"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Friday, July 30, 2010

Why We Love What We Love

Writing love poems is harder than you'd think.

Let me clarify that: writing honest love poems that do NOT make me gag is harder than you'd think. I abhor sap. I dislike love poems that don't sting just a little. Anyone who writes those kind of love poems has failed to capture the astounding range of love. Their 'violets are blue' sentimentality does the reader a disservice.

I'm in the process of writing my second book of poetry, Desir, a volume of love poems based on the four loves as understood by the ancient Greeks, and later redefined for modernity by C.S. Lewis: storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (erotic love), and agape (unconditional, God-like love).

I find that writing about love is some of the most challenging writing I've done because of the amorphous nature of that emotion--the erotic melding into the platonic, or the platonic yielding to the erotic. Soaring, iridescent love as impressionism of the senses, fruition of memory, desire, and psychosis.

Why do we love the things and people that we love?

In writing about love, this question is almost more important, or certainly more interesting, than the expression of love itself. The apertures of erotic love, for instance--the yearning, the kiss, the embrace, the explosive desire--are universal. But why him or her? There is nothing more individual or singular than the trajectory to the beloved. How is it that two people with so much in common could find absolutely nothing to love in the other? How is it that two people with nothing in common can bind their lives together without much consideration?

I don't care about expressing how love makes an individual act, per se; I'm interested in reading and writing about how love melds the mind. I'm interested in exploring why we love the things and people we love in the first place. Is our choice of partner merely an expression of out "desire-mapping" through past experiences, media images, familial models, or is it more?

I don't know if I can believe in something as delicious as fate. I don't know that I can get behind something as idealistic as soul mates; and that really says something about me, doesn't it?

What I can believe in is this, at least: when we say 'I love you' or 'I love ___,' it says more about the person saying it than the object(s) of affection themselves. We are what we love. This can be both a wondrous and terrible revelation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Read Me Or Die: Book Titles That Smack Your Mama

There's something to be said for finding a good book simply by walking around a bookstore.

In the library world we call it "serendipitous browsing."

Finding a good book in a sea of books is a lot like dating. This fretful process can be recreated using new technologies (Kindle is not too unlike match.com in my mind), but there is something magical when it happens in person. Needless to say, I spend hours in bookstores. I met my husband in a bookstore. But as much as I fetishize books, even I admit that after a while the shelves just blur into one mass of gaudy volumes squeezed together like crayons in a box.

It takes something truly special to stand out in the crowd. Here are some books I wanted to purchase based on the titles alone:

1) The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter

This title immediately jumps down the throat. Either you think 'this is going to be the most infuriating anti-caucasian book in the world,' or you snicker and say, 'well I can tell you how that goes in ten words or less.' Either way, the book gets picked up.

2) I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Do I even need to say anything about this book? The title says it all. No semi-colon explanation needed.

3) Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Tips to Creativity, by Hugh Macleod

Plays on the neuroses of the creative person by reaffirming we are all God's special snowflakes (and we are). The huge endorsement by viral blogger Seth Godin doesn't hurt either.

4) The Ninja Handbook: This Book Looks Forward to Killing You Soon, by Douglas Sarine

Humor is always welcome. I wouldn't go near a book about ninjas if the title didn't make me laugh (just a little). I most likely won't buy it, but I WILL pass it along to at least 4 other dork ninja-enthusiasts who might.

5) Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk

Sometimes simple is best. Sometimes one word says more than an entire sentence.

6) My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares

This just sounds pretty. It appeals to my sense of aesthetics and sounds almost poetic. Imagine my shock when I discover that it was written by the same author who penned The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Oh well.

7) Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange

It's Jane Austen revisited with blood-sucking vamps. Who doesn't think that's cool? At least for the first 50 pages. This sounds like literary Splenda--appealing to my dignified sense of English major nerdiness AND my adolescent desire for carnage. WIN!

8) A Field Guide for Burying Your Parents, by Liza Palmer

I know nothing about this book, other than I buried my father last August, and that alone prompted me to at least consider it. Pulling something terrible and universal into the title is a guaranteed way to make people stop and look at the very least.

9) The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers

Again, like the Mr. Darcy book listed above, it appeals to the consumers pre-packaged experience with some other well-known and beloved work/author. In this case it is the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. And bonus points for this book because the volume was covered in mock animal hair (no joke).

10) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Good 'ol Dave, he is absolutely brilliant. Bringing back the art of the cover design, kitschy titles, and sharp sardonic writing to boot. The crazy thing is, the title is as hysterically arrogant as it is true. I want to take a seminar by this man. I want to send him fan letters and unfinished manuscripts and make him my mentor. But I'll settle for pre-ordering his next work on Amazon.

But cover design may even be more important than title, particularly for new and unestablished writers.

I cannot tell you how many of my former students (first-wave Twilight lovers) told me that they had picked up the Stephenie Meyer books simply because the covers were so gorgeous, and looked different than everything else in that section. If you venture into the teen/YA section now, there has been an explosion of books adopting the black/red graphics that the Meyer books made en vogue.

Of course publishers and booksellers know this; but how much more then must new authors fight for books that both look AND read like New York Times bestsellers? It's nothing new. Dating is full of pigeons and peacocks, and the bookstore is no different.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Perfectionism Is Nuts, or, Brachioplasty Anyone?!

I realized last night that I may, in fact, be a crazy woman.

Why? Because last night I was trying to rationalize to my girlfriends that I had a "low self-esteem moment" because I made two B's last semester, and because I have this troublesome pocket of fat under my armpit that I've nicknamed "the Bat-wing."

There I was in my bathing suit with three of my best girls slack-jawed as they watched me jiggle my arms and rant about marathon sessions of research-paper-writing at four a.m. while questioning the spiritual implications of plastic surgery.

More evidence of craziness: I've already read half of my required reading for the upcoming semester which hasn't started, AND I just got the book in the mail yesterday. Oh yeah, it's already been highlighted, and my notes TYPED (mind you) and bulleted in a Microsoft Word document.

Don't mistake me, this is NOT bragging.

I know sooo many women like this, like me. Maybe it's grades, or staying thin, or being the expert at work, or having the most accomplished child, or dressing like a celebrity, or having a house with floors so clean you could do stem-cell research on them. Women in particular have this crippling bent toward perfectionism. I've always thought that this kind of Rainman-like preoccupation was admirable, until lately.

I'm not sure when it dawned on me. Maybe it was after I felt the all-too-familiar-encompassing-diarrhea-nervousness that comes before I start a new semester, or maybe it was when I realized that my lovely friends WERE not commiserating with my Kanye West wailing over TWO unholy B's.

Perfectionism is not only unhealthy for your colon, it is also really ungodly.

As a Christian woman, pushing myself to these ridiculous extremes shows that I don't trust the Creator with my fate; I don't trust God with the creation he's made. It shows that I am incredibly shallow in chasing after GPA's that don't account for much when I've barely seen my toddler or my spouse. It shows that I expend way too much energy on the temporal and not the eternal. Never, to my recollection, have I ever burned my candle at both ends for another person like I have for myself.

When Jesus said "love thy neighbor as thyself," it was not only a command, but in some ways, an indictment. He knew how self-centered we are, and stuffed it in our faces: "Hey go-getter who's up at four a.m. writing about collection development for your pompous degree, remember to funnel some of that energy into the homeless guy you try to ignore on the entrance ramp to I-75."

All my admirable go-getter-ness is simply self-serving.

Perfectionism is another way of saying self-centered. I am more than my GPA. I am more than my title at work (or lack thereof). I am more than a weight. A credit score. A bank statement. I am more than what my child does or does not do in life. I am more than this bizarre outcropping of fat that hangs from my right armpit and bobbles over my bra when I run.

[Insert Oprah audience claps and cue "I am Woman"]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sin and Honesty in the Christian Church

Confession: I am a big, fat, dirty sinner. No, really. NO. Seriously.

I get that I wear cardigans and am going to school to be a Librarian. You're probably thinking: anyone who wears khaki and ballet flats and plans a career pushing books can't be that wild, right? Wrong.

The truth is that I sin on the daily. On the hourly. Moreover, I have one or two choice sins that perpetually get in my face. They're more annoying than SEC fans in September. Though you'd never know because they aren't visible like drug abuse or alcoholism.

Confession no. 2: I love God, and I don't want to be this way.

I know that this conversation about sin seems really stupid, antiquated, and/or probably just "too precious" for my friends/relatives/associates who are not Christians.

They are rolling their eyes right now, saying, "For the love of, here she goes again throwing herself under the bus because she said the 'F' word once or something equally as innocuous." But it's not just about having a filthy mouth. It's about having your eyes opened to something true, and not being able to go back. It's passing through the wardrobe and into Narnia. It's Neo after the blue pill. It's Columbus catching his first glance of Hispanola.

Sin is death. I've heard this my entire life, and it meant nothing. We hear about gravity as children, and scoff when our parents talk about jumping from bridges to follow others, but when a plane begins to nose-dive and shake uncontrollably mid-flight we finally understand that our bodies and collective wisdom have no bearing on the force hurling us to the ground.

It was only after I understood that sin is not only real, but here for a very real purpose that I was even able to care about my actions. This thing called conscience, was the Holy Spirit pulling at my heart quietly. Those who are not Christians feel it intuitively, but call it moral order.

Confession no. 3: I believe the Christian church (at least in America) is failing miserably to discuss this issue of sin.

It seems like our goal is to get people cleaned up, dunked in the baptism tank, and send them along their merry way. We talk about sin as an abstract concept, a cancer that affects us all. We get them to accept that they have the cancer, and that Jesus is the cure for it. But we never talk about what type of cancer it is; how it moves, grows, how it changes, how we can prevent it. Not really. That conversation is too graphic, not family-friendly, too raw, glorifying of secular behaviors. I think this is a cop-out.

If we as Christians want to change the world, we can't be afraid to talk about it. Honestly. Brutally. We can't be afraid to cut into the cadaver and look at the tumor, spreading. We can't be afraid to put it under a microscope and share our findings with others. We can't be ashamed to show the ugly surgical scars on our own bodies.

Confession no. 4: I'm really tired of oatmeal evangelism. Give me truth.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wanderlust List: Or, Christeene's "Anywhere but Here" Top 5

Confession: I've got wanderlust. Bad.

My mother's ex-husband worked for Delta back when I was in high school/college, and that meant lots of free (or nearly-free) travel to exotic locales like Dayton, OH and Fort Walton Beach, FL. But there were more exciting travels too--like a business class seat to Paris (where they stuff you silly with food to pass the time), a first class ticket (with champagne, yeah mon!) to Jamaica, pan-Pacific flights to Hawaii in the large air-misted bowels of a 777, and copious quick-turn-arounds to NYC for shopping and various museum sprints.

Oh, the good ole days.

These days a weekend in Macon sounds like an enticing prospect given my (now) lack of airline connections and a checking account so thin it's giving Calista Flockhart a run for her rib bones as of late.

These days I'm content to watch the Travel Channel, and search "Last Minute Vacation Packages" on Travelocity--my own version of porn on these Georgia afternoons where there is nothing to do but dream of escaping the hot-wet-fart-trapped-in-a-bag-heat/humidity combo that makes me wish I was anywhere but here.

Which leads me to share my Top 5 "Anywhere but Here" list of places that I'd love to travel to right now:

5) Chesapeake, VA: I think "classic American" when I think of Chesapeake. I think of summer and really good seafood and yacht clubs and Fourth of July fireworks over the bay and douchey blond dudes who wear loafers and coral golfing shorts with little polo ponies on them. I think of its closeness to Virginia Beach and historic Williamsburg only an hour north. Sign me up for everything BUT the douchey blonds, please!

4) Seattle, WA: Nothin' says lovin' ala Christeene quite like coffee, grunge, fish markets, and a close proximity to the woodsy town of Forks where the Twilight saga is based (geeky fan girls, UNITE!). Ahem... Oh yeah, there is also the infamously brooding weather, which frankly sounds appealing to me after being sun-bleached for 9 months out of the year.

3) Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada: Expansive mountain vistas. Prehistoric cedars. Cerulean waters full of biting fish and whale watching. Luxury lodges accessible only by water airplane. Fresh salmon avec chanterelles for le dinner. Sounds like the furthest thing from this Georgia red clay and "moonlight through the pines" business. Sounds like heaven.

2) San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Most people think of coeds slamming tequila on the beach when they think of Mexico. But San Miguel de Allende has so much more to offer than white sand and cheap Senor Frog's t-shirts. Think cobbled streets, Colonial architecture, Mexican artisans selling one-of-a-kind wares, and year-round temperate weather. I want to stay here, in the "La Biblioteca" (the library) suite: http://www.casaschuck.com/newSite/mainEng.html

1) Santorini, Greece: Blame it on my love for Grecian epic poetry, or the fact that my favorite color is cobalt blue (which is the modus vivendi for all rooftops on this little island). Blame it on the fact that my half-brother's Greek grandma gave me an addiction to Spanakopita and Baklava and all things sprinkled in goat cheese. Santorini not only makes takes the #1 spot for my "Anywhere but Here" list, it's hovering somewhere near the top of my "Must See Before I Die" list as well.

What's on your "Anywhere but Here" list?