blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I spent part of last night's teaching with a young student frustrated by her inability to do a new kata well when first learning it. Then I spent another part of last night self-examining when and why I'm able to graciously accept criticism and correction, as well as when and why I'm hurt and offended by it -- and what years of being publicly, pointedly, and professionally corrected during karate classes and tournaments have done to my attitude toward repetition, failure, and contentment.

Then I read this, posted by one of my Viable Paradise classmates LaShawn Wanak, and wanted to share it with everyone.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Based on a recco from Sherwood Smith at the beginning of September, I picked up Lindsay Buroker's The Emperor's Edge. Today, I purchased the sixth book in the series, and should likely just pick up the seventh now so I'm not left without it should my Kindle be beyond internet reach when I finish Book 6. (Click! Done.)

Why, yes, I have enjoyed these books immensely.

I'm not alone in my liking. The series has been quite successful. So much so that I also invested some time reading the author's blog, which then got me taking a peek at Wattpad, which then got me thinking about whether Wattpad might fit what I'm looking for as a reader and writer.

But that's all provender for future posts.

I've been trying to put my finger on why these books have a unique appeal to me. The writing style is spiffy and easy, the plotting clipped, the world interesting, and the characters a great deal of fun... But the true underlying reason for my liking? I'm a fervent lover of redemption stories. And I'm fascinated by those stories that examine redemption from the perspective of an externalized wide lens rather than an internalized dialog of regret and self-loathing. I love stories that approach a character's life with the understanding that behavior is a continuum rather than an event, that tackle the interplay between forgiveness, condemnation, and acceptance. Stories that admit redemption is messy and irrational—that granting redemption is always risky, and withholding it sometimes damaging.

A redemption story is different from the "overcoming the past" tale. We all have a past to overcome—a challenging childhood, a severe trauma, a bad decision, a death in the family, a big disappointment, a dream unfulfilled. Big redemption, on the other hand, starts with a character who made choices and took actions that were both outside the bounds of what most would consider acceptable behavior and were harmful to innocents. And those characters are people we'd avoid in real life, people we'd warn others about, people we'd never believe could change.

But redemption isn't about who someone was. It's about who someone strives to become when most folks don't give a damn.

Katherine Kerr's Deverry series is a redemption story told over generations. Harry Connelly's Twenty Palaces trilogy is a redemption story that seems obvious on one hand, but sneaks up on you on the other. Sherwood Smith's Inda series is redemption on a societal, as well as personal, level. And Buroker's Emperor's Edge series gives me a redemption story as well. The four authors differ greatly in style, scope, and storytelling methods. But they all challenge the reader to understand at least one character who ought to be condemned, and (here's the important part) provides other characters the opportunity to change their minds and him or her.

As interesting as it is to look at redemption in fiction, it's difficult to discuss the topic in real life. Some will see it solely through the lens of religion while others confine it to seemingly measurable comparisons. Its dynamics are incredibly personal. Its consequences are far-reaching. Perhaps fiction gives us a sheltered place to experiment with the practice in order to become more comfortable with it in reality.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I've tried time and again to write about the week spent celebrating Patricia's life, and it all falls flat. Mark Booher, Artistic Director for PCPA, described the experience well when talking of how to explain the impact and reach of Patricia's presence: You had to be there.

One can't tell stories about Patricia without also telling one's own story, and I believe she did that on purpose. She lived life as an artistic collaboration. Everyone was her partner in creation. She saw the future potential in people, and lovingly demanded that potential be set free in the present. She believed in making art without hesitation because it was better to fail spectacularly than to try timidly. She taught her actors that perfection wasn't worth chasing because it was truth that mattered—and truth is a messy, painful, incredible imperfect thing.

These are the things she taught me. These are the things I want to pass on to others.

The experience of the celebration of her life was beautiful, fulfilling, and warming. Within half an hour of arriving, Dev and I found John—the man who I acted with for years, and who performed my wedding on the set of King Lear, the play Patricia was directing at the time. I had a few moments of private conversation with him that quieted some of my worst fears of Patricia's final days.

Just before the celebration in the outdoor theater began, I met up with three actors who'd been—along with me—in the first cast Patricia worked with in the area more than twenty years ago. Then one of them pointed out Dev was less than three years younger than I had been that year! And every one of them talked about how I'd huddle in some backstage corner between my scenes, frantically writing by the glow of stage lights that seeped around the sets. Even as an actor, I was a writer.

It was yesterday, home less than twenty-four hours, that I realized one of the greater gifts Patricia had given me: fertile artistic ground. I didn't seek out conferences and conventions in those years because I was already surrounded by creative people doing creative things. Creativity was the default, not the special exception. Creativity was the valued expectation, not the little thing on the side. Creativity was as breathing.


It was like living at Viable Paradise.

And I can hear her voice now: "If you want that back, love, decide now and make it happen. All that's stopping you is the silly notion that you can't do it, and notions don't get a vote in this."

For Dev, the trip gave him the chance to learn so much more about Patricia, and about the past of his parents. It'll be the time I'll look back on as the time when Dev began the shift to more adult than teenager.

I will always miss Patricia. I'll always want to share one more conversation, to see one more show, to hear one more laugh, to relax into one more embrace. But I'm no longer painfully grieving. She lived her life as she wished, and left a legacy of love, art, and passion.

May we all aspire so.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

In books, film, and general media, some aspects of country living are presented as “true” when those aspects are really “true when viewed through the experience of city dwellers.”  This does make me sigh, particularly when plot points turn on those aspects.

I was born and raised in Southern California, but lived in a more rural community during high school.  Then, after many more years of city living in two different states, I moved to rural Indiana.  The nearest streetlights of town (population 1,000) were over five miles away.  The nearest true city (population around 10,000) was ten miles away.  I lived in a very small house that was nearing 100 years old, but had been wired for electricity only two years before I moved in, on a riverside farm of about 130 acres that I shared with the landowners.  My closest neighbors were Amish.

I was far enough from town that now, living three miles from the city outskirts, I hardly consider myself living in the country.

Moving from city to country prompts folks to choose one of two paths–adapt to the experience, or adapt the experience itself.  The first step of the latter involves the instillation of outdoor lighting systems to banish the night.

I can’t tell you often I hear country nights, or nights before artificial lighting, described as pitch black.  As someone who used to walk around on 130 acres at night, I can assure you night walks are not akin to a blindfolded stroll.  Nights are not terrifyingly dark by default.  Darkness depends, of course, on available moonlight, but also atmospheric conditions and vegetation.  On a clear night, less than a half-moon provided light enough for comfort.  A full moon’s brightness made hikes up and down the ravines safely possible.

But the moment you look at anything brighter than the moonlight–in fact, in you look directly at a bright moon–everything else will look pitch black.  The rods in your eyes use certain pigments to see in low light, and those pigments break down in bright light to prevent the light from overloading sight.  It can take over half an hour for those pigments to build back up.  So if you’re turning a flashlight on and off, looking at a campfire, going in and out of the house, or–as in the case of reporters–spending most of the time staring into good lighting–the night will indeed look pitch black all the time.

Patience reveals another aspect.

Nighttime sound in the country can also be described very poorly by those who live with constant background sounds.  Such sounds become so pervasive, they cease to be noticed.  Air circulation fans and traffic are two common sources.  That noise covers smaller sounds of footsteps, conversations, breezes through leaves, and the passage of small animals.  You won’t hear the murmuring of a casual conversation taking place on a porch a quarter mile away.

In the country, sources of ambient noise might be moving water and/or wind.  That’s about it.  Being still reveals low sounds of small nocturnal creatures–their movements, their calls, their feeding.  The yip of a coyote carries a long, long distance, as does the whoo of an owl.  From my front porch on the farm, I could hear the clopping of hooves for long minutes before the buggy came into sight.  (Amish neighbors, remember? :)   From my back porch at my current home, I can hear most cars on a back country road when they’re still two miles away.  When I see a character be caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of a vehicle on a country road, I know the writer hasn’t spent much time outside his city limits.

All that quiet stillness will make one very aware of how much noise a clothed human body makes when it moves.  While it’s true feet cause noise on the ground, the sound of moving fabric can give away one’s position as well.  These days, humans would make easy prey for any stalking animal.

There are times that I deeply miss living on the farm.  Even the days, the ones filled with hard work in the July heat, were wonderful.  An interlude.  The in-between.  The time I needed to leave behind an old self and find the new.  But it’s the night–usually in spring and fall, usually when the moon is near full–that I miss most of all.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I am an introvert who was raised primarily by my very extroverted mother, alongside my very extroverted younger sister. My mother will still recall, with amusement, how often I yelled out, "I just want to be alone!" when my sister wanted my constant attention. Mom still thinks it was just the standard tension between siblings. Mom can't seem to understand that constant personal interactions drive my stress levels higher and higher and higher.

I can play an extrovert for a time because I was trained well in the practice, and I do enjoy the company of people. After all, I love teaching. But at the end of the day, I don't want to be around anyone. I want to be alone.

My mother's standard reply to my plea for solitude was, "Then you were born into the wrong family!" I took that to heart. My need to be alone was a mistake. A selfish mistake. Removing myself from a group—particularly a family group—was somehow insulting. Leaving someone alone was mean and hurtful.

Can you see the double layer of confusion there? I certainly didn't feel hurt and insulted when left alone. I found it a relief! But my family unit was designed by an extrovert, for extroverts. And the greater world is designed for pairs, not solitaries.

A month is apparently the appropriate amount of time between a break-up and the first queries about when dating will again commence. In the last couple days, five people have asked when I'll start dating again. When I say I've decided not to date anymore, I get little knowing looks ranging from sympathy—the assumption I've been too hurt to "risk" dating again—to amusement—the assumption I'm too... something... to know my own mind.

My foray into dating again was absolutely fun.  But the truth is I've finally decided, once and for all, to practice what I know. And what I know is that I am quieter, less stressed, and perfectly content when solitary. There is no empty space within me seeking a partner. There is no sense of being incomplete. My time spent with That Man was extremely enjoyable and great for my self-esteem, but I didn't need it to be more.  My friends and my family nurture my heart and soul; I don't have a need for One Special Person.

"Well, you have a lot going on right now," is my mother's response, as if this is a preadolescent phase akin to disliking the color purple or hating math. No. This is me finally accepting who and what I am.

I'm a single person. I look forward to being alone. I'm excited to direct my own life without a partner. A future filled with me being solitary looks so much more exciting than a life in partnership.

I'm not choosing to remain single because I want to avoid being hurt; truly, I've inflicted most of the hurt in past relationships because my introversion can look like lack of caring. I'm not choosing to remain single because I'm too busy to date; truly, my life would be so much easier if I had a partner. But I am choosing to accept the fact many people will never, ever believe, let alone understand, these facts.

This is me choosing to be single because it is what makes me happy, and because I'm tired of pretending otherwise for the sake of others' expectations.

Kata-Story

Feb. 21st, 2013 03:15 pm
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

A dear friend recently discussed the impact of knowing and wanting to follow "the rules" when writing first drafts, and how that knowledge and desire gets in the way. Because I'm struggling to learn a new kata right now, I heard in this friend's words the same emotions I've experienced at the dojo, and posted a comment about the "first draft" of a kata.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to expand on the idea. However, other things yet to be disclosed ended up eating my "free" time this week, so I'm going to settle for merely tweaking the original comments. It's rough still, but hopefully clear:

The "first draft" of my kata always sucks. Of course it does! I don't yet know the story-fight I'm telling with my movements. It isn't until I've learned the entire kata that I know, physically, what the arc is: where the pacing needs to change, when my focus has to shift, which movements need to be hard or soft, where the transitions need to be measured or abrupt. And, often, it's by coming to understand the intention of the kata's later movements that I am better able to see the intention of the very first movement.

Once I know the pattern (plot), I must "revise" my kata, one piece at a time. It's frustrating and bewildering and danged hard work until everything suddenly aligns. Then what might look like a simple middle block becomes a whole-body movement of power. It can feel like magic. And truly, some of my katas will have crappy parts for a long time because I don't have the skill to do what I know needs to be done. I just keep plugging away at it, alas.

But if I had to follow all the kata rules the first time I learned a new one, I'd give up. The only reason I didn't give up in the beginning? I didn't know the rules. I knew only that I was learning and making progress. I can't yet deliver a perfect shuto (knife hand, a.k.a. "chop") while also learning which stance I'm supposed to be in, the angle of my attack or defense and—most importantly—the movement that leads to the shuto and the movement that follows.

And you know what? The "perfect" shuto in kata might not do me a spitwad of good in a self-defense situation. So the next layer is knowing how to apply the rules, how to adapt them, and how to break them.

There did come a point when the words, "I will never get this right!" stopped being a cudgel with which to beat myself. These days, it's an acknowledgement of a truth. I'm not supposed to get it right. I'm supposed to always do it better. (Why, yes, that point is sometimes lost in total frustration. :)

blairmacg: (Default)
For as long as I can remember, the world has been on the verge of ruin.  By the time I finished high school, I'd heard we were all supposed to die in the next twenty years or so due to nuclear war, nuclear waste, nuclear power plant failure, global warming, ozone depletion, energy collapse, chemical pollution, AIDS, overpopulation, food shortages, water scarcity, and/or the shifting of the poles.

I mentioned this to a friend recently and her deadpanned response was, "You always were on the strange side of different, weren't you?"

Hmm....  Maybe. :)

But I am curious now.  Was I an outlier for considering global collapse all through my teen years?  If not, what possible fates did others consider? 

When you think about it, someone, somewhere will get the prediction right.  Law of averages and all that.
blairmacg: (Default)

Well, well, well.  I've been distracted lately by a sweet man.  A very sweet man.  The distraction looks like it'll continue for awhile longer, though my giddy giggles have--thank goodness--abated.

While working on Bears (and I truly wish I could get an entire day free to knock it out in one swell foop), I've been thinking and re-thinking the opening of Sand.  I wrote the original version of the first two chapters a gazillion years ago.  One scene leads up to an act of rape, which occurs off stage.

I considered keeping the sexual violence despite my fear of handling the situation and characters poorly.  I have never been a victim of a violent sex crime.*  But I've been blessed with a couple close friends in the last five years who have been willing to be open and blunt about their victimization, the aftermath, and their ongoing journey away from the past.  I believe I can do a better job of writing that character arc now.

I considered keeping the violence without the sex.  It could work for the character arc of the woman victimized.  But drawing that behavioral line for the rapist will fundamentally change his character, his behaviors, and his motivations.  That might not be a bad thing.  It could be more interesting, actually.

And when it comes down to it, the importance of the scene is its focus on the power disparity--which doesn't need to be expressed through a violent sex act.  Sure, it could be, but whyI couldn't come up with a decent answer.  And that told me what I needed to know.

So I'm keeping the violence, along with the elements of imperial incest, and realigning the now-not-rapist character.  I don't need the rape component to tell this story.

Thoughts?  Similar experiences?

Okay.  That's the big decision for this novel.  I don't have to make a similar decision for another 180K words.  (Then it'll be figuring out how to put forth a believable development of Stockholm Syndrome.)  Alas, that doesn't mean I can dive into revisions.  I might be able to drop my toes in, though.



*I have been pressured into unwanted sex, yes, but that is distinctly different.  Some will put that in the same general category as rape.  I don't. 

blairmacg: (Default)

Years and years and years ago, I met another fantasy writer online.  We hit it off, enjoyed each other's stories, and exchanged many critiques and encouragements. I love the characters she has created, and the moral dilemmas she makes them face.  Then for some of those years, we lost touch, each of us taking care of Real Life.  Eventually we reconnected, caught up on all that we'd missed, and picked up the friendship right where we left off. 

That reconnection happened a mere couple days before I left for Viable Paradise last year.  And now I am incredibly happy for Sandy, because she will be at Viable Paradise this year!

Everything happens for a reason, yes?

I got a little silly with that idea in comments to this post by [livejournal.com profile] jazzfish, but it did get me thinking...     What if, instead of everything happening for a reason, we choose to create a good reason for the past that has happened?  How many perfectly useable pistols do we have hanging on our walls, and must we wait for Act V before firing them?  And which pistols do we hope to AllGood will be deemed red herrings instead?





blairmacg: (Default)
Well, after really-o truly-o believing I'd jump into SAND this week, that book on stress and nutrition decided it needed work.  I didn't think I wanted to work on non-fiction right now.  I want to play with stories!  But stress wants some work, so work it shall get.  Grump.

The garden is managing to look like a garden still, despite the lack of rain.  I refuse to clean it up by tilling under the grass and clover that is growing between rows.  I think that's the only stuff holding moisture in soil.  So I dusted everything with diatomaceous earth and let it be.  I also surrounded the house with the stuff to keep the bugs out.  Best non-toxic solution ever!

My mother and I went to Nashville (IN, not TN) weekend before last, and it so solidified how much I miss the non-rural parts of life.  Nashville, and nearby Bloomington, offer a neat mix of country and city.  I miss easy access to music, theater, and restaurants that are a few steps above what passes for fine dining in my current little town.  On the other hand, I can't imagine living in the middle of a city again.  I mean, my current neighborhood is twelve homes, each with a half to full acre, in the middle of agricultural fields, and sometimes I think the neighbors are too close!  On the third hand, I'm tired of driving forever just to see a show, or find a store more diverse than WalMart.  And on the fourth hand, I don't want a day in the country to involve a two-hour drive.

The fifth hand says I'm likely looking for a place that doesn't exist, and should quit bitching. :-)

On the karate front, I just learned I can help my instructor teach his classes as karate camp...and we're doing stick and sword!!  I said my yes-sir with restrianed enthusiasm, then squealed when I got in the car.  Four days of stick and sword!  Woohoo!!
blairmacg: (Default)

Ray Bradbury did not inspire me to write.  His stories taught me to think, and to think about what I wrote.  He takes readers on a journey of consequences, often with characters who don't recognize they are making weighty decisions until those consequences come along.  I didn't realize just how much studying his work has influenced me until, on the day I heard of his passing, I read in my own work, "Consequences, Shala.  What must he choose?" 

On my own writing front, I'm feeling adrift--not because nothing wants to be written, but because everything wants to be written.  I continue to work on the non-fiction (my "work day" projects), but must choose which piece of fiction I'll pick up.

Should I dive into the Chant sequel?  No.  I'd be flailing, and end up frustrated.  That story doesn't lend itself to writing without an outline.  Bones needs more time to simmer.

What about the old SheyKhala books?  I've three (and a half) of them sitting around, all completed drafts in varying stages of needed revisions.  My trouble with those is I need a new opening for the first, and haven't settled on one yet.  The bigger problem is the shift in worldbuilding I'll be making with that series, and that isn't settled in my mind, either.  Still, I could just jump in and see what happens.

Drunk is a fun project, but so different in style, that I have to be in the right mood to make progress.  Three times I've written a couple chapters, then deleted them completely because the mood was too serious.  Ah, well.

And then there's my dear, dear Lindelotti story, which takes place in the same world as a novella of mine published years ago.  I adore Lin, his attitude, and his loud and hands-in-everything family.

I would really, really, really like to write Crossroads.  I keep starting on it with great enthusiasm...only to fizzle within a couple paragraphs.  It is beginning to piss me off.  There is something about writing in a real-life setting that is messing with head.  Maybe I need to spend a few days "on location."

So...I think the SheyKhala books are next up.  If I can just find the right pathway in, I'll be off.

Hmm.  Must re-read them all--without a red pen in hand!--to get back in the velshaan groove.


blairmacg: (Default)
It has taken me ten thousand words to discover the karate book has a trio of recurring challenges: stumbling through transitions, facing the imposter syndrome, and the struggle I have with process-versus-results.  The sledgehammer of realization came when relating my struggles with kata: the manner in which I learn and refine my forms reflects how I approach life.  Suddenly and at last, I have a structure for this book.

Then I thought about Chant, and realized its characters often struggle with transitions, processes, and some form of the imposter syndrome.  Then I thought about the characters in written and outline-only novels I've been working on--the Indy project, my old Velshaan novels, the Drunk, the Slaughterer, and so forth--and even my shorter works.  All but two (I think) focus on resisting/ignoring/facing transitions, process and/or imposter syndrome.

How odd, suddenly realizing what the writing projects of two decades have in common.

Over the past six months or so, I've been aspiring to approach life differently.  Oddly enough, that's the same span of time I've been training kata in an entirely different manner.  Sensei must be sick to death of telling me to yield, to relax my chest, to move rather than step.  "No tension--BAM!--no tension," is his instruction.  When I get it right, it doesn't feel as if I worked hard enough to generate as much power as I am.  It feels like magic.

I'm looking forward to ther aspects of my life feeling as such.

Perhaps this discovery of theme and connections is the underlying reason I wanted--needed--to work on this project above all others.

Wax on, wax off.

Makes sense, yes.
blairmacg: (Default)

Saturday, I leave for Hawaii.  It's a business trip, I swear.  I love it when conferences are scheduled in cool places, and when I can take Dev with me.  My parents will be there as well, which is a fact more cool for Dev's sake than mine, really.  Dev and my father will spend a week doing pretty much whatever they want while my mother and I spend a goodly number of hours seminar-ing.  (I do, however, have two days free for playing.)  I've nearly finished packing.  I'm not going to have much use for sundresses and shorts--let alone an evening dress--in the next few days.

Fellow VPXV alum [livejournal.com profile] jazzfish recently discussed personal hinge points, considering what a single different decision in the past would have changed.  He points out something important: the decisions made were the best that could have been made at the time.  (He has other cool things to say, too, so read the whole post!)  His comments made me think differently about my own hinge points, particularly the one I think most affected the course of my life.


Cut to spare those who don't want to read my babbling... )

So perhaps my true hinge point wasn't when one path was chosen over another, but when I understood why that path was chosen.  Maybe the truer one was when, once aware of the why, I opted to do differently.

In other news, my VP wall story is still out there.  I've past the "You can query after..." date, but decided not to bother until the trip is over.  If I did submit it incorrectly, and my waiting thus far has been in vain, another couple weeks isn't going to make a difference.

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