*I wrote this a couple of weeks ago when I was still in Chicago and I will post it in the present tense as if I am still there because that is where my heart is.

Chicago, City on the Make

Once you’ve become a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.

-Nelson Algren

Perhaps I particularly like that imagery because I broke my already crooked nose the first week we lived in Chicago but, more than that, I was amazed that someone could so eloquently put into words the exact way I feel about Chicago. I shouldn’t be surprised though because that’s what a good writer does, they translate feelings into words.

One of the things I love the most about Chicago (and this is probably true of all densely populated cities) is that living there is a challenge, a dare to be brave enough to overcome anything and everything; the snow and bitter cold, the parking, the mail, the grocery shopping, the taxes, the transportation and the existing in such close proximity to and dealing with so many different people. It is hard to live here and you have to work for everything you get. You become one of the unwashed masses whether you want to or not. At least the people in my Chicago do.

Why do Chicagoans embrace a life that is oftentimes hard? Because it pushes us, refines us, makes us pull more from ourselves than we ever knew we were capable of. This city is exactly that metaphorical woman with the broken nose; a woman like that has seen and done things and she expects more from you than excuses and complaints. She expects you to get out of bed willing to bravely face whatever she is ready to throw at you. Some days she will be sweet and mild like the warm summer days when the breeze flows into the city from the lake, but more often she will be dark and moody slamming you with gale force winds, rain and snow. If you stick with her, you will discover she has changed you. You will be braver, more determined and patient, more willing to overlook things that don’t matter, more willing to work, try and give. Chicago makes you strong, if you let it, and when you are finally transformed, every day with that crooked-nosed woman will be a gift, a chance to do and be more.

Last summer we watched an apartment building in our alley burn. Nobody was hurt but the fury was frightening. I saw that same fury in the snow and wind of February 2011. My husband works in a warehouse in the old stockyards. He drives through the gate where countless animals were driven to their deaths to sit at his computer and be haunted by their ghosts (or so I like to tease him). There is a fury in this city. But, for all of the ugliness, there is an unquenchable beauty. The architecture of even the most decayed buildings is undeniably magnificent, especially when adorned with flower boxes overflowing in the summer. Lake Shore Drive winds you between God’s creation to the East, the startlingly green water of Lake Michigan is truly breathtaking, and some of man’s finest work to the West where the skyline rises to mingle with the majesty of the barely visible stars at night.

I love Chicago because it has made me who I am. Not from birth, but because it’s environment and people have changed me. Chicago is now part of me. I will be back, definitely to visit and possibly to live someday, but I know it won’t ever be the same again. As I ride through the different neighborhoods I realize that each person’s experience of Chicago is as unique as the streets, shops, restaurants, and neighbors they are surrounded by. I cannot come back because just like this city, I am always changing and so is everyone around me. Letting go of a good part of life is hard but moving on doesn’t detract from the beauty of a life left behind. It is a gift because you cannot truly remember a place until you are removed from it and can carry those memories with you.

Goodbye to the one drawer in our entire kitchen, the drain monsters that grow to be the size of dinosaurs, the five keys on my keyring required to get into my apartment, and the creepy raccoon bandits hanging out in the alley wearing their masks and planning the abduction of my garbage. Goodbye to the Eastern European cashiers at Devon Market with that stare in their icy blue eyes that never changes, it’s always hard, always hinting at the despair of a Dostoyevsky novel and if you happen to see their elusive smile (sometimes The Boy can make it appear), that hardness is still there because they know that even with the joys of life, trouble is waiting around the corner. Goodbye to Carlos, my favorite alley person, who never wears a shirt when the temperature is above 70 degrees but saved the day (fully clothed, no less) when my apartment flooded in the dead of winter. Goodbye to the predictable CTA workers who regularly accused me of not scanning my pass when I pushed The Boy’s stroller through the gate because they weren’t paying attention and doing their job (for the record, I always scanned my pass and I was always polite when they accused me of doing otherwise.) Goodbye to the CTA bus drivers who stopped to pick me, The Boy and our groceries up even when we weren’t at the bus stop simply because they are nice. Goodbye to the ubiquitous bicyclists, all shapes and sizes (my favorite was the overweight man on a too small bicycle wearing a suit and a fez) hauling miraculously sized things to unknown places. Goodbye to the outrageously high gas prices that make the complaints of people living anywhere else in the country laughable (my best friend mentioned that her gas prices were almost “$4 a gallon!” and I told her I honestly didn’t remember when ours were under $4 and now they’re quite close to $5). Goodbye to the Indian Markets on Devon who kept us stocked with naan, spices, and other delicacies (but not Indian desserts, see The Man Who Ate Everything for an explanation). Goodbye to my beloved polar bear at the Lincoln Park zoo, I will forever treasure the magical mornings The Boy and I spent getting high fives from her through the glass window.

