TO THE CHINESE SAYING MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES:
I say, No!
I'd rather live in truly calm times.
Well, except for ribaldry, wild laughter, running through piney woods, warm hugs, love, loping barefoot in the sand, galloping on a fine steed, reading an exquisitely written book, dancing, hearing great music, seeing live theater and transformative films, traveling to foreign lands, meeting more new people, hearing new hopes, dreams and tales, seeing acts of loving kindness to animals, the planet and our fellow humans.
Except for those things, and to enable those things, I'd rather have calm times.
Not "calm before the storm" times.
Written Sunday, October 8, 2017
For the record, before what looks like an inevitable nuclear war descends upon us.
I had been practicing for three months. The composition was perfect – three horses running across a field, manes and tails blowing in the wind.
I worked out all the colors. The strokes of my practice blackboards fairly flew – I could almost hear the hoofbeats on the ground and an occasional whinny. I did exercises so I would be able to squat while drawing.
The big day came. I Madonnari – the annual chalk festival outside the old Spanish mission in Santa Barbara. My debut – my very first chalk festival.
I crouched down, chose my background colors and started drawing. The greens of the field, blues and white for the sky, yellow for flowers.
I began drawing the first horse – a glossy black one. The next one, white. And the last one, brown. And then…I reached into my chalk box and there was no brown! I moved my hand around in the box – no brown. What to do?
I outlined the horse and decided, Ok, whatever color chalk I pull out will be the color of the third horse. It was….
Title is a prompt from Ina's Weird Prompts™. More stories on this theme in the book Stories From The Heart, vol. 3.
Story © Flo Selfman, PR Consultant, Proofreader-Copyeditor www.WordsalaMode.com, Immediate Past President (2003-16), IWOSC – Independent Writers of SoCalif www.iwosc.org. Reprinted on InaTheMemoirCoach blog with permission.
Written in response to Ina's Weird Prompt™: I was walking down the street when I noticed a box on the sidewalk right next to the curb ........
I paused, not minding the rain. The impression of all the frantic citygoers scrambling into their skyscrapers around me began to fade as my eyes fixed on one thing. A beautiful box made of dark wood with aged, yet sturdy steel edges. Each water drop rebounded off the surface, as if it wore a shield.
My hair and coat were growing heavy as they became more and more soaked. But there was something grounding me to the pavement. Time seemed to become irrelevant. I reached down and picked up the box. It was heavier than I anticipated for such a small size. As I ran my fingers across the steel edges, looking for an opening, the energy around me changed. A sudden rush of emotion surged through every inch of my body. I could feel the history of a hundred years seeping into my hands.
I noticed a small key hole but of course there was no key in sight. My cheeks grew tight and red with embarrassment. I should have instantly looked for the owner instead of trying to look for a way to explore the contents of the box. Clutching it under my arm, I looked up. A small old woman was standing a few feet from me. She smiled. Her eyes were a soft blue, and full of kindness. Figuring the box was hers I offered it to her, but she shook her head. I was puzzled. She continued to watch me, smiling ear to ear, but would not speak or accept the box.
The woman was dressed in clothes that seemed a bit out of date, but showed she had a great deal of character. Just as I was going to speak to her again, I could hear loud footsteps hurrying up from behind me. A voice called out,
"My box! You found my box!"
I turned to see a young boy running toward me, his face lighting up with joy and relief.
"This is your box?"
"Yes! It must have fallen out of my bag when I was trying to catch the bus!"
I looked around for a moment before returning my gaze to the boy. The old woman was nowhere in sight. Puzzled, I turned back to the boy. Handing him the box, I smiled and asked him what was inside. Tears came into his eyes.
"Letters from my grandmother's diary, and pictures, too. She wrote every day, from the time she was my age until the day she died. I miss her so much. I'm so glad you found the box."
He smiled and thanked me, then skipped away, the elegant wooden treasure trove held tight to his chest.
