Blooms and Bugs and Posts

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I reblogged a post from Elodie Under Glass, or at least tried to, I’m not sure it worked. What I wanted to share was this: Reader Letter: Random Paper Airplanes because it’s awesome and has everything: Anne Lamott; how to clean your home when you’re not the Clean One; mindset; etymology of “experience” and “expertise”; quotes like “you’ve reached an Age, and you haven’t unlocked the required babies and car achievements for that level”; and gifs. Go read it!DSCN0670

Sharing some photos of the garden. This is the first year I’ll have been here the whole summer. It’s very exciting, thingDSCN0674s grow! I mean, it’s amazing. DSCN0676

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasturtiums have edible flowers. They taste peppery and look lovely atop salads. They also help deter animals from eating the strawberries planted behind them.

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And here’s a busy busy bee.

I, too, must get busy with the words and the writing.

Enjoy summer (you Northern Hemisphere-ers). Enjoy these pictures of flowers if you don’t have your own to wonder at. Enjoy Elodie’s blog, everyone.

 

Goals, mini-update

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But first this blog post, “Still Writing, A Year After Odyssey“, by Bill Powell, one of my dear Odyssey class of 2013 fellows.

One thing with goals is to remember what they were and acknowledge when you’ve reached them. For instance, last year I’d told myself that I was going to a writing workshop. If I didn’t get into Odyssey, Clarion, or Clarion West I would sign up for workshops through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. But one way or another, I was going somewhere and dedicating time, energy, and effort to my writing.

And I did. Which means I achieved a major writing goal.

It’s important to remember that I did this thing. Otherwise it’s a never ending list of what I must do’s without the acknowledgement of accomplishment or work and achievement.

And now I have a new goal with a deadline (end of August): I’m beta reading one of my other dear Odfellow’s novel. How exciting! So for the next seven weeks I’ll be reading, taking notes, and writing a critique of her novel.

And I’ll be focusing on my own writing (again, having fallen out of the habit for a few weeks). Which is a less concrete goal. More on how to deal with that later.

Almost a year since Odyssey. Thousands of words written, revised, submitted. Most of us are still together in regular contact. That’s accomplishment.

One of the wonderful things about that? As Bill wrote, we’re just getting started.

Pen On Top of Papers

Pen On Top of Papers

Goals, part 1

Dear Reader,

I’ve a tiny heap of partial blog posts sitting over there staring at me, and a too long gap between posting dates. (Connection?) The last post I started but did not finish was about goals: what they are, how they relate to writing, basic philosophical treatise that went nowhere. Clearly my brain knows things and is elbowing me trying to get my attention, because goals! I need to consider, write down, and clarify me some goals and then, you know, adhere. Follow through.

My writing habits and my goal-making follow the same pattern I use to do chores–I multitask. And what happens when I multitask? Less gets done than if I’d just stuck to some one thing (okay, or two things, let’s not get carried away) and followed it through. But the divergent multi-layered dance of thoughts in my mind! How will I keep all those thoughts and their relationships to one another and the interconnectedness and weave of interplay if I only follow one thought? I’ll lose so much.parabola

But I lose plenty, too, when I try to follow them all because I rarely finish. This is undoubtedly somehow related to goals. I’m pretty sure.

So is organization. Something I’m still working on. Something that should be taught in schools–I know, in theory that’s what we learn while doing other things, like learning how to write and essay and a by-product of writing out all your “work” to math problems. But that’s not the same as learning how you think and how best (not only just one best, but you know, all the bests) to organize your thoughts according to your own special neurological processes.

This is the beginning. This is how we learn–we become aware of a need that is not being fulfilled, we imagine something that is not but could be, and we try to figure out how to get there to that place where that thing we want is. This is how goal-making starts. At least, I think it does.

When I Can’t Write…

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My flowerbed is an alien graveyard.

My brain was not cooperating with the whole writing thing today, so I did some gardening instead. Fresh air, soil, getting my hands dirty, nothing to think but be with the plants and worms. Good old physical labor and clean air.

Then I found these:
alien husksI hope they had a good life in the huge tree that shelters our house and in our yard that we let grow wild last summer. These little aliens now share a flowerbed with Irises and Daffodils, and an assortment of shade tolerant seeds including various Daisies, Foxglove, Poppies, Sweet William, and Blue Pimpernell among others.

it's only a gargoyle if water runs out it

It’s only a gargoyle if there’s water running through it.

