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Happy New Year…to Art

 

Happy New Year to the art of letting go. Outcomes, be damned. Full steam ahead with the writing. Big Magic the heck outta your life.

 

 

Happy New Year to the art of seeing abundance. While it’s hard to shake off our training to find the flaws and pick the nits, it’s time to see the stars in what can seem some days like vast emptiness.

Happy New Year to the art of choosing friends wisely. Sure, there are very few villains in this life; perhaps like me you can count the number you’ve actually met on half a hand. But the art of living teaches you that there are some folks, who from too much self-love or too little, are here to suck you dry. And you can’t make a life around people like that.

Save the drama for the page.

Happy New Year to the art of breathing through difficulty—if not suffering. As Krishnamurti reportedly once said, “I don’t mind what happens.” Here’s to the art of being easily delighted instead of easily offended, easily impatient, and easily frustrated every day.

 

 

I embrace the art of enthusiasm,

the art of enjoyment,

the art of acceptance.

Thank you, Eckhart Tolle, for this message.

 

 

Happy New Year to the art of love. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. They = all of us.

“…But most of all…I wish you love…” I’m in a Whitney and Dolly kind of mood. Maybe it’s all the ‘80s reminiscing I’ve been doing lately.

Isn’t it a great act of love to convert all the horrors of life into art, into story, into song?

That’s what Greg and I will keep doing in 2019. We will keep seeking, dumpster diving, pearl diving, ruminating, keeping the questions alive and the answers gray and luminescent, ever changing like the inside of an abalone shell. Even if down on the ocean floor we’re seeing a ton of plastic and garbage, or even signs of the coming apocalypse.

 

 

My New Year’s wish for all of us is to find the courage for the daily, difficult acts of love.

How do you practice love through your art?

 

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Filed Under: arts, peace  

How Much Reality Can I Take?

Note: Some of this post is adapted from “How Much Reality Can I Take,” posted originally on April 16, 2011.

“Time for another sweeping generalization: YA novels will end with more connections (new ones or healed ones) than disconnections. And most certainly, the book’s major relationships will not be left disconnected.….that teen reader is delivered to an emotionally safe landing place. The assurance that there will be such a landing place represents the line between YA and adult literary fiction.”

– Marsha Qualey, “Real or Imagined: The Line between Young Adult, Crossover, and Adult Fiction”

By page 24 of the YA novel Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters, we learn that the protagonist, Johanna, has lost her mother, has been abandoned by her sister, has been assaulted by a mentally disabled boy at school, and has a crush on a decidedly violent girl named Reeve. Oh, and did I mention that Johanna works for hospice?

On page 24, I had to put the book down. And ask myself: In my fiction, how much reality can I take?HWRDSTDAON 300x200

When I pick up novels, I need a coherent story woven to produce meaning. I don’t turn to narrative for a “here’s what’s happening” reflection of reality, the fact that life is terrible sometimes or all the time. There is plenty of hell on earth to go around–disconnection, as Qualey calls it, abandonment, and abuse. Johanna of Rage connects with no one, really, in these first pages and is pretty much abandoned or ignored by everyone. She also shows no signs of conscience or love. Her actions are based on either fear and lust.

This doesn’t mean Johanna won’t find parts of her best self beyond page 24. I just wasn’t willing to wait around for a sign.

By page 24 of my YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, we’ve seen Wendy at age 15 ripped from her home to a new state, furious with her narcissistic mother, and bullied by a Mean Girl. Enough bad things happen that a writing partner told me at one point during the drafting process, “I just want to see Wendy happy.”

I understood what she meant. I answered this concern by showing Wendy passionate about something, which led to new chapter where Wendy struts down a school hallway with her life soundtrack blaring, Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Wendy’s not doing cartwheels of delight, but she’s empowered and she’s inspired, enough to take on the Mean Girl.  I also revised to introduce two other teens, Tanay and Andrew, who reach out to Wendy and show an interest. It’s not happy-happy-joy-joy portrayal of life, but, there’s some hope for real relationship.

Is that enough light to balance the darkness? I like to think so.

I’m a huge fan of The Wire, The Killing, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and House of Cards. I willingly follow gruesome mafia killings, sociopathic politicians, and desperate drug deals. I do avert my eyes, I do gasp in horror, and I do think about these situations long after the credits roll. Why? In each of these stories, someone has hope, faith, or ambition to change something. The characters grow, they face consequences of their actions, and they struggle to find meaning. Even the sociopaths get their due; no one escapes unscathed. 

Officer McNulty of The Wire strives to be “natural police,” and Bunk and other cops rise to the occasion alongside him. In Episode 4 of Season 1, McNulty and Bunk return to an old murder scene, and while cussing colorfully with gruesome images of the murder victim splayed out on kitchen linoleum, garner enough evidence that sloppy police work didn’t recover before. They go back to do a job right, and amidst the graphic horror of things, there is renewal and hope.

Weeds, on the other hand, I had to stop watching. Tell me if you love it and found a moment of redemption; I couldn’t stick around with the careless, flippant, and nihilist lifestyles.

