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Archive for August, 2011

In The Flesh

So ya
Thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow

Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?

A friend of mine, fresh from experiencing writerly success, has declared that “showing up” works for fiction writing. Sitting down at the computer and pulling the words from your brain appears to actually turn thoughts into stories and stories into publishable form. I need to hear this again and again, apparently. Because “showing up” is what I’m having problems with.

If I show up and do the work and the work isn’t good then I have to admit that I’m not good at what I think I’m good at.

If I show up and do the work and the work is good, then I have to deal with other people reading my thoughts and making assumptions and conclusions.

Oh, whaaaa.

I’ve been reading Kurt Sutter’s blog and he has been talking about how the real essence of writing is moving past fear and that success comes when you get to that place where you push past the demons and go ahead with what you ought to be doing.

I think it’s that fear that keeps me from showing up.

But I’ve also noticed that my writing goes much better if I am also doing some sort of handicraft, be it knitting or colouring. I know I’m not six years old, but I swear to you, if you take a good abstract colouring book and some new crayons or coloured pencils* it gives your brain a massage, a stretch and a hot cup of coffee. When I spend some of my free time engaging the arts that way, it loosens the part of my brain where the stories themselves knit together. Where they go from black-and-white to colour. I have started to think of handicrafts as a sort of Writers’ Calesthenics.

And yes, The Book is going much better than it had been during the Summer of Stone Agony. Of course it cracks me up that the part of the book I’m at now involves a large and mysterious rock–> and that I’ve had an untoward number of kidney stones. It’s sort of creepily poetic. I wonder what will happen in my real life when I get to some of the other parts of the story. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dash off a chapter where someone is miraculously cured of disease.

*Yes, this is a biased plug. But if you have an iPad I highly recommend the Crayola ColorStudio HD app & stylus. The pictures are geared toward children–I’d love to see some abstract options–but they are most of them quite charming. And I love me some Griffin Technology products!

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A Sinister Tale

Once again I haven’t a whole topic in mind but just have the urge to write something non-fiction for awhile. That’s why I keep this blog instead of doing what normal people do and finding a convicted murderer to be a pen-pal for.

So here’s the weird thing in my life lately. WierdEST thing, given the fact that visiting my life is like sitting down in front of a Lazy Susan full of weirdness and just spinning from one tasty morsel of strange to the next.

About three or four weeks ago I began to notice that I’ve started doing more and more small tasks with my left hand. I’ve always been right-handed, with the exception of knitting where I prefer the lefty method. But for some completely odd reason I’ve started doing things like dressing with my left hand, brushing teeth and hair, and reaching for items. Nothing big–I’m not writing sonnets or signing checks on the goat hand yet. But odd little things are happening under my nose. It seems like the beginning of a horror story almost, because it has been going on for awhile but I’m just now starting to realise it. And before you jump to conclusions allow me to say that NO, it isn’t compensatory. My left hand is actually the sore-r of the two, and the one with the most extant arthritis damage. That makes it seem all the weirder that I’d start southpawing through life right now. My husband said I could either have a catastrophic brain injury or an alter personality, as those are the primary reasons for a spontaneous change in handedness. But I’ve checked inside my head space and all the personalities in residence have always been right-handed. And my head still seems undamaged, and I do not smell toast. Not even when I’m cooking toast. I have a very bad sense of smell. So for whatever reason, I’m now on my way to being at least ambidextrous, if not altogether left-handed. It’s like I’ve gotten divorced from my own fine-motor skills.

There’s other stuff going on in the world besides how I put on my socks, of course. The West Memphis Three are at last happily free, and I’m relieved. Even if they DID commit the crime for which they were convicted (and I don’t believe they did, having read all the court documents available) I do think that their conviction was a gross miscarriage of the judicial system. It makes me happy that that wrong was righted. Of course I still believe Satan exists and that there are those who pray to him. But folks, I promise you this. If you think Satan looks like a grungy outsider you certainly don’t have the first idea about his gameplan. Satan isn’t the kid all in black picking scabs on his arms and drawing bloody skulls in his math book. Satan is the star quarterback. The sharp-dressed smooth talker all the ladies swoon over. Satan’s whole job is to be so gloriously attractive, so charming and winning that we give in to the temptations before we entirely realise what we’ve agreed to. The last thing Satan has planned is to turn everyone off with grotesque butchery. Until Satan gets to that last thing, it’s sexy charm all the way.

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The bulk of this entry was originally a comment over at Mike Duran’s. But since it touches on so many things that are important to me (Christianity, History vs. mythology vs. oral tradition, mysticism, daily devotions) I decided I wanted a firmer record of it and thus brought it over here.

I say early and often that words are magic, that God’s greatest gift other than Grace was the gift of language and writing. So the Bible is important to me in that it is God’s writing.

For those of you who read this blog and are not Christian in the sense of being one who has dedicated their earthly life to following Christ, I get that you might wish to skip over this, as it has a bit of what you variously consider my Bronze Age Superstitions / foolishness / goofy beliefs / complete and utter wrongness attached to it.

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“Christian” means different things to different people. It means, in its most basic sense, “A follower of Christ”.

But then you’ve got this world where we call this a Christian nation, where we use “Christian” to mean “Not Jewish or Muslim”, where the cultural pressure to self-identify as “Christian” is extremely strong. So when people answer a survey with vague operational definitions of their main points, you’re going to get a mishmash.

I know a lot of people who call themselves Christian but have never set foot inside a church.

That being said, yes, I think it is possible to be a full-on, completely dedicated Christ Follower and still have doubts about The Bible. I think God knew that would be the case. Look at how many Christ Followers have been through their periods of doubt in the Bible itself. I think that’s why we’ve gotten the magnificent gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the chance to dialogue directly with God. Have your doubts? Talk to God and you’ll get them straightened out. No big deal.

Harping again on my old horse of Mysticism, allow me to say that it is our own disservice we’ve done ourselves to have Christ Followers going about thinking that various Bible Stories are myths. (“It was really the Sea Of Reeds and more like a pond that dried up…”) We purged the great belief in the mystical nature of God, wrung all the miracles out of the Faith and now here we are. Of course we can’t get rid of that pesky dead-man-come-back-to-life thing. Other than that, the end result of the demystification of our religion has been to have people scoff at the virgin birth, the flood, the creation.

We put God in custom-designed boxes that make God just big enough to be what a person needs at one point in time and not any bigger, not any more powerful and certainly not capable of sending a shark to keep a man alive in its belly or halt the sun in its tracks.

As for the historical evidence of these things: There isn’t much of it. Okay. There is also not much written proof or historical evidence that my great-grandfather was a good man who provided for his family. No historian documented this fact. His name comes up in some census documents and on a grave stone and that’s it. But we have the words he left in letters to his children, the stories those children told and the things they wrote down. That’s the sort of “documentation” we have. Not unlike the documentation we have about God. We have what God told us, what God told the people around Jesus to write down, the people God contacted, the prophets, the kings. The people who knew God wrote about their experience with God.

We call this The Bible.

And unlike my great-grandfather, we’ve actually got, as I said before, the Holy Spirit. It’d be as if my Great Grandfather left some sort of very young wife behind or some Superman Fortress of Solitude Crystal we could dial up and ask questions about him. “Tell me about how he escaped from Turkey.”

So doubts, sure. I just think it’s sad that so many of us don’t care to take the extra step to talk about those doubts with the God who made himself lower than the angels just so we could talk directly.

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The Blotter

–I hate it when WordPress signs me out of the blog. Yes, I know it’s just an extra step. Yet I am still annoyed whenever I have to go back to wordpress.com and enter my vitals.

–My knitting is aggravating my shoulder of all things. My body conspires against me.

–Got some word on the new Federal Pain Medication protocols. I was going to write a whole post about it but really, why bother? It’s the same thing as the gun “control” protocols. More hoops for the law-abiding to jump through. Hoops that the folks with the real problems have long ago figured a way around. At least they’ve not included short-acting meds in the legislation. That’s a boon for those of us who don’t (yet) need the time-release long-acting opiates.

