Thursday, January 27, 2011

Categories: I Cry Over Dying Dolphins, and I Choose to Swat Mosquitoes.

This Guy Really Hearts Flipper! Yeah! Yeah!

So last night my husband and I finally watched The Cove. I didn't want to watch it for a while, so I kept putting it off. It wasn't because I was afraid it would affect my inclination to eat sushi with my sake, and it wasn't because I hate documentaries. It was mainly because I knew it would make me cry. And it did, so I was right. But sometimes you just can't put off crying-and-watching-a-movie forever. It just had to happen. 

It was kind of your typical moral-type documentary that seems to be pretty in these days. But, like Food Inc., I supported this team's moral agenda. I've always been a little creeped out and grossed out by Sea World, and the idea of training wild animals for our entertainment. More recently, while reading up on that Sea World worker getting mauled to death by a mentally unwell Killer Whale (and yes, there is such a thing as mental wellness in whales, it seems), right after a performance in front of hundreds of people, I've become even more creeped/grossed out. 

Anyhow, to be quick about it, The Cove is about this place in Taji, Japan, where a handful fisherman catch some dolphins to sell to parks such as Sea World, and then slaughter the rest. Although there seems to be a discrepancy in the official number, the documentarians claim that approximately 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in this cove in a seven month period. It's a secretive business, because the fishermen know people would be outraged if they were made aware of this. 

This is what the cove looks like after the morning slaughter.

Part of the reason why people would be outraged is because of Flipper. It's a vicious cycle, because Flipper is the reason why this is common practice in the first place: we all love Flipper and want to see him on TV and at amusement parks, so this place in Japan has to do this, supposedly, to make some money. 

And people like to anthropomorphize animals: Flipper', I mean, Mr. Dolphin, is so awesome because he's so much like a person! He talks! He can play soccer! He'll let us pet him like a dog! He'll do weird, cheesy things, like waving! Yay! 

So we get sad when we see Mr. Dolphin die, because he's our buddy. But that's what he gets for being so damn cute! 

It's pretty horrible, the whole thing. 

I'm not really going to go much further into the moral aspect of this whole thing. Enough has been written about that, and people on both sides of the fence can get kind of ridiculous about it without actually communicating with one another. 

I think a lot of this film was dedicated to convincing us dolphins aren't just fish. Dolphins are self-aware creatures: they can recognize their reflections in the mirror, they play just to play, they recognize complex signals, and they have a complex system by which they communicate (and yeah, I'm hesitating to use the word "language"; blame Noam Chomsky). But dolphins are not the only creature in the world who exhibit this sort of behavior. Primates do as well. But primates look a little more like us, so it isn't so hard for us to accept their self-awareness. Dolphins don't like like us. Well, they don't look like most humans, anyway:

(Anyone who recognizes this guy gets 10 points.)

Anyway, I think it would be difficult to watch a film like The Cove and not feel some compassion for these animals. One scene was particularly heart-wrenching: one dolphin managed to escape from the cove and tried to swim away, but it had been stabbed already, and whenever it came up for air, blood just poured out of a gaping gash its side. Eventually, it just sunk below the surface and didn't come back. 

When I watch something like that, I wonder how people can think evil does not exist. 

And then, right after I think that I wonder: why the hell don't I wonder that when I eat sushi? Or squash a bug when it's about to bite me (or already has)? Or threaten to give my cat a one-way ticket to Guam after he's been scratching at my door for an entire night?

I think there are two reasons. 

Reason One (and I know not everyone believes this): There is a difference between abusing an animal and using it as a food source. I think factory farms are disgusting, but I have the utmost respect for livestock farmers who raise their animals humanely. And yeah, I know that might not make a lot of sense to some people, but it's the conclusion to which I've come. 

But Reason Two is a little more interesting, I think: I categorize. We all categorize. I know some Vegans who think this is just plain wrong, and maybe they are right. But I would also argue they categorize as well, in different situations, perhaps. We cannot live life without separating things into groups. 

We do not value all movies the same. 
We do not value all art the same. 
We do not value all countries the same. 
We do not value all food the same. 
We do not value all music the same. 
We do not value all cultures the same. 
We do not value all animals the same. 
We do not value all people the same. 

And it has to do with connection. 

I love my mom more than I love other people's moms, because my mom has her own special #1 Mom category. I am saddened when I see a dead cat on the side of the road, but I just go "meh" when I see a dead squirrel on the side of the road. Actually, the squirrel's lucky if he even gets a "meh," to be honest. Because I put cats into the "pets" category. I feel worse about a dolphin getting speared than a tuna fish because I put dolphins into the "interacts with humans and saves them from sharks occasionally" category.  

Does this make me a bad person? I'm not sure. Is it something I can change? Not sure about that either. Maybe it goes back to the whole "humans are basically bad" kind of thing: as long as I'm a human, I'll inevitably favor some things over others just because of my connection to it, and its special category. 

Even PETA knows this, hence the Sea Kitten Campaign

Monday, January 24, 2011

We're So Close to Hating Everyone: Religious Bumper Sticker Edition.

So the last We're So Close to Hating Everyone talk Jeff and I had was about bumper stickers. Specifically, this one:

I understand this is not a malicious bumper sticker. There are a lot more insulting, offensive stickers out there. Those might get a blog post some time in the future. 

But I still am close to hating it.

I am close to hating it because it is silly: all of these religions already coexist. (Although, I'm not sure what the peace-sign religion is... Hippieism?) These religions all exist on the same planet, right now. There are wars being fought between some of these coexisting religions/ideologies, in fact. Yes, I know it is trying to say more than this... but more on that in a minute. 

Other people must have noticed this problem, and so they came up with another, very similar sticker:
This one, besides adding in some new symbols and gender-and-sex-stuff into the mix, also has a new word: tolerance. And this is kind of a weird and yet very popular word floating around these days. And that's my trouble with this sticker. Tolerance is not so hot. For instance, if I merely tolerated my husband's existence, I have a feeling our marriage would be considered a sham by others. Similarly, if I merely "tolerate" the existence of another religion, it sounds more like I might touch it with a six foot pole, but that's about it. 

All right, so I am definitely a weird kind of idealist: I am sarcastic, and maybe a bit cynical, and I have this kind of negative view of human nature and things, but I also have very high expectations:

These stickers are a weird idealistic but misguided message. I honestly don't think their message is asking  for this bland world of half-hearted or half-disgusted "acceptance"... but that's what is happening. 

First off: the first sticker annoys me the most, because it assumes a few things that I don't think are true:
1.) Religious people cannot put up with other religions' existence. 
2.) The many problems and arguments between people of different religions are negligible because they're basically the same underneath it all, and should just coexist.
3.) Religious differences are what cause major conflict. (Thank you Dawkins et al... Not.)  

My rebuttal to this:
1.) Me and most of the other religious people I know (Not an awesome rebuttal, but oh well). 

The second sticker is a little less annoying, but still not great: 
As we were having our little discussion, Jeff reminded me of a guy we heard speak about six or seven years ago name Greg Ganssle who said this idea of tolerance is ultimately misguided. Tolerance is not an ideal. It's kind of a sad ideal, if it is. 

Ganssle thinks it would be better if we replace "tolerance" with the word "appreciation." And I think this is a much better substitution. For sure, we will never get to a point where everyone agrees with each other. Hell, even within the same religion people can't agree with one another, hence sects and denominations. To respect someone else or something else is not necessarily to agree with them. But it is possible to disagree with someone's point of view but still respect and appreciate it. 

Yeah, I know that sounds kind of crazy in this current cultural situation where we instantly disparage any perspective that's different than our own (often with some snark). But, for instance, most of my in laws are Vegan, mainly for ethical reasons. I am not Vegan, and I do not see animals the same way they do, exactly, but I can understand why they've made this decision, and on some levels, I do agree with their reasons for choosing not to consume animal products. We'll never agree completely with each other on this subject, but I don't merely tolerate their choice and will adopt their diet when we spend time together. 

So that's why respect is a better goal than coexistence or tolerance... but maybe it doesn't look super-awesome on a sticker. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eff Money and Live Your Life.

Money and I are not friends, apparently.

I was poor when I was a kid, but that wasn't my fault. I guess it wasn't really my parent's fault either. We were poor, and there were a lot of kids. Okay, so the lots of kids part was their fault, for sure.

