It is pretty weird that the only Ralphs I know are two diametrically opposed ones: Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners and Ralph Waldo Emerson (birthday today) who entered Harvard at fourteen.
It just reminds me that life is happenstance for the most part. You can't choose your parents and you grow up weed-like in their garden as it were. You are exposed to things, you meet people and you experience things, each of us going in his/her direction based on influences. If you head off to college you'd expect your parents to support you during those foundational years, but often that is not the case except for wealthy families. Lots of folks (myself included) had to sweat and strain for an education and the way life is lived, including what we wind up loving and hating and admiring and letting go of - these are things that are not entirely within our own grasp, at least not initially.
And then there is lovely retrospection, an opportunity for learning anew and trying over and over again to get it right, to get a (new) perspective that is not a pigeonholed view of the world, that tries to get light in all the way around.
I'm lucky, or I consider myself lucky, that was exposed to music and art and a love of beauty at an early age and invited to read a diverse group of authors and exposed to the odd assortment of things that makes me the quirky person I am now. These fortunate events helped me re-spin who I was/am. Not to be a superficial better, but an actual better. If I were the same person I was as when I was 23, I'd be a big fat pain in the ass and I'm grateful I'm not that person. I hope I continue to evolve, even though my age seems to advance faster than my goals. But I'm thinking that the happenstance of life is quilt-like. I guess I feel tonight that fate must have a hand in it. Not sure what you think. I'm still thinking about it. Two Ralphs, sheesh. You'd think I'd know more than two.
I took a walk this morning and passed by some incredibly large poppies that looked like they were from Little Shop of Horrors. It reminded me of that delightfully quirky musical and how someone came up with the idea of it - sheer genius! I looked it up. Howard Ashman who is described in Wikipedia as lyricist, librettist, and musician; he wrote the screenplay. I consider myself fairly ignorant of all he's done. Despite leaving this earth at age 40, he won the Disney Legends award for "extraordinary and integral contribution" and joins the ranks of Milt Kahl (animation), Les Clark (animation), Norman Palmer (film), Julie Andrews (!) and lots more. Ashman won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics (I love the lyrics!). You won't know this if you're as ignorant as I am, but Howard Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. When I think about it, I'm astounded. But wait Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin and with Alan Menken (I am in awe of him too) wrote songs for Aladdin also. According to what I read on Wikipedia, during the early production of Aladdin, "Ashman and Menken were approached to help "reinvigorate and save" the production of Beauty and the Beast, which was apparently going nowhere as a non-musical. The film was released just a few months after his death and is dedicated to Ashman. Two Golden Globes, two Academy Awards, two Grammy awards, and here I am totally ignorant of this man. If I hadn't seen an extraordinary poppy this morning I wouldn't have looked up Little Shop of Horrors and discovered Howard Ashman (and Alan Menken). I regret that Howard lived so short a life and hope that others, even if they don't know him, find his work, his legacy. Note to self: Sure, you're no Howard Ashman, but take a moment to ruminate and be inspired. Howard and Alan didn't write to be famous. They simply loved the hybrid of story and song. And (in my tiny life) I don't write to be famous. I write because I love stories and language and characters and because I hope those stories will be read and to have an effect on people. So..I thank Howard Ashman and the poppy for reminding me of this.
I had wanted (please note past perfect) to go to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) May conference (since I have 3 children's book projects underway; one nonfiction) and I haven't gone to many of the local meet-ups. Back in January, I said to myself, I'll be ready (to meet an agent) by spring. I saw the email about the conference and then I let a couple of weeks slip by. Big mistake! It's obviously like signing up for classes in college. You have to jump on it right away or you'll be stuck with the phrenology of warts or something. By the time I finally clicked over to look at registration, every single opportunity to make a pitch, meet an agent and have someone review your first 20 pages was gone. Sigh. Double sigh. On the up side, however, I did learn my lesson. I did sign up for Willamette Writers Conference coming this August. The registration opened today at 8:00am and there I was at 8:17am looking through all the choices and getting registration done. Unlike my love life, where I make the same mistakes over and over again, my #writinglife has a better learning curve. But now the panic sets in with a vengeance!
I realize I have about a month and a half to get my writing finished, polished and ready for scrutiny (you have to send it in about a month ahead of the conference). And, while I write every day, I go through spurts of organization, calendaring, other misc. admin tasks and finding submission "homes" (for short stories and poetry) maybe once a month. God bless submittable. Now, I feel a hand on my back pushing me to get it together. It's kind of like cleaning when you know company is coming. It gives you motivation.
