Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

In lieu of a top ten list, let us merely take a moment of silence to reflect on the year that was 2010.

(That's a fancy way of saying I have nothing interesting enough to list.)

Happy 2011 to all!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Misery of a Happy Song

Ever had a story or experience change the entire nature of a song for you?

It happened to me when Kurt Vonnegut used Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" in Mother Night. Nazis and spies and betrayal, oh my. Diana Ross will always zap me back to the morning of a heart-rending breakup. And, for no reason I can pinpoint, the song at the beginning of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sends me into reeling, anguished, superstitious panic. The song has a name. I don't want to think about it enough to remember it. I felt that way about the song before that movie existed, and the movie's theme of intentional amnesia/buried memory  just makes it worse.

Those examples are due to external associations, but I can cause the shift myself, especially since I took up writing.

I'm writing a novel, so obviously I can't actually set a chapter to music, but I do have songs that evoke scenes in my head when I hear them. One is "How Can I Be Sure" by the Young Rascals. I'd wanted to use it somehow, but it always seemed cheesy for a happy scene, verging on Eighties Musical Makeover Montage territory. Then my sister told me I had to use it. Always one to obey orders (not), I complied because I'd had a twisted idea.
Funny how making a happy waltzy song the soundtrack for the violent end to a controlling, abusive relationship changes it altogether. Why did I ever think that was a happy song? It's creepy! And paranoid! Rather threatening. And, if I listen to the singer's voice now, he sounds rather desperate, bitter, jealous.

But maybe that's just me.

I also cry my eyes out over songs like "Warmth of the Sun" and "Something". Again, my fault.

Still, seriously, look at these lyrics!

How can I be sure
In a world that's constantly changin'?
How can I be sure
Where I stand with you?

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
I wanna die
'cause you know I wanna stay with you

How do I know?
Maybe you're trying to use me
Flying too high can confuse me
Touch me but don't take me down
[that last bit sounds like a threat]

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
My alibi is tellin' people I don't care for you
Maybe I'm just hanging around
With my head up, upside down
It's a pity
I can't seem to find someone
Who's as pretty 'n' lovely as you
[sarcasm or obsession?]

How can I be sure
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow

(Oh oh oh ...)

How's the weather?
Whether or not we're together
Together we'll see it much better
I love you, I love you forever
You know where I can be found

How can I be sure
In a world that's constantly changing?
How can I be sure
I'll be sure with you

Is it just me? ;)

Something Stupid

As I fumble my way back into writing after dealing with the holidays, a son with a bad case of toothache, and Drama in Real Life (we've come down with a bad case of The Economy over here), I thought I'd fill in the posting gaps with a little bit of nonsense I discovered in my files today. I wrote it in late October as work on my NaNoWriMo novel (about Bebe, an aging Vaudevillian) rekindled inspiration for my main novel, set in 1969.

Music plays a big part in painting my fictional worlds.

I'm sure it makes no sense to those who haven't read my novels, but just consider it a promise that I'll be back soon with something more relevant.


Bob Dylan and George Harrison stopped by today to say, "Hey, what the hell, man? Your main novel heard you were seeing some floozy from the '30s. What about 1969?"

I've been pining for their stupid novel, missed it so much that I was an emotional wreck at the sight of them, wanting to fling myself into their arms, but I didn't want them to see that.

I said, "What about it? Main Novel's refused to answer my calls or see me for months now. I'm tired of weeping into my pillow. I have to move on."

Bob held out a hand. "But Main Novel loves you. It just got...confused."

I turned my back.

They said, "All right, man. We didn't want to do this, but now we've got to call in The Beach Boys."

One by one, the Beach Boys filed into the room, and I faltered. They lined up behind Bob and George and gazed at me with big sad eyes. They said nothing, just hummed in quiet harmony. They knew how protective I feel toward the character they represent.

Sergio Mendes slipped through the door, apologizing for being late, said Mama Cass took too long at the diner. Looking out the window, I saw Jose Feliciano shuffling up the front walk, feeling for each crack with his white stick, and I threw out my hands.

"Okay! Okay! I admit it. I miss you and want to come back. No more!"

The sound of approaching mambo drums ceased, leaving a moment of quiet in which I could hear one last fading wail from Jimi Hendrix's guitar.

Bob nodded at the file for my primary novel and made an impatient gesture, but I shook my head.

From the back room, I could hear Hoagy Carmichael and Scott Joplin warming up on the piano, hoped they wouldn't come out here.

"It's just... You came at an awkward time. I've already got plans with my rebound prequel for the next month."

There was grousing and mumbling among the men, and I wondered if I was crazy, risking this longed-for reconciliation, but at last George said, "Okay, but if we decide we've waited long enough, you'd better be ready to drop everything and come with us."

That pissed me off. "Excuse me?"

Sergio placed a hand on George's shoulder. "He means please. Please come back, if we need you. Being dead makes George uptight."

I relented. Nodding, I showed my guests to the door.

At the foot of the front steps, George turned back. "You're just lucky we didn't have to involve that Maria Cortez."

A voice behind the hedgerow said, "It's Marisa Elena Talbot Cortese, you bastard!"

One last beat from the mambo drummers sent the men scrambling.

I closed the door and patted Antonio Carlos Jobim's head. He'd been hiding his face in a pillow, feeling awkward because he's in both books. He asked which book I was going to do.

I said, "I don't know. Might get ugly if Bebe goes to battle with Marisa."

But, hey, it would make a hell of a story.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Literary Christmas Genius

Proof that my sister is a creative genius.

Oz gift theme

This is the third year in a row that she's created a literary theme for her gifts. I love them.

This year was The Wizard of Oz.

  • Ruby slippers (literally slippers)

  • poppy seeds

  • lions and tigers and bears (oh my)

  • emerald earrings (green crystal & silver, she made them)

  • apples (a la the angry trees in the movie)

  • a silver heart frame (tin man)

  • a book of word puzzles (scarecrow/brain)

  • a bottle of Professor Marvel's Liquid Courage for the Cowardly Lion (mini wine bottle with a custom label she created)

  • Wizard & Gale's Wicked Witch Repellant (bottled water with a custom label she created)

  • a gingerbread village to represent home

Last year was Alice in Wonderland.

  • tea

  • teacup

  • drink me (soda)

  • eat me (a cupcake, not shown, eaten)

  • pea soup (more pepper)

  • marzipan (in lieu of mushrooms)

The inaugural year, 2008, she did Little House on the Prairie.

  • a "tin cup"

  • sticks of candy

  • little heart-shaped, golden-brown cake

  • a shiny new penny

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three-Scarf Weekend

A visit from the in-laws, Christmas pageants for two kids, and a three-scarf weekend means zero words written. Well, nearly zero. I did have a few ideas while knitting scarf number two, so I recorded those in my Ideas file. That ideas file is going to be thicker than the OED soon, but much less useful.

It will be interesting to see the scarf/word tally at the end of the holidays. I'm looking forward to some family time, so I'll bet the scarves win. Or maybe the dark horse, cookies, will dive in and take the crown. Yeah. That's more likely.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Love the Smell of Inspiration in the Morning

The smell... You know that smell of old books? Smells like...a short story.

I've always heard it, how you'll be going about your business, and one day something smacks you across the face, giving you a story to tell where once there was none. Ah, inspiration. I've written hundreds of thousands of words, had bursts of inspiration regarding stories I was already in the midst of telling, but altogether new stories just don't bloom that way for me.

I had a minor taste of it last year when my husband, who was fetching a late night snack from the grocery store, accidentally butt-dialed me. At first, all I could hear was NPR -- only, I didn't realize it was NPR. It sounded like my husband was discussing drugs, kidnapping, and smuggling with some woman. A Coen-esque short story bloomed from that, but I've never gone further than the outline.

Today, however, I was reading the blog of John Gall, the book designer who led the 30 Covers, 30 Days project for NaNoWriMo, and he had a link to this... artist, Rachael Morrison, whose project is to go through MOMA and smell each and every one of their 300,000 books, cataloging their unique scent.


I LOVE old book smell. I worked at a circa-1970s library as a teenager, and every time someone would return a book from the much older main library downtown, I'd know immediately and snatch it up to hug it and breathe in its musty scent. Aromatherapy for the hopelessly insane.

I also have an odd love for lists and cataloging.

More than that, however, I could see a woman going about this job, ledger in hand, saw the story unfolding. It has nothing at all to do with the real woman, of course, or the MOMA's library, or anything else. But...ah... It became more difficult not to dive into a story than to put it off. So I wrote my first short story in at least a decade. I'm thrilled! And so grateful to Ms. Morrison and her eccentric art project!

Tell me I'll have this kind of flash again. Tell me where you find inspiration or the odd places it's found you, whether for writing or art or any sort of project.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Snippets & Scarves

I like to knit. I can knit like the wind (or...something that actually, um, knits) as long as it's in a straight line. I only find time to knit about once a year, so I lose all my knitting wisdom and have to start over from scratch. But man am I good at those long fringed rectangles I call scarves.

