Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Diatribe

Dear Friends,

This is my diatribe. This is my post that will spew out all of the things I have been dealing with for the past few weeks. I will admit-- I have loved the debates and the sparks that this past election season has stirred up. I find it exciting and a learning experience, as well as a chance to take part in something so great as our country's democratic system. I am amazed by the concept of voting, the idea that every single person, no matter their opinion, every single person who cares enough to say something is heard. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Socialist, Libertarian... everyone is heard. The minority shouts out to be heard, and the will of the people comes to pass.

However, in a debate as spirited as has just passed us (a debate that some of us have grown addicted to and seek to hold on to-- I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin), open-mindedness and generosity towards one another is absolutely of the most dire importance in order to preserve our unity.

I voted for Barack Obama, along with over 66,000,000 of my fellow Americans. I voted for him because I believe in a more "liberal" philosophy-- I believe that laws should be built on rights, and not morals (though the two frequently intersect), I believe in the right to free will (God given, that one is), I believe in the right to marriage between two consenting adults regardless of religious doctrine. I believe in human rights, in using our position as a "superpower" to step up and show everyone else that the time of corruption, oppression, environmental irresponsibility, and selfishness has come to an end-- that the world has grown far too globalized to think that so long as I have a home and food, then all is well.

I believe that we were all made to care for one another-- not that we should only tend to our own.

I believe that the Republican ticket this year grew to be one of the most divisive forces in American culture, citing Sarah Palin's "Real America" as a prime example. According to her, "Real America" is white, southern, suburban or rural, conservative, and "Christian." This is not the country that I am a part of. The country that I live in is diverse-- racially, ethnically, religiously. We live in apartments and ranch houses, mansions and farms. We are lawyers, business owners, factory workers, writers, IT workers, doctors, researchers, teachers, farmers, truck drivers, hedge fund managers, artists, mothers, fathers, foster parents, social workers, bus drivers, secretaries, managers, and the list goes on and on and on. We speak different languages, we eat different foods, we attend different churches, worship on different days of the week.

THIS is the country that I am so proud to be a part of-- a place that is full of color and spice and diversity. Not the hegemonic, non-existent Mayberry that is held up as the "Real" America.

I also just don't understand the religious appeal of the Republican platform. Yes, I understand the "right to life" and "traditional marriage" opinions, but perhaps I just can't agree with them. What right do we as Christians have to enforce our morality on anyone else? What right do we have to take away the "free will" that God has blessed us with, a will that we are free to use for both our own benefit and downfall? This is what I mean by laws being made in the name of rights, and not morality. Why are we not allowed to murder? Because it infringes upon another's right to life. Why are we not allowed to steal? Because it takes away from another's right to pursue happiness (ie, property). I will admit, when it comes to the abortion issue, this is a significant gray area, and I don't envy those who are left to the task of deciding the difference between what is a person and what isn't. But how, then, do we take away a woman's right to choose what she considers best for her own body and family? Or rather, how do we take away her right to safely make that decision? And never mind the fact that a "right to life" stance is only applicable to those in utero according to the Republican platform. It does not apply to those killed in needless wars or those in prisons.

But I do not want this point to devolve into something solely revolving around women's health issues (or "women's health issues" as McCain put it. Thank you very much, sir, for so clearly presenting your disdain for my body. Please note that while your "men's health issues," ie, your Viagra, is covered by many health insurance providers, those pertaining to my health issues, ie contraception, are not).

Though, while we are on the topic of health, let's talk about health care. And why I think that every American has a right to health care.

I currently don't have health insurance. I am also currently getting a cold. I also have a vascular condition, which I was born with, that severely impacts my well-being due to various factors, including and not limited to the weather and menstruation. Does this count as a pre-existing condition? And if so, why is my well-being, along with those suffering from dwarfism, cystic fibrosis, mental illness, and others with genetic or chronic diseases that they cannot control, worth less or counted as less important than anyone else's?

Rights cost money. Civil Rights cost money-- women's rights cost money. The right to safe food and medicine costs money-- Thank you to the FDA. The right to know that the products we purchase, like cars and toys, are safe costs money. The right to a free and mandatory education costs money. Of course a right to health care is going to cost money. But isn't it worth it so that children can get their vaccines, so that seniors don't have to skip doses of their medication, so that we can grow a nation that is healthy and fit and able to contribute to our economy and culture?

