Saturday, January 25, 2014

Her and an unidentified plastic object

This week has been strange. The creative writing class I'm teaching started this week, so that's been fun. My husband has been in London until late yesterday, so I've had a lot of alone time. The puppy ate some toothpaste-colored plastic thing that I am yet to identify and got sick Wednesday, so that sucked. Roofers have been working on our apartment all week, except yesterday, so though I've had alone time I have not had quiet time. And, we had a no-snow snow day in San Antonio yesterday. The city basically shut down due to some ice and freezing temperatures, which I loved. Variety is lacking here as far as weather goes, and though I don't miss driving in icy conditions, I do like a little winter (key word being little).

To cap off the week, I went to the movies. I had no desire to see Her, but a friend of mine invited me to go to the movies after a long week, and the showing fit our schedule so I found myself paying nine dollars for a ticket. The movie started out great. I loved the near-future touches, the further division of our selves from a physical society, but I didn't fully buy the idea that high-waisted pants and broom-like mustaches could possibly be the future of fashion. The movie was not represented well by the trailers, I don't think, because the ideas that drive it are far more dynamic than the mere idea of a man in love with artificial intelligence. And though there were some uncomfortable scenes--especially when you're sitting next to two pre-teens eating pizza loudly (smack, smack) and giggling at every bad word or sexual reference--I enjoyed and would recommend the movie.

In writing news, "A Glimpse," a short short that appeared in Eclectic Flash then Thumbnail Magazine has been picked up by Fiction Southeast. I'm honored to be included among some really great writers there. Also, if you didn't get through my ramblings on Toledo last week, I also had a piece of new fiction and interview with Meg Tuite posted at Connotation Press. I got a great acceptance this morning, and I wrote my father a short story on request. I'm most nervous about that one because it took me a long time to write, but hopefully he likes it.

That's all my news. My husband is about to wake up and find out his shoe has been chewed up (Ahti's glad he's home), so I'm off to deal with that.  I wish you all a wonderful week.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Visiting Toledo

Ohio is embroidered into most of my fiction, largely because it is so much of who I am. This is probably why I haven't been able to stop thinking about my recent trip to downtown Toledo, Ohio (my grandmother's hometown) at the end of 2013.

In a brand new Ford Edge, my upgraded rental car (thanks to a lengthy wait at the rental agency), I drove the twenty minutes from the airport to my grandmother's home. The flight had gone well, and the smooth drive (especially when compared to my 2001 Honda with the tricky clutch) put me in a sort of daze. As did Toledo itself. The quiet of it, the empty of it. I marveled at the lack of drivers on the road and changed lanes seamlessly and without having to be strategic. It was nice in a way but also unsettling.

After visiting my grandmother and dining at a Chinese buffet that served mushy food that probably ate some of my stomach lining since, my husband and I settled into a hotel downtown. We went down to the bar/restaurant near the lobby and noticed that we were the only ones there. We took our seats and said hello to the tender, who immediately honed in on my husband's OSU shirt and said, "Ugh, Buckeyes." He was a fan of Michigan, and so a seemingly endless discussion on football began.

As I sipped a drink and looked around. Even outside, on a Saturday night mid-downtown, there was no one in sight. We were in a ghost town. I asked the man (probably rudely and probably interrupting more football talk) if it was always this empty downtown. He nodded, said something near: "Unless something major's happening downtown, it's slow." He said that there had been a comedy act here, the guy with the puppets, a few weeks prior, which brought in a few people, but usually it's more like this. "I close early a lot."

He said something about finishing school and finding a job elsewhere. He said he lived in Michigan and drove here for the work. He said a single business man owns five of the restaurants and many of the hotels downtown and that new investors are coming in because the property is so incredibly cheap, but for now there's nothing going on. When I did some research, I found a lot of the downtown properties came back to a single company, Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., which seems to have done a lot of press in 2011 speaking of big plans for the marina district that are supposed to begin soon.

In the moment, as we discussed it beside a window showing no downtown commotion, no groups of people walking by, all I could think of was the slightly more alive version of Toledo I remembered. "It's sad," I said. He agreed, said that though Detroit gets a bad rap, he figured Toledo was in a similar boat.

On Sunday, my husband and I walked against the icy winds coming off the river, and we stopped at the Imagination Station, a science center and museum that has two parabolic dishes outside to display the way sound can be focused and transmitted distances. I stood at one end and said, "It's cold," and my husband, 20+ feet away agreed in a whisper that I heard perfectly. I imagined being a kid, coming here and awed by the magic of science. It was early in the morning, and the science center was not yet open, but I wondered at its visitor rates.

The population of Toledo was 284,012 in 2012. This is down from 383,818 in 1970. The glass industry in the city, which includes companies like Libbey Glass, Pilkington, and Owens Corning, has long-defined it as The Glass City, and this seems to be more apt a title than ever. There's something fragile about the economy. The house depicted here neighbors my grandmother's home. Her near-downtown neighborhood is full of abandoned homes like this and eroding businesses that are covered in graffiti and poised for demolition.

