Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Taking a Swing at Fear

Of all the pieces that I read in Smith's Monthly #3, I learned the most from the one I expected the least from.

Though I played golf with my dad while I was in high school, I haven't had a good deal of interest in the sport for some time. Even when I was playing, I wasn't that focused on it. My fondest memory on the course was hitting the golf cart of my dad's buddy when he teased me about not being able to hit the ball very far. Satisfying, yes, sportsmanlike... not so much.

So I wasn't very much interested in the section of the magazine giving golf advice, "The First Tee Panic: And Other Very Real Golf Stories." However, I'm a compulsive reader. It takes a lot to make me stop reading a book or skip an article in a magazine. So I read it. The golf advice wasn't particularly interesting to me, but it was presented in an engaging manner.

And if I hadn't read it, then I never would have read the lines that are still turning around in my mind. "Fear is a part of the game of golf, as well as in life. Learn how to play with fear, and how to use it."

Fear is a tool.

The idea that there is nothing to fear but fear itself only diminishes and shames the feeling of fear. Rather than rejecting fear as a valid emotion, here Smith suggests accepting the fear and using it. After meeting him, I had thought to start trying to up my fiction game by actually writing again. But I found myself still in fear.

I was afraid to continue the story that I'd started back in February. For no reason I could explain, I just froze up when I thought of continuing to write it.

But after I read that line, that piece of advice about golf... I went ahead and finished it on Tuesday. I had fun with it. I let myself play with the idea and write the story without getting in my own way.

When a fire is raging in the woods, it is a danger. But when fire is a torch in your hand, it is a tool. A light. I took the fear in my hands and found a way to use it to illuminate my story.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Encounter: Dean Wesley Smith

I’ll admit I was a bit upset when I realized that my weekend plans were already set before I found out that an author whose blog I have been reading for nearly two years was coming to Boise. Boise, of all places! And there’s no way I would want to cancel the first excursion into the woods of the year. It had been too long since I basked in the greatness of the outdoors. But I had a hope that, just maybe, I’d get back into town in time on Saturday.

And, not because of any planning, but because of a fallen log blocking the road, my husband and I ended up staying at a different campsite than we had planned. And, in the end, we got home in plenty of time for me to shower, get changed and ride my bike downtown to Rediscovered Books.

I wasn’t sure where they would be holding the signing, because I’d never been to that particular bookstore before. And since it was part of the Saturday Market, for all I knew there was a booth where they’d stuck him, outside in the not-so-fine spring weather. So I took a peek inside the store, and there sat Dean Wesley Smith, easily recognizable thanks to the pictures on his blog.

I popped partway in, then out, and then, decisively in.

For The Last Unicorn Tour, there was a rather large crowd, and although I got the impression that Peter S. Beagle would have been happy to chat with each and every one of us for hours on end, his handlers kept the line moving briskly. The Distinguished Lecture with Salman Rushdie offered no chance to meet the author, and the one with Margaret Atwood I chose not to wait in the line for a chance.

But here, in this local bookstore, sat an author whose blog I much admired - nary a line nor handler to be seen. So I made brave to walk right up and speak.

“I feel like I’ve won a scavenger hunt! Since you didn’t mention this trip on your blog,” was my opening gambit. He seemed a bit surprised by it, but was open to conversing as he explained that he and his wife preferred not to advertise in advance online when they would both be absent from their house. Perfectly sensible, I agreed.

From there I managed to introduce myself as a reader of his blog, one who had not yet read his fiction but was looking to purchase something that day. He made a suggestion based off my expressed preference for science fiction and fantasy of Smith’s Monthly #3. I explained that I was too shy to comment on his blog, though I intended to do so after our conversation. He, in turn, made it clear that I was welcome to email him if I had a question and didn’t want to make a public comment.

We spoke of writing. I told him about my published backpacking books and he was very encouraging. I even got some advice as to the genre of my not yet published novel. I didn’t feel like it was romance because it isn’t like romance that I’ve read. Dean pointed out that if the center of the story is a relationship and the story ends on a happy/hopeful note, then it is a romance. So now I have a better idea of how to brand it on the cover and back copy.

I felt, for the most part, quite comfortable, and would have been happy to chat for hours, but I could see another person hovering and didn’t feel it was right to monopolize him. Even though I wanted to. Especially because the other person was wearing a name tag indicating he was participating in the Idaho Writer Rendezvous conference and would get a chance to attend sessions with Dean… grumble grumble.

I left happy though. I got my magazine signed and some writing encouragement that I really needed in the moment. Not to mention the magazine - itself a lesson in layout as well as story. If I ever get the chance to see Dean Wesley Smith again, I will definitely go for it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not Really a Pep Talk

I haven't written much fiction so far this year.

