September 28, 2012

The Eternal Question

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My kids are taking karate.  They really enjoy it.  My son enjoyed it the first day but then was afraid he’d have to stand in front of the class and bow and so stopped for a bit.  Then he decided he wanted to do it again.

Wednesday night, they were doing their thing on the floor, in lines kicking and punching and kiai-ing, and I was sitting on the floor along the sidelines reading.  I glance up periodically to see how their doing, but generally I’m engrossed in my book.

This is different from when they were younger.  When they first were in sports ~ gymnastics, soccer ~ I would sit and watch them the whole time, sometimes proudly watching what they were accomplishing and other times cringing at them not paying attention or some other thing.  I don’t think I’m the only parent who has done this. 

I’m still fascinated by what they do, but now sometimes it’s the only little snippets of time I get to read ~ while they’re doing their thing.

So Wednesday I was particularly engrossed.  I’m reading the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire Series (A Storm of Swords) so I'm totally in.  Suddenly, someone loomed up in front of me.  I glanced up.  It was my daughter.

“Mommy,” she said.  “Why aren’t you watching us?”

“Cause I’m reading my book,” I said.  “Go back onto the floor.”

She hesitated and then went.

Well, isn’t that the eternal question, one of the most basic things of human nature:  Why aren’t they all watching us?  Cause they’re hoping we’re watching them.

September 27, 2012

Which Character Are You?

Lady Stark (via)

Which character in a book you identify with, that you think you’re like, says a lot about you. 

As you know, I’m all things Game of Thrones lately ~ quality escapism, I can tell you ~ but it’s been curious to me to watch videos about it and see different people identify with different characters. 

George himself says it disturbs him the number of women who fall in love with the most morally decayed of his characters, say one of the Clegane brothers, who are both fierce fighters in service of their king, but one is a true psychopath and giant while the other, still a ruthless killer, is shown with more humanity.  It’s like the women who fall in love with death-row inmates convicted of killing a couple of wives.

One woman talked about identifying so much with Cersei, who is the evil queen who sleeps with her brother.  She also is a fiercely caring mother, but does that make up for all the horrible things she’s done?

There is Tumblr after Tumblr devoted to each character and the actor behind them.  Like this one http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/clegane and  this one http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/jaime+lannister and this one http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/jon+snow  and this one http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/khal+drogo.  It’s amazing to see them.  Rabid, I tell you.  “I am your number one fan.”  Lots of stalking going on.

George himself says he would like to be like Tyrion, the quick-witted powerful dwarf, but he says he is more like Samwell Tarly, the overweight coward who joins the Night’s Watch.

As a writer, I understand this.  I’m writing a YA based on Pride and Prejudice at the moment.  A lot of women identify with Elizabeth Bennet, and my main character is based on Elizabeth, but I have to say I am so much more like her sister Jane.  The same sort of thing ~ I would like to identify with the quick-witted feisty character, but writers are more often the quiet observant empathetic thoughtful character.  A curse and a blessing, but it makes us what and whom we are.

So which character in A Game of Thrones do I see myself as?  Well, once again.  I would love to say Arya, but no.  I am Lady Catelyn Stark.

PS I should add that people identifying with the basest of characters is a testament to George's skill and one of the many things I love about him and what makes his books so good ~ he doesn't see people in black and white.  I totally agree. As he says, "The fight for good and evil resides not between people but within the hearts of each person."

September 26, 2012

'The Hand that Wrote It Is No More'



 
 

Maria Popova over at Brainpickings has a great post about Medieval scribes' comments in the margins.  I love the subversiveness of this hand of God complaining in the corners, the assertion of self.

Here are a few:

Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.
As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.
This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, ‘The hand that wrote it is no more.’


September 25, 2012

Omens, Portents, and Metaphors


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As I mentioned, I’ve been reading George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings.

Night before last, I got to the part where Jon Snow, a brave knight of the Night’s Watch, and his knight brothers are camped on the Fist, a hill that rises like a fist that is a ringfort.  It is singularly creepy.  One brother “smells” the cold, and Jon’s direwolf Ghost refuses to go to the top of the Fist.  Ghost is known for sensing a lot more than everyone and helping Jon out of many scrapes.  The landscape is describes as dark and foreboding ~ standing on the top of the hill, the ancient dark forest goes on and on, and it’s wet and rainy.  What we know from before that here past the Wall are the Others, an army of zombie-like people who haven’t really surfaced in the narrative but who loom over it like dread from the very first page.

