Wriving

I stood at the edge of the diving board, the hot Central California Valley sun nuking my brain. Drops of water skid down every inch of me. I bounced a little on the sturdy board; it would hold and balance me for as long as I wanted to stand there. “Jump,” you shouted to me. I put my arms up the way I’ve seen it done in commercials and bounced a little again. The last time I went diving it was in the 6th grade and we were doing it from the edge of the pool. The unbearable sun pushed me off the diving board and with a feeble jump and inhalation I jumped headfirst into the pool. Bellyflop.

Writing and diving evoke the exact same sensation from me: excitement and fear of failure. Thinking about starting to write is like staring at my toes a few feet about the water, looking behind me to find the exit off this horrible board, forgetting that I was the one to giggle, run around the pool, dance onto the diving board and say, “I’d gonna do it!” Bellyflopping is worse than failing at writing and it’s not that bad.

The sound of the water smack me was so loud that I laughed. Underwater. My head bobbed up out of the water and my aching stomach vibrated as laughter overcame me. “That was fun!” I ran right back on the diving board and jumped in, feet first this time.

Failure could be pretty fun and funny, I need to remember that.

On the Nightstand

Books I’m reading, slowly:

The Shadow of the Wind, a novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

How to Write Like Chekhov: Advice and Inspiration, Straight from His Own Letters and Work, edited and intro by Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

I’ll share my three cents once I have them.

Eclipse

I caved. I read the third Twilight saga book. No, I didn’t read the first two. This isn’t a book to read for the literary quality, you read it to find out what happens. The words don’t seem to get into your head fast enough as you wonder whether Bella ultimately choose Jacob or Edward; and, every once in a while you wonder why these uber-studs are fighting over her at all.

Stephanie Meyer has something here. Her fame is not undeserved. Every generation needs its love story, its tween hearthrobs, and a sense that true, romantic love is out there. The Notebook did that a while ago. Remember that one? Twilight is just like that. It’s an important cultural phenomenon, the love story. This isn’t an intellectual read, it’s an emotional one that has the whole nation talking. Even men, whether they want to admit it or not, have an opinion (Team Jacob or Team Edward?).

This discussion is not about looks, oddly enough. The discussion is about values, beliefs, responsibility. It’s not gossip, it’s a way to relate to one another.

So that’s what I’m reading. After a long day at work, I don’t feel like continuing with a brain-stretching read about how humans evolve, why particles come in and out of existance if you look at them, or a novel that has me looking up words at the end of the chapters. I just want to know what happens next.

I’ve got the fourth book on hold at the library waiting for me and I’m not apologizing for it.

The Gift of Gratitude

Giving thanks has been on our minds and lips all week, culminating in today’s feast, celebrating the abundance we are reminded to observe. We take a short break from thinking about all the voids in our lives and feel gratitude for the things between those voids. There is no aspect of life more worthy of a holiday than gratitude, which is why I am breaking my hiatus and blogging about this sacred gift we have: the ability to feel grateful.

If you asked me a month ago what I thought gratitude meant (kind of a 3rd grade question), I would say that it meant being thankful, being aware of all the things you are lucky enough to have. Not too bad, right? Today my answer is different. Today, I say, gratitude is an action word and a way of life. I thought I was thankful by passively noticing what I have: the people, the qualities, the job, the clothes, but this never did much for me, this list. If anything I felt more angered by how naïve and ultimately ineffective this act was. It wasn’t until I heard the gratitude pros speak that I truly knew how to express (and reap the rewards of) gratitude.

Last week I went to a work-related author event for the book Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude. I went the week before as well, but decided I couldn’t miss the all-star lineup of this second event (not to mention I wanted to get my book signed this time). The co-author, Nina Lesowitz, spoke alongside poet and novelist Alan Kaufman and author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau. Each speaker demonstrated a whole new way of “living life as a thank you” and why this attitude of gratitude is so vital to them.