Goodbye to the amazing Chicago Public Library system, the museums, The Bean, the skyscrapers, the parks and playgrounds, the aquarium, and all of the wonderful places we frequented. Goodbye to my beloved train. Goodbye to the squirrels, trees, leaves, puddles, rocks and sticks the Boy marveled over and the dogs chased or peed on. Goodbye to Edgewater, my neighborhood (and my favorite neighbors: Debbie, Gayle, The Brunsons & The Rowberrys).

Goodbye to my friends (you know who you are), you have inspired and changed me. You are the hardest thing to leave behind.

Due to our unusual circumstances (which I won’t go into here) I will spend the next 6 months without a home. So, I will still be a Chicagoan floating in the ether of the United States, bouncing from place to place trying to find a lovelier lovely with my Illinois license plate, my expired city sticker no longer necessary to protect me from tickets, my generously dented bumper – the telltale sign of city living – and the frightening long ‘a’ sound I’ve found creeping into my words with greater frequency lately (perhaps I am leaving not a moment too soon).

Although I am horribly sad to leave, my love for Chicago makes me excited for the future because who knows where else I will go and what other places I will fall in love with. I certainly never hoped and planned to live here, but here I am saying goodbye to my lovely so real.

(I apologize for my long absence but I’ve been packing up and moving. Expect a post about Mikey’s unexpected adventures in Mexico soon. You will not be disappointed.)

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[Me hard at work, courtesy of The Boy]

On the most recent episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, spoke of a lesser known scientific principle:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand, for example when you’re showering . . . if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering or putting [as in golf], then another part of the brain, the anterior superior temporal gyrus is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.

I wondered, giddy with excitement, how I had not heard of this enlightening principle. Then I remembered, Jack Donaghy is a fictional character and even in the fictitious world of 30 Rock his theories and practices are generally suspect. Not to mention, that last bit of the “scientific” principle (which I’m willing to bet was developed by Dr. Spaceman) is obvious nonsense. And yet, I still wanted to believe in The Shower Principle. I even googled it, just to be sure. I am telling you now, to save you some time, it is not a real thing (For a correction and UPDATE please see this post: “The Shower Principle Revisited”). However, I did find some interesting information (here and here) on a study by Jackie Andrade, that indicates you will pay better attention during a boring meeting or class if you doodle. (You’re welcome for that useful tip.)

So why, you may be asking yourself, was I so desperate for The Shower Principle to be true? Because . . . that is exactly how I get the inspiration for my manuscript. My very first idea came when I was driving and over the next two years all of my ideas came as I sat at my job sticking bar codes on thousands of DNA samples for hours at a time. It became such a regular thing that I wouldn’t move to my DNA “station” without taking my writing notebook with me. I even worried when I left my job, to move to Chicago, that I wouldn’t have that magic window into my imagination any longer. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that inspiration can happen anywhere at any time, I just have to be doing something mundane, mindless or repetitive. Driving, riding my bicycle, knitting, cleaning, cooking and yes, showering too. If I am doing a task over an extended period of time, (it usually has to be something that is almost second nature and does not require intense concentration) I am almost always struck by inspiration about scenes, dialogue, and characters. Then when I finally have a chance to sit down to write, I use that inspiration I developed while under the influence of “the shower principle.” It may not yet have scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing. If I have writer’s block I just have to go into my kitchen, turn on some music and start chopping vegetables. Within minutes my problem is solved. And based on the doodling study, it makes sense scientifically (although I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of how the brain works.) The theoretical reason doodling helps you pay better attention is because it occupies your mind so that you can’t daydream. Jackie Andrade explained:

