Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Middle Class is Disappearing Because You're An *sshole

THIS article nearly ruined my morning.

Sample quote:

"Four out of five Arizona high-school graduates do not have a college degree six years after graduating from high school, and just over half haven't gone to college at all, a new report reveals....High schools need to do a better job preparing students for college, and community colleges and universities need to focus more on helping students finish their degrees."

Yes.  That's exactly it.  High school teachers need to spend more of their grossly underpaid time helping their already-matriculated students pass college courses.  Universities need to start handing out degrees like credit card application forms.

Or maybe, just maybe, Michael Crow's New American University, with its focus on job training and mass producing "products packaged in maroon*" needs to put a little more effort into making college worthwhile and enjoyable.  You know, like we pay them to do?

*I heard him say that during a graduation ceremony.  Seriously. 

Ugh.

Do you want to know why they don't graduate?  It's not because the work is too hard.  It's not because they're not prepared.  It's because lately, college kinda sucks.  There's a new focus on career training, and becoming active participants in a society, and we don't know what we want to do.  Nor do we want to do what you think we should do.  The academic side of college goes something like this:

College:  Give us your money.
Student:  Uh, okay.  How much?
College: More than you can afford.
Student:  Why?
College: Because we're building a new student union that you won't be able to use because we'll be renting it out to corporations to make more money to build more rentable properties.
Student: Why am I doing this again?
College: If you don't, you won't be able to get a job, or eat, or buy beer.
Student: *Sigh*  Okay.  Writes check.  Now what?
College:  Pick your classes.
Student: What kind of classes?
College:  Anything.  The whole world is at your feet.  We can teach you whatever you want to know about.
Student: Well, space exploration is kind of sweet--
College: Oh, God, don't pick that
Student: Why not?
College: Do you know how hard that is?  Do you know how competitive internships are in that field?  You'll never go anywhere with that.
Student: I thought I was just learning about it.
College: No, no, we are going to give you your money's worth!  You are going to make enough money to make alumni donations in the first year!  You will be a qualified candidate!  Just don't aim above your skill level, that makes us look bad.
Student: So what should I choose?
College: Anything.  The whole world is at your feet.  Notice that trite graduation cliche very neatly excludes the known universe.
Alumna comes in, wearing a graduation hat and some newspapers.
Alumna:  Hey, College?  What about that job you promised me?
College:  Bugger off, I"m busy. 
Alumna: But--
College: Stuffs Alumna's mouth full of newspaper and turns back to Student.  So.  Classes.
Student:  Okay, what about environmental sustainability?
College: Sure, but then you have to go to grad school here, too, because pretty much the only thing you can actually do with that is teach it to other people.
Student: So what should I take?
College: How about journalism?  Then you can't say anything bad about us in the newspaper because we gave you your degree.
Student: You know what?  I'm going to go do the dishes before my mom gets home.  She works hard, and loves me, and wants me to be happy.
Alumna: HRMFMPRHF
College: No, wait, come back!  Don't you want your diplomaaaaaaaa?!
Student: F*ck you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Am Happy, But It's Not Because I'm Stupid

    I work very, very hard at believing in people.
    I know terrible things happen; that there are flies eating out the corners of starving children's eyes and that some women have seen their husbands chopped up by machetes while they were still alive and that there are people born capable of looking a human being in the eye without actually seeing them.
    I have spent whole years sleeping with my hands in fists and waking up more tired than I was when I went to bed; I have stayed awake all night wondering why I continue to eat and shower and work when I will only get older and slower and more bruised, when all of the people I love will leave me or die, when there are no guarantees that anything will ever get better.  I have wondered if death is perhaps a perferable alternative to attempting to deal with loss, which will only ever get larger and heavier. 
    I believe in God but I do not believe in rewards or fate or a plan of any sort; I think good and evil are constructs of the human mind and that everything is the product of random chance and the consequences of our own choices; I do not think that being a good person has any sort of payoff, or that bad people will or even should be punished.

    But I am a happy person.

    It's not because I ignore the fact that life is difficult and painful.  I don't tune it all out and put my iPod on and hope it will go away; I think about these difficulties often.  I am not always happy, but I choose to try to be.  Sometimes I fail.  But sometimes I don't.
   I was unhappy most of the time for nearly five years of my life, and the worst thing about it was how unhappy my unhappiness made the people I loved.  I made their lives difficult.  I was unpleasant to hang out with, obsessive and close-minded, and I drained them.  God bless them, they put up with me anyway, but it was a long five years for everybody.  And I don't want to do it anymore.
   I don't want to add to human misery.  God knows there's enough of it to go around; and I can't control where or when miserable events will occur in my life.  But I can control the way I react to them, and I can control whether or not I hurt other people, so I do.  I choose to be happy, and to treat people kindly, and to look for the best in them--not because I believe or even hope that the universe is a benevolent place, but rather because I believe that nobody else is freakin' gonna.
   No one else is required to keep their machetes away from my vital organs; no one else is even required to be happy or polite.  If I want someone to be nice, I have to do it.  If I want someone in this world to do the best they possibly can, the only real candidate is me.

   So please, in the name of the holiday season, and life not sucking more than it already does, if you meet a happy person, don't try to change them.  Don't try to make them see what's "real," and don't assume that they haven't experienced pain.  You're not enlightening the ignorant; you're adding to human misery.  And for some people, their attempts at bringing happiness to you are the only thing that makes their lives meaningful and worthwhile.  Don't take it away from them. 
 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Catch-22 of Induction

"Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."
  -Bertrand Russell

  Induction is the name for the kind of logic that comes from the ground up--where conclusions are drawn from generalizing about groups of isolated experiences.  Induction is the basis for science, and this kind of reasoning is incredibly natural in humans.  We use it to get dressed every day: we look out the window, decide what the weather is like, and dress accordingly.  If it's cloudy and we know it's January, we put on a sweater because in the past that has usually indicated that it's cold out.
     The problem with induction is that you are generalizing.  You can't ever be 100% certain that something is true.  Even in January when it's cloudy, it could be 70 degrees outside; it's unlikely, but it could be.  Using induction to make decisions is reliable, but it also makes it harder to identify and react appropriately to the abnormalities and outliers; and the truly insipid part of induction is that relying on it too heavily can cause you to change your behavior in response.  If you have only ever seen white swans, you may not even recognize a black one.  You won't be looking for it, and you won't be able to add the new information and adjust your generalization accordingly.
     Most of the time this isn't a problem; if it happens to be a freak warm day in January you can just go change your sweater.  Mistakes due to the problem of induction are mostly negligible.  But I want to talk about people.
    What happens when most of your experience has led you to believe that people are bad, or at best negligent, and can't be trusted?  Most of the time you will probably be right in your behaviors and assumptions, but you will also, without noticing it, change your own behavior to compensate for your generalization.  You will be less willing to go out of your way for others, less willing to accept new people into your life, and less likely to forgive people for their mistakes.  All of which are reasonable ways to conduct your life.  In many ways these behaviors are probably worth the few exceptions that slip through the cracks in terms of the pain and loss they spare you.
    But what about the real exceptions? 
    What about the people who will bring joy into your life, who really do care for you, and who may have a few sad histories they've generalized from, themselves?  I don't mean the guy on the street who really did need some change for a bus fare because he just got mugged; I'm talking about the man who really wants to be your friend and support you in all the ways he can; somebody who could be your lifelong friend--somebody who is not worth losing, no matter how many times you avoid being cheated out of your money by others.  The kind of friend whose value is immeasurable. How does your automatic behavior affect them?
     Be careful with induction. People are not a deck of cards, and a whole lifetime's experience is not enough to reliably predict a person's shade of grey.  Be careful with your money and your time and your heart, but take more care that you do not let your pain prevent your joy.  Take care that you do not look only for what you have already found.

Reason #30 Why I Love Bukowski

"the most horrible thing
I could think of
was part of me being
what ejaculated out of the
end of his
stupid penis."

-From Three Oranges

I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this one

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Very First Publication Ever Got Nominated For An Award!!

Jersey Devil Press, the bastion of magnanimity that it is, has nominated my story for the Pushcart Prize.

I cried into my eggnog latte at Starbucks, wearing the nerditard (aka the Science Center uniform).

Happy Freaking Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Well, I'm No Chilean Miner, But...

    I just ran my first half-marathon yesterday.
    I ran it at the Grand Canyon with my friend Meg, and I did not get swept by the "You're-Too-Slow" Van, which was pretty much my only goal, since I was running it at an altitude 7,000 ft higher than I'd trained, on a hilly course, at a farther distance than I'd ever run previously.
    I kind of grinned like an idiot the whole time, because it was beautiful outside (and the Grand Canyon was freaking right there through the whole race) and I felt pretty damn good.  Every single mile marker Meg and I would take turns making our spectators laugh with our routine, which went like this:
Me: "Hey, Meg!"
Meg:  "Hey, what?"
Me: "Want to go for a [insert however many miles we have left here]-mile run?"
Meg: "I sure as hell do!" (or, as we steadily progressed, "Not really," or, "If I do, can I stop f*cking running?")
    And in the last half mile, I discovered that, due to a combination of an entirely downhill last mile and the fact that the girl with the crazy-beautiful calf tattoo who we'd paced ourselves by was gaining on us, I had enough gas left to flat-out sprint to the finish line and finish with a time fifteen minutes better than I'd expected.
 
