The Long and Short of It

alphabet2

Vintage Alphabet Source: Google Images/pixiepaperstore.com

Growing up before the Internet and a digital world, my generation learned much via “the old-fashioned way” – like cursive and script writing. I have vivid memories of the Roman alphabet in upper and lower case bordering the chalkboards of my grade school classrooms.

Sister Rose de Saint Marie taught our second-grade penmanship classes and she was a typical hard-nosed teacher/Catholic nun. I religiously (pun intended) practiced my penmanship at school and at home. (Which is why, all these decades later, I’m still complimented on my handwriting.) There were two classrooms for grades 1 through 8 and penmanship was taught daily at least until sixth or seventh grade in our Catholic grammar school. I even remember the paper we used: solid lines on the top and bottom for the upper and lower parts of the capital letters and dotted lines in the middle for the lower case letters. 

This morning, as I filled out my student loan recertification document, I realized that a pen in my hand felt a bit strange. I don’t like that. I spend less and less time writing longhand, whether in cursive or script, unless I’m leaving a note to myself on my desk. When I do pick up a pen, I hesitate for the briefest moment as I reach into my deepest memory bank for that familiar sensory memory. It’s as if I’m forgetting how to sign my name with the characteristic loops and artistic flairs that have long been my mark. Losing my longhand skills means, to me, losing a sense of myself.

We are losing the personal touch, the individual-ness of each human, becoming less so as AI infiltrates our lives. Google is the answer to EVERYTHING, it seems. Can’t spell a word? Google it. Not sure if it’s a verb or adverb? Google it. The internet has short-circuited our ability to learn via sensory memory (touch, taste, smell, etc.) and in the process something very personal, unique to each of us, is lost.

“When I do pick up a pen, I hesitate for the briefest moment as I reach into my deepest memory bank for that familiar sensory memory.”

J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books in longhand and still writes that way. Imagine the difficulty in maintaining the pace of your writing with what’s whizzing through your mind as the story unfolds. How many writers today are even willing to attempt such an undertaking? Still quite a few, thankfully.

“A friend of mine who’s a film director turned me on to the Blackwing 602. What I like is that it sharpens to a really fine point, and it’s got a great feel to it that I just can’t describe. It’s like when you taste a really good wine or a cognac: You know it’s good stuff.”

Andre Dubus III, author of Bluesman and House of Sand and Fog

For me, the Digital Age provides too many shortcuts, too many quick ways around learning what we need to learn. Forget working out a math problem with a pencil and paper; now Brainly will do it for you. But what is lost in the process? We lose the concept of critical thinking; how to get from point A to point B. Working out a problem, like writing in longhand, allows our brains and minds to problem-solve, which translates into many other areas of our lives as we grow. We can’t afford to lose it or I fear we’ll lose some of our humanity.

“A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page. Writing has always had that tactile quality for me. It’s a physical experience.”

Paul Auster, author (https://www.standoutbooks.com/writing-longhand/)

Writing longhand is a form of sensory memory and connects us to each word in a story and the story itself, as a whole. It fortifies memory and the ability to spell, to slow us down enough that we get the story on paper without too many revisions. We become more deeply engaged in our stories.

“Studies have shown that writing (and rewriting) information in longhand is one of the most effective ways to retain new information; this is apparently because writing the old-fashioned way stimulates a part of the brain called the reticular activating system, or the RAS.”

Fred Johnson, at https://www.standoutbooks.com/writing-longhand/ (and yes, he “Googled” this information)

How does this affect our language skills? Think of it this way: in the West we use forks, which require only three fingers; in the East, where chopsticks are used, five fingers are required. Dexterity is directly related to brain activity, information processing and retention. These, in turn, directly affect our ability to communicate.  

Laptops may allow for the collection and storage of information – but on the laptop, not in our brains. Efficiency is nice but LEARNING and RETENTION are more important. So in the best interest of humanity – pick up a pen or pencil and have at it.

Deepen your writing, deepen yourself.

#longhand #writing #writeinlonghand #romanalphabet #thewritinglife #author

Write for Magazines and Get Paid Too!

nat geo travel_istock

La Jolla, California, USA – September 16, 2011: National Geographic magazines taken in a studio. Source: pixabay.com/istock

be a bigger needle

It’s a subject I’ve come back around to several times over the past few years. These days, competition for publishing articles in the digital world is both astounding and depressing; a writer trying to get his/her articles published online is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. Only the haystack is now steroid-sized and the needle ever more microscopic. You need to be the bigger needle.

not all the same

Magazine readers (like me) are an entirely different audience than people surfing the web. Sure, there’s an occasional overlap, but not much. To me, printed publication readers are more patient, more likely to read as a relaxing pastime, and probably more educated or white collar. If we writers don’t find a way to get our articles into printed publications, that’s a whole different audience whose readership we’re losing.

