Compost: Death

It’s nearly Halloween, or Samhain, and a good day to write about the subject we all think about even though it makes us uncomfortable. Death.

Nowadays I often think about death. Although I’m still clinging to middle-age, I can clearly see old age coming closer. And right behind it, grinning at me, is Death. I’m healthy and both my parents are still alive, but they are old. — 87 and 91.  87 doesn’t seem as far away as it used to be. Thirty years is nothing, a mere blip. I remember thirty years ago easily. I wasn’t so different then.

Death is the ultimate unknown. We don’t know what comes after death, even though many people tell themselves pretty stories about what comes next.  According to religions, Heaven for the good guys, and Hell for the bad. Or we reach nirvana, where everything is perfect, but only after we’ve been reincarnated several times. Or reincarnation that never stops, just on and on forever. Even many non-religious folks talk about a vague “force” or “energy” that may survive after death.  And then there are those who see or talk to ghosts, and believe that some poor souls wander the earth forever as themselves.

Even those scientists who study “near-death experiences” which seem to suggest something is happening after death, cannot prove anything is.  And the atheists say that there’s nothing happening after death – when you’re gone, you’re gone, and that’s it.

Really, these are all just guesses. Although we all know what happens to dead bodies (and it’s nothing good) nobody knows for certain what if anything happens to our “soul” or “essence” or “energy” after we die. We all have to sit tight and wait to find out.  But we’re such an impatient species, so we had to invent stories to make the waiting easier to take.

Technorati Tags: Samhain, Halloween, Death, middle-age,

Sharing my Stories: Writing for Others

One reason I love being a ghostwriter is because I get to hear such amazing stories. But sometimes it can be frustrating. My work does not belong to me. The stories I tell belong to someone else. And my clients are not always as bold or as “out there” as I am. Sometimes they tell me their stories and ideas, some of them so brilliantly bold, some of them shining examples of courage – but with some politically incorrect or “not nice” facets. It’s often these not-nice facets that make the stories real and alive and worth writing about.

Some of my clients like hiding behind hedges, and I like to tear the hedges down, branch by thorny branch. Oh, how painful it is when I have written a passage of such poetic grace, such searing wisdom, that it nearly sings aloud from the page – and my client says, “Oh, I can’t say that – what will my mother think?” (Or her Aunt Grace, or her boss, or her husband, or her old boyfriend she hasn’t seen for thirty years.) “Can’t you put it another way?” she asks, by which she means without the truth in it.

So guess what? It’s her story, not mine, so out that passage goes, if I’m unable to convince her otherwise. And I’ll write a tepid version and mourn for those wild, outrageous, unused words.

But really, this is good for me.  It may not be good for the art, but it is good for me.  It reminds me that my opinion is not the only one that counts. My artistic goals are not always the goals of others. It’s not always about me.

In fact, the real in-your-face thorny truth is that it is never about me.  It’s good to be reminded of this sometimes.

Technorati Tags: stories, ghostwriting, artistic goals

Compost : The Disgusted Crow

In an earlier post I talked about an exercise in using nouns and verbs. Sometimes when I do this exercise, I choose 10 or 20 verbs and nouns, and make 10 or 20 sentences. But sometimes I get stuck on just one noun and verb, and find myself writing on and on. Here’s an example of this.  The noun I picked out was “crow” and out of the verb pile I picked the word “disgust.”

Well, my first reaction was disgust – at myself. Why did I put a transitive verb like disgust in the action verb pile? You can’t use the word disgust as an action verb – “The crow disgusts himself” was the only one I could come up with, and that gives no picture at all of what the crow is actually doing. To understand disgust, one must use action verbs. “The crow sneered at the hawk flying overhead” – I’m not sure how a crow sneers, but at least it’s an action verb that indicates disgust. Or “The crow gagged on the rotten peanut” shows disgust, and I’d kind of like to see a crow gagging, I wonder what sound they make if they do. Or “The crow flipped his right feather at the hawk” or “The crow pointed his middle claw at the hawk” – now these are action verbs showing the anthropomorphic crow being disgusted – or perhaps just pissed off. “The crow dropped the empty peanut shell on the ground, and flew back to his perch in the fir tree, where he cawed loudly so all the other crows in the vicinity heard what a lousy trick some human had played on him.” A bit long, but again one can see that the crow is disgusted.

I did make a mistake by putting “disgust” into the action verb pile, but on the other hand, I had a lot of fun writing about that disgusted crow.

Technorati Tags: verbs, nouns, transitive verbs, disgust, crows

Writing Tip – Nouns and Verbs

Here’s an exercise that I like to do, just to keep my writing sharp. Dull writing uses lazy nouns and verbs, those general catch-alls that tell and do not show. But sharp writing uses action verbs and specific nouns, and puts them together in unique or surprising ways.

A good way to practice this is to make two lists.  One list contains action verbs – not run, which is a general verb, but skip, or scamper, or dart, or lope – all specific kinds of running. A trick to picking good action verbs is to choose a profession – any profession – and ask yourself what this kind of person does. For instance – what does a boxer do?  Well, a boxer thrusts, jabs, shuffles, weaves, bobs, and punches. Those are all action verbs. Or what does a psychiatrist do? A psychiatrist probes, nods, smiles, questions, listens, suggests. All action verbs. Or a dancer, or a chef, or a secretary — you name it, and then tell what it does.

The other list contains specific nouns. They don’t have to be fancy nouns, in fact you can look around your living room or kitchen or office, and start naming things – but be sure they are specific nouns, not general ones.  For instance, if you spot a tree outside your window, the noun you write down on your list is not “tree” – instead write down maple, or oak, or cedar.  If you see your car in the driveway, the noun is not “car” – it’s jaguar, or SUV, or pick-up truck, or VW Beetle. Of course, you might also see your kitchen faucet, and the word “faucet” is specific enough for anyone.

Your lists can contain as many words as you like, but I usually aim for twenty. Don’t put your lists in any kind of order – in fact, it can be fun to put each word on its own little slip of paper and put it in a “verb pile” or “noun pile.” Then randomly pick out one verb and one noun and make a sentence. The sentence doesn’t have to make sense, but the noun must carry the action.  For instance, if your noun is “rake” and your verb is “thrust”, the sentence should not be “He thrust the rake into the pile of leaves.” Instead show the rake thrusting – “The rake thrust its prongs into the intruder.”  Of course rakes do not thrust on their own, but your aim in this exercise is not necessarily to make sense, but to use common words in a new and different way.  

Have fun.

Technorati Tags: nouns, verbs, action verbs, specicfic nouns

Writing Tip: Email as Literature

Remember when letter writing was an art? Are you afraid that this skill is being lost, in these days of email and text messages?  Well, maybe it is, and that is a shame. But emails and texts have their own charm, you know.  Kind of like writing haiku instead of sonnets. And as anyone who reads this blog knows, I like haiku. So I guess it follows that I like emails too.  Some of mine, especially the ones I write to my daughters, are gems of humor or pathos or righteous indignation.  I keep copies of these for posterity, just in case my daughters don’t realize great literature in this form.

Just the other day I came across a website that seems to believe in email art too.  Every time I visit I end up staying longer than I intended and laughing more in an hour than I usually do in a day, sometimes a week.  Check it out:  Let me know how you like it – and write some email lit of your own.

Technorati Tags: letter writing, email literature, text messages

Compost: The Alien Land of Lies

Take a journey through the alien land of lies. At first you do not notice anything different about this land. The grass is green, the buildings are wood and concrete, the people don’t have four heads. As you walk the streets of the land and cities, no one pays you any mind.

Then you notice that the air is thick, almost jellied; halfway between air and water. It is a milky, murky color, like the solutions that preserves aborted fetuses. Through this jellied air fly, or swim, insects of uncommon size. Dragonflies with wings crusted with yellowed rhinestones shimmer sickly through the jelly and leave a slimy trail behind. Moths with solid black wings languidly flap them, while their teeth drip maroon blood that hangs in globules heavy on the air. The moths eat the dragonflies and their bellies bloat with gas. Translucent eggs erupt from the bellies and float in the air like frog cream, the color of fake emeralds. Hisses and chitters and burbles can be heard through the fog.

The denizens of this land expect nothing from you, and fear you not at all. They do not care if you join them, adding your own putrid lies to the stew. They do not care, even, if you steal what is not yours. Feel free to gather them in nets and pickle them in bottles; feel free to suck them in and swallow them with your breath.

Just don’t expect me to join you.

Technorati Tags: lies, alien, brass, buildings, insects, air, water

Sharing My Stories: Adult Children

I no longer have children. I have adult children. Many women are afraid of this happening to them, and when it does, they go down deep into sadness for a while. I can relate. I remember when I dropped my youngest child off at her dorm, at a college about 100 miles north of our home. Her sister had been gone for a couple of years by then. While we unpacked the car and loaded up her dorm room with clothes and posters and books, I was cheerful, upbeat, made jokes and laughed at them myself. Then I waved a cheery goodbye, got in the car and drove off the campus and onto the freeway, I was on the on-ramp when tears began pouring down my face. I cried the entire 100-mile trip home – and I had no Kleenex with me!

My crying fit was cathartic and the right thing to do, although I don't recommend crying and driving at the same time.  If you are flying home, crying is a lot safer. But always remember to bring Kleenex.

Letting go is such a bitch. And yet that seems to be what parenthood is all about. Now I am watching my daughters learn this lesson as they take their baby steps in letting go of their little ones. Their children are still only toddlers, and yet they are already missing the sweetness and relative peace of babyhood.

And yet … having adult children is such an incredible gift of grace. I still miss the little girls they were sometimes, but oh how I relish knowing the fine women they became.  And besides, now I have my grandchildren to giggle with. 

My advice for those in a letting go stage is to go ahead and grieve awhile for the times that have now ended, but don't get stuck there or you'll miss the amazing times that are coming.

Technorati Tags: Adult children, letting go, greiving, moving on