Category Archives: Life

Why Bad Books Matter (to Writers, anyway.)

. . . So, to tell you about bad books, I have to go back a little bit in history; I have to tell you a little about nursing school. Nursing school, you see, is as close to hell as you can get as a nominally free citizen– the hours are brutal, the respect is nil, the wages are zero, and you see many sights that Cannot Be Unseen. Really freaky stuff that messes with your head, too, dead people and surgical screw-ups and the vacant gazes of people who have decided they want to die and you’re just an inconvenient pause in their plans. Not to mention frequently running into patients who like to flick HIV-laden blood in your face and expose their shriveled manhoods to you and other indignities. It’s not fun.

I went through nursing school, the first semester, while heavily pregnant with my 4th child (not counting the stepson.) The second semester, I was a weepy postpartum mess trying to pump breastmilk in hostile conditions while maintaining a 4.0 GPA and raising a family. Yeah, not good. My baby turned sickly from being in daycare all day, which led to hospitalizations and drama, and I spent my second year in nursing school going to school all week and then working all weekend as a “nurse tech,” which is basically a technical term for “the bitch of every real nurse on the floor.” I also developed plantar fasciitis, which is about as much fun as having someone do a crucifixion on your feet every night before work.

During my preceptorship, I had to assist in delivering a dead baby girl. That messed me up, badly. I barely had the ability to finish my final project and walk the stage (although my grades were, annoyingly to everyone else, still at the top of the class, if not the actual top. I didn’t bother to check.) After I graduated, I was elated. I immediately got a job, a job with a staggering amount of personal responsibility that I had also heard had a high turnover rate (I should have been suspicious right then) but it was a real job! With a real wage! And, wonder of wonders, I didn’t have to go to school anymore! I could READ again!

So, being the more-than-slightly overly-ambitious woman that I have always been, I decided that what I needed to do was to read the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list.  I sunk a large amount of money into a stack of the books on the list (from Amazon, of course) and dove in. I started with “Henderson the Rain King”, which was a somewhat odd choice, but the cover looked really neat with the big lion on it and, hey, Saul Bellow. Real literature with a capital L, people.

And it was wonderful– Henderson the Rain King is a really great book, especially when you’re in your mid-30s and wondering if life has a point and, if so, WTF is it?

The job didn’t last long– my husband transferred to Florida and I gratefully handed in my resignation before management could find a way to pin me with some legal responsibility for the next screwup. And, given that all my stress was suddenly gone, the baby we’d been trying to conceive for the previous year decided that, yes, he’d immediately be conceived after all, so I never went back to work as a nurse.

But I kept trying to read, with the stated goal that I’d read all those darn books by the time I was 40. By the time I hit 39, with several major health problems along the road, my newest toddler with a rare disease, and yet another baby on the way, I decided that finishing wasn’t really the point. I wasn’t going to fail any huge existential crisis by not finishing by 40, after all.

And I’ve kept plugging along at it. At this point, today at the ripe age of 43, I have seven titles left out of 100– James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Ulysses,” “The Big Money” by John Dos Passos, “The Ambassadors” by Henry James, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Studs Lonigan Trilogy” by James T. Farrell, and the ominously 12-volume “A Dance to the Music of Time” by Anthony Powell.

I’m basically down to the books that I am having to force myself through by sheer will. I have developed a fondness for Henry James, so he gets a pass, and I haven’t delved deep enough into the Dance to the Music of Time to even really get a feel for whether or not it’s a monstrosity or a delight, but the others . . . ohhhh. I loathe them. I hate them with a rare passion which could fill volumes.

And, yet, these are books which have been acknowledged, by thousands of people, to be true classics of Western Literature. How dare I, a humble little fantasy author, dare to say that they’re bad books? How, if they are bad books, do they get so much acclaim?

And there’s the secret right there, my dear readers: tastes vary. Some of these books on this list were written a long time ago, for very different audiences. Some of them have completely lost their cultural context– quick, tell me the relevance of all the people John Dos Passos includes in his character sketches, given that they’re a bunch of union rabble-rousers and Communists from the 1919-1940 period! Tell me how much “Tobacco Road” has ever mattered, considering what a schlocky piece of prejudicial crap it is, other than to give Yankees another reason to look down on Southerners. And please, find me a reason to respect VS Naipaul besides the fact that he comes from an underrepresented culture so we’re forced to swallow his bilge wholesale.

