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IWSG-September

It’s my favorite time of the year! Summer is waning, and while I am not a huge fan of long, cold, Utah winters, I do love autumn. The temperatures hover in the near perfect zone. Football has started up again. Kids are in school. I don’t have as many yard work responsibilities. I’m calmer.

And I can’t think of a better way to start off this glorious month than with another IWSG post.

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From the website:

-Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! –

Doesn’t that sound great? If you like the way that makes you feel inside, sign up here. You only have to (get to) post once a month, and the feedback is always on point.

September 6 Question: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in??

My second novel was going to be about a woman trapped by a blizzard in her mountain cabin, confronted by the sudden appearance of her husband who had died from a heart attack ten years previously. He would inform her that he had been sent by God, and that God had decided the world needed purging. He was ashamed of his children and wanted to wash his hands of them, forever. In six months time, humanity would be gone.

Over the course of the winter, she’d engage in back and forth conversations, hoping to convince her husband to intervene with God on behalf of humanity.

I liked the idea, thought it would make a compelling story. About thirty pages in, I realized the book was going to come off very didactic, preachy and arrogant. Also, I was losing interest in the overall arc of the characters. The minor players (out in the big wide world) felt flat, locked into certain behaviors. I didn’t want to scrap the entire concept, but knew the idea needed tweaking.

The story shifted into a science fiction tale, where beings from another world have tasked themselves with taking care of our planet. Frustrated by what they believe is an immoral human attack on the environment, they decide to reset the planet, eliminating the mechanisms that pollute and damage the planet. Most humans and their technology must go.

I had not written sci-fi since I was very young, and I was sure it would be a disaster. Maybe because I kept the story rooted in the 21st century, centered the action around one family (aware of what is happening, but unable to do anything to stop it), and another small band of people, I was able to stay focused, not write outside my ability, create a compelling story.

What surprised me most was the way certain moral dilemmas played out in the book. I tried to write from as neutral a perspective as I could. It was fun to leave certain questions unanswered.

I’m still very proud of the book, and try to push it on anyone willing to read it (you, maybe?). I’m still not completely comfortable writing science fiction, and would never claim to be good at it, but I did enjoy creating this particular book.

Maybe I’ll write a thriller next, or a horror novel. Yeah, that’s it.

 

 

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Altered

Yesterday, I fell into an old trap- Reading the comments following a *political post* on social media. As usual, I disagreed with more than half of those who felt they needed to vent their opinion about the topic at hand. I’ve learned to leave these comments alone, not respond, and allow my anger and frustration to gradually dissipate. The next step is learning not to read these comments at all. Baby steps…

The post in question was about artists, and whether or not they should be allowed to share their personal opinions about the issues of the day. The idea was these artists existed to entertain, period. And somehow, that entertainment precluded them from talking about anything at all. “Just sing and act,” many said. “You are here to be a distraction from reality, an escape.”

One comment in particular stood out, and actually caused me to lose sleep last night. This person claimed he had never, not once had a song or film impact his life or teach him anything. I kept hoping that his statements were hyperbole, meant to drive home the uselessness of the artist more than art itself, but he continued to press about the triviality, banality of music and films. Mindless entertainment, pure and simple. He could live without it.

I felt a wave of sadness. How unfortunate for this person, how tragic. Imagine, never having your heart stirred by a song, never having that moment when you knew  the singer, the musicians understood you on a level no one else ever had, when you felt that connection to something, someone outside of your small circle. Imagine no film ever impacting you, making you want to do more with your life, be better. Or no work of art ever inspiring you to see the world differently, or bringing you to tears.

I could list moment after moment where art has made my life infinitely better, where someones words or music helped me understand the world better. So many films and stories have exposed me to ideas, ways of living and thinking that otherwise would remain beyond my ability to comprehend.

I was up last night trying to construct how different my life would be without a passion for art. I didn’t like how that world felt. It was an empty place, one with less love, compassion, understanding.

I don’t want to think about that sort of world anymore. I think I’ll go listen to some music, and later, read a book. music

 

An Empty Space

I was born in November of 1970 to parents who were deeply into the music of their generation. My musical education began before I was born. I don’t remember it all, of course, but I have little doubt that my fetal self was impacted by the songs that were played in my parents apartment. Music was always there, always present. It still is.

