Thoughts About Thoughts

Thoughts  What are thoughts, anyway?

Synchronicity, again: two different things came together in the last few days that had me thinking about thoughts. What do they actually mean?

I just finished reading Freda Warrington’s breathtaking Elfland. In this book Aetherials, people born of a fantastical Otherworld, live in our world, indistinguishable from humans except to each other. I loved the intensely magical atmosphere in this novel, and was caught up in the wondering what has become of the Gateway between our world and the magical Spiral, and what the future holds for both worlds. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in contemporary fantasy. There was one thing, though, that rankled a bit. Almost every character was caught up in deeply destructive behavior because of persistent, uncontrollable thoughts that amounted to obsessions. Some of these were thoughts of love, particularly for the main character, Rosie, who spent decades pining for love of a boy she hardly spoke to and who never expressed the slightest interest in her. Others were thoughts of revenge, or of terrible guilt. These characters saw themselves as helpless before the strength of these thoughts, and it seems the author saw them that way as well.

I’m not a fan of this way of thinking about thought. Thoughts are important, of course. As a cognitive psychologist I know that we don’t actually respond to reality, but to how we think about or interpret reality. Still, we don’t have to be slaves to thoughts and ideas; we can change how we think about or interpret our experiences. I especially resist the romantic notion of love at first sight or the idea that we are helpless in the face of some mystic force of love. We are not destined to love one and only one person in the world for life. (The smart and outrageous Tim Minchin  expresses this view in his own way in the song If I didn’t Have You – go listen. Now.)  I can have sympathy for characters whose unhelpful thoughts overwhelm them, but only not when all the characters do so, and none of them seem to think there is any possible resistance. Even when Rosie tells herself she shouldn’t love the one who spurns her, she does it with a sense of helplessness: “I shouldn’t love him, but there’s nothing I can do.” Too much of this, and I want to slap people.

This is one half the the synchronicity I experienced. As I was reading Elfland and thinking of how much these folks were being driven by their thoughts, I finally discovered Invisibilia, a National Public Radio show that ran just 6 episodes before shutting down (temporarily, I hope). It “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” Through the miracle of podcasts I’ve started listening to the show from the beginning, and it is right up my alley. That first episode focuses on just the topic I’ve been thinking about: “The Secret History of Thoughts.” In this episode they investigate how psychology’s understanding of thoughts has changed in the last hundred years. We have gone from seeing thoughts as important reflections of our deepest reality, expressing who we really are, to seeing them as surface phenomena we can ignore or discount if we don’t like them. As I listened, I realized that this is what bothered me about Elfland. The story comes at thoughts from an older, Freudian perspective, while I take a more modern, cognitive or mindful view of thoughts.

Which of us is right? Well, naturally, I think I am. *smile* Whether that’s true or not, it helps me to understand why I wasn’t able to love Elfland as much as I otherwise would. Looking at the story with this better understanding, I can set aside my discomfort and become more open to the magic of the story.

See? We can change how we think about something. I just did.

 

The Last Tulip

tulip  The last tulip dropped today.

My day lilies aren’t out yet. The maple leaves are small and timid. Nights are cool, rain is soft. But the tulips are all done now.

It gets to me. I feel like spring is all over, and we’re into the brassy brightness of summer, driving me into the sterile air-conditioned indoors. No, I want to say. I’m not ready. It’s the sweetness in the air I really love. The first time I lift my face to the sky and breathe deeply, feeling my soul uncurl after winter’s brutal grip finally eases. Summer is boisterous, athletic playtime; spring is first love. Can’t we hold onto that a little longer?

Oh, well. Trying to hang onto spring is like trying to keep your children from outgrowing cuddles and naps. And I enjoy my children as the adults they have become with an intensity that has never faded. But still, when I look back on their toddler photos, I sigh. As much as I have gained, I have also lost something worth acknowledging.

So, farewell, spring. See you next year.

MyNoWriMo Step 7: Beginning

Step 7  How do I begin?

Following the plan suggested in Janice Hardy’s blog, I’ve planned out the eight chapters that will be Act 1 of my novel: the novel’s beginning. Her ideas helped me make sure I’m hitting all the marks as I lead up to the big, complicated structure that is the middle part of the story. I had done a lot of this work before when I sketched out chapters and scenes, so it went pretty quickly. So I finished early, which is good – I think the middle is going to take me extra time to get organized. Starting now!

Progress so far:

  • 3/1/15: Set the goal (a full 50,000-word draft, or half a novel?) – On time
  • 3/8/15: Develop my one-sentence pitch line – Early
  • 3/22/15: Establish major set pieces/beats – On time
  • 4/12/15: Develop a rough synopsis – On time
  • 5/3/15: Complete a rough outline or scene sketch – On time
  • 5/17/15: Map out each character’s story line – Late 😦
  • 5/31/15: Plan the beginning of the novel, from opening scene to first major turn – Early
  • 6/14/15: Plan the middle of the novel, including all the twists and complications leading to the ending
  • 6/28/15: Plan the ending of the novel, including the climax and the final resolution
  • 6/30/15: Get all my logistics in place (word-count log, file formats, backups, and so on)

Memorial Day 2015

Flag  We Remember

In the US, Memorial Day is a time for honoring the heroes in our armed forces who have protected and defended us over the years. My father was one of them. He interrupted his electrical engineering studies at Georgia Tech to serve in WWII. A childhood injury to his left arm made him unfit for combat, but the army needed all hands, so he worked as a radio man in the communication tents during the re-occupation of France after the Germans were pushed back out. He would joke about how easy he had it in the army, but there were no easy posts in that fight. His service was as necessary as anyone’s, if less physically demanding.

My father told two stories about his time in the army that I remember. One took place during the cross-country march to Paris after his ship landed. The trip took several days, with hundreds of men from different units tramping along through the French countryside. My father became ill rather suddenly from what was most likely the flu. At one rest stop he sat down on the doorstep of a small country farmhouse and basically passed out. The rest of the troops moved on without realizing they were leaving a man behind. When the French couple opened their door and found an unconscious American serviceman on their stoop they took him in and cared for him until he was well enough to contact his unit. For years after the war he and the French couple exchanged letters.

The other story was about his time in Paris. As the Germans took over the country, the French burned their fields and destroyed their stores so that the Germans couldn’t have them, and the Germans destroyed whatever was left as they retreated from the Allies. Food was severely limited. The American soldiers, however, were well-supplied. My father and his buddies went to breakfast every morning and ate eggs, toast, ham, and fresh fruit. Actually, they mostly took the fresh fruit and stuffed it into their pockets. As they walked through the streets of Paris they would drop apples, oranges, and pears into baby carriages for the French families they were there to serve.

Both of these stories carry the same message for me. Even in the midst of war, people can reach across the barriers of language and culture to care for each other. My father’s compatriots are called the greatest generation, but I think people of any generation can do the same if called. We all have the greatness in us. Let us remember that on this Memorial Day, and all try to be the heroes we can be.

I’m Free!!

Free!   Grades are done!

I just submitted the last grades for the last students in my last class. Summer, here I come!

During the month of June I have various events to attend (workshops, meetings, celebrations), but nothing like the demands of teaching 17 credit hours over the last 15 weeks. The semester went pretty well, though; I’m generally pleased with how well my students did, and had some really good experiences watching the lightbulbs go off in class. Still, I’m looking forward to devoting more time to other things, like writing, and sipping tea in the shade.

Memorial Day is the holiday this weekend here in the US where we honor those who have served our country, by barbecuing meat and buying things on sale. It’s also the start of summer for many of us; for instance, my proper Southern-raised mother insisted you can’t wear white before Memorial Day (or after Labor Day in September), and to this day I can’t bring myself to break that rule. On Monday I can put on my white sandals for the first time this year.

How about you? How do you celebrate summer?

NaNoWriMo Step 6: Characters

Step 6   Character Arcs

Better late, I guess. I’ve gone through and mapped out the story lines for five characters (all the major ones except for the main character, who’s so thoroughly mapped by now she doesn’t need it). It was a useful exercise, since it tightened my story by eliminating a character who didn’t have much to do and was turning into an unconvincing romantic interest. As a result I’ll have to restructure some of the scenes/chapters I’ve laid out, but that will be happening in the next month as I plan the beginning, middle, and end of my novel. I’m expecting to be able to spend more time on these tasks since classes are now done and final grades will be submitted by the end of this week. So although I missed this deadline by a few days I consider myself still on track.

Part of coming to live more and more deeply inside my story was creating a cover for the book. I am SO not a designer, and I have not the slightest belief that, should I be lucky enough to get published, the final cover design will resemble this in any way. Still, having a picture like this to look at helps me see the story as real. It’s the same reason I have spent hours scouring the webz for images of people who look like my characters: I can look at them while I write about them. So anyway, for your enjoyment and delight, I present the first look at what is sure to be nothing at all like the eventual cover of my book:

CoverWhat do you think? I have to admit that dropping my name on there was a little bit of an emotional moment for me.

Progress so far:

  • 3/1/15: Set the goal (a full 50,000-word draft, or half a novel?) – On time
  • 3/8/15: Develop my one-sentence pitch line – Early
  • 3/22/15: Establish major set pieces/beats – On time
  • 4/12/15: Develop a rough synopsis – On time
  • 5/3/15: Complete a rough outline or scene sketch – On time
  • 5/17/15: Map out each character’s story line – Late 😦
  • 5/31/15: Plan the beginning of the novel, from opening scene to first major turn
  • 6/14/15: Plan the middle of the novel, including all the twists and complications leading to the ending
  • 6/28/15: Plan the ending of the novel, including the climax and the final resolution
  • 6/30/15: Get all my logistics in place (word-count log, file formats, backups, and so on)

Looking Back

LookingatMyBlog  Well, well – 50 posts!

WordPress reminded me as I submitted my last post that it was my 51st. Go me!

In honor of this milestone, I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, which is set up categories for the messages I’m posting here, and then go back and categorize all my previous posts. (Active avoidance is a powerful force, and I must remember to use it only for Good.) So I did this, and I realized something —

Most of my posts are pointless.

In the first few weeks I did a lot of whining. Why can’t I write more? Why is it so hard? How many words did I write this week? Why didn’t I write more? To be honest, I probably wouldn’t read most of what I wrote here. At least 90% of those 50 posts were in the category WIP Progress, a topic that’s probably only of interest to me. They tell writers to write what they would like to read, and I’m going to apply that to my blog here as well.

So from now on, I’ll broaden my interests a little. I’ll write about what’s going on with me and in the world in general a little more. I’ll comment on books I’m reading and TV shows I’m watching (and maybe also movies, though I don’t watch as many movies). I’ll share things about my kids and my work. Not obsessively and not every day, but more than before. And less whining. I promise!