Friday, August 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: August

"Photographers tend not to photograph what they can't see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we're going to go on forever just photographing more faces, more rooms, more places. Photography has to transcend description...go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel? --Duane Michals

Photography this month, and my photo-a-day project, turned out to be not only a hobby and a writer's prompt to stimulate observation and description, it also served as a comfort and an encouragement on a personal level. You see, my dad entered long-term nursing care this past month, and no longer lives at home. The transition--and all the myriad details involved to help him settle in--proved to be confusing and complicated. Emotions fluctuated and adjustments had to be made. But as I went about attempting to help my family, I continued to carry my camera. As I went I found myself seeking shots that reflected something about my dad's life--symbols of the past, reminiscences, memories, things that still bring a smile even on the most difficult of days, reflections, wishes for peace and beauty, prayers.

And so this month's project proved to be a personal attempt to "bring insight" into a subject (as Duane Michals says in the above quote), reveal something about that subject, and in my case honor my subject: my dad. One day the overall benefit might be helpful in feeding a writer's soul. At the moment it serves to feed a daughter's heart.

Here's my August gallery. Thanks for stopping by...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Helen Keller and "Seeing" Color

photo courtesy of
Oh, the treasures we find in unexpected places. I was out of town last week and stopped in the local library on an errand for my mom. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a used book sale--and my heart skipped a beat. More weight for my luggage (I really need an e-reader for times like these!), but I couldn't resist browsing...and buying. A particular treat I found was One Thousand Beautiful Things, A Collection of Prose and Poetry Chosen from the World's Literature, compiled by Marjorie Barrows, copyrighted 1947. In it I found this:

How Helen Keller Sees Color
by Nella Braddy

"It is annoying to a certain type of mind to have Miss Keller describe something she obviously cannot know through direct sensation. The annoyance is mutual. These sensations, whatever expert opinion on them may be, are as real to her as any others. Her idea of colour, to take only one instance, is built up through association and analogy. Pink is 'like a baby's cheek or a soft Southern breeze.' Gray is 'like a soft shawl around the shoulders.' Yellow is 'like the sun. It means life and is rich in promise.' There are two kinds of brown. 'One is warm and friendly like leaf mould.' The other is 'like the trunks of aged trees with worm holes in them, or like withered hands.' Lilac, which is her Teacher's favourite colour, 'makes her think of faces she has loved and kissed.' The warm sun brings out odours that make her think of red. Coolness brings out odours that make her think of green. A sparkling colour brings to mind soap bubbles quivering under her hand." (from the Preface of Midstream by Helen Keller, copyrighted 1929)

Isn't this a treasure (besides the archaic spellings)--Helen Keller "saw" color through association and analogy--quite the inspiration for those of us who, blessed with sight and hearing, attempt to describe sensory detail and description in our writings. I love stumbling upon such rich troves of insight, don't you?

Other treasures this week--friends and fellow bloggers. With this, I announce the winner of my 200th post milestone give-away, and she is...Peggy! Congratulations, friend--and thanks for being a part of the celebration. The gift card prize will be in the mail to you soon.

And to all who drop in this way, wishing you a wonderfully successful week in adding color (or colour as the case may be) to your writing. Go for it!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anticipation (and a Milestone Give-Away)

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. ~A. A. Milne

My husband used to be a beekeeper. He suited up, fed the smoker, headed for the hives, withdrew the honey-laden supers. A trip across the backyard with said supers followed, batting away stray honeybees as he went that had not been deterred by the smoke. Inside the house an extractor awaited, a hand-cranked machine that spun the honey out of the comb by centrifugal force and into the barrel. From there, the honey was drained out, set aside, and later strained and bottled to reveal beautiful, gold-laden sweetness. I can identify with dear Pooh's "moment" just before you begin to eat it. I think the word he was looking for was anticipation.

Ah, anticipation. It occurs in the writer's life as well, most times identified at that moment when a response to a query comes in via e-mail or (like happened to me lately) by way of a long white envelope snail-mailed. What will the news be? Oh, that delicious moment when the heart says, maybe...just maybe...

At that moment the feeling of anticipation might be followed by any number of other feelings, also described by words with the -ation suffiix. Words like: hesitation ... palpitation ... perspiration ... vacillation.

After that comes...the revelation, verification, and realization.

Which way will that realization take us? To celebration, appreciation, and fascination?  Or "botheration," vexation, maybe even an ulceration?

Ah, such is the life of a writer, though a beekeeper might be able to give us a few words of advice. After all, he doesn't let a few stings stop him from his goals, does he? So on our way to our destination, keep in mind that part of the writer's life is exploration, imagination, information, and inspiration. Add a sweet spoonful of observation, adaptation, navigation, maturation--maybe even liberation?

Don't give up. And if nothing else, we can have a bit of fun with words along the way, can't we? We call that recreation.

Any words with the -ation suffix you might add to the writer's list?

p.s. This is my 200th post since I started blogging--hard to believe! It's been a rewarding journey, and I look forward to a continuation since I'm learning as I go and meeting lots of great people along the way. In fact, in celebration of the milestone, I'd like to give a lucky reader their own moment of anticipation. So, without trepidation, I announce my 200th post give-away. Just comment to this post by next  Saturday, August 25, and you'll be eligible for a $25 Amazon gift card. I only ask that you leave your email address so that I can contact the winner, whose name will be drawn by a purely random process. See you then!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Haiku, Part Two

" the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment." --Carl Sandburg

Fellow blogger Cathy (Words, World and Wings) challenged me in my last post, 8 Ways Haiku Helps Fiction Writers.

"Well," she commented, "I think we'd all love to read some of your haiku, so bring it on! :-)"

OK, time to get my feet wet. Although I don't profess to be a poet, this exercise in the past few months has strengthened my writing in various ways, including nudging me to be more observant AND prompting me to write a little each day. It's getting to be (hurray!) a bit of a habit.

And so, because writers need to get their writing out there--and our writing buddies are great support--I'm going to come out of my cave and share.

Samples of what I've written in the past two months:

New Day
Frenzied rain sheets whip.
Stinging pellets strike leaf, limb.
Shiver. Storm passes.

Parched ground laps up rain.
Eddies form, rivulets wash.
Forgiveness quenches.

Hummingbird hovers.
Red blossom dip, shimmer. Gone.
Beauty-blessed moment.

Soft night air. Breezes
float, catching whispers on way.
Kind words make stars shine.

Gossamer threads in
blue-sky bowl. God's filaments
weave fragile hearts strong.

On the Ohio
Lights from coal plant blast
darkness, scattering glass-shard
sparkles downriver.

A Neighbor's Story
German children bike
north into Holland, nineteen
thirties' innocence.

Smiles, everyone! (And thanks, Cathy, for your encouragement :-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

8 Ways Haiku Helps Fiction Writers

(photo courtesy of
An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again. 
--Matsuo Basho, translated by Harry Behn

Have you ever tried your hand at haiku, the poetic form of three lines and (traditionally) seventeen syllables? If not, would you? Particularly if you are a fiction writer and don't consider yourself a poet (like me)? Well, I for one have reconsidered...

First a definition:

"Haiku--an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively; also: a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference."--merriam-webster

Secondly, observations on its form:

"Originally a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables in three lines, a haiku juxtaposes seemingly unrelated observations in order to glimpse the hidden connections between things."--John Drury, Creating Poetry

"Technically, a haiku must refer to a season...But for Western poets, the distinction may not be so useful or important. We normally call a haiku any three-line poem, give or take a line, that couples insights or images together in a flash." --John Drury

"Haiku are based on the five senses. They are about things you can experience, not your interpretation or analysis of those things. To do this effectively, it is good to rely on sensory description..." --Wikihow

"Although traditional haiku are often about nature or the changing seasons, they nonetheless manage to convey emotion." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku teaches the power of observation and the importance of editing. You know you've done a good job of editing when the version with the fewest words makes the strongest impression." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku will keep you working with words, but it will also help you deal with your stress. And here's the best part: You don't have to wrestle with rhyme!" --Diane Mayr ("Too Busy to Write? Keep in Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku," The Writer Magazine, October 2002)

So with all this in mind, how might haiku help a fiction writer? Taking from the above quotes and adding a couple of my own favorites, here's a list of eight benefits, all good practice ideas for any writer. Haiku:

1. sharpens observation skills
2. taps into sensory details and imagery potential
3. gives practice in making connections (think plot twists and the unexpected)
4. explores emotions
5. generates words and creativity
6. strengthens editing skills
and--proving to be of particular value to me--
7. fosters a writing habit
8. is portable!

By the way, at least two children's authors have taken the idea and incorporated haiku in their books. Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird is So Absurd has the characters writing haiku, as well as couplets, limericks and line poems. It's a cute book. And then there's Jack Prelutsky and his picture book, If Not for the Cat, Haiku, in which he writes haiku riddles about animals (example: "Boneless, translucent/We undulate, undulate/Gelatinously*) and the reader must guess the identity. Clever idea!

Haiku. It's not just for poets anymore.

(*Answer to Prelutsky's riddle? Jellyfish!)