"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Overcoming Expectations

Writing was so much easier when I was younger. That's what I caught myself thinking the other day. I suppose there was some truth in that statement, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt...wrong. Because, while writing may have felt easy when I was younger, it wasn't any more or less difficult than it is now.  My expectations were just lower. In fact, I didn't have any expectations. I wrote because it was fun.

It seems that as we get older we loose that blissful freedom to write without expectation. Instead, we are suddenly bombarded by outside pressures. First, it's the pressure to be something. I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I've also always known it would take work, that I'd have to struggle to become who I wanted to be, just like everybody else. But sometimes it feels like I'm cheating. I mean, in essence, I can do what I've always wanted to right now. I don't have to wait until I've graduated from college, or landed a job in  my desired profession. I can be a writer right now.

So why does it feel like I still have so far to go? The answer? Expectation. When you've done something your whole life, you're expected to improve. And if you work diligently at it, you do. That's pretty much an established fact. However, you can't judge yourself based on this fact, because most likely you will feel like you haven't improved enough, not matter how far you've come. I've been playing piano since the fourth grade, but there are times when I'll look at a new piece and feel like a novice again, my fingers fumbling clumsily for the correct notes. It's times like these when it's most important to remember what it was like to be a kid. Think about why you wanted to be a writer (or a musician) in the first place. Embrace the joy of simply creating, and not caring if your dialogue is lame-sounding or if you still can't get the timing on that musical phrase to sound right. That's okay. Because art is not about what you or anyone else expects. It's about making something that speaks to you, and that you enjoy making. Make art for yourself, trust that you will always improve, and try not to think about what's expected of you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Love Mary O'Connell's "The Sharp Time" and I Haven't Even Finished Reading it Yet

I have made it to page one-hundred of The Sharp Time, a novel by Mary O'Connell, but I can honestly say that I knew I was going to love this book from the very first page. It had been on my radar for a few months, mainly because I was enchanted by the cover. And like most of the books that have changed my life, I stumbled across this one in a library.

Of course, I can't say with certainty that this book will change my life. That kind of thing doesn't happen on page one or one-hundred or even right after someone closes a book. I don't think you realize how a book has affected you until much later. But I can tell you why I like The Sharp Time. Why, one-hundred pages in, I decided to stop reading it and tell you about it:

1. The First Page:  Before I get into that, here's the premise: "Sandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her single mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, subject to the random vulnerability of everyday life. When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at The Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds friendship and camaraderie with her coworker, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista sees the failures of those with power and authority, she's offered the chance to survive through the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose between faith and forgiveness or violence and vengeance."- Goodreads

 This sounds like a pretty typical YA book, right? I figured it would be a slow starter. The reader would follow this Sandanista Jones through her day, maybe start with her fist day back at school after the death of her mother. Instead, Ms. O'Connell throws you head first into the story, starting instead with Sandinista being interviewed for a job at The Pale Circus. 

Not to mention it has this delicious first line: "Anybody can tell that the pretentious ass who runs the Pale Circus fancies himself an artiste of sorts: a purveyor of poplin and mohair, an architect of nostalgia."

Wow. I mean, who wouldn't be hooked by that first line?

2. Colors: Reading this book is like being lost in a candy shop. That's the only way I can think to describe it. Everything is coral, cream, and green, or sometimes cool turquoise, dark cherry, cinnamon brown. And of course the colors on the cover match perfectly.

3. Voice: Sandinista(!) Jones is one of the most fascinating narrators I've ever read. She is constantly thinking up witty asides that the reader is always privy to. Her thoughts and actions ring true and yet I feel like there will always be more to learn about her. She's hurting and she thinks dark thoughts sometimes, but ultimately we want to believe in her. Or rather, we want to believe that she will make the right choices.  I don't know what will happen next or how she will deal with it, but if it means spending more time inside her head, I want to be there.

 I still have 128 more pages before I finish The Sharp Time. I am absolutely loving it so far, and I can only hope that the rest doesn't let me down. I can't wait to let you all know what I think after I've finished!

Now it's your turn: What was the last book that you loved (or thought you were going to love) from the very first page?