I missed my post this week. Not just here, but over at get born too. Working at the Pantry, there’s no rest between the turkeys of Thanksgiving and the presents (or the presence!) of Christmas. Frankly, life’s just plain crazy these days.
It’s that crazy, happy (usually) time of year!
So, here’s the thing: I think I have to take a break from the blog until the holidays (and my planned Christmas coma) are over. I’d rather get all the work done – properly – and have a smidgeon of breathing room rather than do a crappy job at everything. Oh, and be really cranky too. (Ask my family; that latter part’s important to them.)
A couple of notes:
We’re still taking submissions at Fifth Wednesday, but the reading period for the spring issue closes December 15. If you have a good story, you might want to check out the submission guidelines and send it in.
If you need some writing, editing, or proofreading done, I’m still talking jobs with potential clients, but I won’t start anything new till January 6. The Pantry goes back to being a part time gig then.
Most of all, enjoy the season. If you get a chance to write, throw on some Pandora music. They have a few great holiday stations – classical Christmas, jazz Christmas, and “quiet” Christmas – conducive to reading and writing and concentrating in general. I’ll be working on a piece of flash fiction; my writing group decided to do a prompt to see what we’ll all come up with. I’m looking forward to taking the time to do that. But first I have to make sure that about 550 children aren’t left off of Santa’s list just because their parents are having a tough time of it. Every kid big and small deserves a little Christmas…
I’m up to my eyeballs in turkey baskets at the food pantry this week, so I’ve decided to send my Thanksgiving Day greetings early knowing that I’ll be swamped getting the birds and fixings to their assigned tables and then getting myself to my parents’ house two-and-a-half hours away. (More likely three-plus given Thursday morning’s traditional traffic).
Is he the one that got away? Or does he meet his doom in a depressing novel? (Photo by asmorod at sxc.hu.)
My wish for you is a happy Thanksgiving filled with friends and relatives (the ones you like, of course), turkeys and pies, rest and relaxation. Forget the shopping on Friday; the stores are sure to have sales up until Christmas and after too! Read something you’ve been dying to get to, but have had no time for. And while you’re doing that, check out this mini-article from Kevin Hartnett of the Boston Globe. He talks about the things that depressing novels can do for readers. Think Cormac McCarthy’sThe Road or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – both very good books. Yet another example of how fiction makes us better people even when it’s talking rape, murder, and an apocalypse.
In the meantime, tell me what your favorite Thanksgiving Day/Weekend tradition is. I’m in the mood for weird, so the stranger, the better. Unfortunately, my own custom isn’t all that odd, but at least my family tolerates it and even participates. The day after Thanksgiving – to me – is the true start of the Christmas season. To that end, we all sit down with our turkey sandwiches to watch the Muppet Christmas Carol. Share your tradition. Hurry, or I’ll start reciting Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat’s dialogue to you bit by bit, line by line…
Given my antipathy for poetry when I was younger (it seemed so difficult to understand; couldn’t they just say what they meant?), I tried to introduce my kid to poetry that met her at her level. We started in grade school with Shel Silverstein. What kid doesn’t want to read about boogers and magical erasers and unicorns floating away from Noah?
Helping your child “get” poetry by making poetry
Not only that, but we tried playing with words to create our own poetry too. On the fridge. This was before I went way over the top with the magnetic poetry starter kit and LOTS of add-on words; Tom couldn’t handle all the “noise” whenever he retrieved a beer. (I even bought the erotica collection, though we had to hide that one from little eyes.) Invest in a basic set, and watch your kid get all jazzed up leaving her mark on a kitchen appliance. Have her try a couple of these types of poems.
