What the flock of geese….

Today’s post is a photo story.   One tiny moment caught forever in the trappings of my phone’s camera.  Working farms still hold strong in our current town and while driving past a local corn and dairy farm this morning I had this “what the flock of geese???” moment.  So it’s true – the goose is greener on the other side!   Looking for a title for the picture – leave it in the comments!

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Books? Oh books, where are you?….

The little shop front sits sandwiched tightly between a bagel shop and a specialty women’s clothing store.  Broken shelving still remains.   An abandoned roll of packing tape is the sole sentry on the work worn checkout counter. Dust hugging the broad picture window allows enough slivers of filtered light to view the scuff marked floor where not so long past feet stood planted as pages were turned.  Giggles from children discovering new worlds have faded into the now bare walls.  Fare thee well sweet bookstore.

I am a big fan of the written word.   Huge actually.  And I am thrilled to say that this passion has been genetically preprogrammed into my offspring.  Whew – big sigh of relief when they all turned up literate.  One of our best family outings is a trip to the bookstore. Aisles filled with adventures waiting to be embarked upon, information on every subject imaginable and the sound of book bindings cracking open for someone’s private perusal.  Ah, bliss.

Except for one big problem.  Those book stores are becoming harder and harder to come by.  And this is a huge problem for all of us.  (Collective us – meaning YOU!!!)  A few months ago when major book retailer Border’s®  shuttered their windows and hung up the “out of business” signs the reality of how readers consume today’s words hit home.

Go online or go extinct seems to be the new order of writing.  E-books, E-zines, E-everything……if you head over to the Barnes and Noble®  website or the all-consuming Amazon.com®  you will find that books are offered in both physical and electronic form.  What’s becoming more common is to find publications only available via e-book or print on demand.

There are definitely upsides to the written word hitting the open airwaves.  For one, many a forest will breathe easier.  Ease of access from any locale and the lower costs of downloading are big bonuses.  Also on the plus side is the space (or lack of) that devices like the Nook®, Kindle®, e-reader®, etc. take up in the world.

Sounds awesome.  Progress is great.  Any downsides?  Umm, yeah.  The move to electronic everything has opened the doors to a total free for all on the internet.  Anyone can publish anything (yes, even me).  As the traditional gatekeepers to publishing heaven are being nudged aside a new wave of writing and media has emerged.  It’s like Haight-Asbury’s Summer of Love but on a global scale.    How do you weed out the Janis Joplin’s from the fray?

From the wild ride we are on now will ideally emerge a middle ground that calls to both the traditionalist and the techie.  In my family we are  a home of Kindles and laptops AND piles of books towering on every surface.

Where does that leave readers who crave not just the ease of technology, but the physical act of holding a book, turning the pages, and walking the aisles to find just the right read?  Somehow gathering the entire family around the Kindle® is just not the same as the adventure of the tangible book store.

For now, it leaves us in a local Barnes & Noble®  or if we are able to find one, a privately owned book store.  If you need help locating these brick and mortar establishments check out sites like this one by publisher Random House®   that locate local stores carrying their books: http://www.randomhouse.com/bookstores/local.html

Luckily our tactile senses can still be appeased as we creak open the binding on our next story.

I want you

I want a 2012 Audi R8 Spyder.  It’s fast, sleek and gorgeous.  It’s the kind of vehicle that even non car aficionados (that would be me) take notice of and okay, let’s just say it, lust after.  The R8 is that hot.

I really, really want it.  But I don’t need it.  And there is today’s blog point. Succinct and simple.   Want vs. need.

This fairly common topic of conversation has been well-worn out over many a kitchen table as people face a new economy that has put startling clarity on the difference.  The want vs. need comparison can be applied to every aspect of our lives.  Purchases, food intake, vacation plans, cars, and yes, even writing.

