Monday, October 22, 2007

“Rowling” In The Aisles

Well, apparently J.K. Rowling was out of the headlines for just a tad too long and needed to get back in them with a good dose of controversy. So she found some. In a manner of speaking, that is. She didn’t court genuine controversy or put her neck genuinely on the line; on the contrary, she knew exactly what she was doing announcing the alleged homosexuality of the Harry Potter character Dumbledore the way she did, where she did, and how she did. Let’s face it. The woman didn’t go on campus at a conservative private school and do this; she went to the liberal capital of the liberal East Coast and did it there. Where she’d be sure to get applause and even be praised for it (at least one blog called this “a giant step forward for human rights” —and no, I am not making this up)…not be subjected to a slice or two of booing, hissing, and criticism she might well pick up further inland. (She probably will pick that up, too. There’ll no doubt be backlash, flurries of e-mails from family organizations, statements in the press, and she’ll get more fuel, more attention, more fire. Woman’s dumb like a fox.) But the sad part of all this hoopla is, it’s all so needless. This “revelation” of hers, as nothing else does, points up an agenda that has now officially gone so far overboard that it’s about to become a caricature of itself. Remember the days when every other soap opera female, for awhile there, was a reformed prostitute? (Maybe they still are. It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen a soap opera.) Ex-prostitutes married doctors and became respectable members of their communities—while all the time people knew that they’d come out of “the life” and admired and accepted them for it. I think in the legendary Pine Valley alone, on one block, there were three ex-hookers settled down to Happy Ever After without so much as a ripple of any trouble except if someone from their past happened to track them down. Now, I don’t know about you, but I lived the majority of my life in a major metropolitan area without ever having met a prostitute, much less a reformed one who had married a doctor and was living in an upscale suburb. Yet TV expected us to believe this was an everyday occurrence, that all these girls had “hearts of gold” and that, if just given a chance… Much the same thing has now occurred, on a much wider scale, with another fringe group—and these entertainment gurus are hoping we’re just as gullible. Unfortunately, so far, many of us have been. Homosexuals make up something between 7% and 15% of the total population, the former figure being one I was quoted when I was in school. Whether you take a lower or slightly higher figure into account, however—even by the most generous anthropological and sociological estimates—this is a tiny minority of people on the face of the earth (as most anomalies are). And that’s people with the proclivity alone; that’s not even the (smaller) numbers of people living the so-called “gay lifestyle.” Many people with SSA are chaste, are wise, and are observing a countercultural morality that costs them on one level every day, but saves them far more in the long run. You’ll never know that by our “culture,” however. You’ll never know the seedy side of the homosexual life through TV, books, or movies. On the contrary: TV, movies, and books are replete with homosexual characters—or couples—who are invariably the nicest, best looking, funniest, and most intelligent characters on the scene. Even in the rare instance that a homosexual is portrayed as something other than the #1 neighbor on the block, that’s usually written off to a bigger issue/storyline, a homosexual “rights” struggle, or the like…all within the framework of you’d-better-be-okay-with-this-or-you’re-a-bigot. The fact that the “gay” lifestyle has a dark, dangerous side—and no, not from “right-wingers” and “persecution,” but contained within the actual lifestyle itself—is a well-kept secret. And so you’ll never be aware of the false story you’re being told, time and time and time again. When it comes to prostitution, at least enough of the dark side of it’s been presented to all of us over the years that when you see things like the soap-opera scenario happening, you can step back far enough from it to realize the writers are stretching credibility beyond the screaming point, and you can laugh at them and dismiss it. But how will that distance happen when even the world’s most popular author seems to think it’s a good idea to bring the “alternative” agenda into Harry Potter books? And this is about agenda, one J.K. is bringing into the books. In effect, pasting it on. I suspect this because the great majority of devoted Harry Potter fans I know completely missed the “hints” that were supposedly put into the stories about this Dumbledore proclivity, about his “love” relationship with another character. It was supposedly there all the time, and they all missed it. Now on its face, this assertion is at best preposterous and at worst insulting. These are dedicated fans. People who counted the days until each book came out. People who read and reread the entire series prior to each book’s coming out. People who know details about the books. People who know trivia about the books. People who can see between lines, who know layers of meaning, who are perceptive and sharp in their reading. And yet J.K. is telling us that those fans failed to pick up on any of this, even supposedly with “hints” provided? Whom does she think she’s kidding? I’m not buying that tale, spun that way, any more than I buy the probability that three women down my block are ex-prostitutes. I seriously doubt those “hints” were there in the first place. I’m skeptical, in fact, that that character was even ever meant to be that way. What’s more likely, from this side of the fence, is that J.K. has chosen to bring Dumbledore “out of the closet” now not because he was there all the time, but because declaring a character “gay” nowadays is a sure way to get oneself even more attention, even more press, and at the same time paint even what are supposed to be innocent fiction stories with an extra (and oh-so-hip) layer of socially “forward” content. But why do it in a series that’s supposedly aimed at children? Is that even remotely appropriate? More importantly, even if J.K. had in mind that the guy was queer all that time, was it important to the storyline that he be so? If so, how did all those people miss it? If not, why is it even worth mentioning? Frankly, this “announcement” has all the earmarks of smoke and mirrors. A scam. A ploy. And a carefully orchestrated one at that, guaranteed to inflame one segment of the audience and delight the other. But why an author would want to polarize her audience at this point is a very good question, one that apparently no one thought worth asking…unless, of course, it all falls under the heading of “any publicity is good publicity.” That appears to be, in the end, what this is all about. Not about story. Not about character. Above all, not about integrity. It’s about grabbing headlines, which, sadly, it’s succeeded in doing. But one has to wonder what possible payoff could make it worth her while for J.K. to take a pretty innocent kids’ series of books and—just like Harry waving a wand—transform a part of them into yet another platform for deviants. One can only conclude from this that what P.T. Barnum said is true, after all. Too bad—in so many ways—for all of us. Thoughts? Janny

