Even if One’s Partner is Barely Tolerable.

There isn’t enough dancing on this blog. I’ve just noticed that. No blog of mine is complete without plenty of dancing. So I’m about to remedy that situation.

Quite possibly my favorite Fred and Ginger routine. Although that’s saying a mouthful. They’re just having so much fun. I love listening to them giggle.

And then there’s this:

My brother and I used to make ourselves obnoxious by zooming around the house shout/singing this when we were about five and six-ish. We didn’t know what “erroneously” meant, but who even cares?

Here’s this, too:

Find me a dancer who doesn’t have a bit of a crush on Misha. Go ahead. Try.

The video quality is horrendous, but the dance quality is top-notch.

Themes of Love and Trust.

Today I thought I’d share some music with you. I’ve been listening to White Lies’ new album, “Friends,” basically on a loop for weeks now. It plays around with themes of love and trust, and does so with a magnificent eighties vibe.

My particular favorite songs happen to be “Morning in LA,” “Summer Didn’t Change a Thing,” “Come On,” and “Don’t Fall.” That also happens to be about half of the album. Whatever. I like it.

Rewriting the Heck out of Stuff.

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I’m doing a lot of rewriting these days…

There’s my NaNovel from last November, which is slowly and rather unsurely making its way toward becoming a decent second draft. And then there is my Future Learn class, “Start Writing Fiction,” which I wrote about last week. One of the first week’s exercises was to write a short character sketch based on the physical appearance of someone we encountered within the last few days. Well, easy peasy, I thought to myself. I can do that like falling off a log. So I dashed one off about a guy I had noticed while I was out swing dancing the weekend before.

Well.

Since then, after reading various excerpts from really good writers, I have been challenged to rewrite that one little character sketch three more times, deepening it and trying new techniques every time.

I only saw the guy once, and we never interacted with each other! What is this madness?Impossible!

But the Red Queen tells us to always believe six impossible things before breakfast.

I have done it. And it’s teaching me a lot about how to access my imagination, let alone how to write decent characterizations.

I’m not really sure how to boil this lesson down into a pithy  thesis statement, but I know it’s an important lesson, especially right now, when I’m slowly chewing my way through a much longer project. It’s good to see what I can accomplish with a bit of elbow grease.

 


In case anybody is interested, here is the first draft of my swing-dancer character sketch:

Early in the evening, the young man danced to almost every song, and never with the same partner twice. He was easy to spot out on the floor, with his red plaid shirt and bright blonde hair, shaved close on the sides but long and side-swept on top.

Halfway through the night, however, he stopped dancing and sat on the side, slouching back in his chair or leaning forward, elbows propped on his black skinny jeans-clad knees. Sometimes one hand would go up to finger the large white ear-gauges he wore, or to adjust his glasses. Occasionally he would pull his iPhone out of his pocket and send a message, but mostly he just watched the dancers, a vaguely melancholy expression on his face. He didn’t leave until the last song ended.

And here’s where it stands now:

He slumped back in his chair, watching the dancers with vacant eyes. Screw this, he thought. I shouldn’t have come. She’s not going to show up. Just another power play, and you fell for it. Again. He raised a hand to touch his ear gauges. They’d started hurting again. Stop it! She’s probably stuck in traffic. Anyway, you didn’t have to get here so early. You’re so obvious.

Benny Goodman’s trumpet blared, and bright skirts swirled past his eyes as the lights dimmed. A creepy feeling crawled up his back. What if she saw me dancing earlier? No that’s stupid. She’s not here. He pushed up his glasses and leaned forward to pull his iPhone out of the back pocket of his jeans.

“You coming? Otherwise I’ll probably head home.” He pressed send and leaned back again. Anyway why shouldn’t I dance without her? I’ve been coming here longer than she has. But those creepy silences…I wish she’d just scream, or throw stuff. Well, I’ll wait a few more songs. Maybe she’s in traffic.

Quite a difference, eh? I’ve put it through several different permutations, including switching to a first-person narrative observation where I come in as a character, because somehow that made it easier to include more details of physical appearance without sounding like a laundry list. When I switched into the character’s own POV, however, I found that physical description went almost entirely out the window, because people just don’t list off their own attributes like that. Unless they’re fashion/beauty bloggers, anyway.

If We Faint Not.

Inspiration has been at a low ebb lately. The last month or so has been full of troubling issues with my extended family, which have been making my life more about “keepin’ on keepin’ on” than bounding along the mountaintops.

Not that it has been all bad, of course. There is still plenty of loveliness in the world. Today, for example, I got to spend a couple of hours playing tug-of-war with a puppy, and the most troubling issue I need to deal with is figuring out how to cook corned beef for my dad’s birthday (Holy cow, I just did the math and it turns out this is his 60th!!!) dinner tonight. There seem to be about a thousand different methods.

But anyway, that is all just rabbit-tracking. Turns out, you can find inspiration even for those times where all you can do is keep your head down and plod:

“And many strokes, though with a little axe,
Hew down and fells the hardest-timber’d oak.”

-Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III

And then there’s this:

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

-Galatians 6:9, KJV

So that’s what I’m doing. This pairing of quotes, by the way, is courtesy of The Bard and The Bible, a magnificent daily devotional by Bob Hostetler that I highly recommend. I’ll probably end up doing a review of it at some point, once I’ve gotten at least halfway through. There’s a blog to go with it, and I love it to death.

Two Truths and a Lie.

So, I’ve started another Future Learn course. This one is called “Start Writing Fiction,” and even though technically I started writing fiction a long time ago, I’m super excited to see where it takes me.

The first exercise we did was to write a short paragraph containing two elements of fact, and one of fiction, on any subject. Then, we were asked to flip it around and write a paragraph with two elements of fiction and only one fact.

Harder than it sounds, actually. Somehow having to combine fiction and non-fiction really got my head screwed up. Maybe you Historical Fiction writers out there are sniggering behind your fingers at me right now, since this is kinda what you DO, but we all have to begin somewhere.

Anywhoo, just a fun little exercise, in case you want to try it.

And here were my paragraphs, in case you’d like to have a stab at guessing where the lies are:

1 Fact, 3 Fiction: 
I woke up to the sound of sirens this morning and groaned, unable to muster any concern about the reason. It’s hard to take an interest in anything on three hours of sleep. Those thoughtless neighbors of mine had another of their wild parties last night. Or morning, depending on how you look at it. There had been a lot of screaming, I remembered vaguely as the sirens turned onto my street.

3 Fact, 1 Fiction: 
My partner gave my hip a gentle shove, spinning me out under the arc of his raised arm. It was our third dance together, spread out over a dizzying night of Big Band Jazz, swirling skirts, and blurred smiles. “Come here often?” he asked as he pulled me back in. 
“Not as often as I’d like.” 
“Well then, we’d better make it last. What do you think about getting some food when this is over?” 
I smiled up at him. “I think that’s a brilliant plan.”

And feel free to post your paragraphs in the comments, if you’d like! I love this game.

Intoxicating Rhetorical Poetry.

While I can’t say that life has grown any less complicated since my brother has completed his edTPA (teacher certification), I can definitely attest to the fun to be had with his intoxicating amount of free time. As resident poet, he decided that we ought to practice poetry together over the holidays. But not just any old poetry practice. Oh, no. That would be much too simple. We should choose a common topic, poetic form, and meter to practice, and on top of that, wouldn’t it be a good idea to add in one of the rhetorical devices discussed in Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence, which I geeked about last year.

For example, last time we did this exercise, I picked the form (sonnet, because I already know I can write decent ones. Yes, I am a chicken.), my brother picked the rhetorical device (Litotes, which is essentially affirming something by denying its opposite), and we settled on a theme of apathy (and also love, since sonnets are the poems of love, after all).

Here was my result:

It’s not as if I do not like the guy.
He’s funny, witty, charming, handsome, bright;
Wealthy to boot. The type a girl would die
For. Anyway, she’d put up quite a fight
Before she’d let some other broad shove in
And take a man like this away from her.
And let’s be honest here: A dropping pin
Would not be heard if he said “Later
I am free. Who wants to get a drink?”
Yet I, who could get him if I wanted,
Can hardly tell myself he’s worth the ink
To write this. Work leaves me undaunted,
Yet love, I guess, just ain’t the thing for me.
Not while I’m sunk in so much apathy.

Yes, I’m aware that the quatrains run into each other. But guess what? With two counts of litotes in my favor (or one and a half, because the first line is kind of… not); as well as some trochaic substitutions, caesura, and enjambment; I don’t really care. I dashed this off in about twenty or thirty minutes. That’s the joyous aspect of not having anything invested in poetry for its own sake.

My brother, on the other hand, is a fantastic poet, and he took about two solid hours to write his.

It turned out beautiful.

But I had more litotes than he did. So ha.*

If this sounds like fun to anybody, here’s a nice list of rhetorical devices. Or alternatively, you could just snag a copy of the book. It’s magnificent, and I highly recommend it.


 

 

*You can tell we’re not competitive at all, right?

Last Year’s Words.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

— T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Nice thought, isn’t it, that we can enter a new year with a fresh voice, leaving behind us all the mustiness of the things we did last year? Of course, my practical brain is reminding me that nobody changes overnight, and we all live with the consequences of the things we’ve done, good or bad. But even so, we don’t have to respond to things in the same way as we have before, and we can change the trajectory of our lives any time we want to.

As much as I tend to be wary and cynical about things like New Year’s Resolutions, I am a big fan of taking stock of my last year, analyzing it for things I did right, so I can continue to grow those things; and things I did wrong, so I can change my course. Invariably, it leaves me feeling more hopeful, knowing that even though I may have screwed up royally hundreds of times, I am not doomed to continue in a downward spiral. A new year gives us all the chance of a new voice.

Carpe Annum.