Poem for a Moment in the Supermarket

She looked lost this week,

scanning food, bagging, without

recognition… I 

wanted to clutch her

bent shoulders and pull her out

into the normal

I knew for her.  I

tried.  She did not know me, though

we’ve often exchanged

words about our cart,

my pregnancy, the baby,

my husband’s Asian

heritage and hers. 

I smiled, spoke and was ready

to meet her eyes, but 

I stopped short before

breaking into her world with

“Are you OK?” though

I could’ve, should’ve

maybe.  At least I send her

thankful, hopeful thoughts

until next week, when

I’ll unload my cart again 

and see if all’s well.  

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A Time of Firsts: My First Pregnancy and My First Novel-Writing Class

So I’ve puzzled a bit over whether or not to share this information on my blog, mostly because, though I’ve been open about my reading and writing, I haven’t shared much about my personal life here.  BUT…this is something that will affect every aspect of my life, including my writing, and I’ve been working on some poems around this topic, and if they evolve enough, I’ll likely include them here.  I’m about five months into my first pregnancy.  So far, so good.  A lot to think and feel, and moments that have been a bit overwhelming, but I’m on the road forward and looking ahead to a new family member this winter.

In other news, I thought I would try a novel-writing class this summer.  I took one poetry class and a few short story classes as an undergraduate.  As an English major, I did a concentration in creative writing and wrote a novella as my honors thesis.  So while I have taken creative writing classes before, I had never taken a class designed around a novel.  I’ve been to a couple of conferences and attended lectures and workshops on novel-writing, but haven’t done anything more long-term or intensive.

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I signed up for an online class called “Novel Builder” through the Grub Street organization.  A few friends of mine in my weekly writers’ group had taken Grub Street classes before and recommended them (despite the fact that they are a bit costly!).  I decided to go for it.  I have a draft of one novel complete, but have shelved that for future thought while I’m working on another novel, women’s fiction with paranormal elements.

Salesses

The course was taught by Matthew Salesses, who has several credentials in fiction and nonfiction writing, including a forthcoming novel, The Hundred-Year Flood.  (By the way, The Hundred-Year Flood is available for early reading through Kindle First, free for Prime readers.  I read it and really enjoyed it! – official release date 9/1/15.  Here’s the link to my brief, spoiler-free Goodreads review)

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Without giving away the content I’m sure Matt Salesses worked hard to put together, I definitely want to say that the course was worthwhile.  Based on the idea that many successful contemporary novels are comprised of twelve major scenes, the goal of the course was to write and receive feedback on six scenes.  Over the course of six weeks, we watched craft talk videos given by Salesses, read the novel excerpts he’d prepared, commented on our classmates’ scenes from previous weeks, and then posted our own scenes based on weekly prompts.

I found it was immensely helpful to consider the structure of a novel at length and from the angle that Salesses presented.  I was able to see my protagonist’s arc more clearly.  I was also able to more clearly see how I could make the plot accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish in order to get my characters where they needed to be.  I enjoyed my classmates’ writing very much, and benefited from their thoughtful feedback, as well as the feedback provided by Salesses.  We are all working on very different projects, but I found each story fascinating, and hope that I’ll be able to keep in touch with my classmates and read these novels in full when they’re ready.

Though I expect things to get very busy in the coming months, with my return to teaching and this pregnancy and whatever it brings, I hope to take another online class through Grub Street.  Feel free to write in about your own experiences or with any questions.  Based on my experience, I would definitely recommend taking a novel-writing class to move your novel forward, and in particular, I’d recommend this one; I can see online that it will run again through Grub Street, starting in October.  I’m hoping to keep putting in as much time as I can on my own novel and I feel a renewed confidence in my ability to finish it (and maybe before our future child is able to read) after taking the course.  Next steps: write the climax, figure out what the ending is for my secondary villain….

In other news, watch out for an anthology on the way from Three Line Thursdaymore news to come!

A Walk in the Woods (of Maine): Reflection and a Poem

Copyright Emily Livingstone -  2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

First of all, exciting news!  Available tomorrow, 6/21/15, the new FlashDogs Solstice Anthology!  As posted on the FlashDogs website, “2 books.  143 stories.  48 writers.”  I’ve only read my own and one by Brian S. Creek (which was wonderful).  Can’t wait to read the others!  All stories are flash fiction inspired by photos which are either light or dark.

FlashDogs Solstice Anthology, available tomorrow, 6/21/15!

FlashDogs Solstice Anthology, available tomorrow, 6/21/15!

So the photo–this is where I’m lucky enough to spend the weekend.  My husband and I are up in a rented house in Maine on the water.  The school year is nearly over (just a few more days!), and the time here is giving me a taste of the deep, cleansing breaths to come.  It’s been a busy month, as I’ve been working on keeping up with end-of-the-year schoolwork and some personal obligations.  The end of the school year is always a tense time for the students and for me, as I have those final conversations with parents I’ve been talking to at various points throughout the year, and sometimes have to deliver tough news.  We’ve also had a tense environment at work due to budget constraints, and it’s been very hard saying goodbye to some close coworkers.

After the drive up here and listening to the beginning of Stephen King’s Duma Key (thanks for the recommendation, Lisa Pais), we’ve been in for some quality family time and relaxation with some beautiful scenery.  I woke up to my wonderful brother cooking breakfast for everyone.  We chatted for awhile and walked the beach.  My husband and I skipped rocks.  He’s much better at it, but I got a few!  Then, we headed out to poke around in some galleries and get lunch.  This afternoon, we took a walk to check out the wooded scenery at a more leisurely pace.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

The house where we’re staying has sentimental significance to my family.  My aunt and mother, who are up here all week, used to come here as children.

smaller trail

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

I know that I have been less than consistent with my blog in the last few months, but with the school year ending, I plan to do much better.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

For now, a poem, written as I sit with my family on the screened-in porch, enjoying the remains of the sunset.

Dusk on the Porch

Sitting in a green rocker,

wool blanket tucked under my chin,

I am surrounded by family,

and we are wrapped in layers,

not giving into the deepening chill

now that the sun has set.

*

We hear the cries of sea gulls

and the melodic, repetitive gong

sounding on some buoy,

out where we cannot see.

There is also the occasional

cry of a loon.

To this, we add our own

natural noises:

quick, excited speech,

low, reflective murmurs,

bursts of laughter

that may make other wildlife

turn their heads

or take a step away.

*

The last sound

that I pick out,

like one string

in a tangled weave,

is the water lapping quietly

against the rocks.

That one is last

because it is at the

subtle heart of the others.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

Musings on the Past Few Weeks…and a Poem

I feel like my schedule’s been getting away from me the past few weeks.  I haven’t found as much writing time as I usually do. Why?  We had the end of term 1 of school (all that grading and extra help and contacting home!) and the beginning of a new one, fun family things, yard work, some meetups with friends, some excursions with my husband…  Good things, really.  Even the yard work.  My husband and I are still very much in the glow of having our first house and first yard.  I’m loving being outside and taking care of the property.  We filled a lot of leaf bags this weekend, and got to spend time outside together with the dog.  Oh, and we washed the dog, and his bed.  He will smell really good for a few days…or maybe one…  Today, I’m writing right before I transition to doing a little more prep for this next (short!) week.  I’m hoping that with this holiday week, I’ll find some extra time.  I’m missing my quiet, intense hours.

It’s not that I haven’t written at all.  There have been a few snatched, furtive moments, but not those long, satisfying stretches of repeated clicking and clacking of the keys until I truly can’t write any longer…sigh.

Ha ha–well, I have been reading, which has been good.  I’m grateful to the “Text to Speech” feature of my Kindle that reads books to me for free while I’m getting ready in the mornings and on my commute.  I couldn’t read nearly as much without it.  My husband thinks the voice sounds awfully mechanical, and, hey, it’s not an actor, but I’ve gotten used to it.  I don’t mind it.  Thank you, authors and publishers who have enabled “Text to Speech.”

Here are my writing resolutions for the not-to-distant future:

-Polish my current short story, a deviation from my typical short stories, involving ghosts

-Return to writing my second novel (I’m midway through!  I’m leaving the first one on the figurative shelf for now)

-Write another installment for this blog of “Shows I Liked that Got Cancelled”

-Write a post for this blog with my thoughts on some of my recent reads

And, for now, a haiku:

Haiku for Missing My Writing

Well, I have opened

the document.  That counts, right?

I miss you.  Sorry.

Great Shows that Got Cancelled, Installment 1: Better Off Ted

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So, sometimes shows I really like get cancelled.  In this post, I wanted to reminisce a little about one of them, Better Off Ted, starring Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi.  In this comedy, Ted is (or was) a well-meaning single dad trying to do the right thing in a soulless corporation which builds new technological advances and tries every trick out there to maximize profit.

This show had a lot of great deadpan humor and strong writing that created hilarious situations.  Some favorites include the “Racial Sensitivity” episode, “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits,” and “Jabberwocky.”  The company often makes funny and devastating mistakes at the expense of its employees, showing its inability to understand people.  The show is broken up at times with commercials such as:

“Doing the Right Thing–it’s important.  What does it mean in business?  We don’t know yet.  We know what wrong is–actually, no we don’t, because we’re a successful company, not some boring ethics professor…Veridian Dynamics.  Right and wrong.  It means something.  We just don’t know what.”

Images from Wikipedia

The company’s perspective is most often embodied by Portia de Rossi’s character, Veronica, who plays Ted’s boss and the supervisor of a section of the company.  After the company works its employees excessively in order to prepare for the upcoming “Relaxxxicon” event, and one employee dies, Ted protests the company’s response: a half day off for a memorial service.  Veronica explains why the company won’t change its policies, saying, “The company feels that if we ease up just because one person dies, it may encourage other people to die.”

In the “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits” episode of season 1, Ted brings his daughter, Rose, to work when his nanny is unexpectedly unavailable.  He doesn’t want to leave her at Veridian’s daycare when he discovers that the children in the daycare are being used for custodial work on the company grounds.  Rose has a large effect on Ted’s coworkers, Veronica included, at least once Veronica sees Rose.

Ted: “Did you even notice I have my daughter with me today?”

Veronica: “I look at people’s eyes when I talk to them, Ted, not at their waists.”

When Veronica asks Ted to go to the lab, where he cannot bring his daughter, he’s hesitant to let Veronica watch Rose:

Ted: “I have to watch Rose.”

Veronica: “I can wash Rose.”

Ted: “I said ‘watch her,’ not ‘wash her.'”

Veronica: “Hmm.  Even easier.”

Ted: “The fact that you thought I was going to go wash Rose right now makes me think you makes me think you may not know that much about children.”

Veronica: “I know they need to be cleaned.”

After some initial stumbling, Veronica bonds with Rose when she realizes that Rose is useful in helping her to manipulate her boss and employees.  People are reluctant to yell, cry, or make a scene in front of a child.

Veronica: “You are very effective at getting people to control their emotions.  That is a huge asset.”

Rose: “Um…thank you?”

Veronica: “Yes, thank you is correct.”

Did anyone else watch this when it was on?  For those Amazon Prime users out there, both seasons are available with your subscription through Amazon Prime Instant Video.  I hope you enjoy.  I had fun looking back on favorite lines and characters–this show had fantastic writing!

Unseen Connections: Art Articulating Life

When I first started tweeting (this summer), I underestimated Twitter as a medium for finding out all sorts of information and getting exposed to great art and ideas.  A few days ago, I encountered the work of Shuli Hallak, and I wanted to share it because I thought it was so provocative and current.  Perusing her work today also reminded me of the work of a close friend and fantastic artist, Gayla Martin, who is seemingly at the other end of the spectrum.

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Shuli Hallak’s “Servers that Write Text Data” from her photographs of Facebook Servers – used with permission

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A photograph of one of Gayla Martin’s sculptures – used with permission

Fast Company magazine recently featured Shuli Hallak’s work in a piece called “Invisible Networks: One Woman’s Fantastic Quest to Photograph the Living Internet.”  There are all sorts of images in on Hallak’s website.  She’s photographed all sorts of cables, panels, and electronics which look foreign to the eye, like something out of a sci-fi movie.  It is interesting to be able to see the internet, which can feel like a bizarre abstract concept to those who remember life before it began and then became so prevalent.  There is so much involved that we don’t see–wireless networks, data storage–the physical part of what connects us “invisibly” to people all over the world.

In the Fast Company interview, Hallak explains that there is a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the concrete dimension of the internet:

“There are a lot of implications. If we know what this stuff looks like, then we can actually speak about it and think about it. It’s not actually very complicated or difficult. We’re visual thinkers. And we can speak about things when we have a visual concept.”

This is certainly true.  Language has an intimate connection with thought.  This is why expressing ourselves and hearing others’ expressions is so important, for one thing.  Through expression we can learn about ourselves and others, and we can evolve and change.  By understanding more about how the internet works, we can better understand something that many of us use daily without considering how it works and its physical place in our world.  I like that some of Hallak’s photographs show the technology on its own as an alien thing, while some of them integrate technology with people or the environment.  Her work asks that question–is technology now a true part of our world?  Is there a way in which it is still separate?  Can we see it as organic and part of a system which includes humans and the environment?

Deep See Cable Recovery

Shuli Hallak’s “Deep Sea Cable Recovery” – used with permission

Gayla Martin’s work at first seems very different.  She mostly works in thread and fabric, but lately has been making prints and paintings as well.  She has created organic weavings with variations in line, thickness, and light.  She’s created changes in space with large hoops suspended from the ceiling which have a rain of threads (ranging in length from two to ten feet) attached to them.  Martin hand dyes the thread and her work exudes personal energy.  The everyday materials, including a tea strainer (in the image above), remind one of home, and the processes involved in creating these pieces further add to their human feel.

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From Gayla Martin’s “Constructed Impressions” and “Weavings” – used with permission

For me, the common threads (haha–I’m not sorry for the pun, though!) are the way that lines are integral in defining space, as well as making something unseen visible and available for discussion.  With Hallak’s work, I see the straight lines of the data storage area and the curves of the cables and the way that space is defined by cables and rectangles.  There is an intricate apparatus that Hallak is making visible and available to us through her photography.  In Martin’s work, she’s added visual lines to articulate and describe invisible human ties to our surroundings.  Sometimes, her work shows our connection to our environment–places we grew up, or places that hold meaning for us.  Lines and weaving ask us to think about the very nature of connection: how are we tied to what we see and the people around us?  What if these lines are broken?  Are the  lines even?  Is the space around us rigid or fluid?

Both artists’ work, especially seen together, ask us to examine the line between the organic and the artificial.  Martin’s work uses organic, everyday use materials like thread, or even a strainer, to show us something unusual about our lives and make us consider them in a new way.  She often considers light and shadow, and when you see these pieces in an installation, part of the beauty and the experience is viewing them in context.  Hallak’s work shows how artificial objects which are part of advanced technology integrate with organic materials, like the ocean.  Hallak’s photographs, like “Multiple Subsea Cables” (below) can also show how these technological materials can imitate the organic: seeing the cables close up, they look like they could almost be vines, and we can see the fraying threads on them that remind us of weavings like the ones that Martin constructs.  There is a human element, even in very technological objects that we may imagine to be inhuman and abstract.

72_soloweave 72_doubleweave

 

Weavings by Gayla Martin – images used with permission

Multiple Subsea Cables

Shuli Hallak’s “Mulitiple Subsea Cables” – used with permission

Both Gayla Martin and Shuli Hallak are exploring important and often abstract aspects of life through their art.  What do you think of their work?  What does it remind you of?

