Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Actions speak louder than thoughts

For about three years now, I've been thinking and not doing a lot of things. Tennis classes, a more structured writing schedule, taking a creative writing class, finding out the formal and professional way(s) to submit work to publications... all these things and more have been thoughts and wishes that I never acted on seriously enough to make happen.

Tennis lessons are still just a thought, but I'm happy to report that a more structured writing schedule is at least in the works. As for the last two, I'm elated to report, are going to be a reality beginning August 18, 2008. I've registered for a class at Arapahoe Community College; Publishing Your Work.

How does this translate into creative writing? Well, what's really cool about this class is that along with teaching a writer how to write query letters, book proposals, and bringing in speakers who know the ins and outs of publishing, there is also a workshop deal. This will be extra help to me with all my writings that are publishable from personal essays, to a piece of fiction I'm working on.

I'm very excited about this class and cannot wait to see just what I am missing in the whole getting published equation.

On a different note, I've stopped using the website where I've been getting feedback on my fiction piece. Or what I should really say is that with the knowledge that I can't please everyone, I can only take so much criticism and "I love this!" comments to keep me moving forward. I feel I've gotten all I can get out of this group concerning this particular work, and seeing as how I'm only working on this for the time being, I have no use for feedback, at least from that group of critiquers. I now have two drafts for what I've written so far, and still like the first draft best with a few tweaks and changes. Now I think is the time to move forward with the story and stop worrying about the details that can be taken care of later.

Hopefully, with the class I'm gonna take, the story will not only move forward but be ready to go places.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Of downhills

I haven't ridden my bicycle since I had my mishap last year, which involved huge scrapes, a swollen knee and a completely obliterated wire basket.

Today, I aimed to dust my bicycle off, and get right back on it despite the heat and my worries that I will have another mishap on that steep hill I can't avoid if I really want to have a nice and fulfilling ride.

Of course, dusting off sounds a lot easier than it actually is, because a lot more than dusting was needed. I focused on the basics, like making sure my brakes were functioning, air in the tires, the chain... you know, things everyone should check before going on a bike ride. From my limited knowledge of how a bicycle is considered operatable, I found the tires to be a little deflated, so I took care of those. The brakes seemed to be functioning properly, and the chain wasn't offtrack. There was some dust that I took care of, but other than that, I was ready to go.

When I first started bike riding as an adult, I was still a little paranoid about another nasty fall I had taken on my bike about 20 years prior. I was afraid of downhills, eager to squeeze those brakes and slow down as soon as I felt my bike picking up speed. If the hill was too steep, I would get off my bike and walk it down. I was like this for a while, until my paranoia disappeared with taking the same route each time I rode. I developed so much trust for those hills I started speeding down them, enjoying the wind blowing through my hair and even steering the bike with one hand.

Today's ride was like starting all over again, though the fear factor and paranoia were a lot milder than the last time. I was slowing down on the hills, using both hands to steer, and really getting familiar with my brakes. The hill that caused me to fall last year was scary, but I tried to remain as calm about the speed picking up as possible, and I made it. I got to enjoy biking all over again today, despite the bit of fear I had left over, but I have a feeling it won't be long before I'm enjoying the wind blowing through my hair as I speed down hills and enjoy nature on my bicycle.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A fun evening despite a dull board game

I had the opportunity to sample the Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? board game this Saturday night, and though I don't really watch the show unless I happen to stumble upon it, I have to say the TV version is a lot more exciting. I found the board game to be dull, boring and the questions are either about things nobody who isn't some kind of guru about a subject would know, little else a fifth grader, or even a 30-year-old; or so ridiculously dumb, there's no satisfaction from answering them.

The few times I've caught the show on TV, I've found the questions to be interesting, and at least familiar subjects or keywords; even when I don't know the answer, I can at least guess, but with the board game it was nearly impossible.

I did have fun, nonetheless. My sister and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house, and that was where the game took place. We played by the rules the first couple of times, but then it got too dull, so we changed the rules slightly. Then that got too boring, and so we just started reading the million dollar questions and guessing at those. At which point I realized that I know details about certain subjects that don't answer the question being asked, yet make me feel smarter than a fifth grader anyway.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tube socks and a host umbrella

One of the many cool things I appreciate about AOL are the weird news items they put on their welcome screen. Each time I sign in I get intrigued by at least one news item they've provided a link to, and before I know it, I'm clicking through an endless photo gallery of crazy and sometimes ugly fashion trends.

