musings on art, musings on creating

the messiness of emotions & “Hamilton”

I cry. Not heartbroken, but I cry. Tears rise up, choke my throat, cut off all but a whisper. They drip, drip, drip down my cheeks, land somewhere near my collarbone, and I try to hold on. I’m driving, and I’ve already cried too much this trip. Traffic and stoplights demand my focus, and all I can do is wade through the unimaginable.

Only, it’s not my unimaginable. My life has held no tragedy. I am wildly privileged in that my family loves and accepts me. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t struggled to learn, to earn, worried about student loan debt or a job.

But these words, they rise up, rise up, rise up, inexplicable. I scream them, sob them, allow them to shake me to the core. I appropriate these words: the accents, the cadence. The speed with which I have managed to make them tumble from my mouth is close, but not enough. I practice.

Hamilton is not the first piece of musical theater to make me cry. I can’t remember what was. Emotions well with overtures. That’s what art is supposed to do: make people feel. Anger, heartache, glee, terror, delight.

Trying to codify how Hamilton swirls emotions feels as impossible as Hamilton itself. Who’d’ve thought a rap musical about a forgotten Founding Father would eat at the public consciousness? How do I listen to the whole album without tears?

Even whispering the words to myself, a fist squeezes my heart. No song finishes without some rallying cry.

“I’m not throwing away my shot.” “Rise up.” “How do you write like you’re running out of time?” “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” “I will never be satisfied.”

It’s just the first act, with its triumphant tale of bastard orphan rising to Treasury Secretary. The quiet and raucous, horrifying downfall and death that litter the second act bring their own sadness and forgiveness.

More eloquent and elegant people write about the transcendence of Hamilton, its ubiquitous grasp, reaching out farther and further and beyond. Our history, our present, perhaps and hope for the future.

All these things, the hard work and joy and sorrow of searching for the perfect word and grasping at quicksilver emotion. Hamilton is a rallying cry and an admission of defeat. It makes me sit up, buckle down, tell my story. And it makes me so very aware of how hard that is.

Maybe that’s why I cry. Maybe it’s just so damn good. I’m telling everyone I know this story. And I burn.

apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda for borrowing so many of his lovely words just now.

musings, musings on creating, musings on people

where we live & stories we tell & who we are

Spring does not often come early to my neck of the woods. Early May and the trees are only just gently feathering their leaves into the world. Mystical pockets helped along by Mother Nature’s alchemy remind us how unfurled but not quite fully formed leaves look. April’s showers linger in humid air.

Occasionally we’re treated to a day as hot as late June. Instead of grumbling, we revel in the sweat. Thankful to put away down coats and heavy scarves, everyone seems to have grown taller. No one hunches against the cold wind but beams upward at watery sunlight instead.

Birds chirp and chatter, building nests, mating, and laying eggs. Dogs decide to bask in sunlight and dewy grass, wet up to their bellies from exploring all the smells winter dulled with ice.

Gumption returns, too. Projects and improvements that lay fallow all through the cold get started and finished. Minds grow warm again with use, looking for new new new, fresh and happy and not yet slowed by summer’s heat.

My brain whirs and chirps and hums along, excited as a bird, looking for new projects and new ways of thinking. Thinking of a life to build and the lives all around me. Passion projects come and go, but the passion for a project stays and stays.

In the brief moments between reading in bed and sleep, in between discussions and dissertations, while knitting and sewing, and chopping, cooking, baking, cleaning and painting, I think about this place I live. I think about the lives led here and the one I’m leading here now. I think about the stories we tell and the ones that need telling. The little ones, the true ones.

I think a lot about writing. That itchy feeling in my fingers that comes just before the thoughts coalesce. The snap I feel with an ah ha moment. That choked up feeling I get when I read something so true, see something performed so right. That’s the story I want to tell, I tell myself.

I drive around with the windows down. Thinking. Thinking about this place and who we are. I sing along and I wonder. I wonder who we are in this little corner of Western Pennsylvania. James Carville famously said our commonwealth was Pittsburgh on one end, Philadelphia the other, with Alabama in the middle. It resonates because it’s true.

