Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad Television Will Prolong Your Cold

I have a rotten cold, and have spent the last few days reading and watching Netflix.

The reading has been wonderful ... I read some travel lit, a book called Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr.

On the very day his wife gives birth to twins, Mr. Doerr returns to his home in Boise, Idaho to find a letter telling him he's received the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  For one year, he will receive a stipend and a writing studio in Rome.  This luminous, beautifully written account of a young family's year in the Eternal City almost cured me of my cold.  Mr. Doerr intertwines the writer's life with marriage, parenting baby twin boys, the dense, majestic history of Rome, Romans themselves, the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the sensory experience of Rome and Umbria beyond.  It seems that his guide through much of this is Pliny the Elder's Natural History, from which he quotes liberally and with reverence and understanding.

I also started re-reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.  This book is playing a rather large part in my NaNoWriMo project, but I must say it's been a delight to reaquaint myself with the gods, goddesses, titans, nereids, satyrs, naiads, heroes and monsters of the ancients.  The Introduction to Classical Mythology at the beginning of this work is one of the most clear-eyed assessments of the Greeks and their relationship to their deities that one can read.  At age ninety-one, Miss Hamilton said this to an interviewer: "I came to the Greeks early, and I found answers in them. Greece's great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don't really act as if we believed in the soul's immortality and that's why we are where we are today." (Quote found here)

So my "resting-up" had been going along swimmingly.  The things I'm reading are uplifting me.  And then one day, I'm tired and alone.  I'm in that place where I'm not sleepy, but I can't read anymore.  So I turn on the television and start watching a show on NetFlix.  The show is called Life Unexpected, and it's considered a "family dramedy" ... something that a family with older children can watch together. I watch the first episode and it's kind of quirky and heart-warming so I get hooked.  It's about a Juno-like teenager (smart, self-deprecating, wise beyond her years) who has been in the foster care system her entire life.  Born to a teen mom who had a one-night-stand at a school dance, she was given up for adoption at birth.  She was never adopted because she had a heart condition that required surgeries, so she was not available for adoption until she was three and then nobody wanted her.  She's now sixteen-years-old and would like to be legally emancipated, so she tracks down her biological father because she needs her birth parents to sign off on this proposition.  He knows who her birth mother is, so they find and surprise her.  They all go to court and ... guess what?  The judge puts the girl (whose name is "Lux") into her birth-parents custody.

Okay, so I know what you are thinking. An adorable three-year-old with a freshly-minted clean bill of health is unadoptable?  For the sake of the story, yup.  She finds her birth-father with relative ease.  Yup.  She's smart and cute and appears to be pretty unaffected by years of rattling around the foster care system and group homes.  Yup.  A judge is going to grant joint custody to two people who appeared in her life a couple of minutes ago.  Yup.

As I sink into the morass of this fantasy of the modern family, I start to feel sick again.

This is what dissipated, promiscuous alcoholic parents look like on television.
The birth father appears to be an alcoholic womanizer.  The birth mother is a nuerotic co-host of a morning radio drive show with a guy (who's secretly her love interest) and the banter is all about sex, sex and more sex.  And Lux has been listening to this program for three years and has felt a "connection" with this woman who ultimately turns out to be her mother.  The mother is sleeping with her cohost.  They have a fight.  Then the mother sleeps with the father.  They are not ashamed, just horrified. He's mad at her about Lux, thought she had "taken care of it" all those years ago (and he's the nice guy in the story.)  She's mad at him for not being there for her.  The mother and the cohost get back together, they even get engaged.  Lux goes to live with them. The mother's mother is an alcoholic, her father has been missing for years.  The father's father is a cold, successful businessman with a would-be-mousy-if-they-weren't-rich wife, one aunt is a promiscuous psychotherapist, another aunt is a promiscuous, alcoholic, pot-banana-bread baking and eating homeless thief.  Oh, and the father owns a bar which he lives over in a walk-up with two roommates and they drink and play video games a lot.  And ... the reason Lux wants to be emancipated is so she and her boyfriend can live together.  Oh, and did I mention Lux is sleeping with her boyfriend, who's name is Bug?  Didn't anyone research this?  Doesn't anyone remember Bug from Uncle Buck? Then the father sleeps with both aunts (not at the same time), the mother asks the father if he still loves her the day before she's supposed to marry the cohost, he says "no" even though he does, it turns out the cohost slept with his ex-girlfriend during the breakup when the mother slept with the father, and Lux becomes romantically involved with a teacher at her school (they met before he started teaching ... she was tending bar at her father's place of business, so the guy thought she was much older). The teacher wants to "have boundaries" and "help" Lux, so he just necks with her. Then the father finds out his new love interest had an affair with his own father, thereby cheating on his mother. Throw in lots of soft porn and fake "alternative" music for the soundtrack and a finale that utterly suspends belief and feels like something thrown together in a hurry to tie up loose ends.  And all the allegedly cathartic interactions between the characters cause a curious effect on the overall story—it's not very cathartic.