    Today, however, I feel kind of lost, and weird.

    Apparently this isn't an uncommon feeling; they call it the post-race blues, and it has not only a lot to do with the fact that you just balls-out ran 13.1 freaking miles as fast as you could UPHILL BOTH WAYS (not joking, it was partially downhill both ways, too, but f*ck) and are now sore in places you didn't know existed, but also with that whole thing where achieving your goals is only a momentary high and then you're all like "WTF do I do with my life now?"

    I think perhaps my weird feeling wouldn't be as weird if I hadn't also had the same thing happen in all the areas of my life in the last two weeks.

In the last two weeks, I have:  gotten my very first short story published, gotten a promotion to full-time at work, met a new guy, and run my very first half marathon.  I am freaking pooped.  I have been busting my ass for the last ten months at work in the hopes of getting this promotion, trying to get published for about a year and a half, and training in 110-degree weather for this race for six months.  (I'm not going to talk about the whole guy thing in-depth, because my dating history is sad and sordid and way too long to put here, but you know what "new guy syndrome" is like: no sleeping, on a constant emotional high, and using muscles for various enjoyable activities you sort of forgot you had.)  The last two weeks have been awesome.  And exhausting.

 The Buddhists say you should perform actions for the sake of the action itself, and not for the sake of its outcome: whether you lose or win, they say, doesn't matter--the point is the acting.  The results take care of themselves.
    I think I went into my work in these areas with that expectation; I love running, I love writing, and I love my job.  I had goals so that I had a focus to my work, but I didn't expect them to pay off anytime soon, and certainly not all at once.
    But I can't seem to remember what the Buddhists say about dealing with fact that your work has culminated in an achievement, whether badly or well.  I guess I could set new goals, but that's not really the way I want to approach these parts of my life that I love so very much.  I want to keep doing them for their own sake, and not become an achiever.  I want to get better to do justice to myself and my talents, and not because I need the high of reaching goals.  But it's hard.  How do you keep writing just for yourself, when you know you can get published?  How do you keep running just to get outside and enjoy it, when you know you've got a not-altogether-embarrassing half-marathon in you?  How do you make sure you're going in to work in order to make some third-graders excited about science, when all of a sudden you have dental insurance and 5 extra hours of meetings every week?
   And what in God's name do I do now, when all of my goals have been reached in the space of two weeks?  How do I relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, without forgetting the purpose of the labor?

   For now I'm busting out a quart of cookie dough ice cream, but I'll need some new ideas tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Very First Publication Ever!!

A link to Issue 14 of Jersey Devil Press, who were kind enough to publish my story, "The Pragmatist,"

                                                                               here

I feel all kinds of wicked awesome right now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing Advice, Cont'd: How to "Show, Don't Tell"

Holy crap I can't believe I left this one out when I wrote my post on writing advice.  This one is so f*cking important that I'm giving it its own post.

#8:  PUT IT IN THE BODY
.  Most likely I forgot it because it has become so ingrained in the way I think about writing.  My teacher, Ron Carlson, said, "When you don't know how to say something, put it in the body."  He was talking specifically about the body of your characters: instead of describing an emotion, describe the way your character's body expresses that emotion.  Instead of saying, "She felt defeated," you say, "She slumped in her chair and poured herself a shot of Jack Daniel's."  Same emotion, except you can relate, simply because you have once slumped in your chair and poured yourself a shot of Jack Daniel's in defeat, even if you didn't feel defeated by the same situation.  Doing this draws on the parallel experiences of your readers instead of depending on the importance of the situation in your own writing.  For example, I have never liked Pigs in Heaven as much as The Bean Trees, and I think it's because in Pigs In Heaven Barbara Kingsolver is relying on the inherent understanding of a mother's love for her child.  But I don't know what it's like to be a mother, so I can't relate, and she doesn't put it in the body enough for me to be able to relate.  In The Bean Trees, the main character is overwhelmed by the experiences she goes through, and Kingsolver describes that very clearly. Plus, I definitely know what it's like to be overwhelmed.
    This is why Twilight was so successful; Stephenie Meyer may have overused her adverbs, but by God she could put an emotion in the body.  She knew how to make you feel like you were seventeen and in love, or heartbroken.  None of her readers has ever fallen in love with a vegetarian vampire, but they've blushed furiously every single time a particular person looks at them a certain way.
   This is also something Jane Austen totally sucked at, but she was super good at pretty much everything else so it didn't matter.  That, however, is a combination of talents unlikely to grace another writer, ever, and so even if you think you're super good at everything else, put your character's emotions in their body, anyway.

    But I have found that this advice of putting it in the body applies to other types of "bodies," as well: your plot should be expressed in the "body" of the world you are building, the setting.  Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I've never read it but the entire plot has been actively described for me by numerous persons): as the book reaches its climax, so, also, does the landscape around them climb higher and higher.  They reach the continental divide just about the same time they reach the climax.  Your setting can do a better job of reflecting the events of your book than probably anything else.
     Your characters should be expressed through the "body" of their world: the objects around them (this is also known as inventory). Hands-down best example of this, ever, is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.  All of his characters are male soldiers, of nearly the same age, and wearing the same clothes, but he lists every single damn thing they own and you come to know them that way.  One keeps a bag of weed on him at all times.  One carries a picture of the girl he's in love with.  One keeps extra food.  This tells us more about the characters than any description he could have written: it's a picture, worth a thousand words.  When you're limited to carrying thirty pounds, and you only have two or three to spare, which items will you bring?  That's what your reader needs to know about your characters; and it will make your readers think of what they would bring, too.  Objects are universally symbolic.  Use them. 
And the emotion of the work, the heart of it, should be expressed in the "body" of the text: the language.  This is where tone comes in.  If you are writing a children's book about the perils of not cleaning your room, your word choice sure as hell better be different than if you are writing an adult novel about dealing with rape.  This is the difference between the following: pranced, ambled, shuffled, strolled.  The connotation of each one of these words is different; you should know the connotation of each of them, and use it to your advantage.  One belongs in a story about rape.  A different one belongs in a kid's book.  Ideally speaking, every single word in your book should be the right word for that book.  It's not going to happen, but, you know, shoot for the moon and you'll land in a horse's ass.  Or however that saying goes.

I can't think of a better piece of writing advice than "put it in the body," because this is what agents and editors mean when they say, "show, don't tell," which is a cute little catchphrase, but it doesn't tell you how to do it.  "Put it in the body," however, does.

Monday, October 11, 2010

THIS IS WHY I NEED TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL

    I just picked up a copy of my book (draft, not published, obvs, or else I would totally be at a booksigning and have air conditioning in my car) from a friend who was sweet enough to read and give me beta feedback on it.  And I've seen enough critiques that I can read between the lines: basically, she liked it, it was entertaining and well-written, but that was all.  There was no "this sticks with me" factor.  A lot of her comments were "I love this paragraph, I wish more of the book was like this!" on the sections of the book that were more emotional and compelling.
   Which is fine.
   The first draft of this book was a f*cking hot mess of emotional vomit re: The Road Trip which I chronicled as I was going through it; before I rewrote it I sat on it for a year and a half in order to get enough distance from it.  It needed cleaning.  Over the summer I cut everything that wasn't strictly plot-relevant, rewrote it all in the past tense, and turned it into an actual story with a real plot.
    But I've had a sinking sort of feeling lately that in doing that, I also cut a lot of the emotional urgency out of it.  And this copy with my friend's notes confirms it.
    The first draft made a different friend depressed for four days after reading it because she was dealing with the same issues in her life.  I wasn't glad it upset her so much, but I was glad that my writing had that kind of emotional resonance.
    This is supposed to be a story about how I went from being a lost 21-year old who thought the men in my life could give me the answers I needed to being a self-contained, if still somewhat blurry-edged, woman who knew that whatever I wanted I had to bring myself.
    But now, it's just kind of a story about a road trip I went on.
    Which is fun.
    But it's not the story that I had needed to tell.  It's not the one I want to give to my friend's sister-in-law, a lost eighteen year-old who isn't quite sure how to handle all the changes in her life.
  
   So, obviously I have to rewrite it.  And somehow, four years later, I have to find a way to reintegrate the pain and frustration of not knowing who I was, and also the joy and heartache of figuring it out, into a perfectly functional draft.

   IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS?!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Literary Crushes

There being a fairly serious male babe drought here in Arizona, since Steve Nash is relatively inaccessible to 24-year old writerly types who can't even afford (nor desire) televised access to Suns games, much less season tickets, I thought I would compile a list of my all-time biggest fictional crushes.

Also, it's Sunday afternoon, and I have two hours to kill before my run.

So.

