Saturday, April 26, 2008

Words I Made Up While Doing Schoolwork In A Hurry #1

Someone give me a definition for "prockled."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Stretch of the imagination

Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Shadow of the Sun," which is on my book list for school, is quickly becoming one of my favorites, ever. I'm hunting for good books that create a strong sense of place -- this is one of the best. Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who spent several decades in Africa. For my annotation (fancy academic paper that I have to write on the books I read) I wrote about Kapuscinski's descriptive powers, including that he doesn't forget to include smells, which can recreate a place more vividly than even sights and sounds.

The book is an incredible portrait of Africa and Africans, politics and history, landscapes and atmosphere. Here's a passage that I found interesting -- Kapuscinski visits Timbuktu and writes about another visitor to Africa:

"I did not encounter a living soul in the narrow streets and back alleys. But I found a house with a plaque informing that here, from September 1853 until May 1854, lived Heinrich Barth. Barth was one of the greatest travelers in the world. For five years he journeyed alone through the Sahara, keeping a diary in which he described the desert. Several times, sick and pursued by bandits, he bade his life farewell. Dying of thirst, he would cut his veins and drink his own blood to survive. Eventually he returned to Europe where no one appreciated the unique feat he had accomplished. Bitter, worn out by the hardships of his voyage, he died in 1865 at the age of forty-four, not understanding that the human imagination is incapable of traveling to the frontier he had crossed in the Sahara."

I like this passage for several reasons. First, because Kapuscinski stumbles across an intriguing bit of history in this remote, deserted place. Second, because Barth's story is the stuff films are made of. And last, because of this:

"...the human imagination is incapable of traveling to the frontier he had crossed in the Sahara."

It's the burden of writers to make the unbelievable believable.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Real purdy

Found this in a friend's parents' yard while making a photo bouquet of California flowers for my mom, who's endured a heck of a winter in the Midwest. I love the shadows made by the petals, the complexity of the flower and the richness of the colors (I do love my new digital camera). Might make a purdy painting.

Be a page turner, not a page folder

One of the drawbacks of buying used books -- page folding. If you saw my apartment you'd see that I'm not anal about much, but everybody's got their thing. I can handle a book that's full of highlights -- at least the reader is saying, gee, that was cool enough to remember for later. But page folding is egregious. It says, I'm too frigging lazy to get off my ass and find a bookmark. I mean, really. You have no paper in your house? An electric bill, a stray receipt? How about a popcicle stick? You can't leave it open face-down on the rug? When I find a book like this I immediately must smooth out the folds and pray that someday, with time, the creases will heal.

Making the rounds

You never know what you might find in a used book.

In a copy of "Out of Africa," which is on my book list for school -- a note for someone embarking on a trip to Africa. Curiosity sets in: Was it a long trip? Was Joshua moving there? What was his relationship to Molly? And why was the book given up?

Recently I found a mass paperback copy of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" -- inside, a business card to Gold's Gym, and unused community theater coupon (two admissions for the price of one!) and a love note written on Carl's Jr. stationary:

"X -- I stoled another sweatshirt -- I know -- I'll bring them back I promise. I love you ... endlessly -- your smell, your touch, your taste uhm that taste -- sweet -- :-p See ya later inky dinky butt -- xoxox --- X."

I'm guessing the book didn't get much of a read.

And then I remember...

Today is the second anniversary of the day I didn't get eaten by a mountain lion. So that's something.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Life in the fast lane

The cat's not pooping. Call the vet. Call work: Going to miss a meeting, no choice. Leave the cat at the vet. Back to work, another fun-filled day. Check the courthouse Web site to see if I do, in fact, have to report for jury duty the next day (and rearrange the schedule and ask people to come in on their weekends). Thankfully, a six-month reprieve. Home at one in the morning. Try to read; fall asleep. Next day, try to read before lunch, no clean clothes; no clean dishes. Head to work. Waiting for the call from the vet to pick up the cat. Sit through meeting, getting close to 5, no call. so I call. Can I pick up the cat? Didn't we call you, they say? Nope, I say. Leave work, pick up the cat. She's a little smelly, they tell me. No kidding, I say. You might want to give her a bath. Ha, ha, I think. You give her a bath.

Step on the scale: Another four pounds, in the wrong direction. Starting to look like the people who shop at WinCo. Who am I kidding? I'm shopping at WinCo. Gas hits $3.99 a gallon. Need to take a picture for the blog. Which blog? Try to exercise: A dance/pilates DVD. How do they do that with their butts? I can't even look at that. Ten pages due for school. Gotta work. Finish reading the book. And another one. Write clever papers. Go to work. Give the cat a pill. Really? Trip to the pet store. Pill plunger, no-water shampoo and new-age odor absorbing crystals. Late for work. A lollapalooza of a day which requires the big boss to "help." Extra work needed for the following day, ten hours, no break, no breathing.

Next day, the pill plunger works. Go to work: Oops, extra work wasn't needed after all. Sorry. Meeting with the big big boss, no layoffs, yet. Keep doing more with less. The people in my department appeal: I can't do this in this amount of time. What if such-and-such happens? They ask as if I have the answers.

A day off. Time to do school work! Cook breakfast, forget about it, apartment fills with smoke. Cat hides. Need more sleep; no time. The FedEx man brings me my new fat clothes. And an extra box with things I didn't order. A call: Can you take it to UPS? I say, where's UPS? If I'd kept my mouth shut, would I have a new pair of polarized sunglasses right now? How much is left in my bank account? Give the cat her pill; she's caught on. Yowls and runs away; I am evil, the enemy. Pill is stuck in her fur. For some reason I am trembling.

Cat's still not pooping. Call the vet. Trip to the drug store. Stickers in a Ford F-250's window: PETA - People Eating Tasty Animals, and Blow Me. People with lawn chairs line the streets for a parade -- will I get home on time to miss the traffic? A question at the pharmacy window: No eye contact; I don't exist. I think, I should try that at work. Make my purchase: Mineral oil for the cat, a bottle of Bacardi for me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And you are ...?

My new writing project that will become my MFA thesis (I'm going for a spooky post-apocalyptic vision) started breathing a couple of weeks ago. I was home, visiting the folks in the Midwest, and it wasn't my main character that awakened first, but a secondary character. I had mentioned this character in passing during the protagonist's monologue about her childhood and didn't expect to see much of her ... but, there she was. She just kind of showed up and started interacting with the protagonist. Suddenly I had interaction, movement, juxtaposition. On the surface, these aren't two characters who would associate with one another, but similarities in the undercurrent are starting to surface.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finding the heartbeat

When does life begin? For a novel, not at conception. It's when a character steps in and says, I'll take it from here. When that happens it's like an engine starting up, and sometimes the car starts driving itself. I don't know exactly what makes this happen -- different things drive fictional characters, just like people. A bit of freewriting, some forced dialogue, a change of scenery (akin to a change in perspective) can sometimes do it. A question mulled during a long walk -- what would she do now? How would she react? Ask her long enough and she'll start talking to you.