who the heck knows anything, anyway

Monday, April 25, 2011


For those of you who have been worried: I'm returning to Jamie*.

Seems I can't work on anything else. Every short story I started was pretty much either (a) drunk owl vomit or (b) secretly about one of the characters in the novel. Yes, I realize this is a direct departure from my "I'm totally going to write a bunch of stuff and submit it OMG" perspective of only last week, but you cannot control the timing of a revelation. When the time is right, the time is right. Plus, working on the novel today feels a lot less like pulling teeth than the work I was doing last week, and I'm pretty sure one's "dream job" should only feel like pulling teeth if one dreams of being in dentistry.

In other news, I got some books from Powells today! (Hooray! for online-purchasing!)

Just for the sake of accuracy (because Daniel thinks I'm going to claim to have read it before it won**): Yes, I had heard some reliable mumblings about Jennifer Egan's book A Visit From the Goon Squad many months before it received its recent Pulitzer, but I admit that its winning is what finally pushed me to buy it. We'll see how it turns out. If it falls victim to the same shortcomings as Let The Great World Spin, I will be pretty disappointed (though, in all honesty, not too surprised. This varied-POV narrative style is weirdly over-appreciated and often*** under-performing). I'm currently reading Cloud Atlas*** by David Mitchell--I loved Black Swan Green and have heard amazing things about CA--so it might be a while before I can get to it.

The other two books pictured are Jan Conn's Botero's Beautiful Horses, which is a book of poetry I've been eying for some time now, and Folio One of Hubris Press: Present Tense's new Writers' Journal (one of my best college friends, Jason--who is as close to an older brother as I could ever get--helped start it and has a great short story in there).

*for those of you who don't know what this means: Jamie is the main character in the novel that I've been working on for a few years. But that's all I am at liberty to say on the internet, because I am super paranoid about people stealing my intellectual property and plagiarism is to me like a bath is to your average cat: abhorrent, and physically painful. 

**which IS what actually happened with Junot Diaz's win a few years ago. FOR REALS. Side note: if you haven't yet read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, go do that. Also, I admit this perspective of Daniel's may be slightly prompted by my desire to purchase it before they re-release it with Pulitzer stickers. Heh.

***not always, of course. There are exceptions to every rule. Like Cloud Atlas. What a coincidence!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Today I have a cold. It is not a super heinous cold, but it gave me a wickedly sore throat, a remarkably consistent low-grade headache, and has compromised my ability to remain sane, so it's done its job. Since I don't have the energy (mental or physical) to work on my mystery (let alone stories that might be submittable and thereby help me earn my keep), I thought I'd write a lame little blog post--in an attempt to, I don't know, redeem myself? Prove that I'm totally worthless today? Bah.

I would, though, like to share that I have discovered the wonders of cayenne pepper. I've supplanted my daily black tea intake (I average 6-8 cups a day, because I am a fiend) with a concoction of very hot water, about 7 whole cloves, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a tablespoon of honey, and a splash of lemon juice. Cayenne, in addition to helping people with cleanses and diets, seems to be more effective for me than most medicated cough/throat grossness from the store. Granted, everybody is different, so some may find it to be an irritant, but after a second of that crisp, spicy burn, I can swallow my food and drink (and saliva, which is really the killer when you have a sore throat--unless you enjoy drooling) happily.* Mmmm. Plus, cloves are a natural anesthetic and antiseptic (among like a bajillion other things. Seriously, herbal medicine is The Bees Knees).

Also, did you guys know that cataract surgery was invented in about 800 BC??!** That is madness. I have enough reservations about people poking about my eyes with lasers now, let alone with needles almost 3,000 years ago. However, this is the most thoroughly awesome thing I have learned today. Maybe even in the last week.

Last thing of the day before I take a nap: I have been neglecting to pimp National Poetry Month on this here blog. Do yourself a favor and read some sweet poems! Better yet, go to a local bookstore and buy some books of poetry. I'm indulging in some Seamus Heaney and Jeannine Hall Gailey today, but I'm hoping to pick up some new stuff this week from Open Books.


*It's a bit short-lived, but it's still infinitely better than nasty cough syrups. I absolutely loathe cherry cough syrup with every ounce of my being.
**Shushruta, you were a total baller. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Investing in My Future

You wouldn't know it by looking at my Word Docs, but I'm working like a crazy person today. Instead of following my usual routine of Wake Up, Breakfast, SAD lamp, Write, Write, Fret, Loaf About, Write, and Loaf More, I am doing the sort of research that I had been neglecting because I am a notorious 'fraidy cat.

Wait--what sort of research could possibly scare me, the Queen of Trivial Knowledge?

Well, the not-trivial kind. The kind that you have to do when you want to remain self-employed. Ugh.

Business terrifies me. It does not help my case one little smidge that I am an introverted borderline-hermit. Meeting new people makes my palms sweaty; "networking" is not a term that fills me with joy. Self-promotion makes me feel like an intellectual prostitute--a very desperate prostitute. Blegh.

But there's really no avoiding it. Writing stories is as much about taking chances as...bungee-jumping. Or something equally risky with (potentially) great pay-off. After getting some sage advice from one of my amazing PSU mentors, I have realized that it's time to kick things into high gear. Submit, submit, submit! as the saying goes. Fortunately, this does not involve much schmoozing*. Unfortunately, it requires a lot of research and money (oh, right, and craploads of new writing, too). Funny, eh? I don't have a paying job right now, but I will be paying $15-$25 per contest** I enter. So that's the first necessary investment. I have also shelled out a chunk of change on Writer's Chronicle and GRANTA this afternoon. The first is wonderfully practical, and also fairly cheap. The second is kind of stupidly expensive, but I love the publication, and I can rest assured that they'll keep me abreast of new, amazing writing. Plus, I need to read more short stories. That's generally what people submit to these sorts of magazines, and I am not (yet) a pro at writing short. (Working on it, though.)

So that's been my day. I've spent a nice chunk of change on some practical matters, and will no doubt be spending more in the coming months. But I can't let $45 here and $20 there hinder me. It was hard to shell out the figurative cash*** to buy GRANTA, but it probably shouldn't have been; I know it will be useful. I just need to suck it up and go for it with things like this. I'm investing in my future! As an added bonus (and points for keeping it positive!), every time I don't win a contest, I'm investing a little bit in another aspiring writer's future. And that's pretty awesome. ...Especially considering that it requires no schmoozing.

End Note:
If anyone wants to buy me this book, that would be pretty cool.

*Unfortunately, trying to find a community of other novelists/writers with whom I am compatible requires a lot of trial and error in addition to a hella lot of schmoozing. Barf.
**Which means I'll be paying $15-$25 for a piece of paper that says HAHA, REJECTED on it. WOO! Looking forward to accumulating those. (Actually, I kind of am excited. Proof that I tried, yo.)
***definitely bought it online with e-monies

Monday, April 11, 2011

It took me a little while, but...

I finally finished The Satanic Verses this morning. Daniel asked if I was going to blog about it--a question which took me a few minutes to process because my brain had just been rendered useless by its encounter with what I like to call genius.

Salman Rushdie
I'm not going to summarize plot for you. I'm sure as heck not going to discuss THEMES, because Flannery O'Connor and I share similar views on that nonsense (and, appropriately, I would not do Rushdie's work any justice by trying to distill its importance--he did a smash-bang job of making story and ideas nigh inseparable). What I'm going to tell you is that this book was written impeccably by a person with great respect for (or at least sincere fascination with) history and religion/myth*, with wonderful command of various languages (which he worked together/played off each other seamlessly, though I wish I knew any Hindi at all), and who had a story worth telling. And yes, I did cry at one point.

Now I am not a critic--I plan never to be one, in the traditional sense. Critics give me the heebee jeebees, because they read your stories (or listen to your music or count your brush strokes or what have you) and then pass judgement upon them. GOOD. BAD. UNINSPIRED. Yes, I am going to tell you that The Satanic Verses is frigging amazing, but I have a feeling that many people** might not enjoy it as much as I did.

In some ways, it reminded me of other books that I would consider "brilliant" to an equal degree (One Hundred Years of Solitude springs to mind, for instance); the difference, though, was in tone. A trope of Magic Realism*** is the narrative's (and also the characters') lack of recognition that something fantastic is out of the ordinary. Rushdie's Verses does not quite follow this "rule" so much as it toys with it, and I believe it is all the better for it. Unlike Marquez, who paints a brilliant picture but whose narrative voice is impassive and reserved, Rushdie's narration is inquisitive in its omniscience. The voice of the story is a voice of simultaneous doubt and reassurance in your ear--a veritable Socratic Hydra****, answering one  question with a whole slew of others.

