Restructuring my words

I am looking back over my writings and realising how most of it is self-focused.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in general. It works; it has worked for me. Bringing me to the keyboard and getting me to write. But it gives me no pleasure. And that is what I am examining these days. It’s a self-perspective that is probably interesting to a very slim number of people in this day and age. There was once a time when everyone was writing about their lives from their perspective. The blogging era isn’t that far gone that I don’t remember how fashionable it was to have a blog and write in it everyday.

These days, the kind of writing that resonates with me is less the blow-by-blow commentary that my writing sometimes is. These days the kind of writing that interests me is the kind of writing that uses personal glimpses to make a generic point about all life. And THAT is how I want to write.

I recently came across a piece that claimed to give the recipe for effective and prolific writing. The writer suggested that they are able to write everyday about the same thing because they write around a central theme. Ah … I remember now – it’s a Medium author I happened on a few years ago and admired and he was writing in response to possible reader questions about what he finds to write about everyday. He made a very strong point that is resonating with me – the notion of writing around a central theme.

My blogging has heretofore been self-focused, essentially focused on the central theme of me. And me as a central theme is interesting to only me … well, maybe not quite accurate. Some people might find my life interesting because of who I married, where I come from, and where we go to live every few years. Which is fine, but it’s not enough for me anymore.

Over the course of my life, whenever I’ve felt like something is played out, I change it. Before I went natural, my hairstyle and colour changed almost constantly. I theorize now that it was because none of those styles and colours suited me quite like locs do. And now that I’ve found what I am comfortable with, I have no desire to change it. Maybe if I took that approach with everything else in life, I may find comfortable spaces. If I find that one thing I want to talk about everyday, all day, then maybe that is what I can restructure my writing around.

Empathy is a theme that has been a thread running through my life. I recently connected with a preparatory schoolmate who reminded me that I was just as rabid about empathy as a child as I am now. And it struck me as really profound that a theme that was prominent as a child is still heavily featured in everything I do in life. It spoke to me on some subliminal level. If this is a thing that I am really passionate about, maybe it is something I can structure a writing practice around. Maybe ….

Thus I begin my journey to restructure my writing around the theme of empathy.

I don’t know what it will look like when I am done. But I do know that this is where I start.

Here’s to new beginnings that are not really beginnings. 🙂

The Solicitor

Physically, he was unassuming. He wore a navy blue suit, with a starched white shirt and a fire-engine red tie. He was short enough that it would be easy to lose sight of him in a crowd. His skin looked like too-often bleached cotton, and his beak-like nose dominated his flat, pasty face. His lips looked like he was perpetually disapproving and his eyes glinted like polished onyx. The sheen on his forehead could just as easily have been from nervous sweat as from whatever pomade he had used to paste his thin, dull hair to his head.

As he shuffled into the room, one got the impression that he had spent many a day with his shoelaces tied together and his hands unable to get loose to untie them. He cleared his throat as he brought a briefcase up to rest on the table in front of him.

“Goodday. My name is Roland Jones and I am a solicitor.”

I had to strain to hear what he said because he spoke as if he had top-secret information and an unsecure room to share it in. He continued after a brief pause.

“I was hired by Brooks LLC to assist in the legal aspects of this transaction. I have been brought up to speed on all the history relating to each individual in this room and barring any last questions … , ” he looked pointedly around the room and continued, “… everyone here is able to sign on the dotted line today.”

There was silence as the room seemed to enter a kind of suspended animation; each of us eyeing the others waiting to see who would ask the one question we were all thinking.

Just as Noland Jones, solicitor, readied himself to speak again, a tentative female voice spoke up from the back of the room, “Where are we?”

A powerful piece of writing …

Lee Child is my new favourite author. This is a stunning conclusion for me to make since my lifelong favourite has thus far been Stephen King. Child does not compare to King in any way, shape, or form other than to say they are two highly accomplished authors.

King is outstanding to me for several different reasons but the most significant reason is that he weaves humour and horror together in an almost indecipherable pattern that works in ways that are phenomenal. I will never ever forget laughing my head off while cowering in fear at Pennywise the clown as I read through It. As annoying as Richie’s “beep-beep” moments got, as tired and old as it got, I laughed every single time. Even in the midst of the most horrifying moments crafted in writing … ever.

