Friday, July 30, 2010

Practice Makes Brilliant

Brilliance surrounds me right now. First, I am listening to J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on CD. I am blown away by how brilliantly J.K. not only tied up all of her story’s threads, but also by how she set those threads up, stitching them innocuously into little flowers at the beginning of her series, and then allowing them to bloom into a fully layered and embroidered plot by the end. How did she do it? Did she plan the entire thing out, bit by bit, with charts and timelines, going backward and forward, making plot connections, and filling holes? Or did it all just flow from the muse on her shoulder and present itself in happy coincidences for her to take and set on a bookshelf, handed over like a wish from a rubbed bottle?

Second, I am in the presence of one of the most brilliant musicians I have ever had the privilege to work with. (Okay, given the scope of my experience, that’s not saying nearly enough. He’s the most brilliant musician I’ve ever heard of anyone I know working with.) Music, composition, and performance flow out of Mark Andersen as if in place of DNA he has notes and cadence, progression, and theme. I’ve never sung with anyone who can accompany, transpose so the song sits more finely on my voice, switch arrangements, and adjust the style of a piece, all on the fly and without any music on the stand before him. How does he do this?

I believe that in art, as well as in life, one cannot take too seriously the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  How can anyone believe that a series such as that written by J.K. Rowling, or music played as an extension of the body, the way my dear friend Mark plays it, is something that can happen any other way? Even with the boatloads of talent these two obviously possess? We must practice. There is nothing we can do, and do well, without paying a price.
Nothing worth doing comes easily.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Never, never, never, never give up.
Practice makes perfect.

There is a reason these sayings exist. They need to mean everything to us if want to create anything of lasting value.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How writing is comparable to being a doctor, lawyer or scientist

A lil wisdom from my momma

For the past few weeks I've had a knock down, drag-out time getting my toukus to the computer for some time to write. I'm frustrated at my story and this process called writing.

I thought I would share my mom's words for me because she's a genius.

"Regarding the dream you are pursuing with writing. Well, my dear, you could not have chosen a more difficult dream to pursue. Writing is one of the most challenging paths you could take as I believe it is right up there with MD, Lawyer and Scientist. Why? Because no matter how hard you study, prepare, review and edit-the outcome is unknown.

Why do they call it practicing Medicine or Practicing Law? Or even Scientists must experiment for the perfect outcome and we still haven't found a cure for the common cold. Writing is a fickle profession as some great books don't catch on and some very stupid ones become best sellers.

And not everyone is baring their soul to critics and editors-begging for a chance to have their manuscript read.
Your strengths will get you to where you need to be. You cannot hide your gift or live in fear of what may happen."

Well said, Momma-cita. Time to get over myself, as my dear writing teacher so said, and get to work.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Blog Invader Lizz

I learned a new word today: Nepotism. (Hi Mom! ☺) Deciding to use my new-found knowledge, I am taking advantage of nepotism to guest blog!!! My best pondering-time occurs while in a frenzy of organization. So I decided to attack my closet with a grunge devouring fury. While striking fear into the heart of clutter, I came across a perfidious little book entitled: “Pride Pricking and its Profits 101” By: Sir Percival P. Prickums. Intrigued, I proceeded to peruse the purple book. Turns out Fangxiety and Sir Prickums are cousins!

“What are the odds?!” thought I, pleasantly perusing the pages.
In the introduction, I found this rather perniciously planned preamble:

As Evil Gnomes, it is our responsibility to prohibit creativity, ideas, inspiration, cupcakes and all other things good and delicious in this world. In this Gnomes-Guide-to-Pride-Pricking-Book, we will analyze how to properly use pride as a means of prohibiting progress. Pricks at Pride prevent growth, because the proud is too prickled to be humbled and give sway.

Pride Pricking also results in:
1. Pernicious lies
2. Painfully (though deliciously) pungent anger prohibiting perilously productive growth
3. Puncturing perfectly good ideas
4. Petrifying pleasing persons’ good intentions par fear

(Pardon Percy’s French).
Altogether, perfect Pride pricking proceeds prior to the Fall.
This is my Goal, to bring about a Fall in Creativity and cupcakes everywhere! MWHAHAHAHAHA.

Yours Sincerely,
Sir Percival P. Prickums

So, looks like for my guest blogs we’ll be able to delve into the enemy’s mind, via their conveniently informative book, and learn to conquer Sir Prickums’ Pride!!! ☺
Buckle Up.

