Sketches

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I like to write.

But then of course, all the Real Writers say writing is as breathing and if Real Writers are ever Not Writing, then they are dead. It’s just not possible to live without writing if you are a Real Writer. Or you die.

So I’ve never thought seriously about trying to write. A couple creative writing courses and submissions to school contests, a few spurts of attempted novel-writing, and nearly a lot of how-to-write books that I’d read for fun rather than actually using them to “help me write”. Or whatever it is I was supposed to do. But yes, most of my creative writing happened in school.

It’s the reading, you see. I read too much to create my own worlds. Or at least that’s the only theory I have. Because I have lots of ideas that never become stories. Lots of stories that never quite make it onto paper. My dolls acted out roles in whatever story I was telling, and my mind couldn’t let go of the characters in the books I loved. (Hence, why I was relieved when I found fan fiction as a teenager. Before that, I just thought I was crazy—at least if I am, I’m hardly alone.)

But I’ve never thought much of my own writing, and one of the earliest creative writing assignments I remember—third grade—I was scolded because, before I’d even started, my title resembled that of a real book. Yes, whoever told me so, I’d read it. This story was going to be different, I just liked the idea of the attic. Lots of stories, especially children’s stories, are attic-centered. Because attics are awesome. However much I attempted to explain (not really getting further than ‘but’ and teary), I had to change the title and the concept. Timid and obedient, I wrote something that I don’t really recall and never really liked.

Up until I started this post, I hadn’t thought about that in ages.

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That incident isn’t why I don’t write. All my anxiety about my art or my writing does not stem from that incident. But I can’t believe it didn’t contribute. Still, my main problem is my distractedness. Which is to say, obsessing over several series, tv and book, and still reading some ten different books in ten different subjects at any one time does not exactly lend ones mental state to creation of any kind, especially writing.

I just get more done than I think I do. Just in little pieces, ideas, like this:

Geraldine opened her phone. At her age, she was probably the only person in the entire world who didn’t actually want a phone. Essentially the only time she used it was when someone called her or she needed to find something out. She hated to be out of the loop. On anything. Her parents used to say she had big ears because she always heard whatever they were talking about, especially when she wasn’t supposed to; now she knew better than to come into contact with former lovers without your spouse’s permission. Then again, her father had never been the smartest person she’d ever met.

It was her father calling of all people. Unusual too, because it wasn’t Tuesday or six o’clock. Not to mention, her mother was the primary initiator of most calls from home.

“Hi dad”

“Hey baby girl. Your mother just got out of surgery and she’s asking for you—”

“Wait—momma had surgery! For what? Never mind, I’ll call back…just give her the phone.” Geraldine juggled her purse to the arm holding the Ross bag so she could more securely hold the phone to her ear without dropping anything.

Her mother’s voice wearied but apparently alert. “Thank you, I didn’t want to worry you girls but I wanted to remind you about Carla’s hair appointment.” Geraldine sighed. Not as lucid as she’d thought. Carla was her spoiled rotten niece, and she and her brother were rarely in contact.

What does it mean?!

I don’t remember where this came from. Not the least little bit. When I first found it on my USB drive, I wasn’t even sure it was mine. And yeah. Between this and the other I have no memory of, I’m starting to wonder if I just stole them:

His nose twitched, twitched once more as he reached his prize. He stopped, hesitated, sniffed. Then, ears came up and he jerked. The sound. Different. Seconds passed, nothing happened. His attention returned to his prize. But then! Wet. Like rain but without clouds. He ran. What insanity was this! Hyper-alert senses told him it was wrong. Now the ground was wet but the sky-water was gone, still he kept alert. The odd sound hadn’t stopped. His tail twitched back and forth in agitation. Otherwise, he didn’t move. Then. It was back! The wet! He ran again and it followed. For now he was free and he shook himself, but he heard it coming again. He reached the tree, just outside its reach. Just in case, he climbed. Tiny claws clutched the bark and he ran, bounded up the tree, hung upside down on the branch for a moment, and then heard the drops falling underneath him. It wasn’t rain. He climbed higher and relaxed. At least it could not catch him here.

Was this an assignment or something? (Title: The Squirrel) Also, regarding the first, I wish I remembered the story behind it, because it sounds fascinating. It’s like the dreams I used to have—I’d be reading, and always wake up right before the climax (come to think of it, I still get those dreams). Of course, I never remember the dream well enough to just write the story myself.

So am I a writer? Probably not. But I do hope I’ll keep it up.

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Just the Last

The small class on the highlight of all Rockland High School field trips take notes as the manatees bob roundly in the water. When Molly remembers how they have those fat little fins, she wishes she could give the big one a hug, and leans over the edge a little to catch a glimpse of the cow-sweet eyes.

“Heh, look how many scars they have,” her boyfriend says, nuzzling her hair like he always does. “Bet if I had a boat I’d go fly’n if I hit that fat one.”

“You are so immature, Howard,” she answers. And pulls away.

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Writing to Prompts

This particular prompt was:

Write a 100-word story using these words: envy, manatees, and Texas.

And I don’t know that my answer is particularly awesome or anything, but today’s prompt was to write a 100-word story about ninjas and pirates, which is such an internet meme I’m positively sick of hearing about them.

Not that I didn’t love the joke in college, when my friends and I played with the idea (I was on the ninja side, by the way). But it’s not something I want to try to write one hundred words on. What would those words be? Nothing that I’m particularly interested in writing.

Not What I Wanted to Post

That would be a review of Inception, since I’ve seen it twice now, and Witches’ Children (by Patricia Clapp), because it’s simply a beautifully written novel and just…just…well, awesome is all I can say here, because I’ll definitely have to finish the review for that one: it’s too good not to. I’m going to campaign for that book.

But I’m still distracted online, reading/watching reviews of Twilight, and Harry Potter fan fiction, and also just generally looking at other web-culture type things.

Mostly because I have a two stories and two poems that I almost, kinda, sorta want to submit to Watershed, but though I reworked them a bit a few days ago, I’m rather afraid of looking at them again. I only have a few days before I have to send them off, and I can only think of what they are not. For instance, good.

And the problem is really that I just can’t evaluate my own work in any objective way…which is fairly typical as far as I can tell. But not a helpful insight. So I’ve resorted to avoidance.

Maybe I can work on them tomorrow, to distract myself from the other Big Deal, the rehearsal for The Curious Savage.

The Community at Large

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Since mostly all I do is read online and off, and am not working, I’ve been trying to push my boundaries.

That’s mostly been volunteering at the library and theater, or trying to make myself exercise. Or sending hand written letters to friends, which is all the harder when there is no subject matter because I do so little.

My brothers are good at doing community-type things. One such thing is acting. Both were in drama club in high school, and are excellent actors. When I was in high school I read all the time and never managed any extracurricular activities except when band had required events like playing for the football team. I just read all the time.

However! the Modoc Performing Arts Theater (M.P.A.T.) group is putting on The Curious Savage at the local theater. The play focuses on Ethel Savage,  a wealthy widow who checks herself into a sanatorium called The Cloisters, which has some rather bizarre

I really, really did. And actually, wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. Whether that’s in spite of, or because, there were only the casters(?) and no one else showed up to audition, remains to be seen. At any rate, I was reading for the part of Mrs. Paddy, who is an uncomfortable character, in that she doesn’t speak at all because her husband ordered her not to years and years ago—except on the five occasions she reminds everyone that she hates “everything in the world” and then lists them in random order, like “broken glass [and] eels” (except she likes to go on). Or as I tried to read it, “broken eels”: although if she hates everything, that would still be perfectly valid.

Anyway, see that number? The five? That’s why I auditioned for her part.

  1. However random her lists, that’s only five times she has to speak, and only after being addressed. My brother assures me it’s easier to remember your cue when you aren’t the first one to speak.
  2. Despite the whole not speaking because your husband told you not to, she sounded like a fun character. Sometimes I hate everything too!
  3. This is not the same as the first. But only five lines! I like small numbers, when it comes to things I’ve never done before.

