Thursday, December 30, 2010

December Rundown

A Text Message from My Sister, Secret Codename: Cordelia
I've decided we should make gingerbread people with the girls while ur here. We'll put down a tarp.

An Email from My Sister, Secret Codename: Apocalyptica the Flimflammer
For Christmas I am making Mom and Dad a present that involves seashells. Yesterday I went for a very long walk along the beaches of Swampscott that felt more like a safari than a walk, because my shoes were full of water and my nose was freezing off (clearly I've never been on a safari). I found a myriad of fantastic shells, and chief among my favorites were a bunch of empty mussel shells that had other smaller shells of various colors anchored to them, so that they looked liked fantastical hybrids. I brought them home, washed and dried them, and left them on my bathroom counter overnight. Today I spread twenty-five shells all around my work surface and started working with rubber cement. At a certain point, something moved in my peripheral vision and caused me to start. I took a good look around, but didn't see anything unusual, so I kept working. A few minutes later, I had the same sense of some small movement on the table. This time I noticed, to my absolute horror, that one of the shells I had thought was permanently cemented to a mussel shell had lifted itself up off of the mussel shell and was LOOKING AT ME. Then I noticed that another was doing the same thing, on a different shell! OK, they didn't have eyeballs, but they were very clearly looking at me. I absolutely freaked out and started screaming, "OH MY GOD! YOU'RE ALIVE!" At first I was freaking out because I was scared, but shortly I began freaking out because I felt so terrible that I had stolen these living creatures off the beach and kept them away from the water for more than a day, AND exposed them to rubber cement fumes AND had been planning to murder them with my art project! So then I started screaming, "OH MY GOD, YOU NEED SALINE WATER!" and I filled a gigantic bowl with water and poured a ton of salt in and stuck all of the mussel shells in the water. And ALL OF THE LITTLE SHELLS ON ALL OF THE MUSSEL SHELLS GOT UP AND STARTED ZOOMING AROUND. It was like watching a traffic circle from above. I kept working for a few hours, and brought the bowl over so I could talk to them all while they zoomed around, and I became very fond of them. Every once in a while I nervously added more salt. Then in the evening I brought them back to the ocean and slipped them into the water.

A Text Exchange Between me and Cordelia As I Was Packing for Florida (Because I've Learned Never to Assume Anything When Visiting a House Where Live 16-Month-Old Twins)
ME: Do u have shampoo & conditioner 4 my lovely locks?
CORDELIA: Oh u got a wig?

A Pretend Phone Conversation Involving My 16-Month-Old Niece, Secret Codename: Isis, Who Was Holding Her Shoe to Her Ear
ISIS: [with enthusiasm] Hello? Hello! Up!

To all my readers: Happy New Year. I wish you love, peace, humor, and cookies!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Links for a Nearly-Solstice Monday

I just wanted to let you all know that my blog break is going excellently.  (How would you know unless I blogged it?)

My publisher in Taiwan (Gaea) is releasing Graceling again with a new jacket that a lot of you will find familiar. Click to enbiggen -------->

I've been reading some good blog posts lately and wanted to share a few:
  • Tamora Pierce posting about a female blogger "who writes about and wears clothes that don't make her look like Snooki, Beyoncé, or Miley Cyrus. Leandra Medine wears clothes that aren't meant to draw the male eye." Read more here.
  • Tamora Pierce (again!) posting about self defense from pervos in crowded spaces. "You know something? You have every right to stand or walk along, thinking your thinks, listening your music, without some s**tpoke waving his willie at you. If he's gonna ruin your day, don't you think you should do your best to ruin his?"  Read more here.
  • Tamora Pierce (again again! She is unstoppable!  In addition to being one of my favorite writers!) with a follow up about how, on the other hand, there is nothing wrong with you if you're unable to defend yourself from/respond to an attacker. "Nobody knows how she'll react in an emergency, and our reactions to different kinds of emergencies are different. And if you do nothing? Sometimes nothing is all you can do. Sometimes nothing is the right thing to do. You do what you have to. And we'll be here, happy to see you. We won't condemn. None of us knows how we'd react, until we're in that position. And no one has ANY right to point a finger at someone else." Read more here. Possible trigger warning: robbery and violence.
  • On a lighter note, Tui Sutherland's last post, "Shopping Is Hard! Let's Do Math Instead!" cracked me up. Want to read a funny store about Barbie and G.I. Joe, get some writing tips, and see pictures of one of the world's cutest babies? Then go here.
Also? Don't Ask Don't Tell, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Happy solstice, everyone.  :o)

ETA 1:40pm: All the writers out there, also check out Laurie Halse Anderson's post about how to triage the pain of rejection!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pop and Locking In Today...

...with an important song about friends.  Thanks to my friends, codename: B-P and the PBs. :o)

Also, best of luck to my favorite a cappella group on the show The Sing Off: Street Corner Symphony. Here they are singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." (Kids? Don't even THINK about trying that at home!)

Okay, away I go until January.  I swear.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December: In Like a Stressed-Out Lion, Out Like a Stressed-Out Lamb

Oh, December. At least you're predictable.

Last year, I took most of December off from the blog. This year, I might as well turn it into a tradition. I don't know about you, but for me, December is always twice as much month as any other month, and I have a whole lot to do before I'm ready to get on an airplane and venture to a yet-to-be-determined location for Christmas. For example, I need to determine a location. :o)   Anyway, between trapezing and Bollywood, my last few posts were so long that some of you might need all of December to read them.

One note to anyone thinking about buying signed copies of Graceling or Fire as Christmas presents: I'm pretty sure I'm going to be 1,158 miles away from my local bookseller during the week before Christmas... *measures arm* ...way too far away for me to reach the title page with my pen, so get those orders in soon.

