Friday, August 27, 2010

Sixteen Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad Reasons for Writing a Book

1. You think it will make you famous.
2. You seek revenge on that 8th grade teacher who told you that you lacked creativity.
3. You're sure it will make you look thinner.
4. Everyone will say glowing things about you on Facebook, Twitter, and in fancy martini bars.
5. You need something to talk about at parties (i.e. "Yeah, I'm working on a novel.")
6. Someone told you that you should.
7. You figure you can, because now you have an MFA. You learned how, from other people who wrote books.
8. You figure you should, because now you have an MFA. That was an expensive two years!
9. You figure if you don't, people will say you've "lost your touch."
8. You figure you can, because you don't have an MFA. Your degree is from the University of Life.
9. You figure you should, because you don't have an MFA. That'll show 'em!
10. You want to write a book just like that author you love so much.
11. You have a penchant for the barfy smell inside of books that haven't been opened in a really long time, you own a library card catalogue, you spell catalogue with a "u" even though you're American, and the right kind of writing implement is is almost orgasmic to you.
12. You are two pages into your idea and you're already obsessing over who will publish it, thinking of clever marketing schemes, and looking for agents.
13. You like talking about the book more than the actual writing of the book.
14. You have a really great idea - teenage vampires!
15. You don't believe in rewrites, editing, or anything beyond spell check.
16. You had a dream in which the cupcake told you it was time to write your masterpiece.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Elastic Memory

We remember and in our retelling of the memory we alter it. Memory is elastic. The sounds, smells, sights, textures, flavors you experience as you tell the story may alter the memory itself.

The memory I have of lying on my back in the driveway and looking up into the trees? That’s likely a composite memory. Several instances of taking photographs of leaves and bark, the photographs themselves, of the driveway my father took pride in, of all my time outside, and my own telling and writing about it have created a collective memory of something that brought me joy as a child. I share it often and in many different ways (written, oral, recall in my private universe) and in sharing the memory it is possible that it changes.

For those who cherish memories, the idea of them being not entirely “true” and elastic can be upsetting. But for those who have traumatic memories, this can come as a comfort. It’s an interesting concept.

I read an article last night in the Smithsonian magazine titled, “Making Memories,” published in the May 2010 issue, which focuses on this idea. Karim Nader, a neuroscientist who works at New York University, talks about how he recalled seeing television footage on September 11th of the first plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was surprised to learn that this footage aired for the first time the following day.

In order for a long-term memory to be built, neurons need to manufacture new proteins and expand to make the neurotransmitter traffic run more efficiently. Long-term memories have to be built into the brain’s synapses.

We say things like “memory fades,” and think of ink on paper. Over the years, the memory might fade a bit. For an Alzheimer’s patient, the ink becomes invisible. Is it really possible that under any ordinary circumstance, memory stays the same? Nader challenged this idea by experimenting with rats.

From the article:

In 1999 he taught four rats that a high-pitched beep preceded a mild electric shock. The rats froze in place after hearing the beep. Nader waited 24 hours, played the tone to reactivate the memory and injected into the rat’s brain a drug that prevents neurons from making new proteins.

If memories are consolidated just once, when they are first created, he reasoned, the drug would have no effect on the rat’s memory of the tone or the way it would respond to the tone in the future. But if memories have to be at least partially rebuilt every time they are recalled – down to the synthesizing of fresh neuronal proteins – rats given the drug might later respond as if they had never learned to fear the tone and would ignore it. If so, the study would contradict the standard conception of memory. It was, he admits, a long shot. […] It worked.

When Nader tested the rats, they didn’t freeze after hearing the tone. It was as if they had forgotten all about it.

For anyone who has given birth to a child, you recognize the fact that you forget the pain. Your memory focuses more on the joy and less on the pain as time progresses. I’ve always wondered if this was the brain’s trick at getting the body prepared to have more children. If we remember the pain, the likelihood of wanting more children would be slim.

When I think of memory as being plastic, it’s a huge relief. My sister’s memory of a childhood event that we both participated in might be different from my recollection of it because we have led different lives, and told the story in a myriad of unique places which changed it for each. I think seeing photographs of events change the memory of those events too. Photographs remind and can change a memory.

Writers know that the act of writing down a memory can be cathartic. Therapists recommend keeping a journal to patients who need to work through complicated feelings. Is part of this process refashioning the memory so the person can live with it safely?

When I think of writing this essay three years from now, will I only remember the part about the rats and forget the rest?

If memory is plastic, then all memoirs are “lies.” I’m okay with this. I’ve always felt this way. The brain is fascinating, willing to embellish and make connections between all sorts of details that we experience, including those we dream. We are not always aware of our brain’s sleight-of-hand, and it sure is interesting. What colorful scarves are being tossed in the air of my brain as I write this? As you read it?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Wrote (a very short story using only subjects and verbs)

He swilled. He smoked. They lived. He planned. He collected. They worked. He tested. He hated. They loved. They lived. He drew. He plotted. He slept. They dreamed. He packed. He lifted. He walked. He carried. They lived. He rested. He arranged. He positioned. He aimed. They lived. He fired. They scattered. They screamed. He laughed. They ran. They fell. They lived. He fired. He laughed. They fell. He fired. He laughed. She hid. She aimed. He laughed. He fired. She fired. He fell.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The hive of my heart keeps track of time

On quiet days without you here the house is cleaner, but I fill my own coffee cup, and wonder where the spontaneous laughter from the living room has gone. I make sure all the artwork is hanging straight, flatten out the curled ends of throw rugs, peek into the card catalogue just to see the maps we keep inside. We've been to Arizona together and I kept a pamphlet on the birds we saw there. You were fascinated by the hands at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. I saved the brochure and made a sketch of you when we sat outside in the garden.

