What your reading arc says about you

Image by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

Hi, and how are you?

If you’re well, I hope you’re reading. If you’re reading, maybe you want to consider your reading arc. I never really had before. But, a Twitter contact, @MattWeinkam, associate director of Lit Cleveland, proposed a fun exercise for us reader sorts:

Chart your reading arc from childhood to present day in 10 books. After a bit of thinking, here’s mine:

A Very Young Dancer>Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret>Their Eyes Were Watching God>Come to Me: Stories>The Innocent>The Fortunate Pilgrim>Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir>Bel Canto>Magdalene: Poems>The Book of Delights: Essays

Of course, there are so many books I love that I had to leave out. If I had 11 slots, I would have added a craft book: maybe Stephen King’s On Writing, which was probably the first craft book I read; or maybe the classic, Donald M. Murray’s The Craft of Revision, which I return to again and again, of course; or maybe the recent Meander, Spiral, Explode (I talked about that one here) by Jane Alison, which upended so many writing “rules.”

What does my reading arc say about me? A lot you already know.

I was a dancer, myself, and a Catholic, drawn to the story aspects of both, I suppose. At 19, I moved from Ohio to Virginia–I left out my Tom Robbins obsession (remember Jitterbug Perfume?). College days brought courses like African American Autobiography and opened my eyes to stories outside what my mom had on her bookshelves from college in the 60s.

Short stories were my entry into the craft of writing–and Amy Bloom is one of my favorite story writers. (Good story collections are great writing teachers.)

Grad school left little time for pleasure reads, but when I could, I liked early Ian McEwan and books that informed my own writing.

If it’s not dance, song in story is a running theme. And for this writer who managed to get an MFA without writing a poem, I read a lot of poetry these days–and essays and hybrids of all sorts. And I think, you could say, I’m arcing toward joy in my reading habits.

I hope that means I’m arcing toward joy in life. I need it now more than ever.

So, show me your reading arc–in the comments or on your own blog. You might be surprised at what it reveals about your reading and your life.

Let’s read together. Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

Our Characters, Ourselves*

 

OK, that title is a bit of a misnomer–this post isn’t wholly about bodies–but I liked it.

This post is about the characters we create: both on paper and on, well, us.

What happened is this: I was told I needed a headshot for story I wrote that will be published later this spring. My rarely-needed “headshots” are usually crop-jobs needed to extricate my face from the face of a small child or two. My last good headshot (above, left) was taken when I was 18 and an aspiring dancer–a whole lifetime and profession ago.

I figured it was time. So I made an appointment for a blow-out at my local salon, where they said they would also make sure my makeup was camera-ready. Then I had my husband shoot a couple pics of my face, sans offspring, so that this journal can have my modern-day visage (above, right) for viewing alongside my story.

Also, I will be recording myself reading my story, so that the journal can have my voice along with my story along with my face. This is all OK and even flattering; this is what we call exposure (ahem).

Do you ever think about your own character? As bloggers we all have a handle, a personality. Mine’s Rust Belt Girl.

I realize I spend so much time thinking about the characters I create on paper that I forget my own character, my dominant persona. I was a ballet dancer in my youth; then a student; then a young married woman; then an aspiring writer; then a mom.

The “mom” character is basically all-consuming. The funny “mom” memes you see online–that’s for real. In writing, what “mom” means is that I’m supposed to write children’s literature now that I’ve birthed children who read literature. Instead, lately, I like to write about taboo subjects; a little incest anyone? (Please don’t message me with weird responses to this aside I meant to be funny/not funny.)

Onward…this story of mine that will be published later this spring (or wet-winter), I actually let my children read. This is a first.

One of my boys said he thought it was going to be funnier; one said he didn’t. Both read it until “The End”–4,000 words–so in my eyes it passed 8-year-old-boy muster. But I did have to “clean it up” first, which my more astute of my astute sons said meant, “Take out the bad words.” And the drug references and the…

I create characters to live a different life, though I love mine. I’ve talked here before about my penchant for writerly distance. Still, the characters we create are extensions of ourselves.

The other night, I attended a lecture/Q&A on developing believable characters in our writing, hosted by the Maryland Writers Association’s Annapolis chapter and featuring author and editor Barbara Esstman. My character-building takeaways:

Characters inhabit a world–closed or confined systems can work well: think Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale–with walls of some kind that will lean on and pressure a character. These boundaries that test a character can help the writer show what the character is made of.

At least one of the main characters must have a problem to solve; when the character arrives at a solution, the story ends.

Characters have a history before the start of the story. The writer should know it, but must decide what the reader needs to know and what the reader doesn’t.

You know, sorta like this whole blogging thing. The reader needs to know us writers and highlights of our history–the stuff that matters–to understand our character, to feel invested in us and want to follow our story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thank you for following my story.

Do you consider your blogging persona? (Is it just me?) Is it one in the same with you? Somehow different?

Have any tips for creating believable characters in essay, memoir, or fiction?

* A little nod to Our Bodies, Ourselves (a book about women’s health and sexuality first published in the late 1960s). A relevant character-building takeaway: characters, like real people, have needs and wants. Characters, like us, go grocery shopping and sneak ice cream at 10:30pm. (Oh, is that just me?)

Creative Inspiration: Part 2 from Intensity Without Mastery’s Michelle Cole

How did we get here? Not here at Rust Belt Girl so much as here—writing, blogging, connecting? (Anyone else have that Talking Heads song running on repeat in their minds? You’re welcome.)

For me, it was my mom who was the reader in my young life, who made it okay to “waste” an hour or a day on a good book. She was my biggest fan, even when my writing hadn’t a prayer of reaching a larger audience than my immediate family. She made me feel like a writer—and sometimes a vote of confidence from someone you love is enough to begin to believe it, yourself.

As I emerge from my Thanksgiving Day food coma, I say thanks to memories of my mom and to everyone else who makes me feel like something of a writer.

Many thanks, in particular, to Intensity Without Mastery blogger and photographer Michelle Cole for this two-part collaboration. I’ve learned so much! (Please check out Part 1, here.)

For Part 2, I wanted to see where Michelle finds her inspiration, what sparks her creativity.

Michelle—what inspires you to take photographs, especially of your Ohio city? What do you shoot with?

I must first credit my parents with impressing me with the notion that hobbies are vital to happiness. My dad kept an aquarium and made pictures of ships with strings pulled around pins painstakingly positioned on canvas or velvet (there is a name for these sort of pictures that escapes me now; its popularity rose and fell alongside macramé). My mom painted and drew. She also read an ocean of genre fiction.

My dad had a significant interest in photography in the 70s. My parents’ bathroom did double duty as a dark room for a few years. My dad’s interest in photography was mostly confined to portraits of family members and some architectural photos. One of my earliest memories involves taking the elevator to the top of what was then the tallest building in Indianapolis, probably the National Bank Building. We went to the top so Dad could take a cityscape picture from that vantage point.

Like for so many Rust Belt families, the prosperity we knew in the 70s did not last, so Dad put aside his photography habit due to cost.

Despite that our fortunes rose and fell, the example of their hobbies endured. Creative pursuits had value. Eventually, my history of major depression intersected with this notion. When digital photography became widespread, I decided to try it because I wanted to see if I could develop a skill that I knew was not a total waste of my time. My parents taught me by example that all creative expression had inherent value.

Then I was struck by the idea that photography could remind me that life was worth living, that my life itself had value. The places I saw, my city especially, were a part of that value.

As I took more pictures of the places I had seen so often, I began to feel something akin to teaching a dying language. I was capturing scenes that should not be forgotten: this is how we lived, the good, the bad, the ugly . . .

I also have an enduring interest in nature photography. I feel serenity in documenting the change of seasons.

