For love of words III

Below are small excerpts and clippings that I’ve extracted from things I’ve read or re-read recently.

(posts one and two)

“Experience taught Strike that there was a certain type of woman to whom he was unusually attractive.  Their common characteristics were intelligence and the flickering intensity of badly wired lamps.” -Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm

“He looked as though he had been carved out of soft ebony by a master hand that had grown bored with its own expertise, and started to veer towards the grotesque.” -Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling

“He could see a new set of muscles hardening in the right forearm of his wife, Teresa, from the constant twisting of oranges on the juicer while their children held up their cups and waited for more.” -Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

“If a man can’t build a violin, he may as well make pizzas in a former violin shop.” -Molly Wizenburg, Delancey

“Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding.” -Marilynn Robinson, Home

“But unlike his brothers, Henry had a redeeming attribute.  Two of them, to be exact: he was intelligent, and he was interested in trees.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

“For here was the hole in Alma’s theory: she could not, for the life of her, understand the evolutionary advantages of altruism and self-sacrifice.  If the natural world was indeed the sphere of amoral and constant struggle for survival that it appeared to be, and if outcompeting one’s rivals was the key to dominance, adaptation and endurance–then what was one supposed to make, for instance, of someone like her sister Prudence?”   -Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

“To see a thing in its proportion, whatever it was, to draw its outlines true and sure and simple–that was bottomless content, which lightened all the world.” -Pearl S. Buck, The Proud Heart

Check out these sandals…

14095759_1627439187586878_7648096906329093937_n

I interrupt my usual postings (are there usual postings on this random blog??) to share this exciting project that has been in the works for quite some time, and is now live on Kickstarter as of today!!  It’s been so fun to watch this come to life and to help out with it as well.

I can personally confirm that these sandals are uber comfortable, durable and versatile, and I’m so happy to see that they might just become available to everyone!!  Great team and great product.

For more information, visit their website

 

 

On Ideas and Execution

Dear Apples,

Yesterday I was brooding for much of the day.  It was the last day of a long weekend (Lebanon was on holiday for Eid Al Adha), and the fourth day in a row that I hadn’t written, and the internal pressure had really revved up.  My story has been running all over the place like a capricious teenager, and I have been sitting and wondering how to pull it back on course, and asking it what it wants to be, and panicking over the self-inflicted deadline that will probably arrive before the plot reconfigures itself into a more promising shape.  It’s been a bit paralyzing, honestly.

C suggested we go out last night to break up the schedule, and so we went to catch dinner and a movie.  I reluctantly updated him on where the plot had veered off course, and it was hugely relieving to be able to think it through out loud and realize that there might just be a way forward.

Today I have to begin gutting much of what I’ve worked on and finding out what the essence of the story is and working from there, which feels both terrifying and exciting.  Heavy on the terrifying.  I am trying to force myself to take it slowly and sit in the ideation phase for as much time as I need without scurrying right into execution and finding that I have to scratch half of what I’ve written and redirect.  What is the balance between the time spent mapping out the book and the time spent writing it?  For me, the ideas are sluggish but the writing is quick.  It’s probably different for everyone, but I’d love a good formula.  So far, this story has taken me by surprise at almost every turn.  It’s been fun, but I am exhausted from chasing it around, and I’d really like to return to the driver’s seat and decide where we’re going before we set out.

With that in mind, I am giving myself a week to let the story percolate.  It feels extravagant and wasteful, but I have never tried it before and I am simply not ready to move forward until I have something stolid and dependable that will not run away from me the minute I let it out onto the page.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime, here’s what Walt Whitman has to say about it:

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”
Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations

And Amy Poehler:

“You just lean over the computer and stretch and pace.  You write and cook something and write some more.  You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true.  You do it because the doing of it is the thing.  The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.  This is what I know.”  –Yes Please

And Steve Jobs:

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”
Steve Jobs

My Writing Manifesto

For the past several months, I’ve been working on drafting a young adult novel.  Since it’s a solitary activity as well as a first attempt at novel writing, it can be hard to take myself seriously and keep pushing forward.  This podcast spurred me to come up with my own Writing Manifesto as a mission statement of sorts to keep me going when the going gets tough.

  1. You are only the conduit.

Similar to the old concept of writers receiving visits from the Muses, I like to think of myself as simply the instrument for the ideas working through me. If the creative energy is what’s doing the real work, it takes a lot of pressure off of me, and also gives me the impetus to try and channel that energy in the best way possible and to keep working at it so as to be a better conduit. On the mornings when my motivation is lacking, the thing that gets me going is the realization that I just have to play my part in allowing the ideas to get to the page.  Elizabeth Gilbert talks quite eloquently about the value of taking this perspective in her book Big Magic.

  1. You love this.

Writing–or the fear of writing–can be draining and feel immensely daunting at times.  Often I’ll get stuck or find some holes in the plot line or realize that the writing is flat, and I’ll reach a point where I’m driving C crazy and complaining about how hopeless the process feels.  In these moments it’s critical for me to remember that I am doing exactly the thing I love to do and there is really no other work I’d rather commit my time to.  I don’t think there has ever been a time when writing has not provided me with a deep satisfaction, and I am lucky to at least be trying at it.

  1. Write what scares you.

There are a lot of topics that are uncomfortable to dive in to, and it’s easy to second guess myself and chop out or gloss over the gritty bits.  But the fact is, the authors of all of my favorite novels are brave enough to go to challenging places, and that very willingness is often what makes the writing memorable and visceral.

  1. Keep going.

I am very prone to reviewing something I’ve written and cringing and wanting to give up altogether.  But I’m well aware that the only way to improve is through practice and practice and practice.  The feeling that comes after I’ve refined a patchy part over and over and turned it around in my mind for days and then finally happened upon something that holds its own is one of the very best feelings in the world.

Another thing to remember in this same vein, is that publication is not the purpose.  I’m sure it is a very gratifying outcome, but the process itself is the greatest reward.  The path to publication is paved with rejection, and if that is my end goal, it robs from the purity of the pursuit.

  1. Stay close to your people.

I really need to work on this one, but it is endlessly helpful to be surrounded (online or otherwise) by peers.  Writing can be a lonely thing.  The most bolstering solution when I’m in a pit is to talk with other people who are trying to do the same thing.  For me, this currently means reading books and articles and listening to podcasts about writing.  I know I need to build a peer network and find support in the writing community.  It is not just the critiquing and feedback that is necessary; it’s also the motivation and shared energy that’s really essential.

I’m sure I’ll have new points to add to this list as I go, but for now this is the essence of what I want to keep in mind as I work.

This is it

Dear Apples,

Yesterday I was on my hands and knees scrubbing our new floors, and the line from Wild Geese kept running through my head and making me laugh; “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles repenting.”  No, I thought, you do not. And yet there I was scrubbing and sweating and on my knees.  Surely Mary Oliver knew that sometimes bending to good hard labor is just another surprising way to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Like I was telling you before, I also think a lot about the line from Marie Howe’s poem The Gate that says “This is what you have been waiting for.”  It’s sort of a mantra for me at this point.  I’m working on a novel and want it to be done; I’m living in our new home in Lebanon and thinking forward to our upcoming move to Turkey; Isla is blabbering away in squeals and gurgles and I’m waiting for words to form, and it dawned on me that I’ve also waited for everything in my life that is occurring at this very moment.  I mean, some of it I definitely have not waited for, like the mental fray of trying to balance writing with making sure Isla doesn’t chew on the computer plug, or the hassle of trying to control the water heater so that the shower isn’t scalding or icy, but for the most part, this is what I’ve been waiting for.  I have anticipated almost all of it, and even the parts that have been hard are so valuable in hindsight, and how sad it would be not to recognize that here I am, living a life that’s all I hoped for and more.

 

Lebanon midsummer

The heat rolls in and turns the wild grasses to straw, and figs burst open on the trees before they stew and simmer over stovetops and are packed into dozens of recycled jam jars of all sizes.

There is a length of road where lavender bushes alternate with rosemary, and the scents of each rise up strong one right after the other.

The bars in Hamra spill open into the streets and blend together.  People sit outside and move around talking, drinking, smoking, laughing, dancing  into the night.

The electricity is fickle, and generators give out as fans and air conditioners compete for power.  Families run away from the city to the beaches up and down the coast, and to breezy mountain homes.

Isla eats eggplant, okra, eggs, bananas, oatmeal, potatoes, spinach, fish, zucchini, passionfruit, collard greens in lemony sesame sauce, but she will not eat peaches.  She rolls around on the cold floor tiles and loves to play with a slinking wooden snake the same length as she is.  The mosquitoes love her most out of everyone in the house.

We sleep with balcony doors wide open and fans on high, and the orange glow of the mosquito repeller like a nightlight, and we listen to fireworks pop into the night for wedding season.  We are cooled down by the time we wake.

 

 

For Love of Words: II

I enjoyed posting small selections from books I’d read lately here, and now I’ve curated a new selection.

