Blog: Balla Waxing

Time to Play

I remember a quote from Ben Franklin, something to the effect that clothes do not make the man. Or is it that clothes do make the man? Whichever it is, I’ve noticed that what I wear makes a difference, not only in my moods, but in the way I write. That bit of information has opened up a whole new aspect to the art of writing. An aspect I’ve not to date found in any of the writing how-to’s upon which I’ve spent beaucoup bucks.

When my writing time happens to be in the early morning, and I’m still in my cotton knit, duckie-patterned pajamas and fluffy yellow house slippers, I tend to write in a relaxed, casual voice. I’m more inclined to be humorous, and to use words of two or less syllables. But when my writing time takes place in the evening, and I’m still wearing my work clothes, the voice tends to be more stilted, perhaps a bit faux, and the vocabulary tends toward the more cerebral.

The really neat thing about this discovery is that I’ve encountered wonderful facets of my Writer’s Voice that I didn’t know existed. The in-the-moment Voice of a child meets the Therapist’s clinical Voice, meets the Professional Musician’s Creative. Although I’ve not yet worked up the courage to write in the buff (small children live next door), I have decided to play dress-up whenever I’m blocked for grist.

This evening (Freud notwithstanding), I’m going to don my husband’s tuxedo, complete with cummerbund, cufflinks and silk tie. Who knows what my psyche will toss into the sunlight of my conscious mind. Might be worth finding out.

The Writer’s Muse

Where do writers find their inspiration? That depends on the writer. What works as a scintillating muse for one, is not even memorable for another.

As for me, I listen to people. I don’t mean I exploit what people tell me in confidence. I don’t, as the late author of Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Suzanne admitted to doing, write whatever juicy tidbits my big-mouthed friends tell me, omitting only their names. My muse comes to me as I  overhear strangers chatting in public venues. And of course, I take copious notes on a steno pad without which I never leave home.

For example, a few weeks ago I went to east Texas to visit my sister. While waiting for our breakfast at a locally famous biscuits and gravy café, I overheard a wizened old cowboy (at least I think he was old – it’s hard, short of carbon dating, to determine someone’s age who’s been working outside in the sun for umpteen years), flirting with the attractive, middle-aged waitress.

The crusty old cowboy said, “You ever been married?” The waitress said, “I was once, but I didn’t remember it.” The cowboy looked thoughtful, and then in a droll voice said, “Seems like that’s the kind of thing a person’d want to keep track of.”

Manna from Heaven.

To Keyboard, or Not To Keyboard

 

Each writer has her own preference for getting her story out of her head and into some kind of useable form. Some dictate into a recording device, a few continue to use an ancient manual typewriter, and some pound out their first draft onto a computer – a laptop, or any one of several other modern marvels. But some insist, as is my favorite, the only way they can truly free up their inner Creative is by writing their first draft out by hand with pen and paper.

I’m not against availing myself of the marvelous speed and readability of word processing. In fact, my laptop and I have an understanding: I keep her downloads updated, don’t overtax her battery, periodically air-clean her keyboard, use only the recommended cleaner for her screen, and promise not to allow my dog to chew on her power cord. She, in turn, acts as my assembly line, allowing me to blissfully edit and re-write my first draft to my heart’s content.

But after trying all the other venues, I now never use my laptop for my first draft. There is something about forming each letter with a stylus of my choosing, something about building words, and then sentences and paragraphs that is, in itself, creative. I love seeing each letter take shape, flowing from the tip of my blue, rolling ball ink pen (always blue, never black or other color), and onto the white beckoning expanse of unlined paper. That process brings with it a sense of actually building something from nothing – of plucking something as yet unformed out of the ether. Handwriting is certainly slower than typing, but that is its beauty. The act of shaping each letter gives the midwife/writer time to savor each word as it is birthed.

The act of word processing, on the other hand, requires an entirely different set of motor skills. Different segments of our brains are accessed by pounding out letters whole than are involved by creating them one stroke at a time. When I write by hand, my whole being is involved – my body, mind, and spirit. And that difference is, in my opinion, always reflected in the finished product. It’s the difference between purchasing a frozen cherry pie and making one from scratch: frozen tastes okay, but scratch has a flavor that cannot be mimicked.

The Four People I DON’T Want to See in Heaven

The Four People I Don’t Want To See In Heaven

To clarify, it’s not that I think these people should be banned from entering the Pearly Gates. In fact, I hope they all arrive in Heaven happily and to great fanfare when it’s time for them to do so. I just don’t want to run into them there.

