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Success and December

I did it! 

I am pretty happy about this! It was my fourth year that I’ve ever made the word count in time for, and this year i had a plot and story to keep going beyond the 30th. I probably could have cut back and told a shorter story, but I think this one deserves to be as full as it wants to be.

Here are some of my other stats, tho, if you are interested (and also if you aren’t):


It was a little up to the wire, but I planned ahead and made it work.

Usually in December I would be working on school work or editing or something like that, or even just trying to keep my nano pace going just a little bit longer, but I think I hit a bit of a burn out. This year has been a bit tiring and I will admit to having slept and sort of lazed around a bit in the last week or so. I’ve still been questing (tabletop roleplaying games are pretty essential) and going to my performance rehearsals (shameless plug for the Rocky Mountain Revels – it’s going to be a fun show and we’re all working really hard), but I think I may have fallen into a brief hibernation. Also we’re largely out of halloween candy except for gobstopper-jawbreaker things? I don’t really love those, which is why they are still leftover, but apparently neither do my roomates. 

My kitty has been a bit bemused by my abrupt shift to a nocturnal sleep cycle, but I think he likes the cuddle time. He’s been pretty silly when he curls up. Some highlights:

He was being a panther. Maybe. The last two are actually in reverse order, because I tucked him in before going to bed and he snuggled in. 

He really likes the bean bag chair, if that wasn’t evident.

I keep looking forward to being able to have the classic day of snow, cat, tea, and book, but I guess three out of four isn’t bad. Hopefully the snow will follow soon.

I suppose to wrap this meander of thought up, I hope everyone has a safe and peaceful December and cooler heads prevail. Stay safe, O Reader. More later.

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STILL ALIVE

It’s the season of Nanowrimo as I mentioned in my last post, I think. I’ve been juggling a weird work schedule so my word count has looked more exponential than linear, so that’s cool?

Look, my stats! Behold the not writing I did today.

I’ve had a couple of days where I got five or six thousand words done, and that felt really, really good. When I get to the point of writing like that, I fall into the story and it’s just like trying to keep up with the action.  It’s not always easy to do it, but usually after I sit down and actually focus I can get there. It might not always get done perfectly, but during nano I get the plot moving quite nicely and even when I’m feeling the characters despair or joy or confusion or whatever it is I feel hopeful. 

When I get into that groove editing I catch the mistakes and reweave it stronger. I

But I’m being here vaguely, and sometimes I forget the other things I need to do. Like blogging, or posting on Patreon, or emptying the catbox, or eating food. I think it I weren’t trying to do this on a 40 hour work week it might be easier? But I’ll get one thing or the other, and some things fall through and others get done (late at night usually). My fiance is being patient and loving and helping with the catbox and Chaucer has been occasionally calling me back to reality when he wants attention.

“Hey, I know you’re busy but feed me.”

He tried to pull me out of the bathroom a couple of different times this morning. Unfortunately he isn’t bigger and I don’t fit under the door.

I know I’m going to have a couple of days or frantic thousands of word to keep up and I’m looking forward to it, but I also wanted to make sure I pop up here and there just so you know I’m still here, O Reader. 

There’s a tradition of writers posting during Nanowrimo about how much they’re dying and drinking things with caffeine. I don’t know about the being overwhelmed – I’m not quite out of my initial burst of story confidence so I think I can make it and that sort of helps with the crazy feeling. But the caffeine part is true. I’ve been drinking quite a bit of Chai this month. Thank you to the people who keep supplying the Chai.

And thanks to my friends and family who keep supporting me in beautiful, wonderful, powerful way. I love you all. Thanks for waiting out the vagueness. 

I’ll leave you with a picture of my kitty being silly and comfy with my fiance. 

Stay safe, O Reader.Kitty-cat says mauw! Look at his toe-beans!

The month of November is probably one of the crazier ones in the year for a lot of people. For students and teachers, there are tests and projects due and needing to be completed. For medical and other offices, it’s coming up on the end of the year leading to changes in policies and planning. Seasonally in the northern hemisphere, it’s even busy because it’s the end of summer and there’s the burst of last energy as the snow comes in before everything rests over the lassitude of a sort of enforced silence.

I really like snowfall.  As a side note.

But it’s also the time of year where a bunch of enthusiastic and slightly insane people get into the challenge of writing a novel in a month.

Please keep remembering that it doesn’t have to be a good novel. It just has to be done. The quality of goodness is…. incidental at best.

And the insanity mostly comes from the fact that there’s a lot that goes into wanting to write a novel. I’ve been taking part in the novel challenge for nine years. When I explain all this, I often get asked both, ” wait, so you’ve written nine books?” and “have you published any of them?”

