soaked waters to figure out what works. Every year I take a look at last year’s goals, see what I accomplished and test out some adjustments to the system in order to see what else might work.
Last year, I came up with a plan that involved creating “Primary Goals” that would be my main focus per year, as well as a set of “Secondary Goals” that represented wishful-thinking kinds things I hope to get done, if I hve the time. Also, because some of my goals are giant in and of themselves (e.g., write a novel), I also created weekly goals in order to break things down in to bite-sized pieces that wouldn’t over whelm me. The weekly goals also allow me to work toward process, creating a habit of getting something done every week. On the whole this plan worked for me, and I was pleased with what I accomplished in 2013. So, I’m using the same method this year.
I would love to hear about your own goals or plan for getting sh!t done 2014! Please leave me a note in the comments below and/or link to your own goals/resolutions post.
1. Edit Under the Midday Moon into a novel draft ready for beta readers
I’m feeling at a standstill with my novel. I’m getting close-ish to the end, but I’m struggling through it. So, my plan is to write the main ending scenes, so that I have a better sense of the end, and then proceed to the rewrite with the aim of having a complete novel in readable form by the end of the year. Rewriting the beginning chapters to understand the conflict and relationships better should put me in a better position to know how to make the ending work.
2. Participate in at least two 5k events
Since, as of this weekend, I’ve run two miles straight through, and I know I will be able to run 3 miles by the end of January, the next step is to participate in some 5k running events for fun and glory.
Bonus round: Run a 10k (6 miles!)
3. Submit two chapbooks and/or full-length collections of poetry for publication
I managed this last year, so I’m sure I can pull this off again.
STATS: Total (new-to-me) Movies Watched = 67, of which
27 were General (Drama/Action/Etc.)
17 were Scifi/Fantasy
10 were Horror
5 were Animated
4 were Comedy
4 were Documentaries
5 were Foreign (non-English)
In addition, I watched a total of 9 short films.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Pacific Rim (2013) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) The Cabin in the Woods (2011) Sherlock Jr. (1924) Wreck-It Ralph (2012) Fast & Furious 6 (2013) Django Unchained (2012) Stoker (2013)
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
I loved The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is a fantastic adaptation of the book. The political tension in the film had me on edge and is so well done.
Runner Up: Pacific Rim was also fantastically fun with some really great leading characters.
Best Horror Movie
I just loved The Cabin in the Woods for it’s sheer fun, humor, and gore (that ending sequence, OMG).
But for technical, eerie horror Rosemary’s Baby is also at the top of my list.
Best Animated Movie Wreck-It Ralph — The old video game throw backs (awe, Q-Bert, how I miss you) and the friendship between Ralph and Vaneilope make this a winner for me.
Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated (2009), which may not be the best, but deserves a mention for creativity, as it brings together artists from all over the world to recreate the visual elements of the classic 1968 zombie flick.
It may seem odd that I’m choosing an old silent movie for top place, but Buster Keaton charms me every time and Sherlock Jr. had me laughing out loud throughout the story. So creative and inventive for any time.
Best Documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a great exploration of the artists life.
Best Foreign Film
I have to give Amour (2012) the honor here, because though it’s terribly sad and hard to watch, it also has the most moving acting performance I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing cinematography and a beautiful film all around.
Runner Up: Blancanieves (2012) is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale in black and white, silent film format. Plus, bullfighting. The ending is strange and sad, but it’s a fascinating movie.
Best Short Film Paperman (2012) is an adorable little animation that is practically perfect in every way.
STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)
Best Reads in 2013
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Best Science Fiction Book Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.
Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.
Best Horror Novel Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.
Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.
Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.
Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.
Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.
Best Poetry Book The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.
Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey
Best Poetry Chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.
Best Nonfiction Book The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.
Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.
What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.
I wasn’t going to at first, but I’ve decided to go ahead and participate in the Zero to Hero (30 days to a better blog) Challenge. The challenge involves a new task every day, either writing a post, doing some reading, or in some other way working to develop your blog.
