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Archive for July, 2012

I sat down today all prepared to hash out a blog entry and then it turned out I was not connected to the internet. I shall interpret that as God telling me to just find a different topic.

Well, okay. I’m fine with that. But I really think if God’s going to take away my perfectly good topic from before that I should then be divinely inspired with a secondary topic. It’s going on 8 hours now and no secondary topic has appeared. I thought about writing yet again about my complaints on this Michael West book, but I’ve already tormented Johne Cook with them and since he’s about 70% of my readership I don’t want to repeat myself.

Oh yes I do. In fact, maybe this is my topic. Writers and their gettin’ fancy with the vocab are about to drive me nuts. See, I’m reading this excellent classic body of work by the peerless Lois McMaster Bujold, but it IS really intense. And so after every couple of books I set it aside and take a break with something a bit lighter. Today’s break was a book by an Indie author that I grabbed free on Kindle and was saving for Midsummer. They call it “urban fantasy” now, but it’s one of those love children of Lovecraft and Peter Benchley for which summer reading is made. You know…”Something is …ALIVE… under the ocean.” That kind of thing.

Two chapters into this book, the guy has already had a window and a flashlight “ignite”. Now, in my brain I KNOW he means “a light came on in the window” and “the flashlight turned on.” But he says “ignite” because…I don’t know. I guess because it’s crafty.

I wish writers would NOT do that. Because it may seem very Creative Writing to them, but to me it comes across as the pinnacle of stupid. Is the window bursting into flame? Did he drop the burning flashlight to the ground? It just stinks of trying too hard.

Last week I took a break and tried to get into a series of mystery novels set right here in the town where I live. I thought it could be fun. But then right there at the beginning we had a vermillion puddle reflecting the halogen lights*. Two things were wrong there. One: Vermillion??? Come on. This is a mystery novel, not a Sherwin Williams. Blood is red. Just go with it. The second thing, though, is that a puddle of blood on the plinth of a statue in the dark of pre-dawn early morning is going to look blackish. Not “vermillion” or “cerise” or even “carmine”. Black. And blood is not really the most reflective of surfaces, but that’s not such a big deal. Not as big a deal as vermillion.

These two examples are the reason why it’s such an important thing for writers to read a lot. Because when you read a lot you can spot the clunkers in your own writing a lot more easily.

And there. It’s not the topic I meant to write about, but it’s the one that happened. Blame God, I guess, if you’re displeased.

—–
*this was the author’s wording. Not mine. Oh, mercy. Not mine.

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I remember coming up the river from Greenwich and seeing the skyline jagged over time. Sleeping in a house near Blackheath with my sister and my mom. I remember trying to find batteries for my walkman in a shop while the rest of my family meandered belowdecks on the Cutty Sark. I didn’t care to see an old boat in dry dock. I wanted the city.

We ate at Pizza Hut in a basement off Trafalgar Square. My brother sat at a table with me and said people were staring. They probably stared because I was so happy. I was finally there. I always wanted to be there. But we didn’t stay long.

Two years go by and my parents have a small windfall…something more like a breeze. They use part of it to send me back because the college offers a study course there. And when I asked about it I think my eyes said that I’d never wanted anything more in my life. And that was true. If I’d had no other blessings that would have been enough, to just go and live there and be there and be alive there.

We lived in a bed and breakfast run by Muslims. They lent rooms to the students from our college cheaply because they didn’t serve alcohol and we couldn’t drink alcohol and people who stay in hotels usually want booze. They’re out of business now, swallowed by a hotelier who lets its guests partake. But they were there them and we moved in on them, all 26 of us. Breakfast every morning was an egg fried with toast and sausages, a puddle of surpisingly good baked beans and juice. After the first three days they let me bring my ever present litre bottle of Coke down with me instead of making me wait til after. The money I was supposed to spend on food got spent on theatre tickets instead. High brow, low brow. If it was on a stage I saw it. Mornings were for class, afternoons for touring, evenings for doing as we pleased.

I walked every mile of the place. I bought a copy of the book I was named after in a stall in a market outside Salisbury Cathedral on a day trip. Another day we had a picnic by Winston Churchill’s grave. When the other girls went to shop at Harrod’s I joined six guys for a tour of Churchill’s War Rooms. It was January and we were cold and I remembered thinking how thrilled Winston was all those Januarys ago when those Americans came over to them then.