I was poor when I was in college, because almost everyone is at that point in his or her life. But I was in college for a while.

And now I'm (relatively) poor still. It's kind of stupid to say I am actually poor because I'm not. I shudder to think what life looks like for someone at the "real" poverty level looks like, because I have a hard time believing a family of four making just above 30,000/year is considered above the poverty level. That, my friends, is bullshit.

Jeff and I just haven't had much financial security, partly because even though my parents were poor, they still encouraged their kids to follow their dreams and get useless degrees. Here's the really sad thing: I have the most "practical" degree, and I studied English. It doesn't help that I studied English but want to write and have no interest in corporate malarky.

Maybe my parents also instilled in me some kind of bad attitude about money and how one might attain it as well. Because I'd rather freeze in a house heated at barely 60 degrees than work over 40 hours a week copyediting or whatever it is "successful" English graduates do (besides get lots of fancy graduate degrees).

Anyhow, yeah. $$$ + Emma = An inevitable break-up in our future.

Being an adjunct is unpredictable as far as work and cash flow go. And there really isn't a possibility that I might get this awesome raise someday.

I always say God has provided for Jeff and I, even when it looks like we're totally effed. And it's true. We haven't missed any mortgage payments, or resorted to eating the cats for dinner or anything. (I definitely had a new perspective on what it means to be really hungry when a fellow student at my undergrad said that before her family moved to America, they had a pet monkey... that they had to eat when they ran out money and food. I tell that story to my cats sometimes, but I don't think they believe me).

But, because I am a New-Englander brought up by New-Englanders, there is still that sense that you cannot spend money, ever. I think it's also because of my parents, who only recently bought themselves a new refrigerator (after having a fridge without a light on the inside for about 5 years... and the fridge was about 25 years old), and a new stove (because it was leaking gas, not because my dad had to use to hammer to open and close it... and it was about 23 years old). My brother in law calls this the Bradley-pinch, which is probably an apt description.

Today, though, my husband said we shouldn't let money (and the fear of the lack of it) paralyze us and make our lives less full. And I think he has a point.

On one hand, consumerism and the idea that buying such-and-such item will make us happier somehow, is not good. So I am not really talking about the American Dream and thinking one can define and identify oneself by what one purchases.

I'm talking more about this: So, I kind of jokingly wrote that it's my parent's fault that they had so many kids, which is true. But that was what they wanted to do, so they did it. It's not good to be irresponsible about having children; I don't think they were at all. But they were determined to make it work because they wanted to have a large family, and they weren't going to let money dictate whether or not they could do this.

There are people who would get angry at them, or think they were crazy, because there's this attitude that's like: if you are going to have six kids, you should have lots of money in the bank, stocks, savings accounts for college, etc., because that is what is expected.

My parents didn't have that kind of money, but they provided a home for us, and a wonderful home at that. They sent all their kids to college. They didn't have to take advantage of welfare (not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just my dad's pretty proud of being able to solely provide for our family), because they made it work. They didn't even land in credit card debt. My siblings and I didn't have a lot of "stuff," but we didn't realize it, because, really, that stuff doesn't matter.

I'm not making the same choices as my parents (obviously, since at my age, my mother already had 3 kids, or something), but I think their attitude about money was right:
1.) You don't need to spend money to be happy.
2.) Fuck Money and live your life. (I should clarify: my parents would never actually say #2, because they're good Christians, but that's my interpretation of it).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"My Other Comp. Teacher was French and Deaf": First Day Back at School!

So as many of you know, I teach as an adjunct instructor. Today, I started the spring semester, this time at a new community college. This college has a satellite campus in the town next to me. And my class only has only 9 people in it (it only needs 5 to run, so we're in the safe zone as far as paychecks go). I teach another section on Saturday mornings. And the pay is less.

Some of you might think this Saturday-morning-and-less-dough-thing is a raw deal. Not me.

Because this means, compared to other semesters:
1.) I have a commute that is shorter by, oh, one entire hour.
2.) I have classes that are shorter by, oh, about twenty students.

And today I already had a student tell I am much better than the instructor she had last semester, mainly because I spoke coherent English, and I am not hard of hearing.

