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MY NEXT BLOG POST WILL BE HOSTED ON MY NEW WEBSITE: STAY TUNED!
Given this crazy train ride we call life, is it any wonder that my new website and blog, scheduled to be unleashed on March 1, isn’t quiiite there yet? Working with two fabulous designers–my sister in law, JR Wilson, for the graphics; Japan-based Rob Oudendijk, who is putting together a classy site where I can change text, add pictures and links, and play to my heart’s content!
Stay tuned! (And read this post to the end as I have a special request.)
Meanwhile, good stuff is happening, as I hope it is in your world. I’m exploring the relationship between writing as profession, and writing as a spiritual practice with ethical/political ramifications. Got some ideas, tugs in my soul, and as my spiritual mentor, Brian Arnell says, none of my ideas are new. BUT, (and here’s why I love Brian) he adds, I should let nothing undermine the freshness and importance of this work. ”I can’t” and “It’s been done before by better people” are not viable working strategies. I’m responsible for my own doubts and for taking productive steps.
Two new writing workshops coming up this spring: Conjuring With Words (creative writing), and WritingNurture, which will explore the healing nature of words. Email me for details! hmallon(at)navpoint.com
A new book review: Louisa Hall’s The Carriage House (an Oprah pick) coming out soon on Fiction Writers Review. I’ve been asked to present to a book group–more later–and I’ve got two stories out seeking homes in great magazines.
So. Now for the reader interaction section of this post. I’m making great strides toward completing my novel–working title The Conjurer’s Daughters.(Thanks to my friend ARW for the suggestion!)
In short, I’m stuck on a plot point. A sub-plot, to be exact. My protagonist, Perry Lindley, runs an after-school arts program in South Philadelphia. She’s concerned because Melody Chung, her most talented student, has become withdrawn. Perry fears that someone in Melody’s family might be abusing her. Originally, Perry was going to be instrumental in rescuing Melody. But I decided (see my last post) I didn’t want to write yet another White Savior story. Melody is going to rescue herself! The problem is…how…when…where?
This is where you come in! Next post, I’ll lay out the Melody story as it now is (unresolved). I welcome any and all input as to how this little girl can pull off a big triumph.
…Plus, you gotta stop by to see the fabulous work done by JR Wilson and Rob Oudendijk. The URL will be helenwmallon.com –click on “blog.” Check back and let me know what you think!
Thanks to David Sirota’s excellent piece in yesterday’s Salon.com, I’m going to rethink the subplot of my novel in progress.
Here’s what he says: “If you’ve been to the movies in the last half-century, you know the White Savior genre well. It’s the catalog of films that features white people single-handedly rescuing people of color from their plight. These story lines insinuate that people of color have no ability to rescue themselves. This both makes white audiences feel good about themselves by portraying them as benevolent messiahs (rather than hegemonic conquerors), and also depicts people of color as helpless weaklings — all while wrapping such tripe in the cinematic argot of liberation.”
Sirota goes on to cite the many Oscar-winning films over the years that have done just that–Including Speilberg’s recent Lincoln.
I liked Lincoln, which, according to Sirota, HAS to win an Oscar. I loved it, in fact. The acting was so damn good. You might argue that since black people weren’t in a position to influence the passage of the 13th Amendment, the movie had to be about whites ‘coming to their rescue.’ Still. Sirota reveals how the evidence mounts up. There’s long-standing precedent in Hollywood for the kind of story that made me squirm while watching Avatar and The Help.
I’m going to add to the list a movie that didn’t win an Oscar–The Soloist. Robert Downey, Jr., is a sexily scruffy journalist who scoops a schizophrenic cello-genius-of-color off the streets of LA and manages to help him–or at least get him a seat at the orchestra. While Jamie Foxx’s performance as Nathaniel Ayres was a work of genius, the real hero was, duh, Robert Downey, Jr., (who actually doesn’t so much act as get all angsty in front of a camera).
Since I have a major crush on RDJr, I suppose I am here effectively ending our non-existent relationship. Oh, well.
It’s a good thing I read Sirota’s piece. In my novel, a young Asian girls named Melody is in danger. From a borrowed cell phone on a train, Melody calls the protagonist, Perry Lindley, a white woman, and asks her in desperation to go to the train station. Perry gets there in time to see everyone get off…except Melody. She’s not on the train.
At this point the subplot bogs down. I still don’t know how to resolve it. The obvious thing is to have Perry save the day in some character-revealing, heart-stopping, thematically resonant way. She’s the protagonist, after all.
But I’m not gonna do it. Melody is going to rescue herself. The trick will be to do it in a way that works without being forced. And from an artistic standpoint, that resolution has to be, as Aristotle put it, both surprising and necessary.
Simple, really. Yikes!
Does the White Savior trope get to you at all?
Many thanks to Dr. Margaret Sayers, cool Mom and great therapist, for nominating me for a Liebster Award! For the inside scoop on raising kids, check out her parenting blog, What Kids Want Us to Know.
According to the Internet gremlins, “Liebster” is German for endearing traits like nicest, dearest, lovely, kind, etc. etc. I’ll take it! You also have to have under 200 followers to be nominated. See my nominees below!
Here are the questions Margaret posed & my answers:
1. Assuming you are a reader as well as a writer, name two of your favorite protagonists, one male and one female. FEMALE: Mary Adare in Louise Erdrich’s The Beet Queen. [Quote] I should probably schedule a session with Margaret to work that one out! MALE: Giovanni in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Pure passion!
2. What has been the (or one of the) most rewarding experience related to writing your blog? –Learning to market my work without compromising my sanity. Really.
3. What is your favorite post in your own blog (or post that makes you proudest)? A recent one, The I’m-Not-Zadie-Smith-Blues. It shows genuine progress in my relationship with the Demon Envy.
4. What are some things you do besides blogging? Loves: Reading myself silly into the wee hours. Horsing around with my kids. Mindfulness meditation. Coaching other writers toward confidence and success. Writing, writing, writing!
5. If you had to give an acceptance speech for the Liebster award in front of a live audience, who would you thank and what would you wear? I would wear a gold sequined frock, chunky platforms, and yellow chip clips for earrings. I’d thank Margaret (of course), and the psychiatrist I saw in ninth grade to keep from getting thrown out of school. His middle name was Sigmund, so he had to be good.
*J.R. Wilson: <3 4evr Constantly Creative
*Drew Rhys White: Tender Comrade Who else writes like this? “My friend Dwight and I love this parochial, quaintly evil town.”
*Renee Miller. Those blue eyes! Dangling on the Edge of (In)Sanity.
*Ben, Hatwearing Young Person. Bkz making a difference makes a difference. Traveling Thane Furrows
*Danica Winters: Because romance actually IS “paranormal.” The Romance Your Mother Warned You About.
Here are your questions:
1. When you were nine years old, what did you think of members of the opposite sex?
2. How often, in the last five months, have you thought about Tarzan?
3. If you could write/create only one thing in your life, what would it be?
4. Tell us a cool pen name you could never use. What would your first work be titled?
5. What is the trashiest book you ever loved?
Thanks for reading, friends, and check out my nominees and their responses!
FIRST: Many thanks to all who follow this blog. I’m both honored and grateful.
SECOND: We will be moving to Blogger by March 1. Stay tuned!
Now to the matter at hand!
Apparently, “studies in mental health have shown” that pessimistic people have a more realistic view of life than optimists. I’ll buy that.
But here’s the thing: So what? Would Nelson Mandela have stuck it out in jail for a bazillion years with no expectation of release if he’d been realistic about apartheid? The Buddha, after his awakening, decided not to try to teach because he figured people wouldn’t want to put in the hard work of releasing themselves from suffering. (Jesus: “Welcome to the club.”) Fortunately for us, he changed his mind, but no one can say that Buddhism has exactly eradicated war in Buddhist countries.