1.  Gregory House
    I know he's not from a book, but he's based on Sherlock Holmes, and he's fictional, and I'm insanely in love with him.  And yes, I can differentiate between Hugh Laurie and Greg House, and I'm in love with Greg House.  As I've already clearly established via my life choices, I am wholly uninterested in a long-term relationship with a sweet, caring man who honestly takes my concerns into consideration, and would pretty much be willing to sell my soul for regular sex with an incisively witty, tortured, gimp genius/ex-drug addict who, deep down, cares far too much for people and can't show it.   The blue eyes and five o'clock shadow don't hurt anything, either, except my heart, which breaks every time I recall that this man is not real.  (And can I send a shout-out to the flame cane?  HOT)

2.  Marcus Didius Falco
     He's funny, he's a genius, he has issues with authority, he solves mysteries, and he wears a toga.  And he knows how to use a knife.
    I'm sensing a pattern, here.

3.  Prince Caspian
     He is the authority, but he earned it by overthrowing a usurping uncle in an epic underdog battle.  He kicked the hell out of some giants and then sailed to the edge of the world on a quest to find his father's lost knights; he got almost to the very edge of the world, but went back in order to fulfill his duty to his country--but he never forgot about his unfinished quest.

4.  Ged
     Has scars: check.  Bad-boy past: check.  Limitless power: check.  Hangs out with dragons: check.  Strong, silent type: check.  Learned to use said limitless power for good after long, drawn-out confrontation with the evil residing in his own soul: check.  I'm in love with him: check.

5. Corlath
    Apparently I've been into Corlath since I was five and my mom read me The Blue Sword for the first time.  He's stubborn and has a nasty temper and could ride a horse before he could walk; mostly he's just sort of kingly and reserved, until someone threatens his country with demons.  Oh, and he can walk through walls.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Like Running Second Best

    I was hiking at South Mountain today and thinking vaguely about my writing dilemma, and also about the half-marathon I'm running at the Grand Canyon in less than a month (29 days to be exact, and holy God it's almost here), and the way that a certain friend of mine doesn't seem to actually like running as much as he likes, you know, being done with running. Or having run so-and-so far. He complains a lot about running, especially while he's doing it, and as a person who runs solely because I like the way it feels when my body is in motion and I'm outside in the sunshine, and endorphins are f*cking awesome, his complaining gets irritating.  
     Now, sometimes running sucks. Sometimes you didn't get any sleep and you ate crap the whole day before and your shins are on fire and you had to squeeze in your last meal an hour before your run but that's the only time your running partner can go, and you end up pretty much walking your entire run because your gut feels like someone dropped a brick into it.
     Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it is 110 degrees outside at 8 p.m. and your legs feel like jelly and you still have another mile-and-a-half to go and you're all out of water and even when you get home you still have to climb two flights of stairs before you can get any more water, or sit down.
      But the question is, when that happens, do you still like running?
      If the answer is yes, then you are a runner.
      If the answer is no, you need a new hobby. One that's more suited to you and your habits. One where you can answer that question with a grudging, "Well, yeah. I guess. F*ck."
      And while I was hiking up the third hill on the San Marcos de Niza trail at South Mountain, I thought to myself, "The real question is, Would you rather be the worst runner in the world than quit running?"
 
   At which point I realized that the same was true of writing. When writing sucks--when you sit staring at your computer screen blankly and then write a bunch of stuff, realize it's crap, delete it all, write more crap, delete that, write something else, sit on it for a year and then realize it was all crap and you need to write something else--do you still like writing?
      It was never a question that had even occurred to me, because the answer is "Duh!!!
      And the real question, the one at the heart of my recent issues with writing, is "Would you rather be the worst writer in the world than quit writing?"
      And the answer is, of course, "Yes!!!" The strength of my "Yes!!!" stopped me in my tracks right there on the top of that third hill, and I stood there grinning like an idiot.
      Then I debated with myself about whether I should do the full hike I'd intended to do, or whether I should cut it short, and then I realized I had just told myself that a real runner would rather run than do anything else--
      at which point I realized that the real reason I wanted to cut my hike short was to get home and write this blog post.
     
     Because I would rather be the worst writer in the world than win the Boston Marathon.
    
     So I went home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Have Performance Anxiety

I am used to writing for other reasons than publication.

I am used to writing because I have too many feelings and I need to get them out.  I am used to writing because I have something to say and my friends are tired of me reiterating my diatribes in new and improved witticism form.  I am used to writing because it is one in the morning and I have no one to talk to.  I am used to writing because I see an image in my head, or because something struck me in a certain way and I need to get it down to look at it better.  I am used to writing because it is easier to judge the truth of an idea if it appears in black and white on a page rather than inside my head.

My  blog has ten followers, and most of them are my closest friends whom I've coerced into reading it.

I am not used to writing because other people want to read it.

This is a totally stupid anxiety that I'm having lately, and not even founded on anything worthwhile, because I've gotten one story accepted for publication, and it hasn't even been posted yet.  But I am freaking out.  All of the whatifs that most people have before they get published are coming out now: whatif I am only a so-so writer?  whatif I can never learn to do what I want to do with my words?  whatif no one cares?  whatif people hate it?  Now, suddenly, one of my pieces is actually going to get read by someone other than my mother, and I don't know what to do--and more specifically, I don't know what to write.  I have three different ideas going right now and every time I sit down to work on them I jump back up and go running or clean my dishes, because I am skittish.  Now I know I am capable of this thing that I wanted, that I am capable of writing something good--so what if, now, I write something bad?

It was one thing if I didn't have it in me.

Now I know I do, and it's terrifying.

How do I forget about all of these things, and go back to writing just because I like to write?  Just because I have something I want to get down, something that is beautiful to me?  How can I go back to knowing, as William Faulkner said, that "the basest of all things is to be afraid?"  How can I stop asking myself, "Now, when will I be blown up?"

Note: these are not rhetorical questions.  I really need an answer.  Thanks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Twilight I Really Want to Read

I'm really mad that I thought of this because now I wish I could read this book instead of Twilight:

    Bella is the Native American
    (helloooo, minority main character in a story that isn't directly about dealing with her minority-ism (AWESOME #1)) 
     who turns into a werewolf
     (hellooo, main female character doing something badass instead of sitting around waiting to get eaten by Vampire Pattinson (AWESOME #2)) 
    when vegetarian vampire clan shows up at local high school/hospital
    (hellooooo love interest being mortal enemy (AWESOME #3 (DEAR STEPHENIE MEYER IF YOU ARE GOING TO USE YOUR HUGE $$$$ TO BUY RIGHTS TO EPIC LITERATURE QUOTES AT LEAST DO IT IN A NON-BORING WAY: I.E., DON'T RIP OFF DIALOGUE FROM WUTHERING HEIGHTS TO MAKE YOUR ROMANTIC POINTS DO IT YOURSELF WITH AN AWESOME REVAMPED* STAR-CROSSED LOVERS PLOT WE WILL GET THE ALLUSION WITHOUT YOU BEATING US OVER THE HEAD WITH IT KTHXBAI))).

Ugh, too bad I think fanfiction is pointless and vampire novels are tired already.


*Yes, I know, but it was the appropriate word choice. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Things I Resent

1.  The institution of tipping.
     Now, I still tip.  I tip outrageously considering that I work 25 hours a week on nonprofit pay. I tip 20% whether my server is awesome or completely sucks. Because I know that these servers make $2.15 an hour, and that serving is a hellacious job, etc. etc.  But I resent it, and I resent that I can't protest the ridiculousness of this institution without looking like a jerk or inconveniencing an innocent party.  I would rather have every single restaurant in the country raise their prices 20% and pay their workers a decent living wage than have the burden of their welfare placed directly on me.  It's not my f*cking job to pay them.  It's their employers'.  This is America.  Stop oppressing your own labor source under the guise of a service-oriented business strategy.
2. People who drive automatic cars and assume that you do, too.
    I drive a manual.  My resentment is not fueled by a need to feel superior over something trivial (I'm looking at you, everyone who argues about which way to put your TP on the roll. Get over it, you wipe your ass with it either way).  No.  This is about the assholes who pull out in front of me on a hill when I'm doing 65 in 5th gear and you are doing 55.  Sorry that the guy in front of you is doing 52, but for serious you just made me lose my momentum and now I'm going to have to waste half a tank of gas trying to get up this damn thing in fourth, when you could have just waited until I passed you because there was no one behind me. This is about you f*ckers who insist on stopping two inches from my bumper on an incline while we're at a red light.  One of these days I won't hit my clutch right and your car is going to get dinged when I roll back, and it won't be my fault, but my insurance rates will go up anyway.  God, I hate you.
   On the other hand, maybe I just hate hills.
3.  Health and car insurance
     Do you realize that we pay exorbitant amounts of money every single month on the offchance that we will one day contract a life-threatening disease in a completely unpredictable manner OR be involved in some kind of horrific, expensive accident?  We are basically gambling on getting our sh*t seriously torn up.  Why can't we have some kind of social security savings account, instead?  And then, if we don't die of cancer, or get cut off on the freeway, we will not only be healthy and happy but we won't have dropped the equivalent of a whole retirement fund on nothing.  A savings account seems a lot less wasteful.  Unless you make your money off insurance.  Then maybe not.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Compilation of the Best Writing Advice I've Ever Gotten

