Saturday, August 30, 2008

old things

My family is a clan of pack rats. We keep papers and books and photographs and this and that hidden away in closets for years. I have my own horde of aged treasure, but I can't hold a candle to my great-grandparents, who apparently set things aside and then ceased to see them. Their garage, which is more of a shed, really, and which I had never been into while they were alive, yielded these treasures. There were others, but these are my favorites.

A gas pump. Notice that the highest possible price for a sale was $9.99.

An ancient typewriter, in a rather terrifying state of deterioration. I expect that it mutters eldritch stories to itself in the middle of the night.

It has been raining in the early morning here, torrential spills of rain that half wake me up; but then I fall asleep and when I wake up again, it is warm and sunny, and I keep thinking that I only dreamed the rain until I accidentally soak my foot in a puddle.

Friday, August 22, 2008

a good read

Damien G. Walter, who is a teller of odd tales and an Englishman, has a story up at Behind The Wainscot, which is an online magazine of "short forms, of experiments, studies, and the fragments between." The story is called "The Sun," and is part of a collection of short pieces inspired by the images on tarot cards. I suppose that you could read them and be inspired to take up fortune telling. Or, you could just enjoy the ride. I met Damien at Clarion, and he is a lovely person. He also has the strange ability to vanish for long stretches of the day and then come back with incisive observations of the people he left behind. His story made me feel like I was walking through fog on a summer morning, right before it burns away.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

cloaks of invisibility

In fairy tales, the young hero (or, heroine) walks off into a bright morning and meets a crone. Or a poor traveler. Or a talking fox. Or a fairy in disguise. And they generally get some advice, and some magical object that may be useful, or useful and dangerous, on their journey. I always liked the part where the witch, or the peddler, gives the young man a cloak of invisibility so that he can follow the twelve princesses down to the land of enchantments and watch them dance.

Advice is very useful, because you can use it or ignore it as you wish, and either way it gives you a hint of what is up ahead. So, these are the things I'd say to someone who is on the way to Clarion, for what it's worth:

1. If you have the opportunity to go to Clarion, and you can make it work, timewise and moneywise, then snatch it up and run with it. If you aren't sure what Clarion is, then read through the website and just know that it is more wonderful and intense and exciting than they can possibly get across in tidy website language.

2. This worked for me, but may not be the thing for everyone: Don't get too buried in the pre-Clarion internet social madness. It's so much more exciting and delightful to properly meet your fellow travelers when you stumble off the plane, or into the room where you pick up your keys, or wandering around trying to find your apartment. There are the refreshing moments of awkward recognition, the fumbling conversations, the subtle slide into familiarity. You think I'm joking, but these things are wonderful. Or, I may just be internet-challenged.

3. Bring a few story ideas that excite you and creep around at the back of your head. I didn't do this, and each week was a bit like leaping off a high cliff and hoping that there would be a handy rope to catch on the way down. But don't clutch at your ideas. If something new comes along and follows you around, see what it has to say. It might be stranger and more fun to chase after.

4. Bring many pens. Stories and critiques eat pens like you would never believe. Or, be very clever, like Emily and Neil, and bring a fountain pen, with a bottle of ink to refill it.

5. Bring comfortable shoes because there is much walking to be had. Walk down to the beach and see the odd squirrel creatures that live there. Walk out to where the Torrey Pines Paragliding Center launches their customers over a cliff and watch a sunset. Wander around campus at night and look at all the strange sculptures. Try not to get lost while going from classroom to cafeteria, and if you do, just keep walking until you find a friendly looking person and ask them to point the way (likely behind the building that you had just passed three times).

6. Try to write a story each week. This causes sleepless nights, dependence on many cups of strong tea, and possibly panic as the story becomes more and more recalcitrant, but it is entirely worth it. Each instructor helps you to look at your work from a different angle. They stand next to you and focus the lens, just so, and suddenly you see all sorts of things that you can take in for that story, and also for the next. Also, if you write a story each week, your classmates get familiar with your habits. They know the direction you tend to lean, they figure out your weaknesses, and they are not fooled by how you might cover them up with things you are better at. They figure you out as a writer, and then they help you tell stories better.

7. Sunscreen is your friend.

8. You don't need to bring too many books. There is a very well-stocked library that looks like a spaceship and is named after Doctor Seuss.

9. Take copious notes. I've just read over my notes from the first week, and there were a couple pages about sentence structure from a talk with Kelly and Jim that I had already forgotten the details of (then again, I have a really dreadful memory. Notes are my friends).

9. Have enormous fun. In six weeks you will: meet several new best friends, have ideas and realizations explode your head every day, stay up much too late talking about impossible things, write and write and write, examine many stories closely so that your brain is forced to learn a bit about how stories work, and go slightly crazy so that you can see things properly again.

If you want to hear my Clarion mates, who are much more sensible and articulate than my ramblings, give their advice, have a listen to this.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

science fiction invades my life

Yesterday, my sister and I had lunch with a good friend at a favourite cafe. We walked past this on the way there. It towers over a tiny bit of park on an island in the middle of the road.

And then today, while waiting to see Tropic Thunder, we found this:
Which made me wonder how many people feel the burning desire to read about "500 Out-Of-This-World" baby names. I did quite like the green tentacles holding the bottle though. I didn't look up anyone's name though, since, according to the Fortune Teller's Name Book in the same store, my name connotes something along the lines of "an end of tribulations coinciding with the end of a significant relationship." What sort of fortune is that?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

golden boy

I have been completely brainwashed by NBC.

Here I am, sitting eagerly in front of my television, ready to watch the whole, long evening of Olympics coverage just to see Michael Phelps swim for his 8th gold medal.