Okay, more like any fiction...

No, that's not fair. I started at least one short story back in January. Or was it February? I gave myself the excuse that I was working on that blog project for my class. I was reading a lot for that class as well. And yet I always found (and find) the time to read articles online and keep track of facebook and twitter. I make the time to watch hockey and other television shows.

And I want to finish that story. But I guess I don't want to badly enough or I'd do it, right? My class is over and, as a reward, I got myself some fiction to read, books that I'd been wanting to check out for a while now. But it seems like just another excuse. If I have to work (and I do have to work), then I have to carve out other spaces in which to write fiction.

If I want to write fiction.

I mean, no one needs me to write stories. No one needs me to spill the things from my brain onto paper or screen. No one but me.

This is the question, the crux. How much do I need to do this? And is my need to write greater than my fear?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding Our Giants Project

Back in January I wrote about the digital project option that was offered for my Women Writers class. At the time I wasn't sure whether my idea of writing responses to all of the writers that we read, and a few additional ones that I felt were relevant, would be acceptable to the instructor. But in March we handed in prospectuses for our projects and mine was accepted.

So I kept on with what I had started, writing up my class notes and then reflecting on the writer's words. Or the speakers words since I wrote about the Distinguished Lecture from Margaret Atwood or the television show since we watched parts of Battlestar Galactica in class and I wrote about that too. The in class discussions were usually interesting, but I always enjoyed going deeper with my own reflections, taking what was said in class and challenging it while it challenged me. 

I ended up with a nice, round 80 entries in my blog project, categorized by labels. Plus two pages, one of which is a directory and the other a works cited page. So they don't really count. 

Several of my classmates wrote also wrote blogs for their projects, but mine, for better or worse, has more entries than all of them combined. Or it did at the time that the blogs were presented to class. More entries may have been added in the interim between presentation and the end of the class. But I still felt that I may have gone a bit overboard... 

I suppose I will know when I find out my grade for the class. While I'm quite pleased with my project, I did not include references to scholarly sources. I stuck with primary sources and analysis, a habit from St. John's that I've broken for traditional papers, but that seemed to fit perfectly with my project. This was not about analyzing analyses - it was about one woman writing about other women who wrote (and one token man). I might get dinged for that on the grade, and I am okay with that. 

Well, not entirely okay. But I'e accepted the possibility and chosen not to artificially add in scholarly citations. 

My husband Ambrose was my first reader, as usual, and I found his comments on this blog project very interesting. He found that the entries I wrote for that project all fit together with each other, even at the word level. Usually he has some comments on my word choice or usage, but not on this project. I believe that happened in large part to my writing the first entry of the blog as a framing statement for the whole thing. It set the tone and the purpose of the whole piece, and I managed to maintain a unity throughout by keeping that purpose in mind. 

The name of my project blog is Finding Our Giants. The class, on the whole, was a good one. An experience that I enjoyed as well as one that I learned from. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ditty to "The Sound of Silence"

Hello dark roast my old friend
It's time to brew you up again
I sure wish that I was sleeping
Instead the faithful grounds are steeping
And the aroma
That is floating through the air
Both bitter and fair
That's the smell
Of coffee

In all the dreams I left behind
Nothing like this could I find
The only recompense for waking
I can't believe how long it's taking
Then I heard my name from the office across the hall
I could not stall
Not yet time
For coffee

And oh my co-worker did speak
For what seemed to be a week
Babbling on about the weather
Acting as if she'd end never
Talking well past the point that I could care
But I did not dare
Follow the smell
Of coffee


"Look" said I "I've got to go–
A little pit stop if you must know"
And so to complete my clever ruse
To the bathroom I did go and use
But on my way to get my cup I heard my name
And detoured
From the claims of coffee

To my boss I spoke yet more
Although coffee did implore
But at last we finished talking
And I silenced my cup's mocking
At last I filled the cup and then sat down with a sigh at in own chair
With no one there
And breathed the smell
Of coffee

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Misuse of Twitter

I don't do Twitter right. I acknowledge and own this fact.

I like to scroll back and see what has been said hours, even days before the present moment, and Twitter likes to tell me that desire is wrong by sneakily refreshing back to the beginning. This might be a setting that I can fix, but I have no idea.

I guess, when people follow you, you're supposed to follow them back, thereby building your networks mutually into large conglomerations of mutually following people (unless one is a celebrity, at which point I'm guessing the mutual follow rules no longer apply). I had one person follow and unfollow me four times in a week, trying, I suppose, to get me to follow her back.

