Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Lady and the Unicorn

Farewell, my beautiful unicorn:
For a while under the green pinewood
you visited me. We walked together
in the gentle light and spoke of countless things,
until your horn pierced me.
I knew then that the name of my pain
was love.

Shy creature, your eyes were infinite
and saw dread visions of the future.
Even at my side you walked alone
and I marveled at your grace, the light
of your white coat, your oceanic horn.

On a spring night long ago, I rode to the woods
and under the shadow trees
I saw you, rare and delicate,
pacing toward me across the litterfall.
You laid your head in my lap
and I, amazed, stroked your silky mane
as it tumbled across my hands.

Too much a hunter am I, my dear.
With that prize in my grasp
my urge was to seize, to hold tight,
to make you my own, my perfect trophy.
You were not born for bondage.
You fled me in instinct, in mind,
never resting in peace under my hands.

Such beauty you gave me, even so,
my unicorn. You lit my life with stars
and dreams of grandeur, sharing
the magic of creation.
Never can I hate you, though you fought me,
though I bore the sting of your horn.

Now the time has come:
I raise my hands, release you.
Go forth upon your way, my dear;
in the dusk of another spring night
bestow your visions anew.

I will leave the greenwood
and journey again in daylit lands:
there I must relearn the name of solitude.
Yet I am not abandoned;
in the trace of your horn across my life,
a small light abides to teach me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tidying Up

Lately I've been reading a lot about minimalism. Through some convoluted internet pathway, I ended up at The Minimalists' blog. Being slightly OC about blogs, I read every single post over the next couple weeks. I don't think I'll ever be a true minimalist, but I was quite impressed by the idea of severely paring down one's accouterments in order to achieve a streamlined and purposeful life.

Around the same time, I saw an article from the New York Times float past, reviewing a recently translated book called "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." The author is a young Japanese woman who runs a cleaning consultation company in Tokyo. I've been interested in Japanese culture and ideas for several years now, so I was intrigued by the book.

Then one of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Scott, posted a very positive review of the book in a v-log. That made me decide for sure that I needed to read it, so I requested it at my local library and they bought it almost at once. I read the book over the course of a week (it was quite short, but I read it slowly and took notes so that I could remember the guidelines). The morning after I finished, I decided to try out her organizational method on my belongings.

So what is the method, you may ask. Basically it boils down to one sentence: Throw away anything that doesn't make you happy and find a suitable place for everything that remains

This may sound rather daunting, but it actually turned out to be both liberating and affirmative. After reading the Minimalists' blog, I had been a bit uncertain about the idea of simply discarding everything but the necessities (I am drastically simplifying the Minimalists' message to keep my blog post manageable, my apologies). I agree that fewer belongings lead to greater freedom and perhaps even greater happiness, but at the same time, many of the things I own which are not strictly necessary nor even used very often do still say something about me and to me. I wouldn't want to get rid of them. 

The KonMari method (as the Japanese woman calls her approach) solved that issue. Instead of getting rid of things for the sake of sheer freedom from material goods, the follower of the method is advised to take everything he or she owns and sort it into categories - clothes, books, etc. Then starting with the first category, one takes each item and asks, 'Does this make me happy? Do I love this?' If the answer is no, or even only maybe, get rid of it. Only keep those things for which the answer is an unqualified, 'Yes!' Everything is sorted to leave only the items that make you happy, you find a sensible place for each of them and your work is done - theoretically forever besides some occasional maintenance work.

When I started the project, I was already quite organized. I had a room and a large closet full of my belongings, about three boxes in storage, three more boxes of kitchen supplies and a few things in the garage. Everything mostly had a designated spot and I kept it pretty neat. Then I spent a week trying out the KonMari method. During that time I discarded (sold, donated or threw away) a box of clothes, four boxes of books, three bags of trash, and one more box of assorted household items and toys. According to the author, that is actually on the low end of the spectrum for items discarded by people consulting with her about her method.

Such a large purge sounds scary, since obviously if you get rid of those things, you can't get them back. However, it's not just an exercise in minimalism, which is why I found it more helpful than the Minimalists' advice, even though they started me on the path to a simpler life. Instead it is an exercise in self-examination. While asking yourself over and over, 'Does this make me happy?' it becomes clearer what exactly does make you happy and what you may be missing, not just as far as possessions go, but on a personal level. 

Reading The Minimalists and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has opened my eyes. The former pointed out that by detaching  from the bonds of possessions and societal expectations, a person can come to a clearer understanding of his or her true hopes and goals. Moreover, with limited possessions and fewer financial obligations, a person will often become freer to pursue those goals. The latter also pointed out the benefit of clarifying what it is that makes one truly happy. Through detachment from the distraction of unwanted possessions, one discovers the energy and time to find that happiness. 

Several things have become clearer to me thanks to these revelations. My greatest goal is to become a published author, so I'm planning some bolder steps toward making that happen. I'd also like to look into a new living arrangement. I have a few other obligations that will come before that, but eventually I feel like a new home might suit me better than my current one. 

I'm happy to have come to these conclusions. I also have felt marvelously lightened since completing my KonMari experiment, so I have more determination to prompt me to fulfill my goals. The only thing lacking currently is time, but hopefully once the holiday season has passed my schedule will become a little more leisurely for the pursuit of my true interests.

In the meantime, I will wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015. I hope to be back in January with news and poems and pictures.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Dark Bird

Hope descends like a dark bird and settles in the heart,
Weaving itself a nest of human fibers:
Blood and love, belief and trust, the birth pangs
Of passion.
There it sits in silence.
The dark bird has no song; only its feathers rustle,
Occasionally, recalling its secret presence.

Faith is a white light and charity a flame.
Both are entirely palpable, visible.
Hope is a shy creature; it camouflages itself
In the currents of desire.
It can only be detected in a universal question
Murmured before the shadow of the future:
Can the end of this be joy?

Hope is the hardest of loves.
Its goal is far away and faint, a song
From another bird lost in the wind.
So easily a heart could dismiss the call:
The delusion of groundless optimism.
Yet in her nest the still, small bird
Broods over the certainty that the voice is true.

Faith ascends on snowy wings of a dove,
And charity is a phoenix reborn from ashes.
Before their splendor no one remembers
A simple sparrow.
Yet in the silence between breaths
She abides and whispers,
Every manner of thing will be well. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Clare Bear

When I was less than a year old, my father went on a tour of Asia as an aide to an admiral. The admiral’s wife, who also went, was a grandmotherly sort of woman, so she took Dad under her wing to help him buy presents for his children and wife. She was possessed of impeccable taste and good bargain sense, so she led him into the Asian bazaars and emerged hours later triumphant.

