Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nora Roberts on Writing

Nora Roberts rocks my world.  When I pick up one of her books, I don't breathe until I'm finished.  I've blogged before about how I used to roll my eyes in scorn when I thought of romance books.  Two years ago, when I was on vacation, I decided to check one out, to see if I was wrong.  The book I picked up was Taming Natasha by Nora Roberts.  Yes, the title was dumb, and the cover looked ridiculous, but from the first page, it captured my attention.  I have no doubt that if I had picked up any of Nora's books, I would have had the same reaction.  She writes strong, independent women who demand equality in addition to love.

So it's no surprise that when she talks about writing, she inspires me.  In this video, she's addressing an audience at the Washington Post.  I've watched it several times, and when I'm gearing up to a new project, I find myself watching it yet again.  One of my favorite quotes is "Sister Mary Responsibility kicks the Muses ass every time."  Or "Determination, guilt, and guilt are a writer's best friends."  I keep trying to think of an appropriate place I could have these tattooed on my body, but in the meantime, they're my personal mantras.

Part of what I love about Nora Roberts is that she produces like none other.  She churns out titles not only under her name, but under the pen name J.D. Robb, writing several books a year for each brand.  How she does it, I'm not quite sure, but I think it probably has something to do with her consistent writing habit.  She compares it to working out--you better keep it up, or you'll lose it (and it will hurt like hell when you try to get back at it).

I also love her characters.  She writes people that I could imagine meeting--they have hopes, strengths, flaws, and snappy come-backs.  They're not idealized (like so many characters I meet in fantasy) or ridiculous (like several I've read in other romances).  Most importantly, I can't put the book down until I find out what happens to them.  Why do I care so much?  That's the magic, and that's what I want to make happen in my own writing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Write As Though No One Is Reading

I fell in a writing rut for a while--ok, the last three months.  I tend to get really hard on myself when I don't make my goals--whether they're writing goals, fitness goals, academic goals, or personal goals.  I believe that setting goals is a powerful tool.

Sometimes it's a tool I overuse.  Because with this writing break, I believe several things were happening.
1)  I am transitioning mentally from this year-long sabbatical I was given into pursuing another big, challenging goal (going back to school for physical therapy).
2)  I was letting all of the things I have learned about writing novels and publishing them congeal and sort out in my mind.

I did so much research, through reading books and blogs and attending conferences, that my brain overloaded a bit.  Not in a bad way, but enough that when I sat down to write, it felt like my head would explode from all of the things that I was "supposed to do."  Three-act structure, motivation-reaction, characterization, show-don't tell, goals, conflict, raising the stakes--all of the things that make great novels.  When I sat down to write, it felt like all of those things needed to fit into my first draft or I would be a terrible writer.  More than that, I didn't really feel like I had a story to tell.

I'm beginning to realize that I will never really have an idea for "THE STORY"--you know, the one that's so fabulous it's sure to be published.  "THE STORY" is a myth, and it's a dangerous myth.  If a writer was indeed blessed with the perfect story idea, and executed it flawlessly, and it was published to great acclaim, they would be up sh** creek if they didn't have the skill to repeat their success.

I don't want to be that kind of writer.  I want to be the kind of writer who sits down consistently and writes stories.  The better I get at telling stories, the closer I will be to publishing.  But I don't want to make publishing my end-all.  If I want a writing career, the long, profitable kind, I need to be consistently good at what I do.  And I'm not there yet.  I'm accepting that it's going to be a long road, and a joyful road, if I can keep the process fun.

Which brings me to my point:  If I'm going to sit down most every day to write a book, there are going to be lots of days where the writing's no good.  On those days, I need to keep going, because I can't afford to only write when the writing's good.  If I keep that up, I'll end up with another three month dry spell.  I need to write like no one is reading.  And when I remind myself that, in fact, I'm not a published author and there really is no one reading, I feel a kind of weight lift off of my shoulders, and it feels good--I'm free to write as much c-r-a-p as I want, and it doesn't hurt a thing.  That makes me smile.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Breanne's A Doctor Now?!?!!!!

I keep up on the people I went to high school with, the people I went to college with, pretty much anyone I've met who interests me.  Maybe it has sometime to do with loving stories--we share a moment in time, and then we go separate ways, often to very different places.

There's one group in particular I track.  In high school, my biology teacher started a group called G squared.  It was a group for gifted girls to meet and bond and in some ways, unite.  Now, the group didn't always get behind everything this teacher envisioned--we were small-town girls growing up in a post-feminist world where we could someday vote and work.  I think most of us didn't really see the whole "being a girl" thing as much of an issue.

