Writing & Reading

A St. Patrick’s Day Feast of Tasty Irish Writing

2017-03-17 Christ Church Cathedral St. Patrick's Window (Dublin) | A St. Patrick's Day Feast of Tasty Irish Writing | dianaklein.com

The Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread Muffins are in the oven, so while I wait to please my gustatory senses, I thought I’d use the time to share a few yummy bits of writing—passages that feed my reader’s soul—I have found whilst reading Irish authors.  And boy, is there a plethora of delectable stuff from which to choose.

Especially from Oscar Wilde, who was nothing if not quotable. I opted for this one because it’s probably one the first from him I ever heard, and I like to think about making my diary much as this character’s is!

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.  – Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

This one is from A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy—a prolific author, famous for weaving together the stories of disparate characters.  I like this one because, it’s just so true to life—and just for the sake of clarity let me tell you that Gloria is a cat and Chicky is a human.

Within seconds, Gloria appeared, looking hopeful, wound herself around Chicky’s legs, then sat down for some urgent leg-washing. – Maeve Binchy, A Week in Winter

I’ll admit that I haven’t yet had the guts to tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses, but I have enjoyed some of his short stories, including those in the collection called Dubliners.  My favorite is “The Dead” which ends with this gorgeous and haunting passage:

It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight . . . It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

– James Joyce, “The Dead”

Okay, so these last two—both from Eoin Colfer—best known for the Artemis Fowl series—are a bit on the course side, but I think they’re still worth reading, even if you’re not into that sort of thing. The first is from Half Moon Investigations, a delightful middle grade version of a noir detective story.  The second is from Screwed, which is, I suppose also a noir detective story, just of the adult variety.  Anyway, I absolutely love the grossly accurate description in the first one and the funny imagery in the second.  Oh, and they’re that much better if you imagine them in an Irish accent:

Unfortunately, when I say Doobie was snot-nosed, it’s not just a turn of phrase. Doobie never went anywhere without a couple of green yo-yo’s hanging from his nostrils, which he then snorted back up so hard that they wrapped around his brain.

– Eoin Colfer, Half Moon Investigations

This room has no windows and only one door, which is blocked by two buttery cops, so I’m gonna have to go through the wall.

Go through the wall?

Even thinking it sounds ridiculous. Nevertheless it’s either that or the aforementioned ball slicing. I crab roll onto the bed with just enough momentum to come to my feet.

“Hey,” burbles Fortz through the blood. “Stop! Police!”

In the words of the sweatband-wearing fuzzy legend J. McEnroe: “You cannot be serious!”

I bet McEnroe said “fucking” all the time off camera. You can just imagine it coming out of his face. – Eoin Colfer, Screwed

There are so many more wonderful Irish writers to quote (which ones do you like?), but my soda bread muffins are out of the oven and simply begging to be eaten with a steaming cup of Irish Breakfast Tea, so I’ll simply say, Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may there be many yummy books (Irish and not) in your near future!


Art & Crafts, Writing

My Creativity Playlist

Are You Ready Little Art Card | My Creativity Playlist | dianaklein.comI was recently going through some old mixed CDs—you know the things we made back in the dark ages before Spotify? Anyway, several of the CDs were titled with particular emotional tones like sad or contemplative, so that I could listen to them when I was in the corresponding mood.  One of the CDs I came across, however had no such label.  I gave it a listen, and remembered that it was my creativity playlist!  It’s a bunch of songs that for one reason or another made me feel encouraged to be artistic—to write, to sing, to make things.  And I realized, giving it another listen, they still do.

There’s a lot of music from the soundtrack of The Lord of Rings: The Return of the King on it which is not surprising because much of my first manuscript was written with Howard Shore’s orchestral brilliance pumping into my ears.

There’s also two songs from Stephen Sondheim’s Sundays in the Park with George—one (Move On) taken from the original cast recording of Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin and the other (Putting It Together) a cover and partial rewrite by Barbra Streisand.  These tunes support me in my creative pursuits because “art isn’t easy” and even though “there’s nothing that’s not been said”, it hasn’t yet been said by me.

It’s interesting to me that there are two songs about vulnerability: BareNaked by Jennifer Love Hewitt and I’m Sensitive by Jewel, but it shouldn’t be surprising, after all, how else can you be when making and showing your stuff, if not open and vulnerable?  I particularly like Jewel’s determination to embrace her delicate senses by saying “Please be careful with me.  I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.”

