Thursday, February 06, 2014

Best American Horror Story yet (and I'm going to miss it so)...

There were a lot of plot inconsistencies and strange choices this season, definitely not as scary as AHS Murder House or AHS Asylum, but AHS Coven wins "Best AHS" on my list for one reason: Stevie effing Nicks.

Stevie made a guest appearance in one episode as a witch (and idol of Misty the Swamp Witch, see GIFs above), plus the season finale opened with "Seven Wonders" and an intro that harkens back to the olden days of swoony music videos. If you check out popular Google search terms for AHS Coven + Stevie Nicks, you can almost see all of the 20-somethings trying to find out who this magical, shawl bedecked, twirling pagan princess is and how they can buy the music. Here's hoping that Stevie got a huge iTunes bump from the show. Also that wearing black is the new black, because on Wednesdays they wear black.

Did you watch? Do you DIE? Shouldn't Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett be in a movie together? Is there any role that Kathy Bates cannot nail like a boss? Will you keep the Stevie Nicks episode on your DVR until you can buy the whole season online?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's not real...

All writing is personal. And sometimes the best writing feels awful. I cut my teeth on personal narrative, though I didn't know that's what it was called at the time. I've written lots of fiction too, way more than the occasional short stories published in rather obscure literary journals. I even have a novel in a box, where it will probably live forever. Once I became accustomed to "letting it all hang out" with my writing, I needed fiction less and less often. 

A longtime friend and I have a running joke that came from the movie Postcards from the Edge (based on a book by Carrie Fisher). Whenever we have an experience that causes extreme public or social embarrassment, we shake it off with "it twirled up." In this scene, the daughter accuses the mother of inappropriate behavior. Her response? "IT TWIRLED UP."

When I coach writing clients who are working on personal narrative or memoir (or blogs), I often tell them that hitting "send" or "publish" for the first time is going to feel terrible. It's going to feel like your skirt blew up in public and everyone saw your panties. You'll feel exposed and vulnerable. And then you'll get used to it, eventually.

In the past few years, I've written more fiction than I did in college intensives. More than the novel in a box. It was a panacea for feeling like I lost my sense of humor, the tongue-in-cheek voice I had taken for granted for so long. Shit wasn't funny anymore and I had no distance. A therapist suggested I write about everything, but do it in the third person. So I did. And it made me remember why I started writing fiction in the first place. 

With personal narrative, especially humor, hyperbole is acceptable and expected. But it's still oops-it-twirled-up honest. Fiction gave me the freedom to tell the story any way I wanted to, to end it any way I wanted to, and the distance I needed so that it wouldn't make me sad. I've heard other fiction writers say that their work has no basis in their own lives, that it's entirely made up, and I believe them. Sort of. I have fiction writer friends who openly admit their stories are thinly disguised events from their lives. Joan Didion's fiction was (though she's better known for memoir). So was Nora Ephron's, Heartburn in particular. 

In the spirit of twirling up, for every writer I've ever encouraged to push "send," I'm going to share a cringe-worthy (at least to me) snippet of a short story that was published several years ago in a now defunct literary journal. The story is called "Running Away." 
Following suddenly interested in running father to country club track. Watching him on the pay phone from a distance. Healthy, running 5Ks and marathons and away. From my mother, with her quiet cancer. From four daughters with their female neediness. Running away from same, same, same houses on a military base where class mattered less than rank. His poor farming family. An Irish mob of a family in a tiny New York town across the Saint Lawrence River from Kingston Ontario. From dirt and poverty. Weekday mornings in his officers uniform, snapping his collar, snapping at females and poodles and leaving behind a sickeningly sweet cologne cloud.

Weekends, already getting fat at age nine, I put shorts and sneakers on. Followed him out of the house in the early dawn. Ran several yards behind him, knowing he saw me and only that he didn't order me to return home. Running to catch up. Running the miles around the houses on base until he stopped. In the lot of the officer's club. There was a pay phone outside. He held up his hand, motioned for me to turn back, left me behind until he was out of earshot, picking up the phone, cradling the receiver with his back to me. I wait. Stretch. I know. I know everything.
I would prefer this story die with it's out of print, never digitized publisher. It's awkward and weird and I think I was 22 or 23 when I wrote it. But fiction? Sure. Why not? From the age of 11, when my biological father left my mother the day after Christmas to move in with his girlfriend and start a new and improved family, I told people my father was dead. That I never knew him (this is true, and he might actually be dead now because I haven't had contact in years). It was easier than the complicated truth, that he left our family while my mother had just begun treatment for cervical cancer, that the only thing that saved us is that he was in the military and thus forced to pay child support. That he wanted nothing more to do with us. This fiction was the part of me that admitted the hurt and the guilt of knowing just how long before the leaving that the moving on began. 

