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Monthly Archives: February 2014

My Beck Obsession & His New Morning Phase

My Beck Obsession & His New Morning Phase

When I was in high school, all my friends had obsessions. Nikki was obsessed with Marilyn Manson and wore scary, Goth make-up. Melissa was obsessed with the Beatles and was “Lucy64” in online Beatles chatrooms. Degra was obsessed with Nirvana and made us celebrate the anniversary of Kurt’s death with a cake. Their obsessions defined them.

I decided I needed to solidify my personality and make a definitive statement about who I was. I decided to become obsessed with Beck.

I already liked Beck’s music, and he was the skinny, shaggy-haired, baby-faced kind of adorable that was just my type. I went about becoming obsessed with him in a very methodical way. I read about him. I cut out pictures of him from magazines and taped them to my wall. I made his face my computer screen saver and declared that I was going to marry Beck one day.

I already owned his recent popular album, Odelay (1996), so I obtained Mellow Gold (with the hit single from 1994, “Loser”), as well as his lesser-known albums at the time: Stereopathetic Soulmanure and One Foot in the Grave.

Stereopathetic Soulmanure is, I have to admit, pretty weird. Some of the songs are more noise than melody (like the aptly-named first track, “Pink Noise”), and there are creepy clips of distorted voices saying things like “the taco trucks were crashed and there was sausage all over and Sasquatch was eating a burrito.” In different circumstances I might have discounted the album, but since I had decided to be obsessed with Beck, I gave it another few listens and began to appreciate it. There’s the weirdly beautiful “Crystal Clear (Beer)” (opening line: “plastic donut, can of Spam, there’s no kindness in this land”), and the hilariously awesome narrative ballad, “Satan Gave Me a Taco.” In recent years, I’ve begun to think of Stereopathetic Soulmanure as a sort of musical collage with random clips of songs and recordings and electronic noise, artfully arranged by Beck.

One Foot in the Grave is a little easier on the ears, but, at fifteen, it wasn’t the sort of thing I normally listened to. It’s a slow, folksy, man-and-his guitar album (eccentric man-and his guitar album), with some songs (such as “He’s a Mighty Good Leader” and “I’ve Seen the Land Beyond”) sounding more like old-timey country than modern rock. But, again, I was now officially obsessed with Beck, so I kept listening, and I grew to love One Foot in the Grave in quite a profound way.

I listened to Beck’s 1998 hodge-podge album, Mutations, on repeat while I made my Science Fair poster Junior year. Then I couldn’t get enough of the dancy, sexy Midnight Vultures album, which came out just as I was entering college in 1999. And, for the past fifteen years, I have continued to follow Beck’s career and buy every single one of his albums. I don’t know if I would say I’m obsessed with Beck these days, but I am definitely a life-long fan.

Beck

Beck

So what is it I like so much about Beck Hansen? As a writer, I love the way he plays with words. His lyrics can sometimes seem random, but his combinations of images and ideas are often poetic, clever, surprising, and even moving. And I love his eccentricities. He released his last album (Song Reader, 2012) as nothing but sheet music and asked people to record their own versions. (What a weirdo!)  He’s also an adorable dancer (see the “New Pollution” video) and a great performer (see how he performed David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” on a circular stage with a 170-piece orchestra.)

But what I admire most about Beck is his ability to combine styles, and his courage to do different things instead of sticking with the same-old same-old. Beck has dabbled in just about every musical genre you can imagine: folk, blues, rock, country, hip-hop, R&B and electronica, often combining multiple genres into one song. He can release a slow, serious, melancholic album like Sea Change (2002) and then follow it up with a playful, upbeat, pop-rock album like Guero (2005). He can write complex songs with bizarre, ironic lyrics, and simple songs filled with raw, plaintive emotion.  In a way, Beck’s discography is a musical collage in itself.

*  *  *

I’ve always been a collage maker and a collage fan. In high school I made mix tapes (packed with Beck songs), and created collages for the covers. I like putting things together that might not normally belong.

In my writing, too, I like to dabble with different genres and styles. And I hope that as my writing career continues, I can be eclectic, like Beck. I want to write somber and soulful literary fiction, followed by fun and frisky YA, followed by weirdly dark fantasy. I don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing time after time.   Like Beck, I want to be constantly evolving.

Beck’s latest evolution is his 2014 album, Morning Phase, which some critics are already calling Beck’s best work in years. I downloaded it at midnight on February 25th – the day it was released.