I don’t do it justice in my description.  But I tell you what, it creeped me out like any good horror novel.  I’d just been reading that part when I had to go downstairs for something, and I kept looking around thinking, “We have far too many windows in this house.  Far too many.”  I turned on a lot of lights as I did my errand, I can tell you, which is silly because then anything outside can see in.

Then, last night, I was reading along, a lot about weirwoods and the old gods and the magic returning because of dragons, about omens and portents and what the future brought.  Again, I had to go downstairs for something, but I didn’t turn on the lights. Our back door is glass to let in the light, and through it I saw moonlight bouncing off the tin roof of our garage and the black outline of our cottonwood tree.  I walked over and looked out.  There was a perfect halfmoon shining brightly and illuminating the small and narrow groups of cirrocumulus clouds that crowded around it.  The lights and faint noise of trucks whizzed by on the interstate next to our house ~ never wall to wall, but persistent, enough to remind you how busy we are as a species.  And then as I watched the blinking lights of a small plane popped out from the clouds, disappeared into the moon, and then popped back out the other side.

In my frame of mind, I couldn’t help but think of portents and omens, of metaphors and signs.  I’d just been reading about the red comet in the sky and everyone interpreting it for good or ill ~ mostly ill ~ and what it meant that the wargs and direwolves were much more plenty and so much more.  So as I watched the moon and the plane I immediately thought of omens and portents and metaphors.  The small blinking lights of the plane merging with the overweening light of the moon.  How small we are and how above ourselves.  We think we have these mighty machines yet the comparably weak light of a halfmoon has such power as to obliterate our evidence.  And the scurrying along the interstate ~ all this busyness to mask our baser natures, and our higher ones.  And the black outline of the tree, usually ignored and taken for granted, yet there it is, it always is, patient as death, as plants always are.

Usually I’m a good rationalist, scientific method and all that, but then I thought, what are portents and omens but just another form of metaphor.  What are metaphors?  One thing that stands in for another, so that by comparison its characteristics are illuminated.  They may be small and clever in literature, but I have long thought that science and religion too are nothing more than a huge structure of interconnecting metaphors.  Useful ones to be sure, but they are simply structures to help us understand the world around us.

So why can’t omens and portents be thought of as the metaphors of people much closer to nature?  They would not simply be based on guesses, but instead be based on long study like science.  Sure, they weren’t backed by the scientific method, but our instincts and our guts tell us many things that our heads won’t, and we express those in metaphors.  They show ourselves to ourselves.

Not only that, but omens are a grasping at trying to predict the future in a thoroughly unpredictable world for people who had much less control over it and much more dire consequences for the lack of it.  It gave an illusion of control, which we all need. 

It was not an altogether unpleasant feeling, this reminder of the ineffable.

September 24, 2012

Reading A Clash of Kings



Reading George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings. Loving it of course.

I’m at that stage, halfway through, where I just want to burrow into my bed and do nothing else but read read read! Not eat, not sleep, not take care of kids.  Well, that won’t work, will it?  So I’m reading a lot, interspersed with a bleary-eyed emergence from my room to get supper.

Well, maybe it’s not as bad as all that, but you know how it is.

I am continually struck by how skillful George is.  As I’m reading, pulled inexorably along by the story, another part of me is standing back going, hmmm, I could learn a lot from this.  The series is so grounded in historical reality, and George takes no prisoners and you really don’t know who’s going to die.  It’s the perfect combination of fantasy and horror and history.  His world-building and -conveying is the best I’ve read in years.  And his characters.  He has strong women and strong men and flawed people and people trying not to be flawed.  They feel fleshed out and consistent but contradictory in a good way. Gosh, I wish I could do that.

I’m in, and I love it.

September 21, 2012

Shshshshsh

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I was thinking about the medium of television and movies and how it is all external.  It is all image. Filmmakers use various techniques to try to circumvent that, to show you the internal life of the characters, whether it’s facial expressions or voiceover or symbolism or special camera techniques.  However, it is essentially an exterior medium.  It is the way we experience the outside world every day, and we have to try to figure out what’s going on inside other people.  We’re these scientists who investigate the clues to others’ inner lives.