This is a story I will never be able to tell as my own narrative, but it can still be told. It is not something I still grieve over. I've had a lot of good experiences in my life with men, fathers of friends, that showed me that men can love their daughters even though mine didn't. My "daddy issues" are no worse than most. I stopped trying to replace him a long time ago, around the time this story was published, maybe even because it was published. 

Writing is how I choose to heal, whether the words are truth or revisionist history. I could have made the story end in a different way, made my father a different man. I could write it three more times and have three different trajectories. But I don't have to because it's out there and it doesn't matter anymore. All of this is to say: I hope you get to know what it feels like, even just once, to let it twirl up. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

It's December in Austin, which means...

A high today of 87 degrees! It was 55 when I woke up this morning. After four years (end of this month) in Austin, I don't think I'll ever get used to the temperature fluctuations. My windshield keeps cracking. It's something about the laws of physics and sciencey things that happen when hot things get cold and vice versa.

Anyhoochie. I'm not going to apologize for taking a break from posting because it makes me hate myself (the apologizing, not the taking of the break), but I wanted to tell you about the weather. I went for a walk outside this afternoon in the boots I wore to work because it was 55 degrees this morning and now I feel sweaty. When winter comes to Austin though, it doesn't f*ck around. This weekend? Highs of 39 degrees, lows 29-31 degrees, plus 50-60 % chance of rain. Happy we had a cold snap a few weeks ago that motivated me to dig out my winter gear because I'm going to need it.

Speaking of winter gear, here is a photo of my dog in a Snuggie™. She has one. I don't. Because I figured out how to use a remote control and a telephone while being warm and simultaneously covered by a blanket a long time ago. (Snuggie lovers, I do not judge...unless I see you in one at the grocery store because my mother raised me right.)

The cutest EVER, right?

Stay warm wherever you are!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Because we all want to write more better...

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because if everyone did, I wouldn't be a comma fucker.

I've been a writer since I could string together a sentence. I've been an editor, professionally speaking, for more than 10 years now. I love language, words, sentences, breaking rules, playing with subtext. These things make me happy. What makes me sad also makes me an asshole, a "Grammar Nazi," and apparently, a "comma fucker." I present the evidence, shared by a Facebook friend earlier this week:

So yeah, Finnish: "pilkunnussija" literally translates to "comma fucker," or someone who corrects little or meaningless things.

Over the years I have learned that most people don't like to have their grammar corrected (exception: writers handing over manuscripts for an extended and intentional bout of comma fucking). I still do it silently. I no longer read comments on news stories or web sites. I hide Facebook posts by people I care about because I just cannot with the poor spelling and grammar. I cringe at an erroneous possessive apostrophe. I've sent kind and gentle (my opinion) emails to local businesses with misspelled signage.

In my defense, I don't do these things to feel intellectually superior. I do them because I have a dream. It's a big one, but I cling with every fiber of my being. I dream that every single person in the English-speaking world will complete early childhood education with an ingrained understanding of the difference between "your" and "you're" (yeah, I'm so fucking hung up on this that I once declined a second date with a repeat offender texter). I hope to never again have to explain that the correct idiom is "dog eat dog world," NOT "doggy dog world" (yes, this is a real thing that happened). And someday, in this perfect world, I will never again have to explain to a college graduate the difference between active and passive voice.

Trust me, my own mistakes make me cringe just as hard. I rarely read magazine pieces I've written once they have been published, lest I discover that an editor missed a wayward comma splice, misspelled word, or (gasp) changed my correct language to something less than correct. This blog is full of mistakes. There is a post somewhere around here in which I used "to" instead of "too." I beg your forgiveness, but use this example to illustrate 1) I am not a perfect comma fucker and 2) The fact that I discovered this error in hundreds of pages of archives and still remember it proves that I am harder on myself than anyone else.

I could go on about how texting and social media and a failing public educational system has ruined language, but I don't even use proper capitalization or punctuation in IM or emails to friends, so apparently I don't care. What I do care about: Journalism. Literature. Why media outlets thought it was a fantastic idea to ditch proofreaders and editors to save their struggling print publications, which people like me don't read anymore because spelling and factual errors are too damn distracting. Why e-book publishers charge for editing services, yet every single damn book I've ever downloaded for less than $2.99 (or free) was so full of grammatical inconsistencies I couldn't even tell if the writing was actually good.

Written communication matters to me and maybe I'm tilting at windmills. If so, I'll be quixotic until I draw my last breath. Call me pilkunnussija. Or comma fucker. Just spell it correctly.

*This post was sponsored by Grammarly, for which I received a trial period (but since I was hooked at "context optimized synonyms," I'd be telling you all about it anyway).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Writing about writing again, but sometimes confessions are necessary...

“I hate writing. I love having written.” - Dorothy Parker

I bought this from The Rumpus.

I can’t tell if this is too “inside baseball” because many of my friends are writers. We do what writers do: 1. Talk about writing. 2. Procrastinate. 3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

I AM working on a second book. It has a shape and a focus, but I tend to be “all or nothing” about my projects; if it can’t be perfect, then I don’t want to make the effort. And there are so many important things that need doing. Earlier this summer, I realized I forgot to watch The Wire. So I watched all five seasons in about a month like it was my second job. Then I had to start watching Luther, because Idris Elba.

I put off buying an e-reader forever. I LOVE BOOKS. How could I betray my beloved READING EXPERIENCE with an electronic device? Then I bought a Kindle Fire and it made me feel like I could live without paper forever, even just for the thrill of thinking of a book I once read a million years ago and being able to download it at 1 a.m. and read it. Instant gratification. Writing is not instant gratification. Unless writing a Tweet, which is extraordinarily satisfying. I have written almost 8,000 of them, which in sum total is a book-length work, albeit a boring one.

I still write ideas down in a paper notebook. I also have Evernote on my phone, laptop and tablet. I can’t say that technology has made be more productive (probably the opposite), plus instead of just a notebook full of brilliant ideas mocking me from the depths of my shoulder bag, the mocking comes from multiple sources. I have Tetris on my tablet for some stupid reason. A feed reader of informative blog posts and articles to attend to. I’ve watched 50 episodes of Shin Chan on Hulu in the past three months.

All of this side business (bullshit) means that my notes stagnate, angry, unruly, unattended to: “Hey, um, so…think you’ll get to work on me this weekend? You know, ‘cause you said you were excited about it and all, but here we sit—how long has it been? A month? I know you’ve got all that television to watch and those naps to take and, well, I’m sure that fascinating thing about your ex-boyfriend from a million years ago really needs to get written for your blog. I’m sure all of that takes precedence over, say, the possibility of a review in the Times before you turn 80. Whatever.” My notes are a sarcastic bitch.

It probably doesn’t help that I want my second book to be mine-all-mine, not advice, not for anyone else, my Didion book. And I decided that 45 would be a good age to publish this unwritten masterpiece, which is not right now, but later. Except this one doesn’t want to wait and it isn’t going away. But I push back. I’ve been on central time for three and a half years now and I still can’t get used to prime time television starting at 7 p.m. I have a day job that requires a lot of reading and editing, and it pays the bills, so if I feel like watching four hours of television or staring at the ceiling instead of writing, hey, at least my bills are paid.

Weary of covering my ears and humming every time a new thought surfaces, I set a schedule. I resolved to sit down and use the 5,000 words of notes I have accumulated, turn them into 60,000 words of brilliance, and I will do this for 10 hours a week. Last week, I wrote for one hour (not counting day job related writing or navel-gazing blog writing or Tweets or vaguely insightful Facebook posts). I know it’s bad when things I hate take precedence over my writing schedule: Laundry. Vacuuming, which I do monthly when my dog is at the groomer so she won’t go mental when she sees the Bissell Pet Vac (as in "good for sucking up pet hair," not "good for sucking up pets," but dogs think what they think). Financial paperwork that I don’t care about (someone else can figure out how to roll over my 401(k) into whatever stupid savings thing that won’t cause me to have to pay taxes). Did I already say laundry?

I have coached writers. I know what I am supposed to do when my brain wants to scrub the bathtub and organize the linen closet before I can sit down to write. Those are the thoughts I should ignore. I should sit in front of a blank page and let the words come. I should deactivate my Facebook account. I should stop reading the amazing ideas of others and start writing my own. Physician, heal thyself? I used to think it was weird to see doctors smoking cigarettes or eating fast food, but maybe it’s not weird at all. Maybe it comes down to a choice: Help others or help myself.

So, first step. I will forget the “what ifs.” What if this person gets mad because I wrote a thinly veiled description of a thing that happened a long time ago? What if people judge me? What if I don’t have a second book in me? What if I fail? Then I will find the rational part of me that hates the fact that I am never satisfied with my last great achievement and convince it to hunker down and get to work on a chapter outline.

I’m telling you these things because I need you to know that I am not fragile. You can expect things from me. I won’t flinch, make excuses, or fall apart. This is what we do, my friends. This is what we do, having written. Let's all write like motherfuckers.
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