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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Day 191: What Am I Exactly? Or, Drugs, Science, and God

Day 191:  What Am I Exactly?  Or, Drugs, Science, and God

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages written on new project: 0

# of agents queried: 1

I am often fascinated by the fact that there are thousands of different species of microorganisms living in and on my body. Just a few months ago, I had a problem with my eyelash mites over-populating, and whenever I eat yogurt I think about the healthy bacteria living happily in my gut. The fact that I am not alone, even when I’m by myself, is not news to me.

But just recently I learned that the bacteria and other microbes that make their home in and on me actually outnumber my own body cells 10 to 1. For every one Eva Cell there are ten immigrant cells, which makes me wonder, what am I exactly?

What I think of as my body is maybe more like a biome – a place where thousands of species live together in harmony (except for when the eyelash mites get a little crazy.) I’m not a person; I’m a walking ecosystem.

And that’s just on the microscopic level. If we go down to the atomic level, things really start to get freaky. Atoms are mostly empty space, and I’m made of atoms, therefore, my body is mostly empty space.

What am I exactly? Just a bunch of nothing?

Some bacteria is good, some bacteria is bad.

Some bacteria is good, some bacteria is bad.

Good thing I’m more than just my body. I’d like to think so, anyway. I have thoughts and feelings and memories, and those things make me more than just a watery flesh sack of microbes, right?

Recently I was listening to a Radiolab podcast (Bliss) about religious experiences. People often point to spirituality as proof that we are more than just our bodies –  there’s something more going on than just biology and physics.

People who have had spiritual experiences often report feeling separated from their bodies; they say that time or space shifts (perhaps time slows down), and they feel or see or understand their connection to the universe in a way that is temporary, but profound.

Walter Pahnke, a minister, physician, and psychologist from Harvard, conducted interviews in the early sixties with people from different religions and cultures and came come up with a list of characteristics that seem to be common to most spiritual experiences.

Pahnke also talked to people who had done LSD and found that when they described their experiences with psychedelic drugs, they often used the exact same language as people who’d had religious experiences. The trippers described transcendence from their bodies, a shifting of time and space, a feeling of connectedness.

Pahnke wondered if it was possible to use drugs to induce a spiritual experience, and so, as part of his PhD research (and with the help of his thesis adviser, the champion of LSD, Timothy Leary), he conducted the famous “Good Friday Experiment” to test his theory.

He came to the conclusion that it may be possible to induce a personally profound, spiritual experience with the use of mushrooms. I have to admit, his experiment was a little shoddy, but I don’t think I even need a scientific experiment to convince me that there’s some sort of truth to Pahnke’s theory. All you have to do is talk to a handful of people who have taken LSD, and the majority of them will probably describe the same sort of time-warping, body-transcending, connected-to-the-universe type of experience.

Granted, I tend to think that a transcendental experience you’ve worked for through meditation or prayer or three months backpacking on the Appalachian trail is probably going to have a longer-lasting and more profound effect on you than a few hours of tripping, but what do I know?  In the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson,  Jobs says “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it.”

Of course, not everyone who takes psychedelics will have what they consider to be spiritual experiences, but isn’t it kind of weird that religious experiences that usually take people years of meditation or prayer to reach can be achieved just by swallowing a pill?

It makes me wonder if religious feelings are just chemical reactions within our brains. There are some scientists who think this might be the case. Mystical experiences, they say, may be triggered by the serotonin system, which affects the part of the brain involving emotions and perceptions. Psychedelic drugs simply activate the same receptor.

So what does this mean? If my feelings and experiences – the things that I thought made me more than just biology – are produced by chemicals in my body?

What am I exactly? Just a bunch of chemical reactions?

chem

And yet… I am ME. Somehow those outnumbered cells, those atoms of mostly empty space, they came together and created an ecosystem that is aware of herself.  Pretty amazing, don’t you think? Not only that, this Eva Ecosystem has, a few times in her life, (and without the use of psychedelic drugs), had fleeting feelings of connectedness to all the other ecosystems of the world, including the greatest ecosystem: the earth itself. I wouldn’t classify any of these as full-on spiritual experiences, but more like the stirrings of one. And maybe they were triggered by serotonin, but that doesn’t mean they they weren’t real, or that I didn’t experience something profound in that moment.

