Writing

Black and White Bridge

#9 of 86: A Bref Double for My Friend

Feeling introspective and thinking about a friend of mine. The Bref Double is odd because the rules are not limiting, but I did break one of them by not making the lines a consistent length. It’s sort of a weird sonnet with no meter. Maybe it sounds better in French (bref doo-blay?). I followed AXBC | XAXC | BXXC | AB for this one, but it sounds like there are a few variations.

 

A Bref Double for My Friend

You are lost. Just a little lost.
I know how that can feel.
That it hurts, but you can’t explain how.
No anchor, no sails, no sunshine. 

Brief joy in a hearty laugh or a found high,
and you buy those moments at any cost
because you know, once it’s gone,
you just have to wait until next time. 

But I’m happy to tell you that you can get out.
The truth is that those moments are not real joy.
They are distractions from what life is really about.
And it’s your own head that’s telling you that you are not fine. 

This shift in your mindset is a bridge you must cross,
from the person you will be Then to the You you are Now.

Fork in the Road

#8 of 86: A Purpose-Driven Bop

Onward to The Bop, a 3-stanza form that, in context, presents and attempts to solve a problem. No rhyme required for this one, but because I love rhyme I had to go for it. I just finished Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which is on several must-read lists, particularly for readers looking for inspirational and motivational options. If you haven’t read it, the first part documents Frankl’s experiences in four different Nazi concentration camps. Although the subject matter is delicate and could easily veer on gruesome, the tone is more matter-of-fact than graphic. It is hard to comprehend that the Holocaust happened in my grandparents’ lifetime… The second part discusses Frankl’s idea of Logotherapy, a psychiatric theory that places the quest for meaning ahead of pleasure, power, or any other construct. Overall the book spoke to me, but on my search for meaning, it gave me more theory and food for thought than advice. Still, it was nice to get out of my head and I realized just how rare it is that my thoughts don’t dwell on me and my existence.

 

I Just Need to Choose My Path… 

My parents never said “Ash, you can do ANYTHING!”
My teachers never thought “Wow, she’s going places!”
I might have looked in the mirror and felt the sting
of not being special – another face among faces.
But wait, I thought, I’ve got ideas… I’ll make big plans!
I’ll prove them all wrong with my fate in my hands!

I’m not afraid to live! But I’m a little scared to choose my path…

I had always loved to bake, so that’s it – I’d be a chef!
But I lost faith before I learned to boil water…
No, not a chef. But I’m an artist – what else is left?
Oh, film! I love film! That’s a much better offer!
A student in the city and the next Stanley Kubrick!
This is… really stupid. Why is everyone so pretentious?
Do I give up again? They’ll all call my bullshit…
I just need a little break to come to my senses.

I’m not afraid to live, I’m just scared to choose my path!

Fresh start starts NOW! I never wanted to make movies anyway!
It was never the photography, it was the stories that I loved.
I’ll write great stories, Oscar-winning screenplays!
Or, a novel! Best-seller! A Great American one, sort of…
Or, epic poetry! Gripping verse and masterful craft!
Or… Infrequently blogging poems reflective of my past???

I’m not afraid to live, but I’m still finding my path.

come by day

#7 of 86: Busy Blitz

Have to say I loved The Blitz, a 50-line, super-fast, meant-to-be-read-aloud form created by Robert Keim. There is no punctuation and no required rhyme. I could explain the rules, but it’s better to just glean the form by reading an example. Try to read this without moving your lips, or bobbing your head, or getting into some kind of rhythm. It has an inherent lyrical beat that’s hard to ignore.

Come by Day

Here we go
Here we come
Come and go
Come to know
Know your self
Know your name
Name the price
Name the game
Game is won
Game is lost
Lost in love
Lost in space
Space and time
Space and place
Place to stay
Place to be
Be on track
Be on time
Time is mine
Time is money
Money hungry
Money watch
Watch your self
Watch your step
Step to the front
Step to the back
Back of the line
Back of your mind
Mind your surroundings
Mind your manners
Manners matter
Manners and respect
Respect your self
Respect your neighbors
Neighbors are noisy
Neighbors will think
Think about the future
Think about your family
Family affairs
Family forever
Forever in debt
Forever young
Young and beautiful
Young and broke
Broke as a joke
Broke up the day
Day and night
Day by day
Day…
Night…

Preface Blackout Poem from Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights

#6 of 86: Blackout with Bronte

Blackout Poetry, or Erasure Poetry, involves taking a segment of complete work and removing a limited amount of words to create a new poem. A Blackout basically takes a Sharpie to a printed work, leaving behind a series of words or characters to make something new. I tried this with a preface page from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I copied an image and added black rectangles in Paint to reverse highlight the words I wanted–it was a surprisingly creative experience! I can see these being really meaningful if the new edit somehow references the meaning of the original text.

The final text reads “Preface: time laughs at Fate | your World was found | human and beautiful it grows”

Scrabble Tiles

#5 of 86: I Never Thought This Would Happen

I didn’t really enjoy my experience writing Anagrammatic Poetry, in which the lines of the poem are anagrams (scrambles) of the title. I hummed an hawed to try to make something that made sense, which isn’t really the point. I started out very ambitious, then tried to just make a sensible couplet, and just could not do it! I might try this again some other time, but for now this was the best I came up with.

I never thought that would happen…

I never thought that would happen…
Put A world though event thin heap
Thorough pet up than held twin wave
Prevent u what tough hate pin hold

found alphabet

#4 of 86: Alpha on Zodiac

Alphabet poetry is pretty self-explanatory. Each line starts with a letter of the alphabet, each word starts with the next letter of the alphabet, etc. I added an element of rhyme to this one, and I actually learned a lot about the zodiac in the process! Much harder than I thought it would be, but this form can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.

Alpha on Zodiac

Zodiac, by definition, is an imaginary belt of the heavens.
You can trace the concept back to Babylonian times.
Xenophiles of ancient Rome recorded the zodiac in essence.
Western astrology divides the zodiac into twelve signs.
Variations of the zodiac focus on animals, elements, or dates.
Universally, the signs are applied to astrological horoscopes.
True believers use these transmissions to predict their fates.
Skeptics dismiss such nonsense as a way to sell dreams and hopes.
Rams are the symbol of the fire sign Aries under planet Mars.
Quick to judge, but warm and vital, an Aries is a natural leader.
Peaceful and methodical is Taurus the bull, drawn to pleasures.
Often reserved, but only to a point, these are stability seekers.
Next is Gemini, the twin sign of the social and adventurous.
Much like Cancer, the loyal crab surrounded by friends and family.
Leo the lion is relaxed and in charge, yet proud and decorous.
Keep Leos grounded, as they can border on smugness or pageantry.
Just the opposite, Virgos are sympathetic, logical, and practical.
Introverted maybe, but always thinking and applying their skills.
Harmony and balance are key to Libras, who are fair and tactical.
Genuine and matter-of-fact, the Scorpio seeks passion and thrills.
Freedom, learning, and discovery are paramount to Sagittarius.
Enterprising Capricorn is ambitious, serious, and goal-oriented.
Decent and generous, yet stubborn, describes humanitarian Aquarius.
Casual on the outside, Pisces is inwardly sensitive yet contented.
By and large, the pop culture of the zodiac is a departure from science.
A glance up to the stars on a clear night can vindicate our compliance.

American Flag

#3 of 86: Ae Freislighe for Election Day

Talk about a tricky form… The Ae Freislighe is an form is constructed of 4 line stanzas (or quatrains) that follow a tight rhyme scheme. Each line contains 7 syllables, the first and third lines ending in a three syllable triple-rhyme (xxa) and the second and third lines ending in a two syllable double-rhyme (xxb). The last line should start with the first word of the first line. (Who thought of this???) Anyway the form forces some sing-songiness, but I thought it could help loosen up a heavy topic like politics. You be the judge!