Guest Blogger Alert!

While our lovely Maegan is away on a trip to Wales that we are not jealous of, Lizz Miller, newly launched-into-life daughter of Me, will fill in. Lizz will post on July 26th, August 9th, and August 16th.  (Maegan will post from across the pond on August 2nd, for our Challenge of the Month.) This is Lizz's first foray into the blogosphere and we are happy to have her. Be nice.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Never, never, never, never give up."

Sir Winston Churchill once described himself as having a "speech impediment" which he worked hard to overcome. After many years he finally stated, "My impediment is no hindrance."

The only way to fail at anything is by giving up.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Gnome of What The Heck Am I Thinking?

When asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” George Leigh Mallory famously responded, “Because it’s there.”

Now that’s just stupid.

Volcanoes are there. I don’t jump into them. Liver is there. I don’t eat it. Marathons are there. I don’t run them. Oh, wait . . .

My husband is a marathoner and a wicked-good one too, for a layman. His best time running the St. George Marathon is 2 hours and 49 minutes. I think that is mental. I used to ask him why in the name of St. Sebastian's Achilles tendon he wanted to murder himself like that. He said, in Mallory-esque fashion: “I need to know I can do it.”

My first response to that was, Dude. If your self-esteem is so bad you have to run 26.2 miles in less time than it takes me to eat a brownie sundae, you need a lot more than a marathon.

My second response was, Hmm. Wonder if I could do that. So I tried it. And holy hop-along, did it try me. Understand: I am not a runner. I do not love it. I am a dancer—or was in a former life. I get practicing until your feet bleed, and feeling music and movement flooding every cell of every muscle until you can’t not move. I do not get the unbearable monotony of pounding the same foot-pattern over and over again until your brain falls out, your chronometer beeps, and you say, “all done.” But, I signed up for the St. George and paid the entrance fee anyway.

Then came the pain. I got up at 5 in the morning and ran when my youngest had been up half the night with an ear infection. I ran at 12 in the afternoon in 102-degree heat when the getting up didn't happen. I ran in the rain, in the mud, up a canyon so full of snakes that I had to leap like a hurdler to avoid the diamond-backs in my path. I trained behind hordes of better runners, being dragged along by a patient husband, and wondering what I was doing it for. It became an obsession that had to be finished no matter what. My goals melted down and unified into one: Just cross the finish line before the little dude who picks up the orange cones. And you know what? I succeeded. Never even saw the guy. 

My experience was brutal, fabulous, and life changing. I hated it. I loved it. I learned that I can do hard things and finish impossible tasks. I can climb mountains--even when there is no mariachi band following me pounding out a samba. Even when George Mallory is not running along chanting “It’s there! It’s there!” Even when I’ve pushed myself so far past my own bounds that technique has dissolved and all I have left is heart.

Writing a novel is pretty much like this. People everywhere to help you along your way. Technique fading out until you’re just writing with heart. A constant questioning of your sanity, but a determination to finish. Just like running a marathon. George Mallory would approve.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Revenge-is it a smart choice?

Don't try this at home.

Revenge and I aren't a pair. And that's not to say I haven't tried to get even. No, I've once tried, I've just never succeeded. My angst started with a fireman. Oh, this guy was the shiznit but then again, isn't any fireman? Dude and I had a steamy connection. Blah, blah, you've heard the story before. Puppy love is good but goes sour quite rapidly. Anyways, on the day of revenge, I decided to key his car. Yeah, not the brightest idea. But then again, when am I bright in matters of the heart? Especially when heartbroken. So, on the night where I swear Zeus decided to have a free-for-all with weather, I am hunkered down next to the Fireman's divine Camaro. I'm barefoot (don't ask.) Little did I know, I plopped my foot into a swarming pile of ants. I had the key aimed and ready to strike his car. And the lil bugs decided to take a journey up my leg. Sure, I felt the tickling but I was so hyped up on the adrenaline , I didn't care. Needless to say, fireman's car remained intact. Me, well, not so much. Not only did I dance around like an idjut when I caught onto the ants but I also keyed my neck in the process. Looking back, I think Karma was sending me a direct message. When you choose to harm others, you'll get back what you sow ten-fold. Lesson learned-revenge and Russo do NOT mix. PS~ Please note I have officially retired my evil-doing ways. PPS~ Did you see the 3 alarm fire on the news this morning? Yeah, I was in that apartment complex for the night. No joke, freaking scary stuff.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing and Medieval Torture

I am not athletically inclined. Like, at all. I came into this world with no coordination to speak of. I've never been able to jump rope or do a single cartwheel. Those innocent but mandatory schoolyard four-square tournaments could have been the genesis of my Fangxiety Gnome. Nevertheless, I like to exercise. Until recently, I only did so in my basement, where no one could see me flailing around like a beached octopus.

