Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert

Fitting everything in

by Pari

Okay. I admit it. Sometimes my decisions verge on lunacy. The latest of these is to participate in an 8-week fitness challenge through the University of New Mexico. That decision, at least, is wise. I’ve been stressed at work and forcing myself to exercise daily for a strategic length of time is bound to be helpful.

Where it gets wacky is what I decided immediately after signing up for the program. I’ve committed to exercising 90 minutes a day. That’s the maximum the program will let a participant record in a single day. I know it doesn’t sound like much during the 15 hours or so I’m awake, but in reality, it requires a lot of planning.

My life is already full. Work takes about 9-11 hours most days. Every other week I get to be a full-time mom in addition to the outside job.  And I don’t think I mentioned that I’ve got two small freelance PR gigs right now. I also do try to fit in at least a small amount of creative writing daily.

As always, I’m not complaining here; I’m just showing you the challenge of trying to fit in that extra 1.5 hours to work out. My weekday routine seems to be to roll out of bed between 5:00 – 5:15 a.m. and hit the elliptical machine in my living room. I bought myself an Aeropilates machine and that lives in my dining room. Between the two, I’ve managed to get 1 hour in before driving the kids to school and going to work.

During the day, I take a break every once in a while to walk up and down the 2 or 3 flights of stairs (depending on which door I enter) to get to my office. I walk at lunch. And there’s a twice-weekly yoga class that I’m hoping to attend.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well  . . . I’ve just made it through my first week. On average, I’ve been exercising more than 100 minutes a day. Barring illness, I expect to be able to keep this pace through May 11 when the program ends. After that, I hope to be in enough of a habit that I can commit to 1hr/daily — no matter what.

I guess my point today is this: A few months ago, I couldn’t even manage 20 minutes of exercise on a consistent basis. Now I’m exceeding that mightily.

It’s a matter of priorities.

The same goes for writing or anything else that you know is important to you.
No excuses. Just find a way to do it.

Question:

What is something you’ve decided is essential to your emotional, creative or physical wellbeing and how do you regularly integrate it into your life?

 

The pleasure of the new

by Pari

The other day one of my daughters and I were in the car when an astounding song came on the radio. Something about this piece managed to penetrate the whoosh of air from an open window and to halt what had been an interesting conversation. My daughter and I looked at each other and reached for the volume control at the same time. This song was special  — utterly different than anything we’d ever heard before — and we didn’t want to miss the moment.

I’ve been thinking lately about conventions in one’s life, not the kind a person goes to, but the kind he or she lives by.  Whether it be traditional structures such as the number of syllables per line in haiku or the conventions around what it means to be a single woman in her fifties, I’ve been watching and thinking, observing rather than coming to particular conclusions.

Perhaps because I’m a writer (or perhaps I’m a writer because of this) I adore learning. And the more something butts against my assumptions, the more interesting I find it. What I love about “The Wind is Getting Stronger,” and movies such as Happy, Happy is that they combine elements that I never knew could be combined. In the case of the song, it’s Kletzmer, Latin rhythms, folk music and an oral narrative about a topic people just don’t sing about in that way. In Happy, Happy, it’s the exploration of love, family, enslavement, and a quartet of mainly expressionless Norwegian men singing gospel music a la blue grass (I think). In Caramel, a movie from Lebanon, it’s the window into life in modern Beirut and the way young and older women navigate expectations of love and obligation in a world different — but not nearly as different as I assumed — as the one in which I and my daughters live. I also loved the way French was interspersed with the Arabic; I understood more of the language than I expected.

And, to top off this invigorating time, I’m reading The Book Thief which is an extraordinary literary accomplishment that, to me, defies so many expectations and rules it’s astounding the thing got published (I could say the same thing about Spiegleman’s Maus books).

Conventions are, at times, incredibly useful. They abbreviate the need to learn every single thing anew every single time. They create a common social language so we know how to live with each other. But like old work attire, conventions can lose their utility and become confining or even embarrassing. One of the pleasures of my life at this moment is that I’m searching out and embracing moments of newness, of learning and seeing the world in a different light. Delight is coming in unexpected places:

songs that meld, mesh and break rules and work precisely because they do

movies that challenge expectations through their internal integrity rather than through pushy intent

books that provide a reading experience– through the story told and the way in which it’s expressed —  that is truly different from anything I’ve hitherto encountered.

