Archive | April, 2010

On Being German

30 Apr

I left London in a bit of a hurry, I am sorry to say my little blog readers.  I was tired and anxious and desperate to get my adventures started, plus the stress of not knowing what I was up to was making it so that I could not move my neck. All of my stress swells up in a ball on the left side of my neck and makes it so I cannot even turn my head sometimes…

But, I have no pain just now. I started off by taking a fairly short train ride into Brussels and having an interesting time walking about that and randomly meeting up with a fellow i went to highschool with. I must say, the world seems to be getting terribly small for me. My next stop was Cologne, or Koln, where I had dinner with a favorite professor’s sister. I keep meeting people along the way, either that I know directly or indirectly, or complete and wonderful strangers.

Today I am waking up in Wiesbaden, the place where I was born and I have to say, I could live here. It is not a bustling city, the way London is, but it is full of parks and flowers and I just bought the most delicious strawberries to ever have existed (they were so sweet they almost didn’t taste real) from a farmer’s market in the center of town. The people are friendly and tonight I am going to a party at a tea house that I was invited to while eating at a resturaunt last night. The owner took pity and a liking to the lone traveling girl who was here to visit her birthplace. I’m excited to go.

Not getting any writing done, but putting notes to gether and, as they say in Cold Comfort Farm , collecting experiences.

Apologies for all my typos, German keyboards have all the letters in new places!

Words as Weapons: Sharpen Your Claws Wisely

22 Apr

 

When I was a beautifully cruel middle school diva, I perfected the art of the biting letter. That’s right, I could write you, anyone really, a bitchy letter that would leave you in tears. I had some how managed to sharpen my writing skills in such a way that I could hone in on anyone’s flaws, obvious or deviously hidden, and draw them out into the nasty, fluorescent light of day. I am proud, nay, smug, to say that I made more than a few of my frienemies burst into hysterical tears in high school. Honestly, they should not have slept with the boy I liked or called my best friend fat or put mashed potatoes in my hair. Probably. I mean, they probably deserved it. Well, looking back on it now, I maybe should not have given them something to read and re-read and dwell upon and break their self esteem even in the absence of my demeaning presence.

But I did. Because I know the power of words. I know that a girl can forgive her boyfriend for cheating on her. But only if she doesn’t read the emails between the two secret lovers describing the awful things they have done to each other or want to do to each other. I know a wife can forgive a husband that sneaks through the underwear drawer of their au pair because she only has the sneaking suspicion, and wives have learnt to ignore their first jealous intuitions. But to read a letter from the au pair, left on her desk, listing the transgressions against her husband, would lead a her to read and reread and have the images of her beloved standing over a lace bra for a body two sizes smaller. You see, it’s just as they say: your eyes can play tricks on you. You can decide that you have been deceived by what you saw, like a child in a darkened bedroom, sure that the shadows on the wall are creeping demons coming to sneak under the covers, but then shaking it off, knowing that their mind is unreliable, it could all be a ridiculous nightmare.

But a story. But words. When you add words to your fears, it brings them alive. Other people can share the exact same feelings of worry, anxiety, stress, desperation. Or even better yet, you can instill that fear into a person. You can try to create an anxiety that didn’t previously exist. Or you can try and find a flaw in a person and exploit it for all it’s worth.

Like I said, I am the queen of this. For some reason, after years of being the quiet girl in the corner, always listening, paying attention to details in conversations, even when the speaker thinks they are performing an interior monologue to a disinterested audience, I have managed to always know people’s character, for better or worse. The smallest flaw, the piece of a person for which their self-esteem is tied to, is easily rooted out by me, a sex-starved pig in a field of truffles. It’s the curse of a writer, to be able to identify pieces of people that others just don’t notice right away.  Part of me is always hungry to learn every sordid detail about everyone, to assemble a person like a jigsaw puzzle and them be able to break them down into pieces, keeping the useful bits to one side, knowing I can build a person up or tear them apart with equal ease.

However, I no longer write angry, cruel letters to people. Partially, it’s because I’m an adult now and when I get angry, I simply leave a situation or people. But I rarely do because being able to so easily identify the horrible bits of people has a good side: I can also identify the beautiful parts with equal ease. My life as an adult has been about focusing on the wonderful bits of people that others don’t readily acknowledge and finding fast friends in places that are often overlooked. I want to see the good in people. It’s what allows me to ignore my intuition when say, a valuable ring goes missing from my jewelry box and no amount of household searching can find it. Then, when it magically re-appears, as though stolen by fairies and returned after the fae-ball, I dismiss all notions of thievery because I have no proof. Only my unreliable mind’s eye.  And as I said earlier, you can forgive all manner of sins when you only have the hint of wrong-doing. But I also like to think that my lack of letter writing these days is because I am a better writer than I was at 15. Now, don’t get me wrong, the wit and biting tongue I could wield towards other little girls would certainly make a nun blush, but these days, I have honed the rotten delicious skill of removing myself from the direct line of anger and writing pieces that appeal on a more ‘general’ level. No longer do I engage in tit-for-tat, arguments for the sake of arguments writing. I don’t swoop at the low blow or make up silly details, spinning out my fiction into unrealistic lies. I am not M. Night Shamalan. I am Hitchcock: I won’t write a horror story without a million grains of truth to rest it on. And the truth of a character should be as frightening when written out as a newspaper article, with bold, bland, wording fit for a third grade reading level, as they would be with pages and pages of flowery prose propping them up.

