Wednesday, November 24, 2010
For some reason, I'm curious about watching one innovative venture, in particular, called www.patch.com, AOL's online newspaper with an emphasis on local. I'm curious about whether or not it will be one of those "will change the way we do news forever" ventures. Patches (as we're calling them) are literally sprouting up all over the country and our very own West Hartford Patch sprouted this past Friday (not to brag, but I've got my first-ever column there). The vision here is that Patch could go global. How exciting would that be! If North Korea decides to act up, then there's someone posted there from Patch ready to share their local perspective with the world. Too often, we send outsiders in to cover the news. It's just not the same. We really should be hearing from the local people from where the news is erupting.
Who knows though. Maybe Patch is just one more flunky attempt to manage our paper to wireless transition that will fall on its head. At some point, people will be primarily wireless. Doesn't that seem obvious? We're just not sure in which applications this will happen. Maybe it'll be a patch.com. Maybe it'll be something else. Not sure how many of our young people will miss the blackened fingers from the Sunday paper like we older folks do. But change happens. And there are people in the world who can see exactly how it will happen.
Back in the early 90's, I worked for a non-governmental organization at the United Nations -- the Baha'i International Community. One of our IT guys, Thane Terrill, popped his head into my office and said, "I wish I had a lot of money. I'd put it in this thing called Yahoo. It's going to change the world."
"Yahoo? What kind of crazy thing is that? Rah rah cowboy yahoo?" I said with a twang in my voice. At this point in history, we were starting to email. We had the internet. Our server was always crashing. But Yahoo? I had no idea.
I think back on that moment when Thane, who rarely said much, dropped that tidbit of information into my lap, and how I reacted. All of my own filters associated with the word "yahoo" judged his foretelling and I stuffed the concept into a mental box called, "Well, that's crazy."
How crazy is it now, Sally? (Kicking self in head as she types in "yahoo" 500 times a day on her computer to check her emails.)
Watch those visionaries in today's world. Listen to people like Thane and just plain pay attention. You, too, could be part of the world's future versus its dying past with a mantra of "That's crazy."
The sky's not the limit.
There is so much more.
Check out www.patch.com.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
This year, I did buy pencils. Halloween-themed pencils. They're decorated with bats and spiders, with an expiration date of November 1. No one will want their Halloween pencil tomorrow. And what am I thinking? Pencils? These trick-or-treaters don't want pencils. They want candy. Lots and lots of candy. They live for the feeling when their eyes will roll to the back of their heads as they bite into that piece of chocolate, their brains registering DOPAMINE RUSH.
I play along and cringe.
I know too much. I know what sugar does to the brain and it's not pretty.
I wish I didn't know how baaaad it really is to feel so goooood.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Aren't they gorgeous?
I have found spirit in my garden.
Friday, May 7, 2010
I'm blaming revision, which feels more like building a water system as opposed to letting the words just flow down the mountain. So, rather than fear my creativity is ebbing, I'll just look at revision as constructive flow that leads to a pause, which is where I am now.
After spending every free minute I had this week, revising and rewriting my short, I’m officially exhausted. I’ve read, reread, revised this story about a hundred times. At first, there were big chops, then chisels and, finally, polish. It feels ready for public consumption, that place where you can do nothing else with it except give it to objectivity. It’s that time where I’ve spent too much time staring at the story, reworking sentences, building tension, struggling with dialogue. Saturated with it, I can do no more without the help of someone else.
I got so microscopic about this piece that I missed obvious stuff like the fact that no one would wear a fur coat during baseball season. But, would it be a problem if the dumb husband bought the fur coat during baseball season? He actually stole it, so it makes more sense if he gives it to her during the warmer months because he’s an idiot and I want the reader to think he’s an idiot. Phew. I can get away with that. But the tense inconsistencies? How come I’m only seeing those the 101th time I’ve read the thing? Because that is what I’ve decided happens when you’re too close to a story. You need to give yourself some breathing room. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning to finalize this piece and just sat cross-eyed while trying to focus on it. It’s like when my kids come home from school and yell, “Look at this! Look at this!” while holding the paper an inch from my face. I can’t see a blessed thing because it’s just too close (and I’m just too far-sighted). Put the fork in me, I’m done. I’ve got to either send it in to the contest or sit on it for a few more days to get some perspective. Instinct tells me to sit.
I really don’t like entering short story contests. I feel defeated before I even send the damn thing in. There are so many talented writers out there that I imagine it’s a rare writer who gets acknowledged as a winner of a contest. The story has to be well-written and interesting. Not an easy feat. I read the stories that are being submitted now for Backspace Contest #48 and I marvel. People are so clever and talented conjuring up stories that feel so real, I could feel the slime of a frog or the despair of divorce. I get inspired to keep at it when I read other people’s writing. And I learn a lot.
On that note, I read an interview yesterday with Emily St. John Mandel, author of THE SINGER’S GUN, and was struck by one of her comments about writing. BPM Smith asked her to share about her prose style because “It's quite different... taut, even beautiful in ways.”
This exquisite writer responded, “I've never taken a writing class, so my prose style developed solely through voracious reading and through a lot of practice. I try to read as much fiction as I can, to see what everyone else is doing.”
For the full interview, go to:
What? You’ve never taken a writing class and you write like that?? How is that possible? Well, I think of author, Malcom Gladwell, who in his book OUTLIERS shares the phenomenon called “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Scientific studies have shown that 10,000 hours are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. Well, if that’s true, no one needs to take a class on anything. We just have to spend the better part of our lives accumulating the 10,000 hours we need to become an expert. Makes sense that a child who was a voracious reader grew up to become an exquisite writer.
