May 23, 2013

The Elements of Glamour

I love people who take a subject and riff on it, and so this video is fascinating.  Virginia Postrel talks about the elements of glamour.

Something like this: Glamour = idealization + sprezzatura + distance + mystery.

The point she makes that I love is what’s left out.  What I’m trying to write is somewhat the opposite of glamour ~ I try to capture the small moments in life and dramatize them effectively. These moments are often the unglamorous ones, the ones that more stylized writing leaves out.

I’m going to be thinking about this a long time.  How do I encorporate glamour to make a more satisfying piece of art yet stay true to lived experience?


May 21, 2013

Tornados Are Self-centered

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This morning, on the way to an orthodontist’s appointment in Fort Collins.

“That tornado is self-centered,” my seven-year-old daughter says from the back seat.

 “What, Sweet?” I say.

“That tornado, the one in Oklahoma.  It’s self-centered.”

“Well, I guess it is. That’s a good way to put it.”

A pause, then she says, “It’s because he’s angry and sad.”

“The tornado?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.  “The tornado is angry and sad because he doesn’t have any friends.  And he’s self-centered.”

“Oh.”  So that explains it.

May 17, 2013

Nonconfrontational

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I’m nonconfrontational.  My husband is nonconfrontational.  Our families tend to be nonconfrontational (well, except for the Outlaw Cousins, but you know how it is).

That’s why Facebook has been so interesting lately.  The more friends I get, the more likelihood something I say or post is going to get a strong response from someone.  I had to unfriend someone because I posted something that pissed him off once and then ever after he would attack me on my comment section.  I gave him a couple of chances and then unfriended him.  I’ve even touched off some good friends. 

Which is funny, because I am by nature noncontroversial.  I have strong feelings about things, but because I’m nonconfrontational I keep my mouth shut.  I don’t comment generally on people’s posts in my feed that I think are wrong-headed or downright dumb.  They have their right.

And pretty much everything I post is pretty milquetoast (mmmm, milk toast, yum).  I stay away from religion and politics.

It keeps me in my comfort zone, but then I think: Is this part of me not being brave again?  It seems like everywhere I turn nowadays, I’m getting hints that I need to be braver, to stand up more, to reveal more, to not shy away from confrontation. Which seriously is against my natural inclinations.

I do love a good indepth intellectual discussion, however, even if the person doesn’t agree with me.

What do you think?  Braver?  Or why can we just get along?

May 16, 2013

Wisdom of the Ages



Marilyn Monroe and Groucho Marx (via)
Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know. ~ Groucho Marx

May 15, 2013

What Virginia Woolf Represents for Me



Today, on the anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the Paris Review posted the cover and this quote from the novel on Facebook.

Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.

This is in the point of view of a war veteran with PTSD named Septimus who kills himself in a later section.   

I’ve read almost everything written by VW, including her diaries.  I very much identify with her.

One of the many things I love about VW is that she did what I try to do, which is to dramatize everyday moments, some of them mundane but some of them horrific.  How appropriate and wonderful and horrible that this is a man about to commit suicide?  And then VW herself commits suicide.  By that I mean that he notices the beauty in the world, just as she does through her writing.

But what I really love about VW is how she’s all mixed up in my mind with England.  I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile.  I think it originated from reading The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden and all those wonderful children’s books as a child.  I took such comfort in the worlds that were created.  And then it translated to reading English writers as an adult.  I am transported to another world when I read English authors.  Nothing like they imagined, I suppose ~ my own made-up place, my very own Pooh Corner. 

Strangely, all VW’s dark material within this world just endears her to me more.  Because for me it’s a safe world in which to explore those dark feeling that I have too.  Here is Septimus leaping to his death onto a wrought iron fence, but he’s seeing beauty, and right around the corner is Mrs. Dalloway, who’s concerned with past love affairs and social convention. 

She also brings to mind my lovely trip to London and Dublin.  I stayed at a fabulous B&B in South Kensington run by Miss St. Clair, a lovely older lady whose parents were in Africa with the military when she was born.  I stayed for a week in each city, and those memories stick in my mind ~ the free museums, having Kerala cuisine in a little out-of-the-way place, watching 15-minute Shakespeare, and meeting my English professors to take in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. So much more. By the end of the trip, though, I was homesick and had to stay the last night in a dark little place.  I obsessed a little about VW that last night, definitely shouldering her dark moods.

