Sunday, July 25, 2010

Writing in Circles

The idea that time travels circularly may not be indigenous to my brain, but it occurred to me as I was crafting my novel that I only had the major episodes fixed in my mind and that I was changing my character's past present and future simultaneously as I was working on this part here at the end and realizing that I had to write this little part over there at the beginning. So, like every egotistical writer, I wondered: is this the way time works for my life as well? Do we human beings live our lives circularly, reshaping our past and our future every time we make a decision in the present?

In quantum physics terms, it made sense, so I wrote it in the novel:

She was beyond all gods, hymns and rites because she had merged with the greater truth, where all those things are but ripples expanding out onto a lake from where a stone is thrown, and she, she was the water, rippling and curling and expanding in wide circles towards the infinite. She made me see that we create our past, our present and our future all at once, and that these three states, which we inhabit simultaneously, are pinned down but loosely by specific events during which we continue to alter our choices, reshaping the patterns that we imprint upon the unknown in perpetuity, striving towards a perfection that will one day reunite us with the primordial god. “And that is why,” she would say to me, “The future is at once so easy and so difficult to predict.”

But now I find that there is another type of circular writing, the kind that every writer should strive to avoid: I'm trying to figure out a plot conundrum and I continue to add pages, but nothing in the plot changes. It has become one of those odious logic problems in the GRE tests: event B should happen before event C, but after event A. If event D can only happen immediately after event A, and event C must always precede event D, when should event B happen?

And so it goes, as the great Vonnegut once wrote. More pages, more dialog, more "things" happening, but I keep writing myself right back to the top of the problem.

Looks like I'll be here in perpetuity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

...Now What, Mr. Bradbury???

I have a massive collection of books. I put the best ones on a shelf in my living room for easy access. You never know when you may need a chapter of The Princess Bride, or a few pages of Fight Club to get you through the night. But a couple nights ago, I made an incredible discovery. On this shelf, stuck between a book of quotations and a self-help book was a small paperback copy of Farhenheit 451. Not that strange, I'm sure. It's a wildly popular book. Read in classrooms around the country. Quoted by cynical hipsters sipping latte's in chain coffee shops world-wide. Here's the climatic (dum dum dum) part...I HAD NEVER READ IT!!! There it sat, looking desperate. Unbent, intact. Not the least bit worn and fingerprint smudged. None of the signs of a well-loved book. I had to do something about it.
So I put my daughter to bed, popped the top on a can of Mountain Dew (Kira Crack) and started the journey. It was about 1am. When I next glanced at the time it was 4am and I was a cynical, world-hating creature with an agenda. I realized we have reached this point. We might as well burn all of our books. No one is reading them anymore. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or scream or get naked. (get naked is always an option, no matter the situation)
So...Here is my first post. I'm angry. I'm mad. I'M FREAKIN' PISSED OFF!!!
Thanks to facebook, myspace, email, text, digital cameras, etc...we have ruined what life is about. Let me elaborate on my elaborations here...
Facebook = Hell. Thanks to facebook I can easily check up on my "friends" and see what they're up too without every having to speak to them. Of course, I can "Like" their status, or leave a witty comment...but that is NOT real communication. Social networking sites are giving us the illusion of socializing without us ever having to actually socialize.
Texting gives you that same feeling. You're talking to someone. You're being a part of the world. You have friends. But really, you don't. It's a breakdown of the human language. Small talk has been murdered and I'm putting technology on trial for the killing. It's so easy just to text a quick question, get a quick reply, and go on doing whatever it is you're doing.
Cellphones were supposed to make communicating easier. And they did! You could talk to anyone, on the go! Then we got texting...then smartphones. Now, I can pull out my blackberry, check my facebook, giggle at status messages, send out a quick text and feel like I've actually accomplished some form of conversation. *SCREAM*
Television...socializing with people who aren't there and don't talk back. I know the main characters of Scrubs better than I know some of my best friends.
and how about digital cameras??? (Yeah, I went there) Instead of enjoying an event, a party, we're just spending out time taking pictures of life instead of living it. When we still had 35mm film cameras, eventually you ran out of exposures and put the camera down...then you enjoyed yourself! Cameras were for SPECIAL OCCASSIONS!!! Now, thanks to memory cards with 98 billion gigs, you save all your pointless photos and keep shooting until Jesus comes back. I went on a weekend vacation a while back and as I sit here thinking about this, I realize I have lots of great pictures from that weekend. But I don't remember actually DOING a damn thing...except taking pictures.
So my point is killing us from the inside out. You don't need an education or books. You have google. You don't need to visit friends, just check out their updates. You don't even need to live your own life, just take pictures of it. Mr. Bradbury was so close to the truth when he wrote that book in 1953 that it scares me.
and the worst part of all of this. The part that REALLY makes me angry, is that I am absolutely GUILTY of all accusations. I'm a facebooking, picture taking, texting, multi-tasking addict...
but you know what...I can still read a book.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What am I trying to say?

