Sunday, February 04, 2007

Female Communion

Kris Radish speaks of female communion as "that astonishing crossing of cultures and ages and time and place that wraps women together and makes them one. It is a holy moment, a sacred sharing of estrogen, a remarkable gift of love. it can happen in a public waiting room when a stranger asks another woman to hold her baby -- her beautiful baby -- when she needs to go to the bathroom. It can happen when you see a woman on a street corner and two guys are hassling her and you open your car door and she gets in without hesitation. . . . " (The Sunday List of Dreams 62)

Reading this, it struck me that this is what I want most for my writing--I want it to create that connection between women. I want my writing to speak to women at their very core, to soothe them when they're hurt and grieving, to make them laugh when they most need it, to make them pulse with life and awaken to their own power.

It's a connection that I cherish - a gift from my friends, the women who reach out to me when I am in need. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Heidi: O Captain, My Captain

I have been thinking lately about metaphors of creativity, specifically of an artist being the captain of a craft she sails across a sea. I like the idea of setting out, alone, across the vastness of that expanse, of setting out from one shore and landing on a new one, possibly unplanned. And while you may have crew from time to time and friends in port, largely it is the artist struggling to control the uncontrollable, making meaning from chaos. I love the metaphor in part, I think, because all you have to do to be an artist is to get a ship and sail it. I can build it, borrow it, buy it—but once I'm out there on the ocean, it's mine. It changes with my journey—sometimes deliberately, refit to weather a storm or navigate a passage or sail in different waters.

It's not enough, of course, to just have a ship. I have to know what I'm doing. I've had to study a lot of techniques and honed skills. I've also made a study of the ocean of creativity itself, trying to understand it. I want to know the mysticism of the force I sail upon, to understand its soul. But even with as many years I've spent working with this ship, sometimes I do little more than sit across from it as it lies beached on its side, and I wonder why the hell I thought I could sail it, and I'm tempted to just go get drunk. I've worried about my choice of destinations and worried how long it will take me to get there, whether or not the time I'd projected was feasible, or if it was the right way. I have gone far out to sea only to turn back again and worried the whole time what that meant. I have spent a great deal of time wondering what every move I make means.

I have come to think that the most important part of being an artist is to shut off that worry, to spend as little time as possible staring at the bottom of my hull wondering about the worth of my decisions.

One of my favorite stories of the Napoleonic Wars is the build-up to the Battle of Trafalgar, the story of Lord Admiral Nelson and Admiral Villeneuve. Villeneuve had recently risen to the top of French command, and he knew Nelson's reputation well. He knew it so well, in fact, that despite several blunders on Nelson's part, Villeneuve was convinced that Nelson was too clever for him, that this was all part of some secret plan, and he didn't seize his advantage. His fears consumed him to the point that he threw away these tactical openings time and again, and ultimately Nelson and Great Britain won.

Nelson made a career out of bravery and gusto—he was clever and cunning, but largely he was brave. What an amazing inner compass he must have had to take the risks he did, so consistently sailing—often literally—into the face of danger and not just escaping, but winning. And as he won time and time and again, he built a mythical persona to work in harmony with the compass; even when his risks took him the wrong way or the weather worked against him, his reputation provided cover for error and allowed him time to regroup and ultimately win.

I love the story of the Battle of Trafalgar also because it ends with Nelson's death. While he wasn't wild about the idea of failure and worked like hell to turn the situation to victory, Nelson did accept the risks, and I suspect he always knew the price for full victory could be his own life, and he was fine with that. Though some days it feels like it, I don't think story will kill me. I do, however, know it can change me, and that sometimes is frightening enough. I may do more than just end up on the wrong continent with vegetation I'd never expected. I might be different when I arrive, never able to go back again. Even if that change is ultimately good, it can be frightening to realize story is so powerful it can change me, unearthing in us things I don't want to see, exposing vulnerabilities I hadn't wanted to acknowledge, let alone share.

