The Treaty with Edie

Rilla sorts out writer-ish things with Edie, her rather critical inner editor.

Rilla: Okay, Edie. We’ve been working together for some time, and I think you need to understand something I’ve figured out about me—us.

Edie: And that is…

Rilla: I write for the joy of it. I truly believe we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on this, and I need you to get onboard so I can finish The Zorce Collection.

Edie: Meaning, you want me to stop being honest? You’d rather I didn’t tell you the uninteresting, unpolished, unprintable things you write are trash and need to be burned?

Rilla: Yeah. Pretty much.

Edie: I can do that. In fact, I have no problem letting you wallow in the mire of your own dumb compositions.

Rilla: Now Edie, you’re a good editor. You’ve saved me from a lot of mistakes, I grant you–

Edie: And this is the gratitude I receive for being there for you at all hours? All hours! Because you know I wake you in the middle of the night so you can know about that typo in the comment you posted yesterday! Who else would be as concerned about your image? Protecting you has been my top priority for over thirty years now, and all you can say is, ‘You’re a good editor, Edie, now shut it’? I see how it is.

Rilla: That’s not what I said, Edie. Nobody’s doubting your loyalty here. I don’t want you to quit; I just want you to look at our work as a personal reflection rather than a marketable product.

Edie: ‘Our work.’ Thank you; I appreciate that. So, you’re saying the trilogy you’ve been wrestling with for years is now a personal reflection? You’re going to spend—who knows how many—years to complete three books, and then you want to stick it in your little diary and call it a day?

Rilla: Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Edie: (jaw-drop) What a waste of your life! Why would you want to do that?

Rilla: It’s simple. I need the freedom to write what I want to write without thinking of who’s going to look at it and what it’s going to make them think. We did that last time, remember? Where did it get us?

Edie: (nodding) I see your point. We’ve been trying to peg this story down for almost a decade.

Rilla: Ugh. Don’t say that.

Edie: Well, it’s true. But, I will admit, you’ve been able to eke out a few good stories, even while you were blocked.

Rilla: Thank you. So, what do you think? If we work on The Zorce Collection as a reflection of our life rather than a product, how would that change the approach?

Edie: Well, obviously, I wouldn’t have to stop you mid-scene to ask if the scene itself is really necessary.

Rilla: Yes.

Edie: The dialogue could be as long as you want it. The word count wouldn’t matter.

Rilla: Yes.

Edie: Ooo, here’s a big one: I wouldn’t have to alert you every time you divulge something that hints at your own painful experiences.

Rilla: Bingo, Edie. That’s the one that’s holding us back.

Edie: So, are you calling this a memoir now?

Rilla: Absolutely not! This is Casey and Ivan’s story. They need to be able to speak, and they can say what they need to say much better if they don’t have a self-conscious author in the mix second-guessing and censoring herself.

Edie: I see.

Rilla: What do you think? Can we give this a go?

Edie: You know how I despise that long-winded garble you call your style. Will I have to wade through that again? I refuse to work with you unless I can still rip apart the scenes that don’t speak the way I think they should.

Rilla: I’ll make you a deal; if you’ll give me time to get the scenes out on paper, I’ll take you page-by-page, through the section when we’ve finished. You can clean it up to your heart’s content.

Edie: It has to be crisp. You know that’s very important to me. Clean and crisp.

Rilla: Well?

Edie: I’m willing to try it. Anything to get this monstrosity out of our head.

Rilla: Thank you, Edie.

Edie: And when we’re done, who knows? Maybe you’ll want to publish it anyway, and…

Rilla: No. Edie.

Edie: I don’t see why. Can’t you just think about that an itsy-bitsy bit?

Rilla: No. We write The Zorce Collection, and it’s done. That will free us to work on (whispers name of fully-written children’s story draft).

Edie: Ah. Yes, that’s been dangling there for some time.

Rilla: Are we agreed?

Edie: We never agree, but I will concede with this one set of stories–which is all I’m giving you!

Rilla: Good enough.

“Get off the Internet” Challenge

Last week’s short story, Disconnected, was prompted by a little experiment here at home. I promise; we were not plugging our brains into any USB ports. The challenge for our family for five days was to get off the Internet.

We rely heavily on the Internet to work and communicate, so the goal we set was to get off distracting media, like Youtube videos, tv shows, movies, and game apps. Even social media was not to be used for scrolling through posts—there had to be direct communication going on. (One concession was made: music could be listened to while work was happening.)

That first afternoon, I learned how much I rely on a screen while I’m eating. I usually eat lunch well after lunch because I get carried away with my work in the mornings. That quick bite is usually my time to catch up with Facebook and Youtube subscriptions. When I sat down to my sandwich, I felt the lack of a distraction. I was unentertained.

The withdrawal from watching shows or movies wasn’t as hard on me as it was on the kids. They were used to watching videos about cats scared by cucumbers and videos about making chewing and eating sounds to see if the listeners found it calming. They didn’t even have the videos of people commenting about the videos with the chewing sounds. Riveting, I know, but they had a hard time prying themselves away from the video-watching.

There was a great amount of unrest in the family atmosphere for those few days. I found it enlightening. Basically, because we didn’t have a device to flee to when a small conflict surfaced, the conflict became an actual annoyance. Fortunately, the conflict was then resolved sooner. No one could escape into their video-watching hidey holes to forget about it until the next confrontation.

The best thing that came out of our few days was sitting down together and talking. We played more board games and made more jokes and got in more arguments. It was great fun! And without the screens, we talked more at meal times. Interestingly, we didn’t eat at the table; we ate in the living room, where the seats are more comfortable. So, picture us in the living room not watching TV. Can you picture us? We’re sitting on the comfy, cushiony chairs, and we’re talking and eating. Novel, right? I think I understand why the Romans ate their meals reclining on couches. Seriously, has no one noticed that dining room furniture, in general, is not that inviting? Why do we make our eating room so stiff when eating is a pleasant activity and should be surrounded by all kinds of pleasing things in keeping with its… pleasantness? We also have our Bible study in the living room, so it became an easy transition from eating to reading together.

All in all, I think it was a great challenge. I stopped mulling over how I could effectively fix other people’s problems online and stopped caring how many plates I could fill on Diner Dash to move up to serving shrimp tempura. Instead, I became, naturally, more aware of doing nothing. I found myself breathing deeply and relaxing and just being. Doing nothing meant I had time to connect with me, which is so important, and which I tend to forget to do when my nose is stuck to a screen.

I hope you, too, will think about how you can spend your day being a little more connected—to yourself and to the people living right beside you. What do you like to do to keep connected?

Disconnected – A Short Story

“Excuse me, lady! I’ve gone offline. Can you report for me?”

“Yes, I will do that promptly, sir.”

“Thank you. My mind is… scrambled. It’s never happened before!”

“I’ve heard of brain servers going offline. I recall one contact, Crusoe, who was stranded for days. I will send a request to him, too, asking what you should do.”

“I’m thinking, what if it’s a bad code–I’ve contracted a bad code? I feel so… I can’t breathe!”

“You are probably experiencing a feeling of panic, sir. It’s important to stay calm in emergencies like this.”

“But there’s nothing reading my mood, my vitals! No timed anxiety serum!”

“I understand your situation, and I sympathize. I have finished filling out your report and submitting it. Please wait while I process Crusoe’s response… He advises you to resort to manually communicating until your connection is fixed.”

“I’m doing that! See, I’m trying–but you see how–how lost I am…”

“Yes, it’s disconcerting. I reported you for harassment initially because of your behavior, sir; you looked straight at my eyes.”

“I don’t want to get arrested for harassment! I’ve been disconnected! I’m thinking without autoreview!”

“You need assurance you’ll be fixed soon. I understand. I’ve copied the form and reported your disconnection three times already. Goodbye, sir.”

“What? Are you just going to leave?”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

“Uh–but I need you to think this through for me! I’m going to go crazy without–Wait… My connection has been reinstated. My serotonin levels are being adjusted. Vitals are all returning to normal. Now I will forget that dreadful conversation by watching a humorous video.”

Cuppa Update

The trending tea for my palate this season is turmeric. Traditional Medicinals has the best blend, Organic Turmeric with Meadowsweet & Ginger. It has a mild, comforting fullness of flavor that never disappoints. Second best is Celestial Seasonings Teahouse Organic Ginger and Turmeric. CS’s blend is all about pep and spice to meet the day. Still, my go-to on chilly mornings remains peppermint tea, which warms my thoughts.cuppaupdate

The other day, I pulled out some dried mint leaves from the freezer to steep. At some point, my eye started to itch. I rubbed it quickly, and the sensation became a troubling burn at the base of my eyeball. The burning gave off a fumy freshness, and my eye began to weep. I ran over to the sink, as any goofus would do when something’s burning, washed my hands, and doused my eye repeatedly with water to try to dispel the peppermint oil. You oil users know what happened; the burning spread from one side of my eye to the other. I could not pry my eye open. I couldn’t see out of the other eye, either, because it was wet with tears.

No one was home, so I dabbed at my good eye and, with concentrated Lamaze breathing, I searched for “pppermint pil in eye.” My browser had my back; it gave me a link to a wealth of advice on what a bad idea it is to put essential oils in your eyes. If I hadn’t been converted before, I was now. Still, the warning wasn’t as helpful—hee-hee-hoo—when I was hoping for a solution.

