Pitch Wars: Why I Wrote REVERIE

Four years ago, I packed up a rental car with 2 giant suitcases, my comforter, and my bike, and drove all the way from my Florida hometown to Washington D.C. I had recently graduated undergrad and was moving to the home of American government for the foreseeable future. I made the drive up alone–my then-boyfriend (now husband) had already flown up the month before to find us an apartment.

Like this, but with fewer friends.

Driving for thirteen hours straight with no one to talk to gives a person time to think. Music was blasting from the CD player, and as the notes swirled around my brain a vague story started to coalesce. Inspired by the soaring refrains and intense lyrics of Muse’s latest album, the story was grand and sweeping and dramatic. An epic tale of romance and betrayal. Politics and religion. A city on the brink.

When I stopped off at the next rest area, I jotted down a few notes into my journal. “Mad Men meets Ancient Rome meets War and Peace,” the notes read. “Star Wars meets Gone With the Wind.”

“Kiss me, once.”

I was only a slightly ambitious.

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Haunted Landscapes

Image belongs to Killian Shoenberger

Image belongs to Killian Shoenberger

This past weekend I was privileged to attend Sirens 2014, a writer’s conference devoted to literature by and about women. I attended so many fantastic keynotes and panels, and found kinship and inspiration in the ideas and creativity of my fellow attendees. One panel in particular, however, sparked something deep within me; the panel discussing Haunted Landscapes, hosted by Kate Tremills, Roberta Cottam, and Kathryn Cottam. Perhaps it was the just the fog-drenched hills of the Columbia River Gorge, but the idea of landscapes echoing with memories of the past promptly tip-toed into my imagination–and refused to leave.

When I first heard the phrase haunted landscape, my mind immediately conjured up the setting of Wuthering Heights; a windswept moor, howling with the voices of restless spirits, and a cold, empty manor, full of memories and secrets. But any landscape, really, can be haunted–by terrible acts of violence, or moments of human bravery. History, memory, action–places are indelibly marked by the past, and by the people whose lives shifted and changed the environment around them.

Cloister Cemetery in the Snow, by Caspar David Friedrich

Cloister Cemetery in the Snow,
by Caspar David Friedrich

All too often, a haunted landscape is one that has borne witness to bloodshed, tragedy, or death. Ghosts of terror shade the atmosphere of a place, and some things never leave. We’ve all experienced this–the sudden hush of a cemetery, the creak of tree branches heavy with some unseen burden. In college, I visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin. From the moment I set foot through those gates, I sensed the layers of memory and pain etched into the very earth I walked on. The site of the Battle of Culloden–a battlefield soaked with the blood of an entire people, where the grass and sky heard the final breaths of a thousand brave soldiers. Tiananmen Square. The Tower of London. A Native American burial mound.

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Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up?

The shamrock.

The shamrock.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh! Happy St. Patrick’s day to you all!

I grew up in a family where we frequently and vocally celebrated our Irish heritage. My dad could often be seen sipping on a tall pint of thick, black Guinness, or tapping away on a bodhrán while singing a traditional Irish tune. My mom incorporated Celtic pagan traditions into our holiday celebrations and introduced us to Irish mythology. My younger siblings are named Shane and Siobhán. We even lived for a year in County Clare, just west of Lough Derg.

Because of this Irish-centric upbringing, I have mixed feelings about St. Patrick’s day. On the one hand, I’m happy that people want to celebrate the history of the Irish people and their impact on modern American culture. On the other hand, the whole kiss-me-I’m-Irish, dress-up-like-a-leprechaun, drink-green-beer-’til-I-puke thing is less than amusing, and some might argue even demeans the Irish heritage is claims to celebrate. So, to bring some sobering truth to an otherwise raucous holiday, I thought I’d share some facts about St. Patrick that you might not otherwise know!

1. St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish.

An illuminated drawing of St. Patrick

An illuminated drawing of St. Patrick

Surprise! Patrick was born sometime in the 4th or 5th century AD in Roman Britain (various sources point to Cumbria, Scotland, and Wales as likely birth places for Patrick) to a family of Christian deacons and priests. He was kidnapped as a teenager by Irish pirates, and enslaved as a shepherd for a number of years until he was able to escape and return home to his family. Years later, he returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary, presumably to convert the pirates (!) and slave-owners (!) he had become so familiar with.

