All red and gray
Taking a shower
On a hot summer day
Spreading your wings
You take to the air
How I wish my life so fair
I found this when I was digging around in some old assignments from school. I had to chuckle a bit at it. Things haven’t changed much in a decade. Except for maybe adding in Obamacare and the near requirement of having a smartphone which costs more than some cars I’ve owned.
The Great American Catch -22
“I’m sorry we can’t hire you. You just don’t have enough experience.” I’m sure you’ve heard those words before, we all have. It is the old problem: you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. America is full of these frustrating “Damned if you do Damned if you don’t” loops called catch- 22’s.
The United States is often hailed and the land of opportunity and freedom. However, it is actually the land of stalemates and restrictions. We box ourselves in with these ironic restrictions in order to regulate our lives and make the country fair.
Car insurance is one of those areas. The government requires drivers to carry auto insurance for the protection of other drivers. The government doesn’t subsidize car insurance. If a driver can’t afford to carry insurance, they are under the constant fear of being fined or having their license is revoked. If the driver can’t afford the insurance then how are they going to afford the fines? If the driver’s license is revoked, how will the driver get to work, to make the money to pay the fines or to afford the insurance?
Health insurance companies are great at snaring Americans in catch-22s. Most doctors’ offices require you to have health insurance before you are treated. Health insurance companies require you to be in perfect health before you can be insured. So unless you buy full coverage insurance, including dental and vision, when you are born it is unlikely that you will ever be in perfect health. For some, even birth is too late.
America was once the land where a person could “go out and seek their fortune” by working and being creative. Fortune seekers are now hampered by the need for governmental regulation. For example, if a person wanted to make a product and sell it they would first have to get a license to sell the product. To get the license the person has to know how much they are going to sell, but in order to do that they would have to sell some. It is easy enough to make a guess, but if the product is a new invention then the guessing is not so easy a task.
Financial institutions are masters of the catch- 22. Trying to get a loan to buy a house is impossible unless the buyer has enough money in their pocket that they don’t really need the loan in the first place. Bankruptcy is the same way; the filer must have at least $500 to file the papers. But if the filer has $500 then why file bankruptcy why not pay off the bills. It is also impossible to build credit without a credit card; however you can’t get a credit card without credit.
Our personal lives are filled with these little ironic annoyances. If you have children you need more money to live. To get more money, you have to get a job. To get a job you have to put the children in daycare, which costs money. So in order to make money you have to pay out money. In many cases it is almost more money going out than coming in.
Or how about the adult who is returning to school to get a degree and a career? They must first find a job that pays enough money in order to afford college. However, the only way to get that kind of job is to have a degree and a career.
The American culture is self-destructive by nature. Americans demand the constitutional right to carry fire arms. They don’t stop to think why this is so necessary. We want to carry guns to protect ourselves from other people with guns. If there weren’t any guns we would not have to protect ourselves from people with guns.
America no longer has the ability to stop the catch-22. The American motto of “freedom for all”, means that anyone can have anything, anywhere. This creates the problem of trying to please everyone. But in trying to please everyone, it starts a catch-22.
Some of these catch-22s will make a person laugh and are apparent only if you think about them. Such as someone who buys a sports utility vehicle (SUV) that is loaded with all of the extra suspension and off-road perks and then only uses it to run to the grocery store. The Phone Company announces triumphantly that you can now report telephone outages over the Internet. But don’t you need a working telephone line to use the Internet?
Once, withholding education from the masses was the most effective way to control them now you simply turn them loose in America and watch them spin their wheels. They are too busy trying to make it somewhere to realize they will never get anywhere. Welcome to America.
We all get it some time. The dreaded Writer’s Block. It’s like a disease no one wants to talk about. Or it gets all the blame when we can’t produce.
Moonlight often decides when I have been at the keyboard long enough, and plops herself down in the most obtrusive way possible. Usually its lunchtime. I don’t mind this kind of block so much. If not for her, I’d forget to eat. So this kind of writer’s block can be good even if it comes with claws and hair.
There are other kinds of writer’s block. Kinds that are insidious and often devastating to us poor creative folk. Not just writers but any kind of creative occupation. Art, music, writing, they all come with their own blocks.
First there is Waffling…
I can do this! Well, maybe not.
