Monday, January 24, 2011

Redirection and Resolution

Our lives continually demand redirection and resolution. That's the very nature of LIFE. Regardless of a person's professional or academic proclivity, the demand remains constant.

This trip that Sister Jo and I are on has turned out to be an excellent example of the Principle of Redirection and Resolution. When we began, we were determined to see the country our way and do it as inexpensively as possible. Our goal was to tent across America. Somehow I don't think the Universe agreed with our plans.

From the first hour on the road we were driven by the weather.

Well, YEAH! you say. You began in the middle of December, for pity's sake.

That's very true. The problem wasn't that so much, though, as La Nina. That little Missy has been our bane since the beginning. It didn't help that this was the worst La Nina in over 50 years. What hurt was that we hadn't anticipated it.

We didn't take that little weather pattern into account and we got stuck with its effects.

We didn't get to see Oregon or California (with the exception of the few days we visited with my friend, Mikki in Central California.) Two hours after we left Mikki's place, the deluge hit the coast and the slides began. We fought that wind and rain all the way to El Centro. And it didn't end there.

The cold followed, and on and on.

Our Redirection came in the form of what we didn't get to see and what we found instead. The Resolution came in enjoying what had been given us to take the place of desired and planned sights.

Along the way we saw and learned things that would have seemed too mundane prior to our trip; too ordinary to be of interest to catch our attention and cause the "AH" effect.

We wouldn't have learned some of the Texas history, or seen Holly Beach, Louisiana. We wouldn't have known about Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, AL with its Korean War Memorial and Avenue of Flags. We wouldn't have listened to locals in unforeseen stops along the way and heard the soft southern drawls that changed with each new region we traveled. We would have missed the concerns of those locals as they discussed the projected weather reports and the crops that might lay in the balance.

One thing I've always paid attention to has been the reality than no road is traveled without encountering pluses and minuses. They tend to balance each other. The trick is to allow the pluses to take precedence. Many times a person has to look hard to see the pluses, but they are always there for the finding.

Writers know that a story doesn't always drive the same road that's been intended for it. The plot will begin to wander because a character decides to see a new sight, make a different decision than the one planned, and so on. These deviations lend complexity to the story when allowed to flow naturally from the character's viewpoint.

Resolutions evolve from those drives along unanticipated roads that move into new territory and require a different sort of ending. Not all endings are happy ones. Some endings are unexpected, on-going.

Our trip has become this type of storyline. It will be on-going for an unknown time into the future. Our direction may have shifted because of budgetary concerns and the weather, but the intent is the same. No true resolution has taken place yet and won't until we have no further need for adventure.

Our book has its new intent, its new aspect.

For the next few months, Sister and I will continue to see new places and new attractions. We have more friends and family to visit along the way. There are many more unforeseen tidbits to study and stories to write. During this time, I will share some of those tidbits with you, the readers, as I have been. Hopefully, the sharing can be more constant and frequent.

Until then, take care, all, and God bless.

Claudsy and BJ

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Impressions and Enjoyment on the Road

The seawall beckons the dawdler. Miles of beach dotted with an occasional peer welcomes those who long for possible salt tang and common sea shells or sand castles. Beachside also displays the continual effort toward recovery from horrific storm damage.

Ike (the hurricane) left his mark on Galveston back in 2008.

Despite these reminders of Nature’s destructive visits, Galveston, Texas is one of the Lone Star’s most entertaining cities. For those looking for history and fascination, this city’s example of hospitality shouldn’t be missed. Admire Tiki Island from the Galveston Causeway as you move onto Galveston Island and Broadway for a drive through town.

After getting into the main portion of town, an old cemetery appears on the right. Inside this are graves dating back to the 18th century. The monuments and crypts captivate the history buff as they teach about the area’s history in a new way. Stones tell of the heroes and the builders, the housewives and the children. Centuries of time are compressed into two city blocks.

Further along Broadway a monument reaches for the sky in the center of the median. The statue and base were erected to honor the Texas heroes, both men and women, who lived and died for the sake of Texas. It is a hero’s symbol called Victory.

The historic district flaunts rows of colorful Victorian homes. Impressive mansions punctuate the streets with designs from the world’s cultures. Clapboard siding cozies up to stone and brick without self-conscious allure.

More adventurous shoppers can explore distinctive shops and cafes that invite one to linger down on The Strand. The trolley rumbles through on its track, which helps keep the area from being too crowded with cars. This convenience also helps the traveler by allowing her to park further away from that central street and ride there in style.

At anchor there most days is The Elyssa, a genuine tall ship. The Elyssa stands ready for tours of her decks or a jaunt out onto the bay. She has her crew polish her decks and keep her rigging taut so that wedding parties and special occasions can come to life under her masts. She’s a fine looking ship.

