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Archive for the ‘My (Mis)Adventures as a Writer’ Category

This spring I started writing for Demand Studios and have had six articles accepted so far and published through eHow. I’m also copyediting for them, so that’s limiting how much time I can spare for writing. I’m astonished how fast a lot of writers turn out their articles. It takes me forever, which is why I have only six so far. I’ve created links for them on the right side of this page, and I’ll update the links as other articles are published. Have a look…

UPDATE: I’ve created a page with links to my online articles here (or click on “My Online Articles” under “Come In and Explore” at the top of the sidebar.

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The past twelve months were insane. Sometimes difficult times generate writing; in my case, I just stopped up, unable to blog at all. I at least was making some headway with poetry in April – I participated in the poem-a-day (PAD) challenge at Poetic Asides. However, on Day 23 my father had a stroke. I did finish my 30 poems for the month, but between coping with Dad’s condition and the incredible demands at work, I had no creative energy to attempt anything else. I wasn’t even able to write about Dad’s passing in late June.

So now, at least, I’m going to try to ease back into blogging. There are all kinds of writing blocks. Sometimes when writers say they’re blocked, they mean there’s a vacuum they aren’t able to fill with words. That hasn’t been my problem; I’m rarely unable to generate words.

For me it’s more like a storm dumped a whole bunch of trees in a creek, creating a dam so that nothing flowed. Everything’s back there, waiting to break through. It might be that I’m sensing the dam is starting to shift. Tiny streams of water are sluicing through in a dozen different places. The final break-through is on its way.

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I used to get the most wonderful feeling from writing. Poetry, especially, was a lifeline for me. I loved that percolating, almost giddy sense of impending creation that meant I was ready to rough out the bones of a poem. The revising was even better, shaping lines and words like clay.

That feeling died over the years. A lot of it was killed off through sheer overuse after more than a decade of writing greeting cards nonstop. I also grew up, literally and figuratively, and lost the luster of naivete — instead of the lofty self-delusions that I could be a great poet, I faced the reality that I wasn’t even a good poet (at least not according to the standards I respected). That kind of gritty acceptance renders the effervescence of literary creation as flat as yesterday’s bath water. Editing Poet’s Market for all those years kind of sealed the deal as far as my slacking off on my poetry. Instead of being inspired by all those opportunities to publish, I felt overwhelmed by them and by the quantity of poetry that gets published yet goes unread.

I’ve never reached the point of understanding the difference between crocheting a piece of lace, embroidering a sampler, or quilting a wall hanging and simply writing for the pleasure of it. It never bothers me that few people will ever see my handiwork; yet the lack of audience has no impact on either my striving for excellence or my immense sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. I reach for a current needlework project as if picking it will save my life; I haven’t reached for my notebook that way in more than a decade.

Yet to create a poem that won’t be read or published, to do it simply for the enjoyment of the process and the fulfillment of completing a small work of art, seems like an act of futility. Why? It’s all wrong. It doesn’t help that the literary establishment doesn’t seem to encourage writing without trying to publish. God forbid there should be love of craft without ambition.

Since leaving Poet’s Market, I’ve taken a year off from poetry. I haven’t read much of it, haven’t visited the blogs or the zines, and definitely haven’t written a single line. That was partly due to my latent resentment at losing Poet’s Market, partly due to that futile, burned-out feeling; but it was also a deliberate choice, an act of literary fasting.

Maybe it helped. Because I’m beginning to miss poetry, both reading it and writing it. And sometimes I feel that little tingle that means I WANT to start working on a poem. I think it would be good for me. Whether I try to publish or not, I don’t know. I’ve been sending out work for almost 40 years, so it’s kind of second nature. Then again, maybe I’ll just post the poems I write here. Maybe update with revised versions. We’ll see. But it’s one of my resolutions for 2009 — I’m going to write poetry again. I’m going to write more period (that includes blogging as well).

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On Valentine’s Day, I was at the Hooligan household celebrating with my sister’s family and my mom. At one point we were sitting around, listening and watching as J.Hooligan went through his Valentine bag from school, extracting greetings from his classmates and reading them aloud.

I have to admit this Valentine bag ritual is new to me. I’m curious when it got started, because Diamondqueen says they never did that in class when she was in grade school in the 1970s. I was also pretty amazed at the amount of candy J. had raked in, as well as little tattoos, pencils, and even a food coupon from McDonald’s. Apparently it’s not enough to pass out Valentine cards — each comes with an extra goody of some kind.

Our practice 40+ years ago (at least in Catholic grade school) was to bring in our Valentines and simply distribute them. I think one year we had a box, but we never had special bags. Usually we were allowed class time for the passing out of Valentines, with those who had brought in cards placing them on students’ desks. There wasn’t always 100% participation. In my early grade years, I had to punch the little cardboard Valentines out of a booklet. Later, Mom purchased them in cellophane-enclosed boxes, not unlike the way kids’ Valentines are packaged today.