Spine poems (AKA skinny poems) As the words come, write them down the page like vertebrae in a spinal column.
cup of tea cozies the heart
glass of wine steels the nerve
Who didn’t have to create haikus by the time they were in second or third grade? Remember the old 5-7-5 syllable count of the three lines? The brief focus, usually on an image or two, in those 17 syllables?
oak leaves fall through cold monkey men walk the gutters three stories above
I remember making these in school, in religious ed, in art, in a workshop I took just a few years ago. Usually, we used ourselves, our names as the subjects, Sometimes we might use a season, for instance, SUMMER, or a holiday, CHRISTMAS. Like spine poetry, acrostics are vertical, but each line begins with a letter of the subject word.
Lovely though your paragraph may Appear Unless your grammar Reins supreme All is lost to red pen
There are all kinds of poetry forms, but these are the most fun to play with, especially if you can involved a kid or two. If Junior breaks the “rules” of a format, who cares? It’s all in fun. Just remember, no judgment. Poems aren’t “bad” or “good”; they’re meant to evoke images. Even my three here. Now share your own or your child’s work.
The kid did the soccer thing for a couple of years.
A few days ago, the Boston Globe ran an article by Joseph P. Kahn on how families with multiple kids involved in multiple sports deal with scheduling logistics. Having “just” one child, reading about these families scared the crap out of me. Kids aren’t being forced to participate (I assume), but it appears that at no time do these kids (or their parents, for that matter) ever just relax and do nothing. Weekends are spent on the field and in the car traveling to and from games and practices.
“John O’Sullivan, author of ‘Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids,’ believes that youth sports are valuable, both from a healthy lifestyle perspective and because they expose kids to ‘core family values,’ as he puts it.” –Joseph P. Kahn
Dwindling school budgets have laid waste to many a school arts program; there’s no money or time in their teach-to-the-test curriculum to spend on learning what it takes to, say, write music or poetry. Meanwhile, sports teams are lauded at all levels from the peewee football players I saw on the field the other night at just before 8 p.m. to the high school hockey team nearby that imports kids from Canada to the cult of NFL football. Not that I’m immune; on any given Sunday, you can find me in front of my television when the Patriots are playing. Just being honest here…
O’Sullivan says that youth sports “expose kids to core family values.” I get it. Healthy competition, play, physical fitness, learning to be a real “team player.” I can get behind all those values. But are those the only core family values? I certainly hope not. What about art and all its forms, the play associated with one’s imagination, culture? It takes just as much practice to become a great dancer or a concert pianist as it does to become a top high school lacrosse player. Are the kids and parents who spend all their family’s free time on the field or on the mat necessarily getting a chance to appreciate other aspects of life?
We are always doing something, talking, reading, listening to the radio, planning what next. The mind is kept naggingly busy on some easy, unimportant external thing all day. – Brenda Ueland
Being good at a sport necessarily requires movement and concentration all the time. The gymnast can’t let her guard down or she’ll fall off the beam. The ski racer is constantly adjusting his mind and body so as not to become “the agony of defeat” personified (for those who are old enough to remember Wide World of Sports). The writer, the painter, the composer, they all move and concentrate too, but not until they have sat very, very still so as to allow the imagination to percolate within. Without someone’s thought and dreaming, that marble has no chance of becoming a sculpture. The average kid getting up to make an 8:00 a.m. soccer game and then heading off to a noon travel league game and another one the next day doesn’t have time to daydream. If he doesn’t fall asleep in the car, he’s working on his science homework, his history project.
To keep the body in good health is a duty. …Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
This isn’t to say that I’m anti-sports – far from it. I work out every day to control my weight and sanity. My daughter’s been on a summer swim league for years. The past two winters, she’s been swimming for her high school. From the get-go, we avoided over-scheduling – for her sake and mine. Hey, I have my own life that’s included work, writing, hooking, volunteering, and so on. And I’ve never subscribed to the martyrdom model of parenthood; a mother doesn’t have to give up her own passions just because she gives birth.
As the kid’s gotten older, though, she has more control over her extra-curricular activities. She’s always been a writer, often emulating her favorite fantasy authors. She auditioned for and got into the high school’s internal arts academy. We’re lucky that way; the school places a value not just on its athletic teams, but its performers and artists as well.
