Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do one thing that scares you, every day

In retrospect, the conversation sounds like bad sitcom dialogue:

"If you ever wanted to try something like this, I'd jump at the chance."

"Are you serious?"

"Are you?"

"Okay. If you're serious about doing something like this, I'm in."

And there we were, Megan Kurashige and I, making a dance together. A dance that wouldn't just tell a story, but that would integrate story into the performance. Her sister, Shannon, brilliant dancer and choreographer, joined. Four amazing dancers - Carson Stein, Josianne Fleming, Kelvin Vu, and Sarah Lyman - volunteered to be part of this.

And there was an entire country between us, so we traded emails and chat sessions and Skype. We watched bits of old movies and clips of duels, sent each other links to songs and paintings.

Somewhere in there, A Thousand Natural Shocks was born. 

I have never worked on a project like this before. It has given me a new way to think about making art. I cannot even begin to say how proud and honored I am to be working with my collaborators - the rehearsal footage has made me cheer, and cry, and laugh. 

I wrote yesterday about taking risks in your art, working outside your comfort zone. Well, this entire thing has been outside of my comfort zone. This never felt like a safe project. But now, it feels like something amazing.

And this, this is what it is. That's the link to our Kickstarter. If you can help at all - contribute financially, or by passing the word around, we would be grateful. I would be grateful, that you helped make this project that I love so much a real thing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Naked and unphotoshopped

There are two things that I feel evangelical about when it comes to discussions of or meditations on the artistic life. One is Patti Smith's numinous book, Just Kids. The other is Terri Windling's blog. Both manage to balance reality and struggle with inspiration and joy, and they do so in ways that embody the art they are addressing. These are things you should be reading.

The entry on Terri's blog today talks about "the courage to be bad." This is one of the things that I have wrestled with a lot. 

For a very long time, I didn't have the courage to be bad. I had this idea that if I couldn't get it right the first time, I wasn't good enough, and so I didn't deserve to make art. I have a lot of beginnings of things that are unfinished not because the work got hard, or because I got blocked, or because the work suddenly felt like work, but because I knew they weren't good, not as good as I wanted them to be. So I stopped writing, set them aside, and accepted the fact that I wasn't any good.

Which is completely the wrong way to think of things.

I don't mean that it's bad to be able to look at your own work critically, and to push yourself to make it better. Revision is good, and there are very few perfect first drafts in the history of the world. There are no awards given for "person who rewrote the fewest scenes before publication." But you have to let go enough to make the art in the first place.

Beyond that, what Terri's post is speaking to is the idea that when you dream big, when you come up with the idea for a project that pushes you out of your comfort zone, and out of what you think is your competence zone, you risk failure. You risk aiming beyond your talent, and beyond your audience, and when you know you're doing that, it can be terrifying. Often the risks you are taking don't just have artistic consequences - this book won't sell - but practical ones as well - this book won't sell, and then I can't pay the rent.

There is this strange thing that has happened as I have become a better writer. I am simultaneously more aware of the flaws in my drafts, and more willing to leave them there, knowing that I can come back and fix them later. That doesn't mean that things aren't hard. There are still scenes that frustrate me, huge swathes of text that get chopped out on revision, moments where turning off the invisible judging nuns that live just behind my eyes and have Thoughts on That Sort of Thing is almost impossible. But I've learned that even when I can't be brave for myself, I can be brave for my story. And so I write.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Graduation day

I am afraid of flying. So four years ago today, my friend Dot and I got into my car, and started the drive to San Diego, and Clarion.

My little silver Beetle was packed: two women, a coffeemaker, clothing, books, a bag of swords (as you do). We had a playlist, helpfully crowdsourced from my soon-to-be classmates. We played shag/marry/kill with literary characters and she deployed her Miniskirt of Power when my car broke down somewhere in Arizona.

I had no idea what I was getting in to.

I thought I was going to learn how to write. Turns out, I was going to learn who I was. If you had told me then that in four years I would have had a story read on NPR, or selected for a Year's Best, that I'd have a kickass agent, or that I would be involved in creating a dance, I never would have believed you. I wouldn't have believed a lot of things that have happened in the interim. I'm grateful for them all.

The four years feels important. That's high school, or college. It feels like I've been in an apprenticeship of sorts, though I've had more than one teacher, more than one mentor, and they are people I will continue to turn to.

I don't feel like I'm done learning to write. I hope that I'll never be done trying to be a better writer. But I have a quiet sense of accomplishment today, and my Clarionmates, my teachers, I miss you. I love you. Tonight, I raise my glass, and toss my paper crown in the air in our honor.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Life: The remix

I mentioned something on twitter the other day, related to moving or unpacking or some such, and my friend Monica called it "remixing my life."

I loved the phrase, not least because my brain immediately thought "dance mix," and I do love the idea of going through life in this sort of fashion. But I also loved the phrase because the description rings true: that is what I am in the process of doing.

I am unpacking. It's a process that's taking a while because I'm figuring out how to use my space (and means there will probably be two stages - one where I get everything out of the boxes, and a second where I go back and organize) and because I'm visiting friends and writing. But this morning I put books that I've had since grade school on a bookshelf I've had since college, and I'm sitting at the desk I bought when I got a job as a professor, the desk which is my favorite place to sit and write. Little pieces of a life, chosen pieces, put together to make something that is both new and recognizable.

And that is how my life feels right now, both new and recognizable. I've seen some dear friends in the past two weeks since I've been back, but they are friends who have moved, had children, gotten married, changed jobs. We are ourselves, but different. The place I live now is different enough to the place I lived before that I'm not being stalked by memories I don't want to have.

Life is a remix because all the bits and pieces of it that go into this moment have been here before. They are the memories that I am unpacking from the boxes, and turning into a song.

Let's dance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Week One

I moved into my new apartment a week ago. My furniture showed up yesterday evening. (I know. I talked about this A LOT on twitter. But you guys, I missed my bed. Working on the floor plus sleeping on the floor meant a lot of bruises in weird places.)

I got work done! This is good, since, y'know, writing things is my job now. And thanks again to everyone who supported the Fireside Magazine kickstarter, because now I get to write another story this year. I am really looking forward to writing this one.

I've started unpacking. Mostly, what this means is I put the bed together, and got my desk set up, and any boxes that were immediately hindering either of those things got unpacked.

I feel remarkably settled for a woman whose hallway is lined with boxes and who has yet to find her coffeemaker, and I think that a lot of that has to do with being in the right place and doing the thing I am supposed to be doing. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When you don't get to hit the replay button

I posted this link on twitter earlier this morning with the added comment that turning a woman into a cornered animal was not a huge step in her evolution.

Judging from the comments I got there - telling me I was wrong, because this made her hardcore, or that I had misread the context - I am probably going to regret writing this, but there are times that I can't be silent, even when I know speaking is going to hurt. So.

In case you don't want to click the link, here's the pull quote:

In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She'll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.

"She is literally turned into a cornered animal," Rosenberg said. "It's a huge step in her evolution: she's forced to either fight back or die."

Let's just skip the bit where you tell me it's just a video game, and that violence, and violence against women, is part of art. I know that. 

The reason that I have a problem with this, the reason I am writing this post, is that the executive producer of this game seems to be saying that getting raped is losing the game.

I'm going to try to start from a position of generosity here. I'm going to assume that the reason being raped is treated like one of the worst things that can happen to a woman is because the writers and producers of this game understand that it is. Being raped is horrible, and horrible doesn't even begin to be a big enough word to cover being raped.

But I have a huge problem with there being a game where, if your female character doesn't fight back well enough, she gets punished by being raped. And my problem is because this hews too closely to the actual reactions rape survivors get.

Here is what we get asked: What were you wearing? Did you know him? Did you scream? Was your skirt too short? Were you in a bad part of town? Did he spend a lot of money on dinner? Were you wearing a bra with that dress? Did you let him touch you? Did you hit him? Did you fight back? Did you fight back enough?

Let me tell you about a legal standard, the standard of "utmost resistance." This was the requirement that a woman had to meet to prove that she had been raped. She had to fight back to the maximum amount of resistance she could, otherwise it wasn't rape. She must have wanted it.

Game over. She lost.

Excuse me. I need to go throw up.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Be a bookstore's beating heart

As I type this, the Kickstarter for Fireside #2 (and beyond!) has 202 backers, who have pledged $5075. We're really close to being funded, but we have less than 48 hours to hit $6000, or nothing happens.

This is my first experience on this end of a crowd-funded project. I've supported Kickstarters before, and I've also contributed to other sorts of crowd-funding, like the original version of Cat Valente's wonderful book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I like contributing, because it helps me feel like I am directly supporting artists or projects that I love, that I'm coming just a smidge closer to monetarily showing someone what their work means to me.

So the first thing I want to do is say thank you to you 202 people who have said that you want to read this magazine, and to see the illustrations that will be part of it, that paying the people who write those stories and comics and make those illustrations and who do the technical behind the scenes stuff that actually makes each issue readable a fair amount for their work is important to you. You people rock. 

I also want to say a very specific thank you to the ten of you who have selected a reward that includes my signature on a physical copy of the issue, and Ben Loory, who paid to have something in my story named after him, and Arachne Jericho, who paid to name a character. I am so honored that you've chosen to support my story, and support me.

And what is that story going to be?

Well, should we be funded, I am going to write a story about Loory's Books, a bookstore in the heart of a very strange city, a building that looks like perhaps it grew out of the streets, rather than being built upon them. And this bookstore, it wants stories. Needs them, really. And it's quite determined to make sure they're told.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Five things I want to write

Over at his blog, my friend Joe Hill has a list of five things he wants to try as a writer that he's never done successfully. I think it's good to have things percolating in the back of the writerly brain, so after I read his list, I started thinking about what things I want to try in my own writing career that I haven't yet done successfully. (NB: for the purposes of this list, I'm also stealing his definition of "successfully" wherein success = getting paid, and for the same reason.)

So, what are the five things I want to try?

Write a YA novel. Okay, this one is sort of a cheat, since I know that's the next new thing I'm starting, and I'm actually doing the reading for it right now. But I haven't started writing it yet, and this is my list, so on it goes.

Write an epistolary novel. I think the form is a tremendous amount of fun. I also think this might be the sort of project that would be great to pull off with a collaborator.

Write a comic. Or a graphic novel. Don't worry - I won't be doing the illustrations.

Write a sonnet cycle. And here's where the "successfully" caveat comes in. I have one from my misspent youth. It will never see the light of day.

Write an episode of a television series.

Not necessarily in order of desire or priority, and obviously I have less control over some of the items on the list, but fun to think about.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Like before, and like never at all

I write this sitting on the brand new floor of my brand new apartment. I have no furniture, and I'm not at all sure when it is showing up, but I have my computer, my dog, and my cat, so I feel pretty okay about sleeping on the floor for the foreseeable future.

I write this in a city I lived near for twelve years, and already it feels more like home than its twin, on the other side of the Mississippi ever did.

It is both strange and wonderful to be back here. Strange, because for all I lived in the area for over a decade, I did not live here. The streets that I walked my dog on today are not my streets. But I lived close, and so there is a veil of the almost-familiar layered over everything. When I drive, I keep thinking I've just missed my exit.

Wonderful, because enough of what is here is familiar to be comforting, and the things that are different are differences I chose, and those choices are things that feel like freedom.