Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reevaluating expectations, beagles & writing

Let me preface this post by stating that I love my dog, because it might not be clear further in...

Some people choose a dog because of aesthetics. They like the narrow, dainty grace of a whippet, the silky beauty of a golden retriever, or the hypoallergenic non-shedding quality of a poodle.

Some choose based on size appropriate for their lifestyle. A big dog for a big yard or to take along on hiking trips, while others want a low maintenance lap-sized apartment pet they rarely have to walk.

Some choose based on personality. The goofball bulldog, the family-friendly lab, the big-personality-tiny-body of a chihuahua.

Eva was chosen by my ex because he'd always wanted a beagle -> so, mostly based on the aesthetics of the breed.

I grew up with big, easily trainable, happily playful retrievers and retriever crossed breeds, german shepherds, etc.

...which are about the furthest thing away from a beagle I can imagine.

My expectations of a dog pretty much did a 180 the moment she came home. I actually remember bursting into tears several times because I was so frustrated. To put this in context, I have trained cats, I have trained fish, I have trained chickens... who are, arguably, one of natures less intelligent creatures. Patience is not something I lack. Creative work-arounds are not a problem.

But Eva? Wow. Yeah, she frustrated me.

It took months to housetrain her. I'd have her outside for 45 minutes and all she would do is sniff the ground. I'd finally give up, bring her inside to try again later, and almost immediately there'd be a puddle or a deposit on the floor.

I'd walk her 4 hours a day, invested in a weighted doggie-backpack, and she was still so crazy hyper she'd tear around in circles, literally bouncing off the walls and furniture.

She didn't want to retrieve a ball, chase a frisbee, or get in water deeper than her toes. She completely ignored me when I called her - whether I was 3' away or 30'. When I walked her, 'heel' was impossible. She'd alternatively yank at the leash, or I'd have to drag her. Anything within reach would go in her mouth. She'd dart into traffic if given half the chance, and more than once I had to chase her down the street or apologize to neighbours after she had run inside their house. A couple times, she even escaped and ran right into crowded restaurants.

With Eva, I had to reevaluate my expectations, then revise them. And keep revising them.

After six and a half years raising/training Eva, these are my expectations:

She needs at least 2km of walking before she can be trusted off-leash, and even then I can't let her out of sight and have to always be aware of what on the ground might be considered tasty.

(note: my latest discovery is that bear poop gives her diarrhoea. yeah, this is my dog...)

Nine out of ten times she'll come/respond when I call her, unless it rained the previous day, then it's about 50/50, and if there's a child in the vicinity, there's zero chance she'll listen unless she's on leash. Eva will chase a ball or frisbee 6-8 times before getting bored and wandering off. If she finds an escape hole in the fence when I visit my parent's house, she won't find her way back, she'll invite herself into the first open door she sees and make herself comfortable. She has three phone numbers on her tag depending on the city she might escape in, which is especially helpful when this happens.

Yes, I do love my dog, but she is very high maintenance and never 100% trustworthy.

I find any new story is the same way. It never quite works like the last one, and even when it is working, it may not last.

Characters come differently, voice comes differently. Plot explodes in a mess of jagged phrases, or is pried out sentence by careful sentence.

But just like I love my dog, I love writing. And a big part of it is because it's not easy.*

There's a line from SCARLIGHT which might be one of the 'truest' things I've written, something that reflects back a little too much of myself:

Things aren’t better when they’re free, they’re just easier to discard when you use them up.

...and like Eva, I'm not looking for easy, or free. There's little-to-no worth in something that doesn't take hard work, that doesn't take a little bit of sweat, of soul, of blood.

I've known people who throw things away. Who constantly chase that ephemeral oasis called 'happiness' on the horizon. And they are the unhappiest people I've ever met.

Sometimes I joke that nothing I write is publishable. Sometime I even believe it. But I never give myself an excuse to slack off, to expect anything less than the best I can give it.

In everything, not just in writing.

I think that's the greatest gift dyslexia has given me.

I don't want the excuse.

I don't want free.

I don't want easy.

I want to know I've done my absolute best, that I've worked to the frayed edge of my ability.

For me, that is the ultimate validation, so if-and-when I fail, I'm going to reevaluate my expectations, continue to move forward, and I'm going to appreciate every small win along the way.

So thanks, Eva, for many tears of frustration and for testing the limits of my patience and sanity for every single one of the (approximately) 2,300 days that I've owned you.

I think you've prepped me well :)

So, until my arm/back is healed and I can sit at my desk (without my ribs popping out) and I can type (without my arm going numb), I'm still going to smile, I'm still going to take the high-road, and I'm not going to take the excuse and give up.

My mind/brain still works just fine, and that's not a small win -> that's huge.

*I also have an extremely temperamental rescue cat, who I picked out... so yeah, I'm always going for the challenge :)

Monday, October 20, 2014

I think I finally got her...

Stress + insomnia = state of delirium...

And... and I think I finally got Kell. Don't know if you remember, but this is the character that never smiles. I didn't write much, it was more like I edited a pre-existing scene.

(first-draft, very rusty since I haven't been writing in a very long time... so be kind)

“Tell me,” I say, and flip to a new page.
Her gaze slides off to the side, refusing to meet mine, but her face is slowly composing itself again, the tattered shreds of her calm exterior re-knitting. It doesn’t look easy, but it looks… skillful. Well practiced, but not rehearsed. Necessary. Essential.
“There was a fire.”
“An accident?”
She starts to shakes her head, then nods instead, a deliberate chop of her chin. Her wind-ripped eyes are tired now, all the storm in them suddenly blown out, exhausted. Beaten. She hugs herself, like she’s cold.
Then she stares straight at me and her lips twist, they twist into something grotesque. This is a smile, this is what a smile should look like, lifted corners, curved mouth, rounded cheeks, but there’s nothing soft or sweet here. Not a line or shape or shadow that isn’t sharp, festering, and radiating hostility.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Voice & Character Motivations

Of all the components that add up into a good story, 'Voice' is probably the one I'm most confident in.

Grammar and pacing are the two biggest things I struggle with, but let's go back to the whole Voice thing.

I love Voice.

If Voice is good, a reader can forgive a lot...

But there's a downside (or so I've learned) to being able to easily slip into the Voice of a character.

You can get sucked so deeply into the main character's Voice, that you lose the big picture. You can't pull back the focus and examine the other characters, see what they want, how they will naturally react, etc.

Your perception narrows to a single viewpoint.

Good for Voice, bad for plot progression when you need another character to move/act and push the story forward.

...and I wonder if I get too indulgent...

Especially when I read back through a scene and realize that I've referred to a very famous (and respected) artist as, "... suckling at the addictive teat of Jungian psychotherapy..."

Jay's no-filter Voice is... perhaps a little addictive for me?

...'cause it takes a lot for me to lose my own filter, and when it's gone, I really do say things like:

"I wouldn't climb into a stranger's van for candy, but if he held up a nice bordeaux, I'd hop right in!"

(This is why I should not ever be on Twitter. I am not to be trusted with communication methods that are not editable)

This post has a point, I swear.

I've been character-motivation-blocked in SCARLIGHT because Jay's Voice is so... addictive? I can't break away and figure out what Kell wants, and where I currently am in the story, she's just wrestled control away from Jay. It's now her move to call the shots and... and... and...

'Out, damned spot, out I say!'

(cue loud throat clearing)

'Out, damned Jay, out I say!'

(casually thwacks side of head to rattle brain back into position)

Okay, this is getting me nowhere...

Any brilliant ideas/suggestions?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Male vs Female brains

I'm interested in nerdy things, not because I collect facts in my head, but because I like seeing what people are learning -> a big-picture look at how general knowledge is changing. Facts are interesting, in the moment, but just like the science of the time once 'proved' that the earth is flat, I don't hold 'facts' as concrete evidence of the way the world actually works.

The idea of gender is one of those things I'm interested in, and by that, I mean mental/emotional gender rather than anatomical/physical.

Plus, I've got two exceptionally brainy friends, meaning they're both very smart, but also that their research/school/etc is about brains and how they work...

So, combine all of these points, and you'll see why I could not resist watching a 2014 BBC documentary called, 'Is Your Brain Male or Female'.

The documentary had a lot of information, many different researchers/etc, but most of the experiments to find evidence that m/f brains are different were inconclusive, except for:

Dr. Ragini Verma and Professor Ruben Gur (both at the University of Pennsylvania) scanned the brains of over 900 m&f (ages 8-22) to create detailed maps of the connections between the two hemispheres.

Left hemisphere: talks/understands languages, processes the world in analytic/sequential.

Right hemisphere: intuitive, spacial and emotional information.

And what did they find?

Well, the left image is the male brain, the right image is the female brain. And the consistency of this distinction/pattern between the two genders was incredibly surprising to both Verma and Gur.

Essentially, these pictures are showing that connections between the two hemispheres are stronger/more prevalent in women than in men, which means women can access different areas of their brain easier/faster than men, so it's excellent for multitasking, etc. (good for child rearing and other things that require imaginative problem solving).

In the male brains there are stronger connections between the back of the brain (where it processes info) and the front (where it puts all the info together and decides what to do with it), so the male brain has faster singular reactions (good for hunters/quick decision making/etc).

This reminds me of the old comparison (this is not my own thought/belief, I'm simply reiterating) that men's thinking/decision process is like a single knotted rope. One decision is made, then the next, then the next, while women's thinking/decision process is more like a web, pulling information from all over the place (which men find annoying/time-consuming/unnecessary).

...and the piece of this study I found most the interesting is that Verma and Gur didn't find these distinct connective differences in children!!!

M/F children's brains were remarkably similar and only began to change during the teenage years (13-18), which means, even though adults had such a clear difference, it doesn't prove whether those changes are biological, or because of societal pressures to conform. In other words, no proof if it's nature or nurture.

There were a lot of other interesting tidbits in the documentary.

For example, a standardized test which has long 'proven' that men have better spacial skills than women was discovered to be flawed...

Here's an example of the standardized test:

A different researcher (forgot to note down her name) invented a new version of this test in which the test-taker is shown a series of pictures. In those pictures is a person sitting at a table and there are objects, or dots to one side of them or the other, and the test-taker had to imagine themselves in that person's place and say where (in relation to the person in the picture) the object/dot was. Since the table in the pictures is rotated each time, it's testing for the same ability as the standardized rotation test, and as soon as the test takers had to imagine themselves as the person in the picture (instead of simply looking at a boring drawing on a piece of paper) the women's results were equal the men's results.

So, the standardized mental rotation test was flawed in that it gave male brains an advantage over women's brains. And that is something I find far more interesting... to take into account the test itself can be skewed to favour one gender over another, and I wonder how or if the results would be different for LGBTQ brains...

...which of course makes me wonder what other 'tests' are unknowingly skewed? Being dyslexic, I certainly have noticed a pattern in my own test scores... things like essays/short answers/etc, I excel in, but plonk a multiple choice test in front of me, and it's like I've forgotten how to read English.

And that brings me back to the first paragraph of this post... how 'facts' are not as reliable as we often think when the test/collection method itself can't be guaranteed neutral/unbiased.

Okay, no more nerdy blatherings for today :)

By the way, it's Canadian Thanksgiving today!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I admit, I have a problem

I'm addicted to opening up Safari tabs/windows, and then not closing them when I'm done.

My laptop has been complaining (for over a week) that it wants to download new updates, but I keep refusing because I don't want to close down anything.

I'm pretty sure some of these have been open for more than a month...

I have 7 different windows with a total of 63 tabs JUST with books ...all ones I haven't decided whether I want to add them to my amazon wishlist or not.

There are 12 different wiki pages open (some with multiple tabs) from everything from Amanirenas, Bactria (not bacteria), to Ischemia.

...eBay links to different types of paintbrushes, YouTube videos on orchid repotting, car rims, motorcycles, running shoe brands/designs, art schools in the USA and France, info about serotonin/amino acid therapy, and the song lyrics for 4 different obscure songs.

I know I could bookmark them and look at them later. I know I could just quit Safari, install the updates, re-open Safari and just click 'reopen all windows from last session'. I know most of these windows are open because I've skimmed the material, but want to give it a more thorough read, but since I don't 'need' the information right at this moment, I'm simply holding it until I do need it... almost as if I somehow think Google won't work a second time...

But the problem is I like having everything open. I like being able to right-click on the Safari icon and see everything that's open in a neat, alphabetical list. I like seeing the weird tangents of curiosity my brain takes.

My head is messy and cluttered... and this is a visual semi-orginized representation of what tidbits are currently 'important'.

sigh... but I also know it would only take me about 1/2 hour to clean up all these links, bookmark the important (research) ones, and actually choose which books to add to my overinflated wishlist (currently hovering at 640 items).

...okay, I have 27 minutes before I need to leave for physio... let's see how much of this I can get done...

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sharp Flash Fiction

...yes, you see that right. A new flash fiction prompt for today is up at Skullduggery. Come over and play along.

The white stucco house on the corner of 12th and Birch has a guillotine in their front yard.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Music, walkies, and one of those Eureka! moments

I'm taking care of my parents' house/pets/etc while they're out of town for a couple of weeks. One of the great things about that is Tynehead Park is (temporarily) within walking distance. I'm probably going to take my phone with me one day soon to snap some fall pictures of the park, which will appear on Bailiwick in the future.

In my stories, the contemporary ones at least, there are often a lot of music references. I love music, but never when I'm writing. I need quiet for that. I only listen to music when I'm in the car or when I'm walking Eva... and walking Eva is when story ideas bubble around in my brain like mad scientist's laboratory.. I think that's why music tends to show up in the stories (even though I write in silence), as they're connected to the moment the scattered puzzle pieces suddenly fit together into a cohesive picture.

So, today I was walking Eva (yup, the ribs have been staying in for the last week or so) with 'Black Black Heart' by David Usher (the faster remix, not the original) blasting through my headphones...

...and I was hit with a sudden moment of perfect clarity.

I now know how SCARLIGHT ends... everything with Jay's character arc, his relationships with Donny, Kell & Aricia. The results of the art competition, and the university/art school he'll end up in because of those results. Thankfully it will only require a few minor changes to what's already been written. Most of the pieces were already laid out like Easter eggs just waiting to be found (I really do think my unconscious brain is much smarter than my conscious brain...).

Even though I consider myself a pantsing-style writer, even though the thought of writing down story notes or (god forbid) an outline instantly turns the crisp deliciousness of a freshly plucked story idea into the culinary equivalent of wallpaper paste, I can admit that somewhere in the cracks and crevices of my brain synapses are firing and putting together connections that will one day spring out fully formed.

A little like Artemis, I suppose. Fully grown and heavily armed.

Yup, my unconscious brain can totally kick my conscious brain's ass... which is probably why I trust it to do it's own thing and don't condescend by allowing my conscious brain to do (stupid) things like write outlines... 'cause then the unconscious brain gets all pouty, bored, and wanders off to build new worlds in a dark corner somewhere...

Okay, I just reread that last paragraph, and I think I may be a little dehydrated/loopy :)

(forgive me?)

Hope you are all enjoying this wonderful autumn weather :)