Saturday, July 23, 2011

The worst kind of news.

I don't really know what to say about what happened in Norway. Every new image or story is more horrible than the one before it. Never before have I felt so acutely lacking in understanding than in a moment like this, how a man could slaughter children in the belief that he was defending his nation from the threat of Muslim "outsiders." I don't understand how this is possible, the same way I didn't understand how people claiming to be Muslims could kill innocent Americans in the name of what they also believed was faith.

I remember something David Letterman said after 9/11, something along the lines of that even if you lived to be a thousand years old, it would never make any sense. The terrorists on 9/11 professed that their actions stemmed from religious fervor. The man in Norway said he wanted to defend his homeland from the dangers of multiculturalism.

And maybe the only thing that any of us can take comfort in is that they were wrong, they were wrong in every way you can be wrong and this man (if he even deserves that label) was wrong in every way a human could be, and that it doesn't make sense and God willing never will to any of us. And it's our job to prove every day that they were wrong, to fight against the people who would align themselves in any way with those beliefs, no matter how slight or seemingly harmless a comment made about those things may seem to be.

It's not us against them. It's not them against us. Who the hell cares about Christian fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists or Christians or Muslims or any kind of sect or nationality or fundamentalist group there is in a moment like this? Children at a summer camp were killed in cold water as they tried to swim away from a man with a gun. As far as I'm concerned if religion leads to something like that then tear it all down and start over. That's why I can't stand it when anyone from any religion says that they are right and the everybody else is wrong, that their faith deserves to be spread and everyone else's deserves to be eliminated. What a sad and misguided way to see the world, what a horrible world view because it makes human beings who are different from you less valuable than you, and that kind of mindset, placed in a twisted or sick mind, can lead to something like this.

Can't we just be humans? Can't we come together if for no other reason than in the shared horror over such a violation of everything that's decent and good in this world? And can't we try, no matter where we live or who we are, to hack away at all of the hostility and ignorance and prejudice and fear that could fuel a man like that to do such a thing?

Nothing will ever make this right, but we can try, desperately, to prevent something from ever again being so wrong.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dear Ms. Rowling.

