Dita Parker

Thursday, December 18, 2008

...look closer.

I submit to you
That love and peace are verbs,
They are doing words,
Compassion is the marriage between heart and intellect,
Reason a bully when not a thing of beauty,
That being of service has been sadly mistaken for servitude,
That pessimism, loneliness and hatred are mass murderers,
We do teach our children the value of money but not the indispensability of a warm heart,
Constant instant gratification equals serial dismay,
No one is born evil, only disadvantaged,
Multitasking is looking busy while getting nothing done,
Those who choose not to believe in Santa are not eligible for gifts,
And Groucho was right: If you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Heads will roll

I'm a movie buff who happens to like Tim Burton's stuff. I decorated the door to my den with a poster for Sleepy Hollow on Halloween. Not the one with Johnny and Christina even though they are beautiful together, aren't they, but the one with the headless Hessian Horseman. That is one hauntingly beautiful, and grisly, image, too.

My kids are old enough to not have him riding into their nightmares waving that axe. They are also young enough to respect his authority when they haven't respected that closed door. Halloween went by but the Horseman stayed. The kids think it's a cool poster, a little scary but not too much. They stop to stare at him as he watches over me. And they forget to knock. They forget to barge in altogether.

So I'm hanging onto my Hessian fiend of a friend and letting him hang on my door for the time being. He has worked wonders for my writing peace if I've indulged while the children are still awake. They have seen Mom's head on fire when interrupted for the twelfth time in twenty minutes. The fact that the Horseman doesn't have one is ten times more effective.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank you for the music

...the hypnotizing and the haunting, the cheesy and queasy, the infinitely memorable and the imminently forgettable (the latter amplifies the effect of the former, the former puts the latter to shame). Then again, taste is a subjective issue; my favorite band sucks, now so does yours.

Say what you want, think what you will, they're the best thing to hit a note (or graze it) while striking a chord within us since that first rhyme you ever beat into the ground and your family over the head with. You may have trouble remembering those all-important memos and messages, the birthdays of the near and dear, the text you'll be tested on tomorrow (and you've gone through that damned thing 27 times over the past 72 hours), but how many 80's (or, fill the blank) songs do you know by heart? Start counting... Uncanny, isn't it? Scary, actually. And only human.

Songs that make you happy to remember, tunes that make you wish you could forget. To dance, to play, to sing, even if only by yourself; think of it as a gift. It is a gift. Everyone on the planet does it different from you. Someone may even do it better than you (yeah, we really love to hate them). But no one in the universe does it exactly like you.

Thank you for the movies; the ones I watched only once and will never be able to watch again because I cried over whose brilliant script was tossed to make this mockery, or because they were so dead-on, true to life, painful and poignant I bawl my eyes out merely thinking about how they made me feel. And they made me Feel. Those I will carry with me always, like little jewels I found. You might look at those pebbles and shrug them off as fool's gold.

Thank you for the books; the disturbing and the inspiring, the uplifting and the mind boggling. So many beautiful languages and voices, some centuries old and indestructible, some young and formative and fragile. False friends, old friends, true blue friends. You wish you would have written them. You only wish no one would have come up with some of them. Where's a language policeman when you need one? But those that flow...they make your spirit sing.

Nature is perfunctory and evolution the ultimate in waste management. They are the final word and judgment on art: we need those chords, those images and words. They nourish us and console us. They bring us together just when we start to think it would be easier to let it all fall apart. They shake us up when we start to believe that maybe we won't get hurt if we sit tight and play dead.

They reach out and transcend all barriers. They remind us that we are not alone, that there is life out there. And that there is life and fight and laughter in us yet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November rain

It snowed all weekend and now the landscape is in perfect postcard shape. Or it was until my family and I rushed outside and stamped all over said landscape. People, they're everywhere.

Snow angels, snowballs, snowmen, toboggans and snow plows, and roughing it outdoors for all it's worth since it will all turn to slosh in a day or two. For now, it is a winter wonderland, and I much prefer it to the normative gray and grim November. And October. And December. January... Somebody stop me.

I'm stuck in Scandinavia for the time being. This isn't a suitable climate for humans, and I'm not fit for human consumption when the sun doesn't shine for a week or three. I know it's out there, but I need proof. I need to see it. I need it. The desolate dark and the even bleaker stamp it imprints on people's faces is all the evidence I need to confirm the nagging suspicion that some of our ancestors had brains the size of peanuts.

They traveled north and did not travel back south after experiencing their first winter? Those who did not starve or freeze their hinds off must have been too weak to move a muscle when summer finally arrived. And it is devious, the Nordic summer. It's a trickster. It is breathtakingly beautiful, such an unbelievable metamorphosis you stop to stare at it in awe and forget to run for your life and some warmer spot on the map.

Before you know it, it's winter again and you're stuck. Maybe that's what happened to those poor pilgrims. Nature seduced them into thinking it would be all right. It takes all my spirit to step out into a cold, rainy, windy November day and smile. No one else is smiling, why should I go first? It takes imagination to remember the sun, that it still shines, that it even exists.

It will soon be summer in my southern home. That much I know for a fact, that I can remember vividly. So I concentrate on that image, dig it up, conjure it with all my might; that invincible summer Monsieur Camus wrote about lying within me. It tugs at the corner of my mouth, seducing me into thinking it will be all right, to keep on smiling even if only to irk the natives.

That is what people will think you're trying to do: throw them off course, mess with them. Or they will think you're plain crazy. What is there to smile about on a cold November day? Looking out the window at the cotton covered landscape while thinking about the sun ascending over my favorite beach strip, the best of both worlds... Plenty, my friends, plenty.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soundtrack of my life

The one and only creative writing class I have ever attended was a very revealing experience, literally. It was supposed to be strictly fiction, but what the vast majority of my classmates had bottled up and in store had roman à clef meets bildungsroman written all over it. That's what they wanted to write. That's what they wrote, regardless of the assignments. There was a course held for autobiographers, but I guess they all somehow missed it.

It was like going to confession, not that I have any experience from either side of the booth. I didn't mind getting to know them, but I didn't want to know everything there was to know about them. It was hard to suspend disbelief after they were done venting and it was hard to enjoy reading their texts knowing what I knew about them.

It made me look long and hard at my own writing. I've done it for so long and from such a young age I can't remember what possessed me to start doing it in the first place. It came naturally? I found pleasure in it? Pastime? Getting my thoughts in order and my life along with it? Did I vent? Was I confessing? What bothered me most in some of the writings of my classmates' texts made me take out a microscope to inspect my own: was I bitter or vindictive?

Maybe much of what gets written starts with the need to get our past in order; writing it down and getting it out of the way and out of our minds. Maybe then we can focus on something outside ourself, someone else's hurts and failures, or their most magical moments and sweetest victories.

Yet, they try to creep into and seep into everything. That defining, dividing moment that created the fault line between before and after. That day Fortuna frowned. They become the soundtrack of your life, a definitive playlist for the ages. You can add to it but you cannot delete it, not without leaving visible scar tissue. I embrace mine. I have to. I have to own it or I'll end up being owned by it.

I'm talking about the truth about our lives, the past, the memories, people long gone and yet ever present and the air and space we share with others. Rumors you suspect to be true, whispers you just know are true because of the hushed tones, things you intuitively sense are somehow awry, not quite right.

Writing is telling the truth about whatever troubles or compels or amazes us. I'm a great believer in owning your ghosts, your inner demons and your shadows. I will never know the truth about myself if I don't invite them in, inspect them calmly and then interview fearlessly. And if I don't acknowledge the truth, the whole truth and nothing but about myself, how will I be able to tell the truth about my characters?

But they need not be based on that bully from grade school, your first boss (the one who turned out to be a misanthrope) or your first lover, the sweetest thing ever to whirl through the revolving door that was your youth. Remember them? Of course you do. You may not want to, but you do. You taught them a lesson, or they taught you one or two.

Artistic detachment is a great tool if you want to nail down those life-altering moments and souls. It's indispensable if you just want to nail them, for whatever reason. Only don't expect to feel better afterwards. Writing might not be the best way to get revenge, if that is your motivation. (Writing well, on the other hand, is the best, as one infinitely more famous ms. Parker put it.) If it looks like payback and smacks of payback, you're not fooling anyone but yourself.

Maybe we are destined to play certain songs over and over again, repeat certain themes in our writing because they made us who we are and that is all we know. But there are variations to those themes. There are a million and one new and different themes out there, waiting to be found and explored.

So go seek them out, have some unadulterated fun with them. Use them. Go on, they won't mind. That's what they're there for. But no abusing, by either one of you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sign O' The Times

Do you romance buffs remember a time when the hero expressed his undying love by punching the heroine in the face, or when a forced seduction scene was all force and no seduction?

No? You lucky things; I gave up on reading romance for a while after coming across those instances. I don't remember the titles or the authors but I distinctly remember two books, or rather the moments the heroes turned villains in my view.

They were contemporary romances, one starring the wealthy and arrogant and, as it came out, abusive type, and the other a sheik who turned out to be a rapist. The 'heroes' were profoundly sorry afterwards. They only did what they did out of love and desperation. I only wanted to perform a citizen's arrest.

I still have not forgiven them. When I next picked up a (contemporary) romance a good decade later, I hadn't forgotten those two, but to my relief their kind had become extinct sometime during the nineties. Good riddance, I said, and started enjoying reading romance again.

There are so many wonderful sub-genres these days; so much variety, so many versatile writers to choose from. The heroes may be alpha but the heroines are by no means beta, and I much prefer today's couples to the pairings of the days of yore.

Popular culture and media mold women's self-conceptions but I'm so glad to see the advances in the daily lives of women (be they huge leaps or baby steps) cross over to culture as well. Women still write to women about the marital abuse of women. It's important to do so. What is even more important is that there is no more mistaking who the villain is.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Can you hear it? No? It makes my ears ring just thinking about the belly laughs and gasps of horror I got when I came out with writing romance, some of it the steamy stuff.

Some people just looked at me funny and then made sure I hadn't quit my job or given up on writing in other genres or languages. No, on both accounts. Others asked outright if my marriage was doing okay. No, seriously. My husband's evident indignation assured them I wasn't deprived in the love and sweet loving department. I knew who my friends were when I heard "You go, girl!" I had no idea there were so few of them...

What bothers me is that romance is the only genre I have to justify and explain. It's derogatory to those who love reading it and it's offensive to those who write it; the stigma, that is, if you can call it that. I would call it that after being told by well-meaning commentators that I had just shot myself in the leg.

A beauty queen is an ex-beauty queen for life. Write romance and be branded and labeled forever after and never dream of publishing in another genre. Right? Really...

Why would I do that, they asked me? I was tempted not to answer that particular cartload of condescending horse maneur, but it gave me pause. I wanted to know too. So I took my walking stick and limped to my den to think about it and came up with this:

It's a language thing. For me, English is an extremely expressive language and it's a highly emotive language. I write in another language as well, but writing romance in it is out of the question. It's a language of a totally different color and temperature and I use it for other genres. But those two languages are of equal importance to me, as are all of the genres. Period.

It's emotionally fulfilling. I love loving and I love writing about love and loving. Don't give me the reinforcing and playing into the hands of patriarchy theory. If women stopped reading romance right this very minute, there would still be inequality between the sexes come next year. Damn right romance can be used as an escape route, who doesn't need a breather every now and then? It's pleasurable like any other type of reading or hobby is.

Ask me to toe the line and I will step dance on it. Tell me I cannot and just see if I don't. Reading and writing romance is not submissive, it's subversive. That's what it feels like when you're asked to explain yourself.

It's an opportunity to feel brave.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Absolute beginners

"Sorry, honey, but I'll be sweating it out with Sven for the next 70 days," I told my hubby, just for effect. "You two have fun now," he answered. Just for effect.

When he was done with the double entendres, he asked who exactly would be competing for my attention and I introduced him to Sven:

The gauntlet was thrown down and I picked it up, gawked at it for a second and tried it on for size. This time around it fit. I enlisted and went to battle, not against Sven but with Sven. One hundred and fifty seven (and counting) graphomaniacs bent on writing 850-1500 words a day.

It's a writing challenge, stress on the word challenge. For some of us, 850 words a day is a daunting and demanding task, for others 1500 is an hour's work, or half an hour's. But we have agreed to do it, individually and as a group; to help and to motivate, to push and to pull, to share and to care.

Writing is such a lonely job, but the loneliness is a prerequisite, for me at least. I need to close that door, I need the solitude to be able to calm down and focus. Maybe I've conditioned myself to work that way; maybe that is what I absolutely need to be able to concentrate. But like in so many other meaningful areas of life, it is good to know I'm not alone.

Over one hundred and fifty other writers counting words and making those words count. It is a challenge. If it wasn't, it would be called a writing victory. I will call it that on January 26, after the work is done. But it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings, and last time I checked she was still in make-up.

I'll go see if she needs anything and get some writing done while I'm at it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wake-up call

They started coming to me at 5 a.m. Cross that. They started coming at me, demanding to be heard. I tried ignoring them. I tried asking them to put a sock in it and let me sleep. "It's five in the morning, people, please!"

They weren't fazed. They weren't impressed. And they wouldn't go away.

I tried explaining I didn't open for complete strangers having even more bizarre discussions in my head until after I'd had a jumbo mug of café au lait with loads of brown sugar.

They really couldn't care less.

At five in the morning they would come without asking, making outrageous claims about this and that having happened, and how he said she said, and did I hear about this one?

And then it hit me. I was dead wrong about being unavailable at 5 a.m. It was the only time of day when I wasn't crowded and cornered and concentrated on something of the seemingly utmost importance. At five in the morning I was open and flowing and free, and it was the only uninterrupted, totally focused moment I could spare them.

So I started listening. I started paying attention. I let them speak and I let myself listen. I started taking notes that would generate more notes, or questions, or ideas.

There were stories there, some only germs, some more rounded and developed. Threads and leads and hints of the lives and passions, secrets and joys of others, waiting to be dug up and put down in writing.

And I found it again, the long dormant will and drive to write. I had never lost it to the world, not completely, but I will admit to having put it out to pasture, indefinitely. But in my mind I had already started writing again.

I had been writing for a while, I just didn't recognize or consider it as writing. I was busy getting by and getting along and taking care of business. Busy convincing myself that as far as careers went, writing was as logical and profitable a pursuit as crossing the Atlantic on an inner tube.

I'll wake up tomorrow morning at five and still not have a career in writing. But I will have a kick-ass muse who loves his bourbon and takes great pleasure in giving me grief along with inspiration. I will have my kids' unconditional love and admiration (that will be gone soon enough), the support of my husband and my friends (whose love and respect I never wish to lose) and the sometimes maddening, often agonizing but always present need to write. With them as my mirror, my armor and my sword, what have I got to lose or fear?