Archive for September, 2010

So here’s the thing.  We’re one month away from NaNoWriMo.  That’s when crazy people such as myself write a 50K word novel from start to finish during the month of November.   I did it last year…and it about killed me.

Seriously.  I mean, I loved it.  I loved the renewed feeling of discipline and the creativity of it all.   I felt more like a productive writer that month than I had any other month previously.   It kickstarted a lot of good habits in me, too.   And got me a lot of good exposure for my work.   Best of all I met a lot of other writers whom I consider to be awesome people.

But the pace of it was just too much.   By the end of the month my husband was having to help me hobble from room to room and was literally having to cut my meat for me.   Granted, a lot of that was due to having to cram during the med-free days.  But that essentially meant that, realistically, I had about 12 days in November, where everyone else had 30.   Not that I’m whinging.  (But I am.)

So here’s the deal.  I so badly want to go to NaNoWriMo 2010 events.   And I want to try some of the goals.   But I know I cannot possibly make the full goal AND have a healthy, happy Thanksgiving.  So should I just join NaNoWriMo 10 and do what I can, knowing I have absolutely no intention of finishing?   Or should I just let this parade pass me by?

As far as ethical dilemmas go, this isn’t quite the Waterloo I’m making it out to be.   Nevertheless I am quandrified.

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This past week was spent either bouncing back from a particularly strenuous (to me, the weak sauce sister) week or clearing out volumes of Netflix Videos on Demand.   One of those videos left me even more exhausted and sick of the world.

There exists out there in the Zeitgeist a film about Harlan Ellison.   Now, I’ve always loved Harlan Ellison’s work.   It resonates with me on a couple of different frequencies.  He’s got that lyrical ear for fitting together words in a musical way and he’s also got a great sense of what makes for a great story.    Some of his things irritate me with their LSD coating (“Repent, Harlequin” Said The Tick Tock Man tops that list…)  but most of the Ellison work I do enjoy.   And since I’m on a quest for other writers–and they don’t have Writers’ Bars and Writer Pride Parades where I can find those other living-outside-the-lines people I do things like watch two hours of biographical documentary on Harlan Ellison.

And herein lies my issue.   Ellison is apparently, among other things, a raging arse.   He treats everyone badly.   He yells and swears and abuses folks who will take it because He Is Harlan Ellison, a guy who once wrote a cool episode of Outer Limits…and then two books’ worth of essays on why TV is garbage.   (Way to write off the hand that feeds you, Ellison.)     Even more than that, Ellison appears to be a card-carrying member of the Warren Zevon/Tom Baker school of “Be a drunk and abusive jerk who sleeps with  hundreds of women and breaks their hearts and then when you get old and grizzled and all man-boobed jowly, find a younger woman who will make it all okay.”

It irritates me, this view of women popularised by this particular urban legend.  But you see it over and over again in magazine stories about men with checkered pasts.   The first one I ever encounted was the Vanity Fair cover story about Dennis Hopper back in 1988.   That was when he had his two-fisted comeback with Hoosiers and Blue Velvet.   It struck me then as a wonderful story.  How fantastic for him, to come back so bravely from a storied struggle with drugs and drink and ego!    It was the perfect fairy tale for every man.

Now as I look back on it, holding Ellison’s life next to Hopper’s, I see the gross unfairness of it all.   The women they used and discarded in their misspent youths are aged, affected by the years as all women are.   Yet the men themselves are attractive–either physically or socioeconomically–and as such can dip down into a younger generation of princesses for their fairy-tale ending.    It’s become so beloved a modern fairy story that James L. Brooks turned it into a movie.

Why, instead of being heart-warmed by the stories of these reformed bad boys are we not just a bit miffed at the way these men continue to objectify women–even once they’ve supposedly reformed?  Read just one of the interviews where the friends of HimDerella talk about how “she saved him” or “she quiets his demons” or whatever other way they have of saying “he has replaced a dependence on drugs with a dependence on this former makeup artist.”

I love a good love story; love is the engine of my best work.   But I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t more selfishness than love in some of these reforming codgers.

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Dear (Usually Male) Author:

I appreciate that you are deciding to have ‘strong’ fictional heroines in your book(s).  It’s nice to see that the day isn’t always saved by Conan or Hercules or another male person.   Not that male persons aren’t wonderful, and not that I wouldn’t welcome one of them saving my world were it in jeopardy from whatever dark forces usually jeopardise places in books.   But as a woman it’s really neat to feel like we aren’t just watching the story from the sidelines.

