Friday, February 13, 2015

One Size Does Not Fit All

This week I had the luxury of reading two books in a truly decadent way - I read them straight through, each in one sitting. Both books are short, the shade was deep and there were no other demands on my time. Bliss. Bliss and reaffirmation.

The first book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I've read it before, many times. When my hand reached for a book from the 'waiting shelf' it hesitated, moved to this book from the 'best loved' shelf.  I tried to change its mind but it insisted and I demurred. I'm trying to do that, let my instincts guide me a little more. I read this book shortly after it was published in the early 90's, searching for novels for the voracious readers in my junior classes. It touched a nerve for me and for them. I read it to my children. I've shared it with fellow writers and let it illuminate the writing process for me. It speaks volumes about the role of memory, both good and bad, in colouring our lives. It never preaches but clearly has a message about free will, about making hard choices. I loved reading it through in one fluid line enjoying the story and the way information is conveyed simply, elegantly, slowly.

But it was the second book that was the real prize. Having read the first in one big gulp I had no fiction left to read. I have this game I like to play called Bookstore Serendipity, a game that has been made more difficult by the death of most independant bookstores in North America. On the days I play, I enter the store believing that just the right book will be presented to me, the very book I need. So I headed into Barnes and Noble and believed. There was a slow moving stroller in the aisle and I zigged. And there it was, the right book, dead ahead on the new in sci-fi shelf, even though it is clearly fantasy or speculative fiction. The author's name leapt out - Patrick Rothfuss. I've read two of his novels and I am eagerly anticipating the third in the trilogy. This wasn't it but the back cover made it clear it was about one of the characters from the books, an offspring of book, all about a mysterious waif that the hero knows. The book was slim and felt just right. I headed for the cash my heart skipping a beat. I've been working on offspring stories and myth as I work on my own speculative trilogy. I wasn't alone in this! How perfect!

And it was perfect. The writing was lyrical and strange, full of rich language and protolanguage, full of naming and instinct and compensating. A wonderful story indeed but there was so much more...a foreward and afterward that were sent by the universe, the true magic of Bookstore Serendipity at work. The message I needed to hear, which we all need to hear. If I could, I would include all of his words here but this will have to suffice. Here Rothfuss is talking about the reaction of one of his first beta readers.

"Readers expect certain things. People are going to read this and be disappointed. It doesn't do what a normal story is supposed to do."
Then Vi said something I will always remember...."Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where's the story for people like me? Let those other people have their normal stories...This story isn't for them. This is my story. This story is for people like me."

And what he finds is that all the people he assumed wouldn't like the story did. And at first this confused him and then he realizes this about himself and the character in the story and all the beta readers:

"I think it's because we're both somewhat broken, in our own odd ways. More importantly, we're both aware of it. Auri knows she isn't all quite proper true inside, and this makes her feel very much alone.
I know how she feels.
....I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way."
(exerpted from The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, Pages 153 and 158)

And this was what I needed to hear, again. This was the big prize in the game of Bookstore Serendipity. It is alright to work on something that doesn't fit comfortably in the main stream of art or life. Years ago when I was just beginning to find the nerve to discard the opinion of an instructor and cling to my own vision I was once told that a letter g that I had created in a calligraphy class "would not be understood by the man on the street". And I said "I didn't write it for the man on the street". The instructor was not amused but I suspect that I should have listened more carefully to myself that day and I would have saved myself a lot of second guessing and other critic-induced grief along the way. I, we, need to live in support of our own vision. We need to accept that one size does not fit all and get on with creating what we were meant to create. And along the way we will find that we aren't alone.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Love Letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook

One morning last winter I came downstairs to a fresh pot of coffee and the news that I had joined Facebook. My husband had given up suggesting and had just made it happen. Initially, I was in shock. I looked at it and wasn't sure what to do with it. He'd picked a few friends for me and to say that the selections was random would be an understatement. I decided it was a grand mistake and moved on with my day. The second day he was a bit more insistent, was bold enough to go to the "I dare you" phase of talking me into an idea. I added a couple of friends of my own choosing. The word got out that I was about. This tsunami of comments and posts headed toward me. This I didn't know what to do with it all. I almost quit you forever. Facebook, you knew all this sudden activity was bad for me and you put me in stasis for a week and this turned out to be a good thing. It gave me a chance to absorb some of what was coming at me. I began to see all the visual input as a good thing. I had little conversations with old friends that I generally only got to see once a year. I began to learn the lingo and make fewer mistakes. I discovered that my husband had been right - it would be good for me to use you Facebook to connect with people and feel less isolated. I even admitted as much to him. As you can see he is a very serious person whose idea of right and wrong is quite impeccable.

So now I am a Facebook person with a ton of new friends and more visual stimulation than I can handle. In terms of keeping me up to date with all the new trends in the art and craft world it has been great. Connecting with calligraphers, bookbinders, tanglers and illustrators all over the world has lifted my spirits. I have more quotes and cartoons saved than you would believe and have even smiled at one or two things that involve cats. All this is good but to be honest about six months into our relationship I began to wonder if there was more.

And there was! The first 'more' came along serendipitously and I have written about it before. I saw a posting about a new group that was beginning called Square One where there was going to be a weekly focus tangle and a real commitment to getting back to the basics of the Zentangle practice. I joined up, got out my tiles and the brain cells started firing again. This continues to be a wonderful, focused group relationship that keeps my creative juices flowing by challenging me to think outside of the box.

After the calligraphy conference in Dallas last summer I realized that it would be really beneficial to have some input on a project I was starting to work on that involved creating my own alphabet. As you know Facebook, this is a pretty narrow field of interest. One morning I had a brain wave. I set up a secret group on Facebook and asked a few of my colleagues to look at some images of my initial foray into the alphabet design. I'm grateful they said yes and took some time to look at my roughs and give me suggestions. They posted images of work they'd seen and historical examples of styles that were very helpful. Together we created an album of images that I go back to frequently as I work on my project. This was so simple to do and so beneficial for me. I've started working on a finished project and have the first section of a major manuscript book underway. If it was going to have a wordy foreward I'd give you a credit Facebook.

This winter I have had the pleasure of working with a small group of tanglers on a year long journalling project. We limited the numbers and kept the group secret and this was a good decision. As the weeks have gone by we have developed a real sense of community. We've gotten to know one another as we carefully feel our way into creating our own styles of journalling and responding to the world. It feels safe somehow to share with these people, most of whom I wouldn't recognize if I met them on the street. This was so simple to set up and so simple to use and adds so much to my daily practice of art. Don't ever stop supporting groups like this Facebook.

So here is to Facebook. The next time someone tells you that you are a waste of time you can tell them from me that it ain't necessarily so! Like everything else in life it all depends on how you use it!