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The Importance of Discourse: Stop Shouting, and Start Speaking

May 31, 2012 1 comment

I love discourse. I love a good discussion. For me, it’s a learning tool. And, as someone who studied English lit for her MA, it’s a necessity. Participation was roughly 95% percent of my soul grade. You had to form an opinion/interpretation and back it up with the text itself (or scholarly research etc). As long as you could do that, your interpretation was considered valid. For instance, you couldn’t just INSIST that the protagonist in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper went crazy due to a miscarriage (this was an actual argument someone presented). While it would make the story infinitely more interesting, the text itself didn’t back up the argument. The analysis wasn’t valid, but the person did conduct herself in a reasonable manner. She presented her argument, listened to the rebuttal, offered reasons why she thought that, and everyone in the room learned something from that discussion. (Side-note: I loved her idea and wanted her interpretation to be true.)

She did not flip out, insist we were all wrong, point fingers, and mutter that we were all evil slaves to the patriarchy. She did not repeatedly rant about how her interpretation was MUCH better than everyone else’s. She didn’t rail at us, talk down to us, or suggest we drink her Kool-Aid. If she had, we would’ve all stopped listening. Because, as a writer or a lit student, what you SAY is just as important as HOW you say it.

Which brings me to my point: don’t be a douchebag. If you have something to say, fantastic. Please do. The internet, as you well know, is your pulpit. You can educate the masses, make people laugh, or write something so beautiful that people cry. (The highest compliment a writer can get, sometimes.) Having a big fanbase is great. People are already inclined to listen to you, rather than see you as the crazy guy on the corner shouting about the publishing apocalypse. (CLUTCH YOUR EREADER AND YOUR BIBLES! THE END IS NEAR!)

You see, once you stop talking about the reasons why something is awesome – and start flinging around mud, big words, and vitriol – people start to edge away. You can be perfectly, awesomely RIGHT – and still be wrong. Having a discussion is distinctly different from listing the reasons why the other guy is completely, utterly, stupidly wrong. You know what? We get enough of that in political campaigns. When you start telling me that Stephen King is SO WRONG, because of [whatever*] – I stop listening. And the thing is, I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to understand the changing landscape of the literary world, but I don’t want to drink the Kool-Aid, wear black Nikes, or worry that Charles Manson might be your prison-based penpal.

Stop ripping the other guy and tell me why I should believe you. Better yet: tell me why [insert belief here] worked for you. Don’t tell me why it’s the ONLY way. Don’t insist that it’s how things SHOULD always be. Let me reach my own conclusion.

Here’s the hard truth: I don’t care how people get their books. I don’t give a damn if you’re an ereader junkie, a paperback princess/prince, or an audiobook aficionado. You know what I care about? I care that you READ. To each, his own. Personally, I love books. I love stacking them in corners when I run out of bookshelves, space under the bed, or room in my closet. I love the way they smell and the fact that I can scribble in the margins. I love shoving one in my purse everywhere I go. But you know what? I’d love to get an ereader for vacations. Because I end up with more books than shoes in my suitcase. Imagine how much I could read if I wasn’t limited to what I could carry? I’m gleefully dancing at the thought of the limitless possibilities. I would read ALL THE THINGS.

The same principle goes for publishing. I don’t care if you self-publish through Amazon, publish through their imprint, get a six-book deal from [large publisher name redacted], or Kinko your own zine. Self-publishing is a great idea. (Full disclosure: I self-published a book of poetry through them. I had realistic expectations – which is that it wouldn’t sell three million copies. I knew what I was getting into and why I was doing it. That instance, for me, was a win. So many people have great success at it. *eyes Denise Grover Swank*) But self-publishing isn’t for everyone. That’s a fact. If you’re an unknown, without an audience base, it’s really difficult to build an audience or get the attention of people who aren’t already paying attention to you (either because they know you personally, or connections you’ve made via social media – which, in my opinion, is a godsend of awesomeness). Grand success stories, without a previously established reader base, are rare. If they weren’t, we’d all be Amanda Hocking – who, by the way, worked her ASS off to get where she is today.

But, back to the previously mentioned [whatever*]: he referred the physical, printed book as an “actual book.” Now, you can interpret that as Mr. King being an elitist douchebag – or you can view it as him referencing the tangible object. It doesn’t have to be a knock on ebooks. You can take it that way, sure. Maybe your opinion is backed up by the fact that he’s “holding off” on releasing an ebook. But you know, that’s his choice. It doesn’t hurt anyone. As I’ve said previously, if I like an author, I’ll read whatever he/she writes, even if it’s scribbled on a roll of paper towels. Do we get outraged if a film company doesn’t release something in 3D? Because if we have the technology, we MUST have access to it at all times. Honestly, there’s nothing I want less than a giant CGI piranha hurling itself at my head while I’m trying to eat popcorn. If the movie’s good, I’ll enjoy it in whatever what it’s presented. Although, I’d love anything shown at a drive-in, because who doesn’t like a nice drive-in? *ahem* Where was I?

I want to hear your reasons, calmly and clearly. I don’t want to feel accosted by your beliefs. I don’t want to feel like you’re shouting AT me. I want to understand. I want to discuss why and how and what. I want to learn. Stop shouting, and start speaking. I promise, I’ll listen.

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How Being a Writer is Sometimes like Being a Serial Killer

May 31, 2012 4 comments

Writers are an odd bunch. We inhale our coffee and our tea, sometimes without tasting it. We drink, share drink recipes, and talk about that great new wine we discovered. We have superstitions. We haunt coffee shops. You can always bribe us with food. Or a pony. Or a unicorn. Or better yet: a pony that IS a unicorn.

Where was I? Right. Being a writer is sometimes like being a serial killer, except without the professional butcher’s smock.

1. We talk to ourselves. A lot.
2. We hear voices. These voices tell us to do things. We argue with them.
3. We live with people who aren’t real. We’re very attached to them.
4. We are smart, but can be socially awkward.
5. If the writing doesn’t go as planned, setting the work-in-progress aflame always seems like a good idea.
6. Nothing is 9 to 5. Strange hours abound. There’s a strong possibility that you will discover a writer scribbling notes on bar napkins at 3 am.
7. We’re moody as hell. You may discover us making lemon cake at noon, because the day requires cake. Or croissants. Or pasta. Whatever it is, just go with it.
8. You never know what might set us off. Was someone just rude to the waiter? Inspiration for a character. Ran into an old college crush? Inspiration. Was winked at by the ice cream man? Creepy inspiration.
9. Nothing is ever ordinary. The smallest thing can be the most profound. And we notice things that most people would only ever glance at.
10. We keep our trophies. Clippings. Good reviews. Pieces we are especially proud of. Somewhere, there’s a folder or a box.

There may not be blood on our shirts, but there’s ink on our fingers. We’ve suffered hand cramps and eye strain. If you look closely enough, you can probably pick one of us out of the crowd. But try not to interrupt us if we’re furiously typing. We (I’m using the royal Writer We, here) may occasionally forget ourselves and bite.

Dear Douchebag at Starbucks:

May 30, 2012 11 comments

I saw you saunter in, age indeterminable, clothing perfectly pressed. You are a walking cliché of a man, all smile but no warmth. Your friend smiles, too, but it reaches his eyes. You walk by, certain you’re the only other person in the world. I pretend to read.

“Excuse me,” you spat at the barista. Your tone is sharp, making it clear that her speed is unacceptable. Never mind that it’s only been three seconds since you walked in. Forget that she’s currently closing the cash drawer. None of that matters, because YOU need coffee, yesterday.

You don’t wait for her to answer you. As soon as she looks, you spring. “I want a [epically long order that I cannot recall, but it was ridiculous. Let’s just say it was this] very hot half-caf, no-whip, soy milk latte with three pumps of non-dairy creamer, drizzled with caramel.”

She repeats your order, and I watch you glare at her as if she’s just insulted your mother. You offer her a curt nod, sneering. When you speak next, your voice could cut through steel with a whisper. “Emphasis on the VERY HOT.”

It is then that I want to smack you, despite the fact that you’re a) a billion feet tall and b) my elder. You, sir, are an asshole. It’s not bad enough that you order coffee as if it were an important medical procedure. It’s not bad enough that you talk to the barista like a complete sack of dull tools. No, you also have to enunciate, loudly, at a decibel that is reserved for jackasses and Gordon Gecko.

Dude, your coffee is not that important. I say that as someone who NEEDS coffee like air. I say that as a human being who remembers to be nice to people, all people, regardless of their job or position in life. You didn’t even notice her cringe, did you? You didn’t notice that she flinched, because you were looking at her as if she were dirt? That girl did absolutely nothing to you. And you were an ass to her.

While waiting for your order you chatted with your friend, who looked only vaguely embarrassed at your shit-tastic attitude. When it was done, you did not say thank you. You did not even smile. You snatched it from the counter, snarking about something. On your way out, again, you glanced at nothing and no one. I resisted the urge to trip you, sir, but I could have. I turned the other cheek. I only hope that the barista spit in your coffee.

Sincerely,
The girl in the corner

Six Seconds of Silence

May 28, 2012 3 comments

six seconds of silence
used to mean different things:

1) that you were thinking
2) that you were scared
3) that you wanted something, but
the words got away, slipping like a fish
made of moving, fading shadows

Now, six seconds of silence
is the breath before a kiss,
hope before a promise,
anticipation before a touch,
a rest between heady confessions.
This, I’m afraid, has gone to my head.
More dangerous, this (you) has gone to my heart.