The first person who comes to mind is my ex-mother-in-law. Although I don’t want to see her in Heaven, I DO want her to see me. Because that’s the last place she would expect me to put in an appearance.

Next, is Elizabeth Taylor. Having been raised on Ms. Taylor’s movies, from National Velvet, to Butterfield Eight, to Cleopatra, I was in awe of her grace and exquisite beauty. A goddess on earth, how much more lovely will she be when cloaked in her Heavenly garments? I can’t imagine the sunshine of my afterlife being clouded by feelings of abject inadequacy.

And I don’t want to see my first grade teacher Mrs. Holt. It’s not that she was a bad teacher. She was extraordinary. She taught me to read and write, opening worlds to me I never dreamed existed. But she was a perfectionist. I shudder at the thought of constantly being told to stand up straight, stay in line, and stop talking, lest she report me to the Principal.

And finally, I don’t want to see David Brown. David was in my third grade class. He lived just up the street from me, so we often walked home at about the same time.

One afternoon after school, David offered to show me His Bits if I would show him Mine. Never having seen that particular part of male anatomy before, I figured that sounded like a great idea. I told David to go first, and he did. However, being raised in an extremely conservative household, I had second thoughts about my end of the bargain. Modesty won out, and after completing my observations, I turned and ran home as fast as my eight year-old legs would carry me, leaving an undoubtedly wiser David with his pants around his ankles.

So, if allowed, I’d like to request that if any of these four people see me in my perambulations down the streets of gold, they do me a favor and make a quick detour down a side street. Or duck into an open doorway. It will be a good deed, and save us all some uncomfortable moments.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Just home from nine days with grandkids. What fun! Only downside is it rained all the time, until the final day, so we had to find stuff to do.

Didn’t bring my laptop, so couldn’t post until now. I won’t leave it home again.

I could wax philosophical about how Time is changing their little personalities, changing their outlooks, exposing their inner-most processes. But that would be maudlin – something that’s not allowed in my world. However, it was great fun to see how they are maturing into beautiful young people. I’m blessed.

Prayers for Sylvia

Over the past forty-five years, I’ve played the piano and sung for countless funerals. Most of them have long since blurred into the morass of my long-term memory. A couple of them stand out as being particularly tragic or sad. But the funeral for which I played and sang today struck a chord in my soul that I’ve never before felt.

Today’s funeral was for an elderly man who died of cancer. He was survived by his wife of fifty one years, who also has cancer. Sadly, this kind of funeral is not unusual. But nearly one year ago, I played and sang for the funeral of this couple’s fifty year-old daughter, who was their live-in caregiver. She also died of cancer, leaving her ailing parents alone to struggle with their illness.

And today I sat on the dais and studied the face of the mother/wife, the only one of the three left. I’ve seen hysterical, moaning, cursing, and even drunk family members at funerals. I’ve seen family members who were bored silly and wishing they were anywhere else but in church. But never before have I seen an expression like the one on this woman’s face.

Frail, pale, ill, and broken, she didn’t cry. She looked neither to the left nor to the right, but stared straight ahead. She looked as if her heart had been slowly crushed to powder, and then blown away by some poisonous gust.

She must certainly know it will not be much longer before the Pastor will speak the words for her that he has spoken for her husband and daughter. That thought has surely come to her, especially at night as she lies alone, staring up into the darkness.

So today, I’ll offer up prayers for Sylvia. And tomorrow I’ll send her a card with a note inside. I’ll tell her my heart breaks for her, and that I’m thinking of her. But mostly, I’ll pray for her to have courage in the face of whatever comes next. Courage, and peace.

 

A Writer’s Orientation

Psychologists tell us there are two types of people when it comes to achieving things: some folks are goal oriented, others are process oriented. The goal oriented couldn’t care less about how they get where they need to go, they just want to get there. They make the process folks a little crazy. The process oriented focus on the how and why, figuring the goal will naturally follow their well-laid-plans. These people drive the goal oriented folks absolutely bonkers. Both styles have merit. Both have drawbacks. But both are necessary to make things work well. I’ve come to believe it’s no different with writing.

Me – I have a goal oriented personality. It could be genetic, given my Pop’s driven nature, but I want to get to the end line – I want to achieve the goal. I hate, with a capital aich, the whole process: let’s talk about how we’re going to do it, let’s make a list, then let’s talk some more, then maybe sometime next year we’ll get around to doing something. I just want to, to quote Larry the Cable Guy, git ‘er done.

Of course, my goal-focused personality drives the way I write. I can write a five hundred word hook, and then go straight for the jugular. None of this “how do you feel about that?” or “let’s get everyone’s feedback and then make a plan,” stuff.

However, lately I’ve been suspecting there’s more to the whole process approach than I’d originally thought. Some of my characters are beginning to show their teeth, insisting I take a deeper look at the why’s and how’s.

Ever the lifetime learner, I’ve decided to massage the tiny, raisin-like part of my brain that makes plans. We’ll see where that takes us. Who knows, maybe I’ll even craft an outline of my next novel. Maybe.

Smart Technology: Friend or Frankenstein?

Recently, a news commentator voiced some concerns about smart technology. He stated that the phones, pads, books, GPS, and other devices can easily be tracked, pretty much anywhere in the world. The good news is that the possessor of such devices can never get completely lost. But the down side is that, as long as the item is in one’s possession, one can never be truly alone.

There are dozens of aps available for the innumerable devices out there, the continuing technological advances of which render them obsolete before they even hit the store shelves. Consider this: retinal scans, voice and facial recognition, eavesdropping devices (how do you think television ratings are tabulated?), all have been in use for years. They’re way outdated. Want to guess what fun tricks the technology is up to at this minute? Neither do I.

Want to call your mom? You no longer have to put your index finger into the hole of a rotary dial; just speak her name into your phone, and voila, it’s Mom time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when my children or grandchildren call. I cannot get enough of hearing their voices, any time or any place. But I do not appreciate getting calls from telemarketers when I’m trying to hammer out my daily page quota. And I don’t like the feeling that BIG BROTHER is listening to me, waiting for me to say or write any of the trigger words that would cause them to train their Cyclops eye on my life, or the lives of my friends and family. A friend with a security clearance tells me even this blog will be mechanically scrutinized.

So, here’s a message to anyone reading this: I’m not subversive. I’m just a Wife, Mom, Stepmom, Grandma, Great-grandma, Retired Educator, and Church Musician who wonders where all this is taking us.

My Personal Writer’s Code of Ethics

How will my writing affect my readers? And how much should I care? Those concerns ginned up such fear of the potentially disastrous side effects of my stories, I nearly gave up writing. The basic question is: What do I want my readers to take away from my writing?

Scenes of violence come easily to me. But like prunes, how much is too much? Is graphic realism necessary to the story? In order to appease my internal Censor, I have had to identify what level of realism I owe my readers, and find ways to harmonize that realism with the freedom of expression I owe my writer self.

Some writer friends have told me not to fight the darkness, to embrace it, give myself over to it, and then write about it. One well-meaning friend even suggested I watch a couple of Slasher films and allow myself to identify with the hollow-souled perpetrator. While that approach might produce something more marketable than my own, it’s not for me. It’s simply not where I want to spend any of my life-time.

So, I will indeed continue to write about the dark side of human nature. But I will do it in keeping with my Code. If my internal Censor tones down the graphics a bit, and my writing ends up smacking of Agatha Christie, so be it. In the words of my deceased father, I don’t have to tell everything I know.

Retrospective

I just turned sixty-two, and have been ruminating about what direction my life path has taken so far. A recent health scare has acted as a catalyst for the introspection – that and the fact that my forty-fifth high school reunion is coming up this summer. Forty-five years since graduation, and so much water under the bridge. Would I do things differently, if offered the chance? Some, but surprisingly, not a lot.

Things I would change? I would appreciate my parents more openly (Mom was my greatest fan, and personified absolute, unconditional love, and Pop wanted me to have a good life.); I would be a more conscientious student (never had to study much, so just floated along); I would take better care of my body – the vehicle that’s brought me thus far; I’d worry less about the future (said with the realization that hind-sight is better, etc.); and I would make some different choices in raising my three sweet sons.

But there are some things I would not change for any amount of money, fame, or anything else this life has to offer. I would not change who my parents were – they did the best they could do to teach me the Faith, and to see to it that I got a college education; I’d not change the timing of anything in my life – the timing has been perfect to get me to who I am in the present; and I’d not change anything about my strong, intelligent, loving, generous, and hard-working sons. Of course, I’d not change one thing about my incredible daughters-in-law, the mothers of my astounding grandchildren, two of whom have made me a great grandmother. And finally, I’d not trade my wonderful, loving, supportive husband, and the children and grandchildren he has added to fill out the gestalt of our shared life – the children who have welcomed me with such generosity of spirit and kind acceptance.

In general, I’m thankful for who and where I am. I don’t know if there is such a phenomenon as “Fate,” but if so, hats off. Whatever the future holds, I’m grateful to have made it this far. And I’m exceedingly grateful for today.