We have turned into a culture that hates spending-- unless it is on ourselves. The Bush Administration seems to have been the only presidential body in the history of this country who thinks that you can go to war (two of them, actually) without having to make any real sacrifice. Rather than call upon us to contribute to keeping ourselves safe from the likes of those who so grievously attacked us (attacks which happened not in "Real America"-- I bet Osama bin Laden is kicking himself over that one), sacrifices which I'm sure we would have been glad to make (until we lost interest), we were told to go shopping. Spend everything! Buy houses and televisions and cars and clothes that you can't afford, because otherwise, the terrorists win!

I suppose some will say that all of this is a result of reading the New York Times and watching CNN. What a horrible Christian I am, turning away from the conservative, religious right and their beacon of "hope," Fox News and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly! Indeed, some have already insinuated that I must be "brain washed" by the "elitist, liberal media."

Here's a thought. The media, like any other industry, is employing more women and minorities than ever. These groups tend to vote and think with a more liberal slant, because a liberal philosophy is the one that actually gives a damn about the needs of women and minorities.

I'll admit-- the "brain washed" comment was made days ago, and I am still upset about it. Not only because it was implied that I, a college-educated, intelligent, independent woman, have no capacity for thinking for myself, but more so because as soon as I responded back with a deeper explanation of my views, the conversation was abruptly ended. I was "de-friended" on Facebook, which is something akin to a 21st century digital slap in the face.

I appreciate and respect conversation. I welcome debate. But to quote Janet Jackson, "If you tell me I'm wrong, then you'd better prove you're right." Not just run away from what challenges your preconceived and close-minded take on the world. To call someone "brainwashed" and to then have your strongest argument be that a situation presented is "messed up" without giving any further explanation as to why merely gives the impression that you are the one spouting off what you've been told, not thinking for yourself, and therefore becoming a pawn that those in power can play with and rile and mobilize at will. You have lost your God-given free will, traded in such a precious gift for blissful, ineffectual, and far too dangerous ignorance.

Why is it that we have lost the ability to disagree without attacking one another? The person who made the above comments has lost my respect, not because of his philosophy, but because of his childish response delivered as an unprovoked and personal attack on my own sensibilities-- and who then ran and hid instead of contributing to any sort of conversation.

We certainly are comfortable with blind attacks, aren't we? I bring up Facebook again, because it is such a potent and integral part of a young person's experience in this era. I came across a little "flair" button that read the following: "IT'S OKAY!!!! God put Obama in charge because he's the antichrist and we're all going to heaven soon!!!"

I say, as intellectually as possible, WTF?! Oh, and also, please get your head out of your ass.

What hurts me most is that we as Christians seem to have lost our way. One of my professors at school called Christians one of the most hateful groups in America, and I can't say I blame her for that. We are more likely to be associated with denying marriage and choice rights, with self-righteous piety and blatant discrimination than anything else.

The most important things Jesus told us to do were to Love God and Love One Another. Where have we lost sight of that? Where did loving God turn into viciously fighting our neighbors in his name? (And since when has God gotten so weak that he needs people as screwed up and as small as us to defend him?) When did loving each other mean furthering a legislative and cultural agenda that writes hate and discrimination into state constitutions? When did it become attacking those whom we disagree with?

I will never be ashamed of being "liberal": open to new behavior or opinions; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform (as per the OED).

To close, progress, intellectualism, cultural differences and national unity are good things. And so is Love.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I have certain fantasies about... everything. Part and parcel of being a writer, I think-- an overactive imagination that contrives a world wholly different than the one I'm living in.

One of the biggest questions I deal with on both a personal and an artistic level concerns the True Self: Is the real me the one I am right now, or the one I desperately want to be?

I often think that this Aspirational Self has her work cut out for her, though. She's going to join the gym (and actually go) and manage her savings better and get that fabulous job that will help pave the way to future creative and literary successes. She's together, drinks her coffee black, and she buys locally grown and organic foods, and she has really good posture, and she has an IRA, and she's effortless and lovely and charming and she dresses really well and clothes fit her really well (because she's been going to the gym, see) and she's probably about six inches taller.

I'm willing to admit that there are certain qualities to the Aspirational Self that will have to remain Aspirational. I've seen that Grey's Anatomy episode where the guy got steel bone implants to be taller, and it was not a pretty picture or something that I'm interested in pursuing.

But I'm sure that some of the other stuff I can be really good at. I'm confident! I'm already taking steps-- I use the reusable grocery bags, and I have a subscription to National Geographic.

Actual Self is kind of lame, sometimes, I think. She gets angry at word documents a lot, and likes to slack off in her writing (like, uh, right now). Lean Pockets are a dietary staple, and she doesn't always do the dishes before going to bed, and she tends to slouch, no matter how much her mother raps her between the shoulders.

