The Muse: On Reading Good Writing

Hello readers! Long time no… Um… Write? I guess. Anyway, A here! I’m getting ready to head out on a two week international getaway with my main man, but I wanted to drop in and say “hey, I haven’t forgotten about you, Cactuslandia!”

I’m just busy and, frankly, a little less than motivated to write. C already covered this, but we’re up to our ears in rejections and my own writing has been stalled due to my transition to full-time work. (Yes, my metamorphosis to adulthood is almost complete. Now I just need to own a belt and sensible shoes… Oh, and buy a NEW couch for a change.)

Anyway, as much as I feel no inspiration or immediate desire to write, I’ve been continuing my push to read two books per month. Technically, I’ve been hanging out in the 1.5 books per month range, but, to be honest, I think I’d read a lot faster if more of the books I picked up were legitimately well-written. (No, this isn’t another rant about books that don’t deserve to be published… It’s more of a commentary on the written word.)

Sure, I’ve read some engaging stories in the past few months, but if the writing isn’t doing anything to propel my reading, it can take weeks for me to finish a novel. So-so writing that does the job of taking you through the plot but fails to keep you from checking how many pages you’ve got until the end of the chapter or the middle of the book or whatever just aren’t satisfying. Of course, this realization jumped out at me after picking up an article that demonstrated the power of, well, powerful writing.

Oddly enough, the article in question was in a copy of Vogue I read while getting my hair done. But it just captured me, you know? From start to finish. Granted, it was only about 5 pages, but the writing… It was really good.

You know when you get to the end of a story and go “wait, that’s all?” That’s the experience I want with every book I read, but that feeling has become more and more fleeting. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m not particularly discriminatory during the actual process of reading. If I’ve paid for the thing, I’m gonna finish reading it, dammit. Maybe not the best attitude…

So, yeah… Reading good writing is the best. It’s the cure-all for content boredom. (Oh yeah, I work in digital content now, so that’s not helping me fill my quota of good reading material by any stretch of the imagination.)

That’s all for now! I’ll be back, and since Stratford is coming up fast, C and I will begin prepping Nerd Cactus HQ for all things Stratford/Shakespeare.

Stay tuned!

-A

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The Muse: Writing is Healing

Hello, and welcome to the newly rebranded Muse. Hopefully, you tuned in to C’s last update, because things, they are a-changin’. Essentially, responsibilities, adulthood, and the pursuit of free time have put an end to our rigid posting schedule and we’ll be focusing on delivering high-quality content on more of a monthly timeline.

So, yes, the Muse will no longer appear strictly on Mondays, but I think this will result in more inspired posts as opposed to the “oh-shit-it’s-Monday-what-can-I-write-about” pieces of the past.

With that in mind, I present to you, Cacti community, my first new Muse.

It’s Tuesday. Two days ago, my family made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Fritz. He was almost 14 and debilitating arthritis was getting the better of him. The vet said he was suffering. He said it was time.

This weekend easily ranks as one of the worst in my life. Fritz was a sweet, loyal, neurotic wookie-like bear and it pains me that I couldn’t say goodbye in person. I spoke with him via a video chat with my dad the evening before, wishing I could reach out and scratch his ears. He was pretty alert, though he couldn’t do more than lie there. He knew it was me and listened to my words: the hollow “good boys” and choked up “the pain will all go aways.”

I made my parents promise to stay with him until the end. They kept their word, braving those final moments and making sure Fritz was surrounded by people he loved.

This was of significant importance to me, because one of my greatest regrets is that I wasn’t there when our cat was put to sleep. Granted, I was in high school at the time, but I was a snivelling coward and I left a scared animal that I cared deeply for to face the unknown without a loving friend nearby.

It doesn’t make things any easier and it certainly doesn’t make up for my past mistakes, but knowing that Fritz was accompanied by family and that he went peacefully provides a kind of closure I never got the last time I lost a pet. Fritz knew he was loved and cherished. That’s all anyone could want in their final moments.

Now, obviously, this hasn’t exactly been a Muse, but I feel that writing and sharing my grief is an important part of the healing process. Putting my thoughts down and taking a moment to reflect is my next step forward. Keeping my thoughts locked in while crying in the fetal position probably isn’t healthy after a certain point. So, let the healing begin.

A

Boozy Books: Behold the Dreamers

It’s Friday, y’all! Sit back, relax, grab a goblet, pull up a comfy chair, and snuggle into your weekly read: Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers.

This. Book. Is. So. Poignant. Please, read it.

Mbue’s story follows the Jonga family, (Jende, Neni, and their two children) immigrants from Cameroon attempting to achieve a better life in New York City in the shadow of the 2007 recession.

You can almost feel the tales of countless dreamers that were compiled to create the suffering and struggles of Mbue’s characters. The deep sadness of this story lies in how truthful it is. It paints a picture of an America that does not live up to the dreams it once promised. In fact, it paints a picture of a country that does not have room for anyone that is not well-educated, wealthy, and white. It shows the cruelty of the immigration system and the wage gap and the country’s boundless ability to chew people up and spit them out again.

Over the course of this novel you watch characters you love undergo monstrous transformations, you watch characters you trust act in their own selfish interests, and you watch otherwise moral characters make unbelievable decisions to protect themselves and their family. The point is: America has the power to transform people. Whether as a result of fear, greed, desperation, rage, or love, every character undergoes drastic change at the hands of the “American Dream.”

I found the ending particularly compelling, because (to me, at least) the final line of dialogue is so nuanced and open to interpretation. No spoilers, of course, but look out for that final question and just try to tell me there aren’t a hundred different ways to interpret it.

Now, let’s get to the pairing. This one is kind of hard to pair because the spirit of Cameroon is such a huge character in this story but so is America. So, do I pair with Budweiser? Or do I pair with Castel beer? I think we can all agree that Budweiser sucks ass, but it was definitely the most prominent American beer featured in the story. So, reader’s choice! (Though personally, I’m going Castel.)

Cheers!

A

Monday Muse: Writer’s Journal Woes

Hello readers, and welcome to the Monday Muse! Today’s topic: the mythical writer’s journal. What is it? How does it work? Is it the right path for you?

So, here’s the backstory… I want to make time to focus on honing my writing skills this year. This decision was partially spurred by a “resolution-like” exercise I participated in during a yoga class. Please, don’t judge me.

Anyway, after setting an intention (shut up), I set out to find ways to educate myself. I researched conferences, retreats, online certificate courses, and other expensive ways of basically saying, “look at me, I have money and all the leisure in the world.” Or maybe a wealthy husband… In any case, it occurred to me that I should probably start small before startling the credit bureau with uncharacteristic expenditures.

That’s when I stumbled upon several articles touting the amazing benefits of keeping a writer’s journal. That sounds doable, I thought to myself. But then every post I read from that point onwards was vague and unhelpful regarding the actual method of journaling as a writer.

Surely, I thought, there must be more to it than a daily journal. So, I did some more research. What I have found is that a writer’s journal can be anything you damn well please. But, see, I don’t find this particularly helpful. I thrive when I’m given assignments and I understand where and why there is growth.

Should I use a writer’s journal to delve into the parts of my stories that remain a mystery to me?

“Sure!” They said.

Should I use it to write observations on nature and daily life?

“Why not!” The internet quipped.

So. There’s no structure at all?

“Nope.”

Then how can I be sure I’m writing the right thing or even improving my writing??

“Well, as long as you write more, you’ll improve.”

Fuck you internet. Now I have a gigantic notebook full of days worth of random scribbles and no friggin’ idea what I’m doing.

It’s a scam, I tell you!

But, I am doing a lot of extracurricular writing, so I guess it’s not all bad?

Thoughts?

A

Silly Sunday: It’s Funny ‘Cause It’s True…

Hi friends! Ready for a laugh?

I’ve been watching Jim Jeffries’s stand-up lately and he just cracks me up. His observational humor is spot-on. Take this clip for example. This comparison of US airport security with basically any other country in the world is hysterical and accurate.

I believe Jeffries has a stand-up special on Netflix so if you’re interested in his style of comedy, definitely check him out. 👍

Happy Sunday!

A

Shakespeare Saturday: CONSPIRACY

Hello Nerd Cactus community! Welcome to the first Shakespeare Saturday of 2018. 

I don’t have much to offer today in terms of Shakespeare op-eds or fun facts, but if you want to have a good laugh at anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theorists… hoo boy have I got a doozy for you.

C and I are adament believers that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, but there are plenty of classist, non-believers out there who disagree. 

*Boo* *Hiss*

There are even some *ahem* “scholars” who have claimed to uncover whackadoodle Dan Brown bullshit conspiracy theories that PROVE Shakespeare couldn’t have been a lowly peasant. 

Take this guy, for example.

He believes that by rearranging an encrypted message in a dedication page of Shakespeare’s sonnets he can reveal the exact location of Shakespeare’s burial (turns out it’s not Stratford-upon-Avon) AND that the playwright was, in fact, (pause for dramatic effect and thunder-sheet sound cue) Edward de Vere. 

Point and laugh, everyone. It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. I believe this is what we refer to as “grasping at straws.”

As for us, we’ll continue to believe that greatness can rise from anywhere and phooey to anyone who says otherwise. Shakespeare’s a goddamn working class hero and we’ll believe in him to the bitter end.

See you next time!

A


*Bonus Image* (because I like to laugh at anti-Stratfordians)

Boozy Books: The Power

Hello Nerd Cacti Friends, and welcome to the final Boozy Books of 2017!

We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus due to C’s exciting romp through NYC, my recent obsessive attempts to sketch out my latest project, and, oh yeah, the holidays. BUT, I think Nerd Cactus HQ has been silent long enough! (Plus, I just finished reading a book I simply couldn’t put down, and I think a pairing is in order.)

So, without further ado, let me jump right in and say that Naomi Alderman’s The Power is the kind of sci-fi-lite concept piece that has the potential to soar or sink. Happily, I loved it. It flips every gender expectation on its head, challenges the validity of organized religion, and gives us a cast of strong, female leads that are out to change the world.

The plot is this: a power is beginning to emerge worldwide (as a result of evolution), and only women have it. This power involves shooting and controlling self-created electricity, a power that inevitably allows the “weaker sex” to become the dominant gender.

As usual, I will avoid spoilers, skip over the synopsis, and give you a little sense of my overall takeaway.

Let me start by saying that this novel is bookended by a series of letters that don’t make any sense at first, but the payoff is perfection. The book itself is written in chapters that follow individual characters whose stories intertwine here and there, but ultimately work together to create a well-rounded sense of the “pre-Cataclysm” world. Interestingly, (though perhaps not so in the context of what Alderman is clearly trying to draw attention to) there is only one “main” male character. Later on, we do get a glimpse of a secondary male figure, but the placement of men in this story successfully highlights the way most women are portrayed as minor characters in film, literature, and art. It’s really quite genius.

Also, – trigger warning for my #metoo friends out there – there is a rape scene. As Alderman shifts power to the women in her story, we see the degradation and fall of what is considered “manly,” culminating in our main male character being overtaken by a woman. It is a deeply disturbing scene, but the reversal of gender expectations and struggles that really takes off at this point in the narrative is what makes this story such an absorbing read.

I’ll tell you, I had no trouble imagining Alderman’s reality. Should every woman in the world wake up with this power tomorrow, I believe we’d face the same changes, challenges, and violence.

Ok, pairing time. This book calls for something strong. Preferably something that’ll make your throat burn, but also make you feel like you could take on the world. So, let’s go with a shot of fireball with an Angry Orchard chaser. I know some people out there may want to put their shot into their cider, but I’m telling you this book requires a shot.

Happy reading!

A