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Monday, October 31, 2011

This Magnificent Country


I'm not usually a rah-rah "my country is the best" person, but having returned from a 6,000 mile road trip to Arizona and Utah I have to say the U.S. is pretty spectacular. The scenery, at times, was beyond words. Awe-inspiring is not good enough to describe Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has always been my favorite—not that I've been to all the parks to compare, mind you. The majesty of the Rockies has always left me breathless, and not just from the altitude. Bryce is now a close second. In that canyon, you can see the power of nature as, over millennia, wind and water swept away sand and softer rock and left behind pinnacles and towers reaching skyward.

In Zion National Park, I felt insignificant as I looked up at towering rock projections. I've felt the same way each time I visited the Grand Canyon. How little we humans are. Yet, we are capable of even greater destruction than wind and water. We saw evidence of forest fires on our trip. In the wild, fire can bring renewal—destroying the old, bringing new life. Not so when fire destroys people's homes, their very lives.

Through carelessness or deliberately, we humans can be more destructive than fire or nature. When there are cutbacks in school budgets, the first to go are art and music—as if beauty has no value. As I looked upon the grandeur preserved in our national parks, I thanked our forefathers and foremothers who had the wisdom to protect such beauty so that our children, grandchildren, and their children can enjoy the wonders of our great country. I hope future generations can say the same about us.



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Days of October

October is my favorite month. October means the cool nights and warm days of Indian Summer. It's the time we in the Midwest pull up the annuals, cut back perennials, mow the grass one more time, and make sure the snowblower is ready. My birthday begins the month.

But, those aren't the reasons for my preferring October over other months. It's baseball. The World Series. I really thought the Tigers had a chance this year. If not them, then my next favorite team is the Cardinals. You see, my mom was from St. Louis and Mom loved baseball. As a girl, she played first base because she was always the tallest on the team. As a teen, she parked cars in their tiny city backyard for games at Sportsman's Park (the predecessor of Busch Stadium). During the match-ups between the Cards and the Tigers, Mom had divided loyalties. She would claim she lived longer in Detroit than in St. Louis so she was for the Tigers, but I think she secretly rooted for her "home" team.

Baseball has been my favorite sport since I was a girl. I remember hot, summer days lying on a blanket in the shade listening to Ernie Harwell do the play-by-play on my little transistor radio. My grandmother (Mom's mom) took me to my first baseball game at the "new" Busch Stadium which has since been torn down and replaced with the new "new" stadium. Gram taught me how to keep score. That came in handy when my kids played Little League and I got drafted into being scorekeeper.

Some people, my husband included, think watching baseball on television is like watching paint dry. So, Saturday night presented somewhat of a dilemma. I'm sure I got "carpal finger" from the remote as I switched back and forth between the World Series and the Michigan State football game which my husband insisted on watching. Sure, we have more than one TV. Due to recent redecorating, not one was connected to cable, forcing me to hope I didn't miss anything while irritating my honey to no end. And wouldn't you know, often commercials were playing on both channels. Thank goodness for replays.

As I watch this year's World Series, I think about my mom and grandmother. Saturday night, they would have been very proud of their Cardinals. After last night's game, I'm still hoping the Cardinals do better than skunk the Rangers  only once.

The days of October are coming to an end and with it the end of baseball. Until next year.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Right way to Write

What is the right way to write? The simple answer is: it depends. That really clarifies things, doesn't it?

There are basically two methods and then variations on them. The first is the logical method. Plot first, then write. The "plotter" does all the research, character studies, and outlines the entire story before ever beginning the actual writing.

Then, there is the "pantser"—the writer who writes by the seat of her (or his) pants. Another description of this method is "writing into the mist". Think about driving a car in the fog where you can only see as far as the reach of your headlights. You know the destination but can't quite see how to get there. This writer gets an idea and starts writing.

I'm a pantser. For me, the fun is in the journey, the discovery of unknown places. A story often presents itself as the first scene. I "see" it in my mind much like a movie. Characters reveal themselves as I write instead of me inventing them first. I do research on the fly. When I need to know something—a detail—I look it up. Most of the time, I'll jot a note to check a fact so as not to interrupt the flow. That is not to say I don't ever do research first. I'm always on the lookout for bits of information. I cut articles out of the newspaper or magazines that I might use someday. (You wouldn't believe how thick that file folder is.) Sometimes, an article itself will spark the story.

The plotter thinks pantsers waste time because often we write ourselves into a corner or hit a dead end and have to backtrack. Very true. I do a lot of back-and-forth writing—write a while, discover something new, go back and fix what I've written before. I try hard not to do that too much. It stops the forward momentum of the story. I'm trying to train myself to write a note on what needs fixing. Sometimes, I can't help myself and I have to go back.