Who am I?
Quite the existential question there. My about page already has some things to say on this subject, but for the purposes of this post, I am a woman-shaped creature, living in the Bay Area, California, who loves her niece, reading, writing, pop culture, and has unhealthily obsession with zombies, steampunk, and Doctor Who.
I’ve been working toward becoming a published poet and writer for a number of years now. Some of my poetry has been published and some has been nominate for awards. I am currently working on a novel as well as a number of other projects.
What is the blog thing you have here?
When I first started out this website and blog was going to be solely focused on my writing. It would be business card for my writing life with updates about published work and my writing progress. At the same time, I was also post on my livejournal with the more random stuff about life, the universe, and everything. I’ve slowly merged the two, and now I crosspost everything.
What you will find here are posts about my writing and creative goals, about writing and publishing in general, travel logs, book and movie reviews, and pop/geek culture squees of joy.
What I would like to include more of on this blog is creative nonfiction, flash fiction, cultural criticism, and maybe some guest blogging and author/poet interviews.
1. Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves (***1/2)
2. Two Mini-Chapooks: 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford (*****) and No Experiences: Poems by Erin J. Watson (****)
3. Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***)
4. Fables, Vol. 14: Witches, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****)
5. Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****1/2)
6. Fables, Vol. 16: Super Team, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
7. Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
8. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh (****)
9. Trustee from the Toolroom (audio book), by Nevil Shute (****)
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chboski (****)
11. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe (****)
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (****)
13. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams (***1/2)
14. Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (****)
15. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams (****)
16. Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams (**)
17. The Illustrated Man (audio book), by Ray Bradbury (****)
18. Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke (***1/2)
19. How to Kill a Vampire: Fangs in Folklore, Film and Fiction, by Liisa Ladouceur (***)
20. Lucky Bastard, by S.G. Browne (****)
21. In the Night Room, by Peter Straub (***)
22. Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (****)
1. Finish a coherent draft of Under the Midday Moon (my no-longer-untitled werewolf novel)
Almost there. I would have preferred to have finished the entire draft, but I’m close enough that I can reasonably consider editing the novel as my main goal for 2014. The progress feels good and I think I might actually be able to pull this whole writing a novel thing off.
2. Work up to running three miles
I ran a mile!
I may not have completed my goal, but I kept up with running throughout most of the year and I improved. It took a big push in December, but making it to a mile and feeling like I can now do it again, whenever I want, is a huge thing for me. I feel so great about this. I’m fairly certain that I can run a full three miles by end of January. I just need to keep pushing myself.
As a side effect of all this, I’ve also lost around 40 pounds. It’s interesting to write that out, because the number itself is unimportant. I look at myself in the mirror and don’t really see it (even though others have noticed it), which is why I chose to have my goal be about accomplishments in running, rather than about weight loss. I feel good about the running. I’ve achieved something and I can continue to achieve my goals. And as I result, I feel physically strong and healthy. That’s the most important thing.
3. Submit a chapbook- or full-length collection of poetry for publication
Done! Twice this year, I submitted collections of poetry. They were both rejected, but one came back with a really kind comment suggesting that I submit again. Yay!
4. Address finances
Unfortunately this was my biggest flop. I hate to say it, but I think I’m actually a little worse off than when I started the year out. I’m going to have to refocus on this all over again and try to get a handle on things. I know the amount of trips, though worth it, have had an affect on my finances, so I’ll have to keep that in mind.
I didn’t manage to get hardly any of my secondary goals done, but I feel good about what I’ve accomplished this year, which included a number of great trips, including San Antonio, Texas, Pensacola, Florida, Washington DC, Mexico City, and Venice and Florence, Italy. All great experiences.
How was your 2013? Did you accomplished your writing or personal goals?
*Okay, so maybe I’m a little list obsessed. But just a little.