Let’s Talk Politics

Three cheers for democracy
A system made by choices.
Now I see dichotomy
and conflict forced by voices.

When stating your opinion,
don’t droll on and on carefree.
You might feign a position
which with others don’t agree.

It might not seem concerning
to not want to look aloof,
but others are discerning
if they do or don’t approve.

It can damage character
and it can hurt your business.
It makes online predators
and turns an old friend vicious.

Our system must continue,
the flipside is too scary.
Just know we all contribute,
Three branches and the many.

Crossword puzzle

#2 of 86: Acrostic Poetry

I love acrostic poetry I’ve added this element to other poems without calling it an acrostic because I think it’s a fun hidden message for analytic readers (which I’m not, but I like writing that way). Yesterday I wrote an abstract poem, Saturday Morning at the Diner, and I acrostic-ally added the word BREAKFAST using the first letter of each line. Actually, that was how I started and how I decided which sounds to use. These are really fun because they add the puzzle aspect of formal poetry that I really enjoy, but the chance of a reader spotting it is a lot greater than a particular beat or meter.

 

The Departure

Can you recall your first great read? An epic novel or time-honored classiC?

Once you crack that cover and read those first few lines—away you gO.

Verse and chapters build a world that becomes TOo real for movies or TV.

Experience another time or place, another life, without having to go anywherE.

Reading: The vacation you didn’t know you needed, the answer you weren’t looking foR.

40s Diner Black and White

86 Day Poetry Challenge

I haven’t been doing much writing for the past year other than to-do lists and emails, which has left me feeling dull and uninspired. What better way to encourage a little literary discipline than a writing challenge? I hope to reinvigorate my creativity with this challenge.

Robert Lee Brewer has a lovely list of 86 poetic forms on the Writer’s Digest website. The forms may dictate meter, rhyme, length, style, or any other poetic element. I will do my best to write one a day, but I’m a realist—I haven’t written in a while, and the point is just to get writing!

The list is ordered alphabetically, so I thought I’d start there, but I may choose to jump around. So here we go, beginning with Abstract Poetry, also known as Sound Poetry. The text itself is quite stupid, but it makes me laugh.

 

Saturday Morning at the Diner

Be Early… Be Early… Burble the brew… Bring near boil… Buy Brian a bran bar…

Run! Run rolls then ready rooms then rub royal-red-raspberry-rhubarb-rye!

Egg bake. Get egg bake. Get egg bake back to Pegleg Meg to take.

Apply the apron to the patron to pay the matron for her bacon.

Kill the will to fill the bill with spills but keep it neat and sweet and cheap.

Feast on exotic foods of Luxembourg expertly paired with expensive flax.

Away the day with a nice Earl Grey, gourmet whey, and lunch buffet.

Sardine sammies with sesame seed and soy sauce satisfy salty savory tastes.

Too much to do to and get into to continue my rendezvous AT THE DINER.

Girl applying makeup

Girls Will Be Girls

I just finished reading The Girls by Emma Cline. If you’re interested, the book is a spin on the Charles Manson cult, of which I don’t know much except what is now common knowledge. It opens the door to a subject that I probably wouldn’t have broached otherwise, but my greatest interest in the book is the girls themselves. I can’t believe how many flashbacks I had to my teenage self: the insecurities, the self-consciousness, the second-guessing, all completely self inflicted because you think everyone is watching and judging you. The reality is, 99% of people don’t care who you are, what you look like, or what you’re doing, but it takes years to learn that lesson. These characters are all so real, like people I’ve actually known. The way the girls seemingly exist just to be around a man, to please a man, waiting for a man to acknowledge them, or, that they strive for approval from other “girls.” I don’t know that all women feel this way, but it hearkens back to an outdated model that I’m not removed from. Fussing over your hair and make-up, clothes, diets, all the ridiculous things “girls” do to elevate themselves because their mothers, or their girlfriends, or Cosmopolitan magazine, or some famous beautiful women made them feel like they ought to. I also found it compelling that the narrator, Evie, spends most of the book pining after another girl who mocks cultural norms of 1969 women, but who herself is pining after a man and going to crazy lengths to please him.

Overall, I read the lesson to be that we all have ideal characters we want to play, maybe based on a conglomerate of real or imagined people, but a look behind the curtain reveals that they are just as conflicted and human as everyone else. And maybe it isn’t their fault that we build up a persona of perfection around them, but who would admit to doing that? I also have to add that Emma Cline is a beautiful writer–she concisely delivers these images and emotions in ways I’ve never read before, but that are really striking and enjoyable to read. Although I was irritated by Evie’s dull post-teenage existence, I couldn’t put this one down!

couple on bench

Thinking Thankfully

With the arrival of November and what I might call the start of the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about thankfulness and what it means to be grateful. As much as it annoys me that I’m about to quote Oprah Winfrey, I stumbled across this quote this morning and it’s stayed with me:

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.

Some people are easily contented, and others are constantly thinking about what’s next regardless of what they have at the time. I’m part of the latter group. It’s either called ambition or the formula for a miserable life, but as I get older I’m making more of an effort to be appreciative of what I have and where I am. Sometimes those “what’s next” hopes and dreams are fuel, and sometimes they get in the way of happiness.

crowded sidewalk

In Plain Sight

A Curtal Sonnet–I wrote this for a poetry competition with Writer’s Digest.

In Plain Sight

He wakes and works and does all in plain sight,
a simple man in unassuming scenes:
Father, brother, partner, player and friend.
But consider this man who seems alright…
Beyond the smile and amid the routines
lies a great, confusing, complex loose end.
I only know this because he told me.
In plain sight, everything is as it seems.
To a select few we wouldn’t condescend
and act as who we think we ought to be.
Pretend.

Woody Allen

Woody Allen Didn’t Make the Cut

I thought I’d donate some things to Goodwill in an attempt to start clearing out my spare bedroom of “stuff.” My general rule of thumb is to pitch things I haven’t used in a year. It’s different with books and movies, because you likely don’t want to hear the same stories once per year. So, I had to approach my DVD and book shelf a little more thoughtfully.

Though I don’t believe in getting rid of stuff for the sake of wanting to get rid of stuff, I also know I’ve lugged around the same DVD/book collection to multiple residencies without having even cracked some of the covers. It was easy to pull the 2000’s garbage movies that my husband probably inherited, like My Best Friend’s Girl and The Dukes of Hazzard, but it was far more tricky to get rid of any of the movies I had bought when I was “serious about film.”

I started with a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and it guided most of my movie purchasing in my early twenties. Anytime I saw a movie that was in my book, I bought it. I probably spent most of my disposable income building the ultimate DVD collection. It didn’t help that I was a film student at the time, drinking the Andy Warhol Kool-Aid at the UW-Milwaukee art school.

The sad truth is that, rather than watching the movies that I thought were interesting or reading up on writers and directors that I liked, I pursued the “art” that I was told was the best and most meaningful. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

I am not a fan of Woody Allen. I never have been. I think he’s annoying and whiney. I dislike it when a character, who the writer clearly favors, delivers some bulldozing rant that’s meant to sound off-the-cuff when the writer must have spent hours coming up with it. That being said, I just had to have Annie Hall because it was in my book. I watched it once and hated it. Needless to say, it went in my donation box.

Now, I have no problem not liking something that is “great.” I’ve never had a problem calling out my husband’s garbage movies and he’s never had a problem calling out my boring movies. We at least have an understanding and we both like what we like. And maybe someone is thrift shopping right now, eyeing up their favorite Woody Allen movie on the $1.99 shelf.