This particular class, though, will be a bit of a challenge in that it is a basic reading class. And the real challenge there is: many of the people who adjunct at colleges never had to take a Composition course, let alone a basic reading course, because we tested out. At least, this is what I've discovered when talking to my fellow adjuncts and instructors.

And I don't blame my students as much as I blame my inability to see things where they are coming from. It's hard to figure out how to put together assignments and ask questions on the spot and consider the possibility that my students really do not know what the hell I am talking about. The sad thing is, they don't know what the hell I am talking about, but they are too embarrassed to tell me this.

That might be one of my biggest challenges as a teacher. Also: making grammar seem fun.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My thoughts on this slushy day.

My Dad still gets really bad post-Christmas let-down. I think he passed this on to his children when we were little. I remember feeling so unhappy Christmas was over; it was hard to handle. And my dad still feels this way. He was listening to Christmas music for two weeks after. My mom finally pulled the plug on that one. (She let him listen to just one more Christmas record after dinner, and then that was it).

I know most of that let-down has to do with childhood nostalgia. That happy, naive, childhood sense of wonder, excitement, bliss, completely devoid of adult troubles such as work, deadlines, responsibilities, shopping, etc.

This isn't to say being a kid is easy. I am so glad I am not a kid anymore, because it was very difficult. Adults who go on and on about how kids have it so easy: just stop. Being a kid is so hard. You are so dependent, fragile, confused, and bound by what adults say you can and cannot do. And other kids can be cruel and terrible, because they're going through the same thing. It's frustrating. Plus, you can't just go and eat a cookie whenever you want.

Today, it's "slushing" outside. And this reminds me of another reason why I would get post-Christmas let-down: Snow after December kind of sucks. I associate Valentine's Day with this kind of weather, where it's cold but not that cold, and you can't see the snowflakes falling, because it's more like rain, and when you go outside, you get soaked right through your boots and jacket. You can't build a snowman. You can make a snowball, but it's not the kind you throw at someone because it's like getting slapped with a half-frozen tomato. You can't play outside at all. And you have to eat fish-sticks for dinner. (Okay, the fish-sticks are just another random, childhood free-association with Valentine's Day for some reason).

I'm not going to bother googling this because I'm that lazy, but I'll just throw this out there: perhaps Valentine's Day was invented by New Englanders to break up the grim monotony of slushy-winter a little bit.

Me on Valentine's Day, circa 1987-ish.

I wasn't there when this happened, but about twenty-three years ago, my Mom tried to open a jar of homemade preserves on a day like today, and the whole damn thing broke in her hands and cut her up pretty bad. My sister Ingrid was home sick from school that day, and she had to go out in this kind of horrible, slushy, cold rain, to tell our neighbor, because she was only about seven or eight years old. She had a sore throat, and could barely speak as she cried and yelled for help. Our neighbor, afraid of the sight of blood, wouldn't come over. My Mom ended up having to get a lot of stitches. She wore this funny bandage cast over her hand for what seemed like months afterwards, and I remember feeling vaguely disturbed by the whole thing, despite her attempts to shield her children from the horror that is the realization that one's mother is not infallible or unbreakable. 

This is a bleak time of year. About five years ago, I read Ethan Frome. It was my first Edith Wharton, and people told me: "Oh, that's way different than her other books." Which kind of means: "Oh, that's not as good as her other books." But I didn't really have anything to compare it to, and I read it anyway. It's very good. And yes, it's way different. But it does a great job of capturing that sad, forlorn quality that's attached to New England winter. 

And yet, I won't complain too much about it. This is home, after all. I'm protective of New England's bad/weird weather. It's not like we're known for our sunny skies in summer, or temperate winters. Our only "good" season is fall, and it is probably the shortest (or, at least, seems to be the shortest...) But those people on FB who try and make me feel bad about the slush by posting their pictures of sunny skies and palm trees outside their front doors don't make me feel all that jealous. Maybe the older I get, the closer I am to becoming one of those curmudgeon-y, prideful Yankees. Or (more likely) I realize no matter where I live, there will always be a downside... At any rate, I really could not live anywhere besides New England. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

We're So Close to Hating Everyone.