Pondering life. Or at least why she had to be in this beautiful place with just Mom and Dad.
My wish for those families splitting up and driving to this game and that match on weekends is that they just STOP now and again. Between games, drive to a park (without sports fields, only nature) and have a picnic. Let your kid watch a caterpillar and wonder how he got on that path. Did someone pick him up then drop him there? Is he on a journey to find his brothers and sisters? A wife? Lie on the ground and ask your kid what she sees in the clouds. Planes don’t count – we’re talking dragons and orcas and speed racers here. Sports are great, but make sure that your kid knows how to dream too.
We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.
How do you get your kids to at least “try art”? Do you find that current culture thwarts your attempts? Does your local school system value the arts as much as sports?
I’ve been walking in my sleep most nights since July. It’s November now, and I’m awfully tired.
Photo by Zela at rgbstock.com
All my life, on and off, I’ve suffered from a variety of sleep disorders: walking, talking, and the ever exciting paralysis. Truthfully, other than losing some sleep, I never really considered it “suffering,” just another idiosyncrasy that makes me…me. This current bout, though, is beating the crap out of me.
Generally, what happens is that I dream about “something important” that I’ve forgotten to do for work. I get up (literally, out of the bed) to make the situation right. Gradually, I’ll wake up somewhere in my room or in the bathroom reaching out for…who knows? The reflection in the glass shower door threw me for a loop one night. I woke up to find myself rubbing it. Why? By the time I thought to ponder that, the dream was pretty much lost to the night’s ether.
Stressed at work in the past, I’d spend at most a couple of weeks dreaming in the same “wakeful” manner. For instance, I’d know for sure that the guy sleeping next to me in the bed was the troll-like vice president of the company I worked for, but…
It’s the 4th of the month. That means I’m over at get born. So, hit this LINK and head over that way to see why I’ve been doing so much night-time walking. (If only I could lose a few pounds because of it!)
How do you handle stress? What about the sneaky stress that you think you’ve got under control or that you aren’t even aware of?
I urge everyone to check them out. BTW, “Reptiles,” David added, would have an R rating if it was a movie. If that doesn’t send you running for The Whistling Fire‘s link, nothing will!
I also have something to share. As I’d said before, I was waiting for my own story, “Mother’s Day,” to be published. Thank God for my wonderful mailman. He brought my copy of Kansas City Voicesjust this past Saturday. Yes, I did a very obnoxious victory song and dance for Tom and the kid. Till they made me stop. Then I sat down and read the story again. (It had been a while.)
You know, there’s nothing like a little success to fan the flames of whatever it is you like to do. I spend a lot of time online networking with other hookers; it keeps me motivated when I see their rugs and mats and especially when they comment on my own. But lately I’ve been hooking A LOT more than I’ve been doing any writing other than this blog, grant proposals for the food pantry, and checks to my kid’s school. Reading “Mother’s Day” reminded me that I can write fiction pretty well when I put my mind to it. And that is exactly what’s required: my mind and the time to use it without distraction.
So, again I vow (because one has to recommit themselves to pretty much everything worthwhile otherwise one risks phoning it in) to GIVE TO MYSELF AS A REWARD FOR A JOB WELL DONE time each week (at least) to write fiction (and stuff in my journal). If nothing else, I owe it to my writing group to provide them with new material. But mostly I owe it to myself. I am a writer, and writing is what I need to do.
What is it that you need to do to make sure that you keep creatively true to yourself?
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”
Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what’s next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.
–Agnes de Mille, dancer and choreographer
One of my masterpieces currently hanging in the Dover Library.
We’ve said it before: to do anything new or innovative, we have to take a chance. That means risking that we’re wrong as Agnes says, risking that we look stupid as most teenagers fear, risking that we’re not perfect as most of us would like to be. In short, taking a chance demands that we try something without a guarantee of success. But it does keep us from being boring.
To be fair to my 16-year old, I hate looking stupid. Being a writer and an editor, I cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s, so that I wear the idiot hat as seldom as possible. I read and re-read emails before I send them. Yes, I’m that anal. But I try to make a living on that kind of thing. Tell me, who’s going to hire a proofreader who makes obvious misspellings and grammatical errors? Not you. Not me.
If I felt that way about my fiction or my rug hooking, I wouldn’t get too far, I fear. I’d probably never use the second person point of view. But I have tried the second person point of view, and it’s gotten two of my stories published or to place in a contest. I definitely wouldn’t have joined a hooking guild made up of a bunch of very traditional hookers and…now me. Me who works with t-shirt strips and ribbons and denim, not just wool strips to create mats. If I hadn’t joined that group, though, two of my rugs wouldn’t be hanging in the Dover (Mass.) Library this month as part of an exhibit.
We cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our exciting adventures. …Take a risk a day–one small or bold stroke that will make you feel great once you’ve done it.
–Susan Jeffers, psychologist and self-help author
The more we strive, the more chances we take, the more options open up for us. With practice, we can often become better writers, hookers, football players, and accountants. (Hey, I know people who really get into number-crunching, so don’t judge!) Conversely, even with all kinds of practice, we might never become great at stand-up comedy or figure skating or speaking Chinese. In fact, we might even suck at those things. BUT, we can still enjoy gliding over a frozen pond on a beautiful winter’s day or singing in a community choir. Don’t be that person who’s too rigid and always worried that they’ll look like an idiot. Choose to have passion, to have fun doing things you enjoy no matter what.
If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, I would try ____________________________. (Fill in the blank.)
Me, I’d play acoustic guitar and sing in coffee houses. Well, I’d do that once my daughter let me out of the bathroom she’d locked me in for embarrassing her.
dis-tract: 1) to turn aside, divert; 2)to draw or direct (one’s attention) to a different object or in different directions at the same time; 3) to stir up or confuse with conflicting emotions or motives; TO HARASS
dis-trac-tion: 1) the act of distracting or the state of being distracted, esp, mental confusion; 2) something that distracts; AMUSEMENT
Photo by lusi at rgbstock.com
Distracted: How I’ve been lately.
I culled the first two definitions out of my Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Don’t bother telling me; I know I’m a dinosaur for still using a dictionary – I mean the actual BOOK. My kid relishes in letting me know how old-fashioned I am. The fact that I don’t have a smart phone bothers the shit out of her. Even worse is that I’m happy with my dumb, old flip phone. Her embarrassment is complete; my work here is done.
The truth is that I have no over-riding reason to get a smart phone. My life (both professional and private) is contained on my laptop. I have a nifty, little tablet that’s great for checking emails when I’m away from home for a weekend. I can even read a book on it! (Confession: I’ve only done that once.) Although texting appears to have some real value, the more I watch kids sit alone with each other, the less I feel the need to join in. Don’t even start me on all the adults I see texting while driving, never mind the kids. Apparently, that’s a “Do what I say, not what I do” kind of thing.
But it’s not like I don’t have distractions in my life. If I didn’t, I’d get a lot more writing done, more books read, more clothes laundered. While I don’t really use my cell phone for anything but emergencies, other people yakking on theirs in grocery stores and Dunkin Donuts lines can practically drive me to drink. So can s-l-o-w drivers who insist on clogging the left-hand lane of the highway. The kid does indeed drive me to drink what with her issues (real and imagined, including ADD!!!), her sty of a room, her inability to ride in a car with Tom and/or me without a pair of earbuds embedded in her skull. Other noteworthy distractions include robocalls, commercials, meetings of all kinds, the crack across my windshield, spam, and the current government shutdown.
Somewhere in the middle
Having to manage not one, but three facebook pages (for myself, for the Polished Paragraph, and for High on Hooking) – those are hours I’ll never get back. But I really do like to keep in touch with friends, and I learn a lot too vis-à-vis articles on grammar, literature, and fiber arts. It’s definitely been a boon for networking with other hookers. Plus, some of the jokes really are piss-your-pants funny.
