Aug 27, 2010

Readers vs. Writers

I started reading Suzanne Collins’, Hunger Games trilogy last week and, as predicted by Lainey (link) became obsessed. I tore through the first two books in three days and then read the third, Mockingjay, within 24 hrs of it being released. Yes, it’s safe to assume I’m a bit of a bookworm, but this was bad even for me. These books were like crack to me – I couldn’t get enough. They had all the right elements; fast-paced plot, descriptive but not overly so, an intense love triangle that was trying to resolve itself under the shadow of the darker themes of distrust, corruption and instability. The plot kept me guessing to; I had no idea how it would all resolve and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the third and final installment, Mockingjay. My hopes were set so high…. and they all came crashing down. Mockingjay was good, but the ending SUCKED!

I had some bad dreams that first night after I finished reading Mockingjay (that’s how crazy, my book-crazy is). Mockingjay left me so unsatisfied, with so many questions left unanswered, that even my subconscious couldn’t let it go. No one else I knew had even finished reading it, so I had no one to discuss it with (by the way – who wants to start a bookclub because I am SO in?). And so my brain became stuck on the Mockingjay disappointment. I mulled my issues with Collins over and over in my mind until I came up with a justification for the ending that I could, at least partially and as a writer myself, accept. It took me a few days to come to terms with Mockingjay but eventually I did. And it was all because of this one realization: even though the ending was not what I wanted it to be, it was the only possible ending for the writer.

As readers, we often have completely different expectations than writers do, and for writers, it is not always possible to reconcile the differences between the two. As a reader and fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, I wanted a happy ending. I loved the characters, I’d seen them fight and struggle and conquer all odds and I wanted my happy freakin’ ending. I wanted all the loose ends neatly tied up. I wanted all my questions answered, all mysteries to be revealed. I wanted a happily-ever-after but I didn’t get one, at least not the one I wanted. At first that was a huge disappointment but as I moved on and let it go, I realized that perhaps I was left with something more important than what I had originally thought I wanted. Perhaps Mockingjay had accomplished something more than just entertaining and pleasing its readers.

Mockingjay really haunted me – days later it’s still prominent in my thoughts (enough so that I had to blog). I’m still thinking about the characters and replaying in my head how it “all went down” in the end. And I’m coming to realize that to tie it all up into a neat and perfect little package would have been unfaithful to the work, because a writer has to be true to their vision, to their inspirations and their themes. This was not a happy story, it was obviously never meant to be, so why was I wanting (so badly) for it to be something other than what it was?

Collins stayed true to her characters, dedicated to her themes and was disturbingly honest with the reality of her story. I’m willing to accept now that there aren’t always happy endings – and that’s ok. Sometimes, you have to find the happiness you can and accept it for what it is. Mockingjay also guides readers to appreciate the power of the unspoken word - the things that can be left unsaid yet despite and because of this, they are still so clearly heard.

The truth is, we don’t always get our happy endings. Things don’t always play out as you expect but you heal, you move on and you find what happiness you can and you take it. I will argue though that there is A LOT of opportunity for character exploration, growth and development in-between-the-lines but Collins chose to leave these moments untouched and in that way, I am still disappointed with Mockinjay’s ending. On the other hand, it makes me hope that one day she may eventually “go there” and tell us the rest of Katniss Everdeen’s story because I am not the only book-crazy, obsessive reader who would be all over that. This may be another case though, where the readers’ hopes and desires differ greatly from those which influence the writer.


PS - if you haven't read the Hunger Games, you should.  They are starting production on the movie soon and you definitely want to read the book first.

Aug 22, 2010

The Best of the Worst

One of the greatest challenges I’ve found in ‘blogging is creating interesting and entertaining posts on an (almost) weekly-basis. If I don’t have anything to write about, I refuse to force myself to write. The end result is always that my readers must force themselves to read; it doesn’t work out for anyone. I will only write if I’m excited about something, if I’m inspired or interested enough by the subject matter that the story (or in this case, the post) writes itself. But I have made a commitment to my readers to post as regularly as possible and so at times, I do find myself stretching for new ideas. This has resulted in some really bad and embarrassing posts that fortunately, were abandoned before they were ever published.