And the answer is kind of no, and also no. I haven’t been published. Yet, I hope. I’m working on it. But, I also haven’t necessarily written nine novels. I’ve made the effort nine times, and according to my track record on the Nanowrimo site I’ve won three times. That means that out of the nine years I’ve done this, I’ve only made it to the 50,000 word count goal three times.

Which sounds slightly less awesome than I’ve actually found it to be. What I’ve figured out over the nine years is both that I have stories that I like to tell, and that people around me want to hear them; I’ve learned how to write and develop characters who have depth, motivation, intention, and flaws. I’ve learned about plot and momentum, and I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work.

I have learned SO MANY THINGS that don’t work.

But not only have I gotten into a pattern of needing to write for a month, I’ve started realizing what a positive and needed impact it has on my mental and emotional state. When I write, and this is something also that crops up when I play tabletop roleplaying games, I can put my anxieties, emotional ups and downs, and uncertainties into the character and explore aspects in a safe environment. I see what happens when I work with different abilities, with different levels of capability, and empathy in different perspectives. It’s easier to understand motives when you play it out small scale and can ask the player. When you see it played out in real life, it’s much easier to step away from what you think you know and be willing to listen to a different set of information and experience. So with both the release of tension from day to day life buried in characters and the exploration of different ways of understanding, my brain seems to settle and relax which is great for my mental state and the way that I can handle real life.

And not only that, because I’ve been practicing how to write and tell stories, when people ask me if I’m published or how many books I’ve written, I have actually more and more seriously begun to work out how to make that pipe dream happen.

But during the month itself, and a little bit beforehand, I start to step away from the focus that other people intentionally or unintentionally demand. I start to claim more time to myself, I get more demanding about when I am going to step away and leave things undone; even when I’m around other people, the back of my mind is turning over where I left off, where I’m having problems, what I need to have my characters do or get through in order to get from point a to point b or even to just figure out what I’m supposed to do next. I feel almost selfish, but this is my month and I want to write this book, darnit, and I’m going to. It becomes easier to tell people I can’t do things with them or at all, or even that I need to be left alone, because I have a deadline and a word count both, and I’m not going to get either done if I don’t actually make an effort to make it happen. The permissiveness given to say, “go away, I want to do this and I’m going to” is not something I feel I can do except in November. Part of telling people to go away even comes with the reasoning that it’s for one month a year.

When I told someone that I’d be around vaguely for the month of November, they asked me how you can be around vaguely. You’re either there or you aren’t. Which is reasonable, since people aren’t as good as being somewhere and not being somewhere as cats are. But my fiance, who is used to this pattern by now, begged to differ. Before I could even say anything, he said, “nope. She’ll be around vaguely” in sort of an exasperated patience. He is supportive and understanding, and also is aware that for a month I’m going to sort of step out and be more interested in my computer and chai and being completely alone even from him.

This year, since I’ve been working full time and starting to try to find my way back to school, I’ve realized how burned out I am, and how much I don’t necessarily really want to be doing anything else. I like being able to tell people I can’t do things because I’m going to go shut myself away at Starbucks, and not do dinner or laundry, or anything that doesn’t help build me up towards creating myself a new world. My fiance thinks I can change the world with my writing, but I mostly just like to write things, and more and more, things that I think are important. I want to learn how to actually be as good as he thinks I am, and then do that all of the time.

When I go back to work, I think about writing.

When I wake up, and there are things that I have to be doing like applications and wedding planning and laundry and things like that, I sort of just want to go spend eight hours making a story instead.

It’s kind of crazy that this is people’s jobs. ONE DAY.

But I also realized that I can’t work at home. Or at least not in the same way. I can sort of push myself towards getting words on the page, but the productiveness is not nearly the same as I can get when I go and set down without distractions or people asking me things or pets… which are all things that I wouldn’t want to trade away any of the rest of the time, but which are for not focusing. I haven’t set up a good place for me to work. At home, I think I can usually set down and give up a few hundred words at a time, and the pace just crawls. When I’m in my space at Starbucks, I can get a couple thousand words in the same amount of time and still know where I’m going when I have to leave.

It’s not always easy, or inspired writing, but it’s intentioned and sustainable. And it’s hard work that I feel good about even when I have to rewrite and take out the same sentence seven different times because the words are WRONG.

Or because they’re right for a different story. I don’t know. I have collections of words the ways couches collect dustbunnies.

But I think also I’ve heard a lot this year that people sort of don’t realize why it’s hard to do. Life gets in the way, there aren’t a set number of hours or days you can specify if you’re like me as to how long it’s going to take you to get it done. I can’t say I’m going to spend three hours and get my word count done, because sometimes I do that and realize that I’m going to have 500 words done, and then sometimes I spend an hour and a half and I have 2,000 words done. Some days you have to work and then you’re exhausted and then some days you stay up far too late and deal with that the next day. Some stories you go back and work at and work at and work at and then have to cut those thousand words but the two are better that you replace them with.  Sometimes you were wrong to cut them.

