Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Digital Project

This semester I'm taking a class towards my literature requirement, Women Writers. Until I was asked, in class, why I was taking the class, I hadn't articulated it to myself. All I knew was that if I had to take a literature class, I wanted to take one that focused on the writing of women.

But once I was there, on the spot, I gave an answer that I hadn't realized was there all along. My bachelor's degree from St. John's College included very few women writers. I understand that the Western canon excludes many writings, for the sake of tradition and in order to keep the program to four years. The Santa Fe campus offers a graduate institute in Eastern Classics in an effort to redress a piece of that gap. But the fact remained that as an undergraduate, I read very few women in my first two years of study, and not many in the second two.

I take classes towards a degree in English, writing emphasis, for several reasons. One is that I want to become a better writer. Another is that I have a tuition discount as an employee. And, as I discovered, another reason is to redress the gaps that an education focusing on the canonical works of Western civilization produce.

Despite a focus on the classics, I had never heard of Aspasia of Miletus, a female rhetorician who allegedly taught Socrates and Pericles, because I had never been required to read Menexenus. Although I read several of Plutarch's Lives, I didn't even have the volume that included the entry on Aspasia.

I'm looking forward to finding out what other rhetoric I might have missed.

This class will be conducted seminar-style, which is familiar territory for me, only in this class, unlike at St. John's, there are 24 women (including the instructor) and 2 men. The final paper and presentation can be either traditional, which is to say a research paper, or digital, which is more open form. One of the requirements for my junior year of high school English class was a research paper. My teacher offered us the option to do a non-traditional paper, and I took her up on the it. It was a mistake on my part, as I had no idea how to fulfill the requirements in a non-traditional way. This experience made me leery of a non-traditional option.

But, one of the digital options was a blog. And I do like blogging. So I'm going to start a blog for the class and write about the writers that we read. I'll include write-ups of other articles that I think are important, such as Kameron Hurley's "We Have Always Fought" and Annalee Newitz' speculations on whether this tiny slice of human history we live in where women have rights is merely an aberration that will soon pass.

Since part of either project is a prospectus that must be approved, I can get feedback on the project well before it is due. And if my instructor advises me that the blog won't be appropriate to fulfill her requirements, it will at least provide a resource for me when I write the traditional paper.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Epic of the Drawer Novel

Almost seven years ago, I began to write a book. I will try to withhold judgment about whether it is a good book, but it is a first book so the odds are not in its favor. I wrote it during lunch breaks at work until I changed jobs, at which point it sat untouched for several years. Then, two summers ago, I finished it to the tune of a robust 80,000 words.

I write "finished" but the finishing of a first draft isn't really the same thing as being finished. Because of the gap between writing the first 50 or so thousand words and the last 30, I knew I had introduced some inconsistencies. I needed to address those, even if I couldn't fix anything else but typos, before I could really call it finished.

But this book was very personal. Probably too personal to share widely, though that may be my fear speaking. I felt uncomfortable re-reading it because I felt like it was so transparently me. I don't even have the cover of a fantasy or science fiction world to hide under, because this novel is not fantastical in setting. Maybe the way that the characters act is unusual, but it isn't completely implausible. I think.

But a combination of reading Kameron Hurley's essay, "Why I Finish All My Shit," and my husband's reminder that I was letting fear hold me back pushed me to set aside my discomfort and make that next draft pass.

I'm about a quarter of the way through, and it is about as I remember it. It feels so personal, overly obvious and not very story driven. I'm cutting here and there, adding sparingly where I've written something that makes sense to me, but that I know will be confusing. It isn't bad writing, per se, but it isn't what I wish it was.

But I'm going to finish the draft and defer to the advise of Dean Wesley Smith. "Writers are the worst judges of their own work." I'm going to shove my fear down into my shoes and create an epub file of it for my husband to read on his kindle app. And I'll leave its fate in his hands.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Acting Like I Have an Audience

I know my blog numbers. Few readers, few comments. It would be kind to call my numbers low. I know that not a lot of people read this blog. I know that not a lot of people know this blog exists. Heck, my own father doesn't read it unless I post a link on Facebook (which is why I post a link on Facebook - I'm not trying to be irritating, I'm just trying to stay in touch with my father).

So every now and then, I consider why I'm even bothering to write the thing, why I bother to religiously post once a week on not one, but two separate blogs, neither of which gets much attention. Why do I keep yelling into the overcrowded void? At this stage of my writing life, a blog is entirely unnecessary.

One reason is practice. I've been keeping this thing up for two years now. Entries that at first only averaged once a week, before I decided to keep it strictly to once a week. For me, that decision made staying on top of the entries easier. I had a deadline, and I could, when spurts of creativity struck, schedule some out in advance. I do keep hoping that I'll be constantly scheduled out, but I've not gotten to that point yet. I'm stuck on the last minute tactic, the heat of the deadline pushing me to write something even when I'm not sure what I want to write.

