Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Answering the Call to Adventure

Back from my weekend of focused writing, and about all the writing I did was on this blog. The weekend wasn't a loss, though. I spent it focused on the craft of writing, the journey, the inner space.

I started reading The Hero's Journey, which starts with discussion of the call to adventure, which is precipitated by the wasteland. I've told my therapist for the past few months that I feel like I'm lying fallow, or like I'm drifting amid the rich, green silt at the bottom of a lake. I feel broken. Rather than staring at the blank page, I feel as though I am the blank page, empty, silent, not able to do anything but anticipate.

I passed four days of putting it out there, hoping that something would change and allow me to make some kind of a new beginning.

Two things happened.

First, I discovered that Leslie Marmon Silko has written a memoir, The Turquoise Ledge. I grabbed a copy and started reading immediately. Her writing, entering her world, bubbled to the surface some truths about the world that I carry but have never articulated. I love it when I read or hear something that does that for me. She talks about communicating with animals, that birds, snakes, rabbits, all communicate with us all the time. I have always known this to be true and have had many wonderful relationships with beings other than human. She also talks about how the spirit world communicates with us through animals and the elements of the world, clouds, the earth, wind. Reading this, I recalled an instance soon after my mother's death when an animal served as a messenger from the spirit world. Her writing gives me a sense of awakening.

Second, I was contacted by an old writer friend who reminded me of the good things about communing with other writers who have no agenda other than to gain sincere feedback on their writing and offer the same in return. I need to start doing that again and am hoping that he, I and one other writer can resume that connection.

Over all, I have to say that the writer's retreat was productive. Even though I didn't write, I feel supported, if not transported, by that mineral-rich current.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reading The Turquoise Ledge

omg. Omg. OMG!!! Leslie Marmon Silko has a new book out...and it's a memoir! I'm already about 20 pages into it and I feel like I'm tonguing the richest, milkiest Swiss chocolate with just a hint of some exotic, magical spice I can't quite name. She has rescued me before, and it looks like she's doing it again.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defining the Female Monomyth

The other day, someone asked me if the Harry Potter movies met the criteria for the Dykes to Watch Out For movie approval rating. The comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, has 3 rules for a film to meet its criteria:

1. The movie must have more than one woman character.
2. The women characters must talk to each other
3. About something other than men.

Generally, I have to say that the Harry Potter stories receive a resounding no on this. There is more than one woman/girl. But the girls do not talk to each other in any memorable way or play a significant role other than as supporting characters for the activities involving the men/boys.

This got me thinking, what would a girl hero look like? Would a hero's journey be the same for a girl? Do the masses of books about hero's journey even have anything to do with women? There are tons of books on the subject of the archetypical hero's journey and about archetypes in general, but do they even have anything to do with women? Joseph Campbell said that the women are the ones waiting at home. He contends that the women are not the ones toiling along the hero's journey because they have already achieved the spiritual enlightenment the men must struggle to attain. So, what of archetypes? It seems we do not share the standard archetypes of men. Do we have our own? Are there cultures with stories of the journey women must take?

For we do journey in a much different way. So ours has been to stay at home. Isaac Denisen touched on it when she talked about learning to live in boredom, in a quiet state of waiting while the men go off into the world without us.

Certainly, at this point in history, we women are venturing into the men's world and are met with resistance. In trying to claim a chair at the table, a cube on the floor, a voice in the meeting, we are being subtly beaten to a gory pulp. Like men who beat their wives, the corporate men make sure that the bruises are in places no one can see them. They disregard our ideas, only to reintroduced them as their own. They overlook our participation, even when we lead the way through, and praise the men who play a part. They make us invisible in a hundred different ways, and we feel crushed under it, demoralized and overwhelmed with the futility of it. If we attempt to discuss it, we are accused of having overactive imaginations. If we become more vocal, we are being too aggressive. If we don't speak up, that is our sin. Oh, and when we make a mistake, we get all the attention that was denied us in all other circumstances.

