Vacation of spiritual renewal

Instead of just being lazy on my vacation, I decided to make a list of things to accomplish. On the first evening of my break, I went to a coffee shop and made a list of random things I had been meaning to do. The list may not be interesting to anyone else, but I ended up in another city at the almost the last minute and got back in touch my creativity. Here’s the rundown:

Visit Nashville

The awesomeness about this item on the list is that even though it is the most difficult one for me, it was taken care of almost immediately. As soon as I posted “Making an awesome list of things to do on my vacation” on my facebook status,  my friend Susan invited me to come to Nashville and have lunch with her. She didn’t even know that #7 was “visit Nashville”. So I emailed her and dared her to name the day and restaurant and I would be there.

A long time ago I was new in this city and new to a Sunday School class. I didn’t know anyone. She welcomed me and was one of my first friends .  In 1998 we were sitting around and I pulled out a pencil and drawing pad and drew her portrait. The result was one of the few portraits I’ve created that actually looked like the subject. As happens in many relationships, we lost touch. She moved to Nashville and I started attending another church.

RESULT: We met at a mall in Nashville and she drove me around and showed me the sites. We also got lost in the beautiful countryside and ate at a grocery store/restaurant with mismatched tables and chairs.  She lives in a little town just outside the city. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban live in somewhere near her, but we didn’t see them. We stopped in the Parthenon museum which I liked because of the awesome fight scene from the movie  Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
I only stayed in Nashville for the day, but I saw a lot of things I want to do next time I visit for an extended time.

Write a poem

I am not a poet, but poetry is ignited by passion and I have been an open wound of emotions lately.

RESULT: I wrote an awful poem at the coffee shop. The verses talked about a complex psychological issue I am dealing with; I read it again when I got home and wept. I thanked God for using those words to cauterize the feelings that I have been meaning face head on.
Encourage a friend I haven’t seen in a while

I sent an email to a friend of mine who lives in Cincinnati. I told him I missed him and wanted to visit him. He had invited me a couple of times to visit his farm, but I was never able to make it.

We use to have the best laughs when we worked together at the library in college. We were actually pretty tight. But that was half a lifetime ago and I was only half as mature as I am now–which is pretty immature. For some reason, petty jealousies got in the way. Not sure what happened, but that was a lifetime ago.

RESULT: He wrote back. “I was just thinking about you the other day and how I was grateful to [have] you as a friend at [college]. You made me laugh a lot! Hard time for me but you made me laugh!” I think I know what the “hard time” was that he mentioned, but I forget the details.

I’m going to visit his farm in few weeks and we’re going to make a bonfire and invite some other friends I haven’t seen in decades.  It’s good to know that my email encouraged him –I can check that off my list. His hilarious correspondence this week has a familiarity to it that has been encouraging to me as well.

Draw something

Man, I use to draw all the time and then got out of it. Why do I neglect this craft? It relaxes me and it’s just so darn fun.

RESULT: I bought some fresh art supplies, including drawing pens, pencils, tracing paper and drawing books and started a project. I didn’t finish my drawing, but I’m off to a good start.

Run around your neighborhood twice (6 miles) instead of once (3 miles)

I don’t look like a runner, but I love, love, love to run. Well, really it’s jogging, but I love it. I use to run the Derby Triple Crown races, but I discovered that I don’t enjoy running with thousands of people around me. I’m either too slow for some people behind me, and I’m too fast for some people in front of me.

My favorite way to run is to get up early in the morning and run the circle around my neighborhood. It’s so quiet and I find it relaxing.  I few years ago I busted my ankle in a hole on a street that was undergoing repairs and I stopped running regularly. Now I’m getting back into it. I usually just run the three miles  that make up the circle, but I want to get back into running around it twice  like I used to.

RESULT: Well, during my vacation I ran just once around in the mornings, or went to the gym and did the elliptical machine. I procrastinated running around twice until the last day of my vacation. It was Sunday morning and I had the whole day to myself–I go to church on Saturday nights–and I ran twice around. After I was done, I asked myself why didn’t I get back into this sooner and I plan to incorporate the longer run once or twice a week. By the way, I believe running is more mental than physical.

Finish “The Help”

I love to read. I read anything, but I admit my guilty pleasure is science fiction, fantasy or horror. However, I was half-way through The Help when my vacation started and wanted to finish it.

RESULT: Spent a quiet afternoon finishing the novel and immediately went out to catch the three o’clock showing of the movie based on this novel.  I don’t usually see movies by myself, and it was kind of weird because the theatre was almost empty. Enjoyed both the book and the movie. New fan of Emma Stone.

Work on novel

I have to make a big decision. I am about a third of the way through the second draft, but I’m not feeling the love anymore. What to do?
RESULT: At first I thought I needed to convert from third-person point of view to first person point of view; however, that still didn’t’ feel right. So I decided the first third that I had already written was all prestory and I needed to dive right into the middle of the action–in medias res. I simplified the story and I feel it’s much more interesting and mysterious this way. I’m in love with my story again.

