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.