Things have been keeping me busy these past two weeks and as much as I don’t like it when the blog goes down to the bottom of the to-do list, it happened again. Last week I had a final project to submit for the Information Design course I have been taking. The final project was a “me” advertising piece. I came up with this little author ad that you see illustrating today’s post. I need to find a way to acquire the rights for this flower background image that I used (it’s only available for personal, non-commercial use) if I really want to use this ad, which I would very much like to do.
This week my husband and I had the interview required in the process of naturalization. We passed, and after the oath ceremony in June or maybe July, we’ll be American citizens. I’ll be able to vote in the 2016 presidential elections! Yes, I know!
This process also offered me the opportunity to change my legal last name to the hyphenated form I have been using as a pen name anyway. I’m over the moon about that too.
I have been sewing to relax in between studying for the interview and working on the author ad project. Next week I’ll show you the results of that endeavour.
Hope you’re keeping productively and happily busy and find moments to relax and enjoy your days in between.
I am afraid that my website is in a bad shape right now. I had to delete everything to erase all traces of malicious files that had infected my website and rebuild it all from scraps that I had saved here and there (because my backups didn’t work). I will be working on it this following week to, hoping to recover as many posts as possible and to bring back all functionality. I’m sorry about all this. It has been a shock for me, followed by a lot of work and a lot of learning. It’s all (almost) going to be fine again, though, and no learning experience is to be discounted.
In the meantime, you can go and read an article of mine that has appeared on Feminism and Religion, an wonderful forum for thought on women and spirituality. My article is titled This Be My Altar, but don’t stop there, look around, because that is a place filled with wisdom and inspiration.
I read this Vagina Monologues playwright: ‘It never said a woman is someone with a vagina’ article in the Guardian the other day and it just added up to a lot of confusion I have been feeling lately about the dismissive attitude I see projected often towards individual experiences of feminism for the reason of not being inclusive enough. (This other Guardian articles,Class is permanent and Stop this stream of sob stories from self-pitying middle-class writers – we’ve suffered enough, have also contributed to the confusion.)
There are whole sections of female experiences that have been marginalized for too long: poor women’s, black women’s, lesbian and transgender women’s. The voice of the white, heterosexual, middle class woman has been the one heard most often and most loudly. All that is very unfortunate. We should all be given a voice. We should all have access to education and technology, to publication platforms. There is an acute need to promote those voices that previously have been unheard. I wholeheartedly agree with all that.
Unfortunately, as a middle class, heterosexual, white woman I feel slightly uncomfortable now. I feel like I don’t matter. Is it because I suddenly simply don’t matter “as much”? My experience is clearly not very inclusive, but is anyone’s experience truly inclusive? I don’t know. What I know is that, unfounded or not, I am feeling uncomfortable with this and unsure what to do about it. I feel like I’m being judged for something that I don’t have any control over. Right, boo-hoo, that’s just what all those disadvantaged women previously mentioned have been feeling since forever. I know. That’s why this is so hard.
What I have control over is my writing, though, and because I write fiction and a fiction writer has so many liberties, I think I shall have to make sure to include more diverse characters in my stories. To the extent of my knowledge of their experiences, of course. That will not erase who I am or what I know best (myself), but it will hopefully create an atmosphere of inclusion. Because, being a woman, I understand how to it feels to not be represented. I know how hard it is for me to find, for example, an adventure movie where the main character is a girl, so my daughter feels empowered. At the same time there will always be many other categories of people much less privileged than I am, and I think I have a duty to at least acknowledge the importance of their experience, as different as it is. It’s all I can do. All the while trying to convince myself that my experience is not insignificant, because no human experience is.
A while ago it got into my mind that my days would suddenly become a beacon of productivity and happily accomplished tasks if only I would find a way to keep a list of all my varied activities so I have a clear image of what I need to do in a particular day, week, etc. I do prefer digital technology to paper mostly because it is less wasteful and because I’m in front of the computer most of the time anyway, so I wouldn’t need to have another thing to keep track of.
But such is the life of the modern person: full of technological high hopes and disappointments. It turned out that digital calendars are not as perfect as they set out to be. They seem too immaterial, too easy to disregard, and at the same time too serious. Too stressful and yet at the same time too fickle. They are not beautiful. Not tactile. And maybe most importantly, they seem to always look only in the present and toward the future, and don’t allow you much of the pleasure of leafing back through the pages of what you have done already. Maybe some do, I just never found my way to using that function. Anyway.