Writing is not like that.  It is an interiority medium.  You have to make a much more conscious effort to paint a picture of the outside world, and even when the world is presented it’s a reflection of the inner life of the characters or of the writer. I’ve always said that this is why I love fiction ~ it’s as close as you can get to another person’s reality.

The internet is an interesting combination of both.  It lends itself to the visual and therefore the quick fix, the exterior.  Yet it’s also word driven and therefore we have the insides of people displayed for all to see.  Everyone can get past the gatekeepers to express their inner lives.  But the quick fix nature of the medium encourages the reader not to connect and understand but to form an instant opinion and move on.

Lately I’ve been finding this all exhausting, and I’ve been seeking out the little corners of the internet that have long quiet intense articles.  Anything by Roxane Gay.  Byliner and its long-form journalism.  The Rumpus.  Or I’ve been avoiding the internet altogether and going to the source, to my beloved books.  Still working my way through that fabulous short story collection The Story and its Writer, and also started the second in the Song of Ice and Fire series.  Seeking solitude and quiet.

 

September 20, 2012

Henry David Thoreau

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"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail." ~ Henry David Thoreau

September 19, 2012

Oooh, Veggies



Every Monday, I stop by the alley at the back of our local whole foods store a pick up a large crate of vegetables, a bag or two of fruit, a large loaf of bread, and a dozen eggs. They're delivered in beautiful sturdy plastic crates, but then I've developed a system where I transfer them all to a hefty box for transport home. You're of course not supposed to take the crates home.

This bounty comes from across Colorado. We belong to a CSA farm (community supported agriculture) that also gathers produce and other goods from around the state. So their eggs and veggies are from their farm but often their fruit is from another orchard and they get their bread from a local bakery. You can also get mushrooms and cheeses and other things.

CSA is a new model in farming. You pay a lump sum at the beginning of the year and then you get weekly deliveries of goodies. There are also winter shares where you can get one box every month of just winter veggies.

I both look forward and am a bit daunted by our weekly pickup. First of all, you don't get to choose your veggies. You have to eat what's in season, things you may not be familiar with, and it may be a lot of daikon radish or kale and how many recipes do you have on hand for kale? Well, I may not have, but now by god I have a lot. That's the thing. It can be a lot more time consuming because you have to plan and find recipes and cook a lot more from scratch. And believe me I'm just as busy as you are. I find that I cook a lot on weekends and freeze some.

But the thing is: I love to cook. So this forces me to make the time. Plus we're eating so much better, so many more veggies. You can't really justify stopping at the store for frozen pizza when you have a whole shelf of lucious greens and carrots and fresh tomatoes and home-made saurkraut. Tonight the kids happily ate salad (happily!) along with big meatballs I'd made from meat we get from our local university, in which the ag department sells meat. That loaf of crusty bread we get every week makes wonderful toast, which I take to work every day. I also take big salads or wonderful veggie stew from a whole bunch of different veggies. Did you know that radishes can be added to stew? Cabbage and kale and beets are very good in stew too.

But I have to admit there are times when I face the fridge and groan. What am I going to do with all this. Especially as we have a garden too ~ one that did quite well this year. Some goes to waste at times. But all I have to do is look up a new recipe and I'm off to the races.

September 18, 2012

Kevin Clash Is a Nice Guy

Kevin Clash

Over the weekend, I watched Being Elmo, A Puppeteer’s Journey, a documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer responsible for Elmo. A great documentary.  You should definitely check it out.

A couple of things struck me about Kevin.

First of all, he always always knew he wanted to be a puppeteer.  He was fascinated with puppets from a very early age and he immersed himself in it.  He knew all the great puppeteers by heart, like most boys learn basketball or baseball players. He continued to pursue his love of it even in high school, when you know it had to be tough.  A young black man in the 70s playing with puppets.  Course, he was also voted most likely to be a millionaire by his graduating class. That has to say something about both his drive and his likability.

His parents were so supportive.  You have to think that a lot of a kid being able to pursue his or her dreams is related to how much the parents not only allow but encourage the kid.  I mean, his parents let him shelve his extra puppets in their bedroom. 