This kind of block comes from fear. Fear of failure or fear of success. Our society measures us by our successes and no one wants to come up short. We worry so much about what others will think about our writing or painting or song that we never actually get to the work. Creating something from nothing is hard enough without worrying about what everyone will think of it. We pour our souls into our work and that is a hard thing to just hand off to a stranger and let them judge it. So we block ourselves in an effort to keep our souls safe.
How so you get past this block?
Well there is an adage in the writing world….Write drunk and edit sober. Now I’m not advocating alcoholism but sometimes just that bit of liquid courage will do it. Do I drink and write? No. I unfortunately have to stay sober. I have kids. But it might work for you.
What works for me?
Stop thinking! Just sit down and write. I don’t care if it is a list of reasons why you should be writing or just nonsense. The only way to get past this kind of writer’s block is to just sit down and do it. You can’t worry about whether it will be a best seller or not. You can’t worry about how it will feel to get your thousandth rejection letter. None of that has happened and it will never happen unless you actually produce something. There is no sense in worrying about things that haven’t happened and may never happen.
SO HOW TO GET PAST WAFFLING WRITER’S BLOCK…JUST DO IT! JUST WRITE!
Second kind of block is Originality…
Once upon a time… nope, been there, done that.
So much of the writing world is based on “SHOW ME A NEW TAKE ON AN OLD THEME” If you think about it, every story has been told in one form or another. You think you have an idea then you find out it’s already been done. So you get blocked. Look at the vampire genre! Holy Cannelloni! You wanna talk about been there done that! And now we have sparkles and nano bugs from Atlantis mixed in. Discouragement is so easy to let in the door when you are faced with trying to come up with a new idea.
Then you get the industry itself making our lives complicated. “We want description, but don’t use adverbs!”, “We don’t want to see conversation tags, but tell us who is talking.”, “Never start slow, but never start fast.” What is a poor author to think?
How do you get past this block?
First, relax a bit. You already have a new take. It’s called your voice. You have a unique voice already. It is a culmination of all your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is no one that will write your story like you will. It’s like taking a writing prompt and giving it to ten different people. There will be ten different stories. Our preconceptions built by our lives will give us each a different story.
If you need a new idea, look around. There is always something going on. Take a walk. Talk to someone. You never know when an idea will pop into your head.
How do I get past this block?
Sometimes it is a matter of telling the story from a different point of view. For example, telling Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s POV. (Hey it worked for Disney!) Try changing the tone of the story. Make it a comedy with a tragic heart or make what should be funny slightly evil. Or my personal favorite, play the worst case scenario game with your idea. What would be the worst possible thing that could happen right now? It doesn’t have to be horrific just farthest from the norm. For example, I had a writing prompt “He Never Saw it Coming” It was about a kid in a fast food restaurant. He sees a lizard that is going to climb up a man’s leg. From there just think about what is the worst that could happen? I can see your writer’s block moving out of the way already…
SO HOW TO GET PAST THE ORIGINALITY BLOCK…RELAX, TAKE A WALK, LOOK AROUND, GET A NEW PERSPECTIVE.
Third is the hard one…Uncertainty.
This nasty little form of writer’s block comes from the black hole that is uncertainty. We don’t know what is happening in our story. Why did Bubba Joe drive to the shack in the woods? What are my villains doing while my heroes are trekking across the continent? Who the Hell is my character?
Readers don’t realize that we authors not only have to know the story, but we have to know every bit of history and every thought of the characters we create. Sometimes the character profiles and histories end up twice as big as the actual book! It’s all backstory and we have to know it. Otherwise we won’t know how our character will act or react.
It is often hard to know someone you just created out of the thin air between your ears. Some authors write our interviews with their characters, some will list out every trait and every event in their timeline. If they are real enough then they will be easier to write what they would do in whatever situation you put them in. Then you can ask WWBJD? (What would Bubba Joe do?)
Sometimes just talking to someone and getting their perspective will jog something loose in your own head. They give you food for thoughT and then you are on your way again, the block is moved.
How do I get out of the uncertainty block? I often work backwards. I know where I want my characters to get to, so I plot out a sequence of events that will get them there. I often write tons of backstory material including maps and plans of buildings. Anything to give my characters a solid place to cavort. I also play the worst case scenario game with them. It’s not always pretty, but the story keeps moving on.
SO HOW DO WE GET PAST THE UNCERTAINTY BLOCK…PLOT, PLAN, AND TALK TO SOMEBODY!
Fourth is the all devastating Procrastination…
Oh, tea sounds lovely!
This one just plain nasty. It can be terminal. It is so easy to fall victim to procrastination because any of the other forms of writer’s block are in play. It’s hard to get past the block so why not go and vacuum or sort the magazines on the table. Everyone knows that organizing last years taxes is a way better occupation than facing the dreaded blank page or worse the half written one. Suddenly half your life is gone and you haven’t worked on anything in years!
DON’T DO IT! DON’T FALL VICTIM TO IT!
You must learn to sit down and do the work even if it is hard. You can’t dig a hole without picking up a shovel. Organize your life and set aside time to work. Turn off the internet. Facebook and Twitter will live without you. It’s ok.
Now, I’m not saying that all time away is bad. It can be really helpful. Writers often need to ruminate on the idea and suddenly it’s all there ready to go. So taking a walk once in a while or going to get some coffee is fine, just don’t make a career out of it. You can take time for other things. I am sitting here writing a blog when I want to be writing my novel, but I’m still writing so it’s ok.
How do I get past this one? Practice and organization. I try to treat my writing like a job. I work at it on most of the days my kiddos are in school but there are sometimes when I have to do my mom responsibilities. I try to keep them separate. There is a time for everything. Am I always successful? No. Sometimes I suck at it, but that is where the practice comes in. I have to remind myself that it is time to write not to look up songs on YouTube.
SO HOW DO YOU GET PAST PROCRASTINATION BLOCK…WORK AND DISCIPLINE AND LOTS OF PRACTICE.
In short writer’s block is not a fatal disease, it’s just creativity that is stuck. Sometimes the obstacles that stop us from creating are just big fuzzy things that plop right down on our lap. Sometimes it’s us avoiding what we don’t want to do for whatever reason. Either way it is something we can all get past. No block will stay forever.
I always tell my children not to lie. It is a good thing for them to know and live by. I try my hardest not to lie. It’s not easy. Sometimes it is the hardest thing in the world, but I believe in telling the truth.
But this morning as I was walking my 11 year old autistic son to school, I realized that I was lying to him.
I said to him, “Say in between the lines of the crosswalk. That’s where it is safe to cross.”
This is true according to traffic laws. That is why the crosswalk is there, to give a safe place to cross the street.
Then I continued, “It’s like a bridge, you wouldn’t cross a river without a bridge, so don’t cross the street without a crosswalk.”
At that moment, I realized the lie.
The road is no different inside the lines of the crosswalk than outside of it. It is merely lines painted on the pavement. It’s not safe. There is no magic barrier there that will keep him from getting run over. (That thought alone scared the Hell out of me.) It’s just lines.
The only reason that it is safer to cross at the crosswalk is the teaching we get in driver’s ed. The traffic rules that tell us to look for pedestrians in the crosswalks. That doesn’t mean that drivers will, just that they are supposed to.
So in lying to my son I gave him a false impression of the world, but it is a lie that has to be told. The belief that a crosswalk is safe is the only thing standing between me and a child in a coffin. If, in his mind, he believes that the crosswalk is safe then he will be forced to live within that stricture. He will cross at the crosswalk making his life safer than it was before. It won’t keep him from getting hit, but it will up his chances of staying safe.
It is a lie that has to be told. Ignorance often keeps us safe. If you don’t know you can be killed then you don’t panic about it.
When it comes to Autism, one must be very careful with the ideas that one presents. It comes down to control. Often my son just does what he wants because he has no idea what will happen to him. So I must tell him a truth that is a lie to keep him safe.
I tell him all the time, Big House is safe. (Big House is what he calls our home. I don’t know why, he just does.) Big House is safe from thunderstorms, wind, rain, loud trucks, trains and all manner of other things that he is scared of.
I know for a fact that wind can destroy houses. (I lived in tornado land for a long time.) I know that fire from lightening could burn down our house, we could be flooded, or even have a truck drive through our front door. But when it comes down to it, Big House is safe because it has to be.