What about you? Is there a piece of art — music, movie, lit, visual — that has given you the same frisson of joy with its astounding freshness?

What’s sexy?

by Pari

Last week, I was writing a sex scene. It’s a therapeutic activity given my current life circumstances. My protag had, through a variety of totally believable events, been chosen for a reality show dream date with an idolized rock star from her youth, someone who still exuded the hot raw energy that had fueled her fantasies  — and, by default, caused her to date many idiots — through adolescence and early adulthood. There he was, a man who turned out to be a really interesting guy, with a depth no one could’ve suspected. They stood in the entrance to his hotel suite, his lips and warmth breath on her neck bringing back feelings she hadn’t had since before her decades-long, rotten marriage and nasty divorce. (No this isn’t autobiographical.)

And, then, for some reason, she couldn’t go through with it, couldn’t have steamy monkey sex with a man she really wanted.

“What the hell?” I muttered, flabbergasted at this turn of events.

What was the matter with her?  What was the matter with me? Had I turned into a total prude? Granted, the sex scenes I’d written in the past always hinted at lovemaking rather than describing play-by-plays. But was I now incapable of giving my protag the release she needed?

Ah . . . there she continued to stand, trembling and totally confused.

Didn’t she know it would be the best thing for everyone for her to just let go and get to the damn climax?

The poor thing leaned against the wall, her heart breaking with desire, embarrassment  . . . and disappointment at her own inability to surrender.

Then the rock star did something so unexpected, my protag  — and I — were caught off guard. The man who’d had to fight off groupies for most of his life, who’d had relationships with supermodels and megastars, buttoned my heroine’s blouse back up and accepted her in that moment right where she was. No pressure. No anger or frustration. He simply held her and witnessed her feeling what she needed to feel — without judgment or condescension.

And that, my friends, ultimately turned her on more than anything else possibly could.

Of course, after I finished writing the scene  — and drinking a scotch and smoking a cigarette — I started thinking about the nature of sex scenes in books and movies.  

What personal and societal expectations are we setting up with all of these idealized depictions of women falling into men’s arms and being totally fulfilled as if every man is a fabulous lover and every woman is capable of turning off her damn mind? As if one sense takes over so completely we forget the discomforts, awkward positions (ouch!), the weird smells, odd noises. . . . and, often, our self-consciousness.

I’m thinking about all of this too because I recently saw Orgasm, Inc.  (watch the trailer — watch the whole darn film!) and — just as important — I have two adolescent daughters. ‘Nuff said.

But back to the sex scene . . .
Although my protag eventually made love with her date that night; the sex scene wasn’t about sex at all.

It was about acceptance.

 

So here are my questions for today:

Do you read sex scenes or go to movies for them? If so, what do you want out of them?
Can sex scenes not be about sex . . . and still be called “sex scenes?”
Can they still satisfy?

I look forward to reading your answers.

People-pleaser

by Pari

Last Saturday, I went to the spa to celebrate my birthday. Before going, I decided to pay special attention to my people-pleaser tendencies — those numerous little efforts I make daily to put people at ease or to evoke a positive inter-relational response — because at this point in my life I’m examining many of the things I used to take for granted about myself. (And, just as an aside, let me tell you I’ll be delighted when I can finally move out of this introspective phase!!!)

Anyway . . .
I like being nice; it comes naturally now. It’s fun to make people feel good. And it’s a real asset in my work.

What does this have to do with writing?

Everything, I think.

The longer I’m a writer, the more I’ve come to believe that this task, this creative calling, isn’t just about putting words on paper and honing/editing them to a marvelous sheen. Being a good writer is also about understanding. It’s about watching and thinking and analyzing and feeling deeply.

