Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Writing

Now that I am trying to be more regimented about my sabbatical writing, I sat down and wrote out a few things, long hand, in a notebook.
Later, I discovered a few stories I had written last summer, and I "fell in a hole" by which I mean I read them and that took some time.
But then, then!, I started a new story with these same characters and I wrote quite a bit on that.

All this to say that I should be/want to work on my non-fiction project, but I find it much easier to work on the novel, because I can just write whatever.

But! part of my research was looking up hit songs from my past, and so I give you this list:
Dancing Queen, ABBA
My Sharona,The Knack
TUSK, Fleetwood Mac
Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield
Jack & Diane, John Cougar
Missing You, John Waite
Careless Whisper, Wham!
Broken Wings, Mr. Mister

I look forward to see what writing might be inspired by this titles....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Donald Trump Poem from 2005!!

Here's a poem I "wrote" using the Google Poetry generator. I found it on this very blog, from 2005. It's like a time machine!!

Donald Trump: Luddite Boy Scout

Dawns the new era when the Boy Scout
Motto "Be Prepared" is, for example,
a luddite described as having more than a color TV

Sad: An electrical accident at the Boy Scout
Jamboree in Virginia has killed four.
Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, I don’t care.

Whether You are a technophile or neo-luddite or if you are (choose one):
1) Donald Trump
2) Richard Branson
3) Martha Stewart
4) Bill Gates
5) Oprah

It's a tough decision to make.
Or, if Trump was a boy scout
before he (never) went to Vietnam

Or if he was a cat or a hooker or a Girl Scout
Cookie. Donald Trump wants to fire you.
Donald Trump wants to. . .

Listen: Even Donald Trump is complaining. Is this Luddite
environmentalism? Is this positive thinking?
Or a gimmick? Like a new breakfast cereal or a press conference.

Donald Trump eats this way, chews this way,
Head in the sand, sad, a Luddite, oh—
He’s my boy, Scout, he’s a mogul.

On Books

Will there come a time when books will be obsolete?
Honestly, I don't think so, and I certainly HOPE not.
But a recent visit to the University library (research!) got me thinking. I was wandering around, looking for books, and all around me I was surrounded by young people on their computers. Were they studying? Perhaps. Probably.
But it begs the question, why do we need this library for them to study in? They could study in any structured space that gave them some privacy and some quiet. None of them (none!) was looking at a book. Not one!
On the plus side, when I walked among the rows and rows of books, I felt at ease. The smell of the books, many of them old, was familiar. I know my way around a library.
But for how many of the younger people (how many? how young? who can say!) is information and the idea of a text a wholly virtual and non-tactile thing?
My son certainly loves books, but he grew up with me and my husband. My husband, whose philosophy is "one cannot have too many books!" If my son expresses an interest in an idea, my husband buys him a book about it. Which is a great thing, and has made my son a fantastic and broadly read person.
But so many others don't know and don't care about books.
I suppose I (and others like me) are dinosaurs in our love of the actual, physical book. I know others love the book, but enough others?
And I don't necessarily think the death of the library as a place that houses books as a bad thing. I often go to the downtown public library and I think of it more as a social hub than one whose focus is primarily books. People go there to use the computers. And yes, to find books. But also to hang out, to find shelter, to use the bathroom, to sit at a table and exist.
So what is the future of the book and what is the future of the library?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


As I was walking on the treadmill (don't ask), I watched two young girls and one young man on the ice below. One girl was twirling, one was skating, and the boy was leaping and spinning. "They're so lucky," I thought, "to be able to do that." But do they think they're lucky? They looked like they were having fun, but I bet, at their ages, they never once thought that maybe something would happen, an injury, that would prevent them from looking like magic on the ice.
I am feeling sad/sorry for myself that my injuries/pains prevent me from doing things I want to do, like run or lift heavy weight. I know, things could be much, much worse.

I saw a Cadillac Escalade with Virginia plates parked at the U, and wondered, "Why?" I mean, that is one giant vehicle. It made me think about how, when I was in college, I had a bicycle. But, it's true, I had friends with cars. Sigh.

I am quite happy that Moonlight won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. I thought it was amazing.

What I've read/been reading:
"California Dreamin'" by Tad Friend (about Mike Mills) from The New Yorker
an excerpt from The Theory of Absence (on my phone!)
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (so far, pretty good)
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (about Ted Bundy; SO CREEPY)

Deep Work by Cal Newport
This one has affected the way I work. I'm trying (!!) to stay off social media all day and FB forever, thus the blogging. I have lists for every day, including a writing schedule and writing goals (which I need to make more concrete). I'm trying to be a "rhythmic" deep worker, which means I set aside time each day to do deep work. I'm also trying to be a person who sops checking her email & looking at her phone at like, 6, each night. Trying!! It's a good book with good advice about being productive which, thankfully, includes a section on Being Lazy. Hooray!