I don’t know that I’m in a place to tell anyone how to write or how not to (since I’m not actually published) but I keep encouraging people to try it because if nothing else you find out if you can. Sometimes it’s good for me to realize how much work I actually am doing when I keep trying this, and sometimes it’s just good to see someone else sit down with me and see if we can work through the problems together. Good company who knows how to focus and then come back.

So, I guess if you want to try a crazy project that may or may not be good for your sanity and relationships, come try Nano. You’ll either get addicted or you won’t,  but since you already won’t get everything done in November that you want you might as well try a novel too.

https://nanowrimo.org/

Good luck with your novel!

Back to School (again)

This week was a big deal to me because I have given notice at work and am applying to graduate school. I maybe should have done it in reverse order, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the state that my work is putting me in is no longer healthy. So, back into the job market I go.

It was interesting though, because part of the reason that I want to go back to school is so that I can write more. But I want it to mean something, too. My fiance thinks that I can write things to change the world, and I’d like to think that one day I can learn how to do that. But I mostly think I want to learn how to write to understand people and have them understand other people too. Or at least make space for that to happen. I’m not sure yet.

It seems like the more connected with technology and everything that we get as a society, the further away we get from understanding each other, sometimes. It’s easier and easier to pretend that you know about someone or something because you’ve heard about it on the news or read about it on Wikipedia. But it’s not really the truth. I know what was on the sites and in the media sources that I happened to contact, but it doesn’t seem to really matter what the issue is, I don’t know enough about it. I certainly don’t know enough about it to make judgments. Sometimes, I don’t even think I know enough about where I came from to make a statement about it. I feel like I have to start everything with “I feel like”, even if it’s something that I lived through. (See, it’s a joke-thing.)

I think some of this sense of knowing what’s going on is the reason that it’s getting harder to talk to people who have different views, because it’s really easy to assume that everyone has the same knowledge base and backgrounds that you do, and to disagree at all is a stupid decision. Because no one really sets out to make decisions that are stupid.

Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that.

But it certainly seems like people have reasons for doing all sorts of things that I would find weird, or sometimes stupid, like the guy who was going WAY too fast even on the highway and weaving like the dickens, or voting opposite to me, or even having priorities that make absolutely no sense (to me).

They aren’t any less important, or less reasoned, though. And I think part of why I want to write in such a way that impacts how we interact with literature is because it’s important to make sure that there is still space to have conversations across divides, and across backgrounds. And I think even the stories we read are adding to the polarization more and more.

It’s like how if you read Finnish folktales, there are clever heroes who can lead monsters off cliffs and into other traps. (Not to pick on Finland. It just came to mind first.) There are also German wolves and Witches, and how in England you see Jack defeating giants and other such from lands far away. And how there’s the recurring theme of the monstrous, the foreign, or the Other, something that is more powerful or not something that can be understood which comes into the hero or heroine’s space and has to be dealt with. Often, it’s by death or banishment. Sometimes, you can appease the stranger. Then you have stories of snakes in India who are fed milk and become allies, or foxes who bring luck in Japan when they are left to live under the house, or cats who bring their owners help. Or even in Russia you have stories of young women who go to see the witch and by working hard and their own innate virtues are able to receive backing.

But I keep seeing things set out as either or. Zombies and Aliens introduce the foreign which must be killed in certain ways or warded off, vampires become sparkly and yet as deadly as before – as if we suddenly are star struck and must be drawn even more surely into the trap of an unnatural life. Fairies may not appear the same way as they once did, or Coyote, but they still have a presence that we feel.

In Disney, the princess can’t want to just find romance anymore without being seen as weak and one-dimensional. Nor can she be white. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more and more diversity. I love the way it contextualizes our human experiences. But the definitions of what you can and can’t be are particularly strong in Disney.

We have Ayn Rand and Philip Pullman, J.K Rowling and Bill O’Reilly, and any number of politicians, and we also have Steven King, and Toni Morrison, and the diversity is not enough because as soon as you start down one train of thought you get set on the track.

It’s important to lose your way when you are writing, and moreso when you’re reading. It’s important to know why you think what you think, and why you feel fear or anger when something crosses that belief. I need to see more instances of people working with eachother from diverse backgrounds, and that doesn’t just mean race, or gender, or culture. I need there to be a populace of literature. It’s not a dying art, just because we are coming to the end of the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

Brief aside, since that is a nerd term and I don’t want to assume. The Gutenberg Parentheses encompass a period of time in which we have been able to change how we produce and engage with literature. Before the Gutenberg printing press came into being, words and language were preserved and treated as holy in many ways in the west, because the elite and the religious groups who had the time and wealth to produce and upkeep copies of copies of copies of what few texts were worth preserving physically chose which were worth preserving.

Oral storytelling and information is harder to keep record of in that way, but it is equally as important, as a side thought. It just chooses to preserve different information and tales.

SO, when the press was invented, it provided access in a completely new way than people had had before, and made it much easier for literature and writing to be shared in that way.

Now, we are coming to a period where more and more of our knowledge is being preserved online or on the cloud or wherever you want it to be kept. Books and the printing thereof had gone through traditional publishers, who could be the new gatekeepers of knowledge and the flow of access.

But now, if you don’t want to publish through those keepers, or they deem your work as something that they don’t want to have associated with their name, you can publish on your own, online through blogs or even through books. It’s still hard if you want book form, but anyone who has access and things to say can make a blog or a site or whatever it is, and share what they want to say that way. And so the parentheses close and we move on to the next stage of disseminating information.

I think that’s another reason why people are scared. What information do we preserve? Can we control who gets what information? Can we eradicate things that we disagree with, and if we can’t, can we shield those like us from things that might be upsetting?

I don’t think we should choose what to preserve or allow to be disseminated, necessarily. That doesn’t mean that everyone is right, because there are some thoughts and movements that we have as a whole in humanity which are cruel and lessen us by their existence, but to paraphrase an officer I heard on NPR, it’s important to know what those who are not like you are thinking so you know what you need to be ready for. Whether I like them or not, it’s important to understand where the person is coming from and then act accordingly. That doesn’t even mean that you have to agree or embrace the person who espouses those views. Sometimes it’s better for them and for you to make it clear why you think it’s reprehensible, or dangerous. But we all live here, and we all have space, and I think to deny that is inhuman in and of itself.

In order to see the best of humanity, I think you need to have a good idea of what at least conflicts with you, because otherwise you can’t learn. And you have to learn in order to get better. You can’t just pretend nothing has happened; you can pretend that you’ve found a better way to get through life and when you do that, you can find a new way to do it.

So I want to write stories and discussions that make you think about things, that make you stop and safely consider why you believe what you believe, and what you should do about that. Things that lull you to sleep and are pleasurable to read, and make it easier to create a peaceful space between you and your neighbor, or that one person online who you just have to troll, or talk about at work or with your friends because they are so awful.

I think we need more of it. I don’t want to see apocalyptic futures which fall further and further into darkness; they have their place and I honor the writers who are able to think in dystopian despair and grit. I can’t do that. I want to brainstorm a better future, even if it comes after apocalypse and complete disorder. Humans are really good at surviving, adapting, thriving, and rising above. Why would this be our peak?

I think we can do better.

I always find it funny how optimistic about that. I usually don’t think of myself as all that positive about things like the future or humanity’s life choices, but this can’t be the best that we can do. We’re too divided. If we weren’t, it’d be a different discussion.

So, that’s why I’m going to grad school. I want to hone my skill and continue to think about how the best way to influence our conversations into being healthy debates instead of heated arguments. If we can find a way to talk about the issues that divide us we can make progress. We can be well. And I really hate being sick.

So, the rant about grad school. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about gun violence, today, or anti-immigrant tensions, racism, or bias, or something else, but there’s been so much and I just actually want to make sure that my voice is being used, even if no one is listening? That’s fine. I will know that I said it, and reasoned it out somewhat, and then when I go out again I should be able to make a better foray into fixing all the things.

Again, please be safe, O Reader. There have been too many things lately for me to not worry.

Stormy Weather

A Ramble Thought, Directed at “No One” in Particular

It’s hard to think what to say a lot of the time lately. There are so many big issues, that I feel angry or sad about, and so many little things that I’ve been dismissing as irrelevant or not worth sharing. But I’m hearing voices from my past saying that I think too much and that I should share more of it.

One of the big issue type things is all of the flooding and earthquakes and storms that are affecting people all around and driving them out of their lives entirely. They’re dangerous powerful forces, that we can’t do anything about. Even my sense of grumpy helplessness which gripes about things like “maybe we should think more carefully about where we live – this is why I’M in the mountains” is out of place beside the guilt of not being able to help people who are in extreme duress. The flood we had up here four years ago is still impacting the city and the surroundings, and it is frightening even from up my mountain to see how much destruction is being caused. I was frightened during our flood, but the rains and storms didn’t last nearly so long. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to try and flee something like that, even with money, and for the people who are unable to move, unable to leave and find somewhere safer it is even more heartbreaking because what can you do when the systems of nature and man both are plied against you?