For Nina, it is a conscious choice to do a mental version of stop, drop, and roll. Catching yourself in a funk is hard enough, but Nina encourages you to find the strength, no matter how skeptical you are, to flip your funk. This kind of self-discipline requires practice, but the results will be well worth it.

Alan spoke about the life-saving nature gratitude practice has on his life. As a man in recovery, possessing a constructive attitude towards life is vital. In fact, for him his life depends on it. From being homeless and eating out of a dumpster to being an internationally acclaimed author whose words speak right to your soul, Alan is living proof of the wonders of gratitude.

Phil offers yet another experience of gratitude. Waiting for gratitude to enter your life, sweep you off your feet, and carry you into the sunset isn’t quite how it works. He urges us to give our attention to the multitude of miracles that constitute our daily lives that often go unnoticed.

When I heard Nina, Alan, and Phil tell their personal stories, each rang true for me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me feel grateful.

I consider myself a generally happy person, but since I’ve been trying to make gratitude a daily practice, I’m surprised to find myself elated. It’s not that I’m happier, I just feel more easy going, more generous, less angry, less rushed…the list continues.

I hope this movement continues with me and with you. Be grateful and see how differently the world begins to look and even act.

I’ve found that I’m most grateful for the ability to feel grateful. It’s such a precious gift, I hope we remember to cherish it and use it.

My Attempt at the Lyric Essay

So, I’m still not quite sure I know what I’m doing, but here it is. I wrote an autobiographical poem using words only from the titles of the books in my room. Keeping the titles in tact made the piece sound too much like a list, but I hope that in the scrambling of words the integrity of what a lyric essay is remains.

***

Life in Literature

The birth of Lady Venus in Wonderland.
The master of the spirits, reading.
The aspiring writers everlasting project
To write like Chekhov.
When you go put strengths to work
Like the soul awakening intuition
The spirit of the elixir called love sounds true.
Random obsessions deflowered the paradiso.
Pride and prejudice, ignorance and war.
Your portrait of a daring genius of the enlightenment, engulfed in flames
The frenzy of the kill remains.

What is your Buddha?
The world living life as a thank you.

Lolita, the cosmic navigator, the poetry oracle, making star signs, sun signs matter.
The path to love: the art of laughter and forgetting.
The dialogues of fathers and queer sons are the feasts of freedom.
One hundred years of philosophy on the edge of evolution. Unbearable.
The day you want adventure. Journal.
Memory: the clockwork muse.
Looking at the time writers connected the secret law to how
It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
Writing of the being, the secret to live by.

This side of paradise beats of brave new literature.

***

The theme is my personal journey as a beginning writer, the state of the world, and my personal state. I was really surprised that I could convey what I mean using this limited set of words.

I had some fun writing it, I hope you enjoy reading it.

I’m lazy, but so was Chekhov

In a letter to his editor, Chekhov tells about the six month journey he is about to go on which will require “contant physical and mental work, which is precisely what my sluggish nature requires. I need discipline.”  I need discipline too.

I decided that some sort of formal training is necessay to get me off my feet. I write when I write, but without a deadline and an assignment I’ll end up with a bunch of story beginnings and outlines and no stories (which is exactly what I have now). So, after some research I decided to join the online writing community, specifically, writers.com. I was late for the daily-writing-find-your-voice class, so I opted for The Lyric Essay class.

I have no idea what a lyric essay is. It sounds nice though. More importantly, it sounds like discipline. After reading about what such an essay entails (a short story written in any unorthodox form you chose) and reading three completely different examples of what this can look like (mind you, this type of essay has unlimited appearances, styles, and forms), I have to write one myself. Due Friday.

I’m savoring my confusion right now. Wanting to write wonderfully is intimadating; your mind thinks about all the great writing you’ve ever read, all the rules of it entails, and all the ways you can, and probably will, mess it up and not be among the great writers. This lyric essay business is about breaking down boundaries, rules, order, form, all that limting stuff and just writing in a creative (and kinda confusing) way.

