Friday, January 27, 2012

Kermit in a Tree

Unblocking Mature Woman Writer's Block

I had writer's block for about 35 years. When I was 9 I wrote constantly, entered writing contests and won sometimes; wrote, directed a school play in 5th grade. Went to college in English education so I could write more, better. Then I stopped writing. Work, goofing off and life kept me busy. Easily explained and understood. In 2006, I started writing again. In 2008 I published my first novel. I've been writing on scraps of paper, in composition books, gift journals, with screenwriting software, and on the refrigerator since then, but cannot move past snippets. From July to October last year, I could not write at all. So what do we do when we can't write, when it is what we need to do passionately? We talk about not writing. We read other people's craft. We meet. We fidget, play the tape loop about failure over and over in our heads. We judge, criticize, rewire neurons, and report failure to our creative synapses. This week friend Susan and I talked about this. We are aware of the usual suspect excuses: time, subject, interruptions, discipline. Same old, same old. We came up with a couple of insightful ideas. We're smart, educated, were not born yesterday, and know what good writing is and does. We know that good writing is putting the truth and heart on the page, connecting with empathy and understanding to the reader. It's the writing we like to read, and the writing we like to do. But. What if our children read it? What pain will we cause those we love? What in our past that we believe readers might appreciate do we not want to talk about? How do we move past not wanting to tell bad stories on ourselves, even if we think it might be funny to a reader? Can we be completely honest? If I cannot refer to myself as aging, or older, or an elder, what does that say about how truthfully I write? If I avoid pain in the present, can I write despondence with honesty? Can I bleed on the page? Does my therapist know I'm stymied like this? Is there a creative writing shoehorn? What's the 10k volt creative jolt I need? Can I pay for one more writing workshop? What Susan and I decided is the same methodology that worked when we were 9 years old. Practice, practice, practice.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Throwaway Woman Plot Device

Watched Ides of March last night. Decent writing, great acting, but I felt twitchy at the end. Today I'm bothered. A couple of lines trouble me. A young woman confesses she's been out to f--k the man she's with, expects nothing, and won't tell anyone. Dialogue ensues, he tells her she's quite mature. It's a clinker line, doesn't make any sense. Mature? And once more we have what I'm going to start calling a Throwaway Woman part. A construct, a plaything, a victim, a plot device; completely erasable. Ides of March compounds the fault by introducing a replacement Throwaway Woman at the end. This is a cynical movie, full of steely jawed guys and dolls out to get what they want from everyone and everything, squeeze out the juice and toss the pulp away. The woman journalist is salivating like a junkie for the scoop in every scene she's in. Power and glory addicts. That's fine. Humans are a greedy bunch, politicians moreso, and I like that Marisa Tomei gets to chew up the scenery with the boys. I know I'm hypersensitive to women roles in movies, that there are movies I don't want shown on the same planet I'm on, movies I will never watch. I choose for potential good writing and elevated story sense. Even in the movies I do watch, too high a percentage have a Throwaway Woman. Usually she's in the credits as First Victim, or Dead Girl, no name. Cannon fodder. When Throwaway Woman is a major player in the piece it reminds me that our culture is like that. Filmmakers probably don't give a single thought to this lazy plot device. It's more than lazy, though. It's insidious.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Three Story Life-Censorship

google wears a black rectangle today. Wikipedia is blacked out (you can still access it from Canada if you're desperate to find information you cannot live without) and I'm thinking about freedom of speech, piracy and censorship. I do not know whether SOPA, PIPA, or LMNOP is good for the internet or not, but I do know that any time government tries to sort something out, it gets tangled tighter. And the bad guys have already figured out a way to get around the law before the last Congressperson has speechified to an empty house on C-Span. My blog is served by google. Just now, the most views I have are from domar (not putting the .ext here to discourage further stupidity), and another long domain name with a slew of forum posts wondering how to get rid of the damn thing. I post art with every blog entry, and the art lives forever on google images. Over 636 images at last count. These are regularly hijacked on the internet high seas, by people who think any art is free to use, entities that spam, and nasty enterprises that use other people's work to flip the viewer to porn or ads. Can I stop it? Nope. Can google or any other provider? Eventually, once there's enough forum traffic to identify a serial spammer. Can the U.S. government stop it? Hell no. Can the U.S. government muck it up so badly that my Dad can't reach his favorite sites without swearing? You betcha. From long personal experience, I know if I try to stop anyone or anything from bad behavior, it just gets worse, whether for me or someone else along the way. Stifle speech, freedom of movement, a sense of forging one's own destiny, and history shows the result repeatedly. Congress needs to make up its collective mind that America is still a free country.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Aging Brain

Reading "The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain" by Barbara Strauch. I got this book from the library in self-defense, having read an NPR article titled "Middle-Aged Brains Are Already Past Their Prime" It's a smart-alecky article, poking snide fun into a future that the youngish author won't find so cutesy in a few years. In the last paragraph, he mentions Strauch's book. Ah ha! Reprieve! To cool my decrepit past-prime brain, I'm reading the book. Perhaps I'm overeager to discover my brain isn't the moldering lump of gooey broken synapses I sometimes think it is, but I like what I'm reading. The older brain skips a groove now and again. Putting the car keys in the refrigerator and the library book in the laundry basket is part of growing up. But research is beginning to reveal that the older brain is better at some tasks than the young brain. Spatial relations, problem solving, discernment improve with age. Middle-aged brains choose happy over negative emotion. It's a choice the brain makes. The older brain is less neurotic, the amygdala twins are not eagerly sending out danger messages. The middle-aged brain is calmer. Older adults use more of their brains, and use both hemispheres. Improvement in judgment function is an active and dynamic process. Financial decision-making is markedly improved. Cognitive ability may actually increase through middle age, with less striking results much later, in geriatric neuroscience. Absent disease or dementia, I'm looking forward to more research that indicates a spry brain even then. But just in case, I drew this name tag so I remember at least my own name. I feel better knowing that when I have to say I'm sorry I don't remember your name, chances are good the other person didn't remember mine either.

Mother of All

The question I had at Christmas last year was who told Joseph what was about to happen in his life? I wondered if Mary had that duty, and imagined an interesting conversation following. I did not remember this story. I asked the question out loud among friends, and friend Susan said an archangel had told Joseph. Perhaps the question found life in this picture, taken at Matthaei Botanical Gardens earlier in December. Several seed pods lay on a brick wall. This one looked like the Madonna to me. This morning when I sought and found the picture, the question was why do I always see Mary in a vulnerable and soft aspect? Her eyes downcast, usually closed, head tilted to the side? This photo looks as though she's clutching her cloak to her breast. Her left foot is tucked behind, her aspect protective. She is exposed, and folds her body in to contain the seeds. My religious upbringing did not include the Virgin Mary, although now I wonder if the Catholic church had a brilliant notion, and if, perhaps I would feel differently now if I'd been raised with a woman in my religious world view. The Madonna is worshiped, but Mary is not depicted as strong, celebratory, steely, powerful. She knew while she carried her child that her life would be devoted to raising a son, teaching him, protecting him, only to give him back to her God. What strength she had; endurance, devotion we may or may not comprehend. She believed, whether she ever questioned, we cannot know. Today I will see Mary in my mind and heart as the all mother. Mother of all mothers, like the Saami depiction of she who gave birth to everything. Powerful, sparkling with love and steady resolve, arm raised overhead circling all beings, all life. Fierce and loving. The mother of all. I can celebrate her life with spirit and love.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Gathering Society

Barb Barton brought us together in Lansing this past Sunday. Women from Michigan towns (and Noel from Valparaiso, IN) who are gatherers, foragers, wildcrafters, spinners, artists, storytellers, musicians, singers, biologists, First Nation elders, healers, teachers, leaders. And children. We shared food. Barb put labels on the tables - Carnivore, Vegavore, Sweetivore. Everyone brought a dish and the quality was exceptional and delicious. Introductions were made, discussion of future gatherings, we got acquainted as we ate. We made gourd canteens. Indoors at tubs in the basement, we scrubbed the outside of the gourds. Outside in the sunshine, holes were drilled, innards scraped. We laughed, shared stories. Back indoors, rawhide and leather were cut to make and secure the shoulder strap for the canteen. As we cut and stretched, Daisy shared a Cree working song, and the story of the song, thousands of years old. Women sang as they worked, and the men heard the song and asked the women "what is this song?" And the women said it is a song of work, of life, and joy. Beeswax was melted to coat the inside of the canteen to keep the water sweet. Every drink from these canteens will remind us of this Sunday, and the work and the joy and life of women's wisdom in community.

Where the Wild Foods Grow-New Offerings

Just in time for cold weather January breakfasts, enjoyed in the predawn with a cup of dark roast coffee, and Dad's homemade muffin bread, Barb Barton (Where the Wild Foods Grow) brings to our tables English Walnut Butter (faint) and Roasted Hickory Butter (sigh.) The foods offered have been gathered with respect for the earth, using traditional methods, and with love for our Michigan home. Locally grown, respectfully processed native foods, prepared and delivered with love. You can taste the difference, and feel the harmony. If we all had a little more nut butter to enjoy, the world would be a nicer place.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Three Story Life - Surgery

We had a remarkable week between Christmas and new year's day. The calm I credited to not going anywhere on Christmas day; Dad was peaceful and appreciative of the quiet. Scott was more present, smiling once in a while. On New Year's Eve I gave Scott a happy new year balloon. I took it to his room, peeked around the corner, and he didn't startle, he looked at the balloon and held out his hand. I said "happy new year, Scott," and he said, "thank you, Linda." His eyes were clearly on the moment, and I was ecstatic. All is well. This week the calm went south for the winter. I was out yesterday afternoon, called to ask about dinner. Dad's voice was low. He had no answers for what he'd like to eat. I told him I'll take care of dinner when I get home. I ordered Chinese. Walked in the house, and the table wasn't cleared from dinner - Dad had warmed up the pea soup he made and fed himself and Scott in that 20 mins. I said "did you hear me say I'd take care of dinner?" He didn't answer. I dispatched the anger out into the cold night. Chinese food's in the refrigerator until I throw it out. Anger sent on holiday, I sat, asked him what was troubling him. He doesn't like the slow progress of the VA. He told me his health history. I've learned from listening to the VA doctor to ask "is that new?" when Dad chronicles his issues. As he related the story, I only had to ask about newness once. His ailments are the same. I did not respond. I listened. I reminded him he has a CT scan appointment on the 19th. A two-pronged vascular dept. appointment on the 7th. He said if I called a foot doctor right now, I'd be scheduled for surgery immediately. Ah. I asked "is that what you want, a surgery?" He didn't answer. We'll get a surgery some day soon. Maybe more than one. And it won't help. The VA doctor has been guiding him away from surgical intervention for years. Dad will have his way, and I'll be supportive, best way I can.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steve Jobs Action Figure

Wow, right? I almost never use art other than my own on this blog, but wow, right? A manufacturer in China hopes to get away with releasing this doll soon for about $100. Somebody, somewhere is going to pull the rug - ZIP - out from under that, but meanwhile... wow, right? I so want one. I have hero action figure envy.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

A while ago there was a new book published of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I was excited, and put a hold on the new book from the library. When it arrived, I sat, touched the cover, opened the book, closed it unread, kissed the cover goodbye. I wrote on goodreads that I could not read the book. These were stories published after Vonnegut died. He was meticulous, perhaps cantankerous about what stories were suitable for publishing. I thought he'd be mad the work was published without his permission. I know Kurt Vonnegut and his works do not belong to me, that the man and his writing and I have no connection. But I take Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and his storytelling very personally indeed. He was the author who set the shape of the outside world into my bones, made me feel less strange, as though a friend was showing me the ropes. I think he was like me, formed by Midwestern sensibilities, a less than completely loving family, smart, anchored in expecting too much from himself, disappointed by the weirdness of life. And then he went to war, and how I feel about war is how he wrote. Horrified. He was amazed by the silliness of human endeavors, sad, impossibly idealistic and driven to achieve the impossible. Perfection. I haven't yet reread all of his books, I think they would be too painful now. I put another book on hold at the library. It's a biography by Charles Shields called And So It Goes. It has been on my desk for a couple of weeks. Today I read the introduction, and some of the first few pages, and I closed this book too. I will not read it, it's due back tomorrow. I will keep in my heart the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. who gave me and so many other devoted readers so many rich scenarios to ponder, so much heart on the page, so much of himself. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.