And an angry letter just doesn’t do that. It doesn’t reach enough people. Not even an open letter. But fiction. Now that reaches a huge audience. Would you be surprised to learn that a relatively high number of people read  this very blog? It surprised me, but pleased me very much. Because, to quote the imaginary Chaucer of A Knight’s Tale,

I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.

Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to piss off a writer?

I firmly believe that the only people who write angry letters are those who feel powerless, as though they need to justify themselves to the one person who has held something over them. Frustrated that their world is not what they thought it to be (oh dear me, why are all angry letters so sad, outlining the many transgressions against the writer, with nary a cohesive thought, just convoluted insults mixed with a pity me attitude?), they want to have that confrontation, to bait the reader into a fight. And this works very well for 15 year old girls. A letter would cause a crying fit, which brought on a fight, which allowed everyone to say what was going on in their minds. But for adults, especially those with mortgages for houses in sad London suburbs, maybe it’s just best to take a deep breath, burn some incense, and chant your way towards inner peace and acceptance that sometimes it’s just better to leave the writing to the professionals and maybe focus your energy on something more productive, such as cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m sure children can learn to love aspics nearly as much as nutritionally devoid processed fingers of food. However, if you truly wish to cause some serious emotional damage to the recipient of some such letter, and that should really be the aim of an angry letter, might I suggest hiring a professional writer for the job? We really do know our way around words and I promise, we’ll send off a letter that won’t be skimmed through and then discarded idly.

Things I Love Thursdays

15 Apr

This has been, as some might say, a shit week. But, frankly, every black cloud has a glitter gold lining and here is what mine is made up with…

<3 Deb and Morgan. They are more than just as nice as a basket of kittens, they are also as generous as the Giving Tree.

<3 Shoreditch.

<3 mugs with bunnies on them.

<3 8 mile walks through the city of London in the sunshine so I can see all sorts of bits of it I never saw before.

<3 Baker

<3 Flight of the Conchords on dvd

<3 my lovely sleep mask and my teddy bear

<3 my amazing friends who rallied around me even when they could have been participating in an awesome gay rights flash mob on capital hill.

<3 delicious home cooked meals, vegan style. Oh, I feel so much better already, just eating real, homecooked food again! Nothing processed! Nothing packaged! Just yummy vegetables…

<3 Knowing I can read a map and having fun adventures where I don’t get lost at all!

<3 watching Psycho on the big screen with two of my favorite guys, eating chocolate. It’s okay to have a little bit of a crush on Norman Bates, right?

<3 infinite cups of tea.

<3 Bulgarians!

<3 long talks over greek food.

<3 popcorn made with vanilla butter.

<3 the fact that my friends are all such amazing cooks that most of my happy memories this week revolve around food! I love food…

Real Writing Advice, Part Two: Ideas

14 Apr

writing

I am incredibly bored with reading writing advice. Like productivity blogs, writing advice blogs are the spam of the of the internet, even more ubiquitous than porn. And sadly, not nearly as much fun to look at.

Writing advice seems to say really dull things like, “Don’t worry about selling your story, worry about writing a story that will sell itself.” Yawn. Thanks, that’s really helpful. So, how do I do that? I would love to just sit at my desk and go, yes, I am writing a story that will sell itself.

My last post on this tackled the real issue of avoiding distractions. Distractions can be the devil and when you need to buckle down, that’s a great article for buckling down. But of course, if you have no ideas, all the buckling down in the world ain’t gonna help you create anything. It will only allow you to rack up hours of chair time and a real working knowledge of the wall in front of your desk.

Currently, as I have said, I am staying with friends. I had previously thought that my job allowed me enough free-time to write to my little hearts content. I will, just two days into living with friends, admit I was wrong. A lot of jaws of people who know me quite well are dropping right now, after all, I rarely admit to mistakes. But yes, my thinking that endless hours of alone time would breed creativity was wrong. I still maintain that, as described in Writing Advice, Part One, you do need time to yourself to get any real work done. But you need other people to gather up ideas.

So, here is my inane writing advice that I advise you all take…

1. Move.

No, seriously, move. It doesn’t matter how happy you are or that your brother lives just one house over and that you have your kitchen walls painted a beautiful shade of lavender that you spent hours choosing in Home Depot. There are no new ideas where you are. My friend Nick spent five years in China and not only did he learn Mandarin, he wrote a book which has just been published. Jason moved to the UK and learned to think outside of the box that he was always writing in when he lived in middle America. His writing has a new depth, not because he has a new cast of characters to write about, but because it is much easier to write about things that you are not in. A writer needs distance from their subjects, just the same way a scientist does: writing needs objectivity. So, while you should always write about what you know, you shouldn’t be doing what you are writing about at the same time. Sure, there are authors who write about their jobs while they are at them and some of these books are very successful. But they are exceptions. And, to quote my favorite comedian, Greg Behrendt, and also relate writing to dating: “You aren’t the exception. You are the rule.” So don’t try and argue because if you were writing something sheer genius at this moment you wouldn’t be looking for advice, you’d be writing. Or drinking.

2. Live with other artists.

Live with musicians, actors, writers, painters, designers…whatever you can find to live with. Even if they are crazy, you will probably learn a great deal about yourself by watching what they do. At best, you will find them kindred spirits you can bounce ideas off of and maybe even work together to create things. And, if you are a very lucky person, you will live with people who will understand that sometimes you get caught up in your work and forget to make dinner and then they bring you some. And sometimes they will bring you rhubarb cake with rose petals on it. But you have to be very lucky for that. It’s also useful as a time saving technique: if you already live with your friends, you aren’t wasting travel time and you can have a quick cup of tea or watch an episode of Arrested Development together when you need a break from work and then head right back to your room afterwards.

3. Go for a walk every day.

I love being outside and yes, vitamin D and sunshine are going to make you feel fabulous and refreshed every time. And you know what, take a camera. Take pictures of everything. Be a tourist in your own city. Look into people’s windows. Imagine what goes on in there. I used to live next door to some people that had two front rooms chock-full of religious iconography and heavy velvet curtains. I had all sorts of stories in my head about what went on in there. Talk to people. Pet dogs and smile at children, even if you don’t really want to.  Buy some flowers from a flower market or stall, which you can later put on your desk. Drink some juice and sit in the grass. Or stomp in puddles. Or make snowballs. Or whatever.

4. Cook every single day.

Make something in the kitchen, whether it’s a rhubarb tart or salmon and couscous, turn on some music, dance around the kitchen and make some food. Cooking is a creative art and you have to feed creativity.

5. Join a writers group.

Or a book club. Doesn’t matter really, although they are clearly two different things. But mainly, both will help you hone your debating skills and you get hear all sorts of opinions. You should always be sharpening your wit and also, ignoring the advice of Stephen King. Telling your opinions to people you don’t know is good practice for this. Maybe you will think everything everyone says is rubbish, but maybe they will say it in an interesting way and you can steal the dialogue.

6. Go for drinks with random people.

I once wrote a brilliant short story (if I do say so myself) based on a conversation in a pub between three mathematicians discussing how many cups of tea they would have to make for other people in order to get to heaven. It was a bizarre conversation, but it was an amazing jumping off point for me. And I would have never thought of it myself as I hardly know math at all. So, random people know random things that you had no idea about and again, you can steal the dialogue. Not that writers steal stories

7. Get experience.

You know, go to a yoga class or try out Buddhist meditation or take a philosophy class or read every book on the third bookshelf in the fourth stack over from the window in your library or volunteer to take dogs for walks at the SPCA. Maybe just get drunk and go swimming in Trafalgar Square. Whatever. Anything at all. Again, you will meet interesting people that you can steal ideas from, but also, you will now know something new and that broadens what you can write about, if you are intent on writing what you know.

 chgrassstainswy7

8. Write short stories.

Novels are overwhelming and when you are sick of writing they will crush your soul. Write a short story. If that’s still too much effort, write a poem. I know, I know, poems are hard work. I have poet friends. But I did not say write a good poem, I just said, write a poem. Prose poems are great because they straddle the line between a short story and a poem and you can be vague and weird all you want. And honestly, once you get the emotions out, which is the crux of any story, you can focus on the details and the structure. So, a lot of times, a hastily written prose poem is basically brainstorming for a short story, which in turn can be a jumping off point for your novel. Baby steps is a perfectly legitimate way to walk.

9. Ignore everything but yourself.

I know, I know. Sounds like the opposite of everything else I have just written, but um, it’s not. Because when I say this, I mean, you rock. Wear what you want, sing aloud on the tube if you want, spend 15 minutes inspecting a piece of pavement that intrigues you. You aren’t wrong in wanting to do any of those things. Everything you like is amazing and you can write about anything you like. Don’t be afraid or ashamed or worried about what you write, that someone won’t like it or god-forbid-if-this-gets-published-my-mother-will-be-so-upset. Don’t “write a story that will sell itself”, write a story that you don’t care if it sells. Write something that makes you feel powerful or happy or cleansed. If later on, after you have something completed, you think to yourself, well, great, but if I just tweaked this here and rearranged that bit, then I bet someone would publish it and also, my mother wouldn’t cry herself to sleep at night, then do that. But save the first draft and keep it for yourself. Write honestly and worry about making it palatable for other people afterwards.

10. Watch a lot of TV.

I don’t know why, but it helps me when I want to write dialogue. I feel like even when I am not writing about anything even remotely close to what I am watching, just getting down the pattern and the pauses that people use when they are speaking is very helpful. Terrible TV with bad acting is useful as well, after all, you want to know what not to write as well, don’t you?

11. Eat cheese.

Cheese has an awful lot of morphine in it, which is relaxing in small amounts and downright ethereal in large amounts. I recommend Stilton with cranberries or blueberries mixed in, eaten with a french baguette.

12. Tell all of your stories verbally, on the phone, to your friends.

Don’t even tell them it’s your writing. Treat it like it’s gossip. Tell it and see what they think of the plot. They can’t see  you, so how your face moves or what you are doing with your hands can’t influence them. Tell it to a lot of friends because, as I explained in this post about the art of self-editing, each time you tell a story, you work out the important bits and refine your tale a little bit more. This should actually help you cut down the editing later on. Also, my friends and I had a discussion the other day in a taxi about men who sell derivatives for a job. Nothing against these type of men, as all the ones I have met are very very very nice, but it did take A FORTY-FIVE minutes to explain his job to me. M says, you should be able to explain what you do in 10 seconds or less. I took it one step further and suggested that your job title should be able to describe your job pretty accurately, if not your specific field. To relate this to writing: if it takes you longer to sum up your novel than it would to read the first paragraph of it, you don’t really know what’s going on in it. I freely admit that this is a main problem I have. My novel is not finished because I still can’t write a plot summary, so I’m going to keep working on it until I can.

13. Post-It-Notes are amazing.

Along with the last suggestion, the idea of having a post it note above your desk or on your computer screen that says: THEME and then what the theme of your work is, is apparently very very helpful. Again M (can you tell we drink a lot of wine and discuss writing a lot?) says that some famous author, whose name escapes me just now, does just that, so that when he is writing he is constantly reminded of the purpose of what he is writing. He won’t get distracted by a great line that doesn’t serve his larger purpose. He probably writes it down and tucks it away for something else, but he won’t put it in any piece that it doesn’t fit with the theme.

14. Collect pictures.

Pictures you took, your friends took, pictures from magazines and books. Post them around. Take them down. Color on them. Write on them. Write stories about them. Use them as a visual reminder of the settings of places in your writing or the characters themselves.

15. Write love poems to food.

Why not? If someone makes a particularly fine lemon Bundt cake and it makes you cry from how lovely it is, write it a poem. It’s the perfect thing really: you have a specific topic and central theme and character, it’s silly, it sharpens your wit, and anyone would be overjoyed to read an ode to their culinary skills. Also, it helps you appreciate the small things in life and duh, the only difference between the tired plot in your novel and the plot of every single other book is the details. Learn to focus on the details.

16. Set a deadline and then procrastinate until the last minute.

Seriously. Be just like my friend Deborah. I previously wrote a post about my playwright friend Deb and how to be more Deb-like. But I’ve also noticed, recently, that she has another interesting trait that I think could work quite well for other writers: meaningful procrastination. This is to say, she is most productive when she knows something needs to be done very very very soon. So, she spends most of her time happily working at things, but gracefully enjoying herself as well, not killing herself over stress at all. And then, a week or so before something absolutely positively must be finished, she buckles right down and let’s the pressure spur her creativity. Everyone around her knows how important it is for her to get the task at hand done, so they give her space and don’t pressure her into doing social things. People respect deadlines. And all the time up to the point where she has to sit in her room for five days straight, she’s experiencing all sorts of amazing things. Which goes along with tip number 7. An also with this fantastic Calvin and Hobbes comic…

calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-2

calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-3

17. Collaborate.

M has been taking a screenwriting class and it has been giving him great ideas for his own work, but it has also made him very good at editing and offering people useful advice on their work. So, now M is working with me an pretty much all of our friends on different projects and he says it’s making him feel more creative. Again, anytime you get to bounce ideas off of other people, something amazing should stick to you. And also, if you are in any way stuck in your own work you really should be doing anything you can do to not be staring at the wall, bashing your head against the desk in frustration at your dearth of creativity. Hanging out with other people makes it socially awkward to self harm, so you’ll have to focus on something else, like gathering up ideas for your writing.

