Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trying to Keep Up

It's been a long time again.  I seem to have fallen completely out of my blogging routine.  Things have been pretty busy, but really that's no excuse.  Tomorrow I am flying to Los Angeles for my cousin's wedding!  I hope to do some reading and riding on the plane.  In the last week, I read The Well-Trained Mind--I borrowed it from my sister who is home-schooling her son this year.  It's about home-schooling using the classical method of the Trivium.  The book was fascinating and gave me a lot of good ideas of books I want to read in the future.

I am at my sister's right now, we are going to drive to Dallas to fly out to Los Angeles tomorrow.  She showed me this delightful book catalog called: Bas Bleu.    I absolutely love it!  "Bas Bleu" is French for blue stocking-which means a a literary woman.  How wonderful is that?!?  It has wonderfully eclectic and obscure books.  I also found some lovely quotations about books and reading in its pages.  I'll add them later, because I'm about to teach my niece how to make friendship bracelets. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finally Feeling Better (Unfiltered Post #4?)

I haven't posted in over a week because I've been feeling under the weather-with a fever that lingered on for 7 days!  I am finally feeling (mostly) better and so I am starting to catch up with all that I have been neglecting.  Clearly, my unfiltered blogging posts dropped off, but I think this will be my fourth.

Unfortunately when I wasn't feeling well, I still didn't get much reading done.  I would like to have finished more books that I have by now.  I still have most of One Hundred Years of Solitude to read, and I've started a few others.  Right now, I am also working through two workbooks on Spanish, as well as couple of additional job search related books.  Finally, I am also reading a book about online genealogy research.  And, of course, still working my way through The Artist's Way.  I am continuing to enjoy and benefit from the writing I'm doing as part of The Artist's Way program.  Morning Pages are a wonderful tool.  Does anyone else use them?  I confess that I am not on a regular schedule for them yet, and still miss some days, but I am getting to them more often than not, which is a big step in the right direction.  

This week, I will try to get back on a more regular reading and writing schedule.  I need to spend some extra time brainstorming for the book I'll write some day.  

Does anyone else have book-writing aspirations?  What progress have you made?  Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

If I had to pick, I would definitely choose Robert Frost as my favorite poet.  At times I've feared that it's too much of a conventional choice, but I love the poems, so who cares.  This is one of my favorites.  I memorized it in high school for no particular reason.  In 7th grade I had to memorize "Nothing Gold Can Stay" when we read The Outsiders, and that was the beginning of my love for Mr. Frost.  For some reason I memorized a lot of his poems in high school and they are still with me (mostly).  I believe part of the appeal for me is like the poem I wrote about a few months ago-"Keep a Poem in Your Pocket."  For me I always read that more figuratively-the keep a poem at the ready when you need it.  Frost's poems have always been there for me.  They are soothing in their rhyme and steadying rhythm.  

Who are your favorite poets?  Do you ever memorize poems or have any still in your head from school days?  Kids usually hate memorizing poems in school-it always stressed me out.  But memorizing them for yourself is much different.  What value does it hold today when we can find the text of a poem at the click on a mouse?  

Watching in Detail

Unfiltered blog post #3.  Sadly, I missed yesterday, so it won't be five days in a row, but it will still be five days.

Because of my morning pages, this unfiltered blogging endeavor, and the resulting idea that I might write a book someday, my thoughts have been filled by writing as of late.  Today I went on my "artist's date" (one of The Artist's Way tools) to Borders just to browse (which is quite a feat for me).  I spent some time looking at the bargain shelves-I couldn't resist.  Then I went upstairs and I looked through the children's section.  I concentrated mainly on picture books, particularly looking for books I hadn't seen or read before.  Then I went over to the writing section to peek at those books.  I thumbed through a few that I may buy later, but for now I already have 2-3 books on writing more prolifically and improving your craft, so I resisted for the time being.  However, I did flip through a few and noticed a common theme.  It's something that echoed from what I had read in Pen on Fire and The Artist's Way.  One of the first things I need to do is pay attention.

That seems to be some pretty basic writing advice.  Pay attention to the little details of life and record them very carefully.  I can see how this is good advice for budding writers, but it is also a superb reminder for all of us, writers or not.  How many priceless details are lost in the course of a busy day.  Perhaps my next "artist's date" will be to people watch or even just sit outside (except for the excruciating heat).  

I am hoping that this burst of writing enthusiasm won't fizzle out too quickly.  I do tend to get excited about things, and then eventually let them fade into the background.  I don't usually give them up entirely.  I still have a guitar in my closet that comes out fairly regularly, Spanish books that I work through once every week or so, and watercolor paints packed up somewhere with my of my belongings.  Guitar's spark flashed again around January when I practiced carefully every day for a couple of months.  Spanish has come and gone for several years-some weeks I study every night and listen to CNN en Espanol on my satellite radio.  Others, I revert back to my beloved NPR.  Watercolors came last summer when I would paint many evenings, but never came to be satisfied with result. 

Perhaps I truly am a Renaissance Soul.  I like that idea better than having no follow through.  But maybe this new eye for detail with help me stay focused and maybe even bring clarity to all of these disparate interests and goals.  

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts on Writing

Note:  Unfiltered blog # 2
Above is a book that I have been using as I have been thinking more and more about writing.

I've been thinking a lot about writing lately.  And I'm trying to figure out where it is coming from.  I've always considered myself to be a pretty competent writer.  I did well-enough in school writing papers, etc.  I didn't particularly enjoy writing endless research papers, but I did enjoy sometimes creating a truly great sentence.  Since I have no research or term papers in my foreseeable future, I've begun to think about other types of writing-and taking the time to improve my own abilities.

Perhaps some of these thoughts are coming from my blogging.  It's been a fabulous experience of putting thoughts in words and sentences for friends and strangers alike to read.  The whole process has been like an exercise in writing and communication.  For example, I have come to notice that I use certain words and phrases entirely too much.  The biggest offender is "interesting".  I use it all the time.  But what does it really convey?  Surely if I am writing about a book or experience, you can assume that it's interesting, or I wouldn't bother to mention it in the first place.  It kind of reminds me of the word that starts to drive me up the wall during every major political campaign: "compelling".   Whenever someone brings up a marginally controversial issue, the candidates inevitably refer to the question, problem, information, answer, or proposed solution as "compelling".   It's a handy word to show interest and concern without actually committing yourself to either side.  I noticed the use of this word in at least the last two presidential elections by candidates of both parties.  

I think it was Holly Becker that suggested making a list of overused words and to begin to look for replacements for them.  I need to start doing that.  My other overworked words and phrases include some of the usual suspects: "a lot" "it" and other words that lack both pizzazz and adequate description.  

So the blog has caused me to think about improving my words, but other exercises have shed light on other writing aspirations.  As I mentioned before, I am working through The Artist's Way and I am already gaining some clarity.  Although I enjoy traditional art activities-such as painting and sculpture-I don't think I have the heart or the talent to really pursue it in any capacity beyond "fun stress-relieving play" (which is certainly valid and wonderful).  But The Artist's Way has left me desiring a creative pursuit of my own to nurture and cultivate.  Since I am already such a lover of books and words, what about writing?  The Morning Pages associated with The Artist's Way have been extremely instrumental in this process.  Even after only a week (with a day or two skipped), I am already seeing ideas and dreams emerge.  Come to think of it, this "unfiltered" blogging feels a lot like Morning Pages.  