And it wasn’t much of a risk to try, because even though my brother told me they didn’t have many people showing up to the auditions, I’ve never had anything to do with drama before. Well, other than attending my brothers’ plays. It seemed fun to try out because it’s practically family tradition! At least I’m pretty sure both sets of grandparents were involved in the community theater. I need to look more into the details of that, although I’m pretty sure my paternal grandparents were once really active in their theater. But I’ve never been particularly inclined to act, am often shy (or at least oblivious), and have been told I’m inaudible in general conversation.

So I wasn’t particularly worried about getting cast. It’d fun to audition, yeah, but probably safer if I didn’t actually participate.

I just got the call a few hours ago. I’m not Mrs. Paddy. They cast me as Mrs. Willie.

She’s a better part. Mrs. Willie is part of the staff at The Cloisters, who is very kind to all the residents, and is even married to one. Except her husband has no idea who she is, so she pretends she’s single. Yes, she’s loyally waiting for her husband who doesn’t remember a thing about her, and resides in a sanatorium—but hey, the play debuted in the fifties. What more can you expect?

So I’m going to be on stage.

This is me not freaking out. Yet.

Is There Nothing Left?

Wednesday, my post “My Parent’s are Trekkies” was featured on “Freshly Pressed”. Indeed, I have evidence:

Screen cap of my post

It’s right there on the third row, middle column. That’s me.

This is also proof that TVtropes is the most dangerous website in existence. Help, I can’t get off!

However, rather than make a whole post about my last post, which for so long was all I could think about and would be lame–but what am I supposed to do now? It’s given me stage fright.

Instead: They’re putting up a wind farm right on top of a mountain up here in the Northstate…actually it’s even more north than that. While the mountain range in question is not actually in the area of my growing-up place, nothing is, and it’s on a significant thoroughfare. Now this rather crappy picture can’t really show how shockingly out-of-place these were to me when I first saw them on my way back to town:

What is this doing here?

I did get stuck behind one of the trucking carrying in a piece though…I think it was one of the blades. And that would have been a better picture: because it was on a narrow, curvy road and the size of the load, the CHP pulled over the traffic in the opposite direction, and we had to follow the thing for several miles at maybe 30 mph. And when they finally came to the turnout, and the officers waved us by, we still only had to use the other lane. Poor officers though…I remember the one waving us 0n, and his hand was just going around and around and he was staring straight ahead. He seemed so bored!

Anyway, despite the massiveness of just that one piece, I still didn’t think anything of it until coming back down again a few weeks later and they were all put together. This is from coming back up the same trip, and they don’t loom nearly so high. On the way down though I could see them from the other side of Fall River Valley. Which is huge! And formerly had great vistas.

I think I nearly drove off the edge of the mountain.

But I’ve taken that road in and out of town for almost twenty years! Well, okay, for most of them I wasn’t taking myself in and out, because my parents were driving, but still. They’re so big! The picture really doesn’t do those on the ridge justice–and I don’t know that it really compares them to the size of the trees. They are too big to exist. It broke my brain, it really did.

Once I’d gotten over the initial shock–and I had to adjust somewhat, because they were looming the entire drive through the valley–I got to thinking about whether this might compare to how people felt when they first saw hot air balloons or airplanes overhead. For some reason, when I actually saw these in place, it required a fundamental revision of my worldview. I suppose the shock though might be more akin to people finding I-5 after having driven nothing but a two-lane highway their entire lives…familiar with the concept, less so the scale.

The problem was mostly age, I think. And the fact that I’m used to living in the middle of nowhere. Living in the middle of nowhere is not like living somewhere. Somewhere things happen. Nowhere, everything stays the same and nothing changes. By definition. (Putting in a RiteAid is too much an immediate gratification to cause the same shock).

These don’t bother me so much. There are a few closer to town–or is it all the same line? You know, I actually have no idea, they’re so much a part of the landscape.  I’m not sure of their relative scale, but they certainly seemed huge to me growing up. But they’re also old, and familiar for that reason. And they’re so much friendlier. Like giant skinny robots, long-sufferingly holding up our lines for birds to sit on, because they’re sweet like that.

It’s Wall-E vs Eve. Wall-E is adorably old-fashioned and Eve is new and sleek and dangerous.