Though the old woman was gone, the energy and kindness in her eyes lingered; her smile had said it all. Her memories were safe. She could finally begin the next leg in her journey....
Written by Miranda Siegersma
© 2017 Miranda Siegersma, reprinted on InaTheMemoirCoach.com with permission
All were looking for a way to figure out how to really get going on a book they've had in mind, but somehow have not been able to bring to fruition.
We spent time with each person, reviewing reasons why one or another of the books banging them upside the head weren't really taking shape. Turned out, it was usually more than one book each person had been thinking about, sometimes for years.
Does this sound at all familiar? Have you got three or more books you've started to write, put down, picked up again maybe once a year? Have other books jumped up and demanded you tackle them, now?
You are not alone! Ask yourself these questions:
Think about your answers. The solution to which book to start with should become clear. My main point is this. Put your focus on one book at a time. That does not mean the other books won't intrude and want to make themselves heard. Be kind to them. Write down a few notes that they're whispering in your ear, put them in a separate file, and then go back to the one you have selected to do first.
Then what? Keep writing. On the chosen book! Stay focused. Make dates with yourself to write regularly. Carve out a time. You deserve it! Yes, you can fit in other parts of your life. They're important! But stick with your promise to yourself. Write. Then watch the pages mount up.
If you would like concrete ideas on how to stay motivated, how to keep yourself in that chair, how to keep the focus on one book at a time, and how to make that book richer and a better read, join the workshop I'm starting at the end of July! We'll be working with folks who have picked a book to really dive into. And want to take it to the next level. For dates, times, other info, and sign-up use the button below.
At the end of the Jump Start Your Book workshop, the path seemed clear for attendees. And now, I'm looking forward to seeing progress as these people hone in on the book that makes the most sense to start with. And you, too, if you were not at our June 17 Jump Start Your Book! event. This is a limited seating series, and a few seats are available for those who have not attended but have a book they want to develop further.
of twisting or turning would allow me to push the end back through the opening it had mys- teriously wandered through to make its conspicuous lump. Frustrated, and not willing to force the chain for fear of damaging it, I put the necklace down by the door. I'll bring it to a jeweler, I thought.
Fast forward to this morning. An agreement I'd been working on for a new project had a couple of deal points I was having a bit of trouble nailing down. I'd emailed the draft to the lawyer involved. A couple of days ago... In keeping with our times, I left him a voicemail and email yesterday with the questions, asking if we could discuss "in the soon."
This morning he called at around 10. We hashed out everything, and it all seemed to fall into place. For some reason I went to the door. And picked up the necklace. What you see in the picture is how it appeared.
I've had some wonderful adventures with serendipity, and physical changes in objects for no standard reason (looking at a previously non-working appliance – no, not a microwave – thinking "Work!" and having it suddenly perform perfectly, for example).
But a sudden untanglement, with no physical cause, this is new.
I love it!
I wrote about breaking through writers block back in 2011. But it's such a recurring theme I wanted to post an update, with some new "why I can't write" protests, and tips on why, and how, you can write. Blame the students in my Monday morning memoirs class, who expressed frustrations along these lines. But here's the thing -- when I talked to them about ways to move on, there was a palpable change in the room. A huge sense of relief, and excitement.
This is how the discussion started. Seem familiar?
"I'm afraid to write about my life. If I go into the feelings, I won't be able to deal with it...Too much pain. I just don't want to go there."
Then there was damned if you do and damned if you don't:
"I want to write my memoir, but I'm afraid that if I get into the story, hours will go by and I won't be able to get anything done. That happened to me recently. I started to write, looked up at the clock, and it was three hours later. I can't afford that kind of time! I promised to do things for my husband, and other people, and I have laundry, shopping...."
So, here's what I said to the first issue. I know it's hard to write about painful memories. But once you get them out on paper (or computer screen), you'll feel so much better. It's really cathartic. Writing is a recognized technique for overcoming the pain of loss. There is much written about this in the literature of social services and psychology. I'd used the technique in my Grief Lifters classes. So I'd also had experience helping others release pain through writing.
