Sunday, December 30, 2012

6 Pieces of Advice: Confessions From an Inefficient Writer:

Do as I say, not as I do

Phil Gerard, one of the mentors in my MFA program, once said, “writing an essay or story is like designing a church, whereas crafting a book is akin to building a cathedral. “ His message is as writers we need to be good at building smaller stories before we can expand our horizons.

Some days I’m a total failure.

Like today. I am stuck in a scene in a library where I know I crafted some great interior monologue about my protagonist’ relationship and history with libraries, but I can’t find it. My organization system is an ADD mix of stuff I write on the computer, late night scenes or passages scrawled on one of the many notebooks next to my bed, notes created in a mini notebook in my purse, passages tapped out on my ipad in Pages, and things scribbled on random post-it notes.

I have tried organizing by outline, forming a skeletal structure on which to build my tale, but I deviate to the point my frame collapses. I try to be systematic ad organized, and envy friends and family who have a place for everything . I’ve tried to be neat, but I get very nervous and feel an ureg to mess things up.  I can’t write when things are too neat. It suffocates me. A coworker once described my methods as anal explosive. Yet I know where everything is, (except my library scene) and miraculously, I have written several novel, a memoir, and countless stories and poems. I do not recommend my methods. . 1. Find an organization system that works for you, and helps you get the job done..  

2. Make backups. One of my classmates had to add a semester to her program when her computer crashed, thus eating up her thesis. She had no back up. This was in the days before the web, where you couldn't send ginormous files over the internet. And she had not printed up or backed up her manuscript. At the time, (remember this was the Dark Ages of the 90’s) I saved mine on floppies and kept a set at work, another at my father’s house, and set in my briefcase. Now I email updates of files myself and save on flash drives.

3.  Don’t lose your credit card. You will waste time looking for it, fretting, and eventually calling the bank, just to find it later in the seat cushions of your couch. Don't even get a credit card if you can help it. Writers don't make enough to pay the balance anyway

(One good thing was when looking for my credit card I found a flash drive I had earlier misplaced.)

4. Check for typos. There is no I in potatioes.  My friend Elizabeth loves my typos. Just today I said I may have lost the credit card in the sofa cushions, but I typed spa cushions.

5. Don’t shovel snow for an hour, then spend five hours at the keyboard. It’s really hard on your neck and back. Luckily I have a terrific shiatsu massager which I have used gratuitously these last couple of days, yet I can’t write while my back is pummeled to and from from the shiatsu thingie.

Here is a piece of advice of something I did right:

Change point of view My MFA thesis was a memoir, a terrible piece not fit for your eyes not fit for publication. There were scenes in there concerning my mother’s death I found difficult to write. One of my thesis advisors, Lisa Knopp, suggested I write the scene in third person, stand outside and narrate. I did, and it worked. I still but the altering viewpoint lifted the gate and let me take note of what went on.

Overall, find out what distracts and derails you, manage it, and write.

Happy Writing

p.s. I did find the library scene. It wasn’t as good as I recalled, so wrote a new one.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

When Characters Attack

Facebook Cover

42000 words into nanowrimo, three days away from the November 30th deadline, I decided I could not go on. I was sick of words, sick of staring at the computer screen for hours and not being able to see anything clearly for at least a half hour after finally walking away from my laptop. I had had enough.

But, dammit.

Shelly, one of my characters, forced me back to the keyboard. She insists on revealing her darkest secret to Michael, the protagonist. In turn, Michael also shares his ugly secret.

But I have work to do, I tell them. Papers to grade. Sleep of which to partake. I’m tired. I just want to clean my house, sweep the cat hair out of the corners. Do a load of laundry. Cook a meal. Be a person. Your problems can wait, characters

No, they can’t, Shelly and Michael bellow. We are on the edge of something crucial, you moronic, self centered writer. We might slip off, become covered in mud. Or worse. Crack under the tension and do something stupid like break off our relationship. So get your giant ass in a seat and help us tell our stories. Yeah, you’re a crappy hack, but you’re all we have right now.

Ugh! I hate you people. I mutter some expletives under my breath.

Feeling’s mutual. Now get over to Starbucks, order your latte, and open that laptop. Plug in your headphones so you won’t get distracted. We’ve met you and your ADD, “Oh look at the pretty sunshine, is that a cardinal?” ways. We like instrumental music, by the way. The soundtrack from Slum Dog Millionaire works. So does the one from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sort on an Indian fusion vibe that rocks. No words. You need to concentrate on ours. Focus.

