Weekly Photo Challenge. Layer on the Praise

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The photo challenge this week is, the sign says. When we travel, I am the one who takes pictures of signs. Here is one of my all-time favourites, applicable to so many situations in life.

As I look at this sign, I find myself thinking that writing is a lonely endeavour. I have spent months on my first draft, which by its very nature is something personal, between me and the story I’m trying to tell. It is not ready for public consumption. Even though I’m well aware of that fact, it’s hard to keep quiet. I get to a point where I am dying to talk about the characters and the story. The compulsion is even stronger now as I work on the second draft. It’s still not even ready for beta readers, but I’m more eager than ever to talk. Herein lies the danger that the sign eludes to.

Where do you find someone who understands what this early stage of the process is like for a writer? It is unlikely that we will find ourselves married or partnered with other writers, and that’s probably for the best. But I need someone who knows that if I break down and yammer on about the storyline, or the characters, or go into a complete tailspin and actually read something aloud, the only response acceptable is unqualified praise.

I need to be built up. I’m running a marathon, and I’m getting tired. Where are the supporters on the side-lines handing out fruit and energy drinks?

The last thing I want is critique. Believe me, there will be more than enough time for that down the road, and I’m well aware of that fact.

Heed the sign above. If a writer shares something with you at this early stage, plaster a gigantic smile and your face and layer on the praise. Otherwise you might find yourself at the mercy of the danger this sign describes.

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Do Over–Let the Story Go

The Daily Prompt today suggests a do-over of a past post. My first thought was – aha! I should be able to whip that out quickly. Not so. I chose a post I had done months ago, soon after I started blogging. I found it needed extensive editing. In earlier blogging days, I didn’t know how or when to hyperlink. Now I do. I added more photos this time around, a strategy that helps lead the reader through the text.

All in all, I’m quite pleased with the reworked version. I give you – Let the Story Go.

I often work with CBC radio podcasts on my laptop for background noise. Now and then something IMG_3468catches my attention. The other day I jotted down a snippet of words on the edge of a scrap of paper. No matter what you’re trying to create – if you’re not scared you’re not really doing it.

These two phrases capture one of the bitter pills a writer must swallow – the risk of letting our stories (translation – our babies) go. We must send our creations into the world where people will judge, evaluate, and horrors of all horrors, possibly not understand. That is quite the frightening prospect. I find myself screaming inside – not my problem child – as I refer to Disappearing in Plain Sight.

 

Paul_Ricoeur[1]There is no way around this dilemma. If I want my work to have meaning, other people must see it. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote extensively about hermeneutics – the art of interpreting written text. He tells us that the act of fixing anything in text is the beginning of that text’s journey away from the meanings the original author may have intended. The text is freed from the creator, as well as the circumstances in which it was created. It enters the wide world of interpretation.

I realize that what Ricoeur describes will happen to me with every word I write. I cringe and shy away from ever allowing my text to go free. But this act of fixing a story in the written form is not just a hobby. It is something that has become an imperative. There is just this story, and it must be told.

Human beings have a driving need to tell and understand stories as a way of making senseAVT_Kearney_4836[1] of the world. Telling a story lets us pull the threads of our life backward in contemplation and then forward as we create new ways of being. Richard Kearney (2002) writes that telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating. In fact, it may be more so. Food makes us live; stories are what makes our life worth living. And the remarkable thing about all of this is that each story needs to be told. Each becomes a bell echoing out and beyond the storyteller to change every person that hears. This even includes those who may not like the story. They too are changed in some way.

I know I must let the story go. The story must move beyond me. Interpretation is the work of the reader, not the writer. I do all that I can to tell a well-crafted story. Then I sit back and allow the reader to choose the angle of insight.

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Kearney, Richard. (2002). On Stories. NY: Routledge

Kearney, Richard. (2007). Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutics of interpretation. Research in phenomenology, 37. 147-159.

(The image at the top of this post is of the graveyard in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan where my great-grandparents are buried.)

Share the Love

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Today’s daily post suggestion – Share the Love – asks that we tell about a blogger (or bloggers in my case) who have influenced our online journey. This topic spurred me on to complete a post I’ve been planning for a while. Thank you to the daily post people for giving me the kick in the butt needed to get it done! What a terrific opportunity to give a shout out to some other blogs that I follow and thoroughly enjoy.

First out of the gate!

Five bloggers who are generous to a fault. I’ve been the lucky recipient of this generosity in the form of two book reviews, a book shout-out, an author interview, and several tweets of my blog posts. These bloggers know how to pay it forward and they most certainly have my thanks. The links take you to posts that featured me, but don’t stop there. Check out other topics these bloggers have written about – you won’t be disappointed.

The 4 A.M. Writer – Gwen Stephens

Pamela Cook at the Flying Pony – Australian author of Blackwattle Lake

Patrick O’Scheen author of the soon to be released novel – Dreamer: Chronicles of Maritha – Book One. Patrick hosted a Facebook event entitled Tidbit Tuesday last week – authors got to share short pieces of their work with one another. He stayed on the site most of the day (and past the official end time) offering comments and humorous asides. Way to go Patrick!

Steve at Imagineerebooks

Gloria Antipowich: Romance and Love Stories. Gloria is author of The Thompson Family Trilogy

Next up – two blogs that do a fantastic job featuring the creative work of other bloggers

The Story Shack – this blog puts writers and artists together and the mix is potent. I can’t speak for other writers who have had their work featured on the Story Shack, but the artwork down by Grace Gao for my short piece of fiction entitled Helplessness took my breath away.

Postcard, poems, and prose  This blog features lots of quirky contests, thoughtful writing and images, as well as amusing anecdotes about contributors.

And now for my favourite blogs in various categories.

My favourite writer of short fiction – I never miss a post by The Wrought Writer. Her stories always impress me and make me think.

My favourite YA author blogs: Grace Makley – Writer and Illustrator and Mystic Cooking – Kati and Heidi, a pair of dragon fantasy writers.

My favourite Cooking/Writing/Life BlogDana Staves at Whisks and Words

My favourite angst-ridden poet blogThe Electric Journal of a Castaway – this guy does prose, poems and photos that wrench one out of complacency

Here are two of my favourite photo blogs – my husband Bruce’s blog – Through the Luminary Lens Bruce is eclectic. He posts great photos, quotes and poetry. He makes connections between things that at first cause me to shake my head. Then I think – aha!Bophie’s Photos – stunning photos. What this person can do with a drop of water will break your heart.

My favourite blog on editingChange it up Editing  I always find it has been worth taking the time to read the posts on this blog

My favourite funny/family guy blogHarper Faulkner He makes me laugh so much, I think my laptop might roll right on the floor with me.

My favourite all around informative blogPeter D. Mallett – I never miss his posts because they’re always engaging. (I credit Peter for giving me the idea for this post in the first place.)

My favourite crazy research topic blogAlina’s Scentsy Scents – this woman describes perfume like a magazine that reviews expensive wine. I always get a kick out of her posts. I’ll never buy any of these fragrances, but a character I create might or another character might need describe the haunting/lingering effects of a perfume. When this happens I’ll be ready.

To wrap things up – a few new discoveries

Robby Robin the alter ego of Jane Fritz – Reflections of a running, writing, inquiring retiree. Jane is living over at the other end of this fabulous country, Canada. I’m enjoying discovering this woman!

Jennie Orbell – Hilarious posts – her husband is my husband’s UK clone! She is an author of three works of contemporary fiction – Mulligan’s Reach, Starfish, and Eternal.

Dream Big Words. Angela is dreaming, seeking, and writing from her home in Pennsylvania where she crafts poetry, sails the tides of memoir and gets lost in the magical forest of fiction. She is working on a book entitled: The Mother Tree.

I am currently following 158 bloggers. I’m sure you can imagine what my Reader looks like some days! Time restrictions mean that there are times when I simply must pick and choose what to read – but even when the Reader is jam packed with exciting new stuff – I won’t pass over the bloggers I’ve mentioned in this post.

Please take the time to check out any or all of these great blogs!

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Both photos were taken at Taliesin West (the home of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright) outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. They spoke to me of connection and I thought that would go well with today’s topic.

Daily Prompt: Stranded

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Do you ever wonder what it would be like to find yourself in a totally unfamiliar place or time? Today’s prompt about being stranded intrigued me and this little bit of flash fiction is the result.

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Her eyes flickered rapidly. Her head was down, resting on her arm. She could see a small journal lying open on the polished surface of the table beside a tall glass of white wine. She focused on the two words written at the top of the open page of cream coloured paper – Don’t panic.

She sat up slowly and reached for the wine, taking a long slow sip as she studied those words. She noticed the arm extended before her. She felt her heart start to thud wildly; the hand that held the wine glass began to tremble. A black silk blazer was pushed up the graceful forearm, a wrist was encased in a sparkling diamond bracelet, rings adorned the slender fingers – none of that had ever belonged to her.

She put the wine glass down very deliberately and glanced quickly over the body sitting on the chair. She noted the low cut white blouse – a crisp fabric under the black silk and a tight black skirt that rode up the thigh. Long legs were encased in black leather boots with stiletto heels.

Suddenly she had to find a bathroom – the wine was rolling in her stomach dangerously. She wasn’t sure if she could walk in the heels but she had to try. Much to her surprise she had no difficulty making her way toward the sign that indicated the direction of the ladies room. The bathroom was thankfully empty. As she passed the large bank of mirrors she let out a gasp and staggered against one of the stall doors.

Staring back at her from the mirror was someone she had never seen before. A woman in her mid-twenties perhaps, large dark eyes thickly fringed with make-up, fashion-model thin with a sheet of dark hair surrounding her face.

She gripped the edge of the vanity sink and stared at the face in the mirror. It had happened again. She forced herself to take a breath and think – what was the last thing she could remember? It never mattered, but she always tried to grab hold of that last vestige of a life gone from her forever.

She had been in the garden planting the peas, down on her knees on the spring wet ground, her hands in the cold earth. A robin had landed nearby and dipped its yellow beak into the newly turned soil. The bird had pulled up a worm, stretching it to what looked like the breaking point. She had sat back on her legs and watched as the weak sunshine glinted off the rippling water of the lake. There had been a flash of very bright light and then nothing until her eyes had flickered suddenly open to the words on the journal page – Don’t panic.

Where on earth was she? And more to the point, who was she?

She walked slowly out of the bathroom and back to the table, an oasis of familiarity within the desert of unknowns. Impressions hit her – she was in a bar, the clink of glasses and a low hum of conversation surrounded her. As she regained the security of the table she saw the bartender approach, a crisp white apron tied around his waist over sharply creased black trousers. He warned her not to leave her purse hooked over the chair the way she had. Did she want to get robbed? People think an uptown place like this in the city is safe – but it isn’t. What city, she was screaming to demand but she didn’t. He asked if she would like more wine and she shook her head, unsure if she could even pay for what she had already consumed. He walked away after flashing her a suavely suggestive smile, his glance lingering on the open front of her blouse.

She now felt the weight of eyes on her. People were staring – staring in a way she wasn’t used to anymore. She had been a fifty-five year old, overweight woman with streaky grey hair dressed in gumboots and a ratty sweater kneeling in the dirt of her garden to plant peas. There was no reason for anyone to pay her any attention at all.

She took a sip of the wine and then another for good measure, draining the glass. She pulled the fashionable handbag from the chair and rooted inside. She found a wallet and flipped it open to discover a raft of credit cards and a driver’s license with a picture of the women she had seen in the bathroom mirror. Her name was Veronica Lambden – she was twenty-six years old and she lived at 515 Huntington Terrace, Manhattan. A fancy cell phone vibrated in her hand as she picked it up. A text message ran across the screen under the name Robert – traffics a snarl – I can’t get a bloody cab – should be there in ten minutes or so – order some more wine.

She raised the empty glass to the bartender and shrugged her slim shoulders. He nodded. She would drink another glass of wine and wait until Robert, whoever he might turn out to be, came along to claim her – what else could she do? It was always the same, already she was forgetting the image of the robin and the feel of the cold earth on her hands.

Weekly Photo Challenge–Lunches & Memories

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This week’s photo challenge got me thinking about the way Bruce and I tend to remember fun moments of our trips – we recall where and what we ate. The experience of eating is so rich with sensory data that it allows one to open an entire file of memory. I’ve chosen three lunches from our 2012 trip down to California.

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This is Bruce posing with a Greek chicken wrap and the best fries ever. They are topped with garlic and cilantro. We were sorely tempted to order more and that is saying something when you see the stack they gave us to start with. We were visiting the Getty Villa, just outside of Malibu and stopped for lunch at their restaurant deck with a fabulous view of the entire complex. The photo of the flowers (above) shows the stunning beauty of  pink oleander from beside one of the Villa’s huge pools.

 

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Here we have Mandarin chicken and jasmine rice dotted with poppy seeds. We had this lunch at an outdoor cafe in Ashland, Oregon, right before seeing a play at their very famous Shakespeare Festival. The sun was shining and the day was set for perfection. P1030876

The play was All the Way – about Lyndon Johnson and his passion (and often sly but hilarious behind-the-scenes manoeuvring) to see a civil rights amendment pass prior to his bid for re-election. A most enjoyable and fascinating production.

 

 

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In these two photos we are having an early lunch on Olvera Street, right across from Union Station, in downtown Los Angeles. It was a huevos and frijoles dish of eggs and beans and chiles. Delicious. But we had the atmosphere going for us – we were in Los Angeles just before the Dia de los Muertos Celebrations – Nov. 2nd. Many of you may think of this as All Souls Day. Everywhere we looked we saw artfully done skeleton masks, sugar skulls, elaborately decorated altars and beautifully painted faces.

 

Food for thought – food for the soul – food of the Gods – whatever you want to call it, experiences of eating bring back the memories of holidaying.

Un-invent: Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children

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If I could un-invent one thing, it would be the availability of small arms and light weapons. This type of military hardware may be a predictive indicator of the potential for child soldiering. The connection has yet to be definitively proven and it is unlikely that we could ever say one way or the other, but the impact of the use of children as a strategic military tool could be lessened by the absence of such weapons.

Think about it – a child simply does not have the physical strength to cart around a full-sized weapon.

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I urge you to visit the Child Soldiers Initiative website.

This organization was founded by retired lieutenant-general and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire. It is a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide.

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There is so much valuable information on this site, including a trailer for Dallaire’s new film, Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, based on his 2010 book of the same name that was launched at the Amsterdam Docs festival.

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“Children are used because they are considered expendable, plentiful, cheap to maintain and easily indoctrinated by the adults who recruit them. They are used as a strategic military tool—a weapons system—to advance the interests of persistent human rights violators.” (Daillaire)

Daillarie himself speaks quite eloquently to this issue – check out this YouTube interview he did with Allen Gregg for TV Ontario.

You could also check out this recent (Nov. 2012) op-ed piece in the Toronto StarProtect children from military press gangs.

Dallaire’s voice is invaluable in the initiative to stop the use of child soldiers because he is known as not only a humanitarian, but also as a tried and true veteran of a military conflict where he personally faced a gun pointed at him by a child. He speaks to NGOs, governments and the military in a language they can all understand.

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Dallaire being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos for the CBC TV program The Hour on the issue of Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr

“For soldiers with any sense of honour at all, fighting children offers a no-win situation. To be defeated by children would almost certainly bring death, derision and disgrace, while to win would carry the taint of having killed mere children.” (Dallaire)

For the complete story of Dallaire’s experiences in Rwanda please read his book – Shake Hands with the Devil.

Bruce and I have seen Dallaire speak and we have read his books. I urge you to give some time to checking into the information available on child soldiers. When you become aware of the breadth and scope of the problem, the human suffering and anguish, I do not believe you will be unmoved.

The House is on Fire – What do I Grab?

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The daily post challenge – The house is on fire – all the people and animals are safe – I have a chance to grab five items before I run for it – what would I grab?

First and foremost, my laptop – a no-brainer. I never adequately back-up my work – not even to devices in this house, which wouldn’t help in the event of a fire. I know lots of people who consistently save their work up to internet platforms (i.e. send it to yourself at g-mail and things like that.) I do not take this wise advice – so, I need to grab that laptop!

My two passport drives (but I’m going to count this as one choice.) They’re close to the laptop and if I get them, I’ll have all my documents and all the photos.

My Nike of Samothrace statue – it’s also in the writing area (handy all this stuff is right in the kitchen and close to a door.) She’s only about a foot tall so I can tuck her under my arm.

My wallet (which is in my purse, so I might as well take the whole thing and then at least I’ll have the car keys if I need to drive away in a rush.)  It would be good to have my ID since I’m in the process of losing my home and everything in it. Maybe I should have thought of this item before a small statue or a couple of passport drives.

I suppose it would also be good to grab our actual passports – you know those things that let Canadians get across the border to the USA or for the more adventuresome, travel the world.

Well – that’s five things (with a bit of cheating on the two passport drives and a whole purse full of mostly useless items.) I’m now thinking it would have been good to take one of the walkie-talkies – I could have called out for some help. (For people who live in less isolated spots, this would translate to their cell phone. There is no point in grabbing the cell phone here since there isn’t any service for miles.)

I’ll miss some of the little bits of inexpensive jewellery I’ve collected over time. And all the books, it will be hard to lose all the books. I hope I’m wearing a few layers of clothes, because I didn’t think of grabbing any extras.  I didn’t look for a single thing that Bruce might have wanted. In the event of a fire – is one allowed to be selfish?

In my life I have had a connection with two building fires. One was at a place where I worked and I was required to assist the insurance people in determining what had been lost, what could be salvaged, and what would need to be replaced. It was a huge job and I often felt overwhelmed with the volume of things that were stuffed into a small space. At that time, I mourned the loss of some of the personal objects I had kept in my office.

The second fire burnt our generator shed to the ground. I wasn’t here for this fire and I’m glad. (Remember my post on freezing in crisis situations – I suspect I would have been more trouble than help.) The generator shed sat in close proximity to one edge of the cabin and Bruce had a terrifying time ensuring the whole place didn’t go up in flames. That event happened over three years ago, but there are times that he still bemoans the loss of  something from that shed – a tool, a nut, a bolt, or a plumbing part – the type of things the building was stuffed with. For my part, I miss the beautiful, blue hydrangea that grew right by the door and bloomed in wild disarray every summer. And I miss the actual building – it was such a cute little thing.

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Contemplating a house fire is scary – especially for those who have been through such a trauma. It can be a good exercise, though. Anything that makes us examine our priorities is good.