Dear Ms. Rowling,
I probably should have written sooner, when the last Harry Potter book came out, because in the heart of a true fan that's when it ended. But because we loved your books so much, we held onto the movies, separate and incomparable as they were. We held onto them and waited for each new one, and while the movies were never the same, they offered some consolation for our loss.
But now, with the last movie out, it seems it really is finished. Obviously the books are there to be re-read, the movies to be re-watched, but the discovery, the staying up until the wee hours of dawn to finish a new book-all of that is passed. And it's sad. It's sad because you created a world on napkins at a cafe a million miles and minutes ago that these million miles and minutes later we deeply and truly love. And even though that world is still there for us, we now know how it ends. 
And so I thought I should take this opportunity, not to, as I first planned on, quibbling with the final film, but to thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It would be melodramatic and untrue to say you saved my physical life, but it would be absolutely accurate to say that your books saved me, the true me, from the depths of a deep adolescent identity crisis that threatened to spill over into my adult life. 
I was thirteen when I walked into a bookstore in Richmond and saw the table of Harry Potter books in the front. At the time there were only books 1-3. I knew about the books. By then it was impossible not to. But I didn't want anything to do with them. I didn't want anything to do with any books. This was not a natural way of life for me, and yet I clung to it in the desperate, irrational hopes of the chronically uncool child who wants more than anything to be cool. Books had been everything to me when I was little. I devoured them, everything from The Babysitters Club to Little Women, from the Diary of Anne Frank to the Redwall series. I couldn't get enough of books and stories, and so I would write sequels to the books I loved on an electronic typewriter given to me as a birthday present (does this date me? I think it does). I lost myself routinely in other worlds. I went from the big woods of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to Indians in cupboards and castles in the attack. I was a writer then, even when I was still learning how to write. It was obvious.
And yet somehow, about the time 5th grade struck, I decided that this was all wrong. Books and writing were the enemy, because loving those two things, loving them dorkily and all-consumingly, made me what I was but so badly didn't want to be, unpopular. I went to a school with 50 kids in it, and we all knew who was cool and who wasn't. And even though to this day I'm not sure why, I made it my mission to be cool. 
This pains me to recall, but I started doing badly on tests on purpose, so I could turn to the cute, popular boys next to me and show them that I wasn't one of those smart nerds. I treated good friends like dirt to get ahead, to move into that elite echelon of eleven year olds that I was convinced was my eternal key to happiness. Trips to Abercrombie replaced afternoons reading. I decided I hated writing, and purposefully wrote awful prose for the fiction tutor my parents signed me up with for private lessons.
This sad, misguided half life continued for most of middle school. I wish I could say why it was so important to me to be popular, why I thought it was worth it all, but I honestly can't. Maybe it was just that rebellion we all go through against who we really are, when we try to convince ourselves that who we are isn't good enough, and that being someone else is better. 
I was in the throes of this stage of my life when I came upon that Harry Potter book. We were going away for the weekend, and my mom suggested I get a book for the car ride. Surprisingly I agreed and I bought Harry Potter. I would have been mortified if anyone from school saw me reading it, but I reasoned that if I read it in the privacy of my car with my parents it didn't count. 
I was finished with it by the time the weekend was over. The next two books went just as quickly, and I was surprised to find myself waiting eagerly for the fourth book to come out, even if I would never have admitted that to anyone at school.I didn't immediately go back to school and give up my quest for popularity. Life is never that simple. I was a brat for years to come in some aspects of my life, but after reading Harry Potter, for the first time, parts of myself began to come back. I would try to quiet them, but they were there and they weren't going to be shut down again. Harry Potter opened a flood gate back to myself. It was that first shock, that first spark of creativity and enthusiasm and dorky passion hidden at the core of my being.  
Ms. Rowling your book did something that no one, not my true friends or my family could do for me at that age. Your book got past that forced, cruel layer of middle school social climbing, past my dismissal of everything that made me me as uncool and it found me, the real me, the nerdy, book-loving girl that at the time I had shunned and hidden away in a dark place in my brain. 
I fell in love with the world of Harry Potter that weekend. It was a done deal from the very first chapter. But more than that your book reminded me of how, as desperately as I wanted to be popular, it couldn't compare to how desperately I need that part of myself, that part that could fall hopelessly in love with another world and who wanted nothing more than to grow up and create those worlds of my own. 
I hate to think about what would have happened if I never picked up that Harry Potter book. I know I would have found my way back to myself eventually. Middle school doesn't last forever. But I don't know how long it would have taken. I don't know how many years I would have lost.
You brought me back to life that October of 1998. And since that October, your books have meant more to me than any other book ever could. I can never thank you enough for what you did for me, for what these books and these characters and this world has done for me. 
It seems so insignificant, these two tiny words on top of the mountains of words you have written, but thank you. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I would have made a horrible peasant.

I know there are people who can work 80 hours a week, who can go from morning until night with barely a break. I know there are people who thrive on this, who actually enjoy it (these people are clearly crazy masochists).

I am not one of these people. For most of the last 8 weeks, my life has been heavy on the work side and light on the play part. Things are finally lightening up since I finished two classes last week. But I've yet to feel that relief or giddy joy that comes with the end of a tough class.

I feel broken and numb and tired and old. I know these are temporary feelings. I know my joy will thaw out, but right now it feels just like that, frozen, covered up by days and days of scar tissue from over-working myself to the point of exhaustion. And I know that there are people out there, lawyers and surgeons and NASA scientists, who would look at me and laugh hysterically. Because summer classes and freelance work are not, comparatively speaking, even that hard of work.

But my personality does not do well in 24/7 stress. I feel like my soul has always breathed most easily when given lots and lots of space, lazy hours on a Saturday to read or write, evenings with wine and TV, vacations and idle hours browsing bookstores for new stories and grocery stores for new recipes. When that space is taken away, when I can't ever fully relax because there's always 20 things on my To-Do-list, I gradually start to feel myself fading.

I've felt like that this summer. I don't quite feel like me. And I know this may be ludicrous to some people. Some people have to work crazy hours to support themselves and/or their families and never fully get the luxury of relaxing because other people's livelihoods depend on it. People in some places in this world have to work 12 hour days just to eat.

And I'm blessed that I don't have to work constantly to you know, eat. I am tremendously blessed that I can even take hours to write blogs or watch movies or shop. But I've been reminded this summer how, as silly as all of those things are, to me they aren't unnecessary. I could have been a peasant, but not a good one. I would have been miserable and robotic. I would not have whistled while I worked. I would have silently weeped while plowing my fields.

In two weeks I'm going to finished the summer semester and have a three week break before the fall semester. And during that time I'm going to Charleston, to that lovely city full of so much beauty. Because I know in Charleston I can get myself back. In Charleston I'll be surrounded by like-minded souls, people who live there because they need to be surrounded by that beauty-by long walks on the beach and good food and reading on a dock by a tidal marsh. In Charleston, life isn't about work. It never could be. Life, the core of life, what makes life a life at all, is about everything that exists outside of work.

I want to feel like me again, at home in my own skin, after a summer of getting my joy slowly ground down by exams and homework and deadlines. And so I turn as I always do in times of need, to that city of bridges and salt and sea for miles. I'm really looking forward to coming home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Editing

*Reposted from my blog
I've always known I was a writer. I used to think I'd be a pretty good editor too. I even spent nearly a year of my life applying for editing jobs. I was very foolish in this endeavor, and I realize this now, now that I work regularly as a freelance writer and work with editors and see that I am completely, irretrievably a writer and a writer alone.
Here's the thing. My editors make my writing better. The reasonable part of myself knows this, the part that can work out things logically, do math, balance a checkbook (or at least pay bills online), etc. But the writer part of myself, the creative, egotistical, slightly unhinged staring at a blank Microsoft Word document for hours on end part of myself will never fully accept that. This is the dirty little secret that writers never tell anyone, the shameful truth that deep down it KILLS us for our work to get edited, for even a comma to get moved, no matter how much the logical side of our brain knows it's necessary.
I work for both a website and a print source as a writer. With the website work my pieces are minimally edited. Online writing gives you that freedom. I can be myself and silly and go off on tangents, (online writing also gives you more room), albeit not quite the wild tangents of my blogs. I did this work for almost a year before I got a second job writing for a print source in Richmond I very much admire and respect. Let's just say up until this point I was spoiled with my online writing in terms of how little my work was edited. 
Things are different with the print source. And let me make this absolutely clear. It should be. Print is a different beast. It has to be clean and concise and short. It has to get to the point. That's why editors are so important in print. They are the unsung heroes of print. They make it possible. Without editors all magazines and newspapers would just have endless, run-on articles that meander from page to page with no real purpose or direction. It would be like the Wes Anderson version of print media, and kind of unbearable.
But editors make writers' ego-driven and tangential tendencies work on the page. They rein us in and make us look good and we unfairly get to put our names to a piece instead of them. 
I know all this, rationally. But still, but still it wrecks me, every time I see what my work has become. It's better, undeniably. And if I could be objective I would admit this. But I'm a writer. Objectivity doesn't exist when it comes to my writing. Writers cannot function without criticism and editing. It's how we change and get better. But it kills us. We pout and we cry and we shake our fists at the skies, because of the tragedy of a moved comma or deleted sentence. We swear we were wronged. 
And yes, some of it is ego, the necessary ego any writer must have. But I think, personally speaking at least, it comes from a deep hurt over losing ownership to something that at its inception was mine and mine only. When I write something it belongs to me. It's an extension of me. Every word, every punctuation mark, everything is like a little sliver of my soul thrust out into the world.
And when those works are edited, especially when they're heavily edited, suddenly the thing that was 100% you becomes unrecognizable. It's as if you've sent your child out into the world for the first time, the child you raised and taught and shaped, the child that looks so much like you, and then four months later that child comes home in a mumuu, with a shaved head, and belonging to a cult. Sure it's still yours, but it's also not yours, not in the same way.
I'm sure this is something a lot of people can relate to, anyone who does anything creative that is then shaped or edited by other people. We know it makes it better. We know that without that editing our work would never flourish. To extend a metaphor it would be like the child who never goes to college, never changes, and lives forever in your basement eating pork rinds. No writer wants that. But still.
But still it breaks our hearts, every, single, time.
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