Archive | February, 2011

Writing Wednesday: The Schizophrenic Writer

23 Feb

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

~E. L. Doctorow

I’ve been attending a lot of seminars on the importance of branding oneself as an artist.  Branding makes sense.  After all, categorization makes buying and selling easier.  Consumers like to know what they’re getting and how to find it, and companies like to make it easy for consumers to find things to buy.  That’s why movie genres like horror, sci-fi, and comedy and music genres like hip hop, country, and pop are so helpful.  If you hate a certain genre, you can just skip over it to find what you do like.

As a writer, though, I have a hard time with branding.  I don’t want to be branded as just The Greek Writer or The Art Writer or The Religious Writer.  Call me schizophrenic but I like having different writing personalities.  I wouldn’t want to only ever watch crime dramas so why would I want to only write about one topic in one voice for the rest of my writing career?

Well, if I want to build up a readership, I have to consider my audience.  Does Stephen King have the same audience as Nicholas Sparks?  Maybe, but not necessarily, and certainly if a reader is in the mood for horror she’s not going to pick up a Nicholas Sparks book.  Whether I like it or not, branding impacts who’s going to read my books.

Some authors, Stephen King included, use pen names.  That’s a great way to keep one’s writing identities separate.  The downside, of course, is that loyal readers that may have taken a chance on a book in a different genre or subject matter (hey, readers don’t always stick to only one genre either!) by the author may miss out on a book they’d love because it’s (supposedly) written by an author they’ve never heard of.

Perhaps then, a better solution is to focus mainly on branding the book instead of the author.  Think of it this way: just as a parent’s children are unique so are an author’s books unique, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not all connected and show traces of the author’s presence in them.  After all, Stephen King’s pseudonym was cracked when a reader thought that a certain Richard Bachman wrote an awful lot like King.

That said, a schizophrenic writer can also be an immature writer who has yet to find her voice.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and sometimes it takes time to discover how those attributes come into play for us as writers.  I, for instance, went through a period where I wrote on any topic that came along with a paycheck.  The articles weren’t bad but one of my readers mentioned they could tell when I was really passionate about a subject.  That made me reevaluate my priorities and my skill set.  Now I still like to experiment with different subject matters but I’m more selective in the voice I use when writing.

How do you deal with writing schizophrenia?

Writing Wednesday: Impersonating My Voice

16 Feb

I dress according to my mood.  I don’t mean I just dress for the occasion; I mean my style itself is subject to whim.  On Monday I could fit into the category of preppy but by Thursday I could be mistaken as a hipster.

Is it any surprise, then, that one of my biggest writing frustrations is finding my voice?  It seems absurd that one would need to find her writing “voice.”  Isn’t voice something inherent?

Yes, and no.

The Million’s recent interview between novelist Bill Morris (Motor City, All Soul’s Day) and personal essayist Carl H. Klaus, author of the new book The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay, confirmed my thoughts on voice.  In the article, “When We Aspire to Write Like Ourselves,” Klaus discusses the “fluid nature of the self,” and says,

To think that I could in fact create a style that was an echo of such a multi-sided thing as the self – that’s simply a cuckoo notion.

I feel vindicated.  Critics have been saying for years to beware of the constructed identities of authors.  However, it’s refreshing to consider the author’s struggle in creating a portrait of self.  While, writers may acknowledge creating a personae—a “character”—of themselves, either out of convenience or agenda, there seems to be less talk about the struggle of figuring out who their “character” is.

I certainly have a perspective that is uniquely my own, but depending on the subject matter, my feelings toward it, and whom I suspect will read my work, my tone, diction, and style shift.  I’ve feared that this might be a sign of immaturity, but I really do feel that who I am and how I write ebbs and flows.  I will admit there is a predominant voice to most of my personal essay writing, but I don’t think that is my only voice.

If I am to present the most accurate portrayal of myself, how can I limit my voice?

Cartoon Crush

14 Feb

“You know, guys, sometimes I wish we were cartoon teenagers.”

~ Fez on That 70s Show

 

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fun to share my cartoon crushes.

Maybe back in ancient Greece, girls got all dreamy-eyed listening to myths about Hercules, but growing up in suburban New Jersey I got crushes on cartoon characters.  It wasn’t the Prince Charming type that I was into, though.  No, I liked them a bit scrappier–and wearing green tunics.

Peter Pan was one of my early cartoon crushes.  Wendy, Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily, and all the mermaids swooned over him, and I could understand why.  He was a real charmer, always flirting with one girl after the other.

My other big cartoon crush was Link from The Legend of Zelda.  On Fridays, instead of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, The Legend of Zelda aired on tv.  Like Peter Pan, Link was sarcastic and flirty.

That’s why I was so excited when my friend Sue sent me this link to The Legend of Zelda: The 80s Teen Movie.  If John Hughes made a film about Zelda, this is what it would look like.

Speaking of video games, if you haven’t seen Brothers Mario yet, check out Brothers Mario.

Also, Laura Vanderkam (168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think) wrote a telling article awhile back called “The Princess Problem.”

 

Who are your cartoon crushes??

Σ’αγαπώ: I love you

14 Feb

As a sea captain, traveling the world, my dad picked up words and phrases in many different languages.  “I love you” seems to have been his phrase of choice.  He can say it in practically every language.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the phrase everyone around the world wanted to learn how to say in different languages was “I love you”?