After all, a seizure can be triggered by strobe lights, but only if the person has epilepsy to begin with. The triggers for spiritual experiences might be chemical, but maybe the experience itself occurs because these truths have been there all along, underneath the surface of everyday existence.

Who are we? What are we? What is the human experience all about? These questions are so mysterious and complicated we will never know the answers. But we’re not “just” a home for microorganisms or “only” a biological bag of chemical reactions. We are these things, yes, and yet, somehow, we are so much more.  That’s pretty spiritual, if you ask me.

P.S.  I’ve been thinking about how I can change this blog from being just about me into something more.  Would people be interested in reading more math and science stuff from a liberal arts perspective?

P.P.S.  To read more about microorganisms or religion in the brain:

The God Chemical

This Is Your Brain on God

Your Body is a Wonderland…of Bacteria

Finally, A Map of All the Microbes in Your Body

Day 186: Natalia’s Hippo and the Happy Cat

Day 186:  Natalia’s Hippo and the Happy Cat

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages written on new project: 9.5

# of literary mags submitted to: 4

“Does Tima like stuffed animals?” I asked Natalia the other day. Natalia is one of my Ukrainian students who I tutor in English, and Tima is her four-year-old son.

Natalia got a disgusted look on her pretty, porcelain-white face.

“Oh no, no,” she said. “He doesn’t like it.”

“But does he have any stuffed animals? Have people given him any as presents?”

“Oh no,” she said. “He doesn’t have any.”

I was confused by this, because I could have sworn that I’d seen Tima in the background of one of our Skype sessions with his chubby arms around a red Angry Bird stuffed animal.

“I cannot understand why American children like to play wis such things” Natalia said.

“Oh, you know,” I said. “Because they are soft and nice to hug. You can snuggle up with them.” I wrapped my arms around an imaginary teddy bear and snuggled its imaginary soft head against my chin.

Natalia made a face. “I don’t like it.”

It wasn’t until later, when I was reading her homework assignment, that I understood the problem. I had given her a list of vocabulary words with which to write sentences, and for stuffed animal she had written:

Sometimes stuffed animal looks more frightfully than alive.

I realized that this whole time she had thought we were talking about taxidermy animals.

*  *  *
This sort of thing happens with Natalia on a somewhat regular basis. This morning I was talking to her on Skype, and I introduced her to my mom’s cat, Zoe.

“Oh, she has three claws!” Natalia said.

“Yes, she has claws,” I agreed. She has more than three, but I wasn’t going to be picky.

“It is not so usual.”

“Oh really? Well, she goes outside, so we didn’t de-claw her.”

Natalia frowned at me slightly.

“Do people de-claw cats in the Ukraine?”

“Oh…no…I don’t sink so,” Natalia said. When she’s confused she has a habit of turning her head and looking at me sideways from her large, almond-shaped eyes. “We don’t do such thing.”

“People do that sometimes here,” I explained.

“She is a happy cat,” Natalia told me after a moment. “Here we say, if cat have three claws, they are a happy cat.”

“That’s interesting. And she is a happy cat. Maybe she’s happy because her claws help her to catch mice.”

Actually, Zoe catches voles, which she gorges herself on (my mom said she once watched Zoe eat an entire vole – bones and all), but I doubted that Natalia would know what a vole was.

“Oh really?” Natalia laughed.

“Have you ever had a cat?” I asked.

“We have happy cat once as a child,” she said. “It had three claws, too: white and gray and brown.”

And that was when I realized she was saying colors. Zoe has three colors.

Amazing that we’d had an entire conversation, and yet neither one of us had really being understanding the other. I think this must happen all the time, in subtle ways, even with two people who speak the same native language. There’s only so much that words can convey. They are the bridge between one brain and another, and it can be a rickety bridge sometimes.