Special thanks to both Shuli Hallak and Gayla Martin for providing the images including here and giving their permission for their use in this blog post.  All images belong to them.  Please check out their websites: ShuliHallak.com and GaylaMartin.com; they have much more work than appears here!

Shuli  Shuli Hallak – You can also follow her on Twitter: @ShuliHallak

cupid3.jpg  Gayla Martin – You can also follow her on Twitter: @moxiegm

Reading Adventures – Gone Girl, Dark Places

Don’t worry–no Gillian Flynn spoilers!  The only possible spoiler is about a long-gone episode of Nip/Tuck (see below).

After a day of recuperation after the fabulous Writer’s Digest Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, I’m reading to dive back into my blog.  Last week, I was away from home at a training, and met my friend and fellow writer, Lisa Pais on the train down to New York for the conference.  I’ll tell you more about the conference in my next post!

I wanted to share two of my latest reads.  I had heard a lot of buzz about Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, so I started reading it last week.  While it didn’t grab me in the first few pages, I was soon hooked.  I loved the characters Flynn created and the way those characters surprised me.  I don’t tend to read psychological thrillers or mysteries, and it had been a long time since I’d read something with the flavor of Gone Girl.  I was impressed with Flynn’s level of detail and the way she tied everything together.  Wow.  I don’t think I could have managed to write that kind of novel!

Gone Girl

After Gone Girl, I was eager to add another Flynn novel to my Kindle for my train trip down to NYC.  I ended up deciding on Dark Places, about an adult who has grown up without her immediate family after they were brutally murdered when she was seven.  This novel hooked me immediately (although I was biased toward Flynn at this point!) and I had a hard time putting it down.  My stomach roiled in discomfort several times, but I loved the story and thought the plot and characters were again very well done.

I was reminded of the time period when my husband got me into watching Nip/Tuck.  Did anyone else watch this?  I loved and hated to watch it.  We were behind, so we were watching the seasons on itunes, episode after episode.  The characters were interesting, the plot was exciting, but during and after each episode, I usually felt like I was going to throw up.  After each episode ended, I would think to myself: Wow, I wish I hadn’t watched that.  I should stop watching this.  Then: Let’s click on the next one.  Maybe something good will happen to these characters in the next episode and no one else will get hurt or traumatized.  The arc which stuck with me the longest is probably the one with the crazy agent who had a penchant for making teddy bears…sometimes out of people…I’m shivering and cringing all over again just thinking about it.

Anyway, I liked Dark Places even better than Gone Girl.  For me, Dark Places led me into situations which were extremely enticing because they were bizarre; I had never imagined anything like many of the experiences Flynn’s protagonist, Libby has.

Dark Places

I was trying to talk my husband into fitting Flynn’s books into his schedule, and I was saying to him that I didn’t think I had such disturbing elements in my own writing, and then I realized…I actually do.  Maybe my writing isn’t as different from Flynn’s as I had at first imagined.  I have some sympathy for my own psychopaths and villains, and I know how they ended up the way that they did.  While my novels are not thrillers and don’t have the same feel as Flynn’s, there are some interesting parallels.

This reminded me that it’s important for me to read outside my usual genres and my comfort zone.  There is a lot that I can learn from top-notch writers in any genre.  Especially as a writer, it’s helpful to me to see how writers use the common elements of setting, characterization, plot, tension, etc. in telling very different stories.  In my writer’s critique group as well, though there are some connections that pop up in our writing, we are ultimately telling stories in several genres with different styles.  I love my writer’s group!

I’m also currently reading Omar Farhad’s Honor and Polygamy, which is even further from something I’d normally read.  I’m also in the middle of Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake, which is right in my comfort zone (and which I’m enjoying very much!).  Sometimes, I read books one at a time, but I do find that, especially in the summer, I have some time for reading multitasking, and my brain wants me to spread it a little thinner.

KeepsakeHonor and Polygamy

Anyone else had some recent experiences reading outside your typical genre?

(Images are linked to the sites where I got them)