Since NaNoWriMo ended, I've transferred my compulsive energy into pounding out stitches instead of words. At first, I felt guilty. It seemed like procrastination or escape from my stories, but I realized the other day that it’s actually more of a meditation tool. Instead of sitting blankly before my laptop with nothing more to show at the end of the day than a few lame Facebook posts and useless knowledge gleaned from StumbleUpon, I now have a fuzzy and functional work of art and all the purls of wisdom (yeah, had to go there) I gained from each stitch. (Insert weaving stories comment here.)

I think it's my inner editor who knits while the rest of me goes into self-hypnosis, listening to my novel's soundtrack and daydreaming the stories I want to write.

Inspiration is like a cat. Chase it, and it runs, skirts around the sofa, shudders as you touch it, then spends an hour cleaning your stink off its fur. Okay, maybe not that last part. However, if you’re doing something else, inspiration is all around your ankles, slithering and striking its forehead against your leg, begging for attention.

And inspiration, like an ornery cat, loves a wiggling ball of yarn.

Now I just have to get back to the writing so that my prose doesn’t suffer the fate of my knitting skills.

Anyone have other suggestions for productive procrastination? Because I don't want to go back to alphabetizing the lint on my living room carpet...

My NaNoWriMo novel is taking a hiatus right now, but I've been putting a few scenes out there for the world to sample. I have three sample chapters on my writing site, and, despite my terror, I read 500 words of a chapter to my regional NaNo group this past weekend. No one hurled rotten tomatoes. I'll take that as a good sign.

I'm also submitting a 500-word snippet for the following blogfest (click image for link):
As always, it comes with the terror of showing my writing and the worse terror of putting it out there and getting nothing back except the faint, sparse sound of crickets.

I look forward to reading others' excerpts, though.

(P.S. - Went to the happiest amusement park on earth again yesterday for my birthday. Thursdays trump Saturdays, every time. People were thoughtful, polite, friendly, and said crazy things like please and thank you and sorry. Also, my soda was topped by a birthday candle floating on a lemon slice, it being my special day and all. I've never blown out the candle on a Diet Coke before.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to Have a Nifty Super Duper Swell Time (Amusement Park Edition)

In this tough economy, sometimes we just need to get away, escape for a while with the family. One fleeting, magical day at an amusement park is a splurge, but well worth it if you follow a few simple tips to maximize not only your joy but that of those around you.
  1. Decide to forgo the lockers in favor of a backpack. Make sure that you stuff that sucker full of coats until you're twice as deep as you normally are. And this is the important part -- FORGET ALL ABOUT IT. No, really. Never think about it again. Only then can you play the SUPER DUPER LAUREL & HARDY GAME. If you know you're batting people like ping pong balls every time you turn around or smashing the person on the other side of the rope every time you step backward, then it just becomes malicious, and that just isn't you. You're A Good Person. That exempts you from ever being the bad guy in any situation. You may make the occasional innocent mistake, but if anyone ever mentions it, remember -- they're being jerks, trying to make you feel bad for their own entertainment, and need to lighten up. A blank stare should convey this message clearly.
  2. You know those rules about flash photography? Those are just for all those other people. Other people are stupid. You know what you're doing, and once won't hurt because you're A Good Person. Besides, your camera phone just won't get a good picture of a hairy, plastic, life-size pirate without the flash, and then what will you frame and hang over the fireplace for decades to come, warming the hearts of all who visit?
  3. Bring a stroller. If you don't own one, rent one. No. Rent FOUR. Make sure that most of the time no one uses one, but insist on pushing them everywhere anyway in the crookedest possible path. BONUS POINTS for letting your cutesy wootsy toddler push them. It's ADORABLE, and people don't mind being trapped behind you because they get to watch junior, and all their hearts will grow three sizes.

    Remember, a stroller is a magical ENTITLEMENT GRANTER and can be used as a weapon, every offense automatically deemed "an accident" or "in self defense". If anyone gets mad that you slammed the front end of one into their leg or ran over grandma's foot, you must give them the stare of righteous righteousness, the I'VE GOT A BABY ON BOARD AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO USE IT stare. And if you stop suddenly, as you are so entitled to do, and the people behind you trip over you and slightly jar your stroller on their way to cracking their heads on the happiest pavement on earth, make sure you shriek -- not in sympathy but in outrage. How dare they jostle your child in the slightest as they die? Why, next they'll expect you to stop texting as you steer your stroller with your pinkies.