About a month ago, my mom and I started working with a personal trainer. We spend three hours a week feeling winded, uncomfortable, and/or in pain. Our medieval torture sessions might start with jumping on the BOSU ball like a life-size game of whack-a-mole (longest ninety seconds of my life, I swear). Then it's on to a core workout where we learn to concentrate on getting our shoulder blades up off the floor and maintaining absolute control over all intestinal functions at the same time. Finally, we shred our arm muscles via weight sets while our sadisti - patient and helpful trainer-person looks on.

Here's something I've learned about weight lifting: at some point, your body is going to stage a revolt. It might be at rep 12, it might not be until 25. But your muscles will go on strike. When this happens, it helps to take a break. A short one, mind, because the longer you wait in between, the harder it is to get started again.

Writing is like this. The sentences I drag out of my brain onto the computer screen often feel painfully awkward and uncoordinated at first. And at some point, your story, your muse, whatever you want to call it, is going to stage a revolt against you. When it does, take a short break to recharge your muscles. Then keep writing.

I recommend having a buddy, or two, or more. Fortunately, my workout buddy is as unathletic as I am (sorry, Mom). She's not afraid to laugh when I slide off the giant bouncy ball in the middle of doing crunches. My fellow Gnome Slayers listen to me whenever I'm frustrated about my writing. They're not afraid to tell me when I've got something wrong. (Janiel: "Too many 'you's' in your medieval torture post, Maegan").

Here's the great thing about writing and working out: if you're consistent, you get better. Whenever I master one set of weights, Patient and Helpful Trainer-Person will bump me up to the next level. It doesn't get easier, but I get stronger. Still can't jump rope, though. Some things are beyond help.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The First Thing to Ask

Perception is something, isn't it? You can put ten people on a hill watching the same sunrise, ask them what it looks like, and you'll get ten different descriptions. This is why I'd never want to be a judge in court. Eye witness accounts are completely subjective - Where was the witness standing? Have they ever been in the witnessed situation themselves? What did they have for breakfast? Did someone hide their chocolate spread this morning? So much can impact how we see things. I'm learning that in any situation where there is disagreement, at any level, the best thing for me to do is to stop looking at what everyone else is saying and just look at myself. The first things to ask are "What am I bringing into this equation? Am I doing anything to make this difficult? What could I do to make it better?"

After that, it doesn't matter what anyone else does or says. I am being responsible for myself, I'm not giving up my power by arguing with anyone or trying to place responsibility on them. I can just sit there in peace and watch things unfold. And I usually find, to my surprise, that everything unfolds just fine. Huh. Go figure.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Many Uses of Duct Tape

I am a stay at home mom. Stop yawning and listen to me, because I need to tell you that it is more complicated than it looks. I used to have the big fat job and the big fat paycheck and the big fat perks that included traveling, a company credit card, car, phone and cash advance. Oh yeah. It was real. And I was more than cool. But I gave all that up to raise my children. Yes, it was noble, it was a sacrifice, and yada yada. That’s not my point.

Being a SAHM has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I won’t go into all the reasons why, because if you’ve read any of the multitudinous mommy-blogs, or listened to daytime talk shows, or talked to pretty much any woman who has ever popped out a little pipper, you’ve heard it all. And yes it is rewarding, and you can ask my kids later if it was worth it. When they’re all changing the world.

My point is, being a mom means executing a balancing act to rival the Cirque du Soleil, Lune, and √Čtoile, put together. (If you don’t speak French, neither do I. But I do speak Online Translator. You can too.) Motherhood is an act that can involve, on any given day: trying to figure out how to run child A to soccer, while taking child B to percussion, then getting back to child A’s game in time to watch the Beckham-esque goal kick that turns the second half around, then taking just a sec to snatch child C from play-group, feed child D, run back to B and take to B to B’s soccer game, then run home because you forgot B’s shin-guards and B can’t play without them and since B lives in the shadow of A, B has to have the opportunity to score a goal kick with a backflip to out-do A, and then remember that C hasn’t eaten either and though you wouldn’t feed a goat the cholesterol-encrusted-glow-in-the-dark local fast food, you grab some for C, change D’s clothes because D just dumped C’s SuperChocoFreezcicle down D’s-self . . . .I’m sorry. What was I talking about?

