aqua fortis

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Toast to Non-Blogging

This is just a little something to tide you over until I a) stop being sick (stupid Recurring Head Cold From Hell) and b) think of something interesting to say. As you can see, I was too lazy to even ink it in before scanning, so you get a pencil drawing with minor Photoshop enhancements. Bully for you! As is usual with my blog cartoons, click to view larger.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Year's Poetry Challenge, Day Five

Still a day behind. Oh well. This one was fun: Write a found poem using the front page of your local paper or an article from a magazine you have around the house. I was immobilized on the couch by a cat on my lap, so I cheated slightly and used National Geographic online. I used this article on Alaska Coasts Melting. I wasn't going to use this article--it's fairly short and repetitive--but I couldn't resist the town of Lonely.

Leaving Lonelytown

Swallowed by the sea
near the town of Lonely
Remains of the ghost town

a century on shore
buried underwater

perpetually frozen earth
erosion patterns

the findings
document human settlements
At least one has already been lost
another will soon be gone

unusual landscape
especially vulnerable

a picture of a whaling boat
massive amounts of ice

a natural process
melting so fast
a shift in the forces
plans can be devised

not just the ice
according to the research
but it would be unusual.

© Sarah J. Stevenson 2009

Like I said, this was fun...I could definitely do more of these.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Year's Poetry Challenge, Day Four

Let me just say that I'm really having fun trying out this poetry challenge--it's a nice change of pace for my brain. I don't know how well the "loose narrative" approach is working, but who cares? I can always string them together differently later. Yesterday's prompt was: Think of your kitchen table or your coffee table. Write an ode, a celebratory poem, about one object on your kitchen/coffee table. If your kitchen/coffee table is clear, then write about the table itself.

I picked an object on the coffee table that I then loosely interpreted, and then it turned into less of an ode and more of a something else. I also thought I would write the ode using Sapphic meter but that's also sort of loosely used, particularly in the last line of each stanza. And, again, I'm trying to write not so much from my viewpoint as that of a character I'm attempting to convey through the imagery of the poems. So, whether what "happens" in the poem is "true" is up for interpretation.


Box of paints in small metal tubes, my mustered
lineup of hues, red, orange, yellow, green, blue--
Tones of rare earth, cobalt and zinc, iron, ochre
My bright chemistry.

Unseen layers visible, dreams made too real
Fears and horrors rendered, reduced to mere brush-
strokes and lines. I have that finesse. But I can't
paint out the past.

Pink, dilute with water, I dab, then dry brush
Dark-leaved trees—the place where I sat with you, yes,
Where this painting hatched, where the colors, light, dark,
shone and became fact.

Little paint box is simply a tool, gentle spear
Tickling essence out of the mortal shell—small
beast is served to please human senses, bright splash
on taste buds, swallowed.

© Sarah J. Stevenson 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Year's Poetry Challenge, Day Three

What happened to Day Two? you ask. I didn't want to post it. It isn't that I feel like I wrote a terrible poem, but I definitely feel "meh" about it. However, I should note in the interests of continuity that the prompt was to write a poem about a house in which we grew up without using the words "house" or "home." This might be useful information, since I'm trying to write my poems in a loosely connected fashion. In order to encourage this (and just to set an arbitrary parameter), I'm also using the last word of each poem as the first word of the next one.

Anyway, today's prompt was: Write a poem for, about, or to Wendy Toftmyer. The qualification to this prompt was: "Note: I don't know any Wendy Toftmyers. I made up the name for the purposes of this prompt. So, apologies to any real Wendy Toftmyers who may be out there." Here's the result...again, bearing in mind that the last poem was (loosely speaking) about a childhood home.

Dear Wendy

Invisible ink in unnoticed hands
Will an invisible envelope still arrive?

I watched you swing too high
I watched you climb the oak tree
I watched you eat dirt

We haven't spoken in years.
I hardly spoke, even then.
You talked for both of us.

I did not eat the dirt
I climbed the tree with trembling legs
I swung close to earth.

Before I left the empty house
You stood quiet, both feet on the ground.
I never wrote.

I still have your necklace
An invisible heart in a box.

© Sarah J. Stevenson 2009

I think I wasn't sure whether to be autobiographical or not in Day Two's poem, which is why it's not really working. This one is not autobiographical, on the whole. I guess you could say it has some metaphorical or symbolic truth.

I'm also thinking I need to write funnier poems at some point in this process. It's all gloom and doom, or at least pensiveness, so far.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Distractions: New Year's Poetry Challenge

Besides the inevitable and regularly occurring philosophical debates with myself (see below), lately I've just been waiting on tenterhooks to find out what's going to happen next in the novel publication process. Most of the other stuff I do is merely a distraction to keep from futilely checking my e-mail every seven seconds. I'm also restraining myself from sending annoyingly codependent e-mails to my editor in the hopes of finding something out. So in the meantime, I'm working on revising a different manuscript (about a girl who acquires the ability to hear thoughts) and I've also decided, for better or for worse, to try out a New Year's Poetry Challenge.

As you know from previous posts, I don't write a lot of poems. But when a friend (who is also a local poet) sent me the invitation to participate in the challenge--30 poems in 30 days, inspired by daily prompts--I decided to say yes. And this is truly a challenge for me, but I'm looking forward to composing language on a closer level, to indulging a sheer love of words themselves. I may or may not post them all here, but I thought I'd put up my first day's effort.

The prompt was: Write a winter haiku. I started by looking at some internet information about the history and structure of haiku, and then I put it away and wrote this:

Winter Haiku

Leaves hunch under frost
Her fingertips cannot reach
Through the cold window.

© Sarah J. Stevenson 2009

There is a structural ambiguity with subtle differences in meaning that I rather like. I was reminded that every word is so important in a haiku; it's a very distilled form and rather intimidating.

I can't remember the last time I set out to write a serious haiku, but my vague thought was to set the scene for a loose poetry narrative that I will try to follow as it meanders throughout the month. I might go back and accompany each one with artwork, and perhaps make an artist's book in the end. I have no idea where it's going yet.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I'm Totally Normal. Abby Normal.

Naples - Museo Archeologico NazionaleThe more time I spend pursuing a career, a life's work, that's in the creative arts (visual or written), the more I realize that another major task for me is reconciling myself to the idea of living life in a not entirely linear fashion. What I mean by that is, creative pursuits don't always lend themselves to a straight road. It's not uncommon, I'm finding, for people to meander a bit.

Perhaps this will be a bit clearer if I provide some contrast. Take my parents. Though they are very different from one another in a myriad of other ways, they are both a bit linear, especially when it comes to how they see working life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, not at all. In fact, I envy them. For them, this is how life generally works: Kid is bright and shows potential. Kid goes to college and majors in chosen field. Kid becomes knowledgeable in said field. Knowledge leads to degree or series of degrees; degree leads directly and immediately to reliable and long-term employment in field of study. Success and stability are achieved in all acceptable societal measures of such.

In the arts, this just isn't always the case. But it's taken me a while to come to terms with that fact that it's not a sign of wrongness or failure, but simply NORMAL. The more I look at authors' book jacket or website bios, though, the more I recognize kindred spirits, the more weird jobs I find, the more--not flitting about, but doing a lot of other things to earn money so that you can pursue your art. And I realize that it isn't necessarily dilettantism that has caused my longest-held salaried position to be less than two years in duration. I look with a sense of relief at the biographies of other YA writers, like Jessica Day George or Jennifer Allison, both of whose bios I recently read. I look at my stepdad, one of the smartest and most creative people I know, and the fact that within his working career he's been a carpenter, an adult ESL teacher, an optician, a high school biology teacher, and a bit of an artist, too--in his retirement, he's making pottery using molds and a homemade kiln. I have to remind myself that it shouldn't be a source of embarrassment or shame to not hold the same job my entire life, to not have a "real job" in the same way that others see it. I AM doing my "real job." Every second that I live.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Warning: Weird Dream

If reading about other people's dreams bores you, this is your official notice to go do something else for a while.

Anyway, last night--or, rather, sometime this morning--I had a whole series of bizarre and vivid dreams, possibly due to having taken allergy medicine before bed last night. Strangely, most of them were like one long dream continuous in terms of LOCATION, but the people I was with kept changing. I was in a shopping mall type of place in Sacramento--odd in itself since I hate the mall and I only make it to Sacramento every couple of months or so. I was in the food court and we were with our friends Ross and Jay, and we were wending our way to the opposite end of the gigantic food court in order to find a specific chicken restaurant.

Then, suddenly, Rob and I were sitting down at one of the food court tables--it was a very LONG food court that had the different food stalls/restaurants on either side and then a section with tables and booths down the middle. Everything was very crowded. Now, instead of being with Ross and Jay, we were with a different friend, Travis, and we were ordering beers from a chain microbrewery. I had been hesitant to sit at the table because someone had piled a bunch of backpacks in between the table we wanted and the adjoining one, on the benchlike seat, and I wasn't sure if that meant they'd claimed both tables, but we sat down anyway. I ordered the seasonal beer which was supposed to be a Hood River summer brew, but they'd already switched to the fall beer, some kind of ale, which Rob and I both ordered.

Then the dream changed a bit, and although I was still in the weird Sacramento mall, I was with my mother, and my (in real life, deceased) maternal grandparents. I had to drag them along with me on a visit to my publisher, who for some reason had a Sacramento office attached to the mall. They had asked me to come in and take a grammar test. I was somewhat frustrated at having to drag half of my family to the meeting, but had resigned myself to having to introduce them to my editor.

I went into the front part of the offices, which had several shelves of their titles which you could purchase, along with a reception desk and a few stools where we sat to wait. As I waited for someone from the back offices to come retrieve me, I noticed several strange things. One, it seemed like almost everything in the shop area was either white or red, and very modern/Ikea-looking with stark and simple design. Two, I realized that maybe I wouldn't want to actually introduce my editor (if he was here) to my grandfather, since my grandfather wasn't really alive any more.

When I woke up, it occurred to me that SEVERAL things about this were weird. For one thing, in the dream, I realized my grandfather was dead, but NOT my grandmother, although in reality she is equally dead. Another weird thing is that they were both there in the dream, when in life they had divorced in, like, the 1950s. Also, I don't know why I dreamed about my grandmother since we weren't at all close, though that could explain why my grandmother was almost totally silent in the dream (which I don't think was characteristic of her). I do dream about my grandfather somewhat regularly; though he died when I was 20, he was a major part of my life growing up and we lived with him for several years after my parents divorced.

Now that I think about it a little more, grandparents might have showed up in the dream because I started reading The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (by Ann Marie Fleming) before going to bed--it's a memoir of the author finding out about the life of her great-grandfather. It is most excellent so far, and might be the source of the inexplicable dream grandparents.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Chemistry

It always amazes me how much baking is about chemistry. (And yes, I'm just starting right in without any rationalization of my long absence, and no, there's not gonna be one, so there.) I set out to make my first lemon meringue pie today, which I'm going to serve tomorrow evening to Rob and our friend Fumi. I was daunted by the intimidatingly lengthy instructions in the Joy of Cooking, which included a lot of finicky specifications for timing, temperature, and the interactions of both. But I'm not a bad baker, on the whole, so I thought I'd try it, despite only having semi-success with meringue cookies in the past. Apparently I learned from my mistakes, since the photo above depicts my good(-looking, at least) pie. What remains to be seen is whether the bottom of the meringue is, as the cookbook put it, "slippery" or if it's nice and set. I have to say the lemon curd part tasted awesome. I'm not entirely sure about the crust, either, which I prepared using a different method ("pat in the pan") than I normally do. I just didn't feel motivated to slave over a bowl with the pastry cutter. We'll have to see how that went. I'm hoping good ingredients help--organic local eggs and Meyer lemons.

Even though we're not having our big dinner with all the trimmings until tomorrow--or the family dinner with my in-laws, which is Saturday--I still feel the holiday spirit. (How can I not, with that pie staring at me?) I called my mom. I called my dad. I even called my aunt & uncle, and had a chance to talk to my cousins (and put up--hopefully relatively gracefully--with my aunt pestering me about babies). This is a lot of phone calls for me. Making phone calls to multiple relatives always says "holidays." Also, I haven't done a lick of "real work" since midafternoon, which is pretty good for me these days. Instead, I started playing Twilight Princess on the Wii, made a pie, and continued labeling photos from our trip. It's going to take ages to actually sort everything and upload a good selection, but for now, you can check out Day One in Rome. If the chemistry continues to be right--and I'm adding a little red wine to the mix--tonight will hopefully be relaxing, tomorrow should be a tasty food extravaganza with a roast duck, and Saturday...well, there will be hyperactive nephews aged 2 and 4, but plenty of turkey and thankfulness, if I may indulge in a sappy moment for a moment.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Our Fall Vacation: The Strange Minutiae

Tarragona ArenaSo I've been collecting some random, odd details of our trip in a notebook so that I could share them here--strange little things I've noticed, or weird (but non-earth-shattering) things that have happened to us while we've trekked around Italy and Spain. This is the post I've been planning for a while--not an informative and useful day-to-day account like Rob's been posting (and yeah, I'm kinda jealous), but bits and pieces, along with a few more photos. Hope you enjoy.

  • In both Italy and Spain, we often found rather surprising numbers of cats--semi-tame, I suppose--living in public monuments like Rome's Sacred Area or wandering around Montserrat or gathering around plastic water containers left for them at Tarragona's under-construction Roman amphitheater.
  • Speaking of cats, when we were in Montserrat on a rather steep (but still paved) hiking trail up to a small historic chapel, we saw a young woman who had brought her cat along on a hike. Of course, a cat's not going to follow in quite the same way as a dog; she occasionally had to stop and call it coaxingly, at which point it would come trotting leisurely along. While she checked out the interior of the chapel, it waited patiently for her outside. I'm pretty sure our cats wouldn't go for that kind of thing.
  • Parrots (I think) in Gaudi's Parc Guell
  • Speaking of animals, we saw flocks of green birds that appeared to be small parrots flying around both Parc Guell in Barcelona and in the gardens of the Real Alcazar in Seville. A bit unexpected, but very cool.
  • Speaking of animals again, we discovered that there are fish living in the various canals of Venice, something we hadn't seen during our 2007 trip there--and these fish are lurking under just about every boat if you check the less-busy canals.
  • In Spain, a "Ferreteria" is a hardware store (attributable, I imagine, to the Latin word for iron). However, I keep thinking it might be a good place to buy ferrets and ferret supplies.
  • Gaudi's Casa Batllo, Barcelona
  • In Barcelona, we somehow spent an inordinate amount of time searching for our evening meals. We started to joke about how we had to spend at least 45 minutes walking around before we could actually find a place to eat. This was sometimes due to misremembering where a restaurant was that we'd seen earlier (thus prompting some wandering in order to find it) or sometimes because we just couldn't settle on a place we liked. Pretty silly. However, this hasn't been the case in Seville or Madrid.
  • There are a lot of Roma (Gypsy) in Spain, especially in the South. I actually often wasn't sure who might be Roma and who might be South Asian, since there are plenty of both in Italy and Spain. It occurred to me that that's yet another ethnicity I could probably pass as; since the Roma did originate in South Asia, it's not farfetched. Sadly, the situation of many Roma seems to be quite poor and disadvantaged, and they appear to have been extremely ghettoized in Granada, where there's a large Roma population.
  • Real Alcazar, Seville
  • You can still smoke in most bars and restaurants in Spain, much to my minor annoyance. My sinuses do not like it. Fortunately, we seem to have chosen reasonably well-ventilated eating situations--I remember one really stuffy restaurant in Shanghai where I felt almost too sick to eat, it was so smoke-filled.
  • English-language 80s music is very popular in Spain, at least in public places like restaurants and on buses. On the bus from Barcelona to L'Escala, we heard "Private Eyes" by Hall and Oates, and on the way to Ronda from Seville, we heard "Man-Eater" (again by Hall and Oates) as well as 70s mega-hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart. Tonight in our restaurant in Madrid, La Casa del Abuelo, we heard "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna and "Maniac" by Michael Sembello (the song from the Flashdance movie). It's a little hilarious.

That's it for random observations for tonight. You can check out a few more photos at my flickr page.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Random Observations and Tales from the Road, Part I

Cable car to MontserratOur trip so far has involved some nature as well as city life. We've managed to hike around a bit, in mountains, forest, and beach. It's nice to get away from a high density of humans for a while, to take a break from being the talker. Since I'm the one with some--well, a little--knowledge of Spanish, I have to do things like ask for tickets to Tarragona at 8:46 or inquire whether the patatas bravas have mayonnaise on them (which is anathema to Rob but surprisingly popular here).

So the occasional breaks have been nice. It was especially nice on Tuesday, which started in Figueres at the Dali Museum. Figueres was a somewhat depressing town in the sense that its main attraction seemed to be the Dali Museum and little else. And then there was a highly disturbing incident at the bus station while we were just arriving to wait for our bus to Empuries (environs pictured below). As we walked up, we saw a teenage guy and girl, part of a large group of teenagers, having a verbal altercation, perhaps a spat of some sort. Then it got ugly as the guy actually smacked the girl in the face with an audible pop. She looked at him in shock and brought one hand to her nose. After a moment, another guy came to her defense or at least tried to keep more from happening, and the first guy just wouldn't calm down. Meanwhile, the girl's nose had started bleeding all over the place, and by now the station guard had come out and taken the guy by the arm. After Rob and I found a quieter spot MUCH further down the platform to sit, we noticed the police and an ambulance show up--thank god. With no small amount of pathos, this was also followed by the cleaning lady coming out with a mop and bucket.

The Ocean at L'Escala As you might guess, we were pretty glad to head out to a totally different town after that. But first, we had to survive the Bus Ride of Doom. Obviously the driver knew what he was doing, but tearing around really winding roads at extreme speeds, in a BUS, seems a little scary to me. Rob and I kept cracking up a bit hysterically when we'd careen to one side or another, which the locals probably thought was a little strange. The bus driver then dropped us off on a semi-deserted road at a stop that was little more than a sign on a pole. Fortunately, another helpful sign informed us that the ruins of Empuries were just up the road, but it was a little disconcerting at first. After only about 10 minutes' walk, we arrived at our site, which contained both Roman and Greek ruins overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking of the Mediterranean...I'm finding it continually disconcerting that the sea is to the east and not the west. Having grown up entirely on the West Coast, where the sun SETS over the ocean, I find it funny that it doesn't do so here. It's also disorienting. I keep thinking that I'm facing south with the coastline to my right, when I'm actually facing north. It's just ingrained in me to feel that the ocean is west of me.

Well, enough observations for today. (For more stories, check out Rob's blog.) Tomorrow night we're taking a night train--the so-called "Trenhotel"--to Seville, leaving at around 10 pm and arriving around 8:30 the following morning. This should be interesting. Allegedly we have our own bathroom in our cabin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuning in Momentarily

Sagrada Familia, BarcelonaJust wanted to say that I posted more photos at my Flickr page. I wanted to do a post with some random stories from the road, but after putting the photos up I am now too tired. So far, Spain has been a bit of an adventure for several reasons, not the least being my extreme stress at my rudimentary language skills, all of which seem to flee my brain when faced with an actual situation in which I need to use them. But my Spanish is better than my Italian (which mainly consists of critical memorized phrases) and so we're managing pretty well.

Barcelona is a big change from Venice, our last port of call. A very new city, comparatively, in the sense of having a lot of new growth and a vibrant nightlife; very clean and effective public transit; an easy-to-use Metro system; and a COMPLETELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND CRAZY train system. It seemed to make sense in theory, when looking at online schedules, but when faced with the actual chaos of the train station with its gazillion ticket windows, several different types of ticket machines for different types of trains, etc. etc., I just about had a breakdown trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. But we just rolled with it, and managed to obtain what we needed somehow.

More stories soon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Italy, Week One: Rome and Naples

Roman ForumSo I've been terrible about blogging about this trip. I know it. But even with excellent internet access here in Rome (hooray for hotel wi-fi!), I end up so tired at the end of the day that I only have energy to check e-mail, make sure nothing has exploded and keep my inbox under control before collapsing into bed.

Why so tired, you ask? I guess we're the types of travelers who have to try to use as much of the day as possible in seeing and experiencing as much as we can, since who knows when or if we might return. In practical terms, this means getting up as early as 5:45 a.m. (though usually around 6:30 a.m.) and returning to the room about nine in the evening after dinner, completely spent after walking for something like ten hours.

Store for ecclesiastical garmentsBut oh, the sights we've seen already--some of them shockingly empty of people since it's kind of supposed to be the rainy season. The only truly tourist-crowded places we've been to were the Trevi Fountain (just a quick cruise by to say we'd seen it) and the Spanish Steps (ditto). Even the biggies like the Forum and Colosseum weren't too bad. Of course, that day we got rained on three separate times, which may have been a factor in the lack of crowds. But we came prepared with umbrellas and raincoats, so mere water falling from the sky was not a deterrent. Plus, even when it rained pretty good, it was nothing compared to when we got caught in the daily monsoon while visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City, or the time we went on a rainforest hike on Hawaii's Big Island and it rained so much that the soap started bubbling out of our clothes.Marco 'n' Me

I don't think anything I can say can really do Rome justice in such a small space (and with me having so little energy) but I do love traveling to big cities, I love Roman ruins and beautiful artwork, and so far this trip has all of that. Plus REALLY tired, aching feet.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Organic Satan Company

This morning, my alarm went off and then I dozed off again for about 15 minutes, during which time I had a very strange dream. In the dream, I was at a party that I'd helped set up for, one that evidently had my dad and stepmom involved since lots of my Pakistani step-relatives were there. I was wearing a shalwaar kameez that I hadn't worn in years and I was convinced was really out of fashion (something that could very easily happen in real life), and glittery red shoes that strongly resembled Dorothy's ruby slippers. As the guests arrived, I greeted Yasmeen Auntie, my step-cousins, and my step-grandmother Amijan, and various others, all dressed up much more nicely than I was, of course.

While wandering through the sprawling beige-carpeted house where the party was being held, I passed through a room with a TV blaring. The channel was MTV, and they were showing a video by a band called The Organic Satan Co. As I'm sure you can guess, this was an aggro rock band, and the lead singer, a guy with short spiky hair, was chained to the floor of the stage--a very minimal dark gray stage set with no adornment--and screaming the words of the song while glaring up at the camera.

Shortly thereafter, I woke up. But I can't get The Organic Satan Company out of my mind. It would be a GREAT name for a band. Or maybe a literary magazine, or a comic book, or a new novel. P.S. YOU CAN'T HAVE IT. IT'S MINE! SEE THAT COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE? Sorry. Mine.

But I still have to figure out what to do with it. And what does an Organic Satan Company do, anyway? Do they sell organic Satans? Or is it a company selling organic items and run by Satan? I don't know, but I'm going to figure it out. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Self-Conscious Blogging

Sometimes I'm too self-conscious to blog.

It's true. Lame, but true. I'll question every word, every sentence, every thought. If I write about what I've been doing lately, I'll fret that it's dry and boring, a mere laundry list of daily minutiae. If I write about my innermost thoughts, I usually end up deleting them or being as embarrassed as a teenager getting called on while daydreaming during class. (Yes, of course that happened to me. My AP/IB Biology teacher had some kind of radar.) I have a weird arbitrary boundary when it comes to divulging my true and deep feelings--up to a point, I'm really not worried about what people think about any of it, but beyond that line, I'm very guarded. And I'm very good at keeping those things under guard, such that even some people who know me well might not know as much as they think. But basically, every time I sit down to write a post, I worry about crossing that line, and I get a little uncomfortable. So there you have it.

In other news, of the laundry list variety, I can hardly believe it's less than a month until we leave for Italy and Spain. I haven't been out of the country for more than 2.5 weeks or so since 1996, when I was in college and spent a summer in London. We'll be away for a month this time, two weeks in each country. Neither Rob nor I has ever been to Spain, so we're excited about that, but perhaps most of all I'm excited about seeing Rome and environs. I love visiting world-famous cities (I love traveling, period, really--nature's good, too) and I've never been to Rome. The Clipboard of Fun is rapidly taking shape, though it's really more of a Spreadsheet of Fun right now. I made my shopping list of assorted crap I gotta buy before we leave, like fun-sized toiletries and a bottle of vitamin C to protect us from swine flu (since the vaccine doesn't come out until after we leave).

A couple of things put a small damper on my excitement. One was that the transmission went out on our Honda, which we ended up having to replace (the transmission, not the car) at a cost I'm embarrassed to repeat. The other is that I'm having a hell of a time getting our overnight train tickets from Barcelona to Sevilla. Rail Europe wants me to wait until only 2 weeks prior to our trip and only sells certain ticket classes, Renfe website keeps saying esta bloqueado every time I try to choose any kind of ticket class, which seems bizarre, and the Renfe U.S. agent wants to charge a somewhat ridiculous booking fee but I'm willing to pay that in order to put my mind at ease, except they're encountering some weird booking problem, too. Perhaps they, too, are bloqueado. If they solve the problem, though, I'll happily pay the extra 40 bucks, since I don't want to try to call Spain and argue with someone in my doofus Spanish.

Still, though, I'm excited. I'm also working my ass off on freelance work so I can try to chip away at this transmission payment.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Music and Art

If you're following my Twitter feed or correspond with me in any other way, shape or form, you'll no doubt already know the big piece of news--the offer on my YA book. All I can say right now is YES!!, which seems inadequate to what I actually feel, but will have to do. More info later.

On a separate note, yesterday we spent the afternoon and evening in San Francisco, starting things off with lunch at Hotei, where Rob had ramen and I had nabeyaki udon and we both worked up a sweat just eating the hot soup. Our walk in Golden Gate Park after that was a nice cool-down (with mist and cool breezes, unlike the 90-something degrees we left behind a mere hour and 45 minutes away).

The DeYoung Museum's King Tut exhibition, which we saw in the afternoon, was fantastic, though when you consider that they found 5,000 artifacts in the actual tomb, the fact that there were only 130 in the exhibit made it seem like we got only the tiniest taste of the incredible objects. If it comes to your area, you shouldn't miss it, though. Really. I was too young to go to the 1979 exhibition (at age 2, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have cared) so I was very excited to see this one. Plus, I love ancient Egyptian stuff.

After the Tut show, we did some more walking around and then drove over to North Beach--our friend Jess is on tour with his band, Los Tikkilyches, and since he lives in Mexico these days, we hardly get to see the dude, so we had to seize the opportunity when it presented itself. The band was playing at Grant and Green Saloon, kind of between North Beach and Chinatown--a location which presented some excellent dinner options. We ended up at a Basque restaurant we just randomly walked by, and at some point during dinner, we found out that the owner/chef is currently competing on Top Chef. So that was exciting. Plus the tapas were tasty.

So we were satiated and happy by the time we walked a few more blocks over to Grant and Green, and then we were even happier to see our friend Jess and his fiancee and bandmate Alyssa already at the bar getting set up. It was an evening of running into old friends, in fact; the kind that you've known so long it feels like they're family, even when you haven't seen them in years. We saw another college friend there, Jason--in fact, Jason was there the first time I ever met Jess, over 12 years ago at a party in the house Rob and I would eventually move into about eight months later.

We also hung out with Jess's dad and brother, who we'd last run into at a concert in Berkeley last summer, and another former roommate and bandmate of Jess's from a different band, Jackscrew. The band had a great time, and the audience seemed to be feeling it, too, so it was a fun evening. Best of all, though, it was awesome to see Jess after about a year. He was rockin' a goatee that was very nearly a homeless-beard, which made Rob ask him if he'd gotten any change thrown at him on the way over. Jess claimed that yes, someone had given him spare change in Washington Square. This may or may not be true, but it made us laugh.

All in all, the evening was most excellent, with a few pints of Newcastle (for Rob) and Lagunitas IPA (for me) putting the icing on the cake (or perhaps the head on the pint o' beer?) and yet again I do not have documentation since we can never seem to remember to bring our camera when we do something fun, and our phone cameras are truly sucktastic. So you'll just have to hear me now, believe me later.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Brief Emergence

I'm here. More or less. I spent the past month basically just working my ass off--grading essays for Rob's online classes, plowing into a new freelance project (which was awesome but made me very busy) and working on my novel revision. The novel revision is now largely done, I'm pleased to report. I did the first big pass through the whole thing, moving major scenes, rewriting some new ones, tightening things up, and generally being attentive to those items that the editor suggested I look at. Now I'm at the point where I'm re-drawing the two cartoons which appear at the beginning of one of the chapters, and I'm planning to do two more.

I just wanted to be sure that they're as well-done as possible--I felt like they were a tiny bit untidy, that I could draw them better. And, should the novel get published, I'd really like to see them make it into the final version, rather than having someone else redraw them. As an artist that idea makes me feel pretty squicky, though I realize it's pretty much par for the course to have little or no visual input into one's published work.

Still, I hold out a vain hope that I might have SOME input someday. I used to want to be a book cover artist, actually, for quite a while when I was in high school. If I'd ended up in a different type of art program, I might have, but the Berkeley program was very fine-arts oriented, which means that if someone uses the word "illustration" to describe your work, it is actually an insult. Conversely, if your work is both a) monumentally large and b) incomprehensible to anyone but you, you will thrive. Just kidding. Kinda.

Anyway, I finished that bulky part of the revision, and have one more pass to do wherein I will try to look for anything I missed, and judge how well it's flowing now that I screwed around with the timeline of the story. And after that, I will reward myself by playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii, which has been waiting patiently for me for several months. Though I've also heard rumors that we may be purchasing Rock Band 2, as though I need any more irresistibly fun time wasters in my environment. Oh well. I should learn to say yes to more fun things now and then, anyway.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Buried in a Dung Heap--er, Rubbish Pile--of Words

I have been writing like CRAZY lately, and not just because of my revision. Thanks to Beth I have a new freelance job doing some work-for-hire writing, and it's been good so far, but it's been keeping me super busy. Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of people say you should avoid work-for-hire, but a) I need money, and b) I'm not sure I'd necessarily want my name attached to some of these for posterity so I'm not concerned about my future "ownership" of it. Oh, and did I mention I need money? Going to Italy and Spain for a month this fall is not going to come cheap, even though I was an Expedia ninja and we're getting a good deal. Can hardly wait for October now, though.

In the meantime, I have been working on the revision and have also been experiencing quite a bit of revision-related fear. Certainly nothing insurmountable, but definitely annoying. Here are a few choice fears that have come up lately, as I find myself recasting several subplots and majorly revising the timeline:

  • Fear that I won't be able to do it well enough, despite all my efforts. That I won't put enough into it, or that I'm just not good enough to begin with. This I can generally deal with, because I tend to have an inferiority complex about most things in my life, so this is nothing new. I guess it's probably why I've had a corresponding tendency to try to be an overachiever. (That, and my dad periodically telling me about various more-successful relatives and/or children of family friends, most of whom are evidently either getting multiple graduate degrees or amassing wealth and fame in practical and worthwhile careers like medicine, law, and engineering. Sigh.)
  • Fear that even though I'm putting my all into this revision, and even though it's going to be a very different (and hopefully better) piece in the end, all the changes and all the differences will only lead to new and interesting types of suckage. I have a lot of trouble overcoming this one, but there's not a lot I can do about it at the moment other than keep plugging away.
  • Fear that, even if it all works out at this stage and I end up with a published book, at the end of it all people will read it and think, "THIS is the kind of thing that's running through your head?" while looking at me very warily, slowly backing away; or perhaps laughing derisively, or stifling a yawn, depending on the doom scenario of the day. However, this is one of those "fears" that I should be so lucky to have materialize, right? Err....

At the end of the day, though, I'm still incredibly excited about it, and the majority of the time, that helps me overcome the fear and actually get down to work. That, I guess, and my inability to stifle my inner overachiever.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Verdict

My thanks to everyone who's sent positive vibes and encouragement my way. I have to say that the outcome of today's editorial phone call was as good as it could possibly--realistically--have been.

Of course, the pipe dream is that an editor will come banging on the, via the phone...and say how much they loved your book and how they want to publish it RIGHT NOW because of its overwhelming awesomeness. But seriously, how often does that happen?

For me, the sentence that sticks with me from today's phone call was about how the editor thought my novel was good, but that it could be awesome. Now, that's ALREADY several kinds of awesome. But I made sure to try to convey the idea that I want to go that route--I want to improve it as much as possible. I don't want to be one of those writers who can't take feedback. I honestly want to make this a part of my career. I can only hope that I didn't sound like a nervous, over-eager, spazzy wreck on the phone (that blighted instrument of torture that makes me sound like a small child!).

So, here's the deal: I received some detailed feedback over the phone--none of which seemed out of left field or impossibly difficult or excessively scary. Some of it will result in major structural changes, but I've done that sort of thing before. It can, theoretically, be done again. Some of it is just tightening up and polishing. It all sounds like positive change that will bring out the core of the novel rather than drifting far away from my original intentions. This was a HUGE relief.

I'll be getting written notes next week sometime, after which I'll buckle down on this thing again and give it whatfor. Then, I'll resubmit it. If I can deliver the goods--and that's what's in question at the moment--then, hopefully, fingers and toes and eyelashes crossed, this could be it. If not...well, I guess then it might be time to think about setting this one aside for a while. There are my other three (!!) novel manuscripts begging for my revision attention, not to mention the graphic novel idea that Rob and I have been talking about, a project I want to work on with short-short stories and etchings, and NaNoWriMo coming up in November (did I mention that this particular manuscript was started during NaNoWriMo? If you remember the local NPR segment that I was on--THAT novel.) Either way, I feel pretty energized. It's one more step in the right direction. I'm very hopeful. Also full of red wine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nervous Stomach...and Brain

I'm not sure if my stomach hurts because I ate too much carne al pastor from the random taqueria we ate dinner at, or because I'm nervous about tomorrow.

Tomorrow--in case you didn't see my Twitter feed--is a rather momentous occasion. At 1:00 p.m. I am scheduled to speak over the phone with an editor. An editor from an actual publishing house would like to talk to me about my YA novel. Presumably, anyway. The e-mail said he enjoyed reading my novel, and wanted to schedule a phone call, but he could, I suppose, be calling to talk about the NBA playoffs or the North Korean nuclear situation. But probably not.

So this got scheduled way back during last week--Thursday, to be exact--so I've been pretty much an excited wreck, unable to concentrate properly on anything. I probably ate too much al pastor tonight because I wasn't able to focus on the timely stoppage of eating. And now I'm wondering various things like: Should I re-read my entire novel in detail before the phone call? How can I keep from being a blithering idiot due to general phone phobia and/or social ineptitude? What if I get thrown a conversational curve ball? What if everything is a curve ball due to the fact that I don't know what to expect? Etc.

Mostly, though, I'm excited. I know that this can't be a BAD thing. Editors don't schedule phone calls to tell you why they didn't like your work. I might be up for some heavy-duty revisions--most probably I WILL be--but I think I'm ready for it. I really WANT a professional opinion that's more than two typed lines in a two-paragraph rejection letter. I welcome it. Bring it on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writer Seeks Agent/Editor – Must Love Satire

Fiction writer, female, age 30 – 35, likes young adult literature and long walks on the beach, seeks compatible literary agent or publishing professional for many fruitful years of fun and profit. Open to online correspondence. Long-distance relationships OK.

Me: Hardworking, willing to listen to criticism, learning to love revision and deal with my fear of rejection. Quirky sense of humor tempered by just a touch of cynicism. Have own query letter—it’s got some mileage on it, but it’s got a good solid hook. Willing to experiment beyond the vanilla—I’ve even been known to dabble in marketing. Inveterate blogger. Loves: literary fiction, YA novels, graphic novels, art, food, and traveling. Pet Peeves: long silences followed by impersonal, vague, or befuddling communiqu├ęs; constant negativity.

You: Looking to take a chance on somebody new. A diplomatic communicator, but also honest and experienced, and willing to share that experience. Patience and kindness are a decided plus, but I can handle it a little rough from time to time. Must have industry connections. Any age or gender OK (told you I was willing to experiment).

I won’t take no for an answer. Okay, I will, but if I have to sift through a thousand rejections before I find the one who says yes, I’ll do that, too. I know you’re out there. I’ll be looking.

P.S. Hope you’re OK with me sending out multiple submissions; it’s the least you can give me for not complaining about your multiple partners.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Fear of Plot

I think I have a fear of plot.

Honestly. It's sort of a new-ish thing, but I have this fear that any plot events I might come up with will be boring, trite, or forced.

I could happily spend several pages describing people and their surroundings, their backstories, moving characters in and out as they talk about nothing much of critical significance. It's like the written equivalent to walking on a treadmill--it feels like I've really gotten somewhere, and there sure are a lot of words on that page. But I know in my heart that I need to have them say plot-relevant things, and I need to actually make them DO stuff.

That's the moment where I sit frozen, unable to think of anything that doesn't seem like it came straight out of something I just read earlier that month, or something overdone that I've seen a million times on TV shows, or something based on a classic story structure that everyone will immediately recognize and not want to read again.

For example, I'm writing this new short story that I quite like so far. The narrator is a guy working as a barista in a coffee house. I have this idea that during the course of the story, he actually serves as the vehicle for several mini-stories as customers come in and order from him. When I ask myself what the point of the story is, my brain returns with "something about interpersonal responsibility, the line between observer and actor, stepping out from behind the counter" and other high-minded-sounding drivel. But yes, I do have a point in mind, kinda sorta. But I can't think of actual story events which serve that ultimate purpose that don't seem nauseatingly dull or glaringly artificial.

I've only come up with two possible answers. One is that the premise or the setup might be inherently flawed—that is, maybe I'm having trouble because it's just plain lame to try to put a meaningful story behind the counter of a coffee house. The other thought I had is that maybe I just need to take one of the lame-seeming options and disguise the hell out of it with a cleverly devised disguise of good writing. If I can write well enough, nobody will ever know how lame it actually is, or won't realize until it's too late and they're done reading. Any other ideas? 'Cuz I'm out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Detour Into Fiction

I haven't posted any stories here in quite a while, not since our Flickr Fiction group more or less petered out. But when Tanita drew my attention to the anniversary writing contest put on by the Merry Sisters of Fate, I thought it would be a good excuse to stretch the ol' writing muscles in a different direction. So here you go: a (very) short piece of fiction inspired by the image below (Princess Tuvstarr by John Bauer).

Wild One Waiting

It isn't a path as others might define such things. It is really more of a track, a slight tamping down of brush and bracken that animals might use, wending past trees into the Deep Dark. But if you followed it, you would find no sign of wildlife, no scratches of bear claws on tree trunks or chirping of unseen birds. Not even the remains of small dead things that might have been left behind by a predator. Not even that.

But it leads from somewhere, to somewhere. If you follow it you might find out. Don't be afraid. The Deep Dark won't hurt you, at least not in ways you can see. Look: see how spindly and skeletal the tree trunks are. How sparse the leaves on the branches. There is nothing keeping you from the darkness, not really. You can step past the dry brown brambles and over the mounded tree roots. The fallen leaves are more grey than anything else; no longer green and not quite the rich brown of decomposing living matter. They pose no threat.

Oh, but you won't be alone. Make no mistake. No animals will you see, nor people. Yet you won't be alone. You will feel that someone else is there, feel them as if they were softly stroking the back of your neck, yet when you look back you will see nothing, and dismiss it as an invisible breeze. The shadows will shift as if a cloud moved over the sun, high above in his chariot, too high to send more than a few wan beams down through the latticed branches. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are alone.

And finally, if you walk long enough, endlessly enough, you will find where the path leads. Or rather: the path will lead you where it goes, allow you to the end of the track where the hillocks descend with treacherous angle and frequency to the clear reflecting pool where She sits. She saw you coming. She stroked your neck. She spied on you from the shadows. And now she will have you.

© Sarah Stevenson 2009

Thanks to the Merry Sisters of Fate for the fun prompt. Let me know if you decide to play too!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is Anything Ever a Perfect Fit?

Female Figure StudyI might only have one more drawing for you after this, at least for a little while--tonight is the last evening of Rob's figure drawing class, and then if I want to keep in practice, I'll have to go to the sessions downtown. Of course, Rob is happy because the semester is almost over; and I'm happy too, because we're both going to be less busy after that. (I've noticed that busy-ness in our house tends to trickle down...)

Then again, though, I usually find ways to fill my time, even if I manage to eke out some free moments. Reading is a big culprit. Today, though, I used some time well, and sent out a couple of writing-related queries. I have this quarterly Excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track of queries, and last quarter (Q1 2009) I did well, sending out a pretty decent number of queries--12. I hadn't sent anything out yet this month, though, after having gotten a disheartening clump of rejections around Feb. and mid-March. A few of those were from agents who I really thought might be a good fit--that's always disappointing.

But then, is there ever really a perfect fit right off the bat? I found a new place to query one of my novels today, and it seems like a great possibility: relatively new literary agency, actively taking on new clients, open to unsolicited queries, very interested in YA, interested in graphic novels and multicultural themes...I was excited. Then, after sending the query, I thought about all the other times I sent my work to agents who seemed like a great fit. At best, I got a sentence or two of explanation with the rejection. At worst, it was a friendly but generic "no, thanks," sometimes accompanied by a "not right for us" or "we're not quite enthusiastic enough."

And it occurs to me that there are probably 8 gazillion other would-be published novelists thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time, after reading the exact same online interview: sounds like a good fit. Cue the deluge for poor Mr./Ms. Agent. I'm sure it's not fun for any agent to go through the slush pile. And it's also not fun, as a writer, to feel like you're deluged with rejections. I know I'm nowhere near deluge status yet, though I'm quite well into the double digits. I read this article earlier today, thanks to Robin Brande, about knowing when to quit, and realized I've got quite a ways to go, in fact, to even call my rejections anything more than a trickle. Still, it wears on me. I'm getting rejections from all different walks of the writing world, too.

In many articles about perseverance in fiction writing, including the one I just mentioned, the authors casually mention how long they had to keep at their "lesser" writing projects--often editing, freelance article writing, short stories, whatever--as though these were no problem, no problem at all; just the minor stuff that keeps the writer writing and helps put food on the table. The truth is, none of that feels minor to me, and none of it's as easy as it sounds--the author of the article has that right. And as for when to quit...who knows. I just sort of vacillate between Impractical Career Prospect #1 (freelance art/design/fine art) and Impractical Career Prospect #2 (writing/editing), trying not to hear my parents' voices saying "I told you so" and trying to come to terms with the fact that I'm evidently not a normal sort of person who wants a normal sort of job.

And I keep trying. Even when I don't want to.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Can't-Do List

Female Torso StudiesI've noticed that to-do lists tend to be both a blessing and a bane to my existence. I'm constantly making them, and without them I would probably be too scatterbrained to remember all the crap I'm supposed to get done (not a good thing for a freelancer); but at the same time, I find them paralyzing and stifling. Not to mention all the things that I WANT to do but don't actually ever make it onto the to-do list because I can't quite justify spending the time on them, somehow. It's this latter idea that I'm having a real problem with lately.

Male Torso StudiesThat is, I'm tired of shoving aside all the things I want to do, all the long-term projects that I really think would be good for me, simply because, immediately after I think I might like to do it, then I think, Oh, I can't do THAT. So I made myself a Can't-Do List. It's a list of all the things I want to do but haven't been able to find time for. Secondarily, I scooped 45 extra minutes out of my day--at least 30 of which is spent either agonizing over what to do next or procrastinating, and the other 15 unnecessarily prolonging my coffee break--which I will use at least four days a week to work on items from the Can't-Do List. Here's the list, with appropriate can't-do notes:

  • It might be nice to drive out into the countryside to a park and sit at a bench and write or draw for part of the day. (No, I can't do that. I don't have time.)
  • I think I might like to do a major project like a graphic novel or an internet thing. (No. I don't have ideas that are good enough. I'm not skilled enough. I don't have time to invest on something that big when I have other work I should be doing.)
  • I want to make some illustrations and send some out and develop a portfolio of samples. (I can't. What would I draw? I don't have a style. I don't have enough skill. I don't have time to make the drawings good enough.)
  • I want to make enough art to have a show, or at least send work out to juried shows. (But again, see above. No time. Not enough skill. No ideas. Can barely even finish art work I'm currently working on. Have too many other projects that take precedence.)
  • I would like to make a chapbook of short-short stories with accompanying artwork, but I seem to have run out of steam with those and now I'm afraid to try.
  • I want to make "found poems" out of found text; even found stories, and maybe accompany them with artwork in a chapbook.
  • I want to get back into practice on the piano at least a little, and possibly start learning how to play the drums.
  • I want to try to fit in a little meditation every day or every other day.
  • I want to make enough handmade books that I can set up an Etsy shop for them.

So my goal is to spend the first 5 minutes of my 45 minutes meditating, and the other 40 on one or two of the list items. It's the 45-Minute Plan, and I'm not allowed to procrastinate about it AT ALL. I have to eliminate the "but I should be doing X....but I should be doing Y..." that takes up so much of my mental space. It's really, really difficult. I'm hoping that making this sort of bite-sized plan will help.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm the Shizz, Yo

Cross-Hatching - Two ModelsPeriodically I find myself pondering the elusive notion of "coolness." It perplexes and awes me that some people seem to attain the heights of cool—or, at least, a reasonable amount thereof—seemingly without any effort. And then there's the idea of the relevance of coolness. At some point, one would think, perceived cool would be a sort of high-school notion, something to be left behind, more or less, in favor of judging people by more easily definable attributes like kindness or achievement or intelligence or generosity.

Proportion Studies - Female ModelBUT NOOOO, to quote a rather crusty old episode of SNL. The adult world is riddled with a lot of the same posturing and social stratification as adolescence. Now, I've never really been one to worry about gaining approval from the "cool kids," then OR now, but then, I've also never had to worry about being mistaken for cool. Nerdy? Yes. Artistic? Sure. Weird? Very probably. Incomprehensible? On occasion. But cool? That's debatable. And I can't help but wondering what cool is, and how people get there, and why there is a sudden increase in exclusionary behavior—deliberate or not—when they do. Of course, I'm also guilty of creating coolness distinctions where there may be none, so I think it's a two-way street.

Lower Body Studies - Female ModelI should point out that this sort of cool/uncool distinction isn't always paranoia on my part—I don't usually go around grumping to myself about how such-and-such a cool person won't give me the time of day, so they must think I'm a total loser. Oh, I might joke about it. And I might be paranoid in other ways. But I do find myself just a bit pouty at times about others' coolness, even about the social standing granted by particular forms of success but not by other forms of achievement. (Success has to be measurable by appropriate and easily understood standards, after all.)

And you'd never mistake ME for cool. I don't dress well enough, for a start. In fact, I'm kind of unkempt in general, especially if you expand your view to include items like my house and car. My career is neither exciting nor lucrative at the moment, so I don't have any good small talk for parties, not that I'm very good at small talk anyway.

I've decided the best thing I have going for me is mysteriousness. If I don't say much about what I'm doing, then for all you know, I could be working on something super secret and totally awesome. I could be the world's coolest person, so cool that I'm saving everyone from being blinded by my awesomeness by pretending to be a dork. Uh, yeah, that must be it.


Thanks, everyone, for all the positive vibes. I've been a little better since my last post, though I'm still feeling a bit crisis-y as far as my career is concerned. And I can't help thinking I'm a little old to be wondering what I want to do when I grow up. It's not normal, is it? Then again, I'm not sure normality suits me...

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Touch with My Inner Cameron

Reductive charcoal figure study

I have this odd quirk that makes me reluctant to write a blog post that will be a huge bummer to everyone’s day. For one thing, I don’t think of my blog as a confessional space, generally speaking. Also, I have a very strong desire not to be that one downer friend, though I suspect I very much resemble Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

On the other hand, if I’m Cameron, that means the rest of you are Ferris, and that’s a good thing, right? So today I decided to yield to my inner Cameron and let the bummer-osity flow. Sorry. Consider yourself forewarned.

I realize I haven’t posted in a while, and I’ve been hesitant to admit even to myself that the reason is probably depression. It’s something I’ve struggled with off and on for at least 15 years, sometimes with medication, sometimes without. I don’t like to stay on medication for the long term, nor do I think my depression is serious enough to warrant that; so the longest I’ve stayed on antidepressants was a couple of years. Also, when I taper on and off the pills--Effexor is the one that seems to work best for me--I suffer from feelings of vertigo until I get used to the medication (or to not taking it). So I’d rather avoid that.

Anxiety has been a bit of a separate-but-related problem, and I wish I could get the good meds for that—but my doctor is stubbornly avoiding giving me Ativan, which works great. He’d rather prescribe the antidepressants. So I’ve been trying to persevere in a non-prescription-medication vein for the past few years. I see Dr. Yoda (not his real name) once a week or so, and I try to get regular exercise and take fish oil capsules.

Motion Study - Female modelI’ve not been doing as well as I could be with the latter two. With the capsules, it’s just remembering to do it. With the exercise…I sometimes don’t have time to exercise. Other times, I get in a terrible catch-22 where it would probably really help me to exercise, but I’m to depressed to motivate myself to do it. I lose large amounts of energy. Even just walking around feels like I’m walking through water.

I’m wondering, though, if I need to go back on the serious meds again. I can’t quite seem to keep it together. I haven’t felt much like writing at all, and can’t see the point of doing it. What really worries me, though, is that I don’t even really feel like reading. That is so intensely abnormal for me—ME, the person who almost never goes anywhere without at least one piece of reading material. I mean, my husband made fun of me when we were in grad school because I would put down my required reading and relax by…reading something else. But right now, reading just reminds me of all the writing I’m failing to get written and failing to get published.

Yup, I’m REALLY good and stuck.

But I do feel a little better talking about it. I feel like Rob is too stressed right now for me to inflict it on him, and I haven’t been able to get in to see Dr. Yoda for a couple of weeks, so blogging it is. Thank you for letting me unleash my inner Cameron for a few minutes, along with some unrelated but hopefully interesting accompanying visuals.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Strange Nature of Online Friendships

I've noticed that I follow strange unwritten protocols when I'm dealing with friends or acquaintances that I relate to almost exclusively online. I think it's because, without regular face-to-face contact, and without a business relationship or other situational clue to behavior, I'm uncertain as to the nature and depth of these relationships. I don't know what the appropriate level of contact is.

With my blogging and Twitter friends, there are four categories of people. There are those whom I am friends with outside of the online realm, and see on a regular or semi-regular basis. I don't feel the same type of uncertainty at all with this group of people--mostly writers I went to grad school with or other friends who happen to be blogging.

The second category consists of people I haven't met in person--or have only met a couple of times--but with whom I share something in common. Generally these are the people I work with from the Kidlitosphere, whose blogs I read and who take part in many of the same online activities as I do. I am fairly clear on the nature of my relationship with this group of people, too--we have a common interest, we relate on that level and possibly exchange the occasional personal pleasantry if it's someone I know a bit better.

Then there are the people I don't know very well at all--let's call them acquaintances, because that's what they are. I might occasionally post a blog comment or a Twitter reply, but generally, it's a non-real-time, sporadic sort of relationship. No questions there, either.

It's the fourth category that causes me to agonize over every Tweet-reply sent, over every blog comment and unsolicited e-mail: the people I would like to consider in the category of friends but whom I only actually know online and as such only really know a certain side of. If I Tweet in reply or comment on blogs, I always wonder if I'm overstepping some unwritten boundary--for instance, what if I'm in their Category Three and freaking them out because they're wondering why a mere acquaintance is suddenly glomming on? What if it's presumptuous of me to send more than, say, one direct Twitter reply per day? Is it uncouth to send such people an actual e-mail?

