Home » Posts » writing

Category: writing

Fanthropological!

Fanthropological!

Recently, I had a total blast with three Nicks and a podcast called Fanthropological, talking speculative fiction and making a lot of VERY silly jokes. And remarks about Margaret Atwood. And talking about how to pronounce “Heinlein”…

I’m not just saying this because I was a part of it, but you should listen to it! 😁

The Nickscast: Fanthropological Podcast

Speculative Fiction – Dinosaur Billionaire Adventures

August 10, 2018

with special guest MEEEEEEE!!!!!

and FYI:

What is “Fanthropological“?

How did you read this far without asking this question?!

Fanthropological is an anthropological (ish) podcast where we bring the fan’s-eye view to you! Each week, we take a look at a different fandom, dig up interesting background, trivia, and history, and try to get to why it is that people are a fan. We also try to highlight good causes related to that fandom, and find interesting things that fans have created to share those to the world. Each episode is about an hour. Ish.

Who is “The Nickscast“?

We are the Nickscast! Three products of late-80s / early-90s pop culture who love exploring fandom and everything geek … who also happen to have been best buddies since high school, and all happen to be named Nick. Yes, we are super creative (dare we say, the most creative).

 

Sharon, the Undead Redhead

undead redhead, calumet editions
Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!

Sharon

the Undead Redhead

Meet Sharon Backovic: vegan, ginger, and undead.

The Making of an Undead Redhead

undead redhead, zombi, sharon, ginger, vegan, satire
Sharon Backovic, the Undead Redhead

In “Undead Redhead,” heroine Sharon Backovic faces a lot of problems even before she dies, in a freak wedding bouquet toss incident. Her journey forces her to confront even more troubling questions, like, When I was alive, was I really living, or just going through the motions?

For Sharon Backovic, life was never easy. Yeah, I did that to her. They say, pile on the adversity and give your heroine something to overcome.

When I got the idea for UDRH, it was in part because all the killing and blood and gore in zombie TV shows and movies. Not that I have anything against a good slasher flick, but I really got to thinking: Are zombies just a convenient way for authors to kill a lot of people without any ethical or philosophical consequences? After all, you have to kill zombies, or they’re going to kill you. They can’t be saved from their own natures. They can only be stopped.

That’s an interesting story as far as it goes, but it wasn’t one I felt like telling. Instead, the zombie craze got me thinking about other, older traditions of zombie-making, like the actual origin of the word in voodoo practice. Here, zombis (without the “e”) are created by priests practicing the Petro tradition.

Vodou and the Zombi

In order to understand what this means, you have to understand the basics of the voodoo religion, which has been portrayed on screen and in books so many times but seldom with any grounding in truth. I’m just a neophyte when it comes to understanding the long and rich traditions, but I can give you a grounding in the basics.

undead redhead, zombi
Waglet Alcine from Undead Redhead

First of all, I’m going to use the spelling commonly associated with Haitian practice, vodou, partly to distinguish it from Louisiana voodoo, with which more people are familiar, but about which there is more misconception than knowledge!

Vodou is a 400+ year old religious practice with roots in Africa and the Caribbean, with many geographical variations. Worship is directed not toward what is considered an all-powerful and unknowable God, but instead toward the spirits who serve Him. The pantheon of vodou spirits, or loa, is complex and vast, and each of the spirits belong to a house or family that immediately tells you something about their nature.

Possession By the Loa

Priests of vodou are called hongan (males) or mambo (females) and part of the rituals involve inviting the spirits into their bodies to use as they wish. Vodou rituals can be strange or exhilarating for both the participants and observers, as the priest dances or otherwise allows one of the lords of the pantheon to assume their consciousness.

undead redhead, zombi
Malcolm Sinclair
from Undead Redhead

Officiants of vodou rituals are often given great respect in places like Haiti, and can hold political as well as spiritual power. The affiliation of a priest with a particular vodou family can tell you something about their beliefs and philosophy. There are darker as well as lighter forms of vodou, and the Petro tradition contains some of the darkest.

One of these is the spell to make a zombi, out of the corpse of a dead person. This is where our concept of the “zombie” comes from: the misuse of a dead individual by someone practicing Petro magic to create an unwilling servant with no will of its own. Understandably, most people frown on this!

That’s about all the spoilers I’m going to give you—for the rest of the story and how it relates to Sharon’s “afterlife,” you’ll just have to read the book!

Read more about the fascinating world of Haitian vodou and the loa.

Climaxes

Climaxes: Happy Endings in Storytelling

Regarding Climaxes: I’m not sure if I am writing an essay on how sexual climax is like giving an ending to a story, or how storytelling is like sex. Maybe it’s not one or the other but a look at how we apply the concept of satisfaction to a broad range of human experiences. Either way, be warned: there’s some spicy language and mature content today!

It came to me in a dream: endings matter, and how they are accomplished matters even more.

The typical way to end a Hollywood film is, in current fashion at least, the unrepentant, big-bang climax. It’s like the standard V-I or IV-I wrap-up to a classical music piece, and what it amounts to is essentially orgasm, sigh.

The Evolution of the Climax?

I have to admit, it made me laugh when I realized what I was thinking, but maybe it’s apt. Maybe because women experience sex differently, we are destined to bring a different ending to stories.

Denouement used to be rather standard in storytelling; we were interested in what happened after the proverbial shoot-out or car chase as well as what had taken us to that point. Shakespeare’s Act Vs were nothing more or less than a wrap-up, something we’ve now apparently delegated to the “post-show” or worse, an entirely unaffiliated commentary program in which “experts” and the public weigh in not only on what comes next but what should have happened.

Film may have been the ultimate factor in changing the fashion for endings. Hollywood wants us to see the explosion and move us right into the credits. They’re not paying big bucks for us to watch a couple of actors talk things over after the fat lady sings. The big bucks go into the pyrotechnics; people pay more money to watch movies where more money is spent; therefore, by the rule of supply and demand, there’s nothing more important than the climax.

“I Just Want to Snuggle”

Basically, we’ve downgraded the post-coital cuddle to gratuitous.

If I could propose a “feminizing” of storytelling, I would advocate a gentler ending to the process. I would return, or progress, to letting ’em down slowly, in essence. Instead of a “big bang,” you could have your orgasm and enjoy it too.

In music, we don’t mind a hanging ending every now and then. A song like “Against All Odds” stands out because instead of that V-I progression, the last chord is unresolved. It tells us “there’s more to this than I’m telling you.” It invites us to take another breath instead of to jump up and applaud.

One of the reasons my personal taste cautions me to avoid contemporary literature is the fashion for writers to end a story before the climax. I’m all for “coming in late and leaving early,” a very good piece of advice when it comes to writing scenes. That said, I am left entirely unsatisfied when an author opts to let me decide what happens after I turn the last page.

Being something of a structure fiend, I want every thread to play out, every foreshadowed element to lead to the thing that cast it, and every character to have a purpose. I am not a fan of the open-ended narrative, the “slice of life.” It’s my taste, but I also see it as a bit of a cheat to make storytelling a blow-by-blow account instead of an attempt to create sense out of nothing.

Follow-through Matters

For me, to leave a story without an ending is to deny the reader or viewer a sense of satisfaction. It’s tantric sex without hope of release. I hate messy conclusions that leave characters hanging, waiting for something the writer promised and didn’t deliver. It’s the worst kind of false hope, and the more intricate the set-up, the more cheated I feel.

More and more, though, I want more out of an ending, not less. I want the comfort of sitting back with the characters, basking in the afterglow, able to sigh with pleasure at what has gone before and in anticipation of what might come next.

We know that concepts enter our memory best with revision. If we study our notes before a test, we fix them in our long-term memory because we have upgraded their perceived importance. When we move directly from climax to The End, we tell our brains, “It’s over.” There’s no real reason to return to what we’ve just seen. We remember the bang, but its fascination fades quickly.

When we have a denouement, we return to the climax in our minds and tell our brains, “That had meaning.” We remember an ending we’ve had time to process; we forget one whose effects we ignore.

Maybe this is the point in a big-budget feature film. Without a denouement, we’re immediately hungry for more. We aren’t entirely satisfied so we return to the trough for more. We consume blockbusters like junk food. And when we aren’t getting all our nutrients, we eat more.

Satisfaction for all!

It’s the difference between fucking and having sex with another person. A woman knows that sex can be very, very bad in a way a lot of men don’t seem to understand. We can be fucked, and in both senses of the phrase. A woman knows you can be there and still not be part of what’s going on. A man can be satisfied and totally unaware that his partner didn’t even have fun.

The female orgasm has always had a downgraded importance compared to its masculine counterpart. When we insist upon it, we can find ourselves without a partner. When we don’t, we can languish in unsatisfied limbo. No one would advocate a sexual encounter in which neither partner climaxes. Still, we have apparently through most of history accepted that it’s all right if at least the man gets off.

In order for a woman to enjoy sex, she must not only participate fully but be acknowledged to be participating. In other words, not only must the man think about her pleasure as well as his own, he must treat her as if she is a partner in the thing instead of just the object he is interacting with.

undead redhead, calumet editions
Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!

Women know sexual desire is a continuum, not something that comes with an on/off switch. We’re aware of the intricacies of attraction because we have to weigh our consequences that much more carefully. We are more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections; we get pregnant. And we suffer disproportionately from poverty, illness, and loss of reputation when we fuck. We don’t do it lightly.

But we do it for the same reason. It feels great, and to reach orgasm is to experience something for which there is no substitute.

What An Idea Isn’t

idea, book, possibilites

We tend to get a little deluded about just what an idea is. Not surprising, with marketers and lifestyle gurus trying to sell you the idea of get-rich-quick and easy Nirvana. Before you get excited about that great idea you had that will change your life, let me offer a bit of a reality check I like to call, “What An Idea Isn’t.”

What An Idea Isn’t

I developed my first novel after having a particularly good dream at the age of 13. The first time I finished my first novel, it was 1994. I had just returned from a month in Nova Scotia where I’d parlayed 200 pages into 600 (double-spaced—the word count was around 120,000) and had a first draft. Then, I spent four months writing a third of the story I developed from that idea into an actual novel.

Image of The Last Rite by Jen Frankel book cover
The Last Rite by Jen Frankel

I self-published a reworked and re-edited version of the book in 2002 through one of the first “print-on-demand” outfits, the Great Unpublished, which became Global Book, then Booksurge, and which is now in fact the Amazon-owned Createspace. This was mostly, actually, due to the prohibitive cost of photocopying the manuscript or printing it out at home for those who wanted to read it, and for submitting it to traditional publishers. Oddly, and charmingly, not only are a few of those still floating around on the net (one reseller was asking $120 at one point!), someone contacted me a few years ago about a copy they’d found at a used bookstore that a gentleman of my acquaintance had printed and coil-bound for himself at a Kinkos. It’s not just on the Internet where you can find everything eventually. . .

By 2012, I had a new, much stronger novel, transformed from a third person to a first person narrative to better suit what I intended for the rest of the “Blood & Magic” series, new graphics, a greater adherence to my plans for future books in the series, and a new campaign.

That is a novel. It may have begun as an idea, but that was only the beginning (and a very small part of) the process.

An Idea isn’t precious.

Everyone has ideas. Put me on the spot and I’ll come up with as many ideas as you give me minutes. Most of them will be okay, or questionable, or a little red-wine-inspired awful. One may be terrific, but the majority will be disposable. An idea is cheap. Or rather, it’s free. It takes little effort to tease out of your brain, and it has no monetary or intrinsic value. It barely exists, and can be snuffed out by another thought coming along behind.

An Idea isn’t your ticket to wealth and fame.

Ten times a week (more if I’m around certain venues, like a comic book convention), I hear, “I have the most awesome idea. It’s going to make me millions.” It won’t. Never. Unless, maybe, you’re J.J. Abrams and tell someone who has the power to do something about it, “Hey—I have an idea about a bunch of people who get stranded by a plane crash on a desert island.” And yes, the idea leads somewhere, but not because a great idea that automatically added zeroes to a bank account.

An Idea isn’t unique on its own.

Someone comes up with a great idea. Around the world, maybe even at the same time, other people are coming up with exactly the same idea. The idea is just the starting point, a dot, one dimension of what might develop. But until you go beyond the idea, everyone’s dot looks pretty much the same.

An Idea isn’t the same as a story.

A screenplay is the framework for a film. It’s the blueprint that allows a lot of other professionals to craft something bigger and more concrete. Having an idea isn’t the same as having a story to tell. A concept isn’t even a blueprint. It’s an inkling, an iota of inspiration. A story is a sequence of events; an idea is a moment; like in a snapshot, you can’t glean much information about what’s outside the frame, what came before, or how it all ends.

An Idea isn’t the hard part.

