Tag Archives: books

Stories Are A Lie And A Truth All Rolled Up Into One

22 Nov

When I was in college, a friend told me that she thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.

Here’s some of the signs:

  • Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived
  • A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices)
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few day
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom

 

Needless to say, she was wrong. She didn’t mean borderline like that. She meant borderline like something on the edge. Open to interpretation.

She was trying to say that I have a malleable personality.

Flexible? Yes.

Ranging in extremes? Yes.

Subject to flights of fancy? Hell yes.

I saw my oldest sister the other day and during our conversation she told me a story about one of our Ya-Ya weekends together. Our Ya-Ya weekends were when my two sisters and I would get together for one weekend a year and hang out. We all live far away, my family had been through some hard shit at the time, so my sisters and I decided that we would make a point of seeing each other, just the three of us, once a year.  I have fond memories of these weekends.

But the story she told me  was one I didn’t remember, which isn’t a shock – I have a terrible memory. It’s the reason I have kept journals since I was a teenager.

So at one of these weekends I apparently burst into tears when my sister was faux-complaining about the “press 1 for English” thing on the phones. Again, I don’t remember this. I can only assume it happened because it SOUNDS like me.

I think it’s empathy to a fault.

Faulty empathy. Squishy-mushy personalities. I can quite easily put myself in someone else’s shoes. The problem is, I never seem to give them their shoes back. I just sort of keep them, carry them around with me emotionally.

I’m like an emotional junk lady.

labyrinth

Remember her?

I just keep collecting other people’s stories and twisting them together with my own.

When I was younger I had a problem with lying. I like to think it was an unhealthy expression of my innate desire to tell stories but the fact is I hurt people so I don’t deserve to get off the hook that easily.

But it’s like I would pick up pain or happiness or fear or anger and stick it on my back and it would become a part of me. Even if I didn’t own the cause of those feelings to begin with.

I was thinking about this because the number one question I have gotten from people who have read my book This Is Sarah is that they want to know if this is based on a true story.

And I tell them again and again, it’s not. I am not Sarah, or Colin, or Claire.

No one I knew had been kidnapped.

So, they wanted to know, how did I know so much about what it’s like to go through something like that?

Because everyone I knew had lost someone.

Had grieved. Including me. And grief, regardless of how it arrives, is universal.

I thought that was a pretty good answer. And yet more often than not they were disappointed.

As if my “making it up” was somehow untruthful.

A lie.

I had deceived them.

They wanted the story itself to be real. It didn’t matter that the emotions were. It didn’t matter that the pain and the anger and the fear were. It didn’t matter that some people, like Colin, shut down in the face of death. That other people, like Claire, refused to. None of that mattered as much as wanting it to be true.

Strange how people are, isn’t it?

John Green wrote a book called The Fault In Our Stars. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s pretty famous. He dedicated the book to Esther Earl. Esther was a young girl that died of cancer, and the author of “This Star Won’t Go Out.

Mr. Green met Ms. Earl at a Harry Potter convention. He was moved by her story and he credits her with being part of the inspiration for his character Hazel. The book was published in 2012, after her death.

In a goodreads interview John said the following:

I could never have written this if I hadn’t known Esther. She introduced me to a lot of the ideas in the book, especially hope in a world that is indifferent to individuals, and empathy. She redefined the process of dying young for me.

Walking out of the hospital in 2000, I knew I wanted to write a story about sick kids, but I was so angry, so furious with the world that these terrible things could happen, and they weren’t even rare or uncommon, and I think in the end for the first ten years or so I never could write it because I was just too angry, and I wasn’t able to capture the complexity of the world. I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted the book to be unsentimental. After meeting Esther, I felt very differently about whether a short life could be a rich life.

But a lot of people have interpreted that to mean that John’s main character IS Esther.

As if a story about death – the most universal thing of all – the only thing that equalizes every living creature – wasn’t as powerful if there wasn’t one specific life behind it.

Again, people are strange.

Gayle Forman, also pretty famous, wrote a book called If I Stay. It is the story of Mia, a girl who narrates her story from a hospital bed after losing her entire family in a car crash. Except Mia is in a coma.

Gayle wrote a piece for the New York Times about how that car full of people were her friends. Except for Gayle, no one lived.

