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.
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.
To paraphrase Shel Silverstein, this is “Where the Sidewalk DOESN’T End.” It continues…as did the snow.
But it’s prettier from the inside looking out–
–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.
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.)
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?
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?
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.
…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.
… 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.
An elderly lady at a recent dinner meeting I attended, spoke of Christmas traditions in her family, and her voice wavered with still-fresh sadness when she recalled, as a nine-year-old girl, experiencing the death of her dear mother on Christmas day.
Around this time of year, no matter what you celebrate, the end of a year is a time for reflection on how we have spent a precious portion of our lives. We look back on events and holidays past, some happy, some sad.
And then we look ahead to a new year, a new beginning, a chance to set things on the right track again. We’ll work on better eating habits, exercising as we should, spending more quality time with the kids instead of binge-watching TV; reading and learning something from that great book we saw advertised, and we’ll resolve to cut back on giving our opinion on every media forum. (I’m working on that, but blogs don’t count—like calorie-free broken crackers and potato chips.)
Oh, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? How’s my spiritual self? Do I sit in my place of worship one day a week and forget what those values command of me the rest of the week? Am I mending relationships or building walls—bigger, higher, uglier walls. It’s a struggle, this life, and we’re all in it together.
So, let’s try to make life a little brighter and sweeter—like the new silver dollar beneath the juicy, bright Florida orange and the chocolate-covered cherries in the toe of my Christmas stockings year after year, even when Mr. and Mrs. Santa had little to exchange with each other.
So, a very merry wish that you may experience the real meaning of Christmas, and perhaps write up a memoir or two from your childhood.