Wednesday, October 31, 2012

circumstantial compassion

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

After Hurricane Sandy, millions of people on the East coast are looking to rebuild and recover. For many, this storm was simply frightening; stay inside, keep your eyes on the sky, and keep warm. For others, this storm was devastating. Houses were burned or otherwise destroyed, families were stranded, or separated (in the worst cases: permanently). Future security comes into question as the long journey starts; through insurance papers, food bank lines, and broken streets. It is undeniable this storm took a heavy toll.

In flipping through countless photos of the flooded homes, upturned buildings and washed up debris, one can not help but feel sad for the people left in Sandy's wake. Or, can they? There is an article on, posted just this morning, titled "Home Alone: Who's running to help the U.S. in Sandy's aftermath? Nobody. That's who." The author here points out (if that extra long title didn't give it away) that the aid coming to the States from around the globe is bleak, at best. She then follows that observation with a sharp reprimand, "This sound of resounding silence is disgusting."

My question here is this: is our compassion circumstantial? I'll be the first to admit that the photos of Sandy's effects on...say...Haiti, bolster a much stronger resolve in my heart to do something than the pictures coming out of New York. Why is this? The article above, if taken at its word, would suggest I'm selective in my compassion, and admittedly, I've spent quite a bit of time this morning wondering if this is true. I looked again through photos of New Jersey, Virginia and others, and then again at Sandy's effects outside the USA. The water is there, the wind is there, but there are notable differences between the two. They are, so far as I can see: infrastructure, and the hope to independently rebuild.

Why do I feel a stronger desire for action when looking at devastation on a third world country than I do looking at a first world country? The answer, of course, is need. The USA (so far as we see it in the media) often postures itself as the One with the resources; and compared to the rest of the world, in many ways they are. Consistently listed near the top of the world's richest countries, should we really expect those not on that list to lend a hand? Sure the houses have been damaged...but they're nice houses. Cars are floating...but they're expensive cars. The government has just promised unlimited funds to rebuild. One of the photos of the aftermath in the US showed New Yorkers, warmly dressed, lined up this morning, looking to purchase tickets to Broadway. Seeing this, it might be easier to dismiss the need. Are these people really suffering? Or have they simply been inconvenienced? Surely, this is no place for compassion.

Or is it? People are still people, after all. So, should the world chip in? Or do we ignore the call to action, unless those in need are poorer than we are?

In a bit of a reverse scenario, I was speaking with a dear friend of mine a few years back about suffering; I was dismissing mine. "How can I feel bad about this situation in my life, when other people are dying?" I said. "This isn't nearly as bad as that." She thought for a minute and began to tell me about an aspect of motherhood. "If one of my children gets cancer, I will be devastated, and heartbroken, and I will do everything I can to ease his suffering. If on the way to the hospital to visit him, my other child falls on the sidewalk and scrapes his knee, what do you think I will do? I won't look at him and yell, 'Oh get up! Your brother is really sick, and you're crying over a scrape? Your pain means nothing to me.' Of course I wouldn't say that. I'd bend down, scoop him up, and give him a kiss." Her point? Pain and suffering are valuable and worth compassion, no matter who it's happening to.

I do not feel a personal liberty to decide when, and when not, to give; I only know that when the nudge of compassionate action comes, I should follow through with it, if only for fear of never being nudged at all. Perhaps next time I am in need, in some great twist of fate, the hands that come ready to lift me out of the water would be the same hands that mine met when I gave.

Update: give to the Canadian Red Cross' relief efforts both in the US and globally:

Friday, October 26, 2012

the Platform Predicament

I've been in conversation with my editor friends, and others, including many people in-the-know at SiWC2012, about the future of my writing. What I've learned from them is this: writers who hope to be published one day need a platform before that can happen.

The predicament is as follows: I am not publishable, not by any stretch. I'm not sure I need a platform; not yet, anyway. I don't know what "platform" in this context actually means. I have a soapbox. Does that count?

Anyway, I checked out a few people with "platforms" and saw they had websites with their name all over them, facebook and twitter profiles, and a list of speaking engagements. I don't really want to talk to the public about my inability to finish books, so, as of twenty two minutes ago, afterthoughtcomposer's footprint (and soapbox) has expanded. I've created a facebook page. Just think, instead of having to guess when I've posted, you could get an update right to your newsfeed! And instead of just having the option to leave comments can now leave comments there OH MY GOSH YOU ARE SO LUCKY.

Monday, October 22, 2012

post-conference decompression

(re: Surrey International Writer's Conference

I don't have as many books as a writer should, though I'm trying to build my collection. There is a stack of new acquisitions sitting atop my fireplace; nestled in the corner of my eye. They read: Blake, Mitch Albom, John Irving, Seamus Heaney, and Edgar Allan Poe. My brain wanders, looking for images of the future, where in a stack on a shelf in someone else's living room, my name rounds out the list.

This weekend was spent amongst the few; published authors and well known names and hard nosed (rightly so) agents. My weekend was spent amongst the many; like me, or like I've been, or at levels I hope to reach in the future: award winners, contest takers, brilliant prose and idea-onto-page makers. There were frizzy haired, unkempt, happy wall flowers, and confident, outspoken, shiny haired rule breakers. Fellow bloggers and poets, and other kinds of writers; men and women knee deep or out past their epic fantasy novels, their children's books, their teenage drama genre benders.

At no point in my life have I felt so universally...normal. Upon my arrival the first morning, I was struck with an immediate sense of recognition. I saw myself here, and there, and though we were all different we were all...writers; socially awkward but loveable, happy in solitude but holding strong relationships and followed incessantly by the urge to write things down. Every conversation felt like the unlocking of a door. You too? My God. I thought I was the only one.