Mirror Mountain

Nine to One

Nine to One

I always thought I would change the world
with a Great Novel for my time.
So sure I was meant to be
a Great entrepreneur,
or a Great artist,
Great anything.
But instead,
I’m here.
Small.
Human.
And I live,
and I have love,
and I feel passion,
and I have confidence,
and I let my mind run free,
and I do not dwell on regrets,
and I savor moments of Greatness.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I’ve been reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor in the order she wrote them. I picked up the book because I liked the cover: it’s an illustration of a peacock with elegant black text (I learned from the introduction that O’Connor kept peacocks on her property). O’Connor is a product of the Old South, and you can tell immediately, but I didn’t let that get in my way. Her writing doesn’t feel like it’s trying to escape you, which is exactly what I feel like reading right now. I’m picking up themes of morality and the danger of self-absorption, but mostly I’m just enjoying the unexpected experiences of these interesting characters. I can just pick it up, read a story or two, and put it down.

I wish I could say I’m working on a collection of essays, but I’m really only working on the first one, which for all I know could end up being the only one. I already had an idea for a collection by which each entry features a different moment of happiness, but I’ve been inspired by O’Connor that each entry can have a feeling like the others, but can also stand simply and on its own. When you try to make an idea too big, it’s tough to even get started. I wrote this poem to get the juices flowing for my first essay, which I think I will call “Champagne In The Pfister.”

Champagne in the Pfister

There’s a heat in my heart
Literally, a heat inside my chest
Flashes of the day blast across my head,
But all I can think about is how important this moment is
And I can’t waste it.

Wasabi peas and sesame sticks in a little silver dish
Perched on a low round table
Gold champagne to wash it down
My lipstick leaves a matte stamp on the flute
And i can see a crumb or two stuck in it,
Like dust marring a fresh paint job,
But it didn’t matter

A 3-piece jazz trio played a song about rain,
Maybe it was called rain,
But it made me cry.
Something without words
So i could make up my own words:
Something about how his left hand,
Now decorated with a sliver of silver,
Is the most wonderful thing i’ve ever seen.
And I’ll always have this moment.

wide rimmed glasses

Having Intellect Versus Being an Intellectual

Anyone who interacts with the creative world surely comes in contact with their fair share of Intellectuals. According to Merriam-Webster, an intellectual is a smart person who enjoys serious study and thought. For me, however, an Intellectual is a snob, a name-dropper, a smug and pretentious child who lives in an alternate reality. I’ve had a handful of Intellectual classmates, encountered a few Intellectuals in social settings, and have read a few books featuring Intellectual characters. It makes me crazy. Probably because I was raised Lutheran in the Midwest, but also because I can’t see the merit of intellect-by-association. These are people who appear to treat every day as a performance. Must be exhausting!

Sonnet for Intellectuals Everywhere: You Know Who You Are

He softly sips his Starbucks Fair Trade blend
swiping slowly across The Atlantic.
Pleased he can call the barista a friend:
His order memorized, his tips gigantic.
Tonight, he cooks. Not “cooking,” too domestic…
He curates flavors to challenge the palette.
A Veal Demi Glace that’s purely majestic!
Coltrane and vintage red strike the balance.
A little Safran Foer just before bed,
then it’s back to the grind at 10 a.m.
Theater professor or federal grant head,
something Necessary, but not layman…
He’s unshaken by a provincial like me,
and the words of a sonnet he’ll never read.

clock time hours minutes

Those Few Great Moments

The Hours is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I liked it so much, in fact, I read nearly the entire thing again. At times I would start to cry without recognizing my reaction right away, as if the story was in more control of my emotion than I was. It was definitely a book for me, because like most people, I’ve always tried to figure out what it is about life that makes people happy, what makes people persevere or strive, and why some people can never seem to find any satisfaction or contentment. Michael Cunningham condenses the life’s source of happiness (or pleasure, or contentment, or whatever you want to call it), in a way that’s neither too bleak to handle nor too optimistic to allow yourself to believe it:

We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.

When thinking of my own life, there are memories that jump out at me–moments of complete happiness that I’m grateful I got to have. They belong to me, they are exclusive to me, and I will have them as long as I’m capable of remembering. Of course, I want more. I would risk spoiling one of these moments to try re-creating it, or topping it. With this, my destructive nature in mind, I want to honor those moments the best I can and dwell in them a little longer. It has given me a prompt for at least three creative non-fiction essays I should have already written.

Triolet for Robert Plant

Happy birthday to Robert Plant, who is 68 today. Robert Plant is (should I say was?) the singer and primary lyricist for my favorite band of all time, Led Zeppelin. I was easily sucked into the history of the band and haven’t yet read about Mr. Plant’s life before it, but he is an exceptional writer and singer and I can’t imagine any other voice in his place. It’s hard to read Zeppelin lyrics without the context of the music because they’re so recognizable, but to me his writing is accessible–a next-level understanding of things situated in reality. In that spirit I wrote this poem.

Triolet for Robert Plant

First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.
You can never be too late, too old, too spent—
First, find your gift. Then exhaust its full extent.
Accepting less than best breeds spite and discontent,
and a mediocre life is not a life revered.
First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.

This verse is a triolet, an 8-line repetitive stanza following an ABaAabAB pattern. Most examples I noted were also in iambic pentameter so I went for it, but I deviated quite a bit. I prefer to work with a syllable count and let the meter come naturally. It was a neat little exercise, anyways!

The Worst Fate

The Worst Fate

No one succeeds at a stand-still, waiting…
Waiting for Fate, for their dreams to come true,
for days significant and life-changing.
When life is no more than a scene to view,
it isn’t living, it’s just sustaining.
What another soul might have done with you!
The worst fate is the fate you do not make,
a life bound by chances you did not take.

This is my effort at the Ottava Rima, an 8-line ABABABCC stanza. I choose to go with 10 syllables per line, though the form most often suggests 11. Kind of like an abbreviated sonnet, Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium is a good example of how the brevity and sing-songy-ness of the form in stanzas can contribute a sort of timeless, tale-like quality.

California Dreaming

After spending a week in Southern California soaking up the sun, a feeling has stayed with me. I’m not really sure what it is, but as relieved as I was to come home, I’ve also had this sense that my home has changed. It doesn’t seem the same as it did when I left.

California is absolutely a place for dreamers… As my husband and I waited at an outdoor table in Hollywood for our In-N-Out burgers, a woman with a blunt black bob, pale skin and red lips paced along the sidewalk and read lines from a script. California is also a place for crack-heads, foreigners, bros, the “forever” young, and strategically placed rich people.

It has, is, and probably always will be an inspiration for many… It’s where Led Zeppelin went to “make a new start,” where Don Draper escapes his real life, and the place Marilyn Monroe called home for most of her life.

Although I felt moments of pure West Coast Wonder, like the shallow pit in my stomach at the sight of a wave twice my height rushing towards me, or the smiling-while-I-ate satisfaction chewing mouthfuls of fish taco, or the flush of goosebumps at seeing my heroine’s hand prints in 63-year-old cement, I also had an overall Big Picture experience. My world, and my life, is very small. Just a grain of sand–maybe one of the many that settled in my bikini bottom for most of the trip, but a spec none-the-less. When I left home, I felt content. When I returned home, I felt insignificant and my world small. Do I want to be significant and my world big? I’m not sure about that, either.

