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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sleepless in the Universe

This is the perfect opportunity, (4:24 am) to discuss one of the few topics about which I qualify as an expert, and that is INSOMNIA. 

Insomnia Type 1.) You brush the teeth, don the nightie and crawl into the bed, get comfy with blanket, pillow, white-noise-producing fan, dog, husband, and fall gently into a sweet, deep, sleep, just like the other diurnal creatures from the prairie to the forest. 
Until... you turn over to settle the hip, to cover the foot, to switch the pillow to the cool side, while ordering self:  DO NOT THINK! DO NOT THINK! THINK NOTHING! 
But a tiny, seemingly harmless thought slips through, a gateway speck of brain activity that mutates instantaneously into the cacophony of ceaseless inner chatter. Thoughts of things left undone, unsaid, begin their taunt. Mundane niggling details repeat and repeat like acid reflux. The night is lost.
Or, Insomnia Type 2.) After dragging through your day, hallucinating with sleep deprivation, you yawn through dinner, take the hot soothing bath, drink the warm milk, lay the weary head upon the pillow, close the blood-shot eyes.  
Ah, blissful rest! (two, three, four) Pop! The eyes are open.

You play possum, hold unnaturally still. But the foot must twitch. You are too hot, too cold. There is no comfortable position for any part of your body or soul. The dog’s toenails click across the floor. The husband snores. You hate them both. You seethe. You whimper, panic. If religious, you wail at the heavens, beseech the sleep gods. Tears of exhaustion and frustration seep.  
You try the couch but cannot escape the repeating lyrics of a bank commercial from your youth. 

You remember the tricks. Massage the face. Tense and relax various body parts. Snap on the light and read till the words blur, have the shot of whiskey or the addictive, hangover-producing magic white pill.  You re-paint the kitchen. Or write a blog about insomnia.

Things that aggravate symptoms. 
A. Working.
B. Not working.
C. Needing to get up in the morning.
D. Having said or done something cringe-worthy earlier in the day, or week, or lifetime. Or having had same said or done to you.
E. The future.
F. The Past.
G. Having children, a spouse, parents, siblings, co-workers, neighbors, friends, acquaintances, relatives, or none of the above.
H. Concerns about encroaching global stupidity, catastrophic weather anomalies, dust bunnies under the armoire, and the inevitability of death. 

Possible Side Effects
A. Sleeping on the inside while driving on the outside. 
B. Inappropriate weeping while wielding a machete. 
C. Divorce. 
D. Incarceration.

Treatment Methods 
A. Lobotomy 
B. Death

P.S. This post is dedicated to my fellow sufferers. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mosaic and the Magic of Grout!

Some things that seem like they'd be the opposite of writing -- aren't. Like sleeping, or walking the dog, or sitting around with friends....

Your story can and will follow you there, tug on your sleeve, pretending it has come to buy the next round when really, it just wants to make sure you haven't forgotten it... for even a minute.

But mosaic is different. It uses a tunelessly humming, color / texture / messy / mud-play part of the brain that, at least for me, doesn't welcome words. And just as writing is pristine on the outside (human in chair, fingers tapping keys) while a rat's nest internally, tiling is all dust and sloppy glop and shattered stuff to the eye -- while the inside of the tiler is as sweet as a breeze.

And every step of the process is glorious.
1. Assemble things over time and sort them...
Satisfying already, right? Gathering objects, making little piles of buttons, stones, coins, toys, blue things, shiny things, round things, shells, tiles, bits of colored glass...
2. Smash them with a hammer (the appeal should be obvious.) 
3. Glue them to things. Tra la la. 
4. Smush muddy grout on it. *
5. Wait, but not too long.
6. Wipe away excess grout, revealing colors & shapes as you go -- like digging up buried treasure, or an archeological dig sped way way up.

* Ah Grout!  It takes disparate objects and unites them. Not in philosophy or lip-flapping theory but in reality. It embraces chips and jaggedy bits and cements them into one solid, smooth-faced, indivisible, immensely satisfying THING.
And it does so quickly, simply and without words!  If only more aspects of life could be grouted.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Remember when TWO Truman Capote movies came out at once????