To those who have celebrated, are celebrating, or will be celebrating a holiday: peace and joy to you. For the many of you who do not celebrate Christmas yet feel it shoved in your face: I'm sorry about the noise and the assumptions you might be navigating, and I wish you extra peace.  For those who do celebrate Christmas yet feel it shoved in your face: take a breath; bravely resist the madness wherever you can; look for perspective. For those lucky people who love this time of year regardless of what or whether they celebrate: bless your hearts.  Northern hemisphere people: happy winter. Southern hemisphere people: happy summer. People in the middle: stay cool. Northern latitudes people with seasonal affective disorder: hang in there, the shortest day of the year is nigh!  Hibernating bears: sweet dreams. Peace, everyone!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Blog: Bollywood Edition

And now I would like to offer a few more movie recommendations for the uninitiated, from the only-recently initiated.  I've never been one for plot summary. Instead, I'll tell you a snippet about what struck me, while also trying to convey a little something about why Bollywood has captured my heart.  (BTW -- if you're only going to watch one -- skip to the end of the list.)

In no particular order:

Dil To Pagal Hai ("The Heart Is Crazy").  This movie contained a lot of silly stuff about fate, a very silly ending, and some spectacularly silly scenes of people frolicking in fields, including a few places where Madhuri Dixit throws herself to the ground with romantic abandon, except that every time, it looks like she just tripped, so you're worried, until you realize that she is prostrate due to being enraptured rather than injured. Despite all that silliness, three things in this movie charmed me completely.  (1) It's a movie about a dance troupe; consequently, the dancing is really, really good. (2) By the end of the movie, I just adored the character of Nisha (played by Karisma Kapoor). There's a scene where she's angry with god and yells at the sky; I loved it, and also loved Rahul for being such a good friend to her (a lot of people in his situation wouldn't be). (3) The song/dance "Koi Ladki Hai" wins the prize for cuteness, in addition to which, it demonstrates one of my favorite things about Bollywood movies: they use monsoons to great dramatic effect ^_^.  Watch it here -- really, do -- and as you watch it, keep in mind these lyrics. The children sing: "With the gait of a horse, with the majesty of an elephant, O king of the rains, where are you from?" The guy sings: "I know a girl, when she smiles, it rains." The girl sings: "I know a boy, when he sings it rains."  So cute! I especially love the part where they go to the hospital to cheer up Nisha, who sneaks out against her doctors' orders. I... can't explain the part where they roll Shah Rukh Khan back and forth on a table. Just... don't ask me.  This movie is directed by Yash Chopra and stars Karisma Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, and Madhuri Dixit.

Kal Ho Naa Ho ("Tomorrow May Never Come"). This movie is hysterically funny both when it means to be and when it doesn't.  The actress Preity Zinta stole my heart in this one. Shah Rukh Khan wears a pair of orange cargo pants at one point that should be banned, but I forgive him completely due to this dance at the best engagement party ever. This movie is directed by Nikhil Advani and stars Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan, and Saif Ali Khan.

Chalte Chalte ("While Walking"). This movie is funny and surprisingly sweet-but-not-too-sweet. It includes a moment I love love LOVE when the man, Raj, is crying, and the woman, Priya, goes to him to see what's wrong. His response: "I just felt like crying."  One thing I love about Bollywood is that tears are not a sign of weakness. Strong people, both men and women, are always crying.  And then they get up and do strong things, just like a lot of frequent criers do in real life.  I just love this! Chalte Chalte is directed by Aziz Mirza and stars Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji (whose name I've seen transliterated in various ways: Mukherjee, Mukherji, Mukerjee).

Veer-Zaara. Another movie that uses the monsoon to great dramatic effect, in a gorgeous and dramatic scene that is peppered with the world's most hilarious subtitled lyrics.  For example, "A besotted lover has appeared at your door" and "Your love story has reached a critical juncture." I don't know how accurate these translations are, or, if accurate, whether the sentiment is as funny/sweet in Hindi as it is in English -- in this sense, the movie I watch will always be different from the movie a Hindi-speaker watches -- but the surprising use of language is one of the things I love about these movies. It's especially touching when a dramatic or sad scene is awkwardly expressed in the English subs.  Somehow, the feeling still comes across and lodges itself in my heart even as I'm laughing. With Veer-Zaara, I'm not kidding about the beauty and the drama -- this movie is sad and powerful (and very, very long.  I mean, they're all long, but some feel longer than others). This movie is directed by Yash Chopra and stars Shah Rukh Khan (in the role of Veer), Preity Zinta (in the role of Zaara), and Rani Mukerji (IMO, in the role of the hero!).

Billu. Billu is a barber who claims to have once been friends with the man who is now the country's biggest movie star -- and now that superstar has come to town to shoot a movie.  The superstar character, named Sahir Khan and played by Shah Rukh Khan, actually made me uncomfortable at times, because someone made the directorial decision to reference Shah Rukh Khan's real-life fame and real-life resumé (rather than giving his character a made-up resumé), which kept kicking me out of the pretend world of the movie.  For example, Sahir Khan wears a coat that says "King Khan" across the back -- well, that's one of Shah Rukh Khan's real-life nicknames.  And posters of Sahir Khan's movies are hanging all over the town -- but actually, they're posters of Shah Rukh's real-life movies. Add to this the way Sahir Khan is utterly revered to the point of absurdity, and Sahir's Khan's seeming arrogance about the level of reverence afforded him (though only in the beginning of the movie), and it started to feel a little bit gross.  On the other hand, it did say some interesting things about the surreality of Shah Rukh Khan's actual celebrity, which is, IMO, one of the most fascinating fame phenomena currently happening in the world. I'm just not sure that that particular commentary fit into this movie. It overwhelmed the Billu portions of the movie at times, and a similar point about the surreality of fame could have been made without real-life SRK being referenced so often. I wonder what the movie would have been like if SRK had played the barber and Irrfan Khan the superstar?  The reason to watch this movie -- aside from the fame stuff that will give you a lot to think about -- is Irrfan Khan's sweet and understated performance as Billu the barber.  It's directed by Priyadarshan and stars Irrfan Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Lara Dutta -- AND -- for those hesitant to sit down to a 3-hour film -- this one clocks in at a tidy 2 hours and 17 minutes.

Dhoom ("Blast"). Um. I didn't actually love this movie.  But I thought it was time I showed some evidence that I do watch Bollywood movies that don't star Shah Rukh Khan. :D?  This one had motorcycles and badass cops and robbers and I got a little tired of the way the women were depicted.  But I liked actor Uday Chopra. He's a goofball. Plus, this movie was referenced in a couple of other movies I saw, and it was nice to get the references. Dhoom was very successful in India; Dhoom 2 has since been released. It was directed by Sanjay Gadhvi and stars Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra, John Abraham, Esha Deol, and Rimi Sen.

Swades ("Homeland"). To counteract the icky, this movie has a woman named Gita, played by Gayatri Joshi, whose head is in the right place.  Of course, the man is still the hero.  You weren't thinking otherwise, were you? You crazypants you!  But I really, really liked Gita.  Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and starring Joshi and -- all together now -- Shah Rukh Khan as Mohan, an engineer working for NASA who goes back home to India for a visit. Shenanigans ensue.  I wonder what Indians thought of this movie? As I watched it, I wished I had an Indian cultural understanding of all that was going on. Gita accuses Mohan of being a "Non-Returning Indian" at one point, which is a play on the acronym "NRI," which means "Non-Resident Indian." There was clearly political, economic, and cultural stuff going on that I wasn't getting completely. I was also dealing with my own discomfort with movies in which a person from the USA goes to some distressed part of the world and saves that place with his "superior American-ness." That happens so often in American movies and it usually grosses me out.  But this wasn't an American movie, this was an Indian movie, and the man who brings positive change is not actually American, he's Indian.  My triggers don't know what to do with that.  The wikipedia article is interesting. Apparently Swades it was well-received critically in India but a flop at the box office. There seems to be ambivalence.  Anyway, I liked the characters and relationships.

Devdas (the version directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali). I'm not going to say, "Poor Devdas," because Devdas is cruel, pathetic, and destructive -- but don't take that to mean that I didn't care about him or love the movie. This is the first Bollywood movie to make me cry my eyes out. It's based on a book by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay that I haven't read, and there are earlier movie versions that I haven't seen.  This version is apparently quite different, and one complaint I've read is that in this version, the prostitute (Chandramukhi) and the high-class lady (Paro), both of whom love Devdas, become friends with each other, which never happened in the original.  Well.  That was actually my favorite thing about the movie.  I liked that the women had lives and relationships of their own and could recognize that they had something in common at heart despite drastically different social standings (though ironically identical social circles); I liked that while Devdas went off and destroyed himself, he couldn't quite destroy them, because they were, in fact, in touch with the parts of themselves that weren't about him. It's hard to know what happens after the credits roll -- Paro, in particular, is in a desperately depressing situation -- but I was left with the feeling that she would make sure life continued somehow.  Am I grasping at straws if I think Paro and Chandramukhi have lives outside Devdas?  Maybe.  Iffy, overly-optimistic interpretations happen sometimes when you hate systemic sexism in the media but love movies and want to be comfortable loving movies.  Sometimes you try to convince yourself that female characters are more fully-realized characters, more relevant, than they actually are; sometimes you want to believe that the women in whatever movie you're watching are strong and that they matter, just because you're so tired of so many other movies where they're not and don't. (You know what? That feels like something worth yelling.  IT'S HARD IN THIS WORLD WHEN YOU HATE SYSTEMIC SEXISM AND LOVE MOVIES.  SOMEONE FIX THIS PROBLEM SO THAT WE CAN CONTINUE TO LOVE MOVIES BUT NOT FEEL SO TIRED ALL THE TIME ABOUT WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT WOMEN IN THE WORLD.) But I don't think I'm imagining what I saw in Devdas.  I saw strength in Paro, in Chandramukhi, and in Paro's mother, too. Directed by Bhansali and starring SRK, Madhuri Dixit, and Aishwarya Rai.

And finally.  FINALLY! Are you ready for this?

Om Shanti Om. Oh, my word.  I don't even know where to start.  If you're only ever going to watch one Bollywood movie, watch this one.  If you're going to watch a few, watch this one last so that you're better able to get the inside jokes. This movie is about the Bollywood film industry -- it takes place on Bollywood film sets -- and as such, it parodies its own art form.  This gives the movie license to be even MORE over the top and even MORE ridiculous than these movies usually are.  It's hilarious, it's completely sweet, it's beautiful and flashy, and when you buy the DVD, it comes with this hysterical foldout poster of a shirtless Shah Rukh Khan that I don't know what to do with because I'm no longer in high school and therefore don't have a locker.  This movie is awesome.  There are no words.  And there are a few specific things about it that make me really happy.  For example, it was directed by a kickass woman, Farah Khan (who directed Main Hoon Na, which I've plugged here before). Also, in this movie's item number (follow the link for a definition), instead of the usual item girl slinking around pointlessly, there's an item boy, and gracious me, he embraces his item-ness with the appropriate fervor.  This movie, and especially that song/dance I just linked to, could be the dictionary definition for "over the top."  Some of the lyrics: "There was a time when flowers were blooming all around.... What a time, when I was drunk on youth! But that time was short and I got hurt. Now I'm a wanderer, and a lover of disco, and as I wander around, my heart is full of the pain of disco.  Pain of disco, pain of disco, my heart is full of the pain of disco!" When I watched it with a friend last week, she kept saying "OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD."  If you watch the dance, be sure to appreciate the "earth-wind-water-fire" theme. The special features are also worth watching, and are even subtitled, so you won't get a headache from people switching from Hindi to English and back again five times in the course of a single sentence. Watch the bloopers.  It's really funny to see SRK cracking up while filming "Dard e Disco."  Oh -- and in Om Shanti Om, unlike in Billu, all the reference to the actual lives of SRK and of many other real-life actors feel completely adorable and appropriate, rather than distracting. And the fate stuff that's so common in Bollywood movies and often has me rolling my eyes -- that also fit perfectly into this movie.  Directed by Farah Khan, starring SRK and introducing Deepika Padukone, who I thought did a wonderful job.  WATCH THIS MOVIE.