As a reader I often don’t give a rat’s ass for structure or plot, but I’m a total sucker for voice. It’s true that I do know some shallow human beings who manage to pull off wonderful literary oeuvres. I also know some fascinating writers  — as people — whose works I can’t read. But the majority of folks that keep me coming back for more are those who are, indeed, in touch with a magnificently unique essence in themselves. That gem of an individual identity comes out in their writing as distinctly as their fingerprints would on a blotter.

I don’t know if this is true, but I suspect that my people-pleaser tendencies have pften nudged me to write things that I want others to like more than paying attention — perhaps — to deeper stories that I need to tell . . . even if they may not make others “feel good.” I’m not saying that Sasha or Darnda aren’t coming from a distinctive place; I’m not putting myself down.  . . . Oh hell . . . I don’t know.

People-pleasing is safe, isn’t it? And it carries such pleasant dividends on a day-to-day level. But is writing the place to do it? Is this another case of marketing vs . . .  whatever? Readers do expect certain things from established writers, but is that voice  — that inner truth that comes out in some writers’ works — the real goal?

As often happens with my posts, I’m merely asking the question. And I’d love to hear your take on this.

I guess my question is:

Does the urge to please people get in the way of a deeper creativity?

 

 

 

The challenge of accruing words

by Pari

It’s been more than a year and a half since I started my daily writing. During that time, I’ve missed only one session. For a moment I thought about giving up, the way a dieter does when he or she pigs out on an entire chocolate cake in one sitting and then feels that everything is undone.

But I didn’t give up and now I have hundreds of thousands of words, more each day, and I don’t know what to do with them all. It’s certain that many of those words are superfluous. There are thousands of “ands” and “buts” and, God forbid, the nasties that end in “ly.” 

However, there are probably even more words that link together to make decent — if not brilliant –stories. Again, this is just a hunch; I have no idea if the short stories, novels and novellas I’ve written hang together at all.

Before I took the Master Class, editing had always been a pleasure for me, a time to hone and redo in a better way. In Oregon, I learned that editing can often be the death of a piece — it can suck the spirit and energy out of creative prose and process — though the writer has the best intentions. Since I’m seriously afflicted with thinkiness anyway, I’ve avoided the whole question of how to strike a balance between doing nothing and overdoing the editing (in my creative writing only; my writing at work is subjected to microscopic editing daily). Seventeen months later, I have no answer and a hell of a lot of words that need attention.

Working more than 40+ hours a week puts a dent in the hours I have available for everything else. Those 40 hours aren’t the whole picture either. There’s transport to and from work, coming down from the exhaustion of a full-time job etc. etc. There’s taking care of the kids, the house etc. etc. etc.

Some would say, “Pari, just get up an hour earlier to write when you’re fresh.  That’ll buy you time to edit in the evenings.”

Great idea if I wasn’t already getting up at five so that I can fit in exercise. None of this is complaining; I love my job. I love that I’m writing daily. Perhaps that’s enough . . .

Who am I kidding? Once you have readers and they appreciate your work, you want more. The feeling is too wonderful! Too fulfilling! I want my fiction to be read again!

So what to do? How can I reframe the editing into something as meaningful  — and as pleasurable — as the joy of the creativity so that I can commit again?

Any suggestions?

(BTW: for those that don’t know already . . . the growth I referred to last week was benign. Thank you for all of your kind thoughts. I’m still in pain but it’s bearable now.)

Dread

by Pari

By the time most of you read this blog today, I will have survived (I hope) my oral surgery. I won’t go into the gory details, but I had to have something removed from my tongue. Yes, you read that right. Sitting on this end of the surgery — the night before — I have to admit I’m dreading this procedure. At best, the surgeon will just remove the whole darn thing that’s the source of worry. At worst, he’ll decide to only biopsy which means it might have to come off at a later date.

Blech.

Of course, since I’ve been living with this frightening prospect for a few weeks, and because I’m a writer, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Compound this with the fact that I just wrote an article about anxiety disorders for work, and the subjects of worry, fear, obsession, anxiety etc. are very much on my mind.

One of the things I’ve never quite understood is readers’ and movie goers’ attraction to horror. I kind of understand the adrenaline rush of it and the anticipation. But that’s never been a huge draw for me. I guess it’s obvious that at the state fair I rarely went on rollercoasters but adored Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds  . . . and the farm animals.