We seem to be in a no-win position. But isn't being invisible something we can leverage? Is invisibility an archetype for women? Women are the ones who operate behind the scenes, in the shadows, ones attending to details, making everything nice, ensuring that things run smoothly. We are the ones never seen, heard or noticed. There's food on the table, paper in the copy machine, coffee in the pot. The systems are stable. The infrastructure is in place.

Being the detail chaser is a job we never chose for ourselves, yet we do it automatically. It's only courteous to refill the coffee pot or the copy machine. In the past, this peripheral supporting role was the only one we were allowed. Now, we maintain that role while simultaneously and invisibly performing other, more critical functions. My experience working in IT operations demonstrates this repeatedly. My worst employment experience ever was at Expedia, but all of my IT jobs have supported this contention to some degree. Expedia is the only company I've worked for that really worked at being the worst employer for women in technical positions. The harder I worked, the harder they tried to diminish me. I digress, but I left Expedia feeling so bruised, so broken and so powerless. I left there months ago, yet I still fall into a ditch occupied by the thoughts about how it could have been different. The ditch is full of lies. It could not have been different because the men hold all the power, and they did not want it to be different.

Was I a hero in this story? No. They won. They abused me until I left. Is there a way I could have been a hero? I feel compelled to find a way through this because it isn't just me. It's every woman I've ever known who has worked in a technical field. There has to be a way through. There has to be a way to be in this field and not be crushed under the giant's foot. There has to be a way to stop being the one who sweeps out the fireplace that doesn't involve being rescued by a prince.

This is my quest. I want to tell a story that meets the Dykes to Watch Out For criteria, makes women the heroes and identifies the elements of the female monomyth.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Writer's Retreat 2011 - Getting Started

A day into my time on Orcas, and this is the first I've written.

Last night, I had strange dreams which have set the tone for my day. First, I dreamed a cartoon in sort of Japanese Anime-style. The main character was a hero resembling Aladdin. He was being pursued by an enemy and was threading his way along a wooden plank overlooking a lake. As the enemy drew nearer, Aladdin came to know that the only way to escape was to plunge into the water and die. He does so and his will to escape pulls him to the lake's bottom like a sinking stone. As he sinks, he hears the singing of the sirens. They are telling him in their song that he has to give himself over to life; he must learn to see life and be alive. As he sinks, he drowns and releases his hold on trying to survive. In doing so, he is born to a sense of wonder for his life and of all that is living.

Strangely, my readings today have a reoccurring theme and seem to tie in with my dream. In The Hero Within, I keep reading of the theme of the wasteland, and the hero's call to adventure.

"...the heroic journey does not require you to become something greater than you are. It merely requires absolute fidelity to your own authentic path."

Great. How many ways have I deviated from that path? I've cultivated a career that I find unsatisfying so that I can make a lot of money. I've remained stuck in an unsatisfying relationship because I'm afraid of being alone. About the only quest I've been on is one for instant gratification. Food. Drink. Clothes. Car. Since graduating from college, I haven't been able to commit myself to anything. How many false starts have I made, only to abandon them when it turns out that focus and effort is required?

What does this have to do with writing? I'm not sure. Not yet. But this weekend is about exploring and following the flow. I'm going where I'm led. So far, I've had that very bizarre dream, and some interesting reading. I've also gotten caught up in wikipedia surfing on the Fisher King, the Mabinogian, the Grail, Cuhlwch and Olwen, the Book of Taliesin.

No stressing allowed. Just let one thing lead to another and see where I end up. Usually, I get flustered, desperate to accomplish something, and I freeze. This weekend, I am allowing myself to just be with myself and flow. Allow my process to flow and NOT freeze up because I don't think it's going in the right direction. Whatever direction it is going in is the right direction.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting Away, Getting To It

I didn't do it last year, because I was in a fit of writer's angst, but I usually go away for a few days in February or March for a private writer's retreat. A three-day weekend approaches (Thanks George and Abe), and I am heading out to Orcas Island to the Kangaroo Bed and Breakfast.

