Day seventy-four, and there is still no hand sanitizer to be found. And don't get me started on the yeast shortage. Okay, that sounded worse than it should have. Where are the jalapeños? Why isn't there any Monterey Jack cheese? What is the attraction these gabachos have to Pepper Jack? Enter primal scream here.
Is it Thursday? I think it's Thursday and it could be May. Except it was eight-nine degrees yesterday. It shouldn't be that hot in May. Did I miss May? Is it July already? Wait, did I eat lunch? Is it lunchtime? It’s noon? Where’s my wine? A new bottle? Oh man, did I finish the last one already?
Okay, let's get real. This isn't a problem. Well, it's not a crisis. It's a . . . I don't know what it is, except it definitely feels like the opening chapters of a dystopian novel.
Sure, a lot of us need a haircut. Maybe you are missing craft beer on the patio. Some of you have even missed out on graduation. One thing I'm venturing to guess that you have experienced if you are a writer is the dreaded assumption.
I don’t know some of you may be humming right along and ticking up the word count. Good for you. Seriously. Me? Not so much. Never mind I spent the first thirty-two days of my quarantine with the Rona, even if I had been vertical I’m not sure how much writing I would have managed.
I am a newly empty nester so it's only me, The Beard, and the animals. The Beard has been working from home since the end of February. His commute runs the length of the hallway to his office in the garage. The dogs don't know what to do with us. The cats, well they're cats.
Dogs are so happy we're home. Cats have confirmed their suspicions that we're pathetic losers.
I've had to remind The Beard that we're really not suffering. Despite our lifetime training as introverts, we do have space enough so as not to kill each other. Most of our essentials were already being delivered. And if we desperately need to leave the house, we have a backyard to visit. More importantly, we've only experienced ONE internet outage. So we're in pretty good stead.
There are a lot of things generating valid anxiety. We're worrying about our long distance offspring. The news is depressing on every front. I'm non-essential and thus am not earning a paycheck. The Beard emptied the dishwasher and I can't find ANYTHING. (If you notice a stray half-cup measuring cup, tell it to come home.) A certain author is publishing the exact same story from a different character's perspective. Seriously?
My point is this, if you are like me and your word count has been suffering, there isn't any thing wrong with you. It's not laziness. It's not lack of passion. Nor is it failure. Give yourself a little grace. Take a moment (or two or three) to grieve for a level of normal gone forever. Allow some processing time to try to understand our new paradigm.
Trust me, the writing mojo will return. I wrote a thousand words yesterday. I don't know what I'll get done today or tomorrow, but hey, I have nothing but time. And wine, I have plenty of wine.
Crisis Creates Rigid Thinking.
Coping with The Covid-19
Revitalize Your Creativity
Covid Anxiety Is Real
When I was twelve years old, I wrote an adventure story about school kids trapped on an island, thwarting a plot to take over the world. My English teacher had me read the story to the class. I decided then that if I didn't play centerfield for the New York Yankees, I'd become a professional writer instead.
That thriller wasn't my first crack at storytelling. I used to make comic books for neighborhood kids (starring my stuffed animal dog). I wrote my autobiography when I was seven. I tried writing a Civil War history when I was nine.
And then, forty years later, I published my first novel. New writers might want to know how I went from homemade comic books to a published novel. If you're a writer looking for advice, you will discover that a lot of what's in bookstores or on Google for writers is geared to adults. Articles on the nuances of marketing, for example, aren't helpful to a beginner. Allow me to offer some general advice to those young people contemplating an author's life.
My first and most important piece of advice is to read. Read everything—even the things they assign at school. (Some of those books will become your all-time favorites.) If you find a story you love, try to figure out what the author did to capture you. Try to figure out how the pacing works. Think about sentence structure and rhythm. Every moment you spend reading will pay off when you write.
My second piece of advice is to write. Constantly. You may start with a journal, or posts on social media, or little stories and essays. The important thing is to keep going.
Learn to take constructive criticism. Nobody starts out as a professional. Every writer starts out as a rookie, making rookie mistakes. The difference between someone who never gets better and someone who improves has to do with being able to apply useful suggestions from other readers and writers. This isn't easy—some criticism you'll hear will be just plain wrong. Remember that your goal is to get better. Consider suggestions, and then use what you can.
You also need to recognize the enemy—impatience. Impatience is the sinister whisper, Are you published yet? Writers write. If you're writing, you're a writer. But impatience can change your focus from writing to publishing. Publishing right away may not be the move you need.
