What’s Your (TV) Poison?

I probably spend far too much time thinking about these things, but TV fan that I am, an analogy has been brewing in my mind of late.

I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones for six seasons now (longer if you count the three books in the series that I read prior to the show). I’m much newer to The Walking Dead, watching the first three seasons on Netflix over the summer (I have little hope of catching up to the season 7 premier in October). Both shows have caught my imagination and have lodged themselves firmly on my list of “nerdy fan-girl” shows. Quite frankly, both shows have become an addiction that I can’t help but indulge in, even though each one leads to varying degrees of pain and suffering. Let me explain.

dead-thrones

I’ve characterized Game of Thrones as a fine wine-rich, complex, with subtleties that take you by surprise. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste, but once you get past the initial discomfort, you find yourself reaching for it again and again, until you find it the most delicious concoction on earth. But like any drug, it can take hold of you and not let go. Sure, there’s the wonderful elation of fantastic writing, intriguing characters, great acts of heroism, adventure, a bit of comic relief, magic, and of course, dragons. There’s also unspeakable violence, rape and torture, intolerable cruelty, suffering children, and an immense sense of injustice. The magic is always dark, with a hefty price tag attached. Favorite characters die,  villains often win. When the party is over, you feel like a pile of shit in the morning. And yet, the very next week, you tune in once more, to do it all over again, despite vows of “never again!”.

know-things

On the other hand, I’d characterize The Walking Dead as crystal meth. Disclaimer: I’ve never tried crystal meth and don’t ever care to. But from what I understand of the drug, it’s almost instantly addicting, and takes you on a wild, manic high that leaves you crashing afterward. That’s WD-a relentless, adrenaline-fueled high that leaves you exhausted and broken, yet jonesing for more. It’s one long wild ride for survival, and the peril never ends or abates for Rick and Co. Like GoT, there’s plenty of gore and violence, psychopaths in power, and incessant suffering; but it’s the persistent stress of the characters trying to stay alive that drains the very life force out of you. Ever see those before and after photos of meth users? Beautiful young woman before, haggard aged-beyond-her-years woman afterward. That’s me after every episode. Battered and in despair.

sittin-here

So why do I watch these shows and put myself through such abuse? With Thrones, at least, the answer is: hope. However dim, however slight, there’s always a sliver of hope out there, mainly in the character of Daenerys. She’s been through her fair share of trials, but she emerges stronger every time and gets closer to her goal. And the the Starks, after countless crushing tragedies, seem to be on the rise again. And yes-Jon Snow lives! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s enough to keep me tuned in, to weather the atrocities that I’m sure are still to come.

dany
Khaleesi, aka Daenerys, Stormborn, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, etc etc etc.

And WD? I’m not sure. I’m only through the third season, and I can’t imagine these people (and myself) being able to withstand much more brutality. And yet it I hear it only gets worse-much worse. My sister, an uber-fan of WD, has gone as far as to say she may not tune in to season 7 next month. There’s only so much despair one person can take, without needing to see that glimmer of hope, however faint. Time will tell. I want to keep watching. But I’m afraid. I’m very afraid.

After all, wine can be enjoyed in moderation, but crystal meth is destructive at any level.

 

 

What’s Your Story?

notebook-writing

On September 15, I began to attend a memoir-writing class called What’s Your Story? The class is free, runs for eight weeks, and is led by teacher/writer Mary Clare Powell, who has taught at Leslie University.

In all my years of writing, I’ve never taken a writing class. Oh, I’ve signed up for numerous online courses, usually the kind that emails lessons to you, aren’t on any time schedule with deadlines, and don’t actually require interaction with either a teacher or other students. They’re convenient, inexpensive, and the information they impart is useful. But in truth, I don’t really learn anything from them.

I’ve always shied away from actual writing classes, not only because (at least through colleges and universities) they can be too pricey for me, but because I was too nervous to share my writing with a roomful of people, never mind with an actual teacher that would be grading me.

