Wednesday, April 30, 2014

T: Tea

I don't think there's anything quite as miraculous as tea.

As Alice knows it can be quite mad.

It can re-boost your energy.

It can help you wind down at the end of the night.

It can relieve stress.

It can welcome strangers.

It can mask social tension (as in fill the awkward silence with "Let's have some tea" as seen in all British costume pieces).

Some kinds of tea are said to extend life.

It can help alleviate headaches

And sore throats.

But mostly tea is amazing because you serve it in such fun cups.

Friday, April 25, 2014

S: Sneezzle Snazzle

"Sneezzly snazzle" is the phrase I say immediately after every sneeze. I do not know why or when I began this custom.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

R: Romantic

The word 'romantic' has a lot of different meanings.

Romantic as in romantic comedy

Romantic as in romance languages

Romantic as in from the romantic era

Romantic as in romanticizing something

Romantic as in the literary genre of "A Romance"

Romantic as in romantic ideals

At first glance some of these different versions of the word appear to have nothing to do with each other but if you go back to the literal meaning of the word --from Rome --they follow a very natural progression of ideas. Let me unscramble the above for you.

Romance languages

Languages apart from Latin that were spoken in Rome. In written form Latin was used for sacred texts and later for scientific or philosophical writing. Other writings mean primarily for entertainment were written in the more vernacular romance languages which leads us directly into . . .

A Romance

Stories and collections of stories like Orlando Furioso, Le Morte d'Arthur, and even though it was written in English which is not a romance language, The Faery Queen. These were the forerunners of novels written with heightened emotions and strange coincidences. Collectively they represented a certain kind of idea which progressed to . . .

Romantic ideals or philosophy

These deal largely with the glorification of nature, emotions, and the common people. Ideas that were manifest in earlier romances. These ideas go hand in hand with . . .


Seeing something ordinary or common place as spectacular and meaningful

and also led to . . .

The Romantic Era

Keats. Shelly (both of them). Byron. Blake. Burns. Wordsworth. Gothic novels. Debussy. Some of the world's greatest geniuses were a part of this wave of romantic ideas in literature and music. It was largely an ideological revolt against the industrial revolution and encouraged, probably for the first time in the history of western thought, listening the the heart rather than the head. Which leaves us with our more common place concept of the word . . .

Romantic comedies and bold romantic gestures

These encourage heart over head. They take something ordinary --a person or the need to procreate --and turn it into something meaningful.

And so all forms of Romantic are connected in the great circle of words.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Q: Quotes

"He taught me the difference between everything and nothing"
"Which is?" Vevey prompted, looking baffled
---Patricia McKillup, Alphabet of Thorn

Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.
--Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

"I meant," said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?"
Death thought about it.
"Cats," he said eventually. "Cats are nice."
--Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

"Jelly Babies. It's fun to bite their heads off."
--Tony Ding

"Security is a Kind of Death." --Tennesse Willlaims

... from the beging of time,
in childhood, I thought
the pain meant I was not loved.
It meant I loved.
--Louise Gluck "First memory"

"The heart is as silent as a fish, however much the tongue tries to give it a voice."
--Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

"I do not make the rules. This annoys me, and so I comfort myself by breaking them" --Lord David Alexander Triemon Campion, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine

"For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, its the only light we got in this darkness."
--James Baldwin

I am an artist and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.
--Ursula LeGuin

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
--Oscar Wilde

All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.
--Neil Gaiman, American Gods

She had lived, we'll say,
A harmless life, what she called a virtuous life,
A quiet life, which was not life at all
--Elizabeth Barrette Browning

"Because (books) are masters who instruct without a rod. If you approach them, they are never asleep; if you are ignorant, they never laugh; if you make mistakes, they never chide. They give to all who ask of them and never demand payment. All the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion if God hadn't provided us with the remedy of books."
-- Catherine Jinks, Pagan's Scribe

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

P: Paper

Fragile white husk, fluttering in my hand
The pulped remains of a forest, bleeding ideas
Thin, crisp, cool, lost in the crinkle of fire
Gone with the slow, poisoning steep of the rain
Embalmed memorial to souls long past
Extorting fears from my mind's deepest crevice
Delicate deviant, whispered into wind

Monday, April 21, 2014

O: On and Off

When I write my mind goes through a process that I call the Incubation Period. This is when I have an idea. A really vivid idea. I've probably jotted down quite a few notes but I'm not ready to write much down yet.

I'm not ready to do a lot of research.

I'm not even doing outlines or character sketches.

I have an idea and I can't think about anything else but I have no tangible evidence of productivity. I have no output. I stare out of windows and talk to myself inside my head. I relate everything that happens around me to my idea and --life willing --I might spend a day in my room reading poetry that reminds me of the idea. I don't get a lot of laundry or dishes done and I space out a lot at work.

This is the part where I daydream. This is the part where the story really takes shape inside me.

Unfortunately this is the part I can't turn on and off. It's there or it isn't.

I can sit down and will myself to research or outline or draft or edit but the incubation --the part where the idea creates its own life --only happens when it wants to.

I can also stop any of those processes and work on other responsibilities but incubation is a state of mind. Physically I might be attempting diligence but my mind is somewhere else. My friends and bosses tend to notice this.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

N: Not Knowing

I like not knowing things.

Ok, not exactly like. I'm curious about everything. I like asking strange questions and contemplating possibilities. But I'm ok with not finding solid, concrete, indisputable answers. If I do find that kind of answer I tend to find them incomplete. Flat. One dimensional. Because the world is so much more exciting and complicated than that.

It has been argued that the unknown is mankind's greatest fear, death being the greatest unknown because no one knows for absolute certain what lies on the other side. But life is just as uncertain. Anything can happen, anywhere, at any moment. You can have plans and schedules and ambitions for the future but you don't really know how things will turn out until you're in the middle of them.

It's like reading a book. You don't know for sure how it will end until you get there and you don't want to.

It's like writing a book. You envision the end, plan for the individual scenes, but there are still moments --big moments --that take you completely by surprise. And yet, when you are finished everything fits together even better than you had planned.

There is excitement in not knowing but there is also a peace because you don't have to control the outcome. You let go of it. You trust. Sometimes you don't need an answer. You just need a question.

This is why I was never a mathematician.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

M: Moon

Here are some pictures from the eclipse we had Monday night.

It was thrilling to watch the moon slowly disappear.

Almost like seeing half a month go by in one night.

I wonder what happens to werewolves on the night of an eclipse.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

L: Luck

Webster's definition of LUCK:

a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause

But, as with all abstract words, the meaning of the word varies according to an individual's perspective on life.

Other words that could by synonymous with LUCK:


It is interesting that a word that seems to mean something so specific can get up and run away from you once you try to pin-point exactly what it does mean. It's an abstract concept. Most of us understand it to mean more or less the same thing and yet . . .

That's probably a metaphor. I've never been a fan of trying to define everything all the time. At least not definitively. It is good to be aware that the meaning of words fluctuate but not to try to contain them in a single definition. That would be like, well trying to hold back the tide. Pointless and impossible.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

K: Kestrel

This is a kestrel.

A bird of prey that screeches as it makes its kill.

This is The Kestrel.

A book that changed my life when I was seventeen.

I've read a lot of books that paved the way for how I later came to think, slowly shifting things in my head so that ideas would have room to form. I've also read a lot of books that seemed to express my innermost cries. I've read a lot of books that asked me questions I didn't know the answer to and kept up well into the night contemplating them. The Kestrel is the only book I can remember that ripped into my head, pulled out things I thought I knew, and rearranged them behind my eyes.

This was at least partially because the first time I read it I was seventeen and ready for the inevitable changes in the mind that come with maturity but The Kestrel is also a very powerful anti-war story; brutal but also innocent in the way only a story about the young and inexperienced can be. I must have re-read the trilogy at least three times and every time I notice another master stroke in Lloyd Alexander's storytelling. It's a beautiful book. One that I believe deserved more acclaim that it received for its depth and honest depiction of the human instincts for survival.

