Monday, July 30, 2012

Coursera, Grimm's fairy tales, and Buffy

A friend alerted me to a free online course with Coursera, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World taught by Eric S. Rabkin from the University of Michigan.

Since I've recently been writing fantasy and reading widely for inspiration (and procrastination), the idea of doing focused reading for this course appealed to me.

Plus, I cited Rabkin in my critical thesis for grad school, and it's a nice small-world feeling to take a course with him, even if it's a course online with thousands of students from all over the world.

THAT feels like science fiction, right? Or it would have when I was born. I'm excited by the potential of this kind of education, and I'll be curious to see how the peer grading feels. I've already noticed that knowing I'm meant to evaluate other students' work makes me more inclined to take my own work seriously and gives me a sense of responsibility. I could see that feeling shifting depending on how seriously it feels like others are taking the course.

There's a grade attached to the course, but it doesn't mean anything. There are no real stakes other than mutual responsibility and interest.

I just turned in my first assignment, an essay on Grimm's Household Stories, translated by Lucy Crane and illustrated by Walter Crane, who apparently wrote the first book on the art of illustration

I got interested in the stories that focused on collective action and cooperation since so much of western literature focuses on a single, strong protagonist on a hero's journey . . .

I'm not sure I've mentioned here how much I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's my heroine of choice. Back in 2000-2002 when seasons five and six were airing and I was fighting my own demons, I dreamed about her and the Scooby Gang all the time.

One of my favorite things about that show is its union of singular powers towards a common goal, the gathering of a team. The heroine rejects the isolation of her fated path and survives by accepting help.

The tension between the solitary hero and the collaborative team continues as a theme throughout that show, and some of the most frustrating things about season 7 result from the exploration of that tension. I'm not in love with season 7, but I do appreciate its resolution in shared power and responsibility.

Who saw this post turning into a meditation on Buffy? I would say I didn't, but it happens to me enough that it no longer comes as a surprise.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Juliette Balconies

I blogged about Juliette balconies at the my agent's blog, the Crowe's Nest.


Well, really I was blogging about setting, how I sometimes forget about it, and some ideas for tapping back into it. Go read that, and then come back here!

Juliette balconies were part of the conversation because I'm home-hunting.

I was kind of making fun when I mentioned Juliette balconies. I didn't even know what they were until a year ago when my grad school class was shopping around for a rental where we could have a retreat, and one of the ads boasted about the charms of their Juliette balconies in a way that I found deluded and hilarious.

BUT, I just looked at an apartment that has one. Not an old-school Italian one with beautiful peeling paint ... a regular one overlooking a courtyard. And yes, I'm picturing myself wooing a lover from high over the garden, dumping a bucket of water on his head if he displeases me.

It's so romantic.

But seriously, I may have fallen in love with a setting. Wish me luck!

And while I'm pointing you elsewhere, my grad school roomie Jessica Leader, author of Nice and Mean, recently blogged about a discussion we had about the fear of committing to plotlines. Yes, it plagues me, and it's the main reason I find outlines and synopses so hard. I have trouble seeing them as explorations. Everything feels so final. Jess describes really well that fear that committing to one path means "killing off ... better versions" of your characters. Read it here!

After getting some feedback from Jess on a synopsis of my current WIP (which was mildly painful, but helpful, to write), I've dived back into yet another potential path, and the fear ... I'm still trying to shake it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Samuel Beckett says, "Habit is a great deadener."

Well, Samuel Beckett was a hero of my young adulthood, but you know what? He had boils and cysts and probably a panic disorder, and I still bet he didn't have junk all over his floor.

No, I mean, I know what Beckett meant. Don't get bored. Don't be boring. A lot of us fear this ... being normal, being less than quirky-creative all the time.

Part of my self-identity is wrapped up in being the one who brings tarot cards, the one who's experimenting with food coloring, the one who dances in the rain ... and yes, the one who's too busy writing to clean up her own mess or be on time.

But you know what? The manic pixie dream girl trope has outworn her welcome; she can't take care of herself, so she's been sent to a home.

Manic pixie poster girl Zooey Deschanel has become a parody of herself.

Charlize Theron's woman-child on Arrested Development turned out to secretly have the mental capacity of a first grader.

I have the mental capacity of an MFA grad, and I can take care of myself, but I don't always choose to do it. Sometimes I fill up every corner of my life with creativity until I'm drowning in it ... and not being very creative.

Avoiding routine chores starts to look a lot like inertia. Have you ever put off doing the dishes or laundry because you felt it was more important to write?

I mean, I have.

And have you ever worried that if you get too concerned with having a nice, calming place to call home that you'll normalize and forget your crazy artist dreams?

Let me level with you (and me) for a sec. Being normal ... not a threat. It's never going to happen. It is safe to work towards having a nice, calming home. It is safe to take a break from writing to do the dishes.

A certain amount of habit is necessary. Otherwise, the laundry never gets done, and the papers never get tossed, and ... ahem, the writing never happens.

I'm fighting my own inertia (in stuff and in writing) by reading books with titles like It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys. Today, I threw away about 8 square feet of paper. Yesterday, I donated about forty pounds of clothes and shoes. Two weeks ago, I gave away a TV, two chairs, my late dog's luggage, and a never-used-by-me citrus juicer. I drive for work so much that I used to keep half of my life in my car; for a month now, the car has been clutter free.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I, however, have not found that to be true. I have found forming an awesome habit -- like eating ice cream before bed every night -- takes less than one day.

Taking care of myself and my space (and my writing because it all tends to work together) is awesome. Habit formed.

Originally posted at Quirk and Quill.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My own mythology

I'm drawn right now to Celtic histories and lore.

Yes, I'm trying to make sense out of all the stories, the weird, weird stories. Like, I just read about Math, Son of Mathonwy, in which two brothers, Gwydion and Gilwaethwy are turned into male and female pairs of MANY different animals and made to breed with each other (they take turns being female), and then their offspring turn into human children -- really confused human children.

And I read about Druid glass, which is a little, apple-shaped ball made from the excretions (saliva or semen, depending on what you read) of a congress of serpents. You (assuming you are a Druid) must catch this little ball and ride with it over a running stream to avoid getting bitten by the vipers. Then, it can help you do all sorts of magical things ... like win lawsuits.

I'm looking for the roots of story, old story, in this slippery thing I've written -- several unfinished drafts totaling over 85,000 words. How can one write so many words and still not have story? I've been making things up, mixing them up with myth, and the rules won't come clear. So I'm sifting through magical lore and old gods and trying to recognize what might have percolated up through my blood to get stuck in my own mythology.

And I'm missing the Appalachians and North Carolina, where magic seems to run in the mountain streams and hide behind trees. This is fairyland, where a neighbor once tricked my father into believing by placing little fairy statuettes in the crease of a wall of rock for him to find.

Where the peaks have names like Devil's Courthouse and Chimney Top.

I love Chicago, but it's very flat here. You can always see things coming from far away.