18. Take a Bath.

This is something I like to do on a daily basis, mainly just because I like bubbles and swimming and a bath combines these two very amazing things. But I suggest it, not to relax you, but because I never have more ideas than when I can’t write. Like when you are at a very boring meeting at your office and all sorts of ideas come flooding into your head, when your hands are soapy and you can’t be anywhere near a laptop and even paper is awkward, that’s when you your brain goes mad with ideas. So take a bath and close your eyes and play some relaxing music and I promise you, even if nothing else worked, this will. Plus, after a long day of doing all the above tips, you are really going to need to clean up before bed.

Okay, I am spent. So all you get are 18 tips. But when I say “all” I actually think 18 is quite a few because I checked pretty extensively what else was out there on the internet and I think I managed to give you 18 tips that haven’t been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam. Plus, you got some Calvin and Hobbes comic strips to amuse yourself with. My generosity astounds me…

What Your Favorite Horror Movie Says About You…

13 Apr

 

This week, all over London, Psycho is being played on the big screen. Being not only a Hitchcock fan, but also a lover of the morbidly frightening, this has certainly put a smile on my face. Which does actually surprise me, because as a child I found E.T. too frightening to watch and yet here I am, having to admit to myself that all of my favorite movies are horror movies.

I don’t understand how this happened, how the movies on my ipod, you know, the movies you like so much that you buy a second time on itunes so you can watch them on plane rides, long train journeys, or in a doctor’s waiting room, are all horror movies. Rosemary’s Baby, Sleepy Hollow, May, The Others, Silence of the Lambs (although of course, I think good old Hannibal may be more likely to be classified as suspense or a thriller, but Buffalo Bill gives me the shivers!) all keep me company in my loneliest and most bored moments. But why? I suspect that my other girlfriends, when having a down day, pick up Bridget Jones or 27 Dresses, or, if they are very literary girls, maybe Emma. I think my more whimsical friends have mentioned that they always watch Hello, Dolly! or The Wizard of Oz.

So why do I, why does any girl, like horror movies? Turns out, liking horror movies may actually be the most normal thing I’ve ever done. In M’s screenwriting class the teacher informed the students that the number one target audience for horror movies is teenage girls. Childhood memories of sleepovers in parents’ basements watching Amityville Horror  and Chucky come swirling back in my head. All the popcorn and cookie dough and giggling screams and sneaking into the kitchen to get candles and mess with the Ouija board and play light as feather stiff, as a board all the while, terrified of the darkened bathroom where we dared each other to taunt Bloody Mary into coming and killing us. Or later on, being 15 and home alone for the evening, watching Candy Man and shivering in fear, falling asleep on the couch with all the lights on and the dog at my feet. I was not unusual in my need to be scared by a movie instead of the real horrors of being a teenage girl. What with bitchy, backstabbing girlfriends, cruel, dopey, or sex crazed boyfriends, ignorant or worse, down right abusive parents, the fear of untrendy clothes, acne, weight gain, bad grades, terrifying teachers, SAT prep…who could blame a girl for wanting to watch someone get their head sliced off by a monster in a woods? Frankly, there were many a night when I wished someone would shred the flesh off my bones rather than having to  get up for another day and another math test.

But really, what does a love of horror say about you? Does the movie you love to watch explain a lot about you? I think maybe the horror movie test is the best sort of personality test. I say this because there are vast sub-genres involved in the horror genre and frankly, despite my initial feelings that I don’t like horror at all, I in fact love the sub-genre of spooky-supernatural thrillers. I love ghosts, demons, twisted fairy-tales, the whole idea of mythology brought to life in a normal world. Rosemary’s Baby, The Others, Sleepy Hollow, these all follow the form. These movies seem to me mostly about the plot, about the art of storytelling. They send shivers up your spine all the while making you love and care for the characters. I feel deeply invested in Mia Farrow and so when she hurts at the end it’s like a knife in my own back; I feel sick on her account. But, I still feel like these movies are dreamy. Nicole Kidman in The Others is a romantic heroine, with her soft hair, beautiful dresses, and quiet voice. Rebecca, one of the most deviously romantic books made into an ethereal ghost story where the ghost is not even an actual ghost, but the most real sort of dead person: the kind that hangs about in your head and haunts you even when the lights are on and you are surrounded by smiling people. What you cannot see is what stays with you; you are obviously imaginative and can create horror in your head that is far greater than anything a director could create on screen. After all, nobody knows your nightmares better than you do. I think you are a romantic at heart, easily swept up in the moment and you probably are interested in different religions and philosophies.

