Books: The Very Medium

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Alright, so I’ve got some books. A lot of which I’ve read: college assignments, trendy new releases, and old, wonderfully soft spots. A lot of which I’ve not really (ever?) touched. (I get free shipping if I buy four more books? Oooh, what’s this in the free used book bin? A book for Christmas? You should have!)

I’ve also got a Goodreads profile. A sorely neglected one. So here’s the project: catalogue the books I’ve got and then read them. All of them. Not quickly. Not too slowly. Very medium.*

When we moved from The States to the Netherlands, the books fit neatly in 35 boxes. (See a the partial shipment here.) I’ll set a goal of finishing them before we move back. When? you ask along with my parents. Who knows. I’ll keep you posted.

Today, I’ll continue working on a book that was a gift from my dad to my husband. (If it’s in my living room, it’s in my tally.) It’s called Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. Nonfiction about the brain’s acquisition of language. So far so good.

 

*Bonus points to anyone who can find an old news clip. A reporter, standing at the bottom of a sledding hill, asked a young girl if she liked to go very fast or very slow. The girl paused and then said, “Um, I like to go very medium.”

Happy Pre-Valentine’s Friday.

Happy Valentines Day

On Valentine’s Day, my parents are flying to Chile. Not to celebrate the holiday. Not to be romantic. They’re leaving on Saturday because of some precise combination of flight prices and work schedules. (Did I forget to mention my dad hates to travel?)

Growing up, I didn’t witness much kissing, or even hand holding, between my parents. And sometimes, I thought that was weird. And then one day junior year of high school, I witnessed my boyfriend kiss his mom. Smack. On. The. Lips. And I thought that was weird then too.

So moral is, go out. Today. On Valentine’s Day. The day after. Kiss or hold hands, or don’t. With your boyfriend or your mom, or your Golden Labradoodle. Or, as my six-month-old son prefers, grab someone’s face with a bit of force and then open-mouth slobber whatever protruding part–nose, ear, chin–is closest. It’s weird too. And I love it.

Barrio de las Letras

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A couple weekends ago, there I was minding my own business. Wandering through the Barrio de las Letras in Madrid, past this beautiful brick Trinitarian convent when I got a feeling. And just as I got this feeling, who beside me on the other side of that big brick wall but Miguel de Cervantes.

Trinitarians, according to Wikipedia, are a Christian order established in the twelfth century to pay the ransoms for other Christians kidnapped worldwide. And so, in 1580, this particular convent paid 500 gold coins to ensure Cervantes’s safe return from the hands of Turkish pirates (especially fortunate given that Don Quixote wasn’t published until 1605).

So I stood and I stared and I thought there he is: through that door, past the chapel, down the stairs to a rented-out old storage room owned by a publishing company, behind some books, a few unbound manuscripts, and probably a rejection letter or two, on just the other side of the wall.

Read the full story in The Independent.  If you just want to flip through photos, go here.

 

Oh, and then we bumped into Federico Garcia Lorca.

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Ink runs from the corners of my mouth

Wanted this to be concise; I got overwhelmed.

A woman died. She was a poet. The New York Times tells some of her story here.

Mark Strand wrote a poem. It’s about a dog. This dog and I are kin. Read it at The Poetry Foundation here.

Then, sit for a minute.

 

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Unabridged Adventure Series, Part 9

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Thanks to yesterday’s project, I was able to continue with the Unabridged Adventure Series. (For those of you who’ve forgotten the premise, first go here.)

The book: Teach Yourself Dutch by Gerdi Quist and Dennis Strik, copyright 2003. The subtitle: All-Around Confidence.

The find: two tickets from Madison, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan. Date: Friday, July 6, 2012.

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Happy 100

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In honor of reaching 100 followers today, I’m going to eat 100 kernels of popcorn, read 100 words from a Dutch dictionary and engage in other raucous centennial shenanigans.

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How to Tell Your Friends & Family You’re a Writer

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Word on the street is that the Tethered by Letters blog is down and out temporarily for some good old fashioned re-design, so I’m republishing a piece I wrote for them here. Anyone who didn’t check it out before, now’s your chance. And you don’t even have to click on a link this time.

How to Tell Your Friends and Family You’re a Writer: In Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Your mother may be prepared for the day you become a doctor. A lawyer. A plumber. She may even understand if you decide to go into IT. Your father might have known all along that you’d be a writer. What he likely doesn’t understand is what, exactly, that entails: long hours in dumpy coffee houses, awkward scribbles on paper napkins at family picnics, small talk with strangers about philosophy. (These are all, by the way, in the official job description.)

Fortunately for me, four years ago, I married a man who understood all of this. He encouraged me to quit my job (which I, albeit reluctantly, did) to pursue my passion. To this day, he supports our family financially. He offers thoughtful edits when I ask for them, and he doesn’t when I don’t.

Despite all of this, he and I both fall into one of the most common literary traps. Last week, I overheard his phone conversation with a colleague: “Christine? Yeah, she’s doing great. No, she’s not working. She does a lot of writing on her own, though. But, no, not for a company or anything. She reports to herself.” His last line a sort of subconscious guilt-laden recovery.

Here’s one of my most recent: “Me? Actually, I’m an author. A writer. No, not books. Um, well, short fiction? Not in an office, no. From home. Right.” And with each response, my face grows more red. My voice more full of air. And then, A visit? Next week? Can I show you around Amsterdam, because, well, you’ve never been to Europe, and you really would like an in-depth week-long tour? “Of course. I make my own schedule. I’m not doing anything.”

The problem here may seem like a confidence issue. And it might be. In just one day, I received six submission rejections, a notice to pay the renewal for my website, and an email from a friend wondering why, since I was unemployed, I didn’t have more time for her. So sure, maybe I lack a little bit of confidence.

But last week, Lincoln Michel of the online non-profit Electric Literature gave me a little boost. He penned an article titled If Strangers Talked to Everybody like They Talk to Writers. It is, frankly, hilarious. And like most good humor, it’s good because it’s true. And like most things that are true, they give you that little bump. They roust out of bed that end-of-week energy and make you try a little harder. So here they are:

 

The Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Always remember it’s not about the money.

  • You might be earning a living wage. You might be making nothing. You might, occasionally, be able to buy the groceries and the pay the electrical bill.
  • Bottom line, it doesn’t matter.
  • Despite all sorts of other inappropriate questions, no one will ask you how much you make. I promise.

Be a commodity. A hot one.

  • When I moved to The Netherlands two years ago, I was worried about fitting in. My father told me not to forget that, once I moved, I’d be the exotic. I’d be the foreigner with the romantic accent, the one with stories to share, the traveler. And that advice has made most of the difference.

Know more about your career than anyone else.

  • Done. You do. You already do. You are the professional. You are the expert. Run with it (sometimes far, far away).

Tell the world. Over and over and over.

  • Smile.
  • Speak loudly.
  • Pre-empt silly questions.
  • Never apologize.
  • And never use the word actually.

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Aqui esta. (Acentos implied.)

 

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Writing Trip: Spain

My husband, my son, and I are travelling to Spain today. We’re staying for a week: eating tapas, riding a funicular up Mount Igeldo. And then they’re leaving.

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Happy French Friday…

…from the trunk of my rental car to yours.

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The Best Part of the Best Part

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Unlike most, if I wake up tired, I have a choice. I’m in my pajamas after all, and therein squats the problem. The best part about being an author is, you guessed it, the same thing that makes it hard.

There are some writers who are able to convince themselves of anything. But if I could say to myself, You’re not tired, then I could also say things like, You believe in the Easter Bunny.

When I had a more traditional job, it was easier to see myself romantically, easier to fantasize stealing away minutes to write. It was also easier to believe that stealing away those minutes was the right thing to do.

So now we skip to the best part of the best part: being an author forces me to have a balanced life. If I wake up and I’m sick or tired or hung-over, I can’t make myself sit at the computer and write well. I just can’t. So if I want to be a writer, then I’ve got to get enough sleep. Things don’t have to be perfect. Occasionally, I row my personal best drunk. (That happened only once in my three years of collegiate crew.) But usually, that’s not how it works.

So, fine, go out and drink like Hemmingway. Early Hemmingway. Smoke a cigar. But then brush your teeth and chug some water and go to bed. After all, it’s easy enough to second guess yourself as a writer. Not working out or getting a good meal or enough sleep, makes it even easier. A good writer is a confident one.

Happy French Friday.

To a weekend of writing and wine and brie the size of your head.

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Why You’ll Never be able to Write while Pregnant, and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

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I wrote a short story during an undergraduate creative writing course. The protagonist was a pregnant writer. (She gave up using highlighters because she feared it would affect the fetus.) But I, the real writer behind the curtain, had never been pregnant. My professor suggested reading something in the African Literature tradition wherein I might find more examples of the relationship between thinking Mom and thinking, kicking, growing baby. He said I could find interesting works on how the two brains might strangely, interestingly, creatively intertwine. He suggested a few specific titles, all of which I’ve now, unfortunately, forgotten. So instead, when I became pregnant roughly a year ago to the day, I hit the internet. Hard.

First, I found gems like this one: “For many women, the ability to think is one of the first casualties of pregnancy.” (http://www.watermanwords.com/index.php/tips-writing/100-writing-while-pregnant)

And this one: And then there are those who are actually pregnant while writing a novel. We turn into a bundle of hormones and cravings, fall asleep at inopportune times and occasionally wonder if our brains have been replaced by a sack of cornmeal…How are we supposed to keep characters straight when we keep putting our clothes on inside out and walking down the street with all the seams showing?” (http://laurastanfill.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/pregnancy-and-the-writers-brain/)

The article, unfortunately, goes on: When in doubt, blame pregnancy brain–whether that’s for losing your keys again or using too many adverbs.”

I can’t (and won’t) speak to any other woman’s experience of pregnancy,—I’m now the mother of a happy 3.5-month-old—but I know that if you wake up and tell yourself you can’t write, then, pregnant or not, chances are, you won’t be able to write.

There are many things that might keep one from writing, some legitimate, some, well, not so much. A death in the family. A head cold. The laundry. Writing, because of its implied flexibility, is, unfortunately, acutely prone to the back burner.

It took me quite a while to find any article that implied something contrary to the common pregnancy-will-only-leave-you-drained wisdom. But could the small human in my uterus help me? Could he provide something extra? Give me an experience, and a perspective, I’ve never had? (Curiously, this last one is something, I think, that most writers value.)

I did, finally, come across this article (http://booksbywomen.org/creativity-in-pregnancy-by-eleanorfitzsimons/), called Creativity in Pregnancy, and written by Eleanor Fitzsimons. And, unlike the other articles I referenced earlier, it wasn’t all subjective. It cited studies, and quoted author interviews, and I was delighted.

Pregnancy will be different for every woman, every partner, every baby, for that matter. It might be a blast. It might be miserable. It’ll likely be something in between. But it doesn’t help anyone—writer, reader, plumber, firefighter—to spring from the gates and assume the worst. Pregnant or not, do what you’d do every day. Write. If you can’t, fine. Stop, relax, re-focus, repeat. Isn’t that always the process?

Tethered by Letters Summer Journal

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The Tethered by Letters Summer 2014 edition is now out in print. Purchase a copy to read my short fiction feature, “Accidental Deaths Don’t Count.”

 

 

Unabridged Adventure Series Part 8

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