There’s one actual folk song (Fair and Tender Ladies sung by Rosanne Cash) and another (When Love is New by Dolly Parton and Emmy Rossum) very close to that style which, for me, always seems to get inside an emotion, but often with a sort of matter-of-fact kind of practicality that I like.  I guess some might find lyrics like “Love is pretty when love is new, like a blushing rose in a dazzling dew” and “Come all ye fair and tender ladies, take a warning how you court young men” somewhat cynical, but I find the words and the voices that sing them wonderfully evocative.

The remainder of songs are basically singer-songwriter-y. There’s Dido’s reminder that I need to grab living with both hands in Life for Rent.  And Eva Cassidy’s poignant cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold.  The drums and vocalization at the beginning of Rubén Blades’ Patria are enough to get my creative juices flowing.  And Joan Osborne’s One of Us makes me want to try look at things with God’s eyes and, to be honest, I really just love belting that chorus. That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette prompts me to remember my intrinsic value as a person, not for how I look or what I can do (even and especially artistically!)  And the lyric, “That I would be good, if I got and stayed sick” never fails to give me chills.

And of course, no playlist can be complete without a rousing call to action song—in this case, Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked because “Everyone deserves a chance to fly.”

Recently, I added one more song to this list: Emily Maguire’s Start Over Again—because, in most situations in life and almost always in creative ones, I find myself needing this advice “Go Slow.  Be kind.  Be wise.  Start over again.”

What about you? What music makes you feel creative?  Do you have a playlist?

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Coping Advice from a Children’s Book


One of my favorite picture books of all time is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.  I was introduced to it one summer, almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a class of autistic children as a teaching assistant.  This book was a particular favorite among the kids, and I read it aloud over and over and over.  It’s a good thing for me that I fell in love with it.

It drew me in with its repetitive and rhythmic nature. And I enjoyed playfully acting out the story.  Each section begins with the same chorus: We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.  What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

It then goes on as the bear-hunting family is confronted with one or another natural element—grass, a river, a snowstorm—that they must conquer in order to continue their hunt. And as they face each obstacle the family declares: We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.  Oh, no!  We’ve got to go through it!

And so they proceed, relating the sounds they make going through each experience. Amid the grass it is: Swishy swashy! Swish swashy! Swishy swashy! In the river, it’s: Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!

My favorite though, is the mud the Thick, oozy mud. I like to think about it as I determine to tackle complications and struggles in my life—the small things, like going to the dentist; the big things, like submitting my novel; and the heartrending things, like my cat acting like she’s on death’s door (though, thankfully, she seems to be improving.)

I could wring my hands and rend my clothing at any of these things, but instead, I try to think about the mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.  Oh, no!  We’ve got to go through it!  Reciting these words to myself helps me smile—however slightly.  It makes me feel that things are a little less wrought with difficulty than they may immediately seem.  Unpleasant though the situation may be, in some way or another, it’s a beautiful day! and the rest is all just mud to be gotten through.  One step at a time.

Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch!  Squelch, squerch!




Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Values of Silence

My fingers hover over the keyboard. I have so many thoughts, so many reactions.  Sometimes I even type them out, giving fleeting voice to my opinions, but always—almost always—I think better of it.  I hit delete.  I watch as a blinking cursor erases my feelings one letter at a time.

I don’t think I need to say that it’s been quite the week. We all have feelings and many of us are expressing them—some in beautiful ways, some in hateful, many somewhere in the middle.  Mostly, I have resisted expressing my political opinions anywhere on the internet.  And after all that has happened, all that may happen, I wonder to myself why and if such a decision been wise.

The why is fairly easy: I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to get into it with anyone—start a battle that no one will win.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I don’t want my words to be mis-taken.  There are people in my life whom I not only dearly love, but also deeply respect who vote very differently from the way I do.  I live in a predominantly red community.  Why risk a potential rift?  I hate rifts.  I abhor violence.  It feels, at this moment in time, that we seem unable to speak to each other civilly—that a disagreement about ideology immediately devolves into name-calling.  Demeaning the value of each other as humans whether they be called “deplorable” or “nasty” seems to be commonplace.  I don’t want to participate in this.