So for the next two days, every spare moment, these two characters hold me captive. They invade my dreams when I try to ignore them, wake me in the middle of the night like shrieking children. By 7 pm on November 30th, a Friday, after I had worked with sixth graders all day, I lookeat my word count. I am about a thousand words short. Shit. I can't see. My eyes burn and I just want to rest.

Yeah, so do we, but you have to move on. It’s a nice day for a picnic lunch of bread, peanut butter and wine. We have to have that long conversation Shelly has been promising Michael these past few weeks.

You owe me I say.

Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

So I hunt and peck more of their story. 50,835 words of it. But it’s not even close to being done, I whine.

They laugh. Yeah, ironic, huh? Hey, you chose to be a writer. 


How did YOU survive the nano experience?

Happy REwriting.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Love a Book Part 2


I am taking a break from nano to write a quick blog post. I recently assigned a process essay in my comp classes with the theme, How to Love a Book (or an author, genre) etc. Essentially I wanted them to focus on their process as developing readers. The initial drafts ranged from tepid to pretty good, but mostly, the rewrites are outstanding. The following are quotes I extracted from my students on the reading/writing connection:

Taylor writes, "I noticed my intelligence growing more and more after I began to read,." And Caitlin says, I'm not entirely sure what it was about the book I loved. It's like I had a hunger in me, and I craved the words on every page.” According to Victoria, Alice (in wonderland) made me realize everyone you meet has their own normal."  

After his uncle’s murder, Sloan was jarred into not “ wanting those stupid fairy tales; I wanted something with acumen that made you think…He writes about the Dexter series, and “I often wish Dexter would find the man who took my uncle’s life and show him the images of the disaster he inflicted.”

Jake says,”in experiencing new reading you see all the ways writing is explored.  And Regan feels “The title made the decision of reading the book itself “

“If the authors writing style is boring and dull,” Jerry says, “then reading the book can make me somnolent and put me to sleep."

When Tosha started reading the Maximum Ride series on a vacation, she rued about having to leave her book in the car. “I had to put the book away for the hour long lunch break, and I was literally aching from not reading.” We bibliophiles know that feeling well.

Shala realizes that characters often have flaws, and, ”Unfortunately, things in books don't always happen the way people want it to.”

Several students were drawn into reading early. Katie says, ”Frog and Toad are friends made me love reading, made me feel like I was pa of the nexus of book readers. It started the spark that made me burgeon as a reader, while Victor writes, “Horton Hears a Who taught me not to judge a person because a person is a person no matter how small. I was bullied as a child, so this lesson, so this lesson holds deep well within me.”

Ian’s essay is a thoughtful treatise on the components of needed to become a reader: free-time, creativity and curiosity. All of which, ”allows us to be open to other people and their imaginations, and aslo allows us to develop a love for the stories that come out of the creative eye of the world's authors.”

Mallory summarizes this by stating, “your wildest dreams become reality in impossible ways.” Emily points out the ineffable book love by stating, “There was something special about the books I couldn't put my finger on.”

While most of my students write about fiction, two chose nonfiction. Of the memoir The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, Shi writes how she “dove into 288 pages of someone else’s life.. Walls seemed to have the strongest bond with her father and as she got older…his alcoholism didn't affect her the way it would have affected me. She didn’t break down or let it deter from her goals. If anything, it motivated her.”

Kaitlin, a good writer who claims to despise reading, writes: I have neither time nor patience for lounging around to read a book with having to balance high school, college and work. In place of reading I enjoy watching educational or scientific television programs.” As much as she abhors reading fiction, her essay extols the virtues of reading her college Biology text, as my enthusiasm for science materials burgeoned, I have acquired a subscription to National Geographic magazine, which I read in my free time.”

Perhaps Kelsie sums up what all bibliophiles feel: “When I find the right book it is hard to put it down.”



Happy writing and reading. Now back to my nano novel, 23, 587 words strong so far.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Love a Book

This book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart, but you will never forget it. 

