30 December, 2011

The End of 11

(I'm posting from my phone and I admit I don't have the best grasp of this yet, so bear with me.)

Family on Friday!!!

We bid farewell to the year 2011. Alas we hardly knew ye. When the whole year is split up between being pregnant and having a baby, not to mention the last few months being a crazy whirlwind, the passage of time becomes a bit of an inconvenience.

It's important to have these times that reset the clock so we can mark the passage of time. But we should keep in perspective that that's all it is.

Don't wait for a new year for a fresh start. There are plenty of ways to mark an anniversary. Birthdays for example. I have many. Many anniversaries, not birthdays...

I like that we all (those that observe the Gregorian calendar) share a common anniversary. Wifey and I were married on the last day of the year. So, thanks for celebrating with us!


28 December, 2011

Writing With Crayons

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Let your inner child play with the keyboard.  Children can spend a tremendous amount of time fascinated by little details or small areas that we adults tend to take for granted.  If you have a spot of writing that sounds flat.  Perhaps looking at that section through the eyes of a child will save it.

It can be said that your readers/audience are that child.  Everything in your writing is new to them.  They want to figure it out, see it, touch it, smell it, hear it, and taste it.  Their greedy little hands grope at your words meting out as much information as possible.  Don't disappoint them.

Remember, this is a fix for flat writing.  Not flowery.  If your writing is more description that action, your inner child may need a time out.

Usually these flat passages happen at transitions.  We feel compelled to relate how our characters got from one scene to the next, so we join them on their car ride, pick up some coffee, complain about the traffic, and arrive uneventfully at our plot point.  Because we tend to write transitions for continuity, they can be quite uninspired.

Assuming the transition has to be in the writing or nothing will make any sense, see what your inner child could come up with to make the transition pop out.  Wrong turn.  Coffee spilled potentially wrecking an important first impression.  Seeing an important character of the story driving the opposite direction, perhaps foreshadowing a some twist of fate.

Lackluster, wonderless writing is fine for scientific abstracts and research papers.  Maybe even appropriate.  Even still, I'd like to see that child scribble on some physics.

27 December, 2011

The Christmas Bug

Christmas has been unwrapped, folded neatly, and stored away for next year.  I hope everyone's season was bright and a positive way to change over to the New Year!

The bug dazzled in her new special first Christmas dress (that I got for her, thank you very much) and did very well on her first long car ride/extended stay from home.  We're visiting with wifey's family and my parents got to spend a couple days with us and, most importantly, the bug.

Some special recent progress of note:

  • "solid" food with flavor (whoa!!!)
  • making toys dance
  • more syllables and clear consonants being used in the babble
  • fun with the baby crane
For those of you who don't know how the baby crane works, allow me to explain.  Let's say a desired object has fallen to the floor.  The WubbaNub perhaps.  Well stooping down (for the fortieth time) and just picking it up isn't nearly as much fun as watching a securely held baby reach for it, pluck it up with delight, and hold on to it as s/he is hoisted back up.

Yes, stooping is still involved.  And yes, that stooping includes extending weight from the center of gravity.  But, I said it was more fun, not easier.

Oh. And the bug is officially six-months old now.  My my.

23 December, 2011

A Home for the Holidays

Family on Friday!!!

We're waist deep in the Holiday Season now and I would like to send a special season's greetings to everyone celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Xmas, Kwanzaa, Wholidays, Io Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, and last minute entries for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film awards.  Whatever it is making you happy this time of year, hold on to it and keep the happy going.

I've often heard it said that "Home is where the heart is."  I like to think of it more that "Home is where you belong."  Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they perfectly interchangeable.

Too many people wind up spending this time of year where they don't belong:

  • streets
  • prisons
  • combat zones
  • other people's business
  • abusive relationships
  • playing live music loudly in front of the grocery store entrance, hurting the bug's ears and making her cry.  (being carried by daddy got her back to flirting and grabbing attention with babble and smiles)
  • Las Vegas
Please believe me when I tell you it's okay for people to be where they don't belong.  Perhaps you feel compelled to help and intervene.  That could be where you belong.  But, my point is for you to focus on where you belong rather than where other people don't.

See the difference?

This really should be a time of positive reflection (regardless of your belief system) and you won't get there by taking on other people's pain.  Hold on to those people and things that give you a sense of belonging.  Let it fill you with guilt-free joy, unabashed appreciation, and childlike wonder.

Then, when you've got that, maybe... just maybe... other people will take on your mirth.  You can be one of the bright lights.  And when everyone around you feels like they belong, ask them...

"Who's got it better than us?...  Nobody!"

21 December, 2011

Emancipated Writing

Writer's Wednesday!!!

A writing professor once gave me a valuable bit of advice to thwart my perfectionist tendencies.

"Good writing is never finished.  It's just abandoned."

No matter how many revisions/drafts you have gone through, there will always be something to change or fix.  If you really want to drive yourself nuts, have three people offer critiques and try to please everyone.  You'll go back and forth so many times, you'll completely forget what the original inspiration was.

I'm reminded of my very brief stint selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.  Part of the demonstration involved vacuuming an area of someone's home with the new vacuum after already going over the area with the old one.  New vacuum will always show filth not picked up by old vacuum.  Reverse the process... and you get the same result.  Any vacuum can follow behind another and pick up something that was overlooked.

So, don't wait until the work is bulletproof.  It will never be.  No matter how good something is, I promise you at least one out of five people will hate it.  (Getting comfortable with rejection deserves its own post.)

If the perfect novel, song, advertisement, package instructions, or article existed, we wouldn't need any others.  That doesn't mean I suggest trying to sell your first draft.  But, if you start getting into the double-digits on rewrites, you may want to leave it alone.

Let the work speak for itself.  And trust your instincts.  If something intangible tells you to burn all traces of what you've been working on for months, do it.  The wrong thing can be written well.

20 December, 2011

The Lighter Side of Violence

I probably shouldn't laugh when the bug repeatedly slams a toy either into a flat (and remarkably noisy) surface or against another toy.  But it's just too cute.

Partly because of the flinching eyes, instinctively closing in case pieces fly off in all directions.  Partly because seeing such unintended violence burst out of the sweetest looking baby girl embodies a kind of dichotomy that caters to my darker sense of humor.  Partly because such actions are often preceded, accompanied, and/or followed by top-of-the-lungs sustained vowel sounds not entirely dissimilar to singing.

If by "singing" you can include throat-popping moans a la Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.

I worry that I'm encouraging violent behavior by laughing - sending mixed signals and all that.  But, on the flip side, isn't this an important developmental stage?  We need to encourage her to explore her capabilities.  As long as she doesn't start in on the cats.

I've already started thinking of appropriately encouraging Christmas gifts:

  • hammer
  • drum
  • piano
  • those weighted bottom inflatable rocking things
  • XBox 360 controller

16 December, 2011

Discipline Ain't Santa's Job

Family on Friday!!!

When you're in a store witnessing a parent attempt to correct their kids' behavior, you only need to pay attention to one thing to tell if the parent gives idle threats, or disciplines effectively - the kids' reactions.  (This time of year brings out the big guns, doesn't it?)

"Stop screaming/running around/getting in people's way/punching/biting/spitting/grabbing/whining/crying...  or Santa won't bring you any toys."

How much time does that give?  A few reminders per store?  Good on you if you can get a weekend out of saying it once.

What about the rest of the year?  I've heard threats of grounding, leaving immediately without getting anything, time out, and some degree of bodily harm.  It seems like neither the parent nor child even pay attention to these idle threats.  Some sick rote they developed out of desperation turned apathy.  Every now and again I'll hear a parent speak directly to the child and the child will cast down their pitchfork and shine their halo.  I love it when I hear "One... two..." and then nothing.