Even more than ten times a week, I hear, “I have a great story. You should write it for me.” No, I shouldn’t. You should. You haven’t given me the gift of something precious: you’ve thrown out the first step in an enormous process by the end of which the original idea is probably the only thing you never sweated over.

idea, undead redhead, jen frankel
Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!

But don’t be discouraged. If there’s anything that labouring twenty (cough) years over my first novel has taught me, it’s that it does get easier, and you do learn to work harder and better, and those ideas are a key and a gateway to something worthwhile.

An idea is not precious, or hard, or a marketable commodity. But it’s a start, and once you get started, all you need is to do the real work, and turn it into something that is.

Fan to Fiction Writer

joker, batman, artwork, jen frankel, drawing, fan, fiction

Fanfic to Fiction Writer

joker, batman, artwork, jen frankel, drawing, fan, fiction
a little scribble of the Joker I did to entertain myself — still haven’t written a Joker fanfic though!

I think that writing fanfic fiction has always been a natural way for a writer to begin, even before the term itself existed. Imitation is the easiest way to start to do anything: here’s how to throw a ball, trace this letter then try it yourself.

The surge in popularity of fan fiction seems as much a tribute to the easy of sharing stories as it is proof that we love to put ourselves, or at least our own imaginations, into the worlds others create to entertain us (or, you know, themselves!)

So I can’t stigmatize the urge or the action of writing fan fiction as something that ISN’T writing, as the more snobbish might. Writers don’t start off performing like finely-tuned racing cars, or running like prized thoroughbreds in a prestigious race. We start off small (with that six page “novel” we wrote in elementary school) and move on up from there.

Fanfic: What’s your goal?

There are however different kinds of writing and different goals for it, and there are certainly different levels of competence. You have to “learn the craft,” as they say, to take your work beyond fanfic if you want it to reach a consumer market as well as the folks who are going to love what you do because you’re giving them what they want: a new or expanded way into stories and characters they already love.

JFRRS, writing, fanfic, author, podcast
Don’t miss Jen’s writing podcast JEN FRANKEL READS RANDOM S#iT!

I know that I forgive a lot of spelling and grammar errors in fanfic that I wouldn’t in a published mass market paperback, or even in a manuscript that crosses my own desk. If you want to reach an audience that will see you as a creator and craftsperson, you need to do two things—and yes, they will both take a long time! You need to learn how to write technically, and you need to learn to tell your own stories.

Spec Script 101

If you don’t know what a spec script is, you might want to read up! If you’ve ever dreamed of having a show you created on television, one of the ways to get there is to write a spec, which is basically a piece of fan fiction that can take you to the next level with your writing career. A spec is an episode of a current television show (live or animated) that YOU write. Here’s a place where you can bring all your fanfic chops to bear. I mean, you probably already know what you want to see happen to your favourite characters! And here’s a way you can do it.

undead redhead, calumet editions
Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!

Now, something else you should know going in is that you rarely send a spec script to the show you wrote it about. That’s mostly a legal thing, because the last thing a show wants to do is air a story close to yours and have you sue them! But you can send a “Supernatural” spec script to “Grimm,” or a “CSI” script to “NCIS.”

From there, you might end up getting hired to write a script for the show you submitted to, from which you might move into the writers’ room where new ideas are honed, and eventually on to create a show yourself.

Fan fiction can take you places, if you learn the craft, and watch out for opportunities. And yes, spelling DEFINITELY counts!

READ a great article by Joanna Smith on the different types of fanfic, and where to try publishing your fanfic online!

Newsletter 1.7

Newsletter 1.7

If It’s a Sonnet: JFRRS 1.2

If It’s A Sonnet, It Must Be Love:

Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it ep 1.2

listen on iTunes TuneIn  SoundCloud

original airdate: Jan 13, 2017

When I write poetry, chances are good the inspiration comes out of some immediate thought or experience. But if it’s a sonnet, there’s an even better chance that I’m in love…

Transcript follows: some differences between actual recorded content and script is not just possible but likely!


JFFRS Ep 1.2

Music.

opening quotation

“For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Music changes.

Introduction

Hello and welcome to the second episode of the JFRRS podcast, or, if you’re in a Not Safe For Work be damned environment, Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I am Jen Frankel, the writer of said random shit, but at the beginning of this episode, you heard me read the final couplet from a sonnet Shakespeare, that begins My love is as a fever. I hope to share with you some words of wisdom on life and writing in particular over the course of this podcast, from some of my favourite authors and thinkers on the subject.

Today, I decided to introduce some of my poetry, and what greater subject is there for poetry than love? For me, discovering that I’m writing sonnets is a pretty sure sign that I’ve fallen, possibly pretty darned hard.

If you’ve forgotten your high school English classes, or somehow managed to escape the unit on metered poetry, a sonnet is fourteen lines of rhyming wonder. In the first three stanzas of four lines each, the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth. The final two lines are a couplet, like the Shakespearean one I read off the top.

Dryden wrote that having restrictions placed on HOW you write a poem actually allows you more freedom in terms of WHAT you say, kind of like how a glass gives liquid a shape. Restrictions, knowing the rules, also gives you power to bend or break them, or use them to intensify the effect you intend. Listen in the reading for examples of places where for example there are rhymes within a line as well as at the ends, where the thought doesn’t end where the rhyme happens but continues into the next, or where all four lines in a stanza rhyme to up the feeling of being obsessed or in a romantic haze.

For me, having a place to start probably gives me a way to get into writing a piece of verse, especially if my senses are otherwise all flustered from a surfeit of romantic emotion.

However, something you’ll no doubt learn about me over the course of this podcast, I am never content to approach a subject in the most obvious or straight-forward way, and it’s the same way with my love sonnets. I’m going to read a selection of eight poems written over the course of Well, let’s just say several love affairs. Some were requited, some not, some disastrous, and some just never really became anything. But each provided a perspective, even a lesson, that inspired a piece of verse. I hope you enjoy them, and find your own lost or lingering loves in their lines. Oh, also look for alliteration!

Music changes.

sonnet i

I’ve been yours since the night you rescued me:
‘Til then I was the ruler of my heart.
To break my firmest oath, how could it be
Passion fights will to play the traitor’s part.
I had made an enemy of my gaze,
Forsworn those it looked with favour upon
As those that rule the night must shun the days
And waking, find the summer silently gone.
All I’ve ever fought for, all I’ve won
Seem like worthless boasts best left to the past.
And, lacking you, I find what I have done
Is built a summer-house, not meant to last.
Take care when through your fingers fall the sands
It will always be my heart in your hands.

sonnet ii

I faltered when I stepped first into light
But you held my hand and I felt assured.
So I sang to find favour in your sight:
You smiled and said, She has a voice like a bird.
My needs were simpler then; I could believe
Myself complete, and you nothing to teach.
I was entranced; I took too long to leave —
I had meant to fly out of your reach
The cage is beautiful, but still a cage
And sleeping here has made me too soon old.
You, why have you never yet seemed to age?
At least my cage still has its bars of gold.
See, little bird, your keeper is the cat —
How could I be loved by a man like that?

sonnet iii

Little boy, where are you going tonight?
You are so fair! with your smooth white skin.
Come, while the sun on your back is still bright.
I’ll walk by your side so you don’t fall in.
Where are you going? with your hair like dusk,
Your eyes like sun on green grass; I long to
Use you until I leave just an empty husk.
Come in, boy, how could the shadows hurt you?
Do you understand I can run my hands through
Your dark hair or your eyes with equal ease?
Your beauty’s not your fault; I had it, too.
Pretty boy, I know you can’t help but tease.
I would devour you if I thought I should.
Run home, little boy, you’ll die in this wood.

jenny speaks: sonnet iv

Whatever times we had, I’m glad they’re gone:
The presents you bought me, those baubles to wear.
How eagerly those young girls around you fawn!
You fooled me once, but now I couldn’t care.
I was in love with something you are not;
Your rich gifts made it simple to pretend
Affection could so easily be bought.
All my jealousies! Nothing yet could mend
That love is never happy so begun,
‘Though pretty was the fantasy we played.
I let you stand too long in the sun:
Watched your bright colours quickly blanch and fade.
I keep in mind your wit when we first met,
For beauty is too easy to forget.

sonnet vii

I wish I could tell you what my real thoughts are.
I know what to say but can’t; that’s my lot
To sit admiring meekly from afar
And to always want what I haven’t got.
Your smile makes brighter the sunniest day
And mine is frozen in inconstant fear.
Alone, I phrase the words I want to say
But my mind empties when you come near.
I’m flustered like a frightened five-year-old.
Everywhere, I feel your hand on my throat,
Touching my face. I try to be bold,
But instead, I blather nothings learned from rote.
Nothing binds you here; soon you’ll slip away
When I can’t begin to ask you to stay.

sonnet viii

Even if it’s something for nothing
You want, just say so. I’ll give you all
I can. I only ask one little thing.
Please — never treat me like a china doll.
This skin — is as pliant as anyone’s
And these wounds, just as tender. I burn
For you with the strength of a thousand suns.
Please — will you ever know how much I yearn
To give you anything you could demand?
If I didn’t know it would make you think
Less of me, I’d put myself in you hands,
Say please — keep me afloat, or let me sink.
I always thought I wanted to be free
Please — do what you want, but don’t let me be.

sonnet ix

Really, I come here only to see him —
Each night sitting at my table alone,
Feeling again the light on my face dim.
I sit still as a woman made of stone.
I can pretend to myself that I’m here
For the music, alcohol, the neon light,
Or even familiar atmosphere —
As his fair head winks in and out of sight.
I love the warmth of the night in his face,
The shape of his body changed with each pace
As he moves through the shadows of this place
Here, then gone, leaving me an empty space.
But raise a glass, leave the picture intact,
Passions in silence, the mirror uncracked.

A Sonnet to Defeat Evanescence: Sonnet XI

For aught that I was fond in my schooling
And opened books as eager as a Dean
O’er my head I find my heart is ruling
And else but love takes on a paler sheen

For head o’er heart is only vain fooling
The truth is folly over sense will win
And like a lion turned to kitten mewling
Will find folly to desire closest kin

As kingdoms kings in chaos unruling
As rivers are in springtime all in flood
As time and tide leave sands only cooling
So thoughts of you will never cool my blood

Oh be thou not evanescent but stay
Beside me here forever and a day

Music changes.

outro

From longing to loss, heartbreak to heaven, love is one of the most ineffable of human emotions. Some days I don’t believe in it at all, some days I denigrate it as nothing more than a selfish instinct more akin to madness than revelation, but whenever I’m in love, I write sonnets.

Next time, I’m going to try a piece of fiction, possibly about a woman who starts to feel like her life doesn’t fit her, or vice versa, and is treated to a rather concrete demonstration of just what it means to grow out of the world.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard today, please follow me on Soundcloud, and leave me a comment there or on my website at Jen Frankel dot com. You can follow me on Twitter at jen frankel, or on instagram at jen frankel author. I also write books, and you can find them, appropriately enough, at jenfrankel.com slash books. Thank you for listening, and see you next time on Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it.

My Taste

toronto, harbour, birds, wildlife, emma, niece
toronto, harbour, birds, wildlife, emma, niece
Toronto Harbour

My Taste: A Poem

Taste is a tricky thing. We mistake our taste for an arbiter of quality, calling something terrible or brilliant because we like it, without any resort to an objective standard.

One of the most humbling realizations as an editor or reviewer of other people’s work can be that, while you hate a particular piece of writing, there’s nothing at all wrong with it. It can be good even if you don’t like it. Just as every writer has a style and a viewpoint, so does every reader, and you probably will never please them all.

When we’re young, a lot of us want to change the world. We’re going to write the game-changing novel, or discover the missing piece that will lead to universal happiness.

But what exactly is the change we seek? What do we want to cure in humanity, or gift to it that would make everything better? Does everyone even want the same thing? And how much time have we spent learning what is wrong so that we’re even trying to fix the right thing?

As we get older, we often become less idealistic, believing that it’s either unrealistic or arrogant to think that we can make a difference. Me, I became overwhelmed. I’ve tried hard to look into the lives of every kind of person I come across, to understand the deep needs that aren’t being met, to discover what they have too little, or too much of, and how an alteration of their circumstances might actually affect them. After all, lots of people want to win the lottery, but those who have aren’t necessarily any happier.

For 2018, I want to set the bar very high for myself. I want to search for that thing that everyone can understand and relate to, instead of writing for the lowest common denominator, seeking instead the highest.

So for 2018, here is my pledge: to look more clearly, to ask more questions, and to try to discover what, if anything, I can really do to make the world a better place. If it’s through my art, all the better. If not, I hope I will have the humility to help in another way.

This poem is about learning that even personal preference can be a luxury others can’t afford to exert.

My taste

Would be more acceptable if it was only my own
If I was stating my disgust with brown bedding
Or floppy hats
My love of strappy sandals
And a sunset with boats sailing through

But my taste isn’t only my taste
It wants to look at the bigger picture
Those tall yachts are a lifestyle I can’t fathom
So to speak
Not when I compare it to the place I stand
And the disadvantaged folk sharing this beach with me

What place do strappy sandals have in a world
Where having shoes at all can make the difference between going to school or not
And having good work boots can mean the difference between having a job
And going hungry
Every year you don’t have those boots
Adding to the likelihood you’ll fall further away from any job
From any chance of a livelihood

How can I justify a preference for this bottled water over that
When water runs free and clean from my taps?
My taste likes to remind me of that good fortune
When I consider water from a store

My taste never stops reminding me that it is a luxury others don’t possess
I’ll exercise it with restraint
Until everyone can have their own.

Negotiation

four leaf clover, celtic knotwork

Negotiation

Opening pleasantries with a pretty room
Done over for comfort; played in rose
Made in the absence of its owner
Allow her the satisfaction
Of kicking her worn boots to the corner
So clever spills out and about her socks
In rose pile
Like clover in a spring-time field
When last did she reach to her reclining side
And to the amazement of mostly herself
Exclaim on four perfect leaves
When boundaries between what is and what could be
Left themselves for the definition of her elders
On powders of potent wonder
She could sell them and buy this pretty room

There is knowledge in the world
She has more than her fair share
Of that she is sure
If only it had come better packaged
With more of the instructions which seem simple
To everyone but her
She has special powers and perhaps that is compensation
She has come home

She wants to travel farther than any woman before her
Farther than any woman has wanted
She needs no road map
The clever is enough
She’ll spill it behind her
Like fine white pebbles from a boy’s fingers
If it was enough to save him from the woods,
Surely she can be secure
And know that if she loses her way
The way back at least is clear

Opening pleasantries
She bows
Knowing the room will not care that
Her socks are dirty
And do not match

When I’m Famous

When I’m Famous

Yes, this is a seriously good time to write about what I’m going to do when I’m famous. A) I’m not, and B) since I haven’t had any experience being famous, I can speak with the authority of the entirely ignorant.

It’s also a great time to get started because no one is going to mistake me for, well, anyone.

Fame is a tricky beast, and always has been. People hated Cleopatra millennia before Hillary, and that was way before Fox News. The contemporary accounts of King Henry VIII are full of praise for his height and good looks.

I have always been perplexed by hero worship, or even hero envy, but then I’m lucky to have always known my path in life, and to have concerns other than the public side of what I do.

The work, in other words, is the point, not who loves me or knows who I am.

I want you to feel like you could be my peer, not my peon. It would be extremely flattering to know you admire me and connect with my work, but I want you to ask yourself why.

Art is a conversation we have often at extreme arms’ length, with art as the medium of that conversation. Marshall McLuhan’s concept of the medium as the message has warped even further: now the media is two-way voice and video chat. Media is so ubiquitous that we treat the plural of the noun as if it’s the smallest unit we’d deign to consume.

My rule about stories is that I only want to read about someone who’s more interesting than I am. That way, I’m always learning, always growing, and I strive to set that bar pretty high in my own life. That’s what you deserve too, what I hope our conversation spurs you on to.

blackadder, rowan atkinson, actors
…printed and bound in play manuscript form!

I quip that I only want to meet famous people when they want to meet me, but that’s really the truth. When you read my work, we’re having the best conversation I can offer you: crafted, honed, and cleverly printed and bound in book manuscript form, to paraphrase Blackadder.

If something I write sparks you, let that spark move you to something more profound than fandom. Let it move you to respond by starting a conversation with someone else, with growing and learning to do and be what you admire instead of letting me speak for you. I’m sure you have tons to say and talking to yourself is, I’m sure, as lonely for you as it is for me.

I wish you joy of identity, of striving for excellence, of honing your own conversational skills to bridge the gap between yourself and others. I wish you more than the surface of fame, the parties and the money. I wish you something real, something lasting, and something infinitely more valuable: communication.

As a side note: there was no “Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it!” podcast this month. Apologies! But if you’ve read this month’s newsletter, you have more than a good idea why. If not, sign up!! –> 😉