Shortly before we moved back to the United States from East Pakistan, on the precipice of undergoing a revolution to become Bangladesh, we were frightened by an event that made my family and I pack our bags for flight. We had been in Dacca three years, and for the first two, life had been sedate, albeit not normal. Nothing on the  Subcontinent appears normal to westerners. But we felt safe. We were Americans after all,  the White Gods, impermeable .

This past year, however, our status as rich foreigners made no difference to the rioters and demonstrators. Because I was young, fourteen, and lived a privileged lifestyle rendering me immune to local politics, I didn't pay much attention to outside forces unless they inconvenienced me. My brother Paul and I attended the American School, and began missing school at least once a week because of  strikes and curfews. Phone service grew sketchier, and power outages occurred almost daily. Still, I had my books. I read by lantern light.

Our house had a flat roof, perfect for watching weather or surveying happenings in the neighborhood. One  spring evening my father and i stood rooftop after supper and noticed a trail of light snaking its way in our direction. "What is that?" I asked.

Dad squinted, and said, "I don't know. Go get the binoculars."

I returned with the field glasses, and my father stared at the light, now much closer and brighter. "Jesus," he said.

"What is it." He handed the binoculars to me. A crowd of men, perhaps a hundred, carried lit torches. They were shouting, waving the torches, and heading toward our street.

One of our servants stood in the doorway at the top of the staircase. "Sahib, it is not good what is happening."

What are those men saying, Kardir?"

"Death to the governor, Sahib."

The governor's daughter lived in a large new home caddy corner across from our compound.

My father hustled us downstairs, shouting for my mother and brother and I to pack a bag. "We may have to get out tonight."

I retrieved my blue suitcase from the godown (closet) and flung it on my bed. This bag had seen me through several trips across the United States and overseas. The suitcase was blue, yet covered with decals and stickers signifying various places i had journeyed.

"We might not be coming back," my father had said. "Take what you need,"

I gathered up my favorite books, records, my diaries, yearbooks, and a few souvenirs and dumped them inside the bag. I threw in a few clothes and sat on the case to close it.

 My father came in to get my luggage. "What the hell?" He set it down and opened it. "You can't take all these books,"

But you said take what's important to me."

He sighed. "We can buy you new ones when we get back to the states. Now pack some more clothes. "

After quick negotiations, I was allowed to keep my yearbooks, diaries, a few record albums, a couple of souvenirs and one book. I filled the rest of suitcase with clothing and a pair of shoes. Dad and I dashed to the back fence where my mother and brother waited in the dark.

The solitary book was a paperback copy of Catcher in the Rye. The book had leapt into my hands one day when the book wallah, a man who sold books from his bicycle, every Saturday, visited our house when riots didnt keep him away. The cover bore a picture of a young man wearing a brown coat, backwards red cap, and a red scarf. He was illuminated by lights from a strip club at night as he held a battered suitcase littered with stickers, much like my own. 

The text on the cover read: This book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart, but you will never forget it. How could I resist that?

I fell in love with crazy old Holden Caulfield on the first page."If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

 Having recently turned fourteen, I identified with his disenchantment with school, parents, peers and life in general. Catcher in the Rye is the first novel I read more than once, the first novel that made me laugh and cry sometimes simultaneously, such as a scene in Chapter 25, when Holden takes his little sister Phoebe to the park and tries erase all  the graffiti. He resigns himself to, "That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you." I'm positive, in fact."

As a toddler  before I could read the words myself, I tortured my parents  to read it again!  and in elementary school I repeatedly recited lines from The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. What kid didn't?  But the Catcher in the Rye is the first story I lived within; I was Holden Caufield, even though I was not a seventeen year old boy living in New York City. It didn't matter.  His voice lived inside me, and I became part of the story.

It's been years since I have read the book, but subconsciously I channeled Holden when I wrote my first novel, Parallel Lines. The lead character, Nick Verseau, unintentionally bears a similar voice, so Holden still lives inside me. I'm oldish now, yet perhaps still a rankled teenager at heart.  Maybe someday I will be promoted to tell you all the David Copperfield kind of crap about my life.

This morning I thought about how there are no original stories. All the major themes in life can be placed written on one 3 x 5 card. Yet every  new novel, memoir or book of poems released is original because each of us experiences the universal themes  uniquely. So even though all the stories seem to have already been told, there are still some great tales yet to be written. Write one.

What is YOUR favorite all time book? If you were being evacuated to a new planet and could only take one book, which would it be and why?