There continue to be many faithful magazine readers, just as there are faithful readers of the physical book (I’m one of those on both counts). While the online life is definitely for the younger generations, many older folks have smartly adapted, even succeeded, online. 

Think about it: your articles in those printed publications will increase traffic to your blog, increase your number of followers, even help you build a fan base or at the very least better connect with other writers. It’s a win-win situation. Do you keep an updated bio on hand? I do, and I tweak it from time to time as my experiences increase. This is an amazing opportunity for magazine readers to find out more about YOU.  

you gotta start somewhere…

Gigs can pay as low as $.10 a word up to $2.50 a word, depending on the magazine and/or your storytelling skills. These gigs can also help you get other writing gigs, as editors routinely communicate, maybe even socialize, with each other. Wouldn’t you love to be the topic of discussion at one of their business meetings or social gatherings? I certainly would.

Use previous blog posts as a basis for a magazine article; use that magazine article as a basis for a future blog post. In a previous post, I wrote about turning your blogs into a book (and vice versa). Once you pick up steam, there’s no stopping. It’s also a path to book deals, partnerships, maybe even speaking engagements.

other options

Trade magazines don’t pay much (if at all) but it’s good exposure if you have knowledge to share in one of these publications. Then there are custom publications like Costco or Sam’s Club, maybe a local bank or insurance agency. Get creative (after all, you’re writers, for heaven’s sake) and make a list of magazines/publications that interest you. Check out their query criteria, then go for it. Nothing lost, only gained – regular gigs, quitting the day J-O-B, earning a living while freeing up your schedule, increased traffic to your blog, etcetera, etcetera.

What are you waiting for?

#thewritinglife #author #nationalgeographictraveler #blogging #selfpublishing #writeformagazines #costco

Like, Um, Well, You Know…Seriously, To Be Fair…

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Source: Google Images

Grammar Still Rules

Grammar rules still apply to your writing and speaking and always will. Especially if you want to keep readers and listeners engaged.

Today I’m writing about a few of my pet peeves that have become far too prevalent in today’s writing and speaking. I’m talking about crutch words and fillers: like, well, you know, ah, um, uh, etc. 

My biggest issue with these overused words and space fillers is that they make the writer/speaker sound less intelligent, less able to think or speak quickly or clearly. Which equates to poor writing and speaking skills. And poor communication skills take away one’s credibility, which means people won’t read your books or listen to what you say. Is this how you want the world of readers and listeners to perceive you? 

Ditch the Crutches

While some crutch words and fillers are acceptable in written dialogue, they should be left out of interviews and other professional conversations. If you listen to podcasts, you know what I’m talking about; fillers and crutches take up way more space in a conversation. Listen to an interview, maybe even record it to your computer. Then edit out the fillers and crutches and listen to what remains – the actual conversation sounds quite different when it’s cleaned up. It’s more direct and to the point and it’s the same with writing. Remove the fillers and crutches (except when necessary in character dialogue) and you’ll find the reading succinct and clear. And credible.

“A” Interesting Peeve

Another of my pet peeves of late is the incorrect use of ‘a’ and ‘an.’ Far too often, even on the evening national news, I hear professionals using ‘a’ where ‘an’ is required.

Here’s the rule: if the word begins with a vowel or a consonant with a vowel sound like the h in hour or in abbreviations/acronyms such as MBA, use an. If the word begins with a consonant or consonant sound as in book or PTA, use a. I’m annoyed every time I hear phrases like “a airplane” or “a interested party” because the speakers come off as not very bright or particularly attentive to their grammar. Or they have lazy copyeditors!

Modify This

The next peeve on my list (which I swear grows with age) is the overuse and incorrect use of what are called vague modifiers. Vague modifiers are also crutch words and fillers and don’t belong in good writing or clear speeches: A lot, kind of, perhaps, truly, somewhat, quite, seemingly, suddenly, rather, fairly, etc.. There are more, but you get the idea. How often do you use these in your writing/speaking? Are you even conscious of whether you use these or not? Here is a link to a funny article on crutch words that “literally” made me laugh out loud.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of falling prey to the occasional crutch and filler. However, I have become more conscious of my spoken words as a result of doing a podcast last year. That, in turn, has made me more aware of written words and their impact.

Those Catholic grammar school nuns beat good English grammar into me and my classmates – quite literally, actually. To this day, I can’t finish a project and ‘turn it in’ (publish) unless it’s perfect.