Slightly northeast of The Elyssa a more modern ship has opened her holds to the dockside crane, which will use its arm and net for emptying the goods carried down inside those dark holds. Ships from the far reaches of the Earth snug up to Galveston’s wharves to distribute wares to American markets. Further down on different docks, a multi-story cruise ship may wait for new passengers or returning current ones from a day of shopping and exploration.

Residents strive to repair homes and businesses. Yet, many buildings along the sea wall or further inland boast only broken backs and boarded-up windows.

Many signs of recovery are overshadowed by three great glass pyramids that reflect the sunlight onto bay waters. These structures of Moody Gardens also endure their own repairs to ready them for a new life as one of the premier attractions of the city.

Within them the rain forest recovers from storm damage with new specimens and renovated systems. The IMAX theatre in the second pyramid gets its own system’s check and thumbs up. The Aquarium that occupies the third pyramid requires rigorous attention and is ready for the public on schedule with its sister exhibits.

All in all, anyone who saunters along the Galveston promenade will have a fabulous experience and always yearn to return before too many years have passed.

I know that we’re now three states away, but not that many days have elapsed. Since then, we’ve moved through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The cold temps are driving us now more than anything else. We’re not prepared for tenting in winter temps of 23 degrees.

Florida beckons us with threats of warmer weather and equally fascinating exploration. We’ve decided to take her up on the offer earlier than planned. So that’s where we’re headed later today. Southern Florida, here we come.

For those enduring their own trials and adventures in travel (in the ice, snow, and cold), hang in there, keep the hoods up and the gloves on. There will come spring. It’s been promised. At least, that’s the rumor.

Until later, enjoy your days.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Blacktop Awaits

We've had our rest, and we've visited with friends. It's time to return to the open road and do more traveling.

Early tomorrow morning we move out onto the road again. This hop will be a short one, however. We need to finish a few things in the Houston area before continuing on to Louisiana. We've got friends and others with whom to meet. We have a few more short adventures on the Texas Gulf Coast before rain soaks everything for the next week.

Yes, that's right. Rain is again going to be trailing behind us. If we stay in one spot long enough, everyone will get a bit of a wetting. Hey, what do you expect? It's winter, after all.

I'm glad for the prospect of moving again, of looking forward to new sights and experiences. Being stationary while visiting loved ones and good friends is a marvelous and welcome treat. But the road! That's where the unkinown calls, begging to be allowed into the circle of the campfire where stories are told on dark nights and goodies are roasted to perfection. It's that unknown that draws us, that keeps the  wheels rolling and the anticipation at fever pitch.

How many people hear the call anymore? I wonder. Have we given up  that part of ourselves that yearns to explore the far hills and valleys for possible treasures to end all treasures? Have we lost the ability to relate to our pioneer ancestors and their desires to move about the country in search of... So many things to search for...

Think about it. Did your ancestors search for gold in California or Alaska? What about black gold on the plains of Oklahoma and Texas? Did they put their few belongings into a covered wagon and risk everything to find a different, perhaps better life in the west? If you're not Native American, you're forefathers came from somewhere else. How long did it take them to get here and begin to build a new life?

See what I mean. All of those people risked everything for the sake of a possibility--a simple possibility. And yet, there is no such thing. Nothing is ever simnple. The "simple" act of throwing a ball is terribly complicated when you break it down to every last component that goes into that action. (I know. I just couldn't help myself. I had to throw that in.)

So, what's our simple possibility? you ask.

I suppose it's two/threefold. 1. To see our country, especially those places we're never been. 2. To write about the experience so that everyone can experience it, too. 3. To learn about ourselves and our own deepest desires.

Nevertheless, beneath everything else, it all comes down to one question. CAN WE DO IT?

I doubt either of us have a glimmer of answer to that question. We don't know for sure. We only know that we're going to give it our best shot. We're going to do whatever it takes to do as much of it as we possibly can.

No one knows the future. We don't claim that ability, either. We only know that we're the only senior wemen we've heard of who're traipsing around this country in a car filled  with camping gear and looking for a deeper adventure. That in itself should be world something.

Therefore, we begin again tomorrow. We know only where we plan to be for the next week. I hope everyone here and any others our readers can drag in for a looksee will stop by to witness updates when they're posted.

I do want to take time to thank everyone who comes by to see what Sister Jo and I are up to. It makes things worthwhile in a different way.

Until next time, take care, all, and God bless.


Monday, January 3, 2011

A Writer's Need For Criticism

Today I’m going to talk about criticism and the writer. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but by the end of anyone’s career in any field, looking back guarantees that a person will come face to face with remembered criticism. Ask any actor or working writer about reviews.