I shoot with three different cameras, a Nikon D5200, a Canon Rebel T6, and my cell phone camera (a budget LG V8). None of my equipment is expensive or super sophisticated. There is still much I should learn about the technical points of photography. My favorite shooting combo is my Nikon D5200 with a Nikkor 55-200 mm f4-5.6 VR lens.

What moves you to provide a short essay or story around your photographs?

I wish I had the time and consistent motivation to write about the pictures in every photography post on my blog. When I look at my pictures, I see shorthand for memories that I wish others could read. I suppose that great photographs past and present tell that story with no annotation necessary.

I feel like my inclination to write an essay to accompany a picture is a function of two things: time and depression. If my depression is flaring up, my picture posts have little or no text offered, and the writing is perfunctory or clinical in tone. If the text is short but optimistic in nature, I am simply too busy with work or parenting to write much more.

The photos I take of places in my city usually tap a rich vein of memory for me because I’ve seen them so often, and I really should offer an anecdote to accompany them.

Today I took a picture of a house near the downtown area that intrigues me with its longevity.

Lima house by Michelle Cole
Lima, Ohio, house by Michelle Cole

While this home has some striking Victorian details, its greatest distinction is being the last home left standing in its area. Every other home along that street for several blocks was taken by eminent domain for the construction of a new high school and stadium. I don’t know how this house escaped this dragnet that resulted in the razing of many aging homes and row houses in the vicinity. The powers that be made the school’s lawn large beyond reason to justify demolishing a problem public housing project that had been built in the 80s. This house reminds me that the place we call home stirs feelings of ambivalence.

At heart, I feel this project was like liposuction to this town; poverty and crime can’t be erased just by demolishing buildings and planting perfect lawns where they once stood. I wish some of the other houses had been spared. The perfect lawn and angled brick of the new high school are reminders that the Lima my parents and grandparents knew cannot be resurrected. At least we have this one home left from the old era.

Michelle—thank you for giving me a window into your world. Your personal journey captured in stunning images inspires me to keep growing by creating and connecting with bloggers like you. Anything else you’d like to say?

We live in a golden era of photography. Chances are you have at least one camera within reach almost all the time. No one’s life is just like yours. No one sees all of the places you’ve seen. What you’ve seen today could be gone tomorrow. Now is the time to share those images with the world.

Lima fall foliage by Michelle Cole
Lima, Ohio, fall foliage by Michelle Cole

Thanks again to Michelle Cole at Intensity Without Mastery for reminding us to keep sharing our visions in words and images. And don’t forget to visit Michelle’s site.

Do you feel you, too, are “teaching a dying language” by resurrecting memories of the past through your writing or photography?

Please share!

 

 

 

 

100 Followers–woot, woot!

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Apple may have their hot new Roman numeral-named phone. But I’ve got “C.”

That’s right, I hit 100 followers! A lot to some bloggers; a pittance to others; a gracious plenty to me.

Thanks for letting me stretch my reading, reviewing, and writing skills–and for witnessing my bumbling and stumbling into the blogosphere, as I try to plant my Rust Belt Girl flag. I know time is scarce and there are oh so many blogs. I appreciate every single one of you who tunes in!

A few more numbers of note since my blog was born on May 16, 2017:

1,628 views by 793 visitors from 37 countries around the globe

25 posts (not counting this one) including 2 author interviews, 2 book reviews, 2 story excerpts, 1 prize nomination (fingers crossed), 1 guest photographer, 1 sweet pie chart, and more references to pierogis than I can count.

225 likes and 103 comments (not all from me!)

What’s next? More, more, more. And new stuff, too. I’m currently smack dab in the middle of a short story/flash fiction submission frenzy; the more I get published, the more I can sample here (fingers and toes crossed).

I’m also interested in more collaboration with my fellow bloggers: photographers, authors, reviewers—from any and everywhere. Contact me if you’re up for it!

As always, I’m doing the Rust Belt Girl thing on Facebook, too. Find me—and self-deprecating Cleveland jokes—here.

~ Rust Belt Girl (Rebecca)