But there is a bit of a new convention I see you all adopting and I find it disturbing, to say the least.   Your strong female heroines seem to be princessess or daughters of lords–ladies with genteel breeding and a pampered early life.   Yet you always seem to have them running off from their How To Be A Lady lessons to climb trees, fight with swords and engage in other ‘atypical’ behaviour outside the gender norms.

In short, it’s okay for your stories to have a woman in power or empowered…if she acts like a man.   Just once I’d like to see the princess or lord’s daughter become a great warrior or leader even while she enjoys her sewing, dancing and deportment lessons.   I say this as a woman who likes non-gendernorming activities such as computer programming, shooting, archery (summer camp) and politics but who also enjoys sewing and knowing how to set a proper formal dinner table.   I could kill a traitor with a fish fork or a knitting needle.

I’m sure there must be books out there where this sort of thing happens.  I guess I just haven’t gotten there yet.   But it sure seems like your books are easier to find.

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I have a new appreciation for heroin addicts.

In the legends I’ve heard about heroin addiction–not being exposed to heroin myself, you understand–the dealers hook you with the really good stuff and you spend the rest of your sad, addicted nod of a life chasing that dragon.   No hit will ever be as pure and potent and wonderful as that first taste.   Your body chemistry becomes used to the drug; in addition to that, the dealers also sell you “stepped on” product that’s been cut with baby powder, powdered milk, drywall…whatever.

And that, my friends, is where I’m at now.   Having sworn off fantasy as a genre years ago, I begrudgingly started to read the existing books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire.  You probably know all of this if you’ve read here in the last couple of months.   You probably also know that I fell in deep love with those books.

So here I am now, reading through other Epic Fantasy series which are stepped on in their own ways.   I’m halfway through Greg Keyes’ The Briar King and I’m realising that nothing will come close to the wonderfulness of Martin.   I realised that moreso when I googled “Best Epic Fantasy” yesterday and got a long list…with Martin at the top, loudly labled as “the best the genre has to offer.”

Clearly anything else I read will be second best.   But read them I shall, because I’m newly addicted.

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I know you hate it when I do this.  But since I can only assume most of the people who trouble themselves to read this blog aren’t so in to me that they follow me to every waystation on the Information Superhighway to read what I’ve written in other people’s comments.   And since I’ve got other stuff going on and I keep meaning to write this up anyway, I’m stealing a comment I left at Ivy’s new blog for this blog as well.

Ivy asked how others how they cope with depressive episodes.   The big D is pretty much a given with my various other illnesses. Seriously, people with my diagnoses are overwhelmingly depressed.  It’s like 70% or better.  Something to do with not being able to move and eat and drive and enjoy the fullness of adulthood, I think.

So far I’ve been able to keep most of the dementors at bay.   And this, according to what I said at Ivy’s, is my recipe:

As silly as this may sound, I’ll be very honest.

1. NEVER FIGHT WITH PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET. This is a big one. I spent so much emotional energy arguing with semi-strangers over things that neither of us could fix or change. It left me angry for the rest of the day most of the time. Now…I just don’t engage. It means I have far less of an online presence than I used to. Especially in the blogosphere. But I’ll gladly trade that (very) minor celebrity for peace of mind.

2. Concentrate on things that involve creation, nurturing and beauty. As lame as it may seem, a lot of the more popular games on Facebook are good for this. Joke if you like, but I should have a t-shirt printed that says “FarmVille Keeps Me Sane!” Because all of those games that involve things like growing plants, tending fish and other nurturing hobbies are the modern version of the Zen garden. Sure it’s just rakes in sand, but it focuses your mind on beauty and growth. And yes, there have been days where I only got out of bed to take care of my cafe and my farm and…

3. Get your own pet. I don’t care if it’s just a pet rock. Of course, I strongly recommend dogs, as I’m a dog person. But any pet who needs you and loves unconditionally in return is one of the best ways to keep yourself grounded.

Every time I’ve taken an anti-depressant (3x) it’s made me fatter and angrier. So now I just put them in the category of “things I cannot have” along with soy and Rex Harrison. So I’ve got to find other ways. And these work.

Oh, I also recommend two of the Prayers of Julian of Norwich:

God, of your goodness,
give me yourself
for you are enough for me.
And only in you
do I have everything.


