…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

FOOD HABITS SABOTAGE DIET

What? Am I on the wrong blog? I thought this was a writer’s site.

 Wait! Wait, no, it’s really me. Hang in there. Let me explain. I happened across an article on www.dumblittleman.com that lit up the cartoon light bulb over my head. I’d recommend them for great articles and tips for all areas of your life. I’ve been following them for years, back when it was called Life Hack.

The article I read was called “8 Bad Food Habits That are Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals.” Not that I needed that particular information, mind you, I was just browsing the site (and if you believe that, there’s a cliché in Brooklyn that I could sell you really cheap.)

What this article did was remind me that there are little bad habits that sabotage writers, too. For example, being personally aware of one bad habit, I was moved to write a poem ala the kids’ book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Here’s part of it:

IF YOU CLEAN A WRITER’S COFFEEPOT     by Virginia Nygard

If you clean a writer’s coffeepot…

he’ll want you to make a pot of coffee.

If you make a pot of coffee and hand him a cupful…

he’ll want a cookie, too.

If you mix up cookie batter quick…

he’ll fill up his cup, and wait for warm cookies.

While there, he’ll see the coffee jar’s low…

and grind fragrant beans to fill it up.

He’ll put the coffee jar away…

and notice the cupboard door is loose.

He’ll find his tools, fix the door, and then…

eye the shabby, faded walls.

You know where this is going, right? Straight to serious procrastination bordering on avoidance, yes? And that’s what eats away at your writing time.

Then, there’s the food-inspired question, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer? Yup, one bite at a time. Or, as a writer, one step at a time. Don’t start picking out the publishing house for which you want to be the next star if you haven’t started with Step One. Examine what makes you want to write. What makes you think writing is a good fit for you? Have you kept a journal? Had a pen pal? Have you read a variety of genres? Do you have a burning desire to share your story? Are you willing to learn? Do you want fame and fortune?

If the last is your driving goal, let me share what my high school guidance counselor said to me, “If you’re looking to make a bundle of money by going into teaching for a career, you’ll be going into the wrong profession.” She was right, but it was what I was called to do. And that warning can apply to writing, too. In my view, what society exalts is not always honorable, moral, or of lasting value. Consider what society exalts if you want big bucks. Just don’t sell your soul to get it.

Follow your desire to write with Step Two. What’s your support system? Have you looked into classes online or at your local community college? Joined a local writers’ group? Found a non-profit writers’ association in your state? There are groups online that offer writing contests or critique. Be aware of membership fees and check their credentials before jumping in.

When I was about three years old, I was eager to learn and do as much as I could, as fast as I could. And that applied to climbing stairs, too. Holding my mother’s hand on the way up to bed, I remember trying to take two-or maybe it was three-steps at a time. From below I heard my father’s voice, “One at a time. One at a time.” So we moved slowly up the stairs with me chanting for each step, “‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…”

So how do we go about making The New York Times Best Sellers list?

Right. Da-da would be proud of you!

WAITING FOR GODOT

In my younger materialistic, non-philosophical days, I was bored as hell watching a TV production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I didn’t get it. If you’ve never seen or read the play, stick around. The rest of you can go take a nap. Until I get to the point. Which, if you know me by now, will be somewhere down at the bottom. HEY! NO PEEKING.

Samuel Barclay Beckett. (With a name like that, he was destined to become a great writer, right?) He was born on or about April 13, 1906, in Ireland, and died December 22, 1989 in Paris. (France. Not the one in Texas, Tennessee, or Kiribati. Or anywhere else.) So, other than my telling you he was an author, playwright, critic, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, you can read all about him on the web.

When I was younger, I was preoccupied with my physical being being everything. I had not yet been exposed to college where the worlds of art, music, psychology, philosophy, science and mathematics expanded my horizons. In fact, until then, no teacher had ever explained why I had to carry the 1 back and forth across the top of addition and subtraction examples on the slate chalkboard. (Yes, I am that old, and no, it was not a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie.)

Older, and wiser, (I heard that!) I revisited Godot, and watched Vladimir (no, not THAT one) and Estragon talking and waiting for Godot. Some guy named Pozzo pops in with his slave, Lucky, whom he intends to sell in town. After they leave, a boy enters. He announces Godot will not be coming that night, but will see them the next night. V & E decide to leave, but remain seated. END Act 1. (Hang in there. This exciting epic is almost over.)

Act 2: V & E meet again to wait for Godot. Pozzo and Lucky return. (Luckily for Lucky, the sale didn’t happen.) Pozzo is now blind and Lucky is now mute. They leave, the boy returns. He says Godot is not coming and denies speaking to V & E yesterday. The boy leaves. Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but again remain seated until the curtain falls, ending the second and final act. For which you are very happy. I understand.

What you don’t see is the meat I have chewed off the bones of this bizarre plot seemingly sketched by a second-grader. In that missing meat, rumbling through my mind which digests such stuff, lies their interactions and the themes they represent—questions about the physical universe, the nature of man, the concept of space and time that plague scientists, philosophers, religions, and even…me. You, too? Good. I’m not alone. Read Waiting For Godot again, or for the first time, in which case you might want to take a No-Doze.

Okay. Now you can peek. Here’s my point. While taking small but steady bites out of my daily To-Do lists all month long, I’d been waiting for some theme for this post. Just going through repetitive daily motions waiting to no avail until I sat my butt at the computer and pecked out a working title: “Waiting For Inspiration.”

Then it hit me. Waiting for inspiration was exactly the same as Waiting for Godot. And presto, there he was. My inspiration at last! He’s a nice guy, really. Godot looks a bit like a slimmed down Jabba the Hutt with legs. He peered over my shoulder, nibbled little errors and gobbled typos out of this piece. So if you spy any glaring mistakes, it is what it is. I’m not waiting for Godot to fix them. He’s not coming this evening.

Now, whenever I lack inspiration, I will hit the keys with whatever comes into my mind, and make an inspired piece of writing of it. And for some reason, I suddenly feel hungry. Perhaps a few bites of Shakespeare and a cup of Earl Grey tea will do.

 

 

SANTA CLAUS – MY DAD

I’ve been scanning more old family photos, and they’ve brought memories surfacing from the depths of my mind, touching my heart. Especially now. December 15th was my dad’s birthday.

He was born in the early years of the 20th century and grew up through the Great Depression. He remembers walking the railroad tracks with his two brothers, Ben and Bill, scavenging for lost coal that fueled the trains. I’ve written before of how he and his brothers were often housed in orphanages after their mother deceased and their father was away on government ships.

The photo here was painful to see. In this depressing atmosphere, my dad worked to repair trucks at the General Electric division in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

WALTER TODD--G.E.-ELEC TRUCK REPAIR-BPT CT CIRCA 1935-1970s copy C.jpeg

I also mentioned the character of these young men who knew the value of home and family life they never had, how it bound them together for a lifetime, how their example was passed on to the children in the family. And despite their minor flaws and foibles, honesty, courage, camaraderie, and generosity, were their guiding values.

Each year, Dad played Santa Claus at the Christmas party for children of General Electric employees. In the photo below, he carefully descends the narrow stairs at the union hall as he greets the children. One year, my young cousin Gary piped up, “That ain’t Santa Claus!” When we asked why he thought that, Gary replied, “Because he’s wearing Uncle Walt’s shoes.” He was right. My dad’s big, old brogans, though always neatly polished, told the shape of his foot and many repairs.

WALTER TODD-SANTA-G.E.-BPT CT CIRCA 1950-53 2 copy.jpeg

And finally, below is my dad with wedding gifts presented by fellow employees…

WALTER TODD--G.E. WEDDING GIFTS-11-27-1937  copy.jpeg

Everything in that picture has a story to tell. My Mom used the iron in the laundry room where the clock kept perfect time until her decline and move into my sister Susan’s care. The sale of her house was traumatic for all of us. Dad, with help from his brothers, Ben and Bill, and friends, painstakingly built the house over time.

Look around you. Look through old photos. What stories do those people or objects tell?

Let it be a tale of the true values of life. Not greed and the lust for power, or the many evils mankind is capable of.

Let it be a tale of forgiveness, of honesty, love, and compassion for every fellow human being, as befits the true gift of Christmas, whatever your beliefs.

CHICAGO CUBS-NOT AN EASY JOURNEY

When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.

Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?

Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.

My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.

In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.

After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans

When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.

Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.

“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”

Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!

 

WRITUS INTERRUPTUS

…is a disease of the writer’s wandering mind. In August I started “Brushed Off and back in the Saddle…” with a short story called Off Day Off. I apologize to anyone stranded at his or her computer waiting for the end of the story promised for the next month. September 18th was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 96 this year had she not passed in 2014. I’d been scanning old photos and reliving memories that prompted the tribute and the tip I passed on about using these memories as memoir pieces, creative non-fiction, or short story starters given a what if… twist to the real event.

You can refer back to the August piece if you wish. The point of that blog was that a writer should NEVER toss out ideas, scenes, or a story that you can’t seem to finsh. Store it away like old-fashioned bread dough. Sooner or later it will rise and be ready to bake! For the impatient who prefer not to be amazed at my genius for writing… the short short story about the short story is: Off Day Off” finds a gal named Twyla taking a well-deserved day off from household demands. Let me take you back a bit to Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More shop where Twyla nestles into a booth to relax…

…Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.