There's a woman I met at the #OoliganPress #w2p2018 workshop at #PSU who I need to thank for restoring my faith in publishing and publishers. It's Kathlene Postma. Her poetry, fiction and visual art has appeared in Hawaii Review, willow Springs, Zyzzyva, Los Angeles Review and more. What's delightful is that she's such a wonderfully down-to-earth person and has such a diverse creative background. As professor of creative writing at Pacific University, she shared that her students had influenced her with their entrepreneurial spirit, which in turn inspired her to delve into adult fairy tales. She spoke about how her art (doing art) had invited her to find "a childlike intuitive space."
The conversations centered for the most part on publishing. Kathlene spoke of the "nugget of the story" and how stories can be told in many ways nowadays, and in many forms, including lots of media that wasn't around before. The panel that Ms. Postma was on (with Finn J.D. John, and Matthew Simek with moderator Taylor Thompson - also valuable contributors) was called: "Under One Banner: Writing Mediums and Submitting to Literary Journals." There was a lively discussion on the best way to know where to submit something (actually, that's my personal nemesis) and some strategies were discussed that deserve mention. Besides reading the journal you are planning on submitting to (to see if your work is a good fit) Kathlene suggests looking at some of the small presses. "See what their focus is," she advises. Poetry and Fiction are tough markets now, "..there's tons of poetry," she notes. She advises writers to "..write what you care about." [always good advice] She also suggests looking into creative nonfiction as an option.
The panel was asked, "What do you wish you would have known starting out?" Kathlene advises writers to "Be yourself. Don't worry, you'll find your tribe." [I love that] and to "write for yourself," [always good advice]. She adds, "Maybe go rogue.." meaning you have other options than traditional publishing - maybe consider self-publishing. It was partly due to her remarks that I come to be in the position of re-launching myself into myself, that is to say a more leaned in "out there" version of myself. So thank you, Kathlene. Much obliged! Oh, and there is a wonderful page on the SilkRoad website with interviews with people like Dorianne Laux and Robert Boswell. Good reading!
There are many things I know how to do well. I can take a good photo. I can take good care of my granddaughter. I can do reasonable portraits and funny little doodles.I can write stories (I didn't say publish). I can build a website - stuff like that. But it's hard for me to be in community. I stink at it. Really, I do. Even after all these years I still struggle with it. I have learned, however, that it is something I need, something everyone needs. We are humans, after all, and humans are social. Even I am social despite my best efforts to live under a rock. The thing is I've learned that even if it (my effort at community) doesn't look terribly successful that I still need to go slogging up the hill (what feels like slogging sometimes). For one thing, I have no perspective. People could think of me of quirkily charming when I think of myself as a pretty much a misfit. Perhaps (here's the most important part) it actually does me some good, a very delayed realization. It changes something in me, something that affects my ability to get out there and do it again, something that helps me take other risks and something that leans in and affects my writing. Like all writers I notice things and I finally noticed this.
Let's pretend that I started this five years ago and I'll just continue talking like I was already in your head, okay? Tonight's topic: writing and publishing. Like lots of folks, I write. I know, we're ubiquitous. Every other person you meet is working on a novel. I went to a writing conference over the weekend (actually it was called a publishing conference). First of all, there were tons of people and if you're an introvert like me it takes a few deep breaths just to enter a room with that many strangers. It's good for you though. I keep telling myself that. But this time it was like the planets lined up or something. For one thing I never would have met Allen Cunningham, author of The Green Age of Asher Witherow, among other titles. He was doing one of the workshops at the Write To Publish Conference hosted by Ooligan Press. His talk on developing characters was the kind of workshop session that you stumble into in your dreams - it was simply amazing. Let me tell you it takes quite a bit to amaze me. I'm one of those people who is well, a bit of a pain in the ass when it comes right down to it. Cunningham's got 6 ways to develop characters and I'm still transcribing the notes, but let me tell you the 6 (points) before I sign off. There's desire, detail, contradiction, counterpoint, scene, and transformation. Sometimes you just need to hear something you know in a new way and this was one of those times.
C. D. Finley
Opinionated, wry, sometimes corny, observational humor mostly about writing, but you never know.