The only nods to conventional moral behavior are the foster care situation where Lux was abused and the justice meted out as it comes to light.  Then there's the teacher ... he's confronted by Lux's parents about the wrongness of being romantically involved with Lux, for which he takes responsibilty.  These two things are the only small banners that are run up the flagpole of morality in this maelstrom of sex, drinking, lying, stealing and cheating.

Since the only consequences of all this outrageous behavior are emotional ones, there's an intrinsic lie in the physicality of the program.  No one is fat or even out of shape, even the fat guy.  The only medication anyone is on is birth control pills, and no one is suffering any of the symptoms of long term excessive drinking. No one is missing any teeth.  All dwellings are pretty clean and very hip (the setting is Portland, Oregon).  Lux's foster kid friends are emotionally resilient.  All the adults are unbelieveably, monstrously selfish but it's portrayed as complicated and textured, with everyone "working through issues."  And, once again, nobody's missing any teeth, not even the mother's alcoholic mother who goes to bed with a box of wine every night.

I spent about a half hour this morning looking at reviews of Life Unexpected.  "Heart-warming" ... "emotional" ... "fulfilling" ... even the New York Times said it had "sharp writing" and "appealing performances." I know that a lot of folks will say, "You have to suspend belief and just go with the characters." I can't. I have a hard time with a "story" that seeks texture from its writer's perception of "emotional reality," which is the idea that if feelings are dealt with properly, there is really no need for justice.

Prometheus Bound
It's the opposite of the world the ancient Greeks perceived, the world where even if you "work things out," a price must be paid. Prometheus bound to a rock on the mountain with his liver consumed daily by an eagle, Orestes losing Eurydice forever, Icarus plummeting into the sea with his melted wings and the fall of Troy are but a few examples of what happens when that price comes due. 

 Life Unexpected has its characters acting as if they don't believe in the soul's immortality or that an immortal soul even exists as the writing and acting puts the cast through their emotional paces. If that component is missing or trivialized all the sharp writing or appealing performances in the world cannot compensate for a story with a missing soul.

Monday, November 12, 2012

October? Oooops.

October is the month in which I did not blog and I am NOT proud of that.  I have been doing a LOT of writing and critiquing, however, and now I'm doing NaNoWriMo.  It started November 1st, but I started ... TODAY!

That's because I had to clean the garage.

I know that doesn't sound like a particularly compelling reason to not blog, but our garage was an embarrassment, a horror of sorts and an eyesore.

Two years of not cleaning a garage creates a turning point. Instead of cars it starts to house things like an old washing machine that's lost its bearings (for real), a dryer that screams (for real) but does not dry, a busted dorm fridge, broken garden tools, cracked snow shovels, summer tires for a vehicle we haven't owned in years, dead birds (pretend you didn't see that), dry, cracked pieces of horse tack, a lawn tractor that hasn't run in two decades, a small generator that doesn't work, pitchforks with missing tines, mallets with ill-fitting, flying heads (eek!), a tent with a hole chewed in it by a puppy who grew into a dog who's now been dead for over a year, empty containers, hundreds of plastic plant pots, dozens of old rotting shoes and boots and over one hundred dollars worth of empties.  That's two thousand empty cans and bottles.

We started Friday, cleaning the two bays where the cars go.  My husband and I both wear pedometers and I registered 18,000 steps on mine.  His registered 20,000 steps.  We sorted, culled, cobwebbed, swept, shopvacked and went on a "bottle return date."  We donned latex gloves ("snap" "snap") and prayed we would not develop repetitive motion injuries - bend, grab, put bottle or can in "bar code tunnel", repeat.  Over and over.  The machines got sick of reading bar codes, they filled up, they overheated.  We went from store to store, finishing at Geissler's in Granby where we met the nicest kid who told us about financing his school D.C. trip with $800 worth of cans and bottles.  He had to come out and help us twice.  The guy at Stop and Shop had to help us three times.  We came home with $68.  I sorted the rest of the cans and bottles for the couple that raises money for our church's cleft palate repair ministry down in South America somewhere.

Who needs gold and silver when you have a couple thousand of these lying around?  Just make sure there's enough air in the bottles so the machines can read the bar codes.