I try to keep in mind that the best ideas often plant their roots within the worst. They rise up from the manure that has fertilized their roots and blossom into a wonderful creation that can stand tall on its own. Excuse my bluntness, but I also feel it’s important not to forget the shit you had to get through to reach your eventual goal. And, in my case, sometimes “the shit” turns out to be even more entertaining than the actual end result. Or at least it can be once you’ve gained enough perspective to look back and laugh at yourself (re: The Cake That Everybody Ate but No One Ever Saw)

And with that being said, here are some of the best of my worst ideas for blog entries. I encourage you to laugh:

The Sugar Cleanse
An overview of journal entries from a sugar addict/chocoholic’s (my) experience on a self-imposed (and husband-suggested) sugar-free diet for ten days. I thought it might be funny/interesting to record my experiences… it wasn’t. It basically ended up being three days of me complaining how hungry I was and then pathetically abandoning the whole thing so I could devour unsightly amounts of chocolate. Not pretty and not funny – not in the way it was supposed to be anyway.

Ode to my Baby Daddy
This one was a poem I wrote for my husband for Father’s Day. He never saw it – no one ever did. The “Ode” may make an appearance next year on Father’s Day; I’ll admit it had some potential hilarity mixed into its short, rhyming lines. There were some awful parts too though. I may have rhymed “dear” with “beer”, and “happily” with “pee” – I don’t think I need to explain why this one never saw the light of day.

The Portrait Project
A photographic investigation of portraiture as I attempted to capture my subjects’ “true beauty” through a series of bad shots (poor lighting, unflattering angles, badly-timed moments, etc.). The end result was a series of fugly photos (oh, how I enjoy that word!) that though hilarious, were certainly not what they were meant to be. Maybe one day these photos will resurface for your enjoyment, or for future blackmail purposes.

The Right Lyrics
You know how sometimes you think you know all the lyrics to a song, and then one day you’re singing along to your car radio and your passenger enlightens you on the fact that you are actually singing the words completely wrong (by laughing hysterically at you)? Well... this happens to me a lot. I started writing a post about all the song lyrics I’ve gotten wrong over the years but to be perfectly honest – it was just too ridiculous. I mean, how did I think Nelly saying, “Hey… must be the money!” sounded like “Hey… fuck you buddy!”? And then why would I decide to sing along so loudly… in public…?

Oh there are so many more embarrassing ideas to tell you about but you’ll have to be satisfied with these gems for now. And to thank you all for your support of my blog… here’s a teaser from the “Portrait Project”. It’s a self-portrait of me and my son. You’re welcome.


Aug 16, 2010

The Best Intentions

I have a few friends right now who are pregnant - including my sister (love you!).  It's been nearly a year and a half since my days of waddling around town and rubbing my budda belly, and though I still don't really miss it, I have been somewhat fondly reminscing about my pregnancy lately.

I didn't really enjoy being pregnant; it was ok but not the lovey-dovey, cherished time in my life that I was told it was supposed to be.  I didn't feel like a "sacred vessel of life".  I felt like a bloated whale who was always hot, hungry, thirsty and tired (sounds attractive, right?).  My darling baby was a wiggler right from the start and he loved to wedge his little, pokey feet in underneath my ribs and push... (shudder) my ribs creak at the memory.  Don't get me wrong - there were good parts too and I suppose a small part of me may one day miss being pregnant... a little.  The hardest part for me though was all the unwanted attention that went along with it.

Pregnancy, for me, was a personal, private and emotional experience.  But I suppose since it's such an obvious, public condition everyone else feels like they are involved in your pregnancy too.  I hated how people would always look at my ever-expanding waist line before they looked at my face.  I felt violated whenever someone would (without asking permission) start rubbing my belly (something that you would never dare do to anyone else).  I detested being asked the same questions over and over again, usually by people I didn't even know - "how far along are you?" or "do you know what you're having?" and "when's your due date?"  And it annoyed me how people expected me to share every personal and intimate detail of my pregnancy when I so obviously did not want to.  I'm just not the kinda girl who can have a conversation about her cervix, especially at a work function.