And then he went on to work with the god of puppetry, Jim Hensen, who died very suddenly at the young age of 53.  But it wasn’t a smooth trip.  He actually turned down Jim Hensen when Hensen first asked him to work for him (on Dark Crystal) because he had two series going and he didn’t want to let those people down. Talk about your integrity.  Sure, you could argue that he was afraid to lose it all, but I think it was more than that.

And then when he created the character for Elmo, he’d gone back to his parents’ house in Baltimore and watched the kids they had in the daycare they ran.  That’s when he came up with the idea that Elmo is all about love.  Nothing but love and hug and unqualified acceptance.  He tapped into something basic not only in kids but in us all.  We want to be the center of love, of others’ worlds.  There’s always this little kid inside us wanting nothing but pure love.

Of course, you wonder if the documentary left any dark bits out.  Kevin worked so much that he didn’t have much time for his wife and daughter.  But nothing darker is hinted at.  And from what I saw of Kevin on the screen I’m fully prepared to believe he is such a great guy.

It’s like Nora Ephron ~ the New York Times reported that she was just this really nice, generous person.

I get a little choked up when I hear things like that, that there are people at the top of their creative game, pinnacles in their field, who are also nice people.  When I was a kid ~ and still now ~ I wish the world was a place where everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and all there is is love.  And isn’t it great when some little piece of that is affirmed?

September 17, 2012

Rest, for God’s Sake

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I went back and forth about what to write about today, after taking a week off in desperation.

It comes down to this:  You (I) really need a certain amount of mental and emotional space to be able to write.  Well, for sanity, really. 

I don’t think it’s just because I spent A LOT of time alone as a child and I crave alone time.  I think everyone needs a certain amount of down time ~ unless you’re one of those people who keep frenetically busy because you’re running from yourself.  Even then you need it but can’t stand it.

Due to one thing or another, I was pressed so close on time and feeling very stressed and boxed in.  I had to let go a bit.  Plus I had a migraine over that weekend, so that didn’t help.

But over and above simple mental health, you need an imaginary but very real quiet space around you in order to be creative.  You need to have a view up and over, a feeling of being above the trenches ~ because if you’re in the trenches you’re too busy dodging bullets.  Certainly you can keep it up for a bit as they whiz by, but after a while the stress gets to you.

So the good news is I’m much more laid back now and have come back to all my projects with a renewed sense of purpose.  I got a huge project done over the weekend that had been weighing on me, and I even got some writing done on the novel!

So let me remind myself ~ and you, if you need it ~ the world will not end if you take a break.  You might, however, if you don’t.

 

September 14, 2012

MIA

I apologize for being MIA this week.  I found I needed a little mental space.  See you next week!

September 7, 2012

And Now for Something Totally Different

Sorry I've been short this week.  A lot on my plate, what with school starting along with the kids' sports and board meetings at work and ten million other things. 

You all know exactly what I'm talking about.

And so today something totally fun.  Love, love Monty Python!
 


 

September 6, 2012

Caroline Lockhart


Caroline Lockhart (via)

"What I found out myself by groping and experimenting—that the best results come out of monotony. One’s mind is most active in dullness and he can concentrate.  Cody here is my workshop.  I go East to play and enjoy it twice as much as though I live there all the time.  Besides, I like this country, the mountains and the sagebrush plains, the stimulating air, and the amusing episodes in town.  Excitement isn’t necessary to my existence.  I’ve been bored in Paris for that matter.” ~ Caroline Lockhart

September 5, 2012

'Patriotism,' by Yukio Mishima


Warning: If you click through and read this whole story, it is gruesome.  But amazing.  I read this short story last night, and it is somewhat overwrought but amazing in its detail. It starts with this introduction, but then jumps back and goes through the seppuku feeling by intimate feeling.  BTW, the author Yukio Mishima committed a sensational seppuku in protest against what he saw as the degradation of samarai ways.


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Patriotism

by Yukio Mishima

1

On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 Incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Konoe Transport Battalion—profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops- took his officer’s sword and ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eight-mat room of his private residence in the sixth block of Aoba-cho, in Yotsuya Ward. His wife, Reiko, followed him, stabbing herself to death. The lieutenant’s farewell note consisted of one sentence: “Long live the Imperial Forces.” His wife’s, after apologies for her unfilial conduct in thus preceding her parents to the grave, concluded: “The day which, for a soldier’s wife, had to come, has come. . . .” The last moments of this heroic and dedicated couple were such as to make the gods themselves weep. The lieutenant’s age, it should be noted, was thirty-one, his wife’s twenty-three; and it was not half a year since the celebration of their marriage.

