Friday, February 27, 2009

Wished, and got

They say be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.  Well, we're not there yet, but we've applied to get accommodations in Ireland and I can almost taste the Irish whiskey.  

One step closer to a journey.  

I'm enjoying the idea of walking a long way so that you can start walking.

In other news, I got another story idea, so I'm working on it.  Please be a short story and not a novel, please oh please ... it's only got one pov character in it and one main problem!

I haven't been writing in my livejournal.  Bad me, I know.  I'll get back on that soon.  

That's all for today.  Oh, and yes, we'll take pictures in Ireland.  We're down to single digit number of weeks.  Yeeeee!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Big Picture

I did it.  I called around, and discovered that the beautiful LCD TV I'd been looking at for the past several months at Costco is over $100 cheaper than the least expensive television of the exact same size at the place advertised as saying "shop around, but if you don't shop at XXXXX XXXX, you'll be sorry!"  I guess I won't be sorry.  

At first I'd planned on waiting until February 15th, and then when the government extended the HD deadline (um, why are we waiting?  Television is not exactly a crucial service, hello!  But I guess I'm being insensitive,) I thought what the heck, I'll wait until June.  But then I went by my daughter this afternoon sitting a couple of feet away from her brother's laptop, watching what should have been a horrific pageant of a war display (Braveheart) but was instead a cute miniature action scene, and I wondered about what waiting would really buy me.  I'd hoped a lot of saved money with the advent of plummeting sales, but the TV I wanted was already half the price of the least expensive big TVs and the prices hadn't budged on President's Day like I expected them to.  

I bet the 'big' TVs I think about are average in most people's minds.  Yikes.  To me, those 50" things are as big as I want to imagine, and those would fill up half our living room (and not in a nice way.)  Our brand new, gorgeous television is 32" and it looks plenty big to me.  Not bulky--it's smaller and lighter than our big box, but the screen is actually larger, and clearer.  I have a hard time imagining one of those monstrosities in the main aisle looming in our living room.  Actually, I take that back.  I can perfectly imagine it, more intrusive than Darth Vader and more obnoxious than Jerry Lewis.  [ducking to avoid protests thrown by Jerry Lewis fans] 

Yeah, yeah, I'm going into raptures over a dumb appliance.  Still, it's good to have our family tradition of the TV dinner theater not just return to its former glory, but exceed it.  Since we go out to the big screen theater maybe once or twice a year, don't have the television turned on from morning to night, don't watch Saturday cartoons, or late night SciFi, and we might catch the news only once a month, the TV was never about mindless passage of time, flipping channels and enduring commercials.  It's about entertainment, and culture (and because I have family members who enjoy that sort of thing, the eye-gouging 'humor' that is Robot Chicken.)  It's about storytelling, and art, and fun for a couple of hours.  With the occasional weekend marathon of our favorite TV series.  I love those.

It'll be fun exploring our DVD collection all over again.  How does The Dark Knight look?  How about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?  Pride and Prejudice?  Phantom of the Opera?

I'll enjoy finding out.  Now I'm totally motivated to clear off our dining table and turn it into the center of our social lives again.  We can see the big picture from there.  Crystal clear.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Concert for Cline Reminder

Just a reminder that the Concert for Cline (first mentioned here) will be this coming Sunday, March 1st, at Marylhurst College in Saint Anne's Chapel.  Please consider attending.  Proceeds benefit Marylhurst's music therapy program.  Doors open at 2pm, and the concert begins at 3pm.  The suggested donation amount is $10.  

Marylhurst University's address is:  17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy 43) / PO Box 261 / Marylhurst, OR 97036  (driving directions here) (near Lake Oswego, which isn't too far from the Portland/Metro area.)

Tri-Met bus #35 serves Marylhurst.  It's not far off major freeways and (I'm told) easy to find.

Some of the participants have traveled a long way to get here.  This event won't repeat, so this will be your one and only chance to hear all these performers in one place!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Artist's Eye

I didn't get to go to many panels at Radcon.  One was a two hour sketch session.  I had to leave about an hour in, but that hour helped loosen me up.

I've been to a few art classes over the years.  I've actually been a life model at more classes than I've personally attended, and I got to learn a lot at those.  I've noticed there are a lot of different ways of going about teaching people how to sketch, and I have a preference.

One really common way is the part analysis.  It can be fascinating.  Students learn how to draw individual portions of anatomy like eyes, noses, mouths, ears, hands and so forth.  Gray's anatomy is often referenced in such classes, getting into the nitty gritty of muscle under skin.  But these studies miss something important.  Overall composition and proportion.  

One of the most effective proportioning observations is through DaVinci's "Vitruvian Man"--an elegant display of DaVinci's understanding of Vitruvius' mathematical proportions combined with his own studies in human anatomy.  Deeper study into these proportions reveal that the 'golden ratio' or golden mean visible in the Vitruvian man echo throughout nature and inform some of the world's most compelling design elements, including (often purposefully on the part of the architect) architecture.  One of the most exquisite is how it appears in the nautilus shell.  If you can see the similarities between the Vitruvian man  proportions and how they connect with a nautilus, you've made an ancient connection that can change the way you see things forever.  I chose the link for golden mean because it's a little indirect, so it makes you think.  Where is the golden mean in the Vitruvian Man?  It's not immediately obvious.  A clue is how the circle and the square interact.  Also, look at the small lines in the joints, and look for both squares and rectangles.  You'll know you have the right ones when you look at the nautilus on the link and see the same sort of square/rectangle relationships.

So as cool (very cool!) and fun as it is to learn about creating volume/mass in noses and thickness in eyelids and the proper placement of iris and pupil when drawing eyes, in many ways I wish these things were approached after (well after!) loose sketch technique.  It's easy to tighten down.  This is so important, I want to repeat it a different way.  It's very easy to obsess on details and fail to achieve a harmonic whole.  I didn't want to pick on any particular person, so I did a search for fan art to pull up a bunch of amateur (remember, amateur is 'love of' and there's nothing wrong with or pitiful about amateur efforts) art.  Some of the images are very effective and well-executed.  Looking at the ones that don't work as well for you, can you detect a sense of piecing together parts like Dr. Frankenstein assembling his monster? Those parts can be perfectly executed, but do they work together? Is there harmony?  The golden mean isn't the only proportion set that works--do you see some proportions on the more aesthetically pleasing art that aren't golden mean proportions but still transmit a sense of harmony and layers of interlocking relationships?

