Literary Tropes

It bothers me quite a bit when, in order to make a female character interesting, writers make her some sort of damaged goods.  She’s been raped, beaten, her father never loved her, her mother never loved her, she’s an orphan raised by wolves/hateful relatives/on the streets, she had an affair with a prominent member of society and his bastard baby was stillborn, she murdered her abuser and buried his body in the garden, etc.  And from the pain of this backstory she manages to pull herself up by her bootstraps and carry on and this makes her beautiful/desirable/interesting.  It makes me a little ill that writers resort to this sort of storyline.

Are they really telling me that a woman can’t be interesting without being damaged in some way?  She can’t be interesting because she’s smart?  Because she reads?  Because she invented something?  Because she made a scientific discovery?  Because she’s really good at fixing cars?  Because she’s spent twenty years studying ballet and is now considered the world’s greatest dancer?  Is a woman really only interesting because of her sacrifices, because she’s overcome some sort of diversity?

I say all this because it’s true: but also because I’m a little annoyed with myself.  The story I’m currently crafting, which I really like, involves my protagonist’s (somewhat) dark past.  She never talks about it, and I don’t really want it to come up at all, really.  But I want it implied that she left America, in part, because she was leaving something [someone (a man)].  But she also leaves America (and this man) for herself.  I want that to be abundantly clear.  But she was also leaving someone and that is actually important.

The real trouble I’m having is plot.  I don’t know what causes the rising action or the climax.  I’ve had a number of ideas that bring her past into the story, but I don’t like that idea.  I don’t want to dredge it up because I don’t want her to only be interesting because of something she’s done before the story starts.

I think I really need to flesh out the rest of the characters.  Maybe something will develop there.

I also don’t want it to be a romance, or about the “friendzone” even though it sort of is.

I’ll keep working.

“Coffee Stains”, an artist’s statement

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My submission for this year’s Sketchbook Project with the Brooklyn Art Library: “Coffee Stains”.

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The following is my Artist’s Statement as written on the Sketchbook Project website:

My lifestyle causes me to move every few months.  Sometimes I’m returning somewhere familiar, sometimes I’m lucky enough to stay with friends and family, sometimes I go somewhere completely new.  Everywhere I go: I drink coffee.  When I chose the “Wanderer” theme I had the idea to chronicle my travels through drawings of cups of coffee in each location.  Then, I couldn’t find my sketchbook.

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On my travels went, though, and I found myself outside Portland, OR for two months, wherein I inadvertently found myself making what I called the “coffeehouse tour of Portland”.  I visited a different coffeehouse nearly every visit into the city, I sat there with my drink and wrote, or drew, and soaked in the culture of the coffeehouse.  At each establishment I took pictures and posted them to Facebook.

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I believe in “coffeehouse culture”, that it is good for a community.  It doesn’t have to be a coffeehouse, it could be a tea-house, or a bar, or a bookstore.  I believe every community ought to have a place where people can visit, and pass the time, preferably with caffeine.  The places I have enjoyed living the most have all had something like this.  In Cazenovia, NY it was a coffeeshop, in Canterbury, England it was a pub, in Andover, CT it was a Chinese restaurant, and in Wakefield, RI it is a bar.  In each of these places I would feel as comfortable reading a book as I would talking to a stranger.

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When I returned to New England and found my sketchbook, I was glad I took so many hipsterish pictures.  I was able to draw some of my favorite Portland coffeehouses.  The idea to actually use coffee to paint stemmed from meeting a man in Seattle who uses a coffee/bleach solution to make tee shirts, and a blog about a woman who uses coffee in lieu of watercolors.  Using actual coffee to paint drawings of coffee was too meta to pass up.  I also used tea and hot cocoa mix, don’t be alarmed if the book smells like chocolate.  

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So much of my life can be counted in cups of coffee, as can, I think, many other’s; it is so ubiquitous that we rarely think about the coffee itself, where it comes from, how it’s made, which method we prefer.  How a region feels about their coffee or tea and how they make it is an interesting reflection of both the culture and the individual.  Is it a quick Dunkins drive-thru, or are the beans ground with each cupful?  What time of day is it drunk?  Cream?  Sugar?  Black?

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I am fascinated by coffee.  I love learning about new ways to make it.  I love watching experts make coffee.  I love talking with a friend over a steaming cup.  I believe coffee, and tea, have the power to bring people together if we let it.  So if we ever meet, show me how you make yours and I’ll tell you how I make mine.  <3 <3 <3

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