Morning Phase is a beautiful album. Some music writers are comparing it to Sea Change, and I agree, but the difference to me is that Morning Phase is more hopeful. Whereas Sea Change is about bittersweet endings (“Lost Cause,” “Lonesome Tears,” “Already Dead”), Morning Phase is more of an ethereal awakening (“Morning,” “Cycle,” “Waking Light”).  It’s a sunrise as opposed to a sunset. The songs are soft and slow and, although sometimes bittersweet, there’s a sense of optimism in the bright chords.

Although Beck changes his style from album to album, there are themes that reoccur, and this is especially noticeable between Sea Change and Morning Phase.   He sings of loss, loneliness, broken spirits, broken hearts, (broken drums).  He sings of wanderings both physical and emotional. (Gypsies and vagabonds are common mentions in his lyrics.) He also sings of rebirth. In Morning Phase’s “Heart is a Drum” and “Say Goodbye” there is the sense that things are ending, but instead of lingering in sadness like he did with Sea Change, Beck seems accepting this time. Change is a part of life, and a new day will dawn.

I wouldn’t say I’m love with Morning Phase. It’s a little too 1960’s mellow folk-rock for my tastes.  I tend to be partial to Beck’s more upbeat, playful rock albums:  Midnight Vultures, Odelay, Guero, and Modern Guilt. But, who knows, I might give the album a few more listens and find it becomes one of my favorites.

If Stereopathetic Soulmanue is a mixed media collage, and One Foot in the Grave is a simple pencil sketch, and Midnight Vultures is splashy, neon pop-art, and Odelay is ironic hipster art, then perhaps Morning Phase is a beautiful landscape painting. Something quietly lovely that you experience more with your heart than with your mind.

I no longer need to be obsessed with something in order to define who I am.  But perhaps I was drawn to Beck to begin with because, despite the fact that he tries different styles on for size, he has always had a very clear sense of who he is, and he’s not afraid to show it.  This comes through loud and clear in every single one of his albums.

Beck's Morning Phase is available now!

Beck’s Morning Phase is available now!

How the Dentist Solved My Medical Mystery, or, How to End a Good Plot

How the Dentist Solved My Medical Mystery, or, How to End a Good Plot

*Check out my book review of Golden Boy on the Burlesque Press Variety Show!*

I make weird, machine-like noises in my sleep. My boyfriend has recorded me on his i-phone. It’s a low, groaning hum, sort of like the noise an old refrigerator makes, and I go on for ages without stopping. It’s never bothered me, but it keeps Paul up at night, which I guess means I can’t really complain about him stealing the covers.

I also get headaches sometimes. I’ve been trying for years to figure out the cause and solution. Are they migraines or sinus related? Are they, as I thought at one point, related to my “third eye”? Are they caused by alcohol or stress or sunshine or barometric pressure or dehydration or a combination of all of these things and more? I’m not sure. But I know taking over-the-counter or prescription medication doesn’t make them go away. Doesn’t diminish them at all, really. They’re stubborn.

At the risk of making me sound like an old lady bitching about her medical problems, I will tell you one more bodily issue of mine: indigestion and acid reflux, or, as I recently heard someone refer to it as, my “gird.” It seems unfair to me that I struggle with my “gird” because I’m not overweight, I rarely eat fatty, spicy foods, I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t eat big meals late at night. I’ve also cut onions and garlic out of my diet, and when I drink alcohol these days it’s usually one glass, or an absolute max of two. And still, the indigestion continues…

For years I’ve been telling doctors about my headaches and heartburn and asking for their advice on how to prevent and treat them. Often they seem like they want to roll their eyes at me. After all, I’m relatively young and healthy, and my concerns are minor and not really life-threatening. It often seems like the doctors want to say, “Are you for real? Take some Pepcid, pop a few of these painkillers, and get out of my office. I’ve got people with more serious problems to deal with.”

I saw a doctor in DC a few years ago who actually sighed when I pulled out a handwritten list of questions I wanted to ask her. “OK,” she said, glancing at the clock on her wall. “What’s on your list?”

I asked her how to prevent my heartburn. “Stop eating fatty, spicy foods,” she said.

“I don’t eat those to begin with.”

“OK. Stop eating onions, garlic, pineapple, chocolate. Stop drinking alcohol, coffee, tea, orange juice, cranberry juice.”

“Wait a minute. I have to stop eating chocolate and drinking tea?” The fatty and spicy foods I could live without, but chocolate?!

She shrugged. “Those are common triggers.” She then recommended I take Zantac, wrote me a prescription for some migraine medication, and practically pushed me out the door.

Give up chocolate?  Here's what I say to that!

