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!
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.
With 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.
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.
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?
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.
… 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.
Well, this is a bit awkward. If you’re looking for my September post, there isn’t one. It’s not my fault. Irma did it.
When we heard the cranky old crone was heading our way, we did what normal Floridians do—we panicked! Well, not exactly, but we were very, very worried. Tremendously worried. Trust me. Hugely worried. And we prepared earlier and more sensibly because Irma was aiming at us with a Cat-5 left hook that would flatten everything.
I thought last November brought the worst disaster that could hit our country. I was spot on target then, but as we watched Texas get flattened and flooded by Hurricane Harvey we humbly bumped November down a notch. We had a minute to breathe, then Irma bullied and bruised her way through Florida. This crazy Cousin of Harvey’s was predicted to pulverize what we might loosely call the normal way of life in Florida. Fortunately, she danced her way out of the state leaving less wreckage than Harvey. But she left us with hearts hurting for the suffering of others, and an urgent need to offer aid and comfort.
What happened next was like some nutty weatherman saying, “But wait! That’s not all! Along with Harvey and Irma, we’ll send Maria free of charge to Puerto Rico!” And since Satan apparently thought we weren’t getting to his place fast enough in a handbasket, he took matters in his own hands. Literal Insanity blasted its way through Las Vegas, and Hell came to the U.S.A. with the sight of California going up in flames like a wickedly bad horror movie.
And still good people give—even their lives—to help others. And I say a big heartfelt thanks, and blessing in abundance to all of those good people. Now, despite whatever continued cyberstalking could strip from us—besides what’s left of our dignity—for now, manmade disasters lie stuck in the sludge at the swampy bottom of the Pool of Tragic Events. But sooner or later, perpetrators will get their comeuppances! As of this writing, hope springs eternal that common decency will prevail.
Okay. If you got this far, you’ve made it through satire, sarcasm, a trenchant view of current conditions, and perhaps dramatic (tragic) irony. Merriam-Webster defines this form of irony as “…what happens when the audience realizes that Romeo and Juliet’s plans will go awry.” And, early on, many of us were alert to signs that plans were about to go drastically awry!
I use this form of writing when my first response is anger about conditions that bring horrible situations piling up one behind the other like a debacle on I-95. That’s when, like today, the spirit of Andy Rooney drifts into the room, puts a hand on my shoulder, and says, “Steady, girl. No nastiness. Teach, don’t tweet the first thing that comes into your mind. Leave that to those who know no better. Smooth and subtle…no matter what ruffles.”
(So, Andy, how did I do?)
1.) I had to enter that sales-pitch drawing; you know, the one that says I’m about to win $15,000,000?
2.) My eyes hurt. I’ve been staring at Facebook for two hours straight. But that’s important. It’s today’s link to the outside world, right? When it works.
3.) I was filling out marketing postcards for my next book, which will come out…soon…I hope.
4.) I checked into Dictionary.com and got distracted. I love etymology! It’s like word DNA.
5.) I had to file reports for my writers’ organization and that took too much time.
6.) Then I needed a break to read the comics. Everybody needs to laugh, right? Don’t bug me.
7.) I get aggravated and can’t write when I’m under pressure.
8.) I need to follow the news so I can scribble a bunch of snarky slogans.
9.) I had to clean out my desk, and that filled up the trash can, so…
10.) I had to empty the trash. I can’t concentrate with a full trash can staring me in the face.
11.) The mail came. A catalog had 20% off a blouse I really want. And shoes. Maybe I’d better look a little closer. I may have missed something.
12.) I don’t write well in the morning. Just slogans. After I watch the news. I need coffee. And half a bagel.
13.) It’s too noisy outside. What are my neighbors doing now?
14.) It’s too quiet inside. I wonder what the dog’s doing now?
15.) I can’t forget to use my Dunkin’ Donuts coupon. It expires today.
16.) I need to drop stuff off at Goodwill. And maybe I’ll check out Publix for BOGOs.
17.) I must check the newspaper before I recycle it. Maybe there’s another BOGO I missed.
18.) Found a list of upcoming events at Sunrise Theater. Oh, I need to sign up for some of these! Where’s the phone? Where are my credit cards? In my purse. Where’s my purse?
19.) Emptied the coffee pot. Ran the clean cycle.
20.) Reheated last cup of coffee. Decided “What the heck,” and had the last half-bagel.
21.) I can’t write while eating and drinking.
22.) I can’t stand having a dirty cup and plate on my desk.
23.) Had to empty clean dishes from the washer so I could put the dirty ones in.
