What I Am Doing

I finally used my Schuler’s gift card and bought One-Yard Wonders: 101 Sewing Fabric Projects.  Love it! Now I need fabric. Apparently not much fabric though!

I read Occult America hoping for juicy stories about weird occultist meetings and happenings behind the scenes of the American Government in the past 100 years. But it was an American history of ouija boards, ghosts, new age, mysticism, eastern thought, Christian science, and self-acceptance. Not a bad disappointment at all! So interesting. Now when I see the dollar bill, or The Secret, or even those vampire movies, I realize this fascination of ours will never die. Perhaps it is an unconscious search for life after death, or truth, or God.

I’ve been working on my novel, re-writing it in the present tense. When I hear authors talk about their first, second, and third drafts I get so overwhelmed, but it’s actually nice to rewrite. It beats brainstorming new scenes. I don’t know what I’m doooinnnnggg!  But it’s fuuuun!

Reclaim Your Surroundings

T his fantabulous blog about The Invisibles just completely reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to post about for weeks now.

One of Agent Causation’s last paragraphs reads: “Make your town seem strange again. Rename the streets and buildings. Reclaim your world and your reality.”

This is precisely what John Stilgoe writes about in Outside Lies Magic. I’m going to come clean right now and say that I own this book and haven’t read it all. But the first chapter changed my life.  He writes about looking at your world as if you hadn’t seen it before–as if you’re a tourist from another planet. Wonder at the infrastructure–the power lines, the water towers, the electrical boxes. A powerful force called electricity comes into your house from outside, from miles and miles of cords. It’s crazy once you think about it for the first time again.

Once I started taking fascination in the world around me, I couldn’t believe how intricate the railroad crossing sign and bell outside my apartment was. I followed power lines with my eyes for blocks. I knocked on the door of a generator box at a park. And I realized that industrial landscapes are some of the most beautiful places in the world.

You think I’m crazy, right?  These filthy places? No one wants to live by this. I’m not saying live in this landscape. I’m saying pay attention to it. This is not about property values.  It’s about imagination. Nothing gives imagination more fodder than the places around us.

I write a lot about how places effect our minds and emotions. The shape of a place will determine your lifestyle. But you have just as much affect on what you see and hear outside your house. The mind is a powerful thing!

I recommend Outside Lies Magic and I recommend walking, biking, or driving down a street in your city that you’ve never seen before.

Where Are the Women?

ow do drop ceiling lights get dusty? You’d think dust would just fall and be done with it.  Not float up. I mean, dust is mostly dead skin. So. Weird. Maybe it’s from the little people living within the walls and ceiling. Making a mess.

I was just thinking about that because GVMC’s ceiling grates are really clean, and the office I cleaned last night had identical grates except for a lot of dust.

Does anyone know of a good book written by a female that does what Judd Apatow (Knocked up, 40-year-old Virgin mastermind) did for the male gender in film? I mean, he made a funny and realistic genre that is about men but appeals to everyone (except those who don’t like nudity and bad language). Bromantic Comedies. The women in them are usually smarter than the guys, and funny, too. And not cardboard. I appreciate it. So many women enjoy these movies that maybe we don’t need females writing stuff this good?  But yes we do. Think about how New Moon broke records. We all know it is a terrible movie based on a terrible book. Yet it drew a largely female huge huge audience. Way to represent, Stephenie Meyer. We’re smarter than this! Please! I beg of you!

What would a female version of I Love You Man look like? Is it even possible? Women hold grudges. Their sisterly love for each other is fragile and often dissipated by incoming boyfriends. They’re not up front or honest with each other, and they have to constantly be sensitive to each other’s hyper-sensitive emotions. (Disclaimer: this has all been my experience. I’d like to hear about yours if it differs.) A woman can’t tell her friend her sweater’s ugly or her favorite movie sucks, even in a joking way. There’s no joking way to do that in the female world. It is always mean. There are always ulterior motives.  There is always competition.

