A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

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Puzzling words together

puzzle pieces

To me, writing something – anything – is like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. Without the picture on the box.

I start with a table full of tiny images, in a jumble. When I dump them on the table, they don’t look like anything but a pile of individual pieces. It’s not clear how they fit together. And the task looks impossible.

My first step is to scatter them all over so I can see each one. Pick apart the pile. Then I start to sort them. Like color with like color. Like pattern with like pattern. Even though they still don’t look like anything, I start to see images emerging. I start to feel how they might go together.

My second step is obvious: build the framework. It’s easier to find the pieces that fit along the edges, the ones that will house all the others. An outline. A structure for everything else to fall within.

And then I start to assemble the pieces. Individual words become phrases. Phrases become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. The paragraphs begin to fit together and a picture starts to emerge. After a while, it starts to become more obvious where the loose, individual pieces should go. It starts to look like a whole.

The more you assemble, the more evident the picture is. And eventually, the clarity and beauty of the whole will emerge.

The only difference I can see between putting together a puzzle and putting together a piece of writing is that the writing is never done. Admit it, writers: if you could, you’d just keep taking out a few of those pieces and swapping them around to change the picture. Forever. Even if every piece was in the box and each fit into place.

It’s probably how that original artist felt, too, before someone carved the picture into a 1000 pieces and put it in the box to taunt the rest of us.

The promise of an empty room

empty room

For reasons too long to go into here, my living room is completely empty. To some people that might seem incredibly stark and sad. I’ve seen the faces of the few who’ve happened by, the startled looks as they say, before they can stop themselves, “Oh—you have no furniture in here.”

But I don’t find it sad. When I enter this empty room, I feel a sense of release. And possibility.

This room hasn’t been much used. Why? It’s the central part of the house, a space where I always envision my family gathered on rainy afternoons and winter evenings. Where I want to bring friends together to laugh and celebrate.

I believe the room was not hospitable. It didn’t welcome anyone. Or at least it hasn’t for a very long time.

Well, that’s going to change. But in order to fill your space with only things you love, you have to start with an empty room.

I’ve brought in a little color. There will be more. And then there will be some texture. I want textures that you can’t help but pass your hand across. And light. For years, I’ve been sitting in a dark room when I want lots and lots of light. I want to illuminate the corners. I want to soak it up. So I will.

I want warmth. I want my room to take the chill off its inhabitants. And I believe I can make that happen.

That’s the promise of an empty room. You can see it as a vacancy or you can see it as the biggest opportunity of your life.

Envision it full.

Not a writer’s block

fall leaves

Friends and followers, I’ve been absent from your feeds. Sometimes what life hands you requires your energy and you must divert it from the tasks you love.

One of the heartbreaks of the blogging community – what you can only find out the hard way – is that bloggers disappear. They die. They experience an event so crushing that they lose their voice. Or they just plain lose their enthusiasm and stop writing. One day you have a daily correspondent, a friendly voice on the other side of the world and the next day – poof, just like that – they’re gone. You can’t find them. You can’t reach them. And it leaves you feeling bereft.

And then that blogger was me.

Well, I have the same old voice, but it’s reshaped, perhaps, by the events of the year. Painful personal experiences. Exciting career opportunities. Children growing up and pulling a little farther away. A national recognition for my writing – not for my humor, but for the blog post it nearly broke my heart to write.

Fall feels like an ending for a lot of people, but for me it’s always been a beginning; a chance to retreat back into yourself after the glorious chaos of summer. A time to get serious. If you exercise,  you’ve probably gone through times where, for whatever reason, you can’t get to your run, or your swim, or your yoga class. Then you wake up one day and realize you are a little stiffer, a little angrier, you’re losing your edge – and you put the shoes back on and you run.

Well, I woke up feeling like a run today – and here it is.

 

Writing humor – when you don’t feel funny

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I took this photo from the deck the other morning – doesn’t it look mournful, this January sky?

It captured my mood that morning. While there is a promise of something beautiful, January days come with a price – cold, dark, discomfort, and hassle. There is something ominous in the beauty.

