Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Intention and Perception

Writing carries an energy within its words. The message is intended for an audience, a receiver, even when the ultimate receiver is yet unknown.

The writer hopes to capture something, a mood, a tone, creating a certain effect.

Yet the reception of the writing is not within the writer's control. The reader's perceptions act as filters, screening the message through thoughts, impressions, expectations, even the emotions of the moment. And those perceptions meld with the writing to create a completely new content.

Reader-Response Criticism, in a way.

I notice this most when the writing is limited by space constraints. Texting with my friends, it is often difficult to convey tone. Something that is meant as playful teasing is taken seriously. Abbreviations convey impatience not intended. It is easy to go awry in a text conversation. Or on Twitter. Or in a letter.

Actually, this is not just a written phenomena. This same intention vs. reception occurs in every level of conversation, even just in body language. Truly, we only see the world in the way that we expect to see it.

Our perceptive filters may be just too powerful for even the best intentioned words to break through our own beliefs.

The Sun Passes Overhead

Lately I've been acutely aware of the passage of time.

Not the seasons of my life or how the weeks blend into months, but the actual motion of the hours across the day.

When I wake up in the early morning, a fresh hopefulness hangs in the air and in the soft pink light of the new start.

In full morning, I drive the girls to school and walk through the strengthening rays of the sun. The day's weather is declaring itself and the day is taking shape.

By mid-morning, I leave my house again to go to work. The light is full and warm and rich and everything is clear. The warmth is still a promise and there is time to do whatever needs to be done.

I work through the full light of noon, by windows if I can. Outside, on a day like today, when the air is mild and I can camp outside Starbucks and slip onto their wifi for the price of a coffee.

When I emerge into the afternoon, the day has shifted. The lazy, hazy sky says that time has passed while I was occupied. Fatigue and heat mark the return from school and the beginning of the evening's rush of chores.

The evening softens again. A breeze sweeps by. Inside we put a meal on the table, clean away the day's mess, wrestle with notebooks and pencils and worksheets of the day. The late afternoon taunts us to come outside and play, but there is so much to be done!

If we are lucky, we catch the sunset. Dusk is my favorite time of day, the blurring of a boundary, the smooth shadowing of the world as we slip from day to night. A friend's culture believes that spirits fly about at dusk, released by the transition of the world. Her family stays inside until the sun is fully gone and the dark calls the spirits back. Me, however, I love to walk through the grey and purple light and see the shapes of trees anew as silhouettes against the coming stars.

Then darkness falls. The work is put aside or finished up. On good nights, there is time to sit, to breathe, to relax together in the warm lamplight of the home. On bad nights, we push to finish what we must in time to sleep.

Another day has slipped by, bit by bit, changing as it goes.

The dark is one long pause, and then the day begins again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Creating Nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction. That's what I'll spend the next two months learning and writing. I slogged through the registration process and grabbed this prize of a class. This is what I do, daily, and any tips I can learn can only help me along.

It's so incredibly lovely to sit and have someone just feet away from me talk about writing for hours on end. Plus I take full advantage of the all-you-can-ask question buffet to plumb the experiences of this teacher who has made a living from every kind of writing over his adult life.

Going through the syllabus in the first class was an exciting preview of what's to come. I had a little thrill of shock when we got to the last page and I realized - oh, yeah, there's going to be a GRADE at the end. It's been so long since I've learned anything for a grade that it seemed cute and quaint.

I'm a learner for the pure sake of learning these days. That, and getting a boost to my work skills.

So here's some notes I want to remember from last week:

I. Feature Stories - Most Common Types

1. What's Happening - topical, current events
2. How-To - cooking, car repair, computers, writing, etc.
3. Recreation - travel, sports, outdoor, for Seniors
4. Personal - Self-help, Fashion, Personal Finance
5. Religious/Spiritual
6. Politics - issues, profiles of candidates
7. Profiles
8. Science - tailored to lay people, Health
9. Q&A Article - usually a brief intro then can either be Informational or Interview

II. Preparing Your Feature Story - Questions to Ask Yourself

1.What is the Subject?
2. What's the Point?
3. How Will I Lead?
4. How Will I End?
5. What's the Supporting Info?

III. Organization of a Feature Story

1. Chronological - very easy to follow, Memoir usually is
2. Hourglass - Start in Middle with big event giving story, background and how event resolved. Second Hook near the start of the whole story then move chronologically.
3. Spatial Structure - needs variety in locations where story occurs
4. Parallel Structure - two aspects of story side by side
5. Layered Story - from small to large, or large to small, a level at a time.
6. Scenic Structure - put scenes together to build a cumulative picture, all details around core idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Such an intensely stress-saturated day yesterday that I don't think I can even write about it. Just one of those draining days that moves from challenge to challenge - some in my life, some in the lives of friends - without pause or respite.

I think I need to drop back for a while, and not try quite so hard. Spend some time being calm, doing nothing, breathing, noticing, and letting the storm-swirled silt of my thoughts, illusions, fears and projections settle back down to the bottom of my pond of being.

I've been reading poetry instead of novels lately. Here's a lovely gem from Galway Kinnell:


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

I'll see if my body agrees to let go into sleep now...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Like a wonderful secret that keeps me strong
the lilting words of a well-known song
the space of a place that is mine without fail
the billowing curve of the wind across sail

the light of the sun on a face starved for joy
the first gentle touch shared between girl and boy
the heft of the hilt in the clasp of my fist
the sensation of kisses swirled around in the mist

the promise of more to those who know lack
the mass of the load borne upon a strong back
the hope of the day in the dark of the night
the whisper of prayer in the clash of the fight

Like the reason for breath, and the shelter I've sought
Is this simple blank space that I fill with each thought

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring's Sprung!

Gorgeous weather here today. Although I adore the clouds and rain, this fresh sun is a nice change. I took advantage with a 1.5 mile hike to start my day. My mood is always better and more hopeful when I get enough exercise and outdoor time - it's one of my self-prescribed medications.

April is, as you know, National Poetry Month (here in the U.S.). I'll try to give you some poems over the next few days. I know it's the eleventh, but it feels like the start of the month to me. I'm a slow starter sometimes.

The only poem I have in my own mind is a silly one, something like:

Wonderful Unicorns by Wavering

Rainbow streams frolic and jump

For joy of being alive

Kick up their heels

Wade into Kinetic Waters

Fairly Fairily Airily

Wanting and Wishing

Kissing the passing mists

Of Unbelievably Welcome

Kingdoms of Kindly Light

Yeah, does that make any sense to you? Me either. Sometimes I'm not that great at sense, contrary to my seeminly organized exterior. It's a cute poem though, lighthearted, spontaneous, and fun. Born right here, just this moment, with the magic of these words.

In Spring.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Overheard At Coffee Bean...

The 24 year old guy next to me talking on his cell seriously sounds like he's about 15 years old. And in an 80s movie with Sean Penn and Keanu Reeves.

He's talking to a buddy about borrowing cars and dates. "I'm not even gonna say it, Man."

(Indistinct murmuring from other line)

"Dude, I'm not going to say it here. I'm in a Coffee Bean."

And I'm thinking, Yes, please, DON'T say it. I really don't want to know and can't help but overhear. Just hold it back.

Earlier today, a friend was slowly and painstakingly texting me a big secret. Part of me was like, you know, it's okay. Just keep it to yourself and then you won't have to worry about anyone else finding out! And I can get back to my WRITING!

You know what Benjamin Franklin said: Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

Oh no! I glanced over and inadvertently made eye contact. Now overaged teen guy is trying to talk to me about the passing fire truck. I think he's high. Aack! Look very busy with my typing. Be prepared to close this screen if he starts to peek. I hope those sheriffs ordering coffee will protect me if he gets all Sean Penn v the Paparazzi on me.

See. Writing is a dramatic life option.


Ah, new banquette seating at the Coffee Bean I've been frequenting of late. With jaunty summer-colored stripes and firm cushions. Very nice. Plus new tables - less grimy but more wobbly - and - Rejoice!- more electrical outlets!!

Well played, coffee competitor.

I've been self-medicating nicely with lots of lattes and bouts of public writing. I have a final story due in my class by midnight tonight and I've got... nothin'. Went back through four years of writing files and found lots of good starts I had forgotten about, but no finished product that I haven't previously submitted. That's the problem of working with the same teacher.