How is it that a few parents have managed to retain control over their kids?  It doesn't have to involve a swing, but it is all about follow through.  If you're going to bother making a threat to get your kids to behave, make sure it's something you're not only prepared to do, but can make an instant part of their reality.  And follow through.

They may cry, plead, correct their behavior, or do whatever it was that they didn't want to as a too-little-too-late effort to avoid the punishment.  No dice.  If they learn that they need to behave before the sentencing and gavel smack, they stand a better chance of knowing to straighten up after the warning next time.  And clean the slate after the sentence is served.  (Parole is for criminals.)

Personally, I advocate rewarding good behavior more often to avoid bad behavior becoming the only way the child can get the parents' attention, but that will be a different post.  At least idle threats are a step up from the parents who pretend like they have nothing to do with the kids until it's time to leave the store.

14 December, 2011

Miles of Writing

Writers' Wednesday!!!

When I've tutored students (mostly college) in writing their papers, or virtually any homework that involved the use of at least four punctuation marks, one common difficulty stuck out.  They didn't want to write.  I was brought in not so that I could pull their teeth out, but so that I could get a grade that had no bearing on my G.P.A.

They had done all the preparations (research, outlines, references, etc.) and knew what they were writing about. A few of them even had first drafts that they were trying to revise from their teacher's notes.

What did they need me for?

After about ten minutes, they got the drift that I wasn't going to do their work like some Brian-from-Breakfast-Club-left-hanging-with-a-sheet-of-paper-whilst-everyone-else-was-hooking-up.  I've read enough to know that everyone has a particular way of writing.  Their own lexicon, sentence structure, and tone.  Voice.  Any teacher, especially English professors, would know from the first paragraph who authored the paper.

Remarkably few students got reinvested and stuck it out, with me helping, to finish the whole paper.  Most of them just saw how I kick started them and excused me as they took care of the rest.

All of us had to write papers going through school.  Effective communication is a highly prized job skill across the board.  Not all of us had to take singing classes, though we all use our voice. (I guess few care how we sing in the car.)

So why do all disciplines require a high degree of proficiency in a skill set from one particular occupation?  Is being a writer somehow "less" because so many other occupations incorporate writing and then more?  Are runners less athletic because almost all athletes run while performing their other sports' skills?

The takeaway from this for writers is that we have an ability and an enjoyment for writing that most people don't have.  Anyone can run.  Few people love to do it so much that they commemorate a fatal run by getting together in large groups and see if they can go the distance, make good time, and not die.  Non-writers need us.  To convey the message.  Nenikekamen!

13 December, 2011


Years from now, the bug will likely be either angry, embarrassed, or a mixture of both, that I chronicled her flatulence publicly and online.

For now, it's fine.  I can only hope she'll realize that she was only five months old at the time and be able to forgive me.

She's been doing really well eating her gruel.  Only, not much is happening on the other end.  Wifey and I are hard pressed to recall any blowouts in the last couple of days.

You see, the whistle's blowing, but the train hasn't pulled into the station.

Having worked out in the rain and cold for a bit this weekend and slept in dry heat, I'm not getting the full effect of any smells.  However, it's been described to me as cream cheese that's gone bad.

Now that Tuesday's here and I'll be on bug duty for the rest of the week, I know what I have to look forward to.  I've been advised that I may want to have a magazine handy.  (and I can imagine needing washcloths... maybe even the bathtub.)

Speaking of having a gas, we've expanded our repertoire of noises, faces, and actions that really crack up the bug.  The little girl loves to laugh.  Which makes me laugh.  Which makes her laugh.  It's a self-perpetuating cycle until she runs out of gas and needs to sleep.

09 December, 2011

Vegetable Plants, Pizza Plants

Family on Friday!!!

I highly recommend growing something edible as a family project.  It can be a full on garden, or a few pots planted with faves, or a small window box with a few herbs.

In a world of instant gratification and being three or four steps removed from the production of food, it's important for young and old to have at least one reminder of where what we eat comes from.  The more the whole family gets involved, the better.  Assign specific tasks or break out shifts if time is an issue.

Even a single plant can overproduce, allowing for lessons in saving from abundance, sharing with others, trade, or even basic commerce.  Replant seeds from the parent plant to witness the full life cycle.  See how many different recipes you can make from your harvest before you get tired of it and decide it's time to rotate the crops.

You can grow anywhere from a high-rise apartment to a large ranch.  The point is to match the plant to the space you have available.  And take be sure the whole family can benefit.  (Don't just grow coffee trees.)  A quick bit of research and a brief family planning meeting will help you decide what and how much you grow.

Keep in mind that not everyone has a green thumb.  If someone endangers the yield and retraining isn't working, "promote" that person to a position that will cause less damage - like management.

07 December, 2011

That New Page Smell

Writers' Wednesday!!!

No matter what writers write or what tools they use, they all start from a singular point - a blank page.

A blank page has a lot in common with pristine new snow, an immaculate new car, or even a fresh-from-the-box cell phone.  Many people don't want to disturb it's perceived innocence by altering its state in any way.  Until you violate that space, you're not a writer.  You're a... uh... modern art admirer.  Or something like that.  But, definitely not a writer, which was my point.

Here are a few tips to get you going using that space for its intended purpose:

  1. Tromp through it, carve it up, and leave your mark.  Don't write on it.  Draw.  Completely free form.  Use your non-dominant hand and scribble like a snowboarder or snowmobile driver that doesn't care where they're going.  Just fill up the page.  Eventually, you will start writing words.  The process will invoke clarity of intent and you won't even know where it came from by looking at your mess of a doodle.
  2. Spill, stain, or stink it up.  I think we all have the same thing in mind when we get a new car.  "I'll never eat or drink in it.  I won't track any dirt in.  I'll keep it clean as long as I own it."  The irony there is we never truly own it until we've trashed it.  The reality there is we never really own it until the lending institution writes the title over to our name.  The point here is to slap words down in any order that comes to mind.  Play a one-person game of word association if you have to.  Just fill that puppy up with a big ol' block of words.  Chances are, they'll start to make sense to you and you'll be writing.
  3. Drop it.  You know that feeling you get the first time you drop your mobile phone/handset?  The frantic putting back together of battery and case.  The close inspection of every square millimeter of surface area whilst it boots back up.  The sinking feeling of failure over the scratch that took you ten minutes to find.  Now...  Do you know that feeling you get the thirty-seventh time you dropped it?  That's the feeling you want when you write.  To get there, write "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" until you either get to work or grab an ax.
Blank pages aren't a writer's enemy.  They're our canvas.  It's up to you decide if you want to go for photorealism or a single brush stroke.  (Or it might be up to whoever hired you, but that's another discussion for another day.)

06 December, 2011

Feeding the Bib

Turns out the bug was more than ready for her first bites of rice cereal.  She acted like we had been holding out on her.  I guess, in a way, we were.

I imagine a lot of parents stare unblinkingly at their baby's first bites of "solid food" (what's so solid about some rice flour dissolved in breast milk?) wanting to see some expression of delight, wonderment, confusion, or even disgust.  It's a big first step.  Our camera was rolling.  We planned the event at grandma's.  Typical.

This is what we got:

  • The bug watched the spoon come closer and casually took it in her mouth.
  • She smacked her tongue a little bit (probably searching desperately for flavor).
  • She immediately grabbed at the bowl with a look like "what's in this stuff?" and tipped the whole thing over, including the brand new, no-flip suction cup that, as promised, remained attached to the bowl.
  • She took a couple more oh-hum spoonfuls from what was left in the bowl and humored us with chewing motions (a mere formality at this stage).
  • Granted, those of us over the age of five months were preoccupied with taking care of the spill.  Still, we weren't feeding her that slowly.  Regardless, after only a few bites of her gruel, the bug found it necessary to take matters into her own hands.  By "matters" I mean spoon.  And by "hands" I mean a two-fisted death grip from which not even photons could escape.
In time, we got the spoon back.  After having had a total of three such feedings thus far, she still isn't feeding herself in spite of her prowess with infant cutlery.