All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

That last prayer has become my mantra.  Because life does have its ups and downs.  Anyone who knows a Midwestern girl knows that she’ll focus on the downs even when she’s up.  Because UP must mean a Down is on it’s way, sure as wet follows the rain.    But this prayer turns that on its head.  And you realise that ultimately…things shall be well.*


*I don’t know this for certain, but I strongly suspect–based on bunches of things–that JK Rowling is also a student of Julian of Norwich.   When I got to the last line of book seven I had tears streaming down my face because I was just certain that she’s been where I’ve been and those words had meaning for her too.   If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, find you a copy of Deathly Hallows and read the last three words.   You’ll understand why she changed it from “scar”, I think.

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I did some musing in the shower this morning.  One thing led to another and now I feel as though I can share some things with the world.

Things that used to be hip but aren’t anymore:

  • Referencing Spinal Tap.  Seriously, if one more person says “these go to 11” or “you can’t dust for vomit”…tell them it’s just over.
  • Spiritual journeys inspired by slickly marketed books.  “The Secret” and “Prayer of Jabez”, I’m looking at you.
  • Talking about how macho Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris are.   Folks, this was funny for exactly three and a half minutes.   Then  it got tired.  And stupid.   No offence to people I know who used to write for Walker: Texas Ranger.
  • The Shopaholic books.   Anyone who glorifies unpaid bills and conspicuous consumption in this economy needs to be flayed with sharp-edged credit cards filed to a point.
  • Smoothies.
  • Sitting in a bookstore and reading books, magazines and newspapers without even having the vaguest of intentions to pay for them.  Yes, I know the store puts the comfy chairs there.  That doesn’t mean that you aren’t stealing.
  • Ragging on people who play Facebook games.   Look, we all amuse ourselves in different ways.   I don’t pick on you for spending hours at the mall looking for cheap clothes.   I don’t say anything about the vast amounts of Reality TV you watch.   You have fun your way, I’ll have fun mine.
  • Twitter
  • System Of A Down
  • Family Guy
  • Flipping houses
  • Designer dog breeds
  • Barack Obama.  Sorry–you know it’s true.   Bunches of people who voted for him are now just kind of gritting their teeth and bearing it.   No more hipster graphic art posters, huh?
  • Designer covers for Kindle and Nook.   Yes, the eReaders are expensive.   And Kate Spade is famous.   But no one should pay 50% of the eReader cost for a Kate Spade cover.   That’s just completely wrong.   Especially since you can’t tell the difference between the $120 Kate Spade solid covers and the $35 ones from M-Edge.
  • True Blood.  Sorry folks.  I sat through all of Season 3 this last week.  I give the show 2 more seasons before everyone else realises it’s jumped the shark.   Me, personally–I feel like it jumped the shark last season during the Meat Idol scenes.   This whole season was just an attempt to retain hipster cred and “sexy soap” status.   Shame it’s not working.   Last night’s season finale was the most Meh thing I’ve seen in a long while.

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Fahrenheit Zero

Yesterday on Facebook, Slarti offered (jokingly, I assume) to burn a copy of Twilight for me on Saturday.   He alluded to the fact that Saturday is the day people are burning books.

I’ve spent most of this week in a drug-induced haze.   I was expecting a bad endo flare and it came, screamingly, on Sunday morning.  Only now has it partially let up.   I survived on True Blood episodes via OnDemand and beautifying my city in City of Wonder.  (That game, it should be noted, ought to be called either “City of Compulsion” or “City of Occupational Therapy”.)   I tell you all of this so that you know why I didn’t know until late this afternoon that some person has decided to immoliate copies of the Koran in a sort of idiotic bonfire of kissmyarse to commemorate September 11th.

My first reaction is my usual reaction when people talk of burning books.   To me there is no greater flaunting of ignorance than the desecration of any sort of written word.   Do people not realise the true magic of writing?   I know it seems commonplace in this world where most people can read and write at least a basic amount.   But the very idea that ideas themselves can live, charging like lightning down an undersea wire from person to person, because of marks on a contrasting surface–that, my friends, is the penultimate magic.   The penultimate victory of life over death.   In my mind it is second only to the redemption of Jesus’ sacrifice.

So when you talk about burning books you talk about embracing darkness.  About siding with death, joining hands with ignorance.   You celebrate stupidity and idiocy and align yourself with the mud.

