Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hobbies, or “The Tale of the Boob Coaster”

Today I’m taking a break from my usual writing-centric (or rant-centric) posts to babble about something completely different: hobbies.  We’ve all got them.  Myself, I’m trying to teach myself to knit and crochet, with the encouragement of my mother-in-law who bought me knitting needles, yarn and an instruction book for Christmukkah.  How’s it going?  Um…

My first attempt was quite frankly terrible.  I decided to try to knit a scarf, a simple and easy first project.  It seemed to be going alright until I started to notice that the edges of the barely-two-inch scarf were receding and increasing randomly.  I had been gaining and dropping stitches with alarmingly careless frequency.

So I scrapped that, and forgot about it for a bit.

Then a couple weeks ago my mother-in-law gifted me a knitting magazine, which came with a free crochet hook and three skeins of the most hideously clashing yarn:  sky blue, eye-burning orange and a weirdly mauvey pink.  “Learn To Make Your Own Granny Squares!” it promised.  I remember that my late Nana had a bag full of granny squares and various knitting needles and crochet hooks, which my sister learned to use when we were young.

“Sure!” I thought, “Can’t be that hard!”

Ha!

The instructions in the magazine were written in the shorthand of knitters world-wide, which is to say it was completely unintelligible to me.  “Make 4ch, sl st in first ch to make ring,” the first instruction read.  First I had to decode this alien demand and then figure out how to do it, all of which only possible with help from the internet.

Seriously, how did anyone know how to do anything before the internet??

Anyways, so I eventually figured out what I was supposed to do, and tried it.  My first attempt at a granny square has been termed “Crochet No. 1” by the Husband, and now sits beside his computer like a curled up mauvey-pink foetus.  My second attempt was a lot more encouraging, and by the third I actually completed what can be identified as a granny square by an objective third party.  Success!

The evolution of a granny square.

Emboldened by my victory, I crocheted two more just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  Then for some reason I had the most foolish leap of logical reasoning known to man:

“If I can make a granny square, maybe I can make a hat!!”

I must have been high off of yarn fumes or something.

Using a nicer dark green yarn my mother-in-law gave me, I try to crochet a hat modeled on the methods of a granny square.  I stitched in circles, building upon each row as I went.  After a little while, however, I noticed that my “hat” has a rather protruding centre, a “nipple” if you like, from where I had started building stitches around a chain.

“Eh,” I muttered, “who cares if my hat has a nipple.”

I continued.  Remember when I mentioned before about my problems in gaining and dropping stitches randomly?  This happens.  Frequently.  I now have an uneven and wavy-edged areola to match my nipple.  Stubbornly, I persevere.  Hours pass.  Eventually I look down at my creation and go, “This is not a hat.  I’ve done something terribly wrong.”

So now I have a dark green crocheted boob coaster.

This is not a hat.

After that fiasco, I decided rather intelligently to resume my original, and more sensible, goals and am now knitting a new scarf.  I’m counting my stitches and everything.

The Writing Process: A Short Ramble

I still haven’t written a word of my Kelpies Prize entry yet, but I’ve been heartened by the fact that last year’s winner wrote her entry in a mere ten days!  So it can be done, and in much less time than I currently have!  Yay!  So this brings me to discuss:  how do I usually approach the writing process?

Normally, I have an epiphany moment such as that which sprung forth Doctor When.  This moment can occur any time, but most reliably happens in the shower.  For this reason, I often have what I term “working showers” in the same tone as others might say “working lunch”.

Seriously.  It’s a thing.

So I have my epiphany, and that’s the seed of whatever new project I’m starting.  It can be a character, a place, a conflict, whatever.  But that’s the driving force which shapes the work.

Now, if I were a more organised soul, which I occasionally attempt to pretend to be, I would then go on to the research and planning stage.  I’m currently attempting to pretend that very thing – which is where I currently find myself.

Normally, however, I go straight from epiphany to the page.  I start writing, fueled by the high that often accompanies these things, and it all goes from there.

