Friday, May 25, 2012

Iris Murdoch on Literature and Love

Dame Iris and her husband, John Bayley
“Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” 

“Art and morality are, with certain provisos…one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.” 

"Literature could be said to be a sort of disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions."

“We defend ourself with descriptions and tame the world by generalizing”
“Human affairs are not serious, but they have to be taken seriously.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Assemble a Cabinet (with the Help of Your Cat)

1. Buy the damn thing. Lift it yourself, though the box clearly states that you should ask a sales associate for help. Load it into your car by yourself, too, though the box is torn and it's raining. This is about empowerment. You will be fine.

2. Bring it home to your cat. Let her sniff it, rub it, make sure it's the right one. Once you've got her approval, dump out all the parts on the carpet. Find all the tiny pieces and put them in a bowl.

3. Get your cat to stop eating the Styrofoam.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Musings in a New Apartment

Last night, as I tried to make out a shopping list, I could not remember what kinds of food my husband and I normally eat. Ian took the lead and began scribbling down a few things. Fruit, I said. We've been eating a lot of strawberries. But I had to ask him what he wanted for dinner to remember some of our standby recipes. Sweet and Sour Chicken, he said. He wrote a few things down.

We've moved into our new apartment, in the sense that all our boxes are inside. The kitchen is fairly well unpacked, as is the guest bedroom. Every once in a while, as I'm organizing a cabinet or applying for a job online, the cat will let out a mournful meow from down the hall as if she's lost or forgotten where she is, and I call to her. At the sound of her name she comes trotting, and stays near my feet for a while.

There is a walking path that runs most of the way between our apartment and Ian's office, just over a mile away. I've gotten up early to walk with him these past two days despite my tendency to laze in bed: I'm trying to develop better habits. Because that's what a new home promises, isn't it? A new start, a new life. In a couple months, the walking path will be lined with blackberries; right now it's lined with slugs. There's a bunny that lives near the dumpster at the path's end. I've named him (or her) Fred.

Today, I'm going to organize my office. I've never had an office before. I've always thought that with an office, I could do amazing things, write ten times as much and twice as well, concentrate my thoughts to the ballpoint of my pen. But first I need to put the legs back on my desk.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned from My First Marital Move

Our engagement photo, back when we owned so little junk...

1. Moving for two is exponentially (and I do mean that mathematically) harder than moving for one, especially when the two in question have lived in the same place for five years. Between the wedding presents that came gradually to us in the mail and five years' of Christmas and birthday presents and the little pieces of furniture and brick-a-brack we've bought, it's taken maybe ten times more effort to pack everything up, and we haven't even tackled the moving van yet. Plus:


The new issue of Phoebe is up today, including my short story, "Shoplifting." Check it out!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Movie Stars Reading: Cary Grant

Cary Grant

Ten Reasons You Should Stay Right Where You Are

Scout knows best.
Change stinks. Ask my cat. When we moved into our current apartment, she peed herself. I expect she plans more of the same come Saturday when we move across the state.

You know all that stuff they say about greener pastures? The grass is always greener on the other side and once you get to the other side it will still be greener on the other side, meaning where you just were/some other pasture over another fence? Yeah. That.

You know that song that goes, "Love the one you're with"? Same goes for places. Love the place you're at. Love the place where you are. Love--whatever's grammatically correct.

The Simpsons have lived in the same town, the same house, and even the same age bracket for over twenty years. What's good enough for the Simpsons seems good enough for me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Collagist: Issue 34

Issue thirty-four of The Collagist is up now! It includes some great fiction and poetry as well as book reviews (including one of Thirteen Fugues by Jennifer Natalya Fitch by Yours Truly). Check it out!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Couple That Reads Together

While on vacation in Ireland, my husband started reading The Hunger Games on his Kindle. He was about halfway through it when I finished the book I was reading (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and got bored and started reading over his shoulder. I didn't protest if he took an especially long time on a page or if he moved on before I was finished (one of us--I suspect him and he probably suspects me--has a very inconsistent reading speed). I'd come in on the middle of things and had at least the basic information from the movie so I knew the basics. I didn't ask him to wait for me when I had to go to the bathroom. In a few hours, we'd finished the first book--we'd finished it together.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weekend Reads

I don't know how it is where you are, but here in eastern Washington, the weather is finally fine! The tulips and daffodils have bloomed, the grass is green, and it's warm enough to walk without a sweater. It's hardly weather for staying indoors, reading, but I suppose you can't stay outdoors all the time, or if you can, it's always nice to sit and read in the sunshine. Some suggestions:

An apt review/discussion about The Five-Year Engagement (may contain spoilers...)

