Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My First Blog

So Write! is my second blog ever. My first was titled Jane’s India Trip.

In 2008 a colleague and I took a business trip to India. I was an editor; Sally was, and is, a techie. These are simplifications. We, and others, traveled 8,600 miles to approve a product for our company.

We were in India for a total of 16 days, based in Bangalore but traveling to Mysore, Delhi, and Agra. When Sally told me she intended to keep friends and family informed about her trip by posting a blog, I had to ask her what a blog was. Remember when people had to explain that blog was short for weblog? I didn't even know what a weblog was. She, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do.

Sally's idea to write about her experiences excited me, and she offered to help me set up my own blog. In just a few hours, Jane’s India Trip was real and my first entry, “Invitation,” was posted.

I recently thought about my India blog and tried unsuccessfully to find it online. At one point--years ago, before my three computer crashes--I could access it on the Internet even though I’d stopped writing new posts once we were back home.

A few weeks ago Sally came to the rescue again, locating the link, and then I lost it a second time in a morass of old e-mail messages. I had to ask her to send it once more. Now I’m saving it as part of this post, hoping I won’t lose it a third time.

Why do I care so much about accessing that old blog? Sentimental reasons; the trip was an amazing opportunity and a memorable time. Thanks to Sally, I also found out in India how much fun it is to blog. That discovery eventually led to So Write!.

If you’re curious about the impressions and adventures of two Americans in India, you’re welcome to check it out. (Begin at the bottom of the list of posts.) And thanks again to those who read my first blog the first time.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Get Real

It’s hard to write as someone of the opposite sex. I’ve done it. You have to stop and consider every word, every description and thought. Avoiding stereotypes takes on a new dimension.

I’m reading a serial-killer novel right now. The author is a man writing about women who end up murdered. This is a guy who’s written 40 novels, yet something is off when he tells us how the killer gets these women alone.

Three women have encountered the murderer so far, and two thought he was stalking them before they actually met him. Yet he has easily turned each meeting into a dating situation. His looks and clothes are average and his conversation is uninspired. He barely flirts. The women start out uninterested, even annoyed or frightened. But each one magically decides to have a wild time with this near-stranger.

The whole city knows a killer is on the loose; it’s all over the news. Yet there is victim No. 3 studying her companion as they head for private quarters. He looks harmless enough, she thinks to herself—and here is where it goes astray: “Even if he did get a little kinky, she was sure she could handle him. Besides, what was wrong with a little kinky?”

I’m not saying that no woman would ever entertain such thoughts, but when promiscuity is written in a book as a predictable trait of multiple women, and in fact as the sure-fire way for a serial killer to operate, it doesn’t work for this reader.

I hate to spend $9.99 on a book and find out something like this.

Back when my mother and I were visiting my grandmother in a nursing home, we passed the five-hour car trip listening to books on tape. Mom tended to choose detective stories from another era, written before widespread awareness of sexism. She didn’t notice what I did; I was too tuned in and after a while had to tune out.

Here’s another cockeyed take on women from the book I’m reading. They consistently eat like farm hands: eggs and bacon and toast; French toast; and “huge bites” of pizza—not all at once, but still. Sorry, Mr. Writer, not happening.

These things wouldn’t bother me if they were noted as unusual, but universality is implied by the repeated examples. Maybe the author is writing primarily for a male audience. He’s sold plenty of books and has won awards, but I’m grinding through this book. I might finish it, but I’ll skip the other 39.

My brother let me know plenty of times during the writing of Mr. Joe when I had misrepresented him. One time he came walking up to the front door announcing, “I would not say ‘fret’ under penalty of death.” There is nothing wrong with a reality check. It can make us better writers.

The women in this book won’t be marching up to the author’s door to complain; his lack of appropriate dialog took care of that before the murderer ever stepped in.

I’m now reading about the next victim-in-the-making. The killer says to himself as he approaches her: It’s so easy to know what women are thinking. In the story, he’s right; she quickly offers herself up just like the others. And there’s the flaw. The author doesn’t have a clue what women are thinking. 

This post was written in 2013. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Into the Woods: Rural Ohio (Part 3)

It was just me and my bladder in the tent, holding fast for daylight. My mind did a soft-shoe to the tune of “Me and My Shadow”: “Me…and My Blad…der…” Just when I knew I couldn’t wait all night, I remembered I was still wearing my headlamp and watch. It was 5:00 a.m. I headed for the house and indoor plumbing. Afterward I returned to my tent, and the next time I opened my eyes it was 7:00 and bright outside.

What a glorious morning to be outdoors! It was easy to say now that the sun was shining. Flowers were blooming and the air was clean. After coffee and a light breakfast, I was ready for a hike.

This would be the first time I’d worn my backpack, with the exception of the evening before at the REI store when I was deciding whether to buy it. I’d packed it at home instead of a suitcase, discovering its multiple compartments, straps, loops, and options. Packing the right stuff the right way was a challenge. I took items I didn’t find over the weekend; items I forgot were there; and a confusing array of small articles I didn’t need.

The second challenge I faced with the pack was finding out if I could comfortably wear it on a hike. My friends and I walked up and down the hills behind their house. I felt at home in the woods as we tramped across fallen leaves, stepped over logs, and jumped narrow creek beds. I was happy not to be winded from the elevation or sore from the load I was carrying. After we’d bonded in the middle of the night, my pack and I were simpatico! In Wild, Cheryl Strayed named her pack Monster because she couldn’t lift it. Unless I think of a better name, I’m going to call mine Blue because it is blue.

We crossed a mountaintop in high, yellow grass. The hills were quiet and peaceful. I did not know then that wild turkey season had opened in Ohio, but I did have time to ponder the idea that hunters could be afoot in some adjacent wood. Hiker wisdom warns that at certain times of the year we need to wear an item of clothing in blaze orange, the universal signal of human presence. My tent was orange; that was good, but I had nothing appropriate with me. I had thought about ordering a Buff, a multi-function cloth whose uses include neck scarf and hat, but could not decide on the color. Now I knew: orange.

“Oh! Look at this,” I said later when we’d begun taking down our tents. The instructions for assembling mine were on a tag sewn inside the main stuff bag. How had I missed them before?

This would-be hiker will need a lot more practice in order to be comfortable on the trail. Ultimately we all hike our own hike. I know I must learn to be in the woods alone, and I hope that happens, but nothing beats friends willing to share the experience.