I’ve always tried to blog (and write) with a humorous intent. It is my firm belief that even in the most stressful times, you can find something to laugh about. But these days, the only posts I seem to be able to write are about why I’m not writing, and why I can’t hit the writing goals I’ve set for myself. How do you write humor when you don’t feel funny?

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I could write, just not the way I want to do it. Is it like exercise where you work through the block, “no pain, no gain”? Or do you rest yourself, until the moment when laughter comes more easily? Or do you change it up, and write something completely different? Or all of the above?

Beats me.

I’d love to hear from other writers, writing humor or not, as to how they shake off the gloom and get back to work. How you use writing to work through the stresses and strains, rather than let them block you.

This post is a start, right? At least I’m writing something.

A writer with no thumb

IMG_0094Well, I have a thumb, two actually. One of them isn’t working well, however, and it happens to be the one I need the most.

I write with this thumb. Do everything with it, in fact – open jars, open doors, fold laundry, brush my teeth, chop onions. I never realized how inconvenient a sore thumb could be. It reinforces my belief that if our cats had opposable thumbs, they would be much naughtier. All sorts of bad behavior would be suddenly within their reach.

(And you thought the cat picture was just pandering. See how I worked it in?)

I’m resting my thumb, where I can, although I feel a little foolish asking my hulking 12-year-old son to unscrew lids and carry heavy grocery bags. It makes me feel feeble, despite the fact that I likely injured this thumb weight training or doing a handstand in my yoga class.

My chiropractor is hastening my recovery by prodding, taping, and manipulating my thumb in all sorts of unnatural ways. (She tells me it could be the start of arthritis, not just an overstretched tendon, which I refuse to believe.)

And blessedly, it is better. I can now type without pain. Although since it’s improving, I need to come up with another reason as to why I haven’t been writing.

I’ll probably default to the excuse we all tend to use in this part of the world – the cold, snowy, depressing winter weather.

Home remedies for thumb injuries are welcome – already using lavender oil and turmeric. Any other suggestions?

 

A gift with a give-back

Tales_from_Null_City-Barb_Taub-1563x2500I’m taking time out from my usual inane posts to bring you a generous holiday opportunity from blogger friend and author, Barb Taub. You can pick up some good reading, and help a couple of worthy organizations in the process.

In the spirit of the holidays, Barb’s publisher, Hartwood Publishing, is offering a special gift package of Barb’s urban fantasy Null City series, a two-story set called Tales From Null City, for the sale price of $0.99 (or £0.77 in UK). Her holiday themed Don’t Touch is also available for $0.99.

Barb will donate all royalties from sales between now and January 1, 2015 to these two fabulous organizations that care for animals:

  • In the USNo Kill Advocacy Center. Headed up by Nathan Winograd, the No Kill Advocacy Center movement is revolutionizing shelters across America.
  • In UKDogsTrust. Active since 1891, this no-kill shelter found homes for almost 15,000 dogs last year.

The offer’s only fitting since most of Barb’s stories feature an animal companion in a prominent role – from George, the grumpy cat in Don’t Touch, to Bygul, feline goddess of Payback is a Witch.

Don’t Touch follows thirteen-year-old Lette, who inherits an extreme form of the family ‘gift’. Every day whatever she touches converts into something new:  bunnies, bubbles, bombs, and everything in between:

Hope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it.

Lette’s search for a cure leads her to Stefan, whose fairy-tale looks hide a monstrous legacy, and to Rag, an arrogant, crabby ex-angel with boundary issues. The three face an army led by a monster who feeds on children’s fear. But it’s their own inner demons they must defeat first.

In Tales From Null City, you’ll find two stories: Payback is a Witch, and Just For the Spell Of It:

Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. But outside of Null City, now that the century-long secret Nonwars between Gifts and Haven are over and the Accords Treaty is signed, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency.

So if you find yourself with a few minutes, pick up one or both of these fine e-reads on Amazon.com. What better way to celebrate? A good deed, and a good read. I’ve already grabbed my copies.

 

A different sort of writer’s block

happy holidaysI have not yet written my Christmas letter. “Not a problem,” you say, since most people would rather have their teeth cleaned than read about the fabulous things other families have done throughout the year. But that’s not the case with mine. Mine has an audience.