But I only follow accounts that I want to follow because I admire them or they're clever or I personally know them (which does not exclude my admiration for them or their cleverness).

I've tweeted once so far in several months of use.

I've got someone following me that I don't like, and I'm still a little bitter that an old co-worker inadvertently gave her my personal email address.

I'm considering writing in my profile that I don't want anyone to follow me, but I'm not sure that's the best strategy.

My picture is of a pregnant chipmunk I found at Johnson Lake in the Sawtooths, and my profile simply states that I like puzzles.

I'd mention my username, but I don't want you to follow me ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Margaret Atwood Distinguished Lecture

I read that the doors would open at 6:30pm for the Margaret Atwood lecture, so I planned to arrive, with my husband, a little before that time. I figured we would mill about for a few minutes outside the Jordan Ballroom before being allowed inside.

Instead, the doors were already opened and the seats starting to fill, at least in the front. I wondered whether the large numbers of chairs in the rear section would fill as we found a pair of seats on an aisle to stage right. I wondered around a bit, looking for and greeting a classmate.

By the time the lecture was about to start, my concerns about whether or not there would be a full house were changed to wondering if we were going to be violating fire code:

When Margaret Atwood took the stage, she began with what seemed like an extemporaneous bit of talking. She said that people had been asking her why she came to Boise, to which she replied, "Why not?" And she revealed to us that more people in Toronto should be coming to Boise at this time of year, since Boise had something that Toronto would not for another four weeks. Flowers. Which made me think of The Handmaid's Tale and the importance that that narrator places on flowers.

And then she began what seemed to be her prepared speech. I marveled that she seemed to be nervous.

Margaret Atwood, nervous?

And so she spoke of the power of words, and then began to speak of the infamous Clean Reader App. I wonder if she was being polite by not mentioning that it was the invention of parents in Idaho or simply did not know. After all, the creators of the app were not the important part. The important part was how the app slaughtered the meaning of works - the carefully intended meaning of their creators. And how the app makers had neglected, in many cases, to gain the consent of the authors whose works they were scrubbing. 

Atwood regaled us with some great examples of how the app caused unintentional hilarity. For example, since the word "breast" was deemed unclean, the reader would be forced to confront what exactly the author meant by writing "chicken chest." We laughed at each example, causing her to call us easy to amuse. I would say not easy to amuse, but giddy at her presence. (We don't get visitors like her very often in Boise.) Her solution for readers who found words that offended them in a text was to shut the offending book, and, if desired, fling it across the room. That is any reader's right. 

She spoke of running a conference session on "The Men's Novel" at which she and the other attendees had great fun ruminating at length over the definition thereof (a book with no women, of course, would qualify, such as Moby Dick). A fellow session leader had a less humorous time trying to get two groups of women, older ones who preferred less "language" (swearing) in books, and a group of women who argued quite loudly against using patriarchal language (while using patriarchal language). 

The power of language is evident throughout recorded history. Prayers and spells and names, words used to curse and bless and implore. Creativity and story served survival purposes, teaching communities how to survive in the ways that are best remembered: as stories and poems and songs. We use our memories of stories to anticipate the future. Stories get under our skin and make us feel empathy for the other, fostering the ability to survive in community. 

On writing, Atwood brought up word choices. How they must fit the setting, the narrator's voice and their vocabulary. Writing in the past poses different problems from writing in the future. The past is already recorded and research can reveal how words were used at the time. The future requires imagining which words have disappeared, what swears might become and what new words would be created. 

Spelling: Spell - coincidence?

Atwood is writing the first book for the future library, a project in Norway that intends to send books into the future. Each year, for a hundred years, a book will be chosen and sealed away, not to be read until 2114. This project represents hope. Hope that readers will still exist in a hundred years. That the future reader might be able to understand the words written before their parents were born, in an era that will probably look quite distant and quaint from their perspective. The reader brings themselves into the experience of the book. 

Atwood answered questions after her lecture. Some questions on writing, during which she recommended Wattpad, and terribleminds. She revealed one of her hard lines of censorship (child porn with real children should be censored) while also stating that there are lessons to be learned from Mein Kampf

On the use of religion in The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood stated that a religion used as a tool of political control simply becomes an ideology. Totalitarianism doesn't really have religion. But in the US, she thought the easiest route to totalitarianism would be through religious ideas, and so that's how she set the story. 

A positive opinion of fan fiction, as it is as old as the hills - even slash. 

And when a young woman asked her for advice on how to make her way, I tried my best to write down her exact words, but I couldn't keep up, so I will leave off the quotation marks and end with a paraphrase: 
Have good parents. Have good teachers. Don't believe those who would put you down. If you can't go through, go around. Don't give up.