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NaNoWriMo–Yes or No? October 27, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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Last year, I did it. I won NaNoWriMo. I wrote a 40K word novel in 30 days.

I’m not saying it was a good novel. I gave it to four beta readers and none of them could get through it. Well, I assume they couldn’t. The only feedback I got was “I haven’t finished it yet” and then I don’t like to push when folks are doing me a favor, so I let it drop. The fact that it wasn’t devoured eagerly and commented on either favorably or un- is telling.

It also doesn’t exactly make me want to write that way again.

The one good thing is that it made me get forty-thousand words on paper. It took a lot of hours to do, with an end result that’s worthless to me. I can’t edit it because to me, the story is told. It’s just (apparently) not a very good story. I can live with that.

But I have three full-length novels in progress that have all stalled for one reason or another, and I’ve had very little time to write lately. I’m thinking maybe during NaNo this year of setting aside a block of time every day to write. Perhaps log so many hours on the stories I already have instead of counting the words, and give myself a victory if I can get any one of them into a readable draft form. Hell, finishing all three and having manuscripts to submit to publishers would be an amazing accomplishment, even if I don’t earn a shiny new badge for my sidebar.

It’s for sure that writing is a discipline. I have to do it all the time, every day, or I get out of practice. Even blogging is hard (in case you couldn’t tell) because the words don’t want to come out of my head. My writing seems halting and forced and stilted to me, and the words flow only in messy, lumpy, stringy, scattered bursts.

It will be good to get my head back in the game.

 

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Look at MEEEEEEEEE! October 22, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI.
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I kinda want to be famous.

I’ll admit that to you because I know you won’t judge me for it.

As it is, I have a bit of a Big Fish-Small Pond thing going on. I live in a small town and have lived in the same house I grew up in for most of my life. When that happens, folks get to know who you are. There’s a great feeling of familiarity. It’s not the same as celebrity, but there is something very cool about walking into the town hall, or the post office, or the library and having everyone there know who you are and what you’re there for.

I get a bit of that same feeling of familiarity but in more of a “you know me but I don’t know you” kind of way at church. Because I cantor, mine is a fairly visible ministry, and it happens quite a lot that people will say “hi” to me and I don’t know who they are, exactly. Usually I recognize them, but on occasion I’ll have strangers come up to me and tell me they enjoyed my singing and I don’t know who they are at all.

I imagine celebrity is like that but on a far grander scale. And I can see why it’s alluring.

It’s flattering to have people come up because they know you for something and tell you, usually, how much they enjoy what you do. Though I suppose there are those who go up and say just what they don’t like, and that must suck. I figure I’m due for that to happen any day now.

I don’t know so much about being famous for the sheer sake of being famous, though. I mean, beyond being recognized, what is the attraction of fame for fame’s sake? What’s in that sort of attention? Or worse yet, being infamous. I think of the Jersey Shore fucktards and wonder why on earth you would want to be recognized for the reasons that they are. They don’t do anything, and are known for being stupid, shallow, self-obsessed, and ignorant. See also, The Kardashians.

They’ve sought fame and achieved it without actual achievement, and I can’t imagine either being interested in these people for being uninteresting, or for the celebrities themselves wanting that fame without cause.

I wouldn’t mind being famous, but I’d like it to be because I did something notable. If someday my name is known because I’ve contributed to the knitting world in some significant way, that would be the bomb, even if I’m only known at Rhinebeck or the local yarn shop. I wouldn’t mind being known as one one of the names that blazed a new trail in the erotica emergence of the 2010’s, even if I’m known by my pseudonym. Would I like to be the next Bloggess? Hell yeah, I would.

I don’t think I’m in any danger. I have enough trouble working social media to my advantage well enough to keep a few extra bucks in my Paypal account, so I don’t imagine the Fame Machine is going to spin wildly out of control any time soon. I’m so very uncomfortable with the whole social media and self-promotion thing that I really can’t even wrap my head around doing it just to become known. It’s crazy.

I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own October 15, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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I remember when the first season of Survivor aired. It was one of the coolest things I’d seen on TV. Real people competing in harsh conditions for a huge prize was fascinating as a premise, and I tuned in personally because one of the girls on the show had been a co-worker of mine only a few weeks earlier and I wanted to cheer Jenna on and see how she did.

I liked how back in the early days of reality TV, it was mostly anthropological. They put the “cast” in a situation and let it unfold. Look at those folks up there. They looked like real people because they were real people. Yeah, it was edited, but remember early on? It was much more raw in those days. I stopped watching the show part way through the second season when I realized they were just copying the basic formula as the first show and manipulating the “cast” into situations that were remarkably similar to the previous season. You could see the thought process behind it. “Okay, we need this type of character and this type of character…” If you look at the cast photos from later seasons, you can see people chosen to fit a script. There’s nothing real about them at all.

On the whole, I can honestly say I’m not even equipped to talk about reality TV because I can’t make myself sit through an episode of anything unscripted. I see so many shows full of nothing but human beings behaving badly. I see greed, ambition, vanity, arrogance, rudeness, self-righteousness, pride, and anger. I see people becoming famous for nothing at all save behaving badly. Or stupidly. Or ignorantly.

I understand the obsession with reality TV. I get the voyeuristic aspect of it. What I don’t understand is why we spend hours watching people behave badly? Would we not tune in to see people behaving nicely? Would we watch a show about the brightest people in the world doing intelligent things? Would we tune in to see people doing well and being kind? Even shows like American Idol and the like are punctuated by episodes where we can watch people perform and fail dismally. We dissect every mishap and make fun of every failing that happens on camera.

Why?

I have no idea. I suspect part of it is our need to feel superior to someone. Life can be a chore some days, and seeing someone else fail makes us feel like less of a failure, perhaps. We watch Real Housewives behaving like painted baboons and we feel better about ourselves. We see the vapid and shallow Kardashians and feel better about ourselves. We watch that little monster Honey Boo Boo and feel better about ourselves.

Beyond that, I just don’t know. On the whole I prefer fiction. I’d rather watch inventive stories and see programs where characters develop and change and grow, rather than a few seasons of real people acting like assholes until the next show and the next crop of assholes comes around as the “next big thing in reality TV.”

Personally, I’ll just put on reruns of Family Guy and knit until my fingers bleed.

Turn, Turn, Turn October 1, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI.
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2 comments

Ah, today we come to the question that took a few years off my life when I first read it. Buffy, there’s a reason I write using a pen name. Not everyone is privy to my unique literary stylings, and it’s with good reason. So when I saw your comment, I swallowed hard and realized I was going to have to suck it up and deal with that question in my own life eventually, and honestly, it seems as good a time as any to cross the streams.

“Have you written about how you balance church and erotica yet? Do you have Catholic guilt rear it’s ugly head ever?

There are a small group of moms at my daughter’s private Lutheran school that are all closet fuckery lovers. We private message each other with various bits of fuckery all day long. This includes the principle’s wife. That balance between how people expect us to act and how we actually act always has interested me.”

This is actually a few questions in one. No, I haven’t written about how I balance church and erotica, mostly because I’ve not let the cat completely out of the bag about writing erotica in the first place,. Some of my friends know, and some do not. If you’re an eagle-eyed reader or a shameless stalker, you may have seen that I’ve updated my About Poops page and let my proclivities slip out a bit, complete with links and disclaimers. I’m not ashamed of it by a long shot. I write, and I write well. At the end of the day, I’m a published author, and I’m damned proud of it. But erotica is a literary genre that tends to pull some folks up short. If I said I wrote grisly murder mysteries, or really bad poetry, no one would bat an eye. If I wrote about most anything else, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But write about sex? Hoo, boy.

I don’t feel guilty about writing about sex, and for the record, I have no Catholic guilt about anything, ever. I mean, I feel guilt from time to time when I’ve done something I know to be wrong. I’m a bit of a sociopath, not a complete one. I wouldn’t classify my guilt as “Catholic” because I have to admit that the Church and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what is wrong and what is right.

And this is where we start wandering into territory of what I really don’t like to discuss on my blog. I spend half my life defending my Church for a variety of reasons and the other half condemning it for a variety of others, none of which I wish to discuss here. It’s personal and complicated.

I’ve been asked why I write erotica, or more accurately, “Don’t you ever write anything that’s not sex?” The answer is no, or at least very rarely. Sometimes my erotic stories aren’t very “sexy” but they are always erotic. I do wonder if anyone thinks to ask a mystery writer why they only write mysteries, though. It’s my genre, I say with a shrug. And for a long time–and yes, I’ve been writing erotica for a long time–I thought it was just because I had a dirty mind. But then I read something by another erotica writer that made me look at things differently. I found his opinions and ideas challenging and enlightening, and he writes some of the best erotic fiction I’ve ever read. He was answering the question, “What’s the difference between erotica and pornography?”

“The law’s never been very good at making objective standards for subjective judgments. And etymologically there isn’t, at least as far as I can tell. All the dictionaries I looked at make no distinction between pornography and erotica.

“But from a literary and aesthetic standpoint I think there’s a world of difference and that it’s very significant. Porn is aimed at the genitals; erotica is aimed at the mind. Porn deals with concrete sex while erotica deals with the abstract of sexuality. The fact that we’ve lost sight of this distinction for the last 200 years or so is the reason why we have next to no serious sexual literature in the West to this very day (though things have gotten better over the last 20-30 years or so). It’s also one of the main reasons we live in such a puritanical and sexophobic society, because the erotic has become so tightly associated with the obscene.

“A man and a woman meeting for coffee has no pornographic content. A man and a woman meeting for coffee does have a huge erotic content, though, and a good artist can bring that out and make us see how it works. And that’s the point of literature (or one of them, anyhow): to reveal the world to us and help us see things we wouldn’t notice on our own.

“To the Greeks, Eros was a powerful force, and didn’t just rule things sexual. You had an erotic relationship with anything you were attached to deeply and viscerally–a place, a person, even an object–and even patriotism was considered an emotion rooted in eroticism.

“Eventually the Philosophers–Plato, chiefly–decided the erotic way of knowing the world was inferior to the intellectual methods they favored, and the seeds of the exaggerated mind-body dualism that would infect early Christianity were sown, based on the supposed superiority of spirit over matter (intellect over emotion). But eroticism as a way of relating to the world was rediscovered and embraced with a vengeance by the neo-Platonists of the Italian Renaissance, which is one of the reasons for all those chubby Cupids in Italian art. They represent eroticism, sexual feelings without the sex.

“Today we still live in a very anti-erotic culture. It’s very sexual, but not very erotic. The great authors we think of as treating with sex in their works–Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong–really just titillate rather than examine. Anais Nin maybe comes closest to capturing the real spirit of eroticism that infuses our lives, and she’s considered a pornographer. I think Pauline Reage (”Story of O“) is up there too, though not many people are comfortable with her brand of eroticism.

“So that’s my take on it. We all fuck, we all have sex, and anyone with at least some literary ability can describe a sexual act and voila! — they’re a porn author. But to discern the threads of eroticism that run through our lives, to be able to know them when you see them, to understand how sexual feelings are generalized and applied to the mundane, how we apply them in our relations with ourselves… That takes a special kind of talent and perception.”

In respect to the original question he was answering, one of the drawbacks to writing erotica is that in the same way dictionaries make no distinction between erotica and pornography, neither does anyone else. They have become synonymous in the publishing world as well. But the stories that are well-received, and the kind of stories readers are really looking for are beyond that. Yes, they’re sexy as hell and they’re meant to be. But if I’ve done my job well, they make you think. They make you care about the characters.  I wish there was a more defined line between erotica and porn, but then I suppose one finds Dorothy Sayers novels in the same section at Barnes and Noble as James Patterson, so maybe it’s a matter of just taking the well-written along with the half-assed.