I think I understand the anticipation implicit in horror as well. There’s a tingliness that is very cool . . . fun, like foreplay. I’d be happy in that place for a long time before the resolution. Of course the resolution must come, the bump in the night must be revealed. I’d just rather it be a raccoon than an ax murderer.

Since I don’t really understand the idea of horror in the context of creativity, I did a little research. http://www.horror.org/horror-is.htm

This is a fantastic perspective. I have read and respect the astounding storytelling craft of Stephen King, Dean Koontz . . . our fabulous Alexandra Sokoloff.  And I want to understand the attraction of this genre  — and if you don’t think it’s a genre, I want to understand that too — so I hope everyone will chime in and educate me.  

Unlike most Mondays, I WILL be able answer your comments since I expect to be home. The prospect of being at work when the Novocain wears off is just too daunting.

Acrostics

by Pari

Any parent with a kid in elementary school has had to read at least a dozen acrostics. If you haven’t been so blessed, let me explain. These are the “poems” in which the first letter of each line spells out something that, one hopes, refers back to the meaning of said poem.

For example

Mona could be found
Underneath, definitely not above,
Rachel’s  rosewood
Desk  . . . strangely
Emitting smells most
Repugnant.  

Or . . .

Kneeling quietly, hand
Nearing the throat
In and out
Forward and side
Enter eternity.

Okay, I must be in an Edward Gorey kind of mood. I’m just writing the first things that come to mind.

Pretty little eyes of newt
O
diferous fungi from the inner forest
I
mmerse in alcohol for a week
S
it it in the sun until dry
Open a packet of arsenic for insurance
N
o, not in the pudding! Add it to the stew.

So does anyone else want to play? I’d say anything goes. But if you want to keep it to a mystery theme, that might be fun. Repeated words are fine by me.

 

Let’s see just how wild we can make this Wildcard Tuesday!

Exuberant writing

by Pari

Lately I’ve been streaming a lot of Bollywood movies. I’ve always liked the dancing and music in these films and, of course, the happy endings. But the other night when I’d stayed up late to watch one with a really stupid plot — that had it been from Hollywood I would’ve turned off hours before — I realized that it’s not the music or dancing that keep me coming back for more . . . it’s the exuberance.  The joy, man, I’m into the joy.

That’s what I want in every aspect of my life right now. I know being blissed out on a constant basis would be boring, but I want moments of that unabashed vitality and enthusiasm for life every single day.

I want it. I want it now!

In the Bollywood films, the camera pans around love-struck couples and then rises high above groups of dancers swirling in saris of hot pink, royal blue, new leaf green. I jump up from my couch and dance with them on my worn carpet in the privacy of my living room and I can almost feel the Indian sun warming my arms and shoulders, shining off my graying hair.

And do you know what? I want that same feel, that rush of delight, sometimes when I read. I want a laughing literary experience that doesn’t so much astound me with its wit or cleverness, the perfectly placed word or phrase  — but that takes me on such a wonderful rapid ride I can hardly catch my breath.

Who am I kidding?

I want literary rides that take me so fast I don’t even think about catching my breath!

So much of what we write about here at Murderati has to do with control and thought and the wonderful mastery of creating excellent work.

But right now, I want to read books just for fun,  for the giddy experience I inhale when I’m engrossed in my Bollywood movies.

So, please, today help me:

Where can I find exuberant writing?

(Oh, and if you’ve got Netflix and want to recommend some b-wood movies, that’d be fine too. Or if you know of some posted vids online . . . I’d enjoy those too!!)

Thinkiness

by Pari

When does thinking get in the way of writing? It’s not a trick question. I often wonder about the intrusion or benefit of analysis at each step of literary creation — from the initial idea to writing, editing, revision, all the way to publication.