Becoming a better writer is a serious business. This may sound a bit like "eat your vegetables." Remember, broccoli is healthy for you, and blogging or posting stories in writer's communities is more like smothering that broccoli in cheese.
Do some research. Professionals study their chosen profession. There are a lot of places to start. A young writer named Amelia recommended some great sites. I have no doubt that Amelia will someday be a published author.
Wattpad: Where Stories Live
Underlined: A Community of Teen Writers
(Cue cheerful and 50s uptempo music.) Did you ever stop to think about the many kinds of living things in the world around us? There are plants and animals. On the land, in the air, and in the water, we are surrounded by LIFE. And it's that time of year, birds are flittering. Buds are peeking. Thunder is rumbling.
Our planet's orbit around the sun is changing. For the northern hemisphere, the days are growing longer, and the weather is getting warmer. Listen, the sounds of spring may include the song of the American Goldfinch or the rapping of the Northern Flicker. Look, do you see the bare trees in your yard showing signs of budding leaves?
Each organism has its own life cycle ensuring the birth of the next generation.
The TPB class contains a diverse collection of organisms divided into families, genus, and species. There are no hard and fast rules to determine these differences. Some are universal, while others are more difficult to define.
One sure thing, the life cycle of the TPB class is complicated and never absolute.
As with any organisms within the Liber kingdom, the TPB begins life as pollen or seeds. The new spore germinates and grows, however, whether it reaches maturity and becomes a spore-producing organism depends on some critical factors.
The TPB gametophyte often requires a pollinator called an agent. It can take up to three years to find the pollinator compatible with a particular TPB species. Some lucky gametophytes find their pollinator more quickly.
These agents help germinate the mature spores. Another long and risky venture, this process can take another year or two or three. Because the process is so speculative, the spores that attain germination are few and far between.
Reaching germination doesn't guarantee growth. Factors such as crowding, markets, and space can lead to a failure to thrive. Shriveling the fledgling cotyledons before they can develop proper leaves or strong roots.
Some TPBs can begin to flower and bloom, ideally generating strong scents to attract attention. While other TBPS wither and die on the stalk without the opportunity to bear fruit.
Maybe the seeds or bulbs were overwatered. Or the root system sent out runners along some inhospitable ground. Sometimes a seedling is overwhelmed by strangleweed. It can be a dreary and competitive process despite care, water, fertilizer, or sunlight.
With the protracted duration, the capricious elements, and the dearth of surety, it's no wonder gardeners anguish, lament, and lose faith. Those tiny little sprouts not only bring hope but trepidation.
And when those seedlings begin to deepen their roots and to develop phototropic reach, the gardener's confidence isn't improved by well-meaning bystanders saying, "It's about time."
Query Craft: The Writer-in-The-Know Guide by Angie Hodapp
The Art of The Query: Humor Style
The Esau Continuum Audiobooks coming soon: (Shameless plug)
The F*cking Yoga Book coming soon: (another shameless plug)
Everyone at one point or another must face the gauntlet that is trial and tribulation. Scourge and punishment. And despite this woe, many are unprepared because most of us have never enrolled in wizard school. Nor have we fought an oppressive empire in a galaxy far, far away. We haven't carried a magic ring through Mordor to drop it into a volcano or sailed home through monster-filled waters. But that doesn't mean we've never undertaken a task that required heroic effort!
This past weekend, I moved from my tiny apartment into a house with my family. There were no harrowing escapes, long treks across barren wastelands, or grand speeches given to a band of ragtag warriors about to head into battle. It still felt pretty epic from my perspective. Let's see how it stands up to the twelve stages of the hero's journey.
We meet our hero, an intrepid librarian seeking to support literacy day-by-day, endlessly curious, and moving through life with the attention span of a magpie. Hey, something shiny! He lives in a cramped apartment with his two boys. Traffic jams in the narrow hallway are a day-to-day occurrence. Walls are thin enough that anybody with an inclination to jump through them like the Kool-Aid man, screaming, "Oh, yeah!" would have no trouble living out his fantasy. But our hero has no idea about the adventure awaiting him.
Our hero gets engaged. His bride-to-be has two children of her own. Some quick math indicates one tiny apartment will never accommodate six people. Our couple qualify for a mortgage, locate a suitable house and purchase some real estate. It's time to get packing!
Hey, know what I love more than packing up every stupid thing I own? Netflix! Binge reading! Taking a walk through a construction zone! Pretty much any activity that isn't packing!
