Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sappy Endings

Once again, I have disappeared from my blog for an extended period of time. Since the last time I wrote, I have completed my MFA program and will walk in graduation at the end of the month. My final residency was at the beginning of June. It was so much fun, but also a little bittersweet. Here's the quick wrap-up of the culmination of two insanely busy and wonderful years.

On the first day of the residency (for the 5th semester students, everyone else had been there for several days already), I gave my reading. I wasn't really nervous about it, but still, it's never easy to follow the super-talented poet, Philip Belcher. Mostly, it was just a fun time, though. I got to share a selection from my thesis and listen to two of my ridiculously talented classmates read from theirs. Steve and Lucy Addison came, though Lucy Addison spent the reading hanging out in the lobby with Rick, the program director/founder.

After the student readings and dinner, I stayed for the faculty reading - Susan Tekulve and Robert Olmstead - both of whom were wonderful. Despite my determination to leave as soon as the reading was over, I ended up staying and chatting until much later than I should. As I drove home, the unsettling feeling that I had been trying to shake all day completely took over. The first student craft lectures (ever) were in the morning, and I was up first. Though I had been working on my craft lecture for ages, I still felt unprepared and unhappy with my lecture. I decided to rewrite/restructure my lecture no matter how long it took. (My lecture was scheduled for 9 in the morning!)

Sometime after 2 am, I declared my craft lecture done, and I felt about fifty pounds lighter. I may not have slept long, but at least it was untroubled sleep. I won't say I was nervous as I got up to give my lecture, but it was a weird feeling being first. Sure, there are fewer expectations if you're first, but still, if you're spectacularly bad and first, people are probably going to remember that.

Overall, I was pleased with how my lecture turned out. Certainly there were things that I wished I had said better or points I wish I had made (as soon as I sat down, they all flooded my brain.) But it could have been worse. I even held my own against a particularly persistent questioner, and at one point, one of my previous faculty mentors came to my rescue. The best part of going first, however, was that I then got to just sit back and enjoy the rest of the residency. I was done. I floated from event to event.

The remaining time was a blur of readings, lectures, and spending time with friends. The final night, we had a dinner to celebrate graduation followed by a party with the band, The Wheresville Project. There was much dancing (though not by me - I spared them that.) It was all fun and sad at the same time. There is something about the low-residency program that fosters relationships that are far closer than would be expected from such a short amount of time together. Maybe it's due to the intensity of the 9-day residencies. Whatever the cause of the closeness, it was sad to think that we won't be seeing each other anymore.

Since the end of the residency, my life has been a crazy blur. I've barely had time to process the end of six consecutive years of school. It all still seems a little unreal. Vacation Bible School began almost immediately after the residency and was followed closely by our annual pilgrimage to visit family in Maryland. Upon returning home, I received a package in the mail - my bound copy of my thesis. I didn't expect to be so excited to see my thesis bound, but there was something powerful about holding that book. I can't explain it, so I won't try.

Now begins the really hard part: keeping up with the writing life after school. It's easier to write regularly when you have deadlines that you have to meet. There are no deadlines anymore. Wait a minute. That's not true. My faculty mentor, Leslie Pietrzyk, has said that she expects me to finish my novel this year. So, I guess that's my deadline. Better get writing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Christian Fiction

As I trudge through pages and pages of fiction for my thesis, I am reminded daily of a huge division among Christian readers/writers - that of content/subject matter. There is no story without conflict, and there is no conflict without putting your protagonist in some kind of peril. There's just no getting around this fact. The division occurs, however, over what exactly that conflict should entail and how "worldly" the content should be.

I was raised in the church. I was also raised by people with very conservative views about literature, film, and television content. During my childhood/teenage years, I read tons of "Christian Fiction" and listened to "Christian Music." This blog entry is not intended as a slam against either of these genres, nor is it a slight against my upbringing. Rather, I write to question the distinction of "Christian" genres altogether. I am still a Christian, but now, at the age of 33, my tastes in books, movies, and music is drastically different (and perhaps more controversial in Christian circles.) This shift is not something I take lightly, however.

Let me preface my comments on Christian fiction with the following: If you enjoy Christian fiction, that's great. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading it. If you find it enjoyable, then by all means, pick up a stack of your favorites and read away.

As I mentioned before, I have read quite a bit of Christian fiction, and I have to say that after years of reading it, followed by years of reading more literary fiction, there really is no comparison, if you are looking for quality writing. It is by the very nature of Christian fiction's structure that it must be highly formulaic and predictable. There are only so many ways to present the story of once-I-was-lost-and-now-I'm-found, and I'm sure there is a place (particularly in the evangelistic arena) for that sort of story.

I am, however, working to write the best, truest fiction that I can, and these limits of storyline and content can be detrimental to realism. If my writing is art, and I am looking to represent "true" stories (not to be confused with things that actually happened), then I must look to the character for my direction, not the predetermined redemptive conclusion. Truly character-driven plots are rare in Christian fiction (in my opinion), and this fact alone, reduces its value to me as literature.

Arbitrary content restrictions are limiting to the artist, and I don't believe that they are something imposed on us by Scripture. Look to the Old Testament for your example. While I'm not in any way suggesting that it is fiction, I do submit to you that there are plenty of people doing and saying horrible things (as well many good ones, too), and not everyone recognizes the error of their ways, or is punished horribly for their sins (in this life, anyway.)

In Flannery O'Connor's essay on the Christian writer, she suggests that there can be a Christian who writes but not a Christian writer because someone who writes to make a point or to send a message is not, in fact, a real fiction writer. Certainly our religious and other perspectives color our writing, but to write a story to further a cause or belief is more like propaganda than thoughtful fiction.

Ultimately, I believe the distinction of "Christian Fition" is arbitrary and ridiculous. We don't have "Christian Plumbing" or "Christian Engineers," though certainly, there are many in those professions who are dedicated Christians. Real, good, well-written fiction is fiction, pure and simple. The fact that my main character is doing or saying despicable things does not devalue my work or make it sinful. I'm not reading a novel to determine how to live my life, and if an adult reader is so easily swayed, then, perhaps, they have bigger problems than their reading material.

I'm sure there are those who will find my stance offensive, or at the very least, vehemently disagree. That's okay. I won't make you read my novel. You might want to change your mind, however. You might show up in a story some day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Zombie Rules

I liked monsters before they were cool. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the nineties before anybody cared who Sarah Michelle Gellar was (which is actually pretty similar to now.) I love a good horror movie with lots of glistening corn syrup and high-pitched screaming. I laughed myself into a painful stitch in my side when I saw Shaun of the Dead for the first time. I enjoy the Halloween and Freddy movies, and I'll even get behind some Bruce Campbell campiness.

Of course, now, I'm just a nerdy cliche. Actually, I don't even think you can associate monster mania with nerds anymore after the influx of super-hot vampires slinking across every movie and television screen in American, and don't even get me started on all the vampire books. And now, zombies are getting the "cool" treatment, too, with popular films and series like, Zombieland and The Walking Dead. There are even zombie songs, like No More Kings, "Zombie Me" and Jonathan Coulton's brilliant, "Re: Your Brains."

Unfortunately, years of watching zombies shuffle across the screen have done little to address some of my basic questions about zombies and our world post-zombie-ocalypse. As a writer, I understand that the creator of a film, book, or television show creates a world where the action takes place, and that this action must follow the rules of said world. In all my years of zombie viewing, however, I've yet to see any rules that make sense or even stay consistent within their ficitonal realm. I would like to address a couple here.

Lifespan - How long do zombies live? Are they immortal like vampires and werewolves or do they, like the Energizer Bunny, just keep going and going until they run out of juice? In the films I've seen, zombies seem to be in the midst of varying degrees of decay, and with nothing to arrest this process, wouldn't they eventually just rot into impotence? Sure they want to eat your brains, but you don't see too many zombies with a toothbrush. So what happens when their molars fall out? They may be called the undead, but calling something immortal that is made of flesh and blood just doesn't add up. They're not lizards. They're not going to re-grow severed limbs, and nature is a powerful force when it comes to reclaiming its dead.

In, The Walking Dead, the survivors of the zombie-ocalypse sneak into zombie-infested Atlanta weeks or months after the original outbreak. Couldn't they just wait it out? With no food souce, would the zombies just languish and disintegrate? Which brings me to my next question...

Appetite - Do zombies need a minimum quantity of flesh to sustain "life"? Can the undead starve? In films like 28 Days Later, Zombieland, and in the show The Walking Dead, there are dramatic scenes of zombie hoardes mobbing the streets looking for a little human (or in the case of The Walking Dead, horse) meat. If one follows the zombie blight to its "natural" conclusion, wouldn't the stumbling mumblers eventually exhaust their food source? And if that is possible, wouldn't it (once again) be most logical to go somewhere secluded and wait them out? Zombie films seem to underestimate the number of people in the world and how many other people it would take to feed them. Do the math people. We're talking about a lot of hungry zombies in need of a hot meal. If my suggestion is correct, then suddenly waiting it out in a mall (as they tried in Dawn of the Dead) could theoretically work (if they hadn't fallen into the classic zombie trap of keeping an infected person alive. Gosh, it's like they've never seem a zombie movie.)

Of course, if the zombies eat other living things (like the ill-fated horse in Walking Dead) that would broaden their food chain, but there would still be a limit. Zombies aren't exactly living self-sustainable lives. It seems to me that their future is quite finite.

All of this is not to suggest that the zombie-ocalypse is entirely unplausible/unreadable/unviewable. Instead, I submit to you, that every zombie film/television show I've ever seen would benefit from a clear definition of its own rules and regulations. Can zombies live forever? Fine, then maybe they shouldn' t decay before my eyes. Is their eating only a sympton and not relevant to their survival? Then make that clear....though that would seem to fly in the face of every zombie-related thing I've seen or read.

There are other small things that are specific to certain programs/movies that I also find to be in need of clarifcation, such as zombie dormancy. In The Walking Dead (yes, I know I'm hitting that show hard, but it's freshest in my mind and raises a lot of questions), zombies, who appear to be simply dead people sprawled out on the ground, rise up when prey arrives in the form of a tasty unsuspecting live human and chases them down the street. Do they go into sleep mode like undead laptops, their personal motion detectors kicking them awake when some idiot walks by? Or are these zombies actually lying in wait, trying to look dead, so they can catch a meal? And if they are, then wouldn't that be require thought and reasoning, and therefore, a sign of brain activity - you know, everything a zombie CAN'T do?

And what about the zombie baby in Dawn of the Dead? Wouldn't it have tried to eat its mother/host? Not a pretty thought, but one worth asking if you've seen the film. And don't even get me started on incubation periods and the classic zombie movie blunders (which I wouldn't change for the world.)
All in all, I'm just a nerd in need of some answers that I know I'm probably not going to get, but I'm trying to take some solace in the fact that it will be difficult for Hollywood to find a way to make zombies sexy (like they've attempted with vampires.) Oh, who am I kidding? HBO's probably already got a show in the works about four spunky lady zombies who laugh and cry (which both sound pretty much the same when you're a zombie) while they navigate the world of zombie men and high-calorie humans. The name of this future hit? Bite Me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Less Tunnel, More Light

YIKES!!! I'm halfway through March, and I just realized I haven't posted since January. If it was my New Year's resolution to return to my faithful blogging habits (I can't remember if it was), then I totally blew it. I could defend myself a long list of distractions, but they're excuses. I'm sure I waste enough time every day that could be spent doing a little blogging.

I'm fingertip-nearly-touching close to completing my MFA. My FINAL, COMPLETE thesis is due the end of April, and I'm plugging away at revisions. On Facebook, I kept a detailed log of how many pages of revised thesis I'd completed during my most recent revisions. Imagine everyone's disappointment when they realized I would be revising my thesis yet again, and they would have to endure yet another countdown.

Actually, in addition to my completed thesis, I also need to have my craft lecture written and ready to go, my graduation forms filled out and submitted, all my reading completed, and some research done on a separate project that will for now remain nameless. Add to that, a new puppy, a now mobile toddler, and upcoming VBS dramas to plan, and I'm starting to sweat it just a little bit. Unfortunately, I'm going through that I-have-way-too-much-to-do paralysis that occasionally afflicts me. I haven't been using my little bit of downtime very wisely, and that's so unlike me, and it's driving me crazy. Here's hoping the adrenaline and characteristic Sarah-style organization kicks in soon.

Blogging is not the only thing I've been neglecting, however. My DVR is jam-packed with unwatched programs. I'm woefully behind on my New Yorker issues, and I'm just barely keeping my head above water with the housework. Must focus. Must prioritize.

Lest you start feeling too sorry for poor, put-upon Sarah. Please note that I've brought every single one of these things down on myself, and if I'd just get my act together, I would be able to plow through them without too much stress. Also there has been some fun interjected between the craziness.

Last week was the Holland Park Church ladies' retreat at Bonclarken, in Flat Rock, NC. The weekend was too wonderful to try to squeeze into a puny blog description. Suffice it to say that I got a desperately needed injection of fellowship, encouragement, and love. Have I mentioned how much I love, respect, and admire the amazing women at HPC? Plus, I got to eat an unhealthy amount of homemade desserts.

Also, we are now the proud (if somewhat harried) owners of a Komondor puppy. Sam is 14 weeks old and is a 35.5 pound bundle of energy and teeth. I can't wait to take him downtown and to the park this weekend for the very first time. It's going to be crazy, chaotic fun.

Enough with the catching up, I'd better get to bed, so I don't have yet another excuse for not getting things done (not enough sleep.) Maybe my next blog entry will be the zen musings of an MFA graduate.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching Up Is Hard To Do

So it's time for a monster mega catch up blog. This marks the first residency (January 2011) that I didn't dedicate at least one entry to all the great things that happened there. Of course, that is not a reflection on the quality of the residency. There were so many wonderful readings and lectures and so much fun time with friends, but life has just been a little crazy since then, and it just never happened. So, here's my life in summary since my last blog entry from a date too distant to mention.

Third Semester of my MFA? Check! I have completed my critical paper ("The Voice in the Walls: The Femininity of Alternative Narrative Structure in the Work of Lorrie Moore", and no the title's NOT longer than the paper.) I have also cranked out more than 100 pages toward my thesis. Yes, there was much panicking, crying, and more than a few late nights, but I am three quarters of the way through my Masters!

The first Christmas with The Queen of Everything was everything I'd hoped (and a little more.) There was present unwrapping and macaroni and cheese eating and lots of pictures and video. Christmas just got a whole lot more fun with the addition of Lucy Addison, and I can only imagine how big of a blast we'll have next year.

Residency #4? Survived. Yes, I have completed my final full-length residency. I can hardly believe it myself, and I was there. There are so many wonderful things I could say about this residency, but I'll limit myself to these. Workshop gets better every semester as the program adds more and more talented students, and I learn so much from my fellow students. It's always encouraging and humbling to see how talented your classmates are. Also I found out I get to work with the always amazing, Leslie Pietrzyk, for my final semester, and I am so excited. I know I'm good hands as I revise and rethink my thesis.

January Madness and the 1st birthday. Despite my hopes to the contrary, things have not exactly slowed down since the holidays and residency ended. My life has been a series of appointments, visiting relatives, party planning, and a blizzard (well, by Southern terms, anyway.) The Queen's first birthday was a smashing success, with a houseful of 30+ people wedged into our 1700 sq ft house, and I'm still managing to squeeze my writing and reading into my schedule (somewhere.)

Now that you're dizzied by my seriously abbreviated version of the last two months, I'll share some words of wisdom...okay, just words. I've learned a few things about myself over the past few months. They are as follows:

1. One year olds are far more fun and entertaining than little babies. They also serve as greater distractions from things like schoolwork.

2. After months of research for my critical paper, I've discovered that I LOVE reading articles on literary criticism (and feminist criticism, in particular.) I just can't get enough of it .

3. I'm always going to dress like a school librarian, so I need to give up wishing I could look like my friends who've mastered Bohemian chic. I got rid of masses of clothing and purchased quite a few new things. Here's a surprise, they look like my old stuff, just newer.

Okay, so enough with this disjointed mess of a blog entry. You've been officially caught up. Here's keeping our fingers crossed for a more consistent blogging schedule in 2011! Want a sneak peek at future blog topics (tentative)? Well, how about zombie theory, more movie reviews, and a progress update on my thesis? I know right now you're positively panting with excitement, right? Or not.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nerdish Delight

Because you weren't convinced of my total descent in the nerdy abyss, I am posting these AWESOME pictures I found online.

So, this is a double nerd delight. All eleven Doctors as Simpsons characters! (If you don't know who the Doctors are, I'm not explaining it to you.)

Here are David Tennant as the Doctor and his faithful assistant, Donna Noble, also as Simpsons characters.

A Simpsons version of the Weeping Angel from "Blink."

And last but not least is this SUPER AWESOME poster that I also found online....

Am I ready for the return of the Doctor in 2011 or what?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Books + Bubbles = Motherhood

I'm not beginning this entry with an apology. There's a week and a half until my final packet of the semester is due, and I have a nine-month old baby. I post when I post. That being said, I am looking forward to more regular posts during my nearly two-month break before the next semester starts. (And yes, I am aware of the paving material for the road to Hell.)