The latest fashion trend I came across on AOL was that of the tube sock. Apparently, these iconic socks made famous in the 70s are now back in a crazy way. The reason why this is something I feel the need to write about is the fact that as a child, I loved said style of socks. I was girly, loved pink and idolized Disney's Snow White, but I loved my tube socks and wore them with everything.

Though I have more pictures to showcase my tube sock loving phase, I was only able to find one with ease.

I wore these socks with everything from the outfit in the picture, to dresses... and now super model Gisele is sporting them along with everyone else in that gallery. If you ask me, I think my take on this piece of 70s style is the cutest, and most creative. What do you think?

On a completely different note, something very interesting happened to me just yesterday. I was outside, sitting on the swing we have on our deck, and had our umbrella open when a gust of wind came and made the thing not so stable. I decided to close it up, and as I was doing this, I heard something fall on the glass of the table underneath. I looked down, and this is what I saw...

I have no idea what these things are, but to me, they look like baby caterpillars that were waiting to hatch. Their Mama must've put them inside one of the folds in our umbrella and left them there. They were squirmy and remained so for a few minutes, but soon flatlined. I feel really bad for basically aborting these babies, but it was a pure accident, and a very interesting one at that. Ah, the beauty of the outdoors during the summer... however morbid it can turn.

Someone said to write without discrimation

Someone said (the other day) that it's important to write down everything. Even the most mundane details will one day be not so mundane. I always knew this, and in the age of the blog it is now easier than ever to record every detail no matter where you are.

I remember when I used to have one of those diaries with a lock and key, and a cute little satin ribbon to hold my place. It was a green hardback book with an illustration on the cover I don't remember well enough to describe, but for some reason is reminding me of something out of The Secret Garden. This book of mine had green ruled pages and smelled like an aromatic novelty eraser. I loved that book and wrote in it sporadically until I was about 13 or 14. I haven't seen this book in quite some time, what with moving and storing things not of immediate use, but I do remember the sort of things I used to write in it. They were mundane details of my adolescence, but I suspect that if I were to find this book today, I'd gobble it right up like good reading material.

With this blog I've gone back and forth on what constitutes a post. I've even gone back and forth on what this blog's focus is, and now with almost two years in business, I still don't know what this blog is about other than the roller coaster ride that is my life. The only thing that is for sure and constant about this blog is that it's about what has invaded my mind for the moment.

Some posts are about me sitting on the porch and hearing kids in my neighborhood say the darnedest things. Some posts are formal movie and book reviews, while others aren't so formal. Some posts are strictly my news and travel experiences and pictures. Some are just streams of my conciousness, or something I've discovered (like Japanese gum) that I find so fascinating, I must write about it.

Having said all that, I feel that the lack of focus of this blog is what makes it so interesting... at least to me. It's kind of like one of those heart monitor printouts telling me exactly what was fascinating me and occupying my psyche at a particular moment in time, and it's really cool. I already go back and read some of my older posts and either think "Wow. I totally forgot about that," or "What the hell was my problem that day?" I just love having that window into my mind from months ago, and it's so much easier than it used to be to create that window into your ultimate growth in words.

I guess I will continue to treat this blog as I have been treating it all this time, writing anything that suits my fancy. The only difference will probably be more entries, as I plan on really writing everything without discrimination.

In an attempt to write without discrimination...

- One of my favorite TV shows, if not my absolute favorite, is The Golden Girls. It's only natural that I would be saddened by the death of Estelle Getty, who played Golden Girl Sophia Petrillo. She died on Tuesday after having suffered from dementia. I wanted to pay a tiny tribute to her, so I wrote a piece about my love for the show on Intrepid Media, so look for it in the gallery.

- For weeks now, and thanks to the wonderful summer weather, my sister and Dad and I have been going on walks in the great outdoors for exercise. I can't tell you just how nice it is to not be cooped up in the basement doing the same mundane workout on the treadmill. There is so much to look forward to when your exercise is outside, that I'm dreading when the basement is the only option. It reiterates my love for the summer, and warm, snowless weather. Not only does the newly watered grass smell heavenly on these beautiful evenings, but the birds are singing and sometimes I see deer in the distance. Aside from my strength training, which is obnoxious, these walks have eliminated the feeling of dread toward working out. I only wish we could go for bike rides the three of us, because that would make it even more exciting and relaxing. :-)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Is it Hollywood, or just me?" and other happenings

What is it about the summertime that makes people flock to movie theaters? Is it the heat? Is it the highly anticipated and advertised blockbusters that the industry starts drilling into our brains a season or two in advance?