 My point being: I loved it like you wouldn't believe, but I could see it being incredibly frustrating for people who enjoy a straightforward story.

{And then, I reflected for a moment:}

As I mentioned at the beginning of this little tirade, there are stories that deserve telling and, my dears, this was one of them. Dash all the riffraff. Many professors, seasoned writers, and the like, tell young writers to read trash every once in a while, so as not to lose hope in their blossoming talent. But I believe this is where my little twinkle of subversiveness has taken root; I refuse to read trash. Even more than that, I refuse to elevate my own self-worth by comparison to such, because what is the actual worth in that? Pettiness? The worst sort of Pride? I am better than the worst is in no way similar to I could be equal to the best.

Little mystery serials are fun to write, no doubt about it, but they do not slake my creative hunger so much as aggravate it. So I keep my eyes open and try to remember (though sometimes it is difficult) that giving up is not an option; that I need to exercise my hands and heart with pen and keyboard on a daily basis; that my story will find me when it's ready to be told and I am ready to tell it.

That will be the mark of my legitimacy.

Thank you, Mr. Rushdie, for reminding me what I know I am capable of.

*I'm not implying that they are the same thing--there is just a lot of crossover that couples them together nicely.
**Not limited to people who disagree with the potentially-inflammatory religious suggestions--which, I would like to say, I take no sides on. Being Catholic is no doubt a point against me to a lot of people, but I am a lover of all faiths (seriously. I love them), and do not want my praise of Rushdie's writing to be misconstrued as any sort of religious indictment
***A vague and widely-argued term which I like to use ALL OF THE TIME
****If I knew Hindu mythology better, I would probably have gone for a metaphor of that flavor. FORTUNATELY, I want to spend hundreds of hours researching just such things. So next time, I won't fail you. Promissssse.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Things I Have Learned Today [#2]

Apparently, I am fond of titling blog posts "Things I Have Learned Today". My previous entry (which I just revisited) was from back when I was trying to write a paper on the Gragas Laws.*

Oh, undergrad! Such a funny time.

Aaaanywho, I'm learning lots of new stuff today, too! Coincidentally, most of it has been difficult to find on the internet, rather like widely-available research on viking ethics.*** Actually, a lot of today's learning is only somewhat resolved--like the discovery of a mystery. I'd probably be frustrated if I didn't find an occasional challenge dreadfully exciting.

--First: algae and prokaryotic cyanobacteria are two different things! Wow! Algae is not just pond scum and slippery green bits that stick to your toes. It's like wee baby seaweed! In fact, seaweed is algae! Very complex algae, but still. That's news to me. 

Algae: not just the stuff that causes red tide
Anywho, the differences between algae and cyanobacteria are rather subtle. For instance: the photosynthetic capabilities of algae are "derived from cyanobacteria." What? But, they're different things. This is confusing. Granted, being a casual researcher into this business, I am mostly relying on wikipedia articles. Maybe this one was written by someone who knows so much about algae that they are unable to condense their knowledge succinctly for lay people. 

However! If I had never looked up algae, I would not have discovered cyanobacteria, would never have known they had subtle differences, and probably would have incorrectly referred to plant-life in my short story as straight-up "algae" when what I really meant, specifically, was "charales".****  Man, writing is hard. I have to have at least a basic knowledge of anything I mention, or people get all up in my grill. I fear such delightful criticisms as: "PSH. A boat would not have been made of oak in that country. Did you get your degree at a public university or something??*****" So I do a lot of potentially unnecessary research because I'm rather proud of my public university training (also of my brain in general),  and because I would rather have people appreciate/criticize my writing than focus on that one time in which I may have discussed clay when, clearly, I was referring to silt. YAY! Glad I have the internet to satiate my rabid researching.

--There is an Irish saint whose feast day is my birthday******. Her name is Cróinseach, and I cannot find any information about her on the internet. I can barely pronounce her name (KRONE a shach...?). But, but...I thought the internet knew everything! Even obscure medieval saints about whom, potentially, naught has survived but their names on a calendar! Boo, internet time machine. Boo. 