–I made it to the RiffTrax Live! event last night, which you know if you are a Facebook Friend, because I didn’t stop yammering about it. I was soooo thrilled to be able to go. Although I’m getting too close to menopause to sit under hot lights, apparently. All that sweaty whining aside, can I just say it was a dream come true? When I first moved to town I knew no one other than my hubby and my co-workers at the three very crap low-paying jobs I had. (typist, office assistant, part-time travel agent) I discovered Joel and the ‘Bots one lonely Friday while my husband was working the night shift in the children’s mental institution. Yes, the first years in Nashville were a sort of Dickensian nightmare. Anyway, MST3K was a lifeline for me. A surrogate family. A reminder of high school and college friends who would snark over movies with me. So yeah, the whole RiffTrax gang is like a set of old friends, and getting to finally see them in person was a huge, huge treat.

–I finally got to meet @hollywoodron! I think he’s a cousin of Ivy’s or something like that. I’m not sure anymore how exactly I first met half of the friends I have, but they’re always there on FB and Twitter and when we occasionally get to bump into each other in the flesh it’s a huge treat. Crystal was there too, and that was quite awesome. Don’t think I’ve seen her in the flesh since the legendary hen party at Mack’s farm. Sadly, Holly wasn’t there. I would have loved to have seen her, since I only got to chat briefly with her the last time we shared the same air. But of course the heat and crowds and prohibitive ticket prices aren’t for everyone. Heck, they aren’t really for me. Now that I’ve done it once I think I’ll do future RLive! events at the remote theatre locations. It’s dark and air conditioned and half price.

–My beloved is at his glass class. It’s a makeup session since he missed last night. He’s taken to this glasscraft thing in a way that’s sort of scary, but very cool. Tonight is welding, and after that he’s good to be on his own with Copper Foil/Tiffany method. Leaded Glass is in the spring. I eagerly await many Celtic patterns…

–I’m thinking of looking for Beta readers for sections of my book. If you’re interested in Beta reading a WiP, let me know.

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So I freeze up a bowl of yogurt for a late supper and plop myself in front of the tv. I figure an old episode of 30 Rock, which I keep on hand solely for times like this (too tired for a long show, not interested in a rerun of The Big Bang Theory and needing something not likely to be gross while I eat). I’ve never been as in love with this show as some people, partially because as a libertarian I find the politics too heavy handed and partially because I’m not on the Tina Fey Love Bus with everyone else. But it is sometimes good for a laugh or three and like I said, it fits in with Quick Late Lone Suppers.

But now I’ve officially decided that I hate this show. As seldomly as I watch it, it seems like every episode I’ve ever seen has at least one joke stolen from Arrested Development. In this case it was even worse because the purloined line was delivered by a purloined AD star, Will Arnett. (The joke in question was two gay men mixing their sperm to get a baby and declaring that they’ll “never know who the real father is” even though one is black and one is white.)

And of course in the course of writing this–sloppily–I searched for [30 Rock rip off Arrested Development] and find out that, even though I’d already put the title in the title space, they’ve already ripped off that joke too. Although Jon Hamm lost two arms instead of just one.

I sorely want to create a spreadsheet ::drools with madlove for spreadsheets:: showing each joke they’ve stolen along with its degree of modification, but that would involve watching more episodes of 30 Rock and actually paying closer attention than I’m inclined to.

I know a lot of people who don’t have TVs or do have them but don’t have them hooked up to the networks, using them solely for Netflix/Redbox. After this evening I find myself sort of envying their peace of mind. Sort of.

Of course that means they didn’t get to watch Arrested Development in first-run and are partially to blame for its cancellation. FIE!!!!

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Oh, and speaking of such things, and too lazy to start another blog post, can i just say that I wish there were a system in place for A la Carte show purchasing on a grander scale than already exists. The trolls over at So Yes, we’re a bunch of Frakking Yobbos are admitting that they are dumping Eureka because it is too expensive to produce. And frankly, I’d pay a couple bucks for each episode, just as I would have done for Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies, Life, Deadwood….the list goes on forever. Sigh. Someday it’ll happen. Until then I guess we’re stuck with the junk one half step up from Current TV that SyFy calls programming. That dude from the seminar should be gleeful. His dream of TV being produced by idiots with video cameras has come true at last. Whee.

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War Horse

I was just leafing through the Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly and am left with this one thought.

If you want me to pay you money to see your movie, don’t make your movie about animals.

