Thursday, July 30, 2009

Brain Crack and Bird by Bird

Months ago I blogged about brain crack in regard to grad school. I may still have a little bit of that. Gosh I had several conversations in the last week about why I wasn't in school and what was going on and I kept feeling kind of like a phony for insisting that I was good enough for a ph.d. program when none of the programs I apply to accept me into their programs.

But that's not really what this post is about. It's about a book and a confession.

The book: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It's a fantastic book on writing and life by a woman who holds nothing back. I read Anne Lamott and she encourages me to be honest with myself and (within reason) with others. I read aloud excerpts to my husband, and he just shakes his head while I laugh and empathize with the situation. Check it out. It's up there with Walking on Water as a book on writing you should read even if you don't want to write.

Anyway in Bird by Bird there is a quote of Annie Dillard that Lamott paraphrases as "day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more" (p. 202 if you care which I will in about 7 month). That, my friends, is a prettily worded solution to the phenomenon Ze Frank describes as brain crack. Instead of saving up your GREAT IDEA, you try it out.

And it's really hard to do. I struggle with it in various parts of my life, but I have to confess one right now. My brain crack of late is that I'll become a freelance writer. I have a (non-paying) project lined up. I get excited when I do the research. And then it languishes. And I'm sad. But I don't do anything about it. I put it on a vague list. I schedule a time to look at my notes and get re-excited and I put it off. I think it's because I'd really like to be a "writer" but I'm really scared that I won't be any good. I have a critic that's really really loud and repeats a particularly painful phrase that I'd link to because it's on the internet, but I don't want to let that person know exactly how much it bugs me. And so my article, the idea of becoming a writer, it's all brain crack.

Reading someone like Anne Lamott is helpful, because she admits to not having it all together. I read myself in her words of doubt and self-criticism and procrastination. She inspires me to break my addiction to brain crack. Lifehacker says that sometimes it's not a good idea to share your goals because it functions more like bragging than motivation, but despite that I do want to finish this particular writing project by September 1st, and my blog readers have permission to come to Cincinnati and kick my butt if it doesn't happen. :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two Returns: Naming 2.0

Oh hi! Yeah, I do have a blog. It just got buried under masses of media and personal angst not worth blogging about. So I've returned and I have several blog post ideas in the works so I even might stick around for a while.

What brings me back to blogging? Well, an obsession with naming, books, and writing. Without further ado, my most recent encounter with the naming phenomenon:

I received another early review book. This one was a work of fiction by Janet Skeslien Charles entitled Moonlight in Odessa. After I reminisced about the Kansas City's version of the Arch (a St. Louis landmark) which is founded along I-70 at a little town called Odessa, I dove into this beautiful book about a practical, smart woman making a life for herself in Odessa, Ukraine (oh I get it), but who dreams of life in America particular achieved by the fiance visa. She finds this guy, a gentle teacher and boy scout troup leader, and visits Emerson, CA to see if they are compatible. Tristan's a woodsy guy and Daria's a city girl. It's not an eharmony match by any stretch of the imagination.

But there's this one scene where he takes her hiking like he promised to in every letter he wrote her. They're going down the trail and she asks the name of a flower. He replies, "Liza Jean," and she laughs. She asks the name of a tree and he replies, "Melissa." She goes to shake hands with the tree appreciating the joke. However, when the scene repeats later on after the relationship has deteriorated and she realizes the fraud and despises it. An Odessan man would cover up his lack of knowledge by studying up on plant names for the next time he is put on the spot. Tristan just langors in his ignorance. His disregard for names is continues when he criticizes Daria's accent. It's not Tree-stan; it's Tristan. Never once did he apologize for calling her Dora even once she corrected him.

Lack of knowledge, lack of knowing. Knowing someone or something's name is a key step on the road to knowing and understanding that person or thing. Naming helps give form and shape. The uniqueness of naming reminds us that we cannot simply imagine that all things are the same. Back in the day of AOL, email forwards, and junior high, I received a forward that dozens of boy's names and gave similar characteristics of all Aarons and Jeremys. No matter how fallacious that assumption is we catagorize people according to this specific label--a name. So Tristan's persistant mis-naming is really a symptom of his willful misunderstanding and shows a lack of attempt to even try to understand.

Anyway to salvage the book review, Moonlight in Odessa is a truly beautiful book. Sad, poignant, but worth it. I enjoyed it from the very beginning which while not rare, was an unexpected pleasure in an early review book. There are elements of humor though dark, which just serve to propel the reader further into Daria's Ukrainian mindset.

Oh yeah, you do almost get over the fact that Daria was the name of an MTV cartoon character in the 1990s (though Daria's tv show "Sick, Sad World" almost works for the book too).