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thirteen and a Half Things Writers Need to Know

I watched a good Indy film this weekend- The Magic of Belle Isle- directed by Rob Reiner, starring Morgan Freeman as a writer who has stopped wribuildingting. As Freeman's character, an award winning Western writer named Monte tells his nephew, "drinking is my full time job now, and I can't work two jobs."
I like films where a hollowed out character regains his voice from unexpected sources. In this case, it begins with a nine year old girl named Finn who yearns to write. She is one of three neighbor girls of a single mom who live in the house adjacent to Montes. Finn finds out he is a writer, and she stops by to she ask Monte to teach her to create stories. By helping a child discover her inspiration, Monte gradually rekindles his own, which serves to remind me Inspiration cannot be forced. Its intrinsic.

Incorporate your own life experiences.

This s not the same as the old write what you know. We write to deepen what we already know, yet discover new knowledge as well. " Monte tells Finn to tell me a story and make me interested.  He instructs her to look outside and tell him a story of what she sees. I dont see anything, she says. Keep looking. What don't you see? See with your minds eye. Look for what you don't see. Finn looks again, and narrates an imaginary tale of intrigue, but uses details she knows from the island.

Writing takes us outside ourselves

Monte has spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair after a car accident. He tells Finn, "All the things I couldn't do in the real world, Jubal let me do on the page."

Write slowly

National Novel Writing Month is coming up, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ive done this several times, and the books I created were all terrible. Only one, a mere skeleton of a tale, is salvageable.

In the film, Finn wonders why Monte uses a Typewriter rather than a computer.
I like that you write a bit slower , he says.I like that letters bite into the paper.

Writers must connect to their work

At dinner one evening with Finns family, Monte narrates a treacherous event about his recurring character,  Jubal McClaws, to the girls. As he describes a part which might give Finns 7 year old  sister Flora, nightmares, their mother interjects, " Remember , it's just a story. It didn't really happen."
"It happened to Jubal" "Monte says

The subject finds you

Finn has fallen in love with  Jubal McClaws., and she gets angry at Monte when he writes new stories about an elephant named Tony and a family of mice for her younger sister instead of penning another Jubal McClaws tale.
"But Jubal hasn't come calling in years," Monte tells Finn.

 We can't force inspiration. If the writing is true, and yes, fiction IS true, the story comes from a real place inside the writer. Our characters are real.

Monte says, Real life doesn't always ensure up to what's in our heads, but every once in awhile it comes close.

Use the right words

In a scene in belle, Finn parrots something offensive Monte had said, and her mother admonishes by requiring the girl to learn three new words. She learns her words, inspiration,

Read work out loud

The girls mother, Cassie ONeil, with whom Monte harbors a secret crush, reads the Tony stories out loud to Flora, and later to herself. As she reads,  she hears Montes voice.

Stories originated in the oral tradition, written work is relatively recent, and all writing has a cadence. Reading ones work out loud allows a writer to see where syntax might drag, or lines of poetry need to be broken.

Freemans character is in a wheelchair, and he tells Finn Writing gives you legs.

Stories, essays  and poems take us places  otherwise impossible

 Revision is part of the writing process, and its never too late to re-vise a work.

When Finn tells Monte she bought an old copy of his most celebrated book, but the last page is missing, he says You didn't miss much. I always meant to change that anyway.

Don't write in order to get a house with a pool

Most writers will never own a house with a pool like the one above. But that does not stop me from imagining  myself sitting poolside, sipping a glass of lemonade, reading the blazing hot reviews of my latest novel. Later, I will be getting dressed for my appearance as an Oscar nominated writer of an Oscar nominated film. starring Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford.but I digress..

Don't give up. In Belle Isle, Morgan Freeman's Monte believes his writing career is over, and Virginia Madsens Cassie ONeil has given up on love.

Always have a deadline Monte tells Finn

There are no guarantees

Writing is a gift, unwrap it wisely.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Five Writing Rules According To High School Students

Earlier this year, I asked my students what’s important to them about writing. Since teenagers are the authority on all things cool, I expected negative comments and complaints about such staid topics as writing and English, but the kids surprised me;. their responses were astute and thoughtful.

Victoria said, "If I try to add things to sound smart, it ends up making me look ignorant." Novice writers are tempted to sound writerly. In the early days of my own writing, I front-loaded stories and essays to reveal my large vocabulary. No wonder nobody wanted my work. It was pretentious.