I admit part of my timing of coming out of the proverbial closet also has to do with the sudden upsurge in popularity of erotica as a genre thanks to that literary abortion called 50 Shades of Grey. Did I enjoy it? Hell to the no, and if you want to know why, author Jennifer Armintrout has written the best, most comprehensive analysis of what was wrong with that novel that I’ve ever read. I can’t add anything to it that she hasn’t already said, and eloquently–also hilariously. I belly laughed at that blog more than once. Even if you’ve never read the novel, read the recap. You won’t regret it.

But I digress, as usual. Suddenly, people–women in particular–are finding that reading about sex is enjoyable. God bless the Kindle for making it possible to read something a little steamy without anyone being any the wiser. See, there’s still that stigma attached. Good girls don’t like to read about sex. Respectable women don’t enjoy coarse language and adult themes. And church ladies certainly don’t write stories containing such sinful elements as extramarital affairs, premarital shenanigans, and *gasp* masturbation.

Or do they?

I don’t think writing about things that are considered sinful by some is in and of itself, sinful. In that case, no one would be able to write about much of anything, would they? Writing–in fact all art and not just the theatrics Shakespeare described–“whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” needs to be honest.

The human sex drive is normal and natural. It is a part of everyday life. I write stories about that aspect of humanity and create characters who are dealing with their own sexuality. And my stories resonate with people because for the most part they aren’t just what we in the world of erotic fiction call “stroke pieces.” I get inside my characters’ heads in the exact same way any writer does–or should, if they’re any kind of a decent author.

Have I written stroke pieces–purely sexual fantasies? Sure. Have I written stories designed to titillate and arouse? Oh, you betcha. But is that wrong? Should I feel guilty? I ask myself that from time to time as I struggle to keep my erotica-writing life separate from my regular life. In the end, I don’t think writing something arousing is any worse than writing a cookbook that makes the reader hungry, or a horror novel that gives the reader nightmares, or a romance novel that makes a lonely woman pine for a white knight to carry her away. It’s what the reader does with their feelings that matters.

I believe in my heart that my writing is not dirty at all, but rather that it serves an important purpose. It makes us examine an aspect of our  humanity for sure, but it has a more immediate effect as well, and when I read first hand about what my writing and talking openly about sexual issues has done, I’m more convinced than ever that I’m behaving neither sinfully nor scandalously. Here’s what a friend of mine said just this morning, in fact: “For the past couple of months, my sex life and my relationship have been getting better and better, and I really do feel I owe it to you people for making me feel sexy and inspired again. So, you know, thanks and stuff.”

She’s not the first person to say that. Within a small group of people, as we shared stories we’d written and links to other stories we’d enjoyed, more and more of us reported the same thing. Hell, you can read in the mainstream media about the 50 Shades phenomenon and how women who used to lie there and think of England have suddenly found new passion in their own marriages.

I can state unequivocally that getting back into writing erotica has been one of the two things that has saved my marriage, and I make no bones about that. Getting help with my depression was the first step, particularly since depression was the thing that made me put my pen down and stop writing for awhile. I didn’t have the mental energy to write, and our sex life was almost non-existent. Larry hung in there, and his loyalty and fidelity to me during a rough stretch of years means more to me than he will ever know. He refused to let the fire go out when it would have been a whole lot easier to do so.

I had help. I got some supplements that helped my body cope with the changes brought on my menopause and I could feel the fog lift from my brain. That was the first part. The second part was stumbling quite by accident into writing again. I hung out in the forums of a website and met a group of friends there. And as sometimes happens in forum life, there was a thread started that was full of drama. There was name-calling and hair-pulling and some first class trolling like you wouldn’t believe. Two of the guys got into a very heated argument, but realized that they were fighting about something that had nothing to with the topic at hand so they decided in a rare moment of maturity, to take it off-board and hash it out in chat. They did, and came back after dusting themselves off and shaking hands. Feeling silly, I wrote a couple of paragraphs right out of a gay bodice-ripper where the two men fight themselves bloody, then wind up looking into each other’s eyes and sexiness ensues. It was tame, for me, but the enthusiasm with which it was accepted was astounding. I was greeted with a chorus of “Do me! Do me! Write me into a story!”

So I did, and before long, we had our own thread that we called the Verbally NSFW (Not Safe for Work) thread. Other voices chimed in and added their own stories, and for me, after a few months, I was getting my chops back as far as writing goes. Two really good things came from it, besides making some really great friends. One was the people, women especially, who reported that their sex lives had improved. Some from writing and some from reading, and all from talking openly and honestly about sex. I include myself in that number. Poops got her groove back. *cue cheesy 70’s porn music*

The second was people telling me that my little stories were as good and better than what they’d read in officially published capacities and had I thought of submitting anything for publication? Over time, with their encouragement and support, I came to do just that. I’ve had two short stories published in anthologies of erotic short fiction so far, with a third one just accepted this month and in the publication process. I have self-published three books and I have a fourth one in the works. I get paid to write. Not a lot just yet, but it’s a start.

I blog and tweet under my pen name and I link to all my books from that blog. It helps me keep things separate. Secret, as it were. If you don’t want to read adult-themed stories or if frank language is off-putting to you, you don’t have to read it. It won’t hurt my feelings, honestly. In the same way if you were to write a novel about politics, I would be proud as punch of you, but I doubt I would read it because it’s not my cup of tea. Or if you wrote a story where bad things happen to animals. Jesus, I hate that.  We all have our likes and dislikes and I understand and accept that erotica doesn’t have a wide appeal because of how we as a society view sex in general. I’m okay with only being read on Kindle, though I have to admit that holding in my own hands a book that I wrote was a genuine thrill.

