Friday, June 29, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: After The Ecstasy, The Laundry

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

After The Ecstasy, The Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path by Jack Kornfield

Yup. A spiritual book. DON'T RUN AWAY IT DOESN'T SUCK. This Friday, in the midst of the mess of moving that has recently become my life, a book about spirituality seems like the right choice. Especially this book. Because this book isn't like other touchy-feely oovy-groovy books about the Spirit and the Heart and the Whatnot Behind the Spleen that Feels Funny When You're Sad. It's way cooler than that. It was, yes, a little life-changing for me, and not in the I've-seen-the-light-and-it-is-telling-me-to-go-to-India-and-become-Enlightened way. In the most awesome, practical, and helpful of ways. So:

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things In My Cabinet: Walking Over Cliffs

I googled "going away party" and obviously this was the only
possible result I was willing to use. I mean, really, who doesn't
love them some emotive pop art? Nobody, that's who.
I leave for California in ten days. I had my goodbye-Massachusetts-you've-been-good-to-me party last night. Some of my dearest friends drove all the way from Boston just to make sure it became a dance party. I felt superlatively, almost shockingly loved - there were so many wonderful people there, and they had come because they were going to miss me! Dopey as it sounds, I guess I just didn't expect there to be so many of them. I feel so damn lucky.

But it also got me thinking. Although I still have a handful of good friends in the Bay Area, it really is only that - a handful. Like number-of-fingers-not-counting-the-thumb handful. And I am going to have to do that terrifying, nerve-wracking thing of creating a social life for myself basically from scratch, and it's going to be hard, because honestly? I am kind of a hermit and a homebody. I'm building a giant magical museum at least in part so everyone will want to come visit ME. I'm bad at going out and meeting people I get easily fed up at parties. And when I'm feeling nervous, or out of my depth, or on the edges of things, well - I can be a pretty critical, judgmental person. You know, like I don't want those dumb kids for friends anyway, so there! That internal, automatic sneer is a habit I have been (slowly, laboriously) trying to break myself of for a while now. I realized this morning, after a night of drinking and letting the idea for this post pickle percolate in the back of my skull, that two totally unexpected things have been quietly helping me out, and I hadn't noticed til just now. In fact, I don't think it really clicked until I got the email this morning that the query for the novel I'm working on is up for critique at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. See, these two things are totally unexpected. They're things I never thought I would have. They are:

1) internet friendships
2) grudging respect for people who make me wildly stabby

Why do I have these things, and what are they doing to me? Well, let me see if I can explain...

Friday, June 22, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: The Art of Eating

What the F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher

If anyone asks me this month why I am leaving Massachusetts, I will answer that it is because I can no longer stand to live in a place where it is ninety-three degrees at night without murdering someone. This is, in fact, a major contributor to my departure from the Bay State. See, where I grew up in Northern California, it was rarely less than 40 degrees and rarely more than 90, ever. Here, it routinely goes from -20 to 100 in the course of a few months. This, my friends, produces UTTER FATHOMLESS INSANITY. In me, and, I'm pretty sure, in everyone else too; it's just that everyone else complains about it less. This is because they, poor fools, have no idea what it's like to live in the joys of a temperate climate. The 99-degree days just started showing up this week, and it's kind of a relief in a sick way: I've been dreading saying goodbye to the people I love, but now I can't wait to get out of here. People laugh when I trot out that old cliche of it's not the heat, it's the humidity! but it's true, they just don't know. I've been in hundred-degree weather in California (not the Northern coast, I should note) and enjoyed it - because it was DRY. In the shade it was LESS HOT. The breeze didn't feel like being SMACKED WITH HOT WET TOWELS. Walking outside did not present you with the sensation of walking into a SOLID WALL of heat. That's the thing about humidity - it's oppressive. It's the thing that makes me really, really crazy. Not the heat - the frantic feeling that I can't get it off my skin.

But there was one summer when I didn't mind it so much. It was my very first summer in Massachusetts, and it was also my very first summer on my own. And that was the summer I discovered this book, and what a joy it was...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Somebody Out There Likes Me

Dearest of readers, today the inimitable Rachael Harrie is interviewing me over on her truly awesome blog Rach Writes... and this is a huge honor (a phrase I've used approximately seventeen times already today in talking about this and expect to use MANY MORE TIMES, because it IS) because her blog is a truly fantastic resource for writers. From helping her followers find critique partners to her wonderful Writers Platform-Building Campaigns, Rach is all about getting working writers, aspiring authors like myself, the blogging community, and the publishing industry to sit down together for tea and biscuits. This is a TRULY NOBLE CALLING Y'ALL. As she says, "I write YA Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Psychological Thrillers, and spend my day imagining evil plot twists and psychotic characters. When I'm not thinking up ways to make you squirm, you'll find me blogging up a storm (with the occasional Twitter and Facebook foray as well), planning for my next Campaign, wondering whether to make Write Hope a permanent fundraiser for charity, counting down the days to the next WriteOnCon, and diving into another round of critiques with my CPs." I mean, what's not to like? You should totally follow her.

Comes from THE Soul..., apparently. I bet you can imagine
what most of the stories sounded like...
I am lucky enough to GET the interview because of her very clever take on the Blogging From A-Z Challenge, where she posted a picture and and asked us each to write a piece of flash fiction about it, either just one or one for every day of the challenge - the catch being that there were 26 different "rules" posted, one for each day of the challenge, to adhere to in our little microstory. To motivate us, she offered some swell bribes prizes, which is ALWAYS a good idea. She got nearly a hundred entries, which is kind of amazing, and mine won one of her prizes, which was an interview on her blog! I was SO HAPPY YOU GUYS. I only put in one entry  because I can only be funny in small doses and I really, really did not want to end up writing a serious take on this photo. The rule was "your entry should contain the words 'brackish' and 'bend'" and that was fine with me; those are pretty good words and anyway they were practically in the picture already. It wasn't like she's picked "neon" and "barbies" or something. There were some truly fascinating entries - including someone who did entirely alliterative posts, like multiple ones, which is really freaking impressive - but, you know, I want to say that most of them took the image pretty literally, so me? Well, here's what I did with it:

Yeah, dude. It’s all here. I set up this bend in the river real good. Pile of rocks, some nice brackish water, a swell mist, requisite tragic lady with hair spilling down. Okay, cue the monster. Three, two…

What, we’re not doing a monster? Whaddaya mean? Okay, how about a ship coming out of the fog? I got a real nice ship, plenty of masts, some good tattered sails….no? Maybe a flaming whatsitcalled, canoe thing, with a Viking? I got some great helmets –

Not that either? Uh, okay, what about a fin? I’ve got a real nice fin, stick it in the water behind her for good shock effect, bring up the Jaws theme tweaked a little bit…

Whaddaya mean, you want a sparkly vampire? Listen, dude, anyone could tell you, that’s just dopey. Trolls, maybe even a bear, okay, but nobody’s gonna buy something THAT dumb. Come on. 

Hooray for humor, apparently. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Envy & Adventures in the Skin Trade

What the F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Envy & Other Works by Yuri Olesha
Translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew, W.W. Norton, 1981
Adventures in the Skin Trade & Other Stories by Dylan Thomas
 New American Library, 1964

It is a lovely summer evening, the sort that makes you feel like if you're not enjoying a nice crisp beer you are probably Doing It Wrong, and therefore I am enjoying a nice crisp beer (Magic Hat #9, if you care, which I for one have been taught to do by my mustached beer-snob boyfriend, who takes these things Seriously) and writing this review in the hopes of shooing away a few shades of blue that seem to have settled in for the weekend with all the tenacity of a bad hangover. Why am I blue? I don't know, maybe because I'm moving away from the parenthetically-mentioned and very wonderful boyfriend in three weeks - admittedly to go home to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is wonderful, especially after six bloody years in Massachusetts, but I really don't like that whole part about leaving when it comes to my beloved - and also maybe because I have just reached that point on the second draft of my novel where I'm thinking, oh, f!#&, this thing is a huge f!#&ing mess, and generally speaking I'm feeling a little weepy and despondent and inclined to heaving deep anxious sighs. This is not, again, generally speaking, my style.

So I'm going to try and write my way out of my gloom. Because what the hell good is a blog about a museum of joy if I can't use it to lift my own flagging spirits? NO GOOD AT ALL, that's what. How am I supposed to instill joy and wonderment in all of y'all if I can't do it for my own damn self? CAN'T DO IT NOHOW. Also, Father's Day is this weekend, and it just so happens that my dearly beloved father is the one who introduced me to both of the fabulous books in the swell two-for-one deal you're getting today. (In fact, he introduced me to last week's book, and the one before that, and the one before that too, although not the one before that one, even though it's pretty much his style too and I'm surprised I found it by myself) The reason you get so many of his picks is that THEY ARE ALL THE AWESOME and also there's a pretty fair chance that you haven't had them recommended to you already, because they are fabulously cool in a hip, kinda obscure way. Oo, that reminds me, I totally have a hipster lightbulb joke for you!

Q. How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. (weary sigh) It's a really obscure number. You probably haven't heard of it.

Do you get it? Oh god, you don't get it. Quick, onto the questions!

1. Who the f!#& wrote these books?
2. What the f!#& are they about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read these books?
4. When the f!#& are they set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read them?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Never Surrender Blogfest

Here's the blogfest badge! Look at that
awesome hummingbird in a jar. SO
probably. I am glad the jar has  no lid,
 because as we have established in this
post already I do not advocate cruelty
to birds. Pretty sure shutting a
hummingbird in a jar would be cruel.
  Howdy, folks. So today I am writing a post for the Never Surrender Blogfest hosted by lovely YA author Elana Johnson, who is debuting her new book, Surrender. The premise is simple and groovy: blog about a time you didn't surrender. She says, I'm looking for inspirational stories that you have experienced. Hard things you've accomplished because you didn't give up. I want to be inspired by you! Well, unsurprisingly enough I think that's pretty swell, and I'm so going to kill two birds with one stone multitask (what the hell, bird killers? I don't do that) and give you a story about a time I didn't surrender that is ALSO a followup to yesterday's post about joy in the body and how to go about finding it, because if I don't eventually write about that I'm just gonna be a mean tease who dangles this whole "joy" concept in front of your nose like a delicious fresh-baked pie without ever telling you the recipe or giving you a bite. So I'm going to tell you the story of how I became a bellydancer, which is all about me being an awkward teenager and totally involves a silly photo of me from high school. YOU KNOW YOU'RE CURIOUS. At the bottom will be a blog hop thingy, so you can totally see other wonderful stories that people are telling about a time they didn't give up! Because let's face it, even if motivational speaking gives you the wicked cringes, sometimes it's really bloody nice to read about people just going for their goddamn dreams or whatever.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Things in my Cabinet: Joy in the Body

Here is a REALLY AWESOME painting of a cabinet of
curiosity. It is especially curious because I haven't the
faintest idea who painted it, when it's from, or any other
identifying details whatsoever. Secrets of A Jewish Baker,
where I found it, neglected to provide citations. Damn!
Okay, quick note thingamajig here. You may have noticed that I use this term "things in my cabinet" sometimes, and you might be wondering - what cabinet? why does it matter that this thing is in the cabinet? and also aren't some of these things a little, um, abstract to be residing within a wooden box stuck to the wall? Well, ladies and germs, this is what we call a metaphor. Or an analogy. or something. (Shut up.) The word "cabinet," when used by me, almost always means "cabinet of curiosity" and not "kitchen cabinet" or "medicine cabinet" or "Platonic ideal of cabinet." Did I just kind of assume that was obvious because COME ON everyone should know I am UTTERLY OBSESSED with cabinets of curiosity? Why yes, I did. (There's this pseudo-cleverdick things that people say about assumptions: "when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me!" but that is stupid, because why should you be dragged into this just because I made an idiotic sweeping statement? Also, the "ass" part is not made of the "u and me" part, it is simply attached to the "u and me" part. All of which is an very pedantic way of saying that my utter lack of clarity is not your fault.) So "things in my cabinet" is a way of saying "things I am curious about/interested in/find meaningful and beautiful." Shorthand, see?

So, now that you know, let me say right away that joy in the body is a very big thing in my cabinet indeed. I think about it a lot, because I am a bellydance teacher and part of my job there, as I see it, is teaching/helping/encouraging my students to find joy in their bodies, but I've also been thinking more and more about the men I know, and the way that no one gets off lightly in the fight to feel happy and at home in their own skin.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What the F!#& Should I Read Friday: The Man Who Was Thursday

What The F#!& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful
The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
Oxford University Press World Classics Edition, 1996

Fair disclosure warning: this is my favorite book of all time. And yes, this edition is from 1996, but the book was originally published in 1908. This book is a marvel and a wonder, and if you don't want to read it at least a little bit it might seriously jeopardize our chances at a long-term friendship. So no pressure, or anything. Side note: it is also directly responsible for my very wonderful relationship. I started reading it aloud to K on our very first date, and by the time we got to chapter three, well...that was it. Furthermore, it should be noted that his extremely epic blond beard and curly mustache both derive directly from the facial hair of the main character of Thursday. As in I said him, "Hey, so you should probably have a pointed yellow beard like Syme" and then he did. ALL I DO IS WIN.

This one. STAY AWAY.
You may have noticed that I have a thing about which edition I think you should read.This is because it makes a bloody difference, dammit. In this case, the edition I want you to read has several things going for it: a pretty stellar introduction, really stellar textual notes (which you will need, okay, to understand jokes about stuff that is a century old) and also two extra short stories at the back, which Chesterton wrote before he wrote Thursday, which do a very cool job of illustrating how disparate ideas come together to make something epically awesome and more than the sum of its parts, in this case the topics of God and Anarchy. If you can't get this Oxford edition, fine; just whatever you do don't get the f!#&ing Ignatius Press version, with annotations by Martin Gardner, because they are unbelievably annoying. Gardner apparently saw the book as a chance to write about everything he ever wanted to say about Edwardian England, whether or not it is even remotely relevant; at one point he uses an incidental mention of "gollywog" to go off for two full pages - three if you count the illustration - about the history of the word, which he begins thusly: "This lengthy note will tell you much more about gollywogs than you may care to know, but I hope you will find it an interesting sidelight on Edwardian England."  Yes! That's right! It IS much more than I care to know! IF I WANTED TO READ ABOUT GOLLYWOGS I WOULD HAVE BOUGHT A DIFFERENT BOOK. Also, these are FOOTNOTES, not endnotes, and so the actual text of the story takes up literally four of the thirty-two lines on the page, half the next page, and did I mention the illustration? Oh, I did? Well, anyway, that's the page after that. He does this several times, just wandering off on his own trains of thought, which he seems to find utterly fascinating, and leaves the actual text of the book to occupy a couple lines at the top of the page as, you know, a special favor. He also plugs his own books, and most of the actually useful footnotes are just quotes from other people's annotations. It is maddening. I would mind less if the notes were at the back, where they might provide an interesting addition, but having them in the text makes me want to RIP THE PAGES.

Oh yeah, and then also? he has GIANT SPOILERS in the footnotes. Thursday is, among other things, a mystery novel. You know what ruins mystery novels? GIANT F!#&ING SPOILERS, that's what. And don't even get me started on the place where he started to go off about how one of Chesterton's images could be taken as a symbol of string theory. He's like "so I know Chesterton probably didn't intend this, but..." NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. You know what they didn't have in 1908? STRING THEORY. You just wanted to look smart, and instead? You look like a jerk who just likes to see himself talk.

Sigh. Sorry, Mr. Gardener, that was maybe kinda mean and harsh, but really, dude. Don't do that. Anyway, ladies and germs, your five questions are, as always...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?

Also, I have some fun news about an awesome reading adventure that's starting up later this month, so keep reading, because you too can be a part of Putting the Blog in Balrog!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Say, What the Heck is This Museum Anyway?

This is basically how I imagine the first thing you see will
look. Via Unusual Life.
It occurred to me at three o'clock or so this morning that although I've got a nice little verbose and flowery blurb about it, and plenty of posts referring to it, I haven't actually sat down and told you just exactly what I imagine this whole Museum thingy as one day actually being. Wonder and beauty and joy and blah blah blah, yeah, okay, but how do you actually put that in a museum?

Today I want to talk about that. I'd like to paint you a picture of the place, by which I mean talk a lot and include many lovely pictures of things I didn't make but like to imagine I could one day vaguely approximate. And, of course, I want ask for your input. Because what fun is building something awesome if nobody comes? And joy, while intrinsically an excellent thing, is magnified and multiplied when it's felt, shared, and experienced by a whole community. So please, at the end of it all, tell me what you think I'm missing, the vital things YOU'd need to have a museum that left you truly feeling joyful in your bones.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Things in My Cabinet: How to Forget That You Are Flying

For example, I would be so happy daydreaming while watching
these nice people paint this mural. It's at Caboose Cafe in
Ramsgate, England. They have storytelling there!
There are very few places in the world where it is hard for me to daydream. I need almost nothing: a single object can be the departure point of reverie for me. A cluster of glass bottles, a really smooth stone, an intricately carved box, a nice cafe to sit in, a tree, the rain, the colors of my curtains, the sun on the rooftops - all it really takes is something pleasant for my eye to touch upon, and I can unhitch my mind from its moorings and take it somewhere marvelous. The more lovely or intriguing the initial object, the more splendid the revery. Especially if I am writing - if I am in surroundings that are beautiful or interesting, I can write more beautifully; the words come easily, new images arise, I feel the satisfaction of capturing some small sense of the wonder of the world.

Unfortunately for me, this works inversely also: if I am somewhere ugly, I can't write anything. My imagination flutters weakly and dies. And this is a shame, because the ability to recall the beautiful is most of what keeps my soul from being crushed by the ugly.

When I say "beautiful" and "ugly" I don't mean anything canonically stupid like beautiful-gothic-church versus ugly-dirty-laundromat. "Dirty" isn't what I mean by ugly. "Broken" isn't what I mean by ugly. They're not, say, my favorite things, and I find laundromats pretty depressing for the most part, but I can find something in them: a story, a sense of humor, pathos, a feeling of humanity.

In visual terms, what I mean by "ugly" is something that my soul can't make any room for. Something my aesthetic sense just slides away from. Something my spirit can't quite seem to grasp.

Anything with a lot of molded plastic tends to fall into this category. That's the hardest thing about laundromats for me, the molded plastic, the sameness of the machines, the bland lighting.

It doesn't even begin to compare to the inside of an airplane.

Airplanes eat my soul.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Points of View - An Anthology of Short Stories

What The F#!& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful
Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories
Edited by James Moffett, Signet Press, 1966 

So I went to not one but TWO book events while I was in Britain last week. They were events for two newly published short story collections, and they were super fun! The first night, the author spoke at length of his love of the short story, then did two very funny and well-read selections from two of the stories in the collection, and I was so taken with the reading that I bought the book. The second night, the author spoke at length of his love of the short story, then did two very funny and well-read selections from two of the stories in the collection, and I was so taken with his articulate, intelligent praise for writers I love and respect that I bought the book.

The first one was mediocre, decently written but full of very oddly antiquated fabular elements. The second one was so poorly written I couldn't finish.

I won't name the authors here. I like them as people. I think they both have a righteous and most excellent love of the form, even if their admiration for it doesn't translate into the ability to do it especially well themselves. Both of them spoke incredibly lovingly of what makes a great short story, and said insightful and clever things that I agree with. So really, when I put the second book down halfway through because the prose was too wooden for me to stomach without excreting sawdust later, all I wanted to do was pick up, well, a really great short story

In case you can't tell, it says "America was proud of its front
porch until John Steinbeck showed the backyard." Um, do
they maybe mean "showed the migrant workers gradually
becoming slave labor in the backyard" or did he maybe
write a book on lawn bowling that I wasn't aware of?
Via SubtleTea, which has some great quotes of his.
Points of View is a collection of some of the best American short stories ever written. I have the 1966 edition, with the cool dotted circle on it. I'm the kind of person who clings to the editions they encountered first, because other editions are wrong and don't do it right, so I'm going to tell you to get this edition if you can as well. The revised edition is cool and all, and has more writing by non-white-straight-male-dudes (stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Toshio Mori, etc), but they took out some of the really great masters to make room. I'm all for contemporary authors and cultural scope, heck yes. But what I loved about Points of View is that it showcased the people who perfected the form first. (So buy both editions, I guess.) They took out Bernard Malamud. They took out William Carlos Williams. They took out John Steinbeck. And Conrad and Joyce and Chekhov and Dylan f!#&ing Thomas. Really. Why they saw fit to make such substitutions and not just create a Volume F!#&ing II is beyond me. So I will calmly and quietly refer you to the original edition, with the older stories. And then, once you're firmly convinced that short stories are ah-may-zing, why not get the newer edition, with the newer stories? Right. Good. So...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?
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