But since starting the blog a year ago, I’ve become more comfortable sharing my words with others, albeit through the safe interface of the computer. The blog has become many things for me, including a way to find my tribe, getting comfortable calling myself a writer, and sharing work. The next logical step in my evolution as a writer would be to finally take a class with real people, listen to others’ work and give feedback, and yes, open my mouth and read my own work. Yikes!

This is stuff written right in class, off the cuff to a prompt; nothing written and revised and polished at all. Just raw mind and a memory. The first time I did it, about a memory from the street I grew up on, I thought everyone would be able to hear my heart pounding, see the slight tremor in my hands. Afterward, I had a terrific headache. But I was soaring on an adrenaline rush I’d never experienced before. Here I was, a writer reading her work with other writers. About time!

We’re only two classes in, and I’m loving it already. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the class goes and what might come out of it.

 

Book Roundup

I’ve got a few new books on my TBR list, so I thought I’d share them here:

  • Night of the Animals, by Bill Broun. In a futuristic tale set in London of 2052, Cuthbert Handley is on a quest: release all the animals from the London Zoo. Ever since his brother died in childhood, he’s been hearing voices. He calls these voices the Wonderments, a gift his grandmother claimed he had. As he pursues his strange mission, a suicide cult floods the streets, bent on killing all the animals and themselves. Sounds strange and interesting.
  • night-of-the-animals
  • The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. This book, about a “literary apothecary” on a floating barge, sounds like a fun read. Jean Perdu has the gift of finding just the right book to soothe a patron’s soul. However, he cannot seem to cure himself, ever since the love of his life left twenty years ago, leaving behind a letter he’s never read. Could be a bit too sentimental for me, but I’m due for some lighter fare.
  • little-paris-bookshop
  • The Many Selves of Katherine North, by Emma Geen. Nineteen year old Kit is a phenomenaut-someone who projects herself into the minds of lab-grown animals through a neurological interface-in order to more fully understand the other species we share out world with. When her company, Shencorp, takes a more commercial and ominous turn, her safety comes into question. Another speculative animal tale that sounds intriguing.
  • selves-of-katherine-north
  • Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. It’s been along time since I’ve read pure “fantasy”, and I miss it. This one is in the style of a classic Slavic fairy tale. Every ten years in the villagea of Dvernik  in the kingdom of Polnya, a lottery determines who will go live with the mysterious wizard in his mountain tower. No one knows what happens to the girls who win this lottery, but Agnieszka is about to find out. A dark tale of magic and mystery.
  • uprooted

 

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your TBR list? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

F is for Fear

 

algebra

When I was in high school, I loved algebra. I enjoyed solving algebraic problems, finding the value of x, y, z, n, b, whatever letter you want to put in there. I liked the idea of balancing each side of the equation. I liked the neatness of it, the ability to solve something. Because life wasn’t always like that. So I loved filling sheets of paper with equations, the numbers lined up in even rows and columns.

I got A’s in algebra in high school, so when I took the same basic intro class in community college, I figured it was an easy A, just a rehashing of stuff I already knew. But in college, something else had been thrown into the equation that I hadn’t expected: computer assignments. This was a time when computers were just being introduced into the classroom; I’d never owned a computer before and didn’t know a thing about them. As silly as this might sound now, I was afraid of them. In this class, there were several computer assignments that counted toward a large part of one’s grade.

This outraged me. I could do the math. I got A’s on all the tests and quizzes. Why did I have to do this dumb computer stuff anyway? I tried-I approached the foreign computer lab with beating heart, clammy hands, dread. I can’t remember if I even entered the room; I might have just fled in panic. I held onto my defiant anger-I know the math. I don’t have to prove anything! The truth was, I was angry I was being forced to confront something new, something that made me uncomfortable. Part of me felt embarrassed that I didn’t know anything about computers while it seemed the rest of the world did. Maybe it was just my crippling shyness that rendered me unable and unwilling to ask for help.

Whatever the reason, the assignments didn’t get done. I got zeroes on all of them, which of course, despite all my straight A tests, brought my grade down to an F. It was the first and only academic class I had ever failed, one that was now on my permanent record. Considering I was normally an A and B student, this was crushing and shameful. I was ashamed that I had failed a course-not because I didn’t know the material, but because I let fear control me.

