Thursday, June 12, 2014

Orange is the New Black Season Two: A Quick Review

So as many of you are aware, Netflix released Season Two of Orange is the New Black last week. So of course I watched it in the first two or three days.

I, like many others, fell desperately in love with the women of Litchfield prison during Season One and waited (im)patiently for my next fix. Well, it's finally here. And it's over. Again.

So while we're waiting for Season Three (fingers crossed), I thought I'd share some of my thoughts.

1) I'm glad they're getting away from Piper's story.

Yes, I like Piper. Yes, there's plenty of drama and conflict to keep me interested, but honestly I love finding out more about the other women. Let's face it. Piper's your pretty standard middle-class white girl who's never satisfied with what she's got. No judgement for those of you who love her. Heck, I basically AM her. Maybe that's why I tire so easily of her story.

So who wins for most interesting character of Season Two?

2) Poussey Washington

Seriously. She's basically my favorite now. Both her back story and in-prison story were spectacular. Wrought with emotion, sacrifice, courage, and damn good writing, Samira Wiley's incredible performance left me gobsmacked. 

Throughout the season, Poussey finds herself in intense situations. Between her unrequited love, her issues as a military brat, and the increasing violence of newcomer Vee, Poussey elevates the tone of Season Two. Her story goes beyond conventional genres, like OITNB as a whole, encompassing the best parts of comedy, drama, and tragedy. 

Basically I love this character. Period.

3) Speaking of Vee....

Finally we have someone who can actually challenge Red. Vee, a recidivist and drug dealer, has strings already tied to several of the main characters. She's a mother figure to Taystee, a some-times friend and rival to Red, and a hurricane of conflict all on her own. She's arguably one of the strongest characters in the cast. She's smart, manipulative, and as solid as concrete. That said, I still can't decide if I like her. And "like" may not be the right word in any case, as the writers very solidly cast her as the villain. Honestly, I wish we'd gotten more of her backstory. It might have made her motivations more understandable if not all together sympathetic.

4) Was it as good as Season One?

Honestly, that's hard to say. Part of what made Season One so freaking amazing is that I'd never seen anything like it. It came out of left-field and shone like a beacon in a sea of television mediocrity. I think Season Two holds its own when it comes to writing, performance, and humor, but it lacks the intrinsic shock value of Season One. This time I was expecting greatness. And it delivered. Maybe not as intensely as the first season, but yes. Season Two is great. 

So there you have it. How far have you watched? Who's your favorite character? Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Phenomenal Woman: A Remembrance of Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou touched many lives in many different ways. She was a brilliant writer, poet, dancer, and humanitarian. For me, she has always been a part of the fabric of my life.

I grew up in a household where her name was common. My mother loved her work and quoted her often. For me, her name was associated with lyrical fragments and reverence. I actually did not read a complete poem or any of her prose until I was much older. Instead she just existed as a part of my childhood background.

Like Maya Angelou, I grew up in rural Arkansas. Every time we drove through Stamps on our way to Texarkana and beyond, my mother would turn me.

"Grace, do you know who lived here? Have I told you?"

"Yes, Momma."

"Maya Angelou grew up here. She was the same age as you."

"I know, Momma."

I accepted her existence with the casual indifference of a child. She wasn't real to me. She was a name, a few pretty words, but she had my mother's admiration. I knew she had to be something wonderful.

Through high school and college, I read a few of her poems, but not in any concerted manner. One verse, one image, did stick to my mind. Maybe it spoke to my adolescent sense of sexuality. Maybe it was the celebration of a woman's body. Maybe it was just the rhythm of her words. But they stuck with me.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized how much in common I had with her. I finally picked up a copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It blew me away. It was beautiful and tragic and harsh and uplifting. It was lyrical and gritty and intense. I was in love. 

Though I have thankfully not suffered the same tragedies as Ms. Angelou, I knew the town where she grew up. It was my town. Her neighbors were my neighbors. Her culture, my culture. It made me want to write about my childhood, about that isolated southern world were we both spent our formative years. 