So which is more “realistic”? A) People change for the better. B) The world is still a mess.
Take your pick.
A dear friend who lives with a serious and chronic illness recently told me about another study: It demonstrated that people who are habitual avoiders and procrastinators do better mentally in the face of inescapable illness than do more “realistic” types.
From what I can see, it’s a matter of perspective. Are “realists” actually more
realistic, or do they simply choose to focus on a particular aspect of reality? Just as “we live in the best of all possible worlds” was Voltaire’s phrase of ridicule for the two-dimensional Pollyanna philosophy of Leibniz, so pessimism can shrink reality to an unworkable tangle. After all, no one knows the future.
Practicing meditation reveals that behind my pessimistic views lurk unprovable assumptions–”This country will never be free of gun violence…” etc. No need for further examples. Much better to consider my beloved, fun-to-be-with, chronically ill friend, who because of her habit toward “denial” is better equipped than many people to find joy in her circumstances.
Probably the hardest thing for me about being a writer is the pesky mental state I affectionately call the I’m-not-Zadie-Smith Blues. It’s a soul-sucking, 3-pints-of Ben-&-Jerry’s-in-one-sitting downer. It’s a talent vampire, a wrecker of otherwise productive afternoons.
It comes out of the blue: From book jacket blurbs, random emails, from stray thoughts about novels by writers half my age that I see praised in some highbrow review. I always go for the birth date on the book jacket: Oh, good, she’s older than me. I still have time. But what am I doing to promote myself? (tightness in chest) And I’m not reading enough. Author XX cites the influence of Zadie Smith on her work, and I’ve got a copy of ZS’s something-or-other, but I’ve never even opened the damn thing. What did I do last night? I can’t remember, but it couldn’t have been good. I wasn’t writing.
You’d think I’d get bored by this crap, since it’s a drag to read! The trouble is, it’s weirdly motivating. The phrase “mental proliferation” comes to mind.
Here’s how Buddhism defines conceit:
“I AM GREATER THAN. I AM LESS THAN. I AM THE SAME AS…” Meaning that the comparison game is not a stable foundation on which to base one’s sense of self.
This has been plaguing me for years, and it’s probably partly why I committed myself to writing in the first place. I was terrified of ending up as a “be-nothing, do-nothing,” as I used to call it. (That formula seems kind of Zen if you squint at it in the right light.)
But I’m not into squinting. It’s too much work. Naming the blues, saying hello, and smiling at the apparition has been (okay, be honest) almost liberating. At least, it’s a big relief. Those thoughts start to gather momentum, ha! It’s the I-N-Z-S Blues comin on! Where’s my slinky dress and red lipstick?
So that’s all. It’s been helpful and good to look at writerly identity this way. Oh, why Zadie Smith? It’s because she’s the epitome of literary cool, and more important, she’s a lot younger than me. I know very little about her, which makes her the perfect fantasy object. Also, I’ve never read any of her books.
P.S. Disclaimer: I am ashamedly misusing the term “Blues.” There’s nothing self-indulgent about the REAL Blues. Which makes my toxic mental state seem even cheesier and more mock-worthy.
Photo Courtesty of http://bit.ly/ZS10RulesofWriting Good Stuff!
“How are you?” the store clerk asks.
“Oh, fine,” I say. “How are you?”
Such a conversation seems almost self-indulgent in the light of Friday’s shootings in Connecticut. Is business as usual really okay? I went to my meditation sangha last night as usual. I meditated for an hour among friends, focusing on the interaction between my own mental states, my breath, and the interplay of tension and release in my body. The teaching and discussion afterward had to do with applying the Buddha’s teaching on loving kindness to oneself.