If the weather permits, there will be hiking. There will definitely be driving around, visiting the sheep lady, exploring art galleries and bookstores. And there will be writing.

I'm a little scared. I haven't had a fiction project in over a year. I have the finished but unpublishable YA novel, the fifty-pages into it second YA novel, some short stories that have never gotten past their premie births and a few ideas to body forth. In spite of the angst, I was executing a plan by not writing for all these months. I wanted to get all the crackling out of my head and get back to a place where I can hear my own voice. All of the writer's groups, retreats, conferences, workshops had seeped into my inner ear and perched there, waiting, just waiting, for the instant I put fingers to keyboard. When the idea of writing entered my head, they would pummel me with a cacophony of loosely-aimed opinions. My fingers would hover, maybe type a few sentences and then still.

Time, I thought. I need time for the noise to fade away.

I'm not sure that they are completely silent, but it's time for me to try writing again, hence the private retreat.

Orcas Island in the off season is a paradise for anyone wanting to spend quiet days in a beautiful setting. The island is virtually deserted, except for the locals, and is loaded with places, alternately, to sit and focus or to be distracted. This will be the third private retreat I've given myself on Orcas. The first year I stayed at the Anchorage Inn. The room was huge, elegant, full of comforts. A huge four-poster bed with down comforters, a wicker rocking chair with soft woolen blankets, a gas fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water, an efficiency stocked with yogurt, juices, home-made granola and fresh baked coffee cake, a hot tub by the water and no other guests besides me made for a great four-day weekend. I think I wrote four chapters of Giving It Over on that trip. Two years later, I stayed at the Otter Pond B&B. Since I was the only guest, the proprietors gave me an upgrade. I really enjoyed the B&B, but the writer in me was distracted. I couldn't settle into the zone. The static of all the support I was getting as a writer kept pulling my fingers off the keyboard.

In between trips to Orcas, I've gone to other of the San Juans and once to The Resort at Mount Hood. Mt. Hood was a great destination. The Resort was so newly remodeled that it sparkled. I went snow shoeing and ate brunch at a buffet so enormous and colorful it looked like a rose-parade float. I also sat and wrote in front of the six-foot fireplace in the lobby and enjoyed long bubble baths in a deep tub. The writing was somehow not satisfying.

So, the first retreat was the best. I belonged to a small, intimate online writer's group with a handful of people I trusted and respected. Those people stayed with me all the way through the writing of my first novel. I miss them and often wish we could all go back to those days. My self-confidence dwindled over the years. Everything I did to find my way served to obscure the road signs.

Now, more than year away from all writing-related activities, I'm about to see what I can do. I feel like anything could happen. I hope to find that I've returned to days when writing is dangerous, where the edge of the jungle comes all the way down to the shore and eagles are ready to tip their wings and catch an upward current.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Getting to the Last Page

Some books fly so fast, I can hardly hold them in my hands. I settle my eyes on page one and suddenly find myself at the end. I don't often wade out into a pool of words and turn back without reaching the far shore. I never do so without treading water for a time. Getting half-way through a book is an investment. It's an investment in time, in emotional attachment. From the beginning page, I send out tentacles to embrace a relationship with the characters, the landscape, the cadence of the writer's words. I'm the ideal reader, always starting out with optimism, always poised to suspend disbelief. So, I never turn back lightly.

I'm treading water right now, smack in the middle of Dale Loves Sophie to Death by Robb Forman Dew. I don't turn back because I sense that this entire first half is just stage-setting for something big about to happen. I don't like any of the characters. I don't have sympathy for any of them. The protagonist is a sullen, sickly, delusional, quick to anger rag of a woman. Her children are sullen and damaged and forever skulking about on the periphery. But there's a sense of something building to a crescendo. So, I continue on. Thinking it'd better be worth it.

I bought this book based on Amazon's, if you liked this, you'll like that recommendations. Once bitten.