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Writing About Writing 1 of…

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve last published something on the blog… eighteen months more or less!

In that amount of time, I got married, moved to a new state in a new timezone, started a new job, and put out another ebook (foreshadowing). That’s two out of the three things newlyweds aren’t supposed to do in the first year of marriage, but we’re not doing Number Three (having a kid) yet.  In all that adjustment and chaos, regular writing got kind of pushed to the wayside, although mostly in recent months, I’ve made up for some of the lost time.

It makes me think a bit about my relationship with writing, actually.

I’ve been a writer since before I could write. When I was really little, I would draw pictures to tell the stories I wanted. And as soon as I actually learned to write, I did. I did that all through school, often as an escape. I kept it up through college, but it wasn’t until I got to graduate school that my personal writing started to slow down. In part I blamed that on my physical and mental health, and I definitely did over the year I was underemployed and essentially in limbo. Almost nothing I wanted got done then.

But then, employed full-time, and finally married, I still didn’t write as much. But the urge was still there.

I write because I have to, and because I love it. But I need something else.

I don’t think it’s necessarily time, although that’s definitely a necessity. I can’t bang out a 100 page novella in a day, and while I can write a 60 page research paper in 17 days, I definitely don’t want to do that again! That one time in grad school was more than enough.

It’s a cliche, and I think a dangerous one, to say writers have to be unhappy to produce good work. And I write good stuff, happy or unhappy. I prefer to not be unhappy, and I think my work is generally better when I’m not weighed down by the world. Besides, if unhappiness meant I’d be more prolific, I’d have composed a second War and Peace from June 2016-June 2017.

Maybe it’s just mental energy. Depression wears you out. Moving wears you out. Starting a new job is tiring. Keeping a job you don’t especially like is tiring. Major life changes in general are just tiring.

Maybe writing is a sign that there’s the potential for things to get better. I don’t want to get overly mystical, but it seems like a possibility. After all, authoritarians want to crack down on ideas, and writing is one way for them to spread. Maybe, as long as we can write, there’s the potential for something better.

And there are always red pencils to help with the actual written material.

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Deep in a Glass: Alcoholic Poetry

Cover Art by Nutmeg Nautilus, 2017

I have a new book! Deep in a Glass: Alcoholic Poetry is my first poetry collection, and two of the poems started out as blog posts: “My Danish Love, or an Ode to Vodka” and “Haiku Rosso y Bianco.”

You may find it at Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble (ebook only), Kobo, and the iBookstore, among others. I am very excited, after publishing nothing for several years.

Because the book is so short, and because I released two of the poems already, there is no sample download. However, you can read the wine and vodka entries here: (https://kathysghost.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/my-danish-love-or-an-ode-to-vodka/) and here (https://kathysghost.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/haiku-rosso-y-bianco/).

My first book, No Rest: A Noir Collection is already available at the aforementioned retailers.

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12 Things I’ve Learned From My Students

One of my day jobs involves taking care of kids after school… tutoring, crafts, and a lot of improvisation.

Two sixth-grade girls said I should do a blog-post about each kid. I don’t think that’s a good idea, but a more general blog about working at the school is doable. More specifically, I’ll go into what I’ve learned working with kids. And yes, all of these have happened since January.

  1. Big boobs are something of a liability on the job. (I’m constantly telling kindergartners “personal space, honey!”)
  2. Construction paper robots have to have perfect weddings, with all the trimmings.
  3. Knot-tying is best taught with animal metaphors (“the little eel swims into the cave”).
  4. Not being able to spell “turkey” is a 12-story crisis.
  5. Five AM at Freddy’s is fun, but Home Alone is terrifying. (Who knew?)
  6. Hair clips are surprisingly sharp, and they can cause quite a lot of blood.
  7. They remember and forget bodily autonomy with no set pattern.
  8. Wet paper towels make everything better.
  9. Dolphins and tigers are the most fascinating animals on earth.
  10. I constantly have to drop subtle messages like “moving chairs isn’t just for boys” and “being a girl doesn’t make you a scaredy-cat.” (Thanks, co-worker.)
  11. Asking them if they follow what I just said (like the bad guy in The Sting) gets amazing results.
  12. Most importantly, they know how adults are supposed to behave and remember when the adults in their lives (or the President) don’t live up to that standard. (Just for the record… they volunteered their disdain for the creature sitting in the Oval Office. I guess that means there’s hope for the future.)
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Defining a Villain

Mr. Auric Goldfinger… widely regarded to be the best Bond villain, although not my personal favorite.