Not only does obsessing on details tend to distract or detract from overall proportions, but it steals motion from art.  The more I focus on a mouth or nose or ruffles or whatever my brain fixates on, the less time I spend moving my pencil or brush around the page grabbing the flow. Flow seems like a touchy-feely abstract-y kind of term, but going back to DaVinci's observations, it's not just about finding the right proportion of forearm to upper arm or shoulder width to torso length, but proportioning the negative spaces under an arm, or discovering why the extension of a hand in gesture is so elegant and dance-like, why the fall of a skirt or the texture in hair is pleasing to the eye, why one shadow on the wall creates drama while another overwhelms or creates a distraction, and why when you make a particular change from reality (say, pile on more hair than the model has or alter the angle of the head) it works better.  If you find the squares and rectangles, find the curves, find the S, find the concentric ovals, find the diagonals and triangles and deepest shadows and lightest lights and all the neat things that make a piece of art inviting before you nail down the details it's far more likely that you'll create something that will take your breath away.  Focus on the details at the cost of overall composition, and that's what the viewer will usually do too.  If the details are perfect, the viewer will see the art as perfect too (and sometimes it's a very static, still-life kind of perfection--great if that's what you want to transmit, not so great if it's meant to transmit life and motion.)  If there's the tiniest problem, that problem will leap and shout and generally make a nuisance of itself.  Great composition overwhelms the positive and negative quirks inherent in detail, and reveals a world of fire and shadow, wind and stillness, distance and intimacy.

It's possible to create vibrant original art by focusing on details--through reference materials that themselves have excellent composition.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking reference photos or movie posters or your favorite family portrait and creating Boris Vallejo-type art.  Go for it.  That's the way I went, actually.  But I wish that I'd learned the other way from the beginning.  It's been (relatively) easy to copy what I see from photographs and magazine ads and books on facial expression and all that.  I could have drawn grids on paper and rendered exact copies of images on a square-by-square basis at any stage of my art education.  But to learn how to scribble and block and circle and confine and explore form rapidly on a page and develop raw excitement--I've had to unlearn so much to progress, especially that impulse to put every eyelash in the right place.  The eyelash is only as important as I make it.  If I make the play of complementary colors more important than the eyelash ... see how that works?

I imagine I'll arrive at the same artistic destination eventually, but I strongly feel that I would have created so much more original beauty on the way if I stepped back and explored the squares, rectangles, spirals and raw shapes of the universe rather than spending hours with my sketch pad drawing a model's eye.  Something to think about, the next time I pick up a pencil and draw.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Size 2 Dress

In the previous post I promised to talk about fit.  

Editors are artists too.  This is something really important to get into a writer's head.  They're not just a faceless entity whose lot in life is to invisibly and tirelessly serve an author's prose.  This is true in all fiction, but I think one of the places this impacts the most is with the short story form.  Whether it's an anthology, themed or not, or a magazine, themed or not, or a collection or what have you, the editor looks not just at the words in the story but the fit and flow with other stories.  Think about it.  Do you think that the stories that appear in magazines are lined up in alphabetical order?  Most prominent writer first?  You think so?  Take a look sometime.  There's real skill in arranging short stories so that they enhance each other, complement each other, or contrast with each other to take the reader on a wild ride.

Think like an editor for a moment.  Would you put two clown stories together if the rest of the stories are about other aspects of a circus in a circus-themed anthology?  How about length?  Would you put the shortest first and the longest last?  Could it be more effective the other way around?  How about alternating length?  What if the artificial (let's say alphabetical by author) structure you originally had in mind ended up with one story ending on everyone having cake, and the next story began with a bunch of characters eating pie?  Maybe it would work, or maybe you would want to read the whole arrangement from beginning to end and then sleep on it.

Just like an author does, or a graphic artist, or any other artist, editors put careful consideration into how things look, sound, and feel together on the page.  They do this to a certain extent on the word by word level, but also as a meta.  Some are brilliant at this, while others struggle.  This is why there are awards that focus on editors.

Which brings me to the hapless author blindly submitting to various magazines and anthologies.  Even assuming the author has done his or her homework and is in the right genre and even fits in the theme, what the author can't predict is how his or her work will fit with the other stories.  It could be a really strong story.  It could be the best story.  But it might not fit.  It might be the only really long story.  It might be the only flash.  It might have a jaunty voice while the others are more formal.  

As much as us rational folks might predict that the stories that come in will be random, that's not how it works.  Consciously or subconsciously, we write similar things at similar times.  You may have heard that stories about summer frequently come in during late summer or fall, about the time that editors are looking for stories that have a winter or spring theme.  But it goes deeper, and it's easy to get superstitious about this stuff.  When I was coordinating the writer's workshop, I never failed to be amazed at the similarity of the stories that came in.  One year I had two stories about Sasquatch--out of less than a dozen submissions.  What are the odds?  Very good, actually.  Partly that's due to the fact that novice writers tend to write about the same things; invading aliens, sasquatch/yeti (who are often time travelers or aliens or have an advanced civilization underground,) kids finding stuff in a field, the unstoppable hero who has retired but is being dragged on one more adventure, Chosen One stories where a 'special snowflake' young adult is put upon until a Being of Importance comes to take him or her away, and so forth.  These can be excellent stories in the right hands.  There's nothing wrong with writing them.  But there are other reasons, seemingly mystical, that have two authors from vastly different cultures and different parts of the world writing on the same thing at the same time.  Bummer if they're writing novels and submitting to the same markets--they'll get a lot of "I just saw this" reactions from editors.  But for anthologies and magazines it can be a boon.  Maybe the plot isn't similar, but the feeling of the story is.  It might be wintry, or bloody but beautiful, or have that historical tone without going into thees and thous that the editor really likes.  The stories start to fit together for a particular issue, and along comes your story--the odd duck.  If it's so shiny and wonderful the editor can't stand rejecting it, s/he may hang onto it for a while hoping other stories collect around it, but if that doesn't happen, the unfortunate thing is that you may get the classic rejection that makes us all crazy:  "I really liked this story, but it doesn't fit the magazine's needs at this time.  Please consider something else in the future."  Wah.

Sometimes you can't get your size 12 story into that size 2 dress, or your newborn-sized story can wear that size 2 as a blanket and not much else.  Or the color is wrong, or the cut, or ... you get the idea.

So if you're getting personal or at least personable rejections, don't despair.  Eventually your story will find a place where it'll fit in.  There's no planning or predicting it.  It just takes patience and persistence, the mantra of us newbie or neopro writers.  Good luck to us all!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Manuscript Format 101

Manuscript Format 101 with Patrick Swenson, Jennifer Meaders, Harold Gross & Beth Wodzinski

A couple of us (ahem) remembered the typewriter days.  Remember the typewriter days?  Working a story to death was only an option if you were a masochist.  You type a short story once, pour over it for your revision, then retype it *once* and you're done.  Novels?  They'd better come out of your brain darned near perfect.  If, on rereading, you found something that needed to be changed, you would insert pages, renumber with the use of whiteout, and if you had a typo you'd use whiteout tape.  Remember white out tape?  Sure you do.  (Humor me here.)  Standard industry format revolved around two fonts, pica and elite.  Editors worked closely with authors because they were essentially working with first drafts.  And writers really wanted their whole manuscript back in fairly reasonable shape.  Thank goodness for the advent of copy machines, because before they came along, the only way you'd end up with a second copy of your book is if you typed it yourself.