Child, however, has managed within the space of a few paragraphs to surpass all of King’s awesomeness. In one scene, he has summed up the most difficult confrontations in history … ever.

His main character, Jack Reacher, finds himself at odds with a particular special forces unit and decides he needs to counteract their bullying in a very visible and unrepentant manner. He walks into their domain, and pushes through their non-verbal bullying gestures. A room filled with hostile and highly-trained men, all silent, all watching him, all moving to obstruct his passage through their domain. He pushes through it all to one end of a long room, turns around and pushes through back to the door. It’s about 10 paragraphs describing maybe 5 minutes of activity – something Child excels at in ways I can only hope to rise to in future. He describes every muscle movement, every breath, every thought in detail … and when he’s done you feel as if you’ve just experienced it yourself.

At the end of this narrative, Reacher’s companion (a black woman MP), says to him “Now you know.” Reacher asks “Know what?”

And her response is dead simple. She says:

“How the first black soldier felt. And the first woman.”

No judgement. No indictment. Just powerful observation.

What’s more potent is that in reading the book, one discovers that this sort of reaction to Reacher is as unfounded as it is against all people of colour, all women, all sexual orientations. There’s no reason to bully people because you think they may be guilty of something you classify as heinous … because more often than not when the facts come to light, you end up having to eat your words.

In short: you may feel wronged; hell you may even be wronged. It doesn’t give you the right to wrong me.

Writing is so hard… isn’t it?

I haven’t been writing. This should not come as news to my regular blog readers since my blog has been dark for a few weeks now; especially after an explosion of posting sometime in August. The reason for this is simple, my drive, my motivation, my creativity has been stifled. I’ve been try to pinpoint the cause of this suffocation, and I don’t know that I’ve been able to determine any one specific cause. It could be one thing, it could be many things. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that without the input of my friends, without seeing my efforts in “print”, I’m doing myself a disservice by keeping it all inside.

So starting today, I am going to attempt something radical. Whoo wee, kids! Hang onto your hats, because this one is completely unorthodox and so out there, it’ll make you want to scream: I’m going to write!

Good or bad, I’m going to write. I pledge to do a short-short every single time I have an idea and share it right here until it gets to be too big to share in a post. Maybe putting it out there, with the possibility of being seen, will help motivate me, drive me. Maybe the act of writing will loosen the noose around the neck of my creativity. Maybe faking it will help me make it. 

I’ve got a story I want to tell, and sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself is not getting it told. It’s time to get apocalyptic on my closet-writer’s ass.

And with that, I present to you The Cat Speaks. I admit it’s gotten a little more bloated than I had intended it to, but here it is… written and partially edited, for your reading pleasure:

“You’re obsessing again.”

The voice was coming from somewhere in this room. It was eerie yet somehow not as terrifying as I would have thought. I was more interested in finding what it meant by ‘obsessing’ than I was to find out to whom – or what – the voice belonged. It was moot anyway. No matter what I chose to ask or say to this disembodied voice, it was likely to brand me as crazy with the neighbours anyway. I started to envision them peeking at me through their windows and muttering amongst themselves about just how weird and potentially dangerous I was because I was walking around my house, talking to myself.

“There … you’re doing it again,” the voice said, the location of its owner still eluding me.

“What? What am I doing again?” To hell with the neighbours, I needed to confront this enigma.

“Obsessing…. you’re really going to make me repeat myself, aren’t you?”

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” Finally, a sensible response to this odd turn of events in my otherwise normal day.

“Who the hell am I? You’re the one who talks to me everyday … several times a day, in fact. Why are you surprised I finally decided to respond?”

And with that I knew exactly who the voice belonged to. I uttered a curse as I searched for the latest hidey-hole my cat had found to wedge herself into.

“Hmm… took you a whole 2 minutes to figure that out. Bravo!”

The cynicism was almost palpable. Had I thought about it, I would have realised that the voice certainly matched Demeter’s facial expressions that I had been enduring for years, so why not? If my cat, Demeter could talk – did talk – she would sound exactly like this.

“Exactly. You humans are stupid.”

“Reading my mind now, are you?” I asked, as I paced the room, scouring the bookcase, furniture, and shadowed corners of the living room.

“I’ve always been able to read your mind, dearie. The only thing new under the sun, is that I have now deigned to talk to you.”

I could almost hear her eyes rolling and it gave my search a renewed intensity.

“Oh for Bast’s sake … I’m lying on top of the cat tree in the corner of the room.”

‘Aha!’ I thought to myself.

“Oh please – it would have taken you another hour or two to find me; I was just helping you along so we can get this conversation over with, leaving me free to go back to sleep.”

I strode over to the cat tree and confronted Demeter, but what came out was the last thing on my mind to ask: “How have you never spoken to me before?”

“That’s really the first thing you want to ask me? Really?”

I crossed my arms and said, “Honestly? I’m still trying to figure out whether I’ve lost my mind or whether I’m really standing here talking to my pet cat!”

If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn that Demeter chuckled at my mini tantrum. Her lips didn’t move, but her voice came unmistakably from her direction, “You’ve not lost your mind, but you really ought not to be yelling at me like that. People passing on the street might see and brand you ‘crazy cat lady'”.

That was my initial thought when she first spoke. Now that I had had a chance to confront her, I pondered the wisdom in the assumption that my neighbours hadn’t yet labelled me as crazy. Considering the wind chimes encircling the house, along with the sun dial in the front yard and the rather elaborate outdoor Pagan altar in the back yard, it was unlikely they hadn’t already come to some conclusions about my sanity.

Demeter smirked, “Indeed.” Assuming a cat can smirk, that is.

“Look – we can debate and discuss my heretofore undiscovered abilities forever, but I’d really like to get back to my dozing so let’s get this over with. As I was saying, you’re obsessing again. We both know where that’s going to get you, so can you please put a halt on that right quick?”

Curiosity took over from indignation and I asked, “What do you mean obsessing?”

“This is the 10th continuous day that you have spent that much mental energy thinking about Jonathan. Maybe you should just go ahead and talk to him already.”

“Oh.”

I turned around, plucked a strand of hair off my skirt, and walked away.

“You can walk as far away from me as you want, but you’ll still hear my voice. I have pretty good projection.”

Feline superiority is usually referred to in a joking manner, but Demeter was proving to be every bit as supercilious as was expressed in every single bad joke about cats and their attitudes.

“Yep; that I am. Back to Jonathan. How about you stop thinking and start doing?”

I balked considering some of the thoughts I’d had about Jonathan in the last few days.

“Yes, yes. I know. Imagine how uncomfortable *I* feel – I can read your mind,” Demeter’s voice followed me into the kitchen as if it were disembodied and walking.

“Awkward…” I muttered, my voice quivering. My thoughts hadn’t been particularly pure.

“Indeed.”

I recovered my composure, grasped at my indignation, and sputtered, “Well, I can’t just damn well walk up to the man and say ‘Hi; come have dinner with me?’ now can I?”

“And why not?”

I started to respond, but Demeter’s voice cut me off mid-thought: “Don’t you dare give me that ‘You’re a cat, you can’t possibly understand!’ crap. I’m a cat, not an idiot. I know all about your stupid social norms. Just ask the man if he’d like to have a cup of coffee with you. There’s no harm in that.”

I had to admit that the cat had a point. Hell, what was the worse that could happen?

“The worst? He could tell you to go jump in a lake.”

“Gee, thanks! You’re such a bundle of encouragement.”

“That’s not my job, lady. Now quit the belly-achin’ – I’m missing out on some quality sleep time here.”

I didn’t have to be in the same room with her to know that she’d tucked her nose under her left paw and started to close her eyes again, effectively ending the conversation.

The conversation! It had taken me less than an hour to accept that my cat could and did speak when she wanted to. And was calling it a conversation. There was no longer anything normal about this day. The whole notion of a ‘witch’s familiar’ had just taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Practice makes perfect … in a whole new way

This post started out of a series of tweets:

I am doing schoolwork which requires me to use Microsoft Word and Powerpoint to produce my papers. They have to be APA formatted, which means that Word’s default theming is not going to work. (I mean, really? Calibri? WTF?)

I used to know how to do this – change Word templates so that they conform to a set of standards that have been defined elsewhere. I used to think that changing templates was so simple an idiot could do it. Well, I’ve lived to swallow my own words – whole.

It’s not easy – not unless you know what you’re doing or have the time and patience (and know-how) to poke around and figure it out all over again. And I say all over again because I figured it out once; I was never taught.

So what do I do? I turn to my trusty Pages which I can tell to open up a new document with the template I’ve already created for APA style papers. Even though I know that Microsoft Word can do this as well. I turn to Pages because it’s just simpler to do so. And I know MS Word can be tailored in this way because I have done it before, and I cannot imagine that they would remove that functionality when they were there before Pages was.

Why don’t I spend the time to figure it out again? Well, that’s simple – it’s because Pages “just works” and I can get my paper written, proofed, and exported to Word and I really don’t have the time or patience to figure out it right now. I also know the next time I am faced with this problem I’ll solve it in the same manner because it’s just easier and it feels better having used Pages for so long.

Which is why my tweet says that the statement that a piece of software is non-intuitive is subjective. This may not be true for all pieces of software and all people, but sitting in my chair, at this point in time, this is how I feel. I know if I pinged my friend who lives in Seattle and who uses Microsoft almost exclusively – even on her Macbook Pro – she will say I am crazy because she finds Pages non-intuitive herself.

Oh how we change as we get older. There was a time when figuring it out would be a challenge I was willing and bursting to do. Now all I want to do is finish my paper so I can go play.

Oh the irony.

The green stripe

TemplehofHe opened his eyes and saw the world sideways.

Everything was blurry and there was a pounding in his head that felt as if someone had hit him with something large.

He blinked and winced. Blinking made the pain worse. He tried lifting a hand to his head. He wanted to know what on earth was causing his head to pound so badly. Lifting his arm hurt too and he realized that it wasn’t just his head that hurt, but his whole body. And he winced again.

The moss-covered stripe that he had drooled onto seemed to be some sort of demarcation. He couldn’t see where the end of the line was, but he could make out a building in the distance. There were people standing around too. Why weren’t they paying him any attention? He was lying on the ground, clearly hurt. He could feel the trickle of blood down the back of his head, and down his neck.

He winced again and wondered whether he might give sitting up a try without causing a blood vessel in his head to burst from the pain. He put his palm on the ground beside his cheek and noticed that it was covered in dirt and blood and flakes of what looked like gravel. He couldn’t see if there were any cuts or bruises so he pushed hard against the ground, trying to raise his body upright. It worked right up until he tried to use his other arm to support him. A red mist of pain fell over him and he screamed loud and long.

There was a rush of footsteps coming towards him.

Ha! They finally noticed me, did they?‘ he thought to himself.

Someone fell to their knees beside him; he heard the impact on the concrete and managed to think, ‘That must’ve hurt.

“Dude! What happened? Where do you feel pain? What’s the last thing you remember? Where did you come from?”, someone babbled at him.

“I don’t remember …”, he started to say and realized that the only sound he made was a loud moaning.

And that started the images. He remembered!

There was a building behind him, he remembered that now. He had been standing on the edge of the roof on that building contemplating life. The roof was slippery and his foot slipped. He had fallen off the roof! Three stories! He had fallen three stories and lived! Amazing!

The red mist cleared enough for him to realize that there was a crowd gathered. He could hear someone yelling something that sounded like a description of injuries. There was a woman probing his right leg. Someone else was holding his head in place, saying something that sounded like “Should we be moving him? Let’s wait for the ambulance.”

Through all the confusion, one question nagged at him: had he jumped? He wasn’t suicidal. His life was fine. Did he really just slip? Or did he jump? He couldn’t remember.

It was going to be a long climb upwards out of the pain, through the healing, to the answer.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I think I finally know what I want to do.

I have always loved writing. As an avid reader, I have dreamed on and off all my life about writing thrillers along the lines of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

My first Stephen King was “It”. I read it the weekend before my high school examinations were to start – examinations that made the determination whether I was going on to “sixth form” (pre-university level studies) or not.

My mother bought it for me in the hotel gift store where we were staying for one of Dad’s annual meetings. She bought it on the agreement that I would promise to only read it once all my studying was done.

Now that I look back, I realize that my mother was no fool. She knew exams had only just begun. If I was to wait until all my studying was done, I would have waited at least 3 months to start reading. She knew that once I had the book in my hand, I wouldn’t be able to resist reading it. And read I did. The book was bought on Wednesday evening. By that Sunday, I was done. When I say I was an avid reader, I wasn’t kidding.

I used to write a great deal too – in my journals. I wrote tons and tons and tons of words in my journals. A lot of it was stream of consciousness – just random thoughts jammed onto the paper as they occurred to me. A lot of it was repetitive anger and frustration. A lot of it was obsessive musings on situations that I had no control over. Ranting to myself gave me a sense of peace.

I even tried writing poetry and short stories. There is one story that I am holding onto because deep down I believe it’ll make for a wonderful story. But for some reason, I can’t get started on expanding 1400 words to a full fledged story.

I write articles – when I get the motivation and the subject matter to write about – but I feel blocked most of the time. In fact, the state of my blog demonstrates just how blocked I am. I haven’t been able to really write for a long, long time. I tell myself that it’s for this reason or the other … but I really have no idea why I am so blocked. And I spend a lot of time agonizing over why I am blocked.

Then I stumbled on a career description today that just sort of … “spoke” to me. It’s the description for the copy editor; an editor that edits for spelling, grammar and factual integrity.

It is the career that goes with my never decreasing need to correct every single grammatical and spelling error I see or hear. It’s the career that goes with my need to know the meaning of and usage of each and every English word ever created. It’s the career that goes with my love of researching random facts and always knowing what it is someone is talking about so that I can determine whether they are full of shit or not. It’s home.

And, as luck would have it, I am in the perfect program at the University of Phoenix to help me attain such a career.

Whether it’s too late in my life now or not to make a change like this remains to be seen – hell maybe I’ll set up my own service. We’ll see. All I know is that I want to help people put out their best when they write. I want to help writers sound like they know what they’re talking about and to actually write English with some accuracy. It might even help me eventually write for myself – someday.

But … I think I finally found what I want to do when I grow up. 🙂

It doesn’t have to be 400-600 words

I don’t have to write 400-600 formatted words everyday, I don’t even have to have anything to review or report everyday. I just have to put some words on the screen, and click publish.

This is how I have to get back into practice.

Struggling to figure out what to write about, and how to not offend … Shouldn’t be a restriction or a limitation – it should be THE subject.

Once I start, sometimes I find I have a LOT more to say than I had initially thought.

So many times, these days, I find that what I want to say is likely to offend.

I need to stop thinking that way and just write.

Nothing wrong with voicing my opinion, is there?

That I hate having to defend it or bump heads with others over my opinion shouldn’t be relevant to whether I write or not. There are ways to write about something without being offensive.

I do avoid REALLY well these days. Probably not something I should be proud of, but there it is. Instead of really digging into a thing, I just avoid it. I’ve been avoiding writing because I am afraid of offending.

I get on the defensive so often too – it’s as if I think everyone in the world is out to make me look stupid or to contradict me. So untrue – when will I get that? People have different opinions than I. This is not news to me. It’s always been like that. Since when did it become a problem?

Actually – I know when … It was when I was attacked for voicing my own opinion in response to someone else’s.

See? There are ways to write potentially offensive content without begin offensive. No one even knows what I’m talking about there – do you? 😉

Stay tuned – this COULD get better.

Lucky-13 writing, reading and internet tools I can’t do without

Application junkie – that’s me – well that’s one word that can be used to describe me (others are gadget-geek and internet-junkie, but that’s a whole other story for another day). If it’s new and/or cool or “perfect”, I have to try it out. I’ve tried out tons of apps …

  • At least 10 twitter desktop clients (and a couple web and iphone clients)
  • A few blogging platforms (WordPress is my current choice and probably will remain so)
  • Web browsers (I used to use Netscape – what does that tell you?)
  • IM clients (I’ve used Miranda, Pidgin, Trillian, and all the native IM service clients as well).

Even after I’ve settled on my favourites, I tend to go back and re-test apps just to see if things have changed and in what way. I don’t always intend to switch from my current list of favourites, but sometimes that is exactly what happens.

  1. AppCleaner

    With all that testing, I need to be able to cleanly remove apps when I’ve vetoed them from use and AppCleaner is free, easy to use and light.

  2. Textmate

    A premium text editor, it has a multitude of uses and I like it because it’s simple yet powerful. I especially like it now since I discovered it lends itself to blogging quite easily via what is called a Bundle. Being the geek I am, I type in my blog post, adding the HTML where necessary, and upload it to my blog when I’m done. It’s a convenient way to blog without being dependent on either an internet connection or a web browser.

  3. Notebook by Circus Ponies

    Yolospat introduced this to me less than 24 hours ago. At the time I had told her that I was perfectly content with Textmate and a new editor I had found Ommwriter, but now I am not so sure. I really like the way Notebook lays out your project and lets you see easily what’s what. The jury is still out on whether Notebook will replace Ommwriter (in particular) for my more serious writing projects, but I have to say that right now I am impressed.

  4. Twitter client

    I must have a twitter client running at all times … or almost all the time anyway. (Right now, I’ve closed them all because the number of them I had open used up my 150 requests per hour allocation). Lately, I’ve been using Echofon for Mac, Socialite and Nambu a lot. I like Echofon because it’s simple and uncluttered – plus it has an iPhone counterpart that’s probably my absolute favourite twitter app for iPhone (another post there too). I liked Socialite because it was also a news reader and I could consolidate my reading and tweeting in one place – but it proved way too clunky and buggy for my use. So I closed it out and loaded up Nambu for Mac beta. Which I very much like, but it is missing a few key features for me – namely the ability see a conversation and sidebar links for the lists I am following. Next up for another test round: MacLounge.

  5. Google Reader

    This needs no introduction or explanation. If you’ve got RSS feeds to read, Google Reader is the app to use. Granted it IS web-based and consequently dependent on internet connectivity as well as stability of the browser. Frankly, that’s not that much of a drawback for me because if I lose one or both, it just means I can close it out and go do something else. No great loss. It’ll all be right there when I get to log in again.

  6. Internet browser

    This also needs no introduction or explanation. As an internet-junkie, this is like a hammer for carpenters. Currently, I’m using Google Chrome. I used to be a die-hard Firefox user, and a sometimes Safari user when Firefox was cantankerous, but I am thinking they both have gotten run out of town with Chrome. It’s light and fast and simple. I am loving the experience, but I am mourning the lack of use of my addons. Extensions for Google Chrome for Mac is not yet supported and so I struggle on without. For the sake of mention, however, 2 must-have addons? XMarks and LastPass.

  7. Adium IM client

    I’ve tried ’em all, as I said before. But I’ve settled on Adium -for better or worse. Frankly, I would remain and apple user forever because of Adium alone – it is that wonderful. (BTW: I notice the homepage shows you the current version being 1.3 – well the beta 1.4 is available for the adventurous with Twitter support and sometimes I revert to using Adium as my twitter client too.)

  8. Mac’s native dictionary app

    – I read a lot, I am beginning to write quite a bit too. A dictionary is another basic tool that is absolutely necessary for this. I like the native dictionary app – as with just about everything else on a Mac, it’s fast and light and easy to use.

  9. Skim – a PDF reader for Mac

    Thanks to @adriancharles, I was able to ditch Adobe for good with his introduction of this app to me. Again – light, fast, and easy to use. Can’t be beat.

  10. Transmit

    – because every geek needs an FTP app. 😀

  11. Mac’s native terminal application

    Even though I’ve heard that Textmate has some terminal capabilities, and I have Coda installed, I much prefer the native terminal app for working on my webhost server and locally on my own machine

  12. Evernote

    I like to have stuff at my fingertips from more than one location – my resume, shopping lists, recipes, wish lists … the uses are endless.

  13. Dropbox

    And for another spin on the same theme, Dropbox allows me to keep documents synchronized between my iMac, iPhone and my Macbook.

And there you have it – my lucky-13 list of must-have apps for me. What about you? Any apps you like in particular and want to share?