Monthly Archives: August 2013

In a Peculiar Place: Blogging Elsewhere, etc.

I’m guest-blogging at Kat Heckenbach’s today on story symbolism and the cagey writers behind it: “Yes, but What Does it Mean?” If you recall from prior posts here, such as Why Your English Teacher Was Right, I consider recognizing symbolism to be an important tool for understanding the subconscious mind. Or, shall I say, that our subconscious recognizes symbolism, but our conscious mind is only able to do so if we’re wide awake and aware.

I don’t believe I’m wide awake or aware at this moment. As I indicated in the title, I’m in a peculiar mental place. For twenty years, I worked on writing and publishing, working very hard toward the goal of traditionally publishing works of merit. It was a very difficult decision to give up this dream, but I managed to do so roughly one year ago. I tuned my focus to completing a mechanical engineering degree, which I was, and am, still excited about. My plan was never to give up writing altogether, but to relegate it to a hobby and self-publish my work as I saw fit.

Now, I’m a little lost. I didn’t have the money to pay for classes this semester; I couldn’t find a job that would offer me the hours I needed to make payments. While this is disappointing, it’s also strangely freeing. I no longer have anything at all to strive for. I gave up my writing-as-career dream. I have no contracts. I have nobody waiting with bated breath for my next book. I don’t have to attend classes. Heck, I don’t even have to finish this degree I’ve barely begun. I’m completely free. It even occurred to me that I could sleep until noon and remain in bed reading for the rest of the day and nothing cataclysmic would transpire. At a certain point in motherhood, children become–on a sliding scale, of course–self sufficient.

While you might think this is a depressing realization, it isn’t. It’s very much like being part of the camel herders from India, whom Robyn Davidson traveled with and wrote about in her book Desert Places. Although it’s been years since I read that book and, undoubtedly, the group’s nomadic lifestyle has been further curbed over the years since she traveled with them, I recall her noting that they were so low on the caste system that they operated outside it. While this state of being could be problematic, it is also freeing.


The Knowledge of Dreams

It appears like birth.

A vaulted passageway in Belize.

I’ve been lost in a dreamscape all day. Sometimes, our subconscious dredges up dream images that won’t let us go. These are the dreams we need to write down before we forget the details because our inner compass is, in the guise of sleep, attempting to guide us. The way our subconscious minds pull up relevant images is no less than amazing; it’s as though we’re divided beings with our knowledge split into what is useful for our waking hours, and then everything else. A lifetime–however long that lifetime has been at any point on the time line–brings in copious quantities of information. If all that knowledge were available in our conscious minds all the time, would we be crazy?

Last night, I dreamed that I was ready to embark on my first engineering project. I had it in mind to build a waterworks in my backyard. Backyard is a convenient term because I don’t actually have one. Rather, my house is surrounded by a plot of land. So this waterworks could be as large as I wanted it to be. At first, I considered using the shells of old hot tubs, but decided it would be more pleasant to use smooth, flat river rocks. In the end, I created what appeared to be elaborate Roman baths. When I showed my handiwork to my husband, he asked me where the water would outflow. It was then that I showed him what was at the base of the stone walls: four cantilever arches. I proceeded to describe to him, in detail, how I had built the cantilever arches.

Next, my dream mind worried about how to keep water in. I plugged up the arches as a stopgap measure, but knew I would need to find a permanent way to dam them up when I wanted the water in the baths. I had, throughout my dream, watched myself swimming peacefully in the cool, sky-colored bathwater. Being submerged was the point of the baths. I didn’t exactly solve this central problem in my dream. Of more importance to me, when I woke, was how my subconscious mind knew how to build cantilever arches and why I would build them at the base of Roman baths.

If somebody had asked me the day before, while going about my conscious tasks, to build a cantilever arch, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to begin. I would have attempted to determine, by understanding the meaning of cantilever, what such an arch is. Then I would have sneaked over to Google to find out more. As it turns out, a cantilever arch is one that has been corbeled on the sides. It’s not considered a true arch because not all the stress becomes compressed. Therefore, it isn’t self-sustaining, but relies on thick walls and an abutment for support. This was exactly how they were done in my dream. In fact, the walls of the baths were magically much thicker than they’d been a moment before my husband had asked me about outflow.

This type of arch was used frequently in ancient architecture; however, the Romans typically used “true” arches, and would have almost certainly used “true” arches in aqueducts. The Romans were, in fact, known for their use of arches. My dream arches didn’t appear as Roman. Rather, they did, indeed, have the distinct look of ancient corbeled arches, made from stone, and narrowing at the top. So what does it all mean? It means my sleeping mind knows things my conscious mind doesn’t; it means my subconscious is looking to an ancient framework for guidance–first to the ancient Romans, and then to even more ancient civilizations, as indicated by corbeled arches found in Egyptian pyramids and Mayan structures.

At times, I wish I could fall asleep and dream all the time, just so I can mine my brain to find whatever it is I know that I don’t know. Sadly, forcing these types of dream revelations is impossible for me. I have a peculiarly bad track record of directing my dreams. My subconscious mind is, apparently, stubborn. On the other hand, writing can operate on the same level as dreams, and often more consciously. It often brings to the fore subconscious symbols that resonate both with the reader and the writer. This is probably a good place to stop because I’m guest-blogging at Kat Heckenbach’s next week, and the subject is story symbolism.


Coffee Fantasies (as opposed to coffee memoirs)

This is not the Cartesian tree that doesn't need rethinking, nor is it in any sense part of the arboretum.

Cartesian Tree: not the kind that doesn’t need rethinking, but may be part of the arboretum.

I’m engulfed by a bookstore; it swallows me whole. This bookstore is greater than the Powell’s of my youth. With multiple stories and rows of books too high to reach, I still manage to gather a basket full of paperbacks and magazines. I purchase all of them–every last one. I’m now the owner of a new book of essays, a memoir, a mystery, some classic piece of literature I previously lacked, a collection of sci-fi shorts, and a book of poems with elegant woodcut illustrations. The magazines include a psychology journal, which turns out to be a disappointment due to a lack of depth, as well as a philosophy journal that is interesting, albeit a little dry. I’m also tempted by a popular magazine that contains an interview about an actress I admire, and a gossip ‘zine in Spanish, which is silly, but I need the practice.

Then I make my way to a table near the coffee counter and browse my new selections, opting for the memoir first because I have no self-control over my book-reading habits. Or, at least, I try not to have self-control. As my husband once noted, after I told him how annoyed I was by this new Christian obsession with Intentional Living, my life is far too intentional already. If anything, I need to break out of intention every now and again and stop being so focused. What’s life without play? Hmmm…Life without play is fantastic! No, it isn’t. Eventually, I raise my bleary eyes to the larger-than-life menu and decide I need a double espresso or a black coffee. I spend quite some time deliberating over this; a black coffee lasts longer and comes with refills, but my mouth waters over the thought of a thick, golden crema on top of quality espresso that’s been perfectly ground to a fine, but not too fine, grind, and then packed to a perfect level of compaction so that the hot steam is forced through in a slow and steady trickle. Finally, I decide on a double cappuccino because this is a fantasy, and I can order anything I want. What better to top a double shot of fine espresso with than the thick foam from full-fat milk?

I sit and read and sip. After my cup is empty, I use a demitasse spoon to scrape up any remaining bit of delightful foam. I read half the memoir, which is the tale of an impetuous woman who runs off to Costa Rica just before her wedding, before moving on to the mystery. I read a few pages and skip to the interview I had wanted to read. After I’m disappointed by the emotional rhetoric of this female actress I had once admired, whose basic philosophy she expresses as I can do whatever I want!, when even the émigré bride-that-was no longer believes that, I turn to the psychology magazine to read the leading article on neuroimaging that had piqued my interest, but that is little more informative than a Wikipedia entry with a lot more pictures. I never make it to the philosophy magazine because I realize the grave error in rethinking the Cartesian tree.

I sigh. This is supposed to be a fantasy. I carry my cappuccino cup and saucer, rattling them together all the way to the buss tray. Then I slip my books and magazines back in the plastic store bags and head out, where I’m delighted to find that it’s gently drizzling outdoors. This means I’m suddenly wearing a yellow raincoat. With anticipation in my steps, I wander over the city park blocks that seem to go on forever in their acres of deep green, yellowing at the edges with the first fall leaves…until I find the magical, mystery hot dog cart and order a couple of dogs loaded with chopped onions, relish–the works really–and refill all those calories I burned while wandering through the great bookstore.

My fantasies could go on, you know. I could be staying at a glassy hotel, the kind with a lobby like an arboretum where the gentle sound of trickling water mixes with the footfalls of dignified world travelers. The rooms are never as nice as the lobby in this type of hotel. Still, this is a fantasy, and so I ride a glass elevator to a room in the sky that doesn’t just boast a view of big city, but also of the sky world, a different world, a world of…I don’t know. You’ll have to guess the rest because I passed today’s allotted 500 words 239 words ago.


I Am Not the Exception

I no longer wish to be your exception. While it was comforting to know that you gave me a pass on the disgust you held for white, Christian, homeschool moms because I was somehow different, this exception forced me to walk on tiptoes whenever you were around. The truth is, as I listen to you rant about the nastiness of my kind, I realize you are actually speaking of me. You’ve given me an exception, but you actually haven’t. I AM the jean-skirt-wearing, overprotective, judgmental, manipulative, emotional, uptight, and preachy white Christian woman you despise. I would like to be allowed this, even if you’ve never seen me wear a jean skirt or heard my proselytize by means of my irrational world view.

I am this person because those are all outward manifestations of what occurs deeply on the inside. Inside, I’m proud of my Anglo-Irish heritage. That is who I am genetically and culturally–it’s what I know, and I’m not ashamed of my parents and grandparents. I truly believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. My soul won’t give me an out on this main point in my life, even if you’re an atheist, an agnostic, a spiritualist, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Jew. My soul doesn’t allow me to be any of those. As a homeschool mom, I AM trying to protect my children from a negative school environment; I’m not, however, trying to protect them from the world. I’m training them for the world in a safe place, in the same way that Ninjas begin their practice with wooden swords. You may agree or disagree that homeschool is best. I don’t care. But I would ask that you cease and desist from making me your exception.

Yes, I’m a female. Was it that obvious? And no, I’m not an exception regarding my sex. My outward behavior may appear, to you, to be an exception, but it isn’t. I have organs that you, as a man, entirely lack. I’m afraid of things you aren’t. And occasionally, I fall prey to to those nasty things called emotions that everybody loves to vilify in these post Enlightenment days–the irony being that a lack of emotion doesn’t correlate necessarily to being logical. Those who feel very unemotional automatically assume that they make logical decision, even if their logic has more holes than Swiss cheese. Sometimes, my logic does, too, despite that I have a reputation for being cold and logical.

I’m not your exception. Furthermore, I may not accept your fundamental definitions, which may make the “exception” a farce to me. For my part, I will hold the same rule for you: you are no longer allowed to be the exception, either.


Miscellaneous Mash-up: On Geeks and Everything Else

This day started with a bang. Here, in this spot, I’ll try to clarify my thoughts. Well, actually, it started with the alarm bleeping because it was milk delivery morning, and I had to pick up my milk early. Afterward, however, I experienced one of those typical stay-at-home parent moments, in which I was cooking and prepping food while my phone was tweeting out new messages 1,2,3,4…and my computer was sounding out the Facebook messages 1,2,3,4…This kind of multi-tasking requires intentional focus.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was discussing intentional focus. No, I wasn’t. I was attempting to file my thoughts into various boxes.

Box 1: On geeks: My husband was highly offended by my post yesterday. He couldn’t believe I dissed on the Doctor. I didn’t dis on the Doctor. I like the Doctor; I just don’t (or should I say didn’t?) understand the culture surrounding these shows/movies. However, I learned from my dad (commenter Leon Miler) that I am a geek because it’s really all about the collection of minutiae. Jessica agreed that I’m a geek. My sense of not belonging is part of being a geek, she said, even if I sense that I don’t belong in geek culture. This is probably why Grace said geek behavior, such as dressing up, was about raising a tribal flag; others will recognize that you belong if you raise the flag. Lelia insisted it was all about playing and having fun in an adult way, and Adecker could only respond to the role-playing question, and his answer leads me to believe that it isn’t just about playing, but about being immersed in an active storytelling culture. My eldest daughter, who is an unrepentant geek, can’t understand why I, a fiction writer, don’t understand the excitement of role-playing. Back to husband–he disdainfully holds to the theory that I’m not a geek. According to him, I’m a snotty intellectual who writes literature. My dad and husband are both right, if you can imagine melding those two ideas. I am an intellectual. I’m an intellectual who collects minutiae whose husband enjoys pushing her buttons.

Box 2: Huh. I just funneled all my thoughts through the geek funnel and can’t find any others. Let me think…thinking is hard. Where’s Barbie and her gay best friend, Ken, when I need them?

On writing: Jessica sent me a message this morning asking me if I’d registered my copyright. In the past, this was always considered an excessive and unnecessary action on the part of paranoid authors. Now it’s an insurance that a writer can take action if her work is plagiarized. If you’d like more info, read this post by Jami Gold: The New Face of Book Pirates: Plagiarists. In addition to registering your copyright*, she suggests running Google alerts for phrases from your book. Otherwise, unless you’re a bestseller who has a lot of fans, you will likely not catch this new breed of pirate.

Writing is a kind of child’s toy of nested boxes. The next box contains the novella I’m working on, Oso and Julia, which I plan to release within the next few months. In the nearer future, I will be re-releasing Anna and the Dragon with a professional cover. The book cover is the smallest inner box that my conscious mind is currently aware of.

Box 3: On work: I need to fill out more job applications.

Box 4: On math: Math is an ever-present reality in the life of this mechanical engineering student, or as I prefer to call myself–a ME student. That sounds inappropriately narcissistic.

Box 5: On family:…….hmmm……..We spend A LOT of time together. Sometimes, I fear we’re becoming the Borg. Geek alert! Did I just raise my flag?

*I don’t know why I initially said trademark. Thanks to Jami for the correction. I don’t even know what a trademark would be for a writer–maybe what Stratemeyer Sindicate held for Nancy Drew?