Some of the books, most of the books, on this list are amazing books. They’ve changed my heart, touched my soul, given me hope and strength, and allowed me to better navigate the tides of my life. And some of them have been crap, and I’ve read them wondering why I force myself through this. I’m not getting a grade– no one is giving me some kind of medal for reading these books. I’m not getting extra credit. So why, besides some kind of completionist obsession, would I force myself through something like “Catch-22” when it’s like listening to a long boring joke told by some tottery old uncle with no sense of humor?

As far as I can figure out, fumbling through these books on my own, the bad books have something to teach me as well. They may teach me something about a part of our history that I’m not too familiar with– Under the Volcano, Zulieka Dobson, and Angle of Repose all fit in that category. They may teach me about how to write truly repellent characters– for this one, all you have to read, really, is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. They may teach me different writing techniques, they may teach me nothing that I can even discern at first, but just getting through them requires me, as a writer, to do the most difficult thing that any writer has to do:

I have to put myself into someone else’s head.

That’s never easy– so many of our characters are just us, different aspects of us, writ large and split into different people. My daughter, who is reading my novel “Dragon Venom” right now, sometimes comes up to me and points out a passage that sounds like some aspect of my personality, digs out a joke that sounds like something I would have made, or accuses me wholesale of excavating one aspect of my psyche and turning it into a character entire. Well, of course, I am the person I know best. Of course I mine myself for material. But I also have to examine other people, learn about them, predict what they would do, and make extrapolations from there. And that’s where these books that I loathe come in handy.

Because they are decidedly NOT me. I’d never have gotten myself into the mess that the protagonist let himself in for in The Magus. As much as I love DH Lawrence, I would have killed off every character in “The Rainbow” rather than have it end as it did. The House of Mirth made me hate weakness in myself as much as it made me hate the protagonist for her weak decadent fate. Some of the characters make so little sense to me (hello, JP Donleavy), that I can’t even begin to figure out what they’re thinking. And I don’t want to– they’re jerks.

But that’s been the only good part about all these bad books. Many people disagree that they’re bad in the first place– to say, publicly, that you hate James Joyce because he was playing the system doesn’t make you especially well-loved by people who admire him for masterfully playing the system. That’s an insolvable problem, there. I will always see him as a man obsessed by his own literary fame, and they will see him as a genius who struggled to make his vision clear to the world. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

And I will, for these next two months, agree to force myself through it, no matter how bitter the taste. Maybe I will learn something. Maybe– the man had talent, that’s for sure, I just disagree about the uses he put it to. I’m halfway through “Catch 22” and “The Ambassadors”, just a long boring bath or two from finishing Studs Lonigan and The Big Money. The Dance to the Music of Time 12 book series? Seriously? I am having the hardest time with that one. So far, Book 1 has been a “British boys away at boarding school” thing and it’s giving me no particular thrills. I am hoping that it gets interesting quickly, because that’s the only stumbling block on my road to completion of this now-decades-long reading challenge that I saddled myself with.

I am hoping to learn something that I will need on this next novel-writing journey. Because my goal, dear readers, is not to just crank out another novel in a boring trilogy and pad out my word count. My goal, my eternal goal, is to get better with each book– I want you to care about my characters. I want you to cringe when they die, rejoice when they win, suffer with them when they’re in troubles and tribulations. I want them to be as real people as they can be, given that they’re characters in a book. I want the action to flow naturally and logically from the plot. I don’t want to shrink from making the big decisions– I want the bravery and the love to do the right thing, to write the book the right way, and to give you a book at the end of it which will make you happy to have read it.

And that is why bad books matter– they show you, better than anything else, what you don’t feel is true, what you don’t feel is right, and how not to do things.

Wish me luck in applying these lessons!

 

 

 

 


The “more” to life part

Writing, it sometimes seems to non-writers, should happen no matter what else is going on in a writer’s life. If times are good, if times are bad, whatever the case may be, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason for someone NOT to be writing, they often think. But, of course, writing is not like that, not at all.

I know many writers who approach writing as “just a day job” and produce work every day, keeping regular work hours of the 9-5 variety, and pumping out book after book, article after article, much of it readable and enjoyable and quite good. And I know a few writers who only write when inspired, who only create when the muse is in residence and the iron is hot.

I used to be one of those “inspiration” writers, myself. It’s part and parcel of being a bipolar person– when you’re up, the writing flows out of you uncontrollably. When you’re down, you’re as dead inside as a stone and you’d get words out of one of those rocks just as easily as your depressed mind.