But when I see the name “Virginia Woolf,” I immediately get a feeling that’s hard to describe.  Nostalgic, certainly.  A healthy dose of innocent Winnie the Pooh feeling. But also a dose of darkness that deepens the feeling.

She, along with Hemingway, is one of my writer gods.

May 14, 2013

Act Like One

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I love the website The Art of Manliness.  As the daughter, wife, sister, and mother of men (and soon-to-be men) I’m really concerned about how to nurture them and help them have pride in who they are.  Also because I’ve often felt like an interloper in an enemy camp ~ many women I know, myself included, have tried to have self-worth by shunning their femininity and trying to be a man.  So I guess you could say I’ve thought a lot about it.

I love this post by Brett, the founder of The Art of Manliness, about how to be a man.  One of his main points is this:  if you want to be a man, act like one.  Figure out what you think a man is and then pretend.  A good man is a good father, and so be a good father.  Don’t opt out or wait until you feel like it.  A good man is someone who upholds his responsibilities, and so uphold your responsibilities.  A good man is a good friend and stand up for others.  And so on.

Above all, don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be what you already are.  Just act.  Just do it.  Even if you don’t feel like you are, that you can own it.  Just go ahead and be it.

This is great advice in any area of life.  This is particularly applicable for being a writer.  You don’t need permission to be a writer.  You don’t need a teacher or an MFA to tell you you’re a writer.  Writers write.  If you write, you’re a writer.  You don’t even necessarily need readers to be a writer.  The one you most need to give you permission is yourself. 

So go forth and virile agitur ~  “the manly thing is being done” or just do it. Do it every day.  Whatever it is that you are ~ stop resisting and own it, do it.

May 13, 2013

Mothering in a Larger Sense

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Everyone has an opinion about mothers.  Everyone has a mother, or a couple mothers, or an absent mother.  And there are many mothers who are fathers and fathers who are mothers. It’s personal.  People feel strongly about mothers.

I was struck about the sheer volume of strong feelings expressed on Facebook yesterday.  Many of them were blanket positive, but there were many that were negative too ~ either they had a horrible mom or they can’t have children or some other combination.  Pain and anger are perfectly legitimate responses to mothers.

I don’t know how people can have a straight positive or negative response, though.  Life is not like that.  No person is perfect and fulfills our every need.  Likewise, no person is all bad.  I believe there is a continuum, and some mothers are mostly good and some are mostly bad, but our response ~ because it is such an intimate relationship ~ is inevitably mixed.  It changes over time too.  You may have been in conflict with you mother as a teenager and then realized so much once you have children of your own. 

We live in a cynical age.  We do not embrace platitudes easily.  We are happy to shoulder the negative and glory in it, but believing in something pure and good is seen as naïve at best. We wear our hairshirts proudly for all to see and we boast about it.

I would like to make a case for motherhood as nurturing.  Not a personal thing ~ not your mother or my mother.  Rather, a platonic ideal, a daily practice,  a way of life.  I would like make the case that nurturing is a powerful force for good in this world.  The maternal side in mothers and women who are not mothers and in little girls and in fathers and men who are not fathers and in little boys and in transgendered people and in single people and in people of every stripe.  I would like to hold up as an icon that part of everyone that puts the needs of others ahead of itself, that sees within the person the baby that each person was and cares deeply for them, the creator of meals and safety, the one who will face down the tiger or the bureaucracy or the abuser for  the sake of another.  All those traits we associate with the ideal mother, the ideal nurturer ~ those are the things I would like to celebrate, that I think the world needs more of.

Like David Foster Wallace said, the clichés are true.  That’s the reason they are clichés.  But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.  They are clichés because they are no longer fresh and they don’t surprise you into feeling the emotion that they used to.  If you really thought about them, if you really let yourself feel for the other person, to put yourself in their shoes, how could you feel anything else but profound empathy, do anything else but nurture. 

I’m as guilty as the next person of pulling the chitinous armor around me and shutting it all out.   But I need to be braver.  You need to be braver.  We all need to make this world by love, not war.

Happy Mothers’ Day.

May 10, 2013

Come to the Circus!




My two seven-year-olds have been wanting to go to the circus for forever. We always seem to miss it when it comes to town.  Well, last night we made it, and the kids were thrilled!

