Scatterbrain

My thoughts are all over the place. I started a blog post earlier today about Jane’s social life. I kind of meandered around into philosophical ponderings on the nature of being an “outsider” in a small town. I worked my way back toward the story I wanted to tell: her weekend of parties with new friends. On my way there, I stumbled over another point and thought, oh, yeah – that’s where I wanted to go with this.

I didn’t see any easy way to transition to it and suddenly felt that the first 400 words were basically irrelevant. Or maybe another tale. So I started post #2, focusing on the new point as my starting point. But I soon found myself meandering again. It was becoming clear that I was not clear on what I wanted to write about.

I can’t help but feel that all the points could come together in a coherent piece. That they all overlap in such a way that they can fit smoothly with each other. Kind of like this Venn diagram:

venn_1

(I’m not happy with this diagram, by the way. I should have used black lines for the outlines and it really bugs me that they aren’t overlapping by the same amount on each other, even if it is hard with five circles. If I want to get all philosophical with it, I could say that topics never overlap each other in equal amounts so my chart is perhaps more realistic than a well-formed one. Of course, I didn’t consider the percentage overlap for the various topics so my philosophical excuse for a bad diagram is simply that: an excuse.)

Anyway, my story, I think, lies somewhere in that black region where they all overlap. As you can probably see by my senseless rambling about the diagram itself, though, I don’t think I can get there. At least, not right now. My attempts have more closely resembled this diagram:

venn_2

 

I think I want to tell the purple story but red feels like a good place to start but red leads me into green instead of blue and then I realize that green has nothing to do with purple but it sure flows nicely into pink and then I realize the story has gone off the rails and maybe I should have started with blue. But then…

Then… then I get up from my computer. I go to the church to make copies. I come home and take a nap. I think about blogging about the Oklahoma City bombing anniversary instead. I decide that while I was there volunteering and I knew people who were in the building, it’s somehow shallow for me to write about it when so many other people were affected more. I go out to eat. I welcome my husband home. I try to collect my thoughts about Jane. I decide to blog about Venn diagrams instead. And now here we are.

So, yeah, you haven’t heard from me in over a week. This is partly why. I’ve mostly been too busy and then when I’ve tried, the stories haven’t come. I’ll just let you wonder based on the Venn diagram labels what’s going on in Jane’s world.

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My Son, Author Extraordinaire

Hal is working on becoming an author. There is no reason that an inability to spell or even read competently should hold one back from such an endeavor. All you really need is a good imagination. The rest can be addressed by a solid editor.

Here’s the title page of one attempt:

The Hat Who Wanted To Fly

He claims the first two words are mistakes because, “they don’t make sense.” The title, in case you are not fluent in Kindergartenese, is The Hat Who Wanted To Fly. Personally, I think “I’m The Hat Who Wanted To Fly” works too, although I agree “Him” should go. But he hasn’t hired me as his editor. Yet.

The story ends rather abruptly on the first picture:

2015-02-19 20.14.52

This is Mr. Hattie, the main character who, presumably, wanted to fly. I never got to find out why he wanted to fly. Because Hal said bye to his hat fly guy. He let him die without giving him another try. And that’s no lie.

Ok, I’ll stop now. I promise. Too much Dr. Seuss of late.

My guess, based on his second endeavor, is that Hal, wise beyond his years, came to realize that a happy, feel-good children’s tale of a hat who desperately wanted to fly was simply not his destined genre.

This next one is a much more representative sample of the work that drives him:

2015-02-19 19.35.04

Angling for an award for longest title, he came up with The Death Book of Ghosts and Shadows: Evil Shadows, Evil Ghosts. If his writing gig doesn’t work out, I’m positive someone will hire him as an illustrator because those are obviously some evil ghosts and shadows.

This tale, he finished. And a grim tale it is. SPOILER ALERT: It does end happily even if it doesn’t look like it the first couple of pages. So don’t get too spooked out. It’ll all be ok. Ready?

Ok. Here’s the first page:

20150219_201301

It’s a sad and scary day in… well… I don’t know where. I’m just glad it’s not here because that (read this in a shaky, spooky voice) is… The. Rain. Of. The. Blood. Drops.

Duhn! Duhn! Duhn!