Sure, in grad school I used ten dollar words for essays, but my reader was usually an erudite professor who ate such words for breakfast.  When I first started teaching students occasionally handed in papers with sentences like “Such cartulary  extrapolated its theophenia to provide a history of said diety.” When asked what did you mean here, the response was always a red face and a shrug.

Say what you mean in words you understand. Clarity is priority one.

2. Kayla remarked, "I never want to repeat myself so many times to where I become uninteresting or sound stupid."

Early drafts are often loaded with repetitive mantra-like words and phrases and words and phrases and words and phrases, as if the writer needs to warm up the engines, and remind themselves of the point of the essay, poem, or story. I call these false starts. For me they come in three’s: the first three lines or stanzi of a poem, the first three paragraphs of a story, and the first three pages of a novel. The holy trinity of crap.

Ok I repeated my syntactical structure there. You get what I mean in those words and phrases.

3. “Vocabulary ...can turn a bland sentence into a memorable one with relative ease," Mallory wrote. "Large words, small words, it doesn't matter, I'm happy to use them all." Words are the foundation of good writing, and fluency with them makes us better writers. I tell my students to take a foreign language. "It will enhance your English. "

Mallory is a good writer, largely because she always has her nose in a book. Readers are exposed to multiple words, and it shows in their work. Read a lot.

4. According to Katie, "Books allow a person to see the world and know things they didn't know before."

If we are doing the hard work, we aren’t relying solely on what we know; we write to explore what we don't know as if excavating for a new spin on a truth.

5.  “Writing is hard,” Tosha said. “I wish there was a handout that told me how not to make mistakes."

I hate to tell you this, kid, but there ain’t no such thing. The only way to learn how to write better is write, make mistakes, write even more failed manuscripts, screw up more of them, and eventually write something good. Next time you will write something bad, but maybe not as often, and eventually your good writing will outweigh the putrid pages. But there will be days, always, when some of your writing stinks a big one.
Exercise: I stole this from my Friend Cindy Sterling. Whenever her students were stuck, she had them remove a shoe, set it on a piece of white paper, draw an outline, then write a first person narrative through the viewpoint of the shoe. The shoe can belong to anyone famous (Madonna, the president, Clark Gable), or not ( your own shoe,) cartoon characters (Scooby Doo, Charlie Brown) etc. . What what the shoe's life like? What have they seen? Where has it been? What happens when it rains? What happens on the basketball court if you are Michael Jordan's shoe? What would the Dalai Lama's footwear know?
Happy Writing

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Writing is as Dead as a Mouse in the Closet


My friend Elizabeth and I met for dinner this evening, and she discussed a certain poet's work, , saying, " i love it, but I'm not sure i understand it. "

"Can we love something we don't understand?" I asked. She and I had a good discussion on writing. Elizabeth is actively writing, working on her MFA. I am envious, even though she struggles with literary analysis. Analysis and creation are in opposition, so it's difficult to go into analysis mode when one creates writing. Lately I am neither creating or analyzing.


It's rare when I have writers block, but this week, a harvest moon, a dead mouse and a steady stream of rejections have all contributed to building a brick wall between me and words. Blaming the moon for my creative vacuum is a cliché, but otherwise I'd have to blame political ads, a frantic work pace and bad hair, and disturbing news about a former student. So why not blame the moon?  The moon at least make me sound wistful.

A dead mouse should lead to a poem, or a story, but I work in a school library with robust circulation stats, and I teach two college comp  classes at the high school. My role as a ‘writing Nazi’ sometimes backfires because the more writing  I assign, the more I have to grade.  This week my students write three drafts of one piece, so maybe i was analyzing a little. Whatever the case, I had nothing leftover for wordplay.

Okay, so where does the dead mouse come in?

A week ago Friday, at the end of a hectic day of checking books in and out  to seventh graders, my assistant  leaped on top of a wheeled desk chair.

"There's a mouse in here!" She shrieked

It ran under a trash can under the front desk, and when I lifted the can, the critter skittered into my office. I've never been scared of mice. When I was a kid I was the one who had to to clean the traps when my mother would climb on chairs and screech.

"He'll probably move on when he gets hungry." I said.

On Monday I saw no evidence of the mouse, and forgot about him. Until Thursday morning. i opened my office door and a stench assaulted me. Like someone farted on sweaty socks. .

i sniffed around, looked under my desk and behind the door.  What is that smell?

The door to my office closet doesn't latch and always hangs ajar.  When I opened it to set my purse on the shelf my olfactory went into overdrive.


Brown streaks dotted the white floor like smudged fingerprints, peppered  with what resembled burnt sesame seeds. Mouse poop. Nestled inside a blanket on the floor of my coat closet was the dead mouse. The poor creature died alone and starved on the floor of my office closet. Yes, i know, mice are vermin, and pardon my anthropomorphism, but it was a baby mouse, no bigger than my thumb.


But I can't blame deceased rodents for my sloth. Perhaps the  two more rejections this week from agents spawned my inertia.


Rejection has become a unwelcome habit, like a yo yo diet that never works, tempting me to ask,why should I bother?


I sit in the cafe of Barnes and Noble, surrounded by books, many of which are crappy books. I know MY crappy books are better than many of THESE crappy books.  Aren't they? I know, I know, writing is an art and book selling is a business. We have to write what’s marketable.


But I refuse to write fifty shades of rip offs.


I COULD if I wanted to, yet I risk losing credibility with myself. It's more important to me to write stories that matter than stories that sell. And there are plenty of great stories that sell. Kite Runner, Fahrenheit 451, The Grapes of Wrath, and anything by YA authors Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green.

Stories matter.


Yet publishing seems to have taken a page from Hollywood and TV by flooding the shelves with replicas of the Twilight, Hunger Games, and Wimpy Kid. Series. The originals sold and continue to sell, and publishers are banking on marketability of their mutations.

Is there hope for those of us whose tales are character driven rather than dependant on hackneyed plots? On my desk is a framed rejection which says, “I wish we had the room to publish all that we love.” I let those words keep me from giving up.

Here is a short, eloquent video showing the importance of fiction.

AmI whining too much, or am I justified? Or both?


:Writing Exercise: consider the following words:













You may change pluralization and part of speech. Use all ten words in a poem, paragraph or story. You have ten minutes. Go!

Happy Writing!.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Get OUT! (of your comfort zone)

I give my Comp classes weekly writing adventures.( They call it homework.) This week’s theme is to get out of your comfort zone.

Writers know this experience well. First off, writing is telling the truth, whether one writes fiction, poetry or essay, and discomfort leads to a change of perspective.

When I was working on my MFA, Leslie Rubinkowski, my first mentor, asked me, “What bugs you? What more do you need to understand?”

I had made a short list of things, and rank ordered them. Number one on my list was the 'tattoo piercing culture thing. '“I just don’t get it,” I said.

“That’s exactly why you need to write about it.”

It was autumn, and there just happened to be a tattoo conference in Pittsburgh coming up. I live about two hours from Pittsburgh, so a friend and I signed up.

As we checked into the hotel, Diane and I spotted crowds of people sporting tattoos; many revealed entire limbs covered in body art. She and I were the only ‘unmarked’ people in the conference, yet after talking to several participants, I soon let go of my trepidation, and met some wonderful people. One young man, who weighed around three hundred pounds and wore intricate tattoos on his chest and arms, said, “I don’t fit society’s standard of beauty, so I wear beauty on my body.”

We all have obsessions our friends and family shrug their shoulders at, yet it’s comforting to be among like minded souls. I go to a writer’s conference every year where the other participants understand obsessing over a single word, so a conference centered on body art provides a comfort zone for people otherwise perceived as unusual. Under the skin, we all worry about jobs, the house payment, electric bills, and getting kids to college whether we use our bodies as canvases or not.

What would you never do in a million years? What scares you?

Try something uncomfortable. It will energize your writing. You can start small, like trying a new food. Try something gross looking, has weird textures, or smells like old socks.(For example, squid, litchi nuts, ugli fruit, sauerkraut, sushi, etc.).

If food scares you, browse and/or shop at a store you were always afraid to go in or were never interested in. (John Deere, AutoWorks, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, a comic book store, a health food store.) Spend at least a half hour. Take notes.

Try on a style of clothes you would never wear in a million years. For example, if you’re preppy, wear something goth, or vice versa.

Get a hairstyle you’d never wear and wear it all day. gel your hair, or try on a new (temporary) color.
Be silent for a day. Only communicate through notes or gestures.

