Monday, July 28, 2014

Matthew Quick, van Gogh, and The Threshold of Eternity

I've been struggling this week. The struggle doesn't have anything to do with my manuscript, The Angel Room, but maybe with subjects covered in my novel. And while talking about these things can be sensitive and a little terrifying (Goodness, what will people think of me?), I honor and value authenticity, so I am going to share this.

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)

Sometimes I get really frustrated with myself because I feel like I've made all this progress and it's really awesome and then all of a sudden, I feel like I backslide into this place I've been before and I'm just slogging through again and it's like, "Why can't I keep moving forward? Why do I have to come back to this place?" And I'm just crawling through the week and it's like the lovely Ann Cannon said during her breakout session at WIFYR14, "You just want to crawl into your bed and grow fur and eat donuts."
And then I've been reading this book, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick, the author who wrote Silver Linings Playbook. It's contemporary fiction about issues similar to The Angel Room actually, but I didn't know that when I picked up the book. And I just ran across a passage on page 211 that says,
"Hearing someone say "happy birthday" -- I know it seems so f***ing stupid, but it sort of makes me feel better all of a sudden.
Just two words.
Happy birthday.
It makes me feel like I'm not already gone.
Like I'm still here."
And then I'm crying with chocolate frosting smeared on one lip (that's a whole different story, because I actually started working out again this week), and I don't even know specifically why I'm crying but maybe I do and it has everything to do with my journey and with van Gogh's journey.

Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889. It depicts the view from his sanitorium window where he was hospitalized at the time following a breakdown.

Vincent van Gogh killed himself at the age of 37 on July 29, 1890. As the anniversary of his death approaches this year, I keep feeling a need to commemorate it in some way. I'm 37 this year. And I've faced that yawning abyss of a planet better off without me. After multiple hospitalizations for mental illness, I survived a suicide attempt  back in 2007, and while I am so so grateful NOW to have woken up in that bed in the ICU seven years ago last April, when I first woke up, I was pissed. I was really mad and sort of devastated that God or the universe or my stubborn and strong body kept me breathing.
As an artist who has been inspired from a young age by the life and work of Vincent, I never really thought about the significance of his age at the time of his death until I entered my mid-thirties. He was so young. He was so brilliant. He was so tortured. And I think, as I surround myself with art and literature and as I appreciate the vibrance of life and as I contrast it with the darkness I've seen, that I understand him. I've thought a lot about that death lately, and about my own death, or rather, the death that could have happened, and I feel such compassion for him. The darkest of times I have now are nothing compared to what I've seen and felt and I never even think about taking my life anymore. It's just an option that's no longer on the table. And I'm grateful. So grateful for that. It's something that Vincent didn't get to live to be grateful for.

Self Portrait

I feel like, in some strange way, every day that I live after July 29, is like a gift to Vincent. It's a gift to everyone else too, because my life is full of people who love me and feel happy that I'm in the world, but I feel such a strong bond with him -- maybe he's almost a Virgil (the Dante's Inferno kind, not The Angel Room kind, although Geary and I talked about how they're the same kind), casting a spiritual guidance on my life and reminding me how precious every. single. day. is. Especially after July 29. Like maybe that every day I live after July 29 is like extending Vincent's own mortal experience somehow, giving him a chance to breathe through 
a monsoon storm,
a cloud of bubbles,
the sound of my children laughing,
the clattering of a grove of aspens,
a progressive bluegrass concert,
the smell of wet creosote,
an amazing chocolate cupcake,
those brilliant Phoenix sunsets,
and saying, "Here Vincent, take these days and unwrap them and hold them close because I know you didn't get to live that July 30 1890, or the day after, or the day after that." And then the gift becomes a gift to me, because I almost didn't get to live the day after that day in April 2007.
Vincent once wrote to his brother Theo, "I wish they would just take me as I am." This sentence is so haunting. Isn't this what we all want? 
I remember that Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime. He didn't get to see the effect his work had on the lives of so many people. 
Then  reading this book by Matthew Quick and stumbling across this passage and crying while eating chocolate, it just shows me again why we write and paint and compose and create. We create to bridge those gaps. To reach other human beings. To share that little piece of epiphany. And how books and art and music can literally save a life. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Waiting Game Begins

I can't believe I finished my 3rd draft and I didn't post about it.

I queried six agents and one editor. Two of the people I queried have the full manuscript. One of the other four already asked for the first fifty pages. Now I am waiting.

I hate the waiting game. You know what the worst part about waiting is? I have a reeeeaaaaally good imagination. So I can imagine all the worst things that could happen. It's just as easy to imagine all the best things that could happen, but I don't like to focus on either one. So I basically have to turn my brain off for the next HOWEVER LONG.

There is no easy way to do this.

I feel like:




And it's only been five days.
How can five days feel so long?
Imma go paint a dog.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wish I Was Here...

You know how different films speak to you at different times in your life?

For instance, I discovered Fight Club when I was buried beneath the black waves of a mental illness. That film named things in me that were a tangled mess impossible to sort. Director David Fincher is in my top ten list because of Fight Club, and probably always will be.

Director Zach Braff is in my top ten list because of his first film, Garden State, which came into my life at just the right time. Remember this scene?

When the main characters stood on top of a dead construction vehicle in the rain and screamed into an abyss. I knew what screaming into an abyss felt like. And that's only one small moment in a film made up of moments that felt achingly familiar -- shots that felt like sucker punches in scenes that felt like dejavu dreams in a film that felt like a transcription of my life.

Today I saw Braff's new film, Wish I Was Here.

The trailer is great, but the title was enough to drive me to the theater. The title speaks volumes and I knew the film would be well worth my time.

Wish I Was Here features Braff as Aiden, a 35 year-old father without mooring. As an out-of-work actor, Aiden struggles with the blows to his self-esteem the lack of a job will deal anyone, along with a feeling of disconnection with his family and ultimately, himself. There's an out-of-body feel to what he goes through, like he's watching it from the outside, which is something I enjoyed so much about Garden State. In fact, there are many thematic similarities between the two films, with a decade of age and experience to separate them.

Kate Hudson is luminous as Aiden's wife, and Mandy Patinkin is brilliant as Aiden's ailing father. And Joey King is almost in a shaman role as Aiden's pre-teen daughter Grace, so sure in her faith where her parents seem so lost. There's a lovely and painful sibling dynamic as well, with Aiden's brother played by Josh Gad.

Aiden tends to drift off when put upon, and throughout the film, we see a spaceman running to or away from something.

In the end, we discover what he was fleeing, and even though I knew what it would be, it made the reveal no less satisfying.

Here's a still of one of my favorite scenes in the film:

When Aiden is disheveled and tired and terrified and he has to face something. Something that stands for other things. And it's brilliant.

A fellow Braff fan on Twitter asked me what I thought of the Rotten Tomatoes grade (poor) and I knew it would take more that 160 characters to explain. 

Poor reviews I read said the film was, "predictable," "unfocused," "mismanaged," "covering no new territory," and that the main character is "whiny," and "unsympathetic." Leonard Maltin said the film never gels, ". . . veering wildly from strident sitcom-style comedy to genuine pathos."

My response: 

Zach Braff knows what he's doing. Every choice he made behind the camera, and in front of it, was in service to this story. The story of a man who is completely lost. Guess what? Life is predictable sometimes. It's unfocused and mismanaged and sometimes we all live eerily similar stories.that all feel the same. Why can so many people relate to each other? Because we've covered the same emotional territory. And sometimes we're whiny, and people have a hard time loving us. And Leonard, life veers wildly from comedy to pathos. That. Is. LIFE.

Braff has crafted a piece of art that tells the story of a disjointed and messy life in which there are moments of pure, poignant beauty. And the film imitates that life deliberately. There are no accidents here. But not everyone will get it. I don't want to comment too much on specifics, because SPOILERS, but I get it. I got it.

I've been experiencing frustration and disconnection and not knowing where parts of myself disappeared to. I was on the phone with Geary last night, telling her about it and WHY doesn't this thing just work out and WHY is it this way and WHAT the hell is with this pervasive zeitgeist of emptiness and WHEN am I just going to get through this and be okay? 

Then just 14 hours later I saw Wish I Was Here.

When the film comes together in the end, gelling into a series of vibrant images as Grace plunges through her fear into a swimming pool of the unknown -- that moment when you push through the depths, feeling as though you will drown any moment, caught in this zeitgeist of emptiness, until you break through into the joy of that perfect embrace that life will inevitably offer -- that's when Wish I Was Here reminds us: life is crappy and beautiful and difficult and messy and poignant and perfect because there's only one. There's only this one life.

Don't forget to LIVE it.

I left the theater changed. And that's the best compliment any artist can receive.

Thank you, Zach Braff, for Wish I Was Here. Thanks for reminding me that it's okay to be a little lost, and that I'm not alone in feeling this way, and that we'll all come out on the other side and just. . . to live.

Friday, July 18, 2014

30 Seconds to Mars and that Deep Dark Place

Back in Arizona, probably for the rest of the year. I really struggle here. I don't like AZ. I never have. And now, after living in Utah for several years, it's jam packed with negative associations that make me like it even less. So I just do my best to stay positive and remind myself that I don't have to stay here forever. My reasons for being here will change as my kids grow up and move out. But in the meantime, the struggle is real.

I think I've realized that I'll fight varieties of depression my whole life. That's a strange thought, isn't it? I've realized that I'm one of those creatives that has to maintain a pretty delicate balance of mental health.

One of the things that's always helped me through is music. But since around 1996, I've had a hard time truly connecting to music and feeling about it the way I did in high school. More on that later.

Lately I've rediscovered 30 Seconds to Mars, who signed with EMI waaaaaay back around 1999. If you know anything about this band, you'll know that frontman Jared Leto is a multi-faceted artist. I dig that, because I have the same thing. I've always found it hard to pin down what I'm best at, or what I'm most interested in. Am I a writer? A painter? An illustrator? A photographer? Should I pursue music more seriously? And what about my intense interest in the art of film? Eventually I decided, why pin it down? Why not just do what I do? All the things I do. And create a world that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for me.

30STM doesn't release albums very often, part of the reason being that Jared Leto is also a professional actor. Here are a few images from some of the roles he's played over the years (yes, they're out of order):

That last photo was taken during the shooting of Dallas Buyers Club, in which Leto's graceful, sensitive, and searing portrayal of the ailing and beautiful transgender woman Rayon earned him an Academy Award.

Besides being a chameleon in front of the camera, Leto is also an artist behind the camera: a film director, creating breathtaking short-film music videos for 30STM as well as documentaries.

And he's a musician. And a visual artist. And a poet.

I admire Leto. I admire his dedication to his craft. I admire the tenacity with which he pursues his vision. I admire his rise from humble beginnings to create a life for himself. I admire his loyalty to family. (He admits that the cohesiveness of 30STM comes from his relationship with his brother, drummer Shannon.) I admire his ability to cast off negativity, to come up with new ideas for creation, marketing, and branding, to interact so closely with 30STM's fan base (The Echelon), to publicly express gratitude for his blessings, and to advocate a life well lived. Mostly I admire that he doesn't allow anyone to pin him down or pigeonhole him. He is what he is and doesn't make apologies for that.

Just a side note about their new ideas for creation and marketing. Did you know their video From Yesterday was filmed entirely in The People's Republic of China? That their video for A Beautiful Lie was filmed 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle? That they incorporated thousands of voices of The Echelon worldwide through a series of collaborative recording sessions called Summits for their album This Is War? That they set an official world record with their Into The Wild tour, playing 309 shows in a little more than two years? That they launched the first single (Up In The Air) from their fourth studio album (Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams) into SPACE, so that it was heard for the first time broadcast from the International Space Station with a live feed for fans to watch?

Nasa Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn talks to Jared Leto
and gets ready to play the single.

Besides all of that, I enjoy the music of 30STM. And when they cover a song? DAMN. Admittedly, I'm a big fan of covers. I love when a band will take something previously written and make it their own, but 30STM does a phenomenal job with this.

30STM started as progressive metal, and have evolved to include symphonic, electronic, vocal, and unconventional instrumentation that give rise to a very experimental sound within the rock genre. They also perform various acoustic versions of their songs that really highlight Leto's unique voice.

Two things I love about their music:

1. These songs are VERY sticky. After hearing them once, they'll be with you for a while. It's a mission of mine to find the magical formula to make my creative endeavors as sticky.

2. The lyrics aren't profound. But they are. But they aren't. Maybe they're profound in their lack of profundity. I think the ideas are profound, but the language isn't, which appeals to me in a way I didn't expect.

For instance, take The Kill, which became my song for the 3rd draft of The Angel Room. (Makes sense when my book is all about confronting the reality of the other side of yourself, no matter how dark it is.)

Here's the second chorus and the bridge:

Come break me down
Bury me, bury me
I am finished with you
Look in my eyes
You're killing me, killing me
All I wanted was you

I tried to be someone else
But nothing seemed to change
I know now, this is who I really am inside.
Finally found myself
Fighting for a chance.
I know now, this is who I really am.

