Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deep Thoughts for Tuesday

Sometimes I wonder about humanity, and space, and whether there’s a force that binds us together, that pulls us along and attaches us, each to the other, with invisible strings.  The star of your mother being one of your closest neighbors, the occasional comet an acquaintance who moved away, distant planets people on other continents.  All beings with the same components, the same driving force, the same fundamental truths. 

Or maybe chaos holds the day and those flashes of light in the darkness are only figments or sensory data, none of them with any similarity to you, none of them with anything to offer except a passing diversion.  Each his own universe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Apologies to William Styron...

Some of you may recall a prior post, about the Biblioz site, where you can search for New York Best Sellers the week of your birth.  I decided to try two books from my year, 1968, The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron and Couples by John Updike.

I'm sorry to report that the first of these was a partial failure.  I read about 150 pages of the book and definitely got a feel for why the book started all the fireworks it did.  First, Styron writes from the point of view of Turner, which was controversial enough since Styron was white, but he also infuses the narrative with such depth of character that Nat Turner becomes sympathetic to some degree (which whites didn't like).  Even though Nat Turner led a slave rebellion that resulted in 55-65 deaths.  He also insinuates that Nat Turner had less-than-holy feelings for a white woman, and brotherly feelings towards another white man (which blacks didn't like).  So really, there was a firestorm around this book and its historical relevance is obvious.  The reason I couldn't finish it was because it seemed to be leading up to a play-by-play, detailed recount of the massacre itself (having already included some graphic details up to that point) and really, I just didn't want to go there. 

I don't give up on books very often, but I stopped reading this one.  That is not to say I wouldn't recommend it.  Actually, the more I think about it this morning, I'm thinking maybe I'll return to it some time.  For now...on to Couples.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Welcome Encouragement

Almost a year ago, I uploaded my novel, The Qualities of Wood, to Harper Collins' Authonomy website.  Today, I finally got my much-anticipated review from one of the editors there, and I'm happy and relieved to say that it was heartening and helpful.  Some choice quotes:

"White is great with dialogue, both in terms of what is said and what remains unsaid.  The undercurrents are subtle but well defined.  In this respect I was reminded of Anne Tyler and Annie Proulx.  Her sense of place is also strong and convincing; I feel as if I am in small-town America from the very first chapter of the book."

"I have read a great many books on Authonomy, and they can vary in quality from pretty ropey to really very good, but they nearly always need a fair bit of work to be anywhere near ready for publication.  The Qualities of Wood is the nearest to a print-ready manuscript as I have read on the site."

"It really would not take a great deal of editorial tweaking to make this a strong, commercial proposition for a publisher.  I was very impressed."

I'm very encouraged and quite relieved, as I actually thought the review would start something like:  "Are you kidding with this?  You have wasted my morning with this amateurish piece of trash...etc...etc."  So this is much better.

If you'd like to read the review in full, or a bit of the story, click the link to the right.  Thanks again to all the writerly friends I've made through Authonomy.  Your encouragement fortified me from the start.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear: The Word

Discussion with my 8-year-old daughter yesterday.  She, in the dining room; me, around a corner in the kitchen. 

She:  How do you spell "through?"
Me:  Like, "He walked through the wall?" (Me, thinking of superpowers apparently.)
She:  Yeah.
Me:  T-h-r-o-u-g-h
She:  You know, like "He threw the ball."
Me (exasperated, busy with many things):  That's a different word.  If it's throwing a ball, it's t-h-r-e-w.  If it's through a wall, it's t-h-r-o-u-g-h.
She (exasperated, in her own way):  Never mind!

More definitions:

1.  of, concerned with, or involving the nucleus of an atom:  nuclear fission
2.  biology   of, relating to, or contained within the nucleus of a cell:  a nuclear membrane
3.  of, relating to, forming, or resembling any other kind of nucleus
4.  of, concerned with, or operated by energy from fission or fusion of atomic nuclei:  a nuclear weapon
5.  involving, concerned with, or possessing nuclear weapons:  a nuclear war, a nuclear strike

And just to clarify...nucleus...which becomes even broader in scope:

