Thursday, June 30, 2011

Up the Pamper Pole .... or Writing as an Extreme Sport

So, this week I spent half a day in the woods with my colleagues from work. I’m part of a marketing team at one of the largest healthcare supply distributors in the country, and I’m lucky enough to have found a place among a small group of talented, smart and caring individuals.

And here’s the thing. We were in the woods for some Extreme Team Building (cue drum roll and dramatic, loud music). I’ve only been part of this team for about 8 weeks, but even I could see after one or two of the challenges in the woods that we work pretty darn well together. We had to figure out how to cross a “river of lava” together using only tiny carpet squares to keep our feet from “sinking.”  We had to move each person through a giant “spider web” without touching any of the ropes. In some cases, we had to literally lift people completely off the ground and pass them through holes in the web higher than our own heads. We strapped on harnesses for zip lining across a ravine. And the most extreme activity? The Pamper Pole.

The Pamper Pole is an individual challenge only in that you are physically by yourself as you climb a 35 foot tall utility pole. Yes…you’re in a harness with a belay and a guide to keep you safe from life threatening falls…but you don’t seem to notice the pinch of the harness or the tug of the safety rope as you climb higher and higher on metal loops no wider than your tennis shoe. The pole begins to sway. Your hands begin to sweat. In my case, my arms began to shake and it seemed my breath was suddenly louder than any of the wind or bird song in the woods.

The goal is to climb to the top and then….wait for it….STAND on top of the darned pole! With both feet! (Do I have to remind you that the pole is a standard utility pole? Go on…walk outside for a minute. I’ll wait…… Find a telephone pole. Looks high, doesn’t it? And maybe just a smidge too small to stand on with both feet? Um. Yep. Good eye.)

It gets worse.

Once you are standing up there, swaying in the breeze, your knees knocking and your heart racing, you’re supposed to JUMP INTO THIN AIR and try to catch hold of a trapeze suspended about 10 feet away from the pole.

Seriously. This is what my boss made us do this week.

And you know what? We all did it. Some of us clambered up there like spider monkeys, stood at the top with great poise, and caught the trapeze like one of the Flying Karamotzov Brothers. (Not me, by the way.) Some of us convinced ourselves to overcome nerves and fear and strap on the harness and climb only part way up.

But we all succeeded. And here’s why: we had support. We’d been through a lot already together. Heck, once you’ve crossed a river of lava on a set of tiny carpet squares or navigated your way though a giant spider web as a team, nothing can stop you! You are invincible.

It was freeing and exhilarating, fun and yes…team building…to play these games together. I can’t speak for each of my colleagues, but I know I found myself willing to step outside of my comfort zone over and over – willing to take chances and leap from the side of a 35 foot pole into thin air, knowing that the encouragement I heard from below would keep me safe. Those voices below shouting encouragement and laughter were as much support as the belay and strong rope attached to my harness.

I know. Someone out there is starting to wonder how this ties back to what this blog is all about: writing. Here’s the thing: support is a wonderful gift. With the support of a community or a friend or a team, you are stronger, more powerful, and more talented than you are alone. With support, a writer can move from the harsh grip of writer’s block or the grinding drudgery of self doubt into the beauty and freedom of poetry or the ebb and flow of a long and heartfelt story.

So find a community of writers. Find listeners. Find readers. Find others with like passions for your genre and open yourself to their thoughts. You will find, I am sure, that they can be the harness and rope that will keep you from falling.

Remember: the support of others will make you strong and set you free to write with grace. It will keep you afloat even when you take chances you never thought you’d take. With support, you’ll reach the top of the tallest pole – take on the hardest writing challenge – and stand straight and tall despite the swaying and the wind.

Leap. Your writing friends will catch you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Namaste... The writer in me sees the writer in you

According to an TheMeaning and Purpose of Yoga written by Bhole Prabhu, the most important teaching in yoga “states that our ‘true nature’ goes far beyond the limits of the human mind and personality--that instead, our human potential is infinite and transcends our individual minds and our sense of self.…the purpose of yoga is to unite ourselves with our highest nature.”