It takes a large cognitive load to daydream. That has a big impact on the task you’re meant to be doing. Doodling takes only a small cognitive load, but it’s just enough to keep your mental resources focused on the main task.

Using that logic, if you take away the doodling, you’re left to daydream which is exactly what I do when I’m writing a story. There was a time in my life (well into adulthood, I might add) when I believed all of the people around me were ceaselessly making up stories in their head, the way I do. I thought daydreaming and creating stories were synonymous until I made one of those off-hand comments about it to someone and they gave me the look, you know that look people give you when they have no idea what you’re talking about and they are suddenly wondering if you’re a little bit crazy. It was just like the time, at my book club meeting, when I mentioned that really sweet foods tickle my tongue. I met with blank stares followed by raucous laughter and I was left wondering, am I the only one?

I have since done some light investigating about how people daydream and although I don’t believe I am the only one, I have yet to find somebody else who entertained themselves on those miserable childhood afternoons spent being dragged around department stores by making up stories about all of the mannequins, or someone who has a long cast of characters living imaginary lives in their daydream world. I know there are others out there like me but from what I can tell, most people daydream about real life or create fantasy lives about themselves. So, thank you Mom, for turning me into an indentured servant every Saturday morning and forcing me to clean the downstairs bathroom because I believe that’s where the stories began. I transformed my childhood angst into creativity and I guess it just never stopped.

Jackie Andrade said:

The exciting thing is that people actually got better while doing two things at once. Doodling is not as bad a thing as we might think.

And neither is daydreaming.

Feel free to let me know if you also daydream in stories, practice The Shower Principle in your life or your tongue gets tickled when you eat really sweet things (I’m a bit worried about that one, I’m really beginning to think I am the only one that happens to) because I would be interested to know. Maybe I should do my own study.

[The boy listening to Paul Simon (his request) and taking self-portraits.]

ANOTHER MATTER ALTOGETHER:

My friend Emily mentioned that I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s nice to know that at least one person missed me. Never fear my faithful readers, I haven’t given up on blogging I have just been preoccupied with my writing. I’ve been having some amazing success with my manuscript the last couple of weeks and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The last goal I set for myself was to be done with my second draft by April 1st and if you will kindly look at the calendar, you will notice that was yesterday. But, that goal was to mark the anniversary of the beginning of my 5-year-manuscript-project which, I discovered while perusing old emails this past week, I actually began writing in February 2007. The 5-year ship has sailed. The new plan is to be done by May 31st and in the meantime I’ll try to blog more regularly, for those of you who missed me. If I don’t, just know it’s because incredible things are happening on this very computer I’m typing on and you’re one day closer to actually being able to read my story.

The day we moved into our apartment, the guy, Tim, who had lived here previously was still in the process of moving out. Our moving trucks sat facing each other, blocking the alley and almost kissing. When his was finally loaded and ours unloaded, we talked to him for a little while about the neighborhood, suggestions for places we could get dinner, and during the course of the conversation he offered to leave some of his furniture for us. We didn’t need what he was offering so he left it in the alley and explained to us, if you ever don’t want something, just leave it in the alley, somebody will take it.