It was the Jordan World Circus, and it’s amazing.  It was held inside our local ice arena. We walk in the door, and the three women taking tickets are dazzling in their costumes and makeup and they speak with a thick Russian Accent.  My kids’ eyes widen, and my daughter says, “Do you speak Spanish?” “No, no,” the woman taking our tickets says. 

We walk through the door into the arena area with its three rings, and instead of the usual dusty or wet nonsmell, there’s the fecund smell of animals and of cotton candy and nachos.  We were right on time, but it looks like we’re early because all the performers and hands are focused and rushing here and there setting things up and taking things down.  As it turns out, it’s this way throughout the performance.  Everything is in transition, in a flurry of being torn down or being constructed off in the shadows to the side of the spotlight.  We didn’t arrive early ~ we arrived in the midst. Everyone not in costume is wearing black, but not just black pants and t-shirt.  No, the black they wear is a costume too and reminds me of old-world Europe with the flare of South America.  Everyone also walks with purpose and pride ~ they know their jobs and do them well.

We buy some cotton candy and some popcorn and find our seats.  The first act to come out are the tigers.  They have something like eight tigers, three of them white tigers.  They are pulled out by stage hands in a long train of cages, two animals per cage.  A circular arena with pedestals has been erected, and the animals are let two by two into the arena.  The tamer is the only one who comes in with them, though there is someone along the side to poke the reluctant white tiger with a long stick.  The tigers do cool things like walk backwards twice across the ring, roll over in unison, and jump through a flaming hoop.  They don’t seem dangerous, bored more than anything, except for a time or two where one or another seems irritated.  As I sit there, I wonder two things:  1)  How dangerous is it really? They look well-fed. 2) I’m sitting yards away from eight tigers.  What if they decide they don’t wnat to take it any more?  We’re nothing more than mice to them. (Ever seen a cat play with a mouse?)

Next was an amazing bicyclist doing tricks.  He was gravity-defying and did a double flip and landed on his wheels.  There were skate tricks and in-the-air hoop dancers and juggling and hula hoops and contortionist and a guy balancing on a chair.  There were beautiful majestic elephants standing on each other’s backs and spinning in circles and a woman riding on one’s back and trunk.  There were two hilarious father-and-son clowns who each tried to get the crowd on his side. From the website, I see the performers are from all over the world ~ Russia, Hungary, Columbia, Costa Rica, and the United States.  The circus itself is out of Las Vegas.

I particularly loved the women.  They were what women should be.  They looked like superheroes.  They were oh-so-strong and curvaceous and so physically brave and proud that you wanted to stand and cheer just looking at them.

I’ll give the circus this: they are masters of separating you from your cash.  Which is the point, for them, after all ~ they have to make a living.  It isn’t cheap to feed elephants and tigers, I’m sure.  The community hands out free tickets for kids, but that’s how they suck you in.  Adult tickets are $18, most food or drink is $5, the elephant or pony rides are $5, and it quickly adds up to a bundle.  However, you don’t mind a bit, except when you run out of money and the kids are begging for more.

The kids loved it.  They sat wide-eyed and kept saying, “That is amazing!” I was so happy to hear that.  In this age of movie effects and unreal reality shows, we get desensitized to how dangerous these things really are, and how impossible they are.  I really felt the danger.  And the wonder, which is what a circus is all about, after all.  My favorite was the elephants.  Just standing there looking at them.  Their eyes are wells of time ~ you can just lose yourself in them.  One of them had this beautiful fuzz of black hair all over, and their bodies are miracles of Mother Nature’s engineering. 

We’re looking to see when Barnum & Bailey comes to Denver.

May 9, 2013

Hello Again

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I’m going to start blogging again, and I’m really excited about it!

I wasn’t excited for the last couple of months.  In fact, I was quite the opposite.  I was as low as I’ve been since high school.  I not only couldn’t write ~ I couldn’t even read for a while.  That’s the first time that’s happened EVER.  I watched a marathon of Law & Order SVU and furiously doubted my very credibility as a writer.  It’s made me think a lot about the way I limit my own writing success just through lack of the necessary self-confidence.  Hubris, some would say.

But now a new day dawns. I’m working on several really exciting projects, which you’ll hear more about in the coming months. Yes. 

I’m sending you all good vibes and good luck!

PS  Very timely.  Chuck Wendig posted a link on Facebook to Hyperbole and a Half's post about depression. Exactly.