Olympics and the good old days

Everyone is talking about the Olympics. At least it seems like everyone is. Many posts on various social media are all about Olympic athletes and different sports.

I have to admit, I’m not following the Olympics this time around and I didn’t follow them much in years before. But I must say that even the hype surrounding the festivities have made me yearn for the good old days.

Like many people, I played sports when I was younger. My main pastimes were softball, basketball and soccer. When I could find time, I also liked to play volleyball and even attempted to play tennis (rather badly I might add). It was FUN. I made lots of friends, got lots of exercise, learned lessons about working in a team and embraced the ecstacy of victory and the huge disappointment of defeat. One of the greatest lessons that a young person can learn is that becoming adept at dealing with winning and losing in a healthy manner.

Nowadays many young people spend all of their time playing video games, texting and playing on the computer – the fact that I’m on a computer is not lost on me. I’m not suggesting that these are necessarily bad things as technology has driven the changes that we see in our world today, and in many ways that same technology runs our world. Without intimate knowledge of it many of us, including our future leaders, would be lost. What is missing is the piece that fills the gap where young people can learn those valuable lessons that we learned when we were younger.

These are thoughts that often plague my mind. Every time there is news of a shooting, such as the recent one in Aurora, Colorado, I have to wonder where we went wrong in teaching our kids how to deal with others in good times and bad. Much emphasis is put on bullying today. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely feel that bullying is wrong – but I was also bullied as a child and somehow made it through as did many of my contemporaries.

What does this have to do with sports? In all of the lessons that I learned, subtle messages included things don’t always go the way I want and when I have an adversary, what is I can do to improve my performance to best them. Are these still lessons that our young people learn in a world where if you’re losing the game you can just go to the last save spot and start over?

I try to remind myself of these things with my daughter. Instead of letting her watch television and play video games all of the time, I encourage her to go outside and play, be involved in sports and just as important (if not MORE important) READ A BOOK.

If you don’t like what you see in the world, the first step is changing yourself and what happens in your home – and always be willing to help others do the same – so our kids can look back on the old days and call them good, too.

When you’re a writer

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days on the nature of writing and the written word in general. When you are a writer – whether it’s a blog, a book, a tweet or a post on Facebook – you’re putting your thoughts out there and leaving everything up to the interpretation of the reader. The risk in this is that there will be at least a few whose interpretations are so far off base that you wonder if maybe they’re not fluent in the language.

This is not something new. It’s been decades since I first became aware of the significant disconnect between intent and perception. Perception is a tricky thing. There can be as many perceptions as there are people observing an event or reading a passage. The goal should be – and many times it’s a struggle – to write your message so specifically and succinctly that it leaves little up to interpretation. Even THEN there will still be people who just don’t get it. What to do? You can work harder to be more explicit to limit that possibility or you can accept that those who “don’t get it” are not your audience anyway and your concern for their opinion should be fleeting. Momentary at best. I am trying to embrace the latter, but I still find myself perplexed when something evidently gets lost in translation.

The great thing about books is that if it’ s a full-length novel, you have 80,000+ words to get your message across and make sure that it’s clear. With social media, the risk is even greater because the interaction is so limited. With the regular interface of Twitter, you only have 140 characters to make an impression. What this abbreviated version of communicating with the public does is make it even easier for people to embrace fallacious interpretations and make character judgments based on them. Even with face-to-face interaction, we are all quick to jump to conclusions because we can’t possibly think that our perceptions could possibly be incorrect. We have not been socialized to ask the question, “Wait, what do you really mean?” before we jump to conclusions and more often than not, demonstrate to the world our limited understanding that sometimes we need interpreters even when we do speak the same language. And that’s with the added benefit of body language!  It has the potential to get so much worse in our current virtual reality.

What’s the best answer? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know this – people who make character judgments based on such limited information are not adequate judges of character and in the end, they really have no healthy place in your life. Surround yourself with people who lift you up rather than those who drag you down. Lord knows negativity is rampant in the writing industry, so full of rejection. Don’t accept any additions if not needed.

Wipe the inane drivel from the front of your shirt and move on – the unbelievers are not worth your time and in the end, the message wasn’t intended for them in the first place.

