Chicken Dreams

I wake up at dawn and the sky is a vibrant purple.  The sun rises higher and higher before my eyes as I head out to the chicken coop.  Henrietta greets me at the door with a squawk, her orange-red wings flapping up dust and straw.  I sprinkle ground corn into the tin pans on the floor of the coop while 20 chickens startle in unison at my every move.  They make this sound like an almost squawk, like they’re revving up their motors for a race. 

I sprinkle ground oyster shells into the feed as a supplement to harden the eggs.  I read online last summer that tomatoes get blossom rot from a lack of calcium in the soil and discovered those same oyster shells work as a supplement to soil too.

It’s peaceful in the coop.  The chickens don’t expect much from me.  I lift the water can and it’s heavy, plenty of water to get through the day.  I grab a cardboard box from the shelf outside the coop and methodically, I approach each hen box looking for a prize.  Eighteen eggs today, someone didn’t lay.  Of course, I don’t expect an egg from Willy the rooster.  He has no purpose here except to protect his brood and he is mean enough.

Eggs collected, I head to the house to wash their shells.  They are large and brown and perfect…

I don’t have any chickens.  I wish I did and I wish they laid 20 eggs every day so I could take them to the food pantry to give to families who need them.  I daydream about chickens.  Is that weird?

Different Minds

The crazy, creative part about writing a blog is the freedom of writing it, posting it and moving on.  I admit, I sometimes look back and make corrections but for the most part, it’s a task I complete with that last period on the page and then I focus to other things.  It’s so freeing.  You have to be a little daring because posting off the cuff means laying out something rough and unpolished.  But, sometimes I think the result is better than a piece that has been edited to death.

Have you every finished a free writing session and looked back and thought, “Wow, that was in my head?  I didn’t know that about me.”  I like that feeling.  I also love when someone reads something I’ve written and the perspective, based on his or her unique life experience, alters the effect.  We often forget as writers that we are not alone in our writing.  Each reader contributes to our story by bringing his own point-of-view.  We can’t base our writing on this collaboration because we don’t have access to other brains (at least I don’t.)  But, the result adds richness all the same.

Watching

I stand outside the pastor’s office at church like a delinquent student waiting to see the principal.  With time on my hands, I put my powers of observation to work.  I’m reminded of school days because the office is in the lower level of the church in a hallway made of cinderblock painted a glossy pastel blue.  Through open doorways, I see colorful wall murals in cheerful classrooms proclaiming, “Jesus loves me.”  I’m sure the pastor chose this noisy hallway for his office because of the ample window to the northern sky.  Sunlight is streaming through the sheer curtain into the hall from the glass in his door.

As I wait, I notice the busy parents as they shepherd children to appropriate classrooms.  They are distracted as they rush to drop their children off, but meet my gaze on their way back up the hall to climb the stairs to the big church.  Many offer a smile, and most, “good-morning” or “hello.”

I witness a particularly touching moment as a mother in her Sunday best approaches the stairs with a small boy.  He is very young but an experienced walker with a wispy halo of fine blond hair.  They walk past sweetly murmuring to one another, the boy’s tiny palm in his mother’s hand.  This image alone is sweet but then from around the corner, the father appears.   He is a tall, broad man with a shaved head, but his eyes are soft.  He sees his family and gently smiles asking the boy if he’s going to “big” church.  Mother and son close the distance and they turn to ascend the stairs.  As the trio climbs together, the small boy, without a word raises up his tiny hand.  The father without hesitation reaches down to hold it gently in his grasp.  What faith that boy has in his father so early in life, knowing whenever he reaches, his father’s hand will be there.

Material

Remnant of Great-Grandma Clay's Quilt

When writers talk about material, it means the fabric of our lives, used to inspire and craft our stories.  My husband, the construction worker, is referring to drywall and lumber and nails when he talks about material.  For me the word material conjures images of gingham and ribbon and lace.

My mother and her mother before her were seamstresses during my childhood.  My grandma on my dad’s side was a seamstress too.  For them, a new bolt of fabric was the possibility of a new dress and scraps were saved as potential for a quilt in the fall. 

There was a closet in our house devoted to sewing.  Mom and Grandma worked at The Garment Factory and at the close of a season, the factory hosted a fabric sale.  Mom kept her bargain finds neatly folded in a rainbow of colors stacked on shelves in the sewing closet.

When I was very young that closet held cotton material.  One summer, Mom made me a maxi-length red and white gingham pinafore with a ruffle around the bottom to wear in The Little Miss Windsor pageant during the celebration of our country’s bi-centennial year (1976).  I won the contest and at 7 years old was an absolute princess in that dress.

A few years later, polyester was the only fabric to be found in that closet.  My grandma made my cousin and me matching, sea-foam green, polyester pant suits with silver and pearl snaps.  I was not a fan of polyester, it was scratchy, and it was becoming un-cool to wear homemade clothing.  I entered my teen years and found every excuse to avoid learning the craft.  I was required to take one year of home economics in high school and declared myself a failure at sewing, vowing to never pick up needle and thread again.