Then on May 28th, 2014, Dr. Maya Angelou died. 

I've followed her on Facebook and that's where I heard the news. I was devastated. She had always existed for me. She was woven into the fabric of my understanding. She was gone and I would never get to meet her. I had to tell my mother.

That was a call I didn't want to make. I knew my love for Ms. Angelou paled in comparison to that of my mother's. I avoid the topic at first and then blurted it ungracefully. 

"Momma ... Maya Angelou died."

For the last week she's been on my mind. I see snippets of her poems and inspirational quotes everywhere. I've started my second novel that takes place in a small southern town and I see her in my words and characters. When I picked up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I also bought a copy of her most recent autobiography about her relationship with her mother, Mom & Me & Mom

I skipped all the books in between because the central theme of the novel I'm writing focuses on the loving and destructive dynamic between a mother and daughter. I started and finished the book in a day.

It didn't have the same powerful impact as Caged Bird, but it was well written. It lacked some of the flowing lyricism, but I'm sure that's just an evolution of her writing style. She talked about her mother with the same awe and admiration I often feel for mine. Their relationship was tumultuous. Her mother left her at the age of three with her paternal grandmother. Betrayal, abandonment, and love wove a strong thread between these two strong women. It is definitely a book I would recommend, but only if you've read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. That book I recommend over all others.

And thought I'm sure many of you have read this in the days since her passing, I leave you with a video of the poet herself reciting her amazing work "Still I Rise."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Making it Through the Existential Storm

So I finished my first novel a while ago. Over a year ago to be honest. I attempted to shop it around. I sent it to a few agents and pitched it a few times in person. Every single agent said the same thing. "Sounds interesting, but we're not taking dystopias." That's cool. I get it. The Hunger Games was so hugely popular that it created a flux of repeat, mediocre dystopias and now everybody's bored with the genre. No worries. I was disappointed, but not inordinately so, and I don't mind putting it on a shelf for a while. It's a good book. I can wait.

That wasn't the cause of my existential storm.

So what do you do, as a writer, after you finish your first book? You write a second one.

Cue existential crisis.

What did I want to write? Probably not the sequel to my first novel even though it would be infinitely easy and doable. Nope. It's not that I didn't have any ideas for the next novel. I always have ideas. But which should I pick?

I started two novels. Both good ideas and very different one from the other. I worked on character creation and wrote outlines. I even started the actual writing on one. Then I changed my mind and started on the other. Then I stopped. Completely. I sought advice from my fellow writers about which one I should pursue. I listen closely to their opinions, the majority of which leaned one way, then I chose the other.

But underneath all of this planning and procrastinating, one thought haunted me. Should I start a new book at all?

As some of you may know, and many of you will not, my life is crazy. Pretty much all the time. I moved states, got a new job, moved into a new place, and I'm going back to school this fall. I've made other commitments, too. One of my best friends wants to collaborate on a webcomic with me. I've had a novella in the works forever and I'm still only half way through. Several of my closest writing friends sent me manuscripts to read which I haven't (and I can't apologize enough). I want to do everything. I want to say yes to every opportunity and I don't want to disappoint anyone, especially myself.

Because I have done. Over and over again.

When I was nineteen, I dropped out of college. There were a lot of reasons, and, rationally, it was the right decision for me at the time. I've learned a lot about myself and the world in the last five years. I'm ready to try again. But still, it terrifies me.

With all of this (and a lot more that would take too long to go into), should I even bother trying to write? How could I work full time, go to school full time, AND write, when I've barely been able to manage one of those things at a time?

But I've accepted that my life will probably always have a certain level of entropy. A certain level of instability and anxiety. That doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

So I've made some decisions. I've dropped a few commitments. I'm going to try hard to not take on any more. I will do what has to be done. And I will write.

Today I start my second book.