  4. People may claim that it's for the greater good if you ask a few family members to walk behind someone else, narrowing the group, but that's ridiculous. Everyone knows that we are all equals and must walk abreast through the park, never yielding in the slightest to oncoming traffic. Walk proudly! Walk slowly! Let your eyes go unfocused! Then and only then can park guests enjoy WAVE AFTER WAVE OF SOMNAMBULANT ROCKETTES. Tease them by never quite getting to the part where you kick your legs -- unless there are people right in front of you, then encourage your children to spontaneously practice kung fu and karate.

    This method is greatly aided by the next.

  5. If they are actually passing out valium at the park entrance, as it so often seems, get some! Get heaps. All the cool kids are doing it, and they'll look down on you if you don't. So, if you forget, just do your best to act stoned so no one catches on. Zombies are red hot in popular culture right now. You can eat the rational brain right out of a person if you zombie just so. If a non-zombie has the gall to remind you of what they're supposed to do to kill a zombie, then they're just being jerks, they don't get it, and obviously forgot their valium. Do your duty and look down on them.
  6. You will feel that you are slightly off your desired path from time to time. The best thing to do in this instance is to STOP DEAD IN YOUR TRACKS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Do not pull over to the side. Just start shouting, "I thought it was that way," or, "Where's the map?" Argue about that for a while. Never ever look up to see the effect this has on traffic. After all, everyone else is just a cardboard cut-out extra in the movie entitled, YOU, MAMA'S SPECIAL FLOWER, ARE AT AN AMUSEMENT PARK, so they can be ignored. But kindly do remember to fling your arms out from time to time, pointing in different directions, or you won't get to feel the lovely massage that comes of socking someone's cardboard cut-out grandma in the teeth or poking the eye out of someone else's child.Which leads us to the next rule.
  7. Children must be neither seen nor heard. If you have somewhere to go, even if it's a non-emergency,  just plow right through them as though they aren't there. If a child is standing right next to a rope, and you see your friends up ahead, catching up to them is far more important than that child -- besides, those sissies can't fight back. Shove the child, shove the rope so its reverberations take out the ears of several more children, and run like Forrest Gump. If you don't see you've hurt someone, IT NEVER HAPPENED, and you remain A Good Person.
  8. Just as tips are discouraged on cruise ships, "please," "thank you," and, "sorry," are considered in poor taste at amusement parks. If you ever say one of those things, especially at the end of a day, you may see the other person start to weep with shock and gratitude, and that's just gross.
  9. FOR PARK EMPLOYEES: Install lockers on one side of your main street, put all the restaurants on the other side, and then, just as dinner time, sunset, and sharp drops in temperature intersect, CLOSE THE STREET TO ALL PEDESTRIAN TRAFFIC. Don't have a parade. Just cord it off, add people waving neon sticks, and direct all the freezing diners who want to get at their coats all the way back to the park entrance, shoulder to shoulder like cattle -- or, in this case, frozen hamburger. Shout at them, put down orange cones in no particular pattern, make it very dark, and shake more lights in their faces so that half accidentally leave the park. Force the rest to repeat their fight up the other side to the lockers. If you can, hire lots of giggling teenagers (drunk on their day of autonomy), and thick-necked men (who've had it up to HERE, unlike the rest of the guests) to shove their way through the crowd for maximum pain and indignation.

    Advanced Method: When the biggest glut of visitors has been put through The Stampede Ride and are in sight, suddenly open the street for easy crossing , just to kick 'em in the gut.

  10. The most important rule of a visit to an amusement park: Hold on to each and every grudge you develop during the day, forget that you were sometimes guilty, too, and then post a rant on a blog that only fourteen yawning crickets read.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How Do You Fly in Your Dreams?

My husband and I have been talking about the different methods people use to fly in their dreams. I haven't heard a repeat yet.

My husband flies by bounding higher and higher until he sometimes gets too high and is afraid to come back down.

Me? I jump and pedal my feet in the air. Madly. With the success of a chicken. It's only good for jumping over puddles, really. Not much more. However, once in a blue moon I fly using something like a kiddie swing, complete with chains that rise to nowhere but serve as rudders. Then I'm up in that sky and ready for adventure, man.

I can also jump at the top of long spiral staircases and then hover-glide all the way down without touching a single stair. But that's in real life. ;)

How about you? Tell me in the comments below:
  1. Do you fly in your dreams?
  2. HOW do you fly in your dreams?
  3. What pitfalls and advantages come from your particular method?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's December

What do I do now?

Well, the first thing is to annoy you delight you with excerpts of The View from Upper High Hog on my writing site, where it joins such treasures as excerpts from last year's NaNoWriMo novel and the latest draft of my main work in progress. (It's truly a rainbow-splendid candyland of amateur writing, and who doesn't love that?)

Next on my list is sleep. And then I'll try to break the habit of consuming mass quantities of gummy bears.