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Friday, August 31, 2012

In Which Maegan and Russo Fix My Writing Fear

Simplicity.

That's what writes a story. Paints a picture. Parents a child.

Sometimes I complicate things. Like, I start thinking my book has got to be more complex than Harry Potter, more philosophical than anything written by Ayn Rand, longer lasting than Sophocles. And I get stuck.

I do this with my kids too. Try to raise them like I'm a Donna Reed/Martha Stewart/Dr. Phil mashup, and they're the poster-children for The Brady Bunch. It gets very stressful and overwrought. And it's pretty impossible. I need to do something different.

So I read Maegan's letter to her writer's block on Monday. Laughed through Russo's Embarrassing Moment post on Wednesday. And then I surfed YouTube and came across a little video, made by a student film maker. All of these things helped me remember that you can face your demons, whatever they might be, by implementing two mantras. The first by Robert Frost, the second by IDon'tKnowWho:

"The best way out is always through."
"Less is more."

And you know what? They both work. You want to get something done? You want to survive something personally terrifying? Stick it out, and chillax. It will float its own solution to the surface. And it will be clean and elegant, and make your life much easier in the long run. Like this sweet little animated flick:


See? Lovely. Simple. And while the creator of this film worried in his clip-description that it's too simple, he made and posted it anyway. And look how great it is!

*weep* Now I'm all verklempt. 
I'm going to go hug my children, kiss my husband, and write a book.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear Writer's Block

Dear Writer's Block,

Let me start off by saying this is not a pleading letter. Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? You'd looove to hear me beg for mercy. To wail for you to leave me in peace. Or even ask you politely to cut me a break once in awhile.

Well, this ain't that kind of letter. I'm on to you, W.B. I know how it is. We've had enough run-ins for me to know full well how your devious little schemes operate. You give me just enough respite to let me hope: maybe I can do this writing thing after all. Maybe this time, I'll carry on slightly longer than, say, 200 words before the Writer's Block pounces on me again. Oh yeah, hope is your weapon.

Because you always pounce again, don't you, W.B.? You're like a bad penny. Or Charlie Sheen. You always turn up. You know how to get me at my weakest. You know that beginnings are the worst for me. A new short story. A new blog post. Dare I say, the most harrowing of all, a new chapter in the book I've been working on since the dawn of the Millennium. Yep, starting something new is always the hardest part. But of course I don't have to tell you that.

If I were writing a pleading letter, this would be the part where I kick you to the curb like a bad date. Where I say we're done. Through. Finite. And just like in that Taylor Swift song, we are never, ever, ever getting back together. Like, ever. 

But you know what? I'm not going to do that. You may have my number, but I have yours too, W.B. I know how you work. And I know how we work as a team. That's right, a team. We're like Burton and Taylor. Kermit and Miss Piggy. Hemingway and that one journalist chick. Alone, we're just blah, but together, we are DYNAMITE.

Because of you, W.B., the words I do produce are always that much sweeter. I know you'll be back. You couldn't stay away even if you wanted to. And I'm not sure I could ever let you go. We're that good together. It's just you and me, baby. Feel free to hang around while I get back to work, but do try not to make too much noise. I've got a new chapter to write.

Yours, in all passive-aggressive sincerity,

Maegan
xoxo

Note: Today's post was inspired by Laurie Halse Anderson's Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge.


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Brain To Page Differential


When I was six my family moved to a forested home in Maryland, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The difference between the fields of trees that were now my back yard and the barbie-sized grass-plot next to our cement duplex on Sandia Airbase could not have been more dramatic. Sandia had well-planned, perfectly spaced umbrella trees that were manicured to within an inch of their leaves and only showed up when absolutely necessary. Maryland was The Hundred Acre Wood.

My forest-yard was a tree-packed, vine-filled, rambly, brambly thing, and I spent most of my Maryland years living in it. Samples of nature came home in my pockets and did time on window sills or rattled around drawers until they fell apart. One day I found the most perfect, perfect little treasure I'd ever seen: a pod of some sort--seed pod, I figured--that hung from a stick and looked as though Rumplestiltskin had spun it from gold. When I held it to the light it became translucent and glittered like filigree. It was magical. So I brought the stick home and gave it a place of honor on the kitchen windowsill. It nestled in a paper bag just small enough to display the pod--which dangled like a gilded drop of honey. Oh, I had found something special.

Two days later a shriek shattered the morning, followed by a ragged "Janiel!"  I pummeled down the stairs to find my mother in the kitchen, with white lips and a shaking finger pointing at my special sill. I remember my mouth falling open and feeling completely stunned. The pod was gone. In its place were thousands, thousands, of tiny little spiders with invisible legs and cheery yellow bodies, and they were crawling all over the window, down the walls, onto the floor, swarming the kitchen. My magical golden pod of wonder had been a spider egg sac. And the spiders were not my friends.

But Hoover was. And those stomach-turning little traitors were sucked up in five seconds flat. The stick and shredded egg sac were tossed in the outside garbage, and I stayed home and watched TV for the afternoon.

Writing is a lot like this memory for me. I find words, phrases, stories springing to mind, hanging like golden droplets of sunshine from spider's webs and branches, fluttering around my creativity until they have transformed from simple things into palaces and clouds, gilded roses and monarchic thrones.

So I write them down. And when they hit the page, they're just bugs.

I'm thinking my time would be better spent, as it would have when I was six, finding out what I'm looking at, learning how to treat it, doing research, and putting it in it's proper place. Not that dreaming is bad. Indeed, it is essential to any kind of creating. But I think it does need to be rooted in the environment that will properly sustain it. So I'm learning to dream, but with some discipline. Doing things at proper times, in proper places, and with the proper information. I'm adding a few of Sandia's umbrella trees to my unkempt forest. Hopefully by doing so, what is in my mind will retain its creativity and beauty while translating properly to the page. And the bugs can stay outside, where they belong.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I walked around the city with a gigantic branch in my hair

Ya'll know I have done some pretty stupid things in my past. I'm the gal who has fallen into a pond while on a hot date. I'm known to trip, say ridiculous things and so on. But never have I walked around the city with a large branch in my hair.

Okay, let me give you the details. This summer I took on one of my fears-college algebra. Get this, I passed the class but as a result I have gone ninety miles an hour. I didn't see friends, family and I didn't do anything fun. All I did was study. You know how it is-if you're going to face a fear you have to give it your all. Now, I'm trying to get back to the basics. I'm cooking (okay, more like I'm burning food but whatever) I'm seeing my Gnomies and just living life.

So this weekend I went on a shopping spree. I bought boots, skirts and darling lil English Fascinators. I walked around the outdoor mall with my friend Jameses. I must have been on cloud nine because I walked right into a tree. This is normal thing for me. I'm always tripping so I just rubbed my head to make sure I wasn't bleeding and then went on with my business.

I continued to walk around the mall and the more I walked around the more people started staring at me. I figured I must have been looking goooood. I had on my tennis skirt with my chucks. I even wore this funky lil headband. I kept shopping and all the while an old man stared at me with a confused look on his face. A child even grabbed his momma's skirt and his momma whispered, "It’s not polite to stare."

I shrugged my shoulders and just kept shopping. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I had been walking the streets of the city with a gigantic branch in my hair. I must have looked like I walked out of a jungle. The branch was thick and as long as two pencils put together. The branches had green leaves and everything.

Yep, someday's just aren't going to go the way you planned. Even so, live it up, my friends.


Monday, August 20, 2012

The String (Theory) Joke

And now, another post inspired by the workshop I attended at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival (if you want, you can read the first two here and here). One of the the creative exercises we were given was to re-write a joke in a new voice, any voice we wanted. I couldn't help gravitating towards one of the most well-written and therefore best-voiced characters I know: Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory.

The set-up to this involves a scenario in which Leonard and Penny have finally decided to get married. (Which is what would happen, if I, in my infinite sitcom wisdom, were writing the show. I mean, seriously! When are those two crazy kids going to get over themselves and take the plunge?)