That was when I remembered my old agenda. This is an object that has been very loved. I remember seeing it in passing in the windows of a stationery store on one of the old streets of Bucharest. I couldn’t take my mind of it for days. It was expensive for me then so I had to really think about it before taking the plunge. But in the end I couldn’t resist and I went back to the store to buy it. It has a tapestry fabric cover and a really good size, somewhere in between what you’d consider a “personal size” planner and a “desk size” one. I used it for many years and carried it with me to US when I moved here. It stopped carrying it around in my purse long time ago, because like everyone else I would rather reduce the weight I carry on my shoulder every day. Even though I am still pulled toward large bags, I would prefer to keep them more empty than full these days. (Yes, of course. Come on, stop it, you don’t need to beg. A “what’s in my bag” post will be coming very soon.)
I pulled out this old agenda from the shelf and put in some dates on a few pages to start using it as a planner. I did that for a week or two before deciding that I definitely and badly wanted a new planner. Like a nice leather bound one. Because I’m fancy like that. No, not really. But leather feels like something strong, beautiful and durable. It doesn’t get dirty, it looks better with age, it lasts forever. My old tapestry binder looks its age: dirty and cracking all around the edges of the fake leather interior. I am going to give it a nice warm soapy bath one of these days, because I’m not ready to let it go. Yet. Although it’s probably time. As you will see.
Once I convinced myself that I needed a new planner (well, a little before that, let’s be honest here) I started to look online for options and of course stumbled upon the Filofax mania that seems to be going around. Apparently, more than a few people find it hard to let go of paper planning than I would have thought. Those planners look beautiful and seem to be made of quality materials (except for the rings, which have problems, as everyone seems to be complaining). I thought for five seconds of a nice purple one to match my existing collection of purple office accoutrements (which has happened completely by accident until now). But I don’t know if a leather cover with some metal rings is worth such a high price. I do like the look of worn and long-loved ones that carry the deep, hidden stories of their owners’ lives. If I were to ever get one, I would go for an A5 size of The Original Retro Navy.
But this time I tried to find something at a thrift store. It didn’t happen, though. The thrift gods did not smile upon me. So I decided to check out Ebay. Where I found it. My new planner. Handcrafted in the USA. Some sort of basket weave stamped leather. Pretty cute and pretty cheap (about $23 including shipping). It even had a label according to which it had belonged to the Disney Studios, which seems like a fun pedigree.
I was unsure about the size for a very long time and quite disappointed when it arrived and seemed much smaller than I had imagined. The seller had listed dimensions around 6 inches wide and 8 inches long, but it is less than 51/2 wide or 71/2 long. I set it up anyway. Bought some 5×7 notebooks with perforations so that the pages could be ripped off easily, and I punched holes to fit the rings. And voila, new planner for me. It has been working great. I have even made my peace with the size. I don’t really need anything bigger than that for now.
And once that conclusion was reached, on my following thrift shop stop I found a nice, big leather planner in perfect shape for only $2. Of course, right? That always happens. I had to get that too. I don’t know yet what its use it going to be. It’s clearly too big for me to use for my daily planning. But it’s beautiful so I’m keeping it around for the future. I’m sure it will come in handy one day. Maybe when I return to employed work and I want to look very professional.
This is the saga of my planners. Aren’t you happy you now know all that? I’m sure. Oh, no! Please! Don’t worry. It was nothing, really. Anytime. (Seriously. I’m not joking. Run away from here now!)
P.S. I thought I’d add here, for fun additional reading, The Spooky Story of the Paper Planner’s Unusual Life, as reported by The New York Times through the years.
First there were the good year:
(1987) Organizing pays off at Filofax, in which we find out that the Filofax had become “a cult product among the upwardly striving professional classes worldwide, earning it the nickname of ‘the yuppie handbook.’ ”
(1995) Filofax, 80’s Talisman, Thrives in Too-Busy 90’s, in which the Filofax chief executive at the time says that the company’s success is due to the fact that “people, particularly women who have to organize both families and business careers, lead increasingly hectic lives and are looking for something to help them do it.”
And then the sudden end:
(May 7, 2010) The Demise of Datebooks, in which the author grieves after shelving her Filofax to move to “a calendar program that seems somehow to flatten existence.”
But wait! Is this a zombie or ghost that we’re seeing?
(July 29, 2011) A Paper Calendar? It’s 2011, in which the author, after forgetting her planner in the office and facing a whole weekend without it, considers the conversion to an electronic calendar and declares “I would rather live a life of 1,000 missed appointments.”
I thought I’d do something fun today and show you the evolution of my cover art and book titles throughout time. I have talked many times on this blog (a good blogger would now go back through the archives to actually link to said posts, but I, well, you know) about how I enjoy taking breaks from writing to work on cover design.
Creating a cover in Photoshop means using a different part of my brain, a different skill set, having a different level of emotional and mental involvement in the work. I am in a bit of a dark place right now with the book (and it’s not even metaphorical: I am trying to write in a disturbing scene) and I thought I would give myself a moment to breathe and enjoy playing with images instead of words. As a result, I came up with a new cover. It’s the one you see in the beginning of this post. I like it a lot. I think this is probably it. I did, however, use an image that I haven’t purchased yet, because it is possible that I might change my mind again (I have bought in the past images that I never ended up using) so I am waiting it out a little to see how I feel about it in a few months.
And here, for your entertainment, are my attempts at book covers as they happened in time, from ridiculous to horrible to almost passable.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPELL OF BLINDNESS COVER (from the earliest to the last):
You can probably tell that my photoshop skills have improved, as have my confidence and my freedom with ideas. With the second book I tried more things, although I have always wanted a typography-based cover. It also looks like I really liked that head contour idea, because I tried a version of that for each book (I’m pretty proud that I drew that profile, I guess). The first cover for Spell uses a photo that I took too. But that was it. Afterwards I started using images taken by photographers better than I will ever be and/or drawn by actual artists. The titles also changed several times for both books. Only two show on the second book, but the first title, which never made it on a cover, was Mutiny of Violets. I still kind of like it.
Well, this was fun, wasn’t it? Now time to get back to the actual writing.
Is all literature for everybody? That is the question. Unlike Eleanor Catton, I believe that elitism of some sort cannot be avoided. What we call “literary fiction,” does not try to appeal to a certain type of reader, but still, nothing is for everyone, is it? I doubt that many authors will intentionally try to alienate any readers. It doesn’t make commercial sense. But, you will say, artists are not notorious for their commercial savviness. And you will be right. Some of them are, but many aren’t. What they may be known for is making art for art’s sake, which again is all about ignoring the reaction of the public. So if that author fancies herself or himself above everyone else in the room and wants everyone to see it, they will create elitist work. I don’t think elitism is beneath literature at all.
My thoughts about this have been prompted by a recent discussion (here and here) about elitism in the literary world, which was fueled by the a Twitter comment that the use of the word “crepuscular” in a piece published by “The Paris Review” was proof of elitism.
We often have this debate at my house: is a book better for using unusual words, or should writers strive to communicate their message in the simplest and most accessible way possible? Clearly, only fancy words do not make a book. But a simplistic vocabulary doesn’t either. A book is much more than the sum of its words, isn’t it? Word choice is not as simple as a choice between common and sophisticated words. Of course, the debate is wide ranging, but it all comes down to the intention of the writer, in my opinion. If “big” words are used just for the sake of their grandness, the text is elitist, but if they are used because no other word would do in that place at that time, then it’s just a good piece of literary work.
William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway had a famous vitriolic exchange regarding exactly this debate.
He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,
said William Faulkner about Hemingway
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use,
Ernest Hemingway retorted.
To me Faulkner does sound elitist here and Hemingway sounds right. Writing should not be about sending the reader to the dictionary but about finding the best words. That being said, let’s not forget that words are immensely fascinating to people who write and you can’t blame us if sometimes we fall prey to the charms of one word or another and use it more liberally. There is not much fun we have in our lives.
PS. In researching this post I found an article in the Examiner.com titled “The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time,” about writers being mean to each other. It’s a fun read. They could be as elegant as Henry James disparaging Edgar Allan Poe,
An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.
As childish as Nathanier Hawthorne belittling Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
Bulwer nauseates me; he is the very pimple of the age’s humbug.
Or rather morbid and scary, though very creative, like Mark Twain’s dismissing Jane Austen’s work:
Every time I read “Pride and Prejudice,” I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
I know! Writers can be such meanies. I’ll avoid them on the playground from now on.
