I feel as though I must preface this post with a few facts:

  • I love to read. I also love to write about what I’ve read.
  • This is going to be a post about something I’m passionate about rather than something I’m irritated about.
  • I spent many years analyzing literature for a grade. Now I just do it because I can’t help it.
  • I’ve written a novel. This post describes part of the basis for that novel.
  • Please try not to be too upset if this is boring. I’m pretty sure my life will spiral out of control again very soon and posts will return to the self-deprecating hilarity this blog was always intended to be.

And now…onward.

The Mirror is, in literature, one of the most basic of devices available to an author. Literal and figurative mirrors show up in almost every work of fiction you can lay your hands on. I’ve always been interested in how characters mirror one another, how events are foreshadowed by subtle mirroring. I think this is largely unintentional in most writing, or else not viewed in terms of mirrors. Since I started working on my novel two years ago (almost exactly), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about everything I read through the lens of the mirror (try to get past the awkwardness of the image that presents…I guess what I mean is, from the perspective of the mirror, or with the mirror guiding my thinking…but the ‘lens’ or the paradigm seems to best express what I am trying to say). I see mirrors in everything I read, in varying degrees.

My novel is based around the Victorian poem “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In this poem, the tragic character Elaine of Shalott (described in multiple tellings of Arthurian legend), is cursed. The Lady is trapped in her tower room by a curse that predicts her death if she looks out from her window onto Camelot. She spends her days weaving scenes she sees only through a mirror reflecting the beauty of the world beyond her window. Elaine experiences life only as it is reflected through this mirror. Until she sees Lancelot’s image, Elaine, though dissatisfied, is willing to observe the world outside in this distanced way. When Lancelot appears in her mirror however, the Lady accepts the curse and takes the risk in order to see him for herself. The poem ends with her floating down the river in a broken old raft from Shalott to Camelot, dying.

I first read this poem my senior year of high school. I can say with absolute confidence that it has changed my life. Among other things, this poem began my interest in mirrors in literature. I knew that I wanted the mirror to play a central role in my own novel. As I shaped my novel around this image and Elaine’s poignant story, I began to think of ways to extend my own character’s story. What better way than to shape the continuing saga of my character around other works of literature where mirrors play a key role. My brain sort of exploded when I made my first list of such works.

  • “The Rape of the Lock” – Alexander Pope
  • Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
  • “Snow White” – the Grimm brothers
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (an idea I won’t be legally allowed to shape my story around for a reeeeeeeeally long time because of copyright laws)
  • “Beauty and the Beast” – no idea

I’ve read extensively but I know I’m barely touching the surface of literary works where mirrors are of vital importance. The mirror motif is strong throughout the works of Shakespeare, but mostly in a figurative way – literal mirrors only show up here and there (most notably in Richard II). My brain is constantly processing all of the prose and poetry I’ve read that might possibly contain mirrors. It’s like a game for me.

Perhaps more fun, though, comes after I’ve located a work fulfilling my requirements. I love to consider all the different uses to which these mirrors are put. In “The Rape of the Lock,” the mirror represents vanity. Similarly in “Snow White,” the magic mirror is a symbol of vanity, but also of truth. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice’s journey inside the mirror explores the opposite nature of a reflection. The Mirror of Erised in the first installment of Harry Potter is the mirror motif used to represent the ‘ideal’ image. The magical mirror that connects Beauty to the Beast in their story is a tool to help Beauty ‘see’ the Beast in a different way. So many different uses for one symbol.

Its versatility makes it an ideal candidate for a over-arching image for a series of novels. While “The Lady of Shalott” and its inspiration stuck with me for eight years before I starting working in earnest on my story, I’m hoping that the mirror motif stays fresh in my mind until I feel ready to create the next installment of my Mirror Series. Frustratingly, I’m hesitant to proceed until I find an agent for the first novel. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another eight years. Of course, I have a feeling I won’t mind, in the end. More time for practice and blog posts in between.

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Seriously, has there ever been a word more useful than the word RATHER? I love it. It modifies adjectives (a rather short piece), adverbs (I wrote rather hastily), nouns (rather a bad habit to get into), verbs (I’m rather worried), it can indicate a comparison (rather than thoughtfully) and preference (as I’d rather work). Such range for one word!