Dear reader, the solution was to soak my poor eye in carrier oil—as is always the method with potent essential oils. I made a pool of olive oil in a cloth and attempted to dunk my eye in it. There was immediate relief. I used at least a half cup of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to dunk my eye and dab the peppermint away—because my eye deserves only the best. I was so elated that I could still see after all that minty fire!

Did this bad experience with peppermint turn my stomach for the tea? Let me tell you, that tea was amazing.

Buddy

“Meet Buddy,” my hostess said, as I pushed open the gate to her property. I’d come to spend my weekends, this and the next, in quiet contemplation in an apartment above her barn.

Her dog, Buddy, approached me, his nose hitting my bicep as I turned around. He was all black, and he was seated. Immediately, I thought of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This dog was huge! He looked up at me with his yellow eyes (“So help me, he had yellow eyes!“), and I thought, “This dog could eat me.”

I tried to pet Buddy. When I was younger I’d had a German Shepherd I could scratch behind both ears when my hand was splayed. Not Buddy. I was shocked at how small my hand looked on his head. He could definitely make short work of me.

I woke at 2:30AM that night to the onslaught of a storm. The rain beat on the slanted roof just over my head, and I thought. “I’m scared to death of Buddy.” I envisioned myself being attacked in the evening hours next week because the dog didn’t recognize me, and his owners were away.

I entered the chicken coop on the second day—it would be my job to feed the chickens and put them on the roost in the evenings. “You pick her up by placing your hands under her. Wrap them around her wings, so she won’t flap them.” I followed my host’s advice and tried to get a good grip on the chicken. This particular hen was still sitting on the roost because of arthritis. I brought the arthritic chicken to the ground. She tottered before walking out of the hen house. I felt proud of myself, but the evening was more difficult.

“She’s heavy. Make sure you don’t pull on her wings.” The second hen felt my lack of confidence and flew out of her nesting box. I could see myself, next weekend, with hens flapping around me, trying to peck out my eyes. At which point, I’d push my way out of the hen house, where Buddy would promptly eat me.

The next morning, I gave animal-feeding another try. I fed Buddy, who ate his food in seconds. I wondered if his meals would suffice next week, or if he’d gnaw off my leg in hunger. I entered the gate to feed the chickens, and they clustered and clucked around me expectantly. A bit intimating, but I thought I could kick them off and fling feed over my shoulder to escape. I went into the coop and helped the arthritic chicken down. Her feathers felt like a Sherpa blanket. It was nice. I gave Buddy a Milkbone, and, suddenly, I knew we were best friends.

The next weekend, I entered the gate to the barn, and Buddy barked at me. Not in a mean way. He’d recognized me. I dropped my stuff off at the barn, and we went for a walk around the property. He was pleased to have my company.

The chickens were quiet as I set them on the roost that night. They hardly stirred as I counted them to make sure they were all there. I left the chicken house by lantern light, and Buddy bounded around me, barking to let me know he was going to be watching for mountain lions and such that night. (There was a rumor of one with babies in the area.) I enjoyed a quiet night sorting out the antics of my fictional characters.

The morning was raucous. I hadn’t heard the rooster as much the weekend before because of the storms. He was making up for lost time. I finally pulled myself out of bed at 6:00AM. I did some writing, came to a stopping point, and went out to feed the chickens. Miss Arthritis was on one foot. She had trouble getting her legs under her. I think she’d had a tough night.

Buddy ate his meal with his usual alacrity and showed off his stick-carrying skills. I gave him a treat before I went back to my room for a breakfast of two of the eggs I’d found in the hen house. Delicious!

I looked out the window around lunch and noticed a revolt was happening in the chicken field. Three of the chickens were in roped-off territory. I headed for the field, Buddy at my…back (not at my heels—he’s too big). I tried to shoo-shoo the birds back to their side of the field. Two of them obeyed, but the last one was determined to enjoy her freedom. Buddy barked a reprimand at her and chased her as best he could outside the gate. He helped me pin in little Miss Behave to get her to go back to her side.

In the afternoon, Buddy and I took another walk. The weather was brisk, and Buddy was excited to show me his haunts. We sat down afterward for a talk. He wasn’t ready for me to leave when it was time for me to get back to work. He followed me unto the deck, which was prohibited. I warned him. He lowered his head and slunk off the stairs. I can’t believe how I afraid of him I was at first!

As I packed up to go home after my second restful weekend in a row, I was sad. Not because I wanted to stay and work more. I was thoroughly ready to return home. I was going to miss Buddy. I was going to miss the soft down of the chickens’ feathers and the quiet tap-tapping of my keyboard. But, mostly, I would miss Buddy.

3 Points of Writing & the Universal Rule

My brother, a musician, named three properties that become his focus as he works to craft a piece of music. They are: the key of the piece, the tempo, and the kick pattern.

“Making sure the song is in the right key is essential,” he said. “You would be amazed at how changing the key of the song can change the entire feeling.” He talked about some songs we both knew and how they didn’t work the same way with a key change. “This especially goes for songs that modulate for a build at the end. It can be catastrophic for certain song structures.”

“The second thing I experiment with is the song’s tempo. I have songs I struggle to keep from being too slow or too fast.” He talked about one of his slower songs, Give In. “I played with the speed of that one for quite a while. Any slower and it lost its intensity, but playing it faster took away from the serious mood.”

“The last thing will probably sound shallow, but it’s not. It’s the kick pattern. And I’m not talking about the beat of the drum so much as the pattern in the listener’s head. You want them to anticipate when the drum is coming, even when the sound isn’t there at all. The listener needs that. But you don’t want the pattern to be predictable, either.”

As he talked, I realized the method to his music was the same method I use to improve my writing. Instead of using chords in a key pattern, I’m focused on the structure of the setting. The setting of the story houses the mood, the atmosphere, the foundational guidelines of my piece. Without it, my work has suffered from being too ambiguous or lifeless. I’ve changed the setting suddenly, and it’s ruined my whole story.

Tempo is obvious. I’ve discussed the importance of keeping the pace of a story in the forefront of a writer’s mind—not letting the characters slip into reveries or flashbacks at the wrong moment, making sure there is a goal the story continues to move toward. Even the simplest digressions can have an impact on the way your reader perceives your work. Some digressions bring your reader into a closer connection with the experience you’re sharing, and some digressions confuse, and even polarize, your reader.

Lastly, there is a pattern created by the writer in every story. Sometimes it’s called the voice or the style of the work. But it’s more than that. It’s that unspoken rhythm of thought the reader recognizes and latches onto. This is comparable to the kick pattern of a song, I think. Certain stories ooze personality, the story’s own flair, from the first word. Tolkien had a beautiful sense of this. Mary Shelley played around with it in Frankenstein. (Personally, I think she overplayed it.) Maximum Ride held readers with a snarky, hard-edged flow–not just the dialogue, but the storyline itself rattled with that teen angst pattern. These three examples are easy to pick up on, but all literature of length sits within a pattern that the reader subconsciously recognizes and expects to continue throughout the work.

My brother opened my eyes to this universal rule of the artist: We don’t mold the message alone; we mold every pause between. From the dead spaces to the underlying matter, we orchestrate and riddle out the kinks, so the listener can get to know the work without needing to know why it resonates.

Quiet in the Barn

One of the hangups of being a responsible person is not knowing when to say, “Okay. I need some time to myself.” I deny myself the time to write. I admit it.

When the kids were young, I would hunker down over my keyboard until 1 or 2 AM, aware of nothing but the story. I would live and breathe, some days, to get back to my characters. And I felt guilty for that. Numerous people would tell me, “You’re going to miss this time in your kids’ lives. Treasure it.” I wish I could’ve treasured it more because they were right; I miss the times when they were little. Now I do. When they were little, I just needed a break! Every stage of life is different, and in that stage I was running from my kids–trying to find a moment to think, trying to shut the bathroom door to pee, trying not to burn supper while addressing the Battle of the Toddlers #7,008 in the other room.

Then the kids grew up, and I found the solitude I needed holed up in my walk-in closet (yeah, I talked about that once). When we moved, I missed that closet. I tried the next closet for awhile, but the magic was gone. I returned to writing at night, but I could see my kids were doing a lot of emotional growing up. When Mom was typing in the quiet of the night, that became the time they could have just me with no distractions. That was the time to ask, “Who am I, Mom?” and “I have these things I want to do in life, Mom, and I don’t know where to start.” How could I deny them that personal, introspective one-on-one time? (Don’t get me wrong; there were a few times I, flat out, did.) I had to put my writing aside and hear them–really listen to their needs. I fed their spirits, and I’m glad I did! But I went hungry sometimes.

After I stopped feeding myself the time and the space and the quiet I needed, I began to miss it less and less–which is the same as saying I missed me less and less.the barn

In four years, Lord-willing, my kids will be moving on. Leaving the nest. They’ll still need me, but it won’t be in the same role in which I’ve identified myself for most of my life now. I’ve been looking in the mirror lately and wondering who that person is looking back at me. I thought I knew her, but as I see the empty nest looming, I’m intimidated by her. What are her expectations? Who is she, and what are those dreams she’s been trying to tell me are in her heart? I’m already regretting the time I haven’t spent feeding her spirit, helping her find the place to start.

This past weekend, I took her out, just the one of us. My friends let me stay in an apartment over their barn and get some quiet time. I laughed. I cried. I was scared, but I still wanted to meet me. And there, I found my story. My characters had been waiting for me. If they can pick up where we left off, I know I can, too.