One of These Things is Not Like the Others

EQ books & Nook

Hey, how did that Nook get in there?!

I admit it.  I even say it with some pride: I’m an old-school reader (and writer, too, but right now I’m just speaking as a reader).  I love the weight of the book in my hands and the feel of the paper as I turn the pages.  Some of my fellow book lovers say they love the smell of books, too, but I personally only hold that true of new books.  Old books, especially ones that haven’t been stored correctly, have always smelled musty and gross to me.  Oh, I’ll still read them, but I’m not going to plunge my nose between the pages and take a huge whiff like some of my fellow bibliophiles say they do.

One thing that’s become important to me in the past couple of years is donating my books after I’m finished.  When I was growing up, escaping to other worlds through books was vital to my existence.  I couldn’t always afford to buy my own books.  Libraries are wonderful, but not everybody has access to them.  Especially these days, as budget cuts begin to make them disappear.  It’s important to me to do my part to help reading be available to people who don’t have much money.

I also want to support brick-and-mortar bookstores.  Especially small businesses that are locally owned.

This being said…

Last November, Barnes & Noble had their basic Nook Simple Touch Reader on sale nearly half price for Black Friday.  Up to that point, I had thumbed my nose at e-readers.  However, as a writer, I’d been reluctantly tossing around the idea of looking into one.  I may be old school in my views, but the world of publishing is changing whether I like it or not.  So, impulsively, I ordered the Nook.

I feel guilty even saying this, but I fell in love with it immediately.

Reason #1 I love my Nook:  reading in bed.  Who among us has not fallen asleep in bed with the open book tumbled gently beside our snoring faces?  The e-reader is a lazy person’s dream.  I can lie on my side with the Nook propped up on the other pillow.  No need to hold it, or hold the pages down.  I don’t even need to turn the pages.  Just lift a finger and flick.

It also makes reading easier when I’m lying on the sofa.  I can rest my hand beside my face and prop the Nook against it.  That, however, poses its own problem.  When I fall asleep while reading (as I inevitably do), my hand relaxes and the Nook falls off the edge of the sofa.  After the first few such tumbles, I now place a pillow on the floor beside the sofa whenever I lie down to read there.

And when I’m at lunch at work, I don’t have to try to hold pages down.  Just rest the e-reader beside my sandwich and I’m golden.

Reason #2 I love my e-reader:  I’ve got around 30 books on it now, and can carry them all with me anywhere I go.  If I’m sitting around waiting for my car to be washed (I get unlimited free washes at the dealership where I bought my Honda) and the book I’m currently reading begins to bore or otherwise displease me, I can easily move on.

Still, I feel horribly guilty.  I’m trying to keep in mind that old childhood nursery rhyme:  “Make new friends but keep the old.  One is silver, the other gold.”

In the same vein, I’ve recently gotten out my old Nikon 35mm film camera.  Like a book, the weight of it feels wonderful in my hands.  So wonderful that I’ve decided to make it my primary camera again.  It’s like seeing an old friend again after a long time and picking up right where you left off.

I like my new silver friends, the digital camera and the e-reader.  But my old friends, the analog Nikon and the paper-and-ink books – those are gold.

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What Makes You Happy – Uh Huh?

Image“What Makes You Happy”, by the way (complete with uh-huhs aplenty), was the B-side of K.C. & the Sunshine Band’s 1970s hit, “That’s the Way I Like It.”   This was one of those cases in which I liked the B-side as much, if not more, than the A-side.

However, this post isn’t about whether or not you know what a B-side is.  If you don’t, Google it or ask your parents.  This is about songs that just plain make you happy.  If you’re like me, music’s importance in life cannot be underestimated, whether it creates the mood for writing or sets the soundtrack to your life.

Led Zeppelin was undoubtedly the most important driving force in my formative years.  But that was different than what I’m talking about here.  I’m not necessarily discussing my favorite artists right now, or songs that I think are the best ever.  Just my top 6 songs – all rock or pop, ’cause that’s how I roll – that are guaranteed to bring me to a happy place.  6 songs, because why do 5 when I can do 6?  Let the countdown begin:

6. “Shake Your Booty” – K.C. & the Sunshine Band –  What, did you think K.C. & the Sunshine Band weren’t going to make the list?  Actually, any of their songs lift me up.  They’re called the Sunshine Band for a reason.

5. “You’re the One That I Want” – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, from the “Grease” soundtrack – Maybe it’s just that the youthful John and Olivia look so great together at the end of the movie, but this song is incredibly joyous and full of hope.

4. “I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash – When someone with such a clear, pure voice sings about having a bright, bright sunshiny day, you can’t help but believe you’re really going to have one.

3. “Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum – A strong, thrumming beat instead of the light tune of #4, but just as uplifting.

2. “Top of the World” – The Carpenters – With a voice like Karen Carpenter’s singing about everything she wants the world to be “now coming true especially for me…”  Just happy, happy, happy.

And my top make-me-happy song:

1. “Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club –  For a writer, I often pay amazingly little attention to song lyrics.  Especially if the melody is upbeat.  Case in point:  “Karma Chameleon” had been my #1 happy song for at least 10 years when I told an acquaintance that it was my happy song, and she demanded, “Haven’t you ever listened to the lyrics?  It’s a break-up song!”  She went on to tell me that Boy George had written it about his tumultuous relationship with Jon Moss and furthermore, the rest of the band hated the lyrics so much that they made up the stupidest music they could think of so that nobody would want it.  Alas for them, it became one of their biggest hits.

I’ve never really looked into it to find out if my friend’s version of the Boy George/Culture Club thing was indeed true. I did, however, finally listen – really listen – to the lyrics.  And yeah, I guess a song that starts out with someone singing about listening to his lover’s wicked lies every day, is not coming from a good place.

Still, I reserve the right to keep “Karma Chameleon” as my go-to happy song.  Too late to change that now.

The Writing Life: Passion or Circumstance?

Me and Mom early 1980s

I like to think that I’d feel the same lifelong excitement about writing no matter what.  But really, has it been part ability, part nurturing?  What does it truly mean to be surrounded by people who believed in me?

I’ve always known that I’m a writer.  Note that I did not say, “I always I knew I wanted to be a writer.”  Because even as a kid, the excitement of seeing my imagination come to life via pencil and paper made it very clear that there was no question.  No “want to be” about it.  I’ve always been a writer.

My grandparents, who had the nothing-goes-to-waste mentality of many who’ve lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s (okay, they were hoarders), had boxes of discarded business memos from a local corporation.  My aunt worked there as a tour guide.  The idea in bringing this stuff home, I’m sure, was at least partly because the blank flip-side of the memos made ideal scratch paper for us kids to draw on and amuse ourselves.

My start as a writer came at age 5 or 6, when my grandfather stapled multiple sheets of this old memo paper together for me to use to write my own “books.”  The length of each book depended on how many sheets of paper he stapled together.  I don’t remember if the original idea was mine or his.  Possibly mine, since I was the only one of my siblings who did this.  I illustrated every page of my books, too.  The less said about my artwork, the better.

So I had family support right from the start.  One of the proudest moments of my young life was when I received an “A” on a poem I wrote for a school class, and my grandmother accused me of copying it from somewhere.  Okay, so that part of it isn’t particularly supportive, but I was 9 or 10 years old and smart enough to know that if Grandma thought my poem had been written by an adult, I really had something going on.

Grandpa’s stapled memo sheets transitioned to my own stapled sheets of double-sided notebook paper on which I wrote adolescent novella-length stories featuring Sugar Barry, my own version of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.  This morphed into spiral notebooks.  At age 15, I wrote my first novel in 3 spiral notebooks.

My mom, despite being downtrodden with 5 volatile kids and a husband who would come home from the bar at 3:00 AM to croon “Oh Lonesome Me” accompanied by his guitar, always made time to read my writing.  With that first youthful novel, I naively wrote a scene in which a dying boy’s mother rushes from the hospital room because she couldn’t bear to see him die.  Mom advised me that no mother would leave her dying son’s bedside.