I let myself just chill and decompress all last week after the boatload of November’s challenges, so there’s not much to report.
In Writing: At this point, I need to get back to finishing the novel draft. Ideally, I would complete it by the end of December, but I’m not sure I’m going to do that. I basically need to get enough down on the page to be able to edit and I’m not sure struggling through the rest of this draft is the most productive or whether going back and beginning the rewrite process might give me a better sense of where I want to go at the end. Nevertheless, I plan to see what I can get done before the end of the year.
In Body: I kind of slacked off on the running in November, and I’m feeling drawn to get back into it. My body needs it, I can tell.
I’m also trying to get back into a better eating routine, since my habits got all wonky from the comfort eating during the challenges and the Thanksgiving aftermath.
In Reading: I’m enjoying Perks of Being a Wallflower. The structure is interesting, even if it makes for a less poetic flow of words. So far it feels very honest in the sense I think this is how a kid would write, even if this 15 year old sounds younger than other 15 year olds I’ve met.
In Other News: It’s cold outside and dark. Keep in mind I live in Bay Area, California, so those comments are relative. Also, despite spending part of my youth in Alaska, I am now a wimp.
Christmas tree is up in my mom’s house. It took a lot of laughter and two rum-strong eggnogs to accomplish this, due to the tree nearly falling over while we were putting the star on top, ornaments shattering, and light fiascoes. It was a good time, though.
What Needs to Be Accomplished This Week:
Write 3,500 words on Under the Midday Moon (~500/day)
Submit something (poem, story, whatever)
Do a minimum of three workouts (0/3), not including morning yoga
Gift Shopping for the Holidays (le sigh)
How was your week? Are you starting to wind down for the end of the year? Or are you ramping up to get some last minute goals accomplished?
When you French-kissed the class president on the school trip to Boston and we wore yellow feathers in our hair, and I dropped my beaded red velour bag into the harbor, it opened up a crack of light for me.”
— from 8th Grade Hippie Chick
This chapbook of inter connected prose poems calls on the ghosts of memory and youth, unveiling the pain and joy of friendship and young love. Each poem captures a moment with more fluidity than a photograph and opens up the wounds and intimacies of friendship with all it’s music and play and clothing and crushes.
Marisa draws on the small things (“I was wearing a silver ring that said, ‘Imagine’ on it.”), on the little details (“A closet full of Beatles shirts. Tie-dye. A hot pink aura.”) to open up aches and joys. Presented in short paragraphs of text, her words flow over one another to reveal the wider inner world of being young girls. Reading this book, I found myself nostalgic for days and ways that were not my own, longing for a youth that was at once so similar and yet vastly different from my own.
I adore this little stitched book as much as I adored Marisa’s first collection of poems, The Haunted House, which touches on similar themes. I may be biased, since I know Marisa from when we worked at Aunt Lute Books together and I consider her a friend. But she has such a unique voice and her words pluck a cord inside me and resonate with my inner girlhood, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. I wish her many future successes.
“What is a poem after all? you say.
Maybe it is a kind of possessing
a heap of rocks, a buoy or anything”
— from No Experiences
This collection of 24 short poems by Erin Watson began as a playful response to the randomly wise ravings of a popular spam horse, @Horse_ebooks on twitter. The spam horse account spewed phrases that revealed hidden poetry. For each of these poems, Erin took one spam tweet and built a poem around it, posting each one online. Later she kickstarter funded a physical chapbook of the poetry, which is how I discovered the project (and spam horse).
Coming from an experimental project as it did, Erin’s poetry is playful and surprising, each short line taking unexpected twists and turns. The poems are thick with layered images and meaning and they’re the kind of poems that fill up the small space they encompass. They’re poems to sit with and consider the many possible meanings of, they’re poems to read over and over again, to giggle at, to enjoy.
