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Highly Impractical and Completely Unanticipated

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This December I’ll be earning my Masters in Writing, a highly impractical and completely unanticipated happenstance. I am, shall we say, beyond college age.

graduation cap short tassle gold

My thesis has obliterated my actual life. Communication with normal people is out of the question. I went to a party on Sunday and the only topics of conversation I could conjure up were grammar rules and formatting templates. I think I had better stick with other thesis students for the time being.

I’m currently writing this post to avoid doing footnotes. My nails are bitten to little nubs, there are colorful life forms growing on the dishes in my sink, and my butt is numb from sitting at my computer.

In the words of David Byrne  and the Talking Heads:

“You may ask yourself, well — how did I get here?”

Good question.

As with most worthwhile endeavors, there was some loss and letting go involved before new life could take root. A couple of years ago, my world got weird when I lost my mother to the Great Beyond, my brother to mental illness, and my job to burn-out.

I was adrift, and life held nothing but questions.

Embracing the Counterintuitive

I began attending workshops at the Bethesda Writer’s Center near my home, hoping that writing might be therapeutic and perhaps even unleash new energy and indicate a new life direction. I filled journal after journal. Fortunately, I had a decent savings account, but I occasionally worried about what was next. Freelance writing, after all, is hardly a lucrative pursuit, especially if it’s primarily of the angst-filled, navel-gazing variety.

Then one day, a young man read a sentence in our workshop.  His name was Robert, and his sentence had something to do with a soccer game and a boy leaping into the air. It was beautiful. Magical. I saw that boy leaping into the air. I heard the smack of the ball.

Soccer Player Kicking A Soccer Ball Clip Art

“Where did you learn to write like that?” I asked Robert after class.

“I just graduated from Johns Hopkins in Writing,” he said, his brown eyes shining with pride. “It’s a part-time program with great teachers. You should check it out.”

I sensed that Robert had something I wanted.

Turns out that there was an open house that very weekend, and I went. Over crudités and seltzer water, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a fifty-something “returning student.” It sounded so — what? So risky, so bold, so romantic, so very not me.

I’ll admit it’s counterintuitive to spend your retirement savings on tuition, but I believe in destiny, and this felt like it. Or at least like fun.

I promised myself I would never take a class I wasn’t completely psyched about – the goal was not the degree, it was becoming the very best writer I could be and enjoying every moment. Losing my mother had taught me that life is short. I have kept that promise to myself and am having a blast. Okay, so maybe the writing conference in Florence, Italy was a bit extravagant, but it gave me memories, friends, and writing colleagues for life.

One Step at a Time

A year ago, nearing the end of the Hopkins program and still unsure of my future direction, I took a class in teaching writing. I thought maybe I could teach a workshop at a local community center or a nursing home or maybe even return to the Writer’s Center as a teacher.

Our first assignment was to create a syllabus. Ugh . For a college freshman composition class. Double ugh. (That’s literary language for ewww…) Mindful of having fun, I almost dropped the class but decided to stick it out another week to see what would happen.

I loved it! I created a detailed syllabus based on a topic I’m passionate about, environmental protection. When the professor returned it to me, he said I had gone way beyond what was required by designing field trips, including reading lists, and identifying guest speakers. At the end of the semester, he told me, “You would be a terrific writing teacher, just by being yourself. You absolutely have what it takes.”

It feels too good to be true, and it probably won’t pay much more than freelance writing, but I believe I’m being guided, one counterintuitive step at a time, to a new career doing something that I’m going to love!

I’m not going to do the graduation gown thing. I’m just inviting a few friends to the public reading where they’ll get free wine and cheese and listen to me and my twenty-something colleagues read our work.

Thanks to WordPress for the challenge to write a story backwards, starting with an event in the present and then following the wandering path back to the story’s  inception. And thanks, Robert, wherever you are. It’s been a fun ride.

And now back to my footnotes.

path on peat moor in sepia colour

The Wandering Path

Are You a Grown Up?

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Being a grown-up is an evolving state of mind, a spectrum of attitudes. No matter how old you are, you get to choose how you respond to the things of life.

I think that immaturity can be quite charming, unless I’m dating it. I myself am pretty cute when I’m being immature. Or not.

I’ve always been drawn to the rebellious song from Peter Pan, “I won’t grow up; I’ll never grow up.” I still occasionally jut out my jaw and clench my fists and run a few stanzas of it through my mind before I acquiesce to maturity.