And when I separated my hiking and exercise blog entries from my writing and opinionated blog entries, I found myself keeping up two blogs, though still at the once a week pace. I managed to schedule the hiking blog out more easily by splitting my backpacking trip write-ups into day by day accounts instead of spitting them out all at once in a single large entry. And I've been doing that for about 9 months less than the original blog.

The blogs have provided good practice for writing to a deadline, and for writing in general. I haven't written much fiction for the blogs themselves, but there have been some efforts published here, and others that were created after I got my fingers flying over the keyboard on a blog entry.

I don't really know what utility these blogs might have in the long run, but they help me articulate my thoughts. They help me share what I'm thinking with my family, both those who are close and those who are far away. They are a body of work, proof at least to myself that I can stick with a project and keep myself motivated.

It doesn't matter how many other people see these words, because I know that they can be, and are, seen by more than just me. The words for me alone are in my personal journal. I know better than to inflict that on the public.

I hope that the hiking blog acts as a somewhat of an advertisement for what I do with my Hike with Me books, but since I'm not actively promoting it as such, I'm content that my blogs are mainly the art that I make for me.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Whole New Book

I did it.

I published my second Hike with Me book, in print and electronic versions. (The pages are separate until Amazon figures out that they need to b combined.)

It was somewhat easier to do than the first one. For one thing, I knew how much work I would need to do after I had the initial draft written, which helped me get grinding on the writing. I also had less school work to do during the writing of this one, which made budgeting time a little easier.

Last year, I had to completely redo many of my photos, but this year I was able to use those lessons and not repeat the same mistakes. I got to make new mistakes instead, but it's all a part of the process.

There aren't any books that I know of that are quite like it out there. I mean, I could draw some comparisons between the idea of my book and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. That book, however, is a memoir, and has a point of view that isn't as much about the backpacking as the meaning of the journey to the author. My books are direct accounts of a backpacking trip, including many color photos, that strive to bring the journey to life for the reader.

The solitude of the wilderness and the act of backpacking are integral to my books. I encountered only a few people on my solo trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness. There are moments of introspection that I share, but the meat of the book is the experience itself, not reflections upon it.

The print edition is again a large print edition, because the primary reason for it existing at all is my Mom, who needs the large print to read. I was able to get the book to her and some other family members in time for Christmas.

I also created a new edition of the Hike with Me: Stump Lake print book, which I was able to make shorter (and therefore cheaper) by reducing the line spacing and eliminating some of the white space that I'd originally left under some of the photos.

Now that I've got some experience putting up these non-fiction books, I just need to get up the courage to actually try and publish some of my fiction. At least under a pseudonym! I mean, what's the worst that could happen?

A picture of me and my book (and Ambrose's ghostly reflection as he takes the picture). 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Holidays

I like the idea that the appropriate response to any holiday wishes is a simple thank you. That there's no such thing as a war on Christmas, only a desire to divide good intentions into meaningless pieces.

Nonetheless, it looks like it's going to be a white xmas.
The snow is coming down on the eve of the 24th of December. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hockey Conspiracy

On the one hand, I'm pleased to see so many of my Blackhawks players being voted up on the All Star fan vote. They are my team, and I consider them to be All Stars.

However, the fact that so many of them are being voted so highly, second only to the insane love being received by Zemgus Girgensons, that I smell something fishy.

I mean, think about it. No one wants to play in the All Star game. It's a meaningless exhibition game just as the regular season enters the home stretch. There are rules that prevent players from skipping the game because so many players have, in the past skipped that game.

So what better way to attempt to weaken the Blackhawks than to vote them into the All Star game, thus forcing them either to miss games surrounding the All Star weekend, or actually attend and play in the All Star game? Who would be so dastardly as to explicitly vote for their rival team for long term gain?

I'm looking at you, LA.

Um, and you, Saint Louis.

And I definitely wouldn't put it past Vancouver...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ten Percent

The other night, I surprised and impressed the heck out of my husband.

I didn't think what I was doing was all that impressive, because I've known people who could have done what I did faster, better, more easily and more thoroughly. But he didn't know I could do what I did, and he hasn't associated with other people with that skill.

I mean, I suppose it's a skill. I hadn't thought of it that way until Ambrose said he was blown away.

During my solo hike this year, I made up a song. Not a complex one, just a simple melody and some lyrics. For the proof copy of my book, I just put an image with the lyric, but I kept it full page so that I might substitute music if I could get music done.

And what impressed him so much was that I recorded my song, pulled out my flute and a keyboard harmonica, dug out my old blank score notebook and set my song to music.

I figured out that I'd sung in the key of E flat major. I wrote out the most basic melody, and apparently, that's a skill.

I disbelieved that it was a valid skill to the point that I had to ask Ambrose what he was blown away about when he just kept looking at me and shaking his head.

I still need to figure out how to annotate the rhythm of the song, but I've got the melody, and, in a way, I feel like I've discovered a new skill.

Even if all I did was rediscover the principle that you only have to know 10 percent more about a subject than someone else for that person to consider you an expert.