Duct-Tape! That’s it. I can’t write without it. It’s the only way to keep my children in one place long enough to actually get a few words onto the page. And honestly, I do let the kids down when they need a drink of water, and I’m awfully good at not ripping off arm hairs in the process.  Not to mention, Duct-tape comes in such an array of colors now that my children just blend right into the walls. Gno problem.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Russo Incognito

Dear Readers:

In case you haven't noticed, our beloved Russo likes to write incognito. But Maegan and I want to be cognito. Since we can't get Russo to post a picture of herself, and since we want our blog to be consistent, it has been decided that Maegan and I shall post our own pictures of Russo. We really feel that you need to have some sort of mental picture as you read her posts. And just as Russo possesses a many-faceted personality, we shall present many faceted pictures. And hopefully by the end of all of this you'll be able to cobble together a relatively correct visual of her. Here's my first representation. Ladies and gentlemen, voil√° Russo:

Monday, July 12, 2010

The LOL Gnome

I like to think I'm not snobby about many things, but I am a stickler for grammar. I likes my proper paragraphing and my correct spelling and my commas and dashes and quotes and periods all right where they should be. And I really prefer my sentences to be complete. Good heavens, am I bugged by lonely little incomplete sentence clauses. Unless it's done deliberately. For stylistic purposes. I would have made an outstanding English teacher.

This may be why I'm so annoyed, but also oddly fascinated, by the wave of electronic shorthand we've created in the last several years. It really is its own language, like Pig Latin of old or the Double Dutch I chattered with my friends in fifth grade (oh yes, we spoke Double Dutch, and therefore We. Were. Awesome). Except this new shorthand is actually, you know, useful. It sprang from necessity because most of us aren't patient or coordinated enough to punch out a full message on a cell phone key pad with our thumbs.

Still, you can imagine the turbulent adjustment period it took me to get used to all those abbreviations. When I first joined Facebook clear back in the fall of 2009 (late bloomer - that's me!), the onslaught of idk's and lol's, and omg's and btw's was enough to induce an eye twitch. During a Facebook chat with a Dear Friend of mine who happens to live across the country, I received my introductory lesson in the social networking lingo. It went something like this:

Me: *something amusing*
DF: lmao
Me: "lmao"?
DF: laugh my a** off
Me: oh

Thanks to the foundation laid out in this exchange, I figured out the meaning of "lmfao" all by myself when I encountered it for the first time, not long after.

As Gnomes go, this is a puny one; not the kind to sabotage my creative energy or make me curl up into a little ball of anxiety. Rather, the LOL Gnome is just annoying. He likes to sit cross-legged in the corner of my kitchen and toss graham cracker crumbs at me while I'm at the computer. But I'm getting better. I can interpret almost any three to five-letter abbreviation now, although I still refrain from using them myself. I have been known to leave the occasional vowel or two out of my text messages. Maybe I should still go be an English teacher. Srsly #@$%! - I mean, seriously.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Delving into the Ungnown - Janiel

July Challenge - Starting a Blog

I have a little gnome that marches around my head whenever I leap into a creative endeavor – whether it be writing and performing, or figuring out how to cut my child’s sandwich into interesting enough shapes that he won’t notice the shredded zucchini I mixed into the peanut butter. And that gnome is the gnome of Self-Doubt. I like to call him: (Dun, Dun, Dun!) Darkspume. The Gnome of Despair that Plays the Bagpipes of Dooooom.

Yeah, I know. It’s a bit melodramatic. But I like to embrace my gnomes. Give them names. Feed them croissants. Make pets out of them. It’s a co-dependency thing and I’m working to stop it. But my gnomes like to do their time before I send them away, and who am I to stop them?

I’m the chick in charge, that’s who I am. Self-doubt runs entirely on the gasoline (or croissant) of me comparing myself to others. Is the other person the standard? Am I good enough? Is my writing (singing, dancing, peanut-buttering) as inspiring, deep, moving, funny as theirs? Is it? Maybe it’s not. Or, hey, maybe it is. Maybe my zucchini is shinier, greener, and of a finer shred than theirs. Or not.

And in the end, all of that spume-y self-doubt just keeps me from being able to:

a)    a) create with joy and freedom
b)    b) enjoy the creations of others
c)    c) and who wants that?