I suppose everyone has moments of “what if” and “what else,” it’s just where and when they pop up that are unique. I suppose that’s the untold consequence of travelling.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

I’ve been reading Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, a collection of essays assembled by Meghan Daum that offers 16 unique perspectives from the childless by choice. Right now I’m not sure whether I will or won’t have kids, but the book has challenged me in other ways. Mainly, my assumptions about other people’s motivations.

I read a really fantastic selection by Lionel Shriver, “Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later.” Shriver illustrates the Be Here Now movement as less hippie-free-bird and more this-modern-life. The woman of the essay both annoys me and reminds me of myself. What I was most impressed with was Shriver’s one-paragraph summation of, well, you be the judge:

To be ridiculously sweeping: baby boomers and their offspring have shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, from the future to the present, from virtue to personal satisfaction. Increasingly secular, we pledge allegiance to lower-case gods of our own private devising. We are concerned with leading less a good life than the good life. In contrast to our predecessors, we seldom ask ourselves whether we serve a greater social purpose; we are more likely to ask ourselves if we are happy. We shun self-sacrifice and duty as the soft spots of suckers. We give little thought to the perpetuation of lineage, culture, or nation; we take our heritage for granted. We are ahistorical. We measure the value of our lives within the brackets of our own births and deaths, and we’re not especially bothered with what happens once we’re dead. As we age–oh, so reluctantly!–we are apt to look back on our pasts and question not did I serve family, God, and country, but did I ever get to Cuba, or run a marathon? Did I take up landscape painting? Was I fat? We will assess the success of our lives in accordance not with whether they were righteous, but with whether they were interesting and fun.

Bach By Popular Demand

On March 31, 1685, an artist was born that would give Western music a kick in the pants. Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest composers of all time, may have enjoyed success as a musician during his life, but his significant influence can still be heard more than two centuries later.

Bach lived in the Baroque period (~1600-1750), the music of which could be characterized as dramatic, elaborate, and a little over-the-top. Just as the Renaissance before it was about evolving instruments and sounds, the Baroque period evolved music with the creative use of keys, vocals, and melodies with greater and greater complexity. Bach was a gifted organist and wrote an extensive body of religious music. Perhaps his greatest contribution is his innovative style, which layered melodies to become more than mere accompaniment, but an actual unification of sounds. Mozart and Beethoven, by far the two greatest composers of the following Classic Period, grew up with Bach’s music and practiced his arrangements. Perhaps even more telling is the lengthy list of popular composers of the Romantic Period who have churned out so many excellent and timeless works, and so close together–I think of all the rock bands of the 1990’s who cite Led Zeppelin as a big influence.

Bach certainly closed out the Baroque era with an exclamation point when he passed in 1750. I’m no musician, so I certainly can’t speak on the technicalities of Bach’s compositions, but I can speak to the emotion that oozes from each work of thoughtfully constructed notes. When I hear Toccota and Fugue, I’m a little sad, a little crazy, and incredibly intense. Air on the G String does just the opposite, but in a very good way.

Whether or not you listen to Classical music, any art requires a respect for that which came before. Step Bach and think what the world might have sounded like without him.

Motivation! (Can I Get That In Writing?)

With my current set of goals, I’m feeling stuck in a rut. Sometimes a solid quote and a deep breath can elevate the world of crap circling my brain; probably because something so simple can be so refreshing. We’ll see when I re-read these tomorrow…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
-Arthur Ashe, Champion Tennis Player

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
-Mark Twain, American Author

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
-Chuck Swindoll, Evangelist

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
-C.S. Lewis, Apologist Writer

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.
-Ayn Rand, Novelist

Are Movies Getting Worse or Am I Getting Old?

Here we find ourselves mid-2016 award season, and I find myself becoming less and less excited over new releases. Looking for a Saturday night date this past Valentine’s weekend, my husband Sean and I trolled through the local showtimes and came up empty handed. I had a medium interest in seeing The Revenant, but not enough interest that I couldn’t wait for it to come to Redbox. Sean wanted to see Zoolander 2. I didn’t even want movie theater popcorn enough to sit through it, though I have to admit I did think the first Zoolander was funny.

I remember not that long ago when I couldn’t wait for new movies to come out… I think the last movie I was really amped up to see was The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Now, I rarely see features that even peak my interest. Maybe that’s just a part of getting older. What happened to all the really great movies that had me making plans and buying tickets in advance? Do I have to starve for that anticipation just because I’m not a Star Wars fan?

Instead of a going-out date, we had a stay-at-home date: pizza and a rental. Despite the bonus of being cheap and leisurely, I also found that there weren’t many new release rental titles that looked very interesting. As a fan of thrillers, I picked Crimson Peak (Sean picked Jurassic World, which we have yet to watch). I thought Crimson Peak was very beautiful visually, and I actually found the plot to be fairly solid for a movie about a haunted house. Even with some room for improvement, we really couldn’t go wrong since the rental was free with our pizza. Not to make this all about money, but where I live a movie costs $10 – $14. I can skip the candy, but I must have a bucket of popcorn the size of my head: $8. Then a tub of Pepsi because of all the salt: $6. For two, that’s over $30. Even though that isn’t much, if the movie is awful, I just paid over $30 to see it. I heard a blurp on public radio suggesting that the price of admission should be based on the quality or demand for the movie. Though it sounds logical, it’s highly unlikely. In that reality, though, I wonder how much tickets would be for Zoolander 2, The Boy, or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The most telling part of this whole harangue is that on Sunday, I found more enjoyment in catching the last twenty minutes of Casablanca on Turner Classic Movies.

10 Lovely Love Quotes from Better Writers

For (Valentine’s Day, Eight-Year-Three-Month-and-One-Day Anniversary, early President’s Day and belated Chinese New Year) Lovers:

Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often when I loved, I did not say so.
-Ray Stannard Baker, American journalist & reformist

Love is always being given where it is not required.
-E.M. Forster, author of A Passage to India and A Room with a View

Love is space and time measured by the heart.
-Marcel Proust, revered French novelist

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
-C.S. Lewis, Christian writer & philosopher

We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.
-Tom Robbins, best-selling American author

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.
Gilbert K. Chesterton, 20th century English writer

Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.
-From William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Love is when he gives you a piece of your soul, that you never knew was missing.
-Torquato Tasso, 16th century Italian poet

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
-Robert A. Heinlein, American Sci-Fi author

Love conquers all.
-Virgil, ancient Roman poet

From Russia, With Love

“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”
-Boris Pasternak

I can’t pinpoint the reason, but there are some historical cultures I’ve just always been fascinated by, like Ancient Egypt or 20th century Germany. At any point in it’s timeline, I have a feeling surpassing curiosity about Russia. Though I’m no expert in Russian history, it’s difficult to ignore the impact of the country’s past on it’s artists. While I love the whimzy of The Nutcracker, I’m drawn to the dramatic minor chords of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. I read Atlas, Shrugged by the great Ayn Rand last year, and developed a major girl-crush on assertive Dagny Taggart. I’m recording the War and Peace TV miniseries adapted from Tolstoy’s popular novel, and I’m currently working on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which I’m finding to be a pleasantly surprising page-turner even though I’m a slow reader.

With all of this Russian through my head (!), I thought a lame pun could be excused (?). Really, though, when I found out it was Boris Pasternak’s birthday today (1890-1960), it seemed fitting to pay it forward, and not in rubles.

Pasternak penned the novel that became one of my favorite films, Doctor Zhivago. In the story, Zhivago is both an upper crust doctor and love-torn poet at the mercy of the Russian Civil War. Wrongly labeling Pasternak a novelist, I learned that he only wrote the one, and is well-known in Russia for his poetry. I found the below poem at PoetryFoundation.org and thought first of a woman, then of the White army:

Fresh Paint
I should have seen the sign: “Fresh Paint,”
But useless to advise
The careless soul, and memory’s stained
With cheeks, calves, hands, lips, eyes.