Start a blog and make it public
Go screen free for a whole day. NO TV, cell phone, Facebook, twitter, internet, or any computer. (AFTER you’ve read my post.) Read, hike, clean your house, etc.

Do a Disability Day. Wear a blindfold, walk with a rock in your shoe, or wear ear plugs or a walking boot.

Talk and/or befriend someone you’ve been leery of talking to. Perhaps a a grouchy neighbor or the grumpy cashier at the grocery store. (Really step it up and give them food, i.e. cookies)
Do a random act of kindness, like if you are in the drive thru at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks, pay for the coffee for the person behind you. Or buy a movie ticket for the next person in line.
Wear a temporary tattoo in an obvious place, such as arm, face, neck, leg. Take pix. Wear it for at least an hour in public.

Go to a senior center and read to an old person
Go to a church of a different denomination
If you hate sports, go to the football game
Drive to a side of town you’ve never been and stop somewhere new to eat.
Cook a complete dinner for your family from scratch
Go to a movie you would NEVER normally see. Scary, chick flick, or (very scary!!)a kid’s movie on a Saturday matinee.

Just try something unusual, then write about it.

What scares you or repulses you about the activity? What do you think will happen? Why is this so scary? So foreign? What do you have to lose? How? Why?
At the end, how has your perception altered? Why or why not? How have you changed? How did you feel?
At what point do you think you reached a “moment of truth?” What have you learned?
Would you do this again? Why or why not? Do you recommend someone else do this? Why or why not?
Happy Writing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Odds Are Not Great Either Way

Recently my friend Thomas, a fellow librarian, posted this comic on Face book. I usually laugh heartily at Thomas’s postings, but this one is too true to be funny.

Given the ease and speed of e publishing, more “books" are being published than ever. A recent article by Mike Shatzkin points out, ”half of the bookstore shelves that were available in the US in 2007 are gone by now.”

Handwritten letters are gifts; someone cared enough to sit down and share words of comfort, congratulations, birthday wishes, family news, or mail a postcard from Europe.  Who does that anymore?

Is print media dead?

I'm as guilty as the rest of you. I download books on my Kindle, and use Kindle and Nook apps on my phone and PC. But the nearest physical bookstore is an hour‘s drive from my house and sometimes I don’t want to wait two or three days to get a book in the mail from amazon, Powells or Barnes and Noble.

It's easy and fast to send e mail and catch up through social networking, yet it saddens me how the art of letter writing, handwritten cards and stamped paper envelopes may someday disappear.

Biographers often use old letters to carve out written portraits of their subjects. Through letters, authors are able to reproduce a subject’s voice, and recreate possible dialogue accurately. Imagine trying to track down electronic messages. For the past twenty years I have had numerous email accounts through my university days and several service providers. In the early days of the internet, service providers cropped up and disappeared with the seasons, so thousands of my communications are somewhere in cyberspace under addresses I no longer recall. Not that I will someday be worthy of a biography, but given the magnitude of social media, what will be worthy of existing in posterity?

Interesting how brick and mortar bookstores and libraries stores have only recently changed how they operate. While libraries still boast books as a major source of information, the shift toward multi media has not only oncreased circulation statistics, patrons expect to be able to find moivies, magazines, and music at the library. Similarly, patrons use library spaces for computer space.

For decades, books were the thrust of book stores. In the past few years I have noticed a trend toward games and gifts at the forefront and books displayed almost as an afterthought.

Books are my passion, one of the considerations for where to retire in three years is how many extant bookstores are nearby, yet

According yo Shatzkin, “One thing that will be different but similar in the rest of the world will be the decline of bookstores.”

Linda, another library colleague, suggested that maybe bookstores and/or libraries should have post offices and coffee shops in their lobbies. I love the idea of entities struggling to survive forge a symbiotic relationship. It happens in the natural worls all the time.

Meanwhile, the you can find world’s most interesting bookstores this site. They also sell hand crafted metal bookmarks and have links to lot of bookstore and library related stuff:

Your writing assignment this time is to write someone a letter or a card and mail it using snail mail. Then go visit the library.
Feel free to weigh in on this issue. Of course, you'll have to do it electronically, but there is room for multiple versions of comunication. When TV came out, people predicted it was the death of radio....
Happy Writing