Not quite so big though.

Hopefully I’ll get used to them soon. After all, I will continue to use that road for what is looking to be a long time. The view won’t be the same, but maybe it won’t be as scary.

I’ll leave you with this safety message in the meantime, brought to you from Oregon:

You are not immortal: buckle up

Is it just me, or is this making fun of Twilight?

The Whiteness Mystique

Last week I went to a lecture called “White Privilege and the Politics of Identity” as part of the Conversations on Diversity, given by Dr. Jill Swiencicki. It was an overview of the study of Whiteness scholarship today, mostly an introduction designed for people who hadn’t heard of the topic before.

Whiteness studies focus on how white people benefit from racism, and the inherent privileges that come from being classified as white in our societies (and possibly others). Basically it “pays to be a member of a dominant racial group.” When part of a dominant racial group, it’s difficult to acknowledge. It emerged with slavery, and has become ingrained in society. Whiteness means that white people get more trust, money, and jobs than people who belong to other races.

It was actually less a lecture than a conversation series, more than usual, perhaps. Dr. Swiencicki gave us several topics and a little history and then prompted conversations with our neighbors. I went with a friend, and since I’m not very outgoing I ended up talking with her for all of the conversations. This wasn’t really a bad thing, I knew I could be more honest with her than I would dare with a stranger. And after each small conversation, then there would be a group discussion.

We heard some interesting thing. One man said that he didn’t realize until he went to New Zealand that he wasn’t being watched in stores all the time. Instead, he was The American. Another guy, I think a business major, said that he had to dress better for interviews than others. A woman mentioned that she got fewer call-backs for jobs. Several people mentioned their school experiences, where people would claim the cafeteria lunch tables based on race. And while one person said that when they came to CSU, Chico from a primarily white suburb they found the campus to be very diverse–another said they were surprised by how homogeneously white it was.

I confess I had that same impression when I first came to Chico. I remember coming on campus my first semester and thinking “it’s so white!” I don’t know if that would have been my though right out of high school, though perhaps it would have been. I’m about as white as one could be although there may be some fraction of Native American on my dad’s side. And both sides of my family have been in the US for generations, which means there may well be lots of different contributions from unknown donors. That sounds odd, but really, there’s no such thing as race under the best of circumstances, and things only get murky once people actually begin interacting. Anyway, I spent two years in Santa Clarita, CA going to community college. One person here in Chico called it the place with “all the pretty girls”–the model types. But apparently it counted as less white than Chico.

But there I met my favorite professor, and probably the smartest person I’ve ever actually met. Professor Varga had some sort of descendant tie to Alexander Hamilton and was mostly Hispanic–but he had blue eyes and light skin. I had him for the Modern History of Latin America class. Apparently, at one school, they didn’t want him teaching Chicano studies because he looked too white.

So I guess that brings me to the one thing I didn’t like about the lecture. It wasn’t anything in the real lecture itself, mostly the subject itself. Not even that, really. My point is that I don’t like separating racism, which is basically just prejudice with an obvious visual element. Makes it harder to avoid, yes, but it just seems divisive to start a subject called “Whiteness studies” when it’s just an aspect of racism. Of course, to me it seems obvious that the impetus behind racism [prejudice] is for a privilege. People spend a lot of time–no matter how educated or enlightened–looking for ways in which they are better than others.

So as far as I’m concerned the way to stop, at the very least, racism, would be to simply not divide people into races anymore. See–there you go.

No, it isn’t that simple. But honestly, I can be really naive, and I don’t see why not. People, just be smart already.

What to Call Faith

From the outside, I’m not sure that people would have thought of my home, growing up, as “religious.” For one thing, the word “religious” itself seems to have a rather negative connotation for us enlightened modern people. We know better now. People often seem to think of “Religious” as Puritanism or Evangelism. One’s from growing up and having to wear silly hats in kindergarten and the other is from watching too much media “news” and infomercials. And in my (parents’) house, we don’t have crosses/crucifixes on every wall, or whatever else religion in the home is supposed to look like. One of the cars did have an ichthys (“Jesus fish”) though. And we always had plenty of Bibles.

At any rate, I was raised in the Christian faith. To believe in God, however you chose to worship. My brother is Baptist. My aunt and uncle are Catholic. Like my mom, I am Presbyterian. At least I think I am. It’s hard to be “religious” (read “believe”) in this current culture. Christianity is seen as the province of the crazy conservative Rightists. Or maybe my mind is making it up. Or maybe, to a certain extent it’s the college atmosphere. Or maybe it’s because I personally have had trouble finding my faith. After leaving home to go to community college in Southern CA (my home county didn’t have a community college) I pretty much stopped attending church. So there might be some lingering guilt. There are lots of distractions in modern life. It’s easy to form idols: out of celebrities, money, grades. Science. Believing is not easy, and it’s not supposed to be.

So when Perry Garfinkel, in Buddha or Bust, tried to convince the head priest of Rinsoin (a Zen Buddhist temple) Hoitsu Suzuki that Americans have imbedded what he called “Judeo-Christian” traditions in their/our culture as thoroughly as Japan has Buddhism because

“Yes, we look to God,” I said. “God is there even in our casual language. We say, ‘God bless you,’ when you sneeze. We say, ‘Thank God that truck didn’t run me over.’ We say ‘God damn it’ when we stub our toe when Matsui strikes out.”

And when Suzuki-roshi responds “‘Who is this God you keep talking about?’” Garfinkel sees it as a revelation. He sees that “Belief in God is perpetuated suffering.” He is enlightened.

I really want to quote the whole thing now. And this section wouldn’t irritate me so much if it wasn’t couched in such universal terms. It’s evident that Garfinkel doesn’t have a strong personal belief to defend. For instance, his use of the phrase “Judeo-Christian” traditions. He has said that he was raised in a Jewish household, although I don’t think he mentioned how strongly traditional they were. However, you can’t compare “Judeo-Christian” traditions to a single religion like Buddhism. In a high school history class, when asked what was the largest religion, “Christianity” without the “Judeo-” attached, couldn’t be the answer. It included too many religions to be considered one religion.

I think what Garfinkel is enlightened to is his own lack of belief. And perhaps when he discusses his (personal) enlightenment in universal terms, it’s simply habit because he is a journalist. At the very least, I suspect Suzuki-roshi was certainly responding to Garfinkel’s lack of personal faith. Garfinkel (in one of the more problematic sections, for me) writes “That in itself may be the reason we invent God, because it is easier to point the finger than to take the blame,” which is certainly not why I choose to believe, and he then calls his own comments in his conversation a “pointless game of intellectual masturbation.”

The way he’s been talking? Yes, it is. Suzuki-roshi notices. It’s a careless argument. Garfinkel, up to this point, doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t believe. His “faith” and the faith on the part of our culture that he tries to evidentiate through empty phrases like “God bless you,” are not real. They’re habits. Left over from people who grew up around religion but never found “it” themselves. That’s how language works.

It’s not how faith works. And I think Garfinkel was fortunate that someone finally pointed out the difference to him.

How About a Round of Applesauce!

(What can I say? I read the headline “How About a Round of Applause” wrong. It has nothing to do with anything…but I do like applesauce.)

So, let me think of a ‘real’ topic.

Hmm. I played the clarinet from fifth grade to senior year. With a few things that actually happen in my life, I tend to mention it on a fairly regular basis. At first, when we got to choose our instruments at the end of fourth grade, I had no intention of actually choosing the clarinet. I went straight to the line for the flute…and couldn’t even get a sound of it. Probably tried the trumpet next, although I don’t remember that. I do remember that at some point I got a hold of the trombone, which I could play, but hated.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the trombone, or even that trombone, but in fourth-grade though I like to play at playing it, it just wasn’t good enough. Neither was the clarinet, for that matter, but it didn’t require so much arm work. And I could play it.

Therefore, I told the music teacher I would play clarinet for fifth grade band–with the intention of later switching to something cooler, like the flute or French horn. Whereupon I went home, informed my parents of my decision, and found out that my uncle had played the clarinet for years himself. In fact, his band had played in front of the president…or the governor of Illinois…or some other illustrious personage, which I cannot really recall, but found myself much impressed by at the time.

At any rate, I got to borrow his instrument. A lovely instrument, wood, in a very battered old-fashioned case (that, most unfortunately, did not survive my stewardship). For clarinets, wood is better, unless it’s new and gets too cold and cracks on you. His wasn’t, obviously, and there were no cracks. Although the key pads had to be replaced at least once. By the way, I can’t say way wood is better, or even that it is to other people. It’s personal preference , really.

I don’t really know much about the clarinet, as an instrument. I have read that silver-plated keys are sometimes considered to be better than nickel-plated, although, again, I don’t really know why. Clarinet reeds come in several degrees of “hardness” though I don’t know if that’s how someone who actually knows clarinets would word it. When I graduated high school, I was playing on a 4 1/2. I believe the harder reeds are supposed to be better for playing on the highest register of the instrument. I also have a second mouthpiece, which, again, I think is supposed to be better for the highest register, but this time I did know, and just forgot this time.

Throughout middle school and (most?) of high school, I heard pretty much the same thing: “Play louder!” Over and over again. Because I played quietly, and for the most part never felt any need to play louder. Usually there were a few other clarinetists in the band either better or with seniority, so I figured they could play, and then the teacher wouldn’t be able to tell when I was playing the wrong note, and stop the whole band just to make me fix it. Generally though, despite the quiet playing, I seemed to get by well enough.

Bad habit: once I stopped having to verify that I’d practiced, I’d pretty much stopped practicing. I’d still play probably fifteen minutes out of school about once a month when I either particularly liked, or had a particularly hard, passage. But mostly I figured I practiced enough during school.

In high school, my senior year, I somehow ended up wanting to apply for the Western International Band Clinic (WIBC: pronounced WIB-ic)–fancy name, but dare you to find much about it on Google. I suppose band teacher thought: her senior year, may as well offer the chance, though probably understood it wasn’t very likely. Told me to practice. And I really didn’t. Well, more than I usually did, say about an hour total in my month of “preparation.” Had to do the audition tape twice…really upset the teacher though he didn’t say anything, and hid it rather well (yes, it was a terrible thing to do–I am sending telepathic apologies to him as I type).

Apparently though, they had a bad crop of clarinetists that year. I got in. Scraped by in the last chair of the last clarinet section of the last band. Theoretically, the bands are all equal, but among the students it seemed very clear that they were arranged by skill anyway, I was the…twelfth? (no longer remember for sure)…seat of the third clarinet section, which meant that all my parts were boring but easy to learn. The girl in the seat ahead of mine went to a music academy and owned a two thousand dollar instrument, with silver-plated keys. Made me feel a little better, true or not.

When I was in band, I never played in a group, say, larger than fifty. That may well be stretching it. At any rate, each of the WIBC bands was about two- to- three hundred people (no longer remember this either…what can I say, I’m bad with numbers). And the day of the concerts, two bands would combine for a 600 person band. That many people…it was incredible. So much more powerful. I loved it. It was definitely the most fun I’d ever actually had playing band. I’d had plenty of great experiences in band, but though we’d had some pretty good local concerts, they couldn’t compare to the grandure.

Not only that, but the guest soloist that year was clarinetist Robert W. Spring. Probably the first professional clarinet I’d ever even heard of. I even got his signature. When he came in to practice, he played “Flight of the Bumblebee” without pausing for breath–he was breathing, it’s called circular breathing, just in case that worried you. Now that was cool. And though it was very cool, it did not make me want to be a professional. He mentioned he had to practice hours a day. Still very inspiring though.

I took band a lot more seriously after that. Even got to play the solo part once during a concert. I wish I was still playing, but without having an already structured class, it seems hard to find the time. Or place. Or band for that matter. I’m thinking of looking into a concert band at this school… one band advertises itself to those students who haven’t played since forth grade. Right about my speed, there. Time after time, I still practice. It’s just much harder when you have anyone living nearby. Since fourth grade, I’ve come to see that the clarinet is highly under-appreciated, and is in fact totally awesome, but when practicing the upper registers, it can sound really bad. Really painful.

I should break these posts into sections or chapters or something.