07.17.08

Finish Lines

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Running, Tap dancing at 7:16 am by Marion

It’s 65 degrees this morning so before the temperature rises much more, I am heading out the door to run.

It’s nearly impossible to write all day if you don’t go full out at some point, either swimming, running or floundering around in tap dancing class.

Still working on two pieces that are after weeks of work, taking shape: an article about the Spanish in early 16th-century southern U.S. and a short story I’ve been calling “Poison.”

Last night I lay in bed for two hours, unable to sleep (Sunshine Madness), and in my mind, ran through the article and raced to the end of the short story.

I realized I had no way to end the short story!

So lacing up my running shoes, out the door and back, to figure out where to take the Spanish, and where to take Poison.

07.16.08

FD returns Thursday

Posted in Life in general at 12:17 pm by Marion

07.15.08

Sunshine madness

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 9:12 am by Marion

The long, bright days of summer give my days a kind of high-intensity fever pitch. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had trouble sleeping this time of year, too.

While it’s always nice to have a lot of energy, sometimes too much is, well, too much.

Sitting down and turning inward happens best on gray days. Living in Prague provided a perfect setting. With its moody skies and cold weather, writing was as natural as breathing.

So what to do in the sunny South?

We’re having rain at last; the grass is recovering and those rainy days are good for writing.

On the sunny days? There’s nothing wrong with drawing the shades.

07.14.08

Order in the Court

Posted in On writing, Writers at 7:29 am by Marion

It’s Monday, so why not jump right into the heart of writing today with a look at order.

This weekend was a crush of goings-on, and I had no time to wash a dish or a load of clothes. That caused me to feel like the world was falling apart.

Order is a critical part of my life … go ahead and laugh. I’m one of those people whose closets are ordered by color and garment type. My white shirts hang beside the light blues beside the blacks. My pants have an area and hang parallel to each other.

It’s no accident I’m this way. I believe writers have a deep-seated desire to create order from what is basically a sprawling organic production … life, that is.

We will construct events so that bad guys get their due; devoted lovers find each other in the end; and saintly leaders somehow triumph. It would be too unbearable otherwise.

I’ve heard it said that “The landscape of the home is the landscape of the mind.” I adhere to that one … when there is chaos around me, I can’t think straight. Likewise, when my mind is pulled here and there with too many immediate demands, the house comes unglued. Taking care of the animals comes first; dishes, laundry and vacuuming take a back seat.

I need a clear mind to write, so my writing days will often start with a sweep of the house to restore order. Before bed last night, I cleaned the kitchen and established some order on this desk (I gathered everything from various locations on the chair, floor, file cabinet and tables and placed the notes, messages and to-do lists into three large, but neat, stacks in front of me.) This morning my day started with laundry.

What, some might ask, does that have to do with writing?

Writing is as simple as thinking. Even when you’re on your game, there are no guarantees you’ll nail it. And if you can’t think straight? You might as well give it up for the day.

07.11.08

The Reign of Rain

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:37 am by Marion

Figuratively Speaking

It’s been a gray, wet few days around here, and in honor of the rainfall, today’s Figuratively Speaking takes a dip.

When it rains it pours, they say. That comes from the poetic meaning of the word, which is to fall in large or overwhelming quantities.

“Overwhelming quantities” says it all.

As a transitive verb, you can “rain” something on someone else … that is, send a large quantity of something to another person or place. She rained words of anger on the staff for their careless actions.

While in these cases, rain means a lot, in other cases, it can mean a lack … as in getting a raincheck for an out-of-stock item. This coupon, or raincheck, derives from the ticket given at baseball games that are rained out, entitling the fan to return when the game resumes.

Sometimes, evil-minded people can ruin someone’s plans … or, can destroy the joy of an event. When that happens, you can say he’s rained on their parade.

Jonathan Swift is credited with first using the phrase raining cats and dogs in 1738, though it was also used as raining dogs and polecats by Richard Brome.

So under cloudy skies and a light drizzle, it’s a time to give thanks for the rainfall we needed so desperately, the water that has ended the reign of the drought for now.

07.10.08

On failure pt. 2

Posted in On writing, Press, Writers at 9:31 am by Marion

Two days ago I wrote about failure … I don’t like it … then yesterday catching up on Sunday’s New York Times, I read this article about growth.

It seems that our perceptions about ourselves have vast sway over our development. I mean, VAST.

Ms. Rae-Dupree sums up thoughts from a 2006 book by Carol Dweck, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” that describes two views one holds about oneself.

We can think we’re born with talent or not. Whether we think we’re Picasso or a dolt, we limit ourselves profoundly when we adopt this view. It’s called the “Fixed Mindset.”

If we think we grow constantly … learning and doing more, becoming smarter all the time … we have a “Growth Mindset.” The author says this way of thinking allows a person to really do things … to accomplish … to lead.

I think back to my worries about failure … and realize that failure is the very seed of greatness. This article confirmed those thoughts:

People with a growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life’s setbacks into future successes. That ability to learn from experience was cited as the No. 1 ingredient for creative achievement in a poll of 143 creativity researchers cited in “Handbook of Creativity” in 1999.

It’s reassuring to read such a source as the New York Times … and the book’s author … wax about failure.