Saturday we emptied out the "tack area" of the garage ... the place where our daughters keep all their horse stuff.  More sorting, culling, cobwebbing, sweeping and shopvacking.  No bottles, though.

Even though the whole garage thing only took a couple of days, it's been hanging over our heads for months.  It's a beautiful post and beam building that should be an organized place, serving the purpose of housing cars and outdoor supplies for lawn and garden.  And horse stuff, since those rather large mammals live exclusively out of doors (although both girls, on occasion, have tried to get at least the front feet of their horses into the mudroom.)

It really is a nice feeling to know that I know where everything is, especially with winter setting in.  Shovels.  Rock salt.  Sand.  The generator that works. The snow rake. Sleds.  And when spring comes, all the gardening stuff has been sorted and stored for easy access.  As soon as the peonies bend a little, I'll have those nifty peony supports up and doing their job in a flash!  My gardening box is all set, all the tools gathered up and tucked away for the spring.  The tomato stakes are in a bundle and tied, along with the rolls of landscaping fabric and netting.  Uncle Elmer's one hundred year old French hoe is up on the wall, along with all the other long-handled garden tools.

And I can write.  It's like something that was holding me back has been cleared away.  Lovely feeling, I must say!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Account


It's a little frightening that Google led me to Wikihow and Wikihow has the information on the permanent deletion. None of this seems to be, how shall I put it ... western. Maybe it isn't.  Maybe it's the combination of detective work and journalism on some distant Polynesian volcanic island.  "Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it! The Google Detective Agency was reported by The TikiWiki Tribune as being instrumental in deleting the Easter Island Monoliths from Facebook!"

The thing that caught my attention in the Wikihow article is the notion that Facebook still makes you wait fourteen days before it will supposedly permanently delete your account.  If it catches you logging in, then you must not really mean it.

I mean it, Facebook!  I really, really do!  Wikiwho, wikiwhat, wikiwhere, wikiwhen, wikihow ... I will not rest until a permanent deletion becomes a reality.  Facebook can dangle logging in in front of my profile 'til the cows come home, but I will not relent.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Night of the Living Deactivated

Well, I have deactivated my Facebook account.  I made my husband (who has less than 20 "friends" and NEVER logs on...) the administrator for my useless business pages and then, I took the plunge.  It's really liberating.  Everytime I have the urge to open up another little tab to take a "peek" at my newsfeed, I remember, "I'm not on Facebook anymore!" Right now, I'm blogging, which, for me, is a warm-up for writing, and one of the reasons I wasn't blogging or writing is because I was on Facebook.

So, what brought this on?  Yesterday, I was "facebooking," as it's sometimes called, and this article appeared in my newsfeed.  It was posted by my favorite distributist scholar, John C. Médaille:
by D. Joshua Rubin (a blogger for The Motley Fool economic blog)
(I would re-title it 15 Signs Facebook is the Precursor to the Zombie Apocalypse)

Reason Number 1.)  The more time you spend on Facebook the worse you feel.

Resonate much?

I didn't need fourteen more signs of Facebook's pernicious decline, but I read them all, and I would have laughed my way down the list if I weren't actually on Facebook as I read them.

This one, however, did cause me to guffaw:
 Reason Number 8.)  FB is like a billion toddlers jumping on the bed, shouting for mommy's attention.

So very true.  Between newsfeeds, comment threads and picture albums, a typical facebook experience for me looks like this:
"Cute puppies!"  "Obama sucks!" "Romney's a clear and present danger!" "Newborn in intensive care-press 'Like' to show thoughts and prayers!" "Adorable hedgehogs!" "Harry Potter is Life!" "Harry Potter is the Devil's Tool!" "I'm pro-life!" "No, you're not, you're pro-birth!" "I'm pro-choice!"  "No you're not, you're pro-abortion!" "Sweet Miniature Horses!"  "Clydesdales Rule!"  "Kittens playing in a boot!" "Pink for Breast Cancer Research!" "Walk for Breast Cancer Research!" "Jog for Breast Cancer Reasearch!" "Marathon for Breast Cancer Research!" "Obama/Biden!" "Romney/Ryan!" "Cute, sweet, adorable puppy makes friends with cute, sweet, adorable hedgehogs, mini-horses and kittens as a kindly Clydesdale looks on indulgently."

To be liberated from the constant flow of inanities juxtaposed with substantial stuff (like the D. Joshua Rubin piece) has one downside, and it's a big one.

I now have a f'bombie, a Facebook zombie.  One's Facebook account never goes away and the profile "pic" reverts to the generic Facebook faceless head.  A f'bombie pic with your name will show up in friends' lists. One's profile becomes one of the legion of the Facebook Living Deactivated.