In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath part of the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.

Act Two. The curtain rose on a blurred halo of bright red-orange surrounding an ashen oval punctuated by two fuzzy green lights. As Dolly’s face came into focus, I couldn’t help but hear her, even through the howling pain in my arm.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh, Twyla. Thank God. I called Tom. He’ll meet you at the hospital. Are you okay?”

“Sure. I’m lying on your floor trying not to scream with pain,” I growled through clenched teeth. “What the hell happened?”

Over Dolly’s nervous babble, I focused out a bit farther and realized an old Cadillac had attempted to eat half my table, and stopped within inches of consuming me as well. “Holy shit! Oh, Jesus…oh, oh, A-A-A-A-AH! Curtain down on Act Two

Act Three. Three handsome hunks are kneeling beside me. Part of my dance team. Genuflecting to the jungle goddess. Oh, hell, no! EMTs. I’m still on Dolly’s floor, but the pain isn’t as bad. Maybe my arm is numb. Maybe they shot me up with some happy juice. Curly Black Hair with sensitive blue eyes and a perfect smile is the first to speak.

“Ma’am?”

Ma’am? The infatuation is over. He’s not that cute, anyway.

“Yeah?”

“We need to get your information.”

After they scribbled down my life history, and while they stabilized my arm and patched some nasty cuts, Dolly filled me in on what I’d missed.

“We couldn’t believe it! The Caddy just crashed through the window and you were gone! Out of sight! On the floor! I called 911, people ran out to check on the driver, and I checked on you. Oh, that poor old guy.” Dolly shook her head. “I think somebody said he was ninety-two or ninety-three years old. He hit the gas instead of the brake.”

“Jeez. I hope he has insurance.”

“Yeah. I hope he had life insurance, too.”

“What?”

Dolly’s eyes shimmered. She shook her head again. “For his family’s sake. Poor old guy. He had a heart attack and died before the EMTs got here.”

“Poor old guy is right,” I said as Dolly trotted beside my stretcher to the emergency vehicle. “What a hell of a day for all of us.”

Dolly clutched my hand as they paused to load me into the rescue vehicle. “Yeah. But remember, we’re still here to gripe about our bad luck.” Before they closed the door she waved and added, “I’ll be checking up on you—a lot! Looks like between us, we’ll have quite a few ME-days off.”

***

Stay tuned. Same time, same station. You can catch me in November for another exciting ride on my train of thought!

MEMORIES and MEMOIRS

MEMORIES and MEMOIRS I’ve been scanning photos old and new into the mighty maw of my Apple computer in Pictures, Desktop, Photos, thumb-drive, and occasionally, Documents. It’s not that I don’t trust my computer…it’s just that I don’t trust technology in general. So far, these photos have brought back smiles as well as LOL and tears. I don’t want to lose them, though there are a few I might not scan.

I’ve decided not to scan the proverbial bearskin rug photo—not that I didn’t look pretty good at eighteen (months, that is), it’s just that I don’t want that photo turning up on a bottle of the Russian baby bath or shampoo. Unless royalties are involved. (Vladimir Vladimirovich – give me a call if you’ll consider royalties. Incentive: I’ll throw in a picture of me at eighteen.) Money makes the world go round…money…money…

Where was I? Oh, on a bearskin rug. With no money. So, scanning all these memories got me thinking how great they are as story starters for memoirs, fiction or creative fiction.

There’s the photo of me at six months. My mother said there was no way I could remember seeing the photographer bouncing a fake birdie on a stick to make me smile. Really? There’s a story!virginia-ruth-todd-age-6-months

ruth-todd-holding-virginia-ruth-todd-age-8-months

Then there’s my beautiful mom holding eight-month-old-me in a flowery field. Story starter!

 

 

 

 

Moving on a few years, we see two swans; Ruth, my mom, is on the left. On the right is my Aunt Marcelle who came from France at the end of World War II as my Uncle Ben Todd’s bride. Stuck in the middle is a very unhappy Ugly Duckling – ME! Oh, did you ever see a better growing-pains story starter? Pompoms on the knit cap? Really, Mom? Oh, and snowsuit? You two babes are in silk stockings and heels! What? And I won’t even mention remembering how my glasses steamed up from the cold. Oops. I never said that. Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a politician. Really. Trust me. I never said it.

ruth-todd-virginia-ruth-todd-marcelle-esquerre-todd

So, dear reader, go mining your old family photos for poetry and prose ideas. Just be prepared for the explosion of feelings and sensory images all that effort provokes. Happy digging. Let me know what…turns up!