I gave in to fear and anxiety, and exerted a stubborn refusal to confront it. I refused to grow and learn something new. I didn’t just fail the course. I failed myself. The actual math tests meant nothing, really-but the essential test of confronting fear, of going out of my comfort zone, I had failed.

That sense of shame has stayed with me all this time, and over the years I’ve been slowly trying to altar that, to nudge myself out of my comfort zones. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve come a long way from that shy twenty year old who took comfort in drilling out equations on paper that always balanced, that could be neatly summed up in a block of numbers, that would get me a pat on the head and congratulations for regurgitating math rules.

Math wasn’t my real interest anyway, but in writing as well as in life, the ability to confront your fears, stretch yourself, and wade in the waters of discomfort is an important lesson. I can’t forget this and let that big fat F on my transcript go to waste.

Home

old friend

I’ve been reading and working through Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Now, I don’t necessarily have any great need to write a book-length memoir. I don’t have any particular story about my life that I burn to tell publicly. This is simply another book by Natalie Goldberg that I’ve never read or written through, and really, the lessons inside it are not so different than what she’s taught in other books. So why not?

I discovered Goldberg probably 25 years ago, when her book Writing Down the Bones had been around for a few years. This book was truly significant for me. In a sense, it gave me “permission” to be a writer. I didn’t have to have a degree in Literature or Creative Writing to write. I didn’t have to be a genius, or in a writing-related field, or have writers in the family, or lead an exciting life, or wear a beret. I, in all my ordinariness, could be a writer, if I truly had the desire and was willing to put in the work.

Her methods are simple: Buy a cheap notebook and a pen you like. Write inside it. That’s all. There’s a few other things: don’t think, lose control, don’t worry about punctuation or grammar, go for the jugular. Keep your hand moving for 10,15,20 minutes. Don’t cross out, go with first thoughts. Keep doing this, make it your practice. And from this, stories, poems, novels may emerge.

I did this for years. Sat in cafes and restaurants with a drink and a snack and poured out my thoughts onto paper. After a while, I wanted to channel all of that effort into stories. I’ve done that the past few years, but I got away from the Goldberg method of writing in the notebook with no agenda, just pure mind and memory and practicing words. I’ve missed it. Because after a while, when the stories keep getting rejected and the ideas dry up, it’s time to get back to basics, and just write for the pure joy of writing. I want to meander a bit and find my way again.

One basic exercise of Goldberg’s is to begin with “I remember” or “I am looking at” and go from there. Some of the more quirky ones are “Tell me everything you know about jello,” or “Tell me about a time you washed dishes.” The ordinary becomes extraordinary, if you stay with the concrete details.

Here is something I recently jotted down from the prompt “Where is home for you?”:

The rolling hills of the valley are my home, fall foliage in October and snowstorms in January, the hill towns and Yankee reserve are my home, this mezzanine in the co-op is my home with the bag of nuts and chocolate, the pen moving across my paper. Coffee is my home, steaming cups swirling with cream in winter, sweating plastic cups with blue straws in the swelter of summer, and green tea at the desk in front of the computer, my kitty curled up somewhere, even though I may not see her, I know she’s somewhere in the house sleeping and feel at home with an animal roaming around the house on soft paws. My mother is my  home, her silver hair and silver glasses, her laugh and her soft, pillow-like arms around me, her kissing my cheek and her constant worry. My daughter is my home, her freckles and crooked front teeth, her wet kisses on my cheek, and her stunted feet, the warts on her belly, her long shiny hair, her finger in her nose. My husband is my home, his arms around me at the end of the day, even though I was mad at him in the morning, I fall into his arms at the end of the day, a giving in, a refuge, a place to feel safe and loved.

It’s fun and it’s also liberating. Goldberg says, “Feel free to write the worst junk in the world,” and I do, and I have, but I’ve been trying to zone in on the details, to chase down those memories that matter, to make connections and see what picture emerges.

