Jack-of-Many-Trades

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There’s an old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s been on my mind frequently as of late. I use the word ‘many’ in the title since I am not a Jack-of-ALL-trades but rather a person of many talents who has not bothered to master any of my talents. I’m a dabbler; I like to dip my toes in here and there, testing different waters and enjoying different experiences to enrich myself and my life. Or so I’ve told myself over the years. Perhaps I’m just unwilling to go the distance in one area – no, that would be boring. Maybe it’s why writing (still) appeals to me. I can test different waters again and again without it feeling repetitious. There’s so much to explore in both fiction and nonfiction realms. Unlike Hollywood, which seems to be running out of (good and original) ideas, the people who live the stories will continue to have stories to tell. And write.

Even when feeling lost (as I am this week, for some reason), we are still living our stories, they are around us and in us. We must draw from our well of jack-of-many-trades when our stories need help. I’m having a crisis of confidence this week so I’m having difficulty drawing from other areas of my life to get busy writing beyond this blog (which I avoided for over a week). I’m also avoiding a crucial re-write of segments of one of my fiction novels; to be honest, I feel like I’ve failed the story by getting those segments wrong. As a dabbler, it’s sometimes difficult for me to fully invest the time and energy and focus because I’m convinced I need to be elsewhere in my life. Truth is, I’m avoiding the one thing I want most – to finish the novel and publish it. Not sure why.

The down side of being a jack-of-all-trades is that boredom sets in quickly; we are fast learners who get what we need from a situation/job/story/etc., then move on. We tend to have multiple things on our plate (job/s, hobbies, etc.) so our attention is often drawn away from where we need to be in our stories. At the moment, I do have some more important tasks at hand but I add more tasks rather than go back to finish what remains incomplete. Aspects of the novel ramble about in my mind yet I avoid updating the manuscript.

The upside of a jack-of-all-trades is we can draw from many corners of our lives because we have experienced life spherically – in all directions. We can use our ‘dabbling’ as a force that pulls pieces of a story together like the many colors of yarn that weave a beautiful tapestry or rug.

I’m trying to find a way to use what I have learned as a jack-of-all-trades in my stories and in my life. Are you?

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Stories with a Purpose

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I keep a collection of books – it’s not a large library collection, rather a smattering of interesting topics, in addition to all my medical texts, herbology books, and notebooks. I also own two trilogy sets (one fiction, one nonfiction) that I read at least once a year. They are Native-themed books that provide much-needed life lessons when times are trying and they remind me of what’s really important. For some reason, I rarely read self-help books; to me, they seem preachy in some way (even if they’re not) and I don’t feel they’re speaking to me. I believe each of us has a path in this life so self-help books, for me, only serve to muddle my truth, which is different from the self-help authors’ truths. I don’t know, I was never much of a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kinda gal. But hey, if it works for you, read ’em if you got ’em.

That said, I do own a book by authors Richard Leider and David Shapiro titled “Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose.” I’ve read other books they’ve written and found them to be enlightening because they present the information in a way that forces me to think more deeply. This particular book deals with the dilemma of becoming an elder (usually around age 55, which I have surpassed) in this modern, white-dominant materialistic, youth-obsessed culture and what your role is, if you have or make one, in your community. Traditional cultures (Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples around the world) continue to revere elders, as they understand the importance and sacredness of having lived a longer life. So they ask, what role are you playing in your community? I ask, are you sharing your stories so others can learn and grow?

Youth is more valued here in the U.S. but we have much to learn from our elders. As many know, experience truly is the best teacher. Wisdom can only come with age, from having lived one’s life. Turn on your TV and count the mindless shows that dominate the air waves: post-apocalyptic zombies, reality (not really) shows, cheesy soap operas, and remakes of movies (sometimes remakes of remakes) since Hollywood seems to be running out of original ideas. They teach little that is worthwhile and only serve to numb our minds and disassociate us from our realities. Which is why, in this current culture, it’s vital for us, the writers, the storytellers, to share stories with purpose. Our stories will serve to teach, guide, and open the hearts and minds of our readers and ground them in the history of us as a species and from many cultures.

Ask yourself: Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my story? What is my life’s purpose? These are not necessarily self-centered questions; instead, they invite introspection as to our historical circumstances and to the lives we are born into, in a particular period or place or time. By recalling our stories we become connected to both past and future. Even if you write fiction, as I do, sprinkle in social issues, cultural issues, moral issues; let your characters represent forgiveness, healing, and light in the face of violence, aggression, and darkness.

As Leider and Shapiro write in their book:

“The form of purpose matters little; the desire to benefit future generations is crucial.”

Write on!

 

Lunch Among Giants

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This past weekend I was one of those fortunate few to experience Muir Woods, the southernmost coastal redwood forest in California. I awed at their grandeur as I strode along the boardwalk that meanders through the forest floor. I became hungry after exploring groves of these giants, many of them born well before me, and ate my lunch on a bench encircled by behemoths who have witnessed more than their share of our history.

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Later, as I hiked the upper trails threading through forests of coastal redwoods, ferns, clovers, and moss, words like ‘ancient,’ ‘sentinels,’ and ‘steadfast’ swirled in my mind. I could feel something forming, a poem, perhaps, or a statement to their tenacity and survival. This is what I came up with:

Lunch Among the Giants

Ancient sentinels stand steadfast

Guarding primordial woodlands;

I am but a speck in their imposing world.

They speak of tall tales;

For they have witnessed

Civilizations come and gone.

Born of fire and deeply rooted,

We envy their prominence,

For we shall never be

As steadfast as these trees.

I thought about how John Muir must have felt walking in these very woods, how lucky he was to have done it with no other humans (the place was mobbed with tour buses and hundreds of humans milling around making all kinds of noise). What an awe-inspiring experience that must have been, which, I’m sure, is how he came up with this quote:

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Amen.

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar