Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that inversion poses are where it’s at in yoga, and the handstand is king.  A notch down from the handstand is a head stand.  I can do neither.  However, this week in “yoga for a grade” I learned a pose that serves as a stepping stone toward a true head stand.   Tripod balance pose.   It’s not the most comfortable pose, certainly not the most elegant, and I wasn’t able to hold it for very long, but I did it.  And that’s all that matters to me.

…that sometime when I wasn’t looking, my daughter discovered that she likes my t-shirts.  I’m not sure which I’m more upset about, the fact that she is borrowing my clothes or that they actually fit her.

…that traffic will invariably flow contradictory to my immediate needs.

…that my daughter has been asked to the Spring dance at her middle school – and she’s going to go!  Last time she was asked, she declined because she was going to have to – EGADS – wear a dress.  This time around there is a more relaxed dress code.  Good thing, too.  My daughter’s idea of dressing up is a white button up shirt and low top Converse sneakers.

…that as I age, the fit of a good tennis shoe trumps aesthetic.   Recently, I spent two days scouring athletic shoe stores looking for replacement sneakers.  It was a trying process – it always is.  I can’t just walk into a store and buy the first shoe that strikes my fancy.  There are important factors that must be considered.   Do my prescription orthotics fit?  Are they made from natural material or synthetic?  Are they lightweight?  Breathable?  Cross trainer or walker?  Is the tongue thick?  Does it ride too high?  Too low?  Are they narrow across the bridge?  Do my bunions cry out in agony with every step I take?  These are all valid questions that must be asked before committing to such an important purchase.  After torturing a half a dozen salespeople, I finally settled on a pair of Nikes.  I usually steer clear of that particular brand because of their tendency toward a narrow bridge and a thick tongue, but I found a pair that fits all my requirements.  Of course, they are neon pink, likely glow in the dark, and are perhaps the ugliest things I’ve ever put on my feet, but who gives a shit.  They adequately serve their purpose.

…that I didn’t win the Mega Millions Jackpot.  Bummer.

…that five little words of criticism – “not as complete as usual” – written on an in-class discussion assignment will cause me a great amount of internal suffering – indeed, eat at my very soul.  I will obsess over this negative review until it encapsulates my every thought and I’m left with no alternative but to email the professor in an effort to explain my shortcomings as a student.   Of course, the realization that he likely never gave the note a second thought just adds to my level of frustration and humiliation.  I need to learn to let these things go.

Yeah, right.  Who am I trying to kid?

…that I am becoming a photography junkie.  I want to take pictures of everything.  Here’s one I took a couple of days ago of the Knock Out roses in my backyard.

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…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little miniature schnauzer named Bear.  I had the pleasure of spending my Monday with him.  He was rescued from a puppy mill and is up for adoption through a local schnauzer rescue group.  Photograph is courtesy of Efrain Sain, a local photographer, attorney, and musician, who office shares with our law firm.

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Taciturn Thursday

I don’t have much to say today, but I thought I would share a couple more of my photos from this weekend’s romp through the Bluebonnet field.  I’m still trying to figure out the new camera and all that goes with taking a decent photograph.  I think these came out pretty good.  Enjoy.

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I love finding a splash of red in a sea of blue.  This one reminds me of some of my favorite Impressionist paintings.

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What if?

I am outlining my novel, Retribution.

And when I say outlining, I mean outlining, outlining.

The real deal.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that bit of news.  I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone to go into shock-induced cardiac arrest.  I’m pretty sure my homeowner’s policy has no coverage stipulation for that.

I am no great proponent of the outline.  I think it’s a big old waste of time, and have successfully avoided squandering precious minutes of my life doing it.  I like to go with the flow, see where the ideas take me.  To do this, I employ a simple shell method.  I think of it as something that perhaps contains an aura of an outline without actually being an outline.

  • Topic
  • key points, usually 3 but sometimes more depending on the document (one word each)
  • Conclusion

That’s it.   I write these three little bullet points on a blank page and then proceed to fill in the paragraphs.  I’ve done it this way for…well…ever.  It has never failed me.

Until I started writing Retribution.

It turns out that it is impossible – for me, anyway – to write a well constructed novel by implementing this tried and true method of leaping before I look to see what lurks at the bottom of the canyon.  I hate it when I’m wrong.