I lost most of an afternoon in the Tate staring at Waterhouse’s Lady of Shallot. It’s a bigger painting than you’d think. It swallows you, given the chance.

I went in every bookstore on Charing Cross Road. Until I realised that most of them were actually selling porn, and not dreamy first editions of Pepys’ Diary. I bumped into (literally) Andrew Lloyd Weber’s brother Julian at the Barbican on my way to get a bagel. I heard my first bit of Michelle Shocked in record store just off Covent Garden.

I ran out of money earlier than planned and sat on a bench in front of St. Paul’s and cried because I’d failed. I had wanted to go there and be grown up. I thought then that grownups never ran out of money.

I found the American Express office and picked up the funds my parents wired to keep me going. I promised I’d use some of it to buy food this time, and not let every penny go to the ticket brokers. I learned to like Wimpy’s Hamburgers, even though a British Hamburger at Wimpy’s tastes more akin to a meatloaf. Or something. I also learned they charge the equivalent of a quarter for ketchup. The perils of living on an Island, I suppose.

I learned other things, but I never did try fish and chips. My roommate did. I let her eat the dreadful-smelling stuff in the room in exchange for the right to keep my beloved Cokes in the flower box outside on really cold days. The Muslims didn’t believe in minibars.

I’m not a Londoner by birth. I’m barely a Londoner by right of residence. But I’m a Londoner always. Never doubt that.

I think I’m glad the Olympics are there, but I miss my city and wish I were there instead.

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And now finally on to more pleasant things…kinda of

One of the things that may strike you if you read numerous reviews and forum discussions about the movie Brave is the amount of discomfort people express.

the wrongheaded nature of this plot twist completely alters the direction of “Brave,” and not in a good way. –LA Times

Brave (2012) Is Pixar’s Most Impersonal and Least Consequential Film and a More Troubling Failure Than Cars 2–Huffington Post

I can’t help but wonder if some of the stronger reactions are coming from the fact that, despite the English being spoken and the familiar themes this was–for many American viewers–essentially a foreign film.

Our culture, thanks in large part to Disney themselves, is largely steeped in a narrow slice of the folklore pie.* Our archetypes of familiarity come from the most romantic of fairy tales and are stuck in a retelling of the same story. Whether she’s falling in love with a beast or a boy with legs or the idea of love (Someday my prince will come ???), the fairy tales we know and return to are all focused on the Maid. We are a society in love with youth and all its promises. Our biggest trend in fiction for the last decade and a half has been books written about maidens, for maidens and around which we linger even as we ourselves move from Mother to Crone.

Celtic lore–largely overlooked by Disney until now–is different. While there are indeed fair maidens, there are also shapeshifters and wise women. While our myths of comfort focus on dancing girls, the Celtic lore has Queen Maebh killing pregnant women and starting wars to steal cows. It’s a harder series of archetypes to digest to be sure, but one that is ultimately more fulfilling.

It’s interesting to me to see this film coming along now, short weeks after my forty-second birthday when I am assuredly shifting from Mother to Crone in my own life.** To be sure, even Brave with it’s passing grade on the Bechdel test, doesn’t spend too much time on the old Crafty Carver upon whose spells the entire structure of this mythic society have spun for generations. But she is there, and she has the answers. Her age and wisdom are what put things right even as much as they upend normalcy along the way. We’re still most of us stuck trying to figure out Cronehood on our own even as we look back fondly upon the Maid.

Ideally as our society ages we’ll see more stories about older women and their lives. I feel that in many ways Brave was a shot over the bow (as it were) and I’m a bit sad that the oddness people feel from the film may impede the maturing and branching out of our folklore.


*And the award for most awkward metaphor goes to….

**I have an eerie counterpoint in Hollywood it would seem. Father of The Bride came out the year I got married. Friends was the hit show when I was a twenty-something trying to figure it all out and now that I’m getting older and grayer, along comes Brave.

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I have stolen this blog title from Newscoma, who is the one with whom it originated. And I don’t mind if everyone skips over these words but this is one of those times when “writing makes it feel better” and so I am. And so.

The pain is so crippling right now. Crippling is a word that I use a lot but don’t often use literally. Today I’m using it literally. Anything, anywhere I go, anything I do is shadowed by the looming figure of pain. Even sitting still the pain is so bad that I am having to fight nausea. Those who have been in chronic pain know that is not a figurative statement. Your body hurts so bad that its normal functions–like digestion–just stop.

And this is on pain meds. Without the tramadol I think I would have simply passed out quite awhile ago. The tramadol has me mobile enough to take care of the daily functions of the house like feeding and yarding dogs, running a load of laundry, using the bathroom like a grownup and not wetting the bed.

I’m so used to pain that I often don’t notice it. It’s only days like these where it impedes my movement that I even see it there. I feel it always, but I don’t often SEE it. I’m due for a surgery and may be having it as soon as next week. We’ll know on Friday, once I have my consultation with the gynecologist. This is one of those surgeries that you think maybe you shouldn’t have. I need it to reduce the adhesions from the endo and to laser off the adhesions from the last surgery. Yep. You read that right. The surgery that helps also harms, and that harm is harming me too much to ignore right now.

I’ve been accused more than once of being a hypochondriac, and how I WISH that were true! How I would love to have all of this be some sort of mental blip that I could overcome. The evidence is starting to be external as well. I don’t know if I’ll welcome the day I no longer hear the dreaded “But You Don’t Look Sick!” I used to think so. But now as my fingers are starting to twist I’m rethinking that plan.

At least the fingers don’t hurt so bad right now. It’s just the abdomen and the hips and the sac joint. Just. Like having a black hole of pain starting at my belly button and stopping just above my knees. I’d ask “why me” but I know better. If I ask “why me” for the pain I’d be obliged to ask “why me” for the grace and the love and they all have the same answer. Why NOT me?

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I was so excited when my copy of Gone Girl hit the library, because many people had recommended it–and recommended it highly. I now want to find each person who highly recommended it and lock them in a room with Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, Gary Glitter and Caligula. I figure those recommenders must find it great fun to hang out with cruel, self-obsessed, and intolerable people. Aside from one secondary character who turns out okay in the latter pages, the folks who make up this novel are awful. Told in alternating first person by husband Nick and wife Amy we get to read all about how terrible the Internet is for costing him his movie reviewing gig at a magazine. We get to read how tragic it s that her trust fund is dwindling (awwww) and that they have to rent a fancy house upon relocating to Missouri. Life sure is HARD for Nick and Amy!

It gets harder for them–and us–as the novel progresses and then you hit the Big Twist.

I’ll tell you right now….and this is a PARTIAL SPOILER

If you want a REAL twist, read Jeffery Deaver or O. Henry. Those authors can craft a story in such a way that the twist comes as an artful surprise born out of the story’s construction.

It is NOT a “twist” to simply tell the reader one thing for half the book and then suddenly say “ha! Fooled you! That wasn’t true. It was all fake.” I completely LOATHE the Unreliable Narrator method of storytelling anyway, and to use that lazy construct and call it a “twist” is just…ugh.

END SPOILER

As a writer I have to admit that I don’t understand how some authors can live in a world wholly peopled by bleak constructs. These worlds of pure grimness and falsehood are torture for me to hang around for a couple of hours. I can’t fathom what life must be like for a person who spends whole months listening to the dictated whims of these characters.

To be clear on one thing I need to emphatically state that I don’t mind flawed characters in the least. In fact, I rather prefer them overall, because they are far more interesting to watch. But people can be flawed on multiple levels without being unredeemable, Magwich. It’s when they are almost cartoonishly dark, peopling a universe without light and honour that makes a story untenable for me. Gone Girlwas one of those jagged rocks of a story, for sure.

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I had planned over the weekend that I would open the week on the blog by writing a Scholarly Analysis of the movie Brave (“an animated adventure for postmodern feminism”) wherein I would usher in all types of fairytale autopsies and name-drop Bettleheim and Cuchulain all over the place. We were going to discuss how Brave made excellent use of the three-phase Goddess by showing the Maid, Mother, and Crone in their respective roles. It was going to be something wonderful.

But I don’t feel like writing that piece today. (I barely feel like writing this one, but if I had to look at that bloody Chick Fil A thing one more day I think I’d paristalsys reversus all over the screen.)

This is a rant about Princesses.

When I was a very little girl I loved Cinderella. It was my favourite fairytale and my parents tried to move heaven and earth to find me an actual glass slipper. What I could never explain then and hesitate to explain now is that for me the attraction to Cinderella was two-fold; I wanted to see what an actual glass slipper looked like because I love glass and I wanted to be able to hang out with talking mice. Dancing all night in painful heels with a strange guy really was nowhere on my list of life goals and aims.

The Disney Princesses are what little girls have now. Slickly packaged and branded to the hilt, they are a group of pretty maids whose only real diversity up until recently was hair and dress colour. Painted virgins in fancy dresses, they appeal to parents everywhere as some sort of role model for their little girls, and I’m not quite sure why. But I am quite sure that the amount of money and common sense parents have thrown at this twisted dream can be measured in mountains.

Why do you want to tell your daughter that being married is the end to her troubles? That being valued for how you look is paramount? That marrying a near-stranger for his money is a totally fine thing to do? Of course no one ever tells their daughters these things straight up. No matter–the Disney Fairy Tales will do that for you. Just sit back and watch it happen.

For all its negative reviews, at least Brave turned that whole bucket of trash fish on its side. If you go see Brave you’ll see a girl decry, in the opening reel, the travails of ACTUALLY being a princess. You’ll see mother and daughter fight and strive under some of the weirdest-ever circumstances and you’ll see a story about respecting yourself and your parents.

We need more stories like this.

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Chick Fil A

There’s one not too far from our house, and it’s franchisee is a man from First Baptist Nashville so people from church go there all the time and there is often Chick Fil A food making an appearance at various First Baptist activities.

I like their food okay. My husband loves it and for awhile ate there often enough that I started to joke it should be called “Chick Fil T”. That’s what we call it at home now, jokingly, and whenever anyone says the actual name of the store it sounds weird to me. “Wait. You said it wrong. Oops. Nevermind.”

When I found out they were donating money to a few groups that stood in opposition to homosexuality I was torn. As a libertarian I firmly believe everyone, including owners of giant corporations, should do exactly as they feel led with the talents they’ve been given. Whether those talents are an excellent singing voice or pockets bulging with profit what is done is not my call. My call is whether or not I should add my paltry sum to the pile.

I decided not to. I have much respect for the Cathys in that they live their principles in the way they operate their business. I wish more churches would choose to be debt-free, frankly, and I like that they have a corporately-enforced day of rest. But there are people very close to me who are homosexuals and I don’t like the idea of money I spend being used to prop up a part of Christianity that is in direct contradiction to Christ’s mandate that we love those that persecute us.

If Chick Fil A was less selective in where they gave their money I wouldn’t mind so much. But such a large part of the Christian culture is about ganging up on The Sin Of The Moment. And I feel like Chick Fil A has decided that instead of reaching out to homosexuals with the open arms that Christ has, they’ve joined in the “let’s prove what good Christians we are by hating on this one particular “in” sin” throng. If one is operating under the paradigm that we are all sinners and fallen short of the glory of God, then picking on someone else’s particular sin is ignoring the log in your own eye.

So I don’t eat there. Or I didn’t. But now that everyone is talking about it all the time I’m craving a sandwich.

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Part Tow

Yes, I know. I initially made the typo and then I was like…hey, that’s kind of interesting. This post can tow that last post into dock, as it were. So that’s what that’s about.

Anyway, now that I’ve somewhat calmed down out of the frustratomode, what I’m trying to say is this.

If I am not loving the people I am angry at, I am not doing my job as a Christian.

And we know from I Cor. 13 (that poor overquoted, misquoted little passage that gets trotted out at weddings and then put away again too quickly) what a picture of love IS:

1. Love is patient
Love does not ask “where are the new jobs? Why aren’t your tax cuts working? Why are you killing all the sick people?”

2. Love is kind
Kindness does not call other people stupid or Rethuglican or Dumbocrat or whatever low words we’re using for our fellow man these days.

3. Love does not envy
Class warfare and the fomenting of it does not constitute love. Railing against the wealth of the 1%, against the corporations…this is envy.

4. Love does not boast
“Hah, the other guy did something stupid” is a sort of boast, I think. A mocking boast.

5. It does not dishonour others
See above. See also all the claims that X kills people or Y steals money.

6. It is not self-seeking
Since so much of politics is about how we want things to be, it bears thought to ponder what the world would be like if we stopped doing that and started thinking about others first. All others. Not just the poor at the expense of the rich or the rich at the expense of the poor or the ourselves at the expense of soldiers’ lives.