Mia, the cellist, was fiction, but the accident, and Mia’s family — her punk-rocker turned 1950s throwback of a father, her strong-willed mother and her adorable little brother — were resurrected from the ashes of my loss. A loss that no longer had the power to sucker punch but instead had become part of me, like a scar, or maybe a smile line.

I fell off a waterfall one year in high school. I also fell in love with a boy who fell in love with another boy. That’s a story I’m working on telling but in the end, it will just be that: A story.

The power in stories lie in the fact that they are universal. That the people that populate them are us.

You. Me. Them. Us.

That they are talking about something that we all know.

Love. Sadness. Hearbreak. Fear. Joy. Misery. Loneliness.

Stories are woven. They’re partially the writer, partially the people they know, part strangers, part imagination, part reader.

They’re a lie and a truth all rolled up into one.

And if they’re good, then they make us remember what it means to be us.

 

 

Advertisements

Banned Books Week

27 Sep

Phew. One day left.

I missed it last year but this year, I got in just under the wire. You remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Yeah. Banned Books Week = hat.

So here’s my favorite of all favorite banned books: The Catcher in the Rye which has been banned about a bajillion times.

What makes [Catcher in the Rye] especially interesting,” the BBC observed in 2003, “is that it has been banned in many countries at one time or another and still remains on the banned list in areas of the USA. As well as containing ‘vulgar and obscene language’, drunkenness, prostitution, delinquency and references to sex it has also been accused of being: ‘anti-white’ (1963 – Columbus, Ohio), being part of a ‘communist plot to gain a foothold in schools’ (1978 – Issaquah, Washington). . . .

-Daniel Jack Chasen, “Why J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye still provokes book bans”

And look what I found:

enhanced-buzz-16111-1380301058-28 (1)

Nice, huh? That’s from the 5 Criminal Mugshots of Characters from Banned Books which you can see here.

So here are some favorites and why they were banned:

1. Autobiography of Malcom X – “how-to-manual” for crime and “anti-white statements”

2. Call of the Wild – “too radical”

3. For Whom The Bell Tolls – “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state”

4.  Grapes of Wrath – profanity (goddamn) and “spreading propaganda”

5. Great Gatsby – “sex”

6. Howl – “homosexual sex”

7. Invisible Man – “marxism”

8.  To Kill A Mockingbird – “promoted white supremacy.”

9. Our Bodies Ourselves – “promotes homosexuality” and the use of the word “vagina” (I kid you not)

10. In the Night Kitchen – “baby boy’s penis.” (again, not kidding)

Penises and Vaginas. They’ll get you banned every time.

Happy Banned Books. It’s always fun to see how ignorant we can be!

On Kafka, Richter and Memories

1 Jul

 

I have a strange relationship with posthumously published pieces. In the one instance, I desperately want to read them. Especially if it’s an author I really like because then as a reader I get to momentarily undo their death and hear one last story.

On the other hand it feels like cheating. It wasn’t finished. It wasn’t supposed to be shared. Like splitting open their skull and sticking your fingers in there to see what’s what.

It’s just wrong.

And I feel even more strange about posthumously published journals. That’s like a sin on top of a sin. Writing that is only meant for the writer should stay that way, right? Except as a reader, I love to read journals. I love to know what they were thinking when they were working on some of my favorite stories. Virginia Woolf’s journals were as enjoyable as any of her novels.

Yet I still feel strange about it.

It’s akin to loving the rich earthy smell of a recently dug grave.

After Kafka died, Max Brod, Kafka’s literary director, published his journals in 1948 and then, in 1953, he published what is known as The Blue Octavo Notebooks. These were Kafka’s journals….but also not his journals. They were not a recording of the movements and musings of a person in their daily existence. Instead they’re little vignettes, unrelated at times yet not disjointed. A review I read described the Notebooks as a “bag of exquisite marbles.”

That’s about as close to the mark as anything I could come up with.

They were penned from 1917 to 1919 and instead of being in the quarto size journals that Kafka used for his daily journals they were octavo-sized (hence the name).

Here, I’ll give you a sample:

Everyone carries a room about inside him. This fact can even be proved by  means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and on pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.”

Beautiful, right?

Now that brings us to the video above, a piece entitled “On the Nature of Daylight”, by Max Richter from his album The Blue Notebooks which is music inspired by Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks.

A second layer.

To read this collection AND listen to the music that was inspired by it has been an incredibly rich experience. The high lilting song of a violin, the clack of a typewriter and a woman (by the name of Tilda Swinton) reading the words of Franz Kafka 87 years after they had been written. Possibly written in secret. Possibly never meant to be shared.

And then in researching Kafka I discovered that while Kafka was writing the small sketches that would become the Blue Octavo he was reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

A third layer still….

How far back can we stretch here? What was Kierkegaard listening to when he wrote Fear and Trembling, what  was he reading? We can peel back the layers.

Secrets within secrets.

Stories behind stories.

It does strange things to a person. Both the album and the book feel so familiar to me as if I had read them before in another life and am just now remembering them for the first time.

Like an echo bouncing off Jupiter and coming back to me after such a long journey.

10 Things I need more of 2013

20 Dec

Here are 10 things that I need more of in the coming year

1. Well played cellos. It is by far my favorite instrument.

2. Woods in the winter before the snow, when the trees are all bony and stark and look like crooked fingers scraping the sky.

photo by the Lovely Lindita Lee ©

3. Tea. Because tea is perfect.

4. Dusty old libraries to get lost in

Old Library, St. John’s College, Cambridge

5.  Hot air balloon rides. I’ve never had one. I think it’s time.

6. Real books. With secrets that smell all musty.

SAM_1879

7. Travels – plane rides to places with languages I don’t speak, winding streets, new sunsets, new music, new food, and train rides over new land.

sleepy

8. My Muse to go off through the desert and come back with trunk-fulls of scarves and skulls and teeth and magic crystals and secret letters and yellow stained paper and lanterns and masks and ink-stained maps and keys and clocks and quills and then she lets me write it all down.

SAM_1897

9. Cold cold nights filled with a million stars.

10.  And finally – Joy. 2012 had joy but also a lot of sorrow. I understand it’s a roll of the dice but while we’re making a list, while we’re asking, I’d like more joy. It doesn’t hurt to ask right?

Happy Holidays, Friends. And Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas from The Bunker

Merry Christmas from The Bunker

And if I can’t have those ten things, I’ll take Peace.

Peace of Mind

a Nation at Peace

Peacefulness.

I’ll take any of those.

Visiting Novel Reverie

21 Sep

The very awesome Denee invited me over to her place at Novel Reveries to talk about Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb. Prior to, she reviewed my book.

She asked me to write a synopsis in sonnet form.

For those of you who don’t know sonnets contain the following:

1. 10 syllables per line

2. A rhyme scheme that goes a/b a/b c/d c/d e/f e/f g/g – that basically means the last word of each line rhymes according to that structure. So that means that the last word of the first line rhymes with the third and the second rhymes with the fourth. Then the fifth rhymes with the seventh and so on and so forth.

3. Internal rhyme is expected. That means that somewhere in the line a word will rhyme with another word somewhere else in the next line.

4. Iambic Pentameter – this means that you have a tick-TOCK rhythm in each line. There should be five (hence “pentameter”) tick-TOCKS per line. Think of a heartbeat. da-DUM, da-DUM. It creates a rhythm in the line that drives you forward.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets that we know of. There could have been more stuffed under his mattress, who knows? He did this 154 times, beautifully, artistically, ’cause he was a freaking genius.

I did it once and it’s a hot mess. Guess how many of the 4 rules I broke? Go on, take a guess. It’s more than one, less than 4, I’ll tell ya.

I’ll give you a couple lines and you have to read the rest of the interview to see the whole thing. Go on, you know you wanna laugh.

When Lizzy unearthed the hard truth about

her own strange and dangerous beginning

T’was true she was a Shakespeare kin no doubt
Upon the Fates wheel, her future spinning.

Yup. It only gets worse from there. Go read it here. And then you can read her review. If you like it, you can buy the book here and decide for yourself. Sound good? I think so, too.

As always, much thanks to Denee for letting me blather on at her blog. Here are my Starbursts of Thanks.