However, it’s not uncommon that around the middle of that work, I become overcome by Writer’s Blah, whine on the internet, and become a pain to live with (poor Husband).  This is what I can’t afford to go through with my current project, due to time constraints.  And thus I find myself pretending to be organised, researching and planning, and hoping that all this cleverness will help me avoid that stage.

Likely, it won’t.  But a girl has to try!

The Witches of Fife, Research and Other Nonsense

As you may or may not be aware, Fife was rampant with witches in the Days of Yore.  In this attempt to write my Kelpies Prize entry I’d been looking for something I can research inherent to Fife, which I can rely on to give me the credibility I lack from not being natively Scottish (and yet trying to write Scottish children’s literature).  And from a half-remembered lecture given back in my student days with the Pagan Society of St. Andrews I recalled this particular bit of information.

I’ve been looking for inspiration with hints of the supernatural, and this might be perfect.  My favourite children’s stories are the ones that escape the bubblegum-pink prose where everything is well-meaning and the danger isn’t really all that dangerous, like bumbling pirates and laughable ogres.  I like slightly Grimmer stuff (as in stuff more like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and less like a Disney film) with shades of grey.

So, witches it is.

I’m not sure if I want to pursue the supernatural angle, or the historic-political angle, but to be honest I bet I’ll end up doing both.  I’m also not sure what time period to set this in, mainly debating whether to set it historically or contemporaneously.

Luckily, there seems to be a wide range of local-interest library books I’ve found in the subject.  For example, The Witches of Fife: Witch-hunting in a Scottish Shire and The Weem Witch.  So hopefully through research I can work out a lot of the details and find inspiration for a plot.

Look at me go, actually researching things before writing them!  Before you know it I’ll be outlining and everything!!!

I’ve also been rereading Harry Potter books, partly as research for what’s expected writing-style-wise for the age group, but also just because why not.  For all that I whinged about J.K. Rowling and her oh-too-perfect ending, I do like reading them.

And I secretly wish I had my own Hedwig!

Not that J.K. Rowling actually knows the first thing about owl behaviour, as I’ve come to realise.  Hedwig was “fast asleep with her head under her wing”??  Pah!  Owls don’t sleep like that!  But hey, maybe magic owls are a whole other shebang, who am I to know??

In Which I Attempt the Improbable, but not Impossible.

So I’ve decided to try and enter the Kelpies prize competition this year, although the deadline is February 28th and I have a 40,000 – 70,000 word novel to write.  However, as a twice-successful NaNoWriMo participant, I feel it’s not impossible!  But perhaps just a tiny bit improbable?  I guess only time will tell!

The competition is for a children’s novel, aimed at ages 8 – 12, set in Scotland.  I’ve never really written children’s stories before, but I’ve come to realise that some of my favourite novels are in fact aimed at that demographic.  There’s something about that point in a child’s life, when the world starts to open up in a more adult understanding, that leads to compelling prose.

So I’m taking a page, as it were, from His Dark Materials, and will set my story in a Scotland-that-isn’t.  There will be adventure, animal companions, supernatural danger, and young people being pushed to discover their true potential.

Basically everything I loved as a child, and still love now!

I’m being a bit presumptuous to think I can not just write this but also edit it to perfection by February 28th.  However, if I’m not satisfied with it then I can always hold it back until next year’s competition!  And a girl’s gotta have goals!

Now I just have to start writing!  (She says, as if that were easy…)

Since When Does “Enthusiasm” Mean “Google Image Search”?

So I basically decided that in lieu of other serious employment prospects, I’m going to be earning my way entering every single writing competition with a cash prize that I can find.  Better than throwing my money away on lottery tickets, for sure!  And I get to practice various writing techniques and styles, and use different themes and story lengths as defined by each respective set of rules.

Through this search I found the Book Drum Tournament, which at first glance seemed like once such likely competition, only focused on reviewing previously published works instead of producing creative writing.

“Huh,” I thought, “a chance to work on my critical thinking skills.  Not a bad idea.”  But then I look closer, read the examples as listed under the “Books” tab.

Not a single bit of critical thinking among them.