Give up chocolate? Here’s what I say to that!

The other morning I woke up with a headache.

“You were making your noises again last night,” Paul told me.

“Oh. Sorry about that.” I went to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal…which gave me indigestion. Was I going to have to add Museli and almond millk to my list of trigger foods?!

“I’m excited. I have a dentist appointment today!” I told Paul. I love going to the dentist. They always praise me on my excellent oral hygiene.

And, in some ways, this day was no exception. “No cavities!” the dentist reported. “Your teeth and gums are very healthy.”

“Great,” I said, thinking that was it.

But then the doctor started talking to me about my narrow palate, my open bite, and my mismatched teeth due to some weird, childhood extractions.

“Oh, I know. I have a small mouth and a bad bite,” I said.  I used to work for an orthodontist.  I’m fully aware of my less-than-perfect teeth.

“Do you make noises in your sleep?” the dentist asked.

“Uh, yeah, actually I do.” I demonstrated the machine noises for him.

He nodded. “Do you get headaches?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said. “But I always thought they were stress related. Not related to my bite.” Although, come to think of it, I do sometimes find myself clenching my jaws in the night.

The dentist made a note on his chart. “Do you suffer from heartburn? Indigestion?”

“Yeah, actually I do.” How did the dentist know?  This was getting eerie.

Turns out, the dentist thinks all my issues are related to a sleep disorder caused by my teeth. His suspicion is this: Because of my narrow palate, when I sleep my tongue slips into the back of my throat which obstructs my airwaves, causing the machine noises. The lack of oxygen and my disrupted sleep cycle puts my body into a state of stress, which triggers headaches, and the blockage of my throat all night causes heartburn. I also probably clench my jaw and grind on my poorly-matched teeth, which leads to more headaches.

It all makes sense!

I was an orthodontic assistant for 2.5 years.  Here I am-- second row.

I was an orthodontic assistant for 2.5 years. Here I am– second row.

I was recently reading about how the climax of a good story should be logical and inevitable, and yet surprising to the reader. It must strike them as the most natural conclusion – in hindsight it seems like it couldn’t have been any other way – and yet they should not have been able to see it coming.

I sort of feel like that’s what’s happening to me right now.

I’ve been gathering clues for years. In fact, I now remember that when my mom came to visit me in DC a few years ago, she not only reported the machine noises but also said I seemed to be gasping for breath in my sleep. Yet another red flag for a sleep disorder. And yet, I didn’t put it all together.

Just like getting to the end of a really good mystery novel, I’m sort of elated at this possible revelation. It’s all connected!  I really hope the dentist’s suspicion is true. If it is, I can wear an appliance while I sleep that will put an end to my machine noises, my headaches, and my heartburn.

I take the sleep test tomorrow night, and then I’ll know for sure. I’m crossing my fingers that the story of my medical issues is about to come to an end.

I love my teeth, but they may be the cause of all my problems!

I love my teeth, but they may be the cause of all my problems!

Golden Boy: Lou Henry Hoover & Defying Categorization

Golden Boy:  Lou Henry Hoover & Defying Categorization

*Watch for my full book review of Golden Boy on Burlesque Press this coming Monday!*

The day after I finished reading Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, Paul and I went to a burlesque show hosted by Ben DeLaCreme, one of the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season Six.

Ben trotted around on stage in sparkly outfits, wigs, and six-inch platform shoes, and I was delighted.  I understand drag queens: they are gay men who have adopted the personas of fabulous, female divas, and they’re mainstream enough these days to have had six seasons of reality television created all about them.

What I didn’t understand quite so well was Ben’s helper in the performance, Lou Henry Hoover. Lou was small and spry with a short crew cut, a glittery mustache, and a masculine neck tattoo. He came onto the stage in a silver unitard, showing off a rather large bulge in the crotch area, and yet, with his narrow shoulders and delicate features, I was pretty sure Lou was female.

“I want Lou to do a striptease,” Paul whispered to me. “So I can see what exactly is going on.”

“Yeah, me too.”  I was pretty sure Lou was female and wearing a chest-flattening sports bra, but I wanted confirmation.

For the next hour, Paul and I were supposed to be enjoying a display of pretty girls removing their elaborate costumes in sexy dance, and yet we found that we could not take our eyes off of Ben DeLaCreme, Lou Henry, and a transvestite with Divine-inspired make-up, who we referred to as “the scary one.”

“I feel bad,” Paul said.  “I keep trying to find all the feminine features of Lou and all the masculine features of Ben.”

“It’s like your brain is trying to understand what category they belong in.” I knew because my brain was doing the same thing.

