Tag Archives: Rachel Marsh

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and you will be disappointed if I give away the ending, that’s just tough because the book was written 35 years ago and you should have read it by now.

If I’m honest, I only chose to re-read Douglas Adam‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or The Guide as it will now be referenced) because it’s short. At the moment, my life is timetabled into so many compartments (work, email, sleep, work, not writing, reading articles posted on Facebook, looking at videos of cats on the internet, email, sleep) that adding even the most pleasurable of activities needs a flow-chart, Venn diagram, spreadsheet, and series of calendar apps just to formulate if I have time to finish a task such as reading a book.

Yet, this is a very worthy project, and Emilie does not take “I don’t have time to read” as an excuse. So, I cleared the chocolate wrappers, budget reports, and file folders containing single receipts from 2007 off the desk of my day job. I told my colleagues not to bother me. “Please turn down the Christmas music”, “No I don’t want to come to the office party”, “I don’t have time for mulled wine, mince pies, and discussions about how Cindy in Accounts really shouldn’t wear her hair like that.” I was doing something important. I was organising my time so I’d know if I had time to re-read a book. Not a moment for office frivolity.

After seven hours and thirty-two minutes of focused analytics and statistical analysis, I came to the conclusion that I would indeed have time to read the book…if I held all calls, cancelled my appointment with the chiropodist, and cracked on with it.

Realising that I had left my copy of The Guide in a box in my father’s closet in a house on a different continent, I opted to download the Kindle version. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t waste time with silly things like page numbers. Instead, it gets straight to the point and tells you how long you can plan on reading.

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Three hours and thirty-nine minutes later, I was quite happy that Emilie is a tough task master and forced me to make time for a novel I’d already read. Twenty-six years after the first reading, the book seemed to change slightly from science fiction to a handy list of contemporary technology. Back then, it was sci-fi and every piece of it was weird, wonderful, and completely fictitious. Reading it in 2014, Adams seem like a fortune teller, able to foresee gadgets of the future:

[…] he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice.

 “And you are not,” said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, “a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker […] which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard.”

And of course, we currently have the infinite probability drive…don’t we?

Actually, the deeper revelation I had while re-reading this book was not about the miracle prophecies – as most science fiction will get lucky and predict something if it sits on a bookshelf long enough – but it made me realise how miserable my life has become. This realisation was completely unfathomable when I first read the book as a sixteen year old living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 – ten years after the story was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4, nine years after it was first published into a book, and six time zones away from where it was written.

I am no longer a high school student with a future ahead of me and enough free time to read a book while swinging softly on a hammock in my parent’s back garden. Instead, I sit at a dreary desk on an even drearier winter’s afternoon, sun down at 4 pm, cheap tinsel lining the cubicles, and the soft seasonal tunes of Bob Geldoff insulting an entire continent playing in the background. As I re-read the pages in which the Vogons vaporize the Earth to make way for an intergalactic motorway, I realise that if this were to happen in ‘real life’—while I might be a bit unnerved and discombobulated—I don’t think the personal distress would last for long. Granted, if the Earth were vaporised and I was on it, I wouldn’t be much of anything. But, let’s say I was rescued by a passing spaceship and I cast my eyes down at the dark space where the Earth (and that infernal desk to which I was chained) used to be, I can’t imagine I’d feel much at all. Or, maybe—like Arthur Dent—it would be too much to take in.

England no longer existed. He’d got that – somehow he’d got it. He tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he though, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.

He passed out.

As a teenager reading The Guide, I thought I was irreverent, interesting, and terribly witty. I thought I would grow up to be a maverick author who plays by her own rules, and I would be lavished in kudos, awards, and cash for recognition of writing a society-changing novel. The reality is very different. It’s the end of 2014, I live in Dundee, Scotland; I’m middle-aged and any notion of actualising anything less than mundane disappeared long ago.

How similar my life is to that of Arthur Dent – pre-destruction of the Earth – is what first struck me about the book: wandering through existence, not taking in the grandeur of the Universe, an unrewarding adult life obstructed my view. Of Arthur, The Guide states, “He worked in local radio, which he always used to tell his friends was a lot more interesting than they probably thought.” I, on the other hand, work in fundraising, which no one thinks is interesting. Because it isn’t. Arthur, upon being picked up by an inter-stellar ship in infinite probability drive, is most concerned with finding a cup of tea, and he spends much of the story allowing the plot to unfold around him. I can imagine that, if placed in a similar situation, I would become preoccupied with finding a cup of coffee.

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he reaslised what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

Other than stumbling upon the manufacturing of Earth 2.0, Arthur’s presence is of no consequence. Towards the end, he finally becomes important as he is the last surviving member of the human race who was on Earth moments before its destruction. He has stamped upon his brain an imprint which will answer the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Yet, there is a giant hole in this argument, for there is another member of the human race on board that ship, Trillian. So, despite a last minute attempt to make Arthur relevant, he is – actually – quite inconsequential.

As a kid, I saw Arthur Dent as a character who was swept away, but still acted heroically in the face of it all—a bit like a Doctor Who companion. As an adult I have come to the realisation that Arthur Dent is much more ignoble, an object to follow so that a story can be revealed. If we were to compare him to a 70s film, he would be neither Smokey nor the Bandit; he’d be the car, an important device but not one that’s terribly interesting.

A re-reading of The Guide has helped me to realise that unless you’re one of a small host of famous do-gooders like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Maryam Mirakhani, or Amy Poehler, your life is fairly inconsequential. We are all Arthur Dent; our very existence happened at the odds of 7887602006 to 1, and despite the great fortune that we even exist, we do nothing with our lives. Instead, we are pulled haphazardly through the universe unable to completely grasp the vastness of it all.

The second thing I noticed about re-reading The Guide is how much the satire is a dig at being British; something I most certainly would have not “gotten” as a 16 year old American. Now, with over a decade of living in Britain stamped on my passport, I can see the subtle Britishness of the book. And I mean real British. None of that Downton Abbey drivel.* The Guide is “two up two down”, “Tetley Tea and Penguins”, “Rule Britannia”, “spending your Costa del Sol holiday searching for a Greggs” kind of British.

Yes, as a teenager I recognised the deeper satire within the novel, the sentiments that are so very British few teenage Americans would recognize their context. However, there was one thing I did pick up from The Guide as a teenager. Something that has seeped into my subconsciousness. This book taught me the structure of funny. It’s the simple rhythm of the long game. No quick crack falls. It’s the set-up then the punch. Here’s how it works: profound, profound, profound, mundanely simple.

I have carried this rhythm with me throughout life. The ability to find the mundane within the outrageous. The knack for ending a list of the wondrous with the banal. The chance to shut down amazement in lieu of boredom. This book has taught me that being a combination of Arthur Dent and Marvin is okay, because if it’s satire you’re not miserable, you’re just witty.

With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre – nothing you could actually take offence at – Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror at all things human.

Meta author photo

Meta author photo

Rachel Marsh blogs about being a creative writing teacher and writer at www.rachelmarsh.co.uk, where pretends to be upbeat and completely ignores the fact that she works a day job. At heart Rachel is a truly miserable individual and she blames it all on Douglas Adams.

 *Editor’s  Note: Emilie would like to stress that she doesn’t think Downton Abbey is drivel, even if she was a bit disappointed with one particular plot twist. You know which one.
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Carol of the Brag

These aren’t late presents. These are the presents you get after Christmas when you’re going through present withdrawal. And these are presents you can easily re-gift, just by telling somebody about them. Instant recyclables, so they’re incredibly green and cost-effective. With no further ado, here’s the last (not-late) (green) (cost-effective) brag of 2013:

Rachel Marsh has an essay called On the Internet and On the Street No On Knows the Artist is a Dog in GENERATORprinthouse’s newsletter. Also, her story “The Yellow House” was published by Exegesis. When I was with Rachel in Scotland (in 2007), I visited the real Yellow House with her and sat in on her writing group’s meeting when everyone read what they’d written about the house. I even have my own version of “The Yellow House” somewhere. You should check out Rachel’s, and see what she wrote on her blog about publishing this piece in 2013, almost entirely unchanged since it was written in 2007.

Least Favorite Love Songs now has three episodes up from its second season. Check them out. This webseries is produced by a small, incredibly talented crew of locals, so I’m bragging on them collectively.

CavanKerry Press will be publishing Brent Newsom‘s book of poetry Love’s Labors.

After a successful fundraising campaign, DaVida Chanel‘s play “Hip Hop is Alive” traveled to the Atlanta and Chicago Fringe Fests this year. “Hip Hop is Alive” was performed at the New Orleans Fringe Fest in 2011.

Dub Lee and Chris Odinet‘s house was featured in The Advocate, also showcasing some of Dub’s gorgeous paintings.

Left Hand Press will publish Susan Kagan’s Basic Wiccan Ethics.

Here’s a great short documentary on Montana Miller and her aerial/acrobatic career.

In addition to his general awesomeness and lots of readings about town, Maurice Ruffin has an essay in the “cultural atlas” Unfathomable City (pg 133).  It’s a beautiful book, full of local folks, so check it out. Here’s a great review in the Chicago Tribune, which mentions Maurice’s essay.

Joselyn Takacs‘ story “Something Irrevocable” was finalist in the 2013 Narrative 30 Below contest. She was also a finalist in 2011 with her story “Flares of Little Warning,” available here.

Aaron Hogan of Eye Wander Photo won a “Fearless Award” for “Jamaican Bride,” one of the “most daring and extreme wedding photographs worldwide.”

