Sparked by Words

Archive for the ‘writer’s life’ Category

I Found It on the Internet

Surely you’ve heard the comment, “I found it on the Internet.”  You can write an entire book just by finding information on the web, trolling around Google Earth to discover how a location looks, and verifying historical references on Wikipedia. Search through a thousand images to describe the scene of your dreams or nightmares. Birth intriguing characters, devise a dilemma, pop in several crises, add a few red herrings, and construct a conclusion. Write it all out in your own words.

Spend three months or a year hanging out in Starbucks sipping your favorite wrappa-frapppa-chappa frothed with whipped cream while plugging away on a laptop, compiling your ideas and notes into a story. Your story. My story.

Title your work, apply for an ISBN, self-publish or aim for traditional publication, and you’ve got yourself a book. Maybe not a great piece of literature, but a story of sorts. Flash fiction, a six-word story, a screenplay, novel, or memoir. Perhaps a prospect for a serial looms, each title relating similar hi-jinks and low brow appeal with a quirky but likable protagonist at the helm and a nasty antagonist in the underbelly.

Everybody can try. Anybody can be a writer. Even you. Even me.

My newest WIP is loosely based on my grandparents’ and parents’ lives early in the twentieth century. Of course I didn’t know my parents when they were kids, and the stories they told are bereft of the details I want to include. I find myself checking the Internet for the facts I need.

It isn’t that I’m too lazy to go look it up in a library among the stacks of real books. It’s that the library of today is a media conference room, a cultural gathering site, and rent free micro-business office space. Latch key kids work on homework while waiting for parents. The homeless find it a safe place to doze while appearing engrossed in pamphlets left by various local businesses. The unemployed bring their dismay with them as they search job opportunities. The elderly gather to read magazines and newspapers. The lonely come to socialize.

Books? Many of the shelves have been swept of books, creating more room for videos and CDs, space for computer stations, and sofas for lounging. So I can’t peruse the stacks in search of corroborating information for whatever premise I’ve imagined – the books aren’t there. I might as well stay home. It’s Internet browsing for me as well.

Ah, computer research. There I’ve located my childhood homes – seven of them, all posing for their photos, a few looking dated and worn,  a few graciously maintained and attractively remodeled. One in Philly, one in Hawaii, three in New Jersey, two in California. I discovered that Trenton and much of New Jersey were very much the center of the Revolutionary War. I grew up mere miles from the places whose history made me American instead of British. How I wish as a kid I’d been so impressed when studying the war that birthed our nation. Should have been more attentive to being in the actual locales of history. Unknown heroes and unfamiliar sites reveal their mysteries in online educational sites, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauri. (Yep, that’s the correct plural – I looked it up on the Internet.

Several books related to my subject are suggested so I consider whether to pursue them. I dare not read a book without first scanning reviews on Goodreads and Kirkus to assure I’m not wasting time on a tome I won’t like, and reading the reviews takes time. Some reviews are so interesting I must investigate others written by same person. I get up to heat water for tea and remember the microwave is broken and not repairable.

So, next I’m shopping on line. When buying appliances, I always examine the safety, efficiency, and value ratings before handing over my credit card, all of which I can do over the Internet and never have to enter a store. The entire world lies before me on the screen, seducing me away from everything else I need to do. Away from writing. Ah, but it’s all so interesting.

Fact is, I can find out nearly everything on the Internet, but I must write my own book. There are no new stories, only new iterations of old ones, and only a limited number of themes to explore. The fresh approach must be mine. Time to close the browser with all its attractive and tempting images, jingles, pop ups, cat videos, on-line personality quizzes, Facebook friends, links to sensational news stories, cooking and travel blogs, and Groupon deals, and hie myself to my story files on my computer. I went looking for a few facts to put in my book and became distracted with a million (fascinating) excuses not to write.

But I am a writer. I should be dipping a quill into ink, scratching a pencil in a journal, typing on my old manual Olivetti. Armed with ideas and information, my story is waiting to be told, and only diligent application of words will result in its completion. So now I write.

New document page please.

Wait – where’s my coffee cup? For crying out loud, how can I write without my coffee?

 

Photo of coffee cup and computer courtesy Pixabay.com

 

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Dawn

 

The anticipation of going to sleep is the hope of waking in the morning with all the promise of something wonderful arriving with the dawn.

The comfort of sleep is knowing I’ve used the hours of light well.

 

 

 

Just a Thought 11

 

 

Dawn image courtesy: Pixabay.com

 

 

In Need of a Map

Ask Siri how to get where you’re going, and she’ll tell you, “In two hundred feet, turn left at Market Street.” When you miss that turn, she’ll adjust her directions, unperturbed by your error. “In a quarter mile, turn left at Waverly Avenue.” One way or another, Siri’s GPS master will guide you home.

But I miss maps. I miss all those Thomas Guides, coming out each year with new additions marking the way to new destinations. I miss wandering various routes to get someplace, knowing the adventure was in the travel along back roads and new tracts, not the destination. If I got lost, I’d just pull out Thomas and find two or three options out of my quandary.