1.  Write every day.  
      This one came from a number of sources.  The way that I've integrated it into my life doesn't require me to sit down every day and write a certain number of words, although I'm sure that works for some people.  For me this means: try to write every day, even if it's a to-do list.  On those days you absolutely can't bear it, pay attention: find the things that you will be able to use in your writing and carve them into your brain, and then try to write every day.  If you write once a week, in five years you still will have written something.  My favorite iteration of this concept is: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step."
2.  Start your story as close to the end as possible.
     This one I lifted out of Kurt Vonnegut's short story rules, and it forces me to get to the meat of what I'm trying to say.  It forces me to identify the end, and the real conflict as opposed to the backstory.  Sitting down to consider this rule has saved me oodles of drafts. 
3.  Get enough sleep.
     This is a weird one, straight from my totally weird and genius writing professor, Ron Carlson.  It's possibly the best advice on this list.  This advice got me to understand that while doing Hunter S. Thompson-esque author sh*t is an essential part of living, and living is at least half of writing, the actual act of writing requires you to take care of yourself.  You can't write when you're hungover; you can only reiterate television plots.  Writing is a healthy thing, the thing that sustains you and gives back to other people.  Living is what kills you.  Know the difference.
4. You have to like it better than being loved.
    This is the last line of a Marge Piercy poem which sustains me when the feeling of author vs. world is overwhelming.  This line is beyond the sustaining message of that poem, though.  What interests me is that I've found that it's not suggesting there's some sort of moral obligation that your writing should be more important to anything else.  It's saying that if you are a real writer, writing is more important than anything else, whether you like it or not.  Your writing will be there when no one else is, so you better like it.  You will write things that hurt the people you love; you will write things that hurt yourself.  You will write until mold grows all over your kitchen counter and you won't be able to help it, and so it better be what sustains you.  Which ties back, strangely, to number three.
5.  Don't answer the phone.
     This is the one I learned the hard way.  It has very little to do with the problem of opening the door and forgetting the dream you were writing down, like Coleridge with Kubla Khan (which is still a famous work of literature despite the interruption) and everything to do with not interrupting the mood that makes you want to write.  Interrupters will say things to make you doubt yourself; you'll be tempted to discuss your thoughts and you will talk it all out instead of writing it out; that guy you have a crush on will text you something cute--whatever happens, suddenly you will not feel like writing anymore.  Time is your only truly limited resource.  Spend it writing. 
6.  Don't make writing conditional.
    This is a general life rule, as well.  Whatever you want the most you will most likely get; if you inflict conditions on it, those conditions take on more importance than the desire.  For example: I will write x when I graduate college and have more time.  No you f*cking won't.  You'll graduate college, because that's what you have turned into a priority by arranging your other wants around it.  Write.  Do it now. 
7.  Forgive yourself for not writing (a.k.a. some writing>>not writing)
     This one is a gem of Elizabeth Gilbert's.  Sometimes you can't write.  Sometimes you'll go through six-month phases of reading, or running, instead.  This is also writing.  Don't worry about it.  Try to write every day, but forgive yourself if you don't.  This one also goes back to number 3.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's My Blog, And I'll Vent If I Want To


That said, I'm going to make my point, and person-who-needed-to-vent-at-me, well, it's my blog and I don't give a sh*t if you still read it and need to text me something else that's designed to ruin my evening and make me feel like the biggest bitch ever in response to this post.

People, when someone asks you for a pizza, don't give her an apple pie. She wants a f*cking pizza.
Whatever your intentions are—and I do concede, intentions are as important as the act itself—fulfilling someone else's wants is about their wants. It's not about what you want to give them. I don't care if you make the best f*cking apple pie in the universe, or how much you know I like both apples and sugar. I ASKED FOR A PIZZA. GET ME A PIZZA. If I asked for a pizza, that means I don't really want apples and sugar; I want garlic and cheese. A calzone would probably do the  trick, but a pizza would really be best.  If you really want to go above and beyond, here, get me two pizzas, and a gift certificate for more. 

I also don't care how many other people have asked you for a pizza when they really secretly wanted an apple pie. Other people's inability to communicate effectively is not my problem; it's theirs. I asked you for a pizza. Assume that I mean what I say. If I don't mean what I say, that's not your problem. It's mine.

Getting someone an apple pie when she wants a pizza not only showcases your inability to listen, it shows that you don't care about what she wants at all. You care way more about the fact that you love making apple pies and are super good at pinching pie crust in cute designs than about making her happy. It shows that you want to be praised for your abilities more than you want to fulfill her needs. If you hand a chick an apple pie and expect her to be all like, “Oh, my gosh, you can bake, too! That's so wonderful! I love apple pie! How did you know I really wanted apple pie when I asked you for a pizza because I felt too bad to ask you for an apple pie which was what I really truly deeply wanted? You are so perfect!” well, you're in for disappointment. Because she asked for a pizza.

This is what will actually happen:
You (covered in flour and slightly sweaty from slaving over a hot oven): Hey, I know you asked for a pizza, but I made you an apple pie.
Her (eyebrows raised quizzically): Wow, um, thanks. I'm just gonna put this in the fridge. Want to come to Buono's with me, so I can get a pizza?
You (stuttering): Unappreciated...made pie...what?!  *Your head explodes here*

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thought For the Day

Sometimes it's more important to let people vent their emotions on you than it is to make your point; i.e., sometimes it is better to understand than to be understood.

Friday, September 10, 2010

False Dichotomies Eat Your Soul: The Religious Edition

I was raised without any particular religion.  My mother was raised Catholic and my father was raised Jewish and they both stopped practicing before I was born; obviously I was raised with Judeo-Christian morals, but I was never required by anybody to believe anything other than what I chose.  My parents answered my questions about traditions and their own beliefs and then let me think whatever I liked.
The only thing I regret about it was the lack of a community that other people had; otherwise, I am extremely grateful.

I don't quite know how to broach this topic, except to say that in the wake of the idiocy of the Qu'ran Burning News Special, a lot of my friends and acquaintances have professed beliefs along these lines:  "I support the right of anyone to have religious beliefs even though I think all religions are dumb and I am therefore an athiest." Which is cool.  I'm down with atheism.  I dig Sartre.

But what really made me sad is that one of the comments I saw on a fb thread about the whole matter said something along the lines of, "I really want to believe in God, and sometimes I do, but then I'm forced to be logical."

So I wanted to say to this person and everyone else like her, because it seems like no one else ever has,

YOU CAN BELIEVE WHATEVER YOU WANT.

No, really.  Just because you understand the limitations and logical fallacies of structured religion, and just because you choose not to participate, doesn't mean that the "logical" choice is atheism. You don't have to believe in God the way other people tell you to.  Religion doesn't have a monopoly on God, or on virtue.  Just because a lot of religious people say they do doesn't make it true, which you should know very well already.  But just because some of the things they say aren't true doesn't make everything they say untrue, either.

I really consider myself a lucky person for growing up in a non-religious household.  No one told me I had to believe anything, ever.  I never heard anyone I respected and loved tell me that their beliefs were correct and mine were wrong.  When I was three one of my little five-year-old friends told me I was going to hell because I hadn't accepted Jesus, but my parents jumped all over that and told me it wasn't necessarily true, and they didn't think it was, but that some people believed it was.  Then when I was ten they let me go to Christian camp with her anyway, so that I could decide for myself what I wanted to believe.
I remember I asked one of the church leaders who made God.  She pulled off her ring and said, "Do you see an end or a beginning to this ring?  God is like this ring.  He had no beginning and has no end."
I said, "Yes, but who made the ring?"
I put this example in here to prove that I was a logical person even at ten.

But I believe in God.  I believe He isn't anything a finite mind can understand.  So I've stopped trying, but I believe.  I don't go to a church, or a temple, or a mosque, and I'm not an atheist.  I don't let anybody else tell me what to think about what I believe.

That is something that I feel to be valuable about the title "atheist."  People who name themselves to be atheists are typically people who have begun to question what other people tell them. But I think most atheists don't question enough.  The alternative to "Not Your God" isn't necessarily "No God,"  just like the alternative to "Republican" isn't necessarily "Democrat."  There's lots of stuff in between, and outside!  Atheism is usually, as far as I'm concerned, another religion: it's a religion in which people doubt only the beliefs which are socially acceptable to doubt*.  And all I want to say to you is:  doubt everything, and then choose.  If you still think there is no God, that's more than fine.  But don't think there isn't a God just because you don't like other people's Gods.  You can like your own, if you want to.


*This is a prime time for a bitchin' example of logical reasoning: Some people who are bad at logic believe in God.  Not everyone who believes in God is bad at logic.   
Alternatively, some atheists are logical.  Not everyone who is logical is an atheist.
(Mindf*ck FTW)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Giving Tree: Hate Is a Strong Word For Excellent Literature

I found this article lying around on Twitter attached to a message about how much the Tweeter HAAATED the book The Giving Tree (it was one of my favorite authors, which kind of disappointed me).