Probably about five years ago, while we were driving somewhere-or-other, I was going on and on about how much I disagreed with someone-or-other, and Jeff chimed in as well with his reasons for disagreeing with this person as well, and it escalated into this: "What the hell? Why is this person like this anyway? How on earth could he (or she) think this?" kind of thing. And then it went further: "How could this person believe in any of the things he (or she) believes in? And other people think this way, too?! Like, what the? What's wrong with people, anyway?"

And it's not like this was the first time we had conversations like this. They were (and probably still are) a recurring thing that come up here and there, probably more often than they should. Basically, a nice, long, bitchy diatribe about how we're right and everyone else is wrong.

Which led me to the great title of the book we're going to have to write, because it is so bitchy, unreasonable, and haughty, and we've had these conversations enough, they may as well be collected: We're So Close to Hating Everyone. And it has to be co-written because I'm So Close to Hating Everyone just sounds way too whiney. And the "so close" comes in because, when it comes down to it, I don't think it's very nice to really hate anyone. It is bad for other people, and it is really bad for me, anyway. So I have to at least make a half-hearted effort to not condone outright hate.

If I actually did write a book like that, though, I wonder what it would look like. Maybe a little bit like something Glen Beck would write. Or maybe it would be a little bit more like an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

At least it would be honest.

Because the trouble is, I think there are already books out there like that, disguised as something else. And there are already television shows, movies, entire universities, musical acts, etc., that also espouse this kind of attitude, but it's not quite so in your face as my title. And it's kind of toxic, actually (I know, it's hard to read between the lines and everything): Even though we live in an age where we are supposed to be open-minded and postmodern and stuff, I think most people still adhere to their own personal set of ideas as far as what life's supposed to be like, say "to hell with those guys,"(or much worse), but are unwilling to acknowledge this unreasonable quality contained within themselves. And it's not such a good thing (to quote-mutilate from Martha Stewart).

So, in an attempt to lend some kind of structure to this blog, I want to devote some of it to this "book" of mine, mainly as a tongue-in-cheek way of deconstructing my own unreasonableness, and understanding where it comes from, and why it happens. I think this counts as a blog post for today, so I won't begin it right now, but let's just say that from here on out, the week will begin with "We're So Close to Hating Everyone Mondays" (even though Jeff won't be writing it... like I said, "we're" has a much better ring to it).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Strange Overlap: Music and Words.

Sometimes I find myself listening to music and typing a story or some thoughts or whatever, and I start to get this weird desire to write something that might somehow match the music I'm listening to in order to connect the two mediums and make my experience complete.

I've never been able to fully separate music from words. One feeds into the other.

When I was younger, maybe in second or third grade or so and couldn't really write all that much, I would draw pictures of stories and listen to music on tape cassette to accompany it. I can write without listening to music, and I can definitely listen to music without writing, but when I'm really on a roll, and in the zone, the two are synched up, and I find one song on a loop as I type page upon page upon page. 

I listen to music while I'm reading too, and then whatever it is I was listening to while I was reading that book becomes forever associated with it. When I was a junior in high school, we read In Cold Blood, and I was listening to Soul Junk's 1956 at the time, and now I will forever connect the two. Same thing more recently:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and All Delighted People. In both of these examples, the music does not really reflect the tone or subject matter of either novel. At all.

But, then again, I associate all music I listen to with certain periods in my life. And it isn't some vague, nostalgic feeling. It is a distinct, specific event or time. My husband thinks this might be one of my special little eccentricities. Virtually every single album I listen to has a connection to something else.  It doesn't just exist on its own, as its own separate entity. Like most things in life, it gets all tangled up with something else.

I'm fortunate to live in a day and age where music is so readily available, because otherwise I don't know what I would do with myself. I'd probably have to seriously take up an instrument. But it seems kind of difficult to play a sonata on the piano and write a novel simultaneously.

(On a side note: this may not be so difficult if it was playing a sonata and a video game simultaneously).

Sometimes the two activities manage to flow together well. But right before I began writing this post, I felt that horrible disjunction between the two. And I'm starting to think that this disjunction indicates something a bit more important: Whatever it was I was writing was getting BORING. So music has also become a bit of a litmus test. If the music I'm listening to can't get the job going, then I'm screwed, right?