When I was working on my first novel, however, I discovered that it is possible to write in a businesslike way, day after day, whether you feel inspired or not, and even if you’re feeling depressed. I set myself a daily limit and, rain or shine, I wrote those words each day. It helped keep me stable, really, having that requirement waiting for me. It’s too easy to let depression win and stay inert. Having something you MUST do– taking a walk, writing a book, caring for a child, watering your plants– well, it helps to get you out of bed at least.

The only problem comes in when it’s outlining and creating time– you really HAVE to be inspired to sit down and come up with the bones of the story itself. Otherwise, you’re just staring at a blank page and cursing.

And all my inspiration this month has been spent on the surprise I was planning for my 25th anniversary. You see, my husband was suddenly sent to El Paso for a two week work trip, leaving me home alone with the kids. And, haha, alone with the bank account. I told him that I needed to spend some money, and he agreed. And I poured everything I had into a home redecoration project that ate up every second of those two weeks.

It was an ambitious project– I painted the walls and ceilings of the nursery bedroom and the gameroom area, stripped and painted two dressers, a bookshelf, and a coffee table, and gave the coffee table a tiled top with painted Mexican tiles. Then I had to polyurethane it all. My son welded, painted, and repaired our large birdcage so we could move the parakeet to larger digs. We bought new bedroom furniture for two bedrooms and assembled it (damn you, ikea directions), hung all this new art we bought, painted and painted and painted some more, cleaned, organized, and spent way more money than anticipated. (Photos of it are on my Facebook page, if you’re interested.)

And, frankly, it was exhausting. Each of the rooms had to be entirely emptied of the accumulated toys and junk that was shoved into closets and piled up in corners, the furniture had to be carried downstairs so it could be repaired and repainted, the walls had to be cleaned and patched before they could be painted, and since we don’t have a paint sprayer, it all had to be rolled or brushed by hand. All of the junk had to be gone through, item by item, and either put away or thrown away. I made multiple trips to hardware stores, tried all kinds of new home improvement techniques that I had never tried before (texturing and patching drywall is hell, FYI), and still had to care for children and feed them and all that jazz as well.

It left nothing for writing.

And, now that I am finally done with it all . ..  boom, another arthritis flare. Grrrr. Not what I had intended. Just typing this is making my finger joints ache miserably.

But, in the quiet moments, my characters are talking again. That sounds insane to non-writers, probably, but they do exist, living their separate little lives deep in the subconscious, making biting comments about each other and speculating about the plot-to-be. The plot is building, little pieces coming together to form the first outline, the structural “how-to” that will undoubtedly be unrecognizable by the time the novel is finally complete, but which is vital to actually getting the action moving. The first scene is burned into my mind, and the words keep coming to the surface, just waiting for me to write them down.

But I haven’t opened that Word file and named it yet. Because once I do, there’s no turning back. There won’t be time for decorating the house or making macrame plant hangers or finishing my daughter’s Halloween costume. Or even for finishing the memoir that I’m editing or the YA novel that I have in progress. Once the next novel begins, it’s a freight train that will run, day and night, for at least two or three months, a minimum of 2000 words per day, whether I feel the love or not.

And I’m not quite there yet, because I want to clear the decks. I honestly don’t know how some writers can do more than just work on their One Big Project. For me, it’s like a Big Novel that I’m in the process of reading. Sure, if I’m reading a few things that aren’t too compelling, I can read a few pages here, a chapter there, of half a dozen books at a time. But if I’m reading, say, War and Peace, there’s no room left in my mind for anything else. The big idea takes over and all I can do is live inside that space.

I also need to finish up these last few books in the Best 100 novels list before I begin, because I can’t read anything that anyone else has written when I’m working, or it starts to bleed into my style. I couldn’t even read anything over the past two weeks, I was just too exhausted by the entire project. Now I have a couple weeks where I can hurriedly finish up these last 6 titles I’m reading, finish this memoir and get it published, get the kids going on their homeschool curriculum, finish all the Halloween sewing, and try to grind through this YA novel really quick.

But Valerius is lounging on a chaise, his booted feet crossed, a glass of wine in his hand, and his eyebrow quirked at my tardiness. I know, I know, you want your screen time. And, I promise, it’s coming. I have October and November entirely blocked out for just writing “The Blood of the Queen.” That won’t be enough time, so it will have to start in September, probably mid-month, so I need to get going on this stuff fast.

But, anyway, that’s the “more to life than writing” part. I could just write, but it wouldn’t be much of a life, now would it? I don’t blame authors who complain that their readers are too demanding, because life happens and things don’t go according to plan. As a reader, though, I know how frustrating it is to start a trilogy and not have a second or third book to read for, oh, DECADES after the first book or two are done. And I don’t plan on that happening here. I really want to move on to Book 3 as soon as Christmas is over, but we will see what happens. As dicey as my health has been lately, it’s hard to promise anything to anyone. I have small children who’ve been desperately wanting to go to the lake, but that’s pretty much impossible for me when my arthritis is so bad that I can’t even get around the house.

If I have a wish for Christmas, I want to be healthy! I have so many things I want to do.


Suicide Kings

My heart is broken yet again. Another singer has killed himself, killed himself in the ultimate abnegation of his own vocal skills– hanging, a psychological end to the voice and breath itself. And I am angry. And hurt. And very very sad.

Chester Bennington wasn’t my favorite musician ever. Chris Cornell, yes, he was. But Chester was yet another tormented and talented soul, a man with a family and things to live for, an artist who was still producing new works, a human being who deserved better than a solitary end.

I don’t even have words for how frustrating this is– I know how it feels to be that alone, to feel that desperate, and to take those steps towards making the pain cease. Luckily for me, someone had my six and was able to pull me back from the brink, twice. But this is an ongoing problem for people who have suicidal impulses. I have fought my own fight with depression since 12, and with suicidal thoughts since I was seventeen. Goodness knows how long Chester fought, but judging from his lyrics and his life history, he’d been fighting the same demons since his early teens at least. And Chris Cornell, too– another artist, another life history that begins with severe mental problems in their early teens. In both cases, these talented beautiful humans lost their battle, and it isn’t right.

We need people to be able to ask those hard questions, every damned day if you have to. “How are you feeling?” “How are the bad feelings today?” “Do you feel like hurting yourself?” “Can I help you somehow?” “Do you need meds/rest/food/help?” “What can I do to make things better?”

Even if they aren’t able to vocalize a really good response, you need to ask them. For someone who you know has suicidal impulses, you need to watch their behavior. And, no, it isn’t fair. Yes, it’s a hell of a burden. But it’s what you do when you love someone who has these problems. You lock up the guns, you lock up the pills, and if they’re really low, you check them into a hospital as an inpatient so they can get the help they need.

We need to stop acting like it’s somehow shameful or embarrassing for people to struggle with suicidal ideation. We don’t bury suicides at the crossroads anymore, people. If someone you love is fighting this fight, you need to be on their side, not just helplessly standing on the sidelines.

Yes, sometimes people do this “out of the blue.” I am not discounting that. But for someone who has a lifelong history of mental problems, they can be just one sudden shift to serious depression away from an attempt upon their own lives. Even when everything else was going okay, even when they seemed at the top. All it takes is one thing going to hell in a handbasket, and that can be enough of a trigger.

Because suicide, by its nature, is not a rational act. People do this when they are hurting out of all proportion to what they feel they can endure. We will never know the full story of why these two men decided to do this thing. But they were certainly full of pain. I’m sure their families and their fans all wish they could just go back in time, say the things, find the fix. Sometimes, you know, there isn’t a way to stop someone. But we can try. We SHOULD try. We should fight suicide like we fight cancer, with all our guts and love and anger and determination. There is a cure out there somewhere, but no one seems to be looking. We need to find that cure.

And in the meantime, use your love, use every ounce of it, to hold on to the ones you hold dear. God bless.

 


‘One of those freaking delays’

My cover artist still isn’t done with the cover.

My interior artwork artist is still not done with the frontispiece.

And let’s not even go into how the marketing side has been flattened by everything.

June, 2017, has been hell on earth. I am just glad to have survived it (Wait, there’s a day and a half left, it might kill me yet…)

I WILL get this novel published. But not today. I could go into the entire sorry tale, but that, as they say, is another story altogether. And, maybe, a book in itself. Of course, no one would believe how utterly awful our trip to Walt Disney World actually was. It was beyond awful, into legend and epic territories.

And now there’s one of our mice running loose in the house. How is anyone supposed to create “Art” under these conditions, I ask you.

 

I feel very aggravated by the delay, but I can’t hold my artists up at gunpoint and tell them to “Create!” I will do the best I can to get this published by the weekend. grrr.


Release Date

What with everything going on this May, (two birthdays, prom, two graduations, etc!), I have decided to release my novel in June. So the official release date for my e-book Dragon Venom will be June 29, 2017.

That’s the feast day of my patron saint, incidentally, which is why I picked it. But it also gives me some time to do the umpteen million things that I have to do between now and then and still have time to get the book completely ready for your reading pleasure. So, wish me luck, I will be very very busy for the next several weeks and I will need every bit of energy that I can muster to get everything done.

I’m excited!


Sickness Sucks

Major major arthritis flare here over the past six weeks. The medications are just kicking in, so maybe I will be healthy enough to get some work done. It’s pretty annoying to have stories and a novel ready to be published and not have the ability to just get it DONE. Had an attack of uveitis this time, which made my vision go blurry for a week. Now that’s fun– especially when you’re already nearsighted. You get used to not being able to see at a distance, and then, pow! You can’t see up close, either.

Anyway, I am going to go back and change a few little details here and there, but the basic premise is that I have missed my self-imposed deadlines not due to laziness, but due to my body deciding that “You know, hey, self-destruction is a cool thing to do for the changing of the seasons.”

Which forcibly reminds me that I need to go back and re-read a couple of books that I have about being an artist, being an artist in sickness and in health, and how to cope with the whole shebang. I need a little pep talk– it’s seriously depressing to say “Yes, I will publish this by Valentine’s Day” and have it almost be Easter and the thing is still not done.  This whole writing business was a lot easier when I was in my early 20s, before this disease decided to play hell with my life. Of course, everything was easier back then– that’s the reason all the middle-aged people look at young people and scream “ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN!” Time doesn’t change your inner self very much, and you certainly feel pretty normal mentally, but it does a real number on your physical self.

SO. To writing. One hopes. I’m trusting that this medication barrage will drive my inflammatory problems into hiding for at least a month or two. I usually get three good months out of it. So, cross your fingers, eh?


Alienating your Audience

Nightwish

I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.

 

 

 


A song to think about

Back in the 90’s, the first Sweet Relief album was produced to provide money to cover desperately needed medical care for Victoria Williams’s MS care. One of the songs covered on that cd was covered, in fact, by the Jayhawks, a member of whom was at that time Victoria’s spouse.

I was listening to the CD today and this song in particular reminded me of why I do what I do, and whether or not I remember to cherish the things that I’ve made that aren’t what I perhaps wanted them to be.

Listen. Enjoy.

Lights


Progress and The Idiot

The thing about chronic illness is that it plays merry hell with your writing production.

I was reminded of this powerfully this month, not only because I have spent the past six weeks suffering through this stupid cancer treatment and a very bad arthritis flare simultaneously, but also because I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot.”

In my own life, my arthritis flares start with fatigue so all-encompassing that I could easily sleep 20 hours a day if I wasn’t forced out of bed to deal with reality. And when I am out dealing with life, I am functioning about as well as a zombie might. Once the fatigue passes, the pain begins, and typing is just one of the many things that becomes nearly impossible.

Dostoyevsky wrote “The Idiot” during a turbulent period in his life, and it’s possible to watch his own illness come and go in the quality of the plotting and writing. Some sections of the novel crackle with energy and the plot hums along without any hesitation. And then there are the sections where there’s hesitancy, redundancy, and a slight bewilderment in the plotting. Those periods are followed by chapters that suddenly introduce a narrator, who digresses about authorial intent and writing techniques. All in all, “The Idiot” is an at-times bizarre mess of a novel.

But it’s a grand mess, a touching long rumination about the nature of goodness, the difficulties of living in the real world with real sinful humanity all around you, and it also functions as a venue to explore the worries and fears of a man who was afflicted with epilepsy (as was the titular character.) It took me months to read through it, mostly because it required concentration and a lot of patience. The more confused chapters are difficult to get through, and whether or not Dostoyevsky purposefully wrote them that was as a reflection of his character’s mood or if it was an unconscious reflection of his own mental state, they’re very hard to get through. Once the characters leave Petersburg for Pavlovsk, the narrative meanders and doubles back according to whimsy.

I have started working again, although of course I am more than a month behind on my goals and stated ambitions. And I can only say that sometimes Reality steps in and makes its own goals the primary ones. Getting through each day, trying to get the very basic things of life done, it leaves no time for art or craft. If you can’t even remotely figure out how you’re going to cook dinner or make it to the dentist without falling apart, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re not going to be working at any sort of artistic high point.

So, I will continue to work. And I will update when I am done. It shouldn’t be too long, however. My birthday is soon and I want to be out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. Getting these old projects off my to-do list would clear the decks for more new things.


Delay

Sorry excuse but I am down with some rotten illness that the teenager dragged h9me. As I so eloquently told my 10 year old, I feel like dog poop. 

Apologies for the delay but I will be busy whenever this headache stops.