I wondered at the time, who would want alley furniture? I guess I believed myself to be above perfectly good, free things, simply because the pick-up locale happens to be frequented by rats during the late hours (We know this first hand because one of our dogs caught one. I was so proud.) I have since come down from my high horse and over the past few years the list of items we have acquired from our alley has grown to mythical proportions. My friends are always amazed over my treasures and some have taken to calling it “The Magic Alley.” Here are a few of the things we’ve found:

-A dresser, solid wood and in need of a bit of refinishing

-$70 heels, just my size, which I constantly get compliments on

Baby Bicycle Seat

– A pop-up Playhut jeep tent (something like this). Sadly I ripped it yesterday, just a little bit when I was commanded by the “driver” to get in despite my insistence that I was just too big

– A play kitchen. It’s one of the plastic kinds popular 10-15 years ago but with a little scrubbing it’s almost like new.

– A green wooden box (which houses art supplies and used to boost The Boy up so he could look out the window when he was smaller.)

-A suitcase. It’s the Roxy brand, blue with flowers. Admittedly a little girly, but easier to spot in the airport baggage claim.

-A Baby einstein kaleidoscope toy

– A baby keyboard to hang in a crib

– Endless clothes and shoes that don’t fit. (If they stay out there for longer than a day, I pick them up and drop them off at the thrift store.)

-A bookshelf (also in need of some repair.)

This isn’t a comprehensive list because I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting and this doesn’t include the things that we don’t pick up. Almost everyday there is something out there: vacuums, furniture, shoes, jumper cables, shelves, car bumpers, clothes, and lots and lots of scrap metal. Our alley is not atypical of Chicago, we are just fortunate that the stuff we seem to find is especially useful, new and expensive.

There is a whole sub-culture of “Scrappers” in Chicago that scour the city looking for metal to sell. They go up and down the alleys everyday, even in the dead of winter, in battered pick-up trucks picking up stuff people have left because they know the Scrappers are coming. Sometimes it’s one or two guys with grumpy looks who almost hit me as I walk to my car. Sometimes it’s a friendly Grandpa who waves to The Boy as he slowly inches along. In the summer, it’s often a family affair, with the kids crammed in the truck cab with their Mom and Dad, listening to loud mariachi music. It’s one of the quirky things that I love about Chicago. There’s even a documentary about it, which I haven’t seen, but I want to.

The other night Michael came home late. The dogs barked incessantly as usual, but it was his unnecessary (in my opinion) banging that woke me up. He came into the bedroom, a huge grin on his face and said, “Want to see what I found?” I was completely awake, all annoyance at being woken up gone. The Magical Alley had provided. A practically new violin; it’s missing a few strings and quite far from a Stradivarius, but still, a free violin and I am already dreaming about taking lessons someday. And a treasure chest, which seems very appropriate, a treasure chest to hold our alley treasure.

The weather is getting warmer, the wind is really starting to blow and The Magical Alley is awakening.

About five years ago I created a Facebook account.

In the beginning, the relationship was wonderful. We saw each other every morning and I enjoyed the pictures, posts and pokes Facebook passed back and forth to my friends and family. In those early days I was even reunited with one of my oldest friends, Phaneth. We met in second grade and developed a bond over the “ding-ding” dance at recess and then when we were older, rides along the bicycle trails of Northern Virginia. I still had the bicycle bell she gave me one year for Christmas and thought of her every time I rang it. But time and distance had severed our ties. Until Facebook, my ever-present significant other, came along.

My relationship was fulfilling but quickly grew intense. Facebook wanted me around all of the time and I was too weak, too enamored to resist. More and more people were joining daily and about a year later I realized the love had gone and was replaced with compulsion and dependence. Facebook was always changing and I felt that if I wasn’t there to see it, I wouldn’t matter anymore. I realized I was in a bad relationship, so bad in fact, that there wasn’t a break-up option back then. I scoured the internet and employed a back-door account-deleting method somebody had posted on a forum. I was free and so much happier.

