Thursday, November 24, 2011

sgwordy says...

I am on a forum for people who love flashlights.

(so much love for the internet)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The 500th

My first post was on Jan 19, 2009 (and in it i complained about fb! jeez! you'd think in almost three years i could have rustled up some new topics). I thought in this, my 500th post, I would share the winding road that led me to start posting stuff on the internet.

I've enjoyed writing for as long as I remember. Even so, I didn't - and don't - consider myself a writer. I remember getting lots of encouragement about becoming a writer (this is when I was pretty young) and receiving lots of "she'll be a writer someday" comments. But I never really did want to be a writer. I'm just someone who likes to write. It might be that some see no distinction between these but I think of writers as the people who say "I have all these stories that have to be told" or "I can't stay sane if I don't write." I don't have any of these problems. I have lots of stories in my head but if they stay there it's not really a problem. If I go months without writing anything I don't really think much of it. But the fact remains that I quite enjoy writing and I always come back to it.

I've gone through phases of writing just about everything but I always come back to fiction and short non-fiction. They are my favorites. Anyway, because I've always enjoyed writing there was a time in which I was repeatedly gifted with journals. I think at one time "journaling" was quite the thing and if you enjoyed
writing of course you "journaled" because even people who didn't like writing kept journals. I never did. I could never keep up with it for more than a couple of days. I didn't have anything to say on most days. I didn't want to recount my day (boring!), list out my problems (not productive for my type of problem solving), or carry on about my joys. So I quietly collected a pile of blank journals and wrote stories and poetry on loose leaf, lined paper.

Now let's fast forward to my junior year of college. This is before the internet as we now know it, its ubiquity and its speed. It was still the type of thing you could choose not to participate in. (I'm just trying to paint a picture of the prevailing technological vibe at the time I was introduced to the Writer's Notebook.) So there I am entering my second semester after transferring to a new university and finding that my first couple years of over-achieving (I was much more ambitious in my youth:) had left me with credits to spare. I flipped through the class catalog (do they even print these anymore?) and signed up for the only writing class that fit into my schedule: Writing for Teachers. This was an upper-level English course for education majors. There were ~20 students and, except for me, every student was planning to teach high school English or similar. The class was devoted to teaching future teachers how to teach writing.

I was dubious when I saw the syllabus and assigned texts but the class turned out to be fantastic, its instructor a person I consider it to have been my great good fortune to know. (Plus I always liked how she was obviously intrigued and pleased to have a science major sign up for her class.) There is much I could say about that class but my focus here is on the Writer's Notebook and how it and Dr. Betsy Ervin changed my writing life.

The Writer's Notebook was tackled pretty much right out of the gate. Dr. Ervin wanted it to be a tool we used as her students and a tool we would share with our students one day (I use "we" loosely as I was not bound for an English classroom). The Writer's Notebook was to be a place that we used to record what we observed of the world around us. It was meant to make us more observant and sensitive to events and the people we encountered. She went out of her way to define all the ways in which it was NOT a journal and that we were not journaling (sgwordy breathed a big sigh of relief:). The Writer's Notebook was to be a companion to our writing not to us.

I was hooked from day one.

I still have all my Writer's Notebooks and I'm going to pull that first one out just to give an example of the types of things I chose to include in it.

-overheard statements around campus, at work, while traveling.
-descriptions of buildings
-a drawing of an overhead view of an island I had short-lived ideas of working on
-telephone numbers of friends, grocery lists (this of course being contraband but needs must)
-story ideas
-essay ideas
-character sketches
-portions of stuff I was writing (always nice to follow through on a scene or idea right when it comes to you)
-vocab lists

This first Writer's Notebook was a large sketch diary I happened to have at my house. I have since learned that my favorite thing to use as a Notebook is a 9x6in sketch diary because I often paste in postcards, ads, or newspaper articles and I don't like doing that on lined paper (who can explain it?) I also didn't want it to be so big that it was inconvenient to carry around.

One day, post WN, I was digging through an old box from high school and my freshman year of college. I found what could only be described as a Writer's Notebook. At the time of its use, I thought of it as a scrapbook but as I sifted through it then I realized it was a rough draft of what I would later learn to cultivate as a Writer's Notebook. Looking through it now I find the following:

-quotes from books, songs and movies I liked
-pictures of cute actors
-poetry (when I used to write poetry)
-lsu tigers stickers
-my favorite poems
-pictures of animals
-poem a friend wrote for me
-poetry written between my grandmother and uncle when he was in prison (some things are hard to say right out)
-ads and comics I liked
-concert tickets
-brilliant insights from my own brain (ha!)

Eventually the internet became what it is and much of what I was reading was online. The articles I found interesting were online. Funny videos would spark random thoughts. Discussion boards would have something interesting going on. These targets of my observation weren't exactly easy to put into a Writer's Notebook. And I was sometimes reading these thingums called blogs.


I started a blog as a digital Writer's Notebook. For many months the only person who knew I was doing this was Dr Musacha. It was my own place to store random thoughts and link to things online that I found interesting. It was an easy place to hold videos and pics. I still kept (and keep) a Writer's Notebook but this blog served as its digital extension. Eventually I shared its web address with some of my friends who I discuss writing with. Then with some friends that I like to talk about books with and then just to some friends who are mildly curious as to what my brain can vomit up from time to time. Then, of course, there is the wonderful blogging community out there with whom one can become engaged on various topics. In one very important way this digital version is not like my paper version: it is public. I find that I always have in the back of my mind that what goes onto the internet, no matter how unimportant, is out there and so in the public domain. The digital portion of my Writer's Notebook is no longer strictly a Writer's Notebook but it has connected me to many other people who, like me, like to write. I find it a very satisfactory evolution of my Writer's Notebook and my writing life.

And so I find myself here in this place on the internet, still engaged in a writing life, in large part because of the encouragement and mentoring of Dr. Betsy Ervin. I went on to take her Essay Writing class the next semester (wherein I got to show off my Writer's Notebook and talk about how much I loved it as a tool) and get to know her a bit more. I would consider our relationship to have been mostly professional with a little bit of personal. I remember visiting her house just after her daughter was born and keeping in touch even when I wasn't in one of her classes - and even a bit after I graduated. I ran into her once by chance when I was back in Wilmington for a visit but by then we were not much in touch any longer. I can only assume she was serving as an excellent mentor for a new crop of students. I hope she knew what a positive effect she had on my life. I know I am not the only one to remember, with respect and gratitude, her generous and open manner as a teacher.

Thus endeth my 500th post, in memory and appreciation of Dr. Betsy Ervin

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary's Baby
Author: Ira Levin
Publisher: Random House (1967)

As we head into our holiday break, Michael had the superb idea that we re-visit the horror genre for Halloween. This book was sitting in my Kindle just waiting for a read so I was happy to queue up this spooky title. Having an excuse to watch the movie again was also quite appealing. Speaking of the movie...

I think I first saw this movie when I was 12 and I had no idea it was based on a book. I remember being creeped out but I had no other memories of it (I'll leave comments re my new memories of it for Michael's blog). A couple weeks ago I was chatting with my neighbors about books (as we often do) and Ira Levin came up. Later that evening, I downloaded Rosemary's Baby on my Kindle. It wasn't until Michael suggested it for a joint post that I started it up. The Kindle edition included a very nice introduction that got me pretty excited about trying out my first Levin. Turns out, the book is very educational (see bullet points below (yeah, I geeked out:)).

**this review includes SPOILERS**

Rosemary and her douchebag partner husband are moving into their dream apartment. A close friend warns that the building has a seedy past but the happy couple aren't about to let the past or superstition ruin their domestic bliss. Even the nosy old couple down the hall isn't going to ruin the tedium fun of covering closet shelves with gingham contact paper. With hubby's career taking off and a baby on the way, the Woodhouses are ready to settle in for the time of their lives. It's at about this time that Rosemary's education begins.

1. Don't accept food from strangers

There are multiple instances of food from the neighbors being a terrible idea but if you eat a dessert with a weird "under taste," then get dizzy and have psycho dreams of the devil sexually assaulting you it's time to say no thanks.

2. Don't trust doctors who tell you not to read books

Levin does a wonderful job of interweaving the mundane with the ominous. One might eventually weary of Rosemary listing her domestic tasks but there's no doubt they underscore the small signs of mischief at play in the building. In addition to this, there is the constant feeling of Man Control over everything. In general, Rosemary tends to cede control to the men in her life but as the story progresses the oppression that results from her lack of independent thought made my skin crawl. How she can accept the judgements of a doctor who tells her not to read is beyond me. These aspects of the story, I think, were uniquely suited to the time when the book was published. They lend an extra layer of creepy that was, for me, even more affecting than the satanism.