So, cup in hand, I need to whip 1000 plus words out of the air in the next hour or so. Of course, since I'm drinking nonfat decaf, I'm not sure if there's even actually anything in my cup...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Instant Mood Lift

So I may have been just a wee bit stressed out yesterday.

I went to Barnes and Noble to work and couldn't find an empty table. So instead I impulse-bought Tina Fey's new book Bossypants and a bag of Reese's Pieces Candy Coated Eggs. Then I sat in my car in the parking lot, munching away, reading the book, and laughing aloud.

Tina Fey is awesome in her cleverness, determination, pluck and style. I love her work, even when it's over the top grody. Plus she's an eighties girl like me.

So much for my week of giving up sugar and flour. I made it through three days, hit a stressor, and - bam!- found myself fisting handfuls of the LCD of sugary snacks.

I'm sure Tina herself would approve. (It did actually lift my mood...)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Closing In

Bad news in the paper this morning. First thing I saw when I finished making breakfast.

New laws that impact me. Significant restrictions on a routine part of my life. And now follows all the posturing on the part of lawmakers and the uncertainty of how or when or if enforcement happens. Probably a new round of visits to my lawyer and legal expenses.

Sigh. This puts the normal issues in my marriage into a different perspective. I almost feel nostalgic for a few weeks ago when I thought that conflict was the biggest problem facing me. But no - here's a heavy, new ball thrown in to the juggling rotation.

Still though, I rise. Like bread dough or the tides or the price of chocolate, I will always rise to the occasion. And with my usual dose of optimism I consider that this may ultimately be a VERY GOOD thing. The impetus to get myself truly free.

I've been humming lyrics from "The Cave" and it's a good message from my subconscious:

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways...

Might not have been the most helpful response in the world, but I burned the newspaper. Watched that problem disappear in drifts of smoke and a lovely glowing ball of red.

I'm eradicating these issues from my life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Click, click, click...

For someone who is a "writer," it seems like I spend an awful big chunk of my precious work-designated hours clicking through email like a monkey with a button fetish.

And skimming them. And replying.

Communication is vital to work relations. And between email, texts, calls, and real people, I'm certainly not lonely.

In fact, sometimes I could do with less "work" and less companionship... and more writing.

You know. Words flowing and making a story.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Update

I didn't make it to Santa Monica, of course.

But I did make it to the next town. I browsed sun-warmed produce at the Farmers Market and chose some juice-succulent strawberries. And I ran through the discount department store and found some gorgeous shoes instead of a hat.

Ralph Lauren wedge heels made of lovely chocolate brown lace. I wear a lot of brown, and they seemed to promise good things for the coming summer.

I'm an expensive girl, and spending money is one of my favorite hobbies. It's the bane of my days and a force that keeps me hunched over this keyboard, always looking for the balance.

I didn't create any new fiction Friday, but I did compile a list of participants that my fundraising clients badly needed.

So, success and a pleasant day, all things considered.

Friday, April 1, 2011


If I had the time today, I know what I'd like to do.

I would drive to Santa Monica. It's a gorgeous warm day here, like summer, but the sky is blue and clear and promising. To head my car into that blue and just drive...

Once there I'd pass on the glitz and hustle of Third Street Promenade. Instead, I'd head to the older, quieter part of Santa Monica. I'd browse for a new summer hat, maybe something in straw, with a bright pink ribbon. Or turquoise. Maybe a supple grey felt. Or a tiny black cloche with a jet bauble best worn in the thirties or on the screen.

I'd go next door to the Novel Cafe. With a latte steaming on a rickety wooden table, I grab a handful of battered books and browse through them. Muse through them. I'd bring a notebook and a smooth-inked pen and dream across the page.

Then I'd find myself below the pier. The view in the header photo is the Southern Santa Monica Beach and I would stroll there, feet cooled by the curl of the waves until I would sink down into the sun-warmed sand and simply watch the motion and the stillness of it all.

And, if I had still more time, I'd check into a crisp, beachfront hotel and take a small room just for me. White walls and shutters and linen on a just right bed with a desk that faces the balcony and opens onto the view of the ocean just outside, and simply sit and write and dream some more. And breathe life into some new stories in a peaceful, gentle way.

That's how I'd spend my time if it was only mine to spend, today.