Friday, August 24, 2012

On Ghosts

Many people who claim to see ghosts are usually dubbed weirdoes by non-believers. I have never visited a fortune teller (though I have had my tarot cards read), and I don’t follow my daily horoscope (though I do know all the signs of the zodiac). I have, however, always believed in the possibility of a spirit world. I am not so narrow-minded to believe that living beings are the only energy source in the universe. But until last night, I had never claimed to have seen a ghost.
First, a bit of back story:
In 2008, my cat, Pluto, died from a sudden onset of diabetes that ravaged his organs in one month’s time. He was only four years old. His sister, Isabel – a black-and-white like her brother but with longer hair and a whiter face – was left behind and eventually had to learn to tolerate a new sibling kitty. Although it took me a long time to get over losing Pluto (those of you who are owned by cats will understand perfectly), I’ve moved on.
Then came last night.
I was in the home office organizing things when I pulled out one of the computer chairs and discovered a shocking sight. There, lying beneath the desk was Pluto.
For what seemed a full second, we locked eyes; Pluto was that kind of cat who would look right into your soul. I saw his full form and remember hearing myself say aloud, “Oh!” as I thought, There you are. I was wondering where you’d gone. I distinctly remember seeing his short black hair and full black face.
But in that same frozen second in time, my brain processed reality and thought, But he’s dead. A well of tears filled my throat and I felt the pressure rise to my sinuses until the tears poured out my eyes.
I forced myself to blink, and then I saw Isabel. I saw her long hair and asymmetrical white mustache.
I backed up, disbelieving what I knew to be true; Pluto had been there. For one second last night, Pluto came to me. And then he was gone.
As I sat on the other computer chair and cried, Isabel came out from under the desk and tried to make nice to me, purring and begging to be petted. But I didn’t want to touch her. I wanted to figure out what had happened, what exactly I‘d seen, why my brain had played tricks on me. But I had no answers.
I can’t tell you that I suddenly believe I can see dead spirits, but I can tell you that what I saw last night was real. The image was vivid and the energy intense. So intense that it took me over half an hour to calm down. (Isabel, on the other hand, seemed undaunted at the notion of having momentarily been possessed by her brother.)
You may think I’m nuts, but I’m a writer…artists are supposed to be a bit insane, right? That kind of eccentricity is supposed to be charming, I hear. But I’m not sharing this story to be charming. I just feel it’s a story I need to get out.
Anyone else out there ever crossed paths with spirits? I, for one, will never say never when it comes to ghosts and the reality of what we cannot see.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Touching (Or, Shouldn't you buy me dinner before polishing my nails?)

Yesterday, I let a strange man massage my hands and arms. Then I let him do the same to my feet.

Okay, so maybe this isn't so strange to those of you fortunate enough to afford manicures and pedicures, but this experience got me thinking...

It’s really rather personal. When we start a relationship, that first touch of the hands can be sensual and exciting as we feel the warmth of the other person’s pulse and the comfort of their grasp. The human connection is beautiful. But when physical intimacy is part of a business deal, all the rules change.
There I was at the Venetian Nail Salon, where a crew of nail technicians – both male and female – miraculously always manages to repair my nasty cuticles and make my hands look clean and professional looking. For that, I am grateful. But this particular day, as I sat there during the hand and arm massage portion of the manicure (and later the foot and leg massage), I realized how strange the moment was.
It wasn't my first manicure with this particular technician; in fact, I request him whenever he is available precisely because I like his massages. I wanted to tell him how good it felt; you know, offer positive feedback. But it felt wrong to say such words. I made sure not to breathe differently or sigh at all for fear of sounding turned on, which I wasn’t. I was simply relaxed and appreciating his amazing touch. But since he wasn’t a native English speaker and we, therefore, hadn’t had any conversation, I felt awkward. Our faces were no more than 24 inches apart, but our eyes worlds away from each other. No eye contact at all. He was professionally absent.
Yes, money changes everything. Not unlike prostitution, I imagine, the business arrangement turns intimacy into something technical and honesty into superficiality. Of course, if I hadn’t been paying for the service in the salon, I would have never let the nail tech massage my arms and legs in the first place. Still, the moment felt void of humanity, but I’m not sure what could have been done differently.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with such disconnected touching? Or are you relieved by it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Duende (Or, A dedication to what drives me)

If you are not a Spanish speaker, you probably don’t know what duende is. But if you are a writer or any other type of artist, you know it in your soul without even needing to have ever heard the word before. Simplified English translations will tell you duende is a magical elfin creature.

Spanish literature, however, describes duende as something beyond the comprehension of English limitations. It is as intangible as hope yet as necessary to artistic survival as air to our lungs. It is a potpourri of muse, magic, wonder, and fantastical creatures – that Je ne sais quoi or unnamed spirit or inspiration that moves people to great artistry and passion.
Duende is what I found during my time living in southern Spain and what settled itself so comfortably – curling up in a fetal position – deep within in my heart, helping to conceive my novels and continuing to feed the fire of my writing passion.
I give a thousand thanks, or mil gracias, to duende.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On Vicarious Living

I always hear that vicarious living is no good for us. As parents, we should not try to live through our children and their accomplishments or adventures, which begs the question: Is bragging about your children and posting impressive photos of them vicarious living?

(Couldn’t resist.)
And the bigger question: As writers, are we vicariously living through our characters?
I believe we are, in a manner of speaking, and if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.
I’ve now published five novels, all of which are focused on expatriate characters living overseas adventures full of romance and drama. I don’t have to be directly reminded (though I have been many times through unsolicited feedback) that I am living vicariously through these characters. But if I didn’t, what would my muse do? Sit around and torture me with grand ideas…that’s what.
So I follow my heart and listen to my soul’s voice as I write and write. So far, I’ve received very positive results and lots of wonderful reviews from readers who seem grateful for my passion. My day-to-day life holds its own wonders, but it is my writer’s life that offers a unique sense of fulfillment. For that, I say to all my writer friends out there, “Go on! Live vicariously. It is your art that feeds your soul. Eat it up!”

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Reconnections (Or, Where did everybody go?)

I've been gone for a while. Yeah, I know. This means I'm probably writing to the air now since nobody knows to pay attention to me. I had it coming; I understand that.

But tonight I reconnected with a blog friend and we had the most wonderful phone chat. I've never met Kathryn, but we'd always had a connection. Our chat motivated me to pop back in and read some of my favorite blogs, but much to my dismay, many of them are weeks or even months old.

I'm so happy!

Don't get me wrong; I love these writers and was looking forward to seeing what was new and humorous. But finding out that they're just as human as I am was deeply comforting. I also felt, strangely enough, MORE connected to them. There was a time back in 2010-2011 when we were all over each other's comments page, awarding each other with silly honors, and offering not-so-silly companionship in the blogosphere. Now, it seems many of my blog friends have, like me, gotten caught up in life. I don't begrudge them. It's as if we all shared a special moment in time together, but like all great things, it has come to an end. Or at least a pause. 

I will check back soon with the hopes that I'll find my old "friends". But in the meantime, I will think about them all and wish them well in their non-virtual lives, knowing we will always be connected.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Creature Comforts

I am temporarily living in a children's hospital with my son, but this post is not about his illness. Instead, I'd like to remark on my observations of what creatures of habit we are.

We've been here for 10 days so far and have another 10 to go (based on surgery schedule). We've been blessed with a private room and mostly friendly nursing staff. But what has made this stay feel like home away from home is in the details: knowing now where my son's supplies go vs. where our supplies go; knowing which blankets are the warmest and which fit best on the pull-out parents' bed; knowing which batch of balloons are from whom and which get-well cards are our favorites. This place feels like our apartment in the city while we are away from our home in the suburbs.

But speaking about that home in the burbs, I've come to see that house completely differently after 15 years of living there. It's my nature to grow tired of places...very quickly. Since I can't move every year to satisfy my boredom, I instead end up throwing myself into some home renovation project, even if it's one as small as painting the bathroom or simply rearranging the family room furniture. Still, I had grown tired of my house...until ten days ago.

My husband and I alternate nights here at the hospital, and each time I return home, I love it. It's as if I've just moved into this new place and still can't believe I'm so lucky to be in this house. For better or for worse, my son's hospitalization has taught me to love my home again and to cherish all the intangible details it carries within its walls. What once bored me now comforts me.

On some level, I'm afraid I'll come to feel that way about the hospital room. My son has a second surgery to go this summer as a follow up to the upcoming one, and I'm afraid my family will become "institutionalized" and find comfort in walking the halls to and from our car, overnight bag slung over one shoulder.

I know, at the beginning of this post, I called this place my home away from home, but I am determined NOT to let that happen. I am determined to force my creature comforts to remain in the burbs, where I promise to fight my boredom the next time it hits me (probably before the New Year). And I will know that not only did this hospital provide the cure for my son's illness but also the reminder that there's no place like home.

Monday, April 9, 2012

On Sliding Doors

It has been exactly twenty-five years since they last saw each other as they walk through the automatic sliding door leading to the restaurant terrace. They sit together on the patio, and Jeff looks at her. He remembers the lost friendship and the missed opportunity to follow his heart.  He smiles sadly and confesses, "You are my only regret from my college years."

This is not an excerpt from a story; it is a synopsis of my Sunday lunch, a reunion with a once dear friend. In town only for the holiday weekend, Jeff met me for lunch and waxed nostalgic about our college years, our friendship, and the critical incident (as Jeff calls it) that would separate us for twenty-five years.

This got me thinking about my books and the themes that repeatedly creep into my story lines. These critical incidents are what make the plot whether it be the plots of our novels or the plots of our lives. And for fiction writers, these are often inextricable. (Yes, we say it's purely fiction, but those who know us know better.)

Jeff also referenced the movie, Sliding Doors, where the passage (or not) through one sliding door makes all the difference in the life of the protagonist. All those questions of what if? are finally answered, and we see that no matter which doors we pass through, the end result is similar albeit through a different means.

I don't know if I subscribe to that philosophy, but the idea that we all end up where we were supposed to end up can be comforting, or at least can help squelch those annoying questions about what could have been. I've always preferred to look at my life path as a matter of timing. My personal mantra is Timing is everything. This makes regret pointless.

No matter which fatalistic system you believe in, the truth is that these moments are significant [Plug to my buddy Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time], and they cannot be ignored. In the literary world, regret becomes poignant as the muse that gives birth to characters. In the non-writing world, it is the origin of our nostalgia.

As my reunion with Jeff came to an end, I regretted nothing, reveling in the renewed friendship. And when we walked back through the sliding door, Jeff and I smiled, the symbolism not escaping either of us.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

From Book to Big Screen

So I read the Hunger Games trilogy and then saw the first movie because...oh, forget it. If I have to explain, then you just don't get it. Anyway, the thing is this: I was disappointed.

Shocking. I know. I mean, who reads a book, loves it, and then doesn't love the movie?

All sarcasm aside (you're welcome), my disappointment with the Hunger Games movie actually brought me to some deep thinking. Why do we see movies of books we love if we know they will never meet our expectations? I think I've got the answer (and Hollywood has known this far longer than I have).

When we fall in love with characters on the page and then find out they will be projected before us on the big screen, we are intially elated. We love the idea of seeing our vision materialize before us, of possibly feeling that much closer to the characters we've come to identfy with. Yet we know, even before we see the movie trailer, that we are going to feel let down. We know that no film maker has really been able to project what is inside our protagonist's heart - at least not to the extent that the original author did. Still, we pay our dollars at the box office and hope.

Since I saw the movie, I've been pondering this. I think about my own novels, about how I've visualized them on the big screen since the moment the characters were born. I think about the soundtrack that would accompany my story, and I think how perfect my books would be for the movies.

