I know I’m a few days late for a Thanksgiving-themed post, but the long weekend gave me some time to think about what exactly gratitude means to me. Thanksgiving is an awfully fun holiday, usually packed chock-full of food and family and friends. There is pie and wine and binge-eating and carb-loading. There is music and laughter and impromptu games of touch football and chilly walks in the woods. These are all things I love. But sometimes I wonder if all the food and fun doesn’t distract us from what Thanksgiving is about.
I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Native Americans (although I recently learned that the First Thanksgiving probably featured eel as a main course, among other things). I’m talking about being grateful for the things we busy, self-absorbed, attention-challenged humans rarely take the time to thing about, let along express our gratitude for. In 1621, a feast was held to celebrate a good harvest and the sharing of knowledge between two disparate people. These days, what does the feast stand for? Does gorging ourselves on stuffing and pie really express our gratitude for all the things we own and the people we love and the lives we experience?
I know that I do not give thanks for my life often enough. It is too easy to look at my life and think about the things I don’t have, or the things I have not yet accomplished. To rue the mistakes I have made, and not celebrate the good things I have done. To fear an uncertain future instead of looking forward to a realm of opportunity. But I have much to be grateful for. The basics: my health, a sound mind, a pantry full of food, a roof over my head. And then the not-so-basics: family and friends who love me, a passion for my career, a great relationship, happiness. My life is so full of wonderful things, and in this huge, complicated, violent world, so many people do not have even half of what I have.
The holiday season is now in full swing, complete with a Black Friday and a Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. It is a small irony that on Thursday we give thanks for all the things we have, and the very next day we go out to get more things. December is a wonderful month, bright with twinkling lights and warm with cheer and excitement. But as we sip our eggnog and unwrap our presents and feast at our plentiful tables, perhaps we can also find the time to be grateful. Grateful for our families and our wealth, be that material or immaterial. Grateful to live, here in this wonderful, crazy, imperfect world.
And maybe, just maybe, a tad bit grateful that we don’t have to eat eel for Thanksgiving dinner.
Hello readers! Sorry I’ve been away the past few days, but I’ve been doing some guest blogging over at the Searching for SuperWomen blog! Hop on over to check out my post about ElfQuest, my very first fandom, and then don’t miss my review of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”!
Enjoy, and check back Monday for a return to a regular blog schedule!
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” –Pablo Picasso
I’ll tell you a secret: inspiration is a fickle, fickle mistress.The enchanted well is full of absinthe
(according to Hemingway.)
One of the questions people ask me most frequently about my writing process is, “Where do you get your inspiration?” Despite the frequency of its asking, the question usually catches me off guard, leaving me struggling to answer with half-sentences and mixed metaphors. Why is the question so difficult? Not because I am never inspired, nor because inspiration doesn’t exist, but because at any given time I have no idea where my next jolt of inspiration will come from. There is no enchanted well that I drink from, no mystical invocation to a Muse, no Zeus’ fire bolt from Olympus. Gee, I wish.
Nope. There’s just me, and my weird little brain, and the world around me.
Inspiration comes from all sorts of places, and sometimes nowhere at all. Confused yet? Let me try to explain. An dream, an image, a phrase, a name, or even a single word; sometimes the simplest, most banal occurrence can set off a veritable waterfall of ideas that lead to plot outlines, interesting characters, entire made-up worlds. One of the major world-building elements in my most recent novel was based almost entirely on a recurring dream I had years ago. I wrote a short story inspired by nothing more than a short phrase that popped into my head one random afternoon. Reading, living, watching, listening, being. Daydreaming. A lot of daydreaming. And sometimes that’s all it takes.
(The other night my husband glanced over at me and saw me silently staring into space. “Don’t you have anything to read?” he asked. “I am reading,” I replied. “It’s just a book that hasn’t been written yet.” The look on his face told me he was just a teeny bit freaked out. That’s what he gets for marrying a writer.)Maybe I should write this book after all.
Image via Threadless
And other times, inspiration isn’t so simple. I have to go hunting. Sometimes I play the “What If?” game, where I choose something seemingly inane and ask the question “What If?” until my brain offers up something moderately interesting. For example: What if cats were psychic? What if they were psychic because of aliens? What if cats were emissaries of a vast alien nation? What if they wanted to take over the world? Soon, I’m deep in the midst of a trans-galactic conspiracy involving prophetic space-cats. I may never actually write a word about these space-cats, but who knows? Somewhere amid all that nonsense I may find a tidbit of interest that inspires me to write something entirely different. (Andrew Bosley’s Brainstormer app can be great for this sort of thing, too. It’s fun even for non-writers.)
But, like Picasso said, the most reliable source of inspiration is the process of working itself. Just writing: pounding out words, and more words, and even more words. It might not happen right away, but eventually just going through the motions of writing is the straightest path to inspiration. Creation breeds creativity, and vice versa. It might not be right the first time. It might not even be good. But nothing is ever static, especially when it comes to inspiration. So I let the words guide me to the inspiration, and then let the inspiration guide the words. It’s messy, and hard, and frustrating, but until I find that enchanted well to drink from, it’s the best I can do.
Where do you find your inspiration? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
by Maggie Stiefvater
In Maggie Stiefvater’s sequel to 2012′s The Raven Boys, the Cabeswater ley line has been awakened, but Blue, Gansey, Adam and Ronan are no closer to finding the lost Welsh king Glendower. In fact, things are more complicated than ever. Adam’s sacrifice Cabeswater seems to have worked, but he doesn’t know what the ley line wants with him, or how to hold up his part of the bargain. Blue and Gansey’s relationship is suddenly complicated by romance. And Ronan–angry, troubled, violent Ronan–travels deeper and deeper into his dreams, even while his dreams begin to intrude into his waking life. Meanwhile, dangerous people circle closer, bent on locating Glendower before they can. Ronan must find a way to channel his dreams for good, or else the ley line might disappear, ruining Gansey’s hopes of ever finding the lost king.
I’ve read and reviewed several of Stiefvater’s novels, and I have liked each better than the last. The Dream Thieves surpassed my expectations in nearly every way. The novel is haunting, beautiful and unsettling and delicious, the kind of book that gets under your skin so much that you think about it for days after you’ve finished the last page. As Stiefvater grows as an author, her writing becomes more abstract, relying on simple images to convey complex ideas, and vice versa. Her imagery is incredible. It speaks for itself: here, Stiefvater describes a political gala attended by Gansey and Adam:
The party had become a devil’s feast: will-o’-the-wisps caught in brass hunting lamps, impossibly bright meats presented on ivy-filigreed platters, men in black, women jeweled in green and red. The painted trees of the ceiling bent low overhead. Adam was wired and exhausted, here and somewhere else. Nothing was real but him and Gansey.
Stiefvater’s character development is also phenomenal. Where many writers stumble over multiple perspectives, Stiefvater excels–each of her characters is layered and complex, with credible backstories and rich emotional landscapes. While The Raven Boys focused mostly on Gansey and Blue, The Dream Thieves mainly centers around Ronan and his troubled history with his family. As an anti-hero, Ronan is deftly drawn, his anti-social behavior and rough exterior in perfect contrast to Gansey’s polished, honest demeanor. And Stiefvater even adds another layer in the form of Ronan’s complicated dreamscapes, where he draws inspiration, and perhaps, something more solid.
This novel is yet another jewel in Maggie Stiefvater’s crown. I was stunned by her mastery of imagery, description, character development, and even conceptual flow. I look forward to reading more of her work, and hope she continues to expand and grow as one of the young adult genre’s most exceptional authors.
Have you ever wanted to hang out with your favorite fictional characters? I know I have! Here’s my top nine (I’m an iconoclast that way) fictional besties I wish I really had.Step. Off.
1. Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games
She’s tough, she’s loyal, and she’d be willing to sacrifice her life if it means saving yours. Best friend and security detail. Plus, the odds are apparently always in her favor. Can anyone say Las Vegas?
2. Cameron, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This guy would (reluctantly) let you steal his dad’s precious sports car to go joy-riding around the city while you play an elaborate game of hooky. That’s true friendship.
3. Dr. Watson, from Sherlock Holmes
The best case scenario of random roommate assignments: John Watson. He doesn’t mind when you flash your erudition, dazzling everyone around you with your brilliant genius. He also doesn’t seem to care if you shoot up cocaine and play your violin all night long (I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing.)
4. Lorelei Gilmore, from The Gilmore Girls
She’s smart, she’s funny, she wants nothing more than to stay in and riff on bad movies while gorging on junk food. You may not be able to keep up with her incessant pop-culture references, but if you’re lucky you might get to pet Paul Anka.
5. Sam Gamgee, from The Lord of the Rings
Oh, Samwise. He’s a simple but loyal friend who’ll follow you on potentially life-threatening quests into the lair of your enemy. If you get tired, he’s probably willing to carry you. He’s a pretty good judge of character, too, so he’ll tell you if he thinks your boyfriends are creepy (yeah, Smeagol, I’m looking at you.)
6. Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice
Navigating Regency society could be tough, but not with clever Lizzy at your side. She’d politely insult your too-eager suitors and show you how to dazzle the 5,000 pounds a year guys with your wit. She’d let you crash in one of Pemberly’s many well-appointed suites. And I hear Darcy has cousins.
7. Hermione Granger, from Harry Potter
Everybody knows that when your best friend’s a know-it-all, you don’t actually have to read or learn anything yourself. Also, I suspect she still has that time-turner lying around somewhere.Coming or not?
8. The Doctor, from Doctor Who
Actually, scratch that. I don’t want a time-turner, I want the TARDIS! The perks of being besties with the last of the Time Lords: epic coats, time travel (obvi), and never, ever a dull Christmas. Allons-y!
9. Harpo Marx, from The Marx Brothers
I don’t even know. Hanging out with this guy might be bewildering, spontaneous, and potentially life-threatening, but it’d probably be a hoot. Honk honk!