Sunday, September 30, 2012

a shot in the arm

Every so often, it's good to get a proverbial "shot in the arm"--something that motivates us or inspires us when our energy begins to flag and we lose focus. The old vitamin B12 shots come to mind.

When it comes to writing, though, humor and shared wisdom come to mind. If you could use a little pick-me-up, I hope this helps:



 Pinned Image
 Right again, Ernie!
There now...that wasn't so painful, was it?
I actually got two shots in the arm this week.
First, I was invited to participate in the Empowerment Project with Beth Caldwell. Check it out at The invitation arrived compliments of fellow Pennwriter Sue Rumbaugh, assistant professor of English at Carlow University, who was kind enough to think of me when she learned of the project. It was just the shot in the arm I needed, and it didn't hurt at all.
Second, I got my flu shot this week...and it didn't hurt a bit, either. So...PLEASE get YOUR flu shot this season. It could save you a boat load of trouble later on. Just sayin'.
"Advice is what we ask for
when we already know the answer
but wish we didn't."
--Erica Jong--
Next week I'll have something to say about writing memoir, God forbid.


Monday, September 24, 2012

change is in the air

Just last week, I was relaxing on the beach, warming my feet in the sand, wandering along the water's edge.

Soaking in the hot tub with a glass of good red wine. Enjoying excellent food that I didn't have to prepare myself. Reading. Writing. Day dreaming...
...doing the sorts of things that awaken and inspire the imagination.

This morning, I walked the dogs wearing a sweatshirt and a jacket, wishing I'd remembered a hat and mittens.

Change is in the air!

Last week, I had no pressing agenda to accomplish, no deadlines to meet, no pressing schedule to follow.

This week, all that has changed, too. The house and yard need attention, there are appointments to keep, meals to prepare (again...), and a looming deadline on a new project. But, now I'm ready for it, the same way I think I'm ready for fall...reluctant to see summer fade but eager for autumn's gifts: the glorious colors, the crisp, cool nights, apple cider and pumpkin pie.

I was reluctant to see vacation end, but I'm ready for work to begin again. My imagination has been stoked and my energy restored. Change is in the air.

Do you welcome the change of seasons? Does it stoke your imagination?
"So you see,
imagination needs moodling--
long, inefficient, happy idling,
dawdling and puttering."
--Brenda Ueland--
Next week, I'll tell you about my new project...and its looming deadline.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

don't get me wrong...

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy our annual vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina as much as anyone else. I like the leisurely pace and the change of scenery, getting away from the hustle of everyday life with its unrealistic expectations, unending obligations, and self-imposed duties.

I like to walk on the beach, to indulge in an afternoon nap, to be able to read--or to write--for hours without interruption. I like to wander through the local shops, to relax with a glass of good wine, and to share light-hearted banter with my family.

It's just not my favorite place to be.

And, it wasn't all that easy to get here this year. With poor Famke confined to the back seat of the car,

we found ourselves stuck--and I do mean STUCK--in a three hour traffic jam because someone, in his unfathomable wisdom, decided it would be a terrific idea to close two of the three bridges into and out of Norfolk to catch up on road repairs over the weekend.
Meaning that all the traffic, including unsuspecting vacationers heading to the OBX, were re-routed across one bridge. Eventually.

Then, on the beach this morning, we were treated to a dermabrasion session compliments of the wind-driven sand that heralded the tornado watch we are now under. While we sit indoors.

It is no secret to my family that I would prefer to unwind in the mountains. In a rustic cabin. Near a boulder strewn river or on the banks of a remote lake.

At the risk of offending my beachcombing family and friends, I’m simply not an enthusiastic fan of the beach. I don’t object to the fact that I have to lather myself with sticky, smelly sun block before I venture out into the sun for even a moment. I can deal with the sand that gets into my ears and between my toes and never washes out of my hair. I don’t complain about sitting under an umbrella, in a patch of shade the size of a hoola-hoop, all day long. All. Day. Long. Every. Day. I can do that.

What annoys me is the sound of it. Not the delightful squeals of children at play. Not the muted chatter of friends and family. Not the incessant squawking of the gulls who have every right to complain. No, what bothers me is that there is never a moment of silence here. Never. The surf rolls in, breaks, and rolls out again incessantly…monotonously…perpetually. While most people find this to be soothing...after a couple of days, I find it tiresome...

...which is why I prefer to relax in the mountains where silence is broken only by the sound of vast, empty space, the sweep of the wind, the sound of an acorn dropping, the rustle of leaves underfoot. Where I can hear myself think…or silence the constant chatter in my head. In the mountains I can walk for miles in the shade of ancient trees and then rest on the banks of a glacial stream. Sink my feet into moss. Inhale the fragrance of wood smoke and wild flowers. Warm myself by a fire. Peacefully. Mindfully. Silently.

Don't get me wrong. I love being at the beach with my family. However, I have to admit that:

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
--John Muir--
Are you a shorebird or a mountain sprite?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

wishful thinking

This happens to me all the time.

The words roll off my tongue: "Why didn't I think of that?"

Meaning...why couldn't I come up with that story? I may having been casting about for an idea for hours...for days...but nothing seems to work.

Then I'll read some perfect piece that's like a whack on the side of my head: "Why didn't I think of that?"

For example, there's this story: "The Wine Doctor" by Frederick Adolf Paola:

You may not have heard of it. You may not think it's special...but I loved this little story. It touched a very tender place in my heart. I wished I'd thought of it.

And then there's State of Wonder by Ann Patchett:

...and another whack on the side of the head.

These stories both feature medical issues and are populated by doctors...but the ideas behind them would never have crossed my mind. They belonged to somebody else...

...because the stories we tell emerge out of our own experiences and relationships, our own joys and sorrows...our own victories and our defeats. None of us can write someone else's story...which is why we need to write our own.

I know that all the wishful thinking in the world will not make me any younger, smarter, more beautiful...

...or more ferocious!

You could wish the day away trying to live someone else's life...trying to write a story that isn't yours.
The point is to enjoy the stories other people write. To learn from them. To remember them. And then, go write your own.
"Writing teaches us,
in addition to the joys of martyrdom,
to be patient and forgiving with ourselves."
By this time next week...barring a hurricane...we'll be vacationing on the OBX! To post or not to post...that is the question.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

them there's highfalutin words

I lean toward reading (and writing) literary fiction and creative non-fiction so it's no wonder I occasionally come across words that are new or unfamiliar to me. Highfalutin words. Some I recognize even though I can't define them. Some I don't recall ever having heard.

This can be maddening to some people. They resent the interruption inherent in dragging out the dictionary and looking up the meaning of some elusive word that they will probably never use in their own writing. If they can't cull the meaning from the context of the sentence, they just skip it.

But I was trained differently. When I came across an unfamiliar word as a child, I would simply ask my mother (who knew everything!), "Mom, what does this word mean?" And her response was always, inevitably, unfailingly the same: "Go look it up." Go haul that heavy red tome of a dictionary off the shelf, and look it up. And then, some time later on, she would ask me for the definition...just to be certain I had done it.

That same Webster's New World Dictionary--copyright 1951, frayed around the edges--still sits on my bookshelf today. An updated version sits next to my laptop.

Nowadays, when I come across a need-to-know word, I circle it in the text or jot it down...and then I look it up. This week's list comes compliments of Richard Rhodes (who wrote The Making of the Atomic Bomb), Ann Patchett (author of Bel Canto, Run, Truth and Beauty, and State of Wonder),
Anna Qunidlen (Rise and Shine, One True Thing), Ann Lamott (All New People, Plan B, Bird by Bird), and Kristen Tippett (Einstein's God).

So, students, here is your vocabulary list for the week:

--concatenate: to connect in a series or chain, to arrange (strings of characters) into a chained list

--contrapunctally: in music, using counterpoint--combining two or more melodic lines so that they form a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality;  using a contrasting but parallel theme or element

--inchoate: in an initial or early stage; incipient

--infelicitous: inappropriate or ill-chosen

--invidious: tending to rouse ill will, animosity, or resentment

--jeremiad: a literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament, or a prophecy of doom

--mellifluous: repetition flowing with sweetness or honey; smooth and sweet

--miasma: a noxious or poisonous atmosphere or influence

--peripeteia: a sudden turn of events or reversal of circumstances

--prosody: the study of the metrical structure of verse

--rictus: a gaping grimace

--rube: an unsophisticated country fellow
How'd you do? Give yourself extra credit if you have ever used any of these words in a sentence.
"One ought, every day at least,
to hear a little song,
read a good poem,
see a fine picture,
and, if it were possible,
to speak a few reasonable words."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe--
How do you treat highfalutin words?