Now I see that it was.  All of us set off in different paths, envisioning the great things we were going to do to change the world.  Many of us wanted to be doctors, biomedical engineers, lawyers, architects--big-wigs.  Most of us got lost along the way.

Wendy married her high school sweetheart and had babies.  Her dream went from being a biomedical engineer to a school-teacher to a stay-at-home mom.  She was bright and capable and so driven to be the best--I'm sure she's thrilled with her kids and striving to be the best mom in her town.  I wonder a bit who she's competing with now.

Alice wanted to be an architect, then a doctor.  She went to Notre Dame to play volleyball and take on the world.  Rather than do either, she graduated and, like me, joined a teaching program where she taught for two years.  Now, she has her masters in Nutrition and is probably helping people be healthier. She'll do great things no matter where she is--but I can't help but think she would have been an incredible MD.

Lucy also wanted to be a doctor.  She's loud, brassy, and currently working as a nurse.  She's pregnant with her second child, and I'm sure running things on her floor.  But her story itches at me.  So many of us are falling short of the marks we aimed for.  Why?  Because husbands and babies got in the way?

Or were we just saying those things because we were supposed to?  I know that I was guilty of paying lip-service to a dream I didn't really yearn for deep-down in my gut.  I majored in Biology and took all of the obligatory pre-med/pre-grad school classes.  I worked my tail off, but at the end of the day I didn't have the passion to study for the MCAT or apply or spend ten years working through med school.  So I met a boy, let the dream slip away, and drifted from one thing to another, scraping up enough money to survive and trying not to think to hard about who I was becoming or what I was doing.

I've had a lot of time to think lately.  And I want more.  I want a piece of that dream back, the one where I'm somebody in this world.  The promise of Gsquared was if we reflected on things, if we asked for more of life than being mothers and wives, we could aim bigger.  Do more.

The dream that has been slowly building up inside of me is to be a physical therapist.  It's not a doctor--I'll go to school for less time, make less money, and probably have a whole lot more time for babies.  It's what I want, the compromise that will make the most of all of my dreams.  But it makes me ache a little for the girl who said she wanted to be a doctor and is, five years later, finally blowing the dust off of her dreams and seeing what's salvageable.

But this post isn't about me or Wendy or Lucy or Alice.

This post is about Breanne.  I facebook friended another Gsquared girl who's a physical therapist in Seattle--from what I can see she's living the life I'm setting my sights on one day.  I was flipping through pictures of her wedding, when I realized the pint-sized maid of honor looked familiar.  It looked like Breanne.  I hadn't thought of her in years.  Her name has changed, but when I googled the new name, I found Breanne's picture in a group photo for a hospital in Salt Lake City.  She's an MD--a radiologist at a big hospital.

I told my husband and my roommate, and they smiled politely, but they don't get it.

Breanne did it.  Out of all of us who sat in that biology classroom at lunch and tried to puzzle out the meaning of being a woman, of being an adult, of chasing down dreams, she's the one who did every last thing she set out to do.  She went to med school. She got married.  And ten years out, she's strong.  Powerful.  Important.

There's part of me that's jealous.  I kind of would have expected that.  But I didn't anticipate being proud.  She's representing all of us--the ones who tried, who had to compromise, who settled for less or realized that they didn't have the passion for their goals.  I'm not judging, and I think that whatever life path a person chooses, no one path is better or worse.  People change, priorities change, life goes on.

But Breanne did it.  That small-town girl went out and knocked down doors, took no prisoners.  I want to thank her for her success, for being the one to make good.  I want to ask her how she did it.  I'm sure that her life isn't perfect, that she has triumphs and heartbreaks and that life will at some point bring her to her knees.  Who knows?  Maybe she is just beginning to realize that her dream of being a doctor is hollow.  That's life.  But in the meantime, she's saving lives.

Her story is like a thorn in my side, poking at me.  I want to gather up the bits and pieces of my rambling path and begin making something out of them, too.  Maybe not the big, important life I'd once vaguely envisioned.  But something comfortable, something strong.  Something I, too, can be proud of.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Old Inuit Legend

"The Great Spirit must love stories, because the Great Spirit made a lot of people."

-Old Inuit Legend

Thursday, February 16, 2012

So I dove into four critique groups, and only one panned out.

I went through a period in the last year where I desperately wanted a writing buddy.  More than anything.  I thought that having a supportive person to walk the wily road of publishing would help--maybe even be the secret weapon in my arsenal.  So I signed up for anything that I could find.  This was what my searching came up with:

1., an online critique group that's super-organized.  You're supposed to critique a random post weekly.

