Monday, March 23, 2015

Little Feathers: Love you. Miss you.

Little Feathers: Love you. Miss you.: My dad has been gone for over a year now. I know how lucky I am to have had him in my life so long. Not many people get to feel so very love...

Love you. Miss you.

My dad has been gone for over a year now. I know how lucky I am to have had him in my life so long. Not many people get to feel so very loved by their dads for so very long. I know all the things we say- 'how lucky to miss him so much, that means he loved you so well. He is in a better place. I wouldn't wish him back for one more day of suffering'. All those things are true. But I miss the man who loved me best first.
Spring is coloring Central Texas with the most vibrant, new green. The Bluebonnets are popping up all over, and the sun is starting to feel familiar again. It is beautiful. It reminds me of the last car trip I took with my dad, when I drove he and Mom around the Hill Country looking at Bluebonnets. He could not look straight ahead, due to his curved back, but looked out the side window. One thing about my dad, he managed to enjoy life to the very end. And he loved to eat out. We had not been on the road long when he began to wonder where we would eat lunch. Such a simple thing, but he found pleasure in it. He was always ready to try new foods. The only gee-whiz thing I can remember that he was only luke warm about was kale chips. He ate them, but wondered what all the fuss was about. They didn't even hold up to dipping in salsa, so what was the point? I doubt seriously if kale chips are on his plate now. I'm thinking more like heavenly chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. And probably biscuits, and some sort of pie. Any pie would do, really. He wasn't picky.
I look out my window at our back porch and still see him standing beside the bar-b-q pit with Bob and whatever other guys were around. Maybe smoking a cigar to add the right touch to that smoke coming off the grill. My dad didn't ask to be the center of attention. He wasn't a big joke teller or attention getter. He just loved his family, loved being part of whatever we were up to. And he was a helper. Even after he could no longer get up from his chair, he would ask if I needed him to help me with groceries. He forgot, because he still had the desire to lend a hand.
I'm thankful to have so many good memories. But I miss him. I'm sure he's still around. I can hear his voice sometimes, and feel his presence. Love you, Dad. Say hey to the grandparents for me. Tell God I need to talk to him about this whole death thing. And I guess you can tell him I said thanks for Spring.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Little Feathers: Electrical Votes

Little Feathers: Electrical Votes: Clichés abound. They litter our speech like Ladybird's roadside flowers in Spring. I think most of them attained that status honestly. B...

Electrical Votes

Clichés abound. They litter our speech like Ladybird's roadside flowers in Spring. I think most of them attained that status honestly. Because they ring true for us, we say them often enough that they become little phrases stuck in our rote memory jar, to be pulled out at will.

That's why is it is really funny when someone does that little thing Yogi Berra used to do. They say most of a cliché, or observation, then substitute a word that is similar but not quite right. One quote Wikipedia sites for Yogi Berra is, "Texas has a lot of electrical votes". Well, that's true. And I have no doubt that Mr. Berra knew exactly what he was doing with that small change.

What got me thinking about this is my instinct to correct the speaker if they get the cliché wrong. But, I'm asking myself why I want everyone to conform in that particular area, when I am a fan of individuality, of uniqueness and originality. Or am I? Is it easier for me when others follow the rules, and I get to be the only one who decides when it is okay to deviate? I am married to a man who likes to follow rules that he deems practical, and disregard the ones that seem foolish. Sometimes that makes life more fun, and sometimes it gives me a rash. And therein lies the rub. For some pesky reason, I like to be the one who decides when coloring outside the lines, or getting the cliché ever so slightly akimbo, is fun, and when it is too messy to abide.

Back to the instinct to correct...maybe the human need to be right is really the human need to run in packs. A loner is scary. A non-conformist has seen our rules and judged them unworthy. Now, that might be acceptable in an artist. How I loved E.E. Cummings in my teenage years. No rule-following for him. No capitalized letters (I learned only recently that he didn't use lower case letters for his own name, others did), no approved punctuation. And, T.S. Elliot's Prufrock. I read and re-read it, trying to make sense of it for myself without the literati telling me what to think. Neither of those men were rule followers, and both changed poetry. In a way, they had a lot in common with Yogi Berra. They jarred the reader, shaking up our expectations. They got away with it because they were intellectuals. We allowed them to carve their own way. I doubt either cared about the approval of the masses anyway. (whispered aside) Unless Prufrock was Elliot.

I have a new goal about correcting others. Instead of biting my tongue, thinking to myself that I know the real words, my goal now is to listen to the newness of the idea. To let the change, the unexpected, be original rather than wrong. It is grace I surely want for myself, because I am not a grammar whiz. And a lazy proofreader. And I forget things. And I forget what it was I meant to stop doing to others. Yogi got so many things right. Texas does have a lot of electrical votes. You can feel the voltage leading up to elections. A potent observation. Would I allow him to make it if he wasn't famous? I hope so. He was a very smart man. And very funny. Coloring well outside the lines of his baseball fame. No "dumb jock" label will stick to him. We do love our labels.  Electrical votes. Ha!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Little Feathers: Shaggy Dog Story

Little Feathers: Shaggy Dog Story: I just had my brain filled to the brim with instruction on craft and information about publishing at our area Society for Children's Boo...

Shaggy Dog Story

I just had my brain filled to the brim with instruction on craft and information about publishing at our area Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. The weekend was inspiring, and the presenters were great. What does that have to do with a shaggy dog? Well...

A shaggy dog story is one that lacks certain elements that would make it a truly good story. Imagine a shaggy dog is walking down the sidewalk. He stops to sniff some people, and some puddles. He greets some people and has a stern word for a dog or two. Then he goes home.  Maybe that was his day. But there is no story arch, no conflict that will teach him about the world and himself. Kind of like watching the movie Boyhood was for me. I was entertained to watch those people age over the years of filming. I sympathized with the young man who grew up before our eyes. But it was a bit of a shaggy dog story for me.

Together with my daughter Sally, I am working on the sequel to our young adult novel, Raina Rising. We have some fun and interesting plot elements figured out, but I had the niggling feeling that what we had was a bit of a shaggy dog story. I couldn't put my finger on just what needed to change for that to not be the case. Both of us want this book to be better than the last. And the next one better than this one. get the drift.

In one moment of clarity this past weekend, an agent conducting a writing intensive said exactly the right thing in exactly the right words. I started writing as fast as I could because the little light bulb can go dim pretty fast these days. Ah-ha! Now, what was that again? Anyway, from that point on, I could hardly wait to get home and get to work on the book.

We all experience turning points. In the midst of them, we may not see them for what they are, but they are pivotal, defining moments when we will decide who we are. Yesterday I understood that Raina's biggest challenge in this book comes from within. And that seems to be the most character-honing opportunity in life. We all have threats and challenges from the outside that cause us to gather up the courage to fight, or the wisdom to run. Our heroes are the ones who conquer the bad guys with muscles,guts, and brains. And then, there are those times when the enemy is indeed our own greed or envy or self centered pettiness. The enemy within is sneakier, quieter, more manipulative than any foe we will face. I don't believe anyone escapes that kind of battle. It leaves scars. What is more powerful than regret?

Here's hoping I can take Raina where she doesn't want to go. She's already dragging her heels. She does that sometimes even when she knows it is the right direction for the story. Sometimes she is perfectly happy being the shaggy dog. Not today, girl. Gather up your courage, Raina. I know how you hate being wrong, but just hang in there. You will prevail. You have to. This is only book two of the trilogy.