Well, back to the drawing board. I imagine I’m at about 1,200 hours in my writing immersion, having gotten this late-in-life start at it. But, I will keep plugging along, trying to get those hours in, even if it means rising at 4:00 AM and staring at a blank screen, appreciating the pause that must happen for every writer.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I'm sitting on my couch drinking freshly brewed coffee as I watch the devastation that is Haiti on my new HD television. My daughters are fighting over a sweater upstairs.
“It’s mine,” one yells.
“But I want to borrow it!” The other shrieks back. “I let you borrow my stuff all the time.”
I wait for more drama to unfold upstairs as I watch the 82nd Airborne in action in Port-au-Prince. People collect around the boxes being dropped from helicopters, arms flailing to get the food and water they can for themselves, their loved ones. There is no order. They are pushing and screaming for survival.
“Stop pulling at me. I just put it on!” I imagine the one who wants the sweater tugging on the other one who is wearing the sweater.
“But you’re only wearing it because I asked you if I could wear it. You’re doing it to make me mad!” It is true. They both live to irritate the other.
I feel powerless on every human level. Powerless because I cannot convey to my children what an absolute waste of time it is to fight over an item of clothing, but more powerless because their behavior, in contrast to what I’m witnessing on the new television (in high definition), is even more abhorrent to me than ever.
On a normal day, I would make the one wearing the sweater confess that she did, in fact, put it on to piss her sister off. Then I would remark that letting her sister borrow the sweater is not going to take years off her life. It actually is a kind thing to do and acting in kindness can ADD years to your life, as a matter of fact. Yes, I read this somewhere in Reader’s Digest or something. I would confuse the hell out of them with my conversation on kindness, thereby distracting them from their fight over a sweater neither of them even care to wear anymore because by now Mom would have also told them that she just pulled it out from the laundry because she was too lazy to follow its laundering instructions. “That sweater was actually underneath a pile of dirty underwear,” I would say. They would smirk at each other and move on to their next argument.
But this is not a normal day. My tolerance for their behavior is non-existent. Don’t they have a clue that people are living under tarps with no food or water still looking for their loved ones trapped under their broken homes now reduced to rubble? Don’t they know how fortunate they are and how grateful they should be that I’m even alive to care about their stupid fight?
When I watch the television alone, I feel powerless. I feel disconnected from the surreal. But I can mobilize and write a check or pray or decide that I will be grateful for every light that shines and every morsel of food and that next drink of water that I have. I can make a decision to do all of these things because I am an adult. I can do something about the powerlessness that I experience.
The harder emotion I have is the disconnectedness, that surreal experience that comes from watching human suffering on high definition television. And this is less a feeling that I personally experience because I have lived in a third world country and have experienced suffering of people devastated by poverty first-hand. Instead, the disconnected feeling I have is for my children who do not understand how ill-prepared they will be in our world if they do not turn their attention away from fighting over a sweater and towards the needs of humanity. They are children. Innocent, protected children. I have raised them this way because I convinced myself that I was being a good mother when I protected them from pain and suffering.
Today, I feel different. Today, I wish I connected them more to something other than their happy oblivion about the larger world.
“Get down here!” I yell from the couch. “Quit your fighting and get down here.” I realize at this point that I will not be quoting the article on kindness in the Reader’s Digest.
I can hear their sheepish footsteps coming down the stairs. “Get in here and look at this!” I yell again and watch their eyes bulge at the television depicting the horrors that my adult mind cannot even fathom. “You’re fighting about a goddamn sweater and these people don’t have water to drink!” I consider at this moment that I am doing exactly what my parents did to me, pouring the guilt on them that will awash them in shame.
It works. Their shoulders slump. “But she wouldn’t let me borrow the sweater.” One is still mired in the pettiness, in spite of the hell-on-earth scenes flashing from the television. I breathe deeply because I also realize at this moment that I am responsible for this disconnect.
“You’re still fussing about a sweater? Are you kidding me? Look at these kids!” I point at the television, pounding it into them.
“Mom, I just can’t, ok? I know all about Haiti. They made us watch something in school on Friday. I just can’t handle it, ok?”
I watch as my daughter exits the living room, trying to deal with the earthquake in her way. The other one sits cross-legged on the floor next to me and watches as the camera spans the most remote areas in Haiti where people have little to no chance of survival. We watch as I sip my coffee.
“Mom, it makes no sense that we can’t help them,” she says.
“I know.” I regret the despair in my own voice. I need to instill a sense of action into her, a pro-active attitude about the alchemy of life. The fire purifies the gold, right. This "fire" in Haiti will have a purifying effect on all of us, right? This suffering is enlisting international support. It is spurring action on many fronts. It is giving people that sense of immediacy to alleviate human suffering. It is connecting all of us to the Haitian people. It is reminding us that we are one humanity, not separated by national borders. It is creating intolerance for repressive government. It is teaching us to be thankful and offer construction not destruction at every opportunity. Right?
“But maybe we can help,” I say.
“Just stop fighting over the sweater.”
She rolls her eyes. "How’s that gonna help?”
“If every one of us decided today to choose someone else’s happiness over our own, the world would be a much better place, don't you think?”
“I’m still not sure how that’ll help the people in Haiti.”
“Well, if you believe that we're all connected on some level, maybe it could help in some small way."
I'm not sure she gets what I'm saying, but I can see that the experience of the Haitian people is acting like a catalyst. It's forcing us to stop, pay attention to our priorities and make adjustments where necessary. To a lesser degree, the earthquake has rocked us, as well.
At least I hope it has.
Rest assured in the protection of God. He will preserve his own children under all circumstances. Be ye not afraid nor be ye agitated. He holds the scepter of power in his hand, and like unto a hen he gathereth his chickens under his wings. "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to keep silent and a time to speak." Now, friends, this is the time of assurance and faith and not fear and dread. –Star of the West