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Freedom in Routine

Sometimes life gets a little crazy. Metaphors abound: roller coaster, whirlwind, upheaval. But all these words pretty much mean the same thing; sometimes the way things happen isn’t the way you expected them to happen. And more often than not, those things happening can get in the way of other things happening, namely important things like work.

Whee! Now let me off.

Whee! Now let me off.

The past four months or so have been a little bit like that for me. We moved halfway around the world, back to the good ol’ US of A after spending 2+ years abroad. Reverse culture shock, anyone? Then there was traveling to visit family and friends. And when we finally got “home” we had to set up our new apartment from scratch. And I mean that literally. No furniture, no pots or pans, not even salt and pepper to season our sad frozen pizzas. Husband started his new job and promptly left town for three weeks, and he had hardly returned when I left town for another three weeks to help with some family stuff in Florida.

You get the picture.

Unfortunately, this kind of whirlwind lifestyle doesn’t suit me. Or rather, it doesn’t suit my work schedule. I used to abhor the very idea of routine, but the past few years have taught me that routine is not only my friend, but my primary ally in the fight against all things anti-work: procrastination, distraction, and more procrastination, to name a few. In fact, the only way I ever get anything done is through following a fairly strenuous routine. And when that routine is taken out back and shot? Well, let’s just say I don’t get much work done.

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American Radiator Building, seen from Bryant Park. Photo belongs to me.

American Radiator Building, seen from Bryant Park.
Photo belongs to me.

This past weekend, I took the bus from Boston to New York City to meet up with my husband, who was there for work reasons. Now, I know this probably isn’t the most common view in the world, but I kind of hate NYC. I’ve never lived there, but I usually find myself visiting once every couple years, and every time I arrive with high hopes and depart feeling angry, stressed, and overwhelmed. I hate the ubiquitous skyscrapers that block out the sun, darkening the streets even when skies are blue. I hate the garbage piled on sidewalks; the smell of piss and trash in alleyways; the scaffolding and construction on every other street. And most of all, I hate the crush of humanity elbowing me aside, reminding me that I am nothing, as important as a single drop of water in a vast ocean. In New York, I am anonymous, meaningless, and hopeless.

But something about this visit was different. Maybe it was because the weather was perfect. Maybe it was because we had no stressful itinerary, nothing we had to do or see or visit. Maybe it was because we avoided Times Square like the plague. But for whatever reason, I actually enjoyed myself in New York City. Relaxing in Bryant Park, I could close my eyes and hear the rhythms of New York: the steady heartbeat of a million footsteps on pavement; the thrum of a thousand subway trains rushing through underground tunnels; the syncopated beeping of hundreds of impatient yellow cabs. Gazing at the skyscrapers, I didn’t see ugly monoliths but the syncretism of history, architecture, and industry. Instead of a pockmark on the face of a nation, I saw instead a beating heart, vital and alive.

I wasn’t always a city girl–I grew up in a small town in the South. But since I graduated college I’ve lived in Washington DC, London, and now Boston. I’ve come to love cities, with their contradictory personalities and fast-paced cultures. And the longer I’ve spent living in cities, the more I’ve realized that each one has its own identity, individual and unique. They are like people, complicated and hypocritical and beautiful, and you never stop learning new things about them.

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Life, and Other Animals

Howdy folks. As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven’t been ’round these parts over the past few weeks. Things have been pretty madcap and hectic on my end; between a destination wedding, finishing the second draft of my manuscript, and moving house and home all the way to Boston, I haven’t been finding much time for this here blog.

Plus–as if all that wasn’t enough–due to a series of incredibly unfortunate events I had my laptop stolen last week. Fortunately for my sanity, I had just backed up the second draft of my WIP to the Cloud, otherwise I would currently be enjoying a very close relationship with yellow wallpaper and reciting lines from the Scottish play (sorry, old theater habits die hard). But even though I had made sure to back up all the most important things, like completed manuscripts and wedding photos, so many of the smaller tidbits that accumulate in a hard-drive were lost for good. Incomplete short stories. Camera-dumps from college, many of which I never bothered posting to Facebook or other social networking sites. Old emails. Term papers. Midnight ramblings. Music. Lots and lots of music.

All gone.

"Billions of blue blistering barnacles." Pretty much my reaction...

“Billions of blue blistering barnacles.”
Pretty much my reaction…

I’m trying not to think about it too much, because it’s often the case that the things you rarely use you don’t particularly need, and if I don’t think too much about the small things I’ve lost I’ll eventually discover that they weren’t very important after all. Still. After a certain point, a hard-drive becomes an accumulation of a life being lived, and part of me feels like I’ve lost some vestigial limb. Yeah, I might not use it that much, but the fact that it was there was somehow important.

Anyway, life keeps on going, and I’m sure I’ll get a new computer and fill it with all the crap I accumulate over the next seven years of my life. I’ll write new short stories (and maybe complete them). I’ll take new pictures, and write new emails. And sometimes loss is a good thing, because it reminds us of all the valuable things we still have, and how to better protect the valuable things we’ll find or create in the future.

So I guess thanks, Universe. Because this crappy experience will definitely make me more vigilant about saving the important things somewhere a thief can’t take them.

Thanks, but no thanks. I better have some awesome karma coming my way.

Have you ever had something like a laptop that died or was stolen? How did you get over all the things, big and small, that you lost? Comments welcome below!

Look Away, Dixie Land

‘Tell about the South . . . What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?’     –William Faulkner, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’

Southern Live Oak.

Southern Live Oak.

Last week I wrote about how much my family moved around when I was a kid. But despite that, most of my formative childhood years were spent in Florida. And not the Florida you see in movies or TV; no white sand beaches here, and few palm trees to speak of. This is North Central Florida, where the humidity rarely drops below 90% and the live oaks stretch their great branches down to skim the ground. Sandwiched between the prairie and the swamp, my Florida is the land of sharp palmetto fronds, bayonet plants, and cypress knees. Of armadillos and gopher tortoises and red-headed buzzards. My Florida is the South, plain and simple.

I grew up in this Florida. I remember spending summer days knee deep in Hogtown Creek, hunting for sharks’ teeth and fossils, relics of Florida’s prehistoric past. I’ll never forget the sweet taste of fresh blueberries picked from the bush, still hot from the blazing Southern sun. Dancing in an afternoon downpour, building tiny dams out of pinecones and not caring that I was soaked to the bone. Diving into the aquamarine depths of a natural spring, the water as clear as glass and as cold as ice. Buying watermelons not from the supermarket, but from sunburned farmers on the side of the road selling them out of the back of battered and muddy pick-up trucks. Tubing down the Itchetucknee and kayaking on the Suwannee. Avoiding the cold, prehistoric gaze of six-foot alligators sunning themselves on the banks of Lake Alice.

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The Wild Rover

Dear me, I apologize for my short but unexplained absence. As I mentioned in my last post, spouse and I were moving away from London permanently, so last week was a bit overwhelming what with packing and cleaning and goodbye-ing, and I’m afraid I let my blogging go. Sorry! Not that things are quite settled yet–June promises to be relatively hectic in its own right, with visits to family and weddings and other excitement.

What a ragtag bunch of gypsies we are! Photo taken by my mom in Ireland.

What a ragtag bunch of gypsies we are!
Photo taken by my mom in Ireland.

And all this packing and cleaning and goodbye-ing has had me thinking a lot about moving. This certainly is not the first time I’ve moved in my life. Not by a long shot. My father is a sailor and my mother is a piano teacher, and both parents’ careers proved to be relatively mobile throughout my life. I was born in Florida, but when I was two we moved to Colorado for a few years, then back to Florida, then to Ireland for a year, then to North Carolina before finally winding up back in Florida again. Some stays were longer than others, but every few years my family would pack all our belongings in our station wagon or a UHaul, and move somewhere different.

As a kid I hated moving. I hated having to throw out half of my toys and books and clothes every few years. I hated having to say goodbye to my friends. I hated having to start at a brand new school and navigate a whole new social minefield as an outsider. I hated when distance and time transformed my old best friends into some people I used to know. Moving was always emotionally overwhelming, and I dreaded the inevitable day when my parents would once more announce, “We’re moving!”

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Onward! Upward!

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

Hello again! It has been quite a busy month, but I am happy to say that I am still alive and am ready to start blogging regularly once more! Furthermore, I am able to report that spring has officially sprung in London! Blue skies…tulips blooming in Regent’s Park…sunshine! O, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

Ahem. Dear me, I fear I’ve gotten a bit over-excited about the reappearance of that beamish substance known as sunshine. I’m afraid it has been a long, cold, wet, gray sort of winter here in Her Majesty’s England, and considering the fact that May is just around the corner, I think I’m entitled to a bit of childish glee when faced the with the prospect of short sleeves and bare feet. Pardon me while I take a moment to gyre and gimble in the wabe.

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