Friday, October 24, 2014

377 days - Blog #88, the story of Stingy Jack

So on my way home tonight, I noticed a house that put a plastic pumpkin (jack o lantern) on a lamppost in thei yard.  Truthfully, I’m kind of over the Halloween macabre decorating thing (and have been since spending an October two years ago confronting the reality of grieving death).  But some things I find kind of interesting.  And in spite of the it’s now cool to have backlash against the popularity of it, I do like pumpkins.

Mostly because I like the history of it.

Although, truthfully, the glory of a jack o lantern’s grin belongs to a turnip.

And after chopping up a turnip to make a mash for a shepherd’s pie the other night, I have to say I’m rather glad we made that shift.  I don’t much like scooping out cold pumpkin guts, but thank GOD we don’t have to carve faces into a turnip.  I think that would be a rather grisly task... and maybe that is what adds the horror to it.

Anyway, tonight’s sighting of that plastic pumpkin atop a lamppost reminded me of a story I found on the internet one day of lollygagging when I should have been working.  I’m pleased to find that in spite of the fact the History Channel is no longer about history, they still have the article I read ten or so years ago.  A story, that much though I like, I have yet to learn to tell it well enough in my own vocabulary.  Maybe a kiss of the Blarney stone is necessary for that this summer…

But now, for you my readers, here is the story of Stingy Jack, courtesy of

“People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.”

So now you know.  And if they are out of pumpkins at the store, you can always try a turnip or beet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

377 days - Blog #87 a lesson from criticism

I’ve told this story many times.  So if you already know it, forgive the repetition.

Six years ago (holy cow, six years ago) I decided to write a novel.  I had two main inspirations.  One was a car ride home, contemplating a high school reunion.  But that was actually the result of something else.

Earlier that autumn I directed a play.  On tech Sunday, I was given some very harsh criticism.  To the person’s credit, it was said to my face.  On the other hand, I really didn’t understand it.  I was told that I was not qualified to direct Shakespeare, among several other comments on my organization of the production.  Six years later, I am willing to admit some merit in those comments.  Not the first… but there is always something to be learned from how other people experience something – especially a something as stressful as a play rehearsal process.  Anyway, the gut punch was the concluding comment that I am kind only because I pretend to be so, when in fact I am really a very not nice person.

Okay.  Whatever.  I suppose we could say that six years is a long time to hold onto these statements.  Criticism is something with which we all have to deal and learn to disregard… or at least keep a salt shaker handy to tenderize it.  That said, these remarks cut into my soul like nothing else ever had before.  It led me to some dark places in my soul… but it is mostly the way I found my way out that is the reason I keep them in my memory locked.

I retreated into myself that fall.  The upshot of my anti-social behavior is that I started reading again with all that time that I previously devoted to rehearsals.  One of the books I picked up was Twilight.  It was all the rage that fall, just before the first movie came out.  Everyone I knew was reading it.  So I went to the bookstore and bought my own shiny copy.  

It was one of those books that pulled me in.  You know the kind.  A book whose characters seem so real, whose emotions get linked to your own, whose ending you can’t wait to discover and sleep and work are cruel interruptions until you get there.  It was also… so poorly written.  Strike that.  I didn’t like how it was written.  It didn’t suit my qualifications of good writing.  And yet… there I was, consuming books I, II, III, and… well IV was a different story.

And I hated myself for it.

Because… it wasn’t written well.

But… what did I know?

I mean, I hadn’t written a book.

Well, not a complete book.

Definitely not a vampire book.

So what the hell did I know?

All I had written in the recent years were a handful of blogs and verbose emails.

Wasn’t I just being critical catty because I had to find fault in what someone else did that I was too scared to do?  I thought of all those things said to me on that tech Sunday and ways I tried to reconcile myself with being so accused of fault.  Maybe my hypotheses were untrue… but I didn’t want to be that person.  The person who used criticism as a mask to my fear.  To let my fear permit me to disregard a book that was clearly successful.  To judge what it takes to do something well when I never even tried to do it myself.

So I wrote a vampire novel.  From my starting point at the end of November 2008 to when I hit publish in February 2011, I wrote several drafts (I actually lost track, but I know it exceeded ten).  I leant to readers both near and dear as well as distant and very, brutally honest.  I submitted it to agents and was rejected.  (Which I suppose in some people’s minds validates the fact I am not indeed a worthy writer.)  And then I decided to publish it myself.  That in and of itself is a whole separate journey, but one that concludes with a much greater appreciation of what it is to be a writer and how one can never stop learning and improving… or escape the criticism of bitter readers.

Anyway, like I said, I often tell this story when I talk about my book.  Why I would write a vampire novel.  And I usually say something like, “I decided that unless I wrote a vampire novel, I had no justification to criticize someone else who did.”  At that point, a lot of people assume my next comment is going to be, “and now that I did, I will tell you Twilight sucks."  Well, honestly, I have done that.  But my heart wasn’t in it.  I do have strong feelings against Twilight, but it’s more to do with the bullshit that a woman’s soul is in greater danger for having pre-marital sex than you know, becoming a blood sucking vampire.  I don’t hate it for poor writing.

Maybe it isn’t a scholarly or literary masterpiece.  But, you know what book I’m talking about, don’t you?  It’s a pretty successful series.  Yes, the hype machine helped with it.  But it was mostly word of mouth.  That word of mouth came from something into which I was drawn myself.  That book tapped into the teenage girl and her illogical, fanatical emotions that still dwell somewhere in my heart and the hearts of millions of readers.  That is a skill separate from and maybe, on some level, superior to a brilliance with syntax and grammar. 

I envy it.

No.  Actually, I’m learning from it.  The importance of connecting to a reader like that is huge and absolutely essential in this new world of publishing and reading and competing for the attention of someone who would rather read Facebook than a book.

The greater lesson, though, is a more personal one.

Credit Chris Chabot via Flickr Creative Commons

About criticism.

I was hurt so deeply by those things said to me.  I have forgiven them.  Because I have truly attempted to right the small bits of truth about what was wrong with my behavior.  But in being hurt, it opened my eyes to how I criticize.  And how that impulse is informed by my own fear.  Then, when I confront that fear, what someone else does ‘wrong’ suddenly isn’t so wrong.  It’s just a different way of doing things, something with which I am happy to live when I am also doing that thing.  Not just watching from afar with resentment. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

377 days - Blog #86, 3 things I learned on Wednesday

I have a lot on the brain today.  So I think I am going to keep the subject to the simple idea of three things I learned today.

1. Rain makes crying easier.  Maybe not easier.  It just seems to blend into the scenery better.

2. It isn’t necessary to blend into the scenery when a day makes you sad.  Asking for a little cheering up (even if it is through Facebook) is okay.  And seriously, dear Readers, that is HUGE for me.  I don’t do that all too often.  And it is something that scares the shit out of me because I am afraid that I ask for too much because my life isn’t hard in the whole grand scheme of things.  The universe gives me a lot about which to be happy.  I also take responsibility for making up the difference… most of the time.  But on a day like today, it helped to have some help.

3. There is no limit to the comfort of a fire.  Especially on a rainy night.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

377 days - Blog #85, a pout about Homeland

I’m not going to lie.  I spent all my creative energy and emotion tonight watching the last three episodes of Homeland’s season three.


(Warning.  Do not read the next few paragraphs if you are not presently at that point with Homeland or watch things a year behind like me.) 

Now, I stupidly opened up an article a month or so ago about major characters who were killed off of a series.  I think that was just after I got sucker punched by the major plot twist of The Good Wife (another spoiler I kind of knew about but decided to write it in my head so I in no way expected to cry all night long about the untimely exit of the grown up version of Knox Overstreet).  Anyway, I found out about Brody before I even started season three (because I still wait for the DVDs through Netflix a year after the season ends).  I vaguely remember some press from when it started last year, stating how there wasn’t as much of Brody in season three.  Maybe that accounts for my patience between when I finished season two a year ago and now.

Because, you see, that’s why I watched this show in the first place.  Yes, the writing grabbed me once I actually turned on the episode. The acting compelled me.  But, mostly I am a total fan girl.  Damian Lewis remains my primary interest.

I do have a weakness for gingers with a British accent.  Even though he will always be Major Dick Winters to me, whom I would watch every Friday night that September in London to help me feel a little bit of American something.  Yeah, he was icky, jerky Soames Forsythe.  But then he was Benedick.

For a good laugh...
 For a cry...

All right I know that is kind of absurd.  But tonight, I am grieving the loss of the opportunity to see him in this show.  And also, a bit of a petty disappointment in his denouement.  Maybe because it was just so… slow after such intensity at the start.  Because it cast aside the brilliant relationships his character had with family and wrote them into a corner all to highlight the star and now producer of the show.  

I don’t dislike it.  I’m just pouting.  And I think I’ll be okay with waiting another year for the next season.  I mean, it’s not like I have a book to write in November or anything.

Monday, October 20, 2014

377 days - Blog #84 or what I learned from The Little Prince

One of the books I remember reading with my parents as a child was The Little Prince.  Now, as I revisit it in adulthood, I’m amazed that as I was sounding out words for myself, we were actually reading through that very adult story. I did like the pictures.  And even at five or six, one picture and its accompanying prose resonated pretty perfectly.

I think even at that early age (especially as one who was an only child at that point) I got very frustrated when people (grownups) couldn’t see the things I did/said/drew clearly.  It is the consequence, I think, of being smart.  And I say that without any ego.  When you figure out things more quickly or with a different level of understanding than the rest of your peers, it is frustrating.  And to this day, I still get flustered in the same way about such things as I did when I was that six year old first reading Le Petit Prince.

And sometimes that flustered feeling comes because I think people don’t hear me don’t want to hear me clearly because I’m a female.  Now before you get all excited about my whiny feminism (seriously, out of the 400 blogs I’ve written, how many times do I whine?), I really do think some things either aren’t listened to or heard differently from a woman’s voice.  Talk about something like numbers or facts… and what do you know?  Try to prove the validity of a different perspective with a list of points to consider and I’m giving a lecture.  And that is the LAST thing I want to do.

I think about how to speak, how to tell a story, how to convey facts without being dull or as a dominating soliloquy.  Maybe I stopped for a bit, as I haven’t given a tour in over two years (I miss it) and my public speaking has been limited to these every so sexy business meetings.  Nothing that gets me excited and informs my telling with contagious enthusiasm as did the labyrinth at Beauport or comparing children’s armor to buying an eight year old a sports car.  But, I still like to know what I’m talking about.  And I still like to express my opinion as a possible point of view, not an evangelical be all end all truth.

I really do get that there are other perspectives.  I want to listen to them.  I want to disagree.  I want to have some back and forth.  Intelligently.  Respectfully.  Peel back the layers.  I don’t want to be shut down as though my voice is complaining or lecturing or that my facts lack perspective… or power.

So I come home and want to stamp my foot and pout like that six year old girl who still understands the vexation towards adults who only saw a hat and not the elephant that had been consumed by a boa constrictor.