…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

RHUPUNT IS NOT RU PAUL. . . (Part 1)

In fact, they are not even twin brothers, or brothers at all. One is a thing, and the other is a—well—let’s put it in his words from his autobiography: “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.”[1]

Need a bit more clarification? Maybe this will help. Rhupunt is just—Rhupunt. More about him—uh—that later. RuPaul is a whole different thing—um—person. His full name is RuPaul Andre Charles. When born in November of 1960, his mom, a native of Louisiana, gave him the unusual first name, I guess, as a sort of remember your roots name. She took Ru from roux, which is a mixture of fat and flour used to blend the flavors and thicken stews, bringing separate ingredients into one cohesive unit.

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I wonder if she was prescient in giving him this name, because RuPaul is considered the most successful drag queen in the United States. And in my view, in doing so he has brought spices isolated in closets back into the American melting pot where they can add to the amazing national flavor of this country. Everyone has the right to be included!

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As such, he has also blended the male and female elements of his personality. Perhaps his being comfortable and open with his nature, and finding success in doing so, led to Time magazine’s including RuPaul in 2017’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. I think that shows that not only can anyone become president, as we have seen, but anyone—good, bad, or just different—has the potential to make Time’s“100” list! It’s just that I’d prefer the 100 who have attained more than fame and money—humility, gratitude, and understanding that, to whom much is given, much will be required, or in today’s parlance, pay it forward!

And before I go on to Rhupunt, I want to point out that RuPaul is also an author, actor, model, singer, songwriter, and television personality. Put that in your prejudice pipe and smoke it!

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[1]RuPaul (1995). Lettin’ It All Hang Out: An Autobiography. Hyperion Books. ISBN 0-7868-6156-8.

 

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THERE’S NOTHING ON TV

 

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Okay, maybe there are a few TV programs and channels left that have not been bought out or sold out to sensationalism-for-profit. But they are becoming endangered species.

I’ve heard “You are what you eat” for as long as I’ve been on this planet, and that has been a fairly lo-o-o-ng time. So listen up, you whipper-snappers! If you disagree, stop reading. You have hundreds of mind-mucking dishes to binge on. Bon appetit!

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Am I alone in decrying the dumbing down of content, and the ratcheting up of violence in programming? And what does watching that stuff say about us? We settle for less than the best? Uh—yeah. Look at the state our country is in. It’s been turned into one of those base fake-wrestling, fake-reality shows. And the rest of the world is NOT laughing.

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photo of group of men wearing assorted scarves holding sticksWith the power of our buying habits, we can demand more  programs that promote ideals, add to one’s knowledge, and can change life for the better.

We need to laugh with comedy based on the human condition, humor that helps us see ourselves through other eyes, humor that’s not an in-your-face reflection of the negative influences in society. Humor that may even, yes, inspire compassion. Not comedy learned in colleges, but on the streets of life, like some of the best performers from the past.

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We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes and learn from it all. We deserve shows based on ideals by which this country was built strong and proud and set on a pedestal of respect. The rest is mind mush intended to keep the masses controlled with the aid of a multiplicity of sales pitches and food commercials that push us to mindless consumerism and mindless eating.

 

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I recently watched a 2018 TV drama series The Terror, based on the novel of the same name by author Dan Simmons. The series is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s 1845-1848 expedition to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. The two ships, Erebus and Terror, became frozen in the ice and their crews lost in agonizing conditions of body and mind and through the actions of a supernatural creature that haunts the crew. A second season is planned for 2019. You can judge its merits for yourself.

But here’s what I learned from watching it. If we learn from the history of prior expeditions, if we are willing to heed lessons from the experiences of others on such voyages, if we put the good of all involved ahead of our personal ambitions, we may live to try again.

 And what has this got to do with writing?

 

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Writers must continue to learn so we can write with authority and confidence about that which fires us up.

What we write can educate, entertain, lighten spirits, and enlighten minds.

In the darkest tale, we can write in a way that elevates and ignites the best not the basest in people, as divisive forces splintering this country have so skillfully done.

Stand up for what’s right.

Go.

Write.

SABBATICAL

I have this should-be achievable monthly blog about writing, how I do it or don’t—as in the recent nonexistent May post! So, here’s my excuse. I was on sabbatical. Brain recharge leave.

The last week in March, we started out on a road trip to Vermont and stayed through most of April. During that time we had a handful of peeks at the sun, including two entirely clear days. The rest were as seen here.

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My sister’s driveway during Spring in Vermont – which the natives call Mud Season. But Mud season seemed to also have taken a mini-sabbatical.

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To paraphrase Shel Silverstein, this is “Where the Sidewalk DOESN’T End.” It continues…as did the snow.

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But it’s prettier from the inside looking out–

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–As she soon discovered, having brought a windbreaker and a see-through sweater as outer wear because, “It’s SPRING in Vermont. I don’t need anything heavy.” Some days with single digits proved otherwise.

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The car suffered, but not nearly as much as the day we left, when it had to be chipped out of a block of ice. Okay, a very slight exaggeration. But we did learn to appreciate the heated seats we laughed at in Florida. Still, fair is fair. Auto makers need to install a seat cooling option as well.

So what did I learn from all this?

Patience: A little bit more than I started with. Playing cards and drinking wine could be fun. Having no cell phone service wasn’t the end of the world. Sharing memories and reliving the events was better than junk on TV.

Gratitude: A family as warm as Florida. Meeting new friends. A wedding to celebrate. A roof over our heads in a cozy house with every comfort provided as if we were visiting royalty. No writing deadlines. Being able to walk the aisles in the food Co-op, in the or in Walmart across the line in New Hampshire was healthy exercise–for me, if not the budget.

On our return to Florida, we dumped out the dirty laundry and repacked for a trip to Pensacola for Walt’s Navy Reunion into May. This was payback to my husband for all the times he lost me in Beall’s (are they still called department stores?) in Florida. (During which HE learned patience.) Actually, I dodged him up and down the aisles to be sure he got his exercise, too.

And here we are in Pensacola:

I expressed the opinion that perhaps “Anytime, Anywhere” might be misconstrued when applied to a group of Navy men. Then again, it may only be my view, having married one.

We watched a practice for the Blue Angels, and toured the Pensacola Naval Air Museum, where we observed a retirement assembly. And my honey posed in full dress uniform aboard the USS Alabama in–of all places–Alabama!

And that’s where I’ve been. Now, it’s back to work. My deadlines loom in the distance. I’m beginning to miss that Little House in the Big Wood! (Apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

 

 

 

SEEING THE ELEPHANT

Last month (March) I regaled you with my wit, or half of it, at least. (I have plenty more where that came from.) Humor is essential in writing. Especially the self-deprecating kind. It warms up your audience when they sense you’re not holier-than-thou (even if you are.) If you haven’t noticed, I tend to be a wee bit harsh on political ignorance and religious intolerance. So anyway, Me, Myself, and I discussed that all last time, and we would like to present our little offering on a talk with God.

SEEING THE ELEPHANT

© 2016 rev 2018

My University of Florida philosophy professor challenged us to find a way to explain God and religion to various groups of people. This seemed a near-impossible task. Greater minds than mine had sought a perfect answer for eons. I struggled into the wee hours of the night thinning my patience and pounding the keyboard with ideas that fell short of perfection. I’d been sketching out similes and metaphors to no avail when I thought I’d try an Aesopian fable or a perfect parable. I needed something catchy, yet plausible to hook my reader and explain what God is like to both religious and political zealots, because they occasionally wear each other’s hats which do appear similar, being made of the same zealot cloth.

A pot of coffee and a jog around the college dorm eventually failed to keep my head from slowly sinking to my keyboard where my nose landed on the ‘z’ key, rendering a visual interpretation of my state of mind: zzzzzzzzzzz.

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I’d barely had time to relax before being commanded by a powerful voice. “Daniel! Walk down the hall to the elevator. Inside, press the H floor at the top of the panel. Be extremely careful that you do not press the H floor at the bottom of the panel.”

I chuckled, mumbled something unintelligible, and sighed a little drool onto the keyboard.

“DANIEL! NOW. ELEVATOR. H-BUTTON. UP. DO YOU COPY?”

Was that my father? When Mom couldn’t shake me out of bed on school mornings, Dad’s bullhorn barking always shot me up out of bed like I’d had a steel rod shoved up my spine. “Uh, yeah Dad.” I rubbed grit out of my eyes. “Elevator H. Up.

Still groggy, I did as told. Before I could release the button, I was jolted awake by my stomach dropping into my undershorts as a 7g-force got me wherever H was and the doors opened.

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The light blinded me. “Dad?”

“Heh, heh, you might call me that.”

“What’s going on? I can’t see you.”

“Tom Edison? Turn down the lights, will you?”

“Certainly, Father.”

The lights faded to normal. My jaw dropped. I found myself facing…Him! His Eminence, His Holiness, His Holy…mackerel…. God!

“There are no flies in Heaven, but shut your mouth anyway, Daniel. I’m real.” He laughed. “Do you want to pinch me and see if I am real?” He extended an arm.

“Oh, God, no!” I cringed. “Sorry, sorry. Don’t smite me. I meant no offense. It’s just—”

“…an expression. I know. Relax, Daniel, I just want to help with your school project. You’re a decent fellow, just like that Daniel who ended up in the lion’s den a few years back. Had to help him, too. Remember?”

“Uh, well, not really. I read about it, though.”

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“Oh, yeah. That time-and-space thing down there. Well, good for you. Reading is how you learn things. Then, like Solomon, you can figure the best way to do what’s right to help others.” He shifted on his throne and adjusted his scarlet sash. The gold letters read NELSON MANDELA. He answered the question I didn’t ask. “I wear a different one every day for someone here who has led an exemplary life. Tomorrow is ELSIE WELLINGTON Day.”

“I never heard of Elsie Wellington.”

“Nobody has. But I saw her rescue a child from drowning off Brighton Beach. Now, would you please silence your thoughts? They distract me.” I nodded and he continued. “What you should do is simple. Spread the word that I am as blind men find the elephant.”

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I drew and released a calming breath. “Dear God, do you remember Moses?”

“I do, indeed. Pleasant chap. A bit shy at first.”

“Then you remember giving him a speech impediment by sticking a live coal in his mouth?”

“Actually, Gabriel did that. Purely to save the chosen child, you understand.”

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“Um, yeah. Well, I bring him up because I have a speech problem, too.”

He clicked a few things on His computer keyboard. “Just checked your genetic code. No speech impediment there.” With one eyebrow arched to a perfect inverted ‘V’, God stared at me over His glasses.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I often speak in metaphors. Uh—maybe too often.”

“I know. I’ve read your stuff. That’s okay. I’m used to it.” God shook His head. “Oh, those ancient prophets and their parables and metaphors and similes. I think there would have been a lot less bloodshed down the centuries, and I’d be much better understood today, had they been plain talkers.”

“That’s sort of what I’m getting around to,” I said. “I feel like Gulliver, stranded in a frightening land of mental midgets always on the edge of war over what or who You are, what or whose side You’re on.”

God frowned. “Gulliver? Mental midgets?” He waggled his index finger at me. “That’s another simile. I’m counting. Get back to Moses, please,” He sighed his impatience and settled back in His golden throne.

“Okay, okay. I have a-uh-mental speech impediment. When I think I’m going to get beat up or ridiculed for saying what I think, what I’ve learned, what history tells us —I stumble, I mumble, it all comes out jumbled whenever I am attacked.”

“Stumble, mumble, jumble? You write poetry, too?” He clicked His keypad, scanned the screen and then laughed. “Aha! Stick to prose, kid.” He looked at me. “Why don’t you practice what you’ll tell others about me. Now. Here.”

“For You?” My heart double-timed. “T-Tell You about You?”

“Sure.” He snapped His fingers and a host of angels surrounded Him. “Just think of us as Heavenly Toastmasters. Go for it.”

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“I-um-I have a message from God…”

God held His hand up. “Hold it. Scratch that unless you’re in the Bible Belt. It will work there. Start with what your assignment is about. Sex and politicians, right?”

“Uh, no, Sir. Explaining You to sects. S-e-c-t-s. Religious sects. And politicians.”

“With words? Humph. Sounds like you could use a few well-placed lightning bolts instead.” He pushed back in His throne and waved a hand. “Go on.”

I nodded, took a deep breath, and tried a different approach.

“The story of the Blind Men and the Elephant is said to have its origin in India, and is told in various ways. The essence is that several blind men were brought to an elephant and asked to determine what they believed the creature looked like by touching it.

“Aha! Good.” God grinned, and the Toastmasters nodded approval.

Encouraged, I forged ahead with my tale. “The first blind man felt the tail and said the elephant was like a rope.africa-african-animal-ass-57460.jpeg

 

 

“The second stroked the trunk and assumed the creature was akin to a tree branch.

“The third touched a leg and declared the elephant similar to a pillar.

“The fourth disagreed, for rubbing his hand along the tusk had convinced him an elephant is much the same as a solid pipe.elephant-tusk-ivory-animal-53125.jpeg

“The fifth, his hands spanning the side of the belly, said the elephant was identical to a wall. The sixth, fingering the ear, announced, ‘The others are so very wrong! The elephant is like an umbrella, a plant leaf, or perhaps, a fan.’

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“A wise man passing by heard the argument, scanned the elephant from head to tail and said they were all partly right because the elephant contains all of those features.” Winded, I paused and smiled at the assembly.

“So-o-o?” God rumbled. “Summary, please.”

“So, my friends, because we see from different perspectives, that does not mean that one belief is completely right and the other is completely wrong. God is the whole elephant that none of us can see. And no matter how loudly one bellows that he holds the only true view of God, remember—he may be holding only the elephant’s tail.”