Being pregnant is a bizarre and often hilarious time though.  I thought I'd share with you some of the random things people asked me and the questionable (not to mention unsolicited) advice I was given while pregnant. 

People REALLY said these things to me, though some may be hard to believe!  Sorry if you recognize a statement here as one you may have made.  Please note that I love my family and friends and know that all advice was given in love and all comments were made with the best of intentions at heart.  That being said... what were you thinking?

- "You're glowing!" 
This one I heard a lot and always new it was complete BS.  Pregnant women don't glow, they sweat.)

- "I bet your husband likes how 'well-endowed' you've become."
This one was said to me at the work place (did I mention I worked in an Elementary school at the time? A little inappropriate, non?)

- "Is your Doctor worried about how small you are?"
I think maybe there's a compliment hidden in that one... maybe? A note to the wise - never comment on a pregnant woman's size or shape in any way other than to tell her that she's "all baby" (I couldn't hear that one enough!).

- "Has your Doctor said anything about how much weight you've gained?"

- "You look great... for being pregnant."
In my opinion, qualifiers negate the compliment.

- "You're huge!" And also, "Look how big and fat you're getting!"
To which I pointed out, 'I'm not huge or fat - I'm pregnant! There's a BIG difference - it's called a baby!'

- "You're so lucky - you're not even that bloated."

- "You can't be seven months pregnant! Are you sure you've got your dates right?"
No, you're right.  Myself, my healthcare providers, the 3 ultrasounds I've had - we're all wrong. This question was followed up by the ever-appropriate:

- "Do you know which night you conceived?"
And I was similarly asked...

- "Did you know the moment you got pregnant? Was it a special night? When was it?"
These very personal questions were asked by two separate people, one at a family function and another at a child's birthday party.  Both people had very loud voices.  You can cringe for me if you like.

- "Babies are a lot more work than puppies!"
An old woman told me this when I commented that her puppy was cute... She was one of the few people who found me, in all my pregnant glory, offensive.  I turned 26 while I was pregnant but was often told I looked a few years younger.  A few seniors shot me some scandalized glances - it was sorta fun. What was also fun was when people asked...

- "How far along are you?"
The only reply to that was, 'Far along with what? Oh... did you think...?' and then watch them try to backpedal.  This is especially fun when you are in your ninth month of pregnancy.  It really confuses people.

- "Childbirth is the most painful thing you've ever experienced."
Really... why tell a pregnant woman that?

- "You'll be cursing your husband's name once you're in labor!"
I didn't.  I cursed the name of that lady who wrote the Hypnobirthing (painfree labor) book - for selling me a lie that I wanted so badly to believe!

- "Are you scared about giving birth?"
Does it matter? It's obviously too late for second thoughts.

- "When your water breaks, you'll be overwhelmed by a peaceful wave of tranquility. Your body's biologically programmed that way."
When my water broke, I was in the "Transition Phase" - aka. most intense part. It was not peaceful. And finally...

- "Does it bother you that your baby looks nothing like you?
No, I'm ok with it. I remember quite clearly how he was born and am pretty sure he's mine regardless. It would bother me if he didn't look like my husband. That would be awkward.

And then the old-wives tales that people insisted were true.  None of these were:

"Your cat will try and smother your baby."
Which was not quite as silly as...

"Your cat will be jealous of the baby because he'll be able to smell your milk and not want the baby to drink it." (A mother of 3 told me that one but I'm pretty sure she was stoned.)

"Because you don't have heartburn, your baby will be bald." (He was born with a full head of hair.)

"Because your baby moves a lot, it will be a girl."

"You'll go at least a week past your due date because it's your first baby." (He was born a day early.)