When I was writing my memoir about my diagnosis and experience of having CFS a decade ago, I agonized over how to portray certain people in my life—people who have hurt me excruciatingly.. I wasn’t sure that being candid was the right thing to do.  Who might I hurt by speaking my truth?  Was it worth it?  I also didn’t want to use “being authentic” as an excuse for calling people out in a childish way.  Even when I wrote my first novel, I worried how members of my family would interpret certain aspects of it.  Would they be upset?  Would they be mad at me?  I can’t stand it when people are mad me.  It feels like attempting to get a foothold on crumbling land beneath me.  It feels devastating and lonely.  So I have censored myself—a lot (it’s actually part of the reason I have not submitted my work as much as I should).  Some of it has been wise.  I have been grateful when I have held my tongue in situations in which I would have liked to spit fire, but I wonder where exactly the line is.  At what point does silence stop being golden and start becoming a prison warden?

Well, I guess, that point is now. People say that some of us are taking this too personally.  But it is has become personal.  My opinion about what constitutes good government policy differs greatly from that of President-Elect Trump.  That would have been enough for me to not vote for him, but it wouldn’t have made it personal.  What made it personal, was the fact that I, and many women whom I care about, have been victimized by men, and the words and actions of Mr. Trump have ripped open those wounds.  The fact that so many people voted for him feels like an endorsement of a man’s right to hurt and debase women at will.  I know this is not true.  I know that if you are reading this and you voted for Trump, you were not thinking about me or any of my friends who have been through similar things.  You were thinking about Right to Life or the next supreme court justice or repealing Dodd-Frank or any number of practical reasons—maybe even personal reasons—why you felt that Trump was the best choice for this country.  People are suffering and they saw this man as a way out.  I get that.  I can respect that.  But I also weep for it.  And I don’t know how I am supposed to forget all the varied hateful things that Mr. Trump has said and give him my support now.

I have been silent. I have been fearful.  Today, I am saying a little.  How much will I say in the future?  I don’t know.   A part of me wants to speak for myself and for others who cannot, but I still don’t want to start a fight.  I don’t want to cause irreparable damage.  Honestly, I don’t want to put myself in the line of fire.  A part of me just wants to meditate and pray and spread love with smiles and music—and I will do that.  But is continuing silence wise?  Is it responsible?  Can anything be solved without respectful discourse?  I don’t know, but I heard a stat this morning that chilled me to the bones.  Approximately 49% of eligible voters did not vote in this year’s election.  Almost half of the people who have the ability to help decide how we will treat our children, our fellow citizens, our country were completely silent.



CFS, Mindfulness, Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Power of Small

I crashed last weekend—exploding pain, unforgiving tiredness, the works. It was particularly disappointing because I had been starting to feel like I was building up a head of steam—moving in the direction I wanted to go.  I had plans.  I had thoughts and ideas sprouting and multiplying.  There’s so much I want to do!  And then plop—the other shoe drops.  It happens to all of us—we feel energized to make exciting, positive change and something happens that we didn’t plan for or something reoccurs that we should have seen coming.  A fly gets in the ointment.  A wrench is thrown into the works.  Our best laid plans go so infuriatingly awry.

When this happens, my instinctive reaction is to do a post mortem: What happened? What did I do wrong?  What did I not do?  This picking apart usually takes place in the presence of my mother, who listens patiently and then says, “Or maybe it’s none of those things.  Maybe it’s just the cycle.  Maybe it’s just what’s happening now.”  At which point, I take a deep breath and grumble, “Yeah, maybe.”

Of course, she’s right. Most of what’s going on is beyond any sense of my control, and I just need to ride it out.  My struggle with it, however, has to do with my expectations.  They have a tendency to get away from me.  I do one thing and then want to, or feel I should, do more and more.  Some years ago, a member of my then writing group brought up the notion of setting a deceptively small goal.  I took to the idea and kept telling myself to “start small”.  However, in the hands (and mind) of a Type A personality, this mantra developed a major flaw.  I might be willing to start small, but all too soon, my mind says, Hey, we better put the pedal to the medal if we’re ever gonna get anywhere! Which, of course, devolves into a wild attempt to do more, which in turn tires, overwhelms, and frustrates me to the point where I am ready to throw in the towel.

start-small-snail-dianaklein-comIn light of this, my new motto is: Start small—and then keep going small until you get whatever the thing is you need to do done. It doesn’t quite trip off the tongue, but, when I think about it,  it is pretty much how I made it through college.  When completely cowed by the mountain of writing I needed to do and the soul-crushing fear of not being able to do it, I would start by opening a document, forcing myself to add one sentence (more if I could) and then, moving to the next paper, do the same.  I would rotate through all of my current projects in this fashion.  Write a line, switch, write a line, switch.  After I had a draft down, I could go back and check for cogency and fix any problems, but it was getting that first layer down that was the biggest challenge—which I overcame only by taking it piece by piece, sentence by sentence.  I still write this way when I am stuck.  I ask myself, What’s the next line? I don’t think about what will come after.  I only have to write one sentence.  And once that’s done.  I do it again.

It can be hard to commit to small steps like this because societal norms so often tell us that if you can’t have the thing you want by tomorrow, you’d best not pursue it at all or worse, it’s not worth having.  I mean, why even bother?  Many of us, when we decide to turn over a new leaf, want to jump in feet first. You see books on lifestyle makeovers and they are all about making wholesale changes to one’s life.  We tell ourselves, we will do everything according to this new code: eat better, sleep better, do yoga, meditate, be creative.  And we forget that our lives are still our lives.  I think people feel either: that they want to change everything all at once without regard to whatever else is going on in their lives or that they are too overwhelmed by their lives to make any changes at all.

do-the-thing-you-can-do-the-power-of-small-dianaklein-comThere is an alternative. Start small.  Do the thing you can do—this is advice I have given myself regularly over the past 20 years (when I haven’t been busy trying to outsmart myself).  If you can meditate for two minutes a day, then meditate for two minutes a day.  If you can eat more vegetables, but can’t eat less sugar, than eat more vegetables and don’t eat less sugar.  And, *this is key*, don’t let your mind sell you a bill of goods that you are somehow falling short!  The saying A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step is, perhaps, a cliché, and, of course, you do have to take all the succeeding steps after that first one if you want to get to your destination, but if you tell yourself that that first step is not, won’t ever be, enough, you will never take the second.

I have big goals. I don’t know if there are enough steps in this body to get me there, but I want to keep walking towards them.  I want to do the thing I can do, consistently, and be proud of each step, giving it the recognition it deserves, because, in a one million-step journey, step number 45,682 is no less important than number 999,999.  Without either, small, seemingly insignificant movement, you will never reach your goal.

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Writing & Reading

Overcoming the Allure of Efficiency

2015-05-22 The Dangers of Efficiency

In a way, it’s in my blood.  My mother was born in Switzerland, and every time she executed any task with a high level of efficiency, say carrying six bags of groceries from the car instead of the more reasonable two, my father (from what is now Serbia) would grin and say, “You’re being Swiss.”  I’m not really sure if this was a compliment or a dig, but, even now, it’s the way I tend to operate.  And it’s a problem.

Some years ago, I read about Douglas Adams rewriting the same portion of a novel over and over—each time tossing the unsuccessful pages into the trash before beginning again.  I was horrified by this.  I have always been terrified of throwing away words I have written, fearing that I might lose hold of whatever decent work I might have done, and hoping that some salvage might be made of the less than optimal parts.  I have labored over sentences, attempting to perfect them, believing they may be the only material I would ever be able to create.  “Waste not.  Want not,” I have told myself, “Time is short and words are precious.”

And yet, a few years ago, in a more inspired moment in the Long Room at Trinity College I instructed myself thusly: Write on!  It is the only path to the path—to write wantonly, wastefully, scattering letters across the page like so many seeds on the winds.  This feels true—the idea of taking it all much less seriously.  I could even have fun writing my new novel.  Make it crazy.  Make it disjointed.  Write bits and pieces, turn them upside down, chew them up and spit them out.  Just do it.  The story will find its way into being.  Just have fun with it.  Start anywhere.

That’s what my four year’s older sister told me when I was a kid and needed advice on tackling my overwhelmingly messy room. “Start anywhere,” she said.  “Don’t worry about beginning in the best place, just pick something up, put it way, and move on to the next thing..”  When I’ve gotten stuck in just about any kind of project, I have gone back to this advice.  Start anywhere.  Just get yourself going.  It may not always be the most efficient way of getting something done, but it works—and sometimes, it’s the only thing that does.