She accepts that she needs to wait on our ability to extract an empty spoon from her mouth, refill it at the proper receptacle, and competently transfer the spoon level, so as not to spill its contents, to her waiting mouth where spilling the contents is an unavoidable (and, as it were, necessary) eventuality.  She accepts this so totally in fact that her latest feeding pose involves leaning with arms extended to the sides, as much as the nylon straps will allow, toward the person holding the spoon and having eyes and mouth held as wide as manageable.

I'd say we're having a first feeding win.

In a related side-note, teething has begun in earnest.  No white tips poking through yet, but they can't be far away.  Stay tuned...

02 December, 2011

What We Have Here is a Failure...

Family on Friday!!!

As everyone over the age of Sesame Street can tell you, communication is the cornerstone of any relationship.  This blog has already touched upon communication during the Table Time series, but table time is more than communication and communication goes beyond table time.

Familial relationships can suffer the most during a communication breakdown.  Walls are naturally and appropriately built between generations.  Spouses fall prey to the fallacy that they already know everything there is to know about one another.  Siblings come to a point where they don't want everything to be known about them.  Now that's all well and good, but... everything in moderation.

Habitual non-communication can lead to misunderstandings can lead to distrust can lead to injury can lead to a family not being a family.  The longer you allow the bad communication to take over, the harder it will be to get back on track.  If you're coming up with ideas of what you can do better rather than what other family members need to do, you're off to a good start.

Children that see their parents communicating effectively are more likely to communicate willingly.  Would you open up to a boss that has a reputation for getting too upset, responding harshly, or talking when they should be listening?  I mean if you didn't have to.

If you'll permit me to generalize on gender types:  Women need to stop with the attitude that they shouldn't have to verbalize and that the other person should just know.  Men need to stop thinking that asking for help or discussing emotions emasculates them in some way.

The more we can all recognize that other people are separate beings with separate lives, bridged through relationships created by communication, and that we are all people experiencing ninety-five percent (my own completely arbitrary figure pulled out of thin air with no statistical backing) identical circumstances, then the easier it will be to throw gender types out the window and just be ourselves.

Opening up the pathways of communication will rectify a wide range of ills.  Try it.  All you have to lose are those misconceptions your family may have of you.

30 November, 2011

Use the "F" Word

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Look to your right and your left at the same time.  No?  Okay, without the use of mirrors, keep your eyes forward and look behind you.  Still not happening?  Hm...  Try holding onto every word, character, concept, conflict, and plot point in your mind at the same time.  (Sure, if you're writing copy for a "got milk?" print ad, you might could do that.  But, you get the point.)

Even if you are writing third-person omniscient, respect the fact that your readers/audience have the same limitations of visual space that you have.  They can only look at what you tell them to look at and where you tell them to look for it.


In visual media, they can cut between shot/reverse-shot and multiple camera set-ups.  Occasionally they try (and fail) to make the audience feel like they're in the movie through POV.  The important thing to note is that everything is still revealed in a logical one-at-a-time sequence, often limiting what is seen to the director's specifications for tone and pace.  Not to mention, seeing registers much quicker than reading. (Half-a-second is plenty of time to hook a visual and it's probably taken you four or five seconds to read this overly long parenthetical.)

You and your readers/audience will appreciate it when you write with tunnel vision.  Ask yourself what nugget you're describing right now.  Describe it well.  What's the next nugget?  How can you transition from this nugget to that nugget without getting whiplash?

And please, please, please, please make those nuggets important to the story.  No paragraphs about a lamp that turns out to be a red herring.  No sweeping purple, apricot, and gunmetal blue landscapes unless they have a pertinent B-52 approaching through them.  Because, if there isn't, I'm sending one to really make your setting interesting.  If it doesn't add to your characters, advance the plot, or heighten the conflict, cut it.

I trust you will find that concentrating on each little moment in turn and not trying to look all over the whole story at once helps your writing flow immensely.  You won't even need to write chronologically.  Take whatever section is poking through your forehead.  If you structured properly before you started writing and can trust the editing and revision process, it won't matter.

29 November, 2011

How to Shrink a Baby

All babies share one commonality.  They get bigger.  Really.  Turns out they're supposed to.  That's where adults come from.

The bug is no exception.  Five months old and still hanging out in the ninety percentiles.  She's wearing 6-9 mo. clothings (Seriously.  They need to focus on weights and/or lengths for baby clothes.  Months are no standard.)

A couple days ago, we dug out the box of "bigger" clothes that we stored way back when everyone that heard we were having a baby girl gifted us with a wardrobe.  We had to start a pile of 3-6 mo. numbers that she'll never wear.  She did squeeze into one pair of pants for a couple hours before adding them to the "yeah, right" pile.  (A common female experience, I'm sure.)  We may have to start giving each cute little ensemble an hour to ensure each one gets a shot at being worn.

As this ever-expanding doll of adorableness stretches the limits of her bassinet, dwarfs her tummy comfort chair, and forces more and more adjustments to nylon straps, our little girl doesn't seem so little anymore.

Then we learned a really neat trick.  I call it, "Shrink a Baby!"  (Catchy, huh?)

Here's what you do:

  • Get a toy that the baby is a good month away from being able to adequately use.  For example, one of those activity ring things where the baby sits in the middle surrounded by things that all do different things and make different noises.  For example, the Wonderbug.  (See... we had to get that one.)
  • Then, insert the baby carefully into the aforementioned toy, making necessary comfort adjustments.
  • Lastly, step back and notice how this little toy engulfs your baby.
Et voila!  The baby is small, again.  Repeat as necessary.

25 November, 2011

A Moment of Thanks is a Gift

Family on Friday!!!

Before Halloween, some smatterings of Christmas pop up here and there.  Then, as soon as the black and orange move to clearance, red and green take over.  Thanksgiving has been officially pushed to the fringe of the holiday schedule.  Even the "present buying bargains" have seeped from Black Friday to virtually the whole month of November.

I can appreciate that gift giving is exciting and the anticipation of gift receiving keeps young and old up at night.  I can also appreciate that companies who make the things we buy look forward to this last push to turn an investor-alluring profit and would rather have two whole months to make their goals over a few weeks.

But, look at what is happening metaphorically.  The giving and receiving of gifts has reached the point of marginalizing being thankful for what we have.

My challenge to American families is to focus on gratitude from Halloween until Thanksgiving.  Take inventory of your life.  Maybe you'll find some treasures under a bit of dust.  And then deck the halls whilst munching turkey (or Tofurkey) sandwiches.  Countries that don't even celebrate Thanksgiving often wait until four Sundays before Christmas.

I realize I may be asking a lot when Christmas music is playing everywhere, holiday movies are unavoidable, and all those people out there that want your money are making offers you can't refuse and commercials that make you warm and fuzzy.

However, it shouldn't be too much to ask that we set aside more than a meal to demonstrate our thanks.

23 November, 2011


Writer's Wednesday!!!

In honor of tomorrow's Thanksgiving festivities, my tip for this week is to gorge your writing with words.  I'm often rightfully accused of using far too many words to convey my thoughts when a simpler, more concise way would have sufficed.

Cutting out words in the editing process works better than adding.  So I say "go all out."  Here's an exercise you didn't ask for...  Edit the following sentences to make them stronger:

1)  John chained up his dog in the backyard.

