Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

The other day I took a quiz on Facebook. “Which Once Upon a Time Character Are You?” seemed sort of fun and timely, given that the season premiere was coming up. The quiz took me through a series of seemingly random questions (as they all do), and a few that seemed more relevant to one’s possible fairy tale identity. Which weapon would you choose, which of the seven dwarves, etc. Rapidly, I clicked through (as we tend to do), and after the whole thing was done, I kept thinking about one question and how I’d answered it. “Do you believe in magic?” it asked. And I’d clicked, without hesitation or thought, Yes.
I wondered what I meant by that. Do I believe in the type of magic they have on the television show? Potions and magic swords, spells and inherited powers? Well, maybe not, although I’d hate to say a definitive no. I do, however, believe in all sorts of things that don’t fall within the realm of the five senses. What you choose to call them is up to you, but “magic” seems to fit in there somewhere, at least to me.
I believe in premonitions, intuition and trusting your gut. I'm convinced that moments of déjà vu are trying to tell us something, and that luck is life’s barometer. I believe in destiny and fate and yet, I also believe that we have the magical power to alter either one. I think love at first sight happens all the time. I listen to vibes. I’m most definitely attentive to negative energy and positive energy and believe each brings more of the same. I beware of karma. I trust in some unseen life force that strives for balance in all things and encourages us to do the same. And just between you and me, I believe in ghosts, who most certainly travel in breezes and with particular scents and probably can traverse dreams. Also, I don’t think UFOs are out of the realm of possibility. Anyway...
My favorite author as a kid was Ruth Chew, who wrote about witches and magic and all sorts of spooky things. (Sidenote: Random House started rereleasing her books last year! See here.) When I was young, I spent a brief period trying to harness my mind power. Bending spoons, reading thoughts, willing things to happen. I can’t say I ever had much luck in that regard but even now, I think maybe I wasn’t doing it right. Of course, the writer in me would say that imagination is one of the most magical powers we all have, and maybe when it comes right down to it, that’s all magic is.
As for that quiz…I asked my family which Once Upon a Time character they thought I’d been assigned. My husband said immediately: Hook. Which I thought was really weird. The show is full of queens and princesses. Why a male? Why a self-serving egoist with questionable moral character? But then I thought about Hook’s courage, his great leather wardrobe and let’s face it—his irresistibleness. And guess what? The husband was right, and it probably should have come as no surprise when he took the quiz and got Emma. He does not believe in magic, or vibes, or pirate ships that can go through portals. And yet, we all know what’s happening with Hook and Emma this year. The attraction of opposites—another of life’s little magics.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poem for the Weekend

Robert Creeley attended Harvard and was, at one time or another, an ambulance driver, chicken farmer, expatriate and publisher. He was said to be influenced by William Carlos Williams and was part of the Black Mountain Poets of the 40s and 50s. They advocated projective verse, an "improvisational, open-form approach to poetic composition, driven by the natural patterns of breath and utterance." Here is one such poem.

I Know a Man

by Robert Creeley 

As I sd to my   
friend, because I am   
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his   
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for   
christ’s sake, look   
out where yr going.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poem for the Weekend


This week's poem comes from a pillar of poetry, the Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska. She is known for her political poems--her lifespan took her from the effects of World War II and Stalinism through to twenty-first-century Poland--but she also wrote personal poems like this one. Here's a link to her 2012 obituary, which gives a good overview of her life and work.

Some Like Poetry

by Wislawa Szymborska

Some -
that means not all.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
and poets themselves,
there will be perhaps two in a thousand.

Like -
but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.

Poetry -
but what sort of thing is poetry?
More than one shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and clutch on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Secrets in Their Eyes

I've been working on some notes for a reading/signing I'm doing this weekend. It's at a quaint bookstore in Orange that focuses on mystery and romantic suspense books (event info here--come on out!). So I've been pondering my own happy but complicated relationship with the mystery genre, especially as it pertains to my novel, The Qualities of Wood. And in November, I'll be attending Bouchercon, a HUGE gathering of crime fiction aficionados being held this year in my hood. And I've been thinking about the part of mystery that's so great, that delicious, narrative pull of not knowing, and how it can translate to other aspects of a story.

Then I watched a film the other night that had a crime in it, and was a mystery, and yet, it was so much more. It's the best thing I've watched in a long time. I'm not sure how this one slipped by me--it won the Oscar in 2009 for Best Foreign Language Film--but I'm glad I came around to it finally.