A few months ago I read Dennis Lehane’s book of short stories, Coronado.  At the end, was a Q & A with the author, in which Lehane talked about his need to write his way into a novel.  He may start with only a slender idea, so he has to figure the story out by putting pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) and letting the words come out like so much clay for him to eventually shape into a narrative.

This is my task now.  Forget about being efficient.  Forget about figuring out the best way to do it.  Just take it one sentence at a time, and don’t be afraid to throw away a thousand, a million words, because, in reality, those words are not wasted.  They are building blocks for the next generation, they are inroads into the wilderness where the whole of the story resides.


Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Improving Work Space Happiness

I live in an apartment, so my office is also my bedroom, music room, and art studio.  I am lucky that it’s a decent sized space into which I’ve been able to fit two desks, two large bookcases, a filing cabinet, my harp, music stand, and chair, as well as my bed.  It’s not ideal, but it works—sort of.  Lately, I’ve noticed that my body mechanics at my writing desk—a lovely, old, hinged slant top—have left something to be desired.  I didn’t have enough leg room and, because of the height of the desk, I was continually leaning forward—good for my abs, but terrible for my neck and shoulders—and made even more crippling when my little, furry writing assistant demands to lend her brilliance by sitting in my lap.

One of the problems with being sick with CFS (or as the Institute of Medicine has now termed it, SEID), is that time becomes even more precious.  On a typical day, I usually have 2-4 hours during which I feel somewhat normal.  Even though I do tend to have pain, my brain and body still function with reasonable ability.  Anything that requires any kind of physical or mental stamina must be done during this window.  It’s hard not to feel like shopping for a new desk is a lousy use of that time, but given the amount of time I spend (and hope to spend) at my computer, and the amount of pain I already feel due to my ill health, I decided that a new desk would be a good investment in my future wellbeing and productivity.

So, after a lot of online research, a lot of measuring, and a lot of miming my typing habits at various work surfaces, I picked my desk.  But just as I was ready to inform the lovely people at my local office supply store, I realized that there was no way my laptop was going to fit on its pull out typing surface.  What to do?  Give up?  This was the desk—the one that was going to fit in the space allotted, the one that coincided with my price point, the one that seemed to meet my needs in the best way possible.  I thought about it for a minute and decided to go look at the wireless keyboards.  What if I bought one of these as well and basically just used my laptop as a monitor?  It seemed like a good solution, but the thing about me (one of the many, many things) is that I tend to be scared to spend money.  I don’t have a lot of it (who does?), and I am just about always nervous that I am spending it wantonly.  I was already a little trepidatious about the desk, was I now just overcomplicating the situation to the nth degree?  Was I trying to force something that didn’t fit?  I wasn’t sure.  But when I sat with it for a moment, it kinda seemed like the right thing to do.  So I took a deep breath and handed over my credit card.

When I got home and put the desk together, I was relieved to be delighted with how it fit into my space.  I also noticed that when I pulled out my new keyboard, I discovered that having the screen farther away from me was much more comfortable to my neck.  I found a workspace body mechanics illustration online that confirmed that one’s screen should be 18 inches or about arm’s length away.  So, by making the uncertain purchase of the wireless keyboard, I had actually solved another problem of which I hadn’t yet been aware.  Looking more closely at the ergonomics diagram, I also realized that my computer was sitting too low on the desk.  My natural gaze fell higher, so I was having to make continual micro-corrections that was tiring to both my eyes and my neck.  I solved this by placing a favorite book of fairy tales and an air mat (for keeping the machine cool) underneath my computer. Fairy Tale Support I love seeing the book there as I type away.  It reminds me of my deep love of stories—one of the main reasons I started to write.  And now, as I am slowly arranging my workspace, I find it becoming more and more inviting.  Even as I enter the room and glance over, I find myself thinking, “Oooh, I like that spot.  I can’t wait to get over there.”  This was a another goal I had aspired to some years ago—reasoning, that if I wanted to get myself to spend long hours writing, I better make the area in which I am doing it a place I really want to be.