When the Dream Gets Lost

I wrote a lot during my middle school/high school time. By the age of 18, I had written over 500 pages of poetry. It’s all gone.

I don’t know what happened to it. I used to keep all of my writing in a black binder, but I couldn’t tell you what happened to it. Something happened when I was 18-19 years old that was so emotionally traumatic that even my knack for writing dark odes was helpless in saving me. I went from feeling like I was living in a world of darkness to being hollow. I couldn’t even feel the darkness. It was like the writer within had died along with my muse, twin graves that I wanted to visit but didn’t know how.

Although I had stopped writing, I tried on several occasions to find that binder. I would practically tear our house apart, from the top floor to the basement. I wanted to write again, and I had hoped that reading through those old poems would awaken my muse. Maybe if I could’ve been reminded of what it was like, I could replicate that feeling of release that I got when I purged my thoughts on a piece of lined paper. But it never happened. I never found that binder. Over 500 pages of poetry gone forever.

I did eventually start to write again, but only essays on political issues that I felt passionate about at the time. I even contemplated a regular contribution to a state magazine as a way to embrace writing again. My first column with the magazine was on the persecution of transpeople and the social construct of gender. To many people, it would be quite snooze-worthy. To others, it would piss them off. For me, I envisioned a regular contribution of post-second-wave feminist ramblings that I would call “The Angry Beaver.” As seductive as I found the idea, I never pursued it.

Through those years I tried many times to write new poetry and short stories. I never kept any of it because it all sucked. I decided that I had to accept that the  trauma I felt in my late teens was really that part of me dying. And regardless of how hard I tried, there was no resurrecting her.

Then it happened. I had an idea. An original idea. It had been so long since I had one that it came as a bit of a shock, like someone had slapped me. That original idea is turning into my first novel, “The Source.” It’s like seeing your first love again and although you have both changed, you are still so deeply connected that a different type of love blossoms.

My love affair with writing has started again. My muse didn’t need to be resurrected. She just needed a 17-year vacation to sort some things out, and now we’re both more mature and mentally prepared to get the story out to the masses.

Wait for it. It’s coming soon.

A Writer’s Muse

If art imitates life, does that mean that life is my muse?

One of many actually.

When I first started writing in middle school, it wasn’t long before I had a moment of clarity regarding my work – it’s not original. I’m not being overly-critical of myself here, just that I came to realize what my role as a writer was in some ways like that of an artist – at least my view of artists, coming from someone who would have loved to be a painter but just couldn’t embrace that particular form of media.

What I realized is that words are overused. The world is so big and there are so many languages and there have been so many people to have lived this crazy life that anything I could express was most likely expressed by someone else already. So why even bother? Because even if someone has said it before, that doesn’t mean my audience has heard/read it before. At the risk of sounding off my nut, I came to embrace an almost ethereal muse. I would meditate on this idea that everything has been said before and then just let the words come to me, almost as if someone else was talking through me. Many times, it was like I could view all of the words, and I was picking them out to arrange them in a number of sequences that made sense to me – almost like an artist will take many different colors of paint and mix them together to create a painting. I wrote in this method for so long that it became as if the poems and stories already existed, I was just giving them a voice.

I no longer meditate on this idea…much. But the method has in some ways continued to live on within me. When I first started writing my first novel, “The Source,” the characters took on a life of their own. I would sit down to write and scenes would develop in a way I never expected, characters actually shocking me with the things they said and did. After so many years of not seriously writing, this experience amazes me again and again every time it happens. And if it doesn’t happen, I start to wonder if the plot is really going in the direction it should.

I now understand when novelists like Laurell K. Hamilton often refer to their characters as if they are real people. Life is not just our muse. Our muses are living entities that we “literarily” give birth to and often refer to as loved ones.

Does this make us crazy? Maybe. It definitely makes us good storytellers because a good story comes from someone who lives comfortably in her own imagination.

I’m not going to worry about any possible pathology until I start preferring my characters over real people, and on some days, that becomes way too difficult to resist.

Art imitates life

Or in my case, art saved my life.

Like I said in my previous post, I used poetry to purge a lot of the dark feelings that I had when I was a pre-teen/teenager. Writing was a way of venting my frustrations, hurts and secrets without talking to a real person. That may seem kind of sad, but it was useful, and I don’t want to think what could have become of me if I hadn’t written so much during those times.

I still use writing to purge feelings, but I mostly use it to explore the human condition and range of emotions. I guess that gets back to my interest in sociology and how groups manage in an ever-changing world. Many of the scenes in my upcoming novel The Source explores various situations and how a person might act/react in that environment. For me, writing a novel is a many-months process of thinking about “you can’t know what you would do unless you were in my shoes.” In many ways, the writing helps me to develop as a person as it forces me to look at things from different perspectives – but only because I choose to write in that style. There are many writers who write content that is only for mindless entertainment for the reader, and that’s completely valid. If there wasn’t a need for that type of escapism, then there wouldn’t be such a large market for trashy romance novels. Not everyone gets lost in Shakespeare.

And not that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare. Far from it. With Shakespeare, the reader is taken on a journey of humanity. In my writing, it’s me who is on the journey and everyone else is along for the ride. Who knows whether anyone will ever get anything “deep” from my novels. I sure hope so. But even if it allows readers to relax for a few minutes a day, then I will feel successful. That would actually be beyond success. For me, the writing is success in itself if I am lucky enough to better understand people and be more compassionate because of it. For anyone to enjoy it? Well, that’s just extra gravy goodness.

A Writer Emerges

In middle school my love for reading quickly turned into a love for writing. I was emotionally twisted and found a loyal friend in my notebook. I began writing pages and pages of poetry. I even entered my poems in local contests and actually won. I believed that I had found what it was I was meant to do in life.

My writing style was heavily ornate and utterly dark. Poetry and teen angst make for morbid imagery. Add a fascination with vampires and preoccupation with death and you get some beautifully tragic verses. In many ways writing saved me by allowing me to purge myself of that darkness, but a high school English teacher almost muzzled my inner voice.

We had an assignment to write a poem using iambic pentameter. I loved these kinds of assignments because I felt like I could really embrace my artistic ability in school work. I turned in my poem and was confident that she would be impressed with my talent. Instead she negatively criticized my poem over two lines she said were incorrect because I used a mixed metaphor.

I was appalled. How could something I wrote be incorrect? Wasn’t there such a thing as poetic/artistic license?

My response to this? I wrote another poem…completely filled with nothing but mixed metaphors. From that point – like my attitude with many things – I raged against being restricted. That’s really what it’s all about. Poetic license is the literary way to say bite me, I don’t need your rules.

You’ll see this attitude come out in a lot of my writing.

The Reader Within

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. I can’t really pinpoint the time when I fell in love with reading, but I guess it was probably in elementary and middle school.

In 4th and 5th grade I had the privilege of working in the school library. I read books, but mostly I was the person who helped organize the stacks – back when libraries still used physical card catalogs and the dewey decimal system was an exciting new code that only the literarily enlightened could understand.  My time with the elementary school library was what eventually led to my romanticized dream of working in a book store. That dream was never realized, at least not in a brick-and-mortar store. It’s a completely different world since that time.

Although I read books in elementary school – particularly the Nancy Drew series – I wouldn’t say that I loved reading. I enjoyed the world of mystery and suspense in those books, but it wasn’t until 6th grade that my love affair with the written word began.

Every year at my middle school we would be treated to a book fair. Hundreds of books would be set up in the library and students would beg their parents for some cash to buy anything that caught their eye. Mad Libs were very popular, and I was also swept up in the fun of creating crazy stories with my friends. But, one day after talking about a book in my English class, I found a copy of it at the book fair and used my Mad Lib money to buy it. I have been an avid – almost obsessive – reader ever since. That book was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

I cannot really explain why it was that particular book that sparked the fire, but I’m not going to complain. Now I just recognize that it was a very humble beginning for a lover of paranormal and vampire fiction. Particularly considering that one of the other books that I bought at the fair was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I actually didn’t finish it! I got bored with Dracula. Me, lover of all things vampire, bored with the father of all vampires! That’s right. It was actually Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that got me interested in paranormal-type fiction.

I have since reconciled with Dracula, but still think that Frankenstein is the better book – and as you will learn, this says a lot about the writing styles that I enjoy today – even if they are more of the pointy-tooth variety.