24.) Can’t stand clutter. Had to put the clean tableware where it belonged.
25.) Now I’ve had too much caffeine. I can’t sit still at the computer.
And, dear Muse, if that’s not enough reasons, TRUST ME…. Oh, now there’s a good one for a snarky slogan. BELIEVE ME… that’s another. Boy, I’m on a roll now. Hey, Six-, ten-, twelve-word slogans–that counts as writing, no? How about that? I was writing all the time!
…or maybe not. You know me, right? The title was a clever way (if I do say so myself) of warning you as to what I am about to expound on. Short Fiction.
A woman once waved me off, saying, “I never read short stories. I like to get lost in a novel.” So I told her to get lost. Had she given my work a moment’s consideration, she might have reconsidered. Or, I could have sold her a first draft edition of my short stories with a guarantee she’d get lost in them. I often do. But that’s why first drafts are followed by second, third, and as many drafts as necessary to cut and polish a rough stone into a sparkling gem.
Another thing. There are times and places that make it nearly impossible to get lost in a novel. The bathroom, for instance. Enough said about that. Offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers—bank and supermarket lines all are examples of great short story reading areas. You can’t get lost in the novel because you’re always wondering if you’re going to be called next and if you’ll have enough time to get your stuff together without looking like a klutz. I’ve tried that. I fumble my book or glasses or pens or everything, and end up (literally) picking them off the floor. Later, under no pressure, I reread the chapter. Carrying a short story anthology with you is more efficient, beneficial and potentially less embarrassing. Sure, carrying a Kindle is cool, but real readers know that an old-fashioned book won’t run out of battery power at the height of passion, leaving you—uh—let down.
Short Fiction is fun. It’s sort of like religion. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one. Or a freakier, funnier, or more intriguing spinoff than the last. For example, you can neither pin down the exact nature and number of angels, nor get a solid word count for what a short story is. The genre’s arguably-accepted word count ranges from 1,000 to 20,000. Always check the guidelines for the contest or periodical you intend to enter or query. Their number of angels on the head of a pin may differ from yours.
Fewer than 1,000 words is called short short story or flash fiction. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” created a wrenching story image attributed to Ernest Hemingway. However, in 1921, a columnist wrote that a classified ad, “Baby Carriage for sale, never used,” exemplified the plot of a story, and his example, it is believed, may have given rise to the Hemingway tale.
Sometimes the challenge comes in a number of sentences or lines. Here’s an old five-sentence story I entered in an online challenge:
(Five Sentence Fiction) Virginia Nygard 6/23/15
I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.
She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight…just like me.
Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.
Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town like he say.
I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.
So, writers, stretch your mental muscle and play with various kinds of short fiction while you’re working on The Great American Novel. It could be your bread-and-butter while you’re waiting for the Great Ka-ching!
And you out there afflicted with Short-Attention Span Syndrome, Short Fiction might be the short fix you’re seeking!
The comics section is my favorite part of any newspaper. Oh, yes, I keep up with local, national, and world reports in other media. By the time the newspaper covers a story, I’ve already been there, done that. But the comics is where I go to detox from the sad state of reality. Or swallow it with a bit of satire and strong coffee.
When the alarm clock rings, I tumble out of bed, into the “Jumble.” No, that’s not a Tai-Chi routine to force my limbs into some semblance of proper functioning. “Jumble” is Hoyt’s and Knurek’s word scramble that yields clues to solve the incomplete sentence posed by the cartoon.
Since playing with words is my business, I usually sail through the first clues in a few seconds then focus on unscrambling the answer to the picture clues. There, thanks to my punny sense of humor being on par with that of the strip’s creators, the answer is often immediately apparent. However, if the final clue involves sports, forget it. I don’t speak “sports.” Not since the Dodgers left Brooklyn and “sports” management became as morally suspect as Machiavelli’s The Prince, or The Art of Certain Deals.
On Sundays, from the “Jumble” I flip to the visual acuity tests. In one, you must find the six differences between two seemingly different scenes. In another, you pick the one scene that differs from the other two, and move on to help Slylock Fox solve a woodlands crime. Yes, these are ostensibly for kids, but since I am in my second childhood (never really left it) I feel a retrospective sense of peace. It’s 1950-something, Mom and Dad are downstairs in the kitchen, and all’s right with the world.
And, while fun, such acuity tests are a reminder that things are not always what they seem. You cannot look at anything with someone else’s eyes. You MUST dig for the truth yourself, or the world will fall into a sorry state. Oh, wait. Right. We’re already there, but it’s not too late to redeem ourselves!