*  *  *

My dad spent some time docked in Japan when he was young, and he was always particularly proud of his ability to profess his love in Japanese.

A few years ago, I traveled to Tokyo and visited the adorable cafe in the pictures above.  The decorations were all heart-shaped and even the foam of the latte was spun into a heart.  Yum!

*  *  *

In Greek, the way you say “I love you” is: Σ’αγαπώ, pronounced s’agapo.

*  *  *

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The New School Creative Writing MFA Mentions Me in “Newsletter 18—Spring 2011”

11 Feb

The New School’s Creative Writing MFA program mentioned me in “Newsletter 18—Spring 2011.”  Special thanks to the “office heroes” for mentioning me alongside David H. Lippman (MFA ’01), William Rockwell (MFA ’11), and Laura Jo Hess (MFA ’12).

The newsletter also mentioned that Yew Leong (MFA ’07) launched a new literary magazine called Asymptote.  The first issue features such esteemed writers as Mary Gaitskill, Yoram Kaniuk, and Gleb Shulpyakov.  Asymptote is currently accepting submissions (March 15 deadline) on the theme of an “encounter between languages.”

Feta Salsa

10 Feb

These days it’s all about eating simply.  Dashing between work and class, there are at least two days a week that I eat all three of my meals on the go.  Class doesn’t let out until 10:30 pm, and if I get out a little early I try to pop in Whole Foods to pick up some food since it’s on my way to the subway.

The other day I was in Whole Foods, picking up an orange, pumpkin muffins with actual pumpkin seeds on the tops (double yum!), and soup mix (cut-up fresh veggies that I actually use for stir-fry not soup), when I saw something new: feta salsa.

I eat a lot of pita and hummus and pita and tabouli.  I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but the idea of something new to put on my pita got my attention.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t justify the price.  It was about $3 more than the hummus.  That might not sound like a lot, but I could buy three Wet ‘n Wild nail polishes for that price or stamps to mail a handwritten letter to a friend.  So, I was quite thrilled when I stumbled upon this feta salsa recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

I’m figuring I could make a batch of it on a Sunday and eat it all week long for lunch.

Feta is one of those cheeses that I love and that makes me feel homesick/festive (my family always ate it at holidays), but that I never really purchase on my own.  I’m not quite sure why.  Maybe because it’s such a distinctive cheese.  I do enjoy it, though, and this feta salsa recipe is a great way to jazz up my lunches.

If you have any tips on quick lunches, leave it in the comments section below.

The Quotable Greek: Change the Eyes

8 Feb

“Since we cannot change reality,

let us change the eyes which see reality.”

~Nikos Kazantzakis


Hello, Carnival; Good-bye Meat

7 Feb

The Carnival season won’t start until next month in Catholic countries (Mardi Gras isn’t until March 8), but the Carnival season in Greece kicks off on February 12 and will run until March 6 this year.  The dates are different but the significance is the same.

The dates differ for the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox because of two things: Firstly, Catholics use the Gregorian calendar, while Orthodox use the Revised Julian calendar.  Secondly, for Catholics, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, while for Orthodox, Lent begins on Clean Monday.

The concept behind Carnival for both denominations is the same, though.  Carnival marks a season of revelry before Lent begins.  Lent is the forty-day period before Easter when Christians prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ by fasting and other means.  Since certain foods cannot be eaten during Lent and would spoil before the forty days are up, they had to be eaten ahead of time.  According to some accounts, this resulted in gluttonous parties in the days leading up to Lent, a season we now celebrate as Carnival.

In Greece, Carnival is known as Apokriés (Αποκριές), which literally translates to “saying goodbye to meat.”  Each week there are different celebrations to say good-bye to the favorite foods we’ll be giving up.

2011’s Key Carnival Dates for Eastern Orthodox:

Triodion: Sunday, February 12th
Tsiknopempti or “Burnt Thursday”: February 24th
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 25th – Sunday, February 27th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, March 4th – Sunday, March 6th
Clean Monday: Monday, March 7th

Just as in other Carnival celebrations around the world, Greeks celebrate Apokriés with parades, floats, and wild masks.

Groundhogs Agree: We Will Be Sprung from Winter Soon

3 Feb

Today is Groundhog Day.  Today is Groundhog Day.  Today is Groundhog Day. Yesterday was Groundhog Day.  Apparently both Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck agree: spring is on the way!

With all the thundersnow and ice NYC’s been hit with, spring can’t come soon enough.  I thought it might be a nice time to share some spring images with you that I took last year at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Cherry Blossom Festival.

 

 

 

Daily Frappe Introduces Me to Its Readers

3 Feb

Yesterday I was featured on Daily Frappe!  They published a new article I wrote on best-selling author Eric Metaxas and linked to yesterday’s post here on the young Egyptians protecting the Library of Alexandria.

A few years ago Daily Frappe published an article I wrote on the 76th Annual Greek Independence Day Parade a few years, and it is an honor to be collaborating with them again.

Daily Frappe was founded over Easter Weekend 2005 as “a community for the millions of people of Greek decent that are scattered by geography but united by heritage,” according to the website.  A quick scan through the message boards and you’ll discover Greeks from the United States to Australia.

The articles Daily Frappe publish cover the full spectrum of the Greek diaspora.  There are articles about restaurant chains, films, and even Facebook.  The articles tie heritage to current events in a relevant way.

Mmmm… now I could really go for a frappeMetrios, please.