And then I thought of Golden Boy, and suddenly I understood why it is such an important book.

Golden Boy is an impressive debut novel.  Written by a twenty-five-year-old Brit (oh, how I’m jealous!), the prose exudes the confidence of a seasoned writer and deals with the ballsy topic (no pun intended) of a boy who is intersex.

In case you don’t know (I didn’t before reading the book), “intersex” refers to people born with genetic and/or physical characteristics that make it impossible for them to be distinctly categorized as male or female. In Golden Boy, the main character, sixteen-year-old Max Walker, identifies as a boy, but he has both male and female genitalia. Unlike many parents of hermaphrodite children, his parents did not opt for surgery at infancy to turn him fully into one sex or the other.

The novel, told from the first-person perspectives of Max, his girlfriend, his mother, his younger brother, and his doctor is an emotional account of Max’s struggle to understand himself and his body.

Golden Boy was a 2014 recipient of the Alex Award, which is given to adult books that have special appeal for kids ages twelve to eighteen.  And yet, I wonder why Golden Boy is categorized as an adult book and not Young Adult.  Max’s voice, his relationship with his girlfriend, and his angsty inner monologues really seem like YA material.  Was the book labeled adult because of the subject matter, or because of the sections of adult narrative?  If Tarttelin had written solely from Max’s perspective, would the novel have been labeled YA? Or was it placed in the adult section because of it’s one disturbing sex scene, or perhaps because of the overall theme of sexuality?

I’m curious to know because I am often writing stories and novels about teenagers and wondering if they fall into the adult or YA category. If they are told from a teenager’s perspective, are they automatically YA? If they include sex scenes, are they automatically adult?

The AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is coming up next week, and as usual there are several panels that deal with the question of what, exactly, constitutes YA literature. One I might attend is called “How Far Do You Go: Sex in YA Fiction.” It seems I’m not the only one confused about what fits into the category.

Maybe, like Max, Golden Boy is both genres – or neither.  It can’t be categorized.

Unfortunately, this could mean it won’t be read by enough people because it doesn’t clearly fall into a category. That’s why agents and publishers like clear-cut categories. They help to market books.

But come to think of it, we all like things that clearly belong in one category or another.  Ambiguity makes us uncomfortable.

Lou Henry Hoover — male?  female?  
http://www.louhenryhoover.com

While reading Golden Boy, I found myself wondering why Max didn’t just go along with the doctors’ recommendations to do all the necessary surgeries to make him “totally boy.” Wouldn’t that make things so much easier for him and his relationship with his girlfriend?

And yet, the point Tarttelin is trying to make is that Max shouldn’t have to alter his body just because he doesn’t fit into society’s mold.  Why should Max have to go through invasive surgeries (that would render him infertile), hormone treatments, and prosthetics (including a pair of fake testicles)? Why can’t Max just be who he is, in the body he was born with?

The reason, according to the doctors, is because if he doesn’t, society won’t know what to do with him. Just look at me and Paul. We like to think of ourselves as relatively open-minded, accepting people, and yet there we were at the burlesque show, desperate to place Lou into a category. We couldn’t accept his/her ambiguity. We wanted, in fact, for Lou to strip down and show us, once and for all, whether he was a boy or girl.  It didn’t occur to us that he could be both, or neither.

Towards the end of the show, Ben DeLaCreme announced that Lou was going to come out and do a striptease.  “Yay, just what we wanted,” Paul and I said.

Lou danced onto the stage in trousers and suspenders, lip-syncing to a crazy, old Bo Carter song with the lyrics “let me put my banana in your fruit basket.”  When Lou took off his clothes, he was wearing a flesh-colored body suit underneath with a fig leaf painted on the crotch.  The joke was that we’d never know for sure.

And the point of Golden Boy is that it shouldn’t matter what Lou or Max have between their legs.  Well, no, not exactly.  It does matter.  Sex and sexuality matter greatly. What shouldn’t matter is the category.  Where we make the mistake is in insisting that everyone belongs in one group or the other.

And we make this mistake with books, too. After all, don’t teenagers read “adult” books, and adults read books meant for teens? Does it make sense to keep sex out of YA books when sexuality is such an important part of growing up? Sometimes a book doesn’t fall perfectly into a category. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading.