On one of these shopping expeditions, Dad bought me a gift for my first Christmas. It was an enormous stuffed Panda, found in Seoul. It was a good four feet long, very soft and fluffy, with a paw that squeaked when squeezed, and brown, kindly eyes. My family has pictures of me, looking like a small, grinning monkey at nine months old, completely enveloped in this huge stuffed animal. Once I grew old enough to start naming things, she received the rhyming name of Clare Bear (even at two years old the sound of words was apparently important to me).

I played with her, and napped on her, and jumped on her. It took a long time for me to be bigger than her, and during that time she became so well-loved that seams burst and my mother dutifully sewed them up with coarse thread so I could keep on playing with her.

I suppose around age thirteen, I put away the majority of my stuffed animals, and Clare Bear went into the storage room with the rest of them. Whenever I went in to add anything to my pile of memorabilia and toys from childhood and high school, I would see her, still with kind brown eyes, looking at me sideways from her place on a shelf.

As I’ve discussed in other posts, I have become rather adept at making stuffed animals myself. I’ve made four teddy bears for godchildren, nieces and now my first nephew who was born in July. I understand pretty well how it all works.

A thought occurred: hopefully I’ll have children one day. I’d like them to play with Clare Bear.

So I retrieved her from the storage room. Her fur was a shade of faint yellow. One ear was practically falling off. Several seams were opening all over her body. Her faux leather nose was cracked and peeling. She was in pretty sad shape, proof that she had been well-loved. She needed a good cleaning, a reinforcement of most of her seams, a refreshment of her stuffing, and a new nose.

Once I had bought more faux leather, then, I got to work. First all her stuffing came out, including the little plastic bladder that makes her paw squeak. Then I set up my sewing machine and got to work. She was at once harder and easier to sew than the small teddy bears, since all her material is thicker but she’s also far bigger, which makes the sewing areas less limited. The majority of her seams got reinforced and all the old hand-repaired rips were sewn up. She got a new, perfect nose.

Next came bath time. I took the magical stuff called Shout and rubbed down her entire pelt with it (she still smells like it – floral and clean), and then popped her in the washing machine for a gentle wash. She came out gleaming white – it had been so long since she was white that I was surprised to find she wasn’t naturally ivory! After a trip through the dryer, she practically shone.

Then I pushed all her old stuffing back inside, making sure to reposition her squeaky paw, and added to it with some doll stuffing of my own, just to make sure she was good and plump. She had become rather flattened over the years. Then I sewed up her back, patted her all over to make sure the stuffing was in place and voila: she was a vision – Clare Bear resurrected.

I’ve stored her in a new cotton pillow case with a zipper to make sure she stays white and clean, and returned her to storage to wait for new children who would like to play with her. I’ll probably even let them give her their own name, now that she’s good as new. Every child ought to have toys passed down to them from their parents, but also enjoy the right of claiming them for their own. I’ll be intrigued to learn what they want to name her, some day in the future…

It was just a small project to restore the stuffed animal, really, but it was deeply satisfying. Taking old things and making them new again somehow builds a bridge between the past and the future. In a culture where everything has become increasingly disposable, it’s a healthy act to put time into the preservation and restoration of beloved things.

I’m sure everyone has some story like this – something they’ve reclaimed or repurposed to give it a new life. I’d love to hear how you did it in the comments.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fortune Teller

The air coils around my head like an animal,
muscular, supple, with a weight unexpected
for so slight a creature. I close my eyes
and feel the pressure building.
A boa constrictor oozes down my skull,
layering its iron bands across my cheekbones,
pressing the back of my neck,
draping its infinite spine across the ridge of my shoulders.
I feel it ease down, settling, squeezing,
covering me like a living mantle.
All day long my head throbs under its embrace.
There is something beautiful, luxurious
about this presence of the weather in my head.

At this season, the climate is my constant,
a companion at every hour, every breath.
The muffled world passes by
while I sit in contemplation of this presence
laid upon me. Like an augur
I can foretell the future from its touch,
the secret snaking through my cranium.
I close my eyes and predict storms,
sunshine, rain and wind, the fate of air masses.
It’s marvelous – this pain that transforms
and makes me live the patterns of the world.
Come, speak to me as I study the space within;
I will tell the secrets of future time. 

***

This poem is a little experiment in tone and immediacy. I get sinus headaches during major weather shifts, and I had a headache for almost 3 days straight last week. The only way to deal with it was obviously to write a poem and sleep extra, so I did both!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inner Space

Now that I’ve started up my Wednesday Writer’s Sequestration (as I’m humorously terming it to make it sound more official when I describe it to people who want me to do things on Wednesdays), I’ve been feeling amazingly more inspired about writing in general. This caused me to think about space. Not outer space, but inner, I guess you might call it – mental space.

I’m the sort of person who is very good at staying busy. It’s sort of a pitfall, actually. I can always invent a project for myself, even if it’s something more or less trivial, like reorganizing my desk. The problem with that, though, is that when I need to do something I’m not exactly relishing (read: editing novels), I can think of a legitimate-sounding project to substitute.

I was beginning to become desperate about my future as a writer, though.

For a couple of months, I could find no energy to write, and even worse, no inspiration. No lines for poems came to my mind; adding blog posts seemed tedious and overwhelming. The three novels I have to edit were looming over me, somehow shutting down all my interest in doing any writing at all as long as I didn’t face them.

So to console myself, I pulled more and more projects into my life: cooking, preserving, sewing, cleaning, organizing, gardening, and all the while work was getting busier and busier as we entered our hectic summer season. I was even using social obligations as an excuse. The result was that I became so genuinely busy that I no longer had any time to write.

This seemed like a bad situation for someone who decided at age fourteen to be a professional writer.

About two months ago, just as I was starting to wonder if I’d ever write again, I decided I needed to stage an intervention for myself. So I picked a day of the week and told myself that I would get take-out after work, come home and make my lunch for the next day, shower, let the dog play, and then shut myself into my room to eat dinner and write. I would not emerge to talk to anyone or take a break until I’d worked for at least three hours.

I’m happy to say that this plan has been working great. I’ve made it through 9 chapters of House of Mirrors, which had been stagnating for a year. Tonight I’ll do a bit more work on chapter 10. At this rate, I expect to be done with the editing process by early spring next year. I’m actually rather enjoying it. Since the format for this novel was short, vignette-like chapters, I can complete at least one chapter in each editing session, sometimes two or three.

And miraculously, the attack on all that editing has cleared a mental space.

I pushed all my projects out of my Wednesday evenings; I stopped fearing the task of dealing with my waiting novels. There was breathing room for my imagination again. Since starting the writer’s sequestration, I’ve written a poem and a blog post, and now I’m working on my next blog post and another poem. A good trend has been started.