“Thus the neglected idea did what many self-respecting living entities would do in the same circumstance: It hit the road.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

“She didn’t understand the struggles some of us went through.  If you had to write 1500 words you wrote 1500 words.  You put one word then another then another…You didn’t think too much and you didn’t expect too much.” -David Almond, A Song for Ella Grey

-“I feel about our children sometimes the way I used to feel about our tabby cat, Tiny.  I used to look at him blinking slowly in the sun, or lifting his hind foot to chew at his toes with his minuscule front teeth, and I’d think, Why is he even living here with us?  We have so little in common.  The thought was always accompanied by a cresting wave of love.  ‘Our cat! Our dear, strange animal!'” -Catherine Newman, Catastrophic Happiness

-“Every once in awhile in the block, there’s a day that doesn’t start right.  A day when all the repeating patterns that Melanie uses as measuring sticks for her life fail to occur, one after another, and she feels like she’d bobbing around helplessly in the air–a Melanie-shaped ballon.” -M.R.Carey The Girl With All the Talents

-But this new place was other things too… It was ghoulish and ghastly.  It was all things unimagineable.  But Ernest D. was the bravest of explorers.  He battled and brawled until the moon ducked low.” -Joseph Kuefler, Beyond the Pond (Isla’s recommendation)

About gun control

Although I know that the issue of gun control is a big one, I knew very little about it prior to the most recent series of killings that have taken place in the US specifically. In fact, I probably knew as much about guns as I do about jellyfish. That is to say I have seen some, touched a few (Do bb guns count? And is that how you spell it?), know that there are different kinds and that some are more dangerous than others.  Thus the need for a brief bit of research.

I now know the difference between hand guns, rifles and shotguns, and know what semi-automatic (one bullet released with every trigger pull, and automatic reload) and automatic (multiple bullets released with one trigger pull) mean. I know that there are about as many guns owned by US citizens as there are people—around 300 million. I know that my country is unique in many frightening ways.

I have been surprised to learn about the arguments against gun control, and want to go through some of them.

Argument A: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. If someone is out to do something evil, he will figure out a way to do it regardless of whether or not he has access to a gun.

This strikes me as a very weak and naïve argument. Of course the gun alone is neutral and the person who wields it is ultimately responsible for what is does. There are many forms of weapons—even a truck can be used as a weapon—but they are not all equal. Someone armed with a knife, for example, can do far less damage than someone armed with a gun. And someone with a simple handgun can do far less than someone armed with a semiautomatic or automatic weapon. If the specific weapon didn’t matter, we’d still be fighting wars with spears and bow-and-arrows.

This article looks at how the United States is unique in its high homicidal rate as well as its percentage of gun-owning citizens, and uses aggregated statistical evidence to prove that more guns unequivocally translate to more gun deaths. It also shows that mass shootings do not form the majority of the gun deaths every year.

This article makes the same case, and also shows that the United States is the only country in the world that has elevated gun ownership to a constitutional right.

Argument B: Gun control laws are unconstitutional.

This is absolutely false. There are many ways that gun ownership can be regulated without infringing on the second amendment. Strict background checks can be set in place to ensure that the person who purchases a gun does not have a criminal record. Someone with a violent history has already lost the right to own a firearm. The problem here is that in many cases, guns are transferred back and forth or purchased privately. Many of the people who commit violent crimes with guns are not the actual owners of the guns. Some proposals suggest that gun registration should be a requirement, and that no gun can be sold or given away without a bill of sale. The government’s knowledge of who is in possession of a firearm does not break the second amendment.

I’ve heard people make the argument that since the second amendment was put in place so that citizens could defend themselves against an unjust government, we shouldn’t interfere with it. This doesn’t hold up anymore. If we still wanted to work off of this argument, citizens would now need to possess atomic bombs. It’s just not a valid point, and it was created during an earlier era long removed from the world we now live in.

In spite of the fact that gun control laws do not need to jeopardize the second amendment, I actually think we should repeal the second amendment all together.  Repealing the right to bear arms does not prohibit the use of guns in certain controlled situations (such as hunting) by approved citizens. No other country includes the right to bear arms in their constitution.

Argument C: If more people owned firearms, it would discourage gun violence and mass shootings.

Again, the data is stacked up against this argument.

This article imagines a scenario in which everyone owned a firearm:

Finally, if we take the gun-rights lobby at their word, the Second Amendment is a suicide pact. As they say over and over, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. In other words, please the gun manufacturers by arming even the vast majority of Americans who do not own a gun.
Just think of what would have happened in the Orlando night-club Saturday night if there had been many others armed. In a crowded, dark, loud dance club, after the shooter began firing, imagine if others took out their guns and started firing back. Yes, maybe they would have killed the shooter, but how would anyone else have known what exactly was going on? How would it not have devolved into mass confusion and fear followed by a large-scale shootout without anyone knowing who was the good guy with a gun, who was the bad guy with a gun, and who was just caught in the middle? The death toll could have been much higher if more people were armed.
The gun-rights lobby’s mantra that more people need guns will lead to an obvious result — more people will be killed.