If I’m not any good in lyric essay writing, I’m OK with that, this isn’t my shtick. But the way it liberates me, as a person of limits, is surprisingly amazing. I think I need this class to get me going, break my guards down, put some stuff (no matter how bad) on paper. I’ve been free to not write and when I do I censor what I write: a true recipe for never becoming a writer. With this class I am forced to write and be free of my creative blocks. I was disciplined where freedom is needed and undisciplined where structure is needed. Let’s see if this untangeling (via enrollment in this class) works.

I’ll post here what I turn in on Friday.

I’ve Got Zombies on the Braiiinnnnssss

Army of Darkness is perhaps one of the worst movies of all time. Miraculously, I have seen it quite a few times, not in full though. However reluctantly I began my journey into the land of zombie B-movies, I did begin it, and I’m pretty sure I finished it.

I don’t mean to brag, but I have seen quite a few movies from this fine genre. From The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2, Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead 2, Dead Alive, Night of the Living Dead (the older and newer versions), and Shaun of the Dead I earned myself some street cred in the undead scene, I also did it in a matter of months. At first this was  goofy thing for me and my boyfriend to do, we’d hunt down the best of the worst and take turns laughing at ourselves first, then at the movie, then at ourselves again. We’d also only pick movies that were not actually scary, because horror was not the purpose. With each rental a new world would open, not only in the movie, but in our own lives. Those movies served as a key to an interesting cult following, nothing serious, but definitely to an  either-you-know-or-you-don’t-know society.  From movie store staff to random people in the line at the grocery store, we bonded with our community via this unexpected subject of so-bad-they’re-good zombie movies.

At this point in my seasoned journey, I wonder: What makes zombies so attractive? Why have there been hundreds of movies made on this topic? One of the biggest factors in the popularity in zombie films, I think, is their proximity to reality. It seems the slightest bit possible that a chemical spill can create a transmittable disease among humans (the undead part is less easily explained) creating an insatiable thirst for brains. I kid.

The real reason I liked them was their unintentional humor and completely ridiculous plots and characters. This was the reason while watching. Now that I am a zombie-movie connoisseur of sorts, my reason for the interest has changed. What fascinates me now is not how likely it is for people to un-die, but rather how real it is that so many of us are living-dead. It all began when jokingly my boyfriend and I pointed out some random person staggering along, probably drunk, and saying, “hey look, a zombie,” and we’d laugh because this is how the movies introduce zombies: just one harmless one, walking about, going unnoticed. When we thought about this joke that we proceeded to make on a more frequent basis, we realized there are quite a few zombie-like people around, including, probably, us.

Bear with me for a minute as I take my rant to its logical (or not so logical…whatever) conclusion. Are we living like zombies and not even aware of it? Are we blindly striving for some self-serving goal (mmm, brains) because the group is?

Some of the films showed zombies as having some emotions, a glimpse of a conscience, even a sense of humor. There is a momentary sense of hope, but this moment is fleeting; the zombies end up wanting you only for your brains and that’s that. We show more than glimpses of human connections and consciences, we have so much to give and show and offer each other. I hope we nurture these very human qualities before we do turn into something scary.

Is it possible that zombie movies can teach us something? I think so. We’re going through an interesting time in history and there are extreme social movements on the horizon. When our solid ground feels a little shakey it’s easy to get greedy to save yourself, but this is the most important time to be nurturing to others. In times when we feel like letting out a beast we must take care not to. These are trying times for many and the way to get through it together and with success, we have to be conscious and conscientious, alert and mindful, human and compassionate. 

Don’t be a zombie, they always get defeated, even if it’s in a sequel down the line.

Writing in Theory

Research is great, unless of course it’s merely a tool for procrastination. I’m starting to think my “discovery phase,” as I called it, of becoming the writer I aspire to be has gone on long enough.

I’m reading two books on writing.* It sounds inspiring, productive, even disciplined, doesn’t it? Although the books offer unique and practical advice, I have yet to implement these words of wisdom into my own creative outbursts.