Then a few months ago I gave into peer pressure and created an account again. It began the same way. Light-hearted and fun at first. I was happy to contact and say hello to old friends. It was fun to see people’s pictures and laugh at people’s posts. But my need for being connected grew daily and I found myself wasting my time and life on a superficial relationship. Facebook seems to be very one-sided and narcissistic. After the initial contact with old friends and roommates, they didn’t seem to care anymore. I was appalled because that’s not the way I do things. But, again I found myself in too deep with Facebook, I felt I couldn’t pull myself away. I happened upon a couple articles, here and here, about how studies are showing that Facebook makes people sad. I felt it, I knew it was true. But, that feeling that if I wasn’t on Facebook, I wouldn’t exist, couldn’t be shaken.

Then one night I had a revelation as I was walking around Chicago, innocently pursuing one of my favorite activities, peeking into the windows of apartment buildings and houses. (Accuse me of voyeurism all you like, if they didn’t want me to see, they would shut their shades.) Facebook is like looking into the open window of model homes peopled with mannequins dressed in the latest fashions, doing the things you wish you were doing, their eyes dead and their mouths perpetually and soundlessly laughing. It seems beautiful, better than your own life, but the longer you look the more it feels extremely creepy and somehow wrong. Facebook is not real life. It is, more often than not, what people want you to think their real life is.

I understand why other people like it, like the article says, certain people are more affected than others. I guess I am one of those people because I don’t like life filtered. It’s like living in a Lois Lowry book, the beautiful without the ugly is just as creepy and wrong as the bittersweet reality. I like my friends (and characters in books) flawed, human and relatable. But, on Facebook, everyone is superhuman. And the world suddenly becomes very big, busy and overwhelming.

Facebook it seems is for the extroverts of the world who thrive off of constant connection and don’t like to be alone. For the people who can’t get enough of other people and think other people need and want to know every mildy cute/funny/weird/scary thing their child/dog/professor/husband (you get the idea) said or did. It is for people living abroad who feel lonely, far from family and friends. It is for people who are chronically sick and can’t get out of bed. It is for revolutionaries to spread the word (good can come from it).

But, Facebook is not for me. I will stick to my limited glimpses into other people’s lives; illuminated windows with people vegetating on their second-hand couches, praying, dancing, and cooking accompanied by real laughter, shouted arguments, loud music and screaming children. And of course, the occasional naked person.

The day before I made my decision to breakup with Facebook a friend posted this picture to her wall:

The graphic is funny but . . . the truth is, we all grow up and (hopefully) leave home at some point and when we finally do . . . it’s no longer considered running away.

Dear Facebook,

I gave you a second chance but discovered you are still the same superficial black hole I met all those years ago. I’m done wasting my time with you. This is it, I’m breaking up with you tomorrow.

Tara

To my facebook friends: If you can’t contact me in a way other than through facebook, you probably don’t like me that much anyway. To the rest of you, I look forward to talking to you in my real life.

I cannot begin to tell you how much happier I am now.

My husband is a big bicycle enthusiast. I think it’s safe to say in the 11 years I’ve known him, he’s had at least a dozen bicycles. He builds them from parts, finds them in alleys, fixes them up, barters, sells, and buys. He has three right now in addition to the three he acquired for me (they’re all second hand and two of them were free) and our sons tricycle, bicycle seat and bike trailer. We are a household who enjoys a good bicycle. At least that’s what Michael would like people to believe.

My loyalties, however, lie somewhere else entirely and he knows it.

A few years ago when gas prices got really terrible, there was a revolutionary atmosphere in our apartment. To amuse myself, I began talking and scheming against the establishment. I struck upon an idea that I became very passionate about; travel by horse was going to come back. I announced to Michael, very theatrically, that horses were the way of the future. He laughed and then began to argue that no, bicycles were the way of the future and . . . the future is now. We enjoyed arguing and pleading our side of the case, many times laughing so hard we almost cried. I insisted his opinion couldn’t be trusted on the matter because he’d had three of his very own horses – Duchess, Whiskey Jack and one, I was appalled to discover, he can’t even recall the name of – when he was a kid and he just didn’t appreciate them the way he should have. He claims they had terrible temperaments but I think they just didn’t like him because they could sense he was a secret bicycle revolutionary. We did agree on one thing, riding horses and bicycles is much more fun than riding in a car.