2)  Reaching with trembling shoulders, Jim managed to lift the pterodactyl of a turkey over the candied yams, armada of gravy boats, sweating butter, crystal glasses placed way too soon, half-burned candles that his crazy cousin Patricia most likely lit an hour ago, and the vat of bean salad everyone will politely eat a forkful of and set it uneventfully in the center of the bowing table that threatened to split if they asked much more of it, just in time to save what feeling he had left in the fingers on his right hand that he burned on the roasting pan in spite of the thinner-than-it-should-be oven mitt with the nauseatingly cute cross-stitched pig on the wrist.

Now...  Which sentence gave you more editing productivity?  What's easier?  Making sentence two more manageable?  Or making sentence one more enjoyable to read?  Don't get me wrong.  Straightforward sentences are a good and necessary force in strong writing.

They punctuate and create rhythm while they emphasize.

If your writing is flat, dry, choppy, or overly simplistic, editing it will be a flat, dry, choppy, and ultimately mind-numbing experience.  Fill up your sentences with all the words that come to you without slowing you down.  Chances are that when you go back to edit (because we all know not to edit as you go) the extra words will help you find the perfect way to say what you want rather than have to create it from scratch.

In short, use verbosity in your earlier drafts and save the efficiency for the final ones.

22 November, 2011

So Cute I Can't Stand It

The bug turns five months old this week.  It's about the time in her life when mom and dad are no longer scouring through Dr. Sears to learn what milestones to anticipate.

She can roll over.  She can remain in a sitting position and often tries to sit up on her own.  She explores different textures with groping fingers, grabs approved materials in her tiny-but-mighty clutches, and checks out her world via leaking mouth.  She pivots around when playing on her belly.

But, she loves to stand (with a hand or two holding her for stability).  As I imagine it is with most parents, seeing the bug on two feet looking just like a little person is hilariously adorable.

Speaking of laughter... laughing bouts have taken a turn toward banshee.  She's definitely testing those pipes out and seeing what they're capable of.  It's a good thing it's happy sounds coming out.

We bought some rice cereal to have at the ready (and face shields).  The bug's doctor thinks she might be up for it, if not demanding, in the next couple of weeks (I smell a future blog post) and schooled us on the signs to look for.

Anyone have some good first food advice?  Anecdotes?  Warnings?

18 November, 2011

Ice Cream A La Mode

Family on Friday!!!

Don't underestimate the value of your personal family dictionary.  It may even be a good idea to write those words and phrases that separate your family from the rest of the world.

The words often start out as misheard or misused innocently enough, but somehow (within the family unit) they catch on.  The more embarrassing or confusing they would be out of the home, the more you know what I'm talking about.

A simple example for us is "frozen goodness."  Other people call it "ice cream."  Grandma calls it "evening freshness."  Our bearded dragon eats a mixture of "cubies, nummies, and green leafies" that sound much cuter than the reality.  The word "then" is often used as a form of punctuation.  "Motherboard" stands in as an all-purpose perfunctory way of communicating that I've lost my audience and have a choice of switching topics or shutting up completely.

Every family has their own long list of such examples.  You know when you're really getting to know someone when you get definitions and explanations of their family dictionary.  Even more so when you find yourself using them.

What these words do (other than amuse) is act like a sort of cement in the family identity.  When we hear and use them, we are reminded of how close we are and how much time we have spent together.

Being in love means never having to complete a sentence.

16 November, 2011

What Have You Been Reading?

Writers' Wednesday!!!


On one hand, it's kind of weird that people might call themselves a writer when they aren't actually writing.  I guess that "writer" sounds better than "thinker" or "talker."  But, that will be a topic for another day.

On the other hand, it's kind of sad if a writer can't remember the last published thing they read, regardless of his/her daily word count output.


Reading familiarizes the mind to valuable writing processes such as sentence structure, grammar, spelling, flow, voice, clarity, and much, much more.  Better yet, most of the published material has already been edited to death.  The more you read and the more your mind can start implementing techniques naturally, then the less you'll wind up needing to edit (maybe four drafts instead of fifteen).


Don't like your writing?  Reading can also help you start finding what you like versus what you don't like.  When you read something that knocks your socks off, put your thinking cap on and figure out why you liked that.  If you just can't seem to get through a work (and everyone you know thinks it's brilliant), try to explain what's bogging you down.  It will help you write the way you love.


Listening does not count as reading.  I love a good audio book, myself.  Still, you can't expect your brain to arrange words on a page properly if you won't keep reminding it what that's supposed to look like.  You know all that good stuff you watch?  It was written, rewritten, and edited long before you had a chance to watch it.  Especially if you want to write for visual media (movies, television, commercials, vlogs), seek thee out the scripts for that type of media and read it.  Reading can elevate your content from the mindless ramblings plaguing the internet to national ad quality.

Hey!  You've just read this post!  Congratulations!  You're already following the advice.  Keep up the good work.

15 November, 2011

Bug Meet Panda

We have three cats and a bearded dragon for pets.  The cats are much more interested in each other than the bearded dragon and the disinterest is mutual.  Not much phases the bearded dragon except hawks.  He can spot a hawk before it's a dot against the sky and, when he's outside, much time is spent looking for or at hawks.

Each cat could not be more different than the others.  Best as I can explain it, they are panda, woolly rhinoceros, and stinky monkey.

Panda took it upon herself to be the babysitter from day one (maybe even the older sister).  Woolly rhino eventually worked up enough courage to smell the bug, but it hasn't got much more involved than that.  The monkey (in a good mood) will give the bug a prolonged headbutt at times with the loudest of the three purrs, but mostly we just try to keep her butt away from the baby when the monkey comes by.

Cats love the cozy softness of baby gears, but typically are put off by the erratic awkwardness of baby.


Panda, as it turns out, is rather comfortable with her ward.  This past week, the bug has become increasingly grabby.  Everything has a texture and that texture must be fully explored.  Panda has a texture.

Much to my (and panda's) delight, the bug has been watching and learning how to pet a cat.  She did really well running her tiny hand down the side of panda, who leaned in for pressure management.  There was a noticeable lift at the end of each stroke, a return to the front of the cat, and delighted squeals and coos all the way back along the side of panda.

The bug likes to grab my chin hairs and occasionally the hair on my head.  Her grip is strong, but she doesn't yank or pull much.  I mention this because I have an educated guess to what panda felt when the bug did finally grab a big handful of fur.  Panda pulled out of the baby clutches gently (losing some tufts of fur), without making a sound, and positioned herself out of reach.

The result would have been very different with rhino (who probably would have ran under the bed before the bug could fully extend her arm) or monkey.  Not surprising though as it was panda who has hung by the bug for almost five months now.

It was a big moment in our understanding of things.  For panda, the bug, and myself.

11 November, 2011

Veterans and the Families That Love Them

Family on Friday!!!

There are quite a few veterans (and active duty) in my family and friends.  Though I don't have first-hand knowledge (I was 4-F'ed), I have seen the strain of service on military families.  It's hard.  Like.  Real hard.  The sacrifices and stress during deployment cannot be adequately compensated by simply having the loved one home again.

Family life isn't easy anyway.  And no one pays you to be a family.  Complicate it by having a integral part of the family out of the country for four months to a year, coming and going at random times, or by moving the whole family to the oversea's base...  For how long?  Where's home?

It'd be one thing if they were just serving to protect their families.  But they do it to protect all our families.  Even the ones they disagree with politically, ideologically, or religiously.  They serve U.S. to protect that right to disagree.  It's called freedom.

Nothing sounds more ignorant than saying they're protecting oil, special interests, or an American economic empire.  Even if the politicians that declared the war sent them for such reasons, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with their boots to the sand saying they went out there to make sure Wall Street had a big day.

They put themselves and their families through hell so that our families can be safer, closer, more comfortable, enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and be free to express ourselves.  The least we could do in return is to tie a yellow ribbon and thank them for their service.

I salute all who served and the families that love them.

