31 March 2010

Day 4: Smoke and Mirrors

Currently Reading:
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.  ISBN: 9780380789023.

The introductions of Gaiman's works are always worth reading.  He's such a fantastic and interesting individual that I can't get enough of his writing.  He's the kind of person whose head I would love to live inside.  Those of you who know me well know I have a somewhat interesting head to live inside of as well, particularly when it's late at night or early in the morning and my control over my mouth is reduced to nil.  Yes, my filter turns off at midnight.  

Anyway, as I was reading the introduction to Smoke and Mirrors I came across this quote, "When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make thigns up, warning me of what would happen if I did.  As far as I can tell so far it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning." - Page 2.
It got me to thinking about my own ambitions as a child of 13 when I first started writing, mostly angsty poetry which seems to be the forte of every 13-16 year old child.  

My mother and I had a tentative relationship at that time, I thought I knew what was best for me, and in some cases I even turned out to be right.  I think this is probably the hardest thing for a parent to learn from their child, that they no longer know what will make their child happiest, safest, or healthiest.  I initially had ambitions to become a writer.  I wrote prolifically, mostly during school which I did not find particularly challenging or interesting academically.  I kept that interest all the way into my senior year of high school, but my mother was worried that I wouldn't be able to make a living as a writer, and although she was probably correct I still wish she had kept her mouth shut.

I am not saying that she shouldn't have encouraged me to add other skills besides writing to my repetoir, but I wish she had also encouraged me to continue writing and had allowed me to at least consider a degree in creative writing.  I likely would have still ended up in the same position I'm in now, unemployed with a Master's degree and writing a blog into empty air, but maybe I would also have something to keep me company and a drive to create.  

I did take writing classes in college, and they both helped me immensely in my academic career.  In poetry class I learned to let go of words.  I would write poems and rewrite them, and other than certain phrases or thoughts I would create completely new poems from the old.  The memoir class helped me reflect on how my past made me who I am and how to perfectly capture a moment in time, something I hadn't learned up until that point.  Sadly looking back at my writing style in those days make me cringe, I was so young and had no idea what I was talking about.  It's like 18 is the new 16 only worse because you can look back at how stupid you were at 16 and think you've gotten over it.  At 25 I realize I'm always going to be stupid.  

I do think if my mother had encouraged me a little more to keep up with my writing.  I think I may have made more progress and really grown into my talent.  I don't know if I would have been the next Neil Gaiman, I somehow doubt it, but I may have had a chance to make an impact on my generation or future generations by what I left behind.  And maybe that's more important to me than she realized since I'm not planning to have children.  

What I want to tell you, you future parents or mentors: if a young person tells you they want to be a writer, don't scrunch up your face and hmph and harrumph.  Don't tell the child that writing is impractical and they should focus their pursuits on something more "worthwhile."  Writing isn't about practicality, but is worthwhile.  Think of some of the novels you've read over your many years and what they've meant to you.  I can think of at least four or five that have become a deep part of who I am and I can't help but think that the author's efforts were more than worthwhile if their work touched me that deeply.  So please, do not, do not, do not discourage your child from writing.  They could very well change my life.

PS: for those of you who saw this post early, I was cheating.  I'm currently on the road and wrote this on March 30, 2010.  I apologize for any doubling in your RSS feed.  Consider it a sneak preview, you lucky dogs.

30 March 2010

Day 3: Smoke and Mirrors

Currently Reading:
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.  ISBN: 9780380789023.

In some ways I feel a little guilty giving Mr. Gaiman even more press than he already receives (not that I have a huge following as of yet), but the spirit of the project it not to review what I'm reading, but rather to share reflections and thoughts that my current reading invokes.  And, well, I read Neil Gaiman.  For me his work is the stuff of modern fairytales.  I think he very appropriately captures the childish wonder and fantasy in his novels, whether the audience is adult or child, that allows us to believe in something beyond our own world. 

Since this is a collection of short stories and I will at times be too busy to update every day, or regularly, I will be using this particular volume for short entries...or I'll be using it to cheat and publish pre-written entries.  Don't worry!  I will let you know when the original entry was written, but this way I can still contribute to my blog without feeling compelled to work on it every single day, or take vacations only where I have internet access.  Speaking of which, my fiance and I have decided to take a somewhat impromptu trip to visit my mother in Montomgery, Alabama, so guess who's going to start cheating right off the bat.  Trust me dear reader, you don't want to see the poorly typed ramblings of someone who drove for ten hours, found a hotel to crash in, and has to force herself to come up with some kind of drivel more profound than, "Um, it was a book on CD, and um, roads are long."  On the topic of books on CD, here are a few that might pop up in the not too distant future, since we both picked out a few.