I recall my first memories of certain artists. Bob Dylan was the guy with the scratchy voice that my dad could mimic almost exactly. The Beatles were the songs my uncles and father performed lip-sync concerts of in my grandparent’s basement. Neil Young was for Saturdays, or so I remember. Van Morrison appeared one day while we were driving on the freeway, radio on (or maybe an 8 track tape playing), window down, Brown Eyed Girl filtering into the back seat where I sat, face forward with the wind whipping through my hair, the sun on my face.

But Bowie was always there. No one moment puts him in my sphere. He always just was.

He was sometimes no more than a tone in the background, but never white noise, and when he wanted to be, he was instantly in front of me. He had that power in my musical development. He was present.

When I ponder the musical direction of my life, the artists I admire, the people who have impacted me most deeply, David Bowie is among the most important. He didn’t always make perfect music, and he certainly wasn’t a saint. He never topped my list of “favorite” bands, but through every stage, every musical whim or deeply held passion, I adored Bowie.

He was coolness personified. He did everything first it seemed, and if he wasn’t first, he often did it better.

Musically, he was fearless. Even his failed projects had elements of greatness. He wasn’t the most dynamic actor, but he was passionate, and gave memorable performances. He had his finger on the pulse of fashion and art. He was a trend setter, and while he could fall in and out of favor with the mainstream, he endured, and was culturally relevant for 5 decades.

His music videos were art, equally horrific and beautiful. He attacked every project with professionalism and zeal. He was more than a musician, more than just an artist. Ask any of the millions of people mourning his loss today and they will tell you of his influence, his impact.

His passing leaves a giant void in culture, music, and art. I am unsure there is anyone out there able to fill it, but that is as it should be.

If we could ask a young Bowie if he thought he’d ever live to be almost 70, he most likely would laugh at the prospect. He passed with dignity, and with grace, quietly and discretely.

Some will not understand how so many of us can mourn someone we did not personally know. The answer is obvious. We did know him. His music let us into his life, affected us deeply. He helped us understand ourselves better. We owe David Bowie a great deal. The world is a more empty place without him.

My entire life, the aura of Bowie has been present. He was always there. In many ways, he always will be.

david-

 

 

 

I’m a Writer

The act of writing is what makes someone a writer.

It’s alright to feel insecure, just don’t allow insecurity to stop the writing.

All writing has some value.

That said (or written), there is good writing and bad writing. Good writing can come from bad writers, and bad writing from good writers.

Mistakes should always been learning experiences.

Practice helps make better writing (and writers), as does being able to accept harsh criticism. Critiques are not personal attacks, don’t take them as such. In my experience, I’ve written almost as much awful stuff as quality pages. I’m grateful for those who point out my weak writing. These are the people that care most about my development.  I trust them.

Being unwilling to edit is not helping your writing. No text is perfect, especially a first draft.

Finding a community of writers to ask advice, bounce ideas off, is a good thing, but being unwilling to offer the same services in return is quite selfish (anyone want to be part of my community? I’ve always got advice and writing to share).

Getting paid for what one writes is a nice bonus (or so I would imagine, as I have not yet received any payment for all this awesomeness I put on this blog), but in most cases should not be the motivating factor (I’m right on this one, I’m sure of it) for wanting to write.

I don’t know everything about writing. Tell me what you’ve learned.

Four Hours or So

My best estimate is four hours of writing remaining before the second novel will finally be finished. At last count, I was over 120,000 words, which makes this book far too long for anyone’s good.

My first novel took about two months to complete, four months to edit and 21 days of sitting around staring at my query letter before sending anything out to agents. I was ready for rejection, so when it came (in bunches) my feelings were spared, though I can admit to some frustration. I think it is such a great book, and wish I could better express that sentiment and find an agent as passionate about it as I am.

In the back of my mind, I have been struggling to finish the second book because I can’t think of anyway to properly pitch this book. In fact, writing this particular blog is another attempt at delaying the finish. I like the story, love the people populating the world I’ve imagined. I particularly enjoy the weirdness that has taken place, the way the plot has resisted all my efforts to guide it in certain directions (a phenomenon I always thought was crap, when other writers talked about it).

