Tag Archives: inspiration

The WordPress (Non-Dysfunctional) Family Award

family

Happy 2014 everyone!  And what better way to start it off than being recognized by an incredibly talented peer?  The lovely Nillu Stelter nominated me for the WordPress Family Award.  So many people to thank:  my agent, my lawyer, my manager, my agent’s lawyer, my lawyer’s agent, my manager’s lawyer, my lawyer’s manager, the incredible electrical crews and the guy who gets me my blueberry danish every morning.  Free Tibet!  Okay, on a serious note, I am deeply grateful, and it reinforces the truth that when you put goodwill out into the world, it comes rushing back to you in a wave.  I admire Nillu’s talent for being able to pack a novel’s worth of emotion and imagery into her short pieces, and you should absolutely check them out instead of wasting your time here listening to me pontificate on whatever bee crawled into my bonnet this morning.

Accepting the award mandates that you nominate six other bloggers you feel are deserving of the honor – people who have been welcoming and encouraging in your blogging efforts.  Ironically, Nillu herself nominated several of the folks that I would have included on my list.  Rather than re-nominating them, I’ll bestow upon them honorable mentions instead:  Rachael Spellman, Drew Chial, Jessica West and Amira Makansi, and defer to Nillu’s excellent encapsulations.  I also want to give shoutouts to two bloggers whose work and whose virtual friendships I treasure but who aren’t on WordPress so they technically don’t qualify:  Ksenia Anske and Heather Archuletta.  Heather’s site is a bit different from the rest as she writes about all things NASA and space exploration, and about her experiences as a “pillownaut,” i.e. a participant in NASA’s bed rest studies, which simulate the effects of low gravity on the human body over long periods of time.  It’s a whole area of space science I knew nothing about until I met her on Twitter, and it’s quite fascinating.  And she’s a fan of all things Star Trek as well, so, well worth your while.  Ksenia you probably know about already, so no sense retreading the obvious, other than letting you know that she just began writing her literary novel Irkadura two days ago and banged out an incredible four and a half chapters in a single sitting.  Something to think about the next time you’re lacking motivation.

Introductions out of the way, let’s move on to my list:

East Bay Writer – EBW merits a special place as she was the first WordPress blogger I really “connected” with when I started doing this back in 2011.  Absent the magical “Freshly Pressed” designation that points a massive spotlight on you out of the gate, you really do have to do the work and crawl your way out of the anonymous cellar in what is essentially complete darkness, fumbling for a grip and swinging wildly until you catch hold.  I’ll always be grateful to EBW for extending her hand and letting me know someone out there in the wilderness gave a damn.

Tania Monaco – tania2atee – I first met Tania in 1999 when we both enrolled in the “Crafting a Novel” class taught by the next person down on my list, and we were part of a critique group that grew out of that class and continued for several years.  Her feedback helped to shape the novel I tinkered with for way too long before finally growing the spine needed to submit it to agents (ongoing as we type), and I’ll never forget one comment in particular she made that was manna for a man trying to write a book from a woman’s perspective:  “How do you know what we’re thinking?”  Tania blogs about parenting her two young children and her posts about favorite songs are always a treat.

Lynda Simmons – I Love a Parade – My first creative writing teacher (at least, the first who wasn’t also trying to teach me to write essays about long-dead English novelists), a family friend from way back, and a by turns witty and poignant novelist whose book Island Girl is a rending story about a woman struggling to put her family back together before the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease claim her memory and indeed her very soul.  The woman who told me to my chagrin to ditch the 400,000-words-and-counting pile of rambles that wasn’t going anywhere and start something fresh and new.  Everything that followed is essentially her fault, so address your angry comments to the address in the link.  Just kidding.  Thank you Lynda, for so much.

Andrea Montgomery – My Simple Desires – Andrea doesn’t blog nearly enough, so my ulterior motive in nominating her is to try and give her a little nudge of inspiration.  She again is someone I have the fortune to know personally, and to envy from time to time since writing is her day job, as a communications professional.  There is a joyful touch to her blog posts which I’m finding myself missing, so, here’s hoping she gets back to it soon.

Tele Aadsen – Hooked – One woman at sea, trolling for truth, and what a beautiful journey it is.  Like EBW, Tele was one of my first “blog friends” on WordPress and it has been a privilege to read this amazing woman’s words these past years.  Taking a sabbatical from her career in fishing off the Alaskan coast, she is currently in a writer’s residency at the North Cascades Institute in Washington and working on her memoir, also entitled Hooked, to be published by Riverhead Books.  Cannot wait to hold a signed copy of that in my hands.  Reading Tele’s posts or seeing her comments on my own site are like a chat with an old friend, the kind with whom you can pick up like it’s only been a day even though months and months have passed.

And finally, the sixth blog on my list:  yours.  Yes, yours.  You, reading this right now – not the person next to you, you there.  Maybe I’ve stopped by yours in the past, maybe I haven’t.  But the fact that you’re doing it makes you a part of a family you may not even know you had.  You’re part of a tradition dating back to the first scratches on cave walls and extending far beyond the limits of our mortal shells.  We’re the reason our species has a history to remember, and dreams of the future to pursue.  We are writers, and whether we are read by millions or only a select few, we are each leaving our imprint upon a complex universe that is often difficult to understand.  Each book, each article, each post, even each thoughtful Twitter musing is a small step towards solving the greatest puzzle of all.  What does it mean to be us?  Choosing to enter into that conversation earns you a place at the table.  Welcome, friend; pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and tell me a story.  Tell me what you think of mine.  And let’s create a new one together – as a family.

Unfreezing creativity

You can emerge from a great movie in any number of frames of mind:  stirred to action, moved to tears, smiling ear to ear or even enraged beyond words.  And then there are those movies that have a different and in some ways, more profound effect.  They come along at just the right moment, when you’re a bit discouraged by a recent course of events, when the well is drying out and replenishing itself with doubt instead.  Movies that embrace your simmering creativity and stoke your desire to tell stories, because they remind you of the possibilities inherent in the blank canvas by pushing the limits of what can be done with it.  They disarm and enchant the cynic and turn him into a dreamer again, fingers twitching to fill hard drives with a wealth of new words.  Frozen, Disney’s magnificent animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, did that for me.

The story of a bond of sisterhood tested by fate, magic, misunderstanding and a heck of a lot of snow and ice, Frozen is visually sumptuous, befitting the pedigree of its studio, and uncommonly emotionally profound.  The two princesses of the vaguely Nordic realm of Arendelle are the playful young Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and her elder sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), who possesses the power to create ice and snow.  They are inseparable until Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her magic, at which point their well-meaning royal parents decide that the two would be better off kept apart, for their own safety, and Anna’s memory altered to remove her awareness of her sister’s abilities.  Years later, after the girls have been orphaned, Elsa is poised to be named Queen of Arendelle until a confrontation with Anna over a rash decision to marry a handsome prince she’s just met results in Elsa’s long-suppressed powers bursting forth and blanketing Arendelle in eternal winter.  Shunned by her people, Elsa flees to the distant mountains, pursued by Anna who has faith that her sister can be convinced to bring summer back to the realm.  I’d prefer not to say more at the risk of being spoilery, but despite some red herrings dropped early on that suggest you’re in for the typical schmaltz about princesses in towers and the conveniently available square-jaws they always fall for, and despite the prominence in advertising of the goofy living snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), the story goes in a much more mature and welcome direction, keeping the relationship between the sisters as the emotional linchpin – while dazzling your eyes with some breathtaking animation work, especially in any scene involving Elsa’s magic.

Given what I’ve discussed at length here before in terms of the onscreen portrayal of women, how refreshing indeed to find a story that both passes the Bechdel test and gives depth and complexity to a female character with supernatural powers!  The clip I’ve linked above is my absolute favorite moment in the movie, because not only is it a terrific song belted out by a sublimely talented Broadway veteran at the top of her game (even calling back a little to her famous interpretation of Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity”), but it’s a scene of a young woman embracing everything about who she truly is and reveling in the wonders of what she can do with her amazing gifts.  A triumphant coming out of a sorceress, if you will, and a scene of unbridled joy.  We don’t get to see that very often, if ever.  Women with powers in movies are usually punished for them – they have to give them up to attain the life they really want, or, they choose to use them for evil and must therefore be destroyed (usually by… sigh, a virtuous man).  While Elsa does cause some inadvertent mayhem that must be undone, the resolution of the story thankfully doesn’t require her to abandon what makes her unique.  She adds to her life instead of taking something away.

As a man writing a novel in first-person from a woman’s point of view (a fantasy about a woman with magical powers, no less), those issues are always top of mind for me.  It’s too easy to venture down the well-trodden, familiar path at the end of which lies the execrable Mary Sue; the collection of cliches guaranteed to please no one, least of all the author.  Experiencing Frozen, though, shows me that it can be done, and done extremely well, and the positive response to the movie by both audiences and critics proves that these kinds of characters can touch hearts.  Magic has always had a lingering visceral appeal, and too often literature and cinema adhere to the conservative religious view that there is something fundamentally wrong about it, forever at odds with how the world is supposed to function.  Yet it’s something that we all still seem to want in our lives – in the first encounter with a new love, in the twinkle in the eye of a child waiting for Santa, in the wish made on the shooting star.  Why can’t the world be magical?  Why can’t we make it that way?

Writers have our own magic to offer.  We have these crazy ideas and wild emotions that we are somehow able to transmogrify into a collection of permutations of 26 letters that cast spells upon those who read them, with the very effects I mentioned off the top.  When we’ve suppressed that nature for too long, because day jobs and other obligations have gotten in the way, or we’ve just been too downright lazy to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we risk not a catastrophic explosion like Elsa, but a gradual withering away of our spirit.  We get mopey and find little to be happy about in what should be fulfilling lives.  What we need to do is have a “Let It Go” moment instead and revel in what we love and what we know we’re meant to be.  Sometimes it takes a reminder; a movie like Frozen that assures you that storytellers are capable of some wondrous things.  And then you want to get back to your own fictional universes and start pushing your own limits again, typing until your fingers fall off and you’ve created magical palaces of skyscraping prose.  Hoping somewhere in the back of your mind that one day your story will have the same impact on somebody else – and the cycle of creativity will continue, forever unfrozen.

Connecting the dots

Presenting this with (minimal) comment this morning.  So many writers look for validation in the wrong places; comparing ourselves to others who are far more popular, or financially successful, or better-looking, or seem to be able to compose aching beauty without effort.  This is Amanda Palmer at Grub Street’s Muse and Marketplace Conference, and she just nails the truth.  It’s a little over half an hour but if you can even just put it on in the background while you write your TPS report, it is absolutely worth it.  (I guarantee you will promptly lose interest in said report and give her your undivided attention.)

Fun with words: Fry’s Theorem

As regular readers know, I love the peculiarities – the quirks, as it were, of the English language.  Because to me, English is a bottomless trove of enigmas, a linguistic vein to be mined in endless permutations.  Creatively, it remains an invaluable resource, for if you are ever short on inspiration, you need only dive into its well to uncover a fresh helping of treasure.  Do not fear that bane known as writer’s block.  English will always be there when you need her.  Finding the creative impetus again can begin with something as small as the shape of a single word.

Glance if you will at the following sentence.  “Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.”  I borrowed it from a classic episode of A Bit of Fry & Laurie, a sketch involving Stephen and Hugh discussing the infinite capacity and flexibility of English.  Just ponder for a second the absurdity of that phrase and how it could only belong to the Queen’s grand old tongue.  Keeping in mind of course that other languages can be arranged in their own nonsensical combinations, Fry’s main argument – delivered in his unique style – is that because of the dexterity of English, one can speak such absurdities in the certainty that they have never been uttered before by anyone in the history of language itself.  Language is capable of so much more than we realize.  Much like the oft-repeated factoid that humans only use 10% of their brains, in our regular conversations we use only a fraction of language’s potential.  No wonder why dialogue with one another can often feel so stilted, so underwhelming.  Our reluctance to exploit the potential of language to its greatest extent is one of our many failings.  Perhaps it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about how we converse with each other, and whether we are truly saying all we can say.  Quite possibly, those word-a-day calendars are really on to something.

Realistically, though, one has to wonder if we are an evolutionary downslope when it comes to how we speak to one another.  Slang is a far-too-easy layman’s recourse when our brain’s thesaurus fails to measure up.  Textspeak is another, and to a linguist like Stephen Fry must represent a true collapse of imagination, his well-documented love of technology to the contrary.  Ultimately the best approach on an individual basis is to set a good example, and hope that others may rise to the challenge.  Very likely some may dismiss this as elitism or worse, snobbery.  Whether or not they do is no reason why we shouldn’t still try to raise the game.  Xenophobia, or more precisely the fear of strangers’ reactions, certainly isn’t, in my mind, a compelling argument against it.

You may have noticed, if you are reading astutely, a particular quirk with this post, and you’re invited to submit your best guess as to what it is in the comments.  Zillions of imaginary happy points to the winner!