I’ve practiced yoga for few years. I wish I had time to dedicate myself to a Hatha practice more often. I wish I could get out my mat and come to a seated position each morning or night. But it recently dawned on me: yoga isn’t all about being on a mat. Yoga fits into many parts (all parts) of life, if only you open your mind to that possibility.
I may not practice asanas every day (or even every week lately), but I carry within myself the desire to fold all of yoga into my entire life. When my feet hit the mat, I’m overwhelmed with the sense of peace and the largeness of the world that is within my own body and mind. My heart rate slows. My breathing deepens. My body sinks into the earth while also rising toward sky – I become longer, stronger, and settled in mind and spirit.

And…shocking as this might sound…I’m learning how to achieve these feelings when I’m not on my beloved sticky mat.

I’m lucky enough to have another practice in my life that uncovers my “true nature” and goes beyond the limits of mind and personality. Writing, in fact, helps make my potential infinite.

Doesn’t writing – and reading, for that matter – transcend individual minds and our sense of self? When you write, do you have a sense of moving out of your own self – and becoming part of something larger, more infinite, more mysterious?

Stories are, in my mind, the very life blood of our existence. Without a story, who are we? Writing stories – whether they are our own or stories from our minds – is like yoga in practice. Or it can be.

Open your mind. Sink into Earth. Tell your story.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Where do you write?

Where do you write?

I’m wondering because I’ve wanted a writing room in my house for years. I do have a room we call “the office” at home, but it really is more of a glorified closet now than a room where work could get done. Especially creative work.

If you opened the door on “my office” at home right now, you’d find stacks and stacks of junk mail waiting to be sorted, a kitty litter box needed to be cleaned, and general stashes of kids’ school assignments, packages of batteries and maybe a few old socks. The chair and work surface of the desk are completely covered with stuff. Not a good place to retreat for writing.


(Of course, most of the stuff is stuff I put there…so I have no one to blame but myself!)

Sometimes I write on the couch in the living room. It is generally quiet there, especially in the evenings, and there is room for the dog and one cat to curl up next to me. But there isn’t a good place to set a cup of tea or coffee.

Sometimes it is the kitchen table. Excellent on beautiful days when the windows are open and I can turn on the family room stereo. Not so excellent when kids are tromping in and out, tapping me on the shoulder asking for snacks, or when my husband is in one of his “MUST SMOKE MEAT” moods when smoke streams steadily through those open windows and just makes my eyes water. But…there is certainly space on that big kitchen table for my coffee!

I have a big easy chair in my bedroom, and that has been a great site for writing a chapter here or there. It is nap-worthy, though…that chair.

See? Every place I try to write, there are distractions a-plenty! Even today. I’m sitting in my local Panera with a pecan twist and a cup o’joe. Instead of pounding out this great scene in my head – one that involves a cross-dressing warlock who sings showtunes – I find myself entirely distracted by the three little old ladies sitting at the next table. They’re arguing about whether or not it was Hitler who started the tradition of the flaming torch for the Olympics.

I mean really? Google it, people!

And just let me write!

So…where do you write? Leave me a comment, suggestion or other thought and I’ll throw your name in the drawing for a “travelling copy” of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. (As always, the Carpe Keyboard rules apply – I’ll announce the winner here on CK on Sunday, June 26, 2011. If the winner doesn’t reply to me with their snail mail address within one week of the drawing, I’ll put the book back in my give away stack for a different drawing.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Summer Read Worth Crashing on a Deserted Island...

Do you know about novelist Libba Bray? If you’ve been keeping track of YA lit lately, surely the name is familiar at least. Last year, she won the Prinz honor for her sarcastic and brilliant novel, Going Bovine. Loved that book. Giggled and snorted my way through her irreverent humor, wanted to grab a cup o’ joe with her characters (or at least eat pizza flavored Combos in the back seat while they road-tripped through the South).

So when I heard her new book was coming out, I pre-ordered it.

Here’s the deal. If you haven’t already gotten your hands on a copy, YOU MUST GO GET ONE RIGHT NOW. Do not wait. Do not even finish your coffee or soda or whatever you’re drinking as you read this. Just drop everything and GO GET THIS BOOK.

The cover of Beauty Queens, by itself, is enough of a reason to own a copy. I mean really. The torso of a bikini-clad female body with a bandolier of lipsticks slung from her shoulder to her hip? How fantastic is that? (Of course, the English Major in my head finds anything longer than it is wide…well, you know. Girl’s body covered in hilarious, little phallic symbols just cracked me up. But maybe I’m just a nut.)