That’s why chick flicks always have the safely neutral sidekick chick friend who is not important to the script at all. The point of a chick flick is to match up the main girl with a guy she didn’t know she loved. Writers of these screenplays pat themselves on the back for making these women career-oriented and strong, thinking they’re encouraging a feeling of empowerment. It’s not doing it for me. And neither is the “but it’s cuuuute” argument for these movies that I hear from a lot of women. It doesn’t work because the main character isn’t interesting or real. She’s just pretty.

Maybe the problem isn’t the way people are writing our media (isn’t it usually guys who write chick flicks?), but the way we’re writing our own lives. It’s hard to know how to overcome a society that is more patriarchal than everyone realizes. How do we surrender this competitive control in order to have comradeship with fellow females? We barely feel any control in general.

I wish I could edit my past–how I’ve treated girl friends and how I’ve approached new friendships.  I hope we can figure out a better way to present and represent ourselves in a successful way.

Listening to The Yiddish Policemen's Union

finished the audio book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union last night. It’s by Michael Chabon and it’s about a crime that happens in a made-up community of Jewish people in Alaska who originated there because of WWII and the American Government giving them a safe haven. It’s a crime novel but in the third person and it was hard to follow as I was listening to it at work and loud interruptions are a given. But Chabon is so good at details and tying themes together that I enjoyed every minute of it.

His themes of salvation, evil, and faith would be tired if not from a Jewish perspective. With his created community, he is able to make the Jewish faith real to me in a fresh way, especially since I don’t know any practicing Jews as I live in West Michigan. It really is a beautiful and complicated and heartbreaking religion.

After the book, there was an interview with Chabon who talked about the process of writing the book. He wrote it in first person as his first draft, which is typical for crime novels, but then realized it’d be better in third person. He talked about Raymond Chandler and how he rereads his books all the time, and how that was the first author that really grabbed him.

It made me think of what authors have really grabbed me, that make me happy to own their books. John Steinbeck pretty much changed my life. I read Grapes of Wrath in high school and East of Eden and recently, The Pearl. I’m afraid if I reread The Grapes of Wrath I’ll hate Steinbeck. I change a lot year by year. A lot. Was it just the dustbowl vernacular I loved? Am I over that? I should just try.

Flannery O’Connor has had almost the identical effect, but in college. I should reread The Violent Bear It Away. She was a better short story writer. I should take after her and read up on philosophy and theology. What a brainy.

Anyway, listening to books has improved my writing. To hear how a book sounds really helps and because it’s read to me, I can remark about devices the author is using and the structure of the novel. It helps that Chabon is so careful.

Next on my list is Candide, which I downloaded in audio form from the library. They need to get all audio books to do this, because right now the selection is tiny and it’s so much easier to download a book then to get the CDs, burn them on your computer, and sync them to your iPod. My poor laptop can’t take all that work. My past experience with Candide was awful. It was taught to me poorly in a rushed college class and I read it before I learned how to read comprehensively. So this will be good. I already listened to the first few chapters. This will hit the spot. It’s what I need right now.

Paving Over Our Own Habitat

I love this line from The Boulevard Book:

“We became aware that the boulevard epitomizes a completely different paradigm for urban street design–one that embraces complexity and coexistence of movement over simplicity and separation, and one that insists that access to abutting uses is as central to the functionality of city streets as swift through movement.”

That’s why I’m learning how to draw and diving into design and trying to do this the right way. I sometimes give up on things because they’re too hard. But it’s usually the most complex of tasks, the things we work hardest on that make us happiest. It’s correlation, not causation, because who would work so hard on something they didn’t love?

It’s easy to drive down 28th Street or US-131. It’s also easy to speed and get into an accident. It’s also easy to ignore the landscape, the backdrop to your everyday existence, the people in that landscape who are your neighbors. It’s probably easier to plan areas for cars because there’s no resistance against that anymore. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I bet my science degree friends would agree that everything about the created world is incredibly complex, that the more we study it the more mysteries we find. A city is equally complex. We study how it works but there are still many mysteries. It has a life of its own, and it’s not under our control. Creating banal, boring places for cars with ugly stores and endless parking lots simplifies and paves over the life of our cities. We lament when a shopping mall gets built over a thriving marsh, but we’re part of that natural system we say we’ve escaped from. We’ve destroyed habitat: our own habitat.