Zoe, the Happy Cat

Zoe, the Happy Cat

I’ve been getting a lot of rejection letters lately. Rejections from agents. Rejections from literary magazines. Some of them are really nice, encouraging rejections, but still the message is the same: your writing didn’t do it for us. Your words aren’t what we want to hear. It can get frustrating sometimes, and I wonder what I can do differently. If I should do anything differently. Or if I should just keep trying.

*  *  *
Today I helped Natalia to pronounce the word “color,” and I explained what we meant by the phrase “stuffed animal,” and she laughed at her previous confusion. She had been imagining American children snuggling into bed with mounted deer heads and dead foxes stuffed with sawdust. “Now I understand,” she said. “Like toys. Soft animal toys.”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“I had stuffed animal as child,” she said. “It was a… uhh…one moment please.” She typed furiously into her hand-held translator.

“Behemoth,” she said after a moment.

“What kind of animal was it?” I asked. “Behemoth just means big.”

“Yes. Very big.”

“But what kind of animal was it?” I persisted. “Behemoth isn’t an animal.”

“It is animal that swim in dirty water and is very ugly,” she said.

“Hippopotamus?” I guessed.

“Yes. Hippopotamus,” Natalia agreed. But who knows if that’s really what it was or not. Often times Natalia and I are not on the same wavelength when it comes to words.

I guess that’s the thing you have to remember as a writer. You can control the words that come out of your brain. But you can’t control how they’ll be interpreted when they enter someone else’s. You have to keep trying to explain yourself as best you can and keep looking for someone who receives words in the same way that you give them.

Day 183: Global Warming Makes for a Perfect Day

Day 183:  Global Warming Makes for a Perfect Day

THIS WEEKEND’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 25

# of pages written on new project: 5

# of literary mags submitted to: 1

# of agents “nudged”: 3

Yesterday was pretty much the perfect day. I ignored the fact that sunny, sixty-degree weather in the middle of January is somewhat creepy and smacks of global warming, and I just enjoyed it with a trip to Maymont Park in Richmond.

The sky was cloudless; the half-moon suspended in the expanse of blue like a broken white wafer. As my boyfriend, Paul, and I walked down the hill towards the wildlife exhibits, I pointed to the sky. “Look, there’s the moon,” I said. “Isn’t it amazing that it’s out in space? We’re, like, looking at something in outer space right now.”

I knew I sounded like a stoned, moronic teen, and I wished I could find better words to convey how beautiful and amazing it was – this glimpse of something greater, this half-moon in the afternoon sky.

The creek along the path was swollen with a week’s worth of rain, and it chattered eagerly, skipping over rocks with great gusto and twinkling in the rays of a sun that lives 93 million miles away but still manages to give energy to nearly all the living things on Earth.

“I’m so glad we’re outside!” I sang. “I love Maymont!” I skipped along the path and grinned like a stoned, moronic teen. “Let’s go see the raptors!” The day was just so beautiful, I didn’t know how to contain myself.

So we went to see the birds of prey and the black bears and the fox. Then we walked up the hill to the Italian garden and sat on a stone wall in the midst of manicured rose bushes, looking down at a series of steps leading into more gardens, and beyond that the river, fat and sparkling in the sun. We sat there for a moment – Paul leaning against a stone wall and me leaning against him — letting the sun warm our winter skin and letting the wind blow gently across our faces.

It was the perfect moment. But as soon as I had that thought – this is the perfect moment – it began to disappear. I wondered how long should we stay there, enjoying this perfect moment. I wondered if we should get up and keep walking (there was still a lot to see and we should get some more exercise), or should we continue to sit there basking in the sun? I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t just enjoy doing nothing. I wondered what Paul wanted to do, and I wondered if it would it ruin the moment if I asked.

“You ready to walk more?” he asked, as if sensing my thoughts. We stood up and made our way through the rest of the park.

*  *  *
After Maymont, Paul and I went to Cary Street and sat outside at a coffee shop, drinking tea and reading. We bought some chocolate at a chocolatier then headed to the gym. At the gym I listened to a recent Radiolab episode in which they discussed Wilson Bentley, the first person to ever photograph a snowflake. It all started when he was a teenager with a microscope. Bentley put some snow onto a microscope slide and was blown away by what he saw.