Che Yeun‘s amazing essay “Saphir’s Room” is online at Trop Mag and she’s been nominated for her second Pushcart Prize for her story “One in Ten Fish Are Afraid of Water.”

“Dreams Do Come True,” a photo exhibit by L. Kasimu Harris is at Bellocq through January 19th.
L. Kasimu Harris photo exhibitMary McMyne‘s story “Lilith,” a retelling of how Lilith is cast out of Eden, will be published by NewMyth.com. Her chapbook Wolf Skin will be published by Dancing Girl Press and her novel-in-progress The Book of Gothel received a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant.

James Claffey, among many, many other achievements, has been interviewed here. Also, read his story “Prehistory” here. And a short story at Causeway/Cabhsair called “His Life a Pitted Table…”

Melissa Remark wrote the film Call Me Cappy, which just wrapped production.

Women in Film and Television (WIFT) Louisiana just named Mari Kornhauser the winner of its inaugural Iris Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women in Film & Television.

mari WIFTVeronica Brown‘s The Daughter of the Puppet King will be published next year.

She is Alex by Eritria Pitts has a new video called “Secret Santa.”

Jamie Amos has a story coming out in the Florida Review called “A Good Dog Buries Its Bone” and was just named Assistant Nonfiction Editor at the New Orleans Review.

Hila Ratzabi has a poem at Women Poets Wearing Sweatpants.
Spillway Magazine has published poetry by Alison Grifa Ismaili.

Jamey Hatley has just published an essay about the art of postcards at The Toast.

Many of my former and current brags are listed in Chris Waddington’s “Top 10 Books of 2013 for New Orleans readers” and there is a smorgasbord of brag-worthy writing in the newly released The Double Dealer. Work by Peauxdunquians Terri Stoor, Cassie Pruyn, Tad Bartlett, J.Ed Marston, Tom Carson and yours truly (pg 410), as well as Rodger Kamenetz, John Biguenet, T. Geronimo Johnson, Harold Ellis Clark, Jennifer Steil, Chris Tusa, Alison Grifa Ismaili and Elsie Michie, among many, many more. You could spend weeks reading the excellent writing in the 400+ issue of The Double Dealer and I hope you do.

That should see you into the next year. I’ll be posting my regular end-of-the-year posts over the next few days and the brag will be back in 2014, have no fear.

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Fess Up Friday (the quick edition)

While there are still two more days of February left, I thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick Fess Up Friday and give you the status of the book, as far as I understand it.

In February so far, I have written 8,395 new words and have reached page 145 of the 3rd draft, which is a little ways into Part Two, a little more than third of the way through. Most of the new words are for Part Two and Three, to be woven in with previous scenes from the 2nd draft.

I’m aiming to be done by Easter, which is April 4th, just to give myself another crazy-but-potentially-doable deadline.

Some presents:

I never bragged on my friend Helen Gillet, who is OffBeat’s cover girl.

One of Rachel’s stories is online in audio.

A man watched 30 chick flicks in 30 days to be a better boyfriend.

A great article about the potential future of healthcare-concierge medicine.

A sweet review of one of my favorite movies, The Cutting Edge.

Lipdubbing – check out the last video.

Fun airplane safety cards (make sure to check out the images at the end).

Message in a SIM card – this is a really cool story about a couple’s anniversary pics being returned after being lost at sea for nearly two years.

Wusbands and hifes.

Girl Scout cookie facts (and recipe!)

Enjoy your weekend!

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Fess Up Friday – the way too long edition

So far, 2010 has involved a lot of being sick and already several doctor’s visits (surgery next week). Lots of time back and forth to Baton Rouge interviewing folks for my latest 225 piece about The Dictionary of Louisiana French – will have to do a post soon on the behind-the-scenes story of this latest piece, because it’s been fascinating.

My goal was to do a NaNoWriMo-like pace in January, trying to finish any new writing that might be necessary for the 3rd draft. I set my goal word count kind of arbitrarily at 30,000. I achieved just over 11,000 new words in actuality. Half of those words would probably never have been written, if it weren’t for Ronlyn.

As I reported last month, Jamey “fixed” my novel. But I wasn’t fixed–my process wasn’t. I’ve had a thousand little revelations (and maybe a dozen giant ones) in the years I’ve been working on this book. The fact that I’m still surprised to learn something about the book or my characters or my process or myself still surprises me, but I suspect the learning (and the surprise) will never go away.

I wrote Ronlyn an email asking her for advice and something in my email triggered an awareness in her that I needed something other than (in addition to) what I was asking for, so she suggested we talk on the phone. I wrote her back and said I was going to Baton Rouge and why not get coffee. We met at a coffeeshop I wrote a lot of my thesis at, which is a lot more active in the middle of the day than it used to be, when I was there. Ronlyn came in with a bandage on her chin (she writes about that injury and another in her newest Nervous Breakdown piece). We chatted about her injury and the day I’d been having and then segued into The Issue(s).

