Archive for May, 2012

Words, Picture, and Music, Part 3

Oh, those old photographs.

  • Faded wedding photos
  • Ridiculous extra copies of professional school and activity photos of our daughter
  • Really bad vacation shots
  • Very unflattering photos
  • Blurry photos
  • Accidental shots of foot or car interior

Somehow I can’t get rid of these either. In the case of the first item, I should take the negatives and get them put on a disk, which I can then upload to my computer. I would see them then. I find looking through photo albums depressing somehow. I can’t bear to do it. Is it a sign of getting old?

And yet I love seeing certain individual photos. One irony of the digital age is that I look at these uploaded photos way more often than I ever looked at them placed in an album or tossed in a shoebox. About four years ago, I began a project of sorting through old snapshots, scanning, and uploading them. A tedious exercise, and sure enough, I ran out of energy for it about 5% of the way through. Nonetheless, I found some treasures. Here’s one:

My dad, and my daughter, 1989.

Every generation needs that photo. Here’s another:

Our grandmother can’t restrain me from attacking my cousin’s face.

The farther back in time we go, the fewer photos we have, and the more precious they become. With lightweight, automatic cameras, we began taking rolls and rolls of snapshots. We were still limited, however, by how much film we had and by how much it would cost to process. Now, we never have to worry about wasting a shot. We take pictures of stuff we might buy at the hardware store. With digital, there is no longer any such thing as “wasting a shot.”

So I keep this:

Um, not exactly in focus.

The story’s good. A few years back we were visited, several years in succession, by a mother bobcat who chose to raise her family near/in our backyard. Above are two of the cubs. But oh, wait…

One of a litter of four. Mostly in focus, soul successfully captured.

So why is the fuzzy photo still in my iPhoto library? Dunno. Maybe I really think the camera does capture the soul. And maybe I think that by discarding a photo of someone, I am murdering his or her spirit? That’s pretty dramatic, and pretty powerful, of me. Also, it doesn’t explain why I still have the accidental shots of car interior or foot, which I choose not to include here.

There may be no easy explanation. Pictures have a hold on us, and that’s just the way it is.


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Words, Pictures, and Music, Part 2

Words are no easier to discard than music. Getting rid of books can be tough, but what about magazines?

I have a shelf in a walk-in closet which, until a few days ago, held a bunch of copies of Interzone, Science Fiction Age, Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, and Pulphouse. About half had never been read. About ten percent are still in their plastic covers. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t think there’s much of a market–we’re not talking vintage here. And, while libraries will take anthology-type zines, the kind that look like books and can stand up on a shelf, flat floppy ones are less attractive.

Here’s the thing: I have stopped reading paper periodicals almost totally. My exceptions being Locus, Bird Talk, Sunset, and The New York Review of  Science Fiction. No fiction. None. And I don’t do too well on the non-fiction, but I at least look at each of these.

These old magazines are weighing on me. The other day, though, I had occasion to pull them all out. I was looking for an extra copy of Interzone #184, in which my story, “Just A Number,” appears. I wanted to send it to my friend and editor, Eric Heideman, as he is helping me put together a couple five-story collections I plan to publish online. (Thank you, Eric!:)) Okay, so: found the extra copy and sent it off to the great city of Minneapolis along with another issue, then looked at the stacks I had pulled out, and thought, It’s time to let go of these.

I began to go through them, looked at all the authors’ names, and empathized with the joy and pride that comes from seeing one’s work in print. I felt the same for the editors and publishers. I knew that publishing and editing these magazines was loads of work, never glamorous, and often thankless. I grieved, though, at how of their time most of these publications are. Non-fiction articles wear much less well than the fiction…I saw pieces on how to read about science fiction on the newfangled Internet. I saw a quite dismissive review of the original publication of Game of Thrones. (Just another sword & sorcery, we are told. Very violent. Shallow female characters.)

What was clear above all was that few of these items in my closet were of any interest to anybody any longer, other than, perhaps, the authors appearing therein.