And the anxious self-questioning gets even more unrelenting if I send an e-mail or a Twitter reply and, for whatever reason, nothing gets sent to me in return. Not that every e-mail or Tweet requires a reply--far from it; I sure don't need comments every time I post what I'm eating for breakfast--but where does the endless-reply-loop politely stop? Eventually someone has to decide that an exchange consisting of original Tweet-->reply Tweet-->thank-you Tweet-->you're welcome Tweet-->Smiley face Tweet must come to an end. Nobody wants to be stuck in a loop of inane pleasantries.

WHERE DOES IT ALL END? These are the things that I think about when I'm supposed to be working.

Practice Makes...Better, If Not Perfect

Shadow Study - Male Model Thumb Drawings - Female Model

Here are a few more drawings I did during Rob's figure drawing class. The inky-looking one on the right is a thumb drawing, done entirely using my thumb dipped in ink. The two below are enveloping and gesture studies, respectively. Click on the images to see larger versions on Flickr. I'm sort of ridiculously pleased that I haven't entirely lost the ability to draw, despite being out of practice at drawing from the model.

Enveloping Figure Studies - Male ModelInk Gesture Drawings - Female Model

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Practicing Obsolete Art Forms

Etching, or intaglio, is just one of those weird old-school methods of artmaking that you don't necessarily think of right away when you think about printmaking or about visual art. But Rembrandt and Goya were masters of the craft and its expressive language, and studios like Crown Point Press continue to ensure that contemporary artists working in fine print media are known and respected.

Although I can only wish that one day Rob or I might be associated with Crown Point Press beyond just having gone on field trips there, I CAN be proud of our homegrown operation, Imp Press. Now that we have a studio of a respectable size such that two or even three people can move around in it at the same time, we've enjoyed getting back to work on what we love. I almost feel like it's a fetishistic act. I so much love the mere process of touching and smelling the ink, tearing the paper to size, cranking the wheel of the press. Call me crazy.

The following print was produced for a group project, which I'll describe in more detail in a later post. I got started a little late due to holiday circumstances beyond my control, but the first thing I did was look around the studio for copper plates I could use. I happened to luck upon a plate that was already of an appropriate size and already hard-grounded and ready for line etching. In order to perform a line etch on a copper plate, the plate must first be polished and de-greased, and then the edges beveled so that the plate does not cut the paper or the blankets on the press. Then, a waxy substance called hard ground is melted and rolled onto the surface. Once it hardens--a matter of minutes--it is possible to draw lines on with an etching needle, also known as a Whistler twist (see my profile photo).

Etching Step 1: Line EtchingThe surfaces exposed by the needle get etched away when the plate is submerged in acid (see later photos). Once the hard ground is cleaned off, it's time to ink the plate. Ink is carefully taken out of a metal can like the one in the background of the photo at left, using a putty knife. Then, using a chip of matboard or a plastic squeegee thingy, ink is drawn across the surface of the plate and gets squeezed into the little lines and divots left by the etching.

Etching Step 2: Inking the Line EtchA piece of cheesecloth or tarlatan is used to wipe off the excess ink from the surface and evenly distribute it inside the etched lines. (That's the crumpled inky wad at the top of the photo.) Small pieces of phone-book paper can also be used to further clean the surface, or you can hand-wipe it with the side of your hand. The result is shown at right: an inked plate that is ready for printing.

Etching Step 3: Printing the Line EtchFurther down the page you'll see a photo of the press in our studio, which is a Conrad etching press with a star wheel and composite press bed. The machinery is geared so that it's relatively easy to crank a print through with the required pressure (well over 1000 pounds). The results of printing the line etching are shown at left. I did a few prints so that I could use a pencil to draw on one of them, to figure out what shades of value to use in the aquatint. Aquatint is the method by which areas of tone can be etched onto a plate--flat areas of color as opposed to just lines.

Etching Step 4: Melting the AquatintTo create an aquatint is a semi-toxic process that has to be done in the garage. First, finely powdered rosin (like the rosin dancers or violinists use) is dusted evenly over the surface of the plate. We do this inside a cardboard box, using a dust mask. The rosin is sprinkled out of a shot glass that has had a double layer of nylon stocking stretched over the top. Then the rosin is melted into a fine layer of tiny droplets using a butane torch. You can see the rosin melt almost all at once when it reaches the right temperature, after a couple of minutes--it's sort of magical to watch the surface change in sheen suddenly, in a matter of seconds.

Etching Step 5: Etching the AquatintWith an aquatint, the droplets of melted rosin form a pattern that's almost like the Ben-Day dot pattern seen in old newspaper photos. The space between the dots is etched down and when it's inked, you get a relatively flat area of color. To create light tones, you etch for less time; for darker tones you etch the plate progressively longer. To preserve your light tones, it is necessary to "stop out" those areas so that they do not etch. Stop-out is a tarry mixture of liquid hard ground and asphaltum that is painted onto the plate using a brush. Above, you can see a partially stopped-out plate ready to go into the acid. The acid is ferric chloride, actually a heavy salt, and it is relatively fume-free and non-toxic but it's a horrible nasty iodine-like color so you still don't want to touch it.

Etching Step 6: Inking the AquatintWhen the etching part is finished, I take the plate outside and clean off the stop-out using mineral spirits and a rag. (This is where all of our old clothes go in our house.) Then, the rosin is cleaned off using denatured alcohol, and I ink up the plate as before. I will need to pull a few test prints in order to see if I need to make any alterations to the plate: areas that are too dark can be burnished to be lighter, while areas that lost detail or are too light can be scratched at with a drypoint needle (a direct method of intaglio that does not involve etching).

Etching Step 7: Fixing My Screw-UpsSince it turned out that I did some major screwing up at various points in the process--it's been a little while since I did an etching, and this was my first time doing one using our new setup--I had to do quite a bit of both of these techniques. Shown at left are some burnishing tools. Rob even has a burnisher that was blessed by the Pope (long story) but this isn't that one.

Etching Step 8: Fixing My Screw-Ups Cont'd

Above are four progressive states as I carefully burnished and drypointed this baby to a reasonably finished condition. The messy print in black on the top left is what came right out of the acid. The background is way too dark, and there are some "washed-out" looking spots resulting from me getting stop-out on areas where it wasn't supposed to go. I burnished the background quite a lot, added some drypoint to darken up the blacker areas, and ended up with the print at the top right. I also changed ink color at this point. The bottom two prints are just me evening things out and fussing with details.

Etching Step 9: Printing the Final VersionThen, it was time for me to print the final edition. I needed to print 20, and I decided to use some tan Rives BFK paper that I had left over from making holiday cards. First I had to tear the paper down to the appropriate size of 8x10--in printmaking, it is traditional to tear paper using a heavy metal straight-edge rather than simply cutting it. It creates a nice fuzzy edge to the paper instead of a mechanical-looking one. Then the paper needs to be soaked for at least 20 minutes in a tub of water. When the paper is wet, it softens, and this helps it to a) not tear under pressure, and b) sink into the detailed surface of the plate. The plate is put on the press, then the paper is blotted dry on a towel and placed on top of the plate. A pair of felt blankets cushion and also help press the paper into the inked lines. In the above photo, taken right after the print was cranked through, you can see the raised part of the paper where the plate was pressed into it. (Ignore the unfinished painting in the background, please.)

Etching Step 10: Drying the Prints

The resulting prints are then placed into blotter paper and dried flat under a heavy board. We have a drier set up to hasten the process; once the paper is dry to the touch, it can be moved to the drier, which is basically a stack of blotters set up with a fan and a wind sock sort of thingy. And there you go. When they're dry, I'll sign and number them. That was a long explanation, but at least a few people requested pictures and the pictures require some description. I promise to tell you more about the group print project itself later...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Not a Poet

I appreciate everybody's interest in my poem. I hope it doesn't disappoint. You have to realize that I write almost exclusively prose, and have done so since college. I write articles; I write young adult novels; I write fairly bizarre literary short stories. I draw; I paint; I make prints. But poems? Gah. No clue. Beyond my ken and my ability both, though I appreciate poetry massively. Anyway, here it is.

A Poem about Why I Don't Write Poems

It could be a poem,
But I'm not a poet.

Even the words on the page correct themselves after I write them.
There could be an egg buried in the sand, but who would know?

There could be words,
But who would want to read them?

A poem is being naked in front of everybody. It says, this is me.
There are no layers of story or paint to protect it.

Give me something in return for my nakedness.
It is embarrassing to give this to you for free. I expect a fair bargain for stripping my layers away.

I gave you not just me
But me, bare, open to the sky.
I cracked an egg and let it slip slimy onto the page.
Tomorrow I might wish I hadn't.

