100 Word Challenge*: South


South is a direction. For most people. And in most circumstances.

But for me, South has more often than not been a place.

When I lived in Iowa, South was Texas, the Gulf Coast and Florida. Places I regarded as the farthest points from the brighter spots of the universe for reasons that were as stereotypical as often as they were based on fact.

Today, South is the United States of America, a place I consider as uninhabitable as I would swampland, Mars and Saudi Arabia.

It seems the farther north I go, the less South appeals to me. Curious.

*I found this prompt via a Twitter friend, who is a very talented writer and comedian. Not unlike how I found the 30 Day Challenge. It goes like so – Using “south” for inspiration, write 100 Words – no more, no less – then add a link back here from your post. (A pingback is like bread crumbs, it helps your readers find the other 100 Word stories, and it’s nice to share.) – and you can check out the creator here.

And a side note, my 30 days will not include weekends unless I am spectacularly bored or maddened about something to the point of beating my outrage to death with words. I probably should have stated that upfront.

30 Days of Writing


30 Day writing challengeIn no particular order, and completely subject to whim and whimsy, I am going to take up this challenge to blog for 30 grueling days in a row.

Or maybe just 30 days.

No fewer than 10 though, fer sure.

As I go over the topics, I am reminded that I have been blogging for over a decade and have covered many of these topics – in one way or another – already.

For example, I am fairly certain I have written about my first kiss.

I know I have (more than one probably) “interesting facts” about me posts.

I pet peeve all over the place. Twitter. Facebook. Here. Ad nauseum.

I’ve debated tattoos. Whether to get one or not. And I know I’ve written about memorial tattoos, and yes, I still think they are a bad idea.

My family, immediate, extended and in-law have all been covered. Sometimes so thoroughly that I’ve gotten myself into trouble.

For example, I blogged my father’s death. I don’t think I spared anyone really. And this was back in the day when quite a few people, my family included, were reading this blog on a regular basis.

I consider my family and my feelings about them well-trodden ground.

The only member of my family who is fine with me writing about them anymore is my husband. This owes partly to my incredible fondness for him as a topic, and the fact that my characterization of him makes him chuckle and openly wonder whether readers even believe he is a real person based on the stories I share.

Not sure that my daily agenda would be worth writing about. I am such a housewife and mom these days. A privileged one. But still. Does anyone really want to know about the yoga classes I attend? My media habits? How much I hate Costco?

I was a mommy blogger with a “syndicate” of mommies back in my early blogging days and I am really done with that kind of navel gazing.

Earliest memory? I was lost at the circus. Literally lost. Forgotten by my father who was getting drunk with his friends. I have written about it. It’s not a feel good story.

Can’t think of a single phrase or certain word that make me laugh, but in my family, anything to do with poop or farting is the starting point for hilarity.

Yes, we are that kind of family.

I have nothing to say to anyone who might be considered an “ex”. Anything I had to say, I said. To them.

One guy I called immediately following our last encounter and railed at his answering machine until it cut me off. I had to call back twice more to get out all I needed to say. After that, I was good and ignored him. Often to his face. Much to his displeasure. He never did get to rebut a word.

And I could never write an entire post about what I wear because I am a uniform type of girl. I blame it on 12 years of Catholic school. Totally ruined my sense of fashion or more accurately, crushed any interest I might have developed had I been forced to put outfits together from a variety of clothing choices from an early age.

I have had several uniforms over the years. As a high school teacher, it was jeans or khakis and a polo shirt. Every day. All year-long.

Currently, it is yoga pants, a sleeveless tunic top and some sort of sweater.

Fashion is for people who space in their brains for a closet. I don’t.

My morning routine is relentlessly focused on getting the child to school on time and ahead of the cluster-fuck of other people trying to do the same. The end.

Hmmm, I may have to supplement this challenge list.

No matter. Day 1 of this challenge has been met on the page of battle, and I emerge the victor.

On to day 2!

 

On Writing


Actually, on NOT writing. Mostly.

“You should blog again.”

“When are you going to get back to your writing?”

