• Book Reviews,  Writing

    Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – a book review

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Have you ever read a book and felt like you were reading a letter from a friend? Or listened to an audiobook and it seemed like a long conversation with a friend who moved away?

    That is what a book by Anne Lamott feels like. A letter from an old friend.

    I had been living under a rock because it took Amazon suggesting this book, after loading other books in my cart, for me to figure out who Anne was. Sure, I had seen some of her quotes floating around the interwebs but I didn’t realize she wrote books – really good books.

    November is probably my toughest month depression-wise. Everything is dying around me and even though fall comes every single year, it takes it’s bite out of me before winter comes. Couple that with some some other stressful situations completely out of my control and you get this super-fun November 2018.

    I try a lot of different things to feel better, most of them healthy, and I’m thankful that I started this blog a few months ago because writing for it has been one of the things to keep me afloat this month.

    I wrote last week about NaNoWriMo and that is going well so there’s another bright spot in the Month of Dead Leaves. In my preparation for it, I bought a few books on writing because let’s face it – I’m a numbers person with a degree in economics & finance. I sure sound super fun and interesting.

    Anne has very unique writing voice which is what made it feel conversational for me.

    Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft. … Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California). – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

    Girl, I know. About the the perfectionism and people from California (like my husband).

    See what I mean?

    This book was about the writing process but wove in life, hard lessons, family, friends, and even religion. I appreciated her take on writing because it felt like a manual on writing for people who have a million things going on besides waking up, making coffee, and sitting down for the day to write: see yesterday’s post as exhibit 562.

    Her methods of observing life and capturing those moments have become a part of my daily thoughts and it’s made these tough weeks a little more fun and interesting.

    The last chapter was my favorite and I had my husband pausing a football game so I could read to him. He really loved it. No really, he did.

    The basics were this: avoid libel by changing details in your writing with the last detail being a tiny appendage. No one is coming forward claiming it was written about them if they have to admit to that last little part.

    I enjoyed this book immensely and I have since read another one of her books, Stitches, which I’ll review soon. Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who is interested in writing and would enjoy a perspective from an author who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

    And that tiny appendage part? Since I read it to him, my husband and I have laughed multiple times about that and who I could write about.

    See, I told you that he loved it.

  • Writing

    Wednesday Words: the Karen edition

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    Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

    You know the old advice of wearing clean underwear just in case you’re in an accident? It’s next level when you just throw a sweatshirt on over your pajama shirt and leave the house.

    It starts off like any other day. Coffee and taking Chaney to school.

    Except it isn’t. I have precisely two days a year that everyone in my house goes to school or work but I’m off for a bank holiday. This is one of those rare days so I am wearing my pajamas for school drop off. I have big dreams of writing at home in my PJ’s all day. Alone.

    I make it home unscathed and celebrate by finishing a book. I’ll spare you all the details but while I was making breakfast my dogs managed to tear into a fifty pound Amazon box that contained their food. It was sitting in our study; the place I was going to write in peace all day.

    Dog food everywhere and a box that I cannot move means that my day is changing. I clean up the food and get ready to go out in public. Yes, this time I put a on a bra AND lip gloss.

    I head to Barnes & Noble and set myself up at a table. I order my coffee and decide writing here isn’t going to be so bad.

    Now someone is talking. We’ll call her Jane. She’s asking me if I can move because her group always sits at the table I’m currently occupying.

    Um sure, Jane.

    I certainly don’t want to start something at my local B&N. And maybe it’s a book club. That would make sense. They’re retired. It’s their routine.

    I move one table over and unpack again. By this time Jane, Cathy, and Sue have gathered and ordered their coffee.

    Karen is late. Jane finds this strange because Karen is never late but what a way to start their meeting – with one of them late.

    Definitely a book club. I wonder what book they will be discussing? This could be fun.

    Late Karen shows up. She explains that she was cooking a turkey and had to carve it.

    What?

    Jane, Cathy, and Sue share my confusion. Thanksgiving is 10 days away.

    All eyes are on Karen now as she explains that yes, she cooked and sliced the turkey today. It’s sitting out and cooling while she’s at this “meeting”. Once room temperature, she freezes the meat and then defrosts it Thanksgiving morning; her family has never noticed.

    KAREN.

    I fully admit to looking over at Karen with disdain. I am not alone in my outrage because, food safety. I take a moment to silently judge while her trio of friends all start talking at once.

    They are loud and hen pecking comes to mind.