--The main character in my short story needs a name. Funny how that works! I'm open to suggestions. (The character is female. That might be helpful.)

view of downtown from my grandpa's houseboat, 1965
--I started swimming again today! Swimming makes my life fantastic. So does the sun. Seriously, I'm bangin' out paragraphs, doing tons of research, only occasionally dicking around on facebook--I have not been this productive in weeks. ADDITIONALLY: While walking downtown a bit on a post-swimming sunshine jaunt, I noticed that the city smells like water again. This is why I live in Seattle. The sun stirs up the freshwater/saltwater smells and stirs them around in the air. The result is rather how I imagine the effects of a love potion to feel. Lord, I love the smell of murky water. Isn't it fantastic to remember why you love a city so much? 


Oh, and my little brother (the 16 year old) is hopping a train to come visit me this weekend. I'm stoked. 

A day like this reminds me what I'm capable of, reminds me about the things I love, reminds me that bad moods and the weight of all those daily defeats are temporary, and may also demonstrate that I should always live in a place with about six months of sunshine. 

Pomegranate season may be over, but Persephone's home, guys. Holla.

ADDED @ almost 6 pm:
--Ok, totally forgot to add something.
I was also researching mummification tools a la ancient Egypt! Turns out, the only term I can find for the little hook an embalmer uses to squiggle your brains about through your nose is: an embalmer's hook. Enlightening, right? Sigh. I just assumed it would be called something awesome...or at least be called an "embalmer's hook" in Egyptian. Oh well! Good enough for me.

*Which was hard.

**because such a thing as "widely-available research on viking ethics" does not exist. ANYWHERE.^
^ in English, at least. It's not my fault that I don't speak Old Norse! Or New Norse! Or any of it!!
***hilariously, blogger thinks the pointy brackets around the word "nostalgia" is legitimate (if ineffective) html-speak and thusly made them disappear when I published this. So just imagine, won't you, that nostalgia is flanked by pointy brackets instead of parentheses  
****which I just found. Woo!! Three cheers for workin' the internets!
*****I did.
******I missed having my birthday be the feast day of St. MARY MAGDELENE by ONE DAY. Instead, I have St Brigit...of Sweden. I mean, Sweden's great and everything, and St. Brigit of Sweden also shares Patron Saint of Europe status, but St Brigid Goddess-Turned-Best-Saint-Ever of Ireland gets more Awesome points. But I'm getting off topic. I want a rad Irish saint on my day of birth, and now I have found her. HOWEVER...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Not Dr. Strangelove

At just about 6:30 this morning, a transformer exploded outside our window. A bright light flashed through our blinds, accompanied by a resounding boom. I'm not sure whether the light or the actual explosion woke me up, but for one whole second--having suffered yet another set of apocalyptic nightmares*--I thought we had just been bombed and we were definitely, in a matter of seconds, going to die. I was frozen, a deer in the headlights, a cornered rabbit, all I could do was wait for what I knew would be painful and horrible and oh, fuck. God, I'm not ready to die yet. Awesome, right? Daniel, not having woken up in the middle of an apocalyptic nightmare and also being a gent of sound reason, said, in a sleepy and relatively unconcerned voice: "A transformer probably blew." At which point, the panic faded into relief/terror/a right cornucopia of other feelings, and I completely lost it for about ten minutes. In summary, I do not like bombs. I do not like to think about bombs. I rather wish bombs had not been invented. Also, why do I keep having awful dreams? Am I stressed about something I haven't realized? Ugh. I'm about ready to put my imagination in a Time Out.

Apart from that little adventure, it's been a productive week. I have no idea where the time is going today, but hopefully I can get something out of it. My goal is to have a short story Lit Mag-ready in a month--we'll see how that works out. Despite feeling up-and-at-'em mood-wise, confidence has not been at a high point lately. I'm falling back into my fear-of-mediocrity routine where I am too afraid to show my work to anyone, and assume that anyone who does read my work is only pretending if they tell me it's "good."  Ahhh, the joys of the subjective profession. But! in the wise words of Sugar**, I shall continue to write like a motherfucker, and maybe the sunny days in the spring and summer they keep promising we'll get will take care of the confidence bit.

In other news, it's raining! And cloudy! Again! How nice.

*Just a couple nights ago, I had a horrible dream in which we were being blitzed (mentioned in a footnote--on my last blog post, I think?). Last night I had been having similar dreams. This should give you a hint about where my mind jumped in response to Bright Light, Big Explosion.
**who is, perhaps, the best columnist ever