Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Before I entered the blogosphere, I don't think I realized how much I wish everyone would just get along. Maybe that's because on the internet, even if you sign your real name to a blog post or a comment, you're usually a safe distance away from anyone who might be enraged by your comments, so people seem to feel safer in expressing dissenting opinions. And maybe these people would express these opinions in person, too. I've certainly met a few of these at parties, but then I was able to walk away, forget what they said, or tell myself they were joking, etc. On the internet, their words sit there in the comments section, to be read and reread by anyone whose blood boils because of them. I've gotten better, over the years, at not letting these things ruffle me as badly, but whether I'm the one being disagreed with or not, I always wonder: Why do these people want to fight?

Before I keep going, let me just say that the blog-fighting I see is usually not highly political. Human rights generally aren't involved, unless you count the human right to have opinions. People just like to quibble about how time is best spent, which books are worth reading and which aren't, and often involve people who obviously have blinders on to the fact that every human has his or her own life, and they don't all have to live the same way. There are sites I visit where I just don't read comments anymore because so many people are there spitting venom. There are other sites, though, where the discussion starts sensible but gets ugly when someone decides to get on a high horse. It usually bothers me not because they disagree, but because they so forcefully disagree. I can get really upset about it. It isn't healthy.

And that's what I'm starting to realize: I don't think blogging--writing, reading, and/or commenting--are healthy for me. I'm tired of getting angry that people are so rude and self-important, and I'm tired of acting self-important, too, feeding my ideas into a computer to have them be read by my husband and a couple of friends. So I think I need to get away from it for a while. I think it will make my life a lot more peaceful.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

This weekend, my husband and I saw Safety Not Guaranteed starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson--both TV actors who, as far as I know, had never before held starring roles on the big screen (Aubrey is currently best known for her role on Parks and Rec and Jake stars as Zooey Deschanel's roommate in New Girl)--and Mark Duplass, whom I'd never seen before but whose voice is strikingly similar to Aaron Eckhart's. None of them have huge box office draw, but they all play their roles well and I couldn't think of any big stars who could have replaced them (it did occur to me that Aubrey's role could have been played by Ellen Page, but I don't think it would necessarily have been better). And really, that was part of the appeal of the movie for me: the fact that none of these actors have yet become movie stars. A big part. Because the plot, while embellished with much more hilarious details, kind of adheres to an old romantic comedy standby. An ad (see above) is put in the paper, and three journalists (or one journalist and two interns) set out to do a story on the ad placer by going under cover to find out about his time travel plot; naturally, the girl is chosen for the job. Naturally, the relationship between the girl and time-travel guy blooms, and when he finds out she's a journalist reporting on him, things blow up. Seeing the commercial, I couldn't stop thinking of How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days and its ilk, but since Safety Not Guaranteed did not include Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughy, plus it involved time travel, I still wanted to see it. And, without spoiling it for you, let me say that it did not disappoint me. It did not surprise me, but it did not disappoint me. So there's that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Writing Exercise: The Action of a Sentence

I've never read any of Natalie Goldberg's fiction, but I've read Writing Down the Bones several times. She's always good for a word of encouragement, tips on how to keep a good work ethic, and writing exercises. One of my favorites, when I'm feeling like my language is a little dull, is on page 87 of her lovely book. She says:

Fold a sheet of paper in half the long way. On the left side of the page list ten nouns. Any ten.

pom pom

Now turn the paper over to the right column. Think of an occupation...List fifteen verbs on the right half of the page that go with that position.

Open the page...Try joining the nouns with the verbs to see what new combinations you can get, and then finish the sentences, casting the verbs in the past tense if you need to.
The music typed its notes on the air.
Mermaids advised the sailors with their songs.
The blossoms scolded me with their harsh colors.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How To "Potty Train" Yourself

We have a few friends in the area who are trying to get their kids potty trained. One couple has worked out a reward system: Whenever their son uses the potty, he gets a reward (sometimes a chocolate chip, sometimes a sticker, etc.). I haven't seen them bribe him with the prospect (e.g. "Do you want a chocolate chip? Well then you'd better use the potty.") but it seems he knows by now that a job well done deserves a little celebration. I think that's a good thing to remember. I've lived twenty-five years longer than that little boy, and either I never learned that basic principle that he already knows, or I've somehow forgotten.