But those days are over (thank goodness) and I brought up this point:  you will spend anywhere from a couple of days to several months on a short story (including 'resting' and revision time) and a couple of months to five years on a novel.  It's going to be gone from your life for some time while it's under consideration.  Why on earth would you ship that baby off without making sure its shirt is tucked in and its socks match and it has the right kind of formal wear on?  Seriously.  I spend at least a couple of hours on format and cover letter on a short story and several days on final format/typo quest/cover letter for a novel.  Synopses are a whole 'nother animal and will take as much time and polish as a short story, because that's what they are, a weird, aggravating, hair-pulling short story that can drive the most level-headed writer to Hemmingway-esque drinking.

The 'guidelines' that publishers put up everywhere are actually rules.  They're a test.  Did this writer do their research and actually figure out what my magazine or press publishes and wants more of?  Can they follow instructions?  That last bit is really important.  Editors don't want to work with prima donnas who want to do everything their way or writers ignorant of the basic processes of the business end of publishing.  

Having said that, the old school formatting for most of the markets is as it always has been.  The exceptions you run across most are for short story e-publications that accept e-submissions.  These publications have the broadest range of rules to test their submissions out, which helps them weed out the spam.  Of which they get tons of.  If you don't read the guidelines you won't know what to put in the subject to dodge their spam filter, won't know if they want e-format (single-spaced, no indentation, double return after each paragraph) in the body of the email or standard format as an attachment and in what format (usually .doc or .rtf.)  If it's snail mail, very few editors will be incensed if they see traditional standard format and their preferred format is not traditional, but it will be a strike against you, and you don't want any formatting strikes against you.  They count against the total, and you don't get a lot of strikes in this business.  Depending on the volume of submissions, you may only get the one.  Yes, there are some harried editors out there who refuse to have first readers (see the part about how first readers aren't the enemy--now you see yet another reason why) who go through hundreds of subs a day and if the formatting screams I'm a newbie it automatically goes in the rejection pile.  Yes, you heard that right.  But you have to mess your formatting up pretty badly to get a rejection like that.  So the final word every one of us on the panel said, with only stylistic variation, is this:  Read the guidelines and follow them, but don't make yourself into a crazy person.  Ultimately it's the writing and the fit that will win or lose you a sale.

The fit, you say?  What ever might you be talking about?

That is a whole post all by its lonely.  See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First Readers

The thing about first readers we initially discussed is that there are actually two kinds:  the 'slush' readers for agents and editors, and the readers that writers employ to get feedback on their work.  Both got chatted about during the panel.  I'll just hit the key points.

Slush first readers:
*They're not the enemy.  Actually, they desperately want to read something good.
*Most of the stuff out there is not good.
*If you're a new writer, starting out slow won't work.  That's a luxury for established readers.  Hook hook hook! 
*Like agents and editors, slush readers can tell in a short time if they'll like something.  Sometimes within the first sentence.
*They have criteria to meet before they hand a manuscript to the editor or agent.  Don't send stuff that doesn't fit the guidelines--even if they like it, the first reader can't/won't send it up.
*They work fast.  In some ways it can be a kindness to have your manuscript rejected quickly by a first reader than to wait on the much-busier-agent-or-editor's desk for months, only to get rejected then.

Beta/first readers for writers:
*There are many kinds.  It's good to have a variety.  
*Fan/audience readers usually can give only a touchy-feely sense of the book, but this is good.  Fan readers are much less critical and much less apt to suggest story changes (making it theirs rather than yours) or spend huge amounts of time on inappropriate line edits.
*Skilled/writer/editor readers can give great technical critiques and can usually not only tell you when something isn't working but why.  Skilled first readers are much less likely to miss, give you a chance to redeem yourself or ignore a flat area that editors and agents will glitch on.
*Technical/educated readers can fact check for you or look at continuity.  These are often good at spotting logic problems, contradictions and missing pieces as well as many plot issues that other readers may miss.  They may also be scientists, historians or others with special knowledge in a particular area who will keep you from making obvious mistakes.

I suggested that it might not be the best idea to repeatedly send the same material to the same readers over and over again.  Yeah, there's the issue of burnout, but more importantly a writer needs to learn to rely on their own skills.  I think when writers are starting out, repeated feedback can be extremely helpful, but as they progress, one pass should do, unless there are radical changes made that change the story enough that it's practically a new story.  There wasn't noticeable (to me, oops) disagreement with this.  An exception of course would be in a cowriting or other close working relationship that is writer/writer, writer/editor, or writer/agent or equivalent.  For example, my DH and I sometimes reread each other's stuff, helping with the polishing process.  My two critique groups would kill me if I tried to do that!

We talked about how to find readers toward the end.  I think one of the more important options was to connect with pros.  Sometimes writers will make enough of an impression (or just catch a pro on a good day) that the pro will offer to look at a story or help with an aspect of it.  Don't let such an offer pass you by.  They're rare.  Follow up immediately.  Also, it's a good idea to take classes and connect with other writers that way.  Regardless of what you get out of the class, you'll meet like-minded folks, and that would be a great way to start a critique group.

Do you have first readers?  How did you find them?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Master World Building

Master World Building with Deby Fredericks, Christine Morgan, Chris Bruscas and Vicki Mitchel

I'm pretty sure some folks were missing.  I don't remember this being such a big panel!  Anyway, I felt massively under-qualified to be giving 'master' level advice, but there I was.  It turned out to be okay.  There were a couple of folks with years of gamemastering (don't laugh--the best game masters are excellent world-builders) and the authors had a broad range of publishing experience, so I felt like I fit right in.  Except for the part where I came in late.

It boiled down to the fact that the master world builders make the world feel real.  In a short story it's a little easier.  The readers of short stories don't expect a completely fleshed-out universe full of countless worlds.  But they still expect a sense of uniqueness and a sense that this is a real place where real beings go about their business.  Key observation:  The characters and their problems will suggest the environment/world as much as the descriptive passages.  You know how creative writing instructors tell you to describe the surroundings in terms that suggest the character's mood or circumstances?  It goes the other way too.  The way the character acts and feels will suggest what the world is like.  

In novels, a fleshed-out world is expected.  Where writers fall down is not in ideas, but complexity.  Think about planet Earth.  We have thousands of cultures, political and geographic boundaries, societies that have evolved from the climate and the kind of neighbors (or lack thereof) they have.  If there's a rich diversity of mutually-respectful tribes or clans or races, what has kept them separate?  Why aren't they essentially a mono-culture?  Is it biology?  Are there political stressors, cultural taboos, or are they educated to have preferences/biases?  If one group is at war with another, what happens when refugees from the opposite side show up in town?  Are they killed?  Taken in as fellow victims?  Are they tolerated but viewed with suspicion and allowed to starve?  Think about Chocolat and how many cultural and social things are going on in that story, from the origins of the little girl to the effects of a war long passed to the treatment of elderly diabetics to influences of the church and on and on and on--and yet it fits together as a cohesive whole with a strong theme.  