You Can’t Make Me Grow Up!

Today I’m responding to a WordPress challenge  that’s much easier than the one prompting my 1,000 word tome without a Y in it. I won’t say I’m annoyed that most responders wrote less than 200 words, because grown ups don’t get annoyed about things like that. So here is today’s Daily Prompt:

When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?

The Mockingbird’s Song

I remember the moment quite clearly. It happened to be my birthday.

I was 24 years old. I’m sure I was tired; working full-time for rent and college tuition, my days starting before 6 a.m. with late classes ending at 9:30 p.m.

I had just survived a grueling two-hour meeting with the deans from all the departments at the University of Maryland. I had designed my own major, and God knows they did not want me to have that kind of flexibility and autonomy without making me suffer for it.

I had argued with the Dean of Biology about whether or not the world had a “population problem” (I said yes) and with the Dean of the Math Department about whether or not I needed calculus. (Truth be told, one of the reasons I designed my own major was to escape those dreaded math courses!)

Understanding Mathematics: From Counting to Calculus   -             By: Keith Kressin

Nooooo!!!!

But I had persevered. My program — the first of its kind at the school — had been approved. It’s hard to believe now that “Environmental Studies” was a unique major in 1979, but there you have it.Very few students bothered to pursue the option of designing a separate major, but I had done it. All by myself.

I sat under a blooming dogwood tree on the mall at Maryland and wept tears of joy. On the branch above me, a mockingbird sang as if his breast would burst. I knew the feeling.

I was a competent grown up, I had choices, and nothing could stop me now. I had arrived.

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottis

 -

Maturity

Of course, I wasn’t all grown up, and I have displayed some of my most immature behavior in the years since that day under the dogwood. I’ve done some damage to my psyche and to the psyche of others.

Perhaps you have, too. I’ve noticed that a lot of people come to my website by way of Google searches about shame or guilt.

For what it’s worth, I recently came across this checklist of the attributes of maturity. See what you think:

  • Knowing myself.
  • Asking for help when I need it and acting on my own when I don’t.
  • Admitting when I’m wrong and making amends.
  • Accepting love from others, even if I’m having a tough time loving myself.
  • Recognizing that I always have choices and taking responsibility for the ones I make.
  • Seeing that life is a blessing.
  • Having an opinion without insisting that others share it.
  • Forgiving myself and others.
  • Recognizing my shortcomings and my strengths.
  • Having the courage to live one day at a time.
  • Acknowledging that my needs are my responsibility.
  • Caring for people without having to take care of them.
  • Accepting that I’ll never be finished – I’ll always be a work-in-progress.

Agree? Disagree? How do you measure up?

Mockingbird and Dogwood photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Daily Prompt – And Sometimes Nada

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The Challenge is to write an entire post without the use of a particular letter. Eschewing a vowel is extra brave, it’s said, so I’m going without the “sometimes vowel.”

The Alphabet Without the Sometimes Vowel

A is a dependable letter. It can stand alone. It is faithful and valuable. Nothing spectacular, kind of quiet about its business, but there, all the time. There are 33 A’s in this short paragraph alone. Important words don’t often start with A. America does. As do absurd and asinine, both useful descriptors as we witness the workings of America’s government (or lack thereof).

Absurd and Asinine

B is the opposite, bustling in behind A, it is an assertive letter. Like a bull in a china shop, it busts into a sentence, blustering and being big. People whose names begin with B are Buds and Burts and Berthas– with big voices and boisterous laughs. An aside: this video of a bull in a china shop belies the metaphor.

C is complicated – schizophrenic. At times a nice, soft sound, as in nice or citrus. And at times a callous, uncompromising letter used to scare people — Communist, Corporation, Cholesterol. And, of course, Cancer. Still, it’s a cooperative letter, and works well with others, acknowledging that it could be lacking on its own.

D still brings back dismal feelings of defeat. It is what I got in a high school math class (starting with G and having do with triangles and such), and that was *after* Mr. Griffin went and asked Mr. Williamson not to fail me.

E is an excellent letter, relating with ease and connecting to each letter like a sociable aunt. It is also the first letter in elephant, this writer’s all-time favorite animal and a cool word in itself.

Nothing Cooler

F – back to high school. I got them twice, both times for failing to attend classes that were rude enough to be scheduled during sweetheart of the week’s lunch break. One of the classes I failed was Band, and the other was the class that taught me how to find and use letters on a machine used for writing. What I’m doing now.