Critiques are part of the industry, whether they come from a friend, colleague, or editor. Reviewers are a different animal altogether.

There are some realities that writers must live with and criticism is a big one. Whatever a writer puts out for public consumption will be critiqued. That’s guaranteed.

Whether the writer ever hears the criticism is irrelevant. We’re all judged on our words, images, characters, POVs, and messages. If those words are blogged, on a website, or sitting as a feature article in a glossy, they are judged by readers and peers.

This is where a thick skin becomes essential. A new writer tends to be sensitive about every word that drips from the pen or goes onto the monitor. It’s the writer’s baby, her next presentation to the world. It’s perfect as all babies are to their mothers. How dare anyone criticize that child’s perfection?

Unfortunately for writers, once the words are available for reading, their lives seem to depend on acceptance and appreciation. Not every reader will exhibit both, and some readers will feel neither emotion about the writer's words.

The writer must understand that reality if she has a prayer of succeeding in the industry. Because not every sentence is perfect, because not every character is a dream delight, each writer must be capable of accepting that imperfection.

For instance, here’s a paragraph that is off the top of my head. It’s part of an essay on looking at the job of rest area caretaker for the state of Texas.

The clock reads 3:00 a.m. Frigid wind circles the buildings of the rest area in the December weather change. A tall figure, hunched over his rolling cleaning cart, appears at the corner of the central building. He doesn’t bother to glance at the parking lot or show curiosity as to how many semis idle at the edge of the parking drive. His focus remains on getting to the restrooms as quickly as possible to get his job done so as not to inconvenience the travelers who are using the facilities.

On the face of this paragraph, nothing seems too bad. Look closer and you’ll find that changes can be made to strengthen and tighten the overall picture and characterization of the unit.

For example:

At 3:00 a.m. frigid wind circles the rest area’s buildings. December brings colder weather. A cleaning cart rolls into view. A hunched figure pushes it. The man shows no curiosity about how many travelers have stopped in or how many big rigs idle nearby. The tall man focuses on his job of cleaning the facility without a single glance toward the parking lot.

The same information is in the paragraph. The rewrite is tighter, sharper, more focused on the worker’s attitude by the simple expedient of arranging the words to emphasize his focus.

I could send the original paragraph to ten different editors and get several different rewrite suggestions. The critiques would all be legitimate and worthwhile. I expect that, knowing that I’m learning each time I get a new critique. I can go back right now and do another rewrite and tighten it further without help. I might also get it so tight that I ruin its integrity and overall flavor and feel. The balance is a fine one. I want an editor's opinion.

Writers learn by doing, by listening, by rewriting, and by doing critiques on other writers’ work. That experience is invaluable.

For any new writer to succeed, she must learn to take words of suggestion, criticism and recommendations as they are intended. Those words are to help in the learning process. They are to encourage the best possible work from the writer.

Not everyone can know everything. It’s impossible. Each person has a specialty of some kind. Good editors are worth their weight in clippings. I’ll always listen to my editor about anything she has to say. She’s taught me more than I’ll ever be able to repay.

A thick skin is also absolutely necessary is this business. There will always be things that need changing in a manuscript. Reviewers and the like might want to see perfection, but in this world it doesn’t exist. Knowing that, no writer should not expect it of herself or her fellow writers.

When I began to write and submit for peer review, I began my real education in this business. Thank the heavens that I’ve been blessed with writer friends and others who never balk at helping me do rewrites. They are my strongest supporters and my dearest teachers. They also keep me honest about what’s decent writing and what’s wishful thinking on my part. Without them, I’d be lost.

So how can a new writer become thicker skinned and less tortured by critiques of their work?

The best way is to understand that critiques are not meant to discourage but to educate the writer as to how the active reader perceives a given piece of work. Whether the issue is grammatical, one of semantics, or a simple case of character strength or sentence structure for strength, all suggestions are meant to help.

They reflect a reader’s appraisal of the strong and weak points of a body of words. The writer isn’t being evaluated. She’s being shown where and how to make her piece stronger and more important. That’s a gift all writers look for in critiques.

After that understanding, I’d recommend that the new writer do some critiques of her own on the writing of others. Learn to look objectively at the words, sentences, punctuation, etc. that makes up the piece. She should see if she can spot where strength can be added without losing the storyline. When she can do that, she’ll have a much better understanding of the critique process and purpose. Her skin will have thickened automatically.

That's how it works in my world of writing. All of the writers I know go through the same scenario. Write, send for review and critique, rewrite, and repeat.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have several articles and stories to work on before we get back on the road. Most of them will have to have that same process used on them.

Take care, all, and God bless.

Until later,