As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate my mother’s and grandmothers’ skill.  I especially cherish the quilts made by loving hand from scraps of our history.  Not only do the quilts contain discount cloth from factory sales but in them can be found scraps of Grandpa’s pajama bottoms, and that old flannel shirt.

I’m still a failure at sewing; probably from lack of trying. But, I write, and  I hope through my stories I’m able to  capture a little scrap of family history in the threads.

Old Friends Revisited

Old Friends

My husband doesn’t ever want to see a movie a second time.  If I pop in an old classic, he will walk in the room and declare, “Seen it!” and then go upstairs to play Halo.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s not a movie fan at all.  He commonly tells our friends after a night out at the local AMC theatre, “Well, I just paid nine bucks for a nap.”  I give him points for going with the flow to make me happy.

 I love movies and I like to watch the same ones again and again.  The first time is purely for entertainment.  The second time, I’m looking for elements I originally missed, and the third time I actually start to appreciate the work of the people behind the scenes. 

I read books the same way.  It’s actually become a problem around the house because I can’t seem to let go of any of my books and we’re running out of space.  I don’t enjoy checking books out of the library because I never want to give them back.  After the first reading, the characters become my friends.  I put the book on a shelf and walk away but then I start to miss my friends.  I start reading a new book and become distracted by my new friends for a while and even start to forget about the old ones on the shelf.  Eventually, I have to dust that shelf and before you know it, the old book is back in my hand and then back on my night stand for another read.

For a writer, there are benefits to re-reading a good book, especially a book that has inspired you in a profound way.  The second reading can be done with a critical eye to see how the writer achieved making a connection with you, the reader, allowing your own writing to grow.  I’ve noticed since I’ve made writing a priority in my life, I look at things from a writer’s perspective.  Certain subtleties that I once might have overlooked now catch my eye.  While watching a sitcom on TV, I now take note of clever or stale dialogue.  When reading a book, heavy on location description, I find myself skimming over an entire paragraph and nod my head.  That paragraph could have been left out.

Taking note of these strengths and weaknesses in the works of others may seem arrogant, but only if I don’t apply what I’ve learned to my own writing.  I invite you to take some time to revisit an old friend.  Even if you’re not a writer, you may find that the life you’ve experienced since your last read brings a fresh perspective and you’ll enjoy the book even more.

Being heard

 

Topsail Island, North Carolina

Good conversation is like a day at the beach, like the gentle ebb and flow of waves against the shore.  Participation should be a back and forth motion, equal parts talking and listening.  When I find myself in a group situation where everyone is open and not only willing to share but willing to consider other views, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Fred says good conversation makes for good community.  I find this to be absolutely true.  Have you ever been in a group where conversation is effortless?  Each person contributing usually accompanied by laughter, because when things are going well topics are light.  In these moments we feel like we belong.  That’s community.

On the other hand, think of a situation where something of importance is at stake.  What’s it like to feel like no one is listening or information is being withheld?  It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and causes suspicion.  It’s in these situations through a breakdown of communication that community starts to crumble.  As the back and forth exchange of information becomes broken, rumor springs forth and people start to feel isolated.  Then, people take sides in an effort to belong.  It seems its human nature to seek out community.

I witnessed this breakdown of community recently when our school district announced some dramatic budget cuts.  Members of certain groups within the school system, out of fear that their program might be cut, divided into opposing sides.  False information was layered within truth and lots of finger-pointing occurred.  Thankfully, I also witnessed a voice of reason reaching out to unite our community.  A third group formed with the intent of finding accurate information and posting it publicly so individuals could form new opinions based on fact instead of emotionally driven rhetoric. 

I’ve been noticing this phenomenon recently.  With the integration of the internet to a majority of American households, it seems individuals are reaching out to find like-minded souls not to form a majority in an effort to conquer but to open up dialogue.  Take a look at Facebook, people are forming groups to offer support, to keep connected, and to expand their community.  It’s refreshing.

So, if you find yourself part of a community: in your church, in your city, in your neighborhood or on the World Wide Web, remember its survival depends on open lines of communication.  Sharing our experiences and insights draws us together, so let your voice be heard, but also be willing to listen and consider.

Taking a stand

I am a coward.  For the most part, I choose the safe road.  I love intellectual conversation, but when the tides flow against my opinion I tend to clam up.  I don’t like conflict and tend to let the opposition think I agree by remaining silent.  The good thing about this tactic is that I am forced to listen to the other side which in some cases just encapsulates my own opinion in concrete.  Other times, it leads people to believe I’m something that I’m not and that’s a problem.

Being a writer means taking risks.  It means putting forth something personal for every reader to judge.  All art is like this.  The artist has something to say and puts heart and soul into illustrating his message.  Some will like what they see and some will hate it or even be offended by it.

