My books are not what people think

I was so sick week before last.  A whole unfortunate and unpleasant stomach thing, and I was left with no mental capacity.

I texted a friend “I read a Brandon Sanderson book in 2 days.”

She replied, “At least you did something productive.”


Oh. This is that thing that comes up sometimes.

Here is a thing about me:

I read.

I read the way most people watch movies or TV. So when I say I read a book for two days, I was implying I had utterly wasted two days. For other people, this would be like binge watching trashy TV for 2 days.

No redeeming value. Just brain candy. And barely that, because the brain wasn’t much involved. THIS Brandon Sanderson book was all limbic system.

I’ve read more than 20 books so far this year.  Like I said, I read a lot. And when I share that information, I get this weird reaction “Oh, I should read more.”

MMmmmm… Don’t take my reading so seriously. Maybe 5% of the books were something more than entertainment

One of the books is Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. In that book she talks about how we have created lives that we need to escape from, using “Numbing” activities.

About 5 years ago it occurred to me that my reading was totally escapism. That I was coming home from work and diving into beautiful heroic worlds that were the OPPOSITE of my life.

I wasn’t being brave or present in my life. I was avoiding my life.

My reading was not enhancing my life; it was taking me away from it. Just as video games, or TV or Movies do for other people.

I became a more careful about my reading. I couldn’t just dive in and stay as I had been used to. I wanted my life to be full. I knew things had to change.

I started some mindfulness practices.

Well. That sounds very linear. I started to do some different things. I started to pay attention to my intuition. I say intuition, even though that word enraged me at the time. “WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY IS INTUITION? HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE IT?”

In hindsight, I can see what I didn’t at the time, which is that if I am escaping from the uncomfortableness of my life, I am not going to feel the subtle urging of intuition.

My numbing agent of choice, books, was me putting earplugs in my ears so I couldn’t hear the fire alarm telling me SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT.

The fire alarm had to be reckoned with. And more urgently, the fire it was trying to tell me about.

It was not subtle how I was unhappy. What was more subtle was how I had convinced myself that I had to stay unhappy.

And that my escaping into a good book was the best way to tread that very unfortunate water.

I recognized the behavior as unhealthy and began to pull away. Which did not make me happy. It made me very uncomfortable at first. Because it meant I had to deal with that annoying fire alarm.

That fire alarm was the intuition. Misery is not subtle.

But I’d stopped my ears up pretty good. I was like a blind man who suddenly gains sight…Took me a while to make sense of what I saw.

I did change the misery, though. And I learned about what mindfulness and intuition can do for me.

And I have a better respect for books’ proper role in my life.

mundane and magic

It was late—for me—as I sat on the grass with my daughter and six thousand other people watching the fireworks.

I love fireworks so much. My head tilted back to see the explosions of color arc over the sky again and again.

They used to have smiley face fireworks. An explosion of lights that form a circle, with two dots for eyes and a smile in the middle. They don’t have those so much anymore. I guess they fell out of favor.

It’s funny that fireworks are used on patriotic occasions, because fireworks are made out of the same materials as bombs and bullets. The explosive sounds are identical.

I heard that sometimes veterans don’t like fireworks after they’ve seen action. I can totally see why the screaming explosions wouldn’t sound fun after you’ve seen them take lives.

I’ve heard that China invented gunpowder, and then outlawed other people from having it. They would only use it for fireworks.

As I looked at the awe-inspiring beauty of the showers of lights, I could only think of them as technology. The gunpowder it takes to launch these, and the advances it took to get them to squeal and sparkle–to make a smiley face!—that’s technology.

Art is all about technological advancements. How do you divide the soul from the spirit or the art from technology?

From chemical colors, which allow for textile and paint to be brilliant, to polymers that allow for sculptures and dwellings to have new shapes that weren’t possible before, these are the stuff of science and art.

Metal guitar strings allowed for louder music, so musicians could travel and perform for bigger audiences. And when bigger audiences were involved that changed the music again.

I don’t think it was the musician that figured out how to make the guitar strings metal. Perhaps the usual thing is for industrial forces to create an advance, and then artists to experiment with it.

But then I think of Stradivari and his violins. This was before the industrial age, and his craftsmanship with the violin–technology, really–changed the whole understanding of what violins could do.

He approached the art of violin making scientifically, using materials and forms to create these instruments. And his art affected the art of music for centuries. Arguably, his artisanship raised the violin to where it rests today, an inescapably pillar of music.

And these ideas swirl in my head, as I listen to the Souza march that accompanies the fireworks display above the field in my little town. The Chinese gunpowder, the craft of music making, and all the ordinary crafts that each of us can do…mixing a cake, fixing the computer, reorganizing a closet or helping a child with homework–these all have that mix of technology and art, the mundane and the magical.

As the final crescendo of fireworks explodes, I feel lifted and joyful at their beauty. I wish I could take that with me and see more of that than the mundane.

Sometimes I do.

Privilege Check

This weekend was HOT. The West Coast is suffering. I grew up in Alaska, so the extreme temperature there was COLD. In extremes of temperature, on both sides of the spectrum, the way to cope is to stay indoors.

Enclosed in my house, I looked for something to watch on TV, and discovered that a second season of Poldark was available.

Hooray! Poldark is a period piece that is basically a romance novel come to life. A vastly handsome young British Lord who falls on hard times. The plot is very melodramatic, but the people and the dresses are so beautiful it is very good entertainment.

The nobleman hero Poldark does marry a commoner (swoon!) and because he has fallen on hard times, both of them must work very hard.

So Demelza has to straddle both worlds, working as hard as a servant sometimes but still being the lady of the house.

One of the things that I find unrealistic about these shows is how the ladies do their hair. Demelza is beautiful with HuGe free-flowing red wavy hair. It’s magnificent, and as she travels the coastline to fish or gather driftwood to feed the fire, she leaves it free to blow in the wind.

It’s beautiful.

As a woman with magnificent hair, every time I watch her picturesque windblown hair I rage. It would be a complete rats nest after a day walking in the wind like that! How ridiculous! She would tie it back, cover it or at least braid it so that she didn’t have to spend an hour trying to comb it into civility after she returns indoors.

That part is so unreal.

There was another part where Demelza took a walk along the beach because her lord husband did something that disturbed her.

I remembered she was straddling the lady/servant role. She did have servants, but not enough to keep body and soul together. Their 17th century wood fire heating and fish meals required a lot of work. Many times she would have to go to the shore to get those two materials.

But this time, she was the lady of the house. The activity of walking on the beach because you needed to think was a highly privileged activity. For people who had to work tirelessly for their food, that kind of luxury was unheard of.

Only people with servants had that kind of freedom.

This occurred to me as I was sitting in my boudoir, with my laptop on my lap and the AC keeping me cool as I spent my Saturday binge-watching season two of Poldark.

I have a lot of freedom.

I have a lot of privilege.

I even have a lot of product for my hair to keep it civilized if I want to let it wave free instead of tying it back.

It’s a good time to be alive.

Fact and Fiction

I’ve been writing for a long time now. I’ve been reading even longer. The joy of reading is so easy, like boarding a train for a beautiful adventure.

Writing is different. It’s more like BUILDING a train. Or at the least a little wagon to take the readers on a journey. That’s harder.

So I’ve done what I can to learn the best practices and skills of building a story wagon. There are a lot of things to know, and methods and techniques to follow to achieve a desired result. I’ve learned a few things about what’s under the hood in a book

The book that took me the longest to write, The Russian American School of Tomorrow, is a memoir. It’s a very special form of non-fiction.
I found this definition from Hoover library talking about fiction vs. non-fiction:

Fiction” refers to literature created from the imagination…

“Nonfiction” refers to literature based in fact. It is the broadest category of literature.

See? Is my memoir my imagination or fact? Are my memories of events facts?

See what the Hoover Library says about nonfiction? It’s the broadest category of literature. It’s a super powerful form of writing. To learn and understand how things work, and how people did things in the past or what they are thinking right now about how to do things in the future.

People are very picky about facts. There are rules for what you can call a fact and how you present things as facts.

It reminds me of construction. When you build a building, there are rules and laws and every single part of that building has to be rated and tested, then inspected so that we are sure the building will not fall on our heads. That’s how we can feel confident–even in earthquakes!–to go be in that building.

We trust the building. We trust facts.

But my memory of the facts? Is that trustworthy?

In fiction, there is an UNDERSTOOD warning. The author, by placing the book in the fiction category, warns all readers that this story has not been tested and inspected. It’s ‘just’ a story. It didn’t really happen.

But in my exploration of literature, I’ve encountered books that are more true than facts. How is the story of Frodo’s battle with the ring of power not one of the truest kind of facts? Yes, it didn’t happen. The place they ‘live’ doesn’t even exist. But that story lives again and again. In my life, and in others’.

So the story of my life, what really happened, written in a memoir, is fact. But some people would dispute it. That’s their right. If they lived the story too, their view and experience of it was undeniably different.

But the imagination it took to form that story was not in the realm of non-fiction. I’ve written non-fiction. I have written training materials on how to use technology. I’ve written step-by-step instructions in The Pregnant Professional. The level of imagination is completely different.

There are parts of life that feel like non-fiction. It’s a non-fiction moment when my alarm goes off in the morning. No imagination required.

You know what’s fiction? When my daughter is crying because her homework is too hard and she doesn’t want to do it. That’s where the imagination comes in.

So much of our lives would do better if we composed it out of fiction. If we were willing to unbind the prescriptions of what we HAVE to do, and open up the box of what we MIGHT do.

What might we do when the boss calls us into the office to reprimand us about something we were unaware we needed to do?

What might we do when we feel our beloved spouse is too busy to pay attention to what we want?

What else is possible?

What else might we imagine?

There are steps. There are best practices. As I’ve found in my writing, though, those are a starting place, not a finishing place. We are all creators of our destinies. And each created life is a work of art. Look for the places to inject imagination.

Look for the art. You will find it.