Hooking, it definitely distracts me from writing. Especially when I combine it with my new favorite TV show Orange is the New Black or an episode of House Hunters International. But I make pretty things! And I think I’ve already mentioned my proclivity for Scrabble against the computer. Tom almost had to hold an intervention a few months back, but I got it together and limited the number of games I play. Lately, though, I’ve been falling off the wagon again. Don’t tell him.
What keeps you from writing or doing the things you wish or plan to do? The most outrageous will get a shout-out on the Polished Paragraph’s facebook page. For good measure, we’ll throw it onto High on Hooking‘s too! And don’t forget to tell us what you do to combat distraction when it happens.
You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.
- Tom Kite
Who owns stories and where do they come from? The last part of the question is one that readers ask all the time; writers are very poor at giving the answer. We don’t like to say “from the personal columns”, or “from the small ads”, even if it’s true. It sounds too obvious, too much like the way people assume authors operate.
- Hilary Mantel
Picture from http://survival-capsule.com.
Actually, few people have asked me where my stories come from. Then again, maybe they’re too scared to go there. Sure, we talk about it in writing group, but that’s different. When we offer our stories up to one another for critique, the author’s motivation often helps us understand the piece better. Plus, we’re a nosy bunch.
This week, in fact, I have a story due to the group, one that I wrote last week. There was some desperation involved, frankly. It’s been busy here, you see, what with preparing for the food pantry’s holiday programs, meetings (for myself and the kid), medical appointments, and various other commitments. Still, the need to write something weighed on me constantly. Finally, I pulled out my morning pages (or, as I call them these days, “my on-and-off pages”) and started flipping through them. This jumped out:
The woman who never sleeps isn’t doing it because she’s worried or she doesn’t desire rest. She does it because something in her depressed, migraine brain won’t turn off. This neurological switch then permits lines and lines and trainloads and trainloads of information to start winding down the tracks…
Don’t judge; it was stream of consciousness. Anyway, it goes on from there. But I liked it. And, using the paragraph as a jump-off point, I started a story that eventually blossomed into almost 1000 words. Perfect! There’s a flash fiction contest I was thinking of entering…
The newspaper’s a great place to look for a story catalyst. I keep a file of articles I find that call to me. Subjects currently include: the truck stop reverend, the availability of survival pods (with optional dry powder seat toilet) for families in case of disasters; personalized cremation urns crafted to resemble the head of your loved one; the death of Joybubbles, an original phone phreak (look that one up); the woman in my own town who kept her dream of being an escape artist a secret for years – it’s not secret any more and there are pics to prove it; and a photo of a sculpture entitled “man-on-lizard love.” I swear that I am not making any of these up. Even the man-on-lizard love.
Writing prompts are good. So are journal entries. I’ve also gotten ideas for stories from conversations I’ve overheard, from my own life, from online info…pretty much everywhere! All I have to do is pay attention.
Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.
…But that was Friday. Saturday she slept late, primped for about four or five hours, and then went to a friend’s confirmation party. Sunday she sleeps in, and Tom and I go all hunter-gatherer at the grocery store. Actually, this past Sunday we went to not one, not two, but three grocery stores and a nearby apple orchard! Then we cooked. We ate; we drank. Frankly, we had one fucking, foodie-fantastic day. It didn’t solve our problems, but we’re still basking in it.
Tom’s retired, and my job’s part time. We do the bulk of our shopping at value-priced Market Basket. Sure, the aisles are crowded, but the produce and fish are fresh. We actually get out of there for about ten bucks less than usual.
Next we head across the street to Whole Foods and blow the rest of the budget on lactose-free yogurt and quinoa-in-bulk. (Yeah, we all read that hilarious Huffington Post article last week. Very accurate.)…
Yep, it’s my day over at getborn. Head on over there to read about our day and how we celebrated, because that’s what we were doing. Celebrating nothing but good food and good company. Oh, and a few good deals too.