Courtenay Bluebird is a professional writer and photographer. As a writer, she has penned features and columns for major newspapers and magazines. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been published in respected journals. As a photographer, she has hung four two-person shows. Bluebird Blvd. is her first, and only major blog. She's so happy you stopped by today.
I’d like to read something about…
Bluebird’s Bookshelf is a brand new feature on Bluebird Blvd. that’s just about the bookishness of books.
We’re always talking about specific books on Bluebird Blvd., so it seemed the thing to do now was talk about books in a more general way.
Why? Because everyone I know reads a hella* amount of books.
Are there any books that you recommend I should add to next month’s bookshelf?
What are you reading right now?
NO, REALLY! What are YOU READING RIGHTHISSECOND?
*Clears throat* *Tries to act casual* So, like, no rush or anything. But I’m sort of dying to know what’s on your bookshelf lately.
Okay, more things: If you’ve read any of the books on this list, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them (but no spoilers without warnings, okay?).
Also, if you’d like to read along with me this month, I’ll tell you where I’m at on the list right now: I’m in the middle of reading “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart, and I am just about done with John Scalzi’s “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded.”
I’m probably going to jump from those two books to “Heart of a Dog,” a short allegorical novel by one of Joseph Stalin’s favorite writers, Mikhail Bulgakov.
I have no idea how that guy made it through the revolution, as he was quite disillusioned with Soviet communism by the time he wrote “Heart of a Dog.”
Yet, Bulgakov did survive the, um, whimsies of Stalin. This potent writer’s subversive works sustained three generations of Soviet peoples in hard times. His work still delights present day Russians. (You know that Russia has a 99.58% literacy rate, right? That’s one well-read country!)
A question for my Russian friends: Could you possibly answer a question for me? I just finished reading Gary Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan” last month, and I was shocked by the idea that many Russians have read their own literature, extensively. Is this true? Do Russians read their own literary canon? Do they allude to their own literary figures a great deal?
At this writing, I hope to consume Bulgakov’s slender novel alongside Maira Kalman’s “And the Pursuit of Happiness“—I didn’t intend to juxtapose one political system against another, I just wanted to pair something visual with something textual, and both of these books are meaty.
Kalman’s books are generally a gorgeous marriage of illustration and text, and she maintains this playful yet melancholy voice I absolutely love.
Following that pairing, I’ll be re-reading Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood—the most truthful examination of girlhood I’ve ever read— simultaneously with Lynda Barry’s “What It Is,” a visual creation that explores the linked ideas of childhood, art, and memory. (I’ve read Barry’s “What It Is” many times, but I’m getting ready by reading Barry’s canon for her next book, which will be released in October.)
I’ll probably finish this month with “Naïve” and “Ripped.” Naïve discusses the resurgence of motifs from 1950s and ’60s graphic design, whereas “Ripped” showcases a riot of new design ideas and revolutionary thoughts from the late 1970s and 1980s. (Plus, there’s an introduction by Lydia Lunch.) Both of these books are more image than text. I’m not sure where I was going with that, except to say, “more image than text.”
SOME NEW(ISH) THINGS TO KNOW
In order to keep the lights on at Bluebird Blvd. HQ, I’ve started to do a few things differently around here. I don’t talk about it too much, but I am an Amazon Affiliate.
What this means for you: If you click on a book link on Bluebird Blvd. that takes you to that same book on Amazon and you purchase that book within 24 hours, I receive a small percentage off of your book purchase from Amazon. (No weird fees or anything like that–just a percentage of the ordinary, everyday purchase price of the book.)
You know what? You can always come back and click the link again if 24 hours pass and you realize you want a book I mentioned and you would like me to make a little bit of money. That would be nice, right?
I’m always talking about books I think you’ll love anyway, so this seemed a much better and more honest way of providing income to keep me and Bluebird Blvd. going than direct advertising, which I find incredibly distracting.
How distracting? I don’t watch network or cable television because I’m not interested in being a passive recipient of constant advertising. Keep this in mind, because bombarding you with advertising is something I will not be doing to you.
Actually, I won’t be doing anything especially different than we’ve always done. We talk about books I’m reading all the time here, right?
The only thing that’s going to be going on now, is that I’m going to have to go back into hundreds of Bluebird Blvd. stories and update the Amazon links so that they have my Amazon Affiliate tag. Thousands of links, y’all. Turns out I talk about books a flappin’ ton!
The same goes for music, where applicable. And I listen to a metric TON of music, so…there’s that.
However, if I can find a way for you to purchase items directly from the artist without any intermediary, I will most likely do that—even if I don’t earn income from it—because I’m a put-your-dollar-on-the-artist kinda guy.
One more thing—I will be selling some specially designed t-shirts and greeting cards and whatnots as well. I’ve got some pretty silly things mocked up and ready to go. (I love doing design work, y’all.)
Oh! And in the next few months, I’ll be offering photographs through one of the really nice print-on-demand retailers.
*Claps hands* I am SO EXCITED, y’all. I’ve got lots of little free and fun goodies planned this year for Bluebird Blvd. Plus, I am setting up my schedule so I will be able to finish Bluebird’s Modern Photography within a year-and-a-half. EEEEEEE! Excited!
Okay, enough talk about this stuff—let’s talk about books in the comment section. Are you ready? LET’S! TALK! BOOKS!
*1980s California slang for “a hell of a lot of.”
*HEY PILGRIM! NSFW for a couple of casual curse words.
I see all the magazines
working that Photoshop
We know that s*** ain’t real.
C’mon and make it stop.
If you got beauty-beauty,
c’mon and raise ‘em up.
Every inch of you is perfect
from the bottom to the top.
Singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor could not have picked a more timely moment to co-write (with Kevin Kadish) the body-positive hit single “All About That Bass,” especially in the face of a decade that seems to be shaping up as a reversal of the 21st century 00’s, in which plastic surgery ran amok in popular media and exaggerated thinness was hailed as the norm.
It’s no surprise, then, that increasing pressure to represent the look and lifestyle of real women and girls is quickly gaining traction as we move into the mid-point of the decade.
Fantastic advocacy groups like Brave Girls Alliance have already begun to speed up the process of redefining how women and girls are seen in the public eye, a public eye that sorely needs more women and girls creating visible work that shows the female gender in an honest light.
…Trainor championed for this song, which no one, not even the pop star herself, saw as being a contender for one of the hit pop singles of Summer 2014.
The percentages of women working in media are abysmal, especially considering the ratio of women to men in the United States. The current American population is 50.8% female, but women/girls garner only a projected 17% presence in the television and film marketplace.
According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, the ratio of women to male characters/performers in radio, film, and television are statistically similar to—you’re not going to believe this—the ratios offered after World War II.
(And we won’t even talk about female stereotypes in media right now. Oy. But you can read about it in this fascinating FAQ: Gender in Media: The Myths & Facts.)
Back to Meghan Trainor—it warms the thorny little cockles of my heart to hear that a promising young singer-songwriter like Trainor championed for this song, which no one, not even the pop star herself, saw as being a contender for one of the hit pop singles of Summer 2014.
In a July interview with Billboard, Trainor seemed awed by the power of her hit song, saying, “So, if other girls can relate to the song, it makes me feel even better. It’s unreal that I’m kind of helping people.”
LIKE THE SONG?
Purchase Meghan Trainor’s fantastic single All About That Bass on Amazon.
Trainor’s first EP will be released on Epic on September 9, 2014.
You can pre-purchase her upcoming CD Title EP here.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting to Bluebird Blvd. for nearly three whole months.
I’ve been having a problem. A writing problem.
Is it writer’s block?
No, it’s something worse than writer’s block if you can believe it.
Writer’s block is bad enough. And it’s real—don’t give me any of your power right through nonsense, okay? I’ve done that. You can do it, but it’s like dancing on a broken leg. Super painful.
If you write, you know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in the chair with the paper and the pen and the clock going, and you wait.
For what?!? You ask.
Words. You’re waiting for words.
Well, there are words everywhere, you say. Just pick up a dictionary. Hell, turn on the television. People are speaking them things all the time.
Um. They’re not the right words. That’s the whole problem.
So there you sit. Or you used to—staring at the wall. Waiting for something to materialize. The more you sit and wait, the more you believe you’re going to be sitting and waiting forever. But of course you don’t.
The words come—terribly at first, then a little better, and if you’re lucky, pretty well, and then either you go for broke and it’s hours later and you look up and go whaaaa? —because you’ve totally lost track of time and it’s late and the dogs need their supper….
Again, this is how it used to be.
Now every writer I know has a completely different writing problem.
There are too many words now, dammit. Too many freaking words.
Every day, I wake up to a phone that insists on throwing words at me. I sit up in bed and grab the glass of water I set on the nightstand every evening. I take my pills and pull a book onto my lap—I like to wake up slowly, you see. But there are all of these things that are asking for my attention.
There’s a television set in the other room blathering about the best way to sew a Hong Kong seam. (Yes, The Husband watches his sewing shows before school.)
And my phone beeyooops! because someone on Facebook “likes” the photograph I re-posted yesterday from Humans of New York. (Dude, I love HONY. Best thing on the internet.)
And then Twitbot 3 ker-bleeps! because the alert I set for our current Texas Guvi, Captain Hairdo is blowing up this morning because—oh, is it Christmas already?—he’s being indicted. (For something. Finally.)
Yeah, I know. You’re saying, “This is a problem? I should have such a problem.”
Oh, but it is. It is!