There are certain things in your life that it just never occurs to you to try.  At least for me.  I have no desire to run for public office, try for a record deal, or star in a movie (although I enjoy politics, music, and film respectively).  Writing a book was always right up there with competing in the Olympics or getting a PhD (the former I could clearly never do-I didn't make the 7th grade volleyball team-and the latter is something others have suggested, but it's never been a goal or desire of mine.  I think I'll stick with the Masters).  I don't mean this to seem like a lack of ambition, just a different channeling of it.  There are still many fairly lofty goals that I have for my life, just not in these particular areas.  (I realize these accomplishments aren't all really on par with one another, but it's the best I could do without breaking my "unfiltered" aim for this post).  All of this to say it never occurred to me that I wanted to or could write a book and actually get it published.  I'm still working on the "could" part, I am starting to think that this is something I really want to do.  I included it on my "bucket list" a few months ago, much to my own surprise.  At this point I have no idea what kind of book I want to write or what it would be about.  I don't think a novel appeals to me, but maybe something non-fiction?  Or a children's book?!?  That would be outstanding!  (outstanding is one of my new pet words- I'm still trying it out).  On side note, another goal I never thought I'd have for myself is forming: to start an organization, specifically a non-profit.  Again, I don't know exactly what it would be yet, but it's making its way onto some lists.  Thoughts for another day and another post...

Well, now I have shared this idea with real people, so I can't really forget about it.  It's not something I'm planning on pursuing immediately, but I'm definitely going to let the concept percolate as I work on some ideas.  I already have a couple of characters in mind for a children's book.

P.S.  Another huge word of thanks to Carolyn for the idea of unfiltered blogging.  It's already led to some interesting-gah!-surprising places.  And for the record, this accomplished woman has started a successful non-profit, written a book that is on track to be published this summer, and is working toward a PhD.  What an inspiration.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why Do You Read?

Note: This is my first attempt at "unfiltered blogging" as proposed by the lovely and extremely talented Carolyn.  Therefore, these are somewhat random thoughts with minimal forethought or editing.  

If you frequent this blog, I'm thinking that you probably read "for pleasure" at some regular interval.  If that is the case, I'm curious.  Why?  It may seem like a strange question, but I genuinely am curious.  Recently, I have noticed interesting reading habits of my own and it has made me wonder about others.   I've been reflecting on this question myself quite a bit lately and the inquiry has resulted in a variety of tentative conclusions.  

There are the obvious answers of course.  Reading is a fabulous means to learning new information or developing an understanding of a foreign concept.  This is definitely true for me.  Sometimes educational reading is mandatory (like it was for the last 19 years of my life), but many others it is simply to satisfy a curiosity.  Sometimes these books are purely informative, but they can also be entertaining, such as a memoir or historical fiction can take the reader to another time and place.  

Of course, the purpose of reading is largely dependent on the types of books someone is reading.  Which leads me to another question for you all: what kind of books do you read?  Fiction, non-fiction?  Biography, memoir?  History, self-help or short stories?  Certainly, most people don't limit themselves to one particular genre, but I know some that do.  My reading material is all over the place (as you've probably gathered).  I enjoy fiction-both classic literature and more modern fast reads.  Most of the time I am reading at least one of each.  I want to read "the classics" and enjoy a great number of them, but they often require great concentration.  I'll finish 3-4 other novels, all the while I am plugging through one piece of truly great fiction.  

I've found that these "fun" books serve a very specific purpose in my life.  I tend to read more of them when I am upset or stressed out.  Instead of vegging in front of the television (which, don't get me wrong, I also do), I escape into an easy, fast, and engaging book.  Sometimes, these might be called "chick lit", but I still believe it has great value.  Some of these books have quality writing, while others do not.  But if the story and the characters are good, it provides me with a reprieve from my own troubles.  I suppose this is not uncommon, but it's a pattern I've only recently uncovered.  

In addition to fiction, I also collect a variety of non-fiction books.  Many of these might be found under a big sign in the book store that reads "self-help".  It's such a broad category, but also comes with somewhat of a stigma.  Occasionally I've felt self-conscious browsing in the section, but I believe I've benefitted in one way or another from many of those books.  Some seem to be re-branding the genre to the more palatable "personal development".  I read these types of books because they address a particular aspect of my life I am interested in changing or because they seem to be full of inspiration and encouragement.  I confess that sometimes I may hold too much hope in a new book, believing that it will fix all my problems.  This, of course, never happens, but I have gleaned many useful skills and perspectives from reading this genre. (Some of my collection of this genre pictured above)

So far this week I have started and finished Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik.  I think I picked it up because it reminded me of the Friday Night Knitting Club books, but it wasn't really like that. I did enjoy it (as demonstrated by 400 pages in less than 48), but more on that book in a separate post.  I write this with some guilt because I am supposed to be (and am still) reading One Hundred Years of Solitude for the online book group.  I was in the mood for something lighter, but I'm behind on reading for the group.  (Katie, don't hate me!)  I'm not sure anyone's finished it though, it seems to have been postponed.   Nevertheless, all of you have permission to chastise me if (or more likely, when) I talked about reading any other books in the near future.  

I apologize for the long-winded and some what stream-of-consciousness post.  Carolyn had an interesting idea about unfiltered posts.  Visit her blog for more info if you are interested in trying it yourself. 

And with that, I'm hitting "publish post" without looking over it again.  Typos will inevitably result.

Sidenote:  Do you ever find typos in published works?  I do, from time to time, and it's oddly thrilling!  In fact, I found one in Knitting Under the Influence.  There are three main characters in the book and at one point, only two of them go to a Thanksgiving meal.  But once the third one is mentioned (page 269 if you have the book) although she was clearly not there.    

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jerusalem Is Walking in This World

This is great happiness.
The air is silk.
There is milk in the looks
That come from strangers.
I could not be happier
If I were bread and you could eat me.
Joy is dangerous.
It fills me with secrets.
"Yes" hiss in my veins.
The pains I take to hide myself
Are sheer as glass.
Surely this will pass,
the wind like kisses,
The music in the soup,
The group of trees,
Laughing as I say their names.

It is all hosannah.
It is all prayer.
Jerusalem is walking in the world.
Jerusalem is walking in the world.  

Julia Cameron

I recently found Walking in This World, by Julia Cameron in the bargain bin at my local Borders.  Only $4!  I was thrilled!  It is basically a sequel to the wildly popular The Artist's Way.  I didn't even know there was a second book.  I knew the she had written others (including The Writing Diet, which I have and highly recommend.), but I didn't know about this specific title.  

I have heard countless people rave about The Artist's Way and I've owned it myself for several years.  After one unsuccessful attempt to work through the book about a year ago, I am trying again.  It is a 12-week "course" and I am almost finished with week 1.  So far, it has been an entirely positive experience.  It is all about uncovering your creativity as part of a spiritual path.  I have been feeling quite stuck lately, so I think the structure and inspiration of the book is just what I need right now.  It is getting me writing and reflecting every day, which seems to be very beneficial.

Also, I believe having "part two" is giving me some motivation to work through the original more diligently.  When I have finished that I will be at liberty to start my new find.  In the mean time, I have flipped through the pages a few times, and it looks delightful.  This poem was at the front, and I couldn't wait to share.  

Have any of you ever worked through The Artist's Way?  I would love to hear about your experiences.  Would anyone like to work through it with me now?  I'd love some company!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Great Reading Suggestions from Oprah

O Magazine has put together some seemingly wonderful summer reads.  I heard the author of the first on Diane Rehm (LOVE her!) and definitely want to read it.  More on him in a later post.  If you're looking for a new book, you're sure to find something you like in the mix here.  Because we always need more books!

Guest Post: 3 Things to Know About Jane Austen

          Katie and Jane outside her museum in Bath, England (Jane's that is, not Katie's)

by Katie McBride Earley  (AKA my best friend-and a brilliant reader and writer.  She's writing about her favorite author.  I hope you enjoy it as I have.  I'd love to have some of you write about your favorite authors/books as well!)

I love Jane Austen.  I have for years.  It's a good time to love Jane because she's been pretty popular this past decade or so thanks to Colin Firth jumping into a pond and a flurry of films starting with Emma Thompson's remake of Sense and Sensibility.  I must admit that the latter is what brought me to Jane in the first place.  

