June's Literary Blog
 

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Challenges

In my house, there are two major signs that spring is just around the corner. No, one of them is not a first robin, the perennial harbinger. The first of my omens is that in February, I host a bad case of the flu; the second is the March entrapment of a bird in my chimney. These two never fail. Just as soon as I am on the road to recovery, a bird starts rattling inside our flue, intriguing my cat, who takes up a vigilant post on the hearth until I open wide the window and the French doors in the family room, and flip down the damper so that the bird can make his/her great escape. The past few years, s/her have been a small starling. This morning, s/he was a big--I mean BIG--black crow. S/he scattered a large dusting of ashes and soot onto my hardwood floor and leather recliner as s/he flew out the opened door. I am not sure what this means, but it was the start of yet another challenging day.

I spent the better part of the morning taking care of yet another huge piece in the labyrinth jigsaw puzzle of retirement, filling out yet again more reams of paperwork. Why do "they" have to make things so much more difficult and complicated, when this part of our lives should be easier than our past? The last half of the morning, I struggled with finalizing my income tax return. Deductions I made last year that I thought I could make this year are now disallowed by the IRS. Bummer. And who knew that when you e-file, the print function doesn't always work, resulting in "jerry-rigged" screen shots and print-outs of the forms in myriad pieces. Oh, well. At least I have a paper trail.

Challenge number four—or is this number five?—involves figuring out the final formatting of my next book, Cats of Nine Tails, for publication. For some reason, the margins and sizing are not "acceptable", even though I used the "approved" template. This conundrum will certainly take the better part of the next two days, I am sure.

In the meantime...

Yesterday afternoon I listened to an online recording of a recent broadcast of Afternoon Shift, a radio talk show hosted by Steve Edwards on WBEZ radio in Chicago (http://www.wbex.org/). He interviewed Esmeralda Santiago—as you know, she is one of my, if not my most favorite authors—and a poet, Thomas Sayers Ellis, whom, I admit, I know nothing (yet) about. During the interview, Edwards asked what advice they have for aspiring writers. And Esmeralda said that one should read. Read a lot. And not just "something you like, but challenge yourself. Read something that will be difficult for you". By doing so, she commented, you will stretch your mind, learn what "is out there". This will, in turn, flex your writing muscles. In other words, reach out of the box of your reading comfort zone. These are inspiring words, indeed, considering that I am an aspiring author and a more than above average avid reader. But challenge myself? As if all that I struggled with and through the past week and today–what with having the flu and all—weren’t bad enough.

When I was sick this past week, I laid lower than low, indulging myself in bed or on the couch watching downloaded past episodes of Drop Dead Diva and Glee, playing myriad games of "Words with Friends", and reading, between naps, The Bridge to Never Land by David Barry and Ridley Pearson and part of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. Well, I am a writer, somewhat, of books for older kids. I need to know what they’re reading. Right? For four days, my mind ached at the very thought of reading anything more stimulating or challenging, let alone blog about it. But last night and this morning as I went about the daily challenges of my life, I thought about Esmeralda's advice. What have I read lately that really challenged me? Now that I am feeling better and back up to it, what in my library would?

In June of 2008, I purchased a few selections of the Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century series. One of them was by Gabriel García Marquéz, Love in the Time of Cholera. This is the same author of One Hundred Years of Solitude , also a Penguin publication. During lunch, I took a break and ambled upstairs and found both of them tucked away on a middle shelf. Okay, I thought, as I noticed the starting dates I had inscribed on the frontpiece page of each, I had started both of them a number of years ago and probably after two or so pages, having had enough struggling with each, put them down. There were no ending dates recorded, and I do not remember ever finishing them, let alone the plot lines or characters. The novels, obviously, were too challenging for me back then. Would they be just as challenging for me now that I am a bit older, wiser, and more "experienced" in the wider world of literature beyond that of being an unappreciated techincal writer? Are they still too far outside of my own box? Perhaps, today, they are certainly worth a try.

So, before I sat down to write this post, I spent the previous hour or so reading. I started with Love in the Time of Cholera1. In the first few pages, we meet one of the three main protagonists, Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle. He is over 81 and still practicing medicine in Latin America. We follow him attending to the death and funeral of one of his friends. We then meet his wife, Fermina Daza, and learn a bit about his, their history together. There are finely-tuned details and descriptions of their love; the ennui of daily minutiae, and the smatterings of metaphors—a privileged pet parrot, for example. Enter Florentino Ariza, a poet who realizes he is deeply in love with Fermina. As we read on, García Marquéz begins to weave his tale, deepening the relationships, drawing the reader onto the loom, into the fabric of his characters' lives. Do I have the stamina to weave my way through the 348-page trade, smallish print paperback to find out how he knits them all together? Is this just enough of a reading challenge for me to stretch my mind muscles? Or is it too much of a struggle, as I had found it four years ago?

And while, yes, it is a great endeavor to get through the tightly packed run-on sentences, the long paragraphs, and the itemized finer points of the day-to-day, almost hourly accounting of what I am suspecting is going to be a complex story, I am intrigued. This is, in fact, I am finding, a love story. (Duh, June. Did you read the title?) And a literate love story at that—all neatly bound up in literature at its best. Although, I must admit, it will be a challenge for me to rise above my current love of children’s' books and almost secret proclivity in finding love stories in the pages of the more popular, less literary-minded romance novels. Here, I think, is going to be one of the "mothers" of all romances—or at least their first cousin, all wrapped up in really, really good literature that will not only appeal to, but spark and stimulate my intellect. Again, I have found another fine red wine, aged to perfection.

And...I have just discovered on http://www.imbd.com that an award winning film was released in 2008, starring Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and Benjamin Bratt.  Well, we certainly know what DVD I'll be ordering after I finish the book. And then, after that, I think I might just tackle what looks to be the equally challenging One Hundred Years of Solitude. These books and the movie will carry me through—and, hopefully, above—just about any other non-literary challenges I may face in the near future. At least, I hope they will.

Okay, I have to admit that I just couldn't wait to finish this entry, grab some dinner, build a fire against the cool nip in this day's early evening air, and snuggle in—probably until, once again, the wee hours of tomorrow's morning—with yet another great read. Yes, it will be a stretch for me and a challenge. But, unlike the illiterate ones I've been coping with in the last week or so, it will be a good, happy challenge.

Bring it on!
~~~~~~
1 © 1988 Gabriel García Marquéz. Published in 1989 by Penquin Books, Inc., New York, NY. English translation by Edith Grossman.

2:44 pm est          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,