To help myself write, I’ve decided to restructure this blog to better suit my writing. So, when I read something, I’ll blog about it. I may even write a blurb to exercise my newly learned tip. If I’m feeling courageous, I may even post it here. If you have experience with writing (and even if you don’t) I strongly encourage you to voice your opinion. If you are an aspiring writer yourself, I encourage you to visit often to pick up some of these bits of advice I’ll be posting; let me know if they work for you.

*The two books are:
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose
How to Write Like Chekhov: Advice and Inspiration, Straight from His Own Letters and Work, edited and intro by Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek

Borsch

A touch of sour cream

Like a fog cooling a dog day afternoon

That’s how fresh you are to me

 

I know some who eat theirs mushy

Over-cooked beets and cabbage

Carrots ignored

Reheated but set to cool and served tepid

 

They must not know of love to eat a soup so tortured

The Beginning

I’m the ever-aspiring Fool. More specifically, I’m aspiring to be the Fool we all once were. The confident, wise being whose unwavering optimism serves as inspiration to me now.

The Fool

I’m a recent graduate from Cal, and by recent I mean I graduated over a year ago; I now find myself on a path I never dreamed I would be on. For several years, I imagined law school as my final destination, the grand finale to my education (maybe not finale, but a temporary ending), the solution to my indecisive wants of pursuing other careers. Law school was the answer; it was stable and doable.

As the academic year was reaching it’s savory end, the end I’d prayed I would see, I felt what home-buyers feel when buying a house out of their price range: buyers’ remorse. The LSATs were taken, letters of recommendation sent in, personal statements sent in, and the application fees paid. The moment should have felt euphoric, like a boulder off my shoulders, but I didn’t feel satisfied. I suddenly found myself asking the question: so what are you doing to do after you graduate, you certainly aren’t going to law school? Wait, what?

I decided that I would only go to law school if I were granted acceptance to my top two choices: Stanford or Berkeley. I didn’t want to go to any law school, just to put a check mark by that goal. I wanted to go big or go home. Let’s just say I went home…relieved.

I worked at a high-paying, dead-end (for me) job after graduation; the position was temporary and even with the option of extending my contract, I felt it was not right for me, tempting as it was. I will spare you the details. Law-anything was not a desirable option, and while I was mostly responsibility-free, I decided to explore my most authentic dreams. This part, I relealized, I should have done in college, before choosing a major, and at least before choosing a graduate school. The job ended and the world was my oyster, my mysterious, exciting, confusing oyster.

 One glorious Monday night, I went out with an ex-coworker on what, at that time, I reluctantly called a date. We got along so well from our first encounter that I looked forward to the friendship we were bound to have. On this night, a night filled with fun and thought-provoking conversation, he asked me a question that set me up on the path I am on now. The fervor with which he asked the question surpirsed both of us, as if he wasn’t completely aware of how important this question was.
“Elena, what do you want to do?”
With even more surprise, I exclaimed, “I want to write!”
There was a moment of silence. I knew I was in the presence of a truth of truths. Writing, a hobby, was always dear to me, and fun! I had never considered making it a career though, I was certain I had nothing to say that wasn’t already said; I merely wrote for myself. It took an implusive question for me to have an impulsive answer, which would be the most authentic one.
When you are on the right path, you seldom know it’s the right one beyond feeling it’s the right one. The way the universe folds and opens to offer you this road, which leads exactly to where you should be, is miraculous. Two weeks did not go by before I found an internship at a publishing house, here in San Francisco. Now, almost eight months later I have a part-time job with the company, with a boss whom I feel cares about my dreams. I have time for myself to write and I am even working on a book with my boss!
If I hadn’t taken a leap, or two, of faith, I would not be where I am now. The very essence of the Fool is trust in what is ahead, as long as you are doing what is true to you.
As for the man with the important question, he is my partner of over 7 months, with whom I am very much in love, but that’s a different story.