What I had first assumed would be a set of independently-written Cliff’s Notes is in fact nothing more than a glorified glossary to each work.  The “bookmarks” section of each book, instead of highlighting the important themes and nuances, merely seeks to define and illustrate references to places, people and popular culture.

Book Drum claims that its competition is one “in which book lovers from Australia to Zambia can delve deep into a favourite book and, by building an illustrated profile, share their enthusiasm for it with the rest of the world.”

No.  They share their ability to use Google Image Search and Wikipedia.

If I wanted to share my enthusiasm for a book, this is exactly not how I’d do it, as a creative person.  To me, this is nothing more than a website for schoolkids to go on and cheat their way out of reading novels assigned to them.

And then those kids will fail, because they will have missed every single important thing about that book.

Ridiculous.

So, even though the prize money is good, I’m not endorsing that.  My moral outrage won’t allow it.

The Written Word and the Human Condition of Awkwardness

Today I would like to discuss my great love: words.  The written word to be specific, as the spoken word has betrayed me too often to be trusted.  Oh stammering, unwieldy tongue!  The awkwardness, that makes me want to die of shame!!  Typing out my thoughts has always been my redemption.  And why is this?

You can delete stuff!

Imagine being able to look back and think, “Well that conversation didn’t go exactly to plan.  Sheesh!”  And then, BACKSPACE! it’s as if it never happened!  Imagine the possibilities.

And the chaos, granted.

When I write, however, whether novelistically or blogging-wise or even conversationally over various chatting interfaces, I can take the time to say what I want to say and get it as perfect as possible.  And I can type out possible sentences, test the waters as it were, and then go – no! terrible! – and furious backspacing makes it nil.  In the spoken word, once it’s out of your mouth, it’s too late!  You can’t go back and re-do.  Some might make the argument for script-reading and acting which involves “takes”, but that’s quite obviously not what I’m referring to.

I mean real life conversation.  At which I often suck.

And you know how there are those situations when you find yourself unexpectedly in confrontation, and 5 minutes/hours/days/years later you come up with the perfect witty response????  In the written word you can go back, even years later, and change what was into what you wish it had been.  Amazing!

But then, there comes the problem of making prose too perfect – the character that never fails to produce the wittiest parting shots, the lovers that seem to have muses of love poetry whispering in their ears.  It’s just not believable.  Life’s all kinds of awkward.  And if art is to imitate life, then the written word has to reflect this.

So as much as  I dream of being able to backspace past stupidities, mistakes and all my shining moments of awkwardness, I can’t.  And while I love the written word’s powers of deletion, I feel it is a power that must be used responsibly in order to produce life-like results!

Let’s all rejoice in our awkwardness – it makes us human!

Apocalypse, Part 2, and An Ode Most Deserving

Ok, so just after posting my spiel about the apocalypse, we found ourselves in a rather apocalyptic situation:  FLOODING OF ALL THE ROADS EVERYWHERE.  We were driving from our village in Fife to see The Husband’s family in Perth.  What is usually a 30-minute scenic journey became an hour and a half of white-knuckled danger (with subsequent adrenalin high and slightly hysterical laughter!).

It’s the typical problem of snow that hasn’t really melted, plus torrential rain and wind.  Drains aren’t clear, rivers and lochs break their banks, and driving becomes much more of an extreme sport than you’d bargained for.

But through it all, there is a hero of the hour.  And this is for her:

To Our Tiny Purple Car

 

Edna scoffs at danger –

Ha! She fear it not –

When hills are steep

And ways are fraught.

 

Every peril in our path

From snow to mud

Rain, potholes, ice

And the latest – flood!

 

We saw the road ahead

Choked by nearby loch

Its waters run over-ground

But Edna laughed and mocked.

 

Call this a flood?!

She seem’d to say

Her engine roaring

Like a lupine bay.

 

And indeed, like a puddle

Over which we soar’d,

Past loch, hill and field

and through a nearby ford.

 

Ahead a sign warns:

Flood! and others heed

By slowing to a crawl

But not our steed!

 

Aha! She cries

Revving high

While others crawl

Edna flies!

 

Across this inland lake

Others stop and stare

Too timid by far

Too afraid to dare.

 

But Edna, laughing still,

Says, You Dolts and Fools!

Your chassis is taller than I

To take you across these pools!

 

And thus we exited

Back onto drier street

Shaming those onlookers

Into attempting the same feat.

 

And so my advice to you,

If the Apocalypse is truly nigh:

Find yourself a Nissan dealership

And a Micra you should buy.

True story.

To Our Tiny Purple Car

 

Edna scoffs at danger –

Ha! She fear it not –

When hills are steep

And ways are fraught.

 

Every peril in our path

From snow to mud

Rain, potholes, ice

And the latest – flood!

 

We saw the road ahead

Choked by nearby loch

Its waters run over-ground

But Edna laughed and mocked.

 

Call this a flood?!

She seem’d to say

Her engine roaring

Like a lupine bay.

 

And indeed, like a puddle

Over which we soar’d,

Past loch, hill and field

and through a nearby ford.

 

Ahead a sign warns:

Flood! and others heed

By slowing to a crawl

But not our steed!

 

Aha! She cries

Revving high

While others crawl

Edna flies!

 

Across this inland lake

Others stop and stare

Too timid by far

Too afraid to dare.

 

But Edna, laughing still,

Says, You Dolts and Fools!

Your chassis is taller than I

To take you across these pools!

 

And thus we exited

Back onto drier street

Shaming those onlookers

Into attempting the same feat.

 

And so my advice to you,

If the Apocalypse is truly nigh:

Find yourself a Nissan dealership

And a Micra you should buy.

It’s The End of the World As We Know It – and do I feel fine?

Let’s talk about the APOCALYPSE!  Firstly, birds falling from the sky in various places around the world (although reports now say at least some of them were incidents of avian drunkenness), Sri Lanka, Brazil and Australia are all recovering from massive flood devastation, riots in Tunisia disturb westerner’s holidays, and oh yes, the “news” that (2,000 years ago, mind you) the zodiac signs have changed!

OMG IF I KNEW I WAS AN ARIES ALL THIS TIME, MY LIFE WOULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER!!!!!

Kinda makes you want to join up with some conspiracy theorists, don’t it?

So with all this, and reading China Mieville’s Kraken, I’m sort of convinced the world is ending.  Especially as today’s weather has turned into rather biblical gale-force rainstorms.  But how does thinking the world is ending actually affect us?

Lots of us have been known to use the terms “Snowpocalypse” or “Snowmaggedon” in recent instances of intense snowfall.  And it amuses us to make that jokey reference.  So are we becoming blase about the idea of the end of the world?

Personally, I have a particular soft spot for disaster movies.  Especially really terrible ones and sort-of-laughable-but-secretly-awesome ones (The Core, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, etc).  Why do we get such a kick out of seeing the world destroyed?  Are we a little bit titillated by getting to sit back and watch it happen – voyeuristically turned on by the thought of everything we know getting blown to smithereens as we watch, safely, behind a tv screen?

Of course we do!

Some people might try to tell you they watch these types of films to see how humanity bands together in crisis, to see everyone come together for a common cause, heartwarming and hopeful in the face of such terror.

They’re lying.  They like to see shit get blown up, too.  It’s the human condition.

So when we get excited about “Snowmageddon”, that’s our adrenalin pumping us full of impetus to handle the encroaching possibility of danger.  And when we watch the Statue of Liberty fall into the sea for the bazillionth time, we inwardly thrill at the idea of it all.  Obviously we don’t really want to have to deal with the subsequent issues of a major world crisis, but that first feeling is an inevitable high, a rush that heralds the survival instinct.

So if indeed the End is Nigh – how do you feel?

A Final Chapter on Wollstonecraft: 18th Century Feminism for a 21st Century World

Even though I haven’t posted for a couple days, I’ve been thinking.  A dangerous activity, indeed.  In a recent post, I wondered how Wollstonecraftian feminism and class struggle issues of the 1790s  could be pertinent in 2011.  Surely in this modern age we’re properly enlightened?

I know feminism is alive and well today, but I feel it’s a very different brand of feminism than that espoused in Wollstonecraft’s Vindications.  Today’s feminism seems primarily concerned with the body: sexual and reproductive freedom.

I might be making no friends here by saying it, but feminism today is also bizarrely obsessed with being pro-vaginal:  love me, love my menstruation.  This has led to no end of weird things popping up on Etsy – the cool kid’s handmade Ebay.  For example:

Uterus jewelry.

“Love your ladyparts” soap – in the shape of said ladyparts.

Vagina mug.

Uterus superhero plush toy.

Hand-embroidered vagina art.

I could go on, but I’ll leave that to the domain of Regretsy, a blog devoted to weird shit on Etsy.

So, back to the topic at hand, I hold that today’s feminism has taken female empowerment well in hand.  Now you can proudly show off your vagina-love to all and sundry, and society can just deal.

But what of Wollstonecraftian feminism?  I doubt Mary would have thought vagina jewelry particularly pertinent to her arguments.  Is there still a place for arguments about female agency, strength of moral fortitude and reason?  Or do we feel we’re beyond these antiquated concepts?

With this current body-driven feminism, I feel it has become very inward-looking.  We lack the  sense of the wider, what it means to be an agent for feminism in a world that still seeks to degrade us as emotional, unreasonable and unequal.

And of course, this generalisation doesn’t take into consideration those brilliant few who do take their feminism to beyond themselves.  What I’m talking about here is the wide majority of women, in their everyday lives as daughters, mothers, sisters and co-workers.

Feminism has been fought for for generations, centuries even, so perhaps there are those who say, “The battle was won, what does this have to do with me?”  But it has everything to do with you, living as you do in a fluid society.  There will always be those who seek to diminish the power of the Other, that threatening presence of those who place ones own view of themselves into stark  and frightening contrast: the women, the poor, and those who are sexually, ethnically and religiously different.

And in Wollstonecraftian feminism there lies a universality.  She writes that her “affection for the whole human race”  and the “rights of humanity” are the motivation for her work.  It is not an argument that seeks only to benefit her personally.

I call with the firm tone of humanity; for my arguments […] are dictated by a disinterested spirit – I plead for my sex – not for myself.

And thus Wollstonecraftian feminism couldn’t be more pertinent to today’s modern world, as indeed it will be pertinent for as long as there is society itself.

Some Blogskeeping and Reading as Telepathy

Firstly, I spent this morning doing some blog housekeeping (blogskeeping?) in which I have finally differentiated between categories and tags.  Now you’ll see that the post categories are of a more manageable number, and are actually the literal categories of my posts.  Shocking, I know!  And then I went through and properly tagged things, which took ages.  You will see there is now a delightful tag cloud on the right, with which you can now navigate my witty repartee.

Oh, procrastination.  I love you so.

You’ll also notice that I finally linked to Philip Pullman’s official website, which I’d been terribly remiss in doing before.  I’ve babbled about how much I love His Dark Materials often enough!

Having done so, I then took the time to look around the website and the very first page, he said something that made me go, “YES!”:

As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain.

Anyway, I’m not in the message business; I’m in the “Once upon a time” business.

I believe in this wholeheartedly.

I remember a lecture in one of my classes, I think it was Contemporary Fiction, when we talked about “reading as telepathy”.  It’s a mental communication between the reader and the words, where you can read the minds of the characters and know their deepest secrets and desires, all without a spoken word.  If you, the writer, have an agenda, then you’re controlling that communication and manipulating the reader to think your way.  Instead of telepathy, it becomes telepathic possession!

J.R.R. Tolkien said something to that effect, in the foreword of an edition of Lord of the Rings (which I bought at a charity shop many years ago, enthralled as I was by the cover illustration of a windswept Gandalf, robes billowing oh-so dramatically).  He says:

As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none.  It is neither allegorical nor topical. […] But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and have always done so since I was old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

And so when I write about my Wollstonecraftian feminism, the conflict of the patriarchy and those who flout the system, I’m not trying to make any kind of point or convey any specific message.  I’m just telling a story, as best I can.  I leave it to you, dear readers, to do the rest.

And you really don’t want to find yourselves possessed by me.  Exorcism doesn’t come cheap.