It took a year for me to accept that I was going to have to suck this one up.  It was a year filled with several crying fits, a lot of self-loathing, and a couple of toddler worthy temper tantrums.  In the end, I seceded.  I am stubborn, but I’m not stupid.  I can admit when I’m beat.

As we speak, I am working on that outline.  I’ve received a lot of good advice from my fellow writers.  Some have recommended a few of their own methods, others have suggested certain reference books.  All great ideas which I’ve taken to heart – purchased a book or two.   Somewhere along the way, I came across someone or something – a blog, a writer’s manual, a professor (I can’t remember!  Ugh!) – who used the “what if?” method to dig deeper into their story.

What if Anna did this?

What if Anna did that?

What if Anna’s father said this?

What if Anna’s father injected her with this? And then told her that?  And then died in a fiery ball of twisted metal when a mysterious motorcyclist attached a bomb to the bottom of his moving car?

This intrigued me because “what if?” is a game I love to play while people watching at the gym.  I’ve used it as a prompt, but never considered doing it in this context.  So, I thought to myself:  Self, what if I used this method to write my first quick pass through in preparation for a more thorough outline?

My self agreed that it might be a decent idea.  I tried it out.  I wouldn’t say that I would recommend it for a hard-core outline, but it does get the creative juices flowing.  I’ve breezed my way through to the mid-point of the novel, in just two days.  I even sketched out the climax scene because, in the midst of all of this, I had a stroke of brilliance that could not be contained.  If nothing else, the “what if” exercise was rejuvenating – creatively speaking – and reconnected me with my story.  Just a few months ago, I thought that was an impossibility.

Should I dare to hope?

Could it be possible?

What if…what if I actually make all the way to…

…the end?

Springtime in Texas

This weekend was gorgeous – warm, sunny, and windless.  Springtime perfection.  So perfect, in fact, that for the first time in my life I had the desire to be one of those people who plops their kids down in the middle of a field of Texas Bluebonnets and snaps lots and lots of pictures.

Here are some of the results:

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Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday update

I established three key things in my last couple of Just Write blog entries:  my main character, Anna, is relentless in her quest to have her story told, my novel (as it stands) is a big pile of dog poo, and that it is necessary to start all over if I hope to produce something even remotely interesting.

In the last day or two, I’ve set about trying to figure out where I went wrong.  I am embarrassed – and relieved – to say that it wasn’t all that hard.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I have a foundation problem.  The core inciting incident which is pivotal to this plot driven novel occurs fifteen years too soon.  I arranged the timeline is such a fashion because I felt that it gave my character depth.  This single traumatic incident created the woman she grew to be and dictated her path in life.

Sounds good, right?

Well, at least it sounded good in my head.  On paper – not so much.

Turns out, the time gap destroys the credibility of Anna’s motivation.  If your character has no motivation, you have no story – at least, not one that anyone would waste their time reading.

I have worked pretty consistently this week on a fresh outline.  I am going back to the bare bones with a single sentence tagline, rewritten character profiles, and a basic question and answer sequence in order to sketch out the motivations and obstacles of all involved.

I’ve just started outlining the setup.  I’ve got some good ideas percolating.  So many so that I am fighting the urge to just start writing.  Okay.  I will admit to handwriting one scene, but I promise not to type it until my outline is finished.

IMG_1996This week’s goal = Identify problems; fix problems.

Goal = Met; Problems identified.  Entire story scraped.  New outline started.

Next week’s goal = finish a solid first draft of the setup outline.

Hello, Spring.

I’m not much of a photographer, though I am trying to improve my skills.  A few weeks ago, my husband was kind enough to gift me with my first DSLR – a Canon EOS T2i with a kickin’ telephoto lens.

I’ve been playing around and here are a few of my latest efforts:

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I have lots of room for improvement, but I think I’ve made a good start.

Things I learned this week

“There is no monopoly on common sense, on either side of the political fence.”

– Russians.  Sting, 1985.

I learned this week…

…that the gender of certain species of tortoise is determined by incubation temperature.  Who knew?  Becomingcliche did, that’s who.  Check out her blog for some more fun facts from the reptile house.

…on this day in history, Ronald Reagan said:

“Americans are brothers not because we share the same past and the same ancestry, but because we share the same ideals and the same hopes for the future.”

I think in recent years, we have lost sight of this unifying concept of American brotherhood.  If the current political climate is any indication, I don’t think we are destined to rediscover it any time soon, either.

…that procrastination is an art form that must be nurtured and practiced if one is to become sufficiently proficient.  This weekend I was supposed to write a paper on the socialization process of Palestinian children growing up in the war-torn region of Gaza, specifically Rafah.  Instead, I decided to do a little cleaning – or clearing, if you will.  I completely cleared off my DVR.  Wasted an entire day doing it, too.

…that the film Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is a brilliant and spellbinding Cold War era political thriller.  If you like this sort of thing, which I do, I recommend that carve out a little time to see this one.  You will not be sorry.  It is based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carre.  I will admit that I have not read the novel, and I understand that doing so will give clarity to certain aspects of the movie, however, I didn’t feel that this hindered my overall understanding of the plot.  Check it out.  Or don’t.  Whatever.

Check out bookfilmblog’s review for a better understanding of the film.

…that there was an entire season (to present) of Once Upon a Time episodes piled up in my DVR queue.   I don’t like clutter, therefore, it was necessary (from a mental health standpoint) for me to rectify this situation.  I spent all of this past Sunday watching nothing but episode upon episode of this ABC show.  I initially set the timer for my daughter.  No, really.  I had no intention of giving this show that time of day.  It was about fairy tales and princesses and crap.  I don’t do princesses.  I do murder and intrigue.  My preconceived notions are rarely wrong (stop laughing), but I’ve got to say that this show sucked me in.  Sure, it has a sort of odd dual storyline that takes a bit of getting used to, but it is surprisingly well written and totally unexpected.   I love a show that leaves me gaping at the television in stunned silence.  Example:  Red Riding Hood (in the fairy tale world) is not a victim of the big bad wolf, she IS the wolf – who just ate her own lover.

Whoa.

…that one goes through stages similar to those of grief when coming to terms with failure.  I have moved into the acceptance phase.

I’ve accepted that my novel is crap.

Stay tuned for my Sunday updates (yes, I promise to be better about posting them) as I start the writing process all over again.  I think this time will be better.  It has to be better, right?  Right?  Hello?

***Warning – Pet Peeve of the Week***

…that I am a stickler for personal space.   Johnny Castle once said:

“This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine.”

That Johnny Castle was a smart guy.  Cute, too.

I digress.

I was patiently waiting for the cute little girl at Target to ring up my purchases the other day.   Beep, beep, beep.  As I waited, a woman, not much older than me, pushed her buggy into line behind me, unloaded her groceries, and then came to stand next to me.  Right next to me.  I mean, so close that our elbows brushed.  It was all I could to keep myself from having one of those impulsive ticks.  You know, the one where your fist balls up all by itself and clocks the person standing next to you.

…and finally, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little…um…rodent.  Hamster?  Kangaroo mouse?  I don’t really know what it is, but it sure is cute.  I also do not have the original source, and I sort of think it may have been manipulated, but I don’t care about all that nonsense.  It’s cute.  It made me smile.  That’s all that matters.


Just Write: Starting over

Anna and her story of retribution will not leave me in peace.  In my last entry, I finally acknowledged her incessant chatter as something that will not cease until I’ve made good on my promise to give her the story she deserves.

Yesterday, I dusted off the binder that holds Retribution’s character sketches, rough outline and 154 pages of completed scenes and chapters.  At the suggestion of my friend over at Word Flows, I set about to figure out what worked and what didn’t.  Within minutes, I had my answer  –  the inciting incident in Anna’s childhood, the timing and manner of her father’s death, the impact that these events have on her motivation and the timeline of the story doesn’t work.  In short, its entire foundation is faulty.

On the surface, it really does appear that this story is a lost cause and deserving of the recycling bin.  However, Anna is a character that has evolved from a two-dimensional idea on paper into this larger than life presence that is my constant companion.  Anna is more tangible than ever to me, and I find that abandoning her would be like walking away from my child.   I guess, in a sense, she is my child.  I have given birth to her, nurtured her, molded her.  How can I possibly walk away now?

I can’t.

So, with that established and the problem identified, the question now is what to do about it?

I think the answer is quite simple.

I must start over.

Just Write: All roads lead back to Baku

At the beginning of the year, I set out to make a sizable dent in my novel, Retribution.  In the process, I discovered that my story sucked.   As the novel stood, it was riddled with holes and contradictions.  It was over-simplified in places, too complicated in others.  It was a completely unworkable piece of garbage.