When I have a story idea, I try to figure out where that character would come from.  What would her family background be?  Is he local or is he a foreigner?  Is she from a hot climate and is used to siestas?  Is he the product of a sea or air or space faring society?  Is she from a marginal, subsistence society, or a rich, technological one?  Is he from a society in flux or under pressure, or is he part of a superpower nation or federation that's been stable and straining under the weight of its own government?  

From the pure world part of the world-building, it's a good idea to educate yourself about our world at just about every level.  The moderator asked us all for our top three suggestions on college courses that are the bare minimum requirement to get by.  Other than the thought that a keen observer who travels a lot can get by without a lot of book learning or classes, the list came out to be: anthropology, world geography, astronomy (especially focused on our solar system,) geology, biology,  and sociology.  (I may have missed a couple.  History comes to mind and I don't know if any of us thought to suggest it as our top three.)  He then asked for suggested books.  We came up with  Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris, and An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson.  (At least that list is shorter!)  

I pointed out that when authors go forth to research and read, to keep in mind the sources of information.  I really admire Desmond Morris' work, but when I last read The Naked Ape, I was struck by the gaping holes and erroneous thinking surrounding his observation of homosexuality.  Some of it might have been correct, but I realized that I needed to do some filtering not just of that section (where science and psychology hadn't explored very far) but all of it.  We've come a long way since the 1960s.  This is true when reading primary sources from various periods clear through modern studies--who is writing this, why, and from what perspective?  Being a critical reader helps in more than one way.  Not only does it create a healthy skepticism (it's very easy to lend unearned authority to written work) but it teaches an author how to recognize our universal and sometimes invisible biases and turn those around to inform character and world development.  Characters can be very well-meaning, educated, wonderful people and still be blind to the rosy tint on their glasses or the sense of superiority with which they carry themselves.

World building isn't restricted to fantasy and science fiction.  Even when a novel is set here on our world in modern times, Texas is different than Mongolia is different than Hong Kong is different than Antarctica.  Writers can't ever take setting for granted.  They may not have to describe a mailbox in detail, but they'll still have to give the reader a strong sense of place, of unique culture, of conditions that are tied to the story because that story couldn't happen anywhere else.  Master world builders have living, lush settings that connect to plot and characterization. 

Most of this won't end up on the page.  But if you have a character travel, run across characters from other races, cultures or social strata, adventure through more than one season, or discover a new or unique anything to him (be it a cave, a butterfly, an isolated group of people, an artifact or whatever) the experience on the page will lack depth unless you have a sense of how weird, rich and deep the real world runs and therefore how weird, rich and deep your world should be by way of description, implication and character reaction.  To do anything less is to cheat your reader of the glorious possibilities, and nobody likes a cheater.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Teeth Twinkle

My Teeth Twinkle with Alma Alexander, Darragh Metzger, Christine Morgan and Maggie Bonham

I knew that a lot of writers considered heroes passe', but I had a different pov.  I'm married to a hero with more virtues than you can shake a stick at.  So when I arrived, I knew pretty well how I'd start out.  As expected, the other panelists scoffed a bit at 'perfect' heroes and how unbelievable they are and boring, etc.  Then I brought up how real heroes feel real pain, fail, struggle, and how their morality and ideals cost them (sometimes dearly.)  The tone of the panel changed a bit, especially since I had Alma Alexander on my side (to an extent) because she knows my DH and realized what I was talking about.  We began defining which led to a discussion of the difference between a good guy and an untouchable perfect darling, and I began learning, which is one of the fun parts of being a panelist.  Panels can be about the brainstorming, and this is definitely one of those.
There's a difference between a 'perfect' hero and a guy who does the right things, fights hard, loves hard, and doesn't have a dark past or skeletons in his closet.  The darling hero defeats every villain, crashes through every obstacle, and does it without breaking a sweat or a hair out of place.  Often the obstacles s/he faces aren't on his (or her) level; they're no match for the might of the darling hero.  *That's* what's boring.  
Now, some authors deal with an otherwise unstoppable hero by developing an equal or even more powerful villain or insurmountable problem. This is the superhero route, though they aren't always called superhero stories.  In a way, Gandalf vs. Saruman is a superhero/supervillain story.  Gandalf can otherwise plow through just about any obstacle.  Tolkien had to put a balrog, a fellow wizard, and the Witch King in Gandalf's way before Gandalf broke a sweat.  It's different than a darling hero, and it can be a fascinating read.  I loved The Dark Knight movie.  That worked for me.

Personally, I prefer a morally principled hero who will not cross certain lines, who won't cheat on his spouse, and who won't call in sick to work unless he's actually sick.  Boring?  Well, when it seems like he's the only one who cares, the only one willing to put his ass on the line to speak out against bureaucratic bs, and the only one who doesn't want to go to the strip club because the drinks are overpriced and he prefers to watch his wife dance, thank you, it can get pretty lonely.  In fact, it can get dangerous.  Remember the 'okay, on three, everyone charge' type stuff going into a fight?  What if your character is the only one who goes on three? 
Being good, even great, even the best in combat, or science, or whatever doesn't always save the day.  In the real world there are insurmountable problems.  Try kicking cancer's ass sometime.  How about stopping a line of tanks from plowing into a village by yourself?  How about dealing with bad intelligence, or someone outright lying to you about something being one way when it's another?  Real heroes fail, and they get hurt, often badly, not just by the thing they're fighting but the consequences of their failure, and also the consequences of success.  Sometimes, no matter what you do, there are widows and orphans, and a real hero feels that pain.  

Everyone who looks at a too-good-to-be heroine might think no one is that smart, that beautiful, that accomplished.  Having a beautiful, smart and physically powerful character can absolutely be annoying in fiction, but only if that character is protected, only if that character doesn't suffer from the sense that she's resented, or always the one asked to do one more thing, the one everyone borrows money from.  It can not only be lonely, but frustrating.  If the heroine walks on stage and everyone gazes at her with worship, lust and awe, the reader is going to roll their eyes.  But think about what really happens, not on those 'grand entrances' but day to day.  Sleezebags at the bar trying to pick her up with cheesy lines and offers to buy a drink.  The boss that keeps coming up with reasons not to promote her.  Seen through her own eyes, she may not consider herself beautiful at all.  She may wake up in the morning, stare at the mirror and wonder how she can face another day on the battlefield when what she really wants to do is try to negotiate a surrender before every blessed soul in her army is killed over a land grab. 