Lucky for me because I have no intuitive sense of direction. Just think how many times I’ve ended up on the back deck staring at the eucalyptus trees swaying in the wind when I was on my way to the laundry room. Who wants to sort white clothes from colors when I could be finding the perfectly colored autumn leaf, studying the bark peeling like blisters from the trunk, or watching ants march along the trail their queen has commanded?

Siri would tell me, “Turn around at the patio door and enter the living room. Proceed directly to the garage and park at the washing machine. Sort clothes.” My impulse is to grab the map and look for forests nearby. What trees grow there? I must explore. Laundry can wait.

People no longer have a sense of where they are in the world. Turning right or left in hundreds of feet gives no idea of placement. We don’t realize we’re only a few miles from the ocean, or around the corner from the favorite playground where we played as kids. Thomas Guides would tell us when we examined its pages, but Siri never makes the connection so neither do we.

I find similar displacement when looking up words on the online thesaurus instead of browsing the 1248 pages of The Original Roget’s International Thesaurus, 6th Edition.

Take the word “belief.” Its designation in Roget is number 953, and there are twenty categories displaying hundreds of entries from nouns to verbs to adverbs. The word “philosophy” is similarly described in number 952, and 954 is the word “credulity.” Peruse the thousands of words and you grasp relationships far beyond believing in anything. You begin to believe in everything as a possibility. Some of the things I learned were the relationship of belief to opinion, esteem, faith, trust, understanding, credibility, swallow, certainty, conviction, persuasion, dogma, confession, gullibility, ingenuous, viewpoint, notion, estimation, and idealism. All that education and much more in five pages. The broad spectrum of language doesn’t display as much diversity or breadth of interpretation on the Internet, not without a lot of clicking and toggling.

Luddite that I am, don’t despair. I’m on the Internet plenty, looking up photographs of macaws which leads to exploring the rainforests of Peru, then discovering that macaws are zygodactyl. Nope, not gonna tell you – look it up. And in case you want to know how much of a Luddite I really am, consider that I used to design patterns for fabric, eventually to be printed in yards and yards of cotton that became board shorts, bikinis, and Hawaiian shirts, by drawing and painting them with Luma dyes on masa paper. Luma dyes are long discontinued, sadly, but masa paper is still available. Except for my turquoise-faced self portrait, a three-minute sketch made about ten years ago, I’ve never designed art on the computer. I love the slick sensation of real paint on my hands and the stain of color under my fingernails lasting through several showers. Who wouldn’t love to dress up in sequins and heels with teal colored streaks on their hands? I’ve attended more than one wedding so uniquely decorated.

We will not discuss texting. I refuse to read them, I can’t write them. I have a flip phone but not a smart one, and texting is an exercise in self control on the device. My default strategy is the smash the cell phone against a wall when trying to text, so I don’t. Want to talk to me? Do it the old fashioned way – run into me in the mall, or call me on the landline, or even send me an email. Texting is for the birds, hyper-texting is for Twitter, and surely you realize I’ve never had anything to do with Twitter. My birds were all real, beautiful cockatiels who played with my sons when they were little.

I’ve learned just enough digi-techie stuff to get by in the modern world but not enough to be useful to anyone but me. To prove my point: we finally donated our nineteen-year-old car to the high school auto shop program. As of a month ago, I’m driving a much safer 2015 RAV 4 and have learned how to start the car without a key. Without a key, I tell you! But I haven’t programmed Siri, or whoever likes to give driving directions, into the car. So I still need a map. At least, I look up where I want to go on Map Quest. But only because they no longer update the Thomas Guides.

Funny the things you miss as you grow older.

 

 

Image  courtesy of The Original Roget’s International Thesaurus, 6th Edition, copyright Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D., 2001, Harper Collins.

 

Image of The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less – published anywhere before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

Kiss

Give me a kiss.

I will write one more word.

Laugh and I will write a page.

Sob, I will complete the story.

 

 

Just a Thought 10

 

The Kiss (Lovers) painting, 1907, 1908, by Gustav Klimt courtesy: en.wikipedia.org

 

 

Kitchen Musings

The kitchen is the heart of the home. This much I know.

 

  1. Pour water into a colander though none of it will remain. Shake the colander vigorously and water splashes off. Put it aside – it still needs time to dry. Do you sense the mystery of water droplets?

 

  1. Spread a paper towel to dry the washed strawberries. Save the towel – the stain of the strawberries lingers. If I lift the towel again, will you smell the scent of the fruit?

 

  1. Listen to the Beatles sing, “I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping. While my guitar gently weeps,” – the refrain follows me all day. When I hum aloud, will you sing the words?

 

There is story in the colander and the strawberry essence and the music. How will I gather it?

 

Something elemental prevails in the water. Ah, now I write.

 

 

Just a Thought 9

 

While My Guitar Gently Weeps lyrics by George Harrison, 1968

Water Drop photograph courtesy David Restivo, Arau, Switzerland; commons.wikimedia.org

 

 

 

I Suffer from Alzheimer’s

Ростислав Иванович Фелицин (не позднее 1820-х годов-1882) – Печальное известие (Чтение письма) (1856)

I drive home sobbing from the residence where my mother lives. Sometimes instead I rant about the injustice of a disease that kills a person before their body is dead, and kills their supporting family in fragments that leave us bleeding. Every once in a while I catch the glance of the driver next to me, shaking their head at my inattentive driving skills. I’m going to cause an accident if I don’t pay better attention. I know but still I cry or scream.