Why am I blogging on this? Well, since being a kid and going to The Toledo Zoo, where I found magic in the holiday light displays and the care with which the community holds up its amazing art museum to the feeling of abandonment I felt at the end of 2013 (see the 2nd picture above. The skyscraper was completely gutted), I have become rather obsessed with the city as an entity. I want to write on it, to research it more if only for personal consumption. The Glass City has always and still does intrigue me as an observer and writer. Maybe nothing will come of it, maybe it will just feed my fiction, but there are definite stories to tell here, from personal accounts--such as my grandmother's--to the larger story of the city's manufacturing boom and bust and potential for resurgence.

We'll see where this goes, but one thing is for sure, this city will never leave my writing trajectory. The city has a story that needs told.

Speaking of stories, I have new fiction, "The Shape of a Star," in Connotation Press this month. It doesn't necessarily take place in Toledo, but I answered the interview questions from my hotel room that night as I looked out on the river. Incidentally, the incomparable Meg Tuite asked me to come up with a micro piece for this interview that came out quite odd. I wonder if it reflects my headspace that day. Enjoy, and have a wonderful week!





 



Here are some items of interest on downtown Toledo plans/history of The Glass City: Investing/CNN Money; Toledo Museum of Art; News on the Marina Project: http://www.13abc.com/story/23894292/toledo-mayor-elect-to-tackle-marina-project










Sunday, January 12, 2014

Connectivity


“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
—Roald Dahl


I have some specific writing news to share later in the week. In the meantime, I wanted to share a realization I arrived at shortly after collecting and archiving older work over the weekend. Actually, I believe I was motivated to write about said insight all the more after watching Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen brothers' movie about a struggling and often unlikable vocal artist whose one redeeming quality, it seems, is his unwillingness to sell out or sell short what he believes sacred--his art. When I first walked out of the movie theater, I felt that I'd just watched the equivalent 2 solid hours of wuah wuah. But as the movie sunk in (as I like to believe it was meant to), the same insight I had after the archiving returned all the stronger; suddenly, I saw the beauty in the protagonist's desire to create at any and all cost.

*

When I was a kid and ran competitively against other kid runners, some of whom were older than me, I remember thinking anything in life would be easier than the fear I felt before a race. Sometimes, when I'm not feeling well or I'm having a particularly rough day, I remember how large that fear felt before a race and, suddenly, whatever I'm going through feels more manageable because I know that pain, fear, or any undesirable emotion will eventually pass. Everything is temporary. Amazing how small the past seems now and yet, at the same time, how real the memory is of that fear.

I bring this up because life proves again and again that it contains balance; as such, this idea of thinking a thing too large to bear works in the opposite way as well.

As a writer, I sometimes feel my contribution is so incredibly small as to be inconsequential. I feel that each story I write is a droplet, a little more than nothing. But as I began to file my work away and archive this weekend, I remembered the dread I felt when getting my work critiqued and how small I felt when my work got published. Publication, for me, has always been gratifying but also anticlimactic. Sometimes I am incredibly proud, but other times I am less than satisfied and even, at a stretch, embarrassed by older work.

Here comes the insight: In the reorganization of older work, something so much more beautiful and encouraging emerged. I saw the recurring characters, the patterns, the larger message that is only beginning to form. What sometimes seems aimless and small is not. This realization makes me confident that as a person sticks with short story writing, or any craft, the stories (work) will eventually begin to converge and grow larger than ever imagined. Everything is adding up to something larger: a body of work. This is the power of art.

And, I recommend the movie. :)

Have a beautiful week!

Jen

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014

I hope you brought in the new year in a fantastic way. If you didn't, you will next year. This is the beauty of a new start. Moving forward.

My new year was brought in with family, and though I've never been the type of person to pretend everything is perfect in my life when it is not (despite this being common online etiquette), I can honestly say I wouldn't have wanted to bring in the new year any other way than with my mother. It was just about perfect.

My husband and I returned to Columbus a few days ago, after visiting my grandmother in Toledo. My family is okay but could be doing better. My grandmother's neighborhood in Toledo is rough and her health is declining. My mother's foot is hurting after multiple surgeries. My sister is having health problems. We all argued quite a bit. My husband wasn't feeling well. I am allergic to Mom's cats. And yet, it was just about perfect. We ate; we laughed; we fought but made up; we pet the dander machines because allergies or no, cats are adorable; we talked about hardships but also set our worries aside; we played Royalty (I kicked ass), which is a cool  little game that should make a resurgence; and we laughed together. We reflected and resolved. 

In other words, despite the challenges we all have, New Year's Eve was near perfection. 2014 comes with promise and love, and this is exactly how it should have come. I have no doubt that this year will be fantastic. Even if this is just another day, it's always another opportunity. And I'm taking it. Just like every year, here are my resolutions...



2014 Resolutions

Eat well and stay healthy (as far as I can control)

Make a new friend this year (choose wisely) and be good/supportive to the friends I have

Get a place with a backyard for Ahti

Spend my time wisely

Read more

Write more


Get a novel contract (We Arrive Uninvited)

Get my short story collection published (The Getaway State)

Finish Rattle novel (My Name is E)

Ensure that Don’t Tease the Elephants is a strong little book (forthcoming March 20)

Be good to my family, and help as much as possible without trying to control or change, only support

Stay focused!


  
I wish you all a wonderful 2014, and I hope you feel the hope that the day (symbolic or not) can provide you. 

HAPPY 2014!!!

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