I am, as usual, excited to let others read it.

My usual writing process offers much quicker feedback. I compose something, usually finishing within a day, maybe two, share it with those close to me, get their responses. With the books, everything is delayed. I resist sharing portions of the work, mostly because I am not sure even my favorite scenes will remain unaltered in the final text. Ideas come and go, moments change, and characters that were meant for death somehow talk their way out of it. Still, I sometimes complete a days work and want to share it. It takes all my efforts to not.

Four more hours. Two writing sessions. I can wait that long.

 

 

Dexter is Over

Warning-spoilers inside. P.S. I am assuming most of those who read this know most, if not all of the story to this point.

So, that is it. After 8 seasons, Dexter ended in dramatic, chaotic, violent and in many ways unsatisfying fashion.

For many reasons, the first season of the show will always be my favorite. I love the grittiness of it. The show was so completely different from anything I had ever watched. I was a fan from the first episode.

Most love season 4, with the performance of John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer marking the high point of the drama, which is hard to argue against. Many of those same fans feel that from this point on, the show becomes aimless, trying to recapture the power of those 12 episodes, and failing, finally culminating in the mess of seasons 7 and 8. I am not one of those fans.

Dexter for me, has been a journey of exploring what it means to be human. Diagnosed as a psychopath, Dexter lives a life of charades and lies, pretending to have emotions, pretending to care about those around him, living by a code that allows him to survive in a world he really never understands. Well, at least at first.

As the seasons progress, each challenge Dexter faces uncovers what he tries to hide-Yes, he is broken by what happened in his youth and yes, he has a near uncontrollable urge to kill others, but underneath it all, he does feel, and he does change.

At the end of every season, some set back causes him to re-evaluate what he learns about himself, most times, brushing aside his revelations as something that will only further complicate his existence.  This casting aside is most often an exercise in futility as he cannot unlearn what he knows, or how that knowledge changes the course of his life. he does feel, he does have emotions and he is capable of being more.

All of this is what makes the series finale so frustratingly bad.

Dexter falls in love with Hannah and is willing to run away with her, raise his son and leave his old life behind. And while that might frustrate some fans of the “old” Dexter, it makes perfect sense in the progression we have witnessed. This time, instead of finding some reason to bury his emotions, he revels in them. He feels he is deserving of some happiness and is going to take it.

Then as usual, events spiral out of control and some choices have disastrous consequences. Rather than kill Saxon, his latest serial killer nemesis, he spares him, turning him over to his sister, Deb. Saxon escapes with the unwitting help of a federal marshal who was tracking Deb and Dexter for helping Hannah hide from the police(an absolutely idiotic scene when you take into account that Saxon was wanted for mass murder, his face all over the news and certainly, the marshal’s office as well). As he is fleeing, Saxon shoots Deb, leaving her for dead, but she is able to call an ambulance.

Complications from surgery leave Deb with severe brain damage, unable to breathe on her own. Dexter crafts another plan to kill Saxon while he is in police custody, and though he breaks every rule in the book, his former colleagues at Miami Metro let Dexter leave, calling the incident a case of self defense (again, badly executed scene).  Dexter has little time to escape as a tropical storm is descending on Miami, threatening to trap him there while Hannah and Dexter’s son try to make their escape to South America.

With Saxon dispatched, Dexter returns to the hospital and in the best scene of the season, he unplugs Deb from her life support machine. We see here a fully emotionally mature Dexter. He cannot leave his sister behind in such a state and with absolute tenderness, he disconnects her from the tubes and wires, whispering “I love you,” in her ear as she flat lines.

For one final time, Dexter takes his boat out with one more body (Deb) on board. He calls Hannah as she is about to board the plane. He talks to his son, telling him to remember he loves him. Then he tosses his phone into the ocean.

He gently carries Deb’s body to the edge of the boat and like he has with hundreds of corpses, tosses her overboard.

Dexter has determined he causes the death of everyone he loves, and in order to spare Hannah and Harrison (his son), from the same fate, he fakes his own death, driving his boat into the storm where it is found, demolished the next day.

The last two scenes show Hannah finding the article detailing Dexter’s death and a bearded Dexter, living an empty life somewhere in the the northwest, driving a lumber truck, living in a broken down room.  The final moment leaves us with Dexter staring out the window, then turning towards the camera for one final look.

And that was that. Open ended, meaningless, incomplete.

What saddens me most is not that it ended in such an incomplete and frustrating way, but that if we are to take the final scene for the ‘end’, then after all is said and done, Dexter has learned absolutely nothing. All the death and sacrifice of those around him end up being pointless.

Rather than see how his not being around would affect his son and Hannah, he selfishly chooses to wallow in his own misery. In Saxon, we are presented with a representation of what Dexter could have become if not for the code, if not for the caring of those around him, but Dexter refuses to see any of this. Instead he focuses on the darkness, falling into the same traps he always does. He blames himself for what happens to Deb, failing to see the choices she made that ultimately lead to her demise. He willingly ignores what she has told him over and over, (and the evidence that exists in his life, Hannah, Deb, Harrison) that he is a good person, a good father, a great brother, and that he deserves happiness.

Throughout the series, Dexter fears that if his family and friends knew his secret, they would recoil from him, condemn him, and in the case of Deb, turn him into the police or kill him on the spot. In almost every case, those who care for Dexter and learn his secret do no such thing. In fact, the opposite is the case. Deb is understandably shocked by what Dexter is, and it takes her a long time to come to terms with all that, but she does.  The first night she discovers his secret, Deb helps him cover up the murder. She kills Laguerta, rather than Dexter. She accepts Hannah because of Dexter. She always chooses Dexter, and Dexter’s choice to throw away his happiness out of misplaced guilt and selfishness, makes Deb’s sacrifices meaningless. This final choice makes the entire journey pointless, every lesson, every success and sadness, meaningless.

The writers of the show have said on numerous occasion that the story could never be just Dexter doing the same thing over and over, or it would be over very quickly, and for much of the story, the did not allow that to happen. They gave Dexter a life beyond killing and showed us a great deal about the human experience, about unconditional love and redemption, but then at the critical moment, when it matters most, Dexter fails to take the final step. He remains the same selfish, self absorbed creature he was from the beginning.

I had hoped for more.

Reading Between

Sometimes I buy books, thinking I cannot wait to read them, then they end up on a shelf somewhere, waiting. To be fair, this happened a great deal more when I was in school. I would be convinced of the oodles of free time about to come my way and almost giggle at the thought of all the books I could finally choose to read.

Everything gets read eventually, though some books take decades. One such book is  “Three Steps on the Ladder of Wrtiting” by Hèléne Cixous. I became familiar with her while studying critical theory. One of three oft discussed French feminist thinkers (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva), Cixous was always the most accessible to me. In one of my favorite essays, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, she argues for the necessity of female writing (not writers).  The clarity of her writing was a gift after reading the psychoanalytic musings of her counterparts. Cixous wrote in a way that felt more human.

In “Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing”, Cixous argues for a certain kind of book, a certain way of reading and writing. Like me, she thinks writing takes something from you, changes you. Writing should be something that pushes, takes you places you are afraid to go and perhaps aren’t ready to go. In the first chapter, she speaks of the first rung of the ladder being a visit to the School of the Dead. “Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us.” (p.10)  This is hard for me. I’m not complaining as much as demanding change from myself. Too often, I wander near the edge, but never close enough to really be in any danger (of failure or success, which is after all, the point of the edge). I wan’t to write like that, near the extremity of life, even if I am not exactly sure what that means or how to know I am writing from that place.

“The only book that is worth writing,” Cixous writes, “is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write.” And there it is, the crux of it. I want to write that book, the one I am feel incapable of writing.  After all, the books I love to read, the ones that impact me deeply, feel like they exist at the extremity of life.

Cixous quotes Kafka-

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

I agree, completely. I only want to read things that impact me, change me, inspire me, destroy me. I want to write things that do the same.

When I write, when I am successful, ten lines, three sentences, a few paragraphs, leave me speechless. I hope they do the same to others.

There are those that disagree and I would never imply that this type of writing, reading, is best for everyone, though I cannot help but feel it is a better way to write and read. Writing and reading should matter, shouldn’t they?

We all have a “frozen sea” in need of axing.