    I stop writing and start reading a book. It’s easier to eavesdrop while reading the same page over and over.

    The scolding of Karen finally stops when her coffee is ready and she jumps when her name is called to pick it up. The conversation shifts to their Facebook feeds and did you see what so and so posted?

    Sue likes Facebook for finding recipes and now they are talking about recipes for Thanksgiving.

    Two things: I did not give up my table for a book club. And this recipe discussion is not going to go well for Karen.

    Sue tells everyone about a sweet potato dish that she made last year. Jane comments that it sounds wonderful and probably freezes well.

    JANE.

    I almost spit out my coffee and I know it’s time to go. As I’m packing up Jane thanks me for moving.

    Oh, I’m so glad I did and I’m so happy that I put on a bra for this.

    I smile and wish them a happy Thanksgiving.

    And good luck to you and your family, Karen. Because Jane is putting this shit on Facebook.

  • Bookish,  NaNoWriMo,  Personal,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: on writing

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    Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    November means NaNoWriMo!

    What?

    I’ve gotten that question a few times in the past week. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. It has nothing to do with Mork & Mindy and Mork’s famous tagline.

    The basic premise is that you write every day in the month of November and end up with a novel of 50,000 words. That breaks down to 1667 words written per day which sounds a lot less intimidating.

    The program has been in existence since 1999 so obviously there are a lot of people that participate willingly and have some fun throughout the process. And let me emphasize some when we are talking the about fun part.

    I have watched from the sidelines since I first started seeing it talked about. Sure it sounded interesting but did I really want to do that?

    It turns out that this year was the year I decided it would be an interesting experience. So in the last week of October, I spent time outlining a few different ideas and putting real names and descriptions to the characters I have thought about for years.

    Where will this end up? I’m not sure at all. I’ve been writing everyday and it’s been a fun/interesting experience. I have always loved to read but actually working out your own process makes you appreciate the books you read even more.

    Writing is hard work. It’s also a mind game where your creative brain spends a lot of time making plot pieces fit together like puzzle pieces while the logical side of your brain tells you that there is a missing piece and what a bad idea this was in the first place.

    Remember the some fun part from earlier? This is precisely the some part that I was talking about.

    I enjoy writing so why not add in a challenge to mix it up?

    Why not? I’ll let you know on December 1st.

    In the meantime, I’ll be writing. And when I’m not I’ll be enjoying the books I am reading. Because when you are paying attention to plot structure and characters when you write, you pay even better attention to what a seasoned author has done with their characters and their own plot.

    For me, this alone makes NaNoWriMo worth it because I’m enjoying the books I read that much more.

    As for the rest – I’ll just have to see where it goes.

    Until then, while I write, here are a few big novels to come out of NaNoWriMo in past years:

    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    and Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell

    … just to name a few.

    Are you participating in NaNoWriMo or have you in the past?

  • Bookish,  Feminism,  mental health,  parenting,  Personal,  Wit,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: The Joy of Syntax

    Ferris-Bueller-Quotes-1

    Have you ever felt like a second person narrator in your own life? What is a second person narrator? Here you go:

    This point of view is the least common of all three persons, mostly because it’s the hardest to pull off …. You’ll recognize this point of view by the use of you, your, yourself with the absolute exclusion of any personal pronouns (I, me, myself). The narrator is the reader. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

    This sounds like the parenting life!

    The past four years of my life have felt like they happened to me. Multiple situations completely out of my control but demanding every bit of strength I had.

    Severe mental illness, physical assault, death, grief, angry and grieving teenagers, a traveling husband, a third teenager who slipped through the cracks, sexual assault, PTSD/anxiety/depression, police interviews, suicidal ideation, therapy appointments, psychiatrist appointments, loss of a hobby, loss of a passion, being used, disrespect, entitlement, addiction, lost dreams, lost friends, a new school, brighter days on the horizon…

    How are you feeling? What do you need? How was your school day? Your orthodontist appointment is tomorrow. The school called about the assault on you. You have therapy tomorrow. Did you take your meds? Are those boys leaving you alone? You can’t drink as much as you are. You can’t do drugs in our house. It’s time for you to be an adult. You love high school?! You have overcome so much. You are fierce.

    You get the point.

    The definition of the second person says that it can be tricky but it can be done; it’s  exclusively you, they, them. That is 100% accurate and correct; it is tricky.

    The exclusion of  I, me, myself is a dangerous way to live. It happens but it’s not without consequences. You miss what’s happening in your actual life while trying to stay on top of everything else that is moving so fast.