I probably won’t talk much more about my life as an author here because of the fact that what I write is still outside of the mainstream and first and foremost, I never wish to embarrass anyone. But the second, more pressing reason is that I realize that it’s not my own opinion that is making me hesitate to discuss and defend my writing choices but the opinions of others. I always hesitate to argue any point with anyone who has a very staunch, rigid view of anything, and nothing brings out staunch, rigid views like religion and politics, and it’s why I don’t discuss either as a rule. I know that there are those people who would not and will not listen to any explanation of how I can sing the psalm on Sunday with the love of God overflowing my heart and then sit at my computer and write a story using dirty words like cock and cunt. I can explain it and I can defend it, but I’m not keen to because I know that more often than not, I’ll wind up breaking my own prime directive of never trying to teach a pig to sing because it wastes my time and annoys the pig. Basically, I’d rather not. I can only state my case and either they’ll see my side or they won’t.

Oh, sex. It’s still so very, very taboo to discuss. So I’ve done my work in secret. Not secret in a way that secrets are bad, but secret in that it’s not meant for public consumption. If you are inclined to think that what I write is sinful, I know I can’t change your mind. But I have a close relationship with God that supersedes any church on Earth and I have never felt that I’m doing anything but sharing a gift I’ve been given. My conscience is clear on this matter.

Finally, as to how I balance who people think I am with who I actually am, all I can say is that I just am. I am me. I don’t put on one face for some people and show a different face to another. I just tend to not cross the streams. I have different bits of my life that are in different places. I mean, I don’t need my kid bringing my books into the middle school, so I don’t talk about it with them, because it’s not appropriate, though eventually we’ll have discussions about it. And rest assured, when I’m singing at Mass, I’m concentrating on God and focusing on how to best live my calling to love my neighbor, not working out a plot in my head.

I keep things balanced and separate because as it has been observed, there is a time and a season and purpose to every thing under heaven.

Get Off My Lawn September 17, 2012

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI, Genius.
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You know, when I was a girl, things were different.

Cookie Monster went apeshit over cookies. I mean, he’s a cookie MONSTER. He’s sane and rational until he gets a whiff of cookies and then BAM. He’s a junkie. A total crack-head. He’s plowing through a plate of snickerdoodles like there’s no tomorrow and he isn’t stopping until he’s spent, his eyes swirling around in his head, crumbs all up in his fur.

But Cookie’s been to rehab, man. Now, cookies are a once-in-a-while treat. Cookie eats vegetables now. He probably does yoga and sees his therapist once a week.

And when did Big Bird get so whiny? Maybe when I was a kid I didn’t notice it so much, but now that I’m a grownup, I can’t help but notice that Big Bird whines like a bitch every time he opens his mouth. If there’s someone on Sesame Street that needs to see a therapist, it’s him. I have never wanted to slap a Muppet so much in my life.

Yes, that includes Elmo.

Image

At least they’re getting something right.

They tell me that Mr. Rogers is getting a reboot of sorts, featuring the puppets from the show. Or at least one of them. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is going to be a thing.

My friend Beeby is rage-stabby about it. I’m…nothing. Maybe they’ll manage to keep the spirit of Fred Rogers in it, but I don’t know. I’d rather watch re-runs. I found out he died while I was on the stationary bike at the gym. I tried very, very hard not to cry. My mother hated him, but to this day, I appreciate his kindness and gentleness. I loved him.

I can’t be too hard on PBS Kids. Honestly, my kids learn nothing from me. Nuh. Thing. They hate it when I try to teach them anything. It’s why Emma learned to tie her shoes at the neighbor’s house and why Mary learned to swim from a friend. It’s part of the reason I could never homeschool. They just don’t listen to my instruction. The other reason is that I would kill them if I had to spend all day with them. I really don’t like being a parent all that much. I’m just putting that out there.

If my kids went into school knowing their letters and numbers and how to count things, it’s because of PBS Kids. And Nick Jr. God, I miss Blue’s Clues with Steve. Not Joe. Joe sucked. But Steve had a Mr. Rogers thing going on that I loved. I watched all the episodes over and over again with Buggy and we both enjoyed them.

As the kids have gotten older, Nick is still a mainstay in our house. I have to admit that with the exception of Big Time Rush, I don’t mind it so much. I like iCarly. It’s Dave’s favorite show. We all like Spongebob, especially the older episodes.

But the Disney Channel? Fuck them. I don’t mind Playhouse Disney for the really little kids. But anything that involves actors sucks and should be killed with fire. There isn’t a child character that isn’t an obnoxious asshole and the story lines BLOW. If there’s a station that’s raping my childhood dreams, it’s Disney.

I grew up on Disney movies. Every Sunday night we’d watch The Wonderful World of Disney and it was magical. We watched movies, made-for-TV movies, cartoons and shorts and they were…well, wonderful. I miss the variety of the programming and how my parents would watch too because the shows were good and entertaining for the whole family.

I have hope, though. I was sitting in here the other day and I heard Dave change the channel in the other room. I heard the buttons stop clicking and the sound of him pulling my grandmother’s rocking chair up to the TV. He was watching Bugs and Daffy argue over whether it was duck season or rabbit season and belly laughing at it.

That’s right, Sonny. That’s when they knew how to make a cartoon. Now you kids get off my lawn.

I Still Knit January 19, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius, Sticks and String.
3 comments

Seriously. I'm not just tossing back malted milk balls over here. I'm WORKING.

I swear to God, I still knit. I’ve been up to my ample ass in special orders, though at this point it seems there’s a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, I’m officially stalking the mail carrier because she should be bringing me a package of yarn any day now. With that fabulous fiber, I can make the last three orders on my list. I have one more order in negotiations, and then, God willing, I might be able to make some new stuff to list in my shop.

It’s cold as shit here as of late.  We had a mild winter so far, then all of a sudden…WHAM.  On the plus side, people are ordering woolens from me like there’s an anticipated sheep shortage in the works, but it hasn’t left a lot of time for me to make the projects that are scratching around in my brain.  On the down side, this kind of cold is insidious when you have an old house like mine, and even with the pellet stove going constantly, the space heater on in the living room, and the furnace up, my feet are still freezing most of the time.

First up on my list of Fun Things to Make:  felted wool slippers for myself.  Damn, I’m cold!

In Dreams September 23, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
1 comment so far

I have a question for anyone reading this who is well-versed in either psychiatry or dream interpretation. I’ll take either–or both–at this point.

We all have dreams. Everyone dreams, only some don’t remember it and some do. Some people apparently dream in color and others don’t. Some dreams make sense and others are complete nonsense, right?

I have two kinds of dreams. The first kind are what I think of as the “usual” kind of dreams. You know where you’re trying to tell your dream to someone else and you’re all “You were at my house, only it wasn’t my house, but in my dream it was…anyway, you were there, but you had three eyes, and right before you started speaking you turned into a raccoon. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury came in riding a moose…” That kind of thing. There are elements of reality in there, but just elements. Mostly it’s just the randomly assembled flotsam and jetsam of the things you’ve heard or read or thought about or seen in the course of your day making their way to the top of your brain milk and getting skimmed off like heavy cream.

When I have those kinds of dream, they’re always very disjointed. The dream makes no real sense, there’s no “plot” to the thing, and one minute I’m here and the next I’m there with no logical progression at all. I’ll have five of these a night sometimes. And usually I don’t remember them, or if I can recall one, it’s not for long.

When I have this kind of dream, I’m always in the dream looking at things from my own POV. I’m in my body. I can’t see myself, I can only see what I see, like in real life, only the dream is usually anything but real.

I also have a second type of dream. They’re few and far between and when I have them, they stick with me for a really long time and I think about them over and over again.

In this kind of dream, I’m always in it, but I’m watching myself in it as if I’m starring in a movie. And the dream is very, very real. These are situations that could feasably happen, even if they’re entirely unlikely (in as much as no one turns into a raccoon), and the people in it with me act in much the way they would if this was actually happening. The “story” is usually continuous, or if there’s a change in scene, it almost dissolves out and then fades back in like in a movie.

I realized I dream this way when I recently had a dream that was the combination of the two.  It occurred to me that the first half of the dream was me watching the dream happen, and it was so real that it seems like if I opened my eyes, I’d be watching it in real life or on a giant TV screen or something like that.  But then the second half was the “dreamy” part of the dream where things didn’t make sense and I realized I was now inside my own head looking out, being part of the dream instead of watching it.  And it went from a continuous “scene” to bits and pieces here and there.  And I don’t remember those details much now, but I could tell you complete conversations from the first part.

What does this mean?  Do all people have different types of dreams and are they caused by something in particular?  I know my dreams spring up from whatever I was thinking about recently, and usually the people in them have something to do with my real life for one reason or another.  I get that part of it.  But  I wonder about the different types, and why one kind seems so very real and why I don’t have that kind more often, and why the other type is such a useless mishmash of nothing and I have them all the time.

I wonder what it all means, if anything.

Hop on the Bus, Gus September 4, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
5 comments

School is back in session–THANK YOU BABY JESUS.

Are you humming "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" 'Cause I am.

I love my kids.  But summer vacation is too damn long.

I believe in school.  I think it’s a great idea for kids to be away from their parents in the company of other kids and adults.  I glad kids are always going to have not just amazing teachers but piss-poor teachers, too, because you can learn some pretty important life lessons from shitty teachers.

I also believe in school because I think it’s imperative that parents spend time away from their kids, and that’s not just because I’m a selfish git and I like my alone time.  School is their place, not mine.

I have mixed feelings about sending Dave off, though.  He’s only three, and while I’m a firm believer in cutting that umbilical cord and sending them off without a backwards glance, I also know that there are precious few years that they get to be by my side.  My time to imprint my particular brand of weirdness on them is short as it is, and sending him off to school two years earlier than his sisters made me feel bad that he’s not going to get the full benefit of my particular brand of humor.  He seems to get my jokes, so that’s encouraging, anyway.

But every kid is different, and like Emma needed a full-day of kindergarten, Dave needs special preschool so that he can be all he can be.  The school can offer him the things he needs at this point in his life that I can’t give him, so off to school he goes.  I can only hope he’s absorbed enough of my particular brand of humor to see him through.  And fuck it: if they can get him potty trained, power to them.  He’s not catching on to it here, that’s for sure.

I’m proud to say I’m not the kind of mother that stands and wipes away a sad tear as her baby gets on the bus like a big boy with his blue backpack.  God help me, I don’t miss him even once while he’s gone.  I swear on my mother’s liver that I don’t miss any of them for even one second.

For two and half short hours a day, this house is a still and quiet as a tomb.  And it is AWESOME.  Mind you, it’s only been a couple of weeks and I still find myself thinking, “It’s too quiet in here,” and I almost get up and see if the boy is knuckle deep in a poop-filled diaper or if he’s dumped his juice into my recliner.

And then I remember he’s someone else’s responsibility for the morning, and my heart swells with joy. And gratitude.  The only voices I can hear are the ones in my head, and they’ve stopped telling me to kill quite so often.

In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I get my laissez-faire attitude towards my children from my own mother.  As my friends send their kids off to college for the first time with their cell phones, computers, Facebook, Skype, blogs and unlimited texting, I remember the day my mother drove into the driveway of Ochre Lodge, tossed me and my luggage out onto the front lawn and blew me a kiss while Robin pulled the door shut as they left on two wheels, gravel spitting up from the back tires and Janis Joplin blasting from the car speakers.

I got there a day early for orientation, attending the sessions designed for the 20 or so kids that were coming from other countries, so the rest of the dorm wasn’t expected to arrive until the next day.  I chose the bed in the corner, unpacked my stuff and…waited.

It had been drizzling on and off all day, but I guess no one in my house realized that it might occasionally rain in Newport (it was sunny in all the brochures!), so wandering around campus getting wet seemed stupid.  I arranged and re-arranged my stuff and explored the empty dorm to kill some time.  There was an orientation Mass that day for new students that I was expected to be at, but by the time I had to leave, the rain was coming down in buckets.  Biblical.  Like you read about.  If you’ve spent any time on Aquidneck Island, you know what I’m talking about.

Sans protective rain gear, I wrapped my biggest, thickest red sweater around me, ducked my head in and walked as fast as I could up Ochre Point Avenue, past the Breakers and Wakehurst and into the great hall of Ochre Court.

In the five minutes it took me to walk/run up the avenue, I was soaked to the skin.  I found the bathroom down in the basement and dried my hair as best I could with half a roll of brown paper towels and took my sweater off and rung it out in the sink.  I walked back up the marble stairs watching water ooze out of my sneakers on each tread, leaving a puddle with every step.  Is there anything sadder than a lonely, homesick freshman sitting by herself, dripping onto the carpet?  It was fucking pathetic.

There were no websites when I went off to school.  You couldn’t just Google “Newport weather” and find out that it pissed down rain every five out of seven days from September to May.  There was no handy Google answers about what I’d need to pack, so I had no idea that dorm mattresses were made of institutional plastic and would require a thick mattress pad to be comfortable.  For some reason, it didn’t even occur to anyone that I’d need a freaking backpack to carry my books to and from my classes.  What did we know from college?  I was the first to go.

I sat alone in the dorm that night and started making a list of the things I was going to need so that I could have them sent down.

Needless to say, this would have been handy. 8.5 MILLION hits on what you'll need for your dorm room. I bet at least one of them mentions a mattress pad, an umbrella, and a backpack. Whippersnappers have it easy these days.

Once I knew what I was missing, I had to wait until my first weekly call home, though.  There was one pay phone on the second floor for our dorm and you had to feed it quarters.  I had been sent off to school with one roll of quarters until I got to go home for Columbus Day weekend in October.  Calling collect was expensive and reserved for emergencies.  Being wet and stuck to a sweaty mattress was not an emergency.

So that first night of college, my first night away from home, I sat alone in my sparsely furnished room and read one of my summer reading books for class.  I’d read it twice already, but there wasn’t anything else to do.  I hadn’t brought anything that passed for entertainment in those olden days.  I didn’t pack any novels to read for fun.  I didn’t bring a deck of cards to play solitaire.  The TV in the common room didn’t have cable so it got one local station, and badly at that.  There was a fridge in the kitchen, but no one had bought me anything to put in it.

In short, my first night away from home was like solitary confinement.  Dinner in the cafeteria, followed by water torture and reading alone in my cell. No need to feel bad for Poops, though.  Being abandoned on a rainy night in an empty old house builds character.

I'm 99% sure this is an actual picture of my freshman dorm room from the Salve Regina website. Click the picture to see what Ochre Lodge looks like. Now picture it dark with the rain coming down in sheets. Yeah, there's nothing scary about spending the night there alone. Nothing at all...

So I laugh to myself when I think of these college freshmen going off to school, arriving on campus with their phones already out so that they can tell their best friends how much they miss them in real time, and can Skype their mommies every night before bed.  In the age of email, they’ll never know what it’s like to go to the mail room every day looking for a letter from home and feeling like everyone has forgotten about you when the box is empty.

I never breathed a word of any of that until many, many years later.  I didn’t want my parents to know that I was so homesick it hurt.  I didn’t want anyone to know how many times I cried myself to sleep or what a loser I felt like when I had trouble making friends and fitting in.  I fought like hell to go to Salve and I’d be damned if I’d admit that I hated it.

I’m glad I was pushed out of the nest, and while it was horrible at the time, I’m kind of proud of the fact that I’d rather have chewed off my own tongue than admit that I wanted back in.  I suspect that if I’d had even an inkling that my mom was sad to see me go, I don’t know if I’d have had the balls to keep a stiff upper lip.

Weird as it sounds, I think today’s freshmen arriving on campus have it harder.  The positive part of being dropped off with no easily accessible support network in place is that you’re forced out of your comfort zone into making new friends.  My best friends from high school weren’t there to talk to every day, so I had to set about making new friends, and it was harder than I thought it was going to be.  I think if I’d have been able to text my high school friends every day from college, I wouldn’t have made the college friends I did.  I wouldn’t have had to try.  If I could have spent the evening in my room on Skype, I don’t know that I’d have been fully involved in college life.

As it worked out for me, by the end of the first semester, that sink-or-swim approach to college life meant that I was forced to make some new friends, if only so that I didn’t die of loneliness or become an emo twat.  Being lonely was the impetus I needed to seek out things to do, and to find those kids with whom I had something in common.  I even learned to adapt and adjust and get along with those who were not.

Some you throw back. The good ones you hang onto forever.

So no, I don’t think twice about my kids once they’re out of the house.  You’d think that remembering that horrible feeling of abandonment would make me more sympathetic–maybe even clingy.  But it’s just the opposite.  I’m ruthless in my detachment parenting.  They need to be out of the house.  They need to be away from me so that they can make new friends and figure out their own lives.  They need to be able to figure out who they are without me being at their shoulder telling them who I think they are.  They have to be able to fight their battles and soothe their own wounded souls.  I can’t always be there to kiss boo-boos, so it’s best that they learn some basic first aid.

If God is indeed a merciful God, someday they’ll be leaving home and going someplace unfamiliar with a bunch of people they neither know nor particularly like.  I hope they don’t call home every day, and I hope they do find themselves dreadfully sad and lonely at some point so that they, too, have an incentive to fill that emptiness with new friends.

The Passion of the Poops September 3, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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I remembered this morning that I had bookmarked a site awhile back that was full of journaling prompts. I don’t keep a journal–I have explained why I hate that kind of introspective bullshit on previous occasions, though whether the reasons are clear or not are probably still pretty far up in the air.  At any rate, most of these prompts were about at insightful and inspiring as a bag of used napkins.