I don’t know if I’ll find it necessary to stick to my Wednesday schedule – perhaps I’ll be able to make space for writing more frequently in shorter bursts – but for now I just feel relieved that I am still a writer. I still have the drive and the ideas that lead to stories and poems. It’s alarming and disheartening to reach a point where one questions the path one chose long ago.

Of course people can alter their directions most dramatically (a blog I once perused was written by an architect who became a restaurateur) but I’m pretty set on the role of writer after all, I think.  It’s a good discovery, in that case, to realize that I need to leave some space in my life and in my mind – space to be a writer. It’s good to have mental boundaries and to realize that I can always reserve a bit of my life for writing and in a way, maintaining who I am.  I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but perhaps it’s true that one cannot be oneself if too much is poured into life. After clearing out a little breathing room, I finally feel like myself again. 

I’m curious, though. Has anyone else ever found that by trying to keep busy and be a productive, social member of society, they actually end up wondering where they lost themselves along the way? I think that was happening to me these past few months and I am glad to be rediscovering I am a writer after all. I’m sure other people have similar experiences. I’d be interested to read about them!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Elevation: 14,411 Feet

‘We’ll pass, thank you,’ they said,
So politely, of course,
And I nodded and held my breath for a long time
While disappointment hammered my forehead
And my lungs expanded with embarrassment.

Staring at nothing, I remembered:
Driving up from the Columbia Gorge,
Cresting a last ridge in the hot sunshine.
There stood Mt. Rainier, a floating monolith,
Looking at me peacefully across the miles.

I had the same feeling then,
As if I’d been struck in the face
And my ribs could no longer contain my lungs.
I wanted to gain the immobility of the mountain
And feel nothing as I loomed over time.

To have absolute greatness in myself,
To change so slowly no one can perceive it,
To have no care whether I am accepted or rejected
Because I am perfect in my enormous being –
That is the happiness I desire.

There are so many things to want:
Success in poetry, money, fame and friends,
All of them equally evasive.
Perhaps it’s better to be a mountain,
To exist with divine disinterest in it all.

One after another, the agents and journals and publishers
Shrug their shoulders and wave me off,
Shaking their heads and saying,
‘Not quite our style, I’m afraid.’
Fifty attempts later the words still stun.

A bible phrase from childhood returns to mind –
‘Desire of the everlasting hills.’
The curious words explain my wish so well:
I want to practice a mountainous stillness
And reach the silence beyond ten thousand feet.  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Re-evaluating

Every time I get a refusal from a journal or agent to whom I submitted a poem or a query letter or what have you, I feel a little shocked. Not so much because I’m surprised I got rejected (my head isn’t that big, I hope!), but just because it’s a reminder that I need to reevaluate my progress and work constantly.

There’s always a tendency to settle into a comfortable routine, after all.

I’ve been going through a long, sort of ‘dry’ spell with writing, where I can hardly work up the interest or enthusiasm to pursue my various story projects and poetic inspirations.  I’ve had lines of poetry floating in my mind for months which I haven’t been able to focus on for the sake of seeing what fleshes out around them. I was sent a blog post by my friend, the Fashionista, which consoled me during my dry period: it reminded me that everything has to happen at the time that’s best for it, so demanding things of yourself when you truly don’t have the energy to pursue them is counter-productive and possibly destructive.

Still, though, it’s pretty discouraging to know that one is a writer, but to feel utterly lacking in inspiration and drive.  I submitted some poems to a journal and a novel to a contest in June, in the hopes that I might get a good response on one or the other and that might jump start my interest again. I’ve not heard back yet on the novel, but the poems were politely declined a few days ago.

I did the only thing appropriate in the situation: I wrote a new poem about getting rejected!

While I was working on composing that, I reflected on my current writing life. A few weeks ago, I decided that I’d start up a ‘Writer’s Sequestration,’ on Wednesday evenings after work, where I get take-out and do nothing but edit for a few hours straight. It’s been quite productive, as I’m working through House of Mirrors at a pretty reasonable rate now, and also it has made me feel a little less like my writing is running away from me.  Things have been looking up, in other words.

Because of that, I was able to take the rejection of my poems with considerable equanimity, but the shock of having someone say, ‘No, thank you,’ did force me to rethink my writing priorities.  See, in the ten weeks between submitting the poems and hearing the answer, I read a lot of poetry from the online journal to which I submitted. I realized during that period that the poems that are accepted and published all have a certain ‘style’ to them.  I’m not criticizing them, actually – I’ve enjoyed and admired almost every poem I read. However, they all obviously follow the current trend in poetry and my poems do not.

So then I had to ask myself, ‘Do I want my poems to follow the current trend?’

I’ve always been fairly good at imitating things. I got good grades on all my writing assignments in high school where I had to mimic the tone and voice of a particular writer. I could probably pretty easily figure out how to write poems which share the same structure and characteristics that I noticed in almost all the poems accepted to this particular journal. In a way, the challenge would be sort of fun, as I would of course then resubmit and see if they got accepted.

However, I feel like this would be selling out, in a way. I like the poetry I write. It has my voice; it reflects my way of experiencing the world, which tends to be more on the analytical side, and which quickly leaps from individual happenings to universal meanings. I don’t really feel like I’d gain anything from training myself to write according to a different trend, other than technical skills, perhaps. So, I’ve resolved to be an amateur rather than a published poet. My novels have always been more important to me, and it’s time to admit that perhaps I’d be happier if I just wrote poetry for myself and my friends, and instead focused on getting the novels published.

With that in mind, I decided to revamp my blog. I’m still going to write posts on balancing the many elements of life, but I think I’ll also start posting my poems (and possibly short stories, when those occasionally happen) here. No sense having them languish in digital files on my computer, unread. It will be better and make me happier to see them posted here for others to read and enjoy. Perhaps they may generate some commentary and feedback.

That being said, I hope anyone who reads my posts will enjoy the change and the new mixture of prose and poetry.  Please look forward to a poem to be posted in the next few days!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tuscany Press Fiction Contest

I decided to enter my novel, The Art of Dying, in a contest at a small publishing house, called Tuscany Press.  I didn't realize it when I entered, but the contest moderators post extracts from the submissions to the Press blog while they are in the process of judging.  I have to say that it's extremely kind of them to do so.  Even if a person doesn't win or place, it's just a good feeling to get a little exposure thanks to submitting a manuscript.

Here's the link to my extract, which was posted today: The Art of Dying.

Here is where you can peruse more of the submissions, in case you're interested: Tuscany Press Blog.

Also, I thought I might post my summary of The Art of Dying, since I had to revise it for my novel submission:

The Art of Dying: Synopsis

Chiara Solari

Charles Elliot was just shy of graduating from college when his eyes were destroyed in a car crash. As a sculptor, this accident seemed a perfect catastrophe, and he sank swiftly into a despair from which at first he could not be stirred. 