I wrote last time of music I haven’t gotten rid of. This is different. This time, I will let go of anything I can, giving it to the library if they’ll take it, or giving it to someone else. Worst-case scenario, they’ll go into recycling. I know that word-history weighs me down in a way music-history never could, and these magazines take up psychological space in a way old LPs never could. I feel I will write new material more freely if I remove these old items from my personal space.

It also has to do with the nature of memory as it attaches to each thing.

Words and music both hold memories, but music–even in the MP3 era–holds shared memories. We listen to music together, even now. Books and magazines, on the other hand, make up  a series of solitary memories, and I believe this is true, even if we talk about them, or discuss them in a book club setting. There is simply something very private about reading and memories of reading. Some of these memories have aged well, some not. None of them, though, can be replayed like a three-minute song. They are over, and it is time for them to go.

Yes, there are classics, stories that won’t go away, that will be published and republished. There are classic, vintage issues of magazines for collectors to collect. I’m not a collector; it’s the content, not the package, that does it for me.

So off they must go, leaving me to contemplate my newly emptied shelf.


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Words, Pictures, and Music, Part 1

In the Arts & Books section of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Pop Music Critic Randall Roberts writes of his sprawling collection of LPs and 45s, numbering in the thousands. He has CDs–he says 3,000–that he’s “…reasonably ambivalent about but haven’t figured out what to do with.” He has tapes he “…once tried to throw away but retrieved from the dumpster a few hours later.” He has MP3s he has “…no emotional attachment to whatsoever.” He has trouble getting rid of this stuff; it obviously represents a huge chunk of his life, and it appears he has emotional attachments even where he doesn’t think he has.

Our old vinyls and CDs number in the low hundreds, and none of them are historical treasures. We have perhaps a dozen cassette tapes somewhere. I have about 3000 songs in my digital music library, many of them ripped from our vinyl and CD collection. We have way less reason than a pop music critic to keep ninety percent of our non-digital library; nonetheless, we do.

We don’t own this, but if we did, we would have trouble getting rid of it.

Why? Memories, of course. Even our bad music choices has a story. Why we bought it, when, and who we listened to it with. Anecdote: Back when I was dating my husband, we reached a turning point, that moment in which I knew our relationship was for real, and would lead to marriage. It was the moment I decided not to buy any record albums I knew he already had. His records and mine would, I knew, become ours in short order. And so it happened. We had quite a few duplicates to give away.

Our CDs never had quite the emotional pull as that teen-to-twenties vinyl collection; nonetheless they are difficult to get rid of as well. The artists we listened to in the eighties fall along a kind of cusp, spanning vinyl to disc. The decade began for  us with the murder of John Lennon, and it ended with the birth of our daughter. I believe our first CD was Graceland. We had purchased the vinyl already, but wanted this great album in the new format. Then we watched as, in the space of months, CDs replaced vinyl completely. Discs began to pile up in our house, outgrowing CD tower after CD tower.

Our collection continued to grow in the 90s, but often through reissues to replace our vinyl. We bought new material too, but mostly from artists we already knew. Bob Dylan’s World Gone Wrong was an early nineties favorite for me. It was a difficult time to find new music, though. An Alt Rock station would be born; an alt rock station would turn into an all-news Spanish language station. Our friends didn’t seem to be interested in new stuff; we had little help from word-of-mouth. Yet, every Sunday morning, we would put on CDs and listen to music while we read the paper. For a while, the Calendar section had phone numbers you could call to sample music they’d reviewed. Nice idea, but the sound quality? Bad, bad.

The century turned, and our music world exploded. Figuratively, but truly. ITunes, MP3, podcasts, satellite and internet radio, and our daughter’s developing musical taste. We lack the need to save anything we buy now, but we still collect CDs of a sort–we burn each other discs for birthdays, Mothers’ Day, etc. We know very well we can share files without the disc, but we make it anyway. Music doesn’t bring us together like it used to, in the sense that we but on a disk and turn up the volume for all to hear. I remember, for instance, going over to friends’ apartments to listen to a new record. No. We all walk around with our individual earbuds and individual playlist/soundtracks. It may be that burning those discs is what we need to do to share. And no, we can’t seem to get rid of those either.

Next: Part II of Words, Pictures, and Music

Barry Manilow:

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May Gray, June Gloom

Oh it all looks so dark, doesn’t it?