Make a new friend

On Facebook, I  “friended” a new guy at work. He accepted just hours after my vacation started, so technically I can check this one off the list.  But . . .
What I really had in mind for this item on my to do list is to befriend someone who is a total stranger. I’m envious of extroverts who make friends at the gym and coffee shops. In fact, the people I know at the gym are outgoing people who walk up to me and start a conversation. Same thing with my regular coffee shop. What is that? I never  just walk up to people and start talking to them–I’m too shy.

I still have over a week to make a friend  out of a total stranger. I will look for topics to start a conversation and see what happens–“Oh, I’ve read that book” or “Do you like your ipad?” I hope I don’t come across as a loony.

RESULT: Well, I did make a new friend. She is the librarian at the college I teach at. She had been there a year and we had never met because I teach at night and she works during the day. She came into my classroom for end -of-the-quarter evaluations, but because my class had already left, we just introduced ourselves and talked for about twenty minutes.

CONCLUSION: My list of awesome things to do may not seem awesome to most people, but for me I felt spiritually and emotionally renewed by the time my vacation was over. There were some things that happened that I didn’t expect. Maybe I’ll talk about them later.

Mad at myself?

Until a couple of days ago, I hadn’t written a word on my novel for two months. What? Yes, I’m mad at myself. I have been busy with work, but that is no excuse.

The good news is that I’ve been doing some reading–some good reading. Here is the fiction and non-fiction I’ve indulged in this summer so far:

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson
    The late Larson reveals Sweden’s issues with violence against women in this murder mystery. Protagonist Mikael Blomkvist witnesses his professional and personal life fall apart due to his integrity. The only way to restore everything is to find out what happened to a teenaged girl who vanished in 1964. The movie is coming out this winter and when I saw the trailor–and also hearing people talk about this book–I decided to try it –on my Kindle.
  • This Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde
    I’ve heard Wilde was kind of a weirdo, so I couldn’t resist downloading this play to my Kindle and reading it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sort of reminds me of Shakespeare’s comedies with all the hijinks of an episode of Three’s Company. Did I just compare Shakespeare to Three’s Company?
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions by Brandon Toropov
    In high school, Mr. Gruen’s Humanities class discussed world religions and it was the first time I learned more about non-Christian belief systems. As a refresher course, I read this book to help me understand friends who are Muslim and Buddhists and such. Kindle read.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
    Boy with Aspergers tries to find the answer to a key left behind by his father who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Some people accuse the writer of manipulating the heart strings in this book, but I say ‘Isn’t that a big part of fiction? Emotions?’ Yes, this is a three-hanky read, but you will endear youself to the protagonist. And by the way, this was not Kindle-read; I borrowed this from the good, old-fashioned library. Thank you.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    If Foer uses the bittersweet to entice the reader, Collins uses suspense in this science-fiction/young adult thriller. No, she doesn’t just use suspense, she slathers it all through the story, chapter by chapter, word by word. I mean, you just know Katniss is going to end up in the government-run arena where kids kill kids, but you just. Can’t. Put. Down. This. Book. After hearing more than two socially-unrelated people mention The Hunger Games, I had to check it out. Kindle-read and movie-bound in 2012!

Whores of pop culture

Back in 1975, I bought my first X-men comic. I loved it. All these great superheroes I had never seen before: Nightcrawler–a blue demon who could teleport; Colossus–muscle guy made of steel; Storm– controlled the weather; Banshee–flew around with a sonic scream; Wolverine–claws coming out of his knuckles.  Cyclops was the leader  and he could shoot beams from this visor he wore. Phoenix–not sure what she could do (read minds), but she was one of my first crushes on a fictional character.

I followed X-men comics for a few years after buying that issue. The stories that Chris Claremont wrote and Dave Cockrum and John Byrne drew enticed this middle-school kid. The thing is, I had no one to talk to about the X-men. Everyone  else like The Hulk or Spiderman. Me, I enjoyed the complex interaction of a team of superheroes. But in an era before the internet, reading the X-men served as a lonely pasttime. I always wondered, “Doesn’t anyone else see how great these stories are? Am I the only one?”

Last week I saw the latest X-men movie. Never would I have thought that decades later the X-men would be a household name. When I read the comic as a kid, it was only on sale every other month. Every other month. Now twenty X-men related comics glut the market on a monthly basis–I’m not sure exactly how many because I haven’t bought an X-men comic since the early 80’s.

Even though I don’t read comics any more, I always considered the X-men “my own.” They belonged to me. Yes, I know its ridiculous to feel possessive about it, but when I see how unrecognizable the characters have become over the years, and especially in the movies, I shake my head. Something else of mine, a personal “friend” so to speak, has been whored out to make money.

The same thing happened to Dune, one of the first science fiction books I read–about the same time I was reading X-men comics. It’s still one of my favorite novels. Twice, however, the book has been interpreted on the screen–a 1984 movie and a 2000 mini-series. Naturally both had their strengths and weaknesses, but the personal bond I had with this story felt violated.

I experienced this same emotion when one of my favorite newspaper comics became famous. I still remember the first time I saw “The Far Side” on the comics page of the Courier Journal. A three-eyes monster poked his head into a university classroom and said, “Oops. Wrong room.” I know. Stupid. But the quirkiness of “The Far Side” stood out against the other comic strips. I “got” it and I guess that made me feel superior. My smugness disappeared over time when The Far Side’s wacky humor became popular along with other bizarre comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbs” and “Bloom County.”

I guess when something like The Lord of the Rings  or Harry Potter or the Time Traveler’s Wife becomes “common,” a sadness prevails. It’s like I lost a friend. I take comfort in knowing that I can always go back to the source and read a novel that’s turning tricks on the silver screen and picture the characters as I did before I ever saw them portrayed by actors.

Except for Sean Astin in Lord of the Rings. He’s a great Sam Gamgee.

In praise of bad space opera

Hey, I can’t pass up free ebooks.

Speaking of free ebooks, I downloaded a science fiction book called Awakening: Dead Forever by William Campbell. It’s pretty much space opera–my guilty pleasure. I’m only about a fourth of the way through, and I can tell that I’m going to both like and hate it.

Campbell is pretty good about fast-paced action both with people fighting and vessels battling it out. Fun stuff. Clear writing makes even complex battles understandable. Think the Joss Whedon series, Firefly.

What bothers me about the story so far is the adolescent descriptions and actions of the female characters. The author goes into great detail on the physical attributes of Maddie, the story’s lead female. Adam, the protagonist, is about to be thrown into a pit of hellfire when Maddie rescues him:

Wow look at that! She is totally hot. What am I thinking? I’m about to die . . . But I can’t help it, she looks that good. Tight muscular thighs all the way up, blending perfectly into shapely hips that sway with her marvelous backside as she hurries down the ladder. Gadgets surround her trim waist . . . her tight sleeveless top reveals the rest of her feminine features, not particularly abundant, yet incredibly arousing, most notable the tantalizing treats the sheer  garment fails to conceal.

Okay, seriously? He’s about to face eternal damnation and he notices her muscular thighs? Sorry, I couldn’t help but laugh when I read this paragraph. Come on. Is Adam 16 years old? If not he sure sounds like it.

The other characters, crew members of a futuristic spacecraft, have responsibilities that are clearly presented. Matt is the techie weapons guy; Dave is the pilot; Adam is the captain. I’m not sure what Maddie is doing on the ship. I think she’s the mechanic, but all she’s managed to do is fall on top of the protagonist when the ship swerves sharply and say things like,

“My favorite position, on top of things.” She winks.

I remember what my well-read friend Laura always says when we are discussing books: “I can tell this book was written by a man. That’s not how a woman would behave in real life.” I try and remember this in my writing, because, even though Laura wouldn’t say it to my face, I wouldn’t want her to think that about my characters.

I’ll give the book a second chance and finish Awakening: Dead Forever because it’s a fun read even with its horny teenage perspective.

Keeping the distance

Scott Nicholson says in Write Good or Die:

Newer writers tend to rely on “He saw,” “He felt,” “He smelled,” “He tasted,” or “He heard” instead of just letting the actions or sensations occur. It shows a lack of confidence. If you have done a good job of securing your character viewpoint, then when that stack of dishes clatters to the ground, the reader knows who hears the smash.

So of course I looked through my novel’s current draft and it didn’t take long to see how I had violated this advice.

Before

Quinn and Esh walked along the beach for several minutes, following the bend and curve of the beach. In the distance, Quinn could see various buildings, most of them dark red and orange, sprinkled with dots of light as the evening approached. Quinn stopped in his tracks. He could see movement around the dwellings.

“Aliens.”

After

Quinn and Esh walked along the beach for several minutes, following the bend and curve of the beach. In the distance, buildings, most of them dark red and orange, sat in a cove and formed a town. Dots of lights sprinkled them as evening approached. Quinn stopped in his tracks. Dark figures moved around the dwellings like ants on their hill.

“Aliens.”

Rationalizing, episode two million and one

No, I did not write today. I spent all morning reading on my Kindle. Then I met Phyllis at church and then we went to Skyline and discussed how each of us is surely the only normal person in each of our respective families (not true).

No, I did not write today, but reading and conversation are fodder for prose.

Slightly repulsive

I now live in the post-Oprah show era. I bring up Oprah because I remember one time she said it’s a good idea to write down everything you eat so you can see what a gluttonous pig you are. I have heard that the same principle can be applied to keep track of one’s discipline in writing. That is why I created this blog. I want to keep track of the experience of writing my novel.

What is the current state of my novel? Well, I wrote the first draft during the 2010 NaNoWriMo. Of course that draft was dreck, but I’m currently rewriting it and my novel has graduated to slightly repulsive. But it’s okay. I’m having fun. I took my first draft and made a list of the scenes. I ended up with exactly one hundred scenes.

Having one hundred scenes makes it easy to figure out what percentage I have done. Let’s just say I am twenty-one percent done with the current draft. I was hoping to be further along by now, so I created this blog so I can capture my thoughts on the writing experience. I also hope it will keep me more consistent.

I have posted my novel in another blog. As soon as I am brave enough, I will provide a link to it. At the moment, it is just too offensive to let anyone see right now. Maybe later.

Can you guess for what “sly twin tiger” is an anagram?