…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: inspiration

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.

pexels-photo-953512.png

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.

pexels-photo-768257.jpeg

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.”

sky-space-dark-galaxy.jpg

“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.”

pexels-photo-978629.jpeg

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.”

pexels-photo-10916.jpeg

“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.”

pexels-photo-566641.jpegangel-fig-face-christmas-39014.jpeg

angel-wings-love-white-52718.jpeg

 

“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.’

south-africa-wild-nature-wildlife-68166.jpeg

“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!”?

Advertisements

…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?)


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!

 


John Milton wrote his blank verse on the fall of man, Paradise Lost, in ten books from about 1658 to 1663. Some scholars believe that earlier passages were written in his youth, and the remainder interrupted by the English Civil War. Why? Was it a change in style from early years to a more mature perspective? I can relate to that.

In retrospect, my youthful attempts at writing made me wince. But I forgave myself for being young and unschooled in a thing that came naturally. The ability of my mother and aunts to relate detailed family lore convinced me that I, too, must be the reincarnation of our ancient Irish sennachies, ready with the Merlin of my time—the computer— to record each precious nugget of knowledge and creativity. However, I soon learned that being reborn into a new time meant, “Get with it, kid. Nobody accepts poetry or prose in ten rambling books anymore!”

With this cold water showered on my literary efforts, I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough. So, I read about writing, took creative writing classes, joined writers’ groups and associations.  What did I learn? That I still had, and have, more to learn. Albert Einstein was right: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

So, it falls to those who can learn, to find ways for the less fortunate develop to the best of their abilities. In Luke, the Bible tells us that Jesus said, “Those to whom much is given, much will be required.” This is where my soapbox on writing merges with my pulpit on social conscience.

I think back to the 1960s when an imperfect man, John F. Kennedy, made a perfectly altruistic statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a time of bright hopes for the future, and those words guided my teaching career.

Where is that bright hope today? Are we at the brink of losing paradise again? As did Charles Dickens in his time, I cannot help thinking of our time:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.   (~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, Chapter 1)

Back on the soapbox: Is this not an intriguing hook to reel in the reader? It’s one of my favorites. It made me hang on for the ride like Captain Ahab tangled in his own harpoon line. Why did Dickens speak of his time as both wise and foolish, as one of enlightenment and mental darkness, of hope and despair? His words foreshadow how the conditions of the period affected society as revealed in his novel.

You might like to read or reread this Dickens tale. Spoiler Alert: the best of times and worst of times refers to the fact that the ruling classes of both England and France then were woefully out of touch with the common people and very mistakenly believed the status quo would glide on forever. Sound familiar?

We need to think with less selfishness and more selflessness. Not only does charity begin at home—so does a change in society’s priorities. Start with your own social interactions. Lead by example, then demand the same of all public servants from the smallest mayoralty in the nation all the way up the chain to the United States Congress and the White House.

Let us not lose Paradise again. Vigilance is the price of our freedoms, our paradise.

Keep learning. Keep writing. Make your words count for the better. Be able to say of your actions and your writing, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” as did Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.


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.