The snowflakes had a beautiful crystalline structure that was both mathematical and ethereal. Masterpieces, he called them. But as soon as he had a snowflake in perfect focus it would evaporate and be gone. It was nearly impossible to study such beauty close-up for more than just a moment.

After the gym, Paul and I went home and had dinner and a glass of red wine each. We sat on the couch together and read, and before bed I wrote a poem about snowflakes and beauty. About perfect moments, and how, when we try to look at them too closely, they disappear. Better to just let them fall around us, gently in a thick of white, like a quiet winter snow storm, the likes of which we still have from time to time, even here on our melting Earth.

snow

Day 179: Birthing Baby Bunnies, or, What Was She THINKING?!

Day 179:  Birthing Baby Bunnies, or, What Was She THINKING?!

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 20

# of pages written on new project: 8

Yesterday I was at the gym, listening to the podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and I learned a very bizarre story about a woman named Mary Tofts. I will now recount this story for you all.

Mary was a twenty-four-year-old English peasant who, in 1726, claimed to have given birth to a baby rabbit. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, she went on to complain that she was giving birth to little hairless rabbits at the rate of one per day.

Mary’s somewhat confused explanation was that a while back she had been pregnant and out in the fields working. She had seen a rabbit and chased it, then grown ill and miscarried her child. After that, she became obsessed with rabbits and suddenly starting delivering them rapidly. She could feel them alive and kicking in her womb, but they were always born dead.

Naturally, people were skeptical. John Howard (deemed Eminent Surgeon and Man-Midwife by the Mist’s Weekly Journal) went to examine Mary and announced that she was indeed giving birth to skinned baby rabbits, as well as all manners of other animal parts, such as the legs of a Tabby cat and the backbone of an eel.

Howard invited other prominent doctors to come and observe Mary and her offspring and they, too, agreed that she was popping out dead bunnies and weird animal parts on a daily basis. Nathaniel St. Andre, a surgeon to the Royal Household of King George I, even performed a medical examination on Mary and concluded that the rabbits were bred in her Fallopian tubes.

So that’s when the British Royal family got involved. They were fascinated by freaky Mary Tofts and ordered she be taken to London and studied in a hospital setting. Under close surveillance, however, the bunny-births stopped. Surprise, surprise.

It was then found out that for the past month Mary’s husband, Joshua, had been buying a lot of young rabbits. That looked rather suspicious. Then Mary’s sister, Margaret, was caught trying to smuggle a dead rabbit into her sister’s room. When questioned, Mary claimed that the rabbit was for eating purposes only… That didn’t look good either.

So people started to accuse Mary of making the whole thing up. At first, she denied that she was lying, but a few days later, when she was threatened, she admitted to being deceitful. Apparently she had been stuffing animal parts up herself and faking violent contractions. (Although some blame really needs to be placed on the male doctors, who were so stupid about pregnancy and female anatomy that they actually thought she was giving birth to baby bunnies.)

Mary’s reasoning for the hoax? She wanted to get a pension and no longer have to work in the fields. She was eventually charged with being a “cheat and imposter,” and poor Dr. St. Andre probably felt a little awkward about his recently published 40-page pamphlet: A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets.

Of course, my first reaction to this story was…AWESOME. It’s gruesome and creepy and bizarrely funny. But the most fascinating part of all is the psychology of Mary Tofts. What in the world was going on inside her brain? I mean, it’s one thing to not want to work, but her method of tricking people was awfully weird and extreme.  Did she really think she would get away with it?

Mary Tofts

Mary Tofts

The other day my boyfriend asked me if I was following the Jodi Arias case.  If you aren’t familiar, Arias is currently being accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Anderson, by stabbing him 27 times, slitting his throat, and shooting him in the head, all while he was naked and defenseless in the shower.

Sure, it doesn’t seem like a birthing-baby-bunnies-hoax at first, but there are a lot of similarities between Jodi and Mary. First of all, there’s the lying. Jodi has been lying her pants off ever since the investigation began. First she said that she wasn’t even in the state when the murder occurred. Then, when they uncovered naked pictures of Jodi and Travis, taken the day of the murder in Travis’s home, she admitted to being there, but said she didn’t know about the murder. Later she said people broke in and killed Travis. Later still, she admitted to killing him in self defense. Rather suspicious, you might say.

