Haiku Friday: Mystery

zen gardenHere’s my haiku for today, on the topic of “mystery”:

solve one mystery

and it will birth another

there are no answers

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tip: Don’t be Polite

Making History book coverHere’s a writing suggestion that you may find difficult, or you may find fun: don’t be polite. In fact, you don’t even need to be kind. Write what is not politically correct. Write what you really think, but never had the courage to say. You don’t have to read it aloud if you don’t want to. You don’t have to keep it. And you can always edit later. Courtesy and tact are important virtues, but if you invite them to have free reign while you are writing, they can paralyze you.

So in your first draft, swear, tell a dirty story, write down the words to the first racist chant you heard. Write what you really thought about your brother’s first girlfriend, or the time your mother forgot to wear her underpants, or where you were when you got your first period. Write a story about your Uncle Henry’s alcoholism, or the year your cousin Jennifer spent in prison, or about how your father cheated on his income taxes. Write about how you are secretly jealous of rich people, or how you really feel about people who live in trailers, or what you said to your sister’s boyfriend to make him break up with her.

Let it all hang out. And then read it to yourself. Edit out what you don’t want, and what might be hurtful to others, and throw that part away. Keep the rest. I promise you it will read fresher and truer than if you had edited as you wrote.

Compost: Letter Writing is Not Dead

King Apples 1-28-14My father was a master letter-writer. During the 94 years of his life he wrote thousands of letters – to his parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, friends and children of friends, and of course his own children and grandchildren – even his great-grandchildren when they were babies. Many of these letters have been preserved by the recipients, and also by my father himself. He kept copies of his letters so he could keep a written conversation going and not repeat himself. These copies came to me upon his death.

My father died in 2011 and yet when I read his letters he seems alive again. When I see his crabbed and distinctive handwriting on his favorite yellow lined pads, and read his words, it’s as though I can hear his voice, see his beloved face, feel his hands upon mine.

Here is a paragraph from one of his letters he wrote in July 1999 to one of his nephews, when Dad was 82 and his nephew was around 60.

“Been working in the garden and got to thinking, so dropped the hoe and grabbed a pen. To me the hoeing is not work. It brings great enjoyment, interest, feelings of accomplishment and peace. It is somewhat like the elderly Roman leader who said “If I knew I would die tonight, I would continue to hoe my garden until then.” Sometimes when muscles get tired, I watch the life forms doing their thing. The ants, earthworms, inchworms, slugs, sowbugs, flies, mosquitoes, etc., living their lives the best they know how. Every square yard of garden is teeming with moving life.”

When I read this paragraph I can see him standing in his garden, just standing and listening, with an expression on his face that combined both curiosity and peace, a look that was uniquely his own. And while I read the ache that comes from missing him is gone.

Haiku Friday: Gophers

haiku pic 2Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of “gophers”:

who are we to think

the juncos and the gophers

are lesser than us?

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tip: Picture a Special Reader

Making history trimmedWhen I ghostwrite a memoir, one of the topics I always ask my client about is this: “Picture your great-great-granddaughter/son. What does she/he look like? How does he or she act? What is her or his passion? What is important to her/him? If you could talk directly to your great-great-granddaughter/son, what would tell her/him about the lessons you learned during your life? What do you want him/her to know about the times you lived through? Will she/he be reading your memoir? Do you want to make him/her laugh or cry? Do you care what she or he thinks of you? Why?”

BTW, this is a good exercise even if you are not writing a memoir.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: A Blank Mind

Alex Sep 2013Alex Terrgi here. My human is trying to ghostwrite for me today. She does this often and I try to play along, because I want to please her. She’s the one who gives me food and takes me for walks and pets me while she calls me a “good boy.” This is pleasant, and I would like it to continue.

But some days I just don’t have much to say, you know? After all, I am a dog, and I think a lot of dog thoughts that just don’t translate well into human words. Like right now I’m thinking how nice it would be to go to sleep.

So I think I’ll do just that. She can ghostwrite whatever she wants, and I’ll back her up.

Haiku Friday: Profit

haiku pic 3Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of “profit”:

profit not value

winning instead of service

we are upside down

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tip: Black Sheep of the Memoir

Here’s another tip for memoirists, or for ghostwriters of memoirs. Ask yourself or your client: What do you do about those embarrassing or difficult periods that occur in any life? Do you skim over them? Boldly examine them? Ignore them totally and pretend they did not exist?

My vote is to examine them. Want to put some kick in your memoir? Black sheep kick much harder than white ones. So why not tell their stories too?

Tell the story of an ancestor who is spoken of in whispers, if at all. Perhaps he or she went to prison, or drank heavily, or stole, or was a womanizer, or betrayed his/her country, or was a coward, or a cheat, or a slaveholder, etc. etc. etc. What do you know about this person? How did this story get handed down in your family? Is this person now admired or despised?

Tell about a person now in your family who is embarrassing to the family. What does this person do or say that is so embarrassing? Are they in prison? Do they drink? Do they abuse their wife or husband or children? Did they get caught doing something wrong? Are they stupid, or incredibly tactless? Are they homeless? Are they a slob? Are they prejudiced and hateful? How did they break the family taboos? Why do you think he/she is like that? In 100 years, will that person be admired or despised or forgotten?

Stories that we don’t tell – those that we are ashamed of, or embarrassed by – are the very ones we need most to tell. Otherwise how will we learn from them? How will they teach others? When we share the real stories of our lives, they can illuminate someone else’s path, even when that is not our intention.

Compost: Titles Schmitles

GrandmaBook titles are important. I have no argument with this fact. I recently finished writing my newest book, which I titled Grandma’s Masks. I like this title. However, I was recently told, by someone from the “book biz” I deeply respect, that this title needs work. Specifically, I was told that it needs to lose the word “grandma.”

This is because the common perception of a grandma is a little old lady with her gray hair in a bun and an apron over her plump lap. Maybe hobbling around on her cane. Someone who makes cookies and calls everyone “dearie.” Who is easily fooled by unscrupulous salesmen and plays bingo for recreation. Why would anyone want to buy a book about such a person? Bo-ring!

But in the real world, most grandparents (not just grandmas, grandpas too) become grandparents when they are in their fifties or sixties – some are even in their forties. Do you know any women in their forties, fifties, or sixties who fit the above stereotype? I don’t. And the women I know who are in their seventies don’t fit it either.

My mother was 87 when she died, and well into her eighties she did yoga, studied the political situation, worried about women’s rights, and oh yeah, took great care of her own mother (who was buying and selling real estate until she was ninety, and was a terror at bridge and poker, not bingo). I’m a grandma myself and so are many of my friends, and I don’t play bingo and anyone who tries to scam me for a fool will never do it again, and I don’t bake cookies or even own an apron. Although I do admit to having a little gray in my hair, it’s not long enough to wear in a bun. And I would rather chew on dirty toenails than call anyone “dearie.”

I guess you get the idea that I don’t like that grandma stereotype and it irritates me no end to have to consider changing the name of my book (which features a really cool grandma, by the way) in order to pander to this ridiculous, unrealistic, patronizing, and hackneyed stereotype.

However, I have to be open-minded here. The person who advised me to change the title to something without “grandma” really liked my book and wants to see it published, and sold. I know she does not subscribe to the grandma stereotype, but she knows the book biz and I believe her when she says the title Grandma’s Masks might hamper its chances.

So now I am in a quandary. Should I keep the title Grandma’s Masks or change it? Will prospective readers only envision that little old lady with the bun and the apron, and buy another book that sounds more exciting? Or will they think of someone wise, someone who sees the truth of who you are, and recognizes you in spite of the masks you wear?

Perhaps they will be intrigued by the juxtaposition of the prosaic word “grandma” with the mysterious word “masks.” They should be. Because Grandma’s Masks is about a woman who created fantastical masks that matched the stories she wrote – deceptively simple stories with dark depths of paradox lurking underneath, full of sneaky creatures who burst upward when you least expect them, and teach you about the elusive nature of truth and warn about the illusion of safety.

One stereotype that is true about grandmas is that they are older people in the second halves of their lives. They have less time to tell their truths, find the place where they belong, and uncover their true faces without their false masks. Most of them don’t mess around with living small and timid anymore. Which makes them more interesting, not less.

And that’s why I’m keeping the title Grandma’s Masks. Still, I’d like your opinion. Am I making a mistake? Would you buy a book with this title? Email me at kim@primary-sources.com and let me know what you think.

Haiku Friday: chimpanzee

haiku pic 1Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of “chimpanzee”

dream of Jane Goodall

with you as a chimpanzee

relax into love

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.