I think the change is worth the risk. Though Nelson ultimately lost his life in battle, his actions achieved a glorious victory for his country, one many argue has never been surpassed. Villeneuve, though he lived awhile longer, eventually died as well, and he has gone down in history largely as the man who was too afraid to win. The whole point of creating, be it writing or any other art, is to create. To sail the ship and see what we can do with it. To make something. Nelson sailed to win a war, but while I know he loved Britain and believed in his cause, I think it was the art of the thing that held him captive. I think he was an artist at what he did, and he knew it. He didn't apologize for it or worry what other people thought. He just honed his skills and let them fly.

I want that courage, that confidence. I want to find my compass and use it, to be a Nelson in my own journey. I want to know myself so well that even when I fumble, I can turn a mistake into an advantage, and a loss into a victory. But I don’t want to fear. I want to look back at my journey and smile at my fumbles and silly mistakes, not realize all the places where I could have succeeded if I'd just let go and trusted my compass.

That struggle to overcome the fear, I think, is the real battle—and like Nelson, I intend to win.

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Monday, January 15, 2007


Intellectually I understand the need for turning points. They change the direction of the story; they push some character change. They create a place of no return. I can even identify them in stories – for the most part! Dorothy landing in Oz is a turning point.

I’m not against character’s changing, hell, I live for characters to change, but in real life, it takes a lot of work to change – weeks of practice, years of therapy. Rarely does a single turning point create real change. A momentary epiphany, I’ll accept.

But Dorothy’s going to get home after her stay in Oz and she’s going to hug everyone and tell them how much she loves them, then in about two months, she’s going to think, “damn this place is boring, people want me feed the pigs,” and she’s going to hightail it out of there.

Here’s another scenario – a character - let’s call her Buffy -- feels responsible for the world and its problems; she constantly works to better things, and she’s always doing it “alone.” Sure people are there around her, sometimes, even slaying along with her, but she still feels alone. Very alone. Every now and again, she recognizes that she’s not alone (a mini ephiphany) but then she goes right back to feeling alone – it’s a neural pathway thing. She can’t help herself. It took many seasons for Buffy to finally “learn” that she really, really wasn’t alone. That she wasn’t completely responsible. That a team works better than a single person. But it was seasons of incremental changes and that theme kept circling around – in a good way! That’s the beauty of having a series that takes place over a few years. You can have character arc that’s realistic. (Now a turning point like going to heaven is bound to create real change when you’re back on earth!)

A novel is tough for me because in a short span of time your character has to learn something and it has to be convincing. I’m rarely convinced. The rake who is no longer a rake because of the love of a good woman – hell, he’s going to be a rake again, ten days after the last day in the book. Neural pathways. You can’t fight them, you need to re-train them!

Turning points have to be significant; they have to send things in totally new directions; they have to be life altering, and short of death, illness or infidelity, there’s little out there that will create real life altering changes (unless you do a whole lot of re-training of those neural pathways).

So that’s my problem with turning points. Anyone have any advice?


Sunday, January 14, 2007


I'm reading a great book right now called "Prisoner of Trebekistan," written by "Jeopardy!" champion and comedian Bob Harris. It's fascinating and compelling for many reasons, even if you don't really care about "Jeopardy." And it sparked some thoughts in me about the nature of success and failure and the expectations that can help lead to either -- or in my case, both.

One of the neurological premises that Bob talks about in the book is that we have neural pathways in our brains, and with reinforcement over time, these pathways can become immovable superhighways, entrenched ruts. Any thought/action pairing that you habitually return to is one of your neural ruts, and -- here's the vicious cycle part -- every time you return to it you make it stronger. And the stronger it gets, the harder it is for your brain to accept that any other path even EXISTS. It knows the path it has, and it likes it, because by using that path you have not yet died. You've survived, and since your brain is ultimately and intensely concerned with your survival, it wants to stick with what's been working.

I realized while reading that this is why it's so hard for me to believe in ideas that run counter to my habits. Like people who say they ENJOY eating steamed vegetables and get a GOOD feeling from jogging. I nod, but inside my brain is going, "yeah, right." I find it seriously difficult to believe they mean it, because my neural ruts are protesting, going -- that's not what WE know. Stick with what WE know: vegetables are blah, and jogging hurts your boobs. So my efforts to eat healthy and exercise continually fail. I'm fighting a battle with well-fortified, lifelong neural ruts, and I keep caving in.