Music makes everything better: chores, long commutes, movies, sex, food, books... life. Probably death too. 

I've heard some people argue about how this overload of music and ipods and things are actually bad for us. It's cluttering up our life, etc., and we should be engaging in Socratic dialogues somewhere instead, and so on. As a college instructor, there may be some truth to this, since it seems many people are becoming crippled by their inability to connect with others, and ipods can certainly make it easy to shut the outside world out.

But I think really great music makes for better connection.

I mean, the reason why concerts are such wonderful experiences is due to that sense of communal enjoyment. And this often happens among complete strangers. One can just bask in the sounds and the feeling of the music.

Although it's not an airtight argument, I think music proves God's existence. And it makes my writing work better. It feeds it and helps it grow. It's a little strange, and it maybe marks me as a Gen-Xer, but it's like the music goes from the machine, up the wire, into the headphones, into my ears, down my neck, shoulders, through my arms, and back into my fingertips, and so, onto the page (typing or writing, whatever). It's a cyclical pattern that obeys natural law: nothing is lost. It's all self-contained.

Now, if only I could figure out how music can help me write something I'm not all that inspired to write...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing Obscenity, and Listening to Jonsi. (Neither of which are actually related to each other...)

Before we begin: 
I've been a bit lax in my blog posting. I'm a little worried about what theme I should pick for it, since it appears most blogs have some sort of subject. I don't really want to pick a specific thing to focus on, though. Maybe that's a bit lazy of me to do, but it's been that kind of a year. Or two. I've been lazy, or at least, I've been rethinking ambitions and what place they should have in my life, which makes one seem  lazy. And this whole blog-business was supposed to be about discipline, and making sure I wrote something at least five days a week or so. So here is this random post about a couple things I've been thinking about. 

Thing #1: Vulgarity and Obscenity in my own Writing. 
I've been feeling more and more paranoid about this. I don't think of myself as all that vulgar or obscene, but it would seem that I maybe give off that impression, somehow. A friend recently observed: "You're like the Skinny Bitch writer, because you swear all the time!" True? Not sure. I don't mince words, anyway, and I don't really avoid talking about topics that might be considered "inappropriate." Plus, I think adolescent-boy humor is amazing. 

So, when I am writing, I do use somewhat colorful language at times, usually in character dialogue. It has to make sense, and it shouldn't detract from my writing, but it often feels necessary. Although a lot of the stuff I write is not "realistic" or realism, I think in order for a reader to suspend belief, they have to really believe in all the surrounding elements of the story. If everything is complete nonsense, then the book becomes nonsense. 

For example: In a film or a television show about gladiators, we can expect a certain amount of blood, dismemberment, foul language, lewd everything, sex, and other stuff. But in the show Spartacus, the level to which all of these things are taken is so extreme it becomes a joke. The writers probably had conversations like this: 

"Hm. We have not seen a single bare breast in this scene in over five minutes." 
"But this scene takes place at a Chuck-E-Cheese..."
"Yeah... but there has to be some way we can make this sexy and/or violent." 
"I know! We'll have a woman with gigantic implants start stripping and gyrating against the play-place before she openly breast feeds her eighteen year old son!"
"And then, Chuck-E comes in with a sword through his stomach, spurting blood everywhere!"
"Yeah! Great!"
 (All right. Slight exaggeration. We all know there aren't any play-places at Chuck-E-Cheese.)

I do understand that this over-the-top extremism is a fantasy. People don't watch Spatacus to get a history lesson. It's a guilty-pleasure kind of show. I've never been into guilty pleasures. It's probably the wet-blanket New Englander in me. 

But it is equally nonsensical, (to draw an example from my own writing), to have a working-class, abrasive, alcoholic talk like Pollyanna. 

The trouble is: some people do not like this. My older sister is my first go-to editor/critic. I take her advice and suggestions about my writing very seriously. But she just cannot take "the f-bombs" as she puts it. She thinks it is ridiculous. But she mainly thinks it is ridiculous because she would never, ever drop an f-bomb. In fact, I'm pretty sure she has never uttered the word in her entire life. (Although she did try to use a much worse expletive in a particularly desperate move in Bananagrams). And I am about to join another writer's group made up of Christian writers, and I am a little worried. One is a friend of mine, and I don't think the others are judgmental or legalistic types, but still: there's no way my book (if it were to ever get published...) would ever be put in the Christian/Inspirational section at Barnes and Noble... 

