Saturday, October 6, 2012

Realistic Fiction Kind of Gal

I've tried a lot of different genres in my time, but I always come back to realistic fiction.  For me, it's about the intimacy of getting to know the characters: their thoughts and deliberations; their concerns and life lessons.  I don't need action.  I don't need intrigue.  Heck, I don't even need sex.  (Though it doesn't hurt.)

Through my reading (and viewing), I want to meet people who twig something within me and who lead me down their paths so I can find mine a bit more clearly.  Sure, I can get great character development from a fantasy novel or even a horror story, but when push comes to shove, I prefer my characters in realistic settings doing the everyday, mundane, workaday things I am doing too.  I want to see how they do it, what they're thinking and where it takes them.

I remember first falling in love with Anne of Green Gables in around 5th grade.  Though Anne was always in a fantasy world, she was a real-live girl (at least she seemed like it) just a little older than I was, dealing with the same insecurities as I, only in a slightly different era and with Marilla and Matthew and Diana and Gilbert in PEI as the backdrop  not my Mennonite, farming family in Greendale.

Since I first read Lucy Maud Montgomery, her flouncy prose notwithstanding, I have always looked for books with strong female leads who forge their ways through life successfully or not, but who look and act a bit like me and who give me hope that I can get through my days with some measure of grace, good looks and gratitude.

Tonight we watched Star Wars as a family for the first time, and while my children were entranced, I have to admit that it left me cold, just like it did the first and subsequent times.  Though I share the same name as the  princess  and I understand the metaphors and archetypes of this classic tale, I like my life martinis straight up, not with added ingredients and dimensions.  It just seems unnecessary for this simple brain of mine.  Give me the straight goods.

Of course, you're reading the blog of a woman who loves celebrity gossip magazines and is a voyeur on facebook the same way she is on the Perez Hilton website.  I want to know all about people and the minutae of their lives: their foibles and mess-ups and mistakes and bad fashion moments and, yes, even what they ate for dinner. I do not, however, want to hear about some android cocktail that is blue and electrified and has magical properties.

Our eldest daughter, Charlotte, has been an advanced reader for some years now, but she has not been a lover of reading until quite recently.  It was just about a month ago that she came to me and said, (just after we had just finished reading Anne of Green Gables together), "Mommy, are there more books like that one?  Those are the kinds of books I like.  Books about girls like me."

Mr. Blue, theschool librarian (and then some), wisely got Charlotte started on the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, despite their 40 year-ago publication dates.  She's been over-the-moon ever since and can't stop reading.  Though she's perfectly capable of reading Harry Potter, she doesn't really want to and I've assured her she doesn't need to feel guilty about that.  I am so pleased she is establishing her reading preferences early, and while we will continue to expose her to multitudes of books, I believe she's going to be a realistic fiction fan, just like her momma.

In fact, we have both started writing our own books and sometimes, in the evening, we sit side by side, tapping on our computers.  She'll ask me how my dialogue is going and I'll give her examples of how to show more and tell less and teach her about my passion for semi colons.  Really!

While my novel is perhaps a bit more risque than hers, she is doing a commendable job for an eight year old.  She has voice and spirit and she is telling the stories of other girls who have the same.

Storytelling.  It's what makes the world go round.  It's what campfires and the Guttenburg press and the Amazon Kindle and standup comedy were created for.

My ongoing new start for my own life is to tell it like it is.  People want to hear it.  I'm getting in the range of 10,000 hits on this blog just by telling it the way it is.  My fiction is still filled with my stories, elaborated on and embellished and lacquered (or liquored) up, but they are still mostly my stories.  I'm proud of that.

We are born to tell stories.  People learn through stories.  Stories are a vehicle through which people can disover places, people, themselves.  Stories unite us and help us to find our common and uncommon ground.

While I'm sure the money is in erotica, I still want to read and write about the quirky (not kinky) gals who struggle and get some of what they want and some of what they don't and they just kind of get on with things.  I'm not looking for a fairy tale or even a happy ending, just happy moments to seed the soil with.

Emily enjoying chic-lit!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mistaken for a Man

Between the ages of about ten and thirteen, it was hard to tell whether I was a girl or a boy.  I felt somewhere in that middle androgynous ground, and if your eyes didn’t gravitate toward my burgeoning breasts (which I deftly hid under oversize sweaters and bib overalls), you could easily have mistaken me for a boy, especially since hormonal fluctuations had made the peach fuzz on my upper lip rather dark. 

I had a thick neck too.  These days, I count my clavicles and d├ęcolletage area among my best features, but at the time I either didn’t have those features or I completely submerged them because of my deep shame of adolescence and anything remotely sexual. 

I was also, for a long time, the biggest kid in my class.  It wasn’t that I was fat.  I was solid and strapping.  I was a big boned Mennonite gal with legs like tree trunks and a puberty that came early and with a vengeance, with accompanying breasts and stretch marks. 

Just one so-called flaw in adolescence can be enough to make the most well-balanced teenager insecure, but being overly tall, in early puberty, having zero petitieness or grace, and with a negative cuteness factor was tantamount to being a deformed monster.  I haven’t even mentioned that I had a shag cut, much like the Justin Bieber of today.  When I look at pictures of him, in fact, I think that I wasn’t so bad looking after all.  If I had been a boy.

I have to do a double-take because this looks so much like me!

Mercifully, I stopped growing very young, at least in length.  I now go to the petite section in department stores in North America, which always makes me laugh.  I still see myself as a tall, over-sized man. 

In 7th grade I made a reproduction of the Appian Way out of cement and stones (okay, my dad made it and I watched) for a social studies project, and somehow that landed me a prize and an accompanying picture in the local newspaper, The Chilliwack Progress.

I was so excited to be receiving my time in the sun, and I was sure this would catapult me to immediate stardom.  I remember dressing up in my finest white polo shirt on the day of the shoot, proud of the little pocket on the right side and the shininess of the buttons. I even got up in the morning to shower and then blow-dried my shag cut hair, something I never did. 

I donned my khaki pants and belt and loafers and felt spiffy indeed.  I remember going to the girls’ bathroom to run the comb I kept in my back pocket through my hair and noting how particularly good I looked on that day.  I was pleased as punch with myself; I was ready for my photo shoot. 

It all went swimmingly and I came home that night exhilarated; I was sure I was on my way to becoming a scholar of all things Roman and road-like and that Chilliwack had not seen the last of me. 

I couldn’t wait to get home the following Wednesday, the day the local paper came out, to see my photo.  I quickly leafed through the sparse paper and didn’t see it.  I panicked and flipped through again.  Had they left me out?  Righteous anger started to flare.

On my third go-through, I saw it.  The picture was large enough and glossy enough.  In fact, it was shockingly prominent.  How could I have missed it?  There was a picture of a rather homely boy in a white shirt and a shaggy hair cut, but where was I?

I stopped short.  I hadn’t recognized myself.  I had thought I was a boy.  Not only did others mistake me for a boy; I had too!

I stared in numb shock.  I was almost tempted to check the contents of my underpants to be sure I had the right equipment.  How could this young woman, bubbling with hormones and unexplored longings, actually look so much like a young man? 

Over the years, I have met many people who do not learn from their mistakes.  Many women marry the same man again and again.  Many teenagers wear pants up to their nipples, get beaten up, and keep wearing those same pants again and again.  Many men who continue their reckless affairs and keep tallying up the wives and kids. 

I am not one of those people who don’t learn.  I am reflective.  I find the cause of pain.  I narrow in.  I fix what I can.  Granted, I make many, many mistakes in life.  Perhaps I even make more than most. But I do not make the same mistake twice.

Pondering that picture with raw, unexplored pain was a moment of awakening.  I looked like a man.  I was not a man.  I set upon coming up with a solution so this would never happen again….

My journey toward self-improvement started on that day.  I started from the top and I went to the bottom.  The shag would need to grow out.  In the meantime, bandanas and barrettes would do the trick.  The face had potential.  Astute and clandestine use of mother’s minimal makeup would do the trick until I could launch out and get my own Bonne Bell lip-smackers and turquoise eye liner. 

Polo shirt?  Had to go.  Even at 12, I saw my clavicles had potential and found the shirts in my drawer that would highlight them to their best advantage.  Khaki trousers?  High cut Seafarer jeans were the way to go.  Shoes?  I have no idea what I wore back in the day, but feet played a smaller part in the equation than face and boobs so it didn’t matter all that much.  (Don’t get me wrong: shoes matter very, very much.  Very.  I just didn’t know that then.) 

And so the new and improved feminine Leah was born.

To this day, though, each morning I wake up and the first thing I do after my morning pee is to go to the mirror and make sure I do not look like a man.