Writers are a funny bunch.  Give us an empty room and we will fill it with dastardly villains, high-powered women, and chortling madmen.  (Or unicorns and bouncy balls – depends on the genre).  We WANT to get a story down that takes the reader from point a to point z with lots of cool stuff in between.  What we NEED is to put pen to paper and just go for it while creating a world that others can fall into.

What a writer hopes to accomplish depends on the type of arena in which it will be showcased.  A science writer may want to tell the reader about a newly discovered star seventeen billion light years away that space explorers have hopes of reaching by your great, great, great, great grandchild’s eighty seventh birthday.   Contrarily a science fiction writer will want you to live with them in a story that takes place on a doomed planet in that same galaxy while battling cyborgs and space junk to save the universe and by the way, getting to that star only takes eighteen pages.

On the want side is, well, you – readers.  But the wants need balancing with the need. The need for the author of any piece, be it fiction, non-fiction, research, blogs, etc. is to convey the information in a format both interesting and digestible to the reader.  How do things taste so far?  BURP.

Wants and needs very often walk a fine line with each other.   I want my story’s hero to learn the tango and fly a jet – but does he need to?  Or am I just fattening up the story with unnecessary words to fill the pages.   If my hero needs to leave the country suddenly and the only way out is relying on his own ingenuity, then he definitely needs to fly that plane.   Learning to cut the extraneous wants out of a piece and keep the leaner needs makes for a cleaner read.

I am going to give you something that is a fairly standard given on any writing site, college essay exam, or self-help book.   It’s a writing prompt, and a pretty basic one at that.   You don’t have to be a writer or a college attendee to participate.  WHAT DO YOU WANT, WHAT DO YOU NEED, AND HOW DO YOU GET FROM POINT A TO Z.  Use it for your story, your blog, or your life.

Personally I know that I physically NEED a way to get from point A to point B.  I WANT it to be in that R8.

Beholder’s eyes

I’d like to see something in a modernistic, architectural, subculture, still life.  Please.  Oh, and it has to be 12.673 x 13.7 x 2.  Thanks.

Art….deep breath…..writing, painting, sculpting, sketching, dancing, singing, cooking, photographing, playing, building, designing, showing, telling, sharing.   Way too much stuff to cram into such a teensy little word, don’t you think?  And yet when we say art, each one of us pulls a different image from our mind’s eye.

I’m a lucky girl (and no, I am not telling you this to let you know how awesome I am, even though I am) because I am surrounded by people who express themselves through art.  Some create for a living, some create in hopes of it becoming a living, and some have whole other careers and then in their spare time, create.  Each time a friend shares something they have done – a new story, a blog, a song, a picture, a painting – it’s like getting a present. Not the tangible rip off the paper and squeal kind (although I am WIDE OPEN for those if anyone wants to send some) but the kind that enriches you as a person.

The gift lies in being shown something that is created from a place tucked somewhere inside of them that only gets seen through the lens of their art.  These are the kinds of gifts where “thanks for sharing” doesn’t seem to be quite enough to say.  How do you thank someone for sharing a part of their soul?  Words seem underwhelming. Okay, well, sure, hanging it in a museum or publishing it or buying the album would be a kind of thanks too.

When we lived in Australia I attended The Sydney Royal Easter Show.  For anyone not familiar with this event it is like a country fair on some serious steroids.  Part of the festival is an art show with judges and prizes.  The artist’s works are hung in aisles for attendees to peruse and admire.  Ranging from simple to incredibly complex there’s no shortage of subjects or mediums.

My favorite item was a painting by Lightning Ridge artist John Murray. This piece was named “The Brewarrina-Goodooga Rd.”   Depicting an outback road heading off into the horizon the painting was full of texture and depth. The road to both nowhere and everywhere was a strong message.  I fell, as the cliché goes, head over heels in love with the piece – it called to my gypsy soul.  Being so in love I of course stalked this piece, even from afar when we moved back to the states, until one day someone else who could afford the asking price of $10,000.00AU also fell in love and stole my boyfriend…errr..I mean painting.

If you are wondering why I’m telling you about my art stalking issues I really do have a point.  I promise.  Art can speak to us at any random time and in any form.  It is one soul speaking to another, saying “Hi, does this resonate with you?  Let’s share a moment.”  Art is individual, both in the creation and the interpretation.

There are far too many art forms and artists in the world to give you a link to all of them and I even if I could, I am pretty sure I would lose you around page two.  So I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of cool ones that might help you find something that speaks to you.  Also, because it’s my blog and I can do anything I want on here, I am giving you the links to a couple of the artists that I know.   Maybe their work will say hi to you too……

Snowflakes of knowledge….

Steamy love stories, back rooms, wild adventures….at this point you may have already guessed that today’s post theme is….. the Library!  Oh….that wasn’t your guess?  Huh, not sure why……

The public library is an often unrecognized resource for all things AWESOME.  You don’t have to be a bibliophile to appreciate all that this steady institution has to offer. Sorry – not sure what that word means?  Maybe what you need is a place that can loan you a dictionary.

My love affair with the library dates back to the first summer I could ride my bike to our local branch and fill my basket to the brim.  A few days later I would repeat the process all over again.  Nothing was as sweet as walking up and down the aisles deciding which adventures I would embark upon that day.

Blessed art thou whose childhood neighbor was also a bibliophile. Let’s call her Leanne (because that’s her name).  One summer Leanne and I took our book obsession to THE NEXT LEVEL by “sharing” our love with the other neighborhood children.  We hauled piles of our own tomes out to the backyard table, lovingly wrote up due date papers, and then proceeded to force our friends to check out books.  Those who resisted were tortured until they complied.  I think my sister still has some scars.  We loved books.

Modern libraries offer a treasure of goodies all for (insert mental drum roll)… FREE!!!!   Below is a list of many really cool things you can do at and with the public library:

  • Check out books – an obvious one.  But the library also has magazines, reference guides, and some really fun how to books. Ever want to take up long distance water skiing? I actually don’t think that is a sport, but it should be. Want to know how to disappear and take all your assets with you?  Oh, yeah – there’s a book for that.  Yes, you may be put on a watch list for checking it out, but it is a great read.  I’m on the list too….
  • Rent movies.  Most libraries offer a selection of new releases, documentaries, and old classics.    Star Wars® movie marathon anyone?
  • Children’s activities.  Anyone who has ever tried to keep up with the attention span of a three-year old will fully appreciate the gift of story time at the library.   It’s free, it’s fun, and there are grown-ups.  Enough said.    Older children can participate in summer reading programs.  Each library is unique.  That’s right – they are like snowflakes of knowledge.  To find out what the library can offer your children, call your local branch.
  • Music.  Some libraries have a music lending section which is great when you want to try an album on for size without committing to ownership or are looking for specific tunes for an event.
  • Book clubs.  A great way to meet other readers and really dig into a book selection.  If your library doesn’t have one, starting one can open doors to new friendships and a fun day out.  Plus the librarians will really like you and who doesn’t like to be liked?
  • Book readings by authors.  Have you penned a book? Need a place to promote?  How about your local libraries?  Set up some readings, discussions, or Q & A sessions.  A free book giveaway is a nice add-on to the event.  Remember to have a copy to donate to the library.
  • Need a meeting location?  Most libraries have a community room that can be reserved at the circulation desk.
  • Have a business and want to get the word out?  Host a free seminar at your library.  i.e. How to manage your money.  How to write a winning business plan.  How to write resumes and then include a critique (it would be helpful if you actually know something about one of these subjects). You can even have a book list ready so you can give some love back to the library.  Send your attendees off to the card catalogs in search of their follow-up material (okay, I know it is now a computer screen but card catalog sounds so classic).
  • Looking for a way to do more stuff locally for FREE?  Many libraries have a great hidden gem – FREE passes to local places of interest such as museums, zoos, and historical homes.  Just ask your librarian for the list.

Has it been awhile?  Not even sure how to get to your local library?  Confused as to how to use a library card?  Check out this handy site: http://www.publiclibraries.com for library locations within the United States and US territories.

Not in the U.S.?  This website helps you find books and libraries globally: http://www.worldcat.org/libraries   I can’t attest to the accuracy of the global library locations so if anyone overseas wants to chime in on this one, have at it.   Or if someone would like to sponsor a fact-finding mission I will readily agree to take on the task.

Still stuck on that second paragraph wondering what the heck a bibliophile is?  Well I’m not telling you.  Go ask a librarian.

Moments of public nudity…..

So that got your attention did it?  Just to be clear this post is not about the wild moments of naked abandon in our youth.  Oh – was that just me?  My bad.  Let me just file that away for another blog…..

Writing and creating can be scary stuff.  It is taking the flotilla out of your head and getting it down on something solid, be it paper, laptop, etching stone, whatever.

Have you ever had that moment when you were thinking something really weird and you looked over and saw someone staring at you?  You know the look I mean.  The one that says ‘ewwww, I stepped in something that looked just like you the other day’.  You are absolutely, heart-stoppingly certain that they knew exactly what you were just thinking.  And boy, was that thought a doozy.  Writing is scary like that.

For me, putting my work into the world is like walking around naked in bright, completely unflattering, unfiltered sunlight. Folks, it’s not pretty. It is showing my barest self and then gritting my teeth while I brace myself for the onslaught of opinions.  Simultaneously it is both terrifying and thrilling.

My closest emotional analogy is that moment at the top of the roller coaster when you have just a few seconds to see the expanse of endless landscape afforded only from that vantage point and you think “my gosh (or holy *$#(@ depending on your mastery of the English language), the world is so beautiful from up here” before your body drops out from under you and you think to yourself, “this wasn’t my best idea” as you plummet to the earth.  You twist and turn for a few more minutes before leveling out but the rush lasts long after the ride is over.

Yup, writing publically is like that for me.

Luckily I have lots of other fear/thrill seekers in my circle of friends so I went on a quest to find out how these other artists feel about sending their work out into the universe for all to judge.

“Sending my writing out into the world feels like cutting the anchoring rope on a hot air balloon, with a dizzying ascent into the unknown”, responded author and friend Vicki Tremper.  She takes that sky ride regularly on her blog and through her YA books.

Singer Mike Acerbo, who just released his debut album titled “The Search”, not only solos on his album but wrote all of his own songs.  I give him double points for bravery since he is putting both his writing AND voice out for public scrutiny.

Mike had this to say about putting his art into the world: “When I put my first song out on the internet it was absolutely terrifying.  You just never know how people are going to respond. You are revealing the most inner part of your soul when you share your art. It’s like having immediate intimacy with complete strangers and you are subject to their feelings of you. You also have to learn to let go and let your art be what it is to the beholder as sometimes your intention and their interpretation are entirely different.”

So for the individual artist, the way we analogize is different, but the scary factor is always there.

Terry isn’t someone I interviewed or a friend, but he is an author and this is an awesome quote, so here it is:  “It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.” ― Terry Pratchett

I think this holds true, even when that someone is that little voice inside that says, ‘don’t go out there, you’re not ready and the world will judge’.  If we were a saner bunch, Vicki, Mike and I would just close our heads, pack up the words, and go about our daily business without throwing our self-esteem out on to the front lawn on mowing day.  But we’re not.

Thankfully, besides my crazy friends and I, there are millions of other brave souls who also tuck the scary factor away and share their art with the world.  Well, except for authors like Steven King, who basically take the scary factor, ramp it up, and make us afraid to bury our goldfish in the backyard.  Again, that is a whole other post….

Today I encourage you (yup, I am speaking directly to YOU) to brave the scary.  And the next time you see someone buck naked and perched at the tippy top of a roller coaster, wave!

For more information on Michael Acerbo or VB Tremper check out:  http://mikeacerbo.bandcamp.com                  http://vbtremper.wordpress.com

Love stories…..

Roses are red, violets are blue, love comes in all shapes, and every different hue……

Yesterday my daughter wanted to make Valentine’s to give to her classmates. So sweet. And so she asked me to find some craft stuff in our basement to make them with. Not so sweet. Due to our penchant for moving every few years I tend to let some things pile up in boxes, and those boxes in turn tend to pile up where ever we land. So I knew that I had a nice supply of V-day crafts (not to be confused with our D for doomsday supplies – canned SPAM® and a bottled water anyone?) SOMEWHERE in the mountain of boxes and unfortunately, so did my daughter.

So into the boxes we dove. More accurately, I dove. She got bored after about five minutes and went upstairs to play. Sigh. I love children.

What started as an archaeological dig for crafts soon became a walk down memory lane as I unearthed troves of old letters from an array of people who have touched my life. Love letters from my husband when we were in the long distance love affair stage. Phone bills from that time too. That is a whole other post but let me just say this – YOU ARE WELCOME Verizon staff because I single-handedly covered your holiday bonuses and possibly a couple of retirement packages in 1994. Sorry, off topic….

There were letters from old friends, letters from my Grandmother…..I could literally wall paper my house and probably your home too with the contents of the boxes. Have I mentioned that I’m a saver?

Each letter held a story and when pieced together, they tell the timeline of my life. Funny, irreverent, beautiful, heartbreaking – there are letters that cover them all within the safe confines of the boxes. These are the words that weave together to tell me who I was before the current version: ME 41.0.

I suspect that you have a stash somewhere too – letters from old sweethearts, birthday cards from a standout year, cards and notes that mark important mile stones. They are worth the dig. Or, if you are a tad bit more organized than me, they are worth opening the file cabinet.

One of my favorite ‘finds’ was a book called “Grandmother’s Memories”. Made by Hallmark®, it was a gift to my Grandmother in 1989. Over the course of the following ten years my sister’s and I would periodically pull it out when visiting her and interview Gram to fill in the blanks with her stories. The book has lead-in lines like “I remember as a teenager…” and “When I was born, my family lived at…” with spaces afterwards for the answers.

One of the best lines in the book hails from the Remember When section. The lead-in line begins: “When I was a little girl, my allowance was….” And my Grandmother’s answer: “You must be kidding.” She had a quick and dry sense of humor. This book was her love story. A love of life, a love of family, and a way for us to remember the details of a woman we adored.

We are all writers of a sort. Not in the novel-writing, blog a day, lyricist sort of way (although some of us are that too) but in the way of life stories. Every word we put out into the world – via card, letter, memory book, and yes, Facebook, Twitter (etc.) tells our own story and very often the story of those around us.

If you have gotten to this point in the post and are now thinking to yourself “Wow, I really need to get my/spouse’s/parent’s/whoever’s story written too!” (Come on, you know it just crossed your mind) here are a few ideas to get you started.

 Amazon.com has a nice assortment of fill in the blank memory books. Search Books/Memory books for….and just fill in what you are looking for – children/parents/grandparents, etc.

 Check your local bookstore (AND I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THIS ONE) for both fill-in-the-blank type memory books and regular journals that can be filled with your own questions.

 Scrapbooking – a nice way to include both photos and written memories in one place. Scrapbooks can be found at local craft stores or online on websites like www.scrapbooks.com. Companies such as www.creativememories.com offer both supplies and classes on how to put it all together.

 Host a family memory party. Get the generations together and pull out some pens and paper. Have everyone write family stories and then put them all together in a bound book to be shared. Leave them handwritten or type up for uniformity – there are no rules. Local print shops would be glad to help or, if you don’t have one, make your own book websites are plentiful. Plug ‘Book Binding’ into your search engine and away you go.

I never did find those Valentine’s Day supplies. Instead we printed out little notes using Word and Clip Art and taped some candy to each one – my daughter’s love story to her classmates.

Roses are red, violets are blue, every post that I write, is a love story too…..