Seriously. 😉

#grammarrules #thewritinglife #communicationskills #writeagoodstory #podcasting #Englishgrammar

2019, Remembered

farewell 2019.2

Source: Google Images

Once again, another year has passed (happens this time every year!)…

Did you accomplish your writing goals? I didn’t. Due to both welcome and unwelcome changes (it’s called life), writing more than this blog has been put on a back burner. And I’m once again considering whether to continue working on current projects (have I been away too long?) or to consider them practice for something new. How does one decide whether to publish or keep the work hidden away, a precursor for something better? Always a work in progress, I suppose.

But I digress …

2019 was a year of changes in the writing and publishing worlds. I posted about new laws effecting freelance writers in CA (and on the horizon in other states as I write this). I blogged of the import of online safety and preparing your Digital Legacy and, more than once, I discussed a variety of self-publishing options for practiced writers and proletarians. I even waxed philosophically as the mood struck me (as it so often does these days; elder wisdom, I suppose). After much deliberation (and discussion on my blog), I left certain SM sites and I don’t miss them. I blogged on writing skills and perfecting scenes and I discussed the value of proper grammar for writers who want to be taken seriously.

In short, I covered the basics and then some. Now I have to come up with all new topics in the coming year. I welcome the challenge.

It Was A Good Year

All in all, it was a good year where writing was concerned. I was consistent with blog posts, for the most part. A few of you have taken the ride with me – thanks so much, by the way, for your online support. Some of you have had the good fortune to have your book on a bestseller list; others have completed their it-took-me-a-year-to-write-it novel. Congrats. Kudos. The new year will obviously bring some much-deserved accolades to some very deserving people.

Yet my work – and yours – is not done. A new year dawns; take it as an opportunity to renew your commitment to writing your stories, publishing them to the world and then moving on to the next one. It’s how life works. We must remain in motion, always moving forward, as idleness rusts us (and our stories) from the inside out.

~ Peace to All in the New Year ~

Picture Perfect Opportunities

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Source: Google Images/hiveminer.com; photo from Norfolk County, MA

Autumn is finally upon us here in NorCal. The sweet smell of decaying leaves is everywhere, as are the crisper days and cooler nights. Only thing missing is the flat gray cloud cover back home that I aptly call a “November sky,” as it is a regular weather pattern seen in a mid-season New England autumn. I find myself pining for that back lit cloud cover; for any clouds at all. California has nice weather – perhaps too nice, as in too much sun and not enough clouds. Growing up in New England, I learned to appreciate the overcast autumn days as a signal to spend more time indoors with a cup of hot cider or chocolate, hard at work at whatever hobby/task needed attending. Like spending more time writing and editing. Sunshine beckons me outside, leaving my writing and other hobbies for the all-too-rare-in-NorCal cloudy days.

Speaking of Spending Time Inside…

It’s NaNoWriMo time! How many of you are partaking this year? It’s the perfect opportunity to “get your write on”. Sadly, I’m working a new gig that keeps me out late every evening so I’m not working on anything other than an occasional blog post… deep sigh… I think if that overcast sky would show up, I’d find a way to hunker down and write. Or edit. Or both… sigh…

Test yourself; see how much you can complete before Dec. 1 gets here. Maybe I’ll make a half-hearted attempt if some cloudy weather shows up!

A New Marketing Angle That May Be Picture-Perfect

I purposely don’t spend much time online. Life is short and I’d rather be experiencing something like nature instead of staring at a computer for hours on end. But this was an interesting article I came across from a book marketing site I used to follow.

There’s an online business called Cameo Marketplace – perhaps you’ve heard of it? I haven’t so I’m sharing it with you. Ever dream of some famous person talking up your book? Do you fantasize that you’ll sell a gazillion copies on the word of that famous person? Well, here’s your chance – kind of.

Cameo Marketplace (cameo.com) offers a personalized shout-out from your choice of their famous clientele in a ‘cameo’ video. Yep. For a fee, you can have, say, Charlize Theron plug your book. (I don’t know if she’s actually a client.) Or Tom Hanks. (Not sure if he is, either.) Point is, you can find a well-known (or quasi-famous) personality, one that fits your book’s style and image, to say something positive about it in a short video. The actor earns money and you get more sales, so you earn money. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?

Unless you pick someone who won’t exactly influence the right people – your target audience. You need to know who they are before choosing your celebrity. Prices range from $5 to about $150 for a personalized video and promotional videos cost more. Probably not a good idea to invest in the prettiest face. Make sure the actor you do choose can have a positive effect on your book marketing and sales; otherwise, it’s wasted money.

So there it is, my advice for the week. It’s not much but who knows, it may help you find the perfect face to sell your book.

 

Post Script: I only just realized that I didn’t title this post and put too much space above the pic… oops. And wouldn’t you know, that November sky I referenced is here today, on my day off! Yippee!

 

Writer, Thinker, Dreamer-in-Residence

dreamer pic

Source: Google Images/dribbble.com/Rebecca Williams

Dreamer-in-Residence

I’m in one of those reflective moods (again). Every now and then, the modern world gets to me (read: incessant noise) and I must remove myself from the droning, deafening sounds of our modern, so-called civilized society. I crave quietude and solitude so I can hear myself think. And see the stars in the night sky – I found Polaris tonight, twinkling a dull blue in a misty indigo sky.

In these reflective moments, as I meandered the “mean streets” of Midtown Sacramento (and quieter as I strolled in a direction opposite the interstate that cuts it in half), words visited then filled out my thoughts, such as: what are words but one’s daydreams put on paper?

As fellow writers, surely you can identify.

Thinker

I once again find myself craving something different, to move (read: run screaming) away from the status quo (who decided this was so great to begin with?) to find my place, my unique place, in this writing/creative world, a place which belongs only to me (and I to it). It’s a desire to grab that brass ring, the one that’s been just beyond my reach for as long as I can remember. It’s a signal to me that my life is out of balance and I’m still working on how to put it right. Writing helps.

Does this make sense to you? I ask you, how can I/we freely write/create when held in place by burdensome responsibilities so much of the time? Held by the chokehold of corporate America – the dangling of the corporate carrot (climbing the “ladder of success” only to find out someone’s removed the top rungs), learning how to lie with a smile on your face, learning that people are expendable, replaceable (so much for being unique and valued) … the corporate mantras memorized, recited, regurgitated … leading to feeling institutionalized.

How do I/we break free?

My guess is, to write, as a writer must.

Writer

How many of you dream of the freedom that comes with being a writer/thinker/dreamer-in-residence? I’ve had to redefine the word freedom multiple times, as it can have different meanings in different stages of one’s life. That stream of thought brought me to this:

IF

If we dream, we must write.

If we write, we must imagine.

If we imagine, we must create.

If we create, we must give a bit

of the best of ourselves to the world.

Dream. Write. Imagine.

Create.

We must not forget; it’s who we are, not just what we do. We can’t deny it, avoid it, or squirrel it away for a rainy day. We must go out there, into the world, with pen (or computer) in hand and blaze our own trails.

Institutions be damned.

Breaking News: You Don’t Need Permission to WRITE/PAINT/DANCE/LIVE CREATIVELY

artistic image3

Source: Google Images/Art Inspirations by Debra at passthefeather.org

Big Magic

I recently finished (with much sadness, it was such a wonderful read) Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic (she wrote the delightful book Eat, Pray, Love). Basically it’s about the magic of inspiration, the freedom to create without another’s permission, and the magic of living a creative life. I devoured each chapter, dog-earing so many pages it looks more like an accordion than a book!

Somewhere along the way, like she writes in the book, I got it all wrong. I believed, wholeheartedly, that I needed the RIGHT desk/workspace/ideas/inspiration/subject, etc. to go ahead and begin creating. That I needed someone to tell me that what I was doing – actually, creating – was okay. I needed permission to create.

Turns out I’ve been creating all my life. I still have sketches from grade and high school (but I stupidly got rid of my oil  and acrylic paintings because I thought they weren’t good enough to show anyone) and a few poems I wrote. I re-discovered them while cleaning out a box during one of my many moves to another new place a few years back. (And I still keep them tucked away, out of sight, for some unknown reason.)

sigh…

Don’t Be Afraid

Then I reached the “You’re Afraid” chapter and found many of the same excuses I’ve used over the years to not create. Let’s see if you find yourself in any of these (there were many more but I think you’ll get the gist):

  1. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or – worst of all – ignored.
  2. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
  3. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
  4. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. (You know, you’re not original enough…)
  5. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
  6. You’re afraid you don’t have the ‘right’ [quotes added] kind of work space, or financial freedom or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. (This was and has always been one of my lamest excuses for not creating something. That I was always so sensitive to my artistic environment; that the ‘wrong’ time or place or direction I faced with my desk would surely ruin any chances of creating something GREAT that would be enjoyed by ALL; that without all of the ‘right’ things necessary to SUCCEED I would, after all, definitely FAIL.)
  7. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. (It must be my fault – since I couldn’t get the setting ‘just right’ and now I’m doomed to never create again. Hurrumph.)
  8. You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
  9. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.

And so on….

You Don’t Need Permission, After All

But here’s the BEST part, the REVELATION that so many of us (especially me) need to hear (more than once,obviously):

You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. Maybe your parents were rule-followers or too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations toward creativity. Maybe they weren’t makers…maybe just pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching TV and waiting for stuff to happen to them.”

This was my childhood: mom and dad plunked in front of the TV at the end of exhausting days of housework [mom] and construction [dad], smoking cigarettes and barely speaking to each other (or us) while watching variety shows or sitcoms. Art was what hung on someone else’s walls (our living room was decorated with my parents bowling trophies, including the back end of a donkey for my dad’s team coming in last place); I certainly wasn’t encouraged to follow that road. Go to college. Get a job. Those were my parents’ mantras all through school. How on earth could I escape that fate? I’m still struggling to make room for creativity, to give myself PERMISSION to create WHATEVER I want to create, regardless of what you or whoever thinks about it. My sister was even more talented than me and she, too, was forced to become a square peg in a round hole, to abandon all artistic dreams for a future where putting bread on the table was the most important (and only) thing one could do with one’s life. It was the sensible thing to do, after all, right? (sneer)

“You want to write a book? Make a song? Learn a dance? Draw a penis on your wall? Do it. Who cares? Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you.”  

In other words, stop worrying what others will think; you don’t need their permission or approval; just create, damn it! And damn anyone who believes differently! Because, in the end, it’s all just creativity. So it really doesn’t matter all that much. Get it?

Good.

Entitlement (the right kind)

That said, you need to understand the concept of entitlement – not the narcissistic American ‘I-deserve-everything-I-want‘ kind of entitlement but the kind of entitlement that lets you live freely with your creativity intact:

“… in order to live this way – free to create, free to explore – you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement… Creative entitlement simply  means believing that you are allowed to be here and that – merely by being here – you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

A Final Word

These are two of my favorites from the book – because they’re true, no matter what anyone says:

“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, familial responsibility, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting… a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”

This is a woman deeply in love with her creativity. This is a woman who knows she is FREE to create without boundaries, permissions, critiques, etc. This is the kind of person I aspire to become and after reading her book, I know I am several steps closer to the clarity that I am FREE TO CREATE simply because I MUST CREATE. Because it’s who I AM.

“You can live a long life, making and doing really cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.”

Amen, sister.

So get out there, folks, and create SOMETHING.

I dare you.

Jolt of Inspiration

the world is my canvas

It all started out as a nice dinner and conversation between friends. Actually, we’ve been work associates for the past two years and found we have some common interests. I had a spur-of-the-moment idea during one of my store visits, so I invited him to have dinner with me to celebrate my recent good fortune (see Quit It! blog). Turns out my friend is what I call a ‘costumer’; he makes amazing costumes (Halloween, Sci-fi conventions, etc.) by hand when he’s not working his day job. He brought along some pictures and I was in awe of his talent – and the pricing he gets for each commission (but if you think about all the planning and work that actually goes into each commission, it makes sense he should earn well). He pays great attention to detail, which is probably why his finished pieces and whole outfits are so outstanding.

I told him of my creative endeavors: writing, sketching, painting, working with multiple mediums (ink, watercolor, Sumi-e, & origami, for example) and that I’m tired of living the ‘square-peg-in-round-hole’ life, and how I desire to touch base again with the artist in me. He listened with enthusiasm and support, and told me of his circle of artist friends that he’d like me to meet. I gave him a free bookmark for this website and said I would forward some samples of my art. He then expressed interest in me helping him part-time with his costume work. While I’m not the stitcher my mother was, I told him, I was certainly interested in the painting, coloring, and working with fabric options. He has multiple commissions going at any given time (up to five or more) and has reached the point where he needs people to assist him with his projects (he’s already training a roommate, who is catching on quickly).

I can’t help but feel a jolt of excitement and inspiration; the anticipation alone will drive me crazy, since we won’t make any decisions about my coming on board until after I’ve returned from my extended vacation to Italy (pasta! art! wine!). Regardless of the outcome, it felt so good to talk with someone who understands that need to CREATE, no matter what. Do you feel this way? Do you see colors and shapes everywhere in your world? Are clouds more than billowy weather formations for you? Do you hear stories in mundane conversations at work, in a cafe, or at the laundromat? This is the hallmark of a ‘creative’ – someone who MUST create SOMETHING, simply for the sake of the creating itself, as an outlet for all of your mind’s meanderings around the universe. I get that many of us can’t quit our day jobs but if you can find a way to include creating in your daily life, you may get there just yet. (Starving artist, my ass.)