But now I've come to respect my own writing and, without doubt, the words of every single book I've ever read for the beauty that comes not from what the eyes see but from what the mind and heart see. I appreciate a good screenwriter but choose this platform to show my reverence for the great storyteller - the book writer (which, of course, includes Suzanne Collins) - whose craft lacks the aid of visual effects and therefore must be held in the highest regard for its profound artistry.

That being said, I am not ashamed to say I will return to the theater to see Catching Fire when it is released. And I embrace the dichotomy in my heart.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Envy

For eleven years, people have been telling me that my daughter looks exactly like me. She has always resented this, as I imagine is typical since she probably wants to look like herself. Who can blame her? Apart from her appearance, she is also identified as being just like me, according to my husband. He sees her demeanor and energy level as similar to mine, which isn't completely off base.

However, yesterday I witnessed a moment of clarity when I came to understand how unlike me my daughter really is.

The back story is that she had had a crush on a classmate for over year until he broke her heart on Valentine's Day by attempting to return the rose she had bought him. Yes, my daughter is that girl - the one who waits for no man. She shows him how she'd like to be treated by making the first bold move, as if to say, Now it's your turn. During recess the next day, the little coward boy tried to anonymously leave the rose on my daughter's desk. When caught by another classmate, he said he simply didn't want the rose. The classmate quickly reported this to my daughter, who came home crushed. (Hence, the term.)

Okay, so here it is one month later, and this boy approaches my daughter during recess and says, more or less, "I think you're cool now. Do you want to go out with me?"

If this had been me at age 11 (or 14, or even 20), I would have been flattered that he finally liked me back. I would have smiled coyly and accepted the title of "girlfriend" - an honor to brag about in the fifth grade.

But my daughter...she raised her eyebrows at this boy and said, "You kinda blew your chance already."

When she told me this, I was floored. "But didn't you feel vindicated, at least?" I asked.

"No, I don't like him anymore. He's a jerk. I don't even know what I saw in him."

I could have reminded her of the numerous times she'd told me about how sweet he'd been to her, how he'd smiled at her in a special way, how she used to say he would eventually grow up and realize he was in love with her. But I didn't.

I envy her.

Having such confidence (or is it pride?) at that age will help her avoid being the sucker I was for any guy who liked me, believing I should take what I could get. No, my daughter will decide with whom and when she has a relationship, and she seems to know that already at eleven years old. I don't even need to teach her to stand up for herself and not to settle because she's got that stuff down pat.

I respect her. And I told her so.

Hopefully, she'll still need me for the details if not the big picture, and I'll be there for her. In the meantime, all I can do is sit back and watch the show. I'm sure it's going to be a great one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Words to Live By…for me, anyway

Today I’m feeling the need for inspiration. I haven’t felt it in a spell, and I am hungry for someone to feed me words of wisdom. But that isn’t happening.

So I’ve decided to spur a non-existent muse by re-quoting some folks much wiser than me. Perhaps they will also motivate you into action...
“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back...a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country."
Anaïs Nin, The Diaries of Anaïs Nin

“I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had.”
-Margaret Mead

Filter not the silliness you write
Better to let its vibrant aura breathe
Than extinguish the treasure torch.
...always wear your wander shoes.
Nicole Ducleroir, One Significant Moment at a Time

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
-Joseph Campbell

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

Well, I'm feeling better. How about you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Self-Promotion

I'm very bad at this. The self-promotion thing. So bad that just today, while watching a young woman read an e-book from her iPad next to me in a waiting room, I said nothing. Even when she started talking to another woman about the fiction book she was reading, proving she's an enthusiast of my genre, I still said nothing. After about 15 minutes of being my waiting room neighbor, she announced it was her birthday (in apology for all the IM popping sounds coming from the never-ending stream of birthday wishes).

Finally, I said something.

I knew I was going to be called in at any moment, so I asked her where she got her e-books. Turns out she's a Google books fan but was presently reading a Kindle book on her Kindle for iPad app.


"I know a great novel that just came out on Kindle, and it's only 99 cents."

"Really?" she asked. "That would be great because I'm almost done with this one."

"It's called Snapshot," I told her, "but you need the author's name because there are many titles with the word  snapshot in them. The author is Wendy Ramer."

"I've got a good memory," she assured me. "That's an easy one. I'll remember it."

"Great." I smiled. "I've got to go now but I wanted to wish you Happy Birthday. And by the way, I'm Wendy Ramer."

Then I got the exact response I was hoping for. The birthday girl beamed with excitement. "Oh, wow." She extended her hand for me to shake. "It's so nice to meet you."

Sure enough, as I shook her hand, I was called in. I couldn't have planned my exit any better.

I was proud of myself because prior to that moment, I felt it was somehow shameful to promote yourself. Then a friend reminded me the other day, "Your friends can't always be there for you, standing beside you with a megaphone to tell the world what a great writer you are. So if you don't do it, who will?"

Apart from the fact that no friend has ever used a megaphone to promote me and only one friend has ever bragged about me to others in front of my face (Thank you, Marisela!), I understood the point being made. So today I hopefully inspired one birthday girl to actually remember my name and search for me on Amazon. At the very least, I wished a stranger a Happy Birthday and made her feel good.

To my writer blog friends out there, how do you feel about promoting yourself? Are you comfortable with it? I'd be very curious to hear your take on it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Food and Dreams (Or, Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti)

100% true. The other day, my husband receives a call from a friend of his with the following question:

Do you and Wendy own an abandoned oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico?

Here is where things get interesting (because that question wasn't interesting enough). The guy explains a dream he had the night before, where my husband and I had converted an abandoned oil rig into a 5-star resort. The rooms were above sea level to provide a water view (what else?) while the rest of the hotel was underwater and included the finest restaurant.

The gist of the dream was that we had lured him out there with the promise of the finest cuisine in the Gulf (because there are so many choices). Once seated in the restaurant, we told him the specialty of the night was meat and that he was the main course.

Yes, ladies and husband and I were cannibals.

My husband's reply to all this...

Dude, before you went to bed, what did you eat?

This is my husband's explanation for all bad dreams...the food. (I want to note for the record that our cannibal cuisine had earned us 5-star status.)

What about you? Can you associate your strange dreams with what you ate the night before? Have you had any dreams that can trump this one? If they're porn-free, I invite you to share. I'm sure it would give my husband's friend comfort to know he's not the only crazy person out there.

Having said that, if you have a medium build - not too fatty and not too lean - I'd love to invite you over for dinner.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Letting Go

I've recently had a revelation about myself: I won't let go.

I'm not talking about holding grudges or obsessing over nonsense. I'm talking about my past and the people who played major roles in helping me become who I am today.

When I discovered Facebook eons ago, I secretly dubbed the site "Pastbook" because that's what I spent the first months doing...digging up names from my past and reuniting with them. It was a non-stop joyride for me to bring back those who had mattered so much but whom I had been forced to let go. Not anymore. Of course, most of those initial reunions turned into nothing more than a new "friend" whose status I could check at my whim, and that was enough for me.

I'm wise enough to know that some people were acquaintances in my life and that it's okay to let them go. But the storymakers of my past hold more value than that. I've been fortunate to still have my dearest friends from childhood in my life today because even though I've grown so much, these girls were my foundation; to let them go would be like resting the house of my soul on a sinkhole and hoping it won't disappear.

At the time of my revelation, however, I couldn't stop thinking about one amazing friend who was missing from my adult life, and I missed him terribly. We lost touch many years ago for some of the typical reasons - inconvenient geography, different phases of life, a wife threatened by our friendship. But he wasn't just a boy I once knew who I could file alongside the others who had paved the way to my relationship with my husband. No, this boy had always been my friend, my buddy, my prom date, my confidante, and never my lover. He was truly my friend. And I was angry that we'd lost touch.

Since our falling out of touch, I have tried to contact him many times via email, Facebook, and voice mail, but he never responds. Then over a year ago, I heard through the grapevine that he had lymphoma, and my heart broke. I was warned that he'd become less social during this period and so I didn't even try to contact him but instead kept contact with those who knew of his treatment and progress. And progress he did. He is now cancer-free, so I've heard.

Then recently, I almost bumped into him. I say almost because apparently we were at the same fundraising event but at different times. Since then, I can't get him off my mind. When I think about how many crucial moments of adolescence we shared, I feel empty not knowing what is in his heart today.

I know this is one of those true friendships that must stay in the past because it takes two to make a friendship last, but I won't accept it gracefully. He was integral to who I was then, and whether he knows it or not, that has made me a better friend today. I refuse to forget him.

Do you have any friends from your youth who you would you never let go? If so, feel free to honor them here. My list includes:
Suzanne, Jennifer, Lisa, Benay, Martha, Karen, Andrea, Kathleen, Rachel, and of course...Shane

Monday, February 27, 2012

On the Rodeo

After fourteen years of living just beyond horse country, I spent my Sunday doing what every Jewish, Latin-loving, SUV-driving woman would do with her Sunday afternoon...I went to the rodeo.

I certainly had my misgivings, what with all the calf roping and spur wearing that I knew would go on, but my daughter had been asking for a dog's age (which is actually shorter than a horse's age but just as interminable when your child is whining every weekend).

I have to admit, I had a blast.

One part of me was morally opposed and standing on my high horse (yeah, I went there) while the other part was holding my breath in anticipation of a good lasso and then screaming with excitement when one cowboy finally roped the calf and tied all three legs up in under six seconds. Woo hoo!!!! (Apparently, only three of the four legs are required to be tied. Who knew? Certainly not me.)

The halftime show, if you will, was completely inhumane but nonetheless adorable. One-half dozen rams tore into the arena being chased by a bevy of miniature border collies who deftly herded the rams into a small pen. The dogs did this while carrying small passengers strapped to their backs...teeny rhesus monkeys. I kid you not. The crowd went wild as these little "cowboys" herded their charges into place. I just shook my head in judgment, mumbling this is so wrong while my daughter squealed with joy and recorded it all on video.

After the rams, the dogs, and the monkeys, it was back to business. When the cowgirls competed in the barrel races and their horses took those turns at 45-degree angles to the ground, my heart once more skipped some beats until I could catch my breath and cheer the ladies on for their final gallop into the gate. Good stuff, I tell ya.

The rodeo finished with the bull rides. No excitement to share here since I hated that part and was glad when it was over. Still, I think I enjoyed the afternoon even more than my daughter did. As we walked back to the car, I felt conflicted. But maybe that's what the rodeo is all about...the tradition, the pageantry, the danger, mixed with the domination of man (and woman) over beast. Garth Brooks sang it best when he said:

Well, it's bulls and blood
It's dust and mud
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd
It's the white in his knuckles
The gold in the buckle
He'll win the next go 'round
It's boots and chaps
It's cowboy hats
It's spurs and latigo
It's the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Putting Your Teenager in Jail

Come on...admit it. Some of you parents of teens are thinking to yourselves, Hmm, sometimes putting my kid in jail doesn't sound like such a bad idea.

Before you get carried away with fantasies of how to teach your teenager a lesson, you should know that this "jail" I'm referring to was a fundraising ploy, part of the Cancer Relay for Life in which I just participated.

I'd never witnessed this event before, and it was phenomenal. I don't know how many different booths I saw at this 24-hour walking event (because cancer never rests, so why should we?), but each booth represented a different type of cancer and included a variety of clever ways to raise money (apart from the pre-walk pledges and the abundance of baked goods for sale).

One such trick was a cardboard prison, fashioned by a group of teenagers, with bars and all. For a minimum fee of one dollar, you could have anyone you wanted arrested and put in jail. Bail was posted at twice the jailing rate. My friend, Jennifer, liked this idea very much, especially since she had spent the morning locking horns with her 16-year-old daughter over what Jen perceived as adolescent nonsense.

My friend turned her focus across the park to her daughter's team booth. She then turned to the young man/jailer, who knew her daughter, and firmly stated, "Go arrest Britt." Jen placed one dollar on the table and the jailer obeyed.

But Britt would not cooperate. We watched from across the field as the jailer seemed to be explaining what was happening. Britt appeared to be compliant, but when she turned on her heel halfway to the prison booth, the jailer (a strapping, high-school lad) swiftly scooped Britt up and threw her over his shoulder in a fire-rescue stance. Resigned to her punishment, Britt stopped fighting and accepted her fate.

As Jen took a picture of her daughter behind bars and muttered, "Sweet justice," Britt pouted playfully. But when Jen and I proceeded to wave good-bye and tell Britt we had to continue our walking rounds (it was our shift of the 24-hour relay), Britt tried to escape, and the jailer had to block her with his hulking frame.

"She's not really upset, is she?" I asked Jen, a bit worried for the punishment she would have to tolerate when the relay was over.

Jen raised her eyebrows at me. "She'll get over it."

The good news for Britt was that her incarceration lasted no more than ten minutes. The good news for Jen was that she got the cathartic opportunity to put her daughter in jail for the crime of emotional distress. And there really wasn't any bad news since the cause earned a whopping $3.00 for the whole ordeal.

What catharsis have you experienced lately?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Art of Listening

As a writer, I am forever honing the craft of writing. As a professor, I am eternally mired in papers, thereby helping me perfect the art of reading (and editing!). But what about that elusive skill...the one we start to practice first as infants when words have not yet formed...the art of listening? It's the ability we've technically practiced the most, yet it is sometimes a dastardly task to accomplish even with two perfectly functioning ears.

As fiction writers, we can practice listening by imagining the voices of our characters. What do they sound like? What kind of vocabulary do they use? How formally or colloquially do they speak? As we come to hear these characters, we get to know them better, and that familiarity hopefully transfers to the written page so the readers can hear these characters as well as we can.

The real world is a different story (pun intended). When we think we are listening to our friends, our professors, our colleagues, our family, we are often only hearing their words instead of listening to the message. Our minds are full of distractions, and often the biggest distraction is the argument we are already formulating in response to something spoken moments before. We focus on what our hearts have to say and stop listening to the other person. When we do this, we are effectively saying, "My ideas or feelings are more important than yours." (Even if we believe this, it is bad form to admit it.)

So what can we do? (I've given this a lot of thought as I've recently been frustrated by many around me who say they hear me but don't actually do it unless I accidentally burp at the dinner table.)

Like we must sometimes do with our addiction to electronic devices, we can make the effort to temporarily shut down...our minds, that is. When listening to someone, we need to turn off our own thoughts and say to ourselves, For this moment, I am listening to someone else. Quite honestly, I think the brain would appreciate a respite. I tried this the other night with my daughter, and it actually helped me relax even though her message was one of sadness. By ignoring my own frustration with her behavior and choosing to listen to her, I heard what was in her heart.

What say you? Any suggestions for how we can learn to listen better?

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Inspiration (Or, I Owe It to Stephen King)

It's been over a year since I last posted, and truth is that probably very few people will ever read this post because I've been forgotten. But that inspiration, that kick in the pants I'd been waiting for to spike my blogging fever...well, it had eluded me.

Then I read the opening paragraph to Stephen King's The Body, a 1982 novella long-ago turned major motion picture...almost a relic by literary standards. But I read it this morning, and it inspired me. Just look, if you will, at how simply yet eloquently King describes such an intimate fear.

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought is was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.

Concise. Honest. Perfect.

I started reading King when I was twelve years old and considered myself quite the enthusiast throughout high school and college. I even read some of his books in Spanish when I was trying to learn the language in my twenties. (Pet Sematary is just as creepy en español!) Eventually, however, I moved on...until last year, when I read On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. Then I was reminded of why I had admired him in my adolescence and why he is such a successful writer.

No matter the genre, a good writer finds a way to take language and turn it into something more than just words in print. A good writer taps into the soul of words, the spirit of the message, to deliver the reader to that other world where our hearts can sing the words to the song it has felt for so long.

I know I am not that writer...not yet. But with inspirational passages like the one quoted above, I feel hope. And to quote King once more, hope springs eternal.