I write about sexual abuse and recovery. I write about racism and adultery and envy and isolation. There are sociopaths, and there are pedophiles. But as I present shades of various hells on earth, I need to know there is love and redemption somewhere in this mess. I need my Wendys to find a reason to keep dancing. 

Nihilism supposes that no one’s looking out for us. No one cares now or later. If the world you write about has no journey towards Good or Right, just photographic rendering of actions, habits, and tendencies, then those readers like me who believe there’s a purpose to our lives may not stay for the rest of the show.

At the end of the movie Immortal Beloved, the young Beethoven races away from home in the middle of the night, having been beaten horribly by his father–so badly, he will one day lose his hearing. The movie imagines young Ludwig diving into a pond and floating, a smile lighting his face as he suddenly sees the glorious array of stars in the pitch-black night. The soundtrack swells with Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, often called “Ode to Joy.” In the midst of great sorrow is respite and healing peace. While his ears ring with pain, the boy still hears the strains of a melody in his head, beauty he will one day create.

We all seek joy, that “bright spark of divinity” Schiller wrote of in his poem “Ode to Joy” and Beethoven set to music. Literature can give us that safe landing space where happiness thrives. Stories can let us trust for at least a moment, perhaps only in our heads, that all is well. 

 How much reality is too much reality in a young adult novel? Let me know your thoughts. 

  • Do you recall reading a book or seeing a film at a young age that marked you for life? (For me it was the amputations in Gone With the Wind; at age seven I was haunted for days by the scene of a solider screaming, “Don’t cut! Don’t cut!”)
  • If you read my Wendy novel, is it “young adult” or better described as “young adult for adults”? At what age would you introduce it to someone, and why? 
  • What young adult books have you read that ride or cross the line? Which ones are “just right”?

Writing Prompts:

Ask these questions of your favorite YA novel:

  • Is there realism?
  • Do characters act “in character” and follow a code of consistency?
  • Is there an arc, or journey, that transforms a character?
  • Do things “fit” together? Is there coherence among plot, character, setting, image, etc?
  • Is there emotional connection between characters?
  • Is there redemption and hope?
  • Does the story accurately portray young adulthood while allowing an “emotionally safe landing space”?
  • Is there enough resolution balanced with realistic limbo and possibility?

 

Clean Enough to Kneel at the Shrine

Clean. The office is clean.

Office is such the wrong word. I prefer space, study, or retreat. But whatever you call it, it’s relieved of its dust, cat hair, and Lyn hair. The floor is swept, the desk is de-cluttered, and the shrines have been dusted.

St. Catherine of Siena by Michael

That’s right, shrines. A writer’s space is a spiritual one and so it must be filled with good energy. Over the years, talismans of love and beauty collect around my writing space–gifts from others and gifts to myself, forming a tiny Stonehenge of power. They’re what I see daily as I write.

There is the

  • elephants shrine
  • and the saints shrine
  • and the cats shrine
  • and the stones shrine
  • and The Wizard of Oz shrine.
Five corners of good energy. They’re cheering me on now, though I’m making more notes than pages–notes for when I pick up the manuscript again for more revision. As I wait for my agent’s review of my latest pass at my novel, I’ve got Zen felines giving me patient looks; Ganesh proffering his tusk, that great sacrifice for art; Pope John Paul holding up a hand in blessing; and the Emerald City glimmering with hope. A huge gray rock perches against my desk top with one word carved in its surface: BALANCE. 
Is it any wonder that I with all my sacred relics wrote one novel called ST. MICHAEL, PRAY FOR US or another called OUR WHITE LADY OF THE GENTLE SINS? I’m all about the blessed tokens–holy wafers, smoking censers, purple vestments–that make a sacred story come to life. 
We don’t write to make a buck or make a name for ourselves. We think we do, but at the end of the day we seek the eternal. Ask any writer who wants elusive fame: all she really wants is life after death, the hope that others read her words and do this in memory of her. 
So if my office is more full of meditation these days than productivity, good for me. At the very least, the way is clear for the next part of the pilgrimage; I’ll know soon what I’m about. I may not like the next fork in the road, the next twist with unforeseen consequence, but you can’t call yourself pilgrim if you hate taking the steps. For a moment there’s rest. I can see and I can breathe. 
Writing Prompts
  • Find a shrine in your house and spend some moments there. Write what comes to mind during and after your stay.
  • If you don’t have a shrine, begin one. Write a poem about something holy, and lay it there as one of your offerings.
  • How do you define spiritual when it comes to writing? How is writing a spiritual act?
  • What have you created lately? How is it a divine act?
  • How is writing spiritual and not religious? What makes writing religious?
  • Who are your favorite spiritual writers (remember, your definition of “spiritual”) and what do they teach you?
  • Write something with your eyes on the sky, on the trees, seeking wind, thinking about forever. Seek truth, not perfection. Write honest and open and see what emerges. 
  • Write something looking at a shrine.