Friday, July 30, 2010

What Can You Do?

Marta, 2010

mwrites is on a quest to make us feel good about ourselves with her How-To Series. She says:

"the how-to series was created to encourage confidence in creativity. to focus on what we can do rather than what we can't. i am excited to showcase your talents and unique ideas."
'Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.'
- John Wooden

She invited her readers to send a guest post on something they know how to do. They responded big time, with how-to posts on a huge variety of topics: how to cut a birthday cake, how to cope with losing a baby, how to photograph a child, how to shop for swimsuits and many more.

Today I was featured. I explained How to make an Oma kit. Check it out, and think about the hundreds of things you know how to do. (We're all pretty awesome in our own way.)

Marta and Marty show how to eat dough.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grandkid Time

Oma and Opa
"The Opi's"

July has been a Grand month—
grandkids have come from far and near to entertain the Opis.

Oma: Do you know how to work our remote?
Mack: Are you kidding? I'm a child of technology!

Oma: When I was little we didn't have a hair dryer, so I wore curlers to bed.
Lucy: Was that back in the '90's?

Opa: We'll leave at 8 o'clock a.m.
McKay: Uh-oh. That's not Oma's happy hour.

Actually, any hour with this group is my happy hour. They show me how to work an iPad and how to play Rock Band on the Wii, and I show them how to play jacks. (The age of technology meets the dark ages.) Here's the grand run-down:

An old-fashioned water park.

Sprinklers, squirt guns and wading pools.
(Notice the queue for the water slide.)

Followed by Heidi's homemade pies.

Cat's Cradle:

A loop of string captivated their attention,
for hours. Literally!

They watched each other until they caught on,
and then they partnered up.

A production of Bye, Bye Birdie
in the local park.

These girls invited me to the live performance. It's one of their favorite movies. Chelsea said, "I have all the songs on my iPod." Lucy said, "Her iPod doesn't even work." "But I still know all the songs," retorted Chelsea.

Halfway through the play Lucy said, "I thought Dick Van Dyke was supposed to be in this."

Clapping Games:

Like playing the banjo and whistling with my fingers,
this is a skill I've always wanted but never had.

But I remember all the chants:

Say, say oh playmate
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Slide down my rain barrel
Into my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
Forever more - more - shut the door!

Say, say oh playmate,
I cannot play with you.
My dolly has the flu,
Boohoo, hoohoo, hoo, hoo.
Ain't got no rain barrel,
Ain't got no cellar door.
But we'll be jolly friends,
Forever more, more, shut the door!

One of the grand responsibilities of grandparent-hood is passing on some old-fashioned traditions. You know, from the 90's.


We're going to try this in August.

P.S. All these activities happened because of our fabulous kids. The only thing I contributed was the string.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Idaho Wheat

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together,

Certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,

Keep what is worth keeping,

And with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
---Dinah Craik

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Novel Post

Oma at work

Your whole novel is right inside your computer. You just have to be able to hit the keys in the right order. Lately I feel like I'm squeezing words out of rocks. (Dee says that means my writing is solid.) I've got about 170 pages so far. Here's a little sample:

Jack and Big Red

An excerpt from

Son of a Gun

Marty Halverson

Greenville was a two-day ride through sage and Indian paintbrush. Jack reversed his bandanna and pulled it above his nose to cut the trail dust, and settled down to the long day’s grind. The coolness of night had gone completely from the desert, and sunlight began to bite his skin.

After collecting his wages from Luke Gollaher, he’d strapped his possibles sack and bedroll on Big Red, and set off before dawn. At noon he threw off for an hour, eating cold bacon and bread by the wet seep of a spring.

“Red, what would Mama think of us now?” Jack always talked to his horse when they were far from civilization. She listened well, and seemed to bounce back the responses he was hoping for.

“She’d have me hell-bound for killing a man. I’ve done most of God’s sins. Heck, after Indian Joe I’ve prob’ly done ‘em all. But here I sit, as fresh and fit as a boy could be. No devils with little pitchforks after us, far as I can tell. Maybe Mama was wrong about God caring about all that.” Heat crowded around him, and the soil glittered between its patches of rock and dried bunchgrass. “Or maybe God just don’t care much about me.”