More than all failure, all success,
I loved you, for your skill
In whitening the yellowed world
As white cosmetics will.

Listen, my dark, my friend: by God,
All will grow white somehow,
Whiter than madness or lamp shades
Or bandage on a brow.

Ill-anelle, or, The Hypochondriac

Do I feel warm? Put your hand on my head,
I’m burning up, but my hands are cold.
I think I’m coming down with something bad…

My neck is stiff and my eyes are red,
And look—-I never noticed this weird mole.
What do you think? Put your hand on my head.

I could have forgotten to take my meds,
and I ate some chicken that was getting old.
I may have caught something seriously bad!

Maybe pox? Or measles? Something that spreads?
You could have it, too, something out of our control.
Hold still; let me put my hand on your head…

Honestly, you seem fine… But I feel half-dead!
I read about this in Diseases, Foretold
You should always assume it’s something bad.

Don’t I seem woozy? I should be in bed…
And that incessant humming; it’s taking its toll!
I’ve got to get an ice pack on my head,
I’m in real pain here, and it’s worse than bad!

Nice Try…

It was on this day in 1919 that the 18th Amendment, otherwise known as Prohibition, was ratified in Congress with the intent of keeping America clean and dry. With the support of various “temperance” groups and religious collectives, Prohibition was instituted to reduce crime and increase morality (in theory). Unfortunately, just like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” so it goes that “booze doesn’t make a criminal, but a criminal makes illegal booze.” Prohibition only lasted 13 years, and the 18th remains the only Amendment to ever be repealed.

I find the 1920’s to be a fascinating time in American history. Despite the drought, I love the spirit of the time–you can see it on people’s faces in old photographs. I wrote a story called Tails about the oldest son of a poor farming family who sets out for the big city to earn a living, only to be caught up in the world of a busy speakeasy (I was 19 when I wrote it). Whether the story was any good is debatable, but I still find the period to be a major source of inspiration.

If you have three minutes, check out this video from the History Channel that sums up the details nicely. A great anecdote if you’re going out tonight!

For 2016, A Villanelle

I like writing poetry because it’s like condensing the feelings that are slowly expressed in fiction down to a few raw lines. I like writing in forms because it’s like a creative puzzle. The villanelle is tricky, because by the fourth stanza or so I feel like I’m really reaching for those rhymes, but it’s still fun. This form repeats the same two lines with only one other rhyming sound (A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2). Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas, or Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath are exemplary of how powerful the form can be.

2016

Last year’s “new leaf” was a broken promise
folded by April, might have been May.
Here I am, the same five sweaters in my closet.

From then to now, twelve bucks in my pocket.
Yesterday’s commitments abandoned today,
and I was so confident I’d keep my promise.

Wasting my life away in an office,
My peers are fulfilled while I wait for Friday,
wearing the same shitty sweaters in my closet.

Cynical, yes, but it’s at least honest:
The scale hasn’t budged, a full ashtray…
enough evidence to refute my annual promise.

I fantasize what could be—solid, flawless—
But it’s a dream. Temporary. And I’ll wake
with scuffed shoes and pilled sweaters in my closet.

“New Year, New YOU” is an advertisement. Word vomit.
Self-reflection, decisiveness—that’s the language of change.
To 2016, I make no guarantee and offer no promise
Except to buy a new sweater for my closet.

Explore the villanelle and other forms, or just read some good poetry.

Hey, Stella!

On this day in 1947, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on Broadway. The original production featured Marlon Brando as the rough-and-tough blue collar anti-hero, Stanley Kowalski, a role he reprised in the 1951 film. Williams’ gritty drama would have shocked audiences regardless, but Brando’s masterful performance of the brutish Stanley pushed the envelope enough to shove him into stardom. Brando co-starred with Jessica Tandy, who won a Tony award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois. With the exception of Tandy, much of the theatrical production transferred directly to the silver screen, including Elia Kazan’s direction and cast leads Kim Hunter (Stella) and Karl Malden (Mitch). Vivien Leigh replaced Tandy on screen for the sake of having some star power in the credits, but her unforgettable Blanche won her best actress that year.

I have never seen Streetcar on stage, but I’ve read Williams’ script and have seen the movie many times. I’m a huge Brando fan and I absolutely love this story, I think because it’s not afraid to be ugly. Really, Stanley is a male chauvinist-slash-rapist with serious anger issues, and Blanche is a spoiled, washed-up waif with a freakish past. Somehow, though, Williams captures my interest and even makes me care. I personally think his writing broke a lot of ground in demystifying taboos and loosening censorship codes, though it wouldn’t be considered shocking today. I’d be interested in getting my hands on a special edition DVD of Streetcar that includes some stills or a bio on the production.

NaNoWriMo and Other Thoughts

I feel remiss for failing to write a single post in three months. I have plenty of excuses, but when it comes to writing, you really do have to make time for it and I’ve let life get in the way.

That said, I read Write on the River’s blog post for National Novel Writing Month and recalled that participating in NaNoWriMo was a goal I had set for myself earlier this year. I signed up, but couldn’t help feeling that my striving for a word count would have absolutely no merit in terms of quality. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great initiative that motivates writers who otherwise wouldn’t be writing, but for me, perhaps it’s just NaWriMo.

I have two not-so-new novels that I think will really help me get my footing. I skimmed through Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for inspiration while I was working on my 1960’s set thesis, but actually went out and bought my own copy as I want to read it a little more intensely this time, and I think it’s just one of those novels you can re-read every couple of years. Also, to build more ground for me to stand on philosophically, I picked up a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This wasn’t an impulse buy–two Sundays ago I caught a showing of “Freud’s Last Session,” a really great production of a very deliberate script that pits Sigmund Freud against C.S. Lewis in a series of religious debates. Although there is no clear winner, in the final moments of the play both parties agree that to not push, argue with, and challenge each other is the greater sin. I was brought up 100% Lutheran all the way through high school, and have since struggled to identify what I believe with ten plus years of adult life behind me. What I like about Lewis is that he doesn’t preach or lecture, but he legitimately makes a logical case for faith that is hard to disagree with. I don’t really intend to make any of my characters religious, but self discovery has never hurt my writing!

For all who are participating, happy NaNoWriMo, and good luck!

Building A Reading List

Having undergone a significant transition in my life–marriage!–I am finding myself with the amount of spare time that will allow me to get in more reading time. I’ve looked at a few lists of the greatest American novels, but I can’t quite commit to one or another because I find the lists either exclude things I’ve always wanted to read, or they include books and authors I’m absolutely not interested in. Now I know the main purpose of a reading list is to put options in front of you that you might not have considered on your own, but I feel that there are so many classics, contemporary and otherwise, that I first want to build a strong foundation in.

Off the heels of a British novel course I took last spring, I’m interested in moving forward with a more modern novel, and I would like to fill in my repertoire with American literature for a while.

I’m starting with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It’s a doozy of a book, but I bought it years ago and I think I’ve read the first hundred pages or so about four times. Always intriguing, but life gets in the way.

If you can recommend a list of classic American novels, or if you have a few that you recommend, please share!

TIME Magazine’s Top 100 English Language Novels since 1923

Modern Library: 100 Best Novels (Board and Reader’s Picks)

The American Scholar: 100 Best American Novels by David Handlin

Not One, Not Two, But Three Starlet Birthdays

Three award-winning female entertainers of Old Hollywood share a birthday today, June 30th, as well as a common experience of initial career struggle followed by tremendous success later in life.

Lena Horne (1917-2010), who would have been 98 this year, is easily the most recognizable African-American female performer of the Hollywood Studio era. A great beauty and a gorgeous voice with tremendous range, Horne sang in such musicals as Cabin In the Sky (1943) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), but failed to secure top billings because of her race. After her film work in the 1940’s, Horne made frequent television appearances in the 50’s and 60’s. In 1981, Horne starred in the Broadway revue Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music for which she won a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy. Throughout her long singing and acting career, Horne promoted civil rights and took an active role in the NAACP.

SusanHayward

Susan Hayward (1917-1975) started out as a fashion model and began her acting career in small parts for B-grade films. It wasn’t until she began playing alcoholics, seductresses, and other anti-heroine roles that her career gained momentum. Natural and believable in intense dramas, Hayward earned five Academy Award nominations for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947), My Foolish Heart (1949), With a Song in My Heart (1952), I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and the film that finally earned her the win, I Want to Live! (1958). Hayward also replaced Judy Garland in the powerhouse role of Helen Lawson for Valley of the Dolls (1967). Hayward’s life was cut short by brain cancer, though she performed until she was too ill to be able.

DorothyMalone

Dorothy Malone (1925) began her acting career in the early 40’s. As a brunette, Malone got off to a slow start in minor roles, albeit in films as famous as The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart (1946), Night and Day with Cary Grant (1946) and Artists and Models with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1955). In 1956, Malone went blonde and won an Academy Award for her sex-charged bad girl performance in Written on the Wind with Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall. After a handful of impressive film roles, Malone began a successful television career in the 60’s, and she is perhaps best known for playing Constance MacKenzie on Peyton Place from 1964-1968.

The Best I Can

A Rondeau…

My mom said “do the best you can”
back when I was nine or ten.
It recently occurred to me
that my “best” is an anomaly,
something to strive for now and then.

Who works magic time and again?
Can’t I say I don’t give a damn
without flinching or feeling guilty?
I mostly do the best I can…

I work hard and I love my man,
I hold doors and I follow the plan.
I read books and I earned my degree,
I tell jokes and I’m drug free.
I eat fries and I drive a sedan.
I am doing the best I can.

***No, that is not me in the photo. That is a cool French girl photographed by Christopher Hue.

“One Slip” by Pink Floyd

A restless eye across a weary room
A glazed look and I was on the road to ruin
The music played and played as we whirled without end
No hint, no word her honour to defend
I will, I will she sighed to my request
And then she tossed her mane while my resolve was put to the test
Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire
I lead the way to the funeral pyre
And without a thought of the consequence
I gave in to my decadence
One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
That binds a life for life
A small regret, you won’t forget,
There’ll be no sleep in here tonight
Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?
Or was it the hand of fate, that seemed to fit just like a glove?
The moment slipped by and soon the seeds were sown
The year grew late and neither one wanted to remain alone
One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
That binds a life for life
A small regret, you won’t forget,
There’ll be no sleep in here tonight
One slip … one slip

(Listen to One Slip )

Written by David Gilmour & Phil Manzanera
for A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

Happy Birthday, Cole Porter

On June 9, 1891, songwriter Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, the only child of the wealthiest couple in town. Porter grew up in refinement, attending Yale to study English then Harvard to study law. His interest in music turned from a hobby to a passion, and he gave up law to pursue composition. It is fairly well known that Porter was a closeted homosexual, but in the early 1920’s that simply wouldn’t do. While living in Paris, he entered a marriage of mutual friendship to wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas. Though Porter experienced only minor successes abroad, his wife encouraged him in his work. Once he returned stateside, he fared well on Broadway despite the crash of 1929 and began writing songs for Hollywood.

Much of Porter’s work is included in the Great American Songbook, performed by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and more recently, Harry Conick, Jr. and Michael Bublé. Some of Porter’s best known songs include Night and Day (1932), I Get a Kick Out of You (1934), I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936) and From This Moment On (1950). In addition to popular songs, Porter wrote the musical scores for the hit stage shows Anything Goes (1934) and Kiss Me Kate (1948), both adapted as successful films.

Porter’s wife, Linda, and his mother both died in the early 1950’s, and later in the decade Porter underwent an amputation of his right leg. He lived in relative seclusion in New York and stopped writing music. On October 15, 1964 at seventy-three years old, Porter passed of kidney failure. Porter was a huge contributor to music history, and his life was the subject of two biopics, 1946’s Night and Day starring Cary Grant, and 2004’s De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline. Chances are you’ve heard or seen a Porter song. His extensive body of work remains popular and continues to be re-imagined by contemporary acts.

Eartha Kitt sings Night and Day
Ella Fitzgerald sings I Get a Kick Out of You
Frank Sinatra sings I’ve Got You Under My Skin

MM MyHeartBelongsToDaddy

Marilyn Monroe performs “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”

Lyrics Make the Song Go Round

Recently, I’ve been on a kick of reading lyrics as I’m listening to songs. I think this is because I’ve been listening to full albums I’ve always liked on YouTube, and occasionally they spit out lyrics as well. It has led me down a path of having a perpetually open tab for azlyrics (not sure if this is a curse or a blessing). I’ve always bought CD’s in the past, dwindling down to maybe 3 or 4 buys in the last few years. I miss having that little booklet inside the case and forcing myself to listen to the whole track list from beginning to end no matter how eager I might have been to hear the popular singles over and over again.

At any rate, I seem to be more interested in what songs have to say. Thus far, I’ve been surprised and even amazed at how powerful a song can become when the lyrics behind it are broken down and digested. There are songs I’ve sung along to without even thinking about the sexual, disgusting, romantic or psychotic things I might have been stating. Obviously some bands have more talented lyricists than others, but I was just blown away when I let myself hear the text.

Pearl Jam released the song “Sirens” a year or two ago. I listened to it plenty of times and I liked the melody, but when I stopped to read the lyrics while I listened to the song, it actually made me tear up.

…Let me catch my breath to breathe
And reach across the bed
Just to know we’re safe
I am a grateful man

The slightest bit of light
And I can see you clear
Oh, have to take your hand
And feel your breath for fear this someday will be over

I pull you close, so much to lose knowing that nothing lasts forever
I didn’t care before you were here.
I danced in laughter with the everafter
But all things change
Let this remain

(Full Lyrics at AZLyrics)

Since high school I’ve always liked Tool and A Perfect Circle, and I’m sure I read some lyrics at some point, but I was completely stunned when I read the lyrics to this sequence of songs and did a little research to make these connections. Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer and lyricist of both bands, is a very peculiar person and an incredible writer. Even if you’re not a fan, I recommend listening to these three songs with this backstory in mind. I was so amazed by the way his personal history was put to music that I think it’s worth sharing.

When Keenan was 11, his mother Judith Marie suffered a cerebral aneurysm that left her paralyzed. She was devoted to her faith and never strayed from her relationship with God, something that Keenan didn’t understand as he watched her suffer. After 27 years, approximately 10,000 days, she passed away and Keenan apparently settled his past understanding.

Read/hear “Jimmy” by Tool (1996)

Read/hear “Judith” by A Perfect Circle (2000)

Read/hear “Wings for Marie” and “10000 Days/Wings Part II” by Tool (2006)

In Honor of Frank Sinatra

“You gotta love livin’ baby, cause dyin’s a pain in the ass.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Chairman of the Board. The Voice. One of my all time favorite stars. You just can’t beat Frank Sinatra. He enjoyed a long, dynamic career as a singer, actor, playboy, and professional VIP, passing of a heart attack on May 14th, 1998 with an elegant send off on May 20th. Not bad for 82 years on this earth, many of them spent with Jack, Johnny, Jim and the Marlboro Man.