By the way, today (18th) would have been Mom’s 96th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! Love you! And give Daddy a hug for me.

BRUSHED OFF AND BACK IN THE SADDLE…

…which won’t mean much unless you read the previous post. See? You never know when I’m going to spring a pop quiz. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

If you sneaked back just now to catch up, you’re probably wondering (or not, that’s OK) what I did while I was recuperating. How’s eleven poems toward my next collection grab you? It’s easy when you’ve wrapped them around a great character. She keeps yakking in my ear, chattering about her life experiences and what life lessons she’s learned.

But, I also went back and finished up a short story I started a long time ago, lost focus, and filed it. It’s a fairly light piece called OFF DAY OFF, and it seemed appropriate to share it with you, considering how my summer vacation went. So, here y’go:

OFF DAY OFF    by Virginia Nygard

Friday. My day off. In a manner of speaking.

The wheels began spinning. Groceries. Cleaners. Bank—check on second mortgage. Ask Miss Debbie at Toe-To-Toe if she could use some clerical help toward Dinah’s tap and ballet lessons. Ask Mrs. Grundlee if she’ll trade piano lessons for Chaz for my computer skills. I hate to cut back even more on the kids’ activities while Tom’s job hunting. Speaking of which, check Employment Opportunities ads for computer savvy help wanted. Then battle the college kids for what’s available. Remember to hunt for Dinah’s missing pink dinosaur T-shirt. Don’t forget to make Tom’s favorite meatloaf with hot peppers. Remind mothers to provide goodies for the third grade party on Monday…

Wait a minute, Twyla. You’re a hamster spinning on the wheel of infinity. I didn’t see one word in that list about something for you on your day off!

Me? I don’t remember me being on my list of priorities.

Bingo. My point exactly. Have you ever considered taking a day for yourself?

A Me-Day? Did I ever have one before Tom whisked me away from Off-Broadway to suburbia?

No, but suburban life is just as grueling. Will the world come to an end if you take a day off from endless days that are devoted to everyone else?

Gee, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start the day down at Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More for a change. Breakfast somebody else makes, serves, and then cleans up? Read the newspaper front to back? I’ll do it!

Then what?

Don’t rush me. I’ll think of something.

 

Fresh donuts. Coffee. Bacon. They all waved a welcome under my nose as I pushed open the door to Dolly’s place. I sat at a table by the window where a few scraggly hibiscus plants failed to obscure the parking lot or the traffic inching along Federal Highway. Still, the view beat that of my laundry room—cubicle, actually—and dirty laundry growing up from the root. At the counter, Dolly did a wide-eyed double take, grabbed a menu and sauntered in my direction.

“Are you lost, lady?” she asked with a rumbling laugh that shook her like a mild earthquake. “The counter’s over there,” she said with a sweep of her arm.

I grinned. “No, Dolly. Hard to believe I’m not grabbing and running off with something as usual?”

“Got that right!”

“Well, I decided there are days for everything under the sun except a ME Day. I proclaim today to be the first official ME Day. Furthermore, every woman on the planet may proclaim the ME Day of her choice.”

She glared at me over her chartreuse-colored glasses, knitting her eyebrows into a single black rope. “Twyla, the only ME day I’m gonna get is when I retire, sell this place, or die—whichever comes first. And between you and me, it’ll probably the last one.” She gestured to my menu. “What can I get ya’?”

“How about the two-egg special and coffee?”

“Scrambled?”

“Eggs, yes, Coffee, no. I like it neat.”

She shook her head. “If this is what taking a day off does to ya’, do me a favor and take it somewhere else. Your toast?”

“You’re toast,” I growled like a mobster. “Was my joke that bad?”

With a pregnant pause and a drop-dead glare over the glasses she said, “Go ahead, make my day.”

I grinned. “English muffin, forked open, not sliced. I want all the nooks and crannies. Make it lightly toasted, dripping with butter and cinnamon sugar.”

She gave me one of her faux grimaces. “I ain’t saying nothin’ more to you,” she said, dipping her head conspiratorially and grumbling, “except arsenic and cinnamon looks a lot like cinnamon sugar, ya’ know.”

Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.

In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath half the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.

(End Scene One)

Now that’s what is known in the writing business as a hook. It’s the way you want to end a chapter so readers keep reading…whether they want to or not. As someone who read my first novel, Déjà Vu Dream, said, “You stinker! I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished the book!” Nicest compliment I’ve ever had.

Another tip: Never throw away a story you can’t finish. File it. Come back later. Months or years later. Life experiences may help you refocus.

See you in September? Twyla awaits your sympathetic ear!