Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Guys

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .   Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

My local big box pet supply store cannot by any stretch of the imagination be compared to France. But the French Revolution, or at least the famous opening lines to Dickens' tale about it, came to mind after my weekend trip there (to the pet supply store, not {sigh} to France) to pick up dog food. 

I blithely strolled by the shopping carts queued up in the store's foyer; after all, I was only planning to buy a 30 lb bag, and I can lift and carry one of those fairly easily. 

Long story short, when I got to the far back of the store, where the dog food is located, I found that Dazey's food is now available in a 50 lb bag. Even better, the price is much lower per pound in the larger bag. Just as I started to pick one up, a man who looked to be in his late 20's with two boys about 6 and 8 walked up.

When the man saw what I was about to do, he quickly offered to go get a cart for me; I assured him I could carry the bag. We chatted briefly about our dogs, and I noticed his sons waited patiently until I spoke to them. I asked about their dog, and they eagerly and politely responded. 

I was hoping the man would grab the food he wanted and leave. I didn't want him to see me if I struggled with the bag, but I also didn't want to put him to any trouble. 

He made no move to pick up a bag of food for his own dog. Instead, he hoisted the bag I had been about to pick up from the bottom shelf, turned to his boys, and said, "Come on, guys, we're going to carry this up to the checkout for this nice lady." We walked to the checkout together, he told his sons to get a cart, and he put the bag in the cart for me. I thanked the three of them; he said it was no trouble at all, and he and his boys headed back to the dog food.

I paid for the food and rolled the cart out to my car.

That's when I realized that getting the bag out of the cart was going to be more difficult than just lifting it off the bottom shelf. Because I had to bend over into the cart to get the bag, I couldn't bend with my knees to lift it.

I opened my car door and studied the situation. I tried to lift the bag and had very little luck.

That's when I noticed a man who looked to be 30 or so sitting in the driver's seat of a car about 15' away. He was watching me with amused interest. I turned back to my task.

I considered tipping the cart so that the front rested on the ground, allowing me to pull the 50-pound bag straight out and up. I gave that a try, but when I tipped the cart, it began to roll away from me.

I heard the man laughing.

I ignored him.

I pulled the cart upright again. I considered going back in the store to see if an employee could help me. Just then, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the amused guy was getting out of his car.

"Finally," I thought, "this guy is going to help me."

He didn't. He walked right by, looking straight at me and chuckling. 

That gave me just enough impetus to haul the bag out of the cart and onto the back seat of my car.  

I closed my car and locked it before returning the cart to the store. As I was turning back toward the parking lot, a coworker came out of the shoe store next door. We stood for a few minutes talking, and as we did, the man who had watched me struggle with the bag, who had found my predicament amusing, walked out carrying a very large (at least 30 lb) bag of dog food.

Obviously, he hadn't failed to help me because of he was unable to do so.

My coworker and I finished our conversation, we went to our cars, and I drove home.

As I did, I couldn't help but laugh. Not just about what had happened, but about how I would definitely try to incorporate the story into my novel.

Have you ever had a real-life experience you'd love to see included in a novel? Feel free to share it via a comment!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Plantsing Along

Novel-writers tend to fall into one of two camps.

Some writers have a germ of an idea and simply sit down and start writing. They allow the characters to reveal themselves and the story to unfold. Because they write by the seat of their pants, so to speak, they are referred to as “pantsters”.

“Plotters”, on the other hand, take the germ of an idea and then proceed more methodically, crafting various items such as character biographies so detailed that even the protagonist’s childhood stuffed animal and its name might be listed. Ultimately, they craft an outline that is the framework of their novel; these outlines range from skeletal to extremely detailed.

When I sat down a few weeks ago to get serious about writing my novel, I was stymied.

Am I a plotter or a pantser?

I didn’t feel comfortable just jumping in to my story; I felt I needed some sort of framework. However, I didn’t want to get so bogged down in the planning that I never got to any writing. And yes, I know myself well enough to realize that the avid planner in me is in danger of doing just that.

And so, for the past few weeks, between the work day, work tasks I have to bring home, household responsibilities, and Olympic-watching, I’ve been plantsing.

I began by creating very basic bullet-point biographies of my main characters and a couple of minor ones. Oh, what fun it was to pick out names and even a few life details for these people I’m going to be spending so much time with.

Then I moved on to an outline that is so skeletal as to be almost nonexistent. I incorporated the traditional story arc, but even it is quite bare-bones.

And everything — well, everything except my basic premise and main character — is up for discussion as I move along.

Perhaps there won’t be a visit to see the world’s largest ball of string, and maybe my female protagonist won’t meet George Strait in a men’s room in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hmmm . . .

It’s time for you to join in the discussion. What kind of protagonist would you like to see in a novel? What would you like to see him or her do? 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

One for the Books

Despite the fact that I'm not and never have been Catholic, I've been giving up something for Lent for most of my life.

When I was in grade school, I gave up things like candy, bothering my older sister, and biting my nails. One year during high school I gave up television, and at least one year in college I gave up alcoholic beverages. As an adult, I've given up things like meat, Facebook, and sugar.

This year, as I contemplated what I might give up for Lent, one thing came to my mind right away.

It's something I've never even considered sacrificing, and when it did pop into my head last week, I at first immediately dismissed it as impossible, even ludicrous.

Because to give up books (except for spiritual or work-related purposes) is as unthinkable to me as being asked to give up the use of my right arm!

I've loved books since learning to read at age 4.

For a variety of reasons, they have been, outside of time spent with my children and late-husband, my #1 source of entertainment.

More importantly, books have been my primary way of relaxing, my primary escape from the world.

And in the last 7 or so years, I've turned to them more and more, to the point that I've let other, very important, even crucial things fall by the wayside.

I just realized, as I was typing that last sentence, that this will be my 60th Lent.

I think that calls for a true sacrifice as I replicate in my own small way Christ' 40 days of fasting in the desert and as I prepare for the greatest of all sacrifices that we recognize on Good Friday.

No doubt this will be my most challenging Lent ever.

Hopefully, it will be the most life-changing.

What about you? Are you giving up something for Lent? Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Wrinkles and Time

Last week, when washing my face before going to bed, I was surprised to see that somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, one of my formerly-slight crow's feet had become much more distinct.

It reminded me of the afternoon last summer when I looked at my face in my rearview mirror and, in the bright sunshine, saw a host of wrinkles that I hadn't noticed when looking in my bathroom mirror.

In both of these situations, I was initially disconcerted. Most of the inevitable changes that time has brought to my body are, for the most part, hidden by clothing most of the time.

But these wrinkles? They're right there, smack-dab in front of me every time I wash my face or brush my teeth or just glance into a mirror as I pass by.

I don't like them.

I tried reminding myself of something I've read time and again. That people with dry skin --  hence fewer pimples and other skin issues during adolescence -- are more wrinkle-prone than folks with oily skin, who dealt with skin issues back in their teens. I had blemish-free skin in high school and college, I tell myself, so just appreciate that and don't worry about these silly wrinkles.

In all honesty, telling myself that didn't really help. I still wanted these wrinkles gone!

I noticed that smiling made the eye-wrinkles (aka crow's feet) more pronounced. Research of reputable sources indicate that, indeed, "habitual
expressions such as smiling" is a cause of wrinkles.

I'm happy to say that I smile quite often. Life has given me lots to smile about, lots to laugh about.

So many moments with my late husband, my son and daughter, friends, and students that caused me to smile, to grin, to chuckle, to laugh until I cried.

I don't regret a single smile, a single moment of laughter.

And so, I've come to terms with the laugh lines that accent my eyes.

But what about those darned lines that mark my cheeks?

Those don't come from something as wonderful as smiles and laughter.

No, they come from a childhood spent outdoors, riding my bike and playing hopscotch and "Mother, May I?" with my friends. They come from untold hours spent playing softball with a group of girls that worked hard and had fun doing it. They come from hours spent by the pool with friends, talking about life and boys and dreams. They come from countless hours spent watching my children at swim lessons and softball games and soccer games and baseball games and playing in the park. They come from days spent as a family camping and at amusement parks and beaches and sightseeing.

They reflect the life I have lived. A life spent with some amazingly wonderful people and doing innumerable wonderful things.

And even if the price I must pay now is wrinkles, if I could go back and do it again . . .

I wouldn't change a thing.

What do you see when you look at your face in the mirror? What story does your face tell? Please join in the discussion by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Story Would Your Book Tell?

I stumbled across this image this past week and immediately saved it as my phone's wallpaper and screensaver.

It appeals to me in part because I am a writer.

But it speaks to me even more because I'm a reader. A reader who sometimes is frustrated by finding the same-old, same-old when I read a dust jacket or amazon.com blurb.

Oh, I know that the Good Book says (in Ecclesiastes) that "there is no new thing under the sun". Truth be told, there probably is a finite number of   plot lines.

Boy meets girl; fate/someone else intervenes; boy and girl part; love conquers all and boy and girl reunite. Everyone loves a happy ending.

Or, if it's written by one of a couple of current writers who have made a living on same-story, different-name and different-catastrophic illness plots, it's a tear-jerker.

Boy meets girl; boy or girl either has or is soon diagnosed with a terminal disease; said boy or girl passes away.

Then there's the often-tried story line in which boy has girl; boy cheats on girl; girl finds out and leaves boy, retiring to a beach cottage she recently inherited from her aunt; girl meets good-looking widower with small child living in cottage next door . . .

I think you get the idea.

But even though there may be only a certain number of plots, it sure would be nice if so many current writers didn't use almost the exact same elements in their execution!

I want something different. And so, I'm going to write something different!

My book won't have a beach cottage or a handsome new next-door-neighbor. There won't be a book club that meets once a month on Wednesday night. Or a group of sisters meeting at their family
home -- or beach cottage -- one more time before selling it now that their parents have passed on.

My book likely won't be published (the publishing world is a hard one to break into these days), but that's okay. I think Ms Blume is right, and I'm going to heed her words.

I'm going to write the book that I can't find on the shelf.

So . . . what is the book you can't find on the shelf?  The book you'd like to read?

Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts and ideas via a comment below. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One Year: What Would You Do?

What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence?

That subject line in my email inbox made my heart kick up a notch for just a few seconds one day last week. A quick glance at the sender's name, however, informed me that the accompanying message wasn't my current employer offering me the opportunity to take a year off with pay. {sigh}

Even though my budgeted time for dealing with email was limited, I was intrigued. The question was, to some degree, related to the question that has been the focus of my life and of my writing the past several years: "What am I going to do with my new, unexpected life as a widow?"

I was intrigued enough to open the email and read further. I wasn't surprised that the message had numerous links to videos and workshops and resources. Altogether, they comprised a well-constructed and attractive labyrinth of paths, each leading to the proverbial cheese: an 8-part webinar workshop for a "select number of very special people" (presumably including me) who are ready to "discover the secrets of unlimited wealth through passive income".

This email, along with the handful of others that had somehow escaped my spam filters, was deleted.

The question, however, hovered around the periphery of my mind for days.

I knew what the answer was. It was the same answer that I doggedly gave grade-school teachers when asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?"

(Well, there was the one time in 1st or 2nd grade that I cheerfully asserted, "Become a nun!" to the surprise of my non-Catholic pastor, who was visiting my parochial-school classroom. But that's a story for another day.)

What would I do with one year's paid leave of absence?

I would write.

I would stop dabbling and dancing around and saying I'm a writer and playing at writing and attending conferences. Instead, I would write.

A book.

And so . . . I will.

Alas, I won't be taking a year's leave of absence. I won't be closeting myself in a drafty garrett to write, hunched over my laptop; nor will I retire to a beach cottage where the sound of waves pounding the sandy shore provide a soundtrack to hours of writing fueled by oversized mugs of hot Earl Gray tea.

No, I'll be here in my small Southeast Missouri home, writing in bits and snatches as my job and other necessities of life allow.

I hope you'll join me here every Tuesday morning as I sit back with a mug of hot tea (or glass of iced sweet tea once this wretched cold weather is past) and take a break, share how the journey is going, and provide snippets about my work in progress.

I'd love for you to join in the conversation by posting a comment.  What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence? I can't wait to hear your response. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Keepin' It Simple . . . Right?

According to many sociologists, the #1 resolution made by Americans every year is to get into shape.

Judging by the number of folks I saw when I went to the gym today, that observation is true.  By the way, I didn't make a similar resolution. No, I went to the gym because: 1) my bullet-journal calendar indicated it was "strength-conditioning" day; and 2) the gym was open.

But I have made a resolution. Just one. It's a very simple one, a foundational one.

My resolution for 2018 is this:

      To do my best, one day at a time, to live according to my personal beliefs and values.

See? I told you it was simple.

To do my best. . . That doesn't seem too hard, too complex. I'm not expecting perfection, just my best effort.

one day at a time . . .  I don't have to worry about a 12-month plan with quarterly goals and a weekly checklist. Just 24 hours. Actually, only the 17 or so that I'm awake and functioning.

to live according to my personal beliefs and values. Well, I have firmly-established, clearly-defined and quite-basic beliefs and values, so all in all, my resolution is pretty straightforward.


Not exactly.

Go back to that last part. It appears so simple, but . . .

living out my beliefs and values in this less-than-perfect, chaotic, often hostile world will no doubt be difficult at times

living out my beliefs and values when my own selfish nature clamors "me, me, me" will mean intentional and deliberate sacrifice

living out my beliefs and values after (let me be perfectly honest here) far too many years of living otherwise has created some strongly-ingrained thought patterns and behaviors that will need to be overcome

Looking ahead, I know without a doubt that just as I failed to accomplish some of my 2017 goals, there will be moments, even days, in 2018 where I don't living according to my beliefs and values.

I can live with that.

But not trying? I can't live with that.

It's simply not an option.

What about you? Did you make any resolutions for 2018? I hope you'll share (as you feel comfortable, of course) through a comment below your resolutions or goals or plans for 2018. 

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