Obviously, I realize that gun control is not the solution or the answer to the chaos and shootings that seem to be happening one right after the other over and over and over. It is ridiculous to say that guns are the reason that hatred and fear and racism exist. I know that it is far more important to treat each other with kindness and respect and to hold each other in high regard than it is to argue about gun laws. But I also know that the issue is important, and if we have the option of stepping forward in a more peaceful direction, I don’t know what’s holding us back.

PS.  I am aware that some of those who stand on the opposite side of the argument have their own valid reasons that differ from the quick opinions I listed, and I would love to hear other perspectives to try and understand where people are coming from. 

When the news is overwhelming, read a poem instead

 

450ef879-08bf-4ea5-b9e5-0730a5c2ba24

Photo from our stay in Istanbul, November 2015

 

“…Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.”

-From Maggie Smith’s poem, Good Bones

Father’s Day

IMG_6750

Here I am with both my parents after they drove me to the airport …..to fly to my honeymoon the day after my wedding.  C had flown out the day before.  I guess I needed an extra day before leaving the nest for good??  Anyway, that’s my dad wearing his classic cowboy-but-not-really-because-he’s-from-New Jersey hat.

Rarely late in real life, but always late to the blog, I sit down in typical after-the-event fashion to give a virtual Father’s Day toast to my Dad. My dad, the youngest of four, the father of a (not so cheap) dozen, born in Morristown to Irish American parents and raised in the house that my grandmother still lives in, lover of American history, golf, jeopardy, the occasional cigar, and my most trusted advice giver, is a joyful, hard-working and reliable father.

Here are some facts about Brian Murray:

-He invented games from Hide the Quarter (a complex and strategic game that we found endlessly entertaining in our very young years, in which Dad hides a quarter that must be slightly within eyesight, and we find it) to Hide-and-Go-Seek-Car-Edition (the family splits up into two separate cars at night and one car hides anywhere within our township while the other cars finds it with the aid of walky-talky communication hints: “You’re hot, you’re warm, you’re very very cold, you’ve just driven out of bounds”)

-He wears his “vacation bandana” around his neck every year when we set out for the road trip to our vacation destination.

-He built us a tree house, a basketball court, a bocce ball court, hung a tire swing, froze crates of ice to make us an igloo one year, and even wrote a book to read to us in chapters every night.

-He took us on many beautiful and challenging hikes, and although some of us may have protested, I think we all have a solid appreciation for the outdoors because of it.

-He created a family cook-off during one vacation. The kids split into two teams and had to prepare dinner every night using the same protein, vegetable and starch, but fixing them however we wanted. Our dishes were judged on taste, creativity and presentation. As I recall, my team’s meals always tasted better, but we lost overall because the other team kept employing all these presentation gimmicks, like carefully placed parsley sprigs and droplets of garnish. I also recall that my overly controlling brother Steve barely let me do anything apart from the cutting or cleaning of vegetables; he thought my culinary talents were subpar. They are not.

-He proclaimed on one particularly messy Christmas morning that this was “the best Christmas ever.” I won’t elaborate. Dad, you know what I’m talking about.

-He goes out with my mom every single week and gets away with her a couple times a year.

-He gave me a love of cooking.  I love cooking with him or watching him in the kitchen.  He is not afraid to take risks, but most of the time his more creative concoctions are delicious.  I love how he comes up with experimental gluten free cakes for me every year, and I love how he baked me a fabulous almond flour wedding cake.

-I once came downstairs and found him watching the movie “Little Women” with my youngest sister Collette. When he saw me, he said in complete sincerity, “This is such a good movie.” He is also much more of a Downton Abbey fan than my mom (which actually isn’t saying much, considering the fact that my mom loves TV about as much as she loves World War II, and at least she is fascinated by the latter).

-He is now a chicken keeper extraordinare, to the point where when I FaceTime from Lebanon so that I can see the faces of my family members, he mistakenly thinks I am calling to talk with the chickens, and will carry one into the kitchen to be part of the conversation.

-He was the second person, after my brother Dave, to know about the crush I had on C before we started dating. I wasn’t in the habit of sharing that sort of info with my dad, but in this particular case, I knew it was serious and I always consult my dad whenever I’m about to make a big decision.

-He is humble enough to grow and change and admit to mistakes and listen with an open heart, and I love that about him. We don’t agree on everything, but he teaches me so much and I am very lucky to be his daughter.

IMG_5302

This is a picture of my parents experiencing a roller coaster.