Let your motto be:

I CREATE. 

[It’s mine. :)]

Quit It!

I Quit

Exciting news…I finally quit my contract J-O-B. Recent events have afforded me an opportunity to rest, reflect, renew, and best of all, write. Been a long time coming. I plan to take full advantage of this wondrous extended vacation (at least to the end of this year), including a real vacation, as in get my ass on a plane and go somewhere (making plans to visit Rome and Tuscany; lots of inspiration there, I’m sure). I’ve made a list of projects needing completion, editing, or launching; tasks around the house to complete; day trips to places I’ve not yet been – it’s prime hiking season here right now. I’ll also have free time to interview some experts on aspects of my current in-the-works fiction novel.

I feel like Julia Roberts’ character in the movie, Eat Pray Love, where she tells her best friend that she has no passion and wants to marvel at something. This is exactly where I am in my life and work. Food tastes blasé; I can’t even feel excitement for the new car I spent months looking for, or the fact that I found the strength to walk away from my  contract job. I’ve gone numb and am in deep need of serious eye- and mind-opening experiences. (Okay, and gastronomic, too, since I’m going to Italy!)

On the topic of quitting: I’m also quitting LinkedIn, Mind Body Network, and a couple writer blogs I follow. I’m cleaning house, as it were. After some deliberation, I admitted to myself that I’m not getting anything from some of the SM except an overload of junk news. LinkedIn, for example, has become too much of a social platform like Facebook, though I realize that was not the intention of the LI creators. Give people a yard, they take a mile. Everyone wants to put in his or her two cents. Information overload!

As I sit back and view the bigger picture with all this SM technology, I can’t help but both marvel and cringe at the same time. Sure, it has opened up the world to everyone in it, but is that necessary for daily life? Some days I feel left out because I’m not participating in posts, tweets, and uploads. Other days I’m grateful because it frees up my precious private time to actually go live my life. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least. 

I also plan to spend some money and time (now that I have a bit of both) on marketing my current works. Sure, putting more books out there is a great way to draw attention to earlier work (hence the projects), but some type of marketing is always necessary, no matter how long ago you published and I’ve been negligent.

With opportunity comes ideas and I’m filling my new writer’s notebook with plenty. It feels good to actively be creating instead of stagnating. I look forward to some quiet time, as that is just as necessary (and often as inspirational) to move forward with my writing and life.

Where are you in your writing and life? Can you take a break? If only for a week or two? Rest and renewal are crucial to unclutter your mind, give you a new perspective, perhaps a new direction. Is it worth the risk? Possibly. Only one way to find out… 

 

Jack-of-Many-Trades

jack of all trades2

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?

jack of all trades

Shakin’ It Up in the New Year

I was more than a bit disappointed with my last blog post. I asked for readers’ opinions on the title of my first novel because I’ve been thinking about changing it slightly to better catch people’s attention. I did not receive one single response to my survey. Disheartening, to say the least. Which made me ponder whether to keep this blog going since I can’t seem to engage folks out there. While I’m good at speaking in public (lectures/seminars) or talking to people in person, I don’t seem to be very engaging online. With that realization, I have decided that in the new year I will upgrade this WordPress blog to a full-blown site where I will have all my books available and the focus will be on drawing attention to the books, not my musings on writing and life. Sometimes a dose of reality stings, as in this case. But I look forward to the new challenge of putting more of my work out there for folks to enjoy. I’ve been editing and adding new chapters to my booklet on Pediatrics in Chinese medicine and it’s about 85% complete. Typical of my personality, I’ve written it with as much humor as is needed when dealing with kids and their maladies, especially growth spurts, which is the focus of the book. It teaches parents how to use herbal remedies and hand techniques to alleviate symptoms arising from growth spurts and other mild issues instead of drugging them. I feel if I complete some of my incomplete works, that alone will bring more attention to my site, as I’ll have more books available to a wider audience.

Thanks to those of you, though few and far between, who have read my blogs and occasionally “liked” them. I appreciate your support.

Let’s all endeavor in the new year to create something we have not yet created, to challenge ourselves in a way that forces us to move out of our comfort zones (which, it turns out, is not all that comfortable to begin with), and to finish what we start with the same zeal we had when the idea first formed in our minds.