I ask because I’ve seen applied brain power work and, sometimes, destroy writing careers during the years I’ve paid attention to such things. Of the dozens of writers whose creative trajectories I have watched with interest, not all have been published or have earned a living in their chosen field. The publishing industry is much too capricious to judge their success in those terms. What intrigues me is the end product in relation to those writers’ personal satisfaction AND ability to translate their ideas into pieces that evoke the intended responses in readers.

In the creative phase
I know writers who approach every word and scene with a director’s clarity of vision before even typing the first letter of the first “The.” Other writers agonize over every sentence to the point of utter creative constipation. In these cases, their analyses are debilitating. Some acquaintances write with ease and speed, never stopping to question their impulses. Some are satisfied with their disjointed — and often sloppy — results. Some don’t need to edit. Some can see the flaws in their works, without self-flagellation, and know how to fix them.

In the editing process
I know writers who, like great brain surgeons, work with a skill and attention to detail that slices away every errant adverb and cauterizes every poignant scene at the perfect moment. I also know writers who bleed criticism on their pages with such abandon  — and lack of self-confidence — I fear they’ll hemorrhage each time they take to analyzing the effectiveness of their creations.

So what’s right?
Hell if I know.

My own process has gone through many changes. I used to be delighted with everything I wrote and didn’t think I needed any editing at all. Then came the self-doubt. Then came the obsessive editing. Then came the creative constipation. Then came the fury at the lack of joy in the writing and the total rejection of editing while in the creative process. And now? Well, I’m still stuck in that last phase, but am starting to feel the urge to publish again. BUT I haven’t any idea what my editing approach will be.

I do, however, remain curious about others . . .

My questions today are

For readers:  Are there any books/stories you’ve read where you’re aware of the writer’s thinkiness? Of his or her plans, editing etc? Can thinkiness intrude?

For writers: Is there such a thing as overthinking, overediting? Or . . . have your processes changed since you started writing?

Meaning

by Pari

So here’s a little question for a day off of work:

If you could do anything to bring more meaning to your life, what would it be?

I know, I know, that’s pretty heavy for a Monday. But it is a national holiday and we are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King who certainly did many meaningful things in his life.

Last week at work, we hosted William S. Breitbart, MD, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NY. Dr. Breitbart — who is board certified in internal medicine, psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine  — has spent much of his career working to ease the emotional  fallout facing terminally ill cancer patients and their families . During his decades of research and clinical experience, he has developed short-term meaning-centered psychotherapies based on Viktor Frankl’s theories first outlined in Man’s Search for Meaning.

It’s no wonder I spent a lot of last week thinking about my life, its meaning, and how I could live more fully. Because, as Dr. Breitbart pointed out many times, though we may not want to face it and may not know when and how we’ll die  . . . we will indeed die.

Dr. Breitbart describes facing death as facing a wall. We can’t stare at that wall all the time. So we turn around and see where we’ve been. Unless we’ve got a terminal diagnosis, most of us don’t spend a lot of time sitting with that introspection because we’re so darn busy looking to where we’re going — to work, to dinner, to the store . . .

But when we do stop to look, meaning can be found in many places: relationships, the natural world, spirituality/faith . . . art.

As I writer, I know I find meaning in telling stories that are important to me, in figuring out how to express thoughts and ideas that matter in my world. I’ve kept the fiction to myself during the last couple of years, but the nonfiction also matters a great deal. I delight in your responses here at the ‘Rati. I also hear from others about the articles — even the press releases — that I write and how they matter.

I like that as much as I like the process of writing for myself.

In addition to the pleasure of meeting people who’ve enjoyed my writing, I’ve also known the incredible honor of hearing that my books brought laughter to at least two people in their last days of life. I can’t begin to express how profoundly that truth has affected me, how much I cherish knowing that something I’ve done delivered those moments to others as they faced the Wall.

I’m not sure where this post is going . . . it’s probably just the beginning of a process of examining what I want to do with my writing now, how I want to delight in its meaning for myself and to experience more of the ineffable pleasure of knowing it has meaning for others.

Today, on this holiday, I have no conclusions about any of this . . . just a desire to bring up the subject and discuss it with anyone who wants to participate.

Look at that question at the beginning of this post and, if you’re willing, let me know what ideas it sparks for you.

 

 

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