13 Oct 2018

what I’ve been reading lately

Disaster Preparedness by Heather Havrilesky: I just finished this wry, sharp, and smart memoir and YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. Whether you’re a kid of the 70s/80s aching for a deluge of cultural nostalgia or you want to feel connected to someone else who navigates the world without a first aid kit, you will find a story in Havrilesky’s book that will shift the ground beneath your feet. If you thought we were living in end times now (I certainly do), you will remember a time of alien invasions, plummeting airplanes, shuttle disasters, satanic cult rituals, and earthquakes that threatened to swallow us whole. Many of us Gen-Xers were reared in the wake of Boomer anxieties and paranoia and Havrilesky was no exception. What started as a childhood plan–her siblings decided to create their own elaborate escape and survival plans–grew into the blueprint for how they navigated the real earthquakes of their lives: parental discord and divorce, death, sadistic schoolteachers, men frightened of commitment, mothering a screaming two-year-old, and cheerleaders.

Havrilesky’s observations about life are acerbic and funny and always honest. She lays herself out to bear and I cleave to memoirs where the narrators aren’t afraid to parade out their imperfections. I found myself at turns laughing out loud and connecting to the minor and major hurts that shaped her life.

Transit by Rachel Cusk: It’s hard to describe Rachel Cusk’s marriage/divorce trilogy because on paper they’re about one thing (in this second installment, Faye’s unmoored feelings about her divorce as she relocates her two sons to a ramshackle home in London to start over), but then they’re about many other things–gentrification, rejection, acute loneliness, change, abandonment–all told through the lens of Faye’s interactions with other characters in the book. Akin to Outline, we’re eavesdropping on the interactions Cusk deliberately chooses to share and Faye serves as a conduit to understanding all the things going on in her life that she perhaps can’t explain. Or doesn’t know.

For me, the second part of her trilogy was about the importance and impermanence of connection. Relationships–familial, friends, neighbors, colleagues, strangers and lovers–are core to the story and central to Faye and how she navigates her life post-divorce.

You could say that this is a story about a woman rebuilding her life.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson: I purchased this book a couple years ago and it sat on my bookshelf, half-read, ignored. However, over the past few months, I’ve been vigilant about keeping only what is useful, beloved, and functional in my home. So, I pulled out all the unread books and went to work. And I’m glad I did. Jansson’s tender novel, composed of 22 elegant vignettes, tells the story of a grandmother and her six-year-old granddaughter Sophie spending a summer on a small island off the Gulf of Finland, complete with ravaging storms, foreign interlopers, feral cats, and local bugs. The story takes place in the early 1970s after the granddaughter’s mother dies, leaving the remaining women of the house to meditate on love, death, God, and all of nature’s magic in between. The grandmother is acerbic and complacent. Sophie is curious, volatile, and passionate. They spar, squabble, and embark on adventures (from breaking into the house of a wealthy foreigner who has built what they consider a home that’s an obscene spectacle of wealth to weathering one of the island’s most ferocious storms). Their affection for one another is whole and complete, and while there isn’t a grand plot at play, you will come away with feeling that perhaps there’s still some magic left in the world–even if we’re forced to see it through the lens of a child.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran: This book couldn’t be more relevant to the nightmare that is our socio-political climate. In this devastating story, you’ll see the lengths that two women will go to in pursuit of the love and mothering of a small boy. Soli is a nineteen-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant who leaves her small village on the outskirts of Oaxaca for the promise of the California landscape. After a harrowing journey across the border, she takes refuge with her cousin in Berkeley where she spends her days cleaning the homes of the monied and privileged. When she learns she’s pregnant, she keeps the child–much to the chagrin of her cousin–and you see Soli’s unwavering and intense devotion to her son. Soli’s story is juxtaposed with Kavya, an upper-middle-class Indian woman who is distraught over her inability to bear a child. Her desire is a constant, compounded by tradition, a demanding mother, and a frenemy best friend who seems to have it all. The two worlds converge when Soli is placed in immigrant detention, on the verge of deportation and her son, an American citizen, is handed over to foster care. Kavya has the son she’s always wanted and Soli aches his return and will stop at nothing to reunite with her son.

I’m not a mother and I’ve no intentions to have a child. I say this because I was surprised how parts of the novel made me feel…uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because the concept of unconditional love and fierce familial attachment are foreign to me. Obviously, I could empathize with both women but sometimes they bordered on the verge of …annoying. I had to take a step back and realize that Soli is barely an adult and her ambition to make a new life for herself clashes with the reality of the perception of Mexicans, which is pronounced by how she’s treated by the wealthy Berkeley moms and most profoundly by law enforcement. Stereotypes abound. I also had to take a step back and understand that when someone is blocked from their one true want, their decisions and behavior isn’t always rational.

I say all of this because fiction should challenge you. It should wrench you out of your comfort zone. The best books are transformative, and while I sometimes wanted to punch both of the women, I had to ask myself WHY I was feeling this discomfort. And I felt better for having questioned my norms and values after having read this astonishing book.

 

Full Disclosure: I have included Amazon affiliate links, which means I make like $1/month when you buy one of these books. 