Result?  I hung in there for about six weeks before I got tired of sending critiques into the ether.

2.  An online forum organized through an editor that matched people through their responses to a survey.

Result?  Ugh.  We each critiqued one piece of each other's writing before a new person joined and hijacked the group.  First the only guy in the group gave her a critique in which he equated her with God, and the rest has been a rash of icky, smushy messages between the two.  At one point she told us all that:  no offense to anyone else, but she really only wanted to read his book.  I haven't done a critique there since.

3.  A Skype group organized through an old writing contact.  We meet once weekly, sometimes critiquing something someone wrote, sometimes just catching up and chatting about books and life.

Result?  Surprisingly awesome.  For a while I wasn't sure--I had to suffer through a chick-lit novel (I thought it was awful until I read Bridget Jones Diary and realized that actually I mostly just hate chick-lit) and being the outsider (the rest had at least gone to school together and knew each other pretty well. I was just a cling-on).  But the ladies are awesome, and they give fantastic, insightful feedback.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.

4.  An in-person critique partner.  We met for exactly one in-person meeting.  I loved what the man wrote, and told him so (it had been critiqued by exactly one million people before me.  It was spotless.).

Result?  I haven't heard from him again.    Who knows--maybe I'd read all that he wanted to share.  Maybe my praise was too much and he thought I had nothing to offer.  Most likely my third head scared him away :-)

So there it is.  I entered the world of feedback wide-eyed and enthusiastic, and have emerged much wiser and jaded.  I've read so many blogs saying that the wrong critique group is toxic, and the right one is magic.  I think from my experience, I've learned that it's really hard in the beginning of any new group to know if it's a good fit.  I had a lot of doubts about my Skype group and the forum group, and time was really the only way to tell.  The forum group has petered out on its own, but the Skype group is still going strong.

If I had to go back and give myself a piece of advice, it would be this:  find people who make you a better writer and stick with them.  If their advice makes you say, "You're right, I totally need to fix that," then they're a keeper.  If they make you cringe and say, "Really?  You really think so?"--run.  Run far.  Because I know my writing.  I know it's not perfect and I know that there's a lot to improve.  I also know the direction I want it to go.  When someone in the forum spent paragraphs griping about the use of one word (while ignoring large plot holes), I knew there was a problem.

Even though I'm not writing as much as I'd like, having a weekly meeting to hold me accountable is awesome.  It helps me reach out to other strong writers, and I feel like I'm growing as a writer through our interactions.  I think at the end of the day, that's the most I can ask from any group of people.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day Wishes

Valentine's Day Gift for My Husband

Happy Valentine's Day!  

I know that I'm supposed to hate this holiday at least a little bit.  It's constructed by Hallmark to boil romance down to one day a year and make people feel obligated to show each other how much they may or may not care, while simultaneously making single people around the country feel left out and abandoned.

And when put that way, there's not much to like.  But it's also a bright spot in the middle of February, which has always been a boring month for me (the appeal of winter and snow has worn off by this point).  And unless you're living in Louisiana and have Mardi Gras to look forward to, there's not much else going on until Spring Break.  

But those are just excuses.  I really like Valentine's Day because sometimes I forget.  I forget how amazing my husband is, how much I care about him and how lucky I am to be with him.  I forget about how much I enjoy spending time with him.  I forget to look for ways to surprise him and make him happy.  And Valentine's Day is a reminder.

Sometimes all it takes is a little tap on the shoulder to make me wake up and appreciate the people who are in my life.  I hope that, in spite of all of the crap that Valentine's Day sometimes dredges up, that today can be that for you, too.  So if you have someone, take a moment and just appreciate them, flaws and all.  And if you don't have a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or friends with benefits, maybe take a look at the other people in your life and appreciate them, too.  I doubt it will make a difference to St. Valentine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Falling in Love by Lisa Loeb

When I was in college, I house-sat for a woman who had a copy of a Lilith Fair CD.  I listened to that CD the whole summer, about the time that I was going through a painful break-up.  At the end of the summer, I went back to campus housing and reluctantly left the CD behind.  In a random collision of fate, I came into possession of the music once again.  I'd like to post a link to the song that I missed the most, and the lyrics that somehow made that break-up easier.  This one's for all the girls who wanted to be cowboys, and have found themselves wonderfully in love in that space between meeting and leaving.  May you someday find love that lasts.  The link is here, in case the video doesn't work.

Falling in Love
by Lisa Loeb

She wanted to be a cowboy

She was shootin' 'em down

She was tramping around.

He walked in crooked with the clear blue eyes.

"There's a nice pool at my motel you want to go for a swim?"
That night he moved in.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
At night she'd wait for the sound of his feet on the doormat,
The sound of his hand on the doorknob,
The sound of her heart beating in her head.
He'd go out playing nickel slots, cause he knew he'd lose -
She didn't know, so she couldn't choose.
One night while sleeping along in her bed,
The phone rang, she woke up, and sat up and said,
"What time is it? What time is it?"
"Well, it's 5:30 here and it's 2:30 there,
And I won't be home tonight," he said.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
Now she sits in a booth in a diner,
Waiting for someone to take her order,
Waiting for someone to come and sit down.
She rubs the smudge off the photograph, puts it back into her purse.
The grey sky was romatic cause he was holding her hand,
He was her man.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes calling falling in love.
Sometimes called falling in love.
She wanted to be a cowboy,
She was shootin' 'em down,
She was tramping around 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Night Huntress Books Binge

Night Huntress Book Binge

Night Huntress Novels

I love, love, love reading, but I have a problem--once I start a series, I need to read them all.  Immediately.  Right now.  It's usually for the best if I don't discover a series until it's well underway, because otherwise I go through withdrawal while I wait for the next book to come out.  Sometimes waiting the year for the next book actually makes me lose interest in a series, because the immediacy of their world has faded.

I was initially skeptical of the Night Huntress series because I feel that any book that deals with vampires, ghouls, and--shudder--half-vampires, has the opportunity to fail.  Epically.  But instead of the cliche and trite, I discovered a kick-ass heroine and an explosive romance.  That's about all it takes for me to fall wildly in love with a book, and so I sat down and read the next four books in the series without really pausing for breath.

Ironically, Jeaniene Frost claims to have found her inspiration from a dream, much like Stephanie Myers dreamed up her infamous Edward and Bella of Twilight. Frost says, "In my dream, I saw a man and a woman arguing. Somehow I knew the woman was a half-vampire, the man was a full vampire, and they were arguing because he was angry that she'd left him."

What I want to know is: what god I need to pray to in order to have a vampire dream that leads to a multi-book publishing contract? Is there a special herb that these women are smoking before they sleep? Tylenol PM? Or is there a patron saint of vampires that will visit your dreams if you are a very, very good writer? Sigh.

Anyway, the series rocks. Kat Crawford knows how to throw knives, jump off buildings, and lure evil vampires in for the kill--she has earned her name as the "Red Reaper" for her death count and red hair. She is the only half-vampire in existence, and she works out some of her personal issues by slaying vampires who pose a threat to humanity. Bones is her lover and vampire mentor, and their chemistry has sparks literally flying off the pages. He has a special place in my heart, because with his peroxide-blonde hair, leather trenchcoat, and Cockney-British accent, he is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer reincarnated. Together, they are one of the hottest couples I've read in literature. I recommend these books for anyone who's bored with Sookie Stackhouse or misses the early days of Anita Blake. Happy reading!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I did on New Year's Day...

I was stuck on a mountain.  In Oregon.  My husband and I decided, in a stroke of brilliance, to take the last day of our journey down the Oregon coast to drive out to Bend, OR.  From Eugene to Bend, it was a harrowing journey over the mountains on New Year's Eve.  As native Midwesterners, neither of us knew what to do on snowy mountain roads.  In Illinois, if you go off the road, you land in a cornfield.  In Oregon, apparently, if you go off the road you fall off the mountain.  We white-knuckled it to Bend that night, woke up the next morning on Jan 1st, wandered around Bend like lost souls, and at 2pm headed back to our flight out of Portland.

It turns out that exactly everyone in Portland had decided to go into the mountains to ski for New Year's weekend, and needed to get back into Portland by Sunday night.  We spent hours on Mount Hood, surrounded by gorgeous redwoods, in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  The cars inched down the mountain at 3mph, and we barely made it into Portland in time to return the rental car and make it onto our midnight flight.  The bonus?  I managed to take some interesting pictures from the passenger seat...

The view from the passenger seat

Snow-kissed trees

Mount Hood

The Portland, Oregon sign, when we finally made it into the city

Friday, February 10, 2012

Over the holidays, we took a vacation to Oregon.

My lover and I are ready to relocate.  We want to settle down, start a family, but we're living in an area of the country that is both ultra-conservative and environmentally polluted--not exactly where we want to spend the rest of our lives.  In our discussions of the future it goes something like this:

Me or him:  "We could move back to Illinois."
We blink at each other as visions of blizzards and our crazy families swim in our minds.
Me:  "Let's not."
Him:  "Indonesia?"
I shudder.  "What about the Northwest?"
We blink at each other some more, because neither of us has been there.

In the hopes that we could settle the debate, we took our holiday break and went out the explore Oregon.  We didn't have many expectations, but we wanted to see if it was a place we could someday call home.  We decided to couchsurf, so that we could maximize our time there and meet Oregon residents who could give us the scoop on living in the Northwest.  We had a few amazing hosts, and a great experience.  The weather was cold and rainy (surprise!), but the people were fun, the foodcarts were plentiful, and Powell's books was, of course, my mecca.

We started in Portland.  The town was dolled up for the holidays, and there were too many things to explore in our short time there.  We made food a priority.  The street food was amazing--I was able to gorge on Thai food by walking up to a stand, paying $5, and walking away with a steaming dish.  We also hit up Voodoo donuts, which blew me away.  The line outside stretched down the street, for good reason.

Pad See Ew Gai--my absolute favorite Thai dish. 
Bacon Maple Donut from Voodoo Donuts.  The best donut of my life.

Downtown Portland lit up for the holidays.
After several days, we rented a car and drove up and down the coast.  The ocean made me feel both small and infinite.  I wish the pictures could do it justice.

A stop on the Oregon Coast

Close-up of the Pacific

We drove down the the Redwood Forests, where we saw the giant trees that once owned the coast.  Our camera refused to work in the woods, but I wanted more than anything to be able to remember the feeling of standing next to something so tall and so alive.

Redwood Forest
On the forest preserve, we also encountered a herd of elk.  This, too, was documented.

Real, live elk.

I'll post the conclusion to our adventure tomorrow.  We went on to explore both Bend and Eugene before the trip was over, and had a harrowing New Year's adventure.  All in all, I couldn't have loved the Northwest more.  Will we move?  Well, from all accounts, the economy in that region is hurting, so we might not be able to move in the near future, but it's on my list of places I would love to live.  Someday.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Final Collage

The Framed 2012 Spiritual Growth Collage

I tracked down a frame and after much fiddling managed to pull it all together.  I'm glad the the collage is protected from wear and tear, and I'm glad I was able to include my favorite quote.

The Wise Words of Abraham Lincoln
I first read this quote on a bag of Goodearth tea.  I latched onto it, and rather than throw it away, I taped it to my computer.  When I got a new computer, I found another Goodearth tea bag with that quote, so I pasted it on that computer, too.  It seemed fitting that it should go on top of the collage.

This quote helped me through two of the roughest years of my life.  While the words didn't necessarily make things easier, they did help me push through several low points in my two years teaching in a high-poverty school.  When it seemed like everything was out of my control and the odds were impossibly stacked against me, I would square my shoulders and decide that none of that mattered--the only thing that mattered was my determination to make things work.  I have the suspicion that this quote will see me through much, much more before I'm tired of it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Save the quitting for tomorrow

Remember my three-week blogging hiatus?  There was a reason.

The short story is that I was insecure and didn't really think it mattered if I wrote or not.

The longer version involves not only my character flaws, but also my husband.  My spouse began blogging about the same time I did.  We have very different blogs, and are attracting different followers.  He's getting google hits like crazy, for random things like "opossum smile" and "spain chocolate."  He already has more followers, more hits, more comments, more likes, more everything.  I am truly, truly happy for him.

And it's driving me crazy.

I know that building a blog following takes time.  It's hard, and I'm so independent that even reaching out online is a challenge for me.  I know that we are blogging for different reasons, and for different audiences.  But every night, he comes home, logs on his dashboard, and begins reciting the wild google search terms that have led strangers to his blog.  He counts the number of hits on his blog, even sometimes the number of spam comments he has collected.  I feel the frustration and jealousy building up so much that it makes me want to hide in a corner.

Yes, I have tried to explain that I would prefer he keep his accolades to himself, until I can get my green-eyed monster under control.  His response was something along the lines of, "Well, what I do shouldn't affect you.  You should be happy for me."

I agree with him.  Intellectually.  But emotionally, my competitive nature that I pretend doesn't exist is seething.  I don't really belong to the "Aim to Win" school of competition.  I tend to pursue the the "Aim to Dominate."  And if I know I can't succeed at total domination, my instinct is to not play.  But if I quit writing, I am really the only one that loses.  (I have a hard time admitting I'm that petty.  I hope that acceptance is the first step towards change...)

I think this is the part where I'm supposed to give a pep talk about writing anyway, no matter how frustrated you are and how much it seems like everyone else in the world will get there before you.  But I don't really feel it at the moment.  Instead, I'd like to offer up a different philosophy:  I can always quit tomorrow.