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey (there’s something about a celebrity who keeps their given name that I find very endearing). Sinatra never finished high school, though his instincts didn’t steer him wrong–leading him to a singing career early on. While performing in night clubs during his early twenties, he caught his big break by signing with Tommy Dorsey and his famous orchestra in 1939 (one of my favorite years). The Voice burned up the charts and Sinatra became the teen idol for the 1940’s. Later that decade, he starred in a trio of musicals with another one of my favorites, Gene Kelly, giving lovable performances in Anchors Aweigh (1945), Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town (both 1949). He starred and sang in other memorable musicals including Guys and Dolls opposite Marlon Brando, High Society with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, and Pal Joey with Rita Hayworth.

Sinatra proved he could be a dramatic heavy hitter as well, winning the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Maggio in 1953’s Pearl Harbor romance From Here to Eternity, and scoring a Best Actor nomination for his performance of a heroin addict in 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm. During the 1960’s, he starred in a variety of comedies, dramas, and war time films, including The Manchurian Candidate and a handful of films with fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin.

I enjoy watching Sinatra on screen, but I think most people associate Sinatra with his voice, a smooth-as-silk and easy sound. As his heart-throb image wore off in the late forties, his larger than life Vegas image gained momentum in the fifties. I haven’t heard a single Sinatra recording I didn’t like. Whether he’s singing melodic hits from the Great American Songbook or crooning through “Luck Be A Lady” or “Witchcraft,” listening to Sinatra is comforting. It feels cool, romantic, and genuine.

Since his was a very public life, I’m adding His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra to my summer reading list in the interest of gaining some more perspective on this fascinating man.

Happy Birthday, Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winning author and acclaimed writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, was born on April 30th 1945. In 1974 alone–at 29 years old–she published Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, a book of poetry, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. She has published several nonfiction books, including works of journalism, essay and travelogue, her popular memoir An American Childhood (1987), and Living by Fiction, a work on literary theory, among others. I recently read the essay “Total Eclipse” which was originally published in her collection Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), and was impressed by the way the narrator evolves in so few pages. She is a master of pacing and word choice. Thematically her work has great depth and isn’t exactly fit for beach reading, but I highly recommend sitting down with one of her essays when you have the time to really taste and digest it.

From The Writing Life (1989):
One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Happy Birthday to Francis Ford Coppola

“Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos.”

Francis Ford Coppola, Oscar winning director, writer, and producer, was born on April 7th, 1939 in Detroit. His Italian-American family moved to New York while he was still young, and he developed an interest in film early. After studying drama at Hofstra University in New York, he received his MFA in film from UCLA in 1966.

Regrettably, when I hear Francis Ford Coppola I only think of The Godfather, but I never realized the depth and diversity of his resume. In addition to his trio of credits as writer, director, and producer of the Godfather Trilogy, he served the same three roles for Apocalypse Now, which is somewhat based on Joseph Conrad’s “Hearth of Darkness.” He was also a writer on This Property Is Condemned (one of my mom’s favorite movies), the award-winning Patton, and the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby. His direction ranges from musical (Finian’s Rainbow with Fred Astaire), to horror (Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992), to comedy (Peggy Sue Got Married starring nephew Nicholas Cage). He’s worked as a producer of feature films, shorts, and television.

I also didn’t realize that he purposefully places the author’s name in front of a film, such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I read several quotes to choose the two seen here, and I couldn’t help taking away the feeling that Francis Ford Coppola is a down-to-earth, genuine guy who just wants to write and make movies. Must be that Midwestern sensibility…

“I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.”

Goodness Over Greatness

Goodness: Much easier said than done

“Goodness is about character–integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”
-Dennis Prager

“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
Henry David Thoreau

“Human nature is evil, and goodness is caused by intentional activity.”
-Xun Zi

“You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and the great charm of all power is modesty.”
-Louisa May Alcott

Greatness: Journey or destination?

“There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.”
-Leo Tolstoy

“The essence of greatness is neglect of the self.”
-James Anthony Froude

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world–that is the myth of the atomic age–as being able to remake ourselves.”
-Mahatma Ghandi

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
-Bob Marley

“The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.”
-Phillips Brooks

“It is not the greatness of a man’s means that makes him independent, so much as the smallness of what he wants.”
-William Cobbett

Art Imitates Art

Have you ever had one of those bizarre experiences where the branches of your life intersect in weird ways? I had an artistic version of that experience happen to me this week…

I’ve been reading David Copperfield for the past week (which is a book of a book). The first chapter is subtitled I Am Born, and begins with the line “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.” Now, for die hard Gone with the Wind fans like me, this evokes the scene in the movie in which Scarlet, Melanie, Mrs. Meade and India are killing time as they wait for the men to return from “clearing out the woods.” I’ve seen the movie a hundred times (okay maybe less than that) and I picked up David Copperfield and thought “Oh! Yeah! They read this in the movie!” It became creepy when I wrote a paper last week about the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights and its ties to GWTW, thinking to myself “I want to watch it!”

The preface of my version of David Copperfield talks about the trend of the Bildungsroman (which I admit, I had to Google: it’s a coming of age story). When I was working on my novel this morning, it occurred to me that I was writing a Bildungsroman and didn’t even realize it!

But wait, there’s more! As a boy, the character David Copperfield reads Robinson Crusoe, and I just read Robinson Crusoe!

On a side note, David Copperfield is actually really funny, and I’m not the type to laugh at 150-year-old humor.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with the post other than that I just found out, David Copperfield the magician took his name from David Copperfield the book! Of all the names in the world! That’s like me changing my name to Anna Karenina…

Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac

On March 12, 1922, Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts (which is home to a surprising number of famous figures). Kerouac had a tough start; his older brother Gerard died when little Jack was just 4, his father was an alcoholic and his parents struggled financially amidst the Great Depression. Focusing on the positives in his life, reading and sports, Kerouac earned a football scholarship to Columbia University. Football didn’t pay off when Kerouac broke his leg early in his freshman year, but gaining exposure to the life and culture of New York as a 17 year old proved to be the catharsis for his free-spirited literary career. Kerouac dropped out of Columbia and spent the next 17 years travelling and writing under the influence of sex, drugs and jazz. He came into fame in 1957 when his novel On the Road, a somewhat fictionalized account of his travels supposedly written on a single 120-foot scroll in three weeks, fell into the hands of eager readers.

Historically, Kerouac is credited as one of the fathers of the Beat Generation along with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. The culture of the day is a subject in and of itself, but it’s his ideas on writing that I’m interested in. (more…)

Having a Moment with Sylvia Plath

I’m working on a feminine drama with portions set in the mid 1960’s and decided to do some supplemental reading, which brought me to The Bell Jar and works of poetry by Sylvia Plath. I remember Mad Girl’s Love Song being the first example of modern formal poetry that was both accessible and captivating for me. The more I read, though, the more fascinated I become with the author. This latest read caught my eye, because the title was borrowed for an episode of “Mad Men” (which I am also having a moment with).

Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day. (more…)

And the Oscar Goes To…

This Sunday, the Academy Awards will conclude this year’s awards season with it’s usual over-hyped pomp. I don’t care too much for watching it on TV and am happy with the two-minute version I’ll get on the Monday morning news, but in the spirit of the awards I wanted to share some of my favorite Best Picture winners of all time.

1934 – It Happened One Night
Even if you’re not a big black-and-white picture person, this movie is still fresh and funny. Claudette Colbert was as gorgeous then as any woman today.

1939 – Gone with the Wind
This is my all time favorite. I probably watch this movie twice a year. Scarlett O’Hara is, in my opinion, one of the greatest female characters of all time, and all women owe it to their sex to see this movie at least once.