I have since admitted that bicycles are probably a safer bet than horses. There are a lot of logistical problems when it comes to “storing” horses, especially in a city . There’s also the matter of cleaning up after and feeding them. Most importantly, bicycles don’t tend to die on you. But, I always remind Michael, a bicycle just can’t love you back.

Horses, the way of the future. At least in my dreams.

The debate is over, but the sentiment lives on. Whenever we become impassioned about something in our household – politics, human rights violations, corruption, the economy, greed, health insurance, cronyism, or anything that just seems wrong – the revolutionaries in us come out again. We look at each other and whisper conspiratorially, “Horses, the way of the future.” And then we laugh. It makes the world seem like a less horrible place. You should try it.

Horses, the way of the future – The revolution is coming. I’m thinking about having t-shirts made.

I let my great NaNoWriMo success in November go to my head. I set a goal during December to have my second draft completed by February 1st. A month and a half seemed like sufficient time to get it done. After all, I’d written 50,000 words in 30 days, right?

February 1st has come and gone and I’m quite far from being completed with my edits. Actually, I’m still stuck in the first 10,000 words.

Much of this has to do with my husband’s hidden gift of amazing editing skills. Not only is Michael excellent at grammar, but he’s a genius when it comes to spotting logical inaccuracies. Sometimes when we sit down to edit together he points out something so minute and detailed that I cannot help but be reminded of an episode of the TV show, Monk. Mr. Monk becomes a magazine proofreader (Season 3: Mr. Monk Gets Fired) and points out that a writer used the word, decimate, when describing a building being knocked down but, Adrian Monk points out, it’s inaccurate because decimate means to reduce by a tenth not destroy entirely. Those are the kinds of logical inaccuracies Michael finds. I’m not kidding. Is it any wonder that the editing is taking so long?

At first I was frustrated, but then I realized that although the process can be slow and arduous, I shouldn’t want to rush it. This is my chance to make my manuscript great. It has potential now, but it needs work. I need to be pushed to pull something better from myself. I’ve spent years planning and working, why would I limit myself to less than two months to polish it to as near perfection as I am capable of?

My new hope, and goal, is to be completed with the second draft on April 1st because that, for me, will be enough to meet my, “I’ll give myself five years to finish this book” requirement.

School Room by Rob Shenk
School Room, a photo by Rob Shenk on Flickr.

I remember the moment quite clearly. Miss Long handed me back an assignment in my 9th grade English class and there was an ugly grade at the top of the page. The only explanation I could find were the ubiquitous red circles around blank spaces across the page. Blank spaces? I was being marked down because I left spaces blank? I cornered Miss Long after class, what was the meaning of this, I demanded. (Well, not in those words, although I wish it had been in those words, it’s very proper and combative all at the same time. Perfect dialogue, albeit a little cliche.) She sighed and patiently explained, “You have to leave two spaces after a period when you are writing, it’s the way things are done.”

I took it for granted that Miss Long was right and she knew what she was doing. She was probably only 10 years my senior but, I reasoned, she was my teacher, she must know more than me. I think it’s one of the final stages of “growing up” or “becoming an adult” when you realize that just because someone is a teacher it doesn’t mean that they know everything about the subject they are teaching. I learned this lesson years ago, but for some inexplicable reason I kept holding onto this double space idea because Miss Long told me that’s the way things were done.