Work Space

I am sure there will be more adjustments to make as I go forward.  For one thing, I still have to train myself to keep sitting properly—keeping my feet flat on the floor, leaning back into my lumbar support (a small, lavender-filled pillow given to me by my mom) and reminding myself that my shoulders aren’t actually meant to be next door neighbors with my ears.  For another, I have to keep my resolve to get up, stretch, and get a drink at least once a hour (even if it means offending my writing assistant), but I am excited to have a more comfortable and pleasant space from which to tackle some of my goals.

Writing Assistant

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Reading, Writing, Writing & Reading

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

Several years ago, on an episode of Gilmore Girls, an unscripted Norman Mailer said this to a reporter played by his son Stephen: “I can’t tell you what I’m working on.  I never tell anyone what I’m working on.  A novel is like a secret affair and you don’t bring other people in on it.”  I’ve often played with the idea of being that closed-lipped about my own current writing endeavors.  There are so many ways in which talking about one’s novel-in-progress could be problematic.  For example: a) I might not actually know exactly what I’m writing about.  b) I might be feeling a tad embarrassed about it.  c) The whole thing may change completely before it ever sees the light of day.  And, d) very often I can’t describe it in a way that adequately gets my meaning across.

This is what I told someone who recently asked me what I was working on:  “My new novel has magical elements to it—dealing at least, to some degree with Wicca, and my protagonist is chronically in a bad mood—very fun to write!!  But other than that, it’s still shaping itself in my mind.”

Her response was matter of fact and very sweet.  “That’s having to do with witches and witchery, right? I’m not so much into that topic, but if you write it, I will read it.”

And this is the main reason I am hesitant to talk about my latest project: it has something to do with Wicca—because it’s something that’s often misunderstood at best, and considered evil at worst. And because I don’t want to somehow disrespect practitioners of the earth religions.

I am fortunate enough to have befriended people on many different spiritual paths—including various versions of faiths that many people lump together as Witchcraft.  My fear is that they will say I’ve gotten it all wrong, but I have come to realize how individual our personal beliefs about spirituality often are—even when we are purporting to practice the same faith.  I have long been intrigued by both spirituality and religion, so it’s no surprise to me that both my novels are, in part, explorations of faith.  My first novel delved into Catholicism—an easy place to start since that was the religion into which I was born.  Or was it?  As I researched and wrote, I began to appreciate all the different kinds of Catholics that are out there.  There is so much love and a great deal of fear.  There is liberalism and conservatism.  There are nuns who focus on social justice at the possible expense of church doctrine and priests who tell women that they caused their husband’s death because they had used birth control.  I am close to people for whom Catholicism has been a great solace and those who call themselves “recovering Catholics”.  One of my readers for Communing with Saints was so firmly in the latter category that she confessed to me that when beginning the book, she was nervous she wouldn’t enjoy it because it landed her back in a Catholic church—a place she really didn’t want to be.  (P.S. She liked the book anyway.)

In order to inform myself more about Wicca, I am in the process of reading Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft—the cover of which has been gracing the left hand side of my site for several months (it’s taking me a while) along with the covers of other books I am reading.  I don’t know how much of what I’m learning from Raymond Buckland’s book will end up in my own, but I have found reading it fascinating.  Did you know that people of the Wiccan religion do not believe in an all encompassing evil entity like the devil?  Or that a heathen is literally just someone who lives on a heath?  That spell craft may or may not be a part of one’s religious life?  That among Wicca’s central precepts are those of personal accountability, equality, and ecology?

My reasons for writing about Wicca are many fold.  I like reading novels that tell me about different cultures and times and ideologies and as a writer, I try to write what I would like to read.  I also write as a way of understanding something more deeply.  It’s a great way to impel myself to become more informed on a topic, to explore how I feel, and to investigate how others might experience the world.  There are a lot of literary witches out—they take many forms, good and bad and in between, but I would like to portray witches more similarly to the ones that I have known—earthy and funny, kind and real.

I don’t know how much magic will play into the story—but I find spelling scary, so I will most likely tackle that in some way.  And there will be knitting! (probably)  And a quest (I think).  And some link to Celtic Mythology?

You see why I’d like to join the Norman Mailer order of secrecy?

Here’s what I can say for sure: Mostly, my books—like most books—are not about the topic in which they dress up.  They are about people wrestling with life, finding their own way through—and hopefully, along the way, stumbling across a little grace.

By the way, if you have a book that explores and explains your faith in a way that’s deeply meaningful to you, I’d love to know about it!  Please leave me titles in the comments!