(Side note: It has taken me years to get comfortable with calling Ms. Austen by her first name.  I strongly feel that if you're just getting to know her, you should address her by her full name or Ms. Austen.)

1. Jane Austen is not a Victorian writer.  Queen Victoria didn't take the throne until 20 years after Jane's death.  If Jane Austen was a Victorian writer, Lydia and probably 90% of the cast of Mansfield Park would have died for their sins and general annoyingness (or at least gone blind).  Jane wrote during the Regency or Georgian period - the early 1800s.  

2. Jane Austen has nothing to do with Jane Eyre.  Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte (Emily?  No Charlotte.) Bronte.  It is a travesty of our public school system the number of people who have asked me if Jane Austen wrote Jane Eyre or vice versa.  Jane Eyre IS a Victorian novel.  

3. Jane Austen is NOT, I repeat--NOT!, chick lit.  Jane Austen might have inspired some good chick lit (I heart Bridget Jones a lot.), she might have some similar plots to chick lit (Chick lit stole from her, don't blame Jane!), but Jane is so much more than chick lit.
  • Yes, all of Austen's novels end in happy marriages for the heroines.  The bulk of the novels follow the heroines' path to the happy marriage, against a variety of odds.  But Austen's heroines have a lot more at stake than love and happiness.
  • During Austen's time, women could not work and were generally incapable of supporting themselves.  (Jane never married but had brothers to help support her.) All the acceptable occupations (governess or...governess) for women were about as appealing as burger flipping at McDonald's.  Jane's heroines had to marry (except for Emma and Anne...well, maybe Anne because her dad was wasting their fortunes) in order to stay off the streets and out of the school room.  Next time you chuckle at Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins and roll your eyes at Mrs. Bennet (which I do every time), keep in mind that Elizabeth's deprived her family of financial security.  It all turns out well in the end, but at that point they have no guarantees that they won't be turned out into the streets.  Say what you want about crazy Mrs. Bennet, but she is much more pragmatical about her family's future than Mr. Bennet.
  • Courtships in Austen have a lot more at stake than those in any book at Borders with a pink cover.  It's not quite a matter of life and death, but it's close.  
  • Not all of Austen's characters have a happy ending.  For every good marriage in Austen there are at least two unhappy ones: the Bennets, all of the Ferrars except Edward and Elinor, the Prices, the Wickhams, the Willoughbys, the Rushworths.  Austen's characters lead by example and non-example.  Even if it doesn't explicitly say so in the title (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion), most of her books evaluate some sort of character flaw.  It's okay to love Bridget Jones just as she is; Austen's girls and boys generally still have some growing up to do.  Austen gives us some good love stories and some gentle reminders on how not to suck at life.
  • Austen's novels are also full of examples of the problems with society and how people treat each other within the bounds of society.  They perfect example is Elizabeth and Darcy.  As important to the story as how they overcome their pride and prejudices, there are multiple examples of how others are overly proud and prejudiced, and how we all need to look past certain classifications and evaluate people for who they are and not where there money came from.  Lady Catherine says Elizabeth is inferior to Darcy, but came Elizabeth reminds her that she is a gentleman's daughter and Darcy is a gentleman's son.  For all of Lady Catherine's "good breeding," her manners are about as polished as Mrs. Bennet's.  Ultimately the Darcys find companionship with the Gardiners, who are -Heaven forbid! - in trade, but are good, sensible people.
Just some things to keep in mind next time you snuggle up with Darcy, Wentworth, Knightley...pick your prince!  Happy reading!!

Katie blogs about random things generally related to her failed attempts at being a domestic goddess and funny YouTube videos at Whims and Inconsistencies.  (All you P&P fans should know where that title's from!).  Please note that despite being a member of JASNA, having read Pride and Prejudice six times (Sense and Sensibility four times) and her time as an English major, she is not an actual Austen scholar but more of a crazed fan.  To make an analogy: 13-year-old girl : Jonas Brothers :: Katie : Jane Austen.