Hold my attention

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Facebook is alive and well with ads for the latest Masterclass contributors. For those of you lucky enough to NOT be sucked into the vortex of Facebook, Masterclass is an online platform for creative people, giving them the chance to learn from their famous mentors. The one who caught my attention and made me investigate this latest phenomenon was Margaret Atwood.

The beginning of her video makes me want to quit everything I have been doing, my job, my charity work and my social life, to just write. When she rewrites the beginning of Little Red Riding Hood by starting with, “It was dark inside the wolf”, fireworks went off in my head. Expletives poured out of my mouth, tripping over each other to be heard and, more than once, I had to pick my jaw up from my lap. Those six words made my entire novel seem like a four-year-old wrote it.

One minute and eight seconds into her official trailer, she said the three words that make writers lose sleep, “Hold my attention”. As an avid reader, I know exactly what she means. If a writer veers into a mundane few chapters, I am more than happy to put the book down and I will eventually forget I started reading it. But if a writer can keep me on the edge of my seat, I am in it for the long haul and I will lose sleep to finish reading that book.

Writing is a tough business, but as Margaret says, “You become a writer by writing. Do it, and do it more. Do it better”. Many people, just like me, have written books. Many people, just like me, believe so much in their story and are convinced it will be published one day. But many people, just like me, are one tiny dot in a portrait created by stippling. We are a minute speck in a massive painting. But the more we write, the bigger our speck becomes. The more we write, the more our words have a chance of being discovered. And the more we write, the more we will master the art of holding your attention.

When you just want comfort food

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I have been obsessed with my Christmas present and have sous-vided (is that even a verb?) many pieces of protein over the last three weeks. I can accurately predict that my kitchen will soon be adorned with a 12-quart Rubbermaid container with a fitted lid so I no longer have to use my soup pots and transfer my precision cooker from pot to pot depending on the size of the meat or fish being cooked.

Sous Vide is a wonderful cooking technology that allows a chef to cook proteins to an exact temperature without overcooking, unless you forget that protein in the water bath for several hours or cook at too high a temperature. Last night, I cooked a pork tenderloin, Chinese BBQ style, without the actual barbecue. The taste of the marinade combined with the tenderness of the pork was delicious. I broiled the pork for a few minutes to give it that nice crust on the outside and it was better than I anticipated.

When I came home from work tonight, I knew the leftover pork would be used in my dinner preparation. While I mulled over the many things I could make, I thought of my dad. My father was the King of leftovers. There was nothing he couldn’t take from previous meals and not make into a delicious meal the whole family would love. Without thinking, I reached for the rice and prepared to make Barbecue Pork Fried Rice.

There were moments during my meal preparation I could hear my father’s voice, especially when I transferred the rice from pot to frying pan. If I were truly following in his footsteps, I would have spread the cooked rice onto a baking sheet and let it dry slightly overnight to give it the perfect texture for fried rice, but I skipped that step. I did fry the onions to a caramel brown, added the bacon, the peas, the pork and the eggs, allowing the eggs to scramble slightly before incorporating the rice into the mix. I could swear I heard my father sigh when the eggs had cooked properly before I added the final ingredients. The result was delicious.

As much as I love cooking, sometimes a simple dinner of comfort food will taste better than anything I could have toiled to make and I’m sure my dad is smiling knowing he was the influence for my meal choice.

 

 

2019 – The year of Lark

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I thought he was a character I created, but I am slowly coming to realize he is defining himself. I named him Karl, but from the moment he began to tell me his story he referred to himself by the anagram ‘Lark’. He is a complex soul with stories buried far beneath his skin and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. He repeats the phrase, ‘the dead claim their own’ and I have yet to figure out why but I know he will show me on his terms and it will become a significant part of the novel.

If you have been following this blog, you will know I love to write. I am utterly amazed by the words that travel from my brain to my fingertips at such a speed I have to stop and read them to keep up. This new book I have begun to write is a prime example of that wonder. I wake up in the middle of the night, patting my bed in the dark to find my phone so I can mumble almost unintelligible words that take me a while to decipher the next morning. I hear phrases during the day I feel the urge to write down and I see landscapes I know will become a part of Lark’s world.

He was never meant to be the main character but his voice is rising loudly above the din of the other personalities who already hold a spot in this book. I am eager to welcome the new year so the holiday bustle will become still and Lark can make his way to center stage and shine a light on the life of atrocity he is eager to share with me. He is a poet. He is a killer.

Follow the bubbles

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(image credit)

I have learned many things about the ocean and its inhabitants by watching documentaries and television shows.  I have been amazed by the palette of colors the ocean is able to use to paint itself, the varied species of creatures who contribute to life under the sea and the vast array of reefs and wrecks still waiting to be explored further.  But I learned more from the bubbles than I did from the documentaries.

Scuba divers follow their bubbles to the surface when they don’t know which way is up.  When they are so far into their dive they become immersed in their surroundings, those bubbles are the true measure of reality.  Divers can become so convinced the path they are following is the best path for them and they become disoriented and swim sideways, not realizing their journey may put them in peril.  Sometimes the simplest solution is the one that helps the most.

The more I began to think about that, the more I realized those bubbles represent the most important people in our lives.  When we find ourselves a little lost or unsure of where we are headed, we look to those people for support and guidance, knowing they will always lead us to the place where we can once again catch our breath and feel like we are above the surface of our problems.

The ocean diffuses the light, just like life diffuses our perceptions.  We may feel weightless in the ocean, we may feel hopeful and trust our feelings, but our feelings can play tricks on us just like the light can alter our judgement.

No matter how lost you feel or what your brain may tell you, trust those bubbles.  They will always lead you in the right direction.

This book isn’t going to write itself.

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I have been resting on my laurels. I have heard that phrase many times before but never thought it would be a string of words I would use in reference to me. And I really do not have any real laurels to rest on. I have written a book, but until I have an agent and am soon to be published those laurels don’t mean much.

After having completed my first novel, doing several edits and having many beta readers love it to the point of not wanting it to end, I rested. There was a brief resuscitation of my writing but the moments were fewer and further between than they should be. Writing a novel is a huge commitment. It is saying “I do” to a keyboard and a collection of strange characters who slowly become family (except for the bad guys).

Book number two is in the works. A few of the characters have formally introduced themselves and we are slowly acclimating. But their stories cannot be told if I don’t make time to listen to them and jot down what they have to tell me. I know they are eager to get the ball rolling and I am the only one who can give that ball the first push and watch it gain momentum.

It’s time to give this ball a shove. This book isn’t going to write itself!

 

Sit back and listen

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I have blogged several times about my Winnie The Pooh and the fact that we celebrate our birthday together every year. My mother made him from a 1960’s McCall’s pattern and gave him to me on my first birthday. He has seen me through every happy and every sad time in my life. It may sound strange that an almost fifty-year-old woman still has a stuffed teddy bear, but I can’t imagine my life without him.

Though Pooh has undoubtedly been scarred by some of the trials he has witnessed me going through, nothing could have been as devastating as his physical altercation with a Woozle, known to humans as a Black Labrador Retriever. I was not there to witness the carnage but I came home from work to the aftermath. The trail of foam that led upstairs to the discovery of Pooh’s ravaged face made me burst into tears. I was twenty-one years old and called my mother in hysterics because Pooh had been assaulted and he lay in pieces in front of me.

(circa 1976 – Long before the incident)

(circa 1992 – post surgery)

After some amateur plastic surgery, thanks to my Nana, Pooh had a new face and a new outlook on life. He had survived what was arguably his worst day and had come out on the other side. He now resides on a shelf above my bed. It’s not quite the one-hundred-acre wood he was accustomed to but he seems to have acclimated.

Last night, I watched the movie Christopher Robin starring Ewan McGregor. When Pooh asks how old he will be when Christopher Robin is one-hundred and Christopher Robin answers ninety-nine, the tears started. That is me and my Pooh. He came into my life on my first birthday and my mother knew my fondness for a silly old bear of very little brain would lead to a lasting relationship.

Pooh is my constant. Regardless of what life throws at me, he represents my past, he remains an ongoing part of my present and he will stand beside me going into my future. For being a bear of very little brain, his intelligence speaks volumes. He will forever have the wisdom to just sit back and listen.

 

I will eventually need glasses to find my glasses

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Some realities are harder to accept than others. As I crest the hill of my fiftieth year and prepare to enter the next phase of my life, I have slowly come to grips with the fact that I can no longer read without glasses. I have not gone so far as to see an eye doctor for a prescription but that trip is inevitable. I purchased a pair of readers from our local apothecary shop and I have come to rely on them more than I care to admit. Without those readers, I liken myself to Schultz from the classic TV show Hogan’s Heroes, “I see nothing”.

This truth became much more apparent last night as I was enjoying my hobby of cake decorating. I had whipped up a batch of buttercream icing, iced the cupcakes and small cutting cake and began the more tedious work of creating the decorations. As I got involved in the intricacies of the smaller parts, I realized I was squinting and couldn’t focus on what I was doing.

I had accepted that I needed glasses to read. I had made myself comfortable with the fact that those cheaters also made it easier to navigate what was on my screen as I spent countless hours at my laptop. What I had not prepared myself for was the fact that these glasses would insinuate themselves into every facet of my up-close life. As I tried to convince myself that my cheaters were not required to create the decorations I had been working on, I could feel lines being etched into my skin the more I scrunched my eyes to be able to see what I was doing.

Whether I like it or not, this is me at almost fifty. These glasses have found a comfortable spot at the end of my nose so I can see things up close and look over the rims to focus on anything beyond that. This is now my every day life. I have even purchased a second pair of cheaters to keep in my car should I forget to bring my glasses with me. With age comes understanding and with understanding comes preparation. One day I know for certain I will absolutely need glasses to find my glasses.