Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review What You Know

Lately writers have gotten two bits of advice on what to write about: write what you know—the old literary standard, and the new, write about those things that you’ve always wanted to know.

 Either piece of advice will put words on a page, but the question is: what kind of words are sticking to that page?

During the February Blog Challenge on my Wordpress blog, Claudy’s Blog, I’ve talked about my family. I haven’t given away the store, by any means. I’ve dived into those strong personal memories that surged to the surface of the memory pool. They were strong in personal meaning, not necessarily in perfect imagery. They were things I’ve known from the past.

Since beginning, I’ve spoken to a couple of family members who remember additional info about specific aspects of those I’ve written about. I learned things that were previously hidden from me. In doing this challenge, I started a process of looking at family about which some was known to me, as well as the people who carry those additional memories.

How to Learn About Memory Carriers?

People store memories in odd ways that even the experts haven’t unraveled completely. Associations made up of emotion, sensory triggers, and/or trauma link aspects of memories within the brain and the mind. Ever wonder why the scent of a favorite baked goodie makes you feel good and think of mom or grandma? What about that sharp pain in your shin? Didn’t that leg get whacked during a Little League game?

Those associate olfactory and pain triggers have kicked in to bring emotion and their accompanying memories to the surface. In fact, many believe the sense of smell triggers the strongest and most accurate memory links.

My theory is that people reveal themselves through what they remember and the sensory triggers that call up those memories as much as through how they behave.
Many writers use this knowledge to build characters that are believable, rounded out, and belong in anyone’s family or town. This ability to reveal a person’s internal truth shows a character’s motivations, personal history, aspirations, what-have-you.

When I talked of my Dad’s lessons in field and forest, I was standing beside him, listening to what I remembered of his words, his tone; watched his gestures and facial expressions. The memory movie ran until I stopped it to move on to another lesson memory.

Like most people, hearing a song on the radio puts me immediately back into the time and place where I heard the song for the first time or into the most personally important event of my life up to that point. Flip the record and I do a similar bit of time travel.

The sound of a particular word or phrase—especially if it’s in dialect—and my world will shift to that place and those whom I’ve known who use that word or phrase in the same manner.

Collecting and Using the Knowledge

Think back to people you know within the family. What do you know about their lives? Isn’t it true that you think you know only what they’ve told you about their earlier lives?

You can broaden your view of them by sifting through your own memories; sort out the conversation or trigger that brought about the telling of your family member’s recollections. When you talked to you grandmother, for instance, as she helped you make your first cookies, didn’t she reminisce about baking like this with one of her loved ones?

Body language exhibits unconscious cues to internal feelings and can’t be totally controlled. Do you recall what her face showed during that retelling of a past event? Was her tone lovingly gentle, filled with suppressed laughter, or tight-lipped with suppressed emotion? Did her eyes sparkle and her hands pause as she stared off into space for a moment, lost to that memory?

All of those tiny cues hold keys to a life lived before you existed. They speak of that person as you’ve never known them. You have only to take note of them and add the information and supposition to your working knowledge of this person who belongs in your family.

Watch a speaker’s body language as carefully as you listen to her words. Together, speech and physical cues can fill out your mental photo of that person. Use that information in ways that help your relationship, create a believable character, and expand family history and your understanding of it.

You can now write about something you know. You can also dive deeper into things unknown for the sake of knowledge about someone in your life. These are examples of what writers do, some of what this writer does, and why all writers need to use what they know and be able dig into what they don’t know.

Until later,


Friday, February 17, 2012

Communication—Have We Killed It?

How many times do you text instead of call? You use the same keys on the phone for both purposes. You allow for much the same time and concentration for the action. What’s the real difference here?

Is the difference that with texting you can abbreviate nearly every word in order to avoid actually explaining yourself to a live human being? Is this avoidance merely a manufactured stratagem to keep people at a distance rather than to allow them into your life? Have you ever really thought about why you do it? I’m not talking time savings, either.

Texting, for me, is a tedious thing. On the flip side, I no longer care for talking on the phone, either. Some may say that I’m isolating myself from others, including family. But is that true?

Looking at it under the microscope, I see that in one respect the accusation is true. I really detest solicitation calls, harassment-type calls, and those that interrupt my writing activities. As a result, I keep my phone turned off most of the time. Ask my friends and family if you don’t believe me.

Allowing for that quirk of mine, I can say that I also don’t like voicemail. I try to avoid that like a bad case of bird flu. I will return text messages once a day or so if I have them waiting.

Those who know me also know that this is how I deal with things from outside my office and home. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t particularly want interruptions to what I’m doing. I have enough of a juggling act going without that.