The novel opens as Charles bids farewell to his niece, the first person he sculpted after his accident. Charles feels his debt to her, and sadness for her pointless, angry departure. He cannot blame her too much, though, since she, like all the subjects he has sculpted, has undergone such suffering.  Instead he marvels at these humans whom he has met, struggling to survive disasters equal to his own.  He sculpts his two closest friends, a local waitress, and an old professor, so as to capture the directive which their forms reveal: Know thyself.  From them, Charles learns that man becomes great if he recognizes his weakness and resolves to act in spite of them.

The influence of these models climaxes in a meeting with the composer, Victoria Fisher. So grand an artist is she that her music brings Charles an experience very close to vision.  In gratitude, he sculpts her, and under her influence, resolves to become the greatest artist he can be, with or without eyes.

However, this is not the only interaction which motivates Charles.  Around the same time, his half-brother, Isaac, commits suicide.  Charles feels a particular horror at this act, since he also contemplated it after his accident.  The meaningless death startles Charles enough that he resolves never to follow his brother’s path. Memories of Isaac also recall the one person Charles can never sculpt: Robert, the man who caused the loss of Charles’ eyes.  Worse, he became besotted with Gwen, the woman destined to be Charles’ wife, and ruined her in a drunken rage.  Charles hates Robert but fears becoming a monster like him.

While tracing out the roots of such wickedness in men, Charles decides to sculpt his mother, who died giving birth to him.  He admires the noble woman who offered herself, but feels conflicted since he cannot be grateful for his troubled life.  In fact, gratitude only comes from sculpting his own child.  After her rape, Gwen had a son, who, in spite of his origins, is so gentle that Charles cannot help but love him selflessly, realizing that here is the true cure for unhappiness.  He finds such love on a universal scale in one of his last models, a Japanese girl, Hikari, dying of leukemia.  She reveals that the secret of her joy is to embrace everything, and offer her life to repair the world’s crimes.  Charles hears Hikari as an oracle, and applies her lesson to heal Gwen’s long agony.  As he sculpts Gwen, he convinces her that the only means for surviving their wounds is love that endures everything.


When a commission for a crucifix comes from the local Catholic cathedral, he is prompted to explore again the paradox of suffering, this time through the figure of a God who chose pain and death of his own will. As Charles prepares to sculpt, he dimly realizes that every man can partake in Christ’s sacrificial action and chooses himself as the model for the corpus.  Days after completing the sculpture, he wakes to his death agony.  His last moments, however, bring him confidence that faith at last can restore to him all that he has lost.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Time to Read

My younger brother started a new job in January of this year, and since then it has taken him from California to Nevada, which is within driving distance (comparatively – this is the West we’re talking about) from where my parents and I live in Idaho.  So once the good weather and some days off from work arrived, thanks to Memorial Day, we set out on a little adventure to visit him. 

Of course, the two and a half days we spent with him were the best part of the trip, and I hope to write about them soon.  Today, however, my thoughts turn to the actual drive.  It takes about 11 hours to get to his home in Nevada from our town in Idaho.  It’s closer as the crow flies, but highways in this part of the country have to take the mountain chains into account, and tend to weave about and add hours so as to avoid high passes.  I don’t particularly care for driving, so my parents took care of most of that, which left me hours of time to sit and do all kinds of things. 

I worked on monogramming a teddy bear I’ll be giving soon as a gift; I gave myself a manicure; I napped; I edited a chapter of House of Mirrors.  I could have probably written and/or edited a lot, but what I did for the majority of my 22 free hours was read. 

These days I mostly do my reading while I’m brushing my teeth in the mornings and evenings.  I take my kindle with me, set it on the vanity and read for fifteen minutes or so while going about my ablutions.  I actually cover a lot of ground reading that way, so I’m happy I multi-task in such a productive way, but even so, there’s a certain feeling of haste and time constraints which prevents me from fully enjoying what I’m reading. 

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a natural reading addict.

I don’t read books so much as devour them if I have the time.  When I was a little girl this voracious appetite for reading wasn’t so much about the story as it was about the actual act of reading, but now that I’m older and trained from four years of college where I had to read fast and analytically, I can read a book at top speed and then ponder it for hours and days after.  This is the style of reading which gives me true enjoyment.  Often when I do get a chance to indulge in it, I wonder around for several hours after finishing the book enveloped in the atmosphere of the story, thinking about it, remembering scenes and lines and characters. 

After a good book, I end up with my head in the clouds!
 That’s why I call my style of reading ‘devouring.’  Once it goes down, my mind starts work on digesting it. 

There are probably as many different styles of reading as there are people, so some may not understand my preferred approach.  For them, perhaps, it is better to read a page or two at a time and then contemplate that small section.  I find for myself, though, that thought I absorb the writer’s theme and ideas that way, I don’t fully appreciate his style.  If I can read the entire book in a sitting or two, on the other hand, the writing itself – choice of words, turn of phrase, striking images – pours into my awareness.  I find myself noticing authorial quirks I’d like to make my own, as well as writing choices that I myself would avoid. 

The two books I read this trip were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  Both are dark books, but shot through with light like sunbursts through storm clouds.  What fascinated me most, though, was how the first book, while moving and in the end uplifting, was completely lacking in surprise.  I enjoyed it (even cried over it!) but every plot twist from the second half of the book I guessed pages before.  It was an interesting exercise to read a novel and realize that in the midst of its beauty it was still entirely predictable.  I don’t think I would have noticed that quality, though, if I hadn’t read 2/3’s of it in one sitting. 

I learned that to achieve an original plot, I may need to reread an entire novel of my own in one sitting so that I catch predictable story turns.  Further, I might need to plot the whole thing at one sitting, so that I can quiz myself on whether my story is taking the easy way out as far as plot is concerned. 

East of Eden, on the other hand, was astonishing in its perfect originality.  I think there was only one event in the entire story which I expected to happen.  Considering how long it is, that’s pretty admirable!  Of course Steinbeck wrote East of Eden after a long, successful career, whereas Mr. Hosseini started out with The Kite Runner, so the latter can be forgiven for not reaching the same level of artistry as the former, but leaving that matter aside, it was impressive how much the Steinbeck novel surpassed the Hosseini novel. 

Taking it fast suprisingly reveals the details!
Again, I don’t think I would have noticed these qualities as strongly, if I hadn’t read the two books almost all at once, within a few days of each other. 

Sometimes immersion is the best way to learn a language, and that includes the specific language of a good author, I think.  I’ve missed being able to take in an entire story and then ruminate over it at my leisure, while doing other things.  Such an approach ends up being more fruitful to my writing, as well, since while thinking of the stories, I learn new techniques and formulate new themes which may themselves prove the root of my own tales in the future. 

As I said before, though, everyone has their own way of learning from their reading.  I’d love to hear your method, if you have a moment to comment and tell me!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Privacy

Recently I came in to work on a Monday morning and found myself alone in the office with a rather recent coworker.  As might be expected, she and I exchanged pleasantries, asking about each other’s weekend and such.  However, since we’re only acquaintances, I didn’t say much about what I’d done but kept my observations totally general.

Then the Fashionista and her mother arrived.  They knew that my weekend had featured a quick road-trip to Seattle to visit a friend, so naturally they asked how my trip was.  I replied that it was very good and enjoyable, but again said little more.  At that point, though, the new coworker suddenly burst out, ‘You didn’t tell me you were taking a trip!’  As you might imagine, the atmosphere at once became rather strained. 

A private person can be the most delightful!
You see, I visited a friend who really values privacy, so I had little intention of telling anyone about the trip.  Even the Fashionista (one of my three closest friends!) only knew was that I was visiting my friend in Seattle and no further details.  I had no intention of discussing my little weekend adventure in the office, so I had to make blundering excuses to my coworker at the risk of treading on her toes (which I probably did, to a certain extent), even though really she had no particular right or need to know what I had done. 

Afterwards, because of the awkwardness involved, I got to thinking about privacy in general.  My coworker, while quite a pleasant addition to the office, doesn’t have much of a natural filter.  She spent one lunch soon after she was hired explaining the gastro-intestinal difficulties which her daughter suffers when she eats gluten.  Everyone at the table left wondering what the poor daughter would think if she knew her ailments had become the topic of lunch conversation! 

Anyway, I realized that there may be at present a certain lack of filter in all of society. 

I remember reading a memoir a few years ago, and while the book was delightful overall, the author felt it necessary to tell us not just that she had a flirtation with a French boy while she was an exchange student, but that she invited him to stay the night at her house-mother’s home, while the woman was out of town.  The story felt tawdry, and while I still enjoy the author’s blog and writing, I have never had quite the same respect for her since reading that far too personal anecdote.

Some things are private, after all, and too much mixing of them into public things becomes awkward and embarrassing. 

I guess I have always felt that if anyone else is involved in an event in my life, I’d better be quite careful about what I say about that event, in case it reflects badly on the other person, or even on myself and how I treated the person.  I do understand the impulse to be transparent and honest, to disclose even inappropriate things about my life in order to make myself accessible to my peers.  However, even if I have the right to say whatever I like about myself, I certainly can’t take the same liberty with other people.  They in turn have their own right to disclose their secrets or keep them, without anyone’s interference.

Since I write a blog (somewhat sporadically!), of course I feel the tension between wanting to reveal my private life and wanting to protect myself and those around me from the strange and wonderful world of the internet.  Perhaps because so many intimate and personal things are available and sometimes for sale on the internet, people have become used to a world without veils.  However, as any good writer knows, what’s not said is sometimes more valuable than what is said.  The omission prompts the curious human mind to imagine further, to fill in details, to create a mental world in which to set the story. 

I think that maintaining a certain privacy has the surprising effect of awakening our thoughts. 

In Lessons from Madame Chic, Jennifer Scott talks about maintaining an ‘air of mystery’ à la Française.  If a blogger sticks to her chosen topic with occasional, discreet personal anecdotes, she seems far more intriguing, far deeper than if she generates an audience by telling all her most intimate secrets. 

Beautiful things are often discreet!
I can’t say I’m immune to the appeal of the ‘confessional’ writer, but I never respect such people, no matter how fascinated I may be by their experiences.  Likewise, I have little respect for novelists who devote too much of their writing to the environment of the story rather than to the plot itself.  If, on the other hand, a novelist sticks to her story and doesn’t throw all her efforts into world-building, I always find her story to be cleaner, crisper and more moving.  Since I’ve been editing the TMI (in a manner of speaking!) out of my novels over the past two years, I’ve become much more aware of the value of saying little rather than much. 

If we parade our private lives in public, if we include every possible detail in our stories, we actually disrespect our acquaintances and our audience.  We assume that the only thing that will interest them is sensationalism; we distrust that they will be able to imagine the world we create without having everything described for them first.  Granted, people (myself included) may be drawn in by the easy entertainment offered, but from my own experience, I’d say we seldom leave it with a good taste in our mouths. 

Privacy and mystery and balanced minimalism actually build a structure in the world and in fiction.  We can imagine what we don’t see, supposing the best of others, imagining happy stories for them, envisioning the world of the storyteller as our world too.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Letter to the Past

Little girl
with the long braids and the hair bows
(one untied as always I remember),
owl glasses obscuring the small elfin face,

I have a photo of you, clutching a kitten,
possessive, tight to the chest, fingers woven between tiny limbs.
He was your first pet and stubbornly
you named him for his tabby grey color,
no matter how they wheedled you to match names
for the brother cats you’d take home. 

Calvin and Hobbes they should have been,
but instead of the bratty child’s,  
you chose a gentler name: Charcoal,
for snowy paws and pink nose and a tiny grey-stripe coat.

Of course, he wasn’t gentle at all, despite his looks.
He fought off a sixty pound dog once
and spent most of his days mousing ferociously in the field.
He grew big-boned and majestic,
and always a bit aloof, a bit cautious –
the missing tip of his tail excused his reservations. 

I remember you, little girl,
patiently following until you soothed his wariness,
then hauling him up, too big,
too heavy to fit comfortably into your skinny arms.
Still, he’d pause a few minutes before escaping
to purr so loudly you’d vibrate,
to knead his painful claws into your bare arms
as a sign of love and approval.

For seventeen years he has kept up that habit,
sinking his claws through clothes,
stretching them luxuriously, then pulling them tight,
unhooking and repeating,
always catching the skin a little, with a smart,
but purring, purring all the while,
as if the sound would salve the soreness from his claws.

Oh, little girl in the picture,
you and I have loved our cat – cantankerous old beast
which he became over the years,
but always willing to be petted,
to rub his itching head against our outstretched hands.

With his passing, I feel the end of an era:
perhaps the time of my childhood,
idyllic days, with the family cats and dog
stretched in the golden summer of nostalgia.
To be sure, I have new animals now,
but my regard for them is also new – more maternal,
more adult, more concerned with their good behavior
and less with smothering them, as children will,
with (sometimes unwanted) affection. 

But I remember you and the kitten you clutched,
who grew into the cat, my friend.
You have remained, becoming me
over seventeen long years, passing on silent feet.
Sunk into myself, part of my flesh and spirit,
is the small child you were then
and the cat you chose for me.  


