Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Favorite Things

How often do we think about the things that we love? Those things should be showing up repeatedly in our pieces of writing, so some exploration of what those things are is essential to writing more specifically. Take a few moments and create your own list. Add to it as time goes by. Post it someplace visible in the area in which you prefer to write. We'll be coming back to this list and using some things in later prompts.

Prompt: "...Write a list of a few of your favorite things. If possible, don't stop at a few. Write a list of a lot of your favorite things -- foods, activities, possessions, seasons, settings, whatever comes to mind...Pick an item from your list and explore it, giving your reasons for liking the item or developing a history, perhaps, of how long you've liked it, what associations it hold for you, particular memories of enjoying the item" (The Writer's Idea Book, p. 53).

My response:  Gardenias, cats, Puerto Rican pasteles, the color purple, Preston & Child novels, exploring the internet, singing, hot showers, lying in the sun, books by Sarah Dessen, coloring, throwing dinner parties, bed sheets with patterns in vivid colors, air conditioning, the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, the sound of the wind clacking the palm fronds, a baby's attempts at speaking, libraries, bookstores, second-hand stores, Gran-Becky's diamond wedding ring, stucco houses -- inside and out, tropical gardens, taking photographs, winter in Florida, snow skiing, museums, the tangy salt smell of the ocean, smiling, giving and getting hugs, kissing, jazz, vegetable biryani, mangoes, my grown-up daughter, Chaleur d'animale perfume, massages, scrabble, steampunk novels, Apple computers, seeing God all around me, ice cold stone crab claws with mustard sauce, purple sunsets, Midnight Oil coffee, pirates, history, Native American Indian culture.

Salt water runs through my veins. I'm not sure when or how my fascination with the ocean began. Perhaps it exists because I am a water sign -- Cancer, the crab. Maybe its roots go even deeper. I have been told I am related to the pirate Jean Lafitte, but even if I am not, all things seaworthy hold a fascination for me. Some of my fondest memories are anchored in the salt, like being awoken at 3 a.m. to be stowed like cargo in the backseat while my dad steered the family to Key Largo, where he would submit our 19-footer to the temporarily placid Atlantic. I can clearly recall the sound of the car's tires racing over the road and the rhythmic, hypnotizing thump-thump as we passed over the highway's expansion joints. Once the boat was launched, my place was perched on the prow, legs crossed Indian-style, clutching the anchor's rope. My spirit was free as we soared over the water, spray and wind bathing me in a salty perfume. I didn't care whether or not I caught any fish, though I was a  decent fisherwoman and usually hooked my share of the day's haul. For me, the snare was my developing love with the sea.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Looking at Self

Today's writing prompt is a bit introspective. After all, many authors have given beginning writers the advice to write about what you know best -- and what (or who) do I know better than myself? So, here goes!

Prompt: Mona Simpson begins her story "Lawns" with the sentence "I steal." Begin a story or poem or essay or journal entry with the line "I _______."  Push forward from there. If you can think of one action that speaks to who you are, what would it be? Write at least a few paragraphs. Try this experiment a few times, using different actions (The Writer's Idea Book, p. 48).

My response:

#1.  I cook. The flamboyant artist in me is released when I decide to throw a dinner party for family or friends. Usually I spend anywhere from a few days to a week poring over cookbooks and cooking websites working hard to put together just the right combination of dishes to impress (myself first, and then) my guests. You see, I rarely make the same main dish twice. Don't get me wrong, I like the food I cook, but I enjoy the challenge of new dishes from different cuisines, often mixing and intermingling flavors and styles in a sort of multicultural celebration. I have had some guests reel in horror at the thought that I hadn't previously cooked the dish I was serving. "How do you know it will turn out right," they exclaim. "I just know," I tell them. After years of cooking, I have developed an affinity for understanding how spices and herbs tease hidden secrets out of foods. If my nose tells me a combination just isn't right, then I abandon it, using what "feels right" instead. I have yet to fail at putting good food on the table for a party.  

I do repeat successful appetizers, however; certain family members would be extremely disappointed if I didn't make my Beef and Olive Empanadas or my Stuffed Grape Leaves every now and then.  And I plan to repeat a really great desert I made this past Easter: Lime Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce. The dish about which I am most proud is the Shrimp Biryani I served last Christmas. This was a fairly intricate Indian specialty that was is close to heaven as I have ever gotten via my culinary skills. I plan on making this one again, for sure -- maybe this summer before my daughter leaves for Germany. 

#2.  I create; I am an artist. This is an intriguing statement, since I never really considered myself an artist before writing this sentence; however, as you will see, this is a true assessment of my nature. Ever since I can remember, I have been creating things. When I was young, playing with my Barbies, I would scour the house looking for unusual objects. I would gather discarded cigar tubes, plastic tops from spray deodorant cans, paper towel tubes, and other industrial miscellanea and transform those things into furniture and other needed objects for my fantasy play. I also created storybooks. I would cut visually pleasing and unusual pictures out of magazines and store them. Over time, I had so many pictures that I had to categorize them (faces, landscapes, animals, children, etc.) and place them in file folders. When I was captivated by a story idea, if it was someone's birthday, or if I was just plain bored, I would get out the pictures, my construction paper, glue, and markers, and go to work. Before the afternoon was up, I had constructed a properly bound storybook. I wish I still had one or two of those around to see if their creativity is as good as I remember.

As I got older, I moved into other realms. I learned to play the clarinet in elementary school, and taught myself how to play the guitar. I would come home from school and play my guitar for hours --  4 or 5 each night. At one point, I was fairly good; I was able to finger pick "Malaguena" a la Roy Clark. My father even took my younger sister and me to perform for a recording agent. We both sang while I played "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The agent was all too willing to take my dad's money and create a demo, but somehow we managed to talk him out of this expensive endeavor. I don't play my guitar hardly ever anymore, having moved on to other things. 

Throughout school, I dabbled in the theatrical arts as well. During my summers, my older half-sister would adapt stories out of a giant Disney storybook and collect all the neighborhood children (Do you remember this, Kiki?) We'd practice for a week or more and then charge our parents money to come and see us perform. What a hoot. My acting career continued throughout high school. Now I am a teacher, so you can see that the theatre just continues to be a part of my everyday life.

I could go on for a long time relating my adventures in cooking, decorating, photography, pottery, podcast creation, my two blogs, leading Church worship, and I'm sure a bunch of other things that don't come to mind so readily. I am a published (albeit self-published) poet -- my printed books were Christmas gifts when I was 16. I once referred to myself as Lovely Laura, the Literary Lady of the Alluvial Hills and Valleys. Wow. I am the Portrait of an Artist: a woman's work in progress.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On A Personal Note

Tonight is the last night of summer writing class and I am already feeling the loss of my blogging partners. So, I have decided that I will continue to post. I feel the need to develop my technique and skills in order to attain my goal of writing young adult literature, so hang around. Feel free to blog back your own responses and gentle criticism. 

A few months ago I came across this amazingly interesting book on writing at the public library called The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron. I liked this book so much that I ordered my own copy from Amazon. I will be using the prompts (there are more than 400 from which to choose!) from that book as inspiration for my writing posts. I hope to selectively work my way through the four parts of this book. (I am definitely an ambitious, type-A personality.)

Today I have elected to choose the following prompt:

"Celebrate your creative self, the writer inside you. Write about how writing is an important part of your life. Write about the pleasure it brings. Write about your gratitude in possessing such a gift" (p. 10).

My response:

Speaking has always gotten me into trouble. In my early childhood years I often got into trouble for talking too loudly. I remember one time the school bus driver made me get off the bus because I was screaming (so SHE said). I thought I was just whispering. Later in life, I got into trouble because of the way I said things. I was often accused of being sassy and sarcastic, two traits I have perfected quite well, actually. I am still getting in trouble when I open my mouth. Thoughts fly out faster than I am able to stop them, and sometimes the thoughts are not all that affirming. So I can totally understand why I prefer writing. With pen and paper (or keyboard and fingers), I am able to edit my thoughts and  feelings. My passion can be constrained so that I offend as few as possible socially. 

Wait, how messed up is that? While it's good to be able to edit out some of the things that piss people off (and there is a place for that kind of writing), that's not really what makes me happy about writing. What gives me joy is being able to express exactly how I feel, without regard to someone else's feelings. Poetry has been the venue I typically choose to reveal my soul. There I can make unusual connections, give life to a memory, expose my fears and dreams. There I am really free --  to be thankful, to laugh.  The collaborative "Kitchen Poem" my daughter and I created over a series of weeks is a lighthearted example:

          'Tis not for lack of lamb chop love
          I forsook the savory morsels
          but fed, instead, on soup and bread
          and other succulent courses.  
          We wined and dined and languored long
          feasting on our friendship
          'till came the dawn and we were gone;
          fellowship's tryst had ended.
                              Copyright 2006

There are, moreover, few things as affirming as crafting a sentence so startling that it takes away a person's breath. I am an avid reader and delight in finding such sentences nestled between inked paragraphs. The thought of creating such tantalizing sentences myself makes my soul sing (pretty good alliteration/consonance, no?). I am in love with words. They don't frighten me in the least. They are to the mind what chocolate is to the taste buds. I am grateful that I am  able to and that I desire to create lush impressions of beauty in the midst of inanimate letters.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Picking a Side

Writing persuasively should come easily to most of us. After all, we learn to convince our parents to buy us a certain toy or take us to a specific activity at a young age. We use the "science" of argument virtually all of our lives. When we write persuasively, however, we must employ more sophisticated techniques. I like to think about persuasive writing as if it were a form of warfare. First, you need to arm yourself with knowledge, not only about the reasons why your point of view is the correct point of view, but also with the knowledge of what your opponent (think enemy here) believes and why. To win someone over to your side, you have to effectively refute their arguments. If you don't have a clue what the other side believes, how can you do that? This technique is called answering the opposition. Other valid methods include referring to an authority, predicting the consequences, and of course using facts and examples.

Your writing assignment: Select either #2, #3, or #7 from page 169 as your topic sentence for a persuasive paragraph. 

My response:
Expensive weddings are an obscene waste of money. reports the cost of the average wedding in 2010 was slightly over $24,000.00. That's a lot of money in any economy. Isn't  the object of a wedding ceremony to create a lasting memory in the presence of family and friends? Does the ceremony have to be so lavish that the couple creates a huge debt for themselves or their parents? A couple can create a memorable exchange of vows in any number of ways. A less formal ceremony on the beach or in a botanical garden can provide a romantic setting that will be remembered for years. Rather than paying extreme costs for a reception dinner at a posh hotel, the couple could opt for a more reasonably catered dinner at a less expensive location.  So, what could the couple do with the savings? How about applying it as a downpayment on a home? Even the purchase of a life insurance policy that could be used as a nest egg is a better investment. I strongly urge engaged couples everywhere to reconsider spending a small fortune on their wedding ceremony. Memories last a lifetime -- don't let debt cast a pall over that amazing memory.

Your turn: be sure to post your persuasive paragraph no later than Tuesday, June  7th, at 5:00 p.m.