I didn’t notice my addiction to this word until Mom pointed it out after reading my revised first chapter, at which time I did a word find on my entire novel. I probably used it once every ten pages or so, on average, which seems okay now that I realize the startling number of uses to which it can be put, but when I first saw the trend, I almost had a panic attack. It’s not good to repeat one word (especially one as noticeable as ‘rather’) without a really good reason. I used it about seven times in the first eighteen pages, so obviously I had to do some rearranging there. But it rather informs the voice of my character, so I left it in a lot of places. If I were doing a word search on the blog, I don’t think I’d find ‘rather’ all that often (it wasn’t in the top ten on my word cloud post) because I don’t think it’s part of my typical voice. It features heavily in Darcie’s voice though, so I’m not all that worried by its presence.

But I was rather concerned for a moment there…

I’m forcing myself to break the hierarchy at this very moment in writing this post. I have a to-do list. Frankly, scooping the litter box actually seems a bit more appealing than sitting down to write a post without the support of a funny experience or even the willingness to write my Justin Timberlake entry this early in my first month of forced writing. It’s too early to blow everyone’s mind with that comedic gold.

It’s funny to me how tempting working on my novel seems right now. I’ve been planning every morning to open it up each day, and each day I’ve forgotten to do it. There’s always something distracting me. But the moment I have a chore (or a blog entry) that seems less appealing, the novel makes an immediate appearance in the forefront of my mind.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to neglect my unsavory chore (or blog entry) and pick up the writing just because it seems like the easier and more rewarding option. Sometimes you just gotta do what’s got to be done. But…oh my gosh this is the most boring post I’ve EVER WRITTEN!

How ’bout some jokes to liven things up?

Oh, nevermind. I got nothin’. I’m not a comedienne. I’m a girl who gets herself into ridiculous situations then does something stupid in the attempt to extract herself from said situation. It’s a simple formula. Only something strange has happened. My life isn’t very interesting without a job. I guess there’s a small chance I’ve just stopped doing stupid things, but I know that’s not the case. In fact, one of the more stupid things I’ve done was screwing up my laptop and I only did that in the last two weeks. It just wasn’t funny stupid. It was stupid stupid.

Even the discovery of further proof that some animal is indeed living in my laundry room (aka, the magical squirrel) doesn’t seem like enough of a topic to carry an entire post. (By the way, the proof was in no way magical, because magical squirrels do NOT defecate.)

And certainly nothing I say about weight loss will be original, as I have posted on this subject more than once already. My Sister-in-Law suggested several topics in the comments yesterday for me to pursue, but I feel that in order to do them justice, I’d better hear her thoughts on them first. S-i-L is hilarious and should write a blog herself, but as she doesn’t, I will happily steal her funny stories. So no worries, S-i-L, I haven’t forgotten your comments. A Reporter Friend of mine gave me a topic to avoid, which is probably for the best. Just as no one wants to read about my stupid stupid computer woes, he’s right in suggesting that my inability to keep up with installation discs and product keys is not inherently an interesting subject. Thus, for the past two hours I’ve hemmed and hawed (what an awful expression) over what to write about. Pretty certain the resultant 550 words are not nearly as interesting as they could have been if I’d just taken my own suggestion and run with it.

Damn you, Justin Timberlake! Why are you the only thing I can think about?

Remember the days of grade school when everyone insisted that you spend 1080 hours of your year in the presence of a certified instructor and general giver of knowledge? Yeah. It got worse. College was a false reprieve from this structured lifestyle because BAM you graduate and (if you’re lucky) you find a job and all of a sudden, everyone now insists you spend 2080 (more or less) hours of your year fulfilling duties and completing tasks. When you’re young and in grade school, an unexcused absence can put a real dent in your grades in a class here and there – but if you start to rack ’em up, all of your grades and thus your GPA and perhaps your entire life will suffer as a consequence. Heaven knows if you do the same at a job, the end result will likely be termination from your position and again, full-life suffering could commence.

On the contrary, if you write a blog, consistently posting ten to fifteen times a month and steadily building an audience, then BAM life happens and you go from twelve posts a month to four, no one much cares. The consequences are minor. Sure, readership dwindles. But isn’t that all vanity in the end? Aren’t I doing this for the writing practice and to entertain those who have a mild interest in my life? It’s easy to convince myself that it’s better to post nothing at all than drivel about the wonders of unemployment or the woes of financial ineptitude. My readers will thank me for not subjecting them to these pointless and frequently humorless topics.