Day one can be summed up easily: Elation. I got home that evening, exhausted but filled with fire. The only word I could find that seemed to fit the feeling was: saturated; like if you squished me, I might ooze all over the floor. Days two and three were, as my conference buddy Crystal decided, defined this way: Deflation. Beautiful, full of information and thirty more pages of notes...but the weight had come. If we had been soaring through air initially, we looked down on day two, and realized how much work was now required to get ourselves back to earth, and to the reality of what we were asking of ourselves. We have things to say, and so much more to write about, and very little choice in the matter. We are writers; the compulsion is involuntary. We began to eye each other knowingly, seeing the long hard road ahead and the fact that we would take it.

Jane Espenson, a writer for Once Upon a Time (squeal!), told us a story in the opening keynote address of the weekend. She was reminding us that our work means something, that we have something to say, and in so doing closed with this (paraphrased, of course):

There are thousands of crabs, stranded and dying on the shoreline of an ocean. There is a man walking along, and one by one, he picks them up and hurls them back to safety. Someone else comes along and laughs at the man. "What are you doing?" he says, "There are thousands of crabs here, you'll never save them all. You really think you're making a difference?" The man stops, crab in hand, and before he throws it back he says, "It makes a difference to this one."

Donald Maass, in the final keynote address of the weekend, gave three predictions for the future of writing in the 21st century. The third prediction is as follows: there will be novels that change the world. And here is what I feel when I hear that said: that's going to be my novel. Definitely not the first, maybe not the tenth, but I know I have been born to tell stories. If the world I change is for one person only, I will consider myself a success.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

foggy: finally!

I read somewhere recently that using the exclamation point was like laughing at your own joke, and as such, should be avoided by those who wish to call themselves writers. Admittedly, that bit of advice stuck like a needle into my brain as soon as I read it; it takes up only a little space, but pokes me every now and again. I've neglected the rule in today's post title, with good reason: it's finally, finally foggy. The air is crisp and thick with the smell of frosts to come; jackets are wrapping themselves tighter around torsos and boots are making their way onto the street.
Finally, finally, I am home.

Summer makes me feel like a visitor. The Sun does its best to brighten my attitude towards those middle months, and those warm evenings by the ocean have come close to doing the trick. But nothing can compare to the welcome I get from the stillness Autumn brings. My soul lights up, like those turning leaves, and then tumbles softly just the same; through open air, to rest and hibernation and winter.

Summer pushes us out of our homes; to the beach, to patios and lounges; to road trips and day trips and shopping. But Fall returns us; to hearths and homemade pie, armchairs and books; to blankets and quiet thinking, making do and gearing down. Summer means giant quenching gulps and fast light eating. Fall means careful sips and slow roasted, oven baked, melting buttered everythings.

Fall is the quiet friend who sits with you, understands you have been busy, listens to every story in detail with joy, then asks you to stay for tea, for awhile, for a rest.

Welcome, Fall.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I am thankful for the moon;
that it's occasionally blue,
as if pushing nature to join me.

I am thankful for the roots
which pour out of me, guiding my feet,
gripping my heart to the earth.

I am thankful for dust in sunlight;
floating bits which remind us: things
may not have always been,
but they will be, alright.

I am thankful for my hands;
that I can raise them, take the world in,
carry what I'm able and give the weight
to my being's adoration.

I am thankful for the soul's ability to march,
steady onward, through the rain,
and rise again to meet the heart.
© afterthoughtcomposer

photo © Carus Ionut

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

FINISHED! Sort of.

Well folks, last night I completed what may go down in history as the longest process ever. I finished the re-type. That's right! My really terrible first book is ready to send off to the editors. Now all I need are some editors. Or one? Is one enough?

Ran into an interesting conundrum as I typed the last word yesterday evening; this book is short; only 89 Word document pages single spaced. Approximately fifteen thousand words were cut out between the first draft and now. I erased whole characters, subplots, paragraphs. I am resisting the urge to go back and add things back in, taking into account #3:

It should be mentioned, of course, that if I add a bunch of spaces in at the beginning of each chapter, like in a real book, then the overall length increases to 100 pages. Just to be sure, and to aid my fledgling self esteem, I Googled "Books that are 100 pages" and came across a list of books that are only 100 pages long; among which are The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I hear are pretty fantastic.

Also, the page numbers will increase even more later on, as my book probably won't be printed on 8.5x11" paper. Unless I want it to look like some high-school kid's English project. It will read like a mediocre student's essay, but at least it might look prettier. These are all things I have to keep telling my dorky mind. Also: good books aren't necessarily measured by page number. Also, you probably spent about two minutes reading this post. Also, you will never get those two minutes back.


Monday, October 1, 2012

poeting the dream


the house was shared.
a new purchase;
a fresh acquisition that was
decrepit; forgotten.
the feeling, mutual:
the soul of the home needs work.
and so we strove to lift it,
dusting shelves and moving worn out furniture,
thinking of the roof
threatening to cave above our heads.
my sister, my heart,
we move on to the yard;
an expanse of tallest weeds
and grass grown thick;
thick with neglect.
I pull at a root beneath me;
the soil caves, putrified, and smells
of abscesses and death,
having gone unattended too long.
I and my heart feel sick;
sick with regret.
my sister, she starts, and moves
across the yard,
and helps me see the benefit of our work.

"Many Standing Mysteries" - by Jeannie Lynn Pask
obsolete world