Locus Novus: A New Way to Read Online

I was surfing Aimee Bender’s website, since she is one of my favorite contemporary authors.

On her link page, I found Locus Novus, which she is published on. It serves as a literary magazine, except that it’s multimedia and online. It’s a totally different reading experience. The background moves, and you can, in a way, turn the page to read the next section of the story. The music and movement force themselves on the piece, affecting the way you read it and picture it in your head. But it’s interesting nonetheless!

I found another website featuring digital storytelling, but it’s more interactive. Dreaming Methods

Deep in the Idea Pond

How novel writing can be a lonely and tedious process, but rewarding and important.

I’m writing a novel. I spent the last ten years telling myself I couldn’t do it, that I’m not the type, that no one reads anymore. BOO YOU KANYE WEST. What’s worse, selfishly dreaming up your own American novel, or writing a crappy book of cliches for money and self-promotion?

I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce right now and when I read it, I get the itch to write. But when I read Wicked, which I’m also in the middle of, I wonder if I could ever imagine worlds like that. And I’m reading nonfiction southern starlet Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wondering why I even try when such good writers create beauty out of reality.

I feel so lonely about this novel. I have about 5000 words. I think about it a good chunk of my day. Why do I get that lonely pit in my stomach when I think about actually writing it?

And I’m stealing stuff from my life. In fact, everything is stolen from my life and American culture and other writers and their ideas.  I think that is okay, though. I do take a Woody Guthrie view on life.  We gotta stop this idea-individualism. It’s not just my life, not my own idea pond. You gotta know how to fish those ideas correctly. And you gotta go deep.

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you have to go deeper.” David Lynch

Sometimes you throw fish back for other people to catch, sometimes you eat the fish for dinner.

In the 19th century, painters would copy other painters to learn their technique. This not only taught them how to paint, but it gave them income, because originals could only be copied in this way. Sophia Peabody, wife of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, painted copies of classic pieces until one day, when she got one of her migraines. With that terrible migraine, partly from her exposure to mercury as a child, she got incredible imaginative ideas for paintings. She painted her own original work from her mind.

The pain involved in creating art, along the amount of copying and adopting and tracing and thinking it requires, is age-old and normal. I am not special and it makes me incredibly happy. My contribution to the literary world will only ever be microscopic, but dangit, I AM here in this pond!


We are such stuff
as dreams are made on, and our little life
is rounded with a sleep.

-The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1

I am not some crazy mystic, but I believe dreams tell us things. We don’t listen to our subconscious enough. We don’t talk enough. We repress, hold things in, bottle it up, stuff it in our mouths, grind it in our sleep.

Why do we take emotions so seriously? Why is depression so hush-hush? Why can’t we call out our friends when they make bad decisions?

Why am I so afraid all the time? If I could pretend this life is a dream, and if I could lucid-dream this pretend-life, I’d do more than fly over my elementary school. I’d do stupid stuff. Like throw money on people. Put benches at every bus stop. Apologize to the people I’ve bullied. Meet people on the street. People out there are doing this, and I can only dream of it.

Jill Bolte Taylor wrote a book after recovering from a stroke which affected the left half of her brain. She couldn’t think analytical thoughts for five weeks. Without her left brain, all that she could experience was the feeling of her body, physically. She had a constant awareness of her self without any computing, analyzing, or thinking. She called it the most blissful silence she’d ever experience.

Those who meditate strive for this silence. It’s a detachment from one’s “life,” that big complicated thing we dream about every night. Do you ever wish you didn’t have to dream? I always dream I can’t see or can’t find my car. I’m always worried in those thought tangents.

Back when I was a fundamentalist, I dreamed I was fighting off demons. I also dreamed I was by a blossomed-tree that was losing all its pedals. I dreamed songs almost every night.

I wish I could turn my left brain off. For five seconds. And realize what my life really is.


The Best-Laid Plans: O'Toole's Scheme at Generalizing Planning

The Best-Laid Plans by Randal O’Toole argues that the planning field in America is inefficient and ineffective: O’Toole tells us it’s simply not necessary.