--n, pl -clei, -cleuses

1.  a central or fundamental part or thing around which others are grouped; core
2.  a centre of growth or development; basis; kernel:  the nucleus of an idea
3.  biology (in the cells of eukaryotes) a large compartment, bounded by a double membrane, that contains the chromosomes and associated molecules and controls the characteristics and growth of the cell
4.  anatomy any of various groups of nerve cells in the central nervous system
5.  astronomy the central portion in the head of a comet, consisting of small solid particles of ice and frozen gases, which vaporize on approaching the sun to form the coma and tail
6.  physics the positively charged dense region at the centre of an atom, composed of protons and neutrons, about which electrons orbit
7.  chem a fundamental group of atoms in a molecule serving as the base structure for related compounds and remaining unchanged during most chemical reactions:  the benzene nucleus
8.  botany
     a.  the central point of a  starch granule
     b.  a rare name for nucellus
9.  phonetics the most sonorous part of a syllable, usually consisting of a vowel or frictionless continuant
10. logic the largest individual that is a mereological part of every member of a given class

from Latin:  kernel, from nux nut

So many meanings but today, it's hard to imagine a positive one.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Missing Michael Jackson this week.  I don't think I'll ever see an artist and performer like him again.  Someone whose creations were expressed through the medium of his own body, through movement, through song.  I've never seen someone embody music like he did.  And yes, even on a personal level, I miss his childhood innocence, his simple and naive views, his shyness.  One thing I like about this video is that, between the two songs, you can see the difference between his performing self and his personality.  I also like that it's 1988, and the production was minimal.  Just people singing and dancing, no lighted swings or flashing costumes, no fireworks.  And it was enough. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1001 Day Project

Started thinking about the Golden Rule this morning.  You know...

"One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself." 

I'm a believer that this simple rule, if followed, would alleviate much of the world's problems.  I am also a believer in the inherent goodness of people.  Naivete, my husband sometimes calls it, but I have to believe that he has a good reason for saying this.  I think that the average person wants to help others and would, if given a chance.  My husband points to apocalyptic books and zombie movies, in which citizens turn on each other at the first opportunity.  He means well, my guy, but perhaps puts too much faith in books and movies.

So this morning, off to the computer I went, googled "things to do for others."  Not really intending to do anything, just out of curiosity.  First result...a book on Amazon (of course), a Christian offering about helping others that got scathing reviews for its grammatical errors.  Other results of interest:  helpothers.org, a sort of online Chicken Soup for the Good Samaritan's Soul.  But the site on which I spent the next twenty minutes:  Day Zero, a site "that inspires you to set and achieve your personal goals in life."  The challenge:  list and complete 101 personal goals in the next 1001 days.  For inspiration, you can look at what others have aspired to, or you can input your own goals.  What a great idea, right?  Sort of a bucket list for good works, expanding your mind, stuff like that.  The mind immediately starts working, aspirations big and small...build a house with Habitat for Humanity, volunteer at the local senior center, take my kid to the art museum. 

Here is the top twenty, the most popular tasks listed at Day Zero by its participants:

1.Donate blood
2.Write a letter to myself to open in 10 years
3.Sleep under the stars
4.Get a tattoo
5.Leave an inspirational note inside a book for someone to find
6.Kiss in the rain
7.Don't complain about anything for a week
8.Watch the sunrise and sunset in the same day
9.Get a job
10.Watch 26 movies I've never seen starting with each letter of the Alphabet
11.Fall in love
12.Answer the "50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind"
13.Go camping
14.Find out my blood type
15.Go to a concert
16.Get married
17.Tie a note to a balloon and let it go
18.Make a new friend
19.Get a massage
20.Build a snowman

Really?  These are the top 20?  Some are certainly big passages in life--get a job, get married, fall in love; some are mildly ambitious--go camping, go to a concert; some intend to touch others in an anonymous, virtually meaningless way--leave an inspirational note in a book. tie a note to a balloon and let it go.  But none of them really has anything to do with "things to do for others," which is what I googled to find this site.  Apparently, people get side-tracked.  But just how unambitious do you have to be that "find out my blood type" is one of your life's aspirations?  Why would you want to write a letter to yourself, to be opened in a decade?  How hard is it to build a snowman?  And if you can't access your own medical records, how likely are you to donate blood?  By the way, you can probably find out your blood type when you donate blood.  Just a thought.  Isn't it enough to watch twenty or so new movies, without the added complication of alphabetizing them?

Sorry to be a downer to all this positive thinking, but I just don't get it.  I think the most productive task on the list is "don't complain about anything for a week."  And I'm starting....right....now.
"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