Let’s Ex the Text

Untitled presentation (16)I appreciate technology to a degree, but originally computer technology was meant to make things easier and faster. Well, faster it is, but not easier. Then cell phones arrived, which has its benefits for sure. I live in a rural area so I like to have it with me when I go to town in case my car breaks down, however, I often forget it and live another day. I remember when my son Jake taught me how to text. I was so excited about this novelty but it has become a behemoth in my life. I hate it. People have become lazy and disconnected by using it as an extensive form of communication. Email I can do on my computer so it’s not a nuisance to me. But texting on the phone is tedious and I’m clumsy with the keyboard. Here’s what grates on me:

  • People want to have lengthy conversations, which requires a lot of concentration and tiresome typing.
  • People don’t talk face to face or voice to voice.
  • People’s filters are thin, if existent at all. They will say things they otherwise wouldn’t say face to face
  • People use it to break up with a partner or spouse, announce a death, a medical problem like cancer, major family announcements etc.
  • People use it to say Happy birthday, Mother’s or Father’s day, Merry Christmas. No call, no card (I love giving and sending cards). It’s impersonal.
  • Small groups of people dining out don’t talk, they text.
  • There is a little demon inside these phones deciding what you really meant to say and correct you.
  • People misspell and don’t use punctuation, and constant use of acronyms and initials. It’s way too hard to say simple phrases. A friend of mine does this a lot and I have to spend a lot of time having her decipher.
  • EVERYWHERE we go people are looking down at their phones (except senior citizens).
  • Children are ignored because Mom and Dad are texting or using social media.
  • People text during meetings, church, weddings, funerals, while you’re talking to them, in the exam room at the doctor’s office, during class, at the movie theater, in the stall in private and public restrooms (ew), etc.
  • It denies people fun.

An example of the last one comes from a friend’s Instagram photo. She took a shot of her teenage daughter sitting on a beautiful beach texting. In the background, there are other people texting. Really?

I heard a pastor tell about going out to dinner with his wife and two other couples. They sat down and commenced texting. The man finally sent a group text to them and said, “Can we talk to each other?”

A terrible story is a friend’s teenage son was struck and killed by a car because he stepped of a curb on a busy street while texting.

Despite it being against the law with a hefty fine, people text a drive and get into accidents. It is as dangerous as drunk driving.

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And don’t get me started on group texts, DON’T DO IT. I am on one with four other women. I get woken up at 6 am because a couple of the women are up getting ready for work. Or late at night, or in the middle of the night. Many of the texts are “Love you” followed by a half dozen hearts and kisses (one is never enough). The others join in with “Love you too,” unicorns, rainbows, and bunnies. On and on and on it goes. Everyone wants the last word or icon. I don’t want to hurt their feelings but I am going to remove myself from the group and if they need me they can do so privately.

I am sure there are dozens of more reasons. To sum it up texting can be lazy, impersonal, obsessive, and cowardly.

When I sponsor women who are in recovery I have a hard and fast rule: No sponsoring through text. The young ones do it anyway and I say bye-bye.

For me, texting is good for things like “On my way,” “My car broke down,” “What time is _____?” Things of that nature.

Last January I went to our local Boys and Girls Club where AARP conducts free tax preparation for Seniors. There were about ten seniors there. Some being helped and others waiting for their turns. Not one person in the entire place was on their phone. A nice couple next to me were sharing a newspaper. In case you’re not familiar with a newspaper here is Meriam Webster’s explanation:  “a paper that is printed and distributed usually daily or weekly and that contains news, articles of opinion, features, and advertising.” See photo below.

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THIS IS A NEWSPAPER. You can read it in waiting rooms or coffee shops.

Other people were crocheting, reading books, chatting, or daydreaming. I chose to daydream but the couple next to me offered a section of the newspaper. The same thing happens when I go to the optometrist’s office which is almost all senior patients. I have made a decision not to use my phone in public while waiting for something or someone, while eating out, etc. I don’t like the way it looks. I refuse to be obsessed.

I get it if you don’t like to talk on the phone. But if you want to tell me something personal or wish to have a long discussion, call me or email me.

I say, EX THE TEXT!

 

Woo Hoo, the Blackbird is Back

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Remember about a month or so ago my book project disappeared? I had been writing it on Grammarly. A feature on this website is that you can make documents. I don’t know how, but my seven chapters disappeared and couldn’t be retrieved. Well, the other day I was perusing the documents on my laptop, of which there are many, and discovered I had copied it and did not label it correctly. Dufus with a Capital D.

A brief synopsis of the story: It’s a redemption story beginning with two young women under psychiatric care at a hospital, meeting, connecting, and navigating PTSD and faith together. There is are lots of tears, but also a great deal of laughter, joy, mystery, conflict, a bit of crime and a villain who wreaks havoc everywhere he goes.

I am so thrilled and now, onward to chapter 8. Here is a preview of two covers I am trying to decide on. The context is the title comes from the song Morning has broken, the second line “Blackbird has spoken.” I wanted a morning image with a blackbird. Comments, please.

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Midnight

You know me, I love quotes so here are a couple and what they mean to me:

It’s hard for me sometimes to think of midnight as part of a day. For me, when I’m up at that hour I am cocooned from the world. It is just me and God where time seems suspended. C.S. Lewis coined the phrase, “mad midnight moments” in his book, A Grief Observed. I did a google search and looked everywhere but couldn’t find the full quote, but the book is his grief journey after losing his wife to cancer. It is as raw as one can get and painfully honest, so much so he wrote it under the pseudonym, N.W. Clerk as he wanted to be anonymous. After he died he was named as the true author.

Martin Luther King once said, “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. ”

His “darker than a thousand midnights” grips me. One day I plan to use it as a title to a book. I battle manic depression and that depression has sucked me into more tortuous midnights than I care to remember. It’s a time when the world is quieter than a tomb and my mind ruminates, a word meaning a cow chewing his cud. However, I have also found these “mad midnight moments” that are “darker than a thousand midnights” a fruitful time of writing. Whether it’s in my journal, a reflection or article for Hubpages or works of fiction or poetry, my dark midnights provide the opportunity to bring meaning to those times. I write very emotionally because that is my nature. The darkness deep inside me says “I need to be let loose, I need to, I have to spew it out or I will go crazy. It is almost uncontrollable, and so I do. As I am writing God tucks in beautiful threads of hope and I weave them into the narrative. That is the gift of midnight. And Luther King’s message is one of hope because of God.

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I do not believe we should waste or hoard our trials and the subsequent victories we receive from the hand of God.  I believe God uses them to bring comfort and encouragement to others going through like trials.

I will close with this: It was the Apostle Paul, who lived a life of tremendous suffering and joy and shared it with the masses. Today his words and their meaning are still alive and accessible:

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

I Found a Permanent Writing Retreat

I am so blessed. I have a dear friend, Cindy, who lives on Fox Island here in Washington. It’s a beautiful place. She’s right on the Puget Sound, a saltwater bay; I mean yards from the water, feet if the tide is fully in. I used to care for her parents when they lived there. When they passed away Cindy and her husband Joe sold their house on another part of the island and moved into her parents’ house. Cindy and Joe love the arts. She is a drawer and painter and they are both avid readers; they love classic literature and have a delicious library. They are people of deep faith and inspire me in so many ways. Cindy has been a great encouragement to me as a writer as well as a friend. Recently, she told me she had a vision to make their home into a place of retreat for writers and artists. She begged me to come and write and to come whenever I wanted. It’s quite a drive for me but today I went and it was a lovely, rich experience. We had coffee and chatted and caught up, then she went off to Costco and errands. I sat in the breakfast nook, with the water just yards away, and wrote 1,244 words. I live in a 400 square foot trailer so it was wonderful getting another place to write with open space and light. Lately, I’ve been going to the library just for a change of scenery but this is a gazillion times better. I would stop and watch the porpoises peek up once in a while; the majestic herons standing silent scoping fish; and little groups of buffleducks who are very entertaining. I watched the neighbor out flyfishing. I love watching flyfishers ever since I saw that movie A River Runs Through It.

I also got to meet Earl Gray, Cindy and Joe’s new kitten. While I was typing he playfully batted around on my leg. Fortunately, my leggins held up perfectly. Then there was Oliver, their big Golden Retriever. I house sat for Cindy and Joe several times when they lived in their last home and Oliver and I are great friends. We had a happy reunion.

We have had two or more weeks of non-stop clear weather. It’s cool, but it’s been sunny every day. Mount Rainier fills up the sky wherever you go. We say in these parts “the mountain is out.” It might drizzle tomorrow. But perhaps not. They keep saying “Oh wait, that rain that was coming is not coming after all.” Never take a weatherman at his word.

Anyway, I had such a happy, wonderful day and accomplished not only a lot of writing but gained a lot of serenity, inspiration, and fun.

God bless Cindy and Joe.

PS I was so caught up in writing and talking and enjoying the scenery, I forgot to take any photos but below are a couple of sunset photos I took a few years back when I was working for Cindy’s folks, and another I found from someone else of the Mountain taken from the Fox Island bridge.

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I just found this one. A view of the mountain from the Fox Island Bridge.

 

Day 3 NANOWRIMO Update

Here is the text to the Agreement-and-Statement-of-Understanding our instructor had us sign.  My favorite parts are in yellow.