When I want a chocolate chip, I don't have to use the potty (metaphorically speaking, of course). I can get in my car and go buy chocolate chips, as many as I want, and eat them until my stomach bursts if I choose. I can go to Burger King or see a movie--whatever. Easy access to "rewards" diminishes their capacity to be rewarding. So when I finish writing a story and watch a TV show to celebrate, it's not as special because of all that other TV I've watched. The success is good but the celebration didn't lure me to it, and doesn't feel so special once I get there. I must withhold the treats or else they lose their treat-ness.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sick Day

One of the strangest things about working from home, for me, is when my husband takes a sick day. For most people, a husband laid up at home doesn't necessarily affect productivity, but imagine taking your sick spouse to work: setting him up with a blanket and a cup of tea, hearing him watch Star Trek on his laptop while you try to get your work done.

On one hand, I love having my husband at home. On the other, I have to get certain things done in order to feel I'm earning my keep. The chores aren't so hard to accomplish when he's here; the writing is almost impossible. You see, even though I have an office in this new apartment, it does adjoin the living room, and it doesn't have a door. This morning, I slept in late (I usually get up with his alarm and then walk him to work for my morning exercise, which I also missed), cooked him breakfast, and watched an episode of Warehouse 13. If this were Saturday, I'd say it had been a good morning. Too bad it's Monday.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Janet Fitch on Torture

“The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.”

--Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writing Exercise: Convince Me

I am in the process of writing a novel. Part of the "fun" of writing a novel is that it can surprise you, even when you think you're in complete control. Unfortunately, not all those surprises are pleasant. For example: I recently discovered that I don't really like my main character.

For a while, I tried to fix the problem by ignoring it. I'm working in a multiple-POV format so I just wrote chapters from another character's point of view. But though they get to speak, no one is as central as this one character I suddenly don't like, and as much as I tried to work around her, I found I couldn't. So then I stopped writing for a couple weeks. When I came back, as a warm-up, I decided to write a monologue from her point of view. I asked her to convince me that I should like her.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Get a Job

  1. Watch How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Memorize the song "How to Succeed."
  2. Now forget all that nonsense. It's 2012. Window washers who trespass and impersonate businessmen get tazed. Plus, if you're already a window washer, you already have a job, right?
  3. Don't play it safe. Fill out the applications, talk to the managers, even if it scares you.
  4. Apply for jobs you would never really want. If Murphy's Law plays out, one of them will hire you. And then there's that whole all-you-need-to-get-a-job-is-another-job thing. Or does that only apply to dating?
  5. Don't get bogged down in the details. Most jobs are going to suck the life out of you one way or another, which means there is no perfect job.
  6. Find a role model to emulate, like Eleanor Roosevelt or Alexis Bledel.
  7. Make a suit-wearing business doll. Tell it lovely things about yourself every night.
  8. Loiter outside the Home Depot.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Inevitability of Change, or My Break-Up with Caffeine

Me and my two best pals: sugar and caffeine.
When I was a kid, I loved moving. I loved getting a new bedroom, a new school, a new opportunity to be a new me. I felt much the same way about school years. Each fall promised not a return to last year's grind, but a fresh new new world. In a certain sense, I was never disappointed: the walls were undoubtedly new and the courses one notch more difficult. Then again, I was always disappointed: no matter what happened, I was always me.

Before I moved across the state, I told my mother that I was afraid I would end up living the same life, only a few hundred miles away. She told me I might be right; that seems to be the way things go. It's possible that I can link all the new changes in my life to that very conversation and my dread that my mother would be right (sorry, Mom). Maybe that's why she told me that in the first place: She knows how stubborn I am and that, when told I cannot do something, I'll probably try to do it (in which case, thanks, Mom).