Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coming to Terms With Social Anxiety

You're five years old and it's difficult to look people in the eye. Everyone says, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a baby. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're ten years old and looking people in the eye is a piece of cake. But it's hard to speak above a whisper when in the presence of someone you don't know very well. Everyone says, "Speak up," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a kid. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're fifteen years old and you're not afraid to be loud and proud. But showing emotion is the most frightening thing you can imagine because letting someone into your head gives them power over you and you're not comfortable letting another person have that much power over you. Everyone says, "Would it kill you to smile now and then?" and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a teenager. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're twenty years old and you've found your smile. You've even learned to exaggerate your reactions for the benefit of friends and family. But picking up the phone and ordering a pizza sends your body into fight or flight. Everyone says, "Just get over yourself. You want the pizza, just order the darn pizza," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're young and this adulting thing can be scary when you're just starting out. But it's really just a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. But fast forward a few years. Now you're thirty-eight years old and your kid has a birthday coming up and it's your job to call your kid's friends' parents and invite them to the party. But the mere thought of it makes you sick to your stomach. In fact, it makes you want to crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position, pull the quilt over your head, and not come out until even your kid has forgotten about the birthday. And because you are no longer a baby, you are no longer a kid, you are no longer a teenager, and you are no longer a young adult, there is no wise mentor to help you get through it. There is no one to tell you it's just a phase. Because it's not just a phase. At thirty-eight years old you have outgrown everything you're going to outgrow and what you're left with is simply who you are. And that thought turns your blood to ice water because you know those birthdays are going to keep coming and your responsibility for planning the parties is not going to go away and for the rest of your life you're going to feel this way because it's just who you are. And somehow you have to accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bullies, Serial Killers, and the Only David Lynch Movie My Husband Will Watch

No, Hubs, I'm Not a Serial Killer

It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.

What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:

"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"

"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."

(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"

(sigh) "You just don't get it!"

What Dexter is Really About

At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:

The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.

The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).

The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.

Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.

Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.

The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving

Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).

Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.

After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.

I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.

In Conclusion

So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.

In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone trust someone enough to show my true backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.

So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: August 2017

Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers.

I don't know where to start with this book. First I suppose I should say that this is probably the most well-written indie book I've read since I started doing these reviews. I think I found two typos in the entire book (I've read traditionally published books with more than that) and no grammatical errors whatsoever. There may have been a couple of instances of head-hopping, but only when the narrative stepped back from deep 3rd POV to a slightly more omniscient POV, and it was pulled off effectively so as not to come across as a newbie mistake. The author does an excellent job of "show, don't tell", pulling the reader deep into the psyches of the characters, particularly that of Brad the rooster.

But I'd be short-changing this book if I said it was the most well-written indie book I've read and left it there. Really, this is one of the most well-written books I've read period. Because the quality of the writing goes far beyond just style. This is an amazing story. A dark story. A frightening one. One that pulls you in deep and doesn't let you go. So much happens in this book, and the reader is left wondering, along with the character upon whom the final scene closes, "Why?" Why did it all happen? What went wrong.

The events of this story have layers upon layers of meaning. I wonder what the author's goal was in writing it. Is it a critique of society, using the social structure of the henhouse as a metaphor for our own lives. Is it therefore a warning against becoming so set in our ways that we can't accept new ideas? Or are we supposed to see it from the opposite point of view? Are we to blame Brad and his rebellious nature for the bad things that happen? Or perhaps the thing in the woods is meant to be the devil or some other equally ominous entity and the author's intent was to make us wonder whether evil originates in our own hearts or somewhere else. Do we let it in, or is in us from the beginning?

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while, and it's a refreshing change from the lighter sorts of stories I've been reading of late. I highly recommend this book.

Please grab a copy of this book and read it. You'll really be missing something great if you don't:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What I Learned When I Got My Photography Studio Up and Running Again

Completely Obsessed

I've written about photography a lot lately. It's not a new interest. When I graduated from college back in 2001 with a degree in Music Education, I was seriously considering abandoning my music career and applying for a job as an assistant to a local photographer, from whom I hoped to gradually learn the ins and outs of the trade and then branch out on my own somewhere down the road. Well, life had some other ideas in mind, but a considerable amount of photography has nonetheless been a part of whatever phase of life I've found myself in.

I'm finally getting serious about it now. Okay...yeah...I was serious about it back in my early twenties too, but at that time there was a heck of a lot I didn't know. And, more importantly, I didn't know I didn't know it. When you don't know something, you can learn. When you don't know you don't know something, you're stuck in one place. In my twenties I was stuck. Now, I'm able to move forward.

Trapped in the Last Century

If you've read my previous photography posts, you know I'm trying to save up the money for a digital camera. For the time being, I'm still shooting on 35mm. While I crave the versatility that digital photography will give me, still I'm grateful for the lessons learned while shooting film. Because if you can learn to consistently take good pictures on a film camera, you can take good pictures on any camera. And in my most recent experiment with studio photography, I learned a good deal.

Some Things I Learned

First of all, I learned that if your husband has a big gray beard and carries around a little extra weight, and you try to achieve a "film noir" look with your lighting setup, all your friends will think you're married to Orson Welles:

Also, if you're trying to emulate film noir and you want to get that cool hat brim shadow over the eyes, you need a hat with a bigger brim than the one we had:

Some lighting effects require three lamps. If you only have two, an accessory hot shoe flash pointed directly at your subject can provide an effective fill light:

I also threw my husband behind the camera so I could step out front for a while. The things you learn when you look at pictures of yourself are quite different from the things you learn photographing someone else. For instance:

Hard lighting (we were going for "film noir", remember) brings out every crease and wrinkle on your face:

Diffused lighting, on the other hand, does a lovely job of smoothing out unflattering lines:

When you're doing self-portraits, you can't see yourself, so make sure you ask the guy behind the camera (aka, the husband) to check your teeth for lipstick stains:

If you want a backlit image, be careful where you position your lights. If they are too close to the subject, it could have disastrous consequences. Oh...and wrinkles...yeesh! I swear it's just the lighting; I don't usually look like this. Really, I don't.

And finally, if you are a blue-eyed redhead and you put on loads of makeup (again, film noir) then open your eyes really wide for the camera:

You find you bear a startling resemblance to Lucille Ball:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does Every Story Have to Make a Social Statement?

Getting My Feathers Ruffled

I'll go ahead and be completely honest. This blog post is in reaction to a new review for Primogénito that came rolling in this week. The reviewer praised me for my realistic and sensitive depiction of PTSD, but went on to suggest that Damian's drive to overcome his victim status by trying to be the strong one and the protector in his marriage perpetuates long-held stereotypes of what men are supposed to be in our society. Hmm...more on that later.

An Opinionated Blogger

I've read over some of the other posts on that particular website, and the reviewer seems to be highly sensitive to gender stereotypes, kindly--and sometimes not so kindly--pointing them out wherever they can be found. Okay. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and everyone has certain things they want to see in a story. But does every story have to live up to that standard? Let's talk for a minute.

How My Background Colors My Stories

I admit, my first two books were written from the perspective of the traditional nuclear family. It's natural that I would write them this way. After all, it's what I've lived. I grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. My husband grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. Now, with our own kids, we are that stable home with two parents who have been married for 18 years and have no intention of getting divorced. So that model features prominently in a lot of what I write. Not that I'm trying to make that into a social statement. It's just the world I know, and we're all supposed to write what we know, right?

At the same time, though, I'm not married (pun intended) to the idea of writing about happy nuclear families. After all, Road to Yesterday is a story of four siblings whose parents have a long history of adultery and drug addiction, to the point that the two younger children end up being raised by their oldest brother. And of the four siblings, only one really has any goals involving a wife and kids and a cute house in the suburbs. So I am capable of stepping outside my own bubble and writing about something else. And since Road to Yesterday has gotten some nice reviews, I can conclude that I did an okay job writing outside the realm of my own personal experience.

Back to Primogénito to the idea that Damian's character perpetuates gender stereotypes. I have several thoughts on this.

First, I don't believe the reviewer's assessment was entirely accurate. One statement in the review was, "While I understood that he was trying to overcome his victim status and not let that define him, I wish these ideas could’ve been pushed further to avoid the typical stereotypes of what a man must be." The thing is, Damian does work through those emotions. At the beginning of the book, the biggest issue in his and Jenn's relationship is that he's never opened up to her about what happened to him. He's always suppressed his feelings on the subject around her, which has left her feeling excluded from a huge portion of his life. Then, half-way through the book, he finally opens up and tells her everything. And at the end we see him crying in her arms, allowing her to comfort him while he reveals his vulnerable side. If that isn't him learning to shed his preconceived notions of what a man should be, I don't know what is. This is just my own opinion, but it seems that "pushing further", as the reviewer suggested, would take these scenes from poignant to sappy, and no one wants to see that.

At the same time, though, I'm tempted to ask: So what if Damian carries around stereotypical notions of what it means to be a man? Can't that just be an aspect of who he is? After all, a lot of men go through life believing they are supposed to be the providers and the protectors. That they are supposed to be in control of their emotions. Some take it to an unhealthy extreme, but they are nevertheless a very real part of the world we live in. And maybe they do need to learn to let go of some of those preconceived notions, but the question I'm posing today is this: Does a story have to address those issues? After all, stories imitate life, and there are a lot of people in real life who never work through their issues. And a lot of people are happy just the way they are, whether they be stereotypical or atypical. Can't those things sometimes be presented in a story, even if the deeper issues involved are never probed?