"Spicy food will make you go into early labor." (We eat a lot of Indian food, I was fine.)
"You're belly is too oval-shaped so you're going to have a girl."  (Definitely not a girl.)

"They'll give you an enema as soon as you get to the hospital." (I assure you, they certainly did not.)

"Episiotomies are routine." (Don't know what that is? Look it up - you'll be scared.)
And despite all this helpful advice, I made it through my pregnancy and labor experience ok, and I may even, possibly, do it all over again one day.  Maybe.

I'll end this post with a pic of me when I was 34 wks pregnant:


Aug 9, 2010

My Thoughts on 'Kick-Ass'

My brief synopsis: A geeky high-schooler decides to become a superhero (called Kick-Ass) and mainly ends up getting his own ass-kicked. Two other wanna-be superheroes (Hit Girl and Big Daddy) with real weapons expertise and fighting skills befriend him. HG and BD are planning revenge against a big crime boss and Kick Ass becomes unintentionally involved.

Likes and Dislikes: Hit Girl’s character is pretty cool – a thirteen year old girl in a purple wig and school girl skirt who swears like a sailor and seriously kicks ass. Pretty cool. But the violence and gore shown in her fight scenes is excessive and uncomfortable to watch (she is, after all, just a little girl). The fact that Big Daddy, her father, admittedly has brain-washed her to carry out his own desired revenge, taken away her childhood and warped her mind to think of it all as a game is also very disturbing.

High point: when director Matthew Vaughn (producer on Snatch and directed Stardust) takes a note from Kill Bill and incorporates a brief, comic book-style, animated sequence to explain some of the back-story of Big Daddy’s character. In a movie about superheroes and comic books, I expected (and wanted) a lot more of this.

Low point: the end of the film when Kick Ass rescues Hit Girl but kills multiple men in the process. Up until this point he was a loveable, awkward, well-meaning teen – now he has been bullied and brainwashed himself to believe that it is ok to violently and abruptly end the lives of others all in the name of revenge. He finally kicks some ass and it’s not a victorious moment but is actually sort of sad and disappointing.

What surprised me: it was definitely not what I expected. I thought Kick-Ass would be primarily a comedy and though I may have laughed once or twice, overall it wasn’t really funny. Then for a film that deals with the subject matter of superheroes and comic books I thought there would be more of that comic-book-movie style that is oh-so-much-fun (split screens, freeze frames, bright colors, interesting angles, incorporating animation, etc.). Especially after hearing so much hype about Kick-Ass and Brad Pitt’s involvement (he was one of the producers) in this film I had much higher hopes. Overall though, it was a big letdown.

Maybe if Kick-Ass were more stylized I could get behind it (like Sin City or Kill Bill). It’s confusing what genre this movie is meant to be though. It’s not really funny and it’s definitely not your typical teen, coming-of-age story (though it touches on some of the common themes). Kick-Ass is actually shockingly violent and gory, and is really just an exploitation film with a weak development of an interesting, original concept. What disappoints me most is that it had the potential to be great.

The final scene left the storyline open for a sequel… please – no sequel! I can’t watch more of this crap, though something tells me that out of curiosities sake, if for nothing else, I probably will.

My Rating: 3 out of 5
I’ve seen worse films, I’ve definitely seen better. Perhaps if I knew what to expect, I’d have enjoyed it more… maybe.


Aug 2, 2010

The Day that Kicked my Ass

It started out badly, as this type of day will tend to do.

The Hubbie and I overslept by an hour. We woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing – the guy he gives a ride to work to was wondering where he was. It was 7 am.

Extra sleep might not sound like such a bad start to the day but for me it was. One of my many roles in our household is Head Alarm Clock Attendant and I had quite obviously failed. Hubbie would sleep through the alarm everyday if it weren’t for me. He requires a properly placed elbow in the ribs and a few loving slaps in the face to wake up. One day they’ll invent an alarm that will replace me and then I’ll have to find something else to contribute to our marriage. But anyway, I digress…

So the Hubbie was late for work and not too pleased about it. He left the house with a few grumpy stomps and a slightly over-enthusiastic slamming of the door that woke the Little Man up. And of course, my sweet baby boy decided to make my morning even more interesting. Toys were thrown at me, breakfast was thrown at me, and nothing I did pleased the little prince. It didn’t help my mood when he threw a spoonful of oatmeal onto my last pair of clean Capri pants and I had no other option but to put on jeans when at 8 am it was already over 20 degrees.