The stricken want to go home. To the house in Santa Monica or Chicago or Trenton where mommy and daddy live. They wait for their husband to pick them up except he died fifteen years ago. They must meet the school bus and walk the children from the stop even if their children have grandchildren. It’s time to make dinner though they haven’t cooked in over ten years because the last time they poured a bottle of soda into the spaghetti sauce and left the gas burner on overnight. They want to drive their car home. It’s parked outside though it isn’t, they have not driven or had a license for more than a dozen years, and no one will let them leave the locked residence where they now live. Still, they demand to go home because this place is not where they live, and you are a criminal for keeping them locked up. You no good terrible husband – wife – son – daughter. If you loved them, you would obey their demands to go home. You must not love them.

They can’t remember anything that is not a memory less than thirty or fifty years old. Certainly nothing that happened ten minutes ago. Many have no memories at all, which is why they don’t eat when they’re hungry (they don’t recognize hunger) or overeat when they aren’t (they can’t recall having eaten five minutes ago) or devour packets of sugar, pour tablespoons of salt on their food, chew on napkins, use a knife in place of a fork, fingers for their soup, or shove an entire slice of cake in their mouths as if it’s one bite. Loss of memory and confusion over engaging in appropriate daily activities are two sides of this damaging illness.

Daytime activities include playing Bingo and Wheel of Fortune, ping pong, chair exercise, singing, dancing, putting together jig saw puzzles, making collages, spreading paint, glitter, and glue in art class, watching the birds in the garden, dozing, and just relaxing. Occasionally they laugh. Some activities earn pretend money. They shop at the residence store where a few “dollars” will buy magazines, jewelry, sports hats, note cards, scarves, crossword puzzle books, gloves, wallets, socks, handkerchiefs, photo frames, pens, sunglasses, playing cards, and snacks like granola bars, cookies, crackers, or miniature candy bars. The most expensive items are the snacks because it prevents them from over eating junk “food.” Some of the residents walk. Walk and walk and walk and walk and walk. Yes, it is like that for some. They cannot sit or stay put for more than a few minutes because they have important things to do, places to go, people waiting for them. They are busy with activities.

They converse though it’s difficult for me to follow muttered conversations, rambling words, or disconnected thoughts. They smile at compliments and say they love you. They pause when you talk to them, nod at your suggestions to get out of the hot sun, or to watch the day’s entertainer. Then they ignore your words. You don’t speak their language either.

We will not discuss bathroom behaviors except to say you must imagine a two-year-old in the body of an eighty-year-old. We will not describe the stubborn and angry refusal to “freshen up.” We will attempt to forget the humiliation of what is disgusting. They have forgotten soap. Being fastidious. And being clean. But I promised: we will not discuss.

You thought you knew Alzheimer’s disease from the commercials, you who do not suffer. I’m not making fun of you or casting aspersions on your vision or curses on your lives. They are not like those people in the pharmaceutical ads, smiling and agreeable, ready to go for a ride to the park for a picnic or to the doctor’s for a check-up. That’s a ten second view of this disease, and you are forgiven for believing it’s the whole story. How would you know? May you never know otherwise.

When it’s time for me to leave where my mother lives to go to work, to go home, to meet appointments or obligations, I’m overwhelmed with guilt. The guilt weighs me down so I can’t lift my feet without stumbling. The guilt in my gut demands to be fed with sugar and carbs, the garbage that savages my diet and my health. For friends, the guilt in their gut leaves them unable to eat anything at all, and their self imposed fasts savage their diet and their health. We all endure bouts of anxiety, so leaving means we really do not leave – we take our ill loved ones with us. They accompany us throughout our day. They sleep at the assisted care residences but they sleep also in our dreams, our nightmares, and when we cannot sleep for worrying. Hours and hours of sleepless nights, and days of exhaustion to follow.

I do not have Alzheimer’s disease but my mother does. Therefore I also suffer. Now you know why I drive home sobbing.

 

*Painting Sad News, 1856, by Rostislav Felitsin

*The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain“.

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

This photographic reproduction is therefore also considered to be in the public domain in the United States.

The Blueprint of Story

No matter the genre or time period, all good literature tells something about how to be human. I don’t mean the classic elements for writing like plot, character development, conflict, setting, and resolution to the dilemma. I mean the motives for human interaction: love, honor, quest, change, relationships, violence, fidelity, revenge, sensuality, history, courage, cowardice, defense – these are the scaffolds of writing because they are the markers for living. They are what make people tick, what stimulates their actions. A story should expose the extraordinary range of human behavior, morality, intelligence, corruption, and spirituality.

To me this is key:  how one feels about one’s place in the universe and how one functions in response must be the essential blueprint of the story.

 

Just a Thought 8

 

 

Painting The Storm by Pierre Auguste Cot, 1880, courtesy Wikipedia