Words & Strides

November 26, 2019

This is the time of year I often neglect myself. Not on purpose. I enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the necessary preparation. My days are filled with doing for others, even more so than I usually do, and that’s a good thing. It’s a big part of who I am. However, the more personal things that feed my soul often fall by the wayside. I’m determined to try and fit them in this year.

What things? Writing, running, and reading. I have work. I’m dealing with my relatives’ estate. I have yard work, shopping, and soon I’ll be decorating and going to holiday parties. Already, I find myself saying, I’ll write later, I’ll run later, I’ll read tomorrow. And then I don’t.

A week ago, I decided to start my morning with a run. It was snowing. Nevertheless, I went out. Snow was beginning to blanket the grass but it hadn’t yet stuck to the sidewalks or roadway. It was cold. It was glorious. Snow quiets the world and quiets my thoughts. We got 10 inches that day.

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I enjoy winter running if it’s not icy or windy. There’s something magical about it. I have all the gear, even though I wonder if I look like a criminal with the balaclava.

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I’m also taking an hour – just an hour – to write in the evening. It’s difficult to tune everything else out and focus on my story. I succeed 3 or 4 times a week, and those small successes bring me joy and a happier outlook.

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I try to read a novel once a week, again in the evening, an hour or two before bedtime. It helps me unwind.

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Recently, I read a blog post about the importance of taking time for yourself, and then a friend mentioned the same thing. Sometimes I feel selfish when I have such a long to-do list. I have to remind myself that I’m happier, more positive and more energetic when I fuel my passions and feed my soul. It’s like the instructions on airplanes – if the oxygen masks drop, put yours on first, so you can help others. It’s the same theory, right? Then why is it so hard?

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Finding the exact precise right words

October 29, 2019

Sometimes I search for just the right word. I’ll be writing, words flowing freely, and then I stop. The word I want to use eludes me. I know there’s a word that denotes the exact feeling or movement or person I’m trying to describe but I can’t think of it. I put down a similar word and use the thesaurus. Back and forth – this word, that word, another word. Most times, I do find the perfect word. If it remains elusive after 5 or 10 minutes of searching, I leave a blank space in the manuscript, confident the word will come to me later. I don’t want to disrupt my writing flow.

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When I’m writing a description and the words won’t come, I use other means.

I was trying to describe a playground. I could see in my mind’s eye the equipment and the kids but I couldn’t get the description right. So, I said aloud – just me and my cat in the room – “Jenny and Mike walk outside and see kids on the swings, the teeter-totter, monkey bars and slide. Little boys are running around. The playground pulses with energy and joy.”

This is what I wrote: Jenny laughed as they walked out to the playground. Kids clambered on the jungle gym while smaller kids stood in line for the slide. One little girl slid down squealing, pigtails flying. A little boy stood on top of a green plastic pipe tunnel; as she watched, an adult rushed over to cajole him down. He waved his arms, obviously unwilling to abandon his perch. The swings were full, and kids raced around everywhere. A group of girls, age 6 or 7, stood to one side talking animatedly.

Jenny laughed louder as she felt the joy and energy emanating from the kids. Despite the reality that all these children needed a home – a fact that saddened Jenny momentarily – this was a happy place. She wanted to take them all home. How could you ever choose when they all needed parents?

Another tip is to say aloud: “What I’m trying to say is…” And then you describe it aloud. You can also draw the scene and then describe your drawing. I’ve done that when building a town.

“What I’m trying to say is…”

For emotions, I’ve heard people use an emotion thesaurus. Sounds good to me although I don’t have one of those books yet.

I’m sure there are other books and tips to find the right word. What helps you find the elusive word or description?

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Big Sky, Blank Paper

July 23, 2019

I don’t feel like writing. Creative writing, I mean – the novels and short stories I write that bring me such pleasure. It’s not writer’s block, at least not how I understand writer’s block. I have plenty of ideas floating around in my head that I’m itching to write down. I’m not avoiding or procrastinating. There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like writing, yet I sit down and do it anyway. This is different. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

As I’ve struggled to find my way back to my happy writing place, I read a blog post that helped. It’s titled “Motors” on “Andrew’s View of the Week”. He has a clever writing style using metaphors interspersed with engineering terms. Anyway, I think I’ve run out of creative energy and I need to recharge my batteries.

How do I recharge? People. I’m an extrovert, so social situations energize me. I’m very high energy, and I like new and different stimuli – people, places, food. Cities are filled with energy. So, what better place to recharge than going to two new cities on vacation?

In my last post, I talked about going to Portland. Here, I’ll talk briefly about Seattle and our train journey across country. I was especially looking forward to the train where I’d meet all new people and recharge. But first…

Seattle has hills, not quite San Francisco hills, but big ones! I’m sure we lost weight. We stayed by the Space Needle, but the highlight for me was the Chihuly Glass Garden. All I heard was there were amazing glass sculptures. A perfect description.

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Was I inspired to write? No.

The waterfront tourist area was fun; we had some great seafood. We especially enjoyed Pike Place Market, where we watched them “throw fish” and had the very best clam chowder and seafood chowder at…. Pike Place Chowder! If you go, it’s well worth the wait. And DON’T waste your time and money on an underground tour. That was stupid.

I still wasn’t in the mood to write, but I had high hopes the train journey would alleviate that.

After a couple days in Seattle, we boarded the train for our 50+ hour journey across country. We got a roomette, which is a sleeper room about the size of a dinner booth. Really.

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Meals in the dining car are included in the roomette price, and since there were just two of us, the hostess would seat us with other travelers at the booths for four.

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When we went to dinner the first night, I didn’t feel like talking to strangers, a feeling I attributed to being tired. However, I felt the same way the next day at breakfast. I put on a happy face and was social but I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be by myself.

I strive for balance in my life and that includes some solitude, but I’d never felt the need for it on vacation. The new people were draining me. For a description of this feeling from a self-proclaimed introvert, check out Quaint Revival, where Shelley describes how an introvert feels in social situations, an eye-opener for me.

So, there we were on the train with hundreds of strangers in close proximity. And, I admit, we were a bit disappointed by the view. We were in the Great Plains. The flatlands. There’s nothing there except some distant mountains we saw for about 10 minutes.

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I had gone back to the roomette after an energy-draining lunch, while my boyfriend went to the observation car. I decided it was time to write, whether I felt like it or not, and I definitely did not feel it.

I pulled out the small table, and retrieved my writing tablet and pen. My arm felt like dead weight. It was all I could do to lift my arm and rest my wrist on the table.

I stared out the window determined to find some beauty. Gratitude welled up within me for seeing the country in a way I never had before. I continued staring out the window looking for something… anything. And then I looked up.

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It was like being in a snow globe. The sky went on forever. BIG SKY. Images of cowboys and campfires and roundups flooded my brain. The clouds were amazing.

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I saw submarines lined up. I saw a pig relaxing on its back. Go ahead, you can think I’m crazy. None of my friends saw anything other than clouds. (And do submarines even line up???)

I went a little nutty snapping pictures of clouds. And I started writing… not a whole story, just fragments.

Then the rain started, bringing contentment with it.

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The desolation frightened her a bit but the new life she was steaming towards had to be better than the one she had left behind…

What had she done? Where was the town? Her mother had told her repeatedly not to do this, but she was determined. Having grown up in the city, she hadn’t known there was this much unpopulated land. Arrgh. Then a dark-haired man strode through the rail car, his boots clomping. She caught her breath as he tipped his cowboy hat her way revealing bright blue eyes. Maybe this would be okay after all. (yeah, yeah, mostly cliché but it’s a start)

Big Sky country. Montana. I want to go back. Stay on a dude ranch. Ride horses.

North Dakota boasted the bluest sky I’ve ever seen, a sky almost as big as the Montana sky. And then I saw the rainbow. God’s promise. The sight filled me with joy.

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We traveled through a few more states, and I wrote a bit more. By the time we returned home, my batteries were about half charged. I’ll continue to seek out solitude and big nature, and I’m confident I’ll be back in my happy writing place soon.

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Read and Write in Portland

July 9, 2019

Portland, Oregon is a great place for readers and writers, something I discovered on my recent vacation.

My boyfriend and I decided to visit his son in Portland for a few days, spend some time in Seattle, and then take the train home. Since Portland is purported to be walkable, we booked a hotel downtown. After taking the light rail from the airport, we walked into the Heathman Hotel.

This is the hotel lobby lounge. Out of view is a fireplace with a sofa and chairs.20190616_082224 (2)

Nestled on the bookshelves, I saw:

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Yep, a melting clock. 

Reluctant to leave all these books, we eventually made it to our room, where we found:

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How cool is that, although I don’t get the “edit sober” idea.

The next morning, I went running along the Willamette River. Portland is called the city of bridges, among other things. You can run on most of the bridges, so I did.

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After some fabulous coffee and the farmers’ market, we went by the central library, where there are 22 benches etched with famous writers’ names. Check out the description of the library here. They also have The Sterling Room for Writers.

We went to Pioneer Square, also known as Portland’s living room.

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Then onto the place at the top of our to-do list — Powell’s City of Books, the biggest bookstore in the world.

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Powell’s could be called SHOCK and AWE. New books, used books, bestsellers, staff picks, signed copies, popular books, obscure books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, every subject imaginable, with mugs, t-shirts, signs, tchotchkes and a coffee shop.

I wish I had taken pictures inside but I was too happy and overwhelmed. My boyfriend had gotten there before me, so he texted me to meet him at the information desk. Ha. I didn’t see him but I did see signs pointing to the purple room and red room and orange room. There are 9 color-coded rooms, 6 or 8 of them with an information desk. It took me awhile to find the right room, simply because the place is so huge. I followed the signs and eventually found him.

If you think people don’t read anymore, Powell’s will renew your faith. After spending a few hours there – we would have liked to stay longer but had more to do – we bypassed two checkout lines 25 people deep and got into the short line of about 15 people.

A reader’s version of heaven.

You’d think I came away loaded with books. I didn’t. I only bought one.

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My boyfriend bought a bunch of books, including this one.

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I weighed the books when we got home. On the first full day of our 9-day vacation, I bought a 4.4 pound book, and my boyfriend bought a 3.8 pound book. Note to self: Never do that again!

Back at the hotel that evening, we hung out in the hotel lounge library. Ahh… so relaxing surrounded by all those lovely books.

The next day, we headed back to the river, where my boyfriend’s son had booked us all on a river cruise for Father’s Day. It was quite nice, and the food was good, something I don’t expect on boat rides. I especially enjoyed the bottomless mimosas!

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We had a great time in Portland, and then we boarded the train. I’ll write about that next time.

Oh, and by the way, none of these places paid me to write about them, although they should have.

Happy reading and writing.

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Have you vacationed in a spot that seemed tailor-made for writers and readers?


I’m a Word Dork (Word Nerd is Catchier but I Like Dork… or at Least I Did…)

June 25, 2019

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN Sunday night. Does that make me a dork? Probably, but that’s okay. The kids in that contest are amazing. They study languages and word origins and memorize words. I’ve always been a good speller. I wish I had done what they’re doing.

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Grammar is another forte. One day, when I was 8 or 10 years old, my older sister asked me why I wasn’t playing on the monkey bars with the kids next door. I told her they were mad at me because I corrected their grammar. She explained that this wasn’t a good way to make friends. My response: “but they were saying it wrong”.

I no longer correct people’s grammar, although I do cringe at times, and I don’t know why it bothers me so much. When I had a young writing staff, I insisted their memos and emails be error-free. They chafed at this, and would point out errors in emails from senior-level staff, but I told them that we, as writers, are held to a higher standard.

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Other challenges arise, too. I was talking with a woman recently and realized I had used a few words that she didn’t understand. (You can tell by the look on someone’s face.) That’s a conundrum. Do you explain and make them feel stupid, rephrase with smaller words and chance being condescending, or ignore the fact that they have no idea what you just said? I chose the latter.

So, yes, I’m kind of a word snob. I’m also a beer snob but that’s another post. 😊 I consider it a hazard of my trade. Just like walking through a parking garage with an engineer friend who keeps pointing out cracks in the concrete or wants to know what kind of guardrail saved my car from going into a ravine when I was hit on the Ohio Turnpike. What kind of guardrail? Really? Or going to the movies with someone who works in production or direction. They point out all the inconsistences in costume, dialog, lighting, etc.

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On the other hand, my wordsmith friends and I believe we are allowed to make up words as we see fit. No one else can do it, just writers! Did I mention I used to read the dictionary for fun? Another dork-like quality.

I’ve worked with literacy councils in a couple different states and taught adults to read. I wonder if parents and teachers feel the same satisfaction I did when their kids sing the alphabet and start sounding out words and reading stories.

Words. Spelling. Grammar. Stories. Reading. Writing. They’ve drawn me in my whole life. Did I mention I also like math? I do. But words have always taken center stage.

Do you have any spelling or grammar stories to share? I’d love to hear from any other self-proclaimed word dorks.

p.s. I just googled “dork” to find the actual definition, and I’m horrified by the second definition so I hope no one else finds it.

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