But first, a note: I had this grand plan of including screen shots of Sheldon and Leonard with facial expressions to match each line, but my laptop is broken (okay, I broke it), and I don't know how to save individual pictures on this borrowed Mac I'm using. Even though it's probably something embarrassingly simple, I know it would take me all day to figure it out. So I'm afraid you'll just have to visualize what this exchange would look on your own. Are we good now? Okay. On to the actual post.

Leonard: Sheldon, what do you think about being the best man at our wedding?

Audience: Awwww!

Sheldon: What exactly does that entail?

Leonard: Oh, not a whole lot, just holding on to the rings and giving a toast at the reception . . .

Sheldon: Leonard, have you ever heard the joke about the string?

Leonard: String theory?

Sheldon: No, just string. It's going to take something simpler to get this across.

Leonard:  . . .

Sheldon: A string walks into a bar and asks for apple juice -

Leonard: Why would he order apple juice at a bar?

Sheldon: I'm telling the joke, Leonard!

Leonard: *looks exasperated*

Sheldon: A string walks into a bar and asks for apple juice. The bartender says, "I'm sorry, we don't serve strings here." The string goes back outside, rolls around on the ground, twists itself up until it's as dizzy as Wolowitz at a Battlestar Galactica convention. Then the string goes back into the bar and the bartender says, "Aren't you the same string that was in here a moment ago?" Do you know what the string said, Leonard?

Leonard: *crosses arms* I know you're going to tell me.

Sheldon: The string says, "No. I'm a frayed knot."

Thanks, folks! I'll be back next week, hopefully with pictures.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Guest Blogger Caleb Warnock! Health Benefits of Natural Yeast

Hey all! Today we are excited to present a post by Caleb Warnock, author of "The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers," and co-author with Melissa Richardson, of "The Art of Baking With Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls, and Muffins." The second book just released this week, and I must tell you that during its editing phase I used some of Caleb's homemade yeast to make an entirely edible and yummy loaf of bread, and I did not die! Woot! In fact, I'll probably live longer as a result. And now, Ladies and Gentlemen: Caleb Warnock! (fanfare)

Health Benefits of Natural Yeast

© 2012 Caleb Warnock. The contents of this blog post are not in the public domain and may
 not be used without the express written permission of the author.

Few people realize that the yeast in grocery stores is not a naturally-occurring substance. Laboratory created in 1984, the yeast sold today is so foreign to our digestive systems that some people develop allergies to the yeast itself. This quick-rising yeast appears increasingly connected to the nutritional and digestive disorders that plague so many. Natural yeast flattens the glycemic index, takes away heartburn and acid reflux forever, helps prevent or reverse gluten intolerance and, in some cases, full-blown Celiac’s disease, turns natural phytic acid into an anti-oxidant, controls allergies, and turns flour into a yeast that is both pre-biotic and pro-biotic.

Beyond health benefits, natural yeast is simple to use, costs nothing, tastes wonderful, completely cuts out the need to buy commercial yeast, and drastically reduces the need for baking powder and baking soda. You can easily use it not only to make bread, but also waffles, pancakes, breadsticks, pizza dough, scones, rolls, and even old-fashioned root beer.


Yeast is a single-celled fungus, and the first domesticated living creature in history. Modern science has identified more than 1,000 different varieties of wild yeast. These organisms are so small that hundreds of millions, if not billions, fit into a single teaspoon.

Wild yeast is everywhere -- in the air you breathe, on the bark of trees, on leaves. Ever seen the white film on backyard grapes? That’s wild yeast. The same film can be found on juniper berries. For centuries, both berries have been used as natural “start” for bread yeast.

But not all yeast varieties are the same. For example, the kind of yeast used to make beer is not the
 same kind of yeast used to make bread. Different natural yeasts have different flavors -- some are strongly sour, some are mildly sour, and some are not sour at all. Natural yeast is sometimes mistakenly referred to as sourdough, but with the right strain of yeast, it doesn’t have to be sour unless that is the flavor you prefer. Some natural yeasts are better are raising bread than others. This is why the best strains of natural yeast has been passed down through generations and communities. Hundreds of people around the nation have gotten free, non-sour natural yeast starts from me. 