While attempting to avoid responsibility by watching internet videos of fainting goats, he finds recommendations in his feed for how-to's on efficient moving practices. He finds himself learning from moving experts who live in isolation at the tops of the peaks, where they make instructional videos with questionable wifi access. But it must have been tough moving all their crap to the top of a mountain, so they should know what they're talking about.
Our hero realizes this apartment isn't going to pack itself. He rounds up some boxes and begins the arduous task of filling them with all manner of objects he doesn't recall ever having before. Is this a combination spoon and straw? Why would he even have that? It doesn't matter. The journey has begun!
Why can he not stop opening every book he comes across? Ooh, look! He hasn't seen that sweater in years! He should try it to see if it still fits. No! Must... resist... temptation! Attention faltering. A dust bunny in the corner mocks him. "You'll never finish," it seems to say. His competitive fiancé assists by calling to brag about how much she's already accomplished. "Yeah, I'm totally making progress," he lies. "Let me come see," she tells him. Key up The Flight of the Bumblebee. The insolent dust bunny laughs.
Doubts and fears loom over our hero's head as he must sift through old boxes that were never unpacked during his last move. He must face awkward pictures of childhood and reminders of the nerdiest possible teenage years. He contends with terrifying articles of clothing he cannot believe he ever wore. These are the boxes he saved for last. But moving day is around the corner, and he must prepare himself by facing his inner demons.
Boxes are so stupidly heavy! What is in this thing, his collection of signed bowling balls? Oh, no. It's books. And there are twenty more boxes just like it. His body aches! He feels like he is going to die! But only in this symbolic death can he be reborn. To rise like a phoenix, he must first pass through the fire. Seriously though, does he need to own so many books? He works in a freaking library!
Our hero has now transferred a mass of boxes from a small apartment to a sizable house. They don't look so big here. Maybe he should go buy more stuff, he ponders. His beloved bride kisses him. The aches vanish. Okay, they don't, but perhaps they just don't matter so much anymore.
He returns the keys to his apartment manager. The complex looks smaller.
Unpacking begins. This challenge is nothing to what our hero has endured. But he is now equipped for the battle, and he approaches his fight with new competence.
Life is back to normal, but it's a new normal. No more traffic jams in the hallway. Joyous sounds from his children playing outside rise through the windows. There is space. There is also a mortgage to deal with, but that's a whole other journey. For now, let's just enjoy the serenity.
I wonder … during a pandemic when we are quarantined, what do we gravitate toward to read? Is it time for a view of the human condition that pokes fun like Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Or the quirky essays of David Sedaris? Or how many of us want to escape into the reliable formula of a romance? Perhaps the times call for the doom and gloom of a psychological thriller or gasp, a pandemic trope such as Emily St. Johns Mandel's Station Eleven? What is it precisely that we read when we know there is a killer outside, but we can't see it.
Responsible reading during the pandemic.
I don't need a Yale professor to tell me this is the time when my brain desires a distraction.
Books as Refuge: What Yale Professors Are Reading
I've resorted to poetry lately—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Dickinson, Robert Frost, Mark Doty. I even read a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes today (or at least tried to). Olde English proved difficult.
If this sight doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, you are a monster.
Because I know what tomorrow will bring:
Perhaps you are the type who wants to understand what we're facing. You might want to read about plagues from the past, like Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider about living through the Spanish Flu, or Defoe's 1722 chronicle of the Bubonic Plague in A Journal of a Plague Year.
Be honest, this has been on your reading list forever too.
The fact that humans survived and society kept evolving could be enough to set our minds somewhat at ease. Just for transparency, I haven't read any of them. Though Love in the Time of Cholera has been on my to-read list for over a decade.
This is my endeavor: to read more, to read wide, to read deeply, to read selfishly, and marvel that storytelling is the only thing right now breaking me from the bounds of my own 1800 square feet.
What to Read During A Pandemic
Quaran-Reads: 8 Titles About Pandemics
Books to Read While in Quarantine Having Nothing to Do with Pandemics
I belong to two critique groups. Because of stay-at-home orders, both groups have switched to online meetings via Zoom.
The New Normal
For years, one group’s meetings included a member in Portland, thanks to Facetime. We’d pass the cell phone around the table when sharing our feedback. So, I’m not a newbie when it comes to online meetings. And Zoom is user-friendly. It’s a quality program. And there are side benefits to online meetings. I drive an hour each way to attend, so Zoom saves me a lot of time.
Years ago, AT&T ran a very successful ad campaign with the slogan, “reach out and touch someone.” The commercials showed people who obviously cared for each other, separated, calling long-distance. Those feel-good commercials always put a smile on my face.