No matter what your age, Golden Boy is definitely worth reading, and Lou Henry Hoover is definitely worth watching.  In fact, Tarttelin’s book is a plea to society:  let Max be Max and let Lou be Lou.  Stop trying to strip them down, examine them, and force them into a category.  It’s hard for us to understand sometimes, but we have to work on accepting people (and books!) and loving them for exactly who and what they are.

lou

Seattle’s Golden Boy — Lou Henry Hoover
http://www.louhenryhoover.com

What I Want in a Wardrobe and a Book, or, Why I Need Adult Play Clothes

What I Want in a Wardrobe and a Book, or, Why I Need Adult Play Clothes

Yesterday, as usual, I had nothing to wear. I stood, wrapped in a towel after my shower, looking forlornly at my closet. Oh sure, things were hanging there. Old things, uncomfortable things, impractical things. There was the denim dress I got at the thrift store that’s too big but I wear it anyway, along with a black dress that’s comfortable but makes me look pregnant. There was an itchy green sweater and stretched-out black pants, both of which I have been wearing since high school. There was array of cocktail dresses I never have opportunities to wear, and the tight purple sweater dress that I can only wear if I’m willing to suck in my stomach for the entire day.

Here I am in 2005 wearing this green sweater I've had since high school.

Here I am in 2005 wearing this green sweater I’ve had since high school.  I still wear it on a regular basis and on every St. Patrick’s Day.  You’ve probably seen me in it.  

I pulled on a trusty pair of leggings and noticed there was a hole in the butt. I put on my blue cotton mini dress and noticed it had armpit stains and was beginning to lose its shape. I was already feeling ugly and frustrated from a recent bad haircut, and now I was feeling frumpy and frustrated about my clothes.

“I think I’m going to go to the thrift store today,” I said to Paul. “I need some new clothes.”

“Maybe you should get actual new clothes,” he suggested.

It wasn’t a bad idea. Most of my clothes are pre-worn, and then I proceed to wear them for the next decade, until I am so raggedy-looking that I could be mistaken for a bag lady. (This might be why my Algebra students my first year teaching wanted to get me on the reality TV show “What Not to Wear.”)

So I did something I hate to do… I went to the mall.

Once at the mall, I continued to stare at racks of clothes, feeling baffled and frustrated. Why were all the clothes at the mall so ugly, so uncomfortable, so impractical? I used to be able to go into Forever 21 and find a cute, inexpensive dress, but now all I could find was ugly, cheap stuff like this:

This dress only costs $12.80. It is also hideous.  www.forever21.com

I went into Macy’s and JC Penny’s, but their endless Ladies’ departments were full of grandma clothes and church attire, while the Juniors’ sections (which were blasting One Direction and had racks of fluffy prom dresses) were obviously aimed at girls ages eleven to fourteen. The other stores in the mall weren’t much better. The Gap and Banana Republic were too preppy (obviously). Ann Taylor and The Limited were too plain. Nordstrom’s was too expensive. The Express only had clothes for the office or clothes for the club – neither of which I frequent these days. Old Navy was a joke of a store with boring, cheaply-made clothes and ridiculous sizes. According to Old Navy sizing, I am a child’s Medium.

My last stop was Nordstrom’s Rack. Oh, here was a sort-of interesting sweater. Free People – is that a good brand? I pulled it off the rack. It was marked down, from $200 to $99. Hmm. I didn’t like it that much. Here was a cute sweater at a more reasonable price, but it was made of lightweight material and had three-quarters length sleeves. That wasn’t going to keep me warm in the damp cool of Seattle! Here was a cute pair of jeans – I’ll try them on. But oh yeah. I just remembered that I hate wearing jeans because the only ones that don’t look dumpy on me are tight, and then I find them too restricting, especially in the tummy area.  Plus they gap in the back and show off my underwear.  Honestly, jeans are the worst.

I ended up coming home from the mall with nothing but a new pair of leggings from Forever 21.

“You know problem is?” I said to Paul later, wagging my finger passionately.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, smiling. (I have to say, he’s an incredibly sweet boyfriend for letting me bitch about my hair and clothes and other girly frustrations, and then, when he asks if he can tell me about the video game he’s been playing, I say only if it takes one minute or less.)

“The problem… Well, there are several problems. The first is that I’m a unique person with a unique style, and I need unique clothes that are not found at the mall.”

Paul agreed.

“The second problem is that I’m not going to spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothes. I mean, I’m sure I could find cute things at Anthropologie, but I’m not going to spend 150 dollars on a cardigan that I’ll probably spill red wine on the first time I wear it.”

Paul agreed. He spills things on himself all the time.

“And the third problem is that I don’t have a normal life. I don’t need work clothes because I work at home, and I don’t need fancy clothes because I don’t go anywhere fancy. What I need are adult play clothes.”

Paul grinned, probably imagining me in some kind of a romper.

The problem, I went on to elaborate, is that most people consider jeans and tops to be adult play clothes, but I don’t like wearing jeans for a myriad of reasons. I need short, casual dresses I can wear with leggings, and cute, warm, reasonably-priced sweaters (none of this three-quarters sleeves crap) that I can wear at my computer while I’m writing or Skype tutoring. I need outfits that I can do my mid-day stretches in, but that are still cute and presentable enough to wear to my afternoon job at the elementary school and the occasional evening happy hour with a friend. I need easy-fitting clothes that don’t make me look like a bag woman. I need clothes that are fun and colorful without being too juvenile (I am thirty-two, you know, and should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 anyway).  I need quality clothes that won’t totally break the bank.

I can imagine what these outfits might look like, but when I go to the store, I don’t see anything that matches what I had in mind. I’m always having to settle for not-quite-right, which is why I so often shop at the thrift store. If it’s not going to be exactly what I want, why pay full price?

“What you need to do,” Paul said, “is commission someone on Etsy to make you some clothes. Then you can tell them exactly what you want, and you’ll get unique outfits.”

I was doubtful this could work, but I searched Etsy for “short, casual dresses.” I ended up finding a Russian woman living in Boston who makes her own whimsical-style clothing. Most of her items were plus-sized, but I liked her general idea of clothing, and I decided to go out on a limb and buy the one dress she had in a small. I’m preparing myself for the very-likely possibility that it won’t fit, or I won’t like it, but on the off-chance that it does, and I do…. Maybe I really could commission her to make me some adult play clothes that are exactly what I’ve always wanted!

I don’t have a normal life anymore. I quit my regular teaching job and created a life for myself out of random part-time jobs and the dream of being a writer. I’ve never been satisfied with doing the same things (or wearing the same things) as other people.

In fact, when I think about it, the books I like to read (and want to write) have a lot in common with the wardrobe I wish I had. I like novels that are colorful, unique, high-quality, and a little edgy. Easy and fun without being too juvenile.

I guess, when the world doesn’t have what I want, I have to find a way to create it. And when I can’t create it on my own, I have to find someone who can help me.  EuropeaninBoston — you make the clothes.  I’ll write the books.  Everybody wins.

Vedetta hand dyed mini dress. Size: Small

The dress I ordered off Etsy from EuropeaninBoston.

Guess the Valentines from Literary Lovers!

Guess the Valentines from Literary Lovers!

By some strange magic, I opened a library book today and the following Valentines floated out. They appear to have been written by famous literary lovers. Can you guess the lovers and the books from whence they came? The answers are at the bottom of this post.  Happy Valentine’s Day, and remember, true love can always be found in a book.

Even a zombie can be your Valentine!

In a book, even a zombie can be your Valentine!

#1

Roses are red,
We met at Minitrue.
See you at the clearing.
(Big Brother is watching you.)

#2

Roses are red,
Your dock light is green.
My love for you is
Nothing but a dream.

#3

My blood is red,
You glitter in the sun.
You’re cold, old and boring,
But to me, you’re the one.

#4

The stolen rose is red
Your coat is dark and hairy.
I’m falling for you now,
You’re really not so scary.

 #5

Roses are red,
The sea is dark wine.
I’m waiting for you,dear,
You’ve been gone a long time.

#6

You can’t see red roses
Now that you’ve gone blind.
Nevermind about your wife,
Won’t you please be mine?

#7

Your hair is reddish-ginger,
And all we do is argue.
Our creator says we’re poorly-matched,
But still, I bloody love you.
ANSWERS:

#1 To Winston from Julia (1984)
#2 To Daisy from Jay (The Great Gatsby)
#3 To Edward from Bella (The Twilight Series)
#4 To the Beast from Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
#5 To Mr. Rochester from Jane (Jane Eyre)
#6 To Odysseus from Penelope (The Odyssey)
#7 To Ron from Hermione (The Harry Potter Series)

Daisy and Jay.  photo credit

Daisy and Jay. photo credit

Are Writers Vain? Orwell, Doll Farts, & Facebook Movies Explain

Are Writers Vain?  Orwell, Doll Farts, & Facebook Movies Explain

*Check out my creepy short-short story, Dolls, on the Burlesque Press Variety Show!*

Last week everybody was posting their “facebook movies,” and I have to admit that I watched no one’s except for my own (it was so-so) and my boyfriend’s (only because he made me). I enjoyed my mom’s facebook post on the matter, though, which said, “Lovin’ all you guys’ facebook movies! I can’t share mine because the photos Facebook picked out for me include ex-boyfriends, my son’s former girlfriends, random pictures of a dead snake and a game of Blockus… it’s just not workin’ for me!”

Unlike my mom, I tended to agree more with someone else on facebook who posted, “Dear everyone, I don’t give a shit about your facebook-compiled movies.” It’s mean, but true.

Over the past decade, facebook has shown how vain we all really are. People post on facebook when they’ve won an award or had a baby or cooked something really awesome for dinner. They post quotes they think are clever  and pictures of themselves they sexy. Hey, I’m no exception. I post when I get stories published. I post pictures of myself looking cute. I post every single entry of this blog. The other day, I posted the following:

“Just taught myself to play a pretty easy Hole song on the guitar. Paul misunderstood me and thought that I had learned how to play a song called “Doll Farts.”

Followed by:
“I thought it was about a girl who was attractive but gassy,” he said.

Why did I post that?  To entertain people and make them laugh, mostly.  But there was also a little part of me saying,  “hey, look at me– my life is funny, and I’m teaching myself songs on the guitar… I’m awesome!”

I like to think what I do on facebook is not bragging or attention-seeking. I like to think it’s just sharing my news and thoughts with my (603) friends and family members. But the truth is, all facebook posts have at an element of vanity and egoism involved.

I worry a lot about being vain. Sometimes I feel vain when writing this blog. Sometimes I feel vain about writing at all. Do I really think I’m special enough, smart enough, enlightened enough to be sending my blather out into the world for others to read?

My facebook profile photo.

My facebook profile photo.

There’s a great essay by George Orwell called “Why I Write,” and in it he discusses four motives for writing prose. They exist in every writer, he says, in different degrees and proportions, and the first motivation is sheer egoism:  “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.”

As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. A big part of the reason why I’m so desperate to publish a novel is not because I think the world is going to be a better place with my book in it, but  because I want to prove to myself and everyone else that I am special enough and smart enough to make it in the literary world. I want my ego validated.

Writers share these egoistic desires, Orwell says, with “scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen.” (And I would probably add musicians, actors, and doctors to the list.) But most people, he says, are not innately selfish after the age of thirty. That’s where I disagree. What Orwell didn’t realize was that social media like facebook and Twitter now make it possible for everyone to feed their egos and stay vain long after childhood is over.

George Orwell.  photo credit.

George Orwell. photo credit.

And yet, there is obviously a difference between composing facebook posts and writing a novel. As Orwell says, “writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” No one would ever do it, he writes, unless they were compelled by a force they cannot quite understand. “At the very bottom of their motives,” he says, “there lies a mystery.”

And perhaps it is this mystery that keeps us writers writing, even though writing is often the opposite of ego-boosting. I have been rejected and frustrated by my writing a bajillion times, and yet I keep going back to my lap-top to try again. That’s not vanity; it’s more like insanity.

Life is a struggle for pretty much everyone, no matter what their profession or situation. Our poor egos are constantly being beaten down as we experience the failures and frustrations that come with being a person in the world. Maybe that’s why we go to facebook.  It’s a place to be vain and feel validated for even our smallest of accomplishments. (Hey look — I cooked a goat cheese fittatta!  Hey look — my son did a funny dance!)  I have yet to get an agent interested in any of my novels, but when I posted about “Doll Farts” I got seven “likes” in the span of an hour.  That’s the sort of instant gratification our egos sometimes require.

So Orwell was right — writers are selfish and vain — but so is everyone else.  And what motivates us all is often a mystery.

Related Watching:  

An Honest Facebook Movie

THE VANITY CONTINUES! Last week I posted a “two truths and a lie” question. Here is the answer….

Eva’s Two Truths and a Lie: Hollywood version
1. I once talked to Sarah Jessica Parker and told her I was sweating like a pig. – TRUE. I was sitting behind her on the set of Failure to Launch in New Orleans, and it was about a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity. The hair and make-up people were mopping sweat off of SJP, and she turned around to assure me that she was wearing antiperspirant. “Oh, don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m sweating like a pig.”

2. When I talked to the youngest Hansen brother on a movie set, I told him I loved “MMMBop.” – LIE. I did see the Hansens on a movie set, and I did overhear the youngest one saying, “yeah, I know everyone hates “MmmBop,” but I never actually talked to him.

3. I once had a speaking part on a TV pilot, and my line was “that guy’s hot.” TRUE. It was one of those TV shows where they re-enact unsolved crimes, and I was the friend of the girl who got abducted. It was set in the 80’s, so they crimped my hair. The pilot was never picked up, so I never got to see myself saying my line.