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
-On the Road by Jack Kerouac (I thought it was appropriate, so sue me.)
-Pride and Prejuidice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

In addition to these, since the Wood County Public Library will be on furlough when I get back from my trip, I made sure to stock up on "real" books and I'm looking forward to plowing through those.  I'm especially excited about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, because I love the idea of taking a historical figure who has already been mythologized and adding doing something completely bizarre with the figure as a character. 

Gee, I seem to be focusing rather a lot on paranormal books here.  I promise you, it's all a coincidence and like everyone else I go through phases and moods where I lean more towards one kind of a book than another.  If you're interested in books I've read in the past or that I'm planning to read I encourage you to sign up for and add me as a friend on Goodreads.com.  I do have an up-next shelf that I tend to pick books from, but I make no guarantees that they'll be the next to show up in the blog.  Life is full of surprises and I have no idea what I'll decide to read next.

29 March 2010

Day 2: A History of Ghosts

Currently Reading:
A History of Ghosts by Peter H. Aykroyd.  ISBN: 9781605298757.

As I begin reading this book I realized it's mostly a catalog of mostly dead people.  While these people have led rather interesting lives by most standards, communing or pretending to commune with the dead, this is probably not what I was expecting when I first picked up this book.  However it is fascinating in the way that Aykroyd approached the topic.  We are introduced to psychic mediums or persons of related phenomena and their supporters or critics rather than supporting or discounting psychic mediums himself.  While it is not an overwhelmingly scientific or academically rigorous attempt, it allows those who believe to continue to believing and those who prefer to scoff to continue scoffing.

The catalog feel of the book brought me back to my own conversations with the dead, though somewhat one-sided.  I do not speak with the dead through mediums or voodoo magic, but through the collection of a skeleton of data, which when fleshed out becomes the history of unique individuals with their own stories.  I'm of course talking about my volunteer work at the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, Ohio.  Every Monday, or at least most Mondays, I arrive at the library and head off towards our card catalog of obituaries and grab a drawer or two depending on how ambitious I feel.  These drawers were kept by some enterprising library and contain obituaries that mostly range from 1960-1985, with a few oddballs thrown in.  The obituaries were clipped from newspapers and pasted on old catalog cards, which then went into a small series of catalog drawers.

I'm sure this was an extremely efficient way of doing things before databases came along and up and negated all of that librarians hard work.  Now in an attempt to reclaim that ever valuable library resource known as space, I'm going through the card catalog obituaries and comparing what we have in our online database and removing what cards are available on microfilm.  I have a dirty secret, as a history major and someone who enjoys discussing storage of data, I love microfilm.  Anyway, the majority of the cards are from the Daily Sentinel Tribune, Bowling Green's very own newspaper, however there are occasional cards from the Perrysburg Messenger Journal, the Toledo Blade, and more commonly than you would think there are cards that have no dates, incomplete dates, and/or mistakes.  Those that have mistakes or conflicting death dates are set aside and corrected by other volunteers who prefer quicker, but less thorough data entry/management.  And also I seem to have forgotten the password to actually edit information in the database because I simply haven't done so in awhile.

But how is this like communing with the dead?  For me, by simply interacting with information about the past I am learning and incorporating it into my current body of knowledge where it bounces around and gets dragged out whenever it's useful.  So perhaps the conversation is a little one-sided, but other people (and therefore "conversation") is still the number one way humans receive their information, however indirect the person-to-person contact may be.  Although I am probably not the intended audience of someone who published an obituary ten years ago, I have still acquired that knowledge and am now able to create my own information or data that will add to the conversation at large regarding our past and the people in it.  In a world where we are increasingly interacting more with objects rather than people (when's the last time someone said hello to you, or you to them, which one of you had iPod earbuds or an iPhone occupying all of your attention?), real conversations have become rare.

I think people are becoming more and more comfortable interacting with objects rather than other people, perhaps it is a way to avoid facing our own mortality.  Whenever the iPhone dies all we have to do is plug it back in, and while text can be deleted with as rapidly and compulsively as people check Facebook (myself indcluded) only you will have forgotten about that drunken rampage you went on last night.  But how much do these interactions really benefit us?  While it's useful to know that Ken what's-his-face went home with some girl last night and his mother disapproves, is it really helping in our daily lives, is it provoking us into deeper conversations or relationships with the people we "friended?"  Probably not.  And maybe my conversations with the dead of Bowling Green aren't exactly directly beneficial to me, but they are beneficial to the countless number of people interested in genealogical research or similar pursuits.  At the very least it has made me more familiar with my surrounding area by exposing me to town names, companies, and common last names in the area (for instance, there are surprisingly few Campbells in the area despite how robust our stock usually is).  Sometimes I even pass along funny or interesting names to my fiance, if only because we are somewhat immature.

28 March 2010

Day 1: A History of Ghosts

Currently Reading:
A History of Ghosts by Peter H. Aykroyd.  ISBN: 9781605298757.

I picked this up by browsing through the shelves of the Wood County Public Library where I volunteer and reap the benefits of a well stocked public library.  Peter Aykroyd is the father of infamous Dan Aykroyd, who happens to be an actor in one of my favorite feel good movies, which of course is Ghostbusters.  The movie is only barely older than I am being released in 1984, whereas I was "released" early in 1985.  This is a movie that would probably would not have done as well if it had been released at any other time in history, but the 80's were full of optimism and downright goofiness, if any movie captures the spirit of the 80's that movie is Ghostbusters.

But I'm not here to talk about movies, as much as I love them.  Aykroyd's book so far appears to be more about his observances of his father as a person and as a Spiritualist.  While my relationship with my father isn't what I would want for anyone else, it has significantly shaped my life, but what this book makes me think of more is my relationship with ghosts.

Regardless of whether they are "real" or not, I think we all have our own ghosts or spirits that we carry around with us.  I don't necessarily mean "skeletons in the closet," but the effect that other people leave on our lives, whether they're still living or dead.  For the longest time I was haunted by the ghost of my father's brother, Uncle Buster.  Buster attended Berkley University sometime in the 60's, he was intelligent, funny, collected rocks, and everyone loved him.  And that's all I know about him, or think I know about him.  Uncle Buster shot himself more than a decade before I was born.  And I say that he haunted me, because he haunted my entire family.  Every year around Thanksgiving, my father would sink into an unbearable depression, one year he was even hospitalized.  As I grew older I found myself also becoming depressed around that time of year until I was about 19, six years after my parents had been divorced.

What likely made Buster such a good ghost was the fact that we never talked about him, no one in my father's family ever mentioned him.  I once even questioned my grandfather about him when we went to clean both his grave and the grave of my grandmother, the exchange went something like this:

"What was Uncle Buster like?"
"He was a good boy.  A good boy."

Now I have my own ghost to carry with me and it seems that Buster, while still in the back of my mind, has left me to haunt someone else.  In college I met a young man named Matthew Gribbin.  We came from completely different backgrounds, but he was so energetic and kind that we hit it off instantly, as he did with almost everyone.  In 2005 we decided to become room mates because neither of us particularly liked the idea of rooming with someone of the same sex.  Matthew became like a brother to me, something I thought I would never feel for anyone again.  My own brother and I had become estranged after his struggle with drugs and violent outbursts.  We only just began speaking again about a year ago when his son was born.

So Matthew and I were close, we had our moments where, both being emotionally sensitive, we couldn't handle each others' baggage.  We eventually separated as room mates but I always carried him in my heart as someone to strive to be more like.  He was more Christian than any other Christian I've met, a true Christlike person who would give you the shoes off of his feet, if he had any, which he often didn't since he preferred to go barefoot.  It was with great sadness that I learned of Matthew's suicide in April 2007, only a month before we were both supposed to walk and receive our diplomas.  I had graduated in December 2006, but decided to attend the ceremony, because I thought he would be there.  I vaguely remember the last conversation I had with him, most likely over instant messenger, where I asked if he was going to be at graduation.  His initial response was no, but I told him I wanted to see him walk and share in the joy and pride of getting through a program that was intense in only the way an Antioch education can be intense.  By the end of the conversation he agreed to go to graduation.

This was the only promise he never kept to me.  I don't blame Matthew for what he did.  I don't even think he took the easy way out.  I think for him to make that decision it must have caused as much pain as it ended, because he knew how much we loved him.  For him to believe that he wouldn't receive any more relief from a new cocktail of drugs for his bipolar depression means that he was in such incredible pain and suffering that I am relieved that he ended his life.  Not in the sense that I'm glad he's dead, because I have missed him every day in the last three years that he's been gone, but I'm relieved to know that someone I love so much is no longer in pain, and that I no longer have to wonder if tomorrow is the day he decides to stop living.  He's already made that decision, and now I can love his memory and all the things he's done for me and everyone else.  But he still haunts me.

Matthew Gribbin
March 11, 1985 - April 8, 2007
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