And you know, I never joke about Starbursts. So thanks again Denee. Sorry about my terrible sonnet.

Here’s to books!

24 May

I was hanging out with my oldest friend in the world (literally, from the cradle) and we were having one of those conversations where we talk about the years between us and our childhood growing up together, and how growing up together has effected our adult artistic life. So on the subject of books I mentioned Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and the effect that it had on us and how reading it changed me when he admitted a startling fact. It went something like this:

Me: “Our entire childhood was changed by that book. I mean, if we hadn’t read that book we never would have created our own imaginary land.

Him: “Well, yeah but I never read it.”

Me: (stopping on the street): “What do you mean you never read it?”

Him: “You read it, Ally. You told me what happened. I never read those books. That was you.”

It wasn’t much later that another old friend of mine, commented on my clearly annoying habit of recounting books to my friends.

So it got me thinking about the books that stuck and how there are authors who change your life. So here’s a few:

I’m not sure exactly the first time I read Bridge to Terabithia because I read it so many times afterwards that it became ingrained in the very fibers and DNA of my imagination. As I said, shortly after finishing it my old friend and I crafted together our very own world, Fanteris, complete with entry points, creatures, witches (though I’m quite sure we got those from Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which, but more on that later), and journals to document it all. We were Kings and Queens of our land.  None of that would have happened without Jess and Leslie.

The story behind the story, in case you didn’t know is that Ms. Paterson’s son lost his best friend in a freak accident and to deal with his grief as well as her own she created this book.

This is the specific edition that I wore to pieces. It was part of a box set, which I still own.

Oh, Mr. Lewis. Where do I begin? I was probably seven when I read this book the first time. Every closet door I have opened since then, I’ve held my breath for just a moment because hey, what if? If Lev Grossman can build an entire series out of the meager hope that Narnia is real, well, then I can hope so too.

I watched the British cartoon they made hundreds of times and cried every time Aslan was dragged to the Stone Table.  I had the whole set and I read them over and over and over again till I had to tape some pages back in. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the Last Battle, my unhappiness was really about Narnia being over. The story was true because I believed it was true.

And then, of course the inevitable happened. I got older and the light went off and I said, “Wait what? Aslan is Jesus and for a while the whole thing came apart. And I was angry and felt betrayed and vowed to never wish for Narnia again. But of course, then I got even older and I got over it. The truth is I will always separate that story, that land, that magic from whatever allegory it was. Because when I was a child, I believed in Aslan, the lion, the warrior, not Aslan the stand-in for Jesus. And finally, and maybe most importantly C.S. Lewis was the first one who made me want to be a writer. I wanted to craft a land, people it, and live in it.

(I’m not gonna touch The Problem of Susan. I’ll save that for another post.)

And that brings us to Meg. Meg Murray was my favorite character ever created. She wasn’t fearless. She wasn’t spunky. She was neither Anastasia nor Pippi Longstockings. She was awkward and shy and lacked confidence (though she’s smart as hell)  in her family full of geniuses. She was ME (minus the family full of geniuses – no offense guys, I love you!).

Plus there was Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which who to this day I still find fascinating and clearly stole, renamed the Wandering Witches and peopled my imaginary world with.  Plus the book opens with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Perfection. Even now I try to throw the word tesseract into at least once conversation a day (no, it doesn’t work well, but thanks for asking).

Plus time travel, centaurs, the man with the red eyes, the black thing, telepathy, alternate universes. Need I go on?? It’s sci-fi and fantasy with a healthy dose of realism and chock full of people who I understood.

There are ton of other books I could add, like Watership Down, whose heft intimidated me in my old one-room library back in my small town. I had watched the movie so many times but the book itself seemed massive when I was eight. I could include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Jungle Book, Just so Stories, Pippi Longstocking, Are You there God, It’s Me Margaret, Everything by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.

But this post is already too long.

So here’s to books. Here’s the changing lives one page at time. Here’s to parents who encourage reading, who take their pushy daughter to the library every weekend, (yeah, I’m looking at you, Mom). Here’s to librarians who keep it up (against massive budget cuts, mind you). And here’s to authors who thought up these stories, crafted them, believed in them against doubt  and shared them.

Here’s to books! Long live books!

%d bloggers like this: