Tag Archives: imagination

Critters: Part I

I have often said that distractions are one of the biggest challenges writers face in planning, writing, and finishing a manuscript. Life is messy and could care less about book deadlines. People, pets, family, random strangers, and Mother Nature are all lurking out there, ready to knock us off course when we least expect it.

Since mid-March, when I blazed a path out of state to enjoy a vacation and recuperate from the stress of teaching scene structure to young, resistant minds, varmints of several types and varieties held a meeting and decided to focus on distracting me as much as possible. Some have been amusing; others, not so much.

In short, I have been wrangling critters. My mind has focused more on waging war in real life than in my fiction. And my work in progress has fallen behind schedule as a result. Steven Pressfield, author of THE WAR OF ART, would call this a sure sign that my manuscript is worthy of continuance, since so many factors have been hindering it. Let’s hope so!

Distraction #1:  Squirrels invaded the attic. Moved in. Set up a little family. Called it good.

I found myself suddenly hearing thumping and scratching noises above the ceiling, usually over the head of my bed. Awakening to this, aware that something was up there, and suspecting initially that a colony of mice had taken over, I veered from thoughts of How did they get in? Where is the hole? to How much does a pest company charge? to Who can I talk into sprinkling poison in the attic? to Will the poison’s off-gassing make me sick? to Should I move? to If a poisoned mouse staggers into the yard and my dogs find it, will they be poisoned as well? to Should I move? to Am I a wimp? to Of course I’m not moving!

As the crashing, thuds, gnawing, and romping grew daily louder, I couldn’t help but think of Ray Bradbury’s short story, “Trapdoor.” A woman suddenly notices a door to her attic that’s never been there before. After her initial surprise, she convinces herself that it’s always been there. In a few days, she hears noises in the attic. She calls an exterminator. He goes up to investigate, but he never comes down. And finally, whatever is up there gets the protagonist.

Such stories should never be read by people with over-active imaginations. I had to take myself firmly in hand.

I was busy with work and writing. I procrastinated as long as possible. Given that the noises began at 8 a.m. and I left for work at that hour, I was mainly able to ignore the situation.

Then one day I found a tiny acorn in my lawn. It was partially chewed, and I knew that I had squirrels instead of mice. I don’t know who on my street has an oak tree. Only in the past few months have squirrels entered my subdivision at all. We are treeless, raw, new. We are not a good environment for tree dwellers. A few of the oldest houses have achieved normal-sized trees. Everyone else has saplings tied with stakes. However, since the winter there have been squirrel sightings. Like soldier ants, only slower, the squirrel invasion has been coming.

I picked up the acorn and laughed at it, and thought to myself that the bushy-tailed rodents were probably romping across my rooftop.

Not a problem! I like squirrels. I find them pretty and their antics amusing. I used to live in a historic area endowed with enormous pecan and oak trees. Squirrels swarmed everywhere and raided my bird feeders like gymnastic pirates. We co-existed just fine. Squirrels will give my dogs something to do, I thought.

Then the semester ended, and I sat down in the quiet peace of my home to read and evaluate student novel manuscripts. The noises bounced all over the attic. I couldn’t ignore them. And I knew I had been kidding myself. They weren’t on the roof. They were under it.

This time, when I raced around the house to check, I found their access hole. A broken screen to a soffit vent, right over the gate. How convenient for them.

How alarming for me.

I thought of chewed wires and a destroyed air conditioner. I thought of fires. I thought of having to hire electricians to rewire my house. I thought of my scrawny savings account that couldn’t cover such expensive repairs. Did my homeowner’s insurance cover squirrel damage?

It was time for reinforcements.

My handyman fixed the broken screen, and thumped around in the attic in an attempt to scare them out before he nailed the screen back in place. He is not a young man. I had visions of him perishing of heatstroke and/or falling through the ceiling. He managed to get down safely, but the squirrels hid in my fluffy insulation and went nowhere.

Now I had a new problem. Squirrels sealed in the attic.

“They should have left. Now they’ll die up there,” I declared.

“Yep,” agreed the handyman. “The heat’ll get ’em sure.”

He drove off, leaving me vacillating between murderous glee (a squirrel in the attic is like a weed; it has to be eliminated!) and compassion (poor things; I don’t want them to suffer).

I thought about dying squirrels and the stench to come. I called the pest control people. “Get them out!”

They told me what it would cost for their subcontractor trapper to come and get them out.

I reconsidered and drove to the ranch supply place to buy myself a trap. Yes, instead of writing a book or grading papers, I was standing in a store stacked with chicken feed, horse toys, and live-animal traps. There were two sizes in stock:  huge, tunnel-shaped contraptions designed for raccoons or foxes, and squirrel traps. I picked up the latter box, which announced the trap’s capacity for holding 15 squirrels.

My imagination grabbed that and ran with it. Just how many squirrels were in my attic? I could have conducted a Google search to discover how many squirrels are typically in a litter, but time was wasting. I had a trap to set.

The process was simple. I positioned the trap–a flat wire cage about 30 inches square and six inches tall, equipped with entry doors and a release door in the top. This thing was designed somewhat like the Hotel California in that old Eagles song. Once you’re in, you can never leave.

I baited it with fat, prime pecans from my freezer and after much thought, a tuna-fish can of water.

The next morning, at 8 a.m., bam! Commotion, crashing, banging, rattling. Yessirree, I had me a squirrel.

Call me Trapper Deb.

I fetched my leather gardening gloves and climbed the attic stairs. As my head came even with the attic floor, I found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with my captive.

I had caught the mother squirrel.

She was huge, maybe twice the size of the OU campus squirrels I’ve become used to, with a fine pelt and a luxurious tail. Although the pest control people assured me squirrels were easy to handle because they were “skittish, and just hide at the far side of the trap,” this I immediately found to be untrue.

Mama was as fierce as the Queen in the movie Aliens. She was soaking wet from having splashed her way through the dish of water. Skittish was the last word in her vocabulary. She was feral. She was a wild creature. She was defending her young. And she aimed to get me if she could.

Every time I reached for the handle, she charged my hand. Having no desire to lose a finger to this snappish rodent, I cautiously determined that she couldn’t quite reach me. Even so, she remained on the warpath while I carefully lowered her from the attic.

I had laid my plans. Not wanting to haul her in my car, although I knew she needed to be taken a far distance before release, I had decided to carry her to the back of my subdivision where new streets had recently been cut. There was a pond there and trees.

It seemed easy to do. It wasn’t. She wouldn’t be still. She charged here and there, hissing and chattering at me. She lunged at me. She glared. She climbed back and forth. She tried to leap through the openings of the cage, skinning her nose in the process. The farther I walked, the heavier she and the trap became. The morning grew hot. I rested. Finally she rested. I walked. She lunged and fussed.

At last I reached the spot. I laid the trap down and waited until she’d zoomed to the far corner of the trap before gingerly opening the release door. She wouldn’t leave. She was so focused on glaring at me in full killer-squirrel mode that she didn’t realize she was free.

It was squirrel standoff.

Finally I circled the trap and stood on the opposite side. She rotated to keep her beady eyes on me. In doing so, she realized her head was free. In a flash of brown fur, she streaked across the grass to the trees and was gone from sight.

Did I take her picture? Duh, no. I was focused on the reality of the experience, instead of a virtual moment.

Sighing, I picked up my trap and trudged home. Mama was likely to beat me back, depending on the size of her babies. I set the trap again and waited.

Next morning, at 8 a.m., crashing, thundering banging, whumping. I had caught another squirrel.

Except I had two. Fine sassy fellows, larger than I expected. They were simply wild, not fierce warriors like their mama. Half-grown and plenty big enough to be weaned. Although they weren’t fighting me, they were crazy-active. One even got cute and hid for a moment under his tail. Even so, I decided I wasn’t quite up to the task of carrying them out of the attic.

My handyman fetched them down for me, and since he had a pickup we loaded them in the back and took them for a drive until we found a spot away from houses, with trees and water nearby. Then he opened the release door and shook them out.

I reset the trap once more, feeling confident that Trapper Deb could do the job. Pecans and water. Everything in place. The pest control people told me that if nothing came to the trap for a couple of days, I had them all. This time, I promised myself, I would take a picture.

The next morning at 8 a.m., silence.

I climbed the attic stairs. My trap stood empty. Yet all the bait was gone. Even the nuts inside the trap had been taken.

That was weird. How had the critter done it without getting caught?

Aha, I had a sneaky, wily squirrel.

I fetched more pecans and placed them carefully. I checked the water in the tuna-fish can. Everything was set.

Next morning, silence. I checked the trap. All the bait was there. And is still there, after several days of puzzled checking.

I’ve found no more broken screens. I’ve heard no more scratching and thumping overhead. I’ve smelled nothing amiss. All is quiet in the attic.

Except what ate the bait? Ray Bradbury, why oh why did you write “Trapdoor?”

 

 

 

 

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Creating

In our quest to be better writers, dedicated writers, and productive writers, we can sometimes forget that not only do we have to feed the muse but we should also take care to refresh our imagination.

From time to time, it’s helpful to move away from the keyboard and indulge in other types of creativity. Some writers craft mixed-media collages. Others play music. Still others garden or design landscapes. We all have hobbies and activities that give us joy and rejuvenation. The question then becomes, have we brushed those fun, creative pastimes aside? Are we too busy to be creative?

For the past five years, I have been in a whirlwind of responsibilities, work, writing, and errands. At times the whirl is so intense that I feel overwhelmed and overburdened. Neither of those feelings is conducive to writing. A crowded, over-scheduled mind is one that never finds time to process, invert, or synthesize–and without that mental process writing quickly stalls.

Therefore, as much as possible, I am trying to fend off the stress by resurrecting old hobbies and making time for them. Because somewhere along the way, the responsibilities have swarmed me like Bermuda-grass runners overtaking a flowerbed, and restorative hobbies have been crowded out by the weeds of life.

For example, a decade ago, I took up the hobby of quilting–or at least quilt-piecing. I found that when I came home from my day job, I could sew a few bits of fabric together while supper cooked, and my pent-up stress melted away. Two decades ago, I alleviated stress by tending my rose garden. Just walking among the fragrant bushes with pruners in hand, deadheading the plants of their spent blooms, was incredibly restorative. And long before I purchased a house and had a yard for roses, I took up needlework. Before that, I collected rocks gleaned from the New Mexico desert. And before that, I tended horses that I thought I couldn’t live without.

Well, my beloved horse from my teen years has long gone to his rest. I no longer have access to my beloved corner of the desert and must content myself with the rocks I found so long ago. In recent years, vision problems have made needlework more challenging. The horrid rose virus, my mold allergy, and a doctor’s ban against digging holes have pretty much ended my rose garden. I am down to a few scraggly specimens that do not inspire. And when I moved to my present home, I lost my sewing space and put all my piecing projects away.

Small wonder the weeds crept in and took over.

But writers are not like other people. We cannot trudge along in the drudgery of errands and mundane chores of everyday life without relief. We are not made that way. Mopping the floor becomes an outlet for the imagination to plot how our beleaguered heroine will escape the wizard’s citadel. We burn dinner and run four-way-stop intersections while we’re mulling over which viewpoint to use next. And if too many interruptions thwart us from working on our stories, we grow sour and bitter.

And yet, we cannot spend all our time writing either. Writing the well dry without replenishing it is dangerous to creative productivity.

So this summer, to fuel my writing and fend off the weeds, I have taken up a new activity in painting. Choosing a new color is tremendously exciting. Burnt Umber versus Amsterdam Green. Greek Blue versus Raindrop. The names alone conjure up old Venetian houses, mysterious shadows, and all sorts of dreamscapes.  I have become like an eight-year-old stalled in front of a candy display, unable sometimes to choose because it’s all so tempting. Besides color, there are the tools:  who knew buying a new brush could open a door to so many brush shapes and specialties? Rounded bristles, pointed, narrow, wide, taklon, nylon, natural boar, etc. How many can I have, please, please, please?

But I am no minimalist. In my worldview, more is more. One hobby is not enough.

As a result, today I happened to be driving near a large quilt fabric store on a different errand altogether. Although the weeds’ voices were saying, “No, no, no; you don’t have time; you’ll spend money you shouldn’t,” my hungry imagination rebelled. It was shouting, “Go for it! Let’s play!”

I told the weeds to shut up, and I pulled into the parking lot. Inside the store, I found visual delight in all directions. Colors, patterns, fine cottons plus woolens to make little projects like pumpkins and squirrel-shaped pin cushions, quilts hanging from the ceiling, cute displays, adorable baby toys, small projects and large, wonders on all sides.

The weeds whispered, “You can only look for twenty minutes tops. Hurry! Then you must leave.” I ignored them and roamed from one display to the next. The potential to create, to choose and mix, to even contemplate sampling this feast was beyond delicious. Best of all, the checkout line was long and slow.

Clutching a quilt-themed birthday card for a friend, I got in line. But as I stood waiting, I spotted yet another feature I had to explore–and touch. Out of line I dropped, to wander here and there. I picked up another item that stayed in my hand. Back in line, only to notice something else I’d passed by. More wandering. More thinking. More temptations reaching out, calling my name on all sides.

Should I make another flannel throw like the one I sewed for my mother several years ago? What about these darling baby fabrics? Do I know anyone expecting a child? No, perhaps not. Oh, here are the Halloween designs, and do I like the Edgar Allen Poe quotes swirling around skulls and ravens better than the gray little ghosts that are almost mid-century abstracts? But here are the Christmas bolts of soft, dreamy colors, or trendy gray and red patterns, or traditional reds and greens. Look! That woman is buying yards and yards of buffalo-check red and black while chattering about her Harley-loving nephew. But wait … I’ve found the Civil War-era reproduction fabrics–all so Victorian from their deep jewel tones to the pale shirtings for contrast. And hurray! Here are the 1930s and 1940s retro fabrics in bright pastels and cheerful little prints that I love so much. Can I resist the tiny Scotties wearing Santa hats–available in either a green background colorway or a red one? No I cannot resist, and thus find myself requesting yardage for a project that doesn’t exist. I’ll figure something out for it, I assure myself. See the dinosaur toy! Isn’t it precious? Didn’t I just walk past a bolt of orange in a tiny rectangular print that could imply scales? Would a dinosaur look cuter in orange fabric or green? Did dinosaurs have scales? Probably not, but don’t I have a dragon-toy pattern stashed somewhere? Forget dragons; focus on dinosaurs right now. Oh, phooey, the store is out of the dinosaur pattern. Get back in the checkout line and stay there.

Eventually it came my turn at checkout. As I was handing over my credit card, a weed sprouted–all nasty and spiky, covered in burrs, and stinky with disapproval. “What’s wrong with you? When will you have time to make these projects? You don’t even have a corner to set up your sewing machine. Why are you doing this?”

But my imagination was happy and shining from all the eye candy. It sliced off the weed, and I contentedly brought my purchases home.

Today’s feast was more than worth the expense. As for time, could I afford to spend over an hour in that store? No I couldn’t.

Do I begrudge it? Certainly not. My writing will be better tomorrow because of having played with fabric today, and that is priceless.

Whether I sew anything from this outing doesn’t matter. My imagination has dined well on joy.

 

 

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Time to Trust

All summer, I’ve been busy working on a book on plotting. As I’ve pondered, analyzed, and explained technique for this manuscript, I realized how easy it can be to over-think fiction. Sometimes, you simply have to back up . . . and let go.

Usually novice writers start out by falling in love with fiction. We absorb books like plants do water and sunshine. Then there comes a day when we decide we’ll write our own stories. Our imagination is teeming. We’re excited. We throw ourselves into our fledgling effort and either zoom to the end–yippee!–or we hit a stumbling block and stall out.

Wannabe writers who zoom along with no awareness of problems often become what I call scribblers. They write effortlessly and heedlessly, oblivious to their mistakes, and happily create drivel in the certainty they’re producing terrific stuff. With such hobbyists, I wish them well but hope they never seek publication.

Other beginners, however, realize quickly that there’s an entire universe of things they don’t know. They falter and stop, overwhelmed by the enormity of what they need to learn.

Of this second group, some pull themselves together and seek training or continue to hunt and peck their way through exploration and discovery. The rest declare writing to be too hard and drop out.

Those who keep trying by joining writers groups, taking writing classes, networking, seeking mentors, and devouring books on writing while generating story after story will improve. Their hard work will pay off, eventually.

But sometimes the determination to learn so much and to overcome difficulties can lead to over-thinking. The placement of every comma; the heroine’s dialogue rewritten and read aloud and rewritten, rewritten, polished, tightened, rewritten and rewritten; the worry over how a subplot is going; the concern that several scenes aren’t quite right, etc. can all lead to a hyper-critical state that becomes counterproductive.

You can become so conscious, so aware, of the process that you make the mistake of trying to control it. And that’s not what pros do. Instead, they trust.

Learning and mastering technique is important because it helps you navigate the challenges of awkward plots and difficult characters. Knowing what you’re doing gives you confidence. Best of all, as Ray Bradbury pointed out, once you’ve mastered technique you don’t have to consciously think about it anymore and you can then concentrate on your story.

Therefore, relax. Accept that the process will always get you there. Learn to trust it and let go, the way when swimming you trust the buoyancy of water so you can float. Allow your story to unfold without agonizing over every word. Write the rough draft from a spirit of fun. Believe in your idea. Follow through with it and stick with what you’ve planned, but allow for little quirks and the extras that are going to occur to you when you’re in the flow.

The actual creation of rough draft should not be censored, criticized, second-guessed, or analyzed as you go. That’s too restrictive, and it will hinder you so much that you may develop writer’s block. You should never attempt to edit yourself while you’re creating. As I’ve said many times, the editing function and the creative function operate in separate brain hemispheres, and the human brain is not designed to utilize both hemispheres simultaneously. Work on one function at a time.

When an idea comes to you, embrace it and indulge it at first. Then analyze and test it. Send it back to the idea-maker and create anew. Then analyze and examine it as much as you need to until you have a solid outline. That’s what you trust–all the upfront work to check plausibility, check feasibility, check plot holes, fix plot holes, think and tweak, etc., until you have a solid plan. Then close your doubts and uncertainty, and just write.

Write with all your heart–not your mind. Write fast. Write passionately. Write until you barely know who you are when you leave the keyboard. Live with your characters. Be your characters. And wear their skin through every scene as it unfolds. Don’t look at them from some remote and safe vantage point. Stand in the dusty crossroads as war refugees trudge along. Smell the dust and fear. Listen to the rumble of trucks and the distant pounding of artillery too far away to see. Feel the beating of your heart. Clutch that silly candlestick that belonged to Aunt Ziva, the one that’s stood on the mantel as long as you can remember. It’s now a symbol of home, all you have left. Hang onto it. Don’t drop it because if you do, you’ll somehow lose connection with the past, with family, with memories of when life was happy, and with any hope that life one day will be good again.

When you’ve finished the rough draft, you can once more put on your editor’s hat. You can think, criticize, revise, and pick at it until it’s tight, clear, and riveting. Just remember that when you revise, be honest. Did you come close to what you planned initially? Or did you fall seriously short?

If you made technical mistakes or lost your way through part of the manuscript, trust the process you’ve learned and fix the errors. Then step back, say “good enough,” and let the story live. Don’t kill it by polishing the zest and breath from it.

Plan. Trust. Write. Fix. Believe. Submit.

It’s never easy. But it really is that simple.

 

 

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Dreaming of Pink

Well, as if the recent computer-purchase crisis wasn’t enough to send my blood pressure shooting to the moon, guess what?

It’s time to replace my university computer as well.

AHHHHHHHHHH!

Now the trauma truly is much, much less for several reasons:  1) I’m not emotionally attached to the university equipment–well, not much; 2) I have complete and competent IT support; 3) I don’t have to so much as plug in a cable because everything is unboxed, carried to my campus office, set up, and tested for me; and 4) I’m not paying for it.

Can you tell I should have been a princess?

Still, according to that old but trusty writing principle, change is threatening. I’ve really enjoyed my campus laptop. It’s tiny, lightweight, and cute. It’s easier to carry than a heavy briefcase, although I usually end up lugging both to and from my day job. So although Pippin is an Apple and there’s no right-click mouse command, leaving me frequently baffled, I’ve enjoyed it. Replacing it, when it seems perfectly fine, hadn’t crossed my mind.

However, it has to go and because it doesn’t belong to me I shan’t be clinging to it, weeping and pleading, when IT comes to take it away.

After notification came, I consoled myself immediately with the brilliant notion that I would ask for another one exactly like Pippin.

Except there have been changes. Nothing techy is ever left alone. Sigh. So my cute 11″ laptop that I could tuck under my arm is growing to a 13″ version. Which means I’ll have to go shopping for a new case to protect it. It will take up more room on my crowded desk when I bring it home, and New Guy (still officially unnamed) will feel even more cramped in my limited space.

Still, it is what it is. I was asked to look over the options and choose which version I wanted, and I was told there were two colors: “silver” and “space gray.” Woo.

So I was following links and watching the swanky product videos without, however, any delusion that I was conducting real product research, when suddenly there it was … a pink laptop.

Not garish magenta, not baby ballerina, but something luscious and tasteful and faintly metallic called “rose gold.” It is precisely that shade of soft pink with yellow undertones that I most love. Delight exploded in my heart. The world was suddenly a better place.

Now, I am admittedly picky. Finicky. Hard to please. A perfectionist. I am also champion among ditherers. I can agonize endlessly over choices, but that’s always when and because the available choices don’t suit me. But place the right thing in front of me, and BAM! I make a decision instantly.

BAM! I saw “rose gold” and knew immediately it was the color for me. Who said computers have to come in dreary colors? I don’t work in a bank. I’m not trying to reassure anxious customers that I won’t abscond with their life’s savings.

Remember those bright, kicky colors that Apple came out with a few years ago? Vivid blue, bold orange, and … um, maybe hot pink. They were fun and youthful, but then they went away. Presently, one of my graduate students carries a bold red laptop that I think is a Dell. So I know computer color is out there, but it’s so hidden, so oppressed, so hard to find.

With “rose gold” spinning in my mind, I eagerly reread my IT guy’s email. It said firmly, color choices are “silver” or “space gray.”

Bummer.

“Space gray” is dull, dark, dismal, and depressing. Granted, it fits the current color trend of gray, gray, drab, or gray that is our world. Gray cars on the road. Gray paint on our walls. Gray cats on gray sofas. Walk into any Restoration Hardware store and you might well ask yourself, “Does Chairman Mao live here?” When I was a child, I watched TV news images of people in China, all dressed alike in gray. Drab, uniform conformity where no one was allowed to stand out.

What’s with our current besottedness with gray?

Because it’s safe?

Because it’s neutral?

Phooey!

Give me color! Give me imagination, joy, life, spontaneity, and fun! How sad that opting for color costs more these days. An acquaintance of mine waited a week and spent an extra thousand to obtain a commercial van in red because he didn’t want to look like he was driving a utility company truck.

When I was a youngster, I remember my parents buying a car that they special ordered. After specifying all the options for the auto itself, like headlights that opened and electric windows, they sat in the dealership office with huge bundles of cloth samples spread out on the desk, and chose the seat upholstery they wanted. Mom eventually selected burgundy damask. The car proved to be a mechanical dud that the family hated, and the electric windows failed about every two or three weeks, but it looked beautiful. These days–no doubt to cut manufacturing costs–car interiors typically come in dark gray or light gray regardless of the exterior color. Mom’s burgundy upholstery exactly matched the rich burgundy hue of the car’s body paint. Before that vehicle, I think they owned a teal-green car with matching interior. Then there was the red car with the red seats. Oh yes, once upon a time car seats matched car colors. It was great.

But getting back to computers, I have to say that New Guy is pretty dashing (not!) because he’s two-toned: black enlivened by gunmetal gray. So boring. If my printers weren’t white I might run screaming from the desk. As it is, I’m frequently tempted to paint my home office walls red just to wake things up.

Are you thinking, yep there she is wailing about drab colors but she’s afraid to paint her office? Not at all! I’m too lazy to shift two tall wooden filing cabinets, a massive desk, two bookcases, and a long computer table that requires unbolting to move. Not to mention the fabulous solid-maple card catalogue plunked in the middle of the room that took me ages to acquire. But oh someday, when I have hired muscle to help and no book deadline, then look out. My home office is gonna achieve some verve.

Meanwhile, I have put in my official request to the IT guys on campus: “rose gold” please, please, please.

I am dreaming of pink. I am longing for pink.

But I may have to compromise with “silver.”

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Toad Is Found!

(Before you ask, no, this isn’t another story about “Phelps” the bullfrog.)

A work colleague of mine has a sign on her office window to the effect of “You’re a writer. It’s okay to be strange.”

I smile every day when I walk past her office, and I always think, Yeah! Isn’t it great to do what I do? Isn’t it wonderful to live a whimsical life, free to explore the forests of my imagination and the roads that lead down the lane to all that’s peculiar?

So here goes … an example of how whimsical and (possibly) strange a writer can be.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been hunting a large rubber toad that has been mislaid in my house. I bought it for a Halloween decoration for my campus office, and frankly Toad is one homely critter. But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for frogs and toads, and I love him–warts and all.

toad1

Still, Toad has been missing. I stowed him hastily out of sight while entertaining weekend house guests at the end of September, and once my company had departed, I couldn’t remember where I’d put him. After all, there aren’t that many hiding places in my house. But Toad has finally been found, hanging out in my office. He’s been half-concealed behind a recently installed card catalogue (yeah, the old kind that used to hold inventory cards in public libraries).

My office. The place in my home where I spend the most time. It’s a small room crammed to the gills with desks, dictionary stands, filing cabinets, computer equipment, books piled in heaps and leaning stacks, and papers that need filing but somehow never get put away. So how could I come and go in this den of imagination and not see Toad perched on my desk atop a precarious stack of binders?

Who knows? Perhaps he’s been winking in and out of another dimension, playing in the Twilight Zone and having a wicked chortle at my expense.

All I can say is that tonight I spun around in my desk chair, and there he was.

toad-2

Life is sweet once more. Tomorrow I will take Toad to work with me and display him in a place of honor atop a bookcase where his cold painted eyes can glare at my students who come for tutorials. Perhaps next year I will buy him a little hat. Or not. He does not seem to be in the mood for haberdashery. And if he does not care for college life, I shall bring him home again and let him reside permanently in my office, where he can wander back and forth between this dimension and another, as his whimsy takes him.

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In Search of Boredom

Our society has an antipathy to boredom. It seems we dare not be alone with our thoughts for a moment, that we must fill every second with distraction. I see people walking down sidewalks, reading their text messages. I see people give their order at restaurants and then immediately whip out their phones to check their messages. I see people playing games on their phones while waiting for dental appointments and oil changes. SUVs come with DVD players in their backseats because heaven forbid that a child be forced to look at the passing scenery on a road trip. And just today, I learned that some police departments offer Xbox to victims while they are waiting to file reports.

Fine and good. If you’re thinking I’m about to step on my soapbox–yet again–to rant against the evils of our technology-driven world, you’re wrong.

Well … sort of.

I just want to make the case that writers need boredom more than they need phones, games, streaming video, and Instagram.

One of the best things my parents did for me in my childhood was plant me in some of the most boring situations ever. As an only child, I spent a lot of time hanging out in their business after school–being quiet and staying out of the way. Because they dropped me off at school in the mornings on their way to work one hour before school actually started, I had time to think, imagine, and dream. They hauled me on long twenty-hour road trips, and although I was an avid reader I couldn’t read in the car because of my severe astigmatism. Ergo, I moved into my imagination and invented stories for myself. Could I have done that while watching a DVD as we drove across Texas all day?

Today, my phone dings with text messages, emails, alerts, Facebook notifications, and reminders. Helpful, but distracting. When I sit down at my computer for a cherished hour of writing time, can I resist the news feed on my browser? Can I resist peeking at my emails? If I want to actually use my writing hour for writing, I had better resist everything.

Once upon a time, I remember when my weekends were empty–with nothing on my to-do list but household chores and writing. Now, the daily list runs across multiple pages with far too many intriguing events calling enticements to me. Errands go on and on, and choices are endless. There isn’t even time to pursue hobbies.

When did this happen? How does it happen? And what do we do about it?

Last week, while driving to work, I grew weary of the early-morning chatter of FM radio hosts and punched in the local classical music station. Sublime Bach filled my car as I crawled through near-gridlock traffic. Just minutes previously, I had tuned my radio to a station playing the latest Taylor Swift ditty. And I had to wonder about how we’ve gone from musicians proffering us the complexity of Bach to pop tunes featuring five notes and a repeating chorus. Could Bach hear himself think today in our cacophony of busy lives, busy tasks, more, more, more? Or would he be too distracted by the chance to watch Netflix to compose serious music?

Beware, fellow writers, the siren’s lure of distraction. It calls us into the land of Lotus Eaters, where we forget how swiftly our writing time passes or how near our deadlines loom because we are too busy thinking of too many things to write.

Find the boredom. Seek out nothing to do. Let silence fill your head and drive out the chatter-clatter of daily life. Sit quietly until you’re past the wiggles and impatient looking for your phone, for a magazine, for the remote, for something to push, peer at, listen to, watch. Sit quietly until the quiet drives you deep into your imagination. Then the muse will come.

 

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Passing Along Inspiration

Hello,

Instead of yet another post in my meandering series on what shatters a reader’s suspension of disbelief, today I am sharing a link to a “Brain Pickings” newsletter article. it was passed along to me by a former writing student, Steven Thorn, and it conveys its nine points far more eloquently than I could.

May you be inspired today, if only through acknowledging your worth and creativity. Remember always that you have value, and believe in what you can do.

Cheers,

Deb

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/23/nine-years-of-brain-pickings/

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