But it isn’t, not exactly. Our foodways are rather less lush, our words shorter and more to the point, our ways and feelings held far closer to our chests. We mistrust outsiders and won’t exactly be inviting a newcomer directly to our homes before she proves herself. You do your work, and why are you complaining because we all have to work hard to get by. Your life’s no harder than mine.

We think of ourselves as Northeasterners, and I never thought I held that distinction more dear to my heart than when I had to talk Midwesterners out of thinking Western PA is part of the Midwest. I’ve been thinking, though, and reading and pondering, and letting my mind whir and chirp along. We aren’t Northeasterners here, either, not really.

We’re rural people, and forest people, and hill and holler people, even if we do try to fancy it up and say holler but spell it hollow. We’re crick people, which means creek, and river people, and we’re pickup truck people, and we’re a people still in a place that hasn’t had an industrial boom since they finished cutting all the trees down in 1900. We’re still here, but not exactly stuck here, though we’re stuck here, too.

I’ve been trying to figure us out, as one does, to be objective but not condescending to the same people I went to high school with, and not pandering to the people who left to get a job different than the ones left here. What I keep coming back to, what I keep feeling a kinship with, is that we’re Appalachian people.

I’ve tried it out a few times, with people who have lived here and gone away and come back and people who have never left, and no one has liked hearing it. Every single person has instinctively recoiled a bit. If we can’t mock West Virginians and Tennesseans and Kentuckians and all the rest, they’ll be mocking us, seems to be the mindset.

Then we talk about it for a bit, we really think about it, or maybe I push it a bit, and, shit, if we aren’t Appalachian. Our hills and ridges are technically part of the range, if evened out from the peaks further south.

We don’t do kil’t greens, but we do do wilted lettuce, which is the same damn thing. Our seasonings are all salt and black pepper and vinegar. Spices are foreign and expensive and why don’t you have a slab of meat with that? Now, not that we haven’t evolved, because we do have the internet and food blogs and fancy coffee…but if you wanted a cappuccino, couldn’t you have gotten one of those from Sheetz?

We get our taciturnity from our Scotch-Irish and German ancestors. Thank god for the Italian immigrants and the Eastern Europeans that came to work the coal mines and steel mills farther south, or no one would invite anyone else to a party. We’d just have one and be pissed only our kin came. That’s alright: we didn’t need them anyway.

We talk a bit funny, even if we don’t stretch our vowels out, and we don’t bother with the letter g at the end of words. We’re mistrustful of outsiders and the government as is the way of rural people the world over, but we’re pretty sure we’re right anyway.

If you haven’t lived here, and by here I mean on the same street in the same town, for generations, you aren’t exactly from here. Your grandfather was from here, but he moved your daddy two towns over, then he moved you back, but not into town, outside of town. I suppose you’ll do. Let me tell you a story.

I’ve been thinking, letting my mind wander driving around with the windows down. I’ve been waiting for those itchy fingers and knowing what story to tell. I’ve been waiting for some sunshine and gumption and heat and passion.

Spring has sprung. The green haze of the treetops grows less ephemeral every day. I think of sweat and toil, labor physical and mental. My brain whirs and chips and hums. I think of this place where I live. I think of the lives we have led here and do lead here and will lead here. I think of the stories we tell. I think I know the ones that need telling.

musings on art, new from the book

finally ready – editing the book

about a year ago, I completed the first draft of a still untitled novel. It felt like I’d be ready to edit in a couple weeks and have things ready to be shown off impossibly soon. It’s been over a year, and the grammatical edits of that shaky draft are half-finished, buried in the depths of my desk.

The sun is metaphorically shining, though. I’ve been working on the “When Sheets Attack!” series, and sadly anticipating the end of some of my favorite television. That television was one of the things that nudged me along the path of a novel based on the history of my little town. I’m ready for re-writes now. Plotting will be changed. Facts will hew more closely to the historical ones, and focus has shifted. The fascination lies far less with the autopsy than the reverberations though the lives of the men involved. It is time the text reflected that.



New Year, New You!

Make 2015 Your Year!