by Susanna

I have recently joined Twitter and signed on to follow various editors, authors, and reviewers. I check it every hour or so to make sure the world is still turning. It flows like a digital river of pop culture commentary. I’m beginning to understand the Native American idea of pictures stealing your soul. I’ve let my soul seep into this social amplifier three sentences or less at a time. Words are judged, or lost, or beaten down, or extolled, or put aside. We are struggling to create new myths, find our heroes, confirm our existence, our superiority, our inferiority, comb through the words for our next savior or fix. Maya Angelou has 900,000 friends. Lady Gaga has 15,000,000. If a certain bestselling author gets 2,000 friends by a particular date, then one of the 2,000 friends can win an autographed copy of his book.

I have a point here. I think. And it’s about writing and art and creation and the quiet volcano inside my head from which it flows.

What am I trying to say?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Babes in Literature

We, the feminist remainder of the equation, often like to brag that once upon a time societies were matriarchal, religions were goddess-based, and lineage was traced through mothers. However, whenever you ask anyone to give you a specific example in history, the answer is almost invariable, Errr... Hmmm. Let's see. Juno? Hera? At most you'll get one or two venturous Venus of Milos and/or Inanna. Since Inanna was quite the popular figure in 3,000 B.C., she is a pretty good guess. But, as it turns out, Inanna wasn't the only mythical babe to reckon with in literature. Her sister, Ereskigal, was the original Bitch From Hell, and she, not Inanna, held the kind of power that made both gods and goddesses tremble.

Ereskigal was the original Queen of The Dead, the keeper of the underworld of Sumerian literature. Married twice, she enjoyed absolute power over the dead - and the living, since once you descended to hell there was no way in hell (no pun intended) that you ever got out. No god or goddess dared to defy Ereskigal, and the ones who did, lived to pay the price.

The first to try was her sister, Inanna, who was the goddess of fertility and war. She didn't hold a candle to Ereskigal. In fact when Inanna descended to the underworld (it is said, to dethrone Ereskigal) she was forced to relinquish her garments one by one, from the crown she wore on her head, to the lapis lazuli necklace that symbolized her goddess power, to the very loin cloth she wore. But even this strip-naked humbling was not enough for Ereskigal. Inanna's body ended up hanging on a peg outside Ereskigal's main cave, while Inanna's soul had to suffer the curses of her now enraged underworld sister. It wasn't until Inanna's sexy husband, Dumuzi, came down to hell as a substitute that Inanna's corpse was retrieved and revived, and the goddess set free.

And just in case you're thinking, yes, that's fine, but Goddessess of Sex and Fertility have all the fun, think again: who ended up with Dumuzi? Not Inanna. In one version of the myth, not only did Ereskigal get the handsome, seductive Dumuzi, but also a drone created by the wise god Enki, a drone called "Good Looking" who looked something like Leonardo di Caprio and a young Arnold Swartzennager sans the accent. Good Looking was created with the express purpose of charming Ereskigal into giving up Inanna's body. Well, it didn't work. But Ereskigal got to keep Good Looking all the same... and Dumuzi!

Turns out Ereskigal had her own turn at a whirlwind love affair, besides.

Once, when the gods of heaven had a feast, Ereskigal sent her servant to collect her share of food. All the gods bowed to the servant, recognizing Ereskigal's great power over all of the gods, but one god refused to bend his knee before the representative of the Underworld: Nergal. The gods were quite upset over this because they didn't want Ereskigal to get upset and do something like, oh, I don't know, release all the undead upon the earth? As Ereskigal warned, not only do the dead outnumber the living, but their hunger is great.

So, the gods sent Nergal/Erra, the god of war and pestilence, to offer his apologies in person. This god got a good prepping before he went down to hell. He was told not to eat bread, nor to drink the wine he was offered. But most especially he was NOT supposed to glimpse Ereskigal while she exposed herself and took a bath. Most importantly, he was not supposed to do "that which men and women do" when they get together without clothes in a bath tub. Well, poor Nergal resisted the food, he resisted the wine, he resisted that southern hospitality that hell is known for (you know, you can check out any time you want, but nobody ever leaves). In the end, though, he could not resist Ereskigal's taking off of her clothes, and he jumped into bed with her.

There he remained for the next seven days and nights, doing precisely "that which men and women do" when they get together without clothes in bed. On the eighth morning, though, Nergal/Erra, feeling dirty and used, snuck out of bed muttering "I'll be back," and climbed up the "stairway to heaven," promising that he'd call and send roses or something. Well, he didn't call. He didn't send roses. When Ereskigal sent up a messenger to inquire after him, all the gods, afraid of repercussions, hid him like in that scene in Life of Brian, the Monty Python film: imagine Nergal standing with a lampshade on his head, and that is pretty much what happened.

The servant of hell went back, saying, "Sorry, I didn't see that god that was here for seven days" (I didn't get a good look at him, being that he was... well, you know, darkly engaged). But Ereskigal knew better than to get fooled by a silly lampshade and she sent the servant back upstairs. This time, the servant was armed with a speech written by Ereskigal herself. When the servant was done delivering it, Nergal was moved to tears. He decided he was going to act his age and give Ereskigal a call, after all. He climbed down to the underworld and grasped Ereskigal by her tresses. Laughing, he threw her on the bed, and proceeded to do "that which men and women do" when they are reunited in bed without clothes. Then they got married.

So when you wonder about who to look to when finding the female equivalent of the mythical hero, by all means, consider the beautiful, powerful, seductive Inanna, but don't forget her sister Ereskigal. She's the one who holds all the strings, who can be both the leader, the tough punshing wielder of justice, or even the seductive bather who wins the heart of the otherwise fierce and heartless "bull of heaven" Nergal/Erra.

Another thing about Ereskigal. In Sumerian the word Gal means great, large, big, abundant. It is likely that Ereskigal was a "great" lady in more ways than one. Remember that next time you start a diet!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Research Ain't For Sissies

Here’s some writerly advice for ya — nothing ratchets up the tension in a scene like dropping a big ass snake right in the middle of it.

Hoo boy! Characters babble. They scream. They go for guns you didn’t know they carried. Forget that old advice about bringing a man waving a gun into the room — let a fifteen-foot reticulated python plop onto somebody’s shoulders, and things get interesting FAST.

I auditioned a line-up of menacing serpents for this walk-on role in my novel — boa constrictors and several breeds of python, including the rock and the Burmese pythons (that’s a caramel Burmese python in the photo by the way). However, I decided on the retic (as reticulated pythons are sometimes called), the big daddy of the snake world. Here’s a few snaky tidbits I’ve picked up in my research:

1. You don‘t tackle this much snake alone. One rule of thumb for snake handling is one person for every three feet of snake. For an average python —about fifteen feet long — you’ll need four really brave friends. For the largest python on record — 33 feet long and 300+ pounds — you‘ll need a NASCAR pit crew.

2. Captive-bred specimens are remarkably even-tempered, if somewhat unpredictable. Wild caught pythons, however, are extremely nervous and will bite. Unfortunately, wild-caught pythons don’t carry ID announcing them as such. The only way you’ll know is after it’s clamped down on your calf and banged you around a bit. It may not be venomous, but it’s got teeth that point backwards, the better to hold onto you as you squirm, my dear.

3. As a rule of thumb, these snakes seem able to swallow prey up to ¼ their own length, and up to their own weight.

4. A python doesn’t kill by strangling—it constricts its victim’s rib cage slowly and inexorably with every exhale, leaving each subsequent inhale shallower and shallower . . . until there’s no more room to breathe in. Cause of death—suffocation.

5. Like all snakes, pythons aren’t slimy—they’re dry and cool and silky. They’re also dense with hard-packed spongy muscle, like a scale-covered gummy bear.

6. Pythons are ambush predators; they lunge from the shrubbery, zip up on you in the water and — in the case of the green tree python — tumble from the branches right on top of you.

7. Pythons normally snack on small mammals, though they occasionally snag deer and gazelle. Swallowing such large prey makes a python slow and clunky and very vulnerable to predators. If necessary, however, it can instantly upchuck the whole business right back in its attacker’s face and make a speedy getaway. Take that, crocodile!

8. Pythons use their supersensitive tongues to “taste” where you are . . . and find out which end is your head, for easier swallowing. Which means they can find you in that dark like THAT.

9. They’re extremely valuable creatures, selling anywhere from $500 to $5000. A lavender albino ball python was once listed as the most expensive pet in the world— $40,000. Before you decide to adopt a python reticulatus, however, know it’s a long-term arrangement; they live 20-30 years in captivity.

10. Best estimates are that anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 Burmese pythons now call the Florida Everglades home. The first one was found in 1979, and since pythons have no natural predators down there in that moist steamy ecosystem, they multiplied exponentially. Right now the only way to deal with the problem is to hunt them down one at a time and drag them out by hand, which the State of Florida hires people to do. New career, anyone?