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Frustration

July 27, 2011 2 comments

The essence of frustration is having a goal or a desire in mind and the will to achieve it…and lacking the time or resources to make it happen. I think the universe is trying  to teach me that the more I try to do without a plan, the less I actually accomplish. I may actually be learning it this time, because it seems to be working. Slowly, but working, nonetheless.

Here’s the state of things that have kept me away from updating The Blotter over the past couple of weeks: Work is hopping, which is fantastic. I’m fortunate to be working with a company that is thriving in tough times. I know that even though I am in a challenging environment where the odds of getting ahead of the work are slim to none, my efforts to get there are appreciated. Challenges are something I rarely back down from, even when they amount to a kamikaze mission to get it done or crash and burn while trying, hence I’ve been working some crazy hours trying to get caught up from a month where everyone seemed to want a good chunk of my time. While I’m getting much closer to being on top of it, I’m not there yet and it is wearing on my nerves. The things I need to do for me, my household and my passion are taking a backseat. Such is life, I know, but these have been sitting there so long, they’re starting to get rowdy and kick the back of my seat. Laundry, for example, is pretty much a lost cause. (Which, I suppose, means I really need to pare down my wardrobe.) Reading happens in the drips and drabs I can get (like sitting on the edge of my bed trying to ingest my first doses of caffeine procrastinating getting ready to go to work, or sprawled out on my yoga mat before class, or sitting at the Most Annoying Traffic Backup at the Shortest Possible Light Ever Created on my morning commute). I have been digging into audiobooks to allow me to take more in since I can listen when I finally break down and do the cleaning I’ve been ignoring or other “mindless” tasks that will let me still focus on the story and be productive (like cleaning up the new email system at work by copying and pasting and deleting and copying and pasting and deleting and copying and pasting and deleting…).

What suffers the most is the writing. Without fail, I make time for writing, but it’s significantly less than I’d like to spend doing it. I’ve been steadily working and getting anywhere from 30-60 minutes in a day at work, but the research I need to do is suffering. I’ve been stuck in one spot with a story because when I take the time in the evenings to flex my Google-fu to figure out what rune my character needs to pull to (incorrectly) validate her expectation, I get overwhelmed by the information out there that is too vague, too conflicting, and as I’m reading, I get attacked by ninja sleep and zzzzzzzzzzzz…

When I sit down to do anything after I’ve finished working, my brain is so fried there are just no creative juices left, most of them spent on creative and diplomatic ways of telling people they messed up without damaging their egos or removing the responsibility of their actions. (My goal is to teach, not destroy. I want them to leave laughing, to leave with an understanding of what they did, how they can correct it, and that there are consequences for not attempting to make those corrections.) I take yoga twice a week which is something I’m not willing to compromise because I’m doing something for myself that helps me keep my crazy hours and helps me feel better and stronger even when I’m not. Weekends are eaten up with more work or spending time with the people in my life.

I’m looking forward to the slower season at work simply because it means I’ll have more flexibility when it comes to scheduling feedback, working with the leadership team and making a more focused effort on how to tackle feedback. Also, as each agent learns from each feedback session, their calls get “easier” to coach…but before you get to the downhill side of the mountain, you have to climb hard. So I’m going to keep climbing. I’m going to set goals – realistic ones based on the time I have available. I’m going to work towards being more productive with the fallow moments of my day and make sure I’m squeezing every moment out of them. I can do this, but I have to go back to my mantra. Strength. Determination. Self-Discipline.

Deep breath. Focus. Try again. Play. Make it yours.

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Revisiting Old Friends

I’m late getting this out, but when I saw Booking Through Thursday‘s current topic of “Repeats,” I was compelled to answer. My answer may rebel or meander a little, but the general topic is something that has been on my mind lately.

Here’s the topic of the week:

What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)
What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

The first book I read over and over again was The Lorax. It was probably my first passion, or obsession and I wouldn’t doubt that the empowerment of being able to select my own book from the library played into that in some way. The other book I read over and over as a child was The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. It’s an amazing book, and powerful; it was the first book that made me cry. I’m a little ashamed to admit that my interests became more dark and somewhat prurient as I got older and I read the Flowers in the Attic series by VC Andrews pretty compulsively as a teenager. It was my first exposure to a “naughty” book, even though it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the bodice-rippers I read later on. The most recent series in my list of read and re-read is, of course, the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. I think this series tops out the charts, as I read the first one at least 5 times, the second 4 times, and so on through book 4. I read 4-7 at least twice each. For a while, I would re-read the entire series in preparation for the movie releases. I didn’t do it with the last three movies because of time constraints (and because I upgraded to the hardcover books and they’re not as easy to lug around with me), but I’ll likely read them again when I need to give my brain a vacation.

Lately, as a part of the challenge I’ve initiated for myself, I’ve been revisiting a number of books that I read years ago. What I’ve discovered in doing so is that I missed a lot, whether because I wasn’t reading as deeply, or because I didn’t have the life experience to appreciate the real impact of the story, or because I wasn’t on the same level as the material being put in front of me.

The stories I read in high school that frustrated me beyond belief are the ones I like the most now. I’ve re-read the Austen stories and Shakespearean plays that made my eyes cross and have found a new appreciation and even a love for their complexities that soared over my head, confused and irritated me when I first read them. I found new depths and meaning in Dracula and Frankenstein that I didn’t realize when I read them the first time. Stephen King’s It gave me more chills the second time around, though I will admit that part of that may be related to the chilling voice talents that literally brought the screams on the page to life.

The most eye-opening experience so far has been Stephen King’s The Stand. When I read it for the first time, I was roughly 13 or 14 and I hated it. I slogged through all 1,100 pages of the uncut edition and couldn’t figure out why there were such glowing accolades for the story. I was grossed out by the symptoms of the superflu (or Captain Trips, if you prefer), bored by the military aspects that pop up during the break out and just befuddled by the rest. I am re-reading it now and finding it far scarier and more engaging than I did the first time. Much of the change in the way I’m reading has to do with maturity, I think. Perspective, experience and a more refined appreciation for writing have given me new insight into the story and the style, and I’m finding it much easier to relate to the characters as an adult than I did before. I’m looking forward to finishing this one, not because I’m dreading the next 800 pages, but because I’m looking forward to tearing down my recollections of my reactions to the story and replacing them. As much as I’m enjoying the story itself, I’m making something of a study of the way King crafted the characters, their individual story lines and then draws them together into the final conflict. I’m looking at it with a more critical eye, and I’m interested to see what I find that I don’t like as much as what I do like; what works, and what doesn’t.

Noticing these kinds of differences makes me both eager and hesitant to revisit the books I loved years ago. Was there something there that I missed that made me dislike it, or was it my perception and perspective at the time? What did I miss out on by dismissing it as one I wouldn’t read again? If I re-read it, will I love it as much as I did the last time? It’s like the moment of tension in a movie where the protagonist is standing on the porch, their hand hovering in the space between them and the doorknob and you’re not sure if they’re going to open it or not, and if they do, the excitement and fear of what is waiting behind it…

Revisiting an “old friend” and spending time between their pages again can emphasize the value of storytelling. Movies are unchanging, imagined by someone else and imprinted on film and while they may strike the view differently depending on mood or life experience, movies never quite achieve the mutative quality that books have. The you of today puts one face on a character, but time and experience will change it, give nuance, texture and greater depth to the author’s efforts and bring a sense of transformation. The boogeyman changes faces and shape, the fears strike a deeper chord, the reality becomes a little too real, love becomes a little too bittersweet, and though the words haven’t changed, the story impacts the reader more than any movie ever could by manipulating what already exists inside and using it to its advantage.

Something Like a Review : Macbeth by A. J. Hartley and David Hewson

July 6, 2011 2 comments

When I first heard about the novelization of Macbeth by A. J. Hartley and David Hewson, I was excited. I have enjoyed Shakespeare for a long time, and of all the plays of his that I’ve read and seen performed, Hamlet and Macbeth are my favorites. Macbeth was the first play that gave me chills and struck a deep chord in the twisted part of my brain that creates scary things. I couldn’t wait until the day this audiobook was released on audible.com.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was more enthralled by this story than any other audiobook I’ve listened to. Where I normally lose the thread of the story occasionally, I never had a moment where I had to rewind the story because my mind had wandered. Not once.

I could write this review in one sentence: “If Shakespeare had been a novelist instead of a playwright, this is the Macbeth he would have written.”