Monday, April 14, 2014

J: Journey

"Did we pass it?" Mom asks.

"I don't think so." I answer. "It should be coming up on the right."

We zoom past sprawling clumps of stone and sand, tall pale growths of cacti and ocotillo. Other cars on the road are a whole ten minutes apart. Everything looks the same. Everything looks different. At last we see it. A single sign --no bigger than a foot across -- and a dirt road.

How old was I the first time we came? Nine? Ten? Older than eight. Younger than eleven.

I hadn't been very excited when my dad had told me that we would be exploring the desert. To me deserts were the dry hot place we traveled through without air conditioning to reach our relatives houses. It was the bear wasteland I stared at for hours with my nose pressed against the car window, wondering if we were there yet. I hadn't expected to find so many wild flowers to pick. I hadn't expected to see so many road runners and alligator lizards. I hadn't expected to run back out of the car once we returned to it because we saw we had specks of mica on our shoes from the temporary river bed that ran through the canyon. I hadn't expected to collect clumps of the shiny rock, pretending we thought it was real gold. I hadn't expected to remember the day so vividly sixteen years later.

We almost hadn't made it today. Because the traditional pineapple upside down cake breakfast had taken a long time to make. Because we had shuffled around, arguing over seats and trying to confirm who was able to make it around their work schedules. Because our family has grown in the last sixteen years and because it has shrunk. We had left so late that we hadn't had time to stop at the sod house for a pick nick or at the top of the canyon to enjoy the view.

Only four of us step out of the car once it is parked. Me, my mom, and my two youngest brothers. I turn around. My mom snaps a picture of me.

Normally I would be annoyed. I am annoyed but today I understand why she insists on taking so many. Today I understand the temptation to stop time and keep a moment forever. My parents began this tradition to trace the footsteps of a wise man who lived and died two thousand years ago but as we head toward the cluster of palms in the center of the canyon all I can think of is retracing my own footsteps.

Those are the rocks my brother had jumped on when he was four, declaring to us all that he was Jumping Jeriah Tyler. This is the stretch of earth where we had battled each other with squirt guns. Here is the place my other brother had run unexpectedly into the teacher he had a crush on, miles and miles away from where either of us lived. Here is the riverbed where we had gathered the bits of mica. It is dried out today, the sand covered in salt, with only a few sludgy bits of muddy sand. My mom and I step around them as my brothers rush ahead.

There are no flowers to pick today. It's been too long since the last rain. Our feet press against the earth, driving into the soft, salt covered sand. The white crystals look almost like snow. Then we step up out of the riverbed, onto gravely crumbles of stone specked with minerals that sparkle in the sun. My skirt brushes against the desert shrubs, all different textures of the same colors. Pale green sage and tall gold-brown ocotillo.

At last we reach the cluster of palms. They are different than I remember them. Thinner. More spread out. Some of their trunks are charred black and chocolate brown, caressed but not consumed by a passing wild fire a handful of years ago. Wind scurries through their thick, heavy leaves, sounding like a rumble of thunder.

Here our pilgrimage ends. A two hour drive. A fifteen minute walk. Sixteen years of memories. Here the stones stand still. Here the ground scurries and shifts with life. The canyon is never the same when I return to it. I am never the same.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I: Introverts

I sometimes with there were laws about discrimination against introverts.

I don't mean merely on a social scale. Establishing boundaries in social settings is difficult but can be done. You just have to teach people how to treat you. Be patient and explain to them calmly and politely why you need space sometimes and how it doesn't mean that you dislike them or believe that they have done anything wrong. You might have to explain a lot of times before they understand but eventually most people will respect your boundaries.

I mean in the work place where it's harder to explain to people that you want to be treated differently than they want to be treated, not because either wish is wrong but because you have a different way you spend and gain energy.

You aren't trying to snub anybody when you decide to eat lunch alone. You are re-charging.

It makes you uncomfortable when they constantly ask a lot of personal questions about your life.

It makes you uncomfortable when strangers read your name tag and call you by your private, personal, first name.

It makes you uncomfortable when people touch you or lean into your personal space when they work doesn't require it.

It makes you feel hunted. It makes you feel stalked.

If people notice your discomfort at all they usually decide that it is because you are "shy" and "unsure of yourself" and decide that they will "loosen you up" and "break you out of your shell". They decide they have to change you. They decide you are wrong the way you are because you don't think the same way they do.

If that's not discrimination I don't know what is.

Sometimes I wish I could wear this comic tattooed on my forehead.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

H: Hats

These are my hats

I have more than one. You could probably call me a Mad Hatter if being a hatter was someone who owned hats rather than someone who made them. The mad part is right anyways.

Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, once said that hats used to be worn to show that the wearer was conventional and now they are worn to show that the wearer is not. This is probably true. No one likes to be less conventional than me and I certainly don't wear them to keep my head warm out here in Cali.

In Jewish culture hats are worn to remind the wearer that there is something above them at all times. That the world is bigger than them.

Big hats are also useful to avoid too much unwanted eye contact with strangers. Or to tip at acquaintances when one of you doesn't have the time to stop and say hello properly.

They aren't useful for allowing the people behind you to see in theaters or making your fellows at the dinner table feel respected.

They are perfect for going to see horse races.

It is also worthwhile to note that important figures such as Robin Hood, the three Musketeers, and pirates everywhere wear hats. With feathers.

Also, crowns are a kind of hat.

Friday, April 11, 2014

G: Gender Roles

I think about gender roles a lot. Partially because I am of the historically dominated gender which greatly disturbs me even if, for the most part, things are better now. And partially because cultural anthropology fascinates me and anything that straddles your classic "nature vs. nurture" line is going to interest me.

I could write volumes on my opinions, observations, and questions about the complexities of gender but I won't. Not today anyways. Not here. Instead I shall point you in the direction of a very fantastic book that explores these ideas. A book I re-read this last week and can't seem to get out of my brain (those are the best kind aren't they?). A very fantastic book by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Left Hand of Darkness

You may have read or heard of this book before. It involves an alien race that is unisex. That is, they reproduce sexually but each member of the race is both a man and a woman. It is interesting to see how the society is developed without the social divide --or even distinction of --"man" and "woman". It is even more interesting to see how difficult a man from our world finds building relationships with these Gethenians because he doesn't know how to categorize them or what to expect from them.

Even more interesting than that is the transcendent closeness of such a relationship.

Just some thoughts. Hope you are all enjoying A-Z challenge.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

F: Fire

Fire is one of the main elements of human survival. We need it. We admire it. Or Prometheus would never have stolen it from the gods. It is beautiful. It keeps us warm. It lights our way. But it is also very dangerous.

Living in southern California I am reminded of this every summer and fall. Fire kills. It destroys. It turns beautiful woodlands full of green and wildlife into charred black wastelands with withered tree stumps.

And yet . . . what would we do without it? How would we see? How would we keep warm?

The symbolism of fire is ancient. We all feel it burning inside us, licking against the sides of our souls, crackling at us to let it out. Some of us do. Some of us don't. Sometimes it scorches only us. Sometimes in lays waste to the world around us.

And yet . . . what would we do without it? What would we learn? What would we feel? What would be the point?

In this I am inclined to agree with Frost. Ice is a much more frightening, terrifying thing than even the most dangerous fire.

Monday, April 7, 2014

E: Elephants

I know, I know, I have done elephants for e before and they don't have an awful lot to do with writing or literature but, but

I love elephants

And I saw baby elephants yesterday

and my summer job at the zoo has me selling things in the elephant gift shop (this can be nothing other than fate)

and I more or less consider elephants my spirit animals.

Amazing things about elephants:

Their social system is a matriarchal clan. Kind of like amazon warriors

They're as fierce as amazon warriors

They mourn their dead

The entire clan takes care of their young

They symbolize wisdom

They always look like they're smiling

Have you ever seen a baby elephant play?