It’s another lie that is the truth. If I didn’t tell him this lie then he would never sleep at night and he would be in a perpetual state of panic. How can anyone live like that? We tell ourselves these lies so that we can face living. Not just the parents of Autistic children but everyone.
To Quote Men in Black: There’s always an alien battle cruiser, or a Corellian death ray, or an intergalactic plague intended to wipe out life on this miserable little planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!
So in the end the question comes up: Do I lie? The answer is: Only when it is the truth.
Just attended the Flathead Writers’ Conference in beautiful Kalispell, MT this weekend. There was a great turn out. Got to see a lot of old friends and made some new ones.
It felt a little different this year, maybe because a lot of the presenters were so laid back and relaxed. The presentations were very informative but also informal and funny. Author of The Riddle in Ruby, Kent Davis even pulled his agent, Susanna Einstein, in on his presentation to do a little play acting with him.
The meet and greet held at the Hampton Inn gave everyone a chance to get up and socialize. Drinks and finger foods kept normally introverted writers from sneaking back to their rooms and hiding. Instead we laughed and talked about anything that came up.
As a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I often feel a bit out of tune with other writers. Most I meet are either non-fiction, mystery, or romance writers. I don’t often get to meet writers of my own genre. However this time…
Monica Poole, author of the Science Fiction book Fourth Son, was one of the presenters. She was an absolute kick to listen too. Her topic was World Building for All Genres and I am pleased to say that I realized that I know a lot more about world building than I thought. So yay me!
This weekend was the annual Authors of the Flathead Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana.
As usual I stayed at the Blue & White Motel. It is a inexpensive motel with a pool, hot tub, sauna, and a lot of themed rooms.
This year I got to stay in the Diva Room. It is decorated with an “I Love Lucy” theme.
“What’s up with your dad?”
“Oh he’s just sick of people trying to kill him, mainly you.”
“I didn’t try to kill him!” Jonas practically screeched.
“Yeah, he said you’d say that.” I said without looking up from my game. I was nearing the end of the mission and I didn’t feel like starting over.
Jonas collapsed like the trade center onto the couch beside me smashing the remainder of chips in the Doritos bag and scattering gummie worms onto the floor.Frowning I glanced down at my fallen snack then shrugged.
“I didn’t try to kill him,” Jonas repeated sullenly, “it just kinda happened. Hey! Get that guy!” he pointed to the screen excitedly.
I hate back seat gamers but Jonas was my best friend so I killed the enemy soldier anyway. “You always say things just kinda happened when usually its you being a dumb ass that causes it.”
“I wasn’t really being a dumbass,” Jonas picked up a gummie worm and inspected it for fuzz. “I didin’t mean to pull out in front that semi.”
I slid him a disbelieving look but he went on.
“It’s not like we were really in danger. Your dad has one of those teacher brake thingies on his side. He coulda used it.”
“Dude!” I dropped the controller into my lap and stared at Jonas. “Seriously, this is the third time you’ve taken drivers’ ed and you’ve nearly killed my dad every time!”
“Not every time!” Jonas whined. “That first time it was Julie’s fault!”
He never saw it coming. He was too busy ordering more food. I did a double take then whipped around to see if anyone else had noticed.
No one else was watching either.
The man impatiently tapped his foot as he regarded the menu. The bored teen behind the counter waited staring blankly at him without actually seeing him. I glanced back down where the lizard had been. It wasn’t there. My eyes searched the tiles looking for the four legged intruder. The pattern of food particles and grease smears made perfect camouflage. Finally I spotted it. It was nearly under his heel.
I rose up half out of my seat without actually having a plan. If I yelled lizard would anyone listen? Or would they just toss me out thinking I was just another crazy kid out for attention. Better if I just sneak up on it.
I looked around again. Still no one was watching. Slowly I walked up to the counter acting like I was going to order something. The little green reptile turned a buggy eye on me and flicked its tongue in challenge. I glared at it accepting.
For every step I took it waddle closer to the man. I was only about a foot away when it darted up the back of his pant leg. I gasped and froze waiting for the man to notice but he only shifted his weight and asked about the lettuce on the burgers. The lizard eyed me again and flicked his tongue taunting me with his latest victory. I sneered at it and stepped closer reaching my hand out, ready to grasp the scaly little beast.
Watching me it flicked its tongue and darted a little higher coming to rest on the man’s back pocket where his wallet bulged. I leaned forward ready to grab. Just as I tried to catch it, it darted up the man’s back and my hand landed on his pocket.
He whirled around and grabbed me by the shirt, “What the hell are you doing trying to do steal my wallet?”
I gaped unable to answer as the lizard appeared on top of his shoulder flicking its tongue at me again.
Uncontrollable! Dangerous! Do not approach! These words were plastered across every news feeds.
Uncontrollable! Dangerous! Do not approach! These words were plastered across every news feeds.
“What is that?” she asked leaning closer to the screen.
“Hey! Honey, you make a lousy window!” One of the patrons behind her barked.
She scooted back out of the way but continued to stare at the screen. She couldn’t make out the image under the words. It was too blurry.
“Ruby!” The head bartender snapped making her jump. He shoved a tray of glasses surrounding a pitcher of beer into her hands nearly spilling the golden liquid. Quickly balancing the tray, she hustled over to the corner booth. Four business men in suits looked up as she stopped by their table.
“Damn scientists.” One of the men muttered.
“Scientists?” Another countered, “It’s those self-righteous activists’ fault.”
She set the tray down and started to pass out the glasses.
“You’d think they’d be a little more circumspect before bursting in and releasing dangerous animals like that.” A third man in an expensive suit leaned back as she filled his glass.
“Eco-terrorists are not known for thinking anything through.” The first man scoffed.
“I heard they weren’t animals. I heard they were some kind of engineered weapon.”
Ruby slowed down a little trying to stay for the conversation.
“I hear they were some kind of mutation grown in the lab.”
“All the more reason to leave them there.” The well-dressed man frowned.
“Still, “The second man added. “What kind of experiment were they doing? Sounds a little creepy to me.”
Ruby ran out of glasses to fill. She couldn’t stay any longer. She picked up her tray and went back to the bar.
“Go take your break.” The bartender jerked his head toward the back.
Ruby nodded more than happy to get a moment away. She grabbed her phone and disappeared through the alley door. Quickly she found her normal seat on the broken cinder block and started Googling the news story.
That’s when she heard the growl. She looked up from her phone wondering if she had imagined it, but she heard it again. It came from behind the dumpster. It was low and guttural. It sang to her primal survival instincts. She kept trying to tell herself it was a dog or something, but deep down she knew it was the thing on the news. Slowly she came to her feet. She edged back toward the door behind her but before she could escape to the safety of the bar the growling thing stepped out. She froze staring in surprised at the child. Its hair was ragged and scraggly. She wasn’t even sure if it was girl or a boy. Its eyes were huge and sad like a doll’s. There was something appealing about it. Part of her wanted to run to it and scoop it up and tell it that it would be all right. Its sad eyes drew her in tugging on her heart strings. It was a child not some beast to be hunted. Anyone would see it and want to help and protect it.
However, part of her wanted to stay as far away as possible. There was blood staining its already dirty clothes. She had heard it growl. She knew it wasn’t just a child. Everything in her screamed RUN!
Before she could follow that instinct, it surged forward. Running straight for her, it bared its teeth.
Her phone fell to the pavement. The screen cracked but Google stayed open displaying a picture of the child with the caption warning: Dangerous! Uncontrollable! Do not approach!
This was the writing prompt: The lights go off for 5 seconds and when they come back on there is a note on the window that says one word : Run.
I stared at the note.
I know that most people would get all wobbly kneed and heart pounding panicky but I didn’t. All I did was stare.
“Run!” I read again.
“Wait.” I peered closer. The red marker clashed horridly with the yellow of the sticky note. Then finally it clicked. I knew that handwriting.
“Seriously!” I stormed out the door and ripped the little yellow sheet off the window crumpling it in my hand.
I scanned the street. She was here somewhere. I just knew it, but I couldn’t see her. Finally I turned to go back in side. Fast-balling the note into the trash.
“Run,” I muttered, “I’m not coming back Teri!” I shouted even though she couldn’t hear me.
I hated her overpriced treadmill class. I couldn’t stand all those ‘looking for my next ex-husband’ students of her’s. I hated the music she chose and I sure as Hell hated her stalking me about my fitness choices.
“Run,” I grumbled again. “She better run if ever see her.” I stared out the window searching again but I saw no sight of my health stalker.