Several in the class nodded when I mentioned the power of writing to help ease the pains of old hurts. One long time class member and I recalled Kay. A wonderful writer, not suffering from a block, but she did feel pain, acutely, when writing some of the stories of her life. She, and the rest of us, learned that the first time she read one of these tales, she'd cry. The second time, the crying would happen, but less of it. The third time, no tears. The same thing happened over and over. Kay knew how healing it was for her to write these memories down. And so did everyone else in the class. A lesson they applied to their own work.
Another member had lost his wife. Writing helped him get through the pain. And it had another benefit. It brought him close to two of his estranged daughters. They'd never known how much he cared for their mother; he was schooled in the "Don't show your emotions" school of family life. But when they read these stories, his kids all realized that indeed, he loved his wife very much.
One other, important benefit of writing about painful experiences. The way you got through them can help those who read your stories. Perhaps you'll be able to show them a technique for coping that helped you. And just the fact that you got through it can buoy a reader's spirits.
I also told the class a story about one of my own experiences. I was in a relationship with a fellow, and it was quite serious. Then one day he didn't show up. Something told me he never would. And I was right. I was in such pain when I realized this that I jumped into my car, with no idea where I was headed. This was Carmel. Beautiful area, with small towns and roads right on the Pacific coast. A spot in nearby Pacific Grove called out to me. I parked, sat, and stared at the ocean.
Somehow I'd taken a yellow pad and pen. I picked them up and started to write. One hour later, the tablet held twelve pages of hardly crossed out handwriting. I began to read. "You know I'll never hurt you," my former lover said to me in the first line. Reading all the pages, as if outside myself, I morphed into a reader of someone else's prose. "Not bad," came to mind. I realized this was the beginning of a book. And that clearly the process of writing had defused the pain.
Once people realize how useful writing is at getting over deep wounds, it becomes easier and actually logical to just dive in. I encourage you to try it. Please let me know how it's going for you! Comment here or send me an email.
On the second issue, "I'll get lost in the writing and won't be able to get anything done -- promises I made to others, or chores for myself" -- here was my reply. This is a common roadblock people throw up to keep from putting pen to paper. But you do not have to lose yourself in your writing. You can set a time limit.
Also, while we all make promises to other people, it's important to do things for ourselves as well. Remember, the writing is something you want to do, for yourself. You've stated that you want to get your stories down so that others in your family will know what you've done in your life. Some of you want to get your stories published, and perhaps performed.
How to avoid being swallowed up? Try using a timer. Figure out what amount of time is right for you. Can you give yourself one hour a day? Or one or more hours once a week? This has to be sacred time. Nothing can interrupt. Think of it as a gift and a promise you are giving to yourself. You deserve it.
Whether you've had either of these reasons to keep from starting or keeping on, or others, you'll find that once you start, you'll want, and even need, to keep on going. Persistence really does pay. The pages will pile up.
If you just write.
Here are a few articles on the subject:
The other good thing about exposing yourself on paper is your readers will admire your honesty. The writer who is not perfect is human. Someone with whom a reader can honestly identify. When I wrote my first book, Pawprints, I was quite pleased when friends remarked, "I can hear you talking as I read these stories." But I was actually surprised and a bit uncomfortable myself when people added, "I know so much more about you now," with a kind of knowing look. Ouch! But, the fact that I did reveal personal vignettes did much more for me than to me. Pawprints became an Amazon.com bestseller, and developed into a literacy program. And readers liked me!
Now, does this mean you have to tell everything? No. If you will really hurt yourself or someone else, consider whether or not it is such an important point that you must reveal all. If so, the other people who are afraid they might be tarnished by association, or whose secret you are telling, will just have to get over it. This is particularly true within families. There are always skeletons and everyone is afraid of letting them jump into the light. But, as the research shows, these secrets are harmful to everyone, and it really may wind up helping all involved if the cat is let out of the bag.