Coming to that conclusion was painful.   I was left feeling beaten and discouraged.    So, I did what any self-respecting writer would do when faced with such a situation.  I set the manuscript on fire in my outdoor barbecue and I walked away.

Oh, wait.  That’s only me?  Real writers don’t do that?

My bad.

When I walked away, I felt relieved.  It was like a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulder.  I carried forward the hope that my creativity would once again flow freely, and I could move on to something fresh and exciting.  All I wanted to do was put this failure firmly behind me.

For a while, that’s exactly what I did – moved on.  I roughly sketched out a new story idea with a protagonist inspired by a brilliant, young biologist I know.  She has long intrigued me and it seemed like the perfect time to explore the idea of her further.   I have eight solid chapters and an opening sequence outlined.

Progress!  I’m on my way.

Right?

Wrong.

I haven’t touched this new story – I’ve tentatively entitled it The Faction – in a month.  Hell, I haven’t even told my writing group about it.

Why?

Because I can’t concentrate on it.  I find that I am holding back, hesitating.  I can’t seem to allow the story to envelop me, take root, and grow.

Why?

Because Anna won’t leave me the hell alone.

It began with a whisper –  feather soft, barely audible, across my ear.  Just a passing word carried on the wind.  Then, the noise began to build.  Its invocation more demanding, more imperious.  That whisper evolved.  Soon it turned from a hushed hum into a deafening roar inside my head.  At every turn Anna screamed at me.  She taunted me, cursed me, begged me to tell her story; to finish what I had started, to give her the vengeance that she seeks so that she may finally know peace.

I am not a spiritual person by nature, but I am superstitious and hold to the belief that there are things in this life that happen because they were meant to be.  I thought Retribution was dead.  I thought I had buried Anna and her secrets, but somehow the road has led me back to her.

Back to Baku, where her story began and where I must begin anew.  It seems Anna will not rest until I have given her what she desires most.

Retribution.

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Things I learned this week…and last week…

…that the need for a vacation from the vacation is a sign that said vacation was a smashing success.   I just wish the vacation recovery stage came with a pitcher of margaritas and a laundry fairy.

…that I much prefer the beginning of daylight savings time to the end.   You might think that this is just another one of my many irrationalities, but my reasoning, for once, is actually quite sound.  I have an internal clock.   I’m sure you have one, too.  I call mine the Beast.  He’s a snarky little bastard who lacks the ability to adequately adapt to changes in time.  While everyone else is hailing the extra hour of sleep they get in the fall, I am wide awake, staring at the bedside clock, cursing the Beast – and my husband who is happily snoring his way through dreamland oblivious to my plight.  In the spring, when the clocks leap forward an hour, the Beast and I again find a sort of harmony.  He lets me sleep until 4 a.m. and I stop trying to goad my phobia troll into pushing him down the stairs.

…that People Magazine, MSNBC, and Entertainment Weekly all tell me that the film remake/reboot – whatever – of the late 80s television show 21 Jumpstreet doesn’t suck.  Bite me.   What happened in the 80s should stay in the 80s.  Hollywood needs to stop re-imagining the films and television shows that shaped my adolescence.

…that Sea World San Antonio will require all potential patrons to navigate three distinct lines before they are deemed worthy of entrance to the park.  This sort of reminds me of the three challenges Indiana Jones faced in Petra during his quest for the Holy Grail.

…that there is nothing more relaxing than sitting on a bench, beneath a towering old live oak, and watching squirrels frolic through its branches.

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…that the animals are coming out to play again.  And by play I mean take over the world and relegate the surviving population to a small cornfield in Iowa – a fate worse than death, I assure you.  In the last two weeks, there have been four shark attacks along Florida’s Atlantic coast.   Luckily, all of the victims survived; however, when considering the close proximity of the attacks, one can’t help but wonder if this is part of a larger recon mission aimed at testing our east coast defenses.

…that sharks aren’t the only animals taking a bite out of the human race this week.  In Orlando, a woman out walking her dog this morning, was bitten on the rump by a bear.  Yes.  Bitten on her butt.  By a bear.  Clearly, Florida is a hotbed of animal revolutionary activity.  I am making a mental note to avoid the state for the foreseeable future.  You can read more of her story [here].

…that you know its time for a complete scene rewrite when your writing group asks if your featured character is a transvestite (he is not) and then proceeds to giggle themselves senseless at a string of sexual innuendos you failed to notice during the writing process.  I love my writing group.  They are the best friend who tells you all those things you don’t  really want to hear, but for your own good, must:  “Yes, your ass looks fat in those skinny jeans.”