Do you realize that I haven’t even gotten out of bed and my ears are being crammed with words that aren’t my words? They’re not even the words in the lovely book that’s fallen open on my lap like a goofy disembodied grin. These words are semi-random things, mostly banalities, that I’ve personally selected to disrupt me throughout the day.
Yes, yes. You’re getting it now. I did this to myself. It’s a nightmare; it’s a terror. I gave my brain a raging case of writer’s block, but what’s going on isn’t actually anything like writer’s block at all.
Writer’s block is turning on the faucet and only getting a dribble of rusty words. Around here it’s a damn DELUGE. I’m being pelted with a stream of blah-blah-blah seam ripper, blah-blah-blah HONY should win a Nobel this yearii…blah-blah-blah GUESS WHAT CAPTAIN HAIRDO DID NOW!
It’s no wonder I started to have serious problems with writing. There are simply TOO MANY WORDS. And they’re also ALL THE WRONG WORDS.
Look at me. I’m so upset that I’m writing in italics for emphasis. And that’s really, really bad, y’all. It’s the cheapest writing trick in the book. The only thing worse than using italics to hit your paces is… JUST LOOK AT ME. —oh, there it is. The caps-lock gambit.
I’m a mess. But it’s not just me. This word problem is a worldwide emergency.
Some writers have gone as far as locking up their devices when they’re working on deadline. (Hint: If you’re a journalist, this idea may not work.) I know of two novelists (not personally) who disabled the internet capability on their computers.
One of them literally grabbed some glue and gummed up the works in his laptop. The other novelist pulled out the little bit that connects to the internet and put it in a vault and spun the lock.
And these are good writers. The Contemporary Lit kind with the sad smile and the little bald spot and the Ivy League education and the author’s photo on some street on the Eastern Seaboard and everything. If those guys can’t pull out of a writing nosedive caused by looking at crap on their phones, what the hell am I supposed to do?!? You know me—I am as ridiculous as I tell you I am. I may be even more ridiculous than I report to you—I don’t know.
Well, this is what I’ve come up with so far: WALLPAPER. Just hear me out. You know how the first thing you see when you turn on your computer in the morning after it warms up is your desktop wallpaper, right?
Why not write something to REMIND you to write and make it into DESKTOP WALLPAPER, so that EVERY TIME you look up from some bullhound conversation you’re having on Twitter instead of writing your novel, you’ll get the point.
It’s better than guilt or an alarm or an expensive POMODORO system or GET ‘R’ DONE or any of those marketing things that help you yell at yourself to get work finished.
Or so I thought at the beginning of this summer.
In June, I designed this desktop picture and put it on my Mac so that it was the first and last thing I ever see on my computer.
Cute, right? Okay, well that was a novelty for about a week. Then I pretty much forgot it was there and still was struggling with writing.
As you can see with this next one, I ratcheted up the noise. I didn’t want to miss this when I looked up from my browser with three tabs open that have nothing to do with me writing at the moment: The Mary Sue, Pinterest, Facewitter. Something like that.
And so that wore off in a few weeks as well. Around the beginning of July, I started to panic. That’s when I created this beaut right here:
But you know what? I ran the first part of my writing career based on fear. I’m pretty immune to fear at this point.
Plus, I am a born existentialist. You figured that out, right?
Also, I’ve been to graduate school. I was already a professional writer when I entered graduate school at 25. Graduate school is way more scary than the actual writing world. I kid you not.
Finish an MFA and you’ll be hard-pressed to be afraid of anything ever again. Deadlines. Coral snakes. Mortgages. I’m serious.
None of this mattered by early August. I guess I made this? It’s all kind of a blank here on out:
And, um, this.
Here’s the last thing I haven’t really tried lately—plumping up my ego.
You know that writers have notoriously fragile egos, right? Well, mine is not so fragile. But as a writer, I am kind of like Peter Pan in that I like it when you look up to the sky and think of me from time to time.
Geez, I’ve missed you all.
Oh, just one more thing. I know the social media stuff is just witchy for writers. Actually, it’s so bad that it’s made me nostalgic for old-fashioned writer’s block.
Sweet cracker sandwich, has it come to this?
i That spelling is intentional. In Texas, you have the Guv and you have the Lite Guv. The Lite Guv is the guy with the power. The Guv. is usually a figurehead. Usually. (Anne Richards was no figurehead, darlin’!)
The Husband: Is that real rain?
Bluebird: Yessir, it sure is. From last night’s thunderstorm.
The Husband: So you didn’t use any instant rain?
Bluebird: (Tilts eyebrow.) Instant rain?
The Husband: You know… (Waves hands carelessly.) …the kind you get from a mix. Like little Betty Crocker’s Instant Thunderstorm Mix.
Bluebird: (Stares at The Husband for a long moment.) You’re really, really weird.
The Husband: Yes’m, I sure am.