I’ve changed it! The title, I mean. I am sure nobody actually needs to know how many times an author changes her mind about the titles of the books she’s writing, but I can’t help myself: I get excited and I think my titles are just brilliant. One after another. Every single title (that I end up changing three, four, five times while working on a manuscript) is brilliant at first and gets old very quickly. But this one is really special and I can’t foresee another change.
The new title for my work in progress is now Eye of Water, Eye of Fire. It references a spell that I have learned from my mother and that represents the duality you can find in the book’s main characters. I think it is a fitting title for many reasons, and now I am working on a cover that matches it. I hope to be done with some form of that soon. As soon as I teach myself about typography with the help of the public library from my town.
The amazing (and crazy-making) thing about self-publishing is the immense control one has over the finished product. I get to choose my own title and my own cover! Do I have all the expertise needed to make such decisions? Probably not. It probably won’t help the book sell better, but it will help make it a rounded, more cohesive product. I think.
Oh, before I forget, I also updated my Pinterest boards with images that inspire the atmosphere of this second novel. As I looked through the pictures I realized how similar this is to the world of Ana, the protagonist of Spell of Blindness. The two worlds do intersect even in my head, although they are not the same. There is however another village and another city in this new book. This oscillation between these two very different spaces is still present. Anyway, check out Pinterest if you’d like to see what I’m talking about. You probably don’t have time for that, though. Pinterest is a heartless time-sucking vampire. It’s probably wiser that you don’t let it catch a taste of your few, hard-earned free moments.
I have been thinking about a recent debate regarding women authors and childbearing. Author Lauren Sandler wrote an article for The Atlantic professing that the secret to a successful writing life for a woman is to have only one child, giving as examples writers like Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood and Ellen Willis. If a woman has more than one offspring, then she risks becoming more of a mom than a writer, was the assumption. The article got a lot of attention, but one of the best things that happened was that Zadie Smith replied in the comments section in an effort to disprove the theory, giving herself as proof (she has two children), but also writers like Heidi Julavitz, Nikita Lalwani, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson and Toni Morrison.
Then, let’s not forget, there are those “studies” that somehow come up with results showing that the more intelligent a woman, the less likely she is to desire children. That might explain why humanity finds itself in such an impasse today that is produces crap research like that.
I myself am now a mother of two, so you know on what side of the barricade I wave my flag.
The problem with writing is that you are at home with every good intention of taking care of everything: writing work and house work and parenting. In the brutal reality light you realize that you cannot do everything well, not even well-enough most times. There is a lot of guilt involved, and a lot of doubt, pressure and often too few rewards, because the children will always complain, the house will never be sparkling, the dinner will always need to be made, again and again, and your inner critic will never, for the love of God and country, just shut up.
I do worry these days more than before. I have a novel that’s asking to be finished this year, and I as much as I was hoping to be done with it by now, it’s still in works. The baby, as much as I hoped for a more quiet and sleepy one (thinking that I have paid my dues with the very demanding first of my progeny) still does not sleep more than two hours at night, at almost three months now. So everything is very much uncertain. I cannot hold on to a schedule because my time is not my own right now. And when I am mercifully being offered half hour breaks during the day, I am often too hazy brained to do any proper work, and only succeed in putting on fresh clothes and feeding myself, and maybe picking up a dirty diaper from the living room floor.
So, yes, I confess without pride that sometimes, with teary eyes, I think of the past two or so years when my soon-to-be eight year old has been very independent and has given me plenty of time of my own. And then I think of the future, full of unattainable hopes, and the present full of moments that I tell myself I should be savoring, and I try to make the best of it all. This most days only means managing to not actually hate my life. That’s why I chose this half hour of blessed morning baby nap to write a blog post while still in my messy pajamas, in the middle of a living room that looks like a large, sunny diaper accident. Because one has to prioritize, and there are times when (I know you’ll be surprised to find out) I would rather write something than clean the house. Crazy as it may sound. As long as the children are fed, clothed and emotionally secure (as much as I can take care of that), I can consider my mom job done, and I feel free to do this writing thing. The sun will shine again.
From December 23 to 27, the Kindle edition of Spell of Blindness will be available on Amazon for free. If you are unsure about purchasing it, this is a good opportunity to try it and see what it is all about.
I am also preparing a print edition which I hope will be available soon. I know there are some of us who still prefer traditional books. I know I will enjoy holding my book in my hands. I will let you all know when that happens.
Copyright 2018 Lori Tiron-Pandit