Until the 19th century, homemade yeast was the only kind there was. In 1857 Louis Pasteur discovered that living organisms --yeasts -- were responsible for fermentation. Yeast was already an important business, even though no one had understood how it worked. The production of commercial yeast began in France in the 1850s. In the U.S., compressed yeast cakes were introduced to the nation at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876 , which drew 10 million visitors. When America entered World War II, yeast companies developed dry yeast for the military which did not require refrigeration. And then in 1984, rapid-rising yeast was invented in U.S. laboratories.

Today that yeast has all but replaced natural yeast. But not everyone is convinced that the convenience of super-fast yeast outweighs the health benefits of the slow rising process of natural yeast.


A word of caution. If you type “sourdough starter” into Google, you will get hundreds of recipes for starting “sourdough” from commercial yeast. But very little grocery store yeast is now true natural yeast. The best way to get real natural yeast is from someone using a documented strain. The author, Caleb Warnock, mails flakes of natural “sweet” yeast to anyone who requests them at no charge, along with instructions for growing out the yeast. And once you have a start of natural yeast, you can have it for the rest of your life. You can dry it, freeze it, keep it in the fridge, or grow it on your kitchen counter. To get a start of the author’s documented 200-year-old strain of natural yeast, send an email to calebwarnock.yahoo.com.

Here is the link to my blog, and you can click on the cover of the new cookbook to look inside the book. Not to press my luck, but if you order two copies, the shipping is FREE!

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's The Climb!

My Gnomies and I have been doing this blog for over two years. In that time, we've gotten some awesome readers and commenters in y'all. I feel like we all know each other well enough now that I can finally talk about something that's been eating me up inside, without fear of ridicule or abandonment.

That Miley Cyrus song, "The Climb"?  I like it. A lot.

I know. But hear me out. Not only is the tune catchy, but the words are all wise and inspiring and stuff. The chorus goes like this:

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose.

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other si-i-i-hi-i-iii-de
It's The Climb.

I don't know about you, but that sounds like some pretty good advice for us writerly and/or creative types. And since I love you all soooo much, I've provided the music video so you can see what I'm talking about. (Keep an eye out for the lasers and the slo-mo hair toss - good stuff.)




Whew! This has been kind of therapeutic. I should do this more often! Thank you for giving me a safe place in which to air my shameful little secrets. Now please accept this healthy dose of British humor as a palette cleanser. Because British humor is the best.





Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Live Happily Ever After! Perhaps the Most Nauseating Post Title Ever!

Dudes! I am off to a Wedding Event. It will last pretty much all day and will be filled with romance and "awwww's" and floods of my own wedding memories. Which, by the way, happened about a million years ago. Okay, twenty-six. We've been married for twenty-six years. WHA? It all goes by in the blink of an eye. Just like life. So you've got to live in the present, babies, or you'll miss it. Live now. Enjoy now. Love now.

Okay, that's all the deepness I've got in me today. Must dash. In parting let me pass on to you some sage advice from the venerable and ever musical, Tim Hawkins. Men, this is particularly for you. How to live long and prosper in marriage (I suspect you've seen it before--probably even on this blog-- but it does bear repeating):




Cheers, my dears. Remember, nothing you do matters nearly as much as the people you are doing it with. Go hug them or something, will ya? And don't tell them they look fat in those pants.

Bye!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Setbacks and how to deal with them

My dear friends, there are always going to be setbacks in life. I'm learning it's just a part of the game. My brother told me a crazy fact and I thought it might inspire you on your journey toward your dream.  He said that Beethoven became deaf at the pinnacle of his inspiration.

I'll admit, I didn't really know much about Beethoven but anyone who can work through a setback like losing their hearing has my utter respect.

You may have your own setbacks in life but you need not worry. You are talented beyond measure. You have a gift that is going to touch people's lives.

Look those setbacks in the eye and keep going, keep working. The world is waiting for your creativity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

John Carter (of Mars) Under the Stars

Some months ago, a link was posted in the John Carter sequel campaign Facebook group that the movie would be shown on an outdoor screen at the Utah State Capitol building in August. My reaction upon seeing this post went something like, "OH EM GEE I'M SO EXCITED FOR THIS!" (Paraphrasing, but that was the gist.) The group's administrator then contacted me and asked if I'd be willing to do some reconnaisance work on the ground, as it were, and spread the word about the campaign. I agreed.

Fast forward to last Friday. I arrive at the State Capitol building (which is amazing, by the way - even the changing tables in the ladies' room look like they're made of marble) with my mom and aunt, plus a pile of Back to Barsoom business cards, sequel petition sheets (which you can sign online HERE), and several blankets on hand.

However, I have a condition which prevents me from drawing attention to myself in public. It's called introversion. Because of this, it doesn't take me long to start feeling panicky about approaching strangers and handing them a card or asking them to sign a petition. Fortunately, my aunt does not suffer from this same condition, and she agrees to hand out most of the cards (only fitting, as she's traveled to Mars with me before), while I muster the nerve to ask the nice lady at the snack counter if I can leave the rest with her.

About this time, the director of the Utah Film Commision stands up in front of the screen to introduce the movie - with a mic. It occurrs to me that if I can grab this guy's attention, maybe I can get him to make an announcement about the Back to Barsoom sequel campaign. So, in my own subtle way, I start creeping around the outskirts of the crowd. When I'm about twenty feet away from the guy, he says they're going to do a little trivia game before the movie and asks for volunteers from the crowd to come up. Perfect! I'm already lurking around like a creepy stalker-person. And this is how I find myself with a handful of other trivia hopefuls, standing in front of a crowd of about two hundred people waiting to see John Carter.

The questions are - well, they're lame. When was A Princess of Mars, the book the movie is based on, first published? (Psh. 1912.) Who directed John Carter? (Andrew Stanton. Please. Don't waste my time.) What is the name of the actor who plays John Carter? (Wha - Seriously?!) Then we come to The Hardest Question of the Night. (I, being overcome with the Shyness Gnome, have not stepped forward to answer any.) Utah Film Commision Guy holds up a giant medallion he's wearing around his neck, which he's previously explained is an actual prop from the movie that Disney sent to Utah for this event. It looks like this:


Here is The Hardest Question of the Night: What are the words John Carter speaks to this medallion in order to return to Mars? Time passes, and no one steps up. I glance over at the prize, an official movie poster, because of course I know the answer to this one too. But I've always been weirded out by the way my voice sounds through a microphone, and the thought of speaking in front of all of these people makes me cringe. Then I notice the little girl standing next to me. She's about eight years old and she's positively bouncing on her heels. Still no one has tried to answer the question.

"You wanna win the poster?" I ask the girl. She nods. Vigorously. So I bend down to whisper the magic words in her ear: Och ohem oktay wees Barsoom. She looks confused, and who can blame her? The words are pretty weird. But then, so am I. I whisper them to her again, and then a third time, but I can tell she's still worried about remembering them. Time has run out. The lady on the girl's other side points to her and says, "She knows." They bring the microphone over to her. She tries to say it, but the first part comes out wrong, and she can't remember any more. So I whisper the words again, one at a time, so she can say each one into the microphone. People clap. She wins the poster.

Afterward, Utah Film Commision Guy comes over to me. "You knew that?" he says. Dude. I knew them all. Oh, hey! Could you tell everyone to go check out backtobarsoom.com? Awesome!

Somewhere in the midst of all this, my new friend materializes again to thank me for the poster, and also to give me a hug.

I return to the spot we've staked out on the grass, just in time for the movie to start. Later, when John Carter first arrives in the Thark city, I have to bail for a bathroom break. (It ain't like I haven't seen the movie before.) As I'm walking up the hill to the Captiol Building, I hear a little voice nearby say, "I'm glad you were able to help!" It's her again! With a gaggle of friends. "I'm glad too," I say. I get back to the movie in time to see Dejah Thoris wield her mad sword-fighting skills, feeling warm and fuzzy about getting to use my own geektastic powers for a noble cause.

True story.



Friday, August 3, 2012

It Ain't Friendship. It's Social Media.

How many of you communicate via social media? Raise of hands please. Uh huh, uh huh. Quite a few. And how many of you would consider it your go-to means of communicating with the people in your social/business circles? You? Yep. And you? Mmhmm.


Feels great, doesn't it? Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest--all of those fabu connections. All those great convos. All that fun attention and socializing. I love it. Makes me feel so warm and fuzzy when people "Like" something I pin or do or say. And I really feel appreciated on my birthday when I get like 75 Happy Birthday posts from my peeps.


I should make it clear right now that none of these organizations have paid me or given me any gifts to endorse their services. Which is good. Because I'm kind of not. I mean, don't get me wrong; I think all of these websites have their place. My critique partners and I have a Facebook group in which we do all of our communicating. Also, we Gnomies have a thread that stretches years back where we do much of our chatting and scheduling. It works very well.  And the rest of those social tools? Well, they boost me, entertain me, and help me put myself out there a bit as a writer.


BUT...
(And it's a big but. Much bigger than my own)


I got a birthday card a while back from a gnomelette that I've known since we were wee lasses. Like, forever ago. We used to write stories together and comics together. We had mega-sleep-overs which ended in movies and ice cream and her mom's famous cooking. We've stayed in touch for years and recently became Facebook friends as well. Finally! Our friendship is real!


BUT...


I noticed a really big difference between what I felt when I read her card and what I feel when I read her posts. Not that there's anything wrong with her posts. There isn't. She's the same gal either way. 


Except--with the card, I am looking at her actual handwriting. And it it brings her back to me in a way that the precisely spaced black letters on my screen can't. Her handwriting is loopy and neat. It reminds me that she's an artist--although she's never pursued that. But the talent is there in spades. She's also a writer; a most excellent one. I know this because of those stories and comics we wrote together. She invented terrific characters with real emotions. My favorite was one she made up when we were 10 years old. He was the bad guy in our comic series. His name was "The Egypt Sissy." You can see my (10 year-old) version of what he looked like here, along with a few other characters that peopled our stories.


Gazing at my friend's handwriting reminds me that she was the one stable thing in my constantly changing existence. So even when she moved to Iceland and I moved to Germany we could count on each other still being there--through letters. We wrote, wove stories, illustrated them, traded experiences in our new countries, confessed unrequited love, dissed teachers who were with the Armed Forces school system solely to tour the world, and wondered if we'd ever grow into our teeth and feet. I even remember this little orange ice cream pop thing that I bought after we went and watched Zebra In My Kitchen together right before my family moved. (No for reals. It was an actual movie. And if you click that link above and view the trailer, the voice-over work alone will help you understand why it's never seen the light of day since the 1970's. It's like listening to a cheese grater.)


All of that literally starts roaming around in my psyche the minute I look at my pal's handwritten note. Online, I get her thoughts, and a dash of her personality--sometimes a big dash. But I don't get her. Same with other people. I get them right in that moment, but I don't get the whole them. And sometimes it takes several communications to truly understand what they are saying. Mostly because I can't see their face or their body language. I can't see them


Sometimes I wonder if social media is corrupting our relationships: creating the illusion of more than there actually is, undermining intentions through miscommunications, short-circuiting our social skills. I kind of miss the olden days where we wrote and called and met up in person to plan things. Wonder what it will be like in another 10 years.


Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Adjust to the demands of your dream

One of the greatest lessons I've learned while taking college algebra is that you have to be willing to adjust to the different setbacks of your dream. My friends, we are all chasing something that is bigger than ourselves. Whether your dream is to play water polo, write or paint you have to learn that there will be times that you are not in the drivers seat of your dream.

For my math class I was at the mercy of everyone around me. I had to study when my tutor could study and I had to learn how to shut up and listen. All during the class I had to learn to adjust my life schedule (eat, sleep & write.) On top of that, I had to adjust to the setbacks because while you chase your dream you will have many setbacks.

You have a talent within you that nobody else can touch. You can achieve so much and all you have to do is learn to adjust to the many demands of your dream.