Goldberg’s methods may not be for everyone. But you might want to try it and see what comes up. If anything, it may help jar you out of a block, get words flowing again. For me, it’s an anchor, a base that I come home to again and again.

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Why the Fashion Industry is Dying—Laughing at Salad & Cleavage Snacks

I love Kristen Lamb. LOVED this blog post.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Today we are going to talk about something a bit different, but maybe this might inspire your fiction, because if the world changes guarantee you a writer was behind it 😉 .

As I was perusing Facebook Friday evening, I came across an article that gave me an odd reaction. It made me want to stand and cheer, yet at the same time, rail at the heavens for the unfairness of it all. Tim Gunn from Project Runway leveled his crosshairs on the fashion industry. OMG I so love him for doing it, too.

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A Plus-Sized Problem

According to Washington State University, there are over 100 million plus-sized women. The average woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18 and yet plus sizes are almost never represented in fashion and if they are, the clothes are…ridiculous.

Most are passive-aggressive jabs at overweight women.

I am…

View original post 2,374 more words

Maxfield Parrish

I’m not much of an art historian, nor do I have many works of art in my cluttery apartment. I do have, however, a Maxfield Parrish print on my living room wall called “Ecstasy”:

ecstasy

I also have one called “Morning”:

morning

I adore Maxfield Parrish’s work. His paintings are, quite simply, gorgeous. I love his use of color and light, and his whimsical, neo-classical figures and subjects are right up my alley. Like the girls in the above images, they send me to a place of dreaming. Whenever I’m feeling down, frenzied, or lost, I just look at my “girls on the rocks” and take a deep breath. Everything will be okay. Just take in the world from your own personal perch, and let it all go.

Here’s a few more examples of his wonderful work:

stars
“Stars”
air-castles
“Thunderheads”
girl-in-swing
“Reverie”
daybreak
“Daybreak”

What artwork inspires you?

TV Talk

I have (yet another) confession to make: I LOVE television.

This isn’t so hard an admission to make these days, since I feel we’re in a current golden age of television. Who doesn’t love it? The quality of writing is generally excellent, and the proliferation of cable original series makes it easy to find a show (or shows) of your choice.

When I was a kid and teenager (and to some extent, young adult), one had 3 choices: ABC, NBC, or CBS. The big three networks pretty much dominated television, and even if one could afford something like HBO or Showtime (my family couldn’t), they offered only movies; cable never, to my knowledge, forayed into making their own series. As a result, there wasn’t a lot of variety or innovation in TV.

I didn’t grow up with a television in my bedroom, as so many kids eventually did (these days, they can watch on their laptop or ipad or smartphone or whatever). We had one of those big monstrous televisions that acted as another piece of furniture, with the convex screen embedded into an ornately designed wooden box that equaled the approximate weight of two elephants. You had to actually get your butt off the couch to turn the knob to change the channel (UHF or VHF? What did that even mean?). You had to fiddle with the antennae on the back (the “rabbit ears”) to focus the picture sometimes, and get rid of the “snow”.

old-tv
Something like this…only bigger.

I’m not so old that it was all in black and white-it was always in color-but old enough to remember being beside myself with excitement when we got our first VCR. Renting movies from the video store was awesome-you didn’t have to catch it at the movie theater before it was gone forever, or wait for it to make its debut on one of the network’s “movie of the week”.

Movies were great, but I still loved television, every minute of it, and have since childhood. Once I got out of the ’70’s with Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, The Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock, I graduated to that amazing, glorious (and sometimes painful) period called ’80’s television.

Every day after school, I rushed home to watch soaps with my mom and sister, particularly Guiding Light. After that came the sitcoms: The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, MASH. After supper and homework, I was allowed to watch one primetime show. My favorites? Knight Rider, MacGyver, and Quantum Leap (though QL may have been early ’90’s). There were the crime shows of the period: Simon & Simon, Murder She Wrote, Magnum PI, Matt Houston, Hunter, Jake and the Fatman. Oh, and I loved my sci-fi: V-The Series, and Star Trek Next Generation (and every incarnation made after that). More: Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, Love Boat, Dukes of Hazard, Facts of Life, Family Ties. Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges on Sunday mornings with my dad. Weird movies on TV38 Sunday afternoons, like “Hell House” and “Kingdom of the Spiders”. Don’t get me started on game shows. I could go on and on.