This philosophy saw me through two years at a high-poverty school.  There were some days that were so hard that I didn't believe I could make it through another day, let alone another year in that situation.  Rather than look ahead, I would make a pact:  I wouldn't quit in the next hour.  Sometimes I felt confident enough to promise myself not to quit that day.  I couldn't promise myself that tomorrow wouldn't be bad enough that I would have to walk away for good.  But in that moment, that day, I could stay.  So I guess I have to recognize that I might need to walk away from writing someday.  Maybe I'll be so frustrated I won't want to keep going.  Maybe I'll be too busy or recognize that I just don't have the talent.  But today is not that day.  Today, I choose to write.  I'll save the quitting for tomorrow.

Monday, February 6, 2012

When I made a collage, I had some left-overs...

I decided to take the scraps from the giant wall-collage I made to create my original vision:  a collage that I could keep at the front of my life-planner.  So I took the pieces that I loved but were just too small or didn't fit on the first collage and made a miniature version.  I came up with not only a collage, but a cover for my planner.  Score!

Creative Habit Planner Cover.
I love the Joseph Campbell quote, "We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us."  Sometimes I forget that even though I have lots of plans and goals, there might be something even better around the corner if I am open to it.  Adding the caption "Don't stretch--reach!" might not make lots of sense, but it's a mantra that I've used before in dance class that sometimes helps me reach a little farther and move a little faster.

2012 Best Year Yet Life Planner Collage
This seemed to capture specific interests in a different way than the other collage--here I was able to put words like "Theater" and "Healing" and "Telling Stories"--powerful reminders of the things that bring me flow and joy.  The girl writing on a poster could be me.  The woman hanging upside down on the swing is clearly having fun--something I want more of in life.  There was a smaller version of the massage picture, so I threw it in there, too.  Even in the mini-collage, I fit in plenty of fruits and vegetables to remind me to eat a healthy diet.  The sunflowers and beach symbolize nature, and the yoga positions are there to remind me to tap into my spirituality.  

I love the collages I created this year, because when I look at this I feel a little more at home in my skin, a little more sure of who I am and how I fit into the world.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I made a collage...

2012 Best Life Collage

Sometimes I need a creative kick-in-the-pants.  When this happens, I usually try either a change of surroundings or a change in activity.  This time, I decided to make a collage.

The first collage I ever created was a fifth-grade science project that involved lions.  It rocked.  Since then, I have secretly loved making collages, even after I discovered that the activity's promoted as a self-help tool.  You can make collages of what you want in the future, things that appeal to you now, or any variation that feels right.  It ties into the laws of attraction and manifestation and those sorts of new age-y concepts.

But more importantly, it's fun.  I love collages because they don't require actual skill above and beyond cutting, pasting, and arranging.  I started this project by raiding the local library's magazine pile and purchasing the whole thing.  For ten cents a magazine, I bought three Fitness magazines and seven Sojourners magazine, (which I discovered was Christian-themed).  I added three Experience Life magazines, since I have a subscription.  I stacked them all in a pile, then tore through them, ripping out anything that appealed to me.  I had been a little nervous that I didn't have much selection, but I ended up with an amazing stack of images and phrases--way too many for the modest letter-size collage I'd planned.  So I spent an afternoon arranging the images, and when everything finally felt right, I painstakingly pasted the whole thing into place.  It was worth it.

I plan to frame the whole thing, but I have to get the largest poster-frame available, because it's an awkward size:  27x30 1/4.  I'll post a final image once it's framed and I'm satisfied.  What really surprised me at the end of the project was how the collage seemed to sum up my crazy mix of interests, ideas, and passions--dance, writing, environmental justice, music, social justice, reading, performing, animal husbandry, parenting, exploring the world, and experiencing joy.  Sometimes it feels like all of the parts don't fit together, but it's the crazy mix of things that make me, well, me.

Delicious Kale and Water Buffalo

This captures how much I love swimming, my desire to eat healthy and explore the world, and the summer I spent driving oxen.  I love the yoga stretch in front of the sunrise, because it reminds me of the flow I get when I dance.

Cool Reading Mural and Empty Stage

The child holding a book looks like he is surrounded by the characters from that world.  It reminds me of how I feel when I read.  One of my goals this year is to learn how to play the guitar.  It's a little hard to see, but underneath the guitar is an empty stage.  I have been performing onstage since I was little, and I would love to start acting and dancing again.
Meditation and Pregnancy

The meditating hands captured the stillness and peace I'd like to experience more often.  The pregnant woman is a reminder that hopefully my husband and I will have children and raise them with love and play.  The picture with the caption, "Be someone who does something about poverty" struck me as a powerful message.

Healing Massage and Environmental Justice
I love massages--both giving and receiving.  This picture is a reminder to touch my husband more, and to ask for loving touch in return.  The picture of a dancer stretching is another symbol of my passion for dance and movement.  I chose the image of a man standing at the base of a hill leading into the wilderness because it was an interesting contrast with the city in the background.  Isn't that a choice that each of us must make?  It went well with the message of saving the earth.

Sunflower Field and Mountain View
The woman basking in the sun, surrounded by sunflowers made me happy--and the caption Spread the Joy will prod me to share that happiness with others.  I tried to work in images of nature throughout, and the mountains in this picture remind me of our trip to Oregon this year.

Dancing and Wilderness
The man in the top corner is twisting mid-air.  The look of intensity on his face captured how I feel about dance.  It's an interesting contrast with the woman in pink twirling in a ballroom--to me, they are both dancers, and they are both beautiful.  There are three images of people interacting with nature--the woman with the horse, the person walking towards a field, and a model smiling in the forest.  I feel more alive when I am in nature, so I want to remember that this year.  They tie in with the picture that says, "What sort of world will you give them?" because I want my babies to live in a clean, beautiful world.  The choices I make today will impact the world they inherit.

Woman and Cat Sun Salutation

I chose to put the woman and cat doing a sun salutation in the center because it was both serene and silly.  It was originally a cat food advertisement, and I covered over the promotion for healthy cat food with the words "Choose your radiance."  For me, that's what it's all about.  In any given day, I can choose what I devote my time, energy, and thought to, and I want to devote myself to things that make me feel alive.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Take that, Writer's Block!

When in doubt, write on a big piece of paper.  

Apparently, the cure for my case of just-can't-do-it was to crouch down on the ground and write.  There are a few reasons why this was the best idea ever:

1.  The big piece of blank paper doesn't have the internet.  The internet is the biggest procrastination tool in my box.  Take it away (Really far.  Like a whole different room.) and I can get a whole lot done.

2.  The big white piece of paper feels like a brainstorming tool.  It totally tricked my brain into thinking I was just brainstorming, not actually writing, like I do when I write in notebooks.

3.  The big white piece of paper doesn't have lines.  I could have written in a circle had I wanted to.  The possibilities are endless.

4.  It was really uncomfortable writing while crouching.  I was cold.  The floor was uncomfortable.  Both of these things motivated me to write faster.  This time, rather than bumping up against the writer's block in my head moving slowly and sedately, I charged at it going 60mph.  I blew the whole thing down. Best. Feeling. Ever.

Dear Writer's Block, It's Me, Dee

Because as it turns out, we're out of macaroni...

I have a confession:  I'm stuck on my story.  I've made it 3/4 of the way through a crappy first draft, and it's time to write an ending to the damn thing.  Really, really time.  I'm itching to go back to the beginning with some idea of where I'm headed and begin re-writing.  Maybe then my story won't read like a bungled version of Days of our Lives meet the Addams Family.  (Oh wait--that gives me an idea...)

Anyway--back to the present.  I'm good and stuck.  I don't really know why, though I know that this is the point where many authors have doubts and fears and want to turn around.  Most of their advice reads something like this:  keep going.  I'm not an idiot--I know I have to keep going.  That much is glaringly obvious.

But how?  What if I stare at the story, and the feeling of being stuck has overwhelmed the point of me having a clue of what I'm doing?  I need a plan.

I welcome suggestions, but until then, here are a few things I haven't tried yet:

1.  Writing a hundred words a day.  This, my common sense tells me, is a reasonable option.  Either I'll get into it and keep going, or I'll eventually, after a few months, have something done.

2.  Attempt to channel a spirit who will tell me what to write.  This has the added bonus of me not having to take responsibility for any of the words I write down.  Also, it could open up the new-age market.

3.  Writing out an ending on a piece of toilet paper.  I have a theory that I do some of my best writing on toilet paper and restaurant napkins.

4.  Glueing macaroni to cardboard in order to spell out words.  At least that would make me seriously consider what words I used before I wrote--the time, glue, and thought of starving children in Africa would raise the stakes.

5.  Dictating words into a tape recorder as I try to tell the story to my roommate's cat.  Maybe if I had someone to listen to my story, it would help.  Also, that cat is a tough critic.