Maybe part of this is just being a girl. I'm well aware of the many messages in the world that tell me what I Am Supposed To Be As A Woman. I'm supposed to look a certain way without looking like I'm trying to look that way. I'm supposed to be independent, and yet completely concerned with weddings and babies. I'm supposed to keep a clean house, but again, not have to look like I'm trying.

I'm not supposed to be hungry.

Here's where the blog is going to take a slight detour, because I've been thinking about this a lot, and I take issue with the idea of Female Hunger in the world.

I have this thing called a stomach. It's an organ, and a fairly important one. It's where food goes. And, please correct me if I'm wrong, I have a feeling that not all women have one of these.

Hunger seems to be one of the great Female Weaknesses in the world. Boys are allowed to be hungry-- we expect that and build whole marketing strategies around the idea that Boys Eat. But women aren't allowed to be hungry. I can personally attest to feelings of guilt and shame when thinking or saying aloud, "I need food."

What a fatty, my brain says. My gut says. Don't you have any discipline? Don't you have a small and tiny and prettily feminine enough body that a cup of coffee and a bowl of Airy Woman Flakes for breakfast is enough to last you until you sneak that chocolate chip cookie at 8 in the evening?

One of my characters, Never, rebels against this idea. She hides food in her pockets.

"It's not hard to spot you sneaking in the halls, Never," said Casca. "Especially by the kitchens."
"Why's that?" she asked.
"You're the one with the handful of olives or a pot of jam, naturally," said Gideon. 
"You can't eat just a pot full of jam, thank you," Never said, and then she put a grape into her mouth. "You need something to put it on." 

Somehow this all stemmed from the Actual vs. Aspirational Self discussion. Right, because I can't tell if the Aspirational Self is something that I created, that I truly want, or if it's something that I've been told I should be.

Though I do think that there are only three things that I would change about myself if I could: I would eat more fresh and local things, I would sit up straighter, and I would become a personal financial maven. And then I would be perfect and my life would be entirely enviable and I would rule the world.

Okay. The last part will only happen if I can grow six more inches.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm a big fan of stories. All kinds. Written or spoken, fiction or non, epic or flash. Biology is my favorite science because it's so damn NARRATIVE (also, just plain cool).

I'm very lucky to have grown up in a family that valued stories. My mother taught me to read when I was three or four, writing me little stories about me and Rosie the cat, which I then illustrated. At the same age, I would spend Saturday and Sunday mornings in my father's lap, reading the funny papers with him.

As I grew up, I learned more stories, both about the larger world and the world that my own family had created. There's very little more fun, or better, or more surreal than learning what happened to make you who you are, the circumstances that set the world spinning in such a way that I should be here, right now, me, and no one else.

In January of 1955, a girl named Vivi arrived in Idlewild airport. She had just turned twenty two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. She had been taking English lessons her whole life, but as anyone who has ever gone to a foreign country knows, you never know as much as you like to think you do.

From New York, she traveled to San Francisco, California, where an uncle lived. She lived in a boarding house full of other girls, which I'm sure had it's fun moments, but I know couldn't have been easy. On Sundays, she'd have dinner at her uncle's house-- a sure way to get at least one home-cooked meal.

She had always wanted to go to America, ever since she was a young girl. The youngest of seven, growing up during the Nazi occupation in Copenhagen, it's not easy to see the lure. Her older sister, Lis, had made her memorize a poem about the beauty and greatness of this country-- the streets were paved with gold, and when you arrived in New York, you'd be given a giant ranch house, and a stack of money and land.

Lis always did blame herself for her sister going away.

Once, when Vivi was going back to Denmark for a visit, she had to take a bus from California to New York, where she would then get on a boat to sail back. She was traveling with a friend, but the bus was so crowded that they had to sit in separate places, and Vivi got stuck next to a not very nice man. The driver intervened, though, and put an end to that.

They drove out into the desert, and the bus stopped for a reststop. Vivi and her friend went into the bathroom, and when they came out, the bus had driven away.

"What are we going to do?" cried Vivi.

"Don't worry," said her friend, "They'll be back."

And sure enough, a few minutes later, the bus pulled around the corner. What a good driver.

They boarded a steamer in New York and sailed back to Europe, though the boat had to make a stop in Sweden first. The girls got off there, and went to have a good time. Apparently, they had horrible time management skills, because by the time they got back, the gangplank had already been lifted and the ship was set to sail away again.

So the girls got hauled up over the side of the ship by a rope.

A year and a half after Vivi arrived in New York, in June of 1956, a young man named Poul arrived in New York, too, except he had sailed over on a boat. He was a member of the Danish navy, traveling with a group of sailors to San Francisco, where they would pick up a minesweeper to take back to Denmark.