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Redemption through Dylan Thomas

The past few weeks (maybe even months) have been a hectic time, thanks to weighty decisions floating above my head – not my decisions to make, actually, but ones which would certainly affect me.  I’m the type of person who plunges into decisions so as to get the suspense over with, so I admit to feeling a bit of stress while I’m waiting to see what will come to pass.  These things can’t be rushed, but I find myself wishing that I could push them along anyway! 

One of the ways I deal with stress, especially in relation to other people, is by conducting mental analyses of the situation.  Sometimes this is helpful and lets me separate reality from my emotional reactions.  More frequently, though, I admit that it ends up stirring up my emotions even further, since it’s hard to be unbiased in a situation when you’re on one side and another person is on the other.  It’s a relief while I’m thinking it over, but afterwards, I feel more depressed or more stressed or even angry at the other person involved (which isn’t very productive). 

So, recently, I resolved to practice keeping a silent mind.

I watched several videos in February, posted on the lovely ‘Daily Connoisseur’ blog.  Ms. Scott, who writes the blog, had filmed herself reviewing and discussing a favorite book of hers called The Untethered Soul. I haven’t read the book, but I was most intrigued by the idea of everyone having a voice inside their head, which is continually giving a running, self-biased commentary on everything that happens, and often leaping to unfounded, unfair conclusions about one’s own situation and other people’s actions and reactions. 

I thought, ‘That sounds exactly like my mental process,’ when she described what the voice sounded like.  The problem, though, is that the voice is seldom based on anything real.  It misleads us and makes us unhappy and closes us against other people, since it so disposes us to misinterpret them.  I’ve often struggled with exactly these problems in my relationships (my stress-handling technique usually leads to justifying myself at the expense of others).  It seemed a healthy undertaking to try and improve myself by quieting my mind and listening to reality instead. 

It turns out that achieving a silent mind is incredibly hard, especially during stressful times. 

I’ve been doing well with my project when events have been favorable, but it’s easy to be a decent human being when everything is sunshiny.  When the sky is overcast, however, not so much.  Every few days or so in the past several weeks, when I’ve felt tense or inclined to be irritated at someone else, I’ve had to spend much of my unoccupied time driving or showering, etc., telling myself, ‘Keep a quiet mind.  Keep a quite mind.’  Nothing else quite silences the irritated mumbling of the voice inside my head. 

I admit that it’s an exhausting effort, resisting such a deep-set habit, but at the same time, it’s been quite a cleansing feeling.  It’s much easier to have clear thoughts and clear emotions, unmuddied by my own biases. 

And then tonight, the effort paid off in a wonderful way. 

I was feeling worked up about something a friend had told me and I hopped in the shower soon after our conversation.  The shower is one of the places I usually let my mind roam freely, so of course my mental voice piped up at once, complaining about my worries and the effect my friend’s choices would have on me, etc. etc.  So I went back to my mantra of telling myself to have a quiet mind. 

Instead of a conducting bitter trial of my friend in my head, I thought of my seed pots for the spring.  I planted them a week ago, and today my tomato seed pushed a slender pale stalk out of the dirt, working on the project throughout the whole day, and now two delicate green leaves are swayed gracefully over the dark potting soil.  Suddenly, with that image in my mind, a line of poetry popped into my head – one I hadn’t thought of in years: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age.’ 

The line of poetry was like a light.  It soothed my mind and quieted my chattering mental voice, and suddenly a revelation about my friend’s dilemma came to me, something which made the impending decision seem so much more positive and hopeful.  I realized that only in a silent mind can true thoughts spring up and grow, as fresh as the small tomato seedling valiantly striving for existence under my heat lamp.   

I have often been grateful for my broad exposure to fiction and poetry, but the moment in the shower only reinforced how beneficial art can be.  When we strive to become better people, beautiful creations seem set there to be the rungs which support our climb, confirming that our choices are beneficial after all.

Brave new tomato plant!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Theory of It All

Last blog post I threatened to explain to you the system of literary theory which I learned in college.  It’s the thread that runs through most of my writing, secretly, and it even gives me a framework for thinking about daily life.  Since it’s that big a part of me, I hope I’ll be excused for rambling about it for a while. 

I guess you might call the method I was taught ‘genre theory.’

Basically, it postulates that all literature (fiction and poetry) divides roughly into four master genres.  These aren’t the usual mystery, romance, fantasy, etc., that we tend to think of when we say the word genre.  Instead, the four terms derive from Greek literature (yay for the Greeks, who thought about everything and then gave it extravagant names) and are words we bandy about commonly. 

In general, words bandied about commonly turn out to be the most important.

‘Let’s watch a romantic comedy’; ‘oh, it was tragic’; ‘that bike ride was epic’; ‘I love the lyrics to that song’ – four terms so common that one of them has even entered the world of slang.  Comedy, Tragedy, Epic, Lyric.  Each of them encapsulate a vital part of human experience.  Comedy is about redemption and life.  Tragedy faces sorrow and death.  Epic fights battles and achieves goals.  Lyric celebrates beauty and love.  If you think about it, most of what humanity undergoes can be fit somewhere in those patterns. 
Even the things which each of us experience every day fit into the genres. 

Of course, this is all very interesting, but even more fascinating to me is how the pattern fits together.  The genres flow into each other to make a total movement, you see.  People tend to start off in a lyric world: children have a natural appreciation of beauty; teenagers fall desperately in love.  But then tragedy comes, because romance doesn’t always last.  Pain and suffering enter one’s experience and maybe prompt one to make mistakes.  Those mistakes lead to punishment; if they’re big enough they might even lead to physical death, but in any case, something of childish innocence dies in the course of tragedy. 

We aren’t stuck in a dark and painful world though.  There’s hope of rising up from the bottom.  Comedy acknowledges this: it shows us people who started out at the bottom and then slowly work their way to the top, helped and guided by friends and families and maybe a love interest for them to marry at the end.  And then, once a person has that much, he has something to fight for.  If a challenge arises and tries to take his hard-won place away from him, the spirit of Epic will make him fight to preserve it, even if he has to travel far to wage his battles and then journey long to return and reclaim his home. 

Genre theory illustrated - with helpful stick-figures
 Anyway, the point of all this is that I’ve always been intrigued by the transition from tragedy to comedy.

The transitions between the other genres seem clear to me.  When it comes to tragedy, though, the hero of the story often dies – think of Macbeth, of Othello, of Hamlet...All dead in the end.  The abandoned lover of lyric might turn to the criminal of tragedy, or the happy husband of comedy might become the epic warrior in defense of his home, the tragic man usually dies before he can become the plucky survivor of comedy.  So what’s the link?  There has to be one.

That’s where Doctor Who returns to the scene. 

You see, I noticed back in college that there is usually someone who survives a tragedy.  In Hamlet, Horatio is left alive and given the task of telling his friend’s story.  In King Lear, Edgar makes it through all the madness and is promised a place of influence in the kingdom.  Someone always survives the tragedy.  Survival is one of the signs of a comedic character.  Perhaps there was some connection. 

One of the signs of a good comedy  is a guardian angel character – someone whose role is to teach and protect and guide the bumbling protagonist on his climb to a higher place in life.  Often older men or thoughtful women assume these duties; imagine Prospero in the Tempest for a perfect example.  If you look into these characters, they often have sad or unfortunate backgrounds.  My theory that the secondary survivors of tragedies take the lessons they’ve learned to teach the characters of comedies seemed to gain some strength.

Then I watched Doctor Who and (as usual) busily applied my training in literary criticism to the show.  One of the side effects of genre theory is a tendency to analyze everything in terms of the four master genres.  Anyway, I realized as I watched further and further into the seasons that the show was confirming my theory. 

The Doctor is a survivor of a tragedy – the end of two races.  Moreover, he himself had a hand in the disaster and bears the guilt, from which he has learned how to be merciful.  Therefore, he has become a perfect protector for the endearing but sometimes clueless humans whom he has adopted as his new family.  The story is now a comedy, but it is built around someone who survived a tragedy. 

Of course, that realization led to the desire to write about such a character of my own.  The story is stirring in the back of my mind, but so far down that I can’t quite catch it yet.  I’m very excited for it to emerge.  The feeling of a new story coming to life in one’s mind is one of the best in the world, after all.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Artistic Obsessions

Lately I’ve been reminded of a certain facet of my personality which I thought had perhaps faded away with adolescence.  When I was eight, you see, I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time (I read everything at age eight, whether or not it was age appropriate – I had a reading addiction).  Then I read the book again sixteen times between then and my high school graduation at seventeen.  That’s slightly more than two readings a year.  Not to mention that I also read and reread The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, plus all the scraps and pieces that I could find in the Books of Lost Tales that Christopher Tolkien published, apparently to feed the mania of people like me. 

In the middle of that period of frantic reading, the Peter Jackson movies came out.  My parents had chosen to limit their children’s exposure to pop culture quite strictly, but they made an exception for those movies.  We even went to see them in theaters.  Of course, that only served to fuel my obsession.  I knew detail upon detail about the history of Middle Earth.  I more or less understood the etymological roots of Tolkien’s languages (though I was at least not obsessed enough to actually learn them, thank goodness).  The first story I wrote stole its mythology and geography wholesale from Tolkien, so I can say he basically got me writing.

Still, I remain unapologetic (if somewhat embarrassed).

Details are essential!
You see, the things I’ve been obsessed with always seem to make a very strong creative mark on me.  From Tolkien, I’d say that I learned the value of working out the world of each story in great detail – something that applies in fantasy and regular fiction alike.  Also, I learned to appreciate words and their beauty.  Tolkien knew how to write with excruciating loveliness, and he gave me the ambition to do the same. 

About the time I went to college, though, my decade of Tolkien obsession came quietly to an end.  Suddenly there were new ideas, new books, new movies, and my mind went gallivanting away into such territories.  The next obsession took a little while to emerge, and was far more unexpected than Tolkien.  It all began when Vasnefy introduced me to a Japanese animé.  I don’t know how she found it, but we watched the series, and then both became intrigued and went off to discover more.

That was when I found out about the infinite reams of manga that the Japanese produce.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I’m reasonably visually oriented.  Suddenly there was an entire, untapped world of beautifully drawn graphic novels, telling a huge variety of stories.  I began to read and kept right on doing so for three years.  Sometimes, now, I ask myself what the appeal was.  The greatest number of those manga are not particularly memorable or influential.  They certainly made their impression on me, though.

I think the element that pulled me in was the depiction of Japanese culture (something I knew little about but found intriguing) combined with the presentation of ordinary kids doing (mostly) ordinary things.  I went to an all girls’ school in primary and secondary school, and my parents are not the most sociable.  My social life was limited to a unisex education, plus interaction with family and a select few friends.  It was fascinating to read stories of kids about my age going to school, thinking about their future, interacting with friends and romantic interests.  I guess maybe manga gave me a vicarious experience of a different kind of growing up than I went through myself.  I can definitely say that it gave me a whole wealth of ideas about how people outside of my own life would act or think.  That's incredibly helpful for a writer.

Once I had really grown up, though, the attraction faded.  I even thought I’d outgrown my tendency to obsess.

Wrong!  It’s still there.  It’s funny to discover how one’s personality really doesn’t change all that much.  It might express itself differently, but the same basic tendencies remain the same.  What is my new obsession, you may ask.  My answer: Doctor Who.  I have become a fledgling Whovian
 
Maybe the time vortex looks like this...
What lured me in was a combination of assurances of how good the series is from friends and interest in several of the actors who have since appeared in other movies or shows.  I thought I might as well give it a try.  I watched the first episode of the revived series just for fun, thought ‘oh, interesting and funny!’ and then went back to doing various other things.  But when a chance arose to return to it, suddenly I found myself sucked in (as if by the Time Vortex itself!) and I’m now almost done with the 5th season, after only a month of watching.  I fully expect to plunge into the classic series once I’ve watched all the available episodes of the new one. 

At first I thought it was just me getting absorbed (this has happened before with other shows), but then I found myself beginning to apply literary theory to the show.  Then I found myself feeling inklings of inspiration for new stories of my own based on the show.  I gave in at that point and admitted that I’m obsessed.  I don’t mind it though – it’s definitely waking up my mind.  What inspiration I’m finding is a story for another post, though, as this one is going on rather long. 

For now, I’ll just end with a question.  Does anyone else have artistic obsessions or fixations which provide inspiration?  Do your obsessions change with you, or do they stay the same?  I’d love to read your answers in the comments!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Change in the Air

I never expected to spend January of 2014 making excuses on my blog for a three month hiatus, but here I find myself doing just that.  I promise, though, that this is the last blog which will feature such things.  The problem is that those three months were full of a multitude of things, and I actually wanted to write about them.  Hence my excuse-making; it gives me a chance to cover topics that are now weeks old. 

The final element which contributed to my silence was a somewhat tumultuous holiday season. 

Actually, I should correct myself:  for me, it was very calm.  For friends and family…tumult and change and upheaval.

The first and most drastic news came when my younger brother announced in the second week of December that he was quitting his job in the food service industry.  Instead, he’d be gallivanting off to California on January 2 (barely three weeks away), to join forces with my older brother who is an engineer in a heavy industry company.  The news came as a shock.  My parents and I had not even known he was applying for a new job, much less accepting it and making plans to move!