Whatever the reason is, I've gone to the movies in the past two weeks more than I have in years. Last Saturday I saw Wall-E, this Friday I saw The Dark Knight and the following day (today) I saw Kung Fu Panda. That's almost a record for me. It's not like this is the first summer the movie industry has hyped up its productions. Last summer I saw one movie, and that was Ratatouille, which was hyped up and with good reason, because it was great. That was the only movie I saw last summer.

This summer it seems like I can't keep up with all the stuff that sounds good enough to be worth the ticket price. These observations raise a lot of questions for me, however.

Is this a new generation for Hollywood's marketing? Am I just tired of not going to the movies? Are the new movies just that good that I can't wait to see them?

I just don't know. All I know is that this summer I've been gobbling up movies left and right in the theater, regardless of the annoying teenagers and crowds and the ticket prices. Matinees help, as they bring the price down to just $5, and there are less crowds. But is Hollywood just making better movies, or am I just not that bothered by teenagers, who used to annoy me, but now just make me laugh with their cluelessness?

Anyway, All three movies I mentioned earlier in this post were great, with The Dark Knight, the latest Batman installment, as the highlight. Truth be told, before Christian Bale wore the Batman suit, I didn't even like the genre. Even when Christian Bale wore the suit, I wasn't interested in the movie, as much as I was in seeing him, but Batman Begins was such a good movie, that I got a little bit more into it enough to sit through the movie and be entertained. Now that The Dark Knight is finally out, and I saw it, I am looking forward to more Batman movies with Christian Bale and the rest of the great cast. It's a shame Heath Ledger won't be able to reprise his role as The Joker, because he was absolutely phenomenal.

On the subject of writing, I'm still working on fiction by reading about fiction, reading other people's fiction, and writing my own fiction. I'm getting frustrated with the different opinions being thrown at me... some are too positive to be helpful, especially when there are slightly negative ones, and some that are completely negative. I just don't know who to listen to. I know that you can't please everyone, but it's confusing all the same. I'm still taking the critiques and using them to improve and build on what I have already, and hopefully the story will begin to get mostly good reviews very soon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sweetness. The bitter kind.

I've come across a lot of things lately I would, and have described as bittersweet. Just in the last two days, I used 'bittersweet' to describe three things, which is unusual. One of the things I found bittersweet is so trivial, I won't even mention it. The other is two of Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales, and another is the movie Lars and the Real Girl.

Since I still have to finish reading all of Wilde's Fairy Tales, I can't really give a complete and solid opinion just yet, so I will go on to Lars and the Real Girl.

At first glance, Lars and the Real Girl is an odd story about Lars, a presumably awkward young man with such severe dating issues, he falls in love with a life-size doll? At least that was my first impression. I assumed that it was going to be a quirky, maybe even dark comedy. I even expected it to be silly and devoid of any truth or heart. My curiosity made me watch Lars and the Real Girl, and find that it was not to be taken lightly.

The movie opens with shots of a harsh winter setting in what I immediately knew was somewhere in Minnesota. Lars, played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling, watches the world from the window of his older brother's converted garage, where he lives. I immediately noticed that despite his awkwardness, Lars is not the town weirdo. Everyone likes Lars, thinks he's a great and good looking guy. He even has an admirer actively pursuing him. Wait a minute, I thought. This isn't what I was expecting.

Not much time and story passes until the viewer is aware that Lars is a lot more complex than a loser who falls in love with a doll. Lars turned into one of the most interesting characters I'd come across in a long time. His conflict is internal, having nothing to do with the reality that surrounds him of people caring about him and wanting to reach out to him in all kinds of ways, but to no avail. Lars' problem is deeper and calls for a movie of substance and heart, which is just what this movie delivered.

Lars put a smile on my face and tears in my eyes with his struggle to connect with those around him through Bianca, the anatomically correct, life-size doll he orders online. Unlike a weirdo, Lars doesn't hide Bianca and only bring her out when noone is around. He instead introduces her to the community and through her, connects with those around him. This movie has its funny moments, and one certainly laughs at moments where sadness is due, but the heart of the movie is present throughout. Bittersweet is the perfect description.

