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.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Delay #1

It has been three months since I wrote a blog post!  The time has gone so quickly I can hardly believe it.  It turns out I disappeared not because of lack of things to write (I had blog topics galore, in fact), but just because of an utter and amazing lack of time. 

It all started in October, when the first thief of time arrived on stage.  His name was Baxter.  He was a handsome black fellow, with one white glove and a solemn face.  He liked to eat and sleep and take gentle walks and then sleep some more. In short, he was a puppy.  
Meet Baxter: 7 wk old, 15 lb, chubby adorableness!
I can’t complain about the time loss, though.  The puppy was my idea.  Our last family dog died two winters ago, at the ripe old age of twelve.  My family was caught flatfooted by her sudden illness and she died swiftly and shockingly and left us all traumatized about getting a new dog.  Besides, she had been a wonderful, loyal pet, but also a total pain.  She could escape from anything (literally - dog runs, dog chains, fenced pastures, heavily barricaded gates, combos of chains AND gates), and the thought of another dog who would tax our tempers and then break our hearts was overwhelming. 

But then this past summer I realized I wanted a new dog.  Just on cue, my hairstylist’s black lab had an affair with his neighbor’s boxer, producing nine puppies.  I promptly claimed one.  I wanted a male, because I’ve always preferred boy dogs, and he was ready to go in mid-October.  My brother and I drove forty minutes to pick him up and were smitten with him at once.  He was a chubby little thing (though little is a comparative term when it comes to Boxadors, it turns out), and his white front paw looked ridiculously large and endearing contrasted against his shiny black body. 

After three wks, he grew 10 lb. and got even cuter!

It’s only been two and a half months since then, but Baxter has already made quite a splash.  He dragged me out of bed at two in the morning for a while, for night-time bathroom trips.  Then he outgrew that, for which I was deeply grateful, but settled on a morning routine of howling at five AM if no one came to play with him.  As a compromise, therefore, he gets to come inside for a few hours every morning, so that I can sleep without a puppy shrieking in my ear. 

He’s had trips to the vet, baths, adventures with cats, adventures with other dogs.  He’s put on weight as if he’s in a competition for fastest growing puppy.  He got mange and has been receiving daily doses of medicine to get his coat back to its proper luster.  He’s discovered that snow is amazing fun, and that ice is even more fun, since he can jump on it, break it, scratch it, bite it, lick it, and then move on to the next spot and repeat the whole process.  He broke a baby tooth.  He learned how to sit, lie down, shake both paws, (more or less) come, walk on a leash, and now he’s trying to figure out how to catch treats in mid air.  He gets one occasionally.

Then he put on another 15 lb in 4 wks! (half-way through the growth spurt here)
He adores my cat, Spinoza, but unfortunately in a much too ardent way, which may eventually threaten her life, so I’m working on convincing him that he can’t sit on top of her and try to put her head in his mouth.  She thinks it’s fun to wrestle, only realizing too late, after she’s already let him capture her, that perhaps she'll get swallowed.  So far, so good, though – Baxter likes to please, so he picks up on my training quite quickly.  Spinoza will be safe soon enough.

My other cat, Charcoal, is a wise old fighter, and he has no patience for the puppy.  There’s no danger of Baxter affectionately swallowing him, since Charcoal knows to keep his face toward Baxter and to whack him across the nose with his claws.  Baxter likes to flirt with danger, so he dances around barking and huffing, but Charcoal only hisses and yowls.  Then, because he knows his mind, he makes his slow way past the puppy to me, so I can snuggle him out of harm’s way.  Baxter bounces around below, hoping I'll hand Charcoal over, but when I don't, he gets bored and goes to look for sticks.

So you see, there has been much to do with a new puppy in the house.  I’ve actually accomplished a fair amount of writing since Baxter’s arrival (more on that later!), but the blog had to be put on pause for a while.  Now that he’s past four months, though, and reaching adolescence and needing less constant attention, I can return with relief to a normal schedule.   

Then he grew 10 more lb in 3 wks: he's 50 lb now! Half-grown...
In spite of the extra busyness, though, it’s been quite wonderful to have a new dog around.  I was blog-hopping recently, and a blogger mentioned in her Christmas post on her family’s new puppy that ‘A dog brings something subhuman to family, something that must be cared for, cleaned up after, trained, and loved, all with that particular patience that animals can bring out in human beings. I think it can be through learning to love something sub-human that we become fully human.’  I wanted to stand up and cheer after reading those lines. After a few months with Baxter, I know exactly what she means.