So both women lied outrageously to people’s faces.  Then there’s also the fact that they both left obvious clues out in the open. In Tofts’s case, her husband buying rabbits and her sister trying to smuggle one was a pretty big indicator of her guilt. In Arias’s case, a week before the murder occurred, a gun was stolen from her grandparents’ home (where she lived), and it turned out to be the very same gun used to shoot Travis in the head. That didn’t look good for Jodi.

And, you know, it’s one thing to kill your boyfriend, but her method was awfully extreme, don’t you think?  You don’t really need to stab someone 27 times AND shoot them in the head.  What was she thinking?  Did she really think she could get away with it?

*  *  *

Recently I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I liked it so much that I went out and bought all of her other books (Sharp Objects and Dark Places) and read them immediately. I wouldn’t really recommend Sharp Objects, but Dark Places was a fast and furious murder-mystery thriller about a woman whose mother and two sisters were brutally murdered when she was seven years old. She testified that her brother did it, and he was convicted, but now, as an adult, she’s beginning to realize that she doesn’t know nearly as much as she thought she did about the incidences of that fateful night.

I’ve never thought of myself as the type to sit around reading paperback murder mysteries, and yet, on Monday night I stayed up until way past my bedtime to finish Dark Places. I was a little freaked out with myself. Why was I so interested in reading about a heinous murder?

It’s not that I wanted to read about murder. I don’t like violence as a general rule, and I skimmed over the paragraphs that described the gruesome death scene itself. It wasn’t the murder that interested me. It was the mystery. All of the characters were lying or withholding the truth for various reasons – even the narrator. And all of the characters made some questionable choices, even if the choices weren’t murder-related.

So it was the choices that interested me. The choice to do something bizarre or ill-advised. The choice to lie about it. It was the psychology of the characters that fascinated me. Why are they doing these things? Why are they saying these things? What is going on inside their minds? Do they really think they’ll get away with it?

I was a psychology major in undergrad, mostly because I wanted so badly to understand why people do the things they do. A bunch of courses and readings and papers later, I came to the conclusion that we still don’t really know.  But that desire is what compels me to read books, and, often, it is what compels me to write about characters who fascinate me.

I’ll never really understand what Mary was thinking, or Jodi – and geez that frustrates me! I want to know! Good thing I’m a writer. I can create a character who lies and does terrible, crazy things. Then I can look inside her head (or her womb) and figure out what’s really going on in there.

Assignment:

Listen to the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast on “Five Famous Hoaxes.”  You won’t be sorry.

Day 176: The Meaning of Despair & Life After the Ides of March

Day 176:  The Meaning of Despair & Life After the Ides of March

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 21

# of literary mags submitted to: 2

I moved to Cape Cod in July of 2012 to take a year off from teaching and focus on writing and figuring out what I really wanted from life.

In the summer and early fall, people would always ask me, “so what are you going to do when your time in Cape Cod is up?”
“I don’t know,” I told them cheerfully. “I’m choosing not to think about that right now.”

I wanted to focus on the present – focus on writing without clogging up my brain with preparations for the future. I figured that in March I would start thinking about my next steps, and until then…I wouldn’t. This was a new way of life for me. I’d always tried to plan for the future, and this time I was leaving it empty on purpose.

Now that my time in Cape Cod is coming to an end, people are starting to ask again – what’s the plan? I know that I will move out of Nate and Nikki’s house in mid to late March. Where will I go? I don’t know. What will I do? Not really sure. Am I worried about it?

Surprisingly, I’m not.

Eva in Cape Cod

Eva in Cape Cod

Of course, I do have two jobs that I can do from anywhere, which makes this uncertainty not quite so scary. One of these jobs is Skype-tutoring Ukrainians. I had not planned on doing this, but I find that my relationship with Sergey has really enriched my life these past few months. He can be very wise, often without meaning to be.