Premise: An airplane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island.  Think Miss America meets LOST meets some reality show about teenage girls and their beauty products. Think sarcasm the likes of which Jonathan Swift would admire. Think Beauty Pageant Queen (eerily like a certain political candidate and big game hunter who doesn’t know her American history from a hole in the ground) and a corporate sponsor set on taking over the world.

There were scenes in this novel that make me literally crack up. Some I’ll be quoting for weeks to come. Some I read and could only wish that I, too, could someday write sentences that right.

I mean…any story that includes a teenage beauty pageant contestant airplane crash victim who walks around during the whole novel with part of a tray table sticking out of her forehead like the bill on a baseball cap…HILARIOUS. In a dark and sadistic way. But still – hilarious!

And wait til the bodacious pirates arrive! And the Corporate stooges! Who use lady’s hair remover product as explosives! There is a stuffed lemur dressed as a general. Teenage girls building trebuchets to launch high heels as deadly weapons. A maniacal Elvis impersonator. A beauty queen turned avenging super hero (complete with her own comic strips and side kick). A pool of piranhas and two heroes suspended over it with fraying ropes. Trans-sexual boy band members turned pageant contestants…the list goes on and on.

And out of all of this craziness comes a tale of girl power. Woman power. The rightness of our bodies, the true meaning of beauty, and the importance of believing in yourself.

Gulped it down in one sitting.

Thank you, Libba Bray, for your hilarious story and for your insanely right message to the girls (and boys) in the world about their worth. You ROCK.

(Cue pageant runway music. I’d flip my hair if it was long enough and strike a perfect ¾ pose, lifting one hand in a perfect beauty queen wave…)

You’re still reading this? STOP IT. Get your keys. Drive to the bookstore. Look for the bikini-clad woman with the lipsticks slung like rifle cartridges across her shoulder. Beauty Queens.

(P.S. I'm going to see if I can get Ms. Bray to answer a few interview questions, Carpe Keyboard style. Not sure she'll have time for little old me, but we'll give it a go! Cross your fingers!)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

First Lines and Popsicles

Why the heck are beginnings so hard? I’ve looked at the first page of my YA novel in progress so many times, I’m sick of reading it. When my writing partner and I worked on our first novel together, we struggled time and again with our first chapter. We re-wrote it multiple times. I lost track, actually, of how many different versions we had. We’d think it was fixed, then one of us would drag it out again and decide it still needed work. So we’d tear it apart and rebuild, tuck it away and hope it was just right. And then the pattern would start all over again.


Then there is the classic question: To Prologue or Not To Prologue? Also just painful. I mean… Sayantani and I had this fantastic scene of a hunt taking place in the jungle, and it tied back into the resolution of the story so well! And I have a dream prologue that my main character just has to have to set the stage for RLR. But you hear that some agents and editors hate prologues…and it is the first thing they’ll see of your manuscript if they ask for the first five/ten/chapter/whatever. So the last thing you want to do is turn them off by having a prologue, right?

So…in honor of the beginning of Summer, I’m going to take a look at first lines for some of the books I have sitting in either my “to be read” piles or my kid’s summer reading piles. Just had a big trip to Barnes and Noble yesterday with my son, so we’ve got some good stuff racked up for summer reading. Maybe this will inspire me.  Here goes:

Middle Grade

Fred & Anthony Meet the Heinie Goblins from the Black Lagoon by Esile Arevamirp and Elise Primavera – “Fred and Anthony hung out a lot together, goofing off and watching horror movies.”

My Rotten Life, Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie by David Lubar – “It’s no fun having your heart ripped from your body, slammed to the floor, and stomped into a puddle of quivering red mush.”

Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-Weiner by Ursula Vernon – “What’s your problem?” asked Danny’s best friend, Wendell, shaking him awake.”

Young Adult

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett (note: This one was a Prinz honor book) – “I am dying: it’s a beautiful word. Like the long, slow sigh of a cello: dying.”

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – “Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

Blood Red Road by Moira Young – “The day’s hot. So hot and so dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust.”

So I should go write now. I’ll probably ignore my beginning today and work on something smack dab in the middle. (Middles are easier. Not easy…but easier. At least for me.) It is summer, after all, and too hot to get frustrated on a beginning. But maybe tomorrow…

You, too. Go write something. And eat a popsicle.