Stuff I Learned the Hard Way: Adventures in Vegas – Part 2

WHAT’S PLAYING: Ray LaMontagne “Let it be Me”

When celebrating your 21st birthday in Las Vegas, DO NOT get into a bar fight the night before you actually turn 21.

I wound up with a black eye, three broken fingers and, since I was still technically underage, yet another black mark on my criminal record. All because some creep grabbed my ass. I also had to pay restitution for breaking his jaw.

(Totally worth it.)

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Social Media 101 – Facing up to Facebook

WHAT’S PLAYING: Alicia KeysTry Sleeping With a Broken Heart

I joined Facebook a while ago, and I’m still not sure if it was the right move. I am a loner after all. Why go looking for more people to “friend” when I can barely manage the friends I have? I’ve been told that FB is a good place to reconnect with old friends from high school and college. This might be true, but if they were really my friends, then I wouldn’t have lost touch with them in the first place. (Some of you are probably shaking your head at me, but you know it’s true.)

I have serious reservations about social media and how it changes people. I’m “friends” with a few of my younger relatives, and they are completely different online. It’s as if they go from intelligent, well-spoken young people to profane idiots who couldn’t conjugate a verb to save their lives with just a click of a mouse. (You know who you are. Now stop it.) Then there’s the oversharing. (FYI: I don’t want to know what you had for breakfast this morning, or how wasted you got last night. And I really don’t want to see pictures.) The good news is that both issues are easily solved. All I have to do is click a button.

Another good thing is, since I’m not obsessed with making new friends or reconnecting with old ones, FB doesn’t take up too much of my time. I check it maybe once or twice a week at most, and I’ve only posted twice in the last six months.

The problem with FB is that it’s turned me into a bit of a stalker. Not a creepy, rabbit boiling, love-me-or-die stalker. I use it to keep track of what my friends and family are up to and how their lives are going. Which would be fine if I didn’t suck so much at actually checking in with them in real life. Sometimes I go months without talking to them. FB provides me with the unique opportunity to keep abreast of what’s going on my loved ones lives without actually having to speak with them. It’s a loner’s dream. All the important info with none of the messy contact.

Sometimes I wonder if this is healthy. Is it OK to allow a social network to maintain personal connections I should be forming myself? After all, the point of this blog, of all my forays into social media, was to connect with other people. Is it cheating to just sit back and watch my loved ones’ lives unfold on the computer screen without actually joining in?

Truth is, when it comes to connecting with people, I’m crap. I forget birthdays. (Unless FB reminds me.) I have no pictures of my friends or family. (Except for those I’ve downloaded from  FB.) And I couldn’t tell you how old my nieces and nephews are. (No wait, they’re on FB too.)

 Huh.

 Now all I have to do is find an app to take my place at family dinners.

Book a Week Challenge – Week 4

WHAT’S PLAYING: Lady GaGaYoü and I

Vacation is over, and now it’s time to get back to work. This week’s book is “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

A dystopian classic, “The Handmaid’s Tale” tells the story of Offred – not her real name, but a patronymic given to her by the new regime in an oppressive future America– and her life as a Handmaid. Forced to provide children by proxy for infertile women of higher social status, Handmaids undergo regular medical tests and a monthly Ceremony in which their Masters attempt to impregnate them. As the novel progresses, Offred learns that many people bend the rules of the theocracy, even the ones who helped to put them in place. People who fought the hardest for a return to “simple values” refuse to live by them, rendering the theocratic government even more intimidating for its hypocrisy.

Offred’s shadowy memories of her husband and daughter provide relief from the brutality of her new life. But these remembrances are tenuous, made all the more indistinct by Atwood’s lyrical prose. Facts appear to merge into one another. History becomes immaterial. Despite the horrific regime and unimaginable tortures she endures, Offred’s voice is reflective. Rather than bitterness and rage, there’s a sense of ennui about her. She’s not completely passive though. Throughout the narrative, she shows flashes of contempt, desire, slyness, and, of course, anger. The mosaic style composition works well, but can also make the story hard to follow. All the same, Atwood’s astonishing skill as a writer and brilliant characterization kept me turning the pages.

This book scared the hell out of me: the idea that women could be reduced to nothing more than invisible, powerless vessels. As my father is fond of saying, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a man with good intentions.”

Bottom Line: Fiercely political and bleak, yet witty and wise, this novel is a must read.

Favorite Line: “Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it….The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others….We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

What I learned: As much as you can, strive for relevance. The book is a classic because it speaks to something deep in the human psyche: fear of the loss of freedom, basic human rights and liberties. It’s powerful stuff, made even more powerful by Atwood’s skill.

Coming up next week: “Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder.

Book a Week Challenge – Week 3

WHAT’S PLAYING: Rednex “Cotton Eyed Joe

This week’s book is “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden.

The story follows the life of a young Japanese girl, Chiyo, who is sold to a geisha house during the Great Depression. Because of her unusual grey eyes and intelligence, she manages to climb to the top of Japanese society as the celebrated geisha and dancer, Sayuri. When Sayuri loses her glamorous lifestyle amid the devastation of World War II, she must call upon her beauty and intelligence to find her way to independence and true love.

Golden does a brilliant job of bringing WWII era Japan to life, paying particular attention to the nuances of Japanese culture. Vivid images and subtle description draws the reader into the world of the geisha, a world of tradition, ritual, rivalries, and politics. One can’t help but follow Sayuri on her quest to become a geisha and find true love.

The most amazing thing is how Golden, an American male, manages to portray the life of a Japanese geisha. He captures the emotions of his characters perfectly while describing Japanese life with a genuine and eloquent voice.

There is a minor downside. The story bogs down slightly sometimes due to the meticulous level of detail Golden uses in describing rituals and defining numerous Japanese terms. Still, you can’t help but cheer for Chiyo/Sayuri as she uses her brains more than her beauty to make an independent life for herself.

Bottom line, this is a brilliant debut novel.

Favorite line (image): “We watched the flame burn through the cord, and the lantern came floating down, until the wind caught it again and rolled it through the air right toward us with a trial of gold dust streaking the sky. The ball of fire seemed to settle on the ground, but then my mother and I watched as it rose up on the current of the wind, floating straight for us. I felt my mother release me, and then all at once she threw her arms into the fire to scatter it. For a moment we were both awash in sparks and flames; but then the shreds of fired drifted into the trees and burned out, and no one – not even my mother – was hurt.”

What I learned: Do your homework. When I think about the amount of research that must have gone into writing this novel, it boggles my mind. But this is exactly the level of detail I should strive for in my own writing. I tend to focus so intently on things like plot, structure, and character development, that I neglect setting and description. This book shows just how important setting can be. Japan is just as much of a character as the novel’s protagonist. Whenever I find myself discounting the importance of world building, I’ll revisit this story for some much-needed perspective.

Coming next week: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

Learning from the Past

WHAT’S PLAYING: Gretchen WilsonAll Jacked Up

I originally intended this post for Monday, to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., but was too sick to write it. I still think the message is important, even if it is a bit late.

I was born on a Choctaw Indian reservation in Mississippi, a state not known for tolerance. My mother is Choctaw and African-American and my father is German, which made me a perfect target. I was bullied through much of my childhood. Kids picked on everything: my race, hair, clothes, height, you name it. Soon, the verbal bullying gave way to physical altercations. One day, a kid broke my wrist after I refused to call my mother a “white man’s whore”.

I left the rez and moved in with my father the next day.

Things were good for a while. I thought I’d left all that behind me. I grew up, finished my education and got a decent job. Then one day, my supervisor told me he considered intermingling between Whites and other races to be mortal sin. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it still hurt. It’s not everyday someone calls you an abomination to your face…at work. I stared at him for a minute, and then replied that I didn’t think fat ass, useless, bigoted idiots should be allowed to breed, so we were both destined for disappointment. Then I quit, calmly gathered my things, and walked out to my car…where I sat and cried for about half an hour.

I left Mississippi a few weeks later. I’m not bashing my home state. Most of the people there are warm, good-hearted folks. But every time I visit and see how far we’ve come, I can’t help but think of how far we still have to go.

Since then, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where you live, there will always be someone there to tell you what you can or can’t do. Or even worse, what you should or shouldn’t be.

Fuck ‘em.

Writers, musicians, artists, and even half-breeds: we all have a place in this world. We all make a difference and we have much to learn from each other.

Thanks to my less than ideal childhood, I’ve developed a thick skin. My bullies only made me stronger. Compared to them, querying agents and editors is a breeze. 

Let’s just hope none of them tries to break my wrist.

Stuff I Learned the Hard Way: Adventures in Vegas – Part 1

WHAT’S PLAYING: Skylar Grey “Love the Way You Lie”

Lesson #6: If you go to Las Vegas on a senior trip, DO  NOT get into a car with an idiot who would get into a drag race. ESPECIALLY if you’re only seventeen, so your father has to fly all the way from Mississippi to get you.

When I heard my father was on his way, I offered the cops money to keep me in jail until my eighteenth birthday…which, apparently, is a felony.

It was a long flight home.