But here’s the thing.   You can do it.  I’m not going to stop you.   Because this is America and I am a libertarian.  For better or worse that means that you as a free person have the right to be exactly as pig ignorant and blind stupid as you want to be.

I won’t stop you.

What I will do?  Buy more books.  Write more books.  Teach people to read.  Teach people to write.  Pass the word along that writing is magic for ordinary lives.   You are free to be stupid, and I am free to tell everyone just how stupid you are and show them where the road is to the better way.

Up to this point there were 398 words, comprised of 26 letters.   That’s 32 lines, 9 circles, 6 half circles, black against a white background.   That’s all it is, in its most basic form.  But in it are the thoughts of my brain, reacting to the thoughts of others and causing more reactions in yet more people.

Those things burn with an altogether different fire.

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Since the contretemps with the Christian Booksellers’ Association in early summer I’ve found myself reading more blogs by Christians–specifically authors who write books for other Christians’ enjoyment.

It’s become a singularly frustrating experience.

I realise that I’m generalising here, because I don’t honestly wish to write 2000 words of blog entry today, and I’ve already topped 800.  But in reading these blogs I see endless discussions about basic Christian theologic doctrine.  You know the drill–is there such thing as original sin? Is there such a thing as hell?  It’s a lot of focus on flaws and failures.   Oh, woe is me! I’ve sinned.  I cannot be helped because I’m so flawed!   On and on and on.   The blog entries and the comments are full of Biblical references, talk of devotion and the always-entertaining Book of The Revelation.   I swear that Christians are treating that book not as a mystical epistle but as our version of comics.   “Here’s Where Jesus-Lantern Kicks Satan’s A—!” “Ohh boy! Dragons!”

Meanwhile…on this planet and in this time period…

There are hungry people.  There are people without clothes or shoes.  There are sick people in pain who live in countries where the only doctor is hundreds of miles away and the only way to get there is to walk.

There are people in your own neighbourhood who are suffering because they’ve lost a job and their house most likely is the next thing to go.   There are women who are dying from the slow ache of not being able to have a baby.  Women dying of the fast ache of having too many babies and no way to feed them.

How does sitting around amongst ourselves and talking over the same Sunday School points ad nauseum actually proclaim the Grace to a world that needs it?   You know, I’m starting to feel like it doesn’t.   It’s just a sanctified version of arguing about politics or the weather.  Nothing is changed but we feel good because we talked about it so well.

A quick read through the Gospels shows that Jesus spent very little time in the Temple talking about theology with other Rabbis.  He did do that, of course.   But he spent vastly more time going from place to place healing the sick, feeding the hungry and presenting the good news of Grace.

Are you the twelve year old Jesus sitting in the temple?  Not yet a man, still a child.  Or are you the adult Jesus, walking the dusty streets and changing your world one bleeding woman at a time?

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Ten years ago when people were starting to call “Online Journaling” by a hip new 2.0 name–“blogging”–they also tried to do the hip 2.0 thing of monetizing it.   Stories started trickling out about this or that blogger who was able to retire because they’d found some hook, capitalised on it and now had enough readership to somehow pay them to stay at home and pontificate.   So other people started to make their hook about telling yet more people how to Make Money Off Their Blog or Get A Publishing Deal Off Their Blog or, well, you name it.

What they didn’t often advertise as readily was “Make a New Circle Of Friends With Whom You Have A Lot In Common Off Your Blog.”   Because the last thing that most writers are burning for is more friends.   To a lot of writers “friends” means “people you’re stuck with in the world who don’t understand you but you get along with them anyway because otherwise you’d be institutionalised or suspected of serial murder.”    We’re an introverted lot by nature.

So when I started a blog the last thing I expected to find were actual FRIENDS.  People who were the genuine article.  Women that would instantly leap to mind when I saw something cool I had to share; folks I’d want to have into my actual house for a meal.    But it happened, and just at a time in my life when I was in sore need of friends in Nashville.

This week has been big news for two of my blogging friends.

For my friend Betsy, (whom I’ve always referred to here as Aunt B. when I talk about her blog because that was how she chose to present herself ) this is the hugest week ever.   She’s had a baby.   No, really.   Now it’s not a flesh-and-blood baby, I’ll grant you.  But it was born out of the creative side of her in the same intense labour pains as human birth, and like a squalling, red-faced half-genetic representation of her, it is a thing that will aid her to live on in this world when her time here is over.     Betsy Phillips has written and published her first book.

I am so proud of her!  I am filled with joy for her, and also admiration.   She saw this hugely intimidating dream that at one point she thought would never happen.  I remember well an early post of hers talking about her job at a publisher where she was opening boxes of someone else’s books and realised that she was sad.  Because they should have been her books and she felt deep down that they never would be.

Five years later, she’s proved herself wrong.   She made this happen out of her own drive and determination and creativity.  She climbed the mountain.   And the book, which I’ve been reading on my Kindle for the last 10 minutes, is quite awesome.   It’s about the ghosts of Nashville, those that you know probably lurk behind the landmarks.

My  other friend is someone I’m also proud of.   She also has a magnificent ghost story to tell.   But it’s not about Nashville.  And it’s not fictitious.

Ivy is in recovery.   Ivy is the first blogger I met face to face.   I remember when I first met her how awed I was by her energy and fearlessness.   She is the most generous blogger I have ever known, giving genuinely of her time and money–both things in short supply in her life as a working mother.    I wondered for a long time how she did it.   Then after a time as we grew closer  I began to suspect that she was propelled through the harder parts of life with a little help from illegal drugs.    I was worried, but I didn’t know how to help.  And given my own rocky history with addicts I figured I should stay out of it unless she asked.

Then she disappeared.

Mutual friends said she was alive and working through things, so I didn’t worry more than usual.  I just prayed and prayed some more.  For her, for her husband, for her kids and dogs and cats.  I think she has more than one cat, but I can’t remember.   Most people who have one eventually get another.  Anyway….when she came back in late April with the tale of her year of rehab and recovery I was delighted.   Like Betsy, Ivy saw a mountain she didn’t think she could ever climb, and is climbing it anyway.

These are the friends I am blessed to know.   They are worth far more than any money I could have made from my blog.   I admire them and am proud to know them and am filled with joy for their successes.

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It occurred to me last night around 11:35 as I tried to watch yet another gritty British police procedural that I should find out how to conjure a patronus–and to wonder what it would be if I did. Wouldn’t it be ironic to have one’s Patronus be a black dog?  “Fight Depression with your own black dog!”  Heh.

Before you start to close this and say “I’m not reading about yet another middle aged woman who really has nothing to complain about because she is well-fed, clothed, has a home and a husband who loves her and yet whines about being saaaaad” trust me.  This isn’t that.

This is about me wondering if anyone else ever experiences this particular phenomenon of the mind.  Since I’ve only ever had my own mind  to live in, I am truly curious about the brains of others.  (For a minute there that said “the brians of others.”  Like everyone knows someone named Brian.  Hmmm. I wonder about that, too.)

Anyway, here’s the story.   I had an eidetic memory until about 4 years ago.   As anyone (everyone I’ve ever met, I think) who has heard me whine about being ill–whaaaambulance alert!–knows, that was among the first things that fritzed out.   I, who used to be able to recount entire conversations verbatim, suddenly found myself writing down phone numbers and addresses on sticky notes.  Then I was forgetting meetings and production details.  It made for a hairy experience in my last months of working.    My brain went downhill as fast–or faster than–my body.

Then a few months ago something odd started happening.

For seemingly no reason at all, I began having perfect recall of specific moments.  And not just the room and the people there and the conversation, the way it was before.  I have perfect recall of the mood I was in, the feelings I was feeling at the time.   It’s like my wiring goes in search of all the long-buried touchy parts in my brain and says “Hey! I know! Let’s go back there!”

So what that amounts to is that I’ll be sitting there watching tv and knitting and keeping the yarn hidden from Gob and then all of a sudden, there my mind goes…back to 1:30 Saturday morning when the person I carpooled with on the 4:30 to 1:am shift had to go bail out her boyfriend on the way home.   Suddenly, while sitting in my cozy house, I’m there in my mind at the bail bondsman’s, terrified and feeling very alone.

Or I’ll be eating lunch at the kitchen table and my mind recalls a decades-old fight with my husband and the utter despair kicks me in the  gut.

It’s not that I’m depressed, because 98% of the time I’m just fine.   It’s these weird spot recalls that are starting to make me wonder what on earth is happening inside my head.

Now of course I am interested if that happens to anyone else–and I’m not comment trolling. I promise.  If I wanted to comment troll I’d say something inflammatory about Mexico or Jesus (the Jewish one, not a Mexican one) or Democrats or Republicans.

I just wonder what it’s like in YOUR Brian.

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