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reinventing, Part 3—The Blessing of Inertia and Cutting Yourself Some Slack

Last time, I yammered a bit about how sometimes a paralyzing event, or series of events, can creep up on us with an intensity we don’t even recognize until a) we’re in its clutches, or (if we’re the lucky ones) b) it’s all over. I’ve experienced this, and I don’t know if I’m over it yet. But a thought or two on how I may be emerging from the fog wouldn’t be amiss. Looking back on a traumatic period of our lives from the perspective of being “through with that,” of course, is always the better place to be…if you can learn from it. But in my experience, that doesn’t always happen. Not because we don’t want to learn from it so much as because once some really dark time in our creative lives is over at last, we’re so relieved that we’re not “there” anymore that we shrink from the idea of analyzing how we got “there,” lest we inadvertently end up “there” all over again. In other words, we’re scared spitless of confronting that devil one more time, lest he re-snare us. This is a needless fear, actually. But merely because something is needless doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. Most creative people are at least a little OCD, and what may appear “needless” to a strong, silent jock may be a very realistic shadow lurking around our corners. We also don’t want to fall into the trap, much encouraged by our “victimizing” society, of wallowing: so much of what I do now isn’t my fault because it was all caused by this terrible thing I had to go through when I was eight years old—! You get the picture. But in the case of a writer who has neither celebrity to worry about nor any other particular reason to want to excuse herself, looking at “how I got in a creative mess” isn’t wallowing. It’s not attempting to rationalize bad behavior. It’s simply an attempt to understand what contributed to that spot and, if we’re smart, to learn how to be gentle enough with ourselves that we don’t inadvertently prolong the agony of being in that unproductive and frustrating place by trying either to deny it to “tough” our way out of it. We all have different lists in the back of our minds of The Things I Absolutely Can’t Deal With No Matter How Much Chocolate I Have. So why do we feel there’s something so wrong with admitting that you’re not dealing very well with something, even months or years afterward, if it’s been on that list all your life? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be writing all these essays about why I beat up on myself for not “keeping on keeping on” despite everything. (Brings to mind the old Monty Python line: “A mere flesh wound!” If you get this reference, I don’t have to explain it. If you don’t get it, ask a Python fan to go into detail.) Yes, being a creative person entails a generous helping of mental toughness. And yes, succeeding at any endeavor means you can’t roll up the sidewalks every time someone gives you a piece of bad news, makes an unkind remark, passes up your kid for the major league draft, or has the inconsideration to go and die on you…or does it? I would assert that sometimes, it does. And sometimes those sidewalks are going to be rolled up for way longer than even we think they “should” be. But I’m also here to tell you that that may be the very place where, finally, God will meet you, shake your hand, and sit you down…so He can start unwrapping presents. Like reminding you that in your heart of hearts, you always *used to be* a musician who wrote, not a writer who happened to like music. Why does that reminder free you? Because then you go back to music as being the lifeblood of your creative system, something that feeds both your spirit and your other (writing) Muse…and both sides of you are neither overcompelled nor overpressured to “perform or else.” It’s a balance I had gotten out of, and so I’m trying hard to concentrate on getting it back again. Unwrapping this present also meant that I could relax, and in the process, begin tending to both my Muses rather than just one; what this means is, being stalled out in the writing area doesn’t mean my creativity is shot to pieces permanently. Merely stepping back, doing more music and less writing for awhile, can and usually does create just enough artistic momentum that all of a sudden the writing’s no longer terrifying…just another artistic thing I do. It’s not my only career path,or even, necessarily, my true career path (or, the old “God’s perfect will for my life” notion. Talk about something that needs to die a quick death?)…at least not exclusively. And any time you can take pressure off a creative endeavor, or a creative person, it’s a blessing. In my life, freeing writing from being the be-all and end-all of my creative endeavors means that I’m no longer frantically comparing myself to the other writers out there…that I’m no longer going to beat up on myself because I’m not writing every day…that I can stop worrying about whether I’m “serious” enough about this career or not…because it doesn’t have to be the only egg in my basket. I’m still a talented musician. I will always be a talented musician, and since I started singing way before I started storytelling, I asked myself…which is actually the more important Muse? Which is the one that, without question, nurtures all the others? There’s always been one primary answer to that question, and at last I’m remembering it. And I’m attempting to re-internalize it, to re-give myself permission to call myself a musician again, in my own emotional world and in my own estimation, without having to feel like putting an asterisk beside the word or the “failed” label in front of it. Now, there’s a present. As is the new idea that God also set before me, last Friday morning, as I talked to Him in Eucharistic Adoration. An idea that, if it can run the full distance, may just blow the doors off this writer’s office, knock the socks off the next reader to encounter it, and shoot the sides out of the proverbial “box” once and for all. Stay tuned for more on all of this, if you would. In the meantime, if someone’s looking for a soprano soloist for a Messiah this Christmas season…that’s on my list of things I need to do, am determined to do, and will jump through almost any hoops necessary in order to do. So spread the word! Thoughts? Janny

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reinventing, Part 2—The Power of Inertia

Okay, I promised a few more jots about the “reinventing” I’ve been doing with my writing career, with the perception of my writing versus my music, et al. So here’s part two, for what it’s worth. I mentioned before that I despise the term “talented amateur.” Basically, I’ve always believed that if you were truly that talented, you’d be a pro at the item in question. Someone would see that talent, pick it up, and reward you for it. Turns out that isn’t quite right. You see, all my life I firmly believed my son was going to play major league baseball. This is a kid who could stand up and hit a wiffle ball off a wiffle bat at 18 months. (And no, I am not making this up. ) At 4, he was tossing a ball in the air and hitting it, all the time chattering away doing play by play. At 10, he was throwing close to 70 miles per hour. At 12, he was playing international baseball. At 14, he pitched a no-hitter to win a community baseball championship. According to his bio, he still holds a record in Illinois High School baseball. He was given a partial scholarship at Michigan on the strength of one downstate playoff game. He was Big Ten Player of the Week not once but twice in his senior year at Michigan. All this from a kid who’s five-seven in really long spikes. (!) But come the 2005 draft, he wasn’t considered to be even among the top 1500 high school/college baseball players available. Seven of his teammates got drafted from Michigan that year. Matt didn’t. It absolutely devastated his mom. And shot my belief system about “rewarding talent and hard work” pretty much to hell. Yeah, I know. Get over it. :-) But I would say, honestly, that that’s easier said than done. I think that monumental disappointment shattered something basic, a deep belief I had in the fundamental fairness of things. Added to this pain the stress of trying to relocate the family to Indiana, selling the Illinois house, getting a place to live before buying a house here... I got hit pretty hard. Hard work and logistical scrambling are one thing; hard work and scrambling, while you’re hurting at the same time, is way harder to deal with. What it ends up doing is sapping your energy reserves and seriously depleting your resiliency. Which means that if you then start getting rejected on writing fronts as well… You can see the end coming here, I’m sure. But that end snuck up on me before I even knew it was happening. Truth to tell, this nastiness was building way before what happened with Matt ever occurred; it was building probably five to seven years before that, when I started piling on additional responsibilities of taking care of an aging mom, fighting health care battles, coming close to losing my house…then finally going through my mom’s passing and all the accompanying stuff that went with that. By the time I even got to the draft fiasco, I was already walking wounded, and wounded way worse than I suspected. In fact, I thought I had gone through a temporary “bad patch” but was coming out of it: I even managed to speak several times between 2003 and 2005 on “coming out of burnout.” Joke was on me, I guess. Because I kept telling myself I was coming out…only I wasn’t. I was having fits and starts. I was writing a good chapter or a good scene here or there, but I was stalling out almost immediately afterward. The writing was not bad, serviceable, adequate…but not brilliant, either. Not inspired. Not on fire. Not what I’m truly capable of when all the layers are peeled away and I’m on the edge. And consequently, not surprisingly, not picked up by agents or editors, either. So the time has come to really, truly pull myself out of this quagmire. But how to do it, when I thought I was out of it already? How will I know when it happens for sure? I have two possible answers to this, and I’ll elaborate on those soon. Watch this space! Thoughts?

Janny

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Redefining, Reinventing, and Reframing—Or, A Temporary Case of ADD

Note: From the git-go, I probably need to say this: this title doesn’t indicate in any way a flippant attitude toward ADD. Yes, we do call Gilbert our “cat with ADD;" but my husband has it, and we’re coping with it with varying degrees of success, and we realize it's serious. So I have a right to make a wisecrack about it if I like, and there’s no intention of getting anybody's feathers in a twist. Capisce? Capisce. That being said, I do feel somewhat like a temporary case of ADD has taken over my brain. I’m feeling pulled in multiple directions, not necessarily in a bad way, but just in a way that’s making it very, very hard to focus on one thing at a time and Actually Get Started on something, or Actually Make Progress. Why? Day gig stuff, lots of it. Things are going on. I'm applying for a different position at the day gig, I've got some additional responsibilities laid on me...it's enough to make your head spin. I did write a bit about it earlier, but have elected to set it aside here for the moment. After all, I promised to chatter a bit about some things that have become clear around the time of the Great Writer Retreat/Break Time that we just experienced, and immediately afterward. So here’s what’s surfacing; see if any of these thoughts provoke a little serious thought of your own about the writing universe and your place in it. 1. I write “woo-woo” extremely well. I’ve been told it more than once. So that’s what I aim to write. The other details will come as I find some good creepy Gothic sorts of stories to tell. Give me a moody, misty town, give me a tortured hero, give me several juicy secrets and a scandal in the past, a little supernatural stuff if the mood hits, and some very real and present danger…and I’ll be able to run with it. I hope. (!) 2. Dearly and muchly as I love romantic comedy, chick lit, traditional romance, a touch of historical, Regency, and inspirational material, I don’t believe that’s where my primary talents lie. It bites, because I’ve spent so much of my life wanting to do nothing more than write a whole bunch of “those little paperback romances.” But after over fifteen years of trying to break into that niche, I’m discovering the niche is fast sinking into territory I never intended to go into. So maybe it’s just as well I’ve never “made it” there. 3. Most important of all, however, I have to realize something. Much as a New Age guru (or even a really smart Christian) will tell you that we’re spiritual beings having a physical experience—rather than the other way around—I have to face up to a fact that I forgot: namely, that I’m not a writer who happens to sing, but a singer who writes. That may not seem like a big difference. But it is. Trust me, it is. You see, I’ve been spending the last twenty years or so of my life being a Failed Musician Who’d Rather Write Anyway. And for awhile, that’s worked pretty well—amazingly so, when you consider the first word of that self-defining label. Failed. Why would anyone want to label herself that? Don’t know. Don’t even exactly know how it happened. Just know after several dozen auditions for things I didn’t get, several singing gigs I thought were mine but which weren’t, and several years of singing catch as catch can church stuff and church choir, and getting caught up with raising a family and keeping wolves from the door…I laid aside the dream of being a musician in light of having tried, and failed. Now, I could call myself a “talented amateur,” if you like. Only I’ve always despised that term. Because, you see, if you’re really that talented…you shouldn’t be an amateur. Someone should be paying you for that level of work. You should be able to go pro. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always written, all the way through music school. Music school, in effect, fed my writing. But in my heart, as the years went by, I came to “know” that one was…lesser than the other. Less important. Less “mine.” Something I deserved “less.” Only what I “knew”—what I decided was the mature grownup reality of the way things were—was wrong. But I came to this realization only now, after a long road through several things that aren’t even about writing…but which impacted me anyway. Those, I’ll talk about next time. But just know this. Know that sometimes what you see yourself as…isn’t what you are at the core. And sometimes you lock yourself up in a prison with that distorted vision. And sometimes it takes a long, long time to break back out. More later, when I can elaborate on how I finally seem to have laid my hands on the key again…. Thoughts? Janny

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Post #100!

I suppose I've held off posting for a long time simply because this is Post #100 and therefore should be memorable, thought-provoking, stimulating, challenging... Wait a minute. Weren't those the words we were all told were going to apply to our careers? (This space for laughing.) Anyway, I DID have a "Break Time" interlude myself, here. Lots of chocolate, a glass or two of red wine, a walk on the beach, a few Starbucks, some baseball, some football...oh, and yeah, I wrote a paragraph or two of junk that I figure now I'm not going to use anyway. But if nothing else, this getaway convinced me of a few things. Those, I'll elaborate on further in another post. In the meantime, what would you like to see yakked about here in the near future? This blog, ideally, should be a conversation, and ideally, most of the time, about writing...although in October, at least part of the conversation has to be about this as well. :-) But add your thoughts to the mix. What do we need to talk about, during this fall season? I've often thought September should be the beginning of the new year rather than January, for many reasons...we'll talk about those, too, as we go. But for some of this, I'd like to hear your questions, thoughts, concerns, dilemmas. So call your friends over and fill up the combox! We'll chat about what you ask, what I need to vent, and what strikes your fancy... More later, because some of us do, in fact, have to work sometimes. (sigh) Thoughts? Janny P.S. I have actually played with my new basketball, too. And it's awesome!