He explained, “Long-distance calls are nice when there’s nothing else. But it’s not the same as touch. And people might get used to pretending to be close when they aren’t. He reminded me of this later, when Colorado State instituted a phone registration system. “The point isn’t better service,” he said. “The point is to put a buffer between the administration and the students who want to register.”
I recalled those conversations years later. My wife and I had breakfast on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. I cracked jokes. She tried very, very hard not to laugh. Meanwhile, a couple at the nearby table sat staring at their cell phones throughout the entire meal.
I don’t believe they shared two words with each other. Perhaps that’s a commentary on their marriage. For my purposes here, it’s a commentary on technology.
But even writers need human contact.
In fact, I think writers need more connections than other professions. Loneliness takes a physical toll, with consequences that are as damaging as lousy nutrition or tobacco. For writers, loneliness is an occupational hazard that must be addressed.
Our daily normal is now called "quarantine."
Lack of human contact can affect the writer’s art, as well. Writers try to tell the truth. The solitary nature of writing requires an anchor, lest reality slips away.
Verbal communication is helpful, and the Zoom camera allows some visual cues. My friend, Pat Stoltey, added a little flare to the laptop visuals with a pink cowboy hat. (I promised myself that I’d find some way to join her in that effort. I have hats. Lots of hats.) But we connect with non-verbal cues and physical touch. Zoom, quality program that it is, falls short.
COVID-19 is a reality that can’t be ignored. But when the lockdown is over, I will have a renewed sense of just how precious contact with my writer friends is. And I don’t think I’ll be alone in that.
How to Be Alone
The Art of Socializing During Quarantine
I tend to crave isolation until I get it. Suddenly, I find myself wondering what the rest of the world is doing out there, how are people fairing during quarantine, ruptured routines, and in some cases, significant upheavals. Some folks work from home. Others hope to have a job on the other side of all this. Still, others have already lost businesses or positions, all within the space of a week or more.
In the classic hero’s journey, there is a stage called The Belly of the Beast. This is the hero’s rock bottom, the place from which it seems impossible to escape. In this dark cavern of the soul, heroes face truths about themselves; they have always been able to ignore. What kind of a person am I really? When the pressure is on, how do I respond?
At the far end of this quarantine, I believe many people will look into a mirror and have new insights, welcome or otherwise, into their own character and integrity.
A different take on the Game of Thrones.
Some people may not like what they see. Did they look out for number one? Did they buy up food and hygiene items such that other people wouldn’t have enough? I recently saw some folks in my apartment complex carrying up bottles of laundry detergent in large tubs into their apartment. It was enough to do laundry for two lifetimes! For a family of ten!
My guess is they were looking for bartering items in the wasteland of Post-COVID-19 America. There they would set themselves up as laundry lords and establish their spring-fresh kingdom. Perhaps some soul-searching waits in their future.
Together, but separate. Twelve feet separate.
But it’s not all bad. Some folks are shining like stars in a dark night. People have put up Christmas decorations to spread cheer. In my neighborhood, several have written encouraging messages with sidewalk chalk.
Children’s author Mo Willems began hosting daily lunch doodles in which he leads children in drawing exercises to help them stave off the boredom for a while. People are sharing items with other people in need. Though they are separate, they are paradoxically growing closer to the people around them.
The tribulations of life draw out the inner person. This is why authors, terrible people that we are, cause no end of trouble to our beloved characters. We have to bring them to the end of themselves because that’s the only way we can pull out the truth of them.
They must face the ugliness in their souls as well as discover the beauty they hadn’t known was there.
I hope you are weathering your own storms well. And I look forward to gathering with my fellow writers after this one has passed. It won’t last forever. Until then, I wish you good writing and inspiration. And if your clothes are getting a little smelly, you can always pay homage to the laundry lords. Perhaps they will favor you with a bottle of Tide.
Coping with Quarantine
It's Okay If You're Not Okay
Don't Let Guilt Get You Down
There has been some confusion lately about the mission of the Northern Colorado Writers. Despite our motto, “helping writers navigate their way to success,” there are some who have taken to social media promoting NCW as a politically conservative organization.
The confusion seems to stem from the third word in our name, Writers. Spelled with a W, it refers to those who write. Righters, a quaint nickname for conservative citizens, is a homophone of Writers. IT ISN’T THE SAME THING!
These are politically charged times. Trying to make sense of an ever-changing socio-political landscape has many looking wherever they can for validation, even in places they ought not to trust.
It cannot be stated often or loudly enough that NCW is not, never has been, and never will be about politics. There is room in NCW for everyone, whether they support the current administration, or they have decided to back one of the other candidates who seek the highest office. Put another way, Blue, Red, Green, or Purple, there is room for everyone in NCW.
Once again, for the record, NCW will not get involved in politics, no matter how many times we have been begged to endorse one candidate over another. We’re simply not going to do it, even if the promise of “sugar on top” is added. Please stop asking.
Having grown weary of the hundreds of emails we receive each week, either protesting or praising us for our perceived political bias, we have decided to change our name. Henceforth, NCW will stand for Northern Colorado Worders. Have no fear, NCW will offer the same top-notch value to members as it always has. New name, no new game.
For more information, you can go to NCW/Special Reports.
The beauty of this decision is that our initials, NCW, remain the same. Having to change the gold letters on top of our corporate offices would have proven far too expensive, given the uncertainty of the times. We applaud our PR team, headed by Miranda Birt, for coming in under budget.
Change of this magnitude takes time, we know. Still, please try to update your contact lists, your vernaculars, and, most importantly, your hearts as we go forward with our new moniker.
Change, see what I did there?
For more information on how to handle this change of name, check out these websites:
Coping with Organizational Name Change
The Name Has Changed, But the Game is the Same
What’s in a name?
I attended Colorado State University at the turn of the century (sounds so long ago when I phrase it that way), studying English Literature and Creative Writing. I had already published poetry, but wanted to hone my skills, so I took a senior workshop course under the state’s poet laureate, Mary Crow.
The class was excellent. I submitted poetry and the class workshopped each piece. Later, Ms. Crow went over my work, praising some and making spot-on suggestions for many. One poem caused her to pause. She handed me the poem—no comments on the page—and said, “This subject isn’t worthy of you.” I’d written the poem to be funny (and I had a strange sense of humor). She was right. The poem wasn’t worthy.
So, what makes for a worthwhile poem? Craft matters, of course. What about subject matter?
I’ve given this a lot of thought. What prompted my answer to the question I just posed was a piece of advice that got me thinking. My writer’s group had been discussing a member’s difficulty with a novel. The subject was autobiographical, and the writer in question kept restarting the project. “Maybe you’re too close to the subject. Maybe you need a little distance.”
Being a contrary sort, I set about thinking of reasons to ignore that advice. And I remembered Mary Crow’s assessment of my poem.
I think my writer’s group’s advice was wrong. I think that if a subject makes you uncomfortable, touches a raw nerve, leaves you conflicted, then that subject is worth exploring. If you the act of writing becomes painful (more so than usual), then the emotion may well find its way to the page. If you finish your poem (or story), it will be important because it’s important to you.
In short, poke a wound.
How to Choose a Story to Write
Writing the Hard Stuff: Seven Things You Need to Know
I’m sitting at the airport waiting to board my first of four work trips this month. As I look around, so many people are sniffling, coughing, and blowing their noses. I wonder how many people have coronavirus. Probably all of them. I know for sure the coworkers who will be sitting next to me have it because she’s coughing and feverish. I’m going to try very hard not to breathe.
But let’s say that coronavirus does decimate the population (which it won’t), all-digital operations cease, and only Bear Grylls and others with strong survival skills remain. What will be the most venerated aspect of humanity? Storytelling.
In Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, she describes how humans are hard-wired for storytelling. Our ancestors used it to learn from others what to do, what not to do to survive.
At the beginning of civilization, stories were an essential part of daily life. At the end of civilization (coming no time soon), storytelling will be the last part of humanity to fade away. In a Time Magazine article from December 5, 2017, storytelling is what makes us human. It’s what teaches us empathy, friendship, cooperation, explains the culture, customs, and social norms.
If you were an excellent storyteller back in our hunter-gatherer days, you were the caveman version of a rock star. You would likely attract the healthiest partner to produce superlative children.
Stories are the basis for most religions. Paul, the Apostle, may have been one of the best storytellers in recorded history. The stock market soars or tanks on stories, and there have been flood myths for many thousands of years. Like the game, telephone, the event gets more intricate in each retelling.
From the Epic of Gilgamesh, written 4000 years ago, to comic book superheroes of today, stories bind humanity and even give us an evolutionary advantage.
So, if good storytellers attracted the fittest partners, then it seems to follow that if you are a good storyteller, you might have the most robust DNA. If we continue down that path, good storytellers will likely be able to withstand the coronavirus.
If this virus continues unchecked…due to evolution, we may be the last ones standing. Indeed, storytelling is a superpower.
The Art of Immersion
Storytelling Makes Us Human
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Copyright 2019 by Northern Colorado Writers, LLC
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