Then of course, there are the slasher flicks, like Saw, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street. I honestly would have assumed these would be mostly targeted towards boys, because when Saw came out I distinctly remember thinking, “Only a sick 15 year old boy would want to see that shit.” Turns out, that, although I have never and will never watch any of that series of films, an awful lot of girls I know have watched at least the first and second movie and even made the argument with me that they were “psychological thrillers.” I sort of doubt that. I think it’s sweet that they are trying to intellectualize a film to justify why they like it, but truth be told, there is no reason why a woman cannot just say, “I’ve had a stressful day and I want to know that someone else’s day is way worse than mine.”  It’s a fact that more horror movies are created during a time of economic problems and I’m sure that slasher flicks are the majority of these. After all, it makes perfect sense for a person who is so deeply entrenched in their own personal problems is not going to be able to amused or entertained by a slow moving film such as The Others. A movie with long stretches of eerie silence would just leave that sort of viewer with plenty of time to reflect and think about themselves. But what they need is a massive amount of stimulation, something that will keep their minds active, focused on what they would do in the hero’s place. So, not only is it entertaining the viewer with intense bursts of action, it’s also allowing them to notice what they could be doing better, to outwit the villian, to prove themselves brilliant and cunning. Even when a person dies, the viewer is left thinking, Ah but that wouldn’t have happened to me! I would have done this and that and made it home alive! The viewer is the ultimate winner because the bad guy will always die (ah, sweet, perfect justice!) and they, along with the hero they have been rooting for, survive, strengthened by their adventure.

Or what if you love zombie/monster movies? Even when they are humorous, like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, monster movies, from the traditional (King King, Godzilla) or more modern (Alien), are terrific for the person that has, or perceives to have, a specific enemy. While the slasher flick lover is terrified of the world around them generally and would love some order, the monster movie watcher is angry at or frightened of something very specific. A mean teacher, a lousy boyfriend, a wretched boss, or something darker. Having a clear cut enemy that you can tell from a distance is a bad guy with a single look (after all, even from 500 feet a way, you can see that a zombie is a zombie. You’d never let that guy take you out to dinner and he’d never be able to sleep with your best friend and you have every right to take a shotgun to his face and no one is going to tell you off for it) is a very reassuring feeling. Monster movie watchers want reassurance that the awful things in life are obvious and not sneaky and that everyone you know wants to fight them as well. After all, it wasn’t as though Godzilla attacked NYC and only one guy thought to stop him while the rest of the city walked about with their heads down, reading the paper.

Of course, there are strange crossover films that can fit into more than one category; Dracula springs to mind. After all, there is a romantic love story, mythology, supernatural beings, and a monster. Or movies that I am not sure what category they fit into, movies like The Shining, where there’s a pretty clear monster, but he isn’t what we thought. And there’s ghosts, but there is also an awful lot of blood that movies like The Others are lacking. I love movies like these, and so do most people I know that watch any sort of movies, even those who aren’t particularly inclined to love horror. I think when a movie blurs so many lines it increases its’ mass appeal, thereby making it a classic.

I think too often writers I know dismiss horror films as derivative, their scripts generic, created for the lowest common denominator in the room. Even if that were true, which I don’t think it is, I do have to quote Oscar Wilde and say that “All art is quite useless” and why not just make art for arts sake? But then, horror films, sitting right there, without shouting that they will make you think or change the way you feel about things, like so many ‘intellectual’ films do, actually do change the way you think and feel, even if it is just for the duration of the film. They distract you from the petty ramblings a mind can sometimes get into, the horrible way a person’s brain can repeat a bad thought over and over again like a mantra, making one ill just from their own personal ghost that is mind fucking them. A horror movie scares you into appreciating that real life ain’t so bad, because, as I always say, if you haven’t been raped by the devil or thrown down a hole in a basement and forced to ‘put the lotion on’ by a cross-dressing psycho-path, your day can’t be all  that terrible.

Just For Fun

13 Apr

I’ve been getting pretty deep lately…ai, me. This morning I watched Psych as I was waking up though and it made me smile because it heavily referenced Hitchcock and even Silence of the Lambs. You should totally watch it…

Psych, Episode 16, “Mr. Yin Presents”.

The Art of the Self Edit

12 Apr

M says that each time you retell a story, you refine it, you learn what works and doesn’t, it all becomes more dynamic. That’s what it means to edit as a writer; it’s the same as anyone does, everyday, with a juicy bit of office gossip. You start off with a long drawn out story, heavy with details you think cannot be left out of the telling, but by the 16th time you’ve told it, your words are sharper, the details cut down to the bare minimum, and your language emphasizing just the most important bits with ease. Your story takes half the time to tell and you’ve memorized your lines and your inflections like a Shakespearian trained actor. Now it’s not so much an amusing antecedent as it is a polished monologue, ready to be whipped out at a moments notice at parties or with a conspiratorial whisper by the water cooler.

Bad writers, like bad gossips, never learn the art of the self edit. They drag you along through superfluous words and run on sentences and punchlines in the wrong spot and they end up with a convoluted plot that no one seems much interested in paying attention to. Their tone is wrong, their voices trail off at the wrong bits, and at the end you are dissatisfied with the way it all went and feel a bit like you wasted quite a large chunk of your time.

I’ve got the best story to tell just now, but it hasn’t been lived-in enough to get the re-telling just right. All the facts and quirky details seem dead important, but it’s still taking too long  to tell the story. It’s still winding around the point, it’s still meandering for too long, and even I am wondering how it’s going to end. Because I’ve got the beginning (girl moves to a house of strangers in a foreign land) and a middle (girl begins to suspect said strangers of doing terrible, weird, and perverted things), and a climax (strangers are weird and perverted in ways she could never have fathomed– a Hitchcockian twist, not a David Lynch surprise), but how is it all going to be resolved?

As M says, my last few weeks, culminating yesterday with a home movie that would make David Lynch shiver with cinematic appreciation, would make the most awesome horror story. I wonder: if we write the script, could we get Roman Polanksi to direct it?

But what should I edit out? If I work on the story, on  myself, long enough, can I edit out the anger? Can I edit out the sick feeling in my stomach or the pain in my neck and back from not sleeping well? Can I edit out the shock that ran through my body as I looked at pictures of my room, my private space being violated by half-dressed middle-aged people? Can I edit out my distrust? Can I be impartial to my own pain and fear and create something universal that other people will want to hear? Because to write well, you have to write without cruelty in your own heart, you have to try to be as clinical as possible and just let the “facts” of the characters dig their own grave. So very Chaucer of me! ha. This mess is already a story that seems to fascinate my friends, but they know all the gory details. They have witnessed this drama unfold for months, like an excruciatingly slow British mini-series. Every new incident is gobbled up and dissected, and yes, dramatized. Swear words are added in, pauses for dramatic effect where there were none fit into spaces, and hysterical laughter at the ridiculousness of each new action helps lighten the dark drama with a much-needed comedic break, transforming the frightening reality into a delightful black comedy. I guess I’d rather my life be Shallow Grave than Saw because at least then I’d be better written, and with Ewan McGregor as my leading man.

Currently, my life, as literature, reminds me a lot more of Down and Out in Paris and London, but I do think that someday, when I finally am able to write this bit of my life out, objectively, as thinly veiled fiction and not as a blog entry, the disgusting and truly ridiculous bits of the last week will be edited down to a few mere paragraphs and the rest of the piece will focus on all the beauty that swelled up and surrounded me during and after. While I should be sitting in a dark room, crying and eating fried food, I am instead sitting at a desk in a sunny room, writing away, while I can hear D and M laughing and chatting happily in one room over. The scent of Earl Grey tea is rising up from a teacup covered in hand painted bunnies and pink flowers and the quilt my mother made me is wrapped around my lap and I am eagerly anticipating the delicious coconut-vegan soup M is going to make for tea and the big screen screening of Psycho with all of my friends.

Sometimes people will try and edit you down, make your life fit into their own stories. Create a character of who they think you should be in order to bounce off the ideas of what they expect their lives to be like. Disappointment in themselves and a failure to achieve their goals makes them want to address your goals and your life. It happens more than sometimes, let’s admit that. But I do firmly believe we are all storytellers, so I’m not going to let anyone write out my dramatic monologues or pick out my dramatic conclusion. I am absolutely, positively the main character in my own little world and I am writing out anyone who is not adding something beautiful to my story. I don’t mind that for the moment I am George Orwell, because in a few more chapters I plan on being Stella Gibbons– I just have to write my way there.

Things I Love Thursday

10 Apr

Late again. I guess, I love procrastination. Or, to be more honest, I love doing things more than I love sitting in front of the computer. Bad trait for a writer…   

But I’ve had a wicked week!   

My bossses have been gone and that means a house free of children, free of being woken up at 7 am, free from snooping. It was great. It was amazing!   

<3 Being touristy around London with V, checking out Japanese pottery and hair demons, eating yummy food in Chinatown, watching the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, drinking beer in Angel, seeing THREE awesome bands with my friends…   

<3 this band in particular… so good. Summer Camp. It was their first live show EVER and they were absolute stars.   

   

But this video for it is soooo much better! However, WordPress won’t let me add a vimeo video for some reason. But watch that one because it is made from clips from the film Last Summer, which I posted a link to a few entries back. The movie was pretty amazing, the song is super fantastic, and the band made me very happy Friday night. I also bought (for a mere 64 pence!) the sequel to the original novel, Come Winter. I also discovered that Evan Hunter, the author of both of these books wrote another book I really liked, Every Little Crook and Nanny. I read that when I was living in Edinburgh and was trying to read every book in the local library. Now, I won’t say that these books are on par with say, my love of Faulkner, but I will say, if you want some fun, engrossing, interesting books to read on the tube, these are my picks. That’s right, best books to read on the tube! Can that be a category of literature? Short, and therefore lightweight and easy to tote around in your already heavy purse (much easier than the copy of War and Peace I tried to read on my bus ride the other day. I am pretty sure I actually did serious damage to my neck having that in my bag. I’m seriously popping half a coedine a day from the pain! I think War and Peace might be an “at home” read. I blame Deb for making me attempt this).   

<3 Digressing. I love that. Obviously.   

<3 My new dress from H&M. I know I am trying to save money, but I saw this while I was trying to kill time last Friday before meeting up with friends in SoHo. And I couldn’t resist.   

Obviously, the white one in the middle...so floaty, so many fabric flowers, sooo me...

 

<3 Last Friday in SoHo. Oh wow. I had such a great time meeting up with my friend P and all his family. His cousins were so much fun and ordering chips from room service at 3 am was a first for me. I felt very much like a rockstar. Dancing around to music and jumping around on hotel beds was also fun. Having to get up and go to work the next day was less fun. But fondue with Nils and Becca made it soooo much better. I still didn’t get to go swimming though!   

<3 Brand new fabric softner that smells amazing. I know it’s dorky, but one of my big plans this week was to wash every single thing that I own and hang it all up to dry in one massive washing day because there was no one around to get mad that I took up all the space. And now all my clothes and my sheets all smell like the most amazing red flowers. I know it’s just chemicals, but I am very happy about it nonetheless.   

<3 New Vitamins. I bought myself new daily vitamins at Boots, but because it was ‘buy 3 for 2″, I tried a few new things, including one that is chock full of B vitamins and CoQ10. Hopefully this gives me loads more energy. I’m such a dork about vitamins. I love them, but I HATE taking pills. So I always buy the chewable kind. I understand wy kids get so excited about their Flintstone vitamins: it’s like a really healthy piece of candy that I get to have once a day.   

<3 London when it’s sunny. It’s beautiful again and I am so happy. I actually wore that H&M dress twice this week so far and I didn’t wear a coat OR a sweater for most of both wearings. That is right, I wore a floaty sleeveless dress out in the sun. HAPPINESS.   

<3 daffodils. There aren’t as many in London as there are in Edinburgh, but it was like old times yesterday when V and I took some pictures by Ally Pally, while we ate our chocolate chip cookies and strawberry tarts out in the park.   

Edinburgh 2007, as taken by V

 

    

<3 phone calls from Mr. VanWinkle for no reason. I love hearing his voice out of the blue!   

<3 a new webcam from my canadian patron saint. now I have one! woot!   

Also, this video. I don’t normally like music without words, but how  

amazing…the song is very beautiful…and the video makes me breathe very deeply and smile…   

My Dream Morning

7 Apr

by jonathon Levitt

The Most Amazing Fondue Recipe Ever

6 Apr

Last Saturday, my lovely friends Nils and Becca came over to help me make it through an East Finchely bound day. We flicked through some recipe books, trying to decide what to make, we had thought cookies, but Nils made the spot of the day: We have a fondue pot! So, why not have ourselves a really grown-up soiree? We sauntered down to the specialty cheese shop and then made the tastiest fondue ever created. 

Here’s what you will need: 

3 rather amazing friends (bring a fourth over later to help you eat all the food to make it an even better party) 

Pink Champagne and Gin and freshly squeezed orange juice for lubrication. 

Now, on to the fondue: 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Swiss-style cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmenthaler, shredded
  • 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch (use cornstarch if cooking gluten-free)
  • 1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
  • 1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc) or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cherry brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Assorted dipping foods such as cubed day-old French bread (skip for gluten-free version), cubed ham (skip for vegetarian option), blanched broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, chopped green bell peppers, peeled and chopped apples or pears

1 Place the shredded cheese and cornstarch in a plastic freezer bag. Seal, shake to coat the cheese with flour or cornstarch. Set aside. 

2 Rub the inside of a 4-quart pot with the cut garlic, then discard. Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot, and bring to a low simmer on medium heat. Bit by bit, slowly stir the cheese into the wine. Stir constantly in a zig-zag pattern to prevent the cheese from seizing and balling up. Cook just until the cheese is melted and creamy. Do not let boil. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in kirsch, mustard and nutmeg. 

3 Transfer the cheese to a fondue serving pot, set over a low flame to keep warm. If your pot is thin-bottomed, a lit candle will probably do. If thick-bottomed, you can use a small Sterno. 

4 Arrange various dipping foods around the fondue pot. 

To eat, spear dipping foods with fondue forks or small forks. Dip to coat with the cheese, and eat. 

Then everyone should sit around the table, discuss inane topics, and then retire to the lounge to watch Twin Peaks. 

Nils grates a pound of cheese!

 

important ingredients...

 

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