The Secrets in Their Eyes is an Argentine thriller about a retired counselor, Benjamín Espósito, who has decided to write a novel based on a case he had twenty-five years before. A young married woman was raped and killed, the solving of the case involved many twists and turns, and Espósito remains haunted by the outcome. As he starts to look into past events, old, personal wounds are opened, both the loss of his alcoholic, best friend and the woman he loved. Although the film is about the crime and its aftermath, and the unpleasant sides of human impulse--control, jealousy, passion, sexual dysfunction--it's also, surprisingly, a tender love story. And the viewer is left wondering which of these emotions can actually do the most harm. There are so many strains in this film, so many contemplations about love and loss, and the actors are top notch. It even has a bit to say about our need to document and tell stories. It is most definitely an accomplished mystery, with all the thrills and chills, but it will satisfy those of us who like to unravel a good theme as well. Highly recommended by me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Poem for the Weekend


I read lots of poems this week, but this is the one my thoughts returned to over and over again. And so I went to read a bit about the author, Kay Ryan, and found that she grew up in “small towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert,” the two places where I spent my first twenty-three years. She even attended Antelope Valley College, as I did, before I decided to drop out and head north (but that’s another story for another post). Here is a link to read a bit about her writing and career, and here is her lovely, minimal poem.

Drops in the Bucket

by Kay Ryan

At first
each drop
makes its
own pock
against the tin.
In time
there is a
thin lacquer
which is
layered and
till there's
a quantity
of water
with its
own skin
and sense
of purpose,
shocked at
each new violation
of its surface.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Creative Process: Saving Mr. Banks


I recently watched one of the Oscar contenders from last year, Saving Mr. Banks. To be honest, nothing about the film held any appeal for me when it was released. Not the subject matter, the making of a Disney movie, not the comedic clash of cultures between an uppity Englishwoman and the king of make believe, Walt Disney, not even the lead actors, both of whom I usually find hard to take. But my husband always wanted to see it and thought it would be something the whole family could watch. Well, we finally did.

And I’ve been thinking about the movie, which I actually enjoyed very much. Now, it was spawned from the Disney machine so of course, it was what I saw described as “aggressively likeable.” There were moments of sentimentality and humor, mixed to a pleasing balance, and a bit of stereotype here and there. These weren't the most developed characters you'll ever witness. And if you’re looking for a comprehensive retelling of the making of Mary Poppins, this probably isn’t it. As is always the case with films “based on true events,” you can google lots of articles about how Saving Mr. Banks was misleading or incomplete or whatever. Here’s one.

The film does begin at the point that P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) is grudgingly on her way to Los Angeles to participate with the development of the Mary Poppins movie. I actually enjoyed her emotionally restrained English-y demeanor, as well as her interplay with Tom Hanks, who plays a thoughtful Walt Disney. The thing is, I think it might be one of Hanks’s best performances. Yeah, I said it. He was fantastic. I’m sure there was much, much more to the story, but the patience and insight Hanks’s Disney shows to Travers, and the way these two characters eventually form some slight connection (or in the least, a stalemate) is something to see.

But what I enjoyed the most about Saving Mr. Banks is the part that I imagine was the most fictionalized: the flashbacks to P.L. Travers’s childhood, which unfold almost as a mystery. Her beloved alcoholic father and his road to ruin, the ways this most vital relationship bled into her writing of the books. Without saying too much--in one of the final scenes, Disney relays some of the difficulties of his own childhood, and the differing ways he and Travers have handled hardship. It is apparent, however, that each's creative outlet was powered by these early charges. We are also left to make some extended assumptions about what drove Disney to his particular obsession, the entertainment of children, and to ponder how our own experiences color anything we create. Whether this part of the storyline was true or not, it left me thinking about influences and memory, and the stew from which we draw our best broth.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Poem for the Weekend


Today's Poem for the Weekend comes from one of India's most well-known public figures. Sarojini Naidu has an amazing biography, which you can read here. She was the first female president of the Indian National Congress, a state governor, a suffragette, and a poet active in India's literary scene. Sometimes called "the Nightingale of India," she died in 1949.

Autumn Song

by Sarojini Naidu

Like a joy on the heart of a sorrow,
The sunset hangs on a cloud;
A golden storm of glittering sheaves,
Of fair and frail and fluttering leaves,
The wild wind blows in a cloud.

Hark to a voice that is calling
To my heart in the voice of the wind:
My heart is weary and sad and alone,
For its dreams like the fluttering leaves have gone,
And why should I stay behind?                             

"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka