Adieu

Adieu, 2016. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya, as they say in these parts.

I wanted to write a post about all the influential celebrities, public figures and other notables that the world has lost this year, but my thoughts aren’t really coherent. There are so many angles that I could take, but honestly, so many other articles and think pieces are out there doing it first and better (this one in particular  that a friend sent me on George Michael spoke volumes to me, and I just loved it. Take a minute to read it. It’s good).

So I’m not going to attempt to eulogize Bowie or Michael or Rickman or Fisher, or to draw parallels between the many artists and creative minds we’ve lost. Though I have to admit, if there ever could be a plus side to a beloved celebrity passing away, it’s that everyone flocks to their work with fresh eyes, revisiting and dissecting their contributions, looking at them from a new place, falling in love with them all over again. If anything good could come of losing someone like David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, it is that. Mourning can lead to a renewal of love, a new appreciation. Discovery. In death, a rebirth.

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Courtesy Entertainment.ie

I was listening to George Michael in the car today – ‘Freedom ’90’ on repeat – because that’s a damn good song and I don’t need any excuse to belt it out at top volume (sorry to my passengers). Just before the song segues into the chorus at the second verse, I realized the lyrics I’d memorized decades ago contain an interesting line:

I think there’s something you should know.
I think it’s time I told you so.
There’s something deep inside of me.
There’s someone else I’ve got to be.
Take back your picture in a frame.
Take back your singing in the rain.
I just hope you understand.
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man.

My grin burst out of me, y’all. Because life is so full of serendipity. George just died on Christmas. Days later, Carrie Fisher. And the day after, her poor Mother succumbed to what was essentially a broken heart. Beloved Debbie Reynolds, made famous as the first “America’s Sweetheart” in a movie called, yep, Singin’ in the Rain. No doubt that George line is a reference to that film (a quick Google search just confirmed it). Just a coincidence, surely, but when you start watching those viral videos of George Michael rehearsing a Queen song back in the early ’90s, who is that standing in the back, cheering him on? None other than David Bowie, who also died this year. Rogue One is currently in theaters, the latest Star Wars installment, and whose indomitable spirit cloaks that entire movie? Princess Leia, played by none other than Carrie Fisher.

Those little mysteries of life, the way that people are connected and interwoven, how their art intersects and merges, even in death – I find that magical. I find that comforting. And while it’s all mere coincidence, it is those little quirky sparks that light the fire in an artist’s belly.

I’ve heard a few people going around naysaying these past few weeks, seeking to remind us all that there are more important things going on in the world, that thousands of people die every day and only a small fraction of them are celebrities. That we need to get our priorities in order and stop grieving over people we don’t know.

To that I say, bah. To love a musician or dancer or painter or author, to mourn their death, to honor their life, does not mean that you care less about anything else. It doesn’t mean you’re shallow or wrapped in frivolity. What are we, if not made up of the things we love? When we mourn the loss of an artist, we mourn who they awoke in ourselves. We mourn the music, the writing, the art that shaped us, made us cry, made us shriek with joy, made us wail, made us think, made us angry. We mourn our own learning. We mourn our own becoming. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t let anyone trivialize the things you love, or tell you how to love them.

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Listen to Carrie. Carrie is wise

So as I get ready to close this year out tomorrow (with more than one beverage, I assure you), I’ll be toasting those artists who moved me, inspired me, and shaped me into who I am today. The quaint, southern introspection of Harper Lee, the childlike mirth of Gene Wilder, the soulful gravel of Leonard Cohen, the brass balls of Carrie Fisher, the wholesome temerity of Debbie Reynolds, the unapologetic, drenched in purple, stark sexiness of Prince, the brooding, mocking intensity of Alan Rickman, the tough-and-yet-vulnerable crooning of George Michael, the other-worldly sex and sage of my very favorite artist of all time, one orange tinted, androgynous alien David Bowie. And so many others. I’m an artist who is grateful for artists.

Time is a construct and it’s all in our heads, but as an artist, and a fan – one who has seen more than my share of creative minds, icons and legends leave this earth this year – I say  a hearty “fuck off” to 2016. Goodbye to the Dumpster Fire to end all Dumpster Fires. Onward to next year, where I’ll continue living, loving and creating unapologetically, to honor those who came before.

(And if David Bowie really is colonizing Mars with super creative empaths, I’ll be the first one to buy a ticket to that space shuttle).

O.T., Walt, and some Butterflies

Pfew.

It has been a month, or thereabouts, since I’ve posted any content on this blog. I feel bad about that, but I did warn you all…

I haven’t really been in the spirit of self-promotion or blogging lately, and haven’t written much, to be honest. I did manage to win NaNoWriMo this year, rounding out at 50k words somewhere around the 18th of November. And I’ve been steadily plugging along on the novel, doing a tad of editing and revising here and a good bit of writing there. I’m nowhere near done. I’ve written 103 pages and I’m halfway through the novel (and that’s being generous). I do this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. I am much too wordy, I write far too much, and then when it’s time to cut, I scream and rail against it.

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Well, I earned it, so I may as well show it, eh?

I do very much enjoy what I’ve got so far, though. It’s drastically different than anything I’ve ever written, so much more so that it makes me incredibly nervous, far more nervous than I was while writing Aroha – which is weird, because that was a work from my heart that was ten years in the making, and due to the subject matter, really should have given me fits. It did, but not like this novel does. I want so desperately to get this one right, to really say something with it. I suppose I want it to mean something. I feel a tad overwhelmed, and out of my element.

My beloved David Bowie, who I will quote every time when given half a chance, always said that when you’re just out of your depth, that’s when you produce your best work. I hope that applies when it comes to me. I’m treading water in the deep end right now, and those words are my floaties.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to think of what to write, what sort of post I could do that is relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, how I’m feeling about things, the holidays, etc. But I’ve come up blank. All I’m working on creatively is this, and I’m not much in the headspace to write thinkpieces right now. We’re all just so tired, aren’t we? So I decided instead, as my little holiday gift to you all, to post a tiny snippet from the prologue of my novel. This is likely the only excerpt I will post, as I’m holding this one a lot closer to my chest than my other writing. It is still becoming.

I give you O.T. and Walt, twin brothers from Five Forks, my brain babies, for whom I have very high hopes. And I would love to hear your feedback.

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“Daughter of Farmer who will be Resettled – Wolf Creek, GA 1935” by Arthur Rothstein. I snapped this photo out of an Erskine Caldwell book because I fell head over heels in love with her (it was mainly because of the shoes, but also – her expression slays me).

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Fire/Wall

Hi, all.

The North Georgia sky is hazy and gray; it has been for a couple of days now. I’d be perfectly okay with this (it fits my mood this week), if it wasn’t for the fact that the mountains, my beloved North Georgia mountains, are burning. So are various mountains and ridges and forests and patches of land from Florida to Kentucky. The southeast is on fire. It seems like such an obvious symbolism that to call it a metaphor feels kind of trite, but there it is.

And Leonard Cohen has died. I’m no expert on his work, but I enjoyed him, and sought solace in the song “Hallelujah” and it’s poignant (and perfectly written) lyrics more than once. I know he was a revered musician and songwriter, but to me, he was an example of the quintessential tragic poet. Read one of his songs like a poem – the lines actually breathe. They have an energy and crackle all their own. That is real magic. He will be so very missed.

If April is the cruellest month, then 2016 is the cruellest year. Watch our best creative minds, thinkers and artists flee us, their mass exodus a warning call – this earth is not a good place anymore. That’s what it feels like, and who can blame us?

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There is still hope among the ashes, I think, but it can be hard to dig it out when the coals are hot and our eyes are burning.

This morning the fifteen year old girl who still resides behind my eyes somewhere decided to come out for a visit, and write down one of her angsty poems. I don’t claim to be the next Leonard Cohen, but I thought it was pretty indicative of the way I – and so many others – are feeling right now.

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Growing Up With You.

Here it is, the end of October in Georgia and it finally feels sort of like Autumn. I’ve got my cup of Earl Grey, a raspberry linzer cookie, and I’m wearing a pair of white chucks that I bought over the weekend – now orange is the only color I lack in my ever-growing collection of Converse All-Stars, because I am a madwoman who collects things. I’ve started my new novel, a week before NaNoWriMo kicks off, because true to form, I always start things early. So far I’m liking what I’ve written. It may be short-lived, but I am breathing deep and just enjoying right now.

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Told ya. #obsessed

I’m in heavy music-listening mode right now, too, which always happens as the seasons change. You can find me driving, music blaring, singing along and dancing badly, on any given day of the week. Music is my life-force…that and reading. When I’m doing both, you know I’m heavy in creative mode and that my brain is working overtime, trying to absorb every little bit of inspiration and sustenance it can. It’s kind of like expecting a child – a weird analogy, I know – but your entire body is involved in this creative process, forming a new life, limbs, heart and eyelashes, and it takes all the nutrition, sustenance and mental stamina you have to produce that perfect thing. So is writing to me. Many writers need the quiet, for everything to be focused solely on their work, but not me. I need background noise, a cacophony of music and books and life tumbling at me from every direction, to singularly focus on my work. It’s a type of mania, and I welcome it, after long years of trying to hide my quirks and double down on a more organized way of thinking. Once I embraced it, I started to bloom.

I’m pretty much exclusively listening to Daniel Johns at the moment. You’ll know him as the blond baby of a frontman for Silverchair, or perhaps the enigmatic and mysterious singer in the Dissociatives. Yeah, I’m showing my age. And when I sat down to write this post, I thought, “Really Lillah, another post about a musician you admire? They all know – you’re obsessive about your music, it influences your writing, blah, blah blah.” After all, I’ve been down this road before – Dwight, David and so on – but the truth of the matter is, music is inexplicably knitted into my writing and vice versa (and so it is with books, with reading, too) and I cannot separate the two. When I’m in creative mode, I’m listening to my tunes. And when I’m listening, I want to sing back in praise, in thanks, to the artists who have helped me along the way.

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If this picture of Johns doesn’t define the mid-to-late 90s, I don’t know what does.

It freaks me out to think that I’ve been a fan of Daniel Johns for the better part of my life (to be fair, they came on the scene when I was just an adolescent, and they weren’t much older themselves). But it’s true and I owe the guy a lot. It sounds stupid, but I honestly do. Just by pure coincidence, or maybe it’s me projecting my experiences onto someone else’s art (likely), but for every major turning point in my life, he has been there. A song always seemed to fit at just the right time. He has got me through some times. And while I haven’t followed his career with the same fervor as I have say, David Bowie, I have looked in on him from time to time with interest, always eagerly consuming his latest work and finding comfort and meaning in it.

I think the reason I love Daniel Johns (and Silverchair/the Dissociatives) so much is because I grew up to it. As he navigated his journey into adulthood, through pain and trauma, illness and wisdom, so did I. He’ll never know me, but he’s a kindred spirit all the same.

As a goofy 14 year old, already showing the beginning signs of anxiety, I listened to “Frogstomp” and wished I could be so profound and in tune with my feelings. When I was a young teenager, subsisting on nothing but diet coke and energy pills, trying not to gain a pound back after a lengthy illness in which I almost died, I found “Ana’s Song”.and discovered I’d like to be healthy again. After my Grandfather died and I thought I’d never climb back out of the grief (it was the first death of a family member I’d experienced, and because I wasn’t able to see him much as a child, I mourned the relationship we’d never have), I found “Miss You Love”, which helped me through. As I found myself in the beginning of an abusive relationship, in my early twenties, just having moved to New Zealand and having no idea what to do next, I listened to the “Neon Ballroom” album and knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I did. I recall long nights, holding in tears but letting Daniel’s haunting falsetto cry for me instead. As I began to get up the courage to leave my abusive partner and go back home to a place I wasn’t sure was home anymore, the “Diorama” album gave me some strength.  Home, feeling guilt for leaving and the fear of the unknown life I wasn’t sure I even wanted anymore, Daniel’s new project with the Dissociatives seemed to bolster me with its lyrics about the loss of love but carrying on in a new medium. “Straight Lines” talked of embracing yourself, and the things necessary to make yourself whole. And now, embarking on this journey as a writer, putting my stuff out there even when I’m terrified to, I’m loving listening to Daniel’s solo album, a far cry from anything he’s ever done, laughing at his butt-hurt diehard fans who hate it, and feeling so proud of him for doing the damn thing on his terms. God, I love it when artists push out of their comfort zone and do something wholly unexpected (I think I just found common ground between Dwight, Daniel and David – the three D’s who are not so unalike, eh?). And hey, my 7 year old kid and I have jammed out to the reworked Beatles tunes on Beat Bugs (which Daniel works on ) more than once together, so we’re finding that common ground. And so it goes.

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Growing older gracefully and eyeliner on point – I could use some tips, man. I’ve got the hat part down.

You guys, my eyes often glaze over when people write about music. I don’t read album reviews that much, and I only flip through the pages of Rolling Stone every so often. I don’t kid myself that anyone is interested in my musings on Daniel Johns any more than they are about Dwight Yoakam or Patti Smith or Bowie or Ma Rainey or anyone else I love and hold dear. I don’t write this to preach to the converted (who my age doesn’t like Silverchair? C’mon.) but just to further reiterate that music is so important. And that I’m grateful for it, for the artists who inspire me. It took me way too long to start honing in my skill, and actually start putting words to paper; I found every excuse. And I still do, if given half the chance. But when I listen to a song like “Forever and a Day”, I literally can’t stop myself from sitting down and putting my feelings somewhere, you know? The feelings consume, they overwhelm, and when that happens, I count myself lucky to do what I do. I have the tools to express myself right here, and endless inspiration coming out of my earbuds.

I get nervous talking like this, afraid my obsessive personality will show, that people will know how deeply I feel every little thing, how deeply I love. But it’s about pushing out of that feeling, swimming in the deepest waters, and showing who you really are, that makes the artist.

Thanks, Daniel, and all the rest.

Happy Autumn, and may you find your favorite album again, as beautiful and relevant to your life as you left it.

Lillah

Throwback Tuesday: Synesthesia and the Taste of Purple

I hope you guys will indulge me, as I’ve decided from time to time I’m going to share old non-fiction writings of mine. These “Throwback Tuesdays” will feature essays and articles I’ve written over the years from various sources. It won’t be every week, because let’s be honest, when it comes to regular blogging, I am as flaky as a gluten free biscuit.

About five years ago, I wrote freelance for a few different feminist magazines and publications (under a different name). One article in particular garnered a lot of views and was actually picked up by NBC’s “The Body Odd” blog. I was kind of surprised by how many people shared it and offered me feedback – after all, synesthesia is by no means a new thing, and as far as groundbreaking viral articles go, mine was hardly anything special. Of course, I’m looking at it from a different perspective, five years on, where we now have fascinating sciencey posts regularly shared on our Facebook feed thanks to pages like “I Fucking Love Science” and the like.

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Convergence, 1952 by Jackson Pollock

This article was also my first case of actual, real-live plagiarism. At one point I had to send a cease and desist letter to a blogger who had posted it on her site as her own work. That was surreal. For a writer with imposter syndrome (where y’all at?), being plagiarized is a whole other level of weirdness.

Anyway. I am posting this as my contribution for Throwback Tuesday this week, simply because it’s an old article and I don’t want it to disappear from the ether. It’s not my best work, but it was a cute little essay I wrote once that details how my strange brain works. I’ve always been proud of it, and people seem to like it. One day I may write a follow up and explore it further; for instance, I am now very curious about how synesthesia and other brain disorders relate to things like Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. I’d also like to delve into the correlation between those who choose writing or other creative arts outlets and synesthesia. Basically, I still have a lot of thoughts and I’m nowhere near done yet.

(And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did choose the color scheme for both the covers of Aroha and Ka Kite based on my synesthesia and how the stories “appeared” in my head.)

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I stumbled upon a blog that had referenced my article, where people were complaining about my choice of title: “Your Name Tastes Like Purple”. They complained that to them purple tastes like Dimetapp so it was a bad association. I cackled, because purple tastes like Dimetapp to me, too.

Previously, this article has appeared on both Persephone Magazine (who published it originally) and MSNBC’s “The Body Odd” blog.

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Charlatans, Demagogues and History Repeating

For the past several months I have been submerged in the world of 1930s rural Georgia. My brain is currently residing somewhere between the blue tinged mountains of North Georgia and the shaded, gothic slope of Milledgeville. I have loved every minute of this research, and I am in such a screaming hurry to start on my novel that I can barely stand it.

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, immersing myself in the writers of the day – Flannery O’Connor, Erskine Caldwell, and writers like Alice Walker and Olive Ann Burns, who did not grow up during that time period but still capture it so well. I have to say, though, that after you’ve read a good deal about the time period, about the plight of rural farmers during the Great Depression and the various issues that plagued them (exploitative sharecropping/tenancies, pellagra, strained race relations, extreme poverty, mental illness, to name a few) it can start to wear on you. The bleakness of the literature from this time period is so heavy, so starkly realistic, that it is an ache in your gut. There are no heroes here. No redemption. No hope.