09 November, 2011

Argue With the Voices in Your Head

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Remember all those news stories where people defended their atrocities by claiming the voices in their head compelled them to commit such acts?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Ever hear yourself, or another writer you know, say that the characters tell you/them the story?  That you/they just go along for the ride and see where they take you?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Characters have lives.  Like real people.  And.  Just like real people.  Most of their life is not as interesting as they think it is.  If you let your character tell you the story, start feeling around for the cool spot under your pillow.

Being a writer is not (or should I say, "shouldn't be") the same as being a cab driver.  It's more like being a tour guide.  For truly compelling writing, it's like being a tour guide where the characters don't really know what they signed up for and probably wouldn't have signed up had they known.  Imagine getting into a cab, telling the driver where you want to go, the driver speeding off, driving like a complete lunatic in the opposite direction, getting into a barely survivable accident, discovering things about yourself you never knew, and giving the driver a good tip for the experience.

Don't let the voices in your head tell their own story.  Fight them on it.  Challenge them.  Make them convince you that doing what they originally wanted is the right way to go.  Something like this:

You:  Don't go up the stairs.  It's overplayed and makes you look ridiculous.
Protagonist:  I have to go up the stairs.
You:  No you don't.  Call the cops.  Go to a neighbors for help.  Anything that hasn't been done a million times.
Protagonist:  But, my kids are up there.  No one will believe a mother left her kids upstairs with a monster.
You:  Good point.  But, we don't know the monster is up there.
Protagonist:  I heard him.  Even if it wasn't him, I just want to see my babies and make sure they're all right.
You:  Fine.  Go upstairs.  But you're turning on a light.  None of this fumbling around in the dark crap.
Protagonist:  If I turn on a light where I am, I won't be able to see into the dark areas of the house and I'll give up my position.  I have a better chance of seeing my kids or the monster first if I keep it dark.
You:  That's why they always turn off the lights?  Well, fine.  But you're going to have to explain that to the readers because it sounds cliche and psychotic.  Especially because we don't even know the monster is up there.  You're probably going to just scare your kids.
Protagonist:  I can feel him up there.  I'm going.
You:  Hey, monster!  Are you up there?
Monster:  We don't know yet.
You:  Ha!  You answered.  You are up there.
Monster:  Well played.  lol.  (someday I'm going to dedicate a whole blog post to the misuse of 'lol' and other acronyms.)

Okay.  So.  Arguing with your characters can help you solidify your story and make it more interesting than just "channeling" their spirits.  It can also help you skip over the boring non-essential details and focus on the good stuff.  Don't let them coast through their life on easy street.  Check out my blog post on conflict for more on that.

Now... how to get psychos to stop going along with the voices in their head...

08 November, 2011

Grandma's First Birthday

Today is grandma's (my mother-in-law) birthday!  Her first one as a grandma.

Wifey made some special quiche.  I made some peach cobbler.  And the bug made everyone smile!

It doesn't matter how young you are.  Having that first birthday as a grandparent is a very special (and probably mixed) blessing.  I don't know from personal experience, but my dad's birthday was October 26th and I've been told.

Hey!  Waitaminute... my birthday was September 12th.  That was my first as a dad!  Did I know this?  Or am I just figuring this out?  Seems like bigger news when it's someone else's birthday.  I'm sure plenty of people told me.

Happy Birthday to grandma and I'm off to om nom nom.

04 November, 2011

It's Your Fault

Family on Friday!!!

Response ability.  If you break it up into the root words, you can see that responsibility has nothing to do with obligation or charges.  To have a responsibility is to have an ability to respond to a situation or person.

So, do you?  How?  Taking ownership of your responsibility means understanding that you and you alone control your actions (or lack thereof).  You cannot control other people.  Sure, we all want to control someone else at some point in our lives.  Because, let's face it, people do things we don't like.  Things we would like to have stopped them from doing, or made them do, whatever the case may be.

When it's a member of your family, it can feel like they are an extension of yourself and you may even ordinarily function like a unit.  But, sooner or later, even your family will remind you that they are their own individuals and have their own responsibility.

Don't blame them.  Yes.  You are able to respond that way.  But, in any given situation, you are able to choose how you respond.  If you don't like the outcome.  If you get angry.  If you get sad.  If you get sick.  If you are injured.  Blame yourself.

Take ownership of your responsibility.  It's up to them if they will do the same.  One life is hard enough to live.  Living two, three, four, twenty other lives isn't going above and beyond the call of duty - it's impossible.

For some reason, focusing on what other people are or aren't doing has become commonplace.  In traffic, in checkout lines, in bathrooms, in other people's houses, or, on a much grander scale, Politics and Economics.  The solution to most problems isn't what "they" did or are doing.  The solution comes from what did you do?  What are you doing?

I could make a list of "problems" and answer them with a list of "solutions."  But, that's not how I plan on using my responsibility.

02 November, 2011

Can't Force Deadlines

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Usually, it's that you can't force creativity.  However, creativity works under looming deadlines more often than not.  Saying that you missed a deadline because you didn't want to force your creativity won't work.  So, what's a person to do if the creativity still hasn't shown up in the zero hour?

Get uncreative.

Slap down those cliches.  Hit all the predictable points.  Put archetypes smack-dab in a metaphor and wrap them up in deli-sliced cheese.  Do this early enough into the process so that you can fake it until you make it.

Chances are pretty good that you'll get out some great work in a second or third draft of derivative drivel.  In this regard, it's not so much what you write as it is what you right.

I used to miss deadlines by a day or two consistently.  In junior year of high school, my English teacher nicknamed me "Mr. Late."  (not my only nickname, but the only one relevant here)  I pursued perfection and waited for inspiration.  Had I turned in my papers on time, I would have received all A's.

Thankfully, it was a lesson I learned well.  (I'll never forget the look on her face when I held up my paper as she was habitually skipping my desk.)  I can do good work on time.

If you're feeling pressure of an upcoming deadline, stop being creative long enough to get ahead of the game again.  I don't suggest plagiarizing.  It takes more time to look up and copy something than it does to just be unoriginal and obvious.

Deadlines can even be worked into your structure very well.  They help set parameters.  Love your deadlines.  The more you use them to your advantage and don't stress the creativity, the better your productivity and creativity will be.  Make them living-deadlines.

01 November, 2011

First All Hallows' Evening

Technically, the Fourth of July was the bug's first holiday (followed uneventfully by Summer Solstice, Labor Day, and Columbus Day), but Independence Day celebrations aren't exactly the place for a two-week old.  I'd like to think of Halloween as the bug's first participation in holiday festivities.

She dressed up like a ladybug with cute faces on her feet (faces that demanded much attention from everyone, costume occupant included) and paraded around town with wifey and dozens of other kids.  Some could argue that Halloween goes right over the head of a four-month old.  At that age, it isn't really about the kid.  It's the parents' excuse to dress the kid(s) in something they wouldn't consciously agree to and be rewarded for it with candy.

Lots and lots of candy.  Somehow lots and lots didn't make it home...  (I had to work 7am - 9pm as per our new schedule.)  Still, I have it on good authority that everything in the Peeps basket is fair game.  Another word for mine.

Which brings me to my point.  Remember when Halloween was considered safe if your parents inspected your loot before you ate it (no suspicious holes, breaks in wrappers/peels, sharp objects, etc.).  Now there are whole neighborhoods off limits.  Trick-or-treating has devolved to a maskless tour through local businesses passing out name brand wrapped candies during the daytime.

I believe that there are areas of the country that celebrate more traditionally.  Just not around me.  Two years ago I had a major win, as it was the only year after graduating college (plenty of years ago) that I both bought candy and had trick-or-treaters.

By the time the bug is old enough to be guided from door to door, fairy wand in one hand and pillowcase in the other, will there be any houses to knock on?  Or will she have to settle for a predetermined kid corral?