However, I think in not forcing myself to post fifteen to twenty times a month, I am indulging my own belief that if I have nothing interesting happening in my life, I am unable to write about anything interesting. Not so. There are countless fascinating subjects just waiting for a humorous treatment by yours truly. It would expand my creativity to push the limits in this regard. Having a funny experience is like a gift. All I have to do is transcribe events for the enjoyment of all those who come here to read. It’s not hard. It’s not a particular challenge. Don’t I want to grow? Granted, I did push myself to begin with by starting this blog, but I don’t want to stagnate. It’s time to push a little harder.

I hereby reinstitute the policy of the Unexcused Absence. The consequences might be self-imposed, but I expect my own disappointment to be an effective deterrent to skipping out. Liz(Patty)Harrell only ever ditched yoga class and I don’t think my personality has changed that much since high school. Fifteen to twenty posts a month! Certainly not outside of my capabilities.

Though, if you have any suggestions for topics, I’m more than happy to have them 🙂 Heck, the more random, the better. For instance, Justin Timberlake just came to mind. I could write volumes… and they would be very funny volumes indeed.

Oh, dear reader, do not assume this joyful event came without struggle; it did not. There were countless unexpected delays, parts that needed to be ordered and then did not arrive when expected, messages that were not relayed as requested, and internet connections that failed to cooperate. All told, there were three trips to and from Birmingham in pursuit of the blessed reunion. All monetary proceeds from eighteen hours of house cleanings went to secure my precious laptop in a repaired condition. Dear reader, it has been a two-and-a-half week-long nightmare, each lonely moment separating me from my beloved computer complete misery.

But I am a survivor. I cut corners by checking only one of my email addresses regularly when I borrowed Hubby’s computer for an hour each day. I declined to visit my favorite industry blogs. I was almost thankful for the Olympics for interrupting regularly scheduled television so I could safely avoid Hulu. I sated my need for TV by watching my half-hour soap opera as frequently as I could.

Instead of my usual computer-driven life, I found other occupations for my time. I wrote blog entries by hand (Oh, the dedication!), I read eleven books (six of which are decidedly children’s books, two were non-fiction – though one of them was less than 100 pages long – and at least one was quite demanding and took several days to read), I cleaned the main living areas in my home four times. I made fourteen lunches for Hubby. I lost six pounds. I washed ten loads of laundry and three loads of dishes. I went grocery shopping four times, two of which were to get items I forgot in preparation for cake baking. It snowed twice. I hand painted (okay, spray painted mostly) my dining room table and chairs (which look awesome, by the way!). I survived life without constant access to Facebook, Outlook, Pandora, AIM and Hulu, as difficult as it seemed at the time.

This afternoon has had a subtle glow about it. I caught up with Nathan, Eric, and Le R (ie, my favorite publishing bloggers). I had surprisingly little television to entertain myself with, but that was okay because I listened to all of the “teen pop” I could possibly handle on Pandora. I chatted on AIM. I stalked on Facebook. I pressed the addictive “send/receive” button in my Outlook about ten thousand times. I sent and responded to emails. I listened to a commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling at Harvard in 2008 (highly recommended). I composed this blog entry without hand writing a single word. I edited my resume and wrote a cover letter (though I admit I did this out of necessity rather than for the enjoyment of it).

Tomorrow, though, I hope to strike a balance. In my two-and-a-half weeks of laptop withdrawal, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I, when left to my own devices, spend rather more time than I should staring at a computer screen. Quite a lot can be accomplished when one’s lap isn’t being constantly occupied by a computer. So tomorrow, when the glow of the reunion has faded, I plan to do things that require moving. Don’t get me wrong, much can be done with the use of my beloved laptop as well, but I’ve become sort of accustomed to a clean house and proper conversations with people. Here’s to the attempt, at least!

There I was, just waking up from a rather long Sunday afternoon nap and thinking to myself, “Ugh. I feel awful,” when it occurred to me that I ought to feel fabulous and relaxed and grateful for the opportunity to take a long Sunday afternoon nap.

Today will be the first day I’ve been totally obligation free in a long time. My house is clean. My husband spends ten hours a day at the school studying. My cats have been bathed and re-acclimated to human presence in the house. All vestiges of responsibility with my former sales job has passed. I live in a town where nothing happens if you’re over 23 and where my friend prospects all have full-time jobs. I have no inclination to become an obsessive exerciser nor any ambitions to become “homemaker of the year.”