They and our home are kept safe by our gargoyle:

 

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…and there is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

all curled up

all curled up

And here’s some spring color, because it’s not all death and dormant seeds:DSCN0518

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geranium bloom

violets

violets

Odyssey Workshop Application Deadline Approaches

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Last summer my life changed forever–I attended Odyssey, a six week intensive writing workshop for writers of speculative fiction led by the inestimable Jeanne Cavelos. It was amazing, trying, thrilling, exhausting. I learned so much that I am still learning what I learned. I never so loved being around a group of strangers, but they weren’t strangers exactly–we all love writing, reading, and the life in words. I met a whole group of my sisters and brothers of my dreamworld. We wrote up apocalypses that destroyed cultures and whole worlds then the next day we birthed new ones; we created horrors and dreams, monsters and gods, and then we met for dinner.

If you are considering investing in your writing, in yourself as a writer, and have considered applying to Odyssey, do! I did not get accepted my first round of applications to the three big workshops (Odyssey, Clarion, and Clarion West). But I kept writing and bettering my craft and the next time I applied, last year, I was wait-listed and then accepted to two of these fine institutions. The process of applying is a worthy process–you can learn from it regardless of outcome. But it’s the only way to be accepted into one of these programs.

Write your heart out, revise, and apply!

ImageHere’s a brief description from Jeanne:

The application deadline for this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop is April 8.  If you want to make a big leap forward with your writing skills, now is the time to apply to Odyssey.  Graduates have repeatedly said that six weeks at Odyssey has taught them more than a two-year master’s program in creative writing, and more than years of study on their own.

We have a wonderful session prepared for this summer, with guests including Catherynne M. Valente, Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Hand, and Gordon Van Gelder.  Our writers-in-residence, Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, taught at Odyssey 2005 and are among students’ most beloved writers-in-residence.  I was thrilled when they agreed to teach again this year.

You can find more workshop information here:  http://www.sff.net/odyssey/workshop.html

And you can find instructions on how to apply here:  http://www.sff.net/odyssey/apply.html

Saint Anselm College, photo credit: Kate Hall

Saint Anselm College. Photo credit: Kate Hall (fellow Odyssey ’13 graduate)

 

Poem up at Stone Telling–grand double issue!

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adapted from Urbex House…, by ElvinMy poem “That Thief, Melancholy” is in Stone Telling issue 10, The Body. The photo above accompanies the poem. I think it’s a great visual adaptation/ accompaniment.

This is a double issue! Lots of amazing poetry for you to read and listen to. Excellent poems from Sofia Samatar, Lisa M. Bradley, Jaymee Goh, Bogi Takács, Sonya Taaffe, Emily Jiang, and oh so many more! [Links are to authors' websites--for their poems click Stone Telling issue 10.]

StoneTelling10-COVERFrom the editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan regarding issue 10: Speaking about the body is a radical act. The body – with its ills, idiosyncrasies and secrets, its daring, its slow or rapid disintegration; the body that is beauty of old age and the pain in bones; the labored, uncertain gasping for air that supercedes all other desires. The body and the passions of it; the shame that is societally circumscribed and weighs us down like chains; the mind, which is a part of the body, in all its brilliance and defeat. Stone Telling poets have long been in dialogue with the body. The body dancing and at rest, the body wounded and healing, the body clothed in words or stripped bare. The body fat, thin, unapologetic, apologetic, too angry to be shy, not angry enough, the body that crosses boundaries, the body that says “I am here, see me, see me,” the body that whispers, “move on, there is nothing to see”.

The body is not always the same, the body varies in brightness, its true brightness may be ascertained from the rhythm of its pulsing, the body is more remote than we imagined, it eats, it walks, it traverses with terrible slowness the distance between Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the body is stubborn, snowbound, the body has disappeared, the body has left the country, the body has traveled to Europe and will not say if it went there alone…

I’ll be live on Radio Literature, January 23rd, 89.9 FM

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Rhonda Lee will be hosting me on Radio Literature on Thursday, January 23rd, 7:30pm (central), at WORT 89.9 FM.

Rhonda and I will talk about poetry, writing and literature communities including Wiscon and the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and I’ll be reading some of my poems, both published and unpublished. You’ll hear about Bluebeard’s daughter, Saints and their smiles, eternity, and winter.

All this at WORT’s studios–that’s 89.9 FM on the radio dial and http://www.wortfm.org/ on the internet (the “listen live” button is in orange in the upper right-hand corner of their home page).

Can’t listen live? WORT archives radio shows for a week. You can reach their archives here.

Radio Literature News & Culture Thursdays @ 7:30 pm
Radio Literature is a weekly half-hour show devoted to airing poetry, spoken word, fiction, and non-fiction from Wisconsin and the nation. It often features discussion with writers, as well as readings of their work.