(Relatedly, my friend and fellow writer Sarah Prineas just got back from India and has a fun Om Shanti Om-related story -- read about it here. ^_^)

Goodness, this post is so long.  I was going to mention more movies (there are some really important ones I haven't mentioned yet!) and also list some of the books I'm reading, but I've already been going on for way too long, so I'll merely mention the book sitting next to me at this very moment: The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History, by Jyotika Virdi.  I'm trying to educate myself so that I can better understand what I'm watching.  I have no doubt that I'll post about Bollywood again.  And next time, it probably won't be All Shah Rukh All The Time.  He has been my gateway drug, but I've got a bunch of movies in my queue now that star other people. I solemnly swear that this is true.

Penultimately, a disclaimer: the term "Bollywood" makes a lot of people unhappy. It's a name that wasn't chosen by the industry itself -- I've read in the Virdi book and elsewhere that it was invented by the Indian English press -- and as such, it sort of suggests that Bollywood is Hollywood's poor cousin, or its imitator, or that Bollywood's identity depends, in some large way, on Hollywood, none of which are true.  Unfortunately, the term has stuck and is used now by the industry itself. So I use it, too, for lack of another term, and as a shortcut for the Mumbai film industry.

And finally: here are a couple rare moments of (adorable) joy from Devdas. The first is a song called "Chalak Chalak." It basically extols the merits of madeira (sample line: "this madeira showers a rain of memories"), it's sung by Udit Narayan, Vinod Rathod and Shreya Ghoshal, and it's danced here by SRK (as Devdas), Jackie Shroff (as Devdas's friend Chunnilal), and Madhuri Dixit (as Chandramukhi).

And here are my strong women, one proper lady and one prostitute, finding friendship and joy in life. This song is called "Dola Re Dola," is sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shreya Ghoshal and Kay Kay, and is danced here by Aishwarya Rai (as Paro) and Madhuri Dixit (as Chandramukhi).

How I love those ladies!

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Teeny Randutiae Post for Friday

This week, I feel bloggy! So here's an extra post.

Thank you, Will Ludwigsen, for your beautiful post, Aid and Comfort. Readers, check it out -- this is a great little post with some spot-on thoughts about the kind of love and support a writer needs. It's also one of the nicest acknowledgement posts I've ever read.

Not unrelatedly: thank you, Publishers Weekly, for including this teeny picture of my mother, father, and sister (secret codename: Cordelia) in your article about ALAN. It meant so much to me that they were at the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award reception, and I'm so happy to see them recognized.  I only wish secret codename: Apocalyptica could have been there, too.  I would not be able to do what I do without my family.  (In other news -- that big check in the picture?  It didn't fit in my suitcase, and carrying it through the airport was kind of hilarious.)

Next up: do you know the podcast Coverville?  I've recently started listening. The most recent podcast, all covers by or of Sinéad O'Connor, slayed me.

Finally, have y'all seen/heard this cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," by the University of Oregon's a cappella group On the Rocks?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trapeze = Writing Therapy

Warning to the acrophobic (and to my mother): This post contains trapezey photos!

So, I really do think that trapezing is the perfect extracurricular activity for the writer -- for two reasons. One: trapezing is completely different from writing, and therefore, it's the perfect break. When I'm writing, I'm sitting in a chair, I'm racking my brains, I'm ALL in my head, thinking, thinking, thinking. I've got a great connection between my brain and my left hand, but beyond that, I'm kind of physically oblivious. I'm so out of touch with my body sometimes that I get mad when I realize I'm hungry (what, I have to feed myself AGAIN?). Or, I find myself in another room, and can't remember how I got there or why. Nothing could be more different from this than jumping off a platform, swinging through the air, leaping off the trapeze and being caught. As I've mentioned before, when I'm at a trapeze class, I don't think about writing, not once.  I'm in my body, and my writing brain is turned off.  It's a blessed and relieving break.

Two: trapezing is exactly like writing.  By which I mean... well... the other day, I was standing at the top of the board, and my instructor, Kaz, was explaining this new trick to me that I was about to do for the first time ever. "When you hear the word 'pullover,'" he said, "you're going to swing your legs all the way up over the bar so that you're on top of the bar and the bar is against your stomach."

"I'm going to what?" I said.

"I'll show you," he said. He took hold of the trapeze, swung out, and swung his legs up over the bar; then he perched there on his stomach on top of the bar, like a magnificent bird.