Simple words, but the idea pursues ever deeper layers the more I think about it.

And here are the lyrics from my current anthem, Do Or Die:

In the middle of the night
when the angels scream,
I don't want to live a lie that I believe.
Time to do or die.

I will never forget the moment.

and lines from the chorus and bridge:

Fate is coming, that I know. 
Time is running, let it go.

Here right now, under the banner of heaven,
we dream out loud.

Again, the words are simple, but powerful for what I'm looking at in my life right now. Do I believe the lie (I have to look a certain way to be attractive, I have to accomplish certain things to be successful, I have to do what someone else wants me to do to be worthy of love/acceptance/approval, I have to fit into someone else's conception of what my life should look like), or do I make something, a truth that might be uncomfortable for others but right for me? Do I DO or do I settle on the status quo and let my life pass my by while I wait for. . . I don't even know. Fate is coming. That is, the opportunity to build my own fate. Time is running. Every moment that passes is a moment I'll never see again. How will I want to have spent each one? 

My life is a dream out loud.

Incidentally, the Do Or Die short-film music video deals with this exact subject: the power of music to save those who are broken, lost, or in search of something.

Musically speaking, I've never belonged to such an ardent fan base. And a fan base that seems so. . . trendy? (The Echelon might take offense at that word.) I'm not sure what words I'm looking for. As a geek, I belong to plenty of pop culture fan bases,

 but those things always seemed a little on the fringe. Now they're much more acceptable, as being a geek is trendy in itself. So it's strange to belong to The Echelon, a fan base made up of mostly young people (14-28 generally) who I wouldn't really see as being on the fringe of society, like I was at that age. But maybe they are. Or maybe I like cool things now. And trust me, The Echelon are cool.

Since when did the things I like become cool?

That's very strange to think. But my musical tastes have always been so varied and eclectic, and since 1996, (the advent of my first marriage, up through and beyond its inevitable demise in 2007), I always enjoyed music and it helped, but I seemed to stay on the edges of that love. I think that disconnectedness was/is due to the emotional and psychological trauma I experienced as a result of that marriage. So I've operated out of fear for a while, not wanting to make strong connections with anything other than books. But 30STM has brought me back into those visceral emotional reactions to music, those epiphanic moments listening to a song. The way music can pull me out of that deep dark place.

It's always nice to realize other members of the human race know how it feels.

So thanks, Jared and Tomo and Shannon. 30 Seconds to Mars has changed something inside of me. And Jared: your creative pursuits and your success, which I think spring from how you chase your passion, have inspired me.

Jared says: You're welcome.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Paranormal Normal

Those of you who know me well know that I believe in what many refer to as "the paranormal." Curious as to what I believe in? Just ask me.

The Devil?
Hell yes.
Government conspiracies?
Dream interpretation?
That's right.
Animals experiencing complex emotions?
Loch Ness? Santa? The Jersey Devil? Sasquatch?
Seriously. Santa?
Fo' shizzle.
The Singularity?
Unicorns? Dragons? Angels? Demons? Nephilim? Giants? Talking animals?
Time travel?
Pure, untouched good? Total, consuming evil?
String Theory?
Oh yes.
Fortune cookies?
That all sharks want to eat me?
Telepathy? Telekinesis? Clairvoyance? Levitation?
Mental illness?
Yes. (I have met people who don't believe mental illness exists. I know. I know.)
Whole planets besides ours populated with cities and people and technologies and animals we can't even imagine?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sometimes I'll show my husband and amazing photo and he'll say, "That's totally photoshopped."

And I feel sad for his skepticism.

I feel like I live in a world full of amazing things impossible to explain. I don't want to just look at a photo a dismiss it with a that's totally photoshopped. I like being thrilled and confused and a little bit terrified by things I don't understand. And the thing is, I don't consider these things paranormal. These things are normal. Just because we can't explain them doesn't mean they don't exist in this universe. To me, the universe is what it is, normal and brilliant and people only call things paranormal because they see these things and go, "Whaaaaaat?"

Sometimes I experience things that feel so surreal, see things that are so far outside my normal experience that I have a hard time explaining how strange they are to someone else.

This week I explored another world. A world so bizarre and beautiful that I am astounded by the achievements of human consciousness (like a computer in my pocket) at the same time that I'm just grateful to be on this amazing planet falling through space in an endless universe. And I brought back pictures!