To the west the desert looked smoky with dark, dry clouds; to the east the near-by buttes baked, barren and arid. Twice riders appeared in the far distance, stirring up vague spirals of dust. In the middle of the afternoon a band of antelope scudded down a sterile draw and crossed the trail with the speed of gusty wind, racing into the desert. Four piled cattle skulls marked the turning to Greenville. At dusk of that long day Jack came to a shallow crossing of the Brazos that lay half-hidden in the junipers.

After a supper of bacon and canned tomatoes, he settled back to smoke away the last of the day’s light. The stars were shining out of a black sky and the night wind turned quite cold. Wilderness winds and coyotes were calling out of the near hills. Jack’s thoughts ran freely and odd, and a little sad.

Pressed in by the dark a man’s mind gets close to his mortal questions. It wasn’t often that Jack thought of his mother, but he remembered her telling him that large, fragrant, white flowers bloomed on the triangle cactus at night, closing up by morning. He was like that; the stars and moon brought out a tender side in him that also disappeared when the hot sun beat down.

“You miss your mama, Red?” he asked the horse. “She was a pretty one, just like mine was.” The mare only laid full on the ground every other day, and then for just a little while, but tonight Jack had his head propped on her belly. “You think they’re together up there, ridin’ Hank amongst them heavenly clouds?” Big Red snorted and Jack caressed her muzzle.

“Don’t think I could ever love anybody like I did that boy. He put such stock in me . . . shoot . . .” he muttered as he stirred the fire. “I’m getting maudlin, Red.”

Loneliness touched his nerves and got in his bones. “Here I’m talkin’ to a horse!” He took off his boots and stuck them on two sticks to dry out. “Tomorrow I’m lookin’ for a different kind of pony-tail,” he told his only friend.

Jack made good use of the next day’s travel time. Every movement in the purple squaw-weed gave him a target. When a lizard scurried among the black-eyed Susans, he pulled his .45 and sent it flying. At midmorning, he ate some beans, then set the empty can on a tree stump and knocked it off with one bullet. Later, when a diamondback slithered in the scrub brush, Jack’s left finger pulled the trigger. Six shots divided the snake into pre-cut chunks for lunch.

His fast draw seemed to be inborn, but he made the most of it by practicing. He couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t shooting snakes or squirrels, blue jays or black crows. It got so he even let them play his game. If a bird wasn’t flying, he kicked up some leaves to scare it off the branch and into the air before he brought it down. He shot without hesitation, with the intent to kill. Aiming his dark blue Colt was akin to pointing a forefinger.

“First off in town, we need us some bullets,” Jack told Red. “Then one of us is takin’ a bath.” Farms and ranches were getting closer together, promising civilization within the hour.


~Write a novel, one excruciating word at a time. (By the end you'll start getting the hang of it.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pioneer Day

Looking straight down from our balcony 7/24/09

I looked out my window, and what did I see?
People sleeping underneath my tree!

Thousands of people camp overnight on our sidewalk to reserve their parade spot.

There's a story that's told once each year,
And folks come from everywhere just to hear.

Parade breakfast at Oma's

Don't fuss getting ready,
But come early to eat,

The Grand Stand

And you'll have a view that can't be beat.

One of 121 parade entries

The chapters pass by, the bands get loud cheers,

"Where are the bonnets, Oma?"

And everyone remembers the pioneers.

For 24 hours every 24th of July we have the hottest real estate in Utah. Our balcony overlooks the traditional Pioneer Parade (the 3rd largest parade in the USA!) and the local grands sit in our grandstand.

The 24th of July is a day of stories. Everyone in Mormondom has heard heart-wrenching accounts about the pioneers who left Nauvoo and trekked across the plains in covered wagons. There are soul-stirring tales about people who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England, Scandinavia and Europe. Families sold everything to afford passage, and sailed to America to join the Saints. Because they couldn't afford wagons, they pulled handcarts and walked the whole way. Miracles abound in these oft-told stories, but sometimes they lose their significance in the repetition.