I'm not saying pantsers don't plot. We just don't plot first, or the plot is sketchy at the beginning. My plotting comes as the story develops. Usually around chapter eight, I find myself floundering. I need to stop and figure out where I'm going and how to get there. I've either run into a dead end or the characters aren't cooperating and I need to know them better. The plotter would say "if you plotted first, you wouldn't hit that dead end." Probably true. To me, once I've plotted the whole story I've told it. I don't need to write it. Same with writing the dreaded synopsis. Okay, I've told the story. I'm done.

I've often wondered if you add up the time a plotter spends from the beginning of the outline, research, character study, or however s/he starts a story to the finished product and did the same for the pantser, the time would be about the same. We just go about writing our stories in different ways.

I know writers who write scenes out of sequence. Then, they figure out the order of scenes and write transitions. We linear thinkers have to begin at the beginning and write through to the end. There have been times, though, when a scene has popped into my mind that needs to go later in the story. When inspiration strikes, I figure I'd better take advantage of it. The muse may not return when I need that scene. So, I have—on occasion—written scenes out of order.

As you can see, there is no one right way to write. It's what works for the writer. You just need to start writing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Change

What is it about change that is so scary? We get very comfortable doing the same thing in the same place. Change takes us out of that comfort zone. Yet without change, we grow complacent and stagnate.

I read an inspirational quote on the bottom of a calendar once that pretty much summed up the attitude I should take. Roughly paraphrased, it said: Change is all around us. It's how we deal with change that matters.

You would think I'd be used to change. During my husband's career, we moved five times. Only five? Geez, I thought it was more. Felt like more. Each time, in a flurry of getting a house ready for sale, finding a new house, saying good-by to friends and family, I worried about what my new life would be like.

At our first move, I met a woman who said she cried for the first six months she was in this new place. Whoa. I couldn't imagine that. Yes, change is hard. Our first move was exciting. A great opportunity for my husband, a new adventure. The second move was "back home". That was so great. Close to family and long-time friends again. That didn't last. Off again to a new place. The bloom on the rose was fading. The next time was the hardest. I was not just leaving the life I'd established in that community, the kids weren’t coming with us. They were either in college or had just graduated and had the choice. Their choice was they weren’t moving there. Leaving without my children was the worst. I was obnoxious to my husband about moving again. But, when he said I could stay and he would come home on weekends (like a lot of men his age did), my attitude changed. I had a choice. So, I pasted on a "happy" face, found us a new home, and moved. Only to do it all over again two years later.

I read one of those allegorical stories about a couple who were entering a town to which they were considering moving. They met a couple leaving and asked them about the town. "You'll hate it here. It's the worst place we've ever lived. Glad to be leaving." The first couple continued on and came upon another couple leaving. When asked about the town, this couple said, "You'll love it here. It's a wonderful place to live. We hate leaving." It's all about attitude.

The best part of our moves was how many new opportunities I had. But, I had to look for them. I had to go out of my comfort zone, find interests, go to meetings, make myself part of the community. Easy, no. Necessary, absolutely, if I wanted to make the best of a new situation.

Willingness to make a change is key. Not a spur of the moment, regret later change. Rather, it's weighing the pros and cons before making that change. Then, a willingness to try something new.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Missed Opportunities

        Have you ever looked back and realized the opportunities that slipped away? Was it inattention? Ignorance? Stupidity? Inflexibility? All of the above?

For me in my writing career, it was the last choice—all of the above. Times I didn't pick up on the things editors didn't say. The hints were there. In my ignorance, I didn't recognize them. I never thought I'd be one of those wanna-be authors who would never change a thing in my manuscript because “it's perfect the way it is". Yet, I can see now I subconsciously did that. There were times, too, when "life" consumed my attention and I didn't have the energy or time to follow up on hints or carefully-worded suggestions.

So, what do you do when the parade has passed you by? We can't change the past. Opportunities missed are opportunities gone. We can wallow in regrets, forever looking back and thinking “I should have…” Or, we can start anew.

I've started over, hopefully more alert, more savvy, taking chances on new ventures.

Look at what the world is like today, how different from when I graduated from high school and college. Back then (the Stone Age) we thought the career/job we chose would be what we'd do for the rest of our lives. What we didn't take into consideration was how fast everything changes. Flexibility is the key. Not being afraid of change. (That's a topic for another post.) How many times did opportunities pass me by because I was afraid to change, to try something new?

Going forward, I'm writing again with the old enthusiasm I had when I first started. It's exciting again. This time around, I'm going to pay closer attention, keep my ear to the ground and my nose to the grindstone. And if I do all that simultaneously, I'll probably need frequent visits to a chiropractor.