…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: inspiration

I checked the date today and figured it was too late to write about New Year’s Resolutions. Especially since I already broke my first one: “Never put off until the tenth of January what you can do on the first.” And that should have been pretty easy to keep, because it applied to a specific month, right? ONE month. No contract. Pay as you go. Hey, no judgements here, thank you. I have a ton of good reasons. None of which you would accept from your third grader…but let’s move on!

According to National Day Calendar (https://nationaldaycalendar.com)  today is:

Cut Your Energy Day: So this blog will be short, and I might sit and read all day.

 

 

Save the Eagles Day: Not necessary. They saved themselves on February 4, 2018 when they won Super Bowl LII (pronounced “Lee”) but for LIII (“Leee”) who knows? What? You mean the birds? Oh. If I see any, I’ll do my best.

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Photo by Wayne Christensen on Pexels.com

Bittersweet Chocolate Day:Which I reverently celebrate as I sit here. You are lucky this not paper, or you would see the chocolate drools on it, and…

 

Oysters Rockefeller Day: Which my husband will eagerly celebrate in my stead. UGH!

But what I hope lights a bulb in your brain, is that you can start to write with ANYTHING as a prompt.

Even a date from National Day Calendar. Just DO it.

Now, as promised, I am going to turn off my computer and cut my energy. Unplug and do your part for the environment. Have a Nice Day!

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When you think about divine inspiration, it really is divine, and often in disguise. Sometimes a writer struggles to find something to write that hasn’t been done in fifty-seven varieties like Heinz products. Other times, inspiration floods in until you’re knee deep in ideas with only two hands and one keyboard to mop it all up. I often start out with a goal firmly in mind. I keep both hands on the keyboard, driving straight to the point on a clear road when suddenly, something takes control and steers me in an entirely different direction.

I sat here at the keyboard attending to the very important task of deleting tons of outdated files from the computer. I excused my post-writing procrastination as waiting for divine inspiration.

angel-fig-face-christmas-39014As time progressed, I suspected my muse was probably out Christmas shopping. Heavy on my mind was one of the cardinal sins of writing: Thou shalt not await Divine Inspiration! So I hit the keys on my own to see what I came up with.

I started with a sentence about the colors of Christmas, and that thought veered off course into a forest of ideas and became a poem about a tree instead.

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Joyce Kilmer would be proud of me. But my blog is not done yet, and who wants to read writing catechism at this time of year? Nobody. I don’t even want to write it. And I realized that was what my poem was telling me.

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In The Road Not Taken by David Orr, the author claims that the poem of the same name by Robert Frost was not an ode to individualism because the author takes the path less traveled, but has the deeper observation of the self-deception we employ in telling our life stories in retrospect. Poetry can be, and often is, intended by the author to be read by more than one road, or level of meaning.

In this instance, I prefer to see Frost’s poem as the individual unafraid to take a different path. The poem that follows came because when the road before me diverged, I took the one less traveled. So even when you think you’re veering off track, remember that following it might be that divine inspiration you’re seeking.

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GREEN TREE      by Virginia Nygard 2018

Green tree.

Strong, faithful, and true

it stood tall and calm

through many a winter onslaught

until cut off in the prime of life.

Impaled and crucified on an iron stand.

Given a water sop to tame its thirst

and prolong its agony.

Severed from its source

it may as well have been fed

vinegar instead.

 

Green tree.

Crowned now with gold

costumed in mimicry of life

in red and green and blue, silver streams

and every hue rainbow blends deliver

it awaits the morning.

 

Green tree.

In the bustle and whirl of early day

it stands straight

bearing its purpose with dignity

shining with superficial joy

while remaining green and pure beneath.

It knows what they seem to forget

in the dizzying glee.

It’s His day.

Not theirs.

 

Green tree.

In dying

to a different use

it, too,

proves again to all

what sages long have known

the form may change

but the spirit lives on.

 


Watching the coarsening of society reminds me of Socrates’ comment on the children of his generation:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” *

A bit mild these days, no? Reminds me of when I was in high school and the “bad boys” got expelled for smoking in the boys’ room! To me, “normal” children don’t get into trouble by themselves. In a sense, they have the full cooperation of their parents.

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

And I find this true in society, too. Bullies don’t get away with beating, crippling, blinding or killing people they hate because of a perceived insult, skin color, religion, sexual persuasion, or national origin IF the parents in society (add corporations, politicians, and religions) set examples by doing their jobs honorably.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On TV a few days ago, I heard a mother respond to a senseless, tragic death in her family. She said she didn’t want our thoughts and prayers. She wanted action. So, instead of a candle, balloon, or teddy bear that makes you feel better, but doesn’t bring back a life or change society, sit down and write something! Francis Scott Key, amateur poet, wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Katherine Lee Bates, English teacher and poet, wrote “America the Beautiful. Inspiring. Thought-provoking.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Recently, a friend, fellow writer, and member of the National League of American Pen Women, Joanna O’Keefe, wrote a beautiful poem called “America at the Crossroads.” She teamed up with musician Tony Smith and the beautiful result can be found on You Tube. See it at:    https://youtu.be/I9w0oV62V-w.

Write what you know when it comes to writing and write what you feel when it comes to poetry, as I did, but never got around to sharing it until now.

So, whether you write a letter to a mayor, governor, or representative in Congress, or simply a poem or story that inspires others, pick up YOUR pen and Make America THINK Again!

AND THEN WE LIGHT CANDLES AGAIN

by Virginia Nygard  © 2018

The numbers grow, the reasons flow

and name every mental illness known;

we’ve mastered blame and faux denial

…and then, we light candles again.

 

We’ve forgotten those lightweight claims

of three or ten, a middle-weight of thirty-two;

we’re just grateful it wasn’t me or you

…and then, we light candles again.

 

From Columbine to Virginia Tech,

Sandy Hook and Parkland it goes,

and where it lands, nobody knows

…and then, we light candles again.

 

TV plays brutal gore for weeks, which

we say we abhor, but we binge-watch more

and get ready with teddy bears, flowers, balloons

…and then, we light candles again.

 

For lack of restraint, the wait is short

and our halfhearted thoughts and prayers

abort thoughtful solutions for prevention

…and then, we light candles again.

 

You say we’ll meet next time? Sure, that’s fine.

This week was your place, next one’s at mine.

You bring the tears, I’ll supply wine,

…and then, we light candles again.

 

 

* Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato, according to William L. Patty and Louise S. Johnson, Personality and Adjustment. p.277 (1953)


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!”?


…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.


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.

CHRISTMAS 2017

 

 


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?)