I can’t say it makes the bitter pill easier to swallow. Facing my shortcomings … my hapless tap dancing, my dull prose, my lack of original thought … still takes my breath away.

Yet once I get those mediocre thoughts out of the way … I can move on … and up … hopefully that is … to the lofty thoughts and ideas that, when they come, make it all worthwhile and make ordinary life transcendent and breathes life into ordinary words.

07.09.08

Un-tapped pt. 2

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Tap dancing, Writers at 9:56 am by Marion

Another tap dance class on Monday and I floundered, as usual. My teacher, who’s in her early 20s, has lots of enthusiasm, but can’t possibly understand how out of place I’m feeling.

We’ve done “combinations,” that is, steps put together in short sequences, but I can never master one before we’re doing another. Every tap class I’ve had works this way … a lot of steps sort of thrown at you and then something new. That’s foreign to how I learn: I have to focus and repeat each step many times until I master it … at least until I get the basics.

Meanwhile, she showed us a combination done to a sort of rock-abilly song and after going through the steps a few times, she played the music. I stood there as she and the other student went through it and knew it was impossible. If I’d been 9 years old I would have cried!! As it was, I felt quite embarrassed.

So, today I’m going to practice a few steps with the veneer board I have in between working on a short story. I am determined this time to learn to tap dance, no matter how much humiliation I go through!!!!

07.08.08

Try again

Posted in On writing, Writers at 8:00 am by Marion

Who likes failure. I certainly don’t.

Yet, to do anything well, we must fail at it again and again.

It’s the most unnatural process imaginable. Hopeful and energized, we begin. Then, despite our utter sincerity and sincere effort, we are wooden.

Hopeless frustration ensues. That’s when we leave the room, often through the back door.

When I first began writing short stories in 1993, it was because I thought writing short stories was the most difficult thing possible. It gave me a thrill to think about doing something I couldn’t.

And getting that first story completed gave me a profound joy.

What’s happened in the past 15 years? True, I’ve gotten a lot better and even written some stories that may have small moments of beauty in them. Most are forgettable, though.

Now, working on this new story, I have to face this feeling of failure. I know what it is to get something right. I also know how it feels to lose the blood, the life, of a story. Without its breath, or voice, a story will never get off the ground.

Working yesterday on a story, I found myself writing with the wrong voice. Today, I’ll have to go back and rewrite that entire passage. Maybe I’ll find the right voice. Now where did I put it??

07.07.08

Clearing the mind

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 10:19 am by Marion

In honor of the National Holiday-weekend, I undertook some serious clearing out. Like most Americans, I own too much stuff.

We come from a tradition of lacking … coming to the New World with no possessions and scraping through on starvation diets while we learned how to grow our own food in this alien place.

Of course Native Americans thrived here, having learned all about farming and cooking corn, which was an Indian staple. We Europeans learned a great deal from them, before repaying them by nearly wiping them out. (That’s another story.)

Then, during decades of hard-scrabble living, we moved west and south, and learned to conserve, reuse and cling to everything — scrap cloth, paper, wood and especially metal.

During the Great Depression, these habits served us well. My grandmother still holds on to rubber bands, string and aluminum foil.

Yet in our times, we have too much of everything. Consumer items are cheap, thanks to Chinese exports (another story, too).

We don’t know how to deal with this abundance, and the old habits that served us well now expose us to pathological levels of clutter and hoarding.

Not wanting to end up like that, I try to go through my possessions once or twice a year, culling what I can part with.

I’m finding that the more I understand myself in a big picture way, the less I need all that stuff around to help define and support me.

I have adopted an elementary school which receives anything that could be used in art projects; the library gets books, CDs and magazines. A women’s shelter boutique gets clothing that’s still attractive, while the older, unwearable cotton items go into the compost (I’m not kidding!)

After clearing out my home, my mind is more clear, as well. A good day to get to work on a new archaeology feature, my new story “Poison” and whatever else comes my way today.

07.04.08

A spangled deed

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 9:01 am by Marion

Happy July Fourth from Figuratively Speaking

The story goes that Francis Scott Key looked overhead and saw the tattered flag that survived a night of battle, and felt so moved that he penned the words to our National Anthem.

Key was a lawyer who in 1814 witnessed the survival of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md. Leave it to a lawyer to give his poem the dull, but specific, title “Defense of Fort M’Henry.” No room for misinterpretation there.

Someone realized the offense of that title and replaced it with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In 1931 it was made the official U.S. theme song.

Now, what about this word, spangled?

Noun: A spangle is a small, thin piece of glittery material, often used to ornament a dress. A synonym is sequin. A spangle is also a small sparkling object.

Verb: Here’s where things become relevant to us, or rather, to U.S.

The transitive verb to spangle means to cover with spangles or other small sparking objects. Most often, the past participle form is used as an adjective … well, you know the word … spangled … As in A spangled Christmas tree.

Believe it or not, there is also an adjective spangly

The word derived from the late Middle English word spang which was a glittering ornament.

That word came from our Dutch friends’ archaic word spange which meant buckle.

Fortunately for us, our beloved flag has neither buckles nor sequins, and we can safely call it merely starry.

So from Fiction Dailyland, here’s wishing you a most generously spangled flag … and day.

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