The other day we were reviewing vocabulary words, and I asked him what the word despair meant.

“It is when you cannot find the exit to your problems,” he said.

I thought that was very profound. He asked me what profound meant.

“When something is very deep and important,” I told him. “In an intellectual or spiritual way.”

*  *  *
“I might be frustrated with my life sometimes,” I told my boyfriend yesterday, “but I am so much happier now than I was this time last year.”

Last year I was teetering on the edge of misery with my long commute and my long hours and my lonely life. My existence seemed full of drudgery and practically devoid of meaning. I felt overworked and utterly drained. I wanted to look for a new job and a new place to live, but I felt like I didn’t have the time or the energy.

“I don’t even know what type of job to look for anyway,” I told my friend Nikki on the phone one day. “I don’t know where I want to live. I don’t even know what I want to do with myself. I just know that I don’t want to do this anymore. When I think about myself doing all of this again next year, I just feel so tired.”

I told Nikki that I wished I had time to write, but I didn’t see how that would ever be possible.

Two days later, she offered me a “writer in residence” position in her home in Cape Cod and asked me how soon I could be there.

*  *  *
I was lucky. I was looking for an exit to my problems, and Nikki showed me an entrance into a new situation. But I doubt it always happens like that. I think a lot of people can’t find the exit to their problems because they are waiting to find an exit that is, simultaneously, an entrance into contentment or perfection.

Sometimes you have to exit your problems and then wander around for awhile in the cold rain until you find the door into a warmer, brighter house. The new house will still be a fixer-upper, mind you. But it will be something you’re actually excited about working on. It will be a life you can live in comfortably, happily, at least for a time.

The thing is, you’ll never find that new door if you don’t leave the old house.

It’s definitely weird for me to look into my future and see emptiness after the Ides of March. But I’m not worried about my lack of solid plans. I’m excited to see what will happen. I know that the first step is to exit. The second step is to search.  It’s only the last step that is to find.

A new door might open for me soon?  (This picture was taken in San Miguel, Mexico, where I will soon be for a conference.  sanmiguelwritersconference2013.org)

A new door might open for me soon? (This picture was taken in San Miguel, Mexico, where I will soon be for a conference. sanmiguelwritersconference2013.org)

Day 173: Sleeping with Goats, or, I Really Need to Sneeze!

Day 173:  Sleeping with Goats, or, I Really Need to Sneeze!

 TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 35

# of agents queried: 2

I’ve been terribly sick for the past few days. I’ve been lying around, alternately drinking tea and moaning. Last night I got to that loopy stage of sickness (perhaps brought on by cough syrup) in which I was asking the cat to heal me with her “kitty magic” and babbling on the phone to my boyfriend, asking him if he was moaning because he was getting poked in the crotch by a unicorn. (Turns out no, he was moaning because he’s getting sick, too.)

Because of this sickness, I haven’t done much writing. I’ve still managed to have three Skype tutoring sessions, do some revision work on my novel, and complete a project for my math curriculum job, but none of these require much creative energy, which is what I feel my sickness has taken from me.

On the other hand, am I lacking creative energy, or am I just lacking motivation?

I’m worried I’m using this sickness as yet another procrastination technique. I really should be working on a new novel, no matter how I feel. I have the very bare bones of an idea, but for weeks now I haven’t been able to sit down and start working on it. I’ve had all sort of lame reasons: oh, it’s the holidays, oh, I can’t concentrate when other people are around, oh, I can’t work when I don’t have my desk set up.  And now, oh, I can’t write because my body is aching and my ears feel like they’re stuffed with rags.

I’m worried I’m never going to be comfortable enough to actually get started.

Heal me with your kitty magic!

Heal me with your kitty magic!

Yesterday I was thinking how lucky I am that I don’t live in the middle ages. (I soothe myself with this thought all the time.) Being sick as a peasant in the middle ages probably sucked a lot. I wouldn’t be able to spend a day resting – I’d still have to get up at dawn because those cows aren’t going to milk themselves and the Lord will take away our hovel if we don’t harvest his crops. Not being able to rest and recuperate would probably make me sicker, so eventually they’d slap some leeches on me, and things would probably go downhill from there.