Despite the irregularity of my posts since the arrival of Superbaby, I have tried to keep one thing consistent: no torrent of baby-related posts. This is not a poke at my friends who have child-centric blogs. That is the purpose of their blogs, and I read them with relish (mostly.) My blog, however, is about my life as a student and writer, and also a place for me to rant about films and books. I'm afraid I'm going to have to break my rule, however, as these two areas of my life (books and baby) have intersected.

I have already written about my obsession with children's literature and my joy at having an excuse now to revist old favorites. Only recently, however, I got do the one thing I have looked forward to since the day I found out I was pregnant (and even before that)....I took Lucy Addison to the library.

Deciding when a child is old enough for the library is a tricky thing. If I'd had my way, I would have been wheeling her in there for a load of books on the way home from the hospital, but alas, the library is a quiet place, and squawling infants are met with stern looks over ancient reading glasses. So I waited. At eight months, I decided that I'd been patient long enough. We made our first trip to the library.

As I carried my twenty pound infant on my hip (a mistake I didn't repeat...stroller from here on out), I half-expected bright lights and an angel choir. I was, after all, introducing Lucy Addison to the library. Here she will choose books, find her favorites, go to storytime, win summer reading contests, oh, wait, I digress. Back to reality. Things weren't quite like I remembered from my childhood library visits (and there were many.)

First of all, Greenville libraries have automatic sliding doors now. How unromantic is that? I was prepared for the computerized card catalogs and infrared scanners and book barcodes, but not the sliding doors. It was a little disappointing. Then there's the whole smell thing. When I was little, my favorite thing about the library was the smell. I was the only five year old who got a contact high from the scent of musty books. Since I can no longer smell, something of the whole experience was diminished.

The visit improved greatly, though, when I got to the children's section. As I wandered (as much as one can wander when their right arm is numb from carrying a baby) through the picture books (set in shelves at kid height), I spotted the sign for storytime. Every Tuesday at 10 and 11. It was Wednesday. We'd have to wait a whole week for it to come around again. "Lucy Addison," I said, "we'll be back." She didn't seem particularly excited at the prospect.

We checked out her very first library books and rushed home to begin reading them. That part was as good I'd hoped. I remembered all the books my mother had read to me, all the trips to the library lugging the maximum number of books allowed from library to car to house and back. Checking out favorites again and again. Was Harry still a dirty dog? He was. Was Lyle still the most clever crocodile? Turns out yes.

Then came the day for storytime. I followed the other mothers in with their squirming toddlers and even a few infants. A smiling librarian with a Clifford puppet on her hand met us at the door. "Clifford" spoke to each child as they entered. Lucy Addison inspected the red dog from the safety of her stroller, looking a little skeptical with furrowed brow, and then we rolled into the auditorium with fifteen or twenty other children for the main event.

May I say that I never felt more like a mother than I did for that half hour. It was magical. There was singing, story reading, and even a rhythm/marching band where Lucy Addison got her own instrument (a rice-filled plastic egg.) There was even a bubble break. Part of me didn't want it to end. The best part was that Lucy Addison really seemed to enjoy it. That's it. No clever quips or funny anecdotes. It was perfect. The librarian even read Harry, The Dirty Dog.

Cue the music. This was the moment I had built up in my mind all those years. I am the mother of a little girl, and I just took her to storytime at the library.

And we get to do it again next week.

For anyone who's curious, here are the books we've checked out and read so far:

Thirsty Baby, Catherine Ann Cullen

Olivia and the Missing Toy, Ian Falconer

Olivia Forms a Band

Angelina Ballerina, Katharine Holabird

Angelina Ice Skates

Angelina's Baby Sister

Princess Baby, Karen Katz

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Bernard Waber

Harry, the Dirty Dog, Gene Zion

LMNO Peas, Keith Baker

Too Many Frogs, Sandy Asher

Maisy Goes to the Library, Lucy Cousins

On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, Rachel Isadora

Bears on Chairs, Shirley Parenteau

Lyle and the Birthday Party

Eloise: a Book for Precocious Grown-Ups, Kay Thompson (we didn't finish this one. Too much for LA)

Wee Little Bunny, Lauren Thompson

Plus these that we checked out this week and are in progress....

A Beautiful Girl, Amy Schwartz

Emily and Albert, Jan Ormerod

Emma and Mommy Talk to God, Marianne Williamson

Martha Walks the Dog, Susan Meddaugh (Martha is after my time, but I'm in love with her!)

Angelina at the Fair

Angelina and Alice

Angelina at the Palace (Noticing a pattern here?)

Say Cheese!, Lauren Child

Katy and the Big Show, Virginia Lee Burton