THE MONTH-LONG NOVELIST AGREEMENT AND STATEMENT OF UNDERSTANDING
I hereby pledge my intent to write a 50,000-word novel in one month’s time.
By invoking an absurd, month-long deadline on such an enormous undertaking, I understand that notions of “craft,” “brilliance,” and “competency” are
to be chucked right out the window, where they will remain, ignored, until
they are retrieved for the editing process. I understand that I am a talented
person, capable of heroic acts of creativity, and I will give myself enough time
over the course of the next month to allow my innate gifts to come to the surface, unmolested by self-doubt, self-criticism, and other acts of self-bullying.
During the month ahead, I realize I will produce clunky dialogue, clichéd characters, and deeply flawed plots. I agree that all of these things will
be left in my rough draft, to be corrected and/or excised at a later point. I
understand my right to withhold my manuscript from all readers until I deem
it completed. I also acknowledge my right as author to substantially inflate
both the quality of the rough draft and the rigors of the writing process should
such inflation prove useful in garnering me respect and attention, or freedom
from participation in onerous household chores.
I acknowledge that the month-long, 50,000-word deadline I set for
myself is absolute and unchangeable, and that any failure to meet the deadline, or any effort on my part to move the deadline once the adventure has
begun, will invite well-deserved mockery from friends and family. I also
acknowledge that, upon successful completion of the stated noveling objective, I am entitled to a period of gleeful celebration and revelry, the duration
and intensity of which may preclude me from participating fully in workplace
activities for days, if not weeks, afterward.
S i g n e d Lori Colbo                                                             D at e 10/30/19

N o v e l  s ta r t  d at e  11/1/19                                            N o v e l  d e a d l i n e  11/30/19

As of today, 11/3/19 I have 7,2095 words. I don’t mind telling you I am physically and emotionally exhausted because the story is emotional and there are so many small but personal elements in the story. Yesterday and today had some really intense scenes, good and bad. As these are revisions  I am basically tweaking and rewriting scenes to improve them sometimes adding new stuff (and tossing out the old).

My lids are heavy and my mind is now a furball. Ah well, a good night’s sleep ought to do the trick. I know when this is done I will need to go a second round of revisions. If you are of the praying kind, please pray I won’t get bogged down or overwhelmed by the emotional aspects of the story. I’m off to crash.

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Dreaming of the end of this project once and for all.

 

The Writing Class has Brought a New Opportunity

Okay, so the other day I said the writing class sucks. I am happy to say things have changed for the better. The name of the class is Writing a novel in thirty days. Until last night, we had barely discussed novels. But what happened last night is that we were told about NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month. It’s a yearly challenge every November. It’s been around for a lot of years and surprisingly a few best-sellers have been birthed over the years, just a few.

I don’t have the personal commitment form the teacher made up for us to sign (if we wanted to), but it was pretty hilarious. In it, we promised to write 50,000 words in the 30 days no matter how bad it was. Of course, when the 30 days are up you take the piece and revise it and so on. The idea is just to write it in 30 days. I am ahead of the game in my wee little class of four as I already have the rough draft I did two years ago. As of last night, they were still trying to figure out what they were going to write about. So I am not starting from scratch and writing fresh stuff like they are. But I hope to do it again in the future.

The reason I did this class was to jump start my stalled project. I needed a kick in the derriere and some encouragement. We are supposed to start tomorrow, November 1st, but I started today

I complained to my teacher that I’ve been a bit frustrated with my lack of confidence and wanting to have someone who could give me honest feedback with my revisions. She said she’d be happy to help me. It will be interesting to hear what she thinks. She loves horror and sci-fi, although she enjoys other genres as well. This story takes place in a psych ward so that part should interest her. But it’s also a story of faith and redemption. I hope she can be objective. I was mistaken that one of her books was published through a publishing agent. She is in the process of submitting and so far no luck but it’s nearly impossible to get an agent to look at a manuscript from an unknown so I hope she gets through.

You can check out NANOWRIMO here. It starts tomorrow so it’s not too late if you want to try your hand.

So today I wrote 4,407 words. Some of it adding new changes, others just revising. Actually, it was more because I rewrote a rewrite of a rewrite of a portion of a rewritten previous chapter, or something like that.

My teacher has done this NANOWRIMO challenge five years in a row. There are many who have done it many more years than that. I think it will be fun to do it in the future with new material. It’s Halloween tonight and not one customer at my door. So I’m going to eat some candy in celebration.

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Here’s hopin’ it’s smooth sailin’.

Getting My Act Together and Other Reflections

Taking the writing class is challenging me to write every day. That’s really not too far out of the ordinary, but most of my writing is fluff on Hubpages that is meaningless. The daily writing is for my book. It won’t get written if I’m spending two days thinking up puns or looking up Bible verses or researching something to write something for Hubpages. I’m not going to do FB either except to check in once a week for messages.

Now, about the writing class. So far, I have not learned much that I didn’t already know, but there are a few things. The problem comes when she gives us a rundown of crafting plot or developing characters then gives examples from books, movies, and TV, I’ve never seen before. Totally frustrating. Tonight we focused on character development. She listed the various categories of characters than gave us a hand out on how to apply that information to Harry Potter. I and one of the other students (there were only four of us) had never read or seen the story. Grr. She talked about Hunger Games, never seen it. Poltergeist, never seen it. Star Trek, never seen it (I know, I know). She chose genres I am not interested in. She did mention some normal movies, like Pretty woman, but I’ve never seen it; The Breakfast Club, saw it a gazillion years ago and remember almost nothing; The Hobbit, tried to watch it just couldn’t get into it although I read the book in high school and liked it. Finally, she had us do The Wizard of Oz. Bingo, I know that story like the back of my hand. She gave us some very helpful handouts though and gives great online resources for tools if we want them. On the first of November, we will get down to the nitty gritty and start working on our novels. I’m the only one in the class who has even started a novel. Most are just formulating ideas or have them but have not started. I have a rough draft on hubpages and working on my first round of revisions (but haven’t gotten very far). To be honest, I don’t feel all that far ahead.

Here’s the thing: if I was writing any other story for my novel, the darn thing would have been completed long ago. This story is so deeply personal to me, and my goal for it is so important to me, I want it to be the best work I can do, meaning no rabbit trails, no plot parts that are unnecessary and that would clutter up the central story. I have absolutely no grandiose ideas for fame and fortune. It has never been on my radar. If it happened, sure it would be nice, but that’s not my goal. I do want my story to be read though. I want it to sink into hearts and bring new perspectives on a subject that is full of stigma and misunderstanding, namely mental health, in particular  PTSD and all that goes with it.  It is a story of redemption, healing, and hope and I want so much for that to come out loud and clear. I know it won’t be perfect, but I want to do the very best I can.

Synopsis – two women meet on the psychiatric ward and become friends. They learn to navigate their traumatic pasts and faith journey. That is the cliff notes of the cliff notes, of the cliff notes summary. There are of course subplots and lots of characters in between. When I wrote the rough draft (on hubpages) I was in the throes of suicidal depression and ongoing PTSD crap. It was during this dark place where this story spewed out of me. It was like my pain took over my body and said “Let me out of here, write me down. I want people to understand me. I want to help others so it is not in vain.”

I have some wonderful news. Since that time I graduated out of years of mental health treatment. About three months ago I was driving down the highway and this notion popped into my head and I believe it came directly from God. The thought was “I am healed from the PTSD.” I’ve done years of very hard work in therapy. but most importantly, when I invited God into the dark place and asked Him to help me (a simple “help” not a long eloquent prayer) I found healing. Yes, I remember the trauma, but without the pain. That prayer was not answered instantaneously, it was a process, but worth every moment. I know this sounds crazy, but in a way, I am grateful for what happened because of how that pain turned into a diamond in the rough.

People often ask why God allows suffering. It’s a fair question. Been there done that. What I’ve noticed is that God rarely, if ever, answers that question. I’m sure one reason is no answer would take away the pain.

“God, why did you allow my child to die?”

“Because…this, this, and that.”

Whatever “this, this, and that” is, it would not suffice, it would not take the pain away. It would not make sense. I asked the why question over ten years ago. “Why God, do you allow children to suffer abuse (especially a certain kind)? At first, I asked humbly. I just wanted to understand. But I didn’t get an answer. So I started demanding an answer. Pretty soon I was shaking my fist at Him and saying “How dare you? You owe me.” That rage became a frightening journey. The bottom line, no answer would have given me peace.

I am on the other side of it now. I still don’t know the answer to that question and don’t want an answer, it serves no purpose, it changes nothing. All I know is how all the suffering brought to me a much larger (but still incomplete this side of heaven) picture of who God is. After Job’s trials, he finally had an epiphany that rings true in my life – “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). He saw the love, majesty, and sovereignty of God in a way he never had before and it humbled and awed him. He developed an intimacy and understanding of God’s love that was unparalleled in his life. He was healed, restored, and given all that he lost back. We may not always have the things we’ve lost back, but we can get something far more valuable. It’s up to God to decide what the return is.

God has a purpose for our pain. Good can come out of it. The bad thing may always be bad, but something positive can come. What kind of good? We learn vital lessons that we would never have learned if life were always hunky-dory. I don’t think a life of constant ease and comfort would be worth a hill of beans. The only way we get muscles is to work out, sweat, and feel the burn, so to speak. When a blacksmith wants to make something, he takes the raw material, heats it up (really hot hot hot) and bangs the dickens out of it with a hammer on an anvil. When it is cooled in water and whatever else they do, something useful has been made. You can’t take a paper clip, sprinkle fairy dust on it, and get a beautiful horseshoe. There are lots of analogies out there, but you get the picture. I think we would be very shallow people if we were never tested. The pain can be horrific, hitting the bottom a nightmare on steroids, but at some point in the journey, if we choose not to become bitter and turn to God, we can find hope and healing. We can discover a magnificent God who sustains us. 

Well, my, did I ever get off-topic. Oh well, I’m sure the topic police are nowhere around. The fact is, I never get tired of telling folks how marvelously God has worked in my life. And I sure as shooting know he’s worked in yours. Shout it from the rooftops? Sure! And there’s another point, we must not waste our pain and the lessons we’ve learned and keep it to ourselves. God means for us to use it to help others.

But I hope this rambling reflects why the story I’m writing is so precious, personal, and important to me. And I know that’s why I have to get it done. God’s love and provision of hope and redemption. Amen and Amen!!! If you’re the praying kind, I would covet your prayers that the book will be all that God wants it to be. Thank you in advance.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 (New Living Translation)

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There is only one way to make a horseshoe – heating, and beating.

Descriptive Gems From The Secret Life of Bees

I am reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I am astounded at her writing as it was her first novel. It seems flawless to me. A compelling story, well-defined characters, a plot that keeps me turning pages with eager anticipation.

The story takes place in rural South Carolina beginning in 1964. Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens lives with her abusive father and Rosaleen, their black housekeeper. In a freak accident, she had shot her mother at age four during an altercation between her mother and father. She grabbed the gun and it went off and struck her mother. Lily, having had enough of her father’s abuse, flees town with Rosaleen after she is mercilessly beaten while in jail for spitting tobacco on the shoes of three men who were harassing her and stealing some fans from the church. What is interesting is how the unique theme with the bees is woven into it, so there is learning something amazing and new to me. When the story begins, bees have nested in Lily’s room and she develops an affinity for them. When she and Rosaleen run away, they end up staying with three black sisters in another town who make honey. To earn her keep, Lily helps with the bees and the honey-making process. At the beginning of every chapter, the author provides quotes from people who have written about bees. There is a purpose of course for the bee theme. To get it you’ll have to read the book.

Sue Monk Kidd is gifted at description. She is not predictable, but unique and creative. Remarkable first work. Just like Haper Lee, she wrote a modern classic and a dilly of a best seller. Oh, that I was that good. But here is a sampling of descriptions she uses in her story.

…I found Rosaleen in the middle of the creek, not a stitch of clothes on her body. Water beaded across her shoulders, shining like drops of milk, and her breasts swayed in the currents…I couldn’t help it, I wanted to go and lick the milk beads from her shoulders. 

The world will give you that once in a while, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where someone dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

She was black as she could be, twisted like driftwood from being out in the weather, her face a map of all the storms and journeys she’d been through.

She’d been shelling butter beans on the porch, and sweat glistened on the pearls of her hair around her forehead. She pulled at the front of her dress, opening an airway along her bosom, big and soft as couch pillows.

August said honey was the ambrosia of the gods and the shampoo of goddesses.

Just a little honey for anyone reading.

 

Awe-Inspiring Moments

 

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Yours truly, Cannon Beach, Oregon

I just returned from a four-day women’s retreat in Cannon Beach, Oregon. I’ve been to a lot of beaches on the West Coast, many breathtaking. But Cannon Beach was unique in many ways. There are many large rock formations that rise up out of the Ocean, near to the shore, the biggest and most magnificent of these monoliths is Haystack Rock. When the tide is out far enough you can walk right up to it. There is one section of the beach where a constant mist resides as the waves roll in and out. It happens on clear days, the sun is out, no fog, just mist from the sea and it’s just so beautiful.

The sand is smooth once you get to the point where it is damp. Your feet don’t sink. When you get up to the shore where it’s really wet, your feet still do not sink far. It’s the only wet sand I’ve ever seen that can look like glass sometimes. The tide pools are amazing. We had a beautiful view of the ocean from our rented house, with the waves crashing and the mist rising, the sun glistening on the sea. I am tucking it all away in my memory, hoping to one day use it in a creative writing project, a location for a novel, or a poem. I can’t wait to go again next year, maybe sooner. Here are some photos of our amazing few days there.

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Cannon Beach

 

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Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon
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Me and my new Hawaiian friend, Deana.

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I do not have the upgraded account to be able to show you a video directly but you can view this breathtaking video of Cannon Beach  Here.

The Healing and Challenge of Stand Up Comedy: Part 1

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I’ve been getting a lot of memories on Facebook on my start in stand up comedy. So I thought I’d tell about it from a health and writing perspective. In 2014 I was interning as a peer counselor (someone with mental health issues who helps others with mental health issues) and came across a flyer on the bulletin board announcing a class teaching stand up comedy. I don’t remember why I decided to try it, but I did and it was life transforming. Let me explain.

I don’t mean this vainly, but I have been funny all my life because my parents and sisters were funny as well. If I look on my dad’s side of the family, I can see it’s been that way for generations. My sister Jamey told me recently that I had a wicked sense of humor and wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not. I personally think I am a bit twisted, weird, and I’ll even own crazy. It can be embarrassing sometimes, and some people find my humor repulsive. I do clean comedy and don’t annihilate people’s character, so I think it’s just about a preference for a certain type of comedy (there are certain types of music people like and don’t likeY. You can never please everyone. Sometimes I just bomb, it’s part of the deal. I learn from my failures more than my successes so I don’t beat myself up. I try to do better next time.

My personality all my life has been like Jekyll and Hyde. I have a depressive side and a manic side. But when I took this class after four years of misery, I found it a healing therapy (which was part of its purpose). The class was put on by Stand Up for Mental Health, which teaches stand up comedy to people with mental health issues. I had a long list of qualifications, lol. David Granirer is the coach and conducts the classes via Skype. He lives in Vancouver B.C. and has gone even international. When the twelve-week class is over, he flies to the destination and puts on a live show.

For some reason, only women signed up, so we had a ten woman comedy team. Oy vey, the estrogen could have choked a horse, so it was probably for David’s best interest he stayed at home during our training. David himself struggles with depression and that is why his classes are for people with mental health issues. David explained that the goal is to help fight the stigma of mental illness. If people who suffer from mental illness can do such a bold thing as to write their own jokes and perform them in front of a live audience, then they have more going for them than most people expect. Public speaking is one of the highest fears people have.

Another reason for this class is that it is healing therapy. I learned to laugh again after a difficult four years. It’s not that I never laughed or was funny, but I discovered how much better I felt when I turned comedy for relief. To this day if I am down, I go to YouTube and watch comedy. I think it’s better than pet therapy.

A third reason is that it builds us up to know that we can do such a challenging thing. To perform in front of a large audience, alone on stage making people laugh, let me tell you, it’s not easy. We had a variety of diagnoses in the class – depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and probably some others I wasn’t aware of. If you think about it, most comedians come from a dark place. They find a lot of joy in turning it around into laughter.

“People with mental illness are always being told what they can’t do. In this show, they get to show people what they can do.” ~ David Granirer, Stand Up For Mental Health Coach

So, every Wednesday afternoon, from 1:00 to 3:00 ten women met and learned to write jokes together. If I had never performed a single time, the class would have been worth it because we laughed ourselves insanely silly every single week. You just can’t imagine. We didn’t just learn from David’s coaching, we learned from each other, and came to realize we had a lot of good stuff inside ourselves. I truly believe the best jokes are taken from real-life observations and personal experiences. Many of my jokes were of situations in my own life. I used hyperbole and took liberties to make them funnier, but sometimes I didn’t have to go very far.

The hardest part of the class was learning to come up with punchlines. It is the hardest part of comedy for me. That is where the advantage of being in a class came in. The only problem was, we’d get on a roll and end up off into a maniacal stratosphere. One person would shoot out a punchline, then everyone else began shooting them out. The raucous laughter was electrifying. We used lots of Kleenex and Depends.

We also were able to give healthy critiques, especially when we got into practicing performing. It was in the last few weeks that several of us got really squirrely and wanted to quit because we didn’t think we were funny. Everyone was talked back into it. One friend remembers me jumping all over her, not in a mean way, but just adamant that she was hilarious and we needed her and the audience would be appreciative of her talents.

Our first show was a practice run at the state mental hospital, a very awful place. It was so sad it was hard to tell jokes. The patients were in an 80 seat theater type auditorium where the audience looked down on us. The patient’s eyes were glazed over, some even zombie-like. Only a few patients laughed but the staff were howling. I wonder now if it was the staff who needed us more than the patients. The patients at least got out of their dreary rooms and wards to see something different.

The psych hospital gig did not deter us from the show that night – 300+, standing room only of friends and family. It was an exhilarating and nerve-wracking night. Some of us had to use notes. We were beginners after all. No one cared. A good time was had by all.

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

It is one thing to be a funny person, it is quite another to write and structure jokes and punchlines. It’s hard work, at least for me it is, but worth it. I have a couple of people in my life I practice with and they are keen on what works and what doesn’t. One of them is another comic from our team – D’Arcy Figuracion. That woman slays me every time she opens her mouth. You can see her hilarious routine here.

I have no dreams of becoming a professional. I have done it around ten times. I do not want to be a comedy club person. Ugh. But I do enjoy it most of the time. Before a show can be horribly nerve-wracking, or I can be overconfident and blow some jokes. It is hard to find middle ground. It always helps to have someone I know in the audience.

I have brought comedy into my articles on Hubpages for practice. I often worry if people will think I am too freaky and then I think, so what? It’s who I am. If they got one little chuckle, I’m glad for it.

I write a fictitious advice column called Dear Andy using puns throughout the article. People seem to like it. At first, I wanted to make it a weekly deal, to give people a pick me up on Monday mornings but found out quickly it is a LOT of work, and very challenging. And quite frankly, there are times when I just find it overwhelming or I’m just not in a funny mood. But I think it’s good to hone my skills to try my hand at this. As they say in AA, it works if you work it, progress not perfection. I am tempted to put my first performance on here but can’t stand to look at my 40 pounds larger self. Maybe next time. In the meantime, I will never quit laughing, even in my darkest moments. I may have to search for it on YouTube, but if I can get five minutes of laughter from watching Ellen, my dark day was made perfect.

Stay tuned for part two where I will discuss humor writing.

Please check out this trailer for Cracking Up, a documentary of David’s first class back in 2005.

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Two years ago at a theater in Renton, Washington. I might have been talking about a snarky woman I had an encounter with. In front of me is a stack of those hand squeeze exercise things in the form of brains. It wasn’t part of my routine, but later on, they were tossed to the audience as a remembrance. lol
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My friend Joanna Free on the left. Her stage name is Nicci Tina and much of her routine is on smoking cessation. She’s a riot and love her costume. On my right is Laurel Lemke who does a great Johnny Cash impersonation, singing the chorus from Ring of Fire. Having some fun between shows.

The Art of Creative Description

“…he saw Lord Galloway, the English Ambassador – a choleric man with a russet face like an apple…” ~  Father Brown by GK Chesterton

As a reader, I am always blown away by an author who can describe in unique and highly imaginative ways. I found this memory post on facebook:

“I am reading the complete Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton. His non-fiction is way over my head, but his fiction is delightful and I am amazed at how he describes people, places, and things. I love this line:

…he saw Lord Galloway, the English Ambassador – a choleric man with a russet face like an apple…”

Struck me kind of funny but was very impressed by Chesterton’s imagination and creativity. Let me share some by other famous writers:

 “…a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage.” Flannery O’Connor (one of my favorite classic authors), A Good Man is Hard to Find

“…long pink-gold hair and eyes as blue as a peacock’s neck and no teeth.” Flannery O’Connor, The Life You Save May Be Your Own

“‘My brother Ben’s face,’ thought Eugene, ‘is like a piece of slightly yellow ivory; his high white head is knotted fiercely by his old man’s scowl; his mouth is like a knife, his smile the flicker of light across a blade. His face is like a blade, and a knife, and a flicker of light: it is delicate and fierce and scowls beautifully forever, and when he fastens his hard white fingers and his scowling eyes upon a thing he wants to fix, he sniffs with sharp and private concentration through his long, pointed nose…his hair shines like that of a young boy—it is crinkled and crisp as lettuce.” ~ Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel

But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.” ~ Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

“His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest touch of the finger or the lightest breath of wind.” ~ Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

“Her skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let alone snag her skin.” ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” ~ Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions

” … in the last years, she continued to settle and began to shrink. Her mouth bowed forward and her brow sloped back, and her skull shone pink and speckled within a mere haze of hair, which hovered about her head like the remembered shape of an altered thing. She looked as if the nimbus of humanity were fading away and she were turning monkey. Tendrils grew from her eyebrows and coarse white hairs sprouted on her lip and chin. When she put on an old dress the bosom hung empty and the hem swept the floor. Old hats fell down over her eyes. Sometimes she put her hand over her mouth and laughed, her eyes closed and her shoulder shaking.”  ~ Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

Aren’t those fabulous? My favorite poem of all time is called Pied Beauty, by Gerald Manley Hopkins. I like it because of the genius of description.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
Whenever I read that poem my heartbeat quickens. I think Hopkins is a master at description.
I remember once reading a book on writing and the author said even a passing character who you only meet for a moment ought to have a slight description of some kind. I’ll give an example from one of my writings. It describes a welcome clerk at a hospital. You know, the kind that directs you to patient rooms or departments.
Her long slender hands shuffled through the directory with swift grace.
In my story, Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl, I describe the two main characters:
Edna Hargrove (small grocery owner):
Mrs. Edna Hargrove, proprietor, hearing a customer had arrived, grabbed her dentures that rested on the counter and shoved them back into her mouth. Her tongue thrust about to position and secure them in place, but they continued to slip around.
A little later some scoundrel children come into the store and harass Anna Wronski, and elderly patron. Mrs. Hargrove’s actions help describe her personality.:
“’Listen, you uncouth Cretans,’ said Mrs. Hargrove. ‘You leave Mrs. Wronski alone or I’ll call the cops. My son Raymond is on the force and he’ll be here quicker than you can say, ‘I’m an uncouth Cretan.’ In fact, I want you to leave right now. Go on.’”
When they refuse to leave she says,
“Okay, you little ankle biters.” She pulled out her coffee and cigarette stained teeth and shoved them toward the boys. “Get out of here or I’ll bite you with these.”
Anna Wronski –
Old Anna Wronski cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed up against the windowpane of Mr. Timmons’ third-grade classroom at Roosevelt Elementary. Her round, pudgy face was framed with a faded red scarf with strands of coarse gray hair poking out.
A little later:
Old Anna followed Mrs. Hargrove, carrying her burlap shopping bag that had seen better days. Mrs. Hargrove noticed Anna’s ankles were bulging out of her ancient loafers. The edema seemed to be inching up her legs every day.
From Blackbird Has Spoken I describe a woman on the psych ward that the main character observes in a group setting:

One middle-aged woman caught Ivy’s attention. Her face was granite with a sharply etched jaw, deep lines carved into her forehead, and a mouth so straight and thin you couldn’t tell she had lips. She sat rigidly, a monolith of trauma and pain. Ivy had never seen eyes so profoundly lost and vacant. Her hair was a dingy strawberry blond and dark roots stripped her part. She was graying at the temples. It was obvious she stopped coloring her hair a long time ago. Ivy noticed then that her wrists were bandaged. She felt sad for her and wondered what her story was.

I am striving more and more to improve in description. It’s not easy but growing in writing skills is a process and I love the challenge.

Why Writers Should Avoid Clichés

 

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue.”
Stephen Fry

I remember once in a college writing class (over forty years ago) being warned about using “sappy sentiments,” and “glittering generalities.” I was particularly struck with the latter (funny how some seemingly innocuous word or phrase can stick in your brain for decades). Clichés fit into these categories. They are trite and usually meaningless. We overuse them almost every day in the natural course of our conversations. Quite frankly, most clichés are ridiculous. They are like drinking warm beer sprinkled with fairy dust.  I am as guilty as anyone for using them believe me. I’ve probably shared a meme or two with one, but in everyday conversations, I use them without thought.

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Why do people use clichés?

We use them because we want to come off clever, profound, inspirational, witty, helpful, caring, and to cheer hurting people. Clichés are also used to minimize a situation or to give pat answers because we are uncomfortable and have no idea what to say. We want the person to feel better. I had an acquaintance once who told me the husband of a friend had just died. In her keen desire to be witty, inspirational, clever, and to help her friend look at the bright side, she proceeded to tell the woman that because her husband had been a bus driver, that she should be comforted by realizing her departed husband was up in heaven driving a bus of angels. She was pleased as punch with her condolence (was that an idiom or cliche?).

On the other hand, it is literally impossible not to use some. They are woven into the fabric of our language. Every country and language has them. And there are many that are absolutely true and wise, or harmless.

Why clichés shouldn’t be used in writing

The overuse of clichés reveals laziness in the writer. They lack original thought and creativity, and readers are turned off by them. I think in some cases they are perfectly fine, because as I said above, some are good, and just ingrained in us. Sometimes you can also have a character that uses them a lot and can be used humorously. Perhaps a ditzy character is presented with an unpleasant situation and let’s one fly. It might work.

Readers want something fresh, unique, intriguing, and suspenseful. They want to relate or learn about how other people think, process and act/react. So when they come across a character or narrative using clichés they become bored and lay the book under the couch to collect dust or put in a box for the Goodwill so they can sell it to some other unsuspecting reader.

Here are a few lame common clichés that need to disappear from the English language:

  • “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch” What does that mean?
  • “We’re not laughing at you we’re laughing with you” Yeah, right.
  • “Old as the hills.” Doubt it.
  • “Fit as a fiddle.” How fit is a fiddle anyway?
  • “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Erma Bombeck wrote a book called The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. Much prefer hers.
  • “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So if I get cancer (the lemon) how do I turn it into lemonade?
  • “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” I guess this is true but it’s not comforting to someone going through hard times.
  • “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
  • “”Every cloud has a silver lining.” I don’t see it.

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In 1994, out of the lips of Forrest Gump a new cliché was born: “Stupid is as stupid does.” I actually like that one, though I don’t believe I’ve ever used it. One reason I like it is that it describes clichés. Haha.

I’m sure somewhere in my work over the past eight years I’ve used some. I don’t have the time to sift through over three hundred articles, fiction, and poetry to hunt them down, but by now I have learned to ignore them when they pop into my head (and I recognize them) and come up with something original, something fresh.

Just for Fun (or nausea)

I found some of these little gems that made me laugh, gag, and tsk tsk.

  • You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow” Literally or figuratively not true. I see rainbows rain or shine.
  • “You’re only as strong as the drinks you mix, the tables you dance on, and the friends you party with.” Barf bag, please.
  • “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
  • “To the world you are one person, but to one person you could mean the world.” This one is true but a bit sappy.
  • “Success is not owned, it’s rented — and rent is due every day.” Oh puleease.
  • “Always drink upstream from the herd” If taken literally, this is good advice.
  • “Life is like a camera, just focus on what is important, capture the good times, develop from the hard times. If things don’t work out, take another shot.”
  • “Be a Pineapple: Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.” This one needs to disappear with the lemons.
  • Wherever you go, whatever the weather, always bring your own sunshine.

Okay, I can’t take it anymore.