Samwise Gamgee was more impressed by the existence of elephants than elves, orcs, dwarves or nasgal.

Friday, April 4, 2014

D: Doctor

Go on. Ask which one! Ask!

This is me, grinning because you said it.

I'm still grinning.

The TARDIS is a lot like a book.

An ultra pass to anywhere in space and time

Bigger on the inside

Box shaped

Maybe that's why I'm still grinning a little. Maybe that's why I was devastated when a certain pair of aquatic companions departed from it and even more devastated this last Christmas when bow ties were no longer a part of its main resident's attire.


But my devastation was short lived because it is the constant whirlwind of change that has kept the show thriving all these years and made it into what it is now. And that's kind of like . . . well any story. You can't progress the plot and characters if you keep them in the same place all the time. That's how you get infamously bad sequels.

Actually, that's also a lot like life. Movement. Change. Run toward it before it gets away from you.

Yes, definitely run. A lot.

So here's to the dance of life, experience, and constantly writing and re-writing stories. They need to be told so tell them.

But no spoilers please.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C: Candlelight

Flicker at me from out of the dark
Burn my eyes with your salient spark
Drip scalding tears, cold thick, and hard
Down from your core --thin, woven, charred.
Scourge the unseen terrors hidden
Beyond your illumination.
Slowly, softly, begin to fade.
When the sky is gone. When all is shade.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B: Bradbury

Surprisingly the first Bradbury book I read was Zen in the Art of Writing

In general I have favored fantasy to science fiction. Mainly because I like knights and prettier dresses and old things but also because in my limited exposure to the genre science fiction focuses on reason and detailed scientific jargon while fantasy focuses on myth and emotions. Science fiction is (often) all head. Fantasy is (often) all heart.

That is not the case with Bradbury.

After reading The Zen of Writing, I was so enamored of Bradbury's prose style --his excitement and enthusiasm for life --that I immediately went and picked up a copy of Dandelion Wine

Followed soon thereafter by Fahrenheit 451

The Illustrated Man

and Farewell Summer

but I think my favorite book of his that I have read so far is The Martian Chronicles.

He doesn't bog the story (for my tastes) down with scientific details and explanations of how maybe this could really happen. He knows it couldn't. The reader knows it couldn't. That's not the point. The point is that within the story it is happening and that illuminates things about us as a people. It is fitting that Bradbury has said that he once claimed not to write with his intellect. Bradbury wrote primarily with his heart and his sweet, sad longing mingled with an unbridled enthusiasm for even life's most mundane shines through in every page of his works.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A: Anger

I believe it was Terry Pratchett who said that you need a little anger with the world before you can really write. He was discussing the differences between his earlier and later works, claiming that his later works have more depth because he had been jerked around by life a little more by the time he wrote them. (I tried to find you a link to the interview for you but it seems to have been lost in the clutter.)

I wrote my first manuscript when I was a freshman in high school. It was a story about a horse who was jealous that the girl who owned her got a new horse. It may have had some fun dialogue in it but the conflict was more or less nonexistent. There was a horse race and a horse thief and an annoying snobby girl and I never went any deeper than that. How could I? I was fourteen. I lived a very happy, very sheltered life and there wasn't much for me to draw from.

At least not the sort of things I would have wanted to write about . . .

Fast forward twelve years. Add some awareness of who I am and what the world is and how difficult it is to reconcile the two. Skip past long hours of loneliness and exhaustion and loss and confusion. The stories I tell now come from a deeper place inside me. I'm not mimicking my favorite authors anymore. I am abstracting words from my soul because there is no other way the scream of my existence can come out.

I am angry with the world. That doesn't mean I don't see its beauty too. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy my life or that I hate the people in the world. It means that I see how much better things could be. It means that I wish I could change the universe with a whisk of my wand. With a stroke of my pen.

So I do. Word after word, I paint what I see. It's terrible and beautiful and it is fueled by the kind of anger that can only exist alongside joy.

What do you think? Do you need anger to write? Do stories need anger to create conflict? Do stories need conflict? Does the world need conflict?