C.C.A. Christensen

A few years ago I wrote a book called A Lasting Legacy, tracing my family history back to 1628. I loved reading and working from original documents and journals. One of my ancestors was Andrew Jackson Allen, born September 5, 1818 in Pulasky County, Kentucky. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 38 years old.

One of the original pioneers, he arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley November 25, 1847, just four months after Brigham Young told the first company, "This is the right place." The Allen family built a log cabin and lived through the winter, eating mostly flour and bulbs.

In 1848, long before anyone was telling this story in Sunday School, he wrote down his own experience with the Miracle of the Seagulls:

May 7, 1848
Now every man went in for farming. There were a field laid out large enough for all. We put in our spring wheat, corn and what few potatoes we had. We had to irrigate, which we had never done before. Now we needed to grow grain, or suffer, as there were no grain nearer than one thousand miles away and my provisions were getting short. When wild vegetation sprang up, the people had to go to the prairies to seek roots to eat, such as field onions and thistle roots which were not pleasant, but hunger made them taste good. There were some folks to my knowledge that ate large white wolves.

Now we commenced making water ditches for irrigation. The spring grain sprung up and looked quite good. The next thing we see was thousands of young crickets making their appearance in every direction. We discovered they were eating at the young growing wheat and gardens. We began to destroy them in every way we could, but all in vain. It really seemed as though the more we killed, the more came. It seemed as though they would destroy all we put in the ground in spite of all we could do.

May 20, 1848
There was a cold snap that froze the vines, and things in the ground were easily killed. Now the fall wheat we had got was just beginning to put the head out of the ground and the frost killed it. This was a trying time. Those crickets also were eating at the fall wheat. Many of us were out of bread. Just now the seagulls came in flocks by the thousands and began to eat the crickets. They would cover the fields and fill themselves and then they would fly to the water and drink, then they would vomit them up and go again and fill up again. They seemed to repeat this time after time after time, and soon they destroyed the crickets in a great measure. We attributed this to the hand of the Lord in our behalf. If those gulls had not destroyed them, they would have destroyed all of our growing crops. And that would have brought great suffering among the people.

This guy was pretty great: my great-great-great-great grandfather. He touched on a huge variety of events: the death of Joseph Smith, the civil war, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the "tellegraft wire," the coming of the railroad, and the shot that killed President James A. Garfield.

He wrote "one of my little boys, 19 months of age, had been sick but got better. Was taken worse and at 8:00 am he departed this life." And a couple of years later: "My daughter, Purlina, were taken very ill with her old leg complaint. I done all for her I could, but all in vain. She departed this life at 7:00 pm, perfectly in her right mind, reconciled to her fate. Her age was 12 years and 11 months."

Andrew Jackson Allen died at age 66. The obituary said, "He was gored to death by a vicious bull." It's a horrible end, but it makes a great story.

The Bible tells us that our hearts will turn to our fathers. I believe it. Joseph Fielding Smith said, "It remains the responsibility of each individual to know his kindred dead . . . it is each person's responsibility to study and become acquainted with his ancestors." Compiling dates isn't enough. "We are, after all, not simply clerks recording their passing. We are their family." (Brent Barlow, July 2009 Ensign)

I've got a parade of descendants marching as fast as they can into the future. I'm going to take a page from my own book, and this week I'll record a few personal miracles. After all, right now I've got an audience.

The Grand Parade.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Child Discipline

And now, may I present an old favorite:

It Takes Discipline

Who are all these kids and why are they calling me mom?

I used to be this woman: young, formerly cute, with a bad attitude and a mean face. I started out with great theories on raising kids. Then one day I found a 25-pound bag of sugar spread evenly on the storage room floor. The kids and their friends were ice-skating in their socks over the slippery crystals.

Chalking it up to bad outside influences, I kept them isolated from naughty neighbor children. The next thing they designed was a swimming pool. They covered the shower drain with a towel and let the water overflow onto the bathroom floor. The plan was to fill up the bathroom and swim like fish in an aquarium. The resulting flood ruined the tile, and the carpet in the next room.