Poul and Vivi met at a dance in San Francisco. They found out that they had grown up not ten minutes from one another in Copenhagen. He denies it, and she says its true, but when he saw her, he turned to his friend, pointed at her, and said, "That's the girl I'm going to marry."

And he did.

They had four children. And seven grandchildren (and one of them was me!). And two great-grandchildren.

Aren't stories great?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Ode to Aslan and Others

When I was eleven, I spent the summer in Denmark with family. Knowing how avid of a reader I was, and how limited the English-language book selection would be overseas, my family drowned me in books for my eleventh birthday.

"Don't read them until you're in Denmark!" they said.

My birthday is in February. I didn't leave for Denmark until May. What on earth did they expect out of me? I was a book-hungry eleven year old, not some self-flagellating medieval monk.

My darling Mormor bought me the Narnia series. These books didn't stand a chance. I ripped through them like nothing else before. Talking animals! Kings and Queens that were MY age! Sword fights and wars and magic and the best lion in the world and witches and did I mention the talking animals? This was all before the age of Harry Potter (or rather, Harry would come out very soon after) and I think it was the first real, literary fantasy that I had ever encountered (the Babysitters Club, however, I was exceptionally familiar with).

Before Narnia, I had built a solid foundation that served me well in navigating this wonderful world. I remember books on Ancient Egypt and Greek Mythology- Narnian field guides, if you will, which made fauns and minotaurs all the more familiar and welcome in a book. A fantasy of sorts, but incredibly distant from my own life (though I did play Persephone on the playground-- going down the slide was descending into Hades).

And then there were these books. I wanted to BE Lucy Pevensie like I had wanted to be no one else before. Because she and her brothers and sister had something that I didn't have. Not just magical adventures and talking animal guides. They had power. They had real importance in this world, even if they were essentially and completely powerless in their own (like I was in mine, at 11).

This power, I think, is one of the most important gifts that children's literature can give to its readers. The faintest glimmer of hope-- the idea that your voice matters, that you do have something to contribute, that no matter your size or your gender or your color or your age, you can be a hero.

This has been ingrained in me. I can't help it-- I find that this principle shows up in the books that I love to read, as well as the books that I want to write. I guess there could be worse things to want to read and write about.

All of this was sparked by this:

The Dawn Treader trailer! This was always my favorite book-- I think I'm a sucker for anything set on a boat.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Beginnings

So, after a months and eons long (and tragic!) lack of blogging, I've decided to give it another go. We've been revamped, renamed, and redesigned over here and I hope all of that back-breaking painting and remodeling of the page here is worth it.

I do have to admit. Being one of those Whippersnappers of the Internet age, Twitter is more my style. 140 characters, I'm in, I'm out, I'm back to life. But sometimes, you need a place that's bigger than a tiny text box. Sometimes there are things to be said that require space to breathe.

What those things are, well, I don't know yet. Glee is over for the summer, so there goes the opportunity to squee and rehash that.

But, as a reader and a writer, I'm sure I'll find something to say. I've rarely been speechless in the past.

When in doubt, however, there is always poetry to supply words that might otherwise hang invisible between us.

My First Memory (of Librarians)

by Nikki Giovanni

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
          wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
          too short
                    For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
          a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

Monday, February 2, 2009

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. --Toni Morrison

This post begins with no logical beginning, nor any logical ending in sight. 

I have been reading a lot about writing lately, and I have come up with this question: Who has succeeded by this? Why can't they print testimonials in the back of "Bird by Bird" or "The Lie That Tells the Truth" that offer us hope. That look! Shelby Donwright read this book and six months later she's three chapters into a fiery, dynamic work that plumbs the depths and breadths of human experience and frailty! Just think of what it would do to boost sales.

Of course, the answer must be because that is not how writing works. Much like a person can only learn so much by reading the pamphlet on driving rules or watching a more experienced surgeon stitch up a heart, one can only learn so much by observing others' experiences when it comes to writing. 

Now, I do like these books. Particularly Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird." In fact, I would very much like to send her a letter explaining to her that I think she must be my long-lost aunt or something of the sort, for all the kinship I feel vibrating between us as she writes and I read. (Ah ha!)

But always, always there is that eager, solemn, sparkling voice that insists, "Put down the book and pick up your pen! Put down the book and pick up your pen!" And I should learn to listen to this voice more often, because that little Muse-- that delightful girl who lives at Starbucks and sneaks up on me at the most inconvenient of times, whispering stray thoughts, or joins me in the car as I speak dialogue to myself-- must know what she's talking about. If I can't trust her, then I can't trust anyone. 

I have learnt (and am learning) valuable things. Especially about character-- I want to learn to do what William Faulkner did when he saw Caddy up in the tree and then followed her around afterwards. 

But here is where I get stuck, because a character can't wander about making decisions in a dense gray fog (well, they could, of course, but that is not the story that I want to tell). They need land to walk upon, a place to live in, people to live with, a society to operate within.

Perhaps I invite this trouble upon myself. I love to write fantasy, I love to exist within a world of my own making. I like struggles to be big and stakes to be high and possibilities to be endless. This is where my imagination lives. But this also means that I am responsible for everything-- which any author is in any work, but at least those who write in the "real world" have the Constitution and television and airplanes to guide their reality. 

For instance, I know a 12-year-old girl named Lilias Belphoebe Vastin. And she is curious and honest, which I think must be the two most important qualities in a child's character. And I KNOW that her father is a famous and valuable inventor, and I KNOW that she lives in a society that stifles discovery and education and individuality. I know there are sharp and intractable class divisions, I know that dissenters are cast away, I know that there is a boy who lives in the library and has hidden there for his whole life, I know that there are pirates that sail across the deserts and giant dragons that swim through the sand dunes. I know that the Librarian's sister is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World and one look from her can kill a man. I know that there's a step-mother on the horizon and Lily revolts at the idea. 

And I know that her father is kidnapped and that is the Reason that Lily takes on the Story. 

But I haven't figured out yet, as Lamott puts it, how to seamlessly piece it all together, like the fluidity of a dream. We trust dreams, in the very deepest part of ourselves. We have to. Otherwise, what would we make of, in a much-loved example, babies turning into chocolate chip cookies and any attempts to revive them with milk? We understand that the subconscious is a dangerous, exciting, beautiful place and that any attempts to understand it further will result in failure-- therefore, in lieu of understanding it, we put our faith in it and we merely trust that the Dream is what it is. 

This frustrates me, my inability to see the forest for the trees. Or to see all of the trees in the forest. Or to figure out the best way to wind the path through the forest so that all of the gullies and streams, rock formations and majestic vistas are put on best display for those who will follow after me. 

I like this metaphor. Indeed, there is a whole forest in front of me. I cannot see all of the trees-- I can hardly, in fact, see any of them. And now I must find a path through them, discovering new things as I go, definitely needing to retrace my steps backwards to find a better way. 

The most important thing, though, is finding that path. I can't let it be whether anyone follows after me. 

I attend a monthly writers' group here in the Cleveland area. And I do enjoy it because I enjoy getting together and listening to others and letting people hear my work. But I do not like how so much of the emphasis is placed on "being published" as opposed to "telling the story." Last month, we did New Year's Resolutions-- I can't even think of how many people want to be published this year. (As a note, mine is to lock myself in a room with only TWO of the eight or so plots in my head and to not come out again until we've either made progress or one of us-- probably me-- is dead.) 

When artists paint or sculpt or roll around in jello, or musicians compose, or jugglers stand out on the street corner, is their main goal focused on someone paying them for their work? I'm not saying that this is a bad goal or that artists don't deserve to be paid for their work (because what is a culture without art?), but should this be the driving force behind our work? Because if the goal is to make money, or to be famous, then there are a lot of other careers that will probably get you there before being a writer.

Quick-- how many writers are on the Forbes lists? In People magazine? Retired from their day jobs as teachers, editors, professors, librarians, etc? 

(I will admit a secret desire to be the first author-celebrity, complete with red-carpets and people taking pictures of my clothes. I, however, am willing to keep this buried very deep on the inside for I'm sure my poor hopes will be dashed.)

I merely wish I could figure out how to write. How to do this thing that gnaws at my ear all day when I am at work or talking to a friend or folding laundry. And yes, I do want to write for myself-- how wonderful would it be to make a living doing what you love? I want to write because I like the validation of someone reading what I have written and calling it brilliant or so very good or asking for more (a Turkish Delight Syndrome, bwaha). 

But I also need to tell these stories in my head. I need to figure out where Lily's father has gone and how she's going to get him home again. I need to let Eleanor navigate a strange world and to figure out what she's exactly made of. I need to help Jane make sense of the changes in her world. I need to push Never to be the person that she is capable of being. I need to help Wil and Hazel escape from the Self-Made Emperor. And I need to figure out what happens to Peter, Calvin, and Cecelia Sage in their big white house on the top of the hill. 

I need to tell the stories that I want to read. 

And these are my nonsensical, ill-constructed thoughts on writing for the day. I have more-- especially regarding artistic snobbery and the editing process-- but I have work to do now.