Writing about teams of these people can be fun as well.  Being the go-to team can lead to more than their share of adventure, but believe me, not only can it get tiring, but they can suffer from bad press, back-stabbing from all quarters, undermining, and a desire to take a long vacation but feel like they can't or the world will fall apart without them.  Think rock stars have it tough with the lack of privacy, and the hero worship?  Try fame, unrealistic expectations and worship on when lives are at stake.  Top that with their bosses micromanaging them, telling them 'how' to do something, when they all know that will only get them all killed.  And if they succeed their way, they're in trouble, again, as always, and come out looking like the bad guys.

The short of it is: provide conflict, make it hurt, have failures, and use that goodness against the hero.  Force your hero to make hard choices, and give him that same sense of isolation that our real world heroes--the dedicated cops, caring firemen, tireless doctors, etc.--often face as they stand alone in a sea of apathy, bureaucracy, greed, selfishness, envy and Monday morning quarterbacking.  (That last one is especially frustrating.)  Just don't forget to give them an occasional bright spot, like the gratitude of a child, the help of a good samaritan in a time of need, or a moment of peace under a starlit sky, or they'll break like so many of our real heroes break and end up alcoholics, hermits or suicides.  Somehow I doubt the readers will complain that your hero is too perfect if you write it like that.  

I'll leave you with Cyrano de Bergerac (paraphrased):  
Now, who are these--a thousand thronged about me?  I know you well--you are all ancient foes; Falsehood!  Compromise!  Cowardice!  Shall I make terms?  No, never!  There is Folly too!  I knew that in the end you'd lay me low.  No matter.  Let me fight! and fight! and fight!  You snatch them all away--laurel and rose!  Snatch on!  One thing is left in spite of you, Which I take with me: and this very night, when I shall cross the threshold of God's house, and enter, bowing low, this I shall take, despite you, without wrinkle, without spot--and that is--my stainless soldier's crest. [Also has been translated brilliantly to 'my panache' by Anthony Burgess] (translation by Howard Thayer Kingsbury)

Educational side note--panache originally described a white plume or sash carried by nobles, and the pride with which they wore it turned it into a symbol of the qualities we now call panache.

Radcon, Pt. the 1st

We arrived on Thursday and had Chinese with long lost pals and new acquaintances.  The thing about small, isolated towns (as opposed to small towns near major cities like my small town) is that lack of competition drags down expectations to the point where service industries don't have to deliver.  The food was really lackluster, but it turned out that it would be one of the better meals I had all weekend.  The company made up for the mediocrity of the cuisine in spades.  David Levine, C.S. Cole, Sara Mueller, Camille Alexa (or was that the night she decided to stay in the room and make sweet love to her computer?) and the wonderful young lady who studied paleontology [edit--Felicity Shoulders! thx Camille] and whose name is escaping me so I'm all aggravated at myself for being crummy with names and at least one other person.  Help meeeeeee .....

If any of you are reading this and concerned about being seen with me in public, let me know and I'll ahem ahem your name on this list.  Ditto with links or lack of links.

Also, bear in mind I'm forgetful, not ungrateful and uncaring so if I miss anyone it's because my brain is more like a food processor than a sponge--though I find the output edible, I'm aware that it doesn't always have much to do with what went into it.

I touched base with Rick Lindsley about some things Reno 2011 bid party and then set about (Thursday is blending into Friday, in case you didn't notice) prepping for my weekend as a panelist.  I had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast (all by my lonely,) which wasn't as hot as I like (this would be an ongoing theme) but was better than the (shudder) breakfast buffet I tried and failed on Sunday.  

Then it was off to the radiation tour with Jay Ake (this was a typo on the Radcon guest list that we carried forward much of the weekend,) scalettina, casacorona, David Levine and a whole bunch of other really excellent people.  We stopped by the Atomic pub, where I had a huge bowl of atomic potato soup and a nice, fresh salad with atomic dressing.  Although the service was slow, this was the best food I had all weekend.  (Jay and I aren't in the photo.  Notice Radcon Bob just inside the door about to leap through the glass onto Janna and Jen.)
The rooms where they measure radiation in the human body are amazing.  I won't go into too much detail, because that would be a long post, but essentially they have to filter out as much background radiation as possible in order to pick up the most minute amount of radiation inside the body.  They do this through a series of shields that include copper and sections of armored hull from the battleship Indiana, which was put together prior to nuclear testing and therefore had very little radioactivity of its own.  Radiation, once absorbed by the body, doesn't emit much measurable energy, so the equipment they have to use requires amazing sensitivity.  They employ crystals cooled by liquid nitrogen and vacuum sealed with a boron lens over the sensor opening.  If I remember right.  Ahem.  Scans take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour or more.  We looked at a whole body scan bed, and a more sensitive detector that employed a chair and focused on the chest/lungs area.  Most radiation that is harmful to a person doesn't go through the skin--if it can do that, it just pops out the other side.  Harmful radiation is usually swallowed or breathed, so the lungs are a natural focus.  They also test feces and urine, though it's not expected that much would show up unless it was right after an incident or after a meal of elk/deer/reindeer that have eaten radioactive lichens (which are still radioactive even though there hasn't been testing in the area for many, many years thanks to how they interact with exposed rocks.)

This very sensitive equipment requires careful calibration.  To that end, people have donated their bodies to science.  (Thank you, and thanks to their families from a grateful recipient of modern medicine and other science.)  Half of the bodies must be destructively tested to determine the exact amount of radiation, usually just in the bone part. 
 The amount of radiation they release (and therefore reduce in overall emissions) is tiny over hundreds of years, so they won't need a constant influx of 'fresh' cadavers that have been exposed to radiation during life.  As a side note, it's very difficult to ship radioactive human remains, but since they're so hard to come by and it requires so much time and careful energy by very skilled people to measure and define what they have, it's worth the six or more weeks it takes to get permission to transport them to other facilities all over the world that also have equipment that needs calibration.  This particular piece is half of a gentleman's head (the other half was destructively tested, remember) that is covered by specially developed and also extensively tested plastic that exactly duplicates the rest of a person's head--the other half of the skull, all the brains, muscle, tendons, etc.  The amount of art and science that goes into one of these is remarkable, and sobering.  It's also incredibly valuable, priceless in fact.  I came away from the tour with immense respect for this facility and its workers. 

My one and only panel on Friday was at 6pm, Healing Beyond Medicine with Laurel Anne Hill and Manny Frishburg.  I've paneled with Laurel before and we always have a great time.  I thought it would be this debate with me and Laurel vs. the woo woo but it turned out that Manny had a serious background in medicine and was therefore also a skeptic balanced well with an understanding that there are, as he put it, "more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ..." and science has its limitations.  FYI, I may have spelled Manny's name wrong.  It may be Manny Frishberg.  I perpetuate errors I see in print elsewhere.  Sorry!

