Everything outside my window wears a pure, white cloak. I love looking out at the fresh fallen snow, the way it balances on bare branches, dresses up dirty winter streets and softens everything. I remember the afternoon of my fifth birthday when the first snowflakes of the winter started to fall. I believed, in that sure way only a small child can, that the snow was falling just for me. I wore my favorite dress with pink polka-dots. It was the Mad Men era when little girls wore dresses, even on days it snowed.
Nature didn’t guarantee snow would stick where I lived. Usually it was a sloppy mess, soon turning to rain. Only once every few years, did enough pile up that we could go sledding on the hill behind our house. Nothing but the coming of Christmas caused more joy.
Now I live where it snows every winter and we measure it in feet, not inches. Oh, it can be a pain, the cold, the shoveling, the dangerous driving. But I have a five-year-old in me that still gazes in wonder. Because it’s beautiful and I know it’s just for me.
Dug my potatoes just in time to beat the first snowfall. Now to dig out my grand-mother’s recipe for new potatoes and peas in a cream sauce. As a kid I always loved that dish. Earlier this week I celebrated the cold weather, making chicken and dumplings for the first time. I planned to take a picture, but they were gone too fast.
The potatoes are an experiment in small space gardening.I planted them in half a whiskey barrel, and piled soil and straw around the plants as they grew. Wire mesh wrapped around the top of the barrel held the soil in place.
The whole thing was supposed to have filled with potatoes. The only ones I found were at the roots of the plants, just as if I had planted them in the ground.
Not sure why this didn’t work. Anybody? I did get them in a little late and found lots of tiny potatoes. If I try again next year, I’ll start earlier.
Brooding about so-and-so-author-who-just- came-out-with-book-four-in-four-years kills any chance of worthwhile writing.
In a weak moment, googling this author and reading her blog might seem inspirational. Judging her books trash, acknowledging they do seem to be selling by the tens of thousands, convincing yourself that doesn't change their trash-status...
Hmmm. The adrenaline is flowing. Words might even be flowing across the page. But more likely, you will be slumped over the keyboard feeling like your own writing is trash and you'll never finish another book.
Using the rush of feeling that comes from thinking about the success or failure of other authors to drive your own work may put words on the page in the short term. In the long term it results in shallow, contracted writing.
Word that speak deeply about the human condition flow from a self solid in its identity and purpose as if no other writer ever picked up a pen, or tapped keys on a keyboard.
Just so we're clear here. The drink referred to on this blog is Coffee.
Mine, at home, do not look this pretty. But today I was out with my girlfriends.
This double mocha latte is courtesy of Kirk at Lindaman's. My husband and I have enjoyed this restaurant since before we were married in 1985. (In the interests of full disclosure, my youngest child is now a dishwasher here. He got the job himself, I had nothing to do with it. Actually, I had never even taken him her to eat.)
Possibly my favorite drink here is a caffee corretto known as the Triumvirate.
The hot drink contains espresso, bailey's, crème de menthe, kahlua, spiced chocolate and half n half. This is not a joke.
A Mexican, an Irishman and a Frenchman walked into a very busy Italian bistro. They proceeded to order what each described as their own country's finest coffee libation. Too busy to accommodate the attention to detail each drink required, the barista mingled three as one.
Straight off the menu. I kid you not.
Notice the first ingredient is espresso. So, yes. It qualifies as coffee.
Once I saw the trailer for A Film Unfinished, I knew I had to see it. Though horrified by the images of life in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, I wanted to know the truth.
Rarely, is the truth clear cut, as this film so aptly demonstrates.
After WWII, an unfinished Nazi propaganda film was discovered in a concrete vault. The silent hour-long rough cut portrayed life in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Shot over 30 days, in May 1942 —just two months before the Nazis started sending the Ghetto’s Jews to Treblinka—the film highlights extremes of poverty and luxury. Edits juxtapose scenes of people dying of starvation on the sidewalks with views of a fancy dinner party.
For nearly half a century historians used the film as a record of life in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Then in a film vault at an American Airbase, a British researcher stumbled on two film cans lying on the floor titled "Das Ghetto". Inside—30-minutes of footage left on the cutting room floor when the Ghetto film was made.The outtakes clearly showed the film crew had staged many of the scenes. Some caught cameramen accidentally filming one another.
Tragically, the scenes of profound suffering and death are not the fakes. Face after face appears, eyes vacant, skin taut over bone. A fly buzzes and lands. A hand too weak to brush it off.
I want to look away, but I don’t. I open myself to see each face that flashes on the screen as an individual human being. That man had a wife and children.That woman had plans and hopes, just like I do. That person never imagined his life would turn out like this.
I look at each skeletal body shown sliding down a chute into the mass grave. I make myself a witness to the human dignity of each one. Because that is an undeniable truth.
An editor advised me to get rid of the rhetorical questions in my novel. So I changed them all to declarative statements.
No. He said that wasn’t good enough. I really had to get rid of them.
“But will the reader understand what I’m trying to say?” I asked. After all we were talking about my all-important climax scene. My main character was weighing her options, deciding a question that would set the direction for her life.
“You’re asking the wrong question,” said the editor. “You must trust yourself. And you must trust your reader.”
My rhetorical questions signaled my insecurity—Demon # 164.
To write well, I must believe in myself. Pounding the reader over the head with sentences explaining what I want my reader to “get” is a sure sign that I do not trust my storytelling.
Have I laid the foundation for the reader to understand my character’s predicament? Have I written a story with emotional depth? These are scary questions to face after working years on a novel. But they must be asked.
If I have accomplished these crucial tasks, it does not matter if readers “get” what I’m trying to say. Readers bring their own lives to the novels they read. They get what they need to get.
If I have not done the groundwork, if I have not written a story that thrums with authentic human emotion, no amount of rhetorical questions will do it for me. If I have written a beautiful story that rings with the universal truth of the human experience, rhetorical questions and similar techniques that hammer information like a ten penny nail will confuse, rather than enlighten, the reader.
My part of the world is glorious! The weather this first week of November could fool me into thinking it’s early October. It’s sunny, and warm enough to run without sleeves. All I want to do is walk through the neighborhood and look. Look at every single leaf. Run and laugh and gaze with wonder at the blue sky. Does anyone say it better than Edna St Vincent Millay? O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! …Thy woods, this autumn day, …all but cry with colour! …Lord I do fear Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.
Checklists help us get things in order. They’re a means of managing, staying in control. Or, at least, they prop up that illusion. But we have to start where we are, so if a checklist is what we’ve got to work with—start checking. Recognize any of these demons?
□Fear of failure
□Fear of success
If you have all or many of these, often on a daily basis, what does it mean?
It means you’re a writer. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy, a loser or doomed forever.
If you worked as an accountant, computer engineer or teacher you might wake up Monday morning with some of these feelings, but you would brush your teeth, get dressed and go to work as usual. You’d put these negative feelings and behaviors aside and do what you’re supposed to do.
But when you’re a writer and these demons come, it a whole different story. Try putting them aside, chasing them away or pretending they don’t exist and you’ll never write anything of consequence.
Trouble is, most of us have never been taught to invite the demons in for a latte. There is no class in high school titled Learn Not to Deny and Stuff Emotion or Be Your True Self Even If People Don’t Like You.
For many of us, high school was a training ground for Denying and Stuffing Emotion 101. We learned, probably even before we went to school How to Hide Our True Selves So We Don’t Get Hurt.
But it’s a writer’s job to bring emotion to life on the page. If we want to write with any sense of truth, we need to experience our full range of feelings.
You could start now. Recognize what you’re feeling at this moment. Notice and possibly name it.
I am an author of books for young people, and an occasional journalist. I blog about dealing with demons and other dark holes of the writing life, also about literature, history, food, gardening, nature, stuff I like.