Friday, November 23, 2012

Week in Seven Words #146

The office park is a tidy warehouse for people, with a view from each window of asphalt and bare trees.

I'm in the passenger seat a lot, watching the world coast by past the window. I can't remember the last time I was behind the wheel.

There's a meeting house feeling to the room, all of us in chairs along the white walls as people take turns sharing stories and thoughts.

Escaping from the depths on the back of Beethoven's 9th.

He doesn't understand that "1" isn't a difficult number to get when rolling a die, that you've got as much of a chance of landing on it as any of the other numbers. He insists that if he curls his fingers a certain way when he touches the die, he'll get it. Once he's made up his mind, he forgets about all the times the die doesn't land on 1 and remembers only when it does.

On Hangman she cheats, uses her best friend's nickname.

The trees catch the light in their leaves and throw it at you in a blaze.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

10 reasons to watch Gaslight (1944)

Title: Gaslight
Director: George Cukor
Language: English
Rating: PG

Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) used to live with her aunt, a famous opera singer who was strangled to death in her own home. Years later, when studying music in Italy, Paula falls in love with and marries Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a pianist. The two move back to her aunt's old home in a pretty London square, where Gregory patiently sets about destroying her sanity.

(The expression gaslighting - when you deliberately cause someone to doubt their own sanity, judgment, and other mental faculties - comes from the 1930s play on which this movie is based, though the movie itself is what really popularized its usage.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Week in Seven Words #145

Fat snowflakes swimming past my eyes. The world is wrapped up in snow.

Despair is always waiting with open arms but I don't look his way, not this time.

In the subway car I'm just one brick in a wall of solid flesh.

The dog got a haircut. Now when she stretches up on her hind legs to poke her nose over the edge of the table she looks part-canine, part-rodent, and part-pixie, with liquid alien eyes.

Conversations with people who have a gleam in their eye that tells me they're not really hearing me out, just waiting to pounce on what they expect to hear. Why should I talk, when they already know what I'm going to say?

Before reading comes pretend reading, where she turns the pages, recites the words she knows by heart, points out the pictures, and to all appearances looks as if she's reading.

I'm heading into new territory on unsteady legs, as if there's ice under my feet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Smoker's Guide to Health and Fitness

On the occasion of the 37th Annual Great American Smokeout, it's fitting that I reveal to you: A Smoker's Guide to Health and Fitness, an e-book I've co-authored with one of my brothers, who's a family medicine doctor.

In his practice he has a number of patients who smoke and many others who used to. The majority of them care about their health, even if they're not always doing what's best for them (including smoking, eating poorly, and not getting enough physical activity), so it occurred to him to write up the kinds of information he shares with them in an e-book that would address their total health and fitness, mental and physical, no matter what stage they're at (e.g. smoking and trying to quit, smoking and not attempting to quit, stopped smoking years ago but have concerns about elevated cancer risk). Earlier this year he asked me to help him with this.

The book is not yet available but we've set up a site for it which we hope will become a community for people interested in improving their health and promoting good health among others - without shaming smokers or focusing only on their cigarette use (as opposed to addressing all of their health needs): is the site.

Two additional reasons to go there:

1) We're now hosting a giveaway of the book that includes a gift card to a major online retailer you book-lovers out there might appreciate (so don't hesitate to sign up, and also to spread the word to smokers and ex-smokers in your life who would benefit from the book).

2) In the "Contact the Authors" section you'll get to see a photo of me. Camera shy as I am, I've never put a photo up on this blog, but there I'm unveiled in all my co-authorial glory...

Seriously, I'm happy to have helped my brother with this. He's a wonderful doctor, cares about his patients and goes beyond the textbook in thinking about their issues and helping them out; he doesn't see them as a walking checklist of symptoms, but as individuals, and in addition to treating their existing problems he places a great deal of emphasis on prevention and good health habits.

It's also been interesting co-authoring a book, fitting in what I'm writing to what the other person is writing and not being the only one who's got a say as to what goes in the book or is left out as the writing progresses; I've co-authored smaller academic pieces before but not something like this (the other large writing projects I have underway at the moment are just my own).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Third Birthday, Sill of the World

For some reason I never celebrated the first or second birthdays of the blog, but why not start now with the third?


Some fun facts:

1) The first post I ever wrote was about life forms that live in inhospitable places, such as bacteria found in boiling acidic water. Clearly I knew where this blog was headed.

2) I wrote that first post on a Friday the Thirteenth. I don't believe in the superstition of Friday the Thirteenth, but I still love that of all days to launch a blog I chose that one.

3) When I started this blog I had only one reader: myself. Now I have people visiting, commenting, emailing me, from every continent (except Antarctica, that final hold-out...)

4) I started this blog on a lark, because I needed a regular creative outlet. I was at a stage then (and for a while after) of not wanting to share my work publicly. But now that's changed, and slowly I'm sending my work out, writing for publication, and emerging into the light once more. I'm not the same person I was then, and I hope this blog keeps growing as I grow.

Thanks for helping me make the journey so wonderful.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Week in Seven Words #144

I had meant to post this earlier in the week, but better late than never...

The first time I step outside after the Frankenstorm, the air is cold and raw, like breathing ice crystals.

Early Sunday morning, the lines at the grocery store spill out the door.

Flickering lights and rain lashing the windows, but thankfully no flooding. No long-term loss of power. Unlike other parts of the city and eastern coastline, which are unrecognizable now.

Young kids have a hard time focusing on multiple details. I see it during a game of Dominos where the child pays attention to one feature or number but overlooks another. Juggling details simultaneously is tough.

I want to smack the people who go online to tell everyone that the coming storm is "hyped up" and that there's no need to evacuate or prepare for it in any way.

People clustered at the library looking for a warm place to read, sleep and use the Internet for the first time in a couple of days.

If they lose the first game, they tell me it isn't fair if I win the second one too. Even if the game is purely chance, a matter of how the dice land, they still want me to lose somehow, to appease their notion of fairness and make things right with the world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One beautiful autumn afternoon in Central Park

I took these photos in Central Park a week and a day before Hurricane Sandy hit (here are some reputable charities to donate to, if you want to help the recovery efforts).

It was a beautiful autumn day the likes of which we won't see again this season, I think.



Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo Notes #2: Super Power Caps Lock

If you were to look at the draft of my novel you'd find passages written entirely in caps lock - sometimes a sentence or two, other times several pages.

Whenever I'm writing and suddenly get a new and exciting idea that feels right, that makes sense and completes the scene or character, I hit caps lock and start typing at a fast pace. Doing this helps me focus on the writing and capture as much of the new idea as I can, instead of getting caught up in more minor concerns like sentence structure and consistent punctuation. Later drafts will take care of those.

This super power caps lock habit reminds me of the old Super Mario Nintendo game when Mario eats a spotted mushroom and balloons in size, looking that much more formidable as he stomps on his foes or dodges man-eating plants that shoot fireballs.

Super Mario

Week in Seven Words #143

It's great to be able to laugh with the people you work with.

I don't know what I'll see by the wine store each time I pass it. Sometimes it's a family with kids who've gotten their faces painted. Other times it might be a man on a cigarette break, or a woman screaming at the back window of a car, where she sees her own reflection.

A bottle of wine, some boardgames, and some bad television make for a lazy evening.

Many problems come from mental blocks. When you're convinced from the start that you'll do badly you generate a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can't think about anything else aside from how badly you'll do. Why is it so much easier for me to see this tendency in other people than it is to catch it in myself?

People can't admit they've shown up just for the booze and food, so what they do is throw in some lofty speeches that they can pretend to pay attention to while getting liquored up.

Calling up a friend I haven't spoken to in a while to find out he's in the hospital on his birthday.

At the Shakespeare Garden, poetry and stinging insects are perennial.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Notes #1: Trusting Yourself When You Write

November is National Novel Writing Month, which I'll use as an additional push to keep my novel-writing on a tight schedule and maybe finish this draft of the book earlier than my 12/18 self-imposed deadline.

One issue that's important to me and that I struggle with is trusting myself when I write. In Ann Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, I came across a great analogy for what it's like to write an early draft of a novel:
E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.
and later she writes:
You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

Letting go and just writing is still something I need to work on. What helps is to remind myself that I need a warm up period - usually during the first fifteen minutes or so of writing I'm too worried about how things will turn out; I'm too much at a remove from the work. But if I let myself ease into the writing, my grip loosens on the steering wheel and I can drive into that dark night, with only a hazy idea of my destination and some milestones along the way, and focus instead on what the headlights are showing me. If I drive without trusting myself, the car will move in fits and starts, and I'll inch along, lose momentum, and stop at the side of the road, unable to continue.

What it comes down to is fearlessness and trust. I must be able to trust myself and what I'm capable of when I write. Instead of fearing the blankness beyond the blinking cursor, I need to barrel into it with everything I have. Sometimes it doesn't seem like much, but time and again I surprise myself. A character that seemed to go nowhere suddenly has a story, a motive, a purpose that makes sense. A location I mentioned in passing twenty pages back becomes I place I can walk through and touch and smell. I just have to keep writing.