A brief glimpse into how my Borg-like mind works… recently I thought of making a list of my favorite Bond villains, but I’ve only sat through nine Bond films in their entirety (Goldeneye made me mad enough to turn it off within 20 minutes). But it gave me the idea to do a post about villains, and what makes one. And what doesn’t. No matter what the AFI’s Top 100 Heroes & Villains list says, the shark in Jaws is not a villain (the real villain of Jaws is clearly capitalism– just kidding!– sort of).

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The ever-faithful Oxford English Dictionary defines “villain” thusly: Originally, a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes (“villain, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 3 April 2017).

Class still plays a big part into the hero vs villain dynamic (a lot of heroes were born with a silver spoon and villains tend to have built up their empires from the ground, especially in comic books), but “villain” doesn’t necessarily mean lower-class anymore. So let’s throw that part of the definition out.

More interesting is that the definition of villain is very gendered… a villain is a “man” pretty much every time. I had to scroll all the way down the OED’s page to find a note that says the definition applies to womyn as well. My spelling, not theirs. But obviously, anyone of any gender can be a villain. And probably some of the first villains kids encounter were female: the witch from Hansel and Gretel, the step-mother in Cinderella, the queen from Snow White, Professor Umbridge…. But the male villain is still what most people associate with the title. Googling “top movie villains” as I write, I see one female villain– Annie Wilkes from Misery. It takes a couple clicks to get to Nurse Ratched, Alex Forrest, and the Wicked Witch of the West. (Disclaimer– Google is changeable, but  my point is still valid.)

The rest of the definition concerns being unprincipled, depraved, and association with crime. The “crime” part of the definition is interesting, and certainly many villains are associated with it. Returning to the James Bond example, SPECTRE is obligingly clear about their motives (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion is their anagram). It’s even a little too on-the-nose.

The definition of crime itself is a knotty one. After all, as the memes point out… slavery was legal. And O’Brien from 1984 is a horrifying villain, but everything he does is legal and encouraged under Big Brother’s regime.

So it seems being “unprincipled” and “depraved” are the best ways to determine a villain. It’s still a bit knotty there, but then you can have a “straight-edge” villain who still has people messily murdered as a point of pride. Or the villain might not kill anybody, but still causes pain just because they can (which shows a lack of principles).

And of course, a chilling smile or laugh always helps. But it is almost overdone, so not a requirement.

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Smile Baggage

A few days ago I had a chip in my left front tooth repaired, and I keep going to mirrors and smiling at them. The dental assistant did a really great job. It’s really hard to tell that there was a chip for 15+ years.

But I’ll probably be back to hating my smile again in a day or two, after the novelty has worn off. That’s neither here nor there… I’ve never liked to smile. Part of that stems from my lifelong discomfort with my teeth (Grandma, rest her soul, would inspect and comment on them every time we visited), but another reason I’ve never been a grinner comes from the fact that I am not a cheerful person, by and large. Most of the time, I’m neutral… happy is too strong a word for my usual mood, and I don’t like to go about aimlessly smiling (I do enough of that at work). But even as a kid, the constant pressure to smile and “be happy” all the time irked me. At school, they wouldn’t stop taking yearbook photos until everyone was smiling. The worst of it was when I was graduating… it was 87 degrees, somebody had already passed out, and because our caps and gowns were very light-colored, the tall people were getting blinded… but it was emphasized that the session would not end until everyone grinned (I thought of Sean Connery circa 1963 and bared my teeth. It was the last photo.)

The W.C. Fields quote, “just start every day out with a smile and get it over with,” sums up my feelings beautifully.

Especially when, as a woman, a lot of people tell me to smile… that I’ll get wrinkles if I don’t… I’ll look prettier if I smile… the usual litany of garbage. I know I’m quite ornamental, but there’s more to me than that. Besides…  some days there are other things to think about. Or just the fact that I’m up, about and civil is a victory. I don’t need unsolicited editorials. This was especially true in graduate school, when I was often physically sick and/or anxious or depressed.