I do see the problem with the perceived message of The Giving Tree.  I get it.  As a child, I didn't, really, and I thought that the story was very sad; I still think it's sad, but I don't hate this book.  Because books are supposed to talk about these sorts of human behaviors.

Can you, or should you, hate a book?  I'm sure I've said that I've hated a book before (hellooooo, The Kite Runner (AKA Gratuitous Butt-Rape Will Solve All Your Plot Problems!)) but on reflection I think this is a really irresponsible thing to say, especially for a writer.  A book can be bad: i.e., it doesn't achieve what it set out to achieve, or is executed poorly.   A book can have a terrible message: e.g., Robinson Crusoe (message: white people everywhere are superior to brown people everywhere, especially when they manage to find a cabin full of newly-sharpened hatchets hiding in their shipwreck).  But hating the book and hating the message are two different things.

The Giving Tree is certainly not poorly executed, nor does it fail to achieve what it set out to achieve.  So it's not bad.
But finally, I'm not sure that the message is bad, either.  I unfortunately don't have a copy of it handy, so I'm working purely off memory and this article.  From what I can recall, though, it's really just a really great character portrayal.  The tree gives.  The boy takes.  The boy is never satisfied.  The tree stunts itself by giving endlessly, but is satisfied by that.
But I don't recall any part of the text ever passing judgment on that. Nowhere does the text say, "giving endlessly until you are a stump is a good/bad thing." It lets you say so yourself, one way or another.  I never thought the ending was all that "happy."  It was just true to the characters. 
And for me, that makes it a great work of literature.  

As a writer, I feel that my job is to portray accurately the world around me as I see it.  I don't feel like my job is telling people what to think.  I want people to find themselves in my work, not to forge themselves out of my judgments; I want my portrayal of what I see to speak honestly to someone, and to present the world in a new, fresh way.  But expecting a work of art to tell you what to think about the world is lazy reading, and saying that you "hate a book" because of your reaction to a well-executed portrayal of the way love sometimes happens is thoughtless and irresponsible.  As far as I'm concerned, if you feel that strongly about a book, that author did his job really, really well.  Which makes it a good book.

Finally, and on a totally different note, just because a book is written in cute rhyming verse doesn't make it a kid's book.  Shel Silverstein also wrote the lyrics to "A Boy Named Sue."  Stop reading adult-themed literature to children, or if you do, make sure you freaking talk to them about what you think it means.

Monday, September 6, 2010

It Has Nothing To Do With You, Parte Deux

This is a lesson that never gets driven home hard enough:  I have no idea of the depth of other people's pain.
Sometimes I run across that quote from Plato:  "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle," but somehow that quote just rubs me the wrong way.  It makes it sound like other people have financial difficulties or an upcoming round in the gladiator ring and that I have the extra burden of kindness because of it; I wish the quote said, "Other people's heartaches are often bigger than yours."
Because it's not financial difficulties or career choices that are plaguing people.  Sometimes your boss is going through a divorce and doesn't exactly want to talk to you about it.  But if you knew that, wouldn't you have a little more patience for her bad mood?
And even the word divorce isn't strong enough, sometimes, to bring out the compassion.  What I really mean is that sometimes your boss is throwing in the towel on a fight that's lasted two years now and her whole family is splitting up and her kids are miserable and crying a lot and this is her husband, the man who stayed up all night with her when she was writing her thesis just to keep her company and nobody did anything wrong but they can't work it out and she finds herself saying hateful things to the people she loves best.  So if she's a bit snippy with you in a meeting about something you've been meeting about for months, it probably has nothing to do with you.
And sometimes the reason your friends do confusing things is because they're confused.  Sometimes your friend's father is dying and not only does she sort of wish he'd hurry up and do it because watching someone waste away at a hospital every night is not only painful but intrusive, but she's feeling guilty for feeling that way and doesn't think you would understand, and then her relationship with him was pretty complicated anyway because he really wasn't around that much, they never really talked about important things, and this is her last chance to spend time with him but they still just sit around discussing television shows and how can she start having a real conversation with him? So when she doesn't really want to talk about what's going on in her life but does really want to go to Mill Avenue on a Friday night, it might have nothing to do with you.

Point being, other people have wounds you aren't aware of, and sometimes wounds they won't ever reveal.  Sometimes your relationship is their Band-Aid and they don't want you to know that, or admit it to themselves.  Sometimes your relationship is lemon juice in their paper cuts and they are loathe to say so.

I think if I could have one wish granted, it would be always to be aware of these sore spots, even if I can't know the details.  I don't want to blindly go around being compassionate to other people in case they happen to be in pain; I have trouble putting sweeping abstract principles like that into action. But I wish I had better radar for it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Maybe It's Just My Lucky Day

     Sometimes I still have problems with plane flights, particularly when I'm not looking forward to where I'm going.
     And this has been, like, the longest, hottest, most stuck-inside summer I've had since I've moved to Phoenix, and I was just at home in New York for a week where everything was lush and shady and green and I went running down by the river every day and the whole place smelled like water and I ate dinner with my family every night, so I wasn't looking forward to coming back to the desert and my one-bedroom place and running on a treadmill.
     And the plane from Buffalo to Detroit was one of those teensy little puddle jumpers and I was sitting right over the wing and we got up into the air and it was all real pretty and green and the sun was setting...and then the engine noise stopped.
      I panicked.
     There was nothing wrong with the plane, at all; it had to do with my perspective and where I was sitting on the plane and normal function in a headwind, but it seriously sounded like the engines had shut off and the only noise was the wind, and I freaked.
    But then the noise started again, and no one else freaked, so I relaxed a little, even though it kept happening; finally we began approaching Detroit, and then the pilot announced that there was a holdup because of the weather and we would be in a holding pattern for the next 25 minutes at 14,000 feet and I death-grabbed at the seatrest and tried not to show that I was about to hyperventilate, because that's not nice to the other passengers.
    Five minutes later, the pilot came on the intercom again and said, "Looks like it's our lucky day, we've been cleared to land and we'll be on the ground in 10 minutes," and then, in a colossal tribute to bad patterns of thinking, I freaked out more.  I was thinking, Don't say that!  You're going to f*cking jinx us!  LUCKY?!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
    Then the rational part of my brain looked up and went, "You know, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that things could go well.  Maybe it is your lucky day."
     I told my rationality to shut the hell up, and then we landed, and everything was fine.

     The next day, I went in to work, and had a nearly parallel experience:  while I was on vacation there was a huge miscommunication, and a video project we'd been working on hadn't gotten submitted before a contest deadline, and it was just as much my fault as my coworker's.  I panicked.  I called my dad and freaked out and didn't know what to do, or how to tell my boss we'd dropped the ball on something the president of the Science Center had specifically asked us to do.
   My dad (playing the part of the rational section of my brain) said, "Why don't you call the contest people and ask them if you can submit it late?"
   "I guess," I agreed, knowing that deadlines were deadlines and nobody who had been hired to run a contest would be that soft or nice.
   But I wrote an e-mail, explaining the problem, and asking her to please not penalize the kids who had done the video for my mistakes in communication at work and could we please please please still submit the video, and while I was sitting there practicing my resignation letter and trying to remember how to breathe, she responded with,
   "Yes, of course.  Just submit to such-and-such a website and send me the link."

   Somehow, I've allowed myself to become the kind of person who expects to die in a plane crash and be denied kindnesses by strangers.  My brain is so prepared for my hopes and dreams to be crushed like leaves underfoot that the concept, "Maybe we're just lucky" is foreign to me.  Which is way scarier than anything that could possibly go wrong.

    So I'm going to go outside now, where it's sunny, and try to find my luck again.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Even The Fail Was Cliche: Missing the Forest for the Trees

I went and saw Eat Pray Love this past weekend.

Now, I love that book.  It was the inspiration for The Road Trip; it got me through one of the nastiest breakups ever; every time I read it I find something new that speaks to my current difficulties.
I love Elizabeth Gilbert.  She writes some crackerjack fiction (Stern Men, it's like Jacob Have I Loved crossed with The Bean Trees and you should read it) and she's delightful in person (when she signed my book I teared up a little, because I'm not cool like that), and she wrote a memoir that touched millions of women.

The movie was bad.
And by the movie was bad, I mean the screenplay was bad.

Julia Roberts was fine.  Everyone can shut up about her performance.  She's great.  Loved her.  She brought energy to this movie.

But the adapted screenplay was just awful, because they spent so much time trying to squeeze in all the little special moments that people loved about the book that they completely missed the story of a woman who went from being miserable to being happy.