So, I put my fingers to keyboard.  I blog.  I work on my short stories and my novel.  I check in with other writers.  I go to my Writers Workshops.  I cook and clean and do some sewing.  I do some graphic artwork.  I walk. I pray. And I try not to think about my f'bombie.

But it's out there. I want to put a bullet in its profile pic, but f'bombie bullets don't exist.  Facebook is the keeper of all deactivated profiles. Perhaps that's Facebook's ultimate evil purpose: to amass an army of digital thralls who sightlessly appear in the lists of the activated; silent reminders that once there existed a profile that could "Like" and "Comment" and "Share."

Now, it seems, f'bombies silently await a command to ... what?

It pains me to think of it.

Lament for a Deactivated Profile
by R. T. Freeman 

Do not try to find my wall
Nor message send my way
My profile should not exist at all
Yet it languishes night and day
It cannot Like, Comment nor Send
Look not to it!  Desist!
To your posts, it may not attend,
For it dwells in Facebook's mist.
My profile cannot see your cat,
Your puppy it cannot "Like",
It cannot comment on your hat
Or share your new website!
Deactivated, that's what they say,
A f'bombie it must be
Faceless, mindless, generic, gray ...
Oh, profile, thou art not free!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Short Story - Finished!

Six thousand four hundred sixty words is the length of my very first short story, Jake's Upper Plate.  I submitted it to my small writer's group for critique and got great feedback.  There is one section that needs to be edited—it's very expository compared to the rest of the piece. I do love a good back story, though, and I thought it was far enough into the piece with enough reader investment in the characters at an emotional level.  I thought I could get away with it.  And I almost did, but thankfully, I got pinched and the rewrite of the section is making me happier.  All the other issues are little things—grammar, a little slip in voice (that damn expository section again) and the teeniest bit of head-hopping.

And it took me about a week and a half.

I took a break from the novel I'm working on.  It's in tatters.  It's the scarecrow in the movie The Wizard of Oz after the flying monkeys get through with him.  The flying monkeys (or winged monkeys, as they are referred to by their creator, the author L. Frank Baum) scared me to death when I was a child, and when I think of all the things that had the potential to hurt me, flying monkeys were in the top ten.  I still shiver, thinking of them.  But I'm sad to say I took a page from the flying monkey playbook—I stood on my novel and threw fistfuls of it all over my desktop.  A file here.  A file there.  The book I thought would be published before any of my other work is now in Writer's ICU. I found myself angry at the large Writer's Workshop to which I belong, not realizing that I don't have to do every change which they suggested.  But, that's me, all over.  And in a way, it gives me a chance to take a fresh approach to the structure, which wasn't serving the plot very well.
Scarecrow: First they took my legs off and they threw them over there! Then they took my chest out and they threw it over there!
Tin Woodsman
: Well, that's you all over!

I will finish editing Jake's Upper Plate and go visit my poor novel next week.  One does feel somewhat fortified by the experience of seeing a piece through from beginning to end and this particular story went like this: character development to setting to writing scenes to knitting the entire thing together with the plot. It was a lovely experience, watching (yes, watching) a story reveal itself in all its narrative cohesivness as I wrote.

I think I'll put a tab on this blog with the story once I have the editing done.

And in the words of Glinda, I address the Wicked Witch of Writer's Despair, and her minions—the flying monkeys bringing desperate and disproportionate editing :
"You have no power here! Begone, before somebody drops a house on you, too!"

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Dangerous Transition and the Saint of Glastonbury

Up until the last two years of my life, acknowledgement of predictable transitions were the norm.  Things like summer vacations, graduations, showers, and weddings. I have three graduations to look forward to and probably weddings in the future but there is a more frequent and sobering acknowledgement that does not ease its way onto the calendar in an ordered "save the date" kind of way.  It's the sort of thing that causes everyone to jump into action for a period of days.  The demeanor of those forced to arrange this particular transition is strange - they are the "functioning dazed."  When it's over, the participants can experience anything from resignation to unabashed, raw grief.  And the person at the center of this acknowledgement?  I believe he or she is in the presence of Love, or awaiting the summons to be in the presence of Love or, and this is so hard to even think about, separated from Love ... forever.

My mother's parents died on the same day when I was eight, so my siblings and I were farmed out to my dad's side of the family for a week.  It was, for us, an unmarked transition.  We went from family life with a relatively happy mother to life with a grief-stricken woman of sorrows.  She didn't really came back to herself for a long time and we, her very own children, had been non-participants.  It was a dangerous transition, the order of our family destabilized. When my father died, we'd all been dealing with low-grade grief for so many years, it seemed more like a flare-up than a fresh outbreak of bereavement. It was my first funeral.

The funerals started happening a little more regularly as I grew older.  Great-aunts and great-uncles, friends of my grandparents, the occasional accident or illness resulting in the death of someone from my parents' generation, or, shockingly, from my own.  Then my Uncle Fred died suddenly. The neighbors two doors down lost their toddler to leukemia. A friend commited suicide.  And then there would be a year or two where I was not obliged to attend a funeral or send condolences because the degree of separation between me and the deceased was wide enough.

In 1995, I met a woman named Laura.  She and I became great friends.  Her dad had died on the golf course when she was only seven.  She has eleven siblings, so she was one of the younger kids in the family when it happened.  She told me that in the years after her dad died, her mom used to take her and some of her brothers and sisters to funerals.

"Why," I said, "Did you know a lot of other people who died?"

"No, we had a Saint Joseph of Arimathea Club.  The Club consisted of a few big families and we would go to poorly attended funerals so there'd be more than a couple mourners in the church. The priest always knew if the person who'd died had no family or had outlived everyone."

I am a Catholic convert, and I know that Saint Joseph of Arimathea is the patron Saint of funeral directors, grave diggers and coffin makers. He was the one who got Pontius Pilate to hand over the Body of Jesus and he was the one who gave up his own tomb for the Crucified. There is also a lovely and pious legend about Joseph founding the Christian Oratory at Glastonbury in Britain around 65 A.D. and if that weren't pious and lovely enough, you can add to that the Holy Grail and the Glastonbury Thorn. But in my mind's eye, I've constructed a tableau of children at a funeral, showing up for the dangerous transition when their degree of separation is about as wide as it gets.

I groped for an appropriate response. "That's really neat, but strange."

"No," Laura said. "It's not strange at all.  It's participating in a work of mercy."

Funerals are, today, where I see my extended family.  Funerals are where I see old friends. My so-called "degree of separation" has crumbled in so many ways and as I edge closer to the precipice myself, I think of that conversation with my friend Laura all those years ago: "It's not strange at all.  It's participating in a work of mercy."
Glastonbury Abbey

Friday, August 3, 2012


I remember once hearing an interview with Catholic author Ron Hansen.  He told EWTN host Raymond Arroyo of the discipline necessary to write on a daily basis.  He talked about the need for regularly scheduled sleep and exercise, the essential mental habit of taking oneself seriously enough to say, "I'm a writer" and to make tangible that declaration by ... writing.  Even Flannery O'Connor, who suffered from a severe form of lupus which killed her at the age of thirty-six, sat down every morning to write for a minimum of two to three hours.

I'm in the process of coming to terms with the idea of discipline.  I've spent the last thirty five years of my life raising children and I've now become a wraith in my own home.  My fifteen-year-old Welsh corgi, May, died three weeks ago and I am just realizing she was the only living creature in the house who really saw me.  I'm not invisible, but I'm definitely fading. People in their fifties without discipline do tend to fade.

I spend a good deal of time engaged in activities which are unnecessary.  I do volunteer work, I watch crime shows on television, I cook a meal every now and then, I do some graphic design, I occasionally look for a job. I spend the hours of daylight doing just about anything except writing.  I am dissipated.

Night falls and I sit down at the computer.  My intention is always to write, but then I get on Facebook.  There's a kind of deadening effect from the combination of political postings, cute baby animal pictures, cartoons and inspirational "posters," which are all staples of my Facebook newsfeed. More dissipation, only now there is zero optimism because optimism is NOT a night visitor.The combination of the illusion of connectedness and staying up too late contributes to my wraith status.

No, optimism visits in the morning, and even when writing something that may be on the dark side, I need that optimism to commit to the act of writing.  Writing is fundamentally creative, and as author and graphic novelist (he likes to say comic book writer) Neil Gaiman says, "The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before."

So I'm headed off to bed.  It's already very late, and I have big plans for the morning.  I'll start with my prayers.  I'll take a walk and have a "think" for myself.  I'll lift some weights.  And then I'll write.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ima Ryder Finally Writes

I'm entering a contest, and in order to participate, I need a website.  I was originally going to call this blog AnitaSite, but I wanted to be more proactive and optimistic, so I decided on ImaRyder.  It also doubles as a great blog name in the event I start riding horses again.  I would love to thank Faith Hough for alerting me to this contest via her EXELLENT blog.

I've tried blogging in the past, but it was always some marketing scheme or a way to publicly humiliate myself into dieting.  I'm not going to say it was time or writing wasted because I was writing, after all.  Now I have to come up with 500 words per day for this write-off.

Here's the link for WRiTE CLUB 2012.