Kiss me, and you’ll see how important
I am
* —
one of us leans in
for the thing that might kill us,
passion heralded by a thousand different
kinds of death —
and suddenly, life doesn’t seem empty.
Suddenly, all the lights turn green,
and the whole world is made of parking lots,
moments of arrival and change.

Suddenly, I don’t care
if we’re saying goodbye,
because there’s always the next hello.
Funny how

six seconds of silence

could do all that.

 

*Quote by Sylvia Plath.

Categories: Poetry

Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter and Good Art

May 25, 2012 4 comments

Let’s talk about art, specifically music. Even more specifically, Amanda Palmer and her forthcoming album. Here’s the background for anyone who needs it: Amanda’s funding her album through Kickstarter. She dropped a track the other day, and I spent days listening to it obsessively. (It’s here.) Amanda is one half of the Dresden Dolls, EvelynEvelyn, and she made a ukulele record of Radiohead songs. She has been a working musician for a long time now, and if you’ve ever seen her play live (I haven’t had the pleasure yet) or checked her out on Youtube (DO IT), you’ll learn one very important thing: she lives the music. It’s never just a song. It’s everything she is and everything is has, pouring right out of her like magic. Rough magic – the kind of magic that takes a piece of you and puts it out there.

A while back, Amanda parted ways from her record label. Why did she do that? There was a bit of controversy over (I shit you not) her stomach. They didn’t want it on the album cover, because it wasn’t perfect. Now, let me say this: she isn’t even remotely fat. That whole debacle, even though I discovered it post-problem, pisses me off.

So, how does a musician fund an album without a label, today? Kickstarter. It is especially helpful if one has an base audience and realistic goal, which you can see via the fact that her Kickstarter was fully funded very fast. I supported it, and that was my first time. Kickstarter virgin no more, people.

There’s your background. Here’s the meat of this post: the music itself. If you’re following along with Amanda’s updates, or her blog, you’re chockfull of knowledge. If not, even if you’re not a singer/songwriter, read them. You’ll learn a lot about art, its cost, connecting with fans, how to put on eyeliner as eyebrows, and you might even begin to suffer from Kimono Envy (I have an obsession with Kimonos).

This morning, I was reading the latest update, and Amanda wrote, “i don’t want this album to be remembered as “the kickstarter record.” i do want this record to explode. and i want this record to explode because it is awesome.”

Here’s a bit of anxiety, right? It’s not what I’d call anxiety of influence, but perhaps anxiety of origins. The whole reason behind this endeavor is art. It’s why so much has gone into everything about it, from the people involved (seriously, there’s so much talent all across the board that it’s almost shocking) to the what’s included in each donation tier. One dollar gets you the digital download, folks. ONE DOLLAR. What the frakkin’ hell can you buy for a dollar, anymore?

But I want to speak to Amanda’s concerns about the album being remembered, or received, based on the funding source and not for the art itself. The art is what counts. And here’s my confession: up until a few years ago, I didn’t know who Amanda F. Palmer was. I had listened to the Dresden Dolls music, but not a whole lot. I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t until she started dating Neil Gaiman that she caught my attention. My first reaction was something like, “Who IS this chick?” Eloquent, I know. From Gaiman’s Twitter, I started reading her blogs. From there, I checked out her music. Then, I followed her on Twitter. And hell, I found myself liking the hell out of her. Because she is HERSELF, without an agenda. She doesn’t shave. She paints on her eyebrows. She wears awesome stage clothing. (She is solely responsible for making me love/want corsets.) She does her thing. She makes her art. And that, right there, solidified my appreciation for her and what she does. (I should point out that I’m currently wearing her “Haters exit, pursued by bear” t-shirt, which I love.)

I learned about Amanda Palmer slowly, in bits and pieces, in pictures and words. The internet is a wonderful thing, because without it – maybe I wouldn’t have. Maybe I would’ve missed out on it (her art) and her. Perhaps I wouldn’t have known about her statue wedding to Neil Gaiman in New Orleans, while he wore a top hat. Or their real wedding at Ayelet Waldman’s house. These are details and moments that make people (whoever they are) real and solid, glimpses into life and love. Most of the time, it’s the art that draws me in first. In this instance, it was the opposite: it was person first, art second. Either way, I’m glad.

Here’s the other thing – from what I’ve heard of this album so far, it’s kickass to the Nth degree. What solidified it for me is something called The Bed Song.