Anyway, I added that science can be treated as a religion and that this has its drawbacks.  It also has an ongoing problem with the politics of what gets published and what doesn't.  Believe me, the medical and pharmaceutical industries and associations are not groups of altruistic angels.  I don't think they're entirely untrustworthy, but I firmly believe they shouldn't be in charge of everything that has to do with healing.

I got to hear a whole bunch of research I didn't know about.  The one that fascinated me involved mice who were given malaria.  I haven't looked at the study, or other studies involving prayer, energy healing and such, but I find it fascinating that there's now a physician's handbook that references such studies as well as alternative medicines that is in common circulation and can be found in doctor's offices all over the USA.  I find this heartening.  As much as I love modern medicine, there's a lot more work to be done and a person with a grim diagnosis, be it terminal or chronic, ought to have as many options open to them as possible.  Not only that, but that person ought to be aware that science doesn't have all the answers, that doctors aren't perfect, that medicine isn't perfect, and that the patient has to not only self-advocate but do things to help themselves beyond the doctor's office and keep their doctor informed because some things like herbal remedies do have drug interactions or other effects on the human body that may end up being fatal.  Sometimes you have to choose, and I'll be the first to tell you that 'natural' remedies are complicated substances (pharmaceuticals are controlled and purified or combined purified substances) that may have serious side effects just like pharmaceuticals do.

So we had a consensus/informational panel rather than a debate panel.  I have a bunch of studies to google and a fun book to hunt down, as soon as I remember the title.  (sigh)  

I ran around with C.S., Lizzy Shannon (she is such a kick, I love her!) and John Dalmas much of the night.  John Dalmas partied C.S. and I into the ground.  People kept asking him how he managed to have all kinds of beautiful women escorting him everywhere.  I think it's just what he does.  Though we were exhausted by the time we begged him to turn in, C.S. and I decided to stop by the dance/rave.  I don't know how long I danced, but it was several long songs until they shut the dance down.  It was wonderful to get sweaty and winded, and though my cold was in full swing I felt better for a while.  It was the only dancing I got to do the whole weekend, so I'm glad we made it there.  Laser lights, artificial smoke, good techno (could have been better) and a tireless crowd filled me up with all kinds of energy and joy.  Yay dancing!

I'll blog about Saturday, maybe in pieces because Saturday was a really big day, next time here on Jestablog.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I'm not sure if I'm a zombie or a zombie ate my brains.  

Anyway, thanks to C.S. I've made it back from Radcon safe and mostly sound.  I've got a cold, so although I normally don't fear starting a long illustrated blog post and regress report at 11pm, today I think that resting is the better part of valor.  Besides, I've only had cold water to clean up with the whole weekend.  

Actually, it was lukewarm.  But when you're sick, lukewarm doesn't cut it.  I danced around in the limp drizzle (not enough pressure for an actual spray in the system!) briefly on the first morning, making little protesty noises.  The second morning I couldn't face doing that again (and the water felt even colder!) so I gave myself a lukewarm sponge bath.  Not sexy.

Yes, things were perky due to the cold, but seriously not sexy.  At all. 

Shut up!  I had a runny nose.  It was gross.

Anyway, the horrors of this year's facility woes were many, but the actual convention was very fun and I have nothing but words of gratitude for our hosts, and in particular the indefatigable Radcon Bob.  Bob, you're my hero.

Kewl pics from nucular (aka nuclear, but actually radiation--I just wanted to say nucular because it drives certain people crazy) testing facilities are forthcoming, as are reports of what panels I remember.  I'm pretty sure I was on panels, and I remember listening to some too.  Or maybe that was a fever dream.  There were penguins at Radcon, right?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I'll be away from the blog for a few days.  Probably.  You know what a hopeless addict I am, especially when it comes to report good times.

Last year C.S. got a phone call letting her know that she got honorable mention for a story she submitted to the Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest.  We both squealed like crazy sorceresses broken out of Azkaban and had celebratory coconut rum.  I also got to be a panelist for my very first time ever, not just on one but many panels.  Ever since then I've thought of Radcon as a kind of lucky convention for INK.  I'm looking forward to this one a lot.

And yet, I'll miss the boy and the girl, morning chats with my DH, the dogs, the cats, the way the goats come out of the barn when I go out for a walk and meheheh insistently (this is especially wonderful after losing two so close together) and having such a big part of the day to write.  I'll miss my baths, and reading in the evening, and silly minor stuff like my yoga mat (no, I'm not taking it with me.)  And I'll worry.  The kids have plenty of food and people to call if they need something, but ... I'm a mom.

I'll be back right quick, and happily settle back into my routine.  In the meantime I'll appreciate my working vacation, meet and greet, shake hands, kiss babies, and maybe we'll hear some good news at our lucky con!  If I can keep it all in my head, I'll post my usual reports on the panels when I can.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Kami's Tale

As part of the 101 program being run by Steven Barnes,  (and his partner) I have an assignment to write a child's story about my life.  Here goes:

Long ago in a city of artists and engineers, a little girl named Kami was born.  Her parents packed up Kami and ran away from invading poopyheads to the New World, where they raised Kami to be an artist and engineer.  But Kami went her own way when she went to university, though she still loved art.  She met a New World knight and they married and had children.

Kami raised the children and read many books and gardened and took care of their many animals, but most of all Kami loved to write.  She wrote about the air, and the earth, men and women, and she wrote about dreams and dragons.  At first she wrote what most writers wrote and made all the mistakes all beginning writers make, but then she met a group of writers who showed her how to write from her soul and taught her how to find and fix her mistakes.  Although Kami loved her children and home and working with the writers, she was sad because her knight was forced to be away from home so often on quests.  Without the knight's quests, for which he was paid to save villages from dragons and night unicorns, their family would starve.

One day, when she thought they were good enough, Kami sent her stories to a counselor to the Prince of Arts.  The counselor loved the stories so much that he arranged an audience with the prince to show him the stories.  The Prince loved the stories so much he decided that he had to have them in his library, and that all his citizens ought to have a chance to read and talk about her stories.  He wanted more stories.  The counselor, knowing about Kami being sad about her knight being away, told the prince that Kami might be willing to write more stories if she was on retainer.  The prince thought this was a splendid idea.  When Kami got the news she almost fainted!  She wrote a letter to her knight, who dashed home right away.

Soon everyone from miles around had read the stories, and Kami's knight was able to retire.  They traveled the world and wrote stories separately and together, until one day they disappeared.  The prince sent out his men at arms to search the wide world, but they were never found.  Some say they went to the stars, and send stories to their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in their dreams.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


My mom always says that things come in threes.  Gawd I hope so.  I don't want to take a fourth hit right now.  Three is more than enough.