I'm thinking Halloween party!  Controlled amount of sugar, plenty of activities for spending energy gained by aforementioned sugar, more than enough adults to keep damage to an allowable minimum, mutually agreed upon scare intensity (or lack thereof, as the case may be), no approaching strangers and asking for handouts, and infinitely more interaction with her peers.

Any parents out there opt for the party instead of wandering the streets?  How did that go?  Was there a mixture of both?

28 October, 2011

Advocacy of Table Time (Part IV)

Family on Friday!!!

I first started the Family on Friday postings with a simple little suggestion about having table time without screens and calls.  Gussie responded to said post with a reminder that not all families can find the time to come to the table.  I responded with a post explaining the kind of busy life where taking the time to sit is nearly impossible, but consequentially more important.  In spite of the very busy life I led, table time remained an integral part of my relationships and I followed with a post in that regard.  In fact, I continue to practice table time with wifey, our bug, and often grandma, too.  And we just don't really have the same schedule anymore...

So.  What is table time?  Is it like flight time?  Hang time?  Well, it sure is worth explaining.  Allow me to start by paraphrasing a part of the book "Three Cups of Tea" about Greg Mortenson building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  As you can imagine, there are some challenges for an American to build anything, let alone secular schools in those two countries.  During his early efforts, his host explained to him that he must make time for three cups of tea in order make progress.  The first time they have tea, they are strangers, the second time, they are honored guests, and the third time they become family.

The more time you can spend sitting at a table with someone and really be there with them, the closer you get to that person.  You don't have to drink tea, eat, or play a game.  Those things certainly help.  But, if you can just pull up a chair and talk for half an hour, more power to you.  It should be said that there are good ways to have table time and bad ways.

Good ways (not every good way, but you'll get the idea):

  • Ask specific, open ended questions (not answerable with one syllable) like "What happened with that diorama you've been working on?" or "What would you like to do this weekend?" or even "Why have you been so happy lately?"
  • Listen to the whole response.  Try for follow up questions before you get going on your diatribe.
  • Steer the attitudes toward the positive.  Nothing stirs up indigestion or shrinks an appetite better than negativity.  If someone just can't seem to break away from the gripe, call them out on it.  Then ask if they can hold off their bad mood for another hour.
  • Keep the world off the table.  Yes, it's bad.  Everyone knows.  So, chances are you're just preaching to the choir and they're tired of the sermon.  See previous tip.
  • You're not at work.  Don't talk shop or give the office any free time at the table.  I'm sure it's interesting, frustrating, and/or amusing that Harvey used two helical couplings on the trans-spherical drop module and really shot the torque on that puppy through the roof, but save it for another time.  Really.
  • Get all nostalgic on your peeps.  Times may not be all that great and talking about the now could be a violation of the rules.  Then find a time that can get you laughing.  Go back to before the kids were born if you have to.
  • If all else fails, talk in movie/Monty Python quotes.  See how long you can keep a convo going using only the quotes you know.
Some (but not all) bad ways to have table time:

  • Complaining.  About anything.  Kids will remember and resent that.  If all the parents do is spend the time at the table talking about how bad working is, what kind of attitude will the kids have toward finding work?  If you don't like the food, find a constructive way to alter the meal plan.  "You know what would go great with this chicken and rice?  Lasagna!"
  • Gag order.  Eating in silence is a gateway torture.
  • Eating is something every living organism needs to do on a daily basis to survive.  Don't make eating a directive, punishment, contest, bargaining chip, political movement, spectacle, or personality assessment.
  • The Table Time Mandate.  Sure.  Dinner might be at five-thirty every night.  But, you have to account for reality.  Table time won't be the same every night and trying to make it that way will diminish its appreciation.  Take into account that there will be nights (or mornings) when there is something else to do.  Allow that and plan as a family for the next meal/game time.
Sorry the post went a little long, but I wanted this to be the last in the Advocacy series.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.  Mention any other table time obstacles you have to deal with.  Ask me if you have any more table time questions.  Share with all of us what table time has done for you.

26 October, 2011

Now Boarding for Good Intentions

Writer's Wednesday!!!

How do you plan a vacation?  Drive to an airport, scan the board, pick a flight that sounds nice, see where it takes you, deal with changing money and finding lodging after you arrive, and then try to find out what you're even going to do while you're there?

I'll concede that some people can and do work that way, but they are in the minority.  Most of us first plan a vacation by what we want to do when we're there.  That's the reason to go.  If it's a generic want (beach, ski, someplace new...), then it comes down to how far you're willing/able to travel.  Is there a particular location where you want to be generic?

First knowing your intention before you write is paramount in writing.  If you wander aimlessly through the lexicon of the English language, seeing where it might take you, and then hope to find your intention once you get into it, then pretty please, with a cherry on top, destroy everything you wrote before you found your intention.

Your intention can be generic:

  • I want to write a story where a boy meets a girl, they fall in love, they separate, and then get back together never to be separated again.
  • I want to write a story about a group of powerful men that conspire to withhold true control of the world from everyone but themselves and only one person armed with plucky charm and a disbelieving sidekick can bring them down.
  • I want to write a story about the heartwarming drama of simple small lives that make us realize what being human really is and teaches us to want what we have, not have what we want.
But, if you're going to be generic, you better have some interesting destination or a platypus will repeatedly smack the back of your leg with a garden spade until you think of one.  Give us (your readers/audience) some indication that we haven't read this story, like, a bajillion times (even though we have).

It's important to note that the intention is not the pitch.  The pitch tells the whole story in one sentence (okay, maybe sometimes two).  The intention is the raison d'etre for what ever you are writing.  Having a clear intention, especially having a specific, unique, and clear intention, will bring you one step closer to realizing there's no such thing as writer's block.

Does everyone have their intention written out?  Good, now you're ready to go on vacation!

25 October, 2011

Ahhhbuuuum Eeoieeeee

The bug turns four months today.

Sure.  Yeah.  Not exactly a reason to bust out with a cake.  But, then again, any excuse for a cake is a good excuse.  There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of hype to the fourth month milestone.  (Just the typical photo of baby doing Upward-Facing Dog)  

Perhaps the fourth month changes are just not that easily captured in a photo.  All the motor skills and balancing and dexterity are starting, but not quite there.  It's a fun stage.  Exciting for both parent and child as we feed off each other's joy that "Ooo.  That was two seconds of sitting up by yourself.  If you hadn't looked over at the cat so fast, you might have stayed up longer." or "Yay!  You just grabbed the toy with both hands and put it right in your mouth (I can already see where today's encouragement becomes tomorrow's bane)." Especially seeing the bug light up when she realizes she's more capable makes the fourth month a big step in my eyes.

I've seen her frustrated at her limitations for quite a while now.  Her noticing when she's not as limited is new.  She'll try something (grab for a toy, try to right herself before toppling over, laugh while exhaling...) and it will work out the way she intended it to (for the most part).  That's when her eyes get wide and her jaw drops.  I crack up.  She smiles real big and does the four-limb shimmy.

One big, important development - talking.  Not really talking, per se.  It's more of an incessant rambling of vowels with the occasional soft consonant thrown in to keep the listener on his/her toes.  Kinda like the news. Where it gets difficult is when she wakes up for a bottle around three in the morning and gets all chatty.

I sit her in front of me (on the Boppy, on my lap, on the glider rocker) and listen while she regales me with what is clearly a rather amusing account of something.  I listen politely, playing the dumb foreigner by smiling, nodding, and generally pretending like I'm following along when, in fact, I'm waiting for her to run out of steam.  The other night, after a particularly edge-of-your-seat dramedy played for thirty minutes, I swear I heard her say, "Now let me tell you about my second minute of life."