Speaking of which… I don’t know how common this particular pressure to smile is, and whether it’s segregated by gender (although I suspect it’s more aimed at females), but in college I once received a lecture about how it was important to smile because not smiling at someone might be the final straw that pushes them to self-harm or suicide. It’s possible, of course, but that whole lecture never sat well with me. It was a lot of pressure, and it seemed too broad, considering that the fuss was about a very specific dorm issue (that I wasn’t even aware of).  But it still comes down to not smiling for yourself, but smiling aimlessly for the benefit of the rest of the world.

It’s heavy emotional labor, acting happy for the benefit of everybody else. It’s tiring. And there’s just not always time for it. There’s courtesy and respect, and there’s being a Stepford. Or a Smylex victim (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBWRHUVH3Z4).

And on that note, I’ll leave you. Because the Joker is always a tough act to follow (and live). Unless you’re Batman, and if you’re Batman, no one will tell you smile without fear of losing teeth. Just noting.

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Haiku Rosso y Bianco

The fruit of the vine

and holiest of spirits,

grapes crushed and then aged.

 

Wrestle with the cork,

dust the bottle and then pour.

Life within a glass.

 

Redder still than blood

but not half so coppery,

sweet, dry, full-bodied.

 

Never white as snow

But far clearer and more pure,

sharp, sparkling, and light.

 

An empty bottle

signals sadness and good times.

You never forget.

 

****

Enjoy these? Find more in the book.

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Dreading Easter

eggsI love Easter.  It’s my favorite religious holiday: solemnity, rejoicing and all.  And yet… I also dread its arrival.  I don’t dread it to the point that I sweat blood and beg for the Father to take this cup away from me, but I am unhappy the two weeks leading up to Easter, as much as I enjoy Holy Week.  Why?  Ultimately, the reason is people online.

We all know the Internet exposes the moldiest, most festering corners of humanity and human nature.  Every day there’s another story, making that fact of life all too apparent.  In that context, my complaint is trivial, but that does not lessen the amount of distress it causes.  Right before Easter, the Internet explodes.

People who tend to be very overtly Christian go all out with their hellfire, brimstone, “type ‘Amen’ if you don’t want Satan to win” and all that ranges from obnoxious, to ridiculous, to reprehensible.  Everyone has seen the memes on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media forums.

And everyone has seen the other side—that of the overtly anti-religion.  Out of the woodwork come of the accusations of peddling torture-porn, traumatizing children, along with the usual taunts and demands for proof.  The obnoxious, the ridiculous, the reprehensible… again!

If nothing else, it reminds one how easily a crowd can go from cheering to howling for blood—an admittedly seasonal reminder.  And it conjures up the oft-appropriated words of the late Rodney King; “Can’t we all just get along?”

To that, the answer seems, at least superficially, to be no.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. At Easter, or at any other time. I offer no great words of wisdom for everyone to throw down the knives and let peace begin (although I have opinions). I offer no defense of the people who call themselves “Christian” and cause very real harm to innocent people because they think they are right (again, seasonal… the Pharisees and Scribes thought they were right. Pilate just wanted to go back to bed), and everyone probably knows who I’m talking about. Their exploits are plastered all over that self-same Internet.

Still, it is worth remembering that there are plenty of people not causing harm with their observance of the most important holiday in the calendar, and that the observance of Easter is nowhere near as obnoxious as Christmas tends to get. And even though I’ve probably already fallen into the #notall pit already, it’s important for bleeding everyone to step back, determine whether there is a clear and present danger, and when there’s not, to shut up and let live (especially when you’re at the top of the social food chain). For Christians, it means letting practitioners of other religions or people with no religion go about their business without trying to convert them, or announcing their damnation. No matter what you think… it’s not helping, and yes, just up and telling someone that they’re going to burn in hell is in fact aggressive/bullying/uncalled-for and just generally not copasheshy.

The evangelism problem isn’t as big outside of Christianity, but the sentiment goes for the other groups, including the not and/or anti-religious.

Now I change focus to directly address my extended family by religion (aka fellow Christians). Today is the second day of Lent. There’s over a month now until the Resurrection. Let us Christians especially make it our priority not to be obnoxious, ridiculous, and certainly not reprehensible this and all seasons. We should and often do know better than that.

The Internet will thank you (in secret), and all our hearts will be softened by the lack of confrontation and annoyance. Thus we can appreciate the miracle better when the time comes. Isn’t that better than another electronic chain letter?

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