    It took four years but it caught up with me. Don’t worry because I’m ok. I have a great therapist. And a fantastic husband.

    I’m writing again. And in my research, along with my favorite “Ferris Bueller” quote, I found the antidote to living in the second person: change the point of view. Tell my story and flip the script to the first person POV where I can ask for help, I can say how I feel, I can put boundaries in place, and I can tell my story.

    Please don’t take this as me making it all about me. Because every good story has a balance; multiple perspectives and plot lines. And if the book is good, they converge and tell a cohesive and relatable story. But it takes everyone, even the antagonist(s) to create a rich plot. Because without adversity, there’s really no story arc and it results in something flat and boring.

    Our life has been anything but boring. Would I change anything about the past 4 years? Probably not. I certainly have learned from these years and for that I’m thankful.

    But I’m also really, really thankful that what our family wrote doesn’t resemble a horror novel and something closer to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

    Ferris-Bueller-s-Day-Off-jennifer-grey-38291373-1280-528.jpg

    And yes, I unapologetically admit to being Jeanie.

    Isn’t writing amazing? What surprising thing has it taught you about your own life?

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Feminism,  Writing

    Dead Girls Don’t Need True Crime Addicts to Rescue Them: Part Three

    Part one – my book review of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner

    Part two – my book review of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

    Welcome to part three of my discussion of the true crime genre and the sensationalism of missing and murdered women. “Dead girls” as they are referred to in Alice Bolin’s book.

    In Renner’s book, he took a personal approach to the case of missing woman, Maura Murray. Woven into his “investigation” were intimate revelations, such as him scoring a like a psychopath on a psychological exam given to him by his therapist. Then there was his own family secrets revealed and his “falling in love” with a picture of a missing girl when he was a boy. Besides the psychopath thing, Renner has issues for sure. Rage, alcohol, and stalking tendencies all come to mind.

    He claimed he lost himself in the investigation but what we really lost was a young woman full of life and potential. Renner made little to no progress (I’m being gracious here) in his investigation so he turned his book into his personal pedestal of redemption and the recovery of the (never) missing James Renner.

    He worked out some of issues through the Maura Murray investigation and in that process he harassed her family, made some terrible insinuations, and created a lot of questions around Maura’s character that had little to do with his investigation. The book went no where and I’m honestly surprised it was published. It was pure sensationalism.

    Alice Bolin wrote her book of essays to combat people like James Renner and the “websleuths” who do his bidding. The true crime junkies who can’t get enough and go as far a finding ways to insert themselves into the investigations. There is a fine line here because there are obvious benefits to extra attention given to a case.

    But that line is crossed when the attention is focused on the perpetrator, the gritty details, or the true crime addicts like Renner who make it about themselves. And then the absolute worst outcome: they distract law enforcement with far reaching theories that directly harm the progress of the investigation.

    A criticism of Bolin’s book was that it wasn’t only about the obsession with dead girls. She addresses the use and abuse of living women as well and that bothered some people just there for the “dead girls”. However, I think Bolin subtlety and brilliantly proved her point which brings me to my own opinion of this genre.

    If we weren’t so obsessed with the “dead girls” would there be as many of them? What if we focused on the treatment of the living women and the behavior of the others, turned true crime junkies?

    Now, there is certainly a place and time for the appropriate attention to the missing and the murdered but even that we have to get right. Just look at the news, it’s the pretty, young, white girls who captivate the nation. But what about women of color, women on the fringes of society, the sex workers, the addicts, the economically disadvantaged, etc.?

    There are good people doing good work, I wholeheartedly believe this. But the obsession with hurting women has to stop. It’s not entertainment to watch or read women being raped, tortured, murdered, abducted, etc. It just perpetuates the dead girl obsession and desensitizes the viewers/readers.

    And these dead girls don’t need to be saved in a 47 minute TV episode. The missing girls don’t need to be rescued by the true crime addict who wants to run a podcast or write a book. They needed to be treated better while they were living and because it’s too late, their memory needs to be honored.

    How do we honor them? By treating each other better. By speaking up for the marginalized. By not partaking in sensationalized accounts of murder, torture, and abduction. And when we do come across a tragic story, asking ourselves if it is told in a respectful, truthful, and necessary manner. Both books certainly caused me to examine my own approach to these kinds of stories and I hope other do the same.

    And finally, James Renner and people like you, leave these poor families alone and let the professionals do the real work. You know, the investigators who aren’t writing books for profit.

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