If you've ever rented a Czechoslovakian comedy without subtitles by mistake, you have a pretty good idea of what I'm working with.  Not that I mind, say, around three in the afternoon.  For that matter, if I'm not trying to get back to sleep, I'll join in and we'll have long father-daughter talks using sounds that would make the Teletubbies scratch their heads.

It does beg the question.  How long can one engage in baby babble without it compromising the integrity of one's novel writing?  Considering I'm going for the commercial voice and eschewing the literary, I'll take my chances.  Wouldn't want to miss out on any of the bug's stories.

21 October, 2011

Advocacy of Table Time (Part III)

Family on Friday!!!

Last week, I shared my personal experiences of having an overly busy life and still holding a space for table time.  Before that, I wrote about how people get so lost and caught up in the busy life (with good intentions) that they can't quite seem to fit in time to eat, let alone be a family.  But, I decided to write this whole "Advocacy" saga to adequately respond to Gussie's comments on the original post about table time without gadgetry.  (Go, go, gadget salt-shaker.)

We no longer have the busy life we used to.  Wifey works Tuesday through Saturday, I work Saturday through Monday and every night, we have a nearly four month old baby girl, I'm writing a novel (and this blog), and you can get a better idea of our present laid-back lifestyle from my first post.

Three to four times a week, we pack up the bug and all go have dinner at grandma's.  Grandma also works.  We take turns cooking, all cook something together (the bug just supervises), or none of us cook and we splurge on any of the fine take-out available in the area.  We average about two hours at the table every time we meet.  That includes games with cookie prizes.

When we can't be at grandma's, wifey and I will have a quiet meal at home with the bug strapped down to a chair at the end of the table.  (start 'em early)  I know at some point having the bug strapped to a chair during meals will be considered abuse, but for now it's responsible.

We relish this time together.  The therapeutic benefits of deepening our tribal connections fuel us with the emotional and mental buffers we need to prevent being overtaken by the tide the rest of the world creates circling the drain.  Even if they're not related by blood or marriage, the people you hold on to and trust to hold you up at the worst of times are your family.  And this is a great time to sit at the same table.

Of course there are many right and many wrong ways to share table time.  But, let's save that for next week...

19 October, 2011

Don't Play Nice

Writer's Wednesday!!!

In Enigma's song "The Rivers of Belief," the lyrics say "If you believe in light, it's because of obscurity.  If you believe in joy, it's because of sadness.  And if you believe in God, it's because of the devil."

Opposing forces create conflict.  Conflict raises tension.  Tension invokes an emotional response.  Emotional responses separate bad writing from good writing.  If you've ever teared up during a Budweiser Super Bowl ad with a Clydesdale, you know what I'm talking about even if you don't know you know it.  Anything you write means more when there's risk involved.

Try to see how long you can keep the opposing forces separate, but affecting one another through their actions.  This not only escalates the tension, but builds a great amount of anticipation for their inevitable meeting.  (brilliant example: "Heat" directed by Michael Mann)  Constant bombardment of combat involving the opposing forces can be entertaining, but every direct contact releases that tension and it can be difficult to recreate.

Also be aware of easy, trite, random, or overused resolutions.  They not only invalidate your conflict and writing up to that point, but they also condemn your soul to an eternity of having your elbows banged up against the corner of your desk.  The resolution must come from your main character, demonstrate real growth, and be so organic to your story that everyone will know exactly what story everyone else is talking about just on the briefest of mentions.  (except lame random ones like falling frogs)

In real life, we learn and grow from our conflicts.  Your characters should, too.  If your character is not undeniably changed after overcoming the conflict he/her/they faced, then the conflict wasn't big enough or you cheated on the resolution.  Most people avoid conflict because of a fear of the change that must come from learning and growing.  This can be a very natural and sympathetic conflict for your character to overcome before the final conflict - Refusing to change.

There are as many different ways to create and resolve conflicts as there are people, forces, and ideals.  This post is meant more as a tip to make sure you have conflict.  See how much you can throw at your character before they snap.  Really test his/her/their metal.  The easier you are on them, the harder it will be for readers to care.

Does anyone out there have a favorite story that didn't have conflict?  Anyone?  Anyone?

18 October, 2011

Milkin' It For All It's Worth

With the bug, even the most mundane of tasks becomes an adventure.
  • The planning phase
  • The gearing up phase
  • The crossing of the threshold
  • The initial execution of the plan
  • The point of no return
  • The total revision of the plan
  • The break in the action
  • The regrouping for accomplishing the main goal
  • Victory
  • The return home
  • The nap
Last week the bug and I had to go get milk and eggs.  To help justify making an hour round trip for milk and eggs, we decided to tack on a trip to the credit union and, consequentially, at least another half-hour.

Allow me to explain the poor man's sound machine.  Now, I'm sure there are CD's out there of recorded white noise.  I could probably even find an app.  However, when you're already driving and the WubbaNub has been mysteriously flung to the far reaches of the backseat much to the dismay of said WubbaNub's proxy, then finding the nearest music store and illegally fumbling with one's phone doesn't help.  (By the way, I understand the safety reasons for requiring that the child be placed in a rear-facing car seat in the back.  But, do they understand the hazard?)  So, in the aforementioned situation, seems the best thing to do is to tune into a frequency that doesn't pick up any radio signals and crank that puppy.

Right.  So.   Milk and eggs.  Everything was going smoothly.  Banking was a breeze (actually a credit union, but no one says "credit unioning."  At least not yet.), but the poor bug is a little over everything made for an infant having an impressive set of buckles pulling on nylon straps.  She's a good sport about it, but every girl has her limits.  Well, she reached hers just a few aisles away from the eggs.  That's when I remembered the WubbaNub was still in the car.

You know?  For about three seconds, I actually thought the fussing might sort itself out.  It's that feeling you get when you're foolish enough to think that a pot couldn't possibly boil over, the fizz couldn't possibly spill over the edge of the glass, or the toilet water will magically go back down once it reaches the edge.  No... she couldn't possibly go into a three-stage meltdown (limbs out, face red, quivering voice cry).

Of all the fathers pushing their three (almost four) month old baby girls around a grocery store at two in the afternoon on a Friday, I have to be the one that everybody looks at like I just snagged the cart and kid and tried to break for the door before the distracted mother knew what hit her.  So, I smiled at the crowd, unbuckled, unbuckled, and unbuckled, loosened the nylon so it wouldn't scrape against her neck and make matters worse, and scooped her up into a hug to look over my shoulder.

As if I pushed a button on a toy doll, she completely changed moods.  I measured the integrity of the eggs with one arm while she flirted and smiled at anyone still looking her way.  She kept racking up the compliments as I made my way to the milk.  Wouldn't you know the first gallon was all squashed on top and I had one arm to move it and get the unsquashed one from behind it?  The bug didn't mind.  She was too busy pulling a Palin.

Not wanting to press my luck, I dismissed the idea of getting any other grocery items to justify the gas.  She "helped" me zip through the self-check, no-bag it, and we walked back to the car.  She didn't fuss too much about getting strapped down again.  We drove up the coastline home to the dulcet sounds of static.  Mission accomplished.

This week:  I'm using those damn eggs.

14 October, 2011

Advocacy of Table Time (Part II)

Family on Friday!!!

Last week I kicked off my Advocacy of Table Time series with my version of Gussie's response to the week before's Table Time in the Modern Age post.  (Lost yet?)  And yes, it is very easy to get knee deep in life.  Keep in mind that all of those things beckoning you hither and yon are someone else's show.  Present blog included.

They care a lot for their show.  They need an audience.  And they will run their show at their convenience, not yours.  That's one way this blog (and other such 'shows') are more considerate.  We just put it out there and let you come by and check it out at your leisure.  You're welcome.

I got wrapped up in other people's shows during my high school years.  Art club.  Junior Classical League.  French Club.  School Literary Magazine.  Junior Civitan.  Cross Country.  Track.  Basketball at the Y.  Baseball in the local Pony League.  Bowling League.  Fencing.  Hanging out down the street with my best friend.  Dating.  A job.  Twelve hours of homework every night (yeah, right).

And still, several times a week, I took the time to eat dinner with my family.  Often we'd break out a game afterward (like Mille Bornes, Clue, Rummy, Poker, Scrabble, Risk...  tiles, cards, and/or dice abound).  It was a great way for all of us to forget (not rant) about how hard the day was.  When I couldn't be home for dinner, I really felt like I was missing out on the party.

The trend continued at college, where I really became an overachiever.  I started acting in plays.  Had a dual major.  Took officer roles in several student clubs.  Co-edited the yearbook.  Served as a R.A.  Started the Movie Night event in the student union.  And generally got involved, earning a spot on the "Who's Who."

Tables were everything.  A group of us would meet in the cafeteria everyday (some just to get a drink or ice cream) and sit to talk and make each other laugh.  And then again, at the end of the day, a smaller group of us would meet around a table in the lobby of a dorm to become more of a family.  And then, even after that, a smaller group of us would go off to the student union to play table games (RPGs, cards, etc.).  Those friends that I spent table time with back then are still in my life many years and thousands of miles later.

After college, I kept finding tables to join and still make the time today.  But, we'll talk about that next week...

12 October, 2011

Writer's (Chopping) Block

Writers' Wednesday!!!

There's no such thing as writer's block.  It's a myth.  Made up by trickster spirits like goblins, sprites, and fauns. And if you believe in writer's block, I've got a unicorn farm priced to sell.

A few noteworthy issues that keep the legend of writer's block alive more effectively than that silly photo of Bigfoot:

  • Subconscious awareness that you shouldn't write what you're trying to write because it's wrong
  • Laziness
  • Dawning realization that you don't know your topic well enough
  • Break time
I suspect that the majority of what people call writer's block has to do with the first issue.  Admit it.  We all get these marvelous epiphanies of the best story we've never written and then the deeper we get into it, the more we realize it's one of those microwave burritos that stay frozen in the middle and that doesn't matter a whole lot, because if it was cooked all the way through, it'd still be a horrible, tasteless mess.

I thought I had writer's block for a couple weeks about ten years ago.  (It wasn't writer's block.)  It was a plot hole large enough to run a super highway through.  I paved around the hole, finished the story, and only realized a few years ago that the screenplay I wound up with had two scenes that touched on my original story idea.  The whole script was otherwise well-written crap that the brads barely wanted to hold on to.

The second issue merits elaboration...  (but I don't feel like doing it).

A lot of people say, "write what you know."  I say, "write what you love."  If you truly love a subject enough, you will enjoy researching all the aspects of it necessary to build the backstory and knowledge base you will need.  The love will shine up through the page (or screen) like blowing kisses to your reader (audience).  Having a love and understanding of your subject means gushing all over the page.  You'll be too busy trying to fit all the words into the parameters of your format to be able to blame anything on the writer's block fairy.

The last issue of my (not entirely exhaustive) list deals with recharging after mental fatigue.  If you've been pounding at the keyboard for sometime, have cracked your knuckles to the point where you bend them mindlessly even without the satisfying popping noise, and/or find yourself making five detours on the way back from the bathroom, then you have just been warned to reconnect your charger, my friend.  Not writer's block.  So, take a walk, shower, nap.  Go dance, exercise, cook.  Just get away from the writing until you have got to get the words down or else the Universe as we know it will cease to exist.

I'm sure there are many more issues masquerading as writer's block.  Anyone care to share some?  Wanna comment on the points above?  Be my guest!

11 October, 2011

Ring Duck For Service

Swaddles have never been much of a challenge for the bug.  We've tried a few recommended baby origami patterns and the Swaddle Me with death-grip-louder-than-it-needs-to-be velcro.  Doesn't matter much.  She can free her arms in her sleep...  With one arm tied behind her back...

The swaddling has been critical and we couldn't have done without it.  She doesn't always remember how to fall asleep and often, when she does, that crazy startle reflex can put a quick end to some hard won nappage.  Yet, swaddling isn't forever, right?  Don't misunderstand.  She's a great sleeper.  (Except when she's not.)

I try to encourage the bug to develop a better hand-eye coordination (Are they making video games for babies yet?) and this seems to be increasing her options for some rather creative swaddle twisting.  A few times I've had to unlock the baby to feed and/or change her.  At least she laughs about it.  (She's not always pleasant to be around when she's impatient.)

This last week a new thing has started.  The sound of a rattle when she should be swaddled.  (We have wrist rattles at the ready on the sides of her bassinet.)  I walk up to her and who knows how long she's been awake or what came first: the free arm, or the wakefulness.  Then I watch her have a grand ol' time smacking that duck-faced wrist rattle like a speed bag, calling out De La Hoya.

We're not quite at the point yet where she can get her quality sleep without the swaddle.  Yet, we're passed the point where it's all that effective.  I don't think there is a hard and fast rule for when to discontinue swaddle use because the answers I've seen have all been vague.  "When it's no longer working."  Define working.  "When she can get out of it."  (Uhhhhh...)

Does anyone have any clarity out there?  If she's gettin' all million-dollar-baby on us, do we just have her figure out for herself how to be still enough to fall asleep and stay asleep?  Or are her calisthenics going to eat into her beauty sleep?  What do you think?

07 October, 2011

Advocacy of Table Time (Part I)

Family on Friday!!!

Commenting on last week's post, Gussie pointed out that not only our handy-dandy electronic devices divide us, but that the drawing power of the outside world beckons us to leave our homes in such a rush that tables become a depository of sorts.  (I admittedly paraphrased and took liberties, but you can read her comments at the bottom of the post if you're that curious.)

Let me start off Part I of my continued advocacy of table time as a cornerstone of family solidarity by saying it doesn't have to, and probably can't in some cases, be an every night thing (or mornings...  I could go for mornings).  Making it a chore doesn't help.  Kinda makes it counterproductive.

But, if you cannot meet as a family around the table for at least a full meal, dessert, and one game on a weekly basis, then there is a serious problem.  The subtext to leading such a busy life is "my family is not as important as these other things."  Probably isn't how you feel, but actions are paramount in interpersonal relationships.  They define our character (as I've learned in numerous writing classes).

So, yeah.  At least once a week.  There are days when kiddos will want to sleep over at a friend's house.  And days when parentals will want the kiddos to sleep over at a friend's house.  Some days, you'll scarcely see your bed, let alone a table.  (Interesting how some people get a nice home, fill it with nice stuff, and then barely even sleep there.)

The busy lifestyle is quite simple really.

  • Live an hour from work
  • Work a little extra because 110% is the new minimum
  • Have the kids cram eight completely different classes in their day, each of which is supposed to assign two hours of homework for every hour in class
  • Let the kids join a few clubs (gotta nurture their interests), a sport, and take lessons for fill-in-the-blank
  • Join some clubs yourself
  • Volunteer
  • Be an active part of your community
  • Now pick and choose on a daily basis who's being run where to meet the right-after-work/school activities that will run up to the start of the next one (grab dinner on the way)
  • Spend time socializing with the people at the end of the second activity who, for some reason, never have anything to do
  • Get home sometime before midnight
  • Feed the pets and let them out in the yard
  • Help kids with homework or trust they are while you flip through the DVR
  • Rinse, sleep, repeat
We do it to ourselves.  As a writer, I am fascinated by everything.  Yes.  Everything.  You name it.  I'm most likely fascinated by it (I know a few people are only thinking of challenging me now and getting off topic).  So, I wanted to (and almost did) participate where ever they would have me.  Even so, throughout my whole life I have relished my table time and worked it into the schedule.  But, that's the topic for Part II...