2

Those who saw the bride and bridegroom in the commemorative photograph—perhaps no less than those actually present at the lieutenant’s wedding—had exclaimed in wonder at the bearing of this handsome couple. The lieutenant, majestic in military uniform, stood protectively beside his bride, his right hand resting upon his sword, his officer’s cap held at his left side. His expression was severe, and his dark brows and wide gazing eyes well conveyed the clear integrity of youth. For the beauty of the bride in her white over-robe no comparisons were adequate. In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, in the slender, finely shaped nose, and in the full lips, there was both sensuousness and refinement. One hand, emerging shyly from a sleeve of the over-robe, held a fan, and the tips of the fingers, clustering delicately, were like the bud of a moonflower.

After the suicide, people would take out this photograph and examine it, and sadly reflect that too often there was a curse on these seemingly flawless unions. Perhaps it was no more than imagination, but looking at the picture after the tragedy it almost seemed as if the two young people before the gold-lacquered screen were gazing, each with equal clarity, at the deaths which lay before them.

September 4, 2012

Hunting Is Honest, But Hard

I'm caught up in paradoxes this morning. 

How do you balance everything that's important in your life?  How do you let your children go and hold them close at the same time ~ today is their first day of first grade.  How do you regulate your representation yet not shut yourself down. With regard to this last, I really am as honest and transparent as I can be.

I'm very proud of my husband ~ for a whole bunch of reasons, of course! ~ but right now because this weekend he got a deer with his bow.  We both used to hunt with rifles, but he loves being out there so much he's transitioned into bow hunting.  The season is earlier and there are a few less hung over good ol' boys out there swinging a deadly weapon around. 




You may not know this, but hunting is flippin' hard.  It takes years of building up your skills to be a decent hunter, and bow hunting is even harder.  You have to stalk the animal and get even closer when you bow hunt.

I think a lot of the world might consider hunting the purview of hicks and third-world countries.  But to me ~ and to my husband of course ~ it feels more honest, you know?  A lot of people are blissfully unaware of where their food comes from.  They think of meat and vegetables as originating in factories like electronics.  They don't think about someone having to kill an animal for that hamburger they have at McDonalds. 

Have you ever stood there while an animal you killed is dying?  It's quite an experience, and it's really hard to do.  It makes you value your food so much more.

So I guess I'm thinking about owning up to truths (things die so that you can live AND there are parts of you and your life that others might find offensive).

September 3, 2012

Let's Hear It for Labor!

Boy Coal Miners, 1911 (via)
 
Happy Labor Day!

The meanings of these things get lost, I think, in the excitement of having a day off, hehe, but the day celebrates the contributions of labor.

It's history, from Wikipedia:
 
In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the CLU (Central Labor Union) of New York. Others argue that it was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada. Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday in 1887. By the time it became a federal holiday in 1894, thirty states officially celebrated Labor Day. Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland reconciled with Reyes, leader of the labor movement. Fearing further conflict, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve rush legislation that made Labor Day a national holiday; Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date originally chosen by the CLU of New York and observed by many of the nation's trade unions for the past several years was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers' Day because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would be associated with the nascent Communist, Syndicalist and Anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers' Day. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made it a statutory holiday.
 
We have such a short memory.  We forget all the people who struggled ~ and some died ~ in order to get to where we are today.  Before there was the Civil Rights Movement, there was the Labor Movement, and it's because of that children aren't working 12 hours in coal mines and we have a 40-hour work week and things like that.

A great book to read to find out more about this is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.  It's history that was largely ignored up until that firebrand Zinn wrote about it, I think.  (Did you know that Zinn got fired from a teaching job in the south for supporting rabble-rousing civil rights activitst students?)  The labor movement ~ and Native American history ~ wasn't really official history until he put it forward, as I understand it.

And there's a great documentary of Zinn, too, called You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

In these days of a shrinking middle class and a disdain for labor movements, it's good to remember, lest it repeat itself.