I’m not even sure how to help. Does it do the most good to send money and then otherwise carry on with my day to day? It feels like not enough. But I know that I also am not in a position where I can uproot and try to go find a way to physically help rebuild what has been lost. And the storms are still flying.

I hear about this maelstrom, and then my ears are filled with the roar of the closing of DACA, the insistence on a wall, the pushing of people who are “not like us, not like us” away and closing the door with curtains drawn. I hear about the fear and uncertainty, the long-drawn-out stresses of not knowing what will happen to you. The exhaustion.

We have created a hurricane of our own lack of compassion and our own fears and engulfed other people in it while we stay indoors. And I do not want to be indoors any longer, if this is what that means. I would rather be in the storm, or better yet, I would like to invite the people outside into that space and send anyone who wants to be separate out to face those fears and understand what has been made.

It’s so wrong, to be denying education and opportunity in a country which has the space to handle it, the dreaming available, the potential.

I heard a woman on the radio explain a new German right whose idea is that “we’re not racist, but-” and that’s when you know that you are, I think, “you care more for the neighbor next door than you do the one down the street.”

How stupid. How petty, how stupid, how shortsighted.

Privilege does not even begin to touch on this idea. Privilege is a right, an advantage, an immunity, given to those who are in a position of power and can have the choice of closing out the world; but in this, privilege is poison. We drink the arsenic words and paint our skin with them so that our eyes appear wide, and then complain that we are being killed by an outside force.

Of course, this is true; the outside force is the hate which is being festered inside. The deadly words that are pointed outwardly like spears protrude from hearts which are too pained to understand that this has been a creation of their own doing.

Of course the monster in the closet is real, if you torment it and repeatedly shut it in the dark. Not even because of what it has done, or not done, but because the story says that it is a monster.

And all monsters are evil, right? Moral high ground. Except you never even gave it a chance. You forced the Othering outwards and isolated yourself. You are the Other on the inside of a cycle that has no use for you because you have made yourself useless.

Why can’t we see that?

I don’t understand why we keep creating these storms. We all pity those caught in a natural disaster, but our society is about as natural if less visually tangible. What does a high-stress environment look like? A flooded street where sharks swim over the sidewalk and trees lie on top of downed power lines that kill like assassins? The world where you are seen as a threat no matter what you say or do, and everything you do must be perfectly choreographed to prevent a misunderstanding that can kill you?

I don’t know how to change closed hearts any more than I know how to repair a state or a country who has been buffeted around. But I would like to know.

And I would genuinely like to understand- what scares you? What scares a person so badly that they can look at another person and see a threat? For me, my past experiences have taught me that certain smells, a certain tightness of the jaw, a certain calculation of the eyes, a stance that towers over me and says “I will overwhelm you because then I can control you”, those things read as a threat. Do not come that close into my space, I think, but at the same time, I read fear from the other side now. “I can control you” means “I need control”. And as soon as I know that, the threat is turned into something I can engage with. It doesn’t make it less, but it does make it conversational. You threaten, and I look to turn you aside until your threat is less and you are willing to meet on a solid ground.

When the flood waters rise, I am glad for any higher ground at all.

But, if you know, please tell me. I do not want to judge you; I want to understand. What makes your life fearful? and if you know how, How can it be lessened so you can be at peace with yourself and the world?

Why does skin temper your views? What price is it to be a different shade of paint in the mixing swirling morass? What does it mean to be someone else? Why is the level of complexity that seems to come forth from one person thinking of another only to think ‘enemy’ or ‘good guy’ or ‘hero’ or ‘demonic’?

What is your own soul worth? Is it worth the fear and hate that drag you down and down and down? Or would you rather have it filled with beauty? I cannot imagine that you would not, even if you don’t agree that you have a soul. I cannot imagine you can’t want to see possibility stretch before you like a million million stars in the galaxy, for you and for those close to you.

Tell me your fears, please. Help me understand, so that even if you can’t reach out, I can do it for you. Or at least, we can sit with them together and help them quiet.

Sending love and hope that recovery for those in the storm, and solid footing, will come about soon and be stable and fruitful.

The Process Continues!

As you know, O Reader, I am continuing to make my wedding dress from pages of books. I have made some progress since the last time that I posted, and I thought I would update you!

The front of my dress is largely made; the three panels will be attached together and form a sheet of fabric, essentially. The end result of the overlapping flowers I used for this part is a very tough textile that has a lot of movement and flexibility. It’s about as sturdy as a heavy canvas, and both heavier and lighter than I anticipated. I think it will work nicely. You can also see in the pictures above that the panels have a really nice texture of shadow and light with the petals. I put a 24-inch ruler down for a size estimate since I didn’t have a yardstick, just so you can have an idea of how long the panels are. I used all of Dante’s Inferno and most of a Native American Legends and Myths book, interchanged for a subtle pattern by the darker flowers. It’s interesting because if you read both of the texts (I’ve read them in full before, and read snippets of them again) they both include focuses on transformation, the journey, and finding appropriate guides.