Well, I gotta say, this has been a professionally repulsive week. 
In an act of kindness however, I will not enumerate the horrors. Allow me instead, since our heads are already in the bowl, to mention the vomit-inducing R collection.
One "R" word is Remaindering.
This, for the uninitiated, is when the money guys at your publishing house decide to stand all the characters in your book on the slippery edge of a pit. Then, in cool legalese, they send a note informing you of their intention to gun down everyone of those characters. P.S. Kindly offering to send you any sweepings of salvageable blindfolds or body parts at a Thanks for everything! Your call is important to us! Have a Nice Day! discount.  
This can happen after the book has been in print for decades, or mere moments after a book's release. But still, in the context of these Rs, remaindering is The Happy R! because at least remaindered characters had a chance, however brief, to live.
The next R word, Rejection, needs no introduction.
As wretched feelings go, the rejection of your novel is way up there with shingles. But no rejection is necessarily the last word. There always exists the hope that the next editor to read your story will get it. So even this R is a bit happy-ish.
But meet #3. Realization of a Repugnant Reality.
This grim set of Rs refers to the discovery that a book very very close in concept, nature, subject and possibly even style to the book you've been wrestling with for years... was recently published in a unique circle of hell, by a newbie on a unicycle.
Unlike being remaindered, your characters never had their chance in the world.
Unlike being rejected, no future opportunity for acceptance or even for further rejection exists.
Again, all your characters, their world, every scene and situation teeter at the edge of the maw, not after a long or short life with readers, but after no life at all.  
The world forever denied your MOBY RICK.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Fair Judgement!

It's no sweat picking the winners of kid-lit writing contests when I'm the only judge. I read through the submissions, make a pile of the ones I hate least, worrying that I'll have to eenie-meenie-miney-moe for my Gold, Silver and Bronze... Until oh good!  I find one I hardly hate at all!  Then some I actually like -- sometimes even love.
I always agree entirely with my own taste, so the winner is clearly The Winner to me. This makes it easy to believe every cliche’ about artistic justice -- Cream rising to the top, Good writing and hard work telling out in the end...                  

Many years ago I was on a huge panel of judges, judging books that were already published. In that case my dissenting vote was soooo far out weighed by the majority that I might as well have not even read all those enormous boxes of books. 
But recently I served on a panel of just THREE judges, judging the unpublished work of  grant hopefuls.     
We read through the fifty submissions and each came up with a list of our favorites. Then we compared lists. Two lists had overlaps. One, (mine) did not.  Hmmm. 
I’d heard of awards committees who, unable to reach consensus, settled on a winner which was no one’s favorite, making the winners into losers and crowning mediocracy with glory. The gold going not to the book anyone loved, but to the one no one hated.
But I always thought that was an urban myth. Sort of the baby in the microwave of writing competitions. But then.... here we three were with unmatched lists.  
So, how does a well intentioned, mild-mannered panel reach a fair agreement if they don’t in fact agree? 
Enter a bit of lobbying, negotiating, amicable compromise. 

No one offered or accepted bribes, or made threats or pulled rank. Our solution was give the top award to the entry my fellow judges both had on their lists... although it wasn’t at the tip top of either. Second place went to my favorite, and honorable mentions to the manuscripts they'd each liked best. 
None of us sacrificed inordinately, and all were more or less satisfied. But in truth we arrived at our top choices almost arbitrarily, led by a unanimous wish to avoid unpleasantness and return to our regular programing. 
The winners and losers of the contest didn't know that, though. Their reactions to our decision would not take our ambivalence into consideration. They'd either feel like winners or losers, as if my fellow judges and I knew anything at all about anything. 
Which of course we do... and don’t. 
This calls for a tiny cringe.   
But that doesn't mean the contestants should discount our results. Reading is so utterly subjective that perhaps this jury's random method of selection was as pure and righteous as any, and stands as a fair microcosm of the whole submission / selection / rejection process. 
Maybe that’s why so many of us drink.