Saturday, June 30, 2018

Shelby Foote, Dip Pens, and Making Space to Slow Down

on June 2018 walk
"When asked why he wrote with a pen that required frequent pauses for dipping into a fresh supply of ink, the late Shelby Foote, noted novelist and Civil War writer, answered, 'It helps me slow down.'" --quoted in Working it Out, Growing Spiritually with the Poetry of George Herbert by Joseph L. Womack

The bee on the flower showed up to view only after I had downloaded the picture from my phone to the computer. If I had not slowed down first to take a walk, second to take the time to snap a photo, and third to take that closer look, I would have missed the unexpected detail.

Maybe that's what Shelby Foote (1916-2005) experienced when he wrote with an old fashioned dip pen. I'm sure, based on his list of published works, the exercise must have helped him capture extra-special details. Let his record stand: The Civil War: A Narrative in three volumes, along with six published novels, are among his published credits. I'm not thinking of going all the way back to dipping a pen in an inkwell, but I do like to start writing sessions with a prompt or two--often written by hand--to slow down and give the creative side space to kick in. In fact just the other day my oldest granddaughter (age 10) and I did a word association exercise to generate ideas for setting and character names needed for a writing project the two of us are working on together :-)

Additional quotes by Mr. Foote include:

"If you want to study writing, read Dickens. That's how to study writing, or Faulkner, or D.H. Lawrence, or John Keats. They can teach you everything you need to know about writing."

"And I'm a slow writer: five, six hundred words is a good day. That's the reason it took e 20 years to write those million and a half words of the Civil War."

And how about this one:

"A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library."

Yep--and maybe just about any community as well. At least they should be. A good place to slow down anyway.

How's your summer going? Finding time to slow down? Maybe carving out enough time to get some writing done? What is your go-to-technique to slow down and capture that elusive thought?
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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hands, Hope, and Historic Lighthouses

Lake Erie June 2018
I hear lake water
lapping with low
sound by the shore...
I hear it in the deep
heart's core.
--William Butler Yeats

We went to Lake Erie last week to spend a few days on the shore, to play, to read, to explore. Stories abound with each trip a person takes, I guess, but my story features a light house, 77 steps to the top, a challenge, and--after the fact--a good laugh (seasoned with relief).

Marblehead Lighthouse
While the rest of the family went to nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park, my daughter and I, along with her two youngest kids, explored close-by villages and the historic peninsula housing the oldest lighthouse on Lake Erie: Marblehead Lighthouse in Marblehead OH.

Now if we had given it more thought in advance, would we have made the subsequent climb? In fact, after the fact, our famous words upon reaching the pinnacle were, "What WERE we thinking??!" But the attendant selling the tickets had said, "There's only 77 steps." 77? That's not too many is it?

And so, since the day was a beautiful one, and the view would be so dramatic from the top, we bought our tickets and entered this quaint, historic lighthouse. Did I mention we had a five-year old and a two-year old with us?

Lighthouse staircase
 The doorway yawned open. The narrow cast iron steps rotating up the spiral staircase beckoned. We each took the hand of a little one, and thus we started the climb. The five-year old was so good to help; we had her counting the steps. She's a pretty good counter after all. 'What step are we on now, Ceci?' 'Twenty-seven.' Later, 'Fifty-six.' and so on. It was the littlest one, though, that had the greatest sense of adventure. Little Miss Independent resisted holding her mother's hand. She wanted to do this all by herself. Can you say clash of wills??

All I could think of was, don't look down. Yet, climb we did. It was not Mt. Everest (although grandson called the loft in our condo overlooking the living room Mt. Everest!), but a mountain to conquer none-the-less.

Below staircase looking up
Ours was a small challenge, of course, next to those who made history in this lighthouse. Marblehead, built in 1821, served as a beacon, a guiding light, a source of aid and protection for over a century, from post-War of 1812 through the Civil War, and World War I. Benajah Wolcott, Marblehead's first keeper, was a Revolutionary War veteran. It is said that each evening during the shipping season, Benajah would climb the lighthouse (by way of wooden steps which preceded the cast-iron spiral staircase we climbed) to light its thirteen lamps (source) and then faithfully tend the light until the following morning. He kept records of ships that passed, noted weather conditions, and organized rescue efforts. When he passed away, his wife Rachel took over his duties--the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes. What a remarkable woman she must have been. The guide at the lighthouse told our group that in the early years lighthouse keepers would carry two four-gallon buckets of whale oil up the steps to keep the lights burning. Now that's a climb!

View of Cedar Point from lighthouse
The lighthouse keeper with the longest record was Charles Hunter (1903-1933). His tenure included the years of the Great War, with log entries reflecting the times: "War started in Austria, Belgium, England, France and Germany (source); and later: "Keeper and Assistant purchased each $100 Liberty Loan Bond." Local tragedies were also recorded: "Assistant found two boys frozen at Put-in-Bay." One log entry tied a local event and tragedy together: "Assistant planted a walnut tree, A Memorial to cousin killed in the war!" A grove of walnut trees stands today on the site, all testimony to that first tree planted.

The two brave lighthouse climbers
"I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a light house," George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying. "They were built only to serve."  I didn't think of all of this while concentrating one step at a time, holding the hand of a five-year old up 77 steps and back down. But as I reflect on the experience, I think of all the feet that have climbed this monument, all the people who served others in connection with it and all the messages and images this lighthouse and others project: hope, harbor in the storm, helping hands, heart.

We survived our climb and can laugh about the adventure in retrospect. But we can also link hands with those who worked in obscurity, with little or no recognition, with a simple purpose: to reach out a hand to others. One generation to another. As one unknown source put it: "Don't forget that maybe you are the lighthouse in someone's storm."

That's just a glimpse of our summer so far. How is your summer going? Any words written, steps climbed, hands held, hope inspired? Have you visited any lighthouses? Let's share our stories.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Always Learning and Another (Writing) Book

May wildflowers 2018
"I am still learning." --Michelangelo

Yes, I'm still learning, too (although far, far away from the category of a Michelangelo!)--and hope that I never lose the desire to do so. So it is, in the spirit of learning, that I've added yet another book on writing to my shelf: The Story Cure, A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir by Dinty W. Moore (Ten Speed Press 2017). I've only just begun digging into it, but already I like Mr. Moore's premise: "A Book Doctor is different from a copyeditor or a proofreader. The task at hand is not to clean up sentences, adjust punctuation, or fix typographical errors. A Book Doctor looks at the patient as a whole--the plot, the main characters, the voice, the structure--or, to continue the physician metaphor, the arms, the legs, the belly, and the heart. The Doctor's job is to diagnose exactly why the patient isn't thriving" (p.2).

And if I were honest, it's the heart of the book I'm now drafting that's suffering. May the doctor help diagnose my problem. In fact, in Chapter One, The Story Cure, one section is subtitled "Discovering (or Rediscovering) the Heart of Your Story." I'll have that part of the book dog-eared, I think.

Maybe your problem is where your story begins. That's addressed in Chapter 2: Your First Breath. Maybe it's voice and point of view. See Chapter 5, A Visit with the Throat and Eye Doctors. Or maybe plot and structure? How about Chapter 6, The Strong Skeleton?

Have I whetted your appetite yet? I think most of the material will be familiar to those who have been writing for a while, but why not review the subject matter from such a fun angle?

And speaking of books on the shelf: today's the day to announce the winners of my give-away for the inspirational book, The Short and Sweet of It, When the Right Word is a Short Word, compiled by Susan Cheeves King--an anthology of inspirational pieces written in one-syllable words. Peggy and Cathy, be on the lookout for your copies! You both commented in the give-away post (here) and I couldn't bring myself to pull just one name out of a list of two, so you are both winners! I'll be in touch by email to verify your addresses.

Yes, may we live motivated to always be open to learning and, for us writers, to be open to improving our craft. The journey of life is far more interesting that way.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On the Value of Short Words, and a Give-Away

courtesy google images
"There is a story that an American general once asked Churchill to look over the draft of an address he had written. It was returned with the comment: 'Too many passives and too many zeds.' The general asked him what he meant, and was told: 'Too many Latinate polysyllabics like systematize, prioritize and finalize. And then the passives. What if I had said, instead of 'We shall fight on the beaches,' 'Hostilities will be engaged with our adversary on the coastal perimeter'?'"   --Winston Churchill (source)

Short words vs. long words (monosyllabic vs. polysyllabic): they both have their place, of course, but often--as Winston Churchill, Britain's great leader and prime minister during WWII, so artfully displayed--the scale of good communication tips more toward the punchiness and action of short words as opposed to the more flowery, lofty nature of long ones. Do you agree?

George Orwell weighed in on the subject, too: "Never use a long word where a short one will do. Never use the passive where you can use the active."

As mentioned in an earlier post (here), I answered a call to write for an anthology in which the main criteria was that we were to write in only one syllable words (with a few exceptions like prepositions, proper names, and words for family). Writing for this volume was not only rewarding in that my piece was accepted for the collection, but because the challenge itself provided opportunity to stretch the writing muscles in a different way. 

Thus, I'm happy to share in the good news that the book is out! The Short and Sweet of It, When the Right Word is a Short Word, compiled and edited by Susan Cheeves King (Grace Publishing, Broken Arrow OK 2018). As an anthology of inspirational pieces, the book is designed to encourage and uplift the reader. From the back cover: "How do we say more with less? Can short, simple words make what we write so clear that the reader gets it? Or will it remind them of reading a child's board book? The truth is, short words bring power because they are easy to read, easy to grasp, and easy to recall...In this book, the third in the Short and Sweet series, you'll find a collection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry on a variety of topics. They have two things in common: Each is about something that matters deeply to the writer, and with few exceptions, each is written using only one-syllable words or words of fewer than six letters. If you've always thought writers have to use long words to keep readers engaged, discover why it's often a great idea to keep it Short and Sweet."

Short and Sweet! Maybe you'd like to take a peek between the covers and see what a few writers have done with a few short words. And so a give-away! I will send a copy out to a commenter-chosen-by-random. All you have to do is comment here by May 28, at which time I will do a random drawing and send a copy out to that person. Just leave a contact email so that I can be in touch to get your address :-)

Who knows, maybe then, too, you will be inspired to see just how far a few short words can go!

And here, a bonus of extra words of wisdom from Winston Churchill. See if any of these quotes stir you on to more words of your own, too--or maybe simply be an encouragement for the moment:  

  • "Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."
  • "Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts."
  • "Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant and, in the last stage, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."
  • "All the greatest things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope."
  • "It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time."
  • "Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge."
  • "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it's also what it takes to sit down and listen."
  • "Continuous effort--not strength or intelligence--is the key to unlocking our potential."

Enjoy! 
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Monday, April 30, 2018

National Poetry Month 2018 Draws to Close

April 2018
"Poetry is vocal painting, as painting is silent poetry." --Simonides of Geos*

Amazingly as April and another National Poetry Month draw to a close, I can say I completed the 30-Poems-in-30 Days challenge, and I'm celebrating! Of course now the revision cycle kicks in, so we're not done yet, but the bones of the challenge have been completed. Completed submissions are due in a few days so I have my work cut out for me.

I'm also amazed that this precious bluebird posed long enough on a wire outside our living room window the other day that I could capture his picture (and through the glass no less). All things considered, like poetry, sometimes the best images come in quite unexpected ways.

Any amazing or unexpected things come your way lately?

*And just who was Simonides of Geos? Turns out he was a Greek poet who lived 556-468 B.C. Poetry has been around a long, long time!
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Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Time to Talk by Robert Frost

April 2018
 A Time to Talk
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
--Robert Frost

Happy National Poetry Month! I'm celebrating by continuing the 30-Poems-in-30-Days Challenge (here) and by chronicling some of my favorite poems in a notebook so I don't lose track of them. This poem by Robert Frost is one of them. I'm also celebrating with fellow blogger Elizabeth who commented in my previous post that she has been inspired to take up the challenge, too, and was almost half-way to her goal of 30 poems in 30 days on the day she commented. That's what it's all about--exploring the world of words, encouraging one another, being inspired by friends :-)

Enjoying the month. Enjoying poetry. Enjoying friendships. How about you?
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Friday, March 30, 2018

Crown of Thorns at the Conservatory

Krohn Conservatory March 2018
Crown of Thorns
Euphorbia milii f. lutea
Madagascar
"This schrub was brought to the Middle East for cultivation over 2000 years ago. Legend associates it with the crown of thorns referenced in the Bible worn by Christ. This is also the oldest known plant specimen in Krohn. We can trace it to a cutting provided by a donor's plant originally collected in 1895!"--description on plaque at Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati

We visited Cincinnati's Krohn Conservatory the other day, hubby and I along with two grandkids, for the conservatory's annual Butterfly Show. This time butterflies from Madagascar were featured. Built in 1933, the conservatory was first known as the Eden Park Greenhouse but was renamed in 1937 for Irwin M. Krohn, Commissioner for the Board of Parks. In the years since, the conservatory has become known for its great variety of rainforest, desert, and exotic plants--over 35,000 plant species from around the world. For sure, one little walkthrough does not do this place justice, with all the species to see and learn about.

It was however the above plant, Crown of Thorns, that caught my attention most, particularly since this week marks the many observances being held though out the Christian world leading up to Easter celebrations this Sunday. Coming upon this plant in this season created a personal bit of space in which to pause, ponder, reflect...

However, the main draw for most people that day was being in the showroom where thousands of butterflies are free to flit, fly, and even land on you if you are so lucky for the experience!

A few captured snaps:




 



Although rainy outside that day, inside was a delight!

Ever the writer (and/or editor), though, my eye caught a misspelling in the description of the Crown of Thorns. The sign itself may be too small to read in the photo, but my copy above is taken directly from the original. Did you catch the error? I wonder how many people viewing the plant in person have noticed the mistake?

And speaking of writing, April is National Poetry Month. Any plans to celebrate? Some resources:
30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge by tweetspeakpoetry

As for me, I'm in at the Local Gems Press Annual Poetry Chapbook Contest, again 30 poems in 30 days, theme-inspired. My chosen format will be...tada...haiku! Wish me luck!

What challenges are you up for in the upcoming month of April? Have you caught any obvious typos or grammar errors somewhere in public lately?
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