“Or pulling my leg!” God guffawed, which tickled the angels to titters and giggles, which grew to hearty laughter, and ended in a harmonious sigh. “Perfect! Not that I like being compared to an elephant, mind you, but there wasn’t a stumble, mumble or jumble in the whole thing,” He said.

I grimaced and shrugged. “Well, it’s pretty easy when you’ve got God and a bunch of angels on your side. It’s a lot different on Earth.”

His warm smile said He was about to tell me what I should have known all along. “Daniel, my child, in whatever you do that is noble and good, I am always in your heart and by your side.” He winked at me and added, “And I’ll also be by your professor’s side when he grades your report.” His eyebrow shot up. “With a few lightning bolts within reach, just in case.”

I felt my heart warm, my face radiate joy, and renewed courage straighten my body. “Thank you! I’ll remember that, Sir,” I called as I caught the day’s last elevator trip down to Earth. As the doors shut on a final glimpse of His radiant face, I thought, Whoa! An interview with God! Now who’s going to be teacher’s pet?

***

I hope you’ll try as I do to see others’ opinions, religious or political, as part of the whole process to reconciliation, mediation, and agreeable compromise for the good of all. If we bring our puzzle pieces to the table and work them together, we may one day see the whole elephant! Or donkey. Or giraffe…who sees clearly above and beyond the common fray around him. I vote for the giraffe as the symbol of working as one to restore humankind’s growth through simple common courtesy, a thing as endangered as the white rhino species.

Any argument here? Can I get an “AMEN!”?

IT’S ALL A CROCK(ERY STORY)

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Once home from communion with kindred spirits at Unity, I emptied the dishwasher. Classical ‘meditation’ music lifted my thoughts above lifting dinnerware and flatware from the racks, to how they move on with their jobs. That’s when (1) as a writer my abilities with similes and metaphors sprang into action, or (2) my Muse said, “Hey, look at it this way…” or, (3) God said, “There’s a lesson here.” Whereupon I said, “Yeah, but nobody will listen to me.” Whereupon He said, as He often does through My Husband, “Never assume!”

Dismiss my writing abilities if you will, grimace at the thought of my Muse, but you’d better think twice about ignoring Him and My Husband. There IS a lesson here. And you do well to never assume! You see, each piece in that dishwasher had cooperated with the others to serve tasty meals and desserts. How great that they supplied our needs!

Had forks, knives, and spoons rebelled and shut down the kitchen, we would have resorted to fingers, or drinking lumpy soup from a cup. (Nasty, potentially hazardous.) Had the crockery cracked and shut down the works, flatware would have been chasing food all over the tabletop. (Not pretty. Not sanitary.) And drinks? Well, hot coffee in my cupped hands is not my first choice. With or without cream and sugar.

So, when they get nasty, what do we do? We put them all in one little shower room and lock them in until the crap is washed away, and they are ready to get back to business. And, voila! They become our servants again.

Now, this little creative marble rolling around in my spacious cranium (think pinball machine) bumped into another idea. Hey, Genius! That’s sort of like politics, isn’t it?

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Wow! Yeah! But where do we get a dishwasher big enough for Washington? And we’ll need one for voters. They’re all covered with that crap called ‘baggage.’

Details, Genius, details. We’ll figure it out.

No moss gathers on my marbles! The next one kept rolling until it hit on still another subject that carries a lot of baggage. Hey, Genius! That’s sort of like religion, isn’t it?

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Well, that just set all the pinball machine’s bells ringing and lights flashing, didn’t it? Like politics, religion has had its share of quacks and fakers, abusers and misusers, hasn’t it? Thanks a lot for that idea! I can see condemnation—not commendation—excommunication, shunning, and fatwas flying my way now.

Details, Genius. Mere details. You’ll have it all figured out by the time your next post rolls around. Remember that little short story you wrote? The one that could apply equally to politics and religion? You might want to share that.

Oh, sure. Not that anyone will listen.

Never assume!

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW WHEN YOU KNOW IT, OR. . .

…not. Don’t you love it when people give you advice?

I don’t. Unsolicited advice, I mean. There are times when looking for a good doctor or dentist, you might ask who your friends are happy with. But I hope you also check out medical websites for the practice’s reputation and the hallmarks of a good professional.

I was a professional, and a darned good one, too. I can say that because (1) I devoted my life (and my income) to it, and (2) I no longer live where I practiced my profession, so there’s no one to contradict me. :>) An elementary grade specialist with three university degrees, I served as master teacher to student teachers, and participated in a university program exploring creative approaches to teaching.

