Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poetry Tuesday

I loved this poem so much as a child that I wrote a story about living inside a lion. My only recurring nightmare as a child was being chased by a lion into our family bathroom, me cowering in the tub as the lion roared at the window. Coincidence?

One of the great Shel Silverstein's finest.

It's Dark In Here

I am writing these poems
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.
So please excuse the handwriting
Which may not be too clear.
But this afternoon by the lion's cage
I'm afraid I got too near.
And I'm writing these lines
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.

Gaga oooh lala

On Sunday night, BBC3 showed a live Lady Gaga performance from their Radio 1-sponsored One Big Weekend festival. As I don't see Gaga gracing Inverness with her jams anytime soon, I watched. And was entranced.

See, I quite like Gaga. There. It's public now.

When she dropped her first single that soon became required music at every store in greater Scotland I didn't rate her beyond a poptart Madonna wannabe. But then I read some interviews where she gave props to many musicians I admire - including jazz and blues greats - and started getting press for her weird and wonderful costumes (love the bubble dress/bubble perspex piano). What she lacks in vocal prowess she makes up for in piano skills - she can rock the ivories in 2" fingernails. She inspires positivity in nontraditional communities, and she donates her time and cash to gay rights organizations and people who make sure kids get to experience music despite their lack of school music classes. Indeed, she gave a great shout-out to the band and choir geeks in her performance on Sunday - take that, cheerleaders!

I've been a pop music junkie all my life. I like the simplicity of a well-written pop song. I like that sudden realization that I've been unconsciously moving to a beat. Gaga writes good pop. The soaring chorus of "Poker Face" is delicious. Some of her songs irritatingly stick in the brain for hours. But that's not why I like her.

She's interesting. She's outspoken. She's creative. She has become an icon in a very short space of time - even my dad knows who she is. The misfits of the world have embraced her as their own, and she has revelled in their love. She's a huge force for the LGBT community in America and around the world and is on the list of Forbes' World's Most Powerful Women. Her achievements should be celebrated.

Oh, and she's 25. It must be so tiring to be Gaga.

Yes, the Haus of Gaga's ethos is to attract attention, and Gaga admits she wants to singlehandedly change the face of pop music. I think she already has. I delight in her bizarreness. So yeah, I quite like Gaga. My intellectual mates might grill me for it, but I think she serves a purpose - to entertain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

verse versus

I've been kidnapped by work! But did find the time last weekend to go to the Ullapool Book Festival in my favourite Highland village with some friends who came up from Glasgow. After a lovely day by the sea and a dinner at the excellent Ceilidh Place, we retired to the cozy Parlour Bar for a poetry reading. My husband and friends were good sports, reading their provided poems with gusto. And on Sunday morning I went to hear my friend and colleague Chris Powici read from his chapbook as the sun streamed through the windows of the Ullapool Village Hall.

Sometimes I forget about poetry. I'm so buried in my editing work and my own prose that I don't remember how moving and powerful words can be when stripped down to the core meaning, or to their many, often conflicting meanings. Poetry forces us to pause, reflect, and think. Poetry pushes forward an image and challenges the reader to a dual that you are surely to lose.

I feel poetry is very much alive, if only as lyrics. I count Jay-Z and Eminem as postmodern poets who are just as sociologically important as the bards of the past few centuries. Liz Lochhead and Carol Ann Duffy can wrench readers so deeply into their words that reality slips away. I don't read enough poetry, and as a voracious reader, I would guess that nobody reads enough poetry.

I found this link to Poetry Tuesday and thought it fitting. Poetry Tuesday is a good goal: a poem, every Tuesday, to fall into with vigour.

 The woman who first captured my lyrical world was Emily Dickinson. I did a report on her at age 9 and soon was swooned by her entire catalogue and, of course, by her story. Her world was words, and for many moments in my young life, her words were my world, too.

This is one of the most sorrowful, heartbreaking poems. I think it still retains that youthful naivete that Emily had when writing it. Enjoy. Thanks, Emily.

HEART, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
 I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim; 
Haste! lest while you're lagging,
I may remember him!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Girls are giggles with freckles all over them. - anon.

Today is Harper Corley Barnes's second birthday. This is her Curious George cake, from her party last weekend.

A few days before my wedding in 2009, I was a stress case. I was getting over a bout with swine flu and was entertaining dozens of people who came from around the world to celebrate, and I was running on pure adrenaline. I grabbed the mail on my way out to do a million errands and there was a wee note, in my dear friend Ashby's handwriting. Inside were the sweetest, loveliest, most wonderful words. I stopped in the middle of the street and cried for a good ten minutes - two people even stopped to see if I was okay. From that moment I got to add a definition to my name: Fairy Godmother.

Why fairy? As Harper lives in Nashville, I'll always be flying in and out of her life. But knowing Ashby as I do, I know he also meant giving Harper magic. Inspiring her to be the best she can be. Encouraging her to strive and question and forgive. Turning up with glass slippers when they are needed most.

I get to meet Harper in August, and I can't wait. It's a good time - she'll be exactly the same age as I was when my little brother was born, incidentally my first memory. I would love for Harper's first clear memory to be meeting me - though it may well be hearing the noise of Matt on the bagpipes.

Happy birthday, my darling Harper.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ghosts of Easters Past

Easter always reminds me of Prague; my first visit back after leaving was in 2003, when I escaped Lisbon for a long weekend of frolicking at the Easter markets and seeing friends. And the Easters of my childhood; Mom created a beautiful set of cloth-covered plastic eggs, which the elusive Bunny hid throughout the house with treats inside. And I'd get a new dress and maybe even new shoes. Happy Easter, wherever you are, and happy spring.

As I fell victim to a horrible flu bug on Wednesday I found myself having a little cry about the end of the Gatsby house. Gatsby is one of those books that I read every year with more and more delight, and this house is exactly what I had in my mind when reading it for the first time, when I was 14. I'm a little heartbroken that I will never be able to see it.

Of course, then the yang burst onto the scene, and I saw that Beverly Cleary turned 95 last week. Cleary was my first author obsession, even before Judy Blume. I tore through every Ramona book and could probably still recite Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which I read dozens of times. I am so grateful to her stories for encouraging my reading, and even more grateful to my mom. Spending the day at a library or at the bookstore was a common weekend activity. Or even weeknight activity - the B. Dalton in the mall didn't shut til 9pm and I remember closing that store down frequently. I'd have to choose two from my pile of books, and it was just so difficult. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 was one of those books, the last purchase of the day, and I stayed up all night reading it.

So my final sick day was spent reminiscing about my favorite choldhood books - Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and of course the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I still sometimes look at big life choices as a 'CYOA' book: what will be the consequence?

Happy belated birthday, Beverly Cleary. What childhood books still lurk in your minds?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

feeling groovy

Yesterday was a good day.

I've worked hard to get the Highland Literary Salon on the map, and it took 18 months to get a mention in the local paper. But yesterday we went viral. The Culture Cafe, a weekly Radio Scotland show, featured readings and our event, which was quite exciting. I spoke to the producer in the morning, saw the inner workings of how the BBC magic happens, and sat in a real live soundproof room. UK listeners can hear this until next Tuesday here.

It was a cramped room for three of us - with two sets of headphones and one microphone - and much juggling happened as I realized I had to speak again at the end of the readings. And talking of viral, the niggling cold I've had since Sunday - my first all year - decided to kick into cough mode and I found myself choking to death during the first reading. So pardon the huge frog in throat at the end. The whole thing was rather surreal, but great fun.

The occasion was a celebration of the Hi-Arts New Writing Sampler, which was put together last November and was recently sent to publishers and agents. I'm honored to be a part of it, especially among other writers with exceptional talent. Orla Broderick and Richard Neath each read some of their work, and I got to chat a bit about the Salon and how there are now events in Stornoway and Skye happening, too. This network of Highland-based writers is really starting to happen, and I'm so glad it's happening now so I can see the potential before I go away for awhile.

After our radio show, we were all buzzing, so we went for lunch and a drink and had a buzzy chat about linking our Salons and utilizing authors' time better when we brought them up. The dream is a four-day stint, with workshops and Salon events in three or four locations - great for our writers and great for authors to connect with a new audience.

The evening event went by without a hitch. I helped give a workshop on social media for writers (notes can be found here) and didn't confuse people too much. Then Orla, Richard and I got to read a bit. I read from Saudade, which I'm revising (I know, again, but I had an epiphany), which is about a woman who finds herself back in a place where she experienced a heartbreaking tragedy a decade ago; Orla read from her novel in progress, The January Flower, a fresh, sassy book verging on the erotica; and Richard read from his work-in-progress, Breakfast Will Do, a harrowing tale of a man, a dead body, and a journey. Three very different stories and very different writers, but it worked really well. And gosh, it's good to read to an audience who has never heard your work and to see and hear the reactions.

So thanks to those who came along and humored us.

Image from design*sponge, quote by H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Matthew Shepard

In 1998, Matt Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead on a fencepost in the middle of the Wyoming countryside. It's a desolate, unfriendly place on the sunniest of days; it's harrowing to think of how menacing that flat, dry land would be in the last gasping moments of life.

Matt was gay. His murderers tried to claim 'temporary insanity' as a defense, then tried to say they were driven to do it because Matt came on to them. Their girlfriends told police that they wanted to rob a gay man, so yeah, it was probably premeditated. The murderers are locked up for life, as they should be, but it took until 2009 for the US to sign The Matthew Shepard Act into law (and not without many years of scornful Republican backlash - one even called the hate crime labelling of Shepard's death 'a hoax'). If there is one silvery-sheened lining, it is that hate crimes are now illegal in America.

In 1995, Matt Shepard graduated from TASIS, the Swiss school that I've worked with off and on since 2002. Some of the people I've met at TASIS knew Matt, and remember a creative, joyful, kind soul. One of these friends is working on a documentary about Matt's life and legacy.

Michele Josue is a gifted filmmaker - she also does freelance work for TASIS, and you can see her charming short films on the website - and I was intrigued when I first learned of this project. She posted a blog the other night that, after watching the film teaser, had me in fits of tears. Michele has set up a Kickstarter fundraising website and a Facebook page for those keen to support the final stages of this project.

This is an important film and I so admire Michele, Liam, and Chad's commitment to making it happen.

Image above by Alfred Hawkins.