But damn it, I’m at a loss. I’m all out of practice with the writing thing again and figured a jumping off place was probably a good idea, since nothing in my life seems at all interesting or amusing at this point.  I do love me some hypothetical questions, though, and in a sea of the pedantic, this one managed to catch my attention: “If you were free from want and need, and could live a life of unfettered creativity and passion, what would be your reason for living?”

Well hell, my reason for living every day is the simple fact that I have a life.  I have never quite understood feeling like I have nothing to live for.  Maybe it’s because things have never been bad enough in my life for me to despair of living it, or maybe I just have a well-honed sense of self-preservation.  Maybe I’m a true optimist, or a combination of all those things, but most likely it’s just that I know deep in my heart that this, too, shall pass.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take much to get me out of bed in the morning, so to pinpoint one reason–one thing–that I feel so strongly about that it would become my reason for living is a hard question to answer, and it’s why I chose it.

Let’s think of this in a different way: if I could do anything, provided that the basic wants and needs of my family were not a deciding factor, what dream would I pursue?  That, my friends, is where Poops is left hanging.

I have no idea.  Unlike Dr. King, I don’t have a dream of my own.  There is no passion that drives me.  There is nothing that given all the resources and time in the world, that if rearranging the circumstances of my life were indeed possible, I’d go for. I’m 42 years old and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

However, the older I get, the less it seems to matter to me.   I start to consider the things that I do that I enjoy and ask myself, if I had all the time and money in the world and had nothing to tie me down, what would I do?   The answer is that I would probably keep following a path that is astoundingly similar to what I’m doing right now, even though the status quo leaves me with a little time, less money, and family keeping me rooted firmly to this spot.

For instance, I was asked what I’d go back to school to study if I had the time and money (since several of my friends have done that very thing once their kids were all in school) and if that were the question, the one thing I would love to study is theology.  I’d love to earn a Master’s degree from a Catholic university.  Yes, I realize that I have an undergraduate degree from a Catholic university that’s worth less than the paper it’s printed on, and realistically I know that even if I got a Master’s there’s nothing I want to do with it.  There’s no career path that I’d follow that requires that degree.  I’d do it for the sheer fun of learning.

But then I realize that there’s not a damn thing keeping me from sucking up all the theology I can hold any time I want.  I don’t need a university to do it.  I figured out that taking one or two adult faith formation classes at church has whetted my appetite for more, having discovered that it’s a topic that really interests me.  Right now I’m sitting here with the green flyer in front of me from the bulletin announcing the class dates for the third part of the class Sistah and I have been taking on the Gospel of John and I’m looking forward to it more than seems reasonable.

And yet, it’s not.  I think I get that the excitement of this little class would go away if I had to seriously pursue advanced schooling.  I doubt I’d look forward to my classes for very long and I’m pretty sure that I’d wind up hating the drudgery of it before very long.  I think I know somewhere in my heart that if this little thing I enjoy became Big, I’d like it less.

Maybe I’m not made to Think Big.  Or Dream Big.

It seems like whenever there is a next step to take or a path to follow, there’s usually so much more that goes into realizing a dream that it has the potential to turn into a nightmare.  Even with unlimited time and money and nothing tying me down, at what point does the dream lose its sparkle?

I’ve discovered it with my knitting.  I love to knit, and I love to create things.  I make patterns up all the time and I’ve written a very few of them to sell or give away.  They’ve been pretty well received on a very modest scale.  Why don’t I pursue that?  Why not write up patterns for all the awesome things I’ve made and sell them?  Get them marketed and promote them?  Get my name on blogs and have knitters around the world waiting for my latest publication?  Can’t I have my own yarn line?  Why can’t I be Debbie Bliss?

Because everything past the knitting of the item and jotting down the notes is just work.  Drudgery, in fact.   It’s something that the passion I have for it is so modest as to make it unsustainable in the long run.  In short, is it worth it?

Probably not.  I think, after all this navel-gazing and rampant speculation which perhaps does have a purpose, I’m probably better focusing on the here and now, and continuing to think small.  Maybe it’s okay to not have a dream or a passion that drives your every breath.  I know people, and don’t we all, whose passions consume them.  Individuals who have a Big Dream and pursue it doggedly, missing a lot of small stuff on the way.

Can living in the moment, just for today, be a passion?  I hope so, because I seem to find it sustaining.

(Author’s Note:  Oh, my God, that was some of the worst dreck ever, wasn’t it?   I’m going to want to kill myself when I stumble across this someday.  You mark my words.  *cringes inwardly*)

Latin Lover August 1, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
4 comments

Only in my mind. And sometimes the car.

I love languages.  I wish to God I had a precociousness when it comes to speaking and understanding foreign tongues.  I can learn languages after a fashion, and I’m lucky that it sticks with me long after I’ve learned it.  In a way, it’s sort of how I am with music.   I’m sure if I had the opportunity to practice communicating in another language on a regular basis I’d probably be pretty passable at it.  Not proficient.   I mean, I’m better at reading music and staying on key better than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’ve lost my self-consciousness about singing in public, but I’m not Beverly Sills and won’t ever be.

Such is the case with languages.  I took three years of French in high school and two advanced classes in college, but even at my most immersed, I was only passable, and I never really felt confident speaking it, though I can still understand it well enough to follow directions or laugh at an overheard dirty joke.

I’m a word nerd.  I love the English language.  It is a language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.  I don’t know who said that, but I love it. It’s big and bold and it doesn’t give a shit.  You have a better word in your language for something?  We’ll take it.  We’ll change the way you say it.  And spell it.  We’ll combine two other words if there’s not one good one handy.  Hell, we’ll make one up on the spot.  We drop words we get sick of.  We learn the rules of grammar and then break the shit out of them, because we can.