I’ve been playing it on repeat, for days and days, whenever I’m at my computer (it’s currently on YouTube, but it’s a track on the new album). The music score alone is hauntingly beautiful. It’s one of the best piano arrangements I’ve ever heard. But the lyrics: holy fuck balls. They broke my heart into a thousand little pieces of sadness. (Dramatic? Oops.) Because the picture painted was so intense, so real, so relatable – and so infinitely sad.

It’s good art.

That, right there, is why the album will be remembered. Not because of its genesis. Not because a record label didn’t put it out into the world. If only for THAT song along, the album is worth it. It’s good art. (Which circles around to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech; you’ve all probably watched it by now.)

One more time: it’s good art. Delivery system irrelevant.

Categories: art

The Queen of Eating My Own Foot

May 23, 2012 10 comments

Sometimes, I cannot shut up. Sometimes, I babble. Sometimes, I say crazy things, aiming toward total honesty. I am the Queen of Eating My Own Foot. It occasionally makes me feel a little bit like I’m standing naked in the middle of midtown Manhattan. But I do it anyway, when things matter. That is when it’s most important to do something like that. Lay all the cards on the table and try. Otherwise, what you have is a lost possibility.

The trouble is, I suppose, I always put my heart where my mouth is. It’s when I stop talking, and clam up completely, that you really have to worry. But I know that my tendency to word-vomit can be kind of startling to some people. There are a certain number of people who bring out this tendency in me. For all my friendliness and openness, I don’t indiscriminately let people in. I’m absolutely always myself, but there are walls and distances.

By the time the walls come down, I’m naked again, emotionally speaking. Today, I was thinking about what that means — how some people don’t strip the walls away slowly, how with a look or a word, they just vanish. As if they were never there. That kind of thing is scary, but once the walls come down it says a lot.

I’m not a fearless person. I’m the person who clicks send and tries not to panic. I’m the person who dials the phone and has to remember to speak slowly, otherwise I sound like a breathy Minnie Mouse on speed. It’s not flattering. But back to the point: I get scared, but I do it anyway. The times I’ve held back, or kept things in, have not been positive things. Those are the only regrets I have. Because once a relationship gets past a certain point, staying silent becomes a way of life. The norm. That is how relationships die, slowly.

I’ve seen that happen to people in the past. I’ve kept my tongue, when I shouldn’t have. In moments of weakness, I’ve avoided difficult discussions. Some discussions aren’t easy — but they aren’t meant to be. Nothing worth having just falls in your lap. I believe in asking the questions, even if I have to hide in my hair. I believe in the importance of fumbling over words and trying to explain, even if the explanation falls short. I also believe it’s important to say the things that matter, if only because they warrant saying. Sometimes, we need to hear a certain phrase from someone, whether it’s it’ll be ok or I miss you or I’m on your side. Sometimes, we need to know that we’re fighting for something or that someone is fighting for us.

There are questions, right now, that you’re holding in. There are promises you are afraid to make. There are feelings bottled up inside you.

Ask those questions. Make those promises. Spill your heart out.

Regret nothing.

My Graceless Heart: Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

May 20, 2012 10 comments

 

“And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t So here’s to drinks in the dark, at the end of my rope And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat ‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me Looking for heaven, found the devil in me But what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me, yeah.” ~Florence + the Machine, Shake It Out

To me, everything in life boils down to exactly this: being ready to throw yourself into the fire, putting everything out there, hoping while holding onto the idea that it might hurt. We are, at our core, every single thing that we’ve ever dared to believe. Every chance we’ve ever taken. Every moment we’ve ever seized. We aren’t tethered to anything but our ability to try, to dare, to stave off the fear long enough to leap.

The other week, I watched We Bought a Zoo. It was really good movie, with a surprising amount of depth. Plus, if you hand me a movie that features animals (Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken! Mr. Popper’s Penguins! Pippy Longstocking!), I’m SO in. But the Zoo movie had one really amazing line: all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage.

Twenty seconds to close your eyes and leap. To press send, to make a phone call, to put your hand out, to kiss – twenty seconds. If you think about it, it’s such a grand, small thing. And it’s so true. It’s all you need to change your life. To put something out into the universe.

It can be a fight. It can be the beginning of a battle. But some things, some dreams or people, are worth fighting for. They’re worth doing the impossible for. I was thinking about that, this morning, as I was drinking my coffee. Most people, as they grow up, lose their ability to hope recklessly and completely. They lose their belief in the things labeled impossible. I am not one of those people. I believe in moving mountains. I don’t think anything is impossible. If you want something, you go after it. You fight for it. You risk everything, because anything else is a disservice to yourself and whatever it is you’re chasing.

And all it requires is a beginning. Twenty seconds of insane courage. I’ve got that in spades, darlings. How about you?