Like a writing therapist, she listened. A lot. And then diagnosed The Issue. “Your process isn’t working.” In short, I had developed habits and rituals that didn’t work for me. Ever, or anymore, that was hard to tell. But they didn’t work. My body would hurt if I didn’t get up and go to Cheers everyday and try to get one of my favorite tables. Except, I would sit there all day and not write. I was there, butt in chair as they say, but I was restless, I was annoyed, I was undisciplined.

The other problem, as I then confessed to Ronlyn, was that I was afraid I’d lost my joy in writing. For good. “It’s almost never fun to write anymore. I remember when it used to be the thing I always wanted to do most.” I was paralyzed because I was afraid that my book sucked and it wasn’t satisfying or fun or pleasant to write to top it all off. But the worst part was that I was afraid writing would never be fun again, that it would always be arduous torture.

Ronlyn then said several things that consoled and comforted me, that woke me. She made some great suggestions, too. First, she reassured me that not all books are enjoyable to write. But, clearly, this book needs to be written because it won’t let me go. Writing can and will be fun and satisfying again, she convinced me.

Next, she suggested that I find new places and ways to write, as my habits and rituals are failing me. She urged me to go back to handwriting, which is how I wrote until I went to college. She gave me another piece of advice that I’ll have to keep private, but which is embodied by the picture below.

The above picture was taken in St. Andrews, Scotland. This is the place where I did my first writing in several months, after finishing my thesis draft of the book. I was weary and burnt out and in Scotland was lucky enough to sit in on my friend Rachel Marsh’s writing group. My first writing in months was an assignment for that group meeting, the Yellow House assignment.

I came home from that visit with Ronlyn in Baton Rouge and I vowed to handwrite in a notebook for an hour every day, before doing anything else. I’ve managed that most days. Sometimes, it’s regrettably at the end of the day and I have missed a few days, what with illness, doctor’s appointments and Saints games. But, I’ve written more days than I haven’t. And I was shocked at how relatively easy and yes, enjoyable, the process was. Several people have told me this over the years and handwriting used to be my primary method. I knew it was true that handwriting would probably be more fun and efficient in the long run for me, but I stubbornly clung to my broken rituals, trying to shove my creativity into the shape of my habits like a difficult puzzle piece.

And then, I was lucky enough to attend the Peauxdunque Writers’ Alliance retreat in Hopedale, Louisiana and I had an amazing, peaceful time. We prepared meals together, toasted J.D. Salinger and had shop talk in incredibly beautiful surroundings and it gave me just that extra bit of creative energy I needed. Below is a picture of the writers at the retreat. Though it’s highly overexposed (we’d set the timer on a camera and were standing on a dock in extremely cold weather), I really enjoy the expressions on our faces.

Bryan, Susan, Terri, Emilie, Tad and Maurice

Recently, someone asked me what the new timeline is for the book and I froze. I don’t know. I’d hoped, ambitiously, to have all the new writing done in January and then just breeze through a shellac/edit, sculpt those new pieces into place and then pop it into the EasyBake. That’s not going to happen. I still want to be done soon. I’m still restless. But I’m figuring it out. I’m that much closer.

One piece of good news is that every time I’ve been asked this year what I do for a living (at doctor’s offices, etc.), I have answered, “self-employed writer.” With hardly any hesitation, too!

But while I’m eliminating my hesitation and waiting for a reasonable timeline, I have much bragging on to do.

Jamey is in 225, talking about her recent and perennial reading. Also, she has finished and exceeded the 32 Day Challenge, which means she wrote every day of the first 32 days of the year. And she’s still going. Not one single day off.

Barb’s book More of This World or Maybe Another was just named a Barnes and Noble Discover Awards finalist.

Dave’s newest film project, Night Catches Us, premiered at Sundance.

Toni is appearing at Baton Rouge’s CitiPlace Barnes and Noble February 12th at 7 p.m.

The Saints are playing in the SuperBowl on Sunday. That’s certainly something to brag on, as well.

Check out this picture I found of some of my favorite people:

Classic. James Wilcox, Jamey Hatley, Ronlyn Domingue and Clarence Nero

And some presents to leave you with:

Pink performs an aerial routine similar to what my character would be doing at the end of my book.

The Legend of Jeremy Shockey – so funny I almost ran the car off the road while listening to it on the radio.

And five seasons of Lost reduced to under 10 minutes by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, below. My thoughts as I started watching it? Ohmygawd, I watched all 104 hours of Lost in December. But trust me, I’m going to enjoy watching the upcoming 16 hours of Season 6 just as much, if not more.

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