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Five Forks (Colbert) GA, 1922. Photo courtesy Ancestry.com/Rootsweb

The brilliant satire and dark parody of Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell work so well because of the utter depravity and hopelessness of the time. It seems grotesque to laugh at a scene in which a starving family fights over a stolen bag of turnips, and the chuckle that escapes your mouth does so behind your hand, because you’re ashamed. Both authors, Caldwell especially, were ripped to shreds by the public and often had their works banned, because of the light it shined on the shameful truth that so many wanted buried and forgotten.

One of those shameful truths that we’ve seen whitewashed, spit-shined clean and presented as something else entirely is the legacy of one Eugene Talmadge, the former Governor of Georgia (1932-1946). Most people, even native Georgians, barely know who he was, other than the fact that a road or two was named after him. The history books attempt to paint him as a charismatic and noble figure, or at the very least, a neutral one.

It isn’t the case. Talmadge was at best, a charming demagogue who played on racial and economic tensions of the time to rise into power. At worst, he was a dangerous white supremacist who actively tried to keep his foot on the neck of the African Americans (and poor whites) whom he governed.

During his tenure as Governor, Talmadge stoked fires of racial tension by jailing those who dared to assemble in protest, actively courted the KKK (they sent flowers to his funeral), prevented the University of Georgia from integrating and admitting black students, favored low wages and cheap labor, and went out of his way to denounce anything “socialist”. He was an outspoken opponent of FDR and was adamant against Government programs like Social Security. He spoke often of how poor people should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, and was in favor of tenant farming and sharecropping. He also meddled in the affairs of Central State Hospital, one of the locales of my novel, to the detriment of the patients who were already forgotten and abused members of society.

In addition to being racist, he was also ableist, often mocking President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his wheelchair and suggesting that a President with a disability could not competently lead.

“[People cannot] respect a man who can’t walk a two by four.” – Eugene Talmadge, on FDR.

Talmadge was well known for his sweeping, genteel manner of speaking, for his bluntness (“he tells it like it is”), and for his ability to charm even those who he was actively campaigning against. Known as “the Wild Man of Sugar Creek”, he took great pride in his popularity and used it to his full advantage. He Governed for well over a decade with an iron fist.

In reading about the time period and this man in particular (and finding out that members of my own family were avid supporters of his), it isn’t particularly shocking that he would rise so quickly to success. The Great Depression was a time of desperation and madness, with whole families so deep into poverty, literally starving and succumbing to disease, that they eventually became apathetic about their own futures. The future was an abstract concept, a dire possibility if possible at all. Talmadge was wily and smart enough to play on this desperation, to understand that hope wasn’t enough – he had to play on fear, also. Fear of being “licked”. Fear of being the lowest common denominator. He used the deeply-buried hopes of people that their lives still meant something, and convinced them that the only way to get back to “glory” would be by stepping on the backs of blacks and poor whites and taking back what had been stolen from them. It worked.

I see this same sort of thing playing out today, and I shake my head. Watching history repeat itself when we’ve learned these lessons so many times before (after all, Eugene Talmadge is just one small pebble in a bucket full of them) and yet still fall for the same old thing. We let our heads be turned, we fall for the lies, the propaganda, the bunk. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, said the Great Wizard of Oz.

I didn’t set out to write this new novel as allegory, but I guess I’ll go where the tobacco road takes me.

Untitled (Ghost)

Today I’ve decided to share one of my rough short stories, part of a series I’m writing called “About a Girl” (tentatively titled – not sure I’ll be able to keep that working title for obvious reasons). In “About a Girl”, I take songs that I love from talented male musicians that are written about women, and turn them on their head. I interpret them myriad ways, many of them with a feminist spin, some of them funny, some of them dark, but all of them interesting and challenging. I have written eight of these stories so far, and this is by far my most dark to date.

I was inspired by “Untitled (Ghost)” by Neutral Milk Hotel. If you’re a fan of NMH you know that much of that album was inspired by Anne Frank. As a young girl I read her diary so many times I had it memorized. Her legacy and tragic story has stuck with me throughout my life, just as it has with so many others. It’s a very small consolation how she has inspired art throughout the decades since her death.

This story isn’t really about Anne Frank, though. I’ll leave it to your interpretation.

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