I can't go into too many details, because they're not mine to give, but I will say that we lost one more goat (Skunk!) and now we know why.  So far the other goats are okay, but we may lose them all.  The really good news is that they're now eating well--extremely well, which tells me that the situation is probably through their systems and they're making up for lost ground.  I think we're out of the woods.  But I'm reeling.  Skunk put me through a virtual veterinary school.  Through her I learned how to deal with neck wounds from a cougar, how to give penicillin shots, how to deal with hypoproteination, worm overload, false pregnancy and hoof wall rot.  We made it through together, and she stuck by me through my ignorance and incompetence.  And now she's gone.  We've lost animals for all kinds of reasons around here.  Some of it was intentional (butchering,) some through accident, illness ... but it never gets any easier.  We'll lose more, because we'll always have animals.  But for the first time in a while, I want a vacation from the responsibility.  I look at Dakota and think man, she's old and having trouble getting around.  Will I lose her soon?  I look at Lucky and try not to think about the fact that his epilepsy seems to be getting worse--longer seizures, closer together.  We knew this would be the progression that might eventually lead to medication.  It just seems like a lot to bear.

Then there's the joy and stress of Ireland.  We've run across a major hitch.  We'll meet in Ireland for sure, and see all kinds of neat and fun places, and it'll be good, but we have to make a decision that's not mine, but the boy's to make.  I hurt every time I think about the situation.  I feel so helpless.  How do you compromise or make adjustments when it's all or nothing either way?

The DH and I argued.  We sorted that out, but believe it or not, this all came to a head on the same day.  Goats, Ireland, argument.  

When the DH and I argue, we either play argue (we did this for entertainment for a long time and used the excuse that it's probably not healthy to have no arguments in a relationship) or we argue about something that isn't easy to resolve.  If it was easy to resolve, there'd be no argument.  So although things are sorted out, the core of the argument remains, and it eats at me.  

I've been moving along, letting the fallout from Seattle's failed Worldcon bid distract me, pampering the kids with restaurant meals and trips to the bookstore, home cooked spaghetti and bakery desserts.  We bond over re-viewing Veronica Mars episodes and the little victories that come from seeing the goats sunning themselves, alive and well, near the barn when we wake up in the morning.  But The Three never went away the whole weekend, even for a second.  These things are haunting us, and bring strange, unsettling dreams and strain to our smiles.  

The boy and I are starting to get the sniffles.  Stress=reduced immune system.  Hopefully we'll sleep good tonight, eased by good conversations with my DH, goats who seem happy and healthy and recovering, and the luxury of time in which to deal with what we need to do.  We need to rest up.  It's going to be a long week.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fly Away

I purchased our roundtrip tickets to Ireland today!!  I'm all bouncy now.  Choosing seats on the plane,  the agent printing out our itinerary, finding out about carry-on restrictions (1 40 pound bag that can fit into overhead, separate laptop bag is fine) and all that made our trip feel much more real.  We paid a very pretty penny for it, but it's still relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe.  Tomorrow I'll go back with a list of the hotels we want to stay at as well as setting up the arrangements for the bed and breakfast stuff.  The hotels we can either book normally online or through the agency, but the bed and breakfast thing is technically a 'request' through a third party that negotiates with folks in Ireland.  They can say no, but they'll offer an alternative that costs about the same--they don't turn people away from doing touristy stuff.  It's a new thing for me, so I'm a little nervous, but nervous in a good way.  I'm very curious about how it'll be to stay at those places and how easy it'll be to find them.

Every place we're staying offers a complementary breakfast.  The rest of the meals we're on our own.  

I am really looking forward to this on so many levels that it's hard to resist making a long row of exclamation points.

Oh, what the heck.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even though it's way early, I'll be making sure our passports are all in order and I'll start making lists of what we'll bring.  This is one trip that we won't be bringing any extraneous bs.  Everything will be compact, practical and durable.  There are tons of suggested packing lists online and I plan to go over them closely.  The emphasis lately has been bare necessities and packing light.  Lots more people are traveling with only carry-on.  I don't know if we'll pull that off but we'll definitely try.  If we can't quite manage to travel that light, I'll aim for one checked bag between the three of us.  I hear that everything there will be smaller than we're used to, including the cars, so I want to make sure that we don't have to sit on our luggage when we tour around.

Yay Ireland!  

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Electric Barbarella and Doc Savage

I'm going to be hostess for a party for the Reno 2011 Worldcon Bid at Radcon.  If you're going to be at Radcon, please drop on by.  No, I don't know our room # yet, but we'll post it around the con and I know it'll be Saturday night, so look for us, okay?

I'm practicing making Electric Barbarellas, which can be layered or mixed.  I prefer them mixed, but the layered drink looks waaaaay kewl.  I made it up with help from my friends.  Here it is sans proportions but I suggest that you keep the layers to more of a direction of a pony shot rather than a full shot because they're all sweet.  You want color and just enough to savor without getting sick of it.  Too much is not a good thing.  Fix in a tall and narrow glass, such as an extra tall skinny shot glass or, if you really want the full effect, a tall very narrow champagne flute like the open-stemmed kind.

Electric Barbarella
1/2 midori, 1/2 ice cold water and a splash of coconut rum

Pour the blue curacao straight in.  Using a spoon or a knife to slow the flow, carefully trickle in the hpnotiq.  The hpnotiq will mix a little bit in with the blue curacao, and will compress into a thinner layer when you pour the last stuff on.  Mix the midori, water and rum in a container that pours readily without spilling when you trickle it.  Test out your container with water before you mix and pour into your glass!  A small measuring cup should work well.  Shot glasses (ahem) don't work at all.  Trickle the mixture in very carefully, making sure that your spoon or knife doesn't touch the surface of the hpnotiq.  

This is a very beautiful drink, but it actually tastes much better as a mixed drink.  Shake with ice or just stir together at room temperature, leaving a thin layer of blue curacao at the bottom.  Yum!

Our Doc Savage is just tequila and tonic water.  For some reason bars don't get it right--I think their tonic water isn't the right flavor.  Get a nice tonic water from the store that you like and make as you would a gin and tonic.

In addition to the heavy drinks we'll have a case of Fat Tire, some wine (I'll find some fun ones at Trader Joes and Costco) a star generator thingy, balloons, brochures, delicious goodies, music, and lots of blah blah blah.  

Monday, February 02, 2009


After seeing a post from a friend, I realized there is a lot of misunderstanding about meditation out there, in part thanks to meditation's long history and the quality of mystique that surrounds it.  The truth about meditation is that it is incredibly ordinary, and even people who you might believe would have never meditated on anything in their lives in fact actually meditate often.  They may not call it that.  They may be addressing a problem with their car.  While their friends chatter away they're under the hood, staring at the engine, until finally they say "give me a second, will ya, and just let me think?"

Meditation is an unbroken stretch of mental focus applied to a goal.

This is why Meditations on Violence is called that!  If you look at the book and its structure, it's a series of thoughts on violence, each of them a focused examination that carries a thought on an aspect of violence through as far as the author could take it.  