7. It is not easily angered
People are going to say things that upset you. Keeping a check on that anger is Christ’s love in action. As hard as that is.

8. It keeps no record of wrongs
There are Christians who do and say things that make me angry in politics. And social construction. But remembering those things and holding them against those people isn’t God’s love. It’s a picture of my old nature. And it’s not a righteous anger, as much as I tell myself that it is.

9. Love does not delight in evil
There are so many places where this is applicable it’s not even funny. Ganging up on The President or Romney or Rush Limbaugh…like I just did and know that I shouldn’t have. That’s not good. I need to remember this A LOT MORE than I do.

10. It rejoices with the truth
Hard as it is to find truth in the mire of politics, it’s great to rejoice in the truth that Love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.

11.It always protects, trusts, hopes, perserveres
This is how I am going to attempt to approach the political. Am I protecting? Protecting my testimony? Protecting the Church? Am I trusting that God is in control of all things , including the outcome of this and all other elections? Am I HOPING that no matter the outcome the Lord will be served? Am I perservering, preaching the gospel in my life even though things do not seem to be “correct” to me?

I have so much work to do in all this.

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If we’re Christians we’ve got clear directives in the Bible about what we are supposed to look like to the world and how we are supposed to behave. None of those directives mentions any political party or philosophy. ANY political party or philosophy. God knows that we are all crafted differently, and makes it a point to say so, several times. (I am the vine, there are many branches; the body has many parts, etc.) I truly believe that Christians are called to different political points of view as a method of iron-sharpening-iron. What can I learn from other believers who are Communitarian? As a libertarian what view of God do I have that may be helpful to Democrats and Republicans? If our first allegiance is to Christ, how do we best show that given the tools we have in place? God is God here, in this representative Democracy, but God is also God in communist nations. God is not diminished by the version of statecraft in the land where people worship God.

I know too many Christians who actually suspect their fellow believers of being weak in–or totally lacking–faith if they support an alternative political point of view. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing that we often suspect others of not being Christians if they are X denomination. (For the record my theory on denominations is much the same. There are different ones that appeal to different people because of how they are constructed.) We are such little eyeblinks of existence, and the arrogance involved in judging another’s eternal soul by their temporal political leanings is sickening.

This is not directed solely at Republicans, Right Wingers, etc. I’ve seen many Democrats and Socialists be just as arrogant about their position. (“Jesus said feed the hungry, and my belief in letting the government do that is more holy than your belief in letting churches and individuals do it.”)

The closer we get to this election the more my flesh crawls at all of this corruption of the church. Because that’s what it is.

The CHURCH is individuals. It isn’t an organisation. We as individuals are mandated to do those things Christ calls us to do. Feed the hungry, clothe the poor…that is for you and me. The antiseptic approach of joining a club–a church or a political party–and appointing a sort of amanuensis to do your tasks for you is not really what Jesus expected. We are growing way too comfortable with letting other people do the hard work. Checks in the offering plate or to the IRS man are not substitutions for our call.

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There are big thoughts in my head about big issues, but we can’t go there now. The mechanism within me that moves big thoughts into tiny words is offline. So we’re stuck with another one of these psots where I just kinda dump my brain on the table like a purse that needs cleaning. Excuse the melted lipstick and extra Kroger Plus cards; I’ll probably just throw those out.

I’m doing beta reading for people, and that’s often fun. The people I’m beta-reading for now are great authors, so I’m not having that uncomfortable feeling I’ve gotten in the past where I try to figure out a way to tell people that there’s really not a single thing I liked about their story other than the fact that it was nicely double-spaced and well justified along the right margin. It’s taking me forever, though. Whenever I beta-read I’m torn between reading-as-a-writer and just-reading. I used to work with writers who wanted me to read their stuff sitting in front of my desktop computer. I don’t do that anymore because then I never evaluate the book as a reader but as a co-writer of sorts. And to me the point of being a beta-reader is that the storyteller wants a READER. So now I load the stories onto my Kindle and read them the same way I read other books.

Okay. This entry is only half of the usual 500 words, but it’s ending now. Why? because I’ve fallen asleep at the keyboard twice now. If I’m that disinterested in what I’m writing I can just imagine how you feel.

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