As J. read some of the printed sentiments on his Valentine cards, I had a sudden flashback that had me twitching. I’ve always heard about bad acid flashbacks; this was a bad Valentine flashback, and it had nothing to do with the cards we handed out as kids, or Valentines I received at any other point in my life.

For nine years I was employed full time as a greeting card writer (for the old Gibson Greetings company in Cincinnati). I wrote every kind of card for every kind of situation. The flashback I had was to trying to write sentiments for the packaged kids’ Valentines.

I don’t know why I got so twitchy remembering the experience. It wasn’t that bad; but it wasn’t necessarily that easy, either.

I think a package of Valentines required 12-14 verses. Some of these were simply chosen from the “banked” verses by the seasonal editor. In other cases, though, new verses were needed, especially if the packaged Valentines involved a licensed property (i.e., all Disney cards or Sesame Street cards or some recent movie for which the company had the license).

You have such little space on a kid’s Valentine that words have to be kept to a minimum. Hence, regardless of the design, there are a lot of “You’re cool!”, “Have an awesome day!”, “You’re one terrific Valentine!” and the like (usually with the ubiquitous exclamation point).

The challenge came when an editor needed something “different.” I and other writers (staff and freelance) would turn in pages of pithy sentiments, often pun-dominated, which could be painful to try to produce.

The card that triggered my flashback was a Cars Valentine J. received, with one of the characters saying, “You rev me up, Valentine!” Aaagh. Suddenly it all came flooding back. Staring at pages of licensed property artwork, making lists of key words that might work with a licensed character or situation, then struggling to make a lively, humorous verse of about five words. It was horrible, I tell you! Horrible!

It’s a sign of the emotional trauma I suffered that I can’t remember a single Valentine I wrote for those kids packages, or even the characters I had to write for. At some point, I very well may have submitted a version of “You rev me up, Valentine!” And any other corny, obvious line you can think of. I might not remember because perhaps I never had any accepted for publication, but I think I did. One or two here and there. What became so demoralizing was beating my brains out to come up with original, creative lines for the assigned art, only to have the editor go back to the tried-and-true: “You’re cool!” “Be mine!” All that angst for nothing.

I make almost all of my own cards now — not just for Valentine’s Day but for all occasions. And I rarely come up with anything beyond a basic “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “Happy Birthday,” usually using a rubber stamp. I put most of my effort into the creation and construction of the card itself.

Although I did write short verses for the Hooligans’ Valentines. They’re both Star Wars maniacs at the moment. So I digitally altered images of Anikan and Padme, putting J. and S.Hooligan’s heads on their bodies (respectively). Then I printed out my verse: “Happy Valentine’s Day — and may the Force be with you!” shaped in that kind of elongated pyramid style like the introduction at the beginning of the first movie, printed out on special silvery, sparkly background paper. The kids loved them.

Although, now that I think about it, I DID get kind of twitchy when I was coming up with that verse.

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Yes, I finished the 50,000 word marathon and became a “winner” for the 2007 National Novel Writing Month. As I said in my first NaNoWriMo post, I cheated a bit by not actually writing a novel. This tempers my joy and pride a little — I simply can’t compare my accomplishment to those who actually created new worlds and new people — but 50,000 words is still a lot to write in one month’s time.

Diamondqueen, who also “won,”  probably is closer to having a potential book than I am. As much as I loved Bailey, the beagle we both wrote about, I had far less than 50,000 words to contribute. So I wrote about other things just to keep the words coming. I’m not even sure what I’ll eventually do with some of that writing, but I set completing NaNoWriMo as a goal and I aced it (yesterday, actually), so I’m content.

I’d mentioned that I always seem to get sick for NaNoWriMo. This year was maybe the most challenging of all. I started feeling sick on November 3 (although I had a few general symptoms before then), and I’m still struggling with the after-effects of a lingering upper respiratory infection. It was very hard to make myself go in to the computer at night and start writing, when I really wanted to veg with my cross-stich in front of the TV (or just go to bed). If I’m legitimately proud of anything, it’s that I persevered. That I do give myself credit for.

As I’m writing this, people around the world (in time zones where it’s not yet midnight, at least) are pounding the keys to overtake that 50,000-word finish line; or they’re just verifying their novels and being declared winners. (See the nifty icon at the top? That’s one of the goodies you get, plus you get to download a terrific certificate. This is the first time I’ve ever had a web presence where I could actually post the icon, so I’m pleased about that as well.)

To all those who have finished, and to those still struggling, congratulations — you’re accomplishing more than you know.

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Sometimes the best times are the ones that are unplanned and unanticipated.