But far be it for me to be brief when there’s so much that can be said about this story. Hartley and Hewson’s telling of the iconic story of the Scottish thane is a loving re-imagining of the story that is both an honor and homage to the original text. Where the original play leaves much to the imagination and interpretation of the producers and performers, the authors have filled in the gaps. Instead of a villainous portrayal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the main characters have been humanized and, somehow, made more terrifying for their development. Macbeth and Skena*are now well-rounded characters whose descent into regicide, murder and betrayal becomes…understandable and relatable. Their madness and treachery aren’t as “safe” as in the play because the listener can follow their good intentions and motives as they wind their way through the dark side of human nature and emerge as a twisted and warped means-to-an-end.

The story is lyrical, and not only because of the voice talents of the narrator, Alan Cummings, and the enchantment his amazing accent invokes. Listening to this story, it’s clear how much attention was devoted to the way it sounds. Even the casual listener will be able to tell that this story was written to be read aloud, much like the original text which inspired it. That’s not to say that it’s all pretty words. Macbeth lives up to its bloody reputation – there are vivid battles, grisly, visceral descriptions and striking descriptions of the Scottish landscape that transport the listener into Macbeth’s world.

Personally, I’m hoping that this will be released as a print version. I loved the audiobook, and I will definitely listen to it again, but this one is deserving of a spot in my library.

*closest approximation to the spoken name used in the audiobook. Since there’s not a text version of the story yet, the spelling could vary.

Something Like a Review: Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

July 2, 2011 2 comments

In general, I like the idea of the pulp private investigator/detective fiction of the 30’s and 40’s. There’s a romance and mystique around the ramshackle offices with tar-streaked walls, the jaded, bitter detective questioning some knock-out in heels and an ermine-trimmed coat that simply reeks of trouble. There’s a certain comfort of knowing that after he knocks back a drink or two with some colorful little stoolie, the ex-cop-turned-private-dick is going to find himself embroiled in a Gordian knot of a crime, but will puzzle it out in the end. Gritty, noir fiction like that lets us explore the seedy side that most of us will pass through with our breath held, car doors locked and a death-grip on the steering wheel, praying all the while that we don’t get car-jacked before we get back to the better part of the city. We know that nice girls and boys like us shouldn’t really be there, but these novels let us writhe in a world that is enticing, if only for its taboos.

Falling Angel has that dark, seedy, gritty feel and it was a pleasure to read. Harry Angel isn’t exactly the typical (anti-)hero of a pulp detective novels, but from the very beginning, the reader senses there’s something…off about him. It’s an elusive sensation and one the reader becomes accustomed to, but returns to in an “Oh my God, why didn’t I see that coming?” moment at the end. The novel immerses Angel in a world of voodoo, black magic, satanic ritual and a host of duplicitous characters, and he leaves forever changed by his discoveries.

This story is labyrinthine and dark and, at times, sordid, but not everything that happens between the pages is shrouded in mystery. There are moments where the perceptive reader will easily anticipate what’s coming next (like the reason why Angel’s client is seeking Johnny Favorite) though Angel himself is not aware, and then just shy of the ending, the only possible outcome becomes very clear, the proverbial pieces hanging just out of the reader’s grasp fall together with a quiet, dreadful, heavy epiphany that only accelerates the story into the brick wall ending. The hints, the premonitions and the realization of the near future for the characters does not detract from the story, however. There’s plenty for the reader to chase, puzzle out and wonder how it will all resolve. Particularly at the end, the revelation (or realization) propels the reader through the remaining pages to find out exactly how it all plays out. The reader feels the resignation, the dread and acceptance and is compelled to follow it to whatever end it brings.

This story is a great thriller. It will engross the reader with a penchant for the darker side, enthrall those with a yen to explore taboos and the forbidden. Bear in mind that given the genre, it comes with a few prerequisite campy moments, but even with them, it stands as a story well told. Fallen Angel is not, however, a story the reader should skim through nor is it for the hypersensitive or those seeking the hypoallergenic world of political correctness. There are prejudiced characters who use racial slurs, but it is appropriate for the time and the New York City in the story’s setting. There are moments when the reader will cringe at the breaching of religious, sexual and moral taboos, but again, they are suited to the story at hand. And beware the urge to devour the story as quickly as possible. If the reader does not take their time through the story, the nuances and minor tells are missed and lose their impact. Give a day or a weekend to this one. Savor it. Grin through the campy moments. Get your hands dirty in the world Hjortsberg creates. Take your time, but make sure you don’t skip it. It’s entirely worth the read.