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.

 

How to Write Fiction: Two Truths & A Lie

How to Write Fiction:  Two Truths & A Lie

Recently I forced my middle-aged Ukrainian ESL student to play something that is usually brought out as a drinking game in college dorm rooms or as an ice-breaker at Christian youth groups: Two Truths and a Lie.

If you’ve never played this game, the premise is simple: tell two true things about yourself and one lie, and make people guess which is the lie.

Sergiy got the hang of it pretty quickly. It’s all about making up lies that contain enough of the truth to sound plausible.

Funny, that’s what most fiction is, too.

*    *    *

The other day I was bemoaning the fact that if I rewrite the novel I recently finished to make it more plot-heavy and commercially-viable, it’s going to stray too much from real life. But then I had to remind myself: fiction is not real life. Fiction resembles real-life, but it’s a story: a way to take bits and pieces of the real world and mold them into a structure that makes more sense than our random, crazy lives usually do.

When my friend Jeni was reading my novel and giving me feedback, she said my main character (a nineteen-year-old girl who has just moved to Los Angeles and has some suspiciously-similar qualities to yours truly) seemed way too naïve. She suggested getting rid of the scenes where the girl goes for runs at night in her sketchy Long Beach neighborhood because they made the character seem crazy and stupid – unbelievably so.

But, Jeni, I wanted to object, when I was nineteen and living in L.A., I did go for nighttime walks in my dangerous Long Beach neighborhood. All the time.  At nineteen, I was incredibly naïve and crazily stupid.  My character is realistic!

Once, for example, a friend and I went under a freeway overpass in Compton to take pictures of gang graffiti for the friend’s school project and ran into a bunch of very weird bums and saw what we were thought was a dead body. (We never did report that to the police, come to think of it.)

Another time, I was walking by myself in the park at night and was approached by a bunch of sketchy dudes who were probably in the Crips, judging form the blue bandannas they were all wearing. I said hello to them, told them no, I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend when they asked me, and then I continued on my merry way. When I got home, I was all giddy and bragged to my roommate: “I talked to some gang members in the park!”

As fascinating (and disturbing) as these anecdotes are, I can’t necessarily use them in my fiction. It’s frustrating, but the old adage is true: fact is stranger than fiction, and can often come across as unbelievable. When writing fiction, you have to write what seems real in the story world you’ve created, and that’s not always the same as the real world.

Take dialogue, for instance. You should never write the way people actually talk, or your dialogue would go something like this: “Ummm, yeah. I don’t know. I mean, it’s sort of like… It’s sort of like I want to, but um, I don’t, I don’t know how exactly. Or something, like maybe… Yeah, no, I don’t really know.”

Yuck. Get rid of those ums and wells and likes unless you want to completely bore your readers. Screenwriter John Trubly has a good quote: “Dialogue is not real talk; it is highly selective language that sounds like it could be real.” There it is again: a lie that contains enough of the truth to be plausible. Good dialogue, he says, “is always more intelligent, wittier, more metaphorical, and better argued than in real life.”

Lindsay Bluth and Bob Loblaw’s transcript on Arrested Development

 

Back when I used to be in creative writing workshops, this would happen all the time:  Someone would say to the writer whose story was being critiqued, “I didn’t really believe that your character would do x-y-z,” and the writer would get defensive and say, “but that actually happens all the time! It happened to me!” The writer is bewildered – how can something that has actually happened in real life not be seen as realistic?

The answer is because it’s not believable in the story. The writer has chosen to create a fictional world, with fictional characters, and now the writer has to stay true to the story’s reality and not his or her own.

*  *  *

I’ll admit, the novel I recently wrote had a lot of autobiographical elements. Not everything, of course  — I never had an affair with a movie star. But enough to where I’ve been hanging on to some of the aspects of the novel that don’t work because “they really happened.”

If I want to improve the plot, and the novel itself, I have to remember that it’s fiction. It’s a story. I need to separate myself a bit more from the main character and tell her story, not my own realities. It will be a lie – all fiction is a lie – but it will contain enough of the truth to seem real, and through this carefully-crafted lie, I will hopefully reveal some truths about real life.

Eva’s Two Truths and a Lie: Hollywood version
1. When I talked to Sarah Jessica Parker on a movie set, I told her I was sweating like a pig.
2. When I talked to the youngest Hansen brother on a movie set, I told him I loved “MMMBop.”
3. I once had a speaking part on a TV pilot, and my line was “that guy’s hot.”

Answer in next week’s blog post!

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.