Finally, a bit of housekeeping: On Sunday, those of you who have been subscribing to my blog from the beginning through FeedBurner got spammed with a post from a few years ago.  This was not my doing and I apologize for the confusion and annoyance.  In the coming weeks, I am planning to disconnect my blog from FeedBurner, so if you would like to continue getting email updates of my posts (and I hope you do), please enter your email address in the box under my picture on my site.  This will subscribe you to the WordPress feed and you will get an email just as soon as I publish any and all posts!

Writing, Writing & Reading

Visible Woman

Visible WomanIn his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how authors sometimes incorporate attributes of their own life situation into a story, without realizing what those attributes are.  When he wrote the alcoholic protagonist in The Shining, King says, he wasn’t aware, he was, at that very moment, an alcoholic himself.  Something similar has happened to me.  I finished my first novel Communing with Saints a few years ago, and though I knew I was including some aspects of my personal story in that of my main character Lucy—her ambivalence about Catholicism, for one—I didn’t realize how much her fears were my own.  When, in the first chapter, the ghost of Typhoid Mary finds herself invisible to all around her, desperate for attention, and tethered to this quiet 23-year-old, she recognizes right away Lucy’s trepidation about being seen:

She knew she had no choice, she must continue to follow Lucy, and to hear and to see as the younger woman attempted to hide from the entire universe.  Mary shook her head, “Doesn’t that girl realize how terrible it is to be invisible?”

It wasn’t until some months ago, when I contemplated ramping up my internet presence—doing all the platform-building tasks that a writer is encouraged to do these days—that I realized, I too, am afraid of being seen.  I am afraid of getting myself into something I can’t get out of, getting hurt somehow—or hurting others with what I have to say.  Okay, Diana, so stay silent.  Don’t put your two cents in.  Be invisible.  But, you see, there’s a reason that although Lucy starts out in an attitude of concealment, she slowly makes a journey to some level of comfort interacting with others—because being seen and heard is one of the most basic emotional needs humans have and, it’s one of the best ways we can help one another.

I remember devouring Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted and thinking, “Thank you.  Thank you for writing this down in this way and thank you for sharing it with me.”  My emotional struggles were different from Kaysen’s, but I felt liberated by her candor and her seeming lack of shame.

And yet, I feel reluctant—especially when I consider the crazy-making-ness of it all.  The worst part is after I post.  The doubting of my content, grammar, and punctuation.  The subsequent liking and/or commenting.  The publicizing on Twitter and Facebook.  The incessant checking of my phone to see if someone else has yet responded to what I have put out into the ether.  The wondering if I should be more public or less public.  The agonizing over comments I write on other people’s blogs—wanting them to sound just right, to show that I am friendly and witty and smart.

Furthermore, in the current publishing climate where a writer is encouraged to build a platform by not only blogging, but social networking—in seeming competition with many other others, I might add—I find myself baffled by what the heck I should post.  I like social media.  I think it brings a cool kind of democracy to the world.  I have seen funny posts, clever posts, poignant posts, and I enjoy them all, the problem is I never know what to say!  As I wearily laid down yesterday afternoon and felt my mattress cuddle my aching body, I thought, “I am so in love in with my bed right now.”  And then I thought, “Should I be tweeting this or putting it on Facebook?  Is this the kind of thing people might find funny or simpatico?”  I have to start somewhere, but the truth of that matter is, I didn’t want to.  I couldn’t believe anyone would want to read it, and I didn’t want to make noise just for the sake of making noise.

Last week, I read a blog post by Felicia Sullivan in which she asserted that there is a lot of bad writing on the internet.  I can’t say I disagree with her.  Of course, each of us bloggers are hoping that we are not the ones she’s talking about!  Certainly, there’s a lot of good writing out there, too.  But how much of it do we actually read?  How much do we have time for?  How many individual words of this post are you reading right now?  I don’t ask that out of mischievousness, merely out of interest.  In a sea of verbiage, do my words matter?

Of course they do.  Everyone’s words matter.  How much?  I don’t know.  But, in all humility, I’d hate to think I might rob even one person of the kind of experience reading Girl, Interrupted gave me.