I first noticed a problem when I started this blog, if I double spaced after punctuation, the formatting came out all wrong. I was suspicious. I pushed that suspicion aside, Miss Long’s face and the sad red grade at the top of my paper a menacing reminder. As time went on, I became more suspicious, so I did some research. First I stopped to check in and see what Grammar Girl (she’s been my go-to grammar authority for years) had to say here. And then I checked a few other places just to be sure, including the authority on writing The MLA, here, and my beloved Chicago Manual of Style for their humorous answer here.

The consensus agrees, and it was as I suspected, Miss Long was wrong and I was RIGHT. Me! Me! Me!

I was marked down because she wasn’t keeping up with the revolution of formatting brought on by personal computers. Two spaces were required in the days of using typewriters to improve readability because each letter took up the same amount of space, but when using a computer, each letter takes up the amont of space allotted to that particular letter. To quote Grammar Girl:

[W]hen you’re typing on a computer, most fonts are proportional fonts, which means that characters are different widths. An “i” is more narrow than an “m,” for example, and putting extra space between sentences doesn’t do anything to improve readability.

I find my situation to be completely ridiculous because I never wrote on a typewriter and it was only a year later that I got my first email address.

The important thing is that, I was right! However, this revelation leaves me less than satisfied. I was doing poorly in math that year, English was my one easy subject, and I was marked down for an archaic rule by a teacher who apparently did not know as much as I did, with no opportunity to say “I told you so!” This blog post will have to be my vindication. Miss Long, this one’s for you.

I have been leaving two spaces after punctuation for almost two decades now. Although I thought it would be hard to change my habits, it’s quite easy. Within 24 hours I was a one space girl and it feels so good.

My husband, who is fortunately a gifted editor and grammarian, is patiently walking through my manuscript with me. During this process I have discovered that I have forgotten nearly everything about how to construct a good sentence. I am currently doing a study of grammar. Sadly one my favorite books, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation addresses British English problems, so for my purposes, it’s not useful. But, I’ve found some other good ones. The classic, The Elements of Style and one I’m very excited about, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. If you have any others to recommend, please let me know.

It has also come to my attention that I am an abuser of participles. I like them to dangle. It’s cruel, I know, but I cannot help myself. Have no fear, my brilliant editor is pulling them back from the edge. My manuscript is now less lyrical than I envisioned in my mind but, my husband likes to point out that, at least it makes sense. Until my grammar study is done, please excuse my poorly constructed sentences. I had a mediocre English class in 9th grade and I’m still trying to recover from it.

I know at the beginning of the year it’s popular to set new goals about blogging more often, but I’m just not going to do it.

I’m still here, but I’m busy editing my manuscript and fighting off all impulses to throw it out entirely and give up. Editing is hard work and quite painful actually. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I’ll be back soon.

light in the dark by emiliokuffer
light in the dark, a photo by emiliokuffer on Flickr.

It’s hard to write a powerful ending to an already beautiful book. So much has been built up, so much has happened, so much has been said, taught and learned. How do you end something beautiful?

My favorite ending in all of literature is that of A Tale of Two Cities (it’s quite a popular one). The entire book is wonderful, the writing skilled, the story twisting, as all of Charles Dicken’s book do. But, it is not until the final pages that the story and the protagonist, Sydney Carton, take on a supernal feel.

Sydney Carton, a flawed, sloven, selfish alcoholic waits in line for his turn to be beheaded by the guillotine. Not for any crime of his own but to purposely die in the place of the man he most hates, Charles Darnay. Darnay who looks almost identical to Carton but who in every other way is nothing like him. He reminds Sydney Carton of who he could have been. Darnay, a mocking reflection of a failed life who is able to capture the heart of the one person that Sydney Carton loves. I believe to truly appreciate Carton’s sacrifice, you have to read the book. As you follow him through the story you see how imperfect and hateful he is and because of this, the ending is all the more beautiful. He goes to his death for someone he hates, to bless the life of someone he loves.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

I could read the last few pages of this book over and over again and never tire of them.

I love when a hero dies. It is so moving. The ultimate sacrifice. My friends tease me, finding it morbid and incomprehensible. But . . . my standard for a hero is very high. I expect perfection and a willingness to do anything for those a hero loves. And this is why:

John 15: 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Now let’s examine another story (and examine it as just a story at this pointnothing more) that is connected to that of Sydney Carton’s. The Son of God (much like those in Greek mythology) comes to earth to teach us how to be happy. He is loved and hated. He takes upon Himself all of the pain and sadness of every person who has ever or will ever live, even for those who do not believe in Him, even for those who would revile and abuse Him. He does it because of love. Perfect love. He doesn’t have to, He choses to. And then He rises again, conquerer of death.

Whether you are a believer or not, the story of Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection, is amazing. It has depth, heroism and a happy ending.

John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live

I, for one, am a believer. And He is the standard for all of my heroes. Merry Christmas.

In the end ... by doozzle
In the end …, a photo by doozzle on Flickr.

Until recently I never wrote “serious” reviews for books. I would occasionally write a review, for my own benefit, on Goodreads to remind myself how I felt about a particular book (I have a terrible memory for details.) But I had never posted anything in-depth and certainly nothing on Amazon, actually trying to sell (or disuade people from buying) a product. My opinion, although valuable to me, is simply my emotional reaction. Some people like to believe that their opinion is the final word on any given subject. I actually felt that way when I was a teenager. I truly believed that I had the best taste in music (and believe me, I did not), that it was above reproach, and anyone who disagreed with me was simply wrong. But then I grew up and realized that opinions are how you feel about something. I can’t tell anybody else how they should feel about anything. I can simply state how it makes me feel.

When I decided to write my first book review (with great hesitation) I began thinking about what it would mean, to the author and to myself.

Whether I like a book or not, it is undeniable that a writer somewhere has put effort, time and their hopes into that book. My opinion and feelings about their work may not coincide with what they hoped people would think, but that does not diminish their effort and the fact that other people can love or appreciate their work. It is not my place to try and destroy what they have created.

At the same time, I feel the most comfortable with myself when I am absolutely honest. I have been told that I am sometimes honest to a fault. So, when I attempt to review a book, I cannot in good conscience hide my true feelings. And I wouldn’t want anyone to do that for me either. What someone has to say may hurt, but if they approach their critique from the respectful perspective I explained above, well, they cannot be faulted for the way they feel.

I try to find a balance between acknowledging the writer’s efforts and sharing how I truly feel about a book. Giving respect to myself and the author. My reviews aren’t amazing. Sometimes people find them helpful and I imagine sometimes people don’t. But I am honest and hopefully not destructive.

That first review I wrote was for a book written by somebody I know. For me, it was an ethically difficult predicament to be in. Fortunately, I liked the book and it was well written. But, what if I had not liked it? What if it had been terrible? In this world of self-promotion I’ve noticed a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” trend among writers and bloggers. Dishonesty can extend to everything in your life, even a feigned opinion. I don’t like the idea that writers would read books that they would not normally be interested in and then rate them highly simply with the hope of support and recognition from that author when their time comes. It reeks of cronyism.

It’s wonderful to be supportive of your friends, family, and other writers. It is even entirely possible that people truly do love the works of all of the other writers in their personal and professional networks. But how, as an outsider, can we judge the veracity of a review if the writer is raving about the work of the people in their network while not being so generous with writers outside their association? It makes a reviewer come across as partial and highly suspect.

Admittedly it is a lot of pressure. How do you tell someone you know that you don’t like their book? The secret? Don’t read it to begin with. (But, that’s not really a solution, is it?)

I believe in my writing enough that I don’t want to force it on anyone. That’s just not who I am and I hope to let my work speak for itself. As an aspiring novelist I fear the temptation to fall into the crony trap. So, I write this now as a challenge to myself. I will be the first person to call myself out as a hypocrite if my tune suddenly changes at the first sign of publication.

If you want me to read your work, be forewarned, I vow to myself that I will be honest. But, I promise to be respectful too.