All of which reminds me of a phone conversation I had with my friend Nikki the other day. We were discussing the fact that in the middle ages there was only one bed per household and everyone slept in it: mom, dad, brothers and sisters, aunties, even the family livestock.

“How,” I questioned, “did they get their eight hours of sleep with their proper REM cycles?”

“I’m sure they didn’t,” Nikki said. “That’s why now we live longer and are healthier.”

It’s true, now we all sleep in our own rooms, in our own beds, with black-out curtains and sleep-sound machines. There are even those mattresses for couples – you know the commercials: you can bounce a bowling ball on the right side of the mattress and the left side won’t move an inch. We have all the comforts available now for deep, peaceful sleep, and yet look at all the people who still have trouble sleeping.

“How the heck did the people in the middle ages get a good night’s sleep with their pig snorting at the foot of the bed?” I pondered.

And then I remembered something I’d read about people in the middle ages. For the most part, they were used to the discomforts of their life. Take lice, for example. It’s not that they enjoyed having lice, but having lice was normal and a constant fact of life, so they became indifferent to them and hardly noticed the lice as they went about their days.

“So that’s how they were able to sleep all piled up in the bed with people and animals,” I told Nikki. “They were used to it. And plus, they were probably so tired from working in the fields all day, they didn’t even think about it. They just passed out the minute they hit the bed, whether there were goats in there with them or not.”

Could I sleep in a bed with this goat?

Could I sleep in a bed with this goat?

Speaking of sleep, I had trouble sleeping last night because my nose was so stuffed up. It wasn’t all bad, though, because as I lay awake, mouth-breathing and cursing my weak body for its sickliness, I started to get some ideas for this novel that’s been building inside of me. I started hearing the narrator’s voice and imagining scenes between her and another character. There is another novel in me. It’s trying to come out.
When I woke up this morning, I was still feeling sick. I made it through two and a half hours of Skype tutoring, but it was pretty rough. I was snuffling and becoming hoarse from all the talking.  Worst of all, I kept feeling like I had to sneeze, but it wouldn’t come out.

“Wait,” I told Natalia, holding up my hand, “I’m about to sneeze.” My eyes started to water, and my nose was tingling. We both waited.  But nothing happened. “Never mind,” I told her.

Feeling like you’re about to sneeze and then not: pure torture.

We went back to our discussion of toes. Natalia had asked if she could call them “feet fingers,” and I’d told her she could, but people would probably laugh. “No,”I said, “we just call them t-t—ACHOO!” Suddenly I sneezed loudly and violently.

“I am to say bless you?” Natalia asked.

“Yes.” I sighed with relief. I felt so much better.

Feeling the build-up of a big sneeze and then letting it out: pure pleasure.

*  *  *
Right now I’m in that torturous stage where the novel is building up – my eyes are watering, my nose is tingling – but it won’t come out.  I know, though, that when I finally get it out of my system, I’m going to feel so good.

And I’m going to work on being able to write no matter what my circumstances or surroundings. Because while people on the fanciest of all mattresses in the quietest of all rooms can have trouble sleeping, peasants in a straw bed full of pigs can get a good night’s rest. It’s all about what you’re used to, and how hard you worked on the fields.

P.S.  If this post makes no sense, I blame the cough syrup

Assignment:  

Feet-fingers is adorable, is it not?  Come up with similar words that a non-native English speaker might say.

Day 170: Over-Sharing Online – My Biggest Flaw?

Day 170:  Over-Sharing Online – My Biggest Flaw?

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 14

# of agents queried: 2

Today I queried my twenty-ninth agent. Out of those twenty-nine agents, seven of them, so far, have responded – that’s a respectable 24% response. And out of those seven who responded, four of them requested that I send my full manuscript. Of course, they all ultimately said no to the novel, but still, this means that 14% of all the agents I’ve queried have been significantly interested in my manuscript.