From my youngest daughter, “I know you will finish your book.” And she didn’t even add “someday”.

I used to write a lot. Every day in fact. There are 1500ish posts here to attest to that. Not to mention (but why not?), posts and a few stray articles here and there on the wide web providing a testament to my more prolific writing past.

So, why don’t I fire up this old blog and getting my writing back on?

I don’t know.

There’s too much to write about is one of the issues. I simply don’t know where to focus my attention.

Fiction? Poetry? Politics? Social issues? Life in general? Self-help? Advice?

I’ve typed around, over, under and through all of these genres. I can’t say that I have a favorite, or a particular strength, which is probably part of the problem.

I’d write about everything if that were possible.

Maybe it’s possible. But I would have to rouse myself from my mostly retired state and find a whole lot of an ambition, a perennial problem for me.

I am just not an ambitious person. I have a lot of work ethic. It would be difficult not to given that I was raised by Depression Era farm kids. Work. Hard, dull and practical is what I raised to know. It was instilled in me at a very early age. And I resent it.

At some point, working hard morphed into working smart and that transformed me into the creature that I am. Someone who can get jobs done but views most energy expense in terms of bottom lines.

How negatively will my life be affected if I don’t bother? Or half-ass it? I am a Gen-Xer after all.

So in terms of writing, when it was something I loved – and I did love it – I could do it all day. It was day-dreaming on paper and later on – a screen. But once it became work, when I was mommy blogging and then working for Care2, my old work ethic kicked in and efficiency, out-put versus in-put mindset, took over.

How much effort do I need to expend to make X number of dollars or drive Z number of page views or snag a syndication run for Y blog pieces?

Sucked the joy right from the marrow with sharpened fangs.

Oh, I know. What horrible problems to have.

People were reading your writing and someone was rewarding you – with money sometimes even – for your efforts. Poor baby.

Yes, I get it. Fair criticism. Don’t think I haven’t scolded myself. I have.

The upside of walking away and turning inward. Getting back to the organic with paper and pen. Was that I found a bit of joy again. A little bit of that love.

But the downside was that I missed being read. I really do like people to read what I write. It’s a bit of an addiction.

I satisfied it with social media. A little. For a while. It’s a cheat.

However, I am here again and my novel is screaming at me from the corner of the living room where it is piled up but unable to be forgotten. So the time is now to get back to “work”. The dilemma is rousing myself daily to do it.

I am lazy at my core. I like reading. Thinking. Walking. Broken up by Interneting and house-wife’ng and momming. It’s not a bad gig. Truly.

Being writer is a job and kind of calling . Like teaching was a calling.

I’m not afraid of competing. I am a better writer on my worst day than many people are when they really try hard.

I am aware, however, that I will annoy, possibly infuriate, and very likely disappoint people. Despite what you might think, I don’t really want to do any of those things. Although sometimes it’s necessary.

So, if you decide to read – going forward or trolling back – best to bear in mind that I am a real person at a keyboard somewhere. I have good and bad days. My interests, and therefore my choice of topics, are varied. I am not static. In thought or opinion. I’ve held views that I don’t anymore. I’ve written things that I might not now. And I am just as likely to change my point of view as I am to cling to it.

In other words, if you have some sort of idea of who you think I am, discard it. You don’t know. You don’t even know what you don’t know.

This was a rambling post. Like splashing and treading a bit of water before settling in and doing laps.

There’s a lot to write about. Rob Ford. The Liberal Budget. Unisex wash and change rooms. Donald Trump. And why I’d still vote for Clinton before Sanders. Why Twitter still sucks hard. And less weighty topics like house hunting, being too lazy to take a proper holiday and why I love Ottawa.

I’ll get to it. But first, I need to do some laundry and make a cup of tea.

1500


An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wond...

An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You probably didn’t notice but my last post made it 1500 even, which is a lot of writing. Like a book’s worth easy. And I was a bit startled when WordPress announced it to me because I haven’t been paying all that much attention.

Not like in the beginning of blogging when I counted everything. Page views. Blog visits. Number of posts.