Now, the India sequence was fantastic.  You know why?  Because it was nothing like the book.  In the book Richard didn't tell a story about nearly running over his little boy.  There was no elephant.  She dedicated her Gurugita to her nephew, not the sweet young Indian girl. Her roommate never took a vow of silence.  But the story was true.
My writing professor used to say about fiction, "Did it happen?  No.  Is it true?  Yes."  And that's where this movie went wrong.  Trying to include accurate stuff in the beginning made Liz Gilbert look like an ungrateful, entitled rich bitch, because they couldn't include all of it; but by including some accurate moments they left out the story of a woman, who was so miserable from drowning in her false self that she couldn't have seen anything good if it whacked her in the nose, finding enough strength to do something she had always wanted to do after losing all of her assets in a divorce. 

So this is my message to screenwriters:  Fictionalize it if you have to, but for God's sake save the story.  I would rather have seen a movie about an entirely different person learning that being honest with yourself will bring you to happiness than an accurate portrayal of events that left out the story.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Query Letter I Wish I Could Send

I'm having the worst time writing a query letter.  I mean, I knew it was going to be hard, and all, but I didn't think it would be this hard.  I wrote the f*cking book.  I should know what it's about, and how to explain it in a business letter.  But man, it's hard.

So anyway, I thought I'd write a letter that said exactly what I was thinking, just to get it all out, and then maybe after I do that I can go back to writing the more appropriate kind.  But I kind of love my awkward brain-barf letter, so I thought I'd post it here for laughs.

Dear Mr. Bransford,

    I read your blog.  I read it every time I'm trying to write something and can't.  I'm not the biggest fan of the site layout and I don't watch reality T.V., or sports, because I haven't had cable since I was seven, so I totally can't impress you with jokes about the Lakers like that lady in the example query, but you seem pretty smart, and I like smart people.  Also it says, “When in doubt, query me,” and I'm definitely in doubt.  Not necessarily about your representation preferences, since I researched you as an agent, but I'm in doubt about some things, and you didn't specify.
    I went on this road trip to visit all of my ex-boyfriends in a desperate attempt to figure out whether they had a better handle on achieving a self-made life than I did, and then I wrote a book about it.  I called it The Only Cowboy and it has 76,000 words. Technically I guess I can say it's a memoir since you'd need to, like, market and shelve it, but I feel pretty douchey calling something I wrote a “memoir” when I'm only 24.  Plus it just sounds like a granny word, you know?  Like the way old ladies still say “toilette” or “derriere” when they're trying to say an impolite thing politely. 
    My one ex-boyfriend ate a raw rabbit in front of me, once.  He killed it at the golf course with a rock.  That's in the book.  Later he tried to give me a venereal disease.  That's in there, too.  He was a really sweet guy when we were dating, but I kind of f*cked him over and then he decided the world was a cruel place and he didn't want to play anymore.  He tried to pretend he was living his life however he wanted and no one could tell him what to do, but really he was hiding.  I couldn't get him to come out of his rabbit hole so I left him there. 
    My other ex-boyfriend was a literary genius who liked to send any money he earned straight up his nose.  But I would probably still donate my liver to him if he asked.  And if we had the same blood type; I guess that would be important, too.  When I went to see him on the road trip he was working a shit job and living in his parents' house and that was kind of disappointing, although not as disappointing as finding out that love doesn't actually conquer the combined effects of cocaine addiction, five years' separation, and a preference for being liked over living up to your own enormous potential.  People say it conquers all, and that kind of thing, but really it just kind of gets tucked away like an old sweater while the rest of your life goes on.
    Turns out I was the only one who was really doing anything.  It was kind of funny, you know? Because there I was, trying to learn from my ex-boyfriends how they made their lives into what they wanted, but I was the one on the road trip, making the effort to live my life and learn about myself.  My ex-boyfriends were just really smart drunks.
    Anyway, I don't know if the book is any good.  I've never had anything published before so you won't have any other editors you can ask about my writing.  But I had a lot of fun writing it so maybe it will be fun to read, too.
           Thanks,


          Hilary

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All This 20-Something Bullsh*t Annoys the Hell Out of Me

At least two of my friends have sent me articles about the crisis of the 20-something, so, of course, I made a list of my grievances:

1. None of these articles were written by 20-somethings, or in conjunction with them, so basically you're writing about us as if we're not there. If you don't let us participate, we can't. 
2. Just because we're not the same kind of adult as you are doesn't mean we're not adults at all.
3. There are apparently five milestone markers for adulthood:  completing school, leaving home, being financially independent, marrying, and having a child.  And since we don't do those things, they're questioning our adulthood rather than the adulthood milestones.  People.  Learn what a premise is, and learn to check it for validity.
4.  The reasons I have thought about moving home have very little to do with my finances, and everything to do with wanting to be a part of a family, for real, and not on the internet.  I went to school across the country, and most of my closest friends live in different cities; our society is totally transient because it's so easy to move and travel.  And jobs aren't something you keep for a lifetime, now--but family is.
5. And on that note, this is the sentence that made me annoyed enough to write this: "With life spans stretching into the ninth decade, is it better for young people to experiment in their 20s before making choices they’ll have to live with for more than half a century?"  Guess what?  Life doesn't work that way, and the fact that you insist it does is what makes us terrified and unable to commit!  We can do anything we want, for however long we want, and a commitment doesn't have to mean fifty years.  PLEASE DON'T EVER SAY THAT  SH*T AGAIN!!!!!!!! And aside from me just denying it, that's not how the workforce works these days--we can't count on pensions and we can't count on committing to a company for fifty years.  That would be stupidity.  Our skills are the only real assets we have.  And based on how you all really fucked up your marriages, our observations tell us that marriages don't last that long either.  But family does.  My parents are my parents forever.
6. I'm sorry we're digging into your pocketbooks. I really am.  But you are the ones who taught us that there are more important things than money, and that we should feel fulfilled and happy.  So we are trying to do that.  You wanted us to have it better than you did; we saw what you gave up for us, and we want to give it back to you, and to take advantage of our opportunities.  Please stop criticizing us for wanting something better than a balanced checkbook, or making a half-century commitment to a company like Enron.  There is a good reason for wanting a job with meaning, that does something more than make money--pull your heads out of your asses and look around you!
7.  You went through this, too.  We see the problems with your choices and want to better them--just like you did with your parents.  We have a black president now, because of you all.  We don't blindly support wars anymore, nor feel afraid to voice opposition, because of you all.  Women make more money and have more opportunities than they ever did before--because of you.  So we're going to do it even better.  Now please shut up.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why Adults Read Children's Literature

   Because it's f*cking happy.

   Children's literature is the only place where serious themes can be addressed while still allowing for a happy ending.  Especially during a recession, these are the things that people want to read about.
Sometimes I feel like there's an unwritten rule (irony ftw) that in order to write serious literature one has to write depressing literature.  I blame this on Fitzgerald, who had the audacity to write the world's most perfect novel about a series of tragic, unredeemable characters.  From there literature devolved into stories about characters who couldn't hack it in a world that won't forgive them, or characters who could hack it in a world that is so sick and twisted they won't be allowed to anyway, and that's not what we want to read about.
   Children's literature knows this.  Children's literature knows that we want to read about Odysseus, who was so clever and strong that he prevailed against the gods.  Children's literature knows we want to read about Harry Potter, who was so good and loving that he prevailed even against the greatest evil talent there ever was.
    Children's literature knows we want the good guys to win, because in real life, they don't.

    If you look back at the past ten years of hugely successful novels--the kind that make writers fantasize about totally unrealistic moneys and Oprah coming back from retirement just to talk to them--you will notice a pattern: they all have happy endings.  Harry PotterTwilightThe Da Vinci Code.  Even The Road was pretty happy, from a Cormac McCarthy point of view.  And I know it wasn't a book, but Avatar wouldn't have earned that kind of money if we just watched all the Navi get slaughtered in 3D, (which, btw, is what actually happened if you believe all that political commentary nonsense).  In all of these stories, there was hope.  These characters survived.  They kicked evil's ass, and found love along the way.

   These are the things that are worth living for when you are unemployed and your kids have the flu and your hometown just got the f*ck flooded out of it and your husband has PTSD and there's a high pollution warning and the oil spill and holy sh*t we're still at war seven years later and we still haven't captured Osama Bin Laden and oh yeah like now with instant communication we can watch a live feed of people dying in Haiti after an earthquake.  That is our real life, and it sucks.  So we don't want to read about that bitch in The Elegance of the Hedgehog who finally starts living and then shoves her face right into a semi's grille.  That sh*t's depressing.  If we wanted to read about that we could open the Christmas letter from Uncle Roger.  Or read the paper.  We want to overcome the odds, even if it's only for two hours with a cup of tea before bedtime.  Two hours of glorious hero-overcoming-all-the-odds-to-win is enough to allow us to get a full night's sleep and then get up and pay the bills late.  It really is.

   Literature isn't, or at least it shouldn't be, a self-contained world.  No matter how nerdy you were in high school, and how much other kids made fun of you because you liked to read, as a writer you are not participating in some special little club of people who know how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism.  You are not isolated.  This is not about your art. You are a storyteller.  And everybody reads stories--or at least watches them, or plays them on a controller, or listens to them.  Stories are metaphors for ourselves, for the way we treat conflict and difficulty.  Stories are a very human institution, and they're what allow us to picture ourselves as heroes, as people who don't give up, as chosen ones, when really we are all very small and not sure of what to do. 
   So of course adults read children's literature.  Because we still need someone to tell us that it can be done.  That we are heroes.  That even though we are older now, we can still do anything we want to, and be anything we strive to be.  These are things we need, desperately.  So however important and tragic and well-written All the Pretty Horses might be, guess what? It doesn't give us what we need.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

If You Don't Know, Who Should I Ask?