Some poetry by Lisa Fink at PANK.

A potentially unanswerable but very real question: How do you protect your daughter from your mother's BS?

Flash fiction by Laura Lampton Scott at Monkeybicycle.

A cool essay on coaching, encouragement, and kids.

Book recommendations from Caitlin Horrocks, author of This Is Not Your City.

On pregnancy and privacy and fear.

A letter/recommendation regarding a book I want to read.

And, to get you back outside again, how to do a cartwheel.

Virginia Woolf on Facts and Fiction

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.

Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Short Story Month: Stories from Willow Springs

Sarah Hulse
Matt Bell

Diane Lefer
Apparently, May is short story month. Maybe it's that I'm no longer in an MFA program and thus not in on these things, but I haven't heard much about it--not even on my writer-saturated Facebook feed. I guess I get it. It's not like NaNoWriMo, where people challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in thirty days, or even National Poetry Month (April) when at least a few poets I know (and me, this year, though I failed miserably) attempt to write a poem a day. You could write a piece of flash or micro fiction every day for a month, I suppose, or attempt to write a whole collection of stories if you wanted to mimic November's word count goals, but more likely you'd take the opportunity to write a single story in a month. Which isn't such a monumental, brag-worthy feat.

Except the poets and the novelists aren't expected to have finished products at month's end. A story would have to be completely finished, wouldn't it? And though I've written many stories in under a month, it always seems like six months later I have a flash of inspiration and go change them. Maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Disquieting Muses

Last month was National Poetry Month, and, dutiful rule-follower that I am, I read some poetry. Wrote some, too, if you can believe it. One of my favorite poems (of the three books' worth I read) was "The Disquieting Muses" by Sylvia Plath, and I thought I'd share it with you:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

With the Wild Things Now

You might have read in the New York Times that Maurice Sendak died today at age 83. Only two weeks ago he was listed among Flavorwire's 10 Grumpiest Living Writers, quoted for his vitriolic opposition of ebooks (“I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.”) and where I discovered this interview with Stephen Colbert. That was the first time I'd really thought about who the man behind the wild things was, and now, so quickly, he is gone.

I'm not going to get emotional here. Sendak lived a good, long life (as Maude said, eighty seems like a good age) and I am only familiar with two of his books (the famous Where the Wild Things Are and one of my absolute childhood favorites, Pierre). Instead, I'm going to get curious. The little I've learned so far about this fascinating man who provided me with two of my favorite kids' books but who hated to be called the "kiddie-book man" has got me ready to do my research. It's the only way I can think of to pay my respects: to find out who he was and what he lived for.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Buying and Selling

Trinculo and Ariel in Shakespeare Walla Walla's production of The Tempest
For the second story I ever submitted to workshop as an MFA candidate, I did some research. The whole story was based on a news article I'd read, and to make it as accurate as possible I maintained an email correspondence with a local policeman and beat a pumpkin with a ketchup bottle, the pumpkin standing in for a human head. All this was done to ensure that I would not hear that most odious of workshop phrases, the one that has dogged me my whole writing career: "I don't buy it."

Unfortunately, it didn't work. The research I did with the cop (which I printed and brought with me in case anyone questioned the fictional policeman's actions) failed me; one of the first negative comments a classmate has was that he "didn't buy it." My research didn't make a dent in this opinion. It didn't matter to my readers what would and would not happen in real life (and they were convinced what the cop told me was a lot nicer than what he would actually do) if it didn't match the image the readers had of cops in their minds. I thought this was pretty unfair, but I didn't want to be that person who argues at the end of a workshop, so instead I told them about my Mythbuster's-style attempts at finding the effects of assault with a ketchup bottle. Always leave them laughing.