So that’s cool.

 

The pictures of the bodice are a little blurry but on the left are pictures of the bodice before I started adding the extra outside ‘fabric’. I’ve used Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for this piece.

I took some pictures of my process. The little, rounded pieces of paper have slits on their fold lines, and I took those little wibbly bits and interwove them, creating the heart shape. I have no idea how many of these I made since I forgot to check page numbers, but it was a fairly complete copy of the “Canterbury Tales” so the answer probably is “a lot’.  It’s rather soothing folding these. Cutting them was a bit harder since I wanted to cut the pages in batches instead of individually (because perfection takes too much time?)  and the paper would slip and move as the scissors went through the layers.

The hearts are based on a pattern my mother showed me when I was younger. The hearts are great for Valentine’s Day, because when you weave them they form a little pocket, and you can tuck candy or cards inside and give them away. Not to shamelessly promote candy giving. I just really like candy and want other people to have as much as they like too!

I originally thought about gluing the hearts into the scale pattern that’s sort of happening, but when it came down to it glue was going to make the papers much too stiff and crackly. So instead, I’ve sewed the hearts together and I am sewing those strands onto the bodice itself. The layers are very thick and support themselves, and the thread holds them very steadily to the framework I have. The strands are also flexible, which makes me have hope for the more curved parts of the bodice. I will let you know how the negotiations with that particular challenge later.

As you can see, I still have a long way to go, but it’s really coming along nicely and is much stronger than I had hoped for.

So, that’s the update! I hope you have enjoyed it, O Reader, and I will let you know as soon as I make more noticeable progress!

Simply A-Maze-ing!

Take two! I had something all written up for this, but I apparently did not save often enough. So, once more into the fray.

Yesterday, I watched a fabulous movie called “Dave Made A Maze”. Here is the Trailer:

It’s a story that uses a simple design to tell a really compelling story. The set design is largely beautifully creative cardboard, tissue paper, and paper confections of imagination; everything from tubes to corrugated cardboard, to long streamers of sheer fabric with delicate lights brightening the room through a gentle mist that permeates the maze. I felt like the trailer didn’t spoiler the film either; the best moments were definitely not mentioned, but it still gives a really good feel of the wonder in the movie.

There are elements of almost cartoon horror; as the labyrinth begins to attack through multiple booby traps, red confetti and streamers are used in place of blood in all but the earliest instance (a paper cut). It was a surprise, but it brings forth the questions as soon as it happens; are injuries and fatalities permanent? If you die in a dream, do you die in real life also? How afraid should we be? There’s a sense of consequence, but ambiguity as to how heavy it is, at first.

Mazes and Labyrinths in mythology often have elements of concealing and revealing. Dave’s maze is no different.

Dave is an artist who has difficulty finishing any of his pieces. Left alone to his own devices, he builds from torn up bits of cardboard and origami. He becomes trapped in his own creation, unable to get out. It separates him from Annie, who returns and is, perhaps understandably irritated that another incomplete project is between her seeing him. Annie humors him until she also steps inside and realizes the depths that she has come into.

Annie, in many ways, is Dave’s strength. She pushes him to want more than what he knows he can do, and at the same time is the support structure that he needs to grow. Annie is also the furthest thing from a damsel in distress. She takes matters in hand, and is completely uninterested in playing to the camera, even when the enormity of what Dave has accomplished strikes her. Even when she accepts help from other characters, it is in the same way as any of them might need and not based on her gender. She isn’t superwoman, either. She has her limits and she is powerful within them. She knows Dave is capable of wonderful things, and the two clearly have a long and complex relationship which is presented in few words, the making of a sandwich, the unspoken communication that happens physically between the actors. Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Nick Thune do a remarkable job in contextualizing the couple’s dynamic in the way they behave around each other, with simple gestures such as holding hands or eye contact.

The story between these two is not just a revelation of what is being hidden in Dave’s life, his fears and worries overwhelming him artistically, and preventing him from completing anything. It’s a question of whether or not the couple can survive the stresses. Dave’s decision to finish the maze, despite all odds, creates possibility and changes the dynamic. It’s a really well developed and familiar storyline in the sense that it feels like a real relationship, not only one you see in the theaters.

Dave’s friend Gordon is also wonderful; a mix of supportive and smart, brave and also humorous, he clearly cares about both of them and is one of the first people to realize how dangerous the maze might actually be. He and Dave also have a great patter back and forth which I really think serves Dave as a point of restfulness; they play off words and silly rhymes which sometimes make you groan with the dad-jokeness of it all.