 

The Bowl, The Ram And The Folded Map: Navigating The Complicated World

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The Bowl, The Ram And The Folded Map: Navigating The Complicated World, a blog actress Angel Coulby playing Guineverepost at Elodie Under Glass, clearly and logically delineates how ‘what everybody knows’ is, in fact, false… Elodie generally writes about “Science, Feminism and the Media” and in this post parses the myths of society (e.g. there were no people of color in medieval England, Jesus was white/English/spoke English), the fairy tales of education and popular knowledge (“why people still insist that evolutionary biology underlies gender theory”), and how this creates a loop of inaccurate ‘knowledge’ and why “there is a certain type of historical accuracy that only makes sense if it matches a historically inaccurate picture of the world.”

[text inside the above "quotes" from Elodie Under Glass's post "The Bowl, The Ram And the Folded Map".]

actor Sinqua Walls playing Sir LancelotA favorite topic of mine–history as construct. We must ask who created the text we are consuming, with what research do they substantiate their stories, and why. Because history books were written by someone. A group of people, actually. History is a story like any other: the author(s) write(s) with an audience in mind; these authors have their own worldview, their own prejudices and stories about “how the world is” (yes, this includes me); certain data are chosen while others are ignored; words are chosen to describe events; events are chosen to be written about while others are ignored. A “battle” may also be called an “insurrection” or a “coup” resulting in a “slaughter” or a “glorious victory” depending on what the author wishes to make you, the reader, feel about this particular construction of history. Nowhere in the air above a battlefield in flaming letters are the words “this is a fight for freedom” or “this is an atrocity.” And in which language would those words have been written anyway?

moroccan-bowl from Elodie Under Glass

mexican-bowl from Elodie Under Glass

What stories do you tell yourself? Do they help you get through the day? Do they ever hinder you or your understanding of the world and others? How often do you re-evaluate your stories to see if they hold true, if they are helpful, if they are harmful?

Things Nobody Mentions About Depression; also, Allie Brosh’s blog

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Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half book coverThanks to All Things Considered interviewing Allie Brosh I have discovered the blog “Hyperbole and a Half“. Allie Brosh has a book out, too, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.

Depression is not a topic that’s commonly or usually helpfully discussed. It’s difficult enough to talk about with close friends who know you well, but trying to explain it to others? who don’t have it? Forget it. Partially difficult because when I’m in the midst of it I don’t have the energy to describe it in a balanced way (that isn’t overly morbid and negative or too flippant and dismissive) and when I’m not depressed it’s difficult to inhabit/ re-create the subtle worldview and unique logic/ experience/ knowledge of depression enough to describe in order to explain it. Also difficult because while it is a “thing” (something that one feels, knows, experiences and therefore exists) it is a negation, so how do you describe what isn’t there in a way people who haven’t experienced it can understand? And not scare them away? Or have them thinking ‘if she’s talking about it this carelessly she can’t really be depressed’?

I cannot express how elated I was to read Allie’s post Depression Part Two, to read someone saying “I don’t necessarily want to kill myself… I just want to be dead somehow” (elated in a I’m-not-alone-oh-my-god-someone-nailed-it-on-the-head sort of way). And the questions of how to socially appropriately broach this topic and not freak out loved ones? Not something you really read about. But she writes about it wonderfully and illustrates it superbly.

Here is something I’ve been thinking about lately: There are a couple common responses (to the statement “I’ve been depressed”) that are not helpful or supportive though people who say them feel they are being helpful or supportive. When I screw up the courage to let someone know I’m depressed (even to friends and family) it *actually makes things worse* when you reply with plucky aphorisms and go get ‘em suggestions… because to a person in the midst of a depression they’re inane and as useful as a bicycle is to a dead fish. As Brosh put it, those “hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.”

Examples of Not Helpful Responses: “Why are you depressed, you have your health and people that love you and…”, or, “Plenty of people have it worse than you…”, or, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass/ It won’t last forever”, or, “Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air/ Go to the gym–get those endorphins going”.

<– These do not help. These are in response to what you think you know about depression, but not actually what depression is, and therefore inappropriate, not useful, and possibly (probably) hurtful and may well alienate the person who has just screwed up a bunch of courage and energy to confide in you and you just blew it off or seemed to blow your nose in it.

These solutions/ suggestions are not answers to the problem of depression. And they deny the experience of depression and the challenges and pain it brings. Which makes the suggestions more harmful than helpful.

Allie Brosh-depression as dead fish and not useful suggestions people make

from Allie Brosh’s blog post “Depression Part Two”

Brosh likens it (this situation of having depression, and when you tell others they respond uselessly as mentioned above) to “having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.”