Merry Xmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah and Happy New Year

mistletoe

A Lesson in Futility…

Or – A Writing Exercise to Stretch the Mind and Challenge One’s Vocabulary Language Terminolgy Lexis

Scene:

I’m seated on a black wrought iron chair in my favorite Italian market/café/deli (the only good one in town, really, and as it wins Best Of in the Italian category each year) at a table for two so small there’s barely room for me. It’s cold and stiff and hurts my ass butt behind because of the shape of the iron, with a overall design I can’t begin to describe because I don’t have the requisite architectural training lexis in my repertoire vocabulary range. The waiter places my chicken parmesan lunch plate in front of me as I salivate over the forthcoming feast of fat breaded chicken breasts, pasta with fresh plum tomato sauce, and a rather poor excuse of a salad (iceberg lettuce, a few pale tomatoes, and onion slices slathered in a very too vinegar-y Italian vinaigrette) served so often in Italian restaurants (don’t they know about arugula, spinach, and red leaf lettuce?).

Writing pad is to my right (because I’m right-handed, duh) and it awaits my handwritten commentary (yes, I still know how to right write, because of thanks to all those Catholic grammar school penmanship classes) on the meal before me as an exercise in descriptive writing (just a food lover with a need for a little mental workout). I’ve eaten here before, so I know I’ll get another two meals out of this serving lunch, it’s that big (not bad for $11). It’s crowded (as usual) and I managed to find a small table for two (with barely enough room for me) in the corner by the door (so my writing can be interrupted disrupted by every new customer who walks in for the same reason I’m here – the best meal of the day).

I slice into the done-just-right battered chicken slathered lovingly coated in their famous, daily-made plum tomato marinara sauce and slowly place the steaming chunk in my mouth. I am immediately transported to another time and place: the Northeast (aka home). Nothing better than living in a strange place and discovering a little slice of heaven to make it feel more like home. Chewing is a delight of the senses in layers of flavors: moist and slightly lightly crispy crisp boneless breast meat, sweet plum tomatoes, a little basil, oregano, olive oil, fresh parmesan cheese…they export many of their ingredients directly from Italy. The pasta, spaghetti (always), is al dente, of course, and also married with their famous tomato marinara sauce. I eschew the salad for the first several bites as I’m in some sort of Sicilian or Roman (the family’s actually from Verano, up north) heaven and can’t pull myself away from the chicken or the pasta. Finally, the salad begins to make its way into my mouth and it’s an unsurprising predictable humdrum plate of flavorless lettuce too heavily drizzled with an overly tangy creamy Italian dressing and flavorless bland tomatoes (unlike the ones in the sauce), but the bread crumbs are crunchy and flavored with a nice blend of herbs like rosemary and thyme.

It’s my day off, so I celebrate this lunch with a nice glass of Sangiovese (Tuscan) wine from their lengthy extensive list of wines from Italy (where else?). The spices and berries berry notes warm my mouth and my tummy permeate my palate, infusing the meal with a layer of flavors savory-ness indescribable too wonderful for words. I moan in culinary ecstasy – to myself, of course, as I’m not trying to re-create the famous scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally (and wouldn’t work since I didn’t have a Billy Crystal sidekick joining me for lunch) where Meg Ryan’s character has an “orgasm” over a turkey sandwich. As the famous line goes, I’ll have what she’s having!

So here it is…an exercise in figuring out which words/phrases fit and which don’t. I find as I age I struggle more with this (actually I think it’s because I don’t write as often as I should and my mind is getting soggy), so I need to get off my proverbial ass and write.

Cin Cin! Salute! Chin chin!

Walter Mitty and Me

It’s Memorial Weekend and am actually off today…so a bit of relaxing and writing is in order. I watched a movie while eating lunch, instead of sitting in my kitchen staring out the window. I watched the remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. Cute movie. And a reminder of something I’ve written about before – a life on the road – or at least some adventures peppered with some bad decisions.

What caught my eye was at the end of the movie where Walter is re-writing his resume, since he’s lost his job at LIFE magazine. Instead of the usual humdrum skills checklist and god-awful BORING summary (Professional with a strong work ethic and multiple years of interaction with people in various work settings…yes, this is mine…), he listed his adventures (jet boarding down some road in Iceland, jumped from helicopter into the sea, etc.). It got me to thinking..if we are to get out of that conformist corporate box of a day-to-day J-O-B and move into our lives, how would a resume like that go over? 

As a writer, I often dream (like Walter Mitty) of writing and traveling and earning enough to live on. Competition is stiff in most fields these days, so thinking out-of-the-box is essential to succeed, especially as a writer. I’ve got that looping tape in my head of my mother telling me to “just get a job.” It’s been there for over forty years and I’ve yet to figure out how to erase it. The movie reminded me that when we’re busy living our lives we don’t have time for daydreaming, because we’re actually living our dreams. So I’m going to re-think how I present myself to the world, because I have had some great adventures (including some based on bad decisions) and I need to give myself more credit for them.

As a writer, I know I’ll never be a New York Times bestselling novelist. I’m okay with knowing that I’m a mediocre writer – what’s so wrong with average anyway? I may have a smaller audience but they’re an audience nonetheless. The fact that there are folks (like you) out there, listening and hopefully gleaning something from my work, is what’s important to me now. I no longer strive to reach or grab the brass ring. I have dreamed for years of becoming a writer, only to finally admit that I AM a writer – with or without the audience or brass ring.

Lesson: Dream your dreams. Take a chance every now and then to live one out, just to see where it takes you. Then you can write all about it.

Bad Choices = Good Stories

This week’s blog was inspired by a t-shirt worn by a man who strolled by me the other day. It read: Bad Choices Make Good Stories. I laughed to myself as I fondly remembered some instances where that was most certainly true in my life. Like the time I “hijacked” a limo with a friend…that one always gets a good laugh and a “I can’t believe you weren’t arrested!” response. We were young (and very drunk) and, many of you would agree, almost obligated to make bad decisions at that age (the ripe ol’ age of 23). Or the time the police paddy wagon showed up at our overly-raucous beach house party, headlights beaming on the idiot standing in the driveway with a bottle of Stoli’s in her hand (yep, that was me; and no, I wasn’t arrested that time, either, cuz I ran like a jackrabbit).

Artists paint/draw from painful experiences, as do poets and writers in general. We draw upon those bad choices and negative experiences that life throws our way. In other words, as writers/artists, when we’re given lemons, we make lemonade. The badder the choice, it seems, the saucier the story (probably why I made so many; keeps the stories interesting). Those bad choices add color to our lives, not to mention bragging rights with the grandkids and anyone else who’ll listen.

My point is this: don’t be afraid to make bad choices. They make life more interesting, create the tall tales of adventure and hi-jinks, and carry us into old age with a certain wisdom and appreciation – which can only be gained by making those bad choices – preferably in our youth. (Although I admit I still like a little naughty in my life. At my age, it keeps the blood circulating!)

Inspiration Explosion!

I have to admit I’ve been a bit down-in-the-dumps as of late, which is why I haven’t been consistent with my blog. Gotta love menopause and the emotional roller-coaster ride it takes women my age on…like I hadn’t had enough wild, roller-coaster style adventures in my youth…only this one takes me to dark places instead of exciting ones (that and I’ve got to bite the bullet and get wifi in my new home, so I don’t have to pack up and go elsewhere to work).

It finally hit me one day last week, while I struggled to just get out of my pajamas on a day off, that as one trained and licensed in Chinese medicine I should know how to resolve this problem. Instead of running through a list of signs and symptoms in my head (the traditional intake and diagnosis approach), I simply fixed a cup of herbal tea containing four gentle but powerful herbs (hence the name of the tea – Four Pillars) that pretty much resolves emotional roller-coaster situations.

Why? Because these herbs move Qi/energy in the digestive system (stomach/spleen/pancreas region), where food and thoughts (in Chinese medicine, this is the emotional aspect of our digestion) become stuck, leaving one feeling tired and listless, with poor focus and little motivation (in spite of the desire to act) to do much of anything. I fixed a cup of that tea for three nights in a row, after dinner, as a carminative to help digest my meals and get things moving down there. Wow. Since last week, I’ve been bursting with energy, inspiration, and motivation to write, including creating some new additions to my nutrition book, which I will (notice I didn’t write plan to, a less confident choice of words) re-publish as an expanded, second edition some time later this year. Wahoo! Inspiration Explosion!

And that inspiration has led me to think more about making my own herb teas and tinctures (I am a medical herbalist, after all, and feel I should try to use at least some of my medical skills in creating an independent lifestyle). I also unpacked a few more small containers left unopened since I moved into my new place in February, and now my jewelry/accessories are nicely displayed and organized. Amazing what one can accomplish with just a little “boost” – which has carried me into this week!

So if you find yourself feeling “stuck” in your life or your writing and need a little help “moving” in a forward direction, make a cup of this tea and you’ll be amazed…

Four Pillars Tea

2 teaspoons fresh dried peppermint

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon dried orange peel

(you can find this in spice sections at the market)

1 teaspoon fresh dried ginger

(or about 3 fresh slices ginger root, bruised)

Put all herbs in an empty tea bag, add boiling water, and steep for five to seven minutes. No sugar or sweetener needed (and shouldn’t be added as it is congesting), the tea will be sweet enough on its own.

Sit back, sip, wait for the fog to clear, and the inspiration explosion to arrive!

herb tea

(generic herbal tea)