As such, my long Sunday afternoon nap was more of an escape from sheer boredom than a luxurious indulgence during a coveted and special day off. And this, friends, was my first real day off. Even while performing my duties for my former job, I was never very good at distinguishing between work-time and home-time as I was working from my home. Being home all day without any structure at all is sure to be a struggle for me.

So while I was lying in bed, questioning my lack of appreciation for my nap, I came to the realization that I really do need some occupation for my time. Naturally, my thoughts turned to babies. Not only is this a natural place for my thoughts to turn in general, but I also happened to watch two Lifetime movies about teenage mothers this weekend. Besides the fact that I would now be dead had I gotten pregnant in high school (what’s the opposite of matricide? maybe infanticide, only when the infant is actually a pregnant teenager and her mom is so pissed she kills her?), I was really quite jealous of these teenage mothers. They don’t have to worry about the new study that says you only have 12 eggs left by the time you’re thirty. Sure, they have far more to worry about than that, but at least they have a baby.

Anyway, being that I am not a teenager and am therefore incapable of making ill-thought-out decisions regarding procreation, my second thought was that I needed a job. Well, that’s obvious. Money generally only comes to those who work (or else already have a ton of money to begin with), and I am sadly in need of money.

The problem with this solution is, of course, that it takes time to find a job, especially in a tiny college town where all the decent jobs are taken by stupid students…Oh sorry, that was a bit of a rant, but I’m getting bitter about the job market here.

SO, in the meantime, I suppose I’ll be doing more writing. When I was last unemployed, I managed to write a novel. Wonder if I can do it again? It’s either that or begin thinking more like a teenager 🙂

Recently, a Bearded Friend of mine posted a video on my Facebook page of a speech given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. Ms. Gilbert has some fascinating things to say about creativity and genius. I recommend watching when you have nineteen minutes to spare:

In summary, Ms. Gilbert is worried about the tremendous pressures placed on a productive “creator” (ie, a creative person who has produced something significant) by a humanistic society as well as personal hubris. Being responsible for something as singular and inspiring as a work of genius is… well… nice (I’d imagine). For about six months. Then (again, I’d imagine), the shiny, self-satisfied feeling that comes from this “spark” of genius starts to fade. Sure! Everyone is praising your work. You are a star! Only then comes the moment when you realize this praise comes with a catch – everyone is now eagerly waiting to see what you produce next. I’d imagine different sorts of creative types respond to this pressure differently. For some, it may be a sort of inspiration, or at the very least, motivation to produce something equally brilliant. For others, panic sets in, along with the onset of the appropriate equivalent of “writer’s block” for whichever field in which this person is producing work. Being a writer, I’m particularly attuned to the number of suicides among prolific creators in my field. It’s certainly unsettling to know that I (along with Ms. Gilbert) work in a field rife with predecessors who simply could not handle the responsibility of “being” a genius.

Obviously, if you listened to the lecture Ms. Gilbert gave above, you’d know the solution she suggests is that people in creative fields should not think of themselves as geniuses if they happen to create something others think of as a work of genius, but instead credit what amounts to be a person’s “muse.” She calls it “having” a genius (as opposed to “being” one), which may be entirely different from the concept of a muse, but I think the main point of her speech is that perhaps we (in creative fields) should relieve ourselves of the burden of genius (or, for that matter, not producing anything that might be considered a work of genius), and whether it’s a “daemon” as she put it, or a muse, it really doesn’t matter. The point is the same.

Only, my own personal hubris doesn’t really like the idea of this, just yet. Elizabeth Gilbert and I are in different creative stages in our lives… She’s produced something universally agreed to be masterful, whereas I can only claim that my Mother and Dear Friend think that I’ve created something masterful. I want my six months of shiny, self-satisfied joy before I give over the reigns to my Genius (who shall, from now on, be known as Rupert). Rupert can have the credit for the majority of what I hope is a long and fruitful career. But I want LizHarrell to have credit for the first success. I don’t know if Elizabeth Gilbert would agree that this is a healthy alternative to her way of thinking, but I guess one day there’s the possibility I’ll be in similar shoes to the pair she was wearing when she put that talk together – and I may have to give Rupert a shout-out in the acknowledgements after all.