His first focus is on something he knows well: Forest Planning. He spends the first 50 pages detailing how forestry planning does not work, and makes some great points: how can one predict tree growth, lumber prices, and demand in the years to come? How can one predict forest fires?  Being unfamiliar with the lumber industry, I took this chapter with more than a grain of salt.

Now I’m reading the second chapter, which is focused on urban planning. He rails against urban planners for over-simplifying and generalizing neighborhoods and uses and for having personal agendas without concern to the complex needs of the community; and he also accuses planners of fabricating and misusing statistics to get what they want.

One of his biggest examples was his claim that planners have stated that obesity is caused by sprawl. He writes that obesity has a correlation, not a causation, with sprawl, and that low income is a much larger and proven factor in obesity rates. I would never argue this. You have seen my many posts on walkability and fitness and how my own city living has caused my weightloss. But I would never claim that urban sprawl CAUSED obesity. I don’t think any planner with half a brain would claim this.

In effect, O’Toole is generalizing urban planners and making rash claims about them, while he argues that they generalize and make rash claims.

Another argument of his that bothered me was about community. He mocks Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, for taking the fall of bowling leagues and steady rate of actual bowling to mean a decrease in community among Americans.  “It never occured to him  that people might be bowling with families and friends,” O’Toole writes. Wam, bam. Sticking the knife in Putnam’s argument. He ignores the fact that Putnam has followed up Bowling Alone with Better Together, a book full of stories of how communities have pulled together and started successful programs to solve their community’s specific problems.

He also fails to realize that of course families and friends hang out and go bowling, all the time, especially in suburbs, because suburbs were meant to isolate and idolize the nuclear family.

I whole-heartedly agree with O’Toole that community can happen in a strong way in suburbs, and he’s right that large cities have no neighborly relations (living in the Gold Coast for three months is my proof, you may be able to poke a hole in this).  He says public transit isn’t right for every area, that the strict New Urbanist guidelines put on development will be destructive in the long run. Again, truth to that. But shouldn’t Americans have a choice? I think we’d both ask this question. Shouldn’t a person be able to choose the bus over the car? Shouldn’t someone be able to walk to a store, or a church, or anything? If a planner sees people walking on the side of busy streets that have no sidewalks, why wouldn’t the planner just put sidewalks there?

I am not being clear if I totally agree or disagree with O’Toole. It’s because he has some good arguments, and a good new perspective on planning. I think he’s right: too much money and time go into failed governmental plans. It’s wasting our tax dollars. I’ve always been okay with raising taxes if it meant bettering the life of those who have no means to, but I never considered in detail how the government may be ill-spending tax money. It’s an important issue. It’s still not about getting the lowest taxes possible–it’s more about how little we know about how little planners know what they’re doing with the widespread, federal plans for a diverse, complex nation.

I just got a little bit more supportive of small government. Shouldn’t be a surprise with my LiveLittle motto, I guess!

Follow Up: What I'm Doing about my Last Post

Negative thinking is dangerous. After my last post about how hard the job market is right now, I slumped into a mini-depression and my thinking spiraled down the Negative Tunnel. Not good.

To get out of these spirals, I recommend changing something. You could change your outfit, your activity (take a walk?), setting, volume (scream “STOP!” at yourself), or even your mind.

I chose to change my setting: I went to the library!

This did not get me out of my bad “I’ll never find a job!” mood–at least not until I got back from the library with six books, three about urban planning, and three about job-hunting. Here’s the one that helped me immediately.

How to Find Those Hidden Jobs by Violet Moreton Cooper

The career services at my college quoted this book in one of its handouts.  It follows the patterns of many career-help books by helping you find your skills, etc., but the way it’s written changed my pattern of thinking about job-finding. The routine I’ve sunken into for finding jobs isn’t bad, but it hasn’t worked yet and there are still many other tips to try. For someone like me who isn’t specialized for a specific job, it helps me learn the vocabulary to talk about myself to employers. Though I don’t have a ton of work experience, I do have skills that I’m sharpening every day just by living my life to its fullest.

See? Wasn’t that more uplifting? What’s going on in your mind and spirit is more important than your wallet.