Now, it’s just … oh yeah? 1500. Cool. That only took 6 and a half years – ish.

What’s more amazing to me is that after all this time, I still bother to blog at all.

But I can’t quite seem to walk completely away from the keyboard where blogging is concerned. Personal exposition has always been my favorite form of writing. It’s about as exhibitionist as I get and this in spite of my being a Sagittarius and all.

The widow dating stuff is probably the most popular if my search stats are to be believed.

If someone had told me back in my early single girl days at university that one day people would be reading my dating advice, I wouldn’t have known what to say. I was the hands down princess of the wallflower set. I had virtually no idea of how to get anyone to notice me, ask me out or how to go about initiating and maintaining a relationship. Seriously, hopeless on the romantic front and utterly clueless about relationships summed me up well into my thirties.

I wouldn’t even say that I was all that good at marriage the first time around.

So, the dating stuff, which pulls people in daily, is a bit of a shocking surprise.

Though I prefer writing about current events and politics, these are less of a draw. Understandable as I am not mainstream and neither buy nor sell the Wizard of Oz version of politics. I think that looking behind the curtain and seeing the Wizard for who he/she actually is works better in the long run than blissfully buying into whatever the current hope and change fantasy is. Most people wouldn’t agree, but it doesn’t keep me from reminding them that Emperor’s are rarely as clothed as they appear.

I still write about myself, which is amazing. And people read those posts. Which is equally astounding. And somewhat scary because I know some of these people in real life. I try not to think about that.

Originally, the blog was random, whiny and a bit about my annoyance with having been widowed. It was never really about grieving. Probably because I was nearly done with that by the time I started blogging.

Then, the blog centered on dating and remarriage. But that has a shelf life too.

Though I still write about Rob and I, we are old married folk in practice now if not in boots on the ground years. Perhaps we should count in dog years?

I have never been a mommy-blogger and I still find the writing from your uterus point of view repellant. I bred once. I have children. I mommy. I don’t think any of this defines me as a writer or is enthralling enough to do much of. Even my brief stint at a mommy blog was more a genre experiment than anything else.

So? Will the blogging continue?

Oh, I imagine so. I am not totally over it though I think that blogging as a writing form is at one of its lowest points, having been saturated to the point where everyone thought they could blog because they didn’t realize that it was about being able to write as much as it was about being self-absorbed. The narcissists eventually quit and the writers remain.

1500. It’s kind of inspiring.

Writing Advice From Kurt Vonnegut


Writer's Stop

Writer's Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

1.      Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

This is pretty important. At the end of a story, article, novel or whatever, a reader shouldn’t wish he/she had that time back. Most writers are fairly cognizant that the reader is doing them a favor by bothering to read and at, but some really push a reader’s generosity. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series comes to mind, partly because I finished it not long ago but mostly because he is one of those writers who is philosophical okay with meandering in the narrative weeds and dragging his readers along with him. His books drag on for hundreds and hundreds and then hundreds more pages, introducing a Russian novels worth of main characters with their own ancillary casts who bring in even more minor characters. There are so many point of view characters that when readers, naturally, develop preferences, they find other characters and plots/sub-plots distracting and a waste of time. If anyone needed proof that Martin is just indulging himself, they’d need only compare the novels to the HBO adaptation, which has cut characters and plotlines with equal abandon and is still managing to tell quite a good story. A secondary rule to the “don’t waste your reader’s time” would probably be – if you can edit your story by half and still tell a good story – you’ve burying your lead.
2.      Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

I don’t really believe this to be true of current day story telling. There are plenty of examples of books without a redeeming character to be found and yet people read. It’s not about rooting for the character as much as finding their story compelling, and that doesn’t mean characters have to be sympathetic as much as they just are extremely interesting.

3.      Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

I agree. Although the character doesn’t have to know what it is he/she wants or even be aware of the need/want, but the reader has to known.

4.      Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.

Yes, please! But it doesn’t have to be every sentence. Maybe every paragraph or page. Certainly every chapter should find characters, plot and readers farther along than they were.

5.      Start as close to the end as possible.
It cuts down on the meandering and as a writer, you can always go back and add. – either to beef up or to judiciously insert back story.  It’s easier to add than it is to cut.
6.      Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
I was noting this not long ago after Rob and I watched the movie, Beginners, with Ewen McGregor and Christopher Plummer. All stories are about two things really – loss and gain. Death, love, birth, aging, family, friends, lovers. You are losing or gaining or both nearly all the time.
And turmoil is what draws us. Think of the bloggers you read. What’s going on in their lives that brings you to read or makes them write?  For myself, I know that it’s easier to write when things are going on – good or bad. Status quo rarely compels me to come to the keyboard.
The same is true of readers. Zen is an admirable state of being but dull from a narrative perspective.
7.      Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

You should know your audience and you should cater to them. One of the reasons I am uneven and mostly unknown as a blogger is that I don’t write for that sweet spot niche. I wander about and so does my readership. Success means picking you p.o.v. and honing in on it.

8.      Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Agreed. Even mystery and suspense writers need to set a careful stage. When too much info is withheld than readers are caught off guard when characters take different turns or disappear from a story. Surprise is all well and good but if a novel hinges on constantly fooling the readers into believing one thing will happen and then the opposite does – one ends up with angry readers who won’t read your stuff again. People like the occasional surprise but prefer, really, the predictable. The bad guy gets his just dessert. The star-crossed couple comes together at the end. There are writers here and there who can get away with killing off major characters or having the couple part ways at the end of the story, but not many. That kind of story-telling turns most readers off. People don’t read fiction because they want more real life but because they want life that defies real life and is better than it. It’s more adventuresome or romantic in some ways but relatable on others. There is a reason whey some authors are perennially popular in spite of the fact that they seem to write the same book over and over. People like knowing what is going to happen. Real life isn’t like that at all after all.

poems suitable for the modern world with its short attention spans and commuter trains


I am reminded recently that April is Poetry Month. When I was still teaching public school, I knew all the various, and somewhat useless, monthly designations. There was usually more than one, and months could be so weighted down, it’s a wonder they progressed one to the next at all.

Poetry was my least favorite subject to teach but being an English teacher, I was obliged and the grade sevens that I taught were giddy whenever I steeled myself enough to endure more than a few days of it in a row.

Age as not modified much my indifference to poetry, but in keeping with the month, I will share this little gem that I stumbled across in a vain search for some bit of rhyme that didn’t render me even more indifferent:

Girls Who Read


I am not a poetry fan. Of all the visually digestible words there are, poetry ranks least in my favor and so, it is the rare poem that moves me from cool glance to lukewarm* interest. But this poem is an exception to my disinterest:

And okay, I will admit that a man with an accent from just about anywhere in the UK has me at “hello” in terms of my attention at any rate, but this poem speaks to my young self. The girl who whiled away whole weekends with her nose in a book. Any book. Who made projects out of hunting down everything written on every person, time period or historical event that caught her fancy and held it for more than the time required to breathe in and out.

And it speaks to the “girl” I am now, who can still be swept away by a fictional vista that only the author really can see for sure.

It’s not often that a work of fiction moves me to invest anymore. I am over reading the classics for literature’s sake. Literary narrative reminds me too much of university and I refuse to bow down to the notion that Jonathan Franzen isn’t long-winded, rather pretentious and not particularly original.

I like print wherever it’s printed. I’ll take my words carved neat with sharp points or wildly pontificating or with heart dotted i’s and j’s. As long as they sing arias that intrigue, inspire or infuriate me to thoughts I wouldn’t have otherwise had – I am good.

Women in my youth, but today as well, are not loved for our words – the ones we read or the ones we write. Still it’s mostly about our shapes. The size. The firmness. And the age. So a man who comes to appreciate the package because of what’s inside and not the other way around is a rare find, worthy of note and further study.

To all you girls who read then, take heart. There are indeed those who find the trait attractive, and rightly so.

*I prefer my world lukewarm for the most part to perhaps a shade about room temperature. Even tea is better “just right” unless I am nursing an asthma ravaged set of lungs or a sore throat, but even that has temperature limits.