Or it might be The Reign of the Blood Drops. But I’m not sure he’s big on double meanings yet, so let’s stick with a literal interpretation. And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, you are faced with the arrival of…

20150219_201318

The Death Square!

Please remember that I told you it’d end ok. I’m sure you are sweating it now. How can society possibly survive when The Death Square is terrorizing the streets and dancing in the blood rain?

Well, let me show you. I am pleased, relieved, so thankful and happy to introduce to you our champion:

2015-02-19 20.15.40

Super Circle!

Yes, yes! It’s Super Circle, come to save the day with his bright pink eyes and nose and that confident, assured smile. All is ok when Super Circle comes to town. Death Squares quake in his presence. The clouds raining blood drops retreat. The sun shines. And all live happily ever after.

The End.

What’s For Breakfast?

Sometimes life outpaces blog writing.  It doesn’t matter how many drafts I have started.  It doesn’t matter how many ideas are in my head.  It doesn’t matter whether anything is close to ready for the next day.  Sometimes, I just don’t have it in me to write the next post.

I strive to publish a post every day.  Sometimes I wonder if this is too much, but usually the ideas are flowing.  I can often churn out all five for the week on the preceeding weekend.  Unless the weekend is too busy.  But even then,  I can usually find an hour each day to settle down at the computer and write whatever story I’ve been composing in my head.

This past weekend, though, was booked solid.  The laundry didn’t even get folded until Monday night.  Monday night, I got a post ready.  Tuesday morning, the bathroom flooded and we suspected the drain in the master shower.  We expected to spend the weekend ripping out our shower to get to it.  Tuesday evening, I spent my time volunteering at the high school.  Way too tired by the time I got home.

Wednesday morning, the bathroom flooded again – this time when the other shower was used.  And when the toilet was flushed.  Good news: we didn’t have to rip out our shower.  Bad news: we had no shower or toilet facilities.  I spent the late evening (after we returned home from church events)  holding the flashlight as my husband finished his repair job on the septic line.  Way too tired to flesh out a blog post.

Thursday morning, I took it easy on the treadmill, having pulled a muscle in one leg.  I had finished all the episodes of BBC’s Sherlock – that’s another yet-to-be-written post.  Easily the best show ever.  Anyway, the husband recommended Orange is the New Black.  He made it clear that it wouldn’t hold a candle to Sherlock, but admitted that by my standards, nothing would.  I might still enjoy it.  Well, I watched it while walking slowly and I did enjoy it.  I think.

Anyway, later that morning, I found myself laying on the floor with my toes hooked under the couch.  I was preparing to do daily sit-ups with my husband.  And I was whining.  I had the same headache that had prevented treadmill activity the morning before.  The pulled muscle in my left leg hurt.  I had slept hard so my neck was stiff and painful.  The inside of my left knee hurt.  And as I lay there, my right butt cheek began to cramp.  I was a pitiful mess.

{{WARNING: Minor Orange is the New Black first episode spoiler}}

After the sit-ups, he rolled over to give me a hug.  A kind of mockingly sympathetic hug.  “Oh, well,” I said. “I guess it could be worse.  At least no one gave me a used tampon in my breakfast.”  I smiled, expecting him to catch the reference to a disturbing scene in the show he had told me to watch.

He pulled away and looked genuinely confused.  I smiled sweetly at him.

“Am I supposed to know what you are talking about?” he asked.

“Well, I would hope so.  You recommended it to me.”

He pulled even farther away.  “I did?”

“Yes.  You said you liked it and you thought I should try it.”

I’m usually the clueless one so I was finding this very satisfying.

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

With a sigh, I said flatly, “Orange is the New Black.”

“Oh!  You watched it?  Did you like it?”

“I suppose.  I think so.”

“You suppose you think so?”

“No, I meant:  I suppose.  Period.  I think so.”

“Ok, I think we’ve discussed periods enough this morning.”

Ba-dum-dum.  Ching!  And there you go folks, I know you all wish you lived with us so you could revel in this kind of humor all the time.  Lucky for you, I found enough time to get one last post in this week and share it with you.

You are welcome.

“No Kid Could Right That Good”

I have a confession to make.  I like to read Dear Abby.  I’m not sure why, but there it is.  I read it on uexpress, which now has a comment forum on each letter.  There are many ‘regulars’ who comment – sometimes supporting Abby’s advice, sometimes offering different advice, and sometimes ridiculing Abby herself.

A recent letter on September 17th resulted in  people claiming the letter was fake.  This is a frequent claim, especially when it results in a plug for one of her pamphlets.  Here’s the letter:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 15-year-old girl. When I’m with the high school group of kids at my church, I try to extend myself and talk, but they never reciprocate much. I always have to try to think of something to say and be careful I don’t embarrass myself. Especially around guys, I feel awkward and self-conscious.

I feel OK about myself, but I still get nervous. Other girls find things to talk about to each other but not me, and guys never talk to me first, either. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or being too careful.

I’m an only child. I get along pretty well with adults, but I have a hard time with kids. I heard you have a booklet about these issues. If you think it might help me, how can I order it? — UNPOPULAR IN SACRAMENTO

Now, some of the reasons given for it being fake were potentially sound.  How would a 15-year old girl have heard about Abby’s pamphlets?  And if she had heard about them, why wouldn’t she just Google for information about them?  For that matter, why wouldn’t she have just Googled for an answer to her question anyway?

There was one reason, though, that really got under my skin.  It’s a reason given often when an underage letter writer is deemed “fake.”  Here was one instance of it:

Dear Abby, Is it ethical to pretend that I’m a 15 year old girl who writes to you using words like “reciprocate” and “extending myself” and who actually spells the word “embarrass” correctly, and who asks about a booklet I’ve “heard” that you sell? Sign me: Peddling Books Under a Pseudonym

One person responded to that comment with:

“:D That’s what I thought too! I figured it was either Abby or the girl’s mom pretending to be the girl. I have a 15 year old who is an only child and she’s very intelligent but she doesn’t talk that way at all. I would, but not her.”

Yes, because the fact that you think your child is highly intelligent yet doesn’t speak that way means that no intelligent child would speak that way.

Another person said:

No way in a small, unfortunately named town in Michigan did a 15 year old write this.

This example of poor writing caused a lot of confusion since the original letter was from Sacramento – the doubter was referring to the town of Hell, Michigan.  “No way in Hell did a 15 year old write this.”

My children are readers, and Jane, in particular, is a writer.  They have impressive vocabularies and use them.  They are also exceptional spellers.  (And I would hope the average 15 year old would know how to use a spell-checker if they didn’t know how to spell ’embarrass’ anyway.)  Jane has some trouble fitting in with some of her peers because (according to one of her friends), she doesn’t dumb down her language for those around her.  It makes the other kids think she’s a little strange.

Yesterday, one of her teachers asked the class if anyone could think of a synonym for ‘valor’.  She claimed that no one had been able to come up with one yet.  Jane suggested ‘chivalry’.  Everyone turned around and looked at her.  The boy sitting next to her said, “Do you even know what that word means?”  Her response, not geared toward winning many friends, was “Of course I know what it means.  Do you think I would have used it if I didn’t?”  Jane is thirteen.

In sixth grade, she got crosswise with one of her teachers at the beginning of the school year.  After we talked through it, she decided (unbeknownst to me) to write a letter of apology to the teacher.  When she told me about it later, she said the teacher had said thank you but not really responded to the content.  I happened to have a parent teacher conference with several of the teachers the next day so asked her about it.

She made it clear that she believed I had written the letter because “no sixth grader would use big words and long sentences like that.”  I, in turn, made it clear that there was currently one sixth grader who would and that I had not written the letter.  She had actually dismissed Jane’s letter entirely because she didn’t believe a child was capable of communicating like that!

When Daryl was in third grade, a girl on his Destination Imagination team was making a sign that was to say “Flower Shop.”  Only, she had written ‘shop’ as ‘shope’.  All the other kids told her there was no ‘E’ in ‘shop’.  Daryl walked by and said, “If you want to spell it with an ‘E’ at the end, then it needs to have 2 P’s.”  His team manager was blown away.  She now turns to him for all spelling questions.

Surprisingly, the tendency to dismiss people with solid writing abilities is not limited to child writers.  When my husband re-enrolled in college in his late twenties, his English Composition professor actually accused him of cheating on his papers.

Personally, I think this is a sad commentary on our society as a whole.  Do we really expect so little of each other?  My oldest two children had both maxed out the reading level grade equivalency by third grade (12.9 – equivalent to a graduating high school senior).  When they would brag that they read at the level of a high school senior, their Daddy would say, “No it means the average high school senior only reads at the level you do.”  He took it more as an indication of how poorly others read over how well our children did.

We have always spoken to our children the same way we speak to each other.   I remember talking to Jane when she was 18 months old in such a way that my mother-in-law’s husband asked, “Do you actually expect her to understand you?”  He was laughing.  But my perspective was this. When do you know when to stop the baby talk?  How do you gauge when the child is ready for more complex conversation?  I always felt it was best to just talk, and explain if need be.

Do I think my kids are exceptional?  Of course I do.  Do I think they are the only ones out there?  Of course not!  That’s why responses like that above irk me.  There are a lot of children out there like mine.  Shoot, the thirteen or fourteen year old daughter of a friend of mine is learning to write in Japanese Kanji.  So maybe instead of dismissing a well-spoken child as a fraud, people should consider that there are still people out there learning how to maximize our rich language.

Grammar Geek Leisure Time

I recently wrote about my communication habits and in that post, I told you about a friend that always emails me about any mistakes he sees in my blog posts. Well, not three days later, after posting this book review, I received an email:

One that morphs into a bid of an author review.

Is that what you meant to say? Or bit?

What amused me that night was that his email was not the first communication I had received about that post. I had not reviewed it as thoroughly as I normally do, in part because it was insanely long and in part because we were very busy that night and spending 20 minutes reading it over carefully would have resulted in some sharp words from my spouse.

The true amusement came in the late night text message conversation with my sister-in-law that began with her pointing out a different mistake.

grammar_text

When I read the conversation to my husband this morning, giggling uncontrollably when I got to the part where I corrected her “parentheses” to “parenthesis”, my husband snuggled in closer and said dryly, “Oh, Grammar Geeks’ leisure time is just so fun to witness.”

He may not understand, but being able to tease another smart person (and superb writer) about her grammar or spelling, that’s just fun any way you slice it. And when we can both laugh and tease each other, all the better.

Learning to Write… and to Listen

Eight months ago, I published my first blog post. Ninety-nine posts later, here we are: number 100. I want to mark the occasion with something a bit different. Instead of another tale of humor or angst from my life, I want to reflect on what this blogging journey has taught me.

I have learned many things about myself as a person, a mother, and a writer. This post is primarily about the writing lessons learned. I’d like to think my stories have become more engaging and better written as time has gone on.

I love to talk. That’s probably a fairly good quality for a blogger. You need to like to share or what’s the point? The problem with people that love to talk is that we often ramble. When I began telling stories on Facebook, the character limit forced me into brevity. Sometimes it felt restrictive but it almost always improved the telling of the tale.

Then I moved to a blog. Suddenly the stories could be as long as I wanted! Such freedom! And such a rambling mess… One thing I have learned is that I have to keep a tight rein on my words. Left to my own natural devices, I will glibly tell a ten word tale in a hundred.

I can point to the posts that I don’t think quite worked or that I was never satisfied with. They tend to be some of the longest ones. Sometimes I got caught up in the blow-by-blow, providing more detail than needed. Sometimes I was lazy and didn’t take the time to figure out how to say it better. Still other times, I wasn’t clear what story I was trying to tell.

Here’s a good example of that last point:

https://mybrightspots.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/when-plans-fail-to-account-for-bunnies-and-other-disruptions/

The whole time I was writing it, I felt like I wasn’t focusing on the true story. The story was the attempted smuggling of the rabbit into the house. The fact that the smuggling took place during a particularly crazy evening was irrelevant. But I couldn’t let go of telling about the entire evening. I wanted to whine about the boys not knowing where their sister was, the missing tortillas, my husband stranded. As a result, I squandered the opportunity to tell a succinct tale of two boys capturing a rabbit.

Constructing a well-told story is challenging. It’s one thing to convey the information. To engage, amuse, enchant, transport your reader, you have to take your writing to another level. It’s as much about construction as it is content. A tale told chronologically is in danger of being boring. Sometimes you need to shake up your timeline so you can maintain the element of surprise or add some spice.

You have to know how to start the story and how to end it and how to weave the individual parts together. Sometimes you have to cut scenes to make the whole better. You have to settle on a voice. Who is telling the story? What is their tone? Why does the story need to be shared?

Perhaps the most fascinating and rewarding part of the process for me has been writing the title. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and pondering it. When one didn’t come to me, I got irritated. The title sells the story. Without it, it can’t “go to print”, so to speak. I have settled on mediocre titles at times (see the bunny post above) but usually I keep working on it. When the “right” title strikes, it’s euphoric.

That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. I struggled with the title for this one:

https://mybrightspots.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/and-the-last-shall-be-first/

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to highlight the sibling rivalry aspect, the game playing, or the cunning trickery of the youngest child. I felt that since I referenced a book, the title should somehow encompass both my story and the one from the book. When the scripture about the last being first floated through my head, I knew I had the title. The last always wants to be first. That was Hal’s motivation in swiping the Kindle and Almanzo’s in tying up the sheep. There it was: the perfect title.

One final thing I’ve learned is that I tend to write in bursts. I might write a dozen posts in a week and then go a week without writing anything. Those dry spells were troubling at first. Why can’t I write? There’s the obvious scenarios: I’m too busy or too tired. I’ve also learned that I can’t write when I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes, however, I want to write but nothing worth writing about has happened.

I’ve wondered about this. I’m not convinced that nothing blog-worthy is happening during those times. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m just not in the right frame of mind to see the stories. I can’t capture the story if I’m not paying attention. I have to listen and watch.

I’ve picked up a few followers over the past eight months. There are more people following me than I honestly expected to acquire when I started out. Many of you are bloggers so I’ll ask you:

What have you learned during the time you’ve spent blogging? What insights have you gained about your strengths and weaknesses? What tools have you added to your writing tool bag? What’s your favorite part of writing? Why do you do it?

Casper, the Friendly Disciplinarian

Jane has reached the age where she quickly hides whatever she is doing anytime I unexpectedly walk into the room. It doesn’t even matter if she’s doing something wrong or not. The phone gets tucked under the blanket. The Kindle gets hidden behind the bathroom cabinet. The hands go quickly behind the back.

Yesterday, I walked into her room and the paper she was writing on was suddenly turned upside down and her hand was placed firmly over it.

“What are you writing?”

“Nothing.”

“Yes, you are. What are you writing?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t apply to you. It’s nothing.”

Jane’s mother is an insanely curious person. Being none of my business does little to quench the curiosity. I sat down on her bed. “Who is it to?”

“No one. It’s nothing.” At this point she crumpled the paper up and clenched it in her fist. Oh, boy, now the curiosity was racing.

“If it’s nothing then why can’t I see it? Who are you writing to?”

“Myself. I’m writing to myself and it’s nothing.”

At this point, the mother part of me realized that she was very uncomfortable and I shouldn’t push. She wasn’t acting like she had done something wrong. She just seemed embarrassed. The curious part of me idly wondered if I might be able to sneak in and find it after she went to bed. “Ok, fine. If you don’t want me to read it, I won’t.”

She pressed the paper back out on her table and picked up the marker she was using. I walked out the door, wondering if I could live with not knowing what she was writing.

Today, I asked her again what she wrote about.

“Do you want to read it?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“OK. You can read it.” She left the room and returned with the paper ball, which she threw at me with a smile. I read it and started laughing. Her father, grandmother, aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend were all around the table. With her permission, I wadded the paper up and threw it to her dad, who read it and then wadded it up to throw it to her aunt, and so on until everyone had read it.

I got her permission to share it here after telling her that I found it very creative and a cute attempt to motivate herself. Before I share it, you must know that Jane has an imaginary friend named Casper. She knows he’s not real. At least, I think she does. Here’s the paper:

casper_discipline

In case you can’t read it through the wrinkles, it says “Make your bed or you aren’t allowed to txt for 20 days!! I mean it! Love, Casper”

Her bed, by the way, was very nicely made this morning. I guess I need to take a page from Casper’s playbook. The threat of a texting ban was obviously effective.