The problem might not even have a solution,” Brosh writes in her post (emphasis mine, here and below). “…you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions. You’re maybe just looking for someone to say ‘sorry about how dead your fish are’ or ‘wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though.’” And for these things, for the metaphor of the dead fish and how others respond, I thank her deeply.

I appreciate that “Hyperbole and a Half” is written and illustrated with wit and humor and an earnestness that does not shy away from the uncomfortable experiences of depression and the difficulty in expressing these to others (“uncomfortable” because in our society we really don’t deal well with depression).

This is a complex and multifaceted discussion that I’ve been wanting to explore. I’ve been unsure of an approach–I do not want a clinical discussion, or one bogged down in negativity or self-indulgence. Because though depressing or morbid, depression in its singularly unique manifestation is also humorous, or at least absurd. Absurd in the way that nihilism and existential terror are absurd. When you stare at the Abyss, and it stares back at you tenfold, what else is there but to laugh?

*I regret that I have no images of my own. Thanks to Allie Brosh for these images, and for inspiring me to attempt to draw a few of my own.*

 

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, review

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‘A book,’ says Vandos of Ur-Amakir, ‘is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to the desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears.’ Fanlewas the Wise, the great theologian of Avalei, writes that Kuidva, the God of Words, is ‘a taskmaster with a lead whip.’ Tala of Yenith is said to have kept her books in an iron chest that could not be opened in her presence, else she would lie on the floor, shrieking (page 19).

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia SmatarSo learns Jevick once his tutor, Lunre from the literate land of Olondria, teaches him to read. So I was reminded when I read Sofia Samatar‘s A Stranger in Olondria.

We often think of books as bastions of knowledge, open to all equally to come drink from their wells. Reading and writing are viewed as gentlemanly or ladylike pastimes. We tend to speak of a book as a bridge, not “a river that has no bridge”, or we depict a book as a garden blooming with words, something pleasurable, not “a place for weeping” or something as threatening as “a garden of spears”. Yet books are these things too.

Language and literacy are powers like any other, they can be used to suppress and to harm. And just like any other art, language can divide as well as unite, show the transcendental nature of humanity as well as its pettiness. And like many knowledges, modes, and paradigms, it is privileged. Sofia’s novel reminded me of all these things as well.

A Stranger in Olondria is gorgeously written in lyrical and evocative prose. It’s A Stranger in Olondriatextural. It is an experience. It is a journey. This is a book about a young man’s journey into literacy and into another culture, and through these he journeys further into his own. And like all true journeys, this tale is transformative.

Besides the lush prose, imagery, sensory and historical detail (all the things I want to drink in when I travel) I appreciate this novel for its detail in considering the many layers of culture and how these are tied to literacy and language and privilege. I have more thoughts and questions and conclusions to draw than I am currently able to express. Let me say: the world-building is exceptional. And I mean World-Building, with capital letters and All that World implies. Sofia does not ignore class or cultural imperialism, or any of the hierarchies we create in our own world, many of which we are complicit in and uphold without question or even awareness. She has woven a full tapestry, not a cardboard cutout, as the saying goes. This is a novel as rich in social political consideration as it is in language. Which is to say, very. And it is always readable and always immersive.

To say I enjoyed A Stranger in Olondria is insufficient. I did. But more than that. I was left changed. I was left holding my own enjoyment of language knowing I cannot unknow it, knowing that this language too has been used and misused. I was left with the renewed awareness that language shapes me as much as I shape it, if not more. And yet, these beautiful words I had just breathed and lived through; this story. I could not but fully agree with Ravhathos who “cautioned that those who spend long hours engaged in reading or writing should not be spoken to for seven hours afterward” (page 19).

The official blurb: Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home—but which his mother calls the Ghost Country. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. Just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Even as the country simmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of freeing himself by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that most seductive of necromancies, reading.sofia samatar

A Stranger in Olondria was written while the author taught in South Sudan. It is a rich and heady brew which pulls the reader in deeper and still deeper with twists and turns that hearken back to the Gormenghast novels while being as immersive as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
(above text from Small Beer Press’s website)

Great reviews:

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/a-stranger-in-olondria-by-sofia-samatar.html

http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2013/10/a_stranger_in_o.shtml

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/05/review-a-stranger-in-olondria-by-sofia-samatar

I wrote this review in part to help celebrate A More Diverse Universe 2013 blog tour. Read the original post HERE for more information. To read the other reviews of A More Diverse Universe 2013 blog tour, go HERE. Also check out a small reading list I published in my previous post. #diversiverse
Love great books? Read diversely! Share!
Diverse Universe - graphicmore diverse blog tour graphic by alex
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