Yes, if the main purpose of the story is to shake our worldview and make us look at things in a different way, then all issues must be explored. But I write paranormal fiction. My stories are about the mystery, the action, and the hint (or sometimes more than a hint) of creep factor. I'm not trying to change the world. I just want to provide entertainment.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return

Everybody's Got an Opinion

If you follow the online discussion of the new Twin Peaks, you know it can turn nasty in a heartbeat. Mainly it's the staunch fans of the new show complaining about those who dare to comment that they're not impressed. I thought I'd try to offer up a slightly more objective review.

Who's Loving The Return?

Twin Peaks: The Return is the David Lynch fan's dream come true. Every week a new hour of stunning Lynch cinematography and frightening Lynch strangeness. The more "normal" episodes--the ones featuring a cohesive story that actually makes sense in a conventional way--are reminiscent of Blue Velvet. These are usually followed by episodes which have something more of an Eraserhead feel to them. Then there are episodes that fall somewhere in between. I guess I'd call these the Mullholland Drive episodes.

It's the Eraserhead-esque installments which spark the most controversy amongst fans. Hard-core David Lynch fans think they're the best thing they've ever seen on the small screen. Fans who loved the original Twin Peaks but could basically pass on anything else Lynch ever put out into the world come to the end of these episodes with a general feeling of, "What the $@&# did I just watch?" And then both groups of fans head to the internet to battle it out.

My Thoughts

Since I have a mild interest in filmmaking, I do enjoy the more artsy episodes simply from a cinematography perspective. And as for the more mainstream episodes, well I'm certainly glad to finally know what happened to Agent Cooper. But that doesn't mean I think the new Twin Peaks is perfect.

Basically, Twin Peaks: The Return is not Twin Peaks. Not really. What was the original show about? The town of Twin Peaks, of course. It was a show about a quaint little town with a bunch of quirky residents doing some very odd things. The new show does have its fair share of quirky characters, but the majority of the action has been taken out of the town of Twin Peaks. This is certainly not what fans were expecting when their favorite show returned after a nearly thirty year hiatus.

Twin Peaks was about trees. It was about spooky things happening in the woods and owls which were not what they seemed. Where are the trees and the woods and the owls in the new Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks was a soap opera. Remember on the original show how everyone was always sitting at home watching the same daytime soap which happened to correlate pretty well with what was actually going on in the town? This was a concept which originally appeared in Blue Velvet. Jeffrey's mother and aunt are always shown sitting in their perfect suburban house watching a movie which showcases the dark underbelly of society. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is out discovering that same dark underbelly in the real world. In Blue Velvet it was some film noir flick that was always on the TV because what was happening just out of sight was a real-life version of film noir. On Twin Peaks it was a soap opera because that was what everyone's lives had become. Everyone was married, but having an affair with someone else. There were the two rich families, the Packards and the Hornes, who between the two of them owned pretty much the whole town. Soap fans will recognize this plot device. Remember the Lewises and the Spauldings on Guiding Light? The Newmans and the Abbots on The Young and the Restless? That concept was applied to the original Twin Peaks, but is missing from The Return.

Finally, Twin Peaks was about coffee and donuts and cherry pie. I think I've seen one donut on The Return, I can't remember anyone eating pie, and Agent Cooper is the only person who drinks coffee. Yes, these are minor details, but they are minor details which played a pretty big role on the original show, and I miss them.

In Conclusion

By all means watch the new Twin Peaks, but watch it expecting something completely new and original. Don't expect a continuation of your favorite nineties prime-time drama, because that's not what it is.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: July 2017

Under Midnight Lights by Bree M. Lewandowski. It should come as no surprise that I chose this one. It is the sequel to Under Winter Lights, which was my pick for my first ever Indie Book of the Month back in January. I knew I wanted to read the second installment, and I hoped Ms. Lewandowski would return to submit it so I could feature it as another book of the month, so when she did my choice was obvious.

The first book in this series took me by surprise by making me love a romance novel. It was able to do that by being much more than just a sweet love story. It's also the story of a young dancer fighting for her career. As it did in the first installment, ballet takes center stage in this book. I loved reading all the details about rehearsals and performances. I even enjoyed reading about the costume fittings. Having started ballet lessons late in life (my mid-thirties) I have a rudimentary understanding of the art form. Just enough to be fascinated by all the detailed descriptions in this series. While the first book focused on The Nutcracker, a ballet I think we're all familiar with, this one mentioned ballets I'd never heard of before, and I'm not ashamed to say I looked a few of them up on YouTube.

As for the romance itself, that part of it was also wrapped up in the dance aspects of the story. Should Martina follow her dreams or follow her heart? Or is it possible to do both? Does a relationship with Maraav mean having to leave her first love, ballet, behind? She struggles with this question all through the book, and without giving away too much, I can say that I found the ending quite satisfying.

Again, I can't recommend these books heartily enough, and can't wait to see what's next for this author.

The book is available on Amazon.