Censorship

I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page a while ago that still has my brain churning over the line between censorship and personal responsibility.

Here’s the situation:

An adult posts a comment including off-color sexual humor and an f-bomb that was appropriate for the context of the joke. A friend of theirs comments on the post reminding the poster that a young child has access to the page and that the joke-poster (and owner of the page) should be careful about what they post as a result. The friend apologized to the responder, justifying the joke. The responder replied, accepting the apology and reminding the poster not to use “bad” words.

Now, granted, I can’t claim insight into all the circumstances around the situation because I don’t know this person well enough to understand all in the unspoken context and I’m not going to presume to ask because it’s none of my business. I can, however, ponder out loud and see what happens.

There are certain passing and “close” acquaintances that would testify that I’m a child-hater, but those who know me better know that’s pretty far from the truth. I like kids. I find them to be quirky, comical, unique, entertaining, if not often frustrating little human beings. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have ANY desire to create little genetic copies of myself any time soon. (I will admit there are limited circumstances under which I’d consider such sad0-masochistic activity, but the likelihood of it happening in this lifetime is slim to none, so we’ll effectively call the baby factory on semi-permanent hiatus.) That being said, I’m all for guarding the little munchkins from things that are not age appropriate or from things that would do them harm of any sort whether that source is popular entertainment, environment or people.

I recognize that the adult I am today is not really the best influence for a little monkey-see-er, monkey-do-er. I can behave but it takes vigilance and occasional reminders and honestly, I’m likely to put my foot in my mouth more than once before I remember there’s a little set of ears running around. Luckily, not many of my local friends have young kids, and many of them are within the age range that even if I do something stupid, they’re not likely to pick up a bad habit and repeat it. On the other hand, as bad as this sounds, I’m more likely to remove myself from an environment where there are lots of little ankle-biters running around because I know I’m not the influence I’d want around my impressionable DNA-replicants if I had any. I’d like to think that if I were a parent, I’d be paying attention to what my kids were being exposed to – including my friends. I’d like to think that if I had kids old enough to play around on Facebook, I’d know who they’re friending, and if there was someone who was prone to posting items that were inappropriate for them, I’d make sure my kids didn’t add them as a friend, or that said friend filtered what my little miscreants were able to see. So my question is – isn’t that a parent’s job? Isn’t that part of the personal responsibility bestowed upon you at the moment of conception? Why does the burden of censorship lie with the outside world?

Again, I’m not saying that adults shouldn’t be vigilant and make sure cartoon characters aren’t promoting vodka and cigars or engaging in inappropriate sexual activity where a child would have easy access to it, but then again, if your kid is smart enough to play on the internet, or figure out where dad keeps his “special” magazines, you should be smart enough to stay ahead of them and restrict their access.

To take it full circle back to my little scribbler’s world: artists, writers, photographers, film-makers and creative types of all types are going to create – it’s what we do. Just like biological creation, we’re not always going to be able to choose or predict exactly what comes out because many of the variables seem to spring up out of our DNA and the experiences we’ve absorbed throughout our lives. While we do consider audience and ensure that the piece we create is suitable for our audience, just because we’re not aiming at your precious little mini-me doesn’t mean we’re going to create around them. Life is messy, dirty, nasty, scary, violent, abusive, full of toe-curling orgasmic lusts and other enjoyable sins of every imaginable flavor and it all bleeds into art and entertainment. There are those people with no desire to have kids who want to sit down with a story or movie that’s terrifying, makes us cringe when the blood flies, or snigger when naked naughty bits peek into frame who enjoy it responsibly – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be created or shared with the world.

Having kids is a major accomplishment and a statement of hope in an often cynical world, however, the world shouldn’t have to change just because you gave birth. The rest of the planet didn’t fertilize the egg, nor are we responsible for what the fruit of your loins learns thereafter. In your commitment to seeing the process of biological creation through to it’s (messy) outcome, you accepted the inherent responsibility for your miniature human and its development and well-being. Expecting (and asking) the world around you to censor itself is unrealistic; doing your best to monitor and control what your progeny is exposed to is your responsibility. That’s what you signed up for and it’s time to do your job.

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