You see, years ago, underneath a cloud of holiday doom, I wrote what can only be called a sarcastic Christmas letter. It hadn’t been a good year, and I wasn’t feeling festive. The letter was, more or less, a satire. But it was funny in a sad sort of way.

I took a risk and put it in the mail. And got rave reviews.

Unfortunately, that meant the pressure was on to produce, year after year, content that was funny, seasonal, and newsy. I think this is year eight now, and I’m running out of material for stories like those in the past, stories with headlines like:

Slaughter at Little Big Horn Brings Family Closer

Two Out of Three Kids Master the Ski Lift

Family Finishes Siding the House After Only Six Years

As the holiday approaches, I start to get inquiries from friends and family – “When will I get your letter?” and “Have you finished your letter yet?”

Once again, the pressure is on to produce. I have about a week if I expect to get it out before Christmas. I must get my funny on. Funny, for me, has a season.

This is a Daily Post Ready, Set, Done piece – 10 minutes of free-writing, no edits.

Nope, I didn’t finish

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResI wrote only 11,000 of my targeted 50,000 words. I didn’t even blog that much. Here’s what I did instead…

  • Voted, even though it was an off-year election.
  • Took four teenagers to the funeral of one of their classmates to offer my love, support, and guidance. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
  • Wrote a post on teen suicide that went viral. It was surprising, and it was humbling because it introduced me to the powerful stories of some who are much closer to this issue than I.
  • Drove the carpool a dozen times.
  • Shoveled the first snow of the season. And the second snow of the season.
  • Cheered my daughter at her first dance team meet, and watched an honorary daughter, who I’ve known since she was a brand new baby, in a high school play.
  • Learned how to sequin a dance costume, a task at which I am marginally skilled. (I paid someone to do the second one.)
  • Watched a doe and her fawn on their daily trek through the yard.
  • Counseled my son on the proper use of social media. And then “counseled” him again two weeks later.
  • Discovered where the mice are entering the basement.
  • Cooked a Thanksgiving feast for just my family of five and let the kids eat in their pajamas which, as it turns out, is their favorite Thanksgiving “tradition”.
  • Retired a favorite pair of yoga pants.
  • Took my oldest and my youngest to a performance of the opera. An appreciation for opera happens to be one of the few things they have in common.
  • Helped my daughter address a knotty scheduling problem, and then let her cry it out  for 15 minutes afterwards, sitting in the car in an unheated garage.
  • Repainted the hearth. It has needed a new coat of paint for twenty years.

So no, I did not write 50,000 words. Are these excuses? Not really – just a partial accounting of my time so I can see where I go from here. Perhaps I’m not an author, but I’d like to think I’m slightly closer to a life well-lived.

And congrats to those who did hit the target, in particular to Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet and Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom. As we opera goers say, “Brava”!

MeWriNoMo

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Also known, on alternate days, as MeWriSoPo. Let’s just say National Novel Writing Month is not going well for me. It’s a little like training for a marathon I’m never going to run. All effort without satisfaction and bragging rights.

We are past the halfway point and I have only 8,180 of the targeted 50,000 words. I probably should have opted for NaBloPoMo since I have already convinced myself that, given the motivation, I can crank out a post a day for a limited time.

I seem to be at my best writing in short bursts of about 300 words. (If you have math skills equivalent to 5th grade or higher, you may now divide my actual count by the number of days that have passed in November and see how abysmally long this is going to take me. And that’s if I never take a day off. I have “taken off” approximately 14 of the last 17 days.)

Besides 41,820 words, here’s what I’m missing:

  • A plot. OK, that’s an overstatement. What I’m missing is a compelling plot. One someone might actually want to read.
  • A name for the character who is narrating the story. As dumb as this sounds, it is keeping me from writing my synopsis and completing my NaNoWriMo profile. Which has become a writer’s block. Suggestions, anyone?
  • An attention span longer than 20 minutes.

A little planning would’ve helped. Characters keep popping in and out of my story like drive-bys on the highway. I get a quick glimpse of them, and then they’re gone. And it would help if I could keep myself from being derailed as life happens, because life seems to be happening a lot around here lately.

Excuses, excuses.

(This post is exactly 300 words. See what I mean?)