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  • We spend our time devoted to the periphery. If periphery was an altar trust that we’d all gather and worship. We cleave to the shiny objects that are social media, email, podcasting—we’re told we have to be diversified—at the expense of the one true thing you create. The thing by which you want to be known and remembered. We give equal (if not more) weight and devotion to that which surrounds our thing instead of getting laser-focused and refining our skills, being a student—all to keep getting better at the thing.
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Trust me, I want to do ALL THE THINGS. Now, I ask myself what portion of my day have I committed to being a better writer, a better storyteller and brand builder? Am I learning something new, regardless of how minor that something is? Or am I zeroing in on the things that are conduits and bridges to and from the work. You’ve created all these points of entry to a thing that isn’t as good as the vehicle that got them to the thing.
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Think about that. Prioritize. .
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#thursdaymotivation #freelance #freelancelife #femtrepreneur #beingboss #ladyboss #protip #beastudent
  • So, I fell down in the middle of the street while walking to an important meeting. I scraped up my knee pretty bad, but kept it moving, because I have a long-term play to earn as much as I can to move somewhere super remote and quiet by the end of the year.
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It’s weird to think that I’ve lived in NY for the first 39 years of my life, Los Angeles for the past four, but I’m watching old episodes of Shetland and wondering how I can get myself to a remote farmhouse, cabin, outhouse, etc. All I need is good WIFI for work.
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But an island in Scotland isn’t realistic, so I’m setting my sights closer to home, California. And I’ve got time to research, thankfully. .
Until then, I’ll keep plugging, keep writing, keep up with newly-revisited healthy habits.
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#freelance #freelancewriter #tuesdaymotivation #beingboss #bosslife
  • New post up on medium. Link in bio.
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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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#authorsofig #authorsofinstagram #writing #weekendvibes #mediumstory #friyay #friyayvibes #novelplotting
  • I live in a city of four million people, which was a marked improvement from my home, New York, of eight million. I snapped this photo during my trip to Cape Town (488K people), and during that trip we traveled to towns of four thousand people and it was GLORIOUS.
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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I’m considering another move when my lease is up to a small AF town in California not too far from the Redwoods and the ocean. I LOVE California, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the US. And I love the idea of FEWER people. Quiet to write. Maybe I can get a dog friend for my Felix! .
So, we’ll see. Does anyone here live in a remote or super small town? If so, what do you love about it?
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#sundayfunday #sundayvibes #weekendvibes #freelancing #authorsofig
  • My breaking point was over a hazelnut. A hazelnut that cracked my tooth at two-thirty this morning. Because I was stress-eating granola. But it was the three thousand dollar bill to fix said tooth that did me in. Only a few weeks before, a persistent ache in another tooth turned into a five-hour fiasco involving a dentist, an endodontist, a $5,000 bill and me texting a friend — while the fifth shot in my mouth was kicking in, and I was inhaling nitrous gas like a glass of water in the fucking Sahara — ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS BULLSHIT?
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My dentist tried to reassure me, after rejecting my pleas for a fifteen-year repayment plan, that this particular tooth had already booked a one-way ticket to a root canal, so I ended up saving $2,000! Oh, cool. So, instead of dropping ten grand on two teeth, I was only paying eight. Like I have eight thousand dollars just laying around, waiting to be flushed down the dental toilet. Apparently, the hazelnut was my salvation. I started laughing and continued laughing. For a while. To the point where everyone in the waiting room was uncomfortable.
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****I wrote about teeth, money, and debt in my latest medium post. Link in bio.*****
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#risingtidesociety #freelancing #freelancinglife #bosslife #bossbabe #beingboss #cashmoney #fuckstudentloans #femtrepreneur #realtalk
  • This is our one life. We love. We lose. We overcome. We break in ways we never thought possible. We climb, ravage, and wreck. While it’s possible that every story has been told, that knowledge doesn’t stop us from reading, watching, listening, and feeling. It doesn’t disconnect us from someone’s unique experience. Instead, we live for the retelling: how individuals bear that which is familiar or common, and how their singular experience feels fresh and new.
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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This year, I’m committed to sharing what I know for FREE. I’ve got no classes to sell after this (I actually hate the idea of teaching writing; I’d rather be doing it), but lots of people have asked for the goods and I believe if you’ve got the skill and privilege, you should be sharing it.
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So, if you want to get your plot on (I am such a 40-something), hit up the link in my bio. If you like what you read, consider clapping (you can clap up to 50x on medium) and share it, so more people get the education love.
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#authorsofig #novel #howtowrite #authorsofinstagram #freelancewriter #novelplotting #mondaymotivation #risingtidesociety #writing #writingcommunity
  • Want to write a book? I'm sharing a six-part series in how to get the job done. The first two I'm previewing on Medium. Yesterday, I wrote about writing killer dialogue. Today, I'm sharing how to craft compelling characters. If you love what you read, consider sharing and clapping (more than once!). link in bio!
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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#howtowrite #writing #writingtips #characterdesign #authorsofinsta #authorsofinstagram #bookstagram #howtowriteabook #weekendvibes #sundayfunday
  • Want to write a book? I got you. Below is an excerpt from my latest medium piece—the first tutorial of six I’ll be sharing on writing mechanics. You’ll get the other 5 later this month if you’re on my email list. Link in profile!
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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#howtowrite #writing #writingtips #authorsofig

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