G begins Griffin, which I used to hate, but which I have grown to respect. I used to think it too serious. Solid, a tad masculine. But it knows how to have fun. It’s Welsh, which isn’t as fun as Irish, but still…

H. Hmmm. I haven’t much feeling for H. I suppose it’s cooperative like C, changing and morphing and toughing it out when it’s not in the place of Honor.

I is all about me. And I like that. I like to write I. I. I. Don’t we all? I could not write a post without the letter I.

J has got strange juju – like juju, it can be good or bad. As in Scrabble – nailing a triple-letter score, J rocks. Left over at the end of the game, it can cost eight points. Jam is good. Jasmine tea is evocative. Jazz can be nice, depending…

K is not a letter for kids. It can start out kind, but is a trickster and can end up knocking a person over or even killing them. Like a King, it can be capricious. I think it suffers from serious codependence with C, and is also just a grump because it doesn’t get to take the lead often.

L stands for love, and that is all we need.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono - the-70s Photo

M starts Melanie, which I like better than Griffin. The best friend from childhood is the sole person who gets to call me Griffin. M is melodious, musical (are those the same?) and begins cool words like maestro and magician.

N. I have no opinion. It is a non-sound, a nothing, a neutral letter. Nada.

O makes me laugh. It can be opinionated and official, but I don’t take that to heart. It’s the shape of a surprised mouth and round, surprised pupils. And that is simple lightheartedness. October, too, is light — bright and crisp.

P presents a preponderance of paths to explore. Lots of words start with P, and the letter, like A, is applicable to the opposition of the political parties in D.C. at present. Apoplectic parading before the press and parsimonious pissing matches proliferate. Plus pandering.

Q. Talk about codependence. I don’t even want to mention U in this paragraph, because the Q will get all quiverish. Of late, we are seeing too much of Q as the queen of “Sequestration.”

R – I like R. It is rich and round and rolls off the tongue. Rambunctious at times, it gets riled up and romps ‘round the house, rousing drowsing folk. Then out of the blue, it relaxes and becomes more reserved and reticent, even sometimes bordering on routine.  But a reassuring routine, not a boring one.

S, for me, is one of the most sublime of all the letters. Such sounds! How it sings to us and sanctifies our speaking and listening. It can hush – Shhhh — or it can scream, if pressed. It has spirit. Scarce it is not, as it signifies pluralism and adds abundance wherever it lands.

T, like dependable A, deserves our trust. It is tough, but lightweight; there in the past, the present, and the future.

U is unobtrusive, but ubiquitous. Thank God for it. Otherwise, where would Q be?

V is a venerable letter. It is old-fashioned, in a sense. World War II old-fashioned, as in valor and victorious. Vacuous and vapid ought not to start with a V; it is not appropriate. And I wish that vicious did not either. Oh, but now I’m off on the D.C. villains again.

W – Words with weight owe their being to W. Wisdom, worth, world. But also wild and whimsical.

X is fortunate that the word “oxen” exists, or Scrabble mavens would despise it. It is an extreme example of the “weird letters.” Unless it can persuade an E to lead it around, or a chemist to name a food additive after it, it’s stuck with the instrument that ends with “ophone” and those medical imaging thingies – neither of which I can mention because each contains…

The unspoken letter, the lack of which isn’t so bad, except that I cannot speak to the reader in second person, and I miss – the other person.

Z we love because it is Z. It’s a zealous word, but Zen at the same time. It’s nice that someone thought to start a flower’s name with Z — the Zinnia.

Photo From Wikipedia Commons

There – I’ve done it. No “wise.”

Far from Normal – Please Shut Up or Speak Up

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I want certain people to shut up, please, and I want more people to speak up. My mother didn’t allow us kids to say “shut up,” and I still consider it incredibly rude. But I’m saying it anyway, just this once. And I did say “please.”

Now that’s out of the way, and I’ll get on with my blog.

I don’t like being told what to do, but I’m going to write on the WordPress Daily Prompt challenge because it’s already on my mind. Here it is:

“Far from Normal…Take a step back, and take a look at your life as an outsider might. Now, tell us at least six unique, exciting, or just plain odd things about yourself.”

Radical, Lunatic, Way-Cold Mel

I had the opportunity yesterday to step back and look at myself from an outsider’s perspective. Fifty thousand outsiders, give or take.