When he came back and landed beside me, I was like, "I'm going to do that?" (I'm very eloquent at trapeze class.) And the thing was, even having had it explained, and even having seen it -- and Kaz both explained and demonstrated several times -- I still couldn't understand what it was I was supposed to do, and I especially couldn't comprehend how I could possibly be capable of doing it. Which meant that there was only one option left: I had to just swing myself out there and try it. I've found that with trapeze tricks, it isn't until I'm actually DOING it -- and probably doing it all wrong -- that I begin to understand what it is I'm supposed to be trying to do. That moment when you just go ahead and jump off, just swing out there despite the fear, with no real sense of whether you can do it, or how it will feel, or whether it will hurt, or even, really, WHAT IT IS? That moment is EXACTLY like writing.

Now, before we get to the picture portion of the post, here, for your edification, is what a pullover is supposed to look like. Scroll to the bottom of the page and watch the 10-second video. Sorry there's no catch -- you'll have to imagine someone plucking her out of the air after her release (see the empty catch trapeze there on the left side of the frame?). I really recommend you go watch that video and see what it's supposed to look like, so that you can better appreciate, um, the way I do it.

Click on any of these photos, and then click again, to make them rather enormous.

So, here I am. I have no idea what I'm about to do, LA LA LA THAT IS NO REASON NOT TO PROCEED.

Huh. Here I am, swinging my legs over the bar, just like he said. How about that.

Oops!  Whoa!  HELP!  TIPPING!  TIPPING!!!!

That intense jarring sensation was probably me falling out of position, huh?

If at first you don't succeed.... Getting into position a second time....

Hmm. I'm pretty sure that when Kaz showed me how to do this trick, he was never UPSIDE-DOWN. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to be able to SEE Kaz right now, yet there he is.  What the hell is going on? I don't supposed there's any chance I'm perched like a magnificent bird?

And I've fallen out of position again.  Sigh...

Another try...  Hang on now -- wait!  Am I perched?



 Okay, okay, I know I'm not REALLY in position yet... PUSH those arms...

Check it out! I did it!
Success makes me pensive.

So. There you have my first few attempts at a pullover. (Sirens 2009 attendees - recognize my shirt? I wore Kel/Katsa/Mel for courage!) As it was evident by the end of the class that I am nowhere near being ready to catch this trick, I caught a set split instead, the sloppiest set split ever, but we caught it four times and it was totally fun. Here are a few photos of the catches:


The Catch

In Hands

The Release

And one more. The flash didn't go off for this picture, but I'm including it anyway, because I kind of like the way it turned out.

This was my first flying class in a while. I messed up every single one of my tricks in one way or another, but nonetheless, it was one of the most fun flying classes I've ever taken. I've never laughed so much while swinging as I did while trying to figure out how the hell to do that pullover. I'm determined to figure it out, because I can tell it's going to be a super-fun trick.

Anyone out there wanna try? TSNY has locations in Boston, New York, L.A., and D.C. and there are lots of classes for beginners. They also teach classes in silks, trampolining, and static trapeze. I am not an athletic person, and I love it -- the classes are tailored to your own abilities and pace. I expect it's going to take me a whole bunch of classes before I'm able to do (let alone catch) a pullover. Though hopefully not as long as it takes me to write a book. :o)

Thanks to my instructors, Wendy, Erin, and Kaz, for a great class; thanks to Kaz for catching and Erin for pulling lines during my sloppy set splits!; and thanks to Molly for taking such wonderful pictures (and pointing out my pensive expression :D).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Public Speaking Tips from a Shy Person Who Has Learned to Love Public Speaking

Some Tips for the Days Leading up to the Speech
  • PREPARE, PREPARE, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Nothing is more important than this and nothing will make more of a difference. I try to have my speech written at least a few days before I'm giving the speech, and if possible, a week or two.  This gives me lots of time to practice speaking it aloud. With each practice run, I revise the speech a little. And with each practice run, the speech becomes part of my speaking memory and my muscle memory.  I know from experience that if you have practiced often, calmly in your kitchen, the way you want to say a speech, then on the day of the speech, you can shake and jitter your way through that entire speech and still have it come out sounding the way you practiced it, so much so that people will come up to you afterward and tell you that they wished they could be so calm and composed while giving a speech.  (You should probably try not to burst into hysterical laughter when someone says this to you.) So. PREPARE and PRACTICE. Your speech will become an act your body knows how to pull off no matter how you feel.  (And you'll be less nervous, too, because you'll feel prepared!)
  • Don't underestimate the time it'll take you to write the speech.  In my experience, a 60-minute speech is 30-40 pages long and takes me a good week to write. A 15-minute speech is about eight pages long and takes me a good two days.
  • Think about the speeches you've heard and liked.  Why did you like them?  For me, it's often as much to do with the presentation as with the information.  If I'm talked to, my attention is engaged, but if I'm read to, my mind starts to wander. So -- try to keep a conversational tone.  When I write a speech, I write the "hms" and "like, whatevers," and "sos" and "anyways" into the speech wherever they fall naturally -- all the little things that make it sound like conversation (and that you'd probably be taught never EVER to say, were you taking a public speaking class!). When I'm practicing and giving the speech, my actual "hms" and "likes" and so on don't necessarily happen in the same places as I've written them, but their presence in the written speech reminds me of the tone I'm going for.  I don't care how scared to death I am -- I don't want to sound stiff while I'm speaking -- I want to sound like a person who's alive and relaxed!
  • Along the same lines, I write little silly notes to myself, in pen, in the margins of my speech.  Things like, "RELAX" or "PAY ATTENTION" or "SLOW DOWN HERE" or "DON'T SOUND ANGRY HERE" or whatever note will remind me of the tone I'm going for at any particular point.  I see the notes in my peripheral vision, and they help me.
  • Trust that the speech will be more interesting to other people than it is to you.  Other people?  Have not written your novel.  (Or whatever.)  So ignore the voices telling you that this story of how you wrote your novel is going to bore your audience to tears.  If they write novels, they'll probably find a lot to relate to.  And if they don't write novels, they may just find it fascinating.
  • Try to remind yourself that how you feel as you contemplate speech-giving in the days leading up to the speech -- nauseated, doomed, and hiding under the covers -- is NOT how you will feel while you're giving the speech. How you feel in the hours leading up to the speech -- jumping at every sound, jittery and wild-eyed ^_^ -- is not how you'll feel while you're giving the speech, either.  Once you get started, you're going to be JUST FINE.  And if you're not (for example, sometimes it takes me 10 minutes to relax into a speech, and if it's a 12-minute speech, that means I'm a nervous wreck for most of the speech) -- your preparation will pull you through.  This speech will not kill you!  I swear! 
 Some Tips for Speech Day
  • Bring a pen (or some such -- a flag? a plant? ^_^) to the podium and hold it.  Try to remember to gesticulate with it.  Having relaxed hands, and moving around a little, will help you to relax.  For me, the pen is a reminder of this.
  • As you're standing there giving your speech -- don't miss your own speech.  PAY ATTENTION to your own words.  Act like you're really into what you're saying, even if all you are is scared.  A couple of margin notes I write all over my speech: "PAY ATTENTION" and "HEAR WHAT YOU ARE SAYING."
  • If, like I do, you have a soft voice, let it be soft.  The mike is there for a reason; it will project your voice; and you'll be calmer if you aren't trying to force your voice to a volume it wasn't made for. 
  • Forgive yourself.  You don't have to be brilliant.  You don't have to win the prize for public speaking.  You've probably been asked to speak because the people in this audience are already primed to like you.  Most audiences are generous and kind and want you to do well, and they aren't going to think badly of you if you seem a little nervous.  Do whatever you can to get some perspective.  Think of how big the earth is and how little and unimportant your speech is in the grand scheme of things.  Imagine that someone you love who is a calming influence is holding your hand.  BREATHE.  Here is a piece of advice a friend gave me once before a big trip in which I was going to give a lot of presentations and was scared to death (I blogged this once before, in another post about dealing with appearance anxiety):  "Throw pleasing everyone out the window. Throw pleasing anyone out the window. Just do things for yourself. Just be you. There is no way on earth that just being you is not enough -- just being you is galaxies more than enough."
The more you do this, the easier it gets.  One day, you may discover that you kind of, sort of love it. 

Good luck :o)

(Oh! And for those of you who weren't blog reading during the holiday weekend: I posted my Walden Award remarks and they are here.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Yackety-Yacking for Thanksgiving

I wanted to share my acceptance remarks from the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award reception on Monday, but decided to backdate them so they're linkable but won't monopolize your blog readers. My remarks are here. It's basically a short speech about some of the place Fire came from. Also, Blogger, I am not impressed with your jump breaks. Readers, if you thought you saw a rawther long post from me on Tuesday and then it disappeared, I'm sorry about that, it was an experiment gone wrong. Curses!  But.  Hope y'all like the speech.

Also, I wish everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today a peaceful and stress-free time.  One thing I do: every year, I try to buy nothing on Friday.  Turns out that the Friday after Thanksgiving is a really lovely day not to go into any stores.  Try it!  It might be for you.  Actively choosing not to shop on Black Friday makes me feel centered.  Unless I've forgotten to do my grocery shopping beforehand, in which case, it makes me feel hungry, and I venture out. :o)

Monday, November 22, 2010

ALAN, Plus the World's Best Stage Directions

This morning I board a plane for Orlando, and late this afternoon, I'll be at NCTE-ALAN, receiving the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for Fire. My parents will be there, and also secret codename: Cordelia! How nice that this event is taking place near a branch of my family!

The other day, in my post about my editor, I mentioned that good editing is invisible, like the world's best stage directions. Giving credit where credit is due: that was my friend Becca's analogy, not mine. And one of the reasons I liked it so much when she said it is that I've recently been encountering what just might be the world's best -- or, at least, the world's most entertaining -- stage directions. Where? In the plays of J.M. Barrie.

Imagine, as a set designer, being given this:
"There is a piece of carpet that has been beaten into nothingness, but is still a carpet, there is a hearth-rug of brilliant rags that is probably gratified when your toes catch in it and you are hurled against the wall." (A Kiss for Cinderella, Act II)
Or this:
"She leaves many things lying about; one could deduce the shape of her from studying that corner of the sofa which is her favourite seat, and all her garments grow so like her that her wardrobes are full of herself hanging on nails or folded away in drawers. The pictures on her wall in time take on a resemblance to her or hers though they may be meant to represent a waterfall, every present given to her assumes some characteristic of the donor, and no doubt the necktie she is at present knitting will soon be able to pass as the person for whom it is being knit." (Mary Rose, Act I)
Or imagine the set designer and the actor reading this together:
"We had hankered after giving MR. BODIE many rows of books, but were well aware that he would get only blocks of wood so cleverly painted to look like books that they would deceive everyone except the audience. Everything may be real on the stage except the books. So there are only a few magazines in the studio (and very likely when the curtain rings up it will be found that they are painted too). But MR. BODIE was a reader; he had books in another room, and the careworn actor who plays him must suggest this by his manner." (A Kiss for Cinderella, Act I)
Got that, careworn actor? Your manner must suggest that there are books in the other room. !!

A couple other stage directions that crack me up:
"A bearded person wearing the overalls of a seafaring man lurches down the street and enters the emporium. Have we seen him before? Who can this hairy monster be?" (A Kiss for Cinderella, Act II. The joke is that the seafaring man is the policeman, whom we've already met, in disguise -- and this is how Barrie tells us. Nowhere does Barrie state explicitly that the seafaring man is to be played by the policeman.)