The refrigerator sighs and trickles, Bananafish pecks at his seed, the window fan drones. I stare at the wall, the shadow of butterfly bush on the floor, my own filthy toes. No one adores you like I do and when you aren't here I probably eat too much cake. Its sweetness makes me sleepy and slow. I count the time by the bees drowzing on thistles in the garden. Zzzzwhirp. Will you be home soon? Zzzzzyes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Tempest

The shipwreck left a flotsam of empty Mountain Dew bottles, McDonald's containers, candy wrappers, and Diet Coke cans in our fourth-grade classroom dressing room. Every actor has scribbled on the chalkboard during the long pause between call and places, because no kid can resist chalk and an empty blackboard. "A plague upon this bowling" is my favorite rewritten phrase, and then there's the call for "pants off/dance off," a few caricatures of cast members, and a Shakespeare-as-Devil which somehow got labeled as Therese. Fans stationed in the room fart the hot air around more. It is impossible to keep cool in a mask and several layers of polyester weave during August, so we're left with humor. Paul revisits a favorite Caldecott Award winning book from the teacher's desk while he waits for his scene. An excerpt from "Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret" is written on the board behind the desk. Mandy reworks the ace bandage around her sprained calf, and Emily takes a swig of water and sits behind a personal desk fan.

During intermission, we take off our masks, strip down to the least amount of layers allowable, and stand outside in hope of a breeze. We've set out a few chairs too tiny for our butts near the corner of the school building. One by one players spill out of the building like characters from a romance novel - sweaty and desperate. We light up cigarettes, drink water, laugh about gaffes. Last night a heron flew overhead. A few nights ago a bat circled the urban forest just beyond the school. Some of us talked about watching the meteor showers. Nature doesn't pause for theatre. It is the theatre.

As "five minutes to places!" is called for the second act, we put our masks back on to return to our lives as a devious plotter, a spirit, a goddess, a drunken butler, a monster, a misplaced king. We wipe the sweatstaches from our upper lips. The lights go down and we go on to tell a story, while above our heads the scattered and roiling details of two weeks of our lives wait for our return.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Why I Love Hoop Dance

Some of you might have noticed a photo or two (or fifty!) of me with a hoop around my waist, my arms, or hoisted up in the air. It’s official. I’m obsessed with hoop dancing. Here’s why:

1. It’s some of the best exercise I’ve gotten. Ever.

I used to run. I’d do three or four miles a morning, combined with some weight lifting at a local gym.

With a couple of months of solid practice in hoop dance, I’ve built muscle in my arms (hooper’s shoulders!), toned up my legs a little, and lost weight – a bonus! (I don’t own a scale, but I can tell “the rind” at my waist that appeared around my 40th birthday is significantly diminished.)

2. I’m learning that I’m not such a klutz afterall.

With practice I store different tricks and moves into muscle memory. I’m still not the most graceful hoop dancer ever, but hey, I can move and not look like an idiot. This is a huge deal for me, having been laughed at by a professional dancer in a college-level jazz dance class. That left a bruise on my psyche. So ha ha to you, Mr. NYC FancyPants Dance Man! I CAN dance! Oh, and your class wasn’t as creative as hoop dance either, so there.

3. It’s good for the spirit.

With running, you get “runner’s high,” and with hoop dance you get “hooper’s bliss.”

You know that feeling you get (or got) riding your bike down a really sweet hill? That’s hooping. It makes you a kid again. It’s pure play. Hooping attracts good people. Put a hoop around your waist, and suddenly women, men, and kids alike are coming over and asking to give it a try. Why? Because it looks like fun, and it is.

4. I get to wear skirts!

I’m a girly girl from a theatrical, creative family. I’ve never liked pants much, so getting to wear skirts to “exercise” in is a major thrill. Hooping clothes run anywhere along the line of regular workout wear to tutus with torn fishnets. Some hoop dancers wear masks when they perform, or tiny little hats or crowns, or feathers … there’s a whole incredibly creative array of dress and makeup that makes me giddy just thinking about it. What do I wear when Irun? Oh, right. Sneakers, socks, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I’ll take a fun shirt paired with a skirt and pink leggings over that any day.

5. People who hoop make up a community of really positive and kind people.

I joined Hoop City, a sort of “Hooper’s Facebook,” about a month ago, and at the request of my sister (who gets total credit for my addiction to hoop dance), started taking SaFire’s classes. I began reading and posting in the forums on Hoop City, and joining in some of the groups. Everyone from newbies to professional performers posts there – and they are all supportive, encouraging, and inspiring.

The hoopers I know in real life are also this way. Everyone shares ideas and tricks they’ve learned with each other. A lot of hoopers attend festivals and concerts and take their hoops with them. I want to start doing more of that so I can meet more hoopers! I’m still trying to crack the secret code for getting people to join in a free hoop jam I’ve started at the park. My latest attempt at that is a hoop making workshop. I figure by empowering people with the craft of making a hoop, they will want to test it out.

6. It makes me happier.

All of the above combined conspire toward a happier me. When I’m happy, I make things happen for myself and others. I create. I make meals at home instead of eating out, I write more, I garden, I attempt to sew, I learn to use a rivet gun, I paint. I’m more likely to tackle a large, looming project that I've put off if I’ve spent part of my day in the hoop.

If it makes me happier and keeps me creating, inspired, and encouraging others, I think that's some of the best exercise I've gotten. Ever.