Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Succinctly Yours #180: Passionate Pair of Pears

Thank you to Grandma’s Goulash for hosting Succinctly Yours! Each week, Grandma picks a fresh picture to help bring a story of 140 words or 140 characters to fruition. I giggled when I saw this picture! The bonus word this week was “labor.”

They were a smitten pair of pears. His firm, ripe flesh turned her insides to jelly. When he called her his little tart, she blushed. There was no labor to this love. 134

Picking each other was a labor of love that grew, ripened, and then mellowed sweetly. It would never spoil…until she was caught in salad with a zesty passion fruit. 136

Anjou and Bart were excited about their modeling careers. Posing for still lifes was the opposite of grueling physical labor.  106

When Anjou told Bart she was going into labor, he secretly hoped it would be a little Bartlett.  78

“….it came to me that if I wanted to, I could have a little session with this young, young man and you would never have to know about it, he would be making love to history and so would I. But when I looked at him again, well, there he was with his gigantic knees and his unlaced sneakers and his carefully ripped jeans, his ice rattling around in his Coke cup—someone for a girl, not for me….I noticed he followed me for a while in a half-hearted, non-threatening sort of way, and please understand what I mean when I tell you that I hoped my butt looked good.  I mean I just hoped my butt looked good, that’s all.”  ~ Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Relearning the Art of Pretend

           When I was growing up, writing fiction was easy. It was almost all I wrote. I hadn’t yet learned that “you have such an imagination” can be (and often is) used as an insult. I hadn’t yet grown up in a science- and technology-driven world where creating something new only counts if it makes money. I couldn’t write creative nonfiction yet because I hadn’t really lived enough to have much to write about. And even if I’d been able to think of something, I hadn’t yet lived enough to possess the long-term perspective necessary to knit life experiences into a cohesive, meaningful whole.
So in the past few years I’ve mainly written creative nonfiction, and from what I hear my fellow writing friends say, I suspect I’m not alone.
Odd that I catch myself feeling like it’s somehow wrong—like lying—to make up a pretend character. When I thought about this, I finally realized it feels like something even worse than this. It feels like—horrors!—playing. Loafing. Goofing off. Because writing fiction is fun.
When I was a little kid, I wasn’t always thrilled with the playground. Any type of free play was welcome, but team sports often meant I couldn’t play what I wanted. Some sports felt like one more way to be bound by somebody else’s expectations, and in this case the expectations came from a whole team at once. Those rubber playground balls became an ironic metaphor for something I was told was good, but which proved to be both painfully hard and elusive.
But I will never forget the feeling I had when the teacher announced we were going to write a story or poem. Any of those messages was like throwing open the doors to the REAL playground. I was free in the truest sense—free to romp within the world of my own making where I felt at home.
It was admittedly a weird world. While some parts of my life were absolutely ideal, others left me feeling helplessly trapped. Within the realm of creativity, I was able to move where and how I wanted to go without anyone else defining me according to whatever it was they wanted of me at the time. It was like a pleasant dream. In the world of fiction, I could make everything the way I wanted it.
Odd, then, that when I sit down to write fiction these days, it feels awkward at first. I find I must give myself permission to “play.” The hardest work comes in freeing myself—not just from all of the pressures and obligations and restrictions of everyday life that always lie in wait when I’m trying to set aside time to write—but also from the pressures and obligations and restrictions I’ve placed on myself through the years. One of the things that binds my writing hands is the worry that the characters I create won’t be authentic because they aren’t real. What I find is that once I get going, my characters don’t feel inauthentic at all. They are more so, in fact, now that I’m old enough to understand depth and nuance. I’m old enough to have learned, over and over, how complex everyone is, and it’s that very complexity that gives characters their depth and breathes life into them.
As the bindings loosen, I’m encouraged in the endeavor not in spite of my age, but because of it: I’ve lived long enough to know that truth often can be stranger than fiction, so who says any departure from truth can’t be believable? And why not explore a little strangeness? The nice thing about creating a world is that in fiction, people are willing to suspend belief.
We even accept obvious gaps in logic if the story is good enough. So what if Harry Potter had to go through a year as a Triwizard Tournament contestant just so he could touch the bewitched winner’s cup rather than be transported much earlier in the semester by a more ordinary item? We didn’t mind suspending a little logic because we showed up for the thrill of the ride and not the restrictions of anal-retentive logic. In fact, most readers love the idea of being suspended in fun, because reading fiction itself is the act of playing. As writers, by freeing ourselves to have fun and take a wild ride, we free the audience we’ve invited to bring with us.
Once I throw open that rusty door after all these years and cast off the heavy accumulation of chores and worries and roles and expectations clogging my gears—the world out there (or maybe I should say “in” there) feels like that beloved playground all over again. All I have to do is buy myself the proverbial ticket to go there and have fun.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.  The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. ~C. G. Jung

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Succinctly Yours #179: Better Than Juggling Kittens

Thank you to Grandma’s Goulash for hosting Succinctly Yours! Each week, Grandma tosses a picture at us to play with so we can come up with a story of 140 words or 140 characters. The bonus word this week was “isolate.”

If the Olympic committee had to isolate a reason for turning down the new sport, it was because they didn’t like the name, “Basketboy.”  112

Fred’s dream was to isolate himself in the juggling world as someone who was truly innovative. Problem is, child-juggling gets harder as they grow up. 126

Good Lord—I’ve heard about this—cat juggling! Stop! Stop! Stop it! ~Navin R. Johnson, The Jerk

Monday, August 18, 2014

Succinctly Yours #178: Pitiful

Thank you to Grandma’s Goulash for hosting Succinctly Yours! The idea of this meme is to use the picture to scratch out a story in under 140 words or 140 characters. The bonus word this week was “jealous.” Problem was, I struggled with this week’s picture because that poor cat looks miserable! I’m so weird, I can’t look at it very long. I just want to tell the cameraperson to stop taking pictures and wrap that kitty in a towel and bring it inside. So here’s my sad little 57-word attempt:

The dogs of the world were jealous on the day that it only rained cats.
The good news is that our own cat—rescued over a year ago right after some massive storms—is recovering from his phobia of rain. Like Pavlov’s cat, I'm pretty sure he now salivates at the sound of thunder. He definitely arrives at my lap at the first sound of raindrops. That’s okay. It’s better than seeing him cower under the bed. 
Am hoping the kitty in the picture got warm and dry right after the picture was taken!

Empathy is meaning. ~Anne Lamott, Stitches

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cat Got Your…Wait, What?

            I recently discovered just how scary it is to witness something about two inches long scurry under the drape. What was scarier yet was getting up the courage to lift it to see exactly what was hiding there.
            Turned out to be…a skink. A lizard-y thing. A teeny, tiny baby one. When, exactly, Missouri got lizards, I have no idea, but I happened to recognize this one thanks to my years in coastal Georgia, where they’re called Blue Tails. I remembered from my time down South that if you’re trying to catch one, you inevitably want to grab it by the tail. The blue tail. And if you do, the tail falls off to allow the creature to run away.

"Fivelined skink" by Michael Holroyd - Own work; Camera used was a Canon PowerShot SD500. Cropping and sharpening in Photoshop CS2.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fivelined_skink.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fivelined_skink.jpg
            Cool, huh? Supposedly it even twitches.
            That’s what I’ve heard, anyway, not being a grabber of lizard tails myself (although I’ve poked at a few fire ant hills in my time). This valuable skink-knowledge I picked up chaperoning a field trip in Savannah when my son’s grade school class went to a local wildlife place to listen to a herpetologist. Picture Jed Clampet with at least one Ph.D. Also thanks to Dr. Jed, I remembered the little boogers are toxic to pets. Unfortunately, that sneaky skink escaped when I went to gather my lizard-catching gear.
In Georgia, I once dusted around a mummified lizard carcass for months because it was sitting on my daughter’s bookshelf with her toys and I thought it was one of those gelatinous decorations that sticks to windows. So I feared a similar fate for this little guy. Except I no longer dust as often, so he would’ve ended up much older and furrier.
            By the next day, it was clear by the vigil held on the other side of the drape that the cat had flushed out our lovely little lizard guest, who appeared unharmed…thanks, no doubt, to that missing blue tail of his and the fact that our kitty is clawless. This time I was prepared and able to put the skink outside, where he and his stubby tail wiggled off, hopefully to a place where he can hang out and regenerate a new one.
I was also able to locate the shriveled blue trophy, which was sitting, uneaten, next to the cat like a teeny strip of skink-jerky.
It wasn’t till it was over that I began to worry about how he got in. We’ve been working outside a lot, and I can’t help but think about the horse that little cowboy rode in on. To my repertoire of post-gardening spider-checks, I’ll be adding skink-checks from now on. 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s own way. ~Viktor Frankl