This is a world I return to again and again, to explore and appreciate. (But only on land, because I have a phobia.) I remain in awe at the things we can find on this planet which cause me to marvel. If you would like to read a sci-fi story I wrote about sanctuaries like this one, follow the link and hop over to Amazon to get my short story anthology: Quicksilver Breach. The story is called Priya, and the book is only $2.99. You can read it on your Kindle, or any major smart phone or tablet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On This Episode of Hoarders...

So Geary and I had a serious discussion about hoarding.

Here's how it happened:

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Ever since I wrote my essay, Acts of Grief.

I have a


collection of books. I have been collecting books my whole life. When I visited Geary in Utah after WIFYR week, I went into her room and looked around and thought, "This looks like my room," and then I thought, "Geez, this is a lot of books," and then I thought, "Holy crap, we're hoarders."

I told Geary that we're hoarders and she kind of laughed, because it's kind of a joke, but it's totally not. So I have been consciously and deliberately thinking about it for about a week. Even before I went to WIFYR, I had started thinking about getting rid of some books, but every title that I looked at with the thought that I could get rid of it, I started to feel very anxious.

So I called Geary and we talked about it at length. For about two hours actually. We talked about our WIPs. The emotional catharsis that is happening as we work on them. We talked about the psychological reasons for our book addiction, what we are attempting to avoid, what the real cause of the collecting is.

Why do I have two copies of The Artist's Way? Why do I keep books I KNOW I will never read again? Why do I need the security of this collection?

Our reasons are generally the same for both of us. They have to do with loss and grief and evidence. So we agreed that we're ready to cull our collections. I'm starting with novels.

I know that I come (genetically) from people with hoarding issues, Tyler has hoarding tendencies, and I know the reasons for all of it, but I want to get away from that. When I talked to Tyler about it, he expressed a lot of resistance, and said, "Compared to other things that people could collect, books are good." And yes, it's better than collecting thousands of rats, or empty bottles, or piles of trash. But the REASONS for collecting them are the same. Clothes or rats or or plates or books. The reasons are the same. And the reasons are about things that have, until relatively recently, buried in my subconscious. Now that I've extracted them and looked at them in the light of a rational and consciously decision-making mind, I don't want to carry those reasons around any more.

Here's a box of books that I pulled from ONE SHELF of the book case. It's about thirty books.

Actually, most of my collection is in storage right now, so I can't access all of it. But I gave myself permission to start with the novels and not worry about picture books (even though a couple of them made it into the box), non-fiction, anthologies, or art books.

I took the box to Changing Hands, the indie bookstore down the street, and I filled out the paperwork and checked the box marked "Donate" for the things they couldn't shelve. It was a strangely harrowing experience. But I'm looking forward to doing it with many other books in the future.

I love words and I love the experiences I have with books, but I've realized that I don't need to own the paper on which the words are printed to own the experience and save it in my body. I don't need evidence that I'm a strong, intelligent, cultured, intellectual, well-read woman. I am those things. Those things aren't dependent on belongings. They're dependent on experiences.

Here's to letting go.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book reviews for June

Several of the books I read in June were thematically similar to my novel, which I'm in the process of editing. It's interesting to see how other writers deal with these subjects on the page. I don't have a lot of time, so here are some brief reviews.

Learning Not To Drown by Anna Shinoda

Clare can't really escape from Skeleton, the family secret that follows her everywhere and constantly threatens to pull her into the past. Clare must learn to release herself from her family's dark past and find a life for herself outside Skeleton's influence.

Warnings on: language? Can't remember.

We Are The Goldens - Dana Reinhardt

Written in second-person POV, which is pretty unique and can be off-putting if not done well, this book follows Nell and Layla as Nell struggles with the dilemma of whether or not to alert her parents to a secret she's been carrying.

This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

A poignant coming-of-age, his lovely graphic novel follows the summertime friendship of two girls and their foray into adolescence. 

Warnings on: language.

Midwinterblood - Marcus Sedgwick

This book didn't strike me as YA. I think a lot of teen readers would be lost, but recognize the appeal for a certain audience. It reminded me a lot of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Seven distinct stories in different timelines with certain connected elements lead to a strange and violent conclusion. I found the thematic material and format very interesting. And the prose sparkles. 

Not appropriate for younger readers.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Andrew is carrying a heavy secret, and as the story unfolds and the secret becomes clear, the reader becomes more and more sympathetic to the somewhat unlikable MC. I loved this book.

Warnings on: language, thematic material.