Thinking over your life for your memoir will bring to mind these secrets. And while it is a good thing to put some into print, there are valid reasons when other avenues at clearing the air may be a better choice.
A woman who came to me about a project had experienced the family secret issue. A relative was trying to urge her to have sex with his friends, who were strangers to her. Why? Probably because he thought "free love" was healthy. She was so offended, and upset, that she chose to ostracize him, and never re-opened the door to the man again. The rest of the family knew nothing of this. They were all very upset with her.
In talking about her project, we discussed this issue in depth. The conclusion -- it would be too hurtful for the family to include the episode and its aftermath in her memoir, and it was not critical to the portion of her life about which she was writing. But it was important to talk to others in the family once he had died. They needed to know why she had seemed so ill mannered, to say the least. The result? Suddenly, the family understood her behavior. They wound up embracing her warmly. Family bonds were re-attached.
Another time you might opt not to include such a secret is if you might wind up getting hurt, for example kneecapped, as one lady who came to me for advice might have. In this case I also advised not to reveal the secrets.These were not about the author, but about characters she would include. The woman with the story had been married to a man who was famous in a field that was riddled with mafia. It would have been very dangerous for her to expose their behavior.
On a related note, is it OK to write stories about celebrities you might have encountered?
In general, the rule of thumb is, if it really happened, it is not libel (“slander” refers to telling the story orally) and you can write it. Celebrities are also considered public figures and as such are “fair game” for irony, or for stories that involve something you witnessed – as long as it is not degrading or defamatory. They are not, though, fair game for mean spirited, untrue stories. Again, if it is not true, you better watch out.
Here are two resources online to check out the legalities involved.
Conversation between the Hillebrandt Litterbox Sanitation Engineer (Q) and Pixelle Cat (PC)
Q: Fer heaven’s sake, Pixelle! How many times can a cat poop in a day?
PC: Well, let me see…there was that time at 1:00 am, when you got out of bed to clean out the box.
Q: I remember it well. Then there was the 3:00 am fragrant breeze wafting me out of bed again.
PC: Yes. Purrrrr. You were pretty snarly, for a human.
Q: Yer damned right! It’s really hard to keep getting awakened out of a deep sleep by a crappy smell.
PC: I beg your pardon!
Q: OK, OK. I know this is just call to nature stuff. But really, 3 more times from 7-9 am? And then off and on all day? Really, Pix, it’s a bit much!
PC: Well, did you ever think this is something you’re doing?
PC: Maybe it’s the food?
Q: Hmmm…you usually don’t go this often. What have I been doing differently?
PC: Dunno, but dinner was tasty tonight.
Q (sotto voce): You know, I think it’s time for some rice in your food, Pixelle Cat.
SOUNDS - litterbox scratching in the BKGD.
CUT TO: 3 days later - Night
Q: How you feeling, Pix?
PC (suspiciously): Why do you ask?
Q: You only used the litter box twice today.
PC: Yeah. I guess you’re right. I’ll have to work harder.
Q: Very funny.
Timeout for some cat cuddles.
Is there a moral to this tail? You tell us! Hint: rice really does help get rid of The Pussycat Runs. Anyone have any other remedies? Or similar tails?
It all began when little Sam Cat went walkabout in October of 2012. I was of course heartbroken. She tried to come back in two nights later, but her former boon companion Pixelle the Prosecutor hissed and snarled fiercely and she ran off. I raced out after her, but could not get her to come back in....Then Sam started coming around, in April of this year. I'd been worried sick and felt guilty as hell for letting her out in the first place. But then, I've had cats since I was a kid and this is only the second who'd ever disappeared. And I'd always let them outside because I think no living critter should be trapped.