Today I signed up to read at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, where I’ll be teaching a workshop in February. A big part of me wants to read something I’ve already read at other conferences – something that I know is a crowd-pleaser – but I know I really should read from my novel and announce that I’m currently seeking representation. I’m sort of afraid to do that, though, for fear of sounding pushy, or like I’m having trouble getting an agent (which I am). And what if my novel sucks and everyone is sitting there secretly thinking, no wonder she can’t find representation.  It would be embarrassing and scary – putting myself out there like that.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  (Picture taken by me!)

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (Picture taken by me!)

Which is ironic, because I’ve really been putting myself out there a lot lately. Since I started this blog in late August, I’ve written approximately 122,000 words, all about me. At this point I’m feeling pretty narcissistic.

“Eva, it’s too much,” my mom told me yesterday. She was offended by the title of my blog from the other day because it contained the word “penis.”

“You’re writing blogs about your relationship and saying all this personal stuff,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re really putting yourself out there. I don’t know.”

I don’t know either. Is it wise to share so much with the world? Why, exactly, am I doing it?

“What does Paul think about you sharing all this stuff about him?” my mom asked.

“I don’t think he minds,” I said. But suddenly, I wasn’t so sure. I made a mental note to ask him.

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Speaking of sharing, I share a lot of personal information with Sergey, my Ukrainian tutee. I talk to him nearly every day on Skype, and sometimes I run out of questions to ask him, so I talk about myself. He knows, for example, that I went to a birthday party on Saturday and for a hike on Sunday. He knows that I like goat cheese and The Great Gatsby and that my mom’s cat’s name is Zoe.

But, weirdly, he knows next to nothing about my new boyfriend Paul or my feelings about writing or my philosophical questions about life – things that the strangers who read my blog know all about. Why am I fine with sharing intimate on my blog, but it’s so much harder to talk about with people I see on a regular basis?

*  *  *

It seems like over-sharing is what our society is all about at the moment. We’re living in the era of facebook and Twitter and taking pictures of the dinner you just cooked so you can post it online and immediately let everyone know what you’re eating. If I’m over-sharing on my blog posts, at least everyone else is over-sharing, too.

For example, I just noticed that my friend posted on facebook a link to her journalist-fiance’s most recent article on BostInno.com. It’s about how he proposed to her and spent New Years with her and her family watching Magic Mike (that movie with Matthew McConaughay’s abs.) So even in his paid career as a journalist, he’s writing about himself.

And right now I’m reading Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she basically shares every possible detail about herself and Felipe, her husband-to-be. I just finished the part where she relays an intimate conversation in which they listed and described their biggest flaws. “I’d certainly never codified my failings for anyone so honestly before,” Gilbert writes, apparently trying to communicate what a big deal it was that she shared this information with Felipe, but of course this loses it’s emphasis due to the fact that she has now shared this information with the entire world.

Not that I don’t get where she’s coming from. I had to hold myself back from producing a list of my own biggest flaws and posting it right here on this blog. For some reason, there’s something attractive about being that honest.

But what’s more attractive, I think, is sharing intimate details about yourself from a safe distance. Because I can assure you, I am not nearly as likely to just spout off a list of my biggest flaws to anyone willing to listen. Just like I’m not sitting on Skype babbling to Sergey about my feelings or my burgeoning relationship. It’s too scary to be honest to someone’s face. What if the person laughs at you? Or grimaces? What if they yawn? What if they tell you you’re being stupid?

At least, when I’m sharing my thoughts online, I don’t have to see the reactions. And if people are bored, they can stop reading — I’ll never know.

I’d like to say that I over-share on this blog because I’m not afraid of who I am, and I’m not afraid of what people think of me. But that’s not true at all. I’m always worrying about how others see me and what they think of me.

That’s why I don’t mind sending out query letters — it’s safe.  I’m not there when the agent reads my synopsis and first chapter. I’m not there to see it if she rolls her eyes or makes snide remarks. All I see is the polite rejection email, and I can handle that.  What will be scary is going to the San Miguel Conference, knowing that there are agents there, and knowing I could go up to the them and start talking about my novel in person.  Yikes.

Because it doesn’t take that all that many guts to over-share on the Internet. What takes guts is to share face-to-face and see the other person’s reaction.