Lars and the Real Girl isn't a silly movie. Nor is it a dark comedy. It is the story of a young man who knew exactly what he needed, but couldn't attain it on his own. You could argue that Bianca helped him get it, but I say Bianca gave Lars' family and friends the opportunity to give him what he needed. A connection.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Comedy and people

Comedy rears its not so ugly head in the most unexpected ways, I can't help but write about it.

In the past week, I've had two such instances.

The first involves me reading an ad in the paper for a weekly "networking" group meet up, and calling the number provided to get more information. All was going fine and dandy. The organizer of the group seemed like a nice guy. He told me where the meeting would take place and the time, and then asked me where I work. I informed him that I am kinda' sorta' self-employed as a freelance writer and this networking group was a good place to build possible future business relationships.

"Oh, well, this is a group for networking... you know, computer networking," he said.

So, that was the end of that. I got a good laugh out of it. That is, after I got over the initial annoyed state of mind that asked the question "Why didn't it say in the ad it was a computer networking group? Idiot!"

Incident number two is not quite so out of the blue, but it was surprising, nonetheless. I was talking to a friend about a short story I am working on, which she had some idea about from last year when I started writing it, and I was telling her how I had gone forward with the story. I wanted to get some feedback about whether the plot I had come up with sounded interesting. As I told the story like it was something that really happened and needed relaying, I heard laughter.

"What's funny?" I asked.

"That's hilarious!" my friend replied.

It turned out that my story is nothing less than a dark comedy. To be honest, I hadn't thought about what it was other than general literary fiction, and the tip off from my friend was just what I needed to advance the story further and into a more interesting plot. I completely wasn't expecting this particular story of mine to be construed as funny, and now I can't see it as anything but funny. That's the beauty of talking about your work with others, writers or not. It's important to get feedback, otherwise, you're stunting your growth as a writer, as well as the growth and potential of your own writing.

Which brings me to a related, but not really topic.

If there's anything I've learned from reading all those blogs and websites about writing in concentrated doses, it's that writers need people more than any other tool to improve. Who are you writing for? People. Who are you writing about? People. Even when your main character is a mouse, it still has human characteristics, or has something to teach people. And this topic is related, because I was the sort of writer who was embarrassed by their own writing, especially fiction.

In the past week, I've read other writers' unfinished work, given my opinion along with some constructive criticism where I could, and had the same people do the same for me. Sure, I got some "You really need to work on this a lot more. Nice first try, though," and "You don't need to spoon feed your readers." I even had someone copy and paste an entire paragraph and underline all my weak spots, which were plenty. I got annoyed at first, because the same people telling me my story is less than Pulitzer Prize material, were the same people who used 'chose' when 'choose' was in order. I wanted to reply to one lady and let her have it about her horrible spelling. But instead of doing what the crazy part in my head was telling me to do, I went back and read through my story. Needless to say, I am moving further ahead than ever and I feel like the story is coming together and shaping up better than I ever imagined. What began as basically just a moment I wanted to write about, has grown into a story I want to tell and think I have to tell in the best way possible. I couldn't have come this far without people helping me along the way. If it weren't for my friend, I wouldn't have realized the potential of this story and its characters possessing the same humor I enjoy-- dry and dark. Without the people critiquing me online, I would've never realized just how bland some of the dialogue in the story was, or just how interesting the 50s era aspect of the story would be to readers.

I still read books, blogs and magazines about writing, but now I see that more important than any of these resources and tools are people.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Looking to others for inspiration and a long-forgotten toy for energy

So, I'm reading and writing a lot more than I have been in a while, and I like it. Reading what well-known and well-established writers have to say about writing is a great help, and quite the motivator to improve. Since I started my plan to avoid wasting time, I've wasted very little of it and found ways to make the most of my time away from productivity.

I've been limiting my time watching TV and movies to one hour of TV, and one movie if the mood strikes. Of course, these among other rules are only in place during "business hours", which end at around dinnertime. After dinner, I still find myself writing or reading, but I'm more lenient and let myself get carried away with the time-wasting stuff.

Also, during business hours, I've been trying a new, less committing workout to rev my energy up and burn extra calories in the process... jumping rope. WHOA what a rush! I did an interval workout for 10 minutes the other day and was sweating buckets by the seventh minute. It's no toy, that jump rope. It was when I was a tyke, but no more. It is now a quick exercise/torture device to suck all the sweat possible from my body. I like it!

Other than that, things are going great for me, and I was finally able to get rid of the misleading "Read More!" link at the end of each post on this blog. I don't know how I fixed it, but it had something to do with me and HTML... scary.