10 Ways to Stick to Your Resolutions!

it’s just a number, just a date. The numbers click over from 23:59 to 0:00, from 31 December to 1 January. We all wander about for the next few weeks, mumbling that we forgot that the year changed on the calendar, on the dateline for our checks. Everyone is fascinated by numbers, by the hope that the simple change from one number to the next will change our simplest selves from who we are to some perfect person we wish we could be. Every website devoted to making folks feel ashamed about themselves has some form of the above headlines.

Still, we make our lists and then make our excuses. Habits are equally difficult to form and to break, and yet we try each new year, at the turns of the season, on our birthdays to form new habits and break the old. Since last I posted, I turned 30. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might, but it did bring about some new habits.

I take care of my skin. I hang upside down in aerial yoga once or twice a week. I struggle with adopting Amy Poehler’s “good for her, not for me” mantra. I journal a few sentences each day. I watch Doctor Who.

vmr #aerial yoga

don’t even get me started on the awesomeness of back-flipping into flying bow pose.

This new 2015 has brought a few more habits, and a few more plans, and for more than just my suddenly appearing biceps. With some determination and a touch of luck, and possibly a few tips on how to make good habits stick, 2015 should be a year of growth.

When Sheets Attack!” hasn’t progressed much on paper {on the keyboard? the screen?}, but it isn’t just for fun anymore. It’s a bedtime story for all those girls and women who want a fairytale reminder that the girls and women they are when they’re alone are the same girls and women they are when they are surrounded by the people and society that pull them in a hundred different directions. It feels like a reminder we all need.

It’s a new year, and if you want to be a new you, go be one. But, if you just want to make a tweak here and there, or are contented with yourself, do it. Be you, and be happy in 2015.

musings, musings on creating

a week on: how do I get published?

Tomorrow makes it one week since I finished the first draft of the book. {see the first few pages here.} I ran off to take care of exciting personal, non-writing related things this past weekend, and am now ready to settle in and give what I’ve written a good once over.

I’ve a list of things I know need working {each character needs a proper voice, as things turned out remarkably talky, some characters need a bit more development, the setting could be more fully fleshed out, etc.}, and I’m sure I’ll find a million more big and little things to fix. All of that, I know I can do.

Where I have no road map is on how I get published. It is all well and good to be able to say “I’ve finished the first draft of my first novel,” but no publisher in her right mind is going to just hand me some money and offer to publish…or even just offer to publish and pay me if copies are sold. I could self-publish, but right now I have already taken enough time off work to write this thing. I do not want to sink my own money in just yet.

And, so, I research. I beg information from anyone I know who has any contacts that might know how to go about getting published. I Google. I blog, hoping some editor person will like what she reads. I do what I can, and what I can right now is get stuck in on some edits and ask for help.

currently reading, musings on art, quotes

currently reading: “All Creatures Great and Small”

“All young animals are appealing, but the lamb has been given an unfair share of charm.”
– James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small”

that line. Not only is there the absolute ring of truth {lambs do possess a great deal of charm}, but “an unfair share of charm” is one of those phrases that trips merrily off the tongue. Say it. “unfair share of charm.” The more it is said, the more charming the phrase becomes. Rhyming helps, of course, but that phrase is one that either came to the writer’s mind in a quiet flash of truth or required a great deal of thought. I’m thinking it was the former.

currently reading, musings on art, quotes

currently reading: “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.”

“With an unprecedented degree of leisure time, and more media access than ever before, the fifties woman was the single most vulnerable woman in American history to the grasp of prefab wholesale thought, and by extension, to the men who made it.”
– Sam Wasson, “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.”

In a fascinating study of how the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and, by extension, Audrey Hepburn changed the face of multifaceted women in film, Sam Wasson lays out the history of the short novel by Truman Capote and the backgrounds of the men who were up against the Code and each other to make a smart, funny, truthful film about people who have sex, as people do.

By taking the reader through the back story of Hepburn’s career and how the American public had {have} been forced to view life through the camera lenses of Hollywood, Wasson provides some insight that still resonates today on how people in general and women in particular are often at the mercy of the men who decide what we watch.

The quoted line could just as easily include today’s women, though I’d suggest we, perhaps, have less leisure time and at the very least more methods of media consumption, though whether our choices aren’t as neatly made by prefab wholesale though is up for debate..