Eventually, I dumped this particular story (especially since it was about a pregnant woman and I really doubt I'll be able to understand pregnancy until I've experienced it) but I did learn a valuable lesson from the argument surrounding it. Stories rely on common knowledge. You could say they rely on stereotypes, cliche, and prejudice: all things we are taught not to use in our writing. Veer too far away from what people already have in their heads, and they will squawk. To get away with it, you have to convince them. Start with what people think they know and mold their ideas from there.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flannery O'Connor on Writing Habits

Don’t do other things. Sit at your machine.”
It is my considered opinion that one reason you are not writing is that you are allowing yourself to read in the time set aside to write. You ought to set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there. If you write all right and if you don’t all right, but you do not read; whether you start something different every day and finish nothing makes no difference; you sit there. It’s the only way, I’m telling you. If inspiration comes you are there to receive it, you are not reading. And don’t write letters during that time. If you don’t write, don’t do anything else. And get in a room by yourself. If there are two rooms in that house, get in the one where nobody else is . . . I will not tell you anything interesting to read as you have no bidnis throwing away your time in that fashion.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

For the Sensitive, Bookish Mom: Five Mother's Day Gifts

How about some vintage carved bookends? Find these and more on Etsy.


Probably the shortest my hair's ever been, circa 2005
I may well have just changed my gender.  I have taken the scissors to my hair—eight dollar Goody scissors meant specifically for the purpose, not the orange-handled office kind—and now the trash can is full of dirty blonde curls.  And the sink.  And the floor.  I’ll be feeling the scratchy shards of it on my shoulders for days.
It started with just the bangs, but people with curly hair haven’t pulled off bangs since the ’80s.  Then a few chunks came out of the sides: once you start cutting your hair, you can’t just stop.  You have to keep snipping and snipping, trying to find that hairstyle that you imagined when you first began.  You have to find the sculpture within the marble, the bob within the mass of curls.  You cut one bit just a little too short and then have to trim the rest to match, eroding your mountain of hair until there’s practically nothing left.  You start out methodical—measuring the strands against each other, trying to work in sections—and then you get artistic.  You chop and hack.  You feel instead of thinking.  You’re not just cutting off your hair; you’re setting yourself free.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vacating the Vacation

Do I list my "Pour the Perfect Pint" certificate under awards and honors or education?
Ian and I have never vacationed on an island. The closest we've come to a tropical locale is Disney World. If we were to visit our friends and family who live in Hawaii, we would probably spend more time hiking or museum-going than we would on the beach. This is partially due to the fact that neither of us is particularly gorgeous in a bathing suit, but that's not the whole story. Our problem with the lounge-chair vacation is that, well, it's so sedentary.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ways To Write Without Really Writing

Write a to-do list. Make it as long and detailed and possible. Create categories and sub-categories. Make little boxes next to each item, to be filled with check marks.

Write a long, detailed email to your mom (or dad or sister--whoever). She'll (he'll) appreciate knowing what's going on with you.

Find a passage from your favorite book and copy it, word for word. If you're looking to kill time, do this longhand. (Silly as it sounds, this is actually a valuable writing exercise, as it forces you to slow down and figure out the sentence structure and cadence of writing you admire.)

Create a file detailing all your story/poem/essay submissions, including notes on each one explaining how you felt when you were rejected, if the rejection was just, why you'll never submit there again, etc.

Saying Goodbye--Again and Again

In nineteen days, I will be leaving the town I've (begrudgingly) lived in for seven years. (For info on why I've lived here, see other blog posts I've written on the topic--I'm sick of writing about it now.) I will also be giving up my coffeehouse lifestyle because our new apartment will have office space for me and, let's face it, lattes are expensive. I keep thinking I'll get a jump on my new life by saying goodbye to my local coffeehouses now, as a way of gradually easing into things. I've also started packing a few small boxes every day. Unfortunately, I've so trained myself to write at coffeehouses, I'm having a hard time giving them up.