Celebrating my 100th Follower and the Best Post of 2012 Redux

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Two days ago my blog, disappearinginplainsight, got its 100th follower. I can hardly believe the way this whole blog experience has worked out. Seven months of blogging – 54 posts – almost 2900 views – 251 comments! Wow. If I sound proud, it’s because I am.

I remember back to the summer when I started the blog – I had one follower – a friend who is also a Word Press blogger. One day a Facebook friend signed up as an email follower. Then out of the blue – a total stranger was following me. I was thrilled. The next week this person dropped me and I was devastated. I took it hard – what had I done to be dumped? How had I failed my newly attracted follower?

Bruce always says he doesn’t like the expression – followers – sounds like Jones Town Massacre time or something. No cyanide laced Kool-Aid on this site – I promise. I welcome all followers and promise to do my best to be worth following.

I’ve been trying to decide on a past post to feature as my best of 2012. But what criteria should I use to decide? At first, I thought – the post with the most “likes”. But we all know that “likes” alone can be a bit suspect and if I did go with that criteria, I’d have to repost a Weekly Photo Challenge on the topic  Delicate    32 likes. But this post was a collaboration with my photographer husband, Bruce. That seems a bit budget to me. Don’t get me wrong – I love the post – the photo and the Walt Whitman poem seem meant for each other – but this is my blog, after all.

Maybe I should repost the blog that generated the most comments? That would be,   I had no idea . . . Ten things I’ve learned about blogging     28 comments – but keep in mind – half of those comments are my responses to other people’s comments – still a decent dialogue. But it’s a pretty recent post – maybe better to highlight something further back.

Should I go with the post that has generated the most search engine results? That would be,   Flight – A good movie for a Writer to See.     But I don’t think a lot of those people who plugged in the words – is Flight a good movie – expected to end up at my blog, so maybe not. Though the way the title worked to generate so many hits is a good lesson in being searchable.

I could always resort to a tried and true method of decision-making – write all the post titles on slips of paper, throw them into a paper lunch bag or shoe box, pull out one and declare that title the winner. That’s a bit of work though, and I don’t think I’ve seen a paper lunch bag or shoebox around here in a while.

In the end, I decided to look closely at my list of posts and see which one jumped out at me – which post really meant a lot to me. I’ve decided to highlight –   Gatekeepers and Gateways    – as my favorite post of 2012. It was published back in September – a good month to think about teachers and teaching and the way some teachers open the gates of our learning and others slam them shut. If you’ve never read this post, I hope you’ll click on the link above and give it a read.

Let me know which of the posts you liked the best.

I’m a writer – what does that mean?

I’m a writer – what does that mean? Always turn a question like that back on its ear – What do you think it means? A recent email from a friend challenged me – she said – you say you’re a writer. What about all the other things you are? Isn’t being a writer the culmination of so many other selves? What about saying you’re a person who writes? How would that be?

Then along comes a posting by Grumpytyke  who writes about those who self-identify as writers. A few questions are posed: What is the difference between saying one is a writer or self-identifying as an author? And why is it that some very popular bloggers who write about writing come off sounding way better writing about writing than actually writing? Glad to say, no names were mentioned.

OK – so here I sit at my laptop – thinking and coughing and coughing and thinking. I have the quintessential holiday cold. I’ve been trying to do this DP Challenge thing of posting every day for a week. I’ve dragged myself off the sofa and out here to my laptop in an attempt to get a post together that won’t sound anything like the way I feel.

What does it mean to me when I make a statement like – I’m a writer. I know that at any given moment in time, I’m so many things, a mixture of so many possible and real selves – all clamouring for expression. In the moment of self-identification, I choose from a myriad of possibilities. Who hasn’t been at a workshop, or in a class, or at a party and the moment comes when you must introduce yourself – the question explicit or implied is – what do you do? The implication is clear – the person asking this question does not want your life story – just a quick bit of info that will put you in one kind of box or another. They are likely to make a judgement  – you’re a stay-at-home mom, a middle-aged grad student, a corporate bigwig, a professional, and on it goes. You’re categorized and filed away – maybe in the trash bin or in a place convenient for future reference. It just all depends.

We throw out an identity, of the many we currently have running like background software, which fits the situation or our need at the time. Feeling intimidated, I might say – I’ve always been an educator of one sort or another. At a grandchild’s birthday party, I’m happy to identify as Brit or Emma’s grandmother. A chance meeting with a stranger might find me trying out the line – I’m a writer and seeing how it goes over. The idea that we are many things to many people, including ourselves, is a truism.

On the question of saying – I’m a writer versus I’m an author – it strikes me as a distinction between published or not. But that raises the thorny issue of self-published versus traditionally published. The whole nature of publishing is undergoing such radical change we seem in need of a sort of literary DSM. (Diagnostic Statistical Manual – the bible in certain circles when it comes to getting everyone on the same page to discuss various mental health labels and diagnoses.) With such a guidebook in hand, we could figure out what someone means when they label themselves as a writer, or an author. Does writing a great post that is published up into the blogosphere mean one is an author? And if that makes you an author, then surely self-publishing does, as well. Complicated, shifting distinctions that will keep all of us on our self-identification toes for some time to come.

I’m imagining right now that I am at that party and someone has asked me what I do. Here is my list – a work in progress. I’m a mother, a sister, a daughter of parents who have now both departed this world, a grandmother, a wife, an auntie, a friend, a sister-in-law, an educator, a person with a Master’s degree in counselling psychology, a person who came close to having a PhD in educational psychology, a trauma counsellor, a counselling supervisor, an author of articles printed in peer-reviewed journals, a writer of a novel that will soon be self-published, a blogger, a reader, a cook and washerwoman, a person who loves the garden, a dog owner, a lake dweller . . . enough already. I managed to bore myself. What about this? . . . I live in a circle of people whom I love and care for and they love and care for me. I’ve done a few different things in my life and now I am a person who writes. Will that satisfy?

I’d love to hear a few of your thoughts on self-identification – how do you handle this complex issue? What do you say at the holiday party or workshop?

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Did I mention I was also a wee bit of a traveler? This photo was taken of me on the Angel Flight funicular in the Bunker Hill district of downtown Los Angeles – a really great way to manage a couple of daunting hills!

 

Sunny Wind Sculpture Memories for a Rainy Boxing Day

Today’s rain makes me nostalgic for our recent trip to Southern California. Near the pier in Santa Barbara, we purchased a beautiful wind  DSC_0549 (2)sculpture from artist, Lee Coulter. Besides creating the most amazing art, Lee is also an aspiring writer. He and I exchanged plot ideas in the warm sun while Bruce decided which sculpture we would take.

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Our choice now sits in the rain and wind of the North Island spinning gracefully like a dancer and every time I look at it I am reminded of the warm California sun, a delightful morning exploring Santa Barbara, and a wonderful chat with sculpture and writer, Lee Coulter. Go ahead and check out Lee’s work at: www.windsculpturestudio.com

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When will we ever learn?

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Merry Christmas!

I’ve decided to share a post on my blog today that I read recently on the blog of ipledgeafalleigiance. I found this post extremely moving and believe it will make a good read for Christmas day, 2012.  When I first saved the link, I thought I might add my own thoughts and acknowledge the original author’s blog for inspiring my post. I’ve done this before – I think it’s a great way to highlight other people’s blogs and create ongoing dialogue on important topics. When I went back today to reread the Dec. 19th post, entitled – WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN –  I found that I didn’t want to add my own take on what he had written. I’ll let it stand alone – one of the most powerful messages I’ve read in some time. Please click on the link (the capitalized text above)  – you won’t be disappointed.

She never let herself believe in the magic of Christmas . . .

I wrote this piece of flash fiction today, based on the opening words – She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas . . . This was a prompt for an old Christmas story contest that ran in a local paper years ago. I found the snippet in some notes of my mom’s. She was always entering writing contests. I used to think – why on earth would she care if she won a writing contest in a silly, little, local paper. Suffice to say, I was arrogant beyond belief in those days.

I got an email recently that reminded me that Christmas is not always an easy time for people. As I sat down to write, that reality was on my mind and this little bit of story emerged. It isn’t filled with holiday cheer – it doesn’t sparkle and make you smile like a freshly decorated gingerbread house might. But if you are lucky it could make you grateful for what you have. So – here goes.

She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas, but this year she couldn’t shake the thought that what she felt was real. It was as if time was standing still – her whole world poised on the precipice – watching and waiting.

It was a surprise – she definitely had not seen this coming. She had watched the early December days slip by like sodden leaves falling battered to the dark earth – each day she dutifully ripped off a page of the tablet on the desktop calendar, feeling as though a part of her soul was crumbled right along with the ball of paper that landed with a thud in the trash bin. Death was everywhere, now. It dogged her footsteps each day when she took Bella, their golden retriever, for a walk through the garden – plants dragged down to the earth by the weight of the West Coast rain. Everything dark and decaying – she supposed it was the way they would all end up one day.

The doctor said they might as well bring Tabby home for Christmas – make the time she had left special for all of them. In the New Year there would be time enough for thinking of hospice care and the end. So she had followed his advice and somehow, against all odds, the magic of Christmas had sunk into her the way the dark brandy her mother used to soak the fruitcake permeated every crumb of the cloth-wrapped loaves. There was a quality to the lights she saw on the streets and in the stores that brought tears to her eyes. They had taken three days to decorate the Christmas tree. The story of each ornament was told as if it was the last time any of them would ever hear that story. Hanging each special object on the tree was terribly important. She wanted Tabby to be able to see them all from the hospital bed that now dominated the living room.

She had never shopped for gifts when the only priority was the present moment – knowing that everything else was soon to slip over the abyss. A CD Tabby would love to hear this moment, a bottle of a light and fresh perfume to mask the ever-present smell of life slipping away, the prettiest flannel nightie to wrap around a body now diminished to skin and bones. And best of all, a stuffed pink bunny – just like the one Tabby had as a toddler – this one brand new and so soft all she wanted to do was stroke it over and over. She couldn’t believe the absolute joy she felt as she wrapped each gift and laid it under the tree. Or the pleasure she took in wringing out of each moment, precious drops of being together – baking and icing sugar cookies, pouring over Christmas cards, playing Christmas music, laughing together as they placed a Santa hat on Bella’s furry head. She knew she was already storing these memories like a miser with every penny that came her way.

The living room was dark now as she sat curled up in the recliner. The rest of the family tucked away, dealing in their dreams with their own versions of magic and pain. Tabby was asleep at last, the high sides of the hospital bed pulled up, the glint of the morphine drip catching the light from the Christmas tree. She traced the line of the IV tubing with her eyes before it snaked under the blanket. Her gaze shifted to the window and she saw the snow falling in huge, fat flakes to the ground. The trees, branches thick with the snow were already bowed under the weight like so many white garbed priests in supplicating prayer. The quiet was deep and total.

Her world was reduced to moments now – this last Christmas Eve, tomorrow the last Christmas Day. Tears washed down her cheeks and she was unaware. She knew the magic of Christmas she had felt this last week wouldn’t change the fact that Tabby was going to die. Very soon now she was going to bury her seventeen year-old daughter – bury her before her grown-up life had even really begun.

She rose silently and walked to the hall closet to grab a coat and her boots, a pair of gloves and a scarf. Out on the snow-covered lawn, among the tall trees, she turned slowly. Her head was thrown back. The snow fell on her face. She watched the flakes twirl  and twist far away above her. All that was – was now. All that mattered was this moment. It was all she had. Maybe all she would ever have.

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The Editing Process

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In today’s post, I’ve decided to share a couple of examples of the editing process for Disappearing in Plain Sight. In the first paragraph below, an editor has very kindly and with great tact pointed out some needed changes. Think about whether you would have noticed the need to make the type of changes she suggested.

On her first evening at the A-Frame, Lisa-Marie grabbed a novel from the coffee-table (remove hyphen) and flopped onto the sofa. She began to read, which (faulty pronoun reference: to which word in the main clause does this “which” refer?) wasn’t so bad (perhaps: and she didn’t mind spending her time that way) since she loved to read (repetitious: books?), but she usually got to pick reading over other options. Here there were no other options – no TV, no internet, and no phone. It was like being captive on an episode of Survivor. The dogs were curled in a ball (faulty image: sleeping? lying?) beside the sofa and Lisa-Marie stretched out a foot every now and then to rub each of their bellies in turn. The inside of the cabin was eerily quiet – in fact the whole area around the cabin was dead quiet and dark. Lisa-Marie had never seen it so dark outside anywhere (redundant: omit) in her life (misplaced phrase: never in her life).

Here is how that paragraph now reads in the completed manuscript.

On her first evening at the A-Frame, Lisa-Marie grabbed a novel from the coffee table and flopped onto the sofa. She didn’t mind spending her time with a good book but she usually got to pick reading over other options. Here there were no other options – no TV, no internet and no phone. It was like being captive on an episode of Survivor. The dogs were lounging comfortably beside the sofa and Lisa-Marie stretched out a foot every now and then to rub each of their bellies in turn. The inside of the cabin was eerily quiet – in fact the whole area around the cabin was dead quiet and dark. Never in her life had Lisa-Marie seen it so dark outside.

Editing is hard work, as anyone who has done some knows.  I really struggled with the final line, but in the end I made the suggested change. In some ways I still think – Lisa-Marie had never seen it so dark outside anywhere in her life – sounds better.

The above example paragraph didn’t appear in earlier drafts. The next one did. Here is how this paragraph read in the March 2012 draft:

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and tumbled down over one bare shoulder. A number of small, white roses wove through her hair and a large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced around her face. She wore a softly feminine, off-the-shoulder, white, cotton dress, with a tight-fitting bodice of embroidered shirring attached to a flouncy skirt that fell well above the knee. Her hair and dress combined with her bare feet made her look like a dark, garden Goddess. Though Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he turned to smile at her often, seeming to include her in everything he said, his eyes were on Izzy so often a painful lump lodged in Lisa-Marie’s throat.

Below is the same paragraph, streamlined slightly, as it went to the editor. Lengthy descriptions of what my characters were wearing got weeded out as I rewrote and rewrote. Still work to do, though.

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and tumbled down over one bare shoulder. (faulty structure: either: curls were piled high (passive) on her head and they tumbled down (active) or: Although Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head, some of them tumbled…)A large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced around her face. She wore an off-the-shoulder, white dress. Though Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he turned to smile at her often, seeming to include her in everything he said, she saw that his eyes were on Izzy so often it made a painful lump lodge in her throat. (awkward distance between “though” and “she saw”/faulty construction: try two or three sentences here)

And finally, the finished product:

Izzy’s dark, twisting curls were piled high on her head and they tumbled down around her face. A large pair of silver hoop-earrings danced and sparkled whenever she turned. She wore an off-the-shoulder, white dress. Lisa-Marie sat right beside Justin and he often turned to smile at her, seeming to include her in everything he said. Still, she saw that his eyes were at least as often on Izzy. A painful lump lodged in Lisa-Marie’s throat.

What I have learned of editing is that good writing is stripped down to the basics. I needed a multitude of detail to write the story because it helped me know the characters inside and out. As it turned out, the reader didn’t need to experience the characters in the same way that I did. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these examples or your own editing process – the struggles and the things you’ve learned.

Dealing with the green-eyed monster – writer’s envy

I nearly always write – just as I nearly always breathe.

(John Steinbeck to his editor, Pascal Covici – June 20, 1960)

I often listen to the radio when I’m writing. Now and then a little handful of lyrics will catch my ear and attention. Every time I hear Carrie Underwood’s song, Blown Away, I feel like I could cram my knuckles in my mouth and bite down to stifle a scream generated by green-eyed jealousy. To have written a line like: every tear soaked whiskey memory, blown away. Well – it’s pure genius.

I think back to when I read William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, and couldn’t get his description of the bartender out of my mind: The bartender’s smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. Writing like that is the stuff of legend.

Or the way I read and reread Michael Ondaatje’s work – savoring each sentence and not wanting any one of his books to end.

Stephen King says one of the first prerequisites for a writer is to be a reader. I agree, though I’ve got to be honest here – reading or listening to really good work can be a tad intimidating. Oh what the heck, intimidation that can reach the stage of paralysis might be a more realistic description.

How do we get a handle on this type of intimidation so we can learn from those more experienced and dare I throw out the word – talented? How can we keep on with our own writing endeavors – no matter how humble?

Again – in that old vein of honesty – I haven’t enjoyed reading a novel in the same way since I wrote my own. I read differently now. I look for typos in the final product – I read for point of view or the obvious defiance of one of those crazy writing rules I keep reading about. And often this defiance is committed with stunningly good results.

Point in case – I am currently reading Guy Vanderhaeghe’s novel – A Good Man. At the same time I’ve been looking at a book called, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Suffice to say, Vanderhaeghe violates every single rule of deep point of view to say nothing of flying in the face of believability at times. He has his main character commit his thoughts to a journal in great detail and length – a way that no journal has ever been written. But it works – take my word for it – it works, hands down. The man is a genius of a writer. We’re told that violating deep point of view distances us from the characters. Well – not the way Vanderhaeghe does it!

It seems the more I read about the craft of writing the less inspired I become to actually write. And I think it’s because far too many of these books are written as how-to texts and, in my humble opinion, fiction writing doesn’t do well when the author’s head is crammed with too many rules about how to get the job done.

I’m curious – how do you handle that old green-eyed monster – writer’s envy? How do you decide which writing how-to you’ll follow and which you’ll let fall by the wayside?

Jack Londons Writing Cottage

Jack London’s Sleeping Porch – I love his idea of pinning up his ideas and thoughts with clothes pegs on a line hanging over the bed he slept in.