Today I got an e-mail at work from Diamondqueen. She’d finished her 50,000 words and was a “winner” in the 2007 National Novel Writing Month. I congratulated her and tried not to feel too jealous. After all, I’m only 4,000 words behind her.

She wrote back and said we were going to celebrate her this evening, if anyone wanted to go out to dinner, her treat. Mom would be at the house by 5:30.

So we all went out: Diamondqueen and TPM (who actually put out the cash for the feast, despite Diamondqueen’s posturing), the Hooligan kids, Mom, and me. Diamondqueen had already chosen Lone Star as the restaurant. The first weekend of NaNoWriMo, my sister had issued a writing challenge to me. Whoever wrote the most words between midnight Saturday and midnight Monday won bragging rights and a gift from the loser, who had to bow down before the winner and declare her the writing “queen.” Of course she beat me handily (I write much more slowly because I’m too careful). In honor of her victory, this evening Diamondqueen wore a plastic tiara of a pink metallic hue. She wore it into the restaurant, although not through dinner (partly because it wouldn’t sit on her fat head but kept popping off and shooting into the air).

Meals with the Hooligans can be wild, but tonight everything went smoothly. Everyone felt well, the food was good, spirits were high, and the kids actually ate. We laughed a lot and enjoyed ourselves. To have something go that seamlessly is rare.

As we rode back to the Hooligan residence, holiday lights gleaming here and there through the November dusk, I thought of all the times we’d planned outings and celebrations that just didn’t go off the way we’d hoped. Someone had a headache, someone was in a temper, a meal order got screwed up or the food wasn’t cooked well, the kids were hellions and made everyone miserable. There’s usually something. Tonight, it was a pleasure.

And it reinforced my belief in being open to the spur-of-the-moment, in cultivating the willingness to pick up and do something without too many calculations and designs. A life of constant impetuosity becomes chaotic, and there’s lots of juice in being able to look forward to something. Now and then, though, it’s nice to just dive in. And it’s even better when it turns out beautifully.

No, I won’t celebrate Thursday evening when I hope to finish up my own 50,000 word marathon, at least not with a group dinner. I’ll savor a little self-satisfaction, but I kind of hitched my star to Diamondqueen’s tonight and celebrated my approaching victory within myself. The juice of confident anticipation made the steak and shrimp even more flavorful.

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Previous Bailey posts are available under “Dog Stories” or “NaNoWriMo posts.” 

That damn beagle was a menace when bailey-2-cu-small-web-view.jpgit came to satisfying her urges. Yes, she was spayed. It never mattered.

My first experience with Bailey’s “physical lovin'” was when I babysat her about a month after Diamondqueen and TPM brought her home. They wanted a night out; they’d been married only about a month, and the puppy still required a level of attention that discouraged their being out of the apartment for very long at the same time. At least, that’s how they felt. They just weren’t ready to leave their furry little loved one alone, so Diamondqueen asked if I could babysit one Friday evening.

I was delighted to spend some quality time alone with my new “niece.” After her mommy and daddy left, Bailey and I played a bit, but she soon tired. I happily settled in on the sofa to watch TV with the puppy snuggled up against my hip.

After awhile she stirred and started to climb into my lap. My heart melted, and I glowed with this “awwww” showing of affection.

To my astonishment, though, Bailey continued to climb, pulling herself up onto the arm of the sofa, wrapping her legs around my forearm, and riding with a ferocity that must have recalled Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill.

It took me a few moments to gather my wits and disengage the small animal from my arm. I felt as though I was tugging off some perverse bracelet or cuff. I think her legs were still curled in her circular embrace when I finally freed myself.

Bailey continued her displays of affection throughout her life, and not just with me. Once Diamondqueen caught her getting ready to mount J.Hooligan as a toddler, the kind of “hug” the child didn’t need.

Her habit grew worst during the final years of Bailey’s life, although we never knew why. At a time when her lust and energy should have been waning, Bailey latched on to me regularly. Usually this happened when I was lying on the floor, playing with the kids. Bailey would sidle up as if something else were on her mind, virtually rolling her eyes at the ceiling and whistling in a nonchalant way. Then she’d wrap herself around my leg, and she never relinquished her hold easily. Often I’d shove her away only to have her spring back, taking me down again.

This also happened when I was sitting on the sofa or futon. And occasionally I was attacked while I was standing upright. In those instances, Bailey only clung with her front legs, but she had tremendous strength. I’d try to pull away and she’d stay right with me, hopping on her back legs like the Easter Bunny. A few times I hobbled into the other room, Bailey clinging and hopping the whole way.

No, it wasn’t affection, and it was obnoxious as hell. No amount of pushing and yelling deterred her. I suspected there might be a lot of alpha dog behavior behind it. Bailey considered herself queen of her domain — including everything and everyone in it. If she expected you to serve her desires, whatever they may be, she didn’t take “no” for an answer.

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