Did I ever do anything but watch television?

In the ’90’s, my TV-watching did taper off, as I worked, went to school, and basically tried to “get a life”. I was in my twenties and looking for love; I read more books and began my journey into writing. I didn’t have much time for the boob tube. I never watched one episode of Friends, and only later caught up with Seinfeld re-runs (and X-Files, of course). There may even have been a period when (gasp) I didn’t have a TV.

It was in 2004 that TV caught my attention again, with Lost. My husband and I were sucked right in; it was the first time in many years when I literally counted the days to the next episode of a TV show. Though I’d always loved television, this was the first time that the word “obsession” could be applied. And it didn’t end there-TV has only gotten better. I can’t begin to describe how agonizingly long it is between seasons of Game of Thrones; how frustrating it is when Grimm takes a month-long hiatus in the middle of the season; or how The Walking Dead is the first show I’ve ever binge-watched, and I still can’t can’t get enough.

rick-walking-dead

I’ve always been a bit ashamed of my life-long love of TV; I can’t help thinking that I could have employed my time in a more productive manner. On the other hand, long before books and movies, television was where I discovered my love of Story. For that reason alone, I’m grateful for the endless hours of screen time I’ve put in over the years.

What’s your relationship with TV? What are some of your favorite shows? Did you survive ’80’s television?

 

Fall Forecast

autumn leaves

There’s something about the approach of autumn that gets me excited, ready to start new projects and to get things done. I don’t think I’m the only one. Maybe it’s because we spent so long starting new school years in September, with a clean slate and new work to begin.

At the beginning of this summer, my only writing goal was to somehow get pen to paper every once in a while and get a blog post published once a week. I knew with Lilly home from school, big writing projects were off the table, and I was fine with that. It was my excuse to relax a little bit, spend time with the family at Laurel Lake in Erving, visit the Zoo at Forest Park in Springfield, picnic and canoe at Barton Cove in Gill, and lots of other fun summery stuff.

I did manage to put in one hour of writing every night during the month of August, as I worked through the Southeast Review Writers Regimen. Every day I received an email with a writing prompt describing a situation for a scene, a “riff” word, a literary quote, and a podcast from an established writer on various aspects of the writing life.

I will admit that I really only spent time on the “riff” words, just free-writing in response to words like engrave, texture, swing, extend, etc. What came out had nothing to do with fiction, but it gave me a chance to fill a notebook with my thoughts and work through some personal stuff. I can keep the lessons and go back to the scene prompts at any time.

With Lilly back in school, it’s time to buckle down and get to work again. Problem is, I’m not sure where to start or which direction to go in. I still have Wolf Dream I’d like to finish revising and get out to some beta readers. I’m thinking about working on Part 2 to get ready for NaNoWriMo in November. I still have some old short stories I’d like to submit to some new markets. I’d love to write a new short story, but I’m having some trouble coming up with ideas. I’m feeling uninspired in that area. I’d still like to work on personal essays and creative nonfiction. I may increase my blog posts to 2-3 times a week.

And lo and behold!-I’ve signed up for a 8 week writing class. It’s called What’s Your Story?, and it’s on writing memoir, offered for free at my public library. I’m not sure if I’m interested in writing a book-length memoir-who knows?-but it can’t hurt with the personal essays and creative nonfiction I want to write. I’ve never taken a writing class before, and this sounds as good a place to start as any to get some feedback. And I’m going to work through Old Friend From Far Away, a book on writing memoir by Natalie Goldberg, a favorite writing teacher of mine.

So lots of stuff to do this fall, and I’m eager to get to it after a lazy-ish summer. Although, Lilly and I worked very hard on a new bowel program so she’d stay clean for second grade, with some success. The Beautiful Detour blog is something I’ve been seriously neglecting for the past few months, so that’s another area for me to work on this fall. Guess I better get going!