Saturday, March 22, 2008

Before there was Green

I read a lot more than books to review. I read everything I can squeeze in between downloads and uploads of work, when I'm waiting for meals to cook, when I have a free minute or two and don't feel like reading another review book and every chance I get when I have to stand in line. I'm the one at the post office with a book in my hands moving forward whenever I feel air where there was body heat and perfume, sweat and fabric softener scents. I read at meals, even though I know I should focus on the food -- and I do focus on the food -- but reading relaxes me and smooths out the bumps and potholes in my day. Reading keeps me connected to the rest of the world in a way that wandering down a strange street or sitting in the park writing in a journal and watching the world go by does not. Even in a reading trance I am acutely aware of everything around me, catching sounds and sights from the edges of vision and filing them for later use. Everything is fodder for the writing that comes with the reading.

While researching what it takes to get a grant to focus solely on writing, and reading the latest offerings in writing newsletters, as I do every Saturday, I realized there is a wealth of material for me to use. An article about the rise of female protagonists in previously male-dominated science fiction (some of which I have read and reviewed) and scoping out the markets for Delta airlines in-flight magazine focusing on being green gave me an idea of how to work the two together and maybe even put together a project that will be suitable for a grant. Most of the research is done, since I've been reading the author for decades, and there's something about pointing up a legacy that gives me a certain sense of pride. Maybe it was Sir Arthur C. Clarke's death and the recent death of so many literary lights that put the thought in my mind, but it's there now and I'm willing to throw the dice and see whether they come up snake eyes or seven.

Long before Marvin Gaye pushed Motown records owner Barry Gordy to record Mercy, Mercy Me Andre Norton was writing about the environment. She wrote stories about technologically advanced civilizations that fell through a crack in time and space and were faced with the destruction of the environment and how it affected everything around them, and how nature fought back. Short stories, novels and novellas chronicled worlds in rebellion and those healing from the devastation humans wreaked. She dreamed of the populations of the seas catapulted into evolutionary overdrive and able to make treaties with the rag tag ends of mankind and worlds were cities raked empty skies with rusting claws, harboring four-footed and insectile intelligences while humans huddled on the brink of extinction as nomads. She wrote of children caught up and transported to fairyland only to come back to a world that smelled of industry with air that tasted of burn fuels and how a handful of seeds sown into the depleted soil sprang up into lush growth overnight and reached outward to claim more and more of the mechanical world, bringing with its riotous growth a resurgence of animals, birds and insects that had fled or died out.

J. R. R. Tolkien was touted in one article as an environmentalist who showed the ravages of the industrial age and how it was reclaimed when Saruman's tower was overthrown and the land cleansed by the Isen river. But he wasn't the first, and he certainly isn't the last. Andre Norton was there first with strong female protagonists and an almost prophetic knowledge of what will come if we don't change our relationship with this earth we inhabit. Man against nature and man in harmony with nature, making peace and learning to live side by side were all part of Andre Norton's stock in trade before the hole in the ozone, before Green Peace, before Tolkien and before the world began to wake up and see what they were doing. I wonder if her stories, dismissed as tales for young adults, worked their way into the consciousness that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s and subtly goaded a generation toward the green path. There are other topics and I'm sure I'll find more than I bargained for, but for better or worse I'm casting the dice.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Buffy and Quantum Physics

I've heard people say they don't get Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I'm confused as to why, especially when I see episodes like, Out of Mine, Out of Sight about a student who becomes invisible and has a grudge against Cordelia (who wouldn't). It's Joss Whedon's version of Schrödinger's cat.

In a quantum physics world, reality is determined by seeing it -- or hearing it like the tree in the woods. Nothing exists until you observe it. Everything is in a state of waiting to be seen or never existing at all. In Joss Whedon's world this means that a girl who was overlooked by all her classmates and ignored becomes invisible because no one sees her, which segues into the wackiness that ensues when said girl, suddenly given a most powerful superpower like invisibility, uses it for evil instead of for good. It's an elegant concept and Joss did it proud.

That's the thing about Buffy and her Scooby gang and the various evil elements that pop up on the show. It's not just about a young girl killing vampires and staying alive longer than any other vampire slayer in history but about so much more: quantum physics, philosophy, sociology and the arc of existence that is growing up. The theme of death and how we deal with it is all part of the experience, and not just in the vampires are the undead and they kill people kind of way. Buffy is a very complex and multilayered show.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

All things being equal

I finally got around to seeing The Mist, one of Stephen King's novellas (a long short story) and I wasn't happy with the ending. It wasn't the one I remembered from the story, which admittedly I haven't read since it was originally published, but still...what happened to the original ending?