1943 – Casablanca
I think this is one of the best screenplays of all time. The story incorporates romance, action, suspense, drama and comedy all against the backdrop of World War II. Plus, so many memorable lines that people are still saying 62 years later.

1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives
This is one of my mom’s favorites, but I gravitate to it’s sad happiness. I think it’s an honest tribute to the soldiers who came home from World War II. Dana Andrews plays a decorated hero who has to take his old job as a soda jerk; the scene says it all.

1950 – All About Eve
The original up-and-comer-claws-past-established-pro plot that has been redone many times since, this is definitely a chick flick. Bette Davis is my favorite actress to watch and she is phenomenal in this movie. She was snubbed a Best Actress statuette because co-star Anne Baxter, who gave a great performance as a total bitch, was a total bitch and insisted she be nominated for Best Actress as well. The votes were split and neither actress won.

1951 – An American in Paris
Despite how unusual it is for a musical to win Best Picture, the academy couldn’t ignore that the genre was at the top of its game. Gene Kelly fueled this project, and even though I love Singin in the Rain, I think this is my pick as the best musical of all time.

1953 – From Here to Eternity
Maybe I just like movies that take place during World War II… This drama is wrapped around Pearl Harbor. I really like the romantic play that goes on between Burt Lancaster/Deborah Kerr and Monty Clift/Donna Reed; all four have moments of strength and weakness, but you’re not sure who you’re most sympathetic towards. Frank Sinatra is, as always, a welcome cast member.

1954 – On the Waterfront
Brando! Brando! Brando! I actually think his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire is better, but here he stands out amongst some powerhouse male leads. This movie looks and feels gritty–I feel cold just thinking about it. The mob-driven tough-guy plot skews masculine; it’s one that my old-movie-phobic fiance will even sit and watch with me. “I coulda’ been a contenda!”

—–I think I’ll make this a two-parter, there’s so many more I like!

From Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of your’s, more horrid from its very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and detested.

I’m curious and fascinated by the concept of rejecting something you yourself created (sort of how I feel about The Girl: As Observed from Inside the Refrigerator ). Shelley was only 18 when she started writing her famous novel and considered this concept.

Another great self-contained quote:

“Beware; for I am fearless and therefore powerful.”

The Girl: As Observed from Inside the Refrigerator

Day One: Been empty over a week. Turned to Cold, stinks like Clorox. Hear girl’s voice, she’ll be the one, but it’s dark.

Day Two: Lights on. Girl hefts case of Miller Lite on the bottom shelf, slides it in, grit from floor now on cardboard case, screeches on glass shelf. Later, beer joined by two slices of pepperoni in grease-stained Luigi’s box.

Day Three: Lights on. Holding door open with foot. Then, carton of eggs, gallon of milk, Coca-Cola. Is taking forever. Open, closed, open, closed. Then, chocolate diet shakes, fat free yogurt. Veggies – celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes. Something gross, comes in brick form. Weird.

Day Three/Four: Lights on, dark kitchen. Grabs Coca-Cola, wearing flannel pants.

Day Eleven: Lights on, grabs last chocolate diet shake. Celery smells rancid. Weird brick never used, starting to ooze.

Day Twelve: Milk expired, didn’t drink past handle.

Day Fifteen: Lights on, dark kitchen. Grabs Coca-Cola, wearing flannel pants.

Day Ninety-Five: Lights on, Chinese take-out leftovers. Hear guy’s voice. Later, TV blaring, Chinese eaten.

Day One-Hundred-Two: Lights on, leftover Reuben and fries. Hear guy’s voice. Later, radio blaring, grabs Reuben from container, fries spill, left two dead under Crisper drawer.

Day One-Hundred-Nine: Lights on, leftover Shrimp Scampi. Hear guy’s voice. Later, smiling, grabs Coca-Cola. Later, smiling, grabs Scampi.

Day One-Hundred-Ten: Lights on, naked, grabs cheese. Lights on, adds 7 eggs & half-drunk orange juice. Lights on, adds slimy opened bacon pack. Later, flannel pants, grabs Coca-Cola.

Day One-Hundred-Eighteen: Lights on, he grabs Coca-Cola.

Day Two-Hundred-Six: Lights on forever, tossed all food. Found dead fries. Wiped shelves. Left one Coca-Cola, jar of pickles.

Day Two-Hundred-Seven: Lights on, shopping trip. Lots of frozen food. Can’t tell.

Day Two-Hundred-Fifty-One: Lights on, leftover pepperoni from Luigi’s, garlic bread.

Day Two-Hundred-Fifty-Two: Lights on, takes bite of garlic bread, puts back.

Day Two-Hundred-Sixty: Lights on, leftover fried chicken, eats piece while putting away.

Day Two-Hundred-Ninety-One: Lights on, shoots Reddi-Whip in mouth, puts back.

Day Three-Hundred: Lights on, shopping trip. More chocolate diet shakes. More veggies. Diet Coke. No weird brick.

Day Three-Hundred-Eight: Lights on, he adds Coca-Cola.

Day Three-Hundred-Fifteen: Lights on, she grabs Diet Coke.

Day Three-Hundred-Sixty-Four: Lights on, tosses everything. Wipes shelves. Wipes light. Looks closely at light. Later, he wipes
shelves again.

Day Three-Hundred-Sixty-Five. Dark. All day.

In Honor of Gene Kelly

“The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.”

Gene Kelly (8/23/1912 – 2/2/1996) is one of the most famous dancers of all time, and is one of my favorite people to watch on screen. Starring in some of the most popular movies of the 40’s and 50’s, Kelly cemented his name in Hollywood history with his athletic style, innovative choreography, and his respect for dance as a medium to tell a story.

As a kid in Pittsburgh, Kelly and his four siblings took dance lessons at the urging of his mother. He teamed up with his brother Fred and hit the nightclub circuit (as I suppose Don Lockwood’s background scenes from Singin’ in the Rain may be somewhat autobiographical). After earning a degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh, Kelly took his chances in New York City, making it to the stages of Broadway. His big break came in 1940, when, at 22 years old, he won the lead in the hit musical Pal Joey (17 years later, Frank Sinatra would play the lead on film with Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak). Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio head Louis B. Mayer caught Kelly’s performance and quickly offered him a movie contract.

If you were a dancer in the 40’s, MGM was mecca: the studio produced the biggest movie musicals with the brightest stars, best scripts, and most talented crew. Kelly made his big screen debut opposite Judy Garland in 1942’s For Me and My Gal. In 1944, he played the male lead Danny McGuire in Covergirl with a pre-Gilda Rita Hayworth, which made him a star. Kelly teamed up with a young Sinatra for Anchors Aweigh (1945), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) and On the Town (1949). AA had Kelly dancing opposite Jerry Mouse as the first film to incorporate animation and live action. Scenes from OTT were shot at famous New York City landmarks, making it the first musical filmed on location.

In addition to playing lead roles, Kelly collaborated with film makers as a director and choreographer, and he is primarily responsible for two of the greatest film musicals of all time, An American in Paris (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). For these films, he cast an unknown Leslie Caron and a young Debbie Reynolds, respectively, in the roles that launched their successful careers. AAIP won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1952 and features an elaborate 17-minute ballet sequence at the end of the film, the first of its kind. Kelly was given a special honorary Academy Award “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” Singin in the Rain ranks on numerous lists and surveys as the most popular musical of all time, and has been released around the world in several languages.

In 1996 at 83 years old, Kelly passed in his sleep after a series of strokes. Even though he is gone, his incredible performances will live on film. He is remembered as the man who sings in the rain, and the every-man who made dancing masculine.