Dear Sam Fans --
I don't know how to tell you this. So I'm just gonna go in. The little pussycat, residing in a cabinet in one of my bathrooms for close to 3 weeks, was beginning to lose it. Crying out several times a night, glaring at me from inside instead of looking sweet. If I dared put a toy or the brush she'd loved in close, a claw would come shooting out, and huge hissing would accompany the shot. So, despite the advice of my vet and a pet behavior specialist, I thought, I've got to get her out of there so that I can begin the reintegration process, if that's going to be possible.
First step, called Animal Control to see if they send people to help get feral-types out of things like cabinets. Answer, no way in hell! Let this cat go. She clearly wants no part of you or the others in the household. Ever. She'll be fine outside without shots. Millions of pussycats are.
I wasn't really buying it, but I did want to bring her, and me, some relief. And relief also for the other two cats, who kept getting lured into one room by me to try to get little Sam to feel safe emerging, and would then get very testy with each other. Not a great plan. So, next step, call a vet tech and see if he would be able to make a house call to help me first confirm this is little Sam, and then help me get her to vet for check up. Then, be able to help with reintegration, i.e., insuring the other two cats wouldn't kill her.
I lucked out and the tech was able to come next day. With steel lined gloves scarred, as he showed me, by previous cat bites and scratches. And big towels. And a net. He'd warned me this was going to be a battle though he would do his best to get the cat and wrap her in a towel to soothe her, and then he'd be able to "wand" her to check the microchip to make sure we've got Sammy. The net would only be used as a last resort, because it would really stress the pussycat out.
So, I was told to let him do his thing while I went off, and not be surprised by noises. He'd call me when ready. I left him to his thing while answering a very exciting email. Which was a little difficult due to numerous thumps and thuds in the background.
Finally, the call. I went to the tech, who was standing catless but with information. No chip. Sammy of course has a microchip. Huh? "Can't find a chip. I was only able to check one side of her, but the wand really should show if there is one."
I was dubious. He offered to check the other side of the cat, which meant I was again sent off while he made valiant efforts to corral the angry and scared ball of fur. Several minutes later I was called in again.
"No way. She took hold of my finger with her teeth, through the glove, and I thought, 'Great! Now I'll be able to check her completely.' But, she was going to go right through my hand. So, last resort. Do I have your permission to use the net?"
He'd warned me using a net might need to happen. He now added that I should expect pee and poop. I suggested we remove the rugs. He said that was a great idea. So, out I went again.
VERY LOUD HISSING AND BANGING. But, finally, a net emerged from the bathroom, containing one furious cat. The vet tech followed, holding said net.
We got 'er done. No chip.
Then the tech put the lid on. "I think this is a boy."
There are other chapters coming. "From pee and poop to something better," and "When does becoming a lock picker make you a good person?" For tonight, I'll leave it by saying my daughter's friend has now labelled me a cat kidnapper.
I thought I'd heard everything in my creative writing and memoir classes. But this was a new wrinkle. Bonnie (Barbara) Brace-Smith, a newcomer to our class, told the group:
"When I write, I often think in song. I just can't think in words. The story comes to me as music."
Certainly songwriters must have this bent, but Bonnie doesn't really consider herself a songwriter, or lyricist. She's really just, in her description of "writing," talking about how jotting down a story comes through her consciousness. Curious to hear how this process manifests, I asked her to go ahead and "read" what she'd written in response to the prompt, "The last time I blew up a balloon." Take a listen. I think you'll be as pleased as we all were.
Bonnie's written other stories and poems as well. Sometimes they're in words on the page. Stay tuned.
Hi, and glad to see you! My new blog features memoir and fiction writing tips for you out there aiming to create enchanting memoirs and flights of fancy of your own; new "Pawprints," those close encounters of the furry kind, by moi; and topical comments as they bang on my head to be written. Plus: videos featuring talented authors I'm privileged to work with, reading live, Coming...your life stories, here. Got one you want to share? Use our form to be considered.