I have said it before and find myself needing to repeat the thought in light of the fact that one of the big fall movies is War Horse.

What’s it about? Well, it’s about a man who sells his son’s pet horse to the army (British, I believe). Then the boy joins the army to find his pet and there are battles and sadness aplenty, I would assume. So not only is it an animal movie, it’s also a preachy movie and an anti-war war movie.

How clever of Hollywood to put all three types of movies I automatically avoid in ONE film! The only thing missing to make this the perfect anti-me movie is Jack Black and/or Anne Hathaway.

With the money I save on tickets we’ll at least be able to see the Muppet Movie (featuring my friend Tad Atkinson) twice.

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“Ah, I envy you, sir,” said Mr. Norrell. “Indeed I do. The practice of magic is full of frustrations and disappointments, but the study is a continual delight! All of England’s great magicians are one’s companions and guides. Steady labour is rewarded by increase of knowledge and, best of all, one need not so much as look upon another of one’s fellow creatures from one month’s end to the next if one does not wish it!” –Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell / Susannah Clarke

I began rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last week after having trudged through three mediocre books that left me wanting something meatier. This is my second time through and at 29% of the way I’m convinced that although the book is theoretically about magic, it’s actually a giant satire about writing and the world of writers.

“Oh!” said Strange. “I think that the quicker one gets these things out of one’s brain and on to the paper and off to the printers, the better. … Mr. Norrell, who had never yet got any thing successfully out of his brain and off to the printers, whose every attempt was still at some stage or other of revision, said nothing.

It bothers me just how much of myself I see in Norrell, the fussy old grump who never lets anything go, never finishes anything and still holds forth as though he were as great or greater a magician than anyone else. Especially after the exacting reviews I’ve written of recent books. As I lie in bed last night trying to fall asleep and simultaneously writing the next section of my book it occurred to me just how much it will break my heart to see the soul of this book out there before I finish it.

I keep having these wonderful ideas only to find out that they are, somewhere else, being done already and either being done very well or very poorly. In either case it makes me flinch and hold back on my work. Do I want to be yet another novel with an Amish protagonist? Do I want to be yet another novel with a mermaid?

But then, at the bottom of it, I know that what I fear most is being Mr. Norrell. And that is who, at present, I most resemble.

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Get Moving

I love exercise. Not all of it–you can keep most team sports–but the types of fitness I’ve indulged in over the years ranges from running and dancing to free-weight training and (my favourite) swimming.

It is a myth that the overweight dislike exercise. Many times you won’t see us at gyms or popular jogging paths, because we don’t always like to be seen while doing it. But, like cockroaches, we do our things where there aren’t audiences to interfere.

When I first became ill, one of the immediate drawbacks was a limitation in the types and intensity of exercise I could do. Gone are the days of running stairs and long aerobic dance sessions. In their place are gentle Pilates stretches and slower-paced walks. These all have to be timed right, of course. Not too early in the day, not too intense and not to late in the day, either. And of course there are days where it has to be shelved. Mild exercise, though, has always been a tool in my Illness Management Arsenal. Just like heating pads, medications and self-hypnosis.

But barely a day goes by without a chipper email from Quality Health or my insurance provider or some other dogoodnik that chirps happily about how “studies have shown that exercise can improve your [fill in the blank] pain!” The articles then go on to tell you how much better you’ll feel (studies HAVE shown) if you jog, do aerobics, etc.

Every study they quote (that I’ve been able to double-check) is one done with mostly-healthy people who have mild aches and pains. There are no studies with chronic patients who have a consistently high pain level and also do the consistently vigorous exercise the articles recommend. Because while a healthy person with a sore finger or three, a bum knee or a bad shoulder can jack up the endorphins, it isn’t as likely that your average patient with widespread pain can do the same thing.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. So we are given yet another verse in the song that says “your illness is your fault.” I’m sure that’s not how the freelancers who slap these little missives mean it. Or, sadly, perhaps it is. But the message that comes across when these articles are received is that these life-changing ailments are really just something that we could get over if we’d only put our minds to it and toss in some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Because, heaven knows, none of us really want our old lives back.