With the Lenten season in full swing and Easter upon us, in addition to the ranting of the church lady in the movie, I was beginning to see a trend in King's writing that had before seemed more like subtext but was screaming at me from the end of The Mist about expiation and sacrifice. It was definitely the theme in The Stand and its in Thinner, Dolores Claiborne, The Dark Half, The Shining and Desperation. In fact, in most of King's work there is the same theme of sacrifice -- one (or more) die to save someone (or a group of someones), expiation. I felt an article coming on and that meant a bug hunt, which led me to the director of The Mist who had a disagreement with King about the ending. Stephen King wanted the ending to remain the same but the director saw it in his mind as he filmed it. King and the director parted ways. I don't know if it was King refusing to see what is so obvious about most of his work, this underlying theme of sacrifice and expiation, or that he didn't want to make it so obvious.

A writer whose book I recently edited said her friends couldn't understand how someone who had such a religious and upright background could write such violent and questionable books. She said she didn't understand how Stephen King did it either. So I explained that despite what most people think there is a strong religious streak that runs through almost all of King's work, not like it did in Carrie with the religious zealot mother who had overdosed on too much religion, to the point of oppressing and abusing her daughter with it, but in subtle ways that permeate the entire underpinning of each story. She said she'd have to take another look at King to see what I meant and came back a few weeks later saying she saw what I meant.

People tend to look at horror and see only the blood and guts and terror. They miss the thematic threads that hold the whole thing together. There is so much more to any writer than just the basic story, something I realize but didn't see until I took another look at a little story I write about a boy in a candy store that reeks of sexual repression and denial. It's in the imagery.

Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, something of our thoughts at the time, like under tows, or rip tides sometimes, find their way into the story, inextricably bound to the words and themes about which we are often unaware. I remember Stephen King writing about not realizing he had written about his struggle with drug addiction in The Dark Half when he wrote it and yet I caught it immediately when I read the story, and have written about it here. I see the whole progression of his life and his distinctly Christian leanings in almost everything he writes. I see the early frustration with balancing a job with the creative muse in his early work as well as his maturity and aging as he coasts into midlife and beyond that is so apparent in his more recent work. The little boy chained in the basement among the spiders and demons is still there, but he's often more of a distraction, like a magician's sleight of hand, than the focus of the story. So much more is going on if you look at things in just the right way, in the same way that an impressionist painting looks unfocused and confusing close up and becomes something much more subtle and beautiful as you move farther away.

At least I'm not so rabid now to point out Stephen King's subtler themes becoming glaringly obvious in The Mist but whether I do or not, the director saw it and decided he had to make it, thus underlining Mrs. Carmody's crazed demand to spill the blood of the unjust to save the righteous coming back to haunt Drayton as he stands outside his car begging the monsters to come and get him while out of the thinning mist the Army plows through with the survivors from the store who wanted to kill him and those with him who wanted to get away from their blood lust. He killed his son and the people with him to save them from the horrors in the mist when help was already on the way. The question in my mind is if he hadn't killed the other four in his car and they tried to brave the horrors in the mist with their last four bullets would they have been saved or did they have to die in order to realize their blood was required as a sacrifice to expiate the sins of the world they espoused and championed? It's like the tree that falls in the woods when no one is around to hear it: does it make a sound?

There's no doubt where Stephen King's stands on the issue because it's just under the surface of his stories, and the director of The Mist certainly agreed or he wouldn't have filmed the ending that made it to the theaters. Is that where we are all headed -- to a world where those that don't agree with the majority that Christian values are the only path to salvation in the face of terror? Are we caught in a tide of religious reformation that will carry us once again into the Dark Ages or is this simply the struggle that comes when faced with a fork in the road? Time will tell.

In the meantime, Stephen King, your roots are showing.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The reviewer is reviewed

Other than a friend telling me an old boyfriend threw one of my books across the room, I haven't seen any reviews of my stories in the first two books out this year. I got that this morning, just a few moments ago. I made the reader cry. She said it brought up memories she had forgotten and that it was "very good". I'll take that. She's not a professional reviewer, but the stories I wrote were meant to touch people and not to impress reviewers. Yes, reviewers are people, too. I'm a people and I still read like a people, but I also read like a reviewer and balance my reviews to offer an educated and considered opinion. It's not the same -- and yet it is on some levels. Enough babble or I'll confuse me.

The old boyfriend who threw the book across the room is also a writer. He has tried for years to get his poetry and prose published, but with no success. He still gets form rejections with no scribbled notes on them. He does write and he gets paid for writing but it's because he publishes the newsletters and is the editor, so he can write what he likes. Of course, it's easy to write about security industry issues and products because he's done it for more than 20 years and his business is flourishing.

When I worked for him, he said he knew I could write, but he didn't know that I could write. He took me aside and told me that the board members or some of his clients would likely ask me to take over his job and he wanted me to say no. Of course I'd say no. I worked for him and I don't steal clients. If I had said yes when they came asking (and they did ask me) I would still be in Ohio with a lucrative communication business instead of typing medical reports, editing newsletters for free and writing and publishing in between. I wouldn't change places with him. My life isn't perfect, but mine is a good life.

My friend told me his criticism of my stories ("not good", "can't imagine how they were accepted and published", etc.) didn't match the rage and jealousy he displayed when he threw the book across the room or the tears that spilled down his cheeks when he read Love is Enough. I can't read the story without choking up and I don't know how I'll read it when I have to do public readings, but I know I'll find a way.

I fully expect some of the reviews, what few I do get, to be negative. It's the way things work sometimes. I won't always know what motivates the negativity but it's not important. Good or bad, the person had to read the story and that's what's important, not that they think my writing is wonderful or the characters fully drawn or that the prose sparkles. What matters is that the stories are read. Now, if I can only remember that when more of my work is on the shelf, I'll be fine.

As a reviewer, I realize that my opinion is my opinion and comes from the well of my experience and understanding. The way I respond to a story will not be the same way someone else responds. I have often wondered how some stories ever got published and there will be people who feel the same about me. My reviews one subjective point of view that should never be taken as gospel but rather as a guide post that should never be used to deny a reader the pleasure of forming their own opinion -- good or bad. It's one lone voice among the stacks.

There have been writers I have avoided like the plague and then come back to and enjoyed and vice versa. I couldn't get into Heinlein when I was a teenager and now I love his spare prose and hidden emotional currents. I liked Shakespeare as a child but I appreciate him more as an adult. Some stories grow richer with time and my own experience helps me see them from a different perspective that adds color and depth and meaning to words I may have read a dozen or more times before; it's part of the magic of the written word. And I'm proud to be a writer no matter "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" -- or cranky critics -- that come because I harbor the hope that someone somewhere will find in my words something that adds a small thread of color to the tapestry of their life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Slowing down

I have never been much of a drinker, at least not of alcoholic beverages, although there was a brief period in my early married life that every time my husband and I went out to dinner I had a mixed drink, usually a 7 & 7. Of course, we went out to dinner maybe once or twice a year so you can imagine how little alcohol I imbibed during our seven-year marriage. We did go to the package store on base and get quite a few bottles of liquor and liqueur but it was only for cooking. Like I said, I have never been much of a drinker . . . until recently. I have had more to drink in the past month than I've had in the past few years. Except for sharing the occasional glass of wine on a nice summer night with the landlady or a margarita with dinner at the Front Range BBQ, I don't drink anything but water. That is until I joined a wine club.

Over the past few weeks I have opened a few of the bottles (two so far) and enjoyed a half glass with dinner to go with the meals I've concocted since I decided to actually enjoy meals slowly and with whatever ingredients suited my mood. I have to say that so far the Pinot Grigio and the Shiraz (with a slow cooked beef peposo) have been memorable wines. The Pinot Grigio was not too sweet with a crisp taste of green apple, peaches and something undefinable (at least by me) and the Shiraz is full bodied, fruity and mellow. Definitely a smooth wine that goes well with the peppery, garlicky peposo. I decided not to make the Parmesan polenta and used spinach linguine instead and it was good.

I'm eating dinner early tonight since I have a meeting with the local psychologist to begin the interviews and connections to research the article on men who are verbally and emotionally abused. I still have to take a shower and I have plenty of time to work off the Shiraz, three hours to be exact. I feel decadent and warm and relaxed. That's a really good feeling. Taking things slower and enjoying food and the occasional glass of wine is definitely worth the time. I guess that means I'm becoming decadent, but not so decadent that I can't "...see a church by daylight."

Since I took men off the menu -- again -- I have been bombarded by emails and offers for dates, dinner, drinks and hanky panky, to all of which I have said, " Thank you, but no." I have other things on my mind, like dealing with the first round of promotions on the first two books that just came out. My Aunt Lois, Uncle Bob's wife, finally emailed and told me she was excited about reading the books and that they looked very interesting. She also answered a few questions for me that I had emailed her about a month ago (she doesn't live on the Internet like I do).

With Valentine's Day just past and the date of my anniversaries of my previous marriages looming, I have wondered why, since Uncle Bob always forgets her birthday and their anniversary, why she hadn't strangled him long before now. She said she didn't care those days as long as he remembered her every other day of the year. She is indeed a wise woman.

We put so much emphasis on made up holidays, birthdays and anniversaries that we completely miss what's important -- that your spouse or companion love you, respect you and celebrate being with you every day. I could never understand why women nagged their partners about putting down the toilet seat or taking out the trash. It's not like they didn't do those things for themselves when they were single and it's really not worth arguing about when they're forgotten. I understand the division of labor so that one person isn't shouldering the whole load, but there are better things to fight about -- like who gets to hold the remote or which way the toilet paper unrolls when it's put in the holder, and just about as important. We get so caught up in the details we forget there are more important issues, like taking it slow and appreciating the little things.

A little meditation, a little deep breathing, counting to ten if it helps or simply slowing down and realizing that, yes, falling into the toilet and getting a rude, cold and very wet awakening because someone forgot to put down the toilet seat or schlepping the trash out for a change is sometimes annoying, but checking the seat before sitting down and remembering all the other times your partner took out the trash without being asked makes it all a bit easier to bear. We turn mole hills into mountains when we should be turning mountains into mole hills. Screaming at you, calling you names, emasculating or denigrating you until you feel like an amoeba on a flea on a rat is a much bigger issue. Forgetting your anniversary or birthday isn't a big deal -- especially if you plan ahead and remind them you'd like to do something special or just exchange a small gift, cook dinner or go out.

Life is complex and gets more so every day. It's hard to remember the little things, but it's not so hard if home is a place of refuge and sanctuary from the rat maze outside your door where there's always a line of rats pushing you from behind. Forget about the dishes or enjoy a special meal with a glass of wine or water or coffee or whatever. Turn off the ringer on the phone, leave the television off and hide the remote and just enjoy a few moments of a slower pace. You'll be surprised how much better everything feels.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A kind of hush

If wishes were made of snow, I'd be a very lucky woman. It snowed yesterday and this time it's not going to burn away so quickly since the sun has decided not to make an appearance this morning. Even when it does fight its way through the thick white clouds it's probably going to be so fagged it won't have the strength to singe the soft hush of white mounded on every tree, lawn and roof. The streets are clear; I heard the plow go through at four this morning. What's so amazing is the pastel golden peach of the sky between the tangled branches heaped with their heavy white burdens. It's a beautiful and quiet morning that reminds me of the first big snow that greeted me after I arrived in Colorado five years ago. That snow shut down the airport and businesses for nearly a week and was awe inspiring. This time the weather does not so much grip the city as slow it down to a more sedate pace -- at least here in our little neighborhood. That's really nice. It's a busy week for me but this silence reminds me to stop and take a deep breath and just enjoy the world around me.

I finished two of the three books I have to review and will finish another one tonight. That's three for the books this week and only one left. I'm half tempted to take a break for a couple weeks just to read something for myself and not for work. That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed most of the books I've had to review, but I wouldn't have picked them off the shelf to read, which is a good thing because I am exposed to a wider range of styles and authors that I would have gotten around to on my own. I didn't realize until I finished reading last night that one of the books is by an author I had reviewed before and liked. She has a wonderful way with characters, making even the most minor character as memorable and real as the main characters. Little flaws and delightful touches that can be chilling as much as endearing make each book a revelation.

There are some books I need to box up and send to my uncle and his wife and more books to take next door to the Lon Chaney house where Michelle is confined to bed with her third child. Hannah is nearly two years ago and Michelle was pregnant in the fall and lost the baby -- a boy -- nearly four months into her pregnancy. She got pregnant right away and is four months into this pregnancy and having trouble again, this time with placenta previa. The placenta grows in the lower part of the uterus and covers the cervix. The placenta usually moves upward during pregnancy until it is near the top of the uterus and with placenta previa it may not, that's why the bed rest, to give the body time to adjust and the baby to grow sufficiently to be delivered by C-section. Michelle is so intent on having another child before Mike turns 40. I don't know why 40 is the scary age, but it's their choice. Anyway, I thought since she's going to have to be in bed anyway, she should have something to read, and I have all these books just waiting for a new home, and shelves waiting for new books, that I thought it was a good idea to give some of mine away.

I usually send them to friends or donate them to the library, but I also have a lot of ARCs (Advance Review Copies) and those cannot be sold. Marcia Preston's book, the one I finished last night, was autographed to me so I don't think I'll part with it. I didn't notice the signature before I read the book but when I laid it down it fell open to that page and I read it. It's nice that she thought enough of me to inscribe the book to me, even though it was fairly awkward to read since it is spiral bound and fairly thick, but into each life a little rain...

The house on the other side where the college age boys with the revolving door girlfriends used to live is vacant again and we probably won't get a new neighbor until August or later. At least it will be quiet from that side. No more Lacey barking at every errant breeze or the horse-riding man eater screaming at poor Art all the time. It will be quiet. We can take a deep breath and hope for nice new neighbors, maybe a girlfriend for Nel or some eye candy for the landlady and me. You just never know. There are a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The absence of heat

The sky is an icy blue. There is snow on the roofs, cars and yards but none on the sidewalks or streets. It is a brittle, arid day and the cold seeps through the sealed windows to wrap me with frozen fingers. As I sit here at the computer typing, I am wearing my quilted jackets with socks on my usually bare feet and I love it. Winter is asserting it presence, demanding to be seen and experience, demanding we revise our fantasies of an early spring. Phil is never wrong. Spring has taunted and teased us into a sense of comfort in the promise of warm scented breezes redolent of blooming lilac and the balm of golden narcissus and forsythia. It's a lie, a come-on, a bait and switch, and it's okay. I'm not ready to let go of winter yet, at least not until I have had my fill of snowy landscapes and cloud shrouded mountains and frosted pine trees wreathed in winter ermine.

More chores to do today and I am reluctant for the wind to spank my cheeks pink, but I need some ingredients for another delicious and satisfying meal. I look forward to cooking and improvising from the bins and shelves in fridge and cabinets. I'm also hungry for some homemade hummus and I don't have any tahini. Must have tahini. And blue corn chips would be nice, too, especially since it keeps my fingers clean. I think I'll use some of the hibiscus sea salt in the hummus to see what dimension that adds to the whole lovely concoction. I may even break open the bottle of Merlot I bought a few days ago for the peposo and polenta. Now, if I can only work it in between work and writing up reviews and working on a submission or two, I'll be one very happy camper.

I received a surprise in the mail yesterday, actually a drop-off from UPS, a box full of goodies from the cooking club. I have a real apron (not the frilly girly kind -- you should know me better than that by now), steamer basket, a lovely razor sharp paring knife, ceramic spoon rest and trivet, gorgeous new cutting board and a weird set of collapsible silicone measuring cups I need to review. Could be interesting and I'll use them to measure out the tahini, which has a tendency to stick to the cup. I coat the cup with olive oil before adding the tahini because it goes in the recipe anyway, which reminds me I should roast a couple of the peppers and add them to the hummus. I'm getting hungry and I need my morning fruit. I think I'll have a pepper, mushroom and onion omelet with the fruit, some bacon and maybe some crispy fried potatoes. It's Sunday after all. I don't think I'll have room for yogurt, but I can have that as a snack later.

I'm nearly finished with the book on narcissists, identifying and dealing safely with them, and I'm reminded how like dangerous beasts they are, one moment playful and friendly and the next rending and devouring their prey. Believe me, if you are friends with or an admirer of a narcissist you are not a friend, you are prey -- like cat and mouse. Make no mistake, you are nothing more than extension of them, a hive creature serving the queen bee without any purpose than to minister, stroke, adore and cater to her demands (that goes for the lion kings, too). The narcissist is charming with a magnetic and appealing personality, the consummate actor feigning emotions with an Oscar winning performance. Beneath the charming mask is a ruthless dictator who will invade every corner of your life, take over your emotions and deny your dreams and aspirations unless they can be used to further their aims. Narcissists are devoid of emotion, empty inside and full of rage and despair. It's best not to get involved or to extricate yourself as quickly and safely as possible when you realize you've encountered one. A narcissist will never keep their promises and will continue to string you along as long as you are useful, either as a bolster to their ego or can help them achieve their goals. Fail in either position and they will chew you up and spit you out, but not without first destroying your ego, your health, your emotions and your professional credibility with cold and heartless precision, using lies, half-truths, deceptions and malicious claims.

In order not to end on such a negative note, I'll offer this instead: The world is a complex and wondrous place full of dangers and pleasures. The world, like power, is a neutral force that can be used to heal, help or harm and even when it seems to harm we emerge from the fires tempered like steel and more capable of handling whatever comes as long as we are open to the possibilities. Like the frozen realm outside my windows, it is cold and forbidding, but it is also hushed and peaceful, a sleeping world biding its time, waiting for the sun to come closer and kiss it awake from its winter dream to bloom and blossom and flourish for a season. And it is beautiful.