"A woman of 35 comes forward. She is dejected, thin-lipped, and unlovable." (A Kiss for Cinderella, Act II)

"MRS. MORLAND knows everything about her husband except that she does nearly all his work for him. She really does not know this." (Mary Rose, Act I)

"MR. AMY is even more sociable than MR. MORLAND; he is reputed to know everyone in the county, and has several times fallen off his horse because he will salute all passers-by." (Mary Rose, Act I)
All of these fabulous and beautifully-written stage directions are invisible to the play's audience. The lesson to be learned here: if you're going to a J.M. Barrie play, it will only enhance your experience to read the play as well -- these plays are SO meant to be read in addition to being watched!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let's Raise a Glass to Quiet Geniuses

My editor has a particular Grace that I'm often aware of, but can never quite quantify. Here's an example of how it manifests: I send her an email about how I cannot possibly write the book, the book is too much of a mess for me to wrap my head around, the book is eating my brains, I cannot even bear to look at the book, the book is haunting me, the book is threatening me, I am a disgrace, my life as a writer is over, I'm going to take a boat to Antarctica and prostrate myself on a glacier and wait to die like that guy in "To Build a Fire," except not really like him, because at least he was trying to build a fire.

My editor will wait a few beats. Then, she'll send me a very calm email in which she will (1) not point out that I am being melodramatic and maudlin, (2) not tell me to get over myself, (3) not tell me to please stop sending her ridiculous emails because she is an extremely busy person and doesn't have time for this, and (4) gently suggest that I perform a particular task. For example, she'll write, what if I made a chapter map of the book so far, so that I can have all the plot points written down neatly to refer to as I reconsider the overall structure?

"It is impossible!" I will write to her. "Didn't you see March of the Penguins? I will die on a glacier and my egg will never hatch! Fine," I'll mutter. "Fine! I'll make a stupid chapter map! No one understands my pain!" I'll climb into bed in my flannel pajamas with tea and tissues and my laptop and my manuscript and the most depressing music ever, and I'll force myself to start the damn chapter map.

You know what happens next? It will turn out that making a chapter map is a fairly mindless activity that doesn't require an emotional investment. This means that I'm able to start it, and continue it, and really get into it, despite being anxious, worried, and emotionally exhausted. But it's also an activity that (sneakily) gets me back into the book, the very book that I couldn't bear to touch just moments before. And once I'm inside the book but not consumed by all that bad feeling... I start to be able to see the structure... I start to realize that maybe it's not too big to wrap my brains around... I start to be able to ask myself questions. "Wait. What if I were able to get from Point A to Point B in some simpler way, without that big tangle of confusion? Wait. What if I could remove this entire subplot? Hang on, what if the relationship between Character A and Character B were more joking than antagonistic? Might that clear up that thing that isn't working with Plot Point X? Ooo! I can't wait til I have time to think about this more! Ooo! I... maybe... just possibly... maybe I can do this?"

One could almost forget that it was my editor's gentle hand that nudged me in the direction that saved me. My editor? She knows how to do her job.

Editors, in general, work quietly, behind the scenes, and consequently do not get enough credit. And they get more than their fair share of criticism. How often do you hear someone say, "That book really could have used better editing"? I hear it all the time, and always think to myself, Really? How do you know it wasn't the fault of a stubborn writer? An editor might know what's right for the book, but she can't make the writer do it. And when a book is beautifully edited, no one knows, because it's invisible to the audience, like the world's best stage directions.

Today I'd like to say a special thank you to my editor for the beautiful work she does. She knows how to find the best in me as a writer, and that is a rare and precious gift.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hard Things

Writing is really, really hard right now. I am in a vortex of doubt and I am clinging to a mustard seed.

Writers out there, don't let go of that mustard seed; don't let go of that teeny, tiny shred of faith. I know what you're going through. I know how hard it is, and I know how courageous you are. You can do so much more than you think you can. It never ceases to amaze me but it's true: that teeny little seed of faith is all you need to get yourself through. Just DON'T LET GO.

(Here is the pep talk I wrote for National Novel Writing Month last year, about self-doubt and fear. And here is a longish post I wrote once about fear -- and trapezing, so be warned, there's a trapezing photo there.)

On the subject of making oneself vulnerable, stripping oneself down, sad and difficult things -- everyone needs to go to this section of Regina Spektor's myspace page, click play, and listen to the song "Samson." It's just beautiful. Thank you to my friend Marie for introducing me to this song. The first time I listened to it, I purchased it before it was even done playing. Here's a page that has some nice comments from people expressing what they think the song is about. I'm not sure why I can't stop listening to it at the moment, but as long as it's helping, I'm going to keep listening.

Welcome, welcome back into the world, Aung San Suu Kyi. When I saw the news, I couldn't believe my eyes. You make me believe in impossible things; you give me strength. I dearly hope that all the complicated things you're working for -- including the release of the other jailed political prisoners in Burma -- begin to happen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Few More Things I Love...

...because, well, they just keep rolling in, and I don't feel like waiting for my Monday post.
  • This cartoon, starring a little fellow many of us know and love. (Look at the cartoon before you click to the little fellow.) Thanks, C.
  • Dance sequences filmed atop moving trains. (From the 1998 movie Dil Se, directed by Mani Ratnam, shot by cinematographer Santosh Sivan, choreographed by Farah Khan, danced by Malaika Arora, Shah Rukh Khan, and team, to the song "Chaiyya Chaiyya.") I find myself hoping that Patrick Swayze saw this before he died. Dirty Dancing fans, don't you think he would have appreciated it?
Have a good weekend, everyone.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Few Things I Love

  • "So, I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff. Just for fun. Just because it seemed like if I didn't I would -- DIE, or something." I love the way the TV show My So-Called Life begins. It's a lesson in writing, actually: Angela is already breaking away from her best friend, Sharon; she's already started hanging out with Rayanne. The show plops us directly into the middle of Angela's new friends, new confusion and new experimentation, Rayanne's dangerous messy life, and Sharon's pain -- rather than showing us the drawn-out saga of Angela and Sharon happy together, then Rayanne luring Angela, then Angela and Sharon splitting up. Writing lesson: jump right into it. Start with the action, start with the meat of the matter, and let any necessary explanations trickle out as you move forward. (For the record, these are not my original thoughts. Thanks to Becca and Jess for the conversation we had about this -- I can't remember which of you pointed out how great it is that it starts this way.)
  • Something Apocalytica said to me the other day about things. Here (with apologies to A. the F.) is some truly dreadful paraphrasing: "Almost every present you've ever given me has broken. I could be frustrated about it and wonder what the hell is going on, but then I realize that it means I've been using the presents. When you love things, you use them, and when you use them, eventually they wear out or get dropped or whatever. Realizing that makes it feel okay that they're broken now." This... was one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me about my presents. :o) And it's true, and I feel that way about stuff, too. Things break. It's the nature of things. It's partly what makes them so precious, and it's okay.
  • This line in the acknowledgments at the end of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green: "We acknowledge that being the person God made you cannot separate you from God's love." This is the best and simplest argument I have ever seen to counter all the people who use God to back up their acts of homophobia and other kinds of intolerance.
  • "I guess I don't believe these things can ever be easy, although I also don't see why they have to be hard." I love the high school, and the world, inside the book Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I kept reading this book and thinking, "This isn't realistic. I wish it were. This isn't realistic. I wish it were." Then, finally, I decided to let the book be what it was. In the end, it made me cry and cry. Tony made me cry. I thought a lot about the book's dedication and the placement of the acknowledgments -- both are at the book's beginning -- because they reveal that the book was partly inspired by Patty Griffin's song, "Tony." I'm very familiar with that song -- it might be the most-played Patty Griffin song on my iPod, and Patty Griffin is one of my most-played artists -- so (Spoilers for the book, sort of? If you want to go into the book cold with no expectations, do not read the rest of this bullet point! I think? This spoiler warning feels more complicated than they usually do! Aargh! Do whatever you damn well please! But personally, I recommend listening to the song "Tony," reading the book, and only then reading the rest of this paragraph. But DON'T BLAME ME if you wish you hadn't!) knowing that the book related somehow to the song made me a teeny bit scared to read the book. It made me enter the book with expectations. In the end, I'm glad that this happened, and I'm glad the careful reader knows about the song before starting the book. Because I love the way the book and the song work together (and apart), and I love that I had "Tony" as an earworm as I read. (If you're curious about the song, I'll link to a live performance of it, but with the warning that it is about a gay boy who commits suicide. Here it is.) *is slightly relieved that this mess of a bullet point has come to its end* -- But one last thing: I am going to buy this book, and I'm going to lend it to Apocalyptica and codename: Cordelia. And maybe it'll come back torn, stained, and chewed on (um, that last by my nieces, not by either of my sisters) but that's okay. That's what happens to the precious things that you use. See? This post has (sappy) themes!
  • The man I saw the other day at 4:59pm, frantically running up Trowbridge Street, his arms full of books. (He was running toward the library, which was about to close.)
  • Sandra McDonald's latest scifi story, Drag Queen Astronaut. I dare you to click on that link, read the first two paragraphs, and not continue through to the end. Go ahead, I dare you!

Monday, November 8, 2010

And Then, South Bend

In my signing line at Saint Mary's College, a few people expressed surprise that I'd come to South Bend to do an event. The explanation is simple: I have family there. And family tradition: a LOT of people in my paternal family are alums of Notre Dame or Saint Mary's, and a few of them work there. We've actually been planning this event for some time. It even turned into a mini-reunion, with my parents and a few other family members coming to join us :).

Join us to do what? Go to a Notre Dame football game, of course. I won't get into my feelings about college football, which are complicated, nor will I get into my feelings about Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish, which are beyond complicated -- instead, I'll merely report that surrounded by enthusiastic loved ones and by random strangers screaming "Go Irish!," I felt very... well, Irish. And I cheered loudly for Notre Dame, despite all my threats beforehand to cheer for the other team, whoever they might be. (They were Tulsa, and they won.)

ANYWAY. It was a wonderful few days in South Bend with family, and, hey, I love the Notre Dame marching band. They're BIG (24 trombones) and they're GOOD, and when they performed a rendition of "New York, New York" at halftime and arranged themselves to spell out "I [shamrock] NY," I was so happy, because I DO [shamrock] NY!

At my event, I had the rare pleasure of family members in the audience. Including one guy who was climbing around taking pictures: my cousin, Matt Cashore, photographer (and pilot), who kindly gave me permission to display a few of the results here. Click to enbiggen.

Here I am yackety-yacking.

And taking a question.

And signing books.

And here are two of the attendees, my cousin, secret codename: Myrtle the Spinach-Loving Turtle and my cousin, secret codename: Cutie McCutiepants.

And that was my visit to South Bend! Thanks to Ted Billy, my Aunt Adaline, and everyone else at Saint Mary's who made this event possible. It was tons of fun.

Before I go -- Yay, Massachusetts voters, for our response to ballot questions 2 and 3. Also, I forgot to say last week: Good luck, NaNoWriMo writers! NEVER SURRENDER!