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I Am An Idiot

When I had one of those allergy skin tests, the “cat” spot looked not unlike Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters. My mom, who was already unhappy about the score of cats we had roaming around our country place was doubly displeased. I was to be married and I think she hoped I’d take my catnagerie with me to Tennessee. Nevermind that farmcats don’t do well in 850sq ft apartments.

I loved cats, so much so that I made videos of them for school projects and had one in one of my senior pictures. But the allergy thing, combined with our Tennessee rental contract pretty much made the cat thing out of the question. No cats for me.

So when the emaciated kitten started skulking around the neighbourhood my husband didn’t tell me about her for a long while. When he finally spilled the beans my reaction (“We have to at least FEED her!”) was predictable. I’ve long been known by family as the person who will take in a stray anything. If it weren’t for their exertion of wiser forces and cooler heads my house would be overrun with cats, dogs and down-on-their-luck young people.

It took a couple of weeks of hangdog expressions but I finally got to buy some 9 Lives Moist Cat Food (“Which flavour do you think she’ll like–Salmon, Turkey, or Chicken and Turkey?”…”What’s the one you’ve got in your hand? That’s good enough.”) and set up a little bed in the garage.

Since then my little friend stops by every couple of days for a bit of food and napping and a howling conversation that sounds as if she’s halfway scolding me for not having the right flavour of cat food and halfway telling me I’m a jerk but she’ll eat here anyway and could i pet her please? I talk to her awhile and pet her and then she skulks off again for parts unknown. I then return inside for a Silkwood shower and a scolding from the two dogs who view this whole operation as nothing less than fraternisation with the enemy.

I’ve decided to call her Louise–“Lou” for short–since she hangs around the glass studio and I’m not calling anything living, dead or inbetween “Tiffany”. I toyed with “comfort” for awhile, but that seemed too ironic and also a little bit cruel. So ‘Lou’ it is, even though my husband says with a name like that she’ll never be back. He still just calls her ‘kitty’.

I protest. That’s my name.

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At Aunt B.’s urging I decided I’d go ahead and read this, and I’m glad I did. It’s a very good example of how a good writer with some skill can…well…let me tell you.

I started the book and was immediately impressed with Ransom Riggs’ use of language. He uses words the way a true story-teller ought to, mindful of not only their meaning but the cadence and beauty of their arrangement. I was really enjoying it and then it occurred to me that I wasn’t reading the blog of a man in his thirties, but first-person narrative of a sixteen year old boy.

How do we know he’s 16? Because Riggs tells us–in the guise of Jacob, his main character–that he is. There is absolutely nothing in the character’s use of language or dialog or POV that lets the reader know that Jacob is 16 other than Jacob talking about his recent sixteenth birthday party.

When the story requires a grandfather with an intriguing past, Riggs has the character be a “Holocaust Survivor”–a term he uses repeatedly for one of the children presumably of the Kindertransport, sent to England to avoid the Nazi persecution. It’s an odd choice of words because those children did lose their families in most cases, but when one reads “Holocaust Survivor” one pictures a person who was in the camps. But that again is a trick that Riggs uses. Instead of giving us a three-dimensional character with a real and well-described history we’ve got a stock Old Jewish Man Who Survived The Holocaust. It’s up to use to use those shades of crayon to colour in a mental picture of Grandfather Abe.

Then we’re in Wales. We know it’s Wales because “16 year old” Jacob contrived to go there to look into his grandpa’s past. No matter that every one of the “Welsh” characters speaks in a North American vernacular not unlike “Jacob”.

Riggs collects photographs in real life and the book’s conceit is that it was written around a handful of bizarre pictures from the author’s collection. I keep reading reviews that praise this as a unique approach. One Goodreads reviewer went on and on about how it gives her hope that creativity and new ideas aren’t dead. Clearly not one of these people have ever been to a Writers’ Workshop or a Writers’ Retreat. Because this is the exact kind of thing that gets done. “Write a short story that explains this picture,” the facilitator will say as he flashes a PowerPoint slide showing two boys painting a fence blue while a dog in a sailor costume looks on.

And as I thought about it last night I realised that’s exactly what this book feels like. A workshop exercise-cum-first draft done when the author has his quirky muse in front of him but before he can get to the web and library to research.

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