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Category Archives: Writing

Once a Cheater

I am a cheater.  There!  I said it out loud!  It is both shameful and liberating to say it.  I am not proud of it, but there’s no denying that it happened.
The worst part of it all is that I’m a librarian.  We’re supposed to be above such things!  But I couldn’t help it, I was just so frustrated, so confused.  I suppose that’s what all cheaters say though, isn’t it?

I’m afraid now that it’s happened once, I’ll do it again.

I’m hoping my confession will keep me from cheating again.

Yes, I am a cheater.  I….I…I read the end of my book before I was finished!

SHAMEFUL!

Had you watched me during that episode it would have appeared that I was actually committing some type of mortal sin.  I looked around the bedroom, checked to make sure my fiance was actually asleep, and hurriedly, haphazardly flipped to a page at the end of the book.  I scanned quickly and read only a paragraph before guilt overwhelmed me and I turned back to my place in the seventh chapter.

I’m sure my cheeks were as much aflame as my conscience.

Let me explain why though (as if there is ever a good enough reason for such a break with morality).  I was reading the extremely popular Gone Girl and I was not enjoying it.  In fact I was beginning to hate all of the characters in the book.  I was confused by the obvious problems in narration.  I had no idea where it was going.  My frustration was quickly mounting to a crisis level.  I put the book down for a time to try to regain some composure.  I tried!  But when I came back to it I was quickly overcome by frustration and desperation, forcing my hand.  It’s almost as if I had no choice.  If I hadn’t read that page in the back I might never have finished what was otherwise an interesting piece of literature.  So you see, my cheating was a good thing.  Yes???

Gone Girl

Still, the guilt eats at me.  I have never before read the end of the book prior to the natural progression.  I was one of those who shook my head disappointedly at people who were confessed last page readers.  Why?  Why would they do such a thing?  They were ruining the suspense, even the whole story arc of a book by doing that!

In my case I absolutely spoiled the story line.  I did it willfully and purposefully!  Perhaps it’s a credit to the author that her suspenseful novel drove me to such drastic measures as to break my own reading moral code.  Perhaps it’s just a flaw in my character.  I prefer to give the credit to Gillian Flynn.

If you’d like to read a great book about some interesting and awful people, read Gone Girl.  Don’t read the end before you’re done.  You’ll either regret it or be like me and sleep a little easier.  As always, I advise you not to be like me…don’t be a cheater.

Acceptance

I don’t often write about anything current, or anything happening out in the world.  Too much of my energy is consumed by everything happening within my own little universe.  But every once in a while something happens in the rest of the universe that makes me pause.

I’m sure like millions of other Americans I was shocked and saddened by the events in Colorado last week.  I was baffled by such violence.  My thoughts immediately turned into prayers.  And like so many others I wanted to know why, why had this happened?  I wanted a reason why someone could be driven to do such a despicable thing.  I wanted something that would explain why a dozen people had died.

Surely there was a failure somewhere.  There was some trigger.  There was a series of events that could have been prevented had someone only known.  There had to be!

But as days passed and no motive became clear I began to question why I even needed one.  What would it change?  The dead would not rise.  The wounded would not be healed by those words.  The shock, terror, grief felt by the hundreds (if not thousands) of lives touched by this event would not be erased by knowing why.

Even if we ever learn why this young man decided to enact this calculated plan to murder and terrorize it may never give us the closure we could hope for.  There is never going to be a reason good enough.

There is only madness.

Don’t misunderstand, I have no proof of mental illness.  I have no inside knowledge that this man is insane.  But, to me, mental illness in this case wouldn’t matter either.  His acts were so heinous as to over-ride even the terribly sad existence of those who suffer within their own minds.

No, these acts of violence speak of a madness that is all too common.  It can be seen in the gang members who kill pedestrians in a drive by shooting.  It can be seen in the ex-soldier who murders his family.  It’s found in home-grown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and foreign terrorists like Mohamed Atta.  It lives in the hearts of genocidal dictators and child abusers.

This madness that perpetrates violence knows no distinction between race, religion, age, political belief.

People will always arrive at conclusions and uncover motives that hope to explain away why such horrendous acts are committed.  But words can no more explain the death of millions of Cambodians under Pol Pot than they can provide reason for the murder of a handful by the Manson family.

Such acts of violence, such atrocities are beyond reason.  They are beyond understanding.

All we have left is acceptance.  We can choose to be tortured by the search of reasons that would explain away such horror.  Or we can choose to accept that bad things happen.  It’s a sad fact.  It’s a fact that’s been true throughout human existence.  There will always be people who are cruel, violent and infected with this madness that urges them to destroy lives.

Though that’s a terribly depressing thought, it has somehow given me peace.  Knowing why will not make the dead live again.  It won’t make evil become good.  It won’t help horror be undone.  Acceptance that this happened and nothing anyone can say will make it any different has made terror a little easier to bear.

I’m sure people will disagree with me.  I’m sure there are those that believe evil can be eradicated.  I truly hope they are right.  There will be times when reasons can be uncovered and possibly guarded against in the future.  There will be times when evil exists only for its own sake.  So I will accept that for every evil deed that is done dozens of good deeds are perpetrated.  I will continue to try to be an agent of kindness.  I will teach Connor to be kind.  As a family we will be kind to people and animals.  We will donate to charities.  We will speak to strangers, we will help people up who have fallen, we will protect the weak and innocent when we can.  We will do everything we can to make our corner of the universe filled with love and compassion.

When evil does happen, we will shake our heads at the re-emergence of this madness, and pray for the souls of the victims and the perpetrator.  And we will accept that evil is a part of the world and move on.  We will honor the living and banish evil doers to the corners of our memory.   We will not dwell on this madness but move forward, out of its grip.  We will accept life.

Sex ‘n Stuff

WARNING: This post discusses sexually explicit topics.

If you’re hoping to learn something about my sex life you’re going to be disappointed by this post.  All that you’re going to find out is that I do not enjoy BDSM.

What’s BDSM?  Well… it’s today’s topic as it relates to Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.

BDSM stands for a combination of Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism.

Not something I would usually discuss on here, or really anywhere else.  But Fifty Shades has become such a runaway cultural and literary phenomena that I felt compelled to discuss it.

After several people asked me if I had read the first novel in the series (since apparently I  have a reputation for reading everything), I bowed to the pressure and bought a copy.  Prior to purchase I had read several articles about the novel, all relating to its origins as fan fiction for the Twilight series.  I read articles about copyright conundrums, intellectual property, the emerging power of e-readers, female influence in popular fiction, etc.

Not once did I read about the sadistic sexual tenor of the book! NOT ONCE!

Perhaps I should have managed my expectations better before reading the book.  I expected it to be an erotic novel, as Fifty Shades has been widely labeled as “mommy porn” by the media (which I take issue with, but more on that later).  I was hoping it might have some kind of vampire sex scenes similar to True Blood since it was originally inspired by Twilight.  Also given the romantic emotional overtures of the Bella-Edward relationship in Twilight I may have expected sex to be on the more romantic side.

I literally couldn’t have been more surprised than if I’d had no idea that this was an erotic novel at all! This is what happens when you go into something with very specific expectations.  I honestly should have known better.  (It reminded me of when I’d mistakenly gotten it into my head that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a young adult novel only to be shocked to my core by a very graphic sexual assault.  I suppose sometimes I’m just dense? Because I have no idea how I got that in my head!)

Here’s the gist of the novel: Young, intelligent, virginal Ana meets successful, controlling business man Christian Grey.  The two have some kind of instant connection.  Ana agrees to see Christian and he introduces her to a BDSM sexual relationship.  Prior to meeting Christian Ana has never had sex and been kissed only twice.  Christian, on the other hand, has engaged in a contractual long-term BDSM relationship with 15 other women (and scores more on a short-term basis).  Ana finds the sex both thrilling and frightening, as she does her deep emotional bond to this enigmatic man.

I’ll stop there.  I don’t want to give too much away if you plan on reading the novel.

Here’s what I take issue with:

I find it incredibly surprising that BDSM is a fantasy of so many women that this can be called “mommy porn.”  Prior to reading the novel I was thrilled about the idea of reading some passionate sexual experiences (yes, women, even moms like sex).  Yet, once I began to read, my excitement quickly became distaste.  I can honestly say I felt disturbed by some of the sex scenes!

Here is this girl who is supposed to be a virgin becoming excited and sexually satisfied by a sexual encounter that literally reminded me of a rape scene.  The second time Ana and Christian engage in sex he completely immbolizes her.  I’m not certain, but I believe a woman who was a virgin just an hour before might be terrified by this!

I understand that there is a certain pleasure to be gained by putting your sexual satisfaction completely into the hands of your partner, as well as trusting your partner to do what is best for you.  Again, though, we are  discussing a fictional woman who had never had sex of any kind prior to that night, with a partner she had known for a matter of days.

This rang untrue for me.

Obviously I’m dealing with my own tastes, issues, and preferences while reading this book.  Since sex is such a primal instinct for humans it  is only right that everyone have their own tastes, as they would in eating or socializing.  I’m not going to condemn anyone for engaging in a BDSM lifestyle, nor would I condemn anyone from abstaining from anything painful during sex. To each their own.

In that vein I have to say that this book is not for me.  As the novel progressed the two protagonists negotiated what BDSM Ana would and would not engage in, how much she would agree to be the submissive, etc.  The often engaged in sex without weaponry, restraints, etc., but each incident had an overture of control and dominance by Christian that I still felt it to fall well outside the “normal” range of passionate, rough sex (if there is such a thing as “normal”).

The other recurrent theme I had trouble with was Christian’s stalker tendencies.  I’m not joking here, Ana literally calls Christian a “stalker” at several points in the novel.  Yet each time she says this I get the distinct impression she is either teasing him or finds this behavior somehow charming.

A man who would illegally trace your cell phone, research your address, the names of your parents (and their addresses), and surreptitiously fly several thousand miles to check up on you is not a romantic!  This is dangerous, deeply disturbing behavior!  Stalking is not a quirky or winning trait!  I truly can’t wrap my brain around enjoying these actions in your sexual partner.  I mean really? REALLY???

When all was said and done, the controlling nature of the protagonist, the BDSM, the stalking, the bizarre insecurities of the heroine, etc. all conspired to make this book virtually unreadable for me.  I powered through the last 100 pages just so I could be forever done with this novel.  I have no desire to read the rest of the trilogy.  I will not be recommending this book to any friend (or enemy for that matter).  And anyone who describes this book as “mommy porn” to me is going to get a tongue lashing, and not the good kind.

But that’s just my two cents…

A somewhat happy project

As I mentioned in my last post, I heedlessly tossed aside The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin in favor of a delicious, if poorly written, romance novel.

For whatever reason, I always feel guilty about not finishing a book (or a movie).  Maybe it’s because I just want to know how it ends and have some sense of closure.  Although that’s not really true, so many good books end without closure.  Or even if they do, I’m the kind of reader that wonders what happens to the characters after the story ends (yes, I realize these are fictional characters and there is no life for them after the story. I get way too invested in my make-believe.).

Ok, well maybe I’m just an optimist and want so badly to like everything, so much so that I’ll slog my way through a terrible book just waiting and hoping that something will redeem it.  Perhaps there’ll be a line tucked in chapter 27 that makes this entire endeavor worth it.  Maybe some character will have a revelation that provides insight into my own life.  Or maybe it will just have the best damn ending ever!

You no doubt recognize that most (or all) of these hopes fail to come true.  I mean there are just some bad books out there.  There are just some books that I don’t like.  Foucault’s Pendulum is just tedious! I’m sorry but I said it.  I don’t care if it’s a great piece of literature or not, I just can’t get into it.

The same is true for The Happiness Project.  I truly, honest to goodness, wanted to like this book.  I thought it was a great concept: a woman dedicates a year of her life to finding more happiness in the everyday.  Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be.  I found the first half of the book to be this story: a well-off woman with no significant problems wants to live a clutter free life, while ignoring real life.  Yay! oh wait…no yay.

It was so tiresome to read about this woman going through her days trying to find small ways to improve things around her when it didn’t seem like she was doing any serious work on herself.  Call me old-fashioned but I’ve always believed in the old adage “charity begins at home”, or in this case “hard work begins with yourself”.  Rubin keeps tidying the world around her, her body, her relationships, but never actually does any heavy lifting as to the under-lying reason there may be issues.  When she complains that she’s constantly looking for approval and praise, she brushes it aside and tries to live without it (though I think this book is just one big attempt to get that praise).  In my opinion, her time would be better spent trying to get to the root of why she desperately craves attention and approval.  Why is so important to her?  What mental exercises can she do to live without it?

Obviously delving into one’s psyche is much harder than ignoring a problem, and hey, it probably wouldn’t sell as many books if she talked endlessly about her own neurosis and her struggle to overcome it through deep psychological insight and therapy.

That’s not very cool or popular or easy! Nope, not very easy at all.

Well, hmmm… that was a bit of a rant.  So let me tell you what I’ve been thinking about in terms of my own happiness project.  Or what I’m calling my “be somewhat happier project”.

To expect yourself to be happy all the time is to set yourself up for failure.  It’s just never going to happen.  Life gets in the way far too often.  Instead, aiming to increase your happiness a little bit might be a better goal.  Or maybe just not stressing about whether you’re perfectly happy or not is the goal.  I mean, isn’t the goal of most higher experiences to live so in the moment that you don’t worry about everything else?

So here’s my list of things to do to become somewhat happier:

1. Recognize that most of my problems are first world problems!

Example. I was annoyed yesterday when I realized that because of gas/plane ticket prices I wouldn’t be able to take all of the trips I wanted to this year because I have a stupid budget.  Damn it!

2. Be thankful. 

I don’t mean be thankful in the whole thanksgiving-table kind of way where we’re thankful for a roof over our head or the love our family.  I mean be thankful when Connor eats all of his lunch.  Be thankful when the waitress is attentive.  Be thankful that I didn’t sprain my ankle when I tripped in a snake hole this morning.

3. Let it go.

This doesn’t mean to just let the house (or my figure) go to pot.  Although sometimes I think how nice that might be if I did.  But then I think how awful that would be after the initial enjoyment.  So no, I don’t mean that.  Instead, I intend to practice letting the little things go.  I’ll not worry about the fact my fireplace is covered with toys everyday.  I’ll not stress when I eat a cookie (or four) and mess up my calorie count for the day.  I’ll not freak out if I have to throw away some over-ripe bananas instead of making bread with them.  I mean, really, who am I? Super Woman? Super Mom? Not even close.  I could maybe be Super Mom’s scatter-brained, always-running-late favorite cousin.

I was going to add more, but honestly, I think that’s a good start.  Right? This is a somewhat happy project, not a total happiness revamp!

So tell me, does anyone have a somewhat happy resolution of their own?

Escapist Literature

Or what the rest of the world likes to call fiction.

Once upon a time when I was just a young English major at UCSB, I spent my free time reading literary classics or Pulitzer prize winners.  I had no time for frivolous reading! I was a critic, an expert on true artistic literature.  Romance, Sci-fi, thrillers, NY Times bestsellers were all far beneath my superior gaze.  Why would I waste my time on frivolous reading when there were so many thought-provoking, intensely introspective books out there?

No, no, I was better than that…

Wow, was I dumb!

Seriously hand me a best-seller and give me a comfy chair and I’ll be in heaven for the next five and half hours.  I do not give a flying you know what about the literary merit of a work any more!  In fact, to be completely honest with you, my dear reader, I would prefer it if you gave me something utterly superficial and completely engrossing than giving me the last tome on the death of middle class America.

I have never been good at meditation or relaxing, unless I had something to focus on.  For me, my true Zen moments happen when I am engrossed in something.  Give me an hour to paint or to bake and you’ll find me relaxed at the end of it.  Give me the latest urban/sci-fi romance novel and you’ll find me a completely different person by the end of it.

I literally lose myself in the novel, ceasing to track time or bodily needs while engrossed in something as shameful a college romance novel, like Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. The story was at turns utterly predictable and nonsensical, shamelessly/needlessly erotic, filled with tangents that made no sense to the overall plot.  And yet I devoured it in less than one night, staying up way past my bed time to finish!  I loved it for no reason other than it was enjoyable to read, purely entertaining.

I could feel the snobbish Erin sneering at me over a worn copy of Wuthering Heights, shaking her head as I gleefully enjoyed the descriptions of lovers quarrels and reunions so over-dramatic and syrupy sweet as to make my teeth ache.

And I don’t draw the line at romance novels.  Oh no! Come to my house and you’ll see!  What was once a discerning collection of classics and noteworthy novels has completely devolved into a motley collection of paranormal, sci-fi, graphic novels, large mystery collections, interspersed with more high-brow literature I still feel compelled to purchase (which always end up on the bottom of my to read list.  For example, I put down The Happiness Project for the aforementioned romance novel.  Shameful but true.).

With every thing going on in my life, I need a way to relax.  To truly relax I have to escape my head and the only way I’ve discovered of doing that is my wonderful, cheesy, fantastical, mysterious, dirty escapist literature.

Here is a partial list of some of my favorite romantic-fantasy series, if you’d like more recommendations I’m only too happy to help:

 

The Sookie Stackhouse Series (or True Blood series) by Charlaine Harris (new book coming out soon!!)

The House of Night Series by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Jane Yellowrock Series by Faith Hunter

The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison

Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs

 

And so so many more!

Aspiration Complications Part 2

I’ve always found writing about writing to be a somewhat strange endeavor.  Obviously I’m no expert, but I’ve found myself in the position many times before.

Previously, part of my job as a high school English teachers was to help students learn how to write.  Writing was always easy for me, so it was difficult for me to teach something that came so naturally.  I had to break my writing lessons down into building blocks and rules in order to teach it.  I always began with sentences, then moved on to paragraphs, before tackling the almighty five-paragraph essay.  The terror that was embodied by the essay was something to be reckoned with.  Students were literally afraid of writing; as if the mere act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) could somehow damage them.

As adults, many of us are no better off.  For some reason writing still terrifies us.  Perhaps adults are afraid that writing more than a few sentences might reveal that they actually have no idea what they’re talking about! Maybe this is why so many now choose texting over emailing.  It doesn’t require any grammar, sentence structure, or lengthy thought development (unless you’re texting me or some of my friends, we’re the grammar police).  Texting is quick and to the point.

Because I actually enjoy writing, texting is somewhat daunting to me.  How can I fully encapsulate everything I want to say in a few terse phrases? The word choice alone is a momentous decision! Will most of my texting partners recognize the difference between debris and detritus? Will they just expect me to use the word mess and draw their own conclusions???

Perhaps over-think it though.  Texting at the end of the day, it just texting.  It’s just a few words on a phone screen.

It’s difficult for me to think of anything involving writing as just words.  As a teacher, an avid reader, a graduate student, I’ve been trained to read between the lines.  I’ve learned how to draw the meaning out of what might otherwise seem an off-hand comment.  I’ve mastered the art of inferring significance from just a few words.

And there you have the problem of my writing!

Writing a novel compared to writing this blog is excruciating.

This blog is closer to stream-of-consciousness therapy than to poetry.  I think about what I want to say and I say it.  I might edit a bit, but I don’t change entire passages or agonize over word choice.  If I did you might see a blog post from me about once every month or so…maybe.

Because my novel is going to be for public consumption, because strangers will be reading it and judging me, because its success will depend solely on my ability and not how many people like me and my message, I’m terrified of writing something incorrectly.  Each sentence seems a monstrous task to conquer.  I edit and re-edit as  I write.  Reading paragraphs over and over and over until I can finally move on.

This is no way to write! I keep reminding myself that I just need to let it flow, and then go back and edit.  If I keep writing the way I have been this novel will never be finished.

Last year I gave myself a deadline but given my divorce and Connor’s autism diagnosis, that deadline came and went.  I think I was secretly happy to have a valid excuse to ignore my novel.  I was relieved not to have to live up to my goal.

A sad realization, but true.

Unfortunately, with preschool giving me 5.5 hours alone every day I am out of convenient excuses.  I no longer have a wily, mischievous, adorable toddler on my hands every minute of the day.  No, instead I have…dare I say it…literal free time.  UGH!

There is nothing for me to do but return to my novel-writing.  I can’t turn away from it and start a new project.  I’ve written close to 100 pages! That would be wasteful.  Also, I have to write.  It’s as if my fingers burn to tap out stories.  I think it’s a sickness.

So whether I like it or not, or should I say whether I’m terrified or not, I’m going to finish my novel.  Dang it.