Years ago, I would have seen all this apparent focus on “the self” as…selfish. As it was, I got a little squirmy, wondering if anyone was going to say anything about the shootings. Would we just sit there and…sit there? Finally, I brought it up, saying that I didn’t give a rip if the guy was in pain. I was really, really angry. The response was quite helpful. Teacher Brian Arnell pointed out that the shooter blamed the children at the elementary school for taking away his mother’s attention. (I haven’t verified this…I’m not sure there’s any value in reading about it.) At least, the guy was angry as hell, and he thought the shootings were justified. This, I reflect, is a gross caricature of how anger works in everyone. It feels justified. A clear ethical sense acts as a corrective, but erode that safeguard, and any one of us might do something awful.
Brian added that perhaps the best response to such horrible news is to tend to our own hearts and deal with the roots of anger and blame. Then we can see clearly & act skillfully in response to events like Friday’s, rather than just passing around blame.
In fact, I started meditating in January 2010 because of anger. Frustration about a situation in my life was running away with me–when I wasn’t angry, I was trying to pray myself out of a pit of self-blame. I unintentionally convinced at least two therapists that I was “right” about the situation. Here’s what I’ve discovered since developing a daily practice, along with receiving good teaching: to observe something as small and personal as my own breath, without judgment, led to less judgment and more openness toward other people. Less judgment means less tendency to negatively interpret what others do. It means greater ability to see the positive. The situation that provoked the anger/blame cycle still exists–but it’s different. I still struggle, but I’m not defined by my reactivity. Things may be complicated, but they sure look better.
Self-indulgent? Only it’s self-indulgent to neutralize one’s own reactivity and to see things more clearly.
Only if it gets in the way of healing a broken world.
The old, roll-top desk belonged to my grandfather. It was in our bedroom for a while, but last weekend my husband and I sent it to a storage facility. The thing weighs as much as a small car. My husband insists that its next move–one of our children will either want it or give it away–will “be its last.” In our lifetimes, maybe.
The empty desk likes to disgorge old papers whenever it’s disturbed. 8 years ago, my mother moved into a retirement community and the desk was hauled from her house to our upstairs bedroom After the movers had screwed the
roll-top back on to the massive base, I found a poem on the writing surface. I was the one who emptied out the desk for the move, but I’d never seen the poem before.
It was a humorous ditty written for my grandfather for his 5oth birthday, around 1930. My guess is that Grandfather (who died when I was a baby) kept the poem lying around so long that he didn’t notice when it slipped into the innards of the desk.
I can’t quote it, because I gave it to my mother. She has downsized and downsized and downsized, and this latest move, into the memory unit at her retirement community, “will be her last,” as the nurse in charge put it. My brother and I have just finished emptying out what remained of our mother’s pre-memory-unit apartment, but I haven’t yet found the poem.
Instead, something else turned up. After the movers hauled the roll-top desk to the storage unit, I found a letter lying on the bare carpet. Again, I’d never seen this piece of paper before. And I’ve rearranged the stuff in that desk countless times.
Ten years ago, my father dated and wrote–tried to write–a letter to his brother’s wife. My parents had recently come back from their last visit to my uncle, who shortly thereafter died of Parkinson’s. My father fell into a deep depression, which in retrospect may have been the precursor to dementia, and then, he too died of Parkinson’s. My uncle, the golden son, talented, successful, athletic, was …
What he was, I don’t know. I won’t quote the letter. It’s too personal. I do know that my father felt overshadowed, criticized by my uncle, and I believe that this spurred Dad’s move from the Midwest to Philadelphia, where he met my mother.
Actually, I’m not sure my father could say what my uncle was to him. The letter ends like this:
“My big brother was _____________________
___________” The lines my dad drew weren’t this straight.
All his life, I longed for a “real” talk with my father. He and my mother shared a talent for silence. When I was a girl, I used to search through my mother’s desk–which was small, delicate, antique–looking for something that would reveal what she felt about…Her marriage. Life. Me.
Her desk is still in her possession. When the time comes to move it, I’ll try not to expect anything. But you never know.
Have any relics in your family revealed surprises?
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