Meditation doesn't have a whole lot to do with incense and a whole bunch of guys droning OM and achieving some sort of mystic union with the Universe.  That mystic union is a byproduct of a process.  It's not the process itself.  More on OM later.

Meditation is really varied because there are an infinite number of reasons to do it and you can spend anything from a few seconds to hours to years depending on your goal.  Some people like it so much they go into that state as much as possible.  They like the feeling of distraction-free focus on one aspect of existence.  They like the way that, if meditating while doing dishes or meditating on dishes (which can be exactly the same thing) they can relax and accomplish something without mental chatter, and they get to appreciate the experience fully.  They don't lose time to a bunch of clutter-thought that is so meaningless they don't even remember that clutter-thought five seconds later.

So how does Zen fit in?  Ah, glad you asked.  Oh, wait, you didn't.  But I don't care.  I'll tell you anyway, though you've already figured it out.  Some folks figured out hey, I don't have to even focus on anything to get rid of that annoying chatter distraction bullshit that keeps me from really getting deep into what I'm doing.  And what am I doing, really?  Living.  Chatter takes away from living and appreciating every moment.  So I'm not going to just be satisfied by shutting up the voices and focusing just on thinking about how to get the baked-on spot off my pan here.  I'm not going to think about anything.  At all.  I'm gonna shut those voices up for good.  Take that, chattering monkey butt face stupid voices!

A good place to start, if you want to try this for your own educational and entertainment purposes (because if they've been running pretty much non-stop, the voices are almost impossible to shut up without easing into it) is to first focus on something automatic that still requires voice.  In other words, most people can't do it cold turkey.  But they can, with work, get the voices down to one voice.

So, you sit, and do something you've done since you were tiny tiny so that it (and this is important) requires almost no thought.  Almost.  Just enough thought that you have to think, a little, but you're only just barely thinking.  Counting to ten works really reliably well.  If you can think of something even better, go for it.  Something that helps is to count along with your breath.  It takes just a little more effort, but that's a good thing.  The other voices have a harder time crowding in when you have to put forward a little concentration and actually do something.

And the process will go something like this.  Inhale, one.  Exhale, two.  Inhale, three.  Exhale, four hey I'm doing it!  Damnit, I'm not.  Shut up!  Inhale, five.  Exhale I can't believe I blew it I had it--shut up and let it go already.  Inhale, six.  Exhale, seven.  Inhale, eight my butt itches shut up! Stop saying shut up you're just making it worse let it go.  Exhale, nine.  Inhale, ten hey are we supposed to start over again? Yes.  D'oh!  Exhale, one ...

You get the idea.  Eventually you take away the counting and focus on the breath, and eventually you breathe without being aware of breathing, and there you are.  Empty mind.  Yay!

Some folks figured out hey, if we remove as many distractions as possible, it'll be easier to focus our minds and make them do what we want.  So, they dressed up so that the clothing is so familiar and uniform, it's not a distraction.  They all agreed to wear exactly the same thing, the same color, everything.  Then they lit incense, because it's harder to smell something distracting (is that fried chicken?)  And they all began saying OM, because that steady drone did three things.  A. it drowned out chattering monkey voice inside their heads and B. it did a good job of drowning out distracting voices around them (hey, that guy is talking about the latest uprising, y'all hear that?  I was in an uprising once and ... d'oh!)  and C. it helped regulate the breath, which helps maintain the meditative state.  If you're holding your breath, not only do your thoughts become more disjointed and frantic, but you'll inevitably break that thread as, when your breath runs out, you throw your ratchet across the room and yell "this isn't working!"

But you don't have to strive for no-mind or dress up and light a candle to meditate.  Achieving that is admirable, but when push comes to shove, you aren't doing anything.  You're sitting around saying OM.  When you can take that mind focus and apply it to a problem, now you're cooking with gas.

 When I'm deep into writing a book, with my mind completely focused on the characters, where they are, how things smell, how things taste, the background noises, I'm there.  I'm meditating. When I'm trying to solve a financial problem, I'm meditating.  When I'm planning my garden for the next year, I'm meditating.  When I'm working on putting bookshelves together, shifting between the instructions and manual labor, I'm meditating, assuming someone doesn't come along and ask me where the lint roller is.  And meditation is a great place to be.  Most of us enjoy it thoroughly , unless we're struggling with a school subject in which case it can be frustrating because we're not getting there.  One of the reasons I love the first draft so much is because I spend so much of the writing time in a particular kind of meditation.  Editing, I have to pull from different directions.  It's still focus on one task, but it's too multi-disciplinarian to put me in a state of extra-dimensional rapture.  

The rapture isn't necessary for something to equal meditation.  But it is a nice side-benefit to escape the world for a while, whether it's into writing (or reading?) a book or sinking into the OM.  The truth about meditation is that most people have done it off and on their whole lives and never realized what it is.  Then, when someone asks them to meditate, they worry because of the word and the mental baggage with monks and candles and chants and all that.

All those things are there for a reason.  It's not bs.  But you don't need that to meditate.  

Now, mentally I'm arguing with myself as to whether reading a book or watching a movie can really be a meditation.  I believe so, but I'm not really sure because on the one hand you're immersed in one direction, but on the other you're not directing your own mind, and directing your own mind is key to meditation.  It's a good subject to meditate on.  But I'm not going to fuss with that.  I have work (a meditation) to do.  So everyone, shut up for five blessed minutes so I can get this done, please!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Genius of DaVinci

I was invited to attend an exclusive viewing of the DaVinci exhibit at OMSI.  Wow.  It was fun to look at everything without a crush of people.  The cookies and wine were really yummy too, and we got to listen to a lecture by an OSU professor of history whose specialty included the renaissance.  She connected some dots for me.  Like my mental roadmap of Portland, I don't see the big picture of history.  I see neighborhoods and the arteries that connect them, and I don't know about all the neighborhoods or who necessarily borders who.  A light went ding when she pointed out that Columbus sailed during DaVinci's lifetime.  I'd always held the 'Age of Exploration' and the renaissance as disconnected periods.  Now they touch.  Now they're intimate.

What can I say about DaVinci that hasn't already been said?  I developed a new appreciation for the Mona Lisa.  I got to get a good look at (a reproduction of) The Last Supper and frown at John.  Or Mary.  Or John.  Or Mary.  Is that Judas at the table, or did he already take off?  And the models of his proposed engineering designs were lots and lots of fun.  

I want to step into the room of mirrors naked.  Just saying.

So, I would recommend the exhibit, with the understanding that this stuff will be really ho hum for some people.  If you love art and history and gears and screws and levers and pulleys, you'll be all over this, unless you like Dinotopeia with all those kinds of gears and screws and levers and pulleys, and paleontology, in which case not so much.  Okay, if you like renaissance art, engineering and history, you'll be all over this.  As much as I wanted more more more, it took a long time to go through the exhibit, so more more more would have exhausted me.

Gearpunk, anyone?