Also, I've realized I'm a highly distractable person. Back to Deep Work!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

On Doing Two (or more) Things at Once

I'm sure there is some science somewhere that explains how different parts of your brain can work on two different problems at the same time, and, in fact, how you can be better at solving two problems because one part of your brain is distracted by one problem and so the rest of your brain can sub-consciously work on that second problem.
This is my philosophy anyway, and explains why, in addition to trying to write this amorphous memoir-crime-history book I am also trying to put together a collection of poems. Also, today I started working (again) on a crime story I started. When I was looking for the notes I had made for this crime story (still lost!), I saw the manuscript of the mystery I wrote, oh, a few years back that I sort of promised myself I was going to finish and then try to find an agent for. Maybe?
Well, my point is, and I tell students this often, that when you have ONE BIG thing to do, it sometimes helps to do something else. Usually I recommend walking or working out or writing something that you tell your brain you don't care about (a blog post?). It's just fun! Just write it! It doesn't matter!
So, because of that, I easily tacked 1,000 words onto this crime story that I have NO IDEA where it is going....and that's okay, because it's just an exercise while I work on this very serious, totally important book project. Which is probably why that seems to be going nowhere, because it is so serious and important. Actually, I've written a few things for it, and I sort of like them.
The problem, speaking of amorphous, is that I've read a few things lately that have this sort of formal aspect to them, which, in theory, I like. In the two instances I can think of, however, the form sort of interfered with what, for all other purposes, might have been good novels.
This discovery has made me paranoid about the form of my amorphous project. Am I thinking too much about form? Maybe. However, when I try to write a straight narrative I realize that my life is actually pretty boring and no one would want to read about it that way. (trust me, it's true)
This leads to some long stretches of self-reflection that don't result in my "producing one thing." Though today I can at least say that I produced some words and that, by the end of next week perhaps?, I should have a draft of the story.
And with that, I'm going for a walk. (I hope I don't freeze out there!)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

On Lists

So here I am on the first *real* day of the year, that is, the first WORKING day, because no one does anything of note on January 1. That's the day when you are getting ready for the year. January 2 fell on a Monday, so that's the day we pretend is a holiday because if a holiday is a Sunday, it's a rip off, because Sunday is already a day off. So.
That brings us to Tuesday, a fine day to start things, just as good as any other day, and the day in which I began to implement my PLAN. That makes it sound like a book that could be featured on Oprah, but in reality, it's just a wee plan to help me get/be/stay motivated to DO THINGS! in the new year.
What, pray tell, do I mean?
Well, there's this sabbatical project/s that I should be/totally am doing. Then also fitness and converting myself from a sloth into a person with a god-like body (but I'm giving myself until the end of the summer for that, because what good is a god-like body when it is covered in sweats and giant sweaters? no good is the obvious answer). Also healthy (non-sugar, alcohol free) living.
Which means life needs lists. Lots and lots of lists. But, it turns out, lists help me manage to do the thing that needs to be done while not doing the thing that can obviously be done later, i.e. during my writing time.
Writing time! That's a thing. That I schedule. So in addition to lists, schedules. I need one and not just to plan out my exercise for the week (done! something I can cross off my list).
Here's what's on my list:

  • Blog (ON IT!!)
  • Look for flights to Iceland (I KNOW!!)
  • Get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour on the hour between 9-5 (so far I am 4 out of 6, but given that I spent 12 to 1 swimming, I'm going to call that a win. )
  • Read Deep Work (pm)
  • Produce 1 thing per day (I have to be loose because I don't know what I'm writing. What is a thing? It's the text that I've written, whatever that is. WIN!)
  • Find a family volunteer project for MLK, jr Day
So, good bloggers of blogville, I am on my list. I am running my list and my list does not run me. When I think of a thing I want to do that day, I write it on my list. Today I have crossed out: write 2 hours (!), Swim, Lunch. Now I can cross off "Blog." Also produce 1 thing. I did that and more during my two hours. Take that, list!
I feel like Toad who writes a list in the sand so he can cross off Go to Sleep. I think all lists should be treated like structures of sand that might be erased by an incoming wave.
Oh well, it's only a list.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Nostalgia for Everything

I stole this title from a favorite short essay by Andrei Codrescu.
The reason I am feeling nostalgia is that Son is 15, and as I peruse photographs of Christmas past I miss the us we were. Now we are not an us, now we are a me and a him.
I know this is a stage of life one must pass through, just as one must go through all the symptoms and illness of the flu before one can recover from it. Yes, adolescence is an illness, mostly for the parents.
The difficulty of this stage of his life surprises me. I was (somewhat) prepared for the difficulty of the younger years. They call them the Terrible Twos! But so much of that was difficult physically. Chasing after the little demon as he tried to put all the poisonous and electrical things in his mouth. Staying up late, getting up early when he developed his very own sleeping schedule that ignored the laws of nature and light. Being exhausted is just part of the deal.
But now the exhaustion is of a psychological nature. Son spends most of his time ignoring me, or slowly pushing the door closed as I try to talk to him. In all ways he is creating and drawing attention to the chasm between us. For him, I'm sure, this is healthy and all part of the process. For the mother, of course, it is painful.
So I find pictures of us when he was five and he has his arm around me and a crooked grin on his face. I sift through memories for moments with him. Watching TV. Listening to him watch Looney Tunes in the basement while he laughed hysterically, the day I was walking with him across a store parking lot, holding his hand, and I had the wherewithal to think, "Remember this. His little hand." And I did, so much so that I can feel the shape of his tiny hand in mine.
Those days are gone, my friends, and I think (a lot, actually) that our best days are behind us. I know there will be good times in the future, but when? The future, as always, is uncertain.
I'm sure there is a Buddhist way to make peace with all of this.
He is a wonderful person, and I'm sure that at some unspecified time in the future he will be able to admit that he likes me again.
But until then, Oy!
So I have nostalgia for everything. For the him he was and the me I was. For Christmases when we could buy him toys and coloring books. For the time when he *wanted* to make cookies with me. For the time when I didn't swear at him every day. (I'm a bad mom. I know.)
At the same time, I'm aware that in the future, two years perhaps, when he's away at college and the house is a tad-bit emptier, that I will have nostalgia for this time, when he ignored me and when I could observe, every day, tiny glimpses into the man he will become.
Damn. Being a Mom is hard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Night at The Westerner in President-Elect Trump's America

There are a few things I know for sure, and one is when a man who looks like a straight, white redneck in blue jeans, a plaid shirt, and a camo baseball cap gets on stage at a bar called The Westerner to do karaoke, and he sings "Don't Cry Out Loud," you can be pretty sure he's not what you first thought him to be.
After, you will turn to your friend and say, "He's a closeted gay man," or something to that effect.
Later, when two older gentlemen, one in a giant black cowboy hat with a white mustache and beard, the other in a baseball hat, going by the names "Jack Daniels and Bud Light," get up to sing a version of "Beer For My Horses," you will begin to worry. The song, written by Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick, and originally recorded by Keith and Willie Nelson seems to be a benign country song in the tradition of many such country songs. Some of the lyrics, however, began to grab your attention and cause an uneasy knot to form in your stomach.

Grandpappy told my pappy

Back in my day, son
A man had to answer
For the wicked thing he done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree
Round up all of them bad boys
And hang 'em high in the street
For all the people to see

Are you alone in being reminded of, say, a lynching? You look around and most of the mostly white people in this bar are singing along and don't seem to be aware of the words that are actually coming out of their very own mouths.

We got too many gangsters
Doing dirty deeds
Too much corruption
And crime in the streets
It's time the long arm of the law
Put a few more in the ground

 Is it the word "gangster" (code for African-American?) or is it the idea of vigilantism that now makes you worry, not only about yourself, but about lots of other people, some of them in this very room?

The cute young man in the plaid shirt has signed up for another song. He has a good voice. The song turns out to be "Sweet Transvestite" from Rocky Horror. Uh-oh. He gives a strong performance with some, but not too much, flair. You look uncomfortably around the room for any men who may be looking violent/disturbed. You say to your friend, "okay, maybe NOT in the closet."
A very talented friend has already signed up to sing a song by the Dixie Chicks. She reminds you of the very public battle between Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks resulting in the F.U.T.K. t-shirt. Too late now. On she goes. Luckily, she sings like an angel and thereby, through the magic of music?, wins over Jack and his friend Bud. When she comes down from the stage, Jack gives her a high five. He must of forgotten that TK hated the DCs. Good!
Before you leave, you tell the young gay man that he has a good voice and that you liked both his songs. He hugs you. He is gathering his things, and you hope he is leaving, but you see him and his friends heading to the dance floor. 
It occurs to you that he is brave, in Post-Trump America, to dress like a redneck and sing like a fabulous gay man. You complimented him because you wanted him to know you are on his side, you wanted to encourage him, but now it occurs to you that he saw right through you. That he recognized immediately that you were the one who needed a hug, not him, because he has the knowledge and security of being 100% who he is. 
Even at the Westerner in President-elect Trump's America.