When I was 16, I worried her with knife-wielding, wrist-slicing murder and suicide poems with titles like “Fire and Ice” and “From a Suicide.”  (I never did tell her that she had every reason to be worried.  I suffered from deep bouts of depression and serious emotional disturbance as a teen – all undiagnosed and untreated, because this was the 1970s and society felt I should “just cheer up” and “quit mooning over boys.”  But that’s for another time.)

When I graduated from high school, it was Mom’s idea to take a creative writing class together at a city college.  In my 30s, she was thrilled when I wrote a character based on her into a mystery novel.  She called me excitedly from Boston to talk about the ending and her character’s secret life.

In fact, the more I matured as a writer, the more exasperating it became to show my work to Mom.  In those days before the internet and online writing workshops, I wanted honest feedback.  In Mom’s eyes, everything I wrote was great.  That was no help!  I needed guidance, not a fangirl.

However.

Would my strong sense of knowing myself as a writer be different if I hadn’t had lifelong encouragement and support?  I like to think that, no matter what, the passion of writing would always have burned within me, yada yada.  But what if my grandfather hadn’t stapled together makeshift books for me and praised the results?  What if Mom had been indifferent to my writing, or told me to quit wasting my time?  What if I hadn’t also been an avid reader who knew what to do with the overblown fantasies in my head?   What if I hadn’t been a painfully shy, perpetually bullied introvert who had nowhere else to release my feelings?

Is a writer nurtured, or is it all just a matter of circumstance?  Right time, right place, etc.   I know gifted writers who don’t see themselves as such because they have shockingly little faith in themselves.  (A particular shame, considering there are too many people who think they are talented writers but desperately need to rethink that.  Again, something for another time).  Nature, or lack of nurture?

I’d love to hear from my fellow authors.  What’s your story?  Has the support system around you been vital to your journey?

I had planned on a different topic this week, but my mom has been on my mind.  Eleven years ago on February 7, she died during a massive heart attack.  I miss my biggest fan.

   

A Word by Any Other Name

Image

My mom never understood the time I spent with books. When I was a kid, she would actually lock me out of the house with the command to “Get some sun.”  Ha!  Little did she know. I sneaked books outside with me and sat in the shade of our backyard birch tree to continue my journey away from reality.

I was no less avid a reader as a teen, but definitely a whole lot more picky.  The books targeted to my age group covered serious and realistic concerns: drug use, mental illness, running away, teen pregnancy, etc.  But why, I wondered, didn’t any of the characters in these books ever swear? My peers—especially those of the male persuasion—certainly knew how to let the curse words fly (when the parental units weren’t around, anyway).  So why did these people have such clean mouths?

That, of course, was in my naïve youth.  And trust me, I was more naïve than most teens, even back in the ‘70s.  Remember, I was painfully shy and spent most of my time with books rather than people.  So I had this idealistic notion that people in Young Adult books should talk the way kids in life do.

When I wrote my first novel-length story at age 15, I gave my characters realistic dialogue.  No “f” or “s” word was spared when I figured a real peer would be using it.  Not that my characters had potty mouths. I didn’t put in any gratuitous cursing, either.  I just wanted to produce something that I wished had been available to me as a reader:  characters my own age speaking real dialogue.

Once finished with the novel, I blithely showed my creation to my English/Creative Writing teacher.  She did not like the swearing at all.  However, she did say that I write dialogue well because I really listen to people talk.  For a very young writer, the latter was encouraging while the former was just adult silliness.

I did eventually get it.  Parents don’t necessarily want their teens to be exposed to (ahem) “realistic dialogue” in their reading material regardless of what they may be hearing around them every day in real life.  I’ve chosen not to have kids, so I don’t have my own parental viewpoint on the matter.  All I do know is that my late mom never censored anything I read as I was growing up.  Whether that’s because she was a liberal thinker or because she was just relieved that I was reading instead of going out and getting into trouble, I have no idea.

This is my first blog post, so I’m not sure how many are reading this.  For those who are, I’d love to know if any other avid readers and/or fellow writers have ever felt the same way.