Here in Southern California, where there is so much to complain about, our weather broadcasters like to moan and groan about a weather pattern they call May Gray and June Gloom. The areas near the coast suffer a thick cloud layer for most of the day, with the sun breaking through only late in the day, and sometimes not at all. Temps sometimes never make it past the mid-sixties, forcing us to take a  light hoodie or jacket with us, perhaps even wear long pants and closed shoes. Sometimes, it drizzles, and we have to use our windshield wipers. Tough, right?

Living in Southern California makes me feel entitled, you see. Entitled to good weather, among other things. Never mind that I was born here, and that I’ve lived here all my life, I still buy into the hype. I don’t believe in stereotypes, but I do believe in the idealized version of everything, kind of like Walt Disney did.

Entitlement is not a healthy frame of mind for writers and other artists. Engineered perfectionism is equally a blind alley. The weather is the weather, and except for wind-driven firestorms, is rarely a challenge to be comfortable in. The writer’s real weather challenge in SoCal is noticing it.

I’m working on a weather-heavy scene in an L5 habitat, a place that isn’t forced to have weather like we on Earth are. It’s fun trying to make it portentous. But writing it makes me realize how little I notice mild weather, and how I should probably do a better job of noticing it. Like our May Gray/June Gloom.

Greens are more intense in a bright overcast, but yellow flowers cut through the gloom the best. The air feels moist, a rarity. The temperature is in between; I don’t have to heat the house, and I don’t have to cool it. This time of year, our house is a cheap date, except for the mortgage and property taxes. If I sit still–inside or out–I can feel chilled without a jacket or long sleeves, but the minute I engage in light activity, I work up a sweat.

The sounds of an overcast day are muffled, the opposite of a Santa Ana wind condition, when everything is magnified, and I swear I can hear freeway noise from thirty miles away. (Not that I’m ever that far from a freeway, not here.)

On May Gray/June Gloom days, I want to drink coffee, eat chocolate, read, write, and watch TV. I want to think about things, not do them so much. I have trouble deciding what I should do. If I try to be focused, purposeful, I dither, and end up walking around in circles. Eventually, I give up and do nothing, except for those activities listed above.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the sun breaks through, and everything changes.

Get up! Now! It’s a beautiful day! Don’t just sit there! Do something!

Photos: I took them. The first is a street in my neighborhood; the second is from the gazebo area of UCI Arboretum.

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If I Set Them Free, Does That Mean I Rewrite Them?

How wise is it to rewrite old work?

In my previous post, I set free a half-dozen or so psychologically abused, frustratingly passive women I had authored. Just as I tapped out the final words, the question of should-I-rewrite-them arrived unbidden.

All of us have moments in our real lives–perhaps longer time periods–we would like to have another crack at, but as any writer of fiction knows (particularly writers of speculative fiction), to change the past is to invite unintended plot consequences. Either hilarity or mayhem will ensue, but we might not be laughing. We’ve thought out the ‘what if’ and know we’re probably better off with our lives as they are and have been, warts and all. We believe in the butterfly effect, and know there are a hoard of those bad butterflies waiting close by for us to do something stupid like invent time travel. Then they’ll swoop in and show us how incapable we are of directing events. (Yeah, I wrote one of those stories, once.)

Needs warning label!

Changing a story I’ve already written (and published) is less dire than changing my life, but still not recommended. As I type this, I’m tempted to try it, nonetheless.

Character is at the center of fiction of any genre. My sad housewives’ characters drive their tales; if changed, the entire story changes. This could be cool, or would be cool if the plot complications weren’t ninety percent the result of my protagonists’ own stupid character defects. And maybe, maybe, that’s what bugs me about these stories. If those character flaws aren’t entertaining to me…if I neither sympathize with them nor find them amusing any longer, the tale begins to bore me, just like a party I’ve stayed too long at.

So that’s it. I typed a little longer, and came up with my answer. No. Anything I reprint will appear as it did originally. Other than a comma here or there, or some formatting problem, I won’t touch it. If I can’t present it with enthusiasm, I won’t present it at all. Period. End of subject.

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