The trio of the documentary crew are great comedic relief, but the way that they continue to try to document the storyline raises questions about what we’re seeing as well. The director, Harry, is a friend, but he also is so single-mindedly focused on scripting reactions and creating scenes that it begins to make me question what we’re seeing as the film outside the film. What is scripted and what is a genuine reaction?

The cameraman is so devoted to capturing everything on film; he shares Harry’s determination to record and preserve that he sometimes misses what’s right in front of him. There were moments where my Fiance and I were shouting at the screen because he wouldn’t interact with the world he was in. He creates a dilemma because although there are moments he takes the camera away from his eye he constantly focuses on the narrow vision of the camera view and not on anything else around him. I began to think about how in the same way as the film Harry will present is different than the one we see, more constrained in many ways, there are also sections that we are not party to, that we don’t get to see, and that maybe add more layers to the entire labyrinth. You can only really take one path at a time, even when you’re watching a movie.

The sound guy actually turned out to be one of my favorite characters. He’s very understated, and at first it seems like he’s just going to follow the cameraman around and listen to what’s going on without engaging. But he is in an interesting place because he can hear what’s happening as opposed to just seeing it. He begins to change what’s happening around him and becomes as invested as anyone else in completing the labyrinth.

There is a great cast of other characters, but the core group was powerful enough to drive the film even with the focus shifting from one view to the next, with comedic relief and setting placement driven by the ability to expand what the audience sees in the labyrinth.

Slight spoilers follow.

All labyrinths have at least one beast lurking, and the classic minotaur makes an appearance here as well.

This has got to be one of my favorite depictions of a minotaur. It’s classic in design, and the combination of flesh and cardboard (You’ll have to watch the film to get the full effect!) is delightful and whimsical, as well as terrifying. He looms in the shadows and drives the characters to press the limits of what they can or are willing to do. He provides a perfect example of how your fears can overwhelm and destroy you. And on top of that, the artistry of the bull head in cardboard is fantastic! The texture is just amazing, and I love the details that go into it.

Dave also begins to meld with his maze, and again, the interplay between flesh and art really got me. Where is the division between art and artist? and what does it mean when they overlap? What does it mean when the beast of your fears becomes more real to you than your success? Seeing how your art and hopes and desires can divide you from the people around you is terrifying.

But I digress.

Thank you to the crew who made such a fabulous movie, and for Solar City’s generosity in having their back; this film’s cardboard was from recycling dumpsters and scrap cardboard, and Solar City offered them their leftover when they ran out of their first source. Part of what makes this cool is that all of the cardboard in this shoot was free. I love the recycled elements, which is such a cool eco-friendly way to make a movie!

I cannot recommend “Dave Made a Maze” highly enough. I don’t think it’s something I would recommend for kids, but it’s definitely a movie I will watch again and again.

And I want to make a maze now, too! I think I’ll try and make a kid-rated one for Halloween. Better start collecting cardboard!

 

Change

Today at work we had to call an ambulance for someone who fainted. Let me first say again thank you to the men and women who work as EMTs to help people who really need it. I was grateful to know that the patient was going to be taken care of, and that it was going to be okay. I am also grateful to my coworkers who handled the situation gracefully, quickly, and professionally. 

But it made me realize today, that I have changed a great deal how I respond to emergency situations from how I did when I was younger. When I was younger, my brother was diagnosed with grand mal seizures, and epilepsy was a common household term for me. Grand mal seizures include full body convulsions, and I remember my brother even having the type of seizure where he just dropped to the ground and started shaking. With or without warning, they were very scary and at the same time familiar. I knew what to do. I knew the process, I knew how to respond, and I knew how to get out of the way once my help was no longer needed. I realized that I had developed a pattern of calm during the crisis, and then an emotional breakdown afterwards.

 I was used to hospital visits lasting from hours to weeks, and a list of doctors who had various suggestions and prescriptions to try and solve the disorder that affected my brother most directly, but also the rest of my family.

But today, it was different. My coworker called for someone to dial 911 and in part my CPR first aid training kicked in, as I autopiloted through checking the area to see that it was safe, to see that the patient was safe, and then as my manager had at that point already called 911, I brought the family to the patient, and then flagged in the responders. But for a second, my brain didn’t automatically jump into action. It stopped.

I had a second where it wasn’t the most comfortable situation that I had been in, it was something that made me stop and think about what I needed to do next, and if I was doing it correctly. I don’t remember ever having had that happen before. And on the one hand it scared me; I want to be able to be in a position where if someone needs help I can give them that assistance as quickly and safely as possible. But on the other hand, it was a relief. My nervous system isn’t automatically set on high alert at all times, it isn’t set on responding to an emergency on a daily basis anymore. And that was comforting to me, in the aftermath of cleaning up and making sure that all the pieces were put where they needed to be after the patient had left, and generally making sure that we began to run smoothly again as an office. 