All while I was growing up, if my mother asked me a question about what I wanted to do, or eat for dinner, or some other volition-based inquiry, and I responded with, "I don't know," she would say, "Well, if you don't know, who should I ask?"  (Then she would giggle like she always did when she was pleased with herself for stumping me.  Totally endearing.  I love my mom.)
Anyway, I only just realized today how deeply that phrase has embedded itself into my psyche.

When it comes to what you want, you should know.  AND say it, especially when asked.  There is no one else to ask.  You should know what you want to eat for dinner, or whether you want to stay inside and read or go to an amusement park, or why what that jackass on the subway said is upsetting you, or what you want to spend the rest of your life working on.  You should know this, because nobody else can.

Sometimes these questions are hard.  I know.  They suck.  I spent years figuring out the last one, and even now I'm still not sure all the time.  But nobody else knows the answer.  It takes time and effort to sort through your own reactions to find what your real preferences are.  But no one else can do it

So if sometimes I am blunt, and say things that other people don't say, it's only because it's one of those things that nobody else could say.  This is my job.  I am me, and I am the only one who knows what I want, and I am the only one who can communicate that.  This is what I am here for. 

And if you don't know these things about yourself, then who should I ask?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How To Write Award-Winning Literature (Sponsored by Blood Meridian)

1.  Give your protagonist absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever so that everyone can really relate to him.
2. After the first fifty pages there is no need to mention him.  Describing the homogeneous landscape will be enough to remind everyone of his miserable existence.
3. When he does decide to reappear, reveal the history of other characters whom you haven't introduced by making your protagonist listen to long, overwritten stories told in vocabulary far beyond the speaker's (and the listener's) intellectual capabilities.  But they shouldn't speak like that unless they're delivering exposition.  That's gay.
4. Don't give your characters names, or if you do, don't reveal them until there is absolutely no context by which the reader can understand to whom the name refers.
5. Racial stereotypes count as characterization.
6. Your characters don't need to be distinguishable except regarding the degree of violence with which they are willing to kill each other.
7. Women aren't people, and rocks are more interesting.  Write about those.
8.  Plot should develop as follows: The group, of which the unnamed and unmentioned protagonist is a member, rides through a desert until the horses are tired, kills something, and then a random character expounds on an irrelevant and Neal-Cassady-esque topic.  Repeat with minor variation in available petroglyphs in order to demonstrate movement of said group.
9.  Testicles are the only body part of any importance, and cutting them off is worse than killing someone.
10. If part of the action takes place in the Grand Canyon, there is no need to say so, or describe it in a recognizable way.  Everyone will know what you're talking about.
11.  Once you decide on a title, make sure you overuse all of the words in it throughout the story so that people notice and think it's profound.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dan Auerbach Makes Me Wanna

   I have recently rediscovered The Black Keys.  More specifically, I have newly discovered the deliciousness that is their album Brothers, and which makes me want to sit out on my balcony in black lace lingerie at three a.m. and put out cigarettes in my Jack Daniel's after I use them to light the next one and then drink it anyway.
   I haven't felt like this, sincerely, since I got back from The Road Trip and called up my old Irish Catholic not-boyfriend and had an epic one-up war involving Smirnoff, his girlfriend I didn't know about, Sharpie pens, a stripper, and his best friend's truck bed; or at least I haven't felt like this since the last time I read some Bukowski.
   Now, I am a very serious proponent of long-distance running and fluffy kittens and sunshine, but The Black Keys have me thinking about the deconstructive urge and its validity--and specifically, the dualism of the human experience and its effect on happiness.
    Because there are two halves to human life: living, and dying.  And it's good to invest in living--it's good to eat well and exercise and do your dishes and build things, long-lasting things like love and happiness and family and positive social structure and all of the constructs that are allowed only by the existence of human rationality, of communication, of order.
    And very little breaks my heart harder than those people who forgo all of those things to chase the romance of their destructive side; who spend all the time and energy and talents they have trying to escape the permanence and risk of choosing which investments are worthwhile. I think everyone knows someone like that.  I have probably dated him. 
    But I do think (and Arizona's economy will totally have my back on this one) that there's such a thing as too much construction. (Zing). 
    We don't talk about dying in this country.  We don't talk about destruction in a healthy way, even when it comes to the economy (Dear Lord! We can't let the car companies go out of business! Forget that they haven't made a relevant or improved product in thirty years--DYING IS BAD), and especially when it comes to ourselves.  We have this weird mentality that insists on a hybrid of growth and immortality, which, as far as I'm concerned, are mutually exclusive concepts.  You can't grow without pruning, at least not into something worth being; and the only things that withstand time are those which change very little.  Want to know what both grows infinitely and lives forever?  A cancer cell.  Yeah.  Not very healthy or useful.  Infinite growth + immortality= giant blob of parasitic mutant. 
     Sometimes, however, the constructs of rationality go stale.  You could go your whole life getting up at 6 a.m., running, eating right, working hard, cleaning up, taking care of your family, getting enough sleep, and never actually do anything at all.
     I don't think that the answer to this is a weekend in Vegas, or any of the other prescribed methods offered us for "having fun."  I do think the answer is in deconstruction, in taking apart your own life a little bit to let in the more animalistic pieces of your nature, to remember the fact that one day you will not be here anymore and that every day is crap shoot in terms of survival.  However you deconstruct is okay, as long as you do it.  Getting drunk is the traditional way, and rightfully so, because nothing dulls human rationality like liquor.  But that one's dicey, because sometimes it also allows you to forgo the processing part of the breakdown--it can make it harder to connect to yourself, and allow you to continue to ignore the gentle pressure of the darker, lustful parts of your being.  Sex works, and so does dancing, and so does cliff diving, and so does anything that lets you into your body, into transience and risk, and out of the mathematics of construction.
    I'm just saying--there's a reason you can't name a gritty blues band The White Keys.
    

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Form Rejection Means to Me

1.  Dwyer better get the hell back from his stint in Mongolia and set up a handle of Jack Daniel's on my patio table
2.  Must...keep...writing....  Not...sure...why....
3.  There IS a real world, and high school DID prepare me for it
4.  There has to be an alternate tactic to increasing my self-satisfaction in proportion to the number of rejection letters in my file.  JD is probably not it. 
5.  JD makes me a real writer, though, right?
6.  Seriously, why am I doing this?  What is this sh*t?  What am I even TALKING about?!
7.  We need more heroines like Cher from Clueless.  I'm sick of this whole insecure snarky tomboy shindig.  What happened to the pretty girls?
8.  I know! I'll write a new story!  They'll have to want that one!
9.  Cher from Clueless + one of Neptune's moons + my literary talent =
10.  F*ck.
11.  DWYER!!!! YOU BETTER COME HOME SOON!
12.  If I start drinking JD by myself, then I'm definitely a real writer.  Right?  Right?

In Honor of The Rejectionist's Blogiversary

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Comprehensive List of All the Sh*t I Am Managing To Stay Cheerful In the Face Of:

1. Personal overuse of sentences ending in prepositions
2. That illness last week that knocked me off my feet for five days and made my glands feel like burst potatoes moving into my eyeballs and setting them on what felt like fire (aka viral pink eye FTW)
3. Housesitting.  When you are unemployed this sounds lucrative and easy; eventually you will realize that there is an insane amount of driving involved in this, that other people's pets are not anything like your pets, that other people's beds are not nearly as comfortable as your bed, and that you are basically living out of your car because other people do not keep their houses stocked with contact lens solution and a backup pair of yoga pants.
4. A slow tire leak.  This could suck a lot less if you don't live in a state where metal air hoses are exposed to bright sunlight and 113-degree temperatures for 8 hours a day.  My lifeline has burn marks.
5. 113-degree temperatures.
6. Friends who don't answer their cellular telephones when I am incapable of opening my eyes for long enough to turn over my car's engine after they told me to call if I needed anything WHEN I KNOW THEY ARE SITTING ON THEIR ASSES PLAYING OBLIVION AND SMOKING BLUE MIST SHISHA YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU EX-ROOMMATE
7. An extra project at work with a somewhat-possibly-not-quite-reasonable deadline
8. Bad news about grandpere's state of health. 
9. Having to reschedule all of my outreaches for this week. This is possibly the weirdest thing about me: I have a phobia of making phone calls to strangers.  I would so much rather talk to someone in person, or in writing.  In writing I have enough time to think about what I need to say; and in person I can read their face and mood and respond to that.  On the phone people can get mad at me for no reason at all.  And I have no idea what they're thinking, or what I'm supposed to be asking.  There are no clues!  I can't handle it.
10. Dealing with the DMV--over the phone.  That said, this may have been the easiest interaction I've had all week, and they totally had an oldies station playing while I was on hold (Breaking Up Is Hard To Do FTW)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Crash Course In Nonviolence

"It is better to be violent if there is violence in our hearts than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." -Mahatma Gandhi

My father is a nonviolence professor.  This gives a certain zen-like picture to my home life, but this has been a learned thing for him.  When he was a little kid he used to dress up as Zorro and run around putting fake Zs on people's clothing and challenging them to sword fights.  And when I was a little girl sometimes he would get into a temper and storm around the house swearing and projecting big huge angry vibes and generally scaring the crap out of me.
Eventually I told him that he was extremely scary to me; around the same time one of our family friends, while walking their son to school, caught my father cussing up a storm in the driver's seat, and laughed hysterically at him. 
My father hasn't thrown a temper tantrum since.  I literally can't remember one.

