Stick With It.

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No matter what your endeavor, this is true. It comes across most clearly in my own life when I think about my nearly thirteen years of training in classical ballet.

Although I started to dance at an age when most dancers have been training for over half of their short lives, I stuck with it, swallowing the humiliation of being twice as tall as the other members of my beginning class, and struggling through the most basic exercises.

I really wanted to dance.

These days, while I’m not Misty Copeland by any stretch of the imagination, many of the things I had to fight so hard for, and failed to accomplish over and over, are second nature to me, and in fact are part of my literal warm up routine.

It’s encouraging to remember that the same principle holds true for anything that you want badly enough to fight for.

Oh, and one last thought… more often than not, the fighting doesn’t resemble a glorious battle straight out of Lord of the Rings. The toughest fighting comes with endless pliés (boring knee bends) and ronds des jambes (tracing boring circles with your legs).

Glass.

I recently heard of a psychiatric disorder called the “Glass Delusion” in which people believe themselves to be made of glass. Turning it over in my mind, I decided to try flipping it around. What might it be like if somebody believed the world to be made of glass, and they are the only solid thing in it?

Here’s what came of it.


Broken Glass

Photo by Anita Hart, who, according to this license, allows it to be used for this sort of thing. Thanks, Anita!

“I can’t move,” he said quietly.

“What do you mean?” I asked him. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s all glass, don’t you see? If I move, everything will shatter.”

I stared at him for a moment, then laughed. “Of all the excuses I’ve heard for not getting up and going to work, this one really takes the cake,” I informed him. “But seriously, you’ll be late if you push it much longer, and you know your boss is already ticked off because of what happened last week.”

“Believe me, if I could get up, I would.” There was a desperate note in his voice that made me stop smiling. “But I don’t want to break anything.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him. “You’re scaring me.”

He smiled gently at me. “Don’t be scared. I promise I won’t touch you.”

“You won’t… No. No, stop it right now. Look around. Everything is solid. Nothing’s made of glass in here except the window. What is this? What’s going on?”

Tears welled up in his eyes as he gazed at me. “You can’t see it,” he murmured hopelessly. “You can’t see it any more than the rest of them can.”

He took a deep, shaky breath. “Because you’re made of glass too.”

Like a Bag of Crickets.

You know those bags full of live crickets you can buy to feed reptilian pets? Well, imagine you are holding one of those bags, and it suddenly slips from your hands and bursts open on the floor. Hundreds of crickets go leaping off in every direction, while you scrabble around on your hands and knees, desperately trying to scoop them up.

Some days, that’s what writing feels like.

You start out with a solid idea of what you want to accomplish, then the minute you sit down at your computer, or with a notebook and pencil in your hand, the words go leaping off in all directions, while you desperately dart around, trying to grab one by the leg as hundreds of others crawl under the refrigerator.

I still haven’t figured out a good method for getting the crickets under control.

Good Old Fitz.

So I’m finally reading The Great Gatsby. That’s right. I’ve never read it before this, in spite of my love of Fitzgerald’s writing.

I’m only about five chapters in, so far, but I can already see why it is considered his masterpiece. His writing is so lovely. For the most part, it just flows along, in a friendly, conversational way. And then all of a sudden he will surprise you with a passage of astonishing beauty, like this one:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

I mean. That is breathtaking. Even though taken word for word, it really makes no sense. Wind doesn’t make shadows on the sea. But how else would you describe what it does? And how can something as solid as a couch seem to be a balloon? But that is exactly the right way to convey the mood of the room. Then there is the moment when Tom, who I’m guessing is going to be somewhat the villain of the piece (no spoilers, please!), shuts the windows, and everything collapses. Beautiful.

And from that, he can go into saying something completely absurd, like this short description of a group of Gatsby’s guests:

… a whole clan named Blackbuck, who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near.

When I read that, I literally laughed out loud.

In a coffee shop, no less.

goat flipping up his nose

A Beginning.

Today I am working from two prompts in my little Pocket Muse. I opened it at random, and on facing pages were the words “Your character is being followed.” and “There is a coat. The coat has a pocket. What is inside the pocket?”

I just dashed this out five minutes ago, so don’t judge.


My pulse quickened, and I had to force my feet to keep a steady pace. I mentally reviewed everything I knew about street safety. Head up, look alert, walk confidently… don’t look like a victim. I’d never seen Cowley Street look so deserted. My fingers curled around the mace in the pocket of my coat. Illegal or not, I was glad to have it. The can felt tiny. Would there be enough if I had to use it? There was still one more precaution I could take. I sucked in a deep breath and turned around, still moving in the same direction. “Excuse me, but do you have the time?”

His pace didn’t check. He didn’t seem startled or angry, but neither did he respond to my question. He simply stared, as we both kept moving. My hand tightened around the mace. If he tried to close the distance between us by so much as an inch…

“Give it back.” His voice was so soft I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s mine. I want it back.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen you before in my life. How could I have anything of yours?”

His forehead puckered strangely, and he took two long strides towards me. Whipping the mace out of my pocket, I leaped forward and sprayed it directly in his face. He screamed and doubled over, clutching his eyes, and I whirled around and sprinted down the street.


Oh, yeah, this is going to turn into something. I have no idea what it will turn into, at this point, but it will definitely become something.

Up Front About Backstory.

I love backstory.  Characters with rich histories that form their personalities and worldviews are what drive much of the world’s greatest literature. Backstory is what gives a character’s beliefs and actions psychological validity, and creates an access point for readers to understand and even predict the motion of the story.

Of course, there is a right and wrong way to go about including backstory in your writing. In life, everything we do is directly linked to something in our past, extending the chain back to our birth, or even before; our personality is affected by who our parents are, who in turn were affected by their parents, who in turn… Follow this to its logical conclusion and every story ever written would begin in the Garden of Eden.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which I am currently reading) is a good example of why this is a bad idea. Not content with showing us how Victor Frankenstein’s fascination with “natural philosophy” arose, she chose to take us not only into his early childhood, but all the way back to how his parents happened to meet. The story doesn’t even begin until Chapter Five! By that time, only the fixed idea that the book is a classic, and must therefore have some merit, kept me reading. Fifteen chapters later, I can genuinely say I am enjoying the story, although I’m thoroughly disgusted by stupid Victor. But I’ll save that for my Goodreads review.

So, how much backstory should we include? Ah, time to bring up the good old “Iceberg Principle.”

iceberg

Photo from Flickr.

Just as the main bulk of an iceberg is hidden underwater, the main bulk of backstory should remain hidden. The history is there, manufactured by the writer and affecting the character’s attitudes and actions, but the reader is only shown what is absolutely vital for understanding, and left to infer the rest. The general rule of thumb is to show ten percent of a character’s history.

Readers aren’t dumb. A trace of memory, a short conversation between two characters, is enough to reveal volumes.

When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing.

Even if you have nothing to write, write and say so.

— Cicero

Unfffh.

Guys, I expected to come home from my adventures with so much to write about.

But no.

I’m actually still reeling a bit, and recuperating from a nasty cold, so writing has been very, very hard. Like, massively hard.

So this quote is what I’m living by, at the moment.

Hopefully, this will turn around soon.

These don’t help, either.

Neither does this blog, which I highly, highly recommend.

Ah, so much Shakespeare, so little time.

Where Have I Been?

I’m baaaaaaack!

Malibu Club

Not a too shabby place to spend a week, eh?
(Oh, lordy, I just made a Canada pun. Forgive me.)

Actually, I got home from Canada on Friday, did massive loads of laundry on Saturday (instead of going to my dance classes like I should have), then my brother and I went to a mindblowingly (Yes, yes, Spellcheck, don’t give me that red zigzag. I’m perfectly aware of my invention. If Shakespeare can do it, I can too.) amazing concert by Of Monsters And Men in Redmond’s Marymoor park.

Pardon the blurriness. My phone was too excited.

Pardon the blurriness. My phone was too excited.

spotify:album:1m3D8gkm3nOvIXNR1SvDFA

Then we went to the Century Ballroom in Seattle and danced until the early hours of Monday morning. A few hours later, we met a friend for brunch.

Then I came home and slept for twelve hours.

Normal blogging will resume on either Friday or Monday, depending on whether or not I have any writing to share.