…last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little guy who was a great source of entertainment for me while I sat in a San Antonio park this past weekend, enjoying the beauty of life.

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Things I learned this week…

I learned this week…

…that “yoga for a grade” is the gift that keeps on giving.  I realize that perhaps I am beating a proverbial dead horse with this one, but good grief, in every class something jaw-droppingly fabulous/horrific occurs.  I can’t sit idly by and not write about it.  So, please, bear with me.  The end of the semester will come soon enough.

…that, in keeping with the above theme, my yoga instructor’s idea of a quiz is my worst nightmare.  Last week, she gave us a nifty little handout with elementary drawings of various poses and a listing of their correct names.  We could expect our first quiz the following week [this week].  Okay.  No big deal, after all, this is a “for grade” course.  Grades have to come from somewhere.  So, on quiz day, she comes in five minutes late, disheveled, and lugging a stack of unorganized copy paper.  She proceeds to sit down on the floor, in a graceful position only a seasoned dancer could muster, and pulls out a pair of scissors.  We all sat on our mats staring at her, confused by her odd behavior.  She didn’t keep us in suspense for long.  As she cut a single sheet of paper into thin strips, she leveled the room with a bomb of such magnitude that its reverberation could be felt clear to the Oklahoma state line.  Our quiz, it turns out, would not entail a grouping of pictures and a word bank – as so promised.  It wouldn’t even have anything to do with the handout she provided to us.  No, instead we would be required to demonstrate an assigned pose at the front of the class, with the wall of shame mirrors at our backs.  Holy shit batman, shoot me now.  I count myself as one who came out of this horrifying experience largely unscathed.  While I did receive the dreaded number one slot, I escaped any real humiliation.  My pose was simple – Prayer pose.  However, there were those among us who did not fare so well.   I feel quite certain the girl who was saddled with the dreaded “happy baby” pose is plotting some fantastic revenge.  The glint in her eye at the end of class was downright frightening.

…that today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  I did know this, but I didn’t remember until I stumbled across the headline on my favorite news outlet’s website.  Of course, the headline also asked readers to vote for their top pick of Seuss movies.  This kinda irked me.   Dr. Seuss wrote books.  I think it would be a more interesting poll, and one truer to the memory of Seuss’ legacy, to ask readers to give the name of their favorite book.  So, I ask:  What is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?  Mine is And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. 

…that there is a “war on women” brewing in this country.  Though, I can’t help but wonder if it is all just an elaborate smoke screen fabricated to distract voters from the fact that none of this country’s politicians – and I mean none of them – know what the heck they are doing.

…that this week the great State of Texas will celebrate 176 years of independence.   I’m not a native Texan.  I was born in Florida to parents that hail from New England.  My father was in the military so I’ve lived in my share of locations – some of them wildly wonderful, some of them not so much.  Of them all,  Texas is by far the most unique place I’ve ever called home.  I didn’t always feel that way, but once the culture shock wore off, I got a whiff of something in the air – something intangible.  Something that smelled a lot like pride.   There is an independent spirit here that transcends even national patriotism.  Don’t get me wrong, Texans have a deep love for their country, they just love their state a smidgen more.   It’s an infectious thing.   I can’t imagine living anywhere else.   Well…of course, that is unless the American people jump the shark and elect Newt or Rick to the presidency.  If that happens, I’m moving back to Europe.  Texas independent spirit and pride be damned.

…that Davy Jones died.  I’ve long maintained that the 60s produced some of the greatest Rock & Roll music ever attributed to the genre.  I don’t care if you agree with my assessment or not.  I know good music when I hear it.   Now, I will admit that The Monkeys pale in comparison to say…the Beatles, but they are still relevant to the overall cultural phenomenon of the musical era.  Plus, they were just great fun.  Davy Jones will be missed.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable kitty.  Is he stuck?  Is he stalking you?  I don’t know, but I bet if you venture a little closer, you’re sure to find out.

***Big thanks to Bill Chance for providing me with this link:

Source:  http://s3.amazonaws.com/data.tumblr.com/tumblr_ltdqe7UarB1qds2rfo1_1280.jpg?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ6IHWSU3BX3X7X3Q&Expires=1330761447&Signature=Y11SR21KH5EFC3SFOnYUiJaqpGo%3D