As a native speaker of English, the process of translation is fascinating to me.  We had to write reports to present to the class in Sr. Eugenia’s French class, and because I’ve never been fluent at thinking in French, I would write the report in English and laboriously translate it into French.  I learned about the importance of idiomatic expression in translation.  For instance, if I’m talking to a native English speaker and I refer to the straw that broke the camel’s back, my friend would know I wasn’t talking about broken camels.  But if I wanted to relate the same idea of being past the limits of tolerance to a French friend, I’d refer to la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase, or literally, the drop of water that overflowed the vase.  Same idea, different expression.

Translation comes up in my life again these days because the latest translation of the Roman Missal from Latin to English is finally done and we’ll start using it at Mass in November.   There aren’t a lot of changes that the great unwashed masses of us in the pews will have to deal with, but the clergy is going to have their hands full.

So today, I got to feed my inner word nerd and my latent theological tendencies with a double-whammy wet dream of a introduction to the new translation.

In a nutshell, for hundreds and hundreds of years, the Mass was said predominantly in Latin with a bit of Greek thrown in here and there.   Latin is the official language of the Church because Jesus put Peter in charge and Peter set up camp in Rome.  But ever since the Council of Trent, which took place after the Protestants stomped out angrily yelling, “Hey, Luther, wait for us!” the Church has allowed for certain groups of people in certain places to say certain parts of the Mass in the vernacular language of the area.  It became more widespread into the 20th century, and after Vatican II in the 60’s, the vernacular was in and Latin was out.

All along we’ve been using the basic translation of the Latin texts prepared by the Church back in the early 60’s.  (This is where my example about idiomatic expressions come in handy.  I hope you were paying attention.)  Latin doesn’t translate well into English.  It’s no problem with French, or Italian, or Spanish because those are Romance languages and their sentence structure and basic grammar rules are all very similar to Latin.  In short, shit that makes sense in Latin also makes sense in Latin-based languages.  It stands to reason.

Ah, but then there’s English.  She’s a dirty whore of a language.  If you translate the Latin precisely and literally, you wind up talking about overflowing vases when your English audience understands straw and broken camels.  So the guys translating the whole thing into English the last time used a time-honored method of translating that captured the basic ideas expressed in Latin and rearranged things so that they flowed better when spoken in the English tongue.   The Mass went from being in Latin and unintelligible to most, to being in English, easily understood, and all things considered, the prayers and responses have been rolling trippingly off our English-speaking tongues for more than 40 years.

Well, with this new translation, the scholars and theologians and linguists working on the new text have been charged with restoring the original Latin that was lost.  I think it was Pope John Paul II that put forth the notion that a lot of shit was getting lost in the English translation and he thought a new one was in order.  And this time, instead of trying to make it sound pretty, he thought the dudes with the Latin-to-English dictionaries should make accuracy a higher priority this time, never mind how ridiculous it sounds and I don’t care what the other Pope told you to do last time.  This is now, fellas.  Get cracking.

Now, you'll be able to pick out a real Catholic by saying "May the Force be with you." If he replies, "And with your spirit," you've a got a Papist on your hands. Tag and release only, please.

Honestly, I had no idea why it was important.  It seemed to me that we should be making the language more relevant and recent, not taking it backwards with awkward and cumbersome expressions that don’t translate to English.   But that’s because before today I didn’t really grasp what had been lost in translation, as it were.

That, of course, is my own fault for not learning Latin in the first place.

The long and short of it, as Fr. explained it to us, is that much of the patrimony of the Mass will be restored.  There are phrases used during the Mass that are part of history, and to change the words changes the meaning.  He used the example “We, the people.”  To an American, those three words mean something profound.  “Us guys” means the same thing, essentially, but in changing the words, the profundity of the words is lost.  It means the same thing, but it doesn’t say the same thing at all.

One example of that is during the Eucharistic Prayer, there is an exchange between the priest and the congregation.  He says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” and we respond, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.”  Nothing wrong with that.  We said we agree with you, Padre.

Now take the more literal translation.  When Fr. says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” we will respond instead with “It is right and just.”

Huh.  What’s the problem?  Doesn’t that say the same thing?  We’re still agreeing.  Letting all in earshot know that we heartily concur that it is a good thing to give thanks to God.  So why change it?  Patrimony, that’s why.  Where does the phrase “It is right and just” come from?  From the Roman senate.  Back in the day, when the Roman senators were done hashing out their ideas and they had it in a final form to be presented to the people, they expressed their support for the new law by saying “It is right and just.”  Early Church fathers adopted that phrase, well-known to the citizenry at the time, and incorporated it into the Mass.  It’s a small piece of verbal history right there that forty years of translation forgot.

I'm not convinced this isn't a more accurate representation. Well, if heaven is anything like they promised, it is.

The Nicene Creed is changing too.  That was written in Greek, originally, and that particular ecumenical council was where they really nailed down Christ’s divinity once and for all.  Jesus IS God.  God is Jesus.  The Holy Trinity is not, as Fr. reminded us today, an old guy, a hippy, and a damn bird.  They’re all God, and the Greek Creed says it plainly, if you read Greek.  Translate it to English and the strongest wording we have of the belief of  God becoming human, the incarnation of God, is watered down.

I didn’t know.  Who the hell did?  The new translation is closer to the Greek.  The words are awkward, and consubstantial is going to be a new fifty-cent word for a lot of people, but the theology is more clearly expressed, with no ambiguity.

So on the one hand it fills me with joy to see the ancient origins and foundations of our liturgy more clearly expressed, and as much as I love getting elbow deep into studying this stuff, when it comes to my daily routines, I still don’t like change.  Mass is going to feel different and weird, like when you go to Canada and it feels like home, but with just enough things being different that you know you’re in a strange place.

So if you were wondering what I did today, I learned lots of cool new Church stuff.  I finished a hat and a pair of booties, got three new hats ready to list this week, and finished most of my two Sunday crosswords.

Now it is 12:30 in the morning and I was going to go to bed early tonight.  Sleep, dream, and be merry, for tomorrow I bake.