I asked how Erin felt about this, and this was her wonderful response:
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it a lot today: like, why does it feel a little duplicitous that something wonderful was someone’s wonderful creation instead of a weird mistake? I don’t know, mostly I’m grateful that I got to inhabit a moment where it seemed real and make a thing with the means available. Everyone should make their own weirdness in the world.”
I’m glad she got to inhabit this moment, too and that it allowed me to read and discover her poetry. I also hope she’s still avidly writing and that she will release more of her words into the world soon.
1. Go Tell it on the Mountain (audio book), by James Baldwin (****)
2. Each Peach Plum Pear, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (*****)
3. Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (DNF)
4. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, by Ernesto “Che” Guevera (***1/2)
5. Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann (*****)
6. A Passage to India (audio book), by E.M. Forster (***1/2)
7. A Bend In The River, by V.S. Naipaul (***1/2)
8. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell (****)
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation, by anonymous, translated by Simon Armitage (****)
10. Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey (****)
After writing 12,900 words on Saturday, November 30th in a desperate attempt to beat the midnight deadline, I found myself with no more brain cells left over. So, I stopped an hour and a half before midnight and was just 3,581 words shy of the 50,000 goal.
Even though I didn’t reach the goal, I’m happy with the work I’ve done this month. I have large chunk of the novel now done and I know there ate at least a few of the scenes that I really like (hopefully they’re not the darlings I’ll have to kill later). My hope that I’ll be able to pull off the rest of the novel draft by the end of December, so I can edit in 2014.
With the 13,010 words I wrote pre-NaNo, Under the Midday Moon is now at 59,429 words, which is AWESOME.
New Blog Posts Written: 27
Total Blogging Words: ~15,866
I started to fall off the blog posting toward the end of the month, because all my energy was taken up with trying to finish NaNo. It was an excellent challenge though, and got me thinking about different ways to approach my blog. I’m thinking about doing the challenge again a few times through out the year (probably not when I have other intense challenges going on).
Total New Words (Novel & Blog) Written in November: 62,285
Other Life Stats
Workouts Completed: ~8
I’m not entirely sure of the count, but I made sure to do a minimum of one workout a week, which is vital for my mental, as well as physical health.
Day Job: We went to press on our December issue just before Thanksgiving. This involved me personally writing over 10 full pages of text, proofing every page of the 64 page issue at least three times, and working with authors and companies to get approval and photos. Lots of work.
On the whole it was a very productive month and I can definitely call it an epic win for myself.
1. Thanksgiving yesterday was great, family and food filled fun. Lots of laughing and eating. Turkey and stuffing and salad and twice baked potatoes and candied yams and green beans with bacon, not to mention pecan pies and apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake — all homemade, by the way. Plus lots and lots of champagne.
2. I received a rejection for a poetry chapbook submission, called The Letterbox, sent out many months ago. The rejection included a personal note, thanking me for submitting. The editor said I had a nice narrative arc to my poems and suggested that I submit again. I never take rejections to heart, because they are a part of the process of being a writer, but it’s always great to see that personal touch and get a bit of encouragement.
3. I have no motivation to do anything at all, even though I’m supposed to pull off 18,000 words before midnight tomorrow. *sigh*
4. I’m am enjoying reading Slice of Cheery by Dia Reeves, which has consumed most of my day so far.
5. I’m sure I have enough motivation to seek out more pecan pie, though. Mmmmm, pie. And then a nap.
I bought Eleanor & Park in support of the author due to a censorship controversy that happened, in which parents in Minnesota convinced a local school district, county board, and local library board to cancel Rainbow Rowell’s reading and speaking events, because they believe the book to be obscene.
I am ridiculously glad I bought this book, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books this year. It’s an incredibly funny and sweet love story between two outcast teenagers. The rub for these parents, I suppose, is that Rowell approached the story with honesty, the teenagers are intimate (but not overtly so) and cuss as a direct result of the abuse and bullying they witness. Rowell is an author who doesn’t pull punches, but she does so skillfully to reveal truth and offer hope in bleak circumstances.