3. Don't introduce your friends to your creepy neighbors

Rosemary has a father-figure/mentor who, like any rational human being, becomes suspicious of the creepy neighbors and the prenatal care Rosemary is getting. His suspicions are not lost on the neighbors and he conveniently falls into a coma shortly after meeting one of them. Unfortunately, Rosemary is not yet ready to accept all the signs of crazy around her.

4. Don't allow other people to make all your decisions

Rosemary's instincts are screaming at her that something is wrong and yet she continues to let the people around her brow beat her into doing what they want (admittedly, Satanists are probably pretty convincing, power of the Devil and all that).

5. Don't lose your independence

When things are going well Rosemary doesn't give much thought to how dependent she is on her husband. However, when the shit starts to hit the fan she doesn't have many options. I admired that she seemed to wake from her Do Whatever I'm Told stupor but she'd basically painted herself into a corner by the time she realized she needed to get out.

6. Don't marry self-involved, callous jerk-faces

Guy is an absolute piece of work. What a pig! Levin does a fantastic job with his character, though. The unraveling of Guy mirrors Rosemary's discovery of the Satan worshipers down the hall. There are hints early of Guy's creep factor (just as there are hints that all is not right with the neighbors) but they can be chalked up to contemporary social mores. As the story progresses it becomes more and more clear that Guy isn't exactly a catch. At first I had a really hard time accepting how quickly he sold out his family to the cult but it eventually becomes clear that all he brought to his marriage was a sense of humor and a giant ego. This naturally increases the sense of isolation Rosemary feels as she approaches the end of her pregnancy and heightens the feeling of impending doom for the reader. 

This certainly is not a perfect book but I was quickly absorbed by the pacing and plot. There are several layers of creepy that allow the reader to easily feel Rosemary's dread and I really enjoyed that (even if my teeth were often grinding because of Guy and the Man Control - I'm assuming that was intentional and it worked!). It's quite the page turner despite the fact that this is not even remotely action packed. That comes, as mentioned above, from Levin's admirable mingling of the everyday with the horrific.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stuff I Wanted to Like

 Brief notes on stuff I really wanted to like but, ultimately, did not:

The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin is the final installment in her Inheritance Trilogy. I am a big fan of the first two and so looked very much forward to the finale. I could not have been more predisposed to like this book so I was pretty sad to find myself checking out before I even hit the 100 page mark. If I did not already have a history of fangirling over this author I would not have finished it.

- Jemisin's deftness in writing believable and complicated relationships
- world building continuity and expansion

- the meandering nature of the plot
- the quickness of Sieh's obsession with the twins (actually much about Sieh's character did not work for me so I re-read the first two books to try to understand better why that was - I think I just had a completely different take on his character and where he would end up)
- how rushed the writing/editing job felt as compared to the first two (if you played a drinking game with the "i/she/he blinked" description in place of other ways to describe "surprise" you would get very drunk indeed)

Empress by Shan Sa is a book I came by at a book sale and picked up because I thought the cover was so beautiful. 

It's about China's only ruling empress (Tang Dynasty, 7th Century). I love historical fiction and I especially love to come by historical fiction not set in Britain or France.

- fantastic period rendering, places literally sprang to life for me
- she wrote what felt like very authentic philosophies/feelings for rulers and a ruling family, there was absolutely no apology for the ruthlessness needed to remain in power
- as I understand it, this is a different take on a much maligned woman and alternate views of history are important imo

- writing was just a bit too flowery for me (written originally in French, author is expat living in France)
- i got really bored when the focus moved away from the demands of ruling and seemed to hang out in the naval gazing arena

Red Riding Hood is a movie that looked like it had some potential. Unfortunately, it ended up being a great idea with extremely poor execution.

- a determined heroine who is comfortable in her mind and body
- supportive female characters. it's so rare that a heroine gets to have a mom, grandma and girlfriends who are positive and caring
- HUGE SPOILER, highlight if interested: her dad is the werewolf and super excited to pass on the family legacy to his eldest daughter. no moaning about how she should have been a son or making due with daughters. he loved his daughters and wanted to share his life with them. how refreshing.

- poor directing, lackluster script, lack of chemistry b/n actors
- offensive casting: i don't know the origins of red riding hood but this was pretty clearly set in The Days of Yore in n. europe. It makes a lot of sense then that the village is filled with caucasians and that the visiting priest is also caucasian. However, when the priest's werewolf fighting force is comprised almost entirely of people of African and Asian descent it is nonsensical and offensive.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn is not a fun romp told through the enjoyable construct of diary entries. I am mentioning this book as a warning that it's not at all interesting. Just a heads up if it should be on your list. You won't miss anything by taking it off.