Experts on child-rearing have never bothered having children. If they did, they'd know nothing works. My theories toppled like blocks in a playroom.

When the corner of the boys bedroom started attracting flies, I investigated. Hmmm . . . what was the stinky, sticky liquid that had stiffened the carpet and eaten away the carpet pad . . . even the floor boards were dissolving . . . Could it be that animals lived in this room and had marked their spot with urine? These could NOT be my children! My children were obediently doing their extra reading at bedtime, not filling their toy box with bodily fluids!

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.

There were emotional issues, too. One kid had a conniption fit when the tub drain was released, convinced that he and all of his loved ones would be sucked down pipes and live in the sewer muck forever. He could hear the plug being released from any room in the house and broke into screams of terror. Another kid refused to take baths. He sat fully clothed on the bathroom floor and stirred the bathwater so it would sound like he was washing his sweat-stained arms.

Fears of wind, car washes, and vacuums ran rampant at our house. Two kids "rolled" their heads in a rhythmic effort to sooth themselves to sleep . . . for hours every night! I sat in darkened bedrooms to scare away bad dreams, and laid in darkened doorways to rescue sleepwalkers.

My bad dreams involved taking them out in public. Mom rearranged the furniture one year for Thanksgiving. She hauled the ping-pong table upstairs to the dining room, and set it with her lovely silver and china. The meal got underway, with instructions on where to sit and thanks to great-grandma for her homemade watermelon pickles. "Everybody fold your arms. It's time for the prayer."

I scanned the room for my cute little boys while my sister searched for hers. Suddenly the decorative metal room divider lurched towards the table. As we all looked up in horror we saw four little monkeys clutching the aluminum scroll-work as it fell from it's place between the ceiling and the half-wall. In the nick of time, our husbands caught it before our sons became the centerpiece. Turkey time.

I childproofed the house but they keep getting back in.

I'm not telling these stories to brag. I just want to establish my credentials as an honest-to-goodness mom. Thirty years of on-the-job training taught me that most naughty behavior is just a stage. Happily all seven kids grew out of all conduct unbecoming, and now it's entertaining to watch them deal with their own little rascals.

I remember how hard it was to be a mom—it was so constant! Every night I'd climb in bed, exhausted, and I'd wake up still exhausted, knowing the second my feet touched the floor it would start spinning like a merry-go-round. One of the homework assignments I read this week (they are all so good!) compared motherhood to the movie Groundhog Day: the same day over and over. Isn't that a perfect description? But now, with my Oma perspective, I see it differently. A few months ago I wrote a post called Wax Strong as a tribute to the never-ending task of raising kids. Caring parents are awesome.

But what do you do between "the baby just rolled over!" and "he's going away to college?" My dad used to say, "Just love 'em, and make them mind." So, how do you teach them to mind? What works? Time outs, grounding, incentives, threats, taking away privileges, little chats? What's fair? What if you're inconsistent? Is there a place for spanking? (If I was a young mother now I'd be turned in for child abuse for sure.)

(All illustrations here are from the darling book Jillian Jiggs, by Phoebe Gilman.)

As a parent or grandparent, you've been on the front lines and your experience, good and bad, is valuable. If you're not a parent, you were a kid. How did your parents handle tantrums, lying, bad grades, curfew, swearing, speeding tickets or whatever your vice happened to be?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Joy of Writing About It

4th of July, 2010

So, my novel has some fireworks.
Pretty scary.

Scott's photos sparkle

The big question is how to set them off,
without actually drawing a picture.

I'm not a total novice.
In fact, I wrote a post about it:

The S-Word

How did you find out? I was barely ten, chatting in my pink striped bedroom with Karen and Linda. Karen and I were the oldest kids in our family, and Linda was #3 in hers. Oldest kids are always a bit dorky in worldly ways. Our parents were content to assume we were too young. Third kids had knowledgeable siblings to clue them in, and Linda was passing on her wisdom.