One of the things that he comes up against, a lot, when talking to his students and critics, is the idea that nonviolence is somehow weaker than violence.  That a person who practices nonviolence, is, in fact, impotent, or scared, or passive, or a number of things.

But from all of my years growing up with my father, and talking to him about his work, and watching him in action, I can testify that this is not the case.

Nonviolence is a commitment to avoiding hurting other people.  Nonviolence has nothing to do with getting what you want, and everything to do with respecting life in all its forms--including your own.  This is the important part.  Your life, and your health and your well-being, is just as important as everyone else's, and nonviolence is a commitment to recognizing that importance in every daily action. 
Gandhi said that it was better to be violent if there is violence in your heart than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.  I heard this quote used in an action movie recently to justify one character's decision to return to kicking ass, and that really depressed me.  Because that's not really what he meant.  He meant, "Don't be passive, or weak, and pretend that you are acting morally when really you are just afraid.  It is better to be violent if that is the truth about yourself and how you feel than it is to lie about your commitment to nonviolence."  He thought nonviolence was important, but he thought truth was more so.
Gandhi also said, "I can't teach you to be nonviolent--but I can teach you not to bow your head before anybody."
A true nonviolentist doesn't ever let others walk all over him.  A true nonviolentist doesn't let a foreign government treat his countrymen as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin.  But he also never expresses those views, or insists on his own way, in a way that hurts anybody else. 

A true nonviolentist knows that other people act based on their own beliefs and wants and needs, and not on any reaction to himself; and he respects those wants and needs as best he can without slighting his own.  A true nonviolentist knows that his own ego, and hurt feelings, are less important than his own inherent dignity and the dignity of others. 

A true nonviolentist realizes that expressing anger is not nearly as important as creating a loving and safe atmosphere for his children--and when he realizes this, he never lets himself cross that line again.

I'm finding it hard to see the weakness in that.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Bad Things Happen to Regular People; or, It Has Nothing To Do With You

I am not a person who believes that things happen for a reason.
I'm not cynical and I'm not a pessimist. What I believe is that things happen, and you can choose to find the good in them or not; but I don't believe that good and bad are inherent properties.  I don't believe that people are naturally good or bad.  Rather, I believe that people act badly in proportion to the amount of pain they've experienced.  And so sometimes people do bad things to you, and there's no visible reason--and it had nothing to do with you or your life, or whether you deserved it. 
Today I learned that the world really doesn't revolve around me.
I hear this phrase used a lot but it never struck home--I never realized its full import until today.
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason, earthquakes and car accidents and disease and all those other things we can't control.  Generally those sorts of things don't happen to me and in that I am very lucky.
Today, however, I came down with a case of excruciatingly painful pink eye while I was housesitting 40 minutes away from my apartment, two hours before I was supposed to go to a driving class on the last possible day before they suspend my license for not going.  I couldn't open my eyes well enough to drive myself anywhere and my phone had died. I was pretty well stranded.
 Luckily there was a landline at the house and I have some phone numbers memorized, and I got to the ER and then home again with only a few hiccups thanks to some crazy awesome friends of mine, but the point I want to make is that sometimes the good thing that comes out of a situation like that has nothing to do with you.
Sometimes your ER nurse is having the worst day ever and the fact that your case is relatively stress-free is the good thing.  You won't know about it and you won't know that there is any good hanging around your pink eye.
Sometimes your pharmacist was only breaking even for the week and your perfectly curable illness pushed her into the black.  (I'm making this up.  I have no idea if this ever happens, but I assume it does because a business is a business, right?  No matter how expensive your BC is.)
Sometimes you get rear-ended and have to pay your deductible with your vacation money, but that person never ever texts when driving ever again.  They don't write you a letter to tell you so but they also don't kill anybody.
Sometimes Job loses all his children and cows and gets boils on his ass without even an explanation from God, but every Bible-reader that comes after has a story to turn to for understanding.
And you will lie in bed with one eye crusted shut wondering what the hell you ever did to deserve this--but just remember: there is some good in it, somewhere, but it has nothing to do with you.
Nothing ever does.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What I Want to Talk About When I Talk About Happiness

    I went home for my and my father's birthday weekend and my mom threw us a giant party.  One of the guests was my dad's colleague, who studies happiness for a living (he's a psych guy).  And he was standing around laughing and making jokes and drinking a beer and I thought, oh, what the hell, so I asked him,  "Hey, Chuck, what advice would you give someone who wants to be happy?"
   He seemed a little astonished that I really wanted to hear about his work; I was slightly astonished that he isn't accosted regularly like a sports med doc at a pre-marathon carb fest.  The guy's an expert on happiness.  Shouldn't everyone want to talk to him?
    To get him started, I said, "Gretchen Rubin says you should make your bed every day, which I find a little inspirationally lacking."
   He said, "Well, you know, your everyday environment does have an effect on you, but the current literature suggests that happiness is actually an emergent property that occurs when seven or eight factors are present in the right relation to each other."
    That made so much sense that I put my drink down and prepared to be enlightened.    "What are they?"
    He again looked a little shocked (seriously, what are people talking about at parties these days? Sports? Psh.), but then he was kind enough to list them off for me:
    "Well, number one, and probably the most important, is growth. You have to feel like you're growing as a person and that you have long-term goals you can aim for. 
    "Two, you need to have work that you find fulfilling.
     "Three, some sort of spirituality through which you can understand your life and the things that happen to you, and possibly a supportive spiritual community. 
     "Four, younger, or less experienced people whom you can mentor and provide support for. 
     "Five, older or more experienced people whom you can look to for mentoring and support.
     "Six, a group of peers who can provide emotional resonance and who are interested in the things that interest you."

     At this point I interrupted him.  "So most of these have to do with relationships with other people."
    "Yes," he said, "they do.   It can be horribly detrimental to your mental health and happiness if you don't have some long-term, close relationships."  He talked a little bit then about his brother who had moved away fairly recently and the large but unexpected impact the move had had on his own family's happiness and feeling of being a family, and on the brother himself.  Then he said, "It's really just in our culture that we place so much emphasis on individualism and individual expression, and it's actually not very healthy."
    I felt a little weird about this, because in my family I am the one who has moved away, and it has been detrimental to my happiness, and to my family's happiness, too.  I can't be there for them for the little things, or even some of the big things, and I don't really have a place there. And it's a weird sort of problem, because I love Arizona, and being here has provided me with opportunities for personal growth and jobs I would never have had back in my small hometown, but it has also lost me my sense of place among people.  I said as much to Chuck, and he nodded sagely and said, "It's really a tough spot to be in."
     "Do you think," I asked, "that people in more family-oriented cultures are happier than we are?"
     He did not even hesitate.  "Oh, definitely.  It's not even a question."
   
     Isn't that strange?  Our entire culture is dedicated to making people as self-sufficient as possible, to giving them full individual expression and attention, and what that actually does is prevent us from being truly happy.
     So why do we do it?
   
    

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Told You So

Today was, after all my talk, not a "best" day.
Today I talked too much about myself and got impatient and bored with people I care about and situations I was in.   And I accidentally left Harry outside on the balcony in 100-degree weather while I went to a bar.
Sometimes this happens when I don't get enough alone time; but I've spent the last 72 hours in bed with all-over bodyaches and swollen glands reading copies of SELF magazine (and also Stern Men, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was like a small piece of profane heaven), so I'm pretty sure it wasn't that.
(Did you know the cure for unspecific viral illness--in the form of all-over bodyaches and swollen glands--was a slideshow of your running partner's trip to Nicaragua and some b*tchin' Nicaraguan rum? I didn't, either.)
Sometimes this also happens when I'm feeling entitled to something superior than what's in front of me.
If I were actually entitled to something superior than what's in front of me, wouldn't I have it already?
Feeling entitled sometimes happens when some non-related area of my life has disappointed me and I haven't dealt with that.
I really want to go to Nicaragua.
Or India.
Being sick kind of sucks.
My best friend and road-trip partner hasn't been answering my calls or texts.  I'm sure it's not for any reason in particular.  Which is almost worse.

This was not me at my best, but I'm going to try again tomorrow.

There were monsoons today.
Harry forgave me.
It's all good.