Which brings me to my personal reason for participating in this blog. I want to sit amidst the writing talent of my friends and the comments of their friends and just enjoy it. I want to follow suggestions and links into other peoples’ spheres of creativity and watch and learn. I’d like to contribute in a nice healthy way, and in the process take Darkspume’s Bagpipes of Doom, wrap them around his scrawny throat, and stuff the whole wad of despair into a blast of creative sunshine that will make him sing “It’s a Small World After All.” With a Scottish accent.

So if you’re game to hang out with me (and my friends) and go through the process of de-gnoming my writing and living garden, I’m game to have you. I hope you like peanut-butter-zucchini sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Delving into the Ungnown - Russo

July Challenge: Starting a Blog

Karma . . . or lack thereof. If you are blessed with the sucker then you are lucky. Truth is I have lousy karma.

Who I am now is NOT who I was ten years ago. I have been told I am nice. And I even heard the word endearing once. Oh, if they only knew.

I'm the girl who once told my roomate to cry in the bathroom
when she had a breakdown. The nerves in my hand are not
linked to my brain because seriously, if provoked I will punch you.

When talking about my life experiences, I often say, "Once upon a time." Frankly, I feel like my life has been split into two books. The heroine-yeah, that's me- has freaking brawled her way through life.

But not anymore, every two weeks I attend a support group.
I've also taken up athletics (instead of hitting people.)

The gnome that I am staring down is myself. And I have a LOT of
work to do if I am going to make up for my wrong deeds.

Time to get writing.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Delving Into the Ungnown - Maegan

July Challenge: Starting a Blog

People talk about perfectionism like it’s a good thing. It is a good thing for a heart surgeon. Or the guy who adjusts the knobs on the space shuttle. But in writing, perfectionism can quickly degrade into the goo that gums up your gears.

When I got to thinking about what a blog actually entails, that my words would be out there flapping in the breeze for the whole world to see, The Worry set in. What if my words were boring? What if they sucked?

Whenever The Worry sets in, my little muse likes to go away and hide in her corner. She does this a lot, because it doesn't take much to make me worried about my writing. I worry when I get less-than-glowing feedback – ‘How did I miss that glaring illogical hole? Why did I ever think this writing thing would be a good idea?’. I also worry when I get applause – ‘Whoa, what if I’m never able to write that well again? What if that’s all I have in me?’ Fear and creativity are kind of like toothpaste and orange juice.

It must be obvious by now that my biggest personal gnome is the Gnome of Fear and Anxiety - or Fangxiety, because I like how that sounds. And really, chronic perfectionism is a symptom. We perfectionists must do everything just right because we fear. We’re afraid of looking foolish. We’re afraid of letting others down. We’re afraid of criticism.

This is where perfectionism equals death for a fiction writer. Remember, we tell stories about people and places that don’t even exist, based on what the imaginary voices inside our heads are saying. It's not like we're curing some deadly disease here.

Sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to be bad at something. First, because you may not be as bad as you think. But also, writing is a process. Heck, life is a process. This doesn't mean I advocate sloppiness. Sloppiness and suckiness are two different things. But that's another gnome for another day.

Learn from your mistakes; decide to get better every time you practice (which should be, like, every day). And don’t let the early suckiness deter you. Do not allow that sly perfectionists’ goo to get in your way. Cut yourself some slack and press on.

Unless you're the guy who adjusts the knobs on the space shuttle.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Once upon a time there were three little writers who wanted to save the world. But, you know, "Twilight" had done that already. So they decided to create a blog instead.

Welcome to our Blog of Mischief and Tact wherein we take on the Gnomes that assault creativity and happiness in general. There won’t be blood, but there will be vicious, vicious rhetoric. And also recipes.

So, here is how it will go down:
Every month will start with a Challenge in which we each throw our brains and writing prowess at a common topic that deals with . . . whatever we need to deal with that month. And hopefully in the process our writing will become even more prowessy. Thoughts on challenging our Gnomes in writing and in life will follow.

Thanks for reading!

Maegan, Russo, & Janiel
The Gnome-Slayers

Things you must not do with fireworks

This is how the ghetto celebrates the 4th of July~
Light firework after firework and pray that you don't get scorched.

Dinner at my sisters home. Yeah, we weren't able to finish chow time as the sprinklers were set to timer. For the reason of tact, I won't show a pic of lil ol' me drenched.