Whew.  That got a few ideas out of my head.  Off to find a tape recorder...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alternate happily ever-afters

I've been thinking about weddings lately.  It might be that my brother is planning his wedding.  It might be that my husband and I still talk about our wedding and how much fun we had throwing it together.  But I really think it's that I just read maybe the longest blog post of my life at Amanda Palmer's blog, where she discusses her marriage to author Neil Gaiman.  It's beautiful, and if you have 30 minutes to kill, and/or are obsessed with either Neil Gaiman or spontaneous weddings, I highly suggest you check it out.

What really surprised me the most was how much she thought about whether or not she wanted to marry Neil, and if so, how to do it.  She didn't assume that the happily-ever-after had to look like a wedding, or that it had to involve a marriage license.  I like to think that I'm independent and strong and a feminist, but I look back at all of the Disney fairy tales I watched and know that I'm still discovering ways in which they shaped me.  Don't those stories always end with a wedding?  Usually a princess wedding in a castle with carriages and things.  

My husband and I skipped the gigantic blow-out bash for our wedding--we announced it and planned it in three weeks after two years of engagement--but we never really stopped to consider the institution of marriage itself, or what other possible forms our happily ever-after could take.  Could we have been happy without the marriage?  Yes.  Most of the perks of marriage are the same as the perks of having a great long-term relationship.  I think the differences from before and after the wedding have been subtle for us.  There's the feeling of permanence, of knowing that we made a life-long commitment to each other.  There's the swell of pride I get when I introduce him as my husband.  There's the mind-boggling warmth of having someone who knows me inside and out and still wanted to spend his whole life with me.  

Wow, this post is getting more gushy than I thought it would.  Anyway, the point is, in spite of my current marital bliss, I wish there were more alternate happily-ever-after stories out there.  Most of the ones that I know of exist in small indie films--not the movies that shape our children's perception of an ideal world.  What if we taught children that it's OK for them to wait to get married, or to choose never to get married at all?  What if we taught young girls that the epitome of happily-ever-after is not a fairy-tale wedding, but a strong sense of self and a stable relationship?  What if we taught children that stable relationships take work, and actually taught them the skills to be kind partners?   I wish there were fewer stories out there about guy-gets-girl and more stories that show what happens next--the part with jobs and dirty dishes and in-laws.  Maybe that's why I love movies like Date Night and Undercover Blues--there's something about seeing marriage as a living thing rather than a destination.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Judging books by their covers

(Note, this work does not belong to me.  However, I would definitely recommend this author and this book--one of my favorites of 2011.)

When someone asks me what kind of books I read, I used to have a stock answer:  everything.  That wasn't necessarily true, however.  When I walked through bookstores, I used to deliberately avoid the romance section.  One look at the covers of women swooning into the arms of scantily clad men made my cheeks flush in embarrassment.  I wouldn't have been caught dead reading one of those, especially with titles like "Chasing Amelia" and "Love in the Saddle."  I used to think that romance novels were as dumb as their covers and titles seemed to advertise.  The words "trashy" and "romance" seemed intertwined.  If someone had asked me if I would ever have written a "trashy romance novel," I would have laughed at them, or considered it something along the lines of a really easy way to make a buck.

Anyone reading this who is currently slapping your forehead and shaking your head:  I know.  Wow, was I clueless.  And I would probably still be clueless today, if it hadn't been for the Romance Writer's of America (RWA).  I joined RWA because I felt like I needed to join a writing group, and they were the only organization I could find in my area.  I joined not really believing that I had much interest in writing romance, but I figured I could fake it, and at least I would be around other people trying to publish.  Right?

Well, on a vacation, I decided that I really needed to at least pick up a romance novel, since I was going to be joining this writer's group.  I found a copy of one of the Nora Robert's Stanislaski books.  That was the end of my vacation.  I tore through it.  And then I read the next one.  And the next.  Rather than insipid and weak, the heroines were strong.  Some were fierce mothers, others independent career women, business owners, accountants.  The dialogue was funny, the images vivid.  I realized that my prejudice had blinded me to a branch of literature that not only was well-written, but also deeply satisfying. I didn't have to worry about my favorite characters dying, and frankly, the women in the romances were a hell of a lot tougher and smarter and more capable than some of the characters in the male-dominant fantasy I'd trudged through.

It was like coming home.  While I can't say that all romance novels are perfect, or that I necessarily enjoy being seen in public with a book that has a close-up of a man's chest, I wish I hadn't been so stubbornly ignorant.  Now, when I hear people scoff at the romance genre, I smile and try not to laugh--odds are, they haven't actually read a romance.  If they had, they'd know that they are a hell of a good time.  And I wonder where I would be and what I'd be writing if I hadn't had the crazy notion to join the RWA.  Not only have I gained humility, I gained a writing community and a trove of good books I finally feel comfortable exploring.