I donned double wool socks, full-body thermal underwear, several sweaters, and a wool scarf and hat and went to D.C. for the humongous climate rally. In the frigid cold, we marched from the Washington Monument to the White House, clinging to our banners, posters, and flags in the whipping wind. Did I mention it was cold?

Some of my conservative friends have been poking me about demonstrating against global warming when it’s so cold outside. I guess they think there wouldn’t be any cold days if climate change was real. Jesus, God, and all who teach patience – please help me to love these people.

This is not funny. I’m the first to make a joke out of just about anything, but for real, for real, as the kids say these days – I do not have children; I am marching for your children. And your grandchildren. So please. Just shut up. Please.

These people think I”m a radical lunatic. They are Christians, too, but don’t seem to see stewardship of the earth as part of their calling.

Marching for Your Kids

Marching for Your Kids

Grandma with a Cause

Grandma with a Cause

Crazy, Judgmental, Gay-bashing Mel

Fortunately, a large and growing number of Christians have figured out that when God told us to care for the earth, God meant that we should — let’s see, how to put this — care for the earth?

Yesterday, I was to meet up with an interfaith delegation for a pre-rally; the “creation care” contingent. As I blogged before here, I think it’s important that environmentally aware people of faith speak up. So I made two signs, one from the Jewish prophet Isaiah and the other from the Psalms:

“The Earth is the Lord’s”

and

“The Earth Has Been Defiled By its People”

I rolled up the signs and boarded the metro to go downtown. A bunch of public health students with signs were in the subway car, and we got chatting. They asked to see my signs. I hesitated, but unrolled them, and the students suddenly got very interested in their phones and didn’t want to chat anymore, though I tried.

Through their eyes, I imagine I was a judgmental, gay-bashing, fairy tale believing, nutcase. In other words, a Christian.

It’s OK, I was going to meet other God-loving people. But it turns out I couldn’t find their rally, and was destined to walk the streets solo, waving my Bible verses.

Crazy, Lunatic Christian Me

Crazy, Lunatic Christian Me

Many people looked at my signs and glanced away quickly, as you might avert your eyes from someone who had peed on themselves. Especially the sign with the word “Lord.” That word is WAY out of fashion. I guess they thought I might preach at them. A few folks gave me a surreptitious thumbs up. That was nice.

So that’s the Christian me. Feeling judged and feared and avoided.

The Way-Cool, Fancy Mel

For a time, I marched next to a contingent of grandmothers who had flown out from California just for the march. They carried large photos of their grandchildren emblazoned with the words, “DO IT FOR ME.” I told one woman that I had been a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

“Really? Are you kidding?” she shrieked. “For the real Sierra Club? Hey you all,” she nudged her friends, “she was a lobbyist for the Sierra Club. How cool!”

I guess it is. It really is. For several decades, I had a job that others dream of having.

Later in the day, I marched next to a scientist who had done studies on the climate-induced beetle outbreaks that are devastating Yellowstone’s forests. He, too, was amazed to be walking next to someone who used to direct the Sierra Club’s Public Lands program.

Students from North Carolina overheard this conversation and asked if I had met actual senators. Yes, I had. Had I met Obama? Yes, I had. They were impressed. But honestly, the senators weren’t that impressive.  Obama? He’s pretty cool.

So that’s the environmental lobbyist me. Lucky, blessed, right-place-at-the-right-time. For real, for real. I don’t think of it as all that fancy because I was there, but others clearly do.

Courageous (Crazy?) Returning Student

I met another man who had recently retired and was trying to decide what to do. I told him I had gone back to school and was working on a masters in writing at Hopkins.

“You’re kidding!” he said. (Why does everyone think I’m kidding?) “I was thinking of going back to school, but figured it didn’t make any sense at my age.”

Well, no, it probably doesn’t make sense. But I am having a blast and learning new things. What’s not to like?

“Isn’t that a crowded field?” Yes.

“Are you going to be able to make any money?” Not likely.

When I told him I wanted to teach at community college, he said that was a competitive field and somehow got off on how “illegal immigrants” are taking all our jobs. This time, it was my turn to get overly interested in my phone and find other company ASAP.

OCD, CIA, MOM

This post is already too long, and I’ve only gotten to three things that outsiders apparently thought were odd or unique or surprising about me. I’ll give you three more briefly, because that’s my writing challenge.

1.)    I have OCD and pull my hair out. I already told you that in Hey Girl, You’re Bald

2.)    I used to work for the CIA, despite my way-left leanings. I’ve told you that, too, at CIA Unrest.

(My first loves were named Gary, Dennis, Gary, Dennis and Gary. My last three were named Richard. I just thought I’d throw that in for extra credit because it amuses me.)

3.)    My mother passed away five years ago today. This does not make me unique or special. On the contrary, it makes me more fully human and more connected to our species. We all love and lose and grieve. I just wanted to tell you that I miss her today.

My Mom - isn't she pretty?

My Mom – isn’t she pretty?

Please Do Not Shut Up

I pray for our species, as some of us hide in denial about climate change, and some of us haven’t gotten around to doing anything about it. Which brings me to:

If you have even the teensiest hunch that climate change is happening, as most of us now do, please do something. Say something. Write a letter to your local paper. Write a letter to your member of Congress and your senators. It’s not that complicated; it’s not that hard.

Write a letter or make a phone call to President Obama. He’s making a big decision right now on the Keystone XL pipeline, which could waste millions of dollars, gash through some of our last remaining wild lands, and contribute massively to climate change. All to carry Canada’s tar sands to our Gulf Coast for export. Speak up.

Be special. 

Special People

Special People

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination on the Porch

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I am not supposed to be blogging during this weekend writer’s retreat in the hills of Virginia.

The Porches Writing Retreat

The Porches
Writing Retreat

Seeking Focus and Illumination

I won’t say that blogging is not “real” writing, because I do not want to be drawn and quartered. But for me, personally, blogging is a different kind of writing. I do not spend time in mental and emotional preparation; I do not write and rewrite and revise and fuss. Blogging is more like journaling with (it is to be hoped) less navel-gazing. I don’t have to make myself sit down and focus on it – I have to drag myself away from it.

This weekend I’m to be focused on my “real” writing.

This weekend is about illumination. Finding my truth through the fog of everyday life.

Through the Fog

Through the Fog

So when I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge was Illumination, well, I just had to tap out a few words.

This morning I was up before dawn, sitting on the porch drinking black tea and watching the light break through the mist.

Sunrise at The Porches

Sunrise on the Porch

Illumination

Illumination

My friends and I arrived at The Porches last night and sequestered ourselves for several writing hours before coming back together in the kitchen to share a supper of soup and salad. We read some of our writing aloud, about Sylvia Plath, a guy masturbating in a movie theater, and the magic of a perfect sentence.

But I’m not supposed to be writing all this. Focus, Mel. I just wanted to share my photos and a bit of illumination that I had this morning.

Divine Dissatisfaction

I wrote once about a bittersweet elemental longing I find is brought on by the calls of migrating geese and migrating trains. This morning, I found this wonderful phrase that describes it:

Divine Dissatisfaction — don’t you love it?

Here is the full quote, which actually has nothing to do with geese or trains. It is included in the welcome packet at The Porches:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and (will) be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” 

Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

Sitting on the porch, I pondered the idea of divine dissatisfaction and gazed at the brightening horizon. I heard a flock of geese approaching, their melancholy yet hopeful calls reaching me through the fog. In the distance, I could hear a train approaching, leaving behind and going towards.

And I must get to writing! May you be illuminated!

Chapel in the Fog

Chapel in the Fog

Connecting to “The Other” — A Daily Prompt

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“The happiest life has the greatest number of points of contact with the world, and it has the deepest feeling and sympathy with everything that is,” according to the father of modern horticulture. I have to share that with you, because I was told to do so.

The WordPress Daily Prompt asks:  “Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?”

Daily Prompt: Quote Me | The Daily Post.

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO

I have mixed feelings about the WordPress Daily Prompts:

  • I don’t need new ideas to write about — my problem is that everything in the universe prompts me to write, and I have to pull myself away from the computer. I have enough I’d like to share without some amorphous power in the cloud-sky giving me suggestions.
  • This makes clear another issue I have with the Daily Prompts : I am not a fan of authority figures, and YOU CAN”T TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT! I know this is my baggage, but there you have it.
  • I also don’t like following a crowd; I fancy myself a one-of-a-kind blogger, which is, of course, ridiculous. Not only that, but I also have a great need to belong that is diametrically opposed to what I just said about not being part of a crowd of Daily Prompt writers.

Anyway, enough of my stuff spilling out onto the page. I do love that quote from Liberty Hyde Bailey, so I thought I’d share.