Still, after we picked up our several jaws from the ground where they’d fallen, we all agreed that it would be good for my brother.  Christmas was perhaps a little muted by his impending departure, but at the same time, there was a sense of heightened enjoyment of our family traditions, thanks to the knowledge that this was the last year they’d be quite the same.  I was mostly excited that he was getting such a good work opportunity.  Now, though, a few weeks after all the dust has settled, I admit I miss his company.  I’m always the type who gets elated by change, but then has a few days of the blues after it’s all said and done.

The second dramatic thing came from the Carpitect.  Almost without warning a rather prestigious architecture firm summoned him across several states to be interviewed.  Suddenly he was in need of advice on new clothes for the meeting, not to mention greatly increased discussion of pros and cons and whys and hows and whens.  The firm did not end up being a fit for him (plus its location was totally blasé), but just the effort of taking the trip and appearing for the interview and reviewing the experience afterwards before a decision could be made was intense enough!  It turns out that just the attempt to find a good architectural job is almost more work than a position at a firm would be.

After those two revelations, matters settled down for a bit, but a few days after New Year’s, everything erupted again.  First of all the Fashionista had an opportunity open up for her.  She was geared up to accept it; she was beginning to get excited and think it was just the exact thing for her – and then without warning it vanished.  Of course having one’s hopes dashed so forcefully is a hard thing to bear.  Obviously, the solution was to have a girls’ night in.

So that’s exactly what we did, and spent five hours hashing out all the details, in the overly analytical way in which women like to console themselves.  It was great fun, and while it perhaps didn’t heal all the Fashionista’s disappointment, it certainly brought us closer together.  I for one am grateful for that! 

The day after the Fashionista’s  shock, I got a text from Vasnefy.  She was visiting her parents for Christmas, home from her job as a professor.  Without warning, the president of her college wrote to all his employee’s, informing them that some important funding from benefactors had fallen through.  The college would be converted to an online only program for the semester.  You can imagine that when I heard the news, I felt like all my friends were being pelted with misfortune!  I promptly took Vasnefy out for drinks, so that she could pour her woes in my ear.  Not being the type to be easily gotten down, though, she remained cheerful, and we ended up talking for three hours about personality and relationship and knowledge and other fascinating topics.

Moreover, the very enterprising students of the college started a Go Fund Me campaign, and raised a quarter of a million dollars in a week.  As suddenly as the original announcement had appeared, it was revoked.  The college (I’m happy to say, as it is the same college I attended for my bachelor’s degree) is back in operation as a physical school.  Vasnefy returned to Texas to her job, after all. 


So things have worked out, mostly for the good, in spite of some bittersweet moments and some sadness here and there.  I feel closer to all my friends after the holidays, and proud of my brother for breaking out to do what he needed to in his career.  I suppose that’s a good result of Christmas – a stronger connection to all the people I hold dear.  I hope everyone else enjoyed such a gift from the holiday season, and I wish all my visitors a belated happy new year.  At least it’s still January as I extend my hopes to you all for a wonderful 2014!

May the light of hope shine in your new year!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Delay #2

Besides wrestling with a puppy during my three month hiatus from the blog, I also had another baby thing thrashing around and insisting on my attention – namely, a new novel.

It all started on Halloween.  I was thinking about the story of Finn McCool (or Fionn mac Cumhail in Gaelic, because it's a cool language), and how he protected the city of Tara from a fire-breathing monster on Samhain (which I discovered recently is pronounced, ‘Sah-win,’ because besides being cool Gaelic spelling has no relationship to its pronunciation).  That led me into a Wikipedia rabbit hole, which somehow ended up travelling into Welsh mythology.

A Wild Hunt hound! - or maybe just a goofy Spaniel...
One of my favorite parts of the latter is the Wild Hunt, thanks largely to reading Dogsbody by Diana Wynn Jones as a teenager.  I always liked the thought of a powerful fairy leading a hunt through the air, unleashing his hounds of snow white coats and red ears.  Thinking of that story, a sentence suddenly leapt into my head:  ‘That winter he dreamed of silver hounds coursing over the fields.’

The sentence stuck; it had the feeling of the beginning of something.  So I began thinking of where it could go.  The Wild Hunt was purported to appear as an announcement of someone’s death.  The dreamer of my sentence was going to die.  With that realization, I knew suddenly that this was the start of my novel about the drunkard policeman of a small North Idaho town.  He’s half Native American, though, so Welsh mythology was out of place.  I thought about what animal he might really see in visions at night. 

The answer came quickly.  All the Salish peoples who inhabited the Pacific Northwest told stories of Coyote.  My character’s mother is a member of those peoples – a full-blood Schitsu’umsh.  Today everyone calls them the Coeur d’Alenes.  A half-blood son of such a tribe might dream uneasily of the great figure of their mythology in the days before his death. 

And so it begins...
There was the true beginning of my novel, jotted down in the evening of Halloween, 2013:  ‘That winter he dreamed of silver coyotes coursing over the fields.’  The next day I was off work, so I rushed around processing pumpkin puree to freeze.  In the back of my mind the sentence from the night before had taken root.  I needed to write more, I realized in a quiet moment over the kitchen sink.  Then it struck me: it was the first of November – the first day of NaNoWriMo, as it is somewhat hilariously called. 

My competitive side pricked up its ears.  Could I take this chance to prove that I could write a novel in a month?  If I could manage 2000 words a day, I could have a 60,000 word manuscript at the end of the month.  So I set out on my task.  For a good three hours each evening, I’d feverishly research Schitsu’umsh culture and language, then type furiously to reach my quota.  The novel rushed out, probably sloppy and unpolished, but growing incredibly fast. 

I have to admit now that I did not quite finish.  Thanksgiving happened right at the end of the month and what with party preparations, 5000 words fell by the wayside.  The continuation of the holiday season, followed in the past couple of weeks by parties and outings with friends home from jobs or college, has kept me from adding those missing words.  I’ll get around to it soon though. 

My protagonist dreams of fields frosted like this!
It was amazingly refreshing to throw myself into the creative process, I have to say.  For a solid year now, I’ve limited myself to editing, trying to get on top of the pile of manuscripts that are stashed away in my files.  I think I’ve managed to get The Art of Dying whipped into shape, but I was languishing over the clean-up of House of Mirrors.  I was overexposed to editing, in fact.  Granted, I’d been posting to this blog, which does help, but much as I enjoy writing these posts, fiction will always be more refreshing to me as a writer.

The wide-awake, electrified feeling of the mind as it actively creates something is so exhilarating.  I might exhaust myself each night, pouring out words, but the feeling was one of catharsis.  I proved to myself again that I can write, that I’m not just a tense, critical mind, day after day examining words for perfection.

I know that my new novel needs plenty of work, and probably substantial fleshing out, but I’m glad that it exists and will soon be finished in its first draft.  I regretted pausing the blog for so long, but I’m also happy that my new novel, Memoir of a Funeral, emerged during the break.