Meanwhile, I have other neural ruts that help me out all the time. I live in awe of deadlines, for instance, and I almost never miss them. Even when they seem impossible, even when I start at the very last minute (which is often), I find a way to meet them, and I turn in work that is at or above acceptable standards. Even writing that, as I just did, reinforces the idea in my mind that I DON'T MISS DEADLINES. The neural rut just got a smidge deeper, which means next time I'll have a smidge more power to meet the next deadline -- because I don't believe I'm a deadline-misser. I can't see myself that way. The thought creates the action which creates the reality, over and over. (Whoa, deep.)

So, my personal neural ruts make me fail at some things (healthy diet/exercise) and succeed in others (turning in work on time). They're a curse and a blessing. I got to thinking about how that applies to my writing. And in that area, my neural ruts have, predictably, both helped and hurt me.

On the one hand, I have always been a reward-motivated achiever, so I believed in and accepted the idea that I could get published. That was the reward dangling out there in the distance, and I wanted it, so I worked for it, all the while mentally referencing other things I'd achieved as reinforcement (reminding myself of my success rut). And it worked -- I sold a book.

On the other hand, my self-esteem is precarious (which is why I chase the rewards in the first place), so I constantly fear failure and tend to avoid things that I'm not SURE I can do. And the longer I try to do this writing thing, the more I realize how hard it is, to do it right, to get better at it. So I avoid sitting down and doing it, and -- again, the kicker -- EVERY TIME I avoid it, I reinforce the idea that it's too hard for me.

But then the reward/success rut kicks in and pushes me back to it (you can DO this, you did X and X and X, right?) so I sit down and try. And then the fear/failure rut kicks back (this is HARD, you're going to screw it up!) and I get up and go away. It's the battle of the neural pathways, and I'm just the poor schmoe stuck in the middle darting back and forth like a shooting gallery duck.

There's got to be a way out, a third door, something I can do to escape the cycle. But finding that route involves carving out a new, tiny trail in my neural network, and at the moment ... I can't seem to find my machete.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007


I am a master tap dancer.

I have a first draft, right? A first draft I wrote with my eyes half closed, speeding along, afraid to look at what I was doing. And now that it’s come time to revise, I find that I am doing a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of studying… and not a whole lot of writing.

Mind you, my family has bought into this. My husband and my father are both asking me when I’ll be done. There’s an agent in New York – yes, that agent – who’s waiting for me to send it to her. And I am waiting on me, too. I am waiting to do what I have always wanted to do: write a book I would love to read.

So what’s the problem? Fear. I am afraid that while I am a good writer, even a great one, I am not a particularly good storyteller. I am afraid I never will be. I am afraid that writing a novel is beyond me, that it’s too complex, there are too many moving pieces. I have no idea how I finished the other three, except that none of them are in good shape. I feel like Sisyphus. Will I ever get one in a state where it doesn’t fail? Where I’m proud of it?

Most of all, I am afraid that I don’t see what other people see in my writing. And since I can’t tell the wheat from the chaff, I don’t know what to keep in Draft 2 and what to jettison.

Thisshows up in every main character I’ve ever written. I don’t understand them; I have no idea what drives them. They’re not nearly as real to me as my supporting cast. Heidi told me once to make them me, more me than I am, even. So far I haven’t managed it.

So the success I’ve had feels like a fluke, like the emperor’s new clothes. And instead of taking off my tap shoes and getting to work, I’m still shuffling off to Buffalo: reading about writing, instead of knuckling down and doing the work. Still letting my fear stop me.

I know what I need to do: get on a schedule and stick to it, so the muse will know when to show up. I know what I need to do: reread the damn thing, come up with an outline, figure out what I’m writing about (and for once and all, who I’m writing about, because Demeter is so much clearer to me than Persephone is), and start writing the stuff that needs to be written.

And writing this has made me realize what a ridiculous fear this is. Yeah, writing a novel is a lot of work. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air. But I’ve done it before, and I am learning my craft. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? Not writing, that’s what. Even the worst day writing is better than the best day not writing, simply on the neurosis factor alone. If I keep working on it, eventually I’ll get it. I just need to sit myself down and do the work. Not to be all Pollyanna, but damn. I do know how to belabor a fear.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"999" "bubezleeb"

-anonymous comment from a dyslexic satanist