Liberty Hyde Bailey
Photo: Wikipedia

PLANTS, HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS

“The happiest life has the greatest number of points of contact with the world, and it has the deepest feeling and sympathy with everything that is.”

I believe this to be absolutely true. Although the deep feeling and sympathy can sometimes lead to grief, I do not believe that this conflicts with happiness. Because grief and compassion make us more fully human, I think that it ultimately results in a deeper, more genuine happiness — joy.

It’s fabulous that a horticulturalist said this. I imagine he was talking, at least in part, about plants. Still, his sentiments have caused me to murder more plants because they drove my decision to become a vegetarian. I want to walk gently on the earth, and cause as little pain and suffering as I possibly can, beginning with sentient beings. (Sorry, zucchini.)

I once believed that I had “too many” friends because I was too busy. But God kept putting new people in my life that I found fascinating, beautiful, comforting, or fun. I once went on a retreat with a bunch of other people in their 30s and 40s, and one woman said to me, “Let’s pretend we’re Buddhist nuns, OK?” I mean, how could you NOT want to be friends with that person?

File:Taiwanese Buddhist Nun Black Robes.jpeg

Buddhist Nun
Photo: Creative Commons

I now realize that my particular personality is created to have a great number of points of contact. It is how I connect with the many aspects of the Divine. What a wonderful, diverse world we live in! I have had the incredible joy of swimming with dolphins and sea turtles, harvesting spring asparagus and peas, debating spiritual truths in my book group, and being deeply in love with a musician, a historian, and a woodworker. Seriously – I am uber-blessed and intend to keep experiencing as much of life as God cares to show me. I just pray that my eyes and my heart will remain open.

MAKING PEACE

Because I have signed on to be a Blogger for Peace, I will warn you that these points of contact complicate life immensely. Not only could you find yourself eschewing veal or factory-bred chicken, you might have to start paying attention to what your government is doing. For instance:

  • How do we choose between killing Palestinian children and Israeli children? Do we just adopt policies and produce weapons that will kill both, to even things out?
  • U.S. drones are murdering countless innocent children without Americans risking as much as the finger that pressed the launch button. How un-connected can one be? What percentage of your tax money goes towards building drones?
  • Abortion: wherever you are, has it occurred to you that the people on “the other side” care deeply about the life and well-being of others? Could you imagine really listening to them, instead of judging and condemning them?

~I wish you joy, peace, and connection in 2013~

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse: A Little Ditty on Denial

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Because I could have been vacuuming;

because I could have been laundering the linens;

because I could have been putting up the storm windows;

because I could at least have been putting away the groceries.

They Can Wait

Because my little writing retreat in the woods needs to be closed up for the winter, and because I do not want to leave. The owls, the foxes, the stars, the snow flurries.

First Flurries

Because if I leave, I will have to go home.

At home, all is chaos — my house, my finances, my schedule, and my schoolwork.

And then it’s Christmas. I do not want to shop, I do not want to clean, I do not want to cook, I do not want to wrap.***

Because of all these things — because of

DENIAL,

a ten-minute writing prompt called An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse was, indeed, an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Ten  minutes is up. Back to reality.

Time is Up

Daily Prompt: Race the Clock | The Daily Post.

Let the Blogs Speak

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“It’s quite a respectable death, being torn to pieces by women.” Black Friday at Walmart? Mitt after his “binders” comment? Bieber on any given day?

Lord, Help Us

No, it’s actually just my luck of the draw for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, which suggests that we open the nearest book to page 82 and use the third sentence in a post. I don’t usually do the Daily Prompt because life is short and there’s so much other stuff to write about. But how could I not, with a sentence like that?

Daily Prompt: Connect the Dots.

The Nearest Book

Talk is Good

Perhaps I’ve just been in the Hopkins Writing Program for too long, but where I’m headed with that quote is to the importance of dialogue. Author Storm Jameson could have spent a lot of ink describing “eyes as black as ebony” or “hair as fine as dandelion fuzz,” but instead she gives us this:

After noting the respectable death aspect, above, our hero continues,

“But I’m an ordinary reasonable man and I should prefer an ordinary death.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t tear out your brain and read it,” she said drily.

“Dear Marie. I’m sure you would if you could.”

I have no idea what this book is about or who these people are, but in just those few words, we learn so much about the characters!