I was horrified and accused her of lying; the story was totally unacceptable, and gross. I heard the same lie again from Brenda on the swings at recess. Later, I read a novel that hinted it was all true. By the time my parents finally told me, one very embarrassing Sunday night when I was in ninth grade (they had a booklet and everything) I figured I knew as much as they did. But I acted like it was all new to me, and just listened and waited (mortified) for it to be over.

It was obliquely referred to by my parents after that, but I was engaged before it really come up again in a conversation. Mom told me to "be careful because passion can be explosive." She said she and dad had "come close" before they were married, but they had "stayed strong." I was vastly impressed! Not only had they stayed strong...they had come close! Wow! These parents of mine had a past!

"Gotta tell 'em sometime."
Heroes 1984

I decided to take the bull by the horns with my own kids. Rather than have a huge tell-all discussion that would be uncomfortable for everyone, I'd keep them informed throughout their childhood, and make it all feel normal. I would answer every question appropriately and we would be an open, natural family.

Of course, I didn't count on questions being asked in front of their single uncle while they were splashing in the tub ("Is this where the baby comes out?") or on an elevator full of people ("How did daddy plant the seed?") or at a birthday party when I was calling out that I needed cooperation ("Oh no! Are you pregnant again?") There were many other times their appropriate questions were asked in an inappropriate setting. I must have given out vibes that this wasn't a subject I wanted to discuss on demand.

They stopped asking. So, I got a book, which I would occasionally break out for an ice-breaker when the mood was right for questions. Gabi, at 10, declared that I was perverted. "Why do you always talk about this stuff?" Josh left the room in disgust whenever he could tell I was about to bring it up. Micah, however, was fascinated. He loved the pictures and seemed mildly excited by the topic, even as a 7-year-old little boy. Dee sat in horror, hoping I would not bring him into the discussion. His parents had never told him, and he had discovered everything all on his own. Couldn't we just handle it in that time-honored way?

(I haven't read this.)

The last four kids weren't as difficult; they absorbed all the hush-hush information by eavesdropping on their sibling's conversations. The S-word was part of their vocabulary, although they obviously hoped we wouldn't get too technical. It's troublesome for kids to imagine that their parents are savvy in this area. "Mom, don't go there . . . too much information," is a phrase I became familiar with.

How do parents tell kids nowadays? Do they say, "Go watch channel five?" The whole truth is graphically depicted everywhere. My grandkids reassure me that carnal knowledge still comes gradually and in a piecemeal way. They hide their eyes when Superman kisses Lois Lane, and cover their ears so they can't hear "yukky kissing sounds." They innocently ask if the lovers in the movie are having "a sleepover" and hide the bare-naked Barbie from a baby brother's gaze.

Jake was eight when he told me he'd save me from a cauldron of spiders or snakes. He'd even save me from monsters. "I'm not scared of anything," he informed me. I said I had a really scary scenario for him. What if I was in a room full of giggling girls who all wanted to kiss him? Would he save me? "NO WAY!!" he screamed. "Unless I was older and they were pretty," he whispered.

Jake 2007

Hmmm, there's no getting around it. Those are still the facts of life.

Homework: Choose any or all, or be inspired.

~Comment on books you'd recommend (or not) to teach kids of all ages about sex.

~Write about how you found out about sex. Prompt: "My parents didn't tell me; I found out from____."

~"Do Oma and Opa do the special hug?" Record something funny you've heard a kid say about sex.

~Think through an answer for this: You're standing behind a very pregnant woman in the grocery store check-out line, and your four-year-old asks loudly, "Mom, how will her baby get out?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creative Writing

I've learned most of what I know by teaching it.
That's why I did my School Days seminar last fall.
Read all about it:



In a surprise raid, a local blogger was apprehended today for impersonating a writer. TravelinOma was indicted on several counts of fraud, including teaching without a license, extorting hush-hush particulars from "students" and philosophizing sans a Ph.D.

TravelinOma (a Mormon, of course,) was nabbed on her way to church Sunday morning. An onlooker was heard shouting, "School Days was a scam! I want my money back!" Oma has published over 57 posts (the equivalent of 390 pages) since September 1st, presenting herself as a wordsmith of sorts. More than 300 different readers have been conned into leaving comments or sending emails, many on a regular basis!

In an exclusive interview she answered the question, "Why? Why'd ya do it?"

Behind Bars

TravelinOma said, "Honestly, I never thought I'd be found out. I know I'm just a scribbler, a hack. But I wanted to give it a shot. Writing's the only thing I've ever been good at. And I thought if I set myself up as a woman of letters, I'd be able to practice—you know—be motivated. It just grew from there. It got out of hand.

"I devised School Days hoping ace writers would sign up, hand in their work, and I could learn from them. They did. I admit it—I preyed on innocent young bloggers. What got into me?


"I'm guilty, but I'm not sorry. I've learned a lot these past few weeks, from my students and from my research. Jail won't silence me. Lock me in a cell with my books and a pad of paper and I'll carry on. Other (legitimate) writing teachers give me hope:

"Anne LaMott said, 'Try not to feel sorry for yourselves, when you find the going hard and lonely. You seem to want to write, so write. You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories . . . This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.'

"Monica Wood wrote, 'I have been asked why I teach writing, since statistics hold that 99% of writers will never actually publish anything. True, perhaps. But what an appalling criterion for teaching people to write with more intention, more craft, more delight. To write means to live thoughtfully. To respect your inner life. To engage with the world. Why shouldn't everyone aspire to this richness?'

"Natalie Goldberg said, 'Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time.

'"Writers are more interested in living life again in their writing than in making money. Now, let's understand—writers do like money; it's just that money isn't the driving force. I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and no time to work at my real work. Think of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money. Writers stay with the first step—their time—and feel it is valuable before they even get money for it.'"

Writer's Block

TravelinOma will not be gagged; she will continue her scribbling even while in exile. She pleaded with this journalist to communicate her motto:

"Word warriors, unite!
Write, write, write away!"

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired

~Write a newspaper article about yourself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Being a Writer

Will, 2008

"Oma! Are you still writing that cowboy book??" asked Will (who's seven.) "I already gave you all my good ideas at Easter." He looked at the others and grinned. "I suggested violence."

While I work on the violent parts, you can check out this re-run:

Class Presentations

OK, kids.
When I call on you, just stand up and make your presentation.

One author said, "It's easy being a writer. You just cut open a vein and bleed all over the paper."
That's what it feels like sometimes; but we want to do it, anyway. We wouldn't be participating in this class if we didn't want to write. So why is it so hard to do? Audrey?


"Fear is my main excuse. I am afraid that something that seems really funny or meaningful in my head will sputter and collapse and end up displayed for all to see as the inadequate and incomplete thought that comes out when I write. I will have exposed myself and be left standing while everyone points their fingers and laughs. Or worse, they will walk away bored and confused."

Judy? Your hand is raised:

"You reminded me of a book title that I quote all too often . . . 'Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?' The answer is . . . 'Because you may not like me.'"

It's interesting that we all feel that way. When I've written something light and witty I can't wait to get some feedback. I'll call Dee and read it to him over the phone, I'm so pleased with myself. I don't even care if he thinks it's dumb.

On the other hand, when I've poured out my heart on my blog, I often regret it the next day, feeling self-conscious and embarrassed. But, ironically, that's the kind of blog I like to read. When I read something sincere, it lets me know a writer is genuine. That's when I'm touched.

Some of the homework assignments these past weeks have been so brave and honest. I've read them with tears in my eyes, touched by the way a writer has opened her heart. I'll entice you with a couple of paragraphs, and you can click on the name for the whole presentation.

Heather wrote:

"I spun in my chair and angled my head to get a look. I had to see what they were all laughing about--why they were all laughing at me. My legs numbed. My stomach iced. I was betrayed. I couldn't understand how an adult could set up a kid for such humiliation. My ears burned, but that paled in comparison to the fire at the corners of my eyes. I searched the room like a hunted animal looking for a place to hide. I was painfully aware of everyone's eyes on me. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run. The tears came, and to my relief, the bell. In that instant I bolted out the door and locked myself in the oatmeal colored bathroom stall. In four minutes I'd have to go back in there. I didn't know what to do.

"I typically did well in school because I worked hard to earn recognition in class. I'd always tried to please my teachers. I had no fear. I'd try anything once, and I wasn't afraid to get up in front of the class or participate. This day changed everything. This was the day where I learned that not all teachers have a student's best interest at heart. Not all teachers are considerate. Not all adults are trustworthy. She hurt me at my core, and that day shaped me for the rest of my schooling."

Mrs Organic wrote this about her experience with panic attacks:

"As soon as the sun went down and my children were tucked in bed, I would wait while my gut would tighten, and I'd wonder if that night would bring the dreaded anxiety. Often, my heart would race as if I'd just taken a leap off a cliff and discovered my chute wouldn't open, fairly hammering out of my chest. At the same time it would feel as if all the air had suddenly been sucked from the room leaving a vacuum in my lungs and a heavy pressure on my rib cage. I would tremble violently as fear overtook me. My brain utterly deserted me. I knew that what I was feeling was coming from my own mind but I felt completely powerless to stop it.

"I spent many nights sitting on the cool, hard tile of our master bath, my back pressed to the wall, facing the closed door with the light on, and my scriptures open in my lap. I sobbed uncontrollably; I was so very afraid. I don't think Mr. O understood it, but he was very patient and very kind."

Isn't this what being a writer is all about? Sharing experiences, and trying to make sense of life? I think it's a way of supporting each other. It's a gift. We have a responsibility to train ourselves and practice our craft, so we can use it in a positive way.

Another favorite quote says:
"I love being a writer. It's the paperwork I can't stand."

Yes? Diane?

"Over the years I’ve found that I put off doing things I want to do until mundane chores are done, sort of like keeping dessert until last. One thing I’ve found is that if I do the fun things first, the other stuff usually gets done anyway. At least the stuff that really needs to get done. Now I just need to remember all that, and I’ll get more writing, reading, and quilting done. Hope springs eternal!"

Thanks for your contributions to class today!

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~Your best friend just called and said, through her tears, "I know you've had experience with_____. What did you do?" What would she be calling about? Answer her question in a note.

~Write about a time you made a presentation of some kind. Were you nervous? Excited? Prompt: "After I was introduced, I stood up and said_____"

~Remember someone who poured out their heart to you. How did you feel towards them after hearing their story? Were you sympathetic? Shocked? Disgusted? Understanding?

Write away!

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dash to the Deadline

Photo by Kurt Hutton

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens,
but a writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time—
the wait is simply too long."
—Leonard Bernstein

A deadline is looming and I've got to finish my book! So, for the next few weeks I'll be posting some summer re-runs from my School Day's Seminar. This one is called:

Just Musing.

Woman Writing by Henry O'Hara Clive

"Every writer I know has trouble writing."
—Joseph Heller

My muse showed up unannounced at 8:37 am. "I've been hoping you'd come!" I said as I rushed around, picking up pillows. "Just a minute . . . I'm almost ready." She sat on the couch, browsed my bookshelf, and then wandered into my office where she clicked impatiently on the computer keys.

I scrambled to do the dishes, dashed to the bathroom to make myself presentable, dropped in a load of laundry, and decided to fold the clothes in the dryer. The phone rang, and I answered with, "I can't talk right now," but then visited for a few minutes while I made the bed. "I'm coming! Are you still here?" I called to my muse as I scurried into the office. "Oh, my gosh! Let me find a place for you to sit!"

Straightening the books and papers, I quickly jotted some notes and filed a couple of bank statements. The telephone bill sat unpaid on my day-planner, so I got out my checkbook, rifled around for a stamp and envelope, and sent that worry to the mailbox. Finally I sat down at the computer (wow . . . eleven e-mails?) and announced, "OK. I'm ready."

No response. I looked around. She was gone! I stared from my blank mind out at the blank computer screen. "I have nothing," I realized. "It's happened again. Writer's block. Maybe if I read a few blogs I'll be inspired." And that's the story of the unwritten page.