I talk to hundreds of people each week on the computer, some frequently, and have no difficulty dealing with the volume, most of the time. Although, there are days when one more email could have me dropping off the cliff called “Not Enough Time.”

I call my dad every day unless I’m prevented by circumstance or timing on a given day. I try to call extended family at least once a month—at least one of them anyway—to touch base and see what the southern group is doing. I also have those family members I connect with on the computer, and as with most families, word always gets around, sooner or later.

Most of the time, I use the phone for business only, with a few exceptions. Friends I don’t get to see in person or family members, who would rather talk on the phone than write, get regular to semi-regular calls from me. The reasons are agreed upon by both parties.

My brother texts me, if he can, instead of calling, mostly because of his schedule and the time zones between us. He hates talking on the phone worse than I do. I think that must come from our upbringing. We weren’t allowed to spend much time on the phone when we were growing up and the call had to have value each time. Telephones weren’t toys back then, and a person didn’t replace them because a new model came out.

Few of us write actual letters anymore. Our personal world pace seems to have gone “a gallopin’” as the old-timers used to say. Our lives are cluttered with so many activities, must-do’s, plans, and expectations that we don’t give ourselves time to stop and think for more than five minutes before we’re off and running again.

Real letters take time to write. Thought is necessary for how and what we write in them. Texting doesn’t require that, only abbreviations and a ten-second window of opportunity. Phone calls require listening to what someone has to say, processing that information, and composing an adequate and appropriate reply.  Emails are faster and less thoughtful most of the time, as is texting.

Is it any wonder that technology has encouraged a withdrawal from the previous methods of communication? Look where the Pony Express got us. The USPS!

Let me know how you feel on this subject. Agree or disagree with what I’ve said. Each communication type has both plus and minus columns.

Until later,


PS—Over at http://claudsy.wordpress.com/ I’ve delved even further into this subject, but with a different slant entirely. Please take a few moments to hop over there and take a gander at the other side of the tracks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Desk—the Modern Home on the Range

Yes, folks, I knew that sooner or later something like this was bound to cause problems, and it’s finally happened. And what is that “something”?

Saddle sores! You saw that right. Saddle sores!

And you thought only cowboys had occasion to wince and complain, to use liniment and creams, and to cringe at the very thought of sitting in a saddle again in their lifetimes.

Now, if your stomach can take it, and you want a fresh and literal take on the subject, hop on over to: http://www.fatcyclist.com/2007/03/21/the-sorts-of-saddle-sores-and-their-sources/ and read one funny dissertation on the matter of saddle sores that will have you heaving from disgust, or laughter. Like I said, it depends on your mental tolerance meter.

Nevertheless, it’s a sad state of affairs, and an embarrassing one. Who would have thought that simply sitting in one’s office chair, writing the next major novel or short story would cause a person to develop the beginnings of saddle sores?

I caught my condition, fortunately, before it became a full-blown, screaming case of pulsing and pain-filled spots. I can treat them quickly and without resorting to a humiliating trip to the doctor.  

But really! Saddle sores from my desk chair? I’ve got to be kidding, right?

Nope, I’m not. I managed for years of riding and working on a ranch and never suffered from them, regardless of the miles ridden. I can no long make that claim.

I suppose it all comes down to sitting for hours on end, jockeying for position in front of a monitor to gain the best relief for a tired bottom, and taking few breaks to get up and do something physical that requires standing and moving. Unless that part of the anatomy can get the blood circulating, it will suffer, especially when fabric rubs skin, abrading its surface, which allows microbes to take a bite out of that anatomy.

Please, don’t waste your sympathy on my poor excuse for an injury. I brought it on myself. I can’t blame it on anyone else.

Others out there have far greater problems than I do when trying to work. There are those who have writer’s block and pace enough to wear holes in their shoes, trying to develop a viable storyline. There are many who slave over their query letters until they finally decide that there are no good ways to build a hook for their story, and they decide that they might as well shove it in the closet and begin again with a different book idea.

Those are the ones who get my sympathy. I can’t pass them the lotion bottle to ease their pain and discomfort. The only padding that might ease their office seat is a pat on the back, words of encouragement, and a great cup of their favorite beverage, all while pouring out their frustration to a fellow writer.

I wrote this post to warn those who haven’t yet suffered from this condition. Force yourself to move around at least once and hour. Turn on your memory and remember high school and changing classes. That five minute break was necessary for more than moving from room to room.

Repeat after me. I will move, I will move, I will move. Oh, and if you’re over 50, you might want to take this opportunity to visit the powder room or grab a small snack to stave off the hunger pangs. Think of this break as recess. You’ve worked hard and deserve to have one.

Tell me about your own work habits that keep away the consequences of right a desk chair for too long. Share your consequences of working at your Home on the Range.

Until later,


Monday, February 6, 2012

Winter’s Day Reflections

I often wonder if the overcast gloom of a wintry day is the mental trigger for reflections centered on personal failures, mistakes in relationships, and speculations about doing better in the future.

Scientists call extended periods of this mental depressive condition SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and link it to a person’s mental response to the quality of sunlight present within the season pertinent to the individual.

This condition came to my attention back in the eighties when studies in Sweden indicated that higher winter suicide rates were linked to the reduction in overall sunlight. At that time specific light therapies were developed to deal with the thousands of cases of this condition. Later, deficiencies in Vitamin D were suspected to exacerbate the depression.

You may be wondering why this comes up now. It’s because of the blogging challenge that I’m doing over on my Wordpress site. Diving into continual thoughts of family members, happenings, situations, etc. brings plenty of baggage with it. Reliving emotionally charged memories isn’t easy at the best of times.

Memoir writers probably suffer this roller-coaster ride every hour of the day while organizing, drafting, and writing a complete manuscript. When a writer opens that door to the past, she might as well brace herself for the tsunami of all those things tagged with highly conflicted emotions.

Psych therapists call this process “cathartic.” So far, I haven’t found it to be particularly therapeutic.

Certain images continue to bring tears, rage, sadness, or what-have-you. There’s no sense of closure about the event. There’s no feeling of resolution or healing surrounding this mulling over of people in one’s personal history.

Perhaps my problem stems from a fear that if any of that emotion is released to float away on the breeze, nothing will be left behind and all memory of those people, places, experiences will be lost forever, leaving behind only a gaping hole needing to be refilled with something else. Could that be it?

Or, could it be that I’m just too stubborn to give up those bits of myself that taught me, soothed me, made me into who I am today. Do you think that might be it?

Let me ask you. When it’s bright and sunny outside, regardless of season, do you feel more cheerful, perkier, more alive? Do gloomy skies put you in “reflection mode” and if so, would you let go of all those memories irrevocably so that you didn’t have to relive them periodically?

Leave your reply, comment, perspective here. Tell me how you deal with winter blues. Until later,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Saving Purpose for Later

For those who don’t belong to BlogHer with its millions of women bloggers and writers, take the time to investigate the network, or risk always wondering what you’ve missed.

Me? I’m taking the NaBloPoMo challenge for the month of February. Facebook followers probably already know that. This month’s challenge is themed “Relative,” encouraging all of us to blog each day about some member of our families. It’s an opportunity to blog about those well-loved, others dismissed, those who confuse, or whatever family member that strikes the writer’s fancy on that day.

Considering my perverse nature, I began at the end of my definition of family and am working my way forward to those who comprise my nuclear family.

This challenge is allowing me to take a good look at people that I’ve not brought to the foreground in a long time. It’s also giving me all sorts of ideas for stories, articles, and poems.

Through this exercise I realized not just how energizing memory fishing with such a purpose can be for me, but also how well it generates its own kind of creativity. Bits and pieces of long-buried memory float to the surface: nothing major, sometimes only a face, a voice, or an image of someone’s hands. Still, that’s enough to trigger another idea, a vision to be fleshed out later.

This exercise--this blog challenge--has become a creative tool for me, to serve up a purpose for later as a kind of dessert at my writer’s dining table.

First, I get to review all of those I’ve considered members of my family. I get to observe, at a distance, who these people were when I first knew them. I’m encouraged by my inner voice to compare that to who they are now in my life. I get to remember those who’ve left this world and how they were connected to me during their lives.

And, secondly, this mental review of people and animals creates a gallery of characters in a kind of mix and match way to provide all that I need for the rest of my years of writing, whether poetry or stories, if I so choose.

Do you realize how much power that is, how much material? Does any writer know this until the day arrives when the family memories are sifted for a purpose outside the writer’s own daydreams? I wonder.

As in so many other ways, we take our families for granted, I think, regarding how much writing material they provide simply by hanging out inside our heads. Now that I realize the extent of their contribution, I’m going to keep visiting that gallery to find more portraits to bring out into the light and show others.

Have you visited your family gallery lately? Have you done character studies on all of them for those masterpieces of prose and verse that wait to be penned? It’s never too late to start. Just look at how long I took. Don’t put it off. There’s a prize winner in there somewhere. 

If you don’t believe, ask the writers of memoir. They know.

Until later,