Why? Because that’s how humans relate. With words. Body language, facial expressions, thoughts behind the eyes – these are mostly absorbed at the subconscious level. But conversation is the leading edge of a character, be it fiction or narrative nonfiction or real life. In the blogosphere, it’s basically *all* words.

That’s why it’s odd that bloggers often do not make use of dialogue. I wish they did.

Dialogue breaks up a page and provides white space – breathing space, an open door for the reader to actually enter into the story. Unbroken blocs of text are uninviting. One feels lectured and excluded.

If you can’t find quotes or conversations to use, make it up. As in:

My readers are probably thinking, “She’s got a lot of nerve, telling us how to write a blog. She’s only been blogging a few months!”

 How to Make Up Real Conversations

  • Read writers who do dialogue well. I hear that Elmore Leonard is a king, though I haven’t read much of him. I’ll bet some of your favorite writers are good at it, or they wouldn’t be your faves.
  • Read your dialogue out loud. Better yet, ask someone to read a scene with you.
  • Tell stories in different voices for practice. Use your imagination to give voice to natural objects. Ask a rock to tell you its story. Interview a leaf about its life story. It will have a different “voice” than the rock. A feather?
  • Recall a painful scene from your life. Or a joyful one. Write the dialogue just as you remember it. Deep feelings burn words into us. Recollection helps us process, and it also facilitates writing with real emotion. Tapping into memory and emotion allows us to enter our characters with insight and compassion. Even the most vile person can’t be all bad.
  • Read, read, read! All different kinds of books. I tend towards old, musty novels, but if I only wrote dialogue like Anthony Trollope or Henry James, I wouldn’t have such a huge following. (Oh, wait – never mind.)

    English: Anthony Trollope

    English: Anthony Trollope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photograph of Henry James.

English: Photograph of Henry James. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How to Remember Really Real Conversations

Nonfiction dialogue is harder than fictional because you don’t get to create your characters. They are real. You can still add depth to your dialogue by adding some actions to flesh out their personalities, thusly:

“Well, screw them!” she said, sipping her mint tea. To me, that says she’s complex. Feisty, but savoring a gentle tea.

Do the best you can to remember dialogue as it happened, but don’t sweat it. Your readers know you can’t be quoting exactly; just don’t make stuff up. And you have to expect that your sister’s going to remember it differently. That’s life.

I find that spending time in meditation or taking a walk – with a notepad, of course – can free up my mind to recall dialogue.

Read a Book

Well, that’s more than enough. Following a Daily Prompt should not eat up half the day. But apparently, I had a lot to say. I hope that the people in your blogs do, too!

Now please go read a book. A real one, with pages. And for more on that, visit this great post that was Freshly Pressed this week:

A single page.

But before you settle in, take a minute to share your hints about crafting realistic dialogue. Here’s a spot for your words of wisdom:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette Secrets

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To fully appreciate this post, I hope you’ll read it out loud.

“Silhouette” started as an insult in the 1700’s, slurring the surname of an ostensibly miserly French Minister of Finance by referencing an inexpensive style of fashioning a likeness. The surname “Silhouette” stems from Zulueta, which loosely translates, “an abundance of hole.” Suitable, since silhouettes at first glance seem to be about what’s missing. Still:

Silhouettes are essentially shape,

Sans substance,

And yet,

So mysterious

in their shadowy silence.

Silhouettes may be serene,

Wading in Rose

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Or spooky,

Orb Shadows

 

Or Solitary,

Watching

Or ,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Or suggestive,

The Walk

Or sacred,

Light into Darkness

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Or spectacular.

Heron Haze

Silhouettes Speak of Secrets.

Special appreciation to WordPress for suggesting silhouettes as a subject.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/weekly-photo-challenge-silhouette/

If you’re a word lover, check out this etymology site: http://www.etymonline.com/

Weekly Photo Challenge: BIG (Beasts)

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WordPress does a weekly photo challenge, as well as a writing challenge. Since I had so much fun with my Lost in Yellow collage, http://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/lost-in-yellow/, I’m sharing these BIG photos, too.

If you blog, check out the challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/weekly-photo-challenge-big/

On a recent trip to Florida,

we came across the big eyes

of a juvenile pelican . . .

the big grin of a gopher tortoise . . .

and the even bigger grin on this guy .

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       So it’s a good thing we had on our very big

safari hats . . .

When we discovered

these *really* big critters

at my cousin’s bonsai farm!

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