Have you ever missed your muse? They are capricious little friends, I've noticed, unmoved by schedules and routines. Dismissive of children, errands, chores or TV favorites. My muse delights in whispering poetic lines when shampoo is bubbling in my eyes, or when I'm negotiating a left turn with a bus coming towards me. She's usually late for the appointments I set when we're scheduled to write. But, after years of experience, I've discovered ways to profit from her unpredictable visits.
  1. Notice when she comes and try to be available. She works me in about 11:00 pm many nights. If I'm awake, I get up and let her rouse me into writing something. When the clock strikes three and I'm still pounding away at the keys, I admit that this joyful expression of myself is why I love writing. I'll take it when I can get it.
  2. Have a notebook and pen handy. I have one in my purse, by my bed, on my side of the couch (Dee has one on his side, too, and one on the bathroom counter.) There's a little pad and pencil clipped to my visor in the car, and another in the glove compartment. When I feel her spark, I write down the actual words I'm thinking, not just the idea. ("Santa's stomach: jar of jam" doesn't inspire like "Santa's belly—bowlful of jelly.")
  3. Keep a file for jottings. I have a few files stacked next to my computer where I stash the blogs I've scribbled on napkins, and the Oma Books scrawled on restaurant receipts. When I clean out my purse every night I drop them in the folder just as they are, knowing I'll find them when I'm desperate for a brainstorm.
  4. Define my motivation. "The best cure for writer's block is alimony," said one writer. While I don't have to pay alimony, I know that an incentive or deadline stimulates my muse. I write goals on my calendar, and expect completion. The secret here is to give myself targets that fit my life at the moment. I can't burn myself out with a Christmas deadline for The Lundgren Family Since 1700 (which I haven't even started.) One goal I set for this summer was "Collect stories about mom for a biography." I outlined steps: Read mom's journals. Write a description of mom from memory. Interview mom's sisters. Take photos of the houses mom lived in. Bite-sized chunks motivate my muse to come along for the fun. After all, she doesn't have to stay all day.
  5. Schedule writing into my schedule. I read a children's book the other day which was totally dumb. It had no plot, no rhythm, no cute characters, and the illustrations were unappealing. "I could have written a much better book than this!" I thought. But I hadn't. My much better books are all sitting organized in their folders, waiting for my muse to come and finish them up. Maybe if she knew I would be working on my book at 11:00 am each morning for an hour, or for 15 minutes during the weather broadcast every night, or for 30 minutes every month while I wait for my hair to color, she'd fit herself into my schedule. We could set appointments. I'd start without her, and she'd promise to show up eventually.
My Inspiration Files

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
—Peter DeVries

"You have the right to write," Karen E. Peterson wrote. "If you are a writer at heart, you need to express yourself to feel fully alive. If you don't write, then something might go unsaid—and you'll remain hidden. Hiding provides safety, of course, but it also keeps you from knowing yourself—which may be the point of writing."

I know myself. I want to be a creative writer, but I am at my most creative finding excuses not to write. Usually I just blame my muse. She's such a slacker.

Homework: Choose any of the assignments that apply, or design an exercise that will inspire your muse.
  1. Put a few manila folders somewhere handy, with labels like: Quotes, Characters For My Novel, Funny Things the Kids Said, Clippings That Made Me Think, Plots I'd Like to Thicken.
  2. Buy a package of ten small notebooks and pens (in the dollar aisle of Target) and stash them in places where you often get ideas.
  3. Every day for a week, write down and file three random thoughts, just to get you in the habit of using your notebooks and files.
  4. Place scissors and a red pen wherever you spend time reading. Clip or tear newspaper and magazine articles that provoke you, underline the passage you want to remember, and file them away.
  5. Written Work: List ten things that get in the way of your writing. (My life is boring; my mom would be shocked; I don't know where to start; I don't have time, I have seven kids.) Go back and write a sentence about how to deal with each issue. Idea: "I have seven kids. I'll sit down with them during homework time and write a paragraph using their spelling words." "My mom would be shocked. I'll write my love story as if it happened to someone else." Now, use your ten sentences to write a mission statement called "I'm Going to Write, and Here's How."
Go for it—Write Away!