So, several years ago, when my husband was referred to a specialist, I kept abreast of the latest information in the field. At one appointment, we went in with my research on his medication, what seemed to be side effects he was exhibiting, and possible alternatives. This doctor was, I soon learned, accustomed to giving unquestioned advice. When I finished explaining what I’d learned, he swiveled from attending my husband, glared at me and demanded, “And, so you’re a doctor?”

“No,” I replied, “but I’m educated, observant, open-minded, and I’m proactive when it comes to health issues. Or any other issues, for that matter.” (You may use that line. in fact, you should. It’s a very good piece of unsolicited advice.)

So, back to the title. Most writing advice must be taken with a grain of…aspirin. Or a glass of wine. Why? Because what works best for them, might not necessarily work for you.

TIMING: Writers often tell you that you must write first thing in the morning, “preferably when you’re not quite awake” one recently said. Really? Wake me before 8 a.m., and we have the beginning of a Stephen King novel. Murder (or at least attempted) by any available means.

I am a night owl. My muse is rarely ready to work before 7 p.m. What writer doesn’t have a job, family needs to see to, or medical issues to deal with? Or houses and cars and appliances falling apart? Ants in the sugar? Mice scratching in the walls at night? Who? Oh, right. The twenty-five-year-old guy still writing in his mom’s basement apartment.

PLACE: Often we’re told to go out to a coffee shop or a fast food place and write because a change of location sparks the gray matter. Doesn’t work for me. Oh, I do have favorite places where I make notes on mannerisms, and eavesdrop on conversations, especially the loud-enough-for-everyone-to-hear cell phone calls. I have fun figuring out what the caller’s side of the conversation is like. But write with all the distraction? Not for me. I write best when only my muse is talking.

WHAT: Writing what you know is great. Sometimes a brief glimpse, phrase or anecdote from your youth turns out to be perfectly suited to your character. Or you can fictionalize the creep who bullied you on the playground. Great revenge. Just change his/her name.

Writing what you don’t know requires research, or travel to the area you intend to use for the setting. A short story or novella might do well with research alone; a novel or series would do better with in-depth exposure travel affords.

With a shorter piece I’m writing now, I spent a couple hours reading about the Dead Sea and looking for the closest town to it. There’s only one. Madaba. This information will appear in only one paragraph of my story, but will lend authenticity to it.

In a sentence, keep the aspirin or wine handy when you read articles on how to write.

Better yet, spend more time writing.

BE BOLD – GO COLD!

… Or go anything else you choose, for that matter! See, I was sitting here thinking that with all the s—- (stuff) that life has dumped on me for weeks on end, my mind is frozen for something to write about except the stuff that’s been dumped on me, and you don’t want to hear that. Not with all the dumping going on in the world. Not even if it would make you feel better. Sorry.

Frozen? Yes. Mentally and physically. I woke up to 34 degrees in unsunny, overcast Florida, with a wisp of a hope of the temperature here rising to a Vermont summer heat wave of 60 degrees! I had slept to the white noise of the combination AC/heat pump barely taking a breath in its huffing and puffing to keep the house at a somewhat comfortable 72 degrees. And in my slightly wacky way, I imagined the AC part of the schizophrenic unit laughing at the heat pump, and saying, “Man up, Hot Stuff! Now you know what I go through the other 360 days of the year!”

Still, Hot Stuff’s efforts had no effect at floor level. Have you any idea what my tile floor feels like? Yes. Like walking barefoot with the polar bears—in their neighborhood! My feet hastily hustled me to the closet where I hauled down and dusted off a box with a fading label: Blue Slippers. I hauled out what I call my early-spring-morning-sky-blue suede slippers and caressed their lambs-wool lining. I was thinking that in a way, it was nice to be reacquainted since we’ve met socially perhaps three times in fifteen years since they came to live in my closet.

My feet, however, were unimpressed with my reminiscing to the point of the envy and crankiness I feel on a sugar-detox diet. To paraphrase a wise old philosopher, “If my feet aint happy, aint no part of me happy!” Once my feet and slippers were reunited, I got thinking how wonderful COLD really was. It had so aggravated me, I swung right into another of my Andy Rooney gripes—er—essays.

So, yeah, COLD is a great story starter. All you need to work it into satire or an essay is a bit of creativity—which every “very stable genius” has. And you’ll find some warm comfort in using your genius for something that makes the audience laugh with joy (or at least snicker) rather than cry in misery.

I challenge you to take a word, any word—honor, hippopotamus, truth, tricycle, courage, watermelon, love—and write something that will bring a smile or a belly laugh to someone in need of it! The world needs your talent.