Thank goodness for naptime.

As soon as he was asleep, I took some time to check my emails. I happened to have received my first rejection letter for my second novel. It was a standard, polite response - the kind I’ve grown to expect. But no matter how ok you tell yourself you are with it, rejection still hurts. It definitely didn’t make my day any better.

Then the phone rang and woke up the Little Man after only 45 minutes of peace. And it wasn’t even a good phone call – it was a telemarketer. I was thrilled.

Little Man woke up cranky. Of course he did. I decided to take him to the pool to get us both out of the house but couldn’t find his swimming shorts. Then I realized that after I had been stung by a wasp the other day and had come home from the beach in a drug induced trance (prescription meds thank you very much and my sister-in-law was there babysitting me and the kiddo) I forgot to take the Little Man’s swimming things out of my backpack. Lovely. His swim shorts and towel were sandy and damp and had been sitting in the bottom of my backpack for 2 days. And they reeked – way more than they should have. And that’s when I realized I had been betrayed.

My dear sweet Fat Cat who has such perfect bladder control that we don’t even have a litter tray for him anymore had turned my backpack into his own personal bathroom. This, I would expect from the Bad Cat who presently lives outdoors because of such past incidents but my Fatipuss? The world really was turning against me.

So the swim shorts and towel went into the washing machine and my backpack went into the garbage. It was just what I needed to cheer me up – more laundry.

It was an hour or so later when we were finally ready to go swimming. We got all packed up and loaded into the car, drove down to the pool only to find out that in the summer time the wave machine is turned on from 1pm onwards. And it was 2pm. The Little Man doesn’t do waves.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

So we pile back into the car (did I mention it’s nearly 30 degrees on this beautiful day and I drive a BLACK Honda?) and just as I go to pull out of my parking spot my Blackberry buzzes. I’ve just received another email in response to the queries I sent out – this one from a certain Literary Agency.

Well, what do you know? It’s another rejection letter but this one’s a “shit sandwich” (as a friend of mine likes to say). You know the format – compliment, criticism, compliment. So apparently my novel is “interesting” but “there is too much telling going on” while my ideas are still “creative”. Then it’s all topped off by saying that they rarely take on “previously unpublished authors” anyway.

Rejection I can deal with. Criticism I can accept, especially if I can learn from it - but this? Really? If you’re going to send me a four sentence rejection letter, why even bother to make vague and critical (yet non-constructive) comments?

So I was really getting my ass kicked by the world at this point and I realized that today, I was obviously not going to win. So what did I do? I went to a wonderful place where I could bury all of my troubles beneath a heap of chocolaty ice cream. Where no one could judge me for wanting both oreo cookies and chunks of brownies in my ice cream because it’s actually on the menu. Where I could satisfy my chocolate, cookie, brownie, ice cream craving without ever having to get out of my car. Thank you DQ.

And then things started to turn around (don’t tell me food doesn’t fix things).

Little Man had his first taste of a Blizzard which was pretty entertaining. We hit up Wal-mart and strolled around in the AC for longer than necessary, played with toys I had no intention of buying, and even found a new backpack. Then Hubbie got off work early and surprised me and the Little Man. He entertained our trouble-maker while I made dinner and he even handled a dirty diaper solo, making me fall in love with him all over again.

And that last rejection letter? I decided something that made me feel a lot better. When one of my novels is published and that particular agency comes knocking at my door offering representation, I will have a shit sandwich all ready to serve them back.

“Thank you for your generous offer” but “your agents do too much ‘telling’” so... “have a nice day”. Ha.

Immature, but it makes me smile.