You listen:

It doesn't hatch by itself. It doesn't break by itself. It spills mystery onto the blank white until a vine slowly grows, twining around a ruined foundation and reaching for the sky.

I sit naked at the root in a broken eggshell, forced to let go.

© Sarah J. Stevenson 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Strange Days Have Found Us...

Today has been a little odd. First, as I was driving from Costco to Trader Joe's, running necessary but irritating errands, I suddenly remembered a bizarre dream I had last night. Normally my dreams are a bit strange, but often they're too chaotic to remember properly, and I don't write them down upon waking like I really ought to. Anyway, I only remembered a piece of this dream.

In the dream, Rob and I were going to have a baby. I was giving birth in a standing position, and then a nurse or midwife held the baby up for us. It took me a moment to realize that the baby had eight limbs instead of the usual four--it was the size of a normal infant, but it had four little arms ending in tiny fists and four little legs dangling down, like some bizarre human-octopus hybrid. I was strangely calm and accepting of this.

That's all I remember. I hope that isn't a prophetic dream telling me we're destined to have freak children. Any kids we might or might not have would probably be weird enough just being born into a family with two artists for parents, and not because we've been eating the cadmium red. (Which we haven't been. Just a joke.)

The second weird thing that happened today was in Trader Joe's. I was buying some groceries and a case of two-buck Chuck when the cashier asked me for my ID (argh). I showed it to him, and the following conversation ensued:

Cashier (peering at me suspiciously): Are you sure this is you?
Me: ...
Cashier: It's not, like, your sister or something?
Me (flatly): I can take my hair down if you want. [My hair was in a post-gym ponytail, while my ID picture has my hair loose.]
Cashier (completing transaction): No, it's OK. It's just you look really young. (Said in a tone that was somehow apologetic and still suspicious at the same time.)
Me (flatly and insincerely): Thank you.

What I really hated about this was that HE made ME feel uncomfortable, like I didn't have any right to buy my case of wine, so then I felt embarrassed and nervous and probably acted like a nervous kid illegally buying booze. Not that it doesn't say 1977 right there on my driver's license, with a picture that is clearly me and actually DOES LOOK like me. The point is, I was made to feel weird about buying something I have every right to buy and have had the right to buy for almost 11 years now. And, I swear to you, I'm pretty sure I look at least 21. I don't look like a minor, unless you are very very old. I know cashiers are required to card you if you look under 30, and that's fine, but they don't have to make me feel self-conscious about it.

Anyway, rant over. It was just a strange situation because I don't think that the validity of my ID has ever been questioned before. Here's hoping I have a much more conventional remainder of the day. Writing...blogging...ahh.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Revisiting Resolutions

Today, as I folded the laundry about a week later than I would have liked, I realized that I've fallen off the wagon as far as my 2008 New Year's resolutions are concerned. One of those was to get out of the habit of leaving the baskets of clean laundry to languish in the living room until I needed the baskets for the dirty laundry the following week. I actually did really well on this resolution until a couple of months ago. Then somehow I stopped being able to find the time to do on-time folding of laundry. Granted, this is not a particularly huge problem. Housework only takes priority insofar as routine maintenance needs to be performed (i.e., dishes, laundry, occasional vacuuming and tidying) and is generally of the keeping-the-house-from-being-a-complete-shithole nature, not the anal-retentive, must-keep-surfaces-immaculate nature.

However, as you can see from the images, one resolution from this year that I'm so far managing to keep is practicing my figure drawing. These are from the second session we attended, and they're somewhat better than the ones I produced in the first session (which I've deemed not good enough for public viewing). The drawings up top are one-minute gesture poses using graphite, and the ones just above are 30-minute poses, the large one charcoal and the smaller one graphite on toned paper. I still need practice, though, so I'll be going to Rob's figure drawing class from time to time. I'm realizing that the figure drawing class I took way back when was less technical in terms of learning bones, muscles, etc. and more focused on using various media, which is fine, but also means I don't have as much knowledge of anatomy as some artists. Rob is teaching that to his students, so I'll probably absorb some by proxy.

Re: my other resolutions for this year, so far--well, I thought I was halfway to my goal of losing 5 pounds, but evidently it was all negated this weekend when I was visiting my parents. My dad routinely tries to get me to eat more, MORE! and has the added quirk of possibly not knowing what a vegetable is. Meanwhile, my mom is strangely fond of breakfast/brunch, so when I'm at her house, I end up eating a lot more in the morning than I normally do, as someone who generally only has coffee and toast or fruit first thing.

The morning meal often also consists of unwanted personal conversation with a cafe waitress, since my mom is one of those people who will start conversations with just about anyone. This means that the waitstaff at her favorite haunts will know far more about me than I would normally divulge to random people. There's also a lot more talking than I usually want to do in the morning, as someone whose preferred method of communication pre-coffee is mainly caveman-like grunts and pained moans.

Anyway, I did go to the gym for an hour today, though, so I'm still holding out hope for the pounds going away again. The meditation resolution has yet to materialize (or immaterialize, as the case may be). I have a meditation CD that my therapist, Dr. Yoda (not his real name), kindly gave me, and I keep meaning to listen to it. Haven't yet. It's been a couple of weeks. I'm hoping to get to it before our appointment this week so I don't seem like a complete slacker. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fine Time - A Music Meme

I must thank Interactive Reader Jackie for this most excellent time-waster of a music meme. The meme is structured as follows:

Take your iPod in your hand:
1. Put your Music on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

The songs form the answers to a series of ridiculous questions about the, uh, meme-ster. It's hard to resist a music meme, so here I go...with a rather lengthy disclaimer: Since I have a really lame iPod Shuffle that only contains songs I've deemed suitable for working out at the gym, I've used the shuffle function on my iTunes computer software instead. Also, I've skipped past any songs in the playlist that are "Rob's songs"--i.e., music that I don't tend to listen to on my own. I hardly think that a song I don't actually listen to would in any way be relevant to this meme--not that randomly shuffled songs are going to provide answers to the mysteries of life, anyway.

Modern Love - David Bowie. ("But I try....I try..." Okay. Maybe.)

Here's Where the Story Ends - The Sundays. (Huh?)

We Live Again - Beck. (Dude! That's not bad.)

It's Over - Tom Waits. (HAHAHAHA!)

The Hussein Skank - Skankin' Pickle. (Jeez, I hope not.)

Sugar on My Tongue - Talking Heads. (Are we taking the song literally? Food? Sex? I guess it doesn't actually matter.)

WHAT IS 2+2?
Ma and Pa - Fishbone. (Yeeeeah. Ooookay.)

Money - Pink Floyd. (Gosh, that isn't very nice. Unless we're talking about Rob, in which case "Money" is one of the songs I remember him learning on the bass early in our relationship.)

Karma Police - Radiohead.

Make Believe Mambo - David Byrne. ("Havin' sex and eatin' cereal/Wearin' jeans and smokin' cigarettes now..." HA!)

Christine - Siouxsie and the Banshees. (So I want to be a goth? A strawberry girl? I don't get it.)

Long Way Home - Tom Waits. (Oookay.)

Vaka - Sigur Ros. (If that means they think I'm from a faraway land and speak in an unintelligible language, possibly.)

Get Up Offa That Thing - James Brown. (Sweet! Except we already got married, and there's not a lot of music when you elope.)

Breakdown - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Post Cold War Politics - Fishbone. (I am laughing my ass off here.)

Buena - Morphine. (Well, since the song sounds like it's about a stripper, I might have to call this a bust. And no, I'm not known for abuse of opiates.)

Sleep on the Left Side - Cornershop. (Since I'm not sure the lyrics make a lot of sense...I dunno.)

Think I'm in Love - Beck. (Har har.)

A Little Respect - Erasure. (Death by synth-pop! Oh noes!)

Burning Inside - Ministry. (Yes, spontaneous human combustion WOULD be regretful.)

The Ballroom Blitz - Sweet. ('Kay.)

Israel - Siouxsie and the Banshees. (Yes, the situation in the Gaza Strip does make me want to cry. Go figure.)

Time Bomb - Rancid. ("Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac..." Or not. See wedding-related question above.)

When I Live My Dream - Seu Jorge. (So...I respond in Portuguese?)

My Problem - Dance Hall Crashers.

Nightshift - Commodores. (Evidently I'm not alone.)

Untitled 6 - Sigur Ros. (If I could go back in time, I would...become an Icelandic musician?)

Salvation - Rancid. (Evidently, what hurts is the growing divide between the rich and the poor.)

Fine Time - New Order. (Yes, I did have a fine time doing this, thanks for asking.)

I hate tagging people for memes because I'm always afraid they'll be annoyed. So I'll let you choose for yourself. If you decide to do it, leave me a comment.