I swear that it's the Countdown To Michael Phelps that pops up on the right of the screen during any sport. "9 MINUTES TO PHELPS," it flashes. "5 MINUTES TO PHELPS!" Hallelujah, everyone, "2 MINUTES TO PHELPS!!!"

The swimmers look like alien sea-people to me, faintly disturbing in the boneless way that their arms and spines move, but I'm still here, waiting for the countdown. Someone in the NBC marketing department knows their stuff.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

and home again, with appearance by knight in shining armour

So, directly from the airport I went to see my sister dance (beautifully, as always) in a two and a half hour performance. Now, as much as I adore watching dance in general, and watching my sister dance in particular, after the Clarion-induced sleep deprivation, two and a half hours was a struggle. My eyes started to get that glass-eye feeling, that weird sensation when the eyeballs are staring really hard and are incapable of focussing on anything, and the eyelids forget what it's like to blink.

My sister was in this amazing piece of choreography by Ohad Naharin. It's a group dance done in chairs to a Jewish echad. The movement is visceral, explosive, and the sort of thing that makes me lean forward in my chair so I can feel the music vibrate my through my chest a bit. There's a snippet of the choreography in this video of Nederlands Dans Theatre.

Since then, I've been fitting myself back into this other life. For six weeks we were in an odd bubble, a suspended chunk of stretched out time cut off from the rest of the world, and coming back to a land where other things besides writing and story-telling exist is entirely strange. I miss my writing people. I spend too much time online, keeping up with our long email conversations and chatting (chatting! I never chat). I miss having them all there, just through the next door, or upstairs, or in the spaceship library, or ahead of me on one of our mad walks through the night... They're all still there though, just a bit more spread out, and that makes me indescribably happy. I love knowing that if I have the weird desire to talk about stories in the middle of the night, I'll have at least one wonderful somebody to call, no matter the time, because we're scattered across so many time zones.

An adventure:
While driving home from the city this afternoon, the car in front of me swerved and almost took out a car in the next lane. I had time to think, "why in all the world did they do that?" and then I saw that they did it to avoid the very large and flat piece of metal on the road in front of me. A truck prevented me from doing the same, so I just shrunk down into my seat and drove straight over. It was very loud. A few minutes later, I was driving along on a flat, rattling tire. I pulled over to the shoulder and rang up AAA for assistance (yes, I'm one of those lame girls who has absolutely no idea how to change a tire), when, miraculously, what should appear behind my car but a shiny white towtruck.

Apparently, there's a Freeway Service Patrol made up of lovely, helpful people who drive around the freeways in shiny towtrucks, looking for people in vehicular distress. My personal knight, a G. Menendez, put my spare tire on and sent me on my way with reassuring words. Then, he got into his towtruck and drove away. I felt like I had just seen a fairy godmother.

Hurrah for the Freeway Service Patrol.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Sometimes, goodbyes are really, really hard. Like when you’ve just spent six weeks with some of the most fascinating, intelligent, and wonderful people… and now you’re leaving them, without knowing when and if you’ll see them again. It’s quite distressing.

We were crammed together for six weeks: living together, writing together, reading the stuff that fell out of each other’s heads, eating the same dreadful food, staying up late and having oddball conversations, and just lazing about on the grass to enjoy the sun. It was like being part of a big, eccentric, and slightly unwieldy family, one that leaves their doors open at all times so people can wander in and out, and feel comfortable turning up for a conversation wherever. There was this delicious camaraderie, this feeling that we were a band of scrappy adventurers ready to carry each other across deserts and battle pirates (or just give each other plenty of tea on nights when the reading went on and on and on). It was a comfortable place to throw yourself into all the unmarked spots on the map.

I’m sitting in the airport right now, and I miss them already. I saw them just a couple of hours ago, but the anticipation of not being able to fall asleep on the couch while listening to Dan and Emily discuss humanity, or walking out to the beach with Damien to watch the paragliders, or having tea with Kat when our stories are being lame… the anticipation of not having that makes me miss them incredibly.

Right. The maudlin is happening. Time to get into a book.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

beneath the cliffs of doom

There is this gorgeous beach a short walk from our campus. It's at the bottom of some steep bluffs, so you can either take a very sloped, but paved road, or you can walk out to the para-gliding center and clamber down a crumbling, rocky set of stairs that make you feel like you're Indiana Jones. Obviously, we prefer the stairs. The very last bit disintegrates into a sandy slide that you have to take at a jog. If you try to make measured, careful steps, your feet start slipping out from under you.

Stairs or road, either way you get one of those breathtaking and entirely Californian views:

Though, if you take the stairs, you get to pass the Salk Institute, which looks like nothing so much as a place where mad scientists breed nightmare creatures for nefarious ends. It is a gloriously forbidding building made up of cement blocks and very few windows, with turrets and sad patio furniture and signs that say "NO LAB COATS IN THE CAFETERIA".

We've taken Kelly, Mary Anne, and Nalo to the beach. Other times we've just skipped off there on our own and admired the sunset. It's a nice, sandy beach, but it is at the bottom of some cliffs, and one of my favourite things about it are the signs telling you to beware the cliffs that may fall on top of your head.

We went to the beach this morning (down the stairs this time), and then we had some Mexican food, and then I fell asleep on the couch in the middle of reading a story, and now I'm having a think about what I'm going to write for next week. There are little hints of lycanthropy, Victorian circuses, and fairy tales swimming through my head, but nothing solid enough to start writing on yet. Hopefully, I'll find a trail to follow this evening and pick my way along the messy bits that are my first drafts.