 I tend to write warm and fuzzy stories containing little snippets of sunshiny days and feel good moments.  I think I do this out of fear or at least apprehension. I’m ok with people critiquing my writing skill; I know it’s a work in progress and there’s always room to improve but if I write about something controversial or something I feel strongly about, I might open myself up to dialogue in which I have to defend my opinion and that makes me uncomfortable.  I am a coward.

Fred White says that by going with the flow to be accepted by the majority is to risk compromising our own integrity.  Whoa, that is heavy.  What feels like keeping the peace to me is actually betraying my own belief system?  Yikes!  Fred challenges writers to attack those issues we feel might be too controversial and investigate why we tend to shove those projects to the back of the drawer.

I once started doing character development on an antagonist for a story I was working on.  I wanted to get inside his head to figure out his motivation.  I ended up discovering a very jaded womanizer with a tendency for violence who felt entitled to take whatever he wanted.  It freaked me out.  Why was this guy living in my head?  I put the brakes on the project and shoved it to the back of the desk drawer.  It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t like the feeling.  Yep, coward.

I see now, how letting that guy live on the page will give depth to my writing.  He’s the antagonist.  It’s his job to make the reader uncomfortable.  I need him to supply the tension and create the conflict or there’s no reason to tell the story.  Someday I’ll let this sleeping creep out of the drawer and I’ll work on being brave because I hate to think I’m compromising my integrity.  Thanks for the kick in the pants, Fred.

The Progress Train has Left the Building

Printing Press

I see it all the time.  A new piece of technology comes along and the doom and gloom people start a ruckus.  The new thing will ruin culture as we know it and mourning for the end of an era ensues. 

 Remember when 8-tracks were replaced by cassette tapes?  I sure do.  I was a teenager asking for a stereo for Christmas.  “Please Mom,” I asked.  “Get me one that will drop at least 3 albums and I want one of those new cassette players because they are going to stop making 8-track tapes.”  My Mom, thinking it was ridiculous that the music people would even consider stopping production on the fabulous 8-track, found a great deal on really nice stereo system.  Fortunately, the price of an 8-track cartridge went down considerably; unfortunately, no new music was released on the device.  I listened to my one 8-track tape, Loverboy – Get Lucky, a lot. Thank goodness I could still play my old Journey, Styx, and Fleetwood Mac albums. 

It happened in the field of photography with the Instamatic camera and now the digital revolution is sending old school photographers screaming and pulling at their hair.  In the beginning when digital was still expensive, I heard friends say,” I’ll never give up film.”  But how can film compete with a camera that gives instant results and if the shot is blurry, you just hit delete and shoot again. 

Now it’s happening in the publishing world.  E-books and the birth of the Kindle and the unfortunately named IPad are sending old school publishers and writers into a tizzy.  Print media is going to disappear!  Anyone can post a blog!  It will be the death of true literature!  Come on people, it’s called progress.  Jump on the train or get left behind. 

I for one still love to hold a book in my hand but have taken to reading the news online. I still love to sit down on a Saturday with the big weekend edition and read the funny papers and I hope that doesn’t go away anytime soon.  But progress is as progress does.  Things change.

Check an example of the Gutenberg Bible in digital splendor at the following link:  http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/gutenberg/

Hard copy is on display at The Ransom Center, University of Texas

Jesus say what?

I love what Fred has to say about the use of “parables as story material.”  He refers to the Parable of  The Sower in chapter 13 of the book of Matthew in which a disciple asks Jesus why he speaks in parables to the people.  Jesus replies that those open to spiritual truth will find meaning in his stories.  As modern writers, we can use the parable as a vehicle to communicate an abstract idea.

The modern-day parable uses common situations to illustrate abstract ideas in a dramatic way.  In my experience, this explains the value of drama in teaching.  It offers a way to connect with the audience.  In writing, the same principles can be applied to convey theme to the reader.  Fred suggests writing a modern-day parable beginning with a common occupation.  Make your character a mechanic or a nurse and through story telling, show the value of their service  without summarizing.  Set a scene in which the reader “sees” the character in an honorable way.

I’ve actually assigned this lesson to my writers group at church.  I’ve still never tried it myself.  Here’s another story idea for my to do list.

You mean it’s March?

Yesterday I experienced a glitch of Y2K proportions.  Which is to say, not that big of a deal.  The book I’m using to guide my blog (The Daily Writer by Fred White)  was set up for a leap year.  Yesterday, my post pertained to the entry for February 29th.  Thankfully, this did not cause parallel universes to crash together but now I’m a day behind on my posts.  Or, did I get a bonus day?  This abstract calendar thing is making my head spin and then I find out that Chile’s earthquake caused the earth to shift on its axis resulting in the loss of 1.26 microseconds of the day.  No wonder I felt so rushed yesterday.