Being visible has not always been a safe experience for me.  I have had several experiences in my life of people asking more of me then I wanted to give, of casting blame on me for being selfish—that by my withholding parts (or in some cases all) of myself, I was withholding their happiness.  My response to these experiences has been to want to dig an even deeper hole in which to hide.  That’s not the answer, but neither is being completely forward, and hang the consequences.  I need to be brave enough to be seen—in any aspect of life—but also not too scared to be reticent.

Back in my performance days (during which the idea of wearing a slip on stage in the guise of a hooker seemed much less risky than being on the internet), I adhered to the guideline of scaring myself a little—not full on terror, not total security—just a small dash of apprehension.  This kept me moving forward, but also meant that I didn’t end up in over my head.  I am going to keep that in mind now, as I try to emulate my somehow wiser-than-me characters.  Mary’s right.  It is terrible to be invisible, to be unheard.  We have a responsibility to act and speak with wisdom (if at all possible) and compassion, but we can’t let the burden of that task scare us from allowing ourselves to be seen.

Oh, and if you like your tweets intermittent and possibly rather boring, please feel free to follow me @audacioussm


Writing, Writing & Reading

The Art of Starting Over . . . Again.

New Years

I am a sucker for new beginnings.  In the spirit of the advertising industry’s seductive promise “new year new you”, I revel in the idea of starting over—everything shiny, filled with possibility and the hope that this time, things will be different.  This time I won’t mess up.  This time—unlike all the other times—I will get it right.  Yes, the new year can be a very dangerous time for me.

In mid-December stumbled across Angela Ackerman’s business plan for writers. It was just what I had been looking for—a way of organizing my goals for the new year, of helping me to focus on what I really want—out of writing and out of life.  I worked on it diligently, spelling out my many goals for 2015, among them: blogging more, writing my new novel more, submitting more—not to mention my non-writing goals—exercising, meditating, cleaning, harp playing, art journaling . . .

I know myself, so I tried to keep the goals teeny-tiny and quantitative: 50 blog posts a year, 4 agent queries a month, 1750 novel words a week.  This way I have something real to shoot for and, if I do achieve them, I can’t say to myself, “Well, you really should have done more.”  The goal is the goal.  Full stop.  Still, even though it was list of small goals, it was a long list, and a lot of small goals can add up to well, too much.  So as the new year approached, I became scared.  What if I couldn’t do this?  Again.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve devised regimented, detailed plans in the efforts to get healthier or thinner or more successful.  And just as that clever Scot warned us, my best laid schemes have oft gone a-gley.  A few years ago I came up with a writing plan so demanding that not only was I unable to maintain it, I began to question my desire to write at all anymore!  I don’t remember the writing/life schedule I concocted for myself last year, but that didn’t work either.

The problem is that hope gets me just as much as the fear does.  I want things to be different so badly, that I expect myself to be different, as if deciding could make it so.  When I was in high school and first sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I kept rejoining the cross country team each fall in the unreasonable belief that I could run hard enough to leave my illness in the dust.  And, though, blessedly, I’ve been feeling somewhat better over the past month or so, I still have the same body and, with it, some very real limitations.  I can’t pretend that I can all of a sudden expend 50 percent more energy than I have before.

So, what to do?  The first thing was to write at the top of my list of goals: “Adjust as needed.”  It feels like a little bit of a cop-out, but let’s face it, other things will creep up—important things, fun things, things that cannot be ignored.  While I’m busy making other plans, Life is going to interfere.  That’s its job.  The second thing is to be kind to myself, take heart and pride in any forward progression.  Small actions over time add up.  Thirdly, I have to remember that these goals are not arbitrary.  I have set them because they relate to things that are important to me—things that speak to the best parts of me and, quite possibly, that cause me to have a more positive impact in the world.

So as I work on the first leg of my blogging goal (only 49 more to go!), I still carry both the fear and the hope.  The fear that it will all fall apart, but also the hope that I can carry these goals gently, nurturing them.  It feels good to have a focus.  It feels good to know that I am committing to my pursuits and myself—even if I may have to rejuvenate that focus and commitment over and over.  I know a lot of people stop making resolutions because they can never seem to keep them, but I think the most helpful resolution—for me anyway—is not to be constant and unerring, but always, in some way, to return.

That’s the other thing I wrote atop my list of goals: “It’s okay to fail.  Just keep coming back.  Keep starting over.”

What about you? What are your goals for 2015?  Do any of them include being kinder or more understanding to yourself?