I don't think this is something that can be neatly tied up and set aside. Everyone has his or her idea on how much or how little one should censor oneself. I guess it's just something that every writer has to decide to deal with in some sense. When it comes down to it, I think one should just do whatever it takes to tell the story in the best way possible. If this can't be done without a decapitation or characters making whoopie, whatever. You've got to do what you've got to do. I guess it comes down to a personal judgment call. Safe stories aren't always good stories, are they? And shocking, crazy-brutal stories don't guarantee quality either... 

Thing #2: Jonsi. 
I don't have that much to say about him. I just love him, and find his music wonderful. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A World Away: Inspiration and Perspective.

So right now I am far away from Massachusetts: one state up, to be precise. Because we are broke, and because we do not want to add to our credit card debt, Jeff and I haven't gone on a vacation together in over five years. But, we have taken a few 2-day escapes. Right now, we're in Portsmouth, NH, which is only about two and a half hours from home. This week's get away was very much needed.

And it has cleared my head a little bit.

I don't know why I don't break from routine more than I do. I think when you become an adult, and get a job, and settle into a certain kind of life, it's easy to get boring and dull. But this is not so good, especially when you like to write, because you start to think life is kind of sad and every-day. And great writing is not sad and every-day, even if it is about sad and every-day kinds of things, because art is all about perspective.

So it is not so much that one must get (far) away in order to create. One must gain new perspective to create.

I wonder if I could gain perspective simply by doing the "writerly" thing and going out to get coffee for a couple hours every day, rather than stay home, just to surround myself with people who I don't know. It's pretty easy for me to isolate myself from others. Some people find this surprising because I like people. I am very talkative. I like people/animals, etc., around me at home. I am loud.

But at the same time, I like solitude, and won't hesitate to yell "No!" in the face of one of my cats for trying his hardest to sneak his entire 17 pound body under my typing hands while I am on the computer. (In my defense, I am usually very patient and only gently nudge him aside the first six times or so). I also will put on headphones, which is apparently one of the most isolating things you can do. I don't like to call people on the phone, even though I do like to talk to them.

When I am at home, I am at home, and I don't venture out. It's been especially bad lately: there isn't a dog that needs to go out anymore, and I find that not even getting that couple minutes of fresh air a few times a day affects me. (And, also strange, those few minutes of being outdoors with an appreciative dog who loved to be outdoors had a nice effect on me; Bella sniffed almost any item she came across with wagging tail and gusto. Animals truly live in the moment).

I can't help but think this hermit-like existence is a killer of creativity, and perhaps also of happiness. When I get all wrapped up in my own problems and unhappiness and thoughts, I tend not to be able to get anything accomplished, let alone writing (hence, my lack of blog posts the last few days).

(But then again, there is Emily Dickinson...)

At any rate, while this trip was planned way in advance of what has happened this week, it's almost providential in timeliness. Jeff and I walked along the ocean for a few minutes. It was snowing these tiny little snowflakes that stuck in small white dots on my collar and shoulders, and it was beautiful. The air was crisp, and the sky was gray. It was getting dark outside, and there weren't a lot of people out and about. We stood on the end of a dock and looked out across the shipyard and watched seagulls and boats and buoys. And perhaps for the first time this week, I could appreciate the moment for what it was and just enjoy living in the present: standing on a dock near the ocean in New England with my favorite person. Not doing anything, really. Not thinking about anything. Just walking and being and looking and talking.

I am thankful for that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Ever since Monday, I've been trying (and other people have been trying) to distract me. Because that is what you should do when you are so unhappy and grieving like I am. And, at times, it works. I still don't want to eat, and I cry when I think about my poor girl, but I manage to find things to take my mind off of what happened. I visited my sister in Gloucester, I watched television, I checked email, I listened to NPR, I wasted time online...

Because you aren't really supposed to just sit around and dwell on your loss.

Even though this loss is a large loss for me and my little family, I get this feeling that I am supposed to distract myself, if only to give my eyes and mind a rest for a few hours.

And I think this extends further than just mourning. I think this extends out everywhere, in our every day, happy and normal lives. Sometimes it's like distractions are what makes this world go round. We love media, music, text-messaging, social networking, internet updates, videos, everything, because these are things that we can get so lost in we forget everything else. And it can feel nice to forget everything else.

I just don't know if it's good to forget or get lost. Maybe it is. I don't know.

Is it healthier? Is it necessary? Is it just a part of living?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Our Girl.

Since I already wrote about our dog, Bella, dying, and since I already mentioned that today was a terrible day, I just wanted to post here that today Jeff and I made the hard decision to put her to sleep. Bella passed away around 5:20 earlier tonight, peacefully.

There is already a gaping hole in our home. I am completely heartbroken. Bella was such a wonderful dog. She was very sweet and gentle, and she was our girl. Right now, Jeff and I are having a hard time imagining life without her. It's hard to believe she's really gone, and she won't be sleeping in her corner when I come down the stairs tomorrow morning. It's hard to think of going for walks in the park without her. I don't think I can.

Many people have told us that Bella was lucky to have us. She was an elderly dog, and she was given up and handed over to a Greyhound rescue. Everyone thought what we did was nice, or charitable somehow. But I have a hard time thinking of our relationship with Bella that way. She added so much to our lives, I don't consider it charity that we took her into our home. She was a blessing to us. She was a member of our family.

This past summer we took her up to Sebago Lake with us. Almost every single day, she slept out on the beach, sunning herself for hours. She would sometimes wade through the water, her tail wagging. Sometimes she would run around in the shallows. She was so happy just being outside, on vacation with her people, napping in the soft, warm sand. And I'd like to think that the rest she is in now is like that nice warm beach. I hope she is at peace.

We love you so much, Bella. And I wish with all my heart we didn't have to say goodbye.

Write Through It.

Today is a terrible day. I'm starting to think this might have been a bad time to start a blog.

I am not going to go into details right now about why today is a terrible day; I'll write on it in a future post.

Instead, to avoid having too many sad posts in a row, today I will write about writing.

I'm not a particular fan of using writing as therapy, at least, not in my own life. Whenever I'd start a journal, for instance, I'd fall into this pattern of only writing whenever I was feeling unhappy. This was not good, especially when I considered the possibility of future generations finding my journal and deciding great-grandma was a super-bitchy and miserable human being.

And when I write, I usually use the activity to escape or avoid whatever might be bothering me at that moment. For instance, when I got rejected from PhD programs a few years ago, I managed to completely revamp and rewrite a novel I had been working on for almost three years. And it wasn't a short one. I think I pumped out something like two-hundred pages in a couple months. But when it came to what I should have been writing (as in, final seminar papers), I could barely eke out fifteen pages, let alone several dozen.

However, there have been a few occasions where I have "written through it," so to speak.

Most recently (and probably most pathetically), this past summer I wrote a sprawling-drunken rant in a tiny Moleskine notebook on my fears about the future. I haven't actually gone back to read it; maybe I should since it will remind me why I should never drink-and-write again. But in that instance, words just came out in ink form without any effort (or thought...) whatsoever.

Less pathetic: I also wrote a few words for my grandfather's funeral. I didn't particularly want to, mainly because I was so saddened by his death, and didn't think I could pull a coherent sentence together, but my mother suggested that I write something, so I did. I cried the entire time I was typing, and I couldn't finish reading it aloud at the funeral, but I wrote.

I've read a lot of stuff by writers who bemoan the writing process as being painful. They're usually writing about things like getting a draft finished, or coming up with ideas, or meeting deadlines or something. And they're right. That stuff is tough, for sure. But I find writing about life pretty fucking difficult. I'd rather put on the television and not do or feel anything at all.

The thing is, I don't think that being a writer is a particularly comfortable job. If you are a good writer, you can't "move on" the way other people do because you have to write about it first. You have to think about why you are thinking those thoughts, and why you are feeling those emotions. You have to consider how these things affect who you are as a person. You have to dwell on the past. You have to remember the painful memories, as well as the good memories that sometimes become painful in retrospect.

So even though today is a terrible day, I chose to write anyway. And even though tomorrow will be just as sad, I'll choose to write through it again.