Park is something of an outcast. He’s not tormented by the other kids because of being “grandfathered” into the community as one of the locals, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. He doesn’t meet his dad’s standards of being manly or his school’s standards of being cool, so he kind of floats in an in between place of not being friendless while also being rather lonely.
Eleanor moves back in with her mom, brothers, sister, and abusive stepdad after having been kicked out of the house for a year. The loneliness of having been excluded of her family life has left its mark on her and she feels like an outsider in her own home. Desperate to not be abandoned again, she does her best fit within her step father’s rules, while also avoiding him. At school, her sense of exclusion is continued with bullying from the popular kids, who continually call her names and harass her.
Eleanor and Park meet as she climbs the bus for the first time on the way to school. The bus has its own rules and hierarchies, into which Eleanor does not fit and it leaves her standing in the aisle as the bus jolts into motion. Park’s first intention to is to leave her hanging like the rest, but he scoots aside and lets Eleanor sit with him. What starts out as indifference grows into friendship as the two begin sharing and exchanging music and comics, then as their friendship blooms into trust it becomes love.
I loved Rowell’s writing style, which was clean and occasionally poetic. (“His eyes were so green, they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.”) And I love how she structured the story, with it being told from both Eleanor and Park’s point of views. This allowed for one part of the conflict to exist in misunderstandings in the way we perceive ourselves and how we think people perceive us. Neither Park nor Eleanor are mind readers and so often presume the negative (he must hate me, she must be embarrassed by my, he must think I’m fat), when the reality is that the thing one is most embarrassed by is one of the things the other loves most.
The way the relationship grows and changes and becomes slowly more intimate throughout the novel is touching and funny and sad. It’s really a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes bitter-sweet romance.
It was a slow writing week for me, but I made it up to Chapter 19. My day job has been getting hectic, as we have to go to press by Wednesday and there is a ton of work to do. I didn’t take into account the “day job/going to press will eat all the brains” aspect of November when I decided to do these challenges. So, at this point, I’m not sure that I’ll complete 50,000 words. It’s not IMpossible, but it will be quite a stretch.
I allowed myself to skip Sunday for the NaBloPoMo blogging challenge. I had no ideas and no brain cells to spare. So, I just let myself mentally rest.
Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)
Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft New Words This Week: 6,266 Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 29,073
Random Rough Sentences: I don’t remember what woke me that night. I just remember the night was bright with moonlight, illuminating patches of gleaming snow outside my fogged window. The sparse birch trees stood like ghosts in the dark. I remember wanting to be out under the trees, running, skipping, rolling in the mud, diving through bushes, kicking the leftover snow.
Novelling Notes: I’m in another slow spot in the novel, at least slow for me. It’s basically a set of connecting scenes between one dramatic action sequence and another, and I find these scene necessary, but hard to write. They’re emotional scenes, full of angst, while also requiring plot movement and writing them is like pulling teeth.
The other thing I’m noticing is that I have a lot of plot threads cast out there with two romances (no love triangles), the werewolf angle, and the family dynamics story. While I’m writing a scene(s) focused on one aspect, I tend to forget the others entirely. In rewrites, I think I’m going to have to weave them together a bit more coherently.
Things To Be accomplished in the Coming Week:
Miraculously Complete NaNo with 20,927 new words (yikes)
We’re down to the last week of November and unfortunately I’m starting to run out of blog posting ideas, especially as I’m in the process of trying to desperately catch up on my NaNo word count (I have seven days to write 25,000 words!!).
I could write about Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, of course. Every stream on every social network I follow has just about exploded with excitement over this (totally understandable). However, I have not watched the episode as I do not have access to the channel at this time and it’s also unlikely that I’ll see it anytime soon (not that I’m caught up on the past several seasons anyway — I’m a bad Whovian, I guess).
In other news, it’s an hour to midnight and I should probably write another thousand words before then.
Sorry for the throwaway post. Hope you’re all loving life!