It made me think, because even though I will go back and get recertified every year at the least, hopefully every six months, I don’t have to live like that anymore.

So I guess, generally I hope that whoever you are, if you are living in a situation where you’re on high alert all the time and ready for any emergency on more than autopilot, living in the state of almost-perpetual, almost-emergency, I hope that changes for you too.

I remember back to Thanksgiving when year, when my brother had to be rushed to the hospital, and I was alone and crying. I thought a lot about that this morning. And I don’t know if telling myself when I was younger that I would get to this state would have helped, but for me right now knowing that I feel safe enough to not be perpetually on guard to have to do an emergency action is such a relief that I don’t even know how to express it. 

In light of the fact that I would like to speak to my readers more (thank you for your patience, O Reader), I thought I would just put this down and leave it. There’s nothing really like a moral here, or I feel like anything interesting particularly, but it meant something to me today and so I’m sharing that.

So yeah, I guess that’s that. Good luck to anyone who wants to see the solar eclipse this weekend, and I will try to write more soon.

 

Copyright © 2017 Anastasia Barnett

 

It’s never a bad time for a Snoopy dance! I love Peanuts, so I am really happy I could paint one for my coworker’s birthday. He’s always so wonderfully delighted with everything. We need more Snoopy days in our lives.

Edit: point of clarification! I do not have any rights or anything RE: Snoopy. The copyright is for my blog only. Snoopy belongs to the amazing Charles Schulz and all credit belongs to him. If there are any issues with my display of this character, please let me know and I will act accordingly. However, my words are my own and I would like to keep that credit for myself. Thank you!

Flowers from the Inferno

This is actually not a post about my garden; it’s an update on my wedding dress.

For my dress, I am taking pages from various texts and … I think the best word is ‘manipulating’ them into a text-ile. (Get it? It’s almost a pun! I’m done.)

For the front of my skirt, I am using flowers made from Dante’s Inferno, and also from American Indian Myths and Legends. I cut each page into a square, and fold it into a flower. Then, I take the flowers and glue them together with Loctite, and form little ten-flower squares.

I’m not quite done with the Inferno yet, but I am getting pretty close.

I picked these two mostly because the books I have are about the same size, so it’s fairly easy to keep the flowers the same size. To make sure I take into consideration paper color difference and the amount of text and handwriting on the pages, I’m planning on making a diagonal pattern where I alternate between the ten-squares of one and then the other.

I’ve come up with some interesting phrases as I’ve done this; I think my favorite is, “No commas in hell”. You can kind of see it in the pictures of this flower square.

I still have a long way to go.

When I tell people I’m using the Inferno for the front of my skirt, I’ve gotten some interesting responses.

“Why not the Purgatorio, or the Paradiso?”

“Is this just because you like the Inferno or is there another literary reason?”

“That’s pretty weird.”

“Oh, cool.”

I could give an argument that the Inferno is a tale of two souls traveling through difficult times together, giving strength and support to each other, before they emerge.

I could say that it’s one of my favorite texts and that it has influenced the literature I read, I write, the images I paint from, the way I view the world around me.

I could say that this is my fiance’s copy, and his writing on the pages leads to beautifully obscure and non-contextualized phrases.

I could even just say that I’m using it because I want to.

But I think the best way to explain why the Inferno, is in the language of the inferno itself. At the end of the final canto of the Inferno, it concludes,

“La duca e io per quel cammino ascoso

intrammo a ritornar nel chiaro mondo;

e sanza cura aver d’alcun riposo

salimmo sù, el primo e io secondo,

tanto ch’i’ vidi de le cose belle

che porta ‘l ciel, per un pertugio tondo.

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle”,

which my copy translates into

“My leader and I entered on that hidden path to return to the bright world; and, without taking care for rest at all, up we climbed,

up we climbed, he first and I second, until I saw the beautiful things the heavens carry, through a round opening. And thence we came forth to look again at the stars.

And thence we came forth to look again at the stars”.

I crewed for my dad’s ultra marathon in Arizona; through the night, I climbed down through the levels of hell with Virgil and Dante, I watched as my dad moved further and further into the pureness of running as opposed to the conscious running; and I waited for him, missing my fiance and the light.  I finished reading the Inferno in the early morning. Just a little while after I read those beautifully constructed sentences, the sun rose, and my dad finished his race.

The memories I have tied to the Inferno are embedded in life imitating art imitating life. I want it on my dress because it is important to me. I want it on my dress because it’s part of who I am in many ways.