“Aren’t many comic strips often vehicles for political satire?” Sure, and done with a little humor (okay, sarcasm, maybe) they bring a chuckle or a groan. They make you think. Or they should. But at least comics aren’t as acerbic or poisonous as what comes from a political campaign. Except for a certain ugly duck ‘toon character I’d gladly roast and serve a l’orange, along with his ham of a creator.
“There are other programs to improve mental functioning, yes?” Of course, there are many sophisticated mental gymnastics to which one can subscribe. I’m not saying that moving up a notch is meritless, but why not make it a morning routine to digest brain food with ham and eggs?
You’re about to ask what this has to do with writing! (Gotcha!) Consider how you solved visual puzzles. Metaphorically speaking, turn your work upside down or on its sides to reveal another perspective. Put it aside and return with a clearer point of view. Read it aloud to others. Are they hearing what you intended? Do you need to rewrite for clarity?
What about word jumble puzzles? When they don’t work at first glance, I write the letters on scrap paper, tear them apart and put all the vowels in the middle, surrounded by consonants. Then I work from outside in and inside out until the A-ha! moment strikes. You can do this with sentences, paragraphs, and whole scenes in your writing.
A scene that’s going nowhere? Maybe the sequence of events is fine, but it needs a twist. Turn it upside down, left-to-right, backward. Use “What if. . .” scenarios. What if Jane marries Frank? What if she just lives with him? What if she cheats on him, or he cheats on her? Where does your story go from there? Remember choose-your-own-ending stories so popular with kids before the electronics boom? Those stories taught children there was more than one way a problem might work out. (Congress, are you listening?)
Still stuck? Bring your baby to your critique group for a different perspective. (You DO belong to one, yes?) Listen to their often Solomon-like wisdom. They’ll be happy to help you to “. . .train up your child in the way (s)he should grow. . . ” and get you to your A-ha! moment.
And dig into the comics. It’s fun.
I promise to not detail much of the above, lest I launch a rant. Legitimate, but still a rant…and ladies don’t rant—except for one who does so with courage and justifiable outrage, and a second who informs with satirical humor aimed at the state of affairs, or the Affairs of State. What prompted my muddled, misdirected condition of mind was that because my one-and-a-half-year-old Mac crapped out (thank you, Murphy) at a crucial point in my work, I had time to “poor me” and watch TV. I don’t know Murphy’s opinion on lightning, but I know it CAN strike twice in the same place. I’ll expand on only the first topic, computers, as I have not had time to see anything humorous in the others.
Let’s hop in the TARDIS and shift back almost two years. There was Murphy, waiting for me, and he did a déjà vu of the future. He struck my seven-year-old Mac’s new hard drive with a blitz of color snow like old TVs. It was a built-in omen that Mac was about to suffer a heart attack. Which it soon did. And with a flagrant fizzle, frying some of my potentially Nobel Prize winning writing.
Walt, my patient husband, loaded Dead Mac and me into the van and rushed us to Apple Hospital sixty miles away, while enduring my many Navy Post-Grad creative invectives hurled at the Apple God for birthing such a demon. The heart transplant was successful, and Walt suggested he’d deal with Old Mac’s increasing age-prone illnesses and adopt New Mac for me. After saving up the hefty adoption fee, we welcomed Newbie into our home.
Back in the TARDIS to present time. Our infant New Mac suffers the same technicolor snowstorm and craps out. Another one-hundred-twenty-mile round trip to the AH (no reimbursement for mileage) and we are told it was a software issue. “One,” I asked, “that Apple has not solved in more than two years? Somebody needs to be fired!” I have visions of the failure cause and lack of remedy.
One: In ancient times, royal seamstresses went blind sewing extremely fine stitches in royal garments. Today, I see twenty-something blind women and men tapping their white canes down China’s roads as they are dismissed from working at creating computer circuitry.
Two: Apple Gods: “Hey, tech support is for only three years. Deal with it. Suckers will get pissed and buy a new computer. That will keep us in mega-bucks, and you in your cubicles.”
What has this got to do with writing? Really? Okay. A painful situation can be alleviated with satire, a hint of sarcasm, perhaps a sprinkle of anthropomorphism, and a little bit of creativity. Much more entertaining than the slush that ends up in the newspapers as vicious opinion, right? Remember Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels? Quite entertaining and a safer approach than a direct attack on the conditions of his times.
So, here’s your assignment. Take your finest pet peeve. Ruminate on it awhile and come back with a piece that makes us see things your way…or at least enjoy your humorous approach. Write on!